Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End
“Wake up, Sleepyface.”
Somehow during the night, they had gotten turned around and Mickey was playing big spoon to Ian, the former tucked in between Ian and the cell wall. Mickey’s voice tickled behind Ian’s ear and gave him a little shiver.
“Mmm, time is it?” Ian mumbled.
“Dunno, early. They haven’t even called for morning checks yet.”
Each morning the prisoners were woken up and made to present themselves for a count before going off to their respective tasks, whether that be breakfast, their jobs, returning to their cells or to the showers, whatever. If they hadn’t even been called yet, it was definitely too early to be up.
Ian turned himself around to face Mickey and kissed his forehead, burrowing his nose into Mickey’s hairline and breathing him in. “Weren’t you the one who used to give me shit for getting up before the sun?”
Mickey huffed into his chest. “Yeah, but it’s a big day man. My lawyer’s coming back to see me. I think he’s going to formally file the appeal soon.”
One of the few benefits of Ian’s notoriety after the “Gay Jesus” fiasco was the attention it brought. There was no shortage of people who had come out of the woodwork wanting to represent him or connect with him. While most of them were no doubt just trying to use him, a decent one would pop up now and then, as was the case with this attorney. Ian had been able to use his fame, or infamy as it were, and segued that for Mickey’s benefit. He’d even had Lip look into the guy, and by all accounts he was a fucking shark, and damn good at his job.
“What are we looking at here?”
“Well he thinks that he could get the original verdict reversed on lack of credible evidence.” Mickey bit at his lower lip, a habit that was always a tell for when he had nerves or feelings bubbling up under the surface. “Not sure how they would handle the jailbreak since that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been in jail to begin with, but he was going to try to make a case for time served. Didn’t seem to think that would fly, but said that maybe I wouldn’t have too much more time after a decision was made.”
Ian couldn’t help but to let himself daydream a little. “Could you imagine, Mick, if this fuckin’ works? I’m already more than halfway through my sentence, and there’s a good chance I could get out early with good behavior. What if you’re not far behind me?”
“I dunno, man.” Mickey’s voice betrayed him, showing how nervous he actually was about his prospects. “I don’t wanna get my hopes up too much.”
Ian smoothed Mickey’s hair back from his forehead. “I know, I know. But I can’t help but think about it. The two of us out there, free, me on my meds. Us having another shot to do things, but the right way this time. To just be able to do what we want.”
“It does sound nice, doesn’t it?” Mickey sighed.
The alarm sounded, alerting them that it was time to get up and get ready for the first cell check of the day, which meant that Mickey would be off shortly to grab a bite of breakfast and go to his shift in the laundry room. They both got up and made the bunk beds up quick, so the guards wouldn’t give them shit, finishing their conversation while they worked.
“What time is he coming?” Ian asked.
“After lunch, he knows I work the early shift.”
“Then I guess we know what we’ll be chatting about in the cafeteria over dinner.”
“Real riveting dinner conversation,” Mickey laughed.
Ian laughed as well, throwing in a shrug for good measure. “Fuckin’ beats talking about any of the other stupid shit that goes on around here.”
They finished tidying and stood side by side at attention just in time for their cell door to unlock and slide open. One guard entered to do a sweep while another kept post at the door. He glanced around, clicked the counter in his hand twice and motioned for Mickey to follow since it was time for him to head out anyway.
Mickey looked at Ian, not able to say or do what he wanted for a proper goodbye, but they’d have time for all of that on the outside. At least it felt good to think about the prospect of all that time they’d have. He smiled at Ian, not just his usual smirk, but a nice big smile. “Fill you in later, yeah?”
“Can’t wait, Mick.”
The prison infirmary was one of the rare almost-quiet spots that the prison had to offer.
Ian sorted through the various prisoners’ files, alphabetizing them to file away later. The infirmary doctor never seemed to have the time to do his own paperwork and Ian wasn’t about to complain at the cushy job he was given. Spending his time doing other menial tasks could’ve been much worse. He could’ve been in the laundry room with Mickey, washing people’s dirty drawers and seeing all their nasty secrets. He could have been stuck in the cafeteria dealing with the remnants of their shitty food. But his certain level of infamy did him some other minor favors while he was away, and he got to actually put his EMT knowledge to good use once in a while. As it was, the doctor was removing stitches from the forehead of an older inmate, paying Ian no real attention. It was a nice respite from the noise of the cell block, but it wouldn’t last long.
Ian glanced at the clock. Mickey should have been off duty by now and headed to his lunch break, which meant he was that much closer to seeing his lawyer and finding out what the next steps would be. Ian felt a shiver of excitement over it all. He didn’t want to get his hopes up any more than Mickey did, but sometimes on the rough days, he would allow himself to daydream of a time when they were out of here. Where Mickey stifled his hopes, not wanting to set himself up for disappointment, Ian’s way to cope was to try to plan next steps and dream.
He envisioned him and Mickey moving back into the Gallagher house together for a while, getting their footing, doing their parole and staying out of trouble. He thought maybe they could scrape some money together, get an apartment, a place just for the two of them. Ian would love to go back to being an EMT, but he wasn’t sure if he would be allowed to do that with a conviction on his record. But if he was honest, he really believed that just having Mickey there with him would be enough. He knew it wouldn’t be perfect, and he was sure that they would still have their struggles and problems, but they could get through it as long as they had each other.
Geneva had sent a lot of people Ian’s way throughout the course of his trial and imprisonment, people who claimed to want to try and help him or his cause. But Ian’s only cause from here forward was getting he and Mickey out of here, keeping their noses clean and moving on with their lives. So he hadn’t put a lot of stock in this lawyer, but apparently the guy was legit, and did a lot of cases like Mickey’s pro bono. The notoriety was payment enough, or so he claimed. Lip had done his due diligence and said he was for real, and Mickey, who hated everyone, seemed to like the guy. So Ian just held out hope, and counted the minutes until they were together in the cafeteria for dinner and he could find out how the meeting went.
A loud alarm echoed through the room, drilling down to Ian’s very core, a noise that had become pretty familiar to him in his time at the prison so far. It was the alarm sounding lockdown mode, although hearing it wasn’t an immediate cause for concern. It happened more frequently than people would think, sometimes for what seemed to be petty or stupid reasons. One of the corrections officers peeked through their window and locked them into the infirmary. Ian could hear the squawks coming over the prison’s intercom system.
CODE WHITE. REPEAT CODE WHITE.
“Shit,” the doctor mumbled. “Looks like we’ve got incoming.”
Ian wasn’t familiar with this code from his EMT training. Must be a prison thing. “What’s code white?”
“Medical emergency. Guard!” He waited until the guard looked back in the window and gestured to his patient. “If we’ve got a live one en route, want to get him out of my way?”
The guard unlocked their door and entered, uncuffed the inmate from the gurney he was sitting on and escorted him out of the room. Another guard appeared to stand watch.
“What do we got, officer?”
“Multiple stab wounds. Put in a 911 call, but don’t know if this one’s even gonna make it to the hospital.”
There was a clamor making its way down the hall to them, the air buzzing. Ian wasn’t sure what assistance he would be allowed to provide but he wanted to be ready. He had already abandoned the files and moved around to wait in front of the desk to make sure he was available.
The guard looked in from the hallway. “Sit back down, inmate.”
“I’m EMT trained, just wanted to be ready if the doc needs extra hands.”
The guard was clearly uninterested. “I’m sure if he needs your expertise , he will ask you. Sit down.”
Ian saw the guard reaching for his baton, ready for him to make things difficult. He stepped back behind the desk and took his seat, not wanting to make an escalating situation worse. The guard, satisfied that it was settled, resumed his watch outside the door.
The noise got louder and closer, guards yelling over each other, radios chattering, the doctor mumbling under it all.
Three guards came rushing into the room carrying an inmate, blood dripping behind them. They placed him down on the same gurney where the other man had been moments before. The doctor was there in an instant, rushing to pull off the inmate’s jumpsuit to assess the damage.
“Gallagher, come help me with this!”
He rushed over to do as he was told. But Ian wasn’t ready. Nothing could have prepared him. Because it wasn’t just another inmate laying there.
Ian grabbed his face in both hands, Mickey’s head lolling around loosely. He used his thumb to open one of Mickey’s eyelids. Those beautiful blue eyes were dull and unfocused. Ian moved his thumb to Mickey’s cheek instead and stroked it.
“Nononononono, Mickey, please! Stay with me, you have to STAY WITH ME!”
The guards moved in to pull Ian away, but the doctor held out a hand to stop them. They looked at him questioningly and the doctor shook his head. They understood. Nothing could be done.
Ian felt Mickey’s hand on his wrist, but the grip was slack. He rested his forehead against Mickey’s, voice quieter.
“Mick, I just got you back. You can’t go now. Please, fuck, you can’t go now!” His voice cracked and he started crying, heavy sobs that he couldn’t stop. “What happened to him?!”
One of them answered from the doorway. “Someone jumped him in the laundry room during shift change.”
Ian let go of Mickey’s face but kept touching him, his chest, his hands, looking for something. Anything. The tears ran down his cheeks and neck but he made no effort to wipe them away. The doctor came back over and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Gallagher… Ian. Come on, there isn’t anything more we can do. He’s gone. I’m sorry.”
Ian was oblivious, his focus only on Mickey. He was leaned over the gurney, trying his hardest to hold Mickey in his arms. Ian’s heart thudded in his chest, as if the force of it alone could will Mickey to come back to him. He had tunnel vision, everything around him fading out until it was just the two of them. He felt like he couldn’t catch his breath, panicked at the idea that this was really it, that he was truly gone, that Ian would be alone. In this place, in this world.
He couldn’t bring himself to look at Mickey’s face, couldn’t let himself see how lifeless it had become. It would betray all of the things Ian was trying not to tell himself. He couldn’t see that face and not know the truth. Not in full. He would take Mickey in, a small piece at a time.
The lips that he had dreamed of feeling on his own for years before finally getting the privilege, that he had kissed thousands of times when finally given the chance, that had taken him into them completely, that had grazed his skin and his body, leaving trails of the best kind of bruises. That had cursed him, that had shared all of Mickey’s deepest, darkest secrets. That had laid bare all Mickey could offer him.
The black eyelashes, stark against pale cheeks. Hiding behind them the most beautiful blue eyes Ian had ever seen. Eyes Ian could still get lost in, that had checked him out many times when they were working at the Kash and Grab, that had sparkled when Mickey laughed and shone with tears when he tried not to cry. That blazed with defiance when he came out at The Alibi. That had looked at him with fear and concern when Ian had taken to Mickey’s bed after his first bipolar downswing.
The eyebrows that danced along with Mickey’s every emotion, furrowed with stress and worry, rising high with drama and expression, always one step ahead of a remark or a retort from the man himself.
“Mickey please, you can’t do this, you can’t leave me.” Ian whispered, the words only for them to hear, a secret mantra or a prayer. Even if Mickey wasn’t all the way there to hear it. Ian had to try. He had to hope. “I can’t do this without you, Mick. You came back for me once, please, please. I need you. Can you hear me? Talk to me. Please.”
Ian felt Mickey’s hand loosen on his wrist, felt it slide off and let go. He thought about Mickey’s hands. He had always believed that they were beautiful. Hands that had given him the finger countless times. That had punched him, caressed him, held him. That had brought him pain, but even more pleasure, touched him in ways more tender than anyone else’s hands had ever touched him. The crooked tattoos. FUCK U-UP. He picked up Mickey’s left hand, brushing his thumb over the second U on the ring finger, kissing it. Remembering a time when a band had sat there, such a point of contention between them. Ian had always hoped that one day, a new one would sit there, it’s counterpart on his own hand.
Ian placed his own hand on Mickey’s chest, over his heart. He traced his fingers over the spot where his name was etched. A proclamation of love. How could Mickey, who was so vibrant all the time be so still? Ian had a flash of his mother’s funeral, Frank talking about how his pilot light had been out and Monica was the gas company. He understood. He hadn’t really gotten it before, but he did now.
“We have plans, Mickey. The lawyer is coming, we’re supposed to be getting you out of here. You can’t go, don’t you understand? You can’t go, not like this.”
He needed Mickey there. He reached his other hand up, skimmed it over Mickey’s hair and slid it behind his head, cupping him, cradling him. Ian leaned down, his lips grazing against the shell of Mickey’s ear, pleading with him not to go. “I love you. Please. I love you.”
He was met with a silence that was unbearable. Nothing. Not a word, a breath, a twitch. He leaned his face into Mickey’s neck, the smell of the prison laundry room lingering lightly on his skin. “Don’t…” Ian’s voice cracked, everything on the verge of spilling out of him. “Don’t do this to me, Mickey.”
Eventually there was a hand on his shoulder and the doctor’s voice, low and soft. “I’m sorry, but we have to let the paramedics take him.”
Ian didn’t register that the doctor was talking to him, his face still buried in Mickey’s neck, whispering words that only he heard.
There was another voice, this one not as understanding, one of the guards. “Don’t make this difficult, inmate.”
Hands wrapped around each of his arms and started to pull Ian back, pull Ian away from Mickey.
His instincts kicked in and he tried to throw the guard off him, which only made things worse. The room devolved into total chaos. The other guard rushed in, helping to yank Ian away while he screamed incoherently. The doctor was trying to calm the guards down but they had reached their limit and were pissed off by that point. One of them pulled out his baton and slammed it against the back of Ian’s legs. They gave way and he lost his footing. He would have crashed down on the floor if it weren’t for the other guard already holding his arms. As it was, they wrestled him into submission while he thrashed and yelled.
“Please do what you need to do.” The doctor motioned towards Mickey’s lifeless body, directing his instructions towards the paramedics who were lingering off to the side. He then moved towards a locked cabinet and opened it, examining its contents until he found what he was looking for. He grabbed a vial and a syringe and set about filling the syringe with the medicine. Once that was done, he moved back towards the guards. “Hold him steady.”
They had pinned Ian down to the floor by that point, his face pressed roughly into the concrete. He was still struggling against them, but wasn’t getting anywhere. The doctor crouched low and put another gentle hand on his shoulder. “I have to sedate you, Ian. I’m sorry about this.”
He pulled up the sleeve of Ian’s jumpsuit and injected him with the syringe before he could put up any further fight. It didn’t take long for the medicine to kick in, leaving Ian quiet and lethargic.
“Get him out of here before they take his friend away.” The doctor ordered. “He doesn’t need to see that.”
Like he hadn’t seen enough already. Ian looked up one last time. He couldn’t see Mickey well from his angle on the floor, but he could see his hand hanging off the side of the gurney. It was just dangling there, and no one even seemed to notice it. No one even has the decency to reach over and pick it up, place it at Mickey’s side, or on his chest, or anywhere besides just hanging there.
He wanted to tell them, tried to tell them. “Hand, his hand.”
No one was paying Ian any mind. He still couldn’t bring himself to try to look at Mickey’s face, but that goddamn hand . Dangling. Something about it was almost obscene. He saw the tattooed letters, F-U-C-K, taunting him.
The guards pulled Ian to his feet and helped maneuver him out of the room. No one bothered to cuff him as they normally would when taking him through some of the common areas. He was too out of it for it to matter, his feet dragging along more than walking. It was all a blur of locks and doors until finally they stopped and Ian was let go. But he wasn’t in his cell. This one didn’t even have a bed. The guards placed him down gingerly.
The voice was softer this time. “This isn’t a punishment, inmate. It’s for your own good.”
Ian laid on the floor. The last thing he heard was the slide of a door and the click of a lock.
He awoke some time later, though he couldn’t say how long he had been out. The cell was dark and bare, just an empty room really. The only thing in there was a toilet mounted on the wall that didn’t even have a seat. This must be solitary . He knew that sometimes you weren’t put in solitary for the things you’d done, but for the things they feared you could do if given the opportunity.
He pushed himself up with his hands and slid across the floor to the far corner of the room, sitting up with his back leaned into where the walls met. He watched the door for a while, waiting. He could hear faint noises from other people tucked away in other rooms, but not like the dull roar of the cell block. This was the most alone he’d been since he’d gotten to the prison.
Eventually voices appeared outside his door. They were garbled, as if Ian was hearing them underwater, or someone was talking through a mouth full of cotton.
“How is he?” Ian thought he recognized that voice as the doctor from the infirmary. A kinder man than most of the inmates gave him credit for.
“Been out since we brought him down here,” another voice spoke up. One of the guards, though Ian didn’t know which one. “Better keep an eye on this one tonight or we’re gonna have a code purple to cap off the day.”
The doctor’s voice was low with fury. “You insensitive ass , get away from here. Don’t you have some paperwork to do? An inmate died on your watch.”
There was a mumbled response, likely a lame attempt at an apology, and footsteps shuffled away.
“Wasn’t that his cellmate?” The doctor asked out loud.
“More than that if you believe the rumors,” another guard responded. “Judging by that scene, I’d say the rumors are true.”
A heavy sigh. “Can you open the door, please? I need to check on my patient.”
There was a heavy click as the lock turned over and the door slid open, a sickly glow of light illuminated the doctor, who was silhouetted in the doorway.
He stepped into the room and looked at Ian, who was still backed into the corner. “Gallagher, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
Ian lifted an arm, trying to shield his eyes from the harsh light after being in so much darkness. He tried to respond, but the words wouldn’t come out.
The doctor squatted down in front of him. “Ian, are you alright?”
He took Ian’s arm, limp in his hands, and put two fingers on Ian’s wrist to count his pulse while he checked his watch. He pulled a pencil light from his pocket and shone it in Ian’s eyes, making him recoil back from the light again. He put a hand on Ian’s shoulder and he looked up at him again.
The doctor’s eyes were kind. “I’m really sorry about your friend. Mickey, right?”
The man who had given up everything he’d fought for to come back and be there for him. Who gave up his freedom, his life for him. Ian’s throat and chest tightened and the tears slipped out. They were making plans. They were thinking about their future and it was all fucking gone. Mickey hadn’t even made it to his meeting with his lawyer. Now they would never know what could have been.
How could he get through this without Mickey?
How was Ian supposed to do it, any of it, without him? His freedom didn’t mean a fuckin’ lot to him if Mickey wasn’t there to share in it. At that moment, he’d almost rather rot there indefinitely. Prison was awful, but at least he’d even had Mickey there with him. It would be the last thing they shared. He couldn’t even fathom having to tell his family, having to tell Mandy that Mickey was dead.
Ian’s stomach churned dangerously at that and he felt his body dry heave. The doctor pulled him towards the toilet and he dragged himself over it, face hanging down inside the bowl. He heaved again, a mix of bile and water splashing out. He felt some more contracting, afraid he was going to throw up again, but nothing came.
He raised a shaky hand to wipe his mouth and held it out in front of him. Then the other one. They were covered in Mickey’s blood, which had dried while he was unconscious. Ian cried harder, drawing his knees up to his chest and hugging them with his stained hands.
That was all he had left of him.
“Mickey, please! Stay with me, you have to STAY WITH ME!”
He could hear the fear in Ian’s voice, but he didn’t understand it. He was fine, just tired. Very, very tired. He tried to tell Ian, comfort him. He managed to reach up and curled his hand around Ian’s wrist with some effort.
“Ian, I’m okay. I’m right here, not fuckin’ goin’ anywhere. Not after I came back for your ass.”
But he didn’t speak the words out loud. Or did he? Mickey wasn’t really sure anymore. God, he was fuckin’ tired…
He heard crying, but it was distant. Everything was distant… just out of reach, colors faded, sounds muted. There was a flash of blinding white and then darkness, a black so dark that he could have never imagined it. Mickey wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he was freaked the fuck out. He didn’t move a muscle, waiting to see what happened.
Slowly things started to reappear. Images, sounds, smells.
A whiff of cigarette smoke and cheap beer, rotten liquor the day after it was drunk, the familiar smell of Terry. For some reason, Mickey flashed back to a long-forgotten memory. He had to have only been about four years old and he had been playing outside on the front porch of their house by himself. It had been pretty dilapidated even back then. He couldn’t quite remember what he had been doing but he’d gotten tripped up somehow and fallen down the stairs. He’d hit his chin on one of the steps before he landed sprawled out on the ground below. Mickey touched his chin and his fingers came back red. He could see the droplets hit the floor beneath him as he pushed himself up to standing. He held his chin in his hand as he made his way back up, feet unsteady beneath him. Mickey didn’t really know what to do. The only person home was Terry, and he was scared that Terry would be mad.
Mickey fumbled with the doorknob, managing to get it open with his one free hand and going in. Terry was sitting on the couch with a beer, staring blankly at the TV in front of him.
“Shut the fuckin’ door, kid.” Terry growled. Mickey froze, not doing as he was told but not moving towards his father either. After a few seconds, Terry turned to yell at him and caught sight of his son. “Well for fuck’s sake, how’d you manage that?”
He actually got up and came over to check on Mickey, moving his hand away from his face. “Shit, you got yourself pretty good there. C’mon, bathroom.” He pulled Mickey along behind him and once they got into the bathroom, he hoisted him up and sat him on the edge of the sink as he turned it on. He grabbed a washcloth from the shower and ran it under the water, dabbing at Mickey’s chin and inspecting it. “I think you’re actually gonna need stitches. Where’s that useless broad to take you in when ya need her?”
Mickey didn’t really know what he was talking about, but it didn’t sound good, and he was scared. He knew his dad hated crybabies, but he couldn’t help but to start welling up thinking he was really hurt.
Terry saw this and scolded him. “Hey, don’t you go crying like some pussy. It’s just stitches. Toughen the fuck up.”
He reached under Mickey’s arms and lifted him back down, turning to grab a wad of toilet paper and offering it to his son. “Here, hold this against your chin. Let’s go.”
Mickey crumpled the paper and did as he was told, fighting off tears. He followed his father as he got his things and they made their way to the emergency room. He managed not to cry while he got his stitches, and Terry actually seemed… almost proud of him. He even stopped at an ice cream truck on the way home and got Mickey one of the ice cream bars as a treat for toughing it out. Chocolate eclair, it had been a chocolate eclair bar. It had turned out to be one of the few honestly good memories of his father from his entire life. One of the few instances where Mickey could believe that maybe his father had cared about him, at least at some point, at least a little.
The memory faded out, replaced by other less pleasant memories. Fights, beatings, days where his parents just forgot about them. Forgot to parent them, to reprimand them, hell even to feed or check on them. Letting their kids run around like little savages.
Mickey caught another familiar smell, one that he didn’t think he’d ever smell again. When he was a child, in the late 90s and early 2000s, he remembered there were these cheap body sprays that were very popular. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the smell of fake raspberry. Drug store brand stuff. The smell was cloying, almost too sweet, the kind of smell that you would spray on to cover things up, but it just left a layer on top of whatever else was under it. Not particularly pleasant, but achingly familiar.
There was exactly one person Mickey had known who wore this.
That couldn’t be right, she’d been dead for years. He opened his eyes and there she was. She looked older than she did when she had passed, looked about how old she’d be at this point in time, but it occurred to him that wasn’t very old at all. Mid-40s or less. She looked so much like Mandy. The angles of her face and body. Her hair had some gray sprinkled through it, falling loosely around her shoulders. She looked so much like an older version of his sister, except she had the same full mouth that he had, and the same bright blue eyes, where Mandy’s had more gray to them. She had some lines around her eyes and mouth, signs of age, signs of a hard life. But there was a peace about her that Mickey hadn’t ever seen when she was alive. He was almost distracted from the topic at hand and had to force himself to focus on what she had said. “This doesn’t make sense. What the fuck is going on?”
“You don’t remember?”
“All I remember is Ian didn’t want me to leave.” Mickey knew he was missing something, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. “I don’t know where the fuck he thinks I’d go after I came back for his ass.”
She sighed. “Oh, Mickey. You were attacked, at the prison. You didn’t make it.”
Now that’s ridiculous. “Yeah, okay.” His voice dripped with sarcasm but his thoughts were twisting inside him with doubt.
“How else do you think I would be here?”
Mickey looked at her, really looked at her. Good fuckin’ question. “Where is here anyway? Heaven? Hell?”
“It’s not really like that, and even if it were, you wouldn’t be going to either of those places.”
He had serious doubts that there wasn’t a place downstairs for him, but he wasn’t trying to get into a theological debate with his dead mom. He just wanted answers. “Why not?”
“Because,” she leaned close to him to make clear the importance of what she was saying. “There is more that is meant for you than that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You have another chance.” She turned around in a circle, arms extended wide, and with it she summoned up Mickey’s memories.
Ian . Their history, the good, the bad. It was all there. He could see it, hell, he could fuckin’ feel it. The Kash and Grab, the baseball field, Ian’s tiny twin bed in the Gallagher brothers’ bedroom, the nightclub, all of it. For the first time since he had arrived… wherever the fuck they were... Mickey felt his emotions rising. There was so much there between them. It had only ever been about Ian. No matter how Mickey pushed him away, no matter how Ian sometimes ran in the other direction, since that day that Ian Gallagher had crashed into his bedroom with a tire iron, Mickey had been done for.
“You’re meant to change it, sweetie. To go back and fix it.”
A tear slid down his cheek. “What if I didn’t?”
“I don’t understand.”
“What if I just… let go? Ian’d probably be better off without me.”
“Oh, honey.” She was so sad for him, her baby boy. Even at that moment, he was still putting Ian first. So he thought, at least, but he just didn’t get it. “That boy’d never be better off without you. You’re the best thing that ever happened to him.” There was a whisper of a touch on his cheek. “I’m sorry, Mickey. I wish I’d been the kind of mother you deserved. That told you how good you really are.”
Mickey realized he wasn’t angry at her anymore. He wished she had been able to be that mother too, but what could he have expected from her? Terry had gotten her wrangled up in his mess when she was damn near still a child herself. First kid at 13, four of them by the time she was 18, 19 years old. She’d never had a fucking chance. Besides, having his own child under traumatic circumstances had given him a lot more perspective about his mother. He understood her in a way he hadn’t been able when she was alive. At least he had her here now, and that meant something to him.
He reached up to touch her hand, but couldn’t seem to make contact. He supposed maybe he just didn’t have that connection to her, or maybe it didn’t work that way wherever they were. Purgatory, limbo, the in-between. He shrugged instead, still not confident in her reassurances.
“Mickey, it would break him.”
“Ian’s a tough fuck.”
“I know, baby, but he saw the young man he loves die in front of him. He’d manage to truck on, but he’ll never be the same if it’s left at that.” She stepped in front of him and made sure he looked at her to make her point. “You don’t understand what a rare chance you have here,” she told him. “It’s not like everyone who dies gets a chance to go back.”
“But why do I have the chance then?”
“Honey, I don’t have all the answers, I just know that you two are meant to be together. To have a chance to go back to an important point in your relationship and choose a different path.”
“Meant to be together? What, like some soulmate bullshit?”
She had to chuckle at that. “I guess it’s sort of like some soulmate bullshit, sure.”
Mickey didn’t know if he believed in that business, but this whole experience was fuckin’ weird, so who was he to write anything off at that point? “Where am I supposed to go back to?”
“Oh no, now that part is for you to figure out. Think hard about where you two have been and where a different path would best affect your lives. I know it’s not an easy choice, but you do need to think fast, because there’s only so much time.”
“I can’t fuckin’ do this,” he argued, fear taking over in his mind.
“You can , baby.” His mother’s voice was calm, soothing. “Don’t you want to see him again?”
Of course Mickey wanted to see Ian, to be with him. That was all he wanted, all he had wanted for years. Before he was willing to admit it, hell, before he even fuckin’ knew it probably. No matter how many times he had tried to fight his feelings, and he had tried so many goddamn times. How did the old saying go? The heart wants what it wants. Yes, it fucking does, doesn’t it?
Mickey closed his eyes and concentrated. He figured that to have the most impact, he’d have to probably go back to some of the worst times in their relationship. He dreaded the thought but knew it was necessary. He thought about when Terry caught them at the house and called over Svetlana. He thought about the aftermath of that, when Ian antagonized him during their fight at those old, abandoned buildings and Mickey hauled off and clocked him. He thought about when Ian came to the house and let him know that he was leaving for the Army. When Ian had been deep into some of the worst of his mania and went totally off the rails, claiming luggage and filming pornos and cheating. Kidnapping Yevgeny. He thought of Ian running away with his fuckin’ mother and then coming back to break up with him. He thought of the two of them on the run to Mexico together, his hopes so high that they may finally have the opportunity to just be together, away from everyone and everything in their lives. He thought of Ian saying goodbye to him at the border. The hurt… the humiliation.
Part of Mickey wanted to just go back to before Terry even caught them, the true start of the crux of their issues, to give them a real shot at things from the get go. But then Yevgeny wouldn’t even exist. Mickey had understandably struggled with how his son came to be, and as of his last day on earth, he didn’t have a relationship with his son. Hadn’t since before Svetlana pulled those divorce papers out of her ass, matter of fact. But could Mickey just… erase him? He felt shitty for even considering it, but he’d be lying if he said that going that far back wouldn’t possibly fix a fuckin’ hell of a lot of things.
It was too much and Mickey shook his head, trying to free his mind from it all. He loved Ian, loved him with everything that he had, but as much good as there was and as much love existed between them, he understood objectively that they were a fuckin’ mess. How the fuck was he supposed to decide the best place to try to fix it?
“Mickey you do need to understand that your lives still won’t be perfect,” his mother told him. “Just because you guys have another chance doesn’t mean things can't go wrong. And your boyfriend is still who he is, and will still struggle with the same things.”
“I don’t want to change him,” Mickey said. “I just want to make the right fuckin’ choice.”
She smiled and nodded. “Do you know where you want to go back to?”
Mickey took a deep breath and shrugged. “I fuckin’ hope so.”
“Okay,” she said reassuringly. “Close your eyes and bring yourself back to that point, and concentrate. You’ll wake up there and that will be your chance to take it in a different direction.”
“Wait.” He bit his lip, worried about taking the final leap. “Will I remember any of this?”
“Not exactly, but you’ll have enough of a premonition to move things away from how they went before and to change them. And I’ll try to send you signs if you need them. You’ll just need to be open to it all. I’m always with you, baby.”
Mickey nodded and closed his eyes. “Alright, guess it’s fuckin’ now or never then.”
He felt a faint brush on his forehead. “Good luck, my boy. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Chapter 3: Second Chances
There was a knock at the door and Mickey heard voices out in the other room, unintelligible from where he was sitting on the edge of his bed, doing arm curls with his dumbbells.
“Who’s at the goddamn door?” He called out.
Mandy’s voice drifted back to him. “It’s for me, shithead.”
Ian . It had to be, no one else came to see Mandy. Mickey hadn’t seen him since the wedding, losing track of him in everything that was going on that day. He debated whether or not to go out there for a moment before deciding to go for it. He knew it was fucking weird, him being married to a whore, and a woman no less. But Mickey was hoping that they could get back on track, back to how things had been.
He walked out to greet Ian, still carrying one of the dumbbells in his hand. “Hey.” He held up his hand to show off the weight. “Up to four sets of twenty.”
Ian looked thoroughly uninterested in the display, but Mickey pressed on, determined to keep things light.
“Get in here, I wanna show you something.” Mickey waved Ian to follow him, moving back towards his bedroom as Ian slowly trudged after him. “C’mon, come check it out.” He continued on, putting the weight away and grabbing a cigarette. “Wife made me take all my Nazi shit down. She hates Nazis. Apparently the Russians kicked some serious Kraut ass in World War II so…” Mickey didn’t really know what else to say, but needed to fill the silence. “She can drink me under the table man, it’s weird.” Mickey lit the cigarette.
Ian still hadn’t said a word to him, and Mickey was starting to feel a bit nervous, but was set on trying to act normal.
“Anyways. She’s working tomorrow night… Why don’t we pick up where we left off? Figure she’s gonna be out fuckin’ dudes, why can’t I?” Mickey glanced at Ian, a slow drag on his cigarette and a hint of flirtation in his eye, waiting for a response.
Ian didn’t even seem to entertain the suggestion before shrugging it off. “No thanks.”
“Mmm, hard to get’s getting me hard, Gallagher.”
“Well I’m leaving town.”
Mickey chuckled at the thought. Clearly it had to be a joke. Poor fucks like them from the Southside didn’t go anywhere. “There a queer rights rally somewhere?”
Yeah, sure. “Ahh… right. Ya gotta be 18.”
Ian seemed almost smug. “Yeah I uh… figured a way around that.”
Mickey took pause at that, finally taking Ian’s words to heart. “You serious? You’re signing up?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Ian confirmed.
“That’s a dumbass fuckin’ move, how long?”
“Four years… minimum.”
The air was forced from Mickey’s lungs and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. He tried to stay calm, but he could feel the panic wanting to build inside his chest. His fear came out as bravado; he was too scared to show how he really felt. “What, are you hoping I tell you not to go? I’mma chase after you like some bitch?”
Ian was completely over it. “I didn’t come here for you.”
Now that fuckin’ hurt. Mickey watched as Ian turned his back on him and went to leave. He was really about to lose Ian.
Ian paused and turned back to look at him. “Don’t what?”
“Just…” Mickey was paralyzed with fear. He knew he had to fuckin’ say something. He had to. But he couldn’t get the words out.
Ian was done, and he turned to leave, catching Mandy as she came out of her room with the drugs in her hand.
“Hey I got the nitrous,” she said as she showed him the bag. “Meet you outside?”
He gave her a half smile. “Yeah.”
Mandy watched Ian head for the front door and looked at her brother, who was sitting on his bed with his back to her. She saw him wipe at his eye and she felt for him. She had overheard enough of their conversation, combined with Ian’s scene at the wedding, to figure out that they had been involved and Ian was leaving town, likely in big part because of Mickey. But she was also pissed. One, because they had kept such a huge secret from her and two, because Ian was her best friend, but Mickey was the one with the power to get him to stay. And he needed to fucking do something about it if there was a chance in hell that it might work.
Mickey glanced over his shoulder and saw her there in the doorway, turning back around quickly so she couldn’t see the tears forming in his eyes. “The fuck do you want?”
Mandy scoffed at him. “Really? I mean, that’s all you’re gonna say to him?”
He turned around again and stared at his sister, realizing that she knew exactly what the fuck was going on. If he hadn’t noticed, her anger sure would have told him anyway.
“You’re a fucking pussy.” She glared at him once more before storming off to follow Ian outside.
Things with Ian had been going so well before, but had been all sorts of fucked up ever since that day Terry caught them. Everything was shitty. But Mickey had just held on to the fact that he had Ian and that they could make it work, figure it out somehow. Maybe it was naive, but he had thought that they could just kind of keep doing what they had been doing all along. That things didn’t have to change. But now, Ian was leaving and couldn’t hardly look him in the eye.
If Ian left, Mickey would have no one. That reality hit him like a ton of bricks. His dad was an asshole, his brothers fuckin’ sucked. Sure, there was Mandy, but the two of them weren’t close. Who was left? Svetlana? Fuckin’ please. He couldn’t even bear to be near her when they slept in bed together. He’d taken to using a separate blanket just so they wouldn’t touch by accident. They hardly even spoke to each other.
He could feel the lump in his throat, his emotions threatening to spill over. Mickey had to stop him before it was too late. He had to. He couldn’t bear this without Ian. He stubbed out his cigarette and got up to follow her. “Mandy, wait!”
He caught up to her in the living room before she got to the front door. “Let me go talk to him, can you give us some fuckin’ time?”
“You actually gonna fix this, shithead? He’s not gonna listen to me.”
“Fuckin’ yes, I am going to try to talk him out of it.”
Mandy gave him a serious look. “Don’t fuck this up, Mick. I mean it. This is it.”
“I know it is.”
He steeled himself, hand on the knob to the front door. He had to make this right. He only hoped that Ian had it in him to give him another chance.
Mickey opened the door and Ian was standing at the top of the stairs surveying the street in front of him. He turned around and his smile dropped when he realized it was Mickey behind him.
“I thought Mandy was meeting me out here.”
“She was, but I told her I needed to talk to you.”
Ian shrugged. “There’s nothing left to say, Mick. You made that clear just now.”
Mickey ran a hand down his face. There was so much at stake at that moment, and Mickey understood that the only move he had left was to lay it all bare. Because otherwise, Ian was going to walk down those fucking stairs, through the gate and who the fuck knew if he’d ever have the chance again. He saw the look in Ian’s eye. Ian had no expectations of him anymore. And Mickey couldn’t even fucking blame him. Ian had waited and waited for Mickey to give him more, had practically begged, pleaded and cajoled Mickey into giving him more. He didn’t blame Ian for giving up, for wanting to leave.
“Don’t go, Ian.” He cast his eyes down, refusing to meet Mickey’s gaze. “Don’t leave me.”
Ian toed at a spot on the wood and Mickey took the opportunity to press on, taking a step closer as he spoke. “Look, I know things suck right now, and you’re fuckin’ pissed at me. I get it, I do. But please, you gotta understand-”
He reached out and grabbed Ian’s arm. “My dad wasn’t givin’ me a choice , Ian. I was told I was gonna marry the whore. I didn’t want to. I did it to protect myself. I did it to protect you .”
Ian looked up, seemingly ready to argue, but hesitated when he saw the sick look on Mickey’s face. “Mick-”
He let go of Ian and held his hand up to stop him. “Ian… it’s the same reason I didn’t fight him when he called her over. What my dad did that day was fuckin’ bad.” His voice dropped real low. “But it’s not the worst he’s capable of. Okay? It’s not the worst.”
Ian’s stomach churned at the thought. What the fuck could possibly be worse? He had a few ideas, which he would have preferred not to even entertain.
“Ian, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for you to find out what was going on like you did. I should’ve at least talked to you, but I just shut the fuck down. I’m sorry.”
He nodded. He was starting to understand where Mickey had been coming from, even though it did fuckin’ hurt.
“Listen, I don’t want you to fuckin’ go.” Mickey implored him. “We can make this work.”
“Mick, how? You’re married. ” Ian reminded him.
“Look, I told you the day of the wedding, it’s just a fuckin’ piece of paper. She doesn’t mean shit to me and I’m sure she doesn’t give a fuck either. But maybe we can talk to her, work shit out somehow.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your idea?”
“I dunno, man. But I do know my dad won’t be outta jail forever. He’ll fuck up sooner or later and get sent back to lockup. When that happens, the three of us do what we gotta do to get out from under all of this.”
“How do you know she’ll go for it?”
“I don’t. But everything else is enough of a fuckin’ mess, it can’t hurt to try.”
Ian was quiet, thinking about what Mickey said. Each second he had to wait for Ian to respond was like agony. If it wasn’t enough to get Ian to stay, Mickey might be sick. Eventually, Ian nodded.
Mickey let go of a breath he didn’t even know he was holding, the air rushing out of him. “We’ll figure it out, Ian. We will.”
“Yeah, Mick. I hope so.”
Chapter 4: Svetlana
“Are you sure about this?” Ian asked.
Terry had wound up back in jail, as predicted, so Ian and Mickey had been spending most of their time together at the Gallagher’s. They were headed to the Milkovich house to speak with Svetlana. After a number of discussions on the topic, they had decided that, for the moment at least, it would be best to try to get Svetlana on their side. The three of them working together, not against each other. Maybe if they could do that, they could actually have a chance to find a way out of this shit show. Mickey had also secretly hoped that he might be able to convince her to get rid of the baby, but he had no idea how to even approach that topic. He did know that it would solve a lot of their issues though.
It had been a few weeks since Mickey convinced him to stay, and they had been biding their time, waiting for the right chance to come up. That time turned out to be when Terry had sent Colin and Iggy to make a run out of town to one of his suppliers in his absence. As it was, Mickey had been doing his best to lay low and avoid the house, which had honestly been easier than he expected. Ever since Terry had found out about Mickey and Ian, he had effectively cut Mickey out of most of the family’s affairs or had one of his other sons acting as an intermediary between them. They barely spoke before he’d been locked back up, and all communication between them had ground to a halt since he was. But Mickey had refused to even take the chance of having his brothers around to interrupt this conversation. He knew all too well how things turned out when his family was involved.
Mickey shrugged. “Fuck no, but it’s now or never, I guess.”
The walk from the Gallagher house to the Milkovich house was a short one. When they were anxious to see each other, that was a blessing. But in cases like this, it was a curse. Mickey stopped at the front gate, staring up at his house, not really ready to go inside and deal with this. Ian came up close, but didn’t reach out to offer comfort. Outside, there where anyone could see, it would only raise Mickey’s hackles.
“It’ll be fine, Mick, no matter how it turns out.”
“Oh yeah, tough guy? How do you know that?
“Because I’m still here, and we’re still here. This isn’t about Svetlana, it’s not even about the baby, it’s about you and me. If she wants to work with us, that makes things easier…” He paused, considering how to finish that sentence. “But if she doesn’t, we’ve still got each other. And we’ll do what we need to do… for us.”
Mickey put his hand on the gate and paused again, looking down at his feet. After a few beats, he nodded and pushed the gate open. He didn’t say it, but Ian knew that Mickey was agreeing with him. Agreeing that there was an us . Ian followed him up the stairs and into the house. They didn’t have to wonder about where to find Svetlana, she was in the kitchen washing dishes when they walked in. Mickey didn’t bother with greetings or pleasantries.
“Need to talk to you.”
She glanced up, about to make a wisecrack about saying hello or something along those lines, when she spotted Carrot Boy. That was what she called the red-haired boy who had been at the house the day she met Mickey. She tried not to think about that day, or what she was dragged into. She didn’t know the particulars, but she could only imagine. She had not seen the boy since the wedding and had assumed that after everything that had happened, that she wouldn’t see him again. That the two boys had learned whatever lesson Terry had wanted to teach them, and that was the end of it. Clearly, she had been wrong. This turn of events unnerved her, but she wasn’t about to let them know that.
Svetlana turned off the water in the sink, drying her hands on a nearby cloth that looked clean enough, and followed them into the living room. They sat next to each other on the couch, so she sat in the armchair across from them, crossing her legs and looking as casual as she could manage. She watched them patiently, waiting to see what this was all about.
Mickey looked at Ian for some guidance. This may have been his idea, but he had no fucking clue how to have this conversation. Ian just sort of looked back at him with the same confusion. It was the blind leading the fucking blind. He sighed.
“Okay. The day we, uh… met you.” He grimaced at that, but it was about the most delicate way he could think to phrase it. “Obviously you walked into a shit show. My dad had caught us, uh…and well, that doesn’t fuckin’ work for him. So he brought you in. But, y’know, that doesn’t fix or cure it or whatever.”
“Doesn’t fix what?” Svetlana asked. The question was innocent enough, but she only really asked it to make him squirm. She couldn’t help but take some pleasure in his obvious discomfort. He’d been making her miserable ever since she’d moved in.
Mickey rubbed a hand down his face. “Jesus Christ. I’m… I’m fuckin’ gay, alright? My dad caught me and Ian. Can’t have a faggot for a son, oh no, not Terry. So he called you.”
The silence was deafening. Svetlana was prepared to just keep biding her time until she figured out what it was that Mickey was trying to do here.
“Anyway,” he eventually continued. “He did what he did, but it doesn’t change anything. I went along with this marriage shit to cover my ass, but we both know this is bullshit. But I’m fine with going along with this for now. I get a cover, you get a green card, we look out for each other’s asses. If Terry ever stops being a fuckin’ problem, we can go our separate ways or whatever. We both get somethin’ out of it. What do you think?”
She knew this was a serious topic, a serious proposition. But she couldn’t help but to be obnoxious with her response.
“So you stick penises in each others’ poo place?”
Svetlana appraised the two boys sitting across the living room. Her husband, the wannabe tough guy who wasn’t really much more than 130 pounds of Ukrainian pussy, an ever-spewing fountain of clever curses and insults, and eyebrows that expressed every ounce of anger, frustration and disdain he could muster. At that moment, they were sky high, attempting to retreat into his hairline with fury and exasperation. Under better circumstances, she would have probably found him at least a little bit entertaining. In their current situation, he was a real pain in her ass.
She forced herself to keep her expression neutral, though she delighted in how angry she could make him. They had called this conversation with her and it was not going well. For them, anyway. For the first time in her life, Svetlana felt power in her situation, and she was not about to relinquish it. They needed her, and she relished it. She uncrossed her legs and then recrossed them the other way. Slow, patient, biding her time.
“Is that all you fuckin’ got out of that? Really? Whatever.” Mickey huffed. He glared at Ian. “Why’d I even bother with this bullshit?!” He got up and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
Svetlana watched him leave, amused at his anger. It was a bit cruel of her, she knew that. But she didn’t really care. She understood that anger, but she knew how to manage hers. She looked over at Carrot Boy, or Ian, as she had learned was his name. She was expecting him to get up and follow his boyfriend. Instead, he was watching her.
They stared at each other, neither one backing down. Eventually, Ian leaned forward, elbows on his knees and keeping eye contact with her.
“I know you think you have the upper hand here,” he said casually. “But let me make sure you understand something. You need us just as much as we need you. Maybe more.”
Svetlana laughed at that. She didn’t need a man, hadn’t since her useless father had sold her off into a life of prostitution. She had herself. Maybe she wasn’t doing the kind of work that most women would want to do, but it was work. She got her cut at the end of each day, she had a bed and food, and she had seen and done a lot of shit. She had survived .
She smirked at him. “I don’t need shit from you, malchik.”
Ian smiled at her and shrugged. “I know you don’t agree. And that’s fine. But it’s the truth.” He braced his hands on his knees and pushed himself to stand up. He looked down at her, still sitting across from him and holding his eye. “You can go to Terry, tell him everything. And he’ll probably come after me and Mickey, and who knows what would happen after that. Nothing good, I’m sure. But I’d be careful siding with him. You’ve seen what he’s capable of… and he did that to his own son. Imagine what he’d do to some Russian hooker who doesn’t mean shit to him. Especially if she can’t even manage to be the wife to his son that he’d thought she could be.”
Ian headed for the front door, probably off to go find out where Mickey had gone. He turned and looked at her one last time, hand already on the doorknob. “Mickey and I have each other… who do you have?”
The smirk on her lips died and her expression turned sour, but Ian didn’t stick around to gloat over it. Svetlana sat there, her anger growing. She had told herself after what her father did that she would never be at the mercy of a man again. And now, she had not one, not two, but three of them to contend with. With a yell, she lunged forward and grabbed a glass that was on the table, throwing it across the room where it shattered against the wall.
She forced herself to sit still and calm down. Svetlana knew Ian was right. She also knew now that Mickey would never choose her. This boy was clearly very important to Mickey. Important enough for him to risk everything. So she knew that she would either have to get on board, or be willing to go her own way. It wasn’t a bad proposition, not really. Svetlana didn’t know how much these two could really help her, or what that would mean. But siding with Terry was not an option for her. She needed to talk to Mickey too, but hadn’t had the chance with how he came in all ready to go for his own purposes. Because that day that Terry had her sent over to the house, she left with more than just a bad taste in her mouth about what Terry had her do.
Her hand ghosted over her stomach. It wasn’t just about her, or Mickey, or Carrot Boy. There was the baby to consider now. That’s why they were stuck in this bullshit marriage in the first place. Svetlana was pretty sure she couldn’t trust Mickey to make their unborn baby a priority if she left him to his own devices. But she would. This baby wasn’t even here yet and she would. Always.
She could not afford for this situation to blow up on her.
When Mickey finally went home, he found Svetlana sitting in the living room where he had left her. He stopped in the entryway, the two of them staring each other down for a long moment until she broke the stalemate, reaching over to the coffee table and grabbing a cigarette and lighter. She lit it and tossed the lighter back down as she reclined back on the couch.
“I will go along with your plan,” she told him.
His relief was palpable. “Okay, good-”
“But only because baby need two parents. I could give a fuck about you or about green card you bribe me with.”
She hated him. Great. “Y’know, if dealin’ with me’s so fuckin’ bad, there’s still time to get rid of it.”
Svetlana shook her head. “I won’t do that.”
He wanted to yell, to scream, he even wanted to hit her, and he didn’t believe in hitting women, ever. But he couldn’t. Mickey was so fucked up that he couldn’t do any of those things. He covered his face with his hands. “Svetlana, please .”
Mickey laughed. It wasn’t the laugh of someone who was amused, but one of a boy who was completely broken and had no better response. His entire life, his father had taken and taken from him, had stripped him down to the barest version of himself. Mickey had resigned himself to the life he thought he would be stuck with. But when Ian had burst into his bedroom looking for that pervo’s gun, it had changed everything. And Mickey had started to daydream about the things he may have one day. Sure, he still believed he was fucked for life. But there was also something beneath it, deep down, that he’d never imagined he could have.
Not true belief, never that. But hope that maybe he could have something . Mickey had never thought he could have anything. Then he got Ian, whatever bit he could allow himself to have. Ian would have given him more, still would give him more, but Mickey was content with what he had. He didn’t expect anything, so he never felt the need to push it further. But now, he felt it all being taken from him. Despite the fact that Ian had stayed, Mickey felt like it was all slipping from his grasp. He felt that power shift back to his father. How could he have been so fuckin’ stupid? He didn’t want any part of this. A permanent reminder of what had been done to him. Living, breathing proof.
She could fix this if she wanted to. They could go their separate ways, be done with the whole fuckin’ charade once and for all. But she wouldn’t.
And Mickey hated her for it.
Chapter 5: Yevgeny
Mickey and Svetlana had never gotten along, understandably so. But the further along she got into her pregnancy, the more Ian wanted to rip his fuckin’ hair out.
They were at each other’s throats constantly. Mostly about money, and how they were going to afford this baby. Mickey didn’t really give a fuck, considering he didn’t even want it. Svetlana would, of course, remind him of their agreement to make this situation work, lest she run to Terry and let him know that his son was still very much gay for one Ian Gallagher. As it was, Terry was still in lock up, Mickey’s brothers were out of town on a drug run, and Mandy was probably off somewhere with that loser Kenyatta, so the three of them were gathered at the Milkovich house having another one of their routine fights.
“I don’t know where you think I can just pull money out of!” Mickey exclaimed during their latest argument on the matter. “I can’t just shit money.”
“I don’t care where you find it,” Svetlana shrugged. “But you do your part. Baby needs lots of things, things cost money.”
“I guess your handy j’s aren’t doing their part to cut costs,” he muttered.
“Fuck you, at least I make money,” she hissed. “Must be harder for you now that Daddy doesn’t want to cut you into as much of his business.”
That struck a nerve, if the look in Mickey’s eyes was any indication. “Fuck you, I don’t even want this fuckin’ kid! You’re lucky if I give you anything!”
“You don’t have a choice, pizdets!”
“How ‘bout you go fuck some more johns, or do some prego porn or some shit?” Mickey yelled. “That’s about all you’re good for anyway.”
“Mick!” Ian admonished him.
He shrugged. “What? There’s gotta be a fetish market for that or some shit.”
Svetlana snatched up a nearby ashtray and threw it at him, cigarette butts and ashes flying everywhere. He managed to duck and avoid getting hit by it as it flew past and shattered behind him. She let out a string of curses in Russian and stormed off to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
“Do you really need to antagonize her, Mick?” Ian scolded.
“You on her fuckin’ side now?”
“What? We’re supposed to all be on the same side here.”
“Fuck you too, Gallagher.”
Mickey stormed into the bathroom and locked himself in there. Ian could have gone after him, the lock on the bathroom door was useless and he could have easily popped it open and made Mickey talk to him. But honestly, he was glad for the reprieve. He sighed, running his hands through his hair. Between Mickey and Svetlana, they were both stressing him the fuck out.
He understood Mickey’s frustrations, but at this point it was what it was, and he just wished that Mickey would stop fighting her every step of the way. It just didn’t do any good for anyone involved. Being pregnant, Svetlana certainly didn’t need the stress. And she was quite pregnant at this point, so she could pop at any moment. Ian didn’t think that would help matters.
Mandy came home and found Ian on the couch stewing. “Those two at it again?”
Ian sighed. “Of course.”
“What about this time?” she asked.
Mandy nodded. She had certainly bore witness to enough of these fights to sympathize. She went to the kitchen and grabbed two beers, one for each of them. She offered Ian one as she dropped down next to him on the couch.
“Maybe we can throw her a baby shower,” Ian considered out loud, twisting the cap off and taking a large gulp.
“A baby shower?”
“Yeah.” The gears in Ian’s mind were turning now that he’d said the idea out loud. “She can do a registry, we can invite some people, maybe it would help with costs if we could get people to bring gifts.”
Mandy was skeptical. “I mean, who do we even invite?”
“There were people at the wedding, right?” Ian scowled for a moment, the wedding still a sore subject for him. “We can invite them. Maybe see if we can do it at The Alibi.”
She wasn’t quite convinced, but they needed all the help they could get at this point. And maybe at least it would shut them all the fuck up for a little bit and she could get a bit more peace in the damn house. “We can give it a try.”
“I don’t think I should be involved though,” Ian said. “She still kind of hates me. But maybe you can host it.”
“I guess I could.” Mandy agreed.
Ian nodded. He knew it wasn’t a perfect solution, he knew it wouldn’t solve all their problems, but he figured it was a start.
Ian finished stringing up some streamers in the back corner of The Alibi. Kev and Vee had agreed to let them use some space at the bar, knowing the crowd Ian and Mickey ran with would have no trouble spending some money on drinks. He’d even recruited his family to help out. Fiona had managed to get him party favors, Debbie had helped make food, Lip and Carl had even helped him go through some of their and Liam’s old stuff to see if any of it was salvageable. None of them really understood why this was so important to Ian, but he asked for their help and that’s just what they all did when one of them needed to rally the troops.
People were starting to arrive and Ian did one more pass over everything before handing over the reins to Mandy. “I’m going to sneak off before Svetlana gets here.”
“You sure?” She asked.
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “She’s not my biggest fan. I don’t want to upset her, I just want her to enjoy this day.”
“But why? ” Mandy persisted. “She doesn’t give a fuck about you, why do you give a fuck about her?”
“Because…” Ian trailed off for a moment, nervous to tell her the truth about his motivations. “Because that baby? It’s a part of Mickey. He might not care about that now, maybe he never will. But I do .”
“You really do love him.” It was a moment of realization for Mandy. She always thought that Mickey was kind of a prick, and couldn’t really imagine anyone loving him like that, guy or girl. But here was her best friend, dopey eyed and fuzzy hearted over her shithead brother. She had obviously figured out that the guy Ian had been mooning over for all that time was Mickey, but she still didn’t get why. Maybe she never would.
Ian didn’t agree or disagree with her statement. “I should go.” He dropped a kiss on her head and left before she could say anything further.
He snuck out the back way, and good thing he’d thought to do so, because not two minutes later, Svetlana came through the front door. She looked around at the gifts, at the guests, and she was touched. Mandy had always been civil to her, even nice sometimes, but they weren’t close by any means. She hadn’t known what to expect when Mandy had offered to host a baby shower for her, and maybe this wasn’t some fancy one like you would see in a magazine or on TV, but the fact that anyone put in any effort for her was a pleasant surprise.
The afternoon was nice, and more traditional than Svetlana would have expected. Sure, there was a lot of drinking, but there were also baby shower games, complete with little prizes. There was a special chair for her to sit in. There was a nice amount of gifts to open, even if some of them were hand-me-downs. She found herself really happy by the end of it all. There were still things they would need to get, but the shower got them off to a better start than she had ever hoped for. As the guests eventually trickled out, Mandy helped her to get the gifts packed back up as best they could. Kev even offered to take them home with his truck so they could fit everything.
Svetlana made a point to take Mandy aside, to show her appreciation. “Thank you for everything. This was a really nice afternoon.”
“Don’t thank me,” Mandy told her. “This entire thing was Ian’s doing.”
“Ian?” Svetlana was stunned.
Mandy nodded. “Yup. Down to the last detail. He just asked me to stand in as host. He knew you wouldn’t want him here.”
Svetlana didn’t know what to say. She had been wary of Ian ever since their confrontation that day at the house all those months ago, wary of his thinly veiled threats towards her. But maybe she had misjudged him. He never really did get involved when she and Mickey fought, and when he did it was mostly to either rebuff Mickey’s comments or try to calm him down. Not actually to instigate anything with her. She had a lot to think about.
It was days before she saw Ian again. When she did, she smiled.
“Mandy told me what you did. Thank you.”
Ian smiled back, a bit hesitant but still hopeful. Maybe they really could turn over a new leaf. “You’re welcome.”
Svetlana laid on the bed, eyes closed and moaning quietly to herself. She knew that labor and birth were supposed to be painful, but had no idea what she was in for. Her brain wasn’t ready to have this baby yet, even if her body was. She tried to focus on her breathing, but it was becoming more difficult as her labor progressed, each contraction pulling her focus away and back onto the pain.
A really strong one hit her at once. Her eyes popped open and she sat up, gripping at the protective rails on either side of the bed and huffing quickly through her nose. Ian was at her side instantly. She felt rather than saw his hand cover her own.
“Breathe.” His voice was calm, reassuring. “Focus on your breathing. Like me, okay? Inhale.”
She concentrated on matching her own breathing to his, feeling a bit more calm as she regained her composure. Slowly the contraction passed, and she heard Ian mumble something about them coming closer together. Her eyes closed again and she felt a cool cloth on her forehead.
“You’re doing great, Lana,” Ian told her. “Your contractions aren’t far apart at all anymore. I bet it’ll be time soon and then you’ll be done, the baby will be here and you’ll feel much better.”
“Baby’s father should be here.” Svetlana had been trying for some time to convince Mickey to be in the room, but it had not been going well.
“Hey, at least we got him to come to the hospital,” Ian reminded her. “He’s trying, Lana. It’s hard for him.”
She knew that. Understood it, even. But deep down, she had always hoped that if she were going to have kids, that they would have a good father. An involved father. One who wanted them, loved them, treated them right. She wasn’t really sure what she was going to get with Mickey. He had freaked out when she told him she was pregnant, and had not taken the news well at all. She had hoped that over the course of the pregnancy he would come around, but he had somehow managed to pull away from her even more than he already had been. Would have probably disappeared altogether if it weren’t for Ian.
Svetlana looked at Ian. He was an anomaly, that one. Surprising her at nearly every turn. He had been the one to bring her baby clothes from his little brother, to check in with her after her doctor’s appointments, had bought and read the books that let them know what they were getting into. Who threw a baby shower in her honor. He was the one there now, wiping her forehead, adjusting the pillows behind her, rubbing her back. Another contraction hit, Svetlana’s body going rigid, Ian working his magic to keep her calm. She almost wished he was the father, wished that she could live in the fantasy of having a real husband. Svetlana wasn’t usually one to dwell on things, she was far too pragmatic to live in her imagination, but every once in a while she just couldn’t help it. She was tired, dripping sweat, frustrated that her baby was taking forever to arrive.
“I cannot do this much longer,” she spat out, flopping back onto the bed in exhaustion.
“You’re doing great,” Ian soothed.
“Where is doctor? I want to know how much more!” Her voice trembled, Svetlana trying to hold onto the last bit of resolve before the dam broke and she started crying.
“I’ll ask the nurse to call him down. I’ll be right back.”
“Check on piece of shit husband while you are out there.”
“I know, I know. I couldn’t help myself.” She waved him off and he left without further discussion.
After Ian had stopped at the nurses’ station and had them page the doctor, he wandered over to the waiting room to see how Mickey was doing. He stopped a distance away, close enough to see Mickey, but far enough that Ian wasn’t yet on his radar. He was leaning forward in his chair, elbows on his knees, a few crumpled candy bar wrappers on the table in front of him. His hair was disheveled, in part from Svetlana waking them in the middle of the night when her water broke and in part from messing with it while he’d been sitting out there. He looked tired, stressed and scared out of his mind.
Ian’s heart hurt for him. He knew that Mickey had been trying, really trying, since the three of them came to their tentative truce. But it hadn’t been easy for him. They didn’t talk much about that day, keeping it very vague in the rare instances where it came up, but Ian knew that Mickey had struggled, and was still struggling. It was a testament to how good he actually was deep down that he tried at all. Ian crossed the hall and sat down beside him.
“Hey. How’re things going in there?”
“Moving slowly. She’s in a lot of pain and getting frustrated. They’re gonna call down the doc to see how far along she is.” Mickey nodded along and Ian continued. “She’s been asking about you.”
“I know, Mick.” And he did. Ian really and truly knew that this situation must be nearly unbearable for Mickey, and that killed him. “I’m not trying to push you, I’m here either way, whatever you wanna do. I’m just telling you.”
He looked around for a moment, assuring that they were alone, and he reached over and gave Mickey’s knee a gentle squeeze. Hoping that he could ground him, that Mickey knew Ian supported him. Mickey’s hand slid over his own for a moment, his thumb lightly tracing on Ian’s knuckles before he withdrew it back into his own lap.
“You should get back to her before she goes on a warpath.”
Ian nodded and stood up. “I’ll keep you posted.”
He made his way back to the room and got there at the same time as the doctor.
“Hello again, Mrs. Milkovich, let’s check and see how far dilated you are. Spread your feet please.” The doctor positioned himself at the foot of the bed to examine her and addressed Ian. “Are you Mr. Milkovich?”
Svetlana snorted at that. “Close enough.”
The doctor glanced between her and Ian for a moment, eyebrows raised, but chose not to ask for any clarification. “Well the good news is that you’re fully dilated and ready to have this baby.”
“What is bad news?”
“It’s too late for an epidural, so let’s hope that things progress quickly from here out.” He waved Ian over. “Okay dad, you’re moral support. Get up there by her head, hold her hand and do anything she says."
They didn’t bother to correct him. Secretly, Ian didn’t think there was anything to correct. Sure, he had initially been freaked out when he found out that Svetlana was pregnant. But he came around pretty quickly. He already loved this baby, and he loved this strange little unconventional family they were forming. Ian took his place, doing as the doctor had told him. While Svetlana gripped his hand like a vice, he stayed calm, speaking quiet platitudes to her. He wiped the sweat from her brow, encouraged her as she beared down, assured her when she swore that she just could not do it anymore.
“Svetlana, you can. You’re so strong.”
“Fuck that, you tough old broad. Yes the fuck you can.”
Ian and Svetlana’s heads whipped up at the sound of Mickey’s voice. He may have sounded sure of himself but he looked more than a little timid standing at the door to the hospital room. He hadn’t entered yet, keeping his distance.
Svetlana let out a tiny laugh. “Fuck you, piece of shit husband.” The laugh quickly turned into a sob and she started crying, a sight neither boy had ever imagined they would see.
Mickey tentatively took a step or two towards her. “Svet…”
She reached for him and for once he didn’t hesitate. He crossed the room and took her free hand. The crying turned into a righteous yell as she bore down into a push.
“You must be Mr. Milkovich,” the doctor greeted him. “Impeccable timing, another few pushes and your son should be joining us.”
My son. My son. My son.
As predicted, it wasn’t but a minute or two before the room was filled with crying baby sounds. The doctor held him up briefly for them to look over before laying him on Svetlana’s chest while the nurse came over and covered him to keep him warm.
“Daddy, come here and cut the umbilical cord,” she instructed.
It took Mickey a moment to realize the nurse was referring to him. I’m someone’s father. Jesus Christ. She offered him some scissors and instructed him on what to do.
He looked down skeptically. “It doesn’t… hurt does it?”
“Oh no,” she reassured. “No one feels a thing.”
Mickey cut the cord and then everything turned into even more of a whirlwind. The baby was taken over to a station inside the room, numbers and stats were being announced. It was all a blur and then the nurse was back, this time with a small bundle wrapped in a blanket.
“Ready to hold your son?”
Oh fuck, oh fuck. Mickey froze, looking to Ian for help, but Ian only looked back at him. He wasn’t about to tell Mickey what to do here, one way or another. He glanced next at Svetlana, who was looking at him with a softness he didn’t know she had in her.
“You don’t have to,” she told him. She meant it, too. He could tell. Mickey looked back at the nurse, her smile wavering. She didn’t know the dynamics of the situation, didn’t know why a father might hesitate to hold his newborn child.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Mickey told her lamely, hoping that she would assume his naivety was to blame and not something else.
“Here.” The nurse nodded to an empty chair. “Sit down and I’ll show you.” Mickey did as he was told and sat down. Before he knew it, the nurse was placing the baby in his arms.
“Support his head, he has no neck strength yet.” She instructed.
He sat there stiffly, looking at the baby. He was wrapped tightly, only his face showing. Mickey didn’t really know what to make of him.
“What’s his name?” The nurse asked.
They had never discussed it. One of the most basic, natural discussions for two parents to have, and Mickey and Svetlana had never discussed it. He was starting to feel almost embarrassed at the circumstances.
“I would like to call him Yevgeny,” Svetlana chimed in. Mickey looked up at her, confused. She explained, “It is my father’s name.”
“You wanna name the baby after him ?” Mickey couldn’t believe that. “After what he did to you?”
“He has good qualities too!” Svetlana was immediately defensive.
“Ooooooooookay.” Mickey replied sarcastically.
The nurse looked between them and Ian interjected before it could get more graphic. “I’m sure you guys can discuss it.”
“No discuss. His name is Yevgeny.”
“I’ll leave you all to figure it out, we can fill out the paperwork later.” The nurse made a hasty exit.
Once she was gone, Mickey turned back to Svetlana, ready to argue. “You want to name him after the man who sold you to a pimp ?! Are you fuckin’ serious right now?”
“Like your father is any better.”
“I”m not trying to name a kid after that scumbag!”
“Guys, guys!” Ian interjected. “Fighting about this isn’t going to help matters.”
“There is no fight, baby is Yevgeny.” Svetlana’s voice was firm. She was clearly not entertaining other options.
“Fuckin’ hell.” Mickey got up and offered the baby to Svetlana. “Name him whatever the fuck you want, see if I give a shit.” Once he had passed off the baby, he stormed out of the room.
“You couldn’t just try to talk with him about it?” Ian huffed.
Svetlana ignored him and nuzzled the baby. Her baby. Her Yevgeny.
“Okay then. I’m going to go talk to him, give you guys some time alone.”
As Ian expected, he found Mickey back in the waiting room. But this time, he was pacing back and forth rather than sitting down.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“It’s still her dad, Mick.”
“He’s a fuckin’ asshole!”
“I know he is. But you’ve done plenty of shit in the name of your asshole dad too. So have I.”
Well, Ian had him there, didn’t he? They were all guilty of trying to believe that their dads were better people, of giving them chances, of trying to gain favor or rewrite history. Mickey slowed down and eventually stopped.
“Okay, I get it.” Mickey admitted. “But aren’t we all trying to, I dunno, not do that shit anymore?”
“Are we?” Ian asked. “Because as it stands, you and Svetlana are still in this sham marriage to appease your dad.”
“Hey, fuck you-” Mickey started to defend himself but Ian held his hands up in resignation.
“Stop, Mick, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, I’m trying to make a point.” He sighed. It had been a long, emotional night. “Look, I don’t get it either, okay? But it’s clearly important to her. Is this the hill you wanna die on?”
“Fuckin’ hell.” Mickey pinched the bridge of his nose.
Before he had a chance to change his mind, he stormed back to the room, Ian hot on his trail. He walked in and Svetlana looked at him, her eyes defiant and ready for a fight.
“I want his middle name to be Lawrence,” Mickey said.
“Lawrence.” Svetlana tested it out.
“My mother’s name was Laura. If you want to name the baby after your dad, we can at least honor my mother too.”
She nodded. “Okay. Lawrence.”
Maybe they could figure out this compromise shit after all.
Chapter 6: The Incident
Mickey woke up to an empty bed.
It was becoming an all too frequent occurrence. Lately, Ian had taken to waking up even earlier than normal. It didn’t matter how early or late he went to bed the night before, whether or not he set an alarm for it. He would go for long runs, sometimes not even returning until everyone else was awake and moving. He was constantly buzzing around, a seemingly endless supply of energy fueling him along. Ian had always been motivated and in shape, but this was a recent and strange development.
Mickey stretched and made himself get out of bed. It was his day off, but he knew that there was always shit to do, so he figured he might as well get to it. They were still living in the Milkovich house, but Terry was long gone by then. He’d finally been pinned down under all of the shit he’d done over the years and was serving a life sentence in prison, and it didn’t seem likely that he’d ever get out. Ian had been living there ever since Terry had gone away, but they were all slowly making moves and plans for the next phase. Between all of them and the rest of the Milkovich siblings being in and out in a constant rotation, they were looking forward to a space of their own.
He pulled on a pair of boxers and made his way out into the kitchen. There he found Svetlana and Yevgeny, the former at the sink washing a pan and the latter at the table eating the last bits of some scrambled eggs before he would be shuffled off to kindergarten.
Mickey greeted his son. “Mornin’ kiddo.” He ruffled his son’s hair affectionately, stooping down to drop a kiss on top of his head.
Svetlana motioned to a plate on the stove that had another pile of eggs and some bacon on it. Mickey grabbed the plate and joined Yev at the table.
“Running like the wind, probably.” Svetlana scowled. “He was up even earlier this morning. Hasn’t been back yet.”
She gave him a look. Mickey knew there was a lot more she wanted to say - this topic was a circular conversation they had been having for a little while now. She glanced over at Yev to see how far along he was with his breakfast. Once she realized his plate was now empty, she took it away from him.
“Zhenya, go get dressed,” she told him.
Yev was a thankfully obedient child, and he did so without any fight. Once he was out of earshot, she turned her attention back to Mickey.
“Misha, I’m worried.”
He was too, but he wasn’t ready to admit that to her, or anyone for that matter. “Lana, the kid likes to keep in shape, it’s not that serious.”
“Misha.” Her eyes were full of concern. “You know it’s not just the exercise.”
He looked down at his plate, shoving a piece of bacon in his mouth to avoid having to answer her. Yes, he knew that something was not quite right. But he couldn’t put his finger on it. Mickey thought about everything that wasn’t adding up, trying to see if he could make sense of any of it.
There was the boundless energy. The constant running and exercising, more than before. Ian barely slept, but did not seem to be particularly tired, let alone as exhausted as he should be. He wanted sex from Mickey all the time, every day, as many times a day as Mickey would do it. That one sounded a lot more fun in theory than it was in practice. He hated saying no to Ian, but there had been a few times where it had been too much for him and he’d had to.
Ian had been through a litany of new hobbies and interests, picking up a new one just as fast as he discarded an old one. Wanting to create a video game, to take guitar lessons, to get a motorcycle license, to get involved in animal rescue. None of these were things that warranted concern in and of themselves, it was more the barrage of all of them, in and out, on and off, a constant stream of things.
“Hey.” Svetlana interrupted his train of thought and sat down at the table with him. “Look at me.” Mickey forced himself to look up and she reached for his hand, giving it a squeeze. “Why don’t you call one of his siblings?”
He was immediately defensive, recoiling from her touch. “The fuck would I do that for?”
“Just to ask them about this,” she reassured. “Maybe it’s a phase and he’s done this before, and you just don’t know about it.”
He relented, not fully, but enough. “I’ll think about it.”
Svetlana knew that was as good as him saying he would do it. “You have to, this has to stop. I can’t take it anymore, his in and out at all hours has been keeping me up. Now I barely sleep too. If he starts to disturb Yevgeny, I will not tolerate it.” She stood up, content that Mickey got her drift. “I would kill him in his sleep for some peace, but he never sleeps anymore.”
She left Mickey alone at the table while she went to check if Yev was ready to leave. He sighed, knowing what he needed to do but dreading it. He went into his bedroom and grabbed his phone, giving it a look of disgust before going through his contacts and dialing the number he was looking for.
“Hey, it’s Mickey.”
“I know…” Lip sounded very confused. “Did you call me on purpose? This isn’t a butt dial?”
“Yes, asshole, I called you on purpose.”
“This is a first. What’s up?”
“I uh,” Mickey scratched absentmindedly at his lip with his thumb. “Needed to talk to you. About Ian.”
“Oh sure, everything alright?”
“Maybe? I think so?” He sighed. “I don’t fuckin’ know man.”
“Well what’s going on?” Lip asked.
Mickey considered how to try to explain it. “I dunno. He’s not really himself lately.”
“He’s out runnin’ and exercising 24/7, he keeps tryin’ to get into different hobbies and shit but isn’t stickin’ with any of them.” Mickey was embarrassed to admit the next part, but he figured he’d come this far. “He’s all over me constantly, like he can’t get enough. Ever.”
Lip snorted at that. “You complaining about getting dicked down all the time?”
“Fuck off.” He shouldn’t have even admitted that. “It’s not like that, it’s a lot, man. Seriously.”
Lip hummed while he mulled over what he’d been told. “I mean, could it be that he’s just restless or bored?”
“What do you mean?”
“For years and years, Ian had this dream of joining the army and being an officer, right? He had his ROTC, he trained, he was really trying to study for a while to get his grades up so he could qualify for West Point. He had that goal for a long time and he was working towards it for ages.”
“Okay…” Mickey wasn’t really sure where he was going with this.
“But it didn’t work out for him, so now he’s had to take a new direction. I mean, sure he’s working, but it’s a dead-end retail job he doesn’t give two shits about. He’s started college but he’s behind where most people his age would be at this point, he’s only taken prereqs so far and hasn’t even settled on a major or seemed to figure out what he wants to do next. Maybe he’s just trying to dabble with different things, see what sticks.”
“I guess…” Mickey knew that wasn’t it, but he didn’t know how to present the information to Lip to get him to see it too. “Doesn’t explain all the sex though.”
“Dude,” he laughed. “He’s a twenty-something-year-old guy. Maybe he just likes getting laid.”
That wasn’t right, it just wasn’t, but Mickey couldn’t fight about it. “Yeah, okay.”
“Listen, if anything else comes up that seems weird to you, just let me know yeah?”
Lip hung up without bothering to say goodbye and Mickey tossed the phone onto his bed. He left his room for the second time that morning, but now it was quiet. There were no signs of Svetlana or Yevgeny, and a quick glance at the clock on the microwave told him they must have left while he was on the phone to get Yev to school on time. He sat back down at the kitchen table, picking up his fork and poking at the eggs he’d barely touched. He gave up and tossed the fork back down, too uneasy to eat.
Not long after that, Ian finally came home, bursting through the door. As soon as he saw Mickey, he started talking a mile a minute.
“Hey! Man, it’s beautiful out today, had a great run!” He passed behind Mickey, bending over and dropping a kiss on his shoulder as he moved towards the kitchen. He rummaged through the cabinets while he talked. “I saw Raul, the guy who always carries the shivs? Did you know that he’s in a band? He plays something called ‘la marimba,’ he said he could teach me.” Ian grabbed a box of cereal out of the cabinet and opened it, taking a handful and not bothering with a bowl or milk. He shoved it in his mouth and talked around the food. “He knows a guy that can get me one. They’re kind of big, but I figure if we move things around a little we can fit it in here. Where is the tape measure?”
He started rummaging through drawers, looking for the elusive tape measure he swore was stowed away in there. Mickey could feel his fear starting to grow. No, this definitely wasn’t right.
Mickey’s words fell on deaf ears as Ian kept looking and talking, soon getting distracted by another tangent he had gone on. Before Mickey had another chance to try to focus him, Ian looked up at the time.
“Shit! I have a shift in an hour, I better get in the shower.”
“Hey!” Mickey grabbed his wrist as he moved past, stopping him in his tracks. “What’s going on with you, Gallagher?”
Ian stopped and pulled his wrist out of Mickey’s grasp, rubbing it. “Nothing, I’m fine, just running late.”
“No,” he argued. “You’re acting weird, man.”
“I think you need to get some more sleep,” Ian teased. “I’m great! Now, I have to go shower for work. I can’t be late.”
Ian tugged at his arms, pulling him to his feet and kissing him aggressively, all tongue and teeth. He palmed at the front of Mickey’s boxers for a moment before pulling himself away. “We’ll finish this up later.”
Before Mickey could argue, Ian released him and beelined for the bathroom. He sunk back down into his chair slowly.
Something really wasn’t right.
A few uneventful weeks later, Mickey had almost forgotten about the weirdness that had happened the day he talked to Lip. He was lulled into a sense of security by the fact that nothing too noteworthy had gone down since.
Mickey took one last drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt into the street before he entered the schoolyard. There were a handful of kids and teachers still milling about, waiting for the late straggler parents to come and collect their children, but Mickey didn’t see Yev anywhere. He did, however, spot Yev’s teacher Ms. Dahill across the yard, and he made a beeline towards her. She saw him heading her way and she looked surprised.
“Mr. Milkovich, what are you doing here?”
“Mickey.” He corrected her. He hated that Mr. Milkovich shit, save that for his dad. “I’m here to pick up Yev.”
She furrowed her brow. “Did you guys mix up your days? His stepfather picked him up already.”
Now Mickey was the one who was confused. “What, you mean Ian got him?”
“Yeah, about 20 minutes ago.”
That made no sense, Ian was at work. Supposed to be, anyway. “Okay, thanks.”
Mickey drew his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Ian’s number, but it went right to voicemail. “Hey it’s me, I just got to the school and Dahill said you picked Yev up already. I thought you had a shift right now? Call me back, bye.”
He scrolled through his contacts and dialed Svetlana next. “Hey, I just went to pick up Yev and they said Ian got him already. You guys forget to tell me there was a change?”
“No, no change. Ian’s at work today.”
“That’s what I thought too but the teacher said he picked Yev up 20 minutes ago.”
“You call him?”
“Yeah, got his voicemail, left him a message.”
“Misha, this is no good.” Her voice was filled with worry. “He has not been himself. What if something is wrong?”
“Lana, I’m sure they’re fine.”
“He has been acting like crazy person!” She argued. “You don’t know that they are fine!”
“Ian would never hurt him, you know that!”
“You find Yevgeny.”
“FIND HIM. FIND MY YEVGENY.”
The phone call ended and Mickey was left feeling uneasy. It had been a few weeks since he had talked to Lip, and he had naively thought that maybe it had all been a fluke. Ian had still been acting a bit weird, but no worse than he had been leading up to that point. Now, Mickey was starting to believe that maybe they hadn’t been concerned enough. He had a pit in his stomach. They needed to find Ian.
He tried Ian’s cell phone a second time and got the voicemail again. “Ian, why is your fuckin’ phone off? Call me back.” He followed that up with a text. He looked around, unsure of his next move. Then it occurred to him - why not call Ian’s job? That would clear some of this up at least.
The phone rang a few times and he heard a familiar voice come over the line, but not the one he’d hoped for. “This is Tanner.”
“Hey, I’m looking for Ian Gallagher.”
“It’s Mickey, man.”
“Oh yeah, hey. If you find him, tell him we’re looking for him too.”
“He hasn’t been to work in three days, Santangelo’s about to put his head on a stake.”
Oh SHIT. “Three days?! He’s been going to work every day.”
“Dunno where he’s been going, but it hasn’t been here.”
Mickey dragged a hand down his face. “Fuckin’ hell.”
“Hey, hope you find him and he’s alright. Even before the disappearing act he’s been acting weird. Keep us posted, yeah?”
The line went dead and Mickey put the phone back in his pocket. The panic was starting to bubble up in his stomach. He had known for some time that things with Ian weren’t right. He wasn’t himself. But Mickey hadn’t been too worried. Sometimes people are just fuckin’ weird. But not showing up for work? Picking up Yevgeny and being in the wind? He tried to tell himself that there had to be a reasonable explanation for it all, but he drew a blank. With a sigh, he pulled his phone out one more time and made another call.
Lip’s voice came over the line. “Hello?”
“You talked to your brother today?”
“You gotta be more specific, I have three of them.” There was a pause. “Maybe even more. I mean, who really knows what Frank gets up to when no one’s looking.”
“Jesus, LIP. You know who I mean, this is serious.”
His tone changed instantly. “No, I haven’t talked to him.”
“Remember when you told me a few weeks ago to call you if there was any other shit I thought I should tell you about? Well here we are.”
“Okay,” Lip said, his voice calm and steady. “What’s going on?”
“I came to pick Yev up from school and the teacher said Ian had already scooped him up, but he’s supposed to be at work. I called them and he hasn’t shown up in three days. He’s not answering his fucking phone.”
There was a whoosh of air over the line. “Shit, this isn’t good. Can you get over to my house? We need to have a family meeting.”
“You know what the fuck is goin’ on here?”
“Not for sure, but I have a bad feeling. Meet me there, I’m on my way. Bring Svetlana too, she should know.”
“I’ll explain more when I see you.”
From the minute Mickey and Svetlana met up, they had argued nonstop, and they didn’t quit when they got to the Gallagher house. He stormed through the gate, eager to find out what the hell Lip had been so evasive about on the phone, and made his way to the front door.
“We should call police!” Svetlana exclaimed, in hot pursuit chasing him up the stairs.
“What did I say?!” Mickey shouted back as he pushed open the door, not bothering to knock. “No fuckin’ cops!”
“My son is missing! They can put out alert to people to keep eye out for him!”
“And then what happens if Ian gets arrested?” Mickey yanked his coat off in a huff, throwing it on the back of the couch. “Lana, he wouldn’t hurt Yev. He won’t. There has to be an explanation for this.”
“Explanation is Carrot Boy is coo-coo-kachoo!” Svetlana stepped up and got right in Mickey’s face. He was trying to keep his cool, but between the stress of Ian and Yev’s disappearance and having her invade his space, he wasn’t doing a great job.
“You need to back the fuck up,” he seethed.
By then, Fiona had already stepped in to separate them. “Hey. Hey. You two bein’ at each other’s throats won’t fuckin’ help anything. Come on, let’s talk in the kitchen.”
Svetlana and Mickey glared at each other for a long moment before they finally followed Fiona into the other room where the rest of the Gallagher kids were waiting for them. Minus Ian, of course. They were all settled around the table but neither Mickey or Svetlana could relax enough to sit. Svetlana lingered by the doorway while Mickey paced back and forth.
“Okay, so what did you want us to all come over here and powwow for?” Mickey asked, looking at Lip. “You said you had an idea what might be up with Ian, care to share?”
Lip and Fiona exchanged a look, and he motioned to her to speak, knowing what was about to come would be received better from his sister. “Our mother has bipolar disorder.”
“What does your mom have to do with Ian?”
“We’re starting to think that he does too.”
“Okay…” Mickey digested that information, unsure about what to do with it. “Fuck is that?”
“It’s high-highs followed by low-lows, over and over.” Fiona explained.
“Like that manic depression shit?” Mickey asked.
Lip nodded. “That’s exactly what it is, they just call it bipolar now. When someone is manic, it’s like they are on cloud nine. Super amped, they almost seem to have unlimited energy. They can do it all, and do it at lightning speed.”
“But when they’re low…” Fiona paused and sighed. “When they’re low, it can get really bad.”
Mickey looked at all of their faces. The fear, the weary looks in their eyes. He was starting to get very concerned. “How bad?” Lip and Fiona glanced at each other again, not answering right away. “ How bad? ”
“Our mom tried to kill herself,” Debbie chimed in, everyone looking at her when she spoke. “At Thanksgiving. Slit her wrists right there on the kitchen floor.”
“Jesus,” Mickey muttered. He had a vague memory of that.
Monica was not someone they discussed much, and rarely in-depth. It happened during his second stint in juvie. Ian had eventually told Mickey about it after he’d gotten out and they had been reunited, but had very much glossed over it at the time, downplaying his feelings about the situation, about his mother. Mickey had let him, though he did know that Monica had the power to hurt Ian more than most people did. He remembered another time, really early on in their relationship, when Ian had turned to him for comfort after a run-in with her. Despite how much Mickey held back in those early days, he had known Ian needed him, and he had gone to him. He felt a twinge of old guilt for not being there for Ian that second time.
“That doesn’t mean Ian would do that!” Fiona reassured him. She must have seen the look on his face and knew where his brain was going. “But when someone is that low, there is really no telling.”
“He spends the most time with you guys.” Lip addressed Mickey and Svetlana. “You had to have noticed that he hasn’t been himself.”
“I mean, yeah,” Mickey agreed. “You know I did. I even called you about it, but you didn’t seem to think it was this fuckin’ serious when we talked.”
“I tell Misha that he has been cuckoo bird,” Svetlana hissed. “And now he disappears with my son. We need to call police!”
“Ian won’t hurt him, for fuck’s sake!” Mickey yelled.
“Not on purpose.” Carl said. They all looked at him and he continued. “Ian loves Yev, so I know he would never intend to. But sometimes they get distracted, or something seems like a better idea than it actually is. Remember Monica and the car?”
Neither Mickey nor Svetlana had any idea what that was a reference to, but the looks the Gallagher siblings exchanged were enough to set Svetlana off again.
“Even they know this could be bad!” She yelled in Mickey’s face. “We need to call police!”
“I know you are freaking the fuck out,” Lip told her. “I get it. But Ian on his worst day is a hell of a lot better than Monica on her best day. Look, please, give us a chance to try to find him first. A few hours at least. We’ll split up and hit some of the places we think he could have gone. If we can’t track him down, then we will do it your way.”
Svetlana looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost 5pm. “You have until 8. That is Yevgeny’s bedtime. If my son is not back with me before then, I am calling the police. And you. ” She looked over at Mickey and sneered. “You don’t come home until Yevgeny is safe.”
She didn’t bother to stay or to say goodbye. Svetlana turned around and went back out the front door. The Gallaghers were all busy getting their coats and shoes on so they could get out there and start looking for their brother.
“Okay guys, let’s pair off,” Fiona instructed, taking charge as she always did. “Liam, you’re with me. Lip, how about you take Carl? Debbie can go with Mickey. I can hit Patsy’s and the Kash and Grab area. Lip? How about you?”
“Carl and I can go over by Boystown.”
“Perfect. Mickey? How about you?”
Mickey had to think for a second. “I can hit the high school and the baseball field. There’s also a couple of other places we used to hang out at that are on the way.”
“Great idea!” Fiona was using her best mom voice to encourage them. “Everyone stay in touch, let us know if you get any leads or if you hear from him. Let’s keep trying to call him every so often, hopefully his phone will be back on soon enough.”
Everyone nodded and mumbled their agreement as they shuffled out the door together, splitting off into their separate directions once they were out in the street. Mickey and Debbie headed towards the high school, her hot stepping along to try to keep up with Mickey, who was moving about as fast as he could without breaking into a run. They didn’t talk, too focused on the task at hand. As they approached a set of abandoned buildings, Mickey diverted off course.
“Where are you going?” She asked, still trying to keep up with him.
“We used to come here sometimes.” He entered the first building, taking the stairs two at a time all the way up to the roof. When they got out there, Debbie saw a makeshift obstacle course. They walked the roof, checking under and behind everything they could, but there was no sign of Ian or Yevgeny. As they made their way back down, Mickey gave a perfunctory glance around the floors, but he seemed pretty sure that if Ian wasn’t on that roof, he wasn’t there at all.
They weren’t at the next two buildings either, and they weren’t anywhere to be found outside them. Next they made their way down to the high school, their original destination. The building itself was closed for the evening, and there was no one lingering outside at all. Mickey felt dejected, and he was starting to lose that energy they had started off with. His pace slowed, dread starting to sink in, as well as doubt. What if Svetlana was right? What if something was really wrong? He really could not imagine Ian doing anything that would harm Yevgeny. Hell, Mickey was pretty sure that Ian loved the kid more than he did. But it was not like Ian to just disappear like that.
He glanced over at Debbie. “Hey, lemme ask you a question.”
“Sure, what’s up?” She asked.
“What was the car thing Carl mentioned earlier?”
Debbie sighed. “Monica came home to stay one time. She seemed better at first, and she was really trying. Taking care of stuff in the house, getting us up and off to school, all the stuff a mom should do, y’know? But then things started to fall apart.”
“What do you mean?” Mickey asked.
“She stole all of the money from our squirrel fund,” Debbie explained. “She took me shopping, bought me all these dolls. Was acting really weird. She took Carl out, said she was going to take him to get some clothes. She let him drive and he got into an accident. Had a concussion and everything. We weren’t even in junior high when this happened.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Lip was furious. Fiona didn’t even notice how bad things were getting. She wanted so badly to believe that Monica was really doing better. We all did. So we just ignored things that we shouldn’t have ignored.”
“And you think that Ian’s got what she’s got?”
“Maybe? I don’t know. But something is definitely going on with him. I think we all can agree with that, right?” Debbie reached over and grabbed Mickey’s wrist to stop him. “Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Mickey felt like a fuckin’ asshole. He had known that Ian was being weird, and he had admittedly been concerned about it, but how could he have not realized how serious it was? If this situation didn’t have a good outcome… well, he couldn’t even think about that. But he knew that if things turned out shitty, he might never fuckin’ forgive himself for it.
Their last stop was the baseball field. He and Ian had spent many a night hanging out at the dugouts. If Ian wasn’t there, Mickey couldn’t even venture a guess as to where he could be.
Ian and Yevgeny walked down the street hand in hand. Yev wasn’t sure why he picked him up from school today, because his dad was supposed to, and Ian didn’t explain. They were walking and talking. Well, Ian was talking. And talking. Yev had tried to talk to him a couple of times but it was like Ian didn’t even hear him.
“Where are we going?” Yev tried to ask. They weren’t heading in the direction of their house, he knew that much. “Papoolya, I’m hungry.”
That seemed to catch his attention, whether it was the pet name or Yevgeny’s need for food that did the trick. Ian stopped and took his bag off his shoulders. “I’m sure I’ve got a snack in here, I packed for our trip.”
“Trip?” Yev was confused. No one had told him anything about a trip. “Where are we going? It’s Tuesday, I have school.”
“We’re going on vacation, there’s no school on vacation!” Ian rummaged through his bag and finally pulled out a beef jerky stick. He put his backpack on, unwrapped the jerky and offered it to Yev as they resumed walking. “Road trip snack!”
Yev took it and took a tentative bite. It was spicy. “I don’t like it.”
Ian took it from him and took a big bite, chewing it with a smile. “We’ll pick up some better food and snacks once we’re out on the open road, no worries!”
“The road where?”
“It’s a surprise!”
Pap was being so weird. He kept talking about how they were going to do so many fun things on their trip, but Yev started tuning him out. He just wanted to go home and see his mom and dad. It didn’t make sense that Ian would take him on a trip just the two of them. His mom didn’t even like when they had to take him on the train, let alone on a vacation. Yev was starting to feel very uneasy.
“Can’t we just get home?”
“Oh look, Yev, the baseball field! C’mon!” Ian pulled him towards the field. “I love baseball! Did you know that your dad and I met when we were kids playing little league? He was older than me but we were the same size. He pissed on first base and got kicked off the team. I remember, I was on second. Baseball is a lot of fun. Do you like baseball? We should get you on a little league team! You can be the next Sammy Sosa. C’mon, let’s practice!”
Ian left Yev by home plate and went searching to see if he could find a spare bat and ball laying around anywhere. It was cold and Yev was starting to get tired. They had been walking for what felt like forever. He just wanted to go home. He wanted his mom and he didn’t understand what they were doing. Yev sat down on the base mat. He watched as Ian looked around. He had wandered a little too far and Yev couldn’t actually hear what he was saying anymore, but he could see the way he was moving around kind of strange. The wind picked up and Yev got distracted trying to see if he could pull his scarf up over his chin. When he looked up again, Ian was nowhere in sight. He stood up slowly.
“Pap?” He called out.
Nothing. Not a response, no seeing him down across the field. The dugouts were empty. His eyes welled up with tears and they started to spill out, the first few slow but then falling faster. He spun around, looking for any signs of life besides himself.
He didn’t know what to do. He moved towards the dugout area. There were no payphones, no houses. He knew his mom’s number, she had practiced it with him a bazillion times to make sure he knew it in case of an emergency. But that didn’t help him without a phone to use. Ian was nowhere to be seen and Yevgeny was scared. Not like when he watched scary movies with his dad, he knew that was just TV. This was real, and Yevgeny didn’t know what to do. He looked around frantically, first one direction and then another. Maybe he could hide until his Pap came back.
After their conversation about Ian and Monica, Mickey and Debbie walked in silence. Honestly, what was there to say at that point? Until they found him and Yevgeny, there was nothing else to be done anyway. They weren’t far now, and he almost didn’t notice the flashing lights at first. It wasn’t like they were a rare sight in the neighborhood. It took a few moments to process it. Flashing lights, near the baseball field. Red and blue lights. Police lights.
As soon as it clicked in Mickey’s brain, he took off at a dead run, leaving Debbie in his wake. He knew it was Ian, he knew it, with every fuckin’ fiber of his being. Every instinct inside him told him so. He had never moved as fast as he did then, nearly missing the opening in the fence to get onto the field. Mickey grabbed onto the side of the gate and pulled himself into a turn so he could run through it. He saw one officer talking to an older woman, Yevgeny in his arms. The other had Ian in handcuffs, pushed face first into the fence of the dugout. Mickey could hear Ian arguing with them as he got closer.
“I didn’t ABANDON him!” Ian yelled. “I was right over that way looking for something.”
“Papa!” Yevgeny spotted Mickey and called out for him, wriggling in the officer’s arms.
As Mickey got closer, Yevgeny reached for him and the officer allowed Mickey to take him. His relief was palpable. He had never been so grateful to see his son before. Mickey clung tight to him, cupping his hand behind his son’s head protectively. He knelt down and put Yevgeny on the ground, holding him far enough back to get a good look at him.
“Hey, bud, you okay?” His hands were busy fussing over Yevgeny, brushing his hair back from his forehead, checking him for bumps and bruises, just touching him to reaffirm to himself that his son was there.
Yevgeny nodded. “Pap told me we were taking a trip, Daddy. I was hungry but he didn’t have any food. Can we get food?”
“We’ll get you lots of food,” Mickey reassured him. “We’ll meet up with your mom and all have dinner. But first, you stay with Aunt Debbie for a minute while I talk to the police officer, okay?”
Debbie was hanging back observing the situation unfolding in front of them, but when Mickey mentioned her, she stepped up and held her hand out. Yevgeny took it and she led him out of earshot. The officer who had been holding him came over to speak with Mickey.
“You’re the father?”
“And the young man over there?” The officer asked.
“Partner.” Mickey paused for a moment. “My partner. Lover. He’s family.”
“The woman over there found your son hiding under the bench in the dugout crying,” the officer informed him. “She called it in. When we got here, the other young man still hadn’t returned. He came back while we were speaking with the woman and got very upset. Was saying a lot of very strange things. Your son also told us that he was saying things about a trip, but your son didn’t seem to know what he was talking about.”
“It must have been a misunderstanding,” Mickey told him.
“Why were you out here looking for them?”
“They hadn’t come home, we were concerned.”
“Me and his mom.”
“But why didn’t you call us in that case?” The officer asked.
“Southsiders don’t usually trust cops, that’s not weird.”
The officer’s voice was gentle. “Didn’t trust us to find them, or didn’t want us to see that something is not quite right with your partner?”
Mickey looked down at the ground, not wanting to answer, but his silence said enough. The officer continued.
“Listen, son. If your partner is allowed to look after your boy, then he hasn’t committed any crime here. We can’t hold him, so he’s free to go. But keep a close eye on your kid. I don’t think your partner was trying to harm him, he seemed very upset at even the implication of that. But he doesn’t seem well. And all those good intentions wouldn’t have meant much if something had happened while he wasn’t looking. You’re lucky that woman was the one who found them. Get your partner some help if he’ll let you.”
Mickey still didn’t look up. “Thank you.”
The officer retreated and went over to his partner. Mickey couldn’t hear their exchange, but he watched as they spoke and the second officer unpinned Ian from the fence and uncuffed him. Ian rubbed at his wrists and looked between the cops warily until they made it clear he was free to go. He made his way towards Mickey, who shot Debbie a harsh look to keep her at a distance with Yevgeny.
“I called Fiona and Lip, they’re heading back to the house.” Debbie called out. “They said they’d call Svetlana. Said we should meet them there.”
Ian approached, his face equal parts earnest and nervous. “Mick-”
“What the fuck, Ian?” He hissed.
“It’s not what they said!” Ian’s eyes searched Mickey’s face as he spoke, a desperate tone to his voice. “I didn’t leave him! I was just looking for a bat and ball.”
“Why would that just be laying around, Ian?” He was trying to keep his cool, but Mickey could feel his emotions threatening to take over. It had been a long few hours, and now that he wasn’t running on adrenaline anymore, everything was catching up to him. “Better yet, where the hell did you think you were going, taking off with Yev like that?”
“We weren’t ‘taking off’ Mick!”
“He said you told him you were going on a trip.”
“I- I don’t-” Ian looked unsure, as if he couldn’t remember what it was that he had told Yevgeny.
“I called your job, Ian. They said you hadn’t been there in three days.” He looked like a trapped animal. It broke Mickey’s heart to see Ian this way. It was so painfully clear that everything Mickey had been ignoring was a sign of much more, and he felt like complete shit for not trying to do something about it sooner. “Please, let’s just go back to North Wallace and get Yev back to Svetlana before she fuckin’ kills either of us. We can talk more there.”
Ian’s eyes shone with unshed tears, and Mickey couldn’t bear it. He reached over and cupped the back of Ian’s neck, pulling him closer and resting their foreheads together. “We’ll figure it out.”
He felt Ian’s hands clinging to his jacket and pulling him into a hug. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Mickey soothed him until he quieted and then stepped back. “C’mon.”
He put his arm around the small of Ian’s back, steering him towards where Debbie and Yevgeny were waiting and watching. When they got close enough, he reached out and took his son’s hand with his free one and they all headed back to the Gallagher house, Mickey keeping both of his boys close the whole time. There was so much to say, to ask, but no one spoke. The air was heavy with the anticipation of what was to come.
They were barely in the front door when Svetlana stalked over to them, reaching for her son. Her relief was visible as she did the same once-over to him that Mickey had done at the park. With that out of the way, her emotions and her anger caught up to her and she surged towards Ian in the front entryway, backing him against the door and forcing it shut behind him.
She hit his chest and shoulders with her fists. “Durak! What the hell were you thinking? What were you doing, morkovka?!”
Ian cringed, not in pain but in shame over her anger towards him. Mickey put himself in between them and grabbed her wrists, Svetlana struggling against him.
“Lana, stop it.” He admonished her. “Not in front of the kid.”
She stopped struggling but Mickey still maintained his grip, the two of them at a stalemate until she pulled out of his reach. He let her go, realizing that she was actually backing off and listening to him for once. Fiona and Lip had moved into the living room by then, prepared to step in if they had to, while Carl and Liam were keeping watch on the situation from the kitchen.
“C’mon, let us get all the way in the fuckin’ house so we can talk.”
Svetlana relented, reaching for Yevgeny and moving them back so the guys could come in. She kept her hands protectively on her son’s shoulders, wanting him close. As they passed her, Fiona and Lip encircled their brother, checking to make sure he was alright.
“So, impromptu trips? No calls, no explanations?” Fiona asked. She reached up, her hands placed gently on either side of his neck. “Sweetface, what’s going on with you? This sounds like something Monica would do.”
Ian’s mood shifted in an instant. The shame he had shown was gone and he immediately went on the defense, his voice cold as he pulled back from her reach. “I’m not Monica.”
“You took their kid.”
“He’s my son too!” Ian was pissed that she would disclaim him as a parent. Blood or not, that was his fucking son. “I just wanted to take him to have a fun time. And yeah, I guess I didn’t plan it out well, but I didn’t hurt him!”
Everyone’s eyes were on him. Ian glanced frantically between them, taking in the mix of pity, sorrow and concern that he saw smattered on their faces. He needed them to understand. They had to understand.
“I didn’t hurt him. I took care of him, looked after him.”
“You left him alone, Ian.” Fiona tried to keep her voice level, to keep him calm, but it didn’t work.
“THAT WAS A MISUNDERSTANDING!”
Why didn’t they fucking get it? His entire family, none of them understood him. Ian was breathing heavy, feeling the weight of everyone’s judgment, their stares, their scrutiny. “He’s my son, I love him, I didn’t do anything!”
“C’mere.” Mickey could see things escalating fast, and he led Ian into the other room, away from the gaggle of Gallaghers and Milkoviches that were looming around, where it was just the two of them. He turned them so that Ian couldn’t see everyone watching them, wouldn’t pay any mind to them, so that he could focus on and hear what Mickey needed to say to him. Ian looked at the ceiling, the floor, anywhere but at his boyfriend.
“Hey.” Mickey waited until Ian finally glanced at him. “Listen to me. We know you love Yev, okay? I know you do. I’m not going to call you Monica, I’ve never met the woman. I’m not jumpin’ to any conclusions here, alright? But something isn’t right, Ian. You know it, and I know it.”
He took Ian’s face in his hands gently, steering him so they could look at each other. “We need to get you some help. Please, Ian, let us help you. Let me help you.”
A tear slipped down Ian’s cheek as he closed his eyes, and Mickey wiped it with his thumb. He was terrified of whatever was happening with himself, terrified of how long Mickey would want to deal with it. He’d seen the way Mickey had been looking at him lately. He wouldn’t want to do this forever, why would he?
“Look at me.”
He couldn’t bring himself to do it. “Why would you want to help me?”
“Jesus Christ, Ian.” Mickey sounded so disappointed in him for even asking. “Because I love you. That’s what people do. I’m not going to leave you.”
And there it was. Six simple words. I’m not going to leave you . But how could he know that? Ian did look at him then, and the blue eyes that looked back at him had a lot going on in them. There was definitely some fear under it all, apprehension, but the first thing Ian saw in Mickey’s eyes was his love. His commitment, his resolve.
“Listen to me.” Mickey pulled him even closer, talking low so that no one else could hear. “You stayed and fought for me once, right? You could have fucked off to the army like you planned, but you didn’t. Let me do the same for you.”
Ian hung his head. It was too much. The fear, the shame. He stole a quick glance towards the kitchen, ignoring all of the eyes on him and looking at Yevgeny, safe at his mother’s side. Safe. Yevgeny hadn’t felt safe with him, and that broke Ian’s heart. He loved that little boy as his own, and he would never do anything to bring him harm. But he didn’t know if Yev believed that anymore. Ian needed him to know that, no matter what.
He finally nodded.
Everyone got ready to leave, Svetlana and Yevgeny to the Milkovich house and the rest of them to the hospital. The group walked together up until the point where they had to split up. Ian hesitated, looking at Svetlana.
“Can I say goodbye to Yev?” She nodded and he knelt down to get on his son’s level. “Hey, buddy, I’m really sorry I scared you tonight. I never meant to do that. I hope you know that I would never do that on purpose.”
Yevgeny nodded. “I know.”
Ian pursed his lips, not wanting to cry and upset him any more than he already had at this point. “When I am back home, I will make it up to you, I promise.”
“Is the doctor going to help make you all better?”
“I hope so,” Ian told him. “They have to see what’s wrong first. But I promise when I know, I will do my very best to get better and stay better.”
“When I don’t feel good and Mama makes me chicken soup, that always helps me.” His little voice was so earnest and it filled and broke Ian’s heart all at the same time. “We can make you some when you come home.”
“You’re too good to me, kiddo.” Ian smiled for the first time since much earlier that night. “I’d really like that.”
“We have to get home,” Svetlana interrupted. “It’s getting late.”
Ian nodded. “Right. Can I have a hug goodbye?”
Yev stepped closer and Ian wrapped him up, hoping that despite the events of that night, his son could feel how much he cared. “I love you, Yevvy. I’ll see you real soon.”
“Ya tebya tozhe lyublyu, Papoolya.”
That nickname again. Ian wanted so badly to live up to the person he was in his son’s life. While he was scared of what it would all mean, what the doctors would tell him, he knew that he had to do this. For himself, for Yev, for their family. He stood back up and watched as Mickey kissed their son goodnight and Svetlana took his hand, leading him down the sidewalk.
The trip was mostly silent after that, and when they got to the hospital, Fiona and Lip automatically stepped in to take charge of the situation. Mickey held back, unsure of his role there. The murmured voices of the three eldest Gallagher siblings and the intake nurse drifted through the waiting area, but he couldn’t make out what any of them were saying. The younger Gallaghers sat down to wait, but Mickey was too restless, pacing back and forth through the waiting area. He watched as a stack of papers were offered to Ian and he filled them out, hesitating at one point and looking back over his shoulder at Mickey. Whether he wanted his approval, or just to see if he was still there, Mickey didn’t know. But he nodded at him, hoping that Ian knew everything that was behind the gesture. Yes, I’m here. Yes, it’s okay. Yes, you can do this.
Ian turned back and scrawled his signature on the bottom, offering the papers back to the nurse. After that, things started to crank into motion. The Gallagher siblings all surrounded Ian, giving hugs and kisses, saying their goodbyes for the moment. The nurse had come out from her booth to escort Ian inside the restricted area, and he extracted himself from his siblings. He stopped in front of Mickey, hesitating.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
He was convinced that Mickey must be angry with him. Ian shook his head as he moved past him, assuming that he would not want to do some sort of awkward goodbye in front of everyone. But he was surprised when Mickey followed and grabbed him, turning Ian and pulling him into a tight hug. Ian felt Mickey’s hand at the back of his head, stroking his hair there, tender and comforting. He melted into it, burrowing his face into Mickey’s shoulder as the tears finally came. Mickey wasn’t angry. Ian felt relief washed over him. As long as he had him there, Ian knew he could face whatever was next.
“Can I come in with him?” Mickey asked the nurse.
“No, I’m sorry. But you can come back tomorrow during visiting hours.”
Mickey nodded. He kissed Ian, lingering for a moment before pulling away. “I will be back in the morning, first thing. Okay?”
They all watched as Ian passed through the gated door and walked with the nurse through the hall. Mickey stepped up to the window and watched until Ian was out of sight, cringing when the auto lock of the door thunked in the otherwise quiet room. The day finally caught up with him, and he could feel himself getting more upset. He had to get out of there immediately. He recoiled from the window and went to leave as fast as he could.
“Hey, Mickey, I’m going to come here in the morning too,” Fiona said to him.
“Yeah, great.” He tried to get by her before she or anyone else could notice that he was moments away from losing his shit.
“Do you want to meet here and go in together?”
“Sure, fine, whatever.” Mickey finally managed to dart around her. “See ya then.”
He strode away before anyone else could stop him. He looked around almost frantically as he made his way down the corridor. He fuckin’ hated hospitals, they were always so confusing, it was like a goddamn maze trying to find your way out or around. Mickey spotted a men’s room and went inside, locking himself in a stall. He fell back against the door, thumping his head on it lightly. A couple of tears slid down his cheeks, and he punched the wall with the side of his fist.
Mickey was committed to supporting Ian and being there for him, but he couldn’t help but feel like he’d already failed him by not doing anything sooner.
Chapter 7: Diagnosis
“So why are you here, Ian?”
He had been sitting in the doctor’s office for a solid minute, wringing his hands and avoiding her gaze. But now he was forced to acknowledge her. He glanced up. Her eyes were kind and unfettered, not in any hurry to rush him along, which was surprising given how many patients she must be seeing. This place was busier than Ian had imagined.
“Isn’t that information in my intake papers?” He asked.
“It is,” she confirmed. “But most of that information was provided by your family, and I would really like to hear it in your own words.”
Why was he here? Good question, and one that Ian was not quite sure how to answer. “To be honest, I don’t know. My family and my boyfriend were concerned about my behavior and thought I needed to be seen.”
Ian felt himself shift in his seat, uncomfortable with the scrutiny she was putting on him. He had coasted along all of his life as an easygoing, unremarkable middle child in a family full of other kids that drew all of the attention. Fiona, the eldest, the mother hen. Her antics, her love life, her destructive tendencies. Lip, the reluctant genius, petulant and confrontational. Debbie, a precocious child full of nervous energy and anxiety. Carl, the potential budding sociopath. Liam, everyone’s little buddy, the baby, the one who got doted on. Ian not only expected to fly under the radar, but relied on it.
“I’m not sure,” he mumbled.
The doctor was quiet for a moment. “Let’s talk about the incident that led your family to bring you here.”
That snapped something in Ian, and it angered him. “That was a misunderstanding!”
“Tell me how.”
“I don’t… I can’t…” He was frustrated, unable to find the words to explain things the right way. “Those cops acted like I was trying to kidnap him. I would never do that! I love him, he’s my son!”
“I believe you, Ian.” The doctor’s voice was reassuring. “I do not believe you were trying to cause any harm, and I don’t think that your family does either. But that doesn’t explain what you were doing.”
He didn’t answer her, largely in part because he couldn’t. Ian wasn’t sure what he had been thinking. It had made sense at the time, but now it felt like little more than a distant memory. It scared him, quite frankly. This had only happened the day before. He felt like he was circling down a proverbial drain, spinning and spinning out of control and about to drown. He was breathing heavily, and the doctor redirected his thoughts to try to keep him focused.
“What is your son’s name?” She asked.
“Okay. Well your son, Yevgeny, told the officers and your partner that you had said you were taking a trip. Where were you going?”
He looked around, almost as if he was hoping the answer would appear there in the room with them, or hoping he could find an escape hatch somewhere. Ian felt like a cornered animal, wanting to lash out to protect himself.
“I don’t know,” he forced out through clenched teeth. A small piece of him withered in admitting that, and he felt his chest tightening, wanting to cry.
“It’s okay,” she reassured, sensing how upset he was. “That’s why we are here, Ian. To get to the bottom of what is going on.”
Ian nodded, not quite convinced but more so resigned to the fact that something was undeniably happening with him.
The doctor decided to redirect the conversation before he clammed up. “Let’s talk about your family. Tell me about them.”
“It’s mostly my siblings, there’s six of us. Fiona’s the oldest, she was like a mom to us growing up. Then Lip, my brother. Then it was me, and my other sister Debbie, and my two younger brothers Carl and Liam.”
“What about your parents?”
“What about them?”
“Where are they in all of this?”
“Frank’s around, sort of.” Ian rolled his eyes. “He’s usually drunk or high when he is. Causing trouble, mostly. Never was much of a parent. Technically he’s not my father, he’s my uncle. Mom had a fling with his brother and along I came nine months later.”
“And your mother?”
“Monica. She’s bipolar and also a druggie and a mess. Her and Frank were a match made in hell. She’s always in and out of our lives, never taking care of herself.”
The doctor nodded, taking it all in. “So a history of drug and alcohol abuse on both sides of your family?”
“What about your birth father?”
“Only met him once,” Ian told her. “Frank’s not close to his family. He seems to have his shit together. Nice house, nice family, lives on the North side. Smart enough to stay away from Frank, at least.”
“Would you say any of your siblings have substance abuse issues as well?”
“No more than any other poor Irish family in the Southside.”
The doctor was taking extensive notes. “Would you say that you are close to your siblings?”
Ian nodded. “Sure. Probably Lip more than the others.”
“Do you talk to him about your problems or your feelings?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes, I guess. I don’t really talk to a lot of people like that.”
He considered the question. “I guess I just always preferred to deal with my stuff myself.”
“Okay.” She jotted down something and continued. “Who do you talk to that you would say knows you the best?”
“That’s your partner, right?” Ian nodded. “Do you live with him?” He nodded again and the doctor continued. “And I recall the nurse said that he would be coming this morning to see you, is that correct?”
“Yeah.” Assuming he hadn’t come to his senses between yesterday and today.
“I would like to speak with him when he’s here.”
Ian was immediately suspicious. “Why?”
“Well, oftentimes our loved ones can provide a lot of useful insight in these types of situations, since they are close to you but looking at the picture from outside. They can usually recognize things in ourselves that we have trouble differentiating.”
“I don’t know if he will do that. Don’t really think therapy is his thing.”
“Can we ask him?”
Ian shrugged. “You can try.”
The doctor picked up her phone to call the front desk. “Yes hi, this Doctor Sanchez. Ian Gallagher is expecting a visit from his partner, Mickey, this morning. I would actually like to speak with him when he arrives… Oh has he? Great, can someone escort him to my office? Thank you.” She hung up the phone and smiled at Ian. “It seems he’s here already.”
“Yes, and has been for some time. Before visiting hours started. He’s very eager to see you.”
Ian glanced at the clock. It was early, very early by Mickey’s standards. The fact that not only was he here, but he was chomping at the bit to get in, gave Ian a bit of reassurance that he had desperately needed.
There was a knock on the door and a nurse opened it. “I have Mickey here.”
He was in the door before the doctor even had a chance to say anything, addressing Ian immediately. “Hey, you okay?”
Ian shrugged halfheartedly. “I guess so. Better now that you’re here.”
Mickey smoothed a hand over his hair and cupped his head briefly before letting go. The doctor offered her hand and he shook it.
“I’m Dr. Sanchez, it’s nice to meet you. Please, sit down.”
He took the open seat next to Ian, not really sure what they wanted from him. “The nurse said you needed to talk to me?”
“Yes.” The doctor agreed. “As part of trying to ascertain what is going on with Ian, it helps to speak with those closest to him to get a better picture of him, his behavior, anything strange or out of the ordinary.”
He was silent, processing what the doctor had told him. The doctor was watching him expectantly, and Ian was just staring blankly at the wall. He didn’t really know what to say, where to begin.
“Mickey, I know this is probably uncomfortable, and I sympathize, I really do.” She assured him. “I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think it was important.”
He glanced over at Ian. He didn’t really like the idea of this, it felt like he was speaking out against Ian somehow, but if it would actually help get to the root of what was happening, he would do it. Mickey would do anything for him.
“Alright.” She picked up her notepad and a pen. “When would you say you noticed Ian’s behavior changing?”
“A few months ago, maybe?”
“Alright, and can you tell me, from your perspective, what differences you saw?”
Mickey considered her question. “Well, he suddenly seemed to have a lot more energy. He started sleeping less, but he was still getting up super fuckin’ early in the morning and going for long runs, sometimes getting up earlier and earlier and being gone longer.”
“And this wasn’t ‘normal’ for him?”
“The running is something he’s always done, but not that early, and not that long before.”
The doctor was taking notes. “Okay, what else did you observe?”
“Well, he suddenly seemed to want to try a bunch of new hobbies and shit, but he never stuck with any. Just bounced from one to the next. And then he’d sometimes just talk my ear off about stuff, but it was hard to even keep track of what he was saying because he’d just keep switching around.”
“Was there more?”
“Well, obviously this whole shebang that landed us here.” Mickey hesitated, glancing at Ian again, who was now sitting with his eyes closed and looking ashamed. Guilt twisted knots in Mickey’s stomach. He didn’t really want to continue.
Dr. Sanchez picked up on his hesitation. “If there is anything else that you think would be important to mention, I really need all of the information to make the most educated diagnosis that I can.”
“Ian…” Mickey sighed. “This is embarrassing.”
“There’s no judgment here.” The doctor assured him.
“He’s been wanting to have sex constantly.” Mickey blurted out before he could lose his nerve.
“What the fuck!” Ian exclaimed. His eyes flew open and he glared at Mickey. “That’s a problem now?”
“Ian, please don’t get defensive.” The doctor stopped him before he could go further. “This is his perspective, let him explain.”
He seethed, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. He couldn’t even look at Mickey at that moment. For his own part, Mickey was pretty mortified that he was even there discussing any of this shit.
“I’d really rather fuckin’ not.” Mickey mumbled. He’d much prefer to just melt into the floor at that point.
“I assure you, I would not ask if I did not think that it was relevant.”
He glanced at Ian and heaved a sigh. “Look, whatever issues we’ve ever had over the years, sex has never been one of them, alright? But this is different. It’s like he can’t ever get enough. I’m not one to complain about that, believe me… but I’ve had to actually turn him down a number of times.”
“Why is that?”
“Fuck,” he mumbled. “Because… it actually hurt. It was so much that it hurt.”
Ian looked stricken at that. “Mick, why didn’t you tell me that? I never want to hurt you!”
“I know, I know.” He really did. He knew that Ian would not intentionally hurt him in that way, and he knew that it would break Ian’s heart to know he did that, which was the exact reason Mickey hadn’t mentioned it. “Like I said, it’s fuckin’ embarrassing. I didn’t want to upset you.”
“You have to tell me stuff like that,” Ian insisted.
“Okay, I’m sorry.” Mickey looked at him. “I’m telling you now.”
The doctor had finished taking her notes and was watching their interaction. “Thank you for sharing that, I think that was quite insightful.” She turned her attention back to Ian. “I would like to talk to you about a possible diagnosis and treatment plan. If he doesn’t have anywhere to be, Mickey is welcome to return to the waiting area until our session is over, and you can join him for visiting hours.
Mickey started to gather himself together to leave, but Ian stopped him with a hand on his wrist. “He can stay.”
“You sure, Ian?” He asked, settling back down in his seat.
Dr. Sanchez clasped her hands and leaned forward to address him. “Ian, I know you are not going to like what I have to say. But I think there is a very solid argument here for a bipolar disorder diagnosis.”
“I’m not-” Ian cut himself off, feeling his anger rising and trying to contain it. “I am not Monica. I am not my mother.”
“Of course you’re not,” the doctor agreed. That threw Ian for a loop and he relaxed a little bit. “Even if you do have the same disorder, which I strongly believe you do, you are not her. You are Ian. What you do with this information, how you treat yourself, handle yourself? That’s on you, Ian.”
Mickey chimed in then. “Why do you think he has it too, doc?”
“There are a few reasons,” she told them. “Some of Ian’s symptoms are common symptoms for people who have it. The increased energy, loss of sleep, the chattiness and the inability to focus on these tasks and hobbies and interests. Even the increased sex drive.”
“Really?” Mickey asked.
“Absolutely. Plus, having a close relative who has it, such as a parent, does increase the chances.”
“So, how does he fix it?”
“Well first, you don’t fix it.” She corrected him. “You treat it, but it doesn’t just go away and it isn’t a perfect science. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. Treatment would include a combination of medication and therapy. Possibly lifestyle changes. And it takes time.”
“Time?” Ian chimed in.
Dr. Sanchez nodded. “Yes. We don’t just give you some pills and poof it goes away. Different patients respond differently, have different doses or combinations. It takes time to find the right combination that works for each person.”
Ian felt a sense of dread at that. “How much time?”
“It’s hard to say,” she told him. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep up with it all, though. It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel like something isn’t working, or is taking too long. You need to allow time to see if and how you react. It is very much a process to get it right, and not always an easy one, but with a good support network, I think you can handle this.”
“He’s got me,” Mickey told her.
She smiled at him. “I can see that. And you have your siblings, and your son. You seem like a strong young man, Ian. One with people around who love and care for him. If you can accept your diagnosis and do the work, I think you can find what works for you and get yourself back on track before you know it.”
Mickey reached over and slid his hand into Ian’s, lacing their fingers together and squeezing, wanting to say so many things with a touch. I’m here, I’ve got you, I love you. Ian looked over at him and he squeezed Mickey’s hand back.
Chapter 8: Love and Marriage
“Hey, can we talk?”
“Mmpf now? ‘M sleepin’,” Mickey mumbled, face buried in his pillow.
“I think we should get married,” Ian said, the hesitation in his voice clear.
“Would you look at that?” Mickey pushed himself up and turned around to look at Ian. “I’m awake now.”
They both looked at each other, Ian with nervous energy and Mickey with apprehension.
“You fuckin’ serious?” Mickey asked.
“Yeah, Mick.” Ian might have been afraid to broach the topic, but he wasn’t afraid of the idea. Marriage wasn’t something that either of them had great examples of in their lives. Least of all the one that Mickey was strong-armed into. But they were in their late twenties now, and time and perspective had done a lot to get them to this conversation. Terry was out of their lives permanently, rotting away in prison. Mickey and Svetlana, finally having a sense of relief and safety, had divorced and moved on as co-parents and strangely formed friends. There was no better time to broach the topic. He knew that Mickey would probably be leery of the idea, and Ian had no intention of trying to pressure or force him if he wasn’t ready. But Ian had very legitimate reasons to want to consider getting married. Not the least of which was the way they felt about each other.
“I love you. And… and I trust you. Do you trust me?”
Mickey softened at that. “Of course I do.”
Ian reached over and rubbed Mickey’s knee. “Look I know that marriage isn’t something either of us ever gave much thought to. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and talking with my therapist.”
“Your therapist? What’s she got to do with us gettin’ married?”
“Mick, I have a disorder.” Ian knew he was stating the obvious, but he needed Mickey to wrap his head around where he was going with this conversation. “There could be times where I get out of control again.”
“But you’re on your meds and-”
Ian cut him off. “Let me finish.” Mickey stopped, nodding at Ian to continue. “Yes, I’m doing all the right things now. I’m taking my meds, going to therapy, even keeping that mood journal that she wanted to look for any patterns or whatever. But shit can change. The meds can stop working, I could be convinced that things are fine and slip up or stop taking them altogether.”
“I don’t understand.”
Ian paused for a moment, thinking about how he wanted to phrase his thoughts. “If I am not… if I’m not in the right state of mind to take care of myself or make decisions for myself, I need someone I trust to be there.” He took Mickey’s hand in his own. He looked at their fingers, how they fit so perfectly together. He turned Mickey’s hand palm side up and ran his fingers over the lines there, keeping his head down and watching his own movements. “There is no one I trust more than you.”
Mickey maneuvered himself until he was straddling Ian’s legs, reaching to tilt Ian’s chin up and meet his eye. “Hey. I will always look out for you, okay? Always. But what does gettin’ married have to do with that?”
“If something happens to me tomorrow, Mick… You have no legal authority to do anything. At all. I know my family loves me and would be more than willing to take care of me. And they sure as shit mean well. But they all look at me and see our mother.” He sighed at the thought. “It’s not their fault, she’s given us all plenty of reasons to be wary. But they’re biased. I don’t want that to affect their judgment.”
Mickey had never thought about that. There had been incidents with Ian’s disorder, times where he and their families had to intervene. Sometimes they had bickered about things, but they had always managed to come to a consensus. It hadn’t occurred to him that there could come a time that wouldn’t happen, and that he would be powerless. It made him very uneasy.
“I love you, and I’d be okay not being married if you don’t want that. But I do think that legal protection is important. Plus, I’d be honored to be your husband if you’d let me.”
“Stop.” Mickey reached up and put a hand over Ian’s mouth. “I’ll marry you. Of course I’ll fuckin’ marry you.”
Ian blinked a few times and sighed in relief. He hadn’t realized how much he actually was hoping Mickey would say yes. He reached up and grabbed Mickey’s face, bringing their lips together.
Mickey pulled back and looked at him. “Leave it to you to propose to me when we’re in bed.”
He shrugged and reached around Mickey, sliding his hands under the elastic of his boxers, pushing them down over Mickey’s ass and spreading his cheeks with both hands. “Certainly makes the celebration easier. Now just gotta get the clothes out of the way.”
He leaned forward, pressing his lips to Mickey’s and sucking on the bottom one. Ian pushed Mickey off his lap and flat on his back on the bed, yanking off his boxers and throwing them blindly behind him. He pushed his own boxers down around his thighs and kneeled between Mickey’s legs. He kissed Mickey harder, his tongue teasing at Mickey’s lips until he let Ian in. The kiss was wet and sloppy, both of them grabbing at each other.
They had just had sex a little while earlier and Ian didn’t bother with doing much in the way of preparation, Mickey’s body still pliant from before. He stroked himself a few times and pushed in slowly. He moved his lips along Mickey’s jaw to his earlobe, nipping at it and pulling it into his mouth with his teeth. He felt Mickey stretch his neck to give him better access and he took advantage, trailing his tongue down to his collarbone and sucking a mark there.
Mickey put his hand on Ian’s chest and pushed him back lightly. “Get up.”
Ian pulled out of him and sat back on his heels, confused. Mickey smirked and pulled himself up, guiding Ian until he was sitting up with his back against the headboard. He swung his leg over so that he was straddling Ian and reached behind himself, grabbing Ian’s cock and pushing it into him. Ian moaned at his boldness. He loved when Mickey got like this, it was a total turn on.
Mickey sunk down onto him, taking Ian in until he bottomed out. He gyrated his hips, grinding in Ian’s lap, both of them moaning with pleasure at the feeling of Ian buried deep inside him.
“Fuck,” Ian whined. “You feel so fuckin’ good.”
Mickey grabbed at the headboard for leverage, caging Ian in between his arms and continuing to rock and rut against him. Ian’s hands roamed along Mickey’s body, over the slopes of his shoulders and the plains of his chest, resting on his hips and just feeling Mickey’s movements. He leaned in and pressed a kiss under the spot where Mickey’s jaw and ear met, knowing that was a sweet spot for him.
He squeezed Mickey’s hips hard. “Mmm, I’m gonna come soon,” he panted against his neck.
“Yeah?” Mickey breathed out hard. “Come for me.”
He kept his pace but started to buck and turn his hips a little more, driving Ian wild. He felt Ian’s hand slide off his hip and grip his cock, stroking him. As he got closer to his own orgasm, he started to lose his rhythm, bouncing up and down hard on Ian’s cock until he felt him come inside him. That was enough to push Mickey over the edge, and he came right after him, riding Ian slower and easing him through it as they finished together.
They both stilled. Ian wrapped his arms around Mickey and held him in place while they caught their breath.
“Jesus,” he huffed. “We should get engaged more often.”
Mickey breathed out a laugh. “Holy shit, we’re fuckin’ gettin’ married.”
Ian kissed his temple. “Hell yeah we are.”
A few weeks later, they were down at the courthouse waiting for their turn to go in front of the justice of the peace. They had decided that they wanted to keep it private, just the two of them, but had agreed to meet their families at The Alibi later to celebrate.
Ian looked over at Mickey. “Nervous?”
“Nah man,” he replied with a smile. “Easiest decision of my life.”
“You sure you wanna do this?” Ian couldn’t help but have doubts about it. He knew why it made sense for him to do this, to make sure Mickey had rights where he was concerned. But what did Mickey himself get out of this?
Mickey sensed Ian’s apprehension and reached over, taking his hand. “Hey, you okay?”
“Why do you want to marry me?”
“Because I love you. What kind of question is that?”
“Which version of me?” Ian laughed, but it was humorless. “There’s lots to choose from.”
“Look at me.” Ian tried to turn his head away, but Mickey grabbed his chin gently and turned him back. “I would rather be with any version of you than with anyone else. We’ve been through a lot of shit, and I haven’t gone anywhere, and I don’t plan to. Okay?”
They were interrupted by a clerk calling for them. “Ian Gallagher? Mikhailo Milkovich?”
Mickey stood up and offered his hand. “C’mon, let’s go get hitched.”
Ian allowed Mickey to pull him to his feet and they walked together into the ceremony room. The officiant greeted them and directed them to where to stand.
“Gentlemen, do you have rings?”
Ian nodded and pulled a small box out of his pocket, handing it over. The officiant took them so that he could hand them over at the right time. They stood in front of him, Mickey taking Ian’s hands and giving them a squeeze. The officiant was talking, but both of them were too lost in each other to make much sense of it. Until it was time to say their vows. The officiant handed one of the rings to Mickey and he slipped it on Ian’s finger while he spoke.
“I, Mikhailo, take you, Ian, to be my husband.”
There was a shift in Ian with just that word. Husband. Everything it meant, everything it represented. The absolute surety with which Mickey said it. He felt a sense of calm come over him, wondering how he could have questioned any of it just a short while ago.
“To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. To love, and to cherish you, until death do us part.”
The love Ian had for him at that moment was unparalleled. He took the other ring that was offered to him, and put it in its rightful place on Mickey’s hand.
“I, Ian, take you, Mickey,” he said, a smile and tilt of the head. He would always be Mickey to Ian. “To be my husband. To have and to hold you from this day forward, for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. To love, and to cherish you, until death do us part.”
“Now that you two have given yourselves to each other, with these vows and the exchange of rings, and by the power vested in me by the state of Illinois, I now pronounce you husbands. You may seal your marriage with a kiss.”
Ian reached for Mickey, grabbing his face gently and kissing him. He felt Mickey’s hands on his waist, holding him in place. They pulled apart, smiling.
“Holy shit, we did it.” Ian laughed.
Mickey pulled him even closer and hugged him, kissing the side of his neck sweetly. “C’mon, husband, let’s go celebrate.”
When they got to The Alibi, they were greeted by a barrage of cheers and wolf whistles. Their families surrounded them, offering them drinks and congratulations, hugs and tears. The mood was light and festive and everything they could have wanted. They were there for quite some time, the alcohol flowing, the music loud, mingling with their family and friends who all seemed to want some time with the newly married couple. Through it all, they stayed at each other’s side nearly the entire night, not wanting to lose even a minute of the day together. The guys had been slowly trying to move out of the crowd, hoping to sneak off for a quickie in the bathroom, but it seemed they would have to wait.
“Ian, Mickey!” Fiona shouted over the crowd. “We need you front and center!”
They glanced at each other and made their way back to the middle of the bar, where Fiona and the rest of their siblings were huddled together.
“We all just wanted to let you know how happy we are for you,” she told them. “And we wanted to give you this.”
She held out a card to them. Ian took it, noticing that it seemed kind of thick. He raised an eyebrow as he opened the envelope and pulled the card out. When he opened it, there were a bunch of printed pages.
Fiona beamed at them. “A wedding just wouldn’t be the same without a honeymoon, right?”
Ian unfolded the papers and looked at them. A trip confirmation, for two, to Mexico. He looked up at everyone, shock written all over his face. Mickey looked over his shoulder, snatching the papers when he realized what they were. Both of them were in disbelief.
“What the fuck is this?” Mickey asked.
“Hotel, airfare, even some ‘excursions’ as they call them,” Mandy offered. “It’s a resort, all-inclusive.”
“How… I don’t…” Ian was trying and failing to find the words to say. “How did you guys afford this?!”
“We all chipped in!” Debbie told them.
“I may have also gone on a few dates with a guy who worked at the travel agency to get a good deal,” Fiona admitted.
Ian was so thankful for them all. “This is too much, you guys.”
“No way, it was our pleasure.” Fiona pulled him into a hug. “You guys deserve it, and you better go and enjoy it!”
Mickey was really touched. He had never thought that he would be in a place in his life to have this. Not just a husband, though that had in and of itself been a pipe dream to him for a number of reasons, but this. An extended family, one that cared about them, cared about him. Wanted to do something nice for both of them to enjoy. When Fiona and Ian separated, Mickey reached over and touched her arm.
That night, they laid in bed together watching TV. Ian was pressed along Mickey’s back, one knee in between his legs, his arm wrapped over Mickey and trailing his fingers along Mickey’s chest and stomach in lazy swirls. If there was a heaven, he hoped it was just like this. Mickey nuzzled back into Ian, as if he could even manage to get closer than they already were. It had been a great day, but Mickey was happy to have Ian all to himself. He traced the underside of his wedding band with his thumb, feeling it spin on his finger.
“We should go to sleep soon,” Ian murmured in his ear, biting at his earlobe. “We got that appointment tomorrow.”
“Mmm, you tryin’ to sleep or you tryin’ to start something back there?” Mickey ground against Ian’s crotch, testing him out.
“I mean, I’m always trying to start something.” Ian’s hand teased at the waistband of his boxers, hitching them down low on Mickey’s hip. He covered the exposed skin with his hand, squeezing lightly. “We should make it quick though, we really do need to get some sleep.”
Mickey reached up and grabbed Ian’s hand, guiding him into his boxers and putting it over his own cock. “Then stop talking and get in me already.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He pulled his leg out from between Mickey’s thighs and unceremoniously yanked off his boxers, wedging his knee back in its place and using it to spread Mickey’s legs apart. He heard Mickey chuckle low, a throaty noise that went straight to his own dick.
“You’re so predictable,” Mickey mumbled into his pillow.
Ian hummed in agreement and ran his hand up Mickey’s leg to his ass, grabbing his cheek and squeezing hard as he spread him. He managed to use his free hand to grip his own cock and press it against Mickey, not enough to enter him, but enough to make Mickey moan in anticipation.
“Grab the lube,” Ian ordered.
He leaned over just enough to snatch it off of their bedside table and passed it back to Ian, who popped the top off and got to work putting it on himself. He pushed just the tip into Mickey, rocking back and forth and teasing him. When Mickey tried to press back again to take him deeper, Ian slid his hand between Mickey’s legs and lifted the top one up, making it harder for him.
“C’mon, stop fuckin’ around back there.” Mickey groaned, trying to leverage himself better but having trouble with the new position.
“Shh.” Ian hushed him as he pushed in a little further, keeping his pace slow. He knew that making it quick had been his idea, but his instinct was always to take his time, and to relish in every movement and sensation. He did finally speed up though, letting go of Mickey’s leg and grabbing his hip again to steady him as he pushed harder and faster. Mickey followed his lead, hips perfectly in time with Ian, his hand sliding into place over Ian’s, fingers lacing together and Mickey curling his to hold them both there.
Ian could feel it, that feeling that told him he was almost ready to come. “You close?” He asked.
“Almost,” Mickey breathed out. “Almost there.”
He wanted to try to hold off, to climax together, but Ian couldn’t wait. He felt himself release inside Mickey with a groan, thrusting into him a few more times until he’d finished. He pulled out and slid away from Mickey, pulling him down onto his back on the bed with the hand he still had on Mickey’s hip. He let go and rolled back towards him, determined to finish what he’d started. Ian laid on his stomach and took Mickey into his mouth and the hand that had been intertwined with his just a moment ago was now in his hair. He moved up and down, swirling his tongue around the head of Mickey’s dick as he got to the top, and moving deep when he was at the bottom, taking Mickey all the way in and breathing in the heady scent of his musk. He hummed around him, causing Mickey to squeeze and tug at his hair.
“I’m close,” he said, pulling Ian’s head back.
But Ian pushed on until Mickey was coming in his mouth with a grunt and an involuntary buck of his hips. He kept sucking while Mickey finished, slowing down and easing him through it. Ian allowed some of his come to drip out and down his shaft, swallowing the rest. He eased off him and laid his face on Mickey’s thigh, catching his breath. The hand in his hair had stopped pulling and was now brushing through the strands, massaging gently at his scalp.
“We need to start keeping stuff by the bed to clean up after we fuck,” Mickey muttered. “Now I gotta get up and wash off before this shit dries.”
“I’m sure that’s very devastating for you,” Ian teased.
Mickey swatted at his head and slid out from under him, getting up and padding out of the room towards their bathroom. Ian rolled onto his stomach, crossing his arms under his head like a pillow and waiting for Mickey to get back. He returned a minute or two later with a damp washcloth, which he tossed towards the bed. Ian caught it and used it to wipe himself off before tossing it in the direction of their laundry basket. Mickey got back into bed and they laid back down together as they had been before their interlude.
“So what time’s that appointment tomorrow?” Mickey asked.
“8:30,” Ian told him.
Mickey hadn’t really thought too much about it since Ian had first approached him about getting married and about the legal stuff, but he was now. He knew he probably should have been thinking about this before, that they should have discussed it further, and now he couldn’t help but wonder if it was bad that they hadn’t done just that.
“Hmm?” Ian hummed.
“You sure about all this?”
He felt Ian pick his head up and look at him, though he couldn’t see it. “Yeah, I am. Are you having second thoughts about it?”
“No… it’s not that.”
“Then what is it, Mick?”
“I dunno, just…” He was trying to wrap his brain around what was on his mind, and figuring out how to actually explain it. “Have you ever actually, y’know, thought about what would happen if I ever had to do it?”
“Look at me, please,” Ian asked. Mickey rolled over and was greeted by the sight of him with his brows furrowed in concern. “What do you mean?”
“If I had to ever get you committed. Or force treatment on you. Have you really thought about it?”
“Of course,” Ian replied.
“What if it fucks us up?” Mickey asked. “You’re fuckin’ stubborn, and what if you get angry at me or resent me if I actually had to ever take that step?”
“You’re scared of that,” he observed.
“No,” Mickey insisted, his immediate response to be defensive until he remembered that this was Ian he was talking to, and talking about. “Maybe? What if I have to do it and you can’t forgive me for it?”
“Mick…” Ian reached over and touched his face. “I can’t promise you that it wouldn’t be bad or that I wouldn’t have a terrible reaction to it. But that’s why I want to take care of this now, while I’m in the mindset to do it and know it’s the right thing.”
“I just don’t want you to hate me if push ever came to shove.”
“Never,” Ian promised, stroking his hair. “I might be angry, probably would be, and I’m sure that would take time to get over. But if it ever got that bad that I needed it, I’m sure that once you got me that help and I got back on track, I’d understand.”
Mickey nodded, though his doubts were still clear on his face. “Okay.”
“Hey, if you don’t want to do this, we don’t have to.” Ian leaned over and kissed him gently. “I don’t want you to do something you’re not okay with.”
“No, I’ll do it.” Mickey assured him. “It’s important to you, and I know you want it to be me.”
Ian wrapped his arm around Mickey and pulled him closer. They laid facing each other, Mickey’s face tucked into Ian’s neck and arm around his waist. Ian kissed his hair and rubbed his back.
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
The next morning, they sat together at the local Legal Aid office, waiting for their appointment. Mickey was still feeling a bit apprehensive about the entire thing, but he knew that it was what Ian wanted, and he knew that he had to trust Ian and his decision. He had made that choice for his own reasons, and it meant everything to him that Ian believed in him enough to want to give him that power if he needed it. Not just the power to make that decision, but also the power to not jump the gun and make that his next step, which he suspected was a big part of why he didn’t want it to be any of his siblings.
“Ian Gallagher?” The receptionist called.
He looked at Mickey. “We can still turn around and leave if you don’t wanna do this. No hard feelings.”
Mickey shook his head. “Nah man, I’m good, let’s do it.”
They got up and followed her to a cramped office. There was a young gentleman in there, probably not much older than they were, surrounded by stacks of papers. He got up from his seat and offered his hand. “Ian Gallagher? Matt Martinez. Apologies for the mess, we’re always behind on caseload, and by turn, behind on filing.”
Ian shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. This is my husband Mickey.”
Mickey shook his hand as well and he gestured to the two seats across from him. “Have a seat guys. So I understand from the intake message that you’re looking to establish medical power of attorney paperwork?”
“Yes,” Ian confirmed.
“Alright, we can do that. Can I ask about why you’re doing this?” The attorney looked curious. “Most people your age don’t even think about these matters, let alone actually do anything about them.”
“I have bipolar disorder,” he explained. “I was diagnosed a few years ago. I’ve been stable, but my therapist has encouraged me to have my ducks in a row just in case I have an episode or anything that gets out of hand.”
“Smart thinking. Well it’s easy enough to set up, let me pull up a blank template form from my files and we can do that.” He clicked around on his computer until he found what he was looking for and opened the file. “Okay, so you are the Principal…” He pecked away on his keyboard. “And who would you like to be the Agent, or the person to make these decisions for you?”
Ian looked at his husband and smiled. “Mickey.”
Matt nodded. “Okay. What is your full legal name?”
“Mikhailo Milkovich,” he confirmed.
“Yeah, I’m going to need you to spell that for me,” he said.
Mickey smirked and did so. He knew better than to assume people would be able to just bust that one out. Matt typed away, confirming their addresses and phone numbers for the form. “Do you want to add any other agents?”
Ian hadn’t known he could even do that. “Is that necessary?”
“No,” Matt confirmed. “They would just be on there in case for some reason Mickey was unable to fulfill his duties. If he was incapacitated himself somehow, or had passed away and the forms had not been updated in the interim.”
“I mean, I don’t know.” He was sheepish about his lack of knowledge about that information. “I hadn’t thought about it.”
“You don’t have to do it,” Matt said. “You could think about it and update the forms another time if you want.”
“Maybe you should put one of your siblings,” Mickey suggested.
“But I want it to be you,” Ian argued.
“And it will be,” he agreed. “That’s only a ‘just in case’ thing. Stupid to have to come back and do it twice if we’re already here.”
Ian thought about it for a minute before he finally nodded. “Okay, fine. I’ll put both of my sisters.”
He provided their information and Matt finished the form and printed it out. “Okay, those are ready for signatures. Before we do that, since you guys are here anyway, would we want to do a set of forms for Mickey as well?”
“Oh.” Mickey hadn’t even thought of that, so focused on Ian and the task at hand. “I mean, I don’t know if I really need it.”
“We all hope we won’t need these things,” Matt agreed. “But they can’t hurt to have.”
He looked at Ian, who shrugged. He was very much leaving that decision to Mickey and not forcing his opinion on him. “Fuck it, like you said, we’re here. Okay. I want my agent to be Ian, I don’t need anyone else.”
Matt updated the appropriate parts of the form and printed off another set. He called the receptionist to come in, explaining that they needed an impartial witness when they signed the forms.
Matt pushed the papers towards them to read over and offered them each a pen. “Sign and date on the marked page when you’re ready.” They skimmed through everything quickly and scrawled their signature as requested, passing everything back. Matt took the papers and said, “Great, that’s it. Now, you should keep the originals and give each other a copy just in case. Though, if you have the originals, that’s better to use than the copy is. You should also each give a copy to your primary doctor, and Ian, it would be smart to give a copy to whatever doctor is handling your psychiatric care as well. Do you want any other copies just in case?”
“Maybe one or two extras each?” Ian asked.
Matt nodded and offered the documents to the receptionist, who went to take care of that task. “Once she comes back, you’re all set. And again, smart move on your part, handling all this. These matters can get messy when people don’t think ahead.” The woman returned with all of the copies, neatly separated and organized in two folders, one for each of them which Ian took from her. Matt got up and offered his hand to them again. “Good luck, Ian. If you guys ever need any other help, feel free to call us. Nice meeting you guys.” They both shook his hand and on their way out, he called to them one last time. “Mickey?”
He turned back to see what Matt wanted. “Yeah?”
“Let’s hope you don’t ever need to use those papers.”
When they got outside, Ian looked at Mickey. “Wanna go grab some breakfast? I saw a diner nearby on the way here.”
It wasn’t a far walk. Just a few blocks and they were there, getting seated into a booth in no time and ready to eat some food. They glanced over the menus briefly before ordering and settled in with their coffees to wait.
“That wasn’t so bad, huh?” Mickey asked.
“Easier than I expected,” Ian agreed.
“I’m surprised you picked Debbie instead of Lip to be one of your other options.” Mickey sipped his coffee, watching over the rim of his mug for a reaction.
Ian glanced out the window. “I have my reasons.”
“What’s that ‘hmm’ supposed to mean?”
“I dunno… maybe you’re not giving your brother enough credit.” Mickey didn’t say more than that, content that if Ian wanted to discuss it further he would. He just nodded in response, his expression thoughtful, and they drank their coffee quietly until the food arrived.
Ian and Mickey sat side by side on their flight to Mexico, their nerves racing with excitement and anxiousness.
Neither of them had ever left the country. Hell, they’d barely even left Chicago. Never been on an airplane. They were so excited for their trip, that Mickey managed to not complain about the long security lines, or having to take off his shoes and sweatshirt for security, or even about the overpriced food in the airport terminal. As the plane backed away from the gate, Mickey’s nerves took over and he found himself clinging to the armrest between his and Ian’s chairs, his knuckles white from his firm grasp.
Ian noticed and slid his hand over his husband’s. Husband. That word did something to his heart. He thought it probably always would. “Okay?”
Mickey nodded, shoulders tense. “Think I’ll be better when we just get up in the air.”
And he was. When they got to cruising altitude, they were too busy trying to look out the airplane window and drinking the mini alcohol selection for their nerves to get in the way of things. The anxiety only returned once they were about to land, not knowing what that experience would be like. But all was well, and soon they were stepping out into the warmth of Puerto Vallarta. Ian was completely tickled when they went to the baggage claim to get their things and found someone from the resort waiting for them with a sign. Gallagher/Milkovich. The gentleman didn’t speak much English, and they knew no Spanish, but they were able to get their stuff and get to the shuttle that was waiting to take them to their destination.
They got checked in and were escorted to their room. When they got through the door, they had to just stop and take it all in.
“Holy fuckin’ shit,” Mickey said.
“Yeah,” Ian agreed.
The room was probably the most beautiful place either of them had ever been. It was even nicer than the fancy places that Ian used to go to with Ned. The porter who had brought them to their room took care of their luggage and it gave them a chance to explore. It was a small suite, with a nice, modern seating area where they first entered. There was a small working space with a desk and chair that neither one of them had any intention of using unless Ian fucked Mickey on top of it. Across the room was a set of double doors leading out to a balcony, complete with a jacuzzi.
Ian opened the doors and stepped outside. “Mick, come see this.”
He followed him outside and they stood side by side looking out. The hotel was right on the beach, and the view was incredible. Mickey had never thought he would see a place like this in person. He rested his hands on the railing and just took it all in, smelling the salty, beachy scent on the breeze as it blew. This was about as close to perfect as anything could get.
Ian wrapped his arms around him from behind, hugging him close and kissing his neck. “This place is beautiful.” He hummed in agreement. “I think we should get changed and go check out that beach, yeah?”
The bedroom had a huge king-sized bed and an en-suite bathroom complete with a bathtub that was plenty big for both of them and a fancy, separate shower with jets coming out of the walls. The porter had set their bags neatly inside the bedroom door and Ian took out some cash from his wallet, offering him a few bills for his help. Once he was gone, Ian started unpacking their stuff to hang up their nicer clothes in the room’s closet and to find their swimsuits and sunscreen. He found a bottle of lube he’d tucked away in his toiletry bag and tossed it on the bed with a smirk.
“Can’t wait to try out this bed later,” he teased.
Mickey laughed as he undressed, reaching for the swim trunks that Ian dug out right after. They both got changed and took turns covering each other with sunscreen, not looking to ruin their trip by getting burned to a crisp on their first day there. They threw their shirts back on and Ian filled up the empty backpack he had brought with some towels, the sunscreen and a few bottles of water that were in the hotel room, and they made their way downstairs.
“I’ve never been to the beach before,” Mickey confessed in the elevator. “Never even been outta Illinois, come to think of it.”
“Me neither,” Ian replied.
They stepped out into the lobby, Ian taking his hand and guiding him out towards the beach. They passed through an area with pools and an outdoor bar before reaching the sand.
“Wait,” Mickey stopped at the edge of the stairs down to the beach. “I want to take my shoes off.”
He had on flip flops and he slid his feet out, stooping down to pick them up. Ian followed suit, and they both walked barefoot. The sand was warm and soft, even better than Mickey had hoped for. They found a couple of beach chairs under an umbrella that were together and free, and they set down their things to claim them.
“Should we take a dip?” Ian asked him.
He offered his hand and Mickey took it, the two of them walking together to the edge of the shore. The waves lapped gently at their feet. The water was also warm, and so clean and inviting. They walked out slowly, first to their knees and then their waists, taking their time. The waves weren’t too large or strong, which reassured them both, since they’d both only ever had experience with pools and the lake. When they got to about chest high in the water, Ian grabbed his nose to plug it and dipped under the water, emerging with a splash and brushing his hair back. Mickey followed suit, shaking his own head when he popped back up.
“That feels fuckin’ awesome!” Ian exclaimed.
“For sure,” he agreed.
They were standing close in the water, and Ian put his hands on Mickey’s hips, pulling him in even more and sliding his hands under Mickey’s legs to hoist him up. “C’mere.”
He allowed Ian to lift him, wrapping his legs around Ian and crossing his ankles to hold himself there. His hands moved up to grip Ian’s shoulders. “Manhandlin’ me over here, huh?”
“Mmm, that’s right,” Ian agreed. He kissed Mickey so gently then, basking in the moment. When Mickey’s mouth opened just the smallest bit, he deepened it, and they could taste the salt on each other’s lips. Ian had slid one hand up to the center of his back subconsciously at some point, trying to hold Mickey tighter to him, though there was nowhere left for him to go as Mickey had moved in time with him and wrapped his arms tight around Ian’s neck.
He was hit with a strong wave of emotion. Being here, this place, this moment, he had dreamed of it for so long. But he hadn’t been sure that he would ever have it. He couldn’t imagine anything other than this life now. He broke their kiss and rested his forehead on Mickey’s.
“I love you,” he told Mickey earnestly. “So much. I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else.”
Fingers brushed through the wet strands of his hair. “I love you, too.”
They stayed there a while, bobbing together in the water, sharing touches and whispered words, finally getting out when the sun started to feel a bit too warm on their backs. Ian’s freckles had exploded over his face and upper body. They hid together in the shade under their umbrella, sharing a chair rather than sitting side-by-side. Ian was in front of Mickey, his back pressed to Mickey’s stomach as they reclined there, the dots on his shoulders being traced by tattooed fingers.
“We should head up soon and get cleaned up before we get some dinner,” Ian suggested.
Mickey hummed what sounded like an agreeable noise, but draped an arm over his chest and held him as if to keep him from getting up, which was perfectly fine with him. They laid together, nodding on and off, not rushing to leave. Eventually the angle of the sun changed and the air was a touch cooler, and that made the decision for them. They got up and gathered their things, returning to their room.
They stripped down to get in the shower together, Ian hanging their still-damp swim trunks on the side of the bathtub. He stepped into the shower stall, fiddling with the knobs until he got the shower on and the wall jets working.
“Wanna try them out?” He asked.
Mickey stepped in after him and they rinsed their bodies, washing off the salt and the sand, enjoying the feeling of the water massaging their skin. This was the closest to luxury Mickey had ever experienced, maybe the closest he would ever get. But at that moment, he had something else in mind.
“Turn those jets off,” he instructed.
Ian was confused, but adjusted the knobs until only the overhead water was still on. “What, why?”
“It’s easier to do this if you do.” Mickey stepped back from the stream of water and dropped to his knees, putting his hands behind Ian’s thighs and guiding him closer. He grabbed Ian’s cock and started to stroke him as he hardened. It didn’t take much. Ian looked at him, his eyes big and blue, the light pink from the sun and the heat of the shower that dusted across Mickey’s cheeks and the bridge of his nose, the glisten of the water on his bare skin. Between that and the way Mickey was looking up at him from below, Ian was rock hard almost immediately.
“Jesus,” he muttered, cupping the side of Mickey’s face with one of his large hands.
He loosened his grip as he moved down the shaft, and tightened it on the way back up. He peeked up at Ian again and smiled, moving closer and teasing over the slit in Ian’s cock with the tip of his tongue. Ian moaned and stuck his thumb in Mickey’s mouth, who swirled his tongue around it as a little preview of what else he was about to do. He got to work, taking Ian in as far as he could manage and then still pushing a little more, letting Ian feel how his jaw stretched, how his throat flexed. And he did. Ian splayed his hand out and touched Mickey’s cheek, his neck. He looked down at his husband and let out a raw, guttural moan of pleasure, which only made Mickey even more aggressive.
He pulled back and let Ian’s cock fall from his mouth, lightly pushing Ian until he backed into the corner of the shower. Mickey crawled towards him, the water pouring over his body.
“Holy fuck.” Ian’s hand was on his cock now, stroking it almost reflexively, watching as Mickey followed him.
He swatted Ian’s hand away and dipped his head low, taking Ian into his mouth as he pushed his hands into Ian’s thighs to hold him in place against the wall. He got into a rhythm, dipping his head down and forward as he took Ian into him, pushing a little deeper each time. Up and back as he withdrew, swirling his tongue around the sensitive rim surrounding the head. Ian had pressed his hands against the wall to help steady himself as his arousal grew, and he could feel his knees getting shakier the closer he got to his climax.
“God that’s good,” Ian moaned. “I’m so close, oh fuck. I want to… Oh shit, Mick, I wanna come on you.”
Mickey hummed around him, the vibration eliciting more noises from Ian as he pushed his hips forward subconsciously, so close to the edge that he could hardly stand it. He reached out and patted at Mickey’s face lightly so he would pull off, taking matters into his own hands. Mickey sat back on his heels as Ian stroked himself and came, shooting his load all over his husband’s chest and stomach. Mickey rubbed it into his body with his hand and then slid it down until he had gripped his own cock, jerking himself off.
Ian knelt down on the floor in front of him, putting his hand over Mickey’s and whispering in his ear. “Let me do it.”
He took over, pumping Mickey as he nibbled his earlobe. He ran his tongue down Mickey’s jaw, dropping small pecks along the way until he had reached his mouth. Their kiss was sloppy as they fumbled at each other, breathing heavy, Mickey’s hands exploring Ian’s body under the stream of the shower. Through it all, Ian stroked him, keeping a hard and fast pace.
“Ian… Ian.” Mickey spoke his name mindlessly as he got closer and closer.
A low gasp escaped his lips as he finally came, and he rested his forehead down on Ian’s shoulder as the energy seeped out of him. He felt Ian’s hand come up and cup the back of his neck. They stayed that way for a minute, just relishing in each other, in that moment. They hadn’t even been there a full day, and it was already more than they could have ever imagined.
“Goddamn,” Mickey muttered.
Ian managed to get to his feet and offered Mickey his hand, helping him get up as well. They set about using the shower for its intended purpose and started to wash up. Ian turned the jets back on and they enjoyed them while they finished getting clean. He had noticed some courtesy robes earlier, and when they got out, he grabbed one and held it out for Mickey to put on.
“Such a gentleman,” Mickey teased as he slid his arms through the sleeves. Ian reached from behind and wrapped his arms around his waist, looking at their reflections in the steamed up mirror. He tied the belt on Mickey’s robe and just held him, nuzzling his face into Mickey’s neck.
“You deserve it,” he said, his words nothing but sincere. Ian hoped that he knew that, that he recognized it, and most of all, he hoped beyond anything that Mickey knew he’d always try his best to give him everything and more.
“You’re going to get cold there, with your balls dangling in the wind like that.” He reached for the other robe as he changed the subject. “C’mere.”
Ian obliged him, not making a thing about Mickey changing the subject. Even after all this time, he still struggled sometimes with praise and appreciation. He didn’t feel the need to try to be forceful about Mickey receiving that message from him, he would continue to express it anyway. He shrugged the robe on and they exited the bathroom. Ian started puttering around, looking at their clothes options for that evening, while Mickey flopped down on the bed and turned on the TV.
“Can I be honest?” Mickey asked.
“I don’t even care if we go out tonight,” he confessed. “I’d be totally happy to stay in bed and just order up some room service.”
“Really?” Ian paused, still holding the shirts he’d been debating between wearing in his hands. “It’s our first night here, don’t you want to check out the restaurants, or that bar you looked up? The reviews online said the fusion place was supposed to be really good.”
“I’m down for whatever,” Mickey reassured. “I was just sayin’. This is great as it is.”
Ian looked at him, sprawled out on the bed in his robe and looking perfectly content. His attraction and his desire were so strong. Not even in a sexual way. It was a force, a yearning, to just be with Mickey. Be near him, close to him. It was a gravitational pull. He realized that he didn’t care if they were in a fancy hotel in Mexico, or running through a sketchy alley in the Southside. He just wanted to be with him all the time. He had felt that way starting when he was just fifteen years old, back when love and lust were all-consuming things, but he never imagined that he would still feel that way well over a decade later.
He tossed the shirts on top of the luggage and crawled into bed, Mickey already lifting his arm for Ian to lay with him. He fit himself right into the crook of his husband’s arm where he belonged.
“Maybe one of the restaurants delivers.”
Their week in Mexico had been the greatest week of Mickey’s life.
It was their last night and Ian had sent him out onto the terrace while he packed up most of their things so that they wouldn’t have to bother with it in the morning. He was relaxing in the jacuzzi, staring out at the reflection of the moonlight on the water and thinking back on everything they had done together that week. There had been great meals, new experiences, and about as much sex as two honeymooners could squeeze in.
“Room for one more in there?” Ian asked as he finally came out to join Mickey, towel around his waist and an ice cold beer bottle in each hand.
But that hadn’t even been the best part of it.
“Been waitin’ for you to get out here,” Mickey told him with a smile.
Ian offered him one of the bottles and used the newly free hand to uncinch his towel, revealing his naked form. He climbed into the hot tub and floated across to Mickey, tucking under his waiting arm. He held out his beer and Mickey clinked the bottles together, both of them taking a long swallow as they leaned into each other.
This was the best part. The time spent together, away from the daily stresses of home, just getting to relish in all of this. They had it good, a fuckin’ hell of a lot better than Mickey had ever allowed himself to imagine he could have when he was growing up. He wouldn’t change or trade any of it. But there was something to be said about getting to just be with each other. No worries about work, or their families, or their day-to-day affairs. Just getting to be there in the moment, what felt like a million miles away from real life. He only wished they could do this indefinitely.
Every once in a while, Mickey just had to take a moment to process it all. Even for as many years as they had already been together, the life they built, the things they accomplished, sometimes he would reflect on it all and be overcome. Sometimes he felt like this life wasn’t what he was meant to have, and it made it feel all the more special.
“Had a real weird dream last night,” Mickey said. “Did I tell you that?”
“No, what was it?”
“I was in prison and I busted out.” He took a swig of his beer and continued. “Decided to go on the run here, to Mexico. But not without coming for you first.”
“Even in your dreams you just want me around all the time,” Ian teased.
“You were with someone else, but you ditched them and we left together.”
“That sounds on brand.” He kissed Mickey’s head. “Did we make it?”
“Dunno, I woke up.”
That wasn’t actually true. In the dream, they had been so close, practically within spitting distance of the border, and Ian had left him. He hadn’t been able to do it. It had broken his heart, and even when he woke up, he felt it weighing on him. The dream had been kind of sitting with him all day. He hadn’t wanted to make a thing about it, but it had bothered him. The fact that Ian had left him brought him back to that insecurity when Ian almost enlisted himself in the army. That he didn’t know how it turned out in the end for him in the dream. The fact that it had felt so real, so heavy, like a version of themselves that could have been. It had hit close to home for a number of reasons, but he didn’t want to bring down the mood on their last night there, so he had tried to push it out of his mind.
“Well I, for one, am glad that we made it to Mexico this way instead of that way,” Ian joked.
“Yeah,” Mickey agreed, sliding a hand under the water and rubbing Ian’s leg. “Can’t believe we head home in the morning. Kinda gonna miss havin’ you all to myself.”
Ian nuzzled his face into his neck. “Me too,” he mumbled, biting down under Mickey’s jaw and sucking a mark there.
That’s definitely going to leave a bruise. Mickey squeezed his thigh and Ian kept at it, sucking harder, stopping to soothe the spot with his tongue just when it was almost too much, and then going back for more. It was a hell of a distraction and Mickey welcomed it.
“Ian,” he mumbled, lust heavy in his voice. “You gonna mark me all up?”
“Nah.” Ian stopped, pressing a kiss into the growing purple mark that had bloomed on Mickey’s throat. “Just giving you a little souvenir, that’s all.”
“Mmhmm,” he hummed, tracing circles under the water on Ian’s leg.
They stayed there for a while, just enjoying each other’s company, sharing kisses and light touches and whispered words. The skin on their fingers and toes had long since pruned and Mickey’s eyelids were getting heavy, but still he stayed. He didn’t want it to end. Eventually, Ian moved first, sitting up and grabbing their empty beer bottles in one hand and offering the other to Mickey to take.
“C’mon, let’s go to bed.”
Chapter 9: Trials and Tribulations
When it started again, no one noticed at first.
Ian had been stable for so long, having finally found the right combination of medications, and had gotten comfortable. It wasn’t a matter of weeks, or even months, but years without a major incident. Still ebbs and flows, highs and lows, but steady enough. Manageable enough. They were in their mid-thirties now, and it had been years of appointments and check-ins, with little more than continued monitoring and small adjustments now and then. It had started slowly. He had started tracking in his mood journal less and less since there was nothing to report. Then not at all. Little habits and behaviors reappeared, but in trickles rather than streams. Things that could have been traced if he had been keeping tabs.
Mickey might have noticed sooner, but he had also gotten complacent. He had spent so much time in the past worrying after Ian. In the early days after his diagnosis, he had scrutinized even the smallest gestures that seemed out of character. There had been plenty of fights, Ian resenting that Mickey worried over every move he made, and Mickey resenting that Ian had entrusted him to look after him and then got angry when he did just that. Sleepless nights spent on the couch away from each other, but never more than one or two in a row, no matter how angry they might be. Learning to differentiate between what was really something to worry over and what wasn’t.
But time passed, and they flourished in their own ways, and life moved along. For the first time, Mickey had truly allowed himself to get comfortable in his life, in the doldrums of his job as a bus driver with the Chicago Transit Authority, in the every day of just getting to be a young, married father living a boring, normal life he only ever thought would exist in some faraway universe. Coming home tired after a day of work, settling into it, not feeling the need to be on guard at all times like he always had been, because the threats he had once feared were of little to no consequence to him anymore.
The other Gallagher siblings might have noticed, but their lives weren’t intertwined the way they had been when they were all growing up together. They were adults now, and Fiona wasn’t responsible for picking up the slack and playing mother to her siblings. Lip didn’t get to sweep in and save the day at a moment’s notice. The younger siblings were not watching and waiting for their older ones to fall from grace into the same traps as their parents. They all had their own lives, families, and obligations. If they were all still under the same roof, the boys all crowded together in one room, there would have been little to no opportunity for secrets. In the present day, more often than not, they didn’t have a picture of what was going on in one another's lives until they were told. Sometimes information about one another reached them second, or even third hand.
Svetlana might have noticed, she had always been very attuned to Ian’s behavior, but they didn’t all live in the house together anymore like they had in their teens and twenties. While they had once been a family unit, Mickey and Svetlana had moved on to their own independent futures when they’d finally had the chance, he with Ian and her with her wife. While she and Ian still had a great relationship, they weren’t in sync the way they once had been just by virtue of sharing the same space, being together every day, and she wasn’t around him enough to see every little shift.
Yevgeny might have noticed, maybe even more than his mother and father. While it was not something that was ever discussed, he never forgot that day at the baseball field. He was not naive by any means, and his family had always been open about Ian’s diagnosis, even if they tried to sugarcoat the finer points for his benefit or protection. He had always been a sensitive and perceptive child, and he was less self-involved than a lot of teenagers. Yevgeny played along most of the time with his parents’ need to keep him in the dark, to try to maintain a sense of innocence for him that none of them had ever had the luxury of in their own childhoods. The three of them had a certain level of stubborn pride about it all, and he couldn’t bring himself to burst their bubbles. But his time was divided between two homes, and he was only with his fathers on alternating weekends and holidays. No matter how much attention he might pay, he was just not physically present to see enough to know that something was different.
Until the summer between Yevgeny’s sophomore and junior years of high school.
Mickey had finally started to catch on that Ian seemed different than usual. It had all the marks of Ian being in a manic episode, and it was hauntingly familiar. But while that made Mickey nervous enough, it was the other side of the pendulum that had him scared.
He had thought that the mania was bad when it had first happened all those years ago, but the depression was infinitely worse. After the time when Ian almost took off with Yevgeny, and he had committed himself and gotten his diagnosis and started treatment, he had hit his very first downswing as his body adjusted to the medications. Mickey remembered Ian spending days upon days in their bed, barely moving, not speaking, a shell of himself. He had finally understood what Fiona had meant by “low-lows,” and he had never wanted to see that side of Ian again. It had scared Mickey, scared all of them for that matter. Ian had been so despondent, but thankfully once his doctor had found the right combinations and dosages of his medications, it had never again gotten as bad as that. He had still had some peaks and valleys over the years, but much more manageable, and Mickey hoped that he could convince Ian to go back to the doctor before that pendulum swung its way back to that dark place again.
Mickey had tried to bring it up casually, but had been rebuffed. Ian had brushed it off without a second glance, and at first Mickey almost wondered if it wasn’t in his own head. Maybe it was just that old version of him waking back up after being dormant for so long, seeing bad things hiding around every corner. But unlike those early days, where he had hesitated to act on his fears, this time he reached out for help anyway.
He had called Lip and had a lengthy conversation with him about his concerns about Ian’s mania returning. Mickey knew that the only other person who might be able to get through to him would be his brother. From his own experiences with their mother, Lip was not ready to write it off either, and decided that maybe he should have his own talk with Ian about what was going on. His conversation went about as well as Mickey’s had, maybe even worse because now Ian was on the defensive and was irritated at what he perceived as the two of them conspiring against him. His overreaction only fueled their concerns, but there wasn’t a whole lot that Mickey felt he could do beyond watching and waiting.
To further complicate things, for the first time in a number of years, Yevgeny was living full-time with his fathers, though only until school resumed in the fall. Svetlana had traveled back to Russia for the summer to reconnect with her family after finding out her father had disappeared. She had wanted to bring Yevgeny, introduce him to her homeland and long-lost relatives, but he was participating in a summer internship and could not take the time away. Normally Mickey would have loved the idea of having so much time with his son, but he was really trying to keep him from knowing that anything was amiss, and it was adding to his stress over the situation.
Father and son were both up early and eating breakfast together, just the two of them.
“Where’s Pap?” Yevgeny wondered.
“Out for a run.” Mickey told him.
“Doesn’t he have an early shift on the truck today?”
The truck was slang for ambulance. Ian had been working in the medical field for nearly a decade, first as an EMT and then a few years ago he had gone back to school to advance his degree and moved up to paramedic. Ian had never considered that line of work until he had dealt with his own mental illness issues. Being in that environment, seeing the help and the care the nurses and doctors gave their patients piqued his interest and gave him a new sense of direction that he had sorely needed at the time.
“You know he likes his exercise.” Mickey pointed at his son’s bowl, diverting the conversation. “Hurry up and eat so I can drop you off on my way to the depot.”
He ignored the way his son stared at him, knowing there were other questions or comments he was holding back. Mickey grabbed his own cereal bowl and lifted it to his lips, pouring the last sip of milk from the bottom into his mouth as he got up and dropped it in the sink. “You got five minutes.”
Yev didn’t say anything, content to sit back and watch how it all developed around him. He had only been there for a couple of weeks, but he was taking a mental tally of everything that had been going on. He had noticed the slight tension between his dads, something that even in the worst of times was unfamiliar to him. The way Mickey talked to Ian had become more guarded, his remarks seemed more premeditated and thought out. Ian wasn’t directly acting different towards Yev. If anything, he seemed like himself when it was just the two of them. But he was different with Mickey, and overall there was a nervous energy about him. He’d always been the type who liked to keep busy, but Yev was hardly seeing much of him between work and whatever other things were keeping him occupied. Ian usually made a point to make sure he was available when Yev was staying with them. It could just be that this wasn’t the normal alternating weekend situation, so he hadn’t felt the need, but he really hadn’t been around much at all and Yev couldn’t help but wonder.
He finished his food and put his own bowl in the sink, bounding upstairs to get his bag before his dad could take off without him.
That night they all had dinner together, and that only further cemented the idea in Yev’s mind that something was off. The evening had started out well enough. Ian and Mickey had both made it home around the same time, Mickey with take out in hand for everyone to have for dinner. They seemed to Yev to be acting normal enough - kissing hello, scuttling around getting things ready to all sit down and eat, catching up on their days. Mickey filled them in on the latest antics of one of the regular customers on his route, a gentleman who had provided him with endless stories that he brought home to share. Ian hadn’t really had any interesting cases that day, and was quick to turn his attention to their son.
“So how are you liking this company so far?” Ian asked him.
Yev shrugged. “It’s not bad. I don’t know that I will really need an internship if I do decide to enlist when I graduate, but it can’t hurt if I do decide to go for college, I guess.”
Ian beamed at that. He had been so excited when Yev started showing an interest in the army the year before. “Did I ever tell you that I almost joined the army?”
“Yeah, Pap, of course you told me.”
“Back when I was in ROTC and around your age, your dad and I even had a makeshift training course at some old abandoned buildings that I would do drills at.” Ian slapped his hand on the table. “Hey, that’s what we can do! We can build a course in the backyard for you! I’m off tomorrow, I can go and get some materials to make it!”
There was a very noticeable warning tone to Mickey’s voice, but he either ignored it or didn’t catch it. “I can sketch something out tonight, figure out a rough idea of what we’d need to get.”
He got up and went over to their kitchen junk drawer, digging through it and pulling out a notepad and pen, all the while muttering to himself about wood planks and measurements and the like. Yev watched his father watching Ian, the way his brow furrowed with concern, how he hunched over his dinner and pushed it around his plate. His body language was completely closed off.
“You don’t have to do that, Pap,” Yev insisted, trying to divert the conversation. “With this internship and everything, I don’t know how much time I’d have to use it anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Ian told him. “It’ll be ready and waiting when you do have time.”
He sat back down and started explaining the old setup that he’d had to Yev in great length, scratching rough ideas as he prattled on. Mickey got up, clearing his plate and heading out of the room.
He stopped and looked back at his son, his eyes sad. “Gonna take a shower.”
There was a lot that Yev wanted to say and ask, but he could see he wasn’t going to get more out of him, not at that time anyway. He nodded and Mickey walked out of the room, leaving Ian and Yev as they were.
Late that night, Yev had been in bed for a while, but not quite asleep. He was laying there, TV on low, when he heard footsteps. He didn’t pay them much mind at first, figuring that one of them had gotten up for some water, or to take a piss. But then he saw a glow of light come on outside through the window next to his bed. He moved the curtain aside and looked out.
Ian was in the yard with his notepad, looking at it and wandering around, seemingly trying to figure out how he wanted to configure this obstacle course he was set on building. He watched as Ian puzzled it out, walking back and forth as he waved his hands over different areas, clearly planning. It went on that way for a little bit, until Yev heard heavier footsteps in the house behind him and knew that Mickey had woken up and figured out that Ian wasn’t there. His steps were heavy on the staircase as he made his way down, and Yev pushed open his window quietly to listen in on the inevitable argument that was moments away.
With that done, he could hear Ian talking to himself now, though he couldn’t make all of it out. Mickey appeared a moment later, stalking across the yard in Ian’s direction.
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing out here?”
“I’m working out where to put all the stuff for the obstacle course. I’m thinking that I can-”
“Ian,” Mickey interrupted. “It is 1 o’clock in the fucking morning. Get your ass in the house.”
“It’s fine,” he insisted with a wave. “I don’t have work tomorrow.”
“Well, I do. And so does Yev, and I don’t want you wakin’ him up while you’re out here tryin’ to feng shui the fuckin’ yard.”
The joke was on him; Yev was already wide awake and privy to everything that was going on down below, but he wasn’t about to announce himself. No matter how badly he wanted to break up their discord. But bringing him up did seem to take a bit of the wind out of Ian’s sails, and he stopped what he was doing.
“Shit, I didn’t think about that.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” Mickey stepped closer to him and cupped his neck. “Ian, what is going on with you?”
“Nothing," he insisted. “I’m fine.”
Yev watched his father deflate, shoulders sinking, head hanging down. He was usually so full of life, loud and bold and unapologetic about any of it, so seeing his dad like this made Yev’s heart hurt. He’d also always had a lot of patience for Ian, more than he had for much of anyone else, so this must have been building for some time for him to be reacting like he was. Yev could feel his concern starting to grow. It was clear that this situation was really wearing on his dad and also that he didn't believe Ian, but he just didn’t seem to have it in him to fight about it.
“Can we just go the fuck to bed, please?”
Ian nodded and followed Mickey back into the house, the outside light going dark a moment later. He heard them walk past his room, the floorboards creaking as one of them hesitated outside his door before moving on. Yev laid back on his pillows, thinking about everything he’d just witnessed until he finally dozed off into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning, it was just him and Mickey having breakfast together again. The table was quiet, the evidence of the long night he’d had lingering in the dark circles under his father’s eyes. They were eating scrambled eggs, though it seemed like they were both spending a bit more time just pushing their food around on their plates.
“Where’s Pap?” Yev asked. “Out running again?”
“Nah, sleepin’ in for once.” He shoved a bite of food in his mouth and talked around it. “Long night.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
Mickey’s head snapped up at that. “Shit, did he fuckin’ wake you up? I warned him about that.”
Yev shook his head. “No, I wasn’t asleep yet. Heard him go outside.”
His father shook his head. It was clear that he was upset that Yev had witnessed that, hoping to downplay it all as he usually did. That was much easier to do when the person you were trying to hide shit from hadn’t seen it.
“Dad?” Mickey glanced over at him and he continued. “What’s going on with him?”
“Nothin’, he’s fine.”
“Dad, come on.”
“I said he’s fine.” Mickey got up and took his plate, cutting off the conversation before Yev could persist. “Get your shit together, we gotta go.”
The ride to Yev’s internship was silent, and he was barely out of the car before Mickey took off, preventing any chance that his son would give one last try at finishing their earlier conversation. Yev tried to focus on his work, but was distracted most of the day with thinking about what was happening at home. He wanted to try to talk to his dad about it again, but didn’t want to piss him off or stress him out even more with worrying about what Yev was thinking. He was torn about how to approach it. His dad was awesome, and easy to talk to about most things, but Ian was not one of them. He was like a pitbull when it came to that.
Ultimately, Yev decided to give himself some time to figure out how to talk to his dad about it before jumping in. He was dreading what weirdness he might find when he got home, so he made plans to hang out with some friends and texted his dad that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. He didn’t have a formal curfew, but he knew he’d be fine as long as he didn’t push it and come home too late. The break did him some good, and he felt a bit better about things by the time he headed home for the night.
When he got there, the house was lit up like they were there, but was oddly quiet. Their cars were in the driveway, lights were on, and he saw his dad’s wallet tossed on the kitchen counter, but the men themselves were nowhere to be found.
“Dad?” Yev went from room to room, making his way upstairs to look around there. “Pap?”
Nothing. He dropped his stuff in his room and he noticed that the light in the shed at the far end of the yard was on. Curious, he went back downstairs and out the back door. Yev could hear Mickey and Ian arguing, and he crept closer to listen in.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Ian?!”
“I told you, I had to get supplies for the training course.”
“He doesn’t fuckin’ need it!” Mickey was shouting, making no attempt to quiet his voice, assuming Yev was still out with his friends. “You spent over SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS on what? Lumber? Nets? That’s a lot of fuckin’ money!”
“Hey, I work too! And if I want to spend that money on our son, I will!”
“You went behind my back! We don’t spend money like that without talkin’ about it.” Yev heard something slam inside the shed and he cringed. He wasn’t able to see what it was but he heard something fall and clatter. “This isn’t takin’ the kid to a movie or buying him something he liked at a store. This is a lot of money, especially for us.” He heard his father sniff and then sigh, his voice quieter when he spoke again. “Never thought you’d do some shit like this, man.”
Ian laughed at that. “Mick, you’re being ridiculous!”
Mickey came out of the shed and Yev backed into the corner next to the shed to avoid being seen. He watched as his father quirked his lips, biting the inside of his cheeks. Yev knew that sight well. “You don’t even fuckin’ see it.”
Ian followed him out, not bothering to shut the lights or the shed door. “See what?” When Mickey ignored him, he lunged forward and caught onto Mickey’s shoulders to get him to stop walking. “See what?”
“Let go.” Mickey shrugged him off, and he may as well have slapped Ian from the look on his face.
“Fuck is wrong with you?” Ian asked.
“You’re sick.” Mickey finally turned back and looked at him. “You need help. Let me call Dr. Sanchez, or take you down to St. Anthony’s. I don’t know if you need an adjustment, or something has stopped working, but this,” Mickey waved his hand in the direction of the shed. “ This isn’t right, Ian.”
“Fuck you.” Ian’s voice trembled, a combination of anger and hurt.
“Yeah, fuck me.” Mickey dragged a hand over his face. “I can’t do this.”
He turned and walked back to the house. Ian stood in the yard, seeming not to know what to do, and Yev stayed tucked away in the shadows, not daring to come out until the coast was clear. After a minute or two, he heard a car engine rev up. It took a moment for him to put together that it was Mickey leaving the house. Yev was shocked. He had seen them get into plenty of fights over the years, of varying levels of seriousness, but he had never seen Mickey actually leave. Ian was still in the yard, pacing around muttering to himself. Yev wasn’t sure if he’d realized what was happening but soon enough he wound up going back into the house himself.
With both of them out of sight, Yev finally snuck out from his hiding spot. He almost closed up the shed that they’d forgotten about, but realized if he did, he’d probably blow his own cover. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to go about sneaking into the house, though it occurred to him that neither of them knew he’d even come home. So sneaking in wasn’t really necessary.
He dug around his pockets for his keys, thankful he hadn’t left them upstairs when he put his bag down, and tiptoed around the side of the house to the front door. From there, he confirmed that it was definitely Mickey he had heard leaving a few minutes before, his car missing from its rightful place in the driveway. He let himself into the house as if everything was normal.
“Dad? Pap? I’m home,” he called out.
Of course, Yev knew Mickey wouldn’t answer, but he was keeping up appearances. But Ian didn’t answer either, which he should have. Yev wandered through the house, much like he’d done just a little while earlier. Finally, he heard a noise coming from the basement and he went down to find Ian pounding on a punching bag they had mounted to the ceiling. He bounced around on his feet, taking shot after shot, full force. Yev watched him quietly for a moment before interrupting.
“Good thing that’s a bag and not someone’s face.” He observed.
Ian jumped, startled at the voice behind him, and turned around. “You surprised me, didn’t hear you come down. Just getting home?”
“Mmhmm,” he hummed with a nod. He moved further into the basement, batting lightly at the bag as it swung around. “Where’s Dad?”
“Out.” Ian resumed his barrage on the bag, but this time Yev took hold of it to steady it while Ian punched, rather than letting it just flail around.
“You seem pissed off.”
“Just had a long day, no biggie.” He smiled, and Yev would have been reassured if he hadn’t witnessed their fight. But he couldn’t admit that, so instead he just continued to let Ian spar with the bag while he steadied it.
Not too long later, Yev heard footsteps above him, signaling that Mickey had returned home. He noticed but didn’t comment on the fact that Ian’s punches on the bag sped up even more after that. Yev was getting exhausted just maneuvering the bag, and felt a sense of relief when Ian finally seemed to gas himself out and stopped. Ian glanced up at the clock on the wall.
“Shit, getting late. Better shower and head to bed, I got the early shift in the morning.”
He ruffled Yev’s hair and dropped a kiss on his head as he went up the stairs to the main floor. Yev followed him up to the main floor and looked around, noticing that the back deck light was on. He peeked out and saw Mickey sitting in a chair. He opened the door and stepped out to join him, noticing that he was smoking. He wasn’t particularly surprised, given that Mickey was clearly stressed the fuck out. But he’d finally quit a few years before, so it was a bit disappointing.
“Want some company?” He asked.
“Sure, but only if you won’t give me any shit about this.” Mickey held up the cigarette.
“Nah, no shit from me.” He dropped down in the seat next to his dad. “Rough day?”
Mickey took a deep drag and sighed out a heavy plume of smoke. “Yeah, you could fuckin’ say that.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
His father raised an eyebrow at him. “Not particularly.”
They sat in silence, Mickey puffing on the cigarette and Yev staring out into the dark yard. He noticed the shed was closed up, and figured his dad must have done that before he came out to join him. He looked at his father in the moonlight, taking him in. Even in the darkness, he could see the worry etched in his features, the creases in his forehead. Mickey finished smoking and ground the cigarette out in an ashtray that he had unearthed, dropping the butt in there and letting it finish smoldering out. He leaned back in his chair and stared up at the stars.
“Is this Pap’s bipolar acting up?”
Mickey glanced over at him. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not stupid,” Yevgeny reminded him. “I can see that he’s being weird, you know.”
“I know you’re not stupid.” He sighed. “Pretty sure that’s exactly what this is.”
“What can we do about it?”
“ We don’t need to do anything.” HIs father’s voice was firm, not leaving room for argument as far as he was concerned. “ You will worry about the shit you need to worry about. Your internship, your friends, all that teenage bullshit. I will worry about Ian.”
“Don’t ‘Dad’ me, kiddo.”
“I love him too, you know.” Yevgeny pushed back, getting frustrated. “I want to help.”
“Yev, the last thing any of us want is you worrying about any of this. And that includes Ian.” He pulled another cigarette out of its pack, lighting it. “I know you love him, that goes without sayin’. But he wouldn’t want you dealin’ with this. Hell, he doesn’t even want me doin’ it. We don’t need to all piss him off, it won’t help anything. Trust me on that.”
He thought about a long gone memory of the misadventure Ian had taken him on that ended at that old baseball field. “Doesn’t it ever get hard to deal with?”
“Course it does. Hell, this shit now is fuckin’ hard.”
“Have you ever wanted to just walk away from it?”
Mickey’s answer was immediate. “Fuck no.”
That surprised him. “Really?”
His dad shook his head. “Not even once.”
“How is that possible?” Yev couldn’t imagine how his dad hadn’t ever thought of it. Not even in a real serious way, just in general. How the frustration had never been enough to push him to that point.
“I love him,” Mickey said simply. “Same way you just want to help him, that’s how I feel too.”
Yev considered that. “Doesn’t seem like he wants it.”
“He sure doesn’t make it easy,” Mickey agreed. “He’s a stubborn little shit, and that’s got fuck all to do with his disorder. But life isn’t easy. Never has been for us, at least.” He puffed on his cigarette, his expression thoughtful. “All things considered though? I’d take this a thousand times over most of the shit I dealt with growing up.”
“What do you mean?” Yev didn’t want to push, but he had to ask. This was the most forthright his father had been in a long time about himself, his thoughts and feelings, and he wanted to take advantage of it.
“My family was all fucked up,” he replied. “My dad was an asshole, and he didn’t really give a fuck about any of us. He put us through a lot, shit that you don’t need to know about.”
Yev knew better than to touch that with a ten foot pole. It would be the easiest way for his dad to shut down completely, which he did not want, so he diverted the conversation. “What about your mom?”
Mickey sighed. “I was angry at her for a long time. She loved us, but she wasn’t a good mom. She had her own issues, and she got into drugs. She died when I was pretty young, and we were stuck alone with Terry after that.”
Yev looked over at his dad. He knew that none of his parents had had easy childhoods, though they were always very light on the details when the topic came up. It was rare for any of them to be this candid about it. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was getting older and his dad was more comfortable with talking about it with him, or if he was just feeling more emotionally vulnerable than usual with everything happening with Ian, but these were the weird moments with his dad that Yevgeny loved the most. When he opened up, when he revealed another layer of the many that made him up. His father was complex, a mystery that Yevgeny was not sure he would ever fully solve, and he treasured each piece of the puzzle that was given to him.
“I understand my mother a lot better now than I did when I was your age,” Mickey admitted. “She never had a fair shot. It would’ve been nice if she had been around and met you. She’d be crazy about you.”
Yev smiled at the thought. “I’d have liked that.” He didn’t know much about her, but he’d seen a picture of her once. His Aunt Mandy had shown it to him. She had been beautiful in a hard way, not unlike her children. “What about Mom’s family?”
“That’s her story to tell,” Mickey said. He wasn’t going to be the one to open that can of worms. “They’re all in Russia, far as I know, but they suck too by all accounts. There’s reasons we’ve only really kept you around Ian’s family. Frank’s a douchebag and Monica’s a flake, but your aunts and uncles are good people. Don’t tell ‘em I said that though, especially not your Uncle Lip.”
Yev snorted a laugh at that, and even Mickey smirked, lightening the heavy mood. They sat there for a while in silence after that, enjoying the nice weather and each other’s company, lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Mickey looked at his phone and realized it was later than he thought.
“Alright, I’m calling it a night.” He pushed himself out of his seat, stretching out after sitting there for so long. “I’m glad you came out to hang with me.”
“Me too, Dad.”
Yev got up to follow his father into the house, but was stopped when his dad reached over and slung an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close and kissing his temple.
“I lucked out with you, kid.”
“I’d say I got pretty lucky with you guys, too.”
The training course never happened.
It seemed that the day Ian bought all of those materials he had been at the peak of his mania, because after that came the inevitable. The pendulum finally swung the other direction, and Ian slid down into a funk, the likes of which they hadn’t seen since that very first one a decade ago. Yevgeny remembered being that six year old child, watching from the bedroom doorway as his mom and dad tried to beg, plead, cajole and even threaten Ian to get him out of bed. As a parade of his aunts and uncles came and tried to do the same, like maybe somehow one of them would have the power to make a difference. He didn’t understand why his Pap wouldn’t answer, or why sometimes he would cry for no reason, how he never seemed to eat or drink the whole time he was in bed. He remembered how scared he was that his Pap would have to go back to the hospital again, since it didn’t seem to make him better. Yevgeny felt like that young boy again. He was at a loss for what to do, and as it was, his father wouldn’t let him do a whole hell of a lot anyway.
Mickey had been able to get short term leave from his job, hoping it would be long enough to get Ian treatment and to get him stable so that he could go back. Ian himself was put on an unpaid leave of absence, which Mickey was trying very hard not to think about. Money was not an immediate concern thankfully, but they could only get by for so long on Mickey’s salary alone. Yev knew the stress was eating away at his father. He was smoking up a storm, his quick temper had returned, and he was trying to juggle not just Ian’s behavior but also the good intentions of the Gallagher clan. They meant well, but they could be overwhelming, even Yev recognized that.
He did his best to try to stay under the radar, not give his father even more stress and worry. His dad wasn’t paying much mind or attention to him anyway, he was too distracted. But Yev was too worried about his Pap to even try to take advantage of it. He also made sure not to tell his mother during their weekly phone calls, knowing that she would want to try to return on the first flight back. She deserved this time with her family, and Yev didn’t want to ruin that for her, or to have her worrying over all of them, either.
It was all wearing a bit thin on him too. He had tried a number of times to engage Ian, talk to him, bring him food. He was met with mixed results, but none of them were particularly great. Sometimes he didn’t get a response, sometimes just a mumbled thank you, usually no sort of eye contact or engagement beyond that. His dad didn’t forbid him from trying, but he could tell that he wanted Yev to keep his distance, so he tried to respect that and not push. But it was really friggin’ hard, watching it all. Watching one father stuck so deep inside what was happening to him, the other just trying to hang on the best he could.
Mickey was starting to crack, breaking apart at the seams with the weight of it all. He felt like the young man he had once been, in what had felt like a whole other lifetime. The angry, scared young man who just wanted to lash out because he didn’t know better, had never been taught better. He wanted to scream, to throw something, to shake Ian until he snapped out of it. But he wouldn’t do that. He took every ounce of love and concern and compassion that he had for Ian and he poured it into caring for him. He brought him food and water. He made sure that Ian bathed at least once every few days, even if it meant him having to physically carry Ian into the bathroom to do so. He laid with him just so he wouldn’t be alone, held him and stroked his hair when he cried. He did it all, never once complaining to Ian, or lashing out at him, no matter how he felt about it. At night, when he thought Ian and Yev were asleep, he would usually lock himself in the bathroom and turn on the shower and let it all out.
He thought he was getting away with it. But Yev knew.
It got to be too much, and finally Mickey did break, and it was like a torrential flood of everything that he had pent up. Yev wasn’t sure what had triggered it, but he heard Mickey yelling upstairs about something and he came storming out of their bedroom and down the stairs. Yev was in the kitchen making a sandwich and he watched as his dad grabbed his car keys and stormed out, leaving for the first time in over a week. His car engine roared to life and Yev heard the tires squeal as he backed out into the street and sped off. He abandoned his food and snuck up the stairs, tiptoeing as he got to their bedroom door.
Yev peeked in, but there was nothing to see but the usual sight of Ian laying on his side, facing away from the door. He could see that the food his father had made earlier sat untouched on the nightstand. He watched for a minute or two, feeling helpless. Yev wished he knew the right thing to say or do, but at this point if his own father didn’t know what to do, he sure as hell wouldn’t. Mickey knew Ian better than anyone in the world, and he was clearly at a loss himself.
Eventually, Yev went back down and finished making his sandwich. He took it to the living room to watch TV while he ate. His father didn’t return for a few hours, and when he did he found Yev making some dinner for them.
He came in and greeted his son by ruffling his hair. “Hey, did he get up or anything while I was out?”
Yev shook his head. “Not that I heard. I’m making chicken soup.”
“Thanks kid.” Mickey opened the fridge and grabbed a beer, popping the top off and taking a long gulp. “I better go check on him.”
“Dad, are you okay?”
He sighed. “I’m tryin’ to be. Fuckin’ rough, man.”
“How can I help?”
“Yev, this isn’t me sayin’ I don’t want your help.” Mickey pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is just me sayin’ there isn’t anything you can actually do.”
He nodded, his feelings a bit hurt thought he knew that wasn’t really fair. “Soup should be ready in a bit. I’ll let you know.”
Mickey hesitated for a moment, feeling the vibe from his son but not knowing what to do about it. “Okay.”
He made his way upstairs and looked in on Ian, who looked exactly the same as he had when Mickey left earlier. He huffed in annoyance. He knew it wasn’t Ian, knew this was the bipolar at work, but Mickey did apparently have a limit for what he was able to deal with, and today he had found it. Ian had said things earlier that Mickey refused to even think about, not wanting to get bent out of shape again. He entered the room long enough to grab a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, taking them into the bathroom so he could take a shower and try to collect his thoughts.
He turned the water on hot and climbed in, trying to wash away all of the stress and anxiety he was feeling. Things had to change. This situation was entirely unhealthy for all of them. Ian was not improving, Mickey was a ticking time bomb, and Yev was a kid and shouldn’t have had to take any of this on. Ian’s siblings were a whole other issue, wanting to be more involved and not appreciating that Mickey was keeping them at arm’s length, even though they knew as well as he did that he was doing so because, like it or not, that’s what Ian would want.
Mickey was constantly worried about work and bills and how much longer this would go on, realizing that, like it or not, there were real world things that existed outside of their house that they needed to contend with and rely on. If none of that mattered, maybe it would have been easier to just try to wait indefinitely for something to change, but that wasn’t a solution anyway. He had hoped with a little bit of time, Ian would be able to recognize that he had to do something, but it just didn’t seem to be happening.
Mickey knew what he needed to do.
He got out of the shower and dried off, dreading the task at hand but knowing he had to deal with it. Better to just rip off the fuckin’ bandaid, so to speak. He threw on his clean clothes and he went back into the bedroom. He walked around to the side where Ian was laying and stood there, arms crossed.
“Ian, look at me.” He had been staring blankly at the wall, but he managed to drag his gaze up and meet Mickey’s. “I have tried so fuckin’ hard here, man. I have tried to be patient, to wait, to see if things changed and got better. But this isn’t working, Ian. I’m worried about you. I love you .” He uncrossed his arms and crouched down to Ian’s level, resting his hand on Ian’s cheek gently. “You are sick. This isn’t getting better on its own. You need help. Please, I am begging you, let me call Dr. Sanchez and get you down to the hospital.”
Ian didn’t answer, though Mickey could see that he was taking in what was being said to him. He stared at the wall again, and Mickey could feel his anger and frustration rising further.
“Ian, when we got married, you gave me the authority to make decisions for you if you were ever unable to make them for yourself.” Mickey’s voice broke and betrayed him then, and he wasn’t able to hold his emotion back anymore. “ Please, don’t make me have to do it. Because I will.”
Ian’s eyes closed and a tear slipped out the corner onto his pillow. “Fuck you,” he whispered.
Mickey felt the energy getting sapped right out of him. He sat down hard on his butt from his squatted position and pushed back with his heels until his back was on the wall and he was further from the bed. He drew his legs up and hugged his arms around his knees, head hanging down between them. That was it, the last move he had in his arsenal to make, and he had threatened Ian with it. He could feel the dread in his belly, because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t matter what promises Ian had made years prior. If Mickey did this, it would ruin them. He felt sick and he didn’t know what the fuck to do.
“I brought up soup for Pap.”
His head popped up and he saw Yev in the doorway, a bowl resting on a plate in his hands. Even Ian opened his eyes at the sound of their son’s voice, the look on his face a mix of sadness and embarrassment.
Mickey didn’t know how long he’d been there, what he might have overheard, and he didn’t want to know. “It’s not a good time, Yev.”
His son ignored him and stepped into the room, walking around the foot of the bed and stepping over his dad to get to the side table so he could put the soup down. He stood beside his fathers and decided enough was enough. He unceremoniously sat down on the floor and looked back and forth between the two of them.
“Please…” Mickey trailed off. Please go? Please stay? What was the difference? This affected him, too. Maybe it was stupid to continue to try to keep him out of it, and clearly he had no intention of playing along anymore either way.
Yev looked at Ian. “Pap, I love you.”
He answered after a long moment. “I love you, too.”
“You need to do something,” Yev reasoned with him. “Aren’t you tired of feeling like this?”
Ian didn’t respond, but he did start to cry quietly.
Yev wanted to cry too. “You promised me once that you’d do your part to help yourself get better, do you remember that?” His voice was shaking, but he was determined to make his point. Ian nodded, almost imperceptibly. “I hope you’re still good for that promise, Pap.”
He didn’t answer at first, still crying to himself. But finally, it came.
“Take me to the hospital.”
Mickey was almost in disbelief, but he wouldn’t question it. He got up and motioned to Yev to join him. “Get his stuff from the bathroom. Toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, meds, whatever else he might need.”
Yev left the room and Mickey grabbed a small duffle bag from their closet, grabbing some clothes for him, mostly socks, underwear and undershirts since he’d probably have to wear whatever standard issue clothing they had in the ward. He went over to the bed and ran his hand over Ian’s hair, smoothing it back and kissing his forehead. “I’m proud of you.”
Yev came back with the bathroom items and helped his father sit Ian up at the edge of the bed. Mickey left the room to call ahead and let them know he was bringing Ian in, and to make sure that they contacted Dr. Sanchez and let her know.
Ian gestured towards the bowl. “Chicken soup?”
Yev nodded, taking some with the spoon and offering it to Ian. “My mom always made it when I was sick, it helped me feel better.”
He slurped at it and faintly smiled at another long-forgotten memory from that night a decade ago. “I remember. Tastes good.”
Ian allowed Yev to feed him a little more of it before he finally held a hand up to stop, not wanting to make himself sick by overdoing it when he hadn’t been eating much for some time. When Mickey came back upstairs, he shooed Yev out of the room so that he could help Ian get dressed without feeling embarrassed. They got him out to the car and drove down together, all three of them. The psych ward was a cold and depressing place that Mickey had hoped Yev would never have to see, but he was honestly glad he had his son there with him despite that. They got Ian inside and Mickey did his intake paperwork while Yev sat with him and waited. When it was time for him to go in, Mickey had to be the one to tell Yev that they couldn’t follow, and he stood with his son while they watched Ian being escorted out of sight.
He could see the tears in his son’s eyes and he hugged him tight. “I know, kid. This is the worst fuckin’ part. Seein’ him go.”
Yev nodded into his father’s shoulder. He didn’t think it would be good by any means, but he didn’t realize how much it would hurt, and he understood even more why his dad had been trying to avoid it. His dad pulled back and put his hands on Yev’s shoulders.
“C’mon, let’s go home. We can come see him tomorrow.”
Yev let his father steer him out of the ward and they walked together back to the car. The ride home was quiet and it was a relief to just get home. Yev had forgotten that the pot of soup was still on the stove, and seeing it made him realize how hungry he was. He hadn’t imagined that he would have much appetite, but the relief of having his Pap finally dealing with the situation was enough to relax him more than he had been since he’d been staying with them. He turned on the stove burner to reheat the food, and when it was ready, he served up a heaping bowl for each of them.
They both devoured it eagerly and went to bed shortly after, exhausted from the day’s affairs.
The next morning, Yevgeny woke up to the sound of activity out in the backyard. He looked out his window and saw his father, Uncle Lip and Uncle Kev moving back and forth, entering the shed and emerging with their arms full of the materials Ian had bought. He watched them moving back and forth for a while until it seemed they had finished their task. Eventually they all came out and Mickey locked up the shed. The three men spoke briefly, but this time Yevgeny didn’t open the window to eavesdrop. He watched as Kev and Lip said their goodbyes and disappeared from view around the side of the house. Out in the street, the engine on Kev’s truck roared as he started it up and drove off.
Yevgeny watched as his father leaned back against the shed door, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes and tilting his head back. He stayed that way for a long moment before he moved, putting his hands against the door to steady himself and sliding down to sit on the floor. He dug around in his pocket for his cigarette pack and lighter. He shook one out and put it between his lips, lighting it up and taking a deep drag. He sat there for a while, occasionally swiping at a stray tear that escaped his eye and trickled down his cheek. Yev debated going out to check on him, keep him company. But he suspected if he did that, his dad would try to put on a brave face for him, and he thought his dad needed to just let it out. So instead, he watched.
Eventually, Ian would come home. And life would go on, and get good again, and then great again. They learned from those mistakes, took the lessons and recommitted as a family to keeping track, to being open and candid about everything, and to leaving nothing to chance.
And they never talked about that fuckin’ training course again.
Chapter 10: Yevgeny Gets Married
Ian and Mickey stood facing each other in their hotel room, Ian’s hands busy tying the bowtie around Mickey’s neck. When he was finished, he stood back to admire his handiwork while Mickey worked a finger under his collar and pulled the shirt away from his neck.
“Never thought we’d fuckin’ be here, dressed like two penguins.” He muttered. “Walking down an aisle, all eyes on you. Fuckin’ weird.”
Ian scoffed. “Mick, we’ve been married for how many years now?”
“Yeah I know,” he argued. “But when we got hitched, we just went down to the court and made it official, we didn’t do a whole shebang.”
“I mean, we were practically married for years at that point anyway.”
They looked at each other and spoke at the same time, echoing a term they had picked up from Kev. “Ghetto married!” The two men laughed at that, smiling at each other.
The lines around Mickey’s eyes crinkled just so, and Ian stopped breathing for a second. It never ceased to amaze him how fucking much he loved Mickey. They were in their forties now, about to marry off their son, and he still got surprised by it.
He looked so handsome in his all-black suit, his pale skin standing out in stark contrast. His hairline had receded a little, and he had some gray strands scattered in his black hair, but those blue eyes still did things to Ian. Even if Mickey had to hide those eyes behind glasses on occasion now. That smile still weakened Ian’s resolve and stopped him from ever being able to hold a grudge or stay mad at Mickey for too long. Ian ogled him, eyes trailing down to the floor and back up to meet Mickey’s gaze. “Well, you’re certainly the hottest penguin in this aquarium.”
“God you are a fuckin’ dork,” Mickey laughed. He looked at Ian so fondly, no malice in his words.
Ian reached over and fixed a loose lock of Mickey’s hair. “I love you.”
“And a sap on top of it all,” Mickey muttered, looking down at his feet shyly. Even after all these years, he could still be funny about praise and affection sometimes.
There was a knock on the door and before they could respond it swung open. Svetlana stood there, decked out in a long blue beaded dress, hair and makeup immaculate. “Come on, papas, it’s time for pictures.”
The men followed her outside to the garden area where Yevgeny and his fiancée were gathered with their bridal party. They posed for the requisite pictures and Mickey even managed to not complain the entire time, a shock to everyone involved. Soon, everyone was being escorted back into the venue to prepare for the ceremony. Yevgeny had asked all three of his parents to walk him down the aisle together, with him escorting his mother and Ian and Mickey following. Everyone started getting into their proper positions, waiting for the wedding coordinator to start shooing them all down the aisle.
Yevgeny had asked Mickey to be his best man, to stand up at the altar with him. For whatever jokes he made, the truth was, he was happy to be there. Proud of the man his son had become, the family they had all become. There had been a time where Mickey had questioned if he would ever be able to look at his son and not see all of the circumstances he had been born out of and also into.
But now, Mickey looked at his son and he understood. He had broken the cycle. He was not a perfect father. He wasn’t always patient, he had a temper and a lot of bad behaviors to unlearn. But he had never, not even fucking once, raised his hand to his child. He accepted him, made sure he was always someone Yevgeny could go to without fear. Mickey, along with Svetlana and Ian of course, had raised a good kid who was now a fine man.
Mickey felt a prickle in his eye and tried to casually rub it away with a knuckle to avoid detection. But of course, his damn son had to turn around right at that moment.
“Old Man!” Yev smiled. “You alright over there?”
“Fuck off,” Mickey shooed at him.
Yev laughed and came over, draping an arm over his father’s shoulders. “Y’know, I heard that it’s normal for people to cry at weddings.”
“I’m not crying you little shit.” Mickey halfheartedly tried to shrug Yev’s arm off him. His son laughed and pulled him into a hug instead. Mickey reached his own arms around and hugged Yev back. “Whatever, even if I was, I’m allowed to cry on my son’s wedding day if I want.”
He pulled back and held Yev at arm’s length, taking the moment in. “I’m proud of you, kid.”
Yev smiled, and he may or may not have had a little tear in his own eye. “Softie.”
Mickey pushed him away laughing. “I’ll still kick your fuckin’ ass!”
Yev looked over at Ian, who was watching his two favorite boys in the world and was misty-eyed over the entire affair. He jerked his thumb in Ian’s direction with a smirk. “Meanwhile, this guy over here isn’t even trying to pretend.”
Ian laughed and it was easy to hear the emotion in his voice. “What can I say? It’s a big day.”
“Alright, get in here.” Mickey waved him over and Ian joined them, the three of them hugging each other.
They heard a voice come from behind with a very familiar, very Russian accent. “Break it up, we have to go out in a minute.”
They let go of each other as Svetlana approached them, giving them all a once-over, straightening ties and smoothing jacket lapels. The wedding coordinator came over a moment later, making sure everyone was assembled to start the procession. Yev and Svetlana moved to the front, Ian and Mickey stepping up behind them. Ian offered Mickey his elbow and they linked arms.
“You okay?” He asked.
Mickey looked up at him and smiled. “I am. I really am.”
The ceremony was beautiful, as expected. Mickey definitely did shed a tear or two during the process, but for all his jokes and bravado, he didn’t actually care who saw him. Yevgeny was his pride and joy, and he allowed himself to appreciate the day for everything it was.
Mickey was asked, as the best man, to give a speech. It was possibly the most nervous he had been in his entire life.
When Yev asked me to be his best man and told me he wanted me to speak, I have to admit… I had no idea what the hell I’d even come up here and say. When Yev was born, I was just a kid myself, and I was fuckin’ terrified. I didn’t even know if I should have kids. I came from a crazy family, and never wanted to bring a kid into that mess. Part of me never even knew if I’d have a chance to do all those things that normal people do. And my becoming a dad did not take any sort of “normal” road.
But becoming a parent, and finding someone I wanted to be with forever, and making this crazy unconventional family… Honestly, thank fuck it was Yev that I got as a son. Because I was definitely not the best dad for a while, and that kid was so goddamn patient and sweet. He still is. Sure as shit didn’t get that from me… probably not from his mother either. Must have been from you, Ian.
I know you always tell me you’ve learned so much shit from me, Yev. But really, I have learned a lot from you as well. You’ve helped to make me a better person than I was, better than I ever probably would have been. You and this family have given me a sense of purpose. I am so proud of the man you are, and to think that I had any part in that makes me so happy. I am so glad that you have found a great girl, who is just crazy enough to want to marry into this insanity, who loves you the way you deserve. And who you better always treat right, because she’s a catch and I’ll beat your ass if you don’t.
I also want to say that it’s okay to do things your way, and don’t ever apologize for it. There might be times where people tell you that you’re wrong, or judge you, or want you to live your life based on what they fuckin’ think is the right way. And half the time, they don’t know shit. Better yet, most of the time. I know what it’s like to have a great love in your life, and I can tell you from experience that if you have that person by your side, keep them close. You can get through anything. Screw what anyone else feels about it.
I broke the rules my entire life… that’s why I’m happy.
And I just want to raise a glass, and toast to you both, and wish that for you both forever. To breaking the rules!
Mickey raised his champagne flute as the room applauded and cheered. He went over to his son and wrapped him in a bear hug, both men tearing up. Mickey grabbed his son’s face and kissed his cheek.
“I love you so much kiddo.”
“I love you too. Thank you, for being the best dad a kid could ask for.”
Mickey hugged his son again. If someone had told Mickey when Yev was a baby that his son would ever think he was the best father, the best anything for that matter, he would have never believed them. But at that moment, he did. He knew that he wasn’t perfect, but that he had done well. The proof was standing right in front of him.
As Mickey sat back down, Yevgeny took the microphone from his father to address the partygoers, stepping behind his dads. “On behalf of myself and my wife, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for being here tonight. We are really so grateful for all of your love, support and well-wishes. I am such a lucky guy. Mostly because I have married my best friend, but also because I have an awesome family.”
He rested his free hand on Ian’s shoulder. “I am fortunate to have not one, but two fathers. In Russian, there are many names for your father.” He gestured to Mickey. “This right here is my Papachka, the man who helped to create me.” Then he pointed out Ian with a smile. “And this is my Papoolya, who helped to shape me. I wanted to make sure that I pointed him out to everyone tonight, because he is as much my father as anyone can be. I love you, Pap.”
Ian pushed his seat back as the crowd clapped, getting up and hugging his son tight. His heart swelled with love. He pulled back, holding Yev’s face in his hands. “Being your dad is one of my greatest honors.”
As he sat back down, Ian couldn’t help but reflect on it all. Here he and Mickey were, together since they were kids, now marrying off their son. Their son. A beautiful life born out of terrible circumstances. Now a grown man, taller than his own father and nearly looking Ian right in the eye. Ian would be lying if he said that he didn’t take a certain amount of pride in the things that he could see in Yevgeny that were a direct result of his influence. The interest in the military, his love of bad puns, his stubborn determination.
Ian felt Mickey’s hand on his knee under the table, and he slid his own over it, lacing their fingers together and giving him a squeeze. He was just so happy and thankful, for his family and for their lives together.
Later on in the reception, after being plied with a few strong mixed drinks, Yev managed to get Mickey to dance. The music was fast and lively, and it was easy enough to bop along and drink his drink. But then a slow song came on, and before he had a chance to excuse himself, he saw Ian heading his way. Mickey watched Ian, who was all smiles as he made his way over. He reveled in the sight. His bowtie was undone, hanging loosely around his neck and slightly off kilter. His hair, once fiery red, had lightened with age to have some hints of strawberry blonde.
Being in their mid-forties was a strange juxtaposition. Mickey looked at Ian and he saw both the boy he fell in love with when they were just teenagers and the man he would be when they were old and gray. His chest ached so strongly with the emotion of knowing that this was the love of his life. How lucky he was to have it. How much better he was for it. He knew he’d had a second chance when he got Ian to have a change of heart about leaving for the army all those years ago. But sometimes he wondered if he even knew how much that really meant to his life. Because every once in a while, like this night, he would look at Ian and feel totally overcome with the belief that there was some greater meaning to it all. He never told Ian that, it sounded totally weird to him even in his own mind, but he couldn’t deny that he felt it.
Mickey felt himself take in a sharp breath, full of love for his husband. Ian still made his heart flutter, maybe more than it even had when they were kids. Mickey opened his arms as Ian met him and they fit themselves together perfectly, Ian draping himself over Mickey’s shoulder while Mickey’s arms automatically went around his waist. Ian cupped the back of his head affectionately, and Mickey buried his nose in his husband’s shoulder. They rocked together with the music.
“Today’s been great,” Ian commented. “Why didn’t we have a wedding like this?”
“Cuz we were poor as shit,” Mickey pointed out. “Besides, I liked our courthouse wedding just as it was. Honeymoon was even better.”
“Hmm, can’t argue that.”
“I’d love to go back to Mexico one of these days,” Mickey mused. “Maybe retire down there, huh? Could be nice… Sun all year round, no more freezin’ our asses off, just sandals and tequila from here on, man.”
Ian whispered in his ear, eliciting a shiver from Mickey. “I’ll go wherever you go. I just wanna be where you are, Mickey.”
“You really are a sap.” Mickey pulled him closer, holding him even tighter than before.
“You love it.”
That he did.
Chapter 11: In Sickness And In Health
Mickey arrived home, glad for the work day to be over with.
Being a bus driver was a pretty decent gig, all things considered. The pay was decent enough, the benefits and retirement were great, and he had good health coverage for he and Ian. That had been a big motivating factor in taking that career path. Come what may, Mickey wanted to make sure that he was set up to be able to take care of Ian and anything related to his bipolar disorder. There were some aches and pains. Driving a bus eight hours a day was a lot harder on the body than one would think, especially being that they were in their sixties. But it was doable.
He didn’t even mind dealing with the passengers the way he had in his early days on the route. Now that he’d been at it a long time, he had his regulars he had developed a rapport with, he was used to the routine and he was only a few years out from being able to retire and receive his full benefit. Sometimes, late at night when they were in bed, he and Ian would talk about all of the things they wanted to do and see when they finally had the time.
This was one of those days when he wished he was on a beach somewhere. There was a bunch of road work along his route that had everything bungled up, coupled with an accident and some event downtown, and the traffic had been a nightmare all day long. He’d also had a run-in with a customer who thought for some reason they were just entitled to get on the bus for free, and Mickey nearly had to get up and physically remove them before they finally left. He was exhausted, and by the time he made it home, he just wanted to eat some dinner and lay down. There weren’t many days that made him dream of his retirement, but this had been one of them. Just a few more years now.
Mickey called out for his husband as he entered the house. “Ian? You home?”
“Up here,” came the faint reply.
Mickey made his way upstairs to their bedroom and found Ian folding laundry that was piled on their bed. Mickey grabbed a clean t-shirt and boxers out of the pile as he kissed his husband hello.
“How was your day?” Ian asked.
“Shit.” Mickey pushed up his glasses onto his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose, scrunching his eyes shut. “That construction really needs to wrap up soon, half my route feels like it’s a fuckin’ snafu. Gettin’ sick of it already.”
Ian laid a hand on the back of his neck, massaging the tense muscles there. “I bet you’ll be glad to have that over and done with.”
He nodded and Ian leaned over to kiss his temple. “Go hop in the shower and relax, I’ve got some chili in the slow cooker, it should be done soon.”
Mickey took Ian’s advice, heading to their bathroom and turning on the water. He spent the better part of his time in there just letting the hot water run over his body, trying to decompress. Eventually he reached for the soap and washed himself off properly before finally getting out. He towel dried and threw on the clothes he had grabbed, going downstairs to find Ian had already set the table and was just getting their chili served.
They sat down together, Ian serving up food for both of them. As they ate, Mickey absentmindedly scratched at his leg. After he’d done it a few times, Ian finally felt like he had to mention it.
“You have a rash or something?”
“Huh?” Mickey looked up at him, confused.
Ian gestured at him with his spoon. “Your leg. You keep scratching at it.”
Mickey looked down. “No, no rash there. Just been itching me like crazy. Both of them have.”
“Maybe you should go to the doctor, get it checked out.”
“It’s probably just poor circulation,” Mickey brushed the idea off with a wave of his hand. “Pretty sure that runs in my dad’s family.”
“All the more reason to get it checked out,” Ian argued. “Poor circulation can be dangerous. We got a call one time for a woman, she’d gotten a pedicure a few weeks before and she had a little cut from it and got an infection. She was on antibiotics for a while, but they weren’t working well because of her poor circulation and she got gangrene. Eventually her toe fell off.”
Mickey barked out a laugh. “Oh fuck off! That did not happen.”
Ian held up his hands, his expression serious. “I swear, the thing was black and crusty and it just popped off.”
“Thanks for the disgusting dinner conversation,” Mickey said, shoveling another spoonful of chili into his mouth.
“I’m just saying,” Ian shrugged. “You’d be surprised by the crazy shit that can happen.”
“Well I don’t have gangrene, so I think I’m safe.”
Ian rolled his eyes but dropped the topic. They ate in comfortable silence. Ian noticed that Mickey was pushing the food around in his bowl more than actually eating it. He thought that was pretty strange since Mickey came home practically ravenous most days.
“Is the chili okay?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m just not that hungry.”
Ian’s concern was piqued. But he knew better than anyone that his husband was a stubborn little shit. He decided to just keep an eye on things for the moment and see if he thought that it needed to be addressed. After dinner, they watched some TV in the living room, Mickey laying on the couch with his feet in Ian’s lap and snoozing.
Ian looked at his husband, taking him in. He hadn’t really paid attention, the way you tend not to do when you spend so much time with a person, and know them inside and out. But objectively, Mickey was changing. More crows feet had appeared next to his eyes, more gray in his hair. His face looked a little slimmer, the jaw more defined than before. Ian touched his side and Mickey felt smaller. How had Ian not noticed any of this before?
He felt his worries needling at him, nagging doubts in the back of his mind. He wanted to voice his concern to Mickey again, but didn’t want to fight with him. Sometimes Ian still let his self doubts color his confidence. He didn’t always trust his own judgment and he hated it.
Ian rubbed Mickey’s calves. “Hey, don’t get too comfy. You fall asleep now and you’re going to be up all night.”
Mickey hummed and reached for him, catching Ian’s hand in his own and tugging him down. Ian allowed himself to be pulled onto his side, shifting behind Mickey and using his legs to push himself up until he was slotted behind him. He hooked an arm over and around Mickey’s waist to keep him from falling off the couch.
“We got that huge bed upstairs and this is where you wanna cuddle?” Ian asked with a laugh.
“Mmm, like having you close.”
Well, Ian certainly had no complaints about that.
He felt himself being shaken, barely conscious.
“Mick, WAKE UP.”
“Hmph?” Mickey grunted. “What’s wrong? You okay?”
“Not me,” Ian replied. “Mick, you’re soaked.”
“Huh?” Mickey sat up, rubbing his eyes. He looked down and realized that his clothes and the bedding under him were damp. “Shit, did I fuckin’ piss myself?”
“I think you must have sweat through your clothes.” Ian reached over and felt his head. “Go change, I’ll strip the bed.”
Mickey flung the covers off himself and got up to get fresh clothes. He took them in the bathroom so he could relieve himself while Ian started pulling all of the bedding off. Since it was the middle of the night, Ian just flung everything in a corner to deal with in the morning. He got clean sheets and set about putting them on. When Mickey came back, Ian noticed he was huffing and puffing.
“Mick, what is going on with you?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.” Mickey brushed him off.
“No, you’re not.” Ian’s earlier concerns were back, and he felt his internal alarm bells ringing. “I am making you a doctor’s appointment in the morning.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Mickey told him.
“No.” Ian was getting mad. “Don’t do that, don’t act like I’m over dramatic. I’ve worked in the medical field for how long now? I know when something isn’t right. You are going to the goddamn doctor if I have to drag you by your hair.”
“You couldn’t if you tried,” Mickey muttered.
“You wanna find out? Don’t fuckin’ test me.”
Mickey got into bed, turning his back to Ian, who found it really annoying. “C’mon, it’s probably just the flu or a virus or something, but they can give you some medicine or some shit. Help you feel better… and give me some peace of mind.”
He felt Mickey sigh and he knew he had won the battle. “Fine, whatever.”
Three days later, Ian and Mickey sat together in a small examination room at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen. Nothing had really changed since then, so Mickey felt like it was a waste of their time, but he didn’t feel like arguing with Ian about it. Dr. Bradley, his primary physician, entered the room and greeted them.
“Hello Mickey, what brings you in today?”
He jerked a thumb in Ian’s direction. “He does.”
Ian scowled and the doctor laughed. “Much like any good spouse, looking after us when we don’t want to look after ourselves. But how about you tell me how you’re feeling?”
“Bit run down I guess.” Mickey offered. “Haven’t had much appetite. Been a bit tired.”
“The other night he also had severe night sweats, woke me up in the middle of the night.” Ian offered. “And he was short of breath too.”
“Any other symptoms?”
“Some itchiness sometimes.” Mickey replied.
The doctor was taking notes on the computer in the room while they talked. “Okay, and how long have these symptoms been going on?”
Mickey scratched the back of his neck, knowing Ian was going to be pissed. “Uh, well the tiredness and appetite has probably been at least a month or two. The rest of it just started.”
If looks could kill, Mickey wouldn’t have had a chance.
“Excuse me?” Ian seethed.
Before he could do anything, the doctor stood up and came over to do Mickey’s checkup. Ian stewed in the corner while the doctor gave Mickey a pretty typical physical exam. Looked in his eyes and sinuses with his penlight, felt around Mickey’s throat and armpits for any swelling, took his temperature and monitored his heart rate.
“Your glands are a bit enlarged,” the doctor informed him. “Could be a virus, maybe an infection. I’d like to do a couple of swab tests and some bloodwork to rule some things out. Shouldn’t take more than a few days to get results. Head next door to the lab and in the meantime, take it easy for a few days and stay fed and hydrated.”
Mickey thanked the doctor and shook his hand. He got up to go to do his testing but was stopped by Ian grabbing his arm.
“What the fuck, Mick?!” He hissed. “Why didn’t you tell me all that?”
Mickey put his hand over Ian’s to calm him down. “I really didn’t think it was anything.”
“I don’t like that shit.”
“I’m sorry,” he insisted. “I just didn’t think much of it.”
Ian’s brow furrowed. “Now I’m even more concerned than I already was.”
“You see, this is what I did not want.” Mickey pulled Ian’s hand off his arm and held it between both of his own. “I’m probably just getting old, man. I’m gonna go do these tests and they’ll probably just come back with me being diagnosed as an asshole.”
“Don’t need a diagnosis to know that,” Ian mumbled.
“C’mon.” Mickey pulled him closer and gave him a quick peck. “Let’s go get this shit over with.”
The following week they were back, this time in Dr. Bradley’s office rather than the exam room.
“Mickey, we have the results of your tests and I am concerned.”
That was certainly not the opener that he expected to hear. “Concerned?”
Dr. Bradley nodded, pulling up Mickey’s chart on his computer so he could show him while they talked. “Your white and red blood cell levels are low. This is the normal range and this is where you are.” The doctor pointed to the two spots on his screen to compare. “Based on that, as well as the physical symptoms you presented with at your last appointment, we are going to need to do some further testing. I’d like to get some imaging done, as well as a bone marrow biopsy. Pending the results of that, I may have some referrals to give you.”
“Wait, wait.” Mickey cut him off. “Imaging? Biopsy? What the fuck, doc?”
Dr. Bradley looked at him, his face a weird mix of amusement and pity. “We will know more once those tests come back, but I have my suspicions as to what this is.”
He couldn’t help but reply with a heavy layer of sarcasm. “By all means, please share your theory.”
“This seems like a very classic presentation of lymphoma.”
“Cancer.” Ian whispered.
Cancer. One fucking word that you never, ever want to hear.
Mickey’s mouth went dry. “I don’t… it can’t… this doesn’t make sense, I was just a bit tired.”
He felt Ian take his hand and squeeze. The doctor was talking about tests and prospective treatments, stressing that until they had more information, no one should panic. Mickey tuned a lot of it out. He just kept thinking about that fucking word.
Cancer. Cancer. Cancer.
It had been cancer that finally killed his asshole of a father. Wasting away in prison alone. Mickey had been glad the bastard had suffered, found it well earned. The idea of having that in common with him turned his stomach. He remembered getting the call from the warden’s office. They had wanted him to claim Terry’s body. He told them to fuck off and never contact him again. As far as he knew, Terry was tossed in a hole on Hart Island, alone for eternity like he fuckin’ deserved.
He opened his eyes, not even sure when he had closed them. The doctor had left them alone to digest the news and Ian was knelt down in front of him, steadying himself with a hand on Mickey’s knee. His eyes were wide and shining with the tears he was desperately trying not to shed. He would have been so beautiful at that moment if he weren’t breaking Mickey’s heart. Mickey reached out and cupped his face, stroking his cheek with his thumb. Ian lifted his free hand and placed it over Mickey’s, pressing it close.
“We will get through this, okay?” It was not so much a question as a demand. “I will be here, every step of the way, whatever you need.”
Mickey nodded and Ian stood up, pulling him to his feet and hugging him close.
His body was rocking and he was disoriented by the motion in the darkness. His eyes popped open and he realized that Mickey’s hand was reaching back and holding his hip, shaking him awake.
“What?” He asked. “What’s going on?”
“I got sick.” Mickey sounded exhausted, an unfortunately familiar sound. “I couldn’t get the garbage can.”
Ian realized what was going on and he pulled away from his husband, rolling over and turning on his bedside lamp. When he looked over, he saw that Mickey had gotten sick in their bed. He had been getting treatments for some time now, and the chemotherapy was doing a number on him. Nausea and throwing up were all too common occurrences in their house. Ian grabbed the covers and pulled them off gently, bundling them into a wad to prevent anything from leaking out and placing it down on the floor.
He sat next to Mickey and touched his forehead. His skin was a little clammy, but nothing too alarming. “You okay?”
“I’m sorry, I tried to grab the can but it was out of reach and it happened so fast.”
“It’s fine,” Ian told him, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
He got Mickey up and guided him to their bathroom. There was a medical chair already in their bathtub, and Ian helped to make sure Mickey got into the tub without losing his balance. While he was still standing, Ian pulled down his boxers and pushed on his hips to get him to sit down, lifting his feet one by one to take his underwear completely off. He grabbed the hem of Mickey’s shirt and waited for him to lift his arms so he could pull it over his head. Thankfully the clothes didn’t have anything on them, so Ian just tossed them in the laundry basket.
“You okay without me?” Ian asked. “Figured I’d run down and toss the blanket in the machine before it gets funky.” Mickey nodded and Ian kissed the top of his head. “I’ll be back.”
He left Mickey to wash himself up. Having to rely on Ian for so much help was a point of contention as it was, so he really tried not to make it even more awkward, and tried not to play nursemaid or mother hen to Mickey. Ian went into their room and grabbed the bedding, carrying it down to the basement where their washer and dryer were set up and starting it running. He braced his hands on either side of the machine for a moment, letting the motion of it lull him into a sense of calm. He constantly worried after Mickey, and the anxiousness of that had led to a number of spats between them, so Ian tried his best to remain calm and steady. He felt his nerves relax some, and he went back upstairs. He pulled a clean blanket out of their hall closet and remade the bed. Only when that was all done did he go back into the bathroom.
Mickey was done and just sitting on the plastic chair, leaning on the wall with his head back. He looked completely resigned, and Ian’s heart hurt for him. He knew that all of this was taking a toll on Mickey, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. He put up a pretty good bravado around their family, but when it was just the two of them at home, he couldn’t hide. Ian went over to their medicine cabinet and took out one of Mickey’s anti-nausea pills and brought it over to him.
Mickey waved him off. “They don’t even fuckin’ help.”
“Well they don’t hurt either,” Ian retorted. “Just take it, Mick.”
He huffed a sigh and held out his hand, taking the pill Ian offered him and tucking it under his tongue to dissolve like he’d been told to do. Ian grabbed a towel from the rack next to the tub and held it open so he could wrap Mickey up in it. He helped to get Mickey out of the tub and dried the excess water off his body, wrapping him up like a human burrito and hugging him close. Ian planted gentle kisses on Mickey’s face. They went back into their room and Mickey got out some boxers and an undershirt to throw on.
“Do you want any water or anything?” Ian asked.
He shook his head no and Ian got back into bed, waiting for Mickey to join him. They laid together, Ian rubbing light circles on his husband’s stomach.
“Hate that I need you to take care of me,” Mickey muttered.
“I know.” Ian kissed the back of his ear, whispering to him. “But I will always take care of you anyway. Like it or not, that’s the deal. And when you get through this, we’ll go back to how it always was.”
Mickey didn’t answer, just pulled Ian’s arms tighter around him.
Ian and Mickey were at the oncologist’s office for a follow up appointment.
Mickey had completed the prescribed chemotherapy treatments and had gone for a round of testing to see if the treatment had been successful, and they were there waiting for his test results. He was still weaker than usual from everything that had happened, but was feeling the best he’d felt for some time. No more nausea and sickness, and he was even able to eat a bit more again. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, knew that he may still need to continue the treatment or explore other options depending on what the tests showed, but he was happy for this small reprieve.
Dr. Fields, who was handling his case, came into the office and shut the door. He sat down and greeted them. “Mickey, Ian. Nice to see you both again.” He offered his hand and they both took their turns shaking it. The doctor unlocked his computer and pulled up Mickey’s file. “So, we have all the results of your testing. Blood work is clean, there is nothing visible on any of your x-rays or scans.” He looked at Mickey and smiled. “I am very happy to tell you that you are in remission.”
Mickey let out a sigh of relief as Ian grabbed his hand tightly. Remission. It sounded fuckin’ great to him.
“Best thing I’ve heard in a long time, doc.” He said with a smile.
Dr. Fields returned the smile. “I do love to give my patients good news when I can.” His expression turned more serious as he continued. “We are not out of the woods, though. I still want to keep monitoring you, keeping a testing and follow up schedule, so that if it reoccurs, we can catch it early. And I want you taking care of yourself in the interim. Exercising, eating healthy, laying off alcohol. Stuff like that.”
“Oh don’t worry,” Ian interjected. “I’ll make sure that he stays on top of all of that.”
“I have no doubt,” he replied. “I actually would like you to gain a few pounds as well. I know that you’ve lost some with your treatment. That’s not an excuse to go eat a bunch of junk. Drink protein shakes or supplements if you can’t gain with just a healthy diet.”
Mickey saluted him. “Sir, yes, sir.”
“Alright you two, get out of my sight.” The doctor stood and offered his hand again. “I don’t want to see you until your next follow up. But on a serious note, if anything changes or you start feeling unwell or notice anything abnormal, please don’t hesitate. We don’t want you ignoring anything.”
Ian and Mickey both nodded and agreed, shaking hands with Dr. Fields and leaving his office. Ian slung an arm over his husband’s shoulders as they walked back to their car, which was in the parking garage adjacent to the building. When they got there, before Mickey could get in the driver’s seat, Ian stopped him and wrapped him in a giant hug. He had his arms around Mickey’s shoulders and neck, and felt Mickey’s arms snake around his own waist.
He kissed his husband’s head, whispering into his hair. “Remission, Mick. You got through it.”
“We got through it,” he corrected. “Couldn’t’ve done it without you.”
Ian kissed his temple, the side of his face, nuzzling into him and taking in the moment. He felt Mickey’s hands cling onto his shirt and he pulled back a little, seeing the anxiety written across his face.
“I wasn’t…” Mickey trailed off. “I didn’t think it was going to be good news. I was ready for it to be bad. I think all that nervous energy is fuckin’ letting itself out now.” He huffed out a shaky breath, the worry and fear and emotion bubbling up to the surface. He had kept such a tight lid on it, but now he felt like a boiling pot of water with everything coming to a head.
“Hey.” Ian held him close again. “It’s okay. Of course you were freaking out, who wouldn’t be? But it’s good!” He pulled back, holding Mickey’s face in his hands and smiling. “It’s good!”
By the time they got home, the jubilation had kicked in and Mickey was in a much better mood. They entered the house, talking and laughing, their spirits high. Ian disappeared upstairs while Mickey sorted through the mail, leaving it on the entrance table.
“I was thinkin’,” he called out, loud enough that Ian could hear him wherever he’d wandered off to. “We should celebrate, maybe go out for a nice dinner. I know I gotta keep healthy, but I think the doc would forgive me for this one. What about that nice steakhouse on the Northside? The one we went to when Yev got us that gift certificate for Christmas last year?”
“Sure.” Ian reappeared, with a certain devious look in his eyes. “I had another idea too.”
“Mmhmm.” Ian walked towards him, reaching out to grab his hips and steer him backwards towards their dining room. “We can do that after, but I think we can have our own celebration right here first.”
“Oh yeah, tough guy?” Mickey’s voice was flirty as he allowed his husband to push him, reaching up and rubbing his arms.
Ian backed him up until he had hit the dining table. He leaned in and kissed Mickey’s jaw as his hands moved to the button and zipper on his jeans. He undid Mickey’s pants and pushed them and his underwear down around his knees. He started to stroke Mickey lightly, working him until he got harder.
“We’ve got a perfectly good bed…” His voice trailed off, distracted by what Ian was doing to him. “Couch too.”
“I know.” His breath was hot in Mickey’s ear. “Want to fuck you here though.”
He pushed Mickey back until he had to scoot up onto the table and he knelt down, pulling Mickey’s pants and boxers off the rest of the way and taking Mickey into his mouth. He gripped the edge of the table with one hand while Ian sucked him off, his breathing getting heavier. He spread his legs wide and watched, running his other hand through Ian’s hair.
“Feels fuckin’ good,” he murmured, sliding his hand to cup the back of Ian’s head but not pushing, letting Ian guide him instead of the other way around.
After a couple of minutes, Ian got up and undid his own pants, pushing his clothes down around his ankles and kicking them off. He pushed Mickey lightly, getting him to lie flat on the table and put his feet up on the edge, legs spread wide for easy access. He produced a small bottle of lube, seemingly out of nowhere, and proceeded to drizzle some onto his fingers and used one to start working Mickey open.
Mickey leaned up on his elbows and studied his husband. “Did you go upstairs to get lube just to come down here and fuck me on this table?”
“Mmhmm,” he affirmed, still focused on what he was doing.
“You are so fuckin’ weird,” Mickey laughed.
“You love it,” Ian said, inserting a second finger in and moving them just so, brushing against Mickey in that way that always drove him wild.
He didn’t bother to answer, just laid back and let himself enjoy what his husband was doing to him. Ian kept teasing at that same spot, getting Mickey to moan and even squirm on the table in anticipation. Before he could take Mickey over the line, he grabbed Mickey’s legs and pulled him so that his ass was at the very edge of the table. He lubed himself up and pushed in slowly, working his cock in and out of Mickey until he eased up enough to be able to take Ian in fully. Once he was ready, Ian fucked him harder than they had in a long time, absolutely railed into him, and Mickey fuckin’ loved it.
He felt pretty close, and could tell Ian was getting there himself, so he sat up part way and braced himself, pushing back in time with Ian’s motions. He grabbed onto Ian’s shoulder with one hand to hold himself up while taking hold of his dick with the other, tugging along with Ian’s thrusts into him. The double sensation of his hand and Ian filling him up worked wonders, and soon he was coming, shooting all over his own shirt. With a few more hard thrusts, Ian came as well, pushing forward into Mickey roughly and forcing him back. He pulled out and laid the top half of himself over Mickey while still standing up, both of them catching their breath.
“Been a while since we went that hard,” Ian said. “Not bad for two old farts.” Their sex life had sustained itself better than they could have expected during his illness, especially given that they weren’t kids anymore, but this was the first time in months that Mickey had that kind of oomph in him.
“Yeah,” Mickey agreed. “My back might regret that tomorrow, but fuck it.”
They stayed there for a minute or two, basking in the afterglow, before Mickey finally nudged Ian to move so he could get up. “Alright tough guy, I’m taking a shower. You make us some reservations. I’ve got a big fuckin’ steak in my future. And you’re payin’.”
Ian laughed at that as Mickey got up, grabbing his discarded clothes and heading upstairs. He heard the shower come on as he walked into their living room to get the phone. He was happy to take his husband out to celebrate. This day was one for the books, a big fuckin’ deal, and one they would remember forever.
Like so many things in life, it wouldn’t last. Mickey had a clean bill of health for a while, but unfortunately, he wound up needing to go back in for treatment again. But they were less afraid then. After all, he’d already beaten it once.
He would just have to do it again, and that was that.
Chapter 12: Mexico
Mickey and Ian sat next to each other in the oncologist’s office.
They were waiting for the doctor to come in and discuss Mickey’s latest test results. He lightly drummed his fingertips on the arm of the chair, the only visible sign that he was nervous. He’d been fighting cancer on and off for a few years at that point, but the latest round of treatment had done a number on him, more than the previous ones. He had noticeably lost more weight, his face becoming more drawn and his clothes fitting looser than ever. Still hadn’t lost his hair, by some miracle. Ian was always fussing over him, trying to get him to eat more, but Mickey just didn’t have the appetite.
Ian reached over and took his hand, smiling when Mickey glanced over at him. “Hey, it’ll be fine right?”
“Sure,” Mickey agreed.
His oncologist, Dr. Fields, came in and greeted them, sitting across from them at his desk and opening Mickey’s file. He sighed and removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Mickey, I hate having these discussions, but you seem like a man who appreciates straightforwardness.” The doctor paused before continuing. “Unfortunately, you did not respond to this last treatment. Things are spreading faster than the medicine can do anything at this point. I am sorry to say this, because I know you have been fighting this so hard for the past few years, but there is nothing more we can do.”
He felt like he was in a tunnel. Mickey barely registered the doctor’s words. For some bizarre reason, he suddenly thought of the time when he was four and busted up his chin and Terry had to take him for stitches. Why he was thinking about that now, he didn’t have a fuckin’ clue. His chest constricted; each breath in and out was an effort. He vaguely noticed Ian looking frantically between him and the doctor. Mickey reached out and rested his hand on Ian’s knee. When he felt Ian cover it with his own hand, it grounded him.
“How long, doc?”
“There’s no guarantee,” Dr. Fields warned him. “I think you could maybe have a few months left, but it could possibly be weeks depending on the rate at which things continue to progress from here on out.”
“Weeks?!” Ian interjected. “No, that can’t be possible.”
The doctor went on to explain their options for things such as hospice or palliative care. Neither Ian nor Mickey took in much, if any, of the doctor’s words. They were both lost in thought about the bad news they had received.
They were quiet leaving the doctor’s office. Ian’s eyes were red-rimmed from crying and rubbing at them. Mickey felt completely numb as he got behind the driver’s seat of their car, intending to just head home. But on the way, he found himself pulling over to stop at a corner store. He got out and went inside, coming back out a couple of minutes later with a chocolate eclair bar.
Ian stared at him like he had sprouted three heads. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“I wanted some ice cream.”
“Are you actually serious right now?”
“The doctor says that…” Ian couldn’t bring himself to repeat it. “The doctor gives us that news and you decide you want to stop for a fucking ice cream bar?!”
Mickey didn’t have an explanation. Honestly, it was pretty absurd. He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t fuckin’ know! I wanted it, so I got it. What’s the difference?! It’s not going to hurt me now.”
“Stop it!” Ian yelled at him.
“Fuck you!” Mickey yelled right back. “You’re not the one who’s got a death sentence over your head!”
The dam broke then. Ian burst into tears, burying his face in his hands, shoulders heaving.
“Shit.” Mickey tossed his ice cream out the window and unbuckled his seatbelt so that he could get to Ian easier. “Hey, c’mere. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
He tried to pull Ian’s shoulder towards him, but the position was too awkward and Ian had turned his back to Mickey. He got out of the car and went around to the passenger side, opening Ian’s door and pulling on his arm. “Ian, please."
Mickey managed to get him to stand up and they wrapped themselves up together, oblivious to the strange looks from the people passing by.
They didn’t talk much for the rest of the afternoon, both lost in processing the bad news they had received earlier in the day. They got ready for bed and laid down together as they always did, Ian pressed against Mickey’s back.
“You guys will be set.” Mickey spoke up in the darkness.
“What do you mean?”
“My retirement, my pension, my life insurance. I made sure a long time ago that everything goes to you and Yev. You won’t need to worry about all of that shit.”
Ian sat up, leaning back against the headboard. “Mick, I don’t care about any of that crap. I just want you here with me.”
Mickey pulled himself up and they sat side by side. “I know, but we need to deal with this shit.”
“How can you even be so… cut and dry about it?”
“Ian, what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, react?” Ian couldn’t explain why he was exasperated, but Mickey’s lack of a reaction was really getting to him. “You have been calm ever since the doctor’s office. It’s kind of weird, to be honest.”
Mickey sighed. “I don’t know what you want from me here.”
“I don’t want you to be upset,” Ian insisted. “I don’t know, Mick. I’m sorry, this whole thing is just… I’m upset, and scared, and freaked out.”
“I know.” Mickey reached over and held his hand.
They sat quietly for a while, once again lost in their thoughts of everything that was happening. Then Mickey had an idea.
“Let’s go to Mexico,” he suggested.
Ian glanced over at him, confusion written all over his face. “What?”
“We’ve been saying for years that we would go back again, and we never have. I don’t want to die having never made good on that.”
“Mick, don’t say that.”
“Ian, I am dying. There’s nothing left to fuckin’ do about it.”
“What about a second opinion? Doctors are wrong all the time!” Ian’s voice had a dangerous edge to it, one that reminded Mickey of when Ian was having a manic episode. He knew that this was not that, but it made him uneasy just the same. “They’re always finding new treatments and shit in the medical field. Or what about alternative medicine?”
“Stop. I don’t want all that, okay? I’m sick of needles, and drugs, and feeling even more sick after treatments that aren’t even working. It’s been years of this already. I’ve had enough.” Mickey reached for Ian’s hand, pulling it into his own lap and squeezing it. “You know what I want, Ian?”
“You. I just want to spend what time I’ve got left with you.” Mickey looked up and Ian met his eye. “Some sun, sand between my toes. Tacos from one of the roadside stands. Elote. Maybe even some tequila if I’m up for it. I might not have much more time, but I want to live what I’ve got. I don’t want to have everyone sittin’ around keepin’ vigil while I get worse. I don’t want lots of painful, drawn out goodbyes with everyone. I just want to go to Mexico, with you, and have some peace and fuckin’ quiet.”
“They’ll be hurt if we don’t tell them.”
“Ian, they’ll be hurt either way. If I could get away with hiding it from you too, I’d probably try. While we’re on the topic, I don’t want some stuffy fuckin’ funeral either.”
Ian tried to reason with him. “Mick, you can’t hide this from them and then take away their need to grieve.”
“They can grieve,” he replied. “But I don’t want some mopey bullshit. Do a party, a celebration of life or whatever.”
“Okay,” Ian sighed. “Can we not talk about this anymore? I don’t want to think about this until I have to.”
The following week, Mickey was home alone while Ian ran some last minute errands ahead of their trip. In the end, Ian had relented and had found a place they could rent by the month, so that they would be able to take as much or as little time as they were given. Everything they would need was packed, and Mickey took his time alone to take one more trip down memory lane as he walked through their house.
They had bought the place when they were in their early thirties, about a year or so after they had gotten married and after they had finally saved up enough money for a down payment. It was a modest house, small and a bit of a fixer upper, but the pride they had in owning something together outweighed any marks against it. It only had two bedrooms, but with Yevgeny only there part-time, they hadn’t needed more than that. Mickey made his way around to each room, thinking about some of the things that had happened in them.
The living room, where Yevgeny had sat down with them to announce that he was proposing to his girlfriend. Where their granddaughter had taken her first steps. Where one or the other would inevitably spend a night sleeping on the rare occasion that they had a bad enough argument. Those were thankfully few and far between.
The kitchen, where Mickey had taught himself to cook risotto for Ian’s birthday as a surprise. Where Ian had made Christmas cookies with their grandchildren. The kitchen that Ian had turned into a disaster zone during a manic frenzy one year, when he had decided for a week or two that he wanted to be a professional baker, filling the space with more supplies than either of them would ever realistically use.
The dining room, where they had hosted their fair share of family holidays and gatherings. Where Ian finally had a Thanksgiving so great, that his first thought about the holiday was no longer a vision of Monica bleeding on the kitchen floor in his childhood home. Where Ian had laid Mickey down on the table and gave him some of the best celebratory sex of his life when he had finished his first round of chemotherapy and been pronounced in remission a few years prior.
The bathroom, which had seen enough sexual escapades to last a lifetime, but had also seen the lengths Ian and Mickey went to when taking care of each other. Each one tending to the other when they had all types of bumps, bruises and cuts, whether from fights or accidents or some type of projects. Mickey carrying Ian in there to relieve himself in some of his worst downswings. Ian cleaning Mickey up when he was sick from chemotherapy.
Last but not least was the bedroom. Mickey idled at the door, hand on the knob. He was almost afraid to push that door open one last time to take it all in. But he knew he needed to. He had to allow himself to have that goodbye. Because this wasn’t just a house. It was a home, their home.
Mickey took a breath and swung it open, standing in the doorway and taking it all in. Their suitcases were inside the door, packed and awaiting their trip to Mexico. Ian had left the room tidy, as one does before leaving for an extended time. Mickey crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed, hand running over his pillow. He thought about so many memories they had in that room. Not just all the love they had made in that bed, but the small moments too.
Mickey sitting in bed doing sudoku puzzles while keeping Ian company when he was having a bad episode. Ian feeding Mickey in bed when he was going through his cancer treatments and didn’t feel well enough to get up. Play wrestling that turned into love making. He felt his eyes welling up and he flicked at his nose, an old trick to try to fight them off.
He was struck with an idea, and he got up to go downstairs and grab a notepad and pen from the junk drawer in their kitchen. He returned upstairs and sat back in his place on the bed. Mickey thought for a while before he eventually started to write.
“Mick?” He heard Ian yell from downstairs.
“I’m in our room.”
He hid the notepad behind his back, not wanting Ian to see it yet. Ian came in and stared at him for a moment.
“Almost ready?” Ian asked. “Lip should be here any minute to take us to the airport.”
Ian could sense the tension in Mickey. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he lied. “Just taking a second.”
Ian nodded and crossed the room, kissing the top of Mickey’s head. “I’ll take our stuff, come down when you’re ready.”
Mickey nodded and Ian grabbed their suitcases, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He grabbed the notepad and finished his message, ripping the sheet off and leaving it on top of his pillow. He ran his hand over the covers one more time, taking a deep breath and getting up. He knew he would never return to their house again, and while he was sad about it, he still had Ian downstairs waiting for him. That was the only home he needed.
It was time to go.
The ride was mostly quiet. Lip tried to fill the silence with banter, but gave up when he realized that neither Mickey nor his brother were giving him much to work with. The radio hummed low in the background as they drove through the streets of Chicago. He glanced in his rearview mirror and saw Mickey staring out the window, very focused on whatever he was looking at.
What he didn’t know was that Mickey was taking it all in for the last time, this city, an entire life spent there.
They reached the airport and Lip pulled up to the curb, getting out to help get their bags from the trunk. Once their stuff was on the sidewalk, he gave Mickey a brief hug.
“I gotta say, for all the shit I’ve given you through the years, you’ve been a pretty good brother-in-law,” Mickey told him.
Lip looked at him suspiciously. “Compliments? From you? Since when are you nice to me? You’re talking like it’s the last time we’ll see each other.”
Mickey huffed a little laugh and clapped the side of Lip’s neck affectionately. He didn’t respond, choosing instead to grab the handle of his suitcase and address Ian. “I’ll meet you inside.”
He walked away, rolling the suitcase behind him. The brothers stood side by side, watching him go. When Lip glanced over, he saw a tear rolling down Ian’s cheek.
“You alright, bro?”
He was quiet for long enough that Lip thought he wasn’t going to respond, a throwback to the days where Ian just would not talk if it didn’t suit him. But before Lip could press him, he finally answered.
“The treatment didn’t work.” He didn’t look at Lip, instead keeping his eye on Mickey, who seemed to be fussing with the machine to get their boarding passes. “He wanted to take one last trip to Mexico… before he couldn’t anymore.”
It was like a punch to the gut. “Fuck, man, I’m…” I’m sorry seemed like a lame duck response, so instead Lip just let the thought trail off.
Ian looked at his brother then. “The others don’t know, and we want to keep it that way.”
Lip was horrified at that, if the expression on his face was any indication. “Dude, you can’t do that.”
He jutted his chin out, and it was so much like the petulant teenager Ian once was, that Lip felt like the clock had rewound itself. If it weren’t for the wrinkles, thinned hair and age spots, Ian could have been that boy all over again.
“That’s what he wanted.” His voice was firm, and it was clear that the matter was not up for discussion. “And that better be how it stays.”
“Not going to narc on you guys, man,” Lip assured him. “But I’m going to tell you that I don’t agree with it.”
Ian nodded. “You don’t have to.” He glanced at his watch, realizing that he better get a move on. “I have to go, don’t want to miss our flight.”
The brothers hugged, Lip wishing that he had the words to try to give Ian some sort of comfort or reassurance. Even as old as they were, this was still his little brother, and he still wished that he could protect him. There were many things over the years that he wished he could have shielded Ian from, but somehow he never seemed like he was quite able to do it, or Ian didn’t seem to want it.
“When do you get back?”
“We didn’t book a return yet, just wanted to take it one day at a time.”
“Well, keep me posted. I’ll see you guys when you get back.”
Ian looked at him for a long moment, the expression on his face unreadable, before he finally nodded, grabbing a hold of his own bag and going to find his husband. Lip watched him as he entered the terminal, watched how he beelined right for Mickey and kissed his temple, how he reached for Mickey’s suitcase so that he could pull it along with his own, kept his pace slow so that Mickey wouldn’t get overexerted. Lip still didn’t quite have his head wrapped around everything Ian told him, but he felt a tightness in his chest, a sadness that hadn’t been there before.
Ian unlocked the door to the oceanside casita that he and Mickey were renting indefinitely, handling their bags while Mickey trailed behind him slowly. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, his illness was making him weaker and weaker, and Ian refused to let him do too much. The casita was small but beautiful. The living room and bedroom faced out over the water, the kitchen was open and spacious, and the bathroom had a large jacuzzi tub that just begged to be shared. Ian put their bags in the room while Mickey opened the terrace doors to allow the breeze in off the water.
He stepped outside and rested his hands on the railing, taking in the view. He couldn’t help but think of the first time he and Ian had come to Mexico, for their honeymoon. They had come to celebrate their marriage, the new chapter in their lives together. It was only fitting to Mickey that they would come here to celebrate this last chapter. He knew that Ian was still in a bit of denial about things, but Mickey wasn’t. He knew it wouldn’t be long. He’d been feeling it for a bit now, seen it hiding in the shadows, waiting for him. Those premonitions, his spidey senses as he liked to call them, were growing stronger.
Mickey wasn’t really scared about it. He knew there was more beyond what he could see, hear, touch, taste. He was not religious by any means, didn’t have much to say or think about in terms of a higher power, or a purpose for it all. He just knew there was more, felt it down to his bones. He mostly hurt for Ian. Knowing that he could not accept it. Mickey wished that he could shelter him from the pain, protect him the way he would from any other person or thing that would threaten him. It frustrated him thinking of how their families would deal with him, his grief, his disorder. Would they understand the difference?
Mickey heard footsteps approaching behind him and arms snaked around his waist, interrupting his train of thought. Ian’s chin hooked over his shoulder. They stood together, Mickey stroking Ian’s arms and both of them admiring the Mexican beach in front of them. “You ever think, back in the day, this is where we’d be?”
Ian tightened his arms around his husband. “I sure hoped so.”
Mickey turned his head and managed to sneak a kiss on Ian’s cheek. “Let’s go check out that bedroom.”
“Are you sure?” Ian couldn’t help but fret over Mickey. He knew how sick Mickey was, and he didn’t want him to overdo things.
“Course I’m fuckin’ sure.” Mickey’s voice was snippy and he pulled back from Ian’s grasp, turning to give him a look. But when he saw the distress on Ian’s face, he softened. “Hey, I know you’re worried. But Ian, we can’t change anything. So if we’re going to be here, I want to enjoy as much of it as I can until I can’t anymore. Okay?” A tear trickled out of Ian’s eye and Mickey sighed. “Please, I can’t do this. We just got here.”
“I’m trying,” Ian whispered. He was, really and truly. But it was hard for him to keep it together some days. He didn’t know how to accept what was happening, didn’t know if he was even capable of such a thing. It was a stupid thing, but he had just… never thought of this. A time when they would have to accept that one of them would have to be without the other.
Mickey cupped his jaw, tracing his thumb over Ian’s cheek and grazing his hair. “I know you are.”
He pressed his lips to the corner of Ian’s mouth, sliding his hand behind Ian’s head and pulling him in. Ian buried his face in Mickey’s neck, kissing the soft skin over his collarbone. Mickey was serious, he really did want to go with Ian and test out that bedroom. He didn’t feel well most days, and he knew this was a trip he was not going to return from. He mostly accepted it at that point. But he wanted to get whatever enjoyment he could out of it.
Most of all, he wanted that intimacy.
Mickey wanted the comfort, the pleasure, even the emotion that came with being with your longtime lover. He ran his hand down Ian’s neck, over his chest, and along his side until he reached Ian’s belt loop. He backed up and pulled Ian along with him, his husband following him willingly. Mickey guided him to the room and climbed onto the bed, already unbuttoning his own pants with his free hand to get them off faster. He laid back, the pants sliding down around his hips as he pulled Ian down on top of him.
Ian braced his arms on the bed next to Mickey's head, their bodies pressed flush against each other. He peppered Mickey’s face with kisses. His forehead, cheeks, nose, even his eyelids.
“Hey, if it gets to be too much, you tell me okay?”
“Ian…” Mickey’s voice strained with an unspoken warning not to take that conversation any further.
“No.” This time it was Ian’s voice that let him know he was about at his limit. “Don’t you ‘Ian’ me, Mick. Not about this. If you get too tired or uncomfortable or you’re in pain, we stop." He held himself up over Mickey, tracing his eyebrow with a finger and then along his jawline. “Let me take care of you.”
Mickey leaned up and met Ian’s lips with his own. “Okay.”
Ian pushed himself up so that he was positioned on his knees in between Mickey’s legs. He sat back on his heels and reached for Mickey, pulling his pants off the rest of the way along with his boxers. He started to remove his own clothes while Mickey pulled his shirt over his head. Once they were both undressed, Ian leaned over Mickey again, running a hand along Mickey’s side and over his hip, down his leg. He slipped his hand under the crook of Mickey’s knee and hitched that leg over his own hip.
Mickey followed his lead, looping his other leg onto Ian and crossing his ankles, holding him close that way. Ian inched forward, rocking Mickey’s hips and allowing himself an easier way to prep Mickey. He found the lube that he had tossed on the bed when he brought in their luggage and he grabbed it, squeezing some out into his hand and reaching between them. He pressed at Mickey’s entrance, his touch gentle and probing, more than happy to take his time. Slowly he opened Mickey up, all the while dotting Mickey’s skin with kisses and soft bites, not rough enough to leave any marks. He could sense that Mickey wanted to get on with things, but Ian wanted to luxuriate over him, to commit every touch, taste and sound to memory.
Soon enough, he reached for the lube again, this time using it on himself.
Ian pushed into him slowly, so slowly, as they adjusted. He pulled back and bore down again, going a little deeper. He felt Mickey pushing low on his back with the heels of his feet, the two of them in sync. They’d had many years of practice to get this just right. Fuck. Ian should not have thought of it that way, because now all he could think about was all the years they would miss out on. His chest tightened, emotions threatening to spill over and kill the moment. He didn’t want to do that to Mickey, knew how much Mickey was trying to keep some sense of normalcy.
Ian moved a little faster, desperately trying to outpace his feelings. He lowered himself onto Mickey, bearing most of his weight but letting their bodies press and move together. He wanted to touch Mickey, feel every last bit of him that he could. Their cheeks met, and Mickey slid a hand up and cupped the back of Ian’s head, holding him there.
Tears slid down Ian’s face, dampening the pillow beneath them.
He tried so hard to hide it, not wanting to upset Mickey. But he knew; of course he knew. He felt Mickey’s other hand curl around his back and grab onto his shoulder, holding him even closer as they moved together. Through it all, they managed to reach their climax at the same time, Ian giving a few final thrusts before he came to a stop, slowly pulling out. He was exhausted - mentally, physically, emotionally. He allowed his weight down onto Mickey, their bare bodies slicked with sweat that mingled together. Ian couldn’t stop himself anymore. It was all too much. He felt Mickey’s arms and legs wrap tight around him, and he laid his head on Mickey’s chest.
Ian looked up at one point and noticed that Mickey himself had started to cry and was trying to hide it. He shifted himself up and kissed away the tears from Mickey’s face.
“I don’t want to leave you,” Mickey whispered.
Ian and Mickey had been in Mexico for over a month, and the majority of it had felt like an extended vacation. Mickey’s illness hovered over everything like a dark cloud, but it was almost easy to forget sometimes why they had come down there. But the last few days, there had been a shift. It was getting harder and harder to ignore reality.
Mickey was barely eating, slept most of the time, and when he was awake he was not always coherent enough to make much sense. Ian was devoted to Mickey’s care. He would prepare all of his meals, feeding Mickey whatever bits he could eat. While Mickey slept, Ian would usually lie in the bed with him, watching TV or reading to pass the time. When Mickey spoke to him, Ian would humor him, no matter how strange or outlandish the conversation might be.
“Do you smell that?” Mickey had asked him the night before.
Ian had sniffed, smelling nothing more than the faint scent of the detergent from their bedding. “Smell what, Mick?”
“Raspberry.” He had smiled, nuzzling his face into the pillow and falling back asleep.
Ian certainly didn’t smell any raspberries, and for the life of him he couldn’t explain why of all the strange things Mickey had said, that was the one that gave him the heebie jeebies, but it did. He had more trouble sleeping that night than normal, more than a little convinced that that would be the night. But the next morning, Mickey had woken up with a touch more energy than he’d had as of late. Ian helped him to the bathroom and then escorted him out to the deck, the two of them sitting side by side and looking out over the beach.
Mickey reached over and took Ian’s hand, lacing their fingers together and pulling them towards his face, kissing Ian’s knuckles and resting his cheek on them. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Ian asked.
“For everything,” he replied. “I don’t know what kind of life I’d have had without you.”
Tears welled up in Ian’s eyes. “Mick…”
“Hey,” Mickey admonished him lightly, his own eyes wet. “None of that.”
Ian felt the tears fall then. “I don’t want you to leave me.”
Mickey let go of his hand and reached over to brush them off his cheek with his thumb. “Leave you? I’m going to haunt you forever.”
“That’s not fuckin’ funny,” Ian sniffed. Maybe he could try to joke about it, but Ian couldn’t. He just couldn’t.
Mickey realized it was too much, and he didn’t pursue it. “Ian I promise you, whatever the hell happens, this is not the end of us.”
“You can’t know that,” Ian whispered.
“I do though.” He smiled. “I knew it a long time ago, there’s more for us than this.”
Ian shook his head. Mickey’s words made no sense, but this didn’t sound like his strange chatter. Fuck, maybe Ian just wanted so badly to believe that Mickey was right, he allowed himself to think it didn’t sounds so crazy.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I had a second chance, and I did everything I could with it.” Mickey mumbled, mostly to himself. “I did fuckin’ good.”
“I see it… I feel it.”
Ian looked at him, his expression thoughtful. “I could do eternity with you.”
Mickey laughed, his smile bashful. “Fuckin’ sap.”
He grabbed a hold of Ian’s hand again. “I remember the first time we came down here, for our honeymoon. All your freckles sprung out once we got you in the sun, like some fuckin’ flower blooming.” He turned it over, studying it. “I miss ‘em.”
Ian did still have some freckles, but they had very much faded with time, which was a pretty common occurrence. “I can try to lay out in the sun a bit more and summon them back,” he joked.
Mickey chuckled at that and stared off into the distance. “I hope when I see you again that you have them. I’d like that.”
It was a strange thing to say, and Ian didn’t have a proper response for it, so he just squeezed Mickey’s hand.
A little while later, Ian could tell that Mickey was getting tired and he brought him back to their room. He got Mickey settled into the bed and drew the curtains closed so the light wouldn’t disrupt his sleep. He figured he would lay down with Mickey until he dozed off and then go see about making some dinner. He laid down and Mickey immediately curled into him, his face on Ian’s chest. It was quiet for a while, and Ian thought that Mickey had nodded off, but right when Ian was about to get up, he spoke up.
“Y’know what I was thinking about?”
“When you were workin’ at that gay club, after you’d run away and came back.”
Ian had no idea what Mickey was talking about, but decided to humor him. “Oh yeah?”
“I remember when you went to kiss me that time, when I was hanging out while you were on shift.” Mickey chuckled. “God, I was so terrified to do shit like that in public. Couldn’t have even imagined kissing you, let alone marrying you. But I’m fuckin’ glad I did.” Mickey wrapped his arm around Ian’s waist. “That night, at the club, I felt so free. Havin’ a taste of what life could be, you know? Never thought I’d get any of that, but I got all of it.”
Ian stroked his hair. He still had no idea what Mickey was talking about, he had never even worked in a club. And though he’d almost run away to the army, he hadn’t gone through with it. But the idea of what he was saying made sense. That idea that he had never been able to envision that he would wind up having the kind of life that he dreamed about, that he deserved. Had always felt trapped by his upbringing. He could see that version of Mickey. Feral, scared, getting by on survival instincts and self preservation. Teenage Ian had nearly given up on him, but had changed his mind with that one plea from Mickey, the first of many times that Mickey was able to break his guard down to give Ian just enough of what he needed to keep them going, until finally his walls had collapsed altogether and left in their place this man. This beautiful, sarcastic, crass, abrasively funny man that Ian loved with every goddamned piece of himself.
How the fuck was Ian supposed to do this, any of this, without him?
Ian kissed his forehead. “I’m grateful to have been able to have all of that with you, Mick.”
For about the millionth time since they got to Mexico, he felt his emotions wanting to get the best of him. He was hanging on by a thread, just trying to keep himself together long enough to get Mickey through these last days in peace. Once he managed that, he was giving himself full fucking permission to fall apart. These past few years had been trying in so many ways, but Ian’s only regret in it all was that he couldn’t do it for longer. He would take care of Mickey forever if given the opportunity. After all of the love, care and support Mickey had provided him, it was his honor to do the same.
They laid together quietly for a bit longer, until finally Ian’s need to get some food in his belly drove him to make some moves. He went to step out of the room but Mickey interrupted him.
Ian turned back to look at his husband. “Yeah?”
“I love you.” Mickey looked so serious, so earnest. As if he needed to make damn well sure that Ian not only heard him, but believed him. Like he knew that the words he spoke would be remembered for as long as Ian was around to relive them.
Ian came back to the bed, leaning down and pressing his lips against Mickey’s, his touch more tender than Mickey had remembered it ever being. “I know. I love you too.”
That night Ian joined Mickey in bed, sliding under the covers and fitting himself along Mickey’s back. He had been asleep since they had that conversation earlier in the day. Ian was feeling guilty over his words to Mickey. He knew that if Mickey really had any choice, he wouldn’t leave. And he believed that Mickey was trying to hang on for him, give him what time he could give to try to let Ian prepare for the inevitable. Ian did not want to make Mickey feel guilty for an illness he couldn’t control. He rarely complained, but Ian knew he had to be in bad pain and discomfort at this point.
Ian laid his head down next to Mickey’s. He burrowed his nose into Mickey’s hair, breathing in his scent, drinking up every last bit of him that he could and committing it to memory one more time.
He leaned up, his lips grazing against the shell of his husband’s ear. “Mick,” Ian whispered to him. “If you need to let go, I understand. I promise, I understand. I don’t want you to suffer anymore. I will be okay. And if you tell me this isn’t the end for you and me, I believe you.”
He really, really did. Ian loved Mickey, more than anyone, more than anything.
Ian loved Mickey enough to let him go.
Chapter 13: Ian
Lip rushed past the handful of his students that were waiting for him, as he was late for his office hours. He fumbled with his papers, shuffling them from one arm to the other so he could unlock his door. He nodded at the kids. “Hey, guys, give me a couple to settle in and I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
He got the door open and went to his desk, dropping the papers and his thermos of coffee down. He figured he could check his email really quickly and then attend to the students. He knew most of them were probably here to talk about their mid-semester projects, since the due date was fast approaching. He sipped his coffee while he refreshed his inbox. Lip skimmed through the list of new emails, seeing a few from students, most of the rest from other faculty members, and one from another familiar name. Ian.
Lip ignored the rest and double clicked that one to open it. He hadn’t spoken to Ian since he dropped him off at the airport over six weeks ago, despite multiple attempts to check in with him. No one had for that matter. Not his own siblings, not the Milkovich siblings, not Svetlana, not even Yevgeny. The email was brief. Just some flight information - airline, flight number and arrival time - with a question below.
Can you come?
Lip looked up at the clock above his office door. The flight was scheduled to land at O’Hare in… about an hour or so. Way to give him advanced notice. “Fuckin’ hell, Ian.”
He had another class to teach that afternoon, but Lip was already emailing everyone to cancel class before the thought to do so even sunk in. They had been totally incommunicado since they had left. Of course he was going to go pick them up and find out how the hell they were. In fact, given the damn traffic in Chicago, he was going to go ahead and head there right away. He grabbed the thermos of coffee again, along with his bag.
He exited the office, realizing he’d forgotten about the students waiting for him until he spotted them again. “I’m sorry, guys, but a family matter has come up and I have to cancel my office hours. If you want, please send me an email and I’ll make sure to squeeze you guys in, even if it has to be off schedule.”
The students disbanded and Lip locked the door, pocketing the keys and heading out. He walked across campus, heading towards the parking lot where he had left his car that morning. As he drove towards the airport, he thought about his brother and Mickey. He was looking forward to seeing them, finding out how their time in Mexico had been, how Mickey was feeling.
Lip had the fortuitous timing of pulling up to the terminal as his brother was walking out. He got out of his car to greet him and help him with his luggage. He looked around, confused as to why Ian was alone.
The mere mention of his name had an instant effect on Ian. His shoulders dropped and he shrunk into himself. He couldn’t even speak, just shook his head. It took a few seconds before it clicked.
Lip reached out and grabbed his brother, pulling him close and hugging him. He didn’t respond, just buried his face in Lip’s shoulder.
It was the day of Mickey’s memorial party, and Ian was just trying to keep his shit together.
He almost wished he had stayed in Mexico. After Mickey had passed away, he had managed to power through all of the logistical bullshit and had then basically locked himself in the casita for an additional week to try to make sense of it all. He honestly might have not even returned to Chicago if he hadn’t had to finally let everyone else in on what had happened.
Ian knew he was not the only person who loved Mickey, and they had a right to know, to mourn and grieve and honor him. Ian had promised Mickey he wouldn’t do a stuffy funeral, and he fully intended to keep that promise. Throwing this party was giving him enough reason to get him up and moving every day. It was the last thing he could do for Mickey, and he was going to fucking do it right. He would worry about the rest later.
As was only fitting, Ian had reserved The Alibi for the celebration. Kev and Vee may not have been there to hold down the fort, both of them having passed in recent years, but their daughters had inherited it and were doing well in keeping their parents’ legacy alive. Knowing them for so many years, they had instantly offered to shut the bar to the public for the get together.
Ian entered the bar, and had to smile a bit despite his mood. Everyone was decked out in Hawaiian shirts in Mickey’s honor. They all looked ridiculous, and Ian knew that Mickey would have loved it. Lip saw Ian enter and came over to him, an extra shirt in hand which he offered to Ian. It was actually one of Mickey’s, and Ian wondered how he had even gotten it.
“Can’t have you not fitting the theme,” Lip joked.
Ian took the shirt, lifting it to his nose and taking a deep breath. There was a faint scent of Mickey’s cologne, and Ian closed his eyes for a moment, savoring it. He put it on over what he was already wearing.
He took a minute to take everything in. The room was filled with all of the people who loved them, who had been there while they built their lives together. He watched them all mingling together. The older generation - Iggy, Carl and Liam, Mandy and Debbie, Fiona and Svetlana, Lip and Colin. The next generation and all of their families. Amy and Gemma, all of their nieces and nephews. Of course, Yevgeny and his family, Ian and Mickey’s grandchildren.
Ian watched Yev for a moment, his heart aching at how much he reminded Ian of his father. The way he crossed his arms over his chest, the way his eyebrow quirked up at whatever his daughter was saying to him, the blue of his eyes. Ian felt a tear in his own and he had to turn away. It was hard for him to look at their son. He hoped and wished that it would get easier in time. That the familiarity would eventually bring him comfort instead of pain.
“Hey guys!” Mandy yelled over the crowd. “Since we know my brother would hate any sad shit, I thought it would be nice if we went around and shared some of our favorite good or funny memories of Mickey. Who wants to start?”
They started out slow, but soon stories and anecdotes were flowing as much as the alcohol was. Lip told them about the time Mickey had asked for his help with rebuilding the deck behind he and Ian’s house, and the hilarity that had ensued. Carl remembered the first time Mickey had taken him to a gun range to teach him how to properly shoot. Debbie had the crowd laughing at the time she got Mickey to do face masks with her. Iggy told everyone about when he and Mickey had gotten their knuckle tattoos done. Ian smiled thinking about all of the moments everyone had experienced with him.
“Ian?” Fiona asked. “Do you have any you want to share?”
Everyone stopped and looked at him expectantly, watching, waiting.
Ian had so many. How could he not? He and Mickey had a lifetime together. They were literal childhood sweethearts. So many moments raced through his mind. Year after year, decade after decade, things that were both monumental and inconsequential. But the truth was, he didn’t want to share them. If all he had left of Mickey were their memories, he wanted to be selfish and keep them for himself.
“All my memories of him are my favorite.”
The air shifted and the mood changed, coming down a bit from the jubilance that had been forming. He could feel the sadness and the pity everyone had for him, and he hated it. It was enough for him to be caught up in his own wallowing, but he didn’t really need everyone else doing it on his behalf as well.
Ian had decided before the party that this would be the first night he would return home, but now he was dreading it. He had been staying at Lip’s place, but he was starting to feel like he was in the way. He knew Lip would never agree with that, but he thought he needed to go home already and face the empty house. Ian had also had his fill of the party and was ready to sneak out. He went over to Lip and took him aside.
“I’m gonna head out,” Ian told him.
“Alright, I’ll see you back at my place.”
Ian shook his head. “Nah, I’m going to go home. It’s time.”
“You sure?” Lip’s voice was concerned, though he seemed to be trying to play it off. “You can stay with me as long as you want.”
“It’s time,” Ian told him again. “Gotta face it eventually.”
“You change your mind, you just come on back, don’t even need to call me first.” Lip clapped him on the shoulder, Ian reaching up to pat his hand in appreciation.
He snuck off when no one was watching, not wanting to go through the rigamarole of having to say goodbye to everyone else. As he drove, his fingers drummed on the steering wheel, trying to burn off the nervous energy before he made it home. Eventually, he pulled into their driveway and turned off the car, not moving.
I can’t do this.
Ian cried silently, the tears that had been on the precipice of falling all day finally spilling over and rolling down his cheek, dropping onto Mickey’s shirt that he’d yet to take off. Now that he was there, he wanted to face this even less than before. He wiped at his eyes with the hem of the shirt as he tried to work up the nerve to get out of the car and go inside.
He could almost hear Mickey’s voice in his head. Quit bein’ a pussy, go the fuck inside. Slowly, Ian climbed out of the car and approached the front door. He unlocked it and swung it open, taking a deep breath before finally stepping in. The house was unnervingly quiet, and the air was stale from nearly two months of being unoccupied. Ian moved through the downstairs rooms to open some windows and get some fresh air inside. He was very aware of every one of his footfalls. They had never sounded so loud before.
Ian made his way upstairs, stopping again when he reached the bedroom door. He felt a pit in the bottom of his stomach. He wasn’t even sure if he could sleep in there without Mickey. As a matter of fact, he was about ready to turn around and go back downstairs to lay down on the couch. But something told him to open the door and face it. So he did just that.
It looked just as they had left it, which shouldn’t have surprised him. But it was hard to fathom the fact that his life had changed so drastically but time had practically stopped there in the house. He noticed a piece of paper on Mickey’s pillow and he crossed the room, sitting down at the edge of the bed and picking it up. He recognized the sharp handwriting and his heart jumped.
If you’re reading this, you’re back from Mexico without me. I’m sorry I can’t be there with you. I hope you know how much I love you, and how much I will miss you until I see you again. Because I will see you again. I don’t know how, but I know it. Until then, please take care of yourself. If you feel off, please talk to your family. Let them take care of you since I can’t. Take your meds. Don’t pull away from everyone.
Loving you has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t change a thing about any of it. Not a fuckin’ thing.
Ian picked up Mickey’s pillow, clutching it to his chest, the note still in his hand. He laid down and burrowed his face into the pillow, breathing in the barest trace of Mickey’s scent. He fell asleep that way, wishing he had Mickey in his arms for real.
Lip stood outside, smoking a cigarette and steeling his nerves. He tugged at the collar of his button down shirt, hating the suffocating feeling of it on his neck. He paced around a bit, dreading the day ahead. He caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection of a window. His hair and suit were just slightly disheveled. It had been a very rough few days and Lip was just trying to keep it together as best he could. He could kill for a drink at that moment, but knew that was a slippery slope he dared not go down.
Yevgeny popped his head out from behind the front door. “Uncle Lip? They’re saying we have to start.”
He reminded Lip so much of Ian and Mickey. Of course, Ian wasn’t biologically related to him, but Lip would be damned if someone tried to tell him that Yevgeny didn’t get so many traits from his stepfather. The set of his jaw when his stubborn streak set in. His strong work ethic and sense of justice. His military career, only a dream for Ian but a reality for Yevgeny. He had grown into a fine, upstanding man, with a family all his own. It was easy to forget sometimes how young Ian and Mickey were when Yevgeny was born. How young they all had been once.
They were older now, whether or not they were wiser to match. Lip looked at his nephew, the gray in his own hair and the creases around his own eyes. There were more there than the last time they had seen each other. Lip motioned him over and he stepped outside. His dress blues were perfectly pressed and crisp. Lip offered him the cigarette but he waved his hand in decline. Lip tossed the butt on the sidewalk and clapped Yevgeny’s shoulder a few times, pulling him close on the last one and kissing his cheek.
“You doing alright?”
Yev sighed. “It’s been… a lot.”
“Yeah,” Lip agreed.
Everyone had been blindsided by the loss of Mickey. They had all known he was sick - he had been battling cancer on and off for a few years by that point. But no one knew how bad it had gotten, save for Ian. Lip had gotten a hint that day, the day he brought them to the airport, but even then he had not been prepared. There were a lot of hurt feelings in both of their families about how Ian and Mickey had handled everything, how no one had had the chance to say a proper goodbye. Feelings they would never have the chance to reconcile.
“Guess we should get this over with.”
Yevgeny nodded and held the door for him. They entered and Yevgeny took his seat in the front row while Lip went to the front of the room to address the crowd.
Lip braced his hands on either side of the podium.
I knew today would be a difficult day, saying goodbye. What I didn’t… what I couldn’t imagine was that it would be so soon after we just had to say goodbye to Mickey. I always assumed, maybe even hoped, that being the older brother I would go first and not have to deal with losing Ian, losing my best friend. My Irish twin. I don’t even remember life before him, and I’d always hoped not to know life after him.
My brother used to love to tell people this story about a time when we were kids. He had lost his old toy on the train and was devastated about it. As his big brother, I wanted to help him, to make him feel better. So I had found out how to locate the exact train we had been on, and I had walked by myself down to the train yard to search for this toy. I did find it, and I brought it back to him. I made it better. Because that was my job, you know? To look out for my little brother.
He used to tell people I was a genius. But I didn’t do it because I was smart. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just didn’t want to see my little brother sad. I wanted to fix it. But I couldn’t fix everything for him. When Ian was diagnosed as bipolar, I couldn’t change it. It ate away at me for a while, because I felt like I was failing him. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to fix him, just support him. Took me too long...
Ian was a dreamer. But he didn’t want to just live in the dream - he wanted to do whatever he could to make it real. He wanted to go to West Point, had trained and trained in ROTC to try to qualify. He wanted to be an officer. But his bipolar disqualified him. So instead, he trained to become an EMT and then eventually a paramedic. He knew better than anyone how to set and achieve his goals, and if a roadblock appeared, he knew how to change course. I don’t know if I ever told him, but I really admired that about him.
And Mickey… When we were kids, I never liked him. I bought into all of the things that people assumed about him and his family. But I was wrong, and I’m glad I was. I know he and I spent the better part of our relationship bickering, but he really did become like another brother to me. Because for as much as we may have fought about dumb shit, given each other grief all these years for one thing or another, Mickey has always, always loved Ian the way Ian deserved. He always saw my brother for who he truly was, and accepted him, and stood by him. Mickey made Ian a lot of promises… and he kept every last fuckin’ one. That’s all I could ever ask for.
When Mickey got sick, I think that was the first time I saw real fear in Ian. I don’t think he knew how to exist in a world where Mickey didn’t. The day Ian returned home from Mexico, alone, it was clear that a part of him had stayed there. He didn’t come back as the same person who left. I will never forget how he looked when I saw him at the airport. I always thought that the idea of dying of a broken heart seemed ridiculous. But I think that’s exactly what happened here. And I sure as fuck couldn’t fix this for him either. God, I wish I could.
I’m a logic guy. Numbers, science, facts and figures, y’know? Tangible shit. I don’t know what comes after all of this, but I’d like to hope that whatever it is - heaven, a parallel universe, floating around in the ether - that Ian and Mickey are doing it together.
I think they’d really like that.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Mickey stood in front of the old Milkovich home, just taking it all in.
The house had already been a shithole when he was growing up there, but now it was completely dilapidated. Boards stood in place of where the windows once were, the stairs were half crumbled and didn’t look like there was any safe place to step. The yard was littered with debris, the grass patchy and brown. He put a hand on the gate, making no effort to open it or to enter. He heard the sound of footfalls approaching, getting louder as they got closer. He looked over and saw his mother walking over, a smile already on her face.
He wasn’t surprised. He’d been waiting for her, after all.
Laura stood at his side, shoulder to shoulder with her youngest son, just looking up at the house.
“Kinda funny to wind up back here after everything,” Mickey commented.
She smiled, her eyes sad. “Life comes full circle.”
He glanced over at her. “So this is it this time, right?”
“Yeah,” Laura confirmed. “This is it.”
Mickey nodded. He could feel the finality of it all. He was okay with it. He missed Ian terribly, but he knew it was only temporary. He could afford to be patient when there was nothing but time. He looked back at the house, thinking about everything. He may have grown up in this house, between those walls, but he hadn’t started to truly live until he had been away from it. Until he had been able to let go of the pain he’d endured there, distance himself from the people who had hurt him most, and taken away their power to ever hurt him again.
“So.” She interrupted his reminiscence. “Was it everything you hoped it would be? Your second chance?”
“No.” Mickey smiled. “It was even better than I could’ve ever fuckin’ imagined.”
Laura beamed and hugged her son around his waist. He wrapped his arms back around her, enveloping her. He’d forgotten how good it was to be able to hug her.
“I wish you could have been there to see it all,” Mickey admitted.
“Oh sweetie, I was.”
That made him happy. He wished that she could have physically been with him and part of his life, his family. He wished they all could have known her, but at least she knew them. Mickey held her tight to make up for all of the wasted opportunities. It had been so many years, and wasn’t something he’d done much of even as a child. Too much anger on his part. But in this place, time gone by and hindsight being 20/20, none of that mattered anymore.
He had a realization. “You couldn’t touch me when I was here before.”
“Because you weren’t really here,” she explained. “And you weren’t staying. It’s different now.”
Mickey kept holding her. She was so small, he was significantly taller than her, a feeling he wasn’t used to. He leaned down into her, the smell of her raspberry body spray bringing him back to the last time they’d reunited. Bringing him back to when he smelled it in Mexico. He knew now that she must have been waiting for him, trying in her own way to tell him that she was ready to see him again. He was glad to have this moment with her here, in front of their old house, a better memory to leave with than the ones he had.
She rubbed his back and pulled away from him. “As much as I don’t want this to end, you have other places to be now. I think you have someone else you’re meant to be waiting for than me.”
“Where do I have to go?” He asked her.
“Wherever you want, love.” She rested a hand on his cheek. “He’ll find you.”
Ian was on a beach.
He was confused and disoriented. He didn’t have any idea why or how he was there, any recollection of how’d he wound up in this place, or where there actually was. He took stock of his surroundings. The sand he was sitting on was a beautiful light tan color, soft and clean. The water was clear and stunningly blue. Facing the water and looking left, the beach seemed to go on as far as he could see, unobstructed. To the right was palm trees and rocky outcroppings. It was peaceful and quiet.
Had something happened? Did he have an episode? Ian wasn’t sure. He stood up, dusting himself off and patting the pockets on his pants, but there were no signs of his wallet or cell phone. He didn’t feel particularly anxious or concerned about showing up there alone without his things. He probably should though. Right?
He weighed his options, trying to figure out where to go. There was nothing to see on the empty side of the beach, and he felt drawn towards the rocks and the trees, so he decided to walk that direction and see what he found. Maybe a house or a store on the other side, somewhere he could get some answers, find a phone. He ambled down the beach, running a hand over the rough surface of the rocks as he walked between them. The water lapped gently against the rocks and over his feet.
He saw a man further up ahead standing at the shoreline facing the water, and there was something so familiar about his presence. He kept his distance at first, just watching the man. Something about him, maybe his vibe or the way he held himself, just seemed like he was waiting. For what, he wasn’t sure. Ian felt drawn to him. He approached slowly, his curiosity piqued. Finally the man turned around, and the ocean had nothing on the blue of his eyes.
Ian felt the strength give out in his legs and he dropped to his knees in the sand. He had to be losing his mind, because this couldn’t be right. The last time he’d seen Mickey was… well, it was the end. And this was not that same person. This was the Mickey he remembered from 30, 40 years ago. The one he married at the courthouse, the one he honeymooned with in a place very reminiscent of where he was now. This one had hair that was still jet black, he was missing the wrinkles and the signs of age, missing the markers of illness and everything that had happened in the end. He looked young and vibrant and healthy.
And so fuckin’ happy.
Mickey came to him, dropped down in front of him and smiled. “About time you showed up.”
The attitude was right though.
He didn’t even think, just grabbed him and embraced him tight, their bodies fitting together perfectly as they always had. He felt whole in a way that he had not felt since the last time that Mickey was in his arms. Mickey’s skin was warm from the sun, he felt sturdy and strong and Ian sunk into him, burying his face in Mickey’s shoulder. He smelled the same, and instantly Ian teared up.
It felt like coming home.
“Have I finally lost my shit?” Ian whispered, a couple of tears rolling down his cheeks. He put his hands on his head, trying to puzzle out what was happening.
“No, you haven’t lost your shit.” Mickey took Ian’s face in his hands. “I told you I’d see you again.” The love on his face was so strong that it was almost overwhelming. He looked Ian over, taking in every inch of him, a look of relief and joy flashing on his face. “And your freckles, they’re back, just like I’d hoped.”
Ian looked down at his own hands. They were covered in spots like they had once been when he was younger, running all the way up his arms as much as he could see. And speaking of younger, there were no more wrinkles on those hands either, no more large knuckles, his skin wasn’t thinned like it had become with age. He remembered Mickey’s insistence that they would be reunited, and the gears in his mind started to turn.
“Am I…?” He couldn’t quite bring himself to finish the question, but there was no need.
Ian nodded. He didn’t know how to feel. He wasn’t really sad, he was still taking it all in and none of it had really processed. He didn’t really know what to make of it all. He couldn’t say that it made sense, because none of this made sense, though it was a start. But there were so many questions.
He sat down in the sand, pulling Mickey forward to sit with him. Their legs tangled together and their hands kept reaching out, touching each other as if to reassure the other was really there.
“How did you know? That we’d see each other again?” Ian asked.
“Because this wasn’t our first rodeo.”
“I don’t understand.”
Mickey sighed. “We had a life together once, and it didn’t end well. This was our second chance.”
“What happened the first time around?”
“We were both in prison together.” He bit his lip before continuing. “I was murdered.”
“Jesus.” Ian shuddered at the thought. He couldn’t even imagine what that life would have been like for him, and he was glad not to know. It had been hard enough losing him after the life they had, and that had been an amazing one. He felt even more grateful for all the years they had shared, all the memories they built, and the love that they made.
Mickey continued. “I was given a chance to go back and make it right for us, give us the chance we deserved.”
He reached across and touched Mickey’s face, stroking his cheek with his thumb. While his other personal effects had disappeared, he noticed his wedding band was still in its rightful place. He leaned in and kissed his husband. “You did fuckin’ good, Mick."
“We did good.”
Ian moved his legs and spread them, pulling Mickey close between them so he leaned back onto him. They stayed there awhile, just happy to be with each other again. Ian wrapped his arms tight around him, holding him close. He never wanted to be apart from him again. Not much time had transpired between when each of them had passed on, but as far as Ian was concerned, any bit of time was too much. He nuzzled into the side of Mickey’s neck, prompting him to turn and kiss him.
“Still think you can do forever with me?” He mumbled against Ian’s lips.
Yeah, he could do eternity with Mickey.