The Gallagher house is covered in streamers. There’s chocolate cake ground into the ragged old carpet. Lip thinks the world might be ending, and no one can feel it but him.
He knows somewhere in the back of his mind that it’s a panic attack making him feel like this and it’s nothing to go all Chicken Little over, but his logical brain seems not to be on speaking terms with his emotional brain. And his emotional brain is pretty convinced that the world is ending.
His lips are numb and fuzzy, and the ground feels a million miles away. Looking down at his feet is like peering off the edge of a skyscraper; he would enjoy feeling tall if it didn’t also feel like dying. He keeps raising his glass of coke to his lips robotically, not actually taking in any liquid, because he thinks he might throw up if he does. The room is loud, because it’s Liam’s birthday. And he should be loud too, right in the middle, giving his brother a piggyback or something. He tries to think about what he should be doing but can’t hear the answer over the sirens going off in his head.
This always happens at parties, he muses. Or tries to muse. Even his internal voice is frayed and shaking. Traitor.
The house feels too small. His skin feels too small. The coke tastes like acid, his teeth glued together; he wants a shot but can’t have one, he wants a smoke but can’t have one, he wants to rip his hair out and slam his face on the pavement and taste his own blood.
“Yo, anyone fucking home, Philip?”
Lip whips his head around and suddenly registers that Mickey, of all people, is talking to him, and standing way too fucking close. He takes a step that’s more of a stumble back.
“What?” Lip says, his mouth sticky. He can’t see Mickey super clearly, his eyes snapping between sharp focus and blurriness. He can’t even convince himself that it’s because he’s drunk.
“Did Ian tell you about- fuck, the fuck’s wrong with you?”
Lip doesn’t hear the end of Mickey’s sentence, because he starts bolting to the back door when his stomach makes it clear to him that he’s not going to last the conversation without a reappearance of the sheet cake he ate a half hour ago.
He makes it onto the porch before he starts retching over the railing. Nothing really comes up, just bile and liquid that burns his mouth. He coughs a few times, spits into the gross little puddle beneath him. His heart is starting to slow down, and his head feels clearer. He wants to sleep for a hundred years. He hears the screen door swing open and shut behind him, Mickey’s voice breaking through the haze.
“You drunk or something?” Mickey sounds more inconvenienced than compassionate. Lip spits again and turns around.
“Sober as a judge,” he says. Mickey’s shoulders sag in relief.
“Good. I don’t wanna be the one telling Firecrotch his brother’s on the horse again.”
“You mean off the horse?”
“No, dumbass. You’re off the horse right now, and it’s gonna stay that way.”
“What the fuck do you think the horse is in that saying?”
“The fucking booze, dipshit!” Mickey sounds so genuinely annoyed that Lip can’t stop himself laughing. It feels good. His lungs are full of air and he feels lighter, a little delirious, maybe.
“What the fuck,” he says, still laughing.
Mickey rolls his eyes and lights up a cigarette. He offers Lip the pack and Lip shakes his head.
“God, I forgot you’re a fucking square now. Who the fuck doesn’t drink or smoke.”
“Someone who cares about their organs, maybe.”
They sit in silence on the porch steps for a bit, Mickey deliberately blowing his smoke in Lip’s face until Lip snatches the cigarette from him and grinds it out with his shoe. Mickey lights up another, but blows his smoke away this time.
Mickey speaks first. He’s full of surprises today.
“You wanna tell me what the fuck’s up or not?”
“Reel it in, Mickey, it’s starting to sound like you care.”
“You’re my husband’s brother, smartass. I care.”
Lip doesn’t want to ruin the moment by snarking about that. Mickey caring about something, and admitting to caring about something, is enough to almost silence him completely. Instead he steals the smoke from Mickey’s hand and takes a drag.
“I just freak out sometimes,” he says, which is a pretty lame description of it, but it’s the best he’s got right now. He passes the cigarette back because he regrets taking it already. He’s not sure it counts as a relapse because he technically wasn’t addicted to them, not the way he was with alcohol, but it feels like something he shouldn’t be doing.
Mickey nods sagely. “Sounds like a panic attack,” he says.
Lip snorts. “Didn’t know you knew big words.”
Mickey shoves his shoulder. “Just because you’re the only one who went to college doesn’t mean everyone else is fucking stupid, Einstein.” He pauses to swig his beer. “Ian used to get ‘em real bad. I still do. You ain’t that special.”
Lip considers this. He thinks that Mickey might actually be trying to comfort him. At the very least, he willingly shared personal information about his emotional well-being. Lip can’t quite comprehend that. He knows Mickey is about as touchy-feely as a cactus. But he’s here, talking to Lip, sitting next to him while he comes down from a panic attack, and Lip feels like that means something.
“They’re worse now that I’m not drinking,” Lip says eventually. He thinks that’s the worst part; that something that was meant to be good for him has made him even more fucked up mentally. It doesn’t seem fair.
“Maybe you should see a shrink or something. Ian says it helps him,” Mickey offers.
Lip rubs his eyebrow, suddenly tired. “You sound like Tami.” Everyone’s always trying to do what’s best for him, but it feels like maybe they’re just trying to pacify him instead. To dull his edges so that he can’t hurt himself, or anyone else. He doesn’t know how to feel about that other than exhausted.
Mickey shrugs. “No one can make you do it, man. You gotta do it for yourself. That’s what the chick at the free clinic told me.”
“Ian got you going to therapy too?” Lip looks sideways at Mickey.
“What did I just say? Ian didn’t make me go. I chose to go. ‘Cause I’m a fucking adult who still wakes up in the middle of the night terrified that my dad is there.”
Lip is genuinely shocked by Mickey’s honesty. For all the years he’s known Mickey there’s been a wall up, and Lip knows he’s got good reason to be defensive. But maybe he’s changing. It’s probably Ian’s doing, no matter what Mickey says to the contrary.
“Yeah, I’ll think about it,” Lip says, and realises that he means it.
Mickey smokes his cigarette and Lip listens to his breathing. They don’t say anything, and he doesn’t mind.
Eventually, Mickey throws his butt on the ground and gets up, popping his shoulders as he goes.
“Gonna make sure your brother isn’t fucked up off two beers,” he says, and Lip nods absently.
He sits there a while longer, and almost wishes Mickey hadn’t left.
Lip is a little surprised when Mickey opens the door looking like he just woke up even though it’s three in the afternoon, but then again, it’s Mickey, so he’s not that surprised.
“Is Ian in?” He asks, while Mickey is busy squinting at the sunlight and rubbing gunk out of his eye.
“Nah, he’s at work. The fuck you want?” Mickey says grouchily. Lip thinks that anyone else would probably be put off by Mickey’s tone, but after knowing him for ten years, he knows that Mickey’s default is just to sound pissed off. Lip doesn’t know when he stopped being intimidated by it; maybe it was when Mickey cried in the car with a catatonic Ian next to him, or maybe it was the time Lip caught him cooing at a baby Liam, his face all scrunched up as he tickled Liam’s tummy. It could’ve been even later, when he took Ian’s hand when they walked down the aisle; either way, Lip now well and truly sees Mickey for the soft motherfucker he is, and won’t let the exterior of perpetual bitchiness deter him from asking for what he came here for.
“I think I need stitches,” Lip says plainly, lifting up his right hand for Mickey to see. There’s a gash in the meat of his palm, blood tacky and thick around it. He doesn’t know how deep it is, and he can’t see bone, but it’s long and kind of feels like it’s on fire.
“Fuck, you get fucking shanked or something?” Mickey says, widening his still sleepy but now slightly alarmed eyes.
Lip rolls his eyes. “Tripped and grabbed some metal on the way down. I’m working on a car, you know, doing an actual legal job. You should try it sometime.”
“Yeah, thanks for the suggestion, but I’m pretty sure I make more money than you doing my illegal shit. And I don’t get my hands turned into fucking hamburger while I do it.”
“You just get shot at instead. You’re right, that’s so much safer.”
“Do you want stitches or not, jackass?” Mickey says, exasperated.
“You just said Ian’s not home, so I think I’ll skip the pleasure of your company and fuck off until he gets back,” Lip says, regretting coming here in the first place. He does need stitches, but he should just shell out for a hospital bill. It would be less painful than standing here trying to convince Mickey that illegal activities aren’t always the greatest use of his time.
Lip is about to turn away and head to the nearest emergency clinic when Mickey grunts in annoyance and draws his attention back.
“I’ll do ‘em, Michelin man. They won’t be as good as Ian’s, but they’ll hold,” Mickey says. He looks supremely uncomfortable at the idea of helping Lip; his thumb is working overtime rubbing along his mouth.
Yeah, don’t hurt yourself, Lip thinks, but out loud he says “you a nurse now or something?”
“Don’t grow up in the Milkovich house and not learn how to do your own stitches. Whatever, take it or leave it, I got shit to do anyway.”
He’d still rather take his chances at a walk-in, but he knows the health insurance he has from the garage isn’t good enough to cover the stitches entirely; plus, they’d try and sell him antibiotics or something else he can’t afford. All in all, he’s probably better off risking Mickey’s limited surgical abilities.
“Yeah, okay,” Lip concedes.
Mickey turns around and heads into the house without saying anything else, and Lip follows.
When Lip steps in he realises their new place is nice . Like, a lot nicer than he expected, and definitely better than how the Gallagher house currently looks mid-renovation. There are remarkably few beer bottles next to the couch, the ash trays are empty, and there’s shit hanging on the walls. Shit that could be called tasteful. There’s even a fucking rubber plant next to the TV. Lip is silently impressed.
The layout is pretty open-plan, so Lip can see Mickey slamming open various drawers in the kitchen and rummaging in them.
“Fuckin’ told Ian we need a medicine drawer,” he mutters darkly.
Eventually Mickey comes back to where Lip is awkwardly standing next to the couch, brandishing a first aid kit. And not even the South Side brand of first aid kit that Vee always kept stocked, which only included bandages and stolen painkillers, and occasionally a bottle labelled as rubbing alcohol that was actually half full of whiskey in an attempt to hide it from Frank. This one looks legit when Mickey cracks it open; there’s antiseptic cream, disinfectant wipes, bandages of different sizes. Antihistamines and Neosporin and bandaids. And a suture kit, which Mickey grabs, along with gauze and tweezers and an unopened bottle of saline. He sits next to Lip on the couch with his legs crossed and takes his hand, not gently, but clearly taking care not to hurt the cut.
“Okay, this is gonna hurt like a bitch,” Mickey says, ripping open a packet of gauze with his teeth. He soaks it in saline and Lip hisses when it touches his skin.
“Fuck,” he swears. Mickey raises his eyebrows unsympathetically.
“Shoulda worn gloves, dummy.”
Mickey wipes away the dried blood around and inside the cut and inspects his work. He nods to himself, satisfied.
Mickey sterilises the needle with his lighter and threads it through with the suture thread, still gripping Lip’s hand tightly, because it’s beginning to shake a little. He can’t help it. It hurts.
The stitches themselves are slow going. Three in total, though Mickey mumbles that he could probably get away with two. Each puncture of the needle in and out seems to hurt more than the last, and Lip grits his teeth. They don’t talk until the end when Mickey cuts the thread and sits back.
“Should get a tetanus shot as soon as you can, but it doesn't look too bad. You can probably take ‘em out in a couple days. Chicks dig scars anyway, man.”
That makes Lip laugh. “Like you know anything about what chicks dig.”
“Fuck off, fine. Dudes dig scars too.”
“Not the ones that I’ve been with,” Lip retorts. In general, the people he’s fucked didn't say anything about the scars on his back and neck, and Lip’s just fine with that. The only exception was some dude in his first week of college, who felt Lip’s neck when he was between his legs and asked if he was a gang banger. Lip didn’t stay to finish the guy off.
The way Mickey’s eyes bug out lets Lip know that this is probably new information to him, which is honestly kind of funny. Lip started fooling around with guys in high school but didn’t tell anyone until later, because even though he has no personal reservations about his bisexuality, he knows there are more than a few people who do. Even so, he’s never really kept it a secret. Fiona raised an eyebrow the first time he brought a guy home for dinner, but didn’t question it further. Lip likes men and women, and it’s so obviously a part of him that he doesn’t really comprehend that someone can know him and not know.
Mickey is still visibly processing this revelation when Ian steps through the front door, his EMT uniform peeking out of the backpack he’s holding.
“Oh, hey, Lip,” he says, smiling straight away. Lip loves that about his brother, the sunshine that’s always been a part of him. The love that radiates off him like plutonium.
“Did you know your brother is fucking gay? ” Mickey explodes, before Lip can say hello.
“What?” Ian says, confused. “He’s bi, I told you that ages ago, Mick.” Ian goes through to the kitchen to wash his hands and finally clocks the first aid material strewn on the coffee table. “Shit, who’s hurt?”
“Fuckin’ grease monkey Frank Ocean ripped up his hand,” Mickey grumbles.
“Shit,” Ian says again from where his head is inside the fridge. “You want a coke?”
“Mm, we got that cherry flavoured shit?”
“I was talking to our guest , Mick,” Ian laughs, but still tosses a can of cherryade that Mickey catches one handed.
Lip hasn’t really pictured himself as being a guest in Ian’s house, even though that’s technically what he is. He’s lived with Ian for most of their lives; even when one of them left (for college, or jail, or the army), it was never for long. They came back together like magnets, Lip-and-Ian, brothers in arms. Lip knows that a lot of that was codependency and trauma response, because even though he’s resistant to therapy, it’s not like he’s never googled the consequences of a fucked-up childhood. Even so, it hurts knowing that he’s on the outside now, that the fusion of Lipandian is two separate people.
Lip accepts the bottle of coke that Ian hands him over the back of the couch. Ian stands behind where Mickey is sat, one hand on Mickey’s shoulder like it belongs there. Lip realises that he doesn’t need to protect Ian anymore. He’s protecting himself.
“Your husband sewed me up,” he says, gesturing to Ian with his palm up. Ian inspects the stitches carefully and nods.
“Good job, baby,” he murmurs, and leans down to kiss Mickey’s forehead. Mickey reaches up to get a proper kiss. Lip averts his eyes, both because it’s painfully intimate and because it never stops being gross seeing your sibling trade saliva with someone.
Lip coughs awkwardly and gets up. “This has been great, but I gotta be doing anything else than watching this.”
Ian breaks away from Mickey and has the decency to look abashed. Mickey has no such shame, and just smirks at Lip instead.
Ian follows Lip to the door and pulls him in for a hug before he can walk away. Lip smiles into it.
“You know you can stop by any time,” Ian says earnestly. “Or if you need someone to look after Fred for an evening, we got it.”
“Yeah, so you and Tami can bang!” Mickey hollers from someone beyond the door. Ian rolls his eyes a little.
“Thanks, man,” Lip says. “I appreciate it.” He knows Ian has got his back as innately as he knows he’s got Ian’s. They have their own lives, but they’re always going to be brothers. He knows that, deep down.
“See you soon?” Ian says, and Lip nods.
“Tell your little housewife thanks for the stitches.”
“Tell your fuckin’ housewife she better be pegging you, bitch,” Mickey yells, and Lip can practically hear the middle finger that goes with it.
Lip gives Ian a two fingered salute and heads back down the porch steps.
“Love you, big brother,” Ian calls out.
Lip turns back to face him. “Love you too.”
Lip is laying on the couch with his head in Tami’s lap, her long nails tapping away at her phone, the TV playing an old America’s Next Top Model series that someone uploaded to YouTube in twenty minute chunks. Tami watches the makeover episodes obsessively to pick apart the hair stylists decisions and techniques, and Lip pretends to suffer through it. Really, he likes when Tami goes into one of her tirades about the distinction between flat irons and curling wands, or the importance of skin undertones when choosing hair colour. He likes it when she acts all offended when he starts laughing, before she gives in and cracks up herself. He likes everything about her, a whole lot.
He’s somewhere between awake and asleep; not processing the voices crackling on the TV or Tami’s random comments. He’s content, Tami’s hand in his hair, rubbing his cheekbone.
His phone rings.
Blearily, he sits up and reaches for it while Tami tuts at him. It’s Kev.
“Yo,” Lip says, rubbing his eye.
“Hey, man, you busy?” Lip can hear the sounds of the Alibi over Kev’s voice, a woman shrieking with laughter, two men arguing. He doesn’t know why it sets his teeth on edge, but it does. If he tried to rationalise every one of his reactions to alcohol and it’s associations, he’d die of old age before he finished, so he mostly just accepts them now.
“Depends,” he offers. “What’s up?”
“It’s Mickey,” Kev starts, and Lip can’t hold back his snort. Tami looks at him with her eyebrow raised and he gives an exaggerated eye roll in response.
“No, seriously,” Kev persists. “Ian’s at work and I don’t know anyone else who would help him and not get their dick cut off.”
“I’m his fucking mother now or something?” Lip says, though he finds the situation more amusing than anything else.
“He got in a fight and some chick at the bar said she’s gonna call the cops. I keep trying to tell him he’s fucked up the ass if does that shit on parole, but it’s Mickey. He won’t fucking listen to me. And he’s fucking walking around saying he won’t leave because he wants a shot at the pigs himself.”
“Fuck,” Lip sighs. “You want me to come get him.”
“Yeah, man. I’ll owe you one.” Kev sounds tentatively relieved, as if Lip has already said yes. He knows he probably will, if only because Ian would be pissed if he didn’t. But even so, the idea of wrangling Mickey out of a brawl and into Lip’s car doesn’t exactly fill him with joy. It would be easier to corral a herd of cats who hate you and are also rabid.
“Okay, I’ll be there in ten. And I drink free for a year.”
“Deal! You don’t even drink expensive shit-“ Kev is drowned out by Vee yelling something that sounds like “shut the fuck up, Kermit”, and the line goes quiet.
“What’s that about?” Tami asks. Lip rubs his face.
“I need to get Mickey from the Alibi.”
“Mickey?” Tami sounds incredulous. “Like, Ian’s Mickey?”
“Pretty sure the mouse isn’t drinking Kev’s liquor, so yeah, Ian’s Mickey.” Lip gets up and starts searching for a jacket. He steps on about a dozen baby toys. They’re fucking everywhere.
A small smile plays across Tami’s face. “Such a good brother-in-law,” she coos.
“Or maybe I just don’t want Ian to have my ass for letting his husband go back to jail. Pretty sure he’d never speak to me again,” Lip says as he pulls on his shoes.
“Yeah, you tell yourself that.”
Lip doesn’t like how smug she sounds.
When Lip pulls up in front of the Alibi, nothing seems out of place. As soon as he steps out of the car and shoots off a text to Kev, however, the door swings open and Mickey stumbles out, Kev gripping the scruff of his collar like an unruly dog.
Kev lets go of him tentatively, and Lip can’t blame him for immediately going back inside, leaving Lip to manage the fallout.
Mickey spits on the ground before finally looking up and seeing Lip waiting for him. He’s wobbly, and Lip can smell smoke and booze on him, but his eyes are clear. Clear, and angry. He snorts in derision and turns to go back into the bar, but Lip grabs his arm.
“Easy, killer,” Lip says. “You gonna get in the car?”
Mickey shakes off his hand. “Try and fuckin’ touch me again and see what happens, shortstack,” he snarls. Lip wants to laugh, but he doesn’t. Mickey probably thinks he’s being scary, and to anyone else, he would be, but to Lip, he’s anything but. He’s the guy who held his hand when he patched up his blood, he’s the guy who babysits his kid, the guy who makes his baby brother smile more than anyone else. Lip can see now that underneath the anger, for whatever reason, Mickey’s hurting. That doesn’t stop him from muttering,
“You’re the same fucking height as me,” to Mickey’s back. He’s just an asshole like that, sue him.
Lip sighs and rubs his forehead. If Mickey’s upset about something, he can hash it out with Ian when he’s home, because Lip sure isn’t here to play therapist. He wants to get Mickey in the car and drop him in the West side and get the fuck out, and he’ll fight dirty to do it.
“Get in the car or I’ll tell Ian that you’re violating parole,” he says. It works.
The fight seems to suddenly go out of Mickey.
“Fuckin’ whatever,” he mutters, stepping around Lip to slam the passenger door open and get in. Lip gets in next to him and takes the cigarette that Mickey is already sparking up and throws it out the window.
“Fuck off,” Mickey snaps, but doesn’t light another one.
Mickey turns his back to Lip and leans his head against the window as they ride back in silence. He doesn’t buckle his seatbelt and Lip doesn’t push him to.
Lip stops in front of Ian and Mickey’s apartment, but Mickey doesn’t move. In the glare of the streetlight, Lip can see his bottom lip is shaking and his knuckles are white where his fingers are interlaced. He’s staring at his own hands. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that they’ve stopped.
Lip can’t just open the door and shove him out and then go home and go to sleep like nothing happened, and it’s not just because he wants to keep Ian off his back, or because he’s any semblance of a compassionate or charitable person. Growing up Southside means Lip doesn’t share his food with everyone who’s hungry; it means that if someone gets jumped in front of him, he walks the other way. Unless it’s family. And Mickey is family, Lip knows that. He remembers saying the opposite, pissed at Ian and determined to get his own way, but even as he said it he knew he was lying.
The engine is still running. Lip pulls out and steers them back to the Gallagher house, and tries not to think about why it is that he couldn’t leave Mickey to just sort his own shit in peace.
When Lip cuts the engine, Mickey finally looks up and frowns at the realisation that he’s not outside his home.
“What the fuck,” he says, but he seems too worn out to be annoyed. Lip’s not surprised. Mickey has a habit of slamming his head against a brick wall and then being confused when it bruises.
“You don’t have to talk about it,” Lip starts, “but you’re gonna come inside and have a cup of coffee until Ian gets home.”
Mickey seems to dwell on that for a moment. Lip is about to get out of the car when he speaks.
“It was some guy from inside,” Mickey says. Lip wants to ask which time , just to be a dick, but he doesn’t. He waits for Mickey to continue.
“He knew Terry. Used to jump me in the joint when he got the chance. Never knew if it was ‘cause Terry told him to or if he’s just a gay-bashing Nazi motherfucker, you know.”
Mickey reaches into his jacket for a smoke and this time Lip lets him.
“He saw me at the bar. He just looked real fuckin’ happy to see me. And he said that Terry never got to finish me off so he was gonna do it instead.” Mickey takes a drag. “Think I broke his nose, though.” Lip says nothing. Mickey’s hands are shaking a little, and in the streetlight Lip can see more clearly that his knuckles are swollen and his cheek is blossoming a bruise. Despite that, Lip thinks Mickey definitely came out on top. He fights dirty, isn’t afraid to take a punch. Lip knows that from his own experience.
“Some middle class whole foods bitch said she was callin’ the cops because she didn’t feel safe. Fuckin’... gentrification. Whatever.”
“Why didn’t you leave?” Lip asks, instead of what he really wants to say, which is what the fuck , or Jesus Christ , or even worse, I’m sorry . Lip doesn’t believe in apologising for things he can’t change, and he can’t take this pain away from Mickey; he can’t change the fact that his own father wanted to kill him, he can’t change the scars on his ribs from people sneaking up on him in prison, or the one on his chin from Terry pushing him into barbed wire. Mickey doesn’t know that Lip has seen those scars. Lip isn’t going to tell him.
Mickey shrugs. “I know how prison works, man. I’m not even meant to be out, remember? So what, they put me away again for a couple months for breaking parole. It’s a fucking vacation from this West side bullshit where people thinking I’m breaking into my own goddamn home every day.”
“You don’t really think that,” Lip says, incredulous. He doesn’t really understand how Mickey can get reminded of a time where he was beat to shit repeatedly and have his first thought be that he wants to go back. Mickey is quiet for a second, and when he speaks, he doesn’t look at Lip. He watches the smoke curling out of the car window into the night.
“It’s not… I don’t deserve to be out here. It’s like it’s not even real. Like I’m gonna wake up and Terry will be there laughing at me for thinking I could get away from him, or I’ll be back in the joint, ‘cause that’s where I deserve to be. So I should just nut up and go back now, ‘cause I’m gonna end up there anyway.”
Lip can see Mickey’s jaw clenching. He doesn’t know what to say, for once; he feels floored by Mickey’s sincerity and somehow furious with him for thinking that he deserves bad things to happen. It’s the same feeling that made him lose his shit with Fiona when she fucked something up- her relationships, her job. It makes him want to punch something, the way Fiona kept testing her luck to prove that it wouldn’t last, the way Mickey’s doing the same thing now.
Lip knows he shouldn’t be angry at Mickey for his own fucked up thought processes, but he is, or maybe he’s angry because it’s not fair. It’s not fair that he doesn’t get to be happy. It’s not fair that the people Lip cares about sabotage themselves, and he can’t do anything to change it.
He doesn’t know how to say that, though. He never has; he just ends up yelling and making everything worse, the anger always misses its target and hits the person he’s trying to support. Somehow, Lip thinks Mickey wouldn’t take his support anyway. So he doesn’t say that Mickey is destroying his own happiness, or that he’s proud of Mickey and cares about him, or that things are going to get better and being alive is good and he’s strong and he deserves good things, even though that’s all true.
“Ian would go off the rails without you,” Lip offers instead, because if there’s one thing he knows Mickey cares about, it’s Ian.
Mickey snorts. “He’d manage.”
“He really wouldn’t, though.”
Mickey rolls his eyes and doesn’t say anything.
“Every time you leave he goes fucking crazy,” Lip insists, “it would be gay Jesus round two.”
“He’s not crazy,” Mickey says immediately.
“I’m trying to say you’re good for him. Jesus Christ,” Lip snaps.
Mickey laughs, to Lip’s annoyance. “You’re really fuckin’ bad at giving advice, man. Jesus, I’m baring my soul out here and you’re calling my fucking husband a lunatic.”
Lip feels himself smiling too. Stupidly, the tension is broken.
“Fuck,” he sighs.
“Yeah, fuck,” Mickey agrees. “I’ll take that coffee now.”
If Tami’s surprised that she’s now hosting a slightly tipsy and blood-stained Milkovich, she doesn’t show it, which Lip appreciates. She tells Mickey to take off his shoes and then goes back to watching a very blonde girl cry over being too blonde without further comment.
Mickey sits at the kitchen table while the coffee filters into the pot, systematically stripping the skin off his thumb with his teeth.
“You want me to text Ian?” Lip asks. He gets a chipped mug from the cupboard, one that Carl got for him a few years back. It says don’t talk to me until I’ve fucked your wife! , and it’s kind of the most acknowledgment that Lip’s homewrecking threesome phase ever got from his siblings. He’s okay with that.
Mickey grunts, which could either be a yes or a no. Lip gets his phone out anyway and taps out a message to Ian, skipping the details, just saying that Mickey’s with him and Tami.
Lip pours Mickey’s coffee and boiling water for Tami’s peppermint tea. When he sets the mug down on the table, Mickey grunts again, and Lip chooses to interpret it as thanks.
Mickey sips his coffee, Tami sips her tea, and Lip starts eating an apple because he doesn’t know what the fuck else he’s supposed to do while technically babysitting his brother in law. Mickey watches the TV with a blank kind of expression, absently sucking the blood off his finger when the skin starts to bleed from his ministrations. On the screen, Tyra Banks berates a girl for looking too small in her photo. Lip doesn’t know what the hell that means.
“Mickey,” Tami says, seemingly out of nowhere. When he doesn’t respond, she looks over the back of the couch and snaps her fingers at him. “Mickey,” she says again.
Mickey’s eyes focus again as he looks at Tami. “Fucking what,” he says, but he doesn’t sound annoyed.
“I need your opinion on this,” Tami says. She gestures at the TV, paused on a photo of a model dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. “Totally should’ve been top photo, right?”
Lip himself has no opinion on the photo either way, but Mickey starts nodding emphatically.
“Abso-fuckin-lutely. Jade was a fuckin’ bitch but at least she took a good photo consistently, Brooke looks like a fuckin’ dead rat.”
“Aw, that’s not fair,” Tami protests. “She’s from Texas.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Lip interjects, but Mickey’s already talking over him.
“She’s a bitch! She’s like if Bambi fucked a Mormon-”
Tami makes a noise of indignation and Lip stares at the apple core in front of him, trying not to laugh. Tami and Mickey keep bickering around him, increasingly animated as they warm up to the argument. It’s easy, to just sit and let it wash over him, and it’s weird, but he feels comfortable; comfortable, even with his girlfriend and brother-in-law yelling across the kitchen about a TV show from a decade ago. Tami in the living room and Mickey at the table and Fred asleep next door and Lip himself in the middle of all of them, like it’s exactly where he should be.
If someone had told Lip ten years ago that one day he would be hosting a “double date night” (Tami’s words, not his) consisting of his pregnant girlfriend, his gay brother, and Mickey fucking Milkovich, well. He doesn’t actually know what he would’ve done, because his life is just that laughable. It’s ostensibly a dinner to celebrate Ian finishing his EMT training (again), but is really just an excuse to get high and talk shit away from Liam and Fred. Carl has come over to babysit and Lip can hear him and Liam downstairs, shouting over some video game; Fred seems happy enough to watch and garble along.
Tami is applying liquid eyeliner for the third time, despite the fact that they’re already running a half hour late. When Lip mentions this fact, though, she just gives him a withering stare and turns back to the mirror.
Ian has left Lip a string of increasingly annoyed messages, ranging from “ excited to see you two tonight! :) ” to “ it’s not my fault if the food is cold when you get here. ” Lip knows full well that they’re getting takeout and won’t place the order until he and Tami are there, but Ian using periods means he’s pissed regardless. It’s kind of endearing in an obnoxious way.
Tami caps her eyeliner, tosses her hair over her shoulder and readjusts the neckline of her dress. Lip feels like he should’ve gotten over how beautiful his girlfriend is by now, but it never really gets old.
“We ready to go or am I gonna have another birthday while we wait?” Lip says. Tami rolls her eyes at him.
“I told you seven thirty. It is seven twenty eight,” she says primly, getting up and putting on her leather jacket, even though Lip knows that she’ll only wear it for the car journey and take it straight off when they get to Ian’s place. She tucks a small plastic tub of three brownies and a joint carefully into her purse. Lip sniffs; he can smell the pot through the plastic. Vee’s shit really is good.
“ Ian told us seven. He has work tomorrow,” Lip counters.
“So do I. He’ll get over it.” Tami gives him a magnanimous smile. “Okay, let’s go, slowpoke.”
Lip scoffs at that and grabs his car keys.
Mickey opens the door looking vaguely pissed off to see Lip, as he always does, but he grins when Tami waves the box of weed goodies at him.
“Sorry we’re late, Lip couldn’t decide what to wear,” Tami says sincerely, leaning in to kiss Mickey on the cheek. Mickey doesn’t even recoil.
It freaks Lip out how well Mickey and Tami get on; often he’ll go to bring Tami a drink at the salon and find her foiling someone’s hair while deep in a rant about the asshole who cut her off in traffic, or the price of disposable gloves, and Mickey will be in a chair with his combat boots up, hanging on her every word. Tami says it’s because they both have to deal with Gallaghers being a pain in the ass, but Lip thinks Mickey has finally found someone who likes to gossip as much as he does.
“College boy doesn’t have a fuckin’ watch, huh?” Mickey says, all smug, and Lip doesn’t even have time to defend himself because Ian pops up over Mickey’s shoulder and aggressively waves a takeout menu at them.
“I’m fucking starving, you couldn’t show up on time for once?” he grouses as Lip and Tami step through to the kitchen. Tami just sets the tub of brownies down in response, and Ian’s furrowed brow turns into a gleeful expression that makes him look like a kid again.
Mickey creeps up behind Ian and pinches the space just above his hips. “Fuck yeah, right?” He says into Ian’s shoulder. “You’re only having half, though. Meds’ll fuck you up.”
Ian rolls his eyes and turns around so he can grab Mickey back. “Oh, so you’re the medical professional here,” he says, but Lip can see the softness in his eyes and his smile, a small private thing, for Mickey’s eyes only. Lip feels like he’s intruding, until Tami knocks his elbow with her own to get his attention. She squeezes his hand quickly and smiles. It makes him feel better.
“None for me, either,” Tami says, patting her belly. “Gotta protect baby.”
That gets Ian to let go of Mickey and start up a chatter about the baby instead. Lip zones out when Ian starts asking about Tami’s GDM screening, mostly because he doesn’t know what the hell a GDM screening is, but also because Mickey is shoving a can of ginger beer into his hands and saying,
“Yo, I got something to show you.”
“I don’t want to see your dick, thanks.” Lip says but he follows Mickey through the kitchen to what must be his and Ian’s bedroom.
“You fuckin’ wish,” Mickey says. He clicks the light on and suddenly Lip’s looking at a baby’s crib. It’s solid wood painted white, a definite upgrade from the rickety plastic one that Fred spent his time in. There are designs painted along the frame; balloons, stars, a wonky dog. It’s not the most elegant thing Lip’s ever seen, but it looks sturdy and reliable.
Mickey makes a little ta-da motion with his hands. He’s biting his lip to keep from smiling. “For the new ankle biter.”
“You steal it?” Lip asks.
Mickey looks offended. “I fuckin’ made it, asshole. Ian did the painting and shit, but. If you got something better just fucking say so.”
“Hey, that’s not what I meant,” Lip says before Mickey can close up entirely. “It’s good, Mickey.” He means it. He feels a little bit overwhelmed with the implications of this crib; that Mickey put time and effort and splinters into making something, for Lip, for Lip’s family. The family he’s a part of.
Mickey preens slightly. “Yeah, well as long as you give it back when me and Ian… y’know.” He flushes and looks at his beer. Lip feels a spark of interest at the idea that Mickey could be saying what he thinks he’s saying.
“When you what?”
“Y’know, when we have kids, or whatever,” Mickey mumbles. “It’s not gonna be for a fuckin’ minute though, I’ll tell you that,” he adds quickly.
“Shit. More Milkoviches running around, huh?” Lip is teasing; he hopes Mickey can see that. He didn’t peg Mickey as the type of guy to want to be a father, but he can see that he’d be good at it regardless. The way he treats Franny and Fred is enough proof for Lip. And he’s certainly not in any position to criticise someone’s family legacy.
“Yeah, my kid is gonna bully the shit out of your kid,” Mickey says.
“That’s fucked up. They’d be family.” Lip says, but what goes unsaid is what they both know; that being family doesn’t stop someone from beating you half dead.
“I’ll tell ‘em to go easy,” Mickey concedes. They stand there, comfortably silent, Lip wondering at the crib and feeling a tightness in his chest that comes with being cared for, even in Mickey’s obtuse way; until Ian shouts from the kitchen that they’re going to order. Mickey nods, a little awkward, and goes back to where Ian and Tami are waiting. Lip stays for a second more, and then follows.
It’s warm by the pool. Lip feels all warm and glowy inside, too, full of pizza and pleasantly buzzed, watching the sparks dance from Mickey’s lighter as he takes a hit from the joint. Mickey offers it to him but Lip shakes his head; It’s been a long time since he smoked. That’s his excuse for having the tolerance of a pussy now.
Mickey smiles lazily at him. “It’s good shit, man,” he says. “Tell Tami I owe her one.” Lip snorts.
The back door of the apartment building opens and Ian sneaks out, overly cautious about being quiet. He has a huge, shit-eating grin on his face.
“Tami’s sleeping,” he says in a stage-whisper, even though they’re several storeys below her and the windows are closed.
Ian stands behind Mickey and wrestles the joint from him to take a hit. Mickey huffs, but he’s smiling.
“Quit laughing like a fucking hyena then, princess,” he says as he snatches the j back.
“Hey, that’s mean,” Ian whines, but Mickey just reaches back and flicks him on the forehead.
“How’re the renovations going, man?” Mickey says, his mouth billowing smoke, and it takes Lip a second to realise he’s being asked a question. “Debbie still on your ass about selling?”
Lip shrugs. Really, Debbie had conceded as soon as she realised selling would let her get her own place, with the promise that they still have family dinners once a month.
“She’s over it,” he says. “Gonna find somewhere nearby to rent with her new U-haul.”
Mickey laughs. “Fuck, Sandy’s gonna be pissed. Hey, get off me, firecrotch.” The last bit’s aimed at Ian, who’s half sprawled over Mickey’s shoulders trying to get the joint from him. He slaps ineffectively at Mickey’s chest as he holds it away from him. “I’m not holding your fuckin’ hair back tomorrow.”
Ian acquiesces, snatching a pack of cigarettes from Mickey’s flannel pocket instead, smiling triumphantly. Mickey kisses Ian’s wrist where it’s draped on his chest, and it’s easy, intimate, and Lip feels a lot like he’s third-wheeling, but he can manage.
Mickey keeps up a conversation, asking about the house, about Liam, about Fiona; Ian adds something every so often but mostly just trades cigarettes with Mickey in silence, blowing smoke in his face just to be a prick, and Lip thinks, oh, maybe they are perfect for each other , but doesn’t say it aloud.
Instead he talks about work, his healing hand, the kitchen walls being reclad, Tami’s morning sickness, everything and nothing, and it’s easy. The only lights are the fluorescents on the bottom of the pool and Ian’s cigarette stub, like a firefly in the darkness, casting strange shadows across his smile.
They spend hours there, the whole evening, talking shit and smoking. Eventually Ian turns in, and it’s just Lip and Mickey, comfortably silent.
“You ever think we’d get here?” Lip asks, surprising himself. He doesn’t know whether he means here as in their tentative friendship, or here as in making it through their teenage years alive. Probably both.
“Nah,” Mickey says candidly. “Glad we did, though.”
Yeah, Lip thinks. He’s glad they did too.