“Where the fuck is your boss?” echoes a voice across the hangar.
Mickey rolls his eyes, and hunkers down next to the ship he’s working on. Whoever this loud asshole is, he’ll bully whichever mechanic he’s got pinned down into showing him where Mickey is in a few more minutes. No reason to help them out.
“Is he aware of the substandard work you’re trying to pass off?” the asshole is shouting. “Do you realize I’m risking my fucking life up there? If your shitty fucking engine breaks apart mid-flight, I’m drifting in space, you fucking idiot! Do you get that?”
Great. Not just a regular loud asshole. A fight pilot. Meaning a loud, famous asshole with a diva complex, and a ton of money.
Fine. Whatever. Mickey stands up, not bothering to wipe the grease off his hands. Instead, he taps out a cigarette and lights it, then starts a slow walk toward where the shouting is coming from. It’s hard enough to keep his temper around regular customers. With this prick, he’s gonna need all the help he can get.
He spots them pretty quick, the red-and-brown leather uniform of the pilot making him stand out from the blue jumpsuited mechanics around him. He has his back to Mickey, but even from here, Mickey can see his red hair. Well, maybe that explains the temper.
“We got a problem here, Red?” he says, stepping up close behind the pilot, who wheels around angrily.
It’s all Mickey can do not to take a step back. This guy is tall, and he’s fucking livid. This isn’t just some diva on a rant. Red is out for blood.
“Who the fuck are you?” the guy spits, and Mickey pulls it together, takes a step forward and gets in the guy’s face.
“I’m his fucking boss,” he says, jerking a thumb at Roe, who’s trembling behind the pilot. “And this is my fucking set-up, so you have a problem with our work, you take it up with me. Got it?”
“Yeah?” says Red, and now he’s wearing an enraged grin that’s just as crazy as his snarl. “You stand by this piece of shit, huh?” He thrusts the grav-converter he’s holding forward, so it hits Mickey in the chest.
Mickey grimaces at him, pinches out his cigarette and tucks it behind his ear, then takes the part. He holds it delicately and turns it from side to side, studying every angle. There’s a long moment of silence. He can hear Red breathing hard, like a pissed-off bull.
“Oh shit,” Mickey says when he sees it.
Red rocks back on his heels, righteous anger blooming all over his face. “See that?” he says, pointing. “Your fucking mechanic. Your fucking part. If I’d tried to take my ship out with this—”
Mickey holds up a hand, cutting him off. “You see that?” he says to Roe, holding the faulty converter in front of him.
“I—I—” Roe says, glitching out.
“Bent. On the port end,” Mickey says. “Five, maybe seven degrees. Not enough to stop it from screwing in, but enough to keep it from forming a seal in a vacuum. Acceptable error on grav parts is two degrees, Roe. Two.” He throws the part, and it hits the other man in the stomach. He catches it and stands there, stunned.
“Now take that piece of shit to Ellen, and show her. Then tell her I said you’re on clean-up for the next two quarters. Back to tools and dies for the two after that. If—if—you can prove to her, and to me, that you will never, ever allow this level of error to happen, ever again, we’ll talk about putting you back on a mechanic track. You got that?”
“Yes,” Roe whispers, still shaking. “Th—thank you. I won’t—I—”
“Get the fuck out of here,” Mickey says. “Go!”
Roe books it, and then it’s just Mickey and the pilot. The guy’s calmed down enough that his breathing is almost under control. He eyes Mickey for a second and opens his mouth, but Mickey doesn’t give him a chance to start.
“Mickey Milkovich,” he says, sticking out his hand. The guy ignores it, and Mickey shrugs. “I won’t apologize, because it doesn’t mean shit with a fuck-up this colossal. But I can guarantee that I will personally oversee any further repairs on your ship, hand-inspect every part, whatever it takes. Free of charge. Pilot safety is the highest priority for everyone on my team.” He sneers. “With the apparent exception of that crapsack.”
The guy blinks, wind taken right out of his sails by Mickey giving him everything he could possibly demand, before he can even ask for it.
“Gallagher,” the pilot says after a second, and yeah, Mickey’s heard of him. Even though he doesn’t follow the fights, he can’t totally avoid hearing the names. Or the casualty lists they read out every night.
This hotshot, Gallagher, is a rising star, with a high hit-to-damage ratio. He’s popular too, making all the social rounds, big appearances with celebrities and politicians and whoever the fuck else. Looking at him now, Mickey can see why.
But apparently the guy knows his mechanical shit too. Well enough to spot a five-degree error on a part that Mickey’s willing to bet most pilots couldn’t even name. Which reminds him . . .
“All right, Gallagher. How the fuck did you happen to stumble on that problem?” he asks, genuinely curious, as he walks them over to where he keeps the spare parts. “What do you do, break down your equipment before every run or something?”
“That’s right,” Gallagher shoots back grimly. “I do.”
“What?” Mickey says. “Are you—are you fucking kidding?”
“Hell no,” Gallagher says. “You know how many mechanical errors take down pilots? Why the fuck wouldn’t I break my shit down before every fight?”
“Yeah, but—” Mickey says, then breaks off, shaking his head. It must be hours, every day, breaking down, examining every part, putting it all back together.
He pulls open a metal cabinet, finds the right size converter. Holds it up, examines it closely. It’s solid. He hands it silently to Gallagher, who takes it.
“Let’s be honest,” Gallagher says, studying the converter. “Corporate doesn’t care if I live or die. Neither does the government. There’s a thousand kids who’d kill to replace me. Hell, they bank on the casualties. Keeps everyone engaged, watching their screens. Keeps us from hanging around long enough that people get bored of watching us.” He smiles bitterly. “If I’m not checking my equipment, you can fucking bet no one else is going to.”
Mickey stares at him for a second, taken aback. He thinks the fights are dumb, and the people who care about them are even dumber. But to hear one of the pilots say that his corporate fucking sponsor is depending on him dying . . . fuck. Damn.
“Why do you do it, then?” Mickey asks before he can stop himself. It’s a stupid question for two reasons: one, the fuck does he care about some flyboy’s hopes and dreams? And two, the answers are obvious: money and fame. But mostly money.
Gallagher grins. “Imagine the best fuck you’ve ever had.” Mickey stares at him, saying nothing. “Multiply that by about ten, and that’s the rush you get after a fight.”
“You serious?” Mickey says. “You’re risking your neck for a buzz?”
Gallagher shrugs. “Well, that and the money. The payout from my first ten fights was more than my family makes in a year.”
“Damn,” Mickey says, taking his cigarette out from behind his ear and lighting up. This conversation is making him jumpy. “That’s some serious fucking cash.”
He offers the smoke to Gallagher, interested to see if he’ll take it. He does, without hesitation. Mickey finds himself looking at Gallagher’s lips, then jerks his gaze away.
“Yeah,” Gallagher says after a second, blowing the smoke out. “I’ve got a payout in a month that’s gonna buy their new house.”
“Think you’ll make it?” Mickey says.
As soon as it comes out of his mouth, he realizes it’s an incredibly fucked-up thing to say. But Gallagher’s not offended. He takes another drag, then hands the cigarette back to Mickey.
“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “No way to be sure.” Tell that to the millions of people who bet on the fights, and spend hours analyzing every single possibility, Mickey thinks.
Gallagher cracks a little smile. “But I’ve got a better chance with you in my corner, huh?”
Mickey blinks, startled. But it’s probably true. There’s no one he trusts more than himself with shit like this. It’s not bragging. It’s just the facts.
After a second, he nods awkwardly. Gallagher gives him a lazy half salute in response, and turns to go. Then he stops. “I’ve got a fight tomorrow night. Maybe I’ll come by after?” His eyes are fixed on Mickey’s face.
“Yeah, sure,” Mickey says after a second. “Bring me whatever you’ve got.”
Gallagher smiles again. He looks . . . pleased. “OK,” he says. “I will.”
Mickey finds himself following the shape of Gallagher’s body as he disappears into the crowd, then shakes his head to snap him out of it.
It’s only an hour later, when he’s elbow-deep in grease and engine parts, that what Gallagher said really sinks in. Imagine the best fuck you’ve ever had . . . Maybe I’ll come by after . . .
He shakes his head, incredulous. Cocky fucking flyboy.
Mickey tells himself he’s not going to stalk Gallagher online when he goes home that night. (Home is actually just the tiny second-floor rooms of his workshop in the hangar, which makes for a nice commute to work.) And for a while, he sticks to it. He takes a shower, makes dinner, does the dishes. Thinks about cleaning or something—considering how little space he has, he’s got a lot of shit lying around—then finally gives it up and pulls out his battered laptop.
Looks at the news. Looks up the weather for tomorrow. Ignores the flashing bar at the bottom of the screen that’s announcing the live results from today’s fights.
There’s a profile link for the pilots at the bottom of every score.
He clicks on a random one, then navigates up to the main page. He doesn’t even have to search for the name he wants; Gallagher is splashed front and center. Because of course he is.
His first name is Ian, and the picture doesn’t get the shade of his hair right. They Photoshopped it to look darker or something.
Mickey clicks on the profile before he can think better of it.
Ian Gallagher, twenty-three. Coming up on a year as a fight pilot—that’ll be the payout he was talking about. No one is close to his numbers for the last quarter, and he’s breaking all kinds of records: longest time with no damage sustained, highest hit-to-damage ratio in a run . . . he’s hot shit, all right.
Mickey clicks on the social stuff, twisting his mouth. Pictures of Ian in a tux at some fancy award show with an actress Mickey recognizes but can’t name, a bunch of high-class nightclub appearances in big groups of celebrities and other pilots—ah, there it is. His actual partners. Dates. Whatever.
All male. Most of them older—a lot older. Clearly rich as fuck.
Mickey closes the window, shaking his head at himself. What he thought Gallagher was offering before, he’d clearly been imagining things. Gallagher’s no fucking fool. He’s aiming high while he can. There’s nothing he needs from a mechanic like Mickey—except the work Mickey’s already offered him for free.
Mickey wonders how often Ian gets offered a different kind of deal, quid pro quo, and he abruptly feels sick to his stomach.
He snaps his computer shut, stows it under his bed. Turns off the lamp above him. Punches his pillow a few times, trying to get comfortable.
But the whole time he’s falling asleep, all he can see is that faulty fucking converter, bent just far enough to let in the sucking vacuum of space. Gallagher’s name and face on the casualty list tomorrow morning.
Mickey never would have known.
When he wakes up the next morning, he feels like he hasn’t slept at all.
“You OK, boss?” Ellen asks him when he heads down to the floor, holding the docket with today’s jobs in his hand.
“Peachy,” he says. “You move Roe down to clean-up for the next two quarters like I asked?”
“’Course,” she says. “Don’t know how we’re going to make up for the missing hands, though.”
Mickey shakes his head. “I’ll pick up the slack,” he says.
She raises an eyebrow. “You’re the boss, boss,” she says drily, and takes the docket off him, studying their workload for the day. “I’ll be down on checks and fuel-system maintenance, and I’ll put Purce on the routines. You want Jess and Dom to keep working on that big crash from Friday?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll take a look at the guts once they’ve banged out all the dents, though.”
Ellen nods and heads off across the floor to wrangle the rest of the mechanics into shape. Mickey rubs his eyes—the headache he woke up with is only getting worse—and then grabs his gear and slides under the old-school Mission Star he’s been working on this week. Belongs to some retired hotshot, and now he wants it back in flying order. Most of the parts aren’t manufactured anymore, which means Mickey’s basically been building them from scratch.
It’s a hard job, but a rewarding one, seeing the scrapper come back to life. And more importantly, the work is totally absorbing, so he doesn’t have any time to spend obsessing over some pilot. Who’s flying out for a fight at 9:00 p.m. tonight, and might be coming back here after that. If he has repairs or whatever. Ian doesn’t seem like the type to leave his ship in pieces overnight.
On the other hand, he hasn’t taken any damage in his last five fights. If he keeps the streak going, Mickey won’t be seeing him at all.
Probably for the best.
He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, and slides out from under the engine. It’s as close to functional as he can get it without actually taking it out on a test run, which means it’s time for lunch.
Most of the mechanics are gathered by the front wall, where a huge screen is showing replays from last night’s fights. Usually Mickey ignores them, eats on his own, but this time, he wanders over. Jess and Dom are arguing about whether one of the pilots has illegal boosters, so, hey, at least they’re getting something technical out of it.
“That turn ratio is in-fucking-possible,” Jess is saying as Mickey walks over, her hands flailing wildly. “Not with an Eagle-83 engine. It’s bullshit, and you know it.”
Dom shakes his head. “Skill, man. It’s all in how you handle the machine.”
Mickey stands a little behind them, watching the screen. Odds for tonight’s fights pop up, and there’s Gallagher, front and center. Heavily favored, of course, which means if he loses—
“Hey, man,” Jess says, when she sees him standing there. “What’re you doing out on the floor with the rest of us scrubs?”
“Seeing how the other half lives,” Mickey says, finally tearing his eyes away from the screen. He reaches out and grabs Dom’s half-finished soda, then heads back toward the Star, ignoring his mechanic’s outraged “Hey!” from behind him. He raises the bottle in salute.
Gotta show ’em who’s in charge every now and then, right?
Usually Mickey doesn’t pay too much attention to the time—he stops when it’s a good time to take a break, or when one of the other mechanics needs something from him. But for some reason, tonight he finds himself glancing up at the clock neurotically as he tries to work on squaring up everyone’s hours for the month with the payroll.
Twenty minutes. Gallagher’s probably getting suited up right now, running through some last-minute gear checks. Mickey thinks again about that converter, and his fingers itch. He shakes his head, tries to get it out of his head.
Ten minutes. He’ll be in the cockpit now, waiting for the signal to go. The commentators are probably gleefully rehashing all his recent wins, talking about what a huge upset it’ll be if he goes down tonight.
Hell, people are betting that he will go down tonight. Betting money that he dies. And if he’d gone up with that part . . .
“Fuck,” Mickey mutters to himself. He’s not getting any more work done tonight, that’s fucking obvious. Not that it matters. Everyone else headed out hours ago. Most of them to bars and screeners to watch the fights.
He closes the payroll logbook, and puts everything away, snapping off the lights in the front of the workshop as he goes. Then he heads upstairs, trying not to think about anything.
(Two minutes. One minute.)
Mickey takes a long shower, doesn’t think about why. It’s stupid. Gallagher’s not coming back. Too many post-fight parties to make appearances at. And even if he does come back, it’ll be because Mickey’s agreed to work for him for free, so. Yeah. Whatever.
He doesn’t think about Gallagher’s hands as he lathers up, rinses himself clean. Imagine the best fuck you’ve ever had.
(He wonders if Gallagher fucks anything like he flies.)
Usually he jerks off in the shower, but tonight he doesn’t. Get out while he’s half hard and puts on his sweatpants and a tank top. The fabric feels weird against his too-clean skin, but he tries to ignore it. Goes to the corner with all the kitchen stuff and grabs a bottle of whiskey, pours himself a shot. Knocks it back, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
He looks at the clock. It’s 9:53. Fights don’t go any longer than half an hour. The guy’s not coming, and that’s all there is to it. It’s stupid, the weird sinking in his stomach. Somehow, even though he knew—
The buzzer connected to the door goes off, and he jumps. “Fuck.”
His heart starts hammering like crazy.
Still, it could be some asshole coming after hours to collect a job. Or maybe one of the mechanics left something locked up in the shop.
He walks down the narrow metal stairs, and looks out through the hole in the door.
It’s Ian. He’s breathing hard, still in his red-and-brown uniform, and his hair is all sweaty and messy from being jammed under a helmet.
Mickey jerks the door open. “Yeah?” he says bluntly, but before he can even finish getting the word out, Ian is yanking him close, one hand around the back of his head, crushing their mouths together in a searing kiss.
He doesn’t stop to think, just wraps an arm around Ian’s waist and pulls them both backward, through the door. They break apart for a second, both breathing hard now, and Mickey reaches around with his other hand to push the door shut. Then he looks at Ian in the dim light from upstairs. Ian stares back, his eyes dark and hungry.
“Fuck,” Mickey says, heartfelt. “Fuck.”
He reaches for Ian again, and they’re kissing like it hurts to stop. Mickey pulls back a little. “Come on,” he says against Ian’s mouth. “Upstairs.”
“Okay,” Ian says softly.
He can feel Ian’s eyes on him the whole way up, and as soon as they make it to the top, Ian’s hands are on him too, grabbing his hips and pulling him back against Ian’s body, so his ass grinds against Ian’s cock, hard in his uniform.
Mickey bends down and grabs the edge of the table in front of them, where he keeps all the stuff he tinkers with up here. Then he spreads his feet apart, shoving his ass back against Ian, who leans his whole body into it, curving over Mickey.
“Oh my god,” Ian says, his mouth open against the back of Mickey’s neck. His breath is hot, and his hands feel huge and strong, his fingers flexing so he can rub Mickey’s body back and forth against his cock. Mickey’s almost shaking with how good it feels, just from this high-school fumbling around.
“Uh, are you—” he tries to say, then loses it as Ian slips a hand down the front of his sweatpants and gets his hand around his cock. Mickey moans. Then pulls it back together.
“Did you bring something?” he mutters. “So we can—I don’t have—”
Ian laughs a little. “Prophylaxed.”
“Huh?” Mickey says. Ian’s hand working up and down his cock is basically removing his ability to talk. Or think.
“They shoot us up with every vaccine, every damn antibiotic. Keep us clean,” Ian says. “Gotta protect the merchandise, you know.” That bitterness again.
“Oh,” Mickey says. “Uh, I’m—”
“Don’t care,” Ian breathes against his skin. “Just lemme fuck you, Mickey, please, I need it so bad. Please, fucking let—”
“Clean,” Mickey finishes. “I was gonna say clean. Oh fuck. Fuck.” Ian wraps his free arm around Mickey’s shoulders, holding him in place, full-on trying to ride him through their clothes, still rubbing Mickey’s hard-on like it’s a fucking good-luck charm or something.
“You gotta get that shit off,” Mickey says, and tries to straighten up. Ian groans a protest, thrusts against him a few more times. Then finally he unwraps his hand and leans back, giving Mickey enough room to stand all the way up and turn around.
The zippers and snaps on his jacket and pants are stiff, and Mickey’s hands feel clumsy and stupid. Ian reaches down and pushes his fingers out of the way, gets everything loose, and strips off the jacket and the sweat-soaked gray T-shirt under it. Mickey yanks down his own loose sweatpants, kicks them off, then attacks Ian’s uniform pants.
Ian’s cock, red and hard, pushes out and into his hands as soon as he works the fly down. “Shit,” Mickey says, then tries to cover. “No wonder you get so fucking hard for it when you’re fighting,” he says. “Wear some fucking boxers, jesus, Gallagher.”
“Like it better this way,” Ian says, pulling his pants the rest of the way off.
“Uh, yeah, I can see that, flyboy,” Mickey says. He can’t stop staring. Christ.
“What, like you’ve never gotten hard while you’re working on an engine,” Ian says, smirking, as he reaches for Mickey’s tank top, yanks it over his head.
“Yeah, well,” Mickey mutters. He distracts himself by reaching out and pulling Ian closer, thrusting up a little so his dick rubs against Ian’s.
“Oh shit,” Ian whispers, and pushes him backward, getting his hands under Mickey’s ass and lifting him up enough that he’s sitting on the edge of the table. Ian reaches behind Mickey, and gently pushes all the stuff he has piled up there out of the way.
“Watch it,” Mickey says, distracted by the way Ian’s body fits between his spread-open legs, the heat of his body on the skin of Mickey’s inner thighs. Then he twists around and fumbles through the pile of stuff, until he comes up with a little plastic bottle of lube.
He drips some onto his fingers, then hands it to Ian, who looks at it with raised eyebrows.
“Isn’t this—” he starts.
“Shut up,” Mickey says, and leans back, bracing himself against the table with one hand, and reaching down with the other. “It works for both.”
(Andromedan oil lubes up engines better than anything back home—and people sell the exact same crap for fifty bucks a tube as some kind of exotic space-sex novelty. Why should Mickey shell out for normal lube when he’s already paying for this stuff in bulk?)
(Anyway, he likes the smell.)
“Yeah, OK, gearhead,” Ian says, getting his hand and his cock slicked up. “All those pistons and rods get you going, huh? Called it.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Mickey says, already knuckle-deep. It’s been a while, but he wants this. More than he can remember ever wanting it. Everything feels hot and relaxed: his muscles, Ian’s body up against his, their breath mingling as Ian leans in and kisses him, opening up their mouths.
Ian’s fingers join his, and Mickey gasps a little.
“That OK?” Ian asks lowly.
Mickey nods, swallowing. “Yeah,” he says. His voice is hoarse. “Yeah, it’s good.”
Ian kisses him again, and it burns a little, the heat of his mouth, and the stretch of their hands opening him up together.
Mickey gets lost in it for a few minutes, his fingers just holding himself open, his mouth slack against Ian’s, just breathing. Then Ian touches deep inside him, and Mickey sucks in a startled breath.
“Ready?” Ian says, and presses down again, the same spot. Mickey whimpers, can’t stop his hips from jerking up a little.
“Fuck yeah,” he says, when he gets his breath back. “Let’s go.”
Ian eases his fingers out, and leans down, gently grabbing Mickey’s ankles, pushing his legs up so he’s lying back on the table, knees against his chest. “Yeah?” Ian says. “Can you do it this way?”
Mickey nods, cheeks burning a little at being spread open like that, all exposed. But it’s good. Really good. He wraps his arms around his knees, holds himself still for Ian.
“OK,” Ian says, and reaches down to line himself up, starts to slowly push his way in. Mickey closes his eyes, sucks in a breath, but it doesn’t hurt like he was expecting. Ian’s bigger than anyone he’s been with, but somehow it just feels . . . right. Like they fit somehow. He relaxes into it, and opens his eyes to see Ian grinning down at him.
“You good?” Ian says.
“Hell yeah,” Mickey says, and he sounds fucking dopey, but he doesn’t even care anymore. Just wants Ian to get inside him, farther in.
“Fuck yes,” Ian says, and pushes all the way in, and Mickey’s brain is totally fried, because apparently he said that out loud.
Ian pauses for a second, pushed all the way up inside him, and Mickey can’t help it—he has to move, has to get that friction. But he can’t, not with his arms and legs pulled back and his ass up. He has no leverage.
“Ian,” he whispers. “Fucking move.” And he squeezes down against the pressure, feels Ian all hard and hot inside him.
“Oh my fucking god,” Ian says in a rush, and thrusts in and out of him once, hard.
“Yesss,” Mickey hisses, and arches up as much as he can. Ian leans down and pins him with one arm under his knees.
“Stay fucking still,” Ian says, and Mickey laughs.
“Then fuck me, flyboy,” he says. Ian grins and leans forward, kissing just the edges of his lips. It’s soft, affectionate, and Mickey blinks up at him in surprise for a second.
But then Ian then starts to move, pushing in and out of him, and Mickey’s instantly in a daze. Ian’s cock drags at his rim just enough to make him feel the stretch, even though the lube still slick and hot between them. Mickey’s cock jerks against his stomach, but he doesn’t even want to touch it, too absorbed in how it feels to have Ian inside him.
He doesn’t mean to, but he clenches down again when Ian’s dick rubs against that spot inside him. He’s already so tight, Ian gasps, and grinds down hard. “Oh fuck,” Mickey says, and does it again.
“Mickey, don’t,” Ian says unsteadily, but he’s pressing into him, again and again, losing the rhythm and pushing too hard.
“S-sorry,” Mickey says. “I can’t—” His legs are shaking, and his arms are sliding a little, trying to hold his knees still. Sweat’s gathering between their bodies, everywhere they’re touching. And every time Ian hits that spot, even grazes against it, Mickey spasms a little, uncontrollably.
“Fuck,” he whispers again, feeling the heat gathering in his stomach. He’s a mess, can’t stop the way his body is reacting, can’t stop the movements that are driving Ian crazy. All he can do is try to push up against him, get that last little bit of friction. Just one touch against his cock and he’s going to fucking lose it.
He didn’t say it out loud this time—he knows he didn’t—but Ian reaches down and wraps his hand around Mickey’s cock anyway, and gives him one, two, three hard strokes . . . and Mickey’s coming, so hard that he can’t stop himself from letting out a strangled cry. His ass squeezes around Ian, and then Ian is coming too, still shoved up inside him, filling him with spreading heat. Mickey’s cock gives one last twitch, and then his body just—relaxes. His legs don’t even hurt anymore, all the endorphins rushing through his system making him feel fucking high. His eyes drift shut.
“Fuck, Mickey,” Ian whispers, and Mickey nods, isn’t sure what he’s agreeing with, except yes. That. They should do that again. As soon as possible.
They do it a lot.
After Ian’s fights, always, and he has those three times a week. Ian wasn’t kidding about how it affects him—the adrenaline juices him up so much, Mickey can barely get him to keep his clothes on until they can shut the door behind them.
But Ian drops by the hangar almost every day too, to talk shop or to give Mickey shit about some new part (the parts are always perfect—Ian just likes to yank his chain) or to eat with him.
Mickey would be flattered, if he didn’t know that Ian is still making the rounds with all the celebrities and old fucking windbags. Because, yeah, Mickey’s basically become the world’s number one Ian Gallagher stalker. His profile is the first thing Mickey clicks on in the morning, and the last thing he looks at before he goes to sleep. (Ian never stays the night.)
He watches every one of the fights, heart in his mouth, and shit, Ian is good. Maybe the best he’s ever seen. His crew gives him crap about watching for the first week or two—he’s ragged them for years about how stupid the fights are—but after they see how often Ian’s coming by, they switch to giving him crap about that, instead.
Which, whatever. He knows it’s kind of fucking trashy, being Gallagher’s piece on the side. Good enough to fuck, but not good enough to take out. Mickey gets it. He knows what he is.
But ask him if he gives a shit, when Ian’s making him come, sweaty and shaking, for the fourth time in two days.
“You should come to my place tomorrow,” Ian says. They’re lying in the tangle of Mickey’s sheets, trying to catch their breath. Mickey can feel the ache in his ass, and it’s good, so good. He doesn’t want to move. Just wants to stare at the ceiling, with Ian an arm’s reach away.
“Yeah?” Mickey says after a second, and manages to roll over and grab a cigarette and his lighter from the table next to the bed. He lights up, takes a drag, and hands it to Gallagher. “Why the fuck would I want to do that?”
Ian doesn’t say anything for a second, and Mickey turns to look at him, catching the tail end of some weird expression, before Ian smooths it out to a casual smile.
“No reason,” he says. “There’s a cool view, I guess.”
Mickey laughs, holding his hand out for the cigarette. “Yeah, like I’ll be seeing anything besides your bedroom ceiling.”
Ian laughs, but it sounds kind of forced. “Yeah, or the living room. Or the pool. I think you would definitely enjoy the ceiling in the pool.”
“Probably,” Mickey says. He stubs out the cigarette, then rolls over so he’s pressed up against Ian’s side. “How about it, flyboy? Ready for round three?”
Ian shakes his head, and Mickey tries to hide the disappointment that he can feel flash across his face. “Sorry,” Ian says. “I mean, I would, it’s just—this stupid interview or whatever.” He swallows. “For that fight at the end of the week.”
That fight. His year payout. Shit. Mickey hasn’t thought about it for weeks, not since the time Ian first mentioned it, the day they met. He hasn’t said a thing about it since then.
It’s the equivalent of a championship fight—one pilot up against three, and the prize is crazy. Enough to buy Ian’s family their new house, and anything else they want.
The odds of surviving to collect it are pretty fucking low, though. And considering the shit Ian’s told him, that’s probably less a coincidence and more a piece of carefully engineered entertainment.
Suddenly Mickey doesn’t feel much like fucking, either.
“Ah, right,” he says. Tries to keep his voice light. “The big one.”
“Yeah.” Ian won’t look at him.
“Think you’re ready?” It’s a stupid thing to say, and he feels like shit the second he says it.
“I guess,” Ian says quietly. He’s twisting the corner of Mickey’s sheets back and forth between his fingers. “For a long time, I—” He stops. “Never mind. It’s stupid. You don’t care.”
Mickey’s heart lurches. “I do,” he says after a second. “I—” He doesn’t know what to say.
He’s been trying so hard not to ask for more than Ian can give him, to stay in his place as the fun fuck on the side, it never occurred to him what it must have looked like to Ian.
Like he didn’t care.
“It’s fine,” Ian says, standing up, reaching for his jeans. “You don’t have to lie, Mickey.” He smiles a little. “I like it when you tell me what you’re actually thinking. Not a lot of people do that anymore. Too busy blowing smoke up my ass.”
Mickey manfully resists the urge to make a joke about things he’d rather do to Ian’s ass. “Hey,” he says, leaning forward, grabbing Ian’s wrist.
Ian stops moving, startled.
“Say what you were going to say,” Mickey says. “‘For a long time’ or whatever.” Ian looks down at Mickey’s fingers, wrapped around his wrist. Then he looks up at Mickey’s face.
“For a long time, I—thought it didn’t matter what I did. With myself. Flying, fighting. Fucking. Whatever. I didn’t care. At least I was doing something useful. You know, for my family. And then I—” He stops.
“You what?” Mickey whispers. His heart is pounding so hard, he can barely even hear himself say it.
Ian stares at him for a long second, then suddenly he relaxes and lets out a little laugh, pulling his hand out of Mickey’s grasp. “Forget about it,” he says. “After Friday, it’s probably not going to matter one way or the other.”
“Hey,” Mickey says. “Don’t say that.” Ian just shakes his head, pulls on his shirt. He pauses, then walks back to the bed, leans down, and kisses Mickey. Chaste, almost casual. Like they’re a married fucking couple or something.
“Bye,” he says, softly, and then he’s gone.
Mickey sits there, stunned, his body still loose in the afterglow, even though everything just went to shit.
Ian doesn’t come by the hangar the next day. Mickey goes down to the bay where they usually keep his ship when he brings it for repairs—nothing.
The next day is the same.
By Friday morning, Mickey’s frantic. Even ignoring whatever the fuck that conversation had been, Ian’s apparently going to go into the biggest fight of his life without Mickey checking over his ship first. Fucking idiot.
All Mickey wants to do is say that to his face. That, and inspect the fucking ship. But the stupid fucking thing is . . . he doesn’t have Ian’s number. Doesn’t know where he lives. Doesn’t know where his family is, or how to contact any of them. He’s got fucking nothing.
He hadn’t even thought about it before now—Ian always came to him, and he was there every day for a month, so what were they going to talk about on the phone?—and now it’s too late.
Ellen comes by that afternoon, sees him sitting next to the Mission Star, staring into space. (It’s still not running. He doesn’t know where he’s going wrong. He’s been too fucking distracted with Ian to pay attention to it.) She tells him to take the rest of the day off.
He goes upstairs and obsesses. Stares at Ian’s fucking profile on the fucking website. Clicks refresh. The interview he mentioned hasn’t been posted.
Maybe it was a lie. Maybe he just wanted to get away from Mickey.
Maybe they did two, and they’ll wait until after the fight to put it up. Post one interview if he lives and one if he dies.
“Fuck. Fuck!” Mickey says, and clicks refresh again.
For few minutes, he thinks about trying to call Corporate and get in touch with Ian that way, but then he realizes that he doesn’t have any way to prove he actually knows him. He’s just going to sound like some delusional fucker who’s trying to get close to the famous Ian Gallagher. And there’s just enough truth in that to hurt.
He never asked about Ian’s family. Never talked about what he did before he was a pilot.
But on the other hand, it wasn’t exactly crazy of him to assume that Ian didn’t want any strings. Who the fuck starts banging their mechanic and then suddenly decides it’s something deep and meaningful a month later? And doesn’t even tell the guy? Just runs away and then goes off to do something that will probably get him killed?
“Goddamn it, Ian,” he mutters. “If you die, I’m going to fucking kill you.”
The fight is at 10:00 p.m. By 9:45, Mickey’s smoked two packs of cigarettes and killed half a bottle of whiskey. It burns all the way down, and he’s still thinking about Ian afterward.
He walks down to the main floor, the half-empty bottle in hand. Everyone’s still there, since the hangar has the biggest screen around, and this is one of the biggest fights in the last couple quarters.
A lot of people are betting on Ian to die tonight.
“Hey!” Dom says when he spots Mickey, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s your buddy’s big night tonight! Flight to glory or whatever! So cool, man!”
Mickey sneers, and knocks Dom’s hand away. “Get t’fuck off me,” he spits, and Dom steps back.
“Whoa, uh, sorry, boss,” he says, but Mickey’s already moved past him, up close to the screen.
The inside of Ian’s ship is splashed across the wall, feeding directly from his cockpit camera. He’s suited up, his helmet on. The last time Mickey’s ever gonna see him, and he’s got his fucking helmet on.
“You fucking prick,” Mickey mutters. But Ian doesn’t say anything. He can’t fucking hear him.
Mickey walks to the back of the hangar and slides down against the wall. Can see fine from there, anyway. He takes another shot of the whiskey, and watches as Ian takes off, his ship a shining silver flash against the night sky.
The flight to the upper atmosphere takes him and the three other pilots about ten minutes. The commentators spend the whole time gleefully comparing everyone’s stats and odds for the night. “But will it be enough?” is repeated multiple times. He starts taking a shot every time someone says it.
It would have been enough for Mickey. Whatever Ian could give him. It would have been enough.
He’s blacked out by the time the fight actually starts. All he remembers is fire, and then nothing.
When he wakes up, he’s in bed, and everything hurts. He rolls over and manages to not throw up. He staggers up and makes it to the bathroom.
The bottle of whiskey is on the floor. He uses the last shot to rinse out his mouth, and almost retches again from the taste.
By the time he can stand again, he’s remembered enough. Ellen must have dragged him up here. All his fucking employees probably saw him passed out drunk.
He stumbles back into his room and grabs his computer, wrenches it open. Almost throws up again while he’s waiting for it to start up.
Someone bangs on the door.
“FUCK. OFF,” he shouts, still staring at the blank screen.
“Seriously, Mickey? You’re not even going to—”
Mickey stands up so fast, his computer goes flying. He’s down the stairs in two seconds flat, and yanks the door open.
Ian’s standing there, looking awake and clean and healthy, except for a huge bruise on the whole right side of his face.
Mickey shoves him, and Ian stumbles back a few steps. “What—”
“The FUCK is wrong with you, Gallagher!” he shouts. “Disappear for three fucking days! Don’t let me check your fucking ship! Before you go up against three other pilots! You unbelievable fucking—”
“What, were you worried?” Ian says. And it sounds like a joke, but he’s not smiling. He’s studying Mickey’s face. He looks . . . scared.
“You’re done, Gallagher,” Mickey says. “Fucking done.”
Ian stares at him.
“No more fucking three-on-one bullshit. No more fucking fights. Actually, I think you’re done flying! How about that, flyboy? You’re fucking—Are you smiling at me? I’m gonna rip your fucking head off, Gallagher! Are you hearing me?”
Ian steps closer, reaches out, and grabs Mickey’s face. “I’m hearing you loud and clear, asshole,” he says, and he kisses him, and it’s the first time Mickey’s been able to breathe for four fucking days.
“Done,” Mickey says again, when Ian breaks the kiss.
“Uh-huh,” Ian says, nudging Mickey backwards through the door, and then taking his hand and pulling him up the stairs.
“I’m serious,” Mickey says. “I’ll sabotage your fucking ship. I’ll sabotage every damn ship in this hangar. No mechanic in the whole fucking sector is gonna work for you. You’re grounded. Lifetime ban.”
“You got it,” Ian says. “I’ll pick up a trade. Or start doing cereal endorsements. How’s that?”
“You hate cereal,” Mickey mutters, as Ian starts to pull his shirt off.
“I do,” Ian says agreeably. “But I love you more.”
Mickey grabs his wrists, and Ian looks down, then back up at his face. He looks scared again, and Mickey hates it. Hates that Ian’s scared. Hates being scared for Ian.
“I’m serious, man,” he says. “I can’t do it. I can’t watch you go up there again.”
Ian’s face grows still. “I know,” he says. “I don’t want to. Not anymore. I used to think—” He stops. Then takes a breath and looks Mickey in the eye. “For a while, I thought it was a good way to . . . matter. To help. The money. And everything else. But—”
“I want you,” Mickey says. “Want you here. With me. Not up there, getting fucking shot at for money. Not fucking around with rich assholes. It—you . . . You fucking matter. To me.”
Ian smiles. “Good,” he says. “Because you’re stuck with me now. I guess you break it, you bought it, huh, Milkovich?”
“Damn straight,” Mickey says. “’S okay, though. I’m pretty good at fixing shit.”
“Yeah,” Ian says. “You’re not too bad.” And kisses him again.