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soldier boy.

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It’s going on three months since Ian's been deployed, three months in which Mickey hopes to wake up to him but is instead met with an empty bed and a growing hole in his chest or his stomach, he can't keep track of the emptiness any longer.

His routine is simple; go to work, come home, do the laundry or clean up- if he’s up for it, then eat whatever he ordered the night before. Or, the food Debbie brings over without a word, she's always been the one to understand him after Ian. He doesn't understand why but he doesn't question it either.

She’ll bring Franny over every now and then and he'll take her out for ice-cream or chase her around the park until it's time to say goodbye, until it's time to go back home. Alone.

The best part of his routine doesn’t happen as often as he wishes but when it does, it’s all he ever wants.

He showers, runs a hand through his hair and gets comfortable in bed. The laptop perched on his thighs as he taps his fingers away, waiting for the grey bubble to turn green.

And then it rings and his heartbeat quickens.

“Hi, Mick.”

Mickey thinks he's stopped breathing. Having to go days without that voice only makes him want to hold on longer. It’s huskier, lower and everything Mickey misses. And then his face comes into view and it’s a bit staticky and blurry but he’s there and he’s beautiful.

“Hey, Gallagher.” He breathes in and out. “Miss me?” Mickey tilts his head, eyes flickering all over his face. Looking at all the new freckles, the scars that weren't there last time and his beard that's apparently grown out.

“I mean, if thinkin about you all day means I miss you then, I suppose?” Ian grins, that dopey, affectionate smile of his and breathes out. The strand of hair falling over his forehead blows at that and he runs his own hand through it.

“Think that just means I’m irresistible, man.” Mickey shrugs and tongues at the insides of his cheek, trying to hold back his smile. The smile only Ian can bring out within moments of seeing him.

Ian hums, leans back in his chair and it's his turn to tilt his head. To look at Mickey, to really look at him. Eyes moving all over his face, his wet hair, the upper half of his body that's in screen. “Yeah, you are, Mickey.” He leans forward again, arms laying over each other. watching.

Mickey can't take that look, not when he can’t be with Ian. To take the pain away, to help the both of them feel better. To touch him and hold him and tell him everything will be okay.

He coughs, runs a hand over his face and then looks back at the screen with a smile. Trying. “You workin' hard or hardly workin' out there, huh?”

“What do you take me for, Mickey? I'm obviously working hard,” Ian says, pauses, a playful smile on his face, “mostly.” And he has the balls to wink at Mickey. Making Mickey think back to the dick pics Ian‘s sent him, the pictures in his uniform and the best, his stupid face.

“Shut the fuck up, man.” Mickey blushes and the longer he looks at Ian, he ends up laughing. Leave it to Ian fucking Gallagher to know how to make him laugh even when he's worrying his ass off about his boyfriend.

“What?” Ian feigns innocence, then, “shouldn't have asked if you didn't want the answer.” He raises his brow, Mickey notices the hairs on it have gone lighter.

Mickey shakes his head and moves the laptop to the side of the bed before laying down on his side. The sheets pulled on top of him as he holds onto a pillow. Ian’s pillow. “Beard looks fucking good. Gonna keep that shit?”

Ian rubs his beard, it's getting full but it doesn’t help with the heat. The only reason it isn't gone yet is because he hasn't had the time. Priorities; Mickey.

“Depends, you into it?”

“Just said I was, fuckhead.”

“So romantic.” Ian puts a hand over his heart before laughing at their stupidity. But more than that, to cover up the pain underneath, from the missed banter and teasing. From missing Mickey.

They watch each other for a few moments in a comfortable silence, long enough to make Ian’s eyes begin to water.

“Hey, Ian. C’mon." Mickey frowns and leans up on his elbow. Concern written over his face as Ian’s face goes from bright to sullen in seconds.

Ian shakes his head, wiping his eyes as he turns his head upwards. Trying to get himself together but it’s difficult once it begins. He wipes his nose and swallows the lump in his throat, the pain in his chest before looking back at Mickey. “You’re sleeping on my side.” Is all he says quietly, like its a secret between the two of them.

Mickey lays back down, not sure what to say. Every time he's talked to Ian through this tour, it's been on the couch or on the phone but this time he's in bed. “Yeah, well,” Mickey’s voice comes out scratchy as he shifts to his back then turns his head back to Ian. “Smells like you, man. The fuck am I supposed to do?”

Another silence. Small smiles being exchanged and warm eyes.

And then a different voice rings out. “Gallagher! Wrap it up!”

Ian looks toward the man and then back at Mickey, a sympathetic look on his face. “My shift is up next. Gotta take care of the guys, make sure they’re good for when we leave.” Ian had taken on medic duties when they weren’t active.

Mickey’s face goes blank, he doesn’t want this to end. Doesn’t know when he’ll get to see Ian again or hear him breathe and laugh or tell a stupid joke.

“I love you. Y’know that?” Ian asks, really asks.

Mickey nods, his eyes go misty but he can’t let it show. “Yeah. Course I do.” He pauses, looks at Ian long and hard but before he can say anything more there’s yelling behind Ian’s screen.

He watches his guys run from behind Ian, hears the word attack and everything starts to go hazy.

Mickey’s never said I love you to Ian over a text or a call, never when he’s on tour. he holds those words near and dear- something to hold onto for when he comes home. Because he’ll make it home. He always comes home. He has to. 

But his heart’s beating fast, he’s sitting up and starting to sweat. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He fucking hates that he can’t protect Ian.

Ian, whose eyes are wide and looking behind the screen, waiting to jump into action. To save people. To help. Because that’s just who he is and damn him for always putting everyone first and himself last.

“Mickey, I gotta-”

“I know.” Mickey says softly, trying his hardest to stay calm but his mind is everywhere. “Ian, I-”

Before he can finish his sentence, Ian cuts him off.

“Don’t, Mickey.” He shakes his head, his eyes are red and his jaw is set. “Don’t say it,” he says because he knows Mickey doesn’t say it over their calls, knows why. So if he says it now, it’ll mean-

“I’m coming back home, to you. You hear me?” He leans forward, the noise is too much in the back but all Mickey can hear is Ian, Ian, Ian.

“Okay,” Mickey croaks out. But he’s afraid, he’s so fucking afraid and he doesn’t know how Ian does it, is doing it. How he’s calm and collected and has to lead these guys day in and day out. 

“Soon.” Ian says. He smiles, beautiful and wide, it takes Mickey’s breath away and if anyone saw it, they’d think everything was okay.

And then the line cuts abruptly and Mickey is left alone with his thoughts. His horrible, dark thoughts.

“Love you, too,” he whispers into Ian’s pillow. His eyes are wet and soaking the sheets, his lip is quivering and his skin is buzzing. 

I'm coming back home to you.

Soon.

He repeats those words in his head, over and over.

Holding on.  

Mickey does not sleep that night.

Chapter Text

A month passes without a word from Ian. 

After the call had disconnected, the status bubble remained green, taunting Mickey as he stared at it before slamming the laptop shut, undoubtedly earning him a crack or two. He doesn’t know what to do, how to help. He can’t sleep or stop his mind from running and his heart from racing. Thinking of the worst possible scenario.

He comes home one Friday more restless than any other day and can’t help it when he grabs the first thing in sight -the key bowl Ian had bought for their stupid keys and wallets- and throws it against the full length mirror by the door. He slumps against the door and cries and cries and doesn’t stop until he feels drained of tears—of everything

Mickey’s eyes are heavy as he blinks, his head tips back as he thinks of Ian, Ian, Ian. When he stands and looks into the mirror, he feels just like it; broken, cracked, falling piece by piece. 

Detouring to their room instead of cleaning the mess, he falls into bed, on Ian’s side even though his scent is long gone. It brings him the small sliver of peace and sanity he needs as his eyes droop shut and his body goes limp. 

He wakes to the sound of his phone ringing and reaches for it blindly. “What?”

“Hey, Mickey. You holdin’ up?” It’s Lip. 

He sits up and anger pools all over. “What the fuck do you think?” 

“Right--just. Hang in there, alright? We’re all in this together.”

Mickey wants to yell and scream, deck Lip in his lip and tell him that they’re not in this together but he forces it down- for Ian. “Whatever,” he says and hangs up without a reply. He doesn’t know how he’s survived the month but he figures the thought of Ian out there is all that’s kept him going. 

He swipes the photo from underneath his pillow and looks at Ian. Ian and his stupid smile and even stupider hair and Mickey just wants him home.

When the house is clean and Mickey manages to eat leftovers, he sits down with the laptop even though he knows not to expect anything, The phone rings twice more--Mandy and Debbie and both times make his heart beat quick but he doesn’t answer. He’s tired of getting calls asking him stupid questions like “you okay?” and being told Ian’s going to be okay. 

It’s only when he gets lost in thoughts of Ian does his heart skip a beat.

His phone rings. 

It’s an international call from a private number.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, Mickey.” Ian.

“Thank fuck,” is all he can say. Mickey doesn’t realize he's whimpering until Ian’s saying his name over and over again. “Ian,” his voice is wrecked, his head feels heavy suddenly as it falls back against the couch. 

“Yeah, Mick, I’m here. Just breathe, okay?”

Mickey nods even though Ian can’t see but he can’t find his voice. Ian’s on the phone and his worst nightmare is still just a nightmare. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Ian says, slow and steady and strained. “I- there was an invasion on the base.” He pauses. “Tommy and Derrick they--they’re dead.” Ian’s two friends -family- who he had taken under his wing from the beginning. 

The line goes silent for a long moment.

“Fuck, Ian.” Mickey knows what they meant to Ian, to himself even. They both have families and kids, waiting for them back home. He wonders if it’s wrong of him to ask what injuries Ian came across because he’s not stupid enough to believe he came out without a scratch. When the silence drags on, Mickey cant hold it in any longer, “and you?”

Mickey can hear Ian’s lips part and then close, he already knows Ian won't tell him, to save him from the pain, to suffer on his own. It’s just like Ian to do something like that, to be the fucking hero. 

“Ian.” Mickey’s desperate. “Please.

“Yeah,” he says, like he’s shaken out of deep thought. “I’m-- nothing compared to what these guys are going through.”

Mickey’s not an idiot, he knows Ian better than anyone, than Ian knows himself. He wants to argue and force it out of Ian, wants nothing but the truth because that’s what they fucking vowed. He hates the churning in his belly and knows there isn’t anything he could anyways. Instead, he changes the topic and tells him about everyone here. 

I miss you’s are exchanged and for a moment, everything feels okay again. But there’s a needle poking at Mickey’s heart, over and over. One that’s telling him that Ian’s not telling him everything— the fucking truth. 

This time when they say goodbye, it’s worse because Mickey knows something is wrong with Ian and yet, he can’t help- he can’t fix it.  

Mickey wonders when they’ll catch a fucking break. 

x-x-x

Almost a week later, Ian has Lip pick him up from the airport. He doesn’t tell Mickey he’s coming home, no one, actually. All he wants is to be with Mickey, to see him and touch him and melt into him. 

Ian tells Lip everything on the phone one day, before letting him know he’s been discharged. When the words escape his Lips, the line goes blank and Ian thinks he’s lost him until he hears Lip sob. Ian let’s his own tears stream silently. 

He hugs Lip with every inch of him, warm and tight and bruising

“Thanks Lip, for everything.” —for being my brother and loving me even when I couldn’t. For supporting me and never giving up on me. Even when I was wrong.

Lip kisses his head before he leaves the house and then it’s just Ian. Alone. In a home that’s never felt more like a house.

Ian doesn’t move much, curls up on the couch and lets his fatigue knock him out. He’s in and out of sleep when he hears a click and then a what the fuck. The couch dips and everything in Ian settles suddenly.

“Ian. Fuck. Hey,” Mickey murmurs. Ian feels familiar hands wrap around his face, can feel Mickey everywhere. His eyes pool with tears, slipping into his hair but he doesn’t open his eyes. 

“Mickey,” he says, voice scratchy and low, hands wrapping around Mickey’s wrists like a lifeline. “Mickey,” he pleads, his voice is broken. 

“Fuck, Ian. You’re home. I’m— I fucking love you.” The three words Ian's been yearning to hear finally slip out and Ian just hopes he doesn’t have to wake up from this. 

Ian’s hand wraps around Mickey’s head, fitting and warm and this is it, he thinks. This is all he’s ever fucking needed. 

No one speaks, uneven breaths filling the silence. 

“What happened.” It comes out less of a question and more of a demand, of course Mickey knows. Mickey’s voice is dull, unlike the one he knows. 

Ian doesn’t know what to say, how to say it. Mickey moves, kisses Ian’s chin and cheek and jaw.

“Look at me, Ian.”

Ian’s body tensed yet every bone in him feels as though it’s shattering. His eyes only clench tighter as another tear slips down. “I can’t.”

Mickey sighs, exasperated and impatient and needy. His hands are tense around Ian’s jaw, as though he can will Ian to open them. “Of course you can. Ian— baby.”

“Mickey,” he says, voice strained and lip quivering. “I can’t look at you.”

Mickey’s hands immediately go limp and fall to his shoulders. Ian knows he’s finally understood. 

Ian can feel Mickey’s stilled hands begin to shake and all he can do is hold them in a vice like grip, pulling Mickey in. He tucks his face into Mickey’s neck and finally breathes in the smell of home.

“Fuck.” Mickey wraps his arms around Ian’s shoulders and curls into his side. He doesn’t know what to say or do or—

Ian’s eyes are still shut when they’re face to face again.

“What do I--I don’t know what to— Ian.”

Slowly, Ian lets his eyes flutter open. Eyes that are bold and brilliant and kind, green as ever; it’s everything Mickey fell for. “Me, too,” Ian whispers. 

Mickey sweeps his thumbs over the smooth skin under Ian's eyes, wipes away the tears. The military has aged him, skin tan and freckled and worn around the eyes. Lets his hands tell Ian that he’s here, today, tomorrow— forever. He leans forward and presses his lips to the space between his eyebrows, watching the tense lines melt.

Ian blinks, hands resting over Mickey’s chest and sliding up, feeling the dog tags under his shirt. A small sliver of a smile graces his lips but it slips away just as quick. It’s only then does he realize he’ll never have the chance to see them again, to see Mickey

“You know,” Ian starts, breath hitching. “If I knew the last time I looked at you was gonna be the last, I would’ve never stopped.” His eyes are glassy, he looks as lost as he feels. Ian doesn’t live with many regrets in his life, he’s a firm believer in everything happening for a reason; the good and the bad, it’s what forms you into the strongest version of yourself. 

But sitting here, with nothing but darkness before his eyes, he’s not sure what the truth is anymore.