## Figuring The Puzzle

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It’s nothing short of a miracle that Ian got into AP Calculus his senior year of high school. It was a constant trend, if no one seemed to pick up on it, of how his history with math went: started out freshman year in Honors Algebra and dominated, got promoted to Honors Geometry where he maintained a B+ average and skated on to Honors Pre-Calc where he started to lose momentum and finally slid himself into AP Calculus where he kept a B average - right up until the first semester ended. The years almost over and he’s barely staying above water with a straight 75% average, and he’s just wondering why he didn’t try to get out of this class at the beginning of the year, when they asked the students if things felt right.

Well, it felt right then, of course. Having a B was fine when there was a gpa boost and everything was going all swell and dandy in his other classes. But with all the warnings the teacher gave about how difficult the class would get, Ian kicks his inflated ego of the first school months because he’s not doing so hot at the moment.

They had just spent three days taking a Practice AP Calc exam, and he know’s it’s getting close to the wire when the letters come out saying if he’s even eligible to take the cursed test without having to cough up a whopping \$90 to do so. But based on the test’s scores, it’s looking like his eligibility is rather moot because he’s not going to spend 3 hours of his goddamned time to get a fucking one out of five on the damn test.

(When the teacher asks if he wants to hear his scores, Ian cowards up and goes for the only “no” among the sea of “yes” because his pride is still too big for all these fuckers)

And he almost glazes over when Mr. Lahiri asks if Mickey Milkovich would like to hear his score on the free response and Mickey responds with, “Fuck it, why not” because of course he has no fucking regard for school rules. Whenever Mickey opens his mouth, Ian wonders how he even got into any AP classes, let alone Calculus. Ian also has the unfortunate deed of having AP English Literature & Composition with the nuisance, and it makes Ian cringe to have to hear Mickey try to stupidly walk through an analyzation over a simple question and get frustrated when he’s completely wrong. Ian’s not sure if he’s obvious with his loathing for the teen annoyance, but he honestly gives no type of fuck.

But then Mr. Lahiri announces with no shock or amazement that Mickey received 20 points out of 36 which gives the class a collective gasp and coos because that’s the highest so far (especially since mostly everyone was getting 1 or 2 points)- and once the teacher makes it to every student, they realize it’s also the highest out of the whole class. To make things worse, Mr. Lahiri announces Mickey got the highest amount out of all 4 AP Calc classes combined. Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Ian glances back, because he’s a masochist that believes in causing himself more physical pain by having to watch that smug, nonchalant face. Mickey doesn’t disappoint either. He’s gone back to drawing on the cover of the Calculus book, so focused on his detail that Ian’s not even sure Mickey heard his score or not. Asshole.

Once all the hoopla of the practice exam is over, Ian walks easily into class, ready for whatever his adventurous Calc teacher has for them to do now. He’s the first in the class, as usual, and Mr. Lahiri greets him.

“Morning, Ian. Just stand by your seat; you’re gonna be moving soon.” And the response is a guttural groan. Ian liked his seat in the front of the classroom. He sat next to this guy, Tony, who had his pretty chill moments though he could be a total condescending asshole sometimes, and on his left were three girls: Asia, Daysha, and Tasia (Mr. Lahiri would joke since their names sounded the same). They were cool, always there to tease and make class just a bit more comfortable. But now, that would possibly be taken away from him.

Mr. Lahiri repeated the instructions as students filed in, and they shared the same reaction of dread as Ian had. Once everyone was inside the class and standing at their original seats, Mr. Lahiri projected a list on the white wall used as a screen. Ian searched the colorful grid until he fell upon his name and nearly blinded himself with who he’d be sitting next to: Mickey Fucking Milkovich.

Ian closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks, fretting a bit wonky because there was no way in hell Mr. Lahiri would do that…

But no, his eyes hadn’t deceived him. There to the right of his name was “Mickey Milkovich” highlighted in the same red color of the excel grid.

“Good luck,” Tony whispered to Ian before turned around and glancing behind them. “Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be here.”

At the statement, Ian quickly scanned the classroom and found that Mickey was in fact not there, and he didn’t fight the way his shoulders sagged in relief. Thank fuck.

Everyone moved to their new seats and Ian placed his plastic book bag in the seat next to him happily, knowing the boy the seat should have held wasn’t there.

“So in preparation to the AP Exam,” Mr. Lahiri started, “you and the person highlighted in the same color as you will solve a plethora of puzzles to help you guys study everything, starting from Limits review to the volumes we’ve been studying…” Mr. Lahiri barely paused as the door opened, “Mr. Milkovich, your new seat is right next to Ian.”

Ian hoped his head hadn’t snapped up as quickly as it felt, because the last thing he needed was for Mickey to catch up on anything. Mickey was lugging his plastic bookbag by the straps as he shuffled his way through the back to the corner, where Ian was sitting. He made no acknowledgement of Ian’s existence until he got to his seat and found it occupied by the red head’s backpack. The expression on the blue eyed boy’s face was a bit indiscernible, but even then, it felt like a glare or a threat of some kind. Ian yanked his bag out of the seat and let it fall roughly to the floor on the other side of him.

“So, after looking at the scores from the practice exam as well as your grades for the whole year as of now, I’ve paired each person with someone who has demonstrated having a clearer and stronger understanding of what we’ve been learning so far. As you guys get started on the puzzles I give you, I’m also gonna pass out the paper saying whether or not you are eligible to take the exam for free or for the \$90 fee. Have fun!”

Ian kept his glare on the cheesy Indian man that was his teacher as he felt Mickey’s eyes on him from his peripheral vision. It almost seemed like there was a smug smile attached, probably because they knew who was the one that was on the struggle bus in their partnership.

“You gonna lemme see the fuckin’ paper or what?” Mickey asked, and Ian had to physically try to unhinge his bones from where they were locked slouched over and inward as his shoulders created a wall between him and the boy beside him. With a subtle eye roll, he let himself loosen up and slid the paper towards Mickey, who then studied the paper with his brows creating lines in his forehead. They only lasted a second though, because understanding soon took over his features. “Cool, limits. This is gonna be easy.” Mickey glanced at Ian, and Ian had never seen that look before on Mickey thus leaving him with the inability to comprehend it. “Unless, we have to go over it again.”

Mickey raised his hands in surrender. “Excuse the fuck out of me,” he muttered, looking back at the paper before sliding it to rest between them so they could both look at it. “You got any paper then? Let’s get this show on the road.”

Of course Mickey wouldn’t have paper. Sure, it was a little thing, nothing too bad, but it was Mickey, so it was annoying. With a sigh of heavy burden and disdain, Ian pulled out his folder and presented Mickey with a piece of paper and a pencil- just for measure.

The pale boy shook his head. “You should probably write it; my handwriting is shit.”

“You think I’m any better?” Honestly, the more Ian had to hear the fuck speak, the less worried he was about Mickey figuring it all out.

“You got a fuckin’ problem with me or somethin’?” Mickey said, seemingly reading Ian’s mind.

Yes, asshole. Fuck you. “No.” He started writing their names in the top left corner and looked back at the 4-part problem.

“Is it, uh, ‘cause you didn’t get partnered with your boyfriend over there?” Ian heard the smile in his tone and shot to glare at Mickey, though he feels it was a bit ineffective. The smile had been a bit playful, somewhat teasing, and it was something Ian never saw, and it only caught Ian off guard enough to make him just a bit scared. Wasn’t Mickey supposed to be instigating as usual, or giving no type of fuck? Sure, maybe he was a math genius, but Ian would have thought him to be indifferent, selfish even. Like, why should Mickey have to worry about other kids failing, ‘cause he understood this shit.

Ian looked back to the question, trying to busy himself but failing as he spoke his thoughts aloud. “You’re being cooperative, which is weird.”

Mickey scoffed. “‘Cause math is fuckin’ fun, man.” Ian had to glance to see if Mickey was serious: he was. “Numbers and shit, it’s exciting-”

“Mickey…” Mr. Lahiri mumbled as he handed out the sheet he was speaking of earlier. He then looked to Ian before rifling through the papers before slipping one out. “And Ian…”

They were quiet as they examined their papers, and neither were rather shocked to see what they read.

Ian had a decision to make: To pay or not to pay. Out of sheer curiosity, he glanced over at Mickey’s paper at the section where it said what grade the student had at the current time.

Current Grade as of Now: 97%

Ian’s jaw dropped at seeing the grade. How could Mickey have such a high grade. “How can you have such a high grade?” Ian blurted. “You’re never in class.”

Mickey snatched the paper away from Ian’s glued green eyes with a glare. “Mind your fuckin’ business. You don’t see me tryin’ to see how low your grade is in this class and askin’ whether or not you’re gonna pay the 90 fuckin’ dollars to take it.”

Ian flinched at the harshness of Mickey’s words. Somehow, those words were making Ian rethink, revert back to freshman year and the beginning of this year and the guilt was slowly creeping into his entire being.

Mickey’s face softened just a bit and he cursed at himself. “Fuck, sorry, man. It’s just...I’m sorry.”

Ian shook his head, trying to get back into the work. “Let’s just do the fuckin’ puzzle,” he mumbled, leaning back forward, his muscles tensing to create the wall again.

But rather than asking or making a statement, Mickey just leaned scooted his chair closer and and leaned forward, getting in Ian’s space. Ian chanced a peak and his eyes immediately fell to the bottom lip being tugged at by Mickey’s teeth. It was all so different and Ian could feel his mind switching gears. He glanced up at the same time Mickey had, and Ian was shot by the blue eyes that bore up at him. He took a deep breath and sighed before turning back to the puzzle, mentally berating himself for letting Mickey show his true colors even in the slightest. Mickey Milkovich was annoying, but fuck it if Ian was starting to see how hot he was.

“You made a decision, yet?” Mickey asked in a low voice as he stared at the equation he and Ian had been looking at for about thirty minutes. They were at the Gallagher household in the kitchen, Mickey sitting in a chair with his left leg propped up on the edge of the seat Ian was sitting in directly in front of him. Mickey played with the pencil in his hand, and Ian tried his hardest not to focus on the erratic thrum of the pencil or the way the chair moved the slightest with Mickey’s leg shaking. They weren’t necessarily things that put Ian on edge usually, but Mickey was still annoying, so of course his blood was boiling. But for the past few days, it’s been a weird type of feeling, like this wasn’t the usual way it felt to get wound up by Mickey. He’s not sure if it’s good or bad.

“Decision on what?” Ian’s eyes trail up Mickey’s shaking and up his body to where Mickey’s tapping the pencil. But Ian’s focusing on the taut muscle in his bicep that holds his hand in place as he thrums the pencil. Ian’s focusing on the laid back and open stance of the smaller boy’s body. He’s focusing on the tongue and teeth that play with the pale boy’s blood filled lips; focusing on the neck that tenses as he takes in a deep breath. He’s still not sure if it’s good or bad.

“The test, man.” Mickey stops tapping the pencil and he stops shaking his leg as he looks up at Ian through his black lashes. “You gonna try it out?”

Ian shakes his head. “I knew my decision before I got the letter.” He stares and wait for Mickey to answer, but there’s nothing. Minutes pass by before Mickey goes back to the volume question. Ian can tell he’s having trouble, and he’s also mixed with this want to help mingled in with the desperate understanding that he’s just as lost, if not more, about what to do. He goes back to his ministrations, and they come back full-forced, and Ian’s sure it’s the actual actions that are getting him riled up.

“Are you nervous, or something?” Ian ask oversweetly.

Mickey scoffs. “No, why?”

“Because you keep tapping that damn pencil and-fuck, stop!” Ian slams an iron grip on Mickey’s leg and feels the vibrations through his fingers till it finally stops, and Mickey’s eyes are wide.

“The fuck!” Mickey exclaims as he drops the pencil and pulls his leg away. Ian let’s go immediately, still a bit fuming. “Shit, what’s up your ass?”

“You!” Ian quickly hears the answer and adds on, “You’re so fucking annoying, I swear to God!”

“I’m thinking, asshole! I fiddle around when I’m thinking. You wanna get this shit done, don’t you?” Mickey’s leaned forward in his chair, yelling back.

Ian doesn’t have much of an argument, and he just barely holds himself back from spewing inadequate and invalid statements that would just make him seem worse and worse. He stands up, his chair shoving back on the floor. “We don’t have to fuckin’ do this together,” he mumbles.

“What was that?” Mickey asked before getting up. “Yeah, we do need to do this together. You need to be able to pass this te-”

Ian turns sharply, bumping into Mickey and effectively making the smaller boy jump, though their bodies stayed aligned. “I’m not fuckin’ taking the test! There’s no fuckin’ point! I’m not gonna waste \$90 just to get a 1!”

“But you’ve been doing good so far, like, shit you know this stuff. You might even get a 3.”

Ian groaned, letting his head fall back in tiredness. “Fuck, why do you even care?”

Mickey was quiet, and the shift was so instant, Ian almost didn’t notice it. But Mickey was gnawing on his bottom lip again and looking anywhere, everywhere but at Ian. Then he finally did look up and Ian still wasn’t used to the arsenal of looks and emotions Mickey Milkovich could have.

“I think you should try. I think...you could do good.” His words were low and came out with every breath he took. It must’ve been hard to say, Ian thought.

It was all a blur, that night, the weekend, the Monday morning when they came into class. The workings of Ian’s mind were slowly transforming, and it hadn’t come into full effect until Monday, when he saw Mickey strutting in late and shuffling his way back to his seat. Ian watched Mickey scoot his chair close to Ian as it became daily routine as he tried to look over the wall Ian had built, but Ian was barely trying now. In fact, now they sat like they had a secret, Ian leaning into Mickey as they solved each piece of the puzzle. Ian thinks maybe they had a secret: they liked each other.

Ian’s sure he’d like to figure out that puzzle.