Apparently, Liam is an early riser these days. Ian learns this two days after getting back from his honeymoon –– if a fuckfest on acrylic sheets followed by a drive-by shooting can really be called that –– when he’s up with the sun to take his meds.
Franny hasn’t taken to Debbie’s brief incarceration all that well, and Ian had stayed up with her half the night, trying to explain in three-year-old terms that her mom’s charges were very unlikely to stick at trial and they’d scape together the money to bail her out soon anyway. This hadn’t translated well in three-year-old terms, so he’d ended up bribing her with juice. Juice worked a lot better than talking.
Still, he was up too late and he’s pretty exhausted when his alarm goes off at seven, even though he’s always been a morning person.
Ian tries to shake off the tiredness as he rolls out of bed, ignoring the groaning lump behind him, and makes his morning rounds of the house. He pokes his head in at Franny and she’s still asleep; Carl’s passed out in the boys’ room snoring his head off too. But there’s an empty bed opposite him.
Ian pees, brushes his teeth, goes back to his room to pull on a pair of jeans and pinch Mickey’s ass as he’s grumpily getting out of bed, and then goes downstairs and across the street to steal the morning newspaper off the porch of the one elderly neighbour who never comes out to collect them anyway. It’s when Ian goes back to the house and into the kitchen that he realises Liam’s up, too.
Mickey is bleary-eyed as he pours himself a bowl of cereal beside the fridge; he’s still grumbling about Ian waking him up, fucking cheery ass Gallagher and your fucking alarm clock kink, can’t a man enjoy his fucking one day off in peace? Prison was the first place their relationship ever experienced any sort of routine, even if it was miserable and imposed. Plenty of things have changed since then, but Ian always being the one who wakes up first certainly hasn’t, and Mickey rarely takes it with more grace than he did back then.
But unlike the both of them, Liam doesn’t look bleary. He’s freshly showered and smartly dressed, like he is every morning, and he’s slotting things carefully into his backpack like he actually cares about it. It’s incredibly un-Gallagher-like.
“You get up early, bud?” Ian can’t help but ask, as he heads right to the coffee pot and pours himself a mug right up to the brim. He’s technically not supposed to wash his meds down with caffeine, but there’s a few things the doctors would have to pry away from his cold dead hands.
Liam just nods. “I like to double-check the answers on my worksheets in the morning,” he says. “Set aside an hour before school for it. Fresh eyes spot more mistakes.”
Jesus. He may be only the second person in the family, after Ian, to ever have a self-driven work-ethic.
“Wow, good system. No wonder you’re acing everything.”
Ian, despite the aforementioned work-ethic, never had much luck applying it to more than his biceps and accuracy with a rifle. He’d tried for a while, but his grades in school never scraped above average; Ian thinks their genetics are all-or-nothing when it comes to intelligence. Liam, like Lip, seems to lean all.
“Trying to,” Liam says, relaxed and economic with his words as he ever is. He zips up his bag. “Well, I gotta get going if I’m gonna be early to first period.”
“Hey, you need food?” Mickey asks, suddenly. Ian starts; amongst the lack of grumbling, he’d forgotten Mickey was even there, for a moment, and he can’t quite make his words make sense. “You know, for school. You brown bag it or what?”
“Usually trade my math homework for half Tyrone Hooper’s PB&J.”
“Jesus, Tyrone Hooper’s mom was in my fucking grade, that’s a surefire way to get mouth herpes,” Mickey says. He crosses to the cupboard and snatches a few things out of it, chucks them across the counter to Liam. “Take a pack of poptarts and one of your brother’s fucking Kind Bars. And at least trade with the ten year olds who aren’t dealing meth yet, if you wanna be an entrepreneur.”
“Okay,” Liam says easily, as he shoves the food into his backpack with less care than he did his homework. “Thanks, Mickey.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re gonna be late if you keep hanging around. Isn’t your nerd ass trying to get perfect attendance?”
“Only fifty-four days to go!” Liam confirms, and scampers out the door.
With a sigh like he’s the most put-upon man on the planet, Mickey grabs his bowl of cereal and rounds the counter, sitting in the chair next to Ian’s and flipping open their stolen newspaper. His legs spread wide and their knees knock together.
Ian very badly wants to fuck him, but Mickey looks busy with his cereal, so Ian just holds on tight to his coffee mug and says, “Thanks.”
There’s a warm little pit in his chest that he can’t quite figure out, but it makes him look at Mickey in a way that would have made Mickey bash his face in five years ago.
“For what?” Mickey asks, barely glancing up.
Fuck, Ian loves him.
At ten AM the next morning, Ian wanders into the kitchen and asks, “You headed to work?”
“Don’t fucking remind me,” Mickey says. He looks like a suburban alter-ego of himself in his pink mall-security polo shirt; someone Ian would have fucked back when he was into the club scene and meaningless sex, and then never called again. Ian prefers his actual scrappy ghetto husband, but this version’s cute too, especially when he asks around a mouthful of disgusting sugary cereal, “Your douchebag PO still not found you another job?”
“Hopefully he won’t, least until Debbie gets out of jail,” Ian says, with a shrug. He’s too aware of the blaring noise of Franny’s cartoons in the next room. “The kids would be screwed. The daycare won’t take Franny ‘til the summer, Carl’s working full time, and Lip and Tami aren’t super down to babysit another one while they’re doing all those renovations.”
“Thought the whole point of them stayin’ just across the alley was so they could help out,” Mickey grumbles, but he’s never liked Lip, so Ian doesn’t take his grouchiness as actual disapproval.
“They are helping. I mean, I know Lip’s trying, at least. But it’s different when you’re not actually living here.”
The period of time they don’t like to talk about anymore flashes into Ian’s head. That first summer of theirs really together, with Ian living at Mickey’s, bundling Yevgeny and Liam together into a stroller when he ran errands, doing the fake dad thing, doing the domestic thing, laughing and learning Russian with Svetlana, all of them a little messed up family –– and being on the uncomfortable hot-coal walk of mania the whole time, unable to control himself, unable to feel the depths of both pain and joy that the whole situation should have been bringing him, and certainly unable to be as helpful to his family back home as he should have been. They’ve all come a hell of a long way since then. It’s painful to look back, so Ian’s trying not to draw comparisons, but he knows the comparisons are there.
“Sure, whatever,” says Mickey, and slurps the last of the sugary milk out of the bottom of his cereal bowl, wiping his chin on the back his hand. “You gonna hit the grocery store today or want me to go on my way back from work?”
“Nah, all good, I’ll run some errands –– Franny doesn’t nap unless we walk around in the stroller anyway.”
“Cool,” says Mickey, digging into his pocket and slapping a crumpled twenty dollar bill onto the counter. “Buy your brother some damn lunchables while you’re there, yeah? We can’t keep givin’ him poptarts for school, he’s gonna get a fucking cavity, and I ain’t got the money for dental work right now.”
He presses a kiss into Ian’s cheek, and Ian swats at his ass in his dumb little khakis, and Mickey flips him off before he heads out the door. Married life is awesome.
Franny’s really not sleeping well with Debbie gone. Mickey can’t call in a favour with his dad right now, for obvious reasons, but Sandy says she’ll be able to access the Milkovich family account at Bad Bob’s Bonds by the weekend, so hopefully Debs will be home soon. Ian can’t wait, partly because he wouldn’t wish jail on anyone, especially not his little sister, and partly because looking after a three year old really is exhausting –– but he’s also totally going to offer plenty of babysitting when Debs is back.
Even when they’re difficult, Ian’s always been a sucker for kids.
Tonight, he’s finally managed to get Franny to sleep, but it took some fucking effort. Taking her out in the stroller this late would just be asking to get mugged, so he’d had to try at home, but she kept screaming when he took her to her own bed. In the end, the only way she’d fall asleep was in his arms as he paced around the living room. She’s deceptively heavy and wakes up on a hair-trigger; now that she’s actually snoring, Ian’s terrified to move anywhere in case he disturbs her. Still, the weight of a child in his arms feels right and familiar and he can’t bring himself to dislike it, even if he’d rather be upstairs with his husband.
That warm spot in Ian’s chest flickers happily a few minutes later when he hears the soft noise of footsteps down the stairs, and Mickey appears, hair damp from the shower, wearing one of his dumb sleeveless t-shirts and a pair of Ian’s boxers. He pauses on the landing for a moment, raising one sharp eyebrow when he spots Ian stood in the middle of the living room, before bounding down the last few steps.
“Jesus fucking Christ, you see what I mean about the strays in this neighbourhood?” Mickey says quietly, as Franny drools onto the worn shoulder of Ian’s t-shirt. “Don’t think you ever need to worry about having kids in our life at this rate, man.”
“You know this isn’t what I meant,” Ian says, rolling his eyes, but he can’t help feeling like Mickey’s a little bit right.
When Ian encouraged Fiona to leave, he was thinking of her –– and of him and of how freeing it had felt, even amongst all the bullshit, the first time he left –– but he knew he’d overlooked one big thing and he hasn’t stopped feeling guilty for it since getting out of prison and remembering just how their family functioned: Liam. He remembers standing in a courtroom and hearing Fiona fight to be Liam’s guardian. He remembers hearing her pledge the next sixteen years of her life to sticking around for that kid. And with how much of a downward spiral she ended up in, he’s not sure Liam would have been better off with her sticking around, but still. It hurts. When Ian was little, Fiona was the one who held everything together; she was practically a god in their eyes, the way parents are supposed to be when you’re small.
But who’s the stable force in Liam’s life? Who’s his Fiona? Lip’s been in and out with various girlfriends and college and his freaking addiction issues, and now he has his own kid and his own house to worry about. And even with Frank trying to stay sober, he doesn’t seem interested in helping out with the family, which has confirmed what Ian has long known to be true anyway –– that Frank’s a piece of shit and an addict, but those two things are totally independent of each other.
So with Fiona and then Lip out the door, Ian’s the next oldest, and that’s kind of how it’s always worked in their family. When you’re the closest available thing to the responsible adult of the house, you take on the job, like it or not.
“I kind of like this,” Ian says, thinking out loud. Mickey furrows his brows and stares at him as he rounds the edge of the sofa.
Another thing: Ian likes this neighbourhood. It’s something he didn’t realise, as a kid. He has plenty of reasons to hate it here –– the presence of his husband’s psychopathic father and the general air of stifling homophobia, to name a couple –– but he just doesn’t hate it. Not anymore. Not since he did the thing he’d been waiting his whole life to do, left , and ended up coming back within the space of a year. He’s had better times here than he’s had anywhere he ever tried to run away to.
Now, Ian can finally admit what he’d always wanted to flee from; he’s a bit of a homebody. He likes walking past the street corner where he lost his first tooth crashing off a stolen bike when he was seven. He likes being flooded with memories of every weird place him and Mickey ever secretly hooked up when he walks around town. He likes remembering knowing Mickey when they were young, long before they ever really spoke to each other, just those little incidental memories of street corners he saw young-Mickey stealing bikes on, or the field where they played little league together. He likes being close to the people he’s known his whole life –– Kev and V, their kids, neighbours and local shop owners who’ve known him since he was a knee-high brat, even the handful of unincarcerated Milkovich cousins. Ian likes it here, and, also, he thinks Mickey runs so deep in the vein of this neighbourhood that they could never really leave. Ian wants to be wherever Mickey is, and Mickey literally has the South Side tattooed on his arm.
And amongst all that, at the heart of it too, is Ian’s family. Ian doesn’t want to live away from Lip or Debbie or Carl or Liam. He still misses Fiona every day. He still misses Mandy every day, even though they haven’t talked in a long while now. In the last few years, Ian has had to learn about so many broken parts of himself. If he can keep anything whole, he wants it to be the people around him, and the way they grew up; maybe broken, maybe messy and incomplete, but so full of love that they’d turned a toxic place beautiful.
That’s the kind of feeling he wants Liam to grow up with. Not an empty house where each one of the new-eldest siblings is always just trying to leave; not the feeling that he’s being forever left behind or pawned off.
“Do you want to get our own place?” he asks Mickey suddenly, out of the blue. Mick’s eyebrows respond before anything else, shooting halfway up his forehead as he turns to fully face Ian again.
“Why the fuck would we do that? We got a perfectly good bedroom here now that Lip is jumping fucking ship. And doesn’t someone need to look out for the brats? Keep ‘em in cheerios and shit?”
It’s such a Mickey attitude and it’s so fucking beautiful. Even with Franny passed out like a dead weight in his arms, Ian can’t resist crossing the room and tugging Mickey into a kiss.
Mickey comes into kisses so easily, these days. Ian almost can’t remember the years when it felt like getting Mickey to ever kiss him, even just once, was a Herculean labour he couldn’t possibly complete. Now, Mickey instantly melts against him, his hands finding Ian’s waist and bunching in his t-shirt, his lips parting right away, like he’s opening up all parts of himself for Ian: body, heart, soul.
They don’t kiss for that long, but when they pull apart, Ian’s breathless.
“Will you put the kid into her proper fucking bed now, please?” Mickey asks, raising an eyebrow as he lets go of Ian’s shirt. “This is still s’posed to be our fuckin’ honeymoon period and you’re down here with a damn toddler. And I took a real thorough shower. Bet you wanna find out why.”
He flicks his tongue between his teeth and grins, that way he only does when he’s being particularly fucking cheeky, and Ian can’t help grinning back. Maybe he can risk putting Franny down after all.
“You’re back late,” says Ian on Monday, when Liam lets himself in the back door after six. “Dinner’ll be ready in a minute. Good day at school?”
“It was alright,” Liam says, shrugging, but he seems pretty happy. He drops his backpack onto the floor and shrugs out of his coat before taking a seat at the table opposite Ian, where a plate’s already set. “Hey, they wanna take us on a trip to the aquarium next week to learn about fish, can I go? It’s twenty dollars.”
“Course you can,” says Ian, although he doesn’t actually have twenty dollars. He just remembers the hundred school trips he didn’t even bother to ask whether he could go on, because the answer was always no; the Gallaghers haven’t moved far up in the world since Ian was Liam’s age, but they have moved up a little, and that tiny extra bit of comfort around money that they’ve clawed their way to isn’t something he’s willing to give ground on.
Luckily, he’s got an awesome fucking husband stood at the stove behind him reheating a frozen lasagne that Vee dropped off, who just says, “Man, the aquarium’s dope. You know they got sharks there? My wallet’s in my coat, I probably got a Jackson.” He pauses to point a spatula threateningly at Liam and add, “Don’t you ever go taking money outta there if I don’t say you can, though.”
Liam just rolls his eyes as he reaches for Mickey’s coat.
“I’m the most law-abiding person in this family, I don’t steal,” he says, taking out the twenty dollars and nothing more.
He really is a good kid. Still: “Say thank you,” Ian reminds him.
“ Thank you, Mickey.” Liam pauses for a moment as he settles back at the table, as if in thought, hands Franny a toy car when she starts making grabby hands from her high chair, and then asks, “Should I be calling you something different now you’re married? Uncle Mickey sounds super weird.”
“He’s not your uncle, he’s your brother-in-law,” Ian says, wrinkling his nose. “You don’t call brothers anything different, right?”
“You Gallaghers and your stupid fuckin’ questions,” Mickey gripes, in his I’m-complaining-for-the-sake-of-it way, the way that always makes Ian smile.
Turning around so he can properly grin at Mickey over the counter, Ian says, “You’re one of us now, you don’t get to complain. Mr Gallagher.”
“Ay, I didn’t fuckin’ change my name, don’t get on this shit again. We’re hyphenating or not at all.”
“Oh, yeah, what are you guys called now?” Liam asks. “I saw that you got all that paperwork, but you never told us what you went with.”
The real answer to this is that every time they try to decide which way around their names should go, they end up fighting about it, and then the fighting turns into sex because all their fighting turns into sex, and then in the afterglow they never remember to resolve the issue, and now they’ve been married over a week and still don’t know what they’re gonna do. Ian doesn’t particularly feel like his ten year old brother needs to know all that.
“How about we call you a Gallagher tonight, and you can call me a Milkovich tomorrow,” Ian suggests over his shoulder. “We’ll just keep trading off. We can have, like, shared custody on names.”
“Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, fine.” Mickey bends to take the lasagne out of the oven, making Ian temporarily dismayed that he’s not stood back there where he can admire his husband’s ass. “Any other Gallaghers I gotta feed, or is this it?”
“Carl’s out with some girl,” Ian says, rolling his eyes. He loves his brother but he really can’t keep track of the revolving door of girlfriends at this point. “And I guess Lip and Tami are over at their place. So just us.”
Liam shrugs. “Cool, means more food for us.”
That is perhaps the most Gallagher thing Ian’s heard from Liam in a while.
“Oh, hey, man, good news,” Mickey says, as he slams a sloppy looking lasagne down into the centre of the table and then shakes off the obnoxious pink oven glove. Something about Mickey wearing oven gloves always gives Ian mild heart palpitations, but maybe he just thinks everything Mickey does is unbearably hot. “Sandy called, she’s gonna post Debbie’s bail tomorrow.”
A little knot Ian hadn’t even realised was living in his chest suddenly disappears.
“Momma?” Franny asks. Ian turns to her in her high chair, grinning, as Liam begins dividing the lasagne into unnecessarily large portions.
“That’s right, peanut,” he says, stroking the top of her head. His hand completely dwarfs her shock of red hair. “Your mom’s gonna be home real soon, so you don’t need to worry anymore, okay? But we’ll look after you until she’s back.”
“At this rate there’s gonna be more fucking gingers than the rest of us,” Mickey says to Liam, as if in solidarity. Ian can’t help it –– he bursts out laughing.
Liam goes to bed pretty early. For all that he acts like he’s about a decade older than he is, Ian finds the reminders that Liam is actually still a kid rather adorable. Franny, on the other hand, turns into a bit of a terror post-dinner. Her sleep issues have developed into a full-on fear of bedtime, even in just the week and a half that Debs has been away, and she starts crying as soon as Ian tries to take her up the stairs, the sort of crying that makes her short of breath and then just works itself into a fit of hysterics.
It’s awful to listen to. Ian tries to calm her down with hugs and juice and soft comments about her mom coming home soon, but in the end it’s Mickey who lures her into the living room and plonks her in front of a cartoon, which at least calms her down, even if she’s not likely to fall asleep. Maybe it’s not the best parenting in the world, but considering the shitty fucking examples both of them have to go off, Ian thinks it’s pretty fucking incredible how Mickey handles her; calm, reasonable, practical. Better than Ian had managed. It’s interesting how different their techniques are –– maybe, Ian allows the dopey thirteen-year-old girl part of his heart to think while he’s waiting, that means they’d be kind of a perfect balance as parents.
He’s waiting in the kitchen with a beer when Mickey returns. Mick accepts the beer happily, and then leans against the counter next to Ian. It’s a prime position for Ian to sling an arm around Mickey’s shoulder, so he does, feeling the heat of his husband’s body and the way it fills his soul right up.
“Jesus fucking Christ, that kid has some lungs on her when she wants to,” Mickey mumbles, but he doesn’t sound all that stressed. He takes a sip of his beer, and Ian just watches his throat for a moment.
There’s so many tiny things he loves about Mickey. It’s past ridiculous and verging on insane, but at least it’s an insanity that Ian prefers to his usual strain. He likes Mickey’s throat when it’s swallowing and the exact proportions of his fingers and the little patch under his ear where his facial hair grows in the opposite direction to the rest. He likes Mickey when he’s sleepy or grumpy or gross. He likes Mickey when he’s taking care of Ian’s little niece, because it makes Ian feel like, for the first time since he’s been alive, all the sides of him are fitting together.
When he was a teenager, he had three separate bubbles: family, his future in the military, and being gay. He couldn’t let any of those bubbles meet, or he was sure they’d all pop for good and he’d be ruined. He’d scrapped the middle one years ago now, and weighed the other two in varying measures which never quite seemed to fit. Right now, though –– this is the most his life has ever fit. He has his family and his gay ass husband under the same roof. He’s doing things he loves and he’s with the man he loves. Life’s still a mess, but Ian feels whole.
The murmur of the cartoons is low in the next room, and Franny’s not crying anymore. Mickey offers Ian a sip of beer, but Ian declines, and for a long minute, they just stand there, in the dark space of the kitchen, leaning into each other’s sides.
“It’s kinda funny, isn’t it?” Ian says, after his thoughts work themselves out among the silence. “I mean, we just talked about kids before the wedding, but when I said I wouldn’t mind a couple of them I meant in, like, ten years.”
Mickey huffs a laugh and drains the rest of his beer. “Sounds good to me. At least my dad will have for sure dropped dead by then.”
“Well, isn’t it already kind of what we’re doing right now, though? I mean, you’re feeding Liam and helping him with his fucking homework about sharks while I walk Franny around the block for two hours to get her to sleep. Talk about a trial run at parenting.” He pauses, kind of looks away from Mickey and down towards the scuffed edge of his sneaker on the floor, and checks, “You don’t mind that we have to look out for them, right?”
“I ain’t fucking parenting anybody,” Mickey says, “But Jesus, of course we’re gonna make sure they’ve got food and aren’t sticking their fingers in the light sockets, and that someone’s around for the little one til her mom gets bailed out of jail. They’re your family.”
“Your family too, now,” Ian points out, “Since you married my ass.”
“Your ass ain’t the part I was interested in marrying,” Mickey quips, but he lets Ian tug him around and kiss him anyway.
Ian thinks, sometimes, about what had been missing in the other relationships he’d tried while Mickey was gone. There were plenty of things –– the sex has never been as good with anyone else, the passion was never there without Mickey, and there’s something to be said for being in love with someone you’ve known since you were a kid because of how much history you always have to fall back on. But more than all of that, really, nobody but Mickey has ever really understood. Ian and Mickey didn’t grow up in exactly the same way, but they came from the same place and they’d worked the same systems to survive. Perhaps most importantly, neither of them had ever had a problem with that.
It’s not like everyone in their situations agrees. Mandy had been rightly glad to get the fuck out of here; Fiona, too. And although Lip wavers back and forth, he’s never had quite the same fondness for their life, more just a sense of obligation.
The toddler watching Peppa Pig in the next room might not be theirs, and the ten year old passed out in a bunkbed every single Gallagher boy has slept in at some point might not be theirs either, but Ian doesn’t actually know if that matters at all. He’s only twenty-three –– he’s not trying to be a parent right this minute anyway.
But it’s all just about family, isn’t it? The shifting, ephemeral beast that is family. It’s not about getting a kid from birth and being the only person to look after them and shape them until their eighteenth birthday; it’s about looking out for the people who need you, for as long as they need you to. That kind of checks all the boxes Ian wants when he thinks about having kids, anyway. Maybe when Liam’s left home in another decade, he and Mick will find some other kids who need taking in, whether they’re foster kids from the neighborhood or the latest unplanned bastard babies of their siblings, whatever.
He thinks Mickey said it best, years ago, even: love means you take care of each other. And that's what family means, too.
"So can we go fuck while she's watching her cartoons or what?" Mickey asks. Ian laughs, tipping his head back to the ceiling and feeling nearly giddy.
"I don't know if that's the best parenting, Mick."
"Hey, I just said I ain't trying to be any sort of parent."
And, well, he's got a point there. "In that case," Ian says, and, still laughing, uses the arm around Mickey's shoulders to wrestle him against the fridge, and into a kiss.