Sometimes they don't even have to be touching at all, Ian's mouth so close to Mickey's that he can taste the cigarettes he didn't smoke, laughing and pretending this isn't what it is, something neither of them can name. They don't have to be touching or looking at each other, but when Mickey exhales sharply and Ian breathes it in, it's something different, something closer than that, and they don't even have to give it a name.
They're laughing and pretending and Ian doesn't want it to stop.
But other times.
Ian presses his palm to Mickey's cheek and can hear his heart hammering in his chest, thrashing against his ribcage. He hushes him like a small child, wants to hold him and tell him it's going to be fine, he's going to be fine, but Mickey has tears in his eyes and still doesn't look at him when he kisses him.
"Stay with me." Ian can't stop staring at the bullet hole in Mickey's leg, feels Kash's gaze burning his neck.
Ian nods and waits until he can hear the sirens wailing and see the red and blue light like fire on Mickey's skin. He walks away and Mickey whimpers his name and there's something horrible about the way he lies crumpled on the floor when Ian turns to look back, sad and broken and crying, a boy who pretends to be big and strong but still feels pain all the same, like anyone else.
Ian doesn't look back again.
The day Mickey gets home from juvie is hot and miserable and the Milkovich's are having a welcome-home party. Ian goes because Mandy invites him and Mickey watches him the entire time, doesn't look away even once. Ian visited him every month but he still feels like it wasn't enough.
It's nighttime when Mickey pulls Ian away and they sit in the back of his truck and they don't even touch, they don't even have to. Mickey says nothing and Ian says everything, talks about his sisters and Lip and Liam and Carl, and he can't stop talking, can't get enough words in. Mickey doesn't look away once and Ian touches a bruise on his face, faded and soft, asking for an answer.
"I didn't start it," Mickey says, and Ian believes him.
He pushes his forehead against Mickey's and doesn't really look at his eyes, doesn't want to see what's in there. In the darkness they pretend that it's about the sex.
Ian yanks at Mickey's belt loop and there's something in the way Mickey's heart thumps against his own that makes him feel like this is okay.
Ian wets his lips and slows his hand. Tenses, but he can't help it. One day they're going to have to stop.
Mickey meets his gaze (doesn't even look away) and there's a ghost of a smile on his lips, hollow and honest. His voice is thick and low and rumbling in Ian's ears. "Missed you."
They don't even have to fuck. Ian wraps his arms around Mickey's shoulders and they just breathe.
Laughing, they grip each other's hands and push-and-pull in both directions, the stars swimming in their eyes and booze on their breath. Laughing, they close the space again and again and again and pass the bottle back and forth. Ian is good at this part. Pretending.
Pushed up against the wooden fence outside Ian's house, Mickey pulls him close and doesn't breathe at all. Ian breathes for him, giggling and breathless, not quite sure what's so funny.
"Gallagher," Mickey starts, and Ian stops laughing.
Looks at him in the eyes. Struggles to focus. His tongue is thick with alcohol and his heart is weightless. There are too many layers between them.
"You miss me?" Mickey breathes, mouth so close to Ian's that their lips are almost brushing.
The night is heavy and Ian is lighter than air. "Yeah." And he smiles, closing the hairbreadth of emptiness between them. They pretend that it doesn't feel like more than what it is.
Ian stumbles up the steps to his house and turns around once. Mickey's already walking away, the back of his head just visible in a dim outline cast by the streetlight.
He pretends he doesn't feel hollow about the way Mickey doesn't look back.