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Brave.

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Claiming his spot on the couch, Mickey sets his feet on the coffee table in front him and situates himself under the blanket he bought downstairs with him.

Finding himself participating in a couples movie night wasn’t where he saw his night going, but Debbie’s persistent begging had become almost unbearable, and he reluctantly told her him and Ian would join.

He turns his head when he hears footsteps that sound like his husband’s and smiles when Ian enters the living room,with two bottles of beer in his hand and a bag of kettle-cooked chips that he passes to Mickey with a smile before claiming the spot directly beside him.

Lip, Tami, Debbie, and Sandy file in behind Ian, situating snacks on the coffee table while doing their best to avoid Mickey’s feet that are still resting atop the wood, now next to cans of coke and a box of Jolly Ranchers.

“Anyone have any requests?” Debbie asks, picking up the remote and turning to Netflix.

“You told us all to be here, and you didn’t even have a movie picked out?” Ian asks incredulously. Mickey snorts beside him and Ian turns his head at the sound, giving Mickey a knowing look.

Debbie rolls her eyes.

“I was being considerate, Ian. Maybe you should try it some time.”

Mickey laughs out loud at that.

Debbie scans through a majority of the movies, throwing out suggestions here and there, but everyone seems to veto whatever she finds interesting.

Annoyed with the movie selection process taking up most of the night, Mickey finally speaks up.

“It’s fucking October, turn on Scream or some shit and let’s get this over with.”

He turns his head, pleased with everyone’s nods of approval and words of agreement.

Debbie nods, finds Scream on a Halloween-curated playlist and settles herself comfortably against Sandy’s chest.

+

An hour into the movie and Mickey finds himself enjoying the night more than he was expecting. The movies not even that funny, but between Ian’s comedic remarks and Sandy’s boisterous laugh that sounds just as obnoxious as it did when they were kids, Mickey thinks that Debbie’s impromptu couples movie night wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

+

It’s 11:42 when Sidney’s phone rings on the screen and Franny comes waddling down the stairs.

No one notices her quiet footsteps as she comes into the living room but at the sound of her broken sobs, everyone turns their attention away from the TV.

Franny’s body shakes as she lets out these gut-wrenching sobs. She can barely catch her breath, as she tries to respond to the millions of questions every adult in the room throws at her.

“What happened?” Lips asks, shifting away from Tami's hold and turning to face Franny.

“Fran What’s wrong?” Ian asks, his face full of worry.

“Franny baby come here,” Debbie says, leaning away from Sandy and putting her arms out toward Franny.

Franny’s eyes wander the room as she takes in everyone’s immediate worry and general state of panic. With tears still falling from her eyes, she tries to blink away the monster’s image still in her mind, but it doesn’t work, and she lets out another pitiful sob as the family looks at her, eyes wide and concern evident across their faces.

She hesitates, lips wobbling as she tries to decide who to answer first.

“I had a nightmare.” She says to one in particular, her voice breaking by the end of the sentence.

The six pairs of eyes on her are intense but she decides to focus on the ones that look the kindest.

The blue eyes that haven’t looked away from her since she came down the stairs.

Completely ignoring the other 5 people in the room, she makes a beeline for Mickey, crawling into his lap as she still cries.

Mickey doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around her, balancing her on his knee as he wipes a tear from her cheek.

All the eyes in the room shift again, but this time they’re on him.

And that’s fine. He understands that.

 Franny’s clearly upset and everyone’s concerned. Everyone’s focusing on Franny.

Except for Debbie.

She’s looking directly at Mickey, but it’s not a look of concern that’s evident across her face.

She’s upset.  Her jaw is tight, and her chins jutted out, looking all too much like Ian whenever he’s emotional.

Mickey sees her frantically swipe at her eye.

And on any other day, Mickey wouldn’t care.

He wouldn’t lose sleep over the fact that he’s gotten under Debbie’s skin or said something she didn’t like.

On any other day, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

But with everyone’s eyes on him and Franny so distraught in his lap, Debbie’s visible anguish is a bit too much to process.

“Hey, don’t cry Fran. It’s going to be okay. You’re safe. Let me get you back to bed.” Mickey whispers, quiet enough that he hopes only Franny can hear him.

With Franny’s hands wrapped securely around his neck, he stands up, turning towards the stairs.

He’s grateful that her cries have quieted down, and she seems to be calming down little by little. But the movie is still on pause, and everyone is seemingly too shocked to speak so the silence of the living room is unmistakable as he takes the stairs slowly towards Franny’s room.

The silence of the living room only seems to amplify the intensity of the stare he still can feel Debbie shooting in his direction.

+

Mickey thinks Franny’s room could easily be mistaken for a Toys R Us.

He nearly trips over a pile of stuffed animals as he moves to lay her down onto her twin-sized mattress. He’s pretty sure she drifted off back to sleep while they went up the stairs, but as soon as her body touches the mattress, her eyes go wide.

“No don’t go! I can’t sleep! There’s a monster!” She whines.

With her nightlight still on, he sees her lip wobble as if she's going to cry again so he sits on the bed and places a soothing hand on her knee over top of the comforter.

“I’m not going anywhere until you’re ready.” He says softly.

She nods at that, seemingly comforted simply by his presence.

There’s a beat of silence and Mickey thinks she might be attempting to fall asleep, but then she speaks, her voice small.

“Mommy says only babies are afraid of monsters. But I’m not a baby! I’m a big girl!” She sniffles by the end of her sentence and Mickey feels his heart constrict in his chest.

He blows out a shaky breath before speaking.

Thinking of what he would have liked to hear when he was in her shoes.

“I know you’re not a baby. Everyone’s afraid of monsters. They’re scary, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be brave. Show ‘em whose boss.”

She peers up at him, her eyebrows scrunched in curiosity.

“Are you afraid of monsters too, Uncle Mickey?”

With no one around to hear, he answers honestly, hoping that it’ll help her out.

“Of course, I am. I still see him-.” He clears his throat.

“I still see them sometimes. I used to be really afraid of them when I was your age, but now I know they can’t hurt me anymore. Even if it feels like it. Just gotta be brave. You can do it too.”

She ponders that a second.

“How?”

Mickey chuckles at that, gives her a sweet smile.

“How do you be brave? Kid, you already are.”

 She sits up, smiles for the first time since she woke up in a panic.

“What do you mean?”

“You told someone you were scared. You asked for help. That’s the first step in being brave. You nailed it.”

And because the night hasn’t already been strange enough, she throws her arms around his neck, catching him off guard.

“I’m sorry you have to see monsters.” She says, her voice so sincere it almost hurts.

He gives her a small smile, standing up from the bed and maneuvering her so he can tuck her back under the comforter.

“It’s okay. I won’t let them mess with me too bad, and I won’t ever let them mess with you.”

With her safely in bed, he presses a kiss to her forehead, and tiptoes his way out of her room, looking over his shoulder one more time before going back downstairs.

“I love you, Uncle Mickey.” She says quietly.

He doesn’t have to think before saying the words right back.

“I love you too Franny.”

+

Thankfully the movies turned back on when Mickey comes down the stairs. Everyone seems to have moved on from Franny, their eyes pasted to the screen but when Debbie hears footsteps she looks up, meeting Mickey’s eyes.

She opens her mouth to say something but then shakes her head, turning her attention back to the screen.

For a second Mickey thinks to reclaim his spot on the couch.

To sit with them as if nothing happened and like he’s not feeling a whirlwind of emotions.

But he doesn’t.

He shakes his head, grabbing a pack of cigarettes off the kitchen counter and standing by the front door.

He waits until he hears the living room erupt with laughter, and then steps outside, closing the door behind him and lighting a cigarette with a sigh.

+

He’s not outside for more than 5 minutes before he hears the door behind him open.

Ian’s standing there, Mickey’s jean jacket in his hand.

“Thought you might be cold.” He says, draping the jacket over Mickey’s shoulders and taking the spot beside him on the porch step.

They sit in silence for a minute.  Mickey still puffing the cigarette and Ian watching him blow out the smoke.

“You missed the end. I know that’s your favorite part.” Ian says.

And then after a pause, because it’s his new favorite phrase.

 “Wanna talk about it?”

Mickey knows it  has something to do with Franny and questions of why he’s outside when they were all having a good time, but his mind can’t seem to move on from Debbie’s face.

“I think I hurt your sister’s feelings tonight.” He says finally.

Ian makes a face.

“Who Debbie?”

Mickey rolls his eyes.

“Who else?”

Ian nods. He’s confused but he lets Mickey continue before he asks any questions.

“Think I literally saw her heart break when Franny came over to me. Like full on fell right out of her chest onto the floor.”

And he’s not sure why that’s messing with him so much.

He’s not sure why Franny ran to him.

Ian shrugs, not put off by Franny’s choice.

“Yeah…. I think I’d pick you over Debbie too if I wanted comfort.” He says easily.

Mickey turns to him, raises his eyebrows.

“You’re my husband dumbass.”

Ian’s puzzled.

“She's your niece. What’s your point?”

Mickey goes silent after that. Lights another cigarette before speaking.

“You know, people used to be afraid of me. Walk the other way so they wouldn’t have to pass by me. Get off a stop early on the L just so they wouldn’t have to be near me for too long. And now Franny’s here, running to me instead of her own fucking mom when she’s scared. It’s-”

He blows out a breath, frustrated and confused.

Ian’s silent for a moment, and Mickey knows he’s trying to pick which part of Mickey’s word vomit to address first.

“People weren’t ever afraid of you, Mick.” He says, swallowing the emotion rising in his throat. “They didn’t know you. You weren’t being yourself back then, you were protecting yourself.”

Mickey goes to speak again but Ian places a firm hand on his knee.

“Franny knows the real you. She knows she doesn’t have anything to be afraid of when you’re around. None of us do.”

Mickey’s not sure at what point in their relationship Ian started saying just what he needed to hear in exact moments, but he’s thankful that his ability hasn’t ever ceased.

Ian brings his arm up, pulls Mickey in by the shoulders, and lets him lean his head right in the nook of his neck.

“We all love you. Me, Franny, even Debbie loves you in her own fucked up way. We’re lucky to have you and we’re lucky you love us.”

Mickey takes that in. Moved by Ian’s words that seem to get more sincere by the minute.

“When I was a kid, my mom used to always tell me to be brave. Whenever my dad was beating on us too much, she’d pull me aside and tell me to be brave. And I never knew what she meant. There wasn’t any way I could stand up to Terry when I was fucking five. But she wanted me to be brave.”

He lets out a humorless laugh.

“But now that I’m thinking about it. I think I was brave back then. I was a fucking kid, and he was treating me like that. I fucking survived him. And now he’s right next door and I’m still surviving.”

“You’ve always been brave Mick. Always” Ian says, his voice heavy with emotion. He blinks a couple of times, hoping a tear doesn’t fall.

Mickey turns his head, his blue eyes meeting Ian’s green.

“Think I’m still brave even if I’m scared?”

And he’s not even sure what he’s scared of. Terry’s in a wheelchair. There’s nothing he could do to physically hurt Mickey.

But he can feel that somethings coming and it’s scaring him more than he could have planned for.

Ian presses a kiss to his forehead. Takes in the scent of his husband for what somehow still feels like the first time, before speaking honestly.

“Mickey, You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.”