Lip kisses him because he wants to.
Because he’s drunk.
Because he’s leaving tomorrow.
Because he’s felt Sully’s eyes on him all summer and sometimes you can convince yourself a bad idea is a good one when you’re curious enough about what the outcome will be.
They’re stumbling home.
They’re stumbling home – to their respective homes, not to the same home – and they’re holding each other up and Lip thinks distantly about all the packing he still has to do, if shoving clothes in a garbage bag can be considered packing. He’s sweating through his t-shirt where Sully leans heavily against his side, though, and that feels more important.
His arm is wrapped around Lip’s shoulders and his head rolls lazily with every step, knocking against Lip’s neck like it’s about to come loose from his body. He smells how Lip imagines someone drenching a construction site in alcohol would smell.
And he doesn’t know how he gets inside Sully’s house or why he’s watching him down a glass of water in the dark, messy, quiet kitchen, or why he hasn’t left yet or why Sully’s eyeing him with the same look he’s been tossing Lip’s way for weeks.
Soft. Playful. Interested.
Maybe he does know the answer to that last one.
“I gotta bounce, dude,” Lip says, the words uneven, like his mouth’s thinking faster than his brain. He doesn’t want to but knows he should so he takes a step towards the door and ends up tripping over his own shoe. The corners of Sully’s eyes crinkle when he laughs.
He says, “Yo, you can crash here if you wanna.”
It’s as much of an invitation as he’s ever going to get from a guy who once watched Lip almost drop a steel beam on his foot; he hesitates for half a second and shakes his head.
Sully shrugs and turns away to put his cup in the sink. Lip follows the line of his back through his shirt. His fingers twitch.
“Hey,” Lip says, moving unsteadily closer to him. He feels dizzy. “Hey, listen, uh.” He clears his throat and touches the back of his own neck and makes a decision, but before he can act on it Sully crashes their lips together.
His mouth is warm and Lip makes this involuntary surprised humming sound and stays still for exactly a beat before leaning into it, kissing back. There’s a joke to be made – “This why you were shovin’ all those beers at me?” – but when he opens his mouth Sully fills it with his tongue. And then he pulls away.
They stare at each other for a long moment and Lip’s mouth keeps forming shapes of words he doesn’t, or can’t, say. He’s breathing like he just ran eight miles and Sully’s pupils are blown wide. They’re too close.
Sully coughs. “Was that—?”
“No,” Lip says nonsensically, and surges forward.
There’s nothing gentle about the way Lip kisses him. It’s sloppy and ugly and almost like fighting, the way Lip likes it.
His arms hang uselessly at his sides, Sully’s body lined with unfamiliar hard muscle, but he wants to touch so he does, hands dipping under the hem of Sully’s shirt to grab at his waist. Sully slides his fingers through Lip’s sweaty hair, grinding their hips against each other, and from there it’s like floodgates breaking open.
Sully’s pushing him up against the counter. Sully’s tugging his shirt over his head. Sully’s sealing his mouth over the tattoo below his collarbone. Sully’s undoing his pants. Sully’s getting on his knees. Lip’s gasping, reverently, “Oh, fuck.”
Lip fumbles for purchase behind him, his legs shaking as he comes too quickly, and their eyes meet and his chest aches and he wants and he’s scared.
Sully shoves a hand down the front of his jeans, his head falling forward to rest against Lip’s thigh as he jerks himself off. Lip watches, paralyzed.
“Lip, man, we don’t have to make this all weird.”
“Think that line’s already been crossed.”
Sully grins and steals his cigarette. “Nope.”
He wakes up with a pounding headache, eight missed calls, and a boy’s leg touching his own.
Lip rolls over in a bed that is not his own and knows he made a mistake somewhere along the way and only regrets how much he doesn’t regret it. He scrubs a hand through his hair and hovers over Ian’s name in his contacts for a long moment before tossing his phone away into the mess of sheets.
Sully stirs as he’s pulling his jeans on, blinking up at him groggily. He folds an arm behind his head and smiles. “Have fun learnin’ shit, college.”
“Right, and, uh, you have fun seein’ Tommy’s ugly fuckin’ face every day,” Lip says, and when Sully laughs he wants, wildly, to kiss him again. He presses a hand to the top of his head and kneads at his scalp, like if he scratches hard enough he’ll be able to break skin, to reach inside and grab the thought and pull it out and leave it behind in this room. “I’ll. I’ll call you whenever I’m back around, yeah?”
“For sure. It was a good time.” Sully yawns and presses his face into his pillow, back to sleep before Lip’s even out the door.
He steps out onto the porch and lights a cigarette, feeling dirty and satisfied, like he’s fucking suffocating.
He almost tells Fiona.
He doesn’t tell Fiona.
Maybe don’t mention last night to anyone
wasnt my 1st rodeo dude i no the drill
Lip stares at the text until the words start to blur. He shoves his phone in his pocket and tips his head back against cool metal, neither the confirmation nor the rocking of the train doing much to quell the twist in his gut.
He goes back to school and Ian steals a baby and Fiona gets married and Carl gets arrested and life doesn’t slow down long enough for him to think about it.
Until it does.
But by then he can't really remember much. Or that's the easy thing to tell himself.
Amanda sits in her underwear at the end of his bed with her laptop resting on her delicately folded legs. He likes her legs. And her tits. And her soft hair and her too-big glasses and the shit she buys him and the comfort her presence brings him. (The two, sometimes, are synonymous.)
“I’m fuckin’ stoned,” he says.
“Well, thank god for small miracles,” she says with an uninterested glance up from whatever is so important on her screen. His eyes narrow. That’s what he doesn’t like about her: when she speaks to him like she’s smarter, when she looks at him like he’s not worth her time, which she is and he’s not but fuck, does she have to remind him so fucking often?
“You think—” He cuts himself off, stretching a hair tie she’d left on his desk between his fingers. “You know when you really love a movie, like, your favorite movie, and you’ve seen it a million times and you know it by heart, down to what this person’s gonna say at this part and that person’s gonna say at that part, and it’s fucking great, but then one day you watch it and you see somethin’ totally new? Like, you know this movie, you know you know it, but there’s this thing that's never been there before. And it’s confusing as hell, and you sit there wonderin’, like, when the fuck did they add that line or since when is De Niro’s shirt red? You know?”
She looks at him again, bored, like she’s about had it with his bullshit. He doesn’t blame her. “I know that if you tell me your favorite movie is Meet the Fockers I’ll kick you off this bed.”
“Not a Scorsese fan?”
“Call me when he writes a well-rounded female character.”
“But seriously. You know what I’m talking about?”
“We’re back to this?” She sighs, sanctimonious and only a little fond. “Maybe you need to watch some new movies.”
“Maybe.” He drags a hand down his face and yawns, shaking his head. “I feel like I’m losin’ my fuckin’ mind.”
He can hear her giggling and cracks an eye open, frowning. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No,” she lies. “Never.”
He types half-texts to Ian that he never sends or even finishes —
When did you know
Were you ever
I’m sorry I
I think I might
— but the timing never seems right, so.
(Flimsy excuse after flimsy excuse.)
Lip Gallagher is good at logic and certainties and answers.
Lip Gallagher is not good at gray areas and messiness and impossibilities.
Sexuality, as it happens, falls closer to the latter category.
He’s never been someone to hide what he’s feeling because he’s never seen the point. It's not how he was raised. It runs in his fucked up blood to fling himself wide open, to climb on top of roofs with a megaphone and announce his problems to the entire world. It’s who he is, it’s who they all are.
Fucking parasite family they are. Fucking parasite person he is.
Sully isn’t the last because of course he isn’t. Because a drunken isolated event would just be too simple. Because he did something insane and he wants to do it again. It’s like a candle burning within him, hot and insistent, always there, reminding him that he’s not who he thought he was, not one bit.
There are a few dudes at a few parties, and that’s what Lip’s life is now — non-conversations and coming in another guy’s palm and telling himself he’s just drunk as he runs his hands over a hard, flat chest.
He’s fantastically out of his element — how is it even possible to very confidently have an idea of yourself and then all of a sudden watch that idea shatter like glass? Has this always been there, below the surface, quiet, hiding, waiting to emerge and shake up everything he’s ever known?
He’d asked Ian once, “Do you get used to that? Can someone get used to that?” and he remembers it as he lets a guy from his English class press him up against the wall of a dorm he doesn’t recognize, a sick laugh sitting unreleased at the base of his throat.
“He’s stayin’ here for a while,” Fiona tells Lip over the phone. There’s water running so he has to strain to hear her already hushed voice. He can picture her washing the dishes, hair pulled back, yawning into her shoulder, long day wearing on her.
He flips through his Human Physiology textbook idly and, doing nothing to hide his distaste, asks, “Mickey there, too?”
Fiona hears it like he knew she would and sighs at him like he knew she would. “Thought you were givin’ him a break.”
Lip shrugs, forgetting she can’t see him and feeling too much like the defiant teenager he’s never really grown out of. “Didn’t say it to his face, did I?”
She huffs again and the handle squeaks as she turns the water off. He braces himself for the speech that will inevitably follow. “I know you have your shit with Mickey,” she starts, an authoritative note in her voice she still tries to use on him sometimes, and he settles in, “but he’s not a bad guy, all right? Loves Ian just as much as we do. Been helpin’ Carl out with his homework, too, makin’ sure he actually goes to school every day, gettin’ Ian to take his meds. He’s here, Lip, and he’s helpin’ us a lot.”
He’s here. Lip knows she doesn’t mean it the way he takes it – Fiona wants him in school more than anyone, more than Lip himself, probably – but it still hurts a bit, and he rests his forehead on his hand, squeezing his eyes shut. “Yeah,” he says simply, not up for an argument for the first time in his life. “Right.”
A long pause passes and he listens to her breathe into the phone and wants to say so much to her. “Come visit soon. If you got time, you know?” And she adds, because she’s Fiona, “He needs you, too.”
“He doesn’t answer my texts.”
“Cut him some slack.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
“What, the sound of my reluctant agreement?”
“No, myself winning. Doesn’t happen a lot these days, but when it does, shit, it's nice.”
He hangs up on her. A few seconds later his phone buzzes with a text from Fiona: yellow heart emoji, book emoji, little boy holding little’s girl’s hand emoji, sunglasses emoji, toilet emoji.
On Friday, he shoves his dirty clothes into a beat-up backpack that used to be Kev’s, takes Amanda’s car, and turns onto Wallace Street just as it starts to drizzle. He hasn’t been back of his own volition since the semester started and it doesn’t quite feel like coming home anymore, but he has no idea what the hell else to call it.
Ian’s on the couch when he walks in, Liam dozing at his side, his head resting on Ian’s chest while Ian watches Judge Judy on low.
They look at each other and Lip nods at the TV as he shrugs his jacket off, raising an eyebrow. “Hi, Grandma.”
Ian shrugs. “Liam’s on the remote.”
Lip goes to the kitchen for a beer and sits on Ian’s other side. They watch TV in companionable silence, like they’re fifteen again and no time has passed. He spares a glance at Ian and is relieved when he notices that he’s looking a bit more like himself. He’s still a little too thin and the same deep purple bags that were under his eyes when Lip picked him up from the hospital weeks ago are still there, but he seems clearer. Stable. Not better but getting there. For the first time in a while, Lip recognizes him.
He has the overwhelming urge to haul Ian into their old room, roll a joint, and tell him everything, but he forces it down and asks, “Where’s everyone at?”
“Fi’s working late, Debs’ babysitting for Kev and V. Carl’s upstairs, if you wanna see him.”
Ian bites the inside of his cheek, his face falling almost imperceptibly. “With Yev.”
“Why aren’t you —” He stops talking abruptly; the question answers itself. Ian picks at a loose thread on his sleeve. Lip can pinpoint the exact moment he closes off.
“Carl’s upstairs,” he says again.
Lip swallows. “Came to see you.”
Ian looks at him, eyes wide and open in that hideously honest way that makes him look so young. “What’s up?”
Lip smiles desperately. He breathes out of his nose and looks at his brother and can’t stop himself from saying, blunt, “I think I might be into dudes.” Ian snorts loudly enough to make Liam shift in his sleep. Lip punches him in the arm. “What, dickhead?”
“What the fuck are you talking about,” Ian says, pausing between every other word to interrupt himself with his own giggles. “Jesus Christ. Some people just ask how I’m doing.”
Lip’s hands ball into defensive fists. “It’s not a fucking joke, okay?” He doesn’t even think Ian can hear him over how hard he’s trying to stifle his laughter; Lip glares at the wall. “I’m not kidding,” he says when Ian finally shuts his fucking mouth. “Asshole.”
Ian sobers, his entire face seeming to fall into a frown, and he shakes his head. Neither of them speaks for a long moment. “Bullshit,” he finally says. By his tone, Lip feels like he’s being quizzed, like if he gives the wrong answer he’ll lose a game only Ian seems to understand the rules of. “Wait, what?”
“I don’t know,” Lip says, quiet. He sits up and pulls a crushed pack of Marlboros out of his back pocket, lighting one with a trembling hand. “Haven’t really figured it out yet, but I think – I don’t know, all right? I don’t know.”
“You’re fucking with me,” Ian says, his eyes narrowed skeptically. “Are you sick or something?”
“No, like — dead-ass, man. Why would I lie about this?”
Ian shrugs, still frowning apprehensively. “You’ve lied about weirder shit.”
He worries his bottom lip between his teeth and says, “Okay. Okay.” He takes a pull from the bottle and talks: about Sully and the guy at the party and the other guys at the other parties and how it all just sprung up and won’t go away, about the nights he’s spent lying awake in bed trying to reconcile within himself that he has no idea who the fuck he is anymore. It’s the most he’s said to Ian in — Jesus, who even knows when, and it feels good and unnerving and heavy.
Ian listens with rapt attention for a long time, and then Lip stops talking and the only sound is of the rain beating against the windows, the muted hum of the TV, Carl stomping around upstairs. Lip pushes the beer at Ian for lack of anything else to do and he takes a grateful sip, eyebrows knit together.
“This fucking family,” Lip mutters, breaking the quiet. He rubs a hand harshly over his scalp. “We’re like a soap opera.”
“Jailbirds, crazies, queers, drunks, we got it all,” Ian says. Their eyes meet. Lip misses him even though he’s right here. “I can’t fucking believe this. I can’t fucking believe you didn’t tell me.”
“You had shit going on. Anyway, look who’s talking.”
“Come on, don't do that.”
“I’m just saying.”
“You tell Amanda?”
“I haven’t told anyone except you.” Lip smirks unhappily, familiar uneasiness settling into the pit of his stomach. “I don’t even know what I’d say.”
“Maybe something like, ‘hi, my name’s Lip Gallagher and I’m having a big bisexual crisis,’” Ian says, his face splitting into a wry smile. “God, that’s weird.”
Lip cocks his head. “We’re labeling me?”
“Nah. We don’t have to. Wait, fuck, are you gonna start dating guys?”
“Holy shit, will you slow your roll?”
“You’re right, you can barely hold down a girlfriend.”
Lip shrugs. He can't really argue.
“I didn’t even know, I mean, how is it possible to just, all of a sudden —” He trails off and Ian’s eyes soften, or maybe that’s just how he always looks. “I’m so used to knowing everything,” he says, and feels sheepish the moment the words leave his mouth. Ian just looks back at him, patient and a little sad.
“Sexuality’s weird,” Ian says simply, as if anything about this is simple.
Lip asks, small-voiced, “Did you know? Right away?”
Ian looks surprised, and Lip realizes it’s the first time he’s bothered to ask him a question like this. The first time he’s ever asked him a question about his sexuality that wasn’t judging or patronizing or invasive. Lip is a piece of a shit.
“More or less,” Ian says, shrugging one shoulder. “I kinda thought something was up when you started talking about how hot girls at school were and it made no sense to me. Figured it out for myself eventually.” He shakes his head, marveling at Lip like he's never seen him before. “God, I wish like, sixteen-year-old could hear this shit.”
Lip snorts, pathetic. “He’d fall the fuck over.”
“He’d start askin’ you stupid questions, like, how is it possible and guys’ bodies weren’t made to do that and — oh, wait,” Ian says sarcastically, and Lip winces. “That’s what you did to me.”
“I mention I’m sorry for that lately?”
“Well.” Ian doesn’t say anything back, so he clears his throat and asks, “So — bisexual?”
Ian pauses now, eyes Lip curiously for a second. “That’s for you to figure out. Doesn’t hurt to say it, though.” His expression goes mock-serious. “Possible bisexual,” he says, the ghost of a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth as he gestures to Lip and then to himself, “definite bipolar.”
“Dumbass,” Lip says, affectionate, because he’s one, too.
Ian hums noncommittally, like he agrees, and starts to smile again.
“Nothing. I just like getting to be the smart one for once.” He slants a little grin Lip’s way, the kind Lip hasn’t seen since they slept up in that bedroom and there was no college or pills or live-in boyfriends. He slides an arm over Ian’s shoulders.
“First and only time in your life, dude. Soak it up.”
“Oh, believe me, I will. Gonna hold on to this moment.” He laughs a little and says, “So how’s it feel to be a member of the very exclusive Gallagher Family Faggot Club?”
“Depends. You guys got t-shirts?”
“‘Course. Rainbow colored.”
“‘Course. In that case, feels pretty good.”
“Glad to have you,” Ian says, just a little too sincere, and leans against him.
Lip smiles, warmed.