Humankind and alarm clocks have been on war since the invention of the latter. There has been throwing, hitting, and screaming involved and yet every morning there is a new battle in this never ending fight.
If the alarm clock comes in form of a seven-year old boy, things are a little different, though.
Mickey isn`t a morning person. Never was. Never will be. Especially when it`s his day off and he can sleep in for once. Or rather could.
Yevgeny, on the other hand, doesn`t appreciate the concept of weekends yet.
“Dad, wake up! I want pancakes.”
There`s a finger poking his side. Mickey groans.
“Good for you. Later. Go back to bed.”
“It`s already light outside.” The bed squeaks as Yev is crawling next to him. “Come on! I`m hungry.”
“Make yourself some cereal or something.” Just leave me the fuck alone.
On the other side of the bed he feels Ian shifting in his sleep. Yevgeny`s going to wake him up if Mickey doesn`t give in and he really doesn`t deserve to be woken up at the crack of dawn after a twelve-hour late night shift.
“Okay, all right. On my way. Get the bowl out already. And be quiet, we don`t wanna wake Dad up, do we?”
His son`s face lights up and he jumps out of the bed. Mickey grabs his phone off the nightstand and glances at the clock. 8:34 am Fucking hell.
“Why don`t you look through your pirate book while I clean this mess up? I can read you a chapter after, huh?”
Mickey ruffles through Yev`s blonde hair before piling up their plates and putting them into the dishwasher nearly an hour after he got woken up. As soon as caffeine got into his system he started to enjoy the alone time with his son. Yevgeny nods enthusiastically and pulls one of the books from the bookshelf next to the TV, before sitting down on the sofa. He isn`t able to read more than his name and a couple of words yet, but he enjoys looking at the pictures and he fucking loves pirates for some reason. Mickey just started cleaning the pan when he hears foot steps behind him, feeling Ian`s chin on his shoulder shortly after.
“Mornin´ sleepy face. Want some pancakes?”
Ian hums and rubs his eyes, heading for the coffee pot in the corner. They both would be royally screwed if their coffee machine broke.
“How was work?”
Mickey decides to drink his second cup of coffee with Ian eating breakfast next to him. Yev is still engrossed in his book and hasn`t even noticed that Ian woke up.
“Nothing major. A bar fight with two broken noses, stuff like that. Usual Saturday night.”
“Dad! You`re up. Did you know that women weren`t allowed on pirate ships? Mama told me about it. She was mad. I bet they were better than the men. And they would have found far more gold.” Yev peeks over the sofa.
“No,” Ian shakes his head, swallowing the last bite of the pancake, “I didn`t know that. It`s pretty mean, don`t you think?”
“Uh-uh! Are you gonna read me How To Be A Pirate? Dad and I read the best pirate last night.”
“How about you get dressed first? It`s a bit late to be still in your PJs. But after that we can read together.”
“But you`re still in your PJs, too.”
The fact that Yev calls Ian`s boxers and one of Mickey`s wife beaters PJs makes Mickey grin.
“Fair enough. How about we both get changed?”
Mickey watches the two of them sitting on the sofa ten minutes later, Ian doing his best pirate impression. He has read this book to Yev at least three times in the last month, since the day he came home from school announcing that he wants to become a pirate one day.
There are more books in Yev`s part of the shelf than Mickey has owned his whole life and the kid doesn`t go to sleep without a bedtime story.
He could watch them for hours but his phone vibrates and he reads a message from Svet.
On my way. There in ten.
He lets Ian finish the book without interrupting them but when Yev asks them what their pirate names would be he tells him that his mama is on her way to pick him up.
“Go get your stuff so she doesn`t have to wait.”
“But you have to answer me first!”
“Mine would probably be something like Red.” Ian chuckles.
“What about you, Dad?”
“Oh I know,” Yevgeny exclaims, “Pirate Knuckles. Because of the letters on your knuckles.”
“Yeah, probably. Now go and get your stuff or I`m gonna call you Pirate Messy from now on.”
Yev giggles, but gets up and goes to his room anyway, right when there`s knocking on the front door. “Mama!”
Lana greets her son with a stream of Russian and a hug.
“Morning, you two.”
“Want some coffee? Pirate Messy here hasn`t packed his shit yet.” Mickey gets up to fetch a cup but she shakes her head.
“Can`t. No time. Playdate with Gemma and Amy. Thank you.”
“You could come with us! It`s even more fun, then.”
“What did I say about you packing your stuff? Go, now!” Mickey raises his eyebrows at his son, who sighs in frustration and goes to his room.
“Anything happen?” Lana asks while they are waiting for him.
“No,” Ian`s still sitting on the sofa, “He learned to count to fifty at school but I`m pretty sure he`ll tell you that.”
“Still into that pirate shit,” Mickey adds.
Lana smiles, watching Yevgeny picking up his school bag in his room.
“Okay, let`s go. Say bye to your dads.”
Mickey crouches down to give him a proper hug.
“See you next week, aye? Be good, pirate Messy.”
“Dad! Stop calling me that!”
He smiles and ruffles to his hair. “Go say bye to pirate Red.”
Ian and Yev do their not-so-secret-but-special handshake and Mickey blinks and his kid is gone.
He slouches down next to Ian and buries his head in the other one`s neck.
“I`m so fucking tired.”
Ian strokes his shoulder.
“Another childless week ahead to recharge.”
“One week`s not enough.”
“One week is way too long.”
Mickey looks up, Ian is smiling but he can see that there`s something else on his mind.
“I can clean up; you can go back to bed if you want to. Don`t have to go into work until one.”
“Taking naps? I`m getting old,” Mickey groans.
He hates it when Ian has to work on his day off, it feels like wasted time. Ian is already gone when he wakes up around half past one and there`s a note on the fridge saying Gonna be back around ten. Love you The kitchen and the living room are spotless, Ian even made Yev`s bed. At first Mickey thinks there`s nothing left to do, but then he checks the fridge and goes grocery shopping.
It`s a usual day off when Yev is staying with his mother and while he is loading bananas, eggs, and toast into the shopping car he can`t help but wonder if the next ten years of his life are going to look like this. It`s not like he`s complaining. His life could be so much worse. He`s getting up in the middle of the night six times a week to go to work – but there are jobs that pay less then construction and he enjoys working outdoors, using his body. Yevgeny is living with them every other week and after a few hiccups and a lot of crying in the first weeks, the arrangements has been working fine for the last three years.
A Northside chick would probably marvel about how he and Ian turned their life around after seeing the scene from this morning: The abused juvenile delinquent and the mentally unstable former foster child living a civilized life, giving their son a stable childhood.
Mickey scoffs, deep in his thoughts. They wouldn`t know that Ian refused to go to the shrink last time, to scared that they`d say that he needs to change the prescription again (which has only happened, like, three times in the last four years but whatever) so Mickey had to go with him and pretty much hold his hand the whole time. Or that Mickey got into a bar fight on the second anniversary of Terry`s death and came home with a bleeding eyebrow and bruised knuckles. (He doesn`t even remember what it was about.) Or that he has nightmares in weird intervals he hasn`t figured out yet. Or a lot of other shit no one would call turned his life around and got his shit together. He tries his best to be a good dad to Yev – but he sometimes feels like it takes a toll on him and he needs to balance it out when the kid isn`t around.
Going grocery shopping on his day of really isn`t something to complain about, he thinks to himself while he loads the bags into the car, and in the end, he wouldn`t have thought that he would be able to afford food without thinking about every single penny when he was growing up.
The house is something he`s definitely proud of, they renovated it during summer a few years back, Mickey doing the construction work while Ian planned the new colour scheme and shit. The room layout is still the same, Mandy`s old bedroom is now Yevgeny`s, Terry`s room is a guest room where they also set up sort of a mini-gym with Mickey`s old dumbbells.
He spends the evening in front of the TV, watching reruns of Criminal minds. Around nine his phone buzzes with a text from Ian.
Mind if I bring pizza for dinner?
They eat while watching a movie and soon enough, Mickey can`t stop yawning. Too lazy to actually go to bed, he rests his head in Ian`s lap, who runs his fingers through his hair.
Yeah. His life could definitely be worse.
mentions of nightmares, ptsd, abuse and other stuff Terry Milkovich does - take care
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He hasn`t had a nightmare in weeks, so he really should have seen this one coming. They are different, almost every time. Sometimes he just goes through the worst times of his life over and over again: His mother dying, juvie, Terry, learning that Svetlana is pregnant and he`s supposed to marry her, Ian leaving… Sometimes he dreams that Terry didn`t die but is released from prison and shows up on their doorstep, sometimes he hurts Yevgeny, or kills Ian - or both of them.
It`s different every time and this time he doesn`t even remember much, only sees Mandy`s tear stained face in his head when he wakes up, panting and shaking, covered in sweat.
Mickey tries to slow down his breathing, counting to ten while breathing in, then again while breathing out. His mind`s still racing and Ian is asleep next to him, so he gets up and out of their bedroom to avoid waking him up. He doesn`t want to leave Ian`s angel-like face behind, wants to calm himself through listening to his love`s breathing but he knows how lightly Ian sleeps and he hates waking him up. Hates bothering him with this stuff.
When they went to the couple sessions of Ian`s shrink a few years back, they only talked about how they could manage Ian`s disorder together, what boundaries should be set, that kind of stuff and not about the issues Mickey might be having. Ian barely knew about them back then, Mickey eager to cover them up.
His breathing finally slows down by the time he reaches the fridge; he opens it and takes a sip out of the tequila bottle, hoping that the alcohol is going to calm him down. He didn`t turn on the light, the only light source is the lamp post outside. The tequila is burning in his throat; he takes another sip, the warmth slowly making its way through him. Although he can barely see anything, he thanks the universe for the millionth time that they remodelled the house, so he doesn`t have to deal with even more memories being triggered by something stupid like a curtain or some shit. There are still some of Yev`s toys laying around, they didn`t bother tidying up when Lana picked him up after dinner.
Mickey flinches and swirls around. Ian leans in the doorway to their bedroom, hair all messy and narrow eyes.
The older one crosses the room without saying a word and buries his head on Ian`s shoulder. He feels a calming hand rubbing circles on his back and relaxes instantly.
“Nightmare,” Mickey mumbles eventually, causing Ian to sigh. Not in a frustrated way, rather in a Wish-I-could-help-you-way.
“You wanna come back to bed?”
They lie down facing each other, Ian still stroking Mickey`s arm.
“It`s okay, love. Just try to go back to sleep. I`m right here.”
Mickey studies Ian`s face, his soft, kind of sad, smile, his green eyes, every single inch. It calms him down. He knows this face. Knows the details, knows what it looks like happy and sad (though he wished he wouldn´t), smiling and crying.
“Sorry I woke you up.”
“You didn`t. That mad dog up the street was barking his soul out again. It`s fine. Go to sleep, Mick.”
They don`t talk about it. Why would they? There`s nothing to talk about. The first few times Ian tried to get Mickey to tell him what the dreams were about, but he just ignored him or brushed him off, so eventually he stopped asking. Ian didn`t like to talk about his bad days after they were over, so why would Mickey have to talk about his shit?
Mickey goes to work the next morning as if nothing happened, despite feeling very zombie-like. A few days pass without another incident or nightmare or night terror or whatever you want to call this shit.
“I`ve wanted to ask you something,” Ian turns down the volume of the TV and Mickey frowns at him. It`s a typical Saturday afternoon, at least until now.
“I just – I don`t really know how to say this, so I`m just gonna blurt it out, okay?”
Mickey`s stomach twists. What the hell is he talking about? Ian wouldn`t make such a fuss about ordinary stuff like the fact that their car is on the brink of breaking down and that they are probably never going to able to afford a new one.
“I want to apply to become a foster parent.”
Mickey blinks. Ian looks at him with an anxious glimmer in his eyes.
“Yeah, I just – I don`t know. Our life is good, right? Stable – I`m stable. And I feel like something`s missing.”
“You mean a crying shit-machine?”
“No, I don`t – I was thinking about fostering a teenager. Not a baby,” he gets up and shuffles through a drawer, “I got some brochures from a fostering agency – here. Take a look.”
Mickey raises his brows at him, ignoring the brochure Ian is trying to hand to him.
“You already went to an agency without talking to me about it? How long has this idea been in your head?”
“A … while?”
“What do you mean – a while?”
“Dunno,” Ian shrugs, “A month or two?”
Breathe, Mickey reminds himself, Count to ten. One…two –
“Two months? Why didn`t you tell me?”
“Because I knew you wouldn`t be on board. You aren`t. You didn`t even think about it, there was a flashing No! sign on your face as soon as I said it.”
Mickey crosses his arms.
“Yeah I am not! Why would I take a stranger`s kid into my house for a few weeks til they go back into the shithole they came from? Who are we to think we could be better than their parents or guardians or whatever? We`re Southside, Ian.”
“We are good parents, Mickey. Yevgeny is a good kid, because we did a good job.”
“Yevgeny`s seven. There`s still plenty time to fuck up. And it wasn`t just us. Do you really don`t think we don`t have enough shit to deal with already?”
“Fostering someone isn`t shit to deal with. It`s supporting someone. Giving them a chance.”
“Like foster parents do that,” he scoffs, “They`re just in for the money and don`t give a shit.”
“Exactly,” Ian exclaims, “We could make a difference. Be foster parents that don`t traumatize them even more. Don`t you get it?”
“And you really think we will be the ones who change the system?”
A few years ago he would have thought this was one of Ian`s manic ideas. But he knows that his sort-of-husband is totally grounded and totally serious. He knows that Ian wouldn`t still be sitting on the couch, wouldn`t talk so calm and oriented if he were manic. He knows that the look in his eyes would be a lot different and that Ian wouldn`t have waited over a month to tell him about it.
“Okay, you know what? You`re not even trying to get it. I gotta go to work and I think I`m not gonna be home until the brunch at Fiona`s tomorrow. Don`t forget about that, yeah? I`ll see you there, maybe then you`ll have at least thought about it.”
“Your shift doesn`t start for another two hours.”
Ian ignores him.
Now that`s a very Ian move, manic or not. He gets up, shoulders his bag and is out of the door without even looking back once.
“Yeah, right. Run away when things don`t go your way. Like you always do. You know that`s not something you can do when there`s a traumatized teenager living here! You always fucking run, Gallagher.” Mickey shouts after him, although he knows that Ian doesn`t hear him.
Again, mentions of abuse.
Mickey barely sleeps that night. Instead he tries to watch mind-numbing TV programs, but the mind-numbing part isn`t working and the tequila bottle is empty after less than three sips. The electric bill was due yesterday so they don`t have any money for non-necessities, let alone alcohol. But yeah, right, they`re well enough to feed another mouth. The mouth of a growing, probably always eating teenager, mind you. He flicks through the brochures to find out how much they would be getting paid if. Hypothetically. Not that Ian ever wasted any time thinking about this, for sure. Kids are fucking expensive.
By half past ten, he gets a text.
*Sorry I stormed out. It`s an emotional topic. Hope you really think about it and take a look at the brochures, they provide a lot of information. Hope you`re not mad
-Flicking through them rn. Could`ve told me sooner, shithead. Not mad. Slow night?
*I get that thinking about foster care doesn`t come with lots of positive memories. Been there. Yeah. Just one call so far
Mickey sighs. That`s one thing they agreed on while doing couple counselling: No radio silence anymore. Letting each other they were okay. Being angry at each other was okay and normal but isn`t wasn`t fair to storm out and just let the other behind and in the worst case scenario worried about their wellbeing.
He rereads the text, the TV still blaring in the background Thinking about foster care doesn`t come with lots of positive memories. Mickey has only been in foster care once. His mom fought with claws and teeth to keep him and his siblings out of the system and there weren`t any snitches in the family like Frank or Sammi that would report the violent, abusive drunk that called himself their father. As long as she was around, Mickey had only heard about DFCS through stories of his classmates. But as soon as she wasn`t around anymore, on the day of her death, to be exact, a surely well-meaning social worker placed him and Mandy into a foster family and Iggy into a group home. Five weeks. Five weeks of being locked into their room at night so they couldn`t run away, five weeks of only getting one meal a day, with a lock on the fridge, because they weren`t worth it, five weeks of trying to grieve while getting beat up for crying. After these five weeks Terry was released from jail and somehow they managed to avoid being put back into the system.
Ian knows this. And Mickey knows that he has pretty similar memories about foster care, except the last one he was ever placed in. The last one was a group home for troubled youth, only weeks after his diagnosis. And Mickey knows that the experience in this home, run by women that actually gave a shit, influenced Ian. Influenced his decision. He knows that. But he also knows that he and Ian aren`t stable, middle-class people that were brought up by mostly loving parents. Their story doesn`t compare to the story of these women. Not at all. So why would they be fit to care for another child, teenager, human being, who has been through hell?
His phone buzzes again.
*Still gonna head straight to Fiona`s after my shift, if that`s okay for you? Don`t wanna wake you up when I come home
-Yeah. See you there
-Love you. Take care.
The house is buzzing with people. Mickey isn`t sure if he`s late or the others are just early. Not that he cares though. He greets Lip, his girlfriend whose name Mick doesn`t remember, Debbie and Franny with a nod and heads to the kitchen, where Carl, his boyfriend Evan, Fiona, Liam, and Ian are standing around the counter. Ian smiles at him with groggy eyes and they share a brief kiss, having a silent conversation.
You okay? Slept at all? – Not really but it`s fine. – We`re not gonna talk about it until this is over, yeah?
Ian nods slightly.
“Tough night?” Mickey asks, out loud this time.
“I was just telling them about a car accident. A young guy, barely sixteen and a family of four. No casualties, luckily, but they had to cut the door of the guy`s car open and I wouldn`t be surprised if his spinal cord was injured. He almost collapsed on the way to the hospital.”
Ian sighs and rubs his faces with his hand.
“Pancakes are ready,” Fiona chimes as if to lighten the mood and they follow her as she carries the plate with a dozen of pancakes to the table at the living room.
Within seconds, everyone is gathered around and chatting and Mickey lets himself sink into the familiarity at it. They`ve done this at least once a month since Ian moved out, either here or at Lip`s place, who`s living in a fucking terrace house on the North side. The only one still living in the house are Fiona and Liam. The first few times have been weird, Mickey wasn`t on their shit list anymore, but he wasn`t really welcome either. By now, it`s easy to play nice for a few hours. He knows how important this is for Ian and there are worse things than stuffing your face with pancakes, even in the presence of Phillip and a soon-to-be cop.
He sits between Liam and Ian and half-listens to Liam talking about his track team and an upcoming competition. He loses interest about half a minute in but it`s not like Liam is talking to him anyway.
“Hey, yo, could you please be quiet for a sec?” Lip yells after Mickey finished his second helping of pancakes.
“Valeria and I have an announcement. Actually it`s more Valeria`s but – anyway. I`m gonna be a dad. Valeria`s pregnant.”
The room erupts in cheers and applaud and all of the Gallaghers get up and try to hug Lip at once. Evan and Mickey are the only ones who remain seated and Evan shoots Mick an awkward grin. When Ian comes back, after having hugged both Valeria and his brother, he has a wide smile on his face and Mickey just knows that it`s going to be even harder now to stop him from his plan.
“So? Thought about it?”
They delayed their conversation; by the time they got home Ian could barely keep his eyes open. Now he`s stepping through the side door with a cup of coffee, Mickey`s sitting on the stoop, smoking.
“Yeah. Why the fuck do you think we`re able to care for a – I don`t even know. Someone who`s been through hell. Most days I can`t even take care of myself.”
Ian sits down next to him, their legs touching.
“It`s not like they just throw us in there, there are classes we have to take. And I think DCFS will tell us if they think we aren`t fit. There`s gonna be a home study and shit.”
“A home study and shit?”
Mickey raises his eyebrows, addressing the giant elephant in the room.
“Google says as long as I`m medical compliant and stable on my meds it`s not a problem. I need a statement, though.”
“You`ve got it all figured already, huh?”
“I knew I would have to convince you.”
“Well, it`s not working.” He flicks the cigarette stump to the ground.
“It`s not like we`re totally oblivious to what they`ve been through. In the contrary – Have you ever thought about how different your life could have turned out if you`ve been placed in a decent home? I`m not sure if they would have make you go back.”
“But it`s not this little thing, Ian. It`s not something like bringing you coffee so you`re not grumpy. It`s a fucking commitment. Probably for years. We could seriously fuck shit up.”
“Yeah but we also could make someone life`s better.”
“You`re romanticizing the shit out of this. It`s not a knight in shining armour thing.”
“I know it`s not. Do you know how often we get called to bring out-of-their-mind shitfaced and drugged up homeless youth to the hospital and they don`t have an emergency contact? Because they have no one. No one to go home to. There aren`t enough foster families that want to foster anyone older than a toddler so they end up in a group home, where no one actually gives a shit about them. I`ve always had someone to go home to. I`ve always had someone fight for me. But they don`t. They`re alone. It`s not about working a miracle. It`s just we could show someone that there are people that care for them.”
He pauses, takes a sip of his coffee. Mickey lights another cigarette. Congrats Ian. Congrats for having a Fiona.
“Every time Yevgeny gets picked up I feel like Lana rips my arm of. I hate it how quiet the house is when he`s not here.”
Because they have no one to go home to.
His life has always been better when he knew that Terry wasn`t home, either locked up or just on a bender. He always has felt more at ease when he knew he was home alone. At least after she died.
“We have so much, Mick,” Ian voice is low, he squeezes his hand, “We have us, we`re not exactly starving at the end of the month. And we have experience. We know what it`s like to grow up in a shitty neighbourhood, we know what it`s like to have parents who don`t deserve this label, we know what it feels like to be placed into the system. And –,“ he swallows and leans forward to make their foreheads touch. “We`ve been through hell. Several times. Let`s help someone get through it. Let`s give someone a place to go home to.”
The building is one of the newer ones of Chicago. Maybe Mickey was even involved in building it, fuck if he knows. He`s been in construction for almost five years, he surely doesn`t keep track of every wall he has ever built or torn down. It doesn`t matter either way.
They take the elevator up to the seventh floor. Chicago Department of Family And Support Services Ian squeezes his hand and flashes him a smile. Mickey recalls the conversation they had after Ian told him that he had scheduled an appointment.
The problem wasn`t that Mickey didn`t want to foster. It wasn`t that it would be challenging or nerve-wracking. He didn`t even think that they weren`t up for it, even though he said so at first. Ian was right, they did a great job with Yevgeny and he was getting more confident interacting with him every week. He felt like a proper parent towards him, he loved him, he cared for him and he had the boundaries shit figured out, too. Ian was right: they were the most stable they`ll ever gonna get. That wasn`t the problem.
The problem was that he knew how influenced people are by files. He knew that they would be asked about their past and no matter how much their life changed, he was pretty sure that all the social worker would see was that they came from broken homes, that there were labels attached to them and they wouldn`t bother to look beyond them.
Ian showed him a news article he found about a woman who grew up with alcoholic parents, was homeless as a teenager and is now fostering three kids. “We`ve gotta give it a shot to find out if you`re right or not.”
The elevator door opens with a ding and they step out in a corridor, still holding hands.
“What happened, Yev?”
The call came just as Mickey parked the car in front of the house, done with work for today. Twenty minutes later he is standing in front of his son, who`s sitting on a chair next to the vice principal`s office.
Yevgeny isn`t crying, he looks pissed and as far as Mickey can see he isn`t hurt, not physically.
“They made fun of my name again. And I defended myself, just like you told me to. And now I`m in trouble. How`s that fair?”
“What did you do to them?”
“I pushed Rusty, one of the third-graders and now his knee is bleeding and everyone acts like I`m the bad guy.”
Before Mickey is able to reassure him that defending himself doesn`t make him the bad guy, the office door opens and Yevgeny`s teacher, Mrs. White, steps out.
“Thanks for coming on such a short notice, Mr. Milkovich.”
The other boy`s mother is already waiting inside, her son sitting next to her. He`s at least half a feet taller than Yevgeny and Mickey can`t deny a feeling of pride that Yevgeny managed to push him to the ground.
In the next ten minutes he hears the no-violence-speech he already heard as a kid several times, hears the other kid lie at first, then confess that he and his friends indeed made fun of Yevgeny.
“So all he did was defending himself. Why are we discussing a punishment for him?”
“Like I said, violence isn`t tolerated at this school, not under any circumstances. Yevgeny should have gone to a teacher and tell them about the incident and we would have acted accordingly.”
Yeah right. In what world does that work?
“You`ve ever heard of the term snitches get stitches, Mrs. White?”
She nods, frowning.
“How exactly would you have made sure that my son doesn`t get beat up after he told on a bunch of third graders? They`re all bigger than him. You can`t exactly put a second grader in solitary confinement, right?”
Rusty`s mother gasps at the comparison. Mickey can basically see how she asks herself if Mickey`s been to prison and he flexes his fingers to draw her attention to his tattoos. It`s a reflex, really. Fuck you.
Mrs. White doesn`t answer, obviously not prepared for this kind of conversation.
“So what other choice did he have, other than take matters in his own hands?”
“Still, no reason for violence.”
“You really think they`d stop if he`d asked them nicely? Yev, how often have you told them to stop?”
“Bunch of times.”
“So I really don`t see a reason why my son should get punished for standing up for himself. And we really don`t need a forced apology-thing. So, we`re out of here. Have a nice day,” he nods at Mrs. White and then looks over to Rusty and his mother. “I don`t know what kind of stuff you teach your kid. But he should learn that you never go after someone who`s weaker or smaller than you. That`s just cowardly.”
The first thing Mickey does when he reaches his car is grabbing a cigarette.
“Make sure you don`t get caught next time.”
“Mama`s gonna be mad.”
“No, she`s gonna be proud, just like me,” he exhales. This shit is so damn stressful. “Dad`s gonna be mad, probs. But more mad at me for storming out like that. Maybe we should ask him if he wants to grab some waffles, to soften the blow. What do you think?”
He doesn`t tell him that that was planned for today anyway. He texts Ian before getting into the car.
Got called to the school bc of some bullying shit. Should talk about that before we talk about the foster thing
Ian is already waiting for them at the diner, looking worried. Mickey greets him with a kiss and orders kid`s waffles and a three-cheese-omelette, before telling him about his visit to the school office.
“Dad, what`s solitary confifiment?,” Yevgeny asks, apparently he has been thinking about it the whole ride to the diner.
Ian raises his brows and shoots Mickey a look, who tilts his head back and groans. Really?
“Solitary confinement? Why are asking, champ?”
“I may or may not have said that they can`t put Yev into the SHU to protect him,” Mickey admits through gritted teeth.
“Why would they put me in a shoe, dad?”
“Yeah, Mickey. Why would they do that?”
Mickey groans again. Fucking hell. He was five when he first heard Terry rage about being in the SHU for over a week, so it`s not that bad that Yev is only seven. Right?
“We talked about Snitches get stitches, right?”
“Okay, so, when people do snitch, and they go to prison anyway then there are a probably some guys angry at them. Sometimes the guards want to protect the snitches, so they get their own cell. So no one can hurt them. That`s solitary confinement. SHU is just another word for that.”
Though Terry wasn`t in there for protection, but that would miss the point.
To his horror, Yev`s upper lip is trembling.
“Do I have to go to prison for pushing Rusty?”
“What the fuck are you talking about? No one`s going to prison.”
“Dad just said that to show your teacher that they can`t make sure you`re safe if you`d snitched. No one`s going to prison, Yev. You`re all right.”
Yevgeny buries his head under Ian`s arm and takes a moment to calm down. Mickey sighs, running a hand through his hair. That`s not how this was planned.
“Hey, champ? We have something else we want to talk to you about. Something nice.”
Yev looks doubtfully at him and Mickey nods towards Ian to let him do the talking. He focusses on his omelette while Ian tells their son about them becoming foster parents and the possibility that someone is coming to live with them for a while.
“It`s gonna take some time until there will actually be someone moving in, but we wanted to talk to you before we make the final decision.”
The kid`s eyes light up.
“Does that mean I`m getting an older sibling? Like, way older? As old as Liam?”
“Maybe even older than him, but yeah,” Mickey nods, chewing.
“They might be unhappy about living with us at first, but we`ll talk about that again when it`s actually happening. What do you say? Sounds good?”
Yevgeny nods enthusiastically. “Uh-uh! Maybe then there`s finally someone who wants to play basketball with me since neither of you do.”
Hours later Yevgeny is tucked in and the kitchen tabled is covered in the application papers.
“So we`re really actually fucking doing this?” Ian looks at him, about to put his signature on the form.
Mickey takes a moment to enjoy the view: Ian has this expression on his face he normally refers to as overexcited puppy face, this grin that spreads over his whole face. He`s happy, he`s excited and Mickey can`t say he isn`t.
“Looks like it.”
But then the overexcited puppy face disappears and Ian`s biting his lip. Mickey`s stomach drops.
“You know what would this even more amazing?”
The smile comes creeping back on his face.
“If we had the same last name.”
Mickey blinks. Ian`s beaming.
“You heard me.” Ian shoves his chair back, to excited to sit.
“You`re asking me to marry you? Like this?”
“I don`t want it to be a big deal. I know that you`re not exactly a fan of marriage.”
Mickey scoffs. “Oh hell, I know you fucking do. You`d probably love roses and doves and shit.”
“Actually, no,” Ian shakes his head and takes Mickey`s hand to pull him up. The height difference was becoming awkward. “I just want us to have the same last name. And I want that everyone knows that we`re together. That you`re mine. My husband.” Yeah, the sappy Ian signature smile is back. Mickey`s heart leaps.
“Husband, huh? I could get used to that,” Mickey smiles, biting his lip while leaning forward to meet Ian`s.
“So, say it.”
“That you gonna marry me?”
“For real? You still need to hear it?”
“Yes, I do. I`m gonna make you my husband.”
Their lips meet.
“We`re gonna celebrate now?” Ian asks, gasping for air in between.
“Sure. But I swear I`m going to kill you if you wake our son.”
Ian just smiles against his lips and shoves him into the bedroom, the application still unsigned on the table.
I don`t even know, the last part just ... happened?
“Did you plan on telling me that you`re gonna get married to my best friend?”
Mickey kicks the bedroom door shut behind him, his phone pressed to his ear. He`s going to kill Ian.
“Jesus, it`s not even been 24 hours and he`s already told you, Mandy? That guy can`t keep a thing to himself.”
“At least he told me. I bet you wouldn`t.”
“We don`t want to make a fuss. It`s just a fucking piece of paper.”
“Oh, no. I`m coming over tomorrow and it`s gonna be a thing. You two are going to get a proper wedding. At least a party at the Alibi after. I`m going to organize it, the only thing you need to worry about is your vow.”
“My fucking what? I`m not gonna –“
“Chill out. You just have to say why you love that goof. That`s not gonna be too hard. And keep it clean, Yevgeny`s gonna be there, too.”
“Mandy, I really don`t-“
“Shut up. I`m organizing your wedding, you`re not in charge anymore. Just text me the date and make sure to invite everyone.”
“Okay but no fucking stag party shit, do me that favour, would ya?”
Mandy laughs. “Wish granted. I can`t believe you two are finally making this shit official.”
“You are not seriously going through with this, are you?”
“Don`t act like I got a fucking choice in this.”
He`s falling and he`s losing him and part of him would rather die then –
“It`s okay, Mick. It`s okay, you`re safe.”
He isn`t panting or anything, he`d just woke up flinching, and – and – Ian.
“I`m here. You`re safe. Shit, Mickey. It`s okay.”
He buries his face into his chest, trying to get the image of his father`s satisfied grin out of his head.
“Fuck,” his hand automatically goes to the box of cigarettes on the nightstand when the image finally disappears. His heartrate slows down, as soon as he takes the first drag.
Mickey`s leaning against the headboard, Ian sitting next to him, knees drawn to his chest, squeezing his hand.
“You, uh, you talked,” Ian says eventually and Mickey`s chest tightens. “We can call it off. I didn`t realize it would trigger you like this and the last thing I want is to torment you.”
Trigger. That`s one of those fancy words Ian learned when he started going to the shrink.
“It`s tomorrow,” Mickey scoffs, “And it`s not like –“
He pauses, takes a drag and then actually laughs. “It`s the biggest fuck you, ever.”
Ian smiles, it doesn`t reach his eyes.
“Calling it off because of a couple of fucking nightmares over the last few days would only mean that he still somehow can tell me what to do. Even tho he`s dead, man. He`s fucking dead and he can`t do shit to us anymore.”
“You still good about inviting Svet?”
“Yeah, we still need someone to watch Yev. It`s not like I want to be stuck watching him, taking him home, at our fucking wedding night. Emphasis on fucking,” he grins at Ian and finally the crease on the younger one`s forehead goes away. “Besides that, it`s not like I`m gonna focus on anything else than your fine ass in a fucking suit tomorrow.”
“So, no, Gallagher, you`re not getting out of this,” he concludes.
“Tomorrow you`re a Gallagher, too. Oh my god.” Ian beams and Mickey can`t help but roll his eyes at this fucking goof. His goof, though.
“Keep it together.”
When Ian reaches out and pulls him close, when he feels his lips on his own and when he leans forward – he has almost forgotten about the memories.
One last smoke, then he`s going in, Mickey tells himself, lighting the cig.
“I really didn`t see this coming.”
Lip, of all people, joins him, lighting one for himself.
“It`s not like we just met yesterday,” Mickey huffs, not looking at him. Is he gonna talk him out of it or what?
“Didn´t think you`re the kind of guy who gives a shit about a fucking certificate.”
“I don`t. But your brother does, so what the hell? At least there`s no trouble the next time either of us lands their ass in the hospital or something.”
“Pragmatic approach. None of us thought you`d stick around.”
“Oh really,” he asks in mock surprise, “Like I give a shit.”
Lip rolls his eyes but then Mandy bursts out of the door of the city hall and starts yelling at Mickey.
“What the fuck are you waiting for, shithead? Ian`s losing his shit in there, he thinks you left. Get your ass in there and get it over with!”
Mickey sighs, tries to ignore the fact that he may be shaking and throws the stump to the ground. When he enters the door, he hears Lip complementing Mandy about her dress and he can`t help but snort. Isn`t his girlfriend pregnant or something?
There are a bunch of people, but Mickey only has eyes for the man who`s waiting for him on the other side of the room. Ian got ready at the Gallagher`s, so he hasn`t seen him since this morning. He hasn`t seen him in the suit and damn he does look even better than usual, even if that`s nearly impossible. The look on his face, the pure happiness, makes Mickey`s hands shake even more.
Ian squeezes his hand when he approaches him and whispers you look good, before they both take their places. Mickey doesn`t manage to get a single word out.
“If you have written your own vows, now is the time to read them,” the officiant gives them an encouraging nod after talking for a while about stuff Mickey has already forgotten about and Ian unfolds a piece of paper.
“There are over two million people living in Chicago and I somehow managed to fall head over heels for the guy I played Little League with. There are over two million people living in this city and I fell for the guy my parents would`ve warned me about if they actually gave a fuck.”
Mickey hears laughter but it isn`t Ian`s and he may have forgotten that there are other people present. It`s like being shaken awake when you had a pretty good dream. For a second, he`s irritated, but then he just refocuses on Ian`s words.
“I`ve somehow managed to meet you. We`ve already went through the stuff other people promise to go through together when they get married, so there`s no doubt we can do it, together. To say we had a bumpy ride would be a massive understatement. But without it, we wouldn`t be standing here.”
Ian pauses and Mickey follows his gaze. Yevgeny`s sitting in the front row, between his mother and Franny and when they both look at him, he beams back at them and waves.
“Without it, I wouldn`t know that you love me unconditionally. That you stay in situations where most people would run. If given the choice, I would choose to do it all over again. I choose you every day. I can`t wait to write this new chapter with you, there`s no one I would rather write it with. I love you.”
“If anyone of you records this shit or mentions it ever again they are gonna be six feet under before they can say vow, got it?” Mickey shots a warning glance at the crowd.
He should have gone for something funny. Witty. Whatever. Instead his brain thought it would be a good idea to spill his fucking guts in front of the whole Gallagher clan. But whatever. He`s too nervous to improvise a new one, so here we fucking go.
“Most of my life I`ve been afraid. Afraid of a whole bunch of things. Afraid to love. Afraid to be myself. Afraid to let anyone in. And then – you happened. Sometimes, knowing you, loving you, makes me even more afraid. Because it means that I can lose you. But it also makes me less afraid. Loving you taught me a lot. It taught me how to be myself without holding anything back and that most people don`t really give shit. I don`t want to spend a single day without you. You`re my best friend,” his hands are still shaking when he gestures towards the paper work laid out on the desk in front of them, “This is more than a piece of paper. This is my promise to you. To love you. To always be honest to you and to myself. To not let anything hold us back. I love you.”
He looks into Ian`s green, watery eyes and the love and happiness in his gaze is all that matters, in this moment and forever.
“I would seriously kill myself I had a job where I had to wear a fucking tux every day.”
Maybe it`s weird that he stopped at home to change into jeans and a normal shirt, but his tux is a rented one and other than the fact that it feels like shit to wear it, he really doesn`t want to get any stains on it. Someone (probably Debbie or Mandy or both) made a banner and hang it over the billiard table at the Alibi Just married with two hearts on each end. There are more people than at the city hall, Valeria and Evan are there now, too, also Kev and V and some of Ian colleagues.
Mickey`s sitting on one of the bar stools while Ian gets some more food when Mandy sits down next to him, with a big smile on her face.
“Do you like the banner?”
“Unnecessary as hell. Gonna land in the fucking trash at the end of the night, why did you bother?”
“And I thought you`d soften up after that vow.” She takes a sip from her beer, mascara already smudged around her eyes.
“I talked to Iggy on the phone last night. He`s sorry he couldn`t make it, but flying here from Phoenix is fucking expensive and he couldn`t get time off work to drive here. But congrats and all that shit.”
“Yeah, sure.” Mickey watches Yevgeny and the other kids playing hide and seek.
Before Mandy can say anything else, someone, Lip, turns the volume of the music down and announces that it`s time for the dance.
“Oh hell no. I`m not gonna fucking slow dance, that wasn`t in the contract,” he shoots Mandy his most murderous glance but she just shoves him off the bar stool.
Ian is waiting for him in the middle of the room, palms turned up It wasn`t my idea, grinning. But Mickey doesn`t move an inch. There are things where he draws a line and that`s definitely one of them. Just when Ian, his husband, reaches for him, he hears Lip`s laughter: “Just kidding.” and the volume goes up again, playing a normal, trashy song no one can actually dance to.
The attention to them dissolves and Ian drapes his arms around his neck. They`re not dancing, though. Just standing around.
“How you doing, Mr. Gallagher?” Ian beams at him.
“Can`t complain. Your brother is a pain in the ass, tho.”
“The one that`s flirting with my little sister even though he`s got a fucking girlfriend.”
“Oh that one. I wouldn`t worry about that. Mandy`s not really flirting back.”
Mickey snorts. “Like that means anything. I`m gonna break his fucking knuckles if –“
“Yeah, you`re really protective,” Ian cuts him off, “I already know that. Can we stop talking about them, though? They`re adults, they can do whatever the fuck they want.”
“What`cha wanna talk about, then?” Mickey looks up at him and, god damn it, Ian`s so easy to read sometimes.
“Dunno,” he lowers his voice, whispering into his ear, “Maybe about our to-do list for tonight?”
“It`s already night. Does that mean we can start now? We could just sneak out through the delivery entrance and-“
Ian doesn`t let him finish, kisses him instead and Mickey really wouldn`t complain if they just took off.
He will never get tired of the feeling of Ian`s lips against his, let alone his tongue.
A cough interrupts them. Can a cough have a russian accent, because Mickey swears, it does.
“We`re going home,” Svetlana informs them and Mickey needs a moment before he gets that Yevgeny wants to say good-bye. Way to cool a man down.
Ian picks him up.
“Did you like it today, champ?”
Yevgeny nods, eyes already half-closed.
“Glad to hear that. Get home safe, yeah? You were the best ring-bearer ever,” Mickey smiles at him, ruffles his hair and Ian puts him back on the floor.
“Now, where were we?”
“Did I mention that I fucking love you, Mickey Gallagher?” Ian cups his face.
“Once or twice. I don`t know, does I do count as I love you?”
“Hmm, I think it does.”
This time, their kiss is calmer and Mickey wishes there weren`t people that want to fucking talk to them or whatever so they just could stand there and kiss until Ian would deem it appropriate to leave. Instead, they break it up after a few seconds and Mickey goes back to the bar to get a whiskey.
“So do you think being a Gallagher is better than being a Milkovich or is it too early to ask?” Kermit looks at him.
Mickey`s eyebrows shoot up.
“You really gotta ask me that? Ask, I don`t know, you can`t ask Tommy because the guy`s gotta work with me on Monday so… ask Kate. Ay yo, Kate!”
The redheaded bartender nods at them. “What?”
“What`s the first thing you think about then you hear Milkovich?”
She scrunches her nose up.
“Terry. – No offense.”
“Oh believe me, none taken. So, what do you think about when you hear Gallagher?”
She shrugs, face neutral again. “Frank. A bunch of pretty awesome kids. I don`t know.”
“See,” Mickey looks back at Kermit, “That`s a way better reaction than the first time. Does it answer your stupid question?”
Kermit nods. Mickey takes a sip from his glass, shaking his head. Why do people always ask so stupid fucking questions? And since when does he fucking answer them? He`s way to drunk, but hell, it`s his wedding night, so maybe he shouldn`t waste anymore time being pissed. He scans the room, looking for Ian.
His colleagues are sitting at one of the tables but he`s not with them. He`s not sitting with Carl and Evan, who are making out, or playing billiard with Debbie and Mandy.
“So, welcome to the family, Mickey. Officially, I mean.”
Why does everyone have the urge to talk to him tonight? Can`t they just leave him the fuck alone? Congrats, yeah, thanks – fuck off. This time, it`s Fiona.
But before she can start an actual conversation with him, Mickey finds Ian at the other end of the bar, talking to Lip. He mutters a “Yeah, thanks”, to Fiona and leaves her behind.
“Thought you`d took off without me.”
“Where`s the fun in that?”
Ian laughs, throws his arm around Mickey`s shoulder and pulls him closer.
“But we can leave, if you want to?”
What a stupid fucking question.
A few notes:
I know that the vows are are sappy af and Mickey`s is a bit ooc.
I`m not a native speaker so I wasn`t sure whether to use "scared" or "afraid" correct me pls if it`s wrong!
I`m not that happy with the Gallagher/Milkovich name scene, but I somehow wanted to explain why they chose to go with Gallagher.
Thanks so much for your support, I`d love to hear your thoughts. and i reactivated my twitter come say hi @pergamenttinte
I'm struggling with this, hence the delay. Sorry about that.
There`s a knock on their front door a few days after the wedding. Mickey expects that some Jehovas witnesses or Mormons want to tell him about the saving love of Jesus and is ready to tell them to fuck off when he opens the door and sees Carl.
For Mickey, Carl`s always gonna be the kid that likes to blow stuff up and was the only Gallagher sibling to land himself in Juvie. For him, Ian`s younger brother doesn`t really get older, despite the fact that he graduated from that military academy over a year ago.
“Ian here? Need someone to vent.”
“How about you texted him first, then you`d found out that he`s stuck at work for another hour or something,” Mickey rolls his eyes, about to close the door again.
“Can I wait here?” Carl looks kind of desperate, a bit off.
“Want a beer?”
He heads to the fridge without waiting for an answer, knowing it already. Carl slumps down on the sofa, looking at the pausing screen of Counter Strike on the TV.
“Was blowing some steam of after work,” Mickey says as if he has to explain himself, “Wanna play?”
Carl nods, grabbing the beer and a few minutes later they play, both cursing vigorously.
“We got into a fight. Me and Evan”, Carl eventually says, not that Mickey had asked him.
“So what? Shit like that happens. Make up sex is the best sex.”
They both have their eyes glued to the screen.
“I just think he doesn`t get it. He didn`t grew up here. He doesn`t know what it`s like to want to help your family like that. What it`s like to feel like a total fuck-up, because you don`t know how to make things better.”
“How did you guys meet anyway?”
“In a club. I just shouldn`t have told him.”
“That I went to juvie. It kinda freaked him out. Now he thinks I`m some kind of a thug or something.”
Mickey grins. “Did you tell him about White boy Carl?”
“It`s been over five years. That shit`s ancient.” Carl sighs and pauses the game.
“What,” Mickey raises his eyebrows, “You`re expecting some kind of relationship advice? Wrong guy for that.”
“Dude, you just got married. Gotta count for something.”
“Hell it does. Why does everyone think marriage is the Holy Grail? We fight all the time about the most stupid shit like forgetting the laundry in the washing machine. It`s a fucking miracle I haven`t killed the guy already. It`s not gonna change just because of some legal shit.”
“He`s just – It`s a background thing, I guess? His dad sells cars, his mom is a kindergarten teacher, they both went to college. How could he ever get it? All he sees is how we live now, he doesn`t know that I had to work my ass off for the academy tuition or – I mean, I told him I`m taking a year off before going to college and he thinks it`s for some self-finding bullshit. He never even considered that it`s because I can`t fucking afford it.”
“Still want to become a cop?”
“Fuck no. Boarding school was one of the best things that`s ever happened to me but there`s no way I`m becoming a pig. No clue what I want to major in. Something that makes a shit ton of money while doing absolutely nothing.” He grins.
“Well shit, sign me up if you find that major.”
“Don`t you need a diploma for college?”
Mickey flips him off and starts the game again. “Watch yourself.”
When Ian comes home a few minutes later, Mickey decides to leave them alone. The little heart-to-heart he just had with Carl was enough, he doesn`t need to listen to Ian giving relationship advice. So he runs some errands and when he comes back home, Carl left.
“Think they are done for good?” he finds himself asking. Like he gives a shit?
“Nah,” Ian shakes his head while making dinner, “I think Evan just needs some time to adjust or something. They`ll be fine.” He brings the pot of hot chili con carne to the table, where Mickey already set up, “The woman from DCFS called. Our application went through and she wants to make the home visit. I told her Friday afternoon is fine. You good with that?”
Mickey nods, filling his plate with food.
“Thought that shit would take longer,” he admits.
“Can`t be fast enough,” Ian smiles, “We`re gonna crush that home study. Doc wrote my statement yesterday, so that`s settled, too.”
It does take time, though. The home study goes rather smoothly (at least so they think, since the social worker doesn`t run away screaming) and Ian`s a nervous wreck while they wait for the confirmation if they are supposed to start with the parenting classes or not. If the social worker isn`t convinced that they will be good foster parents they won`t let them take classes, so that`s the line they need to cross.
Ian`s nervousness starts to rile Mickey up. It`s one of those rare days when Ian has a morning shift, so they`re both home in the afternoon, Yevgeny`s in his room, doing homework.
“Yo, can you stop it with the jiggling? I`m trying to focus over here.” Mickey doesn`t look up from the pile of bills and other letters he`s going through and rests his right hand on Ian`s knee. Ian doesn`t stop, so he looks at him.
“Whatcha doing anyway?”
“Reading,” Ian answers, eyes focused on the screen of the laptop, “Sue talked about the paramedic course, again. Suggested I should at least take a look, so that`s what I`m doing.”
“What`s wrong with EMT-I?”
It`s been two years since Ian completed the EMT-Intermediate course and he has never talked about becoming a paramedic, not to Mickey, anyway. The redhead tilts his head at the question and looks at him.
“The pay check, duh. And it would be a new challenge.”
“Uh, what about the whole fostering challenge? That`s not enough for you tough guy?”
“It would be, if it really happens.”
“So you`re not planning on doing both, right? Going back to school and getting the licence.”
“No, but it`s been over a week since we heard from Mrs. Adams, so it`s highly unlikely that –“ Ian`s voice breaks. Mickey hears Yev`s door open, but he doesn`t really register it.
“Shit takes time, Ian. They probably need to fill out a shit ton of paperwork, run our background checks, maybe check in with your doc. I don`t fucking know, but it doesn`t mean that they`re gonna reject us, all right?”
“You don`t have to act like you`re all convinced now. You`re the one that said that they`ll never let us do it, because-“
“Dad, can you come and help me with my spelling stuff?”
“Just a sec, Yevgeny,” he only shifts his focus away from Ian for a second, before looking back at him, “Yeah, I know what I said. But could you please wait with being disappointment until it`s fucking done? You`re getting all worked up already but there`s nothing been decided yet, so just chill the fuck out, all right?”
“The whole thing was stupid. I never should have thought that they would – It`s not a fucking project.”
He hates seeing hurt in the face of the person he loves the most, especially when he does it to himself like that.
“Oh my god, Ian! Stop doing this! It`s a good idea. It`s a good thing, we will be good, okay? It`s gonna be hard and fucking exhausting but in the end, we`ll make it work and we`ll give someone a safe place and shit, all right?”
Ian sighs, he`s not truly convinced, but instead of arguing further he gets up and takes Yevgeny back to his room to help him with his homework. Mickey stays behind, tearing his hands through his hair. He needs a fucking smoke.
“What are you going to do when I hit a low and the kid is tearing the house apart or some shit? I didn`t – It`s not like I forgot about it,” Ian huffs, “I don`t do that. Doctor Ramirez just, well, she said we should remember to take one day at a time and I somehow started to doubt everything.”
Mickey has almost finished his smoke, leaning against the railing of the porch. Ian wraps his arms around his waist from behind and rests his chin on his shoulder, he can feel his breath.
“I`m gonna deal with it, that`s what.”
“What if I`m more like Monica than I thought? What if I run when shit happens? What if you`re stuck here dealing with it all alone?”
Mickey flicks the smoke away and turns around to look into Ian`s doubt-filled eyes.
“What did you do when Yevgeny was in the hospital with light pneumonia?”
Ian frowns. “I visited him and made sure that you didn`t stop eating because you do that when you worry too much.”
“When was the last time you couldn`t go to work because of a low?”
Ian shrugs. “I don`t really have these kinds of lows, it`s more of a crushing sadness but I`m still able to – Oh.”
“You`re not to fucked up to do this, all right? Stop thinking that. You`re the one who knows how to,” Mickey hesitates, swallows, “You know how to love. You`re good at this. You`re not are burden or whatever you think. You are managing this fucked up bipolar bullshit. You are doing good and you are not your mother, for fuck`s sake. Got that?”
Ian nods, buries his face at Mickey`s shoulder. Mickey strokes through his hair. “It`s gonna be ok. We`re gonna be good at this. You`ll see.”
The front door opens and Yevgeny peaks outside, holding Ian`s phone, that`s ringing.
A few minutes later, Ian`s head is buried against Mickey again, but this time, he can feel his husband`s enormous smile.
My brain is v uncooperative at the moment, ugh.
Thank you so much for your support!
The parenting classes are a pain in the ass, to put it lightly. Most of them are about raising infants or children and it takes several weeks until there`s a topic that is going to be interesting to them. Emotional trauma and how to handle it. Mickey ignores the fact that Ian starts glancing at him when the guy from DCFS that leads the class starts to talk about the symptoms. Panic attacks. Nightmares. Substance abuse. Instead he actually writes some of them down. When Ian asks him if he`s okay on their way home, he just nods.
They have to attend over 20 of these classes, but after three months, it`s finally over. Ian was right, it did help to make him feel more secure about the whole thing, but most of them were boring as hell. On the day they finally get the license, Ian doesn`t stop smiling for several hours.
But the smile falters with every day that goes past without getting a call from DCFS. Instead Ian gets another call one night. Mickey doesn`t really register him leaving the room, but wakes up properly when Ian comes back about ten minutes later.
“Hey, Mick. Wake up,” he whispers, “wake up!”
Mickey groans, rubs his eyes.
“The fuck. It`s the middle of the night, man.”
When his eyes adjust to the dim light in the room, he sees the mixture of worry and joy on Ian`s face.
“Lip called. Valeria had the baby. It`s a boy.”
“What? Already? Doesn`t that shit take nine months? Shit, it hasn`t been nine months, has it?” No way he has lost track of time this much.
“No,” Ian shakes his head, “It`s two months early.”
“Shit! Are they okay?”
“Valeria is, yes. The boy has to stay in the NICU for a while, they don`t know yet if there`s any damage.”
“Okay. You gonna come back to bed?”
Ian curls up next to him, one arm wrapped around Mickey`s waist.
“Babies are fucking scary,” Mickey mutters, already falling asleep again.
“I`m going to visit tomorrow, you wanna come?”
“I`m sure Lip isn`t counting on my presence, no thanks. But you can say that I said hi and shit. Buy some flowers. That`s the kind of stuff you do when a baby`s born right?”
He wouldn`t know, since he ignored Yevgeny`s existence for weeks after he was born.
“Yeah, okay. I`ll let him know. Love you.”
The house is quiet without Yevgeny and Ian and Mickey uses the opportunity to play Counter Strike with full volume. He almost misses his phone ringing. Almost.
“This is Mrs. Adams from DCFS. Am I talking to Mr. Mikhailo Gallagher or Mr. Ian Gallagher?”
Mickey`s heart speeds up instantly. It`s happening.
“Yes, it`s Mickey.”
“Mr. Gallagher, we have a fifteen year old girl in need of placement. She`s had some difficulties at her group home and we want to make sure to place her in a, ah, accepting environment.”
What kind of difficulties? He wants to ask, but he doesn`t.
“All right,” he says instead, “What`s her name?”
“Hailey. Are you open for placement?”
What about Ian? For a second, he panics, but then his mouth forms a smile. He doesn`t need to talk to him. He knows his answer.
“Of course. When will you bring her?”
“She`s still at school right now, but I`m going to bring her after. We`ll be at your house at around five. Does that work for you?”
“Yeah, sure. Five. All right.”
Hailey. Hailey. Hailey. He considers calling Ian at the hospital, but he needs to tell him in person. So he takes his wallet and the car keys and drives to the hospital.
Hailey. Hailey. Hailey. It sounds like a promise.
“Mickey! What are you doing here? Did something happen?”
Panic washes over Ian`s face when Mickey enters Valeria`s hospital room. She is propped up in the bed, looking exhausted. There`s no baby to be seen.
“Yes, no. I mean, fuck.” He pants. He ran from the parking lot. “They called. Her name`s Hailey. She`s coming at five.”
The spectacle on Ian`s face is one of the most incredible things Mickey`s ever seen. The panic fades, his eyes light up, and a smile spreads over his face. It`s like watching a star explode or something. He leaps out of the chair and knocks the air out of Mickey`s lungs with his embrace.
“It`s happening. It`s actually happening.”
“What`s happening?” Lip comes in with several cups of coffee and Mickey has never seen him so tired and happy at the same time.
Ian spins around to face his brother.
“It`s a girl, Lip. Hailey. We`re fostering a girl.”
Five o`clock passes. Ian is pacing through the living room. The guest room is set up, fresh bedsheets, everything. They went shopping after leaving Lip and Valeria (and Ryan, Ian insisted on showing Mickey the baby through the glass of the NICU) and bought several sorts of soda and candy, just to be sure.
Quarter past five they hear a car pull up. Mickey takes Ian`s hand.
“Breathe, Ian. Don`t expect anything from her. Just … remember what it feels like.”
He has tried not to think about it too much, what it feels like to get to a foreign place. But somehow, it doesn`t feel as shitty as he thought it would. It`s okay to think about it, it`s over.
The doorbell rings. Ian takes a moment to kiss Mickey and whisper “I love you so fucking much,” before he opens the door.
It's Ian's POV from now on.
It takes Ian a long time to fall asleep that night. While Mickey’s happily snoring next to him, he replays the first hours with Hailey in his head, over and over.
They ate mostly in silence, neither Mickey nor Ian wanting to push her with questions.
“What, you`re not going to ask me what I did to get thrown out of the group home?” Hailey eventually asked, shooting them a challenging look. It was the first full sentence she had said since she arrived.
“Do you want to tell us?” Ian asked, putting down his fork.
“Are you guys married?”
“Isn`t that kinda obvious with the same name and all?” Mickey`s eyebrows shot up.
Hailey didn’t answer, but the challenging look had disappeared. Ian tried to figure out the new look on her face, without staring at her. Worry? Fear?
“Yes, we`re married, for not so long. But we`ve been together for almost nine years,” Mickey clarified and Hailey seemed to relax slightly, she carried on eating.
“Anything else you want to know?” Ian mirrored her, continued eating, too, even though his stomach felt like it was tied in knots.
“Did you ever wish that you weren`t gay?”
Mickey almost choked on his drink and Ian instantly squeezed his hand.
“You aren`t one for light diner conversations, are you?”
“So that`s a yes.”
“But it ended eventually, right?”
Mickey nodded with a hint of smile, when he looked at Ian. “Took some time, had to remove some people from my life, but yes.”
She didn’t say anything else until they started to clean up.
Ian really hopes that he read her expression wrong and it wasn’t fear.
Mickey’s already gone when he wakes up the next morning.
He forgot to ask Hailey what she wants for breakfast. Is he supposed to wake her or did she set an alarm? He told her that he will take her to her new school and that they need to leave around seven o’clock. Ian takes a deep breath before getting up. He’s just going to set up some coffee (half-caf, a compromise) and get dressed and if she’s not up by then, he’s going to check on her. Panic flutters through him. What if she ran away?
He just poured the coffee in his favorite mug when the door to the guestroom (Hailey`s room, Ian corrects himself) cracks open and a very sleepy faced teenage girl in an oversized shirt and sweatpants comes out.
“Morning. Do you want anything for breakfast? I just made coffee. We have cinnamon pop tarts or frozen waffles…?”
Hailey yawns. “Pop tart n coffee’s fine, thanks. Shower?”
“There are towels in the drawer under the sink, shower gel and shampoo’s in the medicine cabinet, if you need some. What do you want for lunch? Peanut butter sandwich okay?”
She nods, takes the cup Ian’s handing her and takes a sip, before setting it down on the kitchen table and heading towards the bathroom.
Ian suppresses a sigh. That didn’t go so bad, did it? She didn’t run away last night, that’s a plus. He looks at the clock above the stove while he downs his meds with the last sip of coffee. They have to leave in twenty minutes. That’s manageable.
“I can come in with you, if you want, take you to the registration’s office.”
He pulls up in the High School parking lot ten minutes before the first period starts. Not perfect, but could be worse.
“I think I’m good on my own.”
Hailey stares out of the window and seems to be frozen.
“I know it’s hard to transfer to a new school in the middle of the school year and that High School’s hard, in general. You got my number if you need anything, right? I’m gonna pick you up at half past two.”
“You gonna drive me here every day?”
“No, it’s just so the first few days of school would be easier, you know without navigating and stuff. But you can take the L starting next week, it takes about half an hour…”
She doesn’t answer.
“Is it okay with you if I pick you up?”
“Okay, all right. You better get going, or you’re gonna be late on your first day.”
“Have a great day!”
“I fucking hate taking the L to work, you’re gonna give me my car back soon, yeah?”
Mickey looks fucking exhausted but that’s almost normal.
“Excuse me? Your car?”
“Yeah,” he smirks and bends down for a kiss, before sitting down next to him, “I use it more often, so it’s mine.”
“Sure,” eye-roll, “Hailey wants to take the L anyway, so your wish may be granted.”
“Who in their right mind wants to take the L instead of getting a ride?”
Ian shrugs. “I guess it’s awkward. She’s a teenager.”
“You sound like a forty-year old soccer mom complaining about their moody off-spring.”
“What the hell do you know about forty-year old soccer moms?” Ian laughs.
“Who’s the one who had to go to Yev’s matches because a certain someone had to work?”
“Oh come on I know that you love it.”
“I gotta go pick Hailey up. Rita sent me my schedule for March, by the way. I gotta go back to work on Sunday, starting 11 am.”
“Fucking great. Gotta work on Saturday, sounds like a fun weekend.”
Ian sighs, shrugs in a nothing I can do about it way, presses a kiss on his temple and leaves.
“You guys aren`t planning on adopting me or anthin´, are you?”
It’s already dark outside when they sit down for dinner but that doesn’t mean that much in late February. Hailey had answered some of their questions about school (all clubs and extracurriculars were already full, except debate and “There’s no way I’m gonna do that”) and gone silent for at least ten minutes before dropping that question.
Mickey snorts. “What gave you that impression?”
“Nothin. Just wanted to make clear that I don`t need a new family or some shit. I`m just waiting til my mom gets out.”
“When`s that gonna be?”
“Two years, four months. A couple of weeks after my 18th. Thought about getting emancipated, but that`s expensive as fuck, so…” She shrugs, her expression mildly bored.
“You wanna go see her?” Ian asks.
“You`d let me?”
“As long she`s not in Nevada or-,” Mickey answers, but Ian interrupts him.
“Of course you can see her.”
It`s like getting a glimpse behind the mask Hailey`s been wearing since she got here. Her eyes light up and the flicker of a smile is shown. Ian wonders what it`s like to see her truly happy.
“Where she at?”
“That`s not even that far, I can drive you over on Sunday,” Mickey looks at Ian for reassurance, he nods.
“I would come with, too, but I gotta work,” he adds.
“OK, cool.” She’s still smiling and Ian feels like he just won an award. The Make your foster kid smile Award.
The next days are quiet and Ian seems to relax about the whole situation. Hailey doesn`t thrash their place or runs off or ODs and it seems like a good start. She isn`t much of a talker, but who is, living with strangers?
Mickey and she leave the house on Sunday morning shortly after breakfast.
“Drive safe. Text me when you get there. And in case … anything happens.” Ian seems to be more nervous about the whole thing then Hailey and Mickey combined. It’s almost a three hour drive, and jail visits aren’t the most pleasant thing in the world.
“Jesus, yes Mom, we’re gonna be safe”, Mickey rolls his eyes before kissing him goodbye. “Have a good shift and shit. Don’t let a shooter murder you or anything.”
“Isn’t he an EMT? Aren’t they the ones that come after the shooting’s over?”
“Yeah, but people are fucking crazy.”
Hailey smirks. “True dat.”
“Aight, gotta go if we wanna get there in time for visitation.”
Ian watches the car disappear before he goes back inside to clean up the breakfast mess.
“How’s it going with the kid?” Sue stays focused on the road while they drive to their first call.
“Good, I think. No major fuck-ups so far. Mickey’s driving her to visit her mom today. And tonight she’s gonna meet Yev for the first time.”
“Yeah, well, she’s a teenager, so the fuck-ups will definitely come, that’s for sure,” Sue laughs and stops the ambulance next to the nursing home. Ian mutters “Tell me something I don’t know,” before his mind switches into EMT-mode and he doesn’t think about Hailey anymore.
Two calls and several hours later he’s finally able to catch a break and pulls out his phone for the first time since he arrived at the station. It’s already after five, they should be on their way home by now but the only text he’s got from Mick is a quick Arrived safely.
*I’m on break. How`d go?
The Mickey is tipping appears within a second, so they’re probably already home.
-They didn’t yell at each other or anything, idk. Doesn’t talk. Apparently they didn’t even let her call her in the group home. Some serious shit must`ve gone down there
Ian sighs and thinks about the file he flicked through before going into work this morning. Some serious shit was a nice description. He knew that he never should fully trust a report in a DCFS file but several verbal altercations with various residents as well as staff members resulting in suspension of phone and visitation privileges and H. vandalized the interior of her dorm room after an counselling session and was therefore placed in another institution of DCFS, since her development in the United Group Home was at risk. H. had already requested to be placed in another institution before (see also protocol of 23th of November 2019 as well as 14th of January 2020) didn’t sound like nothing. She’d already asked for help twice and they waited almost three months before they did something. Thinking about it Ian could feel the anger he felt when he read the report rise again but forced himself not to go there again. He didn’t know Hailey’s side of the story, hell he didn’t even know the story he just had a list of actions, without any motives or explanations. He isn’t even sure if he should have read the file at all, because after reading words like verbal altercations and vandalized he had an image of her, an image that didn’t go with the fifteen year old quiet girl that has been living with them for the past five days but five days are not that much time. Maybe Mickey’s approach, to refuse to even acknowledge the file, was the better one.
His phone buzzes with a text from Fiona, but Ian texts Mickey back first.
*I read her file this morning. Some shit indeed. Something about beef with other residents/staff and trashing her room
- So you have it all figured out now just you read about that?
*Not what I meant. Maybe we should talk to her about the group home
-She’s gonna tell us if she’s ready. Don’t read too much into that fucking report, Ian. You know what they are like
*I don’t. Just wanted to let you know.
-Not a conversation I wanna have thru texts
*Yeah ok. Yev there already? Wish I could be there
The fourth call for today comes in before Mickey’s answered.
Ian doesn’t read Fiona’s text until he’s on the L, on the way home. It’s closer to midnight than he’d like to, but you can’t just call it a day while driving a fifty-year-old male with a possible stroke to the hospital.
Checking in, haven’t heard from you in weeks! Gonna go visit Ryan in the hospital tmrrw, wanna come with? Also, movie night on Saturday at my place. Been a while
Shit! In all the chaos about Hailey he totally forgot to tell his family (except Lip, but he doubts that Lip was in the mind-set of telling them Ian’s news) that they actually started fostering. It’s only been five days but it feels like at least a month.
Can’t, sorry :( could swing by in my lunch break tmrrw to bring you up to speed, deal?
Seconds later Fiona sends him a Thumbs up emoji and Ian gets up to get off the train at the next stop.
Mickey apparently fell asleep while waiting for him, the menu screen of the gaming console lights up his face. For a moment Ian just watches him sleeping, debating whether to wake him up or not. Just when he grabs a blanket to cover him in, Mickey stirs.
“Hey,” he blinks sleepily.
“Hey. You didn’t have to wait.”
“S’allright. Work okay?”
Ian nods. “How was it here? With Yevgeny?”
“Could have been worse. Had to stop him from interrogation her but he says he likes her.”
Ian smiles. Sometimes, being a child seems so easy. When asked you if you like someone you just blurt out if you do or not.
“She kinda barricaded herself in her room after we came home but came out for dinner, so I guess it’s okay,” Mickey shrugs and sits up.
“Okay.” Ian leans in to kiss him. “Mac’n’cheese, huh?”
“Yeah,” Mickey smiles, “Gonna go to bed. Fucking alarm goes off way to soon. Gonna come?”
Hours later Ian is woken up by Mickey coming back into their room. The younger one sighs and lazily pats on the mattress to signal Mickey to come back to bed.
“It’s fucking freezing without you.”
But Mickey doesn’t crawl back, instead he lights a cigarette and sits down on the edge.
“Apparently the place where we hid the key for the alcohol cabinet isn’t the best.”
Mickey had laughed his ass off for at least a minute after the first visit of the social worker, when she suggested locking the alcohol away. “Like that’s gonna stop anyone. A fucking lock.”
“Huh?” Ian lifts his head for a second.
“Just caught Hailey downing my Jack Daniel’s like it’s soda.”
“Shit.” With that, Ian is awake and scrambles to sit up, too.
“Ah come on, she’s fifteen, of course she drinks.” Mickey leans back against the headboard, one leg on the bed, one tangling from the edge.
“What did you say? What did you do?”
“I told her that there’s cola in the fridge in case she wants to mix it up.”
Mickey laughs. “She didn’t notice me; somehow I had to let her know that I’m in the room, right? She looked like a fucking deer in the headlights, probably thought I’d throw her out in the middle of the night or something.”
Mickey pauses and Ian catches his gaze.
“Told her that I’m to fucking tired to deal with it right now and that we’re gonna chat about it tomorrow,” he frowns, “What the fuck are we supposed to say to her? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical as fuck to tell her not to drink? I was half her age when I had my first beer.”
“Isn’t it more about letting her know that she can come to us if she feels like she’s in a bad place? I don’t think she snug around in the middle of the night just for the fun of having a sip of Jacky, especially not after a fucking jail visit.”
“Look at you, Dr. Phil,” Mickey nudges him, “That sounded like you fucking memorized one of those self-help books.”
He can feel himself blush. He may or may not have read at least five self-help books about raising teenagers since they started going to the parenting classes.
“You have a better idea?”
“Fuck no, let’s roll with the you can always come to us thing,” he sighs and finally turns off the light, “s gonna be a fucking delightful conversation.”
“Ian! It’s so good to see you. I feel like I haven’t seen you since Yevgeny’s birthday party.”
Fiona pulls him into a tight hug when she spots him at the diner the next day.
“Good to see you, too. Life’s been busy, y’know?”
She sits down opposite of him and they talk about Lip, Valeria and Ryan, some bitchy new employees of Fiona (I’mma kick her ass to the curb if she comes late one more time) and how Liam’s doing in school. Ian wolfs down a double-cheeseburger while they talk and as soon as he finishes, he drops the bomb.
“I guess Lip hasn’t told you, but we finally got a kid to foster. Teenager, I mean. Hailey, she’s 15.”
“Oh.” Fiona’s smile isn’t genuine, he knew it wouldn’t be. She wasn’t on his side from the very beginning (“Ian, you’re 23, you have plenty of time to do stuff like that, but don’t you think you’re too young?” – “You were barely sixteen when Monica took off and you managed just fine. And I have Mickey, I’m not alone in this.” – “I didn’t have a choice! Wait another five years, wait till you’re older-“ – “But why? I feel ready now and we could have taken, like, three kids in those five years we’d wait. I didn’t tell you that to get your blessing, anyway. It’s not your life, it’s mine and I feel ready.”) and he didn’t expect her to change her mind.
“The same day Ryan was born, actually.”
“How’s it going?”
“It’s okay, once we convinced her that we’re not gonna adopt her,” he chuckles and feels relief when Fiona at least smiles at that.
“Are you gonna come to the movie night? I’d love to meet her.”
“I think it’s a bit early for the whole wolf pack but you’ll definitely meet her, like, soon.” With that, he empties his glass. “I need to head back to the station.”
She hugs him, again, and tells him to take care of himself.
Dinner that night is awkward, since they still haven’t talked to Hailey about last night’s incident. But Mickey didn’t want to do it alone and Ian just came when the roasted chicken was already in the oven, so they wait until after.
“Hey, Yev? Why don’t you go to your room and play a bit? Dad and I need to talk to Hailey.” Ian smiles at him.
“Is she in trouble?,” Yevgeny asks with wide eyes and nudges Hailey, “They always do this talk thing when you’re in trouble so you better watch out for that.”
Hailey doesn’t react to that, so Yevgeny whispers “Good luck” to her and gets up and to his room.
“Yo, take a fucking breath we’re not gonna throw you out,” Mickey’s the first one to talk.
She relaxes her shoulders after Mickey’s statement and Ian can’t help but blurt out:
“You really thought we’d do that?”
She shrugs. “Been thrown out for all sorts of shit before.”
“Like thrashing your room.”
Ian knows Mickey’s shooting him a look right now but he ignores it.
“Yeah that was real bullshit. I just kicked my chair and it fell and knocked over a lamp. The lamp shattered, so that’s the vandalizing part. But it got me out of there so I’m not really complaining,” she shrugs again, her arms crossed in front of her.
“We won’t kick you out – just like that,” Mickey leans forward as to emphasize his words, “got it?”
“And if you ever feel like, dunno, thrashing your room or drinking Jacky in the middle of the night again, you can talk to us. We won’t be mad when you fuck up. Fuck ups happen.”
“Yeah, you just gotta own your shit.”
She doesn’t look at them, just stares at the table and nods.
“Maybe you wanna come to the boxing gym with me the next time you’re mad or whatever.”
At that she looks up and gives Mickey the hint of a smile.
“Great, now that that’s settled,” Mickey turns to Ian, “Who’s stuck with dishes and who gets cuddle time?”
Ian rolls his eyes and extends his hand, ready for a round of rock-paper-scissors.
“You seriously do that?” Hailey asks with a fascinated undertone.
Ian raises his fist in victory when he wins two out of three rounds, before he gets up.
“Yev, time for bed!”
He hears Mickey’s exaggerated sigh, while he’s heading for their son’s room and then Hailey’s offer to help him with the dishes. His heart leaps. They haven’t talked about chores yet, not really, except that they expect her to keep her room clean-ish and she’s supposed to help around the house. But there hasn’t been a you have to do that and that, then and then conversation yet, because they don’t really have a schedule for stuff like cleaning. They just do it when it’s due and that’s it. And it’s not about the helping part, it’s the fact that Hailey didn’t disappear into her room as soon as she could that makes Ian smile.
Yevgeny falls asleep while Ian reads the second story, one about aliens and galaxies and planets in rainbow colors, but he finishes it anyway, while the boy snores lightly next to him. After he put the book down, he kisses his forehead and smiles at the innocent and content face of the eight-year old. Ian had to convince him that Hailey isn’t in trouble before Yevgeny let him read his good-night-story.
Mickey’s sitting on the sofa flipping through a car magazine when Ian emerges their son’s room.
“That didn’t go so bad, huh?,” the younger one asks, before he buries his face in Mickey’s neck.
Mickey hums in agreement and Ian starts kissing his neck.
“I’m reading, Gallagher.”
“No, you’re not. You’re just looking at pictures of fancy cars you’re never gonna own.”
“Might steal one of them some day,” Mickey jokes. The days were he thought about following in Jimmy/Steve footsteps are truly over.
Ian’s moved on to pushing the fabric of Mickey’s shirt away and kissing his left shoulder.
“I mean I can stop if you’d rather-“ Ian looks up and the expression on Mickey’s face is enough of an answer he’ll ever need.
Like last night, Ian wakes up way before his alarm goes off but this time, Mickey’s right next to him. Mickey’s right next to him tossing and turning and kicking and whimpering.
“Mick. Mickey. Wake up.” Ian shakes his shoulder lightly and within seconds, Mickey flinches awake.
He stares at him in the dim light of the bedside lamp that Ian has turned on before waking him up. He stares at him and Ian can see the terror escape from his eyes, his face slowly relaxing.
“You’re safe. I’m here. You’re here with me and we’re both safe. Yevgeny’s in his room, everything is okay.”
He holds him; quietly whispering these hopefully soothing words and Mickey relaxes more and more. He can feel Mickey’s rapid heartbeat under his arm, so he tries to get Mickey to take deep breaths.
“You’re okay. Just breathe. Slowly. Yeah like that. You’re okay. It’s okay, love.”
“It’s been a while,” Mickey sighs after what feels like an hour of just holding and soothing him.
Ian nods, running his fingers through the brunette’s hair.
“Maybe you should go back to the boxing gym. Regularly, I mean.”
He feels Mickey shift and looks down to meet his gaze.
“You think it’s just gonna be like this forever?” His voice is husky and if there was anything Ian could do to make him feel better he’d do it in a heartbeat.
“I don’t know, Mickey. But I guess there’s stuff like anti-anxiety medication and I don’t know, maybe some sort of exercise to help you.”
“I’m not gonna go and talk to some shrink about my fucked up childhood. It’s not like we could afford that, anyway.”
“That’s not what I meant, you know that. It’s just … I hate to see you suffer like that. You know better than anyone how hard that can be.”
Mickey doesn’t answer, he just scoots closer to him.
“I can ask Dr. Ramirez if there are exercises to prevent nightmares or something like that, if you want.”
Ian almost holds his breath. They don’t talk about it, it’s the most they ever talked about Mickey’s nightmares and Ian knows that Mickey really, really, really doesn’t like feeling vulnerable like that.
“Yeah, I guess, you could do that.”
He can’t help but smile.
“Okay. Will do,” he presses a kiss on Mickey’s hair. “I love you so much, you know that, right? My little –“
“Don’t you fucking dare finish that sentence, Ian.” Mickey scowls at him, but his eyes aren’t as pain filled as minutes ago.
“Thug muffin,” Ian whispers, smiling.
Ian presses a kiss on his forehead.
“Let’s try and get some sleep yeah? I’m right here.”
He turns off the light and holds Mickey as tight as he can. To keep him safe.
It’s probably going to take months until a routine settles in, but the next weeks pass without any major incidents. Mrs. Adams comes to check in on them and seems to be satisfied, Hailey starts to talk about her school day and on one evening she asks Ian if he can proofread her English essay. Yevgeny and she get along too, and Ian can’t stop grinning when he finds them playing Mario Cart against each other on a Friday night. Hailey meets the rest of the Gallagher clan when Ryan gets discharged from the hospital after three weeks in the NICU. It’s not a long visit, but Ian wants the rest of the family to meet her, since she’s family now, too. Dr. Ramirez suggests that Mickey should see a therapist about his nightmares but he insists that they can’t afford it. The anniversary of Terry’s death sets of a series of nights that end in Mickey flinching awake. The lack of sleep nerves him off and he ends up snapping at Yevgeny, causing him to start crying. The next day Mickey comes home and places a pill bottle with anxiety medication on the night stand. It’s a start and Ian tells him how proud he is, even if he doesn’t want to hear it.
“How the fuck am I supposed to make dinner if you forgot the damn chicken, Ian?”
It’s been a long day, for both of them. Mickey’s been appointed head electrician on the current project (a high school up north, if Ian recalls rightly) and hasn’t come home before five pm for days. That’s why Ian went for groceries after his morning shift (a shift where a stabbed fourteen year old nearly died and an old lady puked on him.) He hates going to the store, that’s why Mickey normally does it; he has a habit of forgetting at least one item on the list – and that’s why he’s now standing in the kitchen, quarter past seven and Mickey’s yelling at him and he really, really just wants to yell back.
Instead he rubs his temple and supresses a sigh.
“Just make spaghetti instead. I can go back tomorrow and get the chicken, okay? Calm down, man. It’s just food.”
“Yeah and I’m fucking starving and I was looking forward to that chicken! My day has been really shitty, we’re way behind schedule, everybody’s pissed but it’s not my fucking fault that the cable guy didn’t deliver on time.”
“I’m sorry I forgot the fucking chicken, Mick but if you wanna make me go back it’s gonna take at least one hour so just make the fucking spaghetti instead,” he throws his hands in the air and considers leaving the kitchen, because he doesn’t have to put up with this shit.
Mickey glares at him and takes the pot out of the cabinet. Ian waits until he filled it with water and placed it on the stove, before he steps behind his husband and starts massaging his shoulders.
“Calmed down yet?”
“No,” Mickey growls, but he leans into his touch anyway.
“Guess we both had a pretty rough day.”
They both jump when Hailey’s door springs open with a bang. The girl stomps out without a word and before either of them realizes, she’s out of the front door.
“What the-“ Ian looks at Mickey, who looks as puzzled as him.
“I told her that dinner’s ready at seven thirty. Maybe she just needs to blow off some steam. She’ll come back.”
“What steam? Did something happen?”
“Fuck if I know,” Mickey throws the spaghetti into the boiling water, “She didn’t mention anything.”
But Hailey isn’t back by the time dinner’s ready, so Ian texts her, asking if she’s okay. They talk about Mickey’s day, he bitches a while about his co-workers and apologizes for his outburst by letting Ian have the last sip of soda. When they finish up, there’s still no sign of Hailey.
“It’s been forty minutes,” Ian bites his lip and tries to call her for the third time. “It’s getting dark. We should look for her.”
“It’s not even nine yet.”
“It’s getting dark, she doesn’t know the neighbourhood and she really seemed upset. I really don’t need her to be shot at.”
“All right,” Mickey gets up without further hesitation, grabbing the keys from the sideboard. “Let’s go.”
They don’t know where to look, so they just circle the block, while Ian tries to call her again and again.
“Try the school,” he suggests when he hears Hailey’s voice mail for the sixth time.
But the schoolyard is empty and Ian gets more nervous with every passing minute.
“Don’t give me that look. She’s fine,” Mickey squeezes his hand, “It’s gonna be fine.”
He drives as if he knew where to go.
“Villita park,” he anwers Ian’s silent question.
They pull up in front of the park and Ian starts running when he sees a crouched figure on the playground. As soon as he recognizes Hailey’s light hair, his pulse slows down.
She’s sitting on one of the swings.
“Are you okay?” Ian asks as soon as he’s near enough, before he sees the tear streaks on her face.
Hailey nods, shakes her head, nods again.
Ian crouches down next to her, while Mickey takes the other swing.
“Wanna tell us what happened?”
She lets out a shaky breath.
“You’re not gonna yell at me for running away?”
“We’re gonna talk about that later, okay?”
“My mom got into a fight,” her voice cracks.
“Is she all right?” Mickey asks.
“Yeah, she – it’s just-“ Her sobs might just break Ian’s heart, so he squeezes her shoulder.
“She got time added. She won’t be out for my graduation.”
“That sucks, Hailey,” Ian says, and then, because he doesn’t know what else to say, because there aren’t any words to make it better, he asks: “Do you want a hug?”
He didn’t expect her to say yes, but she nods and soon her tears soak through the fabric of his shirt, while he rubs her back and tries to soothe her.
“You wanna visit her on Sunday?” Mickey asks when the sobs fade away.
“Yeah,” Hailey lets go of Ian and wipes her eyes, “Yeah I think that would be okay.”
“Then let’s do that,” Mickey nods and gets up.
When they walk back to the car Mickey’s fingers intertwine with Ian’s. They only let go of each other when Mickey stops at a Dunkin Donuts and gets half a dozen of donuts.
“I think we need that, huh?”
“I don’t wanna be alone right now,” Hailey doesn’t look at either of them; her donut just seems to be extremely interesting.
That’s how Ian ends up watching Mickey and Hailey playing COD while slowly dozing off. His eyelids are nearly closed when he jerks awake.
He doesn’t forget to take his meds. Not usually. But it hasn’t been an usual night so he gets up and goes to the kitchen.
He just opened the third pill bottle when he feels Mickey’s hand rubbing his shoulder blades.
“Yeah. I just forgot.” He fills a cup with water and swallows the pills, before he turns to Mickey. “I feel bad for her.”
“Yeah. But I think she’s okay.”
“Thanks for the donuts.” His smile is tired, but it’s there.
“Sure. Comfort food is important,” Mickey smiles too, while he touches the back of Ian’s neck and pulls him into a kiss.
“How did you know? Vilita park?”
“She told me on the way home from the boxing gym last week that her mom used to take her there when she was little.”
“Thank you,” Ian kisses him, again.
It’s the first time since Hailey entered their life that Ian and Mickey are home alone for longer than twenty minutes. Yevgeny’s at Svetlana’s and Hailey’s at her school’s football game, which means she won’t be home for at least another hour.
Ian’s had a morning shift and could honestly just go to bed but who knows when an opportunity like this will present itself again. That’s why they don’t waste a second.
If his phone had ringed ten minutes earlier he probably would have ignored it or simply wouldn’t have been able to hear it. But he does, so he groans and lifts his head from Mickey’s bare chest where he made himself comfortable only minutes earlier.
It’s an unknown number but he’s still in the post-sex glow and mumbles a “What is it?” into his phone while he watches Mickey, who stretches an arm over his head and sighs. Bastard.
“Am I speaking to one of the guardians of Hailey Andersen?”
His mind goes blank for a second and every thought about what he’d do to Mickey once the call was over, vanished. But before he can start panicking, the part of his brain that’s used to high-stress situations takes over.
“Yes. You’re speaking to Ian Gallagher. Is Hailey okay? Who am I speaking to?”
“Yes, she isn’t hurt. My name is Mona, I’m working at Ink Factory the Tattoo parlor at the South Shore.”
Ian frowns. Tattoo parlor?
“Your, ah, Hailey used a fake ID trying to get a tattoo. I won’t press any charges if you come and pick her up.”
For fuck’s sake.
“I’m on my way.”
“What’s going on?” Mickey asks while Ian rushes into his clothes.
“Hailey tried to get a tattoo at Ink Factory and used a fake ID. A pretty bad one, apparently.”
Hailey’s sitting on one of the black plastic chairs in the waiting area when they arrive. A young woman with a blue beanie is standing at the reception and glares at her.
“You okay?” Ian asks her.
She glances at him in surprise.
“Are you her legal guardians?” The woman from behind the counter approaches them.
“I’m Mona, I called you.”
“Thanks. And, uh, thanks for not reporting it.”
Ian isn’t sure if he’s even older than her. Maybe that’s what her glance means. Maybe it’s a I can’t believe they’re letting someone like you be a legal guardian. Looks like it isn’t working. But probably it’s a I really don’t wanna put up with shit like this. I’m just here to ink people, man – glance.
“I wouldn’t want her to have a criminal record because of shit like this,” Mona shrugs, “But I’m also not risking my licence by inking a minor.”
“Do we have to sign anything?” Mickey clears his throat. He wants to get home. They all do.
Five minutes later they’re back in the car and Mickey exhales heavily before he whips around and looks at Hailey.
“What the fuck were you thinking,” he hisses.
Ian can only see her through the rear-view mirror. She seems small. Younger than usual. Afraid.
“Let’s talk about it when we get home okay?” Ian isn’t calm either, he’s as pissed as Mickey is, but he wants to be able to look at Hailey properly for this conversation. He doesn’t want to talk about this in the parking lot. He squeezes Mickey’s shoulder.
They drive home in silence; Mickey’s knuckles turn white when he grips the wheel. Ian debates sending Hailey in the house first so they can discuss their approach for a second but he’s pretty sure they’re on the same page.
“So, again, what the fuck were you thinking?”
Hailey’s sitting across of them, arms crossed and lips in a thin line. She doesn’t answer.
“It’s fucking irresponsible, kid. That ID was really shitty made.”
Suddenly, there is life. Fire in her eyes.
“I’m not a kid,” she spits.
“Yeah, well, but you aren’t eighteen either.” Ian doesn’t remember when he scooted closer to Mickey so their shoulders are touching, but they are.
“Are you really gonna give me a speech about getting tattoos?” She sneers as her eyes land on Mickey’s knuckles.
Ian frowns, taken aback.
“This isn’t about the tattoo, Hailey.”
“Using a fake ID is a fucking criminal offense. That’s why we’re mad. You could end up in Juvie.”
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Mickey roars and Hailey winces.
The annoyed expression on her face vanishes for a moment but she throws her defences back up as soon as she notices.
“It’s not like you’re any better than me, so why you’re acting like it? I bet both of you have used a fake ID in your life and yet you’re all high and mighty about it,” she sneers.
If they weren’t in the middle of their first fight, Ian would have laughed. Using a fake ID to get a tattoo was nothing in comparison to what he had used one for. But they are in the middle of their first fight and Hailey pretty much confirmed what Mickey has been concerned about from the very beginning. Who are they to think-?
“I’ve also spent most of my high school years in Juvie, that’s where I got these”, Mickey flexes his fingers, “and lemme tell you: It fucking sucked.”
“No one is saying that we are better than you,” Ian adds, “We just don’t want you to make the same mistakes we did, you know? We’re just worried.”
“Oh yeah? Do you have to fill a quota or something that you get your pay check? It’s not enough anymore to just feed me? Last time I checked it was my mom’s job to worry about me.”
“Last time I checked your mom was locked up, so it is our job.”
“Fuck you!” Hailey jumps up and before any of them can react, the door to her room slams shut.
“What the fuck was that?” Mickey breathes out heavily. He scrapes the chair over the floor when he slowly gets up. “Need a smoke. You too?”
“Since when is it a crime to worry about someone?” He asks when they lean against each other, sharing a smoke on the front porch.
“Actually,” Ian pauses, not sure if he really should say this, “She reminds me of you.”
“Remember your wedding vow?”
At this, Mickey turns around to look at him, eyebrows raised.
“You said that loving me makes you afraid, because it means you could lose me.”
“Shit doesn’t hurt as bad if you hurt them first.”
Ian nods. “If she doesn’t let herself get attached it doesn’t hurt if she loses us.”
Hailey’s defence is still up when they go to her room a few minutes later. She’s sitting on the bed, pretending to read a comic book.
“Can we talk to you for a sec?”
She tosses the book aside and gives a sharp nod. Ian sits down on the desk chair, arms crossed on the backrest, while Mickey leans against the doorframe. As soon as he sits, his mind goes blank. He can’t just say We care about you, fucking accept it. That’s not how this works. Hailey seems to interpret the silence differently.
“It’s okay. You can say it. Gonna back my bags and be out of your hair tomorrow.”
Mickey groans and Ian knows that he’s running a hand over his face right now without looking at him.
“You gotta stop that. We’re not throwing you out.”
“You’re not?” Hailey frowns. The defence begins to crack.
“No,” Ian shakes his head, “we’re not. Hailey, listen. What you did was irresponsible. It’s not about the tattoo. If you want a tattoo we can drive to Indiana and get you one, I really don’t care. We’re not mad about that. I think-“
“You could’ve just told us. That you want one.”
“But in Chicago…”
“Yeah, but there are other states where you only need a guardian with you. Wouldn’t have been a problem.”
“We’re responsible for you. We care about you. And we’re mad that you went behind our back and thought it was okay to get a fake ID. It’s not okay. But we are not getting rid of you just because you pulled some shit. Every teenager pulls shit. Everyone pulls shit. I know that trust is hard and has to be earned. I’m not asking you to become my best friend. But you have to start trusting us. You don’t have to have your packed bags at the ready every time something happens. That’s not how family works.”
Hailey’s lip starts to tremble but her gaze stays hard.
Ian holds his hands up. “We’re not trying to replace your mom. That’s impossible. We just want to support you. It sucks that your mom can’t be with you. But we’re not trying to work against her and we’re not trying to work against you.”
She lets out a shaky breath and her face crumbles.
“It’s not about a fucking pay check, Hailey. It’s about you.” Mickey’s still leaning against the doorframe.
“You’re not going anywhere, okay?”
She nods. “Okay.” Her voice is small.
“Look at like this. You used to play baseball, right? So you know what it’s like to belong to a team.”
Her eyes dart over Ian’s shoulder to the wall where she put a photo of herself in the Little League jersey and her mom, both smiling wide.
“We’re a team. Shit happens. Teammates make mistakes, teams lose matches. But they work it out. Together. As a team.”
“And our goal is like … getting me through school or something?” She frowns, but her body doesn’t seem as tense as before.
“Yeah, something like that. Is that a goal you want to achieve? Graduating high school?”
“I promised my mom that I won’t drop out.”
“Okay. Then that’s our goal.” Ian smiles at her.
“Sounds like a good plan. You know what would be a real setback for that?” Mickey tilts his head, a hint of a smile on his lips.
Hailey looks at him in confusion, and then she rolls her eyes.
“Going to Juvie.”
“Exactly,” Mickey nods, “So that’s something we wanna prevent if we wanna reach our goal, right?”
“So we have a deal?” Ian asks and gets up. Suddenly every muscle in his body aches. The adrenaline rush wears off and he could collapse right away.
“Yeah. You try to trust us a bit more and we start working as a team,” Mickey clarifies.
“Okay. Yeah, we have a deal.”
“How did we manage to pull that off so well?” Mickey wonders as Ian buries his face in the fabric of his shirt while standing in the living room moments later.
“I don’t have a clue. But it somehow worked. Neither of us ran off screaming, no one got punched and no one is crying. Success,” his voice is muffled.
“Yeah. Success. We’re responsible adults, man. The fuck.” He laughs and presses a kiss to the younger one’s temple. “Let’s get some sleep, tough guy. It’s late.”
“Nooo,” Yevgeny tries to run away, but the need to giggle severely slows him down,” No, Dad, don’t!”
Ian pretends to chase after him. “It’s not me, Yev. It’s the tickle-monster! Hailey, stop him!”
Hailey, who’s sitting on the steps to the side entrance reading Moby Dick for her English class, looks up and blocks the way up to the door with her leg.
“That’s not fair; you’re supposed to be on my side, Hailey!”
“Oh am I? Must have missed the memo,” she grins and Ian uses his chance and lifts Yevgeny from the ground.
“The tickle monster attacks!”
“Nooo.” His laughter is one of the best sounds in the world.
Ian lays him down in the grass and keeps tickling him until Yevgeny struggles to breathe.
“I’m not sure if I’d rather join you or defend Yevy against you.”
Mickey is standing behind Hailey on the steps, his brows raised in amusement.
“Help me, Dad!”
“Oh hell no,” Ian yelps when he sees the determined expression on Mickey’s face and tries to get up before he can reach him. Moments later he finds himself running through the backyard again, this time chased by his husband, who’s cheered on by their son.
His smile grows wider when he repeats that thought in his head. He’s chased by his husband, and Yevgeny and Hailey cheer loudly.
Mickey reaches him and they both tumble to the ground.
“Tickle attack,” Yevgeny jumps on his stomach and Ian groans because of the weight. They both start tickling him and soon he’s breathless.
“Okay. Enough, I surrender.”
“Hooray, I win!” Yev raises his fists in victory before climbing down and running towards the jungle gym Mickey and one of his co-workers built last summer.
“Ugh, he’s the worst,” Ian groans, smiling at Mickey, who’s lying next to him.
The other one hums in agreement, his smile slowly dying.
“The washing machine broke. Like, for real. There’s nothing I can do.”
Having a bucket with cold water dumped over him would have had the same effect.
“Perfect fucking timing.” Mickey’s hammering on the laptop’s keyboard, scowling at its screen.
On the other side of the table, Ian’s looking after cheap washing machines on his phone. Yev and Hailey are still outside.
They finally bought a new car (well a seven year old one, but they replaced their old dying car) one and a half months ago. They’re broke.
“We can’t wait two months to buy a new laundry machine,” Mickey rambles on, “Having that shit washed at the salon costs a fucking fortune.”
“I’m pretty sure Fi would us let use theirs.”
“Yeah you wanna go there every other day to wash your fucking clothes?”
Ian decides to ignore him.
“We just need to find one that has a payment plan with no interest, shouldn’t be that hard.”
“Craigslist hasn’t a fucking payment plan, smartass. Besides even with a payment plan the money’s just gonna grow on trees or what?”
“I’m just gonna take a few doubles. It’s gonna be fine, Mick.”
“Like hell you won’t.”
Ian stops scrolling to look at him and is met by a death glare.
“You’re not gonna screw with your routine to pull double shifts. That’s not gonna happen.”
“So what’s your masterplan then?” Ian scoffs and crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“I don’t know yet. But you pulling doubles isn’t gonna happen.”
“It’s not like it’s your decision.”
“It isn’t? I don’t give a fuck what you need to tell yourself. But I do give a fuck about the possibility that it’s gonna fuck with your brain and we’ll end up paying for unscheduled doctor visits and having to deal with unpaid sick leave and what not. Even if it isn’t my decision, I’m still the one you’re gonna count on to clean up the mess. And I’m telling you, no.”
Ian seems to feel a hundred of different things at once, but the two he picks up on are rage and humiliation. The rage is directed at his husband. He doesn’t feel humiliated by him, though. He’s humiliated by his own brain, humiliated and betrayed and fucking robbed of little things like this, because he knows that Mickey’s right. Double shifts would mess even more with his schedule than night shifts do and even if it doesn’t automatically end in an episode, it’s certainly on the long list of possible triggers.
But right now he’s too angry at Mickey for being so brutally honest that he’s out of the chair before his brain’s catching up.
“Fuck you, Mickey. I don’t need anyone to clean up the mess. Deal with this shit yourself if you don’t want my help.”
He runs out without looking back.
Lip looks like shit and Ian instantly regrets texting him. His hair’s unkempt and the circles under his eyes are darker than usual. He’s holding Ryan, whose eyes are drooping.
“Trouble in paradise, huh?” His older brother asks him as he leads the way into the living room.
Ian pulls out his phone and texts Mickey I’m at Lip’s before sitting down on the sofa.
“Yeah. Where’s Valeria?”
“At her sister’s. What happened?”
Lip listens to him while walking circles around the coffee table.
“You know he’s right, right?”
“Wouldn’t have thought that I ever hear you say this,” Ian mocks, but then he sighs, “Yeah, I know. I just wish he weren’t. I don’t even need your advice or anything. Just needed some time to cool off and wanted to check on my nephew. You look like shit by the way.”
Lip snorts and puts Ryan into the bouncer on the coffee table. The baby looks totally at ease and is fast asleep.
“No, seriously. How are you doing?”
“I miss sleep,” Lip deadpans. “I mean, it could be worse, but it’s exhausting.”
“Go to bed. I can watch him until Valeria’s back.”
“For real? Thanks, man, that would be amazing. She said she would be home in less than an hour anyway, I doubt Ryan will even wake up. There’s soda in the fridge if you need anything.”
“Sure. Go, before he wakes up and I change my mind.”
You’re planning on coming home anytime soon or you’re gonna act like a ten-year old?
Ian sets down the plates he was carrying on the kitchen table and sighs. After Lip went upstairs to catch up on sleep, Ian decided to wash the dishes while Ryan was asleep and somehow he ended up making dinner for the exhausted parents. He could have texted Mickey that he was staying, though.
“I should split,” he waves his phone towards Lip, who’s sitting at the kitchen table with a relaxed smile.
“Thanks for helping out, man. And don’t tell Mickey that I said he’s right.”
Ian laughs at that and heads to the living room to say goodbye to Ryan and Valeria. The boy is lying on a blanket on the ground, intensely studying his surroundings. Ian crouches down and presses a kiss to his blond hair.
“Bye little man. It was so good to see you. Be good.”
Ryan gurgles as a response. Close enough.
“Bye Ian. Thanks again for your help, that was really nice. Say hi to your man from me, yeah?” Valeria smiles at him and Ian waves goodbye.
He’s greeted by a crying Yevgeny as soon as he opens the front door.
His son is sitting on the floor in front of the TV, big tears are streaming down his face. Mickey’s standing in the kitchen; his hands are gripping the countertop.
“Hey munchkin, what’s wrong?”
Yev looks at him, gasping for air.
“You left! Where have you been?”
“I was at Uncle Lip’s. Didn’t Dad tell you that?”
“I did,” he hears Mickey’s voice but doesn’t look up.
“Is that why you’re crying? I’m here now, Yev. I’m back. It’s alright.”
“I want to play Mario Cart. I don’t want to go to bed.”
Yevgeny not wanting to go to bed is one of the boy’s favorite topics. The world is to interesting to lose time with sleeping.
“But it’s late, buddy. You gotta go to school tomorrow.”
“I don’t want to! I’m not tired.” Yevgeny crosses his arms and pouts.
“Hey how about you listen to your How To Train Your Dragon audiobook? You could put on your PJs and snuggle up in bed. Maybe I can convince Dad to make you some hot-cocoa, huh?”
Yevgeny looks at him like he’s trying to find the catch in his deal, but dragons are a pretty good selling point these days.
“You can play Mario Cart tomorrow after school.”
“You think you can convince him? He’s pretty mad. But I only want his hot cocoa. Yours sucks.”
Yevgeny looks over his shoulder towards Mickey, who’s leaning against the kitchen table by now, watching them with crossed arms.
“I’ll do my best. Go and put on your PJs and I’ll bring you a cup, ok?”
Yevgeny nods and gets up. Ian looks after him until he gets distracted by passive-aggressive cabinet-door slamming.
“Knight in shining armour. Comes in and saves the fucking day.”
“It’s not his fault you’re mad at me.” Ian slowly moves towards the kitchen.
“Didn’t say that.”
“I’m sorry I stormed out.”
“Good for you.”
“Could you please look at me? I’m trying to apologize here.”
Mickey swirls around and presses the cup into his hands.
“Go deal with Yevgeny first. I’ll be on the porch.”
“I wasn’t mad at you. I am not mad at you,” Ian tries again, leaning against the railing next to Mickey.
“I know.” His voice isn’t harsh anymore. It sounds tired.
“It was just like … a slap in the face. I didn’t think it through and you did and,” he sighs in frustration.
“You can’t just disappear for hours.”
“I didn’t disappear. I was at Lip’s. I texted you.”
“Fucking hell, Ian, that’s not the point. The point is that you can’t just storm off like that just because you’re fucking frustrated or whatever.” Mickey rubs his forehead and lets out a long breath. “You’re not a teenager anymore. There are people that depend on you.”
“Yeah, there are people that depend on me and I can’t even give them what they need.” It just came out like that. He expects Mickey to tell him again that he’s missing the point, but instead the older one’s face relaxes and Ian feels a hand on his arm.
“Don’t be so fucking hard on yourself. As far as Yev’s concerned you’re father of the year.” Mickey’s thumb is rubbing small circles over his upper arm.
“See, now you’re not even mad anymore because I’m-“
Mickey takes his hand away and groans.
“For fuck’s sake, shut the fuck up Ian! You’re good! It’s not the end of the fucking world. Can you please chill out? Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t change anything you know?”
“Yeah, nothing does,” Ian scoffs.
“That’s not really about today, is it?”
Ian chews his lip and stares at the street in front of him.
“It’s been over eight months, since-,“ he makes a vague gesture. “And I wouldn’t call these six months stable,” he scoffs.
“So what? That’s good, right? Means the meds are working and shit.”
“Yeah, but how long? They can just stop working. Just – boom – like that.”
“Not everyone relapses.”
“That’s the thing.” His voice is trembling. “We don’t know that. Last summer could have been the last one but who knows? No one. No one fucking knows and I’m so done with being cautious. I’m so done with But Ian, teenagers mean instability. But Ian, don’t you think it’s a bit much? I can’t put my life on hold just because it might happen.”
“But you’re not. You aren’t putting your life on hold. We went through with it, didn’t we? And the world didn’t fucking end. The world didn’t fucking end, Ian.”
Mickey turns him around.
“And you know what? It wouldn’t be the end of the world if it wasn’t the last one. Would it suck? Fuck yes it would. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world, you hear me?”
He buries his face in the crock of Mickey’s neck.
“As long as you do shit like meds and shrink and whatnot – it’s not your fault if it happens. Okay?”
The motion of Mickey’s fingers at the back of his neck mixed with his scent start to calm him down.
“We’re good, though guy. We’re good.”
Ian lifts his head to look in sharp blues eyes.
“We’re good,” he mumbles, before their lips brush.
“There are a few spelling mistakes in the last paragraph but other than that you’re good.” Ian smiles and shoves the piece of paper over the kitchen table back to Hailey. “Did you like reading it?”
“Nah,” she shakes her head, “I prefer comic books.”
“Hey, do you want to do anything for your birthday?”
“Oh,” Hailey looks at him in surprise, “I don’t know. Last year … I celebrated with a few girls from the group home, we went to the arcade…”
“You could invite them if you want to. Maybe a movie night?”
“I, uh, I don’t think they want to. They,” she lowers her gaze, “They don’t like me anymore.”
Ian frowns. Wasn’t there a note in her file that she requested to be placed somewhere else?
“No,” she swallows hard, “not after I tried to kiss my roommate.”
His stomach drops.
Did you ever wish that you weren’t gay?
Maybe his impression on that first night with Hailey has been right and she was scared.
“And your roommate wasn’t so thrilled about that, huh?”
Hailey scoffs. Her voice doesn’t fit her watery eyes. It’s fierce and – angry.
“She told it everyone. They – They started going through my stuff, stealing shit and after two days everyone called me lesbo. Like, no one called me Hailey anymore. And the staff pretended not to notice.”
“And when you tried to defend yourself they revoked your privileges.” Ian rubs his eyes. “Heavy.”
She nods. “I don’t even know if I’m gay. I just…” She shrugs.
What the fuck is he supposed to do now?
“People are assholes.” They both jump at Mickey’s voice, no one heard him coming in.
Ian looks at him, then back at Hailey.
“You know that there isn’t anything wrong with you, right?”
She shakes her head. “I shouldn’t have tried to kiss her.”
Mickey goes a step forward and grips the back of one of the chairs. “Did you like, force yourself on her?”
“No! I didn’t even kiss her. I just – like – I don’t know? Leaned forward I guess – and then she acted like I tried to kill her or something.”
“It wasn’t her place to talk to anyone but you about it. She’s the one who made a mistake, not you. All right? They were real douchebags and they don’t deserve shit for that. But you didn’t like bring it on yourself or some bullshit, you hear me?”
She blinks and the first tears start to flow. Ian grabs her hand and runs his thumb over the back of it.
“There’s nothing wrong with your feelings as long as you’re not hurting anybody. I get that their reaction might make you think that you did something wrong, or that there is some sort of truth in the way they treated you, but there isn’t.”
Ian doubts his words when Hailey pulls her hand away, but she uses it to wipe the tears from her eyes.
“I felt so – helpless and I was so angry and – and no one seemed to believe me and there was no one I could talk to,” she stammers while gasping for air.
“It’s over. You don’t have to see them ever again and not everyone is like them. People do a lot of hurtful stuff but there are also a lot of people that are just gonna accept you for who you are.”
The pain in her eyes isn’t gone yet, but there is something else now, too, something warm and powerful.
“Hey, uh, I don’t have to pick Yev up for another two hours so what do you say to some IHOP to distract yourself from all that shit?” Mickey’s arms are crossed in front of his chest, but his face doesn’t mirror his body language at all. He’s tilting his head, while his forehead is ceased in worry.
“Uh, yeah? Sounds good,” her voice is thick from crying, “I’m just, uh,” she gestures towards her face, “gonna redo my make-up first.”
Ian nudges him with his foot as soon as Hailey disappeared into the bathroom. The signs of worry in Mickey’s face have been replaced by anger.
“Please tell me you’re not planning to set the group home on fire as we speak.”
Mickey scowls. “They’d deserve it. But I think I’m gonna settle for a talk to Mrs. Adams. Rather yelling than talking, but you get the gist of it.”
“I think I’m gonna join you on that one.”
There’s a huddled figure sitting on the steps to the front porch when they come about an hour later. As soon as Ian slams the car door shut, the figure gets up and straightens themselves and Ian can make out who it is.
“Damn, Carl, how long have you been sitting there? Why didn’t you check in first?”
“Not long, don’t worry. I, uh, can I talk to you for a sec?”
He doesn’t look that good, his face is pale and he’s fidgeting with his hands. Ian frowns and looks at Mickey, who nods.
“I’m gonna go and pick up Yev, you wanna come with Hailey?”
They sit down on the steps; Carl’s staring at his feet.
“What’s going on?”
“I wanted to tell you first, and I wanted to be the one you’ll hear it from.”
Ian stomach clenches. “What the fuck are you talking about, Carl? Did something happen?”
He can see his younger brother swallow.
“I enlisted in the army.”
He doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not. Nobody’s hurt or in danger, everyone’s okay. But it feels like he’s falling nonetheless.
“I already passed the ASVAB and the physical. The bus to basic leaves tomorrow.”
Please tell me this isn’t about Evan because I might lose it if you do.
“I’m lost, Ian. I have no fucking clue what to do with my life, so I figured I can do something useful. I miss school. The environment, the discipline, everything. Army shouldn’t be that much different.”
He feels his eyes on him.
“You okay with that?”
“Why wouldn’t I be okay with that?” It comes out harsher than he intended.
“I don’t know. That was always your thing and now I’m kinda making it my thing.”
“Was, Carl. Past tense. It’s okay the way it is. I’m happy as an EMT. I’m the last one to tell you not to go, man. I just hope you thought it through.”
He sounds more confident than he feels and maybe, in some twisted kind of way, Carl’s right and he’s hurt. But it’s been over six years and he is happy as an EMT. He likes his life the way it is, even if it’s hell of a lot different from the life he’d imagined for himself when he was in middle school.
“Not your fault that I got dealt with the worse kind of genes, man.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Carl pulls out a cigarette and lights it. Neither of them speaks for a while.
“Take care of yourself, Carl. I mean it. Don’t you dare get yourself shot.”
He doesn’t get inside when Carl leaves to talk to Fiona. He keeps sitting on the steps and stares into nothingness.
It was always your thing.
He suffered through weeks of summer school – math – to have a glimmer of a chance to get into West Point.
In all the chaos and instability and worry about money the army was this one thing that he could cling to, that he could work towards, that he, in some way, could actually influence.
The list of things he could actually influence back then was very, very short. And when everything spun out of control and nothing made sense anymore it was the one logical solution for it.
And there was no going back.
And that’s okay. He’s happy. He likes the life he built with Mickey, Yevgeny and Hailey; he likes working as an EMT. But he never had as much as passion for something as he had for the Army growing up. And now, with his little brother enlisting, he can’t stop wondering what his life would have looked like if he actually made it into West Point.
Thanks so much for all the support. I'm really awkward at replying to comments, but I love every single one!
We're almost done here, one chapter left.
But I'm gonna add a few oneshots to the A Place To Feel At Home series afterwards.
see end of chapter for trigger warning
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ian doesn’t have to wait long until waves of despair and darkness start to wash over him. It’s worse than his usual Bad Days, where he just feels incredible sad, but is still, well, able to function. It’s definitely worse, but still not as terrifying as it would be if he were unmedicated. A part of him expected it to happen after Carl’s announcement. It’s not because of it; it’s more complex than that. In the end it doesn’t matter. In the end the only thing that matters is that he gets through it.
On the first day he only leaves the bed to use the bathroom. He manages to eat a granola bar and a sandwich. He loses hours staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything and nothing at the same time.
On the second day he talks to Dr. Ramirez on the phone and silently eats dinner with Hailey and Mickey. When Mickey asks him if he needs anything, he wants to ask Can you make me disappear? Instead he shakes his head. They watch a movie curled up in bed, Ian doesn’t remember what it was about.
On the third day the weight on his chest is lighter and he spends most of the day in front of the TV in the living room. He checks in with Dr. Ramirez again and he hides his face in one of Mickey’s shirts after the first shower since it started. He asks Hailey about her science project at dinner but can’t focus on her answer.
On the fourth day he somehow manages to leave the house for an appointment to readjust the meds. It floods him with exhaustion and he spends the rest of the day curled up on the sofa, clinging to Mickey as if he’s the one thing that can keep him from drifting away completely. Maybe it’s true.
On the fifth day he wakes up to an empty house. There’s a note on the bedside table that reads Dropping Yev off at Davis’ birthday party. Hailey’s w/ me. Love you. His eyes fill with tears at the last two words. Mickey doesn’t do that. Not the acknowledging that he loves him part, but the writing it down on notes part.
“Fuck,” Ian mutters and wipes the tears away. He leans back and takes a deep breath. It isn’t until then that he notices that the cocoon of depression he’s been wrapped in the last few days doesn’t feel as tight as yesterday. He’s still far from being okay but there’s no imaginary hand pressing him down on the mattress, making it impossible to get up without a great deal of effort. So he gets up and takes a shower and he doesn’t feel the need to hide under the covers afterwards.
He’s sitting at the kitchen table, slowly eating cornflakes, when Mickey and Hailey come back.
“Hey, you’re up! And you’re eating! That’s good, right?” Hailey grins at him.
Ian just gives a small smile in response and locks eyes with his husband. The warm and encouraging glint in his eyes lets a wave of guilt and shame wash over Ian. He’s just eating breakfast – and it’s almost lunchtime already. He lost five days. Five fucking days. Mickey frowns at him and steps closer to squeeze the back of his neck.
“We wanted to hit the gym. You good here?”
“Yeah,” Ian leans in the touch, “Gonna catch up on the Sons of Anarchy episodes you watched without me.”
Mickey snorts, his thumb drawing circles on the skin of Ian’s neck. “You still mad about that?”
He cranes his neck and smiles at him and for a second he wants to ask Mickey to stay, to not leave him here, but he’s been enough of a burden for the last few days. Instead he reaches up and moments later their lips brush.
It’s a silent apology.
He must have fallen asleep, the TV is still on when he flinches awake. He rubs his eyes; the episode isn’t over yet, he couldn’t have been out for long, but his whole body is filled with a tingling sensation and suddenly it feels like the walls are closing in on him. The house is empty, he’s alone and -
There’s a bill pinned to the fridge.
He can’t even make out what it is for, because his vision gets blurry and -
I do give a fuck about the possibility that it’s gonna fuck with your brain and we’ll end up paying for unscheduled doctor visits and deal with unpaid sick leave and what not.
He can’t breathe, can’t hear anything but rushing is his ears and -
There’s a drawer full of knifes.
And there’s a lighter. His whole body seems to tremble and in between the waves of panic and guilt he wonders how he’s able to keep standing.
There’s a drawer full of knives and the panic seems to swallow him.
He doesn’t remember how to breathe but somehow he does and his lungs are burning.
There’s a drawer full of knives and if he stays in this house for even one minute longer the panic will destroy him.
He runs and runs and runs and with every step the waves become less intense.
He’s still shaking when he enters the boxing gym and for a second, the panic comes back. It’s Saturday afternoon, there are a lot of people and he doesn’t see Mickey right away.
But then he does. He sees Mickey on the other side of the gym, holding a punching bag. Hailey notices him first and stops punching into the bag. By the time Mickey has turned around, Ian is crying.
He’s standing in a boxing gym full of people and he’s fucking crying.
He’s standing in a boxing gym full of people and buries his face in the crook of Mickey’s neck, shaking with sobs.
“It’s okay.” Mickey whispers soothing words into his ear and gently guides him into the hallway. “You’re all right. It’s all right. I got you.”
By the time all the tears that are in him are shed, Ian feels utterly exhausted.
“Fuck,” he wipes his nose with the back of his hand, “Shit. I`m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for, man. Feeling better?”
“Let’s pick up Yev up and go home, sounds good?”
Mickey wipes his tears away and it takes Ian a moment to realize that he’s waiting for a reaction. So he nods. Suddenly there’s no energy left to form any words.
“Wait here. Just gonna get my stuff.”
Ian watches them disappear down the hallway and it takes all that he has left not to collapse and curl up on the floor.
Yevgeny is fuelled by sugar and the excitement of a birthday party in the Jumping Park.
“There was a fire truck slide! And a basketball court bouncer. Can we go there for my birthday? Please!”
“Let’s talk about that when your birthday isn’t half a year away, yeah?” Mickey’s hand is, whenever he doesn’t need it to shift the gear, resting on Ian’s.
Their son keeps babbling about his day, Ian blocks his voice out, blocks everything out.
“Hey,” someone squeezes his shoulder, “We’re home.”
In blinks in confusion and turns around: Yev and Hailey already left the car.
“How are you feeling?”
There’s a mood scale pinned on their fridge. It goes from severe depression over balanced to mania. There are ten different phases described, each one has a number. Zero means suicidal, ten stands for total loss of judgement. Four to six means balanced.
“I don’t know.”
Mickey squeezes his hand. “Can you give me a number?”
Six years ago, he would probably have punched him for that question. What are you, a fucking therapist? But now, he leans his head back and tries to make sense of the mess he’s feeling. Mickey can’t look into his head and in the end they both just want to get through this as smoothly as possible. He needs to know what he’s dealing with, if not for his sake, then for Yegeny’s and Hailey’s.
Ian clears his throat. He knows that he doesn't want to be alone, so that rules out zero and one. He doesn't want to curl up in bed and hide all day, but he doesn't feel like himself either. His brain still feels foggy, but the panic from earlier has subsided. The numbness is back.
“Three? Or four? Three and a half?”
Mickey nods, smiling softly.
“That’s better than yesterday. Tired?”
“Yeah,” he looks at him and his heart clenches at the pure display of love and worry in Mickey's eyes, “I’m sorry.”
“Ay, shut up. If we’re lucky we can tame Yevgeny to watch a movie together.”
“Batman! Batman! Batman!” Yevgeny’s jumping on the sofa.
“What did I tell you about Dad not feeling ok? Turn it down a notch, would you?” Mickey scowls at him, before he goes back to the kitchen to microwave some popcorn and help Hailey with setting up other snacks.
Yev stops jumping and turns to look at Ian, who’s sitting at the kitchen table.
“Are you still sad?”
“A little. But I’m getting better, no worries.”
His son looks at him with his unbelievable blue eyes and bites his lip.
“Would it make you feel better if we watched something else? We don’t have to watch another Lego movie.”
“That’s all right, Yev. I like Batman. And it’s your favorite, right?”
“Yes, it is!” He beams.
“Popcorn’s ready,” Hailey comes out of the kitchen with a large bowl and rushes to the armchair, “I call dips on the armchair!”
“No,” Yevgeny protests, “I wanna sit there. Dad! Tell her I wanna sit there.”
A smile tugs at Ian’s mouth. Are they seriously fighting over an armchair? Like siblings?
“Just settle it over a round of rock-paper-scissors and stop whining for fuck’s sake,” Mickey interferes.
“But I said it first.”
“But it’s my spot!”
“I said rock-paper-scissors. I’m not getting in the middle of this.”
Hailey is sprawled in the chair the same way he used to, before leaning against Mickey became his favorite spot: Legs thrown over one arm rest, back leaning against the other. Yevgeny’s sitting on the floor, back leaning against the sofa, where Ian and Mickey are curled up. Ian’s running his fingers through the other one’s hair, while pretending to watch the movie. He soaks everything up: The popcorn taste that reminds him of the Gallagher movie nights of his childhood, Yevgeny’s and Hailey’s laughter, the warmth of Mickey’s body against his. There’s a soft, bubbly feeling in his chest, which makes him smile.
“You okay?” Mickey whispers, looking up.
“Yeah, I’m good.” They kiss.
He’s right where he’s supposed to be.
Description of depression and a panic attack, thoughts of self-harm
The mood scale that's referenced to: https://www.bipolaruk.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=2898487b-0990-4b24-af7c-53946db9fc70
Thank you so much for your support, it has been a pleasure, as always :)