The vibration of an incoming text threw Ian’s focus off the game he had been playing on his phone for the past three hours. With nothing to do after losing his job, he’d spent most of his time sleeping or mindlessly trying to distract himself from the fact that he was now unemployed, had just gotten dumped by Trevor, and had to show up at court next week to try to talk his way out of going to prison for blowing up a van. To put it lightly, things fucking sucked. He opened his messages and saw that the text was from Veronica. He was surprised to hear from her, but unsurprised that it wasn’t one of his siblings. Fiona had spent a decent amount of cash bailing him out of jail, and on the drive home from the police station, he finally admitted that he hadn’t taken his meds in weeks. His family had been looking at him with disappointment ever since, and hardly talking to him at all. He opened V’s text, which informed him that she and Kev had been planning to meet up with old friends for dinner, but that her mom had gotten sick and couldn’t babysit the kids. She begged him to come over to watch them, promising that they’d probably be asleep the entire time and she’d pay him. He raised his eyebrows, surprised that someone would trust him with their kids after the destructive manic episode he’d just had. She was either really desperate, or she’d heard that he was now taking his meds again and was stable. Ian’s initial reaction was to say no, to suggest that she ask Debbie or Fiona- but he realized that she had probably asked them already. Maybe doing this favor for Kev and V would help to get everyone to respect and trust him again, at least a little. Plus, he really wasn’t in a position to reject any cash that came his way. So, he agreed to head over at 7:30, then rolled out of bed to make himself dinner before he left.
Ian entered the Ball household right on time, and was greeted by a well-dressed Kev as V rushed down the stairs in a pair of high-heeled boots and even more jewelry than usual. “Thank you so much for coming,” V said, “we haven’t gone out for a nice dinner in forever. Turns out having three kids really takes up a whole fucking lot of time.”
“Three?” Ian asked, tilting his head to the side quizzically.
“Yeah, we still have Yevgeny while his psycho mom figures out a way to explain him to her new husband,” Kev explained. Ian felt his stomach drop and the color drain from his face. V noticed his change in expression and gasped.
“Oh fuck, Ian. I didn’t…I forgot…” she stammered apologetically. “I wouldn’t have asked you if I’d remembered.” Ian shook his head.
“It’s fine,” he assured her, forcing a smile. “They’ll all be asleep anyway, right.” V nodded.
“Really appreciate it, man,” Kev said, giving Ian a pat on the shoulder. “We shouldn’t be back too late.”
The sound of crying woke Ian up an hour later, and he groaned as he opened his eyes and squinted into the flickering light of the TV. So much for the kids sleeping the whole time. He wanted to ignore it and hope whichever kid it was would calm down on their own, but then came to the realization that the crying might wake up the other two, and then he’d be stuck with three distraught toddlers. That thought alone was enough to get him off the couch and up the stairs, and he prayed that the increasingly loud sobbing was coming from Amy or Gemma. Yet of course, to his luck, it was not. Yevgeny’s tear-stained face greeted him, and Ian’s heartrate skyrocketed. He hadn’t really looked at this child for months. He’d done everything in his power to push him out of his sight and out of his mind. He’d caught a glimpse of him a few times, at the Alibi, or through the front window. But, here he was now, right in front of him, and Ian had no choice. Ian took a deep breath and scooped up the red-faced toddler, wrapping him in the blanket from his bed. Amy and Gemma were sleeping soundly even through the noise. They must have inherited that from Kevin, who could probably sleep through an earthquake. Just to be sure, though, Ian propped Yevgeny onto his hip and carried him down the stairs onto the couch. His sobs had now been reduced to sad little whimpers and he looked up at Ian curiously, unsure of this person that was new to him. Of course, he wasn’t truly new to him at all. Ian’s mind flashed back to the very start, like a film reel. Sitting terrified at gunpoint, forced to watch this baby’s conception. The wedding. The baptism. Being informed that he’d left him in a car, that he’d almost killed him. Ian ran his hands over his face at that thought of that day, not remembering anything up until he found himself in a jail cell. His thoughts were interrupted as Yevgeny crawled into his lap, apparently deciding that Ian didn’t seem so bad. He nuzzled his face into Ian’s shoulder, wiping his tears on his shirt and resting his head. Ian let himself look down and felt his heart shatter slowly as he stared at the child’s face. Yevgeny had already grown to look exactly like a tinier, blonder version of his father. Ian almost felt himself smile as he noticed that even the eyebrows were a total match. He lifted his shaking hands to run his fingers through the baby’s hair. Yevgeny sighed, seemingly satisfied, and snuggled into him closer, closing his eyes. Ian let himself relax for a while, focusing on the Law and Order episode on the TV screen, and then decided that the kid must finally be asleep. Cautiously, he began to stand up to bring him back upstairs, but Yevgeny’s eyes snapped open and he began whimpering again. For a Milkovich, Ian thought, this kid cried a whole lot. But maybe that was beautiful; that he felt like he could. That he was the first child in that family to know that when he cried, someone would hold him until he felt better. He sat back down, and Yev clung onto him tightly, and then suddenly said something. Ian didn’t even know he could talk yet, he’d been so quite other than the crying.
“Want Daddy,” he said, sniffling. And it felt like Ian’s whole world stopped turning. Ian knew that by “daddy,” he was referring to Kev. That he had no understanding of who his real father was, and no recollection of what he looked like. That for a while, Ian was sure that he’d be Yev’s father too, raising him with the love and attention that Terry and Frank had never given their sons. Now Ian was the one crying, tears rolling rapidly down his cheeks as he kissed the top of the baby’s head. Yev looked up at him, raising his tiny hand to Ian’s face, almost like he was comforting him- like he knew how much his heart was breaking all over again.
“Yea, little man, I miss your daddy too,” Ian whispered, holding the child close against him and slowly rocking him back and forth. “The fuck have I done. Huh? What are we gonna do, Yevvy?”
The child just sighed, like he understood but didn’t have an answer. Ian pulled him in tighter, letting the tears fall until they both fell back into sleep.