There was a body in the alleyway.
Ian just stared at it for a minute, a full-on minute, and then he was pulling out his phone to flip it open, selecting a contact and hitting the dial button without a thought.
The phone rang nine times and he was about to hang up when a gruff, irritated voice finally answered.
“Gallagher?” Mickey huffed. He sounded like he’d just woken up. “The fuck you calling me for?”
There wasn’t really a good answer for that, Ian decided. He and Mickey were barely friends really, they’d shared a chemistry book for one semester in high school when they’d been the only kids in class who couldn’t afford new, but that was about it. And Ian had maybe been harboring a big stupid crush on him since then, and he might have made a habit of staggering past his house once or nine times on nights when he got drunk when he was still living at Fiona’s. But calling after midnight on a Wednesday night was far outside the confines of their normal interactions, of which there were none. That made calling him in a panic over a dead body well outside the mainstream.
“Gallagher?” Mickey demanded again. Ian swallowed, but he couldn’t speak. “Ian, what is it?” Maybe it was that Mickey had actually said Ian’s name, or that he actually sounded almost concerned now, but Ian felt his throat loosen.
“There’s a body in the alleyway,” he croaked.
“What fucking alleyway? Where are you?”
“Um,” Ian muttered. He took a step back so he could peer down the street. “Off of Ashland, kind of between the Target and the weird Mexican place?”
“What are you, a fucking chick?” Mickey said in exasperation. He sounded definitely awake now. “What kind of directions are those?”
Ian was looking down at the body again, and he couldn’t really answer because his throat felt clogged again.
“Cross streets, Gallagher,” Mickey prompted.
“I—I don’t know, Mickey, I’m sorry,” Ian said finally. He clapped a hand to his mouth as the bile rose. “I think I’m going to—” and before he could say “vomit up my dinner” or something similar, he was bent over heaving.
After a minute or so he straightened, his vision fuzzy before he realized he was staring blankly at the dead person lying sprawled five feet in front of him.
“Mickey?” he rasped into the phone. There was a silence on the other end of the phone for maybe fifteen seconds, and Ian felt sure that Mickey was going to hang up on him.
“Jesus," Mickey said in response. His voice turned brisk. "Off Ashland? Are you near Pulaski?"
Ian actually gulped in relief. "Yeah, by Pulaski. Over in Humboldt Park."
"Fucking find a gas station and I’ll be there in twenty,” Mickey said. He hung up before Ian could say thank you or hurry please or bye. He didn’t know how Mickey would find him, his brother and sister always made fun of his inability to give decent directions, but the weirdest part was that Ian never for a second thought Mickey wouldn’t come.
It had been an unseasonably warm fall evening earlier, but in the middle of the night the wind was whipping past the buildings and Ian was shivering.
He needed to get off the street and find a gas station. He needed to wait for Mickey to find him. But instead he found himself creeping up closer to the body curled half-naked in a puddle in the alley.
It was a woman, a girl really, probably barely older than Ian. She had a tube top on and her skirt was yanked askew on her hip, but what caught Ian’s eye were her wrists. They weren’t connected to anything. Her hands were gone. It was such an outrageously incongruous sight that his eyes hadn’t picked up on it at first. He felt himself gagging again, forcing himself to look away and focus on her pale face. Her eyes were wide open, just starting to go flat and milky, the bright hazel-green starting to fade. Ian didn’t know eyes did that when you died, started to lose their color, the thought darting through his mind unbidden.
He felt tears prick his own eyes, because even dead, she looked so fucking scared.
Shuddering, he pulled himself up and was nearly running away from the alleyway before he realized he’d moved.
Up the street he saw a BP station shining fluorescent in the night. He hurried toward it, arms wrapped tight around his bare arms, skin prickling from the cold under his tank top.
He went to open the convenience store door but it was locked. He put his face closer to the glass and saw that although the lights were on, the store was empty, which he supposed made sense. It was past one in the morning.
“Fuck,” he whispered, pressing his forehead against the door. His legs were shaking and he lowered himself slowly to the ledge outside the door, leaning back against it.
He hoped Mickey would hurry, somewhat nonsensically, because Mickey was under no real obligation to do anything for Ian, not even to show up, let alone hurry. Later, he would wonder why he hadn’t called Svetlana, his only real friend these days, or even Lip if he was desperate, or just gone back to the shitty motel room he was renting to call someone from there.
But later, he would realize that even at the beginning, he had already been incapable of leaving some poor girl lying cold and dead in an alley by herself. He just needed someone tough, someone who could deal with things, to help him figure out the best thing to do.
The logic was hazy, but his mind felt hazy too, and so he decided to hunker down and wait for Mickey to show up.
Ian wasn’t crying but he felt just on the verge, so he made himself stare at the empty gasp pumps until he settled down. As he watched a few drunk people and a vagrant or two stagger past the gas station, he found himself muttering, "C'mon, Mickey, c'mon" over and over under his breath like a crazy person.
Offhand, he reflected that when he’d given Mickey his number earlier that day, working up the courage to stammer out how they should hang out some time, you know maybe, if he wanted to, no big deal, he’d really pictured it going differently than this.
That morning, Mickey had been casing a liquor store when he saw Ian for the first time in two years. His eyes were glued to the store entrance from his vantage point leaning against a lamp post across the street, carefully taking note of how many people entered and left, and exactly how long after the hour the new cashier got in to start his shift. He’d been so absorbed in his task, the bright red hair darting across the street had barely caught his eye at first.
Then the tall moron the hair was attached to didn’t look both ways and was nearly mowed down by a black SUV coming the other direction.
“Shit—” Mickey yelled out instinctively, but the redheaded idiot whirled back at the last minute, the SUV swerving and blaring its horn and the idiot flicked the car off with both hands.
“Yeah, go fuck yourself!” he shouted after the car as it sped away.
The back of Mickey’s neck got hot. He knew that voice. He’d stolen a chemistry textbook and shared it with that voice (okay, sharing was a strong word, because he only showed up for chemistry maybe four times that whole semester during his third victory lap of freshman year before bailing on school altogether, but whatever), and the body it was attached to.
He’d jacked off to that voice in his head more times than he could count back in the day, a memory that made his neck get even hotter.
Without consciously deciding to, he left his post across the street and trailed behind Ian Gallagher as he made his way to the liquor store. When Ian went inside, Mickey followed him in, even though he was completely blowing his cover and throwing away the entire morning he’d spent watching the store just to creep behind some kid he used to know in high school. His Uncle Ronnie would fucking kill him if he knew, Mickey was breaking like five rules his uncle had drilled into him on rolling liquor stores, but it was almost like an out of body experience. His feet just followed Ian like the redhead was a snake charmer or some shit.
Mickey watched Ian peruse the shelves, focusing on the bottom shelf of vodka like it was an important test at school. He looked different, taller, less gangly but leaner, and definitely rougher in some vague, indefinable way. His hair was shaved tight to his head and he was wearing a ripped, baggy tank top and skinny jeans that were tight like a girl’s.
Ian finally selected a handle of Vladimir vodka and went up to the cashier, Mickey keeping an eye on him in a way even he could acknowledge was creepy from the other side of the shelves.
“ID,” the cashier asked in a bored voice.
“Left it at home,” Ian said cheerfully.
The cashier rolled his eyes. “No ID, no sale.”
“Come on man, don’t be a dick,” Ian said, sounding significantly less cheerful.
Mickey grabbed a mini-bottle of scotch and sidled up to wait in line behind Ian.
“What is this, a sting?” the cashier asked. “You can’t be more than seventeen. I don't sell to teenagers.”
Ian pulled out a handful of crumpled bills. “Look, I’ll give you a little something extra,” he said. He pulled out one bill and smoothed it on the counter. “How about if my friend Andrew Jackson comes out to play?”
“Get out of here, kid,” the cashier said with a sigh.
With a sudden fist slam against the counter, Ian shouted, “Fuck!” and grabbed his money in his fist. He stomped out of the store, slamming the door behind him.
Through the glass door, Mickey watched Ian continue to stomp across the parking lot and throw himself down on a cement parking divider.
Mickey came up and set his mini-bottle next to the abandoned bottle of Vlad. “I’ll take the vodka, too,” he said. He slid his fake ID across the counter. The cashier squinted at him suspiciously, then looked at the ID, then glanced out the door through which Ian had so recently stomped. Mickey just stared back impassively.
The cashier sighed and rang up the purchase. “Whatever, man,” he said. “That’ll be $17.50.”
Mickey paid the man, grabbed the liquor and headed out the store.
Ian had his head in his hands and didn’t seem to notice Mickey approaching until he tapped him on the shoulder with the plastic handle of vodka. Ian nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Jesus, fuck!” he exclaimed, all of his limbs jerking at once like a puppet.
Mickey held up his hand. “Shit, calm down, man,” he said. He held out the vodka. “I think this belongs to you.”
Ian looked at the vodka Mickey held up, then up at Mickey’s face. He pulled himself up from his position on the parking divider and stood in front of Mickey, frowning. Fuck, but the kid had gotten tall, Mickey thought, craning his neck up to look into his eyes that were still just as fucking green as he remembered.
Mickey pushed the vodka at him. “Take it,” he said.
“It’s for me?” Ian asked, looking totally confused.
Mickey snorted. “Well it sure as hell ain’t for me, I’m not in a fucking frat, I don’t drink Vlad.”
Ian smiled a little, just the corner of his mouth turning up. He slowly reached for the handle, like he expected Mickey to jerk it back or smack him over the head with it or something. When his long, slightly freckled fingers wrapped around the neck of the bottle, Mickey let him have it.
“Thanks,” Ian said. He smiled for real this time, his mouth stretching wide over straight, white teeth, like Mickey had given him a handful of diamonds instead of some shitty bottom-shelf liquor.
Mickey rubbed a hand through his hair, uncomfortable. “Fuck that guy in there. This isn’t fucking communist Russia, you should be able to drink like a free man.”
Ian twisted the cap off. “To freedom,” he toasted Mickey, and took a pull from the bottle. He made a face and wiped his mouth clean. Mickey couldn’t help but grimace in sympathy. Times must be tough if the kid was this eager for some warm vodka, at ten in the morning, but whatever, that wasn’t his business.
Besides, Ian was fixing him with that smile again. “Thanks.” Holding the vodka in one hand, he rifled through his back pocket with the other, pulling out the same handful of crumpled fives and tens. “How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it, man,” Mickey said. As soon as the words left his mouth, he had no idea why he’d said them. He frowned, trying to play it off. “It’s cool, I know the cashier. He owes me a favor.” Why are you lying? he asked himself. Stop lying.
And it was such an odd lie, too, fucking discounts from the liquor store he was casing to rob? Not his best work.
Ian cocked his head to the side, like he could tell it was a lie too. He didn’t say anything right away though. Mickey should have left right then, good deed for the day over and done with, but he felt rooted to the spot.
“I remember you, you know,” Ian said finally. He stuffed the money back into his pocket and snapped his fingers. “My old chemistry buddy.”
Mickey scoffed. “The fuck are you talking about?” He thought he sounded suitably disdainful, but Ian was shaking his head.
“No, man, you and me, we had shared custody of that chemistry book for a while there. Don’t act like you don’t remember,” Ian said.
Something about the way Ian said “shared custody” made Mickey’s heart throb. Fuck, it made him feel panicky, so he kept protesting.
“I don’t remember, because it never happened.” He didn’t know why he was keeping up this charade really, but admitting that of course he remembered Ian, he’d woken up to plenty a wet dream starring the guy during high school, he knew him as soon as he heard his voice, made Mickey's entire chest feel hot and uncomfortable, and so he opted for plausible deniability.
“Huh. Must’ve been some other weirdo with FUCK U UP on his knuckles,” Ian said. He reached out and swiped at the tattoos on Mickey’s left hand and Mickey jerked at the touch like he’d been shocked.
They looked at each other, Ian grinning and Mickey’s mouth hanging open incredulously, until Ian’s left foot began tapping anxiously and he held out his hand.
“Give me your phone,” Ian said.
Mickey raised his eyebrows. “What, you shaking me down? After I bought you alcohol and everything?”
Ian rolled his eyes. “No, Mickey.” He kept his hand held out flat, his expression expectant.
Mickey was so startled at the sound of his name on the other boy’s lips that he pulled out his phone and handed it over. Ian flipped it open and typed furiously, then hit the green ‘send’ button. There was a corresponding ring in the pocket of Ian’s jeans. He tossed the phone back and Mickey caught it, clumsily, against his chest.
“If you ever feel like not reminiscing about our time together in chemistry that definitely didn’t happen, or just, hanging out the way people who have definitely never met before have, you should give me a call,” Ian said. He was smirking now, his expression having shrunk into something slyer and more teasing.
Trying not to open and close his mouth like a fish, Mickey struggled to work up some anger. He might not be able to prove it in a court of law, but he was pretty sure the fucking Gallagher kid was flirting with him, like he was some kind of fag. And yeah Mickey was dying for it, but he had a reputation to maintain.
“Go fuck yourself, Firecrotch,” he said and turned away, hurrying down the street.
“And all the best to you, too!” Ian called behind him. Mickey didn’t turn back, but his hands were sweating. He waited until he turned the corner to wipe them on his jeans.
* * * *
That night, when Ian saw Mickey walking up the street toward him, the shorter boy’s pale skin almost reflective in the streetlights, Ian had to dig his nails into his arms to keep himself from running to him and throwing his arms around Mickey’s short, stocky body.
Ian allowed himself to walk to meet him, forcing himself to keep his pace measured. He didn’t want to seem too out of control, didn’t want to give away that he was seconds from falling apart (which was asinine because if finding a dead body didn’t give you the pass to fall apart, what did?) so he tried to keep cool.
So he was caught off guard when Mickey grabbed him, holding tight right above Ian's elbows as soon as he was in reach. “Are you okay?” he said roughly. He shook Ian a little, but the motion was gentle, like he wanted to make sure he had Ian’s attention.
Mickey had the bluest eyes Ian had ever seen. He felt mesmerized staring into them.
Ian wasn’t a big crier, and he hated crying in front of people in the rare moments when he did break down, so when his face started to crumple he kind of lurched forward and pressed into the space where Mickey’s neck met his shoulder, hunching over a little to accommodate Mickey's shorter height.
He wasn’t surprised when Mickey froze, but he was surprised when Mickey pulled Ian a little closer, holding him so his face stayed pressed against his neck. He gave Ian a minute, not saying anything, and Ian was able to pull himself together relatively quickly.
Jerking away slightly, he rubbed at his running nose with the back of his hand. “Sorry,” he said miserably, not knowing if he was apologizing for calling Mickey in the middle of the night or making him come get him in a shitty neighborhood or crying all over his shirt.
“Jesus, don’t,” Mickey said irritably, scowling at Ian’s apology. And for some reason that made Ian smile tearily, his grouchiness familiar even after all these years.
Mickey looked around, seeming to note where they were for the first time. “Why the hell are you even out this late? What are you doing in this part of town?” he demanded.
Ian sighed, because he couldn’t hide it forever and he might as well get it over with now. It wasn’t like he had any other excuse to be in Humboldt Park at almost 2 AM in the middle of the week. He didn’t want to lie to Mickey anyway, which was also somewhat of a surprise.
“Working,” Ian said lowly, hedging slightly.
Mickey arched an eyebrow. “Working what? You selling meth?”
Ian snorted at that, then he shrugged a little. “Hooking,” he said simply.
He made himself say the word clearly and look Mickey square in the eye. He’d rather see the look on his face than torture himself by trying to imagine it.
Mickey seemed startled, and Ian felt wistful, wishing he could go back and construct a more ordinary, less complicated version of himself to give to Mickey. But the cat was out of the bag now, so he waited for Mickey to scoff and leave, or worse, give him that sleazy, creepy smile that had become so familiar when Ian told guys what he did for a living these days.
Mickey just kept his hands wrapped around Ian’s arms, though, holding him close enough that they were more or less breathing softly into each other’s faces
“Okay. So where’s the body?” Mickey asked after a moment. And apparently he just wasn’t going to stop surprising Ian tonight, because his tone was calm, like he was totally fine with what Ian had just told him and was ready to move on now.
But then again, dead body, bigger fish to fry and all that, Ian supposed.
Ian gestured behind him with his chin. “In the alley on the left, halfway down the block,” he said. “I was going to call the cops, but then I panicked.” He swallowed. That was a lie, because he was never going to call the cops. He hadn’t had a run-in with the cops that hadn’t ended in misery in the last two years. “I don’t know why I called you.” That was also a lie. He knew why he’d called Mickey, but he didn’t know how to put it into words that wouldn’t make him sound insane. "I'm sorry to drag you out of bed, shit this is crazy, I'm sorry to bother you. Jesus."
Mickey squeezed where he held Ian’s arms, but just slightly, effectively cutting off Ian's nervous rambling. He looked Ian in the eye. “Don’t say that,” he said. His blue eyes were serious. “I’m glad you called me.”