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When Life Gives You Lemons

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There was a universal truth in place that seemed to keep the fabric of south Chicago held together tightly like an expensive woolen coat: Gallaghers were catnip to Milkoviches.

It had to be one of Newton’s laws. Centripetal force or whatever. All Mickey knew was that it was real and powerful shit. It’d led to the disastrous high school courtship of his sister Mandy and the oldest boy Lip, their inevitable breakup shaking the thin walls of his shitty house with its intensity and somehow reaching right through his noise cancelling headphones. Lip had cheated on her with his ex. Mandy ran over the bitch with her car. Mickey found it best not to ask for any details.

Now his cousin Sandy had followed suit, shacking up with single mom Debbie just four months into a tumultuous relationship. Fucking lesbians. He could swear to you that he hadn’t heard them do anything but fight and fuck for the entire length of time they’d been together. But Sandy was happy, oddly, and with her gone and his asshole father sent back to the clink for giving his P.O. a shiner, the Milkovich household was down two and roomier than ever. You wouldn’t catch him complaining about that.

Even his older brother Iggy had a thing for Fiona way back in the seventh grade — and that little dalliance went about as well as any of the others did. He’d flipped her skirt up in the hallway on their way to lunch and she’d knocked him back into the lockers with a right hook.

But his one consolation through the storm of flying kitchen utensils and colorful insults remained the simple, blissful fact that rang as true as the initial proverb: he was immune.

Lip had just gotten engaged to the mother of his kid, Carl was dating a literal Cadet Kelly, and Liam...was in middle school. Not to mention their other brother, who’d fucked off to the army the second he’d turned eighteen. Mickey had never met the guy. Mandy said he was alright, but he would just have to take her word for it. 

The new Fiona Lishman and Sandy’s ginger each had an extra X chromosome apiece than he’d care for, covering every last one of his bases. He sent up a silent prayer in thanks to whatever the fuck was up there every time he was reminded of just how truly batshit the Gallaghers were that he wouldn’t have to feel the cosmic and terrible pull of attraction to any one of them.

*

“It’s like he wants to get his ass beat,” Mandy muttered over the potato she was peeling. “Y’know?”

Mickey unfortunately did. He also didn’t have to ask who she was talking about; they’d been helping Sandy move into her new place all afternoon and the whole Gallagher rat pack was hauling Debbie and her kid over. Lip had come with baby Freddie in tow, and when he wasn’t shushing everybody at the slightest sound he was clinging to Tami, committing the cardinal sin of being in a happy relationship when Mandy was coming up on a year single.

Mandy whipped around at the lack of response from her brothers, eyes narrowed. “‘Why yes, Mandy, I agree. Gee Mandy, thanks for making dinner for us while we sit on our asses doing fuck all.’ I swear to god a Ouija board could summon better company than the three of you.”

Iggy and Jamie looked up from their bong guiltily. She scoffed.

“Okay, new rule. Whoever doesn’t help with dinner doesn’t fucking eat. Sound fair?”

His brothers got up from their dents in the couch begrudgingly, wandering over to the cabinets in a half hearted search for ingredients. Mickey slunk further into his armchair, hoping that his phone covered enough of his face to avoid the agony that was cooking with Mandy.

“Mickey, don’t think I don’t see you over there hiding from me. Get in here and chop these carrots or I’ll shove one so far up your ass your shit turns orange.”

“Jesus,” Mickey groused, throwing his phone onto the coffee table. “This how you always treat the staff at Mandy’s Diner?”

“You’re more than welcome to unionize, bitch. See how well that feeds ya. Unless you’ve got a craving for Hana Sushi,” she jerked her head to the menu on the fridge. Mickey grimaced. The Midwest was the last place to be setting up a joint selling raw fish. His intestines could attest to that.

So he shut up. He wished he could say the same for Mandy. But as he was cutting up vegetables, she showed no signs of ever stopping her endless stream of complaints, thankfully moving on from Lip’s transgressions to the bitchy old Northside women that came to her nail salon. Tuning her out was old hat for him by now, but he found his ears perking up when he heard something that sounded suspiciously like him being signed up for a job he hadn’t accepted.

“Sorry, what was that?” He swung around, eyebrows raised to mid-forehead.

Mandy rolled her eyes. “Honestly, does anyone in this house listen to me? I said that Jimmy’s mom stopped by? Fiona’s Jimmy? Said they could use help with the heater at their place, it’s been acting up and it’s almost winter. They only live right next door to the fuckin’ rest of them, Mick, it’s not Timbuktu.”

“I know where Barbie and Ken live, fuck you very much,” he slid the carrots from the cutting board into the boiling pot. “Couldn’t they have asked me themselves? This afternoon maybe, when we were shipping Sandy off to Alcatraz?”

“Mm-hmm, but they don’t like you,” Mandy grinned. “Hence the grapevine. Plus you’d have probably told them to fuck off.”

“Would not,” Mickey said defensively. Upon further consideration, he definitely would have.

Mandy patted his shoulder on her way past him to check on the pot. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Mickey groaned, rubbing black spots into the backs of his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t do that shit again. My good graces only extend so far - the family of the chick my cousin’s banging is where the degrees of separation stop for me.”

“‘Good graces’,” Jamie chuckled. Mickey leveled him with a glare that was too familiar to be effective.

“‘Boo hoo, my sister gets me work so I can afford rent and groceries.’ I should be charging you a commission, asswipe,” Mandy said.

Mickey gave her a very particular finger for that. “With the amount of Oreos you’ve snatched from my stash for the past twenty three years, you owe me.”

“Eat a dick.”

“Careful Mandy, he’ll do it,” Iggy said.

“Fuck you,” Mickey grunted. “Fuck. Does this mean I’m gonna be spending even more time with the Babysitter’s Club?”

Mandy smiled over her tasting spoon. “I hope you like termites and daddy issues.”

Chapter Text

The Lishman house was a cleaner, chicer duplicate of the Gallagher abode next door. It was filled with sleek decorations and art pieces that had clearly been given as wedding gifts by Jimmy’s side of the family; no one with more sense than money would put up half of the expensive crap they had hanging around in a place on the south side. There were still a few moving boxes tucked off to the sides, but nothing that Mickey could trip over as he made his way back to their furnace. He liked the place already.

Jimmy stood at their kitchen island with a mug of coffee, waving at him amicably as Fiona led him to the basement. She knew her stuff when it came to home repairs - not surprising considering the shack she’d grown up in. As soon as Mickey pried the panel open on the thing they both knew it was busted. They let out a breath in unison.

“It’s beyond saving. Probably as old as the fucking hills. Best bet would be to just get a new one,” He looked up from where he was bent over it to see the woman worriedly biting her lip. “Think you could swing it?”

“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “After the honeymoon...”

He nodded. It’d been a pride thing, turning down her in-laws’ offers to shell out for the big day. They’d insisted, however, leaving her to dig in her heels about covering their weeklong getaway to Cancun. Fiona hated handouts more than just about anything, but when Jimmy turned his puppy eyes on her there wasn’t much she’d say no to.

“Maybe I can look on eBay,” she pulled out her phone, following him back upstairs to where her husband was waiting at the dining table.

“What’s the diagnosis?” He asked, tilting his cup back for the last dregs of his Colombian roast.

Mickey snorted, balancing his toolbox on his hip. “I’ll leave the diagnoses to you, doc. Your furnace should start getting its affairs in order. I’m surprised it hasn’t succumbed to its illness already.”

“Shit,” Jimmy now seemed to notice how his wife was pacing the kitchen, pushing her bangs back from her forehead the way she did when she was particularly stressed. He stood, coming up behind her to smooth ceramic-warmed hands along her arms. She exhaled slowly.

“Take a look at this one,” her thumbnail found purchase on the edge of her teeth. “That’s not bad, right?”

“Honey,” Jimmy said, and there was only one way that tone of voice ended with him. Fiona wasn’t going to like what he said next. “Let me handle it.”

“No. No, I’m sick of it always being you. I’m sick of feeling like I owe you something. Even when we’re married - I feel like I’m not...like we’re not equal.”

“But we are,” he assured her. “You work just as hard for your money as I do for mine. If I get more, so what? It’s still our money. Okay? It’s our house.”

“That you bought,” she volleyed.

“Both our names are on the lease. And babe - you know I never would have gone back to medical school if it wasn’t for you.” He repeated firmly, “It’s just as much your money as it is mine.”

Fiona blinked up at him, brown eyes still doe-like in their caution. Jimmy huffed.

“Would you rather your pride or an ass that isn’t frozen solid by December?” Mickey chimed in from the doorway. Jimmy gestured grandly to him in lieu of an exaggerated thank you that he knew would only irritate Fiona, who appeared to be coming around despite herself.

“Fine,” she relented, pointedly ignoring her husband’s unsubtle fist pump behind her back. “But only if Mickey installs it. I don’t trust any other yahoo in this part of town with the Georgia O’Keeffe bullshit your aunts got us.” And now it was Mickey’s turn to use the gesture.

*

The Gallagher house was quieter than he’d ever seen it. Liam was out with a friend, leaving only Carl on the couch when the trio entered.

“Hey,” he glanced up from his show. “What’s up?”

“We’re just getting some beers. Our fridge hasn’t been delivered yet,” Fiona said as she breezed past. “Want one?”

He held out a hand as she started tossing them around and caught it with ease. “Any news from Ian?”

Mickey cracked his bottle cap over an old table. “What’s this about?”

“Mm,” Fiona stopped herself mid-swallow. “Our brother’s being discharged next Saturday. And yes, Carl, he texted me. Said he might get in a bit late and not to wait up for him, like we’d fucking listen.”

Carl smirked. Mickey still found himself lost at the news though, asking, “Discharged? Shit, what’d he do? Steroids? Get fat? Steal a helicopter?”

Both Gallaghers laughed at that. “God, no. He’s done his time. Four years in the books.” Fiona said. 

“He chose not to re-enlist,” Carl explained.

Mickey nodded. “Speaking of prodigal brothers. Where’s Lip and his rugrat?”

Fiona rolled her eyes heavily and Carl let out a long-suffering sigh. Jimmy hid a chuckle with the neck of his bottle, seemingly used to this reaction.

“His girl kept bitching about how crowded it is here, so he somehow wrangled up enough money for a shitty RV. It’s parked out back,” Carl jerked his thumb towards the back door. “Now they’re shacked up out there and meanwhile I’ve been sitting here alone for the past five hours watching Narcos. I ain’t complaining, it’s just funny how shit their timing is. All they had to do was wait a month for the girls to move out.”

Mickey blinked. “Huh,” he took a long pull from his beer. “I feel like I need a Gallagher subscription or some shit. There’s always new fuckery going on every time I turn my back.”

“After a while, you learn to just stop asking questions,” Jimmy said, a smirk dancing on his lips. His wife set down her drink to slowly mimic reeling a fishing line that raised her middle finger.

Carl sat up, seemingly searching the cushions for something. “As much as I love these little visits from the newlyweds, Kelly’s coming over in fifteen minutes. I’d rather have the house to myself, if you catch my drift.”

Fiona held up her hands in surrender, grabbing her beer from the side table. “No, by all means. I’d rather not stick around for this.”

Jimmy followed her out, stopping at the door to look back at Mickey. “Hey, thanks for coming out, man. I’ll let you know when we get the new furnace in.”

He tilted his beer after them. “I’m sure Mandy gave you my number.”

“She did,” Jimmy laughed.

Fiona slipped her gloves hand into her husband’s. “Goodnight guys! Carl, use protection!”

“Already on it,” the kid said, pulling a long roll from the side of the couch.

*

It was no veritable Art Institute of Chicago, but Mickey thought that he much preferred the familiar comforts of mold spots and bloodstains to the incongruently modern decor at the Lishman suite.

He stomped his feet on the fraying doormat, noting the absence of the ever present cloud of weed smoke that followed his brothers around. As he made his way down the hall he stopped to throw his jacket on his unmade bed. “Mandy? Are you home?”

No response. Typical. But he could hear the grating sounds of that emo girl band she liked to listen to coming from her open door, so he continued walking further into the house until the noise was almost unbearably loud.

“Mandy? I’m back,” he poked his head into her room, catching her mid-swipe of a lipstick two shades darker than he thought they could make ‘em. She caught his eyes in the mirror and rolled them immediately.

“What do you want me to do, roll out a marching band? Welcome home dickwad,” she widened her mouth to color in the sides of her lips.

“Fuck you,” he said. Her skintight velvet dress and the pair of heels set out by her dresser didn’t exactly lead him to believe that their unspoken Saturday night netflix appointment was going to be kept. “You goin’ out?”

Her eyebrows shot up. Fuckin’ Milkoviches. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“The fuck I would.”

Mandy turned around, in the process of pinning back her bangs with Bobby pins. She’d been trying to grow them out for the past couple of months, and they were still in the unruly in-between phase of not short enough to leave alone and not long enough to pull back. “I’m going clubbing with Taylor. A few drinks, a hot guy or two. Some things you could stand to enjoy once in a while.”

His middle finger answered for him.

She grinned. “That’s what I thought. Have fun at home, Gramps, that couch cushion is gonna stay nice and warm for ya,” she gathered up her things, (mercifully) unplugging her iPhone from her speakers and tugging on the strappy platform shoes that he knew she’d be carrying in two hours’ time.

“Hey, you’re the bitch that signed me up to work on my off day. I’m beat,” he thumbed at the side of his nose, eyes darting around her room - as if he’d find anything interesting to look at in the shithole. Looked like an atomic bomb had gone off in the place.

Mandy scoffed. “Keep telling yourself that, Mick. You dumbass. You’d rather get drunk and watch Die Hard for the nine-fucking-billionth time than go out even if you were right as rain.”

Two could play at the eyebrow game. “And?”

She shook her head, throwing her dinky little jerk-off purse over her shoulder with all of the sass she could manage. Which was an awful fucking lot. “And you need to get laid. Have someone unscrew that stick up your ass for me, huh? If only for a little while,” her hip bumped his as she shut her lights off and left her room.

“Eat me,” he called after her, nose wrinkling at the waft of perfume that followed her out.

She shrugged on her leather jacket and gave him a bitchy smile. “I’ll try not to wake the baby when I come home.”

Before he could craft a very colorful reply, the door slammed behind her and she was gone to freeze her skinny ass off in the street alone. Mickey sighed. At least she wouldn’t be bothering him for the rest of the night. She was the city of Chicago’s problem now.

And, come to think of it, that tequila Die Hard marathon was starting to sound pretty damn good to him.

Chapter Text

It was just shy of 2 a.m. when Mandy creeped back into the house, bare feet creaking on the old wooden boards as she snuck the door closed with practiced ease. She balanced her heels on one arm as she slipped the other out of her jacket, repeating the maneuver with the other sleeve. One thought to her bursting closet had her hanging the jacket on the rack by the door. She still had her purse and shoes to throw into the heap besides.

A loud snore stopped her in her tracks on the way to her room. She huffed quietly at the sight of her brother draped across the couch, a bottle of Patrón brushing his fingertips from its place on the floor. The third Die Hard movie was playing on the tv at a low buzz that was no doubt thanks to Mickey’s mid-drunken dizziness sensitizing him to the grating volume of the explosions and shouts. She made her way over to the beaten down coffee table for the remote and switched it off.

“Fuckin’ Mick,” she said, knocking his foot with the edge of her heels. It flinched but her brother didn’t stir. She made a face at the ugly ribbed socks he wore, grey and dirty with the grime from the inside of his work boots. If she didn’t find the notion of touching his feet entirely disgusting, she might have been inclined to roll them off and throw them in the laundry. Instead, she moved around him silently, picking the bottle off the floor and bringing it into the kitchen. She tried not to cringe at how his heavy snores reached across the room as she set the liquor down next to the sink with a soft thud.

She knew parents weren’t supposed to have favorites - Terry certainly didn’t, she thinks he hated them all equally - but among siblings it was just a given. Iggy and Jamie preferred each other, spent most of their time together doing dumb shit like robbing vending machines and smoking weed in places they knew they could get caught for the thrill of it. None of them liked Colin much, which was just as well seeing as he wouldn’t be getting out of prison any time soon. But Mickey and Mandy had their own synergy, the ebbs and flows of constant fighting and bonding that were the hallmark of younger sibling relationships.

The others were stupid and violent and didn’t say much. And while the same could be said about Mickey, he still at least talked to her. Put up with her bitching, checked in on her, even when most of the time it was annoying and unprompted. She couldn’t think of anyone she’d ever been closer to. And, as loathe as she’d be to admit it, her favorite place to be was at home with him, hogging the tv and pouring them shots while he whined from his end of the couch about watching Breaking Bad.

She trudged back over to see him drooling on the armrest, hands now cradling a flattened pillow. At least he seemed halfway comfortable. Mandy slowly freed the blanket wedged underneath him and laid it over his snoozing form. She planted a kiss on her palm, delivering it with a gentle smack to the back of his head. He grunted in his sleep.

Her silent cackle followed her down the hall.

*

Mickey’s week sloughed on slowly like molasses off a spoon. When the weekend hit again he found no respite, as Fiona wanted his opinion on which furnace model would be best for their house. And of course she couldn’t just text him pictures. That’d be too easy. Instead he had to make his way down to North Wallace and bring his tape measure - why the fuck didn’t they have one? - to see what would fit in there.

She’d wanted him to come over on Saturday before the homecoming party the Gallaghers were throwing for their brother, but Mandy had promised him restitution for the movie night she’d missed last week. In order to prepare they’d needed to replenish their liquor supply, which meant that his sister ended up dragging him here, there, and every fucking where around the strip that Binny’s was nestled in. He drew the line at joining her inside Plato’s Closet, knowing she’d spend at least an hour in there that would drag on in agony - until she kicked up a fuss and tugged him along to hold all of her shit. Whatever, it sucked, but he found a decent black button up in there. Mandy-approved and everything.

But now, hungover and sleep deprived from an Insidious marathon that he wasn’t proud to say had made him startle so hard at one point that he’d thrown his favorite shot glass across the room, he peeled himself out of bed and took the laziest shower of his life. He barely managed to rub water over himself with his washcloth. Most of it was spent hunched over his turning stomach and spitting up into the drain - and yes, fucking hurling into it. Fuck. He needed to stop drinking so much.

After an uncharacteristic show of kindness in the form of Mandy making an extra serving of eggs benedict for him - which she promptly demanded restaurant price for, the bitch - Mickey drove the two seconds to the Lishman house and parked his piece of shit Ford halfway onto the sidewalk. He would normally just walk over, but they’d requested he bring over just about his whole damn toolbox to see if he had anything that would fix the leak in their sink. Which wasn’t his expertise, but any fucking way.

“Mickey!” Fiona greeted him from the porch. She was putting a fresh coat of paint on the rickety old swing lined up with the railing, a tasteful walnut brown that nearly matched the wood of the front entrance.

“Hey,” he said gruffly. “Do I really need all this fuckin’ shit just to tighten your faucet, or you just the type to get off on makin’ me lug it into my car?”

The woman blinked guiltily. If that was possible. She dropped her brush on top of the closed paint can, brushing off her hands for invisible dust. “Actually, I may have understated some of the damage we’ve got in there. Might have a few more things for you to do than I’d planned.”

“You don’t fucking say,” he said, bringing a thumb up to press at his nose as he laughed. “In one a’ these shitholes?”

Her grin grew from embarrassed to cheeky. “This could be a whole full-time gig for ya. Quit your day job and all.”

Mickey shook his head in amusement as he made his way up the uneven steps to join her. “Be cheaper to just knock the joint down and build somethin’ else over it. Save me some time too.”

“A Gallagher, making things easy for themself? You sure you’re from around here?” Fiona raised her eyebrows, dark eyes dancing with mirth. Mickey snorted as he followed her into the house.

“Thought you were a Lishman now?”

“Right. So, same deal,” she said. “You know Jimmy had a whole cover band flown out to play my favorite song for me when he proposed? He coulda’ asked me while he was taking a shit and I’d have said yes.”

“Jesus.”

*

Jimmy had gone somewhere quiet to work on his dissertation, leaving him alone with Fiona for the afternoon. It wasn’t so bad. He didn’t mind a little small talk, but she had thankfully let him be for most of it, only occasionally pointing out concerns and discussing what needed to be done to fix them. She called it good for the day around five, informing him that her husband would be home in a couple of hours with dinner and that she had things to do before he came back. He had no argument whatsoever against having the evening free. Mandy had picked up a shift for her coworker tonight, so he would have the whole house to himself if he was lucky.

Like last time, they stopped by the Gallagher house for a couple of beers - he’d just helped Fiona install the fridge at her place - and chatted mildly for a bit. When Mickey drained the last dregs of his drink she chugged the remainder of hers and took their bottles out to the recycling. She returned with her phone in hand, brows furrowed as she tapped on the screen with quick jabs.

“All good?” He asked with as much interest as he could muster.

“Yeah. Just a change of plans. Jimmy’s got food on the way, ‘cause apparently we’re old coots who eat at dusk now,” she said with a chuckle, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. She kept her eyes glued to the screen. “I’m gonna have to go out after we eat. Fuck, is anything gonna be open on a Sunday?”

Mickey shrugged, but he knew the question was mostly rhetorical.

She looked up as if she’d just now noticed him standing there. Her smile was surprisingly warm, reaching all the way to her ears. “You’re a real lifesaver. I never would’ve been able to move that stupid fridge on my own. Jimmy Venmo’ed you for last time, right?”

“Yeah,” Mandy had had to set the shit up for him. Told him after a frustrating half hour of instruction that he was born for blue collar work and snootily called him a “clueless asswipe”. As if she worked at the Ritz fucking Carlton and not a gentrification-induced Jamba Juice.

“I think I’ve got enough cash on me right now for today,” she said, reaching down to unzip her purse. “Give me a second.”

Mickey opened his mouth, deciding whether to go with a grunt or a one word response as per his usual options, when movement from the second floor interrupted them.

“Hey Fi, is that you? I’m going out for a jog, can you text me if Debbie drops Franny off while I’m out? I’m supposed to watch her tonight so she and Sandy can grab drinks.”

A tall redhead bounded down the stairs two at a time, long legs flexing in his blue running shorts. Mickey felt his throat go dry.

The guy was a vision, hair buzzed short and Irish-pale skin tanned and muscled from long hours of physical work under the sun. Mickey could see a string of silver beads at the base of his long neck snaking into his shirt and the outline of dog tags against the dip of his chest. He came to a stop at the landing, leaning his weight against the banister. When he noticed Mickey standing there, his eyebrows raised and his head cocked to the side. There was a mutual recognition forming on both sides, an I’ve-seen-you-around sort of look passing between them.

“Yeah, sure thing. I’m dropping by Jewel later, do you need me to pick up your prescription while I’m in the area?” Fiona rummaged through her purse for her wallet.

The man sighed as if greatly put upon. Mickey couldn’t help the twitch of his lips at the familiar show of younger Gallagher theatrics. “Jesus. I’ve been home not even twelve hours yet, you think I’ve had the chance to call it in? I have enough for the week.”

Fiona raised her free hand in surrender before returning to her task. “Fine, fine. Just don’t forget to call Dr. Son before you run out, okay? Here it is, slippery little fucker,” she pulled out her wallet from the wreckage of receipts and cigarette packs, counting out the amount for a day’s work. “Thanks again for the help, really. Jimmy’s useless with this fix-it shit. You’d think his expertise could extend beyond cars, but no. Not even a little bit.” She squinted playfully. 

As Mickey accepted the money, he felt eyes on him. “That’s rich kids for ya.”

As if determined to remind him of every feature on the guy’s face, the mouth decided it was next, as it formed the honeyed words, “You’re Mickey, right?”

And okay. Maybe they were just normal words. But they were deeper, richer, and they slid sweetly down his skin anyway. He turned to look at the guy. All six-plus feet of him. Jesus.

“Yeah. You Ian?” It was the nose’s turn now, its freckled tip twitching at the acknowledgement. The fucker had freckles everywhere. It was doing weird things to him.

“Nice to meet you,” he nodded, and Mickey didn’t miss how he crossed his arms against the railing to draw attention to the way his biceps stretched through his T-shirt. It worked, intentional or not.

”Sure,” Mickey agreed, a beat too late. Ian noticed. He cleared his throat softly to get Mickey’s attention.

Back to the eyes, then.

He didn’t generally hold eye contact unless he was using it to intimidate someone, but as his locked onto the ginger’s he felt like a bug caught in a Venus fly trap. The same light green edges, the same danger of being eaten alive. He didn’t process Liam’s arrival and hasty ascent up the staircase Ian was lingering in the middle of, nor did he catch the arch of Fiona’s very raised eyebrows. His surroundings seemed unimportant. He was near laser-focused on the redhead’s eyes. They were searing into his like fire catching on a house.

“I’ll be seeing you around then,” Ian said, like it was a warning or a promise rather than a nicety. Mickey tried to make his dry swallow as subtle as possible.

“Yeah, man,” his thumb found his bottom lip to push at the edge of it, a habit he hadn’t thought twice about until the weight of Ian’s gaze landed on the movement. He dropped his hand lamely back at his side when he was done. And - he couldn’t help it - he sent a skittish glance towards Ian’s mouth. Fuck him for looking. The man’s tongue was tracing over his own pronounced Cupid’s bow, and it would be just the perfect goddamn sick joke if he popped a boner right here in front of Fiona fucking Gallagher.

But he was blessedly saved from this embarrassing scenario by the instigator himself as he brushed past Mickey on his way out the door. And Mickey tried not to - he really truly tried - but his blinding lack of self-preservation had him sneaking a peek down at his ass anyway, the briefest split second thing he could manage. Fuck him. Fuck him and those stupid little shorts.

When the door closed behind Ian, it was just him and Fiona and her furious iPhone tapping. Mickey shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, feeling like he should get going. He’d been on his way out already, but the desire was growing a bit more acute now. 

Fiona sensed it. Her eyes shifted over to the door in encouragement and she led the way out onto the porch. Ian was bent over stretching on the lawn, because of course he wouldn’t just go on his fucking run and leave Mickey in peace. Jesus Christ.

Trying not to stick around and make his perving obvious, he gave one last wave to the oldest Gallagher and a salute to Army boy. The gesture earned him a short musical laugh. Mickey vaguely remembered what Fiona had said about her favorite song. 

The sound rang in his ears like a gong, like tectonic plates shifting together and apart again. He thought ruefully that the world was finally falling back into place, the order of it restored. As he reached the street and stopped to light a cigarette, he knew. The air nipped through his lungs on the way in and billowed on the way out. The concrete was solid under his feet, jagged and cracked, but immovable.

The grass was green.

The sky was blue.

Milkoviches couldn't resist Gallaghers.

He was fucked.

Chapter Text

Distance brought with it the clarity he needed. As did the angry text message from Sandy saying her date went south and that she was coming over to vent about, quote, “that fucking nut job redheaded she-bitch”.

He and Mandy busied themselves preparing for the impending storm, setting up the living room for a night of ranting and potential destruction. Mandy gathered what alcohol they had leftover from movie night while Mickey set out the cheese curls - the go-to Milkovich comfort food. He even went out to the library and printed out a picture from Debbie’s Instagram to pin to their dartboard. He thought it was a nice touch.

When Sandy stomped through the front door, she immediately launched into the full story. Mandy handed her a beer and settled into the couch. She looked far too tickled by the whole situation.

Apparently they had run into one of Debbie’s exes at the bar, this one about fifty fuckin’ years old with a martyr complex so big it nearly hit Sandy in the eye. Usually she had no problem dealing with the long line of whack jobs her girlfriend has dated, but she was already in a mood over having to wait for a response to her SAIC portfolio submission. Add in a cuckoo old bat and a tipsy bisexual to the mix, and it was the perfect recipe for a Sandy ‘Splosion à la every middle school kid’s science fair entry. Except actually molten. And actually a volcano.

“I swear, it’s like she never thinks about my feelings?” Sandy said, posing it almost like a question as she downed her first shot. “‘Cause you know I’m a bitch, but I do have them.”

Mandy patted her back encouragingly. “That’s it, down the hatch.”

“Hey Sandy, a fuckin’ question,” Mickey said, bringing over his own drink and plopping down on her other side. “Why do you even date this kid if you can’t stand her ass?”

Sandy scowled. She shoved at his shoulder, hard, sending a splooge of beer down his arm in long amber drops. “Really?” He said, shaking the moisture off. Good thing he never wore sleeves.

“You wouldn’t get it. It’s that family, man. They’re so fucking sexy and nobody really understands why. It just is. It’s like one of the rules of the universe or something,” She cleared her throat dramatically, reaching for the bottle of Jack to pour herself another shot. “A poem, if you will: Gallaghers suck but they’re hot as fuck.”

Mickey rolled his eyes. “Yeah, okay Emily Dickinson. I think you’ve had enough of that,” he reached for her shot glass, but before he could grab it she clutched it to her chest and threw it back. “Bitch!” he said. 

Sandy elected to ignore him and continue her spiel. She made a grand sweep with her empty glass and declared, “One day, Debbie is going to scoop out my insides with a fork, eat them, and hang my skin in her closet as a trophy. And I will let her, because I am stupid and weak and she has an amazing tongue.”

Mickey shuddered at the mental image, both of a deflated Sandy shell rotting in a corner of their shitty apartment and of Debbie fucking Gallagher in any sexual context. Mandy seemed more understanding - shocker, with his emotional IQ as low as it was - and took the glass from her to avoid a similar situation as last week’s jump scare.

“That’s what comes with dating a Gallagher, babe. I warned you,” Mandy stroked her cousin’s shoulder placatingly. “It’s never worth it.” 

The words buried themselves into Mickey’s stomach like thorned vines as he took a long swig of his beer.

“I know,” Sandy said. And Jesus. Here came the tears. “But she could’ve just told her to go away. She didn’t have to sit there -“ she buried a loud sniffle in her sleeve. “she just sat there and talked to her like nothing was wrong. She let her talk shit about me right to my face - and I don’t care what some old north side bitch says to me, but shouldn’t she? I call Debbie a slut all the time, but if someone else did I’d punch them in the throat!”

Mickey stifled the laugh that threatened to break free from his diaphragm. Mandy was not so kind. But right after she knocked Sandy gently on the skull, whispering a sweet, “She should,” that reminded Mickey of the long nights they always spent awake in fear the eve before Terry inevitably got released from prison again. Her soothing reassurances that they’d have each other to protect against anything the asshole would do was all that could get him to sleep sometimes. “You deserve to have someone who will stand up for you. Even if you don’t need them to.”

Sandy nodded in agreement. Mickey envied her confidence; had Mandy said the same to him, he might not have believed it. “I just want her to love me as much as I love her,” she wiped her runny nose across the arm of her leather jacket. “Is that so much to ask?”

*

Tucking Sandy into bed was a difficult affair; Mickey swears the bitch was more fit than he was. She fell asleep on the couch just three shots in - though he supposed she had just come from a bar. Still, she definitely owed him for lugging her ass over to her old room and all but tucking her in.

As he turned around to head back into the living room and help Mandy clean up, a loud ding came from his jeans pocket. Sandy nearly woke at the sound, rolling over with a sleepy snuffle. Mickey cursed under his breath and pulled his phone out as inconspicuously as he possibly could.

A message lit up his screen in the darkness, the eerie blue glow reaching out to slide over the shadowed contours of his face. He bit his lip harshly at its contents.

Fiona

Hey Mickey, you free this Thursday? 

Of course.

Every time he wanted to avoid something, that’s exactly what found him first. 

And he knew he had no good excuse as to why he’d be busy. He wanted to say no for fear of running into her stupidly attractive brother, but he was free - and he really did need the work. Plus Fiona was alright. He was actually starting to sort of like the chick. Flaking out on her now would be kind of a dick move - though he was not above those, it’d be kind of difficult to explain the next time Sandy needed Mickey and Mandy for moral support at a Gallagher family gathering why he’d gone awol right after he’d agreed to lend a hand. 

Begrudgingly, he typed out a response and hit send.

You

i’ll b there

just let me know what time by monday

*

If he had thought that the Gallaghers would stick to their own houses, he was sorely mistaken. He was also mistaken in believing that the universe would cut him a break just this once, because when he knocked on Fiona’s door it was Sergeant Gorgeous that answered.

Green eyes. Pink smile. Grey Henley. Black jeans. Mickey’s gaze skipped over the colors as they made their way down his frame and back. The smile was turning from friendly to coy very quickly.

“Fiona’s got work,” he said by way of an explanation as to why he was the one welcoming Mickey back to casa del Lishman. To be honest, he hadn’t even thought to question it. He figured these siblings just came and went at either house as they pleased, running errands for one another in a never ending loop of open favors. He doubted they kept score at this point, but if they were, then Fiona was leading by a metric shit ton. Lip came in at a close second.

“But hey, c’mon in,” Ian held the door open wider to let him inside, leading him through the museum of fruit still life to the kitchen. Mickey paused at the door frame, arching a brow as he took in the scene in front of him.

The tall fucker was bent comically over the short countertop, hands busy stirring a clear pitcher with a tad too much force. Droplets flew from the sides of the hard plastic - not splashed, flew . It was triggering a bout of OCD that Mickey didn’t know he had in him.

Ian looked up in surprise when he heard the loud throat-clearing that ensued from the archway, as if he hadn’t just seen Mickey standing there about two seconds ago.

“You wanna try some?” Ian gestured excitedly towards his concoction.

“What is it?” Mickey asked, peering over at the hot mess of seeds and clumps floating in the pale yellow liquid.

He must’ve grown an extra head or somethin’ with the way that Gallagher was staring at him. You’d think it was just plain as fucking day what he was cooking up at 2pm on a goddamn weekday. “It’s lemonade!” he said, leaning back against the counter heavily.

Mickey gave him an incredulous look. “The fuck you drinkin’ lemonade for in this ice box?”

Ian shrugged, a smile not very well hidden under the press of his lips. “It’s been a hobby of mine lately. Making lemonade. From scratch,” His eyebrows lifted meaningfully. “I’ve almost perfected the recipe. Was thinking I’d try adding limes next.”

“Is that so?” Mickey folded his arms, nostrils flaring in amusement.

The damn ginger nodded so hard Mickey thought his head might come unscrewed. His smile was blinding now, no use trying to suppress it anymore. Mickey’s own smirk faltered at the pang it sent through his chest. He hadn’t ever gotten all that shit that Mandy went on about with Lip’s fucking mug, that smug sonuvabitch. Didn't really have time to think about dudes’s smiles when he was fucking them in the back of an alley. But maybe - and he would never admit this to her - Mandy had been onto something. Lip’s very punchable grin was one thing. Ian’s, however, seemed to shine from his face like his teeth were made of moonstone. And fuck the bastard for it. Making Mickey think all this girly bullshit.

The fucking guy turned around, shuffling about in the cupboards above the toaster, yelling, “Aha!” way too fucking loudly when those gorgeous pale fingers wrapped around a tall glass lined with colorful rings. Mickey reached up to scratch the side of his nose as he watched those fingers grab onto the handle of the pitcher with a bit more than a healthy amount of fascination. Ian emptied a sizable portion of lemonade into the cup and held it out to him, shaking it gently.

“Be my guinea pig?” He asked hopefully, and Mickey already knew that he wouldn’t be able to deny the man anything when he looked at him like that - no matter how apprehensive he was of those leafy green things swimming at the edges of the glass. Carefully avoiding contact with the long calloused fingers holding the drink, he reached for it and took a slow sip before he lost his nerve.

Damn. Shit was actually pretty good. He smacked his lips appreciatively.

“The green stuff, it’s mint,” Ian supplied the answer to his unspoken question. “Just adds a little something extra. Do you like it?”

“Well I didn’t spit it out, did I, carrot top?” Mickey cocked his eyebrows as if that was the dumbest thing he’d ever been asked. It wasn’t. Iggy once asked him if cows pissed out of their udders.

Ian chuckled. “I’m glad it’s earned your approval.”

“Fuckever,” Mickey said eloquently. He swallowed it down in large gulps, underestimating his own thirst. “‘S good. Happy?”

Ian seemed momentarily distracted, eyes settled around his throat. They snapped up at his impatient huff, that radiant smile back in full force. “Very. My siblings won’t even try what I make anymore. I guess they’re sick of lemonade by now.”

“And you’re not?”

Ian snorted vehemently. “No. Not at all. I’m not gonna stop until my recipe is absolutely perfect.”

Mickey shook his head, sliding the empty glass across the counter. “Martha fucking Stewart over here.”

That smile widened, if it was possible, and Mickey couldn’t help himself in lingering on it. 

Then, as if he’d been slapped, Mandy’s words came rushing back to him. That’s what comes with dating a Gallagher, she’d said. It’s never worth it. 

It was a sentiment he’d heard many times before, but only now did he feel the true weight of it pressing down onto his chest. The man before him was sexy as all hell and an actually decent conversationalist, if not a bit nutty. But he’d challenge anyone to find him someone in this neighborhood that wasn’t. Despite this, he thought of Lip, of Debbie, even goddamn Fiona with her sucker punch and her string of drug addict, jailbird boyfriends. If he looked at Ian and saw an interesting, attractive guy, then it was sure as shit that plenty of men and women had thought the same and tried their luck. And not a one of them had seemed to live to tell the tale.

Mickey shifted uncomfortably in his winter coat, eyes darting over towards the basement. 

“So, uh,” he jerked his head in the direction of the staircase. “we doin’ this?”

The man blinked as if coming out of a daze. His smile stayed put, a sparkle of white and pink and there the fuck Mickey went with all that color shit again. “Yeah,” Ian said, side-stepping around him with a hand to the small of his back. Mickey tried very hard not to stiffen under the weight of his warm palm. “Follow me. I think Fiona said she needed the new furnace installed?”

As soon as that hand was gone Mickey felt like he could breathe again. He nodded, trailing after the jolly fuckin’ giant to see what kind of a setup they’d chosen.

The stairs to the underground storage room were old and wooden and they sagged slightly in the middle. Every time he’d been on them he’d nearly tripped and broken his neck. It seemed that today would be no exception, as he placed too much faith in one of the steps and felt himself lurch forward. He caught himself just in time on the rough handrails, feeling a thousand tiny splinters of wood burrowing themselves into his hands. He drew out a long, pained breath.

Ian only glanced back when he heard the sound of his harsh exhale, eyes widening as he saw how Mickey was hovering over the stairs with one foot in the air and a white-knuckled grip on the railing. He held his hands out uselessly as if he wasn’t sure whether to offer assistance.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

Mickey grunted in the affirmative. He carefully tested the strength of the board below him with the toe of his boot, only resting the full sole on it when he was sure it could hold him. Once he caught up to the redhead he waved impatiently for him to get moving, saying, “I ain’t got all day, stretch.”

Ian grinned at the nickname. Mickey heard him bounding down the remainder of the steps as he focused on picking at the slivers of wood protruding from his palms. It seemed that he’d gotten all of them by the time he reached the large unit that Ian led him to, arms spread in an exaggerated “ta-dah”. It was kind of fucking cute, but Milkoviches didn’t call anything cute unless done mockingly, so Mickey kept his stupid mouth shut and got to work.

He shed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. He’d decided the last time he was there to just leave his personal set of tools with them; he got sick of carting then back and forth and everything at his house was too broken to fix anyways. His tool bag was set next to the old furnace that’d been turned off so as not to cough up black smoke or give them aerial poisoning or something equally as ominous. He moved over to the bag so he could wrench open the door of the old unit and stick his hands inside it.

He didn’t know why he’d expected Ian to actually leave him alone for this bit, but he certainly didn’t seem compelled to. The guy circled around Mickey like a vulture while he tinkered about - or maybe more accurately, a baby duckling. 

When he pulled them free, his arms were dotted with grease stains. “Pass me my rag?” He gestured towards the piece of ratty grey cloth sticking out of his bag.

Ian said nothing for a long minute. When Mickey turned towards him he noticed that the fucker was staring dumbly at his dirty skin, the contrast of black on white stark in the dim light. His eyebrows asked the question for him. Fuck you lookin’ at?

Ian startled, fumbling to pick up the rag and hold it out to him. Mickey took it slowly, suspicion creeping into his eyes.

“How’d you get this gig?” Ian asked, trying to change the subject as quickly as he could. “I didn’t even know you did shit like this.”

“Yeah, well you’ve been gone a while, big guy. Jimmy’s mom told Mandy they needed someone and the bitch volunteered me,” he said, only slightly bitter. After all, by extension it was sort of her fault that he was getting his greasy forearms ogled by a big orange lollipop with legs. 

Ian actually looked mildly interested. “Your sister? How’s she doing?”

He snorted. “Same as fucking always. A huge pain in my ass, for starters. But whatever. Some chick at her salon got knocked up and wants to move to Florida, so there’s a full-time position open that the manager basically told her is hers. She’s gonna quit her other gig at Jamba Juice next week,” and thank fucking god too, because the stupid smoothie joint didn’t pay her shit. “Likes it better there anyway. I think she wanted to go to beauty school and do hair or some shit. I guess nails are the closest she thinks she’s gonna get.”

Ian hummed, looking for all the world like he actually cared. Like he was fucking pleased that Mickey’s bratty little sister had a job that made her happy. This wasn’t really helping him in terms of assuaging Mickey’s suspicions. 

“Why, carrot top? You got a hard-on for my sister?” The thought alone made something ugly and black stir up in his chest like an angry hive of hornets, but it would explain why he’d been so fucking friendly. No one ever talked to Mickey unless they wanted something. That or they were incurably fucking stupid. It could honestly go either way with this guy.

But Ian seemed quite amused by the question. “What? Fuck no. Just making conversation,” he said, subtly sidling up closer when he saw the wrinkles on Mickey’s forehead unfurl.

Subtle or not, Mickey noticed. He coughed lightly - it’s never worth it - and nudged a freckled arm back with his elbow, trying to make the action as playful as he could. “Yeah? Well make it somewhere else wise guy, I got work to do,” the smile that followed surprised him with how naturally it came, and he tried to swallow it down as quickly as he could.

Ian made a show of staggering back like he’d been shot rather than gently shoved, clutching his arm in dramatized pain. Mickey’s eyebrows did their usual gymnastics, but that damn smile came back before he could stop it, and he pushed the man further with an impatient, “Yeah, I’ll give you somethin’ to hurt about. Go on.”

Ian dodged out of the way before he could make good on his promise, a shit-eating grin following him up the rickety old staircase. His bouncing steps turned the beating wings of the hornets from before into silken stirrings as they migrated down into Mickey’s stomach. He didn’t even want to think of what kind of insect could be responsible for the soft flutter. 

*

When Mickey finally made his way back up those shitty basement stairs, Ian’s head shot up from his phone. “Is it done already?”

He shook his head. “Nah, man. This is a three person job that I’m doin’ all by myself. Tell your sister it’s gonna take a few more days,” he wiped the back of his hand over his damp forehead, feeling a slight breeze on his stomach.

As if they’d rode in on the wind, Ian’s light eyes followed the lift of his shirt. Mickey didn’t notice until he’d thoroughly wiped his brow that he was being watched yet again. He quickly dropped his hand. With it went his shirt, as did Ian’s gaze, which fell to the floor as he feigned interest in the clean white tiles.

“Do you, um,” Ian began, twirling his phone nervously in his hand. “Do you want to stick around? Wait for Fiona? She should be back soon.”

Mickey wasn’t sure if he was asking to be polite or if the meaning was as obvious as some small part of him wanted it to be, but he knew either way that any time spent alone with the man without pretext would be dangerous.

“No need. I got Venmo,” he said, delivering a swift pat to Ian’s shoulder as he walked past him. Ignoring the disappointment that crossed his face as he looked up from the tiles, Mickey added, “Oh, tell her I’m ‘a need it least some of it by tomorrow if she can, though. Rent’s due.”

“Okay,” He could tell from his aborted movements towards the door that Ian wanted to offer to walk him out, but he wouldn’t dare be the one to suggest it. Smart choice. 

“See ya, Red,” Mickey gave him a salute again, because fuck it, he thought it was funny. And judging by the answering smile on the man’s face, he did too. 

He felt so warm on his way home that he didn’t even notice until he was already halfway through his own front door that he’d left his jacket in Fiona’s basement.

*

Mickey knew that his pussyfooting was less than subtle, but he couldn’t help it. Ian was on his mind and he couldn’t get him off it. It was starting to get really fuckin’ annoying, actually.

He and Mandy were outside, raking what was left of the leaves - or she was. He was just watching, earning a “fuck off, Mick!” every few minutes or so when he got in her way. Eventually Mickey decided to move to the walkway to avoid pissing her off even more. 

He spent a good while just waffling there, swiveling anxiously back and forth across the concrete. Mandy eyed him as he brought a hand up to his mouth and chewed on a thumbnail that was looking a bit worse for wear. He was trying to think of how to bring up the subject in the least suspicious way possible, but he supposed he hadn’t gotten off to a good start with the pacing and shit.

“Hey, um, do you know anything about that Gallagher guy? The big ginger fucker?” He winced. Fuck if he could make it sound casual. At all. He rushed to get more words out to convincingly explain why he’d been asking and not just sound like a complete and total dickhead. “Army kept hovering over my shoulder while I worked today. Nearly chatted my damn ear off,” yeah, Mickey, that made it better. You moron.

Mandy’s rake fell with her jaw. “Ian? He’s home!? That asshole!” She stomped over to the porch to grab her phone, picking it up off of a step and flicking through her contacts with quick movements. “He wouldn’t tell me when he was coming back, I asked him about a thousand times! My own brother, my own shit-for-brains brother knew before me?”

Mickey’s face twisted. “You know ‘im?”

His sister tossed him an incredulous look over her phone. “I know you don’t pay any fucking attention to my life, Mick, but seriously? He’s my best friend. Came over all the time in high school.”

“Huh,” he rubbed at his eyebrow thoughtfully. A cold cloud escaped his mouth on the exhale of the word.

But Mandy was ignoring him now, the phone pressed to her ear through that ugly purple beanie she’s had since god knows when. It seemed to be ringing for quite a while until Ian guiltily picked up, immediately earning a royal verbal beat down from the five-time champion herself.

“Ian. Clayton. Motherfucking. Gallagher.” She said, deadly slow in the way that she only got when you were truly in some shit. She stormed up the stairs and into the house, and Mickey only caught the beginning of her venomous rant, “You’re a deadman. You’d better hope that the Army has a nice cushy coffin ready for you and seven little twinks to fire off some shots for your sorry ass because you’re gonna need ‘em by the time I’m done with you.”

Mickey snorted, sifting around in the pockets of his old jean jacket for a cigarette. When he realized that he’d left them in his other coat, he instead trudged over to sit on the peeling steps and pick at the curls of light blue paint that came up like waves to greet him. His only other pack was sitting on the coffee table inside and he didn’t have enough cash on him to go out to the corner store to buy some more.

He wouldn’t dare set foot in the house now. It was best to stay out of Mandy’s way in general, but it was a simple Milkovich rule of survival to steer clear when she was on the warpath - no matter the intended target.

*

It was later that night, after Mandy had been appeased with the promise of a long catchup session over drinks at The Alibi, that Sandy sent him an update on how her return to the lion’s den had gone. 

Sandy

made up with Debbie :) thanks for nothing with your stupid advice lololol!!!

He was sprawled out on his bed when he got her message, halfway through a toke of his joint. As he exhaled he felt that familiar fog settle over his head and trickle warmly down his spine. The smoke would be a bitch to clear out, but he couldn’t bring himself to care as he slowly melted into his mattress like hot jello.

Fuck. Jello sounded good right now. Fuckin’ anything sounded good right now.

When he got up to wander over to the kitchen he caught sight of his phone. The text blinked on the screen when he unlocked it and he scoffed at its contents. Smug bitch. She was the only person on earth he knew that was more insufferable when she was getting laid on the regular. He sent off a response with a quick jab of his thumb.

You

suck my nuts

A reply came through right away.

Sandy

no thanks :/ I’m on an AIDS-free diet right now

Mickey rolled his eyes, snatching up a can of Pringles from on top of the fridge. Mandy tried to hide them there with the assumption that he was too short to reach them, but even he knew how to use his fucking toes. 

You

fucker

i’ll show u aids

An

Invitation to ur

Death

Soon

The retreat back to his room with the snack felt worse than any walk of shame he’d ever taken. Thank god none of his siblings were roaming about; they’d all passed out for the night, likely exhausted from another long day of being horrible little shits. Mandy and his brothers didn’t give a single flying fuck about who or when he was banging, but they always had a good laugh whenever they saw him slinking into his room alone with a buzz and a packet of artificially colored salt. Go figure.

Sandy

speaking of invitations. the Gallaghers are having a party on Saturday 

Talk about out of the fucking blue. 

You

and?????

Mickey cracked open the lid on the chips and slowly pulled his door closed behind him. It creaked just as loudly as every other goddamn door jamb and floorboard in this old house. He winced.

Sandy

and dumbass! Debbie said to invite you

He flopped back down onto his bed and squinted warily at the message. He hadn’t known Sandy to fuck with him, but maybe she’d picked it up as a new hobby after hearing how fun it was from Mandy. One hand in the can and another on his phone, he stuffed the chips into his mouth as he relayed his caution.

You

...why…

Sandy

idk apparently her brother was really persistent about it

Mickey stared the message. And stared. And stared some more. He stared so long that another text popped up full of question marks - which for Sandy was rare. She never double-texted. The bitch must be pretty desperate to get his RSV-fucking-P. It’d probably help her position with Peppermint Patty over in their fuckin’ Uhaul love nest.

He reached over blindly to where he’d set his joint and brought it to his lips again. As much as the thought of spending more time with a guy that could somehow manage to hold an intensive conversation about the correct sequence in which to add the fresh ingredients to a lemonade mixture and still have Mickey drooling all over him in the process made him want to preemptively blow his own brains out, that last bit of the equation caused him to take pause. He’d never really been attracted to someone he’d known for more than a night. Shit scared him, if he was honest. But anything up until now that he’d been scared of had turned out to be far more scared of him. He could always rely on his rough attitude and resting bitch face to push people away before they got too close. Why did this time have to be any different?

He took another long hit and held it in his lungs for as long as he could. Fuck. He shouldn’t have put so much kief in the damn thing. Mickey’s dumbass was about to rocket to outer space.

Before he could become completely incoherent, he licked the sour cream and onion dust from his fingers to type. He would’ve never conceded this quickly if not for how high he was. Unfortunately for him, Sandy would definitely still hold him to his word.

You

fine

Chapter Text

Mickey was awoken by the ping of a notification informing him of a deposit made to his Venmo account. When he rolled over to unlock his phone, he saw that it was Fiona, and she had included a note that said, thanks for your hard work! along with the statement of what the transaction was for. He felt a brief smile take over his face and breathed a sigh of relief, quickly doing the math in his head to calculate whether they’d have enough for rent with Mandy’s last Jamba Juice check and whatever dumb and dumber had scrounged up from the neighborhood junkies. With two stable incomes they now had some money to spare, and Mickey was almost tempted to take Mandy out to get some decent whiskey to celebrate. 

He texted his landlord that he needed to drop by the bank after work to get his share of the rent, and that he’d try to be over with the money by seven at the latest. The gruff old bastard didn’t reply, but Mickey knew he’d seen it. He always kept an eye out if there was money involved. All he did was play poker and sit out on his porch with his mangy little chihuahua, so Mickey supposed he needed it. 

His first stretch of the day led to a satisfying pop in his back. He groaned, slapping his phone down onto the nightstand once more. He’d forgotten to charge it before bed in his weed-laden stupor, and he only had a half hour or so to load it up before he had to head off to work. He made sure it was connected several times, jiggling both ends in and out for good measure. God knew how many times he’s made the mistake of having the cord just sitting in his phone doing fuck all when he was in a hurry.

His room seemed messier than usual today, and he felt confident blaming the hungry cretin that took over his body last night for trashing the place in search of hidden snacks. He artfully stepped over piles of clothes and questionably aged garbage as he got dressed, a dance he’d perfected over almost twenty five years of professional lazy fuckery. Unable to find his work boots in the chaos, he grumbled under his breath at old jeans and cans until he remembered that High Mickey thought it would be hilarious to set them in the sink for some reason. Dumbass. 

He had barely emerged from his room when Mandy’s sharp voice came calling to him from the living room.

“Mick, get the fuck over here. Show me what you’re wearing to the party tomorrow so I can laugh at it and pick something else,” he could already hear the awful sound of her peeling off her own old acrylics, a bad habit she’d never been able to shake even when it became her profession. His eyebrows raised preemptively, ready to argue at a moment’s notice as per usual. 

“The fuck d’you know about that?” He asked, wandering into the room and rubbing harshly at his eyes. He was hardly in the mood for this, but he knew his sister well enough to know that once she had her mind set on something, she was like a dog with a goddamn bone. There was no use shaking his attendance at this party from her tightened jaw, not unless he wanted to risk losing a finger.

“Ian texted me,” she said. Mickey felt an aggrieved groan work its way up his throat. Great, so the guy was cornering him on all sides now. “I told him you wouldn’t come unless someone knocked you out and dragged you, but he insisted. Says he’s got somethin’ of yours,'' she sounded interested, but hell if Mickey knew what gingersnap was talking about. The guy didn’t seem to think of the endless circles he spoke in as being all that complicated to understand, but for men like Mickey everything beyond a simple “fuck off” was complicated. And even if he could decipher Red’s gibberish, he sure as shit wouldn’t be telling Mandy what the fuck was going on. Jesus. Every Milkovich would know about it by noon. Terry would know about it by noon. 

“Fuck that. I ain’t going,” he said, chin set defiantly. He should’ve known that wouldn’t work right away, but he hoped that maybe if he delivered the sentiment with enough confidence he might be able to get away with it. No such luck.

“Yes you are, asshole. Sandy told me you said you would last night,” Mandy’s gaze was unyielding, two blue laser beams cutting straight through him with deadly accuracy. Mickey cursed himself under his breath.

Stupid high Mickey, always making shit difficult for sober Mickey. Stupid Milkovich girls alliance. Stupid ginger fuckhead. Stupid ripped ginger fuckhead with his bulging quads and stupid crinkly eyed smiles. Stupid fucking bullshit. 

“So come on. Let’s see it then,” Mandy prompted, rising from the couch and extending a hand for Mickey to lead the way. He gave one last attempt at an intimidating glare, — eyes threatening a multitude of unnamed horrors — before her unyielding determination won out. Just like it always did.

“Shit! Hold on. I gotta grab my food,” She ran back to grab her bread as it popped out of the toaster, no doubt slathering it in butter and brown sugar before she came to trail crumbs of it all over Mickey’s room. “Go on! I’ll be there in a second.”

Mickey wasn’t going to mention that he hadn’t gotten the chance to even think about breakfast yet lest he lose his balls for daring to talk back to her. He supposed he’d have to resign himself to an uncooked poptart and whatever he could scrounge from the vending machine at work. 

She poked her head in mere seconds after he’d entered the room himself, holding her food over her head like she was wading in the mess of Mickey’s room. “Anything?”

He reached for the first thing he could find that looked like it wouldn’t need to be washed and was acceptable for a house party, landing on an old orange t-shirt he’d cut the sleeves from ages ago. It would be fucking cold, even with the heat radiating from the countless children packed into the Gallagher household, but as soon as his fist closed over it he knew he’d need to stand his ground regardless or Mandy would eat him alive. 

“Uhh. I don’t know. This?” He held out the top for her consideration, immediately garnering the wrinkled nose he knew it would. 

“You’re kidding,” she said, checking his hip as she came up to stand next to him. She balanced her toast on the pads of her fingers, as if it would ruin her already unsalvageable manicure, and stared over at him agape. His brow furrowed on instinct.

“Fuck’s wrong with it? I wear it all the time,” he said, leaning into the pits to sniff it for good measure. Still relatively clean. 

Mandy covered her mouth to laugh humorlessly through the lump of half-chewed toast in her cheek. If he thought he could get away with it, he would’ve snatched that godawful sugary abomination from her prone fingertips. “Exactly.”

Mickey rolled his eyes. “Alright, Vera Wang. What do you suggest?”

“Where’s that shirt you got at Plato’s?” She stepped forward to rummage through the racks in Mickey’s closet, nose wrinkling further as she narrowly avoided a pair of dirty underwear he’d thrown in it last week. “I know you have it in here somewhere, don’t even try lying to me.”

If Mickey were any more sleep deprived, he might actually consider giving in to the childish urge to stomp his feet. “Why’ve I gotta dress up for a Gallagher party anyway? Everyone there’ll be half naked or worse.”

“Because I have to be seen there with you. Hold this,” she handed him the aforementioned shirt, somehow barely affected by the general filth of the rest of his clothes. He slung it over his shoulder and watched her bravely return to the chasm in search of something to match. Good luck with that. She’d sooner find something that could reach out and touch her on its own than a presentable pair of pants.

Right on cue, her knuckles brushed across a forgotten sock that was more yellow than white and sported matching holes in the toes and the heel. She moved away from it, horrified when it followed her in its swift descent to the floor, and caught it with her free hand — only to toss it off to Mickey like a hot potato. “Ugh, and throw this away! Mickey, Jesus!”

“Fuck out of my closet if you don’t like it, bitch!” He said, throwing the sock back to a different corner of the closet. 

“Christ,” she breathed as if she had gotten winded, one hand to her heart and the other shoving the remainder of her toast into her waiting mouth. Mickey enjoyed the brief silence while he could. Upon her swallow she was right back to business, asking, “Do you have any decent pants or do we need to buy you those too?”

“Fuck off,” if he had to spend any more time being Mandy’s lifesize Barbie, he’d scream. An after-work shopping trip would undoubtedly end in bloodshed at this point. 

Find some,” she insisted, pushing at his chest while she went to go wait on his unmade bed. Mickey gave an only slightly exaggerated groan, shuffling over to fish inside a drawer he was fairly certain housed a pair of dark jeans he’d only worn twice. 

“Here,” he thrust them into her arms, collapsing onto the mattress next to her. “These are gonna be just fucking fine. Can we drop it now?”

Mandy hummed thoughtfully at his selection, turning them over in her hands to inspect for holes. They seemed at lease decent enough to placate her, but he found himself approaching a whole new problem when she shot up to grab her phone from the other room.

“Hold on. I should FaceTime Sandy,” she called over her shoulder. Mickey dropped his head into his hands, cursing every single god he could think of. Living or dead, real or not, didn’t matter. They all could kiss his ass for fuck he cared. 

The dial tone sounded from the hallway, getting louder and more irritating as Mandy got closer. When she was right next to him the noise started to physically hurt, so much so that he made the executive decision to snatch her phone away to turn down the volume himself. Why she’d had it set to such an unholy level was beyond him. He needn’t have worried about his ears, though — his ribs were the ones in the most pain when she elbowed him to take her phone back. It was all for naught anyway when the thing gave a final two beeps, signaling the end of its waiting period. 

She frowned at the unanswered call, but it didn’t deter her in the slightest. She immediately pressed the callback button, her horribly chewed pointer nail clacking against the screen. It dialed long and high with the same grating standby sounds as before. 

“Her and Debbie are probably boning, give it a rest,” Mickey said, wincing at the eagerness his sister was showing for such a task as dressing him for a party. Usually she wouldn’t give a flying fuck what he wore. Or at least she’d leave it at a bitchy comment and be on her way.

“Shut up. It’s seven a.m.,” she flipped her hair at him, effectively bringing her own command to fruition by introducing her swinging ponytail to his open mouth.

He didn’t know what that had to do with anything — maybe straight people thought there were set hours during which you were permitted to have sex, like it was the same as ordering from the fuckin’ breakfast menu at McDonald’s — but as he was sputtering around her unwashed hair her phone screen switched from a portrait of him choking to the top of their cousin’s head as she seemed to be shifting around to a different position.

“Aha! See, she picked up!” Mandy said. The triumph in her voice disrupted something deep and primal in his soul, something carved out from the start of time inside of every living being on earth with a younger sibling. 

“Aha, see, they were fuckin’ boning!” Mickey said, gesturing at the smug expression Sandy wore as she came into frame fumbling to cover herself with a sheet.

“It’s okay,” her voice rang tinny through the speakers, more shuffling going on as she worked to keep Debbie out of the shot. Mickey was eternally grateful. “We just finished, she’ll be out for a while.”

“Lovely,” Mickey said, sarcasm near wobbling with its viscosity. Because fuck dripping. “Don’t you guys ever have work? I sure as fuck do, just so you know, so let’s make this snappy.”

“Ooo la la, someone’s pushy. Got the day off, sunshine,” Sandy said, preening at the fact even as Mickey’s allotted time to grab something to fill his growling belly was ticking down. 

“Red too?” Mickey asked, finding it hard to believe that both his cousin and her girlfriend had acquired so many days off that they could spend together to move house and bone and whatever the fuck else lesbians did. Probably bake homemade focaccia in their underwear and talk about their feelings or some shit. The thought alone was enough to make Mickey’s skin crawl.  

“She just finished up a job. They haven’t posted any new ones yet.”

“Alright, focus up ladies!” Mandy cut in, trying to steer them both back on track. Sandy and Mickey responded with equally indignant sounds of protest, but as she was very used to their griping by now, Mandy soldiered on with the patience of a saint. “The mission is to make Mickey look decent in public for the first time in his life! Are we up to the task? We shall see,” she said in her best impression of a circus announcer, earning a middle finger from Mickey.

She held up the shirt first, laying it against her own torso when Mickey dodged her attempts to drape it over him. “There’s this little diamond in the rough that I got for him a while ago,” she said, making meaningful eye contact with Mickey as she did. His only response was something approaching a scoff.

Sandy nodded her approval, throwing in a mild, “Nice,” to satisfy Mandy’s incessant need for verbal validation. 

Pleased, Mandy continued on with the jeans. “And then we have this, plundered from the depths of Mickey’s ancient drawers,” another jab that Mickey wasn’t going to grace with a response, but his severely bowed eyebrows did the speaking for him.

“Looks fine to me,” Sandy said, ever the voice of reason as she pointed out, “You know it’s just gonna be the Gallaghers, right? Like, Frank has shown up to their parties fully naked on multiple occasions.”

“That’s what I fuckin’ said,” Mickey startled when his last minute alarm began buzzing on the nightstand, whipping his head around to make sure he wasn’t hearing things. His head swiveled back around to his sister, damn near ready to plead now. If he wanted to be able to afford the rent for next month, he really needed to keep his job. “Mandy, that means I’ve got ten fucking minutes to leave. Can we wrap up the pre-showing of the Milkovich fall collection already?”

Mandy’s eyes went wide with mock offense, handing the jeans and shirt off to Mickey. “Okay, okay. God. That’s all I needed to hear from her anyway,” she redirected her attention back to Sandy, whose eyes were focused offscreen as she cooed softly at the woman in bed with her. Mandy cleared her throat with great theatrics. Fuck, did she and Ian make sense as friends. “Enjoy your day off, dykes,” she said to them both, a brown-sugary wave on the ends of her wiggling fingers.

“Enjoy touching old ladies’ feet,” Sandy shot back, ending the call before Mandy could say anything to that. She clicked her tongue, thoroughly chagrined, and stood from the bed.

“Jesus. With your What Not to Wear bullshit,” Mickey said grouchily, getting up to gather his watch and his phone from his bedside table. “Don’t tell me you two are gonna be makin’ a habit of this shit. I saw a real nice one-bedroom by the Meyers’ on my way to work yesterday.”

Mandy gave a short laugh at the mere idea of it. “You wouldn’t last a week living by the Meyers. Brenda is a nosy old bitch. Probably try to set you up with her granddaughter.”

Mickey shivered, vaguely remembering that the kid was about four-fucking-teen. It would hardly stop Brenda from trying.

“And don’t you fucking worry about that happening again. I wouldn’t wish dressing you on my worst enemy,” she said, smoothing out the clothes he’d abandoned and attempting to arrange them neatly on the back of a nearby chair for later. Her head tilted slightly then, turned upwards, as if she was giving it a second thought. “Though it might be funny if we all started matching. How do you feel about nose rings? I’ve got an at-home piercing kit my buddy got me from his studio.”

Mickey saw that suggestion for exactly what it was, which was a very thinly veiled excuse to stick him with a needle under the pretense of body modification. Hard pass.

“Fuck no. My insurance sucks. I don’t even wanna know what I’d have to pay for antibiotics when that shit goes south,” he said, taking Mandy by the elbow and leading her out of his room. She struggled just for the hell of it, but he knew she didn’t want to spend another second in the messy space anyway. “And I’m not changing my name to ‘Andy’ or somefuck to join your Motley Crew.”

She squirmed out of his grasp when they got to the hallway, holding her hands up in surrender. 

“Okay, Mick,” she said, seemingly innocent until a hint of teeth entered her smile. “But anything can happen during nap time.”

“Yeah, shish-kabob me in my sleep, see how that ends up for ya,” he said under his breath as she darted off. A quick pat to his pockets found his wallet and keys already in place, and with a mint and the brush he kept in his car for such emergencies, all that was left to grab should be his jacket at the door.

He was halfway down the hall when he noticed his socked feet sliding against the hardwood.

“Fuck, my boots!”

*

Mickey was fairly used to having time to himself. Usually that time culminated in tv and cheap beer, but today he found himself restless, unable to sit down for more than a minute without feeling an itch to be up and doing something. After a full day of work and errands you’d think he would be ready to pass out, but after he’d gone out to pay rent and come back to an empty house there was a buzzing in his joints that wouldn’t be settled by anything less than the current pacing he was doing in the living room. He felt like a caged dog, circling and snuffling and winding himself up at any passing sound. 

Mandy’s phone vibrated on the coffee table, delivering a similar jolt to his amped nerves as the one caused by a revving truck out on the road not two minutes ago. He hadn’t noticed it there all this time, but she must’ve left it behind in her haste to get to work. It was unlocked when he leaned over to peek at the message — just something boring from one of her friends about how she had to reschedule her baby shower — and he almost looked away until he caught a familiar glimpse of red behind the text bubble.

His sister’s lock screen was visible with a single nosy swipe of Mickey’s index finger, no longer the generic metal band poster she’d had it set to for months. Instead it was a picture of her and Freckles from way back in the day, when she still had those horrible multi-colored white girl dreads and Ian’s body hadn’t quite grown into his limbs yet. Mandy was holding her arm up high to get them both in the shot, no doubt using the shitty flip phone she had in high school to take it. Mickey snorted at the smug expression she wore. In every photo taken of her from the time she was in seventh grade to around her junior year she’d made the same dumbass face, thinking for all the world that her curled lip made her look sexy when it really only looked like she’d sucked on a lemon and been asked to smile straight after. 

They were on the Milkovich couch of all places, cross-legged on the stained cushions with socked feet and a bowl of cheese puffs between them. Red was clearly in the middle of a game, the exasperated edge to his own smirk noticeable even through the pixels. He had an Xbox controller in one hand and a raised middle finger on the other, and those stupid freckled fingers were thinner where they curled around the plastic handle.

Mickey did not feel the beginnings of a smile stir at the sight of younger Ian’s red flannel and straight-across bangs. He definitely didn’t feel it widen at Mandy’s raccoon liner or the way she was burrowing into one of their scratchy old blankets, either. He was totally unaffected by this snapshot of a typical day in the life of his sister and her best friend, with the two teens fighting against the brutal cold of a Chicago winter in the only way they knew how.

Okay. So he fuckin’ wasn’t. Sue him. They were kinda cute, as annoying as they’d fuckin’ been. 

Mandy had to have dug this thing up sometime between now and the last time he’d gotten a glance at her phone. That must’ve been recently with how much he saw her on the damn thing so she could avoid talking to him. Soft bitch. He’d never seen her care for one of her friends like this, enough to actually call him and schedule time to catch up and make him her goddamn lock screen. It was almost a little freaky, but maybe she was just feeling sentimental now that Gallagher was back in town after years out in whatever desert Uncle Sam had sent him to. 

Mickey didn’t have as convenient an explanation for what he did next. 

It wasn’t hard to find the old photo in her camera roll; the only pictures in there were a few shots of friends and some drunk selfies that looked like they were taken by a coroner. He bit his lip when he spotted it, running his thumb over the edge of her phone case as if it were a frame.

The full image included more background clutter and general Milkovich filth than the cutoff did. There was a well-used bong here, a stray gun cabinet there, and probably about a dozen dust bunnies just on the underside of the coffee table alone. He could even swear he saw one of his dirty shirts hanging over the back of the couch behind Ian, an ugly graphic tee he’d snagged from Walmart in a size too big that he’d eventually worn to rags. It still looked like home, but not the one he returned to now, the one where there was always a hot meal on the stove by six and Mandy was free to smile as brightly as she wanted. 

Mickey quickly sent the picture to himself before he could overthink it and made sure to delete the outgoing message in her phone once he heard the incoming tone sound from his pocket. The last thing he needed was his sister knowing that he’d been going through her phone — let alone what he’d been doing on it. He returned it carefully to its place on the table and backed away to his room as if it would bite him, turning heel and shutting the door only when he was sure Mandy wouldn’t pop out from behind a wall or something like Ashton fucking Kutcher. He wouldn’t put it past her to set up hidden cameras for the express purpose of gaining blackmail material, and he really couldn’t do with any more after she’d caught him dancing to Queen last Friday.

In the safety of his bedroom he opened the message, tracing Gallagher’s middle finger with a smirk. He wouldn’t save the picture, not when his cloud was a boneyard of wires and machine parts to send to his boss. It would be just his luck if Mandy tried for a little revenge and found out that the only personal photo he had on his phone was of her and Ian. Not to mention one he’d pilfered from her. He’d never live it down.

So instead, whenever the urge struck, he opened his messages and looked at it from there. And if that meant he was on his phone for the rest of the night, then that was nobody’s business but his. 

*

Mickey couldn’t sleep. 

He’d tried all of his usual tricks: smoking a cigarette or four, smoking a joint, listening to whale sounds — he even tried counting sheep for Christ’s sake. But all he was now was high and dead tired at 3am with nothing to do about it, nothing but toss around in bed until the crick in his neck spread along the entire length of his spine. The mattress creaked as he sat up and flung his legs over the edge, groaned as he dug his knuckles into the divots of his aching temples. Or maybe the groan came from him. 

There was only one thing left for him to attempt, which was to throw back some coffee and hope it would either perk him up or knock him out. 

Mandy was already in the kitchen with her own mug when he stumbled in, leaning her elbows against the counter to steady the long, catlike arch of her back against the wood. She gave a sleepy salute when their gazes met, dredging up distant hazy memories of laughing green eyes that bobbed at the surface of his mind and slipped right back under before he could grasp them.

“You too?” She asked, coming away from her coffee with a thin black mustache. Mickey watched her lick it away with about as much grace as one could in the middle of a sleepless night, bringing a finger up to assist when he motioned to the left corner of her mouth.

He grunted in answer, head lolling from one side to the other. Mandy looked sympathetic —for once — and decided to spare him the added nuisance of pointing out that his boxers were inside out. 

“There’s some in the pot,” she said, tilting her mug in the direction of the half-full coffee maker. Mickey nodded, running a tired thumb over his lips. When he made no move towards it, though, she crouched lower to catch his downturned stare and let a shit-eating smile take over her groggy face.

“What’s up? Nervous that you’ll actually have to go out and socialize tomorrow? Gettin’ butterflies?” She reached over to scrub at his stomach over his tank top, but earned a firm slap almost immediately for her presumption.

“Fuck off with that shit already,” he said, swaying on his feet but unwavering in his irritation. “I swear you’re getting on every last one of my nerves today.”

She took a long sip of her drink. “The fuck’s your damage? You’ve been acting strange lately. Well,” she raised her eyebrows, the smug grin peeking over the lip of her mug prompting an eye roll from her brother. “Strang er .”

“Yeah, the fuck I have,” he said, knocking into her shoulder on his way to pour his own cup. 

Mandy hummed. She was clearly unconvinced, but fuck if any of the Milkovich siblings were going to initiate each other in a conversation about feelings. Vaguely hostile silence was much more their speed, so as he pulled down a mug and nearly chugged the burning coffee her gaze only flitted over to him whenever he made a particularly annoying slurping noise.

He made haste in washing his mug once he’d finished. One last rinse, onto the drying rack, and ready for morning, hopefully not as direly needed then as it was now. Before he could go, though, Mandy piped up softly from her place at the counter.

“Mick,” she set her mug down, turning to face him. He didn’t like that look she had in her eye. It was equal parts exasperated and concerned, and neither of those emotions ever boded well for him when Mandy was involved. “Things are pretty good right now. Okay? Stop worrying so much,” and then, just because she couldn’t help it, she added, “dickhead.”

“Shut up,” he said, the words so familiar they held no bite. A laugh made its way up from his chest as he tried to imagine what would happen if he became the perfect picture of calm and loose that Mandy seemed to want for him. “If I don’t worry who the fuck’s gonna? You? Iggy and Jamie? Somebody’s gotta worry in this house or we’re goin’ to shit fast,” he ruffled her hair as he walked by, earning the indignant scoff the motion always did, but he knew she was too tired to start going for the throat like she usually would. He would be too tired to fight back if she did anyway. Instead he took the quiet “asshole” shot his way with grace and let the wave of caffeine lull him as he sauntered off, pleased to be getting the last word for once in his goddamn life.

Until, of course, his sister had to snatch it for herself. The bitch. Mandy leaned back so her annoying ass voice could properly follow him on his way out, holding way too much enthusiasm for someone in her state. “Rest up! We’re gonna party all fuckin’ night long tomorrow!”

Chapter Text

When the Milkovich trio arrived at the party the Gallagher living room was already full to bursting, heat emanating from every populated corner and rising to Mickey’s cheeks in a noticeable flush of blood. He knew the moment he stepped through the door that he’d made a mistake in allowing the girls to drag him here. In truth, he’d known ever since he’d agreed to it, but there was a distinct difference between knowing in theory that this family was a collective kind of batshit crazy and seeing Jimmy Lishman dance to Aerosmith with a bra on his head.

“Fuck this,” Sandy said, retrieving the packaged gummies they’d brought over from the pocket of her leather jacket. She tossed one to Mickey and tore hers open with her teeth. Mandy, who insisted she was dead set on getting white girl wasted on homemade margaritas, flitted past them without so much as a goodbye in search of the one other person at the party she could stand. Mickey was sure he’d be spending the duration of his high avoiding the very same man.

“Bottoms up,” Mickey agreed, tapping his bear against Sandy’s. They both popped their gummy, wincing at the overwhelming flavor of weed packed into such a small unit, and rounded the entrance with the steely resolve of a pair of Trojans entering battle.

He knew he was bound to run into Ian at some point — he was in the guy’s house after all — but he was hoping he could at least put it off until he was mentally prepared to deal with such an encounter. There was no harm in keeping an eye out, though.

And there he was across the room, easily spotted from a mile away with his long limbs and blinding hair. He was laughing, getting his chest beat on by Mickey’s sister with what he knew was a bit too much force to be considered playful. There was a thick gray jacket slung over his shoulder, in contrast with the black v neck and dark blue jeans that molded to his mile long legs. Mickey noticed a beat too late that it was his jacket, the one he’d left at Fiona’s the other day. 

Almost in slow motion, and entirely too soon for Mickey to fully collect himself, Ian’s eyes locked with his through the crowd. He continued talking to Mandy but it was clear he was no longer paying attention to what she was saying. Mickey felt the weight of his gaze like a presence on his shoulder.

Only there was a hand on his shoulder now, and Sandy was using it to steer him through the throng of dancing Gallaghers towards the man in question. Mickey tensed up before they could make it far enough to be within speaking distance.

“Aye, the fuck’s the big idea?”

Sandy patted his back reassuringly, forcing him back into motion as soon as he stopped struggling. “You looked like you needed some help. You can’t hang out by the front door all night, Mick.”

“I can try,” he said, grumbles of protest falling on deaf ears as each one of his attempts to dig in his heels earned him an elbow wedged further and further into the sensitive space between his shoulder blades.

“No you can’t, you promised me you’d socialize and be civil towards my girlfriend’s family,” Sandy had now secured one of his arms behind his back, twisting for more leverage as they approached Mandy and Ian. Panic swelled in Mickey’s chest when he caught sight of the smile forming on Ian’s lips and he made one last ditch effort at wiggling away from his cousin’s iron grip before there would be no chance to escape.

“I promised I’d come . No fuckin’ way did I commit to an hour of sober small talk with the cast of Full House.”

“Half an hour if you’re lucky. And too bad. It starts now,” she said through grit teeth as they reached what had now become a small huddle with the addition of her beaming girlfriend.

“Babe!” Debbie said, pulling Sandy to her side and settling directly into the crook of her neck. As if she hadn’t seen her this fucking morning. He would never understand their constant need to be so goddamn close to each other at all times. Mickey liked his space, didn’t know what he’d do if there was someone always trying to encroach upon it.

Speaking of fucking which. 

“Hey, Mickey,” Gallagher piped up from beside him — the one not currently hanging off of his cousin like a loosely draped scarf. Army couldn’t seem to decide where his eyes wanted to light, switching from scanning Mickey’s (Mandy’s) outfit choice to staring deeply into his eyes. And could he fuck off with that shit already? Mickey was already feeling suffocated enough as it was. “Nice shirt.”

“Mandy got it, I didn’t pick this piece a’ shit out,” he said honestly, tugging at the too tight collar of it with sweaty fingers.

Ian shifted to angle himself towards Mickey, nearly having to shout to be heard over the shitty club pop blasting through the speakers by their TV. “It looks good on you.”

Mickey fiddled again with the stiff shirt. All his readjusting was for naught as the fabric trapped every bit of warmth in the room and magnified it back onto his skin tenfold. 

“Whatever,” he said, reaching down to pop a button open and immediately exposing his reddened collarbone to Ian’s flitting gaze. He might’ve regretted it, what with the way it kept the man’s searing attention on an already heat sensitive spot, but Mickey was going to take anything that shut Ian up tonight as a win in his books.

Debbie unfurled from her spot at Sandy’s side when Ian took a grounding sip from his red solo cup and pointed a stern finger at him. “You’re drinking water, right?”

“Yes, mom ,” he said, shaking the half full cup in his hand to jostle the clear liquid inside.

Debbie hummed, momentarily placated, and pulled Sandy along with her to the kitchen as Mandy assimilated herself into the dancing crowd with a parting nudge to Ian’s bicep. He grinned, waving her off lazily, and it was suddenly dawning on Mickey that he had just been left alone with the exact person he’d wanted to avoid being alone with tonight.

Ian leaned against the doorframe, watching him with the steady blink of a reptile watching its prey. And what did they even eat out in the desert, anyway? Bugs? Was Mickey the bug in this scenario? Fuck.

He winced as the volume was turned up even higher on a Top 40s hit from two thousand-fucking-four, involuntarily shifting closer to Ian in his attempt to escape permanent ear damage.

“Why’d you invite me to this shit, Gallagher?” He asked, risking a glance up at Ian through his lashes. He refused to raise his head or — god forbid — get up on his fuckin’ toes just to maintain a conversation he didn’t even want to be having in the first place. Ian shrugged.

“You left your coat at my sister’s house. I wanted to return it is all,” he pushed off of his crossed leg to heave the garment from its place on his shoulder and held it out for Mickey to take. Mickey promptly grabbed the thing like it was on fire and threw it over the staircase banister behind him. 

“Fuckin’ hot in here already,” he bitched, tempted just for a moment to unbutton his shirt further. He cast a leery eye at Ian as his tongue dipped into the corner of his mouth. “That really it? You know you could’ve had her text me.”

“Maybe,” Ian conceded, tilting his head back against the wall. “But where’s the fun in that?”

Mickey grunted. It seemed this guy did a lot of things just for the “fun” of them. He wasn’t sure what fucking part of inviting him to hang around in the quieter corners of the house and make a dent in their alcohol supply was supposed to be fun for Ian. But now that they were relatively alone and the elephant in the room had been addressed, Mickey found himself struggling to grasp for topics that either of them could keep going for longer than a sentence each. 

“How’s your…” Mickey fumbled, trying to come up with a way to word his question. He scratched at the side of his nose, his free hand flailing in the air between them as if to conjure the words physically. “How are your, uh, lemons?”

Ian’s eyebrows raised almost comically towards his hairline. He popped a leg out between them, an easy smirk forming to close around the smooth syllables of his goading, “Asking about a man’s lemons in front of his family? I didn’t take you for that sort of guy, Mickey.”

Mickey sneered at the remark, clicking his tongue harshly in response to the wiggling brows Ian directed at him.

“Alright, fuck you. I didn't take you for the type to have such a queer sense of humor, either,” although, now that he was thinking about it, he definitely could’ve fucking guessed. What with all of the guy’s suggestive smirks and eyebrow waggling, Mickey should just be surprised he hadn’t pulled something like this out sooner. 

Ian bristled almost imperceptibly. “No? I thought it was pretty funny.”

“Yeah, you’re a regular Louis C. fuckin’ K., Gallagher. Get me a beer and I might show you some pity by laughing at your next set,” Mickey shooed him off. Ian laughed, complying without any of his usual smart little comments, and now that Mickey had the space to breathe he let out a slow sigh. 

A new song started playing — another egregiously bad one, but at least this time it was one Mickey knew. Fiona was up on the table for it, doing a very drunk, very stilted version of an old dance as Vee and Kev cheered her on from below. And Mickey didn’t know how she did it, he swore he didn’t — but the second Ian was back at Mickey’s side she seemed to materialize in front of them with her trademark worried scowl.

“Jesus,” Mickey flinched.

“Ian. You’re not supposed to—”

“It’s for Mickey,” Ian quickly cut his sister off, handing the bottle over with an exaggerated flourish. Fiona pursed her lips but said nothing, and before Mickey could ask she was back on the coffee table and Ian was changing the subject.

“My ‘lemons’, or rather my lemonade, is doing just fine. Glad to see you taking an interest,” he said, accepting the middle finger Mickey flashed at him with practiced grace. “I finally added some lime and it really woke the recipe up.”

“Yeah, man, that’s great,” Mickey wandered a few steps away, knocking the cap off his beer with the edge of a nearby board game table and following it quickly to catch any foam before it spilled over. Ian watched his lips curl over the neck of the bottle a bit too fucking closely for Mickey’s liking, but instead of telling the guy to piss off like he normally would, he let it slide. Just this once. He did bring him the beer, after all.

Now that they had officially exhausted every point of conversation Mickey could think to bring up, he busied himself with his beer and with hopelessly wishing his edible would kick in so he could skyrocket the fuck out of this situation. It hadn’t been this awkward the first time they’ve spoken. Why was it so awkward now? Maybe it was because last time they were alone, or because last time Mickey hadn’t stolen a picture of him from his sister's phone and stared at it for hours upon end, or maybe it was because Ian was looking at him like that and he didn’t know what to do about it.

So he did what he always did when put into an uncomfortable situation with another person and ignored Ian completely. That damn song was still playing, and it was as catchy as it was awful, so Mickey found himself singing along under his breath as he scanned the living room to see if Sandy and Debbie had emerged from the kitchen. No such luck.

Out of nowhere Ian gave a loud snort, covering the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand.

Mickey scowled. “The fuck’s so funny?”

“It’s, uh,” Ian laughed again, letting the round pearls of his teeth peek out from behind his fingers. “It’s ‘party rock is’. Not ‘party rockers’.”

“Fuck that, man, no it’s not,” Mickey said, turning his ear towards the speakers to listen closer.

“I swear!” Ian insisted, gesturing like the song will appear in front of him and speak for itself. “‘Party rock is in the house tonight.’ See?”

“It said ‘party rockers’. I heard it,” Mickey said just to be contrary. In truth he had sorta heard it say “rock is”, but fuck this ginger behemoth if he thought he was going to get a win out of him.

“No you did not.”

“Whatever,” Mickey took a pull from his beer as if to signal the end of their argument. Ian relented, seeming to know what was good for him, and brought his own cup to his lips to hide the growing smile that pulled at them.

They slowly migrated to the kitchen in the silent minutes that followed. Debbie was dutifully mixing three margaritas when they entered, enduring the distracting press of Sandy against her dominant arm as she demanded tequila kisses. Mickey could guess well enough that that’s what had been keeping them in there so long. When Mandy stuck her head in a moment later to grab one of the drinks she delivered a wet smack to Ian’s cheek, wheedling him to come dance with her.

“Please?”

“In a minute.”

Pleeeaaaaasseeee ?”

“In a minute!” Ian promised, chuckling at her pouty face. He truly must have had the patience of a saint — he certainly had the persistence of one — because if it were Mickey he would’ve strangled her whiny ass with his bare hands by now.

Mandy left in a huff, keeping one disapproving eye on her best friend and none on where she was going, as evidenced by the glob of margarita that sloshed over the rim of her cup to add to the endless other sticky stains adorning the Gallaghers’ kitchen floor. Neither sibling seemed fazed by this in the slightest.

Ian clapped him on the shoulder, completely unaware of the warm fizz that settled under Mickey’s skin when he did so. “Hey, hold on, I gotta piss. All this water.”

Mickey stared at the soft red knuckle hair until he removed it. A heavy crease formed on his forehead as he watched him walk to the nearby bathroom and shut the door.

Sandy sidled up to him the moment Ian was out of sight, stage whispering far too loudly seeing as there was a single flimsy slab of wood between them and the redhead when she said, “You tappin’ that or what, Mick?”

“Come a-fucking-gain?” He asked, glowering at the elbow she brought up to rest on his shoulder.

Debbie snickered from the other side of the kitchen island and slid a drink to her girlfriend. It seemed they were in cahoots over something, and as little as Mickey wanted to know about it, Sandy was all too eager to let him in on their scheming.

“Our mission, should you choose to accept it or not, is to get you laid by the end of the night, brochacho.”

Fuck no.”

“It’s been way too long.” Sandy took a sip of her drink, teeth bearing slightly at the burn. Debbie nodded her agreement and rested folded arms on the countertop to bat her eyes up at Mickey. He scoffed.

“How would you two jokers know? I got my own schedule.” He weaseled himself out from under Sandy‘s arm less than gracefully.

“Oh you do, do you? What, some kind of once a month Boystown crawl that ends with a very sad and unsanitary fuck in a club bathroom?” Sandy asked. And fuck her, what was wrong with that? That’s all he’s ever needed. “Nah, baby boy. We’re getting you a proper man. With a proper dick.” She jerked her head meaningfully towards the adjacent bathroom.

Debbie groaned. “That’s my brother, babe,”

“Your brother that’s slingin’ nine inches, babe ,” and, well. That was news to Mickey. Sandy leaned in conspiratorially so her girlfriend wouldn’t hear as she went on. “I saw it. He came over the other night for Taco Tuesday and got salsa down his pants. I walked in on him when I came to give him a pair of my sweats. All I’m saying is, call him Green Bay, because the dude is packing.”

Mickey did not even want to start un packing that particular comment. As disgusting as it was, he couldn’t say he wasn’t curious now that the suspicions he’d been harboring since seeing the print in those running shorts turned out to be true.

But attached to the dick in question was a man, a very real man that made Mickey’s guts churn like molten lava but had coincidentally been born with the most unfortunate last name on the planet.

“I don’t care how many inches he’s got, I’m not fucking a Gallagher.” Debbie huffed in vague indignation below him. “No offense. You guys are a family of fuckin’ train wrecks, you know.”

“None taken,” she said, bringing her margarita to eye level so she could suck at the straw without having to sit up.

The sudden flush that came from the bathroom jolted him into action.

“I’m gonna go find Mandy,” he said, already halfway across the kitchen when Sandy accused him of being a buzzkill. Mickey didn’t bother yelling back to call her a bitch in response. He had men to evade, sisters to collect —

And that was when things started turning sideways. 

He didn’t remember the next hour even as it was happening. One moment he was with Mandy and another he was sitting on the staircase and the very next he was standing so close to the speaker that it blared through his ears and projected notes onto his brain. He was in the center of the room now, he thought, not quite dancing but as close to it as he’d probably ever get. 

Every color was bright and vivid and he focused on them even more than usual. A purple, a blue. A brown — Fiona’s hair. He only figured out some of them as they passed by, 

But then it was orange and

Orange

Orange

Orange

played through his mind like it was a new song that had just started pumping through the house. The orange was close and quiet but it was behind him now, moving slowly to the song that was actually playing, something that would be in the kind of club where people didn’t care about public indecency. At a Gallagher party, the vibe was very much the same. 

And that was good. Because the orange was under his fingertips now. It slid across his cheek and he held it there, not sure what he’d do if it went away. The orange was very soft. Something else was too against the underside of his jaw. When he turned around to find out what he saw green and that soft pink. 

It pulled away gently. Just what he hadn’t wanted it to do.

“Shit,” a voice said through the pink, a lilting cadence to it that suggested it was very amused and very sober. “You’re really fucking high.”

“Einstein,” he murmured, reaching up for the orange again. Its owner allowed for the attention, but those lips stayed away from his neck despite his guiding touch.

“Okay, tiger. Easy there.”

“Do that again,” Mickey said, a slight rasp to his voice he hadn’t anticipated. That pale throat bobbed with a swallow, drawing his eyes to the unmarked skin of it.

“Later,” Orange promised. “For now let's get you something to eat. Are you hungry?”

“Fuckin’ hungry alright, Orange Blossom,” he said, burrowing his face into the neckline of his shirt to nose it aside in search of his collarbone. It ended up turning into a lot more nuzzling than suction, but it made that throat buzz with laughter all the more. 

“Uh huh. Come on. I think you could use some fresh air.”

Mickey swayed on his feet as he was led around the couch towards the entryway. Ian snagged his jacket from where Mickey had laid it across the banister and held it out for him, not unlike how a parent would hold the sleeves aloft for a child to slip straight into. Mickey swatted at his forearm and snatched the coat to put on for himself. 

Outside it had grown even colder with nightfall than it had been in the almost winter chill of day, sending a shock to their systems after being surrounded with the stifling heat of two dozen moving bodies. Ian immediately plopped down on the porch steps and fished a pack of smokes from the pocket of his own jacket.

Mickey didn’t feel much like talking to him — didn’t feel like doing anything at all really. The step he was sitting on had the same peeling paint as the ones at his house, and it brought with it the same temptation to flay it off. So he did. Being bundled up in the waterproof fabric puffing around him and staring out at the empty streets gave him the distinct feeling of being home. He was much more comfortable doing this than he was dancing in a room full of near strangers.

The flick of Ian’s lighter sounded waterlogged in his ears, but it drew enough of his attention to prompt a long stretch that landed him splayed across Ian’s side. He hummed once, softly, adjusting so he was blocking the path of Ian’s hand to his mouth. The stupid cackle he let out made the redhead purse his lips in the perfect imitation of Fiona‘s motherly concern.

“Doin’ alright over there?” He asked, seeming mildly entertained by the spectacle.

Mickey ignored him, a fraction of the night coming back to him like a lightbulb above his head. “You got a proper dick, Gallagher?”

“I like to think I do.” Ian laughed, extricating himself from Mickey’s starfish limbs with care. “Where is this coming from?”

“Nowheres,” Mickey said. He leaned back over to his side of the stairs and shook his head solemnly. “I mean, definitely not from Sandy,” a Cheshire grin slowly split across his cheeks.

“Fucking Sandy.” Ian rubbed a hand over the sparse hair that was growing out from its buzz cut. “You know what she said to me when she saw it? She said ‘nice going, Gallaghers.’ Apparently she saw Lip’s when he tried mooning the neighbors at a barbecue back in July. I think it’s become something of a game to her now.”

“Gotta catch ‘em all, huh? Some fuckin’ lesbian she is, getting her kicks from checking out Irish dick.” He gratefully accepted the cigarette Ian passed him, taking a drag and blowing it out slowly before continuing, “Gonna be awful disappointed when that road leads her down to old Frank’s doorstep.”

Ian grinned. “Not to mention Carl’s botched circumcision.”

“His fucking what now?” Mickey laughed through a mouthful of smoke, smothering the inevitable cough in the elbow of his jacket sleeve.

“Oh, yeah. He heard the rest of us were cut and I guess he wanted in.” Ian snatched the cigarette from his loose grip and Mickey watched as his cheeks hollowed on the inhale.

“Damn, carrot cake. Know so much about your situation by now I might as well’ve seen it,” so why don’t you just save us the mystery and whip it out now , is what he didn’t say. Even high he couldn’t justify continuing his sentence that way, despite how hard the words pushed against the inside of his lips. 

Ian didn’t dignify that with a response, but he made a slight amused sound and his brows furrowed as he took his next drag. His silence felt loaded somehow. Mickey didn’t want to provoke him out of it, content with the tepid calm of coexisting outdoors with the cicadas and the fireflies. There was something Ian wanted to say, though, and neither of them were going to carry on speaking until he did. After a minute he turned, as much as their position on the steps would allow, and squinted at Mickey.

“You ever gonna call me by my name?” He found a crack in the wooden railing and dug his nail into it, attempting a picture of nonchalance he had no hope of achieving. “You do know it, right?”

“Fuck off.” Mickey kicked at his sneaker with a boot and wondered vaguely when they’d had the time to put their shoes back on. “Don’t call anyone outside of my family by name usually anyway. What’s it to you?”

Ian shrugged, handing over the cigarette when Mickey motioned for it without fuss.

“Be nice, is all. To hear you say it.” He held eye contact as he said it, the ring of dark green in them wavering when his pupils expanded, and before Mickey could find an appropriate curse he continued, “Besides, I think you might be runnin’ out of red jokes there, wise guy.”

“I’m never gonna run out of red jokes, chili pepper, you can bet your ass on that.” Mickey smirked through the cigarette in his mouth, puffing smoke around it until the night sky was shrouded from his view by the thick haze. 

When Ian made to take it back from him he leaned over and placed the cig directly into the curve of his open mouth instead. A look passed between them that had Mickey shying into himself, shifting away to focus on the flickering lights on the horizon rather than the thunderstorm brewing in his chest. Every star seemed to blink and spin in the formation of Ian’s name. Of course he knew it. Of course he did. 

Ian’s hair was amber in the darkness. The strip of moonlight cutting across his brow turned his eyes to liquid glass, the intensity of their focus always making Mickey’s head spin. They weren’t on him now, but he found himself wishing they were. The tense set of Ian’s jaw as he smoked was manly and infuriating and he was the only thing in Mickey’s head right now that didn’t blur at the edges. In this moment, this incredibly stupid moment when Mickey couldn’t tell up from down and Ian was finally looking at him again as he exhaled a cloud of bright whiteness into the air between them, he couldn’t remember why he could possibly be resisting this.

“Gallagher,” he said, not sure if the word had come out of his mouth or through his pores. 

Ian made a small noise of approval. “You’re getting closer. That’s my last name.”

“Dick.” Mickey rolled his eyes. He was beginning to notice that Ian had a penchant for turning everything difficult into a joke. Except when he didn’t. “What’s your middle name, so I can use that next, eh? Hopin’ you have two or some shit, drag this out longer.”

Ian’s smirk twisted into something almost pleased. “Whoa there, Milkovich. You think we’re onto middle name territory already? We’ve only just met.”

“You go around mackin’ on the necks of every guy you’ve ‘just met’?” He asked, amused at the vein in Ian’s forehead that jumped out when the words made him grit his teeth together.

“No. No, I shouldn’t have done that in the first place. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were high.” Ian rolled his neck, the line of it tight as he sucked on the end of his cigarette. The way he said it told Mickey he’d just stumbled onto a buried land mine, but he wasn’t sure exactly what he’d done to engage it or how to ease his foot from it so it wouldn’t blow. 

“Doesn’t make a difference, carrot top,” and it really didn’t  — most of his hookups had taken place in some varying form of inebriation, moreso before he’d come out to his family. He knew what it meant to receive unwelcome advances, sober or not, and as unwilling as he was to admit it, Ian’s had not been. 

“It does,” Ian said, suddenly grave. Mickey’s eyes were bleary but they did their best to focus on him. “It really does.”

Mickey decided not to ask what had made him so serious all of a sudden. Instead he took a shot at lightening the mood again, which usually proved successful where Ian was involved. “It’s a party. Everyone’s fucked up.”

That was just the way things went around here. You drank. You fucked. You drank and then you fucked. You fucked and then you drank. You fucked and drank at the same time. Simple and efficient. Debbie and Sandy were a living testament to this, because he was sure he’d seen them doing a little more than just making out after their second round of body shots not twenty minutes ago. 

“I’m not,” Ian reminded him. 

True. And odd, considering he had no need to drive tonight. Mickey was sure he’d caught little freckled Ian with his straight bangs and peach fuzz shotgunning beers with Mandy at least once in high school, so this had to be a recent development. “Why’s that, hotshot? Leftover from the Army? You a little goody-goody now?”

“Hardly,” Ian said.

It seemed this was another off-the-table topic, which in all honesty relieved Mickey more than it intrigued him. He could already feel himself sobering up, like he’d been peeking through a veil of clouds and was just starting to see through to the other side. Ian let him come to in peace. The quiet was much appreciated after the week he’d had.

What felt like nearly an hour later, after both the Lishmans and the Balls had stumbled over them on their way to their respective homes, Ian and Mickey seemed to simultaneously come to the conclusion that it was time to wrap things up for the night. They both heaved themselves to a standing position with the help of the chipped railing. Everything had stopped leaving colorful trails in their wake, which was probably a good sign. Ian finished off his third cigarette and Mickey watched him snuff out the dying embers on the edge of the porch.

“You know I could knock you on your ass, right, Army? Don’t need to be sober or nothin’,” he mused, squinting up at the six foot hunk of man that would probably lay him flat based on sheer height advantage alone.

Ian smiled. Like, actually smiled this time. Mickey’s insides did that thing again where they tried to melt together into a pile of mush. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Yeah?” Mickey started forward, backing Ian against the railing. The redhead laughed, those insanely freckled hands coming up to hold him back, grip settling firmly around his biceps when Mickey raised his eyebrows in challenge. “You wanna test me? Let’s go, Desert Storm.”

Ian was not properly intimidated as he’d intended. His fingers were lingering on Mickey’s arms, skittish as they flexed and pressed into the folds of his jacket. One of them swallowed but neither could say which of them it was. Mickey, highly suspecting it was him, pushed up higher on his toes and jut his chin out to compensate, repeating, “come on, bring it,” until Ian was nearing hysterics.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” he surrendered, releasing Mickey’s arms but remaining within touching distance. “I know better than to assume I could take a Milkovich in a fight.”

“Damn straight,” Mickey smiled triumphantly.

But then Ian leaned down until his breath hit Mickey’s ear, and he was really playing dirty when he asked, “Does that mean I can do it again?”

Mickey didn’t need to ask what he meant, because the hand suddenly pressing its way into the small of his back said everything he needed to know. The side of his neck burned in acknowledgement. 

“Fuck off,” Mickey chuckled, elbowing Ian away before he did something stupid. Before Mickey did something stupid. 

Ian bounced back from the dismissal like a rubber ball. He walked backwards towards the door with his tongue between his teeth, opening it and poking his head in just enough to take a cursory look around.

“I think Mandy left,” he didn’t sound too surprised by the fact. “Must’ve slipped out the back. Want me to drive you home?”

“I live like two blocks away. I think I’ll manage,” Mickey cuffed him on the shoulder, making to leave until he noticed Ian following behind him.

“Still. You’re a little fucked up, and you know what kind of crazies are lurking around this neighborhood on a Saturday night.”

We’re the kind of crazies,” Mickey pointed out, but he didn’t have the energy to bicker over something so trivial with the stubborn beanstalk, so he let Ian lead them over to his beat up Toyota and only smacked his ginger ass upside the head when he tried to open the door for him.

The problem was that there was nothing particularly interesting to look at on the drive over other than Ian. He’d made it countless times to hang out with Sandy and do chores for Fiona, knew the roads around here like the back of his hand. But nothing drew his eye quite like Ian did, familiar yet novel enough to keep from blending into the background. 

Ian’s hands drummed a quiet rhythm against the worn leather of the steering wheel. He was about to say something, wasn’t sure if Mickey would like it, and was weighing his options accordingly. 

The result was obvious. Given the choice between silence and speaking, Gallagher would almost always choose to flap his gums. 

“You, uh...you got a number?”

Mickey rolled over on the headrest to give him an incredulous look. “Fuck kinda question is that? I got a phone, don’t I?”

“Yeah, of course, I mean…” Ian stuttered slightly, just enough to lose his upper hand for a moment. He squared his shoulders, seemingly to steel himself for whatever asinine thing was going to come out of his mouth next. “You should give me yours. Just in case. Fiona’s gone a lot, and, uh,” he gave a self deprecating laugh. “I’m not. So. If you need anything? To cancel, or reschedule, or…” he licked his lips, taking his eyes off the road for a split second stare into Mickey’s own. “Something like that. Give me a text instead.”

Mickey was silent for a long minute — long enough for them to pull into his drive and come to a stop behind Mickey’s old pickup truck. He gnawed on the tender skin inside his mouth until a small bead of blood wet his tongue. For a moment he was determined to say no, to tell the fucker to take the longest walk off the shortest pier, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually do it. He wasn’t sure if it was the intoxicating quality of Ian’s company or the last remaining fuzz clinging to the edges of his mind like Saran Wrap — or if he was well and truly running out of excuses to explain away the things he was agreeing to lately — but he made up his mind, holding out his hand and waiting for Ian to take the fucking hint.

He didn’t, of course. Mickey tapped his fingers against his palm and cleared his throat impatiently. “You got a phone, then?”

Ian faltered. “Huh?”

“Hand it over, Firecrotch,” Mickey said. Another tap to his fate line, his life line, his heart line.

Oh ,” Ian fumbled around in his pockets for the Android, sending his lemon scented car freshener askew when he bent over to free it from his jeans. Mickey plucked it from his grasp before Ian could lay the damn thing in his palm gingerly like he would an ailing baby bird.

“There,” he typed it in with a simple Mickey as the contact name. God forbid he leave it to Ian and get stuck with some gay little nickname. “Don’t blow up my phone or I’ll block your ass.”

“Got it,” Ian’s smile was wide and crooked as he took back his phone, staring at the screen as if the numbers would start doing the fuckin’ hokey pokey or something if he looked hard enough. Mickey used the distraction to slip open the door and step out onto his driveway.

He patted the top of Ian’s car, almost worried when it creaked loudly enough to forewarn damage. “See ya around, Red.”

Those eyes were back on him again, barely visible in the dim street light but somehow just as piercing all the same.

“See you soon, Mickey,” Ian said, so firmly as to be taken for a promise. 

*

Mickey’s emergence from his bedroom was punctuated by the soft sizzling of food hitting a pan, drawing him into the kitchen to see his sister bent over the stovetop. Something smelled good, and he told her so as he came to hover over her shoulder. He expected her to say either a variation of “no touching” or “you’re damn right” but was thrown when she swirled around and instantly let go of a bubbling snort. 

“Jesus. Finally,” Mandy said, pointing at him with her spatula before she flipped her pancake over. 

“What?”

“You finally got laid,” she used her “you’re about as dumb as a sack of fucking rocks” tone with him this time. Mickey narrowed his eyes at her. 

“The fuck I did,” he said, flipping up his middle finger at her before dipping it into the pancake batter by her elbow. 

Mandy’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “Okay, you clearly didn’t since that stick is still stuck way up in your ass. So what’s with the giant hickey?”

“The what ?” He slapped a hand to either side of his neck, prodding for a bruise or any sign of tenderness he could sense. 

“For someone who wasn’t getting any action, you sure were gone a long time. I was looking for you everywhere. Sandy and Debbie were being disgusting so I was basically alone in a house full of my ex-boyfriend’s insane family members,” she said, perfectly content to gripe away Mickey’s Sunday if only he’d let her. “I couldn’t find Ian either. Slippery bastard. He’s probably still scared of what I’ll do to ‘im for blowing me off.”

Mickey didn’t love hearing word blow so closely associated with Ian’s name, not after last night. Mandy couldn’t know — she wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it if she did — but he recoiled from the conversation anyway, confident in his innate ability to change a subject if nothing else. 

“Yeah, yeah. I get first batch,” he took the plate of finished pancakes from the other side of the counter. She’d already laid out the syrup and some berries in a neat formation on what passed as their dining table, so he hurried to get the butter before hunkering down in one of the rickety chairs.

“Dickhead,” Mandy turned back to her pan, nudging the wet edge of the undercooked disc inside.

As soon as Mandy wasn’t looking he brushed his fingers over the left side of his neck, remembering the warmth of that spearmint scented breath over his pulse point. He shivered slightly, disappointed with the lack of a physical ache to accompany the purpling mark.

Parts of his night were fuzzy but everything seemed to come into focus when Ian was involved. He could reenact their entire time on the porch, what he’d said in the car, how Ian’s mouth moved against his throat. He was probably going crazy, sitting over his untouched breakfast straining to jog the memory of the minute hint of tongue he’d felt against his skin before Ian pulled away. He didn’t care.

He didn’t, not until Mandy sat down next to him and began groaning in earnest about the hangover symptoms she’d more than earned yesterday. Mickey’s shoulders stiffened, relaxing only when he set them into a feral hunch over his food and got to work dressing it up until the pancakes below were barely visible underneath the towering mountain fruit. The first taste he got was mostly blueberry, as anticipated. The pancakes themselves were pretty fuckin’ good though, once you got past all the toppings, but so were most of the things Mandy cooked up in their shitty excuse for a kitchen. 

Halfway through an overwhelmingly large bite his phone moved across the tabletop, jolting both siblings from the one-sided pity party Mandy was holding. Mickey must’ve put it on vibrate when he was high so the tone wouldn’t set off his fight or flight instincts. He turned it over to read the incoming notification and immediately angled his screen away so Mandy couldn’t read it. 

Unknown number

I had a good time talking last night :) we should hang out sometime when you’re not working. Or stoned.

Mickey slowed his chewing as he read the message. He didn’t need a caller ID to know who’d sent it, everything down to the mid sentence smiley face incriminating the ray of ginger sunshine someone decided to name Ian Fucking Gallagher. Ian, who had woken up and thought sending him an invitation to hang out was the best way to start his day. The text brought back a rush of the painfully gay thoughts that had made their way through Mickey’s drugged consiousness and Mickey closed his eyes against them as if it would make them disappear.

Shit. So much for pushing the guy away.