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Iron & Blue

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The cardboard box full of office supplies and framed pictures —and a small, sad little plant— felt heavier than it really was. Ian sighed, stepping onto the elevator, giving a nod to the frowning exec with a manilla folder under his arm. He leaned against the wall of the cab and sighed, not bothering to reach out and hit the floor-level button yet.

The exec didn’t say anything, too busy typing away on his Blackberry —a fucking Blackberry— and tapping his foot on the floor. Ian glanced over at him, at the expensive navy blue suit and silver tie, the gold cufflinks; he suppressed an eye-roll and the urge to drop his box and punch him in the throat, before going back to staring at the rows of floor numbers. Number eighteen was lit, elevator climbing steadily towards the exec’s cushy office.

Ian felt… well, shit, he didn’t really know how he felt after being laid off. It wasn’t anything he did, the company was just downsizing to save money. Caught in the fucking crosshairs, Ian and a couple of other employees were all brought into the boss’ office and told the thrilling news this morning. And that was that. Laid off, sent away with one last paycheck, a few letters, and a good luck. Bye.

Once Blackberry got off on his floor, Ian reached out and hit the Lobby button with a loud, long sigh. He felt numb, he decided. Five years at this fucking marketing company just for it to start taking a nosedive, and for him to get laid off. Numb, and completely out of control of his entire life. He didn’t even do anything wrong, he was good at his job, and none of that mattered. At the end of the day, he was a piece of the machine that could be dropped and left behind. And that shit stung.

As soon as Ian got to his car, put his box in the passenger seat, he called his brother Lip, “Wanna go to that new bar tonight and get fucked up?”

Lip snorted a laugh, “By fucked up you mean…”

“I mean I’ll only have one beer,” Ian gave in. Couldn’t get fucked up anymore; well, he could… and one beer would definitely get him there, but with his fucking meds, it just made him into the lightest lightweight any Gallagher had ever been. One was his limit. “I deserve a keg though.”

“You okay?” Lip asked, that concerned edged into his voice; it grated on Ian’s nerves, but he started his car up and ignored the annoyance. He got it now, he understood now. That was what family did… annoying, but that’s what they fucking did.

“I’m great. Just got laid off,” Ian felt the corners of his mouth turn up as he drove out of the parking structure, heading home. A kind of hysterical, humorless laugh spilled out of his mouth as it fully sunk it. “Holy shit, I just got laid off.”

“Fuck, man,” Lip sighed. “Just now? You’ve been at that fucking company for five years!”

“Yeah, I know,” Ian chuckled again. “Three of us. Just fucking gone. Budget cuts, you know. Gambit’s gonna go down the fucking tubes if they don’t start making cuts.”

“Fucking bullshit,” Lip said. “Alright, you get a beer for that, what bar you talking about?”

“That one that just opened up by The Westin,” Ian said. “It looks real pretentious, you should like it.”

When Ian finally pulled into his apartment building’s garage, he sat in his car for a few minutes, staring at his steering wheel.

The phone call with Lip had been over for a few minutes. Ian mostly drove and listened to his big brother bad-mouth Ian’s former job, going on and on about how unfair it was, how it was bullshit that five years meant nothing. Lip was trying, he really was. He was trying to be more outside himself, to consider others. He grew up a little bit after his daughter was born. Just a little, though.

Ian briefly considered calling his boyfriend. Briefly. But he didn’t. Instead, he just took his sad plant into his apartment. Fifth floor; one bedroom; simple kitchen; small two-person patio; white walls. Ian put his plant out on the little table on his patio, lit up a cigarette, and stood there, leaning his elbows on the railing, looking straight down at the street, at the cars passing by, people passing by.

He’d never do it, but sometimes when he did this, he got this strange urge to jump the railing. Or to just let himself fall over. He’d heard it was a common thing, so honestly he wasn’t that concerned about it. It was just odd. There was the option, right there, if he felt so inclined. But he didn’t, so he just sighed and stubbed his cigarette out and went back inside. He wanted to take a nap before going out with Lip tonight. What a fucking shit morning.

 


 

Ian had been involved with Blake for about a year. They didn’t live together, but they both had keys to each other’s apartments. And they had met each others families, had gone away for the weekend together a few times. The sex was good, conversation always fairly interesting. It didn’t hurt that Blake was really hot —GQ bombshell kind of hot.

Sometimes there was a little disconnect between Blake and Ian. Blake grew up not having to lift a finger —and though he was charismatic and good at his job, it was handed to him on a silver platter, he still reaped the benefits of rich parents; Ian was a South Side native that crawled his way out, fought tooth and fucking nail, nothing was handed to him. Ever.

Was Ian in love with Blake? Maybe not. And Blake probably wasn’t in love with Ian either. Ian knew this without question when —as he was reaching half of his beer in the very pretentious, dimly lit bar that Lip met him at— he saw Blake in the far corner. At a table. Looking very cozy. With another man.

The guy he was with was admittedly gorgeous. He had a strong jaw, and short dark hair; his cool gray shirt was a really nice contrast against his tanned skin. Blake looked at his date with interest in his eyes, his heated bedroom eyes —Ian knew that look well. The dark haired man laughed, showing off perfect teeth, and reached over, putting his hand on top of Ian’s boyfriend’s. Blake gently turned his hand to intertwine their fingers together, saying something to make the dark haired man laugh again (which didn’t immediately make sense because Blake was only mildly amusing at best).

Ian got that urge to let out a hysterical laugh, but he bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself. Seriously?

Lip hadn’t seen this, of course. His back was to them, and he was going on about his daughter saying something funny the other day, Ian wasn’t really listening. It was hard to properly be engaged in the conversation when he was watching his boyfriend actively cheat on him —today, of all fucking days, too. What a fucking dick. Fuck this.

“I’ll be right back,” Ian took a big gulp of his beer, his liquid courage; he was buzzed. Feeling pretty fucking good, and pretty fucking shitty at the same time. “I gotta take care of something.”

“What’s going on?” Lip asked him, watching Ian slide off of his barstool. “You okay?”

Ian fished his keys out of his pocket, let the numbness bleed over him, “I’m watching my boyfriend cheat on me. This shouldn’t take too long, I’ll just be a minute.”

“Wait, what? What the fuck,” Lip’s eyes went wide as he looked around the bar. “Where?”

“Back corner, with the guy in the gray shirt,” Ian replied before finishing off his beer. He took Blake’s apartment key off of his keychain and shook his head in disbelief. “Gimme five minutes.”

“Wait, Ian,” Lip grabbed his shoulder. “I don’t think you should go over there like this, man.”

Ian shrugged, feeling floaty and brave and fucking pissed off because he just got laid the fuck off today and now his damn boyfriend was cheating on him. Today! Of all of the days for this to happen! It was hard not to laugh, to be completely fucking honest.

“Gonna get my key back,” Ian told him, getting close to slurring his words; his tongue felt a little thick in his mouth, a little clumsy.

“You want me to at least go over there with you, make sure you don’t kill that motherfucker?” Lip offered. “You want me to kill that motherfucker?”

“Nah,” Ian shook his head. “I got it. Stay here, I'll be right back.”

The look on Blake’s face when Ian stepped up to the table was nothing less than priceless. His eyes opened like an owl’s as he took his hand away form his date’s, tripping over a series of lame explanations. And Ian just stood there, staring down at his soon-to-be ex, a small smile on his face, brows raised. The dark haired man asked what was going on, obviously not appreciating being referred to as Blake’s colleague.

“I’m Ian,” Ian waved to the dark haired man.

“Ryan,” Blake’s date replied slowly, glancing over at the blonde. “What’s… who is this?”

“Blake and Ryan, that’s almost as gay as Blake and Ian,” Ian laughed. “I’m just his boyfriend,” he then waved off. His body threatened to sway a little from his one beer, but he stayed still. “Actually I guess I’m the ex now.”

Ryan looked at Blake with hard eyes, “You have a boyfriend?”

Blake was a mess of babbling nonsense that Ian couldn’t actually give a shit about right now. Ian rolled his eyes, thought fuck it, and plucked Blake’s wine glass from the table. He almost dumped the deep red liquid over his pretty head, but instead knocked that back in a few gulps. He didn’t even like wine. Probably shouldn't have done that, would definitely regret that in the morning, but oh fucking well. Laid off and cheated on all in one day. What kind of fucked up movie was he starring in?

He put the glass back on the table, being gentle, and plopped Blake’s apartment key inside of it, making a loud clinking sound, “I want my key back; here’s yours.” He then turned back to Ryan, “So Ryan, how long have you two been fucking?”

The man’s face went red as he glared hard over at Blake, “Six months.”

Ian threw back his head and laughed, straight from his belly. Could this day get any fucking worse? Honestly? Blake had been cheating on him for six months —and he never realized this? For fucking real? Holy shit. Ian laughed until tears stung his eyes, reaching out to grab onto Blake’s shoulder, to steady himself. He swayed, shook his head, tried to calm himself, ignoring the stares from neighboring tables. Fuck them, he had a bad day.

Plus, laughing right now was the only thing stopping him from dragging Blake outside and unleashing pure South Side fury on his spoilt rotten ass. He held out his hand, waiting for Blake to give him back his key, while he tried to sober up and continue talking to Ryan. “I’m sorry I ruined your date. You’re fucking hot, by the way —oh, hope you don’t mind me saying that, Blake. I know how you don’t like other people hitting on your boyfriends.”

“Ian,” Blake shook his head. “Listen…”

Ian chuckled, shaking his head right back at him. “I’ve had a very bad fucking day. I’m done. Give me my fucking key.”

He handed it over, “Ian…”

Ian crouched down next to Blake’s chair so he could look look him in the eye and not draw too much more attention to them. He reached up and cupped the side of Blake’s face, thumb rubbing gently along his cheek. His skin was warm, and soft, and Ian thought of all those times that they had been desperate and hot in bed. How many times they had not necessarily made love, but it had been damn close.

“Fuck you,” Ian sighed, watching his now ex lean into his touch —like it was instinct, like he couldn't control the movement. Ian stood back up, his hand slipping away, resting back at his side as he looked down at him. But then Blake stood up, hands out and placating, looking like he was going to keep trying to speak.

And… Ian was drunk. No way around it. The alcohol was fully soaking into his blood now; he was drunk, and something snapped. He’d been with Blake for a year. A whole year —and no it wasn't perfect rainbows and sunshine all of the time. It’s not like they didn't disagree.  But it had been good. Ian had thought it had been good, at least (how can something be good when it’d all been a lie, though?). Fuck him. Cheating for half of their relationship? Fuck. Him.

As soon as he rammed his forehead into Blake’s, he was being pulled back. The bar around him erupted in gasps and startled cries. Blake was stumbling back, grabbing onto his chair to stay upright. Ian let himself be pulled away from the table, but threw out about a dozen fuck you’s.

Five fucking years at Gambit Media. He’d pulled all-nighters; he’d taken shitty jobs; he put in all his fucking effort into any job he ever had. For five years. And it was all for fucking nothing. All to just be laid off. Then this motherfucker. This asshole who Ian had been with for a year, was just… out and about with another man? Fucking another man behind his back? It was humiliating, being played like this, for so long, never being able to see what was right in front of him. Fuck Blake. Fuck him. Ian could have loved him —fuck him. Not now. That was gone. Fuck him.

The bar was a little blurred at the edges as Ian was dragged away from Blake. Disgusted faces all around him, people shaking their heads. Ian laughed at them, feeling his eyes sting a little bit, listening to his brother’s voice next to his ear, amused but also worried, “Jesus Christ Ian, you weren’t supposed to make a fucking scene.”

“Fuck ‘im,” Ian slurred loudly. He flicked off the bartender, who was scowling at him. “Yeah, fuck you too! Fuck all’you —Nor’ Side pricks!”

“Okay, calm down,” Lip pulled him out of the bar, not bothering to cover up his laughing, “You’re fucking wasted.”

Ian grinned, warm and floaty all over, “Yeah.”

Lip sighed, hooking his arm around Ian’s waist, “Let’s get you home —can’t believe you drank his fucking wine too.”

Ian wanted to protest, but he knew his big brother was right, so he walked with him, hanging his arm over Lip’s shoulders as he spoke as softly as he was able to —which admittedly wasn't very soft. “Cheat’n on me, I didn’t f’kin know.”

“I know buddy,” Lip said. “He’s a dick, better off without him.”

“Don’tell Deb I got drunk,” Ian sniffed, running a hand over his hair, stumbling a little. Even though Debbie was Ian’s little sister, she got a little riled up and protective about him taking care of himself —she could also nag the fuck out of you.

“I won’t tell Deb,” Lip assured him, making sure he didn’t fall. “C’mon, get in your car.”

“Oh,” Ian’s eyes went wide as he stopped walking, looking over at his brother, “Lip, I’on’t think I can drive right now.”

Lip laughed, shaking his head, “Ian… I’m driving you to your apartment, putting your ass to bed, then taking a cab back to my car. Okay?”

Ian nodded, letting his brother help his stumbling self over to the passenger side, “You’re a f’kin genius, man.”

“So they tell me,” Lip said, patient as he could.

The next morning, Ian woke up face-down in bed, drooling on his pillow with a horrible taste in his mouth. He immediately felt a wave of sick wash over him, creeping up from the pit of his belly; Ian scrambled out of his bed and hurried to the bathroom, stubbing his toe on the way.

He spent the next week holed up in his apartment. And it wasn’t the healthiest thing for Ian to have been doing, he knew this. He kept his meds up, but other than that he just… didn't care to do much else except for watch Netflix in his underwear. Maybe that should have been something to be a little concerned about. But at the same time, he felt it was kind of fair, given the circumstances.

He just needed a moment. He wanted to feel sad about his relationship. He wanted to feel frustrated and angry about his job. He had loved Blake, but he hadn’t been in love with him. Maybe one day it could have gone in that direction, but now that Ian knew that Blake had been unfaithful for half of the relationship, part of him was very happy he hadn’t been in love.

And he was good at his job, before. He gave that company five years of his life and his boss didn’t so much as blink when he let him go like that. So yeah, he needed a moment. He needed to feel this.

He ordered Chinese food, and he watched old action movies, and he talked to Debbie and Lip a few times on the phone. Debbie was concerned, “I just don’t want to see you stuck in bed again, I’m worried about you.”

It didn’t matter how many times Ian tried to explain that he knew his body, knew his mind (he’d been at this for ten fucking years now), and knew that what he was going through right now… was called losing two major things in his life in one day.

“I’m fine,” he told his sister. “I’m taking my meds, my meds have been working. I’m just bummed out right now; Blake cheated on me and I gotta find a new job. I’m fine though.”

“You’re sure?” Debbie’s voice reverted back to that small, unsure child.

Ian scratched at the scruff on his chin and sighed, “I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just different okay? Just trust me… please?”

“Alright. Have you talked to Dr. Richardson?” Debbie asked.

Ian clenched his jaw tightly, closing his eyes, “I don’t need to see my therapist.”

She paused for a moment, “Okay.”

It had been a total of ten days after the day from hell when Ian found himself standing in his kitchen —robe, boxers, bare feet, nothing else, face full of scruff. He sighed, ran a hand through his hair (felt kind of gross; he could probably use a shower) and looked at the boxes of cold leftover Chinese food on his counter. Lo Mein or Mongolian Beef? Or should he just order a pizza instead? Was he even hungry?

Ian sighed again, grabbing the Lo Mein, putting the beef back in the fridge, and made his way to his living room. He fell unceremoniously on the couch, full post-breakup mode, not caring about it. He was allowed this. He was allowed to be sad.

His cell phone buzzed on the coffee table; Ian glanced over at it and pulled a face. He didn’t recognize the number, but he picked it up anyway. He answered, “Hello?” While cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear, working to get the container open.

“Is this Ian Gallagher?”

The gruff Southern voice on the other end of the line made him pause, freezing for just a moment before finally lifting the lid off of the container of of his Lo Mein.

“Yes,” he answered, though it sounded like more of a question.

“Mr. Gallagher, my name is Jim Whitaker with Lowe and Whitaker law offices in Ernest, Oklahoma; is this a good time for you to talk?”

Ian frowned, twirling the noodles on a fork, “Oklahoma?”

“Yes sir,” Jim confirmed. “The Sooner State.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Ian mumbled, shaking his head. “Uh, can I ask what this is about?”

“You are the son of Monica Gallagher, correct?”

Ian abandoned his fork, eyes closing; he hadn’t seen or heard from her in… shit, what was it —ten, eleven years? He felt this odd shift in his body, straight down. Everything just dropped as he slouched back against the couch. He covered his eyes with his hand, taking a deep breath, “Something happen?”

“I’m afraid I have some troubling news for you, Mr. Gallagher,” Jim’s voice grew very gentle. “A few weeks ago, your mother passed. It took some time to find you, so I apologize that—”

Ian wasn’t listening anymore. Jim was still talking, but it was so far away, so distorted. He leaned his head back against the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling of his apartment. His mother died.

Fuck.

“What happened?” Ian finally asked, not sure if he really wanted to know.

Jim sighed, and it told Ian everything. “I’m afraid she… took her own life. I cannot tell you how sorry I am, Mr. Gallagher.”

Ian nodded, jaw clenching tight. This sudden, violent anger ripped through him. He wanted to scream and punch and kick. He wanted to throw things, trash his apartment, cry until he physically could not anymore. Fucking killed herself.

It made him so angry, because he wished he was surprised. He wished he could sit there and say something like there’s no way my mother would do that. But he couldn’t. Because this was Monica. Fucking Monica. Can’t and won’t get her shit together Monica, so she goes and goes and goes and goes until she cannot anymore, until she can’t take it anymore. So she… leaves. Over. Done. Leaves forever this time. Leaving shrapnel all over the fucking place in her wake, for everyone else to clean up. Fucking Monica.

“Fuck,” Ian breathes, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“Mr. Gallagher,” Jim is careful as he continues. “The other reason I am calling you is because your mother wished to leave all her personal property to you upon her death.”

He couldn't really deal with this right now; Ian shook his head, “Personal property?”

“Yes sir,” Ian heard shuffling papers on the other end of the line. “A two-bedroom house on a five acre lot here in Ernest… one nineteen-seventy-five Ford pickup truck… any and all property inside the house —oh, and her account at Ernest City Bank.”

Ian stood from the couch, pacing in front of it. He ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it out of his face once more, unable to do much else other than make a few confused huffs, “My mother…” owned a house? No. There was no fucking way. Not only owned a house, but had a will? He couldn’t make any sense of this, it didn’t sound like his mother, there had to be some mistake. “Is this a good number to reach you at?”

“Yes, Mr. Gallagher.”

Ian nodded, feeling like his world was being tossed and turned all around him, “Okay… okay… I can’t really,” he exhaled roughly, not knowing what to say. “I need to —I can’t really process this right now. I have no clue what the fuck I’m supposed to do here. My mother and I —I haven’t seen or heard from her in years, man. I’m gonna have to get back to you or something, I just… I—”

“I completely understand, Mr. Gallagher,” Jim’s voice was oddly soothing. “Please don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.”

Ian nodded, “Yeah —yeah, thanks,” he said before hanging up. He saved the lawyers number in his phone before he let out a frustrated half-yell, throwing it hard onto the couch.

 


 

The room was all browns —from beige to dark, just all brown. Pops of green from potted plants that were fake. Ian sat on a tan plush armchair, staring down at his knees, trying not to replay the night before too many times in his head.

He wasn’t spiraling, was he? He wasn’t about to hit rock bottom, right? How did he even feel about Monica dying —fuck, was he sad? Of course he was sad, she was his mother, how could he not be sad about his mother dying? Even though she was a shit mother, and really didn’t deserve the title, she was the one who gave birth to him, she was… his mom.

And now she was gone. But it wasn’t like before. It wasn’t like she just left —she did leave though, she fucking killed herself. Fuck. He didn’t want to be like that, the thought of doing something like that terrified him. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to be like Monica—

“Ian,” a voice cut his thoughts off abruptly. Ian looked up from his knees at the blonde woman sitting across from him, notepad in her lap. Her brows were arched high, as if she’d been trying to get his attention for some time now.

“Sorry,” he croaked, throat too dry for comfort. “Sorry, I was…”

“You sounded pretty upset on the phone,” Dr. Richardson said. “Is there something you want to talk about?”

He nodded —for longer than he probably should have. Getting the words out though… he opened his mouth a couple times, not wanting to say it. He didn’t want to say it out loud, not yet. So he said, “I got laid off over a week ago —budget cuts.”

Dr. Richardson frowned, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I went out with Lip because I just wanted a beer, you know? I know I’m not supposed to drink, but I just… I just wanted a beer,” Ian continued. “And then uh… well, we went to this new bar, and I saw Blake there. But he was with someone else.”

“As friends, or…”

“He was on a date,” Ian watched her writing in her notepad. “He’d been cheating on me for the past six months, and I had no idea. Nothing had changed with us… I had no idea. Half our relationship was…” He paused, rubbing at his eyes; they were stinging a little bit, but no tears came. “I kind of made a scene at the bar. We’re over. I got so mad that I head-butted him in the middle of the place. I can’t remember the last time I did something like that.”

She looked up at him and sighed, head tilting to the side, “That’s not good.”

Ian shook his head, “No, it’s not. I know.”

“How have you been with all of that?”

Ian shrugged, shaking his head, “Okay, I guess. My sister was worried because I’ve been kind of laying low, you know? But I just wanted to feel it. I wanted to feel sad —it was a different sad, it wasn’t like when I get low, it was just… I was sad because I found out my relationship was a lie, basically. And I lost my job all in the same day. Does that make sense?”

Dr. Richardson nodded in understanding, “It does. Blake was an important part of your life, you’re allowed to be sad. Have you been keeping up with your medications?”

“Yes,” Ian replied.

“Good,” Dr. Richardson said in that half-relieved doctor kind of voice, jotting something down on her notepad. “And what were you doing while you were lying low?”

Ian sighed, shrugging again, “Just being by myself in my apartment. Watching movies, that sort of shit -uh, stuff. So… nothing, I guess.”

He stopped talking and his words hung in the air for a moment. He felt so strange, talking about mourning his relationship when his mother died. He didn’t want to be like her; he knew that he’d been taking the steps, doing everything he could to not be like her. But even taking care of himself, it was still in the back of his mind, he didn’t think he’d ever not be scared. You don’t just have Monica Gallagher as your mother and not be terrified that you’ll turn out exactly like her. More times than not, Ian felt like he was halfway there —kind of was, wasn’t he?

“Is there something else you needed to talk about?” Dr. Richardson, all-knowing Dr. Richardson, asked him.

He nodded, vision going a little blurry, so he wiped at his eyes and sniffed, trying to push it down. He didn’t like crying, especially in front of other people, even though Dr. Richardson had seen him cry many times.

“Take your time,” she soothed. “Take a deep breath.”

Ian did, inhaling deep through his nose, exhaling through his mouth. “My mom killed herself,” he forced out.

“Oh god,” Dr. Richardson put her notepad to the side and scooted her chair closer to Ian’s, taking his hands in her own, squeezing them gently. “Ian, I’m so sorry.”

He made an ugly choking noise as he squeezed her hands back, holding back this wave of a toxic mix of panic, sadness and frustration washing over him. He couldn’t stop the tears that time, they fell down his face, hot —burning his skin. Fuck, he hated this, he hated that he was crying over her. He didn’t want to cry over Monica, she did nothing but disappoint him, did nothing but fucking leave. She always left, and in the end she did the same damn thing, just left.

“This lawyer called from Oklahoma and said that she left all her personal property to me,” Ian mumbled, shaking his head. “That’s where she ended up, I guess. A house… a truck… some money.”

“How long has it been since you’ve ben in contact with her?” Dr. Richardson asked.

Ian sniffed, “Like eleven years, I think. How did she get there —why Oklahoma? Why did she leave all her shit to me? Why did she think I would want it?”

His therapist was quiet, her thumbs rubbing gently over the backs of his hands, but she just sat there and waited for him to keep talking. She knew him well, knew when he was finished, when he wasn’t. Ian had been coming to her for a long time now —nearly three years. Now he just came in every once in a while to check in, but before it had been a weekly visit. He liked Dr. Richardson, he respected her and how she interacted with him.

Ian shrugged, “Maybe because she thought we were the same.”

Dr. Richardson sighed, “Ian look at me… the thing you share with your mother is bipolar disorder. How you ultimately chose to live your life with this, and the kind of person you are, is not how your mother chose be. You share a mental illness, that’s it.”

He nodded. He understood.

“You quite literally are not Monica. You’re Ian,” she said, carefully slipping her hands away from his. “I’m so sorry you’ve lost your mother.”

“She killed herself,” Ian whispered. He didn’t know if he said it to himself, or his doctor, or the universe.

Dr. Richardson nodded, “She did.”

They talked for another thirty minutes. They revisited Ian’s fears of becoming like Monica, about some of the things that she had done in the past. Dr. Richardson listened, as she always did. She always listened, always gave advice when she felt that he needed it. They’d had this conversation many times before, but all those past conversations seemed so useless compared to now.

And then they talked about the guilt that Ian was feeling. Monica had six children, but only left anything for one of them. Ian was feeling really fucked up over that. It wasn’t right.

His relationship with his mother had been destroyed, nonexistent, because after being burned so many fucking times, he’d had enough. He stopped giving her chances, he stopped taking her calls or texting her back. But he always had a soft spot for her; how could he not? And now she was gone, but gone forever this time. She was never coming back.

Within ten days, Ian had lost his job, his boyfriend, and now his mother. He felt numb, and guilt, and sadness, and anger. He felt it wanting to fester, wanting to eat him up until he was cold and empty on the inside. He couldn’t let it though, he couldn't let it eat him up.

“You’re Ian,” his doctor said. “And Ian is strong, and brave, and is a fighter —and loving. Ian is a survivor. So… you’re going to be strong and brave, and you’re going to fight. You’re going to survive this, all of this. Because you can. And if you need help doing these things, if you feel like it’s too much, that’s okay, and there’s nothing wrong in asking for help, okay?”

He nodded. He understood.

 


 

Breaking the news to his siblings was weird. It hit Debbie and Carl the hardest; Ian knew it would —even though they’d written her off a long time ago, they were part of ‘the babies’ and were the last to fully understand what it meant to be the child of Monica and Frank Gallagher. Liam didn’t really react that much, he barely knew Monica, but he looked a little sad about it, for a moment, if only just because the woman who gave him life took her own.

Ian felt like the fucking grim reaper, coming back to the house in South Side with that kind of news. Fiona teared up, shaking her head, wiping at her face fucking Monica she whispered. Lip looked angry, jaw clenching. But his eyes went red, and Ian knew that what he really wanted to do was cry, but wouldn't let himself.

Carl was the first to speak, “How did she…”

“I didn’t ask,” Ian said. “Didn’t want to know.”

“And she’s got a house in Oklahoma?” Fiona asked, clearly perplexed.

“Evidently.”

“The hell was she doing in Oklahoma?” Liam frowned.

Ian shrugged, putting out his cigarette, “I don’t know why she was there, I don’t know why she left me all that shit. I just… I dunno anything, but I gotta go deal with that, right —that’s what you do?”

“Yeah, that’s what you do,” Lip murmured.

“What’re you gonna do with it?” Carl asked him, wiping at his eyes and nose.

He shrugged again, “Figured I’d sell whatever I could then split the money with all you. Fucked up that she left all her shit to just me. It’s not right.”

“Probably figured you’d be the only one to care enough,” Lip said. The words were kind of shitty, but Ian knew what his brother meant, and he couldn't argue with what he said, so he just nodded.

“We should tell Frank, right?” Debbie finally spoke up, looking at Lip.

Lip shook his head, “Not until all of her shit is taken care of. He’d just make everything a fucking mess, try to take whatever he could, you know?”

Fiona looked at everyone around the table, “Okay, so we don’t tell him yet. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded, murmuring their agreement. It might have been kind of a dick move, but it was Frank. Lip was right, he’d try to bulldoze his way in and lay claim to everything that Monica ever had. They had to do it this way. They had to.

“Are you okay to go down there?” Debbie asked Ian. “Do you need someone to go with you?”

Ian shook his head, “I’m good, Deb. I’m not this helpless, fragile thing. I can handle shit.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s just… it’s Monica. It’s probably going to be really upsetting.”

Lip clamped a hand down on Ian’s shoulder, getting his attention, “I can go with you, I just need to call in and—”

“It’s okay, I promise,” Ian interrupted, trying not to get annoyed and snap at one of his siblings. He flicked his lighter on a few times, and breathed deep, “Yeah, it’s gonna be fucking upsetting, but I can handle it. You all have shit going on. I don’t have a job right now… it’s fine. I’ll be okay —I’ve been handling my bipolar for a long time now, I’m not that seventeen year old kid anymore.”

“We know,” Lip said. “We just…”

Ian sighed, shaking his head. He wanted to list all the reasons why he was okay to do this, but at the same time, he didn’t feel as though he should have to do that. He’d been on top of his shit for almost ten years now —diagnosed when he was seventeen, twelve fucking years ago. He shouldn't have to do this every fucking time there was a bump in the road —the whole I’m okay, I promise, I’m not gonna freak out speech.

“He’s got it,” Carl piped up. “Probably better he handles all that shit, the rest of us would most likely burn that house to the ground.”

Ian breathed a laugh, looking over at his little brother. He appreciated the backup, “Thanks.”

Carl pointed at him, eyes playfully narrowing, “I got you, bro.”

“Alright, but if you need help, you call,” Fiona said. “Not just talking about emotionally, okay? Knowing Monica, I can only imagine the shit you’re about to walk into. So if you need an extra set of hands…”

Ian nodded, “Okay.”

 


 

It took longer than Ian expected, to get back to Jim Whitaker. Just mentally and emotionally preparing himself to make a call about finding out where in the fuck Ernest, Oklahoma was, so he could go take care of everything he needed to take care of —the weight was much heavier than he had anticipated. But he did call. And he got the address of Jim’s office, so he could go by there first and pick up the keys to his mothers house.

Ian had no idea how long he would be away, taking care of all that shit. He had no idea what the fuck he was walking into. If he knew anything about his mother, the house was a dump. He’d have to clean it, fix whatever needed to be fixed, in order to sell it. This wasn’t going to be easy. Why would it though, since when did Monica ever make anything easy for her children?

So Ian, now having no job, no boyfriend, just family in Chicago… did something that was probably very fucking stupid. He broke his lease to his apartment. He packed up as much of his belongings that he thought he’d need, that wouldn't fit in the basement of the house in South Side. He listened to Lip give him a very enthusiastic why the fuck would you do that speech.

He met with Dr. Richardson one more time, mostly to just figure out how to refill his prescriptions —just in case. Dr. Richardson was cautiously optimistic about what Ian was doing, suggesting that he had least call her once or twice a week to check in, talk about whatever he needed to talk about. He sighed about it, but agreed. That was fair; she was only doing her job, and honestly it was better than having Lip go off on him.

And then, after all that… he made plans to leave Chicago. It was probably stupid. It was definitely impulsive. But also, maybe it would be good, right? Get out of the city for a bit. Recharge, regroup, come back and get back to his normal life, get back on his routine, get back to work. Maybe this would turn out to not be the worst idea he’d ever had. Maybe.

 

So, two weeks after the first call from Jim Whitaker, Ian’s car was packed full of everything from clothes, to bedding and towels, to cookware —to a shitty toolset that Lip had lying around his place. Lip had offered one last time to go with him, but again Ian declined. It just felt like something he had to do on his own. Plus, Lip had a family. He had a daughter —what if something (god forbid) went wrong and Lip was stuck in Oklahoma? That would be a fucking disaster.

The first half of the drive, he felt this really amazing sense of liberation. There was an underlying sadness, because of the real reason for the trip. But still, this kind of exciting, and freeing knowledge that Ian had absolutely no responsibilities that he was leaving behind. Almost like he was running away. And that feeling took over for a while.

By nature, he was a runner —had a bad history with dipping-out when things got a little too intense, it’s something he also shared with Monica that he wished he didn’t. Driving further and further away from Chicago, he remembered why; he returned to that sixteen year old kid who just wanted out of South Side at any cost. There was a sick adrenaline rush that came with running away from your problems —from avoiding things that were too hard, or too much. He opened his car windows and turned his music up loud and just drove and drove until he had to pull over to the side of the road.

Fuck, was he running away?

A long empty highway, sun setting. He had to pull over, but not because he was tired. Because he needed to breathe. He climbed out of his car and slammed the door. The liberation was melting away. The adrenaline rush was fizzing out. His mother died. He was running again. Running away from no job. Running away from the cheating boyfriend.

No. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t running away from responsibilities, he was… moving towards responsibilities. He was going to take care whatever he needed to take care of, and then go back home. He wasn’t running away. He told himself this over and over again until he understood. He was okay. Not running, just getting caught up in the moment. He was fine.

Ian took a few deep breaths before he got back into his car. He had another couple hours before he got to Springfield, Missouri, where he’d be getting a room at one of those dumpy motels for the night.

The second leg of the drive, Ian was feeling less liberation and more dread. Mostly because, again, he had no idea what he was walking into. It was clearer than the day before, that knowledge that he was going into this blind. Jim Whitaker hadn’t given him any hint into what kind of shape the house was in; maybe Lip had been right. Maybe breaking his lease and temporarily moving to Oklahoma was a fucking terrible idea. Oh fuck. Too late now, huh?

But then, after a total of twelve hours of driving… Ian had experienced his first wave of culture shock, arriving at Ernest, Oklahoma.

Okay so, Oklahoma was fucking beautiful, first of all, and so different than anything he was ever used to. So much land, and dirt that was this reddish-brown color, and long stretches of trees and then long stretches of no trees. The landscape was all over the place and it was… it was beautiful. As he drove, he had a hard time not stopping every ten or fifteen minutes to just get out and look around. It was amazing.

But then he got to Ernest. And small town didn’t even begin to cover it. He was in the middle of fucking nowhere —further than the middle of nowhere. Ian drove into the center of town where old, squat brick buildings lined a road that was worn and cracked —the buildings weren’t even taller than four stories. The diagonal parking spots were dotted with cars, some old, some new.

Ian pulled up to the building where a sign reading Lowe&Whitaker was hung out front, telling him he was in the right place. He got out of his car, and looked all around him with wide eyes, taking a very deep breath of very clean air.

“What the fuck, Monica,” he murmured to himself, politely waving back at a friendly looking elderly woman who was getting out of her car, across the street —she didn't even bother to lock it. He was, without a doubt, not in South Side anymore.

Jim Whitaker turned out to be a pot-bellied, gray-haired, very hospitable man. Probably the nicest lawyer that Ian had ever met, he knew that much. Monica had wrote a very simple will —if you want to call a slip of paper with her almost childish scrawl written in blue ink, a will— right before she died. It just said give all my belongings to my son Ian. He almost asked if it was her suicide note, but decided that he really didn’t want to have that confirmed.

Ian was given directions to the house, two sets of keys (house and truck), along with a folder full of paperwork that Jim had tried to explain to him what they were about but Ian, still feeling like he’d stepped into the twilight zone, didn't listen as carefully as he probably should have. And… for now, that was that.

Chapter Text

It was dusk by the time Ian pulled up to his mother’s house —miles away from in-town, down several dirt roads. It was so quiet as he got out of the car; he’d never heard that kind of quiet outside before. The house was, as he expected, a piece of shit. He probably stared at it for a good five minutes, just soaking in the first impression he was given.

Stained, peeling yellowish paint, a front porch with an overhang, the railing missing a few posts; there were a couple wooden chairs on the porch, and beer cans and bottles thrown about. There were cans and bottles strewn everywhere, in fact. On the porch, across the overgrown yard… everywhere. The dead grass crunched under Ian’s feet as he walked around, just checking things out.

There wasn’t an actual driveway or garage. A big blue truck was parked out front, rust dotting along the edges and taking up most of the hood. One of the side-view mirrors was missing. He’d probably have to jump-start it.

Ian looked at the land around the house; not a lot of trees, just fields —but there were sparse gatherings of vegetation here and there, in the distance. It was mostly flat, but there were gentle slopes of land. The sky was blue and gray, the edges of the scattered clouds lit up in brilliant pinks, telling him that he didn't have much time before it was dark.

“What the fuck am I doing?” Ian whispered, afraid to disrupt the silence. God, he was so fucking alone out there.

The front screen door came off the hinges when he opened it, clattering to the floor of the porch with a loud metallic crack. The front door stuck, and Ian had to lean heavily against it to make it budge. When it finally gave and opened, a distinct stale cigarettes and dirty laundry smell rushed out at him. Ian pulled a face, waving the smell away, but it didn't help much.

He held his breath, going for the closest light-switch, exhaling roughly in disappointment when it didn’t work. Mr. Whitaker had warned him that there might be a possibility that the electricity would have to be turned back on. It was dim in the house, but for now he could see well enough. And what he saw… he sighed, shaking his head as he stepped further inside.

More bottles and cans. Not only strewn all over the yard and porch, but inside the house as well. The wallpaper was peeling and just… really ugly pastel, floral. There were barely any furnishings; the couch in the living room was half-cluttered with trash, and he was pretty sure there was some kind of layer of filth on it too. The coffee table was gross, littered with cigarette butts and dirty dishes. There was a very old box TV with one of those rabbit-ear antenna things on top. He almost didn't want to see the rest of the house. He almost wanted to go home.

But he moved forward, to the kitchen. Junk everywhere, dated cabinets, a calendar that was eight years old; a boom-box on the table. He wondered how much time his mother actually spent here. She didn’t like to stay in one place for too long, so why would she even have a house? Why bother?

Off the side of the kitchen, next to the back door, was a washing machine. No dryer to be seen. Also by the back door and washing machine was another door. Ian went to it, opened it up, saw that it had wooden steps that lead down into pitch-black, so he promptly closed the door and shook his head. Nope. That would have to wait for another day; he’d seen enough movies to know that you don’t explore dark basements at night.

He was exhausted, after having driven for two days straight, and all he wanted to do was sleep. So real quick, he peeked into the bedrooms and bathroom. The bathroom was like the rest of the house, except with pill bottles and Ian found a pipe on the floor next to the toilet. Great. One of the bedrooms was in disarray.

But the second bedroom was pretty clean. It just had a bed and a dresser. But, weirdly, there were no cans; no pill bottles; no pipes; no junk. Just… an odd, empty room. What made it even stranger was that it had obviously not always been like that, he only knew this because there were little teeny tiny bits of trash and a couple cigarette butts on the dirty carpet, like someone forgot to pick them up. Ian peeked inside the closet; he found two large black garbage bags, confirming his suspicions.

And then he had to stuff down his anger. Because his mother had cleaned this room. For him. He didn’t know how he knew, he just did. Because it was Monica, and she’d do something like that. Fucking Monica.

The house was getting darker and Ian obviously had a very long day ahead of him tomorrow, so he put the anger aside for now and headed back outside. He still needed to call Lip and let him know that he got there.

He had to climb on top of his car to get a signal, “Can you hear me?” He said into the phone; he looked up into the darkening sky and let the corner of his mouth pull up; it was really pretty, and the stars were already trying to peek through.

“Ian?” Lip said. “You there?”

“This better?” Ian moved a little to his left, pulling his pack of cigarettes out from his back pocket to light one up, “I’m here; I got to the house.”

“How is it?”

“Well,” Ian sighed, looking at the thing in question as he exhaled a breath of smoke. “Just about as shitty as you can expect. Might be better to bulldoze this place —it’s like the island for lost beer cans over here. Found a crack-pipe in the bathroom.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know how long it’s gonna take to get this thing fixed up enough to sell,” Ian said. “I mean, I’m not tryna flip it or anything, but it needs something, you know? Fresh coat of paint, a good scrubbing, all that shit.”

“Fuck,” Lip breathed. “You sure you don’t want me to catch a flight out there?”

“Nah, I’m good. It’s just fucking weird, you know? She lived here… I guess. I can’t picture her living in a house for a long time.”

“She probably just kept it and crashed there when she needed to,” Lip sighed.

Ian nodded, “Probably. I just… buying a house? She couldn't even buy a fucking car.”

“It’s been over ten years, man,” Lip pointed out. “Who knows, maybe hooked up with some guy and then he gave it to her. It’s Monica. Can’t really expect anything.”

“Yeah,” He looked back up at the sky and gasped, “Holy fuck.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

Ian shook his head, “You should see these fucking stars, man.”

There were no words that Ian could gather, maybe that he even knew of, to describe how beautiful the night sky was. After he hung up with Lip, Ian laid back on the roof of his car and, for however long he was out there, stared out into the night sky in complete awe. He’d never in his life seen that many stars. He didn’t even know that it was possible.

The sky was so fucking dark and the stars were so bright as they poked through and… god, they were… he knew why Oklahoma. He knew why his mother had a house in the middle of nowhere. The stars. He understood.



 

The morning sun filtering through the window woke Ian up the next day. He groaned, pressing his face into his pillow that he brought from home, before climbing off of the old mattress. He’d layered all his blankets and sheets on top of the thing; thank god he’d been so exhausted the night before, otherwise he was sure that he wouldn't have been able to fall asleep knowing what he was falling asleep on (rather, not knowing what he was falling asleep on).

“Okay,” Ian breathed, pulling on his jeans. He wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. Clean this shit-hole up, sell it, get home. Like he was never there. That right there was what he was calling the ideal situation.

Before he drove into Ernest yesterday, Ian had stopped by a Walmart; he picked up a few things. Protein bars, bottled water, batteries, trash bags, cleaning supplies… etc. So the first thing he did was go back out to his car and get all those things (he could have really used a coffee, but he didn't want to go in town and get side-tracked).

Then he went through some of his mothers mail, found out what electric company she’d used, and climbed back on top of his car to call them, to get it turned back on. Twenty-four hours or less until it would be back up and running, they said. It would have to do.

Ian replaced the batteries in the old radio from the kitchen, found a crackly station —the only one with decent enough signal was an oldies station— and got to work, picking up every single bottle and can, and throwing it in a trash bag.

There was a lot of cursing. There was a lot of frustrated groaning. There were a couple times where Ian had to stop, breathe, wipe the tears from his eyes, and then get back to work.

It took a couple hours, several trash bags, and three bottles of water, before Ian had finished emptying the interior of the house of any and all garbage. He also found a few dime-bags of coke, a bottle of oxycontins, and two syringes —all of which went directly into the trash. And he found this really badass glass bong that he wanted to clean out really good and bring back home, so… thank god for small favors?

“Shit,” Ian paused outside of the house, looking at the accumulation of garbage bags out front. He looked around, as if someone was going to stroll on up and answer his questions, before he climbed back on top of his car and called Jim Whitaker. (Really, this whole climbing on top of the car to make a phone call thing was ridiculous)

“Hello Mr. Gallagher, what can I do you for? Everything okay?”

Ian sighed, shielding his eyes from the sun, “Uh, sure. Yeah, everything’s fine… I actually have a few garbage bags that need to be thrown out, but I’m not sure… do I need to take them somewhere or leave them out front—”

“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think about that,” Jim apologized. “There are a couple dumpsters on the side of the road into town that’s just for people as far away as you are; you can go on ahead and dump whatever you have in one of those.”

He pulled a face, because that was fucking weird, and thanked Jim before he ended the call, eyeing his mothers truck. After he loaded all of the trash bags into the bed, he grabbed his backpack full of crap (wallet, water, other important shit he didn’t want to leave at the house, mostly out of habit) and climbed in. He prayed to whatever justice there might be in the world, to just… give him a fucking break, as he slid the key into the ignition.

It was a little shaky sounding, but the truck roared to life, and Ian whooped loudly, hitting the steering wheel a couple times, “Yeah, motherfucker!” The inside of the truck was, surprise surprise, littered with trash, so he scooped everything into another trash bag and threw it into the back of the truck with the others.

The dumpsters were easy to find. A couple dark green tank-looking things surrounded by high grass just about a football field’s length away from where houses started to pop up, leading into town. Ian pulled up as close as he could and climbed into the bed of the truck, throwing the bags across way into the dumpster. When he was done with that, he felt pretty fucking pleased with himself. Probably best Lip didn’t come, after all; he wasn’t exactly one for manual labor.

He tried to clean himself up as best he could with his last bottle of water and a roll of paper towels he found at the bottom of his backpack. After cleaning himself up, he drove the clunky truck into town and parked in front of a little place called Sheila’s Diner. It was right next to a hardware store in a two-story brick building; the lettering on the window needed to be retouched. Ian was very much aware of the strange looks he was getting —or rather, his mothers truck was getting. Probably would have been best if he had driven his car into town instead. Too late now.

The diner was set up like one of those retro places, with an aisle down the middle separating a row of cracked vinyl booths, and a long counter with stools. It was nice, warm and homey on the inside. It had definitely been around for a long time. Ian took a seat at the counter, carefully putting his backpack on the stool next to him.

A plucky middle-aged woman immediately greeted him from the other side of the counter, wide smile on her face, “Welcome to Sheila’s Diner —coffee?” she held up a kettle and mug.

“Yes, please,” Ian gave her a smile.

“You want something to eat, sweetie?”

Ian’s stomach rumbled at the mention; he nodded, “Are you still serving breakfast?”

“All day, every day,” the woman said, pouring his coffee.

Thank god. “Uh… just some eggs and toast, please?” he sighed, adding on, “Scrambled,” before she could ask.

“No problem, sweetie. I’m Sheila, if you need anything just let me know, alright? It’ll be out in a few.”

Ian nodded, “Thank you.”

He dumped sugar and cream into his coffee before taking a sip; he could have moaned, it was so good. He’d been running on fumes all day but powered through, working to clean up the house. His muscles were whining at him, not having had to do that kind of hard work in a long time.

It took a minute for Ian to realize that the man sitting two stools down from him was looking at him, then out the front window at the truck, then back at Ian. Weird; Ian glanced over at the man, probably in his fifties or sixties, and gave him a nod in greeting.

“That’s Monica Gallagher’s truck,” the man said.

Ian sighed, “It was.”

He arched a brow, “Mind me asking why you have it?”

Ian held back a snort at the blunt question, “She was my mother.”

“Dale, knock it off,” Sheila came over to set Ian’s food down in front of him as she tutted at the older man, “That’s none of your business. Ignore him, sweetie.”

Ian glanced over at Dale again, “S’okay,” he mumbled, even though it kind of wasn’t. Dale had that Frank look about him, and Ian instantly wondered if he and Monica had been hooking up or doing drugs together. The guy’s face was pretty unreadable, so it was making Ian kind of uncomfortable.

“You in town to sell the house?” Dale asked.

Ian focused on his food, sighing, “Gonna try.”

“Dale, leave him be, let him eat. Look at the boy, he looks like he hasn’t eaten in days —you want something else, sweetie? Maybe some oatmeal, or pancakes, or at least some bacon? Get some more protein in you —you know what I’ll have Michael fry you up some bacon.”

Ian didn’t even have time to protest before Sheila was off to the kitchen again. Honestly he really thought he’d gained a couple pounds during his stretch of Netflix and Eat Everything In Sight. But despite himself, he grinned, chewing on a bite of toast.

He rummaged around in his backpack and pulled out his notebook and pen so he could start making a to-do list of things he needed to get done around the house. Hopefully the electricity would be on much sooner than the power company said it would be. He needed an AC out there. He should probably go to the grocery store too. He added that to the list as well.

“You know,” Dale’s voice filtered over, “I never knew Monica had a kid.”

Ian snorted a humorless laugh, shaking his head; how was he not surprised, “Six.”

“Excuse me?” Dale asked.

“Six,” Ian looked over at the confused older man. “Six kids. Monica has six kids.”

The diner door dinged open when a plate of bacon was set down in front of Ian. He thanked Sheila while tearing his eyes away from Dale and glancing over at the door, seeing another man walk through. This man was closer to his age, wearing broken in jeans, a head of black hair; the long sleeves of his dark blue button-down pushed up to his elbows.

He scanned the diner before catching Ian’s eyesight, giving him just a little questioning eyebrow lift and a nod, which Ian returned. The man made his way over to the register, his gait dipping a little on the left side. He was good looking, Ian thought, definitely looked like the kind of guy back home that Ian would go for. Focused blue eyes that had a lingering fuck you about them.

Sheila smiled brightly, bringing over a styrofoam cup. “Got your coffee all ready to go.”

“Thanks,” the man gave her a hint of a grin, taking the cup. He had a nice voice.

Ian busied himself with his list, scribbling groceries down and finishing off his bacon at the same time. Sheila was talking quietly with the man for a few minutes before he left, saying goodbye to her and thanking her again for the coffee. Ian wished he knew his name —probably best not to find out though, probably best not to interact too much with anyone while he’s here, right?

After he finished up at the diner, thanking Sheila, Ian went into the hardware store to grab a couple packs of lightbulbs (just in case) and wallpaper remover for later, when he needed it. Even though Ian didn’t know a lot about interior design, he knew that shit had to go. It was a lot bigger than Ian had thought it would be, judging by the outside of the store. It also had an odd old-west style to it, wooden shelving and paneled walls —it was obvious that not much had changed since it first opened, whenever that was.

The guy behind the counter’s name was Iggy; scruffy, and a few years older than Ian. Real laid back, but a nice guy. He seemed to know his shit. They talked for a little bit about the house, and the little easy things that Ian could do on his own to fix it up to sell.

Ian was capable at figuring things out, but he wasn’t a fucking contractor and wasn’t looking to pick up a new trade. He could do things like fix a pipe or patch a wall up. Iggy seemed to have a lot of connections to people who did know how to do all that other stuff though —told him that if there was any electrical work, his brother could probably handle it, and would be cheaper than an electrician. So Iggy was cool.

Finally Ian got back to his mothers house, to spend another couple of hours out in the sun, picking up the yard. The backs of his shoulders definitely got some color, but Ian wasn’t really all that worried about that because the power kicked on by the time he was done with the yard. Much sooner than he thought it would be, thank god.

He worked into the night with the radio blaring. Ian managed to clean out the kitchen (he gagged and almost threw up several times while cleaning out the fridge) from top to bottom. He even tried to see if he could go into the basement, but the lightbulb down there wasn't working. He had those packs of bulbs, but… still a no. What the fuck ever, it was scary down there, and Lip made him watch one too many horror flicks when he was little. Shut up.

But he did clean out the bathroom; scrubbed the ever-loving fuck out of it. And as soon as he was done, he jumped into the shower. It didn’t turn out as lovely as he had anticipated.

“Fuck, what the…” Ian spluttered, shielding his face from the hot spray of rotten-egg smelling water. What the fuck —why? Ian took the fastest shower of his life, barely rinsing the shampoo from his hair, before hopping back out. “Ugh, fuck.”

He’d been looking forward so a nice, long shower but… there had to be something wrong with the plumbing, right? Damn, he was going to smell like rotten eggs all fucking week now. Gross. Ian pulled a face, trying to scrub the lingering smell off his skin with a towel before he got dressed.

 


 

He’d had a conversation with Lip after he woke up, mostly about money. Ian wanted to get this house sold and to do that, some things needed to be fixed up. To fix up those things, he needed extra cash. So after talking about it for a bit, Ian felt better about going to the bank and dumping whatever money was in his mothers account into the house.

“Don’t expect much,” Lip had said.

“I’m not,” Ian nodded. “I just figured it’s her fucking house, you know? Why dump my money into it when I don’t have a job right now.”

“Nah, I got you, you’re right. Especially considering the fact that you don’t have a place to live anymore.”

Ian rolled his eyes, “Yeah yeah.”

The bank was a small building on the edge of town —in walking distance of the post office and a coffee shop that Ian hadn't seen before. There was only one teller behind the counter, but it looked like they could have filled in three spaces. Ian was immediately greeted by a short, balding man in a navy blue sports coat —introduced himself as Marshall Kline, the manager.

The girl behind the counter had dark hair pulled back from her pretty, but kind of lethal face; her name tag read Mandy. Ian adjusted his backpack on his shoulder, “Hi, I need to take money out of my mother’s account… Monica Gallagher?”

Evidently there was a process for this. And Mandy, thank god, helped Ian look through the folder of paperwork that he’d brought with him. He suspected there were a few corners cut, but they seemed to already know all about him and trusted him, so it turned out to be no problem at all.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Mandy said, clicking away on her computer.

Ian nodded, wondering how many times during his life he was going to hear that exact sentence, “Thanks.”

Turns out… Monica had a nice little chunk of money in the bank. “A little over five grand,” Mandy told him. (He’d probably blow through that to get the house looking and working decent, but it was still a fucking nice boost).

Ian’s eyes went wide, “Are you sure?”

Mandy nodded, “Yep.”

“How long has she had an account here?” Ian asked.

More typing and clicking away, then, “Seven years.”

Ian’s head was spinning. Monica didn’t stick around for seven years, she couldn’t even stick around for seven weeks. And over five grand in the bank? Who was this woman? Who did she turn into? Nothing added up —the house was trashed, but she kept over five fucking grand in the bank… never one to settle down, but she had a house… it didn't make any sense to him.

“Okay… okay,” Ian breathed, shaking his head.

Mandy frowned, “You alright?”

Ian laughed, shrugged, “I have no fucking clue. I don’t know.” He didn’t even know why he was telling Mandy —a stranger— that, instead of lying about it and saying he was fine. Maybe he should call Dr. Richardson tonight. Things were just really confusing and nothing was making sense, and it was starting to get to him.

Was he alright? Well… he’d been better.

Mandy pressed her lips together and pulled a rather large bag out from under the counter, “Marshall, I’m taking my break.”

“Alright,” he called from his office.

Ian watched as Mandy came out from behind the counter and stuck her hand out towards him for him to take. Suddenly Ian felt a lot like Wendy Darling watching Peter Pan offer his hand to take her away to Neverland.

“You like coffee?” Mandy asked him. Ian nodded. Mandy shook her hand a little, gesturing for him to take it; he did.

They walked over to the coffee shop, aptly named Beantown, sandwiched between a pharmacy and what looked like an insurance office. It was a tiny little thing inside, only two tables with chairs and a bookcase able to fit in the front. Both Ian and Mandy ordered their coffees —Mandy got a danish also.

“I know it doesn’t look like much, but the coffee is really good,” Mandy told Ian as they sat at one of the tables.

“It’s kind of nice in here. Small though.”

Mandy laughed, “Yeah everything is so small here. Took me a few months to get used to it again.”

Ian took a sip of his coffee, “Did you leave for a while?”

“Yep,” she nodded her head, “I was gone for almost five years. Moved away for a man —which shoulda been my first red flag.”

“I take it didn’t work out?” (obviously not, she moved back)

“Not at all,” Mandy smirked. “When it came down to it, he wasn’t really looking for a girlfriend, he was looking for a mother. Five years I stuck it out because I thought I got out of this small-ass town, but I couldn't take it anymore. He was a deadbeat —fucking loser. I was so focused on getting the fuck out of here, that I ignored everything else.”

“That only lasts for so long, huh,” Ian took a sip of his coffee.

“Yeah, no shit,” Mandy smiled, her eyes lighting up. “I came home from a really shitty day at work, and there’s piles of laundry he hasn’t folded yet, and dirty dishes in the sink —the apartment’s trashed. And he asks me what I’m planning on cooking for dinner,” she huffed a disbelieving laugh. “Because he sure is hungry.”

Ian arched a brow at her, “Wow.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” Mandy nodded. “Turned and walked out before I could do something stupid like string his ass up. It sounds like stupid thing, but after five years of that bullshit, it was like the straw that broke the camel’s back, you know? I was fucking done. I came back after cooling down, and he’s all Oh Mandy, please, I’m sorry Mandy, please don’t leave me Mandy!’ …” she rolled her eyes and shrugged, picking at her pastry. “I was done.”

Ian pushed his lips together to keep from grinning at Mandy’s flippant nature with her past relationship. He and Blake hadn’t been together for five years, but he understood where she was coming from —when she was done, she was done. It’s how he had felt with Blake. It was like as soon as he saw him with that other man, and put the pieces together, he cut off that piece of his life. It had stung, but it was necessary.

“Yeah I just broke up with my boy—“ he cut himself off though, his mouth snapping shut. He didn’t know what it was like down here, with people like him (what a weird way to refer to himself, also —people like him). The back of his neck went hot and he stared down at his coffee, trying to figure out where to go from there. Fuck.

But Mandy dipped her head down to catch his eyesight again, a gentle smile on her face, “What was his name?”

Ian breathed a sigh, running a hand over his hair, hesitating.

“One of my brothers is gay,” Mandy said with a little shrug. “And as small and old school as Ernest is… it’s not what you’d think it’d be like out here. You’d be surprised —there was only really one person who was a total bastard… and my dad’s been dead for a while now.”

Ian felt his face heat up as he nodded, “Sorry —I didn’t mean to assume.”

“No, I totally get it,” Mandy smiled at him. “We’re in a small town in the south. I get it. You don’t need to apologize at all. Just know that… you’re okay here, you know?”

Ian breathed a somewhat relieved laugh and nodded, “That’s actually… really reassuring.”

Mandy grinned wide, “Right? Okay now… what was your boyfriends name?”

“Uh, his name’s Blake.”

“Are we mad at Blake, or do we miss him?”

He shook his head, “Uh… I dunno, mad I guess. I… caught him on a date with some guy he’d been seeing for six months behind my back, so…”

Mandy’s lips twisting in a scowl, “Are you kidding me? Fucking cheating on you? What a dick. How long were you together?”

“A year,” Ian said.

A part of him was scolding himself —he and Blake weren’t in love, it just wasn’t that kind of relationship. But he’d cared about Blake, had thought that he was his best friend. Ian told Blake everything and… he trusted him. Blake went to doctor appointments with Ian, family dinners in South Side —somewhere that made him really uncomfortable, but he did it for Ian. They weren’t perfect, but they were kind of a team. Or so Ian thought.

Her jaw dropped as if she’d been personally offended, “Well, fuck him!”

Ian laughed, tension in his shoulders falling away; he nodded, “Yeah.”

“Never deserved you anyways,” she waved off, like she knew exactly what she was talking about. It made Ian grin; kinda made him feel a little better, if he was being honest. What a strange day —what a strange girl. But he liked her; she had a fire about her.

“So how long are you here for?” Mandy asked him.

Ian lifted a shoulder, “Well… however long it takes to sell my moms house. I have a feeling that it’s going to be more challenging than I thought though. I didn’t realize that it’d be so far away from… everything.”

“Yeah, it might take a little while,” Mandy nodded. “But I mean, people have real estate agents selling houses for them all the time right? You can go back home and have someone do their thing, you know?”

Ian nodded, considering that option for a minute, “Could.”

“Or,” Mandy dragged the word out a little, reaching over to give Ian one of those friendly shoulder-squeezes, “Stay until you sell the house. You need a break from Chicago, huh?”

He smiled, knowing there was no light behind it, “A little over a week before I got the call about my mom was the day that I found Blake cheating on me. But that same day I found Blake, I got laid-off from my job I’d been working at for five years.”

“Oh shit,” Mandy’s shoulders fell.

Ian punched out a laugh, “It’s been a hell of a month.”

“Well, fuck…” she said, shaking her head. “I think you deserve a break then.”

Kind of wanting to talk about something else, Ian sighed, pushing his hair out of his eyes, “So, where did you move to for that guy?”

“Right in the middle of Dallas,” she replied. “Right in the city.”

“Kinda surprised you came back; it’s so different here, right?”

“It is, but this is my hometown,” she shrugged. “I mean, I was making a lot more money in the city, but… I kinda missed this place. And my brother was going through some stuff, so I wanted to help him out. I can breathe out here, too.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Plus living out here is so much cheaper than Dallas.”

Soon after that, Mandy had to go back to work. Ian thanked her, genuinely, for having coffee with him, for talking to him. She was a nice girl, and they exchanged numbers so they could hang out again. It was nice, and Ian walked away from the whole bank situation feeling much more settled than before, much less overwhelmed.

Suffice to say, the flying-high feeling didn't last too long.

The next morning, Ian made an early trip to the dumpsters before the truck came, having a few bags lying out front when he cleaned out the junk in the master bedroom. On the drive back to his mothers house, while Ian was a little preoccupied with splitting his focus on looking at the sunrise and the road, he cursed loudly and had to pull over.

There was steam or smoke escaping from the front of the rusted hood of the old truck. And though Ian was immediately annoyed as fuck about this, he wasn’t completely clueless. Having had to drive a fucking junker for a while in South Side got him pretty well acquainted with figuring out what the hell was going on under the hood of a car —in a very basic sense, if he was being honest. He wasn’t a mechanic, after all.

He got out, looking around, seeing nothing but land and long stretches of the red dirt road he was on, and sighed. Frustration creeping up his back, digging into his muscles, Ian kicked the drivers side front tire. Fucking Monica. He was blaming her for this, he decided. It was her stupid ass old truck anyways.

“You got this,” Ian said to himself. He got down on his hands and knees in the red dirt and looked under the truck, holding his breath. There was a puddle of bright green slime. “Damnit!” He groaned.

He got up off the ground, popped the hood of the truck, and lifted it open, shaking his head at the old gunked-up parts, dead leaves, and rusted metals. What the fuck —how was this thing even still running. Immediately he went for the radiator hose, running his hands along the thing, until he (as he suspected) found a big crack in it, leaking bright green fluid. A mix of annoyance and anger stung his eyes; he pushed away from the truck and kicked the bumper twice, cursing loudly.

It wasn’t a huge deal; the radiator hose was a fairly easy fix. But it didn’t matter, he was still blaming Monica for this shit. Again, her fucking truck. He went back to look under the hood, shoving his hands all around the radiator and engine, grabbing handfuls of dead leaves out and brushing off some of that sludge.

He did this mostly so he could focus on something, breathe, and calm down enough to not throw a giant stupid temper tantrum (he wanted to yell and scream more than anything right now, but tried to hold it in). He was out in the middle of fucking nowhere, in Oklahoma, no clue if he was closer to town or to his mothers house… just kind of really fucking lost and frustrated. So in effort to not revert to a two year old and stomp his feet, he dug around the almost too-hot engine space. The distraction only lasted for so long though.

“Fucking kill yourself, give me all your broken down shit,” Ian seethed under his breath. “Here Ian, take this piece of shit truck. Take this piece of shit house. I cleaned a room out for you though, don’t worry —not gonna leave you completely fucked! Bitch, fucking bitch.”

Ian let out a rough noise, backing up to slam the hood of the truck down. It didn’t latch on, so he slammed it closed again and again —three more times until it finally stuck. His whole body was hot, skin tingling, eyes tearing up. He slammed his fist on top of the rusted hood of the truck for good measure and walked away, shaking out his throbbing hand.

Chapter Text

At about forty feet away from the truck, he stopped, hands on his hips, taking deep breaths. “Stop,” he told himself. He had to fix the problem, not run away from it. He took another deep breath, turned around to look back at the truck —pulled over to the side of the dirt road, looking sad as hell. Pathetic, really.

He’d have to walk back to the house, get his car, get a new radiator hose, drive his car back to the fucking house, walk back to the truck… fix it… then drive that back to the house. Basically his whole fucking day was shot. Wonderful. Ian took a deep breath, looking up into the early morning sky, and then started walking back to the truck to grab his backpack and pull the hose out now so he didn’t have to stop on the way back into town.

Right after he slammed the hood of the truck closed, he heard someone pull up next to him. Ian turned, freezing when he saw who was behind the wheel of the truck (a newer, nicer truck than he had, obviously). They stared at each other for a few seconds. It was the guy from the diner —coffee to go. His blue eyes were squinted a little from the sun, a slight frown on his face, but his gaze quickly flicked up and down Ian’s body like he was sizing him up. Ian felt a different kind of tension bleed over his back, both relaxing him and making it a little difficult to focus.

“Need some help?” he asked, opening his door to climb out. A boy was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck with messy tawny hair, and a little grin. He was turned in his seat to watch what was going on, but stayed quiet.

“Uh, busted radiator hose,” Ian explained, holding the broken piece up.

God, this guy was even more attractive up close. He had an aura about him that was magnetic, to Ian —he didn’t even know this guy’s name. It was hitting him hard and fast, faster than what was probably okay. Ian didn’t believe in that love-at-first-sight bullshit (technically second sight, whatever, semantics), but he did believe whatever the fuck it was that was happening right now. Shit. This was could only end horribly.

“Damn,” the brunette said, thumbing at the corner of his mouth. That was distracting.

“Yeah,” Ian sighed, his shoulders trying to relax a little more, his earlier frustration fading further away. “Is there a parts store or something around here?”

“There’s a scrapyard over on the other side of town, on the edge of Belleflower. They sell new parts real fucking cheap.”

Ian nodded, even though he had no idea where the fuck that was, “Thanks.”

The guy arched a brow at him, the corner of his mouth pulling up a little in a knowing grin, “You know where that is?”

Ian’s shoulders dropped as he let the punch of laughter bubble out of his throat; he shook his head, giving up, “Not at all. I don’t know where anything is, out here, man.”

He smiled wide and slow, nodding his head. “Mickey,” he introduced himself, holding his hand out.

“Ah, I’d shake your hand but,” Ian held his hand up, smudged in dirt and grease.

Mickey shrugged, “I don’t give a shit.”

Ian felt his cheeks heat, shaking the man’s slightly calloused hand, “I’m Ian.”

“Ian,” Mickey repeated with a nod, letting go then gesturing over his shoulder, “That’s my kid Yev. He can’t get on the fucking bus on time.”

Ian laughed, waving back when the boy waved to him in greeting. He looked down either side of the road —no one in sight— and then back at Mickey, who had his hands in his pockets, staring right back at him.

“I think I saw you the other day in Sheila’s Diner,” Ian needlessly said, mainly just to keep talking to the guy. “Coffee to go?”

Mickey nodded, scratching at the corner of his nose, “Yeah —you were at the counter. Writing in a little notebook thing.”

Ian felt his face heat up; he nodded, “Yeah… yeah that was me.”

Ideally, he’d like to stand here and talk to Mickey some more, but he had shit he needed to get done, and Mickey had to take his kid to school, so he asked, “Do you have an address or something for the scrap yard, so I know how to get there?”

Mickey frowned at him, but his mouth twitched like he was trying not to laugh, “You plan on walking or something?”

Ian chuckled, shaking his head, “No —well, back to my mom’s place to get my car, so I can drive.”

The way Mickey chewed on his bottom lip had Ian having to look away, to keep it from being obvious that he was checking the brunette out. “I uh… I can drive you,” Mickey offered, shrugging it off like it was nothing. “We’re pretty fucking far from there, and I got time. I mean, if you don’t mind going with me to drop my kid off at school.”

Ian’s eyebrows shot up, “Really?” Mickey nodded. Ian pressed his lips together and considered it, even though there really wasn’t anything to consider, his stomach tightening had already made the decision the moment the offer was made. But he forced himself to not sound to eager when he said, “Alright… thanks.”

Mickey gave a shrug, a lopsided grin, “No problem.”

Yev’s head poked out from the drivers side window, beaming from ear to ear, “I’ll sit by the window so I can just hop out at school.” Ian almost missed the little look he gave Mickey, and the glare that Mickey gave back to him.

 


 

Sitting in the middle was a little cramped, but Ian dealt with it. He tried to ignore Mickey’s body heat next to him, even though they weren’t even touching. He tried to not stare at his tattooed fingers curled around the steering wheel —did they say ‘FUCK U-UP’? He tried not to grin at that; must have been something he did when he was young, they looked a little faded anyways.

Luckily it was easier to keep his mind off of Mickey with Yev next to him. The kid asked him a bunch of questions about where he was from, asked him about what Chicago was like, and all that. Ian told him the “better” parts —about how pretty the city is, and about the art and the zoo. Yev listened to every word with wide blue eyes, and a dimpled grin. He was a cool kid.

Ian couldn’t really help but ask Yev about himself —the kid was kind of a talker. He told him about his school. He was in eighth grade, he liked art, science, and history the most, and when Ian asked if he was going out with anybody, Yev said no, but his face got beet red.

When they pulled into Yev’s school, Mickey had to check him in because he ended up being kind of late, so Ian sat in the truck and waited in the passenger seat.

Watching Mickey and Yev walk into the building made him smile; Mickey reached over and scruffed up the back of Yev’s messy hair, in turn, the kid reached up and tried to do the same to his dad, only to get popped in the chest with the back of Mickey’s hand; they both laughed at each other. It was kind of picturesque. Maybe a little like a fairytale, and Ian got caught up in the moment, watching them. It’d be nice to have that one day.

He tried to text Lip, but his phone still wasn’t getting signal, of fucking course. He wondered if anyone got a signal out here, because this was getting kind of ridiculous.

Mickey got back to the truck, sliding into the drivers seat; he smirked over at Ian. “Good luck with that,” he said, nodding to his phone.

Ian laughed, pocketing his phone, giving up, “I was starting to think it was just my phone —you know, I have to climb on top of my car just to make a fucking call at my moms.”

Mickey nodded, pulling out of the parking spot, “Probably don’t have a booster out there.”

“Thanks for driving me, by the way,” Ian said. “I had no idea how far away I was from my moms house, but I didn’t really want to find out.”

Mickey grinned over at him, “S’good, man. No problem. I don’t got shit to do today anyways.”

It was still hard not to look over at Mickey while he was driving. Ian couldn’t get a read on him, no matter how many times the guy eyed him, or how much he just felt this pull towards him.  He felt really comfortable just sitting in the truck with him; there was no awkwardness to the silence at all. It felt right.

But of course, Ian couldn't let the silence go on for that long, he never could. He had to figure this guy out. “Yev seems like a good kid,” he said. “You and your wife must be proud.”

He watched Mickey pull tuck his lips in between his teeth, before he replied with, “It’s just me and the kid, actually.” Then he looked over at Ian real quick, his blue eyes flicking here and there before looking back at the road. “He’s alright though; I don’t mind keeping him around to wash the dishes every once in a while.”

Ian chuckled, “That’s what they’re good for.”

“You got any?”

“Nah… I got younger siblings though —my youngest brother is a few years older than Yev.”

Mickey nodded, “He’s not normally like that with new people, you know, talking your fucking ear off —sorry about that.”

A bubble of something that felt like smugness bloomed in Ian’s chest, “No need to apologize, he’s great.”

Again Mickey looked over at him, his smile small as he nodded, “He is.”

The conversation was kept light; Ian liked the sound of Mickey’s voice, liked the way he said certain words, the way his eyes scanned the road as he drove. Ian couldn't help it, he was probably annoying Mickey with talking so much, but it was just so easy to talk to him that he was getting caught up.

“So, what do you do?”

Mickey shrugged, “Farrier, but I do some blacksmithing on the side when I can.”

Ian couldn't keep from smiling. Mickey was so new and different than anything he was used to, then he threw in blacksmithing and… fuck. “Like with the hammer and the anvil?”

Mickey laughed, making a well, sure motion with his hand, “Yeah.”

“That’s badass,” Ian said. “Are blacksmithing and being a farrier different?”

“Yeah,” Mickey nodded. “Farrier is just horses —their feet, shoeing them. And blacksmithing is more just craft now… sculptures, gates, furniture, that sort of shit.”

“So technically you could make a suit of armor for yourself and ride a horse that you made shoes for.”

Mickey looked over at him really quickly while he drove, punching out a breath of laughter. “Technically, yeah,” he replied.

Ian shrugged, head shaking, “Well, that’s it. You just become the most badass person I’ve ever met. And I’m from South Side, so that’s saying something.”

Whether Mickey knew what South Side meant or not, he just grinned while he drove. Ian gave the guy a break for a little bit, looking out the window, watching the scenery pass by, keeping his thoughts everywhere but on Monica. A few minutes later they pulled up to the scrap yard, pulling up to a big chain link fence.

Mickey got out of the truck, and Ian followed him through the opening in the fence. It looked like a pretty small operation, with broken down cars and trucks creating passageways; piles of discarded metal scraps here and there; surrounded by trees. Tall grass sprouted around vehicles. Ian took a step back when two big dogs barreled out from the small maze of cars; their barks were powerfully loud, and made Ian take a step back.

“They’re useless,” Mickey told him with a grin, “Probably couldn’t kill a fucking rat, if they needed to.”

It was true. The dogs stopped in front of them, tails wagging, big Pit Bull smiles a mile wide, whining, and sniffing their legs and shoes. A lanky older man came out of a trailer off to the side, beer can in hand despite the early hour. His name turned out to be Kermit —he owned the place. Not much of a personality, but he was nice enough, showing where Ian could look through some shit to find what he needed. It didn’t take long.

When Ian got back to Mickey and Kermit, he caught the tail end of whatever the owner of the scrapyard was saying “—two… you know?”

He didn’t know what the question was, but by the look on Mickey’s face, it wasn’t a very smart one to be asking. Ian shrugged it off, only ended up having to pay eighty bucks for the hose, and then he climbed back into Mickey’s truck, and they left.

On the way back, they stopped by the little auto-supply store for a couple things he needed to change out the hose. He found himself not wanting to part ways just yet. And it was fucking stupid, and was probably barking at the wrong fucking tree. But then… Mickey asked Ian if he was hungry, if he wanted to pop into the diner to grab some breakfast while they were in town.

He liked Mickey, and he knew it was a bad idea to get too far ahead of himself, so if he just ended up being friends with the guy, that was cool. Ian nodded, chancing a little grin, that he got back front he brunette right away. He really did have a nice smile.

Sheila fussed over them a little bit; Ian almost missed the little wink she gave Mickey while she set down a kettle of coffee on the table (she definitely winked at him right?), and took their orders. Even after she had already brought their food out, Sheila padded over to top off their coffees (unneeded) or to ask how everything was (also unneeded). Ian grinned at her, glancing over at Mickey just in time to see the brunette shaking his head.

“So what made you get into the farrier business, and blacksmithing?” Ian asked when they finally were alone.

Mickey shrugged, “Grew up around that kind of shit. When Yev came around I had to stop messing around, you know? So… just happened.”

“That’s fucking cool,” Ian shook his head. “I wish I was artistic like that.”

There was a moment of easy silence while Ian took a drink of his water; Mickey kept looking at him, and he looked back. God, he was just coming off of a long-term relationship, wasn’t staying in this small-ass town for long, and he was already hung up on some new guy out of nowhere. Plus, his mother dying —all these factors should be making him take a step back and rethink this.

Everything was so fucked up, he didn’t even know if this guy was remotely interested in men… it felt wrong to be instantly attracted to someone like this; maybe he was latching on to the prospect of normalcy, or just… latching onto something. He was getting ahead of himself, overthinking.

Ian didn’t know much about Mickey, but he knew that he liked him. There was definite attraction on his side, and there was a certain amount of guilt he felt because of that attraction, because of all the other shit that was going on. He should be mourning the loss of all these things in his life, not mooning over a farrier with a killer smile.

God, he was attractive. He was fucking beautiful, probably close to Ian’s age too. “You don’t really look old enough to have a thirteen year old,” the words were out before he had the sense to shove them back down.

But Mickey just grinned at him, eyebrows lifting, “Yeah? How old’s a father of a thirteen year old supposed to look?”

Ian felt his cheeks warm up, he knew he was blushing hard at that, and Mickey just grinned at him, his eyes flicking all over Ian’s face; he chuckled, nodding, “Fair enough.”

After breakfast, Mickey drove him back to Monica’s truck. He even stayed while Ian fixed the radiator hose, talking more about really meaningless shit, but it was still nice. Honestly, Mickey probably didn’t think Ian could fix it all by himself, probably didn’t want to leave him stranded out there. Regardless of the reason, Ian was glad he stayed for a little longer; he wasn’t exactly ready to part ways just yet.

“Thank you,” Ian panted when he was finished, shutting the hood of the truck. He was going to let it run for a little while, make sure everything was good. “Seriously. I would’ve been fucked today if you hadn’t came along… sorry Yev was late to school.”

Mickey shrugged it off, “Don’t worry about that shit. It’s no problem.”

Ian grinned, shielding his eyes from the sun. Fuck it. “So you uh… live out this way?”

Mickey nodded, “Yeah, I got a few acres.”

He probably had to go, and here Ian was trying to draw this out way longer than it needed to be, “You always live out this far?”

If Mickey was trying to get out of there, and not stand around talking to Ian, he wasn’t showing it. He leaned back against his truck, pulling out a pack of cigarettes, “Lived in town most of my life. But after Yev was born, as soon as I had the money, I moved out this way.” He lit up a cigarette, as he continued, “A lot different than Chicago, huh?”

Ian breathed a laugh, watching the way Mickey blew out smoke through his nose, “Yeah, you could say that.”

Another quiet moment settled over —it was short, but comfortable, and Ian could swear that Mickey was checking him out. To be fair, he was checking out the other man too. But thing a loud ringing cut the moment off short, and Mickey cursed under his breath as he went digging into his pocket for his phone.

While Mickey was giving short answers to whoever called him (it sounded like he was talking about fixing someone’s busted pipes), Ian made himself look busy looking through Monica’s truck. It sounded like it was running good, and when he dropped down to look underneath, there wasn’t anymore fluid leaking out from anywhere, so that was a good sign. Probably good to go.

“Sorry,” Mickey said after hanging up. “Everything good?”

Ian nodded, brushing the red dirt off of his jeans, “Yeah, I think it’s fine now.”

Mickey took a deep pull from his cigarette and nodded back, “A’ight, cool.”

There was a hesitation, and Ian knew that he wasn’t imagining it. He had one more card left to play, so scratched the back of his neck and went for it, “You know about plumbing?”

“Little bit, why?”

“Uh… the water at my mom’s smells really fucking bad,” Ian explained. “Like rotten eggs—”

“Shit, you’ve never been on well water, huh?” Mickey gave a soft laugh. “Probably needs salt and a new filter —if you want, I’ve got a few bags and filters at my place, I can bring ‘em over and show you what to do.”

Ian’s shoulders dropped in relief —part because, “So it’s fixable?” And part because he found a way to see Mickey again (he really had to chill though, before he started coming off as weird or obsessive).

“Yeah,” Mickey nodded with a little smirk.

“I’d really appreciate it,” Ian said. “I was worried that either something was really fucked up with the pipes, or that this was my life for the next… however long I’m here for.”

Mickey held his smirk as he took another drag from his cigarette, “I can bring the shit over tonight —got to do this job, and a couple things at my shop. That good?”

Ian nodded, “Yeah, I can wait, no problem. You know where the house is?”

Mickey nodded, “Yeah —hard not to know where everyone is out here.”

“Cool,” Ian felt his stomach tighten and flutter and melt all at the same time. They drove their separate ways after that, and Ian had a hard time not grinning the whole way as he watched the cloud of red dirt in the rearview mirror.

 


 

“Ian, I’ve seen this movie about a hundred times,” Lip snorted over the phone. “You sure it’s a good idea to get into something with this guy—”

“I’m not getting into anything,” Ian defended, pacing back and forth on the roof of his car. “He helped me out; I just met him this morning.”

Lip sighed, and Ian heard the sound of a lighter flicking to life as his brother light up a cigarette, “Yeah, but you got that voice right now.

“What voice?”

“You know, that… excited puppy voice,” Lip said. “I’m just saying… a lot of shit has happened to you in the past month and a half. Adding on a new guy? Might be a bad idea, bro.”

Ian frowned, “Lip, I don’t even know if he’s into guys. He’s probably not. And I do not have an excited puppy voice right now.” (did he?)

“Alright,” Lip didn’t sound convinced when he said it though. “How’re you doing with Monica’s house? Feeling okay?”

Ian sighed, “Yeah. It’s just weird. I dunno if it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve seen her, but I’m not as broken up about it as I thought I’d be. Is that fucked up? I mean, I’m sad because she was our mom, but I’m not like… crying in the corner, you know?”

“It’s not fucked up,” Lip said. “It sucks because she was our mom, but Ian, not for nothing but… she wasn’t, you know? She’d leave, then come back and fuck everything up, then leave again. That’s not a mom.”

Ian nodded, understanding what Lip meant. Monica was never a mom. She gave birth to a small army of children and left them to fend for themselves. Ian tried to hold to her so tightly, but she never failed to let him down, and in the end he had nothing left to give her, emotionally (and sometimes financially). As much as it sucked, he had cut her off. He had to.

“I mean, I had a couple freak-outs,” Ian immediately regretted saying it as soon as it came out. He closed his eyes and tilted his head forward, waiting for his brother to come back with the concern and worry. He quickly expanded, “but mostly because I was pissed. She left this shitty house and shitty truck, I mean the place was trashed.”

There was a long pause, and Ian almost thought that the call had dropped. But then Lip cleared his throat and said, “Yeah, I don’t blame you. I would’ve probably burnt that fucking house to the ground by now.”

Ian exhaled in part relief that Lip seemed to understand, “Yeah… it’s tempting. Oh, I made a friend at the bank.”

Lip laughed, “I’m not surprised.”

He and Lip only talked for another fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes. The sun was starting to set, and Ian’s stomach was begging for food, so he headed inside and made himself a sandwich. While he ate, he sat on the kitchen counter and stared at the basement door. He still hadn’t gone down there. Whatever. The dark can be scary, even for a fucking adult.

When headlights shone into the house, letting Ian know that Mickey was finally there, he jumped off the counter and smoothed his clothes out real quick, making his way to the door. The house was still not in great shape, and Ian knew that Mickey knew it wasn’t his house, but he’d wished that it looked a little nicer —smelled a little nicer.

He walked out to the front porch in time to see Mickey climbing out of his truck —and a big ass dog jumping down after and started trotting towards the house, it’s tongue hanging out of the side of it’s big, smiling mouth. That was the biggest Rottweiler that Ian had ever seen, holy shit.

“Seagal!” Mickey called from the back of his truck. The dog stopped where he stood and sat down, looking back at his owner with a whine. “Sorry —I can put him back in the truck,” Mickey came from behind his truck, with a big white bag slung over his shoulder. “Thought you’d like to meet my other kid. He won’t bite or anything, he’s good.”

“No it’s fine,” Ian laughed. “He’s just so… big. Wasn’t expecting —wait, is his name Seagal? For real?”

Mickey quirked an eyebrow with a grin, “Fuck yeah.”

Ian punched out a laugh, holding a hand out towards Seagal, letting him sniff his hand until he dipped his head down and moved forward, bumping the back of his head against Ian’s palm. “That’s awesome. I’m more of a Van Damme guy myself, but Seagal is okay.”

“Pfft,” Mickey snorted. “Seagal is the man.”

With Seagal by his side, Ian followed Mickey to the side of the house (Ian noticed Mickey’s slight limp again, and wanted to ask about it, but he didn’t —maybe that was just the way he walked, who knows), to where a bunch of equipment was set up. He hadn’t really paid that much attention to it before, not knowing what the hell it was. Mickey showed him where the salt went, and the filter. It was a lot easier than he thought it would be.

Seagal sat off to the side the whole time, patiently waiting —he sniffed the backs of Ian’s legs and huffed a couple times when he could, before Mickey told him to chill out; Seagal gave him a long look, but laid down on the ground. He was cool dog.

“He’s really well trained, huh?”

“Gotta be,” Mickey said; Ian followed as they made their way back to Mickey’s truck. “Fucker is way bigger than I thought he was gonna be.”

This whole thing was way too fast, and now it was time for Mickey to go. Ian took a deep breath, trying to find something to say to make him stay for a little longer, but the only thing he came up with was, “How much do I owe you for the salt and the filter?”

But Mickey waved him off as he leaned back against the front of his truck, “Don’t worry about it.”

Ian frowned, “I can’t just take your shit, though.”

Mickey breathed a laugh, scratching the back of his neck, “Seriously, man, it’s okay.”

God, he was really cute. It was dark now, a soft glow of light spilling out from the house windows; the comfortable silence stretched longer, almost reaching tense. He either had to think of something else, or back out now. The smart thing to do would be to back out now. Naturally, Ian didn’t.

He held his breath, “You uh… want a drink? I don’t actually have any beer, but I’ve got some soda and bottled water… I mean, unless you’ve go to get home.”

Mickey looked at him for a second, his eyes darting here and there over Ian’s face. Again, Ian could have sworn the brunette was checking him out. He felt warm under Mickey’s gaze, would have given anything to know what he was thinking.

Finally, Mickey nodded, “Yeah, sure, I’ll take a water.”

Seagal followed close behind, even waiting to come into the house until Mickey said he could. Ian lead the way into the kitchen, trying to be casual about watching Mickey look around, dog by his side. The house was pretty empty now, but there were stains all over the carpet, cracks in the ceiling, and it smelled like cleaning supplies and stale cigarettes. But Mickey didn’t say anything about it, thankfully.

“You uh… need any more help with anything while I’m here?” Mickey asked carefully when Ian handed him a bottle of water from the fridge.

The question caught him off guard, and Ian ended up just staring at the brunette for probably longer than was okay. Was he like… hinting at something else? Ian wondered if someone had plopped him in the middle of a bad porno, but it was more likely that he was being a complete perv. Help him with something else? Yeah, in his pants.

Hearing Seagal sniffing around the basement door finally snapped him back. He hesitated, looking over at the big dog, and blurted out a joking, “Not unless you wanna change a lightbulb for me.”

Mickey snorted a laugh, eyebrow arching, “That a euphemism for something?”

Ian swallowed hard, letting out a nervous laugh, “No no no… I was joking. The basement needs a new lightbulb, and I haven’t gone down there yet.”

“You want me to?” Mickey offered.

Ian shook his head, huffing a small laugh, “I don’t know what’s down there. Knowing Monica, it could be something that you don’t wanna see.”

Mickey gave an easy lopsided grin and nodded. He looked around the kitchen as quiet settled over the house (quiet, except for Seagal’s panting as he laid down right next to Ian’s feet).

“So you’re selling the place?” Mickey finally asked.

“Going to try,” Ian replied. “After I make sure it’s decent enough.”

Mickey nodded, setting his water bottle on the counter, “I uh… didn’t really know her.”

Ian ran a hand over his hair, “Seems like I didn’t either.”

“So you didn't know she was out here?” Mickey asked.

Ian shook his head, feeling a pull in his gut, “No, I… hadn’t seen her or talked to her in over ten years. I can’t even wrap my head around how she had a house.”

The brunette thought for a moment, his tongue darting out to smooth over his bottom lip for just a moment, “The man who used to live here left it to her when he died, from what I hear.”

“Were they together?”

Mickey shook his head, “No, I think he was her uncle or something like that. He lived here forever; old man named Nate.”

Ian frowned deeply, his mind going blank for a second. Uncle? He supposed that Monica having family wasn’t such a far-fetched idea, but he’d never really considered it. His whole life, it was like she just existed on her own, the thought of her coming from her own family was so foreign to him, it didn’t register at first.

“He had a heart-attack about eight years ago,” Mickey continued. “Right in the middle of getting his fucking hair cut. And uh… I dunno, couple months later, she started coming into town.”

Ian’s head was reeling. “So she didn’t stay?”

Mickey shook his head, “Not for too long. Maybe every couple’a months. She’d stick around for a few weeks, then leave again.”

About a hundred questions ran through Ian’s mind, that he wanted to ask, but he knew that Mickey wouldn’t’ve been able to answer any of them. It was a frustrating balance of of course and are you kidding me —as it always was, with Monica. His eyes stung a little bit, but he pushed down the feeling, staying away from that shift in his mood. He just shook his head and snorted a humorless laugh into his water bottle before taking a drink.

The silence must have stretched for longer than Ian thought it had, because Mickey was already finished with his bottle of water, and grabbing his car keys from his pocket. Ian gave him a nod, walking him to the front door.

“Thanks again,” Ian said. “For the salt, and the filter. Saved me.”

Mickey shrugged a little and grinned, “It’s no problem.”

“Sure you don’t want me to pay you back for that?”

The brunette paused, looking down at his dog for a second, before looking back up at Ian. He looked like he was thinking over his words, so Ian leaned against the front door’s frame and waited, folding his arms under his chest.

“Actually, you can do something for me,” Mickey said. Ian, interest piqued, rose his eyebrows. “How about you take this guy for the night. I could use a break.”

There was a little swell of something in Ian’s chest, from Mickey’s words. What the brunette was doing was obvious, letting him “borrow” the dog for some company. It was actually kind of sweet, and Ian couldn’t say no (plus, it was kind of a surprising relief, because the truth was that being out there, where it was so quiet and isolated was kind of unnerving sometimes). He nodded.

“Sure?” Mickey asked. Ian nodded again, not trusting his mouth right now, not trusting he wouldn’t say something stupid. “Thank the fuck god, he’s the worst.”

Ian laughed, looking down at the rottweiler. Seagal was sitting next to his feet, looking up at him with one of those wide dog-smiles; he shifted from foot to foot, looking like he was anticipating something. “Yeah, seems like it,” Ian said; he jerked his head to the side, still looking down at the dog, “Go on.”

Seagal trotted back into the house and jumped onto he couch, whining excitedly like he knew exactly what was going on. Ian saw Mickey open his mouth to tell him to get down, so he reached out and touched Mickey’s shoulder for a second to stop him. “It’s okay, the couch is trashed anyway.”

Mickey nodded, then pointed at Seagal, telling him to be good. “Pretty sure he likes you more than me,” he joked. “I can pick him up tomorrow.”

“Or, I can drop him off,” Ian blurted before he thought. Damn. He scrambled for a second, continuing on, “I have errands to run anyways.”

He nodded, the corner of his mouth lifting a little, “A’ight. You just drive like you’re going into town, but don’t turn onto that main road, keep going straight for a few miles until Seagal starts whining. It’s on your right… white mailbox, brick house about a quarter mile from the road.”

Ian nodded, “Got it.”

Mickey gave him a nod back and stepped off the front porch, “See ya.”

He left soon after they had somewhat of a drawn out goodbye. Ian hadn’t really wanted Mickey to go just yet, and it honestly seemed like the other man also hadn’t wanted to go —that, or he was unsure about leaving his dog with a virtual stranger. Could have been either. Seagal had come up to stand next to Ian, watching as Mickey’s tail lights drove away, until they couldn’t see them anymore. Ian looked down at the dog, who was looking up at him, letting out a small huff.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ian rolled his eyes. "Don't you judge me."

 


 

Honestly, it was the first night that Ian actually slept decently, in that shitty house. Seagal started out laying right next to his bed, but after the dog stared at him for a good five minutes, Ian let him up on the bed. There was barely any room, since the dog was so damn big, and Ian wasn’t exactly short, but they figured it out.

In the morning, after Ian showered (with significantly less rotten egg smell!), got dressed, made sure his hair looked okay, he loaded Seagal into his car and headed towards Mickey’s. He opened one of the back windows enough to let Seagal hang his head out in the wind, which he did with adorable enthusiasm.

As Ian drove, he felt a little flutter of anticipation; he felt like he was a teenager again, about to see his crush. It was ridiculous, and gave him a little twinge of guilt under everything. He should be in mourning, right? And he shouldn’t be thinking of another man like that, when he just got out of a year long relationship. To be fair… half of that relationship seemed to be a whole fucking lie. Maybe the entire year was a lie, maybe it wasn’t just that guy Ian had caught Blake with. What a fucking dick.

He knew he was getting close to Mickey’s house when Seagal started whining and pacing the backseat. Finally seeing the white mailbox, he turned onto a worn down path until he finally pulled up next to Mickey’s truck in front of the two story brick house. Off to the side, there was what looked like some kind of barn, it’s door propped open.

Seagal jumped out of the car as soon as Ian stopped and opened the door for him; he gave a few loud, excited barks to signal their arrival. Ian looked around the property; it was pretty nice, a lot of open land around, be he could see another house off in the distance.

When he heard the front door opened, he turned to see Mickey coming out of the house, giving him a dimpled smile. This time, he was wearing a shirt with the sleeves cut off, and Ian knew for a fact that he was staring at the brunette’s arms. Fuck, he was kind of in over his head, wasn’t he? He was so attracted to this guy. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“How was he?” Mickey asked.

“Terrible,” Ian joked.

Mickey grinned, “Thanks for taking him.”

“Anytime,” he shrugged.

Mickey hesitated for a moment, slightly turning his frame towards the house —Ian almost got back into his car— before he heard him call over, “I just made some coffee, if you want to come in and waste some time before you gotta go do shit.”

Ian nodded, ignoring the heat flooding his back and neck, and followed Mickey inside. Next to the front door was a pile of boots in two different sizes, dusted with dirt. The interior of the house was simple but screamed comfort. The brown leather couches in the living room were broken in and soft looking, wood floors, the railing on the stairs was dark metal, probably made by Mickey.

“Nice place,” Ian commented as he continued to follow Mickey into the kitchen.

“Thanks,” the brunette rubbed at the tip of his nose, “What do you take in your coffee?”

“A little cream and sugar,” Ian replied, still looking around. He took a seat at the kitchen table; the chairs were heavy and dark metal pieces with wooden seats. They all had basically the same design, but slightly varied —kind of looked like twisted branches. “Did you make these chairs?”

Mickey nodded, bringing over two cups of coffee; he sat down in the chair opposite of Ian, “Yeah.”

“They’re really nice.”

He just grinned a little and shrugged, running his hand over his dark hair. God, Ian would have given anything to know what he was thinking, would have given anything to know if he had a chance in hell at this. Chance to what, though? Get attached then go back to Chicago? The set-up and timing was horrible, and while all Ian wanted to do was to try to figure out if he was reaching for something he could never catch, he instead took a sip of his coffee.

“So, I take it Yev got to his bus on time today?” Ian asked.

Mickey nodded, “Thank fucking god.”

“So uh,” Ian sighed, mentally kicking himself for words that were about to come out of his mouth; he couldn’t just let it go, could he? He had to go down a path that ended in a mess either way, didn’t he? “Is his mom in the picture?”

Mickey paused for a second, looking over at Ian, “She was. She died about six years back, though —got real sick.”

“Shit,” Ian sighed, feeling like a complete asshole. “I’m sorry. I can’t even imagine…”

Mickey cocked his head to the side a little, “It was a fucked up situation, but we were friends, so… yeah, it was pretty hard. Hardest on Yev though.”

“How’s he do with that?” Ian asked.

Mickey took another drink of his coffee, “Better. Got to a point now where he’s always looking for someone for me; got my sister roped into it, too. Little shit,” he breathed a soft laugh.

Ian gave an easy smile, “Doesn’t want you to be alone, huh?”

“Yeah, he’s like his mom like that,” Mickey’s eyes flicked over Ian’s face. “She would’ve liked you.”

Ian felt his cheeks grow hot, and he didn’t know what to respond with. Whatever the situation had been with Mickey and Yev’s mom, it obviously hadn’t been a usual relationship —marriage, maybe? Ian didn’t see a ring on Mickey’s finger, not that he really expected one to be there, seeing as how it had been six years since her passing.

Damn, six years ago, Yev would have been seven. That’s fucking rough. Ian wanted to ask what happened —what did she get sick with— but it hardly seemed appropriate.

They didn’t talk much longer after that; Ian had finished his coffee, and Mickey probably had to get working on things. It did feel strange in some respects, that Ian had felt as comfortable around the brunette as he did. He just met the guy, and now they had been to each others houses, and had spent an entire day with each other —hell, Ian had even kept his dog for the night. And it was strange that it didn’t feel more strange. It was weird that it felt weirdly… okay. There was this subtle, but definite click between the two of them.

Growing up in South Side, Ian learned that you couldn't trust people all the time, hardly ever. And that went doubly for being a gay kid in South Side. He knew better than to do something stupid like get in the car with someone he didn’t know, and it could have turned out real fucking bad. Especially with a guy who had a very clear threat tattooed across his knuckles.

But… regardless of not knowing Mickey that well, and everything else that was happening in Ian’s life, he kind of wanted to see where this was going. Maybe it didn’t go anywhere, maybe he’d reach a point where Mickey would stop him right in his tracks and not want to see him again. But Ian wanted to figure this out. He liked Mickey; he was attracted to him, something pulled him to the brunette.

“Thanks for letting me take your dog last night,” Ian said to Mickey as they walked to the front door. “And uh, for fixing my water. That house is a shit-hole.”

Mickey shrugged, “Well, you know where I live if you have a problem. I’m on my own schedule —plus, I got a thirteen year old who has to do what I say, so free labor.”

Ian grinned, “I might take you up on that.”

 


 

“Do you want a beer or something?”

A couple hours ago, Ian got a call from Mandy, asking if he wanted to go out to dinner. He’d been elbow deep in pulling weeds in the front yard —hot, and sweaty, and his back had been killing him. He almost declined the offer because at that point, the only thing he really wanted to do was get a shower and sleep… but also he thought it might be good to get away from all the Monica mess.

It was kind of a dumpy looking building, on the outside. And it looked like every other roadhouse in movies that Ian had seen —wood paneled building, neon signs, country music filtering out into the parking lot. Inside the music was verging on the too loud side, and pool balls cracked every few minutes from over where a couple billiards tables were set up. It was a little on-the-nose, but Ian got a kick out of it; it had a fun vibe, so why not.

Evidently it was were all the “younger people” in Ernest hung out. Not that Ian was an old man or anything, but normally that sounded like a fucking nightmare, it wasn’t that bad though. Sure, there were a couple tables that were packed full of loud, rowdy people, but he’d definitely seen a lot worse.

Then Mandy asked Ian if he wanted a beer, and hello reality slammed back. God, it was tempting. After all the shit with the house, then the truck, a beer was really fucking tempting. But being as much of a lightweight that Ian was now, in front of someone who didn’t know him that well, spelled humiliating disaster, to be honest.

“I’m good,” Ian shook his head. “I don’t drink anymore —I mean, not really.”

Mandy winced, “Oh shit, I’m sorry.”

Ian grinned softly at her apology, “It’s okay.”

She took a deep breath, still wincing, “It would probably be really inappropriate of me to ask if it’s a recovering alcoholic thing, wouldn’t it?”

He breathed a surprised laugh; maybe it would be inappropriate, he wasn’t sure. “It’s not that. I uh,” he paused for a second before continuing, “Alcohol doesn’t really mesh well with my bipolar meds —plus they make me a serious lightweight. Can’t have more than one beer.”

“Oh,” Mandy’s brows drew together. “That’s like manic depression, right?”

Ian gave a little shrug, “They don’t really call it that anymore, but yeah basically, I guess.”

Mandy nodded, “And you got those can’t mix with alcohol meds. That’s rough.”

“Yeah,” Ian laughed. “I’m used to it now though. In the beginning, it was a bitch.”

“How long have you been diagnosed for?”

“Ten years,” Ian replied. “Took a couple years to get really sorted out, but it’s been a solid eight without something serious, so…”

Mandy nodded, taking it in for a second, like she was having some sort of little internal processing before she said, “Gonna be honest, I can’t even imagine giving up booze because of medicine,” Mandy shook her head. She lifted her pint of beer up and gave him a soft smile, “You definitely have a lot of willpower for that shit. So, here’s to you.”

Ian sorted a laugh and clinked his water glass against her drink, “Why, thank you.”

She laughed; they sips of their drinks, and it closed that part of the conversation. Ian was glad that Mandy wasn’t really grilling him about the ins and outs of his bipolar; he didn’t really have the energy to talk about it right then. At this point, after living with it for ten years, it both was and wasn’t a huge scary deal in his life —except for that whole constant fear of going off the deep end and pulling a Monica thing, but for the most part, that was hanging out in the back of his mind.

The waitress came over and Mandy insisted that Ian try the ribs, so that’s what he did, along with a baked potato and corn on the cob. He had a feeling that a couple extra pounds were going to be added to the couple he had gained while he’d hidden away in his apartment, eating pizza and Chinese food.

“So how’s Ernest treating you so far?” Mandy asked.

“Well,” Ian said, “I thought I had to have work done on the plumbing at my moms house, but it just turned out that I needed salt and a filter. That was fucking weird.”

Mandy laughed, “Yeah, I really miss city water’s low maintenance. Did you get that rotten egg shower?”

Ian grinned, “Oh yeah.”

She laughed again, shaking her head, “Okay, so besides the sulfur shower, how’s it been?”

He took a drink of his water, “Pretty good. Decent people out here —definitely a lot friendlier than South Side.” He briefly thought to talk about Mickey, but he knew that if he started, he’d just get all red-faced. Ian knew he wasn’t exactly the best at keeping his expressions in check.

Mandy looked at him for a minute, a little mischievous grin on her face before she said, “You know, I think my brother would really like you.”

Ian pulled the corner of his mouth up, “Are you tryna set me up with your brother because we’re both gay?”

“No,” Mandy rolled her eyes. “He’s incredibly picky, but based on your overall,” Mandy waved a general hand over Ian’s face, “you know… and the fact that I know my brother… I’m saying that I’d think he’d like you.”

The rest of dinner was spent talking about a whole bunch of different things while they ate. Ian still really liked Mandy; she was kind of matter-of-fact about everything, and funny in her own way. They split a huge hot fudge dessert right before they called it a night and went their separate ways —after talking for another forty-five minutes out in the parking lot.

The drive back to Monica’s was so quiet. When Ian got back to the house finally, it was even quieter, like all the sound of the world had been sucked out of the air, just leaving him with his thoughts.

Ian never really minded being alone before —he was always kind of disconnected from his family growing up, always doing his own thing, and that was fine. It was just how things had played out. So he didn’t mind being alone with his thoughts like this. But he couldn’t really remember a time where he’d ever experienced quiet like this.

In Chicago, there was always some sort of noise happening. Even sitting out on his patio late at night, there was still the odd sound of a car passing by, or people talking or yelling within earshot. But this —out here— he could probably scream at the top of his lungs and no one would ever know.

He moseyed over to the big old truck taking his pack of cigarettes and lighter out of his jacket pocket while he shrugged out of it, tossing it into the rusted bed of the pickup. Then he climbed in, laying down on his jacket —barely a cushion, but at least there was some kind of barrier between his head and the truck.

The sharp sound of the lighter cut quickly through the silence as he lit his cigarette, pulling deep, then exhaling towards the dark sky. He laid there, in the bed of his mother’s rust-bucket of a truck, staring up at the stars. He’d been doing this a lot, either in the truck or on the roof of his car. It always seemed to soften the intensity of the silence; the bright stars against the black night sky drew him in.

There was no telling how long he was there for; after finishing his cigarette, Ian still laid there in the silence of the Oklahoma night and looked up at the stars. He even fell asleep for a little bit, only to wake back up because his back hurt a little from the hard metal under him.

It was going to be really hard to leave this sky, when the time came.

Chapter Text

Ian sighed, standing at the top of the basement stairs. Flashlight in one hand, pack of lightbulbs in the other, he stared down at the darkness waiting for him at the bottom of the wooden steps. He had to do this, had to get this shit out of the way. It was the middle of the day, bright and shiny outside, and he was a grown ass man who could take care of himself.

Please don’t be a sex dungeon,” he whispered, clicking the flashlight on. Or a serial killer lair —that wouldn’t be pleasant either; he wasn’t sure which one would be worse, though.

The flashlight beam bounced around a little bit as Ian walked down the steps, illuminating only small portions of cement floor below, and dark cement block walls. There were a couple garbage bags at the end of the staircase —looked like they’d been thrown down to be forgotten about.

All he really saw when he finally got to the bottom of the steps, with help of his flashlight, were cardboard boxes with scribbles on them. A few old wooden chairs stacked in a corner —birdcages, pile of scrap wood… just old junk.

Ian squinted his eyes as he walked deeper into the dark room under the house, maneuvering around boxes and a weird old dollhouse, swinging the beam of light here and there. Okay so nothing scary. No satanic ritual space, no meat hooks and body parts in jars, and most importantly… no sex dungeon. He breathed a sigh of relief, nodding his head, and moved around a big metal shelving unit in the middle of the room.

As soon as the beam of light caught what was on the other side of that shelf —huge white teeth inside of a snarling mouth— Ian yelled, scrambling back, the back of his knees hitting a box, making him fall backwards. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit!

He was shaking instantly, breath heaving his chest as he struggled to stand back up, gripping tightly to his flashlight and keeping quiet. He raised the beam of light, swallowing hard while he got his footing again, seeing if he saw what he thought he saw before.

It was a massive brown bear standing on it’s hind feet. Stuffed, of course —some kind of fucked up Norman Bates taxidermy shit. It’s head nearly touched the ceiling of the basement, front claws postured in an attack stance. The bear’s body was done in such a way that it looked tense, supporting the silent roar that came out of it’s snarling, wet looking mouth. It looked alive.

“What the actual fucking hell,” Ian shook his head, catching his breath finally. “What the fuck Monica.” (He knew that his mother wouldn’t have anything to do with this —probably terrified her and made her really sad… she did love teddy bears though, so…)

And then he laughed, just a short breathy laugh, at himself.

Finding the hanging lightbulbs that needed to be changed was pretty easy. After he got that done and flicked the lights on, he took in the sight before him (along with the bear, there were a few other taxidermy pieces, but they were small and much less threatening looking).

“Jesus,” Ian breathed, looking at all the junk. Maybe he could sell some of this shit. The rest could be thrown out or donated. Fucking Monica.

He looked around some more, moving and stacking boxes against the walls, giving himself some more room to assess everything. He put old pieces of furniture to one side, pictures to another, scrap wood to another. There seemed to be a good deal of vintage stuff —maybe the guy who’d lived here before collected it, or just kept it from his childhood. Maybe by the some stroke of good luck, Ian could sell that shit for extra money to put towards getting the house in order, and keeping the lights on.

Behind the basement steps, there was a desk and chair tucked away. Ian frowned, sitting down on the wooden chair; most of the papers were blank, but there was an envelope nestled under a couple pages. It had his name on it —For Ian. He recognized that handwriting; almost childlike scrawl, somewhat impatient.

He leaned back against the back of the chair and sighed, staring at the envelope. He had half a mind to walk right back up those basement steps and pretend that this whole room never existed, like he was never able to get the door open. He didn’t want to read whatever was in that envelope. His throat got tight, and his eyes were stinging. He sighed again. Then he opened it.

Ian, my beautiful son,

I’m not sure if you will ever find this letter, or if you ever come to this house. You probably have so many questions, and I’m not there to answer them. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I put you and your brothers and sisters through. I’m sorry that I was never there for you like a mother should have been. I loved you all so much, but I guess not enough, not like you deserved.

You were always so much stronger than I was,

Ian crumpled up the letter, body heating up, eyes filling with tears that his fucking mother didn’t deserve. “Fuck you,” he whispered, throwing the crumpled up paper on the desk. He got up front he chair and left the basement behind him, slamming the door shut tight. “Fuck you,” he said again.

He didn’t want sorry. He didn’t want anything from her —what could she possibly write in that fucking letter other than sorry, I’m so sorry, Ian —oh my god I’m sorry I killed myself and left this pile of shit for you to deal with, sorry sorry sorry…

He stomped through the house and flung himself down on the bed he’d been sleeping on, willing himself to not throw a fucking fit. His insides were like a firestorm —like tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes. He felt like he had a thousand different natural disasters churning under his ribs and between his bones. Sorry. Fuck your sorry, fuck you.

 


 

Two days. Only two. But two, nonetheless. Could have been much worse (he was surprised that it wasn't). Two days of laying in bed, insides still churning with hurt and anger and sadness. Two days of burying himself under the covers, unmoving even when his muscles ached to be stretched, when his mind tried to remind him to get up, to move, to do something.

His only saving grace, Ian supposed, was that he’d —at the very least— kept his pills and a water bottle by the bed. He didn’t take his medication at the exact time he was supposed to take them, but he did take them, so maybe that was better than nothing. He was just so scared that if he moved, he’d freak out. He was scared that he’d torch this house if he was released from his self-induced time-out.

Then after those two days, without eating or moving, or answering his phone the one time it rang… he forced himself to stand. He forced himself to stretch. He forced himself to get into the shower, to change clothes, to make himself a sandwich. To take a deep breath.

He called Dr. Richardson.

“I didn’t finish reading the letter,” he told her.

“Do you want to?” She asked.

Ian shook his head, standing on top of the roof of his car; he said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want to to read over and over again about how fucking sorry she is.”

There was a pause, slight, soft scratching of pen on paper, on the other end of the line, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, Ian. If you think it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to read the letter, then you don’t have to.”

He knew he obviously didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to, but it was a nice little reminder, that support from his doctor. “Do you think I should read it —honestly?”

Another pause, “Normally I would say that I think it would give you some closure. But from what you’ve told me about your mother… I’m not so sure you should, if you want me to be honest. Monica wasn’t an exceptionally self-aware person, and her letter to you might do more harm than good, especially in the state you're in now. Maybe sometime down the line, but in my opinion right now while you're away from your support system... I truly do not believe it's the right time. In the end it’s your choice, Ian.”

He nodded; he agreed. Maybe it wasn’t the most respectful thing, to not read her letter to him, but he’d been down this sorry road more times than not. And it always ended in him being in a bad spot. Monica was always sorry. But she never learned.

And the last time that she tried to say something profound to him, and encourage him, and give good motherly advice… she tried to get him off of his meds. Ian understood that in her mind, he didn’t need them, that they changed him, or held him back from being himself. The worst part of the last time that happened was that he almost got caught up in it. So part of him was scared that something would be in that letter that tried to lead him down that road again. He’d been so good for so long, had taken care of himself for so long. The last thing Ian needed in his life was a letter from his dead mother throwing him off.

The call with Dr. Richardson didn’t last much longer, and strange as it seemed, Ian felt less tension in his body after they talked. Dr. Richardson told him, like she had many times before, that it he was allowed to be angry, but try to not let it consume him. Maybe that was easier said than done, but somehow it helped him keep his head on right.

Part of him felt like a monster because he still wasn’t mourning the loss of the woman who gave him life, not like he thought he should be, at least. He didn’t know the right way to mourn her —cry all day and night? Think about all the good times? How do you properly mourn someone like Monica Gallagher? How do you properly mourn the woman who abandoned you over and over again —who slit her own wrists in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, who left six fucking children behind to fend for themselves, knowing that Frank would be absolutely no help? How? What was the appropriate response, other than anger and resentment? Ian didn’t know.

He took another day off of working on the house. He just needed to make sure he had a somewhat clear head so he could focus.

After that day off, he started stripping wallpaper —opened all of the doors and windows of the house, and only took a few breaks for eating or drinking while he worked to get every single room free from the pastel floral patterns. It was mind-numbing work where he could kind of zone-out, but it was hell on his shoulders and arms.

Bottom line: it was a lot; he was pretty sure that if someone ever asked him to do this ever again, he’d probably murder them; but after it was done two days later, he felt a swell of accomplishment, and his mood was drastically better than it had been before. Nothing like a good dose of manual labor to work off some steam.

He took a minute that afternoon he finished with the wallpaper, to walk through the house; it seemed like besides selling all that old shit in the basement, all he really had to do was paint the inside and outside of the house before putting it on the market. He nodded to himself, pleased. The sooner he could get out of this house, get away from this Monica Mess, the better.

After bringing all the trash to the dumpsters, Ian didn’t want to halt his progress, so he headed to the hardware store for some paint, hopping in his mothers old, rusted truck. He smoked two cigarettes on the way, cranked up he crackly radio station and drove with the windows rolled down. When he pulled in to one of the parking spaces in front of the store, he gave a wave to someone walking by (he still wasn’t used to that whole thing —the open, smiling faces, the small town charm).

As he passed through the glass door, the tiny bell at the top of the frame dinged cheerfully. The store smelled like sawdust and oil, which was oddly nice. Ian took Shop for a semester in high school, and he remembered liking the smell, but hating the teacher with a fucking passion.

“Oh, hey Ian!”

Ian turned sharply towards the front counter. He hadn’t even realized someone was sitting there, boots propped up. Carefully, he leaned forward to look at who the boots belonged to, and it made him smile.

“Hey.”

Yev took his feet off of the counter and grinned up at him from his chair, “What’s up?”

“I’m trying to see if I can find some paint,” Ian explained. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching the counter while my uncle grabs something to eat,” Yev shrugged.

“Oh,” Ian nodded. “Wait, Iggy’s your uncle?”

Yev gave him an odd look, his eyebrows arching high like his father’s, “Yeah… Milkovich Hardware…”

The back of Ian’s neck went hot as he realized that he hadn’t even gotten Mickey’s last name yet. Milkovich —interesting; kinda nice, actually. “Oh.”

“The store’s been in our family for… forever,” Yev added. “You need help with the paint?”

Ian almost declined the offer, but Yev was looking up at him with his big blue eyes that were all but screaming for something to do; there couldn’t be much to do in a hardware store, for a thirteen year old. So he nodded, “Sure.”

“Cool,” Yev smirked, reaching under the counter. He pulled a heavy book from under the register, letting it land on top of the counter with a loud thud. “My uncle can mix any of these colors, or if you want to color-match, he can do that too.”

“Cool,” Ian smirked back at him as he opened the book of color samples to a random page of hunter greens. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of shades of every single color to choose from. “This is a lot,” he said.

“Yeah,” Yev nodded. “Know what you’re looking for?”

Ian sighed, “Well… probably something neutral, right? Since I’m trying to sell the house.”

“You mean like beige?” Yev pulled a face.

He couldn’t help it, he snorted a laugh, “Yeah —I know it’s boring.”

“Real boring,” the kid nodded, flipping through the pages. “But if you’re selling the house, then maybe boring is fine,” his voice was a little quieter. “You’re really not staying?”

Ian shook his head, “I got a whole life in Chicago, man.”

Yev nodded, stopping on a page of tan colors, picking one at random, “How’s that one?”

“Good choice,” Ian said, watching the kid write down the number on a scrap piece of paper; Yev wouldn’t look at him, and Ian kind of felt shitty about it, not knowing why —or why Yev would be put-out by him going back to Chicago eventually, it wasn’t like they’d spent any time together other than that one time. “You miss the bus again?”

“No, I just come here to hang out with Uncle Iggy sometimes after school if my dad is out on a job. He normally comes to pick me up on his way home,” Yev explained.

Ian’s brows rose, “Oh, he’s coming to get you?”

Yev finally looked up at him with a little grin, his brows matching Ian’s, “Maybe… do you like him?”

“Sure, he’s a cool guy,” Ian said, feeling the heat starting to bloom in his cheeks, hoping that he wasnt’ turning red. He really had to chill out with this blushing shit —what, was he a twelve year old all of a sudden? Fuck.

Yev rolled his eyes, “No, I mean do you like him, like him?”

Ian froze, like a deer in fucking headlights; his mouth went dry, stomach rocketing to the floor, and all thought completely abandoned him. He hadn’t even realized that his mouth was hanging open until he heard the door chime behind him. He quickly snapped his mouth shut and turned to see who walked through the door, hoping the god it wasn’t Mickey.

“Hey,” Iggy (thank god) grinned, carrying a styrofoam cup. “W’sup, man?”

Ian quickly gathered himself, glancing back at a very smug looking Yev; he finally untangled his tongue and answered, “Yev was helping me pick a paint color.”

“A’ight,” Iggy took the slip of paper that Yev handed him. “He’s good at that shit —got an eye for color. Yev, show Ian your sketch-book.”

Yev’s face tinged pink as he reached for his backpack behind the counter and mumbled, “Uhm, okay.”

Iggy set his food container on the counter, “How much paint you need?”

“Thought I’d get one of those big-ass buckets,” Ian shrugged.

Iggy nodded, “Paint mixer’s in the back… shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes, that good?”

“Yeah, awesome,” Ian nodded, watching as the other man started walking towards the back of the store. He then looked over at Yev, who now had a black spiral notebook sitting on the counter in front of him. He looked less-than-eager to open the book up and share his work. Ian couldn’t blame him, he knew some artistic people in his life who were weird about showing other people their pieces.

“You don’t have to show me, you know,” Ian told him, leaning his elbows on the end of the counter.

But Yev took a deep breath and slid the notebook towards Ian, “You can look, if you want.”

“You sure?”

Yev nodded a little.

When Ian opened the sketchbook, and started leafing through the pages, he quickly realized that his mouth was hanging open like a fish again, but for an entirely different reason. They were all pencil drawings, most of them simple objects —a pair of old boots, a guitar, trees, flowers, different animals. But despite the simplicity of the subjects, they were some of the best drawings that Ian had seen in a long, long time. But those had nothing on the portraits.

“Yev, you did these?” Ian looked back up at him.

“Uh… yeah,” the kid replied slowly; he thumbed the side of his nose and shifted his feet.

“There are incredible,” Ian grinned. “You draw like you’ve been doing it for fifty years —how the hell’d you learn how to do this?”

Yev with red in the face again as he mumbled a thanks. He shrugged, thumbing at his nose again, “I just… draw.”

There was a drawing of Mickey in what Ian assumed was his blacksmith shop, hammer held high in the air, getting ready to bring it down onto a piece of iron. Another detailed drawing of Sheila’s Diner from the inside, Sheila behind the counter. Another of what looked like a man riding a bull —the bull’s legs kicked out, one of the man’s arms lifted high above him.

Then there was a head-shot of a woman who Ian thought maybe was Yev’s mother. She had soft, but angled features, and was looking up from the page like she had just caught him doing something he shouldn’t have —a knowing glint in her eyes.

The thing about Yev’s drawings was that they weren’t realistic, but they reminded Ian of those really well-done comic book covers. Clean lines, powerful poses. They were really well done; it was hard to believe a thirteen year old’s hand was responsible for them.

“You should be really proud of these,” Ian told Yev. Yev laughed nervously, giving another little shrug, so Ian closed the book and slid it back over to him, getting the hint. “You wanna help me pick out some rollers and shit?”

“Yeah,” Yev nodded, looking like he was grateful for the change of subject.

By the time Ian and Yev made it back to the register with all the painting supplies Ian would need, Iggy was ready with the big bucket of paint, waiting to ring everything up.

“Oh, Yev,” Iggy said as he punched item numbers into the old register. “Your dad asked if I could take you home after I close up here. He got stuck at the house —something about working on a gate.”

Yev slumped his shoulders, “I have to do this stupid book report, and a million questions on To Kill a Mockingbird… they’re due tomorrow.”

Iggy rolled his eyes, “Work on it here, man.”

There was a little snip in the kids tone as he shot back, “Do you have a computer, and a printer… and you know, internet?” Ian tucked his lips between his teeth, watching Iggy pause and look over this nephew until Yev sighed, “Sorry.”

“M’not gonna be able to take you home right now,” Iggy said. “I got a shipment of inventory on it’s way, and my paint guy is coming in an hour. By the time they’re gone, it’ll be close to closing time.”

“Where’s Aunt Mandy?”

Ian frowned. Mandy? As in his Mandy? Mandy with the gay brother, Mandy? Wait a fucking second… wait, wait, wait. Ian opened his mouth, but promptly shut it.

“I think she’s in Belleflower till eight,” Iggy said.

Yev groaned a very teenager groan, “You need a girlfriend, Uncle Iggy.”

Holy shit, that was his Mandy. That meant, probably, that… Mickey was the gay brother? (also, this family was all over the fucking place in this town) Ian scratched at the back of his neck, trying to process all this information. Well, unless there was yet another brother, that had to mean that Mickey was… right? And then Yev asked Ian if he liked his dad… oh god. Mickey was gay.

In what fucking world did something like this happen to him? Maybe he really hadn’t been imagining all those times he thought Mickey was checking him out. Holy fuck, Mickey was gay? Mickey was fucking gay. Ian tried to hold in the smile, it was hard, he almost slipped, but he wrestled it under control. Holy shit.

“I can take him home,” Ian offered with a shrug. Was that weird, to offer a thirteen year old a ride home? Probably. Shit, that was probably really fucking not okay. Ian knew that if some random guy offered Liam a ride home, he’d probably knock his teeth out.

Iggy arched a brow at him, but didn’t say anything right away. Yeah, not the best move.

“I mean, if it’s okay with Mickey, and you guys…” Ian tried to add on, without making it worse.

But Yev cracked a wide grin, and looked over at his uncle, “Can I?”

Iggy hesitated while he finished up with the register, “I dunno—”

“Dad knows him, it’s cool,” Yev said, then grabbed on to Iggy’s shoulder, pulling him down a little so he could whisper something in his uncle’s ear. Whatever it was, Iggy looked over at Ian and then seemed to relax; he nodded, telling Yev to call his dad to make sure it was good with him.

It was.

After they got everything loaded up into Monica’s truck, they headed out of in-town. Yev kicked his feet up on the dash and rolled the window down. For some reason it was really refreshing; the kid was comfortable enough to relax like that around Ian, so he felt a little bubble of pride from that.

He told Yev he could mess with the radio all he wanted, so he did. It was one of those dial-radios, where you had to turn the knob to find a station, but Yev seemed to know exactly where to set the dial so that station with ‘newer’ music came on fairly easily. For most of the ride, they didn’t talk too much, but it was a comfortable silence. But Yev rambled off little tidbits about Ernest.

Like Sheila’s was the place to go for breakfast, but Red Rock was better for a quick lunch or dinner since they had good burgers. The pizza place, Mama DeLuca’s, only delivered to people who lived in-town, or close to in-town (which apparently was a huge injustice, since they had awesome mozzarella sticks). And he warned Ian not to even bother with getting fruits and veggies from the grocery store because, “They gouge the hell out of produce, because they can” (probably Mickey’s words), so to wait for Saturday’s farmers market over at the Ellis ranch. Wherever the hell that was.

Right as Ian turned onto the dirt path leading down to Yev and Mickey’s house, the kid looked over at him and asked, “So… you do like my dad, right? Like, like like him?”

And Ian was slammed right back into that gobsmacked, hesitating state. Completely taken off track, he stumbled over a couple words that he didn’t even know what they were supposed to be. Just… noises at this point, really.

“How do you even…” Ian stumbled over his words. “I mean, how do you know that—”

Yev chuckled, “I can just tell.”

Ian pulled to a stop in front of the house. He sighed, looking over at Yev. He had to get control of his conversation before it really went off the rails, “You know, you shouldn’t go around telling people about that stuff.”

“Telling who what?” Yev arched a brow at him.

“That your dad’s—”

Yev punched out a laugh, “I didn’t say anything about my dad being anything.”

Okay, well that was technically true. Ian frowned, “Okay, but obviously…”

“Obviously what?” Yev had a shit-eating grin spread across his face, knowing exactly what he was doing.

Ian let himself breathe a laugh, shaking his head, “You’re a shit-stirrer, you know that?”

Yev nodded, opening the passenger door. “Oh, I know.”

Seagal padded over from the front porch, greeting Yev with a nose punch to the leg, following the kid inside, tail wagging. Ian turned the truck off, getting out as he saw Mickey walk out of the barn, shutting the door behind him.

The jeans he wore were worn and dirty —same for the shirt, sleeves cut off. God, he looked good though. Mickey gave him an easy grin as he walked over, taking heavy work gloves off and sticking them in his back pocket. Just like that, Ian was reeled right back in.

“Thanks, man,” Mickey said. “Didn’t have to drive him all the way out here.”

Ian shrugged, watching Mickey come closer, leaning his side against Ian’s truck, maybe a foot or so away from where Ian was leaning. He looked good, smelled good too. He could smell the faint traces of fire coming off of the brunette —and something a little sweet too. Ian suppressed a groan, wanting to get closer and investigate that smell better. But he didn’t, because he had to act like he had some damn sense.

“Well, I appreciate it anyway,” Mickey shrugged. “He talk your ear off again?”

Ian grinned, “A little, but it’s cool.”

Mickey smirked, head shaking a little as he rolled his eyes, “Guess he likes you, congrats.”

“He’s a good kid,” Ian shrugged, feeling his face heat up a little. A good kid who might be trying to hook his dad up with him, but whatever. Ian almost opened his dumb mouth and said that, but bit the inside of his cheek instead. It was stupid to hope for a shot with Mickey, seeing that Ernest, Oklahoma wasn’t his permanent residence, but if there was even a little chance for something… he really didn't want to fuck it up.

Mickey paused for a second, hesitating before he scratched the back of his neck and asked, “You uh… wanna stick around for dinner? Throwing some steaks on the grill.”

“Sure,” came out of Ian’s mouth before he could stop himself —not that he wanted to stop himself from accepting the invitation. It just came out a little too fast, a little too eager. But Mickey grinned at him, and Ian swore that his cheeks flushed a little.

Dinner was really good, and Mickey could cook one hell of a steak —and offered to help, but Mickey had just told him that he’s the guest, so to grab a drink out of the fridge and hang out. So Ian did, sitting at the kitchen table with Yev, watching him do his book report on To Kill A Mockingbird (even helped him a little bit, which got a wide smile from the kid).

Yev took up most of the dinner conversation, enthusiastically telling Ian about all the cool stuff Mickey makes in his shop —he was really laying it on thick, but it was adorable. Ian kept catching little looks from Mickey across the table, the typical oh my god, I’m so sorry looks that parents instinctively know how to make. But it was fine. Yev was such a good kid, and Ian was quickly getting attached to him too.

“He’s got a waiting list of people ordering things for him to make,” Yev said between bites of mashed potatoes. “He’s really good, so no one minds waiting months just for a table, or a door —he can make anything though. Did you know he made these chairs?”

“I did know that, actually,” Ian grinned, glancing over at Mickey, who was shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

“He’s the best blacksmith,” Yev continued. “Everybody knows.”

“Okay,” Mickey cut in, giving his son a look. “Yev, enough. Ian doesn’t want to sit here and listen to go on and on about that shit.”

Yev rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything back. Ian grinned over at Mickey, giving him a little shrug, because he honestly didn't mind. The more he could soak up about this guy, the better, as far as he was concerned. Besides, Yev was proud of his father, and it was really refreshing to see that. Ian didn’t see that a lot, and definitely never experience that.

“So what do you do?” Yev asked Ian.

“Yev,” Mickey warned.

The kid’s hands flew out to either side of him, “I can’t ask him what his job is?”

“You just need to chill out a little,” Mickey’s voice had a particular tone —that tone that says there’s more to the words being said.

“It’s okay,” Ian took a drink of his water. “I worked at this marketing company, but they’re downsizing, so… got laid off. So right now, I don’t have a job.”

“What’s that?” Yev asked, brows creasing. “I’ve heard marketing a bunch, but I dunno what they actually do.”

“Helps other businesses grow,” Mickey said.

Yev tucked his lips between his teeth, obviously not trying to smile or laugh. Ian nodded at him, cracking a smile, “Yeah, kinda funny, huh?”

“Sounds like they need a marketing company,” Mickey smirked. “That’s rough though —sorry about that.”

“Thanks,” Ian grinned at him, catching the brunette’s eyes wandering over his chest and face for a second. The back of his neck heated up under Mickey’s gaze.

He tried to help clean up after dinner, but Yev insisted on doing it himself. Ian had a feeling that the kid not letting Ian help him with the dishes had more to do with trying to get Ian and Mickey talking alone somewhere, than anything else. He had to hand it to Yev… the kid had a plan. And Ian wasn’t exactly trying to derail that plan.

“Thank you for dinner,” Ian says to Mickey as they walk to his truck. It’s dark, the stars out, bright and shiny against the black sky. But between the light on the porch, and the light from the moon, he can see just fine.

He doesn’t want to go, not yet. It feels like dinner went by so fast, and Mickey’s shoving his hands into his pockets, giving Ian a lopsided grin as he shrugs, “Sorry you had to listen to my kid go on and on about my shit.”

Ian smiles at that, “He’s proud of you.”

Mickey looks so good in the moonlight like this. Ian scratches the back of his neck, trying to figure out something else to say, trying to stretch this out longer. The crickets are singing around them in the dark, and there’s a light breeze moving through the air. They stand in silence together by the rusted old truck, and maybe he’s imagining it, but there’s a little tension in the air.

“You wanna see the shop?”

“Yes,” Ian answers immediately, nodding his head.

Mickey gives him a look, eyes flicking up and down, his jaw shifting to the side —the look makes Ian’s stomach drop a little, makes his mouth water. Fuck. He has to stop himself from reaching out and taking that jaw in his hand and kissing Mickey’s full mouth. He follows the brunette to the barn, looking at the house quickly to make sure Yev hasn’t peeked out.

The inside of the barn is nothing short of organized chaos —standing shelves,hanging shelves, tables with little cardboard boxes and packing supplies.

It smells like coal —like fire. That smell that lingered on Mickey earlier. Ian breathes it in, looking around. The hearth is well used, the anvil is feet away from the hearth. All around there are tools, and long pieces of dark metal ready to be used to create.

He listens to Mickey talk about what he’s looking at —the wall of horseshoes, the tools he’s made himself (there has to be at least fifty different hammer looking objects), the gate he was working on for a client, a couple chairs for another client, even smaller objects like fixtures for cabinets. Mickey makes it all, and Ian wants to touch it all, but he doesn’t.

“This is so cool,” Ian says, still looking around. They’re standing kind of close, even though there’s a lot of room in the barn to spread out.

Mickey looks up at him and grins, “Thanks —it’s kind of a clusterfuck in here, but I got a system.”

“I like it,” Ian told him. “It’s kinda cozy, actually.”

In the movies, no matter what genre, there’s this moment that Ian loves. The pause. Two people standing kind of close, there’s a break in the conversation —obvious attraction, tension, lingering eyes. That’s the moment, that pause, where you know they’re going to kiss. You know they’re going to kiss, and they know they’re going to kiss. Like some kind of silent agreement, a silent plan. And it happened right there in that blacksmith shop. The pause.

And then… fire.

Mickey’s lips are soft. Relaxed and willing under Ian’s lips. He inhales that scent that’s ingrained into Mickey’s skin —fire and flesh, a hint of soap; he’s addicted to that smell, he loves that smell, wants to drown himself in it. Ian curls a hand around the back of Mickey’s neck, fingers brushing into dark hair. Mickey does the same to him, his other arm wrapping around Ian’s waist to draw him closer.

The shop is silent except for their breathing. Except for the soft kissing sounds. It’s bordering on slow —exploring each other, tasting each other as Mickey’s tongue brushes over Ian’s top lip. He immediately reciprocates, slipping his tongue against Mickey’s, walking him back against the edge of a table, pressing into him. They fit so perfectly and feel so good.

It’s just a kiss, but it feels like everything else in the world is right. There’s nothing else wrong, nothing else that Ian needs to think about or worry about. It’s just Mickey —just this man that he’s getting to know, that he’s ridiculously attracted to. Ian decides pretty quickly, when Mickey sucks on his top lip, that kissing the brunette is his new favorite thing in the whole fucking world.

And then it’s over —slowly— but eventually they need to breathe properly. Eventually Ian takes a step back after Mickey gives him one last lingering kiss, hand slipping from the back of his neck.

Ian coughed, fighting a grin as he watched Mickey run a hand over the top of his hair, sorting himself out. It was one hell of a kiss, that was for sure. “I should, uh… probably get going,” Ian cleared his throat.

Mickey nodded, “Okay.” Ian grinned; Mickey grinned back at him, with a little huff of a laugh.

 


 

Ian was riding a post-kissing-a-cute-boy high. Even the day after, while he started painting the interior of the house, he grinned to himself nearly the entire time. Remembering how Mickey’s lips felt pressed against his own, the soft breathing into his mouth, grip on the back of his neck. It had been fucking perfect.

He liked Mickey. Yeah he was attracted to Mickey, but most importantly, he liked him. He enjoyed him. So of course about an hour into painting, Ian slowly came around to realizing the reality of the situation. That little bitty detail of Ian not actually living in Earnest. The more he thought about that small detail, and the other little obvious details surrounding his current situation, the more his grin slipped. The more he thought that maybe kissing Mickey had been a huge fucking mistake.

He called Dr. Richardson —couldn’t call Lip and hear the I told you so spiel. He told her about Mickey, and about his son, and how they met. He told her about his attraction to him, how it was kind of instant, how he felt himself getting very attached to Mickey.

“I know it’s kind of fast… I haven’t been here that long, and I just broke up with Blake,” Ian sighed while he cradled the phone to his ear. “And then I keep thinking that… my mom just died, and I just lost my job, and my boyfriend. Maybe I’m not thinking straight, you know? Maybe I’m latching onto this guy. Everything is a mess, but he’s not.”

“Does it feel like you’re latching onto some kind of anchor while everything else is happening in your life?” Dr. Richardson asked. “You’re normally pretty aware of yourself, Ian. I think these questions and hesitations are completely expected, but I think you should trust yourself more to answer that question.”

It was weird, how quickly Ian answered, “It doesn’t feel like I’m latching onto an anchor.”

“Okay,” Dr. Richardson said. “What does it feel like, then —a fling, a distraction, something more?”

Ian sighed heavy, pacing on the roof of his car, “It feels… I can’t explain it. It just feels right. It feels good.”

“And, do you see yourself having serious feelings for this man?”

“Yes,” another quick, semi-automatic response.

Damn, maybe he was jumping ahead of himself. All they did was kiss. But he’d felt such a strong attraction, so quickly, towards Mickey. Everything about it felt good, felt like he was supposed to meet Mickey, like fate may be a thing, an actual thing, silly as Ian thought it sounded.

“Well, then I think that at this point, you just have to keep aware of what you’re up against,” she said. “It’s your life, Ian, your decisions. My only advice would be to be upfront with Mickey, and to just keep in mind that this is a temporary situation.”

 

It takes a few days to finish painting the inside of the house. It gives Ian a lot of time to think about that kiss with Mickey —to think about what Dr. Richardson said. And to not think too much about his mother; thinking about her just puts him in a shit mood.

It’s amazing how much garbage is accumulated while working on a house. Ian swears he’s spent more money on garbage bags now, than he ever has in his life. It seems like no matter how many times he scrubs every surface inside of the house, there always seems to be a fine layer of grime. It’s only slightly infuriating, and is probably going to turn him into a germophobe or something.

The sun hangs above him as he climbs into the bed of the truck to start throwing garbage bags into the dumpster. It’s been a pretty hot day and he’s just about ready for a long shower. There’s still a lot running through his mind, and he doesn’t totally register someone walking by the truck at first, until the kid grins up at him and waves.

“Miss the bus?” Ian breathed a laugh, hopping down off of the truck.

Yev’s bottom lip was busted, swollen on one side, just barely split, and red. But he didn’t even acknowledge it, or act like it was bothering him. “Yeah.”

“Didn’t go to the hardware store?”

Yev shrugged, “Eh, not really in the mood to sit there.”

Ian nodded, eyeing that busted lip; he vaguely gestured towards it, “So uh… what happened there?”

Yev heaved a sigh, shoulders shrugging, “This kid is a dick, picking on my friend Jesse.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Yev replied, drawing out the word. “Nothing a pack 'a peas can’t help.”

He fought a grin, “You want a ride home?” It was a far trek, and the heat was killer; plus, Ian didn’t like the idea of Yev walking by himself like that.

“Thanks!” Yev grinned real wide, eyes lighting up.

When they get to Mickey and Yev’s place, Seagal is lumbering around in front of the house, and the barn door is propped open. Ian hesitates for a second, not entirely sure of what he should do. Go talk to Mickey? Just go home? He hadn’t talked to or seen the guy since they kissed, and the whole Ian-reverting-to-a-flustered-teenager around the guy has him overthinking every single thing.

But then Yev pipes up, “You should uh… go say hi to my dad.”

Ian looks over at him, narrowing his eyes a little, “You think?”

Yev nods, all smiles, “Yeah. Maybe if you’re there, he won’t be so pissed when he sees I’ve been fighting.”

Ian snorts a laugh, cutting the engine and getting out of the truck, “Alright, come on.” The kid groans dramatically, head tilting back as he leads the way to the barn. Ian follows, shaking his head (while trying to tame the butterflies fluttering wildly in his stomach).

There’s noises coming from the barn —metal hammering against metal, stuff being moved around. Ian forces his mouth to not crack in a wide grin; he hates that he’s getting so goddamn giddy like this, it’s ridiculous. And it gets even worse when Mickey looks up from his work, hammer in one hand, immediately seeing Ian and smirking at him. Ian loses his resolve; he smirks back.

However, like Yev had predicted, Mickey wasn’t happy about seeing his kid with a busted lip. He set his hammer down on his work bench and shook his head at Yev, reaching out with one charcoal-dusted hand to gently grab Yev’s chin, looking at the damage.

“What the fuck,” Mickey sighed. “Are you kidding me?”

Right away, Yev huffed, defending himself, “Ethan was talking shit about Jesse again!”

Mickey dropped his hand from holding Yev’s chin, “So you took a swing at him?”

“Yeah,” Yev said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Mickey shot a glance at Ian, soft apologizing eyes, before looking at his son again, “Get your ass inside and do your homework. You’re fucking grounded.”

“Dad!” Yev protested.

Mickey shook his head, “No, I told you if it happened again, I wasn’t gonna let it slide. So go. Lucky I don’t beat your fucking ass.”

Yev sighed, turning and leaving the barn. Ian felt a little guilty, though he didn’t really know why. Seemed like a conversation he shouldn’t’ve been around for.

“Not gonna beat his ass, I don’t do that shit,” Mickey said quietly, grinning at Ian, walking towards the open barn door to peek out and watch Yev walk into the house. He called loudly, “But I fucking should beat him!”

Ian didn’t know what Yev did in response, but whatever it was made Mickey’s eyebrows raise high as he called a warning, “Boy!” (he assumed Mickey received a rude face or maybe even a middle finger, judging by his reaction).

“So uh,” Ian began, slipping his hands into his pockets in effort to keep from reaching out for the brunette. “Milkovich house has a strict no-fighting rule, huh?”

Mickey snorted a laugh, eyeing Ian as he walked past, headed for his workbench, “The longer I can keep him from acting like my dumb ass, the better.”

Ian smirked at that, teasing and sarcastic,“You, a troublemaker? No way.”

Mickey’s eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled at Ian, “I know, hard to believe. I used to be on the circuit, and had my fair share of after-party fights. Bunch of drunk kids being fucking stupid.”

Ian frowned in confusion, watching Mickey sort through some metal pieces on his workbench, looking for something. “The circuit?”

The brunette nodded, “Rode bulls until I was twenty-one.”

That was quite the image to take in. Ian blinked, head tilting to the side, “You were a bull rider?”

“Mmhm,” Mickey grinned over a him. “Got my ass handed to me by this rank motherfucker —knee’s fucked for life,” he said, gesturing to his leg that made him walk with a little limp. “And by that time my old man had just died, so… didn’t see a reason to stick around for something I didn’t really give a fuck about.”

Ian remembered Mandy saying something about her father passing away a while ago, when they first met. “Sorry about your dad,” he said, not really knowing if it was okay to say or not.

Mickey looked over at Ian, abandoning the search for whatever he was looking for on his workbench, then walked towards him. Ian swallowed hard, watching the brunette’s eyes narrow just slightly, like he was trying to figure Ian out, or almost like he could see straight through him. Mickey was quiet, coming up close but not touching. Ian was a couple inches taller than the other man, but right then he could have sworn it felt like the opposite. Mickey took over everything within seconds, his blue eyes still focused on Ian’s face.

“Don’t be,” Mickey finally said. “He was a piece of shit.”

Ian nodded dumbly, “O-okay.” Fuck, he could barely breathe. Mickey smelled like his shop, like fire and coal, and it was fucking intoxicating.

Mickey got this teasing glint in his eyes, “You a’ight?”

Ian nodded his head. Yeah sure, he was fine. He just couldn’t fucking breathe right, and his palms were sweaty. “I just uh… wasn’t expecting the whole bull rider thing,” he said, pulling something out of the damn air.

Unfortunately —or fortunately, depending on how you looked at it— bringing up Mickey riding bulls had Ian imaging other things (…riding other things). Mickey probably had strong thighs; his hands were probably kind of calloused  and definitely strong from an entire lifetime of work. Ian really tried not to go there right now, tried not to think of the brunette’s hands on him, but it was so fucking hard not to think about that.

“You got a look on your face,” Mickey smirked.

Ian tried to steady his breathing, clenching his fists on either side of him. God, he was so attracted to this guy. Fuck. “What look?”

Mickey didn’t answer. Instead, he reached a hand up to hook around Ian’s neck, pulling him until their mouths pressed together. It caught like a fire; Ian breathed Mickey in as he kissed him back, slipping his hands down to hold his hips, pulling him closer, needing more contact.

It was quick, and hot, borderline desperate. Ian groaned when his back hit a wall. He slid his hands from Mickey’s hips to his ass, grabbing him, pulling him even closer, though it wasn’t possible. But Mickey seemed to like that, moaning a little against Ian’s mouth (and holy fuck he sounded so good), his fingers sinking into his hair to tug at it.

Ian shuddered and groaned, moving them, pushing the brunette up onto the workbench to settle between his legs and wrap his arms around him, pressing against him tightly. They kissed hard; Mickey sucked on Ian’s top lip and it felt so fucking good. His hands were everywhere, grabbing his ass, pulling him impossibly closer, brushing under the hem of Ian’s shirt, touching his warm skin.

Ian got lost, let himself drown in Mickey. He tasted the skin of the brunette’s throat, kissing and tonguing at the column, rewarded with heavy breath and more hair tugging. He wants him so bad, right here in the shop, right on this fucking workbench, with the fire going over the corner hearth, that smell lingering in the air. Ian wants Mickey so bad, and he’s getting so fucking hard, and the way Mickey is moving against him and grabbing at him makes him dizzy.

But not here, not now. Breaking the kiss off is torturous. Ian gets in a few more before taking a step back, taking a few deep breaths. He grins at the brunette, knowing the both of them look ten kinds of fucked, messy hair and red-mouthed.

Mickey’s cheeks got a little pink as he slipped down from the workbench, eyeing Ian. And Ian was feeling so much at this point. His mouth was tender from kissing this fucking gorgeous man, who kept Ian guessing —who had miles and miles of stories behind his eyes. Before he thought it over, he opened his mouth and said the most basic, juvenile-sounding thing that popped into his head, “I like you.”

That got a chuckle out of Mickey, “Hope so.”

Ian feels red hot in his cheeks, and he laughs. He didn’t know what to say, felt a little silly, even though the silence that settled over them wasn’t awkward —still tense and wanting, but not awkward. Thankfully, he didn’t have to say anything, because the sound of Seagal barking outside of the barn cut through the silence, distracting the both of them into seeing what was going on.

When Ian saw who pulled up in front of the house, he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Mandy got out of her dusty Honda with a beaming, curious smile spread across her face, like she had just caught both Ian and Mickey with their entire bodies in the goddamn cookie jar.

“Hello,” she said slyly, dragging the word out a little. She eyed both of them, “Didn’t know you two knew each other already.”

Mickey looked over at Ian, “You know my sister?”

“Uh, bank stuff,” Ian explained quickly. “We had coffee and dinner, too —I didn’t know that you were related then.”

Mickey’s brows raised high as he looked at his sister. Before he could say anything, she sighed, shaking her head at him. “Chill out Mick, Milkoviches are running fucking rampant in this small ass town, and I work at the bank. It was gonna happen.”

Mickey seemed to accept that, giving a little nod. Ian breathed a sigh of relief, because for a second there, he was worried that something was wrong. Before something could go wrong though, he dug his keys out of his pocket and cleared his throat, “I’m gonna, uh, head out.”

But Mandy shook her head, “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

Ian hesitated, glancing over at Mickey, who was giving his sister a look. “No, that’s okay, I don’t want to impose—”

“Ugh, come on,” Mandy snorted, rolling her eyes as she grabbed for Ian’s wrist, walking him towards the house. “It’s spaghetti night.”

It’s late when Ian gets back to his mothers house. He feels like he’s damn near floating. Dinner had been excellent, and his belly felt warm and satisfied as he laid down on his bed and stared up at the white ceiling of the bedroom. He had to get back to working on this damn house the next day, but for now he was going to bask in this feeling.

After dinner, Mickey walked Ian out to his truck. It had been so quiet, except for the crickets. And Mickey looked so good, looking at him the way he did, like he could see right down to Ian’s bones. They had talked quietly for a little while, nothing too intense, just pointless small-talk. But Ian loved watching the way Mickey’s mouth moved when he spoke, and he loved the crease of his brow, and the way he leaned against the side of the truck while they talked.

Ian had kissed Mickey again, right there in front of the house, hoping that Mickey wouldn’t pull away. And he didn’t pull away. It was soft and simple, but it had Ian aching for more. He knew he was in over his head. He knew that he was setting himself up for complete disaster, but he didn’t fucking care because he was so gone on this man.

Reality threatened to trickle back into Ian’s little kiss-fueled fantasy, so he did what any responsible adult would do and ignored it. Ian didn’t want to think about the temporariness of his situation —didn’t want to think about why he was really in Oklahoma. He could deal with that tomorrow, after he sleeps, after he stares up at the ceiling and traces over his lips, thinking about kissing Mickey. Damn, he was such a fucking sap. Whatever.

 

Chapter Text

A week passes by in somewhat of a blur. Ian spends most of that time down in the basement to go through everything he had previously sorted out. Some pieces of furniture needed to be thrown away, a couple boxes were damp, covered in mold inside and out, those needed to be tossed too. It was tiresome work, and Ian found himself taking more breaks than he probably needed, just to not deal with all the shit under the house.

He texted Mickey a couple times; Mickey texted back. Nothing too racy, just little thinking of you texts, seeing what each other was up to. It was cute, Ian even had admit it was pretty fucking cute. Mickey had a lot of jobs and projects he’d been working on in the past week, so Ian let him be, didn’t try to go see him or anything like that (even though he really wanted to).

During the week, he had lunch with Mandy a couple times. They were really hitting it off; Ian liked being around her, liked her little stories. They didn’t talk a lot about Mickey, but it was evident that she was cautiously optimistic about Ian being interested in her brother. She had made it clear that while she was excited to see her brother seem to be genuinely interested in someone, it worried her because Ian wasn’t sticking around. That was Ian’s concern too, because he could feel that potential with Mickey. That I could really go all in here potential.

It was nearing the end of the day, while Ian was painting the exterior of the house (he went with an off-white color) that he had to stop because someone was driving up to the house. When he realized that it was actually Mickey’s truck, he grinned, setting his paintbrush to the side.

“I got something for you,” Mickey said when he got out, nodding his head towards the back of the truck.

Ian arched a brow at him, stomach fluttering, “I’m listening.”

Mickey gave him a look, but smiled a little, “Nothing like that.”

“Damn,” Ian snapped his fingers in mock disappointment.

Mickey pulled something out of the back of his truck, large and metal, “New screen door,” he said, his voice kind of low and quiet. “Since the other one broke off, you know?”

Ian froze for a second, staring at the door. It wasn’t anything too much, on the verge of simple, but it was beautiful with the mirrored curved scrolls down the middle, and sturdy handle. He cracked a smile, reaching out to run his fingers over the corner of the dark metal, “Holy shit.”

Mickey shrugged, not quite meeting Ian’s eyes, “Nothing special, but—”

“It’s fucking awesome,” Ian cut him off, shaking his head. “Thank you.”

The brunette shrugged again, leaning the door against the side of his truck, “Had some extra time.”

Ian grinned at the other man, going for it, stepping close and wrapping his hand around the back of his neck, kissing Mickey’s mouth softly. He immediately got a response, soft but eager. “Thank you,” Ian said again, breathing the words.

It only took about twenty minutes to hang the screen door, and even though the front of the house wasn’t painted yet, it looked really good —perfect fit too, thank god. And then Mickey gave him a look while they stood in front of the house and asked him, “You wanna go somewhere with me? Yev’s with Mandy tonight.”

Ian frowned, “Where?”

Mickey rolled his eyes, head nodding towards his truck, “Get in. Wanna show you something.”

They drove and drove, while the sun was starting getting ready to set. Mickey turned down a couple roads, passed a truck, then took a turn onto a worn down path, leading into a field. Ian looked everywhere he could, even though the area around them was much the same, empty fields of tall grass, a couple trees dotting the scene.

“C’mon,” Mickey said, turning the truck off after he parked in a seemingly random spot. Ian didn’t question it and followed the brunette, thinking they were walking somewhere, but Mickey ended up hopping into the bed of the truck, so Ian hopped too.

“This your spot?” Ian asked, settling down next to Mickey, leaning against the cab of the truck.

Mickey made a little noise in the back of his throat, “I guess.”

Ian looked around again, seeing that the sun was hanging lower, the sky turning orange and pink. He smirked, knocking his shoulder against Mickey’s, “You bring me out here to watch the sunset?”

Mickey breathed a laugh, but didn’t answer. He pulled a pack of cigarette’s out of his pocket and lit up, offering Ian a turn to take a drag from it. “So uh, you almost got your mom’s place ready to sell, huh?”

Ian pulled on the cigarette before passing it back, “Almost.”

Mickey hummed; Ian watched him as he looked up into the sky, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air, “Then back to Chicago, right?”

He took a deep breath, “Yeah, back to Chicago… who knows how long it’s gonna take to sell that place though.”

Mickey just nodded while he continued to look up into the sky, stretching his legs out in front of him. But then, very quietly he said, “Can’t be anything serious.”

Ian didn’t need further explanation as he watched Mickey take another drag from the cigarette before passing it back. “Probably stupid to try, right?”

“Yeah,” Mickey nodded. “Gotta think of my kid.”

“He’s a good kid.”

“He is.”

His stomach twisted a little, but Mickey was right. In a lame attempt to play this whole situation off, Ian scoffed a humorless little laugh, “Got shit wrong with me anyway. Probably don’t want that.”

Finally, Mickey looked over at him before he put the cigarette out, “We all got shit.”

It was nearly impossible to look away from the brunette. He was so fucking beautiful, and the setting —the sky— was nothing less than perfect. This was pretty fucking romantic, and hard not to notice. Back of a pickup truck, sunset, sharing a cigarette. Country singers build love songs off of this. All that sappy shit that Ian honestly loved. He ate that up; Lip always gave him a hard time about it.

Ian leaned over, slow and careful, kissing Mickey. Just barely, keeping his mouth soft. Tobacco and smoke. Mickey had a full mouth, perfect for kissing, soft and pliable. A mouth fucking made for kissing. He got caught up, breathing in when Mickey exhaled. It was just them out there in that field. Just Ian and Mickey, the sky, the grass. Nothing else fucking mattered.

It was stupid to try, Ian knew that the both of them knew that. It was stupid to keep kissing like this. Stupid for Mickey to shift, straddling Ian’s lap, stupid to wrap his arms around his neck and press close. Stupid for Ian to grip Mickey’s hips, to hug him close, to tilt his head back and breathe a soft noise when he felt that full mouth ghost over the column of his throat. So fucking stupid. But he couldn’t stop —neither one of them could.

They could deal with how stupid they were being later. Let future Ian and Mickey figure it out. Right now all Ian could think about was giving into his more carnal desires. Because the fact was that under all this comfort with the brunette, and the odd draw he felt, the connection he was so attracted to… Ian wanted Mickey. He wanted him every way he could have him. And judging by the way Mickey rocked his hips against Ian, the hardness in his jeans… Mickey wanted Ian just as much.

And then afterwards… after Mickey had clung onto Ian, panting and pressing a hard kiss to his mouth —and Ian had fallen apart over Mickey in the bed of the truck… they laid there, staring up at the now dark sky dotted with bright stars. Everything else faded away in that moment. Everything was good —everything was Mickey. Just Mickey, all Mickey. And Ian didn’t want to leave this moment. Such a soft moment after  they had fit together so perfectly. Ian couldn't remember ever being with someone who he’d fit with so perfectly, who had drawn out so much from him.

He was falling.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Ian whispered into the night, just loud enough for Mickey to hear.

“Yeah,” Mickey whispered back. “Yeah, me either.”

Wind blew over them, cooling Ian’s heated skin. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment. Not knowing why he was bring it up at a time like this, he hesitated before he said, “My mom was bipolar; I’m bipolar too. But she didn’t… she didn’t take care of herself, and I guess things got out of control and… she did what she did.”

It took a couple minutes, but Mickey moved to lay on his side, facing Ian, propping his head on his hand, “Highs and lows, right?”

Ian looked over at Mickey, turning on his side also, so they could talk, “Yeah —you know about it?”

Mickey shrugged, “Basic shit. How long have you had it?”

“Ten years,” Ian said. He didn’t even feel remotely uncomfortable or weird about talking about this with Mickey —which in all honesty was a whole new feeling for him. The brunette nodded, chewing on his bottom lip for a second. Ian continued, “I take care of myself —I’m not like her, I’m not like Monica.”

Mickey nodded again, “Is that what you meant by you got shit wrong with you?”

Ian’s stomach flipped a little from Mickey’s question, “Yeah… I mean, I pretty much got everything under control now, but when I was first diagnosed I was a mess.” He paused, taking a deep breath, eyes flicking away from Mickey’s face, remembering the hospital —the fights with his family, the mania, the depression… remembering all of it. He wasn’t Monica. He was Ian. He wasn’t her, not at all. He was okay.

“Hey,” Mickey’s voice drew him out of his thoughts, a hand slipping to hold the side of his face; Ian leaned into the touch, turning his head to kiss Mickey’s palm. “Nothing’s fucking wrong with you. I don’t know everything about that shit, but… I know nothing’s wrong with you.”

Ian couldn’t help but grin a little at Mickey’s words. The crude way of trying to make him feel better. “Gonna be hard to go back,” he said. “This whole town is so different, but it’s nice —and then there’s… you know, there’s you and Yev. Came out of nowhere.”

Mickey gave him a sympathetic smile, scooting closer to press a kiss to Ian’s mouth, he breathed his reply, soft but clear, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

 


 

“I’m… concerned,” Debbie’s voice tentatively came through the other end of the line.

Ian sighed, moving to sit on top of his car’s roof, tired of standing. “Everything’s fine, Deb.”

“I know, I’m just worried about this relationship with this guy,” she said. “Ian, you sound like you really like him—”

“I do really like him,” he defended.

“I know,” she soothed. “I know, and that’s why I’m worried. I just don’t want to see you start something up with this guy and then have to leave him.”

He sighed again, heavy and drawn out. Time was passing by quickly. A week had passed since the field. Since he and Mickey had talked for hours under the stars, had fallen asleep in the bed of the truck, curled up together, rumpled clothes and tender mouths from kissing.

Mickey had told Ian about how Yev came to be —a nightmarish story involving the first time Mickey went out on the circuit on his own, a surprise visit from his father, being caught in the act with another rider, and then… fuck, he couldn’t even think about it. Mickey had said that the only good things that came out of that night were Yev, and how he had come to love his late wife —as a friend, of course. As family.

It hadn’t been easy, and it hadn’t been right away, but Mickey told Ian about how eventually they had become close, become a family. They were both victims of Mickey’s father, both on the same team, as he had put it, eventually seeing that they had to stick it out together if they wanted to survive Terry Milkovich. The guy had been through hell and back, and seen and experienced things that Ian was grateful he never had to experience.

Ian had opened up about his parents —about his mother, mostly. About how she had abandoned her children over and over again, how Fiona had to pick up the pieces, how all of them had to carry their own weight. He told him about Thanksgiving. About his fear of becoming like her, even though he knew he wasn’t her, he knew he was stronger, knew his fear drove him to be stronger, to do everything he could to avoid her life. It had been difficult to talk about her, to be so open, and Ian had to stop a few times to compose himself. Mickey listened, he held him, he kissed his face, told him he was okay.

That night a week ago had been nothing short of the night that Ian had realized that he had fallen harder than he thought he had.

“I think I love him,” Ian said into the phone. It was quiet on the other end for a moment, but Ian could hear his little sister sigh. “I know… I know it’s stupid and it’s going to end bad, but Deb, I haven’t felt like this about anyone, ever, I haven’t… I really think I love him.”

“I just don’t want to see you hurt,” She said. “Who knows how long it’s going to take to sell that house, and how long you’ll be down there with him, getting more attached.”

Ian nodded, “I know.”

“And you said he has a kid?”

“Yeah,” Ian replied. “He’s a great kid.”

She sighed again. “I’m happy that you’ve seemed to have found someone, I’m just… you know I worry about you. I don’t want you to think that I’m not happy for you.”

He grinned a little at that, “I don’t think that. Maybe this is a bad move, maybe I should end things. But I… honestly, I don’t want to. I want this.”

“So, what happens when you have to come home?”

Ian didn’t have an answer.

 


 

Ian took a huge bite out of his cheeseburger, listening to Mandy. “I think you should just do a huge yard sale,” she said. “People out here love a yard sale. Do it over the weekend, you know? I’ll come help. Get all that stuff sold.”

He nodded as he chewed. Seemed like a solid idea. There was a bunch of furniture and other odds and ends that maybe someone could find some sort of use for. One man’s trash, and all that, right?

“The fuck am I gonna do with that bear though?” he asked.

She thought for a moment, dragging a couple french fry through a puddle of ketchup, “That’s a good question. I’d go talk to Kermit over at the scrapyard, he probably knows a guy. Shit, maybe Iggy knows a guy —I swear he’s got endless resources.”

Ian nodded again, “Who knows, maybe I can find a buyer for that piece of shit house too.”

“It’s not a total piece of shit,” Mandy said. “You cleaned it up really nice. What’s it got, two bedrooms?”

“Two bedrooms, fresh coat of paint inside and out… scrubbed to hell,” Ian listed. “New screen door your brother made.”

Mandy gave him a cheeky grin, “How’s that going?”

Ian felt his face heat up a little as he took a sip of his soda, “It’s good. He’s working a lot, but we do dinners, shit like that.”

Her eyes lit up at that, “That’s awesome. I’m happy for you guys —I don’t think he’s been in a relationship for a while… gotta be over a year. That guy didn’t last very long though.”

Ian frowned at that, “What happened?”

She shrugged, “Nothing bad, I guess they just didn’t mesh that well. Point is, there’s a significant change in my brothers mood, so for that, I thank you.”

“He’s a good guy. Yev’s a good kid too, I like him.”

She smiled at him, though it slipped for a moment, and Ian knew that he was about to have that same conversation that he had with Debbie just days ago. It was everyone’s concern, evidently. Ian was concerned about it too, just talking about it over and over, thinking about it over and over was just… it was a lot.

But he listened to Mandy when she spoke. She was worried about her brother and nephew, obviously. She was happy for them, but the worry didn’t go away just because she was happy. Ian would be a fucking idiot not to completely understand that.

Then the weekend came. The sun was shining, birds singing, puffy clouds dotting the sky —all that shit. With some help of posters that Yev made, and Mandy spreading the word about the yard sale, early Saturday morning brought dozens of people clamoring all over the front yard, sorting through furniture and boxes of stuff.

Mandy manned the transactions as Yev walked around helping people, and Ian took the opportunity to give little house-tours to anyone interested. Surprisingly, there were a lot more people than Ian had anticipated, especially people wanting to take a look inside the home.

He always got nervous, watching people eye the living room and kitchen. It was all dated, but even though Ian referred to the house as a piece of shit, Mandy had been right. It wasn’t a total piece of shit. Worth a look. There were about three or four young couples looking for a starter home.

Ian hadn’t been expecting it, but while he was showing around a young couple, with the wife so pregnant, she looked like she was ready to burst at any minute; he felt this pang in his gut. And what followed that pang was sadness. A kind of soft, quiet sadness. Just when he thought he had moved past it, it resurfaced. Monica, however a horrible mother she had been, even though she had (not meaning to) fucked with his head when he got diagnosed, was the catalyst of a truly chaotic surf of mania… she was his mother. And she was gone. And it was sad. It was very, very sad.

But he kept quiet. He let the couple wander around the house, let them go down into the basement (made sure to warn them about the damn bear), let them rummage through the kitchen cabinets to look at the kind of storage it offered. He almost opened his mouth to tell them the house wasn’t for sale. For that split second, he almost did it. But instead he clamped his jaw shut tight and gave them his best grin.

The woman, Emily, very small compared to her swollen belly, smiled up at him. “Thank you for showing us the house —I’ve always wanted to raise a family out here.” She put her hand on her belly, shrugging a little.

“It’s a good starter home,” her husband David, said.

Ian nodded, throat dry, he croaked, “It is. It’s a great starter home.” Then he shook both of their hands, and watched them walk out of the front door, leaving him in the middle of the kitchen looking down at the linoleum floor. Beige and flowered, scuffed up.

“Ian,” Mandy’s voice came from the front door, not even a minute after, quickly drawing him out of his thoughts.

He looked up, brows raised in questions, “What’s up?”

She moved out of the way, letting an older man walk through the door, “This is Lloyd, he’s here to look at the bear.”

“Oh!” Ian gathered himself. Mandy went back to the garage sale as Ian greeted Lloyd. “Iggy said you’d be here tomorrow?”

Lloyd, sandy brown hair and creases around his eyes, breathed a gravelly laugh, “Nah, I told him Saturday. Damn Iggy, not paying attention —is today alright?”

“Of course,” Ian nodded, leading the way to the basement. “Follow me.”

After the yard sale, and after Iggy’s friend came to look at the taxidermy bear, things really started rolling. Ian was left with just a box full of things he wanted to keep for himself —the letter from his mother included. He still hadn’t finished reading it, but maybe one day when he got past all this he’d be able to. Anything that hadn’t sold at the yard sale had been donated; Mickey helped with that, and Ian ended up giving him the big old truck.

After all that, not even a week after the yard sale, Ian got a call about the house. He had been sitting at the Milkovich kitchen table talked with Mickey while they watched Yev draw a goofy picture of Seagal, when the call came.

Thankfully Mickey’s place had decent enough signal, so Ian didn’t have to hop up on top of his car. But he took the call outside, brushing his fingers over the back of Mickey’s shoulders as he passed, just needing a little touch.

“Mr. Gallagher? It’s David Miller —you showed me and my wife your mothers house the other day?”

Ian nodded, leaning against the railing on the front porch; Seagal was padding around in the driveway, looking like he was making rounds. “Oh, hey. How are you?”

“We’re good, thank you,” David replied. “I wanted to get in touch with you about looking at the house again. Emily really liked it, and if we can settle on a price sooner rather than later, we’re very interested. She’s eight months along now, and… well, the truth is that we’re staying at her parents house right now, and they’re driving us nuts.”

It was bittersweet. Ian set up a time and day for David and Emily to come back out to look at the house, feeling a hand on the small of his back as he finished up the call. Mickey was there now, looking at him with questioning eyes, his brows a little furrowed.

“Everything okay?” He asked Ian, making a small circle on Ian’s back before snaking his arm around his waist, moving closer.

Ian nodded, pressing a kiss to Mickey’s forehead. He smelled so damn good, and felt so damn good; he never wanted to let go. “Someone’s interested in Monica’s house.”

Mickey was quiet, but his fingers didn’t stop making little patterns over Ian’s side. But then he sighed, nodding his head in return, “Knew it was gonna happen eventually.”

“Yeah,” Ian breathed. Fuck, this actually really hurt.

“So, uh… Yev’s going over to his friend’s house tonight,” Mickey said, clearing his throat. “You feel like hanging out?”

Ian grinned, feeling heat bloom deep in his belly. He dipped down a little and kissed the corner of Mickey’s mouth, “Am I being invited to a sleepover?”

Mickey rolled his eyes, but kissed him back, “Wasn’t really planning on sleeping that much.”

He groaned, leaning his forehead against the side of Mickey’s head, his hips pressing forward on their own accord, pushing against Mickey, “Promise?”

“Mmhm,” the brunette hummed, his fingers dipping into Ian’s back pocket as he grabbed his ass.

 


 

The thing about Mickey’s bed was that it was… fucking amazing. The mattress was plush enough to ease you to sleep within minutes, but not too plush to where it was nearly impossible to fuck. Mickey invested in good sheets and blankets —he really had a thing about bedding that had surprised Ian.

He laid back against the plush mattress, his hands grabbing for Mickey’s hips. The nice sheets were sticking to his  skin a little bit, but it didn’t fucking matter, not one bit. Mickey planted his hands on Ian’s chest as he moved, taking him deep, canting his hips in a rhythm that made Ian’s toes curl and his eyes threaten to roll.

“Look so good,” Ian breathed, slipping his hands down to Mickey’s strong thighs, feeling the tensing muscle every time he moved. “Love the way you take it, oh my god Mick…”

Mickey moaned above him, head falling forward as his pace slowed, elbows bending a little, like he was about to fall forward. The sounds that this man made were absolutely sinful, addicting, pulling Ian closer and closer to the edge. And damn did he take it good. Ian pushed his hips upwards, trying to push deeper, trying to draw louder sounds from the brunette.

It worked. Mickey fell forward on top of him, skin against skin, slipping and sticking sweetly. Ian took the opportunity to slid his hands back around the other man, grabbing hard at his perfect ass, driving upward as he planted his feet for leverage.

Fuckfuckfuckfuck,” Mickey chanted, slurred together; he gripped the edge of the mattress behind Ian’s head as he moved with him, legs clamping on either side of Ian, his whole body tensing beautifully.

“Like that?” Ian grunted. He pressed his mouth to the side of Mickey’s neck, kissing and mouthing at the skin there. He fucked up into him harder, gripping his ass, pausing only when he felt Mickey’s hand wedge between them so he could touch himself.

Mickey pressed his forehead, locking eyes, “Feel so fucking good.”

“Yeah?” Ian gasped; his whole body buzzed and lit up as Mickey kissed him, hard and sloppy, teeth nipping at his lips.

Then Mickey was sitting back, one hand pressing down on Ian’s chest, hips rocking to meet Ian’s thrusts. He let out a loud, “Ah fuck!” as his eyes closed tight. “Fuck, Ian! Don’t stop —fuck!”

Ian knew his grin was salacious, borderline smarmy, when he hit Mickey’s prostate. Mickey tightened around him, and Ian almost broke, letting out his own drawn out, loud moan, his fingertips digging harshly into Mickey’s ass cheeks. He’d probably bruise —then again, Ian didn’t really think Mickey would have a problem with that.

He watched Mickey tug at himself, watching him as he crashed with a painful gasp, back arching and bowing,like it was too much, like he couldn’t take it. But he could, and he did. Because this was Mickey, and Mickey could fucking take it.

That’s what pushed Ian over the edge, watching Mickey fall apart above him, watching and feeling him shake and gasp, watching dark brows twist in a relief that looked like the brunette had been waiting for for his entire life. Ian did that to the other man. He did that, and knowing he did that fucking broke him.

They were mess as they laid there afterwards. Ian’s chest heaved, trying to catch his breath; Mickey was in much the same state, a bag of bones on top of Ian, damp with sweat and hot breath that should have honestly been really uncomfortable, but Ian couldn't think of anywhere else he’d rather be, couldn’t even hold in the disappointed groan when Mickey slowly slid off of him and rolled to the side.

When they showered, they took entirely too long, couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. They kissed under the spray of water, and touched each other everywhere, washed each other —got on their knees for each other.

It wasn’t their last night together, but it was getting close. So Ian was taking advantage of the night, exposing those edges of himself to Mickey that he never let anyone else see. Because while yes, they did fuck all night… they also talked. They laid in bed, tangled up, touching and kissing and talking. For hours. Until eventually they fell asleep, Ian settling behind Mickey to wrap his arm around him, pulling him tightly against his chest. He smelled his hair and the back of his neck, dropping soft kisses and tracing little patterns over the brunette’s skin.

Another time, another place, another circumstance… Ian would have dropped everything for this man, that much he was sure of. But it wasn’t the time or the place —it certainly wasn’t the right circumstance right now either. Which was sad.

Almost felt like a missed opportunity. Not only was Ian sure that he loved Mickey —really fucking sure that he loved him. But he felt like he was missing the opportunity to have his own family. Yev was such a good kid, and so talented. The way he looked at Ian and Mickey together was so pure and almost like he was grateful, almost like he’d found that missing piece. Ian wanted all of that. He wanted Mickey. He wanted to be in Yev’s life, wanted to watch him grow into the man he would become.

Another time. Another place. Another circumstance. Just not this one. And it sucked.

 


 

Watching a stuffed bear being brought out from the basement was the most surreal thing Ian had ever witnessed, but here he was. Lloyd had a small army of movers to help him get the thing into a big truck. He handed Ian a very large cashiers check of seven grand —seven fucking grand— for the bear. In a funny little way, it was almost sad to see it go.

Then, as if on queue, right as Lloyd’s moving guys loaded up the bear and pulled out of the drive, David and Emily Miller pulled up to the house. Ian knew it was impossible, but when Emily slid out of their car, he could have sworn she looked even bigger.

They were a good looking couple. Cute, young, bright-eyed. David looked at Emily like she was the most fascinating creature on the face of the planet, helped her get out of the car, hand on the small of her back. Ian knew he didn’t know them, but he thought that maybe they’d be really good parents. They just had that look to them.

Ian stayed outside on the front porch while they looked through the house again. He could hear Emily’s excited laughing, explaining to David what she would like to do to the house, how she would like to decorate. It was hard not to be happy for them, even though it was bittersweet.

David and Emily looked around the house for about twenty minutes before they came out, Emily’s sweet face beaming with excitement, one hand cradling her belly. David has his arm wrapped around her shoulders.

“Mr. Gallagher, we’d like to buy your house,” David said.

“It just feels like home,” Emily told Ian. “It feels right.”

He smiled, couldn’t help it, “You two look good here.” It was true. The house had started out as a piece of shit, and although it wasn’t going to be featured in any kind of magazine… and it wasn’t exactly the prettiest or newest house Ian had ever seen… it was clean. It was given a new start. And it was exactly what this couple needed.

They quickly settled on a price for the house —a realistic price, given the young couple’s money situation. Ian knew he wasn’t going to bank on the house, but it was a decent enough chuck of change. David and Emily left shortly after that, and Ian left to go into town to talk to Jim Whitaker about what he needed to do.

Thankfully Jim knew the right people for the job. Ian didn’t really know what selling a house entailed, didn’t know the proper channels to go through, so he was a bit lost. But with Jim’s help, they took the proper channels and… in two weeks, David and Emily would be moving into their new home. Again, it was bittersweet.

While Ian was in town, he stopped by Sheila’s Diner. Breakfast for lunch —he was craving eggs and toast and bacon. God, he was going to miss that diner.

But he was surprised to see Yev sitting by himself at the counter. He had a big chocolate milkshake sitting in front of him while he nearly pressed his nose into his sketchbook as he drew. Ian’s heart sank a little, seeing the kid. He’d really grown to care about him, and leaving him was going to be hard.

Ian sat down next to Yev, “Hey.”

Yev tore his focus off of his drawing (it actually just looked like he was practicing shapes and shading, and folded fabric —whatever it was, it was good). “Oh hey Ian!”

Ian grinned at him, “Hanging out with Iggy?”

Yev nodded. “Dad’s got a few jobs in Belleflower, and he doesn’t like me at the house for the whole day by myself. He think’s I’m still a little kid.”

Ian opened his mouth to reply, but Sheila came over with her usual pot of coffee, “Well hello, sweetie! How are you?”

He grinned at her, “Hey —I’m good, how are you?”

She pulled a coffee cup from behind the counter and filled it up, scooting it towards Ian, “You know, I can’t complain today. What can I get for you?”

“Eggs, toast, and bacon?” Ian asked. “Please.”

She winked at him, “Coming right up, sweetie.” She then reached over and ran a hand over Yev’s tawny hair, “You need anything else, Yevy?”

The kid grinned at her, “I’m good, Miss Sheila.”

She gave him a wink as well before walking away.

Ian smirked at Yev, “You just got everyone in this town wrapped around your little finger, huh?”

Yev smirked right back, “Hell yeah.” That made Ian laugh. “What are you doing today?”

“Well,” Ian sighed. “I’ve been busy with stuff for my moms house… a couple is buying it.”

And just like that, Yev’s face fell, slowly melting from a curious, beaming grin to a soft, hurt face. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and all Ian wanted to do was take it back, but he couldn’t. Yev wasn’t one who easily kept his emotions off of his face; he was clearly upset by what Ian had said, even though he wasn’t verbalizing it.

Ian sighed heavy, planting his elbows on the counter. “Yev, I’m sorry… you knew that I wasn’t staying though, right?”

Yev nods, picking at the paper napkin on the counter, “Just kinda bullshit.”

“What’s bullshit?”

“I thought you liked my dad.”

“I do like your dad. I like him a lot.” Holy shit did Ian like Mickey —he loved him. Crazy as it sounded, maybe too fast, but Ian fell for the guy, and he fell fucking hard.

“Then why are you leaving?”

Ian doesn’t really know what to say. He hesitates, insides churning while he tries to pick his words carefully. “I have a whole life —my family— in Chicago.”

Yev shakes his head, but doesn’t look at Ian, “Still bullshit.”

In all honesty, he can’t argue with that. It just wasn’t the right time. He couldn’t just stay, no matter how tempting it was. “I know.”

“So are you just gonna leave, and that’s it?” Yev asked, his voice soft. He sniffed, rubbing the tip of his nose with the back of his hand. “Just forget about us?”

Ian frowns, “Of course not. I couldn’t ever forget about you two, I…” he trails off, not wanting to make it worse and say that he loves them.

He’s also reminding himself that this a thirteen year old boy, and to this boy, it should be the simplest of things for Ian. Yev doesn’t understand. Fuck, Ian hardly understands, himself. But his family… he couldn't just leave right now. He couldn’t just not go back. Besides, he’d already put everything in place for Emily and David to take over the house.

Yev pauses, then finally looks over at Ian; his eyes are a little glassy. His eyes are the same shade of blue as Mickey’s, and it kills Ian ten times over. It was bad enough to hurt Yev like this, but now it was like he was getting both of them looking at him at once.

“Might be better if you do,” Yev mumbles; he gets up from the counter, grabbing his sketch book roughly. Ian can’t get the words out, and before he can even think of something to say, Yev has already left the diner, and Ian’s food is being set in front of him. He wasn’t that hungry anymore.

 


 

It takes a few days to get Yev to warm back up. Ian doesn’t blame him, not in the least. Ian is stuck in this place of wanting to spend as much time as he can with Mickey and Yev, and also wanting to distance himself. But Ian being Ian —and Mickey being Mickey— distancing themselves doesn’t work out.

Ian drops by the Milkovich house  almost every night for dinner. He doesn’t spend the night though, he and Mickey agreed that it would probably make things worse for Yev. Even though Ian really wanted to spend more nights with Mickey while he had them, he completely understood.

So they stuck to hot, quick make-out sessions in Mickey’s shop, or fucking around in Mickey’s truck. Ian couldn’t stop kissing Mickey’s full mouth, couldn’t stop staring at his face, trying to remember every angle and freckle. Neither one of them knew what to do, neither one of them knew what the proper protocol was for this.

So many times Ian had to bite his tongue to stop himself from telling Mickey that he loved him. But he thought that maybe Mickey knew, maybe Mickey got the hint. From the way Ian clung to him and panted his name, and gave him small, casual touches whenever he could, Mickey had to know, right? There were times when Ian and Mickey would sit out on Mickey’s front porch and stare out into the night while they talked. A few times, Ian could have sworn that the brunette had to stop himself from saying those three words also. He could have sworn. The way Mickey looks at him, the way he says his name, the way he kisses him… you can’t fake that. Ian wasn’t faking it, and he didn’t think Mickey was either.

And then… the time came. Ian’s car was packed up. He held on tightly to the keys of the house, walking towards Emily and David Miller, who were anxiously waiting on the front steps of the home. Emily looked as though she were on the brink of tears, and how could Ian not feel something from that?

It was a short parting, Ian handing over the keys, watching them unlock the door for the first time before he got into his car.

To put it crudely, it was the final nail in the coffin. Not only was he driving away from Earnest, Oklahoma —a small town that he had grown to really love— he was driving away from Mickey. He was driving away from Yev. And he was driving away from his mother.

Ian cried as he drove. He had to pull over so he could breathe and calm himself downl ended up pulling over in nearly the same spot that Monica’s truck broke down. The spot where Mickey pulled up and this whole thing with him started.

He remembered how he freaked out, kicking the truck and curing his mother. He remembered all those times that she looked at him with her big I’m sorry Ian eyes. He remembered how she would hold his face and lok at him like he were the most important —right before she left, right before she abandoned him all over again.

He cried for his mother. She was a shit mother, but he missed her. He missed her a lot. He always did though, hated when he did, hated it every single time, but he couldn’t stop it, no matter how hard he tried. She was always… with him. She would always be imprinted in his life. It was probably like that for his brothers and sisters too. Mother’s are like that, doesn’t matter how shitty.

And then after composing himself, after drying his eyes and taking several deep breaths… he left. He drove out of Ernest. Mickey made him promise there wouldn’t be a sad goodbye between them —he made him promise that through a thick voice and heavy breath. He made him promise that through sad eyes. Mickey’s sad eyes were worse than Yev’s sad eyes. Mickey’s sad eyes almost convinced Ian that the entire world was ending, that every good thing in life was being snuffed out. Maybe it was.

It just wasn’t the time. Or the place.

So he left.

Chapter Text

One Year Later

 

It’s still. Very quiet in the morning. Ian scratches at his scruffy face with one hand, the other holding a steaming coffee cup. He weaves through boxes to get to his temporary desk: his trusty kitchen table that would be getting left behind. Lip would be there in a few hours to help him. He had time.

Ian clears his throat as he sits down in front of his computer. He sits. He waits. His stomach is in knots, excitement sending a thrill through his bones. As soon as the clock hit’s 7:30, he clicks a few buttons and sips his coffee, waiting for the call to be answered.

“Hey,” Ian's voice is still a little groggy from sleep.

Blue eyes look at him from the computer screen, a wide smile greeting him. “Hey you,” Mickey says. “All packed up?”

Ian nods, more butterflies swarming inside of him, “All ready to go.”

It’s been a year. Ian being Ian, and Mickey being Mickey… they couldn’t just leave it be. They couldn’t just walk away and have that be the end of it. It’s been a full year, and with the help of phone calls, Skype, and a couple visits to both Earnest and Chicago… they made it work. It hadn’t been easy, but it had been worth it.

“I love you,” Ian tells Mickey. He tells him that often.

Mickey’s smile doesn’t falter. Ian wishes he could touch him, wishes he could kiss him. Soon. “I love you too,” the brunette says; he tells Ian that often too. “You sure you wanna do this?”

Ian nods, “Absolutely.” He’s never been more sure of anything in his life.

“Good,” Mickey says. “Because you were gonna have to tell the kid if you wanted to back out.”

Ian chuckled at that, “I’m not backing out. I love you guys. I want this.”

Mickey’s smile softens; his eyes soften too. He’s beautiful. He’s always beautiful, but right now, early in the morning, his hair still a little rumpled, voice a little sleepy… that’s Ian’s favorite. That’s his Mickey. “We love you too.”

God, he was such a sap. Ian’s eyes sting a little, overcome with so much. It was going to be a big change, and his family had come around tot he idea of him leaving (not that they could’ve actually stopped him, and not that they tried to stop him, but they loved him, and Ian understood that it was just a natural reaction). “Can’t wait to see you.”

Mickey nodded, “Yeah, me too.”

Ian’s smile widened, teasing, “You miss me?”

Mickey rolled his eyes, “A little. Don’t let it get to your head.”

In the background, on Mickey’s end, Ian hears a door open; Mickey looks up and frowns hard. Ian knows that look, and he covers his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Yev missed the morning bus.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Mickey asks his son.

Yev’s voice in the background comes through, defending himself, “It’s Seagal’s fault!”

Mickey sighs loudly, ending in a drawn out groan. The Dad Sigh, as Ian has been calling it. Finally he looks back at Ian, his brows lifting when he catches Ian covering his mouth still to keep from laughing. “Call me when you get on the road, okay?”

“Is that Ian!?”

Mickey looks up again, away from the computer, “Yes, but you can’t talk to him right now, go get in the truck.”

“But, I want—”

“Boy, I swear to fucking god,” the corner of Mickey’s mouth fights to lift up in a lopsided smile. Ian almost missed it. The brunette is annoyed, but he’s got such a soft spot for his son, no matter how annoyed he gets. “Go!” Ian hears a drawn out groan, exaggerated and put out, before the sound of a door shutting ends the conversation.

Mickey looks back at Ian, “You sure you want this?”

Ian finally lets himself laugh, “I honestly can’t think of anything else in the world that I want.”

That get’s Mickey’s cheeks to tinge a little pink, but he huffs a laugh. “You’re an idiot.”

“But you love me,” Ian smirks.

Mickey nods, “Yeah. Yeah, I love you.”