Watching Ian work out is actually terrifying.

Mickey doesn't make a habit out of it; he doesn't stalk the kid, but Ian has this weird thing about push-ups and curl-ups and swinging from random high-rising objects (i.e, Mickey's door frame) lately and it's kind of hard to stop from staring.

Anyway, beyond the obvious, it's pretty terrifying, because Mickey still isn't sure how Ian shot up four inches in six months at the age of 16, and he still isn't sure when the fuck Ian decided to fill out. Maybe it's the hair. Maybe it isn't. Six months is too long to be apart from a teenage boy.

"You're going to fuckin' break it," Mickey says, lighting a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, watching Ian dangling precariously from the door frame for a couple of halfhearted pull-ups. Years of slamming the door have already left splinters in the wood and for a moment Mickey thinks about how he'd explain a broken door frame.

"Probably." Ian's voice is strained and, okay, Mickey can't help it - he's been pretty ready to go for five full minutes' worth of staring.

Mickey doesn't ask about West Point because that'd be kind of boyfriend-y of him to do, and next they'll be holding hands and lighting candles or some shit. Still he wonders how that whole thing is going. He doesn't really register the idea of Ian leaving, and he doesn't stop to think about why he deliberately avoids that train of thought.

He breathes out a cloud of smoke. "We have an hour until Mandy gets home from the mall," he says, which is really just him asking Ian to quit playing soldier and get naked instead, but Ian doesn't seem to hear him for a moment.

Finally he lets go, landing with a soft thud on the carpet, glancing up with sweat slicked to his brow. Fuck. Mickey's going to miss that when Ian's gone.

The thought tastes sour and bitter in his mouth and Ian says, "Already?" with a tiny half-smile twisting the corners of his lips, something that sends Mickey's heart burning a trail up his throat.

He's already kind of fucking screwed.


The thing is this: Ian talks a whole fucking lot about West Point, because regardless what is really happening, there's still a - okay, boyfriend-y type thing happening here, and Ian wants Mickey to care about the shit happening in his life and Mickey cares but doesn't want to think about Ian leaving anytime soon, doesn't want to think about the possibility of receiving scattered phonecalls throughout the year, ones that eventually stop coming, letters that never came in the first place. He doesn't want to think about that. But he listens, anyway, like Ian wants him to.

And another thing is, Ian really thinks he's good enough, and Mickey doesn't know shit about the army but he knows that Ian is generally always right, and he's probably good enough, probably better than that, and he's got Lip, the kid genius, to help. It's an inevitability that Ian is going to leave. Mickey can't help himself - he thinks about it a lot and hates himself for being That Guy, but whatever.

Just, whatever. He's That Guy.

Ian talks about it a lot, and the way his eyes light up and the way his lips curve involuntarily prove that it's really what he wants. And Mickey is selfish. He's the most selfish fucker in the world, because he really doesn't want to give this shit up.

But he says, "You know you'll get in, shut the fuck up," and Ian grins wide and honest and Mickey thinks, for a second, that he's going to just do what he's wanted to do for such a long time and kiss him, and in that second Mickey wants - wants -

He doesn't, and Mickey still wants, but that quiet kind of want that sits low and secret in his stomach.


Lip does this shitty thing where he exists, sometimes.

"Hey, Mick." And this is about Ian - Mickey can tell because of the way Lip's shoulders are braced like he's waiting for a fight or picking one or, whatever he's doing - it's about Ian. Ian is Lip's business and Mickey is Ian's business, so he's basically their bitch at this point.

"I'm working." He isn't, because surprisingly ever since Kash tore up Mickey's leg, there's been less and less people milling about, more and more people walking the extra block to the 7-11. Ian pulled enough strings to get him there but that was selfish, not really a favor to anyone but them.

Lip smiles wide and mocking and Mickey hates him, a little. "Ian's told you about West Point, right?"

Mickey doesn't know how to respond because it feels like he's just swallowed needles. "Sure."

"He needs this shit." Lip is being honest, and he's being real with Mickey in a way he appreciates grudgingly, the way he's totally no-bullshit about his point. Mickey can't get in the way and he can't discourage him from doing this because - Ian cares about what Mickey thinks and he cares about what he says, and the realization hits pretty hard. Boyfriends. The word sits angry and hesitant on his tongue.

Mickey shrugs a little. "I know." And he does, that's kind of it - he knows Ian needs to get out of shitty fucking Chicago, hell, him leaving does so many favors and opens up doors and all that symbolic crap, and Ian really wants this, and maybe Lip and Mickey both don't want him to get shot in the eye or wherever the fuck, but it's not about them. Not really, not even a little.

And in that sliver of a moment before Ian comes down from tending to Linda, Lip gives Mickey a look and they understand each other a lot better than they ever have, because it's not about them anymore. It's about Ian.

Mickey's whole fucking life is about that fucking kid.


The world spins on its axis a little faster and Mickey feels nauseous waiting for Ian to finish cleaning up behind the counter. He tries to imagine a world where he gets home from work alone, and Ian isn't waiting for him or walking with him and they don't talk about anything except for shit that doesn't matter.

"Ready to go?"

Ian is so close, so close Mickey could quickly close the space between them if he just went for it, and for a moment he seriously considers giving up and just planting a fucking one on him. He tries to imagine Ian's face when - if - but everything tastes like bile in his throat and he's thinking too hard about everything.

He wants, he wants, he wants - something.

"Yeah," and they stumble towards each other, the world spinning too fast and their feet unbalanced and wobbly, and Mickey wants.


Shit, motherfucking God damn it - he doesn't want Ian to go. He's stuck staring at the negatives, knows what he doesn't want, doesn't know how to go after what he does. He's not Ian. He's not better than Chicago, he's not better than any of this, and maybe he's not good enough for Ian, maybe he's not worth anything more than quick hard fucks against cold brick walls and beds that creak too loud.

Negatives. Ian is the best fucking thing to ever happen to him sometimes, most of the time, all of the time, and Mickey is too selfish and too cruel and one day, one day, he'll be one of Ian's regrets.


But Mickey wants anyways.

Ian is talking about West Point again, like it's a fantasy, like it's unattainable, and Mickey keeps thinking about how it's not about him, it shouldn't be, even if it is. He finally cuts all his losses and kisses Ian brief and silent, feeling his own heart stutter in protest and feeling his skin turn hot and flush with excitement.

And Ian's fucking looking at him like this is what he wants, like it's what he deserves, and Mickey says, "Shut the fuck up," but Ian's not saying a word, just grinning like he has the best fucking secret.


The thing is, Ian is worth so much more than this and Mickey doesn't deserve the way Ian looks at him and the way he touches him and the way he kisses him slow and easy and warm, but Mickey still wants it all. The most selfish fucker alive.