Burn It All

Chapter One: Relax

Ian stared out of his window, across the house tops for as far as he could see out. He was supposed to be going swimming at the recreation center with Mandy today, but she had bailed on him because today Mickey was being released early from juvie. Ian had let her go alone this time. And when Mandy teased him about walking alone through a bad neighborhood, Ian laughed even though his memories brought on a sinking feeling in the pit of his chest. So Ian was stuck home with his feelings. Alone because everyone else was out doing whatever. Ian wasn't quite sure what.

He let go of the curtain and walked over to his dresser. The top drawer held his and Lip's goodie bag and pipe. Feeling especially drained mentally, Ian filled up the pipe and resealed the baggy. He hid the weed in the sock he'd taken it from, then shut the drawer and walked over to his bed. By the time he had finished off his bowl, Ian felt body heavy and light headed. He sat the pipe down beside of him on the bed and flung his arms up over his head, sprawled out and relaxed. Ian laid like that until his thoughts took him down a path he didn't much care for. The opposite effect he had been going for. When he finally sat up, the room pulsated around him. He stilled until he was able to stand and make his way across the hall and down the back stairs, to the kitchen. Ian's socks slid smoothly across the floor as he poured himself a, too large for him to actually finish, bowl of cereal. The cereal sloshed about in the huge popcorn bowl as Ian situated himself at the kitchen table and chowed down. Debbie would be pissed that Ian had eaten all of the Frosted Flakes again. Stopping mid-bite, Ian stared down at the bowl. A cluster of soppy flakes splashed back into the milk. Ian felt a little guilty. But it was too late now to put some of the cereal back into the box, which he had already thrown out anyway. Ian took the bite and figured he would just go to the Kash and Grab and buy Debbie another box after some of his high wore off.

It had actually been quite a while since Ian had smoked more than just a couple hits off of a joint from either Lip or Mandy. Once from Loyd. Much less an entire bowl all by his lonesome. So he was being hit pretty hard by his high, unexpectedly. This was because Ian had been working extra hard his last year in high school. Hadn't been screwing around. As Fiona and Steve liked to put it: Ian was getting his shit together and stepping up to being an actual person. That wasn't to say that Ian had gone straight edge. He had simply cut back on a lot of bullshit, like getting high too often, hanging around the clubs with Loyd, and getting involved with anything too illegal. Instead, Ian spent his time either at work, studying, at the gym, or hanging out with his brother or Mandy when he wasn't too exhausted and they were already busy. Ian wanted desperately to prove Frank wrong. Wanted to get into West Point more than anything.

Because of his dedication, Ian had gained a solid ten pounds of extra muscle and a growing knowledge in physics. His test scores still weren't high enough, though, and Ian was lately growing a little discouraged. He hadn't mentioned that fact to anyone other than Liam, who could barely piece together short sentences, much less rat out Ian. It was that sense of failure creeping up on Ian again, and he couldn't bare it. Ian was sick of feeling like second best. Sick of hearing people tell him nice try. Or better luck next time. And sick of seeing things he liked go away because he sucked at making a bad situation better. Really, he was just kind of sick of it all. His stress levels were far too high for someone who was barely about to turn eighteen. Loyd had blow Ian off and not in the preferred way. Mandy was too far up Lip's ass lately, and vice-versa, which left Ian to the wayside more often than not. And now Mickey was coming home, so Ian's still bleeding heart now had that to worry over. It seemed like Ian never caught a break.

Maybe Mickey would just stay away. The thought both helped matters and made Ian sicker.

His thoughts were all over the place. The high was sour. Ian frowned and jerked the half eaten bowl of cereal up to dump it down the sink. He didn't bother rinsing away the splashed milk and bits still floating around. Went back upstairs and fell asleep face down on the pillows of his messy bed.

He woke up later because Lip was making too much noise digging around in the closet. Groggy but finally sobered up, Ian pushed his top half up and pivoted to squint up at Lip. "What are you doing?" Ian slurred.

Lip stopped and looked over at Ian, his eyes flickering about with secrets. He said nothing and hurried to pull his shirt off without even bothering to unbutton. The garment sailed behind Lip, covering Ian's forgotten pipe, which had fallen from the bed and rolled away. Ian looked down at the shirt which was ripped. He noticed then that Lip had a black eye and a busted mouth.

Ian sat up fully and rubbed his face with both hands, sniffing up his sleepiness and clearing his throat. He scratched his chest once. "What the hell?" Ian asked, resting his hands on his knees, feet dangling from the bed. "Who did you get into it with?"

Pulling a shirt down from the closet, Lip turned around so that Ian finally saw the building bruises along his brother's side.

"Jesus!" Ian breathed.

"It's nothing," Lip said, but sounded far too angry for his words to hold any clout.

"Bullshit," Ian said, pointing at Lip's bruises even though Lip wasn't looking his way still.

Lip pulled the shirt over his head and turned around, frowning. "Fucking Mandy got pissed at me," Lip said bluntly. He stood there, hands on his hips, watching Ian's reaction.

Ian couldn't see himself, but figured the realization of what he assumed had gone on over at the Milkovich house showed. "Mickey?" he asked, nodding to Lip's bruises again, features twisting into anger.

"No," Lip said, "Mandy."

Confused, Ian rolled his eyes. "She does a lot of damage for a girl," he said.

"She's Mandy," Lip said, as if no more explanation was necessary.

Ian relaxed his face and cocked his brows, seeing his brother's point. He watched Lip pick up the pack of smokes from the dresser top and light one up. Lip blew smoke in Ian's direction and offered up the pack. Ian shook his head, waving away the offer. Shrugging, Lip tossed the pack back.

"What's she angry about?" Ian asked, curious because Mandy wasn't like her brothers; she only hit if she was boiling mad, whereas the Milkovich boys would hit out of boredom.

And when Ian watched his brother frown and look away, then try to play off his hesitation, he figured he already knew the answer. Like a match, Ian lit up, scowling. "Are you fucking serious?" he growled, reaching behind him to grab a pillow and chuck it at his brother's head harshly.

Lip dodged the pillow just barely. The cigarette he had in his mouth fell and scorched his bare foot through the thong of his flip-flops. The older boy cursed loudly and kicked at the offending cigarette. Then rushed to pick it up before it caught something on fire. He held the cigarette, looked at it in anger, then glared at Ian. "Watch what you're fucking doing!" he snapped, eyes wide and somewhat scary.

Ian stood up and towered over his brother. He had grown four inches tall than Lip, now standing at a solid six feet and four inches. He shoved at Lip's chest, still scowling, his brows draw together and his lips pursed. "No," he barked, "you need to watch what you're doing, Lip!" After Lip took a few steps back, fists ready, Ian huffed and shook his head. He looked pointedly at Lip, hoping to avoid an actual fist fight. That hadn't been his intention. Although in hindsight, Ian supposed shoving Lip hadn't been the best way to go about civil discussion. He grasped his hips and wetted his lips, gaining composure. "You're messing around with fire," Ian said, calmly. "Mandy's family is crazy. And you're crazy for getting that involved with her in the first place," Ian pressed, and when Lip tried to interrupt, spoke over top of his older brother, saying, "You're bat-shit insane to cheat on her with Karen! Don't get me started on the reasons for that," he finished, laughing bitterly as he said the last part.

"And you think Mandy doesn't fuck around on me?" Lip spat. "She sleeps with half of the fucking football team!"

Trying not to react, Ian walked past Lip, bumping into him and jarring his shoulder. As he walked out of the room to go take a piss and leave Lip standing there lamely, Ian said, "No. She doesn't. Mandy's in love with your dumb ass."

Such was the nature of the remainder of Ian's day. One argument after another. With literally each person in the household. Even Steve. Everyone was in a foul mood. Ian guessed it boiled down to the unexpected heatwave midway through April and lack of air-conditioning. That and the fact Frank was home again, pissing on everyone's parade.

It was about three days later, on Ian's way back from picking Debbie up from a friend's house near the lake, that he saw Mickey again for the first time.

Debbie's sleepover had ended with one of the other girls cutting her hair out of meanness, to which Debbie had beaten the fuck out the other girl. Thus causing the parents to phone Fiona at two in the morning. Fiona, who wasn't home. So Ian had gone to pick Debbie up because he had been the one to answer the call, and Lip was with Mandy. Somewhere. Hopefully apologizing. Ian was especially sore from the gym because he had pressed himself a little too hard. And Debbie was sniffling and crying because someone had called a dyke at the party. Ian pulled himself from his thoughts and looked down at his younger sister. Her hair was pinned up, but Ian could see how sort and choppy one side was. The makeup Mandy had helped Debbie put on for the party was running down her childish face. Ian watched Debbie tug at her frog pajamas while they walked the street. Getting air before taking her home had been Ian's idea. When he had seen just how upset that Debbie actually was, he figured maybe the night breeze off of Lake Michigan might make her feel better. After all, the shoreline was only slightly out of the way.

Ian glanced down at Debbie. "You're not a dyke, Debs," he said, gripping her shoulder and giving it a solid squeeze. "And so what if you were? Don't let people get to you so badly."

Debbie looked up at him, eyes bloodshot, and wiped at the mascara on her cheeks. "They cut my hair!" she wailed.

Ian sighed and told her Mandy could fix it. Either Mandy or Veronica, whoever Debbie thought would do a better job. That seemed to make Debbie feel a little better. As they walked, Debbie grabbed a hold of Ian's hand, surprising him a little. He looked to the side and grinned softly down at her, bumping her with his hip. "Cheer up," he said as they walked out onto the sand just barely, "at least you broke her nose."

That made Debbie smile, and Ian chuckled.

It was a cool night, despite the current random heatwave. The siblings stood there. Debbie let go of Ian's hand and wiped at her face until it was partly clean. Ian crossed his arms as he caught a chill, and rubbed at the gooseflesh on his forearms. He looked out at the body of water. Everything looked black mostly. The city lights lit up shoreline just enough. Ian lost himself in his thoughts. When he finally pulled his eyes away from the water to look down the expanse of sand, his gaze landed on the back of a figure sitting close to the water. He was sitting a few yards away, but still close enough to catch certain details. Ian was too far to make out much of the person he saw, but could tell that whoever the man was, he was smoking a cigarette. The smoke billowed around the man. Ian watched the guy flick his ashes and stretch out one of his legs. Relaxed. Or that's how it appeared. Ian envied the stranger. Lately Ian and relaxation were becoming distant.

A kid on a bike rode toward where Ian and Debbie stood. The light on the front of the bike flashed quickly, illuminating the sand and part of man Ian was watching. Stopping his ride, the kid drank from the water bottle by his hip. Ian kept his eyes trained forward, squinting at the stranger, who was unaware of the biker and the light. The stranger leaned down backward, onto his elbow. Slowly realization creeped up on Ian. The cigarette the man was holding was a rolled joint. And the man was Mickey. But just when Ian caught on, the kid and his biked moved on, and Mickey was swallowed in the darkness again.

Debbie tugged Ian's sleeve. "I'm sleepy now," she said. "Let's go home, Ian."

He tore his eyes away from Mickey and looked down at Debbie. She yawned. Ian's heart was racing now, and that sick feeling was back in his stomach. He nodded, mouth tight so as not to display his sudden emotions. And Debbie was immediately on the move. Ian trudged up to the road after her, only looking back over his shoulder once. Mickey had turned his head, staring, or so it looked. Ian had the strange feeling that Mickey saw him, recognized Ian. His stomach flipped when he looked away and crossed the street after his sister.

Ian slept horribly that night.