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Hard to Swallow

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There was a dull pounding radiating from the base of his skull as he awoke to a bright, white room. The space was cold and smelled of stale air and disinfectant. The lights burned his eyes and made the pounding worse. There was a painful twisted feeling in his stomach that began to throb as he stirred. His body ached and his lip stung when he yawned causing him to wince. Running his fingers over it, he felt a split healing, which made him frown as his tongue licked at the coppery taste of blood. 'Fuck. What the hell?'

He squinted his eyes, pressing them tightly with his fingertips before rubbing them with the heels of his palms. A groggy, hazy feeling flooded over him as he attempted to sit up, not knowing where he was or how he’d gotten there. Memories were fuzzy and distorted, unable to remember much of anything at all. His mind spun lightly as he tried to make sense of it, blinking hard once more and turning his head to peer around the room.

He was seated in a bed against the far wall of a long, narrow room. Glaring light panels lined the ceiling, beaming down onto several more beds along the walls. Each bed had a monitor with a chair and small table alongside it. Only one other bed was occupied, one against the other wall across the room. He couldn’t really make out anything about the person as they were wrapped up in a sheet, facing away from him. There was a heavy metal door at the other end of the room with a small window built into it.

He looked down at himself and saw he was wearing a medical gown with a thin, scratchy sheet slung over his lap. Noticing his hands, the weakness and aching in his muscles began to flare up. His wrists and fingers were so thin, and much more pale than his normal skin tone, now baring more of a grayish hue. The green color of the shamrock inked into his forearm looked swampy and moldy against it. Curling his fingers into fists, they felt fragile and shaky as his knuckles turned white from the hard grip. He relaxed them and ran a large freckled palm down his face, sighing heavily. His fingers combed through disheveled red hair and he shook his head a few times. He noticed a wristband hung loosely on his left wrist with his name and an identification number in bold print stamped across it. His lips pressed into a hard line and his brow creased looking down at it.

When the thought of trying to stand up had finally entered his mind, he began wiggling himself to the foot of the bed. Just then the large door across the room opened with a heavy metallic scrape.

A woman appeared wearing glasses with a string of small purple beads hanging from them that wrapped around her neck. She wore a long white medical jacket and her graying hair was pinned up high. She was a short woman and stepped with small paces, smiling sweetly upon making eye contact with the young man seated in the bed against the wall. When she approached, she pulled a chair over from beside the bed and seated herself facing her patient, clipboard in hand. Retrieving a pen from her chest pocket, she looked up to meet his gaze once more and gave her pen a click.

“Mr. Ian Gallagher?” she asked, and he nodded after a pause. She motioned toward his wristband, which he held up for her to read. She smiled in return and checked something with her pen on her clipboard. “My name is Dr. Susan Craft. I am here to check your vitals, ask you a few very quick questions and see if you’re ready to join the rest of our residents today,” she smiled tugging a stray strand of hair behind her pearled ear. “So, to begin, how are you feeling today, Mr. Gallagher? Better than yesterday, I hope?” She put her pen back to her clipboard ready to take notes, with a calm expression watching Ian who shifted uncomfortably.

“Um,” he began, “I’m more confused than anything really,” he said glancing around the room once more, “Where am I?” he asked finally. The doctor tilted her head a bit but didn’t hesitate in responding.

“You are in the Cook County Psychiatric Facility, Mr. Gallagher,” she said simply, “We are a treatment center for those struggling with mental illness.” He hung his head low and rubbed his face. 'Fuck,' Blurry Images were beginning to come back in his mind, but not clearly enough for them to make any real sense. “You do not recall being admitted yesterday morning?” asked Dr. Craft. He shook his head with a shrug. “You do not recall the incident that led you to being brought here either?” she queried further. His brow creased, and his mind fogged trying to remember anything at all from the last few days.

He dropped his shoulders and shook his head once more before adding, “I know I was going through a kind of down period recently. I have a lot of ups and downs… But I don’t really remember anything I did.” She nodded in understanding, her pen moving across her paper. Ian continued, “I haven’t taken any meds in months, I’m not sure why. Well, I didn’t really take them much to begin with anyway,” he said quietly, dropping his head to eye a chipped tile on the floor.

“Medication for your… bipolar disorder?” she asked after a quick glance down at her clipboard. Ian nodded, not looking up. He didn’t like the diagnosis, as he really didn’t believe it. He could hear her pen scratching down a few more notes. “So, you have sought treatment for your illness before?” He shrugged again, glancing up a bit.

“Sort of,” he said, “My brother and sister talked me into going to the clinic and I spoke with some doctor there who gave me the diagnosis after twenty minutes,” Ian tried not to scoff. “Then he gave me a med combo to try, so I did, because my siblings wanted me to. But I didn’t like the side effects or how they made me feel numb to everything… I stopped taking them pretty quickly,” he admitted, rubbing his palms together with a heavy sigh. The doctor flipped a few pages on her clipboard and scratched a few notes onto another sheet.

“Well, Dr. Yates will want to speak with you further about the details of your medical history as well as your case file during your meeting scheduled with her tomorrow morning,” she said, “She is also your assigned therapist, so you will arrange regular sessions to meet with her while you’re here with us. She can prescribe and alter medications when necessary, so any issues you have regarding dosages or side effects should be brought to her.” She turned toward the few monitors next to Ian’s bed while jotting down a few more notes and numbers before leaning over and removing the suctioned wires from the man’s chest. “However, if you ever have any questions about your medications like how they work or if Dr. Yates in unavailable to answer questions, or you just need to speak to a medical doctor, you’re welcome to come by my office in the Residential Building any time,” she smiled, pulling a pressure cuff from her jacket pocket and quickly taking his vitals. “You’re looking good physically as far as I can see here,” she said unwrapping his arm and turning back to face Ian. “So, I’ll ask you again now, how are you feeling today, Mr. Gallagher?” Her voice was soft and her fingers were frail and cold when they curled under the cuff brushing his skin as she removed it with a sharp Velcro rip. He met her eyes. They were brown and framed in crow’s feet and laugh lines.

“Alright, I guess,” he said quietly, “I don’t feel as off as I’ve otherwise felt lately. I do have a bit of a headache though, and my body hurts.” Ian winced, wrapping an arm around his abdomen.
Dr. Craft nodded tucking the pressure cuff back into her jacket and retrieving two orange prescription bottles from the same pocket. She took one pill from each bottle and turned toward the bedside table pouring water from a pitcher into a small paper cup.

“This is a standard mood stabilizer and a pain suppressant.” She said gesturing for Ian to hold out his hand, which he did after a slight hesitation. 'Fuck it. It hurts,' Ian thought. “When you arrived early yesterday morning, you’d come straight from the hospital and if I must say, were in very rough shape. Nothing broken or anything like that, but you’re definitely banged up. You also had to have your stomach pumped shortly before arriving here. That would likely explain why your body is aching so much today.” She gave him a sympathetic expression, handing him the pills and the cup. He sighed lightly but took them, swallowing the pills and sipping the water.

“Open your mouth please. I have to see that you swallowed them,” she said pointing to his lips. Ian opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue, nothing to see. “Good,” she said with a nod, “Thank you.”

For some reason, the action of swallowing the medication vaguely sparked a memory of some time before:

The feeling of dread had consumed him and the self loathing had become too much to handle sober. Ian was becoming self destructive again. He’d been at the club dancing, working and had soon drunk himself into a delightful stupor. He accepted various drugs from many patrons while they stuffed sticky dollar bills into his tight sparkly shorts. An older man licked his lips grossly while watching Ian's body twist and thrust under the strobes, moving rhythmically to the punch of heavy bass that filled the room. There was a brush of fingers on him and then nothing really.

The memory gets fuzzy. Though he does now remember leaving out of the back of the club, very distraught and disheveled:

His body was already sore and bruised and his lip was split and bloodied. He stumbled down the alley a ways dragging his feet, before leaning against the brick with one arm to brace himself, feeling as though he might wretch. Sickly goosebumps ran down his neck and through his limbs beading sweat from his pores. His throat began to burn. It was cold and the wind shook him as his chest heaved and his lips sputtered. Ian fished around inside his jacket finding a small bottle of dark liquor and took a deep swig before coughing steam into the frosty night air. He capped it, wiped his mouth roughly with his sleeve and slipped the bottle back into his pocket. He stumbled further along as he produced a cigarette, lighting it and inhaling deeply, exhaling with an exasperated groan. Ian kept his feet moving, trying to focus on his steps and block out the buzzing of drugs coursing through his veins. He fumbled with his cigarette between his lips and continued walking slowly toward the rushed sounds of traffic.

There is more, Ian knows there is, but he can’t seem to remember anything past stumbling out of the club, or the events that must have happened just before he’d clocked out for the night. It only left him more confused. He just knew that whatever had happened, obviously hadn’t been good.

“Mr. Gallagher?” asked Dr. Craft. Ian looked up, suddenly pulled away from the strain of trying to unlock the trapped memories of the past several days. He raised his eyebrows in question. “I said that I would like to escort you to the Residential Building now. That’s where you will be housed with our other patients. You’re well enough to leave the Recuperation Room.” She smiled again and retrieved a small arrangement of clothes and a pair of slippers from the cabinet beneath the bedside table and placed them neatly on the foot of the bed next to Ian. “You just need to dress and we can go,” she gestured toward the clothing. He nodded. She turned away to focus her attention on her clipboard, giving Ian a bit of privacy as she strode a few paces toward the door to wait for him.

Ian stood up and stretched, long limbs crackling as he does. He quickly pulled off his medical gown and dressed. “Excuse me,” he began, putting on his slippers, “How long am I here for?” he asked.

She turned, looking over her glasses at him and flipped through the sheets on her clipboard. “The severity of your incident seems to call for a mandatory 90 day evaluation period,” she responded. “Dr. Yates will be able to give you more details regarding all that in the morning.”

Ian’s heart sank. He felt trapped. Stuck in this place for 90 days and he couldn’t even remember what he’d done to put himself here in the first place. He didn’t want to be forced to talk to people, or be pumped full of drugs that made him numb to the world around him. He didn’t want to be fixed because he knew he wasn’t broken. But he didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. Apparently, his stay was mandatory, which sounded like perhaps a judge had signed off on some order, causing him to be kept here. If that were the case, it would also mean that whatever he did had gotten him arrested before being committed here. He just hoped that he hadn’t hurt anyone. Ian cringed at the thought, dropping his head and stuffing his hands deep inside his pockets.

“Okay. I’m ready,” Ian said finally and they turned to pass through the heavy metal door out into a hallway that was just as white and bright as the room they’d left. They walked down a long hallway, passing through two sets of doors that required the doctor’s key card to access. She scanned her card under the censor in a port on the wall next to each door which beeped. Each opened smoothly with a hum and a click.

Ian suddenly realized that they were now in another building. The walls were no longer a blinding white, but instead a soft, pale yellow and the lights were a bit softer, not as glaring on the eye. He could hear the faint sounds of voices and other activity somewhere up ahead but couldn’t see where the sounds were coming from yet. They passed a few more sets of open doors, making their way through the facility. Doors were shut to other rooms along the walls as well. Ian arched his neck a few times in an attempt to see inside some of these rooms, peeking through the small glass window on each door. But he couldn’t make out much past clusters of chairs and whiteboard walls, all very plain and unappealing.

Ian had to walk a bit slower to keep pace, as the doctor was a tiny woman with such small steps. He glanced down at her, the same sweet smile glued to her face. The beads that hung from her glasses clinked together lightly as her fingers curled and clutched her clipboard tightly to her chest. He looked back up just as the sound of voices suddenly became more clear and an area on his right opened up into view.

It was a large round room filled with tables and chairs, a few couches, shelves and a television hanging in the corner. The tables were littered with board games and puzzles, crafts and playing cards, as were most of the shelves. Several people shuffled about throughout the room, engaged in different activities and conversations with others. There were quite a few patients that looked to be around Ian’s age, and many that looked older, both men and women. There was a balding older man who sat staring blankly at the television while infomercials flashed across the screen.

Nearby, there was a girl with very long blonde hair sitting alone at a table, completely entranced with whatever she was scribbling onto a piece of paper. Another girl with short, choppy brown hair and arms covered in long thin scars twitched her lip staring down at the checker board in front of her, quickly sliding a piece from one square to the other. She glanced up at an older frizzy haired man seated across from her and flicked the tip of her nose with her thumb. The man’s brow furrowed and he rubbed his temple with an index finger. The girl’s eyes suddenly sped around the room, and her neck jerked with a twist, turning her head and connecting her eyes with Ian's. He flinched at the unexpected eye contact but didn’t quite look away. The girl's tongue darted across her lower lip, holding her gaze for a moment, then scratched roughly at her neck and turned back to the board game. Ian quickly took the opportunity to look elsewhere.

His eyes traveled around glancing at more people gathered around board games and craft tables. An older, middle aged woman with large glasses sat in a chair in the corner of the room humming and fiddling with a rubix cube. Her mouth hung open slightly and her tongue slid across her front teeth as she worked to master the puzzle. Ian turned his head again, his eyes landing on another table.

Three men sat at a round table playing cards, appearing comfortable and somewhat laid back, smiling and exchanging jokes as they threw their cards down and drew up more. Had they not been laughing and joking, Ian may have thought they looked a bit intimidating, not that Ian would ever back down to any of them. But they definitely made him want to be cautious. Of course he would never let that show. They didn’t look scary but they didn’t look particularly nice either.

The one on the right looked very tall, even sitting down, with big, broad shoulders and dirty blonde hair cut close to his head. His t-shirt was tight on his muscles and he had a wide jaw that jutted out when he spoke. The second man had his back to Ian, so he couldn’t see his face, but when he turned his head for a moment to speak to the first man, Ian noticed a large rose tattoo on the right side of his neck. His hair hung at his earlobes and was dreaded, greasy and had a grayish color that may have once been blue, or green? Ian could see him frantically tapping his foot and wiggling about in his chair as he drew another card to add to his hand.

The last man was seated on the side of the table facing Ian, and he could see his face well. He was young too, like Ian, and had hair that was jet black, shorter on the sides, a bit longer on top and stuck out with a spiky ruffle. He had eyebrows that arched and rose high when he laughed. And when he laughed, fuck was it contagious, all full lips and beautiful white teeth. 'This guy is really handsome,' Ian thought. His sweatshirt hung loose on him, the ends of his sleeves wrapped tightly around his hands, tattooed knuckles holding his cards. Ian couldn’t make out what they said, but he definitely noticed them.

Suddenly, the man glanced up at the rest of the room and met Ian’s eyes, his smile lowering a bit, but not disappearing. His eyes were blue, really blue and he had a stare that could kill. Ian swallowed and shifted his feet but didn’t look away. His stomach fluttered, his head felt airy and he just hoped that he wasn’t fucking blushing. The man at the table knitted his eyebrows together slightly, but only for a second as the corner of his mouth pulled up into half a smirk as he let out another laugh, shook his head some and brought his attention back to the card game. Ian let out a breath that he hadn’t known he was holding, and turned to look back down at the doctor.

“This is our Rec Room,” she said waving a hand out, “This is an area where you may spend your leisure time when you’re not in sessions or meetings or engaged in other scheduled activities. You may also spend your leisure time in your room, if you choose, though you will have a roommate,” she added, “As well as the yard, which has a track if you enjoy walking or running. We also have a pool down the hall here, just past the cafeteria,” she gestures to the hallway on her left, “It has an attached sauna which many patients find to be very relaxing. We also have a library down this hall here,” she pointed, “where you can lounge and read. You can also check out books to read back in your own room, if you prefer that instead.” The doctor then made a motion with her brow to a few other patients that stood nearby.

“You’ll notice every patient has an I.D. badge,” Ian glanced around seeing them and nodded, “You should have yours by tomorrow at your meeting. Until then, please refrain from removing your wristband.” She pointed to it with her pen and Ian nodded again. Dr. Craft looked down and adjusted her glasses with her middle finger, flipping back a few sheets on her clipboard.

“Would you like to see where you’ll be rooming now?” she asked looking up to meet his eyes. Ian was ready to curl up and go back to sleep as soon as humanly possible. With that thought, he nodded eagerly.

They turned a few times passing more rooms and more hallways, turning several times like a maze. It made Ian feel dizzy like he’d been spun around, so confused. Everything looked the same, until they passed through an archway that had a thick metal gate folded into one side of it, bringing them to an opening of three short hallways that ran in different directions. They walked down the one on the left passing through another small archway and appeared in a circular, beige colored hall. Ian’s head was starting to hurt again.

“This is C-Wing,” the doctor said, turning right and gesturing for Ian to follow. “There are twelve rooms in this wing, and you are assigned to room 7 near the back of the circle.” She looked down to double check something on her clipboard. “Your roommate has already been assigned. If you and your roommate have any issues, you may submit a complaint to Dr. Yates at one of your sessions with her to determine a resolution. We try to pair our patients with others who need similar support, which has shown to help them significantly with their treatment process.”

'Great,' Ian thought. He dreaded the thought of being housed in one room with the same person every single day for the next 90 days. After being crammed into a little room with three other brothers growing up, he’d finally been able to enjoy having his own space when he moved out. Though when he left, he didn’t even really have anywhere to call a space of his own. At the time, Ian didn’t really care, he just needed to get out of there. He was finally able to bask in the freedom of not having to breathe in another person’s stale, used air all the time. Now he would have to do it all over again. But he supposed one person’s air was better than three, at least. And as long as he wasn’t actually forced to interact with the person, it could be doable, bearable even.

“There is a communal lavatory in the center of the circle,” said Dr. Craft with a wave of her hand toward the inner wall. “It’s complete with showers.”

Ian was listening, but he was a bit anxious and preoccupied eyeing the numbers on the doors as they passed them. He chewed his lip causing the split to sting. He was nervous. He wasn’t sure why, because he was also just exhausted and really wanted to sleep. But his nerves were still beginning to flare up again for some strange reason, tingling in his fingertips and sending goosebumps up his arms.

“Here we are,” she said as they slowed, opening the door to room 7.

It was empty, thankfully. Ian almost breathed a sigh of relief and let his chest relax a little. The room was small with two beds on opposite walls, a barred window on the wall in between, with a view of the yard and the street outside the fence. Each bed had an end table just above the head space and a storage trunk at the other end. There was one dresser on the other side of the room with a laundry hamper next to it. For the most part it was very dull and boring, with the exception of one area.

One side of the room was already occupied and clearly had been for some time. A few drawings were taped to the wall above the bed on the right. The end table was heavily filled and topped with books and notebooks in a seemingly organized mess of clutter and the bed was comfortably unmade. There was a blanket curled around the end of the bed that appeared to be handmade, crochet maybe. Ian admired the colors: black with different shades of blue, a bit of purple. It was pretty. On the left side of the room, it was plain and vacant with a bare mattress. A thin blanket, sheets and a pillow were folded neatly sitting atop it at the foot. The end table was empty, white and clean.

“This is your bed,” she said presenting it with her hand. “Clothes for both you and your roommate are in the dresser there. Towels for showering are in the drawer on the bottom. We have staff to replace your clothes and wash the used ones, so please be sure to get them in the hamper after you’ve worn them.” She took a few steps into the room, but Ian remained still, stuck to where he stood. She gestured to the cluttered little table beside the bed on the other side of the room, “Books, notebooks and other allowed items are privileges and can be revoked at any time. Though we'd prefer that we not have to take them away, as we highly approve of artwork and other safe forms of expression during the treatment process.” She turned and pointed to the table on the empty side. “You should have a few materials in there to get you started if you should feel compelled to write or anything of the sort. Though I must stress that if we feel you are misusing or abusing any of your materials, they will be confiscated and you will no longer be able to have them in your room, only in supervised areas.” Ian nodded lightly, quietly listening, trying not to focus too much on how awful his body felt. He didn’t quite understand how she thought he could misuse things like paper, but he didn’t care enough to ask. He kept his head down and stayed silent. Dr. Craft eyed him closely, observing his demeanor.

“There is always an adjustment period,” she said taking a step toward him, “but please understand that you are here to receive help and treatment for your illness and there are many of us here who would like to provide that help and support you throughout the process. This is a safe place for you to recover. I do hope that you choose to receive the help that’s offered to you here.” She smiled softly and adjusted her glasses. “You should receive your schedule tomorrow morning from Dr. Yates along with a few other important papers. Today, please just try and relax.” The doctor folded her arms over her clipboard. “Your name will be called over the loud speaker when she is ready for you, which I believe should be relatively early, sometime right after breakfast. You will go to the main access door that we passed through just before we saw the Rec Room.” She flipped back through a few papers one more time, extracting a single sheet and handing it to Ian. “Here is a map, in case you get mixed up. It can take a bit of time learning to navigate the halls here sometimes.” She took her pen and traced a quick route from room 7 to the main access door of the Residential Building. “There will be a guard waiting who will escort you down the hall through both sets of doors and Dr. Yates will be there to receive you.”

Ian studied the map, nodding slowly again, it being all he can really bring himself to do. He still hadn’t moved from the doorway, lingering, feeling the familiar creeping wave of dread wafting through the back of his mind. 'The mood stabilizer must not be working,' he thought. He pushed the feeling back, trying to hide it as well as he could which wasn’t very well at all. Ian just wanted to be alone, wanted to sleep, to hide and fade away. His feet inched forward, slowly moving toward the empty bed.

“Welcome to our treatment facility, Mr. Gallagher. I hope your stay with us is both productive and beneficial for you,” said Dr. Craft with a nod. She then turned delicately on her tiny feet and strode out of the room, leaving Ian alone.

He stood still for another moment and let out a heavy sigh, rubbing has face with both hands, before quickly crossing the space to make the bed he was assigned to, then toed off his slippers and curled up beneath the blanket. It was thin and itchy, but Ian didn’t care. He felt sore and stiff closing his eyes, hoping sleep would consume him and just stop his thinking for a while. But as exhausted as he felt, he just couldn’t seem to doze off. He didn’t know how long he’d been laying there when he finally stirred a bit and rolled over to face away from the wall, eyes still shut tight with tired frustration.

Just as he did, Ian suddenly heard the door open and shut with a soft click and footsteps entered the room. He still didn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t sure if he couldn’t open them or if he just really didn’t want to, but either way he kept them closed. The footsteps began to pass him before abruptly stopping very close by. Ian could feel whoever it was standing at the side of his bed staring down at him. The feeling was burning though the side of his head and it made his fingers twitch under the covers.

Another moment passed before Ian finally forced himself to open his eyes. His vision was fuzzy and painful at first. Upon the invasion of light, his lids fluttered and his eyeballs began to throb with an awful burning pulse. He rubbed them with his palms and blinked hard a few times, clearing away the haze. He looked in front of him and saw a pair of slippered feet facing his bed less than a foot away. His eyes followed the length of legs up to a sweatered torso, and then a chest, before meeting another set of eyes. They were deep and blue with long, dark lashes. Ian paused, looking over the man’s face, taking him in. It was the black haired man from the Rec Room. 'What luck,' Ian thought rather sarcastically.

Although Ian was laying down, he could tell this guy was shorter than himself, though not at all scrawny. Even covered by a baggy sweatshirt, he could see the man had well toned muscles hidden underneath. He wasn’t smiling anymore though, his expression almost unreadable, which made Ian uneasy. He swallowed, and held his gaze attempting to appear unfazed by the man’s sudden presence.

Neither one of them spoke for a moment, both staring in silence trying to read the other's expression, waiting to see who would be the first to speak. Ian saw the man briefly notice the split on his lip before looking back into his eyes, but still did not open his mouth to ask about it. He was thankful, because honestly, he still couldn’t remember how he’d split it in the first place, so he wouldn’t have an explanation to give anyway. Not that Ian was in much of a mood to talk about anything really. So, he just didn’t. He laid there, looking back into the blue eyes that were watching him from over his bed.

“The fuck are you doing?” the man asked suddenly.

Ian blinked at the words, in place of the flinch he’d felt his body make at the sharpness of the man’s voice. His tone was harsh, and his eyes were hard and questioning. Ian wasn’t sure how to respond to the question. Wasn’t it obvious what he was doing? He hesitated as the man raised his eyebrows waiting for an answer. Ian creased his brow slightly, but still said nothing.

“What are you deaf or a fuckin' mute or somethin'?” he asked a bit louder and with more intent. It seemed like more of an urgent tone in his voice now, the way he cocked his head and held his stare on the man in the bed.

“No,” Ian answered simply.

“Then why can’t you answer the fuckin' question? The fuck are you doing?” he gestured at Ian with his hands, taking a glance down the length of the redhead's body curled up beneath the blanket. He looked back into Ian’s eyes, waiting.

“Trying to sleep,” Ian breathed with a rather obvious tone and a tire in his voice. “But it’s not really working.” He ran his fingers through his hair and pinched the bridge of his nose. He sat up, turning to face the man in front of him a little better.

“Well you can’t fuckin' sleep all day, man. They’ll haul your ass down to medical thinkin' you’re havin' some kinda fuckin' episode. I’ve seen the shit happen before,” he said with a scoff, not looking away from Ian, maintaining a firm stance over him.

“The fuck you care for?” Ian asked a bit more sharply than intended, which suddenly made him a little nervous. He didn’t know how the other man would react to it. But the man raised his eyebrows again with a now rather surprised scoff, flashing half a smirk that made Ian’s stomach flutter once again. He then crossed his arms over his chest while maintaining his eye contact.

“Don’t.”

His blue eyes narrowed slightly when he said it, still looking as though he was trying to read Ian. His face was firm, but his pupils seemed to show a hint of intrigue behind their hard glassy surface. Ian wasn’t sure what to make of it. The man’s smirk had of course faded just as quickly as it had come, making him appear even more intimidating. It was a look that made Ian feel small and vulnerable, and he didn’t really know why that was. He felt a bit intimidated, yes, but he wasn’t frightened, no longer really nervous. It felt like he could lose himself in this man’s stare and bright blue eyes but he didn’t know if it was a good feeling or a bad one. Ian still refused to look away. He refused to appear small.

“You my roommate, then?” Ian asked after a pause.

“No, no,” the man replied, shaking his head, “You’re my roommate.” He pointed at Ian, then poked his own chest with his thumb. 'FUCK' Ian read the tattoo on his knuckles, wondering what the other hand said but it was hidden under the end of his sleeve.

“What’s the difference?” he replied flatly. The other man cocked his head.

“The difference is, this is my room. I was here first and I’ll be here long after you’re fuckin' gone,” he said gesturing around the room with wide arms, confidently smirking again yet keeping a rather firm and serious stance, “You’re not the first fuckin' roommate they’ve tried to pair me up with. None of you ever fuckin' last long.” He turned around, stepping a few short paces over to his own bed and sat, leaning back against the wall. His eyes stayed on Ian, peering steadily across the small space.

“Why not?” Ian asked curiously.

Even though Ian felt like he really shouldn’t be asking this guy too many questions, he just couldn’t seem to help himself. Seeing this man in the Rec Room earlier playing cards, he appeared nothing but normal. Maybe he looked a little intimidating, like he does now, but he'd seemed fine, calm, happy even. He had not gotten the impression that this man would be anyone to seriously worry about. But now, he wasn’t entirely sure, seeing the way the other man tensed a bit, eyeing Ian silently, not blinking much. Ian really had absolutely no way of knowing, as this guy was a complete stranger to him after all. Not to mention he knew that he was in here for some reason, just like everyone else. Looking across the room into the other man’s eyes, he could sense that there was a lot hidden beneath the surface, but also had a feeling that whatever it was , must be some pretty heavy shit to keep so guarded. Ian just had a feeling about this guy that he couldn’t place, couldn’t describe in accurate words. It made the flutters in his stomach float into his chest and he tried to ignore the way they tickled his lungs and made his breath slow.

Their eyes lingered on each other for another long moment, sitting in silence. Ian raised his eyebrow slightly, thinking that perhaps he wasn’t going to get a response to his question. But then the other man chewed the corner of his mouth, ran his thumb along his bottom lip and sucked it in before finally, he answered him.

“No one can ever fuckin' handle it.”

He said it with a serious tone that was difficult to decipher immediately. It almost sounded like pain, or perhaps some sort of suppressed anger hidden in the back of his throat as the words rolled harshly off his tongue. There was tension in those words, Ian felt it in the air as he kept his gaze on the blue eyes across the room that remained watching him back just as closely. He said nothing, feeling that nothing else needed to be said. Ian simply gave him two slow nods.

The other man was the first to break eye contact when he leaned over to the end table by his bed, lifting a dark heavy book and opening it at the bookmark. Ian stood up and stretched trying to will away the ache in his muscles. Then he pulled his sweatshirt over his head with a repressed grunt from the dull pain of his body, and tossed it unceremoniously atop his bed. He shook out his hair, then combed it back with his fingers to keep it out of his eyes, and toed his feet back into his slippers.

He bent to pick up the map he’d been given earlier, tracing over it with his eyes. Since he couldn’t sleep all day unless he wanted to pay another visit to the medical ward, Ian figured he could go for a walk and try to figure out where things were in this place. Since sleep hadn’t been coming to him anyway, he didn’t really mind too much. He also thought the other man could use some space, he seemed to want it and truthfully Ian did too, at least for a while. He walked to the door and opened it, when he paused and turned back to the dark haired man reading a book.

“I’m Ian, by the way,” he said ready to step into the hallway. The man looked up, only his eyes appearing over the top of the book, meeting Ian’s again for a brief moment before they flickered back down.

“Mickey.”

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for Ian to make a few laps around the Residential Building, gathering his bearings rather quickly, locating every accessible space on the map. He was fairly certain he wouldn’t have much issue finding his way around tomorrow and may not really need the map again, which was better than he’d expected after feeling so turned around walking through the halls earlier.

He made he way back to the Rec Room, and wandered inside with no real intentions, glancing around at the tables and shelves. New faces had appeared, while others had gone, and some were still in the same place. It was a bit emptier now though, quieter. The older man in front of the television still sat on the couch, his mouth lazily agape, staring blindly ahead. 'Old fucker could pass for a corpse,' Ian thought.

The blonde girl was still at her table sitting alone, hovered over a sheet of paper with long, stringy blonde hair caging her face over it. She had thin fingers with really long nails that curled around her pencil as she continued to scribble feverishly. Ian was able to take a quick glance and see that she was drawing something, but he couldn’t make out what the hell it was, her hands and hair covering most of it up. He didn’t want to be noticed looking over her shoulder, so he took a few more steps and rounded the table, walking over to a set of shelves along the wall stuffed top to bottom with puzzles and board games. Ian’s eyes traveled indolently across them, not really reading any of the titles, just killing time.

There was a sharp sniffing sound that came from right behind him, catching him off guard. He drew his eyebrows together strangely and turned his head to peek over his shoulder, being met with grayish dreadlocks and dark brown eyes. Ian then turned completely, now facing the other man, simply looking back at him and raising an eyebrow. He was a bit taller than Mickey, but still shorter than Ian, and fairly small framed. There were empty piercings in his nose and bottom lip, stretched out holes in his earlobes and an ugly scar across his left eyebrow.

“Can I help you, man?” Ian asked.

This guy was twitchy, kinda shaky and just couldn’t hold still. His tongue darted through his lips and swiped across the corner of his mouth, eyes blinking hard and often. Then his leg shook and his foot began to tap against the floor as he sucked his teeth. His head suddenly jerked hard to one side, fully flashing a large pinkish rose tattoo on his neck. This was one of the guys that had been playing cards with Mickey when Ian arrived earlier. He hadn’t really recognized him, since Ian hadn’t seen his face before, but he knew from the tattoo. His twitchy demeanor made Ian a little nervous, but he didn’t let it show. The man glared hard, just staring right through him. But it wasn’t in the same way that Mickey seemed to be able to do. It was an angry glare, a grossly lustful glare. This guy just made Ian downright uncomfortable.

“You’re new" he said fighting off another head jerk. It wasn’t a question. He sniffed again and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, pursing his lips and flaring his nostrils.

“I am,” Ian replied to the statement, standing his ground, trying to show this guy that he wasn’t gonna fuck with him, especially not now, not today. He didn’t want to fight, but he refused to back down to this guy and appear weak either. That just wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t matter if he was in some treatment facility, that’s just not who Ian is. He doesn’t back down easily. He felt his hands curl into fists at his sides, already sensing where this was going.

The man cracked his neck with a loud pop and began to crack his knuckles, looking Ian up and down. His eyes weren’t sizing him up for a fight, however. This look was different and Ian could see it when the man ran his tongue back over his lip and bit down. The way this guy’s eyes moved over him, tracing the lines of his muscles through his clothes sent a flash of disgust straight to Ian’s stomach. It made his fingernails dig into his palms and burn. The man’s eyelids twitched as he bit down again more firmly on his lip, and took another hard sniff, looking back into Ian’s face.

“You’re pretty,” he spat with a grin. His teeth were a yellowish color and his breath stunk when he spoke. “Pretty ones gotta be careful, don’t wanna get snatched up,” he said as his veiny eyes ran down Ian’s body again. He rubbed his nose again and cocked his head, taking a step closer and lowering his voice. “Pretty boys make pretty bitches,” He hissed out the last word, giving his eyebrows a flirtatious waggle as his tongue ran nastily over his upper lip, looking Ian right in the eye.

Ian suddenly snapped, his vision tunneled and blurred. Then time seemed to slow. Something inside him reacted and there were no more words. Before he could restrain himself, Ian’s fists were tangled in the man’s shirt and he was whirling him around and slamming him up into the wall behind him. The man tried to scramble and grab, connecting a punch to Ian’s face, splitting his lip back open and drawing a stream of blood. Ian slammed him back into the wall as hard as he could and the man let out a sharp, painful howl when his body connected. But still he kept struggling like he’d been winded but not enough. Ian’s mind raged and he just kept seeing red, as he held the guy off his feet and slammed him a third time, bringing his hands to the man’s throat. Ian started to squeeze, started to strangle every bit of breath from the asshole's windpipe when the man reached to the back of his neck, pulled his head down and rammed his knee into Ian’s stomach. The sudden shot of pain caused him to let go, lurch back and fall. He coughed and nearly gagged, feeling like he might puke.

In a flash, the other man ran to throw himself on top of Ian, trying to throw more punches and gain the upper hand, but Ian raised his leg and the man was instead caught by a large hard foot barreling into his chest. The kick flung the man back with an excruciating force, sending him down to the floor with a loud agonizing crash nearly knocking him out. The man let out a loud gargling groan, followed by a high painful whimper unable to move. It had all happened very fast and in almost a complete blur. There was a yell from a guard and suddenly Ian was being pulled from the floor.

His chest rose and fell as he tried to catch his breath and his limbs were still shaky with adrenaline. “Fuck you!” Ian spat it out hard and sharp, stinging his bloody lip as he flipped off the whimpering, squirming man on the floor. He wiped his lip with his palm, smearing more blood across his chin, then turned his head to spit more sticky red fluid onto the floor between his feet.

The guard gripped his arm tight and began speaking to him firmly about the wrongness of what he’d just done, but Ian wasn’t listening. He didn’t care. The fucker had asked for it. Ian might be gay, but he wasn’t going to be anybody’s bitch, or take any bullshit like that. He wasn’t remorseful in the slightest glaring down at the beaten man painfully struggling to breathe properly, unable to sit up from where the kick had landed him.

Ian then looked up and his eyes met with Mickey’s. How long had he been standing there? How much had he seen? Was he mad? Why did Ian even really care that much? Ian tried to scan the man's face for the split second that he was able to see it.

Mickey looked confused at first, but then the corner of his mouth pulled up into that gorgeous smirk, observing the man crumpled up and groaning on the floor. He looked almost as pleased about it as Ian felt.

But now Ian was confused. He thought the guy was Mickey’s friend though... Right? He had seen them sitting together only a few hours earlier, laughing, joking and engaged in a card game. Maybe Ian had read their body language wrong? He watched Mickey stare back up at him, his face still smirking and Ian felt the flutters fill his stomach with their nauseating dance. The guard tightened his grip on Ian’s arm while paging a nurse on his walkie to assist to the fallen man on the floor. He then turned Ian around and escorted him directly to the medical ward.

Ian sat across from Dr. Craft in a tiny room that somewhat resembled a school nurse’s office, just a few chairs and a desk really. It was an area that was only for treating minor injuries and illnesses. She wiped his chin clean and dabbed his lip with an alcohol wipe. It stung, but Ian couldn’t bring himself to care much about the pain.

“We do not condone violence in our facility in any way, Mr. Gallagher,” she said folding the wipe and gently cleaning more blood from his lip. “I'll have to write up an incident report for Dr. Yates, so she can discuss any disciplinary actions with you regarding this during your meeting with her tomorrow.” She crumpled up the remains of the bloodied wipe and tossed it into a nearby waste basket.

“Disciplinary actions?” Ian asked, running his tongue over the split, still tasting of blood.

“Yes, Mr. Gallagher. We aim to promote healthy well being, emotional healing and mental health treatment here,” she turned to the small silver tray that lay atop the desk beside her and peeled open a small butterfly bandaid. “Violence does not encourage any of those goals now, does it?” She tried and failed to make eye contact with Ian as she spoke. He just kept his eyes fixed onto the floor, slowly traveling along the grout between the tiles, staying silent. “It does not, Mr. Gallagher.” She said answering for him, while placing the bandaid onto his lip, gently tugging the split together. “When rules are broken, actions must be taken to ensure that a future incident does not occur.” She placed two fingers under his chin and raised it slightly to eye his lip. “Are you interested in treating your mental illness and gaining a healthy well being, Mr. Gallagher?” She asked and sat back watching him over her glasses as he fiddled with his fingers.

“Yes,” said Ian, not looking up to meet her gaze. He was still angry about what happened and exhausted as all hell, still just yearning for some damn sleep. He'll tell the doctor whatever she wants to hear right now just so he can hurry up and get back to his room and pass out in his bed.

“Then I strongly encourage you not to engage in anymore fighting during your time here,” she said in a firm and serious tone, “Since Dr. Yates is the only one able to determine your disciplinary actions at this time, you are to be confined to your room for the remainder of the day.” 'Thank fucking God,' Ian thought, “Your supper will be brought to you at 5:30 and retrieved around 6:15. Please try to eat even if you’re not hungry. Medications work better on a full stomach. Your one exception for leaving your room,” she said, causing Ian to finally look up at her, “is the lavatory in your circle. You may use it if you need to.” With that he fought rolling his eyes and looked back at the floor.

She watched him quietly for a long moment, then leaned a bit closer, her voice very soft. “How is your body feeling? And your head, does it still ache?” she asked.

Ian shrugged. “I’ve had worse.” He was just ready to get out of this tiny sterile office and back to his room, back to his bed.

She nodded and retrieved an orange prescription bottle from her medical jacket. “After your incident, it is recommended that I give you a different mood stabilizer, as the one I gave you earlier seems to of not had any effect.” She handed him the pill and a small paper cup of water, and he swallowed both without hesitation or protest. The cold water soothed the pain on his lip briefly as it flowed over the split and into his mouth. After he’d taken the pill and drank the water, he opened his mouth wide for the doctor to inspect. “Thank you, Mr. Gallagher,” she said. “Please remember your meeting with Dr. Yates should be soon after breakfast. Do you remember where to go?” she asked as he stood and stepped toward the door. Ian nodded lightly in response, and the doctor mirrored his action. He was then ushered out of the office and escorted by a guard all the way back to his room.

There he found Mickey sitting on his bed with his nose in the same thick book as before. The guard released his grip on Ian’s arm, leaving him there and closing the door as he went. Ian walked over to his bed, toed his slippers back off and sat down. He stole a glance at the other man across the room who still hadn’t looked up from his book.

Inhaling deeply, Ian let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his eyes in frustration, one hand sliding up past his brow to comb red hair back from his face with long, thin fingers. He laid down with an arm propped behind his head and just stared at the ceiling. He let his eyes close, simply absorbing the silence. The only sounds were quiet breathing from both men on opposite sides of the room and the occasional papery brush of a page being turned over in Mickey’s book.

“Eddy split your shit back open huh?” Mickey’s voice asked casually from across the room. 'Eddy. The asshole’s name is Eddy,' Ian’s head turned to look at the other man, seeing bright blue eyes watching him from over the edge of the book.

Ian scoffed with a lazy blink. “I think he’s worse off,” he replied remembering the sound Eddy's body had made when he was kicked back and smashed into the cold, hard floor.

“Probably so,” Mickey said with a chuckle, lowering his book and closing it on the bookmark. “They had to wheel that dumbass down to medical on a fuckin' stretcher. Couldn’t fuckin' get up.” His shoulders bounced a little as another chuckle passed his lips. Ian couldn’t help but crack a smile at that, looking over into Mickey’s eyes. Mickey just looked back at him for a moment, saying nothing, then he grinned and shook his head.

“Why you wanna fuckin' start shit with Eddy for anyways, man?” Mickey asked with a raise of his eyebrow. Ian’s brow creased hard, frowning.

“I didn’t start any shit with that asshole,” said Ian firmly. “I just knocked the fucker on his ass.” Mickey chuckled again, thumbed the bridge of his nose and reached over to set his book back on the end table.

“From what I saw, you were the one who went all Hulk Smash and tried to bust him through a fuckin' wall.” Mickey replied pointedly, gesturing at Ian with his chin.

“Yeah, well, he should learn to bite his fucking tongue,” he retorted harshly, looking back at the ceiling.

“Ha! Okay, tough guy,” he gave a nod of his chin, “I think I get it now. Lemme guess, Eddy fuckin' give you his little bitch speech or some shit?” Ian looked back over seeing Mickey’s amused expression and arched eyebrow.

“Asshole said I was pretty.” Ian said, screwing up his face in disgust. Mickey bellowed out a laugh, throwing an arm across himself to hold his stomach, almost tipping onto his side. 'Fuck, that laugh,' Ian swallowed.

“Yeah, that sounds like Ed,” said Mickey. “Don’t let that dumb fucker get to ya, man,” he said shaking his head, “His bark is usually way fuckin' worse than his bite. He’s pulled that same shit on tons of fuckin' new dudes around here,” he said, “Asshole even tried to pull that shit with me when I first got here.” He pointed to his own chest with his thumb. “Didn’t fuckin' end well for him then, either.” He laughed and shook his head. “I guess some fuckers just never learn.”

Ian knitted his eyebrows together, giving him a look of 'He really did?' And Mickey returned it with an expression that read 'Yeah, the dumbass really tried it.'

“What happened?” Ian asked, finally sitting back up.

A low, dark chuckle escaped Mickey’s mouth as his eyes flickered away from Ian for just a moment. He paused like he was hesitant to answer, looking back over Ian’s eyes and face and thumbing his lip before he finally spoke again.

“I told that dipshit that if he wanted to find a fuckin' bitch so bad, I’d bend his tweaker ass over and turn him into one.” His head tilted slightly, his smirk fading from his face, continuing to watch Ian closely as the words left his mouth.

They hit Ian suddenly, and a bit uneasily. He really wasn’t sure what to make of the statement at all really. Was Mickey gay? Was he just throwing the same intimidation back at Eddy? Ian had no real way to he sure. He scanned over the other man’s expression, looking into his eyes searching for a hint of something that would reveal the answer, but they gave nothing away. Mickey simply looked back at him, blue eyes deeply watching his own. The damn flutters in his stomach were back and rising into his chest and his head got the same airy feeling that he’d gotten when he’d first laid his eyes on Mickey. Ian tried desperately to ignore it, trying not to hesitate before speaking again.

“So that shut him up, huh?” he asked in as casual a tone as he could muster.

Mickey’s eyes continued to wander over his face as he gave a nod. “Yeah, pretty fuckin' much,” he shrugged. “Well, that and an ass whoopin',” he added with his face pulling into a cocky, satisfied grin. “Put his head through a fuckin' table.” And that time, it was Ian who laughed, raising a hand to his chest.

“Through a table, huh?” Ian grinned, and Mickey nodded again. “I'll have to remember that if he ever tries the shit again,” he said through his laugh and ran his fingers through his hair again.

Mickey laughed too and seemed to relax somewhat after Ian had glossed over his comment about threatening Eddy. Whatever the meaning was behind the comment, it didn’t seem like a huge deal to Ian right now. He’d mostly assumed it was just a scare tactic and nothing more.

Though, on the off chance that Mickey was gay, Ian had to admit, he didn’t mind that possibility, no matter how slim the chances were for it to be true. He still actually kind of hoped that maybe he was. The idea was exciting and tingled at the hairs on the back of Ian’s neck. Mickey was young, rough and handsome. 'Nope,' Ian thought, ‘Wouldn’t mind that at all.' He was fairly comfortable around Mickey already and there wasn’t much explanation for it. It just started to feel easy, really quickly. However, Ian reminded himself that he'd still only just met him, and he shouldn’t get ahead of himself or get attached too soon. Less than a day was way too soon, he knows that. He watched Mickey as he sat on his bed calming from his laughter, his eyes still gazing over at Ian. Both men just stared for a moment in an unusually long but comfortable silence. But when he saw Mickey bite his bottom lip, Ian had to look away.

“I thought he was like your friend or some shit, though?” he asked, pulling off his socks. Mickey pressed his eyebrows together and gave him a confused look. Ian glanced up and saw. “When I first came in today, you guys were playing cards,” he explained, flexing his toes. Mickey raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth with realization.

“Nah, man,” he said, “It ain’t fuckin' like that,” he waved his hand and shook his head, “I don’t do friends.” Ian cocked his head and wrinkled his brow, so Mickey continued. “I mean, there are a few people here who don’t entirely piss me off. And I mean, a select fuckin' few,” He emphasized holding his thumb and forefinger very close together but not quite touching. “After I whooped Eddy around, he never fuckin' tried any stupid shit like that with me again,” he said, “Then we had sort of an arrangement going on for a little while that came in handy when I needed it. Plus he shuts up real quick and fucks off when I tell him to, so I let him hang around sometimes.” He gave a one-shouldered shrug. Ian raised an eyebrow. He didn’t want to pry, but couldn’t stop himself from asking, before the words had already left his mouth.

“What kind of arrangement?” he queried, trying to sound casual. Mickey’s eyes narrowed and his face hardened instantly. Ian visibly tensed and this time, he wasn’t able to hide it.

“Don’t ask stupid fuckin' questions, Red.” He said it with a much harsher, darker tone than Ian had heard from him before. He held his stare with a furrowed brow and his lips pressed into a hard line. It was a clear expression of warning. Ian saw it loud and clear and wasn’t keen to test him on it.

He swallowed his nerves and straightened his shoulders. Ian pushed out his lip making a sarcastically apologetic face and held his hands up in surrender. He simply stood up and crossed the room to the dresser. Taking a few steps away from the tension seemed to help. Ian felt Mickey’s eyes still on him, but he didn’t turn meet his gaze. He struggled to keep down a smile. 'Red,' Ian was fond of that nickname, no matter what tone Mickey had said it in. The corners of his mouth pulled up into a grin, unable to fight the unusual twinge in his chest that caused it. But the smile only made his lip sting and the taste of blood tickle his tongue. Ian winced through his lips, his eyes closing tightly shut. 'Fuck! Eddy, you bitch,' he thought. He really didn’t like that asshole.

Ian glanced down at his chest, now really seeing just how much blood had spilled from his face onto his shirt. There was quite a bit, and Ian wanted to curse Eddy for that too, even though the shirt technically wasn’t even his. It still pissed him off regardless. He scrunched up his nose at the metallic scent that had seeped into the gray fabric and let out a small huff.

Swallowing the noises of struggle that fought their way up his throat, Ian pulled his shirt over his head with much strain and tossed it into the hamper. He bent to open the dresser drawer when a sudden throbbing pain shot up through his side. Ian couldn’t contain the gasp or the wince that escaped him. He snapped his head back over at Mickey just in time to see the other man’s eyes dart away from him and peer vaguely out the window. Had Mickey heard him wince, notice him struggle? Ian suddenly felt very self conscious. 'Shit,' he just hoped the other man hadn’t heard him.

Ian glanced down at his body, really seeing himself for the first time since his black out. Now he really understood why everything hurts so much. It wasn’t just from the hospital pumping his stomach, or the drain of hard drugs from his body, it was clearly much worse. 'This must have been what Mickey was looking at,' Ian thought, his eyes wandering slowly across his own body.

Large blackish purpling blotches were spread across the pale skin of his chest and down his stomach, curling over his left hip. The tattooed eagle perched on the gun along ribs could barely be recognized under a sheet of more darkening, reddish splotches. Ian tried to twist, moving slowly as his fingers brushed gently over the damaged skin, biting down on his lip with a sting of the split trying to silence yet another painful wince. There were more bruises littered down his back and a dark red scrape that extended from the base of his other hip to the top of his tailbone. He then felt a pulse of pain from his left leg urging him to pull on his waistband and look down to inspect it. There was another large, black bruise that covered Ian’s entire thigh. He touched the hot, tender skin, feeling his pulse through the swollen tissue. He ground his teeth and screwed up his face, gently replacing the waistband and letting his eyes fall down upon the damage to his body once more. Each bruise was tender, had some swelling and screamed in throbbing waves at the lightest touch.

The pain suppressant must have worked at some point, he guessed. It must be just wearing off now. Ian had thought his body hurt when he first awoke, but the pain he was beginning to experience now, was another pain entirely. Everything simply throbbed and ached. 'Jesus Christ,' He clamped his teeth on a groan and hung his head as he bent low to retrieve a fresh t-shirt from the dresser drawer.

What Ian really hated the most about this entire experience is that he could not seem to rack his brain enough to unfog the memories that would answer all of his questions. They were locked away somewhere deep in the back of his mind, unable to come to light. He knew the answers were all there, somewhere. He just couldn’t seem to fucking find them no matter how hard he tried. He was slowly beginning to feel powerless in his attempts to do so. The strain made his brow sweat and his head begin to hurt again, so he pushed the feelings to the back of his mind, willing them to go away because he already had enough shit to deal with.

Ian pulled his head into his shirt first, then pushed one of his arms through. He bit back down on his lip, tasting more blood as he bent awkwardly trying to push his other arm into the sleeve. After some struggling, he finally managed to slip it inside, but now he couldn’t bend properly to pull the shirt down the remaining length of his body. He reached, but just couldn’t grasp it. His waist turned and twisted and the bruises just seared and burned. He let out a quiet groan “Fuck!” that came out in a hiss under his breath. Ian wiggled his fingers, still reaching to no avail.

Suddenly, he felt a brush of cool fingers gently curl under the back of the shirt on the space between his shoulder blades, helping to pull it down. Ian turned his head seeing Mickey standing behind him with blue eyes on his bruises and an expression that was, of course, incredibly hard to read. Mickey let go when Ian was able to reach the fabric himself and took a step back. Ian looked him in the eyes, a bit confused and blinked.

“Thanks,” he said quietly.

Mickey shrugged and looked away. “We’ve all fuckin' been there, man,” he replied simply.

The statement made Ian wonder what he meant exactly. What types of things had this man gone through in his life to not only seem to be completely understanding about being severely bruised all over, but to act so casually about it and not even ask what happened? When he’d realized that Mickey had been standing that close and helping him with his pathetic struggle, he’d expected him to ask about it or at least make some comment on his damaged appearance. Ian waited, dreading the conversation that would ensue, but it never came. Mickey said nothing. He just strode back across the room to his bed to sit, picked his book back up and began reading again.

So, Ian walked back over to his own bed and laid down on his side under the covers as carefully as he could. The damage to his body flared violently in protest when he did. He grit his teeth. It would be hard to sleep through the pain, but he was still exhausted and felt the need to try anyway. A nap might help him heal. He slowly rolled to face the wall and after a few minutes, Ian finally fell asleep.

***

“Ian, honey? I found someone that can help us. He’s such a nice man, sweetheart, so generous and so kind. He wants to help us, baby, and you know how bad we need it. You do know that, right honey? Well, he wants to meet you, dear. See, I told him how wonderful you are and how beautiful you are, my golden boy, my love. You can do that, right? You meet with him and he'll give us everything we need. You do this and you can save us, darling.”

***

Chapter Text

***

“You can do this, honey. My beautiful baby boy, I’ll be right here. Right here, sweetheart. Do this for mommy, for us, my love. Okay, Sweet Face? You’ll see it’s okay, all gonna be okay. It’ll be over before you know it. Then it’ll be just you and me. You and me, honey. My favorite boy, you never let me down. You can do this for your mommy.”

His eyes were dry and painful. His head was pounding so hard, he thought his nose may bleed. He stumbled toward the back of the big rig, splaying a hand out to steady himself against its side, trying to focus on the ground in front of him. He started to lurch and his chest heaved with a harsh, breathy hitch. When he turned to round the back of the truck, he tried to lift his head and look up, but only saw a pair of boots just before he puked all over the pavement.

***

“Aye,” came a voice from somewhere above him, “Aye, wake the fuck up, Sleepin' Beauty.”

Ian blinked hard, feeling a thin veil of cold sweat clinging to his skin. He turned his head around to see Mickey looking down at him. He seemed to notice the clammy goosebumps covering Ian’s skin, but just like with Ian’s bruises, didn’t say anything. He simply looked back into Ian’s face.

“What for?” Ian asked with a groggy, clouded voice, letting a yawn escape his lips.

“Your fuckin' room service is here,” Mickey replied, pointing with his thumb to a tray of food placed on the end table. “They just left it,” he added, turning back to sit on his own bed, with his own tray, picking up a fork to push around some peas. Ian ran a hand over his face, through his hair and down the back of his neck and felt his body shudder. He sat up and stretched his arms, feeling his shoulders pull into a refreshing crack. He sighed.

“Not just mine, I see,” Ian noted, nodding to Mickey’s tray while reaching to grab his own and setting it on his lap. He opened a small carton of orange juice and took a gulp.

“Nah, no,” said Mickey waving a hand and pointing to his food. “I went and got this from the fuckin' cafeteria all on my own, Princess.” He took a bite of peas. “You’re the only asshole in C-Wing with special treatment right now,” he said, taking another bite, “Which really, don’t make any fuckin' sense,” he chewed, “I mean, if they’re punishin' you for fuckin’ fightin' or whatever, they should just let you fuckin' starve. Instead you get to fuckin' chill and have your shit brought to you on a fuckin' platter,” he swallowed, “You don’t think that’s some bullshit?” He looked up at Ian and smacked his lips. Ian simply chuckled and sipped his carton.

“Yeah,” Ian agreed, “They can ground me to my room like a little fucking kid, but they’re to big a pussies to send me to bed without my supper,” he grinned. “Life’s a bitch, huh?” he said with a laugh, shaking his head and tearing off a piece of dinner roll to pop into his mouth. Mickey punched a laugh out from his gut and covered his mouth with a fist to chew and swallow his bite.

“Exactly my fuckin' point, man,” said Mickey. He sipped his own juice, then licked his lips before taking a bite of chicken breast. “But, uh, don’t forget. This is still my room.” He grinned slightly, his tone sounding much more playful than intimidating.

Ian fought the urge to smile back, not saying anything, but was suddenly drawn into the sight of the other man’s lips. He couldn’t help but stare at Mickey as he chewed his food, his lips pursed ever so slightly over the large bite he’d taken. His lips were full, pink and looked soft to the touch. His tongue swept out and licked the grease from them, leaving them wet with saliva. Ian swallowed, looking up to see Mickey’s eyes watching him. He quickly put his head down, ate another scrap of dinner roll and began to push his own peas around with his fork.

“So, why are you able to eat in here if it’s a special treatment?” Ian asked, looking back up. Mickey chewed another bite of chicken and swallowed.

“Good behavior,” he answered in a very 'matter-of-fact' kind of way and took a swig of juice. “I could eat in the cafeteria if I wanted to, but why the fuck would I?” said Mickey as he pressed his eyebrows together. “I prefer my own company if I can fuckin' help it.” He wiped his lips with a paper napkin and began to wipe his fingers. “But now, I gotta deal with your ass bein' in my room every fuckin' day and night,” he gestured to Ian with his brow. Mickey then wadded up his napkin and belched.

There was a pause and Ian suddenly felt like he’d invaded the man’s space, like he was intrusive and unwanted. It hadn’t seemed to bother him before, but now the negativity of the feeling felt heavy on his shoulders and he couldn’t help but slouch. Had he made himself too comfortable far too quickly? Fuck, he just wanted to get this all over with. Ian didn’t want any issues or any more stress, especially like having to deal with some pissed off roommate for the next 90 days. He desperately just wanted to hurry this all up and get the fuck out of here. He could feel the gloom in the back of his mind threaten to flood over if he didn’t push it back down. But the feeling faded, just a bit, when Mickey spoke again.

“But I guess you ain’t so fuckin' bad so far, Firecrotch,” he shrugged, then pointed at Ian. “Just don’t piss me off and we shouldn’t have too many fuckin' problems.”

A short while later, a staff member came to the room to collect Ian’s half eaten dinner tray, and before the cafeteria closed, Mickey was running his own tray down to be bussed. He playfully flipped Ian off as he went, as the staff member who took Ian’s tray had refused to take Mickey’s with it. Ian chuckled and shook his head, standing up to once again groan and pull his shirt over his head. He then dropped his sweatpants, pooling them around his ankles with the thoughts of a hot shower. He stood in his boxers for a moment, fingers tracing the bruises across his ribs, before he bent down to grab a towel from the bottom drawer of the dresser. Right as Ian pinched the waistband of his boxers, ready to pull them down, he heard Mickey’s footsteps coming back through the doorway.

He turned, towel in hand to see the other man’s eyes moving slowly down the length of his body while biting his lower lip. Ian stood shock still for a moment, eyes wide. Mickey wasn’t checking him out, right? That can’t be what he’s doing. Maybe he’s just looking at the bruises again? But the bruises don’t seem to be where his eyes are landing, instead gliding smoothly over the lines of Ian's muscles and along the cut of his hips. Ian must have just surprised him by suddenly being practically naked, just standing in the middle of the room. 'Yes, that must be it,' he thought.

“Sorry,” Ian said quickly, wrapping the towel high around his waist and over his boxers. “I’m just headed for a shower,” he pointed toward the door. Mickey looked over his face and shrugged one shoulder.

“Whatever, man,” he said looking away and walking past him back over to his own side of the room.

Ian watched him walk over to the corner of his bed and pull off his sweatshirt. Then his eyes suddenly widened again, for a number of reasons. He was able to see the shape of Mickey’s body much better now. He had tight, lean muscles and a broad chest that his t-shirt perfectly clung to. Mickey was toned in a very natural way that made Ian’s skin tingle, his hair rise on his neck, and the tickle of flutters reappear in his lungs. 'U-UP' Mickey’s other hand flashed. 'How fitting,' Ian thought. He had another tattoo on the side of his right forearm. It was three letters placed just below the elbow, arranged vertically toward his wrist: 'SSC' from top to bottom. It wasn’t very big, but it was clear and bold. There was something on the corner of the underside of Mickey’s left wrist, maybe a letter? Or two? Ian couldn’t quite make out what it was, really. But he could see that it was pretty small and looked to be fading with age. On his other arm, around his bicep, peeking out from under his shirt sleeve, there was a ring of barbed wire that looked homemade like his knuckles, with more faded ink. There were a few outlines of droplets here and there along the bottom side of the wire, which he assumed was supposed to be blood, but they were void of any color. Ian liked the tattoos, how they looked. They were harsh and rough, just like Mickey.

Then there were all the other marks. Ian saw many more on Mickey’s arms that both pained and saddened him to look at. The flutters in his chest burned up and clawed at his throat. His heart felt tight and stiff like it was being squeezed inside of a hard grip. It could have also been shock that Ian felt, seeing Mickey in this way, imagining him so vulnerable and exposed, so broken. He couldn’t help but chew his cheek and crease his brow as he tried to ignore the dull pain rising from his heart, seeing all the scars, especially the big ones.

Down the middle of both of Mickey’s forearms was a deep, thick gash. His crisp, pale skin was a beautifully heartbreaking contrast to the reddish purple hue of the healed wounds. Ian was sure he knew exactly what those scars had to of been from. The thought made the pain his heart jab and sting as the squeeze twisted and pulled. Though he could tell the scars had already been there for some time, they still looked like they hurt, as if a sudden twist of Mickey’s arm, may split them back open again. 'Fuck,' Ian’s mind hissed. He couldn’t believe how Mickey was still alive after having such large, gruesome cuts sliced into him like that. He surely would have lost a lot of blood, very quickly, when they were fresh. Ian absentmindedly ran his fingers over the thin scars on his own forearm that ran through his tattoo, pale pink skin popping out against the bright green where the ink had refused to take over the hardened, healed tissue. He tried not to shudder.

Mickey also had a large number of smaller scars littered across his arms, but nothing like the big ones that Ian had first noticed. Some looked much more recent, but no less than maybe a month or two old. On the side of his other bicep, Ian could see there were even more hidden under his sleeve, though they were all well healed, from what he could tell. But it sort of looked like there was also ink? from another tattoo hidden among the scars as well. ‘Interesting,' Ian thought, his green eyes still moving across the other man’s arms. There appeared to be a circular shaped burn, about the size of a quarter on the base of Mickey’s right wrist and another slash on the same palm.

The last, and clearly the freshest marks were strangely, what appeared to be an array of cigarette burns? along the side of his left forearm. There were well over a dozen, burned into lines that trailed down from his elbow. A few were clearly made in the last few days, still red, crusty and scabbed. 'Shit,' Ian thought, those looked painful too. He had no clue how Mickey could even have cigarettes to make the burns in the first place, being locked in the psych ward, but cigarette burns are clearly what they were. Ian took a slow, hesitant step forward in an attempt to get a closer look, but nearly froze in place.

Suddenly, he saw Mickey’s body shift into a turn after placing his sweater down on his bed, causing Ian to jolt and quickly look away, spinning himself around.

“You uh, know where I can get soap and shit?” Ian asked, no longer looking in the other man’s direction, but instead focusing on fishing a fresh pair of boxers out of the drawer. He hoped that his voice hadn’t sounded as nervous as he suddenly felt. Mickey hadn’t seen him looking, right? Ian’s heart threatened to burst through his chest and his hands were shaky as they finally found what they’d been searching for. He really fucking hoped that Mickey hadn’t seen him staring. Ian knew it was all very personal and very private and he shouldn’t have looked, but the sight of Mickey in such a way, had just sucked him right in. He couldn’t have stopped himself if he’d wanted to, like something you just cant seem to look away from. Regardless, he felt guilty, invasive and wrong for having looked at all, even if he couldn’t seem to help himself. But, most of all, Ian still just really fucking hoped that he hadn’t been noticed. He really didn’t want his ass kicked today.

“Did you check the bottom drawer of your fuckin' end table?” Mickey asked back.

Ian tried to calm himself, feeling a little relieved that Mickey had made no mention of his staring seemingly having not noticed it but still, he kept his head down as he crossed the room over to the table. His fidgety fingers grasped the handle and pulled it open to reveal a few simple toiletries like small bottles of shampoo and shaving cream, toothpaste and bars of soap, a few washcloths. He palmed a shampoo and a soap, scooped up a cloth and pushed the drawer closed. Still keeping his head and eyes down, he quickly crossed the room once more, and hurried out into the hallway. Ian tried to ignore the sensation of the piercing icy blue gaze radiating onto his back as he went.

The circle was quiet, as most of the residents were beginning to settle into their rooms after having eaten their meals. Lights out would be in less than two hours, which just felt too fucking early. Ian learned when it was from a general info sheet posted to one of the walls, which he’d come across earlier when he was busy figuring out his map. He hurried along, looking for the bathroom entrance along the inner wall when he heard a sudden giggle come from his other side. It made him stop and turn.

The door to one of the rooms was cracked open and the twitchy girl from the Rec Room was standing halfway behind it, smiling at him. Her body twitched like she suffered from tremors or just really bad nerves. It looked uncomfortable to Ian, but didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. She smiled wide, eyes glistening and unblinking. Now that he could see her closer, Ian noticed that her hair appeared to have been blindly hacked off, as if the person who'd cut it had done so amidst some rage fueled episode. A few spots had been sheared to the scalp, leaving blotchy, pale patches behind. She scratched roughly at a bald spot and giggled again, the high pitched sound ringing off the walls. It was a sharp, squeaky sound and it hurt Ian’s ears as he fought off a flinch. She slid her tongue wetly over her front teeth and continued to stare while she ran her fingernails down the edge of the door, scratching at the metal. She didn’t scare him, but Ian did find her to be pretty fucking creepy. He turned his attention back down the hallway, in search of the lavatory. He quickly found it and practically sprinted inside.

Thankfully it appeared to be empty, much to Ian’s relief. He still wanted to be fast, however, as he had an uneasy feeling about the creepy girl from the hallway. He had no desire to wrestle some crazy bitch off of him while he was wet and naked. The shower area was long and narrow with individual cells that each had a curtain for cover and a line of sinks ran along another wall. 'Kinda like jail,' Ian thought. The tiles on the walls were painted a cloudy blue and the floors were gray and water stained. He strode to the last shower stall, hanging his towel and fresh boxers on the rack across from it. He quickly slipped off his used boxers, tossed them into the nearby hamper and slid into the stall, pulling the curtain behind him.

When Ian turned the water on, he wasted no time adjusting it and immediately turned back around to face the curtain. He wasn’t taking any chances. That crazy bitch was not going to sneak up on him, he’d make sure of that. Soap and suds slid across his body in quick movements as he scrubbed himself clean. He squeezed a bit of shampoo into his palm and began to lather up his scalp, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. The water was hot and refreshing as it ran smoothly down the muscles of his back. Ian exhaled into the feeling trying to relax his nerves, even if just for a second. He just needed it.

Suddenly, Ian thought he heard a noise. He immediately rushed to rinse his hair out and wash the soap from his eyes. The instant he did, he swept a hand down his face to slide the excess water off and peeked through the curtain in front of him. He didn’t see anyone. Ian let go of the curtain and turned his head to the side to peer over the edge of the stall when he saw her. The twitchy girl from the circle was standing in a stall, several down, with her fingers and nose curled over the top of the divider, watching him.

Ian pressed his eyebrows together and screwed up his face, but said nothing and didn’t move. They held eye contact for a moment as the girl started to breathe more heavily. Her grip tightened on the divider, her knuckles turning white as she began to lick her lips. 'What the fuck?' Ian watched, still too confused to move. She started to pant and slick her tongue along the top of the divider, when Ian noticed one of her hands had disappeared and her shoulder had begun to shake. His eyes widened, suddenly realizing what she was doing and became absolutely repulsed. He reached back behind himself and shut the water off, still not looking away from her. Ian didn’t want her to disappear from his sight and do something else. She stared right back at him, panting, drooling, and twitching as she let out another sharp breathy giggle.

So, Ian began to move forward to the shower curtain and peeked back out at his towel and boxers hanging on the metal bar across from him. It was a bit of a reach, even for his long limbs. He looked back at the girl who seemed to have moved with him, and was leaned out of her stall, ready to ogle Ian the instant he exited his own. He flushed red, feeling angry, annoyed and even more disgusted. Quickly, he reached out, using the curtain to cover himself and grabbed his towel, wrapping it tightly around his hips and dipped back inside the stall.

When Ian looked back, the girl held her gaze for another second, bringing her previously occupied hand up to her lips and dirtily licking her fingers clean just before turning and skipping out of the bathroom. Ian's lip curled with a hacking gag and he shook his head, sending droplets of cooling water in all directions. He slipped his boxers off the rack and pulled them on underneath his towel.

Ian didn’t hesitate to get the fuck out of there and back into the privacy of his own room as quickly as possible. Well, as much privacy as he could have with Mickey there. But so far, Ian hasn’t really minded the man too much.

When he got back to the room it was empty and quiet with no roommate in sight. He checked the hall behind him to make sure his voyeur hadn’t followed him, which it didn’t appear that she had. The door shut with a soft click as he made his way back over to the dresser, unwrapping his towel to ruffle it through his dripping, red hair. Ian’s sweatpants were still on the floor in a small heap beside the hamper, so he simply stepped back into them and pulled them up. He then grabbed a pair of socks from one of the other drawers and strode over to his bed to grab his sweater, finding it much easier to pull on than a t-shirt. As soon as the sweater fell to his hips, covering his body, he heard the door open behind him and turned.

It was Mickey, still without his sweatshirt, bearing his exposed arms with complete nonchalance. Ian avoided letting his eyes fall back over the man’s tattered arms, remembering what he’d seen from his glimpse earlier. He knew his gaze would be noticed and whatever reaction Mickey would have to it, couldn’t possibly be anything good. Then their eyes met and Ian exhaled.

“That was fuckin' fast,” said Mickey with surprise, closing the door behind him.

He walked past Ian, over to his bed trailing the distinct smell of a cigarette in his stride. Ian inhaled deeply yet sneakily through his nose, desperately craving a pull from one of those beautiful, stress relieving kill sticks. He wanted to ask about it, see if Mickey knew where Ian could get his hands on some, but he knew better than to dare such a thing. He still hardly knew the guy after all and Ian knew that he would have no reason to help him out anyway. So he just held his tongue and didn’t comment on it.

“Yeah, I cut it short due to becoming the object of a peep show,” said Ian. Mickey raised an eyebrow, turning back to look at him with a confused expression. “There was some creepy, twitchy chick that followed me into the showers,” he explained. “She stood in the stall a few down from me just fucking staring and fondling herself. Fucking sick, and weird as shit.” He shook his head and rubbed his face, repressing another shudder of disgust at the thought of the whole experience.

As quickly as it had happened, Ian's stomach still churned uncomfortably thinking about it. The look in the girl’s eyes had been the same nauseatingly lustful glare that Ian had seen on far too many nameless faces in his past, that looked at him like he was nothing more than an object there for their own selfish pleasure. It was a look that simply made him sick in every sense of the word. Mickey then raised both his eyebrows, knowing exactly who Ian was talking about. He then nodded and rolled his eyes.

“Fuckin' Stacy,” Mickey scoffed with a chuckle. Ian wasn’t really sure and the other man could tell by his expression. “The skinny tweaker chick with the fucked up arms, right?” he asked, making a cutting gesture to his own scar riddled arm.

The comment and gesture made Ian stiffen just a little bit, not quite understanding how someone could speak so casually about self mutilation. He knew the loathing and pain that usually accompanies such actions and it’s not something that should be taken lightly. Maybe you just get used to it, living in a place like this. Not knowing how long Mickey had been here, that could be the case. Still, he’d be lying if he said it didn’t make him sort of uncomfortable, even though Ian knew that even he’d engaged in the bloody taboo himself a few times in the past. And though he had his own scars with their own stories, it wasn’t a conversation that he was keen on having any time soon. Regardless of how badly Ian wanted to know the stories behind Mickey’s scars, he wasn’t going to ask about them. Maybe some day, but not now. So, he tried not to linger on the question nor act as if it’d had any effect on him.

“Yeah, and all her fucking hair's chopped off? That’s her,” Ian replied nodding, looking only into Mickey’s eyes and not down at his arms. He then pulled apart his pair of socks and rolled them onto his feet, warming his cold, damp toes. Mickey slowly nodded again and laid back against the wall with his hands tucked behind his head.

“So, what? You don't like the fuckin' attention or somethin', Firecrotch?” he asked sarcastically, looking over at Ian with a smirk and a perfectly arched eyebrow.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ian asked back, unable to control the scoffing laughter in his voice, trying to drown out the sick feeling in his stomach. Mickey held his smirk and shrugged, turning his face to gaze out the barred window on the wall.

“She might not be so bad if you don’t mind the twitchy tweaker shit. Could worth a shot if you’re tryin' to get off while you’re in here,” said Mickey pausing and chewing his lip, not making eye contact. Then he cocked his head, “Ed seems to like her, at least.” He adjusted his arms behind his head and looked back over at Ian.

The suggestion made Ian made Ian feel sort awkward and confused. He didn’t know what exactly Mickey’s angle was here, so he was going to try his best to just maneuver through it. He thought that he may have seen the muscles in Mickey’s neck tense slightly as he waited for him to respond, but Ian quickly brushed it off.

“That asshole is actually getting laid in here?” Ian asked incredulously, screwing up his face. Mickey’s elbows raised around the sides of his head as his chest punched out a laugh. 'He has such a beautiful laugh,' Ian thought as a small smile spread across his lips. Mickey nodded and met his eyes again.

“Pretty fuckin' often, apparently,” he answered, “She probably wouldn’t be too hard a lay for you either, man,” he continued, “Any bitch whose lettin' Eddy up in 'er can’t be fuckin' picky.” His arms dropped, placing his hands in his lap, lacing his fingers together. “Not that you’d have much of a problem, huh Red? She already seems to like you.” He teased with a smirk and let out another laugh that Ian, in that moment, both loved and hated.

“Fuck you,” Ian snapped back with much less heat than intended. “Not my type,” he said firmly, raising his hand, still looking at Mickey, desperately trying to read his face and fuck was it hard to read. Blue eyes gazed across the small space into green ones trying to do the very same thing. “But please, feel free,” Ian said waving his hand toward the door. “If that’s what you’re into,” he added finally, trying to sound smooth about it. Mickey chuckled, but broke their eye contact again when he turned to peer back out the window watching the last streaks of winter sunlight fade across the sky.

“Nah,” said Mickey, “Crazy tweaker bitches aren’t really my thing either.”

Ian kept looking at him, watching as Mickey silently chewed his bottom lip. He found himself very drawn to the other man for some reason. He’d only known him a few hours, so it didn’t really make sense to Ian as to why he felt such a pull, such a lure. He wanted to know more about Mickey, find out what kind of person he is behind the tough, hard mask. It wouldn’t be easy, no matter what he felt, Ian could tell that much. But he could be patient. He had 90 days to spend here after all.

Ian opened his mouth and closed it, trying to think of something more to say, when he was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of a light knock at the door. Both men turned their heads as the door slowly opened, “Hello,” called Dr. Craft softly. She appeared in the hallway pushing a cart lined with medications and her clipboard placed neatly on top. Ian could see a guard who stood back, keeping a watchful eye on the doctor as she made her rounds.

“I have your evening dosages, gentlemen,” she held up a cup and looked across at Mickey, who was already up and crossing the room to meet her. Ian stood up and began to walk over to his doctor and roommate, when he unintentionally caught a glance at the contents of Mickey’s med cup. It was filled with several different pills, creating a sickeningly colorful cocktail. He creased his brow and wondered what Mickey’s condition could be that required so much to regulate. However, Ian knew it was still way too soon to ask him such a personal question, no matter how essential the information could be. So he tried to relax his face as he averted his eyes and once again, held his tongue.

“Mr. Milkovich,” she nodded, handing him the paper cup. Mickey swallowed the jumble of pills easily, taking the small cup of water with the other hand and drinking it all down. He immediately faced Dr. Craft, opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue, moving it around to show his mouth was empty. It was clearly a very dull routine for Mickey and he got it over with quickly. The doctor then turned to look at Ian.

“Mr. Gallagher,” she greeted him sweetly, “Since your official diagnosis has yet to be confirmed by Dr. Yates, your medication regimen cannot be set up until she signs off on it tomorrow,” she gave him an apologetic expression. “Tonight, I can only offer you another pain suppressant to help with your soreness, if you’d like? It may help you sleep easier, but it isn’t mandatory to take. You have the choice,” she said holding out the cup with a small round pill inside, her eyebrows raised his question. Ian nodded and held out his hand, swallowing the pill with a cold gulp of water. He opened his mouth in the same fashion Mickey had and the doctor smiled, giving him a small thumbs up. “Thank you both,” said Dr. Craft, holding her sweet rouge lipped smile. “Please keep an eye on the time,” she added pointing to the caged clock on the wall above the dresser. “Lights out in less than an hour.” With that, she turned back to her medical cart in the hall and shut the door behind her.

Mickey shuffled back over to his bed, kicked off his slippers and sat down. Ian did the same, and feeling hot, he bent with a bit of strain and pulled his sweater back over his head. He laid it across the foot of his bed and turned to notice Mickey staring at him. This time it wasn’t the same kind of stare he’d had before when he saw Ian undressed for his shower. It wasn’t a look of appeal or attraction. Mickey seemed to be genuinely studying Ian’s bruises while making no attempt of trying to hide it. His brow creased firmly as he looked them over silently, frowning.

“They look worse than they are,” Ian assured quietly. Mickey’s eyes traveled up the length of bruise-speckled skin to meet Ian’s eyes but he still didn’t speak. “I mean, they fucking hurt,” he continued as he looked down to trace his fingertips across a particularly tender bruise on his hip, “but I’ve had worse.” Ian shrugged a shoulder and turned his body to slide his legs under the sheet. Mickey simply raised his eyebrows, seemingly surprised by that comment. The bruises and blotches were pretty fucking bad and there were lots of them. The scrape along his back looked particularly sore and unforgiving. Ian thought for sure, that the other man would speak, that he’d have some clever remark to make about it.

However, Mickey just sat, simply looking over at Ian with a now calm expression, remaining silent and not blinking much. Ian felt like maybe he should feel uncomfortable being stared at like this, but strangely, he didn’t. He didn’t feel like he was being judged, observed or pitied. Mickey was just seeing Ian as he was, seated on his bed, calmly seeing him back. It was comfortable for some reason, this silence, this gaze of bright blue eyes on his skin. Ian thought maybe Mickey’s silence had come from him not having asked anything about Mickey’s own marks and scars. It felt like a mutual understanding, a respectful quiet.

Both men sat bearing their damaged skin, dreary maps of haunting stories and tearful memories all unknown to the other. Both willing to be exposed for a moment, and each man accepted it without needing words to do so. It felt open and personal and Ian still fought the urge to look too closely, as his eyes now laid to rest upon Mickey’s face and nowhere else. They each seemed content, not needing any explanation from the other, as neither man asked for one, not now anyway. Now they just sat and looked.

They remained in their silence for quite a long while, eyes moving for a moment across each other's bodies before gazing back into each other’s eyes. Then Mickey suddenly looked away, reaching for his book and Ian felt his chest tighten so he just laid back and stared up at the ceiling. It was tiled with large white squares covered in pinholes. He tried to relax and wait for the pain pill to kick in as he slowly counted the number of holes in each tile.

Occasionally, Ian would feel the subtle pull of Mickey’s gaze and he’d turn his head to see the other man peeking over the top of his book to look at him again. Their eyes would connect and linger for a brief moment before Mickey’s eyes turned back down to the page in front of him always being the first to break the contact. Then, a very monotoned male voice sounded through the loud speaker on the wall: “Lights out in five minutes. All residents must return to their assigned bedrooms. Thank you.” It crackled out and cut off with a buzz.

“It’s too fuckin early to sleep,” Ian grunted, readjusting his body to lie more comfortably. Mickey smiled and slipped his bookmark back into his book before closing it and setting it beside him. He leaned back against the wall and laced his fingers together to rest in his lap.

“Lots of people here gotta take fuckin' sedatives like tranquilizers and shit just to get to fuckin' sleep. And that shit like really knocks you the fuck out,” Mickey said firmly with a cock of his head, “Need plenty of time for it to do it’s fuckin' job and still wear off by morning so they can wake the fuck up and still function,” he explained. Ian pushed out his lip, considering Mickey’s words. “You get fuckin' used to it after a while though,” he continued, “Dreamless sleep is better than the fuckin’ alternative.” Mickey looked away as he spoke. Then he gave a low resentful chuckle and shook his head. “And this place is a shithole anyway, so it’s not like you’re missin' anything.”

He kept his fingers laced together and brought his hands up to rest back behind his head. When he did, his t-shirt sleeves slid ever so slightly upward revealing more scars lining the inside of each bicep. Every new one that Ian saw brought back the same painful feeling of sadness that he'd felt when he’d first seen all the others. They were obviously self-inflicted and couldn’t be more than a few months old at the most. But still, he brought his eyes back to Mickey’s face, hoping the other man hadn’t noticed him linger too long on the scars. He just wanted to know more, know what happened, know why. But Ian still didn’t want to be caught staring. Though if Mickey did notice, he didn’t mention it.

Ian stirred and tried to get comfortable again, aching muscles refusing to calm as he was waiting for the lights to switch off. Part of him was really nervous about going back to sleep, afraid of what he might dream about. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and he felt a flush of cold sweat speckle down the skin of his back as his heart rate began to speed up. He didn’t want to dream of his mother. It never failed to pull him down into some horrible spiraling depression that he’d have to desperately struggle to claw his way back out of.

Any thought or mention of Monica always made him feel sad, hurt and angry. Right now the thought of her gave Ian a churning sickly feeling in the pit of his stomach that he couldn’t fully explain the cause of. It was different than the normal discomfort that accompanied such thoughts of her. He hated that she had such an affect on him. She didn’t deserve to have that control, Ian knew that. But still, his stomach twisted, his thoughts began to race and his palms felt sweaty. He tried to inhale slowly and deeply but his breath was too shaky to focus.

Ian pressed his eyes closed and covered his face with his hands continuing to try and breathe more steadily. His lips tingled like they were going numb and he began to feel weak, drained, empty. 'Inhale. Exhale.' Ian’s hands trembled. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

***

A flash of memory shot through his mind, of feeling extremely sick, like he had the flu or food poisoning:

The sour taste of vomit was still fresh and sticky on his tongue and phlegm webbed through his mouth and down the back of his throat mingling with the burn of stomach acid. He spat and sputtered, hacking up a hard, wet cough and turned to spit on the ground. The base of his skull felt like it was pulsating, throbbing, splitting right in half. 'Jesus Fucking Christ, kill me now, fucking please,' His head spun and he grasped the cold metal of the truck to steady himself as he silently prayed for death, for relief from whatever the fuck this curse of a sickness was that torturously plagued his body. He’d had enough. He just wanted out. He was done.

“He’s just feeling a bit under the weather, but he’s still up for our little deal,” she said to the man who stood watching Ian with a disgruntled expression of annoyance and urgency.

She smiled at the man and leaned on his shoulder, stroking a finger lightly up the filthy, hairy skin of his neck. He kept his eyes on Ian, trailing up and down his body, sliding a nasty tongue across his rotting teeth.

“I can still help you instead, baby? If you’d rather have a woman?” she asked him, trying to tickle the fingers of her other hand down the stained chest of his coat. His head snapped over to face her, grabbing her by the wrist and squeezing tight. The woman repressed a whimper.

“I told you what I fuckin' wanted, you dumb bitch,” he threw her hand down and curled his lip, “Don’t want no pussy. I want the boy,” he spat, gesturing with his chin, still staring at the young redhead who clung weakly to the end of the truck, shaky and sick.

Ian didn’t appear to be very capable of really listening to anything that was said. He just simply stood there with a wobble in his stance looking as if he may throw up again. The toe of his shoe teetered dangerously close to the edge of the spew puddle that he’d already made in front of him.

“You can still do this right, my love?” she asked walking over to her son, “Like we talked about?” She leaned in close to him, running her fingers softly through his hair. Her lips brushed his ear as she began to whisper to him sweetly, “My beautiful baby boy, you’re so brave and strong. You always come through for me, for us, you know that, honey?” She held his face, turning him to look at her. Her eyes were deep and green, just like his. “You know you can do this, sweetheart,” she said softly, “For us, Ian, honey. This is something you can do that I can’t.” She kissed his face and played with his hair, trailing her fingertips delicately over his ear, then down under his chin, holding it up. “This can save us, darling. You can be our hero. Do this and be your mommy’s hero. I love you so much, you know that? I love you more than anything because you’re my hero, honey. You never let me down.”

She brushed his hair out of his face and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. He leaned into her kiss, exhaling at the feeling. Ian craved and cherished any amount affection or love he got from his mother, even though part of him hated that he did, hated it so fucking much. He couldn’t speak to respond to her, he felt too nauseated, so he just tried to nod, but only barely. As horrible as he’s sure it will be, Ian couldn’t bring himself to say no to his mother, no matter how much he really didn’t want to do it.

He reached out to clutch his mother’s elbow, curling his fingers around it and leaning into her brush of body heat. He just wanted to be with her, the only other person he’s ever known that could fully understand what it’s like to have a mind wired the way theirs was. She understood the pain, understood the crippling darkness, the loneliness, the emptiness. Ian just wanted to hold onto her and never let go. However, the man who stood anxiously waiting, now speaking again to his mother, didn’t care in the slightest.

“Three hundred and a lift, we had a deal,” the man grumbled, pulling a crinkled paper wad out from his coat pocket. “Enough fuckin' talkin'. I’m ready for him.” He walked over to the back of the truck and lifted the door open just enough to roll inside. The man turned and handed the woman his cash, then turned back adjusting his belt and pants, eyeing the boy grossly.

“Hop on up, baby boy,” he said licking his lips.

Ian barely had enough time to look up at his mother, seeing an expression of apologetic reassurance spread across her face, before the trucker was grabbing his shoulders, spinning him around and pushing him up into the trailer.

***

“Aye,” Mickey’s voice came suddenly. “Aye man, you okay?”

He felt a hand gently grip his shoulder and he flinched. The touch sent a jolt of shivers through his body that effectively shocked him awake. Ian’s eyes shot open to see that Mickey had gotten up from his bed, walked over and leaned down to check on him. Mickey’s hand was warm and firm and seemed to pull his mind back into the room around him. Ian was clammy again, covered in a thin sheen of cold sweat.

Ian hadn’t meant for his mind to wander so intensely. He hadn't even fallen asleep, just seemed to have fallen adrift inside some temporary haze. He felt dizzy. The memory had just taken him away. He’d had no control over it, which frightened him and caused him to feel shaky again. He just tried to focus on Mickey’s eyes looking down at him and the feeling of his palm gripping Ian’s shoulder. It began to calm him in the strangest, most wonderful way. But he still just felt sick and tried to repress the feeling as best he could. He took a slow deep breath and nodded jerkingly.

“I-I'm fine. I just- fuck, I’m fucking fine.” Ian snapped the words out without really meaning to, screwing up his face and pinching the bridge of his nose. He knew he’d sounded much harsher than intended, but he was too distracted by his mind and body both screaming at him for completely different reasons to even attempt to correct it.

Mickey’s hand left his shoulder as he straightened back up, and crossed his arms but didn’t turn back to his bed. He just stood still, looking down at Ian. His eyebrows were drawn together and his brow creased as he chewed his lip, eyeing the redhead laying in front of him. Ian looked up to meet Mickey’s eyes again, seeing an expression of confusion and concern. It was a look he’d yet to see on the other man’s face and it honestly sort of surprised him.

“You don’t look fuckin' fine, man,” said Mickey finally.

“I don’t wanna fucking talk about it.” Ian said firmly, looking away from him.

He really didn’t want to talk about it, not now. It was only now that it was all just starting to flood back to him in pieces and fragments that he’d yet to fully put together. Maybe one day he’d be able to speak about it all, but now he just couldn’t. He took another breath, trying to even his nerves and calm his heart rate.

Mickey stayed silent again for a moment, chewing his lip. He looked like he was contemplating something in his head, deciding whether or not to act on a thought. He thumbed his lip, then suddenly turned back to his bed and reached down beneath the mattress. When he turned around, he had what appeared to be a joint and a lighter. Ian’s jaw dropped in utter astonishment and when Mickey saw his expression, he grinned wide and proud.

“You smoke?” Mickey asked holding up the joint.

“How-?” Ian started but was interrupted by a raise of Mickey’s finger and a shake of his head.

“Stupid fuckin' questions, Red,” he smirked.

“We won’t get caught with that?” Ian asked looking toward the door.

“Nah,” said Mickey. “Less you plan on rattin' me the fuck out or some shit?” he challenged with a pointed look that was somewhat friendly, but still quite serious. His eyebrows raised into a high arch and he sucked in his upper lip with a questioning expression.

“Fuck, no.” Ian said, quickly sitting up. “I fucking need this shit right now.”

With that, another wide grin spread across Mickey’s face and Ian just loved seeing him like that, happy, relieved, relaxed. The other man slipped the joint behind his ear for a moment, walking over to retrieve a towel from the dresser and rolled it up to place against the crack along the bottom of the door. Then he strode over toward the window. Ian raised an eyebrow and watched him. Mickey smiled back at him and gestured toward the window.

“So, these bars are fuckin' solid as shit, right,” Mickey said gripping one and trying to wiggle it without a budge. “You can’t bust through these fuckers, can’t pull 'em out. They’re all built in and shit.” He reached out toward the glass and ran his hand along the edge of the window, finding the lock and flipping it downward. “Because of that, the actual windows still fuckin' open.” He smirked and slid the window panel to the left revealing the wire screen behind it, letting the chilly winter breeze inside. “They said 'fresh air is essential to any therapy' or some other faggy shit like that,” said Mickey with a light chuckle. Ian honestly didn’t mind the 'faggy' comment. As long as the word isn’t directed at him or anyone else with anger or hateful intent, he really didn’t give a shit. “So, yeah. They fuckin' open! Perfect, right?” Mickey pointed to the window with his thumb, a proud grin spread across his face, blue eyes twinkling back at Ian seeing what he thought. The redhead grinned back and nodded in approval. Mickey’s eyes seemed to brighten even more as they moved over the other man’s face.

He really seemed to enjoy looking at Ian, at least Ian hoped that was why Mickey seemed to stare at him so much. He did look at him an awful lot, but Ian never really seemed to mind it either. It kind of made him feel good when Mickey looked at him like that, all dimples and pearly whites. Both men laughed at just how perfect it really was, breathing in the sharp gust of fresh icy air that swirled around between them, enjoying a hint of the world beyond the treatment center. Ian had only just arrived, but he already felt that his time here would end up having an immense effect on him. Things were going to change for him because of this place, somehow. Ian knew it. He’d just have to wait and see how it would happen.

There was a ledge beneath the window that they could both sit on, so they did, comfortably. Their knees touched for a brief instant, and it sent sparks up Ian’s leg causing him to shiver. He forced it back and bit his lip to calm his nerves. Thankfully, Mickey didn’t seem to notice it.

“But what about-?” Ian began asking, but Mickey seemed to know what he was going to ask and answered before he could finish.

“Once the doc makes her evenin’ rounds, that’s the last check 'til they peek in the window halfway through the fuckin' night. The patient care here is shitty as fuck after lights out.” He shook his head. “And all the doors automatically lock when the lights shut off too. Only a fuckin' key card is gonna get you in or outta one of those bitches,” he smiled, “So, we’re good to fuckin' go, Princess.” Mickey said placing the joint between his pink, smirking lips.

Then both men paused, and neither spoke for a moment. They fell into another comfortable silence, just looking. Mickey rubbed his thumb over the edge of the lighter a few times, then twirled it in his fingers like he was thinking again. His head tilted to the side, as he pulled the joint from his lips and offered it to Ian.

“You wanna spark it up, Red?” his voice was low and smooth, his eyes failing to Ian’s lips.

Then the flutters were suddenly there, rising into Ian’s chest, dancing along his ribs and fuck if they didn’t feel amazing. Could Mickey feel them too? Ian let out a breath and reached out to take the joint from Mickey. When he grasped it, their fingers touched and the instant they did there was a loud sudden chiming sound that rang out from the loud speaker. At the same time there was a low buzzing sound and the lights went out. Then the door locked with a loud metallic click, along with all the other doors in the dorm area bellowing out a harsh deafening echo that sprung violently off the hallway walls. Ian gasped, jumped and dropped the joint. It bounced between their knees and landed somewhere on the floor in front of them. Mickey let out a laugh that he quickly covered with his fist.

“Nice fuckin' goin', asshole,” he laughed, nudging the redhead with his elbow.

Ian’s heart was pounding from the sudden string of unexpected noises. He took a deep breath and blinked into the dark. He was now locked in a little room alone with Mickey for the night. And as long as Ian didn’t piss him off or cause any problems, then it would be like this every night while he’s here. He forced himself not to smile as the thought danced playfully across his mind.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ian cracked back calmly, getting off the ledge and crouching down to his knees searching for the joint he’d dropped in his instant of shock. He felt carefully across the cold hard floor searching for the small round cylinder, squinting in vain all the while. Finally he felt the brush of paper under his palm. He pinched it and looked back up toward the ledge.

Ian could see Mickey’s silhouette seated above him looking down in his direction. He couldn’t see his eyes in such dim light, but he sure could feel them. Ian swallowed and paused without meaning to.

“I like you on your knees, Gallagher,” his voice was low again.

Ian froze. He could not have heard that correctly. The flutters in his chest erupted and sent a sudden twinge of pleasure that swept down his body, into his sweatpants and out through his legs leaving lingering tingles along his pelvis. 'What the fuck did he just say?!' His mouth suddenly watered and he had to swallow again.

“W-What?” Ian blurted out, dumbfounded. He was grateful for the darkness as he was sure his skin had flushed bright red.

Mickey grinned so wide, Ian could see his straight, white teeth cut through the blackness and a punch of laughter filled the room. It made Ian flinch and blink, now silent and confused. Mickey forced his lips closed and put a fist back to his mouth to muffle the sound, now laughing through his nose. He soon settled, ran a hand over his face, took a deep breath and shook his head.

“I’m just fuckin' with ya, man,” he chuckled now, his chest and shoulders bouncing lightly with humor. “Your face was some priceless shit though, I’ll fuckin' tell ya,” he grinned.

Ian shook out his hair and ran his fingers through it, standing up to sit back down beside Mickey. He didn’t say anything just gazed down at the joint, rolling it over in his fingers. Mickey looked at his face and Ian looked back seeing him much more clearly now, half his face illuminated from the glow of the street lights below. It was too dark to see much color, but he could see the bright twinkling blue of the other man’s eyes looking back at him with perfect clarity. ‘He’s beautiful,' Ian thought. Mickey looked down at the joint Ian was holding in his lap and handed over the lighter. Ian took it, but hesitated.

“Why are you trusting me with this?” he asked.

It was a daring question that he wasn’t sure Mickey would answer. Ian thought for sure that the other man would snatch it all back up and threaten him or just beat the shit out of him to make sure he’d never mention a thing to anyone else. He really had no reason to trust him with anything, as far as Ian could see. But Mickey just smirked that same handsome smirk as clear and bright as day, even at night.

“Because, man. You look like you fuckin' need it,” said Mickey. “Plus, you try and rat me out for this shit, they’re gonna fuckin' test your ass for it just like they will mine.” He pointed at Ian, then back at himself. “You’d get in just as much shit as I fuckin' would.” He gestured for Ian to put the joint between his lips, which he did without further hesitation. “Your ass would probably get in more fuckin' trouble actually, since you were the one who decided to go brawlin' in the fuckin' Rec Room today.” He tilted his head toward Ian with a cocky expression. “I on the other hand, have been on good behavior for the past like six fuckin' months,” said Mickey proudly. “Fuckin' record for me, man.” He chuckled and shook his head.

Ian flicked the lighter, sparking the flame, finally lighting the end of the joint and inhaling slowly, deeply. He wanted to savor the sweet taste of the smoke that felt so soothing and thick rolling down his throat. It burned a bit, but not enough to cough. It was the satisfying burn of an awful stubborn itch finally being scratched. He hummed as the smoke filled his lungs, then passed it to Mickey who inhaled just as deeply.

“Or I could always just kick your fuckin' ass," said Mickey, holding his hit tightly inside his lungs. He looked Ian in the eye. His expression was calm but serious. “Good fuckin’ behavior be damned, man. I don’t fuckin' like rats.” he said firmly, raising his eyebrows and exhaling a thick plume of smoke toward the open window. Ian nodded in agreement and understanding. He had no intention of ratting Mickey out to anyone for anything. Ian was no snitch, and he liked Mickey, wanted Mickey to like him. He wasn’t going to fuck that up.

Mickey’s face seemed to relax again after tracing his eyes over Ian’s, accepting that his nod and expression was sincere. He passed the joint back and watched Ian bring it to his lips. They were silent for a few minutes before Ian spoke again, really just wanting to keep talking to Mickey about anything he could. He’d learned quickly to tread carefully with Mickey, but he was also starting to learn just how far he could push it.

“Six months,” said Ian holding in his smoke, his chest puffing out, “Is it a stupid fuckin' question to ask how long you’ve been here?” he exhaled.

It was another question that Ian thought he wouldn’t answer, which was sort of why he asked it. But the other man seemed surprisingly relaxed, even more so after the lights had turned off and the joint had been lit. He reached over and took the joint from Ian and brought it to his lips. He answered him smoothly and without hesitation.

“Almost 18 months,” said Mickey blowing out his smoke. “Got another 24 at least. Guess I just gotta fuckin' wait and see how that goes, huh?” He gave a low, dry chuckle and a slight shake of his head.

When he’d spoken, his eyes were fixed out the window toward the sky, gazing at the moon as the clouds passed flowingly over it. There were lines of shadow etched across his face from the slight crease of his brow and frown of his mouth that pressed hard into his skin. Ian looked at him and could swear he saw what looked like pain in Mickey’s eyes, but the darkness made good of covering it up. It was something Ian knew he would never see on Mickey’s face in the daylight, so he couldn’t help but stare. But then Mickey's face softened considerably when he turned to face the deep green eyes gazing at him through the dark. He held the joint out for Ian and licked his bottom lip.

“How long your ass here for?” he asked Ian, eyes traveling down his body then back up to his face.

Ian took the joint and inhaled with a shrug, pretending not to notice the sweeping glance that Mickey had just given him, now avoiding his eyes. He just looked out into the darkness of their room, then tipped his head back to rest against the window and stared up at the ceiling.

“My evaluation is a mandatory 90 days. After that, I guess they’ll decide if I need to stay here or go somewhere else or whatever,” Ian rolled the joint over in his fingers and exhaled, passing it back. “I think I might have gotten arrested or something… But I really don’t know for sure,” he said a bit more quietly, fidgeting with his fingers in the dark, now looking down at his lap.

“You don’t know?” Mickey asked, raising an eyebrow and taking a sharp hit off the joint.

“No,” said Ian, “I don’t even know what I fucking did to get put in here,” he tried to explain, “I know that I’d been going through some shit and that I wasn’t medicated. But I don’t remember what I actually did, like my fucked up brain just blacked all that shit out,” he gestured in a swirling motion to his head with his hand, a bit frustrated at the thought of his mind betraying him like this. “I’m supposed to find out a bunch of information and other shit tomorrow with the shrink. She has my file. I haven’t seen it yet.”

Ian finally looked over at Mickey who just sat, calmly looking back, silently listening. The blue in his eyes sparkled gently when the gold of the street lights touched them. He’d expected Mickey to say something. He seemed to always expect him to say something. But the fact that he simply remained silent made Ian feel a little uneasy. He just sat stared at him like he always did, eyes trailing over his face. Ian wasn’t going to let his nerves show now, so he spoke again.

“Is that a fucking problem?” Ian asked in a tone that was challenging but not exactly hostile.

“Could be,” said Mickey with a blink. Ian tensed. “But we all got fuckin' problems, man,” he added calmly, reassuring Ian just a bit, the muscles in his neck now relaxing some. Mickey passed the joint, which Ian hit quickly and passed right back already feeling a good buzz.

He watched as Mickey took a deep drag and peered back out the window, soft golden lights painting his face, defining the sharp bridge of his nose and swift arch of his cheek bones. 'Christ, he really is gorgeous,' Ian thought, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips.

A frosty breeze swept through the window, chilling them both and flushing their skin with goosebumps. They both tensed at the rush of cold air, sucked in a hard breath, looking at each other and let out a small laugh. Mickey offered the joint back to Ian that had been smoked a little over halfway down, but Ian shook his head. The brunette shrugged and took one last hit before snubbing it out on the hard sole of his slipper, then walked into the blackness of their room. Ian could hardly make him out, mostly only seeing the man’s outline moving around. Mickey turned to his bed and reached back under the mattress. The crinkle of paper revealed an envelope which he slipped the remainder of the joint inside of. He looked back toward the window seeing the redhead watching him through the dark.

“So, now that I know that you know where the fuck this is,” he pointed to the paper in his hand, “If my shit ever goes missin', I’m comin' for your ass. You hear me, Red?” he threatened. “You’re the only asshole 'sides me that knows anything about this shit even bein' here.” Ian chuckled and nodded.

“No worries, Mickey. I’m not a rat or a thief. Rest assured,” he said holding his hands up. “And uh, thanks for that, the smoke.” Ian added shyly, rubbing the back of his neck. “It really fucking helped.” He smiled gratefully.

Mickey nodded, smiling back, proud once more. He turned back and slid the envelope back under the mattress, tucking it away. Then he walked around to the other end of his bed, disappearing into the darker half of the room farther away from the window light. Ian heard the faint creak of Mickey’s chest being opened followed by the soft rummage of shifting items. He then heard it close and Mickey walked back into view holding a pack of cigarettes. Ian smiled again, rather largely as he fought to stifle an excited gasp. He just couldn’t help it. This guy was amazing.

“Smoke?” Mickey asked again, this time holding up the pack with a grin and an arched eyebrow as he strode over to Ian on silent feet.

“Jesus Fucking Christ, yes,” Ian breathed, “I could fucking kiss you right now.”

Ian’s eyes went wide instantly, regretting the words as he felt his face flush with embarrassment, the tension in his muscles coming back with a force. He felt frozen to the spot by his own stupid words. Did he really just say that? 'Fuck,' But to Ian’s amazed and confused surprise, Mickey actually laughed.

“Hey now, slow down there, Cinderella,” he said pulling a cigarette from the pack and placing it between his lips. “At least buy me fuckin' dinner first.” He gave Ian that smirk, rolling the cigarette back and forth on his lips, wiggling it with the tip of his tongue. Ian breathed and tried not to swallow as he watched the cigarette move across the other man’s mouth. “We do uh, gotta share though. Gotta make 'em last, ya know?” Mickey said with half a shrug, completely moving past Ian’s embarrassing comment and his own blatantly suggestive one. 'Thank fuck,' he thought. Ian gave half a shrug back and fought to ignore his fluttery chest.

“Sure,” Ian said simply, forcing himself to hide the smile threatening to rise from his face.

Blue eyes wandered slowly over his own, down to his cheekbones, then to his lips and jaw line before Mickey looked away to spark the lighter, the small explosion of flame glowing his face a bright, bold orange. He took a large, deep pull, the end of the cigarette glaring red hot against the black of the room. He held it tightly in his chest, then blew it out, sending the large cloud of smoke away on a cold gust of wind.

Ian was still fighting the urge to just sit and stare at this man and he was failing miserably. He was just so beautiful. He felt like he was being sucked in and the pull was simply too hard to resist, too much to fight. Ian wanted to know anything and everything about Mickey, whatever he could. The man was such a mystery and Ian was so anxious and excited to spend more time with him, no matter what the capacity. Maybe it was these same reasons that Mickey seemed to stare at Ian too? Maybe the irresistible pull was mutual and Mickey was just better at hiding it.

Mickey looked back up at Ian after sucking down a few more drags and passed the cigarette over to the redhead, his fingers lingering before letting go. Ian took a long hit, keeping his gaze on the man next to him, seemingly forever trying to read him. The way Mickey’s face seemed to soften when they just looked at each other during their strange, comfortable silences, gave Ian a little hope that maybe, that feeling really was mutual.

When they finished their cigarette, Mickey was able to flick it through a small gap in the wire screen before pulling the glass shut and flipping the lock closed. Mickey had mentioned that he was getting drowsy and that the weed helped his pills work better to get him to sleep properly. Apparently disruptive sleep was a recurring issue for Mickey in some capacity or another. Ian wasn’t entirely sure, as he really didn’t give any more details. 'Maybe he’s an insomniac?' Ian wondered. He was no stranger to that himself. There had been many nights in his past that he was truly exhausted and all he wanted to do was sleep, but his mind just couldn’t seem to get tired. It can be extremely frustrating and Ian didn’t blame Mickey for not wanting to talk about it. Ian didn’t ask anything else, and Mickey didn’t say anything else. Another comfortable silence.

Each man curled up in his own bed, drifting further into their buzzing daze trying to welcome rest and sleep. The smoking had eased Ian’s nerves exceptionally, however, he’d be lying if he said that he wasn’t still at least a little nervous about falling back asleep. Ian was scared to dream, afraid the dreams were real. They felt real, like actual memories instead of creations of a distraught and disheveled mind. Ian suddenly knew his fear was justified when he started to drift off, just on the edge of unconsciousness and he shivered.

***

“Sweetface, mommy loves you so much. My beautiful boy, you always make me proud,”

***

The sound of her voice ringing through his mind made Ian’s stomach twist in a painful way that made him want to puke. He tried at the last second to force his eyes open, to stay awake, to escape from her. But it was too late. Sleep took him hard, sinking his head back into the pillow. And so began the horrible images of trapped, tormenting memories and sickly vivid dreams of what had happened just before.

At one point in the night, Ian awoke with a burst covered in sweat, tears streaming down his cheeks He gasped a few times and ran his trembling hands down his face, wiping the tears away. His eyes stared out into the darkness, trying to breathe evenly. Suddenly he felt like he was being watched, the sensation of a gaze tickled his skin. Ian turned his head to see the sparkle of blue eyes looking back at him from across the room.

Mickey was awake, probably because of Ian, but he didn’t speak. He just laid there and looked. But he didn’t look frightened, angry or judgmental. Ian couldn’t see his face very well, but he could feel him, just looking, giving him some reassurance that he was there, that Ian wasn’t alone. It helped. He didn’t need to speak or stand up. Ian could see it in Mickey’s eyes, feel it in his gaze. He was there.

They stared silently through the darkness at each other for a long time until Ian was the one to finally break the eye contact when he turned his head back to the ceiling and closed his eyes. He was still so tired that it didn’t take long for him to fall back asleep. He just hopelessly wished that when he did dream again, it wasn’t the same hellish nightmare that he’d just burst out of.

Chapter Text

***

It fucking hurt. Everything just fucking hurt. Ian had his eyes clamped shut, grinding his teeth, trying not to dry heave any more than he already had. Sweat was spilling from his pores and his throat was rasp and burning. The floor of the trailer was cold and uncomfortably ribbed. It stung his knees more and more the longer he was forced to kneel on it. They were cramped between several shipping boxes, near the back, behind the cab. The man behind him was sweaty, rough and repulsive. He stunk of liquor, stale smoke and sulfur. Ian grunted from a stab of pain, then gagged on the smell of the man who’d caused it, trying his best to breathe only through his mouth. The older man held Ian in place with dry, callused hands, pounding into him with a gargled, grunting noise pouring from his chapped, sore-riddled lips.

The boy felt disgusted with himself. He was only doing this for his mother. He reminded himself of that for the hundredth time as he bit down on his lip, fighting back any sensation of pain that shot through his body. The sicko wouldn’t pay for her. He didn’t want her and they needed the money for food and gas for rides to wherever it was they were supposed to be going. Ian had to be the one to do it, not that he would have let her do it anyway even if the guy actually had agreed to have her instead. Despite the nature and history of their relationship, she was still his mother after all. And as much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, this wasn’t the first trick Ian had turned during his short 19 years of life. So, it was nothing new for him, unfortunately. Not to mention he felt absolutely horrid and crippled with sickness anyway. He was in no condition to be able to do much else to help her, help them, besides partaking in such degrading acts like this. It’s just what he had to do. And it's not like it could get any worse, right?

He’d thrown up for a second time shorty after the greasy old trucker had begun fucking him. Once the stench of the man had hit Ian’s nose, his stomach eagerly emptied the rest of it’s contents all over the cold, metallic floor, which he was now forced to kneel in. But the sick creep pounding away behind him didn’t seem to care, never slowing or stopping, simply telling Ian to “Take it, take it, take it,” snickering while he spat the words out, “Little bitch,” he grunted, pushing down harder on the boy’s back.

Ian curled his hands into fists, as thick trickles of chilling vomit seeped through his fingers and he felt tears welling heavily in his eyes. How the fuck had he let himself get this far gone? He began sobbing, with no care that the man groaning, moaning and panting behind him would hear it. Unsurprisingly, when the man did hear his cries, he still didn’t care. He actually sped up, tightening his grip and deepening his thrusts with a breathy sound of enjoyment.

“Yeah! Yeah, take my cock, you nasty little slut!” He sputtered out the words between grunts and groans, slobbering onto the boy’s back as he spoke. Ian curled his head downward trying to hide his humiliation just as dirty, grimy fingers found his hair and closed into a fist, pushing his face into the slimy puddle beneath him.

***

Ian stirred, awoken by the sprinkle of something cold and wet on his face. The muscles in his body still ached from the bruising and he had a chilled sweat lingering on his skin again. His stomach still felt sick from the memory of the dream, but he tried to push the thoughts from his mind as best he could. He scrunched up his face and cracked an eyelid, putting out a hand to shield his view from the bright rays of morning sunlight gleaming in through the window. When Ian’s vision finally came into focus, the nauseating feeling in his gut subsided, at least for a moment.

Mickey was standing next to Ian’s bed, smiling down at him, wet, dripping and fresh from the showers. He had a towel wrapped snugly around his hips and another wrapped around his right hand, rubbing at the shiny, black hair atop his head. He had one eye closed from a droplet of water escaping his scalp and running down over his lashes. Ian could see the thick broadness of Mickey’s chest, the hard, distinct lines of his abs and the sharp cut of his hips. He tried to avert his eyes from thin strip of dark hair that trailed down from the man’s belly button and disappeared beneath his towel. Ian’s lips tingled, distracting him from the warm flutters that were suddenly vibrating in his throat. His skin looked pale, clean and soft. And he smelled so fucking good. Mickey dropped his hand from his hair and widened his smile with a twinkle sparkling his eyes. Then he quickly shook out his hair, sending tiny, cold droplets of water scattering in all directions. Ian turned his face and raised his hand again in defense of the assault.

“Alright, alright. Enough, asshole,” Ian groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. Mickey chuckled and began to dry his arm pits with the same towel he’d just used on his hair. The other man tried not to watch him while he did it.

“You sleep too fuckin' much,” said Mickey, still ginning. “Rise and fuckin' shine, Red. You’re gonna miss breakfast.”

He strolled over to the dresser in search of clothes while Ian sat up and stretched, letting out a struggled, sleepy yawn. He scratched his chest, combed his fingers through his hair and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. When he glanced back over at Mickey, he was already wearing a pair of boxers and had tossed both of his towels into the laundry hamper. But without a shirt or sweats, Ian was able to see even more marks across Mickey’s body. There were many more, in fact.

On the side of Mickey’s bicep, where Ian thought he’d seen ink accompanying the scars, he could see that there was, well, had been a tattoo there at some point, but it was now unrecognizably buried under deep slashes of scar tissue. ‘There’s definitely a story there,' Ian thought. He also noticed the tattoo of a grinning, red devil’s head on the back of Mickey’s right calf. It looked homemade like all of Mickey’s tattoos, this one however, being the only one with any color. Ian smiled to himself for a moment. All of Mickey’s tattoos suited him perfectly, none seeming the least bit out of place. They were all so unapologetically Mickey. Though Ian did wonder most about the scar covered one on his arm, imagining what it could have been before it became mangled. But he was sure that Mickey had a good reason for getting rid of it, whatever it used to be. There were also clear self-mutilation marks and cigarette burns across his hips and cuts along his stomach, a few on his chest and shoulders. Most were relatively small in size and looked old, healed, save for the two slightly bigger slashes peeking over the waistband of his boxers, resting along the curve of his hip. Those had to of been made in the last week, maybe less. Ian frowned slightly, saddened by the thought of the other man feeling the need to harm himself.

Mickey also had a long, thin slice along his ribs, and five smaller cuts nearby. Those definitely did not appear to be self-inflicted. Ian wondered what had happened, but he was in absolutely no way about to point it out and ask about it. It was the same for Mickey’s back. The sight before him made Ian want to both hug the other man as tightly as he could and curl up into a corner and cry. His entire back was battered and marked with signs and tales of abuse. There were well over a dozen strips, stripes and welts deeply forged in all directions across Mickey’s skin, with no real way of telling what they’d all been made with. Although, two different stripes ended with round, squared scars that seemed to resemble a belt buckle. Ian cringed. Mickey also had a deep, round scar on his shoulder blade that Ian could see a matching mark for on his front side as well. If Ian had to guess, he’d say it looked like the remnants of an untreated gunshot wound, each side bearing a small healed crater.

Ian felt his eyes widen a bit. This would definitely explain why Mickey seemed to understand Ian’s marks and never asked about them. Mickey has stories of his own that he doesn’t want to share. That closed, guarded feeling was clearly not one sided. Opening up would require a much higher level of trust, more than anything else. Ian understood that, and was fine with it. Trust comes with time. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,' He could do that, for now.

Ian stood up and cracked his neck while Mickey slipped on a shirt, pulled up some sweats and grabbed a pair of socks. Ian quickly changed clothes, opting out for a shower later on instead, since there didn’t seem to be time now. He rubbed his face and shook his hair out, the lingering memory from his sleep still tormenting the back of his mind. He fought off a shudder of disgust as he toed on his slippers. Ian ran his fingers back through his hair, dropped his face into his hands and began to take slow, deep breaths.

Mickey pulled on his sweater, stepped into his slippers and looked over at Ian, watching the man’s movements. Ian tried to ignore his gaze, instead focusing on his own breathing and heartbeat. He closed his fingers into tight fists, took another deep breath and relaxed them. Then he scrunched his face back up, rubbing it again and laid his face back down inside his freckled palms. Mickey’s brow creased with a slight tilt of his head and he took a few steps to stand next to Ian.

“Aye, man,” he said leaning down slightly to look the other man in the face. Ian slowly dropped his hands and met Mickey’s eyes. He still felt a little shaky, but he tried to brush it off. “You cool?” Mickey asked with a slight raise of his eyebrows. Ian took one last deep breath and nodded.

“I’m fine,” he breathed with a heavy fall of his chest.

Mickey straightened back up but didn’t look away from him. His brow still held it’s crease, but he didn’t look angry or irritated, maybe just concerned? He chewed his lip and let his eyes travel over Ian’s face with such an intense blue gaze. Ian could tell that Mickey knew he was full of shit, but he added nothing further for Mickey to think elsewise either. He didn’t have the energy to convince anyone, not even Mickey. They just stared at each other for a moment before Mickey slowly began to nod. He wasn’t going to call Ian out on his mood, which sort of surprised the redhead, but he was thankful for it none the less. Ian didn’t want to feel pressured to talk about his fucked up dream, about his memory.

He felt certain that’s what it was. It couldn’t be just a dream, some awful, grueling nightmare. It’d all actually happened, some time shortly before he got here. He knew it. Reimagining everything, it all just felt too fucking real to simply be some horrible vision that his mind had created. Ian bit his lip, stinging the split and tried to straighten up. 'Don’t think about that shit now,' he told himself. Ian had to keep it together in here, or they’d never let him out. He knew that too.

“Let's go eat,” said Mickey with a gesture of his shoulder and a flick of his head. Ian gave a nod of agreement and followed the other man out of the room.

In the halls, Ian saw many faces that he hadn’t seen the day before. Other residents were wandering about, headed for showers and breakfast, going to and from their rooms and conversing amongst themselves. They passed an old woman with wavy gray hair and a large scar across her neck. Her hands were trembling as she dug harshly at her cuticles with sharp, jagged fingernails. When she passed, Ian could hear her frantically muttering something about “…they’ll hear, they always hear… if they hear, then they’ll see… yes, yes…no! They’ll see it when they hear it… you’ll see, you’ll see it too… See it when you hear it… you always do..”

Ian quickly averted his eyes and took a small step closer to Mickey who he now noticed, walked with a natural sort of strut. It was a serious and dominating walk, bearing his hard demeanor across his chest and atop his shoulders and in the way his legs kicked into his step. He looked sexy. Ian had noticed that Mickey has always had a bit of a saunter when he walked around their room, which he also found very attractive, but this was rather different. Clearly, Mickey had an image and a reputation in this place. At least, it very much appeared so, emitting such a commanding confidence in his movements. It showed in his entire body language the instant they’d left the privacy of their room. Ian wondered if Mickey would treat him any differently with other people around? He had no real reason to expect that he would, but he still thought about it.

He was a bit reassured when he noticed Mickey steal a glance at him. Ian met his eyes and got the hint of a smirk and the slight arch of an eyebrow in return just before Mickey turned his head to look back out at the hall in front of them. Ian fought off a bright, red blush creeping up the back of his neck and mostly just looked at the floor.

They began to pass a doorway with a man walking out of it. Ian didn’t mean to glance twice, but he did. The man was bald and had some kind of mask strapped around his face. It covered everything below his eyes, with a thick metal grate over the nose and mouth for ventilation. Snug buckles clung to the back of his head, straps pressed tightly against his skin. His hands were covered by thick, black mitts with no thumbs, that rose halfway up his forearms preventing any use of his hands. There was a guard beside him that held a firm grip on the man’s arm, guiding him out into the hallway. The man’s head turned toward Ian when he suddenly felt a sharp jab to the bruises on his ribs. He turned to see that Mickey had elbowed him, hard.

“Ow! What the fu-?” Ian gasped and held his side. But Mickey cut off his protest.

“Don’t make eye contact with that fucker,” he warned quickly, “Cause that shit,” Mickey gestured with his brow to the man’s mask and mitts, “Ain’t gonna fuckin' stop him if he’s in one of his fucked up moods. He'll fuckin' eat your ass, man.” Ian’s face twisted into an expression of 'What the fuck?' So, Mickey explained further. “Seriously,” he insisted, “It’s not a fuckin' metaphor,” he said as they passed the guy, both men’s heads close together, speaking in low voices. “Guy’s a cannibal, and a pretty fuckin' violent one.” Mickey took a glance around to make sure no one was paying them any mind as they continued to walk. “He uh, used to have a roommate. And uh, well- they don’t fuckin' let him have roommates anymore now,” he said. “That’s cause the last fuckin' guy who roomed with him ended up gettin' hurt, like pretty fuckin' bad.” Mickey glanced over, meeting Ian’s eyes. “His roommate had real bad insomnia and needed a high ass dose of fuckin' tranquilizers to sleep, like really strong shit, right?” Ian gave a nod, listening intently. “Well,” he continued, “dude was knocked the fuck out and couldn’t feel Hannibal back there chompin' on his fuckin' face.” Ian’s mouth dropped open slightly and his brow creased hard. Mickey saw and nodded. “Yeah, man,” he said, “Needed facial reconstruction or some shit, no lips, no nose.” He scratched his own nose with his thumb and chewed his lip. “And that dude ain’t even housed here no more,” he added with a shake of his head. “Apparently, waking up with no fuckin' face can be pretty fuckin' traumatic.” He let out a dry laugh. “So, they moved him to a different facility, said his 'needs had changed' or some stupid shit like that,” Mickey scoffed, “Just a pussy way of saying that he went too fuckin' crazy to handle anymore.” His tone was hard and tinged with bitterness. He ran his thumb along his bottom lip, no longer looking at Ian, only ahead. Ian stayed silent and followed by Mickey’s side, avoiding any further eye contact with other residents.

They rounded another corner and made their way into the cafeteria. There was a line of residents along one wall getting their trays filled by a server. Others were speckled around the room, sitting at tables chatting and eating quietly. Mickey gave a gesture of his chin for Ian to stay with him as he walked to join the line, which he did. They stood together as the server gave them orange juice, scrambled eggs, sausage and waffles. Ian noticed Mickey completely drench his waffles in syrup, eyes brightening as his tongue eagerly poked through the corner of his mouth. He smiled at the other man’s anxious excitement over his breakfast. They both began to leave the line, peering around the room among the mild murmur of other patients. Ian turned and looked at Mickey, who met his glance and raised an eyebrow.

“I thought you prefer your own company?” Ian asked, teasingly. The other man rolled his eyes and gave a sarcastic smirk.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Mickey with no heat in his voice. Ian laughed. Mickey fought down his own smile, letting his eyes wander over Ian’s face for just a second, before he bit his lip and looked away.

Ian took another look around the room, trying to find an empty area to sit, when he saw a large arm waving from the far corner. He raised an eyebrow and looked around him seeing no one waving back, then back at Mickey who had also noticed and gave a nod toward the corner with his chin. He looked up at Ian and gave the hint of a smile and another tip of his head telling the redhead to follow him. Reluctantly, he did. Ian was hesitant because as they approached the table he’d seen who else was already sitting there.

The wave had come from a big broad guy with a large, square jaw and biceps that were bigger than Ian’s head. He’d seen the man before, just yesterday, sitting in the Rec Room playing cards with Mickey. But it wasn’t this guy that made Ian really not want to sit there, it was the other face at the table: Eddy. The man looked weak and pale with dark, heavy bags hanging from his eye sockets. He noticed bruises around the man’s neck, blue, purple and swollen, smudging over the man’s rose tattoo. Ian looked down at his own hands and curled them tighter around his tray. Then he looked back at the table to see Eddy staring up at him appearing absolutely furious. His face fumed and flushed a bright, hot red. Ian fought down a wicked, evil grin, trying not to appear too pleased with how the whole thing had turned out. Eddy's knee to Ian’s stomach and reopening of his lip hadn’t done any more damage than Ian had already had done to his body. So, as far as he could tell, Eddy hadn’t really accomplished much of shit, but Ian had clearly left an impression, a rather physical one at that. Still, Ian kept a calm, neutral expression as they walked up to the table, just staring at Eddy who glared right back at him. When they set down their trays, the large man seated across from them grinned wide with big, round teeth.

“Hey Mickey, man,” he said as both men swung their legs under the table and sat. “What in the flying fuck are you doing down here, bro?” he gestured with meaty arms around the large, open room. “After all that 'good behavior' bullshit put your ass on a fuckin' pedestal, I never thought I’d see you down here eating with the fuckin' peasants ever again,” The man bellowed out a deep, thick laugh and shoveled a mouthful of eggs into his face. Ian, surprised, simply raised his eyebrows and turned his head to look at Mickey, who barely glanced at him before looking back at the other man with a thick scoff.

“Fuck you, you Hulk ass motherfucker.” He snapped back, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin' about.” He glared at him before turning his face down and spearing a sausage with a plastic fork.

“Oh, don’t I?” the other man asked, still grinning, crumbles of eggs falling from his mouth. “You haven’t been down here since the end of the fuckin' summer when they gave us all ice cream as our special treat shit or whatever.” He chuckled again and took another bite of eggs, chewing but speaking again before he swallowed. “I remember cause you fuckin' took Eddy's" he laughed trying to keep his food contained and glanced lightly at Eddy who simply ignored the words and continued to glare daggers at Ian from across the table. But Ian just ignored him, now listening to the other man who was looking back at Mickey. “So what’s the goddamn occasion, bro?” he asked dropping his fork and raising his big, bulky arms in question, finally swallowing his food. Mickey’s face was hard and unwavering, and Ian tried not to smile. He watched as Mickey glared, chewing the corner of his lip, while the large man across the table just continued to grin back at him unfazed.

“Just shut the fuck up and eat your food, asshole.” Mickey said finally, turning his face down to his own food again and bit off half a sausage. “That big ass mouth a yours talks too fuckin' much,” he chewed.

The other man closed his lips and hummed a smile, then tore a massive bite from a dry, flakey waffle. Ian pressed his lips into a hard line, still fighting off a grin, turning back to his tray. Mickey never eats in the cafeteria. He had only come to the cafeteria to eat because Ian couldn’t eat in the room. He wanted to eat with Ian, to spend more time with him. 'Could that really be it?' he wondered.

“So who the fuck is this?” the man asked after a moment, gesturing at Ian with his half eaten waffle.

“This is Red,” said Mickey, chewing, pointing with his fork to Ian beside him. “New roommate.” Ian looked across the table to meet the man’s gaze and tried to give a friendly grin, to which he got a satisfied chin nod in return.

“Ian,” the redhead corrected with a reciprocated chin nod. Mickey chuckled and shook his head, swallowing his bite, then pointed with his fork to the men across the table.

“That’s Bruce,” Mickey said with a gesture to the large man who’d been speaking. Then he chuckled again when his eyes moved over to the other, much smaller man. “And you’ve met Ed.” He grinned and took another bite of sausage, glancing at Ian next to him, then back at Eddy.

Ian’s eyes moved from the first man to the second, but his expression didn’t change, taking advantage of the opportunity to smile at the other man, just a little. Eddy however, looked like he might explode. His head jerked a few times, and his lips furled over his teeth, but his eyes never left Ian. Bruce made a face of confusion for a moment, looking back and forth between the two men. Mickey just laughed and took a bite of eggs. Then the big man’s eyebrows shot up, eyes wide and his mouth dropped open. He looked back at Eddy and nudged a meaty fist into the man’s shoulder.

“This the Pretty Boy who dropped you?” he asked with a hearty chuckle. Mickey glanced at Ian again, smirking at the nickname and arched an eyebrow. Ian just rolled his eyes, shook his head and tried not to blush. Eddy gave a frustrated nod, and Bruce looked back over at Ian, still speaking to Eddy. “Well what the fuck were you thinkin' there huh, Eddy? You dipshit. Did you even take a fuckin' look at him?” He gestured a wide paw at Ian, who now sat trying not full on grin. “He’s got more than a head on ya and clearly more muscles than you got brains. You stupid or something?” Bruce chuckled and picked up a sausage with big fat fingers, shaking it at Eddy. “Maybe you’re just a fuckwit,” he says pointing the sausage at him then taking a bite. Mickey started outright laughing and Ian couldn’t help but join him. Eddy had been looking at Bruce while he spoke, but whipped his head back around in a sudden, sharp movement at the instant sound of laughter, appearing both enraged and humiliated. He gave them both a cold, hard glare.

“Asshole!” he spat at Mickey who just continued to laugh. Then Eddy looked back at Ian, his curling fingers twitching. “Cunt fucking bitch!” Ian coughed on his juice just as he was taking a sip, unable to contain another laugh, genuinely humored by the other man’s outburst, but Mickey’s laugh stopped immediately.

“Aye, watch your fuckin' mouth, shithead,” he shot back in a deep, threatening tone, “Stupid motherfucker forgets who the fuck he’s talkin' to.” Mickey’s eyes darkened and narrowed on Eddy with agitation and warning.

The other man immediately looked away and peered down at his food. He’d yet to touch any of it and didn’t now, just sat and stared at it, appearing small and inferior under the other man’s heated gaze. Ian turned to look at Mickey, and tried to meet his eye. But Mickey merely glanced at him, meeting his eyes for hardly an instant before glaring deeply back across the table. Bruce just sat eating his food, looking rather amused, sitting back and watching the exchange between the two men. Neither him nor Ian dare say a word as Mickey continued in his verbal correction of Eddy.

“Your dumbass already forget what fuckin' happens to stupid little shits who like to call people names?” Mickey spat the words out, gritting his teeth, harsh and irritated. Ian had yet to see Mickey with an attitude quite like this. He was angry, really angry and Ian didn’t want to be anywhere near the receiving end of it. So, he just stayed quiet and watched. “How many fuckin' times somebody gotta fuck your ass up to get it through your stupid fuckin' head, huh? You need another ass whoopin, Ed?”

Mickey shifted slightly in his seat, all tensed muscles and balled fists. He looked like he was trying really hard to control himself. His fist twitched and a vein pulsed in his neck. Mickey clearly had issues with aggression and anger, Ian could see that. Eddy just curled in on himself, nearly cowering across the table and Mickey hadn’t even gotten up, nor had he raised his voice. It was all in his tone and In his body language. Mickey was fucking intimidating.

“You fuckin' like gettin' your ass beat or somethin'? That what you fuckin' want Eddy?” He curled his lip and sucked it in. “Ain’t nobody the fuckin' bitch but you.” He growled it out low and hard, still glaring across the table. Ian felt stunned and anxious. “You gotta learn your fuckin' place, Ed. You fuckin' should by now. You don’t even fuckin' speak around me, less I fuckin' tell you, asshole. You don’t run shit,” he pointed. “You fuckin' hear me?” Eddy flinched through his twitches and gave a small nod of acknowledgment, still not raising his head to meet Mickey’s eyes. He was clearly too afraid to.

“Eddy's just an impulsive little shit, aint ya Ed?” Bruce interjected with another chuckle, nudging the skinny, dreaded man again. “He just couldn’t fucking help himself.” He reached over and ruffled Eddy's dreadlocks with a big, tan palm, causing the smaller man to jerk away from the contact. “I mean, Carrot Top over here is pretty smokin',” He waggled his eyebrows at Ian who narrowed his eyes and creased his brow with a frown. “Easy Tiger,” Bruce laughed, holding up his slab of a hand in defense. “I don’t want your dick, man. I don’t even like dicks,” he said trying to sound reassuring as he flashed half a glance at Mickey. It was a glance that Ian pretended not to notice, along with the stupid fucking flutters that were now dancing their way up his throat because of it. “I’m a big 'ol rug muncher, myself,” Bruce grinned and licked his lips. Ian saw Mickey shake his head and drop it into his palm with embarrassment. “It’s just a harmless compliment, ya know? Bro to bro.” Bruce gestured between them as the redhead raised an eyebrow and tried not to laugh.

“I mean, if Mickey thinks you’re cool enough to bring to our table,” He circled the tabletop with the tip of his forefinger then pointed down with a hard thud, “then you’re alright by me.” He gave a half hearted shrug and leaned back a bit. Ian felt himself blush and hoped that no one noticed. Bruce glanced at Eddy, then pointed to him with his thumb. “Eddy here just don’t know when to shut the fuck up sometimes,” he smiled and grasped a hand onto the smaller man’s shoulder giving him a friendly shake.

“Neither do you, asshole,” said Mickey with a scoff. Bruce just grinned at him and looked back down at Eddy.

“But it won’t happen again, will it Ed?”' Bruce asked leaning in with a clap on Eddy's shoulder.

Eddy finally lifted his head and glanced around the table, catching Mickey’s hardened stare. He dropped his head again and shook it viciously in defeat, then burst from the table and stormed out of the cafeteria. A few people nearby gave brief questioning glances before returning to their food.

Ian turned slightly to look at Mickey again, seeing that he no longer looked angry or agitated. His face quickly softened and calmed when his eyes met Ian’s. Then Mickey looked down to his tray, his eyes brightening even more. He licked his lips and stuffed a massive, maple dripping bite of waffles into his mouth and began chewing with delight. Ian stared at the syrup on Mickey’s lips and absentmindedly licked his own.

“He normally ain’t a bad guy, man,” said Bruce, pulling Ian’s attention back, “He’s just so fuckin stupid.” He chuckled out the words, grabbing his juice carton and chugging it down with a few quick gulps.

“I think it’s all just part of his fuckin' destructive self hatred bullshit,” said Mickey, “I know how that shit is. You keep fuckin' fightin’ even knowin' you’re gonna get your ass handed to you, cause you think you fuckin' deserve it.” He shook his head. “There are other ways of dealin' with that shit. Asshole needs to figure it the fuck out.” Mickey took another bite of waffles. Bruce hummed in agreement and nodded.

If Ian didn’t know better, he’d of thought that underneath Mickey’s bitter, irritated tone, he would have sounded understanding, maybe even sympathetic. It was the complete opposite attitude of the vicious stance he’d taken just a moment ago when he’d laid into Eddy. It didn’t really make sense.

Then suddenly for some reason, at the mention of self hatred, all the intense emotions of despair and disgust, humiliation and hurt all came flooding back with a terrifying force, taking over Ian’s mind. Every little bit of light that had trickled in through his head and mingled with his thoughts was now being drowned out and sucked into a deep, dark pit swirling around inside his skull. A thick, foggy veil draped over his shoulders and the world suddenly felt way too heavy. He felt sick all over again and quickly began to sweat.

“We all gotta figure shit out,” said Ian, not looking at Mickey who’d now turned his head to face him. “It’s not fucking easy.” Before there were any more words spoken, Ian had grabbed his tray, having not eaten any of his food anyway and strode across the room to dump it all in the trash. Then without so much as a glance back at the table nor at the room behind him, he turned and hurried from the cafeteria.

Ian made his way back through the halls in rushed footsteps, desperately seeking the sanctuary and solace of his bed. He did not want to sleep, however, fuck no. That would only make the depression harder, worse, fucking overwhelming. He just needed to curl up underneath the protective cover of his thin, scratchy blanket and disappear from the world. He knew his name would be called soon over the loud speaker to finally meet with his doctor, get an updated diagnosis and a medication regimen set up but Ian really didn’t care now, not in the slightest. The big, black pit filling his mind was churning fast and growing bigger, pulling him in by the backs of his eyes. His steps were getting more difficult and the veil of fog that covered his shoulders began to weigh him down to the floor. He nearly ran the last few paces of the hallway when he’d finally neared his room.

When Ian got there, he didn’t bother to kick off his slippers or pull off his sweatshirt. He dove straight for his bed and curled up tightly beneath the covers, unable to stop the flood of tears welling heavily in his eyes. He couldn’t control them and didn’t try, letting them flow freely from his lids, desperately trying to drain the pit, to relieve the pressure of the veil that still clung agonizingly tight on his shoulders. Ian pressed his face into the pillow and clamped his mouth shut, forcing himself to muffle the pain. He swallowed a sob and turned his head to let a soft whimper pass his lips, willing more tears away with a firm blink.

As he laid in his distraught and saddened state, he didn’t hear the door shut, or the footsteps walking into the room. But then he stiffened at the feeling of a gentle hand being placed upon his shoulder, giving it a delicate squeeze. Ian turned his head and peeked his eyes through the slit of his cocoon to see Mickey leaning over his bed. He didn’t say anything, but his expression was soft and trusting. His thumb began rubbing slow circles into Ian’s shoulder as his lashes batted a few more tears away, his eyes red and puffy looking back into Mickey’s. His hand left Ian’s shoulder and gently pushed a few stray strands of red hair back from his eyes. The redhead closed them and turned back around, curling tighter into a ball.

There was a pause of silence and Ian tried not let his breath hitch as he felt the hot sting of tears returning to their streams on his cheeks. Then he felt the bed lightly dip and the heat of a body press against his back, wrapping around him. He was confused, but didn’t move to question it, the contact suddenly stifling his quiet cries. Then Ian felt the body behind him shift for a moment, fingertips searching for the edge of the blanket, before lifting it and sliding into the cocoon with him. When warm, strong arms wrapped back around him, Ian glanced down and saw the knuckle tattoos. His disbelief was shattered upon the realization that Mickey was actually laying with him, spooning him, seemingly trying to comfort him. But why? He was tempted to ask, but didn’t want to ruin it, didn’t want to cross some strange invisible line they’d somehow made. Ian wanted to enjoy… whatever this was.

The whirlpool of a pit that had begun devouring his thoughts suddenly began to dissipate, evaporate and melt away, the empty space now consumed by this overwhelming feeling of comfort and security that Ian wasn’t sure he’d ever felt before. The veil was lifted and blown swiftly away by the tentative yet caring touch of the other man's heat. Ian breathed in deep and tried to relax, letting himself bask in the relief that was now flooding over him. He shifted ever so slightly, pressing his back further into Mickey’s chest, which the other man welcomed with a gentle squeeze. Ian let a small smile spread across his lips, knowing that Mickey couldn't see it, and closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long they’d been laying there so still, not at all moving or speaking, just listening to each other breathe, when a polite female voice sounded over the loud speaker:

“Ian Gallagher, you have an appointment with Dr. Yates this morning. Please report to the main access door to await clearance. Thank you.” The sound cut off with a buzz and a click and the room was quiet again.

Neither man moved at first, nor did they finally speak, just remaining as they were. Then Ian looked down at Mickey’s fingers again, tracing over the ink on his knuckles with deep green eyes. He hesitated before brushing his own fingers over the other man’s, taking the risk of the hand possibly being abruptly pulled away at the contact.

However, to Ian’s complete surprise, Mickey’s fingers opened and grasped his own, giving them a soft squeeze, rubbing his thumb along Ian’s. The reaction made Ian’s nerves shiver and his heart flutter with a warm, airy feeling. The other man held his grasp for just a moment though, before moving away completely. Ian felt Mickey move out from under the blanket, sit up and lift himself from the bed. So, he took a slow, deep breath, pinched the bridge of his nose and sat up, the dull, gray blanket now draping loosely, still hanging over him.

He really wanted to say something to Mickey, anything really. Well, maybe not anything. He really didn’t want to say 'thank you,' because Ian didn’t want to put him off, make him angry or uncomfortable or just seem utterly ridiculous. Worst of all, he didn’t want to upset whatever delicate process that must have just taken place in Mickey’s mind for him to do what he did. Ian hadn’t known him long at all, but based on what he had learned about the man in his short time around him, such an action seemed out of character, unusual somehow.

Regardless, he wanted to express his gratitude in some way, so whatever words were able to make their way out would have to do. But when Ian pulled the sheet from his face, rubbed his eyes and turned to speak, the door had been left ajar, the room was empty and Mickey was gone.

Chapter Text

Ian left the room feeling extremely confused and really struggling not to let himself slip back into the same cripplingly depressive spiral that he’d just been so strangely pulled out of. He’d started to feel so much better after the sudden surprise of Mickey’s gentle side laying with him, comforting him, caring. But then to sit up and find the man nowhere in sight, had firmly snuffed out most of those tingly little flutters that had so happily gathered inside his chest. Ian’s shoulders slumped as he trailed his eyes along the seams of the dirty, tiled floor, slowly making his way to the main access door.

He didn’t see Mickey anywhere in the halls either, as far as Ian could tell. His entire walk there he looked for him, glancing down adjacent hallways and peeking through open doors as he went, hoping to catch just a glimpse of that beautiful black haired man. But instead, it was like Mickey had just disappeared and Ian couldn’t help but feel pretty fucking bummed about it. He sighed, chewed the inside of his cheek and continued to walk, drudgingly dragging his feet, hardly glancing up anymore.

He was met at the doorway by a large guard with dark brown skin and thick, black hair. He had a face like polished stone and said nothing when the patient approached, merely motioning toward Ian’s wristband for him to read under a hardened, furrowed brow. When he did, he turned back toward the sensor near the door, pulled a keycard from a chain on his belt and scanned it. The sensor sounded with a confirming beep and the lock snapped open with a sharp click. The guard held the door and gestured a broad hand with an unchanging expression for Ian to pass through first, which he did. Ian took a deep breath and pressed his lips closed, rubbing his palms together, trying to step in steady paces.

The short hall between the access doors was plain, windowless and quite claustrophobic, much more so than he’d remembered from the day before. He kept his eyes on the floor, listening to the guard’s heavy footsteps following closely behind his own. He felt his nerves begin to tingle and his head begin to ache, but he tried his best to ignore it all and clear his mind, as difficult as it was to do. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

When they reached the second door, Ian looked up and was able to make out a small silhouette on the other side, just beyond the window. But whoever it was moved aside and he wasn’t able to see them clearly at all before they did. His eyes flickered over to the guard who was now beside him, approaching the next sensor and running his key card across it. The door hummed, beeped and unlocked. As the man opened it, there was a sharp gust of pressure that briefly rushed the doorway and settled just as fast. The burst of wind ruffled Ian’s hair, whirled the collar of his shirt and caused his eyes to flutter shut.

When he opened them, he was met with a bright new face. Standing in front of him was a young woman, who couldn’t be more than six or seven years older than Ian himself. She was short and thin with fiery red hair much like his own and big blue eyes. Her hair was curly and pulled back into a tight braided twist. She had clear skin and a toothy smile, wore a long medical coat and a pretty, green dress underneath. A clipboard rested in one arm, with a large tan case file clasped atop it. Ian slowly passed through the door and took another deep breath, just as the woman took a small step toward him and extended her free arm.

“Mr. Ian Gallagher, I presume?” she smiled and the light shimmered against her teeth.

Ian nodded and took her hand in his, giving it a firm but gentle squeeze while he eyed her shiny green fingernails and large wedding ring. She briefly glanced at his wristband for further confirmation, then finished the handshake.

“Wonderful,” she said happily, “My name is Dr. Emily Yates. You may call me Emily or you may call me Dr. Yates, whichever you’re most comfortable with.” She watched Ian’s face as he remained silent. “May I call you Ian?” she asked. He nodded again. “Great,” she smiled, “We have a lot to talk about this morning, Ian.” The doctor shifted her clipboard over her chest to rest in her other arm.

She then peered over Ian’s shoulder and gave the guard who'd escorted him in a quick nod, to which he then turned around to pass back through the doors into the Residential Building. Dr. Yates turned slightly and presented the hallway in front of them with a delicate, outstretched hand and a painted smile on her face.

“Would you please follow me to my office?” she asked kindly.

This time Ian didn’t nod, he just stared blankly toward the floor and followed her, watching his feet and struggling to hold back the pathetic wave of sadness that was lingering so dangerously close to the edge of his sanity. It happened every time his mind began to wander back to what happened when he was with his mother, or the unusual situation that had just happened with Mickey.

For some reason the confused sadness nagging at the back of his mind from Mickey seemed to hurt more than the harsh, disgusted sting of betrayal that he felt from his mother. Maybe it was because that wound was just fresher, or maybe because when it came to Monica, Ian had agonizingly learned over the years to never hope for more than there was. With her, you should always expect worse or nothing at all. Though when it came to Mickey, Ian had foolishly begun to develop such hope and all it did was start to tear him apart inside. It was all because he was getting too attached too quickly, just like he always fucking did. 'Fuck,'

He tried to force all thoughts of the other man from his mind with a low, biting growl that got stuck in the back of his throat. He shook his head, bright red strands falling over his forehead and shading his brow. But, the doctor didn’t seem to hear his sounds or notice his movements. Ian knew that he needed to try, as much as part of him really didn’t want to, had to try and brush away the fresh, lingering memory of Mickey being gentle, tender, sweet. Because he knew that if he didn’t really, really try to, it’d only pull him back into the same deep, dark pit as before and he definitely didn’t want that.

Ian followed the doctor down a long, white hallway, her heels clicking against the tile and bright lights beaming down on them, buzzing with their energy flow. As they passed other offices, he saw glimpses of other doctors seated behind their desks, speaking with their patients, each in various states of docility and distress. He also saw an examination room complete with a scale, machines full of wires, bright lights and a table lined with butcher paper. Ian twiddled his fingers and tried not to feel too nervous or anxious as he continued to walk along the hall inhaling the pungent scents of blood, medicine and sanitary chemicals. They finally turned a corner when they’d reached the end of the hall and Ian watched as the doctor pulled a keychain from her coat pocket and unlocked her door with a clanky, metallic, jingle, then flicked on the light switch.

It was a fairly small room that had a large, wooden desk tucked into the corner with a tall green plant at one end and two chairs beside it. There was a small couch along the adjacent wall with a soft, bulky chair and coffee table facing it with a small box of tissues placed neatly on top. A black filing cabinet and a small set of shelves sat comfortably wedged behind the desk. Ian noticed the lingering smell of lavenders and crinkled his nose, seeing a purple air fresher plugged into an outlet, hidden halfway behind the plant. He hated that smell.

The doctor rounded her desk setting down the file and clipboard, then made a sweeping motion with her hand toward the two chairs in front her, silently gesturing for Ian to take a seat, then sat down herself. She slid open the utensil drawer in the middle of her desk with a high, dry squeal sounding from the metal as it moved. Then she fished out a pen and a thin pair of reading glasses, all with pretty, delicate fingers. The doctor unfolded her glasses, hooked them over her ears and rested them along the bridge of her nose. Her forefinger skimmed down the length of her clipboard, eyes focused, before lifting a single sheet, detaching the file and flipping it open. Her fingers curled to remove a paperclip from the thin stack of sheets concealed inside.

“Well, Mr. Gallagher- Oh, excuse me, Ian,” she corrected herself, “First thing’s first, before we dive into all of this here,” the woman said, gesturing with a splayed hand to his open file in front of her.

She moved it over, snatching another sheet from her clipboard underneath and began to write on it. Her eyes glanced up briefly to meet Ian’s with a smile, politely raising a forefinger, asking him to wait a moment. The doctor wrote fast, glancing at the file, then back to her paper quickly jotting down notes. She finally looked back up, meeting his gaze once more, lowering her pen and continued to smile.

“How are you feeling today, Ian?” asked Dr. Yates. 'Like shit' Ian thought.

“Um, fine, I guess,” he answered simply, quietly, trying to sound sure of his words but undoubtedly failing.

“That’s very good,” she said, “However, I’d like if you could possibly name an emotion that you’re feeling today? Could you do that for me, Ian? I have a chart here for reference if you need,” She reached back and pulled a laminated sheet out from a low shelf behind her, “Could you pick out one of these little faces here, please? Do any of them feel like you do now?” The diamonds in her wedding ring sparkled as a thin hand reached out to set the sheet down facing her patient.

Ian resisted rolling his eyes and instead he chewed his cheek, letting his face fall down to the shiny, pale chart she’d placed in front of him. Staring back up at him was an array of expressive, emotional illustrations displaying various states of feeling. He slowly skimmed the columns of faces, lazily searching for something mild to choose, not at all bothering to pick honestly.

“Calm,” said Ian, his voice still weak and unconvincing. The doctor eyed him silently and made a quick note on her sheet, then looked back up at the young man's freckled face.

“I’d like you to be as honest with me as you can, Ian,” she said lightly, her face soft and smooth, “It’s the only way we can move forward here together.” Her large, round orbits fell back to the chart on the other side of the desk.

“Could you please take another look and choose again?” she asked nicely, subtly tapping the page with a perfectly polished fingernail.

Ian exhaled, his eyes dropping stiffly once more to the glossy paper below. He knew that he was going to have to give her something to work with, anything believable really. Ian didn’t appear to be in the best physical or emotional shape right now, and he wasn’t ignorant of that fact at all. 'Calm' just wasn’t believable, so therefore, unacceptable. Ian had figured that much, but had just needed to try anyway, though he was pretty sure it wouldn’t work. He wanted to get this all over with as quickly as possible, in a rush to escape yet another uncomfortably tiny and sterile office as well as a nosy doctor asking him too many damn questions. However, this meeting was important after all and would have a profound effect on his entire stay here, determining his diagnosis and prescriptions for such. Yes, that shit was important, even if Ian really didn’t think he needed any of it. Well, he knew that he didn’t need it, but Ian also knew that he still had go through with this, somewhere deep down he did anyway. So, he decided that he would try to be at least a little honest, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable admitting such emotions would be for him. He blinked hard and pinched the bridge of his nose before answering.

“Afraid,” he said much more quietly, looking up to meet the soft blue eyes and long, black eyelashes on the young doctor’s face. She tilted her head and gave an accepting nod, then reached out to retrieve the emotion chart and scribbled something down on the sheet in front of her.

“Very interesting,” she said with genuine intrigue in her voice, “Would you like to talk about that with me, Ian?” she asked sliding the chart behind her note sheet, keeping eye contact throughout her movements. She then folded her hands neatly in front of her, her pen poking up from between them, observing him and waiting for a response. 'Of course not,' Ian thought.

“I’d rather talk about why the fuck I’m here,” he replied rather bluntly, almost defensively.

“What exactly do you mean?” asked Dr. Yates, raising an eyebrow, completely unbothered by Ian’s inappropriate language.

Ian scoffed. She probably hadn’t intended to come off so condescending, but that’s all Ian could hear right now. The backs of his eyes throbbed, his brow creased hard and his fingers suddenly twitched with irritation.

“I mean, I wanna know what the fuck I did to end up in this fucking place talking to you,” he snapped.

Ian didn’t mean to snap and sound so rude, so harsh, but regardless that’s the way it came out. The words had whipped off his tongue with a tough, sour bite and his mood had suddenly shifted. He just felt agitated like he had a sharp, persistent ticking that was tapping against the side of his skull and he couldn’t get it to stop. This was just bullshit. Everything about this was just fucking bullshit. Ian tried his best to control his annoyance and discomfort but he was struggling, fighting, trying not to shake. A twinge inside a vein was pulsing at the backs of his eyes and it was making his brain begin to quiver and twitch. He started to feel pressured and stressed, like a dam with a tidal wave hopelessly trapped behind it, or a levee desperately containing a cold, rushing current that was still holding strong but slowly beginning to crack. Ian breathed in through his nose and out his mouth, slow and steady. The woman across the desk simply nodded at him slowly, reading her notes and glancing back at his file. Ian swallowed his frustration.

“Yes, I was informed of your apparent amnesia,” the doctor said with a slight purse of her lips, “Have you had any of your memories return to you, yet?” she asked looking up, her hands raising slightly from the papers on her desk, questioning. Ian hesitated just a few seconds too long, but then gave a firm shake of his head. Dr. Yates nodded again, her face clear and understanding, believing Ian’s response was genuine.

“Well, everything will be covered and thoroughly discussed. I assure you, Ian. We have plenty of time.” Her fingers brushed over the papers in his file, then down their edge before closing it, placing her clipboard and note sheet back on top, “But first, I’d like you to tell me why you’re feeling afraid now?”

Ian pressed his lips together, glanced down at his hands and swallowed again, trying to think of the right words to use without revealing too much. He would have to do this her way. He couldn’t rush it. He had to give her some honesty, no matter how painful it was.

“I-I'm afraid that I might have… I might have done something really horrible to someone and that’s the reason I’m here,” Ian said slowly, carefully, “And I’m afraid that I might end up being in here for a really long time because of that.” He didn’t lift his head to meet the doctor’s eyes but he could hear the rough scratch of her pen moving across the paper again. His brow creased.

“What kind of horrible thing do you think you may have done, Ian?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” He gave a jerky shake of his head and ran a large, sweaty palm down his face.

“Do you believe you may have hurt someone? Is that why you’re feeling afraid?” The scribble of her pen paused.

The doctor’s voice was soft and calming but Ian couldn’t ignore the dull ache that brewed in the pit of his stomach every time he tried really hard to remember more of what his mind had blocked out. It made his body involuntarily tremble, from which he had to stiffen his muscles to hide it.

Ian just couldn’t recall any of it no matter how hard he tried to pry and dig and delve. His brain never seemed to want him to know anything unless he happened to be caught in some defenseless, unconscious state, always punishing him for his attempt at peace and solace. Only once had it happen when he was still conscious, last night in his room, but even then, he’d had no control over it. Only Mickey’s leveled voice and gentle touch had been able to pull him from the grasp of his all-consuming trance. He cringed, not wanting to think of the other man, his voice or his touch, not now. Cold goosebumps and trickling shivers crept up the back of his neck and made Ian shudder just as he rubbed his face again and crossed his arms over himself.

“I’m afraid that I could have,” Ian confirmed softly, strongly emphasizing the 'could' in his reply. “I really just don’t remember anything though.”

His eyes slowly traveled along the floor for a moment before stopping to stare blindly downward into nothing, feeling hallow, wilted and damp. Then the hot salty sting of tears began pushing their way up from his eyelids, but he quickly wiped them away with the sleeve of his sweater and a firm sniffing blink.

“How would you feel if you had hurt someone, Ian?” She asked gently.

Ian’s muscles tensed and his stomach twisted, his nerves beginning to flare up again. The wave was raging and the dam creaked. He rubbed his forehead. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He hated to think of the possibility that he could have seriously hurt some innocent person and have absolutely no recollection of it. He shifted in his seat, finally looking back up at Dr. Yates, his fingers now woven together in his lap.

“I’d feel terrible,” he said, “Guilty, ashamed,” Ian added.

The small woman seated across the desk gave him a look of sympathy and understanding, rolling her blue pen over in her fingers, then made note of his response. She then pulled Ian’s file out from under her clipboard and placed it in front of her, but didn’t open it. Her eyes met his again, with a brief glimmering twinkle and she folded her hands back together.

“Before I open this,” she said with a quick glance to the file beneath her hands, “I’d like to know, what is the last thing that you do remember?” the doctor asked curiously.

Ian honestly wasn’t sure how to answer her with his mind currently so warped in the awful, twisted way that it was, making it hard to fully function or even think straight. Trying with strain to gaze back through the fog, he wasn’t entirely sure what had been real and what hadn’t. Much of it he couldn’t bring himself to talk about anyway, not with anyone, not now, maybe not ever. Things that made his stomach reel and his head pound with a hoarse independent pulse. He shifted his feet around and crossed his ankles.

If he were to go by the very last thing that he was absolutely certain of, that would be a quick, simple memory of leaving his co-worker's apartment, who's couch he’d been crashing on for the last week or so, and catching the bus to head into work. But Ian also didn’t know how long ago that’d been, unsure if that’d been the same night from the memory that had abruptly came to him just after he’d awoken here yesterday. That’s when he realized that he didn’t even know what today’s date was, or the month for that matter. He just knew it was winter because of the snow and the obviously freezing temperatures outside. For the last several months, Ian hadn’t really kept too close of track of that sort of thing, only really paying attention to what days of the week he had to work and not much more.

The thoughts of his life before the black out, the things that Ian could remember clearly, awful things that made him feel oceans of self-hatred and shame swirl in his brain, it all suddenly made the dull throb that had been vibrating along the base of his skull begin to pulse and the wave began to rock. He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose again. Ian didn’t want to tell her about his life before, about what he was or about the awful, degrading, sometimes unspeakable kinds of things he’d had to do. He certainly didn’t want to tell her about the dreams and flashes of memories that'd been coming back to him, as being forced to sleep his way back through them felt like a cruel enough punishment. He didn’t want to relive any of it more than his own mind was already forcing him to. Plus part of him still wasn’t sure if any of it was even real, or ever actually happened, so why talk about it?

After a few quiet moments of simply sitting and thinking, occasionally shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Ian took another deep breath and combed his fingers through his hair with a long, soothing scratch along his scalp. He opted to just tell her vaguely what he was sure he actually knew, without delving too far back or giving too many details. And since honestly a lot of the more recent memories were still rather fuzzy and difficult to recollect properly anyway, he wouldn’t be lying.

“I uh, remember taking the bus into work but I don’t know how long ago that was,” he said honestly. “Uh, w-what’s today’s date?” Ian asked. The doctor made yet another quick note of his response on her paper, green fingernails glittering as she moved her pen.

“Today is Tuesday, January 12th,” she replied meeting his eyes once more.

Ian suddenly realized that he’d missed both Christmas and New Years with his family, having not even called to tell them that he was still alive, that he was…okay. He hadn’t been home since Thanksgiving and even that visit hadn’t lasted for very long, as he and Lip had gotten into a rather heated argument and Ian had stormed out on pretty bad terms. Still, he missed them and hated that his silent absence was probably making them all worry out of their minds, wondering what could have happened to him. They wouldn’t even know where he was now, but he wasn’t sure if he really wanted them to. His heart twinged with guilt and Ian visibly grimaced, his shoulders slumping with a hard, saddened slouch. The wave simmered and creaked, the current rushed but the levee was still holding. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“That must have been weeks ago, then,” he said shamefully, watching her pen forever move across the paper as he spoke.

“About how many weeks would you say, if you could give a guess?” she queried.

“Three or four, maybe,” he said with an uncommitted shrug. His tongue slid slowly along the corner of the split from the inside of his lip, his brow crinkling slightly, still confused as to when and how he could have gotten it. None of it made any sense.

“Do you recall anything at all about your mood around that time?” Her head tilted slightly, causing a lens in her glasses to catch the light and shine a thin silver beam over Ian’s eyes for just an instant as a comforting smile remained stuck across her lips. He squinted at the glare and ran his fingernails back along his scalp again.

Ian could indeed recall at least the bulk of his mood around that time, the same as it had been for the last two years, really. 'Chaotic' wasn’t quite fitting, nor was 'hectic' quite a suitable description for it, either. He’d been destructive, impulsive and unbalanced. Ian had simply been a walking fucking disaster.

“Pretty unstable,” he admitted, still trying to stay fairly vague. “A lot of ups and downs.”

“Was this during the brief time that you’d mentioned to Dr. Craft that you were medicated?” she asked, glancing down at her notes and skimming a single finger across one particular section.

“No,” said Ian shaking his head, “That was like a year ago, or a couple months less. Something like that,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “I only took the medication for a few days before I flushed the rest,” Ian twiddled his fingers, “I didn’t like them,” he mumbled. The doctor nodded, pen moving once more. He really hated that fucking pen.

“Most medications prescribed for mood disorders can usually take up to a few weeks to fully regulate within the body,” said Dr. Yates, “When I prescribe your medications, you’ll have give them more of a chance to properly work through your system. Just a few days is simply not enough time to experience their intended effect,” she said, “Do you believe you'll be able to do that, Ian?” He hesitated but nodded still trying to ignore his irritation at the seemingly know-it-all tone of her voice.

“Wonderful,” said the doctor, “Now before I can prescribe you any medication, I have to determine a proper diagnosis for you,” Ian stayed silent, just listening and trying not to fidget his fingers any more. “Do you believe that you suffer from bipolar disorder, or perhaps some other form of mental illness?” she asked calmly.

“No,” he replied quickly and flatly. The doctor pursed her lips with a slight raise of her eyebrows and wrote down his response.

“Any history of mental illness within your biological family?” Dr. Yates asked, her eyes batting back up at him, the blue in her irises bright and twinkling.

Ian’s body involuntarily lurched and pulled at his gag reflex as a shudder passed over his skin at the sudden thought of her. He looked up meeting the doctor’s eyes and could see that she’d noticed his physical reaction to her question, so he wouldn’t be able to hide it. He hesitated again and rubbed his forehead.

“My mother is bipolar,” Ian confessed with a sigh, “But I’m nothing like her,” he added defensively.

“How did you know that she was bipolar?” she asked, taking note and sweeping past Ian’s guarded demeanor.

Ian let out a heavier sigh and ran both hands down his face, stopping with a hard press over his mouth. He had to take a slow deep breath to prepare himself for this. He knew he’d be forced to reminisce some of the dark and painful childhood memories that he would much rather just forget. Ian didn’t want to do it, but knew he had to. This wouldn’t be easy, not at all. His eyes burned and the sting of tears threatened to betray him once again, so he quickly wiped them away before they could fully appear. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

Ian then proceeded to give the doctor examples of all the strange and unusual things his mother had done with him and his siblings over the course of his childhood, what little of it she’d actually been involved with. He spoke of how some mornings she would awake absolutely ecstatic, excited about life, so full of immense amounts of energy, zipping around the house, cleaning, cooking, finding projects to start and complete, yet all the while hardly ever sleeping. She’d run around the park with them, playing games and taking them shopping, skating or the zoo. His mother would buy them extravagant gifts with money that seemingly appeared from nowhere and make wonderful, outrageous promises that any kid would have been happy to hear from a doting, caring parent.

But then the next day, every time without fail, she just couldn’t get out of bed and wouldn’t eat or drink, never speaking or moving, hardly a sound of life coming from her at all. She just laid there and slept for weeks, only getting up when his older siblings finally had to drag her into the bathroom and sit her in the tub, holding her up while they washed the sweat and filth from her skinny, frail body. Ian would have to run into her room and strip the piss stained sheets from her bed and lay new ones down, always spraying the mattress with profuse amounts of cleanser before he did so.

And when she was finally able to rise from her own accord, she’d perk right back up, smiling and laughing, telling jokes and blowing them kisses like nothing had ever happened. She’d stay around only a few more days, maybe a week before taking off again, either with Frank or some strange man or woman she’d drunkenly met at a bar the night before.

“Once it was a drag queen with false teeth and a heroin addiction,” Ian commented with a dry, bitter chuckle. The doctor pushed her bottom lip out and raised her eyebrows as she made note of it, appearing as though she’d heard much stranger things before.

Ian told the doctor about his sixth birthday, when she’d randomly called the house completely strung out and begging his sister for money. She then showed up a few hours later only to steal and pawn the new video game that his siblings had pooled their money together to buy for him, his only gift that year. She’d left that time leaving kisses on his face and promises on her lips that she would be back again soon to see him and the others, and with a another game for him, a better game for letting her use his new one. Of course Ian didn’t see his mother again until nearly two years later and by that time she’d had no recollection of the conversation anymore. In fact, she just acted like it’d never happened at all, merely hugging him tight, showering him with kisses and telling him how special he was, just before nudging him out of the way to reach for a beer near the back of the fridge.

There was one occasion, Ian told the doctor about, when she’d had a particularly unusual episode that always seemed to stand out in his mind. One spring afternoon when Ian was about ten, his mother had returned home again after her most recent drug fueled escapade that had only lasted about six weeks, a short stint for her. She was still high, drunk and clearly out of her right mind, immediately tearing the curtains from every window in the house demanding they let more sunlight into their home. ‘We’re not a family who lives in the dark!’ she’d exclaimed joyfully. She then opened them all up with fidgety, energetic fingers allowing the smoggy South Chicago air to fill the place with it’s sour flowing waves of dumpster rot and car exhaust, calling it 'fresh air.' Then she stripped her body nearly entirely of it’s clothing and climbed out the window up to the roof claiming she needed to 'feel the breeze better, feel the sun better, see the sky.'

After a short period of standing atop the house, his mother began to ramble, and they could hear her mumbled, babbling slurs from the windows just below her. She began to claim that if she were to jump and catch the air for just a moment, she would sprout wings and take flight, thus becoming an extraordinarily beautiful bird with shimmering crystal wings and feathers made of sun streaks and stardust. Or the angels of heavens would suddenly part the clouds and descend from the sky to carry her away to God, whom she said lived within the sun and gave all the planet life. They’d shook and trembled, cried and begged, hopelessly listening to her delusional mumbling from down below. She had been so sure, so convinced, so eager to show her children that it was all true, that she’d begun to wander so very close to the edge, her toes brushing daringly along the gutter. She teetered and wobbled and swayed with the wind, nearly slipping and falling, colliding with the very same earth that her god gave life to and his sun shone down upon, forgotten by her angels.

But ultimately Fiona had been able to contact the fire department, who then showed up just in time to extend the ladder and have someone carry their mother down from the roof in a kicking, screaming, crying heap. She was nearly admitted to the psych ward that day, but refused to sign herself in and the police said that they couldn’t force her to. Later that night he and his older siblings had refused to let her back inside, and through pleading tears and painful cries they fought and struggled and held the door shut. So, she just gave up and took off again, like she always did.

His mother was like the wind: she was there for an instant then all at once she was gone again, somewhere else yet nowhere at all. She was untamed and wild, restless and free. Monica was everything that Ian had ever hoped to be, yet everything he ever hated all at once, mingling together within the same awful, terrible, amazing creature that had somehow been spewed from the bowels of the universe and carelessly thrust into their young, fragile, unassuming lives. She was this horrible, beautiful, wonderful monster and he was nothing like her, nothing at all. Ian could never let himself be like his mother. He just couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Ever.

Ian even spoke of thanksgiving just a few years ago, when she’d happily helped prepare the entire holiday meal, slaving away all day in the kitchen with his sisters, sharing joyful laughs and warm embraces, beautifully bonding while they harmoniously worked as one. She even insisted that she lead the family in grace and express all her thanks, much to everyone’s confused amusement. But they let her and she did, a touching speech all full of heart and sweet, meaningful words. Then she sat at the table and ate about half of her meal, engaged in light conversation with her children and even with Frank, telling stories and giving compliments, all with a loving motherly smile plastered across her face. That was all just before she'd promptly left the room to slit her wrists on the kitchen floor, leaving him and his siblings to mop up their frightened, sobbing tears along with her cooling, sticky puddle of blood.

There were some days that Ian wished his mother had died that evening, and then there were the other days when he hated himself for wishing that.

There was no shortage of insane Monica stories and once they had begun to spill from his mouth, Ian could suddenly go on for hours talking about them, about her, all while either humorously laughing, on the verge of simply crying or while grinding his teeth and clenching his fists, trying not to scream. At some points, Ian wasn’t sure how he’d been able to keep himself together while speaking about her, having to relive such agonizing memories from so long ago. It was tough, really tough, even more so than he’d already known it would be. He spoke much more about his mother than he’d originally intended to, simply carried away with the jumbled, racing, misplaced thoughts whirling around inside his head. Monica was like that too. She was a flood, a hurricane, a powerful force of nature, even when she wasn’t near you. She always left a lasting impression on those around her, in one way or another.

The doctor listened quietly, watching his face, taking notes and nodding with understanding, not once interrupting him. Her petite, red lips pursed as a flash from her blue pen moved swiftly across the paper.

“She never seemed to understand when or why the shit she did was so wrong,” Ian said, “There was always some excuse for everything. Everyone else was always the fucking problem,” he shook his head. “She never gave a shit,” he said bitterly, hissing out the words and looking down to the floor with clenched fists and fingernails digging into his palms.

“Do you ever see any similarities between any of your mother’s actions and your own?” Dr. Yates asked gently, lowering her pen and lightly gazing over her reading glasses to look at him.

“No,” Ian tried not to growl as he curled his lip and looked up to meet her eyes again, “My mother’s crazy,” he said, “I’m not.” He opened his hands and wrapped his palms around the caps of his knees, squeezing. 'I'm not my mother,' Ian thought angrily, knuckles turning white.

The doctor’s eyes quietly scanned over his face, before looking down to reopen his file, her hand brushing smoothly over its length before lifting the cover. She squinted, adjusting her eyes through thin, rectangular glasses and began to skim the very top of the first page with a skinny index finger.

“There is a police report here detailing how you were found on the day of your incident, along with some of the things that you allegedly said to the responding officers,” she began as she lifted the sheet to read it better, “You don’t recall your arrest?” the doctor asked before continuing as she peeked over the top of the page, peering across the desk at the young man seated in front of her.

Ian looked away and shook his head, feeling his chest tighten at the word. 'Arrest,' he thought, 'Fuck.' He tried to ready himself for whatever it was that she was about to tell him, but his nerves began tingle in a sickly, chilling way and his pores quickly began to well with sweat. For a moment, he thought he may throw up, thus spilling the anxious pool of worry and fear that was now mixing and churning around inside his stomach all over the cold, white floor. Ian swallowed with a slow blink and a deep, steady breath through his nose.

“It says here that eight days ago, the police received calls reporting a deranged young man yelling unintelligible and incoherent obscenities to himself and others while at a truck stop just outside the city,” she read, “They saw you enter the truck stop on foot, though no one was able to say which direction you’d come from. You began shouting about a quote 'swarm of demons’ that were after you, also adding that these demons apparently intended to quote 'catch you and burn you alive.’" The doctor raised her face to look at her patient, who remained fidgety and stiff looking down at the floor.

“That’s quite the statement,” she said, “You have no memory of this?” Dr. Yates asked. Ian tensely shifted and shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. He felt astonished, embarrassed and full of complete disbelief. There was no way Ian could have said such insane things.

The doctor lowered her head and continued, “Witnesses then observed you break into one of the parked rigs, hot wire it and drive away inside at a rather high speed.” Ian’s brow creased hard as he listened to her read the report, none of it sparking any memories, only making his head pound.

“The responding officers were unable to locate you or the truck for several hours,” her eyes continued to skim, “When they finally did reach you, you were reported to have been found in the industrial district on the south side of the city,” said Dr. Yates, “You were still behind the wheel, after having presumably wrecked it by driving through the fence and wall of one of the factory buildings there,” She turned the page over in a single smooth movement to view the continuation on the other side of the report.

“You appeared unconscious with minor injuries, which I should say is quite surprising and very lucky,” she added with a brief clasp to her chest in mild amazement, “As it says here that you were not wearing a seatbelt.” Ian’s stomach clenched and the swollen bruises that were still speckled across his body suddenly began to throb and burn. “Even more astonishingly,” said the doctor, “They believe that the injures you did have, seem to have occurred some time before the wreck due to their visible state of healing, and not during this particular incident," she added, "One officer made a guess that they looked to be anywhere from a few days to about a week old, though the superficial damage was still rather severe.”

She peered back up at him, assessing his reaction to all the information she was giving him, but Ian’s face stayed as it was. His forehead was creased in thought, a few red strands splayed over it, his mouth pressed into a hard line and his thumbs rubbed together with such force, had they been made of wood, Ian would have a fire burning in his lap.

“Do you recall any of this, Ian? Or perhaps how you came to be injured before this incident?” she asked with a slight raise of her eyebrows, and a tap of her pen against the desk. Ian weakly shook his head and kept his face toward the floor, his toe tracing the split between two gray, square tiles. Dr. Yates took note and raised the police report once more to read it further.

“An ambulance was also called to the scene to check you over, and to also attend to anyone who may have been injured inside the building. This wreck occurred during operation hours with a full factory of workers,” Ian felt tears reappearing in his eyes with a hot, wet sting. He took a hard sniff and wiped them away again.

“When the EMTs began to assess your bodily damage, you briefly regained consciousness and claimed again that quote 'the demons were coming’ for you, then began rambling incoherently once more, but about a 'woman in red,'” The doctor glanced back up at the redheaded man across the desk and there he sat, still tense and unmoving.

“They attempted to have you placed inside of the ambulance, so they could transfer you to the hospital. However, you reportedly became very belligerent and violent and refused any sort of further treatment,” Ian’s stomach was starting to twist and the wave was rocking again, the dam letting out a long, straining creak. “The officers as well as the paramedics apparently tried to calm you down, at which point it says that you lunged for one of the officer’s firearms but were tackled and restrained before again losing consciousness,” Dr. Yates set that paper aside and peered down to read from the one beneath it.

“Because you lost consciousness, they were able transport you to the hospital after being placed under arrest,” she said, “The hospital reported that you had remained unconscious throughout your stay with them, even after having your stomach pumped,” she skimmed a thin, pale finger lightly down the sheet, “You had a substantial amount of drugs in your system at the time, though your brain work came back normal, as well as your blood work after having received fluids through an IV,” her big, blue eyes scanned the page carefully, reading, her bottom lip stuck out just a bit.

“Seems that they’d expected you to wake rather soon, so they made arrangements for you to be brought here which were then signed off by the judge now handling your case and sentencing,” She raised an eyebrow and made a perplexed expression, then shifted the paper slightly and squinted.

“It appears that the handling of your incident is one of very unique and special circumstances,” both her eyebrows raised slightly now, “You have been deemed an ‘immediate potential danger to the public' and everything was almost immediately handed over to this judge,” she made a bit of a shrugging gesture with her arm. “Apparently, the police were unsure of how to fully handle the situation, as something quite like this has never happened in their jurisdiction before,” She paused and looked up at him. Ian had finally glanced up just a bit, not yet looking at her though. His shoulders were slumped and his face drooped as he stared across the desk, at the file in front of her.

“There is a lot of ignorance and misinformation regarding mental illness,” she tried to reassure him in a calm, quiet voice, “It’s situations like yours that simply prove how much more education we need on the subject.” The doctor smiled gently, but Ian didn’t react. She pressed her lips together and softly creased her brow with a sympathetic expression, then let her eyes flicker back to the file, flipping the first page back over.

“Unfortunately, I can’t go into too many details with you regarding your actual sentencing, as it says here that it is currently pending, awaiting the results of your evaluation period,” she said, “There will also be a meeting scheduled at the end of that period to review your case, discuss your progress and determine where you will be spending the remainder of your sentence and exactly how long that will be.” Ian stayed tense and swallowed hard, lacing his fingers back together in his lap.

“Although, something that I can tell you, is that you are facing several rather serious charges because of this whole thing,” she gave a slight nod of confirmation, then peered down at the sheet, a delicate finger tracing across it once more, “Such as grand theft auto, reckless endangerment, destruction of state and city property, aggravated assault, assault on an officer and resisting arrest,” her lips pursed again, “Other charges were discussed as well, but never brought forward for several reasons that don’t seem to be explained here.” The doctor creased her forehead as she read and rubbed her brow again, letting her eyes move further down the page.

“The arresting officers were unable to determine if the crash was an accident or something you’d intended to cause. And based on some of things you said, along with your unusual demeanor, they were fairly certain that you were already suffering from some form of mental illness, which made determining that much more difficult,” she said. “That would seem to be why you were brought to us, Ian,” said Dr. Yates. She paced the report back down lightly on her desk and removed her reading glasses.

Ian had hoped that hearing all of this would bring some clarity, spark a few memories and hopefully start to put some things into perspective, but it just seemed to make him even more confused about everything. Why the hell would he feel the need to steal a semi truck and crash it into some seemingly random factory? Who the hell was the 'woman in red?' Had he really believed that demons were hunting him down with the intent of burning him alive? He shuddered. It all sounded too crazy, too outrageous, like something out of a movie and most importantly, none of it rung a single fucking bell. It was just unbelievable. If the wreck isn’t what had caused all of Ian’s bruises, then what the hell had happened to him? Ian’s head throbbed and his eyes burned with frustration. What was the deal with his sentencing, the unusual handling of his case, and this mystery samaritan of a judge? His mind began to spin, the wave rocking and crashing against the edge. He dug his fingers into his eyes and rubbed them with vigor.

“It says I assaulted someone?” Ian asked suddenly, releasing his eyes and looking up.

The doctor raised her own face and met his eye with a slight look of surprise at the sound of her patient’s voice finally speaking once again. She glanced back down at the report and slid her glasses back onto the tip of her nose. Her mouth opened slightly as she skimmed his brief list of charges, her finger gently gliding along the thin sheet of paper.

“The officer, when you struggled with him for his gun,” she replied with a loose hand shrug. The doctor then took her glasses back off, sliding them up past her brow to rest along the tight twist of red braids on her head, “And aggravated assault is the same as assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the truck that you stole and drove into the building,” she said rather bluntly, her words still laced with a sweet, plastic tone.

“Since a few of the officers said that it appeared that you had intended to do this purposefully, though others disagreed, it is still considered aggravated assault even if no one was hurt,” Dr. Yates made a mildly frustrated face as she tried to make sense of Ian’s report. “However, that is also the main charge that is still pending, awaiting the completion of your evaluation here,” she explained.

“Apparently, this judge who was contacted to review your case is very sympathetic to your situation and pulled several strings for you to be placed here in our facility and not simply sent to prison,” The doctor raised her eyebrows and tilted her head as she tried to give Ian a gentle reassuring smile.

“Seems that someone has taken a very positive interest in you, Ian,” she said, “And as unusual as the circumstances of that may be, you’re very lucky to receive it. I do hope you understand that.”

“Was anyone hurt?” he wondered out loud, suddenly not giving two hot shits about the judge right now, or why he was placed here and not sent to prison. The doctor slowly began to shake her head.

“No,” said Dr. Yates, “No other injuries besides yours which as I said, appeared to have already been present, were reported during this incident.” She pointed to the file and Ian exhaled, the tight squeeze in his chest loosening. The waving tide fell back, relieving a bit of the pressure that'd been surging through his thoughts.

“But I do believe that you may have had the intention of hurting someone at the time. Perhaps yourself,” she added in a low, delicate voice, her blue eyes gently sparkling as they met Ian’s green ones. He held his breath again waiting for her to continue, struggling not to look away. She brought her reading glasses back down to her eyes and glanced at yet another sheet from Ian’s file.

“The factory that you crashed into, manufacturers several hazardous, corrosive and flammable chemicals,” she explained, “Ian, you are extremely lucky that the impact didn’t ignite or cross-contaminate any of those chemicals and cause an explosion. They said if it had, it could have easily taken out the entire building and probably would have caused damage to the neighbouring factories as well.” Her eyes widened as she read the paper, dropping a hand to her desk with a soft, hallow thud. Her face bore a look of astonishment as she weighed the magnitude and severity of what could have potentially taken place last week, as if she hadn’t already read his file.

Ian still felt a lot of confusion as well as an unusual disheveled displacement of still having no memories to stencil any of these claims over, yet he also felt a strange satisfying relief at finally hearing and knowing at least part of what he’d gone through recently, as insane and fucked up as it all sounded. He still couldn’t remember any of it, but he thought that perhaps knowing could potentially spark something in his mind eventually, finally digging back up whatever had been buried and bringing it to the surface for air, breath, release.

He took a long deep breath and exhaled heavily once more, uncurling his limbs to run his palms over his eyes. He hadn’t hurt anyone. That was the important thing really, as far as Ian was concerned, as he was sure he’d never intended to. He could have, but he didn’t, he hadn’t. The grueling pit rolling around inside his stomach quickly began to simmer down and his chest and muscles were starting to relax again as he sat back in his chair much more comfortably now. He thought he might smile, the corners of his mouth fighting and struggling to push his cheeks up into a happy, rosy grin, but he tried to resist it. One corner began to dangerously twitch, a mild blush began to fill his cheeks and he didn’t think he’d be able to stop it. Maybe he didn’t need to. Ian hadn’t hurt anyone and that was a damn good thing. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“Now I understand that all of this is a lot to take in-,” The doctor paused when she glanced up and saw a bright, wide smile spreading across her patient’s face, and she was suddenly puzzled by it.

“How are you feeling, Ian?” she asked curiously with a slight tilt of her head. The redhead met her eyes, still smiling and let out a heavy relieving exhale.

“Calm,” he answered without hesitation.

“Why do you feel calm?” Dr. Yates queried skeptically.

“I didn’t hurt anyone,” he breathed. She gave him a gentle smile and nodded.

“No, Ian. You didn’t hurt anyone.”

Over the next few hours the doctor administered Ian with a series of different tests as well as several worksheets and questionnaires he had to fill out. They reviewed each question as he answered them and she took notes, swiftly moving her pen the entire time. Many of the questions were straightforward, asking about medical history, allergies and general knowledge about himself. Though as the questions went on, they soon became much more personal and difficult for him to answer. There were questions about sexual habits, self harm, eating habits, drug use and family relationships. Ian answered them all simply, still vowing to remain as vague as he possibly could in his responses. He didn’t want to discuss anything more than he absolutely had to, never providing more information than what was necessary. He even flat out lied on the section that queried about his sexual habits, responding in saying that he couldn’t remember the last time he'd had sex. The doctor had accepted his answer, assuming that he’d meant that it last occurred so long ago that he just couldn’t remember. But actually, Ian had just been so strung out and messed up for the last two years that he just couldn’t recall when it’d happened last, not for sure anyway. She offered him an STD screening just to be safe, which he then shrugged and agreed to. His eyes continued to travel along the questions, stopping to linger here and there when answering them, his black pen rolling between his fingers.

'Do you suffer from night terrors or disruptive sleep patterns?' Ian's neck tensed as he read the question, unsure of how to answer it. He hesitated and tapped his pen a few times against the sheet before checking one of the available boxes. 'No' Dr. Yates leaned forward in her chair and adjusted her glasses along the tip of her nose, eyes traveling across to Ian’s paper to read which box he’d chosen.

“You get plenty of rest at night?” she asked, “No trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?”

“Out like a light,” he lied.

She nodded, scratched out a note and gestured for him to continue, which he did quickly, his eyes traveling back along the page, pen clutched tight. Ian scribbled out his responses, pausing occasionally to think about how to word an answer before writing it down. Before long he finished and passed the thin packet of questions and his pen, back across the large wooden desk to the doctor who was waiting to receive it with a sweet smile and bright eyes twinkling on her face. She placed it in front of herself and made a quick skim through it, seeing that it was complete and all the questions answered. Dr. Yates then scribbled down a few lines on her own sheet, occasionally glancing back at Ian’s case file.

“Terrific,” she said happily, “Very good. Thank you, Ian.”

He shrugged a shoulder and watched as her blue pen wiggled along the corner of his questionnaire. She then gave him a short series of other tests like ink blots, word reference and image tests. Ian did his best with those, a bit annoyed but otherwise calm. He was relieved to find that these tests didn’t feel nearly as personal as the lengthy list of questions he’d just had to answer. These tests were simply to grasp how his brain worked and how his mind functioned. Ian felt he did quite well, most of his responses coming to him quickly and easily in confident, fluid thoughts.

Though when all of the tests, questions and discussions had finally ended, his nerves returned with an unmistakably searing vengeance, sending chills down his spine and causing sweat to begin beading his brow. Ian knew what was coming. He knew that he was inevitably going to be labeled, and that label would stay with him throughout his entire stay here, maybe even the rest of his life. Ian’s hands began to shake and he swallowed hoping to calm himself back down. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

Dr. Yates shuffled a few papers around and closed his case file. She then stood up, turned toward the filing cabinet behind her and pulled open the top drawer with another squeaky, metallic scrape. She then pulled an empty white file from the cabinet and sat back down at her desk. Ian watched as she printed his name across the tab at the top, along with a bold identification number beneath it.

“After extensive examination of the patient, I have determined that I believe you do indeed have bipolar disorder,” said Dr. Yates, much to Ian’s disappointment and despair, “Specifically, I believe that you have Bipolar I, acute mania with psychotic features, as well as an anxiety disorder.”

Ian shifted and sucked in his lip, listening silently, his own pulse suddenly ringing loudly in his ears. 'Bipolar I and Anxiety,' Ian thought, ‘There’s the label,' He ran his freckled hands down his face and repressed a thick, exasperated groan. He pressed his forefingers together and placed them over his lips with his thumbs under his chin, peering back at the doctor. His jaw clenched and he struggled not to grind his teeth.

“There is a cocktail that I would like to start you on,” she said opening the left drawer of her desk and extracting a small prescription pad, “I will send this order down to the medical office in the Residential Building after our meeting here, and you should have your first dosage by tonight after you’ve eaten your supper.” She began to fill out the pad, her ring sparkling in the pale overhead light as her hand moved in quick, delicate movements. Ian forced himself to nod, then turned his eyes down to the floor, crossing his arms and bringing his feet together. She glanced back up, seeing his body tense and curl.

“There is no shame in receiving help, Ian,” she said softly, leaning in and trying to meet his gaze, “We want to help you. But we can only provide you help if you let us. Do you understand that, Ian?” He didn’t move to acknowledge her words, hesitating, before he feebly gave a single, small nod. She watched him for a moment before a thought suddenly sprung into her mind and she reached back to his file, retrieving a single sheet and began to read it over.

“We’ve also yet to discuss your incident report from yesterday,” she said lifting up the paper and giving it a slight wave, hoping to bring Ian’s attention back up to her. “Would you like to tell me what happened?” asked Dr. Yates.

“Doesn’t the paper say what happened?” Ian asked back much more rudely than intended, still looking down at the floor, not wanting to talk about it.

He rubbed the toe of his slipper along the tile trying to distract himself from the conversation. 'Bipolar I and Anxiety,' The worlds were still playing in his ears, over and over again, jabbing at his mind, taunting him. 'Acute mania with psychotic features,' Ian just couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that was now filling his chest, and pulling at his insides, an emotion that he couldn’t explain or describe.

“Yes, it does,” she replied, “But I would still like to hear your own perception of the incident.” The doctor lifted her pen and tapped it lightly against the paper, her eyes never leaving her patient.

“Not much to tell,” Ian exhaled, “Eddy got in my face, then we got in a fight. That’s pretty much it,” he said frankly with a shrug, finally looking back up to meet the woman’s gaze.

“You say he 'got in your face,'" she began, “What about?” she asked. Ian rubbed his forehead.

“He called me a bitch,” said Ian bluntly, “I don’t fucking know why. I don’t even know the guy,” he explained, “I'm not a fucking bitch,” he sneered. Ian laced his fingers together between his knees and squeezed tight, his right leg now beginning to bounce against the floor with irritation.

“Please take a deep breath, Ian,” Dr. Yates advised with a flat, smooth hand gesture.

He did take a deep breath and brought a hand to his face to pinch the bridge of his nose, trying to calm down. Ian knew that the doctor was just doing her job and she really was trying to be understanding and listening to what he had to say. Ian relaxed his hands and rubbed them against his knees, his leg settling from it’s franticly persistent tapping. He was still annoyed and frustrated but he tried his best to swallow it all.

“He insulted you and you took offense?” she asked, clarifying.

“Yes,” he replied, gritting his teeth, his upper lip curling over them. The doctor nodded and began to move her pen, her face remaining calm and leveled despite Ian’s obviously irritated demeanor.

“So, you physically attacked him first?” the doctor questioned further.

“Yes,” Ian answered once more, crossing his arms over his chest with a huff through his nose. Dr. Yates made yet another scribbling note on the sheet in front of her, bearing an expression of neutral acknowledgment with a short, simple nod.

“I will meet with his therapist and together we are going to arrange a mediation session between you and Eddy,” said the doctor. Ian groaned. “Since the incident happened on your first day and it’s obviously your first offense, I think we’ll be able to call this a case of nervous jitters,” she winked at him and gave half a shrug. Ian didn’t know whether to be shocked, appalled or grateful at that.

“You will have to apologize, however,” she added. Ian’s face hardened instantly and he ferociously shook his head in defiance.

“No fucking way!” he spat, “That’s not fucking happening. No way in hell.”

Dr. Yates pressed her lips together with a slightly pouted purse, observing her angry patient and rolled her pen over in her fingers. Ian did not want to have any kind of mediation with Eddy. He didn’t even want to see the guy, let alone be forced to sit down and fucking apologize to him. Why the fuck should Ian have to apologize? For what? He clenched his fists in his lap, agitated again, his knuckles turning white from pressure. 'Fuck that,'

“Ian,” she said softly, “I'm trying to show you some leniency here. But you’ve got to give me something to work with, so that I can do that for you,” Dr. Yates explained, hoping her words would calm him down some, “I don’t feel that you require any further form of discipline from this. This incident is a very minor issue compared to many other things that I’ve seen happen here.” She sat back a bit in her seat, fingers lacing together. “And Eddy is one of our known antagonists. He’s had several incidents during his time here,” she added, “I don’t doubt that he provoked you.”

Ian’s irritated tension slowly began to subside just a little, now that he didn’t feel like he was the one being entirely blamed for the incident with Eddy. But he was still pissed. It wasn’t his fault the guy was an asshole that needed his ass kicked, that couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The doctor tilted her head as she watched Ian’s face remain silent and his eyes fall back to the floor. She leaned in toward him to speak again in a lower voice.

“You don’t have to mean it,” she assured, “But this is something that does need to happen if you’d prefer to start your time here with a clean slate.”

Ian frowned again, a newly forming pit of anger brewing in his stomach as he crinkled his brow with a hard crease and jutt his chin outward. He honestly didn’t give a shit about having a clean slate or not. What did it matter? Though he still just wanted to get this over with and he’d already been sitting in this muggy little office with his ass going numb for a good few hours now. He knew deep down that he was going to be forced to do this anyway, in one way or another, just like he was being forced to be stuck in this fucking place. There wasn’t much choice in the matter. His brain pulsed and reached up to rub his temple with a curled finger. Ian also didn’t know what further disciplinary actions there were, and part of him was rather cautious to ask about it, unsure if he really wanted to find out. He felt like he was stuck again. His eyes stayed on the doctor and her eyes stayed on his, just staring back at one another. He felt pressured and exposed and Ian didn’t like it at all. The dull throb pulsing at the back of his skull was getting stronger, pressing against his brain and his eyes still burned with frustration. Finally, Ian swallowed, ruffling long fingers through bright, red hair and let his chest fall in defeat. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“Fine,” he growled in a low, dark voice that crept angrily up the back of his throat.

“Thank you,” said Dr. Yates, her voice full of sincerity, “After the mediation, this incident should be removed from your evaluation record, but only this one time,” she clarified, “If you get into any more fights during your stay here with us, actions will be taken next time.”

Ian didn’t react much, simply closing his hands into fists and listening to himself breathe. The woman across the desk then stood up, turned back toward the filing cabinet, opened the middle drawer and grabbed a few more papers, taking a quick glance at each one before closing the drawer again.

“Here is an informational sheet, similar to the ones I’m sure you’ve already seen posted throughout the facility. It just general information about the programs offered here and a brief explanation of how things operate,” she smiled, sitting back down and handing the paper over to her patient, “I also have your schedule,” She paused and picked up her pen to make a few quick corrections on it, checking another sheet while she did so before handing that sheet over to Ian as well. “Just had to make a few adjustments there, considering your updated diagnosis,” added Dr. Yates, “You don’t have any sessions or activities scheduled until tomorrow afternoon,” she said, pointing to the sheet with her pen. Ian barely glanced at it, just ready to get the hell out of there. He sighed and watched as the doctor set her blue pen back down atop her desk.

“Well, I do believe that we have covered just about everything that we needed to cover today.” She said happily, “We will just need a urine sample from you on the way out for your STD screening. I should have those results for you sometime later this week, depending on how well staffed the lab is," the doctor added with a smile.

She stood once more and gestured for Ian to stand from his seat as well, if he was ready too. Ian was more than ready. He eagerly stood up, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and clutching the sheets he was given in the other, causing them to crinkle. Dr. Yates then lifted her clipboard back into her arm and began walking toward the office door. Ian turned and began to follow when the doctor suddenly paused mid twist of the knob.

“I almost forgot to ask,” she said suddenly, turning to face Ian, “How are you and your roommate getting along so far?”

The overpowering wave of emotions suddenly came rushing back into Ian’s mind with a tremendous amount of force, causing the redhead to immediately tense back up. He hesitated and glanced down at the papers in his hand, his thumb gently brushing over one of the corners, then shrugged.

“Alright, I guess,” Ian breathed. The doctor simply nodded.

“Who is it that you’re rooming with?” she asked with a glance down at her clipboard, flipping backward through a few sheets to find a particular page.

“Uh, his name’s Mickey,” he replied, forcing back the cringe of hurt and confusion that he still felt when he thought about the other man.

“Mickey Milkovich is your roommate?” Dr. Yates asked, her voice laced with surprise.

“Um, yeah,” said Ian. She pushed out her bottom lip and slightly raised her eyebrows.

“Huh. I was unaware that he was placed back on the double housing list,” she said, thinking out loud. The statement made Ian raise a perplexed eyebrow at her, though the doctor didn’t seem to notice it.

“Well, that’s wonderful,” said Dr. Yates, genuinely happy, “I think he could really use a roommate like you, Ian. I think you’d make great company for him,” she smiled, “Just please remember to tread carefully around Mickey,” her voice warned lightly, “He still has a lot of baggage that he needs to work through and deal with.”

The doctor then turned around, twisted the knob and passed through the doorway, walking back out into the long, narrow hall. Ian paused, even more confused than before, which he honestly hadn’t thought possible. He’d definitely been left with more questions than answers after this meeting, all of them nagging at his mind and pulling his thoughts in different directions. He knew some of those questions were much more important than others, yet only his questions about Mickey seemed to be rising to the surface now. Mickey had told Ian that he’d had other roommates before him, but if he did, why would he only now be put 'back' on the double housing list? What had Mickey done to be barred from having a roommate? And how long had he not had one? Ian briefly remembered the story about the cannibal that Mickey had told him and cringed. 'Fuck,'

Ian was suddenly really nervous, much more so than he was confused. Mickey was still a stranger and despite how he was starting to feel about him or whatever vibes Ian thought he’d gotten in return, he still didn’t know a shit about the guy. He'd seemed normal enough, but Mickey wouldn’t be in here at all if he was simply 'normal,’ would he? Ian gently ran his thumb back over the sheets in his hand and listened to the soft, papery brush of friction that it made. He chewed his lip. 'We all got fuckin' problems, man,' The words sounded through his ears, dancing along his brain and made him smile ever so slightly.

That’s when Ian decided that he didn’t care, it didn’t matter to him what Mickey did. Ian knew where he stood with him, for the most part anyway and that was good enough for now. Don’t ask stupid questions and don’t piss him off. As long as Ian did that, what did he have to worry about?

He finally took a step forward and entered the hall, lights shining off the bright red of his hair and the twinkling green of his eyes. Ian was ready to get back to the other building, back to his room, as soon as he possibly could. He was determined to get closer to Mickey, to find out more about him, anything about him, and to ask Mickey why the hell he'd disappeared on him so suddenly this morning. His fingers twitched and he could feel a hot rush of blood rising into his cheeks. Ian was ready to go and find those bright blue eyes that he just loved gazing into, just as much as he loved them gazing back at him. Beautiful eyes on the chiseled face of that wonderfully mysterious stranger who was so damn hard to push from his mind. And before long, Ian eagerly passed back through the access doors and was off in search of his roommate, wherever the hell he was.

Chapter Text

Ian made his way through the halls in quick, eager steps, glancing around once again in search of the man with intense blue eyes and jet black hair. The flutters had returned, now tickling themselves along his ribs and floating delicately back into his chest. His mouth went dry and his cheeks began to flush bright red just at the thought of seeing Mickey again, being near him, touching him. The tips of his fingers began to tingle with anticipation and he gripped the papers again, crumbling them halfway into his fist. Ian paused at a fork in the halls and peered down each path, combing the fingers of his free hand through his hair. 'Where the fuck could he be?' He turned left, heading toward the hall that led to C-Wing, other patients beginning to trickle past him as he went. 'Maybe he’s back in the room by now?' Ian thought. He hurried his footsteps a bit more.

It was the start of lunch time and the shuffle of dragging feet along with the mumbled murmur of voices were slowly starting to fill the space around him. Ian carefully weaved himself through the other residents, keeping his head down, making certain that he didn’t make eye contact or physically touch any of them in any way. Mickey’s warning about the cannibal still hung fresh in his mind and he tried not to shudder when the thought sent a prickle of shivers down his back.

Speaking of the cannibal, Ian passed his door as well, just as he was anxiously making his way through the disorganized jumble of people. It was closed, which seemed unusual, as the rest of the doors along the corridor were now wide open. He slowed and hesitated. Ian knew that he should stay away and not go near, but he was curious, really curious though he wasn’t exactly sure why. He tapped the tips of his fingers against his leg a few times while he debated with himself. The redhead glanced around his vicinity, noticing that no one was paying him any mind, then turned back to eye the closed door again. He made a step, and carefully approached, slowly crossing the hall. Then Ian began to lean in, cautiously peeking through the narrow little window.

Strangely, the room appeared pretty empty at first glance, as if it’d been uninhabited for some time. Ian saw nothing more than a bare mattress and blank walls, a solitary streak of afternoon sunlight gleaming in gently through the window. His eyes moved around, searching for the masked man that he’d seen exit this room just this morning, but continued to find nothing more than seemingly vacant space. Ian hunched a bit and twisted his neck, attempting to peer along the other side of the room, when he suddenly punched out a gasp, jumped back away from the window in a stumble and nearly fell to the floor. His heart was pounding against his chest, pumping frantically with adrenaline, and making his body shake. His eyes boggled wide with surprise, unable to blink.

A round, half-masked face with large, bulging eyes was suddenly staring intensely back at him from inside the room. They were brown, veiny and bloodshot. He stared as they remained never moving or blinking, just burning into his face and it was fucking unnerving. Ian suddenly felt his body flush with a chilling flare of nerves, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. His skin tingled with a sickly quiver and his pores quickly began to well with sweat. He watched as a wet, raspy breath left the man’s grate of a mouth and fogged the glass in front of his face with a hot, damp huff. Ian swallowed and took a step back, his eyes locked with the cannibal's on the other side of the door. The crazed man’s eyes twitched a few times, but still never blinked or looked away from him.

The hair was rising on the back of Ian’s neck, sending more shivers down his spine and causing his muscles to stiffen and tense. He felt nearly frozen in place, now immensely regretting his incredibly stupid decision to invade this man’s privacy solely to feed his own misplaced curiosity. ‘Don’t make eye contact with that fucker,' he remembered Mickey’s warning and swallowed again. 'Fuck,'

Ian began to take another cautious step backward and watched as the man’s eyes widened, following him as he moved. He desperately tried to force his head to turn, to tear his eyes away, wanting to run and flee from this creepy, uncomfortable glare. Yet, there he remained, shock still with his feet stuck in place, staring back into angry, hungry eyes that were now trailing down his body with appetite in their gaze.

“What up, Red?” a deep, booming voice called out suddenly, the noise bouncing off the walls. The sound was the exact force that Ian needed to finally look away from his stare-off and peer down the hallway, squinting, attempting to see where the voice had come from.

It was Bruce, walking down the hall with big, meaty arms swinging loosely at his sides and a large, friendly smile spread across his face. Ian frowned and dropped his shoulders.

“Please don’t fucking call me that,” he said, groaning mildly with annoyance, “My name is Ian.” Bruce chuckled out a deep, bellowing laugh, beginning to nod and raise a broad palm in defense.

“Right, right,” said Bruce, now waving off Ian’s correction with the same hand he’d just raised, “My bad, bro. I’ll try to remember that,” he smiled with big, round cheeks.

The large man approached with heavy steps and stood in front of Ian rather expectantly, as if he were waiting for something. Bruce stayed silent, peering down at him with a calm, relaxed expression. He tilted his head slightly and Ian mirrored him but raised an eyebrow.

“What’re you doing down here?” Ian asked finally, “Your room in this circle too?”

“Nah,” said Bruce, “I’m over in D-Wing,” he tipped his head in a pointed fashion, “Just came to find you as a matter of fact,” he said gesturing his wide chin at the redhead in front of him. Ian kept his eyebrow raised and frowned again.

“Came to find me?” he queried, “The fuck for?” His voice was calm but still annoyed.

“Cause I was told to,” the big man replied with a blink, “Gotta make sure your ass makes it down to lunch and actually fucking eats something,” Bruce raised both his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest as he held his gaze on Ian. The redhead had to tilt his head up slightly, in order to face him more directly. Christ, Bruce was a fucking giant.

“The fuck for?” Ian asked again with a hard crease of his brow, a bit irritated now.

“Cause I hear that you ain’t hardly eatin' anything,” said Bruce, “And I mean, I sorta noticed too,” he added, “You didn’t eat shit before you took off earlier,” He turned his head down even more to look at Ian’s face over the bulk of his own chest, as if he were observing the other man’s current state and mentally taking note of it. It was a look that made Ian uncomfortably more tense. “Plus I’m s'pose to keep an eye out for ya or whatever and that includes making sure you ain’t fucking starving yourself,” Bruce continued calmly with absolutely no heat in his voice, instead bearing a rather friendly tone. “The fuck you doing just standing around down here for, anyway?” the big man asked with a large shouldered shrug, taking a quick sweeping glance around.

Ian’s eyes immediately snapped back to the window on the door across from him, meeting once again with the large, round, glossy ones that were still staring at him through the glass, sweat beading from the man’s brow. Ian stared back and swallowed. Bruce saw Ian’s face, turned his head toward the window, scoffed when he saw the cannibal, then looked back at Ian.

“You do know when the bull's locked in its cage, it can’t get out, right?” Bruce said with a gesture of his thumb toward the door, still grinning with an amused eyebrow raised.

“Who the fuck told you to come look for me?” Ian asked with a glare, ignoring Bruce’s mocking analogy. He was getting agitated now and tried not to clench his jaw as he spoke. The big man’s eyes flickered between Ian’s but his grin didn’t fade.

“I was told you know better than to ask stupid fuckin' questions.” Bruce replied simply.

Ian’s glare faltered for a moment, the tension in his muscles now slowly beginning to melt away, at least for a second. He shifted his feet and twitched his fingers but didn’t look away. Mickey had sent him. But why would he send Bruce and not just come find Ian himself? That didn’t make any sense. First he just up and disappears on him, leaving Ian alone the way he did, and now he can't even be bothered to come himself? 'The fuck?' The thought made Ian frown and press his lips together tight.

“I'm not hungry,” he replied finally, glancing back the cannibal who now had sweat completely pouring down his face, staring hard through the glass at the young man standing in the hallway.

“You know,” Bruce began, as he scratched his eyebrow with his thumb, “I don’t think I ever asked you if you were.”

His face was calm and so was his voice, but Ian still didn’t like it. It sounded too much like a threat and it made his upper lip quiver with frustration. He looked back up into the bigger man’s eyes, narrowed his own and creased his brow harder. Bruce may be a fucking giant, but that fact didn’t faze Ian in the slightest, not right now anyway. 'The fuck?' he thought once more. Ian pushed his chest and chin out, and took a step closer to the other man, hardening his face.

“The fuck are you gonna do about it, Bruce?” he asked through his teeth, leaning into the other man’s space, “Gonna pick me up and carry me?” Ian raised his eyebrow again and Bruce scoffed, letting out another hearty chuckle.

“You think I couldn’t?” Bruce asked back with a cock of his head and an amused grin still stuck to his big, wide face.

Ian’s glare flickered again, but he still didn’t back down. Instead, he furrowed his brow, clenched his jaw and took another step. He moved staring right back into larger man’s face until Ian’s chest pressed into Bruce’s big, crossed arms. He curled his twitching upper lip over his teeth and tightened his hands into fists at his sides. Bruce knitted his eyebrows together, peering back down at the redhead, then let out another deep rolling laugh and shook his head.

“Just come the fuck on, man,” said Bruce, taking a step back and starting to turn around, “Don’t make this so damn hard. Play nice, huh?” He gave a pointed tilt of his head toward the other end of the hall and waited for Ian to follow him.

Ian stayed silent, standing still where he was, unsure of how to feel about the whole situation. Mickey had sent Bruce to find him, to make sure he ate lunch, to keep an eye out for him. But why? Because he was what? Controlling? Concerned? Why was Ian suddenly any of Mickey’s business? He didn’t know whether to feel flattered about it or just extremely fucking annoyed. Ian didn’t think he liked this very much at all, but what the fuck could he do about it? Bruce didn’t seem like he was going to budge and as annoying as it was, the request was still fairly innocent. He shifted his feet and glanced back up at the sweaty cannibal smogging up the window across from him. For some reason, he hesitated again. The hungry glare piercing through the glass was making him nervous every time he looked, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from looking either.

Bruce turned his head back to the window, made a small huff and frowned, strolling right over to it. A massive arm shot out and gave the window a hard slap with the back of its hand, causing the masked man to flinch back and move away from the door.

“Fuck off!” Bruce's voice boomed through the glass as he struck it. He then tilted his head back toward Ian and raised his eyebrows. “Better, yeah?” he asked rhetorically. Then he raised a hefty arm and made another gesture down the hall. “Can we go now?” he insisted.

Ian exhaled, dropping his shoulders and swallowing his pride, letting his chest fall. He peered down at the papers he still had in hand, which he’d received from Dr. Yates and began folding them up as best he could, then stuffed them into the pocket of his sweatpants.

“Fine,” he breathed with a defeated rise and fall of his arms in the same direction.

Bruce gave a quick nod and turned back around, beginning to walk and Ian began to follow. Though when he took his first step, he took one final glance back at the cannibal's door. He saw the man’s crazed eyes now cautiously peeking at him once again from around the edge of the window, watching him as he began to walk away. Ian quickly snapped his head back around and hurried his steps behind Bruce. He made his way to the big man’s side and tilted his head to see him still bearing the same calm, neutral expression.

“The cannibal thing doesn’t like put you off?” Ian asked with a point of his thumb back toward the way they’d come. Bruce made a brief glance in Ian’s direction, his face still smooth and relaxed, then looked back up at the hallway.

“Eh, I guess I just don’t scare real easy,” he replied with a big-bodied shrug, “And I mean, once you’ve lived here for a while, you see and hear a lotta shit,” Bruce added simply. They turned a corner and started down another hall.

Mickey didn’t exactly seem like the kind of guy that would scare easily either, yet it’d been Mickey who had warned him about the cannibal. Ian doubted that the other man would do that for no good reason. He wasn't going to mention it though. Ian rubbed his forehead and combed his fingers through his hair.

“How long have you been here?” the redhead asked curiously.

“Little over a year,” Bruce answered calmly, glancing around at other patients as they passed them, “Almost halfway through my sentence,” he added easily. Ian raised his eyebrows.

“There a lot of criminals here, then?” Ian asked before he could really think about it. Bruce quickly slowed, then halted his steps and turned slightly to look down at him with a questioning face and a big, tight jaw. Ian raised his hands in defense, immediately realizing how incredibly stupid and rude his words must have sounded.

“I got arrested too,” he provided quickly, defensively, trying to sound reassuring in the hopes of avoiding being lifted up into the air by giant, meaty arms and snapped like a fucking twig, “I just have an evaluation period before I get sentenced,” Ian explained.

He was tense again, his nerves prickling hotly along his skin. As much as Ian knew that if he had to fight Bruce, he would, he sure as fuck didn’t want to. He held his breath and for a second, thought of taking a step back, but resisted, attempting to appear much braver than he suddenly felt. The bigger man eyed Ian silently for a long moment before turning his face away and proceeding to walk again.

“Yeah,” Bruce replied finally, “Our whole unit is pretty much full of fucking criminals,” he chuckled deeply with a bounce of his bulk, “Well, most of the people over here are anyway, not everyone is though.”

“Unit?” Ian repeated, raising a confused eyebrow and tilting his head toward Bruce again.

“Yeah,” he responded once more, “On the other side of the Medical Building, there’s another access door that leads into the other unit,” Bruce explained, “Over there they house all the other crazy fuckers. But they’re different,” said Bruce, talking with large, hefty hands, “Some of 'em got like injuries or disabilities and shit that make 'em a little off. Others that just ain’t all there,” he said, “Like, they just do weird ass shit all the time so they can’t be left unsupervised or like live among the general population, that kinda thing.”

Ian nodded and pushed out his lip, surprised by the discovery of knowing that this place was actually much bigger than he’d originally thought. The two men rounded another corner, entering the cafeteria and quickly made their way through the line, each grabbing a sandwich with a bag of chips, a piece of fruit and a drink. They then made their way over to the same table they’d sat at this morning, far on the other side of the room, tucked away in the corner. Ian looked up and saw Eddy seated there again, slumped, alone and slowly chewing a bologna sandwich. The man glanced up from where he was seated, noticing their approach and frowned at the sight of Ian walking toward the table.

“Afternoon, Ed,” greeted Bruce with a smile, hoisting a massive leg over the bench to sit.

“Why the fuck you got this asshole with you?” Eddy asked with a sneer, gritting his teeth and dropping his sandwich with a chin tip in Ian’s direction. Ian sat down ignoring him, only focused on twisting open a bottle of water and taking a long, refreshing drink.

“Just shut the fuck up, man,” the big man chuckled back, unwrapping his sandwich with large, round fingers.

Eddy held his glare on Ian and the redhead just exhaled, looking back at him with tired, unamused eyes. He glanced down at the man’s neck for an instant, once again seeing the bruises that’d been left there by his own two hands during his provoked fit of rage. The corner of Ian’s mouth twitched, and he fought down the urge to split a cocky grin or make some petty remark. Instead, he looked down to his tray and opened his bag of chips, then began to unwrap his sandwich.

“No,” Eddy spat back at Bruce, “I don’t give a shit if Mickey fuckin' brought him over here this mornin', he ain’t f-f-fuckin' here now,” he growled out the words, twitching harshly through his infuriated stutter and his head jerked in a quick, sharp movement that looked painful. His eyelids flickered as they moved back over to Ian. “You can fuckin' go,” said Eddy swatting the back of his hand in the air toward the redhead, urging him away. But Ian remained where he was, looking back up at the other man bearing the same bored expression on his face. He took a bite of his sandwich, stuck a chip in his mouth with it and blinked as he began to chew.

“I’m just trying to fucking eat here,” Ian said flatly, swallowing, “Just leave me the fuck alone, okay?”

He swallowed his bite and stared back at Eddy who started to flush bright red as his hands closed into tight, hard fists. He began to twitch harder, his head jerked and his leg began to shake with a quick, persistent tapping against the floor. Ian rolled his eyes, exhaling again, then took another bite of his sandwich.

“Take a fuckin' breather, Eddy. Shit,” Bruce advised, chuckling again.

Eddy bit his lip with frustration as the knuckles on one of his fists began lightly tapping against the table from the angry rush of nerves vibrating up his arm. He stared at Ian for another moment, then sucked his teeth and picked his sandwich back up, tearing off a large, jagged bite. Ian repressed a scoff and a head shake. Instead, he ate a chip and turned to Bruce.

“Where is Mickey anyway?” Ian asked, chewing.

“Something he had to do,” Bruce replied vaguely with a shrug, stuffing a cluster of potato chips into his jaw with a loud, hallow crunch. Ian creased his forehead and set his sandwich down, trading it for his water and taking a sip.

A bit earlier, Ian had a chance to read over the informational sheet he’d gotten from the doctor and had seen that it stated there are no sessions, meetings or activities scheduled during meal hours. So, where could he be? Ian hadn’t actually had a chance to make it back to their room before Bruce found and redirected him, bringing him to the cafeteria. Part of him still really wanted to go check, go see for himself that their room was empty and that Mickey really was otherwise occupied. He couldn’t just take Bruce’s word for it, the way the thought was nagging at his mind and prodding the backs of his eyes. Ian slowly stood up and began to grab his tray, swinging his legs out from under the table when Bruce looked up at him.

“Hey, man,” said Bruce through a mouth full of food, “Where the fuck you goin'?” he asked with a raise of his hand, “You don’t gotta leave just cause Eddy's bein' a fuckin' prick.” He glanced over at Eddy with annoyance, crumbs falling from his mouth, then turned his head back to Ian. “You gotta eat more than that anyway, bro.” Bruce pointed a fat, round finger down at the redhead’s tray.

Ian rolled his eyes, then reached down and took another bite of his sandwich, chewing in an exaggerated manner. And for good measure, he then picked up his banana, and held it up, displaying it to the big man, then stuffed it in his pocket to take with and eat later. He wasn’t in the mood to argue with anyone right now. He had shit to do.

“Satisfied?” Ian asked rhetorically, annoyed once again. 'Fucking ridiculous,’ Ian thought. Bruce gave a half hearted but satisfied shrug and started to wave him off but then suddenly raised his finger.

“Hold on, wait,” he said reaching out and grabbing the remainder of Ian’s sandwich along with his bag of chips, placing them on his own tray. Ian creased his brow and looked down at him questioningly. Bruce saw and shrugged again. “What? I’m a big fuckin' dude,” he tried to explain, “I’m fucking starving here,” Ian couldn’t help but grin just a little, repressing a chuckle and gave a light shake of his head.

“Enjoy,” said Ian with a sarcastic wave of his hand toward the food the other man had taken. He then returned to grabbing his now empty tray, stopping to stuff his half empty water bottle into his other pocket. Ian began to take a step away when he paused with an evil glimmer in his eye, turned back to the table and stared straight down at Eddy.

“By the way man, your neck is lookin' a little sore there. Maybe you should get some ice on it,” Ian mocked in a low, smooth voice, feigning concern.

Eddy's face suddenly flushed a hot, boiling red and his shakes erupted causing a deep aggressive growl to claw it’s way up the back of the man’s throat. He started to shoot up from his seat as if he were about to leap across the table at the redhead, but suddenly Bruce's arm shot out, slapping a massive clasp of a hand onto Eddy's shoulder, slamming him back into his seat. Eddy hit the bench so hard and at such a forced angle, that he nearly toppled sideways off his seat and onto the floor, barely catching himself with the edge of the table.

“Sit the fuck down,” Bruce boomed through his teeth in a harsh, threatening voice, “Quit bein' so fucking stupid,” he warned, staring down at Eddy with angry, focused eyes.

The smaller man adjusted in his seat, but didn’t raise his face to look back up. This time Ian scoffed rolled his eyes and shook his head, unable to hold it back anymore, but Eddy didn’t move again. He then turned away from the table and strode over to the other side of the room to set his tray on the stack with the others. Then Ian, quite hastily, left the cafeteria.

The whole walk to the room Ian was excited, really excited, probably more so than he really should have been. He didn’t really have any reason to be so excited, so anxious, so happy all of a sudden. Tingles of shivering, tickling nerves were slowly vibrating down his spine, along his hips and flutters were dancing playfully in his lungs. ‘Inhale. Exhale.' His steps quickened further without much thought of doing so. He rubbed his palms down the length of his face, trying to will away the intense, pink blush that he could feel prickling teasingly along his cheek bones. Ian took another breath and combed his hair back when he finally began to approach his room, their room, Mickey’s room. He paused just outside the door, which was fortunately closed and Ian suddenly felt nervous. It wasn’t really a negative kind of nervous, it was most definitely, wonderfully positive, but he was still nervous nonetheless, and it made him hesitate. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, breathing deeply once more, letting the air sooth over the tingles in his nerves. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He ran a single palm down his face again, then straightened himself out and clutched the door knob, giving it a twist.

When he opened the door, Ian's shoulders dropped and the heat in his cheeks faded away a bit. He let a soft huff pass through his nose in disappointment. The room was empty, still no Mickey. The flutters in his lungs stayed where they were, but now they just annoyed and irritated him. He scratched his chest. 'Well, fuck,' Ian thought.

He stepped inside and closed the door with a careless swing of his arm, clapping it shut and began walking over to his bed. His fist rummaged around at his side in search of his pocket before pulling out his folded crumple of paper and the banana from the cafeteria. He set it all down on the little square end table bedside his bed, then pulled off his sweater and let it fall into a heap on the floor. Ian peered over toward Mickey’s side of the room, letting his eyes trail along the bed, still comfortably unmade and he began to smile but only slightly.

Ian then had an urge, kind of a weird one that the other man would for sure think was strange and creepy if he were to walk in and discover the redhead doing it. But the urge was strong and the pull was hard to resist, tingling at his lips and fidgeting his fingers.

He glanced toward the closed door of the room, then back at Mickey’s bed, eyeing the man’s pillow intently, sneakily, anxiously. His fingers twitched and began to fidget again. Ian then crept over to the other side of the room on quick, silent feet and scooped up the pillow, bringing it to his nose. Closing his eyes, he inhaled slowly, deeply, savoring and relishing the intoxicatingly delicious fragrance of Mickey’s enticingly rich, masculine scent. It was a scent of smoke and soap with a hint of something peppery and sweet. It was quickly addicting and Ian couldn’t help himself from taking a few more deep, pleasurable breaths, trying to take it all in and remember every hint and wisp of the other man’s aroma lingering within the fabric, trapped inside the pillow. His mouth suddenly began to water and he quickly replaced it atop the bed and strode back over to his own side of the room, watching the door as he went. Ian exhaled heavily and ran another hand down his face. He felt like some kind of pervert for doing what he’d just done, but he couldn’t take it back now and part of him sure as fuck didn’t want to. He took in a deep breath of air, remembering the sweet, smoky scent, trying to fix it to his memory and forced himself not to smile while he did.

Ian ran his fingers back through his hair and frowned at the texture, removing his hand and rubbing his fingertips together. He walked over to the dresser and quickly stripped down, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around his hips, ready for a shower. The bruise on his hip burned as the towel scratched against it. Ian ignored it, instead retrieving his toiletries and was off down the hall again.

The shower went fairly fast, though Ian did let himself take a moment or two to just relax under the rush of hot water, breathing in the cloud of steam he’d created around himself. At first, he was still a little put off, remembering what’d happened just yesterday when he’d come for a shower. But Ian hadn’t seen the girl anywhere in the hall during his short walk here, even taking a quick peek inside her door as he passed it, seeing that it was empty as well as the bathroom when he entered it. So his mind had eased rather exceptionally, enjoying the way the hot flow of water ran through his scalp seeming to wash away all the filth and dirt that Ian felt had been stuck to his brain, his mind, his thoughts. The suds and bubbles washed his skin clean and relaxed his muscles, turning them soft and loose.

As Ian’s hand scrubbed over his chest, running down along the smooth lines of his abs and further down his stomach, he kept going, feeling a bit taken away by the pleasurable, relaxing sensation of wet heat gliding swiftly along the length of his body. Long, soapy fingers began to curl and tangle themselves in the silky mop of coarse red hair that nestled at the base of his pelvis, slowly massaging the skin beneath it. He let his head fall back, his face moving further under the water, steamy heat flowing over his eyelids, all while his other hand continued to scrub circles into his chest.

Ian’s mind began to wander to the thought of intense blue eyes watching his own, imagining the way the other man bit his lip and gazed with twinkling, hooded irises during their shared comfortable silences in the dark. His lips parted slightly as his hand moved lower, following the rush of blood that was now flowing away from his brain, away from his chest down into his pelvis and along his hips, sending tingling shivers down his legs. He couldn’t seem to stop himself now. Ian’s fingers found his cock, solid, heavy and hot under the flow of the shower, gripping with a firm, comfortable grasp. He bit down on his lip, stifling a sudden gasp at the contact.

Then his hand began to move slowly, gently at first, unable to remember the last time he’d done this. The sensation was so intense, so instantly consuming, Ian knew that it must have been a pretty long time, too fucking long. His fingers curled again, tightening his grip and quickening his pulls ever so slightly, suds running down his chest, along his stomach and bubbling up as they met with his rhythmically pumping fist. His breathing quickened as well, deepening, hitching and his lower lip trembled with pleasure as his mind began to wander again. Ian remembered the scent of Mickey’s pillow and imagined it filling his senses once again, surrounding him, engulfing him. Then the image of Mickey’s tongue sliding wetly across his pink, full lips sprung into his mind, causing his eyelids to tighten along with his fist. Thinking of the way the other man’s tongue wiggled along the end of their cigarette last night when he’d raised it to his lips, made his grip quicken, along with remembering the sight of Mickey swallowing when he’d taken a drink of his juice, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed between the flexing muscles of his throat.

Ian pressed his teeth further into his lip, desperately trying to repress a loud breathy moan that he could feel rolling up the back of his throat and hung his head, letting the hot water run down his back. His brow creased and his breath turned into a rough pant when he opened his eyes, observing his present state. Ian suddenly wondered what the dark haired man might look like down on his knees in front of him, looking up at him with beautiful blue eyes. Ian’s eyes clamped shut once more and that was all it took. Release took him in quick, hot spurts, sending a rush of tingling shivers pulsing through his limbs, melting away his nerves as a deep, low moan escaped his throat. He splayed his left hand out to his side, finding and gripping the top of the divider to steady himself through his orgasm.

He panted a few more times feeling light headed, now peeking his eyes over the top of the divider to peer around the room, seeing that it was thankfully still empty. Ian then turned himself to stand more directly under the steady stream of water to wash his own creamy, white fluids from his stomach and his legs, watching as it swirled around together with the last of the suds and disappeared down the drain between his feet. He let the water run over his face once last time before he turned it off and stepped out, wrapping his towel back around his hips. Ian shook out his hair and took a deep breath, feeling droplets of cooling water trickling down his flushed pink and freckled skin. Quickly, he toed on his slippers and headed back down the hall toward his room.

It was still empty, much to Ian’s frustrated disappointment. He pinched the bridge of his nose, entered the room and shut the door behind him, walking straight over to the dresser in need of fresh clothes. After he dressed, save for a sweater, he walked over to his end table, using his towel to dry the dripping, red hair atop his head. Ian dropped the towel and picked up the banana, ready to peel it and take a bite, when his eyes glanced over at Mickey’s own cluttered little end table across the room. He paused and his brow creased. There was one small, empty space on the side closest to the bed, where Mickey always set that big, dark book of his after he was finished reading from it. But now the space was empty and the book wasn’t there, where it always seemed to be when Mickey wasn’t reading it. 'Maybe he finished it?' Ian wondered.

Then another thought suddenly popped into his mind, remembering that the facility has a library in it, just a few halls down. His eyes widened at the realization and his face brightened up almost instantly, wondering if perhaps that’s where Mickey could be. He bit his lip and twitched his fingers.

Ian set the banana back down, and combed his damp hair out of his eyes, slicking it back along his scalp with long, thin fingers. He then looked down at the clean clothes he was now wearing and ran his palms down along the fabric, attempting to smooth out any wrinkles. He swallowed, straightened back up and began walking back toward the door when he paused once more and turned back looking at the sweatshirt he’d left on the floor earlier. Ian considered taking it for a moment, just to give him a bit more sense of security. But instead he shrugged it off and tipped his chin up, turning back to the door, opening it and strolling out into the hallway once again.

He’d briefly forgotten where the library was located but soon found his way after a quick glance at a map posted on the wall. Ian approached a set of double doors that were latched wide open. The area just beyond was extremely quiet, calmly lit and filled with long, tall rows of bookshelves. He walked in slowly, eyes traveling around attempting to assess the room better.

There was an area near the front by the door with a counter, and a young, blonde staff member seated behind it with his nose stuffed deeply inside what looked like a history novel, paying no real attention to the room around him. Ian kept a very sluggish pace, continuing to observe his surroundings, finding one area that had several chairs and a few tables clustered closely together. At one table sat a middle aged man and woman each reading their own book and seated on the same side, right next to each other. Both looked to be relaxed and enjoying each other’s silent company, the woman having one of her legs slung loosely over the man’s lap as the man rubbed circles into the sole of her unslippered foot. Ian noticed that the woman’s book was upside down, yet her eyes traveled along with the words, appearing as though she was actually reading it. He subtly raised an eyebrow, but kept moving past the small open space and down an aisle of shelves.

Ian’s feet suddenly halted as all the air was instantly squeezed from his lungs when he looked across the room to a corner tucked back behind another bookshelf. In that solitary corner, seated on the floor with half his face pressed into a thick, red book, was a young man with bright blue eyes and jet black hair, knuckle tattoos clutching the bottom of the novel. Ian swallowed slowly as he willed his breath to return and steady, while taking a small step back.

He was suddenly really nervous again and he wasn’t really sure why. Ian had been searching for Mickey this whole time, thinking about him, wanting to see him, be near him, but now that Ian had actually found him, he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He shifted his feet and chewed his lip, peering across the library at the corner. He just couldn’t seem to understand why this man seemed to have such a profoundly intense effect on him, and it only seemed to get stronger as time went on. It was a little frightening for Ian to feel this way, to feel so strongly, so quickly, but the sensation fluttering happily in his chest just felt too damn good to be afraid of. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

He took a slow, deep breath and glanced around at the shelves beside him, searching for something to hold so that it wouldn’t appear as if he’d come to the library solely for the purpose of seeing if Mickey was here. He grabbed one at random and didn’t bother to read the title. Ian straightened his neck out and loosened up his shoulders before he began walking over to the corner, as calmly and casually as he could, battling with his excitedly anxious nerves all the while. 'Calm the fuck down,' Ian's mind hissed. He still wanted to be cautious, as he was unsure of what kind of mood the other man may be in, so he quietly announced himself before getting too close.

“Hey,” Ian greeted shyly.

Mickey’s eyes snapped up suddenly, angry and tinged with annoyance at the act of someone interrupting him, but then they calmed and softened quickly when he saw that it was Ian who’d spoken to him.

“Aye,” Mickey greeted back, lowering his book, but only slightly, “What’s up?” he asked.

“Shit,” Ian shrugged awkwardly, wishing he could think of more to say and that he wasn’t suddenly at a loss for words gazing down at the beautiful man in front of him.

A moment passed in silence as they just looked at each other, gazing over each other’s faces and into their eyes, a kind of quiet understanding and appreciation for each other it seemed. The flutters dancing in Ian’s chest were airy, ticklish and distracting. He swallowed trying to find something more to say, anything really.

“Whatcha doin' down here, Red?” Mickey asked before Ian could speak, his eyes still tracing over the redhead’s face as if he were refreshing his memory of it, taking him in. Ian took a few steps closer and fumbled with the book in his hands.

“Got done with my meeting and uh, I didn’t have anything else scheduled today, so I thought I’d just come browse,” Ian lied a litle, vaguely gesturing to the book in his grip, “Kill some time or whatever.” Mickey gave a small nod and his eyes fell back to his book.

“You get your shit figured out then?” Mickey asked in a curious tone, not looking up.

“Sort of,” he replied, “Some of it, at least.” Mickey gave another slow nod as his eyes moved along the page, not asking for any more information. Ian shifted his feet again and chewed the inside of his cheek. “Didn’t see you at lunch,” Ian added, hoping to get a better response about it than he’d gotten from Bruce.

“Had to take care of somethin',” said Mickey, still reading his book.

Ian pursed his lips and said nothing, feeling a little disappointed with the answer, though he knew he had no right to be. Mickey peered back up and looked him over silently once again, before making a gesture with his brow to the book in Ian’s hand.

“The fuck ya got there?” he asked.

“Uh,” Ian flipped the book over and instantly flushed with embarrassment upon realizing that in his haste, he’d blindly grabbed a children’s book, an assortment of fairy tails and nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the like. He glanced back up and met the other man’s eyes, seeing him beginning to smirk as if he already knew what Ian was holding.

“You know, I think I grabbed the wrong book,” he lied, forcing out a pathetic laugh and rubbing the back of his neck.

“You sure?” Mickey queried, still smirking.

Ian stayed silent again and rubbed his forehead, feeling the hot sting of a bright, rosy blush rising into his cheeks. Blue eyes watched Ian fidget in his nervous unsurity, appearing rather amused at the sight of it. Green eyes watched back and saw that hidden somewhere behind his humor, Mickey was thinking about something, but what it could be, Ian had no way to be sure. Then Mickey arched an eyebrow, thumbed his lip and made a gesture toward the book again.

“I always fuckin' liked the Itsy Bitsy Spider,” he said suddenly.

Ian blinked, confused, surprised and unsure if he heard the man correctly. He looked down at the book again, flipping it over and skimming over the titles on the back cover. That nursery rhyme was in here, it said so. Perplexed, Ian looked back up at Mickey who still held the same handsome smirking expression on his face.

“What?” Ian asked. Mickey chuckled.

“The fuckin' Itsy Bitsy Spider, man,” he repeated, then paused before continuing, “Ya know, he’s always climbin' up that fuckin' spout, workin' his ass off to get up there,” he began explaining, “Only it doesn’t fuckin' matter, cause once it rains, his ass just gets flushed back out every fuckin' time,” Mickey lowered his book now and shrugged his shoulders lightly, “But that shit still don’t faze him, man,” he gave a swatting wave of his hand, “The fuckin' sun comes back out, and he just gets right back to fuckin' climbin' again,” His eyes stayed on Ian as the redhead raised his eyebrows in surprise at the other man’s words, “I guess I think it’s like fuckin' symbolic or some shit.”

Ian really was surprised and quite taken aback, honestly. He wasn’t expecting Mickey to approve of his randomly chosen reading selection, let alone learn he’d actually read it himself, then offer his own personal thoughts on it, rather deep thoughts at that. His thumb ran along the spine of the book and rubbed at the edge.

“Yeah,” Ian agreed, “That’s a badass spider.”

Mickey chuckled again, closing his book on his index finger, eyeing the redhead still standing in front of him. Ian swallowed again as he watched Mickey’s eyes trail down his body, then back up to his face and subtly bit his lip. Then Mickey gave a slight tilt of his head and moved to scoot over just a bit, gesturing for Ian to take a seat on the floor next to him. Ian felt the flutters in his chest multiply and swarm around his lungs, pulsing with his heartbeat. He hesitated, trying to calm them down before he could move. Mickey looked back up at him and raised his eyebrows into an arch expectantly, waiting. Ian exhaled gently, then closed the remaining distance and slid his back down the wall into the corner beside the other man. The sides of their arms and legs brushed together as Ian moved to sit down within the small space and he tried to ignore the sparks it sent tingling across his skin when they did.

“You read this when you were a kid or something?” Ian asked, holding up the books of rhymes and tales. Mickey gave a cock of his head and a slight shrug of his shoulder.

“Yeah,” he replied after a pause, “My mom had the same book, used to read the shit to us when we were real little. Bedtime kinda shit, ya know?” Ian nodded.

“You got siblings?” Ian queried, noticing the man’s use of plural words. Mickey glanced over and met Ian’s eyes, softening even more, shifting slightly to look at him as he spoke.

“Four,” said Mickey, “But two of my brothers are way fuckin' older, so growing up with them was different. Didn’t hang around with their asses much 'til I got older too. Me, Mands and Iggs are all Irish triplets though.”

“Irish triplets?” Ian repeated questioningly, raising an eyebrow. Mickey chuckled again.

“Yeah, man,” he said, “At least that’s what my fuckin' mom used to call us.” Mickey picked up his bookmark from the floor next to him, slid it into his new book and set it down in his lap. “You know how Irish twins are just like two fuckin' kids born in the same year?” Ian nodded, having heard the term before, as he and Lip were actually Irish twins as well. “Well it’s kinda the same shit with us. Iggy’s nine months older than Mandy, and Mandy’s nine months older than me,” he explained.

Ian thought about that for a moment. Mickey and his siblings all seemed to have been born extremely close together. So much so, he wasn’t sure how intimacy could have possibly been comfortable for his mother to engage in so soon after giving birth. But he also knew that some people were like that, and just didn’t care, his own parents for example. Ian and his older brother were about nine months apart as well and he’d heard about how his mother had gotten pregnant with him. She was still in the hospital after having given birth to Lip, strung out on the drugs the doctor had given her for labor and slept with his uncle when he’d come out to see his new nephew. Frank was nowhere to be found and his mother had claimed that Clayton had come to give her comfort, not that any of that shit really mattered anymore. Ian had learned over the years that sometimes shit just happens and that was life. So he wasn’t going to ask Mickey for specifics, as it was just way too personal, and Ian quickly skimmed over the thought.

“So, you’re the baby in your family, huh?” Ian asked with a teasing grin. Mickey returned Ian’s grin with a rather sarcastic one.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Mickey with very little heat, “What about you, huh?” he asked back, “Your ass got any fuckin' siblings?” Ian tilted his head and hesitated before responding.

“Five,” he said, “Well six… sort of.” Ian screwed up his face in thought.

“That some more shit you don’t fuckin' know?” Mickey asked with a light chuckle.

Ian ran his tongue over the split in his lip and turned the book over in his hands again, trying to think of the best way to explain. Then he figured that he ought to just spit it out.

“Well, my mother sort of had an affair with my uncle and that’s how I was conceived,” said Ian quietly, “So, the guy that I grew up thinking was my dad is actually my uncle,” he twiddled his fingers, not looking at Mickey, “And my siblings are all technically my half siblings/half cousins, I guess, but I’ve never looked at them any differently. They're all still my brothers and sisters," Ian shurgged, "Well except for my oldest sister. But she has a different mother, so I guess that makes her and I just cousins, really,” he creased his brow, “Not to mention she’s a royal fucking cunt, so there’s that too…” Ian trailed off a bit. He felt really uncomfortable saying it all aloud, especially as he didn’t think he’d ever actually said any of it before. But Ian really wanted to know more about Mickey and he knew that meant that he would have to give something to Mickey in return. It’s not that he didn’t want to, but it was hard opening up about it regardless. “But uh, I’m the middle kid,” he added finally, “Maybe that’s what fucked me up,” Ian wondered out loud. “Why I am where I am now.”

“How the fuck would you explain my bein' in this shithole then?” Mickey quipped back, raising an eyebrow.

Ian looked back at him and saw how soft the features of his face were despite his hardened tone. He was a bit surprised but grateful that Mickey asked nothing further about his family, as he really didn’t like talking about them for his own personal reasons.

There was a window on the wall nearby that the sunlight was gently shining through from behind a blind, scattering delicate, golden streaks along the bookshelf beside them. One of the rays glimmered over Mickey’s face and made the blue of his eyes shimmer and sparkle. Ian couldn’t stop himself from cracking a small smile while he gazed into the other man’s beauty. He saw Mickey’s eyes move to his lips and notice his expression, then looked back into Ian’s eyes with question, raising another eyebrow. Ian quickly tried to cover it up.

“Case of mistaken identity?” Ian joked, letting his smile spread.

A wide grin split across Mickey’s face as well and he punched out a laugh that he quickly covered up with his fist, taking a quick glance up ahead and through the bookshelf next to them, making sure no one had heard him. He calmed and looked back at Ian, holding his gaze in silence for a moment, tracing the lines of his cheekbones and the soft curve of his lips.

“Not fuckin' likely,” Mickey replied in a smooth, low voice and bit his lip.

The flutters in his chest were beginning to erupt, flaring, dancing, tingling along his insides and his breath slowed way down. Ian could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears and his skin suddenly flushed with goosebumps. He saw Mickey’s eyes drop back to his lips, then down his neck and along his chest. Ian was nervous that his breath may hitch or that his sweatpants may betray the secret rush of blood that he could feel traveling back into his pelvis, just from the sensation of having Mickey’s eyes on his body in such a way. Then he remembered what he’d done in the shower just a short while earlier and suddenly felt really embarrassed and really wrong for it and he desperately just wanted to keep the conversation going. His eyes glanced down and began trailing up Mickey’s forearm, ignoring the scars and focusing on the strong, hard muscles and thick, round veins underneath. Ian tried to imagine how it might look flexed by a hard grip and he fought back a pleasurable shudder that resulted from the thought, his eyes moving up more searching for something else.

“What’s S-S-C?” Ian asked suddenly looking back to Mickey's face.

Mickey’s eyes moved back up to Ian’s as well and his brow creased slightly. The redhead then pointed to the tattoo on the other man’s forearm, just under his elbow, a bit nervous that the question might be a little too personal. Mickey glanced down as well, raised both eyebrows, parted his lips, then chuckled lowly with a head shake.

“Ah, South Side Chicago, man,” he replied raising his arm and pointing to each letter as he said it’s word, “Born and raised,” he dropped his arm, “Me and Iggs got the same fuckin' thing, his is just on the other arm,” Mickey looked back over at Ian, “Thought it was fuckin' cool shit at the time,” he shrugged, “Same with this shit,” Mickey held his fists together and raised them up to show Ian, who could now see them properly for the first time. 'FUCK U-UP' “Cool at the fuckin' time,” he repeated, “But still a stupid fuckin' decision.” Mickey chuckled and dropped his hands, looking back over into the deep, green eyes on the redhead’s face.

“I’m from South Side too,” said Ian, happy at the discovery of knowing he and Mickey were from the same side of town. “Canaryville,” he added. Ian should have guessed that Mickey was South Side, it’s written all over him, how he walks, how he talks, and apparently it was quite literally etched into him as well. Mickey raised his eyebrows.

“No shit?” he asked with surprise, “Small fuckin' world man,” Ian nodded in agreement as their eyes met again, lingering for a moment. One of their comfortable silences washed over them for a moment and they just continued to stare. Ian’s skin was tingling and his head was starting to feel airy again. Then Mickey’s eyes moved down, dropping to Ian’s forearm.

“So, what’s with your fuckin' clover?” Mickey asked with a gesture of his chin toward the green tattoo on Ian’s arm, “You think you’re fuckin' lucky or some shit, Red?” Ian laughed lightly.

“No,” he replied, also glancing down at the ink on his skin, “It’s a shamrock. I’m Irish. I was drunk with a coworker when I got it,” Ian explained with a half hearted shrug, looking back at Mickey who laughed again.

“That ain’t a fuckin' shamrock,” said Mickey humorously with a shake of his head. Ian’s brow creased.

“The fuck you mean it’s not a shamrock? Yeah it is. Shouldn’t I know?” Ian asked incredulously.

“Yeah, you fuckin' should,” Mickey agreed, laughing, “But that still ain’t a fuckin' shamrock, man,” he insisted. Ian stared at him with an unchanging expression. Mickey just stared back for a moment before explaining, “A shamrock has three fuckin' leaves,” he said, “Yours has four.” He pointed a finger toward Ian’s tattoo which did indeed have four leaves. Ian looked back down at it and frowned.

“How the fuck would you know some shit like that?” he asked, looking back up. Mickey leaned forward slightly and tapped the hard cover of his book with an index finger.

“You think all this shit just goes in one ear and out the fuckin' other, huh? Ain’t nothin' gonna stick?” Mickey asked back in a challenging yet still rather friendly tone. Ian shrugged again.

“Well, no,” he said, “Though if I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have taken you for much of a book worm,” Ian replied honestly. Mickey creased his brow and hardened his face again, dropping his grin.

“The fuck's that 'spose to mean?” Mickey asked, turning his body even more within the tight space to look at Ian directly. Ian quickly raised his hands in defense.

“Nothing, nothing,” he began, “The 'FUCK U-UP' tats can just be a little misleading, that’s all.”

He was nervous again now and he was sure Mickey could tell that he was. His blue eyes were narrowed on Ian and it was making him feel really small and really vulnerable, beginning to regret what he’d said. He held his breath and watched the other man’s face, trailing along the lines of his brow and the hard frown of his mouth. He remembered seeing the way Mickey had laid into Eddy earlier and he wanted no part of anything like that. Ian swallowed and tried not to fidget his fingers as an extraordinarily long moment of silence passed between them. Then he exhaled gently when he watched Mickey’s face finally calm and relax once more, for the most part any way. There was still something else underneath the surface, something that Ian couldn’t quite put his finger on. Mickey’s eyes left Ian and fell to the red book still sitting in his lap.

“Didn’t really get to do much of it when I was a kid,” Mickey explained quietly, “Now that I can, I figured why the fuck not?” he said, not looking up.

“I thought you said your mom used to read to you?” Ian asked curiously. Another silent moment passed before Mickey gave two slow nods.

“She did,” he confirmed, “Before she died,” he still didn’t look up and his voice stayed quiet, “I was six.”

Ian was surprised again, almost speechless and quite taken aback once more. Mickey was opening up to him, willingly and about something extremely deep and personal. Ian had hoped that with time maybe the other man may warm up to him enough to let him into some intimate corner of his life, but he wasn’t expecting it to be so soon, and he definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this. He wasn’t sure why Mickey suddenly felt comfortable enough with Ian to talk about such things, but Ian wasn’t going to take it lightly, not at all. He could see it in the way Mickey looked away from him, tracing his eyes indolently over the cover of his book and in the way he lowered his face a bit as he spoke, that this was difficult for him, really difficult. He was letting himself be vulnerable and Ian didn’t want to miss the moment, so he refused to let himself hesitate.

“I’m sorry, man,” said Ian quietly, “I shouldn’t have fucking said anything.” He ran a hand down his face and pinched the bridge of his nose, tensing, waiting to be told off.

“Nah man,” said Mickey after another pause, with a glance in Ian’s direction, “Ain’t your fuckin' fault. You didn’t fuckin’ know,” he reassured, “No one to fuckin' blame for that shit 'cept my ol' man, anyway.”

“To blame for your mom?” Ian asked gently, attempting to clarify.

Ian rubbed his thumbs together nervously, as he knew this was delicate territory and he needed to tread lightly, carefully, delicately. Mickey raised his face and met Ian’s eyes, flickering between them, silently reading the subtle traces trust and care that were woven into his irises. It still appeared that this was a really difficult thing for Mickey to do, but something about the way Ian looked at him, the way he spoke to him, made him soften.

“Well yeah,” said Mickey finally, “But the not bein' able to fuckin' read shit, that shit was him too,” He was silent for another moment, his eyes moving back to the book on his lap with his thumb brushing lightly over it. “After my ma died,” he said slowly, “My fuckin' dad threw out all the books she used to read to us. Said it was a big fuckin' waste of time,” Mickey still didn’t look up. “I uh, tried to fuckin' get 'em back, went diggin' through the fuckin' dumpster and shit,” His eyes glanced back over to the book Ian still had in his hands and paused for a moment, then trailed his eyes back into his own lap. “Got a hold of one,” he said with a shrug, “Couldn’t fuckin' reach any more of 'em, cause I was too fuckin' short, just a little fuckin' kid, ya know?” Ian listened and watched Mickey’s face as he gave a light nod. “Well, my ol' man caught me tryin' to fuckin' sneak it back into my room and snatched the shit right outta my fuckin' hands.” Mickey’s hands closed into fists and Ian could see his jaw clench and his eyes flickered. “Told me 'fairytales were for faggots and little fuckin' girls,'" Ian fought off a flinch at the words and watched Mickey suck his teeth. “So, he took the fuckin' book and brought my ass out back,” he said, “Beat me over the fuckin' head with it, busted my fuckin' nose, then made me watch while he set the shit on fire,” Mickey let out a low, bitter chuckle, “Pretty fuckin' mild shit for his ass though,” he added as his eyes moved back over to the book in Ian’s hands then up to meet his eyes, silent, waiting to see what Ian was going to say, if he was going to say anything.

Ian wasn’t sure what to say. He felt saddened and hurt that Mickey had been forced to grow up with a father like that, especially knowing that his mother had died and couldn’t protect him from it. The flutters that had been floating in his chest began to weep and sizzle as they burned up in his throat, scratching painfully along the inside of his neck. Ian hadn’t exactly had the same kind of upbringing as Mickey had, but it hadn't been perfect either. So, he thought maybe instead of giving the other man more sympathy, which he somehow knew would not be well received, he’d instead try to relate, which seemed like a much better option.

“My dad once head butted me and broke my nose when I was nine, for spilling his beer that he bumped me into,” Ian provided, hoping this was the right course of action to take.

Mickey traced over his face again with twinkling blue eyes and chewed his lip. Ian stared back, his eyes falling to Mickey’s bitten lips and made no attempt to hide it. Mickey leaned back a bit, the broadness of his chest pressed tightly against his t-shirt. Ian struggled not to let his eyes wander over it, instead flickering back and forth between Mickey’s, fighting the urge.

“Shithead fuckin' parents, huh?” Mickey offered with a scoff and a chin tip. Ian nodded in agreement.

The air felt thick and foggy between them as if they'd been trapped underwater, surrounded by a heavy haze. Ian inhaled slowly and felt his breath stutter just a bit and when he did, Mickey’s eyes fell back to his lips as if he’d noticed it too. Ian quickly dropped his face and tried to relax, ignoring the tingling, fluttering tension that seemed to be surrounding them. His mind wandered back to earlier this morning when Ian had broken down and retreated to the privacy of their room. Mickey had come and laid down with him, held him, comforted him, but then he also just up and left him there. Ian had been sad about it, then he’d been mad about it. But now, he was just curious more than anything, just wanting to know why, if he’d done something wrong. He took another breath taking control of his nerves and gathering his courage, turning back to meet Mickey’s gaze.

“Hey, uh, I did kinda wanna talk to you about something…” Ian trailed off quietly, nervous.

“Oh yeah?” said Mickey, “That the real reason you came all the way the fuck down here, Red?” he asked in a low, smooth voice, keeping his eyes on Ian’s. The redhead hesitated, then gave a small, meek nod.

Mickey began to smirk, then raised his eyebrows, pushed his lip out and raised an upturned palm for Ian to continue. But Ian paused again, his nerves were beginning to get the better of him and his courage and bravery were cowering under the other man’s genuinely intrigued gaze. He dropped his head and let his eyes fall to his lap, fidgeting with his fingers.

“Well, spit it the fuck out, Red,” Mickey snapped in a friendly, humored tone, “I ain’t gonna fuckin' bite ya,” he grinned.

Ian tensed again and forced back the blush that threatened to paint his face at the thought of the other man’s teeth pressing firmly into a tender spot of his skin. He combed his fingers through his hair and took another deep breath, looking back up at Mickey. Ian was still nervous but he knew he was just going to have to go for it, spit it out just like Mickey said.

“About earlier-" Ian began but was quickly cut off.

“Nothin' to fuckin' talk about there, man,” Mickey said quickly, but without any heat. Ian faltered a bit, then creased his brow and tried again.

“But, I just-" said Ian, but was interrupted again.

“Aye, man,” said Mickey raising a hand to stop him, “Really, we don’t gotta fuckin' talk about it,” he insisted, “Everybody has their shit. I ain’t fuckin' judgin' you for that,” Mickey assured, “You ain’t the only asshole with a bunch a bullshit baggage, man.”

Ian was a bit surprised again, but he was also confused. That wasn’t quite what Ian wanted to talk about, though hearing Mickey say that he didn’t judge him for his sudden breakdown was very comforting and it made Ian’s heart warm and flutter. But Ian was still curious about something else, and he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to ask about it.

“I was actually gonna ask you about something else,” said Ian shyly. Mickey raised his eyebrows again, titled his head and waited. “I… I was just wondering if maybe… maybe I like crossed a line… or something,” Ian was struggling to find the right words and looked back up at Mickey’s face which now bore a hard creased brow that the other man couldn’t read very well.

“The fuck ya talkin' about?” Mickey asked with genuine curiosity, arching an eyebrow. Ian swallowed and tried to explain better.

“Well, when I was… the way I was and you- well you didn’t have to, but you did and it helped- like it really, really fucking helped but- well then you just like, left and I-I thought maybe I like fucked it up or pissed you off or something-“ Ian halted his jumbled ramble of words with wide eyes as he felt a strong, firm hand grip his knee. His eyes dropped instantly and his lips parted as he looked down and realized that the grip on his knee belonged to Mickey. Tattooed knuckles curled around it with a soft, yet firm squeeze and his thumb began tracing small circles along the side of it. Ian looked back up and met Mickey’s eyes, gentle and caring.

“Aye,” he said in a low, smooth voice, leaning in a bit, “You didn’t cross shit with me, alright?” Mickey assured with a raise of his eyebrows, “If you did, you’d fuckin' know it, man.”

Ian just stared into his eyes with disbelief and a hint of shock. He wasn’t expecting that. His breath slowed as he felt the shiver of sparks radiating from his knee up into the rest of his body. He swallowed.

“Like I told ya,” said Mickey, “Just had to take care of somethin'."

Both men held their gaze and Mickey’s hand didn’t leave Ian’s knee, instead it squeezed a bit tighter as blue eyes twinkled over Ian’s face yet again. The flutters were multiplying, dancing, singing, tickling up his throat and tingling his lips. Ian bit his lip and chanced the opportunity to lean in a little closer, testing the waters, seeing if the other man would move away. But he didn’t. Mickey stayed where he was, his lids beginning to droop and hood as he watched Ian’s face moving closer to his. The redhead kept moving, slowly, but smoothly, ignoring the scream of nerves in the back of his head and the airy twist of his stomach. He was close enough for the other man’s intoxicating scent to begin tickling his nose, drawing him in when suddenly, there was a quick, low whistle from somewhere up ahead.

Both men’s heads snapped to the side to peer out from their corner toward the noise. Ian’s brow creased hard with irritation when he saw who it was: Eddy. He could see them huddled in their corner, appearing rather annoyed at the sight, maybe even a little agitated. Ian stared right back at him with an angry yet confused expression, then saw the dreaded man look next to him toward Mickey and give a slight jerk of his head. It was a jerk that, if you didn’t know Eddy, would have appeared as natural as the man’s constant twitches. Ian looked back over at Mickey with a questioning expression.

“Aye,” he said turning to look at Ian, “I uh, gotta take a little walk with Ed, alright? I’ll catch ya later, huh?”

He released his grasp from Ian's knee, grabbed his book from his lap and started to rise, but Ian reached a hand out for Mickey’s wrist without really thinking. Mickey paused at the contact, turning to peer down at Ian’s hand on his wrist, then into the redhead’s face with an eyebrow raised.

“You know, I don’t have shit to do either,” Ian said shyly with a glance toward Eddy, “You guys going out to the track?” he asked dropping his grip from the man’s wrist.

“Ain’t that kinda walk, Red,” Mickey said quietly, Ian said nothing, confused. “I'll uh, see ya at dinner though, alright?”

He didn’t wait for a response. Mickey stood and clutched his book in one hand, beginning to walk over to Eddy, then lowered his head a bit as the other man whispered something in his ear. Ian saw Mickey nod, and without so much as a glance back, began walking out of the library with Eddy at his heels. Ian watched them walk away and just when Mickey passed through the doorway, Eddy turned back and locked eyes with Ian giving him a big, wide grin. Ian clenched his jaw, twitching his upper lip and curled his hands into fists as Eddy held his mocking expression for a few seconds then passed through the doorway as well.

Ian's eyes fell back to the book in his hands and smoothed a single palm over it’s cover, then glanced back at the empty space that Mickey had been sitting in just a moment ago. He rubbed his forehead with confusion and pinched the bridge of his nose. The flutters in his chest dispersed and faded away as he was left to sit and wonder, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened.

Chapter Text

After their talk, Ian decided to check out the fairytale book from the library after all. Knowing that it was something from Mickey’s childhood really sealed the decision for him, interested in knowing more. He walked silently down the hall, skimming through its pages as he made his way slowly back to his room. Ian was feeling a bit saddened by Mickey having to leave him so abruptly, so oddly, yet again. He was tired, slumped and sluggish the whole way there, as he no longer felt any real need to be excited about arriving, knowing that the other man wouldn’t be there to talk with, share space with, to simply gaze at. He clenched his jaw, trying not to grind his teeth at the thought of knowing where Mickey was instead: with Eddy.

The thought caused Ian’s hands to curl into tight, hard fists and a hot prickle of irritation stung at the back of his neck and poked painfully at his brow. He rubbed his forehead with a rough swipe of his palm and shook his head. 'What the fuck could they be doing?' The agonizing wonder of not knowing kept nagging at the back of his mind and pulled at his thoughts no matter how hard he tried to just ignore it and push the feeling away. Ian knew that he shouldn’t feel so angry about it, so annoyed, so jealous, but he did, he really fucking did and it frustrated him to no end. He still barely knew Mickey, yet seeing him stand up and walk away with another man, let alone walk away with fucking Eddy, was just infuriating. The act had seemed to grip his heart in this painful, throbbing squeeze and began sharply jabbing at any of the happy little flutters that foolishly attempted to gather there, flutters that always seemed gather whenever Ian saw or thought about the other man.

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed with a chest fall as he continued his lonely trek back to their room. He drug his feet, now clutching the thick, white book under an elbow and trailing his eyes lazily along the floor. The heel of his slipper would occasionally catch in a rub on the tile, scuffing it with a high, sharp squeak, though he’d hardly so much as blink at the sound.

He soon arrived and entered alone, the room still dull, quiet and empty, shutting the door behind him. Ian’s shoulders slumped as he exhaled with a heavy groan, stepping back over toward his end table. He stopped and slid his previously abandoned piece fruit aside and gently set the book down in it’s place. He smoothed a wide, freckled palm over it’s cover just as he had earlier, eyes tracing over the it with a gentle exhale, then turned and sat down on his bed, carelessly kicking off his slippers.

Ian peered silently down at his hands for a moment, twiddling his fingers, bored, and struggling not to think about where Mickey was or what he could possibly be doing with that twitching, dreaded asshole. He frowned again and ran another hand over his face in frustration, then glanced across the room toward the other man’s side of it.

The afternoon sunlight was trickling in through the window, steadily gleaming across Mickey’s bed, then forced to cut and split into thinner streaks along the wall as it met with each one of the many drawings and sketches spread fixed across the space. Ian tilted his head a bit as deep, green eyes began to travel slowly along the large array of artwork. He glanced over at Mickey’s end table for a moment, admiring his cluttered assortment of notebooks, pens and pencils, the corners of other loose pages of more art peeking out from underneath. Ian’s eyes traveled back to the wall, beginning to wander slowly over it once again, taking in the sights of such beautifully expressive illustrations. He soon became quite intrigued and decided to stand back up, now moving across the small space to take a closer look. He stopped his steps just as his shins began pressing lightly into the edge of Mickey’s mattress, then leaned forward slightly with a bit of a squint to focus his eyes.

They were all very impressive, rather skillful and detailed, with a wide range of subjects. Ian saw a few sheets covered in beautifully intricate designs of flowing lines, sharp edges and delicate, twisting swirls. He saw other illustrations of various animals, all rather vicious and beastly, however. There was an image of a snarling wolf bearing long, sharp fangs and foaming saliva dripping from it’s jaws. Next to that, there was a drawing of a snapping cobra attempting to spring and strike at a massive, roaring lion with a thick, flowing mane. One sheet displayed a rather detailed decorative skull with a large, shiny dagger piercing through its eye socket. It was beautifully adorned with pretty, elegant designs and flashes of colored pencil throughout, brightening up every little crystal and flower etched into the skull. It was something almost hard to imagine coming from the fingertips of someone as hard and tough as Mickey, but obviously it had and it was absolutely beautiful, amazing, incredible even. The man clearly had talent, a lot of it.

Ian smiled as he looked them all over, trying to imagine the dark haired man huddled over a notebook, focused, scribbling out these amazing images while sitting alone in his room, enjoying his own quiet privacy. Mickey must take pride in his artwork, as it really seemed to show within the individual quality of each piece and the redhead was honestly baffled that he’d been able to miss such an incredibly beautiful collage spread across the other side of his room. They were all extremely complex, each their own unique display of expression, all mingling and blending together amongst each other, plastered across the wall. His eyes moved further along, trailing up and down the wall with a small smile pressed to his face, pausing here and there to take closer admiration of the details of a particular drawing. They were rough, complicated and gorgeous, just like Mickey.

But then Ian paused and creased his brow a bit when his eyes landed upon another picture, a piece that had very clearly been drawn by different hand. This drawing appeared to be that of three young teenagers, maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, two boys and a girl. The girl was on the right with long, wavy black hair, a smug, purse-lipped smile on her face and a large, round nose ring. Her arms were slung loosely around the waist of the boy in the middle. The boy on the left had shaggy, dirty blonde hair with half of his upper lip curled up a bit, distorting his mouth, with a cigarette hanging loosely from it. He had his middle finger raised on an outstretched arm with his other arm curled over the shoulder of the boy that stood beside him. The last face, the boy in the middle, made Ian’s breath slow and his eyes had to scan over it a few times with a need to study it, though part of him knew that it was a face already familiar to him. It was Mickey, obviously a much younger Mickey, but it was him, unmistakably and undeniably him. He had a wide, crooked grin on his face with dimples in his cheeks, a thick ruffle of black hair atop his head, and eyebrows raised into a perfect cocky arch. Each of his arms were hooked tightly around the necks of the other two teenagers at his sides, tattooed knuckles nearly front and center of the picture.

Ian creased his brow a bit harder as his eyes moved slowly over the image. This drawing just seemed unusual for some reason, strange, out of place, like it just didn’t mesh well with all the others. It stood out. This particular drawing nearly looked like it could be a photograph, it was that impressive, all done in black pen with the occasional flare of colored ink here and there. All three had the same intensely bright, blue eyes that seemed to capture and pull you hopelessly into their gaze. There was a warm, golden color illuminating the hair of the boy on the left and the girl’s lips popped with a deep, bold red. They all had the same round shape to their faces, the same sharp bridge of their noses and high arch to their eyebrows.

'These are Mickey’s siblings,' The thought suddenly sprang into his mind and it instantly made sense, as they all looked so extremely similar and appeared to be around the same age. This was a drawing of Iggy, Mickey and Mandy, it had to be. It seemed so blatantly obvious now. Ian didn’t understand how he hadn’t seen it the moment he’d laid his eyes on it. All three faces were full of hard, fierce attitude, yet relaxed and happy, comfortable with each other, just like siblings.

Ian brought his palm to his forehead with a light slap and shook his head. Now he just wondered who could have drawn it, as whoever did, obviously had an immense amount of talent as well, just as much as Mickey, in Ian’s opinion. It also meant that whoever drew it, had obviously known Mickey before facility. He creased his brow once more in thought , letting his eyes hover over the drawing for another moment before he looked away and turned back toward his bed, relaxing his face.

Ian suddenly felt really tired, drained, and still quite sore, but he sure as fuck didn’t want to sleep, remembering the awful, terrible, disgusting things that had played through his mind the night before. He ran both hands roughly down his face, his palms dragging his bottom lip with them, leaving it to spring back up and smack against his teeth with a hard, wet, plop. He pinched the bridge of his nose once more, frustrated again.

Ian just really wasn’t sure what to do with himself and it was a strange feeling for him, having almost always been able to find a way to fill his time, as there was always something to do or that needed to get done. But now he just had nothing. His schedule was blank, he was alone, bored and locked in this fucking place. So, for now he just sat a few moments, trying not to let his mind wander back to the long list of possibilities of what his roommate could possibly be up to right now. Then his mind would begin to darken and wither just a bit, when thoughts of his mother slowly began to invade it again.

His stomach twisted, his head started to pound with a painful persistent pulse and he felt a cold trickle of sweat begin to rise from his pores. Ian’s body forced out a hard shudder and he gripped the caps of his knees for a bit of grounding and stability, willing his screaming, flaring nerves away. He turned his head back toward his table and stared at the children’s book for another silent moment, tapping the fingertips of one hand against his knee, thinking. He then felt his chest catch on a slight hitch of breath and a hard, low yawn, pushed its way up Ian’s throat. He covered the sudden gust with his palm and tried to shake it off the instant it ended. 'Fuck,' His muscles throbbed, tense again, making them ache and nag.

He bent stiffly, lifting his shirt to inspect the state of the bruises on his body and as he did there arose another dull throbbing burn from within them. They were still purple, more blue in some places, reddish pink in others but not quite as swollen anymore. They were healing. They still fucking hurt, but it was progress. Ian screwed up his face and repressed a wince, replacing his shirt along his abdomen. The brush of the fabric scratched at the damaged skin as it slid over his body but he just frowned and tried to ignore the discomfort. He turned his head just slightly, to peek over his shoulder at his bed, knowing that he did feel quite tired and wouldn’t mind getting some rest, yet absolutely dreaded the thought of even attempting to dream about anything other than something terrible, because that’s all it ever seemed to be lately, just terrible. It felt like a curse, a plague, an unfortunate sickness that he didn’t have the cure for. Ian fought back another yawn, feeling weak again, like he just needed sleep but he still really, really didn’t want it. The hair raised on the back of his neck, sending a sickly shudder prickling down along his spine and he pressed his lips together tight, inhaling deeply through his nose. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

When Ian took another deep breath and his nostrils filled with air, his brain was fed the memory of Mickey’s scent from within his pillow and it eased the tension in his muscles with a strange, indescribable comfort. He closed his eyes for a moment, now turning his body a bit more to place a single palm down atop the mattress, trying to prepare himself for whatever horrible experiences his mind may unleash on him during his next unavoidable slumber.

It took a few moments and a few breaths to calm his thoughts and level his nerves out enough to relax, trying to convince himself that perhaps when he does sleep, it won’t be some disgusting, terrifying nightmare like it always is, but instead be something simple, easy, comforting. His brain battled with it’s self as one side tried to reassure the other of these things, while the opposite half simultaneously knows the first is full of shit. Ian’s mind began to twist and churn with a painful lurch, giving him an awful pounding head ache, pinching his eyes shut more tightly and tilting his head back. He let out one long, heavy, exasperated sigh, then turned his face back down toward the mattress and began slowly moving to lay across it. He grabbed his blanket, pulling it just up to his hips as he tried to get comfortable which was exceptionally difficult for a multitude of reasons. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He closed his eyes, and suddenly his very own words which he’d quite dishonestly spoken to Dr. Yates just a short while earlier, they betrayed him and almost instantly, Ian was out like a light.

***

“Oh Ian, honey, I’m so proud of you,” she reached out for her son’s shaky, messy hand, “You did good, baby. Mommy’s favorite boy, you always come through for us, just like I knew you would.”

She smiled with bright, shiny teeth as the boy clutched at her hand and elbow, stumbling and staggering out from the back of the rig, half his face and chest coated in a thick, cold, sheen of vomit. He coughed and smeared the back of one hand across his cheek, attempting to wipe some of the muck off, ignoring the pounding in his skull and the aching in his body.

“Oh, sweetheart, let’s get you cleaned up,” she began to pull him with her a few steps away from the truck, “They have a washroom we can use, okay darling? My beautiful boy, a little soap and a little water will fix you right up,” A thin hand reached out, pushing a small, wet lock of puke-matted red hair from his eyes.

Ian curled his fingers tightly around his mother’s arm and began to walk, watching his steps as he did, the pain from his pelvis and his tailbone pulsating in an excruciating way. They didn’t get far from the truck when an irritated, disgruntled voice snapped at them from behind.

“I ain’t waitin' for you or your piss-ass pussy boy either,” the trucker grumbled out loudly in a harsh, angry tone as he opened the drivers door of the semi, “I'm leavin' now. Y'all still want a fuckin' lift, y'all better come the fuck on.”

Ian looked up toward his mother’s angered, baffled face staring over at the trucker and winced from the pain in his abdomen. Then she glanced down and rubbed a gentle hand over her son's clean temple. He clutched her tighter and wobbled where he stood, still feeling disgusted with himself, knowing that if his stomach weren’t already twisted and empty, he’d puke again right where he stood. Ian’s chest heaved and his breath hitched as he pressed his eyes shut. The woman held him and placed a kiss on the untarnished side of his face. She then whipped her head back up shooting daggers through her eyes at the man standing in wait near the truck., who just stared back at them still readjusting his belt and pulling his zipper up.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” She called back raising a hand in the air and gesturing to her son in the other arm, “You send him back out to me fucked all to hell like he’s some piece a shit and you can’t even let him get washed up? The fuck kinda asshole are you?” she called back in an incredulous tone.

Her voice rose into a high squeaky pitch like it always did whenever she got really angry or worked up and Ian flinched at every word, just pretending like he wasn’t there at all. He curled his face down and tried to fight away the next wave of tears that he could feel rising into his sockets and stinging at his lids, just teetering on the edge of his eyelashes. But it was no use, the darkness of his mind was too strong. Ian pinched his eyes closed with a tight press of his lids and let the hot burn of tears flow freely down his cheeks, turning his face further into his mother’s shoulder.

“Look, You stupid cunt, I dunno if you’re just fucked in the head or somethin',” the man spat back, “But I said I’m leavin', and I’m leavin' right fuckin' now. So, are you and your little cock slut comin' or stayin'? I ain’t askin' twice.” His sag-lidded eyes moved from the woman to her son, looking him up and down, licking his lips, waiting. But the woman clutching her heap of a child was furious.

“Don’t fucking call him names you piece of shit, motherfucker!” she pointed at him with a stiff angry arm, taking a step closer, her son swaying with her movements, barely catching his footing through his painful, lightheaded daze. “We had a fucking deal, asshole!” his mother yelled, with a desperate shake in her voice.

“I said I ain’t waitin',” he repeated with a sneer, then split a nasty grin, still eyeing the boy, “Be a shame though,” he said, “Wouldn’t mind takin' that pretty piece a ass with me,” he grumbled, “But the shit ain’t worth waitin' around for,” the man said, finally breaking his gaze from the redhead and turning around to step into the truck.

Ian turned his head up toward his mother’s face again, waiting for her reaction having heard every word, starting to shake from the chill that the coat of cold vomit was giving him. She glared in the direction of the man for another second, appearing frustrated, desperate and torn, then turned her face to look down at the young man in her arms. She pushed a few more strands of hair from his eyes with caring, delicate fingers and curled them behind his ear.

“Wait here a minute, okay sweetheart?” she breathed quietly, leaning in close to his face before turning away.

She ran over on quick, tiny feet, closing the short distance between herself and the greasy older man attempting to climb back into the truck. Ian wobbled and stumbled from her grasp as she parted from him in her haste, leaving him to flail an arm and take a few awkward steps before steadying his stance and wrapping his arms tightly around himself, trying to brace from the cold. He watched his mother run up behind the trucker, then leap up trying to grab the man by the back of his coat and pull him backward out of the truck.

“Hey, come on man, just let me get him cleaned up a little-" she tried to plead with the man as she pulled and yanked on the top of his coat, trying to turn him around but was interrupted by a forceful shove backward nearly tumbling her to the ground.

“Get the fuck off me, bitch!” he hollered as she stumbled backward, “Who the fuck do you think you are, huh?!” He took a step toward her while she straightened back up and took a step toward him as well. Ian tensed up and curled his hands into fists, taking a step himself, swallowing his nausea.

“Please!” she begged reaching out with fumbling, grasping hands trying to grab back ahold of him, “We really need this ride! We need it so bad!” her voice shook, “My son is sick, can’t you see that? I just need to clean him up, that’s all! Is that too much to ask?” Her eyes began welling with tears filled with broken desperation. The man grunted and gave her another push.

“You think I give a shit?” he snapped back. Then dirty stubby fingers started grasping at the woman’s clothes trying to curl into her pockets and fish through their contents. “Fuck it! Where the fuck is it, bitch? I want it all back! Give me my shit!”

“No! Stop, stop!” she screamed, trying to push away his hands and back up. “We had a deal! No! We need it!” the woman insisted, beginning to cry, trying to push the man away.

She began to struggle with the man and when Ian saw the heated exchange becoming physical again, his mind flared red and his headache felt like it’d just split his skull in half, throbbing, screaming and falling apart. He couldn’t really think. He mustered up as much strength as he could, filling up his aching chest, straightening out his shoulders and began closing the distance between him and the man with his filthy hands all over his mother. He moved much faster than he thought he could considering his presently unstable state. His feet stumbled a bit but he didn’t falter and didn’t stop, he was too pissed. The trucker got ahold of the wad of money that he’d given to the boy’s mother earlier in exchange for time with Ian, and began unfolding it, seemingly counting it, all the while stretching to keep it out of reach of the woman who stood now struggling, fighting, reaching to get it back. The man turned and gave the woman one loud, hard smack across the face with the back of his hand causing her to fall straight to the ground, then turned and saw Ian nearly standing in his face. He quickly reached an arm behind him, up into the open door of the cab.

“I’m warning you, you little bitch! You better back the fuck up!” His eyes widened and boggled as he curled a dry chapped lip over his browning yellow teeth.

But Ian didn’t stop or pause, remaining in his steady long limbed stride. He threw all of his strength into lunging at the man , connecting two quick punches to his face, feeling the bone crack under his fist. But just as he did, the man pulled a tire iron out from the cab of the truck and swung it in the redhead’s direction, hitting him in the side of his ribs. Ian let out a loud, painful howl, trying to grab for it and punch the man again but the man was able to hit him with it a second time, in nearly the same spot. Ian let out a deep, gut-curdling yell from the strike. Then he saw his mother stand, trying to wedge her way between them and Ian panicked. He turned to shove her back and out of harm’s way, when the man took advantage and struck him with a hard blow to the back, sending him to the ground.

Ian coughed and sputtered, clutching his ribs as his body curled up from the pain. The man gave him a sharp kick with his boot to the middle of Ian’s back, who gasped and groaned roughly from the hit, his weak, beaten body twisting over on the ground. He tried to crawl to his mother who laid on the ground beside him with blood trickling from her nose and corner of her mouth from the hard slap to her face. She looked distraught, defeated and broken. The redhead’s eyes glanced back up at the dirty older man who now stood firmly above them, metal rod still in hand. He lifted his other hand, eyeing the money that he’d stolen back from the boy’s mother and pulled a single bill from the wrinkled up wad.

“You’re a shit lay anyway, boy,” He hacked up a glob of bloody phlegm and spat it down at the young man, who turned his face downward and raised an arm to avoid it splattering across his face, “Ain’t worth more than fifty bucks on a good day.” He threw a single fifty dollar bill down at them and stuffed the rest of the crumbled, green paper back into his pocket, then turned to toss the tire iron inside the driver’s door of the truck. The man turned back to look down at them one last time, sucking his teeth and cracking his neck. “Now piss off, the both of ya!” he snapped out with a throaty gargle, then hacked again and spat on the ground. He climbed up into the rig and swung the door shut with a sharp, metallic screech. The woman fumbled, struggling to get to her feet as quickly as she could, then lunged at the door, jumping up and punching the window just as the truck’s massive engine roared to life.

“No! Stop! You can’t leave us here you son of a bitch!” her miserable sobs sprang off the window and radiated through the air with a high pitched echo. “You cant take our money! We had a deal!” she sobbed.

The wheels started to move and Ian stood up as fast as he could, wincing, groaning and gripping his sides, his entire body screaming in agony, making a fast jumbled movement for his mother in an attempt to pull her away from the enormous vehicle. They both fell backward onto the cold, rough ground, wounded and defeated, clinging to each other in tears, shaking, watching as the semi drove out from the rest stop and onto the road, leaving them behind.

The woman reached beside them on the ground to grab the fallen bill, stuffing it into her bra, then turned toward her son and pulled him as close to her chest as she could get. He welcomed the embrace still feeling sick and in pain, just taking in the scent of her, the touch of her, the warmth of her. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply into the soft, blonde hair that draped over her collarbone, tightening his arms around her waist. They both cried as she ran her fingers softly through his hair, then rubbed her hand down along his back trying to sooth his shakes. Ian could feel the welts forming on his back and ribs from where the tire iron had struck him, pulsing, throbbing, burning, but he felt too broken to care. Those pains weren’t the ones that bothered him most, anyway. The woman sniffed back her whimpers and wiped away her tears, then grasped the redhead’s face as gently as she could, lifting it to look at her. She ran her sleeve over the messy side of his face, smearing some of the thickened spew out of his eyes.

“We don’t need that piece of shit, baby,” she tried to reassure him, peering down into the boy’s red, puffy eyes, “Mommy will get it all figured out, okay sweetheart? Don’t you worry about a thing, my love. You just leave this to me,” she looked away from his face, turning her head toward the shelter, then out toward the other parked rigs on the other side of the lot. Her eyes lingered for a moment before she peered back down into her son’s eyes once more, “Let’s just get that beautiful face of yours cleaned up, okay?” She started to rise, grasping him under his arms, pulling him up with her and he let her, slowly standing with a sharp, hissing wince passing through his teeth.

They turned to look over each other’s faces before they began to walk. Ian saw the blood on his mother’s face and pressed his lips together with a tremble, tearing himself up inside for not having been able to protect her from the sick son of a bitch who’d hurt her, who’d hurt them. He reached out and held her cheek in a large, freckled palm, wiping the blood from under her nose with the pad of his thumb. She brought her hand to his and leaned into the touch, attempting to give him a small reassuring smile.

“I’m so sorry, mom,” he whimpered, “I fucked it all up.” Tears began falling from his eyes as the woman began to shush him, shaking her head and bringing her free hand to hold the side of his face.

“No, no sweetheart,” she moved closer and started to hug him, “None of this is your fault,” She pulled him into her chest once more, and Ian curled down into her touch, pressing his ear to her skin, listening for the comforting rhythm of her heartbeat. “We'll both get cleaned up and then you just leave everything to mommy, okay darling? Everything’s gonna be okay,” she soothed into his ear.

Then they both turned, still clinging to one another in pain, slowly making their way toward the shelter in stumbling, disorganized footsteps and Ian couldn’t even bring himself to lift his head.

“Everything’s gonna be okay.”

***

He awoke in a rough pant, sweating , shaking with drying tears on his cheeks. Ian’s eyes snapped open, and for some reason his head immediately turned toward Mickey’s side of the room remembering the other man’s comforting gaze peering at him through the dark the night before. But, unfortunately, when he looked, he found nothing more than an empty room. Ian creased his forehead, then turned his face back toward the ceiling, blinking a few times and swallowing, bringing his fingertips to his eyes and giving them a vigorous rubbing. He let his arms drop to his sides, gripping his fists inside the sheets, trying to bring his mind back into reality and out of the horrible tortures that hopelessly plagued his mind. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

Ian laid there for a long moment just breathing, trying to calm himself down. Finally, he found the strength and will to sit up, so he did, slowly, with a groggy, fuzzy feeling swirling around in his head. He grabbed the blanket by it’s edge and flung it off his body, then swung his legs out of the bed. Ian rested his arms on their elbows atop the caps of his knees and let his face fall to his palms with a deep, heavy sigh. He spread his fingers a bit and cracked his eyelids, letting his gaze fall back across the room. Ian saw Mickey’s pillow and imagining the rich, succulent scent that lingered within, began to calm again just as he had before he’d fallen asleep. His breathing soon evened back out and his muscles began to loosen.

Then his brow creased slightly when his eyes fell onto Mickey’s end table and saw that the same space that had just been empty, was now filled with a thick, red book. Ian had remembered seeing the other man leave the library with it and he knew it wasn’t here when he’d gotten back and fallen asleep. Mickey had to of been in here at some point while Ian was sleeping, and hadn’t woken him up. Ian frowned, wishing the other man would have been the one to pull him from his disturbing dreams sooner than his mind had decided to release him from them. He pinched the bridge of his nose hard, tilting his head back, then raised his arms to stretch with a meaty crack of his shoulders. He peered up toward the caged clock on the wall and saw he’d slept for quite a while and it’d be dinner time soon, though he wasn’t hungry in the slightest.

Still, Ian stood up and toed his slippers on, just needing to get the fuck out of this tiny, little room that he suddenly felt was much too cramped for him to stay in a single moment longer. He fought down a shudder, rubbed the back of his neck and quickly crossed the room toward the door, opening it and walking out into the hall.

His hands were still fighting a tremble as he walked, so he tried rubbing them along the sides of his legs, hoping to scrub away the gripping sheen of nerves that still clung to his skin. Ian shuddered this time, unable to fight it. Then the echo of a high, sharp giggle sprang off from the walls and Ian clenched his jaw.

He looked up and saw Stacy, the twitchy voyeur from the showers, strolling down the hallway from the opposite end, making her way toward Ian on nearly skipping feet, happy, with a big wide smile on her face. The redhead tensed and moved himself to the side of the hall, as close to the wall as he could get hoping that she’d just pass him by. But the instant she saw him, her big round eyes seemed to light up and she made quick steps straight for him. Ian tried to brace himself.

“Well, if it isn’t the man of my dreams.” She licked her lips and let her round, unblinking eyes trail down the length of his body, and back up pausing to bite her lip as she looked over the broadness of his chest. Ian swallowed and tried not to appear completely disgusted at the sight of her, remembering how she'd peeped at him in the shower last night. “Care for a little help with your next scrub down?” she asked in a low, seductive tone, stepping into the man’s space. Ian felt his teeth grind together, then he hardened his brow and took a step back.

“Don’t you have Eddy to help instead?” Ian asked back with a blink, hoping the knowledge of him knowing about their relationship may back her off. But it didn’t. Her gaze never flickered or faded, instead she smiled wider with a slight shake of her head and filled the same space that Ian had just stepped out of.

“Been there, done that,” She giggled, still staring down at his body, “I’d love a taste of you though,” the girl added, reaching a skinny, twitchy hand out in an attempt to touch the redhead’s chest, but he quickly backed away from the brush of contact.

“Not interested,” Ian replied with a raise of his hand, “Thanks though,” he said, trying not to sound like a complete asshole, now starting to turn around. He just wanted to get the fuck away from this chick, but his movement was halted when she reached out for his arm and squeezed.

“I have a room too, you know,” she offered with a tilt of her head and a twinkle in her eye, as her tongue slid over her teeth, “With a bed, that could really use a little warming up from a tall, fiery man like you,” she raised an eyebrow in question and winked at him, a small tingle of shakes flowing down her limbs.

“I’m gay,” Ian blurted out, seeing no other option as this chick clearly wasn’t taking no for an answer.

But instead of releasing him from her grip, apologizing or backing away, she just began to laugh, hysterically. Ian blinked again, somewhat confused by her reaction, watching as she threw her head back and held her chest as it bounced violently with humor, the sound of her voice ringing painfully down the hallway. She calmed down to a giggle, then looked back into the man’s face.

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?” she asked, stepping back into his space and reaching her other hand out to firmly grasp his crotch, biting her lip and smiling up into his face as she did so.

The contact made his stomach twist into a sickening lurch that he struggled to fight down, along with the hacking gag that had suddenly clogged his throat. Before he could think about what he was doing, his hands shot out, connecting with the woman’s shoulders, shoving her away from him and onto the floor with a harsh, rough thud. She hit it hard, sliding back a few feet and bumping into the wall. She let out a quick sudden scream from the push, then a loud, throaty grunt when she landed, glaring back up at him with an expression of shock and outrage.

“What the fuck?!” she sneered, trying to sit back up.

But when Ian realized what he’d done, he glanced down at his hands with shock of his own, shaking and curled them into fists, as his breath began to hitch with panic. He turned and practically sprinted away from Stacy and off down the hall.

“Stupid fucking faggot!” He heard her voice scream after him.

It made him flinch, but he didn’t stop. Ian felt ashamed for how he’d reacted, but he just hadn’t been able to control himself, shoving her back much harder than he’d intended to. She shouldn’t have touched him, he knew that, but he shouldn’t have launched her back onto the floor the way he had either, he knew that too. Now he was afraid that she may tell a staff member that he’d attacked her in some way and he’d have to speak with Dr. Yates again and face disciplinary actions for it, whatever those may be. 'Fuck,'

Ian rushed his footsteps trying to find somewhere else to go. He thought the Rec Room might be a good place to go cool down, hoping that maybe Mickey would be there. He knew the man was out and about somewhere and Ian didn’t feel like he was really in any mood to be around anyone else. As he made his way through the halls, he kept his head down and just focused on his breathing as best he could. He just had way too much on his mind and needed to clear it somehow, but it was hard, the way the dark crippling thoughts from his dreams clouded up his mind and scratched at the inside of his skull. It was fucking distracting. He combed his fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp, trying to sooth his thoughts.

He’d hoped that consciousness would be easier than the constant bullshit that attacked him in his sleep, but apparently he was wrong. Stacy's touch had been triggering, extremely. He snapped in a similar manner with her as he had with Eddy, but without as much violence. She hadn’t enraged him like the man had, but her contact had sent a defensive rush of adrenaline through his body and he’d still reacted without thinking. Ian felt bad about it, but she shouldn’t have fucking touched him in the first place. He let out a heavy exhale and drug his feet with a slump, yet again.

Ian kept walking, gradually slowing his footsteps down as his nerves began to calm a bit. He was almost near the Rec Room when he passed the open door of the building’s Medical Office. He was a bit curious as he’d yet to have to go there. So, Ian leaned into the room slightly and began looking around the area.

The main area of the front was a fairly open space with a counter and chairs along the adjacent wall, shelves behind the counter lined with folders and files. There was a small archway at the other end of the room that connected to a hall with a closed door that had a caged window, behind which appeared to be a small room lined with shelves of medications.

Just as he poked his head in, a middle aged man with a receding hairline and gray stubble, clutching a small stack of files, walked out from behind the door at the end of the short hallway within the room. His hair was brown, salt and peppering around the sides, and he wore large framed glasses that almost seemed too big for his face. When he saw Ian he paused and smiled in a way that seemed a bit too happy to see him.

“Hello there,” greeted the man, placing the files atop the edge of the counter, “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here before. Are you a new patient?” he asked curiously. Ian hesitated, but nodded at the staff member. The man nodded as well and looked him over briefly. “Have you come for a dosage?” the man asked. Ian shook his head. The man smiled and tilted his head. “Are you sure?” he asked gently, somewhat insistently, “It’s okay to get confused,” he took a step closer, “What’s your name?” Ian hesitated again, feeling a strange thick air lingering in the room but the man just continued to smile and wait.

“Ian Gallagher,” he said finally, quietly.

The man’s eyes wandered over his face as if trying to read him, before he rounded the counter, adjusting his glasses, then began searching the shelves for a file with squinting eyes and a hovering finger. He found one and removed it, moving back around the counter to stand closer in front of the redhead, then placed the file on the counter, flipping it open.

“This is our folder for our newest arrivals. It was just updated within the last couple hours, so your information should be in here,” He said, flipping back through a couple sheets of paper, finding one and placing it on top to read it. “You’re right. Your first dose doesn’t come until after supper,” he confirmed with a glance into the younger man’s face. There was a pause as the man eyed Ian’s file a bit more, then spoke again.

“I see that you are to be prescribed medications for Bipolar I and Anxiety. Is that correct?” Ian stayed silent for a moment, but nodded. The man stayed silent as well. Then Ian suddenly saw his eyes beginning to trail slowly down the length of his body in a way that made his stomach twist and lurch.

“Do you often feel anxious or unstable?” His tone was low as he moved a little closer to Ian who leaned back a bit and creased his brow. This guy was really starting to rub him the wrong way and he didn’t know whether to be angry or repulsed about it. Ian hardened his face and stuck his chin out. 'What the fuck?'

“Is there a reason you’re asking me about this shit?” Ian asked bluntly. The man just continued to smile, unfazed by the redhead’s language, then raised his eyebrows.

“I handle your medication,” he said simply, “I can’t in all good conscience fill your med cup with medicine that isn’t really helping you.” The man’s voice stayed uncomfortably low.

“What’s in my med cup is none of your business,” said Ian, pushing his chin out further with a hard crease in his brow. 'The fuck,' his mind hissed again.

“It’s precisely my business,” the man said back with a gesture around the office, “Actually,” still smiling the same creepy, happy smile, eyes never leaving the younger man.

“You don’t prescribe me anything,” said Ian with a confused, irritated tone, crossing his arms over his chest.

“No, but I do fill your cups,” he grinned with twinkling eyes, “If they ever stop working for you, please just know that it’s usually much easier to come see me, than it is to go see your therapist or one of the doctors.” He spoke in a strange, hushed voice that Ian didn’t like very much at all, so he took another step back.

“No, thanks,” the redhead replied quickly with a shake of his head. The man opened his mouth to speak again but was interrupted by a hard, tough voice from just outside the doorway.

“Aye,” Ian turned around and there he was, just who he'd wanted to see: Mickey.

The sight of the other man made Ian’s lips tingle, his chest flutter and caused sparks to shoot around inside his brain, bouncing off the hard case of his skull. His breath slowed and he swallowed. But Mickey didn’t look particularly happy at what he saw, and Ian couldn’t read his face very well to try and figure out why.

“The fuck ya doin' in here?” Mickey asked the redhead, with a heated flash of a glance toward the staff member who’d been speaking with him.

Ian shrugged. He really didn’t know. Mickey eyed him for only a second, then gave a slight tilt of his head for Ian to exit the room, which he did without hesitation. The dark haired man glared coldly at the older man in the office with seemingly no care as to whether or not he was a staff member.

“The fuck ya lookin' at?” Mickey snapped at the man with a tip of his chin, his stance hardening.

Ian raised his eyebrows in perplexed surprise and stayed silent looking from Mickey to the man standing inside the office who strangely, didn’t appear as though he was very intimidated by the younger man, but he didn’t test him either. The man pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow before closing the folder on the counter, sliding it under his arm and walking back into the other room. Mickey held his glare until the man disappeared from sight then quickly snapped his head back over to look at Ian, still stern and serious.

“That asshole botherin' you?” he asked firmly with a raise of his eyebrows.

Ian was really fucking confused and simply blinked at the question, watching the other man’s face. He looked angry, but also concerned and Ian wasn’t sure what to make of it. Yes, the guy had started to make him pretty uncomfortable, but now, with how the man in front of him was acting, Ian wondered what the deal was. But he also didn’t want Mickey to explode, which is almost what it seemed like he was resisting the urge to do. His jaw was clenched tight, with a deep crease in his brow and his eyes were hard with question, his hands pressed into fists at his sides.

“No,” Ian replied with another shrug and a shake of his head but Mickey didn’t look convinced.

“You sure?” he asked with insistence in his voice, “If that motherfucker's botherin' you, you fuckin' tell me, alright?” Ian could only nod in his stunned and confused silence. The other man looked at him silently for a long moment before softening, but only a little.

Then there came a short, comfortable silence like the ones that always seemed to flood over them when they looked at each other for just a bit too long. Ian saw Mickey’s eyes flicker from his face down to his chest and along his stomach, but it didn’t disturb him like the gazes of other people did. This blue eyed gaze felt good, really good, like he was being slowly taken in and delicately savored, instead of being forcibly exposed and simply gawked at. His chest warmed with tingling little flutters and he tried to ignore them as he saw Mickey’s eyes trailing back up to his face with a much softer sparkle in them than he’d had a moment ago.

“So, you get plenty a beauty rest then, Princess?” he asked after a long pause with half a smirk and an arch of his eyebrow.

The flutters froze up instantly at the question, drowned out by a nauseating pit of sorrow and pain churning in his gut. Ian wanted to smile at Mickey, but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to think about what he’d dreamt of during his nap or any other time he’d fallen asleep, as it just made him feel sick and disgusted all over again. So, he just combed his fingers through his hair and forced out a small nod that he hoped would be convincing.

“Too much,” said Ian, “You uh, coulda woke me up, you know,” he added quietly. Mickey stared at his face for a moment, studying him again, then gave him another handsome smirk.

“I would have, if staff came to check or some shit,” replied Mickey with a one shouldered shrug, “But they didn’t so, I mean, I don’t really give a fuck if you wanna sleep, man,” he took a step and began walking, Ian quickly falling in step with him.

“It’s not necessarily that I want to go to sleep,” Ian said after a pause, “I just get tired as all shit and can’t help it sometimes, just kinda pass out,” he shrugged and stared at his feet as they walked, “I wouldn’t mind being woken up though,” he said shyly. Mickey turned his head and looked over at him for a moment in silence before speaking, beginning to nod.

“I'll keep that in mind,” he said quietly as Ian met his eye and saw his eyebrow arch ever so slightly.

They walked in silence for another moment, then began approaching the cafeteria when Ian suddenly slowed to a halt. Mickey noticed and stopped as well with yet another raise of his eyebrow.

“I’m not really hungry,” said Ian, peeking into the room filling with other patients.

“You still gotta fuckin' eat somethin', man,” replied Mickey, “Plus your big red ass kinda stands out,” he added glancing up at Ian’s bright, bold hair, then back into his face, “You start missin' meals, the staff'll notice that shit,” said Mickey. Ian still hesitated, trying to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach. The other man watched his face for a moment before stepping closer, tilting his head and lowering his face to look at Ian a little better.

“Look, I know it’s none of my fuckin' business,” he began quietly, “But your ass looked like straight shit when I saw you come in yesterday,” Mickey said bluntly, yet gently, “You gotta fuckin' eat more than just a few fuckin' nibbles a shit, alright?” His eyes were soft and his voice stayed low, “I can fuckin' tell a dude your size ain’t supposed to be a fuckin' twig, man.”

Mickey’s eyes glanced down from Ian’s face, along his neck and across his chest, then back up into his eyes. But Ian stayed quiet, his stomach still twisting and his eyes staying on the floor. Another short moment passed before he felt the sparks radiating from a firm grip on the top of his shoulder. Ian looked back up to see Mickey still gazing into his face.

“Aye, listen,” Mickey tried again, with a gentle squeeze of his hand, “We get in, then we get the fuck out,” he said with a point of his forefinger and gesture of his thumb, “Then we’ll go smoke,” he offered with a sparkle of his eye and an arch of his brow, “Got a special spot a mine I wanna show ya anyway,” he smirked.

Ian inhaled gently as his stomach slowly settled from the comforting touch of Mickey’s hand on his shoulder and the words from his mouth, letting himself smile just a little. Mickey had been thinking about him, wanting to spend time with him and knowing that made Ian’s heart flutter again. The other man’s eyes dropped to his lips and saw the small split of contentment beginning to appear on his face and appeared as if the sight made him relax a bit as well. Ian gave a small nod and let his eyes travel over Mickey’s perfectly chiseled face and stunning blue eyes, not wanting to ever look away. Mickey’s hand lingered on his shoulder and gave it a brief rub with his thumb before letting go and giving a tip of his head toward the cafeteria. Ian exhaled at the loss of contact, but followed all the same.

They made it through the line quick, both receiving two scoops of a questionable, soupy mixture that Ian crinkled his nose at, but Mickey didn’t seem to mind. They also each got a pudding cup, which the redhead already knew would be the only thing he’d be able to eat, considering the state of the rest of the meal. Both men walked side by side over to their table which only sat one large bodied man shoveling the mushy substance into his wide, square mouth. He looked up just as the other two men began sitting down, then turned his face toward Mickey.

“Makin' a new habit outta this shit now?” Bruce asked, chewing, “Or do you just miss me?” He swallowed and grinned, “It’s totally cool if you do, man,” he said with a shrug and a slight tilt of his head, “I’m pretty fucking awesome.” Mickey just frowned.

“Your big dumb ass ever shut the fuck up?” Mickey quipped back, his eyebrows pulling up into a crooked, annoyed arch. Bruce laughed and looked over at Ian.

“Sup, bro?” he gave a thick- chinned nod. Ian just gave a small acknowledging nod in return, then turned his face toward his tray to push his slop around with his fork. Bruce studied him for a moment, then looked back toward Mickey.

“The fuck's up with him?” he asked with a tip of his head in the other man's direction. Mickey narrowed his eyes on the big man with a hard, warning glare.

“Didn’t I just fuckin' tell you to shut the fuck up?” he snapped, clearly trying to keep his voice level.

Bruce looked a bit surprised, but said nothing, holding up a meaty hand in defense and taking another quick glance at the redhead before turning back to his food. Mickey lowered his face and glanced at Ian who just pushed his food around a bit more before dropping his fork and reaching for his pudding cup. He opened it and grabbed his spoon, seeing in his peripheral that Mickey’s eyes didn’t leave his face until he took a bite of pudding. Then the other man turned his face down to his own tray and took a bite of his soupy mush appearing as though it didn’t taste half bad.

Then suddenly there was a thud against the table of a body bumping into it. All three men looked up and saw Eddy, without a tray, appearing somewhat disheveled and droopy eyed, leaning into the table. When his hips bumped it, he laid his forearms down atop it and lazily slid into a seat on the bench. His twitches were mostly gone, save for the occasional stuttery shake that was able to punch it’s way through his limbs. He looked tired and drowzy, hanging his head a bit with his eyes traveling slowly around the table top. Bruce let out a laugh looking over at the smaller man.

“Hey Ed,” he welcomed with a chuckle, “In a good mood tonight?” Bruce asked.

The other man didn’t seem to hear him, his eyes giving a single slow blink, but he otherwise didn’t move. The big man clapped a friendly palm atop the other man’s shoulder, giving him a gentle shake.

“You in there, Eddy?” the big man queried with another deep, throaty chuckle.

Eddy's body wobbled loosely with the movement of Bruce’s grip, then slowly turned his head to look up at him with another lazy blink and gave a vague nod of his chin, his lips parted. Ian creased his brow at Eddy's unusual demeanor and turned his head toward Mickey with an eyebrow raised, who just stared across the table, then scoffed and began to shake his head. He looked back up toward Eddy who slowly turned his head back around the table and met Ian’s eyes. The redhead expected an angry remark, a flash of rage or at the very least an annoyed, agitated glare, something, anything. But instead Eddy’s eyes seemed to simply gloss right over Ian as if he wasn’t even there, moving past him and falling back to the table. Mickey let out a heavy exhale, dropped his fork and leaned in a bit.

“Alright, Ed,” he said in a deep, hushed voice, “You made your fuckin' appearance. The staff see ya, now get the fuck outta here before they decide to look too fuckin' close.” Mickey warned. His face was hard and irritated with a deep crease of his brow. Eddy looked up at the other man with a few more slow, heavy blinks and creased his own brow just slightly.

“Chill the fuck out, Mickey, would ya?” Eddy slurred, “S'all good, man,” he grinned with crooked teeth. Mickey clenched his jaw and flared his nostrils, curling his hands into hard, round fists.

“Did you not fuckin' hear me, asshole?” Mickey growled back through his teeth, “You better get gone real fuckin' fast, Ed,” he warned again, harder this time, “I fuckin' mean it.” Eddy held his smile and looked as if he was about to say something else, but was interrupted by a thick, heavy palm clapping down on the back of his neck.

“I'll take the dumbass back to his room,” Bruce offered quickly, standing up and bringing the smaller man to his feet with him, “But for the record,” he added with a pause, “I personally prefer docile Ed to asshole Ed any day, man,” he said with a point down to Eddy before spinning the man around by his shoulders.

Mickey flipped him off and shook his head, holding his glare as Bruce walked off with the smaller man wrapped under a massive arm, directing him out of the room and into the hall.

“What the fuck was that?” Ian asked with a sharp crease of his brow, staring at the door way the two men had passed through. Mickey just shook his head again.

“Nothin', man,” answered Mickey, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Ed's just fuckin' pathetic,” he breathed. He then scratched the bridge of his nose with the back of his thumb and glanced down at Ian’s half eaten pudding cup. “Grab that and let’s go,” Mickey directed quietly, grabbing his own dessert, slipping it into his pocket and beginning to stand up.

Ian said nothing but obeyed, eager to get out of there anyway as well. They brought their trays up to be bussed, then were quickly headed down the hall. Ian’s nerves began to tingle in a wonderfully distracting way. All the negative feelings he’d had twisting around inside his stomach and clawing at his mind were beginning to fade away, melting, dispersing and being replaced by happy, anxious, tickling shivers flowing along his skin and airy little flutters dancing in his chest. He pretended not to notice the subtle glances that the other man was making at him as they walked and kept his eyes down, hoping his neck hadn’t flushed red with a blush. A few other residents passed by them on their way, but none paid them any mind.

“Just gotta grab my shit from the room, alright?” said Mickey in a hushed voice, leaning in a bit toward Ian as he spoke. The other man nodded, sneakily inhaling the wisps of the man’s scent as he did.

“Cool,” he replied simply, fighting down a pathetic, blushing smile.

Ian was excited, really excited to spend more time with Mickey, especially alone. He was also incredibly curious about whatever spot of his he could be referring to, feeling really lucky that Mickey would want to share it with him, wherever it was. He really liked Mickey, more and more, and Mickey seemed to like Ian too, at least Ian really hoped that he did.

They arrived at their room and both stepped inside, Ian making sure to shut the door for a bit more privacy. Mickey walked right over to his mattress, then reached underneath to pull out the same envelope from the night before and turned with his back toward the doorway. Ian stepped in a bit more and saw the man briefly look through it before closing it back up. He then grabbed his sweater and pulled it over his head in a one quick motion. In that instant, Ian felt his face suddenly flush a bright, hot pink as he caught just a glimpse at the waistline of Mickey’s boxers as well as the thin strip of dark hair that trailed down from his bellybutton, quickly averting his eyes and swallowing the vibrations in his throat. Mickey folded the envelope in half, stuffing it into the pocket of his sweatpants, then turned to look at the other man.

“Grab your fuckin' sweater, Red,” Mickey ordered gently, pointing toward Ian’s sweatshirt that still lay on the floor in front of his bed, “It’s fuckin' cold out,” he added, seemingly not noticing the man’s blush.

Ian took a deep, slow breath and nodded, then turned to pick his discarded article of clothing up from the floor, trying not to smile at the other man’s consideration of him, no matter how blunt his words. Mickey turned, then rounded his bed to rummage through the storage chest on the older side of it and retrieved his cigarettes, stuffing the pack into his other pocket. He paused and watched the redhead pull his sweater on and when their eyes met again, Mickey gave him a smirk with a subtle bite of his lip, then cocked his head toward the door.

“You ready?” his voice was low and Ian tried ignore the tingles floating in his lungs, nodding instead.

Mickey gave Ian’s body a final sweeping glance, then began walking toward the door and out into the hall. Ian anxiously followed, airy little flutters trailing along behind him. They walked close together in silence, their shoulders occasionally brushing while stealing obvious glances at one another. They both ate their pudding cups as they walked, discarding the empty, plastic remains into a waste bin as they passed it. Mickey appeared fairly pleased with having seen Ian eat something, even if it was just a cup of pudding.

Mickey brought him down a hallway that Ian had only been down once, when he was learning his map of the facility. They came upon an access door that led out to the yard and track, with a staff member posted beside it. She was a younger woman who sat on a stool staring at her cellphone, lazily texting away with a bored expression on her face. She barely glanced up at them, before sliding her keycard across the scanner beside her and waving them through. The door buzzed open and they were hit with a suctioned gust of cold, crisp winter wind. They both braced with a tense of their shoulders and Mickey gave Ian another smirk and a handsome arch of his eyebrow, before they were both out the door.

The yard was a wide open area with a jogging track that circled most of it’s parameter and a fence just beyond. There was an area in the middle with picnic tables and another area nearby paved with asphalt and a basketball hoop, all snowed over and lined with ice sickles, desolately frozen. There were only two other residents outside, both slowly walking the track, immersed in conversation with each other, and two guards standing in the middle near the tables, doing the same. Ian let his eyes wander around the yard as he stuffed his hands deeply into his pockets, really noticing that a lot of the staff that worked in the facility didn’t seem to take their jobs very seriously. It was either that or they just didn’t pay much attention and he wasn’t sure whether to feel fortunate or bothered by that.

Mickey immediately turned left a few steps outside the doorway, bringing Ian along the edge of the building, walking away from the rest of the yard and the track, beginning to approach a tall, thick line of snow covered shrubs. He made a quick glance back out toward the staff members, who hadn’t even seemed to notice the two men exit the building in the first place, then looked back at Ian, giving another pointed cock of his head. Ian then watched Mickey slide against the side of the building and disappear into the bushes, a wet puff of snow popping off the icy foliage as he passed through it. Ian raised an eyebrow and hesitated for a moment. 'Inhale. Exhale.' His fingers fidgeted anxiously in his pockets, and he took another look back seeing that no one was watching them, then turned back toward the bushes. He was nervous again, but a good nervous that made his breath tremble for just a moment as he continued to hesitate. He shifted his feet, but stood still.

“Come the fuck on, Red,” Mickey’s voice chuckled through the shrubs, “I told ya, I ain’t gonna fuckin' bite ya,” his voice sounded calm, genuine, but insistent.

The tone of man’s voice evened him out a bit, as he took one last breath, then slipped through the slivered passage just as Mickey had, disappearing into the bush as well. He took a few side steps, closing his eyes and turning his face away from the cold sprinkle of snow tumbling from the bushes as he passed through, moving with his back along the wall. Then the icy brush on his face disappeared and Ian suddenly stepped into a small round opening, still tucked behind the snow covered foliage. The bushes were tall enough to barely cover Ian’s head, doming them into the cozy, little space. He looked down and saw Mickey seated cross-legged on the ground where it was dry from the cover and packed down to the dirt from footsteps. Ian hunched a bit, peering down at the man in front of him sorting through the contents of the envelope in his hand with a thin, papery crinkle. Deep, blue eyes glanced up at him with an arched eyebrow and the redhead couldn’t help but smile at him, just a little, unable to hide it. Mickey smiled back and gestured to the empty space next to him with his elbow.

“Well, sit the fuck down, man,” he said calmly, “I roll fast as fuck,” Mickey grinned, pulling a book of rolling papers from the envelope, “And we gotta make sure our asses get back to the fuckin' room before the Doc decides to fuckin' stroll through with evenin' doses,” he added with a chin tip.

Ian stayed quiet and sat down beside him, careful not to brush against the other man in such a tight space, for fear of his flutters and tingles getting the best of his body and betraying his self control. He looked over and saw Mickey with his fingers inside the fold of paper, filling a thin, white sheet with bright, green bud, beginning to turn and twist it into a smooth, round tube. Then he brought it to his lips, his wet, pink tongue darting out and slicking the edge of the paper, sealing it. Ian fought the urge to lick his own lips, when suddenly Mickey looked back over at him, chuckling again and shook his head.

“Get the fuck over here,” he said with a wide grin and a flick of his head. But Ian was confused and didn’t move, just staring for a second. Mickey rolled his eyes then reached over, grabbing the redhead’s forearm and gave him a gentle pull, “I told ya it’s fuckin' cold,” he insisted, “Help me not freeze my fuckin' balls off, huh?” He pulled his knees up closer to his chest to make even more room next to him and kept his hand on Ian.

Mickey held a friendly, leveled expression, watching the other man’s face and squeezed his arm gently, shaking just a bit from the cold but fighting it like the stubborn, tough guy that he is. Ian swallowed, letting himself smile again, just a little, then moved over so that they were huddled close together, sides fully touching and he felt the other man’s shivers quickly cease from the contact of body heat. Ian tried to ignore the sparks shooting through his own body from the contact.

Mickey felt around on the outside of his pants pocket, then reached in and retrieved a lighter, bringing the joint to his lips. He made one last glance toward Ian before lighting it, creating a small explosion of orange flame, brightly lighting up his face and when he inhaled, the cherry of the joint glowed a soft, deep red that delicately brushed the soft, pale skin of his nose and rouged the pink of his lips. 'Why the fuck is he so beautiful?' Ian wondered as he watched him, trying not to pay too close attention to the way the muscles in Mickey’s neck flexed as the smoke of his hit rolled slowly down his throat. He held in his smoke with a tight, rise of his chest and passed it to Ian who took it and brought it to his lips as well.

“How the fuck are you able to get away with all this shit in here?” Ian asked suddenly with an inhale, watching as the other man exhaled a thick plume of smoke up above his head.

“I told ya, man,” he replied with a shrug, “Patient care here is shit,” said Mickey bluntly with a scoff, “I know I said, after lights out or whatever, but shit's fucked around here all the time, really,” he admitted, “Makes my fuckin' time here a hell of a lot easier though,” Mickey added, “So, who's fuckin' complainin'?” he chuckled reaching for the joint as Ian passed it to him with an accepting nod.

“So, this is your spot, huh?” asked Ian, noticing how well you could see out through the bushes, yet from the outside, none of the inside could be viewed.

He could see why Mickey liked it, it was hidden from everyone else, but not obstructed from the inside. He could see everyone and everything without being seen himself and that was kind of cool and exciting in Ian’s opinion. He liked it too.

“One of 'em,” Mickey said, “Got a couple more,” he added, glancing over again, “But, uh, you’re still kinda on probation with me, Red.” He took a sharp hit, and sucked in a deep breath with it, blue eyes shimmering over Ian’s face in the slowly dimming daylight. “So, I’m startin' your ass off light," he gave a tip of his chin.

“Probation?” the redhead queried, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, man,” Mickey confirmed, passing the joint with an exhale, “We still don’t fuckin' know each other, ya know?” he said bluntly, shrugging, “For all I know you’re fuckin' crazy,” he grinned wide with bright, white teeth and cocky dimples. Ian chuckled and narrowed his eyes, returning a small grin.

“Says the guy I met in the fucking nut house,” he quipped back and Mickey laughed, his deep, handsome laugh rolling straight up from his chest. The redhead inhaled a deep drag from the joint, then exhaled trying to will away the abundance of ticklish flutters he had floating in his lungs, overflowing along his ribs. Ian paused, then passed the weed back to Mickey who took a deep pull.

“My point still fuckin' stands,” Mickey insisted, exhaling, once again arching his eyebrow. There was a pause of silence and Mickey took another drag from the joint before passing it, then spoke again. “But uh, I might show ya another spot one a these days,” Mickey’s eyes flickered between Ian’s before falling lightly down his neck and across his chest, “We’ll just have to fuckin' see, huh?”

Ian took a hit from the joint, trying to calm his excitedly anxious nerves, refusing to let them travel too far down his body and invade his hips, his pelvis, pulling a rushing flow of blood with them. But still, he watched Mickey’s eyes, letting himself enjoy the not-so-subtle appeal in the other man’s gradually hooding gaze, biting his lip when Mickey bit his own, letting his own eyes linger. When Ian exhaled, a cloud of smoke filled the space and Mickey’s eyes trailed back up and began watching his neck and his lips as he blew a hot puff of smoke into the air around them. Ian looked back into the man’s eyes and hesitated before passing the joint back, dropping his gaze to his lap.

“What do you wanna know?”' Ian asked after another pause. Mickey raised an eyebrow as if he’d missed what the other man had said, obviously too distracted by looking at him. “You said we still don’t know each other,” he elaborated, “So, what do you wanna know?” the redhead repeated in a light, shy voice, peering back into his eyes.

Mickey leaned back a little, just looking, silent for a moment, reaching out to take the joint and took a slow, thoughtful hit. Ian swallowed, now feeling pretty nervous again, his muscles tensing up a bit and his fingers beginning to fidget. Mickey exhaled another large, thick cloud above his head.

“Tell me somethin',” he said finally with a light shrug. Ian’s brow creased slightly.

“What?” Ian asked with a slightly relieved, yet slightly confused fall of his shoulders.

“Fuckin' tell me somethin',” Mickey repeated with a chuckle, “I don’t know shit, right?” he said shrugging again and raising his eyebrows, “So, how the fuck would I even know where to fuckin' start?” he spoke with an upturned palm, then passed the joint, “So, just fuckin' tell me somethin', man,” Mickey insisted nudging Ian with his elbow.

Ian paused in thought, trying to think of something to tell the other man. There were lots of things about Ian’s life, things that he’d done that he would rather just forget, but he still just couldn’t seem to do that. Most of those were things that Ian would never want the other man to know about him, wouldn’t want anyone to know about him. But he did want Mickey to know him, because he wanted to know Mickey too and that was important to him. So, he thought he’d go with something relatively mild compared to the rest of the shameful and sometimes incredibly destructive things he’d done in his life. His eyes flickered between Mickey’s who remained relaxed, quiet and waiting. Ian took a deep hit, held it for a moment, then exhaled.

“I once stole my brother’s identity and joined the army with it,” he blurted out, “I was seventeen.”

After Ian said it, he hoped the other man wouldn’t ask too many details, as the reasons that he did it, the people, the whole situation was not something he wanted to talk about, not now. It was just one of many parts of his life that made him feel foolish, stupid and he’d rather just forget any of it ever happened, though deep down he knew he couldn’t, he shouldn’t. As fucked up as so many things Ian had gone through had been, these experiences still make him who he is, whether it happened from negative impact or otherwise. But out of all the things to bring up to a man he barely knows, even Mickey, his brief army stint seemed like the easiest and most mild to talk about, of what he was actually willing to talk about anyway. He watched Mickey’s face and expected him to ask Ian for a reason, an explanation as to why he’d do such a thing like potentially ruin his brother's life, or why he would want to enlist so badly in the first place, but instead his reaction was a bit different.

“Well, what the fuck happened with that?” he asked curiously, “Shouldn’t your ass still like be there or on the other side a the fuckin' world or some shit?” he gestured with another upturned palm. Ian raised his eyebrows, then tried to explain a bit further.

“Well, I sort of… had an episode,” Ian said, hesitating a bit as he spoke, “Like a break down, I guess,” he explained vaguely, “Then I tried to steal a helicopter, but I tipped it and the rotor caught fire,” Ian said slowly, “Stole a car too,” he added, rubbing the back of his neck, “Got off base in it during all the fucking commotion,” he continued, his voice full of shame, “Ditched the car, hitchhiked back home.” Ian's eyes had fallen to his lap, unsure of what the other man would think or say. Only a short moment passed though, before he heard Mickey’s voice.

“You got bigger fuckin' balls than a lot a motherfuckers, you know that, Red?”

Ian raised his head and saw Mickey still gazing over at him, eyebrows raised with a rather surprised, yet impressed look on his face. The redhead was confused, but relaxed a little bit at the other man’s words and demeanor, the tension in his neck melting away with a smooth, fluid sensation. He exhaled as Mickey took the joint from him, took one last hit and crushed the roach into the dirt near their feet.

The dark haired man then pulled a cigarette pack from his pocket, while situating his envelope back into his other pocket with the opposite hand. He produced a single cigarette and passed it to Ian who took it and watched as Mickey fumbled with his pockets some more, tucking the pack away and replacing it with his lighter. His eyes met Ian’s and they both paused just looking, then Mickey chewed his lip and dropped his eyes to Ian’s mouth, then motioned with his brow for him to place the cigarette between his lips, which he did. Blue eyes traced Ian’s face, over his cheekbones and up to his hair before falling back to his eyes. Then Mickey flicked the lighter, holding the flame out for Ian to light his cigarette, watching his cheeks hallow just slightly as he sucked smoke from it’s end. Ian took a deep hit and blew a large puff of smoke into the bushes in front of him.

“Thanks,” said Ian quietly, gesturing to the cigarette between his fingers.

Mickey gave a tipped chin nod, silently continuing to watch the other man smoke, the tip of his tongue moving slowly along the inside of his bottom lip while he did so. The flutters in Ian’s chest were beginning to dance their way up his throat and he tried to ignore them, unable to find the same courage he’d had in the library earlier. His breath slowed again, so he took another drag from the cigarette, savoring the smoke and ignoring the tickling in his neck.

“How about you?” Ian asked suddenly, causing the other man to look back into his eyes, “Tell me something about you.” Mickey gave a low chuckle and shrugged while he tucked the lighter back into his pocket.

“Not much shit to say about me, man,” he said just looking ahead, leaning back against the cold, rough wall of the building at their backs, “Wasn’t doin' shit before I got thrown in here and I ain’t fuckin' doin' shit now,” Mickey said bluntly, “Nothin' to fuckin' tell,” he shrugged again, staring through the bushes out across the softly darkening yard. He was quiet for another moment, his brow creased in thought, before glancing over at Ian again, blue eyes sparkling over his face. He thumbed his lip, then chewed it once more before he finally spoke, “I uh, I dropped outta school when I was twelve,” he offered quietly, “My 'ol man, fuckin' pulled me out, so he could fuckin' put my ass to work. Did the same shit with all my brothers,” he said letting his eyes fall to his hands, “So, that shit's all I did for fuckin' years,” he said, then paused another moment, "Just had to do a bunch a fuckin' bullshit that no fuckin' kid should have to grow up doin',” his voice was hushed and his face was turned down a bit. Ian passed Mickey the cigarette and he took it, sucking in a long deep hit and holding it tightly before he exhaled a thick strip of smoke above his head. “My life ain’t nothin' but shit, man,” he added quietly, raising the cigarette to his lips once more.

Ian felt saddened and hurt at the other man’s words and guilty for having asked anything at all. He wanted to apologize, but part of him knew that Mickey wouldn’t want him to, so he didn’t, he just stayed quiet, still sitting closely to the other man, sharing his warmth. He watched him take another pull of smoke, small, lacy wisps escaping his nose and lips as his hand pulled the cigarette away with each hit, the setting sunlight peeking through thin splits in the shrubs, speckling him with tiny sparkles of gold. 'Fuck,’ He just gazed at him for a moment, he couldn’t help it. Mickey was so beautiful when he allows himself to be vulnerable and the redhead just felt grateful, honored, special even, that the other man would feel comfortable enough to do that with him. Then, Ian gathered some courage and chanced the opportunity to try and show Mickey a bit of reassurance, a bit of compassion, in the same way he’d shown Ian earlier.

The redhead very slowly, very cautiously reached his hand out, resting his palm on the other man’s leg, just above his knee and gave it a gentle, comforting squeeze. Mickey’s eyes instantly dropped to the contact with a slight look of surprise, then turned his head toward Ian, meeting his deep, green eyes. Ian was trying to keep his face calm and relaxed, as well as his hands, his grip, ignoring the scream of nerves in the back his mind telling him to pull his hand away. But he didn’t, he kept it there, even finding enough courage to give another small squeeze, beginning to caress the other man’s leg lightly with a tender brush of his thumb.

The contact was sending a stream of sparks up his arm, and he wondered if Mickey could feel them too because he wasn’t moving either. They just watched each other for a moment, both appearing as though they were waiting for whatever would come next, if anything would come at all. The dark haired man took another slow pull from the cigarette, holding eye contact and exhaled with two thick plumes of smoke through his nose, then passed it back to Ian, who took it with his free hand, keeping his other right where he’d left it, firmly on Mickey’s leg.

They sat in silence, sharing the cigarette and blowing bluish, misty clouds of smoke through the leafy green walls of their enclosure, letting them be carried away by the frozen, windy gusts of air swirling around outside. When the cigarette got low, Mickey took one last drag and snuffed it out into the ground next to the roach. Their eyes met again and there was a final moment of quiet lingering, where they both slowed and paused their movements, waiting for something. Ian tried to swallow his nerves and pack them down inside his gut, but they were flooding over him, strangling his courage. He finally swallowed but released his grip from the other man, who held his gaze for a moment longer, before taking another peek through the bushes.

“Better get back down there before the Doc makes her fuckin' rounds,” Mickey reminded him quietly.

Ian nodded and stood, along with Mickey who cracked his neck briefly as they rose, then slid their backs against the wall and out of their dome, now walking back toward the door to go inside. The two other patients that had been walking the track had already gone in at some point and there was only one staff member outside now, seated on top of a picnic table reading a magazine. Ian resisted the urge to shake his head as they walked past without a single gesture of acknowledgement from the guy. They got to the door and they both peered through it seeing the same young girl seated on the same stool, still engulfed inside the screen of her cellphone. Mickey creased his brow and gave two sharp knocks on the window with the middle knuckle of his index finger causing the girl to jump and turn with a look of shock and surprise on her face. The dark haired man just scoffed and shook his head.

“I know that bitch just fuckin' saw us walk through here,” he mumbled under his breath in a tone laced with annoyance. Ian resisted splitting a grin and instead he turned his face down a bit, hands snuggly back in his pockets.

The girl scanned her keycard and the door opened once more with a buzz and a click. They passed back through into the heat on the facility, melting their shivers away. Mickey rubbed one of his biceps roughly with his palm, bringing some heat into the arm of his sweater. Both men quickly started back down the hall toward their room.

“Why the fuck don’t they have coats or some shit for going outside during the winter?” Ian asked blowing a hot burst on breath into his palms and rubbing them together, “It’s too fucking cold.” Mickey turned his head and smirked at him.

“They used to,” he replied, “'Til some bitch wanted to set the fuckin' coat room on fire with another fuckin’ resident trapped inside.” Mickey chuckled out the words and Ian’s eyes widened, his jaw dropping slightly. The other man saw his expression and chuckled again.

“What?” asked Ian in disbelief. Mickey pressed his lips together into a line with his eyebrows raised and began to nod.

“Yeah, man,” said Mickey glancing at him again, “Apparently cotton and polyester are flammable as fuck,” he grinned, “Who fuckin' knew, right?” he asked sarcastically. Ian blinked, silent for a moment, then turned back toward the other man with a crease of his forehead.

“So someone torches the place and they just don’t get any more?” Ian queried, not asking about the fate of the victim or the perpetrator, “Everyone else just has to freeze their asses off?” Mickey covered a punch of a laugh with his fist and held his grin, cocking his head.

“Don’t sound so fuckin' shocked, Red,” he said, his hand swatting the air, “Like I told ya, patient care is shitty as fuck around here,” Mickey met his eyes again, “Better fuckin' get used to the shit, man.”

They made it back to their room and were met by a somewhat disgruntled looking Dr. Craft waiting outside the door with her large, square medical cart, a guard at her side. Both men glanced at each other, flashing guilty grins that they each fought down. The doctor had her clipboard tucked into her crossed arms, tapping her foot when she saw them approach.

“Gentlemen,” she welcomed flatly, “This is my second round of the circle and your room is still empty,” she accused with a brief waving gesture of her thin, frail hand toward their vacant room, “Being late for rounds effects your doses, which ultimately effects your entire routine,” the doctor explained with warning in her voice, “This cannot become a habit, Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Milkovich, do you understand me?” asked Dr. Craft with a stern point of her finger.

Both men nodded obediently, slipping past the doctor and walking into their room, the guard at her side eyeing them the entire way. Dr. Craft turned toward her cart and bent toward a lower level retrieving two paper med cups, placing them on top. She then took the pitcher from the corner of the cart, filling two more paper cups with water, the beads that hung from her glasses clinking together gently, then turned around to face the two men once more, who stood in wait just near the doorway. She grabbed two of the cups and took a small step forward.

"Mr. Milkovich,” she offered both cups to the man, who took them, swallowing the contents of both, quickly dancing through his tongue and teeth routine before turning around and strolling over to his bed. “Thank you,” she called politely to the back of his head as he walked away. The doctor turned back toward her cart grasping the remaining two cups and stepping back into the room toward Ian.

“Mr. Gallagher,” she greeted, offering the cups, “Your regimen begins tonight,” Dr. Craft smiled with pearly teeth, “We have you on two mood stabilizers and an antipsychotic, pretty standard,” Ian peered down into the tiny paper cup contained three tiny pills and had to take a slow, deep breath before bringing it to his lips, tilting his head back and swallowing them with a gulp of water from the other cup. He turned with a dropped jaw, showing the doctor his empty mouth, to which she nodded. “If this cocktail gives you any is trouble, please let either myself or Dr. Yates know as soon as possible and we can try a different combination,” she assured lightly. Ian forced himself to nod as well. She turned back to her cart once more, reached back underneath the first level and retrieved a pair of scissors and a small rectangular badge with a clip on one end.

“Dr. Yates seemed to have forgotten to give you your badge earlier today, Mr. Gallagher,” she explained taking small strides back over toward him.

Ian noticed the guard’s face harden and his eyes narrowed as the doctor approached the redhead with a big, black pair of scissors. The doctor gestured for the arm that wore the wristband and Ian raised it for her cut through the scratchy, paper ring. She slipped the blade between his wrist and the band, cold against his skin, sending goosebumps up his arm, then snipped it in a single, quick snap and it fell lightly to the floor. The doctor bent to pick it up, then handed Ian his new I.D. badge, which he took, peering down at it reading his name along with a long, bold number.

“Please just make sure it remains visible at all times,” Dr. Craft advised sweetly, “Makes it easy for staff to know who everyone is,” she smiled.

Ian nodded, still looking over his new badge, flipping it over with long, thin fingers. The doctor turned back to her cart for a final time, exiting the room and joining her escort when she turned her head back.

“Thank you again, boys,” she called lightly, “And please do not be late anymore,” she added sternly before turning away and shutting the door behind her.

Ian spun around lightly on the balls of his feet, his head fuzzy with a mild daze from the weed they’d smoked only a short while earlier. He walked over to his bed and plopped down with a heavy drop of his weight, carelessly tossing the badge onto the table beside him. Mickey was already seated across from him on his own bed, against the wall, peering across the room with glossy, hooded eyes, relaxed, with his hands crossed behind his head. Ian gazed back at him, taking him in like he just absolutely loved to do. Ian gently kicked off his slippers and got comfortable under his thin, scratchy, blanket, not caring about the rough brush it left on his skin.

Instead he chose to enjoy the buzz from the weed soothing his senses and the intense radiating sensation of the intense blue gaze flowing through the air from across the small space. Both men were quiet for quite a long time, much like the night before, just looking, gazing, seeing. Mickey pulled off his sweater and Ian did the same, the latter finally laying down more comfortably and pulling his blanket up farther turning his head to look up at the ceiling, once again counting the rows of pinholes punched along the tiles. More silence passed with nothing more than the faint tick of the clock on the wall and the deep relaxed breaths of the two men in the room, easy, comfortable, quiet.

“Almost fuckin' lights out,” said Mickey suddenly. Ian turned his head to meet his eyes once more, “Tired?” he asked with a slight arch of his eyebrow. The redhead inhaled deeply, then let out a heavy, dreaded chest fall.

“I’m always fucking tired these days,” Ian breathed trying to cover agony in his voice at the thought of going back to sleep.

Mickey watched his face, saying nothing, quietly observing the other man's expression and Ian let him, feeling no need to hide anything, as he knew Mickey had already seen him wake with a terrified jolt in the night covered in sweat, shakes and tears. He had seen Ian breaking, more than once in his short time around him and didn’t judge him for it, but instead did quite the opposite and attempted to show Ian some comfort, reassurance, some support, even. What would Ian have to gain by lying to him about it?

Both men held their eye contact as they always seemed to do, taking each other in as if there couldn’t possibly be enough to grasp ahold of. Green eyes on blue, each traveling across each other’s skin and bodies, then back to their faces, eyes meeting once more, silent in study, in thought, in lure.

Suddenly the abrupt string of sounds rang through the halls, a radiating chorus of lock and key, reaffirming each patient’s hopeless sense imprisonment, secured behind stone walls and steel doors, shut away from the rest of society. Ian’s stomach couldn’t resist the flip it made feeling the noises punch through his body as the lights then buzzed and flickered off, filling the room with a thick pitch of darkness.

Ian watched Mickey’s form slowly appear against the wall on the other aide of the room as his eyes adjusted to the black. A soft brush of light from the street gleamed in ever so lightly, just barely grazing the blue of the man’s irises, almost making them glow. After a moment he finally began to shift and lay down atop his bed, wiggling to get comfortable and settling with a satisfied exhale. Ian held his gaze for just an instant longer before turning his head and closing his eyes letting a small smile spread across his face at the thought of the man, the sight of his face shielded from the other through the thick veil of darkness.

Before Ian realized, he’d fallen unconscious, trapped his some hellish dream that he was suddenly, desperately trying to fight his way out of. He was struggling to breathe, with a heavy weight on his chest, coughing, gagging, fighting, screaming but he couldn’t seem to move. He felt his eyelids press together tighter, his fists curled, tangled in something, and there was pain, so much pain. He felt sick, repulsed, afraid, the hot sting of tears burning into his cheeks. He gasped and cried out, trying to fill his lungs with air, breath, life.

“Aye,” came a gentle whisper in the dark, and at last the dim of the room around him filled his vision, filled his mind with more comfort and relief than Ian could have ever thought possible.

He sucked in a deep breath of air and exhaled just as hard, coughing, sputtering, turning his body some to catch his breath over the edge of the bed. It took a few moments for Ian to calm, for his heart and breath to level, suddenly recognizing the familiar sensation of tingling, shivering sparks radiating from a firm, strong grip on his shoulder. He turned his face up to see beautiful blue eyes peering down at him through the dark, the hand on his shoulder squeezing lightly with reassurance, giving Ian the grounding and stability that he desperately needed. Another moment passed as Ian breathed into the touch, peering up into the face of Mickey’s silhouette.

Then Mickey did something that both shocked and surprised the other man, so much so that his brain couldn’t fully process the act enough to question it. He moved closer, sliding his knee onto Ian’s bed and the redhead instinctually moved further back onto the mattress, closer to the wall, watching the night-draped form of his roommate slide smoothly into his bed, then gave a gentle nudge to Ian’s shoulder urging him to turn around, which he did, blindly and without hesitation.

Ian felt the bed fully dip and the blanket tug just a bit as Mickey laid down behind him, underneath the blanket, then wrapped thick, strong arms securely around his body. He felt the other man’s legs curl and adjust to fit snuggly around his own, his chest and pelvis pressed firmly into the back of him. Ian covered Mickey’s arms and hands with his own and pressed his back into Mickey’s chest which was once again welcomed with a soft yet strong, comforting squeeze. Ian could smell him, the same smoky, sweet, peppery scent from his pillow and it melted away the aching terrible feeling swirling in his mind and churning in the pit of his stomach.

Then he felt the brush of parted lips on the base of his neck, as the man behind him adjusted a bit more closely, the hot, damp burst of breath passing through them, sent a sudden flush of shivering tingles down Ian's spine and an eruption of flutters exploded from his chest, engulfing his lungs, invading his heart, and dancing with it’s pulse, simply singing. Ian exhaled and relaxed, savoring what he was feeling in this very moment, never wanting to forget such a wonderfully satisfying, addictive sensation, better than any drug. Mickey was a fucking cure. Ian eased back, now unafraid of what terrible things may face him in the dark, repressed corners of his distraught and damaged mind. None of it seemed nearly as scary while laying safely in Mickey’s warm, firm embrace. He let himself lay back further into the other man, relaxing, safe, at ease, wrapped in the gentle heat of his touch. Ian no longer felt nervous of the horrors of his dreams, of his mind, as if just being like this with Mickey seemed to solve everything.

But just then, a tiny little voice in the back of Ian’s mind began to speak, and whisper, an annoying, honest, little conscious of a voice, one that he usually tried his best to ignore. It suddenly began to wonder ever so tauntingly, creeping across his thoughts, if the other man alone could really be enough to save him from this, from himself, or if Ian really was just as fucked as he appeared to be.

Chapter Text

Ian awoke feeling relieved, refreshed, revitalized, as the awful nightmares and nocturnal terrors of his mind had completely ceased after being rescued by the secure, protective embrace of his handsome, blue eyed roommate. He shifted slightly, still curled onto his side facing the wall, wrapped snuggly under his blanket, exhaling with a small smile of contentment spread across his lips. But it faded a bit when he suddenly felt the coolness on his back of an empty space behind him. Ian creased his brow and slowly began to turn, peeking over his shoulder to discover an empty room, once again.

He stared blankly across the space for a long moment, then pinched the bridge of his nose with a heavy-chested exhale. Ian looked over at his roommate’s bed, seeing it still unmade as usual, unable to tell if Mickey had crawled back into his own bed sometime during the night or if he had stayed beside him until morning. He honestly couldn’t remember much himself, having slept better last night than he had in a very long time. The other side of his pillow still held the gentle dip of a head pressed into it just behind his own. He turned completely to brush his fingers lightly over the empty space and smiled at the memory of the other man’s comforting presence, his secure embrace in the dark. Then the quiet, vacant room entered his vision again and Ian scrunched up his face, then sat up with a hard, forceful yawn, gave a scratch to his chest and a long, reaching stretch of his shoulders. A quick look at the clock told him that he was up a bit earlier than usual, but closer to the normal time he should awake to start the day, just as the rest of the residents do.

He finally stood, rubbing the remains of sleep from his eyes and ruffled out his slumber-messed hair with a big, flat palm, now strolling toward the dresser in need of fresh clothes. He bent to pull his shirt up over his head in a single, swift motion, then twisted to throw it into the laundry hamper, biting down on a low mild wince from the sting of burning bruises on his ribs and a harsh throb from the large purple one still draped over his hip. His eyes glanced down along the front of his abdomen, observing them in the same state as last night with no change at all which was unfortunately very unsurprising. He blinked with a huff and began searching for a new shirt, finding one and slipping into it with a grunt, along with clean sweatpants and boxers much more easily, then pulled a pair of socks onto his feet.

Ian wasn’t looking forward to today at all, knowing that he had things scheduled for the first time, though he didn’t know what just yet. He fidgeted his fingers and glanced toward his end table across the room, eyes traveling in search along the top of it, now making steps to cross the space. He creased his brow, peering around the table, sliding the thick, white book aside and finding his schedule half crumbled, folded into quarters beneath it. He picked it up, pausing, to turn the thin square of paper over in his fingers a few times in thought and hesitation. Part of him was afraid to read it, afraid of what it might say, but he couldn’t place a finger as to why exactly that was. Ian had been avoiding having to read it since he received it from Dr. Yates, just unable to bring himself to even attempt to process such information. It all just seemed so final, so sure and it kind of really just terrified him. He peered down once more seeing his shiny, new I.D. badge teetering just on the edge of the table, near the wall, one corner poking the pages of the children’s book beside it. He reached down, grasping it with the tips of his fingers, bringing it into his other palm to stare down at as well. Ian swallowed and took a slow, deep breath.

He took the badge and clipped it to his hip in the same manner as he’d seen Mickey do, staring blankly down at it for another silent moment, before turning his attention back to the folded paper in his hand. 'It’s official,' he thought. The badge seemed even more final than the schedule, which flared yet calmed his nerves with an unusual sensation causing him to exhale and rub the back of his neck. Ian couldn’t help it, he hesitated once more before slowly pinching the corners of the sheet and pulling it open, eyes traveling slowly across the page. He had only a single session scheduled for today, much to his extreme relief, a ‘Positive Outlook Therapy' session at 2 pm and he didn’t know what the fuck that was. It didn’t sound too menacing, but it didn’t really sound like anything that he wanted to waste his time doing either. Though just like with everything else about this entire ordeal, what choice did he have?

Ian slid a palm down his face, repressing a groan, letting his eyes fall back to the paper, ready to fold it back up when he noticed another brief note scribbled near the top. It mentioned that he also had a morning medication regimen that he would have to travel down to the medical office for. His stomach gave a small, sudden twist of discomfort at the thought of possibly having to deal with the creepy, uncomfortable staff member from yesterday. Ian tensed his muscles, fighting down a shudder of repulsion. At least he assumed that he wouldn’t be alone, as other patients were bound to need morning doses as well, the thought causing his gut to relax just a bit. He inhaled deeply and began to fold his schedule back up when he heard the delicate metallic squeak of the door's hinges turning in their frame.

Ian’s nerves jolted at the noise, causing his head to snap over and his body to whirl around on the balls of his feet, eyes landing on the door. The door was cracked open just slightly, and Ian could have sworn he saw a flash of movement quickly zip away from view. His brow creased again, as he quickly closed the space, pulled the door open wide and peered around the hall. He saw no one that looked suspicious, just the usual trickle of residents shuffling slowly about, headed to and from their rooms, showers, breakfast. Ian took another sweeping glance in both directions, and frowned with a confused, frustrated rub to his forehead. Was he seeing shit? Ian shook his head, feeling that perhaps he was still just really tired, so his mind was just fuzzy and groggy from sleep. Ian quickly crossed the room once more to open the drawer of his table, collect toothpaste and a toothbrush, and drop his schedule back atop his table, then was walking out of the room, headed for the lavatory.

As he walked he tried not to think about his roommate or about why after such an amazing, comforting night, he would still wake up alone in the morning. Had he done something wrong? Ian would not have been surprised or upset to find the other man comfortably back in his own bed when he’d woken up, but instead he just wasn’t there at all and that was pretty fucking disappointing. He couldn’t help but slouch just a bit, but tried to swallow the feeling and just get on with what he had to do, forcing his feet to keep moving.

He entered the bathroom seeing it the busiest he had yet with several filled shower stalls, water running, several men at the sinks washing their faces and brushing their teeth. Ian just stood still for a second, a bit overwhelmed by the sudden lack of privacy inside the long narrow room, before beginning to take slow, cautious steps further inside. He couldn’t help himself from sneakily glancing around in search of a black haired man with bright, blue eyes, but came up disappointingly empty. So, Ian just kept his head down, trying to make his way to an empty sink while clutching his toothbrush and paste, trying not to let his slippers slide along the slick, wet floor.

Then there was a sudden bump to his shoulder causing him to turn his head up, knitting his eyebrows together, and was met with bold hazel eyes and a dark tan face. The man in front of him was about Mickey’s height, not much older than himself, with a fuzzy, springy mop of dark brown curls atop his head and a towel wrapped tightly around his hips. He didn’t appear very happy about the sudden shock of contact in the slightest.

“Sorry, man,” Ian offered quickly, looking away and attempting to step around him.

“Who the fuck are you?” the man spat back, with a hard face, not letting the redhead move past him so easily. Ian tried not to exhale too heavily in annoyance.

“Just someone trying to brush his teeth,” Ian replied innocently, gesturing to the toiletries in his hand, really not wanting to have any kind of altercation first thing in the fucking morning. The man’s eyes quickly glanced over to his hand, then looked him up and down, clenching his jaw.

“Better watch where the fuck you’re goin',” he warned in a deep voice, sucking his teeth.

“Can do,” said Ian flatly with half a nod, now moving once again to get around the man, who held his stance and stare on the redhead as he passed by before finally continuing his own walk out of the lavatory.

Ian fought back a shake of his head as he approached a sink and turned the water on. He squeezed a tiny glob of green toothpaste onto his brush and began scrubbing around on his teeth in tiny circles, trying to brush quickly and get the hell out of there. The entire time Ian stood there, he couldn’t seem to shake the persistent feeling that he was being watched, observed, stared at, the strange prickle of a creeping gaze lingering on his skin. He tried to be subtle, glancing up into his mirror to look behind him, tilting his head ever so slightly to peer around at his sides but saw no one paying him any real mind or even really giving him so much as a second glance if they happen to walk past him. He rubbed his forehead with his free hand and tried to ease his nerves. ‘Inhale. Exhale.'

He got done, rinsed his mouth of the minty froth coating his tongue and decided to rinse his face as well, scrubbing it briefly, but firmly with hot water, opening up and washing out his pores. It left his skin feeling soft and clean, inhaling at the feeling and giving his head a shake. He ran a his fingertips along his jaw, feeling the rough brush of stubble forming, then took another quick look around, noticing other men with smooth faces, but saw none of them shaving. He also remembered having shaving cream in his drawer but no razors to use it with, so he wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to do about it. Ian frowned, then shrugged at the thought with a scratch to his chin. He quickly gathered his brush and toothpaste, weaved back through the other residents and was walking back out into the hallway.

Ian combed his fingers through his hair once more with a soothing scratch to his scalp, just wanting to get back to his room, but knowing he would only be there for a moment and would then have to leave just as quickly to head toward the medical office for his morning medication. He hurried his footsteps, eager to just get it all over with, get there and back, not even wanting to go to breakfast, just stay in his room. But when he arrived and his breath slowed like it always seemed to do and he suddenly didn’t know whether to smile or crease his brow in confusion.

Mickey was back, standing near Ian’s end table, clutching the redhead’s schedule in his hands, reading it with a focused, concentrated expression on his face. Ian stood unnoticed for a moment watching the man read before he took a deep breath, stepping in slowly and began to approach.

“Hey,” he greeted lightly, calmly. Mickey turned with absolutely no shame on his face or in his body language, actually relaxing even more at the sudden sight of his roommate.

“Aye,” Mickey greeted back with the hint of a smile, letting his eyes linger silently for a moment, “Thought ya took off,” he said finally, “Like ya might try to fuckin' skip out on breakfast or somethin',” he looked at him a bit questioningly, causing Ian to swallow with guilt, but continued, “So, I was just fuckin' checkin' to see where else ya might be,” he gestured to the sheet in his hand, giving it a light shake, then looked back down at it. Ian tried not to smile at the thought of knowing that Mickey had intentions of finding him, wanting to be around him for whatever the reason.

“I’m on the mornin' med line too,” Mickey mentioned quietly, not looking up, “Just about to fuckin' head that way, actually,” he added with a thumb rub to his lip.

He folded the schedule up, passing it over to Ian, his eyes moving from the floor, slowly up the length of the redhead’s body before meeting his eyes and stopping to smirk at him just slightly. Ian smiled back just a bit, the memory of the night before flooding over his brain, making his nerves tingle and dance, feeling as though perhaps the same thought was still on the other man’s mind as well.

Ian moved closer toward his table, taking the paper from Mickey and reaching past him to place his toiletries down behind him. The dark haired man didn’t move when Ian stepped into his space, just watched him the entire way, his eyes dropping from Ian’s eyes to his lips when Mickey was suddenly close enough to smell, the intoxicating fragrance tickling his nose. Ian swallowed again, quickly dropping his toothbrush and toothpaste on the table, then took a few steps back. Mickey watched him closely, eyes scanning slowly over his face, never leaving him as Ian rubbed the back of his neck and began to slip the folded piece of paper into his pocket.

“Want some company?” Ian asked shyly, gazing up hesitantly into the other man’s deep, blue eyes. Mickey widened his smirk and ached his eyebrow.

“Fuck yeah,” he answered in a low, but genuine voice, his brow creasing slightly in surety, taking a step closer to him.

The flutters floating through Ian's chest suddenly began to multiply once again, bursting with a rush of tickling vibrations weaving through his ribs, gliding up his throat and twisting around inside his stomach. He couldn’t fight the goofy smile or the bright red blush that filled his face, too happy to hide any of it. Mickey’s eyes dropped back to his lips, then up to Ian’s eyes holding the same handsome expression on his face. He then gave a slight tip of his head and began to walk past the other man toward the door.

“Well, let’s fuckin' go then, Red,” said Mickey with a point of his thumb. Ian bit his cheek, trying not to grin any wider than he already was and risk looking even more ridiculous, instead giving a confirming nod of his chin.

Mickey’s eyes trailed down his body once more, not at all hiding the appeal in his gaze, then gave a subtle bite of his lip, finally walking past him completely and out the door with Ian on his heels. They walked in relative silence, stealing the occasional glance at one another and keeping step close together, until Ian finally spoke.

“I thought maybe you disappeared again,” said Ian quietly, very quietly, not looking up at the other man’s face, but feeling him turn to look back at him, having heard his words. Mickey held his gaze for a long moment before he gave a simple, one shouldered shrug.

“Just had to check on somethin',” he replied vaguely before turning has face back toward the rest of the hall.

Ian gave a slow nod, accepting his response, knowing that he had to, that it would be the best explanation he would get from him about it. But then Mickey leaned in closer to him, lowering his voice a bit to speak again.

“Sometimes I just gotta do shit,” he tried to explain, “Me leavin' ain’t cause a you, alright?” Mickey raised his eyebrows slightly, his voice and face full of reassurance, making sure to meet the other man’s eyes as he spoke. Ian nodded again, feeling rather relieved and a bit more satisfied with that response. Mickey’s eyes lingered on his face, then glanced down along his neck before looking away once more.

They continued walking, with an occasional brush of their shoulders and glance of their eyes until they reached the patient line outside the medical office and Mickey motioned with a flick of his head for Ian to go in front of him, so he did. The dark haired man let his palm smooth down half of Ian’s back as he moved around him to get in line and as he did, Ian had to bite down on his lip, stifling the flutters that suddenly appeared from the contact. He could feel Mickey’s eyes still on him causing his skin to tingle with delicate little shivers and he desperately tried to ignore that sensation as well.

The line moved slow, but was short with only a handful of other patients in front of him. Ian could see the door to the medical office was shut, but had a top end that opened, creating somewhat of a window for the patients to receive their medication through. He saw a hairy, male arm reach out and hand the awaiting patient one cup, then another, which they swallowed, then opened their mouths for inspection. Ian leaned back slightly and squinted his eyes, attempting to peek a bit further into the window in hopes of seeing the person attached to the arm. But he couldn’t see much at all until the patient finished her medication and began turning to walk away. The line moved up, finally revealing the very same creepy, male staff member that Ian had spoken to yesterday, a man that he didn’t have a name for yet. He clenched his jaw, suddenly feeling uncomfortable again.

“You do know you gotta fuckin' eat somethin' with your meds, right Red?” Mickey suddenly asked from behind him. Ian turned to see the dark haired man bearing a leveled expression and an arched eyebrow, then nodded, knowing that he’d have to eat, even though he wasn’t hungry.

“Yeah I know,” he said, “I got a banana in the room from yesterday. Think I’m just gonna eat that.” Mickey eyed him for a second but nodded.

“Alright,” said Mickey, “Just uh, stop in with me first, huh?”

He had a look about him that Ian couldn’t quite describe, but it made his mind swirl and spin around in a terribly distracting way. He couldn’t understand why Mickey seemed to want to keep him so close by. Ian really liked Mickey but he still doesn’t know him very well, unsure of where exactly his head might be at. But it was hard to question the man being so caught in his gaze, feeling the intense emotions and sensations that being stuck in that gaze made him feel. It was a wonderful sensation and the stronger it became, the more consuming it was for him. And knowing that Mickey genuinely wanted to be around him only made the feelings intensify. Ian wanted to be around Mickey too, so very much. He tried not to hesitate as his nerves speckled his skin with excitement, taking a deep breath and managing to give a small nod of agreement.

Their eyes lingered again and when they did, the line had moved more than Ian realized, suddenly pulled out of his trance by a small, gentle cough from his other side. He turned his head and saw the staff member waiting for him with a small smile pressed to his face, and a single eyebrow raised, attempting to look at Ian from over his glasses but couldn’t, due to their large, round shape. Ian braced himself, feeling a bit more confident and comfortable knowing that Mickey was right behind him, then took a few steps forward trying to appear bored and unaffected by the older man’s presence.

“Mr. Gallagher,” he welcomed with a widening smile, “How are we this morning?” he asked with shimmering coffee stained teeth. Ian just shrugged and tried not to make eye contact. The man observed him for a brief moment, tapping the tip of his finger on the ledge of the door.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked, moving his hands much too slowly toward the cart of medications beside him.

Ian looked up, drew his eyebrows together and held a hard expression in silence, then gave another shrug, a bit irritated this time. 'None of your fucking business,’ he thought. The man paused his hands, and let his eyes travel down Ian’s chest, just slightly then looked back into his face. Ian tried not to grind his teeth.

“Please let me know how your medication does for you,” he advised lightly, still not moving to get the younger man’s pills, “Adjustments can be easily made.” The man smiled again, eyes wandering over Ian’s face, but then suddenly snapped beside him at the sound of an irritated voice.

“Can you just hurry the fuck up and give Red here his fuckin' meds?” Mickey asked insistently with a rough snap in his voice, “Enough a the fuckin' chit-chat bullshit. Just do your fuckin' job.”

Ian raised his eyebrows in surprise and turned to look at his roommate who held a cold, hard glare and a strong, firm stance, staring at the man behind the door. Ian repressed a grin and tried not to appear too pleased as he slowly turned back toward the staff member his eyebrows still raised, titling his head in wait. The older man pursed his lips appearing a bit annoyed at the younger man’s sudden interjection, but didn’t hesitate to start moving his hands again, gathering Ian’s appropriate cups and handing them over to him. Ian took them and swallowed each, watching Mickey’s expression and body language through his peripheral vision, seeing that his intimidating glare and threatening stance still hadn’t faded yet. He set the empty cups down on the small countertop of the door and just as he did, the man behind it smiled again.

“Open please,” he requested, eyes dropping to Ian’s lips, who hesitated for a few seconds before complying. He barely opened his mouth, seeing the older man’s uncomfortably satisfied expression before there was a firm grip on the top of his shoulder.

“Alright, Red,” said Mickey while gently yet rather insistently, moving Ian aside, “You’re good,” he said keeping a heated expression on the staff member, “Just lemme get my shit and we can fuckin' go,” his eyebrows arched pointedly toward the cart of medication inside the office.

Ian said nothing, just waiting, watching as the staff member turned with a flat, unimpressed expression and began searching for Mickey’s cups. Mickey appeared agitated and impatient, angry almost. He flashed a very quick, yet much softer glance toward Ian, then quickly re-hardened his face when he turned back toward the window.

“Hurry the fuck up,” he demanded once more with a knock of his knuckles atop the door ledge, “Ain’t got all fuckin' day.”

The man stayed silent, offering two small, paper cups to Mickey who practically snatched them from his hands, downing them both quickly, then tossed them carelessly back through the window to land somewhere on the floor of the office. He then turned and began walking toward Ian, not bothering to open his mouth for inspection. The redhead raised an eyebrow, amused but quite confused.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” Mickey directed with a cock of his head, walking past him down the hallway. Of course Ian followed without a word or a single glance back, walking silently beside him for a few moments before attempting to speak.

“That guy isn’t gonna like get you in trouble for shit like that?” he asked carefully, thinking perhaps the other man might get agitated or angered by the question. But instead he simply gave a thick, throaty scoff and a confident shake of his head.

“That motherfucker ain’t gonna do shit,” Mickey replied sucking his teeth.

Ian gave a single nod of acknowledgment, not bothering to ask anything else and returned to silence, keeping pace with Mickey, his eyes pretty much staying on the floor. He noticed the other man glance at him a few times as they walked, also seeing that his face would soften a bit more with each brief gaze, which helped Ian relax and soften some too. He didn’t like seeing Mickey angry, especially when he didn’t actually know why he was angry in the first place. Like now, Ian assumed that something about the staff member in the medical office had irritated him, obviously, but he had no way to know what it could have been that did that.

Ian let his eyes wander back over to the man beside him, who happened to peer up at that moment as well. Mickey met his gaze, gave him a handsome, leveled smirk, as if all his anger and irritation had suddenly melted away. It was a look that made Ian smile back at him with much brighter, pinker cheeks than he’d realized he had. They both held their expressions on each other for just an instant before looking back out toward the hall and rounding a corner into the cafeteria. The moment they entered, both men noticed a large, meaty wave from across the room. Mickey pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily.

“Why the fuck does that asshole gotta be a fuckin' mornin' person?” Mickey asked in an annoyed voice peering across the room at Bruce’s big, wide grin. Ian chuckled.

“Right,” Ian agreed, “You’d think a guy his size would sleep like a fucking bear.” Then Mickey chuckled with a nod of agreement.

“He used to,” Mickey confirmed, “Fuckin' meds fucked that shit up though,” he said, now making steps to cross the room with Ian who drew his eyebrows together slightly.

“Used to?” Ian asked, “Like, you knew him before?” The dark haired man met his eyes with a strange hesitation etched into his own, before looking back toward the table as they approached it.

“Yeah,” he replied finally, “He used to live on fuckin' the block,” Mickey explained, scratching the bridge of his nose with the back of his thumb, hesitating again, “Just used to like, see his ass around and shit, ya know?” he said with a shrug. The redhead gave a slow, yet uncertain nod, asking nothing further.

There was something else to it, Ian could tell but he also knew not push it, that if Mickey didn’t want him to know something, that’s just what it was until he was ready to tell him about it. Ian wasn’t sure at all what it could be though and that’s what really made him wonder most. He remembered Bruce mentioning that he 'don’t like dicks' so Ian doubted that it could be anything of that nature, though he also knew that Mickey ‘doesn’t do friends,' so what the fuck did that make Bruce? But Ian just exhaled and tried not to dwell on the thought too deeply, instead simply deciding to push it from his mind all together. It wasn’t his concern. If there was really something important to know about Bruce, Mickey would tell him, right?

As they approached the table, Ian was only able to notice once they were close enough to see past other people, that Eddy was seated there as well, though he didn’t appear to be in a very good state. His tray was untouched and pushed out in front of him as if he’d rejected the meal, his head was down with an unkempt splay of short gray dreads spread over it, face pressed firmly against the hard surface in front of him and his arms were slung loosely over the table top, fingers tingling on the occasional jumbled twitch.

Ian frowned and made a hard crease of his brow looking down at the man, then turned to glance at Mickey who had a similar reaction to the one he’d had last night, giving the man a simple scoff and a brief shake of his head. Ian still didn’t like Eddy, not in the slightest, but the guy didn’t appear to be okay at all and he wasn’t a heartless person. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t concerned, just a little bit. Bruce opened a full mouth to say hello but Ian spoke first.

“The fuck's wrong with him?” he asked curiously with a tip of his chin toward Eddy, stopping to stand near the table. Bruce closed his mouth with a raise of his eyebrows, then turned to look at Eddy and let out a chuckle, crumbles of food falling from his lips.

“Oh, uh, Eddy just ain’t feelin' too hot today,” Bruce said glancing up at him, then turning to look at Eddy again, “Are ya, Ed?” he asked gripping a thick palm on the man’s shoulder, wiggling him slightly. The dreaded man let out a low, deep groan but didn’t raise his head.

“Serves your dumbass right,” said Mickey, leaning down to reach across the table and slide Eddy's tray in front of him, looking it over to see if anything seemed appetizing.

Eddy barely managed to lift his face at the sound of Mickey’s voice, appearing incredibly drained with dark, heavy bags clinging to the bottoms of his eyelids. His eyes glanced lazily toward Mickey but made no comment about the man now stealing a piece of french toast from his breakfast. Instead his eyes kept moving, dry and bloodshot until they landed on Ian and his upper lip began to curl and twitch.

“The fuuuck..” Eddy groaned at the sight of the other man, lifting his head a bit more, “The fuck are still doin' over here you fuckin' twat?” Eddy growled out, but was quickly pelted with a handful of scrambled eggs before the redhead could respond to him, causing the man to flinch.

“Aye, shut the fuck up,” Mickey sneered back, now shaking tiny bits of egg from his fist, “The fuck did I tell your dumbass 'bout talkin' shit, huh?” he spat, causing Eddy to cower, quickly turning his face back down to the table, “Yeah, that’s what I fuckin' thought. Mind your own fuckin' business, Ed,” Mickey ordered harshly through his teeth.

He grabbed another piece of french toast, stuffing it into his mouth with a wide jawed chew, then snatched up Eddy's apple as well, sliding it into his pocket. Ian watched and gave him a questioning expression when he met his eyes, gesturing with his brow to the other man’s tray.

“What?” shrugged Mickey, chewing, “Ed ain’t eatin' the shit,” he said with a waving gesture toward the tray, “There ain’t even any fuckin' syrup on here. What kinda shit is that?” he frowned.

Ian smiled with a bit of amusement, then shrugged as well and pushed out his lip, taking another brief glance at Eddy who still hadn’t moved again since Mickey had corrected him. The dark haired man swallowed and met his eyes once more with a pointed tip of his head.

“Let’s fuckin' go," he said. Both men turned and began to walk, but paused at the sound of Bruce speaking to them again.

“Hey, hey,” Bruce exclaimed with big, thick arms raised, “I ain’t invited to the party?” he asked with a large, toothy grin, “I thought we were cool, bros?” Ian tried not to chuckle and Mickey just shook his head again.

“Nah, man,” Mickey replied with a shaking wave of his hand, “No big, dumb fucks allowed,” he said, and Ian forced himself not to smile at the comment. Bruce cocked his head.

“Hey, Red there ain’t exactly small,” he gestured at Ian with a thick, square chin.

“Ian,” the redhead corrected, but Bruce only chuckled in response, keeping his eyes on Mickey.

Mickey took a glance at the young man beside him, arching a subtle eyebrow and letting his eyes trail delicately down Ian's body before he looked back over at Bruce.

“Nah,” Mickey agreed, “But he ain’t a dumb fuck either.”

Ian suddenly had to focus really hard on not letting his face flush red with a flattered, embarrassed blush and fuck was it hard to do. Bruce slapped a massive palm over his heart, feigning pain and distress.

“That shit hurts, bro,” said Bruce sarcastically with a slight grin, “Sincerely.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Mickey said, flipping him off with another shake of his head, then turned back once more to walk away from the table.

Bruce met Ian’s eyes after Mickey turned around and gestured toward Mickey with his chin, then waggled his eyebrows at Ian with a big, dumb grin. Then Ian’s eyes widened and he felt his face betray him, flushing brightly with a sudden rush of blood. He knew that he couldn’t hide it, so he quickly turned away from Bruce and hurried to catch up with his roommate, rubbing his palms over his face as he went.

They walked to the room in comfortable silence, stealing more glances at one another, which seemed to be becoming a very normal thing for them. They arrived, with Mickey entering first and walking straight to the storage chest beside the end of his bed. Ian raised an eyebrow while he watched the other man shift through a few notebooks and other items until he retrieved his cigarette pack. Mickey turned back around to see Ian staring at him, gazing back for a moment before raising the pack in his hand.

“I uh, got a fuckin' meetin’ in a little bit here,” he said, “Wanna grab a fuckin' smoke with me before I gotta go?” Mickey asked with a questioning arch of his eyebrow.

Ian let himself smile a bit and nodded. Mickey smiled back and slipped his pack into his pocket, turning toward the dresser to grab a sweatshirt. He grabbed a second sweater for Ian as well, tossing it over to him, who caught it and began pulling it over his head. When he poked his head through and began pulling it down, he noticed that Mickey already had his on and was watching him dress. The flutters in his chest exploded, feeling his nerves beginning to tingle delicately across his skin once again, raising the hair along the back of his neck. He gathered his courage and chanced a suggestive comment that may or may not be taken positively by the other man, trying not to let his nerves get the best of him, the way they always seemed to do.

“See something you like?” Ian asked as he pulled the fabric of his shirt down to his hips.

Mickey’s eyebrows raised into an arch just slightly, seemingly surprised at the question, slowly beginning to glide the pad of his thumb along his bottom lip. Ian was suddenly extremely nervous after the question left his lips, afraid that he could have been misreading Mickey this entire time, that whatever vibes or signals he thought he’d felt were really all in his head and that he was actually only inches away from a rather severe ass whooping. But as he fought to hold his gaze, he noticed that Mickey’s eyes didn’t flicker and they didn’t look away. He held his sight on Ian as well but he was hesitating in his response. Ian swallowed, his nerves beginning to flare and it made his stomach twist in a really uncomfortable way.

“Maybe,” Mickey answered finally, in a deep, low voice, with a cock of his head, looking Ian in the eyes.

Ian’s breath slowed and his brain went fuzzy, unsure if he’d heard the man correctly, now hesitating himself. If he thought the flutters in his chest had exploded before, he suddenly felt as if he was being completely showered in them, swirling through his senses, dancing, singing and erupting into even more explosions along his limbs, sending more streaks of sparks rolling over his skin. He could have sworn that he felt his heartbeat slow just as his breath had, the tips of his fingers now tingling with anticipation. He watched Mickey’s eyes scan over his face then move slowly down his neck and across his chest before he began to take a slow step closer. Ian swallowed again and continued to watch the other man move toward him, as he remained hopelessly stuck in place.

Mickey stepped close, right into the redhead’s space, close enough for each of their pheromones to waft up from their pores and tingle each other’s noses. Mickey’s lips parted slightly as his eyes dropped to Ian’s which parted as well, inhaling slowly, tasting the other man’s scent on his tongue. Ian didn’t know what was happening or if anything was going to happen at all. But he felt his guts start to spin in on themselves with a sudden airy twist and more sparks began shooting around inside his head, their bright, zipping lights drowning out any hint of pain, any whisper of fear, his mind simply basking in whatever this wonderful, consuming feeling was. The dark haired man paused his paces directly in front of him, so close that if Mickey had taken just one more step, their chests would be pressed together. Both men lingered with mutual hesitation and Ian held his breath.

“You uh, should go grab your fuckin' shit,” he said, his voice still low, and just slightly shaky from the tingle of nerves gathering in his own lungs, “So, you can eat, then we can go have a fuckin' smoke,” said Mickey lightly, “Before I gotta go,” he reminded him, keeping his stance extremely close to Ian. The other man swallowed again and glanced past him to the piece of yellow fruit still sitting on his table across the room, then looked back into his face.

“I don’t really want it anymore,” he confessed with a shrug. Mickey stayed silent for a moment, blue eyes twinkling, before reaching into his pocket and pulled out the shiny, red apple that he’d stolen from Eddy's tray, now offering it to Ian.

“Gotta fuckin' eat, man,” Mickey advised in a calm, friendly tone, “Meds,” he explained again.

Ian hesitated, but reached to take the apple and Mickey’s hand lingered on the fruit when he grasped it, letting his thumb gently rub a single streak of tingles along the side of Ian’s hand before releasing his own, keeping his eyes on him. Ian absentmindedly licked his lips and saw Mickey’s eyes drop to watch him do it, biting his own, then took a step back.

“Well, let’s get fuckin' goin', Red,” said Mickey with mild insistence in his voice, glancing at the clock, “Don’t got much time.”

With that, both men left their room and were headed out toward the yard. The entire walk there, Ian ignored the flutters, the tingles, the shivering sensation that covered his skin when he knew Mickey was looking at him. He kept his eyes down and tried to stay focused on something else, bringing the apple to his lips and taking a sweet, juicy bite. But it didn’t help the tingle on his skin, not at all, glancing over to see Mickey still watching him. He tried to give a smile over his mouthful of fruit, but could hardly manage, causing the other man to chuckle and dimple his cheeks. Ian looked back toward the floor to chew and swallow, keeping his eyes fixed there as he finished his breakfast.

The same small, young staff member sat on a stool by the door, still on her cellphone, staring at it in a daze and Mickey rolled his eyes as they approached. She didn’t seem to notice them, not once looking up from her phone, her thumb still lazily scrolling, which made Mickey exhale loudly and roll his eyes once more.

“Yo, Polly Pocket,” he called out, even though they were standing right in front of her, “Can you put your fuckin' phone down and open this shit up, please?” Mickey snapped in a relatively calm, yet annoyed tone, arching his eyebrows and gesturing with a wave of his hand toward the door.

The girl jumped at the sound of his voice, her cellphone immediately dropping into her lap. She flashed half a glance at both men, saying nothing, then quickly pulled her keycard from her belt and slid it along the scanner, which beeped and the door buzzed open with a click.

“Thank you,” said Mickey with a wide, sarcastic grin on his face, then turned to give Ian a much kinder expression and slight tip of his head. Ian tossed his apple core inside a waste bin beside the door, then both men turned toward the yard and headed outside.

The yard was much fuller than the evening before, which seemed to work in their favor, as all three staff members posted outside seemed pretty occupied with keeping watch of the other patients, not at all noticing them exit the building. Ian watched Mickey hold his sight on each of them, chewing his lip as they cautiously made their way toward the bushes. The one staff member that was somewhat facing their direction suddenly turned away completely, causing Mickey to glance back at Ian, reach down to grab his hand, quickening his steps and pulled him into the bushes behind him.

They moved through the foliage, snow tumbling down onto their faces and Ian couldn’t help but laugh at the cold, tickling sensation on his skin as he was being blindly pulled through the brush. When they passed through and entered the small domed opening within, Mickey halted his steps and turned around to face Ian but didn’t let go of his hand. Blue eyes flickered between green, then briefly fell back to his lips, just as his pink, wet tongue slid slowly over his own. Ian felt the hand clutched in his squeeze slightly, along with the now familiar feeling of the other man’s thumb gently caressing the top of it before letting go. Mickey took a step back, looking down and began patting his pants pockets in search of his cigarette pack.

He found them, placing one in his mouth, then searched for his lighter with his other hand while stuffing the pack back away with the first. His eyes moved back up to Ian’s face, pausing on his lips once more, his own parting slightly, letting the cigarette teeter loosely from his mouth before he pinched it between his fingers and offered it to Ian instead. Ian didn’t reach his hand up to take it however, instead he leaned forward just slightly to grasp the end of the filter with his lips, seeing the surprised yet craving glow in the other man’s eyes as he watched him do it. Mickey visibly swallowed, his eyes lingering before they moved back up to glitter between Ian’s and he sucked in his lower lip. There was another pause as the air around them seemed to grow thicker, denser, but neither man moved, both full of flaring nerves and immense amounts of hesitation. Mickey finally dropped his eyes to spark the lighter at the end of Ian’s cigarette appearing as though he was fighting really hard not to watch him inhale, but he did it anyway.

Ian took a long, thick drag from the cigarette, licking his lips once more as he inhaled, realizing what it seemed to do to the man in front of him. Mickey thumbed his bottom lip and leaned back against the wall, still staring, the blue in his eyes shimmering from the tiny specks of golden sunlight that managed to pierce through their frozen, leafy dome. Ian stared back at him, simply trapped in the man’s beauty until he finally dropped his eyes and tried to think of something to talk about.

“When’s your meeting?” Ian asked taking another drag, then passing the cigarette, leaning back next to Mickey on the wall. Mickey took the cigarette between his fingers and brought it to his lips with an inhale.

“9:30,” Mickey answered easily with an exhale through his nose, “Then I got fuckin' Anger Management at two,” he added with a low chuckle and shake of his head, “Fuckin' bullshit is what that shit is, though,” he said inhaling another deep drag of smoke.

“I have some shit called Positive Outlook Therapy at two,” Ian offered, scrunching up his face, “Dunno what the fuck that is.” Mickey took another pull, then passed Ian the cigarette, glancing at his face while he did.

“That shit's like fuckin' group therapy,” Mickey began, “Like 'accept your past and take control of your future' kinda shit,” he scoffed and shook his head, glancing back up at Ian, eyes traveling a bit as he watched him smoke for a moment, “It’s s’pose to like help ya deal with all the fuckin' 'emotional trauma' from your past or whatever,” he explained, “Assholes made me take the shit for six fuckin' months, 'til they figured out that shit just don’t fuckin' work on everybody,” He reached over and gently plucked the cigarette from Ian’s fingers and brought it to his lips. “Some fuckers just can’t be fuckin' fixed.” Mickey exhaled with a puff of smoke.

Ian watched his face, his expression, trying to read it. He was getting better at that, but at times it was still hard to do, attempting to peer inside of a man seemingly made of stone. Mickey was hard, tough and guarded, but Ian still wanted to badly to know the man underneath, the man that he saw when he looked deep into his eyes. He pressed his lips together and remained quiet, his mind suddenly flooding back to the sights of Mickey’s arms, his back, his chest. Mickey was a damaged man and Ian could tell as much even if the other man refused to ever show it. Ian's eyes fell down to his roommate’s hip, remembering the fresh cuts he’d seen there and tried not to slump with sadness at the thought of how they must have appeared.

Instead Ian gathered his courage again, ready to chance a gesture, feeling fairly safe within their private little space. When Mickey brought the cigarette back to his lips taking another drag, Ian grabbed his hand before he could grasp it again. The dark haired man turned his face, cigarette still dangling from his mouth, eyes dropping to his hand as Ian brought it down, gently interlacing their fingers. He looked back up at Ian’s face with thick, bluish wisps of smoke escaping his lips from around the cigarette and beginning to trail down delicately from his nose. Ian’s chest tightened, afraid that the other man would yank his hand away, or suddenly decide to punch him in the face but he didn’t, not at all. Instead Mickey squeezed just like he normally did, his thumb beginning to brush along Ian’s, who tried to ignore the flutters that sprang up from it, refusing to let himself get overwhelmed.

They stayed silent, holding their gaze, sharing their cigarette and occasionally gripping each other’s hand more tightly, flashing small smiles, the sides of their bodies remaining close together all the while. The tension was strong and they could both feel it in the air, reading it all over each other’s faces with traveling eyes and obvious lingering glances, yet neither one made any movement to further anything either, seemingly content as they were, for now anyway. They finished their cigarette, Ian dropping it to the ground and Mickey crushing it with his foot before they very slowly, very hesitantly detached their hands, then turned around, slipping back through the bushes out into the fresh air.

“What time is it?” Ian wondered out loud. Mickey shrugged as they walked back toward the door of the building.

“Who fuckin' knows,” he replied.

They were buzzed through the door and as they passed Mickey gave the girl seated beside it an extremely sarcastic nod of thanks, then kept by Ian’s side as they walked back through the facility. Ian yawned then shook his head, causing Mickey to notice and suddenly speak.

“You fuckin' tired again already, Red?” he asked with a chuckle in his voice. Ian combed his fingers through his hair, pulling bright, red strands up from his eyes, then rubbed the back of his neck with an exhale.

“I fucking hope not,” Ian replied quietly.

Mickey’s grin faded as he creased his brow, continuing to peer over at the face of the man beside him, trying to read his expression. He held Ian in his gaze for a long moment as if he was thinking of something else to say, but instead he remained silent, simply walking close beside him the rest of their stroll back to the room. Almost the instant they entered and Mickey had begun tucking his cigarette pack back away inside his storage chest, a polite female voice sounded over the loud speaker:

“Mickey Milkovich, you have an appointment with Dr. Eves this morning. Please report to the main access door to await clearance. Thank you.” The voice scuffled out with a buzz and sharp click. Mickey closed his chest, then turned back to look at Ian, pausing for a moment before he spoke.

“Gotta go, man,” he said with a shrug, then pulled his sweatshirt off and threw it toward his bed, which hit the edge and slid off onto the floor. Mickey scoffed at it and shook his head, “Fuckin' figures,” he mumbled, then turned toward the door.

“I was gonna head down to the Rec Room,” said Ian suddenly, causing Mickey to halt his steps and look back at him once more, “Try and kill some time,” he elaborated a bit, taking a step closer, “It’s uh, on the way, right?” he asked shyly. Mickey eyed him carefully letting the faintest hint of a smirk spread across his lips as he began to nod.

“It is,” he confirmed simply, holding his expression and arching an eyebrow.

“Mind if I walk with you?” Ian offered hesitantly, fidgeting with his fingers. The dark haired man’s eyes trailed slowly down the length of his body then back up to his face, flickering between his own.

“Not one bit, Red,” Mickey replied in a low, smooth voice, then gave a tip of his head for Ian to follow him, which he did, rather happily.

Ian walked beside him, still ignoring the airy, fluttery feeling in his lungs, wishing he could think of something else to say, anything really. His confidence was growing around Mickey, though the man still made him quite nervous, but in a wonderfully unusual way that he was unable to find a definite reason for. He was very intentionally subtle in his glances this time, using mostly his peripheral to watch the other man as he strut into his steps beside him. Ian noticed the way the muscles of his arms seemed to flex slightly as they moved with his pace, how the sharp curve of his hips would rock just a bit as his feet traded steps, as well as the hard set of his face as he looked out at the hall in front of him. 'Christ,’ Ian thought, ‘He’s sexy,' His lips began to tingle and his nerves began to flare again, trailing distractingly along his skin. Then Mickey suddenly turned his face toward him and Ian desperately tried to appear calm.

“So you gonna just like hang the fuck out then?” Mickey asked as they approached the Rec Room. Ian nodded and met his eyes.

“Yeah,” Ian said, “Pretty much,” he shrugged. Mickey watched his face for a moment before he slowly began to nod as well.

“Alright,” said Mickey, “I’ll uh, I'll fuckin look for ya when I’m done then, huh?” He raised his eyebrows in question and Ian nodded again, giving him a slight confirming smile, which Mickey gave a subtle smirk back to before turning and heading toward the access door, leaving Ian in the hall. Ian couldn’t control his stare, watching as the other man walked away from him, eyes lingering much longer than intended before he forced himself to look away and slowly make steps into the room next to him.

The Rec Room was busy with the sounds of game pieces scratching along their boards, cards being shuffled, a faint blare from the television on the wall and voices riddled with laughter or calmly engaged in conversation. His eyes landed on the couch on the other side of the room, seeing the very same older man with the same depressingly droopy expression on his face, staring blankly up at the television. Ian creased his brow and gave a light shake of his head as he continued to look around the room, vaguely searching for something to occupy his time with.

He bumped into a table and turned to apologize, being met by the thin, blonde girl who always seemed to sit at the same table, in the same spot with her face hovering over a sheet of paper, a single hand scribbling feverishly around on top of it. She didn’t look up at the abrupt jolt to the table, but her movements suddenly froze, her hand instantly releasing her pen from it’s grip, letting it roll across the table and onto the floor. Ian quickly bent down to pick it up for her.

“Sorry about that,” said Ian placing the shiny, black pen back onto the tabletop, “Wasn’t fucking paying attention,” he explained innocently, combing his fingers through his hair, looking down at the young girl seated there.

However, the girl still didn’t lift her face or make any movement toward the pen she was just using, which was now laying back beside her hand. Ian knitted his eyebrows together a bit, observing her strange demeanor. Her head shook just slightly in kind of a circular motion as if she were zoned into watching a sink drain and he couldn’t really see her face underneath her thick veil of long, blonde hair. But he could see her hands and her arms, as well as a glimpse of the back of her neck where her hair parted around it. She was very fair skinned like himself and thin, with long, sharp fingernails almost half the length of the fingers they were attached to, yet all clean and well kempt. But she still didn’t move or speak, causing Ian to hunch a bit, trying to make out just a bit of her face and see that she was okay. There was a sliver of a split in her shiny, yellow veil that Ian was able to peek through just slightly, to see one of her large, green eyes frantically spinning around in it’s socket, flashing side to side and her limbs trembled slightly.

“Hey,” Ian tried again, “Miss? Are you alright?” he asked with caution in his voice.

She still said nothing, her head continuing to spin in light, nauseating circles, slowly moving faster, eyes still whirling around in their sockets and her breathing began to quicken on a hitch. Ian leaned down a little more with a harder crease of his brow, now growing rather concerned, and reached out a gentle hand, placing it on top of hers, hoping to calm her a bit. But Ian suddenly drew is hand back in a quick, sharp motion as the contact suddenly erupted the girl’s lungs into an ear-splitting, glass-shattering, blood-curdling scream. Her jaw dropped open, letting out a terrible, piercing wail deep from the bowels of her throat. Ian covered his ears and turned to see most everyone else in the room were now turned toward them, doing the very same thing. He peered around in distressed confusion, searching for help, finally seeing it in the form of a young female attendant quickly approaching the screaming patient.

“Jessa,” the woman whispered gently in her ear, close enough for the girl to hear it over her own terrifying screams, “Jessa dear, can you hear me?” she asked with a delicate hand touching the girl’s shoulder.

The scream suddenly ceased, her mouth closing some but not completely, turning her head toward the voice, but not looking at the woman who spoke. Her wide eyes stared blankly through the splits in her hair and Ian couldn’t help but look at her, trying to understand what the hell just happened. The woman slowly pulled the girl to her chest, who let her, trying to sooth her by stroking her beautiful long hair out of her face. When she did Ian saw how pretty the girl was with long dark lashes, pink, naturally pouted lips, a slight splash of freckles on her nose and sparkling green eyes. But there were also wet streams of tears trailing down her cheeks which were flushed pink from the screaming, which made Ian rather sad to see. Her eyes stayed blank and glossy, seemingly peering into space, at nothing in particular, just completely unfocused.

Soon she appeared to calm, her head returning to it’s normal slowly, dizzying rotation and her fingers twitched a bit before her eyes snapped back over to her drawing on the table, reaching to grab her pen with a thin scrape of her fingernails along the surface and positioned herself back over the paper. Ian was still confused, holding the deep crease in his brow as he raised his head to face the staff member who had just quite strangely, neutralized the situation.

“I’m sorry,” Ian offered quickly, “I just wanted to give her the pen back, but she seemed kinda upset. So I just wanted to make sure she was okay,” he tried to explain in rushed words, not wanting to get in any kind of trouble over this. “I never meant to scare her,” he said honestly, feeling guilty for what had just happened, glancing back down at the girl now comfortably drawing in silence once again. The staff member nodded lightly, then rounded the table, motioning with her index finger for Ian to step closer and speak with her. When he did, she hushed her voice and leaned in a bit.

“You have to be very careful around this one,” the woman advised, glancing back at the girl seated at the table, “She does not do well with physical contact or most men in general,” she explained, “That girl has endured some very serious trauma,” the woman added with a stern voice, “You just leave her be and nothing like that should happen again, okay?” She smiled, raising her eyebrows in question and all Ian could do was nod, so he did. “Good. Thank you,” said the staff member before turning to check on other patients.

He glanced back toward the table, seeing the girl now silently back to scribbling on her paper and felt really, really bad for having frightened and upset her. Then a hard, rough yawn pushed it’s way up from Ian's chest and he groaned, tilting his head back and rubbing a hand down along his face. He hesitated, then took a final sweeping glance of the room before he walked back out into the hallway.

Ian didn’t want to go to sleep, yet somehow his body always seemed to randomly push him toward exhaustion and it was frustrating as all fuck. Sleeping wouldn’t sound so nerve wracking if he had Mickey to curl up next to. The memory of laying with the other man during the night was so strangely soothing for him and he tried to remember the feeling of being secure, wrapped inside Mickey’s thick, strong arms, and the smell of the other man as it lingered on his senses while he fell asleep. These thoughts were indescribably comforting for Ian to imagine as he fought back another yawn and continued his disgruntled trek toward his inevitable slumber.

When he arrived at the room, he knew it would be empty, but that didn’t make the dull feeling of disappointment any easier to handle. He felt like the meds he was given weren’t working at all, not really feeling any change since he started taking them. Then Ian remembered Dr. Yates, when she explained that he would have to give the medication an actual chance to work and since he only started taking them last night, what chance had he really given them yet? He groaned again as he shut the door behind him and walked across the room to plop down onto his bed, kicking off his slippers. Ian pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, letting his head fall back once more in frustration. He didn’t fucking want to go back to sleep but he was beginning to feel quite drained and he just hoped that if he focused hard enough on the memory of his roommate, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, the thought acting like a shield against all of the awful, horrible, unforgiving terrors that seemed to constantly torment his unconscious mind.

Ian began laying down slowly, cautiously, while staring across the room at Mickey’s bed, hoping to find some comfort in the sight of it, but it only made him more nervous, knowing the bed was empty and that the man it belongs to was currently inside of another building entirely. But still he had to try, to turn his head back, to close his eyes, to fall asleep but he was just fucking scared.

'Inhale. Exhale.' Ian finally closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable. Another yawn escaped his throat, causing him to shift a bit before he suddenly fell asleep.

***

“Darling!” she called, “Ian, darling!”

The woman rounded the corner of the shelter and found her son with a hand splayed out, facing the wall, relieving himself onto the pavement. “Oh, there you are my sweet face. I have someone I want you to meet, dear,” she said happily.

Ian turned his face slowly, his head and body throbbing with a harsh, brutal pulse and looked over at his mother who stood bright faced under the arm of a largely overweight man who wore a shirt that exposed his gut and had a thick, brown beard. Ian creased his brow and stared in silence, unimpressed by his mothers new suitor. He turned his head back down toward his pants, tucking himself away and zipping them up, before staggering in his steps, turning his entire body back around.

“This is George,” his mother said, laying a thin hand on the man’s broad, round chest, “He’s gonna help us get to where we need to go, honey,” she smiled.

Ian’s eyes moved from his mother to the man at her side and continued to frown, giving a single slow blink, still saying nothing and neither did the large bearded man. The trucker didn’t appear too happy at the sight of Ian, grumbling a bit but otherwise making no motion to greet him in any way, only tightening his arm around the boy’s mother. Ian exhaled and tried not to throw up from the motion.

“When the fuck can we go then?” Ian asked insistently. His mother glanced back up at the large man beside her who still said nothing, then she looked back toward Ian.

“George is supposed to be leaving out tonight actually,” she said with a smile, “So, pretty soon here,” she turned her face back up to the trucker with his heavy arm still slung over her shoulders, “Can we show him the truck, baby?” she asked.

The man hesitated, eyes traveling over the redhead standing behind the building, then gave a single, grumbled nod. The woman literally jumped with excitement.

“Come on, my love. Come with me,” she exclaimed taking a few steps toward him, reaching for his hand, “Let me show you our fancy new ride.” She grabbed his hand and began dragging him across the lot in hurried footsteps, the large bearded man following slowly behind them.

Ian watched his feet, trying not to trip, the nauseating pain in his body distracting him, and making it hard to step evenly. He suddenly felt chest heave, but fought the sensation back down with a clench of his jaw, trying to ignore the pounding swirling pit taking over his mind and body.

“It’s right over here,” she said with her voice full of excitement, continuing to pull him along.

They approached a long line of semi-trucks on the far side of the lot, and Ian felt his stomach twist in disgust, his back and tailbone beginning to throb again from the memory of what happened to him the last time he was forced to climb into one of those. He thought of the way the man held him down, keeping a tight grip on his back and his head, pushing him down, then suddenly remembering how badly the man reeked, he had to repress another dry heave pulling at his guts.

“It’s this one,” she pointed to a bright green big rig, “This is our chariot, sweetheart,” his mother said turning her face back to look at him with the same shimmering smile stuck to her face, “It’s going to take us out of here,” she explained, “I have it all set up with George, here,” His mother dropped his hand and strode back over to the big, fat trucker on quick, delicate feet, wrapping her arms as far around him as she could. Ian kept a flat, unimpressed expression, staring back over at them.

“Better get goin' about now, anyway,” the man finally spoke in a deep, throaty voice, “Climb on in,” he gestured with a large, sweaty hand toward the truck, glancing at the woman and her son.

The woman cheered, and stomped her feet, completely giddy and ecstatic, then sprinted back over toward her son, taking his hand in hers once more and drug him along behind her. She climbed up toward the door, pulling open with a loud, harsh scrape of metal, causing Ian to flinch at the sound just a bit. She began to crawl in, but paused to reach her hand back out to the young redhead below.

“Come on, baby,” she urged with insistence, “We'll be there in no time.”

Ian hesitated for a moment before taking his mother’s hand and following her up into the truck. When they entered, he noticed how cramped it was with hardly any room for movement. It boggled his mind wondering how his mother’s new friend was able to squeeze himself inside of it, let alone drive it. His mother took a seat on the passenger side as the trucker, slowly heaved his way up into the driver’s seat.

“There’s a space back here where you can rest, darling,” she reached behind her pulling a curtain aside, revealing a small living space in the back with a bed barely big enough for Ian to fit on. Her son only took a quick glance before he shook his head with an exhale.

“I can’t fucking rest,” Ian said, “Or sleep,” he added, “Even if I fucking wanted to.” He maneuvered over his mother’s seat and into the back area to sit down, closing the door behind him, his mother watching his movements. Then she turned around to speak to him again.

“You can’t sleep?” she asked curiously with a tilt of her head.

“When was the last time you saw me fucking sleep, mom?” he asked back with an annoyed tone to his voice, pinching the bridge of his nose.

The woman then creased her forehead in thought for a moment before her face brightened back up as if she suddenly remembered something important, now stretching her body out awkwardly in her seat to fish through the pocket of her jeans. Ian creased his own brow as well, watching as his mother pulled out a small plastic bag, now turning back to face him once again.

“You know, I have just the thing for that,” she said, standing, yet hunching as she moved toward the back to sit with him.

The man in the front seat grunted and started up the truck’s engine with a loud, deafening roar and Ian flinched again.

“You do?” Ian asked flatly, his voice drenched in skepticism.

“I do, honey. I do,” she confirmed taking a seat next to him, the truck’s wheels beginning to move.

He looked down at her hands, seeing her fingertips beginning to fumble along the edge of the bag but the light was much too dim for Ian to tell what was in it. She split the top of the seal open with a quick tug of her fingers and slipped her forefinger inside. She wiggled it around with a plasticy crinkle before pulling it back out of the bag covered in a yellowish, powdery substance. His mother brought the coated finger up to each nostril, giving two hard sniffs and a rub of her nose with the back of her hand, then pinched it.

“It’s good stuff, honey,” she said, “Sometimes I use it to calm my nerves,” her eyes fell back to the tiny bag she held in her lap, “You know how that is though, don’t you my love?” Her eyes drooped a bit as she reached out with a delicate touch to run her fingers through his hair. “My golden boy,” she praised, “Sometimes minds like ours just need a little help.” She raised her hand slightly still pinching the bag between her fingers, her face sweet and patient.

Ian hesitated, weighing his options. He’d done coke before, but he knew that whatever was in that bag, was definitely not what that was. Not to mention cocaine usually perked him up, kept him awake. It could never put him to sleep. He’d gone on drug binges of his own, once staying awake for an entire week, strung out on blow. His tongue slid slowly over his lip as he remembered the rushed, elevated feeling of such a strong high and his fingers began to tingle with craving.

He looked back down at the bag in the woman’s hand, knowing that he had to get some sleep, and if this would help him get it, it was worth a shot, right? He finally gave his mother a small nod and held his hand out. She smiled again, quite brightly, appearing rather pleased that her son would accept her offer of help and scooted a bit closer to him.

“Just a little bump is all you'll need,” she said placing her hand beneath his, carefully pouring a small dot of powder from the little bag onto Ian’s palm.

He watched as she poured it out, licking her grinning lips with a strange glowing light in her eyes. She bit down on her lip, holding her happy expression, giving the bag one final, gentle tap against his hand, before she withdrew it, eyed the bag while giving it a shake and began trying to stuff it back into her pocket. The woman then turned back to her son, glanced down at his palm, then back up to his face, motioning with her eyebrows.

“Don’t be afraid, sweetheart,” she tucked his hair behind his ear, “It'll just put you to sleep,” she assured him with a drowsy voice and delightfully hooded eyes.

Ian paused again, letting his eyes fall back to the tiny spot of powder in his palm, staring at it for a long, silent moment. Then he took a deep breath and thought 'What the hell,' before he brought his palm up to his nose and gave a hard, sharp sniff.

He felt the substance shoot through his nostrils like burning, stinging, throbbing fire. It felt like he’d been shot in the head, but it wasn’t exactly painful, it just burned. All his muscles tensed and he felt his eyes drying out, his lids drooping heavily. Ian let out a groan, his head falling back as his palm hit the bed beside him. His mouth dropped open with a lazy half gape, a sudden collection of drool spilling from the corner of his mouth.

“Good, baby,” he heard his mother’s voice from somewhere beside him, “Good boy. You just relax now.”

He felt her sleeved hand reach up to wipe the draining saliva from the side of his face, but he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge the contact. Then Ian felt his eyes roll back as his mother gently laid him back onto the cramped little bed, whispering soothing nothings in his ear. The tips of his fingers and the tips of his toes began to tingle as if they were going numb, then suddenly erupted in a consuming flow of heat traveling up his limbs, gathering in his chest and began to squeeze his heart, gripping, pulling, pulsing. He could hear it beating in his ears, echoing off his skull and the space around him became fuzzy and dim, no longer able to make much sense of anything. Ian tried with all his strength to turn his head as he felt his mother lift herself from her seat behind him and begin shifting back up toward the front seat of the truck. He saw her turn to the man and let out a small laugh.

“Out like a light,” she said with a point of her thumb toward her son laying in the back. The trucker let out a deep, bellowing laugh that seemed to shake the whole space. “Knew that would work like a charm. My beautiful boy needs his rest,” she turned her head away to glance out the window as it slowly began to rain, the tinkling trickling sound of drops spreading along the rig faintly meeting the boy’s ear. “Should be good for a while,” she added, not looking back over.

Ian’s eyes barely had enough strength to turn once more as he noticed the trucker shift slightly in his seat to peek back at him from over his shoulder. His eyes hooded, trailing grossly along the redhead’s body, a wide, creepy grin spreading across his face. The man took a quick glance back toward his mother before turning back to face the road.

Ian suddenly felt disgusted, and nervous, no longer comfortable being left alone in the back. But his head was fuzzy, his vision was tunneling and sound was starting to drain from his ears. He was losing his control, unable to stay conscious. Then the world around him disappeared, much faster than he realized.

***

He stirred with a groan, waking to a loud, hard knocking sound coming from somewhere near the door. Ian rubbed his eyes and ran a hand down his face, then squinted, attempting to see what the fuck all the racket was. He closed one eye as the light burned his vision, turning his head toward the door, seeing it beginning to crack with a large, meaty hand wrapping around it's edge.

“Knock, knock, bro,” Bruce called gently, peeking his head in. Ian groaned again.

“What the fuck are you doing in here?” Ian asked combing his fingers through his hair, then pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Just came to check on ya, man,” Bruce replied with a friendly shrug and an innocent expression. Ian paused, staring at him for moment.

“Why?” he then asked flatly.

“Why not?” Bruce quipped back with a grin. Ian creased his brow and bent to sit up, now turning to face the large man standing in his room more directly.

“Why fucking so?” asked Ian with a hard jaw and tense muscles, not in the mood for bullshit games.

“Hey, calm the fuck down,” the big man chuckled, “Just doin' what I’m told, man,” Ian held the same expression, completely unchanging. He knew what that meant, and he was going to ask about it while he had the nerve to do so.

“Mickey tell you to come down here?” Bruce hesitated, then gave another big shouldered shrug.

“Does it matter?” He queried back. Ian exhaled heavily, pinching his nose again.

“Just tell me why the fuck you’re really down here,” Ian breathed.

“Told you, bro,” he said, “Came to check on ya,” said Bruce and Ian rolled his eyes, “Can’t be missin' fuckin' meals, man, for real,” he added. Ian was getting angry now.

“No, I’m not, you fucking saw me at breakfast,” he snapped, “Mickey saw me eat,” Ian defended.

“Yeah, but that was fucking hours ago,” the big man explained. Ian scrunched up his face in confusion.

“No the fuck it wasn’t. I haven’t been in here that fucking long,” said Ian in an agitated voice, trying not to grind his teeth. Bruce raised his eyebrows, pressed his lips together tight and pointed a round, fat finger toward the clock. It was in the middle of dinner time.

“Shit,” said Ian standing up and rushing for his slippers, quickly toeing them on.

“Whoa, whoa, hey,” said Bruce waving his slab of a palm out in front of him, “Where’s the fucking fire, bro?” he raised an eyebrow watching the redhead shuffle around the room.

“I had a group or some shit at two,” Ian explained, “I’m gonna get in shit for missing it,” he said pulling a fresh sweater on and tossing the one he’d slept in into the hamper.

“Groups were cancelled, man,” the big man interjected causing the other man to pause his movements, “Everything was pushed to next week.” Ian straightened up and relaxed his face a bit.

“Why?” the redhead queried. Bruce gave yet another bulky shrug.

“Dunno man,” he admitted, “Just said some sorta incident happened in one of the therapy rooms, but they ain’t saying much else of shit, really,” Bruce chuckled, “Probably don’t wanna distress the other patients or whatever.”

Ian had to admit, it was a bit relieving knowing that he wouldn’t have to attend a group until next week, but he also wondered what the hell he would do with his free time until then. The one upside to having something to occupy him, was that if he happened to be tired, getting his mind interested in something always seemed to perk him back up. Though it was still so unusual, as Ian couldn’t remember any other time during his life when he’d felt to tired and exhausted constantly, like a plague that suddenly just appeared from nowhere. He’s usually always been generally happy and full of energy, but not lately. Ian looked back toward the large man still standing in the middle of his room and tipped his head toward the door.

“Well, you’ve seen me, we’ve spoken, you can go now, man,” Ian advised calmly, but Bruce didn’t move.

“You ain’t coming to dinner?” he asked raising a big, blonde eyebrow.

“What is this fucking obsession everyone seems to have with me eating?” Ian snapped back, his agitation returning.

“Can’t fucking starve yourself,” Bruce replied simply.

“Why the fuck do you care so much?” the redhead asked insistently.

Bruce hesitated again, pressing his lips together hard, accentuating his thick, wide jaw. He glanced down at the floor in thought, reaching a big, flat palm up to rub the back of his neck appearing as though he wasn’t quite sure what to say. Ian held his stare on him, impatiently waiting, now folding his arms over his chest and shifting his feet to stand more comfortably. Bruce ran his palm from the back of his neck out along the side of his jaw, his eyes finally raising back up to meet Ian’s.

“More like Mickey does,” he answered finally.

Ian’s expression dropped suddenly, a bit taken aback. He wasn’t expecting Bruce to say that. The flutters in his chest suddenly reappeared, swirling around at the thought of knowing Mickey was taking an interest in him, seemed to care in some manner. As annoyed as he was at the act of being constantly questioned about his food consumption, he couldn’t seem to be upset at Mickey about it, though he wasn’t sure why he couldn’t. The effect that the other man has on him is intense, powerful, almost consuming and Ian just couldn’t seem to fight it, unsure if he really wanted to anyway. But he didn’t want to appear weak in front of Bruce no matter how fuzzy and soft the other man made him feel. None of that shit was anyone’s business but his and Mickey’s. So, Ian didn’t hesitate or try to appear fazed in any way.

“He knows where I am,” Ian said bluntly, turning back toward his bed to sit, “He doesn’t need to bother you with this shit anymore,” he suggested, rubbing a hand down his face.

“Not really up to you, Red,” Bruce shrugged.

“Ian,” the redhead corrected once more, his voice laced thickly with insistence and annoyance, his hand still covering his face. Bruce chuckled with a thick bounce of his chest and nodded in acknowledgment.

“Okay, Ian,” he corrected himself, “The shit really ain’t up to you, man,” Bruce repeated, “Mickey does what he fuckin' wants.” A grin began to spread across his face as he looked at Ian from across the room. “And apparently that’s you,” he added finally. Ian dropped his palm and looked over toward the big man, eyeing his expression.

“He said that?” Ian asked suddenly with a curious crease of his brow, ignoring the anxiously dancing flutters gathering in his throat.

“Nah,” Bruce replied with a slight shake of his head and Ian slumped his shoulders a bit before he continued, “But I’ve known Mickey a long fucking time, bro,” he said, “Never seen his ass warm up to somebody so fuckin' fast,” the big man confessed, “That shit's gotta mean something, ya know?”

Ian blinked, remaining silent, turning his face away from the other man and peered down toward his hands that lay motionless in his lap. He wasn’t sure how to entirely feel about that and the tickling feeling in his chest and flutters floating their way up his neck were too distracting to think straight. Mickey had clearly taken an interest in him and it was noticeable enough for other’s to see, obviously since Bruce was able to pick up on it. Bruce also said that he’d known Mickey a long time and had never seen such a thing before. Maybe it wasn’t all just something his brain had made up, and maybe all the vibes and signals were real and Ian had just been too nervous to see it for sure. But still, without hearing these things from Mickey himself, how much truth could they possibly hold?

“Well still,” Ian said finally, “You can go, man. It’s all good here,” he assured with a rise and fall of his arms. Bruce looked at him for a long moment before accepting Ian’s words and began to nod.

“Okay, bro,” said Bruce, “I hear ya,” he began making large, heavy steps toward the door before he glanced over at Ian one final time, “Just letting you know, man,” he called, causing Ian to turn his head and look at him once more, “Mickey'll probably have somethin' for you to eat when he gets back. So, uh, just eat it, huh?” Bruce suggested in a kind voice with a tip of his chin, “It'll keep him happy, bro.” Then he turned his face back toward the hallway and left the room, leaving the door wide open behind him.

Ian sighed, placing his face in his hands, closing his eyes and tried to shut out all the jumbled, racing thoughts churning around inside the dark pit of his brain. He saw flashing flickers of his dreaming memories that made his stomach roll into a painful twist, bringing back a flood of other buried experiences that he’d rather not revive. He hated to think about the things he’d done, as it never failed to make him feel completely sick. He closed his hands into fists, feeling his breath quicken without his control and his pores filled with sweat. Ian breathed deeply through his nose, trying to even himself out, clear his mind, just fucking relax. His hands trembled as he tried to relax them as well before balling them back up again. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“Aye,” Ian opened his eyes and there he was: Mickey. He stood facing him wearing his normal sweats and t-shirt, but still no sweater, with a slight crease of his brow, appearing a bit concerned, holding a ball of foil in his hand. “You alright?” he asked, leaning down a bit.

Ian paused, letting himself take in the sight of the man in front of him, gazing up into his face, seeing his eyes sparkle as trailed over his expression. Ian’s muscles relaxed exceptionally and he was able to smile just a bit.

“Better now,” he answered quietly, still looking into his roommate’s face. Mickey chewed the corner of his lip, fighting down a smirk, gazing back down at him silently for a moment, before gesturing to the foil in his hand.

“Brought your ass somethin' to eat,” he said, tossing the round foil object toward Ian who caught it and peered down at it with a raised eyebrow. “Chicken patty, man,” he elaborated, pointing to the foil, “Since you wanna fuckin' skip out on meals, I'm gonna fuckin' make sure your ass ain’t down here starvin'.” He turned toward his bed and sat down against the wall.

Ian softened seeing the genuine expression on the other man’s face. He cares, he does, Ian was starting to see that now. He forced himself not to split a smile, ignoring the blush lingering beneath the skin of his cheeks and looked down, beginning to unwrap his dinner. Ian peeled it open, took a bite and began chewing when he looked back up to see Mickey watching him. He chewed a bit more, then swallowed.

“Am I like in trouble or some shit now for sleeping through meals?” Ian asked before he took another bite. Mickey watched him eat for a moment, then shook his head.

“Nah,” he replied, “Had Bruce cover for your ass during lunch, then I covered for your ass during dinner,” Mickey explained, “Told 'em you’re just an in and out kinda dude,” he chuckled at the pun, smirking at Ian with a suggestively arched eyebrow.

Ian swallowed his bite with wide eyes, suddenly blushing bright red at the comment as well as the seductive gesture on the other man’s face. The flutters erupted again, trailing along his ribs and throughout his chest with their tingling, shivering dance, goosebumps speckling along his skin in an instant. His mind went fuzzy again, the sound of his own breathing filling up his head. He continued to look at him for a moment, Mickey’s expression never fading, but instead intensifying as he gently bit his lip, not letting his eyes leave the redhead across the room. Ian let his nerves get the best of him and looked away, back down to his patty, taking another bite.

He soon finished his food and looked back to see Mickey still seated on his bed, with a thick, red book clutched in his hands, blue eyes moving steadily across the page, reading. Ian watched him silently for a long moment, subtly gazing across the room, just watching him sit, be, exist. Then he crumpled up the foil from his patty, causing the other man to glance up from his book. Ian lifted his eyes and saw him give a slight nod, appearing quite pleased to know that the redhead had something in his stomach, though he held his gaze much longer than necessary. Ian swallowed even though his mouth was empty, then looked away and scratched at his rough, prickly jawline. Mickey lowered his book closing it on an index finger and tipped his chin toward Ian.

“Startin' to look a little fuckin' rough around the edges there, Red,” he said, his eyes dropping to the other man’s chin. Ian looked up seeing Mickey’s handsome, leveled expression and gathered a bit of courage.

“What, you don’t like it?” Ian asked holding eye contact, running his fingertips along his chin. This time Mickey hesitated, pausing for a long moment, thumbing his bottom lip and sucking it in before he responded.

“Didn’t say that,” he said lowly with a slight head shake and Ian smiled just a bit, “You just seem more like a fuckin' clean shave kinda guy, that’s all,” Mickey explained simply. The other man gave a light nod.

“Usually,” Ian agreed, “But I don’t have any fucking razors, or magical powers, so I think I might just be stuck with it for a while,” he scratched his chin again and Mickey chuckled.

“Yeah, they don’t usually give new fuckin' people sharp objects,” he said slipping his bookmark into it’s place, setting the book down onto his end table, then began scooting off his bed to stand, “Shit's probably a good idea though, if you really fuckin' think about it,” Mickey added walking to the front of his end table and opening the bottom drawer, “You ain’t got no fuckin' issues like that I need to know about, right Red?” he asked shifting through the drawer, not turning around.

Ian's hand absentmindedly found his arm and then his leg, remembering the pain from when his scars were fresh, though it wasn’t something he’d done in a very long time. He thought the question was a bit unusual though, in a sense, maybe sort of hypocritical, as Ian had seen the proof on Mickey’s own body that the man has those issues himself, yet having razors around didn’t seem to be a bother to him. Ian creased his brow slightly in thought, then relaxed his face when he saw his roommate turning around, shaving razor in hand with his eyebrows arched high in question. Ian took a slow breath and decided to tell him the truth.

“Not in a really long time,” he admitted, his voice full of honestly.

Mickey eyed him very carefully for a moment, then gave a short simple nod, extending his hand toward Ian, offering the razor. Ian grasped it, each of their hands lingering a bit before either one let go. He looked down, turning it over in his fingers, then looked back up to Mickey.

“Thanks,” he said gratefully, and Mickey gave him another nod.

“You got fuckin' cream though, yeah?” Mickey asked watching Ian walk over to his end table. The redhead then opened a drawer, reached inside, pulling out a can of shaving cream and held it up to show the other man, with a slight smile.

“Alright, Red,” he said, “Just uh, try and get back for rounds,” Mickey advised calmly, “I ain’t in any kind a fuckin' mood to hear that old bitch complain again, alright?” His brow raised in question.

“For sure,” Ian agreed, walking toward the dresser to grab a towel for his face and was soon out the door, feeling the intense gaze of blue eyes on him a went, trying not to blush at the tickling sensation.

The lavatory was empty when he arrived, much to Ian’s relief, quickly making his way down the row of sinks, stopping at the one on the end. He turned the water on hot and began to rinse his face, exhaling at the feeling of washing out his pores, before grabbing his towel, patting it dry, then squirted a large glob of shaving cream into his hand. Ian ran the razor under the water and began to shave. It was soothing, relaxing, just what he needed right now, smiling slightly at each strip of smooth skin as it was revealed by the razor from beneath the thick froth of cream.

Though as he did, he wondered if he might wait a while before shaving again, as Mickey seemed to like him with shadow. He didn’t really mind it, just preferred a smooth face, as it always seemed to make things go a little easier for him, whether it was work, or dating or some godawful private event he was forced to attend back during his days as an old man’s fucking mistress. Those were days that he hated to recollect or admit he’d been a part of, having done countless shameful, disgraceful, humiliating things. Ian hoped that his mind would be merciful and never ever force him to relive any of those experiences. But with as evil and vindictive as his mind seemed to be lately, he wouldn’t hold his breath.

Ian sighed, continuing to shave his face, letting his mind wander instead to thoughts of Mickey, which brought his smile back, along with the airy flutter in his chest. Things seemed to be going well with Mickey and he couldn’t be happier about it, though he may still get nervous and he may still hesitate, he was excited to spend more time with him, get closer to him, talk to him more. Mickey was a mystery that he desperately wanted to discover, to understand, to unravel in every sense of the word. His nerves flared, rippling delicately down his limbs and along the back of his neck, down his spine, pausing to linger around his pelvis. Ian smiled lightly, enjoying the sensation on his skin, biting his lip just a bit as he swiped the last strip of cream from his chin, then turned his face a few times for inspection. He took a brief second to notice that the split on his lip was healing quite nicely, then placed both hands under the water, collecting a small puddle and splashed it over his face.

But just as he raised his head to look back up and wipe the water from his eyes, a hand suddenly grasped him by the back of the head and smashed his face into the mirror, shattering the glass and causing Ian to let out a sharp gasp of pain. He was then shoved down, his eyes pressed tightly closed from the burning throb of his face. He blinked and reached a hand to the bridge of his nose, then drew it back, looking down to see it covered in blood. He groaned and squinted around the room, his vision fuzzy and blurry, holding his face.

“That him?” a voice asked from somewhere near by.

“Yeah,” confirmed another voice, “That’s the motherfucker.”

Ian vaguely recognized the first voice, but he definitely knew the second. He blinked again and tried to sit up, but was kicked back to the floor by a hard foot to his chest. The redhead let out a loud grunt from the shot and began to cough. He was finally able to open his eyes enough to view the man standing over him. It was the hazel eyed man from earlier this morning, the one he bumped into as he’d gone to brush his teeth. Ian creased his brow from pain and confusion.

“The fuck is all this about?” Ian grumbled out rather calmly, wincing from the sting of his nose as his face moved when he spoke. The young man standing over him sucked his teeth, glaring down at the redhead at his feet, hands curled into tight, hard fists.

“You like to fuckin' beat on girls, huh?” the man snapped back through his teeth.

Ian scrunched his face up, stinging the fresh cuts in his skin. He had no idea what the fuck this guy was talking about. He was about to tell him that he had the wrong guy, then suddenly remembered his incident with Stacy yesterday and a bell began ringing through his brain. Ian then gave a slight shake of his head, raising his hand in defense, now attempting to explain himself.

“That’s not what ha-,” Ian began but was brutally interrupted by a fist striking his jaw, knocking him sideways.

He brought a hand to his face again, tasting blood, then spit on the floor, now turning his head to peer past the man above him, across to the other side of the room and what he saw enraged him. Standing near the other corner, leaned against the door frame with a big, wide grin on his face was a short, brown eyed man with a splay of gray dreads atop his head. It was Eddy, appearing rather pleased, standing back with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the assault. Something about the sight sparked a rushing wave of bright, red rage, inside Ian's brain, drowning out the rest of his thoughts.

Ian turned his face back up to the man above him, seeing him lean down to throw another punch but Ian threw one first, hitting him square in the mouth. The young man stumbled back but didn’t fall, looking back at his opponent with even more anger in his eyes, making determined steps toward him once more. But the redhead quickly scrambled to his feet and raised his fists, ready for him. The man approached and tried to swing again, but just like a second ago, Ian swung first, this time connecting with the side of the man’s face. The man turned back appearing mostly unfazed and lunged at Ian shoving him back a few paces into the tiled wall behind him.

Then he started throwing punches again, but Ian was tall, able to move out of his reach and shove the guy back, but he came at Ian yet again, causing him to be grabbed up by his shirt and smashed into the same mirror he’d just shoved the redhead’s face into. He let out a howl of pain then swung his leg up, kicking Ian between the legs with a low blow, sending him stumbling back and falling into a shower stall. Ian groaned loudly, with blood still pouring from his face, seeing stars, but not the good kind. His stomach twisted from the pain, causing him to cough and gag as if he were about to throw up. But before he could do anything, the other man was back on top of him swinging punches blindly down onto his body as hard as he could. All Ian could do was curl up, covering his head and his face, too enclosed to do anything else about it.

Then suddenly he heard the man let out a loud gasp of a yell and the punches stopped. Ian peeked and saw no one there anymore, but he could still hear the scrapples of fighting. He groaned, but managed to roll over just enough to crawl out of the shower stall to look around the rest of the room. Eddy was gone, no longer anywhere in sight, but his eyes continued to move, before landing on a sight that both confused him and filled his heart with flutters.

Mickey was standing over the man on one knee, pummeling him with a barrage of hard, sharp fists, cussing and growling out incoherent obscenities, saliva punching through his teeth. The man that was beating Ian just a moment ago, now lay on his stomach with his hands over his head, caging in his face, but it didn’t seem to lessen the assault in the slightest. Mickey threw a few more punches, then stood up and began giving him blunt kicks to his ribs causing the man to wither and curl into a tight, cowering ball. Ian then saw his roommate crouch down beside him, grab a fistful of the man’s hair and yank his head back.

“Ha!” exclaimed Mickey looking down at the man’s face, “I knew that I fuckin' knew who you were, asshole,” he sneered through his teeth, “Didn’t you learn your fuckin' lesson the last time you fucked with me?” The man didn’t respond, only trembling with obvious fear, “Huh?!” Mickey asked insistently, giving the man a loud smack across the face with his other hand. The broken man beneath him only managed to nod but just barely. “Oh yeah?” he asked sarcastically, “Then why the fuck are you still fuckin' with me, huh, Seth? Huh?!” Mickey punched him across the face and the man yelped from the hit.

“I-I didn’t know,” Seth managed to mumble out through his swollen, blood spattered lips. Mickey smacked him again and shook his grip on the man’s head.

“Well, now you fuckin' do,” he spat, then raised his own head to look across the room at Ian who still sat bloody and injured on the floor. Mickey clenched his jaw, then looked back down toward the beaten man under him and began pulling on him, dragging him about, readjusting the man so that he could pull his head back up by the hair once more to look over at Ian as well.

Ian swallowed at the sight of the beaten man’s mangled face, all swollen and discolored. The man could barely open his eyes as his sockets quickly began to swell shut, blood dripping from several different places. He was hardly even recognizable anymore. Ian trembled a bit, kind of afraid of seeing Mickey like this, a way he never quite imagined seeing him. His skin flushed red with boiling anger, he spoke through his teeth as if controlling an urge to yell and the tattoos on his knuckles were smeared thick with blood. He tried to level his breathing and not look away, knowing that Mickey needed him to look.

“You see him over there?” Mickey growled into the man’s ear, who managed another weak, pathetic nod, “You ever even fuckin' look his way again, you ain’t gonna be so fuckin' pretty after I deal with your dumbass for a third fuckin' time,” his spit sprinkled the man’s face who could hardly even flinch at it, “I’ll break every fuckin' bone in your body,” Mickey continued, “You ain’t gonna be nothin' but a fuckin' sack a shit when I’m through with you,” He gave the man another sharp, smack across the face, the sound echoing off the tile. “You hear me?” he asked in a deep, threatening voice but the man said nothing only continuing to whimper. The lack of response only seemed to fuel Mickey's anger as he released his grip on the man’s hair and stood up, just before stomping his foot down onto the man’s hand, crunching it into the floor. The man brought his broken hand to his chest, crying out in pain.

“I said, do you fuckin' hear me?!” he asked again, leaning down a bit.

“Yes! Yes!” Seth cried in a broken, pleading tone.

“You better fuckin' remember this shit, asshole,” Mickey said, glancing up from the man at his feet, now making steps toward Ian, the rage in his face melting away and softening into a look of concern. He reached down under Ian’s arms and began slowly, gently helping him to his feet.

“Fuck, you alright, Red?” he asked looking over his face, reaching up to brush the hair from his eyes. Ian winced at the pain, bringing his palm to his mouth to wipe some of the blood away, then managed a slight shrug.

“Better than I could be, I guess, for getting a face full of fucking glass,” Ian responded, gently touching the bridge of his nose. Mickey creased his forehead in slight confusion.

“Face full a glass?” he asked looking for clarification.

Ian nodded and pointed toward the shattered mirror. Mickey turned, seeing the broken mirror covered in blood and clenched his jaw again, his hands curling back into hard, tight fists. He glanced back at Ian, eyeing the deep cut on his nose and his upper lip began to twitch with rage, his head slowly turning back to the crumpled young man on the floor. Ian had a feeling that he knew what was coming and tried to stop him, but he couldn’t. As he reached his hand out to grab Mickey’s shoulder, he was already walking back over to his victim.

“Mickey!” Ian called, but he still didn’t stop.

He walked right up in a steady stride and said nothing as he raised his foot, then brought it down, kicking Seth across the face as hard as he could, knocking him out cold.

Ian’s jaw dropped, utterly speechless and a little uneasy after everything he’d just seen. There were a lot more layers to Mickey than Ian thought, almost afraid to discover what else might be dwelling deep within or just lurking underneath the surface. Ian then saw him hawk back his throat and spit down onto the man’s unconscious face, before turning back toward the redhead.

"Fuckin' piece a shit," he mumbled under his breath.

Ian stayed silent, fairly shocked and still at a loss for words, watching as Mickey walked right up to the sink next to him, turned on the water and began to wash his hands. He watched as the blood was rinsed from his roommate's knuckles revealing them to be slightly swollen, but otherwise fine. He then grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, dipped it under the faucet and turned to Ian.

“Come 'ere,” Mickey requested gently, soft eyes traveling over the damage to his face.

Ian moved closer, letting the other man tend to his wounds and wash the blood from his face, doing so with such delicate, tentative contact, that it was hard to imagine the very same hands beating a man to a bloody pulp just a few moments earlier. Ian watched his face and his eyes, seeing his brow creased slightly as he dabbed at torn, bloody skin and the way he pressed his lips together just slightly whenever he happened to touch a spot that made Ian wince.

“Sorry, man,” he said quietly. Ian shrugged.

“Not your fault,” Ian replied honestly, “Shit just hurts.” The other man glanced up into his eyes and tried to rephrase his statement.

“I meant that I’m… I’m just fuckin’ sorry you had to see that shit,” he said. Ian creased his forehead.

“I was getting the shit kicked outta me,” said Ian, “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he defended.

Mickey looked back into his eyes with a bit of skepticism and hesitation, then made a brief glance back toward the man still knocked out on the floor, before turning back once more with an eyebrow raised.

“What I did wasn’t exactly fuckin' good either,” Mickey admitted.

If Ian didn’t know better he could have sworn he saw shame in Mickey’s eyes and Ian didn’t like it. Even though watching Mickey beat another man so brutally right in front of him was a little alarming, Ian didn’t feel any differently about him. If anything the entire action honestly kind of made Ian like him even more, knowing that cares enough to defend him so quickly without question. He wanted to reassure him that he didn’t view him any differently now, than he had before. Ian won’t forget what happened, as he just doesn’t think that he could, but he wouldn’t ever want to hold it against him, knowing that Mickey would never treat him in such a way. Mickey raised his hand again to wipe the last of the blood from Ian’s cheek when Ian caught his hand and squeezed.

“Hey,” he said quietly, “It’s okay,” Ian assured him. It took a few moments for Mickey to soften enough to give a squeeze back and slight nod of acceptance. Their eyes lingered but only for a moment before Mickey spoke up.

“Gotta get the fuck back to the room,” he advised, “Rounds.” Ian nodded and tried to ignore the throbbing on his face, slowly detaching his hand from Mickey's.

They began walking toward the door when Mickey suddenly made a quick, abrupt turn just before they approached it. He began walking over to the other side of the lavatory and Ian raised an eyebrow.

“The fuck are you doing?” Ian asked. Mickey glanced back but kept his pace, now approaching a urinal.

“Gotta take a piss, man,” he called over his shoulder as he began relieving himself, “The whole fuckin' reason I came in here,” Mickey chuckled, echoing slightly off the walls. He finished, then walked back over and strode up to Ian bearing the devilishly, handsome smirk that he was quickly growing to love so very much. They started back toward the door when Ian paused his steps and Mickey turned to look at him.

“What about him?” Ian asked, gesturing with his chin to the bloody man on the floor. The other man scoffed and gave a wave of his hand.

“Leave the fucker there,” he suggested, “Who gives a shit?”

Ian thought about mentioning Eddy, but he really didn't want to see Mickey so incredibly angry again any time soon and he had a feeling that if he were to tell him, he wouldn't be very happy about it. And as much as Ian greatly disliked the asshole, he knew that Mickey already has his own issues with him and may just completely explode and try to kill him. Asshole or not, Ian didn't think the guy deserved to die. So, he held his tongue and raised another, much more important concern.

“Well, what about this?” the redhead asked splaying a hand over his face and Mickey creased his brow in thought. “I mean, if they figure out I was in a fight with that asshole and they take a look at the two of us, they’re gonna think I did that shit,” Ian explained pointing down at Seth. Mickey nodded in understanding.

“No ones gonna put that shit together,” said Mickey, “And Seth's way too big a bitch to fuckin' talk. He knows what’ll happen to his shit stain ass if he does.” Ian thought about it for a moment, considering his words and creased his brow again.

“So, what the fuck do I say happened to me?” Ian wondered out loud, confused and curious. Mickey’s eyes traveled slowly over his face, over the cuts and into his eyes, then gave a light one shouldered shrug.

“We'll think a somethin',” he said easily, with surety in his voice.

Ian was going to have to trust him, take his word, take his lead and play along. But he didn’t mind, if it meant keeping the both of them out of trouble, he could do that, for sure. He inhaled deeply, giving the man on the floor one last glance before looking back toward Mickey and nodding, just the hint of a smile spreading on his lips. The dark haired man gave a small smile back, then a flick of his head, now walking toward the door. Ian walked beside him, ready to head back to their room and face Dr. Craft about his obvious injuries and also because he was sure they were late for rounds again. Ian's eyes traveled along the floor as he kept in step not looking back up toward his roommate until he spoke again, hearing his words, unable to hide the stupid blush and smile they gave him and the flutters simply danced.

“Don’t fuckin' worry too much, Red,” said Mickey, “You still look good to me.”

Chapter Text

After everything he’d just witnessed, Ian having a hell of a lot on his mind was a vast understatement. As grateful as he was for Mickey’s sudden interjection of his incident in the lavatory, he just couldn’t seem to get the images of the assault out of his head. He kept thinking of the sounds his roommate’s fist made with each sharp, forceful strike against the other man’s face, along with the way Seth had trembled and whimpered as Mickey growled harsh threats into his ear while spattering the side of his beaten face with hot sprinkles of saliva. Ian would be lying if he said the entire sight hadn’t been at the very least, a little alarming. He didn’t exactly feel afraid however, but there was this strange lingering tension in his muscles that seemed to be keeping him cautious. Ian had figured out pretty quick that Mickey was rough, tough and quite intimidating, but to actually witness the follow through, was a different experience entirely. Though as brutal and merciless as he’d seen the man be, some part of him seemed to know that Mickey was different with Ian, and would never treat him that way, so far anyway.

He also thought about Eddy and the smug, satisfied expression the man had held as he watched Ian scrapple about with Seth. Ian tried not to clench his jaw thinking about how he’d not only sent someone else to confront him about the bullshit with Stacy, since he was presumably too big of a coward to do it himself, but on top of that, he seemed to just take off the second he saw that Ian wasn’t going to take the beating laying down. He thought again of telling Mickey about it, but the images of Seth’s swollen, discolored face seemed to stop him. Ian didn’t think even Eddy deserved that. So, he just stayed quiet.

Both men walked closely side by side, moving much slower than they probably should, despite understanding how urgently they were needed back at their room to meet Dr. Craft and receive their medications, also knowing how stern the woman was about them being late from the night before, and they were fairly certain that they were again now. Both men stayed silent for a few moments, each seemingly consumed in their own train of thought, yet remaining well aware of each other’s presence with the occasional glance of their eyes and light brush of their shoulders.

Ian’s face fucking hurt, throbbing, burning from the cut in his nose, the ache in his jaw and the reopened split of his lip. The cuts weren’t bleeding anymore but they were fresh, pink and open. He very lightly touched a fingertip to the tender, exposed flesh within the thin slit along the bridge of his nose and winced. Mickey glanced over at him, seeing his action and raised a bit of a confused eyebrow.

“Ya know, the more ya fuck with the shit, the more it’s gonna fuckin' hurt, man,” said Mickey with a light chuckle. Ian dropped his hand and looked over to meet his eyes for a second before looking down at the floor.

“I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck I’m gonna say,” Ian said with a tight crease of his brow, glossing over the other man’s comment. Mickey nudged him gently with his elbow and gave a tip of his chin.

“Lemme handle it,” Mickey offered simply. Ian just gazed at him for a moment.

As much as Ian really wanted to just trust Mickey, to just remain quiet and let him take the lead, he couldn’t help but feel like the whole idea just seemed a tad bit overbearing, if that was even the proper word to describe it. He knew that Mickey was just trying to help, trying to ease his stress but he also felt that he should try to handle this himself, to not depend on someone else to deal with his shit anymore. Ian also thought that if Mickey were the one to explain for him in any way, it might look like he was involved some how, which he really never should have felt he had to be in the first place. Ian felt guilty for that, having quickly figured out that Mickey has issues with aggression and anger. He didn’t want to be the one to trigger it, and though he knew he’d not had control over the man’s reaction to his unexpected situation, the guilt remained regardless. The last thing he wanted was for Mickey to get in any kind of shit for defending him, no matter how much of an overkill the defense may have been. Ian knew he had to do this himself, for himself, alone.

“No,” he said a bit quicker than intended. Mickey creased his brow and turned his head to trace blue eyes over Ian’s face in study. Ian then tried to explain his sudden resistance.

“I just mean… I don’t want them looking at you over any of this shit,” he paused, then made a slight tip of his head back the way they just came, “Or that shit,” Ian added a bit more quietly. The other man continued to look at him silently for just an instant before he spoke again.

“They won’t,” said Mickey, his voice full of surety, “Ain’t nobody gonna look at your ass either,” he assured, “I know how to fuckin' deal with 'em, Red. You ain’t gotta worry,” Ian slowed his steps a bit more and met the other man’s eyes again, flickering between them and exhaling slowly before he spoke.

“Please,” Ian insisted gently, “I can handle this.” Mickey just smirked a bit.

“Can you?” Mickey challenged in a voice that was friendly, but laced with a rather serious tone, then arched an eyebrow. Ian halted his footsteps and held his gaze, causing the other man to do the same.

“Why are you doing all this shit?” the redhead asked suddenly, with much more nerve than he knew he had.

The dark hair man lowered his eyebrow slowly, held the crease in his brow and titled his head just slightly as if he was waiting for further explanation. Ian’s fingers fidgeted against the can of shaving cream in his hand, his thumb tapping it’s side as he chewed the inside of his cheek, gathering the courage to rephrase his question in a more direct way.

“Why're you going out of your way to help me so much?” he tried again slowly, forcing himself not to look away from the other man’s eyes. “You don’t know me.” Mickey’s eyes flickered as he hesitated but held his gaze as well, then thumbed his lip and gave a shrug.

“Does it really fuckin' matter?” he asked back with a blink. Ian’s nerves trembled a bit but he held his stance.

“Yes,” Ian replied firmly, “It does.”

Mickey’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly, as if a bit surprised by the other man’s persistence, his courage and rolled his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip, hesitating again. Ian felt his nerves flaring in the back of his mind like bright flashing lights, warning him away, flushing his skin anxiously with goosebumps and a cold slick of uneasy sweat. His mind began replaying the sight he’d seen only a short bit ago of Mickey crouched over Seth, pummeling into his face, kicking him in the ribs, smashing his hand into the floor with the heel of his foot and Ian suddenly tried to control his breath. He clenched his jaw and tried to keep his struggle hidden. The other man didn’t look upset though, as Ian kept close watch of his face, just appearing as if he may not be sure what to say, like maybe he was caught off guard, which was making Ian feel quite off guard himself. He watched him chew the corner of his lip, and scratch the bridge of his nose with back of his thumb, sucking his lower lip in.

“Okay, tough guy,” Mickey conceded, taking a small step back, “You wanna fuckin' handle the shit, go right ahead, man,” he gave a sweeping gesture with his hand and Ian frowned as he listened to Mickey completely ignore his last question, “But uh, just a little fuckin' advice, huh?” He offered and Ian just waited, “Just keep the shit simple,” Mickey advised, “Don’t fuckin' overthink it. That’s what’ll fuck ya up.” He raised his eyebrows, then turned to continue walking toward their room. Ian paused for a second, then exhaled and began moving again as well.

He really didn’t know what the fuck he was going to say, but he was grateful that Mickey didn’t push the issue despite the fact that he probably would have been better off just going along with him. Ian looked down at his hands, eyeing the razor, the can of cream and the towel, turning the can over in his fingers, trying to think. The pain pulsing from his face was distracting, clouding his thought process, and he quickly became frustrated, reaching to pinch the bridge of his nose only to let out a hard wince from the sudden contact to the cut.

“Fuck,” Ian hissed under his breath, bringing his hand away in a fast, swift motion and scrunching up his face. Mickey glanced over, eyeing his demeanor and gave a slight tilt of his head toward him.

“Chill, man,” Mickey said lowly, gently, “Simple,” he reminded him, eyes traveling over his face for a moment, then peering back down the hall.

Ian have a small nod and took a deep breath trying to calm and ignore the pain enough to focus, but suddenly he glanced up as they continued to round the circle, walking closer to their room when he saw Dr. Craft, along with her guard, also approaching their room, a bit father away from it than they were. He felt his chest tighten into a hard, firm squeeze and his eyes shot back down to the items in his hands, then back up to the doctor down the hallway.

If it looked like he just came from the bathroom, the staff would be morons not to tie together that he was there when Seth was beaten into a bloody, broken heap. He wouldn’t be able to cover that up and the thought made him start to panic, just a little bit. Ian slowed his steps suddenly again, glancing back down at his hands once more.

“Shit,” he whispered, causing Mickey’s eyes to fall back over to him, and down to his hands as well, also realizing the predicament. The dark haired man quickly looked up at the doctor, then back to Ian, before reaching over to snatch everything out of his hands. Ian’s eyes widened, drawing his brows together hard.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Ian said in hushed but confused exclamation.

“Go talk to her,” Mickey directed, slipping the razor into his front pocket and slinging the towel around the back of his neck.

“Mickey, no,” the redhead tried to insist, “You don’t have to fucking do this.”

“Just shut the fuck up, man,” the other man shot back with very little heat, remaining quiet as they approached the doctor, “I ain’t sayin' shit, alright? That’s what ya want, huh?” said Mickey, looking into his face, then back down the hall, “You can go say whatever the fuck you wanna say. So, just go fuckin' do it, so neither one a those assholes pay any fuckin' attention to me when I walk past 'em,” he explained. Ian hesitated, but Mickey didn’t. “I said fuckin' go, Red,” he met his eyes again, “Now,” he nudged him with his elbow again, a bit more insistently this time. Ian swallowed, turning his face back down the hall, then straightened his shoulders before quickening his steps toward Dr. Craft. She hadn’t quite gotten to their room yet, but she was really close when she finally looked up and saw Ian. ‘Fuck,' he thought. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“Mr. Gallagher,” she welcomed with a small smile, looking over her glasses at him, “Cutting it close tonight,” she said.

“Just taking a walk,” Ian replied, trying to sound innocent, “Got kinda bored in my room,” he explained. She began to nod, then suddenly drew her eyebrows together, readjusted her glasses and narrowed her eyes on him.

“How did you acquire those injuries to your face, Mr. Gallagher?” she queried, the guard beside her eyeing him as well. He could hear Mickey’s footsteps walking up behind him, the sound calming his nerves in a very strange way. 'Simple,' his roommate’s words gently reminded him.

“Just been real tired today,” he began to explain, “Started feeling pretty sleepy after dinner and kinda started dosing off on my walk down here,” Ian felt Mickey stepping past him into the room, as both the doctor and the guard kept their attention on him as he spoke, just like Mickey had predicted, “Bumped into a corner,” Ian said, “Cut my nose on the brick, split my lip back open,” He glanced over as Mickey entered the doorway and saw him push out his lip a bit a give a slight approving nod, as if to say Ian’s excuse wasn’t perfect, but it might work. Ian quickly looked back down at the doctor, who remained where she stood, looking over his face with a thoughtful yet very skeptical expression.

“This wasn’t perhaps caused by another resident?” asked Dr. Craft, flashing half a glance toward Mickey who had already set the shaving cream down on Ian’s end table and thrown the towel out of sight into the hamper, not noticing the doctor’s glance.

It made Ian a bit confused seeing that, appearing as if the doctor assumed that maybe Mickey could have done this to him and that thought just made him angry. But it also made him nervous, as he really didn’t want any fingers pointed at his roommate, really not wanting him to get into any kind of trouble because of him. And not only did he not want to catch an ass whooping of his own, but he also didn’t want to be the reason why Mickey loses his good behavior status. Mickey definitely wouldn’t like him after something like that. So, Ian was sticking to his story, no matter how much like bullshit it smelled.

“Nope,” said Ian confidently, sticking his chin out a bit, “Just got drowsy and walked into a corner,” he repeated, “Hurts like a bitch, though,” he said, taking another subtle glance toward Mickey, seeing him appear as though he was fighting down a smirk, giving the slightest shake of his head, amused.

Ian looked back toward the doctor who pressed her lips together tightly in disapproval of his language, continuing to eye him for a moment before turning toward her cart and set her clipboard down on top of it. She then reached down toward the bottom level of the cart and retrieved a small plastic container that appeared to be a first aid kit. Dr. Craft extended and delicate hand toward the inside of the room.

“Can you please take a seat on your bed, so I can have a look?” she asked nicely.

He hesitated, but complied, the doctor following him in and the guard following behind her. Ian walked over to his bed, just as he was asked and sat down with a deep breath, his chest falling heavily from it’s own weight. Dr. Craft placed the kit down on the bed next to him and opened it up to rummage through it’s contents. She turned back toward him with a bandaid and an alcohol wipe in hand, and reached out with two fingers to lift his chin, looking him over. When she looked down to tear open the wipe, Ian glanced over at Mickey again who was seated calmly on his bed with his back against the wall and his hands tucked behind his head watching him be examined. He looked back at the doctor just as she leaned down a bit to dab his nose and Ian winced.

“Did this start after your regimen began?” she asked, cleaning his cut, “The drowsiness?”

“No,” he said, “Sometimes I just get really tired.” She nodded lightly, then opened the bandaid to place it over the wound, then turned toward the first aid kit once more to grab another wipe and bandaid for his lip.

“You'll have to try and be more careful,” Dr. Craft suggested lightly and the redhead tried not to roll his eyes, “We can’t have you walking about the facility bumping into walls,” she said and Ian clenched his jaw, biting down on his tongue. “If this continues, please let myself or Dr. Yates know and we can try to fix that up,” the doctor smiled again while she cleaned his reopened split, the laugh lines around her eyes, creasing deeply.

'Fix that up,' Ian thought. He didn’t like that, not at all, though he forced himself to nod regardless. She finished bandaging Ian up, shooting another small glance toward Mickey who quite boldly grinned at her. The doctor then crumpled up the wrappers of the bandages and the wipes into her hand, then reached down to collect the kit, now walking back toward her cart to replace it with their cups of medication. Ian couldn’t help but look over at Mickey again, seeing how relaxed he looked, which made the tension in Ian’s shoulders melt a bit. The doctor walked back into the room, clutching two small paper cups in her hand, raising her eyes to address the dark haired man across the space.

“Mr. Milkovich,” she requested, holding them up in his direction.

Mickey dropped his hands from behind his head, his eyes finally leaving Ian to scoot up and stand, now making steps toward the doctor. The guard seemed to harden his stance as he watched him approach. Ian stood too, knowing his pills would be next and waited for his roommate to take his. Mickey took the cups from her hands and was quick in his movements of swallowing them, which was normal for him, so it didn’t appear at all unusual. But Ian saw the flash of his knuckles, a little red with just a bit of swelling. It wasn’t much damage, but it was noticeable. Though before either staff member could take notice, he passed the empty cups back to the doctor, then slipped his hands smoothly into his pockets as he opened his mouth for inspection. Mickey then took a few steps back and turned slightly to look at Ian’s face, remaining silent.

“Thank you,” she said to Mickey just before turning back toward the cart to collect Ian’s cups. She handed them over, watching as the redhead swallowed them as well, then looked over his empty, open mouth. “Thank you,” she repeated, taking the empty cups from him. Her eyes moved along his face for a second before shooting another quick glance toward Mickey and turning back to her cart. “Good evening, boys,” called Dr. Craft from just beyond the doorway. The guard’s eyes moved quite slowly and suspiciously between the two men before following the doctor out into the hall, shutting the door behind him.

Mickey merely glanced at Ian for a brief instant, before walking back over toward his bed, sitting down and picking up his book, flipping it open. Ian stayed silent as well, breathing a small sigh of relief, also walking back to his own bed, pulling his sweater over his head as he went. When he sat, he placed his head into his palms, trying to clear his mind and calm the rest of his nerves. He peeked between his fingers to see Mickey across the room, still focused on his book, calmly reading. Both men stayed silent for a long time, Ian laying back on his bed in thought, Mickey seated on his own bed, immersed in his novel, until the loud chiming ring of lights out and locked doors rang down the hallway. The room around them went dark and Ian turned his head toward his roommate, seeing him tilt his head back and let out a heavy groaning sigh, then felt around on the space beside him for his bookmark, now slipping it into place. He clapped the back cover of the book against his knee a few times before sliding it onto his table through the dark.

Ian exhaled himself and sat up, swinging his legs off the edge of the bed to stand. He walked over toward the window, unlocked and cracked it, just needing a bit of fresh air. The young man just sat on the ledge for a moment, staring out at the graying clouds swirling around the darkening sky and the sparkling gold of the streetlights that seemed to shimmer against the freshly fallen snow.

Then suddenly there was a light thump of an object landing in his lap, causing him to drop his eyes and see a cigarette pack atop his legs. Ian titled his head back up toward the darkness of the room, seeing Mickey’s form appear from within the black, walking toward him. He creased his brow a bit, watching him approach, then glanced back down at the pack. Mickey came into view, also looking down toward the pack, giving an tip of his chin and gesture of his brow for Ian to take one, but the redhead still paused, though he was unsure why. The other man scoffed, smirked and rolled his eyes, reaching to grab the cigarette pack out of Ian’s lap, opening it to slip one out and place it between his lips. Blues eyes twinkled delicately over Ian’s face for a moment, not yet lighting the cigarette, his brow creasing slightly.

“The fuck's up with you?” Mickey asked with a mild chuckle in his voice, rolling the cigarette across his lips with the tip of his tongue. Ian watched his mouth and fought the urge to lick his own lips.

“Still just a little nervous,” he breathed quietly. Mickey held his expression.

“The fuck for?” he queried in an amused voice. The other man hesitated for a moment before answering.

“Someone’s gonna find Seth eventually,” Ian said, still quiet. Mickey raised an eyebrow and just shrugged.

“So?” he asked. Ian turned a bit more to face him and creased his own brow.

“So, they’re gonna find him on the floor, see the broken mirror and remember that my face is all cut up,” Ian explained, but the other man just shook his head.

“Assholes around here are fuckin' morons, man. I'm tellin' ya,” Mickey insisted, his unlit cigarette bouncing between his lips, “Ain’t nobody gonna figure that shit out.” Ian just gazed into his face for a long moment, seeing how relaxed he seemed about the whole thing, how sure, how certain. It was hard not to trust him on this, but something in the back of Ian’s mind refused to let him settle. Then he saw Mickey smirk a bit wider, then tilt his head a bit to speak again, “Although, your fuckin' story left a little somethin' to be desired,” he added teasingly. Ian gave him a flat, unimpressed expression.

“You said to keep it simple,” said Ian, “Was that not simple enough?” he asked. Mickey gave a slight shake of his head, holding a wide grin.

“You sounded like a fuckin' abused housewife, man,” he laughed, crossing his arms over his chest. Ian frowned and turned to peer back out the window, down toward the street.

“Well, I didn’t know what to fucking say,” said Ian trying not to clench his jaw. The dark haired man gave another tip of his chin.

“Told ya, I’d a handled it,” Mickey reminded him. Ian shook his head.

“But you shouldn’t fucking have to,” he responded quietly.

Mickey watched his face, rolling his cigarette over to the corner of his mouth with the tip of his tongue, then began slipping his pack into the pocket of his sweatpants and replaced it with his lighter. He paused, then pinched his cigarette between his fingers, holding it out in front of Ian’s lips, offering it to him instead. Ian hesitated, peering cautiously back up into Mickey’s eyes, seeing them soft and slightly hooded, trailing from his face, down along his neck. 'Inhale. Exhale.' Ian leaned forward just slightly to take the cigarette from Mickey’s fingers with his lips, watching as the other man bit his own, eyes on his mouth. The look Mickey was giving Ian relaxed him a little bit, flushing his nerves with bit of confidence. He returned the other man’s expression with a slight tip of his own chin, his brows gesturing for Mickey’s lighter. Mickey slowly ran his tongue along his bottom lip, then raised it to flick and spark, lighting the end of the cigarette and watching silently as Ian inhaled from it.

“Thanks,” Ian whispered and the other man gave him a small nod, now moving to sit beside him on the ledge, eyes never leaving him. The redhead inhaled deeply, turning his face to blow a thick puff of smoke out through the window and off onto a breeze. They stayed quiet for a few moments, just looking, then Ian passed the cigarette for Mickey to pull a drag from, exhaling through his nose.

“Tell me somethin' else, man,” Mickey requested suddenly. Ian raised an eyebrow and tilted his head.

“What?” he asked. The other man chuckled and took another drag before speaking again.

“I don’t know you,” Mickey repeated Ian’s words back to him from just a short while earlier, “So, fuckin' tell me somethin' else,” he explained with another exhale of smoke swirling around his face to be pulled through the window by the breeze. Ian thought for a moment, then dropped his shoulders a bit.

“What do you wanna know?” Ian asked back. Mickey remained quiet for a moment, then passed the cigarette back. He stared into Ian’s eyes in silence, as if contemplating something difficult in his head, then dropped his own eyes to his hands, slowly chewing his lip.

“Everything,” Mickey finally replied, very, very quietly, so much so that Ian almost didn’t catch it.

The redhead watched his face, with an expression he’d never seen on it before. Mickey looked shy, unsure, cautious, which was very unlike the normally tough, confident guy that Ian always saw. Mickey looked a little nervous after the words left his mouth, not yet lifting his had back up to meet Ian’s eyes again. Ian took another drag and passed Mickey the cigarette who took it, pulling a drag from it himself, finally glancing up quite slowly to look back into the other man’s face, waiting.

Ian felt the flutters in his chest, happily dancing at the thought of knowing that Mickey genuinely wanted to learn more about him and it made his insides warm. But it also made him a bit anxious, thinking of all the things about himself, about his life, that he’d prefer the other man never know. Though seeing Mickey allow himself to be vulnerable enough to ask to know more, Ian felt that perhaps he should try and do the same, let himself be vulnerable for a bit, for Mickey. The first thing that came to mind wasn’t something he was proud of, but it was pretty mild compared to a lot of the rest, so he decided to go with that. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“I used to be a dancer,” Ian offered quietly, dropping his eyes into his lap. The other man looked a bit confused and creased his brow.

“Like a fuckin' street dancer or some shit?” Mickey asked, looking for a bit more explanation. Ian took another deep breath and kept his face down.

“An exotic dancer,” he clarified just above a whisper.

Mickey stayed silent and it made Ian’s nerves flare again with a painful, distracting pulse, his mind beginning to cloud with anxiety until he gathered the courage to peek back up at the other man’s face, seeing an expression that he definitely wasn’t expecting. Mickey was looking over at him with both eyebrows raised and his bottom lip pushed out just slightly, surprised, though not appearing at all judgemental. Then Ian saw him slowly beginning to smirk, turning the cigarette over between his fingers.

“Well, that’s pretty fuckin' interesting,” Mickey said sounding a bit taken aback but with genuine intrigue and appeal in his voice, his eyes tracing down along Ian’s chest ever so slightly, though not at all trying to hide it. “You any good?” he queried after a brief pause with a slight raise of his eyebrow, looking back up into his eyes.

Ian’s breath slowed and stuttered, looking into the face of the man next to him. He was relieved that Mickey wasn’t simply disgusted by his previous occupation, but also surprised by the fact. Not everyone that’s known about his job have been so accepting, and absolutely none of them have ever bothered to actually ask him anything about it. But Mickey was, he is. That thought made him smile just a bit, growing more confidence and he managed to shrug rather nonchalantly.

“I guess,” said Ian, “Could pull a couple thousand on a good night,” he said watching the other man’s face change from curious to appearing rather impressed by that statement.

“What, you dancin' for rich old bitches or some shit?” Mickey asked with a small laugh. Ian swallowed, gave a slight shake of his head and blurt out his next response before he could stop himself to think about it.

“Men,” he corrected quietly, dropping his eyes again.

There was silence again for another moment and all Ian could hear was the beating of his own heart pulsing through his ears, his chest flooding with shame. Ian had been a dancer, a stripper and he’d never been proud of it, but he always made good money doing it, which is why he stuck with it for so long. No matter what issues life always liked to throw his way, it always seemed to come back to money, so he stayed despite how much he genuinely disliked dancing for a bunch of gawking, drooling old men. Since Ian was quite young, and quite handsome, he’d often draw in flocks of men with bottomless pockets willing to pay whatever they had to get Ian to go home with them. At one point in time, it didn’t take much, only needing a quick flash of cash and a free party favor and he was theirs for the night. Ian felt his body cringe, repulsed, as he tried to forget such memories that made his stomach twist and bubble. He kept his head down, nervous of what the other man would say. But when Mickey finally spoke, Ian was caught off guard again.

“You ever see any a those fuckers with a wedding ring?” he asked suddenly. Ian raised his head, meeting his eyes, seeing how relaxed his face was and scrunched his own up, tilting it in question. Mickey took another drag off the cigarette and passed it, now attempting to explain his question. “Like, you ever notice if any a those motherfuckers are married?” Mickey rephrased, “Cause ya could probably squeeze a lot more fuckin' dough outta them if you’re willin’ to work that angle,” he suggested with an upturned palm.

“You mean blackmail?” Ian asked and Mickey shrugged, pushed out his lip, then gave a nod. Ian tilted his head in thought, then responded, “I have before,” he said slowly, “But only when I really felt that I had to.” Mickey looked like he wasn’t quite sure what Ian meant by that, but he didn’t ask about it any further. Then the redhead decided to chance a question of his own.

“What kinda shit were you doing before you came here?” Ian asked, and Mickey’s eyes narrowed just slightly, “Can’t be any worse than a stripper,” he added trying to give a reassuring smile, but Mickey didn’t smile back. He looked hesitant again. Though as his blue eyes traced over green, searching for security, Mickey must have seen something there because slowly, he began to relax again, softening just a bit.

“Sold drugs and stole shit, mostly,” he said finally with a one shouldered shrug, “At least being a fuckin' stripper's somethin' legit, man,” said Mickey with a tip of his head toward Ian.

“Not always,” Ian replied shamefully, looking away from him to take a hit from the cigarette. Mickey watched him closely, as if trying to read him and Ian just felt embarrassed, regretting his words. Mickey paused for a moment, thinking again, then gave a cock of his head.

“My 'ol man and a couple a buddies used to work for a big distributor,” Mickey began to explain, moving past Ian’s comment, which the redhead was quite thankful for, “Used to like traffic shit. Blow, mostly,” he spoke with his hands, glancing toward the cigarette between Ian’s lips, then reached over to retrieve it. Ian gave it up without any struggle, now extremely interested in hearing Mickey tell him more about his life, how badly he’s wanted to know about it. “Me and my brothers were the ones that made most of the fuckin’ runs, movin' the shit from place to place,” Mickey took a deep pull from the cigarette and continued to speak with two thick plumes of smoke exhaling from his nose, “Sometimes we had to do other shit,” he said with another tilt of his head, “Way worse shit than just movin' fuckin' drugs around,” Mickey chewed his lip with hesitation and scratched his nose with his thumb. “Sometimes it was more simple kinda shit, like petty robberies and car shoppin', fuckin' atm scams,” Mickey looked away from Ian and out the window with an expression that the other man just couldn’t seem to read. “Just bullshit kinda stuff, man,” he finalized, passing the cigarette back to Ian, though it was almost burned down to the butt. Ian finished it, then flicked the filter through a small gap of the wire screen, watching the glow of the cherry tumbling down to the ground.

“I used to do a little car shopping with my older brother,” said Ian, “Lip,” he elaborated, “We’re about nine months apart like you and the two of your siblings,” Ian added, trying not to let his eyes wander to the wall above Mickey’s bed, even knowing he couldn’t see it anyway. He remained watching Mickey’s face as the man listened quietly to his words, “We used to sell stereos, speakers, engine parts, all kinds of shit just outta the garage for a while. We’d just file numbers off of stuff, ya know?” his eyes flickered between Mickey’s and he saw the man give a small smirk through the dark, “I know its was still pretty stupid, and not shit compared to the shit you were doing,” Ian added in a bit of a jumbled voice, feeling a little embarrassed. Then he saw Mickey cock his head and give a light nod of agreement.

“Money's money, man,” he said simply. Ian relaxed a bit and nodded as well.

“There was also this guy that my sister dated for a while,” said Ian, “He used to steal like luxury cars to strip, alter and sell. I helped him with that a few times,” Mickey raised his eyebrows, eyes trailing over Ian’s face, causing him to swallow, “Just, uh, like lookout and follow car kinda shit, though,” he explained further, “But, he’d give me a good cut for it every time,” Ian shrugged, and the other man nodded again.

“Sounds like a good fuckin' deal,” said Mickey, with a small smirk on his face, then thumbed his bottom lip, pausing again before he spoke, “My uncle's got a fuckin' chop shop,” he said, “He used to send me, my brothers and my fuckin' cousins all out to find cars to drive back for him to strip to shit,” Mickey chuckled, with a sharp chin and handsome dimples. Ian tried not to let his own smile spread watching him. “That shit was always pretty fuckin' fun though,” he added with a loose wave of his hand, “I just always liked to steal shit, I guess,” another light laugh escaped his lips. Ian gave him a nod and smile, genuinely intrigued and happy to be trusted with Mickey’s personal life, grateful for that trust.

Both men fell into another silence, tracing each other’s features, feeling the air around them grow heavy, thick, foggy. Ian shifted just slightly, his knee brushing against Mickey’s, a bit and tried not to tense at the delicate streak of sparks the contact left behind. He quickly shifted again to move his leg away, the other man watching his movements. Then Mickey suddenly moved a bit closer, sliding smoothly across the ledge toward Ian, closer until the sides of their legs were touching, turning toward him ever so slightly, blue eyes sparkling over the other man’s face. Ian’s breath slowed as he exhaled a flow of anxious nerves.

“You tired?” Mickey asked in a low, leveled voice, “Goin' to sleep?” Ian fought to remain and appear calm, ignoring the rush of flutters overflowing from his chest, his mind, tingling down along his spine.

“I'm not tired,” he replied, “But I know that if I lay down, I’ll fall asleep.”

Then Ian tensed for another reason entirely, the ugly, creeping wave of dread suddenly splashing lightly over the edge, in the back of his mind, beginning to churn and swirl, pulling at his thoughts. He looked away from Mickey, turning his face to stare hopelessly into the dark. His head drooped a bit and scrunched up his face, his skin throbbing from the fresh slices they bore, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. He felt a tremble shake his limbs ever so slightly, so he placed his face into his palm, trying to once again steady his nerves and calm his breathing. Mickey suddenly lost his smirk and leaned down a bit with a squint, attempting to see him through the pitch, appearing as though he was unsure of what just happen.

“Aye, man,” said Mickey, reaching a tentative, yet comforting hand out to curl around the redhead’s knee, giving it a squeeze, causing the man’s hands to fall away from his face and lift it up to meet his eyes, “I know it’s none of my fuckin' business,” he said, his voice staying low, “But what the fuck is goin' on up there?” His hand left Ian’s knee for just a moment to reach up to his brow, gently brushing long, red strands out of his eyes, his thumb smoothing softly over his temple before returning to it’s original place on his knee.

Ian let his sight wander over Mickey’s face, admiring the arch of his brow, and the thick crease of his mouth covered by full, pink lips, then glancing up along his jaw, his ear, his hair line, before landing back on his eyes. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“I have nightmares,” he said quietly, “Really fucked up stuff,” Ian added, “And I’m just scared to sleep,” he said even lower, hardly above a whisper, looking back down at his lap once more.

He felt so embarrassed, so ashamed, for being afraid of nightmares like some pathetic little kid, unable to handle the terrifying visions that fill his mind in the night. Ian felt himself frown a bit more, his shoulders slumping and he raised a palm to rub his forehead, then to the back of his neck. He waited for the other man to make some comment about him being ridiculous, or childish, immature, but that didn’t happen. Ian felt the hand on his knee squeeze again, it’s thumb beginning to trace circles along the side of it’s cap, softly, gently.

“Aye,” Mickey said again, his hand gripping harder when he spoke, “You know where I’m at, huh?” He gave a flick of his head toward his own bed nearby, “If you like, can’t fuckin' sleep or whatever,” Mickey added slowly as if he were thinking of what words to use as he was saying them, “You ain’t gonna fuckin' bother me none,” he shrugged, still looking Ian in the face, calm and collected.

Ian stared down at Mickey’s hand rested on his knee, watching his thumb slowly rub against it, then turned his head back up to meet his eyes, gazing into them in silence. There was a tension, not necessarily a harsh one, but it was intense. He could feel it as he saw the other man’s eyes tracing down over his cheekbones, then down to his lips and further down along his neck. Ian took a deep breath, taking a quick glance back down to the other man’s hand and placed his on top of it, squeezing back, letting himself smile at Mickey just a bit, it being returned by Mickey with a small smile of his own.

Then his lips started to tingle, his nerves started to scream, as he saw the other man’s eyes fall back to his lips, letting his own eyes do the same. He tried to take a deep breath but his lungs were too shaky as he slowly started to lean in closer to his roommate, taking a chance that he was so terrified, yet so anxiously excited to take. The other man’s eyes moved back up and met his own, seeing his movement, not quite reciprocating, but not moving away either, just remaining still. Ian swallowed and closed his eyes as the man’s intoxicatingly sweet, smoky scent began to wisp around his nose, filling his senses, filling his mind. But instead of being met by what he was hoping would be a soft set of full, round lips, Ian's kiss was met by the smooth, slightly prickly, stubbled skin of Mickey’s cheek, just above the corner of his jaw. The redhead opened his eyes, and felt his chest squeeze tight, flushed with embarrassment, disappointment, humiliation and he quickly drew his face back, now beginning to stand up and move away.

“Fuck, I’m sorry,” Ian fumbled over his words, “I shouldn’t have thought- I just- fuck, I’m really fucking sorry- like, shit- I'm just sorry,” he turned to walk back over to his own bed in a state of distraught shame when he was caught and stopped by a firm grasp around his wrist. He turned back slowly almost expecting to be punched in the face, or cussed out and threatened but instead he just saw Mickey, still seated on the window ledge with yet another unreadable expression, not looking at Ian, but more downward toward the floor. There was a moment of pause where Ian didn’t move and Mickey didn’t let go, just thinking, silent, still.

“It ain't…” Mickey began quietly, still not looking at him, pausing briefly to think about his words before saying them aloud, “It ain't like you’re barkin' up the wrong fuckin' tree, alright?” he said slowly, hesitating again before glancing up at Ian with a face full of caution, “I’m just not a fuckin' kisser, man,” Mickey explained, “But it ain’t like that,” he assured, seeing Ian’s worried, nervous face, “It ain’t you. It’s my own shit.”

Ian’s chest fell, the tension in his muscles flooding away, his brain growing airy with relief and disbelief. The flutters were singing again, dancing, weaving through his insides and it was making his limbs tingle. Mickey wasn’t shooting him down. The signals that he’d been so sure he’d noticed, he’d sensed were real. Mickey was gay, and not at all uncomfortable with Ian liking him, in fact, he liked Ian too and Ian almost couldn't believe it. The redhead suddenly couldn’t take his eyes off the man in front of him, appearing so unsure himself, so vulnerable and it made Ian feel so much better about what just happened. Ian was nervous and so was Mickey. They were equal right now and that thought was incredibly comforting.

He let his lips spread into a small smile, giving the other man a small nod of understanding. The dark haired man’s face relaxed exceptionally, letting his eyes fall down to the wrist he had ahold of. He smirked, slid his hand into Ian’s, interlacing their fingers and gave him a gentle pull to come sit back beside him again. Ian felt his skin flush red from a thick, bright, blush and he was once again thankful that the dark seemed to cover it up, now walking back over returning to his seat on the ledge. When he did, he paused, then turned his head back to Mickey to ask him a question.

“Have you ever kissed anyone before?” Ian asked curiously, hesitantly. Mickey shrugged, then gave a nod.

“Well, yeah,” he replied, “Not in a long fuckin' time though,” Mickey admitted, “Just not my thing.” Ian had to admit, he was a little disappointed, but he was still just too happy at the discovery of knowing that the interest he had in Mickey was mutual, to be bothered much by it for long. That could be enough for Ian, for now.

“I get it,” said Ian and Mickey appeared quite grateful for the understanding.

Then a thought popped into his head and Ian suddenly wanted to ask something else, but he was nervous, afraid, though the craving he’d had in his mind for days seemed to be overwhelming his resistance. He looked down at their hands, seeing their fingers moving gently against each others as if they were both enjoying and savoring the contact, then he tried.

“So, if you won’t kiss me,” he said lowly, slowly, “Can I kiss you?” Ian looked back up and Mickey smirked a bit, thumbed his lip, then gave a slight tilt of his head, arching a perfectly intrigued eyebrow.

“Whatcha mean, Red?” he asked smoothly, blue eyes flickering between green.

Ian took another deep, shaky breath, trying to gather his courage again and began to lean back in, ever so slowly, his eyes tracing down the length of Mickey’s neck, craving the flavor of the man’s skin on his tongue. The other man’s eyes began to hood and his smirk began to fade into an expression of nerves and anticipation, watching as Ian slowly moved closer to him. He could smell him again as he leaned in, getting close enough to brush the tip of his nose along Mickey’s earlobe, feeling him tense and speckle with goosebumps at the touch. Ian moved even closer, gently, carefully placing his lips on the skin of Mickey's neck just under his ear, hearing the man give a small, shaky inhale. He held his lips in place, then released, replacing it with another kiss, hearing the other man’s breath hitch just slightly, his fingers curling more tightly around Ian’s. Then he placed another a bit lower, parting his lips just slightly and the muscles of Mickey’s neck flexed as he swallowed.

Ian felt the man’s hand release from his own, then curl around his waist, Mickey’s arm wrapping around the small of his back. Ian’s heart fluttered, purring, erupting and he moved to wrap his own arm around his roommate in the same fashion, sliding even closer, his other hand moving up to hold the side of Mickey’s jaw. And Mickey let him, even tilting his head outward just a bit to expose more of his neck, his breath growing heavier. Ian brushed his thumb along Mickey’s jaw as he moved his lips again, opening them wider, the tip of his tongue slipping out to massage the skin underneath, humming into the man’s neck, his scent, his soft, sweet pulse.

Mickey flexed his arm and grasped the curve of Ian’s hip, tightening into a grip of fabric, pulling the redhead’s chest into his as the man continued to kiss and suck and hum. A small, low moan began to escape Mickey’s lips, causing him to bite down and stifle it, his eyebrows knitted together. Ian felt the nerves in the other man’s leg begin to tremble lightly against his own, so he dropped his hand from Mickey’s jaw and squeezed his knee, moving up just slightly onto his thigh, and began rubbing his thumb into soothing little circles. Mickey dropped his hand to Ian’s, squeezing again with a firm, hard grip, his trembles nearly vibrating. Then Ian opened his mouth and bit down, sinking sharp teeth into a tender, sensitive spot on the other man’s neck, just on the curve where it began to meet his shoulder. He felt Mickey’s entire body tense and he let out a deep, low, pleasurable groan.

“Fuuuck, Red,” he said with his head still tipped back, then bit his bottom lip, “You’re gettin' me goin' too fuckin' fast, man,” Mickey sounded as though he was perhaps trying to complain, but he made no move to stop anything. Ian gave another small nibble to his neck and covered it with a kiss.

“Do you want me to stop?” Ian breathed against his skin before kissing a rather sensitive spot just behind his ear.

“Fuck, no,” Mickey replied quickly through another shaky breath, “But ya probably fuckin' should,” he tried to chuckle, his eyes closed. Ian creased his brow and slowly sat back to look Mickey in the eyes, which opened at the loss of contact.

“Why?” Ian asked, “Did I do something wrong?” he wondered out loud. Mickey immediately squeezed Ian’s hand that still remain on his leg and quickly shook his head.

“No,” he assured with a firm tone to his voice, “Ain’t got nothin' to do with you, man,” Mickey held eye contact with him, trying to show Ian how much he genuinely meant his words, “Like I told ya, it’s just my own shit that I gotta fuckin' deal with first,” he tried to explain in a calm, leveled voice, “Ain’t nothin' you gotta worry about.”

Ian didn’t exactly understand, but he wasn’t going to push the issue, content with what Mickey was giving him now and willing to wait for more until he was ready. If Mickey ever needed understanding or any kind of support, he would definitely try to give him that, no pressure. He gave his roommate’s hand an affectionate rub, then another nod of understanding, leaning back a bit. Their eyes wandered over each other’s faces with a different feeling now. There was still wonder and curiosity, but there was also something definite and comforting to each of them, knowing the other had feelings that were much more than platonic. Both men let themselves smile, their hands staying weaved together until Ian suddenly let an unexpected yawn escape his lips, making Mickey smile wider.

“Looks like you’re finally gettin' fuckin' tired, Red,” he said and Ian dropped his eyes, slowly turning his toward the direction of his bed, the dread returning with a brutal, nauseating force. The other man noticed and gave his hand another squeeze, “Aye,” he said gently, “I ain’t far, alright?” he cocked his head toward his own bed, trying to sound reassuring, “I mean it, man,” said Mickey, “It ain’t a fuckin' bother.”

His words were comforting, but Ian was still nervous, though he tried not to let it show, instead managing a small, short nod as Mickey continued to study him. Ian turned his face back toward his bed, knowing it was somewhere in the dark nearby and he took a slow, deep breath. Then he remembered something that Mickey had mentioned before and looked back over at him.

“I thought you said you smoke before bed?” he queried. Mickey smirked again and arched an eyebrow.

“You askin' me to smoke you up again already, Red?” he asked back with a light chuckle in his voice. Ian chuckled as well and gave a shake of his head.

“No, I mean, you said it helps you sleep or whatever,” Ian elaborated Mickey tipped his chin and gave a one shouldered shrug.

“I do if I fuckin' got enough,” said Mickey, “Gettin' low though,” he explained, “Gotta get more.” Ian pushed out his lip and felt brave enough to ask another question.

“How do you even get bud in here?” Ian asked with a tilt of his head. Mickey chewed his lip and looked over his face, silent for a moment, then responded.

“Maybe I’ll let ya in on more a my shit one a these days, man,” he said lightly, “Shit don’t matter tonight though.” Ian nodded and didn’t push the issue further.

Both men, very slowly, very hesitantly detached their hands, then just looked at each other with small knowing smiles before each turned and approached their own bed, lying down. Ian heard Mickey settle under his blanket, then adjust slightly more letting out a heavy, tired sigh. He tried to get comfortable himself but was finding it extremely difficult, like there was a wrench clamped onto his stomach and he felt sick. The back of his mind replayed images of what he’d last dreamt about and something told him that if he were to dream of being there again, it would only get incredibly worse. Ian clamped his eyes shut and tried to think of something else.

His mind immediately went to Mickey and he felt his lips spread into a small smile, now turning his head, opening his eyes, trying to peer through the dark at the man who lay in his own bed on the other side of the room. Ian couldn’t see him, but he could hear the slow, steady breaths of his lungs falling into unconsciousness. It was comforting. He closed his eyes once more, turning his head back and tried to keep his mind where it was in that very moment, wonderful, warm, excited thoughts of the blue eyed man whose taste still lingered on his tongue. Ian hoped it would be enough to keep his mind calm, at ease, clear of the awful, disgusting things that lurked just underneath his conscious. But just as felt his body grow heavy and sleep begin to take him, he felt a weight on his chest, his nerves pulsed with fear and his gut gave a sharp, nasty twist and he thought he might puke.

***

He shifted with an ache, cramped within his small sleeping space in the back of the cab, feeling a terrible throb in his skull. His eyes felt heavy and it was so hard to move, hardly able to turn his head, trying to squint and adjust his sight to view the front seats of the truck. He could only see the sides of his mother and the driver, each in their own seat, engaged in conversation. Ian could only really hear the rise and fall of his chest as his lungs filled with each breath and the dull pounding of his heartbeat, radiating against the side of his head. He tried is best to make out what they were saying but could only catch a little bit.

“We already made our deal, honey,” the man grumbled out, “A half gram and a lift to the next stop. I’m makin' good on that,” he insisted, “Ain’t giving you anything else,” the trucker laughed and his gut shook. The woman turned in her seat, looking over toward him outstretching an upturned palm.

“Why don’t we make a new deal?” she asked, trying to persuade him with a smile and a fluttery bat of her eyes, “I got a lot to offer,” she winked at him and reached out to brush her fingertips delicately down the length of the man’s large, round upper arm, to which he grinned back at her with big, fat cheeks. The man then gave a hearty grunt, glanced back and forth between her and the road in front of him.

“Well, I guess I can give you a little somethin' if you give me a little somethin, hmm?” He waggled his eyebrows at her, one arm leaving the steering wheel and reaching toward his lap, suddenly sounding with a brassy, metallic clinking. She smiled at him wider and began to lick her lips.

“I knew we could work something out,” she breathed, slowly moving out of her seat, over toward the trucker, hunched in the small space.

Ian watched as his mother knelt down in the small space next to the driver’s seat, and bent over the man’s lap to which the man sat back a bit more, letting out a heavy exhale. He could hear slick, wet noises that made his stomach turn and his throat begin to gag. He started to turn again, trying to look away and tune out the disgusting sounds he was hearing when a set of baggy, hooded eyes met his own through one of the mirrors up front. The man could see that Ian was awake, just enough to look over at him and he held his gaze as the slurping continued. He saw the man grin at him through the reflection with big, yellow teeth. Ian felt his upper lip quiver with disgust as he resumed his motion of rolling over, as slow and difficult as it was.

Everything seemed to go fuzzy for a long while, the sounds around him disappearing again, but his head kept pounding and his stomach continued to twist in a sickly, painful way. He rolled over with a loud groan, feeling as though his brain was melting and his eyes were bleeding dry, exhausted. Ian lifted a hand to his face and rubbed his forehead, attempting to open his eyes again, and look once more toward the front in search of his mother. Although, what he saw made him crease his brow.

In the passenger seat, he saw a limp arm extending out, but he was unable to see any other part of the person attached to it. He really didn’t need to see though, already knowing that the arm belonged to his mother. It was pale and flushed with dark, bold veins, with a piece of rubber tubing tied tightly around her bicep, whitening the skin around it. His eyes fell down to a space of filthy carpeted floor between the seats and saw the syringe, appearing to still have blood along with an unknown substance pooled inside of it. Ian tried to lift his head, beginning to reach an arm out toward his mother.

“Mom?” he called in a hushed, groggy voice, but got no reply.

He looked up past her, through the windshield and noticed that they were no longer moving, seemingly parked on the side of some desolate strip of road, the first streaks of dawn pushing their way up from the horizon. 'What the fuck?' His head started pounding again, throbbing from the base of his skull as he reached to pinch his nose and rub the slumber from his eyes. Ian tried to sit up, but found it too hard, as he was much too weak and his body just hurt so fucking bad.

He heard a grunt and shuffle from the driver’s side and Ian turned his face back to the front, attempting to see where the noise was coming from. The trucker was adjusting in his seat, now beginning to rise and turn toward the back space. The redhead tilted his head to look up at him with a confused expression, being met with a creepily suspicious smile staring back at him. Ian drew his eyebrows together tightly and tried once more to sit up, but was gently nudged back down by the man’s large, sweaty palm.

“What the fuck?” Ian groaned as pain shot through his body, still sick and sore.

The man’s smile widened as he leaned forward with, dirty, grimy hands grabbing at his clothes, attempting to squeeze at the muscles and limbs underneath, sliding his tongue across his teeth. Ian tried to move and swat the man’s hands away, but he was so weak, so sick, it didn’t help much.

“The fuck are you doing?” he managed to choke out a bit more loudly, the man’s hands moved lower and his massive girth of a body began pressing down onto him as he moved further into the boy’s already extremely confined space. But his words didn’t halt or detour the man in the slightest, as he proceeded to grope and grab. The trucker let out a gargly chuckle and moved even closer, attempting to crawl on top of the young man, his hand curling into a fist between his legs. Ian felt like he was going to puke, disgusted, defiled, in pain, as the other man pulled forcefully at his jeans, trying to yank them down.

“No!” Ian tried to yell, but was muffled by a large, greasy hand over his face, shaking his head harshly before letting go. He kept struggling but his hands kept being pitifully slapped away.

“Please,” he began to whimper, “Stop.”

The man laughed again, grabbing him by the hips and flipping him over, shoving his chest and face into the dingy little mattress as Ian heard another jingle of a belt buckle. He reached out, clutching the edge, trying to pull himself out from under the weight of the big, fat man on top of him, but he couldn’t. He was too heavy. With every inhale, the exhale was more painful as his body became pressed, feeling as though he was being crushed, flattened, run over by a fucking bus. Ian felt the trucker's fingers reach around his waist to unbutton his pants and Ian tried again.

“Stop,” he begged, tears beginning to pour from his eyes, “Please, no.”

But the motions didn’t stop, the pressure didn’t lift and he still couldn’t move. He glanced back toward his mother’s arm, seeing it still slung out from the seat she lay passed out in, hoping she would awake and hear him, see him, but she didn’t move.

“Mom…” he pleaded, reaching out toward her once again.

The trucker grumbled from behind him, then reached out for the boy’s hand, grabbing him tightly by the wrist and twisted his arm behind his back. Ian let out a yelp of pain and was shoved back down to muffle his voice. He felt his jeans being pulled down to his knees, and his boxers following after, cold, vulnerable, exposed. Ian tried to hold his breath, clamping his eyes shut, knowing what was coming and that no matter how hard he tried to fight, or how much he begged, he wasn’t going to be able to stop it.

Then came the pain, so much pain. He cried, sobbing into the mattress, as he felt like he was being stabbed and punctured over and over again. Ian continued to struggle, scream and beg, hoping maybe his mother would awake and help him, or that it would make the man stop, but none of that happened. He shook with sickly trembles, from the burning, the tearing, and the weight, the pressure of the massive man on top of him squeezing the air from his lungs. He curled one of his hands into whatever blanketed material covered the bed beneath him, his other hand finding the man’s shit, before it was ripped a way with a sharp, upward yank of his arm. Ian cried out from excruciation, and it just kept hurting. Every time he thought it couldn’t possibly feel worse, another stab of pain would shoot through his body, forcing his gut to lurch and his head to pound, making him pray for death. He looked toward his mother’s hand one last time seeing it sway slightly with the increasingly violent movement of the truck, but otherwise still unmoving.

“Mom,” he whimpered through his tears, pleading, begging, hoping she would hear him, that she would move and see him, that she would just answer him in some way, that she would save him. But once again, to Ian’s immense despair, his hope shattering to pieces, nothing ever came.

***

Ian suddenly shot awake, swinging his body up in a swift sudden movement to sit, gasping, crying, staring out into a pitch black room. His eyes were wide, moving frantically around the room, his chest rising and falling violently, almost hyperventilating, shaken, trembling, terrified. He quickly brought his hands to his face, dropping his head, continuing to sob into his palms, unable to control it, the thoughts and sensations of the horrible experience still lingering fresh in his mind.

There was a sudden tentative grip on his shoulder and he gasped, jolting away from the contact. Ian turned his head, seeing his roommate’s silhouette standing in front of him, having gotten out of bed. He stared up into the face of his form for a long moment, then saw the man’s hand slowly reach back out and grip his shoulder once more. Ian let him, feeling grounding and security in the touch, feeling the reassuring squeeze and gentle brush of the man’s thumb. His breath calmed quite a bit, but his nerves were still flaring. He looked away, dropping his face back to his hands, trying to take a deep, slow breath, but he couldn’t stop the tears from filling his eyes.

Then Ian felt the bed lightly dip, as Mickey sat down beside him, continuing to rub and squeeze the shoulder of Ian’s now closest to him. He lifted his head a bit and turned to see the dark haired man seated next to him, his blue eyes twinkling through the dark, looking over Ian’s face, but remaining quiet, just trying to give him some comfort of not being alone. The redhead let his hands fall to his lap and he continued to blink tears from his eyes, no longer sobbing, but still wet and puffy. Mickey moved his hand from Ian’s shoulder for just a moment to gently brush a tear away from his cheek with the pad of his thumb, then returned to it’s place.

Ian continued to look at him, hesitant, wanting to move closer to Mickey, just needing the comfort of squeezing his arms tightly around another person and to feel them do it back. His eyes dropped just a bit to the crook in Mickey’s neck, right where it met his shoulder, the same place he’d so happily been able to kiss just a few hours ago, and turned just slightly to see if the other man would allow him to get closer.

Without hesitation, Mickey smoothed his palm across Ian’s upper back to rest on his other shoulder blade, giving him a slight pull. Ian immediately moved closer, wrapping his arms tightly around Mickey’s waist, the other man returning it with a firm squeeze across his shoulders. He pushed his face into his roommate’s neck, filling his senses with the man’s wonderful aroma, calming a bit more from it. Mickey stayed silent, and held him close in the dark, his hand beginning to smooth slow circles around the length of his back before stopping with a gentle, yet firm grip behind his neck, his thumb rubbing softly behind his ear.

Ian was grateful that he didn’t need to explain anything and Mickey didn’t ask, he was just there, he was with him and that meant the world. He didn’t want to have to talk about it, but he didn’t want to be alone either and somehow Mickey understood that. They both stayed silent for a long time, the room beginning to grow just slightly lighter, letting them see each other better, but it was still too early for the doors to unlock. Mickey dipped his head slightly to speak, the tips of his fingers gently massaging the base of Ian’s scalp, rubbing the top of his neck.

“Want me to stay?” he asked, barely above a whisper. Ian didn’t have to think, nodding weakly into his neck and squeezing tighter around his waist. “Lay down,” Mickey advised in a low voice, and he did.

Ian slowly laid back down, rolling onto his side and felt his roommate lay as well, adjusting his body to fit his, wrapping his arms around him and bending his legs. It felt secure, comforting, safe, feeling Mickey’s muscles and heat holding him tightly, closely, firmly, just the way he needed him to. It was almost strange how well the other man seemed to know exactly what would help Ian when things like this happen, but he was thankful for Mickey’s willingness to help regardless.

It took a long time for Ian’s mind to ease enough into relaxing, but when he did he finally able to fall back asleep, unafraid of it, somehow knowing that laying with Mickey was all the protection he needed.

When he finally woke again, the sun was bright, gleaming in shiny, sparkly streaks through the window, burning his eyes as he tried to open them. He ran a hand down his face and blinked a few times, trying to open them again. At first, taking hardly a glance around, he thought the room was empty and he’d woken up alone once again, instantly feeling angry and irritated.

“Fuck,” he muttered.

“The fuck's your problem?”

Ian turned his head and there was Mickey standing near the dresser with fresh clothes and wet hair, peering over at him with an arched eyebrow and a small smirk. His anger suddenly melted away, replaced by shivering, tingling, singing little flutters dancing up his throat. Ian smiled at him and combed his fingers through his hair.

“No problem,” he replied with a small shake of his head, swinging his legs out from underneath his blanket, off his bed and onto the floor. He stretched his arms and stood up, turning his head to look at Mickey who still stood looking back at him with obvious appeal in his eyes.

“You just get back from the showers?” Ian asked. Mickey gave a nod.

“Yeah, man,” he confirmed, “Havin' hot water's a fuckin' luxury for me, Red,” said Mickey, “Take as many as I fuckin' can,” he continued to smirk, then cocked his head, “And no one likes to fuckin' stink,” Mickey chuckled. Ian’s cheeks flushed a light, rougey pink as he remembered the man’s wonderfully addictive scent.

“I like how you smell,” said Ian, with much more confidence after the events of the night before. Mickey’s smile widened and he bit his lip as his eyes trailed down along Ian’s chest, then back up to his eyes. He then made a few steps to stand much closer, stopping right in front of him.

“You 'bout to head down to med line, then?” Mickey asked in a low voice, his sight trailing down to Ian’s cheekbones, then his lips, before flickering back up to his eyes. Ian gave a small nod, trying to control his breath as the flutters clogged his lungs.

“Right after I take a piss and brush my teeth,” he answered to which he got an accepting nod in return.

“Alright,” said Mickey, “I'll wait for ya?” he offered questioningly, reaching his hand out grab Ian’s loosely, lightly brushing his thumb over the top of it.

“Only if you want to,” Ian shrugged, smiling at the contact. He didn’t want to inconvenience the man in any way no matter how much he wanted to spend time with him.

“I do,” Mickey replied quietly, eyes tracing back over his face, his fingers lacing together and moving between Ian’s.

“Okay,” the redhead gave a small nod, still smiling. Mickey gave another subtle bit of his lip and quick tip of his chin.

“You’ll gotta go over to fuckin' D-Wing though,” Mickey added suddenly, “Got the one down here taped off for cleanin' and shit,” he said the last part with a bit of an unusual tone, hardened his smirk and cocked an eyebrow. Then the cuts in Ian’s face flared just a bit and he suddenly remembered the other thing that happened last night, his stomach suddenly pulling into a tight twist. But he hid his discomfort and held his expression.

“Alright,” said Ian managing a rather nonchalant shrug. Mickey seemed to approve of his attitude, sucking in his lower lip as if fighting down another smile, then gave another tip of his chin, sliding his fingers out of Ian’s.

“Alright,” Mickey repeated lowly, pausing for just a second before walking around him to sit on his bed, reaching to pick up his book and flip it open.

Ian turned back and collected his toothpaste and took brush, now walking out the door into the hall. He didn’t go to D-Wing, however. Instead he rounded his own circle, making his way toward the bathroom, curious, just wanting to see. When he approached the doorway, it was open with a single diagonal strip of yellow tape and a sign taped nearby that stated the bathroom was out of order. He hesitated, tapping his fingers against his tube of toothpaste, debating with himself. Ian glanced around, seeing no one else in the hallway, then turned back toward the door, ducking down a bit to slip under the strip of tape and into the lavatory.

He walked in very slowly, nervous of what he would find. He glanced downward toward the narrow, strip of shower area, seeing a single mirror near the end covered in blue plastic. Ian remembered that was the mirror that his face had been smashed into, the shards of glass no longer littering the floor or sink beneath it. He clenched his jaw and swallowed, moving in further toward the spot where he’d last seen Seth, poking his head around a slight corner. Then he paused.

There was a janitor with a mop, smearing around a large puddle of blood atop the tile. He was a young man with short, brown hair, wearing dark blue coveralls and earphones in his ears, humming as he dipped his mop in it’s bucket, then rang it out to continue cleaning, as slow going as it seemed to be. Ian swallowed again at the sight of blood, seeing a lot more than he remembered there being. He couldn’t help but stare, the sounds and visions of the assault suddenly flooding back to him once again as he stood silent and still.

“Oh, shit- Excuse me?” The voice pulled him from his brief trance, looking up to see that the janitor had turned toward him, placing the handle of his mop into a single hand and pulling an earbud from his ear with the other, “Off limits right now, man. Sorry,” he gave a shrug and a wave of his hand, but Ian said nothing, his eyes falling back to the blood on the floor. The man glanced down toward his feet, then back up at Ian, “Had a little accident in here last night,” he explained. Ian glanced back up and stared for a moment.

“That’s not an accident,” Ian thought out loud before realizing he’d actually spoken, with a gesture of his chin toward the floor. He met the janitor's eyes again, seeing the man crease his brow slightly and look over his face for a moment.

“You already heard about this, huh?” the guy asked, pointing at the blood.

Ian was a bit confused at the question, but relieved that the guy hadn’t seem to think much of his statement. Ian shrugged and nodded, as it seemed the only real option. The man nodded back, then scoffed, shook his head and continued mopping.

“And the assholes who work here say that the patients don’t comprehend anything,” he shook his head again, “That’s such bullshit, isn’t it?” he glanced back up at Ian who remained silent and quite perplexed, still clutching his toothbrush and paste, then gave a quick, simple tip of his chin in agreement. The man let out an exhale and looked Ian over for a moment, as if checking to make sure he wasn’t any threat of harm, then shrugged.

“I'm sorry, man,” he said with a wave of his hand, “What is it you were coming in to do?” the man asked, “I don’t think I can let you shower in here, but if you just need to take a shit or something, go right ahead,” he gave a sweeping motion of his hand toward the toilets and urinals, then went back to his mop once more, taking another glance up at Ian, waiting for his response.

“Just gotta brush my teeth and take a piss,” he replied holding up his toiletries. The man gave a nod, then a cock of his head for Ian to proceed, turning his face back to the floor and replacing his earbud.

Ian hesitated another brief second before he made his way past the man, careful not to step in the blood, walking over to a urinal first to relieve himself, then around to a sink to brush his teeth, avoiding the one with the broken mirror. He finished up quick and began walking back toward the door, when he stopped, looking back over toward the janitor who was now humming again, ringing out his mop and setting back atop the tile with a wet plop. He turned in a circle as he cleaned, then noticed Ian had paused nearby and pulled his earphone back out.

“Sorry, you say something, man?” he asked, halting his mopping movements. Ian began to shake his head and then stopped.

“Did you see him?” Ian asked, with a gesture of his brow to the floor. The man glanced down, then back up at the redhead with hesitation, then raised his eyebrows.

“You know the guy or something?” the janitor asked.

“Sort of,” said Ian with a one shouldered shrug. The man let out another exhale then gave a tilt of his head.

“A little bit,” he replied, “Halfway down to the Medical ward I guess he started convulsing and hacked a bunch of blood and shit all over the floor,” he explained, “Passed him with a couple doctors on my way down to clean up the mess. Then I had to come down here.”

“How’d he look?” Ian asked quietly. The man frowned and sucked a hiss in through his teeth.

“Not too good,” the man admitted, “Wasn’t conscious, all busted up and one of his hands looked pretty gnarly,” he gave him apologetic expression, “But he was breathing, so that’s something,” the janitor said with a nod, “Sorry, man,” he condoled. Ian gave a nod back, then began to look away so he could walk back out of the bathroom when he noticed the outline of a cigarette pack in the man’s pocket. His lips tingled with craving and he fidgeted his fingers.

“Hey, uh, could I bum one of those?” Ian asked with a slight point to the man’s pocket. He looked down to where Ian was pointing, then back up to his face appearing cautious and hesitant, as if he were weighing his options. Then gave a nod, moving his mop handle to one hand, pulling the pack from his pocket.

“Yeah,” he replied, pulling one out, he and Ian taking a step toward each other for it, “A cigarette can’t be any worse than all the other shit they pump you full of in here.” Ian pinched the cigarette between his fingers, then frowned at the man’s words.

“Excuse me?” Ian asked, looking for some kind of explanation. The young janitor immediately made another apologetic face appearing as though he’d just said something extremely embarrassing.

“Oh, I didn’t mean any offense,” he waved a palm at him, “I just know there’s like medication or whatever you gotta take in here, right?” the man tried to explain. Ian raised an eyebrow at him, but then relaxed his face some, now slipping the cigarette into the pocket of his sweatpants.

“It’s cool,” said Ian, brushing it off, now making steps toward the door again.

“Alright, then,” the man said in departure. Ian gave another tip of his chin.

“Thanks for the cigarette,” Ian responded.

The man gave a nod, replaced his earbud for a final time, then turned back to his work. The redhead made quick steps down the hall toward his room, hoping he hadn’t made his roommate wait too long. He collected Mickey from their room, who didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, and together they headed down toward the medical office for morning med line. Ian went first, just like the previous morning, Mickey appearing as if he were observing somewhat over his shoulder.

Though, Ian didn’t mind, remembering how much better he felt having to deal with the creepy staff member with his roommate beside him. He thought maybe that was why Mickey was actually doing it, perhaps able to tell how uncomfortable the man made him. Ian fought down a smile at the thought of knowing that Mickey seems to notice these things. But the smile on his face and the blush on his cheeks faded instantly however, when it was suddenly Ian’s turn at the window.

“Mr. Gallagher,” the staff member smiled in greeting, “How are we today?” he asked. Ian gave him a bored, flat expression.

“Can I please just have my meds?” he requested simply.

“Certainly,” the man replied turning toward his medical cart, “I just enjoy taking an interest in my patients,” he continued to smile.

“I’m not your patient,” Ian replied bluntly. He heard Mickey chuckle behind him and the man in the office turned his head to look at the dark haired man just beyond his shoulder.

“Mr. Milkovich, if you could please just wait a moment, I will be right with you,” the man advised in somewhat of a mocking tone. Mickey’s face hardened instantly.

“Aye, why don’t you just shut the fuck up for a change?” Mickey shot back and Ian’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, turning to look at him with slightly parted lips.

The man pursed his lips, looking rather angry, but he did as he was told and shut his mouth, returning to gathering the proper cups for the patient in front of him. Ian stood confused, watching the two men before him, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on, but coming up empty. The staff member handed Ian his cups, which he swallowed, then just before the man could speak again, Mickey grasped a hand to Ian’s shoulder, glaring at him.

“He don’t gotta show you shit,” Mickey ordered, moving Ian aside and stepping up to the window, “He swallowed 'em,” he stated firmly, “That’s all you gotta fuckin' know.” He continued to glare at the man, who was now hesitating. “Well, come the fuck on,” Mickey demanded insistently, “Give me my shit so Red and I can get the fuck outta here,” he said with a tilt of his head toward Ian.

The man gathered Mickey’s cups, handing them over, then did a double take of him suddenly, as if he just noticed something that he’d missed before. He creased his brow, then snapped his head toward Ian with an expression of confusion and surprise. Mickey downed his cups, then creased his own brow at the man.

“The fuck ya lookin' at?” he questioned in a snap, hardening his stance. The man looked back at Mickey and gave a slight shake of his head.

“Not a thing,” the man replied, with a small smile on his face.

Mickey narrowed his eyes a bit, then crumpled the empty paper cups into his ‘FUCK' fist and dropped them behind the door onto the office floor, then sucked his teeth at the man before turning back to Ian, who quickly fell to his side and began walking with him. They remained silent for a few moments before Ian turned to look at him.

“The fuck's up with that guy?” he asked, pointing his thumb back the way they’d just came. Mickey clenched his jaw, not looking back at Ian.

“Just a sick son of a bitch, man" said Mickey with a slight shake of his head, then turned to look straight into the other man’s eyes, “You stay the fuck away from that motherfucker, you hear me, Red?”

Ian scanned over his face, seeing how serious he really was. Whatever the deal was with this guy, Mickey obviously didn’t want him to be involved in any way. Ian was still confused and quite curious, but something about Mickey’s expression, his tone, his body language made Ian want to trust him just based on those things alone. Ian never thought Mickey seemed like the kind of guy to act so incredibly serious about something that didn’t call for it. So, he was going to trust him on it, and stay away. He nodded, which seemed to give Mickey some comfort, the tension in his neck muscles melting away just a bit, appearing as though he trusted that Ian’s response was genuine.

He saw the dark haired man’s eyes trail from his face, along his chest, then glancing down at his hand, reaching over not to grab it, but merely rub his own over Ian’s palm and brush his thumb gently across the top of it, smirking at him as he did. Ian smiled back, enjoying the airy little flutters in his chest, his heart warming up at knowing that Mickey didn’t mind the occasional hint of affection outside the privacy of their room or their hidden bush out in the yard. Mickey bit his lip then withdrew his hand just before they rounded the corner into the cafeteria.

Both men ignored Bruce’s overly enthusiastic wave until they made their way through the line, Ian screwing up his face as a large glop of oatmeal smacked down into the bowl on his tray with a heavy plop. He also grabbed an apple and a bottle of water, knowing he wouldn’t be able to stomach a single bite of the hot, lumpy mush. They turned away from the line, toward the table and Ian exhaled when he saw that Eddy was seated there as well, in his usual spot beside Bruce. ‘He’s always fucking there,' Ian thought with annoyance. Eddy didn’t appear very thrilled to see Ian either, so the feeling of disdain was very obviously mutual. They approached and began to sit, just as Bruce slapped a massive palm down onto the table.

“Finally you assholes are here,” the big man breathed, both men just creased their brows at him, “I’ve been waiting to tell ya,” Bruce leaned in a bit and lowered his voice, “You guys know that incident bullshit from yesterday that they cancelled all the fucking groups for?” Ian nodded and Mickey continued to look rather unimpressed, “I know what fucking happened, bros!” he exclaimed in hushed excitement. Both men stayed silent, staring at him and Bruce let his shoulders drop.

“Well, aren’t you fuckers the least bit curious about it?” he asked. Mickey remained appearing tired and bored, now turning his head down toward his tray to eat a spoonful of oatmeal. Ian however, actually was a little curious.

“What happened?” Ian asked. Bruce grinned widely at the interest.

“Okay, so there’s this crazy bitch that hangs out with Stacy, right?” he paused and turned to Ian, “You have a run in with Stacy yet?” Bruce asked. Ian’s eyes moved to Eddy, seeing the man clench his jaw, twitching as his hands balled into fists. Mickey noticed and laughed.

“Oh yeah,” said Mickey referring to Ian’s voyeur incident, but Ian knew why Eddy was so angry, and that wasn’t the reason. He looked back toward Bruce, who took a quick glance between him and Eddy before resuming his story.

“Yeah, well this chick Shelly or Shelia or some shit, I don’t fuckin' know- anyway,” Bruce cleared his throat, “She was in group therapy, a fuckin' Easy Speak session, as ironic as that fucking is,” he laughed, and Ian raised an eyebrow, being unfamiliar with that particular class, but continued to listen anyway.

“And she's been having issues of one sort or another with this other chick, some bitch from B-Wing,” Bruce spoke with his hands, “She found out somehow that the dude she’s been seein' in here's been fuckin this girl,” he let out a laugh, then tried to calm himself. Ian saw Mickey slowly shake his head as he took another bite and began to chew.

“So this bitch busts open a fuckin' shaving razor, right?” Mickey lifted his head to listen to Bruce, finally appearing interested in what he was saying, “She hides the blade under her tongue and heads to therapy. They start doing their thing, goin' around the circle and shit,” Ian fidgeted his fingers in his lap, listening. “Then it gets to her, and instead of talking about light, happy kinda shit like she’s supposed to, she spits the blade out into her hand, lunges across the circle at the other bitch and sliced her fuckin face to ribbons,” Bruce’s eyebrows shot up, Ian’s jaw dropped with a forehead crease and Mickey pushed out his lower lip, giving a slow nod.

“Blood fuckin' everywhere, bros.” Bruce let his hands drop to the table as he finished, just before scooping a large spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth, “Bitches in here are fucking crazy,” he grumbled out over his food. Mickey rolled his eyes.

“Well look where the fuck we are, asshole,” said Mickey flatly and Bruce laughed. Ian opened his water and took a sip, accidentally meeting the boiling gaze of the skinny, dreaded man across the table. He sucked his teeth and gave a hard sniff, his head jerking in a harsh, violent motion.

“The fuck happened to your fuckin' face?” he sneered out, attempting to cover an evil grin with an ugly scowl. Ian clenched his jaw, ready to reply when suddenly Mickey’s head snapped over to say something instead.

“I thought I already fuckin' told your dumbass to mind your own fuckin' business,” Mickey growled in a deep, angry voice, “You need a fuckin' refresher or some shit, Ed?” he balled his fists and shifted slightly.

But Ian slowly moved his hand under the table from his own lap to Mickey’s grasping his knee in the same secure, grounding fashion that the man had done for him. His glare flickered slightly and Ian felt the tension in his muscles calming just a bit, the man now slowly sitting back more. He shot Eddy another threatening expression before returning to his food. Ian turned his face back to the man across the table, who now appeared a little shaken after being snapped at by Mickey, and tilted his head just slightly.

“You really want me to talk about it?” Ian asked in a smooth, leveled voice.

Eddy swallowed, then visibly froze, his twitches stopping for just a moment before they became much more erratic. He was petrified. His eyes flashed to Mickey, who was still focused on his food, then back to Ian with worry and fear in his eyes. He slowly began to shake his head when Mickey suddenly raised his face, seeing Eddy's motion and demeanor, then looked over to Ian who remained looking at Eddy completely calm, trying not to appear at all smug about seeing the man across from him squirm in such a way.

“The fuck's all this about?” Mickey queried, looking back and forth between them. Ian raised his eyebrows at Eddy who was trying desperately, but completely failing to control his nerves.

“Fuck if I know,” Eddy managed quickly, not looking Mickey in the eye, instead dropping his own to the table. Mickey looked back at Ian with a very insistent, questioning eyebrow raised. Ian met his eyes and gave a light shrug.

“Nothing,” said Ian, giving him a small smile.

The other man hesitated before his face softened, then gave a small accepting nod. Ian still had his hand on Mickey’s leg underneath the table, so he squeezed it ever so slightly. And although he was tough and had a hell of a lot of self control, Ian could see how hard it was for Mickey not to touch him too, to not smile wide and happy like he does when they’re alone. But he could see it in his eyes, the way he looked at him, he was reciprocating in a way that he felt comfortable in a crowded cafeteria and that was enough for Ian to smile just a bit more, his thumb rubbing circles into Mickey’s leg.

“Whoa!” Bruce exclaimed suddenly, staring over at Mickey’s neck, “What the fuck's up with all the fuckin' love bites, bro?” he pointed.

Ian arched around a bit to take a glance, seeing that there were indeed three small hickies, just behind his ear. 'Shit,' he thought. Mickey’s eyes went wide and his skin flushed a bright, embarrassed red that Ian had yet to ever see on the man. His roommate quickly hardened his face, glaring back over at the big man across the table.

“Ain’t none of your fuckin' business, you slack-jawed motherfucker,” he growled out the words, but Bruce only laughed making a quick glance at Ian.

“What? I’m happy for you, bro,” Bruce said merrily as Mickey continued to fume and Ian began to turn red himself, “Maybe if you’re gettin' some, you wont act like you got somethin' shoved up your ass all the fuckin time,” both men’s eyes went wide at that comment with Mickey looking like he might explode, and Ian quickly grabbing his water, taking a long drink in the hopes of avoiding being pulled into the conversation himself, “Well actually, come to think about it, you’re usually in a pretty good fuckin' mood when you got that goin' on,” Bruce laughed, Ian choked on his water and in the same instant Mickey lifted his bowl of oatmeal and whipped it across the table at Bruce’s chest with a hard clattering of plastic, splattering it all over him with residual damage to Eddy as well.

“Shut the fuck up, shithead, or I"ll bust your fuckin' jaw,” Mickey sneered with a tempered raise of his voice, standing half way up, and Bruce raised his hands in defense, though he appeared mostly unfazed, pressing his lips together tight, forcing himself not to chuckle anymore.

A stern looking guard with a broad chest and short dark hair suddenly approached, looking between the two men, then around the table, attempting to assess the situation.

“What’s going on here?” he asked as he crossed his arms over his chest. Ian could see Mickey visibly try to swallow his anger.

“Just slipped,” Mickey explained, then turned to Bruce, now speaking through his teeth, “Tell him, Bruce. Tell him it fuckin' slipped.” The guard frowned at Mickey’s language but didn’t comment on it, instead turning to Bruce with questioning eyebrows raised. Bruce let out a small chuckle and nodded.

“Yup,” he confirmed with a grin, not seeming to care one bit how big of a mess he was, “Total accident.”

The guard remained only another moment, silently looking between them before he slowly turned back around to walk away from the table. Mickey turned back toward Bruce, and leaned down a bit, resuming his glare, now speaking in a very low voice.

“I fuckin' mean it, Bruce,” he warned, “You ever say some shit like that again, I will rip that big ass jaw off your fatass face with my bare fuckin' hands,” Mickey said, the words slowly and clearly as to be sure the other man really understood him, “I don’t give a fuck how long we’ve fuckin' known each other, man. That shit ain’t none of your fuckin' business.” Bruce simply nodded.

“I hear ya, man,” he said in a somewhat apologetic tone, “You mind if I go clean this shit up now?” Bruce asked gesturing to his shirt with a big, broad palm. Mickey rolled his eyes and sat back.

“Get the fuck outta here,” Mickey breathed, rubbing his forehead.

Ian watched as Bruce rose from the table, a large splatter of lumpy, cooling mush, slowly dripping down his chest and turned to start down the hall. As Bruce rounded the back of the table, Ian’s eyes happened to land on the skinny, dreaded man once more and creased his brow in confusion. Eddy looked really irritated, but he wasn’t looking at Ian, in fact suddenly appearing as though Ian wasn’t there at all. The redhead followed his eyes and saw that he was staring at Mickey, at the hickies on his neck and not appearing very happy about it. His upper lip curled over his teeth, his twitches hard to control. But then the dark haired man saw him staring and quickly re-hardened his face.

“The fuck are you lookin' at?” Mickey snapped, causing the man across from him to flinch and look away with a shake of his head.

“Nothing,” he said, then quickly got up and left the table as well. Ian turned to Mickey with the same confused expression.

“The fuck's up with Eddy?” Ian asked with a tip of his head toward the exit the man just passed through. Mickey gave a very noncommittal shrug.

“How the fuck should I know?” Mickey asked back, then glanced down at Ian’s tray, “You even fuckin' eat anythin'?” he queried. Ian hesitated, then shook his head, waiting for Mickey to say something about it, but he didn’t. Instead he reached over, grabbed the apple from his own tray and slipped in into Ian’s pocket, looking into his face with soft, questioning eyes.

“Okay,” said Ian lowly and that seemed to please Mickey. Ian gave the man’s leg another small rub before finally letting go to open up his water again. The other man leaned toward him a bit.

“You wanna get the fuck outta here and go split a cigarette?” Mickey asked, “Breakfast is almost over anyway." Ian gave a confirming nod.

“Sure,” he responded, “But I got one of my own today,” Ian added and Mickey made a hard, curious crease in his brow.

“How the fuck did that happen?” Mickey wondered out loud, eyes traveling over Ian’s face, reading his features.

“Got one from a janitor,” Ian explained, “Earlier when I went to brush my teeth,” Mickey looked strangely skeptical and Ian wasn’t sure why. He was telling the truth. Mickey gave a tilt of his head.

“Some dude just walkin' through the fuckin' halls with a broom throwin' out smokes?” he asked sarcastically. Ian creased his own brow and turned a bit to face him better.

“It was a mop, actually,” Ian replied in a very matter-of-fact kind of tone, “And he didn’t throw them, I asked him for one,” he explained. Mickey's eyebrows raised into an arch and chewed his lip.

“That right?” he asked lowly, looking over his face some more, flickering between his eyes.

“Yes,” Ian responded firmly, narrowing his own eyes more, reading into Mickey’s, “Why is this such a big deal?” he asked feeling a little confused as to what was going on in the other man’s head right now. Mickey’s expression faltered a bit, softening, before he brought a hand to his face to pinch the bridge of his nose, then rubbed his forehead.

“It ain't,” said Mickey with a sigh, looking away. He hesitated, then sucked his lip in before meeting Ian’s eyes again. “I’m fuckin' sorry, man,” he whispered, bringing his head close to Ian’s, “You didn’t fuckin' do anything,” Mickey assured, “Just my own shit,” he breathed, looking away again, his face full of shame.

“Hey,” said Ian, bringing his hand to the other man’s shoulder, “It’s cool,” he promised him. Mickey looked skeptical, but soon gave a small nod, then started to rise.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” Mickey offered and Ian didn’t need to be asked twice, quickly following him out into the hall. Ian stayed quiet most of the way, but gathered enough courage to say just one thing.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "About your neck." Mickey turned with a crease in his brow, leaning in just a bit to meet his eyes.

"Aye," he brushed his shoulder against Ian's, "I ain't fuckin' complainin', man," Mickey arched an eyebrow and sucked in his lip, looking him over for a moment before turning back toward the hall. Ian just turned his face down, and tried not to smile to big while tiny, little flutters trailed along behind him.

When they got back to their room, Mickey quickly went rummaging for his pack inside his storage chest, and Ian pulled his own cigarette from his pocket, checking to see that it hadn’t split or snapped, which it thankfully hadn’t. Mickey retrieved his pack and his lighter stuffing both into his pockets, now making steps toward Ian. He reached out, plucking the cigarette from his fingers, bringing it toward him and turning it over to read it.

“You know this shit's a menthol?” Mickey asked holding it up.

“Is it?” Ian asked back. The other man nodded handing it back.

“Fuckin' ass clown," Mickey mumbled under his breath with a shake of his head, "You get sick a that shit, lemme know and I’ll give a real fuckin' smoke, alright?” he arched his brow. Ian smiled and nodded, the other man’s eyes dropping to his lips, then back up, returning his expression with a sharp, handsome smirk. “Well, let’s fuckin' go, Red,” said Mickey with a flick of his head. But just as they approached the door, there was a crackling sound and an older male voice sounded through the loud speaker:

“Ian Gallagher, you have been requested for a meeting with Dr. Yates this morning. Please report to the main access door to await clearance. Thank you.” And the voice buzzed out with a click.

Both men turned to look at each other and Ian’s chest suddenly tightened with anxiety. Ian looked down, slipping his cigarette back into his pocket with a heavy exhale. Mickey cocked his head and arched an eyebrow.

“Requested, huh?” repeated Mickey, “Must be fuckin' important.”

“Yeah,” Ian agreed, combing his fingers back through his hair, trying to calm and not worry about all the possible things his doctor may want to speak to him about. His stomach twisted with nerves and his head suddenly began to pound. Mickey seemed to notice and reached up to give a comforting grasp to the back of Ian’s neck, squeezing gently.

“Aye,” Mickey said lowly, and Ian met his eyes, blue, sparkling and relaxed, “Simple, man,” he reminded him.

Ian pressed his lips together and nodded, even managing to give the other man a small acknowledging smile. Mickey smiled back, rubbing his thumb delicately along the bottom of Ian’s scalp, then moved his hand to brush his thumb down along Ian’s jawline, his eyes tracing the muscles in his neck before dropping his hand away completely.

“Come find me when you’re done?” Mickey asked nicely, with beautiful blue eyes gazing up into green. Ian smiled even wider, the flutters in his chest distracting his mind and his guts from their throbbing, twisting knots.

“Definitely,” he replied quietly. Mickey smirked and bit his lip.

“Alright,” said Mickey, “Catch ya in a bit then, huh?” he asked and Ian nodded a final time before Mickey turned away from him, to walk down the hall, out toward the yard.

And of course, he couldn’t help but stare, the entire way, waiting for Mickey to turn a corner before he could move. Then he watched as the man began to round it, seeing him stop and peer back down the hall at Ian as well, who suddenly blushed, knowing he’d been caught ogling him. But then he was a bit surprised when Mickey merely smirked once more and arched another perfect eyebrow before disappearing around the corner.

He rubbed his palms down his face trying to will the blush away, turning in his own direction, now beginning to make his way through the halls toward the access door. 'Inhale. Exhale.' His stomach gave another pull and another twist, flushing his skin with nervous goosebumps. He tried to think of Mickey, tried to focus on his the thought of his voice, his scent, his touch. Ian nearly closed his eyes, trying to drown himself in such thoughts, hoping that if he just thought hard enough, everything else would melt away. But as much as he tried and as hard as he hoped, taking control of the chaos in his mind and attempting to harness the tormenting thoughts that relentlessly plagued him, just wasn’t turning out to be so simple.

Chapter Text

The entire walk to the access door, Ian was nervous, really nervous, anxious even, as he was extremely unsure as to why Dr. Yates had requested to meet with him today. There were several things this could be about, none of which seemed like anything even remotely positive. He thought about his sudden physical reaction to Stacy grabbing him the other day and clenched his jaw, hoping that she hadn’t said anything to the staff about it. Then he thought about Seth being left broken and mangled on the floor and hoped that he hadn’t somehow been tied to that incident as well. He didn’t know what the disciplinary actions in this facility were, but for some reason, in the back of his mind, the wonder kept nagging at him in a way that made his stomach twist in a really uncomfortable way and he tried not to feel nervous about that too. Ian ran a hand down his face, trying to calm, then pinched the bridge of his nose. 'Fuck,' He then pulled the apple Mickey had given him out from his pocket and ate it quickly as he went, savoring each sweet, juicy bite before tossing the core into a trash bin as he passed it.

He tried to focus his thoughts on Mickey, as the thought of the other man always seemed to calm his nerves and ease his mind in an unusually wonderful way. It seemed to help during most of his walk, but the nag in the back of his mind didn’t go away, didn’t disappear, it just kept nagging, pulling, prodding and it was fucking distracting. His thoughts started to jumble and it made his head pound. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

He was met and escorted through the door by a large, meaty guard just as he had last time. Though this time, he tried to take a slow deep breath, just before the second access door buzzed open, hoping it would calm his nerves, evening his shoulders out. Ian looked ahead and saw Dr. Yates standing in wait with shiny, red curls pulled up tightly into a bun atop her head and wearing a pretty blue dress underneath her medical jacket. She saw his face when it opened, giving him a warm, welcoming smile and extended her arm to shake his hand.

“Good morning, Ian,” she greeted with shimmering, white teeth, “Wonderful to see you today.”

Ian raised his arm, placing his hand in hers, giving it a small but firm shake, then glanced down to notice that her fingernails were now painted a deep, bold blue, matching the shade of her dress. He looked back up to her face, giving a slight tip of his chin in acknowledgment, but otherwise remained quiet. The doctor creased her brow, now eyeing the bandages on his face.

“Oh my,” she said looking him over, “How did this happen?” Dr. Yates asked with a small gesture of a skinny, delicate finger to his face. Ian hesitated, not from nerves, but more from relief, knowing now that this meeting has nothing to do with what happened to Seth. The doctor didn’t know he’d been involved. He let his shoulders relax a bit more.

“Just a stupid accident,” Ian replied, “Walked into a corner,” he explained, trying not to feel extremely stupid for having not thought of anything better to say about it last night. The doctor continued to look at him, appearing extremely skeptical, but gave a small nod regardless.

“Well, I appreciate your willingness to meet with me this morning,” she said, moving on a bit, “I apologize for it being rather unannounced, but I have a very busy day scheduled and felt it important to meet with you as soon as possible.” Ian raised an eyebrow.

“I had a choice?” he asked, hoping the question didn’t seem rude. Dr. Yates tilted her head slightly but continued to smile.

“You always have a choice, Ian,” she said, “Although, had you not come, I’m sure staff members would have located you fairly quickly,” the doctor added with an upturned palm, “Meetings with your doctor are very important, after all.” Ian pressed his lips together and gave a nod. The doctor looked over him for another brief moment before turning and presenting the hallway behind her with a delicate outstretched hand. “May we?” she offered. Ian gave yet another nod and began to walk with her down the long, narrow hall toward her office.

Ian still felt nervous, weary, trying not to fidget, not to let it show, keeping his eyes on the floor and following quietly behind the doctor. Though as they walked he began to find himself glancing up a bit, peeking subtly through the windows of other rooms as they passed them. Most were open and empty, with the occasional office door closed for a therapy session, patients engaged in conversation with their doctors. Then they passed another room containing a sight that slowed his steps, nearly halting him in place.

Through the small slant of a window of one of the doors, Ian saw a young man with dark tan skin, brown curls on his head and eyes that were swollen shut. His face was lumpy and purple, with blood stains trailing from his ears, nose and mouth and one hand wrapped in a thick, white bandage. There were wires suctioned to the man's head and flowing out from beneath the chest of his medical gown, with an IV stuck in his arm and a beeping monitor nearby. Ian swallowed at the sight of Seth, appearing even more damaged than he had when he’d last seen the man crumbled up on the bathroom floor where Mickey’s beating had left him. Ian couldn’t help but stare for a moment, feeling his feet suddenly stop their paces. The sounds were starting to flood back to him once more, the harsh contact of his roommate’s fist against the man’s face, the blunt strike of each kick to the man’s ribs and the crunching of bone as his hand had been stomped so violently into the floor. He felt himself shudder, then swallowed again.

“Ian?” asked Dr. Yates suddenly, pulling him from his focus. Ian turned to see the woman a few paces ahead of where he stood, having turned back to notice that he’d stopped. “My office is a bit farther down, remember?” she explained with another gesture of her hand down the hall. Ian blinked, shot a quick glance back through the window, then turned his face back to the doctor with a small nod, and walked a few steps to meet her.

“Sorry,” he offered quietly, looking back toward the floor.

“No need to apologize,” she said, “But we do need to continue,” the doctor added, “Tight schedule today,” she reminded him before turning back around to begin down the hall way once more, the click of her heels echoing lightly off the walls. Ian simply followed once again.

They arrived at her office and entered quietly, settling into their seats across the large, wooden desk from each other. Dr. Yates began shifting several files and papers about, which she had spread across her desk in a rather disorganized jumble, scooping up loose sheets, slipping them into files and stacking them all into the fold of her arm. She then turned in her chair, placing them atop the low-set shelves behind her, then spun her chair back toward her patient who sat quietly waiting.

“Please, excuse my mess,” she laughed lightly, “Always busy,” the doctor smiled, then pulled open the drawer next to her to retrieve her clipboard, then closed it, before slipping a shiny blue pen out from behind the metal clasp of the board and giving it a click. She met his eyes once more and Ian tried not to fidget with his fingers, shift in his seat or gnaw too noticeably on the inside of his cheek.

“How are you feeling today, Ian?” Dr. Yates asked in a smooth, light tone, ready to take note of his response, rolling her pen over between her fingers, hovering just above the paper beneath it.

“My face hurts,” he replied flatly, not in a mood to talk in the slightest, but the woman across from him just continued to hold her smile.

“Quite understandable,” she said, “However, I’d like to know how you’re feeling emotionally today.” Ian tried not to let a heavy sigh escape his lips and rubbed his forehead.

“Content, I guess,” Ian said with a shrug, “Calm.” The doctor gave a light nod, and made a quick note.

“Wonderful,” said Dr. Yates, “How have you been faring these past few days?” she asked, “Adjusting well?” Ian shrugged, then thought of Mickey and tried not to let a smile creep across his face.

“Can’t really complain," he said, staying vague, watching the doctor’s pen scratch briefly along the sheet in front of her, then raised her face to look at him again. Her eyes seemed to wander back to his bandages and she pursed her lips just slightly.

“Could you please tell me a bit more about how you came to sustain these injuries?” she queried, pointing the tip of her pen toward his face, then rolling it back over in her fingers once more. Ian tensed and clenched his jaw with anxious nerves, biting down on his cheek.

“I already told you,” said Ian, trying to sound leveled and convincing, “I just need to watch where I’m going a little better,” he insisted, “Walking around when I’m tired didn’t help me, either,” Ian shrugged. The doctor pursed her lips once more, took note and tried again, leaning forward a bit.

“Ian,” she began lightly, gently, “I’d like you to think of my office as a safe zone,” said Dr. Yates, placing her pen down and splaying her hands out toward the room around them, “There is no pressure here,” she explained, “Though, I do need you to try and be as honest with me as possible.”

Her words seemed to echo a bit, remembering the woman feed him a similar line during his first meeting with her. Last time he had been fairly honest, speaking much more about his childhood and history with his mother than he’d cared or intended to. But this was different, something that involved Mickey, not Monica. He trusted Mickey, and Mickey seemed to care for and trust him in return, not simply want to use him for whatever was convenient or beneficial to him, like his mother seemed to always do. Mickey’s trust meant something to him and he knew that he didn’t want to betray it. She watched his face, waiting for his response, but Ian wasn’t taking the bait.

“Nothing else to say about it,” Ian stated firmly, “That’s what happened.”

He wasn’t going to bend and risk anything happening to himself or Mickey. He knew better than to trust a staff member, no matter who they were. It couldn’t possibly end well. The small, polished woman who sat across from him eyed him silently for a moment, reading over his face, then lifted her pen once more to take note.

“Okay,” she conceded, “Please just remember that you are more than welcome, and even encouraged to speak your mind in here,” Dr. Yates assured, glancing up to meet his eyes, “Don’t ever be nervous of sharing anything with me. You are my patient and anything you tell me during our meetings is completely confidential.”

“Completely confidential?” Ian asked flatly, his voice drenched in skepticism. The woman gave him a warm smile and a slight tilt of her head.

“Yes,” she confirmed, “Unless of course, whatever you share involves causing harm to yourself or others,” the doctor added with an upturned palm, “My hands are easily tied in such situations,” she dropped her hand back to her desk and gave a small tap against it with her fingertips, then peered down toward the sheet in front of her, flipped it up to pull another sheet out from behind it and placed it on top.

“How are you and Mickey getting along?” she asked suddenly, raising her face once more. Ian swallowed, shifted slightly and laced his fingers together in his lap, trying to ignore the tickling little flutters appearing in his lungs at the mention of the other man’s name.

“Alright,” he said simply, making sure not to smile as he said it, “He’s pretty cool, I guess.” The doctor smiled, appearing genuinely pleased at his response and made a note on the new page in front of her.

“That’s very good,” said Dr. Yates, “No little spats or anything of that nature?” she asked raising her eyebrows, “Mickey has been known to be quite temperamental,” she explained pushing out her lip a bit.

“Not at all,” Ian said with a bit of a bounce in his voice, unable to stop the hint of a smile that tugged at his lips, “He’s pretty chill around me, as far as I’ve seen.” The doctor held her smile, though it lowered just a bit as she observed her patient’s demeanor, then leaned back in a bit.

“I trust you’re treading lightly around him as I suggested?” queried Dr. Yates carefully, “He can be quick to trigger, if not careful,” she added. Ian frowned, creased his brow and tilted his chin up.

“He seems alright to me,” said Ian with a firm tone to his voice, watching as the doctor pressed lips together tightly and gave a small tap of her fingers.

“He most certainly can be a lot of the time,” she agreed with a slow nod, “Although, Mickey does still suffer from some very serious emotional issues,” the doctor began to explain, “It’s wise to know when it’s best to give him his space.”

Ian held his expression, now feeling a little irritated. Mickey had been nothing but friendly to him, kind even and he saw no reason to think negatively of the man in really any way. Even after seeing what he’d done to Seth the night before, he still didn’t think badly of him for it. Ian also had yet to get much impression at all from the man that made him feel unwanted or that he was crowding him. If Mickey ever needed space, all he had to do was say so and Ian would leave him alone if that’s what he wanted. As far as he was concerned Mickey was good by him, but he also didn’t want to talk about him anymore with this woman. It wasn’t any of her business.

“I'll keep it in mind,” Ian said as nicely as he could.

Dr. Yates paused for just a second before nodding, then turned her face down toward the papers in front her once again, to flip back through for yet another sheet and squinted at it. She quickly let out a small sigh, slid open the thin, utensil drawer along the front of her desk with a sharp squeak that stung Ian’s ears and made him flinch. The doctor retrieved her glasses, sliding them onto her nose and closing the drawer, returning her attention to the paper.

“Good news,” said Dr. Yates, “All of your lab results came back negative,” she said happily, glancing up at him, “You are free of all STDs and STIs,” Dr. Yates smiled at the positive news and Ian just tried not to feel awkward, “You are in very good physical condition as well, according to your chart,” she added, then looked him over, seeing him appear a bit uncomfortable and withdrawn, “Are you happy to hear this, Ian?” the doctor asked.

“Of course,” he breathed with a shrug.

The truth was that he was quite relieved, though he honestly would not have been surprised if something had turned up and that thought filled his mind with disgust and shame. He dropped his face to look at his hands, rubbing his thumbs together. Dr. Yates, watched him for a moment, then picked up her pen to begin scribbling down notes, in quick, scratchy movements.

“How is your medication working for you?” asked the doctor with a slight raise of her eyebrows, looking up for his response. Ian shifted his feet and shrugged.

“Haven’t felt any different,” Ian admitted, “I don’t think they’re working,” he added quietly. The woman made another quick note, nodding in acknowledgment.

“Well, I will check in with you again on that soon,” she said, “But for now, we will stick with them and see if any noticeable changes develop,” Dr. Yates advised, lightly. Ian just stayed quiet.

“I’ve also noticed that you do not seem to have any contacts listed in your file,” the doctor mentioned, looking over another sheet from her clipboard, “Do you have any close friends or family members that you would like to perhaps visit you during your stay here?” she asked, curiously.

Ian tensed again, thinking of his family, mostly his older brother and sister whom he was sure had been quite worried about him for the past several weeks, even longer really, before he disappeared on them. He knew he would have a lot of explaining to do, a lot of which he still didn’t even have answers for yet and wasn’t looking forward to the interrogation he was sure to receive from them about it. Maybe one of these days, he would feel comfortable talking to them about everything, but not now, he just couldn’t. Ian watched as the doctor waited for his response, hesitating before he gave a firm shake of his head. Dr. Yates creased her brow a bit and tilted her head again.

“Are you sure?” she asked, “Support from family has been shown to have a very positive impact on the treatment process,” said the doctor, “I’d highly recommend having someone listed here,” she pointed toward the paper on her clipboard, but Ian quickly shook his head.

“No, thanks,” he said simply, not yet wanting his siblings to be informed of his current predicament. The doctor paused another moment, then have an accepting expression, making note on the sheet.

“Very well,” said Dr. Yates, “But please remember that you may add a contact to your file at any time.” Ian gave a small expression of acknowledgment and rubbed his palms together.

“Alright, one last thing and I think I can get you out of here,” she smiled, “I apologize for the rush,” the doctor added, “Just have a whole lot to get done today,” she reminded him. But Ian didn’t really mind, as he really hadn’t wanted to come down here in the first place, so he was fairly grateful for it going fast. She exchanged her current sheet for another behind it and quickly jot a few things down, before raising her face to speak again, “I have arranged your mediation session with Eddy,” said Dr. Yates, “It’s been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.”

Ian clenched his jaw, his upper lip curling over his teeth. He’d completely forgotten that he’d agreed to that bullshit and really wasn’t thrilled to hear that it was still happening. Ian would have to fucking apologize to the guy for kicking him back into the floor, even though Eddy had started and deserved it. The image of the man’s evilly satisfied grin shined through his mind and he tried not to simply become enraged.

“I still have to do that shit?” Ian asked, much more bluntly than intended, irritated. The doctor simply gave a small nod, not seeming to mind his language.

“Yes, Ian, you do,” she confirmed, “If you’d like a clean record here. Otherwise, the incident it regards will be permanently attached to your file and may ultimately effect the final results of your evaluation trial and in turn, your case review,” Dr. Yates explained, “Violent offenses are very serious,” she said.

As much as Ian really didn’t want to go through with the damn mediation, he didn’t seem to have much of a choice. He also didn’t want to deal with any kind of punishment over the incident, worried that it may somehow mean he’d be separated from his roommate and he definitely didn’t want that. So he conceded with a heavy exhale, dropping his shoulders a bit.

“Fine,” he pushed through his teeth.

“Good, thank you,” the doctor responded, “You will be called down around two o'clock tomorrow.”
Ian felt his jaw clenching tight with frustration, but said nothing as the woman held a sweet expression, made a quick note with her pen before dropping it, straightened out her papers and clasped them back onto her clipboard. She slid her glasses up her brow, to rest delicately in her hair and looked back up at him, blue eyes twinkling.

“Well, I believe that is everything that we needed to discuss today,” she said, sliding her clipboard into her arm, “After the mediation, our next session should be in a week or two, unless you need to meet with me for some reason before then,” said Dr. Yates, beginning to rise from her chair, with an outstretched hand toward her patient, motioning for him to rise as well, and made small, delicate steps toward her door. Ian quickly followed, repressing another heavy exhale, eager to leave and go outside for a cigarette. His fingertips traced the outline of the small paper cylinder hidden in his sweat pocket, his lips beginning to tingle with craving as he ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek. The doctor opened the door, offering for Ian to pass through first, as she followed behind, closing her office behind them.

“Please remember that you may request a meeting with me at any time, if you ever feel the need,” she mentioned as she escorted Ian back toward the access door, “Next to the medical office in the other building, there is a small room with a service desk where you can make a formal request, and I will be immediately contacted,” Dr. Yates elaborated, speaking with a loosely upturned palm, turning her face slightly to look at him, “Please never hesitate to do so, if you need to speak with me,” she insisted, “No problem is too small,” the doctor assured with another warm smile. Ian simply gave a brief tip of his chin, acknowledging her words, but didn’t say anything, mostly just watching his feet. He had no interest in speaking with the doctor any more than he absolutely had to. She watched him for a moment, then turned her face back in front of her, continuing to walk.

They met a guard at the door, who stood waiting to receive him for escort, appearing not at all thrilled about his work, remaining stone faced while he slid his card across the scanner.

“Have a wonderful day, Ian,” called Dr. Yates as he began to pass through the door, “See you tomorrow at two.” Her patient gave a small, hard lipped smile, forcing himself to not appear extremely pissed off about the entire ordeal he will have to endure, then let himself be escorted back into the Residential Building.

Ian quickly made his way down toward his room, now fighting down the sudden smile that was rising onto his face, his chest filling with vibrating little flutters weaving through his ribs, hoping Mickey would be there when he arrived. He still really wanted to smoke his cigarette, but he also really, really just wanted to see his roommate first, thinking that maybe Mickey would go back outside with him to keep him company. Ian was really starting to like the man a lot, all full of tickles, smiles and blush at the mere thought of him passing through his mind. He quickened his steps, trying not to full on sprint down the hall when he suddenly slowed drastically upon the sight of a staff member with his hand gripped firmly around the arm of a bald man wearing a thick, hard mask made of metal and leather.

Ian swallowed seeing the cannibal and quickly put his head down, moving over to the opposite side of all the hallway. He could hear the man’s somewhat labored, raspy breath huffing through the grated metal in front of his mouth, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up and a flush of chilling, goosebumps speckle down his spine. ‘Don’t make eye contact with that fucker,' his roommate’s words rang through his ears again and he tried not to shudder. He’d already done the one thing that Mickey had told him not to do and now Ian was quite uneasy being in such close proximity to the cannibal again, especially now that this time, there was no barrier between them, guard or not. His stomach twisted and he sped his steps back up, hoping to simply pass by unnoticed.

But suddenly there was a loud gargling, grunt from just ahead of him that made him flinch and snap his head up. The masked man was struggling, fighting, attempting to lunge at him, wide, veiny eyes spinning around in their sockets, spit punching through the metal that covered his mouth. Ian quickly moved backward, pressing his back against the wall, staying out of the man’s reach, despite seeing that he was again wearing a pair of thick, black mitts. The guard quickly tightened his grip on the man’s arm, yanking him back and shoving him into the other wall. Ian stood shock still for a moment, his breath catching a bit, speeding up, watching as the man struggled against the guard who had him pressed firmly against the brick. He adjusted and held the man in place with half his body, slipping a walkie out from his belt loop and raising it to his lips, barking out a quick code number. The guard then flashed a glance at Ian, but didn’t speak, too focused on struggling with his patient, and gave a quick flick of his head down the hall. Ian didn’t hesitate, he quickly turned and made quick steps further away toward his room, hearing the man groan and struggle as he went. Ian pinched the bridge of his nose with a dull pain welling from the cut beneath the bandage, shook out his hair, then combed it back with a swift scratch of his fingertips along his scalp. 'Fuck,'

He finally reached his room, opening the door up with a smile, only for it to turn into a frown almost instantly at the sight of a quiet, empty space. Ian’s shoulders slumped with an exhale as he paused for just a moment before making steps inside, closing the door behind him. He walked toward his bed about to sit when he suddenly noticed a notebook flipped open in the middle of Mickey’s pillow with something short and brief scribbled onto it. Ian creased his brow slightly and turned toward it, leaning down a bit to read it.

'Just in case I missed ya,'

He glanced around his bed with a bit of confusion, then back to the pillow it sat upon. He quickly looked toward the door for a second making sure no one was looking in before lifting the pillow just slightly, to peek underneath. Ian saw a single cigarette with Mickey’s lighter tucked away side by side, waiting for him. 'Bold,’ Ian thought, wondering how the man felt confident enough to leave something for him like this and not worry about staff finding it first. He let himself smile a bit, glancing back toward the door once more before slipping them out and into his pocket. He then turned toward his end table, opened the bottom drawer and hid his menthol cigarette away near the back under a few washcloths, opting to smoke the one Mickey had left for him instead. Ian then tipped his head back toward his roommate’s side, the same smile stuck to his lips, letting his eyes wander back over his bed, then up along his wall of artwork, landing on the illustration of Mickey and his siblings. The grin that the sketched out Mickey held only made his widen, imagining the man smiling at him instead. Ian took a deep, content inhale before heading out of his room, and back down the hall toward the yard.

He kept his sight on the two staff members who stood outside monitoring the track, just as he’d seen Mickey do, slowly walking toward the line a bushes along the side of the building. Ian quickly passed through when he knew he wouldn’t be noticed, and disappeared into the shrubbery. It was strange being huddled inside the tiny dome enclosure by himself without his normal company, but felt pretty special at the same time knowing that Mickey didn’t seem to mind if Ian used his private spot. Ian lit his cigarette with a flick of his thumb, inhaling deeply, then stared down at the lighter in his hand with another small smile, rubbing his thumb over it a few times.

Mickey was quickly turning out to be the best thing about being stuck in this facility for however long he was going to be there. It didn’t seem as tedious or as dull as he’d imagined it would be with the other man as his company. Everything else about this experience thus far had been rather unpleasant, except him. Ian took another long drag of smoke, exhaling a thick, wispy cloud through the leaves in front of him, keeping his limbs close to his body, trying to stay warm.

He tried not to think too much of where his roommate may be and why he seems to disappear so much. Ian knew it wasn’t any of his business, and that he shouldn’t let it bother him, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from thinking about it, just wondering. He hoped that with time, maybe Mickey would begin to trust him more, enough to let him in on such things, let him in the loop. 'Trust takes time,' Ian reminded himself and he understood that, no matter how much his curiosity nagged at him. He had to remember that Mickey was a rather guarded person, just like himself, if not more so and getting the man to let his guard down and let him in would take patience, a lot of it. But Ian could do that. He really, really liked Mickey and was willing to wait however long he had to for more. He seemed worth it.

Ian quickly finished his cigarette, crushing it into the ground, beginning to shiver from the cold and moved to slip back through the narrow little passageway and out into the open air. He was buzzed into the building and as he entered, he suddenly felt kind of stuck, almost lost even, seemingly wandering with nothing much to do and he really didn’t like that. He combed his fingers through his hair, then stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to think of something he could do, but nothing seemed too appealing. Eventually, he made his way toward the Rec Room and began to pass without so much as a glance inside, when a voice stopped him.

“Ian!” A deep, bellowing voice called out.

He stopped and turned with a hard raised eyebrow because hardly anyone actually calls him by his name. No one except his doctor, really. It was Bruce, seated at a round table with a fistful of cards splayed inside a single, massive palm and Eddy beside him who rolled his eyes and sighed heavily as the big man spoke, even smacking him on the bicep with the back of his hand.

“What the fuck, asshole?” Eddy sneered at Bruce, who simply chuckled and waved him off with a big, broad hand.

“Get the fuck over it, man,” he replied with a thick shake of his head.

Ian wasn’t very keen to sit down, no matter how bored he was, knowing he was already going to be forced to sit down with the twitchy asshole tomorrow afternoon. So, he remained where he stood with a flat expression, letting eyes take a quick, sweeping glance of the room, trying not to still feel guilty as his face passed over the blonde girl who sat drawing alone at a table nearby, then turned again to look back the the two men seated at the table closest to him. Bruce stared back at him then laughed again and gestured a welcoming palm toward the table.

“Well, get the fuck in here,” he chuckled again.

Eddy turned his face down just a bit, and began to rub his eyes with the tips of his fingers, stuttery shakes flowing through his limbs, then gave a hard, irritated sniff. Ian exhaled, letting his chest fall, leaning his head back a bit, 'Fuck it,' then began walking toward the table. When Eddy saw, he openly groaned, then glared daggers at Bruce who simply pretended that he couldn’t see it.

“You’re finally using my name,” Ian noted with a slight raise of his eyebrows and the big man gave a nod of agreement.

“Yeah, bro,” Bruce confirmed as Ian took a seat much to Eddy's displeasure and annoyance, “You wanted me to call you by your fucking name,” he grinned with a shrug, “Just tryin' to be respectful, man,” he explained. The redhead gave a grateful nod.

“Thank you,” Ian breathed, and got a thick tip of Bruce’s chin in return.

“You want in?” Bruce gestured to the cards on the table, “We could play fuckin' Crazy Eights or some shit?”

“No, thanks,” he replied with a shake of his head, “Don’t really feel like doing anything,” said Ian, “But I don’t feel like doing nothing either,” he admitted, with a heavy exhale and a rub to his forehead, “It’s weird.”

“Who gives a shit?” Eddy spat suddenly, “Whatever the fuck you do, why don’t you go do it somewhere the fuck away from here?” he gave another hard sniff and swatted the back of his hand in the air, his upper lip curling over his teeth. Ian hardened his face, and he glared across the table.

“Why can’t you ever just leave me the fuck alone?” Ian snapped back, not in the mood for any of this asshole's bullshit, “What the fuck do you plan on getting out of this shit?” he asked in an insistent, incredulous tone, feeling his face turn red with irritation and anger. The dreaded man across the table shook in his seat, balling his hands into fists, returning the redhead’s glare.

“I don’t fuckin' like you,” Eddy sneered through his teeth, “Don’t fuckin' want you here.”

“Who gives a shit?” Ian mimicked the man’s words back at him which only seemed to make his twitches amplify. Bruce covered a hearty chuckle with a large, round fist, looking between the two men.

“When the fuck are you two assholes gonna settle this shit?” Bruce asked them with a wide grin, “Ed, you tried to get in his pants and he laid your ass out. Isn’t that the fuckin' end of it?” he raised his eyebrows in question, setting down his cards and raising an upturned palm.

“It was,” Ian confirmed still staring at the skinny man across the table, “Until he decided to get some prick to try and jump me,” he said unable to hold it back, too angry to stop himself. Eddy split an evil grin, not at all denying it.

“Ed, you didn’t,” Bruce turned toward him, and was met with the same devious expression and Ian felt his upper lip quiver with rage. Then the big man turned back to him, eyeing the bandages on his face, “Ya know, I was wondering how that happened,” he added, then looked over at Eddy once more, “What the fuck, Eddy? Can’t take 'no' for a fucking answer?” The dreaded man looked from Bruce to Ian.

“He fucked with Stacy!” Eddy accused with a sharp pointed finger in the air. Bruce raised his eyebrows and made a bit of an 'oh' face, appearing quite surprised, before his face turned into one of confusion.

“Really?” he asked Ian with a rather incredulous tone to his voice.

“No!” the redhead replied firmly, absurdly, sounding rather incredulous himself, “I didn’t do shit to that crazy bitch.”

Eddy suddenly erupted out of his seat, just as he had before, but also just like before, Bruce’s big meaty palm clamped down onto the man’s shoulder like a vice, slamming him pitifully back into his seat. The big man then turned to look down at him.

“Ain’t you learn your fucking lesson about this yet, dumbass?” he asked hooked a massive arm around the man’s neck, trying to appear playful to anyone who happen to glance their way, though his voice was stern and serious, “You gotta fucking control yourself, you dipshit. Learn to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down.” But Eddy simply slipped out from under Bruce’s arm, shoving him away, twitching and gave a harsh head jerk looking back at Ian.

“She showed me the fuckin' bruises you left on her hip and the knot on the back of her fuckin' head,” he spat, angry nerves flaring and gave a hard sniff, “Said you tried to get on her, and when she told ya to fuck off you threw her ass into a fuckin' wall,” he gave another hard sniff, wide, bloodshot eyes glaring through the other man, “Pussy little bitch,” Eddy hissed in a mocking tone. Ian hands curled into fists and it took everything he had in him not to leap across the table himself and beat the living shit out of Eddy. He leaned forward with a hardened, ferocious expression.

“You wanna talk about pussy little bitches?” Ian quipped back through his teeth, “I believe you were the pussy little bitch who couldn’t even confront me on the shit yourself and brought some other asshole to try and do the shit for you,” he raised his eyebrows and Eddy's expression flickered, “How’d that work out for him, huh?” Eddy swallowed, still appearing angry, but was controlling himself better, now sitting back a bit. “And just so you fucking know, she grabbed my dick and I shoved her off,” said Ian, “That’s how she got all fucked up.”

Eddy’s head jerked again, with his hands curling into shaking fists, appearing rather pissed off at that. Bruce’s let out a bellowing laugh, then suddenly stopped as his lips parted with a hard brow cease and gave Eddy a sudden wack on the shoulder with the back of his hand.

“Fuck, Eddy you set Seth up?” he asked in hushed exclamation, “What the fuck, bro?” Bruce’s face seemed quite sincere in the fact that he did not approve of Eddy's actions in any way.

“I didn’t fuckin' set him up,” Eddy insisted, “Seth ain’t usually a bad fighter,” he shrugged. Bruce shook his head, staring at him in judgement for a long moment, then looked back to the other man.

“You really fucked him up, bro,” said with a serious tone, holding a deep crease in his forehead.

“I didn’t fucking do that shit,” Ian replied quietly, glancing around to make sure no one was paying any attention. Bruce looked confused for a moment, stopped in thought, then suddenly his jaw dropped open and his eyebrows shot up in realization.

“What the fuck?” Bruce asked much more insistently, “Mickey?” he asked and the other men just stayed quiet. The big man’s head snapped back over toward the dreaded man on the other side of him, “He did that shit to Seth because of you,” he accused firmly, but quietly, pointing a big round finger in Eddy's face, “You know that, right?” Bruce asked with an extremely serious expression, “How the fuck are you not down there with him?” Eddy turned his head down, suddenly falling quiet. Ian just gave a thick, bold scoff.

“Because he ran away like the pussy little bitch that he is,” Ian said in a very cocky tone, with an arch of his eyebrows.

Eddy lifted his face just enough to shoot burning hot daggers toward the redhead, silently riddling him with deathly, vengeful curses and Ian returned his expression with a wide, smug grin, sitting back and watching the man across the table cower and shift just a bit. Bruce’s voice fell very low and his expression looked much more shocked and worried.

“You got Mickey pulled into some shit like that and he don’t even fuckin' know it was you?!” he hushed out, his incredulous tone returning with an immeasurable force. Eddy refused to look the big man in the face, falling completely silent, hiding the shame and guilt that painted his face. Bruce clapped a big, hard hand down onto the back of Eddy's neck and gave the man a rough shake, “What the fuck is wrong inside your dumbass head to make you go and do some stupid ass fuckin' shit like that, huh Ed?” His eyes were wide and his face was hard, “The fuck is wrong with you?” The smaller man still refused to lift his head and stayed silent for another moment before speaking, very lowly.

“You gonna tell him?” Eddy asked, his voice full of desperation.

Ian turned and watched Bruce’s face as he genuinely thought about his response, very clearly weighing his options, leaning back and letting go of Eddy. There was a tense moment of silence where none of them spoke before finally the big man began to shake his head.

“No,” Bruce said finally, causing Eddy to finally lift his face and look at him, “I’m not gonna get anywhere near the middle of that shit,” he explained, “You woke the beast, you're gonna end up havin' to fuckin' deal with him, bro,” the big man said, with a broad chin tip in Eddy’s direction, “You know how fucking hard it is for Mickey to control that kinda shit and he’s been doing really fuckin' good,” Bruce tapped his finger against the table top a few times as he spoke, “If he knows that you had anything to do with that shit, it’s not gonna be fucking pretty for you, bro,” he assured with a confident shake of his head. Then Eddy’s eyes moved across the table very hesitantly, then met with Ian’s, the smaller man’s upper lip began twitching with agitation.

“You’re gonna fuckin' tell him, right?” Eddy accused the redhead much more harshly, “You already doin' other shit for him too, huh?” he raised an eyebrow, in an extremely suggestive way that made Ian clench his jaw and harden his shoulders, watching the man lean in a bit, with another evil grin spreading across his face, “Let me fuckin' tell you something, asshole,” Eddy sneered out slowly, “You ain’t the fuckin' first,” he hissed. Ian’s face flickered just for an instant, caught off guard, but he didn’t break. The smaller man held a satisfied grin with yellowing teeth, before flinching from another heavy wack to his shoulder.

“Didn’t I just tell you that you gotta learn to shut the fuck up?” asked Bruce, “He hears you spreadin' his fucking business around, he’s gonna fuck you up even more.”

“Who’s fuckin' who up?”

All three men suddenly looked up from their conversation to see a dark haired man with bold, blue eyes standing beside their table with a handsome smirk and a curiously arched eyebrow. Ian’s breath slowed as his lungs filled with tingles, shivers, flutters, hoping they didn’t float up his throat and into his cheeks to blush them softly with rouge. He wanted to smile, but didn’t want to appear too unreasonably happy at the sight of seeing Mickey even though, as he looked at him, Ian clearly saw that the smirk the man held and the eyebrow that he arched were meant for him and him alone. Mickey held his eye contact with him, much longer than either of the other two men, and even hardened his face exceptionally when he finally did look away to see why the hell neither of them were speaking anymore.

“The fuck's wrong with you assholes?” he asked with a sweeping gesture of his forefinger between Bruce and Eddy, not seeming to involve Ian much in his question, yet still flashing another small glance his way, now in fact rounding the table toward him.

As Mickey passed behind Ian, his palm smoothed over one of his shoulder blades before placing a slight affectionate grasp on the back of his neck, then took a seat beside him, making eye contact as he sat before letting his hand release. Ian let himself smile a bit, watching his roommate not at all hide his liking for him, at least not in front of Bruce and Eddy. Mickey’s eyes flickered gently over Ian’s face before hardening once again to look back over at the other two men.

“Somebody gonna fuckin' talk or what?” he snapped. Eddy was visibly tense, not looking the dark haired man in the eye, but just staring down at the table. Bruce gave him the smallest glance before turning to address Mickey.

“Fight in the showers earlier,” Bruce offered, “Argument over a fuckin' stall,” he explained with a chuckle, seeming to sound as if he was actually being honest in what he’d witnessed and not simply trying to cover Eddy’s ass, “Saw a dude get laid the fuck out,” the big man motioned a punch with a meaty fist and made a cracking sound with his cheek, “Like, smooth the fuck out, bro,” Bruce let out a deep laugh, “Talk about some fucking entertainment to start the day.” Mickey gave a chuckle as well, appearing as if he was in a rather good mood, even reaching not so subtly for Ian’s knee beneath the table and giving it a light squeeze.

“Fuckin' dumbasses,” said Mickey with a shake of his head, secretly rubbing circles into the redhead’s leg, then turned toward him, leaning in slightly to speak in a low voice.

“Aye,” he said, blue eyes twinkling into green, “I uh, got some more shit,” Mickey smirked, “You wanna get the fuck outta here?” he arched a perfect eyebrow that made the flutters in Ian’s chest spill into his throat and begin to dance.

He gave him a small smile and a quick nod of agreement, then chanced a subtle glance toward Eddy, seeing him appearing irritated, yet nervous, still not raising his face to see them stand. As they turned away and began to walk, Bruce’s voice once again made them turn, but now it was for a different reason.

“Don’t have too much fun, bros,” he called suggestively with a wink. Mickey immediately frowned and flipped him off, while Ian simply rolled his eyes at the remark.

“Shut the fuck up fuckhead, or I’ll shove that deck a cards down your fuckin' throat and you’ll be shittin' your deals for a fuckin' week,” Mickey threatened, “That whatcha fuckin' want?” he raised his eyebrows into a high, irritated arch. Bruce gave a wide, square grin and a firm shake of his head. Mickey gave him a quick look up and down, before turning back toward Ian and softening, giving a light tip of his head, then made steps to walk closely beside him out into the hall.

As they walked, Ian couldn’t help but think about the comment Eddy had made just before Mickey had arrived at the table in the Rec Room just a short bit ago. It shouldn’t bother him, shouldn’t surprise him that Mickey had been with other people before. After all, he still really hadn’t known the guy very long at all and still had an entire past life that was completely unknown to him. The thing about it that really seemed to nag at him however, was how Eddy had said his statement seemed to imply that Mickey had been with someone else within the facility. And that thought just made his stomach twist in a sad and uncomfortable way that he knew that he had no real right to feel. He shouldn’t be upset, he couldn’t be upset that Mickey had some kind of past, because he had quite the extensive past of his own and he understood that completely. Ian glanced over to his roommate, trying to be sneaky, but almost immediately failing, as the other man quickly caught his eyes with his own and smirked , causing the redhead to blush and smile. Then Mickey tipped his head toward Ian to speak.

“I’m fuckin' sorry about Bruce, man,” he said, “He’s just a fuckin' moron.” Mickey said it with an exhale and rubbed his forehead. Ian shrugged.

“It’s whatever,” Ian replied simply. The other man looked over his face, appearing as though he was savoring the sight of it, with a small smile on his lips, then turned back to the hall.

“You got my fuckin' lighter?” Mickey asked lowly with a raise of his eyebrow.

Ian met his eyes, then took a brief glance around them, seeing no one in their vicinity before reaching into his pocket, feeling Mickey’s lighter with his fingertips. He then met his eyes once more with slight hesitation, then gave a small smile as he reached over and slipped the lighter silently into the other man’s pocket. Mickey’s eyes watched the movement of his hand, letting him do it, then bit his lip just slightly, trying to hold down a smile as he met Ian's eyes again.

“Thanks, Red,” he said quietly and the redhead simply held his smile.

“You gotta stop at the room first?” Ian asked, trying to think of something more to talk about.

“Nah,” said Mickey with a single wave of his hand, “Already been through there. Dropped shit off, grabbed what I needed,” he explained, then turned to let his eyes travel down the other man’s body, “Then I came lookin' for your big, red ass,” Mickey added a bit more lowly. Then a handsome smirk pulled up from the corner of his mouth and Ian tried to ignore the flutters singing through his head with an airy, twisting dance, sending speckles of pleasurable shivers down along his limbs.

“Yeah, sorry I did sorta look for you,” said Ian, hoping his voice was even, “But I figured you got busy with something,” he shrugged, resisting the urge to ask about it. Mickey gave a small nod and another tilt of his head.

“Don’t be fuckin' sorry, man,” said his roommate with a light chuckle, “Just had to deal with somethin',” he added, “Figured you’d get done with your shit before I got done with mine,” Mickey pointed to Ian, then his own chest with his thumb. Ian twiddled his fingers at his side, trying to think of a way to ask about it, without seeming too nosy.

“You get called down by your doctor too?” the redhead queried, trying to sound casual and collected.

“Nah,” said Mickey, with a small glance toward Ian, “But it was still some fuckin' bullshit that I couldn’t fuckin' avoid,” he explained with a thick scoff to his voice and a slight shake of his head. Ian gave a slow nod, but didn’t ask anything further, nor did Mickey offer anything further.

They were nearly to the door that led to the yard when Ian suddenly noticed a skinny, twitchy girl with choppy, brown hair, and long, thin scars covering her arms, walking up the hallway from the opposite direction, Stacy. She immediately noticed the two men and had a look on her face that was rather hard to read. The girl appeared somewhat angry upon seeing the redhead, yet vengeful, and still somewhat lustful which really confused Ian to see. Something just wasn’t fucking right with this chick. She moved to the center of the hall with the slightest smile on her face, looking as if she was going to attempt to walk between them. But when Mickey saw her coming, he gave another scoff, then a glance at Ian before looking back at her, remaining firmly in his stride beside him. Then when the two men held their stance as she got closer, they had to slow their steps, staring her down as she refused to move aside. Mickey glanced between the two of them once more, then gave a small chuckle, appearing rather amused, but Ian just clenched his jaw and glared down at the young woman in front of him.

“Been thinking about me?” she asked with a seductive smile and an arched eyebrow, focusing only on the redhead and not his roommate. Ian gave her a very flat, unimpressed expression.

“Fuck, no,” he replied firmly with a scoff in his voice and a confident shake of his head.

Mickey punched out a laugh and didn’t bother to cover it, grinning down into Stacy's face, but staying out of the conversation. She merely flashed a glance at the dark haired man before looking back at the tall, handsome redhead.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” Stacy offered quietly, reaching a thin, shaky hand out to touch his chest. Ian swiftly leaned away from the contact, noticing Mickey clench his jaw just slightly as he saw her hand move toward him.

“Don’t,” Ian advised bluntly, causing Mickey to scoff and laugh again. She eyes shot back over to him, then frowned with a stuttery shake flowing through her body, looking back at Ian once again.

“Ah, I get it,” she said, taking a small step back, eyes now moving back and forth between them, “When you said you were a faggot, you were fucking serious?” Stacy sounded baffled, completely full of disbelief and began bouncing a high pitched giggle out from her chest, then immediately appeared shocked and annoyed once more.

Ian pressed his lips together with a raise of his eyebrows, now slipping his hands into his pockets and holding his very close stance next to Mickey. The girl began to glare at Mickey once more, who merely crossed his arms over his chest and laughed again, with a smug, cocky grin on his face.

“Why the fuck are all the men in this place nasty fucking cock suckers?” Ian clenched his jaw tighter and swallowed with frustration, then Mickey suddenly dropped his expression and hardened his stance.

“Aye, if you don’t shut the fuck up and move the fuck around real fuckin' quick, you and me are gonna have a serious fuckin' problem,” Mickey sneered through his teeth, leaning in close to her face, “You understand me, you stupid little bitch?” he spat with a high raise of his brow.

Ian’s eyes widened, obviously surprised by Mickey’s sudden aggression, not expecting him to become so threatening with a woman, but the dark haired man didn’t seem to give too much thought to her gender. The redhead very cautiously placed his hand on Mickey’s shoulder and gave him a gentle, grounding squeeze, feeling the muscles beneath his palm melt just a bit. Stacy trembled a little bit, suddenly appearing quite nervous and a little afraid of the angered man glaring down into her face. She stepped back a little more and dropped her face, saying nothing and quickly moved around them, taking off down the hall. Mickey let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his forehead.

“I can’t fuckin' stand that bitch,” Mickey breathed, then turned his face to look over Ian’s appearing to relax quite a bit from the sight, then smirked at him, “She’s got it bad for ya, Red, “ he joked suddenly, “Think she might be in love.” Mickey grinned teasingly, “Or she just really wants ya in the fuckin' sack, man,” he laughed. Ian rolled his eyes gave him a lazy expression and nudged him roughly by the shoulder, which resulted in a handsome, chesty laugh from his roommate and continued walking.

“Well, she’s gonna be pretty fucking disappointed,” Ian cracked back with surety, sticking his chin out. Mickey eyed him for a moment, fighting down another smile, then thumbed his lip in thought and gave him a gentle brush with the side of his arm.

“I better not be,” he said lowly, arching an eyebrow at him. Ian felt himself blush, gathering some courage, some confidence and arched an eyebrow back.

“Don’t think you will be,” Ian replied quietly, causing the man beside him to smirk, bite his lip and trail his eyes, delicately back down his body in a way that seemed to make Ian’s skin tingle.

They both looked over each other rather suggestively for a long moment as they reached the access door that led into the yard. They were buzzed through by the same mindless young staff member with her nose crammed into her cellphone screen, then began slowly strolling toward the bush line, no one paying them any mind. Mickey glanced back at Ian, then down to his hand, reaching out and lacing his fingers through his, and led him into the shrubbery behind him.

Ian followed him through the leaves, once again scrunching up his face and turning it away to avoid the delicate tumble of snow falling over them as they passed through. When they entered their private little space, Mickey turned to look up at him with sparkling blue eyes, letting his thumb rub slowly over Ian’s. He gave a small smile before letting go and hunching down to settle within the snug little space on the ground, Ian following suit. They both adjusted and settled, with Mickey fishing around inside his pocket to retrieve his cigarette pack. Ian gave a slight crease of his brow and tilted his head in question.

“I thought by ‘shit,' you meant bud,” said Ian, causing Mickey to chuckle with a nod.

“Hold ya fuckin' horses, Red,” he replied, flipping open the pack, pulling out a cigarette to place behind his ear, then slipped a joint out behind it, placing it between his lips, then closed the pack. His eyes then fell back to Ian’s face, seemingly unable to stop himself from gazing.

“S'pose to be some good shit too,” he mentioned quietly, letting his eyes fall to Ian lips, then bit down on his own. Then, Ian’s eyes dropped to the other man’s lips as well and began tingling with urge and craving. Mickey rolled the joint over between his lips with a bit of a smirk.

“What’s on your mind, man?” Mickey asked in a smooth voice and a slight cock of his head, watching as the other man watched him. Ian’s chest felt fuzzy and light, filling with warm, tickling heat and chanced the opportunity to be completely honest, without fear of rejection.

“You,” Ian whispered, peering straight into the other man’s eyes.

Mickey appeared rather surprised at the redhead’s boldness, but quite pleased with the response as well, letting his grin widen. He watched Ian’s face, then sparked the lighter to pull a deep, thick drag of smoke from the weed, holding it tightly in his chest, before exhaling through his nose.

“Is that so?” Mickey asked back, passing the joint to Ian, letting his fingers linger before letting go. Ian smiled lightly as he took it and brought it to his lips, letting himself enjoy the extremely subtle flavor that the other man’s lips had left behind. The redhead then gave a slow, confident nod exhaling a thick, plume of smoke through the leaves in front of him.

“Know the fuckin' feelin,” he replied, his eyes continuing to wander with obvious appeal in their gaze, then gently plucked the joint from Ian’s fingers to raise to his lips. He took a deep pull, then stared down at Ian’s lips once more. “C'mere, man,” Mickey requested with the slightest curl of his forefinger, holding his smoke inside his lungs.

Ian swallowed and moved forward slowly, watching as Mickey did the same, feeling his breath slow and hearing the nerves in the back of his mind begin to scream. Both men parted their lips just slightly and leaned their faces together, hovering extremely close as Mickey gently exhaled, pushing a thick cloud of smoke, rolling up his throat, out over his tongue, to pass through Ian’s lips and sink down into his lungs. Ian then leaned back with a rather pleased, yet surprised look on his face. It may not have been a kiss, but it was close and being that close to Mickey had felt incredibly amazing, even if they hadn’t actually touched. When the other man saw his expression, he smirked wide and arched an eyebrow.

“Been wantin' to fuckin' do that since we first smoked,” Mickey confessed quietly, then bit his lips watching as Ian exhaled the hit into a small puff in front of him, coughing a bit, then chuckled.

“I thought you weren’t a kisser?” Ian queried, and Mickey gave a slight tilt of his head.

“I didn’t kiss ya, Red,” he confirmed with a cocky grin and Ian laughed.

“I guess not,” the redhead agreed, reaching over to take the joint from Mickey who let him without any protest. Ian took a drag and thought for a moment, wanting to ask Mickey about something, but didn’t want it taken in the wrong way. He was silent for another moment before he tried, very carefully.

“You know, I was a little nervous seeing how you handled Stacy in there,” he said slowly, passing the weed back. Mickey creased his brow, looking over his face in study as he pinched the end of the joint.

“The fuck ya mean?” Mickey asked back with a bit of a confused, yet hardened tone.

“I mean, when you told her off,” Ian elaborated, “I wasn’t sure what you were gonna do,” he admitted cautiously, watching as the other man held his expression, making Ian a bit nervous.

“What, you think I was gonna fuckin' hit her?” Mickey accused, his voice laced with disbelief, “That what ya fuckin' think a me, Red?” he asked in a bit of a snap, appearing very defensive and rather disappointed in the other man’s comment.

“No,” Ian said quickly, reaching over to grasp Mickey’s knee, whose expression flickered just slightly at the contact, but didn’t attempt to move away, “Not at all,” he insisted with a squeeze of his palm, “But I had to ask, you know?” Ian tried to explain lightly.

He’d only wanted to know where Mickey’s head was at during that brief altercation. Ian couldn’t picture Mickey as a woman beater, but honestly, he still didn’t know him very well and he knew that the man had issues with controlling his anger, as he’d seen him unload it rather viciously on Seth just the night before. Part of him had just had to be sure. Mickey held his defensive body language for a long moment, reading over Ian’s face, appearing extremely unsure of what to think, but eventually he softened a bit, letting his shoulders drop.

“I wasn’t gonna fuckin' hit her,” Mickey breathed, with a rub of his brow, “She just fuckin' pissed me off,” he explained with an upturned palm, then took a long hit and passed it to Ian, “But it ain’t like she touched ya, or some shit like that,” he added, then looked deeply into the other man’s eyes, “Don’t like seein' anyone touchin' ya,” he confessed quietly, causing Ian to blush and smile just a bit.

Maybe it would be seen as defensive, controlling or maybe even obsessive to other people, but it didn’t to Ian. He could see the gentle sincerity in the other man’s eyes, laced with the smallest hint of insecurity. Mickey was starting to care about him, it was clear and it made Ian feel unbelievably special. But then, he felt his chest tighten, realizing that Stacy had in fact touched him and he hadn’t told Mickey about it. At the time, he didn’t feel that he really needed to as it didn’t seem like anything that would snowball. Well, that was until Mickey incapacitated Seth. Ian tried not to hesitate, before realizing that he already had and saw the dark haired man look at him with concern and curiosity all over his face.

“What?” Mickey asked seeing the other man’s expression, “What the fuck is it?” he insisted. Ian combed his fingers through his hair and let out an exhale.

“The other day, she tried to come onto me,” Ian began explaining quietly and watched as Mickey clenched his jaw, listening to him speak, “And she did sorta,” he tried to think of better words to use, but couldn’t, “Try to grab my dick,” said Ian, “And I shoved her back pretty hard without really thinking about it.” He rubbed the back of his neck, watching his roommate’s face appear as though he was trying really hard to control his anger.

“That bitch touched you?” Mickey asked as if he were making sure that he’d heard the other man correctly. Ian very nervously gave a slow, sure nod. Mickey sucked his teeth, with a brief nod of acknowledgment, then gave a tip of his chin.

“I'll deal with it,” he said in a deep, firm voice, then passed the joint back to Ian. But Ian raised a defensive palm as he took the joint and began to shake his head.

“It’s cool, Mickey,” Ian assured, squeezing the man’s knee, beginning to rub it with his thumb, “It’s over. It’s done,” he said. Mickey thought for a moment, then gave a shake of his head and met Ian’s eyes.

“Nah, man,” he said, “You don’t fuckin' know that bitch,” Mickey had a serious face, “She don’t fuckin' take rejection well at all.” Ian watched his face, seeing how serious he was and knew that he wouldn’t be able to talk him out of whatever it was that he was already thinking of doing. He tried to drop it, but he was curious.

“What’re you gonna do to her?” Ian asked quietly, taking a small hit and passing it, almost afraid of the answer. Mickey met his eyes, took the joint then scratched the bridge of his nose with the back of his thumb.

“I personally ain’t gonna do shit,” Mickey replied with a shrug, “Don’t mean I can’t still handle the shit,” he said simply.

Ian wanted to ask more, but somehow knew that he shouldn’t, instead giving an accepting nod, which Mickey seemed to approve of, now turning his face away to take a final drag off the joint, then crushed the roach into the ground by his feet. He then slipped his cigarette out from behind his ear and offered it to Ian who happily took it and watched Mickey’s face as he lit the end for him.

“Aren’t we gonna miss lunch?” Ian suddenly wondered out loud, exhaling a thick plume of bluish smoke.

“Shit's probably right fuckin' now actually,” Mickey confirmed, though not at all making any movement to rise. Ian creased his brow a bit, then arched an eyebrow, taking another pull from the cigarette before passing it.

“Shouldn’t we get inside, then?” he asked, watching as Mickey raised the smoke to his lips, and shook his head.

“Bruce knows to fuckin' cover shit,” he explained with a tip of his head, “And I can fuckin' get us somethin' to eat outta the kitchen anyway, whether the cafeteria's open or not,” Mickey added with a smile, taking another pull of smoke and exhaling above his head.

“Really?” Ian asked, his voice full of surprise. Mickey gave a confident nod and passed him the cigarette. “How?” he chanced, assuming that the other man would have some excuse not to answer him. Though instead, the other man stayed quiet for a moment, eyes moving over his face, thinking.

“I know a chick who works in the kitchen,” Mickey said finally, slowly, watching Ian’s expression as he spoke, “If I ask for somethin', she’ll bring it,” he explained simply, vaguely.

“Why?” Ian dared, not smoking the cigarette between his fingers, just watching Mickey as he raised his eyebrows a bit at the other man’s persistence.

“You ask a lot a fuckin' questions, Red,” Mickey noted, swiping the cigarette from his hand and pulling a long drag, “You know that?”

Ian held his expression, too curious to fold, somehow knowing that even though he was pushing just a bit, it wasn’t something personal enough to anger the other man. Mickey didn’t appear angered or upset at all, anyway. He seemed surprised and impressed, just as he always did when ever Ian dared to push him, to insist, and delve and dig, at least with most things. He ran the pad of his thumb along the bottom of his lip, exhaling a thick cloud of smoke between them, then arched his brow.

“Does it really fuckin' matter?” Mickey asked lightly, and Ian simply shrugged, not really bothered at all by a woman, knowing that Mickey was gay, so there was no real feeling of threat or anything of that nature.

“No,” Ian replied, “Not really,” he looked down where his hand still lay of Mickey’s knee and squeezed again, looking back into his eyes, seeing the man next to him appear completely content.

Then the dark haired man reached his own hand down to fold over Ian’s, tattooed knuckles weaving together with clear ones. The redhead watched as Mickey rolled the filter of the cigarette across his bottom lip with the tip of his tongue and licked his own lips. The other man’s eyes dropped to watch him do it and Ian’s lips began to tingle as his own eyes trailed down to the marks he’d left on Mickey's neck the night before, suddenly feeling a mixture of flutters and craving, biting down on his lip.

“Can I kiss you?” Ian asked, slowly, shyly, quietly, full of nerves and hesitation. Mickey turned a bit more to look at him better, his expression full of appeal and intrigue, looking from his face, down along his neck and across his chest before meeting his eyes and arching an eyebrow.

“Why you fuckin' askin', Red?” he asked in a smooth, low voice. Mickey pushed out his bottom lip, raised both eyebrows and upturned both palms, “I ain’t stoppin' ya, man,” he invited, making Ian’s head and heart flutter, a small smile spread across his lips as he slowly leaned in closer.

Ian tried to be much more gentle this time, not wanting to leave any new marks for anyone to see and risk another public mention of it. A very strong value that they both had in common was privacy. There used to be a time where Ian had no care as to whether or not there were others around to witness him engage in acts that should otherwise be private, but he’d changed. Ian was a different person now and Mickey wasn’t just anyone. He was special and he deserved the respect of privacy, they both did.

As Ian’s lips touched the soft, smooth skin of Mickey’s neck, he felt the man flush with goosebumps just as he had last time, inhaling ever so slightly at the subtle, delicate contact. He parted his lips just slightly giving a firmer peck a bit farther up, closer to his ear and felt the man squeeze his hand over his a bit more tightly. Ian let himself take him in man’s deliciously consuming scent, breathing into him as he placed another kiss even higher, the tip of his nose once again brushing along Mickey’s earlobe, causing a deep, throaty hum to vibrate up his neck. Ian then moved his hand up just a bit, the dark haired man’s staying atop it, sliding over his kneecap, up onto his thigh, gripping more firmly. Mickey dropped the cigarette from his other hand and brought it up to the back of Ian’s neck, rubbing soothingly at the short, soft red hair along the bottom of his scalp, turning his own head more to open his neck up for him.

Ian opened his mouth and caressed his tongue along Mickey's skin, twisting small, slow circles into his neck, feeling the grips on his own neck and hand tighten as he did so. He brought his free arm around Mickey’s back and gently, but firmly pulled him closer and Mickey let him, biting down on a soft, low moan as Ian’s kissing became a bit more intense. The dark haired man slowly swept his hand down along the redhead’s neck and onto his chest, giving a firm, gliding grip down along his muscles, stopping to grasp his hip with tight, strong fingers. He hummed into Mickey’s neck, opening his mouth wider to suck ever so gently along the same spot he’d unknowingly marked the night before.

“Fuck, man,” Mickey breathed, sounding as if he spoke over a moan that’d been caught in his throat. Ian hummed into his neck again, then moved a bit lower to give a small bite atop a thick, firm muscle in his shoulder, causing his roommate to pull on his hip once more and suck a pleasurable hiss in through his teeth. “Shit,” he whispered through a shaky breath. Then suddenly Ian felt himself getting a little carried away, and began sliding his hand farther up Mickey’s leg, when suddenly the hand on his hip disappeared and reappeared on top of his own.

“Wait,” Mickey stopped him gently, quietly, “Not here, man,” he said, his voice still shaky and his legs trembling with a flow of anxious, pleasurable nerves, “Not yet.”

Mickey met his eyes, trying to show the other man what he couldn’t bring himself to say. There was something else there, some reason hidden underneath that seemed to be a barrier for him, something simply preventing him from going further and Ian couldn’t tell what it was. But he could tell that it was something quite serious and very personal, something that the other man just wasn’t ready to talk about yet and he completely understood that. Ian didn’t want him to feel pressured, he didn’t want to push, not with this. So, slowly he leaned back and held an understanding expression, sliding his hand back down to his knee and moving his other arm out from behind his back, watching as the other man cautiously watched his movements.

“Okay,” Ian accepted quietly, easily, with a small smile on his face, widening it a bit more as he saw the man beside him relax and smile back, then gave his hand an affectionate squeeze and a soft rub of his thumb.

“Thanks, man,” Mickey said quietly, leaning in a bit as he spoke. Ian gave a small nod, holding his smile. “We probably should fuckin' head inside though,” he added and the other man nodded once more.

“Right,” Ian agreed, though he didn’t yet move to stand and neither did Mickey. They each lingered for a long moment, fingers moving and lacing together, staring into each other’s eyes before very slowly sliding their hands apart.

Then finally they both stood, and took a brief second to gather themselves, flashing blushing, knowing smiles at one another before slipping back through the passage and began walking toward the building. They strode back to their room in relative silence, brushing shoulders and exchanging more glances until they arrived and entered quietly, each moving to sit upon their own bed with not much to do other than look. They held eye contact for a while before Mickey suddenly bent to pull off his sweatshirt and toss it over onto the other side of his bed. It was then that Ian couldn’t help but notice Mickey’s forearm, along the array of cigarette burns he had noticed when he arrived, that there seemed to be a new one, a rather fresh one, as if possibly made today. He couldn't help but frown in sadness before looking away just as quickly as not to be noticed.

Why would Mickey feel the need to burn himself? The thought made the flutters in his chest, burn up and scratch at his throat. Why was Mickey sad? Why wouldn’t he talk to Ian about it? With as much as the other man had been helping him with his own issues, Ian would not hesitate if Mickey ever needed help with his. The thought hurt and confused him, perhaps more than it should, but he just couldn’t help it. It was bothering him, a lot.

He wanted to ask about it, but knew he shouldn’t, unsure of how to broach the subject anyway. As close as he felt he was getting to Mickey, Ian still felt it would be much too sensitive a subject to even attempt to touch on any time soon. Instead he stayed quiet, unsure what to say, simply pretending not to notice anything at all. There was a pool of despair simmering inside his brain, beginning to bubble up and rock against the sides of his skull, making his stomach pull into a harsh twist. He tried to swallow it, but it was difficult. Ian laid back on his bed and rest his hands behind his head, trying to appear somewhat bored, yet comfortable, and not at all as if he were struggling with his own thoughts.

“Aye,” Mickey said suddenly, pulling his mind back into the room around him for just a moment, “Wanna go check out the fuckin' pool?” he offered with an arched eyebrow and a handsome smirk, “I know you ain’t seen the shit yet and it really ain’t much,” Mickey admitted with a chuckle and a shrug, “But the fuckin' sauna, man,” he grinned wide, and trailed his eyes down along Ian’s chest, then back up to his face, “That’s the good shit,” he said with a happily insistent tone and a slight crease of his brow, looking down at him for a response.

As tempting as it was, and as genuine and relaxed as his roommate looked, standing in front of him with thick, strong arms crossed over his chest and deep blue eyes shimmering down at him, he just couldn’t bring himself to really get up right now. Ian suddenly just felt sad, drained, empty, but used all his strength not to let it show and just appear normal, not wanting to concern the man with any of his own minor issues. So, he tried to decline as politely as he could, as much as he hated doing it, honestly wanting to go with him, if only he could.

“Maybe another time,” said Ian, much to Mickey obvious confusion and disappointment, “I’m actually kinda tired,” he lied. Mickey arched a sharp, skeptical eyebrow.

“Really?” he asked with surprise, “You'd rather fuckin' sleep?” he scoffed with a chuckle. Ian looked away and fiddled with his thumbs.

“Sometimes I just can’t help the shit,” Ian explained with a light shrug and an upturned palm, before combing long, thin fingers through his hair and out of his eyes. Mickey’s expression faltered, his eyes flickering between Ian’s for a long, quiet moment, trying to read him, trying to understand.

“Want me to stay?” Mickey offered quietly, very quietly, dropping his eyes to the floor as he spoke before slowly moving back up to look at Ian’s face. Ian felt himself smile just a bit, comforted by the gesture of the other man, but didn’t want to impose.

“You don’t have to,” the redhead insisted, “I’ll be alright,” he assured. The dark haired man was silent for another moment before he slowly began to give an accepting nod, running his thumb along his lower lip.

“Alright,” Mickey conceded gently, “I’m gonna go fuckin handle some shit real quick then,” he said with a point of his thumb toward the door and quick chin tip. Ian creased his brow and hoped that perhaps the other man would elaborate a bit more, but unfortunately he didn’t, “You hungry?” Mickey asked, “Fuckin' missed lunch and shit,” he said, “And like I said, I can get somethin' for ya, don’t matter if shit's open or not,” the man shrugged lightly, as did Ian.

“Not really,” Ian admitted, “But I'll eat at dinner,” he assured with a small smile, knowing that for some reason, knowing that Ian was eating, made Mickey happy, which it definitely appeared to now as he gave another slow nod. “You can always wake me up, if you want,” the redhead added quietly, “When you get back.” Mickey looked down at him for a moment, with the smallest hint of a smirk fixed to his face and slowly dropped his hand to brush through Ian’s hair with his fingertips, the other man unable to stop himself from exhaling at the touch.

“I just might, Red,” Mickey replied lowly, moving his hand over to brush his thumb over Ian’s temple before withdrawing it, “Be back in a bit,” he assured with another smirk, then turned to walk from the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.

Ian hadn’t felt tired exactly when he’d told his roommate that he was, more just emotionally drained than physically. But even that was seeming to take a toll on his body as his nerves began to flare and his muscles began to ache, a harsh, thick yawn pushed it’s way up Ian’s throat. He groaned at the irony and pinched the bridge of his nose, quickly drawing his hand back away as the contact stung at the fairly fresh cut concealed beneath the bandage. He was quickly regretting his decision to turn down his roommate’s offer to stay with him and presumably lay with him, sleep with him, the thought alone becoming so incredibly comforting. But it shattered quickly as another yawn passed through his lips, pulling him closer to unconsciousness, remembering that he’d turned Mickey away and that he was in fact, all alone.

Suddenly he struggled, fighting to keep his eyes open, like he almost always seemed to do, trying desperately to stay awake, to sit up, to awake and rise, but like a plague, like a flood, sleep quickly consumed him.

***

“Sweetheart!” her voice called to him happily, “Wake up, Wake up, dear,” she said, “You slept like a rock, baby.”

Ian groaned loudly, coughing, gasping, shifting over from his awkward position, his body throbbing, aching, screaming in pain. He brought his hands to his face, trembling, shaking, then immediately threw them down and began searching with wide eyes around the cab for the trucker who had violated him, finding him nowhere in sight.

“Where the fuck is he?” he snapped out in frantic, jumbled words.

“What?” His mother reached a hand out to brush the hair out from his eyes and sooth a calming palm down the side of his face, but he quickly jerked away from the contact, swatting her touch away.

“Where the fuck is he?” Ian demanded once more with much more insistence, spitting as he spoke from being so shaken and in pain.

“Who, honey? Who?” she questioned with a raise of her hands, and a sweeping glance of the small space around them.

“The sick motherfucker driving the fucking truck!” he howled out, attempting once more to sit up, trying to ignore his body’s agonizing screams of distress.

“George?” she asked, “He’s inside paying for gas,” his mother explained, “This is our stop though, honey,” she added suddenly, “A friend of mine is meeting us here,” she smiled brightly, not seeming very concerned about her son’s current state. Ian simply looked at her with outrageous disbelief.

“Mom, don’t you know what he fucking did to me while you were all passed the fuck out from shooting shit in your arms?” Ian shook as he spoke, his voice raising angrily.

“What do you mean, my love?” she asked innocently, leaning in to touch him again and this time he let her, simply because he was too curious to move away, “Was he not gentle with you?” the woman asked, her eyes batting over his face, “George promised me he’d be gentle.”

Ian’s eyes widened with shock. 'What the fuck did she just say?' Had his mother set him up or had she just sold him like a piece of meat again? Ian had said 'no' to the man, more than once, he remembered that much. He also remembered the struggling, the fighting, the begging, pleading, crying and fuck so much pain. How the hell could she do such a thing to him? How could any mother put their child through such torture and act like it was nothing? His face flushed a boiling, violent red and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to control himself, his fists shaking with rage, breathing through his teeth.

“What?!” Ian exploded from where he sat, much too enraged to even register any pain, glaring down into his mother’s silent, confused face, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” he didn’t wait for a response before shoving her aside with a harsh, rough push, moving past her and climbing through the small space to swing open the door. He staggered out of the truck, stumbling as he went, ignoring his mother’s calls from behind him.

His eyes moved wildly around in search of something, anything but he wasn’t sure what, half blinded by the terrible pounding in his skull and the ache in his body. His feet scrambled as he desperately tried to move away from the truck and his mother as quickly as possible, just before his eyes suddenly landed on the fat, round, bearded trucker who had forced himself upon him just a short while earlier. Ian saw red and immediately turned, beginning to make quickened steps toward him. The older man didn’t see the younger man coming until the very last instant, completely unable to do anything about the hard, sharp fist slamming into his face.

The man went down with Ian right on top of him, fists flying in a blind rage, yelling incoherent obscenities out through the air. He couldn’t stop himself, even as his mother caught up to where he was, reaching out to yank on his arm, screaming, trying to stop him as well, he still didn’t. Ian twisted his body around with a blind shove, knocking her away from him and onto the ground, before returning to his viciously vengeful assault on the man beneath him.

George didn’t fight back, unable to, never throwing a single punch in return, simply going limp rather quickly, gargling on the blood beginning to pool in his mouth. Ian swung until he could no longer feel his fists, when the face that they struck no longer snapped, cracked or resisted much in any way, merely squishing under his knuckles with a soft, meaty crunch. He panted, exasperated, exhausted, limbs still shaking with adrenaline.

The redhead slowly raised his face, his chest rising and falling, then turned his head slightly to see his mother seated and trembling beside him. She had her hands over her mouth, tears streaming down her face and wide, terrified eyes that were staring down at the mangled, very possibly deceased man that lay beneath her son. There was a long moment of silence before the woman reached a hesitant, quivering hand out toward him, in an attempt to touch his arm, but he jerked away from her contact yet again.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” Ian growled, yanking his arm out of her reach, “Stay the fuck away from me.” He stood up from where he’d been crouched over his victim, then tried to level his shoulders and stick his chin out, stepping over the man to walk away from his mother once more.

“Ian, darling!” she yelled after her son, her voice full of pitiful desperation, “You don’t understand!” she insisted, small feet running up behind him, “I never thought he would ever hurt you! If I had known I wouldn’t have allowed it, my dear, my sweetheart. You know that, don’t you?” Her voice began to border on hysterical. He continued to ignore her, not at all pausing or stopping.

“Ian, honey, I love you!” she yelled after him.

“Fuck you!” he spat back, no even turning to look at her.

“No!” she yelled, sounding as if she were speaking through tears, “Please, you have to believe me! I made a deal with him for you, but I would never ever offer you to some son of a bitch against your will!” Ian’s feet paused without much of his control, hearing the tone in his mother’s voice, feeling the sickening pull that he hated to feel for the woman and he turned around to finally look at her face. She looked broken, distraught, saddened, afraid and he wanted nothing more than to hold her closely, tightly yet shove her away again at the very same time.

Ian was honestly quite torn, really unsure how to feel and what to believe, mostly just feeling disgusted and betrayed. He wanted to believe his mother, to trust her, but how could he? After everything she’s put him through his entire life, let alone the hell he’d endured recently, why the fuck had Ian ever thought he could ever trust his mother in the first place? He shifted his feet, taking another step back in hesitation, seeing her reach a thin, frail hand out toward him once more.

“I would never let anyone hurt you, my angel, my love, my favorite boy,” she promised, gently brushing long, red hair behind his ear, “I love you more than anything, darling,” his mother assured him in a sweet, soft voice, moving closer to pull him toward her. Ian was stiff, tense and full of doubt, hardly acknowledging her attempts of affectionate contact. “I’m so sorry,” she pleaded, “Nothing like that will ever happen again, I promise,” she said firmly, tears running down her face, nuzzling into her son’s chest as he fought back tears of his own.

A big part of him knew that he shouldn’t give in, that he shouldn’t trust her, yet somehow, someway, the hold that she seemed to have on him always seemed to prevail over what ever reason and sense there was trying to convince him of the truth. He was helpless against it.

Ian looked down at his mother, seeing her desperately try to press herself ever closer to him, sobbing, begging him for forgiveness and he couldn’t help but feel weak and guilty for causing her be in such a way, no matter the circumstances. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tight, leaning his face down into her hair to inhale her sweet, familiar scent. She made a sound of surprised happiness and held him tighter, grateful for the embrace. They held each other for a long while, completely forgetting the bloodied man crumbled on the ground just a short distance away. His mother sniffed a few times, moving back just a bit to wipe away her tears and turn her face up to look at him.

“Okay, darling,” she sniffled, her nose and cheeks flushed bright pink, “Like I told you, I have a friend of mine coming to meet us here and pick us up,” she explained, the wind picking up a thick lock of blonde hair and blowing it over her face, “She’s a wonderful person, sweetheart,” his mother praised, “You'll absolutely love her,” she assured him with a delicate trusting smile, reaching up to smooth her hand down the side of her son’s face, “Trust me, sweet face,” she offered gently, leaning her face close to his and gazing deeply into sparkling green eyes that seemed to perfectly match her own, “All this bullshit is gonna be worth it,” she promised with a face full of confidence and surety.

Ian gazed back into his mother’s eyes for what seemed like forever, finding a strange familiar comfort in their deep, ever-twisting waves of emerald and jade, losing himself in them just for a moment and weakened even more. He exhaled and let his chest fall with defeat. As much as part of him seemed so much to want to hate her, he couldn’t bring himself to shove her away, the way he really wanted to. The part of him that loved her seemed to always overpower the rest of the voices inside his head that hopelessly tried to convince him otherwise. Ian gave her a conceding nod and watched as his mother’s face simply lit up at the sight.

“That’s mommy’s boy, my favorite child, my heart,” she squeezed him tight once more, as if never wanting to let go, then looked up into his face once more, eyes shining over him with a beautiful smile on her face, “She should be here in just a few hours,” said his mother, with a slight shake from the cold, “So, we'll just have to wait a around a little bit, okay?” she batted her eyes up at him, waiting in question. What choice did he have? He nodded once more and she let go of him, taking a step back to clap and quite literally dance with joy.

“Good boy, good boy,” she sang happily then made a glance back toward the bright, green semi truck and the unconscious man on the ground close by it, then turned back to her son, “We should take a look and see if Georgie has any parting gifts for us,” she offered with a sneaky giggle and a point of her thumb, now unable to stand still, “It’s the least that piece of shit can do for us, right baby?” she justified with a sinful smirk and a raise of her eyebrow.

Ian couldn’t deny that the idea appealed to him, very, very much, wanting nothing more than to destroy the rapist's life in whatever way he could, and if that meant that he could take and trash all of his shit on top of the rather brutal ass whooping he’d already received, Ian was gonna fucking do it. He returned his mother's smirk with a wide, agreeing grin of his own, nodding and glancing back toward the direction of the man and the truck. His mother hugged him once more before taking him by the hand, beginning to lead him back over in that direction when she leaned in to speak with him once more.

“You hop on up and look through the truck,” she directed, “Tear the shit up!” His mother let out a loud sharp laugh, “Take whatever looks good and fuck everything else,” Ian laughed too, in a sudden mood for a bit of destruction, wanting to take his frustrations out on something or someone other than himself. “I’ll check the asshole's pockets, then help you in there,” she added finally, “He has something on him that Mommy wants, and Mommy’s gonna get it,” she grinned, licking her lips, staring intently over at the large, bearded man on the ground.

Ian’s smile faded just a bit, remembering the sight he’d as he was being violated inside the truck of his mother’s arm tied, and covered in track marks with an abandoned needle fallen beneath it. He turned to look down at his mother about to say something else, about to ask what it was that she was searching for but before he could she was nudging him toward the big rig and making her own quick steps over toward the man on the ground, fingers fidgeting, ready to fish through his pockets. He paused for just a moment, watching her as she searched him, then remembered his own job and turned back toward the truck, and climbed back up inside.

***

Ian rolled over in his bed, bumped into the wall and groaned, his face covered by a thin, scratchy blanket. He raised a hand to his face beneath it to rub his forehead and heard a handsome, throaty chuckle from somewhere across the room. He then shifted to roll back over onto his stomach, fingers searching for a slit in the blanket, finding one and peeked out to see Mickey seated on his bed with a notebook in his lap and a pen in his hand. Ian creased his forehead and raised an eyebrow before pulling at the blanket and wiggling out from underneath it.

“The fuck are you doing?” Ian asked in a clouded, groggy voice, covering a heavy yawn that escaped his lips, then sat up to rub the sleep from his eyes.

“None a your fuckin' business,” Mickey shot back with no heat in his voice and a smirk on his face, flipping his notebook closed, sliding his pen into it’s spine and placing it down on the table beside him. Ian looked over seeing his roommate’s relaxed, amused expression and couldn’t help but smile, just a bit.

“You been back long?” the redhead asked, curiously, looking him over.

“Just a little while,” the other man replied with a slight shrug and a tilt of his head. Ian ran both palms roughly down his face and groaned again.

“You good?” Mickey asked with an eyebrow raised. Ian shook his hair out, combed it back with his fingers and nodded.

“Yeah,” answered Ian, “I just fucking hate sleeping lately.” The other man’s eyes traced slowly over his face and began to nod.

“Know whatcha mean, man,” he said quietly.

The statement surprised Ian a little, just now remembering the other man once mentioning to him that he had his own issues with his sleep, though he never actually gave any details. Maybe that was why Mickey was able to know just exactly when and how to comfort Ian during those distraught and confused times. Maybe he’s gone through it as well, in some form or another. That thought seemed to comfort Ian quite a bit, understanding a bit more why the other man seems to go out of his way to help him with those issues. Mickey seemed to know how it was. Ian held his expression, then stood up to pull of his sweater over his head, noticing the other man watching his movements. The redhead simply gazed back for a long moment until Mickey began to scoot to the edge of his bed to stand.

“Your ass better be fuckin' hungry, Red, “ he suggested with a tip of his chin, “We’re late for dinner,” Mickey pointed his thumb toward the clock seeing it getting close to the end of meal time. Ian creased his brow in confusion and parted his lips.

“Why the fuck didn’t you wake me up or something?” Ian asked, beginning to stand up himself. Mickey shrugged and held his smirk.

“You didn’t fuckin' seem upset or nothin',” Mickey explained, “And I really don’t mind ya fuckin' sleepin', man,” he added quietly, looking away a bit and rubbing the pad of his thumb lightly along his lower lip, then met his eyes again, “Well, ya wanna fuckin' go or what?” he asked insistently with a slight raise of his palms, cocking his head toward the door. Ian eyed him a bit skeptically for a brief moment, then exhaled gently.

“Okay,” Ian complied, feeling the flutters beginning to reappear in his lungs as he watched the other man’s eyes delicately trace his features as he looked at him. Then Mickey took a step closer, rubbing his fingertips subtly over the back of the redhead’s hand, then laced their fingers together for just a second, brushing his thumb along Ian’s, then let go, stepping backward towards the door.

“Come the fuck on then, Red,” he said lowly with another cock of his head, and Ian quickly followed, turning his face down to hide the wicked blush that was quickly rising into his cheeks.

They made it down to the cafeteria just as the line was beginning to close, barely making it through before the staff began to shut it down. Ian crinkled his nose at the questionable slice of meal loaf on his tray, eyeing his piece of fruit once again instead, following Mickey across the wide, open room over to their usual table in the corner where a calm and happy Bruce sat along with an always visibly irritated Eddy at his side. The big man gave a wide chinned nod in welcome and the smaller man just glared.

“Sup, bros?” Bruce greeted through a mouth full of food, “What are you assholes up to?” he quipped with a grin.

“Shit,” Ian breathed, “Tired as fuck,” he rubbed his forehead, then opened his carton of orange juice, taking a small sip, swishing it around his mouth before swallowing. Mickey gave a light chuckle as he took a bite of his food, then pointed toward Ian with his fork.

“Red here just woke up from another fuckin' beauty nap,” Mickey teased, smiling over at the redhead, “Like he really needs any fuckin' more a that shit,” he added lowly, letting himself admire the physique of the young man seated next him.

Ian blushed at his roommate’s boldness and couldn’t help but smile at him, yet again, just a little bit. He noticed Eddy roll his eyes and for some reason, that made Ian smile even more, now very subtly, moving his hand over beneath the table to rest on Mickey’s knee which was returned with a slightly arched eyebrow and a soft bite of his lip.

“Y'all are fucking disgusting,” Bruce chuckled out in a deep, throaty bellow, “Simply fucking sick.”

Mickey didn’t seem to mind the comment, holding his eyes on Ian as the man squeezed his knee ever so slightly. Ian also held his gaze for a bit longer than he intended, before finally forcing himself to look away and let go of Mickey’s knee, now reaching for the orange on his tray to peel it. He got about halfway through when he noticed Mickey appearing to be very subtly searching around the room, as if he was looking for someone. Ian creased his brow a bit, watching him, though trying not to be noticed himself, when the man suddenly raised his eyebrows, then turned to look directly into his face.

“Aye,” Mickey whispered, “I want ya to see somethin', alright?” he asked, “You’re gonna fuckin' like it, man,” his roommate grinned with an unreadable twinkle in his eyes.

Ian was curious and perked up a bit, giving the other man his full attention. Mickey raised his forefinger, gesturing for him to wait a moment, then began to rise from the table. He watched as Mickey crossed the room, keeping a subtle eye on the guards and approached a young woman with very dark, brown skin and short black hair. The dark haired man strode right up to her table, quickly waving away her other two companions that were seated next to her, who rose and left without a single argument or protest. Ian’s brow gave a hard crease as he watched, extremely confused, unable to look away, wanting to see what was going to happen. He saw Mickey lean down a bit and whisper something into her ear, lowered his hand into hers that which rested in her lap, appearing as though he could have possibly handed her something. Ian then saw the woman nod and look around the room herself appearing as though she were searching for something or someone, then began to stand up from her table. Mickey quickly walked back across the room and sat down next to Ian, with an excited smile spread across his face.

“Check it out, man,” he advised quietly with a point toward the girl’s direction and Ian complied, turning to watch, as did Bruce and Eddy having also noticed what Mickey had just done.

All four men watched as the woman crossed the room and approached a table where Stacy sat engaged in conversation with another young woman, completely unaware of the woman quickly walking up behind her. Ian’s eyes widened, unable to look away as the dark skinned girl strode right up to her, grabbed onto a hard fistful of hair, yanking her head back, then ran her hand down the side of her face in a quick, sudden motion. Stacy let out a sharp, ear splitting scream, bringing her hands to her face, blood running through her fingers. She moved her hands for just an instant to reveal a long, deep gash, trailing down the side of her cheek, gushing hot, thick fluid from her face. Just as Ian’s jaw dropped in shock he heard Eddy’s loud, terrified yell.

“What the fuck?!” and he bolted from the table, running across the room to Stacy's side, but Bruce and Mickey both burst out laughing, watching as one guard ran to tend to the bleeding young woman while two more apprehended her attacker. The redhead held a baffled expression, shocked into silence, watching the other two men at his table struggle to collect themselves.

“How the fuck did you pull that shit off, bro?” Bruce asked, holding his chest as it bounced rather violently with humor. Mickey held a satisfied expression and gave a shrug.

“Tasha owed me a fuckin' favor, man,” he replied through a chuckle of his own, "And your big, dumb ass gave me the fuckin' idea, shithead," Mickey laughed again, then turned his face toward Ian, gauging his reaction to what just happened.

Ian remained quiet, holding his stare, still shocked and full of disbelief. He wasn’t sure whether to be completely appalled or simply fucking terrified. The redhead had remembered Mickey telling him just earlier today that he had intended on dealing with Stacy in some fashion, though he wasn’t quite expecting for that to be how. He glanced back toward Stacy, hearing her screams of pain, still ringing off the walls, seeing Eddy hold her hand with a worried expression stuck to his face, trying to comfort her. Ian suddenly felt extremely guilty, completely to blame for what just happened, whether he’d known it was going to happen or not. It happened because of him, either way he looked at it. He suddenly felt his stomach twist in an uncomfortably sickly way and he forced himself to rise from the table, without so much as a word passing through his lips as he did.

“You alright, Red?” Mickey asked with a concerned crease to his brow, but Ian couldn’t seem to register his voice very well, now walking away from the table and out into the hallway.

Suddenly an intense wave of emotion was flooding over his mind and blocking out his other senses. The images from his dreams came back with an indescribable force, then suddenly became accompanied by other repressed thoughts that Ian was sure he’d buried away into some deep, dark corner of his conscious. Though apparently, he hadn’t buried them deep enough and now they suddenly arose from their forgotten bowels to torment and ridicule him. Ian quickened his pace, hoping to outrun them, to escape just like he always seemed to be trying to do. He pressed his eyes shut tightly, and rubbed roughly at his face, finally walking back into his room.

Ian quickly walked over to his bed, sat in the edge and dropped his face down into his hands, feeling the tremble in his fingers, trying to calm himself down. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He tried to focus, tried to ignore the dreadful wave of emotions lingering in the back of his mind, prodding at the backs of his eyes and pulling at his thoughts. 'Fuck,' Ian’s mind hissed as it churned.

“Aye,”

Ian looked up and suddenly he was there, standing in front of him, peering down at his face, looking rather confused and concerned, studying his expression for a long, silent moment before he spoke again.

“You alright?” Mickey asked, sounding genuinely curious in his answer, leaning down just a bit to see his face better, more closely. Ian rubbed his face one last time and exhaled, trying not to appear at all weak or bothered.

“Yeah,” Ian breathed, “Fine.” Mickey eyed him quite skeptically for another moment before he let his shoulders drop just a bit, then folded his arms over his chest.

“Was it what Tasha did?” the dark haired man asked, as if it wasn’t an incredibly obvious answer. Ian just stared up at him in silence for a moment, unsure of what exactly to say, then Mickey spoke once more, “Too much?” he asked with an honestly curious tone to his voice.

“You think it wasn’t?” Ian asked back with a cock of his head and a hard crease of his brow.

This time, Mickey was the one who remained silent for a moment, appearing as though he perhaps was unsure of what to say. He gazed down at him, chewing his lip in thought, then ran his thumb along his bottom lip.

“Thought you’d be happy,” Mickey said quietly, honestly, looking away from Ian, "Stacy's a fuckin' bitch," he added with a light scoff.

“Nope,” the redhead denied, now looking at the floor, “Just a little freaked out, actually,” he admitted quietly, ignoring the last remark, causing the other man’s eyes to quickly flash back over at him.

“Aye,” Mickey began lowly, uncrossing his arms and taking a few steps closer to him, reaching down to gently run his fingertips through Ian’s hair, “I ain’t never gonna do some shit like that to you,” he assured, with a soft, sincere expression. Ian looked up at his face, then let it fall down again.

“Just because of me,” Ian corrected with a whisper. Mickey withdrew his hand and took a step back with a slight crease in his forehead.

“Fuck, yeah,” Mickey confirmed shamelessly, “That bitch needs to know that she can’t just go around fuckin' touchin' people,” he explained defensively, with a firm stance of his body.

“But you didn’t have to do some shit like that,” Ian countered, pointing toward the door. The other man went silent again, watching the redhead’s demeanor, seemingly thinking about what he was going to say next. Then he suddenly softened, just a bit, now moving back toward Ian and sitting down on his bed beside him.

“Look, man,” he offered with an upturned palm, “I’m fuckin' sorry, alright?” Mickey asked, sounding as if he was actually being genuine, causing Ian to turn and look into his eyes, “You don’t want me pullin' no shit like that over your ass, I won’t, okay?” he said with promise in his voice, “I'll try to stick to doin' good shit, not fuckin' people up shit,” Mickey chuckled lightly, still watching the other man’s face appearing as though he really hoped that the redhead was listening and believing him. Ian let his eyes wander over Mickey’s face as well, reading his features, searching for truth and finding it in the softness of his eyes, twinkling beautiful, blue sparkling over his own. He felt the tension and discomfort in his muscles begin to melt away, replaced by the warming, tickling flutters that he was quickly and happily getting so very used to.

“Thank you,” Ian replied quietly with a small nod, rubbing his palms together in his lap. Mickey smiled and reached to give Ian’s shoulder a gentle, yet firm, comforting grasp and the redhead leaning into it ever so slightly. Then there was a gentle knock at the door that caused Ian to sit back up more straightly, yet also noticed that his roommate’s hand did not leave his shoulder.

“Hello,” Dr. Craft called softly as she opened her door and peeked her head in, “Dosages, gentlemen,” she said with a lyrical hum to her voice. Mickey’s hand left Ian’s shoulder as both men stood to mean her, while simultaneously being glared at by the guard standing in the hall, just beyond the doorway. Both men went through their routines quickly and the doctor thanked them, then departed just as fast.

“All the doctors seem so busy today, “ Ian noted as he walked back across the room toward his bed. The other man shrugged and gave a tip of his chin in agreement.

“Always some kinda shit to deal with around this fuckin' place, Red,” Mickey responded sitting down on his own bed.

Ian gave a slow nod and laid back down, trying to get comfortable, feeling the other man’s eyes on him as he did so. He suddenly felt extremely hot and sat up just for a second to bend and pull his t-shirt over his head, letting it fall to the floor. He glanced toward the dark haired man, seeing his eyes travel rather appealingly over the muscles of Ian’s chest and bit his lip just slightly, arching an eyebrow and tipping his chin in his direction.

“Looks like you’re startin' fuckin heal up there, Firecrotch,” he teased just a little causing Ian to split a small smile, then glance down to inspect his body himself.

“Yeah,” Ian agreed, “Getting there.” Mickey gave a slow nod, his eyes moving up from his body and onto his face, flickering between sparkling, green orbs.

“Smoking tonight? Ian queried, lightly and Mickey titled his head.

“Still got a little buzz goin' from earlier,” he explained with a shrug, “Less you think that you need it?” Mickey offered, with a questioning expression, but Ian gave a small smile and shake of his head.

“I think I’m good for tonight,” Ian confirmed and Mickey gave a slow nod of acknowledgment.

They sat in a comfortable silence, gazing the room at each other, simply seeing, observing, savoring, waiting for the lights go out. When they finally did, the loud, metallic chime ringing down the hallway, Ian watched as Mickey settled into his bed underneath his blanket and shifted slightly to get comfortable for sleep. The redhead turned his face to stare up at the ceiling, just waiting, since he didn’t feel at all tired, but thought that if perhaps he got bored enough, sleep would come more easily, no matter how much he actually dreaded the experience of it lately. He laid for a long time, only aware of that fact by the symphony of low, heavy breaths rising from his roommate’s chest.

Then suddenly Ian heard what sounded a bit like a cross between a gasp and a whimper, quickly shooting his head to the side, peering across to the other side of the room. There was Mickey in his bed, still asleep, though he appeared to be struggling somewhat, having kicked his entire blanket off and was now moving rather unusually over the top of his mattress. He sounded worried, afraid, terrified, nearly flailing his limbs and whipping his head from side to side with his face twisted up in distress. Ian watched for just a moment, unsure of what to do, then slowly began to move to sit up, so he could walk over and check on him, when Mickey’s eyes suddenly shot awake. The redhead’s instinct, for some reason, was to pretend that he was still asleep, leaving one eye open just a smidge so that he could see what the other man was doing.

He saw Mickey sit up and breathe deeply a few times, trying to calm himself, then rubbed his hands roughly down his face, exhaling with a heavy groan, before glancing over at Ian through the dark. Ian saw him hesitate for a moment before he turned his body and stood up slowly from his bed and began taking slow, quiet steps toward his roommate. He simply stood next to the bed for a moment, appearing as though he were internally debating with himself. Then very slowly, without even attempting to wake Ian up and ask for permission, he swiftly, yet cautiously slipped into Ian’s bed behind him, scooting up really close and wrapping his arms securely around his body, with his forehead rested on the back of Ian's neck.

Ian exhaled at the contact and leaned backward into the other man’s chest just a bit, feeling him give a strong, firm squeeze as he did so. It didn’t take long for the redhead to hear the heavy breaths of sleep return to his roommate’s lungs, as he lay curled up behind him. He let himself smile just a bit, now suddenly feeling tired and content enough to finally try and sleep himself.

And as Ian closed his eyes, focused on the man’s warm, caring embrace wrapped tightly around him, he suddenly realized that Mickey coming to comfort and hold him in the night after he’d so traumatically endured some awful nocturnal terror, wasn’t just to help Ian, but it actually helped Mickey too.

Chapter Text

There was a soft feeling of lightness, like floating on water or soaring through a cloud, swirling delicately through a bright, airy abyss, feeling subtle little tingles trickling along his limbs. Sweeping, flowing waves of heat wrapped tightly around his body, securing him in place as his mind twirled lightly through the drift. A sweet, smoky scent began tickling his senses, making the heat grow and the waves rock in a soft, soothing way.

Ian inhaled deeply through his nose and tightened his grasp over the arms that still remain curled around his body, pressing himself snuggly into the strong, firm body behind him. He cracked the lids of his eyes just a bit, then immediately clamped them shut again from the harsh burn of morning sunlight stinging into them. He moved one hand up just enough to rub at his eyes, then tried again, opening them to see that he was still laying on his side, in his bed, facing the wall. The redhead shifted slightly, feeling the arms around his body and glanced down to see tattooed knuckles clutched gently over his stomach, one a bit higher, grasping onto his ribcage, wrapping underneath Ian where his body pressed into the mattress.

A mixture of surprise and happy realization filled his mind and his face, still staring down at the arms, the hands, to see that the man was still laying there with him and he hadn’t imagined it. Mickey had gotten out of bed, walked over to slip into his, and stayed with him the entire night. Ian let himself smile, much too happy to control his face, even though he knew that the other man wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway. Ian leaned back a bit more, enjoying the feeling of his roommate being so close to him, gently exhaling as he did so, just listening to him breathe. Then the arms around him tightened when he moved and the body shifted closer, Mickey’s forehead nestled comfortably between his shoulder blades.

Ian started to smile wider, though it suddenly faded a bit as his eyes widened, feeling the man shift even closer into him, pressing an extremely hard and very obvious erection into his back side. He froze, not sure what to do, most especially because he was pretty sure that Mickey was still asleep and hadn’t noticed yet. The redhead glanced back down at the hands clutching onto his body and rubbed his thumb lightly over the top of one, hoping it might rouse the man, but it didn’t. Mickey’s heavy, sleeping breaths simply continued their melody, and he remained unmoving, wrapped onto him.

So, for a moment, Ian stayed still, even closing his eyes again, trying to just politely ignore the extremely distracting, thick, heated hardness that he could feel against him, trying not to enjoy it. But suddenly, his own body began to react, completely without his control, sending a rush of tingling nerves, along with a hot wave of blood pulsing down along his limbs and pumping into his pelvis. Ian started to panic, just a little bit, trying to shift again slightly and direct his mind to other things, but he couldn’t. He remembered how Mickey had stopped him when he tried to go further and he didn’t want to unknowingly cross some other boundary by the other man waking up to realize that Ian had gotten hard just from the feeling of the other man’s unconscious arousal pressed into him. 'No, no, no,' Ian silently tried to will away the flow to no avail, even placing a palm over himself, squeezing slightly, hoping to redirect the blood flow, but it did nothing. He looked down at Mickey’s hands and tried again, rubbing his thumb gently over the top of one once more.

“Hey,” Ian whispered quietly, turning his head toward his shoulder a bit, still rubbing small circles into his roommate’s hand. Mickey shifted, but just barely, a small hum passing through his nose as he squeezed Ian tighter.

“Hey, Mick?” Ian whispered again, this time getting a larger shift and a much louder, sleep drenched groan in response, feeling the man behind him inhale deeply into his skin, “Gotta take a piss,” he explained in a low voice, giving Mickey’s hand a squeeze.

Mickey let out another groan, sounding as if he really didn’t want to move, but started to anyway. Ian glanced down again and watched as Mickey’s hand smoothed lightly over from his ribs, down along his abs, then curled over his hip as he began to stretch his back. Ian’s eyes widened again as his felt the man’s hips press forward, causing him to crease his brow and bite his lip, still trying to conceal his own current disposition. Then he felt Mickey tense, just slightly, as if he’d finally noticed what his body had done and slowly moved onto his back, his other arm still trapped under Ian’s waist. Mickey reached for his sweatpants with his free hand, giving them a slight, lazy pull of readjustment, his eyes still closed.

“Sorry, man,” Mickey mumbled, bending one knee and turning his head to peek at Ian through a single split eye. Ian rolled onto his back as well and turned his head to meet the other man’s tired gaze, giving him a bit of a reassuring smile.

“Not a big deal,” he replied, causing Mickey to smirk just a bit and open his other eye to look at him better, stretching his back a bit more.

Ian tried not to blush and very subtly readjusted his own sweatpants, now beginning to sit up. He turned his head again, seeing Mickey appearing rather comfortable, not at all trying to move from where he lay, blocking his path out of his bed. He hesitated, letting his eyes wander slowly down the man's body, then back to his face seeing Mickey watching him, still holding his smirk.

“You’re kinda in my way,” Ian mentioned lightly, with amusement in his voice. The other man arched an eyebrow and folded his arms up, tucking his hands behind his head.

“Oh, yeah?” he asked feigning innocence, “Whatcha gonna fuckin' do about it, Red?” Mickey challenged, his smirk widening, letting his eyes trail over the redhead’s bare chest, then back up to his eyes. Ian held his smile, swallowed nervously and bit his lip in thought, still staring down into the other man’s beautiful face.

Slowly, he turned his body, rolling onto his knees and pressed his fists into the mattress on either side of his roommate’s head, watching the appeal in the man’s face as he moved his leg over him to place a foot on the floor. Ian moved much slower than he intended, feeling his breath slow for just an instant as his body hovered so very closely over Mickey’s. The dark haired man, moved one hand out from behind his head and reached up very gently, yet firmly, to glide his hand back over Ian’s chest and down onto his waist to rest there, his tongue curling underneath his lower lip as he did so.

Ian felt the flutters, the shivers, the tingles, swirling delicately through his ribs and dancing up into his throat, feeling another blush rise into his cheeks and he swallowed, his breath stuttering from the contact. He hesitated again, his eyes still tracing over the other man’s face who lay below him, feeling the pulse of heat pumping through his pelvis. His eyelids flickered and his lips parted, leaning down slowly to chance a gesture, a bit unsure of how the other man would react, but he had to try, had to at least attempt to satisfy some level of his curiosity. Sparkling blue eyes watched his face, the man’s smirk fading into an expression of unsurety and anticipation. Ian’s face got really close to his, just before he tilted it up to place a soft, gentle kiss into the middle of Mickey’s forehead. He felt the grasp on his waist tighten just slightly as he did, then drew his face back to look back down into his roommate’s eyes, holding his breath, attempting to assess his reaction to what he’d just done, his body full of screaming, flaring nerves.

Mickey looked surprised, his eyebrows raised slightly with a hint of his smirk returning, not at all appearing upset, but instead quite pleased. He bit his lip again, gazing up into Ian’s face and rubbed his thumb along the soft freckled skin still grasped beneath his palm. Ian exhaled lightly and gave a bit of a smile in return.

“I'll be right back,” Ian offered quietly, still hovering over Mickey who gave an acknowledging, yet satisfied tip of his chin, watching him as he once again began to pass over him. Mickey’s hand lingered on him until Ian completely moved over him, his fingertips slipping away from his skin with a tickling brush of lingering sparks.

He turned around, walking toward the dresser for a fresh t-shirt, and found one, pulling it onto his body. Ian tilted his head with a glance back toward his roommate who still lay comfortably in his bed, seemingly having no intentions of rising, merely watching him as he dressed. The redhead gave a bit of smile and got one in return before Mickey rolled over onto his stomach and clutched Ian’s pillow firmly under his head, appearing as though he may have inhaled from it just a bit, then turned his face to speak.

“Don’t be gone too fuckin' long, Red,” Mickey advised lightly with another smile, his eyes closed once again, “Or I’m gonna come lookin' for ya,” he chuckled, “You hear me, Princess?” Mickey joked, peeking at him through a single eye once more. Ian chuckled as well and gave a quick, but sincere nod, then crossed the room to grab his toothbrush and toothpaste, seeing the other man still watching his movements. He looked at him and held them up a bit, still holding a calm, content smile, just in a rather good mood.

“Two birds, one stone,” Ian said lightly and Mickey smiled with a brief nod of agreement.

“Well, hurry the fuck up, man,” Mickey insisted, shifting his legs to lay a bit more comfortably, his face still half buried in the other man’s pillow, “Bed's gonna get cold,” he mumbled quietly, his eyes closing once more. Ian’s smile widened as he creased his brow.

“We still have med line and breakfast,” the redhead countered with a glance toward the clock, “We’re already about to be late,” he added with a point toward it as the other man opened his eyes for just a second before closing them yet again.

“Fuck that shit,” said Mickey, snuggling into the mattress. Ian chuckled, rubbed his forehead and combed his hair back with his fingers.

“You’re the one always on my ass to eat and shit, and now you’re saying fuck it?” he asked, his voice laced thickly in disbelief. The dark haired man opened his eyes once more to look up at him, a handsome smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth and a perfect eyebrow arching up quite suggestively.

“On your ass, huh?” Mickey quipped back, looking into his face. Ian blushed but continued to smile and chuckled again with a shake of his head.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ian replied with absolutely no heat, “Come on,” Ian pleaded gently, reaching his free hand down to very gently comb through Mickey’s hair which the other man surprisingly let him do, still staring up into his face, blue eyes shimmering in the morning sunlight, “Get up, and when I get back, we'll head down together,” he smoothed his thumb over the man’s temple before withdrawing his hand. Mickey kept looking at him, like he was thinking about it, then exhaled, tilted his head a bit, then rolled back over onto his back with a groan and scratched his chest.

“Fuck, fine,” Mickey grumbled, rubbing his eyes with the balls of his palms, then pinched the bridge of his nose, “You’re lucky I fuckin' like ya, Red,” he said, starting to sit up.

“Thank you,” Ian responded quietly with yet another smile. Mickey gave a shrug and peered up at him with a small grin pressed to his face.

“What can I say, man?” he asked simply, “Guess I’m just a fuckin' sucker for pretty,” Mickey arched another eyebrow at him with a playful smile spreading across his face. The redhead gave him a nudge to his shoulder with the back of his hand.

“Fuck you,” Ian quipped lightly, not thinking too much about his choice of words until he saw Mickey hold his expression with his eyebrow raising slightly higher as he bit down on his lip, simply humming in response, letting his eyes trail down along the other man’s body. Ian swallowed and quickly tried to ignore the rush of blood returning to his pelvis, not quite able to, so he turned his body away and made a few steps toward the door.

“Remember, Red,” Mickey’s voice halted his footsteps just as he began to turn the nob, now turning his face back toward him, “Don’t be too fuckin' long,” he reminded him gently with a tilt of his head. Ian gave another quick nod of agreement, then opened the door to walk out into the hallway.

He fiddled his fingers over the items in his hands, trying to will the blood in his body back into it’s proper places. Ian had always had a decent amount of self control and was slowly getting better over time, but for some reason it was different with Mickey. Even though the man had been asleep, Ian honestly wouldn’t have minded his roommate getting hard while wrapped up in bed with him, no matter how wrong he felt for enjoying it without the other man’s knowledge. That’s what had made him so nervous about it, knowing that his mind had caused his body to react without his control and knowing that Mickey still had a lot of boundaries and barriers that would take time to get through. The last thing he wanted to do was end up fucking up the very delicate balance that they’ve already established. Mickey was willing to give him something, after all. He lets Ian kiss him, even after he expressed disliking for it. He touches him in gentle affectionate ways that were always hard to ignore, and gazed at him in a way that no one else does, a way that never fails to erupt his lungs with flutters. It was progress, slowly but surely, quite positively progress and that was enough to make Ian smile once more as he thought about it.

Ian rounded the side of the circle, finding the lavatory and slipped inside to find it fairly empty with only a few residents still trickling in and out. So, he just kept his head down and made his way over to a urinal, slipping his toiletries into his pocket while he focused on relieving the pressure in his bladder. It took a moment, as the blood rush had not quite faded yet. Ian glanced around making sure the few people that were still in there weren’t paying him any mind, and stood in a way that kept himself concealed to anyone who may walk past him. He dropped his face, seeing himself still half erected and reached to gently squeeze once more, closing his eyes for focus. Ian took a slow, deep breath and finally, he felt his body become normal again, wasting no time to quickly take a piss and tuck himself away. The redhead then turned back toward the sink, washed his hands and began to brush his teeth.

He happened to glance up at himself in the mirror and let his eyes linger on the bandages still stuck to his face. Ian paused for a second, looking himself over, seeing the hint of stubble returning to his chin, but had absolutely no want or need to get rid of it, remembering his roommate’s subtle mention of liking how he looked with it. Ian finished his brushing, rinsed his mouth out, then ran the hot water to give his face a quick scrub, slowly peeling off his bandages before he did so. The hot water burned the cuts a bit, but felt refreshing on the rest of his skin, washing small little circles into his pores. When he was finished, he ran a hand down his face, to push the excess water off, then gave his head a shake and combed his hair back with his fingers.

Ian started to smile as he walked toward the bathroom's exit, thinking of going back to meet his roommate, to spend more time with him, when he happened to notice an older, balding man eyeing him as he exited a shower stall, wrapping a towel around his pudged, wrinkled waist. The younger man quickly looked away, bringing his attention back toward the door, remaining in his stride, when he heard a sharp, catty whistle and turned his face again. The older man gave a grin, revealing a few missing teeth and tipped his double chin toward him.

“What’s the rush, boy?” the man asked in a deep, raspy voice, his eyes trailing down over him. Ian said nothing, merely staring for a second with a hard crease in his brow.

“My water’s still hot,” he mentioned, with a gesture of a pale, veiny arm toward the stall behind him, “I don’t mind hoppin' back in, if you need help scrubbin' your back?” the man grinned again and raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for a response. Ian instantly felt disgusted and screwed up his face in repulsion.

“Fuck, no,” Ian blurted out with a firm shake of his head, then spun back around on his heels to finally exit the lavatory, hearing the man’s throaty, amused chuckle bouncing off the tiles behind him. He felt himself shudder, repressed a gag and rubbed his forehead.

What the fuck was up with the people in this facility? Ian couldn’t seem to get much of a break and it was really starting to fucking frustrate him. 'Do I have a sign that says 'fuck me' written on my goddamn forehead?' Ian scrunched his face back up and gave his forehead another rough rub of his fingertips, fighting back a frustrated groan. He kept his eyes mostly on the floor, quickening his pace when a vaguely familiar voice made him glance back up.

“Hey there, man.”

It was the janitor that’d given him a cigarette after he’d entered the bathroom and saw the man mopping up the pool of blood that Seth’s head had left behind. He was holding a push-broom this time, was wearing a back-turned cap that matched his coveralls and had his ear buds slung over the back of his neck. Ian raised an eyebrow and slowed his steps, unsure of what to say or why the man was speaking to him now.

“Uh, hey?” Ian said with obvious question in his voice. The young janitor moved his broom handle to one hand and raised his other in a bit of defense with a slight tilt of his head.

“Sorry, I swear I’m not trying to bother you,” he began to explain, “Just making my rounds,” the man pointed toward his broom, to which Ian merely glanced at, then looked back in his face, remaining silent as they came to halt in front of one another, “But, I uh heard a little bit about your buddy.” For just a second, Ian didn’t know who the guy was talking about until he thought about his conversation with him yesterday, then assumed that he was referring to Seth. He tried not to shift his feet or tense the muscles in his neck.

“Oh yeah?” Ian asked, trying to appear interested, though only really curious to know what the man was going to say about it.

“Yeah,” the janitor confirmed with a small nod, now holding the end of his broom handle in both palms, “I just thought maybe you might wanna know or whatever?” he shrugged a bit. Ian gave a brief nod and a slight tip of his chin in return. “Well, I had to do my sweepin' rounds through the other building way earlier this morning and passed by a couple doctor’s talkin' about the guy’s chart,” he began to explain, “And he sounded pretty messed up,” the man gave a sympathetic expression and Ian swallowed a bit of nerves, waiting, “I heard them say that he’s still asleep and probably will be for a while yet,” the janitor gave a tilt of his head, “He’s got a pretty bad concussion, busted eye socket, ruptured ear drum,” Ian swallowed again, “His ribs are all bruised up too, I guess, then his hand and three fingers on it are all broken,” the man seemed to watch Ian’s face just a bit, as if he were attempting to assess his reaction to what he was saying, making sure the redhead could process it, “Oh, and uh, he has a bunch of stitches in his mouth from his teeth tearing his cheeks up,” Ian gave a slow nod of acknowledgment, once again quite unsure of what to say, trying not to shudder remembering the sight of Seth laying unconscious in his hospital bed. The man rocked the broom about in his hands, with a bit of a pause, then gave a tip of his chin. “Whoever did that shit to him is one brutal motherfucker,” he said bluntly, scoffing a bit, causing Ian to suddenly remember the sight of Mickey crouched over the bloodied man and swallowed once more, “But at least the guy’s alive, right?” he offered with an upturned palm, “So, there’s a bright side,” the man gave a light nod and Ian mirrored him.

“Yeah,” said Ian, rubbing the back of his neck, “He isn’t dead,” he tried to appear grateful for the fact, though at the moment he felt rather indifferent about it, just not wanting him or Mickey to end up connected to it in any way.

“Nope, he isn’t dead,” the janitor repeated in agreement, then creased his brow a bit, tilting his head again, “That sorta thing happen around here a lot?” he asked. The redhead looked over his face and raised a confused eyebrow.

“Don’t you work here?” Ian asked back. The man gave a light chuckle.

“I do,” he confirmed, “But I’ve only been here for a few months,” the man elaborated, “Seen a few things,” he admitted pushing his lip out a bit, “But nothing quite like that yet.” Ian gave a shrug.

“I haven’t been here too long either,” Ian replied, “Less than a week, actually.” The janitor raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, well I guess you wouldn’t know any more than me, huh?” He gave a bit of a chuckle and Ian shrugged again, then saw the man crease his brow once more, “Wait, I thought you said you knew the guy?” he asked, “He one of the first dudes you meet in here or something?” The other man shifted his feet a bit, but thought fast.

“Living in such close quarters, you learn who everyone is pretty quick,” said Ian, much more smoothly than he thought he’d be able to. The janitor pushed out his lip once more and gave an expression of understanding.

“That makes sense,” he accepted with another nod, “I mean, I’ve never lived anywhere like this, unless you count a month in jail,” the man laughed again and Ian blinked, a bit confused by the man’s sudden openness.

“You’ve been to jail and you work in a treatment facility?” Ian queried. The man made a face that looked as if he was really thinking about Ian’s words, understanding why it seemed unusual and gave a shrug.

“Yeah,” he said, “Just DUI kinda shit, though,” the man shifted his broom handle once more as he spoke, “Went to rehab, got cleaned up and been doing real good ever since,” he gave a slow nod, “I guess they sympathized with me or something.” Ian gave a nod as well, “Plus it’s just janitorial work, you know? Cleanin' up blood, piss and puke ain’t that difficult,” the man raised his eyebrows a bit and Ian nodded in agreement once more, feeling a bit comfortable to speak more himself.

“Well, it’s definitely different than jail,” said the redhead, having known from his own brief time inside when he’d been arrested working at the club, “At least in jail, not everyone’s nuts,” Ian scoffed a bit on his last few words and the janitor gave a light chuckle back.

“You’d be surprised,” the man countered and Ian simply tipped his head, “Though, I suppose there’s just not as many,” he swept an open palm through the air round them. The redhead gave an expression of agreement and fiddled with the items in his hands a little bit. “Well, I better get back my rounds,” he said, pushing his broom out in front of him a bit, “Just thought I’d let you know how your buddy’s doing.”

“Thanks,” said Ian beginning to step aside.

He felt a bit relieved to have had a fairly normal conversation with someone who didn’t seem to have some kind of ulterior motive for speaking to him. The only person he seemed to be able to do that with was Mickey, but even with him, it was different. The janitor began to push his broom out in front of himself once more, then paused, looking back up at the resident.

“Oh, uh, you need another smoke?” he offered with a hand dropping to the outside of his pocket, “I can spare one?” the man asked. Ian thought about it for a moment and almost shook his head, but then thought 'Why not?'

“Sure,” he replied taking a small step forward.

Ian raised his eyes to glance around the hall and make sure no one was paying any attention when he suddenly caught the bright, blue gaze of a handsome black haired man walking toward him, now appearing from around the circle. The redhead gave a light smile and a tip of his chin toward his roommate, but didn’t get one in return. Instead, Mickey gave a rather hard crease of his brow, raising his eyebrow, and appearing as though he was trying really hard not to clench his jaw, as his eyes moved from Ian to the man in front of him who was now holding out a cigarette for him to take. Ian’s eyes flashed back toward the janitor, then down to the cigarette, hesitantly reaching out to pinch the filter between his fingers.

“Thanks,” he repeated quietly as Mickey approached, shooting a hard, intimidating glare at the young coveralled man in front of him.

“The fuck ya doin'?” Mickey asked with a bit of a snap, his face full of irritated curiosity. The young man with the broom turned at the sound of the other man’s voice, then took a quick glance down the hall past him to make sure it was still empty.

“Just seeing if he needs a cigarette,” the janitor said simply with a brief gesture to the pack he still held in his hand, then tipped it slightly toward Mickey, “You smoke?” he asked, “I got plenty to spare, man.”

Mickey simply held his stance and his glare, saying nothing and gave the man a quick look up and down with hard, narrow eyes, then flashed them a bit more lightly over to Ian with an insistent tip of his head.

“Come on, Red,” he directed with less heat, but still in a firm tone, ignoring the janitor who was now glancing between the two men in front of him with a bit of confusion, “We’re late.”

Ian gave a nod, then met the janitor’s eyes once more who still appeared to be extremely perplexed by the other man’s demeanor and pressed his lips together, giving a final silent gesture of thanks toward the cigarette in his hand. The young man with the broom gave a acknowledging chin nod, shooting just the smallest glance back at Mickey before he slipped his pack back into his pocket. He then clutched the handle back into both palms and began push his broom back down the hall.

“Alright then, man,” the janitor tipped his chin toward Ian one last time, “See ya around,” And off he went, pushing a small pile of dust and dirt with him.

Ian looked back into his roommate’s face, seeing him bear a nearly unreadable expression, with an eyebrow still raised. He then trailed his eyes down the redhead’s body, but not quite in the same way that he usually seemed to do. The dark haired man was looking him over in a very peculiar way, his eyes pausing on the cigarette he held in his hand for just an instant before moving back up to meet his eyes. He stared at him silently for a moment, then gave another cock of his head and began to turn around. Ian creased his forehead, slipping the cigarette into the pocket of his sweats and followed. Both men stayed quiet as they walked back toward their room, Ian running in just to drop of his toothbrush and toothpaste before walking back out, returning to Mickey’s side. Then Mickey glanced toward him a bit, but didn’t look up to meet his gaze, speaking in a very low voice.

“If ya needed a fuckin' smoke, ya know I got you, right?” he asked, sounding as if he were guarding a simmering wave of confusion and insecurity. Ian turned to look at him, hearing the underline of his voice, silent for a few seconds until the other man finally looked him in his face, then gave him a simple, reassuring smile.

“Yeah,” the redhead replied, “He offered, I didn’t ask,” said Ian, “I figured, what’s one more? Makes yours last longer,” he gave a light shrug.

Mickey's eyes flickered carefully between his own, reading, studying, searching, before he finally seemed to relax, accepting his response. He shot Ian the smallest hint of a smirk and moved to walk a bit closer to him, just enough to occasionally brush their shoulders together as they made their way to med line. At the window they were fortunately not met by the usual disturbingly uncomfortable face, but instead by another familiar one.

“Good morning, Mr. Gallagher,” Dr. Craft greeted with a sweet smile and bright, red lips.

“Uh, hi,” said Ian with a slight crinkle of his brow, confused, but thankful at the surprise of the woman attending the med window today instead of the man who usually did.

“How are you doing this morning?” she asked nicely, turning to collect the proper cups for him, subtly glancing at the dark haired man standing silently just behind him.

“Fine,” he responded easily, then remembered how he’d woken up this morning and tried not to grin like a fool, “Slept really well,” he said with the slightest glance back toward Mickey who stood tracing the muscles of Ian’s back, trying to hold down his own smirk at the man’s words. Ian couldn’t fight just the smallest split of a smile from spreading across his lips, turning back toward the doctor to receive his cups.

“Lovely to hear, Mr. Gallagher,” the doctor smiled as she watched him swallow his medication and drink the water from his other cup, “A good night’s sleep is essential to good health,” she said, the beads that hung from her glasses clinking together as she moved. Ian tried not to chuckle at such a cliché quote, and simply gave a small nod instead before proceeding to open his mouth for inspection, to which the doctor gave a polite nod in return. “Thank you,” smiled Dr. Craft and Ian stepped aside for Mickey to approach the window.

“Mr. Milkovich,” she offered raising two cups and handing them out to him, “How are you feeling today?” the doctor asked lightly, watching as he swallowed his cups as well. When he did, he shot a sharp, handsome glance toward Ian, with just the slightest arch of his eyebrow. And Ian knew that he couldn’t cover the bright, red blush that rose to his the surface of his cheeks because of it.

“Pretty fuckin' good,” Mickey responded quite frankly, keeping eye contact with his roommate, with a subtle bite of his lip, before turning back toward Dr. Craft with an extremely shameless grin stuck to his face. The doctor pressed her lips together tightly in disapproval and readjusted her glasses a bit.

“Language please, Mr. Milkovich,” she advised sternly, eyeing him with a hint of disdain, to which Mickey gave a light scoff and a roll of his eyes, then opened his mouth for the doctor to check. “Thank you,” said Dr. Craft, giving a delicate wave of her hand. Mickey quickly turned and strode straight to Ian’s side.

“Come on, Red,” he said lowly with a trailing fall of his eyes.

Ian couldn’t help but stare at the man as he passed him, then rubbed roughly at his cheeks with the balls of his palms willing away the awful flaring blush and followed behind him. They walked for a bit not speaking, though still exchanging glances before Ian gave a tip of his head to ask about something, unsure if the other man would know anything about it, but for some reason he was just curious.

“I wonder where the creep was today,” said Ian, trying to sound casual. Mickey sucked his teeth, gave a cock of his head but didn’t make eye contact.

“Probably off doin' the same fuckin' shit he always does, man,” Mickey replied with a slight shake of his head and a scoff in his voice, “Motherfucker ain’t never up to nothin' good,” he said. Ian chewed the inside of his cheek as he creased his brow in thought.

“What kinda shit does he do?” Ian queried, still looking over at the other man, waiting for him to finally turn his face and look back at him.

Mickey hesitated, rubbing his thumb along his bottom lip, then scratched the bridge of his nose with the back of it, before finally looking over to meet the deep green eyes gazing at him. He softened a bit, but still had a look on his face, the way his brow arched just slightly and his mouth frowned a bit, that was quite serious.

“He just likes to fuckin' take advantage of people, man,” said Mickey, his voice laced with bitterness and disgust, “He ain’t the kinda asshole who should be workin' in a fuckin' place like this,” he tilted his chin up and eyed Ian as he spoke, “That’s why I said, you just gotta stay the fuck away from that son of a bitch, alright?”

Mickey raised his eyebrows in question and Ian continued to read his expression as closely as he could. Once again, Ian agreed, trusting his roommate’s judgement, giving a small nod, which the other man seemed to approve of, even reaching over to brush the top Ian’s hand lightly with his thumb. The redhead peered down at the contact, letting himself smile again, just before Mickey withdrew his hand as they walked into the cafeteria.

It was crowded, a bit more than usual, the room filled with dragging footsteps and hushed chatter as the jumbled group of residents shoveled down their meals and engaged in conversation with each other. Ian suddenly felt really anxious, really claustrophobic, as if he were surrounded and the walls were closing in on him. He halted his footsteps and took a deep breath, letting his eyes travel hesitantly around the room. Mickey noticed him stop and turned with an eyebrow raised to look over the other man’s face, attempting to assess the issue. Ian dropped his face and tried to breathe, quickly beginning to feel extremely overwhelmed, his heartbeat pounding through his ears, when the other man placed a gentle grasp atop his shoulder.

“Aye,” said Mickey with a slight grip of his hand, “What’s goin' on, man?” he asked quietly, his face full of concern. Ian tried to lift his head, but couldn’t, his eyes flickering across the floor.

“Too many people,” he mumbled out quickly, “Too crowded,” Ian breathed, then pinched the bridge of his nose. The dark haired man crinkled his forehead, then lifted his head back up to look around the room as well, before dropping it once more to address his roommate in a low, soft, voice.

“Aye,” Mickey said again, “It’s cool, man. I get it,” he said, causing Ian to raise his face just a bit to meet the man’s eyes, “I’m just gonna fuckin' grab your shit for ya then, alright?” Mickey offered, “Ya think you can make it over to Bruce?” he asked with a gentle, understanding tone and a tip of his head toward the far corner of the room.

To say Ian was surprised by the other man’s reaction to his sudden unexplainable discomfort, would be quite the understatement, almost wondering if it was pity the other man was giving him, though it didn’t seem to be. He looked into his face for what felt like an hour, trying to focus on the warm, firm grip of Mickey’s hand on his shoulder and tune out the pounding pulse in his brain and the murmur of the room around him. The entire time, Mickey appeared completely leveled, patient, calm, keeping a grounding, securing hand on him, somehow knowing how much it helped. Ian exhaled just a bit, then shot a glance toward Bruce who sat alone at their usual table, seeming to have not noticed them enter yet, then returned his sight to the man who still stood collected and waiting in front of him, managing to give the smallest nod. Mickey scanned over his face for another brief moment, as if making sure that Ian knew he could do it, then gave another firm squeeze of his hand before bringing a gentle palm to the man’s face, with a light brush of his thumb, then dropped it.

“Alright,” Mickey said lightly, then gave another tip of his head, “I’ll be right over,” he assured.

Ian pressed his lips together tight, dropping his eyes to floor once more and turned to weave his way through the other tables and over to Bruce. As he approached, the big man raised his face, split a friendly grin and opened his mouth to say hello, then paused seeing the redhead’s unusually pale and shaken state.

“Hey, bro,” he welcomed slowly, “You cool, man? Look like you seen a fuckin' ghost or some shit,” said Bruce, looking him up and down, then leaning in a bit to try and see his face.

Ian said nothing, merely sitting down in a quick swift motion and buried his face his hands, shaking just a bit, then dropped his head to fold away under his arms, just trying to breathe. Bruce stared with a hard crease in his brow for just a second as the other man’s breaths began to quicken, becoming more forced and labored before he gave a light tap atop the table with a meaty fingertip and tried again.

“Ian,” said Bruce, causing the other man to lift his face just a bit, “In through your nose and out through your mouth, bro,” he advised lightly, then took a deep breath in such a fashion to show him, “Easy, man,” said Bruce and slowly Ian began to do as he was told, his breaths beginning to even out a bit.

Bruce held his eye contact, breathing with him, not at all appearing judgmental or annoyed, but instead quite focused and understanding, very similar to Mickey’s reaction, almost as if this was something they’ve had to do before. As weird as it felt and as embarrassed as he was for not being able to control his own nerves, he was grateful for Bruce doing what he was doing, trying to help him, calm him because it really was working. By the time Ian had finally caught his breath, leveling his nerves and drowning out the distracting beating of his heart pounding against his skull, Mickey was walking up to the table in a rather quick stride with two balls of foil clutched in his hands, eyes glued to his roommate.

“Aye, Red,” said Mickey sliding into a seat next to him, leaning in a bit to look him over with soft, sparkling eyes, “I tried to be fuckin' quick,” he explained, “Assholes in the line were movin' slow as fuck,” Mickey shot a heated glance back toward the meal line, then looked back at Ian, chewing his lip for a moment before placing one of the balls of foil in front of him. “You alright to fuckin' eat?” he asked with genuine concern and curiosity lacing his voice. The redhead eyed the bundle of foil, then leaned toward Mickey just a bit, feeling a bit of comfort from his presence.

“The fuck is it?” Ian asked quietly, screwing up his face a bit. Mickey gave a tip of his chin toward it.

“Fuckin' breakfast sandwich man,” he replied with the smallest smirk, “One a the better fuckin' things they give us in this shithole,” Mickey gave a light scoff, still keeping his eyes on the man next to him. Ian eyed it skeptically for a long moment before the felt the reassuring grasp of the other man’s hand on his leg beneath the table, then glanced back over to him. Mickey gazed at him with gentle, questioning eyes, then gave him the slightest brush of his shoulder.

“Come on, Red,” he urged softly, his rubbing small circles into Ian’s kneecap, “Just try, huh?”

Ian wasn’t hungry, as he just never really seemed to be, but knew that because he hadn’t been eating hardly anything since he’d arrived at the facility, that he should listen to Mickey and at the very least give it a try. Not to mention Ian also knew how much it seemed to comfort Mickey to know that he wasn’t going hungry, for whatever reason. He exhaled and placed his forearms on the table, now lazily beginning to open the foil of his breakfast sandwich with a papery, crunchy, crinkle. Mickey then appeared rather grateful for Ian’s attempt and leaned back a bit to give him a little space, then slipped a bottle of water out from his sweat pocket, placing it in front of the redhead as well. Ian caught just a glimpse of his roommate giving a tip of his chin toward Bruce in thanks, then began to unwrap his own breakfast. He watched through the corner of his eye, as the redhead took a bite of the sausage and egg sandwich, making a face that didn’t appear very pleased, then began to sip his water. Ian let out a groan and rubbed his forehead.

“You know what I fucking miss?” Ian asked suddenly, attempting to take another bite, causing the other two men to look back over at him. “Having a fucking cup of coffee,” he chewed and took another gulp of water, “Always seemed to help,” Ian added quietly. Bruce gave a wide nod of agreement. Mickey took a bite of his own sandwich, giving a slow nod as well, then turned to look back across the room toward the meal line, searching.

“Hold up, man,” Mickey said quietly, leaning close to him to speak, eyes moving over his face.

Ian creased his brow and watched as the man stood up and began walking back over to the line. He saw as his roommate crossed the wide, open room, then lingered a bit behind the line of patients waiting to get their food. Mickey then made eye contact with one of the servers, a young woman with a long, brown ponytail and gave a pointed tip of his head. When the woman saw, she nudged at the staff member next to her to take over her station, and lowered her face mask, now walking to the end of the line where Mickey stood in wait. The dark haired man asked her something, speaking with an upturned palm and a rather friendly expression which was really confusing Ian the longer he watched. The woman gave a nod, a smile in return, then raised a finger before disappearing through a doorway behind the line. Mickey glanced back toward Ian to see him still watching him and raised a finger as well, then turned his face back toward the doorway. The young woman poked her head back through, mouthed a few words with a cock of her head, to which Mickey nodded in return, then turned to walk back across the room once more.

“Grab your shit and come with me,” he gestured toward the doorway with his shoulder as he reached down to fold up his breakfast sandwich. Ian held a bit of a confused expression, but did as he was told, folding up his own sandwich and capping his water, now rising from the table to follow. He briefly saw Mickey shoot another chin nod toward Bruce, to which the big man shot one in return before they strode from the cafeteria.

At first, they turned their normal way as if they were walking back toward their room, but didn’t travel more than a few yards before Mickey turned again and led him down another hallway that ran parallel to the back of the cafeteria. Ian followed, glancing up a bit, wondering, trying to figure out where he was being taken. Then at the end of that hall, they met another much narrower passageway that split into the corner, leading into a staff area of the kitchen. Mickey leaned forward to look inside, then raised his eyebrows and gave a wave of his hand as if urging someone inside to hurry up. Ian leaned forward himself some and saw the same young staff member he’d spoken to inside the cafeteria emerging from within, carrying a steaming styrofoam cup in her hand.

“Sorry,” she whispered out, hurrying her steps, keeping focus on the cup as not to spill, “Dumbass Marvin was staring at me, the little bitch, didn’t want him to say anythi-,” Her words paused upon seeing Ian, then glanced toward Mickey with a pretty smirk and high raise of her eyebrows. “Well, hello,” she smiled at Ian, who barely so much as blinked at her. The dark haired man watched the short exchange and gave a small reassuring smile of his own toward Ian. Then the girl looked back at Mickey, “If you'd a told me this was for your friend I would have asked how he likes it,” she smiled and carefully passed Mickey the cup, and looked back at Ian, “It’s all loaded with cream and sugar cause that’s how this one takes it,” she smiled at Mickey in a way made Ian feel sort of strange.

He couldn’t quite place what it was, but there was something else there, behind her smile, he could see that much. Ian looked at Mickey who appeared completely calm, perhaps even comfortable, then gave him a downward glance before passing the cup over. The redhead shuffled his sandwich and water, making sure his food was folded well before shoving each into a pocket, then reached out. He could hardly grasp the cup over his confusion as he peered down into the steaming, swirling pool of coffee in his hand, then back up toward the girl who gave a small giggle and took a few steps back. She leaned toward Mickey ever so slightly just before she was too far away to speak in a loud whisper that she knew Ian would hear and smiled as she spoke.

“I like him,” she gestured her brow toward Ian. Mickey had yet to look away from him, tracing over his face with a fondness in his eyes and began to slowly nod.

“I do too,” he agreed lowly, giving the other man just the hint of a smile. Ian felt a bit of relief from the tension in his muscles, relaxing some from his roommate’s words, feeling a faint blush rise high into the apples of his cheeks. Mickey barely turned his head, his eyes never leaving the man beside him, “Thanks, Trace,” he said lightly, “You got my fuckin' Tabasco?” he then added suddenly, glancing back at the young staff member.

She raised her eyebrows, then reached into the front pocket of the apron she wore and pulled out a small bottle of hot sauce. Mickey smiled, taking it from her and slipped it into his own pocket. The girl held a sweet, shiny smile, her eyes flickering between them before silently turning back around and walking back inside the narrow, little staff hall. Mickey stayed silent looking into his face for a moment before he gestured to the cup with a tip of his chin.

“Drink up, man,” he directed lightly, “You said it’d fuckin' help,” he gave a shrug then a point of his thumb back down the hall they’d come from and began to walk, waiting for the redhead to follow, who did without thought, still staring down into his scalding cup of sweet, creamy pitch.

“How did you do this?” Ian asked lowly, suddenly, hesitantly, raising his face to look at Mickey, who scratched his nose with his thumb and gave another simple shrug.

“Told ya,” said Mickey, “I know a chick who works in the kitchen,” he said very casually, “I ask, she runs,” he gave a bit of an amused chuckle and a slight tip of his head and met Ian’s eyes. The other man remained skeptical, glancing from his cup back up to his roommate, still silent, still not taking a sip. Mickey’s smirk widened and he arched an eyebrow.

“What, Red?” he tried not to chuckle. Ian remained silent, staring at him. “Spit it the fuck out, man,” Mickey snapped in a cool, friendly tone, nudging him with him elbow and nearly spilling a few drops of his coffee. Ian took a breath and combed the fingers of his free hand back through his hair.

“Is it like a 'give and take' kinda thing?” Ian asked carefully, hoping for some further sort of explanation. The other man didn’t hesitate, merely rumbling up another light, chesty chuckle.

“What the fuck is it I’d be givin' her, Red?” he queried, arching his eyebrow further, appearing a bit amused. Ian went quiet again, full of hesitation, full of doubt, dropping his eyes back to the floor and curling the fingers of both his hands around the cup they held. Mickey dropped his own face just a bit, reading the other man’s, then pulled another smirk, “Do I gotta tell your big red ass to spit it the fuck out again?” Ian halted his steps causing the other man to do the same and blinked. 'Spit it out,'

“Are you fucking her?” Ian asked rather bluntly.

Mickey’s eyebrows shot up, wide blue eyes looking at him with a boggled expression, before he suddenly punched out a deep, thick laugh, bringing a hand to his chest with humor. Ian blinked at him again, now more confused than ever, waiting for the other man to catch his breath and collect himself. Mickey began to give a firm, sure shake of his head and a hard cut of a flat palm through the air in front of him.

“No.” Mickey replied firmly, meeting his eyes to show that behind his sudden laughter, he was being serious, honest, sincere, “It ain’t fuckin' like that, man,” he said, then reached over to gently lace his fingers between Ian’s, rubbing his thumb along the other man’s in the comfortingly familiar way that sent a subtle rush of tingles along the pores of his skin, and squeezed. “I ain’t fuckin' nobody,” Mickey assured quietly, very quietly, stepping closer to him, looking up into his face, “And I only got my eyes on one,” he said even lower, his eyes moving slowly down along the features of his face, to his neck and across his chest, squeezing his hand a bit tighter, “Alright?” Mickey raised his eyebrows, titling his head back up to flicker blue between green with another bite of his lip and Ian’s breath slowed, his head going light and airy with flutters. Ian managed to give the smallest nod, suddenly feeling immeasurably better, tightening his grip within the other man’s hand.

Ian had felt extremely nervous about asking such a thing, but now that he had and had heard the answer, the other man appearing completely genuine and honest, he was glad that he’d gathered enough courage to do it, satisfied with the response. He took a small sip of his coffee, the other man watching as he did so, then Ian scrunched up his face.

“This is sweet as shit,” Ian breathed looking at his roommate almost as if he were insane. Mickey laughed, slipped his hand out of the other man’s and began to walk.

“I like 'em sweet,” Mickey replied lowly with another appealing downward sweep of his eyes. The redhead smiled and took another sip from his cup, inhaling the scent of the soothing brew through his nose.

“I’m not gonna like, get in trouble for having this?” Ian asked, “Isn’t caffeine prohibited?” he raised his eyebrow and was met with a confident smirk and a firm shake of the other man’s head.

“Nah,” said Mickey, “You’re with me,” he explained simply, “Ain’t nobody gonna fuckin' look twice.”

Ian was still confused, but didn’t ask anything further. Instead he lowered his head a bit, and just tried to enjoy the surprising gesture the other man had done for him, sipping slowly, soothing the last of his nerves. They got back to their room and entered quietly, each moving to sit down on their own bed, then peered across the room in a comfortable silence that they both seemed to feel so safe in. Each man pulled out their breakfast and proceeded to eat, Ian with a bit of difficulty as he still just wasn’t hungry. But Mickey pulled the little bottle of Tabasco sauce from his pocket, spiced up his sandwich and happily chomped it down. He swallowed, then twiddled his thumbs a bit, watching as the redhead blew on his cup to take another drink having just finished his own food as well.

“You uh, wanna go have a fuckin' smoke?” Mickey asked with a shrug, “Not much else to fuckin' do right now,” he gave a chuckle. Ian traced the outline of the cigarette in his pocket, then began to stand.

“Sure,” he answered, “Couldn’t hurt,” Ian breathed and rubbed his face, setting his cup down atop the table beside him, “Have a feeling I’m gonna need a couple today,” he added. Mickey tilted his head, reading his face, then began to rise as well.

“You got somethin' planned?” the other man queried, walking toward the dresser to extract two sweatshirts. Ian exhaled and combed his fingers through his hair.

“I got a stupid fucking mediation session with Eddy at two,” Ian explained, then shook his head, “Fucking bullshit.” Mickey gave another chuckle, turning to toss him a sweater.

“Mediation?” Mickey repeated, “For what, that fuckin' fightin' shit on your first day?” the redhead gave a nod, then pulled the shirt over his head and the other man gave a tip of his chin, “Just remember, man, keep it simple,” he suggested, “Just like dealin' with everythin' else in this shithole, simple is your best fuckin' bet, Red,” Mickey nodded as he spoke, “And knowin' Ed, asshole's gonna try to make it hard on ya,” he said, “So, just don’t fuckin' let him, man,” Mickey advised simply, firmly, calmly, then chewed the corner of his mouth and thumbed his lip, “But uh, if that shithead gives you too much a fuckin' problem,” he added with a serious tone in his voice, “You just let me fuckin' know, alright?”

Ian silently looked over his face for a long moment, then slowly gave another nod. Mickey mirrored him, pulled on his own sweater, then turned to dig his cigarette pack out from his storage chest and tuck away his hot sauce. As he had his back turned, Ian couldn’t help but let his eyes wander across the wall above his roommate’s bed, quietly admiring his vibrant display of artwork, lingering.

“You eyein' my shit, Red?”

Ian turned his head and saw that he’d been caught looking perhaps a bit too closely. But Mickey didn’t look upset or annoyed in the slightest, merely smirking at him with his normal handsome expression and the slightest arch of his brow causing Ian’s breath to stutter. He glanced back to the wall and nodded his own brow toward the drawings.

“You’re really talented,” Ian complimented with genuine admiration in his voice, smiling just a bit. Mickey’s smirk widened into a grin as he rounded the end of his bed to stand next to the other man, looking over the wall as well.

“Ya think so?” the dark haired man asked in a low, almost shy voice, appearing rather prideful of his work. Ian nodded slowly, then turned to meet his eyes.

“Yeah,” the redhead confirmed, “Incredibly so,” he insisted, eyes flickering between one another’s before Ian broke the eye contact to gaze at the beautiful display of expression once more.

“Thanks, man,” said Mickey quietly, then chewed his lip for a moment, thinking, before leaning his head a bit closer to Ian, “Kinda like fuckin' readin',” he added, “Wasn’t ever able to fuckin' do any a this kinda shit growin' up,” said Mickey, now meeting the other man’s eyes as he turned listening to his words, “But now that I can,” he raised an upturned palm, giving a slight sweeping gesture to the wall in front of them, “I figured why the fuck not?”

His eyes lingered silently on the wall, draped in a hard shield, drenched deeply in thought before looking back to his roommate, with just a hint of softness. The dark haired man glanced down toward Ian’s hand, then slowly reached over to lace their fingers together once more and the redhead's lungs filled with another shivering rush of flutters at the contact, refusing to look away from the deep blue eyes that were now staring so intensely into his own.

“Lots a shit I can do now, that I never fuckin' thought I could before,” Mickey said in the lowest possible whisper, dropping his eyes to the strong, freckled hand wrapped in his, lightly moving their fingers between each others, softly, gently, affectionately. His eyes traveled slowly from Ian’s hand, up the length of his body and back into his eyes. “If it’s somethin' worth doin',” he added with just the smallest hint of suggestiveness, an arch of his brow and a subtle bite of his lip.

The flutters were singing, dancing, wrapping around his ribs and overflowing into his limbs, tingling his lips with craving. He wanted nothing more than to lean in and kiss the other man, his eyes hovering over his lips, full, pink and soft, then licked his own without thinking. Mickey’s eyes dropped a bit to watch as his tongue slid across them and did the same, seemingly without thinking as well. The air around them was thick and heavy, hazy and sweet, making each of their thoughts go fuzzy as their fingers continued to twist and caress inside each other’s palms.

“I wanna kiss you,” Ian thought out loud, in a low, soft voice, unable to stop himself from speaking. Mickey held his expression and gave his hand a squeeze, hesitating for a moment, gazing back into his eyes, then took a small step back, gently pulling Ian with him.

“Let’s go have a fuckin' cigarette,” Mickey offered instead, a bit of a cocky, playful grin pressed into his face. Ian exhaled, trying to will away the tingling flow of nerves pulsing through his body, then turned toward his coffee, picking it up to take with him and let the other man lead him out of the room.

Mickey kept his hand in Ian’s through most of the walk there, not seeming to care the least bit about any other patient who passed them, only letting go when they were buzzed through the door that led into the yard. The dark haired man kept stealing glances at him as they made their way to the bush line, slipping through unnoticed as usual. When they entered their dome, Mickey turned around to look at Ian, who was a bit surprised by the abrupt turn of the man in front of him. The dark haired man then reached down to grab Ian’s hand again, then slowly took a step forward. Ian could feel the heat of the other man’s body as he began to press his chest into his, his face leaning in toward his neck.

The redhead tensed, ignoring the screams of anxious, buzzing nerves echoing off the inside of his skull. He felt the tip of Mickey’s nose delicately brush along the soft skin of his neck, then felt the lightest brush of the man’s lips, and a hot, low breath passing through them, speckling his skin with goosebumps. Mickey didn’t kiss him, but the contact was delicate, intimate, passionate nonetheless. Ian felt the other man’s lips part just slightly, and pressed ever so gently into a tender spot just below his ear, softly mouthing at the skin there. His breath hitched a bit, unable to stop himself from reaching out to wrap his free hand around his roommate’s waist, keeping him close. Mickey wrapped his arms around Ian as well, slowly rubbing his palms up the length of his back to give two firm grasps atop his shoulders and brushed his nose back along the other man’s earlobe as another low breath trailed down his neck.

Ian grasped the back of Mickey’s shirt into a fistful of fabric, trying to pull him even closer, then dropped his own face to place a gentle bite in the crook of his neck, right where it met his shoulder. He could hear the reaction in the other man’s breath, hearing it stutter and shake just a bit, his hands gripping onto his shoulders more tightly and turned his face down some to mouth and bite at Ian’s collarbone through his shirt. Then the redhead started kissing him, tasting him, savoring him, his feel, his scent, his intoxicating flavor. Ian’s other hand began to squeeze the cup he held and it took all his self control not to simply drop it or crush it inside his palm. Ian kissed wetly, sweetly, softly down along Mickey’s neck before moving back to his shoulder, inching the fabric away with his nose, finding a place that he knew would be hidden by clothing and began to suck, hard. A low, deep moan came rolling up Mickey’s throat and he bit his lip, trying to stifle it, then gave Ian a firm push back with his chest, staying on him as he moved them back to lean against the wall. The dark haired man, dropped his face a bit more with quickened breaths, inhaling into Ian’s chest, turning his head a bit more for him.

Ian slid down, just slightly, reaching with a long limb to set his cup of coffee on the ground beside them, his lips and focus never leaving the man whose succulent aroma remained lingering, tickling along his tongue, raising his newly freed hand to caress the soft, short hair at the back of the other man’s head. Mickey moved with him, bringing his own hands down Ian’s back to grip at his sides and pull him closer, raising and tilting his head up to graze his lips back along his neck. The redhead let a pleasurable hum pass through his nose as he sucked again and bit down, pulling a low, trembling hiss out of the other man.

“Christ,” Mickey breathed, his eyes clamped shut and his eyebrows drawn together, “Shit,” his hands moved down more, hovering at Ian’s hips, then wrapped around his waist, his head tipped down again. “Ya dunno what ya do to me, man,” Mickey mumbled into Ian’s chest, pressing himself closer. Ian lifted his head just a bit to run his tongue over Mickey’s earlobe and bit down just slightly, feeling his roommate’s grip tighten.

“I have an idea,” Ian whispered back in a low, seductive voice causing the other man to fight down a deep, throaty groan, slowly rocking his hips into him. Then Ian’s breath hitched just a bit, feeling how thick and hard the other man was as he pressed into him, suddenly realizing that he was as well and had no way to hide it. But the other man didn’t seem to mind, in fact, it seemed to get even more of a reaction out of him, the friction causing them each to tighten the grips of their palms and stutter their breathing.

Ian resisted the urge to reach down, wanting to touch and rub and grasp him, to make him hitch and moan and feel really good, but a little voice in the back of his mind was stopping him, full of nervous flares and immense amounts of unsurety. Instead he placed another open mouthed kiss atop the tender, bruising spot he’d just been sucking on, then let his arms drop, very slowly and carefully, curling over the sharp cut of the other man’s hips to wrap around his waist. Mickey leaned his head back just a bit and Ian did as well, meeting each other’s eyes, each unable to contain the blushing smirks that split across their faces.

“Should probably smoke that fuckin' cigarette now, huh?” Mickey arched an eyebrow as the bright pink color slowly melted away from his cheeks, appearing as though he needed to catch his breath a bit, his smile widening. Ian smiled as well, gazing into the shimmering blue eyes that seemed to cut right through him, managing to give a small nod of agreement.

But still, they both hesitated, lingering as if neither really wanted to move, neither wanting to end the embrace, each waiting for their blood flow to redirect and enjoying the contact while they did. Mickey reached a hand up to the side of Ian’s face with a soft rub of his thumb, then trailed his fingertips down along his neck before retracting his hand and taking a very tentative step back, slipping smoothly from the other man’s grasp. He thumbed his bottom lip and traced the features of the redhead’s face, then produced a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, reaching out to place it between Ian’s lips. Ian took it and waited as his roommate then pulled out his lighter, sparking it with a flick of his thumb and watched his cheeks hallow as he inhaled a deep, sharp drag.

“Thanks,” Ian gestured to the cigarette between his fingers and Mickey gave a chin tip, leaning back against the brick next to him. He took a few hits and passed it, watching the other man as his inhaled with a tight rise of his chest and exhaled a relaxed puff of smoke through his nose.

“I hope I didn’t cross any line or anything,” he said under his breath, causing Mickey to look over at him and study his face.

“Aye, man,” said Mickey with a light nudge of his elbow, “Like I told ya, if you ever cross some shit with me, you’d fuckin' know it,” he assured with a firm expression. Ian smiled a bit and gave a small nod of acknowledgment, watching as Mickey took another hit off the cigarette and passed it over to him.

“I wanna know more about you,” Ian mentioned quietly, flicking a smudge of ash from the end of the cigarette, eyes traveling across the small space of ground at their feet. Mickey gave a smirk and another arch of his eyebrow, turning just a bit to look at him better.

“Anythin' in particular?” he queried, appearing rather pleased and intrigued by the other man’s genuine interest in him.

Ian looked at him for a long moment, really thinking about what he wanted to ask, wanting to take advantage of this moment with the other man seeming very open and relaxed, comfortable. There were all sorts of things that Ian wanted to know about him, wanted to ask about and listen to, but he knew that right now, he still had to choose very carefully, had to tread lightly and remain cautious. He wanted to learn about something personal and meaningful to Mickey, without delving too deep.

“Can I ask a little more about your artwork?” he tried slowly, hoping that it wasn’t too guarded a subject for the other man, looking up into his face and meeting his eyes, seeing how leveled and collected he still appeared to be and relaxed a little bit.

“What about it, Red?” Mickey asked back easily with a slight shrug of his shoulders, then reached out to pinch the cigarette from Ian’s fingers, bringing it to his own lips for a deep, long pull.

“How long have you been doing it?” Ian asked, still speaking slowly and choosing his words with thought, “Like, you said it was like reading,” he fidgeted with his fingers and watched as the other man continued to calmly smoke his cigarette, “So, you’ve done it since you were a kid?” Ian was nervous in his questions despite the fact that the other man’s expression still hadn’t changed. Mickey took another deep pull, then passed the cigarette to Ian with a thick plume above his head.

“Yeah,” Mickey confirmed with a light shrug, “I mean, it was just somethin' else I always had to fuckin' hide from my ol' man, really," his eyes flickered away from Ian’s face, turning to peer out through the small, scattered splits in the bushes in front of them, “Me and Iggs both draw,” Mickey added with a bit of a smile, “But after my ma died, it was just another fuckin' thing that my dad thought was just big fuckin' waste a time,” Ian took a few drags and passed the smoke back, “Used to get real fuckin' pissed off if he ever caught either of us fuckin' doodlin' or anythin' like that,” Mickey held a bitter expression, clenching his jaw and rolled the cigarette over between his fingers, “So, we couldn’t fuckin' do it much and when we did, it was always a fuckin' secret,” he took a drag and exhaled through his nose, “Even had a fuckin' hiding spot,” Mickey chuckled lightly, passing the cigarette, “Fuckin' hole in the wall in the basement,” he shook his head, “Dumbass motherfucker never found the shit,” Mickey smiled just a bit, “Only time he was ever alright with the shit was when Iggy found a fuckin' way to start pullin' money in with it,” he added with a tip of his head, “Built a fuckin' tat rig and started doin' ink for real cheap outta the basement.”

“Is that how you got your tattoos?” Ian asked, his voice and face full of interest, smoking the cigarette. Mickey met his eyes, seeing his face and smiled.

“Yeah,” he said, “Most of 'em,” Mickey nodded, “Did the fuckin barbed wire myself though,” he gestured to his arm, “Most a the rest Iggs did for me, and I did a couple for his ass too.” Mickey gestured to the cigarette which was beginning to burn rather low, and Ian passed it without pause.

“I like the devil on your leg,” Ian noted with a small smile and a point down toward his calf. The dark haired man smiled a bit wider.

“Looked better when I fuckin' drew it,” Mickey chuckled, “For doin’ fuckin' tats, Iggs ain’t got a steady hand for shit,” he gave another shake of his head, took a final drag and dropped the butt to snuff out with the hard sole of his slipper.

“You drew it?” Ian asked. Mickey gave a confirming nod, a small smirk still pressed to his face. “It’s really good,” said the redhead, “I really like your artwork,” he praised lightly and got a satisfied chin tip in return. Mickey’s cheeks rouged a subtle shade of pink , seemingly a bit flattered by the comment.

“Thanks, man,” he replied quietly, then thumbed his lip again, “Mands was always fuckin' jealous a me and Iggs cause she didn’t get the fuckin' creative spark or whatever,” Mickey mentioned, laughing a bit, “Even thought a tryin' to actually do somethin' with it, kinda like Iggy, but like legit, ya know?” he shrugged a bit and Ian could see how awkward the other man seemed to feel expressing these things, but he was so incredibly grateful that he was, engulfed in absolutely everything he was saying, unable to possibly learn enough.

“You wanted to be a tattoo artist?” he asked with a smile still spread across his face, the other man relaxing at the sight. Mickey shrugged again.

“Yeah, I mean maybe,” said Mickey, “Why not,” he scratched the bridge of his nose with the back of his thumb, “Me and Iggs thought a like havin' a fuckin' shop,” he explained, “Do the shit together,” his eyes flickered away from Ian’s once more with an unreadable expression etched across his brow. Ian tried to read him, study him, but felt that may be too sensitive a subject to prod at much further.

“That’s really cool,” Ian smiled, reaching down to weave their fingers together causing Mickey to relax a bit once again.

Neither man seemed to want to move from their private little space, kept warm by standing closely together, each protected by the heat of the other, comfortable and secure. Ian felt much better now than he had just a short while earlier, the embrace and contact of the other man washing all the negativity away. He reached down to grab his forgotten coffee, which was thankfully still hot enough to be satisfying and took a long sip. The other man watched him, then reached out with a sharp smirk and questioning eyes, before Ian passed it over to him to sip as well.

“So, you ever have any fuckin' aspirations, Red?” Mickey asked as he swallowed a large gulp of hot, creamy fluid, “Anythin' that you like really wanted to fuckin' do?” he passed the cup back over to his roommate who took a slow sip in thought, sneakily enjoying the flavor that the other man’s lips left along the rim of the cup. Ian swallowed and met his eyes.

“Well, I told you about when I joined the army,” Ian began and Mickey gave a nod, listening quietly with a face full of interest, “I didn’t always plan to join under my brother’s name,” he explained, “I’d actually wanted to be a military officer and I’d been taking advanced classes and doing a bunch of extracurricular stuff so that I could get into West Point and try to do that,” Ian spoke a bit with his free hand, then took another slow sip of his coffee, “But then I sort of had a breakdown,” he said slowly, reaching to rub the back of his neck, “Stupid shit,” he added quietly, “And I just had to leave sooner,” Ian shrugged and Mickey looked him over, giving him a slow nod.

“Shit fuckin' happens, man,” Mickey offered simply, reaching into his pocket to retrieve a new cigarette.

The other man began to slowly nod as well, agreeing far too much with the statement. The dark haired man lit the end of the cigarette and together they shared it continuing to talk, share, ask each other questions, each happily learning more about the other. They each opened up a bit, spoke a little about their siblings and swapped stories from their childhoods, both good and not so good alike, but mild things overall. Eventually they even sat, so immersed in the mutual interest of discovering more about each other, everything being new and interesting. Together they smoked a few cigarettes, exchanged far too many glances and smiled down at their fingers forever moving together as they held onto each other’s hand, just talking, listening, being. They quickly felt even closer, more comfortable, relaxed. Though eventually, the cold began to get to them, no matter how closely they sat, finally forced to rise from their spot, and emerge from their den out into the frosty, winter air.

As they were buzzed through the door and into the building, Ian couldn’t help but smile just a bit as his mind began to replay all of the intriguing new things his roommate had told him about. Mickey had told him a bit about how things were for him and his two closest siblings after he and Iggy had been forced to drop out of school. Mandy had still been allowed to go and would bring home her textbooks, extra worksheets and materials to teach them everything she was taught each day at school, which they’d also kept hidden from their father for fear of punishment.

Ian learned that Mickey seemed to have a natural gift for numbers and often did his sister’s math homework for her as a kind of payment for teaching him and his brother other academics. It was also a skill that came in handy when he’d been forced to work for his father, keeping track of amounts and money, able to do quick calculations off the top of his head. Mickey was the one who kept track of his father’s books, making sure everything stayed even and up to date. He was smart, very smart despite having been forced out of his education by an angry, overbearing parent.

Mickey was quite mechanically inclined as well, as was his brother Iggy. It’d been Mickey who designed his brother’s first tattoo gun, and Iggy who’d built it and together they shared it, though his brother was always able to use it much more than he was. Their father usually kept Mickey busy with other business dealings and didn’t give him much time to work with his brother, to which he seemed to hold quite a bit of resentment.

He talked a bit about his sister, telling Ian that she was a lesbian, “for the most part,” which was something both he and Iggy had helped her hide from their father during childhood and teenage years. Ian wondered what it’d been like for Mickey being gay, living in the same household, but he didn’t speak on it at all. The redhead thought perhaps it was just too tender a subject for him, so he didn’t bother to ask about it.

Ian had shared a bit of his own childhood as well, telling Mickey a bit about his drunk of a father and of course his mother and how she’d disappeared through most of his childhood, running off with strangers only to come back months later strung out on a questionable amount of drugs. He told him about how she’d steal whatever she could from them, if it’d ever benefit her in any way, even emptying his piggybank on more than one occasion. Ian told him about their squirrel fund that he and his siblings had to keep hidden from his parents to pay bills and buy food.

Turns out Mickey and his siblings had a similar stash in their home growing up. The difference was, when Ian’s parents would search for it and come up empty handed, they usually just gave up. However, Mickey’s father would become drunk and enraged, physically beating him and his siblings until they were forced to hand it over. Because of that, combined with the fact that his oldest brothers were never around to give much help, Mickey and Iggy had taken it upon themselves, stealing and shoplifting, even snatching the purses off the shoulders of old women in order to ensure there’d be food in their house. Mandy on the other hand had a natural talent for singing, as well as her best friend Gigi, who often stayed with them to escape her own awful home situation, and together they’d sing on street corners, panhandling and begging for change to spend on food, so that Mickey and Iggy wouldn’t be forced to steal.

Ian related, having had to do the very same thing with his own siblings when neither of his parents were around to feed them, though they hadn’t been blessed with any showcaseable talent to display, making things much more difficult at times. The best turn out they’d ever gotten had been right after Liam had been born and left with them at only a few months old, pulling in a couple hundred bucks. Apparently, strangers sympathize much more with freezing, starving children if they have an infant bundled up with them, the thought causing each man to scoff and shake their heads.

He learned a lot about Mickey and Mickey had in turn, learned quite a lot about him as well, both men now feeling much closer than they had before. They each found out more about the broken homes they’d both come from and the struggles of growing up in such dysfunctional households. Both were surprised to discover that they’d actually grown up only a few blocks apart, yet had never crossed paths before meeting at the facility. Ian’s mind boggled at bit at that, how he’d always been so unknowingly close to this man, yet so far away at the very same time. They’d also learned that they’d come close to meeting as children, but still hadn’t for reasons that only the universe could fully comprehend.

“Dumbass Little League commissioner, kicked me off my fuckin' baseball team for pissin' on first base,” Mickey laughed as they turned out of the hallway back into their room. Ian raised an eyebrow, remembering a dark haired boy on his own team doing something rather similar.

“You play for the Blue Jays?” Ian asked curiously. Mickey paused his steps and turned to look at him with a very perplexed expression on his face.

“How the fuck you know that shit?” Mickey wondered out loud and Ian gave a chuckle, his face flushing red from the discovery.

“I was playing second,” the redhead explained, causing the other man’s jaw to drop a bit.

“No fuckin' way,” Mickey quipped back, his voice full of disbelief. But simply Ian gave a confirming nod and started to laugh.

“Yeah,” Ian insisted, “I remember you doing that,” he laughed harder, then finished the last swig of his now cold coffee, “Don’t seem like you’ve changed too much,” he chuckled out, setting his empty cup down on his end table. Mickey smirked back and flipped him off with no heat in his stance.

“Small fuckin' world, man,” Mickey breathed, letting his eyes trail down the other man’s body, then back up to his face, taking a step closer. Ian let his eyes flicker between blue, feeling his mind lose itself just a bit, enjoying the lingering gaze of the handsome, chiseled man in front of him. He broke the eye contact for just an instant, glancing past Mickey and up at the clock, seeing how much time had passed, which had easily been a few hours, already almost lunch time and parted his lips slightly.

“Holy shit,” he said, “Didn’t realize we’d been talking that long,” said Ian rubbing his forehead, looking back at his roommate. Mickey turned to glance at the clock as well, then looked back at Ian with a smirk and a shrug.

“Time fuckin' flies, Red,” he arched an eyebrow at him and sucked in his lower lip.

Ian suddenly exhaled and ran a palm down his face remembering what he’d have to endure in just a short while, having to sit down with that twitchy, dreaded asshole whom he was slowly beginning to hate. He groaned lightly and pinched the bridge of his nose, throbbing the healing cut that still remain there. Mickey looked him over and creased his brow, bringing a hand to his shoulder for a soft, firm squeeze.

“What?” Mickey asked carefully, leaning his down to look into Ian’s face better.

“That stupid fucking mediation,” Ian breathed, then combed his hair back along his scalp, “Really don’t wanna fucking do it,” he explained. The other man gripped his shoulder a bit tighter, chuckling with a light shake of his head.

“Don’t fuckin' worry about that shit, man,” Mickey reassured, “You’re not fuckin' stupid, Red,” he said rubbing his thumb along the collar of Ian’s shirt, “You got this.” Ian said nothing, dropping his eyes to the floor, trying to ignore his nerves, then scrunched up his face as a yawn forced it’s way up his throat. The other man paused, silently letting his eyes linger before he withdrew his hand and took a small step back.

“Tired again?” his roommate queried, still looking him over. Ian groaned again and turned to sit on his bed.

“I fucking hate it,” said Ian dropping his face into his palms, “I just want it to stop,” he mumbled out in frustration. Mickey peered down at him silently for another moment, as if he were thinking, trying to decide how to approach him. He ran his thumb along his bottom lip, then moved to sit down beside him.

“Aye,” Mickey said quietly, reaching to lay his arm across Ian’s shoulders, leaning his head in, “I know how it is, man,” he began gently, beginning to rub Ian’s bicep with his palm, “I uh, used to dream a real fucked up shit too. Still do sometimes,” Mickey spoke slowly and in a low voice, just hardly above a whisper, “For a while, I couldn’t fuckin' sleep at all,” Ian lifted his face from his hands just a bit to look into the other man’s face who had his eyes on the floor as he spoke, “I’d just fuckin' close my eyes and all the bullshit would just come floodin' back,” his hand slid smoothly back over a single shoulder blade and paused at the base of Ian’s neck, giving it a soft, tender squeeze, “Even bein' awake was fucked,” he said, “Couldn’t get the shit outta my fuckin' head, like a fuckin' reel stuck on repeat,” Mickey’s eyes flicked across the floor with another unreadable expression, “Fuckin' drove myself crazy just tryin' to get the shit to fuckin' stop,” he turned his face and met Ian’s eyes, “But it never did,” he chewed his lip and looked back to the floor, “Just had to fuckin' get used to the shit,” Mickey shrugged lightly, then gave Ian’s neck another squeeze, “You ain’t gotta do that shit though,” he assured, “You got me, man.”

Ian let his hands fall to his lap, letting his eyes scan over the other man’s face as he turned to meet his gaze, searching. He let himself smile just a bit, leaning toward the Mickey just slightly, feeling the man grip his hand in return. Ian wanted to trust him, wanted to believe, but he was hesitant, nervous and he wasn’t sure why. Mickey seemed sincere, genuine, honest and as much as Ian was learning about him, the man was still new to him, still full of secrets and mysteries and it just made him a bit unsure. So he was going to ask something again, something that Ian knew he’d need an answer to if he was going to be able to do all that.

“Why are you doing so much for me?” Ian asked quietly, refusing to look away from the other man’s eyes, “I need to know.” Mickey leaned his face back some but didn’t look away or remove his arm. Though, he hesitated again, once more creasing his brow in thought, reading the other man’s face. Mickey seemed to be able to tell how serious Ian was, how important his question was and softened just a bit.

“What can I say, Red,” Mickey replied lowly with a subtle tenderness hidden within the blue sparkle of his irises, “Guess there’s just somethin' about ya,” his grip tightened on the base of Ian’s neck, his fingertips now rubbing softly along the short, red hair at the bottom of his scalp.

Ian’s breath slowed in the fuzzy, hazy way that it always seemed to do when Mickey said or did such sweet, affectionate things, filling his body with flutters, tingling his senses with shivering, lingering sparks. He felt his smile return and widen, genuinely flattered and grateful for the other man’s attention and interest in him. Mickey smiled back as they both relaxed exceptionally and simply continued to gaze at each other. Ian leaned in and a gave a single, soft kiss to the corner of Mickey’s jaw, just below his ear, wishing he could kiss his lips instead, but was just happy to kiss him at all. Ian pretended not to notice the smallest hint of a gentle pinkish blush rising into the other man’s cheeks from the gesture.

“Thank you,” Ian whispered. Mickey gave a nod and ran his hand down the redhead’s back to rub a few long, wide circles into it.

“You ain’t no fuckin' bother to me, man,” the other man insisted quietly. Ian held his smile, enjoying Mickey’s embrace, even reaching over to grasp his knee, caressing the cap gently with the tips of his fingers. Then another yawn pushed it’s way up from Ian’s chest and he groaned again, causing the other man to glance back down at him. “Aye,” he said, “You ever fuckin' need me to stay, or just need anythin', all ya gotta do is say so,” Mickey said in a firm but gentle tone. As much as he appreciated his roommate’s gesture, he knew that he would still have to endure and he’d have to do it alone, although he really didn’t want to.

“It’s fine,” said Ian, straightening up a bit and giving the other man’s knee a firm, assuring rub, “I’ll be fine.” Mickey watched his face skeptically for a moment, but didn’t push it, slowly giving a nod, a final brush of his thumb and withdrew his arm.

“Alright,” he conceded, reaching to grasp the hand atop his knee, “I’m gonna sort some shit out while you’re in here,” Mickey tipped his head toward the door, “Got some fuckin' bullshit to deal with anyway,” he said sounding extremely unenthused about it. Ian raised an eyebrow just slightly and chanced the opportunity to ask about it.

“What do you have to do?” the redhead asked cautiously. Mickey met his eyes and gave his hand another squeeze.

“Nothin' you gotta fuckin' worry about, Red.”

He said it calmly, easily, without any heat or tone of warning, just simply making a statement. Ian was still curious, wondering what it was the other man always seemed to have to go do and why he didn’t feel comfortable telling Ian about it. But with as much as they’d shared with each other just today, Ian was content not to try and dig any deeper, giving an accepting nod and a leveled expression.

“Okay,” Ian accepted softly, the other man looking quite pleased at the response. Mickey gave his hand another rub, then started to rise, causing Ian to withdraw his own hand and watch as his roommate walked over to his end table to look it over.

“What are you doing?” Ian asked, creasing his brow and arching his neck, trying to peer around the other man. Mickey picked up his empty cup along with his long discarded banana and their leftover breakfast wrappers.

“Cleanin' this shit up so I don’t lose my fuckin' good behavior privileges on account a your sloppy ass,” Mickey chuckled, gathering up the trash and crossing the room toward the bin in the corner to dump it all inside. Ian smiled in return, toed off his slippers and moved to lay back on his bed.

“Sorry,” said Ian and Mickey shrugged, a grin still spread across his face.

“Not a big fuckin' deal, man,” he replied simply, glancing back over at him, then scratched the bridge of his nose, “Hey uh, I’m serious if ya fuckin' need anythin', alright?” Mickey offered once more and Ian nodded again. “If you can’t fuckin' find me, just find Bruce and he knows where to look,” he said, which Ian found a bit unusual, but nodded once more regardless. Mickey hesitated another moment, appearing extremely unsure about leaving the room, then slowly crossed it to stand over Ian, next to his bed. “I'll grab somethin' for ya for lunch too, okay?” said Mickey, “So you don’t gotta, ya know go back down there if ya don’t wanna,” he added quietly, reaching down to brush the hair from Ian’s eyes and comb it back along his scalp with his fingertips. Ian gave an acknowledging smile, letting himself enjoy the other man’s touch, then reached to pull his blanket up to his waist, forcing down another irritating yawn. The dark haired man’s eyes hovered over him for a moment, silently studying, as of taking note of every little feature, then took a step back. “I'll be right fuckin' back,” he finalized lowly, walking backward toward the door. Then he shot Ian the smallest hint of a smirk before turning to walk out the door, closing it softly behind him.

Ian turned his face toward the ceiling and tried to breathe slow, tried to be leveled, to not be afraid, but it was hard, knowing what was coming. The heavier his eyes felt, the more his hands began to tremble and his pores quickly began to well with sweat. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He curled his hands into fists and closed his eyes. ‘It’s just a dream,' he told himself, trying to convince his mind of what he already knew to be lies, desperately trying to calm. He felt a sickly tingle spread over his skin and a sharp, painful twist pull inside his stomach as the room around him began to fade. Ian felt cold, he felt sick and weak, and though he did try, so very, very hard, in the end, he still wasn’t able to pull himself out from the abyss.

***

The air was dry and cold, the curb they sat upon, rough and painful, huddled together in wait, just trying to stay warm. He curled his arm more tightly around his mother, feeling her tremble into his chest, burying her face down beneath his arm. Ian glanced back toward the truck, that still sat still and unmoving where George had parked it. He tried not to let his eyes wander to the large splotch of blood left smeared across the asphalt, shuddering as he did so. His eyes then fell to his hands as he curled them slowly into fists, observing the swelling in his knuckles and clenched his jaw.

After running the rapist's pockets and tearing apart his rig, their search hadn’t turned up much, having only found about a hundred bucks in cash, a carton of cigarettes and some questionable bags of powder and tar. It’d only made Ian feel angry, all over again, cussing and groaning as he’d helped his mother lift the large, round man back into the truck and stuff him away inside. He’d been breathing, but barely. It turned out that even though the trucker had actually propositioned his mother, seeking an arrangement with him, he hadn’t had enough money for him anyway. The man’s plan all along had been to wait until Ian was indisposed enough to simply take what he wanted. Ian snorted harshly through his nose, hawked his neck back and spat on the ground.

“Don’t worry, my love,” she spoke into his shoulder, curled under her son’s arm, shielding her from the wind, “She should be here real soon and we'll be out of here,” she curled her arms tighter around his waist, beneath his jacket and squeezed tight, “You’re just gonna love her,” his mother assured, turning her face to smile up at him. Ian was a little nervous and quite skeptical, but was going to trust her, despite his better judgement. What else could he do?

“Well, she better fucking get here soon, mom,” Ian replied with a bit of an irritated tone, “Or we’re gonna fucking freeze to death.” His mother looked over his face and raised a hand to brush along his cheek.

“We could wait in George’s truck?” she offered, but her son quickly shook his head.

“I’m not fucking going anywhere near that thing,” he responded firmly, grinding his teeth, “I’d rather fucking freeze.”

“Well we shouldn’t be waiting much longer,” she reassured, gently pushing long red strands from his eyes to catch on the wind and whisp back along his head. She then reached into her bra and pulled out a crinkled, disorganized wad of cash, shuffling it through her fingers. “We just have to make sure we have enough to pay for the ride,” his mother added, counting through the mess of bills, “Then she can take us to make some more money, then we’ll be on our way again,” she said happily, fingers still fidgeting through crumbled slips of green paper. Ian looked down at his mother, watching her as she counted through the bills and saw her face turn into that of worry and distress.

“What?” the redhead asked, “What’s wrong?” Her lips began to tremble as she lifted her head once more to meet his eyes.

“We don’t have enough,” she whispered, “We’re two hundred short.” Ian gave a hard crease to his brow and leaned back a bit, his arm still wrapped around the skinny, blonde woman seated next to him.

“Two hundred?” he repeated in an incredulous tone, “How much fucking money does she need?”

“Five,” his mother replied quietly. Ian held his stare for a moment, then withdrew his arm from around his mother to pinch the bridge of his nose in angered annoyance.

“Fuck,” he hissed under his breath, then turned to look back at his mother, “Why the fuck would she need that much money for a fucking ride?” Ian queried with a scoff in his voice. The woman pushed a long lock of curly blonde hair out of her face and turned her body more to face him, delicate fingers firmly grasping the money she still held in her hands.

“Oh, it’s not just for the ride baby, it’s for an opportunity,” she explained, but Ian remained silent, holding the same perplexed expression, staring down into her face. She smiled sweetly and batted her eyes at him, waiting for a response.

“What?” Ian asked. The woman folded the money back up and tucked it back down inside her shirt.

“An opportunity, sweet face,” she repeated, “She runs a business,” she said, “She can help us make some money,” his mother leaned back into his shoulder and spoke in a calm, collected voice, “Especially you, Ian honey,” she reached up to trail a single delicate finger down the side of his face, along his neck and traced small circles into his chest, straightening out the shirt he wore beneath his jacket, “She has the perfect job for you.”

“What kinda job?” the young man queried, still not moving to put his arm back around her.

“A good job, sweetheart,” she assured, “Pays really good money,” his mother mentioned with a twinkle in her eye, “Much better than that job you have at that club,” she nuzzled her face into his chest, “And we need it baby, we do.”

Ian thought about it, he really did. Working at the club, he’d always made really good money and it was never a hard job for him to do. He was a bit annoyed that his mother didn’t seem to answer his question very well, but hoped that she had his best interest in mind when she’d set everything up, like any good mother would. She looked up at him, her face full of question and unsurety, almost desperate, hoping her son would agree. Despite warning lights blaring through his brain, ringing their alarms off the sides of his skull, he started to soften, letting an exhale pass through his lips.

“Okay,” he agreed quietly, bringing is arm back up to wrap around his mother and pull her close to him, keeping her warm and calming her shaking shivers.

“That’s my boy,” she breathed into his neck, “My golden boy, my perfect child,” his mother praised, reaching back up to cup his cheek in her palm. Then she suddenly gasped, leaned into his chest and looked back up into his face, a wave of worry flooding back over her.

“She won’t pick us up if we can’t pay her,” her eyes began to fill with tears and her lips began to tremble, “What are we gonna do, baby?” The woman’s hands twisted into his coat with a hard grip and gave him a shake, “What do we do?” she asked more insistently, looking over him with wide eyes.

“We get more,” Ian answered with a confident voice, hoping it would comfort her. She was still shaky, still nervous but gave a quick jerking nod of her head.

“Of course,” she suddenly exclaimed, a bright, wide smile appearing across her face, “We just get more.” Her eyes moved past him, eyeing the few lonely cars parked along the lot and began to lick her lips, thinking. “I can get us more,” she confirmed, glancing up at her son, then back across the lot, “You wait here, love.” His mother directed beginning to rise from the curb beside him.

As much as he wanted to simply leave it up to her, Ian couldn’t bring himself to let her go, remembering the disgusting sounds he’d heard come from her as she bent over the lap of the trucker who’d driven them here. Ian hated imagining his mother like that, and refused to let it happen again. He wouldn’t let her do it, not if he could help it, not when he knew he could do it himself, whether he wanted to or not.

“No,” said Ian, reaching out to grab her wrist before she could walk away from him, “I'll do it,” he offered, “You don’t need to do this, mom.” She looked down at him with a slight crease of her brow and began to shake her head.

“Oh Ian honey,” she reached down to gently play with his hair, giving him a soft, comforting smile, “It’s alright, dear,” she promised, “Nothing your mommy hasn’t had to do before.” The comment made him cringe, only further amplifying his decisions not to let her do it, and to do it himself instead.

“I can do this mom. You don’t have to,” Ian insisted, raising his hand to grasp hers, “Let me do this for us,” he pleaded gently, swallowing the painful pit beginning to throb inside his throat. She paused, reading over her son’s face, then slowly began to nod.

“Okay,” she let her shoulders fall, giving the redheaded man beside her another soft smile, then moved to sit back down on the curb.

The young man took a deep breath and turned his head to peer across the lot himself. It was fairly empty, without much chance for really finding anything but he had to try or they’d be stuck. He slowly began to rise, ignoring the pain still pulsing through his body from his assault, clutching an arm around his ribs as he did so. Ian took another look down at his mother, seeing her peering back up at him with sparkling green eyes, appearing completely content, calm, relaxed. He mustered up all the strength he had to give her a reassuring smile, reaching down to stoke another lock of hair out of her face, then turned his head back toward the wide, open parking lot.

Ian began to walk, leaning in a bit and squinting his eyes trying to see what the attendant might look like inside the tiny building at the far end, near the pumps. He thought that if it were a man, really any man out here nearly in the middle of nowhere, would be his best bet. So, he turned his steps and began making his way toward it when a sharp squeal of tires, turned his attention away.

A shiny, blue truck came speeding into the station, flinging gravel from the road out along the asphalt and slid into a spot. Then a middle aged man appeared, emerging from the car with a cellphone to his ear. He was decently dressed, though didn’t appear to be a man particularly rolling in dough, but he looked like he’d have enough. The man rounded the front of his car and popped his hood, though he didn’t lean down to check the engine, appearing almost as if his actions were for show. He watched him for a moment as he spoke into his phone in a rather hushed voice, making it extremely difficult for Ian to decipher what he was saying. Then suddenly the man turned to peer around the lot, his eyes pausing on Ian for just a brief moment. He seemed to distract the man, seeing his eyes trail up and down him with appeal in their gaze, then abruptly pulled back into his phone call, causing him to turn back around.

Ian glanced back at his mother who had also seen the man arrive and saw her bearing a bright, excited smile and began swatting the back of her hands toward him, urging him to go on. He looked back across the large, open space to the man beside the truck once more and paused, trying to prepare himself. This was something he’d told himself not very long ago that he wouldn’t do anymore, that he was worth more, that he was better. But still, life always seemed to pull him back into it, entertaining it’s own sick sense of humor and here he was again, doing something that he really didn’t want to do, but he had to.

He straightened his shoulders out, and ran his fingers through his hair. Ian gathered up his strength and managed his best seductive smirk, standing up straight and unzipping his jacket. Then slowly, he began walking toward the man, with a focus in his mind, and determination in his stance, drowning out his sense of reason. It’s just what he had to do. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

***

“Aye,” came a wonderfully familiar voice, “Aye, Red.”

Ian rolled over onto his stomach, groaning from the ache in his muscles and raised his hands to his face to rub the sleep from his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose and ruffled his hair out with a big, flat palm and rough shake of his head. Then suddenly he felt the comforting rub of his roommate’s thumb brushing along his collar bone and his hand gripping his shoulder, causing him to open his eyes. Mickey was standing over him, leaned forward just slightly to speak, giving him a sharp, handsome smirk as his eyes fluttered open.

“Yeah?” Ian mumbled, trying to give a small smile in return and ignore the pit of disgust churning inside his stomach.

“You’re 'bout to be fuckin' late,” said Mickey with a point of his thumb toward the clock. The redhead craned his neck at an awkward arch to peer up at the clock seeing that it was nearing two o'clock and raised an eyebrow, looking back at the other man.

“You didn’t wake me up for lunch?” he asked, full of genuinely shocked disbelief, “You slackin' on me already, Mick?” Ian joked, now starting to sit up. Mickey chuckled, crossed his arms over his chest and gave a tip of his chin.

“Aye, I said I’d fuckin' get ya somethin',” he shrugged, “And I will, when ya want the shit,” Mickey added with a grin, “But your ass kinda seemed like ya needed the sleep a little fuckin' more than the food,” he said simply, “So I let ya fuckin' sleep.”

Ian watched him silently for a moment, trying to figure out what exactly Mickey’s angle was, seeing as the man in front of him held his smirk and tried to appear innocent. There was something else there, hiding behind his eyes, lurking just beneath. He let his eyes fall away from his roommate, now traveling a bit vaguely and happened to notice one of Mickey’s notebooks sitting atop his bed, closed over a pen. He creased his brow a bit in thought, then trailed his sight up to Mickey’s wall for just an instant before looking back at the man himself. He was chewing his lip and shifting his feet, looking a little nervous which was extremely unusual for Mickey. Ian tilted his head and almost said something, but decided to hold his tongue on the subject.

“They call me down yet?” Ian asked causing the other man to relax a bit.

“Not yet,” Mickey replied, “But they should soon.” Ian gave a slow nod, stretched out his shoulders with a refreshing crack and stood up, taking another quick look at the clock.

“Suppose I could just head down now, then,” Ian breathed and Mickey gave a nod of agreement, taking a step closer and reaching down to gently glide his fingers along Ian’s.

“You mind if I fuckin' walk with ya?” Mickey asked quietly, his eyes moving up from their interlaced hands to meet his eyes. Ian gave the other man’s fingers a small squeeze and smiled.

“Please,” said Ian insistently, “I don’t mind at all.” Mickey subtly bit his lip, beginning to walk backward toward the door.

“Then come on, man,” said Mickey with a pointed tip of his head, slipping his fingers away, “Let’s go.” Ian blushed at the other man, letting himself smile, letting the flutters fill his chest and drown out the discomfort his dreams had left lingering within his body and followed him out into the hallway.

The hall was quiet and fairly empty much to Ian’s relief, still feeling a bit uneasy about larger groups of people, as unusual and strange as the feeling was. He’d never had much issue with large groups before, even having been the center of attention for quite a few but then suddenly, just this morning, he’d felt incredibly overwhelmed, crowded, smothered and it’d just been awful. Ian was grateful for his roommate and even for Bruce, both being so instantly willing to take the extra moment to ensure that Ian was okay, when they really didn’t have to. They’d helped him even when he hadn’t known how to help himself and that meant a lot.

He let his eyes flicker up from the floor to his roommate, not at all hiding the softness in his gaze, admiring the man next to him for what he was: simply wonderful. Mickey caught his stare, arched a perfect eyebrow and gave him a gentle nudge with his shoulder.

“The fuck ya lookin' at?” he asked with absolutely no heat in his voice, holding his eye contact.

“You,” Ian replied lowly, refusing to let himself lie or hesitate in the slightest.

Mickey’s smile widened and he reached over to take Ian’s hand in his once more, again having no care to anyone around them and gripped it tightly as they walked. They stayed silent, stealing glances, rubbing thumbs and smiling at each other. It was fairly peaceful until a deep, raspy voice caught their attention.

“Well that sure makes a lot more sense now,” they heard, turning to see an older, wrinkly man staring at them from the end of another hall, the man Ian had seen this morning in the showers causing him to frown with disgust, “You like 'em young,” he said to Ian with a gesture of his chin toward Mickey, “But a tight, young ass ain’t got nothin' on an old man’s experience,” the man slid his tongue along his bottom lip, then grasped the crotch of his pants, “I can do ya better than that boy ever could.”

Ian grit his teeth with a tight, clenched jaw and opened his mouth to speak when suddenly he felt the hand in his release and he turned his head to see his roommate flushed a hot, boiling red, his hands curled into hard, shaking fists and his upper lip twitched with rage. Mickey made a step toward the man but Ian caught him by the shoulder, grounding him in place and causing his expression to flicker.

“Mickey,” Ian whispered, leaning in closely, his lips brushing along his ear, “He’s not fucking worth it.”

Mickey held his stance for a moment, all the muscles in his body staying hard, pulsing and pumped full of blood. He looked as if he were trying to think rationally, trying to block out his anger, but it was clearly a really difficult thing to do. He stayed paused for a long moment, glaring into the older man’s still grinning face then slowly took a step back, turning toward Ian, speaking through his teeth.

“If you don’t want me to murder the motherfucker with my bare fuckin' hands, then we gotta keep walkin' right the fuck now,” Mickey urged, controlling his rage as much as he possibly could. Ian nodded and smoothed his palm across the other man’s shoulders to rest his arm across them, leading him back down the hall with him and flipped off the old fuck with his free hand as they went, a deep chuckle bouncing off the walls behind them.

After a few moments when they’d walked a few halls down and Mickey had calmed down quite a bit, Ian suddenly felt a thick, strong arm wrap around his waist. He looked down to see Mickey smirk up at him and pull him closer, making the other man unable to stop a blush of surprise from spreading across his face. They remained like that as they continued their walk toward the access door, ignoring the call of Ian and Eddy’s names over the loud speaker. They slowed their steps as they got closer, both seeming to not want end their contact, but slowly they did, with hesitant expressions and lingering eyes. Ian finally forced himself to look away, now glancing around the area.

“Where the fuck is Eddy?” Ian asked to no one in particular. Mickey took a brief, sweeping glance as well, then shrugged, taking a step to his side and calmly releasing their arms.

“Probably off dealin' with his shit,” Mickey guessed, “He'll fuckin' be here though either way,” he said, “Whether he comes on his own, or they gotta fuckin' find him, he'll be here.” Ian fidgeted his fingers and took another chance.

“He deal with the same kinda shit that you deal with?” the redhead asked carefully, assuming he wouldn’t get an answer. But instead Mickey simply gave a light chuckle and a firm shake of his head.

“Nah, man,” Mickey replied, “My shit and Ed's shit ain’t even on the same fuckin' planet,” he said with an unreadable underlining tone. Ian looked at him and the other man met his eyes, appearing to be truthful, sincere, but gave no further explanation. Ian opened his mouth to speak again but was interrupted by a harsh, sharp sniff and a flash of a rose tattoo.

Eddy had finally shown, appearing just as keen as Ian did about the entire situation, sucking his teeth and shooting him a glare. He looked as if he were about to speak, but Mickey suddenly turned to meet his eyes and his mouth quickly clamped shut. The dark haired man gave him a quick up and down with a hard stern expression.

“You better fuckin' watch yourself in there, Ed,” Mickey warned in a low voice, “I hear everything,” he said staring through the other man who suddenly cowered just a bit with a swallow and a small, shallow nod. Mickey held his glare in silence for a long moment before looking back at Ian with a softer but still very serious look on his face.

“Simple, man,” he reminded, reaching to grip his bicep and give it a rub, “Just fuckin' relax,” Mickey advised softly, “Then uh, just come fuckin' find me when you’re done and we'll fuckin' toke before supper, alright?” Ian glanced past him toward Eddy who still hadn’t raised his face, then met his roommate’s eyes with a small accepting nod, which was slowly mirrored back to him. Mickey shot a final heated glare toward the dreaded man who stood nearby, then gave Ian a tip of his chin and turned to walk back down the hall way.

“Gentlemen,” said the guard, causing both men to look, “Badges, please.” They each approached and displayed their I.D. badge for the guard to read over, then stepped back as he produced his keycard to run across the scanner. “Thank you,” replied the guard as the door buzzed open with a click, “After you,” he gestured a wide hand through the doorway.

Ian turned his head toward Eddy to see if he was going to move first, which he did, but not before glaring back at him, splitting a wide, evil grin across his face, then walked past him through the door. The redhead clenched his teeth once more and tried not to let his hands curl back into fists.

'Simple,' Mickey’s voice reminded him, 'Just fuckin' relax,' He could do this. He had to. Ian rolled back his shoulders, straightened his back out and began to walk through the doorway behind Eddy. He was ready to get this shit over with. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

Chapter Text

'Just walk,' He tried to keep his paces even, keeping his eyes on the floor, 'Just fuckin' relax,' Ian rolled his shoulders back a bit once more and gave his neck a stretch, 'Breathe,' He exhaled. He stayed behind Eddy, in front of the guard and tried to drown out the sound of their footfalls. Ian knew he was overthinking this, letting the whole thing get to him, nag at him, worry him, as much as he really tried not to. He was just fucking nervous. His pores were filling with a cool sheen of sweat, sending an anxious chill down along his limbs and he swallowed, hoping it would pull his discomfort down for a while to simmer among everything else inside the churning pit of his stomach. But it just didn’t work. He shuddered and tensed his muscles to cover it up, as weakly as he could manage, then gave his forehead a quick, rough rub. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

They passed through the short hall between access doors in silence, their steps echoing off the brick within the small space. But all Ian could hear was the slow rise and fall of his breath filling his lungs and his heartbeat pulsing within his skull. His eyes flickered across the floor as he swallowed again, took another breath, then pinched the bridge of his nose. He finally forced himself to glance up, seeing two blurry silhouettes through the narrow window of the final door and he tried to brace himself. The guard approached the scanner, lifted his card from a pull-string on his belt and slid it across it’s side with a confirming beep, buzzing the door open with a sharp, metallic click that made Ian flinch.

Before them stood Dr. Yates bearing her usual sweet, friendly smile, wearing a pretty black dress beneath her medical coat today and bright, red heels on her feet. To her right stood another doctor, a man with dark, brown hair, a balding spot on the top of his head and a firm, stern scowl stuck to his face. Ian’s eyes glanced between them before finally landing on his own doctor, ignoring Eddy letting out a hard sniff at the side of him. The male doctor pursed his lips just slightly, eyeing the redhead in front of him, pulled a pen out from behind the clasp of his clipboard and scribbled a quick note down atop it. Ian nerves continued to flare as he simply tried to ignore it, now meeting the woman’s gaze who then stepped toward him with a small click of her foot.

“Good afternoon, Ian,” she said with a nod, and the redhead gave a small one in return. She then looked over to the twitching man who stood beside him, “And to you as well, Eddy,” the doctor gave another nod to which the dreaded man simply tipped his chin at and sucked his teeth. Ian clenched his jaw in annoyance and fought from rolling his eyes. The doctor held a leveled expression, turning slightly, with a gesture of a delicate hand to the man who stood beside her.

“Ian, this is Eddy's therapist, Dr. Lutz,” she looked over her patient’s face as he silently listened to her words, with merely a brief glance toward the older man, “He and I will be handling your mediation today together,” Dr. Yates smiled, “To ensure that both you and Eddy are treated equally and all of each of your unique needs and circumstances are taken into consideration throughout the session.” Ian glanced up once more to the doctor who stood next to her and met his eyes, suddenly feeling much smaller in their gaze, causing him to quickly look away once more. “We hope to determine a fair and reasonable resolution at the end of this that will hopefully settle whatever tension there may be remaining between the two of you,” she pointed a finger between them.

Ian repressed another eye roll, turning his face just slightly to look at Eddy, seeing him appear rather agitated, but trying to hide it and he was trying hard, Ian could tell. He was tensing his muscles and subtly fighting back his shakes, suddenly rubbing his palms roughly over the fabric of his sweatpants then crossed his arms over his chest and sniffed. The redhead tipped his head back for just a second, letting a heavy exhale pass through his lips, then slipped his hands inside his pockets.

“Let’s not waste any time,” Dr. Yates offered the same thin, gentle hand down the hallway to her back, “We have space in one of our smaller therapy rooms available for our session today, right down this way.”

Ian turned his face once more toward the other doctor, Dr. Lutz, awaiting his movement so he could follow him along with his own therapist. Though the man didn’t quite move right away, merely pursing this lips once more, giving the young, redheaded resident a sweeping gaze of study, not appearing at all pleased, before he finally spoke.

“Yes,” the man agreed with his colleague's urging suggestion, “We have very much to discuss,” he said in a very smooth voice that Ian just didn’t like. Then the man turned, beginning to walk to the woman’s side, clearly expecting each patient to follow, though not at all really bothering to watch much to see if they did. Ian already didn’t really like this guy, not one bit.

Both doctors began to walk as their patients silently followed, each shooting an irritated glance at the other. Ian began gnawing on the inside of his cheek, fidgeting his fingers within his pockets, just trying not to over think this shit. The buzzing from the lights above was making his brain itch under the bright, blaring lights and he mostly just tried to keep his head down. He tried, as much as he could to focus his mind onto positive, calming things, but it was much easier said than done. 'Just fuckin' relax,' Mickey’s words reminded him once more, 'You got this.' Another deep breath let his shoulders drop and he raised his head a bit to observe the hall around them, much in the same manner that he usually did. He glanced about at each door they passed, with his normal urge of subtle curiosity, peeking just a bit.

They began to pass through the hospital wing, where Ian knew Seth was still being housed and couldn’t help but watch Eddy a bit more closely, watching his eyes as they lazily trailed along the doors as well. Then Eddy’s steps halted, his face flushed a pale, ghostly white and he took a thick, nervous swallow. Ian slowed his steps, pausing beside him to peer through the window of the door as well, seeing the swollen, bloodied man still laying in his bed, hooked up to fluids and monitors, asleep. He saw Eddy swallow again, wide eyes peering through the glass toward the damaged man inside, a tremble of shakes shooting down one of the dreaded man’s legs. The redhead leaned toward him, close to his ear, to whisper in a voice that only he could hear.

“You did that, Ed,” Ian accused with a firm tone in his voice, “Don’t forget that.”

The other man’s upper lips began to twitch with rage as it curled over his teeth, slowly turning his head to meet Ian’s eyes and clenched his jaw with a hard blinking gaze. Ian held his stance and stuck his chin out, his demeanor almost daring Eddy to try and contradict him, try to counter his words in any way, but he couldn’t. Eddy held his tongue, gave another sniff and took a step forward. The redhead tensed, waiting, just as their attention was pulled elsewhere.

“Gentlemen,” Dr. Lutz called in a deep, unimpressed tone, “We must continue,” he advised with a sweeping motion of his hand, then dropped his arm, holding his stare on the two men who stood just a few paces behind him. They both merely shot brief heated glances at each other, neither taking a second look through the window, before returning to their pace behind their doctors.

They passed Dr. Yates' office, turning a corner at the end of the hall and making their way down a wider one, with a slew of open, empty therapy rooms. Ian glanced through a few doorways seeing various assemblies of wooden tables and metal, folding chairs with dull, clear walls. Some were more friendly in appearance, much more laid back and casual with cushioned chairs, couches and posters printed with cliché motivational quotes plastered across the walls. Though none of which leveled Ian’s nerves in the slightest, still trying his best to simply ignore and swallow them, as difficult as it was proving to be. Before long they approached another open doorway, and began turning to walk inside. Ian continued to follow, slowing his steps a bit once more as they approached the therapy room. He rounded the edge of the door frame to follow the others inside and tried once last time to will away the anxiety bubbling up inside his chest. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

The room was small and square, with brown carpet, plain walls, a large, round table in the middle and windows along one side. Ian watched each of the doctors walk over to the table, taking seats beside each other, placing their clipboards down atop the surface in front of them, before each gave a waving gesture to their patient to take a seat as well. The chairs they were directed to, sat directly across the table from one another, each with their therapist at their sides. Each man sat with a heavy exhale and another silent, yet heated glare toward each other, Eddy adding another hard suck of his front teeth. The redhead stayed silent, folding his hands in his lap, watching as the dreaded man across from his clunked his forearms across the tabletop, gave a sniff, then proceeded to tug at one of the stretched out holes in his earlobes, sticking his thumb through it. He looked back toward the doctors who were each quietly rearranging the sheets clamped to their clipboards, hardly glancing up at their patients. Green eyes moved back over to meet brown, seeing the other man give another sharp suck of his teeth and split a wide, devious grin. Ian’s eyes narrowed as he felt his upper lip begin to twitch and curled his hands into fists beneath the table. Dr. Lutz pulled a small cassette recorder from his jacket pocket, checked the tape inside, then pushed down a single button with a hard snap, and reached to place it in the center of the table, tiny reels spinning.

“For review purposes,” he explained. Dr. Yates slipped her reading glasses out from the chest pocket of her medical jacket and slid them up the bridge of her nose, now skimming the sheet she held in her hands.

“Today on the afternoon of Friday, January 15th, Dr. Emily Yates along with Dr. Steven Lutz are coordinating a mediation session between two of the facility’s residents: Mr. Ian Gallagher and Mr. Edward Krutch, following a physical altercation between the two men, which occurred on the afternoon of January 11th inside the Recreational Room of the Residential Building.” Her pen scribbled across the paper in front of her as she spoke, “This meeting is to review and discuss the incident in question and determine a resolution regarding such, as well as settle any residual issues still lingering between the residents since.” Dr. Lutz kept a quiet, pursed expression with his eyebrows slightly raised, his pen moving across his own paper, before finally raising his face to look between them.

“Could you gentlemen please repeat your own names for the tape?” asked Dr. Lutz with a gesture of the tip of his pen toward the recorder that remain slowly recording from it’s spot in the middle of the table, then looked to Ian first. The redhead swallowed, then leaned forward slightly to speak in a calm, clear voice.

“Ian Gallagher,” he stated simply, then sat back in his chair. Dr. Lutz then turned his face to look at Eddy with a gesture of his brow. Eddy gave a hard sniff, then leaned forward as well.

“Edward Krutch,” he mirrored, then sucked his teeth, with a sharp jerk of his head.

“Thank you,” the doctor replied, and Dr. Yates gave a slow nod of agreement, her eyes still focused on the paper in front of her, “Let’s begin,” she said finally looking up, letting her glasses rest at the tip of her nose, “As I’ve just stated, this incident occurred on Monday afternoon, is that correct?” Her eyes moved between them. Ian began to nod.

“Yes,” he replied, his eyes moving up to Eddy who leaned forward a bit, dropping his hand from his ear.

“Yes,” Eddy agreed, crossing his arms over his chest, dropping his eyes down to the table in front of him.

“Very good,” said Dr. Yates, sliding another sheet out from behind the one on top, Dr. Lutz, following her lead and doing the same, “According to the incident report written by the guard who witnessed the altercation, the two of you were seen engaged in some type of conversation just before Mr. Gallagher was seen lifting Mr. Krutch into the air, and slammed him into the wall behind where he stood,” she lowered the sheet and looked between them once more, “Thus far, is this correct?”

“Yes,” both men answered once again, Ian through tight, grinding teeth, and Eddy appearing as if he were fighting down a mixture of frustration at the memory as well as a wide, evil smile lurking just behind his teeth. Ian looked back at the doctors before he let himself become too angry, shifting his feet and rubbing his palms together. The woman’s eyes fell back to the paper.

“At this point, Mr. Gallagher was seen attempting to strangle Mr. Krutch,” she continued, Ian’s sight flashing back toward Eddy, down to his neck seeing the fading remnants of two wide, palm shaped bruises curling around it, overlapping the pink rose inked into one side and swallowed. Eddy met his eyes and twitched his lip, but said nothing. “At which point Mr. Krutch forced his knee into Mr. Gallagher's stomach, causing him to fall backward onto the floor.” The redhead watched the dreaded man across the table split the hint of a smile and stuck his chin out. Ian quickly looked away again, feeling his nerves begin to boil and overflow with anger. “Mr. Krutch attempted to continue the fight, lunging at Mr. Gallagher while he lay on the floor, but was instead knocked backward himself when Mr. Gallagher kicked him in the chest,” Dr. Yates set the sheet down, pushed her glasses up her nose a bit, glanced toward Dr. Lutz, who sat quietly taking notes on one sheet while following along with the report on another, then turned to set her gaze back upon the two residents seated on opposite sides of the table, “Is this all still accurate?” she asked with an upturned palm. The men each chimed out another 'yes,' but otherwise remained quiet, silently glaring, frowning, hating one another from across the small space. Dr. Lutz lowered his pen and raised his face, looking directly at Ian with a rather judgmental expression for a therapist.

“Mr. Gallagher, what was your reason for physically attacking Mr. Krutch?” he asked with an arch of his brow, “Specifically, how did the conversation you were seen having together become physically violent?” Dr. Lutz queried with a stern crease of his mouth.

Ian swallowed once again, feeling the anxiety come flooding back over his nerves, causing them to flare and pulse, raising the hair on the back of his neck and slicking his skin in a cold, nervous sweat. He tried not to shift his feet and his palms immediately stopped rubbing together, as he laced his fingers together instead, resisting the urge to squeeze too tight. As much as the thoughts of what happened filled his mind with heat and agitation, the uneasy rush of nerves he felt flowing along his limbs under the gaze of this other doctor was almost overwhelming. Ian tried not to hesitate or let his own gaze flicker.

“We had a disagreement,” Ian replied, staying vague, though he wasn’t quite sure why, not looking at Eddy, “And I snapped,” he twiddled his thumbs a bit, “I reacted, but I didn’t mean to,” he said trying to be honest, trying to make this simple, if at all possible.

“What was this disagreement regarding?” asked Dr. Lutz, taking note of his response. Ian opened his mouth to speak but was quite rudely interrupted.

“He called me a bitch,” Eddy snapped suddenly.

Ian closed his mouth, and slowly turned his gaze on the man across the table who was doing well to appear sincere, and irritated with an evil, vengeful glimmer in his eye. Ian could feel his pulse throbbing at the backs of his eye sockets and his jaw clenched like a vice as he tried not to shake, tried not to lose it, to remain calm and collected. 'You motherfucker,' Ian’s eye lids twitched as they narrowed on Eddy who stared right back at him. 'Asshole's gonna try and make it hard on ya,' Mickey’s words rang through his ears and made his glare flicker, just slightly, 'Just don’t fuckin' let him,' Ian slowly relaxed his shoulders and exhaled.

“Is that true?” Dr. Lutz asked. Ian shot a glance toward his own doctor who sat looking toward Eddy with a very unimpressed look on her face, as if she could see with through his veil. He looked back toward the man who sat between she and Eddy.

“No,” Ian answered simply, smoothly, willing away the tension in his muscles, “It was quite the opposite, really,” he slid his forearms up onto the table, his hands folded together, “He tried hitting on me and I turned him down,” said Ian with a slight raised of his thumbs, “He’s the one who started calling people names.” Eddy shook a bit in his seat, appearing as if he were fighting down a rush of tempered nerves twitching through his leg and curled his hands into fists atop the table before laying them down flat. Dr. Lutz turned to Eddy.

“Did this happen, Edward?” the man turned to him, pen still in hand.

Dr. Lutz looked to the dreaded man next to him rather expectantly appearing as though he what the other man’s answer would be. Eddy flashed a glance toward Ian that was extremely quick and hard to read, then suddenly changed his expression to that of sorrow and apology, but it was laced with dishonesty. The redhead could smell something sour all over him and tried to brace himself for whatever the fuck he was going to say, holding his breath.

“Yeah, but not like that,” said Eddy, “I just gave him a compliment is all, and tried to see what was up with him,” he offered simply, tipping his chin, “Can’t blame a man for tryin',” he grinned a bit across the table, and let his eyes trail over Ian’s chest, making him cringe with a wave of disgust and rage. Then Eddy turned back toward both his doctor with a very innocent expression and shrugged, “Didn’t know he was gonna try and beat the livin' piss outta me for it,” he sneered.

“That’s not how it went at all,” Ian quickly interjected with a firm shake of his head and a waving motion of his hand. Dr. Yates lifted her glasses up to rest above her head and turned toward her own patient next to her.

“Could you please tell us what happened as far as you remember, Ian?” she asked with a sweet, trusting smile, “Then perhaps we can piece a few things together,” the doctor nodded toward him in a very gentle, urging way, waiting for him to speak. Ian tried not to feel the nerves, and tried not to let his anger and hatred of the other young man in the room overflow him, because he knew that it wouldn’t end well if he let himself snap. He tried to think of Mickey, his comforting gaze and grounding touch, his soft skin and his firm grip, his scent, his feel, his heat. It calmed him, much more than he thought it would. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“He came up behind me and stared me up and down,” Ian began, trying not to let another rush of repulsion churn and swell inside his gut at the memory of irritation and uneasiness, “He called me pretty,” he continued with a tilt of his head, watching the other man continue to grin as he listened to him speak, “Then he was the one that called me a bitch, in the same breath, actually,” Ian scoffed and clenched his teeth, “Like I said, I admit that I snapped,” he repeated, “And I know that was wrong,” the redhead admitted, as painful as it was to say and as much as he disagreed with the statement. After all, that was why he was here, right? “But his bruises aren’t even that bad,” Ian countered a bit with a brief waving gesture of his hand toward the other man’s neck, “They’re already almost gone.” Eddy’s expression changed again, his eyes blinking hard and his mouth pulling into a hard frown, then sniffed with a head jerk.

“You think this is the only shit you did?” Eddy questioned with a high raised eyebrow and a point toward his neck, suddenly beginning to stand and grasp the bottom of his shirt, “You did this shit too, asshole,” he revealed, pulling his shirt up to his collarbone in a quick, swift motion.

Ian blinked, seeing a side of Eddy he’d never pictured before, let alone thought he would ever actually see. He was thin, but not as scrawny as he looked from outside his clothing, with clear lines on his abs and a sharp, yet narrow cut to his hips. What was immediately most noticeable was the large seemingly incomplete tattoo that curled around the side of his body, rising up from beneath the pant-line on his hip. It looked like just an outline, though it was very well done, of a dragon with a fine, smooth coat of scales, sharp, curved spikes along it’s back and limbs, claws and a long set of fangs resting on the cusp of a wide, open mouth. Eddy also clearly once had piercings in both his nipples and one in his bellybutton. He was also sporting a large, ugly, very obvious, scarred-over stab wound just under his ribs, across from his massive tattoo. But what Eddy had been referring to, his reason for suddenly lifting his shirt and exposing his body, lay smack dab in the middle of his chest. Covering the man’s sternum and diaphragm, was a big, dark, swollen bruise in the shape of a large, oval footprint. Ian’s slipper print was practically embedded right into the man’s skin, all puffy and discolored, almost even revealing the mark of each individual toe within the print.

The redhead couldn’t help but swallow, rendered nearly speechless at the sight, having had no idea that his kick had actually caused that much damage to the other man. His eyes moved up to meet Eddy's sight, seeing him feigning pain and discomfort, but recognizing the deceit, and harmful intent behind his gaze. Then slowly, Ian turned back toward the doctors, observing their expressions having seen the giant bruise as well. Dr. Yates had a look of surprise, before she also turned her head quite slowly to meet his gaze. Dr. Lutz however, appeared as though the sight was nothing at all new to him. Dr. Yates exhaled slightly, then turned back toward the dreaded man who still stood with his shirt lifted, showing his proof of the assault in question, then began to speak.

“A verbal description of what Mr. Krutch is now referring to appears to be that of a very large bruise in the center of his chest, which is quite swollen and discolored,” she said, creasing her brow and looking the mark over, “This along with some fading bruises around his neck, seem to be all the damage that allegedly occurred during this incident.” Dr. Yates lowered her face, scribbling a few things out with her pen in sharp, scratchy movements. She then lowered her pen, rolling it over between her fingers and looked at Ian once more who shifted slightly in his seat, was quite visibly uncomfortable and pulled his arms from atop the table to place in his lap.

“Do you deny causing this harm to him, Ian?” she asked lightly, gently, looking him in the eye. Ian tried to keep the back of his mind focused on his handsome blue eyed, black haired roommate, calming him, grounding him and took another subtle, deep breath.

“No,” he responded, “But it was an accident,” Ian insisted, watching as Eddy lowered his shirt and sat back down in him seat, very obviously not trying to appear at all smug about the redhead shifting around in his own. “I really didn’t mean to,” he said, then met Eddy’s eyes, “That’s the fucking truth,” had stated firmly, holding his sight for a moment before looking back toward the doctors once again.

“Language please, both of you,” Dr. Lutz advised lightly with a shake of his forefinger. If he didn’t know better, Ian could have sworn that he’d just seen Dr. Yates roll her eyes at the comment.

“Well that’s how it really happened,” Ian shrugged. The woman gave a small nod and turned toward her colleague.

“Please let it be known that my patient recognizes that his actions were wrong,” she glanced toward the young man beside her, “Correct?” Ian nodded.

“Yes,” he said, watching the other doctor’s face remain quite skeptical.

“This seems like a pretty simple case here, Steven,” said Dr. Yates, “I think a simple apology should suffice, and settle the matter here,” she looked at Ian, then back at Dr. Lutz.

“I beg to differ,” the older man countered, “This man has a history of similar behavior written in his file,” he glanced toward Ian who hung his head a bit, then back to the woman he was speaking with, “My patient has been dealing with very serious psychological damage because of this whole incident,” the man explained and Ian fought the urge to roll his own eyes again, shooting a glance toward Eddy, seeing him appear rather satisfied with what the man was saying and clenched his jaw. “Edward no longer feels safe in this facility because of what your patient has done,” he accused, “He has the right to feel safe here and to feel as though we will take issues like this seriously. I think some form of punishment on your patient’s end is only right,” he said with a raise of his eyebrows, “It’s only fair.”

Ian felt the nerves returning, no matter how much he tried to keep the back of his mind focused on the only thing, the only person who seemed to be able to calm him lately, he just couldn’t focus. He was nervous again, really nervous and he wasn’t sure what to do, slowly beginning to fidget his fingers once more just before he saw Dr. Yates begin to shake her head.

“Our facility aims to promote healing and care, Steven, not punishment,” she said tapping her finger atop the table, “He understands that what he did was wrong and I believe my patient,” she held a firm, insistent tone, “I also do not agree with bringing any past issues from his file into the current discussion,” Dr. Yates added raising the forefinger she was just tapping with, “Because as far as violence is concerned, your patient has a much more extensive history of it, if you’d like to review that as well?”

The other doctor suddenly looked a bit caught off guard, perhaps a bit unsure of how to respond to that. Ian looked across the table yet again, seeing Eddy appear rather unfazed, perhaps even proud of what Dr. Yates had just said, which honestly made Ian all the more nervous, not at all knowing what exactly the other man was in there for. He looked back at Ian and slowly slid his tongue along his upper teeth in a grossly cocky, mocking fashion, then crossed his arms back over his chest.

“My patient’s prior medical history has nothing to do with the matter at hand,” said Dr. Lutz with a tilt of his head.

“Nor has mine,” she agreed, gesturing an upturned hand toward Ian, holding a firm, serious gaze on the other doctor who merely pressed his lips together, “One condition that my patient suffers from is Anxiety,” Dr. Yates informed him, “He reacted out of fear, nerves,” she flashed Ian another glance, who stayed quiet as she spoke, “Because Mr. Krutch caused him to feel threatened,” the woman explained, “It doesn’t make his actions justified in the slightest, though he does admit his fault, and has more than once already during this session,” she reached to adjust her glasses on her nose and pulled another sheet out from the clasp of her clipboard, “I must also mention that this is my patient’s first offense, though as far as history within the facility, Mr. Krutch has had several very similar incidents here during his residency,” Dr. Yates glanced from Eddy to his doctor, “In fact, the incident in question would be his fifth offense.”

A quick, sudden motion in his peripheral caught Ian’s attention and made his head turn. Eddy’s head jerked to the side and his shakes had returned, turning his skin a sickly pale color, similar to the shade it’d turned when the man had caught sight of Seth in his hospital bed. He looked scared, really scared, causing Ian to crease his brow with confusion. For as smug and confident as he appeared just a moment ago, you definitely wouldn’t think it to look at him now. He had a flow of shakes trembling down his limbs and his eyes had gone wide, no longer looking at Ian, but instead staring at his doctor. Dr. Yates pursed her lips.

“Do you believe such a punishment would be called for?” she queried, “It’s only fair,” she finalized with a shrug, mirroring his words. Ian couldn’t help but begin to feel just a little relieved listening to his doctor speak, and seeing the nervous reaction of both Eddy and his therapist, though he was still a bit confused by it. Dr. Lutz looked over Eddy for a long moment, rolling his pen over between his fingers before he began to shake his head.

“I don’t believe that such an action would benefit Edward in any way,” he admitted, “He has been making very positive improvements and good progress. It would only set him back.” The woman nodded and took a glance around the table.

“Then perhaps what would be best, would be to try and resolve this now,” offered Dr. Yates, “No point in dragging this out unnecessarily,” she turned her head toward Ian and gave him a subtle wink that made him feel even better than he’d had even a moment ago. But Dr. Lutz didn’t appear to be so easily persuaded.

“Something needs to be done about this, Emily,” said Dr. Lutz, “Edward suffers from several very serious conditions, some of which have caused him quite a bit of struggle following this incident,” Ian looked back over toward the dreaded man across from him with a flat, unimpressed expression, which was returned with another subtle, yet cocky grin. The redhead looked back toward the two therapists who still sat debating.

“What would you suggest?” the woman asked, dropping her hands down atop the table. The man seemed to think for a moment and as he did Ian tried to ignore the beating of his heart returning to his mind, attempting to cloud over his thoughts. He rubbed his palms back together, watching the man across from him do nearly the same thing, biting down on the corner of his lip. Dr. Lutz gave a shrug of his shoulders, then upturned both palms.

“He could at least give my patient a sincere apology, if not any disciplinary actions,” he suggested simply, “And he should stay away from him in the future,” he met Ian’s eyes as the last few words left his lips. The woman’s smile widened, as she glanced back at her patient as well.

“My thoughts precisely,” she said, giving him another wink, “An apology, both men keep their distance and all this is settled?” Dr. Yates raised her eyebrows in question, looking back into the face of her colleague. Dr. Lutz pushed out his lower lip, with a brief glance toward Eddy, then slowly began to nod once more.

“I’d say so,” the man lightly conceded, “For now.” Ian didn’t like that and wanted to question it, but he was much more eager to get the fuck out of there. His doctor nodded in return, picked up her pen to scribble a few notes down, then peered back up at her patient.

“Ian, if you could please?” she asked with a gesture toward the man who still sat across the table and a reassuring expression on her face.

Ian swallowed his nerves, lifting his eyes to look into the face of the man who still somehow seemed to always fill him with so much anger, unsure if he’d be able to control himself. This was it. He’d have to fucking apologize and even though Dr. Yates had assured him that deep down, he didn’t have to mean it, he was still fairly certain that it would at least have to look like he did. He rubbed the back of his neck again and tried not to clench his teeth together any tighter. Eddy however, still looked quite pleased, sitting back in his chair, watching as the redhead across from him shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Ian tried to think of Mickey, of leaving here and finding him, being with him and the thought seemed to urge the unspeakable word up his throat. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“Sorry,” Ian pushed through his teeth, “I shouldn’t have done what I did.” Eddy’s eyes flickered between Ian’s, with a flush of amusement hidden behind earthy, brown irises and cocked his head.

“I don’t know, man,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, “That shit don’t sound real sincere,” Eddy clicked his cheek, “I been dealin' with stress over this shit.” Ian openly rolled his eyes, “Brought my fuckin' ticks back,” his eye twitched the way it always did.

“Edward,” Dr. Lutz said with a crease in his brow. Eddy upturned a palm in Ian’s direction.

“Nah,” Eddy persisted, “This dude thinks he can go around fuckin' attackin' people for nothin' and he don’t even got the balls to fuckin' man up and apologize,” he rubbed it in as best he could, laying it on thick and Ian almost couldn’t control his anger, struggling not to explode. 'This is bullshit,' he thought. Eddy’s doctor raised his eyebrows, turning to Dr. Yates.

“I’d have to agree with my patient,” he said, “Edward may come on a little strong at times, but such a reaction is completely uncalled for,” the doctor shot Ian a stern expression, “The psychological damage this incident has caused him is profound.” Ian rolled his eyes again and groaned, reaching to pinch his nose. Eddy slid his tongue back across his teeth, still appearing quite pleased with himself. Dr. Yates however, pressed her lips together tight, removed her glasses and reached for the tape recorder in the middle of the table, pausing it’s reels.

“Emily-,” Dr. Lutz began to question, but the woman raised her hand to silence him.

“Steven,” she countered, “You know as well as I do the kind of incidents Eddy has a history of causing,” Dr. Yates spoke firmly, seriously, with a hard crease in her brow, only looking at the man next to her and not at his patient, “Do you honestly believe that this particular instance is any different?”

Ian’s eyes moved back to Eddy who no longer looked pleased, not at all, now bearing a hard, downward line of a mouth and twitching eyelids, aggravated and annoyed. The redhead let himself smile just a bit as the other man’s eyes moved from the doctors' conversation back to the man across from him, seeing his face and gritting his teeth. 'Just don’t fuckin' let him,' His roommate’s words replaying through his head made him smile just a bit wider as he looked back over to the other conversation himself. Dr. Lutz pursed his lips and twiddled his fingers over his pen, tapping it over the tabletop while the woman questioning him sat quietly in wait. He thought for a moment for before opening his mouth to speak, but was interrupted with a snapping voice, much in the same fashion that Ian had.

“Hey,” Eddy spat in a harsh, angry tone, “I didn’t do a fuckin' thing to this ginger headed twatfuck!” he glared around at all three people seated at the table, “He’s the one that fucked me up,” Eddy’s eyes were wide and veiny with a hard, tight blink, “Strap the fucker up and send him down to the fuckin' basement!”

“Edward,” Dr. Lutz urged with a calming raise of his hand, “None of that is necessary at this time,” he said lightly, “Please breathe, like we practiced.” Eddy groaned with frustration and scooted about in his seat with a violent leg shake and a foot tapping quickly against the carpet.

Ian blinked as the muscles in his neck tensed with a hot, rush of blood, suddenly a bit nervous again and rather confused. ‘What the fuck is in the basement?' he wondered. He felt a chill creep down his spine and repressed a shudder as he thought, though he tried not to think too hard, as for some reason it made the churning pool inside his stomach simmer and spit. Ian wasn’t entirely sure he was too keen on finding out the answer, seeing the way Eddy had been so insistent on the doctor’s sending him down there presumably as some form of punishment. He also felt a flare of nerves, seeing the way even Eddy’s doctor, a man whom Ian felt nothing short of small and uncomfortable in the presence of, had made an expression that didn’t appear to be too keen to the idea either. And Eddy was vile and cruel, something that Ian was quickly beginning to figure out for himself, and knew that whatever was lying in wait downstairs, can’t possibly be anything good. He watched as the older man looked back toward the woman who still held a high-browed expression, waiting, tapping a skinny, polished finger against the recorder in her hand and the man exhaled.

“That apology will do,” Dr. Lutz said sounding a bit defeated. Dr. Yates flashed Ian another glance before reaching to place the recorder back on the table.

“Thank you,” she responded just before clicking the button to continue recording, “Ian,” said Dr. Yates, “Can you please repeat that for us just once more?” As hard as he tried not to, he turned his head back to meet the asshole's gaze, who once again, looked a bit too happy to see Ian have to do this and swallowed his anger one last time.

“I’m sorry for attacking you,” Ian recited as smoothly as he could possibly manage, “That’s not how I should have handled it.” Although Eddy was clearly still pissy about Ian not receiving any punishment, he also very obviously got some kind of satisfaction out of this, that seemed to outweigh that, at least for now.

“It’s all good, man,” Eddy replied, his arms still crossed over his chest, then tipped his chin up, “You should learn to take a goddamn compliment once in a while though,” he grinned with a hard sniff and sucked his teeth, letting his eyes wander a bit, much to Ian’s disturbance. Ian stayed quiet, not trusting his tongue or his throat to stay civil and quiet enough to respond, instead forcing himself to slowly nod, which only made the other man grin wider.

“Very good,” exclaimed Dr. Yates, taking note on her clipboard, “Now you can both agree to keep your distance from one another?” she asked, “Or do we have to assign a staff member to watch and ensure that?” Both men instantly shook their heads.

“No,” said Ian, “Trust me.” Eddy agreed quite easily.

“Yeah, no,” the dreaded man responded as well, “Don’t wanna be anywhere near this motherfucker,” he sucked his teeth once more.

“Edward, language please,” Dr. Lutz scolded again, to which Eddy simply gave a hard, sharp sniff, rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and blinked.

“Okay,” the woman finalized, “So this has been sorted and resolved, correct?” Ian and Eddy exchanged one more final glance before nodding and mumbling out a 'yes' nearly in unison.
“Wonderful,” said Dr. Yates, reaching for the tape recorder once more.

“Yes, very good,” Dr. Lutz breathed, rubbing his brow, watching as the doctor beside him pushed the button the recorder with a another snapping click.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” Ian’s doctor said as she straightened her papers out atop her clipboard, glancing up toward her patient, then to her colleague, “Sometimes things are easily sorted out,” she smiled, “Not every incident has to result in punishment.” The man scoffed lightly gathering his own papers and beginning to rise.

“Say what you will, Emily,” said Dr. Lutz, “Sometimes it’s best to deal with the problem when it starts, to avoid having to potentially deal with a much larger problem later.” He gave Ian a look that the redhead couldn’t place, but it wasn’t a positive one. It was a look that made Ian’s head pound and his pores prickle along his skin, raising the soft, red hair in his flesh. Dr. Yates merely shook her head.

“Not necessary this time,” she said, now standing as well, giving and rising hand gesture toward her patient, just as the other doctor gave a tip of his shoulder toward his own, both of which stood, avoiding each other’s gaze. The older man nodded.

“Only time will tell,” he quipped back smoothly, raising an arm to rest on his patient’s shoulder as the two men turned toward the door. The woman split a bit of a sarcastic smile, batted her eyes at him and hummed in response, placing the small recorder on top of her clipboard. Ian turned to stand beside her, both watching as the other two people exited the room, then the doctor looked at him once more.

“Thank you, Ian,” said Dr. Yates, “I could tell that wasn’t easy for you,” she smiled a bit, grateful, “Although, quite frankly, neither of those men ever are,” she breathed. Ian met her eyes and let his shoulders drop a bit.

“Is this shit off my record now?” he asked curiously, raising an eyebrow. The doctor nodded, holding her smile.

“Yes,” she confirmed, “I wouldn’t have let them push it,” Dr. Yates added, looking into his eyes with sincerity, “You’re a good kid, Ian,” she said, “You don’t need to be punished over this. I’d much rather let you have a chance than simply condemn you,” she explained, holding her eye contact for a brief moment just before turning to walk toward the door.

Ian felt a little more relief flood over his mind, his senses and let himself relax some more, walking to follow his doctor out of the therapy room. She escorted him back down the hall toward the access door in relative silence until they began to approach it.

“So, in a week or two, I will have a meeting with me added to your schedule, just for a general check in,” said Dr. Yates, “Unless of course you feel the need to meet with me before then for some reason,” she added raising a thin, dainty forefinger, “You remember you may request a meeting and have me contacted at the service desk beside the medical office?” the doctor asked, looking up into his face. Ian gave a nod but didn’t speak, ready to get out of there and find his roommate. “Okay, please don’t hesitate, should the need ever arise,” she said. They approached the door, a guard seeing them, now moving toward the scanner with his keycard to buzz it open. Dr. Yates gave him a final smile and slight wave of her hand, to which he tipped his chin in return, then followed the staff member through the doorway.

He entered the Residential Building in quick steps and exhaled rather heavily, rubbing a broad palm down his face. As ridiculous as that entire ordeal had felt. Ian was just glad the shit was over with. And as much as he hated having to apologize to Eddy, if that meant that the fucker had to stay away from him, then it was completely worth every nauseatingly frustrating second of it. His thoughts quickly fell back to that of an extremely handsome blue eyed man whom he hoped he might find alone in their room seated atop his bed reading a book or scribbling away in a notebook as he’d seen him do a few times quite recently. He smiled just a bit the more he thought about it, quickening his steps a little more. Ian thought of the look on the man’s face each time he caught his gaze and began to feel the heat of a blush rising into his cheeks, sighing ever so gently as he rounded a corner into another hall.

“There you are, you fuckin' snake.”

Ian turned his head and was met with a face that he’d hoped that he wouldn’t be forced to see again for a good long while and gave a hard frown, his hands curling into fists.

“Always fuckin' slitherin' outta shit,” Eddy hissed biting down on his lip as he leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets. Ian quickly looked back down the hall and held his stride.

“I thought you were supposed to leave me the fuck alone?” Ian quipped back quite bluntly, walking past the man who immediately turned to walk beside him and continue the exchange.

“I do what the fuck I want ginger bitch,” the dreaded man snarled, “But you,” he accused, leaning forward to look at his face, pointing a twitchy finger at him, “You just do what you’re fuckin' told,” he gave a hard sniff with a crackly chuckle and Ian clenched his jaw, feeling his fists harden, “Ain’t no fuckin' wonder Mickey likes your punkass so damn much,” Eddy’s head jerked, “You really are just a little fuckin' bitch.” Ian stuck his chin out, but kept walking.

“Leave me the fuck alone, Eddy,” Ian said slowly, deeply, “I’m warning you.” Eddy gave another chuckle and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his sweater.

“Oh, you warnin' me, huh?” the smaller man cracked, “I don’t think I got too much fuckin' reason to be nervous around your big pussy ass anymore,” Eddy shrugged with a wide, smug grin, “After seeing how you handled shit in there, I can see you roll over quick as fuck,” he snickered, then stared into his face, “That’s what you’re doin' for him, huh?” he queried in a low, suggestive voice, “You just roll right over for him so he can fuck you like the little bitch you are?”

Eddy tipped his head back and began to laugh, just as Ian halted his steps, something inside him snapping like a strike of lighting shooting through a tree trunk and all he could see was red. Ian turned without much thought, without any pause to look and see if anyone was anywhere around them, and slammed Eddy back by his chest, into the wall, with a hard forearm across him and a fistful of the man’s shirt twisted up around his shoulder. Eddy let out a loud, gasped grunt of surprise and low, deep howl as he hit the wall, beginning to struggle but mostly stopped when he saw the redhead leaning his bright, fuming face inward, really close to his.

“I said to leave me the fuck alone, Eddy,” saliva punched through his teeth, “But you just couldn’t fucking do that, could you?” Ian leaned in closer with wide, angry eyes and firm, flaring nostrils, “You think I’m above stomping your ugly face into the fucking floor or just crushing your fucking windpipe with my bare hands?” Ian slid a fingertip from his free hand along the collar of the other man’s shirt and stared into his eyes, shaking and unable to control himself, “Because I’m not, Ed,” his breath flushed against Eddy’s face. “I don’t give a shit what they said either,” Ian warned, “You try to fuck with me any more, you’re gonna have a lot fucking more wrong with you than just a bruise on your fucking chest.”

“You can’t do shit without Mick's say so,” Eddy growled, trying to shove Ian’s arm off of him to no avail, “Can’t fuckin' touch me.” The redhead narrowed his eyes.

“You sure about that?” Ian asked in a very low voice, staring into him. Eddy’s gaze flickered just slightly, but he didn’t cower.

“I don’t give a fuck what happened back there, Eddy,” Ian tipped his head back the way he’d come, “Saying what I have to say get all this shit over with and get the fuck outta here, has fuck all to do with you,” he snapped, “And if you think that makes me some little bitch,” his fist tightened within the tangle of fabric, “Then I'll just have to show your pathetic tremor-riddled ass just how wrong you fucking are.” The dreaded man in his hold let out an agitated grunt and managed a jerking head shake.

“Can’t do shit,” Eddy insisted, “Won’t do shit,” he grumbled out through his hopeless struggle against the larger man still pinning him against the wall, “Most your pussy ass is gonna do is go run to Mickey,” Eddy chuckled, then coughed as Ian’s forearm slid higher up his chest, nearly onto his neck, “Gonna get his ass to fight your fuckin' battles for you.” At that, it was Ian who chuckled.

“And take a page outta your shit-for-brains book?” Ian quipped back, pressing the man farther into the brick, “No, I think you got 'Lessons In Being A Pussy Little Bitch' all covered,” he grinned. Eddy tried to struggle harder, scrambling with his hands, but Ian simply leaned back from his reach.

“As for Mickey,” the redhead added, causing the man within his grasp to slow his movements and look back into his eyes, “Just so you know, I’m not gonna tell him about any of that Seth bullshit. I’m not a fucking rat, so rest assured there, man,” he held his grin as the other man’s eyes flickered between his own once more, then hardened his face, leaning back in speaking lowly right into Eddy’s ear.

“But if you think for a single fucking second that I’m going to do anything at all to stop him from figuring the shit out on his own-and he will,” Ian added in a deep, confident tone, “Then you’re gonna be hit with one harsh fucking dose of reality, Ed,” he leaned back just enough to look into his eyes, seeing the fear the lingered underneath their gaze, “And it’s gonna hurt,” Ian whispered with surety watching the man’s expression fall, feeling the muscles beneath him weaken in defeat, now being the one to feel quite pleased with himself. He stared into Eddy’s face for another brief moment before his attention was pulled away.

“The fuck’s going on here, bros?”

Both men broke their stare-off to see Bruce looking rather cautious and confused, making slow steps in their direction, eyes glancing curiously between the two of them. Ian looked back at Eddy and stuck his chin up before letting go and taking a step back, watching as the other man fumbled to straighten his clothes and collect himself with a huff. Ian scoffed and looked back toward the big man who now paused his steps to stand beside him.

“Just setting some shit straight,” the redhead explained, still feeling irritated, trying not to let his fists shake any more, spreading them out the hopes of relaxing them. Eddy gave a sniff and cracked his neck, then began to crack his knuckles.

“Didn’t you fuckers just get back from doing that shit?” Bruce asked causing Ian to turn his attention on him with an eyebrow raised, “I heard your names get called down,” he elaborated with a raised palm, “And I knew you assholes fought. That’s what that shit was, right?” Ian stared at him a second longer, then tipped his chin and looked back toward Eddy who sucked his teeth and stared the redhead up and down.

“Yeah, but nothing fuckin' happened,” Eddy answered, not at all backing down in his stance now that Ian had unhanded him, “Nothing fuckin' changed. He’s still just a big, redheaded prick.” He jerked his neck with a harsh twist, scratched his head, then rubbed his nose with a sniff. Ian turned to look at him once more, not at all backing down either.

“And you’re still just an asshole,” he quipped back with a raise of his eyebrows, “Can we both just agree and shut the fuck up now?” Eddy’s upper lip twitched as a vein in his neck throbbed beneath his bruised tattoo and Bruce covered a hearty chuckle with a meaty fist.

“Good idea,” Bruce agreed, “Let’s leave the man to his shit, Ed,” he advised, reaching out to smack a large hand down on Eddy’s shoulder who angrily shook it off.

“Why don’t you just go chill with the big cherry-headed cocksucker?” he gave a quick shot of his arm in Ian’s direction and turned to walk away from them, down the hall and disappeared around a corner. Ian clenched his jaw and exhaled thickly through his nose, tilting his head back to look up at the ceiling. Bruce looked at him and gave a big shouldered shrug.

“I dunno why the fuck Eddy'd be sayin' that shit like it’s a bad thing,” Ian raised an eyebrow at him, “Nothing wrong with likin' what ya like, bro,” said Bruce, as the other continued to hold a flat expression. Then the big man laughed, “Just kinda ironic, really, cause Ed's a fuckin' cocksucker too, so who the fuck is he to talk?” A deep, rolling laugh rumbled up from his chest, bouncing across his bulk and Ian frowned, swatting a fist out in a quick, sudden motion to punch the man in the bicep.

“Ow, fuck, bro,” Bruce groaned reaching to rub his arm, “I didn’t fucking mean anything by it,” he defended, “Like I said, Nothing wrong with the shit,” the big man repeated, “Eddy’s just a fuckin' hypocrite is all, bro. It’s fucking funny.” Ian continued to stare at him, then let his shoulders fall some, combing his fingers back through his hair.

“You seen Mickey?” Ian asked, because it was absolutely the only thing he was interested in at the present moment. Bruce began to give a thick-chinned nod.

“Yeah, bro, but not in a little while,” he replied, “Had some shit to deal with, ya know?” Ian stayed quiet, because he really didn’t know at all what kind of shit his roommate had to deal with all the time, but made no mention of the fact now. “He’s probably back around here somewhere by now, though,” Bruce added with a tilt of his head. Ian felt the slender cylindrical shape of cigarette still concealed in his pocket, the tips of his fingers tracing over it and his lips began to tingle with craving.

“Alright, well I’m just gonna go look around then,” Ian stated, beginning to back away from Bruce with a point of his thumb, now starting to turn around, but had his attention pulled away yet again.

“You uh, really fucking like Mickey, huh?” Bruce asked suddenly.

Ian turned his face and met his eyes, seeing that his question was an honest one, not at all mocking or judging, just simply curious. The other man hesitated, but nodded all the same because honestly he did, quite a lot and had no reason to deny it. Bruce looked over his face in study, carefully reading, searching, then slowly began to mirror his nod.

“Well that’s good, bro,” the big man responded, sounding genuine, “Cause I’m still pretty fucking sure he likes your ass too,” Bruce tipped a wide chin toward him, then took a step closer as he scratched the back of his head.

“You better be fuckin' serious about him though, man,” he insisted, clapping a large, heavy palm over the top of Ian’s shoulder, “Cause Mickey is not the fucking type to let himself get close to anybody,” Bruce gave him a light shake, “Anybody,” he emphasized once more, then tilted his head a bit, “And if you cross him, or lie to him or any fucking thing like that, he’s not the only one you’re gonna be dealin' with, bro,” Bruce looked down into Ian’s face, who swallowed but held his stance, listening, understanding, “I mean you and I are cool, man,” he said, “But Mickey is like my bro-bro, ya know?” Bruce tried to explain, “Practically grew up with him and I’ve had his back through some fucked up shit,” Ian held his eye contact, listening with honest interest, “Still got his fuckin' back if he ever needs it. So treat him good, huh?” the big man gave him a light nudge and released his hand.

“Don’t fuckin' hurt him, bro,” Bruce added finally with a very serious tone and expression, “Cause I don’t wanna have to hurt you.” Ian nodded once more and took a step back.

“I don’t wanna hurt Mickey,” Ian assured quietly, but firmly, “I care about him,” he admitted, forcing himself to keep looking Bruce in the face, knowing the man needed to see him speak.

“He’s a complicated fucking person, bro,” Bruce tipped his head with a bit of a countering tone, “Still a whole shitload you don’t know about him,” he looked over the other man’s face, as if attempting to see if he really understood what he was saying.

“So, if you’re serious about him, and I mean like really fuckin' serious about him,” the big man raised two thick, blonde eyebrows, “Then decide that shit now, bro, and be fuckin' sure about it,” Bruce advised with a crease in his brow, “Cause Mickey doesn’t need any more bullshit in his fuckin' life, I promise you.” Ian leveled his shoulders and held a confident grounded stance. He hadn’t been so sure about anything in a long fucking time.

“I am,” Ian reassured, “I’m serious.” Bruce looked him over once more and after a moment, seemed to accept his response, giving a final nod, now beginning to step backward.

“Alright, well I know his ass is around here somewhere,” the big man said with a wide gesture of two meaty, raised arms, “Maybe back in your room or wandered off somewhere for a smoke,” Bruce offered with question in his voice, glancing both ways down the hallway he was still approaching backwards, the redhead silently watching as he did so, “But uh, just take a look around, man, and he'll turn up,” he tipped his chin, “Usually does anyway,” the big man smiled and turned around, crossing one hallway and entering another.

“I meant what I said, bro,” Bruce called over his shoulder, not looking back, “So treat him good.” And off he went, down the hall and around another corner.

Ian ran another hand down his face and sighed. He’d understood why Bruce had said what he did, but it hadn’t made the experience any less uncomfortable. Obviously Bruce and Mickey have a friendship of one sort or another despite the latter expressing that he doesn’t 'do friends.' And it’d been a friendship that’s lasted quite a long time, so it was only fair that Bruce question Ian’s intentions. But Ian hadn’t lied, not in the slightest, being completely and fully honest when telling Bruce a bit of how he feels about Mickey. Ian does care about him, quite a bit already in fact and felt the man to be rather special to him, despite not having known him very long. He had no ill intentions toward Mickey whatsoever, and Ian truly hoped that Bruce, but most especially Mickey could see that.

He turned and began down the hall that he had a few moments ago, just before Eddy had strolled along side to provoke him. Ian rubbed his forehead, trying to push the agitating thoughts of the twitching, dreaded asshole from his mind, now instead trying to fill it with thoughts of his destination: his room and the man he’d hoped would be inside it when he got there. There was still a veil of nerves, lingering along the surface of his skin, making him feel uneasy and having to deal with Eddy hadn’t helped that at all. He just wanted to feel calm, leveled, normal, the way he feels when he’s with his roommate and just simply be. Ian made his way through the circle, ignoring what few other residents passed by him as he went, only one focus, one goal in mind: Mickey.

Ian slowed his steps, feeling the breath rush away from his lungs and his heart pumping through his chest as walked his last few steps up to their door, leaning in ever so slightly to peek through the window. There he was, his roommate, his new found companion, his favorite company, his seeming infatuation, right where Ian had hoped so very much that he would be. His back was toward the door, looking at the wall of art the hung over his bed, eyes traveling across it. Ian’s eyes moved to Mickey’s hands, seeing that he was clutching a paper in one, perhaps looking to add a new piece to his collage. He smiled, but didn’t linger as much as he wanted to, just to stay and watch him for a while.

Ian slowly grasped the knob of the door, and gave a slow, gentle twist, opening it without a sound and slipped inside, closing it behind him just as quietly. Mickey didn’t notice as he walked up behind him and very cautiously wrapped his arms around his waist, pressing his forehead into the back of his neck. The dark haired man instantly tensed up, his muscles immediately filling hard with blood, jerking his head to the side, dropping his paper and raising his fists, twisting to see who the hell was behind him. He then saw a flash of red hair and exhaled, dropping his shoulders, then began to shake his head with a rough rub of his brow.

“Jesus fuckin' Christ, Red,” Mickey breathed dropping his hands to Ian’s forearms and giving them a rub with his thumbs, “That’s one way to get yourself fuckin' killed, man,” he chuckled out in warning, turning head to try and look at him, but couldn’t.

“Sorry,” Ian mumbled into the other man, pressing his face closer and inhaling his scent, letting it wash away his nerves. Mickey gently soothed a palm from Ian’s fingers to his elbow and turned his head again, once more speaking over his shoulder.

“Everything cool?” he asked, arching a perfect eyebrow, “That bullshit go alright?” Ian shrugged, then nodded, still not moving from where he stood wrapped around the back of the other man.

“Yeah,” the redhead confirmed, inhaling from him again, “I just need to touch you,” he added in hardly a whisper.

Mickey’s movement of his hand paused at the words and his forehead creased just slightly. Then slowly, his body began to turn, causing Ian to pull his face back and loosen the grip of his arms enough for him to do so. The dark haired man turned completely around to face him, deep blue eyes twinkling up into green, trying to read them. They were both quiet for a moment, just looking, gazing, seeing, before Mickey raised his hand to the side of Ian’s face, gently holding his cheek, then rubbed his thumb up over his temple and brushed a few stray strands of red hair out from his eyes.

“How ya feelin'?” Mickey queried quietly, tracing over the features of his face, “Everything fuckin' cool with you?” Ian couldn’t help but smile, just a bit, as he peered down into the gentle caring gaze of the man still wrapped within his arms, feeling warm and fuzzy inside at the inquiry.

“Everything’s fine,” Ian breathed, then tipped his head some, “Now,” he added with a bit of annoyance at the thought of the past few events of the day. The crease in the other man’s brow deepened slightly and gave a tilt of his own head.

“Somethin' fuckin' happen?” Mickey asked, then frowned a little, “That asshole Eddy pull some fuckin' bullshit?” he snapped a bit, his muscles tensing back up.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Ian shrugged rather nonchalantly, dropping his arms and taking a step back to speak with his roommate more properly. The dark haired man held his expression and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You sure?” Mickey challenged, “Ain’t no fuckin' bother to me to go set his tweaker ass straight,” he offered with a point of his thumb toward the door, but Ian simply shook his head.

“I already handled it,” Ian explained, sticking his chin out with a confident smirk, which was returned with a rather impressed expression and a tingling trail of eyes over his chest.

“Well, check it the fuck out,” Mickey grinned, “Big Bad Gallagher, gettin' down to fuckin' business, huh?” He raised his eyebrows and took a step into the other man’s personal space, peering up into his face, “I like that,” he praised lowly with a not-so-subtle bite of his lip. Ian let himself smile again, feeling sure and confident, humming in response, letting the other man get close to him, enjoying his scent and heat as he moved. Mickey’s hand curled over Ian’s hip and gave squeeze.

“You uh, still wanna fuckin' smoke then, tough guy?” Ian felt himself blush and glanced down to where Mickey’s hand clutched onto his hip and slipped his fingers smoothly between the grasp to take his hand in his.

“Fuck, yes,” he replied with excited insistence in his voice, “Please,” Ian smiled, twisting his fingers within the other man’s palm. Mickey widened his smirk and squeezed his hand in return.

“Alright,” said Mickey, his eyes flickering between Ian’s, “Just give me a sec, okay?”

His eyebrow stayed arched as he paused once more, wiggling his fingers along the other man’s, then turned back around to his bed, leaning down just slightly to pick his paper back up. Ian felt a little awkward, looking over his shoulder, taking a slow, tentative step forward, but Mickey didn’t seem to mind, not at all moving or hiding the drawing spread across the sheet in his hand. He looked down and saw a pencil sketch of a bare, frozen tree, brushed with thick wisps of snow clinging to it’s bark, a few lonely leaves still stuck to the tips of it’s branches. The image was a little rough, but in a soft, delicate way, shaded and detailed. It was simple, but it was beautiful. Ian suddenly had a rush of nerves tingle along his skin, wanting to speak on it, to compliment him and not miss the moment. So, hesitate as he might, he was going to speak.

“That’s beautiful,” said Ian, trying not to appear as if he was looking too closely, but simply noticing, admiring the piece. Though just as the words left his mouth, Mickey’s cheeks rouged a light, soft pink and he smiled just a bit.

“Just a tree from the fuckin' yard,” he shrugged, then turned to meet his eyes, speaking much more quietly, “But thanks, Red.”

Mickey trailed his eyes down over him just briefly before moving back toward the wall, then down to his bed to pick up a small roll of scotch tape that the redhead hadn’t noticed was laying there. He watched as the other man tore off a few clear, sticky strips and stuck them to the corners of the paper, then let his eyes slowly travel across the wall before him in search. Ian tried to stand back, giving his roommate a little space, folding his hands behind his back, enjoying watching the other man contemplating how to incorporate his new drawing into his current arrangement. He was patient, in no rush to move him along, until finally he found a spot near the top in the middle, having to move across his bed on his knees to reach it.

As Mickey stretched his shirt rose just a bit, revealing a sliver of soft pale skin along his lower back, the rim of his boxers peeking out from beneath his sweatpants. Ian’s eyes dropped before he even realized that they had, and swallowed, tightening his hands into themselves behind his own back. He could see the end of a few scars that made a sad, sour feeling pull at his heart, but it was quickly drowned out by the watering of his mouth as his eyes moved along the end of Mickey's tailbone and between the two defined dimples on the back of his hips. 'Perfect place to put my thumbs,' Ian’s thoughts dared to torment him, threatening to betray his body. He quickly averted his eyes, moving around in an almost frantic motion, desperately trying to find something else, anything else to look at, to distract him, to set his mind on other things. 'Control yourself,' Ian turned his body away and pinched the bridge of his nose. 'Inhale. Exhale.'

“You ready, man?”

The redhead turned his face back toward the other man but didn’t quite turn his body completely, still nervous about what it may suddenly reveal, and saw the other man with a handsome unassuming expression, having turned back away from his wall. Slowly, Ian kept a focus in the back of his mind as he finally turned to face him, trying to appear if at all, completely content. Mickey arched a brow once more, gently reached for Ian’s fingertips and gave him a gentle pull as he began to walk backward toward the door.

“Let’s fuckin' go, Red,” he directed lightly, “Been waitin' on your ass for a minute. Already got my shit in my fuckin' pocket,” the man grinned, then sucked in his lower lip. Ian forced down a goofy, pathetic smile and let himself be led from the room.

They walked through the halls stealing glances and brushing shoulders, each happily basking in the presence of the other, not at all seeming to care about much of anything around them. It was starting to feel simple, easy, almost natural and Ian couldn’t believe how in the hell he’d gotten so lucky, wondering if Mickey ever wondered the same about him. He was getting attached, and it was happening fast, but fuck if it just felt too damn good to slow down. Mickey gave Ian a rush, a flow, a high that nothing and no one else had ever given him before and it was simply intoxicating, engulfing, addicting. At times it began to feel much too good to be convinced it was real, but then Mickey would touch him, speak to him or just gaze at him in the wonderful, incredible, intensely encapsulating way that only he could do, erupting the flutters and spreading the shivering, tingling sparks along every inch of his skin. 'This man is amazing,' Ian thought as he stole another glance, walking smoothly at his side.

Mickey rolled his eyes as the silent, drone of a girl buzzed them through the door and out into the yard. They made quick unnoticed steps toward the bush line as they always seemed to do, seemingly both eager to slip into their tiny, private space and tuck themselves away from the rest of the world for just a little while. The sunlight was already starting to dim and they walked closely through the narrow, little passage and disappeared into the shrubbery.

When they entered they faced each other and lingered, eyes flickering together once more. Mickey flashed him a smirk before bending to settle at the space beneath their feet, Ian following his lead to sit comfortably beside him. As they shifted slightly within the space, each appearing quite content in their close quarters, then the redhead reached for his pocket, very carefully pulling out the cigarette he’d gotten from the janitor earlier this morning. Mickey’s eyes fell to the unlit smoke in his hand and dropped his smirk, creased his brow and looked up into his face.

“You really want that shit?” he asked beginning to screw up his face, pulling his cigarette pack out from his own pocket and flipping it open. Ian looked down at the cigarette that now sat prepared between his fingers and gave a simple shrug.

“A cigarette's a cigarette,” Ian blinked and tried to give a small, reassuring smile, “I’m not really picky there,” he said. Mickey’s eyes traced his face for only a brief moment before he gave a slight accepting nod and pulled out his own smoke to place behind his ear, then gestured to the one Ian held.

“Wanna fuckin' split that shit before the weed and split one a mine after?” he licked his lips and eyed Ian’s before meeting his gaze. Ian ignored the flutters he felt swarming through his chest as he looked at him, managing to nod, just slightly.

“Sure,” Ian breathed in a very quiet voice, placing the cigarette between his lips, while getting just a little lost inside the deep, sparkling, swirling blues of the other man’s irises, sucking him hopelessly into their grasp.

Mickey continued to watch his face as he fished through his other pocket for his lighter, retrieving it and pausing once more, rubbing his thumb along his bottom lip before sparking the lighter, glowing the end of the cigarette in Ian’s mouth. The redhead inhaled a bit too deeply and coughed on the menthol with a hoarse, raspy puff that he had to cover with the bend of his elbow. Mickey punched out a laugh, covering it with his fist, then reached over to pinch the filter, plucking it right out from the other man’s hand.

“Fuck that shit,” Mickey stated quite firmly, snuffing it out roughly into the cold, hard dirt between his feet.

Ian collected his breath and opened his mouth to protest, but was nudged by the other man’s elbow as he slid his own brand of cigarette out from behind his ear. The redhead closed his mouth as the dark haired man grinned, reaching over to place the cigarette between his lips, softly licking his own as he did so. Ian arched an eyebrow at him, letting himself enjoy the slight tingle of flutters on his tongue, watching the man’s eyes as he sparked his lighter for a second time, and stared as he inhaled from the cigarette's end. Mickey watched him pull a few drags before he reached over to wrap a firm, strong hand around the redhead’s leg, just above his knee, squeezing in a warm, grounding way.

“Ya sure everythin' went alright in the there?” he asked, “Eddy didn’t give you too much a fuckin' problem?” Mickey asked, tipping his brow. Ian shook his head.

“It was fine,” he replied, pulling a drag and passing the cigarette, “I mean, he sorta tried to turn the shit around on me, but I didn’t let him,” Ian shrugged. Mickey pulled a drag as well and exhaled two thick plumes through his nose.

“Whatcha mean?” Mickey queried with honest curiosity in his voice. The redhead chuckled a bit now, replaying the thought in his mind, much more comfortable beside his roommate.

“He tried to say that I attacked him unprovoked,” Ian explained, “But I guess he has a history of similar shit and I definitely stayed more collected through the whole thing than he did,” he squeezed Mickey’s hand, “So it went better than I thought it would.” The dark haired man inhaled a few more hits, then passed the cigarette back to Ian, looking over his face in the same careful way that he always seemed to do, quiet and caring.

“Good,” he said, “Just checkin',” Mickey added, “Ed just doesn’t know when to fuckin quit sometimes,” he watched Ian as he smoked, rubbing his free thumb along his lower lip. The other man nodded in agreement, passing the cigarette again. “But like I told ya, man, you’re not fuckin' stupid,” he said with surety, “I knew you’d fuckin' be alright,” he nudged the redhead once more with his arm, then began rubbing his thumb along the edge of his hand. Ian smiled at the compliment, looking back down at their hands. He took a deep, full hit and blew it through the bushes in front of them before letting his eyes wander back to his roommate’s face who sat, still shamelessly watching his movements.

“I’m just happy to have it over with,” said Ian, moving his fingers with the other man’s, “Happy I found you too,” he added lowly, hoping his words expressed the true meaning behind them, that it wasn’t just today, not just after the mediation, but just completely. Ian was happy that of all the people he could have ended up being roommates with, by some unforeseen stroke of luck, the universe had handed him Mickey. And he was simply amazing, the more he learned about the man, the more he liked about him, the more he thought about him, the more he craved him. It was getting really difficult for Ian to find anything that he really disliked about the man, everything seeming so interesting and new, so intriguing. He was falling hard, he could feel it, but he didn’t want to stop it for anything. The other man smiled, his cheeks blushing just a bit at the comment and his thumbs tracing small delicate designs into the redhead’s skin.

“Well you ain’t too fuckin' bad yourself, Red,” Mickey replied lowly, slowly, with a very slight, yet quite suggestive arch of a single eyebrow, then took a hit, thin, blue wisps of smoke trailing lightly down from his nose.

Ian felt a rush of tingling nerves and a hot flow of blood traveling down along his limbs, his heat beginning to pulse inside his brain. He was filling with urge and craving, but knew that he had to control himself. The flutters were there, clouding his brain and scrambling his thoughts. Ian tried to hold his gaze, to appear leveled but it was hard the way his mind was suddenly beginning to wander without any shame or control. ‘Don’t fucking do this,' he silently warned himself, 'Not now,' his mind hissed, trying to ignore the distracting swirling of blood pooling into his pelvis. He moved his eyes away from the other man’s face much quicker than what would appear normal, and shifted his legs a bit, sneakily trying to readjust himself, though he couldn’t bring himself to let go of the other man’s hand. Mickey creased his brow, looking him over, then exhaled a cloud of smoke up above his head.

“You fuckin' alright, man?” he asked with a rub of his thumb and a bit of a perplexed chuckle. Ian squeezed his hand in return, his eyes moving along the ground in front of them, unable to look back up just yet.

“Yeah,” said Ian, “Just cold,” he lied. Mickey took another hit, pulled his knees to his chest and scooted closer to the other man’s side, pressing his heat into him.

“I bet I could fuckin' fix that,” Mickey whispered exhaling more smoke and passing the cigarette.

The redhead took it with his free hand, finally looking up to meet the other man’s gaze, seeing him still holding his smirk, then began to bite his lip. Slowly, Mickey moved Ian’s hand from his right to his left, then lifted the redhead's arm to lay over the back of his shoulders. He then took his own hand and smoothed it across Ian’s lower back, wrapping a firm arm around his hip, moving even closer. Blue eyes shimmered back over green as the cigarette began to burn idly down into it's filter between Ian’s fingers, who suddenly couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

“Better?” the dark haired man asked, still speaking in a low, smooth whisper.

Ian’s lips parted as he tried to inhale as gently as he could, hoping the fresh breath would clear some of the gathering haze inside his skull, but it didn’t, instead it stuttered as he repressed a small hitch. He managed to nod, just barely, watching the man’s tongue twist along the inside of his lower lip, licking his own lips as he did so. Both men’s eyes dropped to each other’s lips and suddenly there was a wave a hesitation flooding over them all over again. Ian’s lips began to tingle and he took a chance and made a comment that he didn’t know if he’d get a response to.

“I wish you’d kiss me,” Ian said in the lowest possible voice he could muster, unsure if Mickey would even hear him. But he did. It was clear in the way his expression changed, turning just slightly to see his face more clearly, but not at all moving away. Mickey stayed quiet for a long moment, chewing the corner of his lip. He then looked away, but leaned toward him a bit.

“I told ya, man,” said Mickey, keeping a low voice as well, “It’s just my own shit,” he insisted, “It ain’t you,” he turned his face back to look into Ian’s, “But I’m willin' to fuckin' work on it,” the dark haired man added, “I just need some time though, man.”

Ian studied him, seeing the glow of surety in his eyes, laced with the subtle hints of vulnerability. He was being honest, willing to try, to give him more, if it was something he needed. The gesture pushed any physical urge he’d had out of his head and replaced it with an intense feeling of simply wanting, needing, craving him, simply as he was. He felt himself smile just a slightly, the flutters calming but not disappearing, simply floating, wafting, dancing around inside his chest. The other man seemed to calm some, his shoulders relaxing and his expression softening upon seeing the other man’s face. Mickey leaned in toward him a bit more, moving his hand to slip beneath the bottom of his shirt. Ian’s breath stuttered again feeling the heated grasp on his skin, forcing himself not to shudder with pleasure as the man’s thumb began to brush along the edge of his hipbone in a tingling, buzzing way. Suddenly there was a sharp, hot pain between his fingers and he gasped, spreading them wide.

“Ow, fuck!” he snapped out much louder than intended, giving his hand a shake, looking between his fingers to see a blister starting for form. Ian screwed up his face and looked down to see a smoking filter, burned all the way down, still roasting where it lay atop the scuff of dirt near his feet. “Son of a bitch,” he groaned under his breath, bringing his fingers to his lips to suck away the pain. Mickey let out a deep, handsome laugh, covering it with his free fist.

“Somethin' distractin' ya, Red?” he asked with another arch of his eyebrow and a playful smirk pressed to his face. Ian met his eyes, gave a smirk of his own, then rolled his eyes.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ian quipped back in a calm, heatless voice, looking away and spreading his fingers to observe the damage once more.

Mickey laughed again, then lifted his cigarette pack that still lay in his lap, sorting through a few filters with a fingertip before finding the smaller cylinder lacking one and bumped the pack on his knee a few times to free it from the rest. He then raised his pack and used his lips to pull the joint from it. But he paused for a moment, looking back over at Ian, his eyes moving from his eyes, down along his cheekbones to land upon his lips. Mickey tipped his head toward him and bounced the joint between his lips.

“You wanna fuckin' start the shit?” he offered. The redhead hesitated, seeing how the other man was offering, with a raise of his eyebrows and a quick look toward the joint, then paused his own eyes on Ian’s lips.

“Sure,” Ian breathed lightly.

Mickey made another gesture to the wrapped bud in his mouth and tipped his chin up for the other man to take it. The redhead swallowed and leaned toward him, gently grasping the opposite end of the joint with his own lips, holding his eye contact as he moved. There was another pause as Mickey’s eyes flickered between Ian’s before parting his lips to release it. Ian rolled the joint over with his own lips, smiling a bit again, as the other man did as well before raising the lighter in his free hands to light it for him. The cherry on the end glowed bright within the dimming little dome painting each of their faces with a soft, red hue. Ian tightened his lips and inhaled a deep hit of smoke, rolling down into his lungs, making a sharp hiss as he held it and passed the joint over. Mickey pinched it with lingering fingers, then brought it to his own mouth to inhale as well. He then let his eyes fall away from Ian, turning his eyes to peer out at the empty yard through the slivers in the brush with a long, slow exhale.

“Ya know, you uh, never fuckin' told me what it was Seth was after ya for,” Mickey mentioned suddenly, causing Ian to swallow and suddenly shift all his focus toward not tensing his muscles at the subject. The dark haired man shrugged lightly, “I figured since I put the dude in the fuckin' hospital wing, the least I could know is what he fuckin' did to deserve the shit.” He turned his head back to look at him, appearing curious, but still calm, patient.

Ian remembered his conversation with Eddy and as much as he really didn’t like the guy, Ian wasn’t a rat. Not to mention, he was still fairly certain that if and when Mickey put it all together, he might just beat him to death and he couldn’t live with himself if he were to somehow be responsible for that. Ian wasn’t heartless as much as he wished he could be at times. But he also wasn’t going to lie about it if asked, especially not to Mickey. He respected and trusted the man quite a bit, wanted these same things from him in return and refused to do anything that could negatively affect that from happening. So, he was going to be honest, without freely offering too much.

“He thought I beat Stacy up or something, I guess,” Ian answered, speaking the truth, “That’s all he really said, anyway,” he tilted his head and took the joint as it was now being offered to him. Mickey gave a thick scoff and shook his own head.

“I swear, that bitch tries to fuck anything with a cock,” he rubbed his forehead and chuckled a bit, “Well, least I’m pretty fuckin' sure both those shitheads learned their fuckin' lessons,” Mickey quipped with a slight bounce of his shoulders beneath Ian’s arm. Ian didn’t want to let his roommate assume, but the memory of Seth’s face cracking beneath his fist stopped him from saying anything more.

“I’d say so,” Ian agreed, holding a large cloud of smoke inside his chest, “Doesn’t seem like too many people cross you twice,” he noted with an exhale. Mickey gave a confident nod at the statement, then cocked his head, reaching for the joint.

“Not if the fuckers wanna keep all their fingers and teeth,” Mickey replied smoothly, smoking the joint.

“Have you always been like that?” the redhead asked and the other man raised his eyebrow in question, waiting for some further elaboration, “The whole hardass thing,” Ian explained with a downward wave toward his roommate. Mickey gave a shrug, dropped his eyes and passed the bud.

“Always kinda just fuckin' had to be, man,” Mickey said simply, “Growin' up in a house with my ol' man, bein' fuckin' soft didn't get ya more than an ass whoopin',” he met his eyes, flickering them over his face, “That’s just the way it was, Red.” They passed the joint once more, and Mickey tipped his head again, “You always been such a fuckin' princess?” he asked with a playful arch of his brow and a cocky smirk. Ian smiled back, then shoved him out from under his arm, the other man laughing while he did so.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Ian, grinning over at the man moving to sit back up straight, “That your way of calling me soft?” he asked. Mickey brought his empty hand to his chest as he calmed, then took a sharp hit off the weed and shook his head.

“Not at all, man,” Mickey replied quite innocently, “Bet your ass got a set a balls the size a fuckin' melons,” he laughed, covering it with another fist.

“You’d be surprised,” the redhead retorted confidently, arching a firm eyebrow. Mickey raised his own eyebrows and trailed his eyes down along the other man’s chest, then bit his lip.

“That right?” the other man asked in a low, suggestive tone and Ian once again had to fight to control his own primitive urges. Ian felt his confidence grow and hummed in response. The dark hard man held the bite in his lip and passed the joint over.

They sat in a comfortable gazing silence, finishing the last of their smoke and hesitating a bit as Mickey snuffed it out. The dark haired man looked down to his roommate’s hand and slowly slid his own into it, not yet rising, seemingly content to just sit a little longer despite the deepening cold around them and the darkening sky beyond the bush above them. Their fingers twisted together as subtle smiles decorated their faces before finally beginning to talk once more. They spoke simply, much as they had the night before, though tonight it was a bit different.

Instead of swapping stories about their rough upbringings and memories from childhood, they decided to exchange questions more about each other as individuals. They each learned about personal preferences like their favorite colors and foods, tastes in music, movies, etc., finding out that they had even more in common than they’d previously known, just simple things. Mickey mentioned at one point how he preferred his steak cooked rare, though he preferred them a bit more fresh than Ian personally did himself.

“Blow it’s nose, wipe it’s ass and stick it on a fuckin' plate, man,” Mickey laughed. Ian had screwed up his face but laughed as well.

Neither really spoke too much of home, or life before. They spoke briefly about their families again, but really only staying on the subject of siblings and not delving too deeply.

The more they each learned about the other, the more the attraction between them seemed to grow, laughing, joking and carrying on as they spoke quite easily, their hands not once leaving the grasp of the other. When it came to siblings, although Mickey had been quite close to both Mandy and Iggy, he spoke about Iggy the most. The brothers had been close, very close, never really leaving each other’s sides throughout their entire lives, the loss of which seemed to really effect his roommate, though he refused to really show that it did. Ian could tell that there was an emptiness there that he couldn’t quite explain. It didn’t feel terribly dark like perhaps death had somehow been driven between them, but it was definitely something quite similar, something sad and personal, something complicated. Ian could tell that much, so he didn’t prod in the slightest when Mickey had abruptly changed the subject and began talking about his preference in action heroes instead.

Though he each time the man spoke about his sister, Ian couldn’t help but smile the more he heard about her, remembering her face from the drawing above Mickey’s bed in their room, wondering what she might be like in person. Ian seemed to have a lot in common with her as well, much to Mickey’s mildly amused annoyance. Mandy seemed like the kind of girl that could love unconditionally and whoop some serious ass all in the same breath. In another life, Ian thought perhaps she and him could have been really good friends. But before long, they had emerged from their dome, out into the blackening winter air and made their way inside, having sat and talked for a rather long time once again, it being nearly the end of dinner time now.

“We gotta stop doing this,” Ian chuckled as he glanced up at a clock on a wall as they passed it, reaching to rub his forehead. Mickey turned his face and raised a very confused eyebrow. “Losing track of time,” the redhead explained, seeing the other man’s expression, who relaxed his face and parted his lips in acknowledgment with a tilt of his head.

“So long as we make it back for fuckin' rounds, I don’t think it really matters too fuckin' much,” Mickey shrugged as they made their way through the halls closer to the cafeteria, “If shit's closed, I can just have Tracy fuckin' get us somethin',” he reminded him.

Ian pressed his lips together but didn’t say anything, still strangely uneasy about the woman he knew working in the kitchen, still quite unsure as to how exactly they’d become connected in such a casual way. But still, he tried not to let it bother him, knowing that deep down it wasn’t really any of his business anyway. Instead, Ian simply kept his pace, walking beside him past their circle and down toward the cafeteria. They were almost there, just stepping past the nearly deserted Rec Room when a snickering, mocking voice caught both their attentions.

“Does your pretty little head shake like that when you’re takin' a cock too?”

They turned to see the young blonde artist, seated at her usual table, curled into her seat in a cowering posture, her hands caged over her face trembling, with staff no where in sight. There was an older man, maybe in his forties, leaned over the table tormenting her and smiling widely while he did it, even stepping on her lost pen laying on the floor. She wasn’t screaming like she had with Ian, but she was shaking, twitching, and beginning to pant with terror all the same. He reached out with a sweaty, wrinkly fingers, attempting to move a bit of long, blonde hair out from her face, when the body that stood next to Ian suddenly disappeared from beside him.

There was a quick flash of movement, then Mickey was behind the man, his face red with rage and grabbed him by the back of the head, slamming it into the table with such force, Ian was shocked that it didn’t break. He creased his brow and watched the scene before him, quite confused as to what exactly was going on, seeing as his roommate tightened his grip into the older man’s thinning hair, then leaned down close to growl into his face.

“There some kinda fuckin' problem here?” Mickey snapped in a harsh, angry tone, the man under him now shaking and shocked, “Huh?” he tightened his grip once more and gave the man’s head a shake, “The fuck ya think you’re doin'?”

“Just talkin' to the lady here,” the man replied, trying to sound innocent, “Seeing how she’ s doin'. That’s all.” Mickey used one hand to keep the man’s head down against the table and used his other to pull and grab roughly at the side of his face.

“Well, she don’t wanna fuckin' talk to you,” he spat back, shoving his thumb up along the side of the man’s eye socket, “Can’t you fuckin' see that, shithead?” Mickey raised his hand and brought it down, connecting with a hard, humiliating smack to the man’s face, “You do see that shit, right?” he asked with more insistence, clearly expecting some kind of response. The man managed to nod against his grip, flinching each time Mickey moved a bit too quick.

“Then why in the fuck is your old, wrinkled ass still over here tryin' to fuckin' chit chat?” The man trembled and said nothing, pressing his eyes closed with a tight pinch. Mickey raised a hand, and brought it down again into another sharp, slap, both the blonde and Ian flinching at the sound.

“Where’s your fuckin' tongue at now, motherfucker?” he let a dark, angry chuckle escape his lips and Ian swallowed, still watching, unable to look away. Mickey pulled at the man’s hair with another angered, shaking grip, twisting his neck around a bit. “Not so fuckin' tough now, huh?” he sneered into the man’s ear, “Ain’t got shit to fuckin' say,” Mickey mocked.

Ian finally took a step forward, very slowly, very cautiously, seeing the rage still boiling in the other man’s eyes, unsure of what exactly he may do next. The young blonde girl stayed in her position, shaking, cowering, not at all looking at the men in a hold atop her table, perhaps unable to fully comprehend it.

“Mick,” Ian said quietly, reaching to place a gentle, hesitant palm onto his shoulder, seeing his roommate’s expression flicker as he did so. He held his glare for a moment, flashing the quickest, smallest glance toward the girl still at the table, then leaned down toward his victim one final time.

“I better not ever fuckin' see you anywhere near this girl ever again,” Mickey warned in a deep, threatening tone, “If I do,” he ran his thumb back up under the man’s eye, then pressed it firmly over his eyelid, applying just enough pressure to get a reaction out of him, “Then you ain’t gonna be seein' much a shit ever again,” Mickey pushed the man’s eyelid open with his thumb, making sure the man was looking at him, “Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” the man managed in hardly a mumble.

“You fuckin' better, you piece of shit,” Mickey warned, then gave the man a much lighter pat of his palm across his cheek, causing him to flinch, then let go, watching as the man scrambled to rise and rush out of the room.

Ian looked back at his roommate, still at quite the loss for words, still extremely perplexed as to what just happened. Mickey looked at him, the crease from his brow smoothing out a bit upon making eye contact, then made another quick glance toward the girl at the table. His eyes then dropped to the floor, seeing the pen and bent to pick it up. The redhead was about to stop him, to warn him of what had happened when Ian had tried to do the very same thing he was doing now but before he could, Mickey was already reaching out to slip the pen back into her hand. He braced himself for what he knew would come, but was instead shockingly met with silence. Mickey slipped the pen easily between her fingers, the girl’s trembles suddenly ceasing at the contact, her eyes flickering in his direction, but not raising to look at his face. Mickey pressed his lips together as she grasped it and took a step backward toward the doorway. The dark haired man met his eyes once more and gave a slight tip of his head.

“Come on, Red,” he directed lightly, “We’re gonna fuckin' miss dinner,” he said turning into the hallway.

Ian held the crease in his forehead and raised an eyebrow, still completely unsure of what to make of everything that’d just happened. He glanced back at the blonde, seeing her remain as Mickey left her, gripping her pen in a hard, white-knuckled grasp, her shakes gone, but her normal swirling head motion was returning. It made him all the more confused, all the more curious, all the more puzzled, but still had no idea what to say. He turned his face back to face to doorway and walked through it after his roommate.

As he walked next to him, Ian couldn’t stop himself from wondering, pondering, just trying to understand a bit better. But he just couldn’t find much understanding in what he’d seen at all no matter how he looked at it. The whole situation just now in the Rec Room had been quite peculiar, strange, just flat out weird, really. Mickey had become enraged seeing what that man had been doing to that girl, so much so that he’d seemingly acted without much thought. It almost looked personal. The closest thing to that kind of anger Ian had seen on the other man’s face was when he’d beaten the living shit out of Seth when he’d found Ian down and enclosed, getting beaten on himself. He’d thought that had maybe been because of how close they were beginning to become, the bond that they were beginning to develop, but he clearly must have been wrong somehow in that assumption. Ian was clearly not the only person whose well being struck a cord with Mickey. The silent, blonde scribbler, 'Jessa was her name, right?' she too had somehow been able to obtain that attention, that protection, that care and Ian just couldn’t understand how. He wanted to ask about it, wanted to know more, the questions filling up his head and eating at his brain. But still, he held his tongue, leaving himself to silently wonder, glancing over at the man who kept stride beside him, trying to piece it together. 'Inhale. Exhale.' Ian knew he just had to forget about it, for now.

The cafeteria was thinning out as well, as the line had already closed and many of the residents were bussing their trays and exiting the room. Mickey started looking toward the staff behind the line that were shutting down their serving stations, when Ian saw Bruce walking toward them with an empty tray, clasping a palm to his chest to belch. Ian gave Mickey a nudge with his elbow as the big man approached, catching his attention.

“What’s up, bros?” Bruce welcomed with an upturned palm, “Y'all are late as fuck,” he chuckled, “Missed out on fucking burrito night,” he pointed a meaty finger down at his empty tray, “Sucks bros,” Bruce frowned. Mickey made a face that honestly looked a little disappointed, but then hardened it just as quickly, shrugging off the other man’s words and looked back toward the line.

“Shut the fuck up, man,” said Mickey with a wave of his hand, “You know I don’t need no fuckin' line,” his eyes continued to search, and the big man simply grinned at him, “You fuckin' seen Tracy?” he asked, turning his face back to him. Bruce gave a thick chinned nod and a pointed gesture of his shoulder.

“Yeah, man. She was serving tonight,” he confirmed, “She’s back there somewhere.” The dark haired man gave an acknowledging nod and turned to Ian with a much softer face.

“You hungry?” Mickey asked, though they both knew the question was quite rhetorical, “Cause I sure as fuck am,” he smirked and ran his tongue along the underside of his lower lip. Ian actually was a little hungry.

“I could eat,” Ian replied easily with a tip of his chin, watching the other man’s eyes not-so-subtly trace over his features with appeal in their gaze.

“Come with me then, Red,” Mickey offered arching his eyebrow and reaching out for his hand. Bruce rolled his eyes with a chuckle and tipped his own chin.

“Have a good night, bros,” he winked, beginning to turn and step away.

The other two men gave brief parting gestures then turned to walk toward the end of the meal line. Ian moved his eyes around the room seeing the one guard who remain not paying too much attention to them, but instead more focused on the residents bussing their trays and exiting the room. He followed by Mickey’s side, watching how confident the man was in his stride, as if he knew that there was slack just for him to pull and he was going to, quite comfortably. It was attractive, the way Mickey held himself and Ian couldn’t help but feel a bit impressed, watching him in his all-demanding strut. The redhead bit his lip and let his eyes wander, not at all hiding it as the other man caught his gaze and smirked again.

“The fuck ya keep lookin' at, Red?” Mickey asked with a friendly unheated snap, giving him a slowly, studying downward sweep of his eyes. Ian pushed out his lip and gave a light shrug.

“Just see something I like, I guess,” he answered simply, causing the other man’s expression to brighten and blush a bit at the words.

“Been seein' a whole lotta that shit myself this past fuckin' week,” the other man agreed, letting his eyes travel and linger once more.

Mickey then bit his lip, just a bit harder this time and met his eyes with a glimmer sparkling their blue before looking ahead to round the end of the line and make a final few steps toward the staff door, peeking his head inside. He then gave a low whistle and a quick flick of his head. After a few seconds, the same young girl with a long, brown ponytail emerged from within the doorway, still wearing her apron and a set of rubber gloves. She raised two upturned palms and shurgged her shoulders up.

“What the fuck do you want?” Tracy breathed with very little heat, “I’m fucking swamped in there,” she pointed to the doorway behind her with her thumb.

“Dinner, bitch,” Mickey grinned and stuck out his tongue in a rather playful manner. She gave a light scoff and dropped her hands to cross her arms over her chest.

“Well, you don’t have to be so fucking rude,” she insisted with a bit of a neck roll. That time Mickey scoffed and gave her a pointed chin tip.

“Aye, you’re the one who came out here with all the 'fucks,' alright?” he countered, “I’m just askin' for some fuckin' food,” Mickey stated simply. Tracy gave him a flat expression and opened her mouth to speak again when she suddenly noticed Ian standing quietly and quite awkwardly behind the man in front of her.

“Oh, you must want a double tonight then, huh?” she arched an eyebrow, looking back Mickey, placing her hands on her hips, “Shit for your friend here gonna become a regular thing?” Tracy queried sticking her chin out. The dark haired man creased his brow and leaned back with a bit of an incredulous expression, now crossing his own arms over his chest.

“Why the fuck are you askin' me stupid fuckin' questions?” Mickey snapped back, arching his eyebrows into a high, annoyed angle, “Just get the shit,” he ordered, narrowing his eyes just a bit, but still remaining quite calm, “Do what you’re fuckin' told,” Mickey sucked his teeth and stood in wait. Tracy simply sighed with a heavy roll of her eyes before she turned around disappearing back into the staff area of the kitchen. The redhead stayed quiet as the other man turned around, once again softening his expression at the instant of eye contact.

“Sorry about that chick, man,” Mickey tilted his head and took a step forward him, “She just a little fuckin' slow sometimes,” he chuckled lightly. Ian mirrored the tilt of his head and rubbed the back of his neck.

“If it’s a problem, I really don’t mind,” he gave a bit of a shrug as his stomach let out a gargled, muffled groan which he ignored but the other man didn’t. Mickey dropped his eyes at the sound, smirked and looked back up to his eyes.

“Ain't no fuckin' problem,” Mickey insisted, reaching out for his hand once again, giving it a soft rub with his thumb, “Everybody’s gotta fuckin' eat, Red,” he said, “Even your big, red ass.”

Blue eyes twinkled through green as Ian’s breath slowly in the way that only his roommate could make it do, stuttering and fluttering in a soft, delicate way. The affect this man had on him was immense, incredible, simply profound and it never ceased to amaze him. He gathered the strength to nod, just slightly and squeezed the strong tattooed hand he held in his own. Ian leaned closer to him just a bit, not trying to kiss him, but to simply be closer, hoping the other man would feel comfortable enough to reciprocate, as the room was now mostly empty. A wide smile split across his face as his roommate took another step, and pressed his chest into his, even bringing his free hand up to glide up Ian’s back and rest on his shoulder blade. Ian didn’t hesitate to wrap his own free arm around Mickey’s back as well, curving around his waist and looked down to see the man slowly, lightly brush the tip of his nose along his shoulder, moving closer to his neck. The redhead began to move his head, unable to see the other man move anymore without appearing incredibly awkward, and let himself enjoy the subtle, tickling sensation of the soft trail of contact now moving up along his skin toward his ear. Just as he felt a rush of breath pass through Mickey’s lips and flush down within his shirt and over his chest, both of their attentions were suddenly pulled away.

“Here’s your fucking burritos,” Tracy emerged once more, now holding two large, cylindrical molds of foil, looking up just after Mickey had turned back around, not having seen their mild embrace, “But I don’t have anything for you to drink,” she added, her voice laced heavily with irritation, “So, if you get thirsty, just go find a fucking sink or something, alright?” She raised her eyebrows, pressing her lip together tight as she held out the freshly microwaved, imitation Mexican food and Mickey quickly flipped her off, now making steps toward her to lightly snatch them out of her hands.

“Shut the fuck up,” Mickey quipped back, passing one of the wrapped burritos behind him to Ian who took it without question. He paused to look at him for just an instant, before turning back around to continue speaking with the woman. “Grabbin' a couple fuckin' burritos and heatin' the shit up real quick ain’t fuckin' hard,” he said with a shake of his head and a wave of his hand, “Quit your fuckin' complainin',” Mickey advised moving his food between his hands, grinning at her in a rather cocky, superior fashion. Tracy frowned and crossed her arms once more with a bit of a huff.

“I’m not saying the shit is hard,” she said, returning his tone with an immensely annoyed one, “It’s doing this shit for you,” Tracy explained bluntly, “I’ve had a long fucking day and I don’t want to have to wait on anyone, especially you, more than I already have to.” Ian raised his eyebrows at the woman’s sudden boldness, clutching his food in his hands, silent. Mickey simply scoffed again.

“Oh, boo fuckin' hoo, wench,” he joked still holding his grin, “We both gotta do shit sometimes,” Mickey shrugged, “At least your shit is fuckin' simple,” his eyes narrowed a bit more, “Don’t ever start thinkin' that you and I are equals, Trace,” he warned, with a light expression, hard eyes and a firm tone, “Cause we’re not.” Mickey took a few step backward to Ian’s side, giving a pointed tip of his head to follow, then glanced back at the young staff member who still stood silent where he left her, an effect the man seemed to have on a lot of people for a multitude of reasons and spoke a final time, “Thanks for fuckin' dinner, Tracy,” he raised his foil wrapped meal, “Appreciate it,” Mickey grinned.

Ian’s mind was beginning to overload with even more confusion as he followed his roommate back out from the cafeteria and into the hall. They both made quick steps, noting the time, trying to get back to their room with enough time to eat before the doctor would show up with rounds. There were still so many things that Ian wanted to ask about but there was also so very much holding him back from doing so. Each time he came close with a flow of words lingering, teetering on his tongue and teeth, warning lights began blaring through his mind, ringing out deafening sirens with a piercing, throbbing echo. He fidgeted his fingers against the foil of his food as he walked, trying not to crinkle it as he did. 'It will just have to wait,' he told himself, making sure his breaths and steps stayed even. Ian rubbed his forehead and combed his hair back with his fingers.

They got there quick, but the time was becoming a squeeze. This entire day he’d seemed to go so fast. Something Ian hated about being in this place and being on medication is that when things were different, he didn’t know if he had something to blame or if it was merely coincidental. The thought frustrated him to no end, so he quickly just tried not to think about it. Each man approached their own bed and sat to unwrap their dinner to scarf down before the doctor could arrive to scold Ian for eating in the room when he didn’t have permission to.

Mickey leaned across his bed with a large stretch, once again lifting the edge of his shirt to creak open his storage chest and rummage around blindly with a single, searching hand. Ian stared into his burrito as to not let his eyes linger to long on the exposed cut of hip on the man across from him. His roommate retrieved his tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce and began to spice up eat bite of his own burrito as he ate it. The redhead glanced up sneakily with a small smile pressed to his face, then turned his attention back down to his food to, once again, not linger too long.

Both men finished their food and wadded up their foil, as their eyes met, quiet for a moment. Then Mickey’s eyes glanced toward the wastebasket in the far corner of the room, shooting Ian a competitive expression and a sharp arch of his eyebrow. He then stretched his body up into a high throw, sending his bundle of foil across the room to bounce off the wall behind it and land right inside the trash bin.

“Beat that, Firecrotch,” Mickey challenged with a wide smirk and a chin tip.

Ian split a smile and turned his head to narrow his eyes on his target in the corner. He shifted his body sideways on his bed to face it more directly, wadding his foil up more tightly with big, wide palms. Then he went for it, throwing in one quick, high, swift motion, sending the crumple of silver soaring across the room and landing directly inside the wastebasket without a single bounce. He raised his eyebrows with a rather cocky expression of his own and tilted his head awaiting some form of response from his clearly very impressed roommate.

“Got a fuckin' arm on ya, huh?” Mickey asked rhetorically, trailing his eyes along the other man’s chest and biceps.

Ian gathered some courage and bent just slightly to pull off his sweatshirt, wanting to show off, just a little bit, but didn’t milk it, didn’t flex or pose like an idiot. He simply removed a layer to let the other man see him, enjoying the sensation of Mickey’s gaze on his skin. The dark haired man bit his lip and took another brief moment to look, just as Ian wanted him to. He arched another eyebrow and parted his lips as if to speak when there was a light knock at the door. When both men turned their heads and the door began to open, Ian saw Mickey grab his contraband Tabasco sauce, quickly slipping it beneath his blanket. The redhead hid his smile.

“Good evening,” called Dr. Craft, opening the door wide and poking her head in, “Rounds,” she announced, turning her face toward her cart beside her in the hall, her usual guard standing stone faced on the other side of it. The doctor grabbed two sets of cups, clutched in skinny, frail fingers and took a few steps inside, her guard watching with hard eyes.

“Mr. Milkovich,” she offered, which was quickly received, swallowed and returned empty. Then he opened his mouth, “Thank you,” Dr. Craft spoke with gentle nod and a sweet smile, then turned to Ian, outstretching her other hand, “Mr. Gallagher,” she offered two cups once more. Ian took them, swallowing easily, then opened his own mouth as he handed the cups back. The doctor nodded once more, “Thank you,” she chimed. He began to turn around when she spoke again, “I heard about your mediation today,” said Dr. Craft, causing the young man to look back at her, “I do hope it went well?” she queried, her tone still sickeningly sweet. Ian felt Mickey look at him as he nodded.

“Went good,” he sort of lied, “Everything got settled,” said Ian. Dr. Craft pursed her smile a bit, but nodding.

“That’s delightful to hear,” she responded, “I was hoping it could be worked out, with it happening on your first day and all,” Dr. Craft said, appearing rather genuine. Ian nodded slowly, unsure of really want to say, just wanting to end this whole interaction. The doctor nodded as well and paused for just a second to look in between them but said nothing, turning back toward the door to return to her cart, “Thank you, again,” she called and shut the door behind her. Mickey walked back across the room, toed his slippers off and sat back down on his bed. Ian moved to do the same when he suddenly really had to do something else.

“Gotta take a piss,” he announced bluntly and Mickey turned to look up at him and tilted his head.

“Alright,” said the other man, “Just uh, don’t fuckin' talk to strangers, huh Red?” he joked, though his tone was laced with a bit of firmness. Ian simply smiled back at him.

“Yes, sir,” he replied sarcastically, mocking a half assed salute. Mickey bit his lip and hummed in response.

“Hey now,” Mickey warned lowly, suggestively, “Don’t lemme get fuckin' used to that shit,” he quipped in a deep, smooth voice then thumbed his lower lip. The other man felt himself blush and turned toward the door with a single glance back.

“I'll be right back,” Ian assured with a smile and Mickey tipped his chin again.

“Don’t be long, man,” he urged gently, watching him as he walked out the door.

Ian quickly rounded the circle toward the lavatory, eager to hurry up and get back to his roommate, back to Mickey. He was thankful that the hall was mostly empty, and the bathroom was vacant when he arrived. So, he walked straight over to a urinal and proceeded to take care of his business, quickly relieving himself, then tucking himself back away. He made exit and was back out in a flash. Ian kept quick footsteps, not focused on much around him, though he really should have been, as he was suddenly forced into the wall by a small body appearing beside him.

The redhead let out a grunt as his arm hit the brick and he was shoved onto his back. Ian blinked and looked down to see Stacy, appearing crazed, furious, enraged with wide veiny eyes, actual foam in the corners of her mouth and her thin, bony fists tangled in his t-shirt. She had a large, white bandage that covered half of her face and she was breathing in hard, angry breaths, saliva punching through her teeth. He tried to grab her by the wrists and throw her hands off but she was strong, really fucking strong and he couldn’t shake her off. She kept him clamped between her body and the wall as she stretched up onto her toes to lean into his face.

“You,” Stacy snarled, a rough flare of twitches flowing through her limbs, “It was you,” she accused, curling her fists tighter into his sternum.

“What?” Ian breathed, screwing up his face, still clutching her wrists with big, tight hands.

“It was you!” she insisted louder just before bringing a hand to the bandage on her face, ripping it off to expose a long, nasty gash, tightly bound together with thick black stitches, “This shit was you!” the crazed girl emphasized, leaning even closer. Ian swallowed, ‘That’s gonna leave one hell of a scar,' his mind couldn’t help but note, despite the fact that he had a tiny, raging, foaming beast latched onto his chest.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he denied, once again trying to shove her hands off of him, but they miraculously still wouldn’t budge.

“Bullshit!” she spat, saliva spattering his face and making him flinch, “I know this shit was you,” she grabbed his face and shoved it around, her nails digging into his skin. Ian stretched and arched his body to move out of the sting from her claws. “You think shit like this is funny? Or does it just get you off?” she hissed and licked her lips, reaching to grab at his crotch with harsh angry nails and Ian moved to kick her in defense, it being all he could really do. Stacy hardly moved back before wrapping both of her fists back inside his shirt, pressing him back into the wall once more.

“So, you just like seeing this kinda shit, huh?” She moved the slashed side of her face in very close to Ian’s smooth, freckled, unscathed one, with wide eyes staring straight into him, “You like seeing people get fucked up and bleed all over the place?” she questioned, “That whatcha like?” she asked again untangling one of her hands and raising it to her face, “I can show you some shit, baby,” Stacy offered grossly, crazily, fucking terrifyingly.

Ian swallowed again, watching Stacy hook her fingers and rake her claws slowly down the damaged side of her face, tearing her stitches open and letting flow a hot stream of blood that wafted out a salty, coppery aroma. The sound made Ian cringe the most however, the soft, meaty pop that each stitch made as it was plucked from the flesh of her face by the sharp edge of her fingernail, made his stomach turn. He thought the worse was over until he saw her press her fingertips deep into the wound, sinking into the bloody gash without a single flinch of pain.

“This whatcha like?” she asked as her fingers wiggled around, welling more sticky, hot fluid up from within the large, nasty split. Ian screwed up his face but couldn’t bring himself to speak, only able to focus on not simply throwing up. Then she pulled her fingers from the torn strip of flesh and reached up, smearing a slick of fresh blood all over his face, a loud, high pitched giggle ringing off the walls as she did so.

Ian lurched and his chest heaved, sending his leg flying out once again to kick her away. The woman fell back to the floor much harder than she had before but her hysterical laughter didn’t stop or pause for an instant, now flinging her head back and clutching her chest.

“This isn’t over,” she warned, pointing up at him with bloodied fingers, looking into his face, “It’s not.” Ian still couldn’t speak, finally unhanded, he took advantage of that fact instead, now turning to sprint back to the bathroom so he could wash his face clean, hoping he didn’t spill his guts all over the floor before he got there.

When he got there, he quickly ran the hot water and began to wash his face, unable to possibly scrub hard enough or fast enough. He washed over his face several times before he felt even mildly clean enough to turn the water off. Ian lay his hands down on the sides of the sink, peering into the drain and tried to breathe. Then his stomach twisted and his chest heaved once more as a gag pulled at his throat, at his gut and raced to round the corner toward the toilets. He puked, more than he thought he could for not having eaten very much lately. His dinner had become for nothing. Ian threw up so much that his body heaved long after it’d become empty and dry, his body shaking and riddled with disgust. He hacked and spat a few times before standing to flush it all down. Then he turned, sat down atop the toilet seat, dropped his face into his hands and cried, quietly.

Ian hadn’t always been one to scare easily, but what had just happened had honestly scared him quite a bit. He shuddered through his tears, trying not to still feel the heated sheen of blood that coated his face just a short bit ago. He didn’t have a problem with blood, but that had just been sick to witness. Stacy was twisted, she was disturbed, she was batshit fucking crazy and it kind of freaked him the fuck out. Ian hadn’t had anything to do with her attack, not directly anyway and was pissed off that she blamed him and suddenly had a vendetta. 'What the fuck,' his mind tried to comprehend. Then he suddenly remembered that Mickey was waiting for him and he really didn’t want him to have to come looking again, as he knew he was quite likely to do. So, slowly, he collected himself, willing away his tears and sniffing hard, moving to exit the bathroom yet again.

It was getting close to lights out, Ian noticed as he got closer to his room, trying his best to remain collected, though he was cautious as he rounded the opposite side of the circle to get there, not wanting to run into Stacy again. When he got there, he opened the door quickly but quietly and slipped inside. Just as he entered his roommate looked up to meet his gaze, still seated on his bed, now with a book in his hand, reading. He glanced toward the clock, then back at Ian, looking over his face. And try as Ian might, he somehow couldn’t conceal his discomfort from the powerful radar of the man across the room. Mickey creased his brow, slipped his bookmark in place and set his book aside, now wiggling to edge of his bed to stand and cross the space.

“The fuck’s up, Red?” Mickey asked, “You were gone for a minute,” he mentioned, tipping his head toward the clock as he stopped in front of him, “Somethin' fuckin' happen?” he looked at him, appearing genuinely concerned and reached out to grasp his shoulder in a comfortingly familiar way, calming him greatly.

Ian paused for just an instant, weighing his options in his head, really thinking about what to say, as he hadn’t thought of it before now. He could tell Mickey about what just happened with Stacy and risk the man performing some sort of retaliation in his honor, much as he had before. But he thought that if he did that, perhaps it would only make things worse, as the lunatic down the hall was still very clearly quite angry with him. Any further action would undoubtedly escalate things further and he didn’t want that. So, instead he played it safe, holding his tongue but refusing to let himself hesitate.

“No,” Ian replied quietly, moving much closer into the other man’s space, wrapping his arms around him and dipping his head down into his shoulder, exhaling as he felt thick, strong arms tentatively reciprocate, “I just need to touch you,” he whispered into him, inhaling his scent.

Mickey’s arms tightened around him, no words necessary to show that it was okay and that he was there, with him. They stood for a long time, staying still, rubbing palms across backs and listening to each other breathe, before it was nearing even closer to the lights out and soon, they’d have to move. Ian’s muscles suddenly tensed with uncertainty, remembering that even in his dreams, he wasn’t safe from torment, if not actually much more vulnerable in his unconscious state. He shut his eyes tight, holding the man in his arms, never wanting to let go, when suddenly his heart filled with a warm eruption of flutters.

“Mind if I fuckin' sleep with ya again?” Mickey requested in a low, quiet voice that almost sounded shy. Ian smiled with more relief than he could describe and leaned back to meet the beautiful blue eyes on the handsome chiseled face of the amazing man wrapped onto him.

“I don’t mind at all,” Ian replied, whispering as well, unable to speak any louder over the swarm in his chest.

Mickey smiled up at him, bit his lip and began to gently pull him backward toward his bed. The redhead was a little surprised, having never slept in Mickey’s bed before but was excited to do it nonetheless. He let the other man lead him over and watched him climb in first, nearest the wall and crawled under his blanket. He rested his head on a fist and smiled up at Ian waiting for him to join him. Ian blushed and smiled wide, unable to stop himself, mirroring the man’s expression as he toed off his slippers and slipped into bed with him.

At first they began to shift in their usual way, until Ian paused and turned his head to meet Mickey’s gaze with his eyes full of hesitant questioning. The dark haired man creased his brow with curiosity as well, letting his eyes twinkle between the other man’s in wondering silence. Ian swallowed with hesitation before he slowly began to move the other way. 'Inhale. Exhale.' He rolled over, gently moving Mickey onto his back and wrapped onto the side of him, laying his head down onto his chest. To Ian’s surprise there didn’t seem to be a single grain of tension or hesitation in the other man’s body language, welcoming him without pause.

He let himself relax so much more, exhaling once again, without the slightest flinch at the harsh metallic chime of the string of the circle's doors locking for the night. Ian nuzzled the side of his face deeper into the other man’s chest, enjoying the pumping rhythm of his heartbeat, feeling Mickey pull him closer in return. It seemed so perfect, almost surreal how he could have somehow ended up where he was right now, in the arms of such a person that Ian still couldn’t wrap his head around being lucky enough to find. He was comforting, healing, curing. Mickey was perfect.

Tonight, he welcomed sleep and slumber, embraced the abyss, the unknown, the cloud. Never afraid when he lay so very close to the one person who seemed to protect him from the terrors lurking within. Mickey was a shield wouldn’t crack and somehow Ian knew just how very true that thought really was. And he was here with him, no where else. What could possibly go wrong where he was right now?

Chapter Text

***

It was cold outside, and rainy, watching the wind tug and twist the autumn leaves from their branches to carry up and away on a harsh, spinning gust. Blue eyes twinkled from behind the glass, following shiny little droplets as they trailed down through their streams along the window, trickling together and splitting apart before disappearing off the sill. The little boy tilted his head, rested atop a curled fist, calmly watching, completely entranced, tracing a fingertip down a skinny rain stream from his dry seat within, careful not to nick it on the scratch along it’s side. The drops were light and delicate pattering along the outside of the window sill, landing with gentle little splashes and draining away just as quickly. He parted his lips in wonder, watching the water flow, his finger squeaking along the glass.

“How come he don’t talk?” one little girl asked the other, “I’ve never seen him talk before.”

“I don’t really know,” the black haired girl responded, “I mean, he does though,” she countered, curling her hair behind her ear, “Just not very much,” she shrugged.

“Is it because he’s younger than you?” the first girl asked, still watching the boy across the room who simply sat ignoring them, and staring out the window, “I used to think you were twins,” she giggled, “But now I know you’re not.” The other girl shrugged again.

“He’s six, not that much younger,” said his sister defensively, “He just doesn’t like to, I guess.” The older girl giggled again.

“Maybe he’s stupid?” she offered, shrugging herself as both little girls peered across the room.

The little boy’s eyes flickered at the words, batting a brush of long, dark lashes, but he didn’t turn his head. He could hear them, even though they seemed to think that he couldn’t. His eyes shifted their focus from the rain to his reflection and stared at his own face for just a moment, before dropping them to move along the dusty sill beneath his elbows. He felt a hot flush of blood rise into his face and a sting burn his eyes, but still he stayed quiet, giving a quick sneaky rub of his sleeve over his eyes, staring back down. Then he noticed a bit of movement near the corner of wood, next to the glass, from beneath a cob web.

It was a tiny, yellow spider, wet and stumbling, having squeezed in through the crack along the side of the glass. Bright, blue eyes widened with intrigue, scooting closer and lowering his face to take a better look. The little arachnid shook out his legs, and slowly moved along in jumbled steps, atop tangling legs, desperately trying to find it’s bearings. The boy ran his thumb along his lower lip as he watched, observed, studied. Carefully he poked out a single finger, watching as the tiny spider bumped into it, then clung for a just a second as it rearranged it’s legs. The hint of a smile spread across his lips, moving his finger forward a bit more, keeping his eyes on the little creature as it began to climb further up onto his fingertip to creep toward his palm. The boy was fascinated peering down into his hand and sat back on his feet atop the hard wooden floor, simply entranced.

“He ain’t stupid!” the older boy growled suddenly, walking into the room, “Maybe he just doesn’t like you,” he offered instead as he shoved past her with his shoulder, “Why are you even here?” the blonde boy crossed his arms.

“Dad sent mom to work,” the girl replied in a bit of a snotty tone, “I needed to go somewhere,” she said simply. The boy held his stance and creased his brow.

“And it had to be here?” he asked with annoyance. The little girl crossed her own arms and stuck her chin up.

“Me and your sister are friends, if you forgot,” she informed him, nudging the black haired girl with her elbow, who nodded, “And my mom’s only working today so yours doesn’t have to,” the girl held her snotty tone, “You don’t even have to say anything to me.”

“Yeah,” the boy growled back, “Well you don’t have to talk to him either,” he retorted, with a pointed gesture of his elbow toward the younger boy near the window, “So, just leave him alone.”

The blonde boy strode over to the couch, near the window where his younger brother was seated still peering down into his hand with wide eyes and the corner of his mouth pulled up slightly with enjoyment. The older boy watched him for a moment, then scooted closer, onto the edge of his cushion and reached out to ruffle a tuft of black hair. The younger boy flinched, screwed up his face and jerked back a bit before raising his eyes to see the contact had come from his brother and relaxed just a little.

“What’d you find today, Mick?” asked the blonde boy, leaning toward him, trying to peer into his hand as well, “Anything cool?”

The little boy's face seemed to light up at his brother's genuine interest, now moving to hold his hand up more, to show him what he had inside it. The older boy leaned in a bit more, with a curious crease of his brow to see the little spider moving along in tiny little steps. Both brothers held the same smile for a moment, watching before their eyes met, the older of the two giving him a gentle nudge to the shoulder with his elbow.

“Hey, that is pretty cool, little bro-bro,” he said genuinely, giving a nod, “Where’d you find it?” The little boy turned his head and pointed toward the window sill, his eyes never leaving his new, little friend. There was a sudden gasp of disgust, followed by a snotty, high pitched tone.

“Ew!” the little blonde girl pointed, “Why is he holding that thing?” she questioned, curling her lip up and scrunching her nose, “It’s nasty! Get rid of it!” She stuck out a pink shoed foot and gave the boy a light kick in the back, which he returned with a death glare, moving his occupied hand out of her reach. The black haired girl shot the blonde a mean look, just as the oldest child spoke up.

“Hey, I said to leave him alone,” he defended quickly, “You’re my age and you’re kicking him?” his voice was incredulous as he looked from the blonde girl to his sister, “Take her somewhere before I hit her back for hitting Mick,” the boy threatened through his teeth.

The girl stuck up her chin and crossed her arms, just as the boys' sister began to nod, reaching an arm out to her friend. But then the floor creaked just slightly as the door to the basement swung open and a young, pale woman with long, black hair and bright, blue eyes emerged from within carrying a laundry basket full of clothes. She turned her body, lifting the basket to slip past the cluttered dining room table and into the front room, setting the basket down atop the corner of the couch next to her eldest son.

“You kids better not be fighting again,” she woman chimed in a sweet voice as she sorted through a few articles near the top of the basket, “Enough now,” she ordered gently. The blonde boy shot a glare at glare at the girl still standing beside his sister who simply stuck her tongue out. The woman let out a sigh, dropping the clothes from her hands and looked between them. “What’s this about now?” she asked.

“She called Mickey stupid,” the boy accused pointing to their visitor and flicking his head toward his little brother, “And she kicked him,” he added. The boys' mother glanced down toward the floor in front of the window, near the recliner at her youngest son, seeing him still seated with his face turned away, focused on his hand, before turning to look at the only child in the room that wasn’t her own.

“You picking on him again?” she asked the girl with a firm tone and a serious face. The little girl turned her face down to stare at her feet and ran the toe of her shoe along the floor, not saying anything. Her eyes moved up only slightly, seeing the angry face of her accuser, then back along the floor toward the younger boy who didn’t seem to be paying much attention, then finally met the woman’s eyes.

“No,” the girl replied innocently with a bat of her eyes, “I didn’t do nothing,” she said.

“Liar!” the older boy yelled causing his little brother to break his attention and look over at him with a creased forehead. The woman placed a calming palm atop his shoulder and squeezed.

“Hush now,” she said, “It’s about time for Gigi to head back home anyway,” she commented, to which her son appeared rather smug and pleased. But the girl suddenly looked quite disappointed, uneasy, worried.

“Do I have to?” Gigi piped up quickly, “I know my mom isn’t home yet,” she explained, searching for an excuse to stay, but the dark haired woman began to give a sweet shake of her head.

“Sorry, honey,” her friend’s mother replied, “Supper will be done soon and Mr. Milkovich will be home soon too,” she said, “I know your mother’s still working, but your older brothers are home, right?”

The girl seemed to go pale and almost instantly dropped her eyes to the floor to drag her toe back across the wood, nervous. No one seemed to notice except the little boy seated near the window, who’d been sneakily peeking up just a bit at the conversation nearby. He knew a bit of that look, as he’d seen in his own reflection before and in the faces of his closest siblings and even his mother. It was fear. She was afraid and he could clearly see it as he watched the girl twiddle her fingers together uncomfortably and shift her feet around. But still, he said nothing, looking back down to the interest still cradled within his pale, little palm. Gigi hesitantly tucked a long lock of blonde hair back behind her ear, but didn’t look up.

“Yeah,” she confirmed quietly, “They’re home.” The woman looked back at her eldest son and gave a tip of her head.

“Iggy, will you please walk Gigi home?” she asked nicely, “Make sure she gets there okay?” But Iggy just frowned and bore a rather defensive posture, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Why's it gotta be me?” he scoffed with annoyance, “She’s Mandy's friend, not mine,” the boy pointed, then shook his head, “Why can’t she walk herself?” His mother smiled calmly, yet held a bit of a stern expression.

“Because I asked you,” she informed him, “And look outside,” the woman added with a point toward the window, just as a streak of lightening split through the clouds, “I’m not sending her out to walk home alone in that,” her son frowned more deeply, shooting a glance at the blonde girl, frustrated, “So you’re going to walk with her,” she finalized. The boy huffed, his face turned a bit red and didn’t move right away. The woman peered down into her son’s face with a high, expectant raise of her eyebrows and a tight press of her lips, “Go on now,” she insisted with and urging wave of her hand. The boy sighed heavily, and turned to make steps toward the door.

“Fine,” he conceded roughly, looking at the girl as he moved, “Get your stupid jacket,” Iggy ordered with a point. She returned his glare, then softened her face to look toward her friend, full of disappointment. Mandy gave her an apologetic expression and reached to rub her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, you can come back over tomorrow,” she offered, then looked toward her mother, “Right, mom?” her daughter asked. The woman gave another nod and a sweet, rougey smile.

“Of course,” she replied, “But I’ll be working and Joey and Colin are still out of town, so Iggy will be in charge,” the woman explained, “So you’ll have to listen to him. No fighting,” she said looking from her daughter to the other little girl with another firm expression. Gigi looked from the woman to the blonde boy across the room seeing him appear quite smug, listening to his mother’s words while he slipped his arms inside his jacket, “Think you can do that?” the woman asked.

The little girl looked back toward Iggy, seeing him still holding the same expression and though she seemed to be rather unhappy with having to listen to a boy her own age, let alone Iggy, she knew that she didn't have much choice. The little boy in the floor silently glanced back up toward the exchange, watching as his sister’s friend contemplated her options in her head before slumping her shoulders and gave his mother an expression of acknowledgment, slowly nodding in defeat.

“Okay,” she agreed quietly, and began to walk toward the coat rack near the door, pulling a bright, pink jacket down from a hook and slipped it on. The black haired girl seemed quite disappointed that her friend had to leave, watching with a frown and giving a small wave of departure, which was returned with the same posture and expression. Gigi and Iggy exchanged another disdainful glance as they made steps toward the door.

“Be careful,” the black haired woman advised, “And get home quick for dinner, Iggy,” she added, “Your father will be home soon,” she reminded again, her tone laced with warning.

Her son rolled his eyes with a heavy, exaggerated nod then pulled open the door, letting in a thick wisp of rain and leaves and wind, shoving past the girl to go through the doorway first. The little blonde girl flashed a final glance back at her friend, then met the little boy’s blue eyes for just an instant as he watched her finally walk through the door and close it behind her.

He then raised himself back onto his knees, scooted toward the window and peered out once again, careful of the tiny spider that he still held in his hand. The boy watched as they made their way down the sidewalk with their hoods up, hopelessly shielding them from the wind and rain. They spoke back and forth in words he couldn’t hear, shoving elbows and exchanging angry expressions until they disappeared around the corner. The little boy blinked and sat back on his feet, then suddenly felt the slightest tickling sensation creeping along his thumb. He dropped his eyes back down, seeing the spider walking to the tip of his finger, pressing the end of it’s abdomen down on his skin and pulling away a thin line of silk. He leaned in close, observing the little, yellow creature tether a safety line along the edge of his thumb, and crawled into the back of it, causing the boy to turn his hand over to follow it. There was a slight creak in the wood of the floor as his sister approached and squat down beside him. They both stayed silent for a moment, the boy watching his new discovery crawl along his skin, the girl sparkling pretty, blue eyes over his face, before she spoke in a very low voice.

“I’m sorry about Gigi, “ she offered quietly, “She’s had it rough at home lately,” said Mandy, seeing her little brother meet her eyes with a rather blank expression, then drop them again. She leaned forward a little more, speaking even more quietly, “Her dad and brothers aren’t very nice,” his sister said slowly, “Kinda like ours.” The boy stayed quiet, his eyes still focused downward, but he was listening. The girl pressed her lips together and dropped her eyes as well, seeing what her brother was so interested in.

“Hey, that’s a pretty one,” she complimented, her little brother smiling just slightly at the words, eyes locked on the little creature, now lowering a bit on a thread to dangle from the tip of his thumb. He raised his hand up to eye level, his tongue moving slowly along the underside of his lip, still completely intrigued. They both watched as it spun delicately, little legs dancing around the base of it’s abdomen, twisting and weaving the silk into a strong support as it lowered itself. When the light hit it, the string began to shimmer, began to sparkle and as the spider turned, intricate little patterns etched across it began to reveal more of themselves, tracing softly along it’s body. The little boy laid one palm beneath the other, catching the little arachnid and smiling as he did so.

Their mother turned from where she stood folding laundry, peering down at her two children on the floor and smiled gently, dropping a half folded shirt and taking a few steps toward them. She leaned down as well, seeing the spider that her youngest son had caught, then noticed his happy little face and ran her fingers through his hair. The contact made him look up with a bit of an eyebrow raised, but relaxed upon seeing his mother’s expression of admiration. The woman leaned down, her hand still in his hair and placed a soft, sweet kiss atop his head.

“My sweet boy, you see the beauty in everything,” she praised into his scalp, giving it a gentle caress of her fingers, then straightened back up and gestured her chin toward the tiny creature, “I think it’s an orb weaver,” she suggested, “Just a baby though. They get a lot bigger.” Both her children met her face with wide eyes, the boy’s from excitement, the girl’s from what may have very well been worry.

“Bigger?” the black haired girl repeated with a disbelieving jaw drop. The woman giggled through her nose and gave a nod, causing the girl to turn back to her brother, “If that thing starts getting bigger, you can’t keep it, Mick,” she insisted, “We have enough giant spiders living here.” The little boy scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue, covering one palm over the other, shielding his tiny companion.

“He wouldn’t be able to keep it, anyway,” their mother interjected simply, which was met by relief from her daughter and a striking look of shattered hope from her son as his shoulders slumped low and heavy. The woman quickly placed a hand back atop his head, giving it a soothing rub, “They live outside, Mickey honey,” two sets of deep, blue eyes glittering together, “It'll die in here.”

The boy pursed his lips as another subtle sting rose into his eyes, that he willed away with a hard blink, looking back down into his hand. The little spider was making it’s way to his thumb once more, preparing it’s silk at the end of it’s abdomen, presumably to attach and cast off again. Slowly he nodded, defeated, with a heavy fall of his chest, letting himself calm from the loving brush of his mother’s fingertips still moving through his hair. He blinked up to the window with a flutter of lashes, following the streaks of rain as they rolled down the glass in small, trailing streams, smudging and brushing along the glass when a sharp gust of wind pulled at them. His eyebrows pulled together with worry, then looked back toward his mother and pointed, causing her to look as well. She raised her own eyebrows and smiled back down at him, her own eyelashes batting with a soft, feathery blink.

“You can keep it until it stops raining, okay?” His mother offered, but raised a single index finger just as her youngest son’s excitement began to erupt, halting him on his knees with a wide smile spread across his face, “But, only if you promise not lose it in here,” she clarified, “Can I trust you to do that?” the woman asked, which was returned by an extremely confident nod and an even bigger grin, “But don’t let your father find it,” the woman warned in a whisper, causing his sister to nod in agreement, “You know how he is about these kind of things.” The little boy held his own nod, understanding, looking back down at the spider on his thumb, now attaching a thread to descend from.

“But why does it always have to be some creepy, crawly thing, Mick?” Mandy asked full of curiosity, “Why cant you ever find like a bunny somewhere?” Her brother shrugged, his eyes never leaving his little friend as it began to twist and twirl from it’s string of silk, raising his other palm back up to catch it again. The woman looked at her daughter and tilted her head.

“Sometimes things are much more than they appear, honey,” she said.

Her son looked back up, letting his eyes trace over his mother’s face, seeing the sparkle of the blue in her eyes, the rosy pop of her cheeks and the shine on the waves of pitch in her hair. She was beautiful and caring, sweet and understanding, a light when things felt dark, a guide when he felt lost and she was simply perfect. His cheeks flushed red, as his smile threatened to permanently stick to his face and his mother’s eyes met his own once more to twinkle over his face.

Having to live in the same house with a man like his father was never easy, never relaxed or happy. But times like now, when his mother was allowed to be home with him and his siblings, not forced to go out and work, these times were calming, quiet, peaceful. It was easy right now, not having to be tense and constantly on guard, unable to just be. But perhaps it was too easy, too quiet, too calm, because almost all at once, just as a quiet exhale passed through the little boy’s lips, the peace was shattered by a crashing body bounding through the front door atop a pair of hard stumbling feet.

Their father was home, and clearly quite drunk, reeking a cloud of alcohol out from his pores, and grumbling, sputtering, cursing under his breath as he clambered in and swung the door shut behind him with a loud, violent smack, causing the entire room to flinch at the sound. His eyes were bloodshot and sweat beaded a furled brow as he swayed in his movements, making steps further inside, shaking the floor beneath him. The man’s wife quickly looked down at her children, and began motioning with her hand to get up and leave, to get away and go somewhere else, now opening her mouth to speak when her entire body was swung sideways by a flat, sharp slap to her face.

Both children’s jaws dropped open in shock and terror, jumping from the sight, the little boy accidentally dropping his spider to the floor. He felt the heat rising into his face, into his chest and began pulsing through his limbs and prickling at the tips of his fingers as his hands curled into fists. The boy’s brow creased hard as he turned his head, seeing his father advancing on his mother again and something erupted inside him as he clamped his teeth together and moved to bolt from the floor. But he was caught firmly by his sister, who wrapped her arms around him in a single, swift motion and quickly stuffed them both back into the cramped little space behind the recliner next to them, hiding them away under the blanket that draped over the back of it.

They squeezed together as tight as they could, hoping they hadn’t been noticed by the raging parental figure now yelling and cursing on the other side of it. The little boy was fuming, struggling against his sister as she tried to calm him, tried to sooth him, holding his head close to her chest and shushing softly in his ear. He was near the edge of their space, able to still see what was happening, though he was unable to get away from his sister to stop it, forced to watch instead. The strike had flung his mother’s body onto the edge of the couch, down atop the laundry basket, tipping it over and spilling their clean clothes across the floor. The woman brought a hand to her reddening face, her eyes full of fear as she watched her husband move close with rage and hate spewing from his mouth.

“The fuck kinda shit is this I been hearin' today 'bout your lyin' bitch ass takin' off a work?!” he questioned in a terrifyingly angry and booming tone, “The fuck makes you think you could go and do some shit like that without my say so?!” he got close, towering over his wife as his words sputtered her with spit, “You think you run this shit, bitch? That what this is?”

The woman cowered and trembled, unaware her youngest son could see her from his concealed spot nearby. The boy couldn’t pull his eyes away, still shaking from anger, from fear, from nerves, petrified of what his father may do to his mother, wishing he could stop it, but unable to do anything at all. Terry moved even closer, swinging another open palm out toward his wife's face, then grabbed her by the neck and began to shake her. Their son was still shaking himself, feeling his sister squeeze him tighter and suddenly pull him a bit farther back into their space, obstructing his vision, now only able to see his parent’s feet. He clenched his teeth, feeling the hot sting of tears begin to fill his eyes, hearing their mother begin to struggle and scream.

The knuckles of his fists were turning white as he suddenly saw a speck of golden movement on the floor, looking to see his forgotten companion making it’s way across it toward the altercation. His lips trembled, knowing it was too far to reach and rescue, now beginning to feel completely and totally useless, helpless, hopeless. He then felt his sister lean close to his ear and heard her softly begin to sing, perhaps hoping to distract him from the terrors around him.

“The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout,”

There was a scuffle, as he saw their feet tangle together on the floor, just a short distance away from the tiny creature still unknowingly walking straight into danger. He heard another loud smack and a gasp over the grumbling, incoherent noises of his father, feeling the floor shake and hearing a sharp scrape from a piece of furniture being forcibly moved, perhaps from a body being shoved into it.

“You don’t decide shit!” he heard his father growl, “I decide your shit! You fuckin' hear me, cunt?!”

“Down came the rain and washed the spider out,”

There was loud shattering of glass right beside them, just after he saw his mother’s feet lift into the air and become thrown back sending her body through the face of the coffee table. And for a moment, the only sound he could register was his mother’s screams and the sound of his father’s fists connecting with flesh, his eyes still watching his spider creep dangerously closer to his father’s feet, as his mother’s kicked through a pile of broken glass, the tears threatening to fall from his eyes no matter how hard he fought not to let them. Then his sisters soft, soothing melody filled his ears again, for just a second.

“Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,”

His mother’s screams stopped and her kicks ceased, but he could still hear her breathing as heavy and labored as it was. He was see his father’s feet take a step back, a few chips of broken glass sparkling around the soles of his boots, his own breathing heavy as well, exhausted from the assault. His feet began to turn when they suddenly halted in the direction of his son’s tiny companion that was now nearly close enough to climb onto his shoe.

“Stupid little fucker always dragging this nasty shit into the house.” He sneered, then raised his foot and brought it down hard atop the little creature, squishing it, smashing it, crushing it into the floor with a sharp twist of his ankle. The man then hawked his throat back and spat somewhere nearby, now making hard, clapping steps deeper into the house.

The little boy looked down to the floor, at the spot where the mangled little spider lay, no longer moving, no longer creeping, no longer spinning silk, hardly recognizable as anything that could once have been living just a few seconds ago, simply destroyed. Dark lashes flickered, as blue eyes stared, his shakes melting into a simmering wave of despair, pulling a single tear from his eye, to trail down his cheek. His sister’s fingers brushed through his hair, gently combing back the soft strands of pitch and she squeezed him real tight as the rain suddenly got heavier, pattering harder across the sill behind the glass beside them and he felt his lip tremble once more.

“And the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again."

***

He shifted, pressing his eyes together tight, letting a small groan pass through his lips, annoyed by the sudden invasion of morning sunlight. The body beside him was warm and strong, with a sweet, addictive aroma lingering on it’s skin as the man still lay curled up beside him, under his arm. He creased his brow a bit, looking him over slowly, seeing him still asleep, his arms wrapped over his chest and the blanket covering him up to his shoulders, having pulled it off of his roommate sometime during the night. Mickey reached a hand out to gently grasp the redhead’s shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze, now leaning his face down some to speak in a soft, low voice.

“Aye,” he said with a squeeze, “Rise and fuckin' shine, man,” Mickey urged gently, letting a small smile pull at the corner of his mouth. But the other man didn’t move, or shift, didn’t open his eyes, just laid still. Thinking that perhaps the redhead had just fallen into a rather deep slumber, he didn’t hesitate to try again.

“Yo,” Mickey whispered, “Time to get the fuck up, Red,” he tried to inform him beginning to rub his thumb along the spot his hand held. But again, Ian didn’t move, which Mickey was beginning to find quite strange and he was a little unsure of what to do. He looked at him for a moment, listening to his breath and watching him sleep before moving his hand up to brush his thumb along the other man’s temple.

“Red,” he said again, “You hear me in there, man?” Mickey queried softly, finally getting a bit of a response in the form of a light hum passing through his roommate’s nose. The dark haired man’s smile returned a bit as he moved his other arm to bend beneath his head for support and he rolled onto his side to face the redhead more properly. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, which was sort of unusual, but still, he could just be really tired.

“Gotta get outta bed,” Mickey advised, “As much as it fuckin' sucks,” he chuckled, “Can’t stay any fuckin' longer, man. Med line and shit,” Ian didn’t respond, not at all moving, or speaking, not even the slightest flutter of his eye lashes. It was almost like he wasn’t there at all, as if the person inside had simply disappeared and left a mere shell behind. The other man was quickly growing concerned, the longer the silence went on, dropping his smirk and bearing a rather serious expression. Mickey lay his hand over Ian’s upper arm and gave it a slighter firmer rub.

“Aye, man,” he said, “You fuckin' alright?” Still nothing. Mickey knitted his eyebrows together with a hard scrunch of his brow and began moving to sit up, now looking down at his silent roommate still presumably sleeping beside him in his bed. He placed a hand on his hip and gave a bit more of a shake.

“Yo,” Mickey tried a bit louder, “Red, you cool? You fuckin' need somethin'?” But he was simply met again with silence. 'What the fuck,'

He stared down at him for a long moment before carefully raising his body, to swing a leg over his roommate and emerge from his bed. He turned back to the redhead pausing for a moment and chewing his lip in thought before he crossed the room to change his clothes. Just as he pulled a fresh shirt over his head, he heard a slight shift of movement and his face suddenly shot back toward the bed. Ian was pulling Mickey’s blanket up to cover his face and began curling into a ball beneath it. Mickey adjusted his shirt, taking a quick tug at the shoulders of it and smoothing his palms down the front, then began making steps back toward his roommate.

“Aye,” Mickey attempted to greet him once more, moving to sit on the edge of the bed beside him, “If somethin's wrong, ya gotta fuckin' tell me man,” he insisted quietly.

There was a slight shift of movement from beneath the blanket and he heard a heavy exhale, seeing the lump within slump further into the mattress. The dark haired man pressed his lips together and reached out for his roommate’s shoulder once more.

“Please,” he ple