The thing about moving forward is, you have to have a destination. Something you want to reach, or attain. And Ian didn’t have that anymore. He was lost.
As soon as he gets home and lays in his own bed that night after ending things with Mickey, he feels that overwhelming fear start to rise up in him again, and before he knows it he’s up again and on his knees in front of the toilet, retching loudly while his head spins.
What did he do?
Mo startles him by pushing the bathroom door open with his nose, and he sits there whining until Ian puts his arms around him, holding onto him for support. He remembers what Mickey said, “Glad you guys can take care of each other while I can’t”.
“My backpack, Mo. Backpack” Ian says weakly, enormously grateful for the dogs training as he comes padding back into the bathroom a few minutes later with it.
Ian pulls out that small bottle of “emergency pills” and carefully tips one out, jamming it under his tongue and closing his eyes until he feels the panic begin to subside.
The pills, for the week and a half they last, keep him numb as he takes them every day, ignoring the doctor’s advice and not allowing himself to feel anything.
But when he goes back in, desperate to get a refill prescription, his doctor tells him he can’t keep taking them every day, or he won’t be able to get anymore. It’s an addictive substance apparently.
“You should seek counselling for your depression and anxiety. I have some resources I can direct you to” she offers. Ian bites his tongue to keep himself from telling her to fuck off.
Fuck sitting there and crying to someone over Mickey in counselling. What good would that do?
None of them knew Mickey like he did.
Late June (around two months later)
Ian walks home from school on the last day of Grade 11 alone.
He’d eventually managed to get back to work, and school. But Kash wasn’t pleased with his absentmindedness during his shifts, or how often he would take smoke breaks. And the school hadn’t of been pleased with the drop in his grades, or how often he was kicked out of class for not paying attention.
He started relying a little more on alcohol and weed, and he got caught sipping vodka from a water bottle in chemistry class on one of the last days of school. Fiona had been furious with him, and even Lip had looked at him strangely when he heard about it.
“Just...why?” was all he been able to say, and Ian couldn’t even answer him. Because he felt better when he drank or smoked, he guessed.
Because it was easier to get through the days that way.
He’d barely scraped by through that last month of school.
But lucky for him, because he’d been a good student before, his teachers had gone easy on him and allowed him to pass.
Ian ends up downtown one day after a full day at ROTC, and feeling a bit peckish he heads towards the first café he sees. He doesn’t realize where he is at first, not until the waitress comes over and he hears,
“Hey sunshine. Where’s your friend?”
Ian’s mouth drops open as he looks around himself and realizes he is back at Cora’s, where him and Mickey had gone to get breakfast together on Christmas Eve.
He feels tears welling into his eyes as he blinks up at her familiar face, lamely coming up with “He’s gone”.
She looks at him tenderly, clearly feeling awful for bringing it up, “Oh…I’m so sorry honey. Let me get you a coffee and a slice of apple pie. On the house”.
As summer soaked into the city of Chicago and its streets, the essence of Mickey seemed to dissipate from them. Mickey hadn’t walked these sidewalks for a few months now, hadn’t left cigarette butts underneath the school bleachers. No one had received a Milkovich beatdown, or a snide remark from his direction. Ian hadn’t heard his voice, his laugh. Or felt his hands, his lips.
In the beginning, he thought it would be easier for him, without the constant reminder of what he had lost.
But Mickey was everywhere. He was Chicago, he was the highschool bleachers, he was the South Side. He was everywhere and nowhere to be found, off making his mark in Memphis while Ian stayed behind and lived with only the ghost of him.
With more free time on his hands now that school was out, Ian had begun looking for Mickey in places without realizing it at first.
He had spent half a day underneath the highschool bleachers, somehow wondering if maybe Mickey would be there when he showed up, like he always used to be. Of course, there was no one there when Ian had arrived, and he had just sat there in the dirt for hours, thinking.
He goes to the abandoned construction site on Rogers Street next. He brings Mo with him this time, who bounds ahead of him eagerly. He seems dejected once they actually go inside the building with fuck spray painted over it, and find it empty.
Ian hadn’t brought Mo here at all since Mickey had left, so maybe the dog had thought they would find him here.
“He’s not here Mo” Ian says gently, his voice echoing slightly in the empty room as he looks around. He hears Mo bark and Ian turns to see him sniffing intently at something. An old can of spray paint lying forgotten on the floor.
But Ian’s eyes are quickly drawn to the wall above it, where a new piece stretches across it in bold red letters.
I fucking love him
Ian immediately walks up to it in wonder, running his fingers over the dry paint. It hadn’t been here the last time him and Mickey were here together.
Was it possible…?
Ian runs to the Milkovich house with Mo.
The dog is easily outrunning him, although he keeps looping back to Ian, picking up on his excitement and running with it.
Ian’s heart sinks when they get there and he sees the house still sitting just as it was left, hollow and empty. He suddenly remembers Mickey showing up on the morning he had left, after Ian had though he had taken off. He said he was coming back from a walk. He must have done the graffiti then.
Ian goes up the door anyways and knocks tentatively, but it’s useless. The padlock is still there too.
He goes around the side of the house to peek in Mickey’s old bedroom window, just to look at the bed they once shared, but the blind is drawn, and he can’t see anything.
When Ian comes back around to the front yard Mo is whining and pawing at the locked door, and Ian realizes it’s cruel to keep searching for Mickey this way. It’s hurting Mo, and it’s hurting him.
He doesn’t go back, as the summer goes on.
And things slowly change.
Fiona had pointed out one day that he was starting to neglect Mo, forgetting to walk him and sometimes even feed him, leaving her to pick up the slack, and it made Ian feel fucking awful.
Mo was all he had left of Mickey, and he hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t deserve this.
At first, he started out just making his days about the dog. Getting up and going out for walks, playing with him in the yard, buying him stuff. And then he started making days about himself too.
The days get longer, and hotter, and Ian finds himself getting through them a little more easily. He spends more time with his siblings, and he helps around the house more. He goes to work, and sticks with ROTC, taking advantage of their summer programs. His training there helps keep him healthy and in shape. His weight had continued to drop for some time since April, but he was finally more stable now, and he made an effort to eat better.
It becomes sort of a hobby for Ian, cooking up healthy meals for himself and looking into the nutrition information. Lots of fish, and chicken. Lots of veggies. Fiona’s thrilled when he makes dinner for them all, but less than thrilled when she sees the grocery bills, so he cuts back a bit.
He does all these things to distract himself as much as possible during the day, to keep himself moving forward instead of falling apart. He’d been dangerously close for a while.
He takes Mo on runs with him through the neighborhood sometimes, carefully avoiding areas that reminded him of Mickey. He had learned to avoid setting himself off, avoid giving in to the crushing sadness whenever he could.
Some nights, it still took his hold on him, and he felt more alone than ever as he silently cried, wishing he had done things differently.
There was one night that he almost gave in and sent Mickey a message, but he let himself look at Mickey’s Facebook page first, and he was surprised to see a new picture of him. He hadn’t uploaded it of course, it was Mandy’s, but he was tagged in it. It was a picture of them at some bar with what looked like a new group of friends.
Mickey didn’t look thrilled, but he did look okay. It wouldn’t fair to send him a message just because he was feeling weak. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt him any more.
It was especially hard when Liam would occasionally bring up Mickey, as he rarely talked at all, so it was clear he never left the little boy’s mind either. Liam would make scribble drawings and say they were for Mickey, and Ian carefully stored each one in a binder hidden in his dresser.
He wonders if someday he’ll be able to give them to Mickey.
Ian’s sitting on the porch one night, having a cigarette in the stifling summer heat with his free hand roaming lazily over Mo, when Lip comes out and joins him. He tips his head at the box of cigarettes, an unspoken question.
Ian hands one to his outstretched hand, and Lip takes it, scratching Mo’s head afterwards. “He’s a good dog, eh?” he says around the cigarette.
Ian nods, “Yeah”.
Lip looks at him for a long moment, “Still miss him, don’t you?”
He doesn’t have to say the name. In fact, most of the Gallaghers other than Liam usually avoided talking about Mickey now.
Ian’s eyes flicker upwards at the mention of him, named or not.
Lip takes a pull from his cigarette and tousles Ian’s red hair with his hand afterwards, “Never had a friend like that I guess. But you know, life goes on, doesn’t it?”
Ian doesn’t know what to say.