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On the Other Side of the Mirror

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One day Ian broke. It wasn’t always the depression, though Mickey had spent days, weeks, over the past five months, lying for long hours next to Ian, silent. He listened to him, and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes Mickey didn’t have time for it, he wasn’t built for patience, and sometimes he couldn’t bear to leave him.

Mickey hated the mania almost as much. Sometimes more. It drove him nuts. It drove them both nuts, but where Ian was excited, Mickey was agitated. Buzzing almost as much as Ian for the worst reasons.

He felt tugged and pulled in all directions, as unstable as Ian, and there had been a terrifying three days mid-may which had been a Gallagher-Milkovich suicide watch. For the following week, Ian had been banned from the kitchen, yelled at Mickey when he stalked him towards the bathroom, hated the regulated medicine cabinet, locked Mickey out of their room. Mickey had spent the night leaning against the door, caught between anger and despair. Early morning he broke in through his own window, but didn’t dare to climb in his bed. Ian was sleeping, and Mickey didn’t know what was going to set him off. In the morning, Ian was looking down at him sadly. They had not spoken about it. Mickey clutched onto him as hard as he could whenever they touched.

That had been scary. Scarier had been still to come.

High highs, Mickey remembered. Low lows. Depression was common in this neighbourhood. Ian’s dramatic twists and turns, however, were disorientating. Svetlana sometimes gave him a strange expression, exasperated, like she was the one who had to deal with it.

“Fuck off,” he’d spit, but some days he’d agree with her. They were the longest days, spent chain smoking and guzzling booze.

Mandy and Lip worked better to get Ian out of his funk, and every time Mickey felt that he’d been kicked in the teeth. Maybe it was selfish, maybe he should be thankful that Ian had cheered up, but he’d been under the impression that he was meant to mean as much to Ian as Ian meant to him. Maybe he should have known better.

One day Ian broke. Mickey hadn’t been there. Mandy had called the ambulance, then Fiona and Lip, then Mickey. By the time he’d arrived at the hospital, everyone from Kev to fucking Frank had heard. They were there before him. Mickey was sure he hadn’t made up the dirty looks, like this was somehow his fault, but then he’d been paranoid before. Seen in others what he blamed in himself.

Mickey had worked hard to keep Ian out of an institution, but Fiona had final say and in the end Mickey was a background character. He hardly even got to see the redhead before non-family and children under 18 were whisked away. Mickey only didn’t sleep in an empty bed for the first time in months because he couldn’t close his eyes.

He went out alone. He found himself in Boy’s Town, picked a fight, wound up at the Alibi Room with a busted nose and a bloody smile. “You should have seen the other guy,” he said in his defence. They should have. He wasn’t in a merciful mood that night and Kevin wasn’t there to give him that Kev-patented look.

Days later, they said that Ian was stable. They said he could go home. He had meds, better than whatever they’d scrounged up from the dusty remains of Monica Gallagher. They sent him home, and that didn’t mean Mickey’s. He found himself almost too scared to knock on their door, just in case Ian had come to his senses. In case it was the illness which had kept them together. Mickey had been a crutch for months now. A pathetic one, but something was better than nothing. He didn’t think that was how relationships were meant to go; moments of madness followed by days of misery which stretched them both thin. Mickey felt more like a parent soothing a turbulent child than a boyfriend. Or whatever they were.

Mandy kicked him out of the house, eventually. Said that Ian had asked for him. Ian latched around his neck when he’d knocked on the door. “I missed you,” he said it softly, because Mickey had shown his weaknesses to everyone, repeatedly, but he still had a violent streak and a reputation to maintain even though no Gallagher believed him anymore. Mickey felt at home.

Mood stabilisers, lithium carbonate. Some antipsychotics for his mania, antidepressants for the bad times. Mickey dug his face into Ian’s neck. Ian was calm for now, and it was the little things sometimes.

It was easier from then. It wasn’t easy, but it never was with family. Mickey hardly remembered what he’d been scared of when Fiona had suggested hospitalisation. Nights alone were hard, but the dips and peaks were worse. The chase of invincible Ian was almost as difficult as suicide watch. Neither let Mickey sleep. Both could often require ambulances, phone calls to the police.

But then the army found them. It was better that Ian had a diagnosis now, and several medical professionals and familial history to back him up. Bipolar disorder could mess you up in the head, they explained, as Mickey and Mandy and the entire Gallagher brood had tried to when they first came to take Ian away. It could make you do crazy stuff, like steal a helicopter.

Ian’s first night after that (home with his family) saw him quiet for the first time since the break. He didn’t move, didn’t protest when Mickey wrapped himself around him, squeezing into his single bed somehow. He lay still in bed, and Mickey took comfort in his steady heartbeat.

“I fucked it up,” Ian said, like they hadn’t had this conversation before. It was only when Ian wasn’t high that he remembered his life-long dream of West Point, and it was only when he was low that he let it get to him.

“I know,” Mickey said softly into his neck.

They were silent for a long time. Mickey hoped Ian would sleep it off. They could go to the clinic tomorrow. Do something proactive. Mickey had learned the hard way that love and determination wouldn’t solve anything alone.

“I hate you.” Ian said next, when Mickey’s eyes started to close. This was another revisited conversation. That didn’t make it hurt less. Mickey’s arms tightened around him. He repeated, “I know.”

“No, you don’t. It’s your fault.” Ian paused, like he was waiting for Mickey to reply. “If you’d just listened to me I wouldn’t have signed up. I told you at the wedding that if you cared about me at all…”

Mickey kept quiet. He knew by now that the best thing to do was to hear him out, let him vent. Depression didn’t mean sadness. Depression meant helplessness. They were dysfunctional folk in South Side, who reacted to situations they couldn’t cope with through violence. If you couldn’t punch it or threaten it or demean it then you wouldn’t survive the night.

“I hate you when I’m like this,” Ian said, voice strained. “I can hardly move and I can hardly breathe and I can hardly feel anything but exhaustion, and yet I still hate you so much. If you hadn’t married her I could have fallen apart at home, and I could have been medicated for the army, and I could have been happy.

“I hate you when I’m not like this too. The world can be beautiful, Mickey, and you aren’t. I love you so much that I can’t move for it and I want to do everything. I can do everything, except get away from you. You’re like a cage. When I’m sad I can’t move at all, when I’m good I can’t move enough, and you’re always there. I wish you weren’t.

“You’re like a virus. You fucking sicken me.”

Mickey felt Ian’s fingers over his and chose to focus on that. Ian’s touch was feather-light, absent, and Mickey didn’t dare move in case he changed his mind, in case he jerked away. Mickey didn’t know if he could stand Ian seeing him now. He didn’t know if he could stand to see Ian.

“The meds are good, though. They let me stand up for five minutes. They let me look at you. I want to look at you without hating you, Mickey.”

“We’re going to ring up someone tomorrow, okay?” Mickey said, voice absent of even a hitch, as if he hadn’t heard anything Ian had said. Ian nodded. He went to sleep.

Mickey was stuck, torn between his own anger and desperation. One wanted him to claw at Ian’s chest, press closer, press his face to Ian’s skin. The other wanted him out of the room, away from the toxic air, preferably somewhere with booze.

In the end, his forehead rested against Ian’s shoulder blade. He didn’t move until the sun started to rise.

He was the only one awake. He texted Mandy, just an update: It’s not good, but not bad. It was a lie in all but the technicalities. Technically Ian wasn’t trying to slice his wrists or hang himself, and since all of this had started Mickey had found a small relief in the days Ian had been too drained to move from the bed. Technically it wasn’t the worst. Mickey still wanted to throw up.

He’d punched something, someone, for less, but no one was out at this time of day. There was the strange death of the early morning, where even the drunks had passed out and the only things awake were the birds. Mickey threw a stone at one, lit up a smoke on the porch.

Fiona got Ian up, made sure he got dressed. Mickey smoked again. He went inside when he heard the clattering of breakfast. Lip had peeked his head around the door. Mickey found a place set for him next to Ian’s empty seat.

Ian came down minutes later. Mickey was picking at his pancakes. Ian came to stand next to him, let Mickey’s head fall to his hip. Ian’s hands wound up in his dark hair. The Gallaghers barely paused to take in the spectacle. They’d seen Mickey beaten and bloody. They’d seen him wet-eyed and angry. They’d seen him speechless, terrified, clueless, when Ian was bleeding out in the kitchen. This was nothing new.

“Meds,” Fiona ordered her brother. Ian sat down. He took Mickey’s hand beneath the table. Mickey poured his coffee.

It would hurt them more to talk about it, and they were hurting enough as it was. They kept quiet, as usual. They’d had this conversation before.