Lip sits in the car he's borrowed from Amanda and lights another cigarette. Normally he would never smoke inside somebody else's car, especially a nice one like this, but Amanda encourages him to because she wants her parents to smell it and think she's taken up smoking on top of everything else. She's a crazy bitch-Lip seems to have a special talent for getting involved with crazy bitches-but Amanda's particular brand of crazy kind of amuses him. And he gets it. He hates his parents too. If he had the time and nothing else on his plate, he'd probably get a few kicks trying to hurt Frank and Monica too, get back at them for everything they did (and didn't) do to their kids. Fucking Frank and Monica...
This, though. This might be the worst thing either of them had ever done, just passing down their fucking fucked-up genes. Not for the first time in his life, Lip wants to hunt them down and shake them with rage, demand to know why the fucking freaks ever thought it'd be a good idea to have fucking kids not even once or twice but six times over.
And here Lip had been jealous of Ian, thinking he got off easier than the rest of them, only being Monica's kid and not Frank's. The irony is not lost on Lip now. Maybe Ian could've used a little bit of Frank's cockroach DNA to protect him.
"Name a single time I've let you down." He'd said that once to Ian. And it had been a true back then. Ian couldn't name a single time his big brother had let him down. Lip knows it isn't true anymore. All the balls he's been juggling these past few months and this is the one he let drop. He'd managed to keep his scholarship and his work study job, keep the Gallagher household more or less running, keep Liam and Carl and Debbie and Fiona in groceries, gas, and electricity. He's even somehow managed to get himself a girlfriend and a couple thousand bucks in the middle of it all. But he's forgotten about Ian.
Somehow that had always seemed to be Ian's lot in the Gallagher family: to be the one easily overlooked. It was just after he was born that Monica split the first time, leaving six-year-old Fiona as the closest thing he had to a mother and Fiona already had her hands full taking care of Lip and Frank as well. Then when Monica finally came back, she and Frank started on the second wave of Gallagher kids, four-year-old Ian swiftly over-shadowed by the one-two punch of Debbie and Carl. Ian never really caught a break, stuck in the middle like that. It didn't help that he was always quieter than the rest of them. Lip had read somewhere once that babies in orphanages learn not to cry because their cries don't do any good when there's so many other babies to share attention with-Lip sort of thought that Ian maybe ended up so quiet because of something like that. There was always so much else to worry about; Ian usually ended up last on the list. He wasn't the youngest or the oldest or the first boy or the last boy or even the only redhead. And he stayed out of trouble which, in a family like theirs, unfortunately meant he didn't get much attention.
Fiona's attitude had always been that Ian was good at looking after himself so she didn't have to worry about him the way she did the others. And this was true, to a point. Ian did all right in school-not stellar, but good enough, and he generally flew under the radar. He was also disciplined-more than any of the rest of them-and his dedication to ROTC seemed a lot healthier than the various pursuits other neighborhood kids his age were drawn to. He'd held down the job at the Kash 'n Grab longer than any other Gallagher, adult or child, had ever held a job. He largely avoided trouble, helped take care of Debbie, Carl, and Liam, and had been making substantial financial contributions to their household since he was thirteen. As Fiona often said, "You couldn't ask for a better kid than Ian."
But Lip and Ian had a special relationship. Ian liked to say that they were best friends and that had been true, to an extent. But even as they were friends first, Lip never forgot that he was the older brother, the smarter one, the savvier one. He always kept an eye on Ian and tried to look out for him. That had been getting harder as they got older, though. At first Lip had blamed their growing distance on the gay thing-it was a part of Ian's life that Lip could never 100% understand and they both knew that. But, looking back, it was both of their romantic entanglements that had started driving the brothers apart. It had taken everything in Lip's power not to rat Kash out as the pedophile he was-he'd only held his tongue because he understood Ian would've probably stopped speaking to Lip if he had. So Lip kept his mouth (mostly) shut and seethed privately about it. By the same token, Ian's contempt for Karen was clear, as was his bias toward Mandy. Lip had sort of lost his mind over the whole Karen thing and he knows now, so many months removed from the situation, that he let his insane dedication to Karen eat away at his relationship with Ian.
Everything was so screwed up back then. When Ian had first dropped the bomb about his relationship with Mickey Milkovich and what had happened when Terry caught them, Lip had been horrified, but distracted enough by the business with Karen and Mandy that he let it go. He's been kicking himself for months that he didn't pay more attention, didn't suss out just how broken-hearted and obsessed Ian had become. But then Mickey had gotten married and Lip figured Ian would get over it and move on. He should've known that Ian's dedication would extend not just to physical fitness and studying for West Point exams, but also to love. There was never any chance that Ian was going to give up on Mickey Milkovich. Goddamit, Lip should have known that.
But there was other shit that took precedence. There's always other shit that takes precedence. Lip started getting admits into college, offers of scholarships. It was easy at that point to overlook the fact that Ian hadn't come back home from his ROTC retreat, that there had never even been an ROTC retreat. Lip was worried, sure. They all were. But Ian had sent regular texts that reassured them all. Lip told himself, as well as Fiona, who was worried sick, that Ian was just taking some much-needed time to find himself, to be his own person, not just one of those Gallagher kids. Lip assumed Ian wasn't all that far away-in Boys Town, maybe-exploring the gay culture, couch-surfing with the guys he met at the clubs, being a little irresponsible for the first time in his life. Lip had actually convinced himself that this would be good for Ian, that he needed this kind of break to get over that shitbag Mickey Milkovich. And Lip's nonchalance about Ian running away had been contagious. Pretty soon he got Fiona and Debbie and Carl on board with the idea that Ian was just having a bit of fun and would be back soon, same as ever. "He's having a little vacation," Lip had heard Fiona say to the kids after Ian had been gone for a month. It was a lovely thought and Lip was happy to pretend he believed it.
But then Ian had stopped sending or responding to texts. Lip should have done something right then. But he'd told himself that because Ian's phone was still in service it wasn't that big of a deal; he'd get back in touch when he was ready. College had been kicking Lip's ass, Fiona was fucking up in a dangerously huge way...It was easy to forget about Ian and for Lip to convince himself that Ian would be fine. Ian was a big boy, could take care of himself. But Lip knew that wasn't true. No matter how tall Ian got, no matter how many muscles he put on, he was still just a sweet kid inside. And that sweetness inside him was like chum to sharks. Frank had picked up on it, always choosing Ian to throw a punch at when he felt like picking on someone he knew would never really fight him back. Kash had sniffed it out too, and Ned Lishman. They'd sensed a vulnerable kid looking for somebody to love him, a father figure, maybe, and they'd taken full advantage of it. The thought of how readily Ian allowed them to do this made Lip feel sick.
Then those MP's had showed up at Lip's dorm and the information they let slip had made Lip feel a hundred times worse. None of what they told him sounded like Ian. Ian would never have risked anything happening to Lip's college chances by stealing his identity. Ian would never have risked his chance at officer's school by simply enlisting. Ian would never have risked his future in the military by stealing a helicopter or going AWOL. The Ian that Lip knew would never have done any of that. That was when the first bit of panic started to set into Lip's belly, the first bit of certainty that something was very, very wrong with Ian.
The next sign of trouble had been when Lip heard that Ian had been hanging out with Monica. That Ian would gravitate to Monica told Lip that something was not right. Then when Lip had seen the abandoned house where the two of them had been squatting, he knew things were much worse than he'd hoped. And then when he'd seen Ian at The White Swallow done up like, well, like a total faggot, and acting high as a kite, Lip had understood, with a sick certainty, that wasn't Ian. Something terrible had happened and turned Ian into someone else.
Lip had known then. He'd known from that moment that Ian was bipolar. He knew the whole time that Ian was back, flitting around the kitchen, running laps, talking a mile a minute, and making insane, absolutely insane, plans, that the ticking time bomb of Monica's fucked-up DNA had gone off inside Ian's beautiful, sweet head. They all had to have known on some level. Fiona, at least, surely knew as well as Lip did. But it was easier not to believe it. They all desperately needed not to believe it.
Lip told himself Ian had picked up a drug habit, coke or meth or something Lip didn't even know about that was popular in the gay clubs. The idea of Ian having a drug habit and just being high instead of fucking insane was so much more palatable. That could be fixed. And it would be fixed, Lip told himself, as soon as they got around to it. There were so many other fires that needed to be put out first. As usual, Lip thinks now with utter guilt, they'd put Ian's problems last.
Lip startles a little as he's unknowingly allowed his cigarette to burn down to his finger tip while he's been thinking about all this. He stubs it out and immediately lights another, glaring out at the Milkovich house where he knows Ian's lying in bed practically catatonic.
Mickey fucking Milkovich. That's who Lip let take on the burden of worrying about Ian through all of this. Mickey had been asserting his ownership of Ian since Ian returned to the Gallagher house. Mickey was practically inseparable from Ian. Never mind that Mickey had a nominal wife and a child at home and was supposedly not out of the closet; Mickey made no secret of his feelings about Ian within the walls of the Gallagher house. And Lip figured that if Mickey wanted to camp out in Ian's bed and follow him around everywhere like a puppy, Lip might as well let Mickey do all the worrying about Ian. The rest of them sure as hell had enough on their plates. Lip has assuaged his guilt about this somewhat by noting that Mickey's constant presence did, at least, seem to make Ian happy. And as long as Ian was happy enough, Lip could kick worrying about what was wrong with Ian a little further down the road. Let Mickey babysit Ian until Lip had ten minutes to deal with him.
Lip had heard about Mickey's spectacular announcement at the Alibi Room, of course-everyone in the neighborhood had been talking about it. And Lip had been impressed that Mickey at least seems to be just as obsessed with Ian as Ian is with him. And there doesn't really seem to be anything in it for Mickey, so that's a nice change. If Ian has to be in love with Mickey fucking Milkovich, at least Milkovich doesn't seem to be using him for something. If anything, Mickey seems to be risking a lot more to keep their relationship going. If Lip is totally honest and can set aside his dislike for Mickey long enough, he has to admit he's kinda moved by that. Neither Lip nor Fiona have ever been in a relationship with someone who was willing to make sacrifices like that for them. That's some Kev and V kinda shit. Good for Ian.
But Lip is too cynical to be moved very long by this thought. Instead he just keeps focusing on the fact that Mickey is 19, Ian is 17, and lovesick as they might be, they're still both just dumb fucking kids who don't have a fucking clue about fucking anything. God help Mickey Milkovich if he thinks he can just wait out Ian's mental illness or just love it away or whatever he had told Fiona. And God help Ian if Mickey's the best medical care he's got. All the declarations of love in the world don't fix shit.
Lip lets himself out of the car, stubs out his cigarette under his boot in the gray slush of the street and makes his way up to the Milkovich house. Mandy had told him he'd only have an hour or two at best before Kenyata got back, so time is tight. He's already wasted too much of it brooding and kicking himself in the ass.
Mandy keeps her eyes low as she lets Lip in and he notices that she has a fading bruise across the side of her face. He starts immediately to say something, but she turns away from him and Lip decides this is for the best. For the moment, anyway. Right now he's got to put Ian first.
Mickey's sleeping sitting up in a chair beside the bed, his arms crossed over his chest defensively. He bolts awake as Lip enters the room.
"Jesus Christ, Gallagher, knock why don't you?"
Lip gives a terse half-smile in apology and tries to keep his face from giving away how bad the room stinks. Then he realizes that it's not the room that stinks; it's Ian. He smells exactly like what you'd think a seventeen-year-old boy who hasn't gotten out of bed in three days would smell like. It's all sweat and must and filth. Lip breathes through his mouth as he walks around the bed and squats in front of Ian. To Lip's surprise, Ian is awake, eyes wide open. He gives no sense of recognition that Lip is there.
"Hey," Lip says softly, "How ya doin'? I hear you're not feelin' too good."
Ian says nothing. He does move his eyes, though. He moves them down and away from Lip.
"Okay," Lip nods, "Okay. You don't gotta look at me."
He stands up and ignores Mickey who's hovering like a mother bird. Lip eases down to sitting position on the mattress and can't help but make a face at just how bad it smells.
"Yeah," Mickey says, "He's a little ripe."
"Hear that?" Lip says, tapping Ian's back. "Your boyfriend thinks you stink. Probably wanna take a shower soon."
Mickey's still hovering and Lip sighs as he looks over at him. Lip didn't think it was possible for Mickey Milkovich to look any rougher than he normally does, but he looks like total shit. It's obvious he hasn't been sleeping or leaving the house much; He looks pale, dirty, and exhausted. Fiona and Debbie have reported that he's been there every single time they've stopped by and Mandy said she's starting to worry about Mickey as much as Ian.
"Why don't you go take a break, huh?" Lip says, "Go get something to eat. I'll be here with him."
Mickey hesitates, looking from Ian to Lip and back again. Then he nods and touches Ian's hip lightly. "I'm leaving for a few minutes but I'll be right back, all right? I'm coming right back, Ian. I'm not goin' nowhere, just the kitchen. I'll be right back."
Mickey bites his lip, looks to Lip once more as if judging whether or not it's okay to leave him with Ian, then he rubs his palms into his eyes tiredly and leaves the room.
Lip sits for a bit, watching the almost imperceptible movement of Ian's breathing, and trying to figure out what to do. After a while, he just starts talking, as if he's holding a real conversation with Ian despite getting no response from him. Lip talks about school, about what a crazy bitch Amanda is but all the things she's bought him and how he's actually maybe starting to like her. He tells Ian about Debbie dating but not dating a guy who's older than both of them, about how Lip's pretty sure Carl had his first heartbreak, about how Fiona's doing so much better and working uptown as a waitress and attending AA, NA, and Al-Anon. "Pretty sure she's saying the Serenity Prayer in her sleep," he laughs.
Ian gives no response to any of this, but Lip knows, or hopes, some part of him is listening anyway.
"I miss you," Lip tells him, surprised to hear his own voice saying this out loud. But it's true and finds himself going on. "Listen. I know you're not stupid and you're not deaf and you can hear everything that everyone's been saying. You know we're worried as shit about you. But I want you to know that nobody thinks you're crazy. You're not crazy. And you're not Monica either. I don't know what happened to you when you went to basic...if somebody did somethin' to you or, or you just didn't like it or you didn't feel like yourself or whatever. But that doesn't matter now. You're home now and everybody here loves ya and we're just really happy to have you back."
Lip pauses and rubs Ian's shoulder which seems broader than he remembers it being. The kid seems to get taller every time Lip sees him-it's getting ridiculous. Ian rolls away slightly, though, away from Lip's touch. Lip folds his hands in his lap.
"Anyway," he continues, "I just wanted to say that I know it all seems pretty pointless right now, but eventually you're gonna feel like getting up again and then you will and then it'll be better. We'll getcha whatever you need and things'll get better. I promise."
Ian mumbles something and it takes Lip a second to decipher it. "Please leave me alone."
"Okay," Lip says, "Okay. I'll shut my big mouth now."
He sits for a moment, looking over Ian's pale, sticky skin, part of that tattoo he's gotten visible just at the top of the covers. It's an eagle and a rifle, or something. Lip hasn't really gotten a good look at it yet. He wonders if Ian's gonna regret it someday, and all the memories it carries with it.
Then, knowing if he doesn't say it now he's never gonna say it, Lip leans over and whispers in Ian's ear. "I'm sorry I let you down. I'm so sorry, Ian. I don't think I'll ever stop hatin' myself for that."
Ian doesn't acknowledge him and Lip sits back. Mickey returns then, carrying a plate with a sandwich on it and a half-full bottle of gatorade. "Gotcha some PB and J, man," he announces as cheerfully as if there's nothing at all wrong, "with the strawberry jelly 'cause I know ya don't like Mandy's grape shit."
Lip stands up from the bed and Mickey moves past him, kneeling down in front of Ian with the food. "And I gotcha some juice 'cause your lips are gettin' all dry and nasty. You gotta drink somethin. I don't want that shit on my dick, ya know?"
As Lip edges back toward the door, Mickey continues chatting one-sided until he looks over Ian and notices that Lip is leaving. He acknowledges him with a bit of a head tilt. "Hey, take care, man."
"I gotta go now, Ian," Lip says, "Or that big black fucker's gonna have my ass. I'll be back soon, though, okay?"
When Ian doesn't respond, Mickey gives a little shrug and continues talking at him and Lip makes his way out. He doesn't stop to talk to Mandy and later won't even remember how he got down the front steps and across the street. But then he's there and he's kicking a pile of frozen, gray snow and screaming inarticulate obscenities. He kicks and screams until until his throat is raw and he's pretty sure he's sprained a toe or three. Then he stops finally, panting, and wipes the snot from his nose with the sleeve of his coat. He runs the back of his hand over his damp eyes and throws himself into the car.
He breathes for a couple of minutes and, when his hands are less shaky, he lights another cigarette and starts to compose himself. He's gotta get it together so he can go home and tell Fiona and Debbie and Carl and Liam that everything's going to be all right. He's gotta get it together for them. And for Ian. He ain't gonna let Ian down ever again. He's still his brother. He's still his best friend.