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Still a Better Ending than Shameless?

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Mickey sighs at his reflection in the mirror, before knocking back another shot of tequila and reaching for his purple eye shadow. He’s not sure what he expected Mexico to be like, but he couldn’t have imagined this. His life seemed to read stranger than fiction sometimes and apparently fate was not done toying with him yet.

He turns towards the spandex.

Emiliano sticks his head around the door.

“Diez minutos, cabrón.”

 Mickey gives a curt nod of acknowledgement, but doesn’t look up and Emiliano remains hovering by the door. He sniffles a bit and advances into the room instead.

“Here, Zacatecas’ finest.”

 Mickey looks over as he places a large glass ashtray on the dressing table and heads out. He’s glad the greedy fucker has saved some powder for him tonight.

 “Thanks man.”

Emiliano shoos it away with a wave of his hand over his shoulder, without looking back. Mickey carves out a little line for himself and snuffs it up, before turning his attention back to the rail of spandex, picking out a sparkly silver number encrusted with diamantes. He smiles in spite of his mood, marveling at the fact that he’s worn a dress almost every fucking day since that time he put-on-a-dress-and-swore-it-was-a-one-time-thing.

Needs must.

Fucking Gallagher.

He needs another line.


 

His first day in Mexico had passed in a haze of dissociation. He didn’t know where he was going, only some vague notion of a beach. Atlantic or Pacific? He wasn’t sure yet, he just drove, choosing forks and exits at random. By nightfall he was exhausted and he pulled into a quiet street in the next town he came to. There, in the back seat of his stolen wagon, he quietly fell apart - still wearing that fucking dress.

He awoke the next morning to an alien Mexican chorus – dogs barking, horns blaring, voices busy. He was curled fetally in the footwell of one of the seats, his ears throbbing from those stupid clip-on earrings and the pattern of the floor mat imprinted on his cheek. He needed to get out of this dress. As got out of the car however, another need overtook him. He looked around for a spot to piss and selected a tree about 20ft away. To his horror, mid-stream, he saw several men running towards the car. Tottering back (as best he could in those damn heels, with his dick only half contained by the pantyhose) he managed to reach the car before they could take off. He wrenched the driver’s door open and hauled one culero out by his shirt. Evidently the lack of keys had thrown them for a loop and they’d not yet figured out the car had been previously hotwired.

“Motherfucker!” Mickey screamed, punching him repeatedly in the face. The guy in the rear seats sprang out to come to his friend’s aid, but Mickey was expecting it and swung round to aim a good kick with his boot, straight to his abdomen. The man doubled over in pain, snatching at Mickey with his hands as he went down, but he only succeeded in snagging the wig and dragging it off Mickey’s head. Somehow, this enraged Mickey further. He returned to his original victim and smashed his face into the windscreen, smearing his blood and features across it and temporarily stalling the third man, who’d moved into the driver’s seat and was desperately scratching wires. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough of a deterrent and the engine sprang to life. Suddenly all of Mickey’s money and possessions were screeching down the road in a twice stolen vehicle. He might even have chuckled at the irony were it not for the white-hot anger coursing through him. He took his frustrations out on the second man, who was just recovering from his winding, by kneeing him in the face and following through with a left hook as he went down. Both were now unconscious. Mickey snatched his wig up from the ground before he stiffened at the sound of clapping to his left.

¡Oye puto! ¡Estás bien mamado!”

 “The fuck did you just call me?” Mickey had only understood one word in that sentence and he didn’t like it.

 The heckler recoiled a bit but continued to look Mickey up and down and his face broke into a winning smile when he spotted his knuckle tats.

 “Hey gringo, relax – I’m paying you a compliment!”

 Mickey still eyed him suspiciously, beginning to feel vulnerable as his anger subsided. This guy was even shorter than him and thin and wiry, so Mickey was confident he could take him, but he was wary too – cocky guys like that were usually tricky.

“You want me to give you a ride to the Police? Report your car stolen? We can deliver these perros and speed up the investigative process?”

 Mickey’s not sure what this guy’s game is, but it’s shady as hell. He decides the best-case scenario is he’s angling for a tip for helping out a Yankee in distress.

“You know reporting this is going to accomplish Jack Shit. And all my stuff was in that car, so you’ve got fuck all to gain from me.”

“You Americans are so fucking paranoid! This is a nation of entrepreneurs, not criminals! Can’t make a buck off everyone.” His mock indignation didn’t last.

“Seriously though, did you really loose everything? ‘Cause I have a way you can make some quick money.”

Mickey sighs and begins to walk away. Luckily he’d stashed a few hundred dollars of Ian’s parting gift in a pocket of his dress, so he didn’t need to turn tricks just yet, but it looked like he was going to be stuck in this shitty town for a few days at least. He hoped he could buy some pants.

Hombre, it’s not sex!” Mickey still didn’t slow down. “It’s not even illegal!”

In spite of himself, Mickey turned around – though he attempted to keep his eyebrows from hitching too high to mask his curiosity.

Apparently not enough though, because the grin had returned with the knowledge that his mark’s interest had been piqued.

“So I gotta ask, what’s with the outfit?”

“Long story.”

“I got time.”

But Mickey wasn’t going to indulge him.

“Bachelor party road trip gone wrong, maybe?”

“Something like that.”

“Cool. Well you fucking own it. You always this badass – even in a dress?”

“Especially in a dress.”

Mickey growled the last line out. He was getting tired of this fuckwad with dollar signs in his eyes. Finally though, the little turd did something to redeem himself.

“Smoke? I’m Emiliano by the way.”


 

Emiliano turned out to be a pimp of a rather different stripe than Mickey had expected, and that night marked his Mexicano baptism by fire. Twelve hours after meeting, Mickey was in the storeroom of an abandoned abattoir in town, preparing for his debut as Emiliano’s newest luchador.

And not just any kind – no. Mickey was to be a luchador exótico.

Mickey was initially quite taken with the idea – he was still bulked from his stint in jail, he’d had plenty of practice clotheslining others in his youth, he was angry as fuck and he’d get to wear one of those crazy masks. Until it was explained to him he’d still have to wear his fucking dress.

“It’s easy, you just mince around the ring a bit, wiggle that ass and blow some kisses to your opponent – then beat the shit out of him”.

“No fucking way, NO FUCKING WAY!”

“Look, it won’t turn you gay, most of the exóticos are straight. It’s just a way to stand out from the crowd, once you dish out your first smack down everyone will know you’re no less of a man.”

“That’s really not my fear – its just fucking … degrading … and shit.”

Mijo, you’re already wearing a dress, I thought you had bigger cojones than this?”

“I mean having to ham it up like some cartoon queen to gode a bunch of assholes into screaming how much of a faggot I am. How is that good for me? How is that good for anyone?”

Emiliano sensed he was getting to the heart of the matter, but decided to try another tack.

“You’ll earn far more as an exótico – if all you want is enough money to get back on the road you’ll get booked more and earn it quicker. If you want to stick around, you’ll rise through the rankings faster. The fees and the prize money will get bigger. This game is all about theatrics and you need a gimmick to stand out. Unless you want to be billed as Gasparín el Fantasma Amistoso, this is yours.”

Mickey chewed on his bottom lip.

“No fucking mincing!”

“As long as you can hold their attention you can do whatever the fuck you want. I’m just telling you what works.”

“And I wanna be a bad guy.”

“A rudo, good.”

“And I want a mask.”

Emiliano spluttered at this.

“You can’t! Exóticos don’t wear masks, it’s the whole fucking point! It’s what sets them apart from the others.”

“I thought it was the drag act?”

“Well, I suppose - but the face is so integral to it, it could never go down well.”

“A mask, or I’m not doing this at all.”

“How could I possibly introduce it? Woo them with a tale of your cruel husband pouring acid on your face?!”

“I dunno, tell them I have to wear a mask because they can’t handle my face or some shit. Tell them, one look at its awesome power would turn them to stone.”

Mickey cocked an eyebrow as he considered this further.

“Or make them hard some other way.”

Emiliano huffed his arms in the air and appealed to the heavens for help with this wey mamón.

Madre de Dios!”

And so it was that Mickey’s alter ego was born.


 

The Mother of God was a mean bitch. That first fight had been carnage. Mickey was scraping the bottom of the amateur Lucha libre barrel, the objective simply to establish who was tough enough and dumb enough to bother training further. There was no storyline, no choreography, just free-form brawling with a few forgotten rules – and that suited Mickey just fine. The dress on the other hand was a goner, destroyed by the end of his bout, his modesty only just protected by his shredded pantyhose.

Still, the crowd had warmed to The Mother once Mickey had a chance to demonstrate his badassary. He strolled out nonchalantly to cat-calls and jeers, which had grown angrier as Mickey had refused to peacock around the ring. He leaned back against the ropes, lit up a cigarette and let his eyebrows do the talking as he watched a fat dude in a lime green banana hammock and yellow cape work the crowd.

Once the bout started however, the tide swiftly turned for the bitch.

Mickey didn’t bother to toss his smoke and let it dangle nonchalantly from his mouth as he danced around the fucker, skipping in and out of his reach and leading him closer to the ropes. Eventually he was able to feint out of a running lunge aimed his way and use Captain Banana’s momentum, as he ricocheted off the ropes, to dump tackle him to the ground. He wasn’t down long enough to get him pinned, but Mickey was able to grind his cigarette out on the man’s nipple and the crowd roared their appreciation.

Things got ugly after that.

El patético plátano unleashed a diatribe as they stalked each other round the ring, no doubt to win back some of his flagging support. Mickey couldn’t understand a word of it, but its intent was clear enough and it got the adrenaline pumping in his veins. He marched forward and squared up to him, but left enough space between them that the whole crowd could see as Mickey grabbed a fistful of his junk and spat on the floor between them. They went wild for that.

Mickey knew this guy was too big for him to take down sober, so he started to formulate ways he could weaken his foe. He was at least quicker, and a few foot sweeps and elbows to the abdomen later his cupcake was starting to look pretty winded. He waited until another opportunity to get near the ropes presented itself then rushed at the middling musa, before ducking under his arms, launching himself at the ropes and using their recoil to propel himself onto the shoulders of the man from behind.

The crowd stood silent for a moment, wondering what was coming next. Mickey tugged at the pussy bow around the collar of his dress and wrapped it round the neck of his opponent before jumping backwards and taking him down with him. They hit the floor on their backs, with a hard thud, but Mickey was right back on top, strangling him with the thin strip of fabric. The man alternately scrabbled at his neck and the fabric of the dress, but Mickey kept well back, so that all he could so was rip holes without getting a grip on his skin. He wasn’t going to let him pass out (even Mickey was sure there was a rule against that) and once his face had reached a satisfactory shade of purple, he released his hold and moved away.The bruised banana was able to roll onto his hands and knees to avoid the count and catch his breath, but Mickey was ready and waiting for him on the ropes. With a gleeful cackle he launched himself up and into a cannonball position, before slamming home in the middle of his target’s back. With an “Ooof” the banana sank to the ground and this time he was down for good, Mickey spread-eagled on top.

His elation quickly gave way to confusion though, as despite being counted out, he had not yet been hailed the winner.

Besos, besos, besossang the crowd. Did they want him to do some shitty air kisses for them or something?

“Kiss him – you won’t win until you kiss him!” Emiliano hissed from the sidelines.

“The fuck?” Mickey muttered under his breath, but did as he was told and planted a peck on his vanquished fruit’s cheek.

A boo rang out through the crowd as Emiliano rolled his eyes.

“On the lips stupid!”

Mickey was not best pleased, but quickly pressed his lips to the other man’s, pulling away to reveal his mark – a combination of lipstick and blood. Mickey got to his feet, before bending down to help his opponent up – the mother’s mercy. It occurred to Mickey that he might have just played the most violent game of Kiss-Chase of his life. The crowd roared their praise, but even as they began to chant his name, his thoughts slid straight back to Ian.

However, he couldn’t help smiling to himself a little bit when he thought that Gallagher probably wasn’t even back in Chicago yet and already Mexico had crowned Mickey the fucking Mother of God.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cinco minutos”

Emiliano had come to fetch the Mother of God, but was still met with Mickey when he returned to the dressing room.

“Dude, hurry up!”

He stomped over and began to help Mickey with the task of shoehorning his culo into some very tight compression pants.

“Hands off douche!”

“Pffft. You should be so lucky, puto.” But he switched to lacing up the mask instead. They’d managed to compromise on it, cutting it with extra large eye -holes to reveal the full force of Mickey’s made-up eyebrows, while still affording some anonymity.

Banter aside, Emiliano was worried. He could tell his best prospect was in a funk and it was becoming harder and harder to lift it. Cocaine and tequila could only get you so far and he thanked the stars that Madre de Dios and co. were contracted to loose this tag-team fight.

Tonight they were the warm up act at a charreada and were booking increasingly large venues. The crowds loved him, chanting: “Fuck U Up, Fuck U Up!” whenever Mickey’s lips swooped down to claim another bitch. Emiliano knew he was onto a good thing with Mickey’s persona, but he could feel the fire mouldering in the inferno he had carefully cultivated. He’d realized early on that Mickey was suffering from a deep wound, but it had seemed to fuel his apatite for destruction then. He’d thrown himself into the training and the fighting; his natural swagger had covered the rest. Mickey had a good chance of turning pro in the near future and Emiliano could almost taste the pay out.

He needed to know if this was grief or depression, temporary or permanent. He knew the answer probably lay in how Mickey came to be pissing on Coahuilan trees in a dress, but every time he asked to be enlightened on that story Mickey simply replied: “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” And he knew he was only half joking. But Emiliano came from a large family of Tijuanan luchadores and had seen it all; Mickey would hardly be the first or the last to burn out.

Mickey, for his part, was trying – he really was. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was adrift on the ocean, getting further and further from the shore. And everything he did seemed to exacerbate it, rather than bring him back. Having been to the beach now and seen the actual power of the ocean Mickey knew he couldn’t beat that rip. Hell, he didn’t even know how to swim.

And the worst part of it was that Mickey didn’t really care. Or rather he didn’t feel enough to care that the fight and the fuck had gone out of him. He’d been a lot of sound and fury for a long time, but now he could see that it signified nothing. He was nothing. Shit, even Gallagher meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Fucked for life.

Emiliano always seemed to have a sixth sense for his ruminations and broached the subject while strapping on Mickey’s kneepads.

“You ever think about taking a vacation?”

“The fuck’s that?”

“Seriously mijo, you’ve been on the road for months now, don’t you want to unwind?”

“And I’m telling you that I don’t know what you’re talking about. Unwinding is for people who have fucks to give.”

“Well if you don’t unwind, you’re going to unravel instead.” He stood up and looked Mickey dead in the eye. “You’re sick man. Take some time to process whatever’s going on behind those freaky eyebrows of yours. And go see a doctor.”

They both knew where this was heading. Mickey felt sorry for the poor bastard who was gonna have to get FUCK U-UP tattooed on his knuckles.

 


 

Ian tries his best to juggle the two beers, hotdogs, burger and box of Cracker Jack in his oversized hands as he gingerly climbs towards their seats, but he’s caught by a flailing arm to his left as an unexpected foul ball comes soaring into the bleachers.

There goes one $12 beer.

Trevor, awaiting his return two rows up, makes a noise like a sad trombone.

Ian feels something that might be disappointment, but it’s his attacker who is inconsolable. “NOOOO. Beer down! Don’t bleed out on me honey, stay with me!”

“Sir, I’m an EMT. I’m afraid it’s too late for this one.”

“I’m sorry for your loss son. She was a … FUCK YEAH YOU BETTER RUN BITCHES!” The man nearly takes out Ian’s other beer as his body snaps back towards the game. Ian starts to beat a hasty retreat, but the man grabs his sleeve and bends down to fish something out from under his seat, before balancing a can of beer on Ian’s already precarious meat tower. “Sorry about that man.”

It’s a PBR, but Ian’s not going to complain.

Trevor is laughing at Ian’s constipated face as he slowly completes his mission.

“Here’s some free career advice – don’t give up the day job. You’d never make it as a juggler in the circus.”

Ian carefully sets his beers down before smacking Trevor in the head with the Cracker Jack box. “Shut up and eat your grandpa snack.” They smirk a little at each other, but turn their attention back to the game.

Things have been going a lot more smoothly of late. Having gone quiet after Monica’s funeral, Trevor had gotten back in touch about a month later to see how Ian was coping. And Ian had been so fucking grateful. That month had made him realize just how isolated he really was. In spite of his guilt at his behaviour, he was relieved that the one person in Chicago who knew the whole story still actually wanted to talk to him. Although he was sure Fiona and Lip knew where he’d been, the event (or perhaps it was Monica’s death?) had seemed to mark some kind of watershed in his relationship with his siblings. Their unspoken intimacy was intact, but there was a divide between them now, something that couldn’t be broached by either side.

Trevor hadn’t given Ian an easy time about it – they were through, clearly, but he’d been willing to try to be friends because that was the kind of guy he was. Besides, Ian knew that a dry spell might do him some good.

But somewhere along the line they had slipped back into fucking.

And after that the deeper intimacy had started to creep back in.

Trevor had wanted to take it slow, given how badly his trust had been shaken, and Ian wasn’t exactly going to object given how depleted his capacity to love was at that point. Between Mickey and his mother his heart had retreated so far he wasn’t sure it could ever be coaxed out again. Still, he was fairly sure he’d said goodbye to them both for the last time and while the pain was still unbearable and his future uncertain, he felt pretty confident that nothing that came after this could possibly fuck him up anymore than he already was. The nihilism somehow brought him a sense of peace.

And that peace allowed him to reflect on how unnaturally smoothly the machinations of his life seemed to run now. In past years he’d always felt that he was clinging to life by the skin of his teeth, having to do everything in his power just to keep himself in the same place. Lip had curled his lips into a sardonic smile, when he’d tried to explain this sensation and told him: “You’re chasing the Red Queen man, we all are.” But he’d look around to see others moving through life with apparently effortless ease and wondered what the hell he was doing wrong? Not just rich kids, poor folks like them who struggled to make ends meet but never seemed to suffer as much in the process. And now he felt like one of them. Life wasn’t necessarily easier, just simpler somehow – flat and boring, but vast and endless. Perhaps he was more resilient now. Perhaps there was just less drama in his life. Perhaps this is what life is, when you have your shit together.

 


 

So it was with some trepidation that he found Lip and Fiona in the darkened kitchen when he and Trevor returned from the game. Fiona had a beer, Lip a coffee and they were sharing an ashtray, smoking in silence. It had been a long time since Ian had seen either of them smoking in the house.

Ian hovered in the doorway, unsure how to proceed, but Trevor headed straight for the fridge and removed two beers, apparently oblivious to the significance of the scene before him. Fiona looked up and smiled weakly, motioning for Ian to come join them at the table, though it was Trevor who got there first and took the seat next to her.

“What’s up?” he asked nonchalantly. There was a pregnant pause as the rest of them struggled to find their voices. Fiona’s lips curled ever so slightly as she studied the ashtray, before lifting her head to make eye contact.

“Ian, I need your help.” She took a drag on her cigarette before continuing.

“A floor in the apartment building collapsed. It’s been condemned.” She looked at sea as she struggled to articulate her thoughts. “I need to raise as much cash as I can in a hurry, to shore it up, otherwise…” her voice tailed off and she brought her shaking hand up to her mouth to take another pull. “otherwise, I’ll be bankrupt – and we’ll lose the house.”

Ian wasn’t really sure where to start, his mind swimming with questions, but unable to latch on to one. Finally one came into focus.

“I thought we owned the house outright?”

“Yes, but I used it as collateral on the mortgage I took out on the laundromat.”

“But you sold that at a profit?”

“And I sunk that into the larger loan I took out to buy the apartment block.”

“Shit.”

“How big is the loan?”

“$250, of which $80 is the house value and $70 my profit on the laundromat.”

“So you owe $100,000 dollars? 180 if we want the house back mortgage free?”

“Yeah” she said softly. There was another pause, as everyone turned over this sum.

“Hang on a minute, shouldn’t the building’s insurance cover this?” asked Trevor.

Ian’s heart suddenly jolted in his chest. Surely she wouldn’t have been that careless?

“Please tell me the building is insured Fiona!” She smiled ruefully at that.

“It is.”

Ian exhaled.

“But it doesn’t cover pre-existing structural issues.”

“Pre-existing?”

“Dry rot. It will have been progressing for years. I took down some non-load bearing walls in the apartment I was renovating, which shouldn’t have done anything, but I guess it was just too much for the overstressed floor and it gave way.”

“Can you sue the surveyor? That should have been in the inspection report when you bought it!”

Poor Trevor was trying to be helpful, but he was asking all the questions Fiona had wished she could avoid. Now the tears began to flow and her head dropped down as she laid her hands in front of her on the table, palms up, the cigarette dangling precariously above the surface.

“It was, but I misunderstood the implications. I didn’t read it carefully enough and never talked to the surveyor because it was an old report. I thought it related to the window frames, which I was planning to replace eventually anyway. And somehow, I thought the owner would have told me if it was serious, since he did disclose the lead paint.”

Lip had yet to say a word, but his head swiveled a little at this. He would never understand why his sister thought strangers were more trustworthy because they’d banged.

“And no-body else noticed?”

“I didn’t have an agent; I used his lawyer. God I’m so stupid.”

They all remained silent, each turning over the facts.

“So you can’t just sell it and take the hit?”

“I wouldn’t get enough to pay off what I owe, even if we mortgaged the house.”

“Can you increase the mortgage to cover the repairs?”

“The bank won’t lend me any more because it’s condemned. And I couldn’t afford the higher repayments anyway, without the income from the apartments.”

It was Trevor who once again got to the heart of the matter.

“So how much money are we talking here?”

“Too much. Most of the floor joists probably need to be replaced and I’ll have to bring a lot of other stuff up to code to get it certified as habitable again. I have to pay my tenants’ moving costs and their living costs until they find somewhere else. And I still have to pay the mortgage without any income from the building.”

“So…”

“I don’t know exactly, but it’s got to be near what I’d owe the bank on the mortgage anyway. And I’d need to pay a lot of it upfront. No-one’s going to give some Southside idiot up to her neck in negative equity financing.”

“Well at least there are a lot of us. I’m pretty well estranged from my parents since my transition, but we still have a bit of contact. I bet I could squeeze some shame money out of them – not a huge amount, but a few thousand initially, maybe more later.”

Ian’s jaw stiffened, Lip spluttered and Fiona’s eyes grew round. She took his hand in her own. “Trevor no, we can’t ask you to do that. This isn’t your battle.”

“I want to. You guys are like family to me. And you’ve had my back far more than they ever did.”

Ian began to shrink with mortification. He wasn’t sure if it was Trevor’s assumption of his place within the Gallaghers, the fact that they really did need his money and he was able to offer it so easily, or the sting of hearing Mickey’s words repeated, but Ian had to turn his head away.

“I’ll call them now. See what I can do.” He got up to leave the room before turning around while he fished his cell out of his pocket. “Hey um, do you want cash or a check?” Fiona was lost for words, but Lip was quick to point out that cash is king.

Once he had gone they returned to pensive silence, contemplating the grain of the table. Ian had pretty much given up smoking months ago, but he found he needed something to do with his hands now that the labels on his beer had been peeled, so he stole one of Fiona’s cigarettes and joined his siblings in their huddle round the ash tray.

“Ian, do you still have any of your inheritance?”

“Yeah, pretty much all of it.”

Lip and Ian had taken Carl’s advice and sold their bags of meth to one of his old corner buddies. He’d given them a poor price - $7000/lb, but they’d both been eager to ditch their chemical albatross and get on with their lives. Ian had had to dip into his fund because he’d cleaned his savings out for Mickey, but his lousy social life meant he’d replaced it quickly enough.

“Will you give … will you give me a loan?” Fiona’s voice was stuttering. “I swear I will repay you, or give you a share in the equity, or …” Ian cut her off.

“Fiona, it’s ok. It’s yours. You don’t need to ask”.

“Same.” She probably wasn’t going to get much compassion from Lip, but she was so grateful he still had her back.

“How about Debs? Did she ever get around to opening that account for Frannie she was talking about? Or did it go on child care?”

“I think she put it in savings, yeah.”

Fuck. Fiona was going to have to steal from an actual baby.

There was no point wondering about Frank’s share. He’d only recently reappeared after going AWOL after the funeral. They’d actually been impressed he’d managed to stretch his that long.

“And Carl - d’you know if he sold his?”

“No idea. You told him about this yet?”

“Nah, I didn’t want to worry him. He’s got his end of year exams coming up.”

Lip cocked an eyebrow at that. He was pissed that, despite her obvious grief and mortification at the situation, she was still trying to avoid some of the consequences of this shit show.

“You have to tell him Fiona, he’s got a right to know. He’s the one that bought this fucking house!”

She just nodded her head, too tired to fight more battles. Lip wasn’t about to remove the spotlight just yet though.

“What about you? Have you got anything? I thought you made 80, not 70, off the Laundromat?”

Fiona shook her head sadly. “Not really. I kept 10 of the profit back, but I owed Etta and the diner some money. And I put a down payment on the car, but it’s leased so I won’t get much for it. I plowed the rest and my surplus income into the remodeling costs – and all for nothing from the looks of it.” She smiled sadly.

“Spent my last dollars on getting the emergency scaffold put up today, actually. I can’t even buy groceries for us this week.” The sobbing started again and she returned her head to the table. Ian was at a total loss for what to do. He just wanted to escape upstairs to his room, but he knew that was probably where Trevor was negotiating with his parents.

It was Lip who spoke at last, poking her fingers to transfer the cigarette they were sharing, while the smoke curled around the corners of his mouth.

“Hey Fi, I bet you wish you hadn’t flushed yours and Liam’s shares down the toilet now, eh?”

A low moan escaped Fiona, but she didn’t look up.

“I didn’t flush it.” She mumbled.

“What?”

Fiona finally looked up and raked the loose strands of hair that had fallen into her face back over her scalp, before rubbing her puffy eyes.

“I didn’t flush it.” Lip and Ian exchanged a cautious glance. Their sister was a hypocrite, a fucking hypocrite, but at least she wasn’t a complete idiot. Perhaps they really could salvage this. Fiona responded unprompted.

“Don’t. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s fucking worse than that!”

“Worse than flushing it down the toilet?! You smoke it all or something?”

“I … I can’t even believe I’m saying this. I returned it to Monica. I put it in her casket before the viewing.”

“Oh.”

Chapter Text

“We can’t do this.”

It was Fiona who finally broached the silence, acknowledging the scenario they had all been reluctantly turning over in their minds.

“We can’t do this. I mean, I know we’re Gallaghers, but this is a new low even for us.”

Lip was more sanguine.

“I dunno, we have dug up a body before. And stolen one. And mutilated it by cutting off a toe. Perhaps this isn’t so bad?”

“Yeah, but we barely knew Aunt Ginger. With this it’d be like giving her power over us. Allowing her to keep screwing us over from beyond the grave. I couldn’t stand it; fucking Monica.”

“Whoa Freud, that’s a lot of transference for one corpse to take! And technically she wouldn't really be screwing us from beyond the grave.”

Ian finally spoke.

“Is there even any point?”

“I think the point is pretty fuckin’ obvious. We need the money.”

“Yeah I get that. But would the bags still be … you know … intact?”

“What the fuck Ian?”

Fiona and Lip stared at Ian agog. Their brother could be fucking morbid sometimes.

“I … I just think it’s a valid concern. We don’t want to waste our time.”

There was another long pause before Lip spoke again.

“You know, I think it might be alright. I seem to remember the baggies were made of thick polyethylene and sealed. That shit’s pretty resistant to corrosion. She was embalmed and buried in the winter so … so there might not be that much fluid yet …”

Lip trailed off, unable to complete his train of thought.

“Guess I need to study up on taphonomy.”

Fiona took the reins again.

“Ok, well assuming the bags are … unaffected, how would we even do this? Ginger was in a shallow grave in our back yard and that was fucking hard work – it’s not like we can just stroll into the cemetery and dig a six-foot hole without anyone noticing. And what about the concrete vault? We can’t fire up a jackhammer in the middle of the night.”

“Some kind of fake exhumation order or something?”

“I don’t think they let you dig them up yourself. You’d still have to have an undertaker do it. Might get a little awkward when we start fishing around in there for meth baggies in front of them …”

Ian remained silent. He knew who he needed to call - and it terrified him.

 


 

“Ian?”

Shit.

This was going to be every bit as bad as he had feared. A ‘douchebag’ or ‘assface’ would have put him at ease, but the hesitation in her voice confirmed how much shit he was going to have to take.

“Mandy?”

“Yeah?”

“How – how are you?”

“Er, yeah. I’m doing alright actually. What about you?”

“Um. M – mostly good.” God damn it, why had he chosen now of all times to develop a stutter?

“So uh, y – you still in, Chicago?”

Mandy was like a shark scenting blood in the water.

“You wanna chit-chat more or you gonna tell me what you want?” God, she was so much like her brother, but Ian was secretly glad she’d cut to the chase.

“So um, do you – or I guess I mean your family, have any … contacts at Holy Sepulchre cemetery?”

Amazingly there was actually a sharp intake of breath on the other side of the line. Ian knew his answer was probably not what she had been expecting and he was almost proud of the fact he’d managed to shock a Milkovich. However, Mandy’s silence then began to drag on longer than he was comfortable with - he should have enjoyed it while he could.

“You know what? FUCK YOU IAN! I dunno if you remember, but the last time I had a body to deal with it was YOUR HYPOCRITICAL ASS I called for help! You fucking Gallaghers are so fucking ARROGANT, thinking your shit doesn’t stink like the rest of us, who have to roll around in it. At least we know we’re trash. And we don’t palm our shit on to others to deal with or rub their noses in it.”

Ian’s fears were confirmed.

“So, uh – I guess you’ve been in touch with Mickey?” He whimpered; thankfully this seemed to disarm and placate Mandy a bit.

“Yeah. Yeah I have.”

“Is he ok?” There was a little croak in Ian’s voice that he’d not quite managed to suppress, but it at least served to mollify the Mandy-beast a little more.

“I don’t know.”

“But you know where he is? You can reach him?”

“He calls me sometimes.”

There was a long pause now, each of them contemplating the Mickey sized hole in their lives. It was Mandy who finally broke it. Her voice came out almost in a whisper and it was a jarring contrast to her rage of a few minutes earlier.

“Why’d you do it Ian? I mean, I understand why you couldn’t go with him, I do. It was a fuckin' stupid idea of his, busting out - but prison can make you desperate in a way that I don't think you can understand. So why’d you get in the car? Why’d you get his hopes up?”

Ian’s croak had morphed into a full on choke as he tried to find the words to explain himself.

“I’m sorry.”

“Ian.”

“I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye.”

Ian could feel Mandy turning his answer over in her mind. It must have passed muster with her though because she then cleared her throat and returned to business.

“Alright, you’re going to need some burner phones and a couple of zip-lock bags.”

 


 

A few days later Ian was experiencing one of – no probably the most surreal conversation of his life. After a hastily arranged phone drop in the cavity of a tree in the cemetery, Ian was negotiating with Rudy, the live-in custodian.

“What’s your full name?”

“Er, Ian Clayton Gallagher.”

“That your real name?”

“Yes, sir.” Ian was sure he could hear tapping in the background - no doubt he was being vetted as they talked.

“You a cop Ian?”

“No, uh, no I’m not! Does asking that even work?” Ian couldn’t help himself, but luckily Rudy gave a little chuckle from his end.

“You’d be surprised kid. Course a pig can lie, it’s the reaction to such a stupid question that gives ‘em away.”

“I’m really not a cop.”

“I know. And I trust Milkoviches. So, what can I do you for? Fresh site, dig-and-deepen or a custom job?”

“Um, well what’s the turn around time and the price range?” Ian desperately hoped he sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

“Let me make this clear, this isn’t an industrial operation – I got a wife and kids to think of. I’m a careful curator and that’ll cost you. Custom jobs are my specialty, but it’s a long process moving all those compost piles so there’s a wait list, currently six months. Fresh sites are pretty easy to instigate, but the paperwork takes a little time to arrange and there are a lot of fees that go with it. Dig-and-deepen is your most economical option, but there are a lot of factors that affect how long it takes – I can’t do it if the ground’s too waterlogged for instance – makes too much of a mess. Or if the earth is settled and the grass is established I can only do it in the winter or spring, otherwise it’s too obvious the ground’s been disturbed. Course your best value will be to open a fresh plot in the fall, then dig-and-deepen in the spring while the earth’s still mounded but the turf has yet to seed. Gives you double or triple value since the bedrock’s so deep here. But I’m guessing you don’t have the facilities to wait that long if you’re calling me now.”

“Wow, I didn’t realize it was so complicated.”

“Like I said, I’m a careful curator. Although … if all you want is some niche storage I can do that real quick. People nowadays are splitting their ashes and getting them stored in several places, so it’s real easy to get duplicate paperwork from elsewhere in the network and pretend that’s what happened. It’s not big though, only enough for a few pounds of contraband.”

“Um well, I want to open an existing burial, how much is that going to cost me?”

“Full service dig-and-deepen is 15K.”

“Shit.”

“Guessing you don’t have the benefit of a wealthy benefactor behind you eh? Well, I do have a basic package for 8 that’ll give you my supervision and equipment, but you have to supply the manpower and the extra vault.”

“Oh uh, I don’t need an extra vault, I just need to get into the existing one.”

“So … you’re not actually deepening? Shit, if all that was needed was storage I could’ve provided a mausoleum spot, it’s much less hassle and cheaper too. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.”

“No, um, no it’s an actual burial.” A hostile silence suddenly enveloped their conversation. When Rudy spoke again his gravelly voice had turned grave and was tinged with threat.

“This some kind of party? I don’t do that. Don’t care what you wanna offer me.”

Ian chose this moment to have a coughing fit, desperately hoping Rudy wasn’t about to hang up on him.

“What?! NO! FUCK! It’s … it’s my mother!” he finally managed to splutter out.

Rudy roared with laughter this time, and Ian found himself feeling angry, ashamed, awkward and relieved all at once – more complexity than he’d felt in a long time.

“Aww kid, why didn’t you just say? I was starting to get worried there thinking you really were a cop! Grandma’s diamond ring eh? If I had a nickel … So how much money are we talking here?”

“’bout $20,000.”

“That it? Shit you must really need the money. Alright Ian, I got a soft spot for the hard up relatives, so I’ll give you my bargain basement price. But if you ever come looking for my services again I’ll know you’re full of shit and I’ll be charging you double from now on, capisce? Ok, 3K gets you entry, a security patrol and I’ll come look over everything when you’re done and tidy up the topsoil so it looks good. You bring your own equipment and manpower – no pneumatic tools. I gotta warn you though, I’ll throw you under the bus if the cops come looking. I’ll give you a heads up remotely, if I can, and I’ll scare away anyone I would as part of my normal duties, but I’m not covering for you, or obstructing the police if there’s noise complaints or some other reason for them to come by.”

“I understand, yeah, and we can stretch to 3K.”

“Good. Alright, you got the plot number? I need to go inspect it to see how easy it’s gonna to be to open. If it looks good let's aim for the next clear night with a bright moon. I’ll need you to plant some new burners in the same spot as last time, to confirm all this with you.”

“Sure, thanks for your help Rudy.”

“My pleasure. And um kid … you might want to read up a bit on modern burial methods - sealed vaults and fancy caskets, they keep the elements out but uh, they don’t really stop decay they way people think they do, they just sort of … change it. Lot of variation in conditions, but uh, you might want to prepare yourself.”

“Um, thanks again Rudy.”

As Ian hung up he wondered if he had actually sold his soul to the devil.

Chapter Text

Rudy had good news for Ian - the grass on the topsoil had only just started sprouting and the soil was still crumbly enough to replace without the texture giving away the alteration. Even better, his slightly miserly grandfather had gone for a plastic vault in the end, so getting into it would be a piece of cake. They could go ahead with desecrating his mother’s grave whenever he liked! Just have to be sure to chase off that hobo that seemed to like sleeping there, before they started. Ian hoped Rudy just relished the extra income, but he couldn’t help feeling a little discomfited by the custodian’s enthusiasm for his moonlighting gig. He wondered how Rudy’s life might have turned out if his parents had steered him towards taxidermy as a career instead.

Nevertheless, a digging party was organized to coincide with the full moon - a night which promised to be cloudless and still. It was to be a whole family affair, with the exception of Liam (and Trevor), as Carl was newly returned for his summer vacation. Although they’d tried their best to keep Frank out of it, his graveside vigil meant he’d probably notice any disturbance to the ground, so they’d caved and brought him on board in the hopes that appealing to his warped sense of quality-family-time would keep him quiet. Mostly though, he just wanted to take every opportunity to reiterate how wrong Fiona was to have rejected her hardworking mother’s inheritance, and smile at the karmic strings his dearly departed wife must have pulled from heaven to land his ungrateful offspring in this predicament. Another late addition had been Kev, who heard about the expedition when Fiona came to drop Liam off for the night and hadn’t been able to resist the possibility of seeing a real-life dead body.

For the first part of their mission, they worked silently, in shifts of three, sobered by the reality of what they were doing. However, their lack of mechanical equipment meant they began to tire before they were even a few feet down and started to talk amongst themselves to keep their spirits up.

“So uh, I think I’ve decided what I want to do once I graduate.” Carl announced.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna try to get into the Naval Academy.”

“The Naval Academy, where’s that Carl?”

“Annapolis.”

“Where the fuck is that?”

“Maryland.”

“Maryland?! What the hell is there to do in Maryland?”

“Dunno, catch crabs I guess.”

“You slut, when did you become such a Macho Man?”

There it was again, those complex emotions Ian had missed. It was a bitter-sweet feeling, seeing his brother live out his former dreams, but experiencing them vicariously was enough for him now and he suspected the day Carl tossed his cover at the Academy would be the proudest of Ian’s life.

“Grandpa Bill might end up actually having some pride in his grandkids – well maybe not for this episode, but you never know, re-inheritance might be only a few years away.”

That moment of familial intimacy was punctured by Kev emitting a sudden wailing noise as he struggled to find the right opening note.

“Iiiiiiin the Navy, yes you can sail the seven seas, in the Navy, you can put your mind at ease, in the Navy, COME ON NOW PEOPLE MAKE A STAND, in the Navy, CAN'T YOU SEE WE NEED A HAND?!”

He appealed to them all, beckoning them to join with his hands, before turning around and shaking his ass to the rhythm in his head. Just as suddenly as it had started, he fell stock still, before twisting his torso round, aiming his finger at Carl in his best Uncle Sam impression.

“They want YOU!”

“Who me?”

“They want YOU!”

“THEY WANT YOU AS THE NEW RECRUIT!” Debbie was on the bandwagon.

“But, but I’m afraid of water!”

“They want you, they want you, they want you as the new recruit!” Lip had broken.

“Hey look man, I get seasick just watching it on TV.”

“They want you.”

“Oh my Goodness.” Fiona felt she needed to be the voice of reason in this situation.

“What am I going to do in a submarine?”

“They want you, they want you in the Navy!”

“In the NA-VY, yes you can sail the seven seas, in the NA-VY, you can put your mind at ease, in the NA-VY, come on now people …”

“PEOPLE! PEOPLE!” Frank was suddenly bellowing, bringing their shenanigans to a sudden halt.

“I’d like to REMIND YOU of the gravity of this situation. Please have some decorum and think of your sweet mother’s dignity. We are in a sacred place of remembrance!”

“Pfft. I think all considerations of dignity were lost when I decided to fill her casket with meth then dig it back up again, Frank.”

“BE THAT AS IT MAY, your mother was a pacifist and a gentle creature. She would have been horrified to know her children were praising a war mongering organization while literally dancing on her grave! Shame on you!”

“She would have fucking loved this, and you know it Frank!”

As if on cue, they were startled into silence by the sound of one of their shovels hitting something solid. They had reached the vault.

A few minutes of shoveling around in silence and they had cleared the rest of the lid and located the hinges that kept it latched shut. The soil had clotted on them somewhat, but they quickly cleaned them off and were able to unlatch it and lift the tub out of the grave with little difficulty.

“Monica Jean Darrgen” Frank whispered the words inscribed in brass on the casket. Guess grandpa Bill had decided she shouldn’t be saddled with the Gallagher name for all eternity. They remained quiet for a moment, the enormity of what they were about to see and do stilling them into something resembling reverence.

“Monie, my Monie.” Just as suddenly as the peace had come, so it was shattered by Frank’s pouncing on the casket and tugging at the lid with all his might.

“Frank!”

“No!”

Six other bodies were suddenly thrown down or pressed forward, snatching at Frank’s shoulders and trying to pull him back.

“Hold on!”

“It’s sealed you idiot, we need to cut the gasket …”

But apparently grandpa Bill had also opted for a cheaper casket, sans seal, because their combined tugging and Frank’s tenacious hold on the edge resulted in it suddenly springing open.

For a moment they were rooted where they’d fallen. The first thing Ian registered was the smell. He’d always thought it was hyperbole when people talked about there being a scent to death, but now he knew it was like nothing he had ever experienced before, nor was it something he would ever forget.

The second was Monica’s face. Despite Rudy’s warnings, it seemed the cool earth had been kind to her thus far. A fine fuzz of white mold had crept over her greying skin in places and her cheeks and eyelids were sunken, but she was still very recognizably their mother; only her yellowed and blackened fingertips and earlobes gave away the fact that she was decaying from within.

“Monie!” Frank cried again, shrugging off the hands that had restrained him and diving forward again, apparently determined to join her bodily within. More hands grappled with him, seizing on to whatever they could hold, but their scrum was once again frozen by an almighty shout of “Hallelujah” from behind them, followed by unhinged laughter. All heads slowly swiveled to follow the sound.

Lip was out of the grave now, teetering on the edge above them, head tossed back and arms extended towards the heavens.

Huh, and there was Ian thinking he was the crazy one in the family.

“I’ve done it, I’ve done it! I’ve done the third step!”

He fixed them with a thousand-yard stare, his eyes gleaming with wetness and light in the dark.

“There is a God! There’s just no way this isn’t some giant cosmic joke!”

Their silence grew still more awkward and Lip could no longer hide his smirk of enlightenment from them.

“Don’t you see?” He whispered, gesturing at Frank.

“He’s fucking Heathcliff! It all makes sense now, this shitty, shitty life and world finally makes sense! Hallelujah!”

Chapter Text

Ian’s fucked up. Oh God has Ian fucked up.

He’s been fucking up for weeks now, but he’s really done it this time.

His head swirls with the lights and his heart thumps in time to the beat. Sweat drips down his shirtless body, a mixture of his own and those around him. Arms dart in and out of the spaces between them, sometimes flailing, sometimes pushing, sometimes groping. The humidity around him is intense and the sensation of drowning grows stronger with each panicked breath he takes. Worst of all, the feeling of nails being drawn down a blackboard pervades his neurons and makes him shudder. There’s a snare drum hissing in his mind, growing faster and louder until his head is filled with nothing but deafening white noise. He wants to climb out of his skin; flay himself until the crawling sensation stops.

He casts around desperately, trying to spot Lip’s curly mop of hair - but there are too many people and the strobes and lasers sabotage his vision. Slowly, he starts to push his way through the crowd trying to get to somewhere wider, somewhere darker where he can escape the sensory overload currently engulfing him. He cowers by a fire exit, but it provides scant relief. He knows he’ll get none until this is out of his system and he’s too scared to leave the club on his own, not trusting his mind to guide him home. He needs Lip. He can’t go anywhere without him.

A guy wanders up to him - he seems to be feeling the love.

“Hey man, you ok?”

Ian slowly slides the hands that have been purposely covering his face down.

“Do you have any K? I can get you as much Tina as you like, but I need to come down. Please.”

Ian wonders if his eyes are actually bugging out of his head as much as they feel like they are, because the guy kind of recoils.

“Sorry dude, my favorite letter is E.” But he hands Ian the glass of water he was holding anyway.

Ian downs it and groans at the sensation it produces as a cold ribbon slides down his torso. What the fuck was he thinking taking meth? Every time he thinks he’s moving on in life those Gallagher self-sabotage impulses kick in.

 


 

In truth, he’d been enjoying it up until now. He had the excuse of familial loyalty and need to justify the majority of his indiscretions. It wasn’t like he wanted to spend every Friday and Saturday night in the clubs selling dime bag crystal exhumed from his mother’s casket.

But they needed the money. And they needed the premium price they could get by dealing on the club circuit and rave scene. No-one wanted to start a turf war on the streets and he and Lip moved around enough, selling in small enough quantities not to arouse suspicion. But at the current rate they were dealing it was going to take close to a year to offload their three remaining pounds and that was an unacceptable amount of time for Ian to live on edge. He wasn’t willing to risk carrying more, so he needed to sell more often instead.

Still, no-one had suggested that he should get involved in Party and Play. That was on him. Problem was, it was a good solution – Ian had built up a respectable customer base who messaged him for resupply at any and all hours of the day. If it clashed with one of his shifts, Lip was usually able to take care of it. Ian rationalized that it had been worth the effort.

It was so easy to find people looking to party these days Ian wondered why anyone bothered to stand around on street corners and in alleys anymore. Through the wonders of the internet Ian found himself traveling to motel rooms and suburban homes all over the greater Chicago area. The problem was, if Ian made it clear that he was mostly there to sell, many people weren’t interested. He realized quickly that he had to give the illusion that he was down to play as well, to get his foot in the door. Once he’d made the effort to come out most felt obliged to buy some party favors, even if Ian couldn’t stay. But sometimes he would, if the guy was hot enough, or seemed rich and well connected - and then he’d have a customer for life. Who wouldn’t want to buy from a nice, polite, hung twink, who charged reasonable prices for top quality product and might work you over to boot? Everyone recommended him to their friends and before long Ian was visiting the kind of loft apartments he hadn’t entered since his days as a go-go boy. Ian didn’t consider it turning tricks – he only fucked those he wanted to (although he made sure he didn’t examine why he wanted to fuck them too closely) and he was careful, practicing safe sex and only huffing poppers.

In truth, it made him feel more alive than he had in years. He could have done without the anxiety of having to deal drugs, but the rest of it – the parties, the music, the sex – reminded him of the time before he’d been diagnosed, before Mickey had swooped in to rescue him, before he’d gotten too high. When he’d just been an anonymous boy dancing in the clubs, dust in the wind, doing whatever felt right in the moment. Objectively, he knew it had been a destructive and reckless period; all the hallmarks of his incipient disease were there in hindsight. But damn if he hadn’t felt carefree and happy at the time. And he’d never felt that more clearly than when he and Tina were friends. She had always been his favorite, despite Ian experimenting with almost every substance he was offered. Who would want to come down from that? No-one, it’s just that now Ian knew that the high was inevitably followed by a low, and would be for the rest of his life.

There’s a reason no-one wants to take their medication when they’re up – because it feels good. So good, and as necessary as breathing. Especially when so much of Ian’s life had been spent feeling bad. Or feeling nothing. But Ian had learned the hard way that he couldn’t control how high he got and that his instincts for when a line had been crossed were woefully underdeveloped. And so he dutifully took his pills, even though the process of titrating the medications to allow him to feel enough, but not too much, was a never-ending circle of frustration. He didn’t understand how some days he could feel perfectly content and satisfied with his life and circumstances and the next feel overwhelmed and stifled, needing to resist the urge to jump. What was the authentic emotion? How much was his pills, his disorder, his personality? It was a chicken and egg scenario of the worst kind because his happiness and desire to continue on, to live, was bound up in the riddle of it. So Ian muddled through each day, taking them as they came and squeezing what he could out of them, increasingly relying on his gut to tell him what to do.

Unfortunately he was getting greedy, turning into a glutton for sensation. He wasn’t searching for a high per se, but for subtlety, the shades of grey that make life interesting. Those moments gave him a particular kind of satisfaction, a funny kind of euphoria that moved him to seek out more. And of course that led him full circle to his original desire – to recapture the sensation he gets when he’s just started on the way up, when the world is fascinating and bright and he wants to explore it all, to see everything, to know everything – without the inevitable crash that comes later.

Somewhere in his frazzled brain, the idea came to him that the solution might be meth. Now that he’d been to the bipolar rodeo a few times, he recognized that the high he’d gotten from it before was very similar to hypomania. He reasoned that his mood stabilizers might counteract the worst of the drug’s effects and he had anti-psychotics and downers at home if he needed to cool it. He was stable; a sort of fake normal person as a result of his medications, so it followed that he would probably react normally too. He might have to tweak his medicinal cocktail a bit in the end, but he had to do that all the time anyway. And some bipolar people took amphetamines for ADHD right? This wasn’t all that different…

 


 

 This was not how he remembered it. The speed and energy are there, but it’s not in a good way. His mind is racing, his toes are tapping and he wants to climb the walls. He needs to get away, he’s never been so sure of anything in his whole life. He almost cries with relief when he hears a cocky voice behind him.

“Hey, little brother! Some guy over here says he wants to give me a sunflower. D’you think the 4% gay in me can handle it?”

Lip’s apparently heading for the door, going to grab a cigarette. Ian actually does start to cry once he throws his sticky body against his brother’s and wraps his arms around him.

“I fucked up Lip! I fucked up so bad! I need to get out of here, please. Please, let’s get out of here, I want to go home. I want to go home and I need to go home so bad, please get me out of here, I can’t take it. I fucked up so bad Lip and I need to get out of here, please. Please Lip!”

“You take something?” Lip is trying to sooth Ian, running his hands up and down his trembling back but the sensation on his skin is too much for him to handle and he breaks away.

“Yeah. Please can we leave?”

“Just let me grab my bag. Can you stay here Ian? Stay by this door and don’t move until I come back.”

It feels like an age before Lip returns and his face is drawn into a grimace, though it softens as he approaches. He tosses Ian his tank and pulls on his own.

“You still got anything on you?”

Ian nods and starts fishing around in his pockets for baggies, fumbling as he pulls them out and dropping one or two on the floor in his haste. Lip opens his bag and carefully tucks them into a hidden pocket of the lining. He takes the cash proffered by Ian too, but leaves him with $40 in case they get separated.

Unfortunately, the fire exit seems to be blocked. Ordinarily Ian would be searching the manager out, taking him to task for the health code violation, but right now all he can think of is his escape. They push back into the crowd, Lip leading the way and Ian clinging to his waist for dear life. The sensation of overwhelm is enough to make Ian scream, but the music is so loud no-one but Lip can hear it.

There’s still more delays as they head up the stairs towards the exit, too many people trying to get up and down. Ian presses into Lip’s back urging him to go faster.

“Shhhh. It’s ok. We’re almost there, we’re nearly there Ian.”

Lip starts to jostle a bit, trying to clear a path for them at the top, but people are oblivious, chattering, hugging and saying goodbye to friends. He pushes harder, trying to move the obstructions none too subtly.

“Hey!”

“Oww!”

“Fuck!”

Before Ian’s sure what’s happening his body surges forward. Someone’s tripped and like dominoes they’re falling down, being extruded through the door like fleshy paste from a tube. Something in Ian snaps and he can’t contain the incendiary energy within him anymore. He’s punching and kicking his way out of the tangle of limbs that have engulfed him, spitting like a cornered cat. Next, he feels strong arms on his shoulders, gripping him and pulling him up out of the mêlée. He spins around and quickly punches his assailant in the gut, who turns out to be a beefy doorman. Lip is up and trying to pull Ian back but he can’t break through; Ian’s strength is superhuman and it’s all he can do to avoid getting clocked himself. There’s a high-pitched noise as a siren suddenly blares. A passing patrol car has noticed the disturbance and is stopping to help. Lip freezes, firmly rooted to the spot. The noise is enough to break Ian from his trance and the doorman takes advantage to twist one of his arms up behind his back, immobilizing one of Ian’s fists of fury.

“Argh!” Ian yells out in pain.

“Go!” His eyes lock with Lip’s, but he’s frozen in place.

“Go you idiot!” Ian kicks him in the shins for good measure and it’s enough to finally get Lip moving so that he disappears into the crowd that’s quickly gathering to watch. The doorman begins to grunt as he starts dragging a still hissing Ian towards the patrol car. He’s cuffed and unceremoniously thrown into the back seat. Despite his pain he’s ever so slightly relieved to be out of the heat of the club, isolated in the car, face down on the cool leather seats. Hands pass up and down his sides, then over his ass, before one reaches into his back pocket to pull out his wallet.

“Ian Gallagher.” The cop tries out his name, running his license through the computer.

Ian breaths a sigh of relief that Lip had the foresight to remove any contraband from him before they left the club. He’s going to have to spend the night in the cells (and he won’t be sleeping, that’s for sure) but at least he’s not going to be busted for possession.

“Hey, nice one Marcellus!” The first cop nods at the doorman still hovering by the car, his wounds being inspected by the second.

“This guy’s got a warrant out!”

Shit.

Ian’s fucked up. Oh God has Ian fucked up.

Chapter Text

Ian hasn’t brushed his teeth in more than two days. This would be upsetting for him at the best of times, but on the rare occasions that he’s missed a clean the intervening period doesn’t usually include taking meth and eating nothing but mustard and bologna sandwiches. To say that Ian’s breath is ripe would be an insult to durian fruits and Limburger cheeses the world over.

 


 

After his arrest Ian spent the night picking at the white walls of a concrete isolation cell – his fidgeting was keeping the drunks in the tank awake and they complained to the officers. By morning he was starting to crash, just in time for him to be transported to the Cook County Jail. He’d never been in before but he knows the intake and processing times are notoriously long, so he figures he might be able to catch up on sleep. Clearly that was naïve. Saturday and Sunday mornings are the busiest times at the jail and Ian is herded into a variety of bullpens, packed so tight he couldn’t sit down even if he wanted to. There is a bench running round the perimeter of the room but Ian knows better than to attempt to claim a spot on it, so he stands shoulder to shoulder with the other hungover occupants, determined not to touch the filthy floor unless he keels over. Eventually his name is called and he’s marched over to an intake desk.

The bored woman only glances up at him when she checks his face against his mug shot taken the night before. Ian can see he looks pretty crazy in it.

“Ian Gallagher, hold out your arm.” She grabs a huge sharpie and starts writing numbers down it - he guesses it’s probably his jail ID.

“Charged with simple battery and …” A single eyebrow then shoots up.

“… ten counts of harboring a fugitive. Oh you are gonna be popular with the C.Os.” She flashes him a wicked smile, but Ian’s still reeling from hearing his charge sheet.

HOLY FUCK. Even on his way down to Mexico the fact that he was breaking many laws had seemed like an abstraction. He hadn’t even considered that neglecting to cross the border might mean the law would eventually catch up with him. From time to time he’d thought of that gas station in Oklahoma where Damon had nearly gotten them killed, but as the months had passed it had seemed less and less likely that anyone was looking for him. He had always been so lucky.

More numbers and letters are scrawled onto his arm and Ian finds himself handing over his belt, wallet, watch and shoelaces in a daze, not really registering anything being said to him.

“Mr. Gallaher!” Slowly Ian pulls himself up from the depths of his ruminations.

“This is important. Any medical conditions, allergies, disabilities?”

“Um … yeah. Yes, I’m Bipolar. Bipolar one with psychotic features.”

“Are you taking any medication for this? If so what dosage?”

“200mg of Lamictal with 80mg of Geodon per day, and 2mg of Ativan when I need it.”

“And you’re taking these currently?”

“Yes, I mean, I’ve missed my last two doses now, but otherwise I take them.”

“Hep C, HIV?” Ian shakes his head.

“Any drug addictions?” Ian shakes his head again, even as he sees her side-eyeing his mugshot. She doesn’t challenge him though.

“OK please sign here to acknowledge surrender of your valuables. It’s Saturday, so you won’t get your arraignment hearing until Monday. You’re scheduled for noon.” More squiggles appear on Ian’s arm and he’s led into a different, but identical bullpen.

About an hour later the first of many bologna sandwiches show up, along with a little cup of medication for Ian. They don’t look the same as his regular pills and he hopes it’s just another generic manufacturer. Still strung out after his meth misadventure he’s not feeling particularly hungry for rubbery lunch-meats, (even if they weren’t grey-brown) but he knows taking the meds on an empty stomach means risking having to use the cesspool of a toilet in the corner of the pen, so he chokes down the food and swallows his pills.

By the time the next round of sandwiches arrive Ian’s in his taupe uniform, having been strip-searched by a (thankfully) disinterested guard, but still no closer to seeing the inside of the jail. Soon after, he’s taken into a small nurse’s office where he has blood drawn and is poked and prodded with various implements. A woman in a smart suit with a clipboard then enters the room.

“Ian, I understand you have been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder?”

“Yup, Bipolar one with psychotic features.”

“And how long ago was this?”

“About three years ago.”

“Have you ever been hospitalized?”

“Yeah once, voluntarily, for a manic episode. That was when I was diagnosed.”

“And for how long would you say you were showing symptoms of your disease, before that?”

“At least a year before, so four total.”

“Have you ever attempted suicide?”

“Umm, well I’ve never tried to…”

“But you’ve had suicidal thoughts?”

“Yeah.”

“Did these go as far as planning or were they confined to general ruminations about death?”

“I thought about different ways, scouted out places to go …”

“Are you feeling suicidal now?”

“I don’t think so. I’m kinda dazed, overwhelmed.”

She was ticking a lot of boxes.

“Do you engage in self-harm behaviors?”

“Well I’m pretty good at self-sabotage, wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.” Ian chuckled, but he didn’t get a response from his inquisitor.

“We’re mostly concerned with violent acts here - whether you’re a danger to yourself or others. Do you cut yourself, hit yourself or otherwise cause yourself physical injury?”

“No.”

“Have you caused injuries to others?”

Ian doesn’t know how to answer that.

The woman waits another moment before prompting: “This is all privileged medical information; none of it can be used against you in court.”

“I threatened a guy with a knife once - it was before I was medicated though. I’m not violent at all since I’ve been on my meds.”

“It says here you’re in on a battery charge.”

“I...uh…I was high, it was a mistake. I was just overwhelmed with stimulus and I lashed out. It was a one off.”

“Do you have substance abuse issues?”

“No, not really.”

“Not really…?”

“Well I mean I do drink, in moderation. And I smoke weed sometimes, but not too regularly.”

“And weed was what caused you to lash out?”

“Um no, it was meth. It was a one off though, I didn’t expect the reaction I got.”

“It was your first time taking meth then?”

“Well no, I used to experiment when I was younger, but I hadn’t taken it in years and I’d never had a bad experience before.”

More boxes were being ticked.

“Can you describe what this bad experience was like? How was it different from before?”

“It was similar in that I had lots of energy and my mind was racing, but it just wasn’t in a good way, like before.” Ian tried to think of a more eloquent way of putting it, but his brain was working pretty poorly today.

“It’s like… before, when I took it, it was like hypomania. I felt great, loads of energy, found everything fun, felt like I was special. But this was more like its evil twin. The tempo was the same, but everything was inverted – I felt crushed, claustrophobic, despairing, but anxious and jittery too. The energy felt like fire instead of electricity. It was torturous, like dying.”

“Have you ever felt these sensations when you weren’t high?”

“No… should I?”

“Hopefully not.”

More scribbling.

“OK Ian almost done. You’re currently taking medication to control your symptoms is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“How long has that been for?”

“I’ve been on my current cocktail for about four or five months, but I’ve been on something continuously for the last two and a half years.”

“And would you say that your mood is stable since you’ve been medicated?”

“Yeah pretty much, I mean, I’ve had some ups and downs and I’ve switched out drugs and doses quite a few times, but it’s nowhere near like it was before. I wouldn’t say I feel like I did before I got sick but I feel normal… ish.”

“Any psychotic symptoms since you’ve been taking them?”

“No. Unless this is all a hallucination.”

“Unfortunately not.”

“Sounds like something a hallucination would say.”

She doesn’t smile, but he can see a little crinkle at the corners of her eyes, like she’s trying to squash one down.

“Ok, well unfortunately I’m going to have to put you into general population as you’re not a high enough psychiatric risk. Given the stress of this environment I’d prefer to have you in our specialist psych program for monitoring, but I’m afraid we’re too short on beds for that. You are far from our only bipolar inmate, sadly, and many are suffering from more acute symptoms.” She hands him a card.

“This is a suicide hotline number, you can call it from any of the jail phones at any time, for free. Please use it if you start feeling even mildly suicidal. The chaos here tends to amplify distress and progress things faster, makes people more impulsive. If you make bail please see your psychiatrist as soon as possible and discuss this episode; they should monitor you more closely from now on, as awaiting trial is also a very stressful experience. Good luck Ian.” She nods at a guard watching through the glass window, who enters and retrieves him.

Ian thought he might finally be on his way (not that there was much to look forward to) but instead it’s back to the bullpen and he waits and he waits and he waits. A third round of bologna sandwiches arrive and Ian wants to scream. This is apparently dinner because he’s got more pills to swallow, so he stuffs it in, determined not to be cowed by Cook County Corrections after a single day. More waiting around and he is eventually fitted with a plastic wristband and presented with a towel that has never known the love of fabric softener and a bar of soap that might be more acid than alkali. Apparently wash cloths, toothbrushes and toothpaste are also standard issue, but it’s a busy day and they’re short on supplies, so Ian’s going to have to go without.

Finally Ian is cuffed again and led down a warren of underground passages with about thirty other men. It’s already after lights out when they arrive in a dormitory. It reminds him of his brief stint in the group home except this is much, much larger – there must be more than 300 men in the room and the cacophony of snores is something to behold. Thankfully he’s so exhausted by this point that he falls asleep within minutes of climbing into his sagging, slightly-too-short bunk.

 


 

The psychiatrist wasn’t kidding about this place being chaotic. When the lights come up in the morning (at least he thinks it’s the morning) the full scale of the scene comes into focus. Shouts and screams echo off the cinderblock walls and the room is a hive of activity. Ian waits in a long line to sit on an unscreened toilet next to 10 other guys. Next it’s into the showers, where Ian has his first surprise – everyone is wearing their boxers. It seems oddly prim, considering Ian’s just taken a shit 12 inches from another man and County-issue boxers are white, so don’t leave much to the imagination once they’re wet, but he goes with it. He’s doing his best to keep his gaze down and avoid eye contact, even as he feels other pairs boring into his back. He knows he sticks out like a sore thumb as a pretty redhead with an incongruously large dick, and he probably looks even more vulnerable with his hair wet and dripping down his body. As soon as his commissary comes through he’s going to the barber to get a buzz cut. He desperately wants to brush his teeth, but he can’t risk getting into anyone’s debt by borrowing toothpaste, so he heads towards the cafeteria instead. He walks to the back of the line and slowly progresses forward, not complaining when others cut in front, like a good unaffiliated ‘neutron’. When he makes it to the head he is gifted oatmeal, toast, a muffin and … bologna. He then starts walking towards the back of the room, closer to the guards, and casts about for a quiet table with some friendlier looking guys, so that his status as ‘fresh meat’ won’t be too obvious.

“Hey Firecrotch.”

Chapter Text

No.

Ian spins around and finds himself staring into blue eyes – but not the ones he’s expecting.

“I know that’s what he used to call you.”

Iggy Milkovich is standing before him, a shit-eating grin on his face. Ian is terrified he’s about to be shanked, but Iggy seems genuinely happy to see him and the next moment he’s pulled into a strong embrace.

“Ian fucking Gallagher. How’d you get busted?”

“I punched a doorman. Turns out I also had a warrant for ten counts of harboring a fugitive.”

“That so?” His eyes narrow, making his grin instantly sinister. “You gonna rat him out for a plea?”

“No. I earned this.”

“Good, then all is forgiven. Come sit!” Iggy steers him round and motions for him to take a seat at his nearby table, occupied by similarly scruffy and tattooed men.

“Guys this is Ian, we used to live together.”

“Yeah I bet.”

“Fuck off, you know I ain’t no fag.”

“So why’d you break up?”

“He ran off with my brother’s baby.”

“Fuuuck. That’s some messed up shit.”

“Nah man, it’s cool. Ian took good care of him, he was just crazy at the time, thinking people wanted to harm the kid.”

Ian’s blushing. He guesses Iggy’s just trying to talk him up so people won’t fuck with him, but it’s mortifying hearing his past talked about like this. He’d forgotten how goddamn blunt Iggy is.

“Shit if that was my kid I’d’ve strung you up.”

“It wasn’t like that. Mickey knows he was loco en el coco.

“Mickey? That your brother that busted outa Stateville?”

“Yeah, that’s why Ian’s in. He helped him out once he was on the run.”

There were nods of understanding around the table. Apparently this information was enough to square Ian’s baby snatching proclivities with the men.

Ian lowered his voice and addressed Iggy.

“Hey Iggy, is your dad in here?” He saw the subtlest of flinches, something Ian was sure was only perceptible to him after his many years of Milkovich watching.

“Why, you think you seen him?”

“No, just wondering if I need to keep my eyes open.”

“Far as I know he’s out. But I’ve been here eight months now, so I don’t really know what’s going on.”

“How long were you sentenced for?”

“Sentenced? Ha! Haven’t even gone to trial yet. Couldn’t make bail.”

“Shit man. What’s the charge?”

“Possession. At least once I finally go down I’ll probably get out on time served.”

Iggy looks at him hungrily and licks his lips, just like Mickey used to do. Ian’s pretty sure he’s not checking out his crotch though, as his eyes slide southwards.

“Hey uh, you gonna eat that bologna?”

 


 

By the time visitation rolls around in the afternoon, Ian’s teeth are mercifully clean thanks to Iggy. He’s also survived lunch – bologna again (wasn’t that a song?) and discovered that there isn’t a whole lot to occupy his time in the Cook County Corrections system. He therefore jumps at the chance of a visit, even if he knows he’s probably going to get his ass handed to him by Lip.

But it isn’t Lip who’s come to see him. It’s Fiona. And Trevor. A lump rapidly rises in his throat as he takes his seat on one side of the plexi-glass partition and picks up the phone. Fiona’s eyes are the size of dinner plates as she shakily does the same on her end. Trevor is hanging back, sitting on the bench running along the back of the room, awaiting his turn. He doesn’t seem too happy to see Ian but he’s not scowling either – his expression is largely inscrutable.

“Hey there sweet-face.”

Ian decides to try to crack a joke to break the ice and put Fiona at ease.

“Yeah, that’s what they’re calling me in here too.”

She tries to suppress a giggle but it comes out as erratic stutters of her chest instead. Then her already reddened eyes begin to brim with tears and the breathing spasms quickly give way to heaving sobs. Shit. This was not the effect he was going for.

“No, No. Shhh. Fi. Come on Fi, don’t worry! It’s ok. I’m ok – really!”

“Ian I’m so sorry! This is all my fault! I’ve been so stupid!”

“You’ve been stupid?!” Ian laughs incredulously.

“Lip told you how I got caught right?” She nods her head but continues her silent sobbing.

“I mean, taking meth when you’re bipolar, it’s pretty high up there in the stupid stakes right? They should bring back America’s Dumbest Criminals just for me.”

She does laugh this time, looking up at him with doe eyes. He’s glad he didn’t go with what he was really thinking: It was such a Monica move.

“Even still, I can’t believe what a mess I got us into. I was so excited about making money off the laundromat I bit off more than I could chew. I thought I was onto a good thing with that building, but I was so distracted with Monica’s death and …”

“No, no Fi, you don’t understand …”

She snuffles.

“Yes I do, I put you and Lip in an impossible position. I’m so sorry about that. I should have cut my losses, but I thought maybe it would work out well for us in the long run if …”

“Fi listen to me, it’s not what you think …”

“… if we had that collateral. Maybe I could give you your first apartment. I wanted to be able to give you something tangible, something secure, like we never got from Monica or Frank. A real inheritance …”

It slowly dawned on Ian that Fiona was talking at him, not to him.

“… to keep you moving up in life, like you deserve. It would have made me so proud and happy to be able to do that for you, for all of you. I’ve seen you all grow so much and I wanted to give you the support I never had and …”

“Fiona …”

“… feel like I’ve done something right for once. I was so proud of myself when I made that first profit, I thought I could do it again, but I should have known someone from the Southside couldn’t strike it lucky twice, it’s just not…”

“FIONA! This isn’t about you!” It’s a little blunt, but also the stark truth.

She jerks up like she’s been hit, finally seeming to see Ian for the first time. He softens his expression as much as he can to sooth the sting.

“Fi, I’m charged with ten counts of harboring a fugitive.”

She is finally lost for words and instead turns around to look at Trevor and then back at Ian, suddenly sensing how awkward their conversation is going to be.

“When’s your arraignment?”

“Tomorrow, at noon.”

“They’ll bring around forms for you to fill out to get a public defender. Whatever the bail is, we’ll find it. At least I’ve got plenty of collateral.” She smiles sadly at him.

“Once you’re out we’ll see about getting you a lawyer. I owe you that much.”

“Thanks Fi.”

“Take care of yourself. I’ll come get you tomorrow.”

She presses her lips to her fingers and then touches them on the glass between them, before getting up and glancing over at Trevor while she moves towards the door.

Trevor’s still wearing his poker face as he lifts the receiver on his side.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

There’s a heavy silence between them. Ian gets the feeling that he’s being given one chance not to fuck this up.

“Did Fiona tell you what happened? What Lip and I were doing?”

“Yeah. I wish you’d told me. You’ve been all over the place recently, I’ve been worried about where you were, what you were doing. I might not have approved, but it would have caused me a lot less hurt than being kept in the dark.”

He looks up at him sadly and the lump in Ian’s throat hitches higher. He’s tired of injuring people, but he knows there’s more to come.

“Thanks for coming to see me. I know it can’t be easy for you being here.”

“What do you mean? Seeing you like this? Yeah, it’s shit, but it is what it is.”

“That and just having to be here at all, it’s not the kind of world you grew up in, probably not where you ever imagined you’d be visiting your boyfriend.”

A previously hidden current of anger suddenly flashes across Trevor’s features. He rolls his eyes and actually sneers at him in disgust.

“You and your fucking Southside sanctimony. I’m pretty sure I’m more familiar with Cook County Corrections than you are. At-risk youth worker, remember? Been here enough that the C.O.s aren’t surprised anymore when they pat me down and realize there’s nothing in my pants.”

Ian deserved that. He figures he might as well just get this over and done with.

“Look Trev, I’m not here because of our money problems. I had a warrant out, for harboring a fugitive. Ten counts actually.”

“Fuck.”

There’s a long pause now. Ian tries to read Trevor’s expression, but he’s not giving much away.

“I’m sorry.”

Trevor laughs bitterly.

“That much is obvious.”

Ian isn’t sure if he’s being sarcastic or not, but he doesn’t press it. Trevor finally takes a deep breath and shakes his head a little, as if trying to clear his mind.

“Let’s talk about this tomorrow, Ok? For now all that matters is getting you out of here, so you can keep your job. Got to get you some advice and a decent lawyer.”

“Thanks.”

“I haven’t done anything yet.”

“Yes you have.”

The guard enters the room at that moment and starts to usher the visitors out. Trevor starts to stand, but he doesn’t hang up the receiver.

“Hey uh, don’t drop the soap.”

Ian groans, but smiles and Trevor’s lips finally curl upwards.

“What, now I don’t get to inflict a little punny pain of my own?”

“That’s not even a pun Trev.”

“Whatever, you know I’m slippery.”

“Ugh.”

“Bye.”

 

Chapter Text

Ian is shaken awake at 5.30am the following morning.

“Gallagher, Ian Gallagher?”

For a moment he thinks he’s back in Basic. He mumbles a response but the man continues shaking him.

“You’re going to court today. Be ready to leave in 15 minutes.”

Ian rubs his eyes and yawns, but manages to pull himself upright and plant his feet on the ground. He’s really tired; between the noise in the room and the noise in his head it took a lot longer to get to sleep last night.

Still somewhat bleary-eyed he stumbles into the cafeteria 15 minutes later and is given the same meal as yesterday. With no Iggy around he tries to trade his bologna for more oatmeal, but no-one’s biting. They all know what they’re going to be having for lunch.

Next he is marched back to the intake center with the same 30 men he came in with on Saturday and placed in a familiar bullpen. As before, they wait around for a good hour or so, while their names are slowly called to be strip searched, then checked against their mugshots and court records. Eventually they’re all led out and individually cuffed before retracing their steps to a waiting Cook County bus for the short ride to the courthouse.

The lockups at the courthouse are much the same as those in the jail and the procedure similar, checking names against photos and assigning people to pens depending on the times of their hearing. The public defender forms Fiona promised arrive soon after and everyone who requests one is given the slim inner cartridge of a cheap ballpoint pen to write with. Ian looks quizzically at the guard handing them out, who just rolls her eyes and replies to his silent question: “Hard plastic’s a shiv risk,” before moving on. The tiny size makes it difficult to grip or write legibly and Ian wonders darkly if this is somehow a cruel game to make the inmates look barely literate to the court clerks. He notices some of the more experienced defendants are rolling squares of toilet paper into thick rings to wrap around the shaft of the cartridge, increasing the size of the gripping surface. Ian follows suit and his form no longer resembles chicken scratchings. The ‘pens’ are then collected and carefully counted to make sure none are missing.

A few hours pass and the only event of note is the arrival of the anticipated bologna sandwiches. The clock is ticking closer to twelve and Ian is beginning to worry he won’t get a public defender at all, but his name is eventually called and he’s brought into a small visiting room and seated opposite a tiny dark haired woman on the other side of a plexi-glass partition.

“Ian Gallagher?” Her voice is soft and quiet, almost timid. He hopes she’s just saving her energy for court. He nods at her, without replying and she begins to shuffle papers, apparently looking for his file.

“Do you understand what is meant by attorney privilege?” She doesn’t wait for his response before continuing.

“It means nothing we say here can be used against you in court, so I need you to be honest with me about your circumstances so I can advise you how to plead. We only have a few minutes.”

Ian nods and is about to ask a question, but she isn’t looking at him, fishing around in her bag for something before pulling out a legal pad and flipping it open as she finally locates his file.

“OK, Ian. You are charged with simple battery and … ooooh harboring a felon, ten counts.” She mimics the reaction of the guard on Saturday as an eyebrow hitches up. She finally looks him in the eye and smiles.

“More interesting than my usual cases. Straight off the bat I’m going to tell you to plead not guilty to the harboring charges. Ten counts means we need to look at each one and that will take time, plus it’s the kind of thing that’s ripe for negotiations with the D.A. It won’t be held against you if you plead not guilty now and change that at the pretrial hearing. Is the battery charge related to the harboring?”

“No, I punched a doorman and got brought in, which is how I found out about the warrant for the other charges.”

“Simple battery is a Class A misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is a year in jail, but unless it was really nasty you’re more likely to get off with a fine and maybe some community service.” She flicks through his file as she speaks.

“Doesn’t look like you’ve got any priors, none that were prosecuted anyway.”

“Nope.”

“It doesn’t matter too much whether you plead guilty or not guilty on this one, from a bargaining perspective, but I’d only recommend going to trial if you’re sure you’re innocent and think you can get witnesses or video to back that up. The D.A. and courts aren’t going to want to use resources on a trial for something as trivial as this, so they’ll probably be lenient if you plead guilty. Anything else I should know about?”

“What do you mean?”

“Mitigating factors, family responsibilities, work commitments? Things I can throw at the judge to convince them to set a lower bail amount.”

“Umm. Well I’ve got a full time job, as an EMT. I’ve got a large family and we’re struggling at the moment so they definitely need my wages. And I’m bipolar.”

“One or two?”

“One, with psychotic features.”

“Do you take medications? Do you have a support network at home?”

“Yes, I’m a model nutcase.”

A guard enters at that moment; apparently their time is up and they both rise.

The woman is turning to leave, but Ian still hasn’t asked his question, so he calls out.

“Hey, uh, what was your name?”

She looks at him blankly, as if he has asked something so profound she can’t wrap her head around it. Before she has time to snap from her stupor the guard is removing him from the room and marching him down the corridor to join a line of cuffed men. He too is shackled before a door swings open and they are marched into court and seated on a long bench running the length of the right wall. One by one they are prodded to stand as their charge sheets are read and they enter their pleas, before they are led out of a different door by the witness stand. As the last one in Ian will apparently be the last to be called and he slowly slides up the bench towards the judge, as all manner of charges are called out. He can see Lip and Trevor on the opposite side of the room in the public benches, so he tries to keep his head down, wanting to avoid eye contact for as long as possible. Finally he is called to stand and he can’t look away any longer as his counsel comes to stand beside him.

“Case 17CF7508 Ian Gallagher, charged with simple battery, a Class A misdemeanor, one count and harboring a fugitive, a Class 4 felony, ten counts.”

The judge is about to speak, but before he can the D.A. pipes up.

“Your Honor, it has come to my attention that, due to jurisdictional issues stemming from the crime taking place across state lines, the harboring case will be tried in federal court. The State therefore declines to prosecute.”

“Very well. I hereby order an entry of nolle prosequi, without prejudice, be added to those charges in the record. Ian Gallagher you are charged with a single count of simple battery, a Class A misdemeanor. How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your Honor.”

“I must advise you that this charge carries a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and a $2,500 fine. You will be guilty of a misdemeanor, which means you will have a criminal record. By pleading guilty you will be exposing yourself to these possible maximum penalties. You will be waiving your constitutional rights to be tried by a jury of your peers. Do you understand this?”

“Yes.”

“Is counsel satisfied that the accused is competent to plead and has been adequately informed of the consequences of his action?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“I find that the accused is acting competently and is voluntarily giving up his rights, therefore I am prepared to accept your plea. Please state for the record how you wish to plead.”

“Guilty, your Honor.”

“Very well, this case is adjourned for sentencing reports. I am remanding you into the custody of the U.S. Marshal to face the federal charges. Court is dismissed.”

A guard comes and seizes his elbow, leading him towards the exit. Ian just has time to hiss to his still anonymous attorney:

“What’s going on?”

“You’re going to Big School,” she whispers unhelpfully.

Back in the holding cell he collects his thoughts enough to piece together what he thinks is happening. Clearly he’s going to be having another court appearance, but when is another matter. Soon all the men in the pen are rounded up and marched back onto the bus to the Cook County Jail. The now familiar process is repeated and he is strip-searched, before having his wristband scanned. This time however, he is put into a much smaller holding cell on his own. He takes the opportunity to lie down on the wooden bench and catch up on some of the sleep he lost the night before. When he awakens he knows a few hours must have passed, but he’s still in the cell, alone, and he begins to wonder if he’s been forgotten. Soon however, the door opens and his name is called.

A man in a marshal’s uniform escorts him to one of the admin desks where he signs some paperwork and is given a plastic bag containing the valuables he surrendered on Saturday. He is surprised to then be put in fetters as well as manacles and escorted to a waiting car. There’s another prisoner in the back and Ian struggles to get in with his gangly legs held so close together. Even though he’s only been in jail three days he can’t help but think the car feels oddly luxurious, as the marshal buckles his seatbelt. He seems to read Ian’s mind because he tells him:

“Don’t get too comfortable, it’s not a long ride.”

“Where are we going?”

“The MCC.” He doesn’t elaborate, but the man next to him can sense his confusion.

“Metropolitan Correctional Center, it’s in the Loop.”

Sure enough, a short while later they pull into the delivery bay beneath a skyscraper Ian has passed countless times, but never realized was a prison. He is marched through double doors, then into an elevator (a strange novelty) and transported to the 5th floor.

Receiving here is much the same as at Cook County, except it passes much faster due to the smaller numbers of arrivals. He resurrenders his valuables and signs the paperwork, before he is led away to be strip-searched for the third time that day. His breath catches in his chest a little when he’s presented with his new uniform – white underclothes and an orange jumpsuit, realizing that he has indeed made it to the ‘Big Leagues’. Those thoughts drift, as he pulls it on, to the last time he saw one of these. He wonders what Mickey would say, if he could see him now.

On his own in a holding cell, he’s struck by how much quieter this place is. He’s not sure if it’s disconcerting or a relief. What is not a welcome change however, is dinner, another paper-bag sandwich meal. The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ lunchmeat weapon of choice is Spam; Ian suddenly feels a strange nostalgia for bologna. Apparently institutionalization sets in fast.

Much later, after his paperwork has been processed, he is once again taken to the elevator and transported to the 11th floor. Everything is quiet and it is apparently after lights out again. He sees that there are two tiers of cells arranged around a sunken courtyard but he’s not feeling too curious about the leisure facilities at this point. He is led into a cell where the guard removes his ankle chains, but leaves the handcuffs on. For a second Ian thinks he’s going to be left in them overnight, but once the door has been locked behind him he’s directed to back up to a small hatch and slot his wrists through, where the guard unlocks them, then quickly slams the flap shut.

It’s dark in the cell, the only light coming from a frosted slit in the outer wall, housing a five inch wide floor to ceiling window, with bars running horizontally across it at one foot intervals. He can’t see out, but it gives him enough illumination to find the sink and toilet. The bed is a single steel bunk bolted to the floor in the middle of the room. Running his hand along its edges he can feel raised slots at intervals and he deduces these are for attaching restraints. He shivers involuntarily at the realization.

Climbing in however, the foam mattress is surprisingly comfortable and this bed is long enough for him to stretch out fully. He can hear the L screeching away outside and he lulls himself to sleep imagining he’s at home in his own bed, listening to the same familiar sound.

Chapter Text

Ian’s wake up call the next morning is even less friendly. The handcuff hatch is opened and a tray pushed through roughly. Ian stirs faintly, but not enough to satisfy the C.O. on the other side, who bangs loudly on the metal door with his cuffs.

“Gallagher, wake up! Be ready to leave in 15 minutes!”

Ian rubs his eyes groggily and starts to shuffle towards the hatch. The guard doesn’t elaborate on his impending journey, but Ian’s getting used to the uncertainty. His first federal breakfast isn’t too bad; there is actual fruit and a dearth of lunchmeats! He knows those are coming later though.

Soon the C.O. is back and Ian slots his tray and then his wrists back through the hatch to be cuffed. Now safely restrained, he’s allowed out of the cell, but he has fetters attached before he can go anywhere. He’s still getting used to the small, shuffling gait he has to use and he trips going down the stairs, though he doesn’t fall due to the fast reactions of the escort holding his elbow.

Back down on the 5th floor Ian is put in a holding cell and he waits around for an hour or two. He only has a chance to ask where he’s going when a guard enters to strip search him. The response, as expected, is to court. He doesn’t see why they needed to wait until he was butt-naked (balancing on one leg like a flamingo while he bares his sole), to tell him that though.

He’s herded into a van with half a dozen other prisoners, for about two blocks to the courthouse. Again, public defender forms are circulated with the useless skinny pens; if it weren’t for the arrival of Spam sandwiches for lunch Ian might have thought he was experiencing a groundhog day.

That impression is reinforced when he’s called into a visiting room (admittedly a little earlier this time) and sees the same woman as yesterday on the opposite side of the glass. He hesitates to sit.

“Ian, my name is Miranda, I’m a panel attorney acting on behalf of the Federal Public Defender’s office, please, take a seat.”

He shuffles to the seat and swings his legs around the metal stool, trying to avoid catching his chain on the large bolts pinning it down. The guard leaves them to it.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get better acquainted yesterday - state cases have so little time for preparation. I read over your file last night; I’ve got to say, this isn’t going to be an easy one. Mr. Milkovich’s escape and continued freedom is a huge embarrassment to the prison authorities, they’re going to throw the book at you, unless you cooperate.”

Ian stays silent, putting on his best neutral expression.

“I imagine they will press for the maximum penalty, which is three years for each count. Normally these sentences would run concurrently, but I’d bet they’ll find justifications for some of them to run sequentially. I’m guessing you’re probably looking at a 10-15 year sentence.”

She pauses to look at him and Ian sees pity in her eyes.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me that you’re not a snitch, but you should think carefully about what that means. I don’t know what your relationship to Mr. Milkovich and Mr. Flores is, but you should consider whether they would do the same for you.”

Ian can’t help it, but a tiny smile plays around his lips - she sees it.

“And if they would, whether they would want you to take this hit for them.” His smile dies.

“You have a serious mental health condition. You may be coping now, but prison is not a good place to maintain that. They will do enough to keep you from becoming a danger to yourself and others, but the resources are stretched thin, so you’re not going to get the same quality of care you would outside. You’re going to suffer, Ian.”

She looks him in the eye and he tries not to blink, but he can’t deny her words are intimidating.

“If you do go down you’ll have some credit with the other inmates, but it will also make you unpopular with the guards. Most of them are professional, but there are always going to be some who take your offense personally. Prison is a different world and the power dynamics inside are strange and complex. There are very smart and manipulative people on both sides of the fence. I’m sure you think you’re street-wise, but between your circumstances and this case there’s a huge risk you’ll end up in the middle of some nasty prison politics. You’re really going to have to keep your wits about you and I would urge you to put your mental health first.”

She pauses to let it sink in, but Ian can’t think of anything to say anyway.

“Let’s talk about the case. As I said yesterday, I strongly advise you to plead not guilty at this stage. I’m hopeful we can get you out on bail, but you’ll probably have to agree to electronic monitoring and possibly a curfew. I understand your job requires shift work, so I will do my best to have that taken into account, but you may have to negotiate with your employer as well. I don’t know what their personnel policies are, but you may well be placed on administrative leave and that might be unpaid.”

“What’s the evidence against me?”

“It’s too early to say, but I can tell you that the charge sheet breakdown reads as two counts of harboring in Illinois, then one each in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. There are ten because they're counting harboring Mr. Milkovich and Mr. Flores as separate offenses. Given the multiple locations I’d guess they probably have pretty solid evidence of you traveling with them, from security videos or speed cameras. I imagine your defense will come down to why you were with them and not if you were.”

Ian still doesn’t say anything and she sighs a little.

“Look, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but please think seriously about cooperating with them. You should be able to get a good plea deal if you do and it may only entail telling them what you know. The feds are not stupid, Ian. What you know may not be much more than they do and not that useful, but it will be enough. And you need to do it sooner, rather than later, because it doesn’t take a genius to work out where you were headed. The U.S. and Mexican governments do cooperate and have had plenty of success tracking down fugitives in the past. Given the progress they’ve made on the case and in charging you, it’s probably only a matter of time until everyone is apprehended. They won’t be interested in deals once no-one is left to catch.”

The guard enters at that moment and they both stand. As before, Ian has time to blurt out one question.

“If you’re a private attorney, why are you taking this case? Surely it’s not worth the crappy pay?”

“If I cared that much about pay I definitely wouldn’t take cases for the State Public Defender too. I think it’s important that everyone has access to counsel, but I couldn’t handle the workload if I had to work for them directly. Plus this is an interesting case and the fed pays better.”

She smiles at him as he’s taken out.

“See you in there.”

Ian is led out of the room and into an elevator. Up and up it goes and when the doors open, he turns his head to the side and catches a magnificent view of the Chicago skyline from the windows down the hall. Unfortunately he is dragged in the opposite direction and into a windowless courtroom. He is the last one in again, but this time he’s seated in a plush leather chair at a table, with Miranda by his side. She barely comes up to his chest and her feet are skimming the ground. There are only two other inmates in the room, also at the table with their lawyers. He looks around the courtroom and spies Fiona, Debbie and a sleeping Frannie in the first public bench. He smiles and waggles his fingers at them, although he can’t do much with the cuffs on.

They rise as the judge enters and the proceedings begin. It is a much longer process, with a lot of preamble and legalese. Ian waits as the hearings for the other two men occur, before he is finally read the charges in ‘United States v. Gallagher’. When prompted, he pleads ‘not guilty’, as directed, and the proceedings morph into a detention hearing.

Miranda goes first.

“Your Honor, the defense moves for pretrial release. My client holds a full time job in a community-serving role as an EMT, something he is passionate about. He is dedicated to his career and to his family who are highly dependent on his income. Despite his relative youth, he is currently the largest earner in his family, supporting several younger siblings and a niece, some of whom are here today. They have no parents to speak of and will face grave hardship if my client is detained.”

The federal prosecutor spoke next.

“Your Honor, the Office of the United States Attorney considers the accused to present a major flight risk and is seeking pretrial detention. There is evidence that the accused accompanied one of the fugitives in question all the way to the Mexican border. This man remains at large, so it is likely the defendant would attempt to join him, now that it is clear he will face prosecution for his crimes.”

“I counter that my client’s behavior is explained by other factors that will not influence his future actions. He is not a flight risk and simply wishes to continue working to support his family. As such, the defense is willing to accept electronic monitoring as a condition of liberty, which will allow the authorities to know his whereabouts at all times, ensuring he will not abscond. He has no criminal record and has otherwise led a trustworthy life, despite facing significant obstacles and hardships in his life.”

“We accept that the defendant has no prior criminal record and does not present a threat to others, but we maintain that he still poses a significant flight risk. In addition to this crime, there are extradition warrants out for his arrest on charges of aggravated robbery and grand larceny of an automobile, in Oklahoma. These are equivalent to Class 1 and Class 2 felonies in Illinois. Furthermore, the accused was given an other-than-honorable discharge from the United States Army for fraudulently enlisting underage, identity theft, theft and destruction of U.S. government property – namely a helicopter, and desertion.”

Shit.

Miranda turns to look at him wide-eyed. One of the other defendants gives him a double thumbs up from down the table.

“I was ill!” Ian hisses at her through the side of his lips.

“Court-martial proceedings against the defendant were dropped due to mitigating circumstances in the case, so these do not constitute crimes per se, but we hold that these actions demonstrate the accused’s impulsive nature and underscore his potential as a flight risk, particularly as he remained AWOL for over a year after these events and only faced justice because he was apprehended by the military police.”

“My client suffers from a serious mental health condition, namely bipolar one, with psychotic features and has fought bravely to regain his health. His previous actions, as conceded by the prosecution, were the product of his illness. He has turned his life around, with the help and support of his family and community, and should not have his past held against him. He is compliant with, but also dependent upon, the regime he follows to manage his disease. Sending him to prison would likely jeopardize his health and could hinder his ability to participate in a trial. His place is in the community, with access to the specialized resources he requires to maintain his health. Detaining him is not in anyone’s best interest, including the United States government.”

“The prosecution recognizes the seriousness of the defendant’s condition and does not suggest detention as a punitive measure; we would not request it unless absolutely certain of the danger of flight that the accused represents. We applaud the determination that he has shown in his recovery, but maintain that the behavioral evidence shows he may still abscond. He did not give himself up to face the consequences of his actions in the military, once his condition stabilized. He was once detained for kidnapping and child endangerment, after fleeing the state with Mr. Milkovich's infant son. The charges were dropped due to evidence that he was unwell, but the pattern remains. He still transported a fugitive to Mexico at a time when he was supposed to be coping well. Whether this was a calculated move or a result of his illness remains to be seen, but the behavior alone indicates that he is either capable of flight when stable, or does not have his illness as well controlled as is claimed. Both scenarios support our argument for detention. The federal prison system has the resources to create individual care plans for mentally ill inmates and can supervise them more closely for signs of deterioration. Awaiting trail will be a stressful experience regardless as to where the defendant resides. We argue that earlier intervention may actually occur institutionally, despite the higher stresses, than in the community where action relies more heavily on the self-awareness of the patient. Finally, we would also like to point out that there is a danger that the accused may contact Mr. Milkovich and relay information about the case and the extent of law enforcement’s knowledge of his whereabouts, if released. The resources and cost required to monitor his communications while at liberty are prohibitive and the public will be better served if he is detained, where this monitoring occurs by default.”

The judge then spoke up.

“Thank you both for your arguments and rebuttals. You have stated your cases with nuance, but I believe I have heard enough to determine that the defendant is, indeed, a flight risk. I am ordering him remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshal for pretrial detention. This case is adjourned for pretrial hearings; attorneys please approach the bar to discuss scheduling. Court is dismissed.”

The gavel came down and with that it was over. Miranda laid a hand on Ian’s arm.

“I’m really sorry Ian, I tried my best. You’ll be assigned a counselor once you get to prison. Ask them to explain how privileged mail works and make sure you put me on your visitor and call list. You can write to me at any time and please keep me updated about your health and what support you’re receiving in there. I can advocate on your behalf. Good luck.”

The marshal comes to escort Ian out, so they both rise and move away from the table. As he’s being led out he can hear Fiona and Debbie crying, with Frannie mewling in response and his mind stutters, before going blank.

 

Chapter Text

The irony was not lost on Ian that, although his life was now a certified clusterfuck, his current address in the Loop is probably the most desirable he’ll ever have.

Returning from court, Ian is eventually led to the same cell he’d hoped he had vacated for good. It’s a shame he can’t see anything out of the frosted glass because he bets the view of downtown Chicago from his window is pretty good. As a house warming gift he gets his full compliment of prison jumpsuits, socks, boxers and shoes, with a mesh laundry bag to put it all in. Thankfully there is also a toothbrush and toothpaste this time. He’s also told his commissary account will be set up in the next few days and given a not very extensive list of items he can buy.

Over the next couple of days he slowly gleans more insight into prison and the routine of his new life. His first confusion comes from why he’s allowed to do fuck all. He gets a meal and his medication pushed through the hatch three times a day and that’s about it. An inmate pushing a cartload of books stops by on his first day and asks if he wants anything. Ian’s about to tell him to pick something for him, but then he spots Wuthering Heights nestled between the pink-spined romance novels and he can’t help himself. That turns out to be the highlight of his day and his cell door remains locked. If he didn’t know any better he’d swear he was in ‘the hole’.

And actually, it turns out that’s exactly where he his. When he meets his counselor on the second day, he explains that Ian is in ‘Administrative Detention’, being held until his ‘classification’ as a prisoner is complete and he can be moved to general population or another kind of unit. This gives Ian a little more hope that he might actually see the sun again, but he’s grateful for some initial solitude to process what’s going on and think about what he’s going to do when he has to interact with other inmates.

His solitude begins to morph to boredom on the third day. He therefore gets excited at the offer of an hour's exercise time, until the guard insists he strip naked in his cell beforehand. “Standard procedure”, he informs Ian, peering through the circular holes in the steel door, while Ian spreads and coughs. Once he’s dressed he pushes his hands through the slot and is cuffed and escorted out of his cell to the ‘yard’, which turns out to be two cells knocked together to form a makeshift gym, consisting of nothing but a pull-up bar, some dumbbells and a janky looking exercise bike. He makes the most of it though and the time passes too quickly, before he’s having to strip naked again. As he’s wriggling back into his jumpsuit he asks about fetching his towel from his cell but is informed that:

“Today’s not your shower day.”

“Seriously?! I stink now!”

“Take a bird bath.”

“What?”

Ian gets his 10th eye-roll of the week.

“Use the sink in your cell.”

He does an eye-roll of his own but doesn’t complain. It works out ok though, even though he has to sacrifice one of his towels to mop up the water on the ground.

The night is not peaceful and the entire ‘pod’ is woken by the sound of screaming, banging and many raised voices. Like the rest of the inmates, Ian moseys over to his door to watch the commotion in the dim light. Several guards in protective gear are fitfully pushing and pulling a large man towards an open cell.

“C-COCK SUCKERS!” he screams out.

“FUCK TWATS!” his voice is surprisingly high for a man of his stature.

“I’m’a kill you all. I’m gonna break into your homes and eat all your CUNT MUFFINS and barbecue sauce and start a fire of my own. Yeah, I’m gonna burn all your WANK DICK memories and pretty little ASSSS WIPE cats real bad.”

The tirade continues for a while, even when the man’s left on his own, then starts back up again at random intervals, each time Ian’s drifting off to sleep. In the end he gets the idea to open up his mattress cover and gouge out some of the foam for makeshift earplugs and he’s able to sleep after that.

The fourth day is an ‘exciting’ one. It starts, after breakfast, with the offer of a shower. Ian really doesn’t see why he has to strip for this, considering he’s going to be naked anyway in a minute, presumably with a guard watching, so there’s not a lot of opportunity to stash or extract contraband from his ass. He doesn’t protest though and is led, handcuffed, to a metal cage containing a shower. Surprisingly, there is a shower curtain and the water is unexpectedly warm. It’s the best thing that’s happened to him all week.

Later in the day his commissary order arrives. Ian bought ramen noodles, candy, deodorant, shampoo, paper, pens and stamps but he gets an unwelcome surprise when the C.O. pulls out his items and promptly starts destroying them.

“This is procedure. While you’re still being classified you’re not allowed any kind of packaging or hard plastic.” He unwraps Ian’s noodles and candy and places them in styrofoam cups, then breaks the ballpoint pens open to retrieve the inner cartridges. Even the deodorant is not spared; it’s broken off the stick and crumbled into smaller blocks before being confined to another cup. The shampoo doesn’t materialize at all.

“Don’t have a good way to store it. Just ask for some when you need it and we’ll get you a cup. Once you’re classified you’ll get the actual bottle.”

Ian sighs and starts to chew on one of his candy bars. A few minutes later, once the guard has moved on, Ian hears a voice through the air vent above his sink.

“Hey yo, Gallagher! That’s your name right? This is Rico. I’m next door.”

“Hi Rico.”

“Welcome to the joint. You just get your commissary? Got any stamps you wanna trade? I’ll send you a gift over in my car.”

“Car?”

“You’ll see. First time in huh? You gonna have to learn how to fish.”

A moment later a tube of toothpaste tied to a piece of string shoots under Ian’s metal door. He flips the cap and finds the nozzle has been cut off, so that the opening is large enough to fit things in. Something is folded up inside. Ian pulls it out and smooths the creases from a 3x5 photo of a dark haired woman with her legs spread open. He’s careful not to make his retching sounds too loud.

“Hot eh? I’m your man for skin pics. They’ll cost you a book a piece, but this one’s free. Enjoy your solitude man, once you’ve got a cellie you won’t get no peace, you feel me?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Hey, save me your fruit and sugar packets. I’m making hooch. I’ll send you some if you hook me up.”

“Will do.”

The fifth day nothing happens until late in the afternoon. Ian’s got a visitor.

He’s stripped, then handcuffed and escorted to the elevator and transported to the eighth floor. There he’s diverted into a small visiting room set up similarly to the Cook County jail, to await his mystery visitor. It’s Trevor. He’s not sure if he’s pleasantly surprised or terrified. They’re behind glass again, so each settles and grasps the telephone receiver.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

Neither seems to know what to say after this. They both know that everything’s gone to shit.

“You holding up ok?”

“Yeah. I mean, they’ve got me in solitary, which isn’t fun, but I think it’s temporary. As far as I can tell I should be transferred to the general population soon.”

The conversation still isn’t flowing.

“What about you?”

“I’m ok. It’s been a seriously hectic week, but it could be worse.”

He looks tired - neither had expected Ian to be remanded.

“So… you come here often?”

Trevor does smile this time, the reference to their last conversation not eluding him.

“A few times, but Cook County’s definitely my home port.”

A few more beats of silence and Ian decides he needs to take the bull by the horns.

“Trev, why are you here?”

“I came to see you, obviously.”

“Obviously. But what do you expect? I’m not getting out of here anytime soon. Fact is I’m probably not getting out of here for a very long time.”

“That may not be true. I mean, you’ve not gone to trial yet. I didn’t know your record, but it sounds like you’ve had a lot of charges against you dismissed in the past. You’ve got a serious illness – they do understand that. Honestly, I’m more worried about how you’ll hold up in here before trial, than what will happen at it.”

Ian admires his optimism, but he knows it’s misplaced. The government clearly have a handle on his past and present. He knows it’ll be a hard sell to convince a jury that his disorder is at the root of this crime, yet again - because ultimately, he knows it’s not. And if he doesn’t believe it, he doubts anyone without a vested interest will.

“Trev, don’t waste your time here. I’m not getting out. My lawyer thinks I’m going to get 10 to 15 years. Then they’ll extradite me to Oklahoma for more charges. I’m fucked. Deep down I know you know it’s true.”

“I know it seems shit, but you’ve still got options. You think I’m going to just abandon you because you got thrown in here? That’s not what relationships are about. I don’t know what the future holds, Ian. I can’t say that I’ll never need to move on, but you’ve got to understand that you mean enough to me that I don’t mind ‘wasting my time’ on you. What kind of friend, let alone lover, would I be if I just fucked off the moment shit got hot? As soon as things got difficult?”

Ian brings a hand up to his face and rubs his burning eyes. He doesn’t deserve this. All he ever does is fuck things up and hurt people, and his punishment is having to watch those same people suffer further because they refuse to see him as he really is. Yeah Ian’s got his good qualities, but they’re outnumbered by his flaws. He doesn’t understand why people keep coming back to him, when he can’t return their gifts in kind.

“Let’s not forget why I’m in here. I earned this and I hurt you in the process. And I’m going to continue to hurt you. I’m not going to snitch on him for a plea. You understand that, right? Don’t do this to yourself Trevor.”

“I do. But we worked through this and I’ve moved on from it. I don’t expect you to ret-con your past for us. He made you who you are. But you turned back; you came back. That has to mean something!”

Ian puts the phone down on the metal bench in front of him and covers his eyes again. He can feel his heart breaking and he tries to take some deep breaths to steady himself, but they can’t stop the tears from forming in his eyes. He retrieves the receiver and looks him in the eye.

“I don’t love you Trevor.” His voice is cracking. “If you do, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t do this to me. Neither of us deserve this. Please.”

Trevor finally seems to break because his eyes start to swim. He doesn’t say anything, but doesn’t move away, just remains clinging to the receiver with his gaze unfocused on the bench before him. Eventually he lets out a resigned sigh and looks up to meet Ian’s eyes, nodding softly, almost tenderly, as he replaces the phone on the cradle and gets up to leave.

Ian remains fixed in place, the phone at his ear, even after Trevor’s gone. The supervising guard replaces the handset for him and brings Ian’s wrists together to cuff them, gently; clearly aware of what’s just gone down even if he couldn’t hear the words. He leads Ian out of the room and back towards the elevator, his right hand between Ian’s shoulder blades, pushing him forward slowly.

Chapter Text

Ian’s prison schooling begins on Tuesday when he’s fetched from his cell after breakfast. He slots his tray and then his wrists through the hatch, in anticipation of being cuffed but, to his surprise, the guard waves him away and begins unlocking his door. He follows him to the elevator and is transported to a new floor – the ninth. Ian sees what must be the library through a window as he’s walked down a corridor with meeting rooms either side. A damp musk pervades the whole floor. There are other inmates milling around, walking in and out of rooms unescorted, so Ian figures he might be finally joining general population.

The guard leads him to the very last room, which turns out to be some sort of classroom. A woman is writing on a whiteboard and talking to an assortment of men seated at small tables throughout the room. The room has the same slit windows as his cell, but they’re twice as wide. One of the fluorescent light tubes is flickering and Ian finds himself drawn to it.

“Gallagher?” The woman moves some papers around her desk to locate a file, which she passes to him.

“Yes,”

“Please take a seat and fill out the forms in here.” She motions to an empty desk and hands him a pen. The plastic casing is intact - the smoking gun of his classification as low risk. He sits and opens the file as the woman resumes her writing. Inside the file is an introductory letter that has been photocopied so many times the white paper is speckled with grey flecks and the text is fuzzy. It informs Ian that, as a federal prisoner without a high school diploma, he is required to pass his GED, or complete 240 hours of study. The rest is surveys and forms to document his education. He’d been secretly hoping his EMT experience might get him a job in the infirmary, but at least he’ll have something to do with his time.

I wonder if Mickey got his?


 

One paper-bag spam lunch later and Ian is once again wrestling with the trigonometry he thought he’d left behind with his military career. The woman passes up and down the rows, talking to each inmate, everyone working from a different textbook and grade. At the end of the session a guard comes to meet Ian. He’s holding his laundry bag stuffed with his possessions.

“You’ve been classified as fit for general population. I’m going to take you to your pod now.”

Ian’s new home is on the 19th floor. It’s a similar layout to solitary except the sunken courtyard in the center of it all has actual amenities like a television and men are scattered about, playing cards and chatting leisurely. They barely give Ian a glance as he passes by.

The cell he’s led to already has an occupant. An older man in his early 50s, with salt-and-pepper hair, is lounging on the top bunk absorbed in a book. He’s well groomed and looks like his usual suit is made of wool chalk-stripe, not orange polyester. He nods at the C.O. who hands Ian his laundry bag and walks away without another word.

“James,”

“Ian.”

The room is the same size as his solitary cell except the bunk bed is pushed up against the far wall so there’s a little more floor space. Ian upends his laundry bag on the lower bunk and crouches down to pull an empty plastic tub out from under the bed to store his things. James watches him quietly, pretending to read his book as Ian folds his clothes.

“Oh good, you’re tidy. That’s always a relief.”

Ian doesn’t say anything because he’s busy trying to shake crumbled bits of deodorant from his clothes that have escaped his now crushed Styrofoam cup.

“Looks like you just got out of the SHU. Did you just come in or were you transferred from elsewhere? Here let me help you with that.”

He dismounts from his perch and goes rummaging in his own tub, before pulling out a plastic multivitamin bottle. He opens it and removes the remaining three pills before passing it to Ian.

“Food’s not great here. I’d recommend buying vitamins if you can afford it.”

“Thanks. Yeah I just got classified. I was remanded a week ago.”

He drops the remaining large deodorant lumps into the bottle, closes it and turns his attention back to his pile, where a square of paper catches his eye. He laughs slightly as he opens it and realizes what it is – his bed-warming gift from Rico. Ian had stashed it under the mattress to serve as the welcome committee for the cell’s next occupant, but apparently the C.O. who shook down his cell had decided they shouldn’t be parted. Clearly they turn a blind eye to some forms of contraband around here. James catches Ian’s eye, but turns away quickly, though he doesn’t attempt to hide his smirk.

“What?”

“Nothing really, I’m just amazed that one is still doing the rounds. It must be at least 10 years old by now.”

“Maybe they reprint them.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. But if you can do that you’d think you could source some new material. Still, there’s something to be said for nostalgia. Do you want me to sell it for you? I know someone who might be interested in seeing it again.”

“Who says I want to let her go?”

“Seriously?”

Ian stiffens and stands upright. He’d hoped he’d make it a little longer than five minutes before he had to dodge the question of his sexuality, but apparently not.

“Come on, fronting is a form of disrespect as far as I’m concerned and cellies have to respect each other. If you don’t want my help fine, but don’t insult my intelligence.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I saw you breaking up with your boyfriend in the visiting room the other day.”

Ian was not expecting that. He balls his fists and tenses his jaw, ready to strike if he needs to, but James doesn’t seem to be spoiling for a fight.

“Relax, I’m probably the most white-collar inmate in here. I went to my flaming nephew’s wedding and loved it. I used to enjoy brunch on a regular basis.”

Ian hopes the tolerance resume isn’t going to continue, but he unclenches his fists none-the-less.

“But I’d keep it on the down-low in general, if I were you. Attitudes can be a bit antiquated and once you’ve got a reputation as being turned out, everyone will view you as fair game, regardless as to your feelings on the matter.”

James’ gaze is a little pitying as he rakes his eyes over Ian’s body and features.

“Be really careful not to get into anyone’s debt. Even if you can repay them you may not get the choice in how. You an addict?”

“No.”

“Well don’t start, that’s the easiest way to fuck up. Do you have someone who can top up your commissary? You may not feel like eating ramen, but it’s basically currency here. There’s always going to be times you need some. You don’t want to have to hustle in here.”

Ian’s finished arranging his things and he makes his way, somewhat unconsciously, towards the window. The glass is not frosted here although he’s a little disappointed to discover that the room faces South, away from the best of the Chicago skyline.

“Might not be the best view, but it gets plenty of light without taller buildings around. And you see that parking garage?”

It’s directly below them, about seven stories in height.

“Always good for people watching if you’re bored. Most of the time it’s just guys hollering at their friends, but I’ve seen people doing semaphore, holding up signs, all kinds of things to communicate. Once there was even a woman holding a baby up to present to someone inside. She was screaming ‘This is your son!’ like something out of the fucking Lion King. God I hate that movie. I must know every line in it, my kids were fucking obsessed with it.”

Ian is silent. He’s just spotted a restaurant across the street called ‘Mickey’s Chicken’. It almost feels like a personal insult, but he smiles anyway, a conflicted jolt shooting through his heart.

A loud buzzer suddenly erupts and the C.O. steps out of his watch room.

“Yard Time!”

“Finally! You been out yet?”

“No, there was just a shitty gym in the SHU.”

“You should go. It’s not your average prison yard.”

Ian’s intrigued and he follows the other men and guards congregating around the two elevators. He’s guessing there must be some kind of gymnasium in the basement, but they start moving up instead.


 

As the elevator doors open on the roof, a blast of hot, humid air hits his face. Ian steps into a holding cage where he can see the retreating orange backs of the last set of inmates on the yard, being shepherded down two fire escapes in the other corners. Once the doors are safely closed a C.O. comes and opens the gate and they’re released.

Ian realizes he’s holding his breath as he looks out at the skyline surrounding him. All sides of the yard are open, from the floor to about six feet in height, with vertical bars forming the only barrier against the drop. The sky too, is open, although topped by wire mesh. After so many days of sensory deprivation, the effect is positively vertiginous and he instinctively heads for the middle of the yard.

There’s a few soccer and basketballs lying around, but it’s a beautiful day and no-one seems much interested in running around in the heat. Instead, the men begin to strip out of their jumpsuits and lay down on the hard concrete, soaking up the rays. Ian follows their lead and gazes up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the sun as he watches the clouds scuttle by. It’s hot, but the elevation means there’s a healthy breeze moving through, keeping things wonderfully comfortable. For the first time in weeks Ian feels himself truly relax (which seems absurd under the circumstances), but he embraces the moment. This is what is going to keep him going in here.

Soon though, his skin begins to prickle and he knows he’s going to have to get out of the sun if he doesn’t want to resemble a grapefruit in his uniform. He seeks the shade cast by the elevator housing and stares gingerly down at the 280ft drop beside him. He startles when he feels someone behind him. It’s James again.

L’appel du vide, that’s what they call it.”

“Call what?”

“The call of the void – the urge to jump. It’s normal, some fucked up little remnant of our ancestral lemming brain. You’ll love it soon though; it’s the closest any of us get to feeling free around here. Even in the winter guys are itching to come up here and get a little shot of adrenaline; make sure they’re still alive.”

Ian’s not sure if the thought is comforting or not. It seems both tragic and darkly comic that his reason to live may soon be for the thrill of feeling death’s presence.

“Anyone ever do it? Jump I mean?”

“Don’t think so. There’s easier ways to off yourself than spending a year filing through your window bars. Anyone putting in that much effort has a reason to live. Some guys managed it - escape I mean, a few years ago though. Used a rope made of bed sheets and dental floss to climb down from the 17th floor.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, but apparently that was the easy part. Neither made it very long on the outside. It’s not easy to disappear, especially without connections.”

Ian doesn’t know what he can say to this and James is apparently happy with the conversation lapse, content to be soaking up the life going on below him. Ian’s thoughts, of course, are elsewhere. As long as Mickey is free, he thinks he can take this. But if he were ever caught Ian’s reason for carrying on would be gone. He knows there’s no way the authorities would ever let them communicate, let alone see each other. Mickey needs to stay free – for both their sakes.

A whistle blows and the men begin slowly getting to their feet. Yard time is over. Ian and his cellmate move towards the nearest fire escape to take the stairs down a floor to catch the other elevator. The next cohort of men is emerging into the holding cage, and that’s when he sees him. A familiar face staring back, aiming his forefinger and thumb at Ian like a cocked gun and following through with a shooting motion.

Oh fuck.

Ian’s a dead man.

Chapter Text

“Got to say Red, I didn’t have you pegged as a gangbanger.”

Ian should be annoyed that there’s another older man in his life calling him ‘Red’, but he’s currently too white to care much.

“Do I need to request a new cellie? You seem alright but I’m not getting myself caught in the crossfire of some prison politics.”

“Fuck. I don’t know. What am I going to do?”

“You manage to piss off the Latin Kings and you don’t know what to do? There’s only one thing you can do with a green light, idiot. Sign into protective custody and enjoy the rest of your time in solitary.”

They’ve arrived back on the 19th floor now and most of the men meander towards the televisions, but Ian makes a beeline for his cell. James isn’t far behind and he takes a seat, unbidden, on Ian’s bunk and watches him pace the room.

“I’ve a hard time believing you could fuck up so badly during one week in the SHU. This is personal, isn’t it? I don’t usually ask, but what exactly are you accused of? I think I got a right to know, if shit’s going down.”

Ian is trying hard to get his agitation under control enough to answer, but he’s feeling more and more lightheaded. His ears start to buzz as he breaks into a cold sweat and the room begins to spin. He fears he’s about to pass out and gropes for the legs of the bunk, but the sensation is replaced just as quickly by metallic saliva pooling in his mouth, as his jaw forces itself open involuntarily. Ian’s knees give way as he lunges for the toilet and revisits his spam sandwich lunch.

“Aw fuck! Drop and flush for Christ’s sake!”

“Whaa?”

Ian gingerly gets to his feet and starts trying to drink from the tap on the sink.

“Drop and flush! Anything that ends up in the toilet has to be flushed immediately, no exceptions! I don’t care if you’re in the middle of hurling, you should be flushing from the get go, several times for good measure. This is basic prison etiquette. Jesus, maybe you did just piss someone off real bad. And … hey! What did I just say?!”

Ian has made the mistake of spitting his water out, into the sink. James runs a hand down his face in frustration.

“Everything, and I mean everything, that comes out of your body besides CO2, goes in the toilet. You need to spit – drop and flush; you need to fart – drop and flush; you need to cum (and I better not be in the fucking room) – drop and flush!”

Ian’s got it together enough to flush the toilet now and he slides his body along the wall and presses his forehead against the cool metal of the cell door.

“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Good. You can make up for it by cleaning the sink and toilet with shampoo. You feel ok? If you need to settle your stomach I’ve got ginger ale you can have?”

“What’s the loan terms?”

This brings a smile to James’ face and he gets up and pulls his tub out from under the bed to retrieve the pop.

“Well at least you’re a quick learner. No charge, just replace it next commissary. And clean the sink. Now, you going to tell me what this is about?”

Ian takes a seat and a few gulps of pop. He rolls the can between his hands as he weighs up how much to say.

“It’s not a gang thing, it’s personal.”

James doesn’t prompt him further, but it’s clear he isn’t going to let it go either, so he continues.

“That man, Damon, he was my ex’s – not the guy you saw; another one – he was my ex’s cellie at Stateville. They broke out and we all went on the run together, but Damon – Damon was a fucking liability, so we ended up ditching him. I guess he’s pretty unhappy about it.”

James’ brow is wrinkled in thought.

“I remember reading about that. There I was telling you about jail-breaks when you’ve got plenty of stories of your own. So how’d you get caught?”

“Dunno about Damon. I didn’t even know I had a warrant out until I got arrested last week.”

“And your ex? What was his name?”

“Mickey. As far as I know he’s still out there. He better be.”

“I guess some people really do manage to disappear. So you weren’t with him when you were arrested? I guess not if he’s your ex.”

Ian was already looking at his feet, but he finds his attention is fixed on them more keenly now.

“No. I went as far as the border with him but turned back there.”

“Why?”

Ian knew the question was coming, but that doesn’t mean he has an answer for it. He never does. It’s too complicated and yet simplistic to sum up in words. Luckily he’s saved from further interrogation by the arrival of the pod’s C.O. with Ian’s evening cup of pills.

“Chow in five.”

Ian looks down at his rainbow assortment of drugs and realizes then that ‘lack of privacy’ in prison doesn’t just refer to bodily functions. There doesn’t seem much point in beating around the bush; James already knows far more than he was comfortable sharing. He palms the pills into his mouth and knocks them back with a glug from his ginger ale.

“Crazy meds,” he shrugs. James nods at him in understanding and Ian realizes he’s inadvertently killed two birds with one stone, answering the border question to James’ satisfaction.

There’s movement in the common area now, as men start to shuffle out of cells and away from televisions to form a line. The elevator doors open and a C.O. and two surly looking inmates in hairnets step out, pulling a large stainless steel bain-marie behind them, which they set up in the middle of the room. Ian joins the back of the line as the lids are removed and the aroma of chili wafts towards him.

For the first time he can observe the men around him without seeming like he’s watching. There are around 40 in all, a fairly even mix of black, white and Latino. Some are heavily tattooed and clearly gang affiliates; one or two of the older men are distinctly portly, and the average age seems a lot higher than at Cook County. No one seems particularly interested in him, but he eyes them carefully, for any signs they may have picked up on Damon’s gesture as they left the yard.

He follows James to an empty table, not yet ready to try to make inroads with any of the other men. Chili is not what he would have wanted, given his anxious state, but he knows he’s got to eat. James pushes the food around his plate, coating the rice in sauce but making no attempt to actually swallow anything. It appears that chili is not his favorite either. Ian sneaks another glance over his shoulder and it doesn’t escape James’ notice.

“You can relax you know, you’ve probably got a few days before shit hits the fan. Seriously. I only saw Damon because I practically tripped over you when you decided to petrify, I doubt anyone else looked back.”

Ian’s still casting about so James sighs and resorts to more direct measures, jabbing Ian’s hand with his fork.

“Hey, eyes down OK? All you’re going to do is make people think there’s something suspicious about you. I can’t believe I’m having to say this to someone half my age but – be cool, alright?”

Ian knows he’s right. He focuses on his plate and wills himself to take a bite, but he still can’t bring himself to open his mouth. James isn’t eating either, but is much less hesitant about the talking.

“Look maybe I can help you out? Do you have any friends or connections in here? I can introduce you to people if not.”

For the first time, Ian eyes him a little suspiciously.

“What does that entail?”

“For you? Nothing. I’ll get a commission if you make a deal, you don’t owe me anything directly.”

“What kind of deal?”

James rolls his eyes.

“Do I seriously have to spell everything out for you? For protection.”

“Yeah, I know that. But how would I pay? Do people actually put their lives on the line for ramen?”

“Maybe in Cook County, but not here. There’s a lot more bureaucracy inherent in the federal system.”

“Meaning?”

“Your family is going to have to start making foreign wire transfers.”

For the first time that day, maybe even since he was arrested, Ian laughs.

“Jesus, not a fucking chance.”

“You estranged?”

“No, it’s just I’m from the South Side. My inheritance from my mother was a pound of meth. And then we had to pay three grand to secretly dig her up because it turned out there was more in the casket and we were that badly in debt! Trust me, they don’t have that kind of money.”

Ian knows he’s totally entered too-much-information territory and that his laughter is a little unhinged, but he can’t help himself. The idea has him tickled. He shovels a forkful of chili in his mouth in an attempt to control his giggles. He’s a little proud at finally shocking James with something other than his gauche prison manners too.

“They could do something else, maybe money mules? It’s very safe – even if you get caught it’s easy to talk your way out of. There are so many scam artists out there the feds don’t question it when people fall ‘prey’ to them.”

“No, I can’t ask them to do that. All we ever do is get sucked into each others' drama and it needs to stop. I have to fix this on my own.”

“Well there is one way, but you won’t like it.”

“Join a gang or something?”

“There’s always that too. You’ve got an Irish last name – The Brand would lap that up, but uh, you’ve got to take a blood oath. I’d think very carefully about the consequences of that. No, I think the smarter thing would be to use what God gave you.”

“I don’t …”

“You need to find Daddy.”

Ian probably should’ve seen it coming, but he was hoping for some other solution. He forces another forkful of chili into his mouth to make the burn a little more literal.

“I know it’s distasteful …” (Ian really hopes that pun was not intended) “… but you’ve got leverage this way. Far better to be a queen than a punk in prison - you’re rare enough you can pick your man; find someone you’re attracted to and make sure he won’t pimp you out to the rest of his crew.”

It doesn’t sound like much of a sweetener to Ian’s ears, but he can see James’ point. He might be a bitch, but at least he’d be (sort of) untouchable.

“But you need to decide pretty soon – or else Daddy may find you instead.”

Ian doesn’t think he can handle any more chili. He shoves his plate aside and looks up at the dusty, concrete ceiling.

“Maybe I should just sign in to protective custody. Fuck this politics bullshit!”

“You can still do that, but the PC label follows you. Even if you move to another facility you’ll still have to go to the SHU. I dunno how long a stretch you’re looking at, but chances are you’ll regret it sooner or later. Plus guys on the uh, crazy meds, don’t tend to fare too well. I don’t know about you, but it seems pretty clear to me which is the lesser evil.”

Ian’s done some pretty degrading things in his life. In all honesty being someone’s kid wouldn’t be the worst of it, but he’s tired of always having shitty options. Every time he thinks things can’t get worse, they always seem to. He opts to distract himself before his thoughts can take a darker turn.

“What about you?” he asks James.

“What about me?”

“I don’t know anything about you. You’re not exactly The Hulk, how do you stay so comfortable here? Is your name really Angelo and you’re in the Mob or something?”

“Giacomo,”

“Huh?”

“It’s Giacomo – James, in Italian.”

“Wait, so you actually are …”

“I never said that.”

James holds his gaze intently. A moment later he lets a smile play around his lips.

“But seriously, I wouldn’t go around asking people about The Outfit; it’s indiscreet.”

“So…”

“I’m useful.”

“Meaning?”

“I run a laundromat. On the outside.”

“You can get stains out of anything?”

“Exactly. Businesses come and go in this town, but businessmen always need clean suits. My customers are loyal.”

An apparition of Fiona suddenly materializes in Ian’s mind’s eye. He imagines her running wet dollars through the dryer at Wendell’s before stuffing wads of cash into the litter boxes of Etta’s cats. He’s sure James has subtler, less literal methods.

“My sister used to run a laundromat.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she bought it from a crazy cat lady with dementia, who lived upstairs. Then my homeless dad hooked up with said lady and pretended to be her dead husband so he could stay there. It was all kinda awkward.”

“Sounds like it. You’ve got some good stories Red, I look forward to hearing more of them.”

James stands and Ian follows suit. He knows he’s not going to eat any more chili. They walk over to the bain-marie and slot their trays into the shelves below the serving pots.

“I think you should stay out here though, watch some TV or something. I know you’re new, but it’s best not to spend too much time in your cell. People will think you’re weak or have something to hide.”

Ian nods and quietly gravitates towards a crowd watching TV. There’s a baseball game on and everyone is so absorbed they don’t notice him taking a seat near the back. He tries to focus on the game – it’s a good one – but it’s hard to quiet the anxious thoughts racing through his head.


 

A couple of hours later Ian is back in his cell, failing to sleep, staring at the cinder block wall to his right. It feels like the longest day of all the long days he’s spent in prison, over an unfathomably long 10 days. Doesn’t mean he’ll sleep though.

Inevitably, given his current surroundings, he finds himself wondering what Mickey would do – what Mickey had done, when he found himself alone, facing a long stretch of time in a dangerous place.

Unfortunately, the answer that comes to mind is not a particularly pleasant one. Mickey had probably been Daddy, with a side gig as a Russian mafia enforcer. He was no-one’s bitch but Ian’s and he had the tattoo to prove it. Still, it was impressive that he’d managed to keep his status, even with another man’s name engraved on his chest. For the first time Ian recognizes quite what a grand gesture it was, under the circumstances.

Then again, Mickey hadn’t had the Latin Kings out for his blood. He wishes he were here now, to counsel and help him. Mickey was always good at scraping together a solution from the wreckage of rotten plans. He misses him. He touches his hand against the nearest brick, trying to imbibe it with the spirit of his thoughts. Hoping perhaps, that somehow they might be transmitted to that other soul. It feels cathartic at least.

Take the plea deal Ian.

I can’t.

You can. Get behind the wheel and drive the damn car.

 

Chapter Text

It’s six days later and Ian still hasn’t been shanked. He’s not complacent though. He’s been spending all his free time trying to get creative with tin cans, collecting magazines to wear as body armor and otherwise sizing people up to determine whether they:
a) want to kill him,
b) want to sleep with him.

Trying to find ‘Daddy’ in prison is not as easy as he’d imagined. Ian may never have really dated, but he’d always found it easy to determine if guys were into him. His days as a go-go boy had made him pretty damn good at spotting all the subtle manifestations of a flirty look. Prison seems to have thrown his gaydar off though. He’s not sure if it’s just that everyone behaves so differently, or if he’s still not very adept at identifying the ‘mostly-straight-but-hey-I’ve-got-needs’ guys among the ‘I’m-going-to-fuck-you-up-and-not-in-a-good-way’ men. They all seem to look at him the same way. Either way it’s making him paranoid.

Nevertheless, the federal government says he has to go to school, so Monday morning finds him back on the 9th floor working through the 11th grade, a few years late. The day is uneventful, right down to the spam sandwich lunches.

It couldn’t stay that way though. Walking down the corridor, back towards the elevator, Ian hears the kind of taunting he knows must be aimed at him.

“Hey, lookie what we got here!”

“Mmmm, that is some Grade A fresh fish right there.”

“I’m gonna butter that up.”

Ian squares his shoulders and turns around to see that – sure enough – three Hispanic men are blocking the corridor, making kissy faces at him.

“Don’t fuck with me.”

“Hey, don’t carp little fish, you’re in a big pond now.”

“I said, don’t fuck with me.”

Ian pulls his shiv down into his hand from where it’s been concealed in his sleeve. It’s a pretty crudely cut from a tin can lid, made more for slashing than stabbing, but at least it’s got a sharp edge.

A jeer rises from all three, in tandem.

“Hey, this fish is still alive.”

“He’s mack the knife!”

“Looks like it didn’t get beat hard enough when it got reeled in.”

“We gonna have to fix that.”

“I think we should fillet it, make it nice and tender.”

“It’s fil-ay, idiot.”

“Man, fuck you with your I-went-to-culinary-school bullshit!”

Their bickering is suspended by a shout to their left, from down the hall.

“This bitch is mine!”

 He’s not sure why, but Ian was sure he would be killed by some anonymous convict acting on Damon’s orders; he didn’t expect that the man himself would show up. Ian draws back against the wall as Damon stops a few feet away from his tormentors. They posture a bit, as Damon sizes them up - before one of them shoots him a hand signal, which he returns.

 “I didn’t realize you was brothers. You sharks gonna have to keep fishing for flounders though ‘cause I own this red snapper. Sorry amigos.”

The men exchange glances, silently debating whether to challenge Damon, who meets them at the pass.

“Hey, you got a problem – take it up with your chapter council. But I wouldn’t step to me, because my beads is all black.”

He smiles at them wickedly and they seem to shrink from him slightly.

Amor de rey!

Amor de rey,” they return, as Damon shoos them away with flicks of his wrists.

He turns his attention back to Ian, who’s coiled himself against the wall in anticipation of pouncing or running – he’s not sure which yet. He raises his fists defensively, shiv wedged between his middle and ring fingers, ready to strike. Damon however has his head cocked at an angle, like a curious dog, trying to work out if this shit’s for real.

“The fuck is wrong with you?!”

“I’m not goin’ out like that!”

“Like what?”

“Without a fight.”

“You don’t have to. Those vatos was only messing with you anyway, tryin’ to shake you down for easy commissary pickings.”

“And you think I’m going to roll over for you?”

“Man put that shit away, you gonna get dragged to the SHU in a minute. Madre de Dios! I knew you was crazy, but I didn’t know you was stupid too!”

Damon steps forward and stretches an arm out, gesturing like a frustrated parent to a teen with contraband. Ian punches at him, but Damon is astonishingly quick, side stepping the blow and grabbing Ian’s wrist. Just as quickly, he releases it and ducks sideways under the arm as Ian tries to follow through with a left hook. Damon takes a step back and throws his hands in the air, looking around to see if any C.O.s are watching.

“Bitch, you tryin’ to cut me?!” he hisses. “The fuck I ever do to you?”

“You marked me on the fucking yard!”

Damon is momentarily lost for words, his face a mixture of confusion and disgust.

“I what? You mean I pointed at you? That’s what this is about? Homie, you been watching too many movies, this ain’t the fucking Godfather! I was just playin’ with you - nobody orders a hit like that.”

“That’s not what my cellie thinks.”

“Then he’s messing with you too.”

Damon pauses to look him up and down. Ian’s not letting go of the shiv, but he risks a quick glance around to check that the coast is indeed clear. He considers running for it but there doesn’t seem much point – there’s nowhere to hide and people would probably consider him fair game as a coward.

“You really think I wanna kill you?”

Ian only glares at him in response.

“Well that’s nice, but I got better things to do than spend the next few years in solitary for stabbing your weaselly ass.”

Ian lowers his arm a bit, but keeps a tight grip on his shiv, still staring intently at Damon as he considers his words.

“What are you even doing here? This is a federal prison.”

“Well, they couldn’t send me back to Stateville … oh, and I hit up a bank.”

Of course you did.

“And what, you just hang around in hallways waiting to help out damsels in distress? You think you’re fucking Robin Hood?”

“No, but a Robbin’ Hood maybe.”

Ian can’t believe he didn’t see that coming. He has to admit though, Damon’s quicker than he remembers. He’s not putting the shiv away just yet, but his grip on it relaxes.

“I saw you, through the window.”

Damon jerks his head sideways, motioning at the glass separating the library from the corridor.

“You were in the library?”

“Yeah, I work there.”

Ian looks at him incredulously.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that. I like to read, okay?”

Damon laughs and slaps him on the back, making contact with the spine of one of the magazines Ian’s got stashed under his jumpsuit.

“The fuck is this?”

“Oh, uh, I made a stab vest out of National Geographics …”

“Why you gotta waste all them pretty pictures? You’re fucking paranoid.”

Suddenly, Damon grabs the scruff of his neck and Ian feels his slowly dissipating adrenaline surge back into his veins. Just as quickly though, Damon releases his grip and jumps back out of reach.

“Besides, you gotta protect ya neck!”

Damon’s laughing again. Ian tries to see the funny side, but he’s too fucking riled up.

“You gonna put that thing away now? Por favor?”

With one last wary look Ian tucks the shiv buck up his sleeve.

“Anyway, you just stick with me and you’ll be fine. You get any trouble, someone in your pod is fucking with you, you come to me ok? I can shut that shit down, no problem.”

“Err thanks Damon. I don’t know that I can pay you for it though.”

“You think I’m doing this outta the kindness of my heart mijo?”

“So I’m your bitch, basically?”

“Damn straight.”

Ian sighs heavily. Considering he was pretty sure he was going to be killed by Damon, he knows it could be worse, but he’s not looking forward to learning the ins and outs of prison sex.

“Do I really have to call you Daddy?”

Damon wrinkles up his nose.

“What? No, fuck that! You think I want my cellie’s sloppy seconds?”

“But, you said…”

“Cash rules everything around me. My commissary is off the hook! You feel me?”

“I don’t…?”

“You’re not as smart as you think Strawberry Shortcake.”

Ian grimaces at this new nickname but stays quiet. Damon rolls his eyes, knowing he’s going to have to elaborate again.

“Mickey.”

“Mickey?”

“Yeah, you know, that crazy motherfucker who busted outta prison just to find your uppity butt?”

Uppity butt? That’s a lame-ass pun...

“Wait, he’s paying you?”

“Apparently he’s still a crazy motherfucker. I told you not to drop that shit! We had a good thing going, us tres delinquentes, but I knew you were gonna be trouble the first time I see him making goo-goo eyes at you. I always tell him ‘bros before hos Mickey’, ‘hakuna matata’, but does he listen?!”

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea to ditch you! Mickey did it because of the heat you brought trying to rob that store.”

“Whatever, at least I got to drive my bitching Camaro off into the sunset, not some gay little pussy wagon.”

Perhaps Ian just has a death wish, but he can’t resist testing Damon a little more, to be sure he’s not going to jump him as soon as his back’s turned.

“Hey uh Damon, I gotta ask – did you and Mickey ever … you know?”

Bad idea. Damon’s face twists as his expression mutates from placid, to quizzical, through vengeful.

“Oh hell no! Here I am saving your ass from three hoodlums and this lil’ puto wants to disrespect me asking about mine? I ain’t nobody’s bitch!”

“Err no, I didn’t mean it like that. Sorry. I was thinking more like … maybe he was yours?”

“Fuck off, you know Mickey’s a badass, he’d never let himself get turned out. He had plenty of bitches of his own.”

It’s not like Ian had never guessed that, but his face must have betrayed him slightly because Damon takes a moment to rub it in.

“I hate to break it to you esé, but he managed just fine without your handsome ass inside.”

“Okay, but you two were friends. I dunno, I thought maybe he felt safe enough with you to let his guard down, to be himself…”

Initially Damon smirks at him like he’s a simpleton – since when was Mickey ever anything but himself? Slowly however, his lips start to pucker into a perfect ‘O’ of surprise as the revelation dawns on him.

“Mickey’s the bottom?!”

 

Chapter Text

Ian’s still feeling rather shaky when he makes it back to the 19th floor and the safety of his cell. James, as ever, is reclining on his bed, nose in a book. Ian hovers by the door, unsure how much to tell him.

“I had a run in with Damon.”

That’s enough to get his attention. To his credit, James looks concerned as he hastily drops his book and sits up.

“Well you’re still walking, what happened? Did you have to stab him?”

“I did try a bit, at first, but he talked me down.”

“Talked you down to what? Shit, he didn’t rape you did he?”

“No. As a matter of fact he rescued me.”

“Rescued you, from whom? How many enemies do you have in here Red?”

“None now, apparently. Some guys were giving me shit and he came out of the library to chase them off. He said he’d only been joking around on the yard with that shooting thing.”

James looks unconvinced and a little worried that Ian apparently is.

“Yeah I know, I didn’t believe him at first either, but the more I think about it, the more I think he’s telling the truth. I know I’m not his favorite person, but he doesn’t seem to care too much about the ditching thing. Sounds like he actually had a better time without us in the end.”

James still looks like he doesn’t buy it and he speaks up after a few moments of pensive silence.

“You said he chased off some guys who were hassling you. Were they in his car?”

“What car? You mean the one he stole after Mickey and I ditched him?”

“No. God. If only there were Babel fish for fishes. His gang – were the guys he chased off Latin Kings too?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Be careful. It might be a ploy to get you to let your guard down.”

“How do you mean?”

“You sure that run in with those guys wasn’t a set up? Let him deliver you from your tormenters, so he can gain your trust?”

“I dunno, that seems awfully smart for Damon. He never struck me as the sharpest tool in the box. And why bother gaining my trust? He could’ve killed me then if he wanted to.”

“True, but maybe he doesn’t want to take the rap for it. Needs to get you to a quieter spot.”

“I suppose. He said Mickey was paying him to protect me though.”

“You got any proof? Any way to contact him independently?”

“No.”

“So keep your eyes open. Even if it’s true about Mickey, there’s nothing to stop him claiming that the money stopped flowing and that you owe him now.”

A sudden insight pops into Ian’s mind.

“You read a lot, James.”

“Gotta keep the cogs turning.”

“Why did you never tell me Damon works at the library?”

“Never seen him. Or at least, I haven’t seen him since I was made aware of his existence. I guess I must have seen him before, if it’s true about where he works. But I don’t really talk to anyone there, beyond pleasantries.”

Ian supposes that makes sense.

A loud buzzer overhead interrupts their conversation, as ever, demanding they make their way out of the cell for roll call.

James’ warning is playing on Ian’s mind. He thinks about it later when he’s basking on the concrete of the yard and as he pushes the food around his plate at dinner. He thinks about it while he watches the news and as he’s getting his ass handed to him playing checkers that evening. He thinks about it in bed, facing the wall, fingers pressed against his cinderblock, as has become his habit.

Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking - because Ian wants to believe, desperately; but something has him convinced that Damon’s telling the truth. And the relief that he’s safe pales in comparison to an even greater reassurance – Mickey knows where he is. And he still cares enough to want him safe.

 


 

It’s another few days before Ian sees Damon again and he arrives in an unexpected fashion, on the 19th floor, pushing a cartload of books. It’s James who spots him first as he’s gathering together his tomes for exchange.

“Looks like I’m going to get to size up Damon for myself.” He calls back to Ian, who’s trying to derive extra sustenance by making a tuna casserole out of commissary ingredients.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s on cart duty.”

“Cart duty?”

“Not everyone has elevator privileges, so they bring the library to you.”

Ian wanders over to the door and sticks his head out. Sure enough, Damon’s going cell to cell, handing out books, just like in the SHU. He looks up and grins at Ian as he approaches them.

“Hey Strawberry!”

“Are you really gonna keep on with that Strawberry Shortcake shit?”

“What have you got against fruit? I like fruit. I thought you’d like a fruity name.”

Even though Ian’s got his back to him, he can feel James rolling his eyes behind him. He’s not sure if Damon even realizes the crap that comes out of his mouth sometimes.

“Okay fine. You don’t want to be Strawberry, I’ll call you Shorty instead. Yo Shorty! It’s your birthday!”

Ian stands corrected. He definitely says that shit on purpose.

Damon meanwhile reaches into the cart for a thick, hardbound book and tosses the volume onto Ian’s bed, before bursting into song:

Levántate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.”

Ian gazes over at the title, then turns back in disgust.

“Really?”

“What? Most popular book in the federal prison system! There’s a waiting list for that shit.”

“Seriously? I thought it was about, like, teenage co-dependent vampires?”

“Whatever. I still think yours is a better love story though.”

Ian doesn’t know quite how to respond to that.

“When’s it due back?”

“Tomorrow, 5.30 sharp.”

“Tomorrow? How am I supposed…”

“Tomorrow, 5.30 sharp.”

Damon inclines his head slightly and Ian follows him, figuring he’ll explain the weird timing, but instead Damon lowers his voice, even after they’re out of earshot.

“That your cellie?”

“No, I just keep him around for decoration.”

“I don’t like him. He looks like a chomo.”

“A what?”

“A chomo. A kiddie fiddler, comprende?”

“What? No he’s like an accountant or something.”

“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t touch the children. What’s he charged with then?”

“I don’t know exactly. I think it’s some kind of racketeering. He wouldn’t be in general if he were a sex offender though, would he? He’d have to go to PC.”

“I suppose.” But Damon still doesn’t look happy.

“You’ll tell me if he starts touching you? Giving you back rubs and candy?”

“Yes, jeez abuela!”

“Your first Spanish. I’m so proud mijo!”

Damon breaks out into a grin and starts to walk on, whistling as he pushes the cart. Ian returns to his cell and flops down on his bunk.

“Can you believe this shit? There’s actually a waiting list for this book?”

He’s sure James, as a man of refined taste, is sure to find it as stupid as he does – so the answer that floats down from the bunk above is a surprise.

“Hey don’t knock it. I wish someone loved me enough to buy me that book.”

“No. Not you too! What is it with these things?! Wait … did you say buy?”

“That volume’s not in general circulation, if you catch my drift.”

Ian’s silence confirms James’ suspicions.

“Jesus Red, you really are green, aren’t you? Open the book, bend the spine back all the way.”

Ian does as he’s told and out slips a very slim phone, concealed in the void of the hardcover’s spine.

“Don’t turn that on until it’s time. You don’t want it causing interference on the radios around here. I’ll stand watch for you by the door, but make sure you keep it down. It needs to sound like we’re having a conversation.”

Ian doesn’t know what to say to all this. His mind is swirling like a kaleidoscope. He’s thrilled. And terrified.

“And Red. Keep it clean, OK? I don’t want to hear you having sex over the phone in the afternoon.”

“I really don’t think…”

“Everyone’s got their delinquent habits. I don’t want to know what yours are.”

It’s the first little deflation of his bubble. Much as he’s loath to admit it, he knows this call is going to be awkward – he hadn’t factored in the extra embarrassment of his cellie having to listen to it all, as well.

Still, when he climbs into bed that night and touches his hand to the cinderblock, he’s elated to think he’ll have a much more direct connection to Mickey tomorrow. It’s only been, what, eight months since they last talked? It feels like a lifetime.

Ian can’t sleep that night. But for the first time since he went to prison it’s excitement, and not fear, that keeps him awake.

 

Chapter Text

The nuclear glow of the phone takes Ian by surprise. He stares at it, distractedly, as it vibrates angrily in his hand. Silent - but enough to rattle his senses.

This is really happening.

“Ian?”

“Mickey?”

Ian exhales the breath he didn’t know he was holding, shakily. There’s so much he wants to ask - but he’s distracted by the sound of trumpets in the background.

“Is that … is that Mariachi music?”

“Banda.” Mickey corrects. “You remember where I am, right?”

Ian lets out another breath of relief. He can feel the cocked eyebrow and incredulous smirk on the other end.

“Yeah. I just didn’t expect it to be so … Mexican.”

Okay then.

“How’d you find me?”

“Iggy. He told Mandy, she told me.”

“Yeah but I saw Iggy in Cook County. How’d you know I was in the MCC?”

“We have this thing in Mexico – it’s called ‘The Internet’. You can look up prisoner information on it.”

It’s official - Mickey Milkovich can reduce him to some kind of primordial soup, incapable of rational thought or speech. Ian was leaning against the bed-post closest to the window, but he slides down to the floor and rests his head against the metal of the frame. He tries to gather his wits about him, as the silence between them grows more awkward.

“You okay in there? Getting any hassle? I can’t send you commissary money, but if you need anything just go to Damon. I’ll make sure it’s worth his while.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Damon’s looking out for me.”

“You getting your meds?”

“Of course. I’d probably be able to sue to get out, if I wasn’t.”

“Good. I’ve been worried about you.”

Ian sighs.

“Look, I know I was super resistant when I was first diagnosed, but I do understand how important they are. I hate the side effects sometimes, but the difference they’ve made has been pretty obvious. I’m still up and down, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.”

“Yeah, well you say you’ve got your shit together, but then I start hearing about how you’re disposing of bodies, getting into fights and winding up in jail? What am I meant to think? Sounds pretty manic to me.”

“Wait, disposing of bodies?! What are you talking about Mick?”

“Mandy told me. About your little phone call.”

“Oh. No, that wasn’t a disposal. We had to dig up Monica. It turns out Fi put about $20,000 worth of meth in her casket and we needed the money so …”

“Fucking Fiona.” They both let out a small chuckle.

“Wait, Monica’s dead?”

“Yeah she died, umm, the day I left you. If I believed in it I’d say it was karmic retribution.”

“Shit man, I’m sorry. I mean, I didn’t like her – all she ever seemed to do was hurt you, but I know you loved her.”

Ian’s voice has a little croak to it.

“Thanks.”

“What happened, did she OD?”

“Brain aneurysm actually. Who’d have thought eh?”

“Huh.” They lapse into stillness.

“I’m doing okay in here, really. I’m getting all my meds and they seem to be working. I know all that stuff sounds bad, but it wasn’t bipolar behind it.”

Mickey is mulling over his words. Ian kind of resents that he’s clearly weighing whether or not to believe him; but given their history, he can’t say he blames him.

“Well keep your head down anyway, Damon can’t be there all the time – and for God’s sake, stay away from the Aryan Brotherhood. The last thing we need is fuckin’ Terry finding out you’re in there.”

“Why would they tell Terry?”

“You seriously never look at my dad’s tattoos?”

“Not high on my priority list with him. I was usually trying to avoid getting killed.”

“Well he’s a fully paid up member, so if he wants you dead he only has to say. I’m hoping the fact that he hasn’t tried anything since he last got out means you’re not high on his list either, but still, be respectful. If he starts hearing about some red-headed faggot with an attitude problem, he might start to put two and two together and take advantage of the situation.”

“So he’s still out then?”

“I guess. It’s not like I’m going to all the family reunions though is it? Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. You do The Brand’s business inside and out, so he’ll still be visiting. Always scan the room before you go in, just in case he’s there too.”

A note of weariness and frustration has crept into Mickey’s voice.

“Fuck! This isn’t how things were supposed to turn out!”

“Come on Mick, when have things ever gone the way they were supposed to with us?”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe the first time, but then again I wasn’t expecting you to turn up with that fucking tire iron.”

Ian snorts.

“Like you were expecting me at all!”

“Why d’you think I stole that gun?”

“Seriously? You did that to lure me to your house? But you didn’t think I’d bring something to defend myself?”

“Aww shit.”

“What?”

“Time to ‘fess up I guess.”

“To what?”

“Mickey?”

“I knew Ian. That you were gay.”

“You knew I was gay? Wait, what? You mean you scared the shit out of me and beat the crap out of Lip even though you knew I wouldn’t have touched your sister?! The fuck Mickey?”

“Nah man, I meant it then, I really was gonna kill you. But then I heard you begging Mandy, by the side of our house. I was just about to fly out the back door and start shit, when I heard you confessing. And I realized you were just as scared as I was.”

Ian is lost for words.

“Sorry. I knew you had this romantic notion that it was all magic and fate and I didn’t want to ruin it. I always planned to get you naked, just didn’t expect to have to pry a deadly weapon out of your hands first. But it was good foreplay, huh?”

“Fuck…”

“Yeah, sorry Cinderella. A mental mind-fuck can be nice though, right?”

“I can’t … that was … fucking clever Mick.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You’ve always been smart you know?”

“Thanks.”

“So why’d you do such a stupid fucking thing as busting out of prison?”

Mickey’s voice is still soft from the compliment, so the stinging barb of Ian’s riposte catches him off guard.

“Hey, that’s not fair! I was doing fifteen fucking years! I didn’t exactly have a lot of options.”

“You always have options.”

“What was I supposed to do? I took the plea deal; there was no way to appeal. Yeah it was a shitty one, I realize that now, but it’s not my fault my piece-of-shit defender was incompetent. He just told me it was the best I was going to get and I signed.”

“You never should have been tried for attempted murder in the first place. Guilty pleas can be dropped if you weren’t advised properly, or charged right.”

“And who was going to pay for the lawyer to argue all that? The State won’t that’s for sure. It’s not like I had anyone bankrolling me.”

“There are organizations that can help; they do things pro bono.”

“Oh yeah, how well do you think my case would’ve gone down?
Dear ACLU,
I pled guilty to attempted murder, but I realize now that there has to be intent to kill to prove the charge. I never intended for that bitch to die - I was just going to knock her out with a few roofies, then hook her nipples up to a car battery and torture her for a bit. How was I supposed to know the cunt was popping other pills? I only put her in that box because I thought she was dead and I needed to hide the evidence. Clearly this is not attempted murder. Please use your severely limited resources to help me overturn this miscarriage of justice.
Sincerely yours,…

“You were going to do what to Sammi’s nipples?!”

For the first and only time during the conversation, James’ attention is dragged away from the glass of their cell door.

“Hey don’t shout at me, it was your sister’s idea!”

“Fiona wanted … ”

“Not Fiona; Debbie.”

“Debbie was there?”

“Yeah, she’s creative huh? If I didn’t know any better I’d say she was a Milkovich. Should’ve seen her face when I told her Sammi was dead though! She totally freaked out. She didn’t tell you any of this?”

“No.”

“Huh. Maybe she thought you wouldn’t want to hear it, at the time.”

That hits Ian like a sucker punch, but he has to concede that it is very probably the truth.

“How is she anyway? What’d she name her kid? She was big as a house the last time I saw her, seemed kinda lost.”

“She’s doing okay; she named her Francis.”

“Francis, like, after Frank?”

“Yup.”

“Jesus.”

Something is wrong here.

“Wait, she wasn’t pregnant when you went in.”

“She came to visit me once; thank me for not rolling on her to the cops. Matter of fact she was my only visitor that last year, unless you count the lawyer with Svetlana’s divorce papers.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well it’s a little late now to cry over spilled Milkovich. Honestly Ian, I wasn’t gonna make it eight years in there. Politics was getting serious and I wasn’t sure how long I could hold it all together. I was checking out, one way or another.”

“Don’t say that.”

“What, the truth hurt? I wouldn’t be the first. At least I had the brains to work out a better way. I knew it was a gamble whether or not you’d come with me, but I had nothing to loose. I was gonna be fucked - either way you look at it.”

Ian knows Mickey intends to lighten the mood with his jokes, but it has the opposite effect on him, finally loosening his tongue enough for a slew of his pent up thoughts to come crashing out, breath catching in his chest between bursts.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry okay? I’m sorry I never visited. I’m sorry I abandoned you. I tried so hard to forget, but I couldn’t. I know that now. But it was really hard trying to put my life back together again, trying to remember who I was – what was me, what was not me; what was drugs, what was disease. I honestly didn’t have a clue; I was just some fucking shadow. For so long I was so numb, so confused. I just … I don’t even know where to begin, how to explain, it’s so – ugh – complicated. I don’t know how to show you what I mean.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line, so Ian continues.

“I would have come back. It might’ve taken a while, but I was figuring it out. Slowly. I’m sorry. I know that wasn’t fair on you. I would’ve accepted it if you’d wanted nothing to do with me. But I needed to go through it on my own. Being with you, properly, it was so wrapped up with my illness. I loved you, but you were always keeping me at arms length. And then I got sick and you came back to me. It felt unreal, like it was all an illusion of the disease. Sometimes I thought you could only love me if I was sick and unavailable.”

There’s a short, sharp inhale on the other end of the line.

“I always loved you Ian. Right from the start. I’m sorry I was too afraid to show you until - until it was too late.”

“You don’t – Jesus, you don’t need to apologize! We’ve both fucked up so many times we’re well beyond the point of keeping score. I’m just - I’m just trying to show you what I was thinking. I know I was wrong. Everything I did was wrong and I don’t want you to excuse it, I just want you to understand why I thought I couldn’t have you in my life. I needed time to realize what was missing was you.”

“And suddenly you were there again. So yeah, it sped up the discovery process. I couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid. But I didn’t have time to absorb it either. All my doubts about my sanity, my identity, my ability to handle shit. It all came flooding back. I was scared. I couldn’t just stay in the moment and not be terrified about the future. Fuck Mick - I didn’t want to go to prison!”

They both snort ruefully at this and it cracks Ian’s voice.

“You were the only thing grounding me, but I’ve never been as strong as you. It wasn’t enough. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too. I’m the fucking reason you’re in there.”

“Shut up. This isn’t your fault. This isn’t even about you. You gave me plenty of outs – I chose my fate when I got into that car, and again when I got out.”

Ian lets out a resigned, yet desperate laugh.

“Jesus. Is this my rock bottom? I thought I’d already hit it before, but then I keep surprising myself. Do you think it can get worse?”

Mickey’s reply is soft, almost tender.

“That depends. What have they offered you?”

“Who?”

“The feds. They must be offering you something, you’re not the prize they’re after.”

“Nothing yet. But my lawyer thinks I’ll get a good plea if I cooperate with them.”

“Do it.”

“Fuck off, you know I’d never snitch.”

“I don’t care. You’re not meant to be in there. Do what you have to do to get out.”

“No. I can’t. I won’t.”

“I want you to. This is about more than just your pride. Your health’s at stake and you know it.”

“Come on Mick, think about what I’d have to do. They’re not gonna just want me to talk. They’ll use me to lure you into something. I’d probably have to testify against you in court.”

“Well thanks for giving me the heads up. I’ll know to turn down any birthday invites I get from you, from now on. You still need to do it, I won’t hold it against you.”

“Look I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. Even if you didn’t fall for them using me as bait, they’d still have me under surveillance once I got out. Neither of us will ever be able to stop looking over our shoulders.”

“And what, you think if you do the time they won’t tail you too?”

“Maybe, but after all that time they’ll probably be less concerned with finding you and you’ll have had years to practice hiding.”

“Ian, I warn you - if you don’t take that deal, I’m gonna turn myself in.”

Silence.

“I’ll make sure releasing you is part of the bargin.”

“For fuck’s sake! You can’t just swoop in to rescue me every time I screw up Mick. Please. I need to do this. I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. Now I can be. Let me do this for both of us. You’ve finally got your freedom; you can be who you are on your own terms.”

“You feel fucking free when I was in the can?”

The spittle from those bitter words hangs in the air between them, but it’s Mickey who eventually breaks the silence with guttural howl.

“Argh. Motherfucker!”

“What did you say?!”

“You bastard. You’re always goddamn right! You were right when you said I loved you; that I wanted to be with you. You were right about leaving me when you did and you were right about me coming out, even if you were a dick about it. I have to trust that, if you're not sick now, you’re right on this. But – Jesus – every time I feel you slipping through my fucking fingers …”

That choke that Ian has heard far too many times forces them into silence once more. Tears have been threatening for some time now and they begin to roll down his cheeks, mutely. He knows Mickey’s digging the heel of a palm into his eyes, trying not to do the same. He wishes he’d allow himself that release for once.

“Just - just make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons, okay? Don’t be a fucking martyr Ian.”

“I will. And don’t forget, as long as you’re out there there’ll still be the option of a plea for me. If things really go to shit, I’ve still got a way out. But I’m doing fine, honestly. I’m more worried about you. The feds know I went all the way to the border with you, I’m sure they must know the license plate of the car we used. Keep your head down. They’re probably looking for you just as hard as they ever were.”

“Don’t worry. That car disappeared a long time ago.”

“Yeah but even still …”

“Look I’m not being stupid about things okay? I don’t wanna sound overconfident, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of disappearing.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Well, I’m not drinking margaritas in gabacho bars in Cancún, put it that way. And that’s where they’ll be looking for a blue-eyed güero that doesn’t speak Spanish.”

“But you made it to the beach? Got to see the sea?”

“Yeah.”

Ian lets out a wistful little sigh.

“What’s it like?”

“It’s beautiful.”

He pauses.

“But honestly? It’s kind of overrated. All that sand - gets stuck to my balls for days and everyone and their goat wants to sell me something. Nah man, turns out I need dust and dirt.”

Ian smiles at this description. Trust Mickey to be grumpy about the nicest place he’s ever been. He’s glad he’s found something – anything – that brings him peace though. They lapse into silence once more, and this time it feels like it might be for good. The image of that traffic barrier rising is looping over and over in Ian’s mind.

“I’m still pissed with you Ian.”

“I’m still pissed with me too. But thank you for this. Seeing you cross over into Mexico - it was both the best and the worst moment of my life. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever hear from you again.”

“I honestly didn’t think you’d fuck up so bad.”

“You always did see the best in me.”

“Likewise. Or else you’re just really fuckin’ stupid.”

“Always; at least when it comes to you. Take care of yourself. Please. I love you.”

There’s a long pause. Ian knows he’s got no right to be hanging on the end of the line awaiting a response – he should end it now and not push Mickey any further. But he’s rooted to the spot, almost completely dissociated and unable to move his hands - even if he wanted to.

“I love you too, Ian.”

Just like that, a rush of blood returns Ian to the present.

“And Ian?”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck you. Especially fuck you.”

With that, the connection is severed. Ian can’t think of a better parting shot for them. He slumps to the side and releases his grip on the phone, as his body takes great heaving gasps of air, like a fish out of water. He’s half sobbing, half laughing uncontrollably. He can feel the synapses snapping in his head, flailing around like branches in a storm.

James rounds the corner of the bed to investigate, just as Ian’s gasps start to morph in to hiccups. He retrieves the phone and quickly switches it off, before stashing it back in its hiding place.

“Think I’ll go return this for you.” He says slowly, to make sure Ian’s absorbed it. He glances back at the door, before dropping to his knees again and gently rolling Ian into the recovery position.

“Try not to choke on your tongue while I’m gone, okay kid?”

With one last look of concern, he leaves Ian to it.

Chapter Text

It starts with the stomach flu.

The authorities aren’t sure how the virus got there – probably in the food service, though they can’t be sure – but it arrives on the 19th floor and spreads like wildfire though Ian’s pod. Their floor is put on lockdown to contain its spread, but that doesn’t stop its march from cell to cell within the quarantine. Even James is forced to kneel before the steel throne and Ian invariably follows suit a few days later.

A week after he stops vomiting, the lockdown is lifted - but Ian still can’t get out of bed. His limbs are leaden and a crushing fatigue has taken root in his marrow. At first he thinks he just needs to sleep because he’s still recovering from his purge; he can’t get up because his body is weak. But James is up and about in half the time it’s taking a man half his age.

The first Monday after the quarantine is lifted Ian drags himself down to the 9th floor for class, but he can’t concentrate and the other inmates eye his spacy expression with suspicion. They know why he’s not been around and Ian finds himself being escorted back to his floor ‘out of an abundance of caution’. It’s a relief to crawl back under the covers because then he doesn’t have to think. And thinking makes him feel like he’s drowning in molasses, desperately trying to wade to a non-existent bubble of goo-free clarity.

By Wednesday afternoon, when James returns from work duty to find Ian still asleep in Monday’s clothes, he knows what’s up. He tosses the newspaper he’s been carrying at Ian’s head and starts shaking his legs to wake him up. Ian flails around half-heartedly, the newspaper easily suppressing his attempts to free himself.

“Leave me alone.”

“Nope.”

“Please, I just need to sleep.”

“You know that’s not going to help you.”

“I don’t care. I’m so tired.”

“You’re not going to get any less tired unless you fight it.”

“I am. Can’t you see I’m trying?”

“I believe you. But it’s time for a change in tactics.”

James takes a seat on the bunk and pulls the newspaper back so he can see Ian’s face.

“Things move slowly here, you can’t wait until you hit the bottom to get help. You need something left in the tank if you’re going to make it to the surface.”

Ian says nothing, barely finding the motivation to look James in the eye.

“Just do a couple of things for me and I promise I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the day.”

“Ugh.”

“I’ll take that as a yes. I need to grab something - do what you have to do to get yourself sitting upright; I’ll be back in a minute.”

Ian’s brain starts to think of reasons why he shouldn’t, but even that’s a struggle. Something, somewhere inside of him realizes that it takes more energy to think than to do, so - somewhat unconsciously, Ian finds himself inching upwards, back scratching against the wall.

James is pleased with his progress when he returns and starts fishing in his tub for a pen.

“Read me the top article from the paper.”

“You must have read it already?”

“Need to get your brain working. It’ll wake you up.”

“It’s stupid.”

“That’s not what it says. Come on. Please? I’m illiterate.”

“Bullshit.”

“That’s not what it says either.”

If Ian had the energy to roll his eyes, he would, but he has to make do with an unimpressed look - which in truth is just what his face has been like for the last week or so. He lets out a resigned sigh, which James interprets as assent and places the paper in Ian’s hands. His eyes rove over the page, but they struggle to focus on the fine print.

“Try the headlines to start.”

Ian does as he’s told and drawls out the sentences in a flat monotone voice, tripping over words he’d usually have little difficulty with, but he manages.

“Good, now read the first article.”

“The print’s too small and my arms are too heavy to hold it closer.”

James thinks for a moment, before hauling his tub up from under the bed and placing it beside Ian.

“There, now you’ve got a desk to lean on.”

Ian’s reached the point where he’s too weary to argue, so he drapes the newspaper on the lid and leans over it. Slowly, he reads about a disaster in a far-off country, where scores of people have died - although Ian can barely remember how by the time he’s reached the end. He certainly can’t remember the death toll, or what aid groups are rushing to the scene, when James quizzes him. But if he had the energy to introspect, he’d admit that he’s a little more alert than he had been.

James meanwhile has been busy writing on the paper he brought back and he places it on top of Ian’s ‘desk’ and nudges him to take hold of the pen.

“Sign here.”

“What’s this?”

“Thank you James for getting my brain working enough to ask that question. It’s a sick-call form. If the powers that be deem you worthy, you might see a doctor next week.”

“A week?”

“You got anything better to do in that time?”

Ian skims over the form picking out phrases like: ‘Bipolar’, ‘depressed’ and ‘sinking fast’. He knows that James is right. He signs at the bottom and pushes away the pen, paper and tub.

“Will you leave me alone now? Please?”

“Why don’t you try coming out for rec? It’s a mild day, sitting in the sun might do you some good.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

“Please, no. It’s just … you won’t understand, it’s stupid.”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s too many people. I don’t want them to look at me. To see me.”

“You don’t need to feel ashamed. No-one will care if you’re depressed.”

“I know, but it doesn’t feel like that. I just don’t want to be around anyone.”

“Will you at least think about a shower? You’re getting a bit fragrant and you can do that without anyone around.”

“I’ll try, but uh, I need some time to work up to it.”

At that moment the buzzer goes off for roll call.

“Looks like you’re going to have to get up, at any rate.”

James extends a hand, which Ian grudgingly accepts and pulls himself upright. He slouches out of the cell and holds himself up by leaning against the door as their inmate numbers are read out. Then the call for yard time goes up and everyone except Ian heads for the elevator. He breathes a sigh of relief as the doors close, finally alone, save for the pod’s C.O. watching him through the control room glass. Although everything within him screams to return to bed, Ian pushes himself to take advantage of his upstanding stature and gathers his shower things.

The warm water is a relief, although he has to work very hard not to give into the desire to sit down on the cruddy floor. Normally his intrinsically hygienic nature would balk at the possibility, but today the prospect of letting his body flop on the cool tiles and be battered by the rain seems - not pleasurable, but satisfying somehow. He knows he’d never be able to get back up though, if he let himself, so he settles for pressing his head against the wall in front and letting the water flow down his face and into his mouth. An urge to bash his head against it suddenly rears, but he manages to trample the thought down, gripping on the cold water pipe until his breathing slows. He’s suddenly very grateful that he can take his time in here – he doesn’t think he could manage this at all if he knew there were other people outside waiting their turn.

After a much-longer-than-necessary soak he traipses back to his cell, applies deodorant and puts on fresh underclothes. The yearning for bed is growing ever stronger, but he gathers the last of his resolve to brush his teeth and take a shit, finally collapsing back into bed as the sounds of men returning from recreation fill the pod.

“Good job Red.”

Ian hears it just as he’s falling asleep, and even in his current state of self–loathing, he knows James means it sincerely.

Chapter Text

In the end, Ian only has to wait three days for medical attention. On Saturday morning he’s escorted down to the 7th floor, to a waiting room of sorts, where half a dozen men in jumpsuits are lounging in plastic chairs. In the corner, a metal cage houses a chained man wearing a spit hood - no doubt a visitor from the SHU. Through windows on either side of the hallway he can see what looks like several dental chairs in one room and a couple of hospital beds in another.

Ian’s still too lethargic to wonder further about BOP medical treatment and he stares into space until he’s finally roused by the sound of his prisoner number being called loudly – probably for the third or fourth time. He hauls himself upright and presents himself to the C.O., who inspects the plastic ID card attached to Ian’s jumpsuit pocket, before opening the door to an office he’s been guarding.

The middle-aged man within motions for him to take a seat in the chair opposite his desk, without giving Ian much of a look. The windowless room is pretty spartan, by office standards. There’s the usual array of medical charts and diagrams on the wall, but not much in the way of paraphernalia, besides a blood pressure monitor and some medical books. He also notes that both chairs and the desk are bolted to the floor.

The man finishes typing some notes on his computer before turning to Ian and repeating his name and inmate number.

“So Ian, you’re here for …” he pauses, clicking a few times with his mouse - presumably retrieving Ian’s record on the computer.

“… depression. How long have you been depressed for?”

Ian tries to speak but, having said nothing to anyone all day, a raspy croak is all that comes out. He hastily clears his throat.

“I, um, I guess about two weeks.”

“Two weeks? That’s not very long. Have you been depressed before?”

“Yes, a few times.”

“When was the last time?”

“At the beginning of the year.” He pauses before adding: “My mom died.”

The man begins typing while he continues to question Ian, though his eyes are on the computer screen.

“Were you incarcerated then?”

“No, I’ve been in about four months or so.”

“And you believe what you experienced then was depression, not just grief?”

“No I … I’m sure grief triggered it, but it wasn’t just that.”

“Could you describe your symptoms for me?”

“Well, more than anything I’m just tired. Like really, really tired. I feel like I’m dragging weights around and I’m sleeping a lot, 10 to 12 hours everyday, but it’s not enough. And I can’t think straight - my mind is so slow that I can’t concentrate.”

“But you’re not feeling sad? Crying a lot? Or angry?”

“Not really. It’s sort of like … it’ll sound weird but I feel half numb, half pained, all at the same time. Like I want to cry, but my body can’t remember how to do it. Everything seems vast and overwhelming, but completely empty too. Sorry, that probably doesn’t make much sense.”

“No actually, that’s a good way to describe it.” For the first time, the man actually looks directly at Ian, even though it seems to be mostly to size him up.

“Are you thinking about suicide?”

“Not really. I mean, I just feel too tired to work out how to do it, you know? I suppose if my cell was on fire I’d probably be happy to lie there and let it take me, but I wouldn’t be the one to start it.”

“So you do think about suicide then?”

“I guess I think about death? Doesn’t everyone though?”

“To a certain extent, but it’s not usually to welcome it.”

There’s a pause as the man assesses Ian once again.

“What about hurting yourself? Have you done that in the past? Do you want to do it now?”

“I don’t think so.” But Ian says the words so slowly that the man arches an eyebrow in doubt.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I burnt myself once. When I was very numb - just to try to feel something. It didn’t really work though; I learnt that lesson. Sometimes I wish I could have a lobotomy or something, so I didn’t have to deal with my head - but again, I don’t have the motivation to do anything.”

He pauses, desperately willing the rusty cogs in his head to turn enough for him to say something coherent.

“I guess what I’m saying is it doesn’t feel compulsive. I get the thoughts and they’re appealing, but it doesn’t feel like I need to follow through because it’s just more pain right? I’m not really feeling enough to appreciate the variety.”

“What about other people? Do you want to hurt them?”

“God no. Even if someone started on me I probably wouldn’t put up a fight. I’m a fucking vegetable right now.”

“What about your cellie? Do you get along with him? Does he know you’re depressed?”

“Yeah he’s fine. I don’t know if he’s ever been through it, but he understands that I’m depressed - doesn’t give me hassle about it.”

“Good. Well I’m satisfied for now that you’re not in imminent danger, but you need to keep an eye on those thoughts. I’m going to put some restrictions on your access to sharps though, until you’re feeling better. Electric shavers only and no metal items from the commissary.” He starts typing while Ian comes to terms with the fact that he won’t be drinking pop anytime soon. Not that he cares.

“Are you taking any medication for this?”

“Like, for depression specifically?”

He nods.

“No.”

“Okay, we’ll start you out on 20mg of fluoxetine. If you don’t have any problems we’ll up it to 40mg next week.”

“I thought I wasn’t meant to take SSRIs if I’m bipolar?”

“You’re bipolar?” He glances at his screen again. “Ah yes, I see now. Well you’re on a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic, so it should be okay. Ideally I’d try you on an atypical anti-depressant like bupropion, but BOP rules state you have to fail 3 SSRIs first so …” He shrugs his shoulders and pushes some buttons. The printer whirs and Ian is presented with a long list of side effects.

“Be particularly alert for any increase in your suicidal or self-harm thoughts; they can get worse before they get better. Unfortunately we are between psychiatrists at the moment, so I will book you in for a follow-up in two weeks with the doctor.” He nods at the C.O. through the office window and stands, indicating that their meeting is over.

“You’re not a doctor?”

“Physician’s Assistant. We’re cheaper. I’m allowed to prescribe and everything though, don’t worry.”

“Yeah I know. I um, I used to be an EMT.”

The C.O. ushers him out of the room at this point, already reading the next number off his clipboard as he does so. Ian heads towards the elevator and waits patiently for it to arrive, scanning over his medication handout:

“… akathisia, anorgasmia, anxiety, chills, confusion, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, fever, hives, hypomania, increased thirst, insomnia, migraine, nausea, night sweats, racing heartbeat, seizures, tremor, trouble breathing, weight gain, weight loss, yawning …”

Sounds pretty typical of most of the drugs he takes.

The C.O. operating the elevator punches in Ian’s floor and pretty soon he’s back where he started, on the 19th floor. He starts to walk towards his cell, but he’s stopped by a familiar face pushing a book cart around.

“Hey Shorty!”

Damon waves him over and Ian knows better than to ignore him.

“Your cellie says you aint doin’ so good?”

“Yeah, I just came back from sick call.”

“You get any good pills?”

“Nah, just Prozac.”

“Damn, no Wellbutrin?”

“No, he said I couldn’t have that ‘til I’d tried three SSRIs.”

“Yeah, they been cracking down on Welly. Price is getting up there with actual blow! I can still sell that Prozac for ya if you wanna cheek it though.”

“There’s a market for it?”

“Not huge, but it helps with the Molly comedown. Plus some peeps just gotta take something.

“Huh. Well I think I’ll see if it actually works first but, uh, thanks.”

“Hey, you’re crazy – what antipsychotic you get? Quetiapine?”

“No, Ziprasidone.”

“Fuck. Suzie–Q is hot right now but I can’t get a steady supply.”

“Why would anyone want to take an antipsychotic if they didn’t have to?”

Damon shrugs nonchalantly.

“Some guys say it’s like horse, but all it did was make me sleepy. Oh but I had this crazy dream – there was this beautiful mamacita with these huge titties and I buried my face in them but then they turned into eyes and her belly button was her nose and her coochie changed into a mouth and it was trying to bite my dick off so I ran away but I couldn’t because it turns out I was on a planet with really strong gravity and I was wearing a big space suit so I had to shoot it with my laser guns instead.”

“Right. All I get is not psychotic. And diarrhea.”

“Sucks to be you man.”

He claps him on the back jocularly, but then runs his hand along it and clasps Ian’s bicep, as he lowers his voice.

“Hey, should I be worried about you? You gonna try and exit through the back door? I don’t want to have to make that call to Mickey.”

Hearing that name aloud startles Ian a bit, but he recovers his composure quickly enough.

“No, I’m okay. I’ve been through this a few times before. I’m too tired to figure out how to make a noose.”

Damon, for once, seems taken aback by his frankness. But it’s also enough to get him off his back, so to speak.

“Well you need anything, you come to me and I’ll help you out. Except jerking it; I aint gonna help you jerk it. Are you jerking it enough?”

“I’m not really in the mood.”

“Well there’s your problem! It’s like one of your five-a-day. You gotta get your vitamins and minerals and rocks off to be healthy! Can’t nobody be depressed when they’re coming, homie.” Damon’s face breaks out into a divine grin as he contemplates his new calling as the Masturbation Messiah.

“I’ll uh, keep that in mind. Thanks.”


 

It’s probably a reflection on just how desperate Ian is to feel better that he actually puts Damon’s advice to work that afternoon, when James is out on the yard. Except he really isn’t in the mood, so he has to put what little imagination he has left to use. But his generic spank-bank images aren’t working and (even worse) Damon’s smug face keeps floating into view, which makes him want to wipe that look off it, which reminds him of the time Mickey told him to go do yoga while they fucked in the car, which was the last time they fucked, which – oh.

Soon Ian finds himself with his pillow over his face, trying to suppress the sound of his sobs. It’s not the release Damon had intended for him, but it’s something, at least.

 

Chapter Text

60mg of Prozac is enough to return Ian to a state of ‘Walking Wounded’.

Enough energy and brainpower to finally take and pass the GED.

Enough emotion to enjoy what passes for Christmas spirit in prison: making paper chains and snowflakes to decorate the pod; swag bags full of junk food given to each inmate as a gift; turkey leg and stuffing with all the trimmings on the day - even toasting it afterwards with a little jailhouse hooch.

Enough resolve to make the most of his family visit, munching on a Snickers bar from the vending machine with Franny on his lap. They laughed and joked and caught Ian up on all the Southside gossip, carefully tiptoeing around the subject of his plea deal and trial.

Enough kindness not to beat himself up about the tears he knew would be shed as soon as he left the room.

Enough optimism to believe that their group photo, taken in front of a sunset painted on the concrete wall, won’t be the first of many.

But he still feels as if he’s on the outside looking in; not quite connected to his world. He supposes it’s natural enough, really. The anniversary of it has come and gone, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be feeling great about where he finds himself a year later. Still, he can’t shake a gnawing, restless feeling that’s been growing within him, like he’s an animal at a zoo pacing up and down in front of a glass wall. That’s what prison does to people right? This must be the process of becoming institutionalized.

 


 

The Physician’s Assistant is pleased with his progress when he visits at the end of the month. He’s confident that with a little more time the drugs will return him to euthymia.

“It takes up to 6 weeks to get the full effect from a drug and we only went up to 60mg three weeks ago – give it a bit longer and I’m sure you’ll feel better. Are you going to any of the therapy groups?”

“No – my counselor told me about them and everything, but they don’t seem that helpful.”

“How so?”

“Well it’s all AA, NA, anger management stuff. Those aren’t really my issues. I’d feel weird going and talking about myself when I can’t relate. Is there any way to get individual therapy? Or at least a group that’s more about bipolar?”

“Probably not. You’re only a Care Level 2 inmate, so you’d have to be seriously ill. And honestly, as a pre-trial detainee the BOP are going to want to spend as little money on you as possible.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I suppose I’m just getting a little antsy in here.”

“Do you want to hurt anyone?”

“What? No I told you, I don’t have anger issues. I just feel like I have ants in my pants you know? Like, to the point where my skin seems kind of itchy and crawly sometimes.”

“Interesting. Is this only when you’re lying down? Or at night?”

“No – I … I’m not sure. It comes and goes; I have no idea if it’s at particular times. It’s not something I’ve really thought about, to be honest.”

“What you’re describing can be a side effect of medications – antipsychotics in particular. Have you had any other issues with ziprasidone?”

“No. Not really. I get diarrhea when I don’t take it with food, but that’s about it.”

“Hmmm, maybe we should dial it back a bit and see if that improves things.”

“Should I try a different one?”

“I’m not allowed to give you quetiapine, so that’s out. We could put you on risperidone or olanzapine, but if you’re having a reaction to one chances are you’ll have it with all of them. It’s more a case of finding the right dose. We definitely don’t want to resort to the typical antipsychotics though, they’re even worse for this kind of thing.”

“Yeah I’ve already been on risperidone, it slowed me down too much and gave me muscle aches. What about the Prozac?”

“Well, as I said, I think you should give it a little longer. But if you’re still dragging we can up the dose to 80mg. Ideally I’d start you on a little Wellbutrin as well, but I’m not allowed to prescribe it as an adjunct to other drugs in here. Let’s see how this goes and we’ll check-in in another two weeks.”

 


 

The New Year gifts Ian another welcome boost in energy. He returns to working out for the first time in months and finally feels a bit more in tune with his surroundings. It’s like coming up for air. The catharsis he felt by touching his brick and sending his thoughts to Mickey returns. When he was depressed it had seemed like a sad joke - but now he could almost believe that, wherever he is, Mickey is getting the message.

It’s not entirely good news though. Now that he’s passed his GED Ian doesn’t have class to keep him busy and, due to the prison’s layout and limited facilities, there aren’t a lot of jobs to go around. Since the vast majority of inmates are pre-trial there’s a lot of turnover, but Ian’s at the bottom of the list, so (like many men in his pod) he has to find other ways to occupy his time.

At first he follows James’ example and tries to immerse himself in books but, in all honesty, he’s never been a bookworm. He likes reading one from time to time, but the idea of doing it all day, every day doesn’t fill him with joy. And the books he does borrow don’t seem to grab him the way they should (although he’s probably just making poor choices) and his mind wanders off too regularly for him to follow the story.

Sometimes he heads to the library just to shoot the shit with Damon, but he’s grating on Ian’s nerves more than ever. In short bursts he’s hilarious, but too much time together makes Ian feel like the walls are closing in. He must be channeling the spirit of that road trip down to Texas, where his anxiety rose with every passing mile. Damon’s degree of obnoxiousness had appeared directly correlated then and he supposed a similar thing was happening now, as his trial date loomed ever nearer.

He also resented the fact that Damon was Mickey’s eyes and ears in here and, while he knew he meant well, that same frustration he’d felt when he was first diagnosed was beginning to surface. He could never be completely at ease with him, knowing he was analyzing his every move for signs of – what? Interest? Danger? He doesn’t know exactly, but the knowledge that ultimately Damon’s loyalty lies with Mickey, not him, puts him on edge around him.

Even unobtrusive James was starting to annoy him. Every time he makes a slightly paternalistic suggestion Ian has to swallow the urge to do something correspondingly childish.

Inevitably, the easiest way to occupy his mind turns out to be television. Sports are king and one of the pod’s televisions is always showing it, but the middle of the day timeslot means his interest in what’s on can be hit or miss. He develops a new appreciation for soccer, but still can’t get his head around golf. On days like that he sometimes moves to the Spanish language TV and the guys are usually kind enough to put the subtitles on so he can follow along with whatever telenovela they’re watching. He doesn’t even enjoy them, but he likes to imagine that Mickey might be watching exactly the same thing, drinking a beer next to him and laughing at the stupid dramatic sound effects.

One part of his depression that he hasn’t managed to shake is his dislike of crowds. He’s never really put in the effort to make inroads with the other inmates, although he’s always careful to acknowledge them. Perhaps his guard is up unnecessarily high, but his fear of being attacked - first by Latin Kings and now by the Aryan Brotherhood (thanks Mickey) - has never really left him and he continues to eye his surroundings with suspicion. Add to that the constant turnover of pre-trial detainees and Ian has his excuses for not being more sociable. More often than not, he chooses the TV with the least amount of people watching, which invariably means CSPAN. He may die of boredom before he ever makes it to trial.

And that crawly skin thing. Now that he’s been made aware of it he can’t help noticing it, especially at night when it wakes him up and he spends the next few hours rolling around in his bunk trying to get comfortable. Tensing his muscles brings relief, but it’s very temporary. More often than not he finds himself flopping around like a fish, even biting on his plastic mattress to try to find some kind of release, until James starts complaining about the noise. Eventually he learns to get up and do stretching exercises - like a ghetto yogi, before sleep overwhelms him again.

Working out helps too and Ian’s quickly regaining the muscle he lost during his depression. But with limited access to facilities he’s reduced to burpees and running circles around the sunken rec. area of the pod most of the time.

 


 

He relays his complaints to the PA on their next meeting, but he still doesn’t seem too concerned.

“Well it’s great that you’re back to exercising – it’s so important for regulating your mood, especially in a place like this. I’ll see if I can get you marked down for an extra session in the gym each week as a medical need.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that. The crawling skin is so annoying though.”

“Is it getting worse?”

“I’m honestly not sure. It might be, but I’m also so much more aware of it now.”

“Yeah, focusing on it can definitely make it worse. I know it’s not easy, but try to distract your mind. I’ll give you a print out of some breathing exercises that can help calm you too. How are you feeling otherwise? Have your emotions and motivation returned?”

“Yeah, I’m so much more with it now. My energy is back too.”

“But you’re not too good right? Not feeling euphoric about being in prison?”

“Nope, I still hate it here.”

“Great, I’m glad the Prozac appears to be working. We’ll keep it at the current level for now. You’ll need to stay on it for at least another six months, to make sure the depression doesn’t recur. We’ll step down the ziprasidone again though, to try to get that uncomfortable sensation under control. See you in two weeks!”

 


 

That night, awake once again in the early hours and feeling like he wants to take his skin off with a cheese grater, he abandons pressing his hand against his brick in favor of his forehead. More than ever, he needs to feel connected. To sense Mickey’s presence. He was the only one who was ever able to sooth his anxiety and he never taught Ian how. Once he was gone Ian had relied on Ativan, but he’s not allowed those drugs now that he’s in prison. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, what he’s expecting - he just knows he needs a sign.

“I miss you,” escapes his lips without him even thinking it.

“Help me Mick.”

The concrete under his forehead is warm, radiating heat. Soon his body is inundated with it and he finally relaxes under his own weight, relief flooding his senses.

He’s still there. He’s still listening.

 

 

Chapter Text

It takes Ian a while to piece together exactly what it is that’s been bothering him. Some fear lurking in the shadows that he can’t quite name, becomes clear as day when he receives a routine letter from his lawyer. It’s the very ordinariness of it that finally allows the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place and he sits there reading and re-reading it again for signs of any hidden clues.

The lack of an offer of a plea deal after several months had struck Ian as odd. He’s adamant that he won’t take it, but he still expected one to be made. The Feds must know that he’s their best chance of locating Mickey right? He’d been looking forward to throwing it back in their faces.

But they’d been quiet – too quiet. And while his lawyer continually reassured him that things were moving behind the scenes, Ian was becoming increasingly skeptical. She always said that a complicated case like this would take a lot of time and bargaining to flesh out a deal, but Ian had yet to meet with, or be questioned by anyone. How could they be bargaining if they don’t even know what he has to say?

He realizes then, that there’s not going to be a deal, that there was never any intention of making a deal because the Feds knew he wouldn’t snitch. Instead they’re gathering what intelligence they can from his activities in prison. He recoils in fear when he thinks about the conversations he’s had with Damon – Shit, maybe this whole thing is part of Damon’s plea deal?!

He could have been wearing a wire the whole time and Ian would never have known. He’d always thought it was strange that the two of them had ended up in the same prison and are able to interact with each other, despite being in different pods.

That call to Mickey must have been tapped. SHIT!

It may have been months ago, but Mickey must still be wiring commissary money to Damon. He needs to get a message to him, to warn him, but how? He thinks of Mandy but he knows his outgoing calls and letters are being read so he needs to think of a code - some way to alert her without arousing the suspicions of the Feds.

Fuck, I’m not smart enough for this!

He considers writing to his lawyer, but decides against it. He knows attorney-client mail is supposed to be privileged, but at this point he seriously doubts that’s the case. He doesn’t think she’s in on it, but he can’t risk feeding her any more information. The intelligence they gain might not be admissible in court, but it could still be enough to hurt Mickey.

He’s been pacing up and down in his cell for what feels like hours when James returns from his work shift looking unusually drained. Ian briefly considers telling James what he’s discovered – he’s probably got the brains and resources to smuggle a message out, but concludes he needs to keep this as close to his chest as he can. Ultimately he probably can’t trust anyone in here, so he’s going to have to try and hide his secret.

“That’s a very slow method if you’re trying to escape.”

The line catches Ian off guard.

“What?”

James nods in his direction.

“Pacing back and forth dragging your hand against the wall. It’ll take you about a thousand years to wear a hole through it. You could probably do it with tin cans in about 200 though.”

Truthfully, Ian hadn’t even realized his hand had been scraping along the wall.

“What’s got you so agitated?”

“Nothing really, I just want to get out on the yard.”

“In this weather? Not gonna happen, it’s blizzarding out there.”

“I know, hence the pacing.”

“Well there’s better ways to burn off energy, why don’t you go and do some exercises in the rec area? I’m really whacked and could do with a little lie down.”

Ian eyes him suspiciously but makes his way out of the cell, quietly removing his letter from his lawyer as he goes. He needs to find a way to destroy it. He settles for the showers, shredding it into the smallest pieces he can and stuffing sections down the drain of each cubicle. He figures that even if they’re found, the water and soap will render what remains illegible.

Of course, as soon as he steps back into the main part of the pod he runs into the person he least wants to see right now.

“Shorty! How’s it going?!”

Stupid snitching Damon with his stupid smarmy face, pushing that stupid squeaky book cart. It even sounds like a pig.

Ian can’t believe he didn’t realize Damon was squealing until now – the evidence was right in front of him this whole time! Thankfully he’s rewarded for his observations with another flash of insight.

Of course! The cart! It’s so fucking simple! Okay Ian be cool, be cool. You can do this.

“Yeah fine I guess. Not much has happened since I last saw you.”

He bobs up and down on his toes in an earnest attempt to appear placid, but Damon just gives him a strange look.

“You gotten hooked on El Último Dragón yet? It’s what everyone in my pod is watching. I know you said you thought the novelas were kinda silly, but this one’s badass!”

“No, uh I’ve not seen that one yet, I’ll have to check it out.”

Ian’s running his fingers along the spines of the books, checking their titles carefully for anything that seems significant. Who knows what might be lurking within?

“You after something to read? I can recommend if you like?”

Shit. Should I say yes? Is it a trick?

“Oh uh, sure, why not?”

“Well, you like crime? I got some good mystery thrillers. Or how about spies? You like James Bond and shit like that?”

He pulls out a John le Carré volume and places it in Ian’s hands, who starts to thumb through it rapidly, scanning for anything suspicious.

It’s got to be bugged somehow, maybe in the spine like the phone was.

In his haste and excitement he fumbles it and retrieves the tome quickly, fingers shaking visibly.

“Hey holmes, you get into someone’s crack stash or something? Why you so antsy? You wired?”

“What?! No! How dare – I’m not a fucking snitch!”

The word resonates around the pod like a dog whistle. Ian hadn’t said it loudly, but the whole room suddenly quiets, eyes swiveling in anticipation of what is about to go down. Luckily for Ian, Damon is struck by a debilitating bout of laughter that leaves him doubled over on his cart, gasping for air. Kneeling, he brings his hands together in a prayerful position and casts his watering eyes to heaven.

“Lord have mercy! I finally understand what you see in this son of a bitch Mykhailo. He’s so godamned funny!”

Ian would be angry if he wasn’t so fucking nervous right now.

“Hey you started it! You’re giving me spy books and calling me Sherlock Holmes then asking if I’m wired! What am I supposed to think?”

Unfortunately, rather than bolstering Ian’s position, his argument only serves to induce a fresh bout of the giggles in Damon.

“Ho – ho – Holmes? Oh my God, you’re the whitest wedo I ever met! I said homes, like homie man - not some motherfucker in tweed! How do you come up with this shit?”

A few inmates, reassured that a brawl doesn’t look imminent, start to approach the cart to return their books. Ian’s had about all the Damon he can take for the moment, so he slots the book back roughly and turns towards his cell, when another thought strikes him.

Damon can’t be there all the time … but the other inmates can. They must be recording their observations in the books then giving them to Damon!

He grabs the book an elderly gentleman was proffering for return.

“You know what, I think I’ll take this one actually. I always wanted to read about … Healthy Living for a Healthy Bowel.

Damon cocks an eyebrow in amusement but doesn’t try to dissuade him.

“Well you did say you’d been having trouble sleeping, I guess this might help. But hang on a sec., I gotta stamp it.”

He opens the front cover and stamps the paper taped to it with a date next week. Ian watches carefully, but he can’t see any evidence of electronics. He supposes there might be a microchip hidden somewhere though.

Ian snatches back the book and, with a brief wave over his shoulder, trots back to the privacy of his cell. Sitting cross legged on the floor he rips off the dustcover and bends the spine back all the way, shaking the book and, when nothing falls out, bangs it on the ground to try to dislodge whatever’s been hidden in it.

Of course he’d forgotten all about James.

“Hey Red, I really wasn’t kidding about needing a lie down. Can you go do that somewhere else please? It’s bad enough you’re keeping me up half the night with your fidgeting, why you gotta do it during the day too?”

“Ah shit, sorry. Just give me a minute and I’ll be out of your hair.”

He gets up and stands by the door, trying to look through the glass at an angle so that he won’t be seen.

“Who are you hiding from?”

“Oh uh, just Damon. Had enough of him for one day.”

“So you’re going to torture a library book? Seems pretty passive-aggressive.”

But Ian isn’t listening.

“Hey, you hear that?”

“What?”

“Like a really high-pitched hum. Electrical noise or something.”

“No.”

“I think - I think it’s coming from the air vent.”

Ian climbs up on the toilet and squints into the grate above it.

“I hope you’re going to clean that, now you’ve got your shoes all over it.”

“Yeah, it’s definitely coming from in here. Come listen.”

“Jesus, you really aren’t going to give me any fucking peace are you?”

James grumbles as he hauls himself upright and over to the unit to press his ear against the grate.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“You sure? It’s pretty distinct to me.”

James shrugs his shoulders.

“It may be an age thing. You loose your ability to hear high frequency sounds as you get older. Has it always been there?”

“No, I’ve only just noticed it.”

“Hmmm. Maybe they’re having problems with the HVAC system? Anyway, since you’re determined to drive me crazy, I’m gonna remove myself from the picture and go take a shower. For the love of God, please clean the toilet and be gone by the time I get back, or I’m going to beat your ass. Seriously. I don’t look it, but I’m a good boxer.”

He shuffles around gathering up his stuff and heads out the door, but not before picking up a book of his own. That draws Ian’s attention, and as soon as the door shuts Ian’s sneaking over to it to watch through the glass.

Sure enough, James is walking towards Damon, towel over his shoulder and arm outstretched to offer the book. How could he have known he was out there? They exchange a few words, but Ian can’t decipher them so he slinks away. If there’s some kind of electrical device in the vent he needs to get as far away from it as possible. It’s probably just an audio bug because he didn’t see a light for a camera, but just to be safe he slides sideways along the wall, at an angle that wouldn’t be visible. He settles on the floor again and resumes his inspection of the book. He really can’t see anything in the spine’s void, so he flicks through the pages looking for anything of interest. There’s some underlining here and there and a few notes in the margins, but Ian doesn’t know what he’s looking for. He’s sure there’s some significance, but he doesn’t hold the key to crack the code.

Frustrated, he tosses the book to one side and looks around the cell. His eyes come to rest on the toilet. He’s supposed to clean it. Ian grabs his shampoo and a washcloth and squats down beside it, wiping away his shoe marks. He and James alternate on who cleans it each day, but despite their efforts the smell of piss still manages to cling to it persistently and he doesn’t know why.

URINE!

Hanging out with Damon does have its uses and one of them is that Ian’s picked up a lot of penitentiary tricks of the trade. He’s now pretty adept at whipping up his own meals with the meagerest of rations and even knows how to make a ‘fifi’ – a sex toy fashioned from a latex glove and a towel (Damon had insisted he learn). However, it was another of his disgusting tidbits that was now racing through Ian’s mind on repeat: you can use urine like invisible ink to write hidden messages.

He scrambles back to the book and lifts it to his nose, inhaling deeply. He’s not sure what it smells of exactly – kind of musty, but not necessarily from ammonia. He flicks to another section and breaths it in again with similar results.

“What are you doing?”

James has returned from his shower, his hair neatly combed and slicked back, but still in his shower shoes.

“Actually, you know what? Don’t tell me. I think I’ve had enough Ian adventures for one day. Thanks for cleaning the toilet though, one less shitty thing for me to do. The fucking shower drains are backed up and I’ve been up to my ankles in other men’s hairy jizz water for the last 10 minutes. So, please will you continue on your helpful streak and let me take my nap now?”

“Sure thing, I’ll just grab some stuff.” Ian reaches for his book along with some pens and paper, as James collapses onto his bunk with a relieved sigh. Just as he’s heading out the door though, the loud buzzer goes off overhead for roll call and a murderous “Fucking Hell!” follows him out.

 

Chapter Text

Ian had to wait a few days for his commissary order to come through. Despite being all too aware of the other inmates whispering about him, he tried his best to appear oblivious so that their suspicions wouldn’t be raised further. It was not fun.

His heightened awareness of electrical noise is irritating the fuck out of him. He wants to scream at every humming strip-light, fuzzy radio and flickering television. But even with these items silenced there’s still the constant drone of static in his head. He thinks that if he had access to a melon baller, he’d crack open his skull and used it to scoop out the offending grey matter. He never knew it was possible to feel this uncomfortable in your own skin. It doesn’t help that it feels as if every molecule in his body is vibrating - but not as one. They’re anarchic, jostling each other in a perverse demonstration of Brownian motion.

He hates his meds.

Ian’s buzzing around the pod like a bee – no a fucking hornet, just trying to control his agitation when his mind finally turns a cog in the right direction.

Meth.

That was the last time he felt like this. But he’s not high right? It’s not quite as intense as it was in the club, but his mind is certainly racing. Could they be drugging him, maybe with a low dose? It would explain why he’s having so much trouble sleeping. He’s never felt withdrawal symptoms, so they’d have to be doing it at regular intervals – like at the pill line.

Ian resolves to cheek his meds that evening and prepare for the mother of all comedowns tonight.

Soon the commissary cart arrives and he runs forward excitedly to receive his coveted baby oil, plus various sundry items. Ian scurries back to his cell to stash them before James returns.

Then finally, finally, the rest of the men head to the elevator to go to the gym and Ian hangs back, desperate to be alone. He hops onto his bunk, thrilled at being able to talk to Mickey at long last. He presses his head against the brick and transmits his thoughts, telling him his realization about the meth and his commissary order.

Soon I’ll know; soon I’ll be able to beat them at their own game.

He feels the growing warmth in the cement against his skin, so he opens his eyes and pulls back enough to watch the mortar surrounding it glow brightly as his message is relayed.

At least I’ve got one line of communication they’ll never know about. They’ll never catch him, as long as I can talk to him.

Then he puts the next step of his plan into action. Grabbing a large book, his legal pad and pens, plus a can of pop, he leaves the cell and spreads them out on one of the tables nearby. He sits there reading long enough for the C.O. in the control room to take notice of him, then knocks the open can to the floor.

“Aw shit.”

He walks over and knocks on the one-way glass to rouse the C.O.

“Hey um, I knocked over my pop, I’m gonna need a mop.”

The C.O. grumbles at being dragged away from his computer, but he gets up and locks the door before moving towards the off-limits utility cupboard.

Ian jerks his head over his shoulder and calls out: “I’m gonna go get my shampoo to clean it.” and the C.O. doesn’t question it.

Trying his best to look casual, he opens the cell next to his own and slips inside. He knows he only has seconds, so he glances around and thankfully spots what he’s looking for immediately. He grabs the top book from a stack sitting on the metal desk and waltzes out, pulling his bottle of shampoo from his waistband as he goes. The bored C.O. is pushing a bucket on wheels with a mop towards him and doesn’t notice as Ian sets the book down beside his own.

“Thanks, I’ll be quick.”

Leaving the mop with the C.O. he lifts the bucket and walks to the cell on the other side of his own, opening the door nonchalantly and turning the tap to the sink on. He finds a large plastic cup nearby and leaves it to fill, while he looks around for more books. He spies two relatively small ones he thinks he can hide in his jumpsuit and, after emptying another cup’s worth into the bucket, grabs them and stuffs them down his pants. After the fourth fill he wipes the cup and the sink down and checks to make sure he hasn’t disturbed anything. It looks okay, so he picks up the bucket and walks out.

The C.O. has been busy throwing paper towels down to absorb most of the mess, so all Ian has to do is soap and rinse the floor. It takes all of a minute and, after wringing the mop out, passes it back to the C.O. and picks up the shampoo and bucket. This time he goes to his own cell and tosses the hidden books aside as soon as the door closes, before pouring the dirty water out into the toilet and flushing. The C.O. then takes the bucket and Ian resettles in his spot, drinking the remains of his pop as he skims one of the books.

When he feels enough time has passed he gets up and tosses his can, then wanders over to a TV and has a casual flick through the channels. Pretending nothing has caught his eye Ian returns to his table and gathers his books up before heading back to his cell - the C.O. hopefully none the wiser.

Once inside he goes about hiding the books by wrapping them in his clean clothes in his tub, then grabs his shower things and heads out again. He feels giddy under the warm water, satisfied that his plan is coming together. The liquid begins to pool around his ankles though, so he cuts it short as soon as he can.

I guess I really did block the showers.

 


 

Ian lies awake for what feels like hours waiting for James’ snores to hit a regular and definite rhythm, so that he knows he’s deeply asleep. Finally convinced, he crawls out of bed and carefully pulls his tub out from under the bed and unwraps his cloth bundles, revealing their hidden bounty.

It had cost him six packs of mackerel to get a kitchen guy to smuggle him two plastic pots of applesauce, but he knows it’ll be worth it. Ian has already cleaned them out, so he sets to work filling them with baby oil. Next he threads the cotton string he’s horded through a hole in the foil lid and allows it to sit and soak up the oil. He does the same for the other pot, then wraps some foil around the top of the string to form a wick and also stop it from sliding down into the oil.

Finally, Ian gathers the books around him and pulls out a AA battery. He peels the protective paper near the negative terminal back to expose more metal, then touches one end of a strip of foil to the spot and the other to the flat face. This short circuits the battery and causes the foil catch light, providing him with enough fire to light each of the makeshift oil lamps. He’s ready to begin.

The thing about writing messages in urine is that they can only be seen once you heat the paper up. Ian flicks to a few pages in his stolen books that he’d marked as looking particularly promising and begins to hold each over the flame. He’s not sure exactly how long he needs to do it to make the words appear, so he waits until the underside of the page starts to blacken, then moves it away. Once or twice an edge catches fire, but he’s able to quickly stub it out and continue his experiments. Finally something promising seems to take form, so he…

“THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”

James jumps down from his bunk in one fell swoop and barrels towards a frozen Ian. He’s stiffened in surprise so completely that he doesn’t even notice that the book he’s holding is now well alight, and he barely moves before a sucker punch sends him flat on his back. James does actually know how to throw a punch.

James picks up the flaming book and tosses it towards the toilet, but misses and knocks the sauce containers while he’s at it, slicking the other books with oil and igniting a real fire in the process.

“FUCK!” he shouts again, making the decision to go after his projectile first. Ian drags himself upright a bit and tries to stamp on the mess, but he’s only wearing socks and sweatpants, so all he succeeds in doing is spreading the oil around and getting his clothes soaked in it. James returns and grabs the blanket from Ian’s bed and uses it to scoop up the burning books, then dumps the whole pyre in the toilet. There’s an angry hissing of steam and the fire is not extinguished instantly due to the size of the bundle, but at least it’s contained in a non-flammable spot.

The alarm on the wall starts to wail and it’s at this point that Ian looks down and realizes he’s now what’s on fire. Before he can do anything though, he’s tackled by James and forced to the floor again.

“FUCKING HELL IAN!” James screams as he grapples with the struggling man beneath him. Surprisingly dexterously, he twists one of Ian’s arms up behind his back, forcing him into submission and leveraging Ian into rolling over onto his stomach.

“There’s going to be payback for this. I’m gonna teach you a fucking lesson!”

James hisses into his ear and before Ian can even fathom what that means he feels his pants and boxers being forced down his legs. He starts to wriggle again but James uses his other hand to pin his neck to the ground, pressing Ian’s face hard into the concrete and using his body weight to subdue his legs.

“Jesus Christ, hold still, you’re making this harder than it needs to be.”

Ian’s not sure if he’s still on fire, but it doesn’t really matter when he hears James whisper: “At least the baby oil makes things easy.” He starts to flop desperately like a fish, trying to buck James off his back, but a tremendous blow to the back of the head stills him. Ian doesn’t know if he actually passes out or not, but the first sensation he recognizes after is one of intense nausea and of drunken rocking, followed by ringing in his ears. While trying to remember how to move, a voice begins to materialize and Ian takes a moment to recognize it as his own. He’s babbling and his brain is unable to reconcile the words with their meanings, but James’ response lands strong and clear:

“Who’s going to believe you? You’re fucking crazy!”

Finally Ian’s legs remember what they’re meant to be doing. He can’t get to his feet because his pants have been pulled down, but he can still rock back to his knees then swiftly fling himself sideways hard enough to send them both crashing into the wall. Ian braces his shoulders to cushion the impact somewhat, but James takes the full force of his and some of Ian’s bodyweight. It’s enough to get him to loosen his grip on Ian’s arms and he lunges forward, scrabbling at his pants as he goes, trying to pull them up.

Then there’s a hissing sound and they both start to cough and splutter. Ian claws at his face as his eyes begin to burn. The next moment the cell door is wrenched open and shadowy figures rush the room, pushing them both up against the wall with Perspex shields. Ian screams in agony, but James instantly calms and puts his hands on his head and an extra guard moves to cover Ian.

“Stop Resisting! STOP RESISTING!”

“He must be off his meds or something. He tried to set the cell on fire and I had to stop him.” James says as he allows himself to be cuffed.

“You’re the ones who keep dosing me with meth! I know all about your plan to get me to snitch!”

Ian’s still struggling, even with his face pinned against the wall, but he sees the look and then nod the other officers give each other. He knew he was right and he knows what’s going to happen next when he feels the jab to his neck. He concentrates on getting the words out before he looses consciousness.

“He tried – he-tried-rape…”

 

Chapter Text

The first time Ian wakes he’s in a hospital bed. He feels claustrophobic and seasick, but when he tries to roll over onto his stomach he can’t because he’s strapped to the gurney by restraints. His movement alerts a nurse, who pulls back the curtains surrounding the bed, and Ian sees a hallway with plastic chairs through the window in front of him. He’s still in the MCC. As he becomes more aware of his surroundings he also comprehends the source of his claustrophobia is the spit hood he’s wearing. His eyes and lips feel raw and his throat is as parched as a desert.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Water,” is all Ian can croak out.

She moves round to his side and pushes a button on the bed to move it into a sitting position.

“Will you promise me you’re not going to try to bite me?”

Ian’s a little taken aback by the question, but he nods and she peels the spit hood back part way, so that his nose and mouth are exposed. Then she guides a tube with a bite valve towards his mouth and Ian chomps down, gratefully sucking the liquid until he begins to cough. Using the little slack he has with his wrist restraints he leans further forward and she claps him hard on the back several times as he inhales deeply.

“Can you breath okay?”

Ian coughs a few more times for good measure, but nods and she’s kind enough to remove the hood completely.

“I feel like shit.”

“I’m not surprised, you took a big hit of tear gas and ketamine. You vomited a lot, I thought we were going to have to intubate you.”

Ian notices that his head feels clammy and realizes that his hair is wet. They must have showered him too.

Suddenly there’s a groaning from the next bed and the nurse scurries over to attend to the man. A rush of adrenaline hits Ian as his memories start to return and he registers who must be lying next to him.

“Where’s James?! Keep him away from me! He’s going to kill me!”

He struggles against his restraints even as his EMT training tells him it’s futile.

At this point a C.O., that Ian hadn’t observed, springs up from his chair in the corner and strides forward.

“Calm yourself! You’re in no danger, but if you keep struggling we’ll have to restrain you further.”

“But he’s right there!” Ian motions with his head towards the bed and it’s then that he locks eyes with a shining pair visible under the crook of the nurse’s arm. His fear surges higher when he sees that James is not restrained either.

“He tried to rape me! He’s going to kill me as soon as you leave the room!”

“You really think that old guy is going to hurt you?”

“He’s not old! He’s like 55! He’s my cellie; I know how sneaky he is. He fooled me too!”

The nurse and the officer exchange looks.

“Inmate, how old are you?” he asks, addressing the man in the other bed.

“76.”

“Are you going to try to murder this man?”

“Not likely. Don’t have the strength no more, with this shitty heart. I could talk to a friend though, if he wants.”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. Also, I don’t intend to leave either of you alone, so don’t expect any murder on my watch.”

The nurse comes back to Ian, pulling the curtain into place as she does so, so that his view of the other bed is obscured.

“Ian, you’ve had a rough night. You’ve got some burns to your legs and we’re monitoring you for a concussion; you need to relax and trust us.”

“How can I, when you keep dosing me with meth?”

“With meth?”

“So that I’ll talk too much to Damon. I know he’s spying on me as part of his plea deal.”

The C.O. is holding his arms crossed over his chest, trying not to laugh.

“If the Bureau of Prisons was dosing every prisoner they wanted to prosecute with meth, we’d be full of nothing but tweekers talking about the Illuminati. Trust me – no one in here is getting free meth.”

“But it’s true – it’s just like when I’ve used it on the outside! I need to move around and I’m crawling out of my skin.”

The nurse reviews his chart for a few moments, flipping through the pages and pointing one or two things out to the C.O.

“You sound very uncomfortable Ian, you may be having some problems with the medicines you take. Let me give you something to help you relax.”

“What kind of thing?”

“Ativan.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“Ian, if we really are dosing you with meth, this’ll make you feel better. And if we aren’t it’ll make you relax anyway. You don’t have much to lose here.”

“I don’t want it.”

The nurse looks over to the C.O. who nods.

“I’ll sign off on it.”

She moves around to Ian’s side and prepares a syringe. This makes him more agitated and he pulls at his wrist cuffs, even though he knows it’s pointless because he’s got an IV in his arm.

“I DON’T WANT IT!”

But she injects the fluid into a port on the line anyway, before rapidly stepping out of Ian’s range and returning to his chart to amend it.

“I think he needs some haldol too.” she says to the C.O.

“I agree. No one who’s faking it turns down benzos.”

She disappears for a minute and returns with some forms and a vial, from which she draws a dose with a new syringe.

“I told you, I DON’T WANT ANY OF THIS!”

“I’m sorry Ian, but you’re not capable consent right now. This is an emergency and what we’re doing is legal.”

She deftly injects the drug into Ian’s line while remaining as far away from him as possible, although it doesn’t occur to him to spit at her anyway.

Ian can already feel his body relaxing from the first injection. He knows the combination of the two will probably send him to sleep pretty fast. His throat still feels like the Sahara though, so he asks for water again. The C.O. and nurse look at one another uneasily, clearly not trusting him anymore.

“I won’t bite.”

But the nurse walks away instead, although she returns a second later wearing a Perspex head visor. She then repeats the procedure with the water line and Ian drinks deeply, trying to quench his thirst. He shakes his head when he’s done and then lays back as the nurse returns his bed to a recumbent position.

“The doctor will be here in the morning, try to relax into it – don’t fight the sedation. You need to rest.”

He’s still frightened James is coming for him, but all sees for the next few minutes before he succumbs to sleep, is the two people at the foot of his bed filling out paperwork.


 

 The next time Ian wakes he’s cold. His body is heavy, but rubbery and his head feels like it’s full of water, sloshing around in a bathtub. It takes him a few moments to understand that he’s being shaken. Blearily he forces his eyes open and tries to focus, but everything is still swimming in fog.

“Ian? Ian can you hear me?”

There’s a hand on his shoulder, shaking him.

“Can you help me sit him up?”

The world starts to tilt, although Ian still doesn’t really know which way is up. Something icy cold is now pressing against his calves and he tries again to raise his heavy eyelids.

“Ian, are you there?”

There’s someone directly in front of him – a woman, he realizes, as his brain starts to process the words. She’s tapping his left cheek incessantly. Slowly things start to come into focus as Ian regains his lucidity. The woman looks familiar, although he still can’t place her.

“Ian it’s me, Miranda. Do you remember? I’m your attorney.”

Ian can’t quite remember how to talk but he meets her eyes and lets his head loll in the best imitation of a nod he can give.

“Do you remember where you are? What happened?”

“There was a fire. I – what day is it?”

“It’s Friday. It happened last night.”

Ian’s throat has closed up again. He coughs out a ‘water’ and the C.O. that he’s only just noticed is next to him reaches over for a bottle. He opens it then proffers it, but Ian doesn’t immediately discern that his arms are inside the strange tent-like garment covering his body. He wriggles one of his arms through a hole by his shoulder and drinks deeply.

He takes the time to look around at his surroundings. He’s in a cell, but there’s no bed or desk, just a steel toilet/sink unit in the corner. The cold thing on his calves is a concrete ledge he’s sitting on, just a few inches off the ground. There’s an orangey glow coming from the slit window, so it must be night. He’s naked, save for the stiff, quilted thing he’s wrapped in, secured to his body with big Velcro patches on the side and over the shoulders. A cold draught is billowing around his legs, so he tries to push the fabric down between his thighs to shield them and protect his modesty.

“The hell is this thing?”

“It’s a safety smock – for your own protection,” the C.O. answers.

“My own protection from what?”

“So you can’t hurt yourself.” Miranda replies gently.

It takes a minute for his brain to catch up to the words, but slowly their significance and his surroundings sink in. He’s on suicide watch.

“I’m cold.”

“I know. When we came in you were all curled up with your arms and legs inside, like a turtle.”

She turns to the C.O.: “I’d like to have a privileged talk with my client now. Could you see if you can find him a blanket too?”

He nods and leaves without a further word, taking the bottle cap with him. Ian brings his hand up and runs it over his face, then back over his head. There are some very tender spots.

“Ian I’m here because the authorities want to send you to get emergency psychiatric care. The doctor thinks you’re psychotic and having a manic episode.”

“I don’t feel manic,” Ian slurs out.

“You’ve had a few doses of haldol and a lot of sedatives, so I imagine not. They don’t have the facilities here to help you properly, but they can’t transfer you against your will without a court order.”

Ian’s brain is still creeping along as he tries to follow her point.

“So you’re here because…”

“I’m here to explain what your options are and what will happen in each scenario.”

“And they are …”

“You can voluntarily consent to treatment, or you can refuse.”

“Where will they take me?”

“To Cook County, initially, for the emergency treatment. They have a hospital there. After that I don’t know, but probably to another facility for more specialized care. I don’t think you’ll come back here, you have more complex needs than they can handle.”

“And if I won’t go?”

“There will be a hearing to determine whether you’re competent to decline treatment. It would probably be Monday at the earliest. I can represent you, or you can represent yourself, if you wish. You’ll stay here until then.”

“Are they going to keep drugging me?”

“I don’t think so, unless you get agitated again. They were within their rights initially, but you’re aware enough now that I would feel comfortable advocating against it, if that’s what you want. Again, they can overrule it, if they can prove it’s an emergency, but otherwise they need to get a court order.”

“But they’ll drug me if I go to the hospital?”

“Have you been admitted for mania before?”

“Yeah, once, voluntarily.”

“Well I imagine it will be similar, although still in a correctional environment. You can still refuse treatment if you go, but again there will be a hearing to determine competency.”

Ian is quiet for a few minutes as he tries to turn the information over in his mind, excruciatingly slowly.

“I just don’t want them to drug me anymore. They keep dosing me with meth and I feel horrible. I want to climb out of my skin.”

“How do you feel now? I’m sure it’s not great, but do you feel better than before?”

“Sort of, it’s a different kind of awful at least. My skin has stopped crawling.”

“I think the sedatives are helping, even if you’re foggy now. Can I be honest with you Ian? I’m not making a judgment on whether it’s true, but setting your cell on fire, accusing the guards of drugging you with meth; I think you have very little chance of passing a competency screening if you allege things like that. And if you do pass, you’ll likely face disciplinary action for the fire and fighting with your cell-mate.”

“WELL WHAT THE FUCK WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?”

His sudden outburst takes her by surprise and she scrambles backwards in alarm, eyes darting to the red panic button by the door.

“I – sorry – I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I would never hurt you.”

She quickly regains her composure, but remains sitting where she is, out of Ian’s reach.

“I’m still just so confused and pissed about what happened, the idea of having to take the blame is…”

“Let me make sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying it was your cell-mate who started the fire?”

“No, well, sort of. He knocked over the lamps and that’s what really set it going. But I’d never let him rape me without putting up a fight.”

“Your cell-mate tried to assault you?”

“Yeah, he was so angry about the fire he wanted revenge. But I got away and then they rushed the room.”

She looks at him long and hard and Ian has the distinct impression that she’s sizing him up, unsure of his truthfulness. He hates that James’ prophesy may prove true.

“That does cast a new light on things. We’ll need to talk with the disciplinary board about it before you face any sanctions hearings. But it doesn’t alter the immediate issue – are you going to go to the hospital willingly?”

“I, ugh. I don’t know. I’m so tired and heavy. Can I sleep on it? I don’t want to decide when I’m all fuzzy and sedated.”

“Of course. But be aware that you may not be as clear headed as you think, once the sedation wears off. I’ll tell them it’s a no for now and get things rolling for a treatment hearing. You can change your mind and sign the paperwork at any time.”

The guard has returned and is watching them through the window.

“Are we done for now?” she asks and Ian nods, so she motions to the guard to come in. He’s holding a plastic food tray and has a large blanket draped over the other arm. He places the tray in front of Ian and drops the blanket on the bed ledge. It’s made of the same stiff material as his smock.

“The hell is this?” Ian asks in disgust, as he pokes a cold cuboid mass on the tray - the only item on it.

“Nutraloaf,” the guard replies. “It’s the only thing we’re allowed to feed you in here. It meets all your nutritional needs without being a safety hazard.”

Despite the fact that Ian hasn’t eaten in 24 hours, he’s not hungry, and he doesn’t think he’s about to start with that. Besides, he’s still suspicious that they may be trying to dose him.

“I don’t want it.”

The guard is extremely unsurprised by his response and picks up the tray again, motioning for Miranda to join him.

“Think about it,” she calls to Ian as she gets up and walks away.

The door clangs shut behind her and Ian immediately sets to work cocooning himself, as best he can, with the blanket.

Five minutes later the light in his cell goes off and the only visible illumination is from the red light next to the camera that’s mounted on the ceiling. There’s no doubt they’re watching him now.