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Teenagers Scare The Living Shit Out Of Me

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Ian was having the strangest, most vivid dream of his life. He was sitting in the corner of the ceiling, well, crouching, really, in a room he didn’t recognize. He was perched against the drywall like Spiderman, suspended there without any apparent effort of his own.

People were shouting all around him, or at least the sounds seemed to surround him, but the commotion seemed to be coming from the floor. He looked down, his head moving lazily on his neck. He saw shadows, the blurry outlines of people he assumed, bustling on the ground below him, but it was like he was watching it through thick, gauzy blinds.

He could smell blood in the air. In a vague, inexplicable dreamlike way, he knew it was his blood. He hoped he wasn’t dying. His whole body was aching like he’d been skinned, which he thought was kind of bullshit. It was a dream. Dreams weren’t supposed to ache, or hurt at all.

He was just beginning to wonder where he was, why he was hanging out here, what was happening below, when he felt his perch on the ceiling-corner begin to slip, and he started to panic. He didn’t want to leave the ceiling, because he was afraid that he went close to the ground it would hurt more. He was so afraid that the pain would get worse.

It did hurt, as he fell to earth, and it made him writhe, but it was also disconnected, like lightning pricking his skin from a great distance.

Things went indistinct for a long time, then. He wasn’t on the ceiling anymore, he was lying down, but sometimes it felt like he was spinning, rolling over and over himself like he was log-rolling down a hill like a little kid but he couldn’t control the speed or direction of his descent. It was unpleasant.

It was a restless sort of repose. Sometimes he felt deeper under the current, others he felt close enough to the surface to hear things, feel the brush of hands and cold metal equipment against his skin.

During one of those brushes with the surface, Ian thought years might have passed since he’d come down from his perch on the ceiling.

Get up, Ian.

The command sounded familiar, and the voice did too, even though he didn’t think it was his own this time. Maybe it was Lip, his mind supplied fuzzily. Lip was pretty bossy. Mickey was bossier, though, it was probably Mickey, god he loved Mickey, and then…Mickey. Ian’s dreams were clearer now, softer, and they didn’t make him as dizzy. He could imagine faces, and a pale, dark-haired, stubborn-faced boy kept drifting through, tralala, Ian’s mind would reach to catch him and he’d slip through his fingers, wait, come back he’d beg, but then the boy was gone again.

Ian, get up.

This time the words were sterner. He felt closer to the surface, and the words seemed to hook around his ribs and drag him up. It was frightening, being propelled upwards against his permission.

And then, slowly, so painfully slowly it felt like moving backwards, Ian was awake.

He blinked. He kept blinking, everything was so bright. It made the corners of his eyes burn and it took a long time for him to see anything but bright, fuzzy shapes.

“Ian?”

Ian started weakly in surprise. The dark-haired boy he’d been chasing in his head (Mickey, his mind supplied, almost on a sigh) was looking down at him. Ian couldn’t smile or really make his face do anything yet, but he watched how Mickey was looking down at him, his eyes like flying saucers on his face.

“Oh my god, oh my god, Ian? Hey—you, hey, he’s awake, shit.”

Ian blinked his eyes shut again as the commotion built. People seemed very surprised to see him struggling to consciousness. Ian was pretty surprised too, to be honest, and it was a little difficult to stay awake. He kept his eyes closed, focused on remaining at the surface, afraid to slip under the surface again, to lose more time. He heard voices he recognized, some he didn’t. He hoped Mickey was still there.

He tried to mumble something to that effect, but there was some kind of thing stuffed down Ian’s throat and whatever it was got in the way of his words.

When he opened his eyes, Mickey was gone. Ian wasn’t alone, though.

A gorgeous, willowy brunette woman was hovering over his bed, holding his hands. Ian blinked his dry eyes. It was Fiona. Fiona was leaning near his face, touching his forehead, her eyes wet and wounded-looking.

“Ian, try not to talk, okay sweetheart?” Her voice sounded hoarse. She stroked his forehead, over and over. It was nice.

He blinked at her to show he understood, but he didn’t think it was the clearest statement he'd ever made. She held her hand on his shoulder as a woman in soft-looking scrubs came to stand beside him, flashes of other people in white coats and scrubs (nurses and doctors, you idiot, his mind supplied impatiently, like it was irritated Ian was taking so long to catch up) dancing in the background.

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” the woman, the nurse, said to him, smiling. “You have a lot of people real worried about you.”

You have to be careful with the people you let love you.

The echo in his head made him flinch, but the flinch turned into a jerk, which pulled on some of the tubing attached to his chest and he groaned, whatever was stuffed down his throat making him gag. He started to panic, breathing hard.

He heard the nurse tell his sister that they would up his pain meds for a while, just to keep him calm, and Ian wanted to tell them no, he didn’t want to go back under again, but he felt the fizzy carbonation of medication sizzle through his blood and he was out like a light again in seconds.

When he woke up for the second time, the tubing was out of his throat and his mouth was dry and his lips felt like they were cracking in half.

The room wasn’t as hazy either, and he could focus on the details much quicker, things not nearly as bright. He was grateful for that, at least.

He felt someone rubbing up and down his arm, and looked over to see Fiona stroking his wrist, eyes vacant in thought as she stared at one of the monitors. He lolled his head to the other side, and his chest loosened. Mickey was sitting in a chair next to the hospital bed, fist clenched around the rough material of the hospital bed sheet. Ian wanted to hold his hand, but all he could do was twitch his fingers.

“Hi,” he said. His voice came out as a terrible, wretched croak, and Fiona and Mickey whipped their heads around in shock.

“Ian,” Fiona said warmly, her smile bright. “You’re up again!”

Ian smiled back. Everything felt warm and fluorescent. He twitched his fingers at Mickey again, whose eyes were damp, his mouth turned down in an angry frown.

“I am so, so mad at you right now,” Mickey said lowly, but he wrapped his hand firmly around Ian’s fingers, and Ian sighed, because his memory felt soupy like wet sand but he was pretty sure Mickey had a pretty good reason to be mad at him.

“Okay,” Ian muttered, blinking slowly.

“Seriously. I am pissed,” Mickey insisted. “You are in trouble. Serious trouble, trust me.” He was crying now though, and rubbed his face in his own shoulder, scrubbing his nose against the fabric of his shirt. Ian wanted to push his face into Mickey's neck too and just smell him, tell him not to cry.

Content with Mickey’s hand in his, since it was all he was capable of doing right now, Ian looked at Fiona again.

“Tony,” he said muzzily. For some reason, the name seemed important to Ian. He wasn’t sure why, like it was dancing just out of the edge of his mind’s reach. Tony. Blond Tony the cop. Tony the cop who had a gun. Of course he had a gun. Cops all had guns. Ian’s sore head gave a sharp, unexpected pang.

“He’s…he’s still alive,” Fiona said hesitantly. From behind Fiona, Ian thought he heard someone mutter, “Goddamn motherfucking nine-lives bastard,” but it didn’t really register, Ian was still distracted by the soft radiance of Fiona’s face. He wondered if Fiona had always been this beautiful or if it was the industrial-grade pain meds he was obviously on that were giving everything this low-fi glow.

“I don’t know a lot of the details, honestly,” she was saying, resuming the steady stroke of her hand on Ian’s wrist, which he liked. “Apparently he’s in some kind of medically induced coma right now. There were some FBI agents here earlier, I guess they were able to question him a little bit, but he’s out now. They don't know if he's going to pull through.”

Fiona’s voice was soothing, but Ian had trouble following a lot of what she was saying. He let his head tilt to the side, eyes finding Mickey again, but the movement gave him a better view of the rest of the room, and that’s when he saw his brother.

Lip was standing near the corner, his arms crossed so tightly he was gripping his elbows. His face was red and he looked like he’d been crying. Christ, Ian was the worst, he kept making everyone around him burst into tears.

“Lip,” Ian said hoarsely. It was really the most he could get out. His throat felt like shit.

Even from across the room, Ian could see Lip’s mouth start to tremble.

“Lip,” Fiona said softly. She held her hand out, gesturing for him to come closer.

“You goddamn fucking idiot,” Lip exploded. He choked on a sob, stuffing a fist against his mouth. “What the fuck were you thinking, how could you be so fucking stupid. Fuck.” He punched the wall, tears streaming down his cheeks, and Ian winced in sympathy as Lip cradled his hand to his chest.

“Lip,” Ian said again. His chest was hurting for a completely different reason now. He turned the hand not clasped in Mickey’s so that the palm was facing up. Even that small movement nearly drained him of energy but he kept his gaze on Lip, pleading.

Lip took a few halting steps toward the bed, Fiona moving to let him in, and Lip propped a hip on the mattress. He let out a choked sound and grabbed Ian’s hand, squeezing hard. He still looked furious, but he was crying too hard to get any words out. Finally he gave up and collapsed down, pressing Ian’s hand to his face.

“Sh,” Ian whispered, trying to squeeze Lip’s hand back. “Sh, Lip.”

Fiona wrapped an arm around Lip’s shoulders, her own eyes luminous. Behind her, Ian saw Debbie, and he wanted to wave at her, but his hands were both occupied. He saw she wasn’t alone. Liam was with her, taller now but hanging shyly back, holding her hand, and a tall, gangly Carl hovered near the doorway, worrying his lip with his teeth, watching Ian on the bed. Ian wondered when they’d gotten there. It felt like he was dreaming.

He wanted to tell them, and everyone really, how happy he was to see them, but Lip’s sobs were finally easing up and Ian turned his attention back to his brother.

“Sorry,” Ian croaked out. He felt his eyes getting heavy. He heard Lip grunt something that sounded unforgiving, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore.

Fiona laughed shakily. “You goddamn better be. You scared us all half to death,” she said.

“I’m still mad at you,” Mickey said sternly. Ian looked at him, and he looked at him, and looked at him, and he was pretty sure he was smiling wanly like a loon, too captivated by the worried, protective, loving tilt of Mickey’s eyes to notice anything else for a bit.

Fiona brought him back to earth, brushing Ian’s forehead with one cool hand and Ian turned to press into the touch. “Go to sleep, sweetheart. We’ll be here when you wake up.”

The promise made him feel warm, and the pain meds made him feel like he was floating, and he drifted back to sleep, a small smile on his face.

When he woke up the third time, he didn’t feel pleasantly drunk anymore, he just felt hung over. Mickey was still in the chair beside the bed, but he was passed out, snoring lightly. Ian heard Fiona talking softly to Lip near the door. Debbie and Liam and Carl weren’t there anymore, but it looked like it was dark out. It must be late.

His side hurt, and when he looked down, he saw the thick bandages covering his ribs. He’d been shot, he remembered. His head ached more than the gunshot wound did, which he personally thought was weird. He could tell, with grim kind of certainty, that he was going to be laid up for a while from all this, and that he’d already lost a decent amount of time.

And he was right, he came to learn.

Gradually, over several hazy, sleep-filled hours, he learned he’d been in the hospital, unconscious, for three days. There’d been frantic calls to Fiona and Lip, a very dramatic arrival by O’Reilly and Mickey, bickering and accompanying Ian in the ambulance, then emergency surgery, CT scans, talks of MRIs.

His memory was patchy. That was the word the doctor used, “patchy,” but Ian had a feeling from the worried looks Mickey and Fiona kept shooting each other over his head that it had been a much nearer miss. Memory loss was common from the severe type of concussion Ian had, the same soft-spoken doctor told him, and the trauma from the gunshot wound could cause disorientation. He’d lost a lot of blood and gone into shock, which hadn’t helped the head wound, but he’d pulled through.

“Takes more than that to stop a Gallagher,” Lip said flippantly, but his eyes were tight, and no one in the room laughed. Ian felt breathless when he thought how close it had been.

And it took days after that for the bits and pieces of the events at the Markovich apartments to filter back to him, and even then it felt incomplete. A pair of police detectives he didn’t recognize came in a few days after he woke up and asked a nearly endless series of questions. Ian gave up on trying to hide anything, but accessing his memory of what had actually happened at the apartments was like trying to remember a language he used to speak, hovering just at the tip of his tongue.

He remembered getting a phone call from Tony, but not the call itself. He remembered feeling hopeful that it was all going to be over soon, but not the apparent cab ride he took to the Fulton River district. He remembered the crushing, devastating realization that he’d waltzed right into Tony’s grasp. By the grace of god, he did not remember anything about eyeballs, but just the pointed questions from the detectives about them made him feel sick to his stomach.

He remembered the intense, quiet look on Tony’s face as he held Ian on the roof. He remembered feeling like he was about to die. The detectives didn’t ask questions about those things, though. When they seemed satisfied Ian wasn't holding anything back, they left.

When Ian sat up at night in the hospital, Mickey valiantly trying to stay awake beside him but usually ending up passed out and drooling with his head on the mattress, Ian would look at him and remember the total, blind panic when Tony had turned the gun on Mickey. He didn’t remember jumping in front of the gun. He was especially okay with that particular lapse.

As he slowly organized the scraps of memory from that day, Fiona, Lip, Mickey and everyone else who visited were extraordinarily patient with him, and thus he passed three more endless weeks in the hospital at the mercy of what Ian considered borderline obsessive hovering.

Lip hovered, looking over doctors' shoulders as they read Ian’s chart, badgering them with questions, arguing with nurses when they woke Ian up to take his vitals or weigh him in the middle of the night. Svetlana hovered, showing up well outside of non-family visiting hours to boss Ian around and force him to take laps around the nurses’ station when all Ian wanted was to stay horizontal and sleep forever. Fiona hovered, arranging and rearranging and re-rearranging Ian’s covers and bed sheets and pillows until Ian felt like he was being slowly, subtly folded into some kind of full-size origami. Colin and Ronnie even hovered, stopping by the hospital room every day like clockwork at noon, Colin chattering about whatever was up on the soaps that week, Ronnie rarely speaking at all, just sweeping his gaze discreetly over Ian’s form, confirming all was well. Debbie hovered, albeit more discreetly, refusing to spend any afternoons away from Ian, arriving exactly an hour after her school let out in Aurora and sitting quietly near the window, doing her homework or watching TV or shooting surreptitious glances at Ian until Fiona drove her home at the end of the night. Even Mandy stopped by occasionally to bring Ian OK! magazines and flirt with the medical residents.

Mickey, however, was the undisputed king of Ian’s new flotilla of hovercrafts. He fetched drinks, he smuggled in contraband outside-food in Tupperware hidden under his coat, he sat up with Ian when the noises and interruptions in the hospital kept him wide awake for the first few nights, he helped Ian get in and out of the bed when he needed the bathroom, he parked his chair as close to the bed as he could get without actually climbing in and sitting in Ian’s lap. He held Ian’s hand and poked at his feet and ran his fingers over and over through Ian’s hair, carefully avoiding his stitches, Mickey heedless of the audience to the affection, until Ian’s eyes drifted closed and he slept. Physical pleasure was like a narcoleptic during the first few weeks in the hospital, but Ian learned to roll with it.

Besides, the best part about passing out was that when he woke up now, Mickey was always there.

The doctors and nurses gradually shifted from addressing Fiona first when discussing Ian’s care, to including Mickey and answering his relentless badgering questions and concerns, to speaking primarily to Mickey and remembering Fiona was technically Ian’s emergency contact only when Mickey was satisfied.

He seemed able to anticipate Ian’s needs like he was seeing inside his brain, to the point that Fiona or Svetlana or whoever else was in the room would just sit back and watch, bemused, as Mickey got Ian another blanket, adjusted the blinds so the light wasn’t too bright, changed the TV channel from the annoying in-hospital advertising channel, all without being asked.

One late afternoon, Ian actually tested the limits of it, and it did nothing to allay his suspicions that Mickey might actually be pyschic. I want water, he thought clearly. He waited. One minute. Two minutes. Two and a half—

From his seat beside the bed reading a copy of Soap Digest that Colin had left behind, Mickey looked up. He eyed Ian. “You thirsty, man? You want water?”

Ian bit his lip, trying to hold it in. He really did try, but his mouth quirked, and then he was off.

Mickey looked supremely baffled when Ian started to laugh. Then he looked a little annoyed when Ian couldn’t stop laughing, but by then Ian was too far gone to notice, snorting and gasping and wheezing, the movements pulling at his stitches and making his head ache, until he wasn’t laughing anymore and he was crying, just crying raggedly into his hands, the shift too swift for Ian to track. He registered Mickey settling beside him on the bed and murmuring nonsense words into Ian’s temple, lips brushing against the edge of the bandages that still looped around Ian’s head.

Like all the times before, Mickey didn’t move away or stop touching Ian even when the doctors and nurses walked in and out, even when Lip showed up from his afternoon class and raised his eyebrows, even when Fiona brought Debbie and looked startled to see two instead of one teenage boy on the gurney.

Mickey didn’t stop touching Ian for a long time then. So, the hovering, while obsessive, wasn’t the worst thing in the world, maybe. It was something Ian noticed but didn’t resent, if it meant all the people he loved would stay within arm’s reach.

The careful avoidance of the topics of Tony and murders cultivated by his family eventually came to an end, two weeks into his stay at the hospital.

Mickey left to grab lunch at the hospital, and Lip and Fiona gave each other meaningful looks and sat on either side of Ian’s bed, Lip taking up Mickey’s deserted seat.

Ian looked at his hands. He knew it was fast becoming his default defensive pose, but he couldn’t shake the habit, not right now at least. So he looked at his hands, and waited for Fiona and Lip to say what they wanted, watching them warily out of the corner of his eye.

“The investigators have been trying to put together the pieces of everything that happened,” Lip said carefully. He leaned his elbows onto the bed, trying to look Ian in the face, but Ian kept his eyes down.

Fiona laughed humorlessly. “I’ve talked to more cops in the last two weeks than I think I have in my entire life,” she said. She ran her hand through her hair, fiddled with the heartbeat monitor on Ian’s finger. “They asked me a lot about Tony.”

There it was. Aside from when Ian had asked about him when he first woke up, no one but the detectives had asked him about Tony since that day. It had almost been enough to pretend it had happened to someone else.

“Yeah?” Ian intoned noncommittally.

“They’ve talked to his mother a lot, and she’s been a pill, apparently. And there’s been a big interdepartmental investigation, to see how the hell Chicago’s finest failed to recognize a murderer in their midst,” Lip said, his words low and disgusted. “They’ve questioned me and Fiona a bunch. It’s like they want us to explain to them why he went crazy, like we would know, somehow." He shook his head, exasperated.

Fiona shook her head too, the gesture more miserable. “If I’d know what he was, I wouldn’t have let him near you, not near any of you kids.”

“I know,” Ian said, but Fiona just kept shaking her head in disbelief.

Meanwhile, Lip was working up to an Irish boil, Ian easily able to recognize the familiar cadence of a Lip Gallagher Rant. “They keep asking us when he might have become so fixated on you, like we’re some kind of experts on Tony.” He made a face. “He was just always there, hanging around, how the fuck would we know what he was capable of? And now we know everything he ever did was probably just an act anyway.”

To get closer to you was the unspoken implication, and Ian was oddly glad he didn’t say it out loud.

“Sure, Mrs. Markovich was a nut, and she definitely hated any girls she thought were sniffing around Tony, but it’s not like she trained him to hunt down girls,” Lip said indignantly. “The cops should be figuring out why he didn’t go after Mickey or something.” Ian blinked, his heart making a lurch at the very suggestion, but Lip was too wound up to notice. “Why didn’t he go after any of the other guys you’ve dated? Why was it just girls?”

Because he was a coward, Ian guessed miserably. Because in his own twisted way, he was trying to pay Ian a compliment, that he was better than the other whores. Because he didn’t want to hurt Ian by hurting someone close to him, so he went after strangers instead. Because he took a crush and twisted it into something horrific that didn’t fit into the rules of a rational person, and would just seem become more monstrous the harder they tried to pin it to a framework of rules.

None of it made sense. All of it made sense. Ian felt sick contemplating it.

And Lip kept looking at Ian, like he expected Ian to be his guide through the land of homicidal closeted stalkers. Ian tried his best not to recoil, not to shy away physically from the obvious voracious need in Lip to fit the pieces into something that made sense, to understand, but it was difficult.

Fiona was watching him, though. She at least seemed to notice the way Ian had gone still and looked pained. She tapped Lip on the knee.

“Lip,” she said pointedly. “Hey. Could you go get me some coffee?”

Lip snapped his mouth shut, and finally seemed to take in the way Ian had curled in on himself. He nodded guiltily, and gave Ian one last long look before he got up and strode out the door. Ian watched with relief as he disappeared into the hallway.

Fiona gave Ian an apologetic look. “He’s a little…worked up. We all are. He blames himself for all of this. Just like I blame myself. And Mickey feels guilty, too, I think. Kid can’t tear himself away from your side.” She coughed. “Lot of blame flying around this place, let me tell you.”

Ian looked up at her for real this time, confused. He wanted to say it was stupid that anyone but him felt guilty about all this shit, but he had a feeling now wasn’t the time.

“Why do you think he...wanted me like that?” he asked quietly instead. As obvious as it was in hindsight that Tony had only shown them a facade, Fiona had known Tony the best, and Ian felt a crazy, desperate hope that maybe Fiona would be able to put the pieces together.

Fiona made a helpless face. “Tony? Because his mind was twisted. Sweetheart, it had nothing to do with you, not really. People like that just need something to fixate on.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Fiona,” Ian said irritably. “I know you’ve been thinking about it, just tell me. Everyone thought he was hung up on you, all those years. How did we not know, if he was really so obsessed? How could we be that fucking blind?”

His head was aching, like it usually did now when he got too frustrated. While the gunshot wound on his side was healing nicely, his nice, soft-spoken doctor said it was his goddamn head that was stubbornly taking its time knitting itself back together.

Fiona shrugged, then shrugged again, like if she did it enough things would make sense. “I don’t know, Ian!” she burst out finally. “I don’t know. Don’t you think if I understood, I would tell you? I’d go to the police right now and tell them everything. But I don’t. If I’d known, I would’ve killed myself, with my bare hands, the second he tried to lay a finger on you.”

Then her shoulders slumped. “But then…I don’t know, I also can’t stop thinking about how he always wanted to help us out all the time. Why was he always just there? Why was he so willing to get involved? Why did he give you kids rides all the time, and hunt down Frank when he went on a bender, why was he so quick to offer to pick you and Lip up from school when it was cold out? God, it makes me sick, it makes me fucking ill thinking about it all now.” She scrubbed wrathfully at her nose, voice high and desperate. “Why did he jump to spring you guys when you and Lip got busted for the stolen car? He was always trying to sidle in, make himself look so dependable, and I thought he was just a nice guy, you know? Some nice, idiot virgin who just wanted me to smile at him sometimes, fuck, how goddamn naïve.” Fiona’s voice was strained, hoarse from her anger and disgust. “I even tried to date him, christ.”

“I remember that,” Ian said. It made him shudder, thinking of Tony that close to this sister.

She looked mystified. “And I remember thinking even than that it was weird, that he seemed more mad that he wasn’t going to get to be an honorary Gallagher anymore, more than he was pissed he wasn’t going to get to fuck me again.”

She fell silent. She looked young, sitting deflated on the uncomfortable hospital chair. Ian felt protective of her, suddenly.

“It’s okay, Fiona,” he said. “You didn’t do anything.”

“I know, that’s the problem,” she said harshly. “I didn’t do anything.” She straightened up then and leaned forward eagerly. “But I’m here now. I can do something now.”

“What do you mean?” Ian asked in confusion.

“You’re not even eighteen yet, and I missed so much time with you, Ian. I know that was all my fault, and I’ll never forgive myself.” She faltered for a moment. “Never. I’ll always blame myself for not seeing what was happening.”

“No one saw what was happening, nobody knew who he really was,” Ian said automatically, even thought he didn’t know where she was going with this, but Fiona hushed him.

“Not just Tony, Ian. With you. I thought you just needed space and that you’d come around. I thought if I just let you breathe, kept all the stupid fucking photos to myself so you only had to worry about yourself, we’d be able to come together on the other side someday.” She made a disbelieving noise, like she was talking about the decisions of a particularly impulsive stranger. “But I was wrong. I was so wrong, and I’m sorry, and I want to make it up to you. Please, let me make it up to you.”

Ian went back to quietly staring at his hands, waiting.

Fiona took a deep, preparatory breath. “I’m moving me and Debs in with Kev and V back in the neighborhood. They’re letting me stay on the couch, and there’s a spare room for Debbie.” Her voice was painfully neutral. “And there’s room for you, if you want it.”

Ian went still. “You want me to live with you again?” He also tried to keep his voice calm, but everything was still too close to the surface, and his voice broke on the last word.

“Yes, Ian, of course I do. I want to take care of you. I want to do a better job than before.” She touched his hand tentatively. “Please, let me do better this time.”

Ian was surprised by how overwhelming tempting the offer was, just for a second. The option to fall back under Fiona’s care, to retreat back into the warm cocoon of Ian Gallagher, Little Brother, where he wouldn’t have to be the one making any adult decisions anymore, was strong. He wondered if that would help him to be okay again.

The doctor talked about recovery time, both from physical damage but also the emotional trauma. Ian knew what he meant, but he also didn’t. He was scared that he might never be okay again. He felt immature and inexperienced in a way he hadn’t in years. He really didn’t know shit about shit. He wasn’t sure why it took him so long to realize that.

He finally looked up from his hands and saw Fiona watching, waiting for a response, biting her lip nervously. Ian offered up a small, crooked smile. It was still difficult, but he was getting better at it, the smiling.

“I don’t want to move out of Mickey’s,” he said. Despite the urge to regress, Ian felt the truth of his words as soon as they left his mouth. The thought of leaving the hospital and going anyplace but Mickey’s shitbox of an apartment was unthinkable.

But when Fiona’s face fell, he rushed to add, “But I don’t want you to fall out of my life again, either.” He bit his lip anxiously.

“Ian,” Fiona said, frowning. “I’m not going to fall out of your life.”

Ian could see that she meant it, that she believed it even, but then, he didn’t think she’d had concrete plans to bail out before and that’s what she’d done, dealing with the chaos of her life by skipping out. And while she’d been gone, everything had fallen apart. It was going to take a while before he could trust her to stick around.

Cautiously, he turned his hand up to squeeze Fiona’s palm. “Please stay,” he said. “Promise me you’ll stay.”

Fiona let out a choked-sounding sob, stuffing her fist against her mouth to stem the emotion. She nodded unsteadily. She folded her arms carefully around Ian’s shoulders, avoiding the tubes as best she could, and hugged him gently, much more gently than he could ever remember his sister touching him before. He leaned into her warmth, letting out a shaky breath.

“I’m never leaving you again, buddy,” she said thinly into the material of the hospital gown at Ian’s shoulder. “You don’t have to believe me today, because I’m going to be here tomorrow, and the day after, and every day after that until you get sick of having your big sister following you around and tell me to fuck off.”

Ian laughed despite himself, his nose starting to burn. “I would never tell you to fuck off.” Fiona pulled back at that, giving him a look, and Ian shrugged. “Well, unless you were being super, super annoying and deserved it.”

Smiling wryly, Fiona drew back. Her face was still pale and tear-stained, but Ian could tell she was reigning her emotions under control. He tried to do the same, unsuccessfully.

There was a knock at the door, and they both turned to look.

Mickey was standing there, looking red-faced and uncomfortable. “Hey, if you guys need me to give you another minute—”

“No, that’s okay,” Ian said eagerly. He held his breath until Mickey was sitting next to him again. Ian felt like he had cartoon hearts in his eyes, and it was only partially the pain meds.

“Yeah?” Mickey sat in his usual seat and let Ian take his hand. “You look all sweaty and emotional.”

You look all sweaty and emotional,” Ian retorted. Mickey smirked, then raised his eyebrows seriously. Ian nodded. “Everything’s fine,” he said. He swallowed, squeezing Mickey’s hand tighter. Eventually, it would be fine, he told himself. He had to believe it would. He just had to wait it out. He hoped.

 

****

 

When Ian was released from the hospital, Mickey was as surprised as anyone when he ended up coming home with Mickey.

He’d listened guiltily outside the door as Fiona practically begged Ian to move in with her and Debbie at her friend’s house back in the neighborhood. He noticed the way Lip looked pained for days afterward, obviously worried that Ian would be on his own again.

But Ian just smiled when Mickey hesitantly asked him if he was looking forward to getting out.

“I’m looking forward to going home,” he said, giving Mickey a meaningful look. Mickey blushed, because Mickey was still an enormous dork when it came to Ian, apparently.

So it was with limited fanfare that Ian was finally discharged, nearly a month after being shot and beaten over the head, his brothers and sisters seeing him off into Colin’s car, waving tearfully from the curb like Ian was going off to war instead of twenty minutes away in the same city.

Colin drove them both carefully back to Mickey’s apartment, Mickey snapping at him for driving too fast or taking turns too sharply. (“Would you get off my ass, man, that was a yellow light.” “If you don’t slow the fuck down I’m going to punch you in the head.” “Mick, it’s fine.” “Ian, just relax, it’s—Colin, I swear to god.”)

Ian was walking easier now, could get out of Colin's car on his own, but the stitches on his side still pulled and he needed Mickey’s help to get up the stairs, pausing at the landing to catch his breath. It made Mickey’s chest hurt to see.

“Take your time, man,” Mickey murmured, face close to Ian’s ear.

“This really blows, Mick,” Ian said miserably, holding his side and gritting his teeth the way he did when the back of his head was throbbing again.

“I know, man,” Mickey said, sighing. He lifted his hand to rest at the juncture between Ian’s shoulders, feeling the way the muscles tensed. “I wish it was me hurting and not you.”

Ian huffed out a breath, pushing off the wall to climb the last few steps. “Right now, I wish it were you, too.” He flashed Mickey a grin, albeit strained.

Mickey tapped him lightly in rebuke on the shoulder. “Dick.”

Eventually, they made it to the apartment. Mickey set down the box of various prescriptions and medical supplies wedged under his arm and helped Ian to the sofa.

Mickey wanted to ask Ian if he was sure he didn’t want to go home with Fiona, to be in the bosom of his family again, but he worried about upsetting him. It wasn’t like he wasn’t anxious as all hell to be near Ian all the time, too. He needed to make sure with his own eyes that he was safe, that he was okay. He just hoped he wasn’t being selfish, keeping Ian from his family when he was hurt and traumatized and quiet most of the time now. He was worried about him all the time.

Because Ian was quiet now, much quieter than he’d ever been, and Mickey didn’t know how to make it better.

“You don’t have to make it better, you know,” Ian said softly, and Mickey started, because he was spilling his emotions all over the place out loud, apparently.

Ian patted the cushion next to him, body lax against the sofa. He’d lost weight, his cheekbones sharp under his pale skin, his hair grown out and fuzzy-looking, except for the back where it had been shaved for stitches. There were dark shadows under his eyes.

He was so goddamn beautiful it knocked the wind out of Mickey just looking at him.

Careful not to jostle him, Mickey settled beside him, and Ian immediately wrapped one long, bony hand around his knee.

“If this is too much for you,” Ian said, studying the way his hand squeezed Mickey’s knee, “you can tell me. I know this is a lot.”

Mickey made a face. “What the fuck are you talking about, man?”

He watched the lines of tension go taught on Ian’s face. “I’m just saying, it’s a lot to ask, letting me stay here after everything, and taking care of me.”

Mickey felt like the wind was knocked out of him again, but for a much different reason. “Are you saying…do you want to leave?” he asked haltingly.

Ian did look up then, eyebrows drawn together. “No, of course not. I’m just saying—”

“You’re just saying that if I want to bail, now, after everything, that’s, what, cool?” Mickey demanded incredulously.

Ian was full-own scowling now, his mouth drawn down in an angry half-moon. “I guess,” he said sullenly.

“So what, you’re just saying you get to risk your stupid idiot life just because you you’re goddamn allergic to asking for help, but you want me to tap out now?”

“No, I just—”

“So you’re just saying I get to watch you almost die for me like a fucking action hero, and now you’re giving me a fucking out?”

Ian squeezed Mickey’s knee sharply, looking beyond aggravated. “No, that’s not what I’m saying, god.”

“Then what are you saying?” Mickey tried to sound calmer than he felt, but it was tough to keep his voice from trembling with anger, because fuck this kid and his pretty green eyes and his fucking guilt complex and the fact that just arguing with him right now after Mickey thought he was gone forever made Mickey feel like he could breathe again for the first time in weeks.

“I’m just saying that I don’t want you to feel like you’re trapped with me, that’s all!” Ian burst out. His cheeks weren’t pale anymore, bright blotches of color sitting high on his cheeks.

“Are you kidding? Of course I’m fucking trapped with you!” Mickey shouted back. “I couldn’t leave you now even if I wanted to!”

Ian withdrew his hand, looking miserable. “That’s what I’m saying,” he said stubbornly. “This is all so intense, and I don’t want you sticking around because you feel bad for me or some shit.”

Mickey threw his head back and let out a long, sustained groan. He grabbed Ian by both shoulders and shook him, keeping it gentle even in his monumental frustration. “Oh my god, Ian, did that head injury knock out the part of your brain that processes common sense?”

Ian wrenched himself out of Mickey’s arms and wobbled to his feet. Mickey was up immediately, going to steady him, but Ian slapped his hand away. “I don’t need your goddamn pity.”

“I don’t pity you, you moron, I fucking love you!” The words shot unbidden into the world, and Mickey was left clenching his hands at his sides in their wake, still breathing harshly in anger.

“What.” Ian’s expression of pure, unadulterated surprise would have been hilarious if Mickey wasn’t so goddamn annoyed.

Instead, he punched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “I swear to god, if you weren’t recently concussed, I would punch you in the head.”

When he brought his hand down, he started, because Ian was standing right in front of him, breathing hot puffs of air against Mickey’s face. He had a tentative, almost wistful, look in his eyes.

“Do you really mean that?” Ian asked. Mickey’s instinct was to snap back something sarcastic, but Ian’s face was so careful, so open and vulnerable, and all of Mickey’s anger deflated at once.

“Yes,” he said, suddenly breathless. And then, as long as he was making an ass out of himself he might as well go all in, “More than anything.”

Ian exhaled shakily, bringing his hands up to loop around Mickey’s neck, his fingers hot on Mickey’s nape. Mickey’s hands automatically went to his waist, holding him steady.

“Want to know something weird?” Ian asked, so softly it sounded like a secret. “No one’s ever said that to me before whose last name wasn’t Gallagher,” His bottom lip trembled, and Mickey immediately panicked.

“No, don’t cry, come on,” he said desperately, wiping at Ian’s cheeks. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to make you cry, it’s okay.”

Ian sniffed, bringing a hand back to rub at his wet face. “God, I’m just a glass case of emotion over here.” He gave Mickey a wobbly smile, and that was it, Mickey was done for.

Mickey leaned up and pressed a soft, gentle kiss to the corner of Ian’s mouth. Ian made a sound deep in his chest and tightened his arms around Mickey’s neck, deepening the kiss, and Mickey was able to hold back for maybe two seconds before groaning and licking firmly into Ian’s mouth, drinking in his taste like he was dying for it.

He shifted, and he felt Ian’s cock hardening fast against his thigh. He pressed his hips forward experimentally, and when Ian gasped, Mickey did it again, harder this time, rubbing his now-painfully erect cock against Ian’s. But then Ian wobbled, and Mickey swooped to wrap an arm around his back, holding him steady and peering into Ian’s face in alarm.

Ian smiled sheepishly. Mickey calmed somewhat, quirking an eyebrow.

“Did I just make your knees go weak?” he asked.

“Ballistic trauma to my abdomen made my knees go weak,” Ian said flatly. He nipped at Mickey’s bottom lip and grinned. “But you should get me into the bedroom anyway.”

Mickey heaved a grateful sigh. “Fuck, good, you shouldn’t be standing for this long anyway with your stitches.”

Ian huffed, pressing his hot face to Mickey’s shoulder. “Stitches talk is not sexy, man.”

“You want sexy?” Mickey asked lightly. "Okay." He cleared his throat. “I miss the way your cock feels in my mouth.” He felt his face blush an immediate tomato red, but also noted the way Ian went still, his face still hidden, and pushed on. “I miss the way you sound when you’re pounding into me, and I miss the way it feels when you have your fingers inside me, and you do that thing with your wrist where you crook your fingers in that always makes me scream.” He brought his mouth down close to Ian’s ear, ignoring his own stifling embarrassment when he heard the way Ian’s breath was falling fast, his pulse beating rapidly in his neck. “I’ve just really, really missed you, all of you.” He pressed a soft kiss to the skin behind Ian’s ear, and Ian made a strangled sound.

“Holy shit,” Ian said breathlessly. He pulled back to look at Mickey dazedly, his face flushed, eyes dilated. “You got really good at the dirty talk, huh.”

“Not really,” Mickey said, shrugging self-consciously. “It’s all just…true.”

Ian blinked. “Bed,” he said. “Get me to the bed. Now.”

Laughing breathlessly, Mickey hauled Ian in the direction of the bedroom, making Ian wrap an arm around Mickey's shoulders for support despite his grumbling, and lowering him gently to the bed.

“I’m not made of glass, here,” Ian griped.

“Is your head okay like this?” Mickey asked, ignoring his eye roll, checking to see if the contusions were pressed to the pillows.

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” Ian said irritably, huffing.

Mickey dropped to mattress beside him and cradled Ian’s face in his hands, looking at him solemnly. “Would you just shut up, for once in your stubborn, godless life, and let me take care of you, you dick?”

Ian laughed, his color high. “God, you’re such a sweet talker anymore.”

Rolling his eyes, Mickey leaned forward and attacked Ian’s mouth with his own. His instinct was to coddle him, work him over gently, but with Ian laughing and teasing and vibrantly alive beneath him, Mickey couldn’t help but drive the kiss deeper, tangling their tongues together, nipping at his bottom lip, sucking the top lip into his mouth. He dragged his mouth down Ian’s throat, loving the way he jerked and cried out when Mickey pressed his teeth lightly against the skin.

“Oh, my god,” Ian choked out. “I missed you too, I really, really missed you too.”

It was crazy, because Mickey had never really left Ian’s side at the hospital, but it still felt like now, tangled together in bed, he had Ian back with him for real for the first time again, and Ian seemed to feel the same way.

When Mickey pushed Ian's shirt up and dragged his hand down Ian’s chest, avoiding the bulky bandage on his side and dragging down the soft material of his sweat pants below his cock and balls, wrapping his hand around the shaft, Ian arched his back, then flinched, biting his lip.

Mickey pulled away, gasping, pulling his weight off of Ian’s body completely. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Ian said, even though he winced again. “It’s the fucking…the stitches, they just pull when I move sometimes.” He sighed fitfully. “I just want to fuck you, and I can’t, and this sucks.”

He looked so pitiful that Mickey couldn’t help but chuckle. He kissed the sulky look off his face until Ian was gasping and Mickey felt overheated and fuzzy-headed himself. He pulled back, panting. “Let me do it, just be still, okay?”

Ian grinned, panting. “I love it when you boss me around,” he whispered, eyes bright.

“I love you,” Mickey said, just because he could, just because he it made Ian’s cheeks go even redder, made him duck his head and then dart up to steal another kiss.

Mickey yanked his shirt over his head and twisted to hold himself up on one elbow at an awkward angle so Ian could stay flat on his back, allowing Mickey to pull unzip his own jeans and bring their cocks together, jerking them off together.

Groaning, Ian threw his head back into the pillow. “So good…jesus, Mickey, so good.” He squeezed his eyes shut and Mickey drank in every detail of his tense, flushed face, loving the way his mouth fell open and the high moans that seemed to be ripped from his throat as Mickey focused on Ian’s cock alone for a minute, circling the head and rubbing his thumb along the slit. Ian’s hands opened and closed at nothing where they hovered just above Mickey’s shoulders, like they didn’t know where to settle, his head thrashing back and forth on the pillow.

When Ian winced at the friction, Mickey pulled his hand away to lick at the palm and Ian immediately whined at the loss of sensation. He went to jerk himself off with his own hand, but Mickey pushed him away, barely fitting hos fingers around both of their cocks together, hissing and loving the jolt when they bounced together. He slowed down, savoring the tight, steady pressure, and when Ian growled impatiently and tried to thrust up into it, Mickey threw his leg over Ian’s hip, holding him down.

“Don’t tease me, I’m an invalid,” Ian protested weakly.

“Sh,” Mickey murmured, brushing his mouth over Ian’s nose. “Touch me.”

Ian complied eagerly, like he'd just been waiting on the command, running his hands up and down Mickey’s back before settling on his ass, making Mickey hiss when Ian grabbed a handful. Mickey couldn’t stop from speeding up the rhythm on their cocks squeezed together in his hand then, his whole body feeling sweating and hot and helpless. He felt his balls tighten and pressed his mouth clumsily to Ian’s, groaning into Ian’s mouth as he came, back bowing and making a mess all over Ian’s chest.

“Come for me, come on,” Ian whispered in his ear, and Mickey jerked, riding the wave and clutching Ian to him, continuing to jerk him until he felt Ian go stiff, shouting and adding his come to the mess on his chest and the sheets.

In the ringing silence in the aftermath of their orgasms, Mickey glanced down, still partially draped over Ian’s heaving chest, and frowned.

“Shit, your bandages,” he said as soon as his head cleared. Ignoring Ian’s protests, he got up on wobbly legs and went to wash his hands in the bathroom. He was back right away with a damp cloth and clean bandages from the hospital. Ian watched him blearily, still shaking and flushed, as Mickey carefully re-bandaged the stitches on his side and cleaned the come off his chest.

When he was satisfied, he set the towel aside and settled Ian down, arranging his pliant limbs until he was satisfied, the weight of Ian heavy and comforting against him.

“I love you too, you know,” Ian said, curling up into Mickey’s side. He pillowed his face on Mickey’s chest and sighed in contentment. “I really, really do.”

Mickey’s throat went tight. He cupped Ian’s shoulder and pressed a kiss to the top of his head . “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he admitted thickly. “I was so fucking scared, Ian.”

Ian’s breath hitched. He grabbed Mickey’s free hand and tucked it under his chin. “I know, Mick. I know.”

“I thought…you just…they said you might not wake up, and I—” Mickey choked on a sob. He’d cried more in the last few weeks than in the rest of his life combined, but this felt different. He felt his shoulders shaking, but rather than grief and fear like before, it was with exquisite, disbelieving relief. He felt Ian cup his cheek with one hand, making soothing noises. Mickey bit his lip, pulling himself together.

“So much crying today, jesus,” Mickey said when he could talk again. “God, we can’t tell anyone about this.”

“Joke's on you, I’m telling everyone you wept in my arms until I rocked you to sleep like a broken baby bird,” Ian said serenely.

“You’re still kind of a shithead,” Mickey said.

“But you love me anyway,” Ian said, teasing, but there was a current of uncertainty, like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to be casual about it yet.

Mickey rearranged himself so he was lying on side with Ian, pulling him as close as he could, looking him in the eye. “Yeah, I do,” he said frankly. “I really, really do.”

They both drifted for a while. Mickey thought Ian fell asleep, which was good, he needed to rest. He thought he had fallen asleep too and that he was having a really annoying dream, when he realized he was awake, and it was actually someone was knocking on the door.

“Go the fuck away!” Mickey shouted automatically, grimacing when Ian frowned and shifted at the loud noise. He opened his eyes and looked fuzzily up at Mickey.

The knocking continued, and this time a jovial voice accompanied it, booming through the weak wood of the door. “I just want to see the face of the boy whose life I saved!” Mickey looked down at Ian and made a face. He knew that voice. He loathed that voice.

Mickey dragged himself to the door, heaving a put-upon sigh as he left Ian curled in bed behind him. He zipped his jeans on and pulled his shirt on over his head again, and went to yank the door open. He knew he was making a sour face as he glared at O’Reilly, grinning like an asshole, and Johnson, looking suitably embarrassed, standing outside his apartment.

Peeking over Mickey’s shoulder at where Ian must’ve appeared in the bedroom door, O’Reilly waved cheekily.

“Can we come in, just for a minute?” Johnson asked quietly.

“What if I say no? You going to arrest me again?” Mickey challenged, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Of course not,” Johnson said, at the same time O’Reilly shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

Mickey rolled his eyes heavily, but stepped aside. “You got five minutes. I’m starting the clock.” He pointed at O’Reilly. “And if Ian wants you out, you’re gone. Got it?”

Ian's sweatpants were back on and he had wobbled over to the couch. O’Reilly sprawled on down beside Ian without invitation, making himself at home, while Johnson stood awkwardly to the side.

Mickey stalked over and wedged himself between Ian and O’Reilly, elbowing the cop a little as he settled in.

“What do you want, man?” Ian asked, eyes on O'Reilly. He looked wiped out, and wary, and Mickey hunched toward him protectively.

O’Reilly was looking between them, amused. “Just wanted to let you know I got a promotion for saving your life,” he said.

“That’s not why we came by,” Johnson said firmly. She looked at Ian, took a breath. “We wanted to apologize.”

“She wanted to apologize,” O’Reilly interjected. He smiled easily. “I’m a hero, so I don’t want to apologize. I have a medal and everything, now. So thanks for that.”

“God, you’re still such an asshole,” Ian said tiredly.

O’Reilly grinned, unoffended, and for once he looked less like a feral wolf and more like a normal man, if still a monumental tool. Mickey didn’t think it was a permanent shift, though.

“I’ve got a friend taking me out to celebrate tonight,” O’Reilly said cheerfully. “Some fancy hotel in the Loop. None of this would’ve been possible without your reckless disregard for your own safety, so seriously, thank you.”

Mickey wanted to kick the fucker in the balls, but Ian seemed distracted. "A friend?" Ian muttered thoughtfully. He frowned, and then his mouth dropped open, somewhat adorably, in Mickey’s opinion. “Oh my god,” Ian said. “Oh my god. It was you.”

O’Reilly gave him a weird look. “It was me…what?”

“You’re fucking Ned,” Ian blurted. He shook his head in wonder. “You’re his in. Jesus, between you and Nowak, talk about fucking loose lips, huh?”

O’Reilly looked significantly less jovial than when he arrived. Johnson seemed to be equal parts astonished, horrified and amused. It looked like it physically pained her to keep her expression smooth as she stood looking on.

O’Reilly gave Ian a stony look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gallagher.”

Ian held his hand up in tired surrender. “Whatever, man. Forget I said anything.”

Johnson rolled her eyes impatiently. “What we really wanted to say,” she said, piercing O’Reilly with a glare, “is that we wanted to formally apologize for failing to protect you, as police officers of the city of Chicago.”

Mickey crossed his arms. “Want to make sure he doesn’t sue your asses into the ground, more like.” He’d heard Lip ranting about it in the hallway outside Ian’s hospital room more than once. Mickey had to admit, he wasn’t opposed to the idea.

But the detective just shrugged. “That’s your business,” she told Ian. “I just wanted to apologize.” Her eyebrows drew together. “I’m so, so sorry for letting you down, Ian.”

It was a little too fucking too little too late for Mickey’s taste, but with the warm, living heat of Ian beside him, he was feeling slightly charitable. He almost forgave her for arresting him. Almost.

But Ian let out a disbelieving laugh. It sounded slightly hysterical. “Are you kidding me? Why are you sorry? I was the one who walked right into his lap. I never gave it a second thought.”

“Ian—” Mickey said, putting his hand on his knee, but Ian shook his head.

“I feel like such an idiot for trusting him,” Ian said hotly, staring at his hands in the awful, defeated habit he’d picked up since the hospital. “No, I don’t feel stupid, I am, I’m a goddamn idiot, how could I be so fucking stupid?” He rubbed tiredly at his eyes with the heel of his hand. “How could I not have known?”

“Ian,” Johnson tried to interrupt. Even O’Reilly looked troubled, the irritating smugness of his face starting to slip.

But Ian wasn’t having it, gesturing sharply with his hands as he spoke. “No, jesus, all those girls died because I was too stupid to see what was right in front of me.”

Ian,” Johnson said again, more firmly this time.

Ian bit his lip, seemingly too overwhelmed to continue. Mickey watched him with concern, wishing he could absorb Ian’s guilt and shame like a sponge.

Johnson put her hands on her hips. She looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks. “Ian. He took us all for fools. None of this is your fault. He was a cop, for christ’s sake. He worked on the force for seven years, no one suspected a thing.”

“But I still should’ve known. I don’t know how I didn’t see it.”

She did laugh at that. “Imagine how we feel, huh?” She gestured at O’Reilly, who looked suitably chagrined. “You’re just some teenager. You’re a kid, and you cracked the case wide open before any of us even got close, and we’d been working beside him for years.”

Ian didn’t answer. Mickey could only imagine the type of blame Ian heaped on himself inside his head. He looked deadened, and Mickey just wanted to take him back to the bedroom and curl around him and keep him safe until he looked like himself again.

But Johnson was looking at Mickey now. Her expression was hard. “I’m not sorry we arrested you, by the way. We had your fingerprints lifted from evidence found with Felicia Ramirez’s feet, and I still don’t know how they got there in the first place. It was dumb luck the prints disappeared.” She paused. “Although, based on initial questioning, it looks like Officer Markovich might’ve had something to do with that, now.”

“You fucking think?” Mickey muttered.

“I was just trying to do my job, Milkovich,” she said tiredly.

Mickey looked her hard in the eye. “Do it better next time,” he said firmly.

Ian put his hand to the back of his head, wincing, and that was Mickey’s cue. He stood up immediately and began ushering both cops out the door.

“Nothing personal, but I hope we never see either of you jokers ever again,” Mickey said, holding the door open.

O’Reilly sidled out, taking his time. “No promises, not if you don’t keep your ass out of trouble.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re thinking about my ass,” Mickey snarked, thinking of Ian’s stunned surprise that O’Reilly was fucking around with Ned. At least it was more age appropriate, Mickey supposed.

O’Reilly looked ready to snarl something back, but Johnson stepped in his way. “Take care of him, okay?” She nodded in Ian’s direction, who was still sitting listlessly on the couch.

“He can take care of himself,” Mickey said stubbornly, then relented at Johnson’s unimpressed look. “But I'll be looking out for him, too.”

When the cops left, Mickey doled out Ian’s afternoon dose of pain meds, which he gulped down gratefully.

They sat together on the sofa, staring blindly at the blank TV for a while, both lost in thought. Mickey ran a gentle hand down Ian’s arm, but Ian kept staring straight ahead. His loopy ease from earlier seemed long gone.

“You feel better? Still in pain?” Mickey asked.

Ian shrugged. “It’s fine, I guess,” he said, distracted, and kept staring at the TV, until he seemed to realize what he was doing and blinked. He turned to Mickey. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Despite his reassurances, Mickey didn’t stop watching him, concerned, for the rest of the day or that night.

 

****

 

Going back to a life where he wasn’t in constant danger was surreal, and Ian could admit that he was having trouble adjusting.

Fiona kept hinting and asking and outright begging for him to move back with her and Debbie. After Thanksgiving, she saved up enough money from double shifts at the diner to rent a place a few blocks away from Wallace Street with an extra bedroom for Ian, but he still resisted.

He didn’t want to leave the apartment. He didn’t even want to think about leaving Mickey. Mickey was the only thing keeping Ian from losing his mind.

As a result, Ian knew he was probably hovering, but he hated letting Mickey out of his sight, even two months after being shot and walloped half to death. He knew eventually Mickey was probably going to tell him to fucking knock it off, but until he did, Ian dogged his steps, sometimes tripping on his heels as he trailed after him from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, out on jobs for his uncle.

Ian spent a lot of time wondering if he should contact the families of the dead girls. He dithered for weeks, and then decided against it, and then he felt guilty about that for another month.

The story unfolded oddly in the newspapers as incident reports were officially made public. Ian had a feeling the Chicago PD was being very careful in how the information was being framed and released to the media. The articles detailed the deaths of the three girls, of Tony’s background and habits, but there was only scant reference to Ian, as a fourth male victim who survived an altercation with the killer at a family property. The theme of a psychotic gay fixation was also whitewashed, or at least it was in the newspapers Ian was reading.

He wondered if it would have come out in trial, if there had actually been the chance for a trial. Ian would never have the chance to find out.

Tony’s mother took him off life support two months after the showdown on the roof when he failed to regain consciousness and brain activity was found to be nonexistent. Apparently, he held on for a few days, but drifted slowly away by the end of the week without a ventilator to regulate his breathing.

Ian thought he’d feel satisfied, possibly even joyful, when Tony died. Instead he felt nothing but a bone-deep sense of relief.

But it was during lunch with Lip one afternoon soon after, that Fiona told Ian bitterly that Mrs. Markovich organized a memorial service for Tony, and a few cops from the precinct had actually attended.

Ian had spiraled for a bit after that. He spent an entire day in bed. Mickey was worried, Ian could tell, but he let Ian sleep and curled around him companionably that night.

It was Fiona who pulled him out it. She came to visit, the apparent Ian Newswire Grapevine having distributed the news of his malaise. She threw a pamphlet down beside him on the bed, and told him that through the miracles of Medicaid and sliding scale pay systems, she’d been able to swing three sessions of therapy with a psychiatrist on the West Side.

“I thought Gallaghers didn’t do therapy,” he said petulantly. He knew he sounded like a child, his arms wrapped around his knees while Mickey chewed his lip and watched from the bedroom doorway.

“Don’t even start with me, Ian,” she’d said tiredly. “You know this is different. Let me do this for you.” She looked so desperate, and Ian was a sucker these days. He caved pretty quickly.

Therapy had introduced Ian to a lot of fancy phrases. Post-traumatic stress. Survivor’s guilt. Anxiety disorder. Distress-related insomnia.

Dr. Markota was a harried but kind woman on the West Side with a flat voice and a forthright way of looking Ian straight in the eye that he appreciated. She specialized in sexual trauma, but made an exception for Ian, and by the third session she had become an official pain in his ass.

“How do you feel today, Ian?”

It was the way they started all their sessions, and Ian was coming to loathe that phrase. He exhaled loudly.

“I feel fine.” Dr. Markota gave him a sharp look. “Fine” was one of their established forbidden words. Ian rolled his eyes. “I feel the same as I felt last time I came here.”

Dr. Markota consulted her notes. “Last time you came, you said you felt guilty. Do you still feel guilty?”

Ian nodded. He crossed his right foot over his left knee and picked at the hole in the canvas heel of his sneaker. “I guess.”

“Ian.” Dr. Markota leveled him with her signature frank gaze, and Ian felt vaguely relieved. It was nice to have one person who wasn’t being overly gentle with him somehow. “Work with me here. I know you think you’re this tough kid from the South Side who’s too hard for therapy, but come on. You’re a smart person. You know what happened to you was major. If it had happened to someone else in your life, if this had happened to Mickey—”

Ian gave her a sharp look, because Markota had learned early on that Mickey was an easy way to rile Ian up and get him to focus, and Ian rose to the bait every time, even though he knew he was being played.

She smiled blithely as Ian sat up straighter on the couch, scowling. “If this had happened to Mickey,” she continued, “would you expect him to deal with it all internally?”

Ian didn’t dignify that with a response, instead staring stonily at Markota until she pursed her lips, studying him. “So why do you feel guilty today, Ian?”

“Because I wasn’t able to stop anything,” he said grudgingly, each word dragged out of him. “I didn’t even fight back when he had me at the apartment building. I was like some lady tied to the train tracks, just flailing around.”

Markota rolled her eyes, and when she went to drag out a now-familiar brown file, Ian joined her in the eye roll, adding in a huff of annoyance as well when Markota began summarizing his medical file. “Blunt force trauma to the head, hairline fracture of the skull, massive contusions on the right temple, a grade three concussion—I think that one goes without saying.” Markota snapped the file shut, eyeing him. “How you escaped without a traumatic brain injury is anyone’s guess, but you know all this, Ian, I bet you could spit out your own injuries better than anyone at this point. Despite all of that, you survived. So why do you think you're still laboring under any delusions that you didn’t fight enough?”

Because it ate at him, and sometimes it was all he could think about, and the more he thought about it, the more useless he felt. Because he wanted to be okay again, to feel like himself again, but he was afraid that he was going to be this blank and empty for the rest of his life. Because every time he began to feel normal again, he thought of Harriet and Felicia and Bethany, and the way he knew Svetlana still had nightmares, and he felt like the worst kind of cowardly, worthless idiot.

When he stay stubbornly quiet, Markota glanced at her watch. “Look. It is my professional opinion that you should continue on with therapy, but even if you can't afford sessions anymore, I have some long-term homework for you. And don’t roll your eyes at me, young man, because this is important, and this is for the rest of your life.” She exhaled testily at the obvious attitude on Ian’s face, but barreled on regardless. “Focus on gratitude, rather than the guilt of how you could have conceivably controlled other people’s actions in the past. Think about the things in your life you feel lucky to have now.”

It was such a weird parallel to what Monica used to say that Ian went still. You got to count your luck. It was always odd hearing her voice in his head.

Markota kept talking, either oblivious to Ian’s discomfit or ignoring it on purpose.

“If nothing else, I want you to get better,” she admitted. “Emotional trauma can more difficult to recover from than physical injuries, because it’s harder to see. And I hope you cut yourself some slack, give yourself time, because you’re essentially battling an invisible enemy, here.”

She studied him some more, Ian feeling increasingly more fidgety under her gaze. He wished she would stop chattering at him and let him leave. She didn’t seem done with him yet though, even though they were at the top of the hour. “There’s something about you that draws people to you, Ian,” she said finally, sitting back. “You’re easy to root for. I’ve only known you for a few weeks, and even I’m getting invested in your recovery.”

Ian snorted. “You’re the shrink, you have to be invested in my recovery.”

To Ian’s surprise, Markota shrugged. “You’d be surprised. Some people are easier to love than others.”

It was too similar to Tony’s words that Ian heard sometimes when he tried to go to sleep. He suppressed a shudder and stood up. “Time up yet?”

When Markota released him with anther put-upon sigh, Ian was out of the office in a flash. He wondered how she’d been able to tell he was fucking relieved as hell that sessions were over, and he had no intention of scraping together the cash for more. Maybe something about home just screamed weakling, he thought bitterly.

Mickey was waiting in a beat up old station wagon he'd buried from one of Ronnie's guys in the parking lot. When Ian threw himself into the car, Mickey looked up from the crossword in his lap he was nearly finished with, the nerd, Ian thought fondly. “How’d that go?” Mickey asked, nodding in the direction of the office building from whence Ian had returned.

“Annoying. So same as always, basically.” Ian tried to maintain his irritation, but it was tough, sitting next to Mickey in the icy cold car. He’d missed him, even for his hour-long appointment. If nothing else, he felt calmer now.

Mickey watched him patiently. He reached over idly to straighten the scarf around Ian’s neck. Ian swatted him away, cracking a smile, and Mickey swatted back. “You hungry?” Mickey asked. “Or you just want to sit around and pout some more?”

Ian huffed dramatically. “Must I choose? Can’t I eat and pout at the same time? I had a pretty high GPA in high school, you know. I can handle it.”

“Such a smartass,” Mickey said, shaking his head, and turned the keys in the ignition.

Nevertheless, Ian did not pout when they got back to the apartment, but he did eat. Mickey made dumplings and the delicious spicy gravy Ian loved and Mickey was very secretive about, no matter how many times Ian bugged him about what was in it.

As he ate, Ian studied Mickey, and glanced around the grungy apartment he'd grown to feel more comfortable in than any place he'd ever lived in before. He noted how his head hardly ached anymore, and his stitched were long removed and aside from the scare, his side was mostly healed. Markota had been right; he didn't go to therapy after that. But also started counting his luck, and she was right, it did help. The guilt didn’t go away right away, or completely, at all. Gradually, though, it wasn’t all he could hear in his head anymore, and he could be grateful for that, too.

The first night he started taking note of his gratitude, he felt lighter than he had in days. That night when he went to sleep, he fingered Mickey until he was breathing out choked sobs into Ian’s neck, Ian jerking them both off clumsily with his free hand until they came one after the other, and he slept a sleep blissfully free of anything, dreams or nightmares, for the first time in over a month.

Ian wasn’t sure why, but he felt, hesitantly, like it was almost a turning point. So when Mickey’s family began dropping unsubtle hints in December, Ian took to the plan with gusto, eager to make a big deal for no other reason than they were both alive and things weren’t falling apart anymore.

And he was totally, completely in love with Mickey, enough that it made Ian blush like an idiot whenever he thought about it, and he wanted to opportunity to celebrate him. So two reasons, then.

The morning of, Ian pounced. “Happy birthday!” he yelled into Mickey’s unsuspecting, and asleep, face.

The aftermath was particularly satisfying. Mickey reared up like a beached sea lion, flailing enough that Ian had to dodge a fist.

“Sh-shit,” Mickey stuttered, blinking and wild-eyed. It took him a second to focus on Ian’s smiling face, and when he did, Mickey’s own face went dark and scowly. “What…in the fuck, man?”

“It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday!” Ian chanted, daring to reach forward and cup Mickey’s face in his hands, then smush it a little.

Face still puffy from sleep, Mickey allowed the smushing for about three seconds more than Ian would’ve predicted. Then Mickey twisted his face away, still scowling. “How the hell—”

“Mandy told me. And Colin. Also your uncle. Your family’s really into your birthday, man,” Ian said, shrugging. He raised an eyebrow. “Besides, it wasn’t like you were going to tell me, was it?”

Mickey rubbed at his hair, looking guilty and irritated. “It wasn’t like there wasn’t a ton of other more important shit going on,” he said, staring at the sheets. “My dumb birthday is seriously at the bottom of the list.”

Shaking his head, Ian leaned forward until his forehead rested against Mickey’s shoulder, playing absently with Mickey’s fingers where they lay half-clenched in his lap. “Your birthday,” Ian said quietly, “is at the top of my list.”

“You’re a weirdo,” Mickey mumbled.

“And you’re nineteen, officially,” Ian said. He leaned back just enough to kiss Mickey on the nose, and preened when Mickey only huffed, allowing it. He grinned widely. “Congrats, bud. You didn’t die this year.” He held out his hand for a high-five. Mickey went still, looking at Ian’s open hand and then his face, then he gently slapped Ian’s palm. Instead of drawing his hand back, he held Ian’s hand for a moment, staring until he seemed to catch himself and let Ian go, embarrassed.

“Yep, definitely been a banner year,” Mickey said gruffly.

“Hey,” Ian said. He scooted closer, draping his limbs all over Mickey’s warm, drowsy body so there could be no escape. He felt the now-familiar pull of the still-red scars at his side, felt the pulse of pain. He had trouble telling if the pain was real or just a phantom reminder, if it was something that would twinge occasionally for the rest of his life now, constantly reminding him what he’d nearly lost. At the very least, he hoped it would eventually stop making his his eyes burn with emotion, but that day was not today. “Hey, this year wasn’t all bad, though, was it?” He hid his face in Mickey’s neck, feeling suddenly bashful. “Sometimes you just gotta count your luck, man.”

He felt the heat of Mickey wrapping his arms around Ian, tightening at the waist to pull him closer until they were nearly occupying the same air. “No, it wasn’t all bad,” Mickey conceded, propping his chin on the top of Ian’s head. “Most of the good stuff was just because of you, though. You know that, right?”

Ian felt the familiar thickness in his throat, the unbelievable tenderness that this was real, that he could have Mickey this way.

“Ugh,” Ian said huskily. “This shit’s too serious for birthday talk.” He sat up, rubbing at his face briskly. “Serious Feelings Talk is against the birthday rules.”

Mickey relaxed against the wall behind the mattress, watching Ian in amusement. “Is it? I have to be real with you, I don’t really know the rules for birthday talk. Or birthdays, in general.” He waved his hand as if to say, enlighten me.

“Dude, I will gladly be your birthday liaison.” Ian held out his fingers as he ran through the list. “Birthday protocol is pretty strict. First, birthday breakfast of your choosing—I hope you like pop tarts or cereal, just a heads up—then birthday sex, then a birthday nap, then a birthday activity, which can also just be sex again, just another heads up, then potentially a birthday game show that will be free of any and all mocking by me, and then birthday dinner ordered from your favorite Chinese place.”

Seeming to consider, Mickey dragged his finger down Ian’s collarbone thoughtfully. “Does it have to be necessarily in that order?” He leaned forward and licked playfully at Ian’s Adam’s apple, making Ian swallow in surprise.

Ian felt his heart start to beat erratically. They’d fucked without fucking for months now, hand jobs and blow jobs and humping against each other until they both came, messy and sweaty and getting come all over the place. In the weeks immediately following Ian’s release from the hospital, those were the only moments when he really felt like himself again. He’d come to crave the momentary mindlessness, the easy exhaustion afterward, but his body was still recovering and Mickey hadn’t pushed for anything more, content to explore each other in easy, uncomplicated ways.

Until Ian had blinked, and it had been months since he’d been inside Mickey.

Mickey reached over Ian’s shoulder to dig under the mattress, where the lube had apparently migrated in the interim. He held it up in question. “What do you think?” he asked. “You feel up to it?” His tone was teasing, but his eyes held Ian’s sincerely.

Ian nodded, unaccountably nervous. It felt like their first time all over again.

Smiling, Mickey hooked a finger in the neck of Ian’s baggy T-shirt and pulled him forward, his expression coy. Ian knew he probably looked wide-eyed and entranced in comparison, but he couldn’t drag his eyes away from Mickey’s lips. Had they always been that gorgeous? God, Mickey was gorgeous, and if anyone asked he was blaming his lame exclamations on the head injury, he decided, before Mickey dragged him into a kiss.

He tried to tell Mickey silently, with the twirl of his tongue, his lips, his hands running all over his body, how important Mickey was to him, but in the end Ian thought he was probably only successful in making himself feel shaky and out of control, half-crazy with arousal.

“Jesus, Mick,” he bit out. He yanked his shirt over his head and kicked off his pants, going for Mickey’s in the next breath. He was endlessly grateful that he was healed and could move and stretch any way he wanted, taking Mickey’s cock into his hand and savoring the shape and weight of it, kissing Mickey and breathing in the way he moaned and whimpered against Ian’s mouth. Mickey ran his hand gently over the raised scars on Ian's abdomen, making the muscles jerk, and Ian breath heavily.

“Fuck,” Ian muttered. He ran a shaking hand up Mickey thigh, squeezing his hip. He drew back to drag his nose up his jaw, pausing. "Spread your legs."

Ian grabbed for the lube and when his fingers were slick, he took his time with the prep, fingering Mickey slowly, nice and easy, loving the way Mickey's thighs tensed as Ian pushed another finger in, crooked it, rubbed at his prostate, scissored his fingers until Mickey was gasping and fucking back on the pressure, gasping and begging for Ian to get in him already.

Scrabbling under the bed, then against the wall, and then finally just at the edge of Ian's reach, he managed to snag a condom, rolling it on his cock with shaking hands, slicking up.

"Jesus, Ian, while we're young," Mickey said restlessly, grabbing for Ian's hips to drag him in.

"So pushy," Ian said, but he relented, grabbing hold of Mickey's hips and tilting them up, and slowly guiding his cock home.

They both moaned, long and low, as Ian bottomed out, and then he had to freeze still, biting his lip to keep from coming. Mickey made a high-pitched sound in his throat and pulled Ian in with his heel and Ian started up a hard, punishing rhythm, unable to hold back. It felt too good almost, his brain hot and feverish, his hands skimming up and down Mickey's sides, unable to stop touching him, never wanting to stop touching him.

“Oh god, Mickey, god, this is, fuck, you feel, you’re so tight, christ, I love this, I love you, god I love you,” he babbled, mouth pressed slackly to Mickey’s throat, tongue darting out to lick the sweat from his skin.

“Ian,” Mickey bit out on a groan, arching his back as Ian pounded into him. Ian couldn’t keep up a rhythm, each time he found an angle and a pace that felt amazing, Mickey would shift or throw his leg higher on Ian’s hip and then that rhythm was even better and Ian would chase it, until Mickey shifted yet again. Ian couldn’t focus, his attention shot as Mickey writhed wildly beneath him.

Ian pulled back so he could hook both Mickey’s knees over his elbows, enraptured by the clench of Mickey’s body, the pink, damp shine of his skin, his eyes bright as they stared up at Ian, watery and overwhelmed.

Ian couldn’t help but swoop down and kiss his slack mouth then, folding Mickey nearly in half, and Mickey threw his head to the side and howled at the new position, Ian hitting his prostate on almost every stroke.

“Mickey,” Ian said, eyes darting up and down Mickey’s body, wrapping one of Mickey’s legs high on his waist so he could jack Mickey’s neglected cock with his newly freed hand. “Christ,, never leave, please never leave, Mickey, shit—”

“I won’t,” Mickey promised mindlessly, thrusting his hips back as best as he could with the limited leverage to fuck himself on Ian’s cock. “Never, Ian, god, I love you.”

And those words was seemingly all it took, Ian’s orgasm leaping to tackle him out of nowhere, his thrusts turning jerky and erratic as he came, the pleasure sweeping over his body in a nearly unbearable wave.

He collapsed, catching himself on his elbows, and took a moment to catch his breath. He pulled out carefully, Mickey whining at the emptiness, before moving down to take Mickey’s cock in his mouth. He pressed two fingers into Mickey’s loose hole, crooking his fingers and bobbing his head as he stroked the base of his cock, and it took barely a minute for Mickey to come too, shooting with a groaning shout down Ian’s throat.

Swallowing, Ian pulled back, gasping, resting his sweaty forehead against Mickey’s thigh.

“Holy shit,” Mickey gasped.

“Holy shit,” Ian agreed. Then, “Happy birthday.”

Mickey barked out a wheezy laugh and reached down, scrabbling blindly, until he found Ian’s hand and squeezed it tight. It felt like he was shaking, or maybe Ian was the one who was trembling. He couldn't really tell.

Hazily, Ian remembered lying in bed in the hospital, telling Mickey that everything was fine and desperately trying to believe that would actually be true, one day. His head swam, but it was from the pleasure that still shot up and down his spine, the damp press of Mickey’s overheated body to his. His side was sore, but it wasn’t enough to take his breath away.

In that moment, his words in the hospital felt like a prophecy, or at least positive foreshadowing of some kind. He tried not to strangle Mickey as he wrapped his arms around him, and Ian thought, everything is going to be fine, and he finally started to believe it.

 

****

 

When things finally began to turn the corner, it was subtle enough that Mickey barely noticed at first.

It was little things. Ian stopped obsessively collecting receipts to establish an alibi of where he spent his days, in case the police came calling again. When he sat next to Mickey and watched Jeopardy now, he began shouting out nonsense answers every once in a while rather than staring blankly at the screen. He started visiting his littlest brothers every other week at their big gay adoptive parents’ condo on the lakefront, and having lunch regularly with Lip, and visiting Fiona and Debbie at their new place in Canaryville.

Ian invited Svetlana to the apartment a few times a week and got drunk and told stories with her and howled with laughter until the early morning hours, and Mickey pretended to be pissed off about it, but really sometimes he just liked to lay in bed and listen to them chatter together. As far as Mickey could tell, Svetlana was bouncing back with aplomb, or if she wasn't, she was dealing with it stoically and silently. She was a tough old bird, after all.

Mandy and Colin dropped by regularly (too much, in Mickey’s opinion) with ridiculous excuses (A new magazine! The cable at Colin’s house was on the fritz! Ronnie was fumigating the condo!) until Ian told them both pointedly that they could just come over and hang out whenever. And then they did, all the time. Goddamnit.

Eventually, Ian went back to working at the Laundromat, if “working” could be defined as reading magazines and gossiping with Mandy all day, and usually Svetlana too, who hung around the Laundromat almost as much as she hung around the apartment.

Slowly, quietly, Ian was coming back to himself, and Mickey, equally slowly and quietly, let himself hope that maybe, the return would be permanent. It still felt tenuous sometimes, and he tried not to get his hopes up, tensely waiting for Ian to fall backward into the pool of guilt he’d been swimming in for months following the day at the Markovich apartments.

And sometimes he did. He still went quiet at odd moments, drifting into his thoughts, or had trouble being alone,, or being apart from Mickey for too long.

So Mickey tried to manage his expectations. It seemed only smart. But the more Ian smiled and teased, the lighter Mickey’s chest felt by proxy.

The moment it really hit Mickey though, in a way he could trust, was on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday, when Mickey stood up, ready to head to Ronnie’s for a job. “You coming?” he asked Ian.

Rather than standing up immediately and following Mickey out the door, Ian paused, and seemed to consider it. “No,” he said firmly.

Mickey opened his mouth, to say what he didn’t know, but Ian obviously had an argument prepared.

“It’s cold out, and I want to stay home.” He straightened his shoulders and met Mickey’s eyes challengingly.

Mickey had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop from grinning. Because Ian was ready to stay home alone. Because he wanted to, and he wasn't afraid to let Mickey out of his sight for a few hours. It felt like a monumental, tectonic shift, but Mickey tried to play it cool.

“Well fine, if you want to ditch me, go ahead,” he said, feigning annoyance, but when Ian turned away haughtily, Mickey swooped in and pressed a kiss to his cheek. When he went to lean back, Ian looped an arm around his neck and pulled him for a real kiss, searching and bruising and overwhelming in its intensity.

Mickey was late meeting his uncle for the job that day. He wasn’t sorry about it.

And then, before either of them really had time to stop and think about it, it was nearly spring, the Chicago weather still bitterly cold, but the days growing longer and the two of them settling into a familiar, comfortable rhythm, filled with bickering and sex and lounging on the couch watching basic cable in between Laundromat shifts and mafia-adjacent jobs.

Mickey couldn’t remember being happier in his entire life. It felt like being high all the time. Colin and Mandy wouldn’t stop giving him shit for being all smiley, and the bitch of it was he was too smiley to tell them off effectively, so he was stuck.

It was made even better by the fact that Mickey was coming to suspect that maybe, possibly, as the residual tension finally began to ease out of Ian day by day, that he was just as happy, too.

“So what do we do now?” Ian asked one afternoon, wrapped around Mickey in the early-spring cold of the apartment, comforter from the bedroom spread over the both of them, their fingers and toes icy and numb, faces flushes from making out during the commercial breaks of Jeopardy.

“Like what do we do, today?” Mickey asked, running his hand idly over the top of Ian’s head, tracing his fingers gently over the slight bumps of stitches at the crown. “I was going to make goulash in a bit.”

“No, I mean, like, now what?” He tilted his head back to look at Mickey from the cover of Mickey’s arm. “Now that things are normal again. What do we do?”

Mickey thought about it, still mostly focused on the game show. Finally, he shrugged. “I’m still pretty committed to the goulash, personally.”

He heard Ian huff in annoyance, then freeze. He sat bolt upright, knocking Mickey’s arm off his shoulder. “Wait!” He got to his feet, stumbling in his hurry. “Don’t move. Stay right there.”

Eyebrows high in confusion, Mickey nodded, suddenly cold without Ian pressed against him. “You got it, man.”

And Ian raced off to the kitchen, laughing quietly to himself. Mickey waited in quasi-apprehension, hearing pots and pans rustling, wincing at the way Ian banged them around, but restraining himself from getting up and intervening.

He tried to distract himself by focusing on the Daily Double, but only half of his attention was on the show at this point.

Finally, Ian reappeared, holding something behind his back. He was smiling broadly.

“I almost forgot,” he said, coming to stand in front of Mickey, who was completely focused on Ian now.

“You forgot what?” Mickey asked, following the way Ian’s eyes crinkled at the corner, at the way his tongue darted out to sweep across his bottom lip.

“Our date.” He withdrew his hands from his back and brandished a plate with a burnt-looking grilled cheese sitting in the middle.

A slow, pleased smile spread across Mickey’s face. Then he paused. “Wait. Where’s my movie? I thought we agreed on a movie.”

Ian rolled his eyes and shoved the plate into Mickey's lap, crowding beside him on the couch. “Eat your dumb sandwich first and then we can talk about movies.” He poked Mickey in the side. “So greedy.”

Knocking his shoulder with Ian’s, Mickey picked up the sandwich and took a bite. He chewed thoughtfully, and then started to cough. “Holy shit,” he said, out of breath, “that is a terrible grilled cheese.”

“I know,” Ian said, grinning, smug. “I told you.”

“No, seriously, what did you do to it?” Mickey swallowed, with effort, and stared at the offending sandwich in his hand. It looked so harmless, and yet. “How is it both mushy and burnt?”

Ian shrugged. “What can I say? It’s a gift.” He nuzzled his nose against Mickey’s hairline, making Mickey’s breath catch. He bit lightly at the cord of Mickey's neck. “Happy first date, Mickey.”

Mickey tilted his neck automatically, giving Ian more room to work. “Fine. But I’m cooking next time.” He hissed a breath as Ian sucked a bruise into the skin right below his jaw. “On the next date.”

At his words, Ian drew back just enough that Mickey could look him in the eye. Ian’s smile had grown into something almost blindingly bright. It made Mickey feel hot all over, and he nearly dropped the sandwich, too distracted staring at Ian’s face, at the knowledge that Ian was here now, for good, wedged firmly into Mickey’s life where he was safe, where he could tease and argue and make terrible grilled cheese sandwiches and fuck Mickey until he was begging for it and it was amazing, really, that all of this was really his.

Meanwhile, Ian put his hand on the back of Mickey’s neck, squeezing gently, then just let it rest there, the weight comforting and firm on Mickey’s skin. “Okay,” Ian said.

Mickey shook himself. He’d lost the thread of the conversation. “Okay, what?”

Still smiling, Ian leaned close enough that his nose was just an inch from Mickey’s. “Okay,” he said, “it’s a date.”

And when he brought his lips forward to brush them against Mickey’s mouth, the apartment and the city and the nightmares they’d fought together dimmed until Mickey was just floating, existing, dizzy with the possibility of this single moment in time, and all the thousands that would come after it.