A/N: this came out of nowhere but basically someone in my tracked tag brought up a hypothetical prom situation/headcanon and i asked them if i could use it for a fic and they were like sure that's fine and this happened, it's got very little organization and it's non-beta'd as is everything i do but i hope it's satisfactory and all that. credit to boybootywonder for the general basis of the plot

Prom comes in a flurry of whispers in the crowded hallways, like a tidal wave. Ian isn't even sure what's happening for the first few days, because he doesn't pay attention to the announcements and isn't really included in any circle of people. Maybe he just doesn't care enough, but it happens when Henry Walling whispers across the table, "Who are you taking to prom?"

"Prom?" Ian looks up and blinks dumbly, because he's certain he's heard nothing about anything close toprom.

Henry is a short, dorky plump kid with too-thick glasses and acne blooming red and angry across his cheeks. "Yeah, fuckwit. What, you didn't know?"

Ian shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders a little, already realizing that this is a territory he didn't want to visit with a kid who he only talked to once for some geometry answers. "Guess I'm not going."

"Fag," Henry mutters under his breath, just loud enough for Ian to hear but not serious enough for him to care. "Whatever, your loss. I'm taking Jessica Sanders."

He sincerely has no idea who that is; due to the unfortunate side-effect of not being interested in girls, they all seemed to kind of blend together. There were a million Jessica's, and none of them seemed very special, but Ian nods appreciatively anyway, thinking that she might be a bit blind and maybe deaf too if Henry was taking her.

He entertains the thought for the rest of the physics lesson that he doesn't listen to.

It's been a week and already prom has gotten on Ian's nerves. It's become painfully obvious to everyone around him that he isn't going, which raises suspicion, and copious side-eyeing when he walks into the room, like suddenly the focus on the fact that Ian doesn't have a girlfriend has been amplified by the thousands.

He hears a couple people whisper sagely, he might still be torn up about Mandy, which, yeah, not at all, but okay. Mandy got a boyfriend last summer, which is fine, kind of relieving in a way that Ian doesn't have to worry about the way she looks at him when she thinks he doesn't notice.

Anyway, no. The problem isn't that Ian doesn't want to go — he doesn't, but it's still not the problem — the real issue is that he can't. He tries to imagine bringing a boy on his arm or whatever into the basketball stadium and kind of laughs because no. Like, never.

It has little to do with the fact that Mickey graduated and technically can't attend any school event unless he's a chaperone, which he wouldn't even be allowed to anyway, considering they only passed him because they didn't want him back. And Ian wouldn't want to go with anyone else. Obviously.

Which is what he tells him, passing a cigarette in between them, sharing the smoke permeating in the air in front of their mouths.

"It's bullshit. I don't even want to go."

Mickey gives him a side-glance, something he does when he's thinking too much about something too little. "You sure?"

Ian shrugs at that, shifting the bedsheets with his back flat against the wall. Next to him is the new-ish poster that covers the dent Ian made when Mickey slammed him onto the bed the first time, a million years ago. "Can you imagine me bringing a guy into the room?"

Mickey laughs too loud, snatches the cigarette out of Ian's mouth and sliding it in between his lips. "A guy?" His voice tremors a little, almost unnoticeable.

"Obviously you." Ian's staring now, which Mickey usually hates, but sometimes he lets him if he's feeling particularly vulnerable. "But you wouldn't go." It's kind of a question, except it isn't, because Ian knows the answer before the words even touch his tongue.

And Mickey almost doesn't answer, because it really is that simple, it really is that apparent. "Nah." His voice is soft, a little breakable, but not quite. "You should still go. Find a girl, or something."

Ian stubs the cigarette out on the wall, watches the ashes fall behind the bed, a sort of makeshift ashtray by now. He leans across the hairbreadth of space presses a kiss to the line of Mickey's jaw.

"I don't want a girl," he whispers into the warm skin, and for a single moment, no one is breathing or talking and he can only hear Mickey's pulse thrumming just beneath his lips.

Prom, it seems, is the only thing Mandy wants to talk about.

She shows up to his house uninvited, as she usually does, shoving past him with a stack of old yearbooks in her arms.

She says something like, "I need to show you how hideous these dresses were when my mom went to school, she showed me them, and I was like, how in the world would anyone wear these, I thought you'd enjoy looking at them, you are going to prom aren't you and do you think Derek would like this dress or should I go with the pink one, I should go with the pink one shouldn't I, thanks Ian you're the best!"

She leaves after two hours and he doesn't really absorb anything she's said, but somewhere in between all her words, he tells her he isn't going, and she looks really crushed in the way that only Mandy can.

"But whyyy?"

"Can you imagine me taking —" But he doesn't finish that sentence, because it's kind of his only excuse at this point, and she's already started to interrupt him.

"Um, bullshit! You can go with me and Derek."

Ian cannot for the life of him think of a worse fate, but he smiles a little and says, "No thanks, I'm not gonna be your third wheel," which she doesn't argue with, giving him some kind of alibi. She still looks a little sad when she leaves, giving him a kiss on the cheek and saying, "Just let me know, okay?" in a way that means she's not expecting him to change his mind.

Prom is all anyone can talk about, and despite himself, it's all he can think about, too.

Fiona — God bless her, you know, because she lives in this really special nostalgic world that Ian envies, in which prom is super important and special to her, so it should be equally as important and special to everyone else, which it kind of isn't. But she gives him these eyes when she says, "Are you going to your prom?" that basically tell him she'll be deeply hurt if he says no, so he tells her yes, of course I'm going to prom, Mandy invited me to go with her and Derek and is that okay with you?

And Fiona says, "Yes, of course!" and she's so excited and proud that he feels kind of bad for lying. He knows she wants him to create memories and live his life and all that sentimental adult stuff, and that she feels bad that she didn't go to her senior prom, so it makes sense that she's so eager to help him find a tux and everything.

Plus, this is kind of his last time he'll get to do this kind of stuff. Graduation is four and a half months away, and in almost six months exactly, he'll be receiving a letter that goes something like, "We expect to be seeing you at West Point soon," and a bunch of pictures of sickeningly happy soldiers looking really happy to be soldiers to further endorse the idea that this is what you want for your son/grandson/brother, sorry he might get shot or killed and all.

So he lets her baby him because maybe she feels like this is her last chance to do it. This isn't really about him anymore.

Except Fiona really wants Steve/Jimmy to take Ian in some expensive car that he actually bought himself, baby-steps and all that, and Ian can't really say no, he'd rather walk, because who would say that on senior prom night?

Ian is telling all this to Mickey, who's making non-committal grunts every few minutes, a tell-tale sign that he doesn't care or really isn't paying attention at all.

But Ian says, "I think it's because I'm leaving so soon," which makes the room get all tense and quiet, the silence suddenly seeming way too loud.

Mickey exhales a cloud of smoke and rolls over onto his stomach from underneath the covers, peering up at Ian with eyes that say a lot of things at once, too fast for Ian to read. "I forgot about that," he says, trying to laugh but failing really badly at it.

"Six months." Ian doesn't know why he can't shut the fuck up about it. It's what he's wanted since he was like, nine, when a soldier came in to the classroom with some foundation trying to give encouragement to kids living in shitty neighborhoods. As the date of his departure looms ever-closer, he's starting to wonder why he won't just stay home.

Except that he's better than southside Chicago, everyone knows that. Even Mickey, who hasn't stepped foot outside of this city, who probably never will, who's staring at him like he's the only person in the entire world.

Ian barely breathes. "Sorry."

Mickey shrugs a little. "It's your life," he says, trying to sound cavalier, but failing miserably at it.

Ian wriggles down beneath the covers, facing Mickey with their heads on the same pillow, and all the worries about prom seem kind of far away. For a long second, no one says a word, and the shitty fan on the other side of the room is the only sound in the room.

Then Mickey says, "Go to prom, Ian," and everything feels so final about that little sentence that Ian kind of wants to puke.

Steve/Jimmy drives Ian to the stadium in a nice car, some kind of silver sports thing, but Ian's never been good at identifying cars like Lip is. He's wearing a tux Debbie snagged from the dry-cleaners, and Fiona gave him the phone they generally share, sending too many texts about staying safe and being good and if you do anything stupid I'll fucking kill you, have a nice time.

Ian ends up staring at the crowded doorway, staring at Mandy and her date getting their pictures out front, staring at everyone he's known since kindergarten falling victim to the final celebration of their last year at school, and he throws up in the bushes behind the gym.

He doesn't want to go he doesn't want to go he doesn't want to go.

In six months he'll be leaving and he doesn't want to go, not like he thought he did, and for several moments he thinks about staying in Chicago, staying to help Fiona with Debbie and Carl and Liam, staying with Mickey and never leaving and never doing anything else.

It's not really an option. He doesn't get to choose anymore, because he's better than shitty Chicago, because he wants it so bad. Ian pukes again and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He's not stepping foot inside of that fucking gym. It's like it'll make everything final, make everything solid and real, and he wishes he'd stayed ignorant.

Mickey is the only one home when Ian knocks quietly on the door, like he was waiting for him to show up, but the surprise on his face looks genuine. They sit in Mickey's overgrown backyard and don't talk for a long time.

Finally Mickey says, "Why didn't you go to prom?"

Ian stares at the sky, thinking about how all the stars he's seeing exploded years ago. He spares a thought about how long it would take for people back home to find out if he died in combat somewhere, if they would be praying for his safety while he's already lying dead in some desert thousands of miles away.

"I'd rather be here with you." He swallows the I love you on his tongue and Mickey smiles a little sadly and for a while they don't really talk about what's going to happen in six months.

But Mickey's voice is low and rumbling and tastes bitter like alcohol when he says, "I'm gonna miss you," and it all feels like an early goodbye, six months too early, a couple years too late, and the stars swimming in their eyes have already died a long time ago.