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The passing of Frank Gallagher

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Lip looks at the smoking car and wishes the fire brigade had not arrived this fast. He looks around him and smiles. His family is happy right now. Sure, Debbie is still at war with him, Mickey is still an asshole and things are still at odds financially for him. But right now, right this instant, they’re happy. There’s no feud, no covid, no shit hitting the fan. They’re all smiling and singing around the flames that consume everything that represents what they’ll never have. And it doesn’t matter, because the only one crying at this moment is the owner of the car, shouting instructions to the fireman like somehow the man whose job it is didn’t already think of spraying more water over the dying flames. Lip even thinks he spotted Carl and Mickey bust some dance moves in the corner of his eyes. He’s about to look closely and confirm it, if only for having something to throw in Mickey’s face when needed, when he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket.

Fiona. Ok. Odd. She’s called Ian and Mickey earlier this evening for the congrats bullshit. One year married, ha! He can’t say he’d bet on them to be honest.

“Hey, Fi!”

“Hey, listen, the hospital just called me.”

“What? What hospital? Hold on it’s too noisy here.” He moves to the side street in a few strides, covers his free hear with his hand.

“What’you speaking about Fi?”

 “The hospital called me. Must have been listed as emergency contact somehow. It’s Frank, Lip. He’s dead.”

There’s a silence. Lip is silent because he realises, he doesn’t know how to feel. He figures, maybe it’s the same for his sister. Fiona is the first one to break silence.

“I’m flying over tomorrow, found a flight that lands at O’Hare at 10:25. Should be at the house at around 12.”

“You know you don’t have to, right?”

“I know, Lip.” There’s a beat. She knows what he means. He means they don’t need her to sort the technical stuff out. Although he’d be lying if he said he wouldn’t be happy to have his big sister here with him. Moral support or whatever else you wanna call it.

“Ok, I’ll ask someone to come and pick you up.”

“Not necessary Lip. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lip hangs up, mechanically puts his phone back in his pocket and walks a few steps to take a look at the scene he left a few minutes ago. The fire has diminished but not the clamour. They’re all still laughing, singing. Even more people are dancing. Lip wants to smile at the south side improvised party that Frank would have loved, but he cannot.

He feels… odd. Here but not here at the same time. He doesn’t feel sad. He doesn’t feel happy either. But he feels something, something he can’t put his finger on. Like the feeling doesn’t really have a name. He looks at the family scattered on the street among other people he wouldn’t call his family but has known his all like.

Lip ponders his next action. He realises that the next person he’s gotta tell is Mickey. He wishes he could tell Ian first. But he also knows the reality of the situation. He’s not sure how hard Ian is going to react, and he needs Mickey to be alert just in case. He gets fucking pissed off at the thought of Ian spiralling because of Frank but he guesses that’s just the way it is.

Next, they gotta tell Ve, she’s gonna help. And he’s gotta tell Tami too. He realised he needs emotional support too. He’s kind of upset about that fact.

Lip takes a deep breath through his mouth while looking for Mickey in the crowd. He spots him but doesn’t move. He grabs his cigarettes pack in his back pocket, pulls one out and the lighter that had dropped at the bottom of the half empty pack. He lights the stick and pulls on it a little more forcibly than necessary.

He finds Mickey who is looking straight at him. This is this creepy Milkovich 6th sense that makes them aware when someone is looking for them. Mandy had the same. Fucking Milkoviches.

Mickey gets to Lip in a few strides. Lip is already annoyed with the scowl his brother-in-law is sporting.

“What’s up with you?”

“Frank’s dead.”

“Oh shit! Sorry man!”

“Yeah. I don’t know… It was Frank, you know.”

“Tell me about it! Ian knows?”

“No, Only Fi. The hospital called her, then she called me.” Lip watches Mickey lighting the cigarette he just extracted from his packet. They are silent for a moment, Mickey’s gaze scanning the crowd for red hair and green eyes, like on autopilot. Lip stares at the floor, eyes fixed onto nothing.

“She flies out tomorrow morning.”

“Huh?” Mickey looks at him with a blank expression, stillness only broken by the movement of his hand bringing his cigarette to his mouth, somewhat blended into the background. Even the incandescent tip of his cigarette seems foggy compared to the luminous blue and the expression in the eyes now starring straight at him. No wonder Ian is fucking addicted. Lip has visions of Mandy coming to his mind. He wills them away, quickly.

“Fiona, she’s landing at O’Hare at 10, tomorrow.”

“Ok. You want me to pick her up or some shit?”

“No, no, she said she’d get home on her own.” Lip considers the offer. He knows it was an offer. Whether they get along or not, they’ve known each other for long enough. They’re family, Ian is right.

“I guess it’d be easier. If you can.” Mickey’s eyes are back on Ian. Who, himself is looking for his husband.

“Yeah, if I can.” They finish their cigarettes in silence.

Mickey throws his cigarette butt with a flick of his thumb. His head turned to the crowd, still.

“You ok?” Lip snaps out of his own thoughts. He wasn’t expecting Mickey to ask about how he felt. But he heard right, Mickey is actually asking how he feels. And, well he doesn’t really know how he feels. Maybe Mickey knows how he feels. Lip hears a low chuckle, coming from deep in Mickey’s throat.

“Bin there not so long ago, man. You ain’t happy, you ain’t sad, but you’re… something” He throws his right hand up in the air out of frustration, maybe? “You just don’t know what.”

Lip agrees. He doesn’t know what he feels.

 

*

 

In the end, Lip decides to let the party wear out. He tells Ve, she doesn’t tell Kev. He tells Tami. She hugs him and somehow, he feels better. Lip breaks the news, when everyone is back at the house. The reactions are what he expected.

Carl

The gun barrel is hot, Carl burns his thumb on it. He doesn’t really care. What he cares about is that he thinks he’s upset that Frank died. He can’t really be sure. He’s never sure when it comes to feelings. He gets anger. He gets love too. Maybe a little too much he thinks. But all these feelings in between, he’s never sure. Only when it’s obvious. When Debbie hit on Kelly, he understood the jealousy he felt, it was strong. And Debbie had not been subtle, that had helped to push his feelings to their paroxysm.

But what he’s feeling right now, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t understand. So, he does what he understands. Action. Hit on something, shoot at something. He’s southside, he guesses that’s why the action he’s drawn to is somewhat violent.

And that’s how he finds himself under the L, shooting at what seems to be the skeleton of a sofa. When Lip said Frank had died, he reacted like a true Gallagher. He threw himself into a heated argument with his siblings about shit he doesn’t remember and definitely doesn’t give a damn about. Then they decided to go to bed, they had a long day ahead of them. But Carl couldn’t sleep. He was excited about Fiona flying over and he was… well, he’s not sure what he was about Frank.

Carl has emptied his charger when he hears footsteps behind him. Not that he’s some sort of Davy Crocket or Bear Grill or whatnot, but Kevin heavy steps are easily recognisable. Carl is not surprised when the tall man comes to a stop next to him.

“Not sure you can kill that sofa more than it is already.”

Carl shrugs. He doesn’t want to reply. No need to either. Kev is wise that way. That very sort of way Carl might need right now. Kevin Ball is not a bright guy. Emphasis on the not! But Kevin Ball is wise. Like a very old guy with a long white beard, Carl thinks. He knows what to say to make you feel better. It doesn’t always come out all posh and well narrated, but still, it gets to ya.

Carl reloads the gun and empties it again, opting to target an empty barrel, liking the change of scenery. At least for a while.

“Planning on shooting the whole neighbourhood?”

“The fuck you doin’ here Kev?”

“Ve forgot her phone at the Alibi, was just getting’ it.”

Carl huffs loudly before throwing the gun to the makeshift target.

“Wow, man! I’d rather not die from a loose bullet!”

“It’s empty.” Carl says, tone neutral. He doesn’t know how to feel, and it frustrates him. Plus, he forgot to bring more amos, that frustrates him even more.

“Oh ok. So, consumerism has reached the NRA now? When it’s empty, we just throw away the gun, rather than buying new bullets?”

Carl looks at Kevin, absolutely stunned. Neither of them knew Kev had that much vocabulary. What none of them really realise either is how much Kev is good with understanding people. He innately knows how people feel, what to tell them. Most of the time, he doesn’t even realise, words come flying out before he had time to think, and they generally land in the right spot. The heart, the brain, whichever needs mending.

Even though he’s not expecting it, deep inside, Carl is not surprised by Kev’s words. He welcomes them even.

“Go home Carl. Frank was not a good guy. He wasn’t evil either, but he definitely wasn’t good, man. You might have some good memories with him. Hopefully one or two. Hold on to them and move on with the rest. Frank Gallagher’s not worth losing sleep over.”

Carl feels tiredness enveloping him. He doesn’t realise those words freed him from whatever feeling of spleen he got stuck in. He just knows he wants to sleep. He says goodbye to the tall man and makes his way back to the house.

“Hey, man!” Carl turns around.

“Collect your garbage,” Kev says pointing at the gun laying on the dirt a few steps away from them, “maybe a kid’s gonna be intelligent enough to recharge it.”

Kevin and Veronica

When Kevin climbs back into bed, Veronica is annoyed. She’s annoyed that he makes the bed move. She’s annoyed that his feet are cold, she’s annoyed that he spoons her. She’s also annoyed that he doesn’t kiss her. And she’s annoyed that she’s annoyed.

Ve huffs and puffs, Kev’s arm is too heavy on her shoulder but too shy off her breast. She doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t know if she wants anything, really, she’s just not feeling like sleeping. Even though she’d faked being asleep when her husband returned with the phone, she sent him fetch. She just needed to be alone. But as soon as he had left, she felt lonely.

Veronica knows when she needs to empty her bag, she feels it in her guts. Now is one of these times and she knows she can speak to Kevin. So, she delicately wakes him by shoving her elbow deep into his flank. That does the trick.

“I’m up! Gemma! Emmy!” Kev is standing before his eyes even open.

“’T was me, Kev.” Her tone is so defeated, Kevin is onto his wife in a matter of seconds.

“What’s up Ve?” He pulls her in his arms, she pushes her head against him. She feels safe there, she can hear his heart. Strong thumps, steady. Does she even deserve him?

“Am I a good person?”

“The hell you’re talking about, Ve?”

“Am I bad, Kev, am I one of those people that don’t care about others?” Kevin strengthens his hold on her.

“Where does that even come from Ve?”

“I’m happy, Kev.” She takes a deep breath, feeling her head turn slightly due to the high intake of hair.

“Good, I’m happy too. Doesn’t make us bad people, babe.”

“You don’t get it. I’m happy…” she sighs, “I’m happy that Frank died because Fiona is coming back. I’m happy that I’ll see Fiona and that’s thanks to Frank’s death. Does that make me a bad person?”

“What the fuck is wrong with everyone tonight?” Veronica gets out of his hold to look at her husband. This side look she gives him when he said something stupid. She gives him that look often, he knows exactly what’s coming next. So, he anticipates.

 “Look, I guess I’m kinda sad that Frank is dead. But mostly I don’t care. He was an asshole with his kids. He was a cheap asshole with us. He was an asshole with everyone. So, if it sort of make you happy that you finally get to see Fi after so long, I guess that’s the minimum Frank could do for us!” He takes a deep breath as Veronica pulls him back in her arms, nesting her head back onto his peck. Thump thump, the calming beat of that giant dumbo’s giant heart swaying her slowly back into sleep.

“I’m happy too Fiona is coming. I’m just kinda pissed it took Frank’s death to make that happen.” The comment makes Ve laugh. It’s a nervous laugh and Kev joins her. They laugh together at such a non-funny situation. And then, they laugh because their laughing. And then they kiss, the need to be close gets to them. The need to be one. They touch each other, slowly at first, then rougher. They get naked fast, they are used and weren’t wearing much clothes to start with. They get to business, kissing and licking and biting a little. And they get stopped on their track by the strident ring of Ve’s phone on the nightstand.

“What the fuck now?” Kev picks up the phone and looks at the caller ID: Lip.

“What motherfucker calls at 2 in the morning, dude?” He’s silent for a short while.

“Fuck you, Lip. Go to sleep.” He goes to hang up, then reconsiders. “’Course we’ll do the wake at the Alibi. Pretty sure Frank’s ghost is there already anyways.” He hangs up and joins back his expectant wife to bed.

“Fuckin’ Frank, even in death he’s an annoyin’ motherfucker.”

“Thought you liked Frank…” Veronica says drifting to sleep. The moment had passed, thanks a lot Lip!

“I guess I did, sort of,” he snuggles against his wife, “not enough to lose sleep over him though.”

And, well, he doesn’t.

 

Lip and Tami

Lip hangs up the phone, a little more strongly than he wanted to. He’s not angry per say, he’s just pissed at Kev for not being responsive enough. He can’t do it all on his own. No, scratch that, he can and will do it all on his own. He scratches a line off the list he had written on a piece of scrap paper he found on the console by the entrance. The one with the bowl full of shit you don’t know what to do with. Tami had told him every household has one. The Gallagher house never had one, never needed an extra place for dumping shit. He indulged. Got her mind off of more expensive stuff.

He throws his phone on the couch and takes a deep breath. Even dead, Frank is a pain in the ass.

“You’re coming to bed?” Tami asks behind him. She’s leaning against the door frame, her head tilted, her blond hair framing her shoulders. Lip looks at her. She calms him down. Somehow, she has that effect on him. She calms him down.

Because Lip doesn’t answer, Tami joins him where he stands obviously lost in his thoughts. She snatches the paper and reads through the list Lip had put together. Some items were crossed already but most weren’t. She peruses through the list and sighs.

“Lip, there’s a reason people have several days to organise funerals. You can’t do it all tonight. Co…”

“Watch me!”

Tami doesn’t reply. She circles her arms around him and gently kisses his cheek. Lip leans into the kiss, settles down a little, breathes deeply. He needs a cigarette. And then he’s going to bed. Tami is right there’s nothing much he can do right now. Complaining about funeral homes being closed at night isn’t very constructive.

He grabs his pack of cigarettes and heads outside. You’d expect that Lip wants everything sorted fast and with minimal involvement. But Lip has something to prove. Not that he would admit it out loud, but he feels that he has to prove he’s fit as the head of the family. He hasn’t made such a dang up job lately, what with his temper over selling the house, his fight with Debbie, his actual fist fight with Mickey.

But now that Fiona is arriving tomorrow, and despite this relief he feels knowing that his big sister is coming back, at least for now, he has to show that he’s able. That he is good. That he is better at it. At being the head of the family. And he knows, of course he knows that Fi isn’t gonna hold it on him. But he figures with all the shit he held over her head through the years, he ought to be ahead of shit. Make sure it’s easy on everyone.

Lip knows no one will really care. Except Liam and Franny, he guesses. He will have to keep an eye on them, be there and comforting. Gonna have to keep an eye on Ian too, pretty sure this will trigger him. Fucking Frank.

Maybe he shouldn’t be all over them. That’s a Fiona move. Maybe he should be available if they need it, but not try to impose. Fuck, maybe he’s just over thinking this.

Or maybe Fiona will come in like a bull in a china shop and smother everyone. Lip doesn’t want to think like this. He doesn’t want to carry on (or start?) this war with Fiona. But he knows he will. He’s happy with his previously genius move; sending Mickey pick Fiona up at the airport. Let see how smothering Mickey will work for her.

Lip crushes his cigarette against a rock he randomly picked in the flowerbed at the bottom of the outside stairs. No more smoking in the house. Not that there was much smoking in the house before, lip reminds himself. He throws the cigarette butt haphazardly over the house property limit. It lands a few feet short of the gutter. He heads back inside to find Tami on the phone.

“Look, Debbie, I’m not gonna pretend I care your crazy hook up is crazier than you thought. Not at 2 in the morning. What d’you want?” Lip catches Tami’s attention, silently asking what the issue is. She rolls her eyes and smiles. That’s enough for him to know she handles Debbie. He internally thanks her for it, kisses her temple and heads to their room.

“What?” Tami listens to Debbie rambling on, on the other hand of the very much one-sided conversation. She’s patient. She can’t do much but being patient. That’s the help she’s providing in these dark times. She reckons that’s enough.

“Ok, Debbie, I’ll come pick you up in the morning and we can go to Loft. I’m sure we’ll find something you can wear at the funeral. Ok?” She nods at what Debbie replies not thinking that her nonofficial sister-in-law cannot see her.

“Ok, Debbie, get the fuck to bed now. I’ll be at the house ‘round 11 tomorrow, ok? Ok!” Tami hangs up and joins Lip to bed, snuggles to his side and drifts off to sleep, hoping he joins her soon.

Debbie and Franny

Debbie throws the phone on the bed and sighs loudly. No one understands. As usual. She goes over to her daughter’s bed. Looks at her for a while, sound asleep, cute as hell.

“Franny!” She shakes her delicately. “Franny! Come on, we need to find correct outfits for Frank’s funerals. Come on!”

“Mama?”

“Yeah, Franny! Come get up and help mama find an outfit!”

“I’m tired, mama. Can I sleep more?”

“No Franny, now’s not the time. We gotta look good for grand-pa Frank’s funeral!”

“Ok, mama.” The little girl soldiers up and gets out of bed, follows her mother to their capharnaum of a wardrobe.

Debbie rambles on and on about how important it is to show respect even if it’s Frank. They have to find appropriate black clothes and Debbie is utterly surprised that she only got sort of slutty black clothes and Franny’s only black clothes makes her look like a southside thug. Debbie blames Mickey’s influence.  

“Mama, what’s a funral?”

“What?”

“You said we gatta look good in black for Gwand-pa Fwank funral! What’s a funral?” At those words, Debbie’s eyes fill up. Obviously, Franny doesn’t get what’s happening.

“Come here, Franny.” She seats on the bed and pulls her daughter into her arms, circling her arms around her tiny shoulders and squeezes gently.

“Oh, Franny! Grand-pa Frank is dead, and a funeral is when we sa…”

“Like Mufasa?”

“Erm, yeah. Well, more like Scar, but yeah!” Franny’s lips quiver, indiscernibly at first and then more, the more her eyes water. Until tears fall freely on freckled cheeks. The little girl latches herself on her mother, buries her face in Debbie’s neck. And she cries. Debbie can’t say for how long, she just rocks her daughter back and forth, strikes her hair, gently, slowly. Until the tears recede, making space for quiet dry sobs.

“Where’s Heidy?” The words are shy. Debbie looks at Franny, explains in too many details how her latest crush abandoned them both in times of needs. Apologises to her daughter for depriving her of yet another stranger she thought would be the father figure they both deserve.

Franny shrugs nonchalantly. “I didn’t like her.” And just like that Debbie is over the woman she thought was the Mickey to her Ian not ten minutes ago.

“What’s a funral?” Debbie sighs, she’d forgotten, but evidently Franny hadn’t.

“Well, it’s like a party, but not…” Debbie stops speaking when she hears the commotion downstairs.

“Debbie!” Liam shouts from the living room. He doesn’t seem distraught so she’s annoyed that he disturbed the mother-daughter moment she was having.

“What, Liam?” Emphasis on the LIAM. She climbs down the stairs to find herself in Heidy personal space.

The woman is standing at the bottom of the stairs, her dirty boots leaving marks on the floor every time she stomps her feet.

“Come with me, Debbie! We can find a nice place in Texas, I have contacts over there, I’ll make us some dough, fast!” Heidy thinks she’s read the gorgeous woman correctly. Thinks coming back to swoop her off her feet would be the kind of grand gesture she’d fall for. The silence that follows tells another story. So, she insists. It’s not like her, but that girl is something and she wants to see it through. She even came back to her, for fuck’s sake!

“You can even take your kid with if you want!” She’s fucking begging now. But to no avail, Debbie’s fist meets her right cheekbone a fraction of seconds later. She knew this ginger chick was something else, but the violent rage is a surprise. A good one. She reciprocates and, in a few blows, the two women roll over the coach.

To an uninformed eye, it’s hard to see if they are fucking or fighting. Liam is not really informed; Franny is even less. That’s what decides Liam to take the next course of action. He climbs up the stairs, grabs Franny - who was watching the odd scene through the ramp – on his way up.

“Come on Franny, we’ll go sleep at Uncle Ian and Uncle Mickey tonight.” The girl’s smile is confirmation enough that he’s doing the right thing. On his own, he would have gone to Lip and Tami, but Franny has this weird connection to Mickey, and he figures she needs that tonight. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls his brother. He should be relieved that Ian picks up after only two rings at this time of night, but he’s not. He doesn’t want to think about why he’s not.

“Hey, can Franny and I sleep over at yours tonight. It a little tense here.” Liam nods at what is said on the other line. “That’s OK, I’ll take Carl’s military sleeping bag, we can sleep on the floor in your living room. Really, it cannot be worse than here. No, it’s ok, I’ve already ordered a Uber.”

Liam orders a uber on his phone app. He collects his backpack from his room and meticulously put in toothbrushes, clothes, and a few personal items. He takes a random piece of paper and a pen on his desk, quickly scribble a few words and drops the paper on Debbie’s bed. The two kids make their way downstairs to the kitchen. Liam hands her Captain Marvel jacket to Franny and heads to the basement to grab Carls rolled up sleeping bag. When he comes back up, he helps his niece zipping up her jacket as she still struggles to do it on her own. He puts on his own jacket, throw his backpack on his shoulder, picks up the sleeping bag by the handle on the side and hands his free hand to Franny. She eagerly takes it, and they exit through the back door without even a last glance at the two women still going at it. Whatever the ‘it’ is, Liam still can’t tell.

The Uber pulls up in front of the house as they reach the pavement.

Liam

When Ian opens the door after he buzzed them into the building, Franny runs past him to throw herself at Mickey. He lifts her with a soft ‘umpf’ and props her on his left hip.

“What’s up, barbarian?”

“Mama and Heidy are fighting!” She says as Mickey carries her to the bedroom and installs her on the bed in front of the TV.

“Remove your shoes and coat Franny I’ll get you a glass of water and I found a WWA show we can watch!” He smiles at the little girl and joins his husband and brother-in-law back in the unfurnished living room.

“Debbie sure knows how to pick’em, huh!” Mickey says, his brows lifted in an amused yet exasperated expression. Before he can think twice, Ian replies.

“Yeah, it’s a family curse.” He realises too late what he’d just implied. He hopes that maybe it had not been picked up on. No such luck. Liam laughs and Mickey gives him the finger.

“Come on Liam, get your ass in the bedroom too. We’ll watch the show, while Harry Potter here, inflates the air mattress.” Liam gets in the bedroom without another word. He’s not getting involved in couple fights. That’s his moto lately and it’s going pretty well, thank you very much!

Mickey grabs three glasses and a bottle of water from the kitchen and heads back to the bedroom without a word.

“Come on Mick, you know I didn’t mean me specifically, w…” Before he can finish his sentence, his husband cuts him with a “Shut the fuck up Gallagher!” and a slam of the door. Ian’s smile comes back at hearing the amused tone in Mickey’s comment. He gets on to inflates the air mattress they’d just deflated mere hours ago.

In the bedroom, Mickey gets to his side of the bed. Franny is in the middle, absorbed by the show and Liam is on Ian’s side. It takes about two minutes for the girl to climb on her uncle’s lap and rest her head on his chest, her eyes never living the screen. It takes another few seconds for her to fall asleep. Poor thing was knackered. Who wouldn’t be after the evening they all had? Mickey moves his hand to wrap her shoulders and secures her so she wouldn’t fall off him. He drops a feather light kiss on her forehead, hoping that Liam didn’t see. No one needs to know he’s gone for the tiny red head (He’s fooling no one).

“You ok, kid?” The question is whispered so as not to wake the little girl. Even though the TV is loud enough to have woken her up three times over.

It also surprises Liam. Mickey’s not really known for caring.

“Did you know Monica?”

“Your mom, Monica?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” he raises his eyebrows, seemingly searching his memory, “from the neighbourhood, crazy Monica.” He chuckles at the memory but realises fast that maybe referring to the kid’s dead mother as crazy might not be the best way to cheer him up. It doesn’t seem to affect Liam that much, though. He simply shrugs at the nickname.

“I didn’t really know her. Had lived longer without her than with.” Mickey nods and Liam appreciates that the man is actually listening. Attention is most likely the rarest commodity for the youngest Gallagher.

“When she died, I wasn’t really sad. I wasn’t really feeling anything. You know. I didn’t know her. I saw everyone around feeling sort of sad, I guess. Well, feeling something. Didn’t really know what it was.”

They remain silent for a moment, watching TV and biting on their lips.

“When my mom died, my father bit the shit out of me for crying.” That’s a simple statement but it makes Liam look at Mickey under a different light. It reminds Liam that he didn’t pick the worst number at the lottery of life.

“I… I… don’t really know if I’m ok. You know. It’s like I am sad, happy and not bothered at the same time. I spent time with Frank. Didn’t hate all of it. But also, he was an asshole who didn’t really love us, or at least not how he should have.”

“I know what you mean kid. I cried over Terry. Fucking didn’t want to shed a tear for that motherfucker, but I did.”

“Maybe that’s your revenge for not letting you cry for your mother?” Mickey looks at Liam, mouth agape for just a second before chuckling lightly.

“I like that!”

“Mickey, if someone knew who shot your father, would you like them to tell you?” Liam doesn’t know why he says that. Maybe because his conscience is still raw. Maybe because he’s sharing something with Mickey and wants to be honest with him. Or maybe because he’s so tired he cannot think straight anymore.

“You know who killed Terry?” Ice piercing blue stare on him, Liam doesn’t know what to do. He stutters.

“I… I…”

“Good, keep it that way. Whoever that was, they did the world a favour.” It’s matter-of-factly, said to the TV rather than to Liam.

Liam looks at the man next to him, surprised that the redemption he was so desperately searching in his soul, is coming from the one person he thought couldn’t help.

“The fuck you looking at me for? TV’s that way!” Curt nod toward the TV, not even a glance at Liam, but most importantly, no bite whatsoever in the tone.

“Yeah, sorry.” Liam reverts to the TV, intends to watch the show for the reminder of the night. For sure he can’t sleep. Not after everything that happened.

Liam can’t even make it to the end of his thought before sleep takes over.

Ian and Mickey

Mickey wakes up to the too loud chime of his mobile phone. He disengages from Ian, easily enough as he, for once was the big spoon. It doesn’t normally happen, unless Ian really needs extra emotional care. He has it all charted in his mind. When Ian is down, no touch. When Ian is manic, touch but no spooning, lest he wants Ian sexually wired for hours. Ian had once told him that feeling his touch grounded him when he felt like that. So, when Mickey feels Ian jittery, he puts his hand on him. They watch TV with his hand on Ian’s knee. They fall asleep with his hand on Ian’s shoulder. It’s not much but it helps.

When Ian feels emotional, Mickey is all over him, covers him, protects him. He knows exactly what to do, how to hold him, how to breath in the nape of his neck. He knows because he’s learnt it from Ian. He knows because Ian’s been his emotional pillow for a long time. Letting Mickey melt into his arms, forget his shitty life in the rhythm of his heart against his back. Mickey prefers to be the little spoon but when Ian needs it, he’ll gladly be the big one.

So yes, that’s how he wakes up this morning. Happy that Ian actually went down at some point. Even happier that it took them fucking, once the kids were put to bed in the living room.

What doesn’t make him happy is Lip’s text reminding him to pick up Fiona at the airport in… In little under one hour. Great, that means he’s got to get ready now! The middle finger emoji he sends in reply gives him the strength to get out of bed. Grumpy face and dragging feet carry him to the bathroom.

When he gets out of the bathroom, Mickey finds Ian awake, seated up on the bed, perusing through his phone. He looks up as he hears the footsteps. Takes some time to look his towel-wrapped husband up and down. They do that a lot lately. They love doing that a lot.

“Debs is going ballistic. She says Liam kidnapped Franny and that we’re harbouring a fugitive.” Ian cannot hide a smile. Mickey joins him on the bed, looks at the Whatsapp app where everyone but Liam (who’s still sleeping) tells Debbie to chill for a sec.

“The fuck does she know Liam and Fran are here?”

“Liam left her a note so she wouldn’t go… ballistic.” Mickey laughs at that.

“Way to go, kid!” Ian laughs with him.

“You understand now why I didn’t want to giv’em our new address?” Mickey says. Ian sighs, that had been a topic of dispute for a few days now.

“Liam found out, though.”

“Yeah, crafty little fucker!” Mickey smiles, though. He’s ok with Liam and Franny knowing where they live. He also knows he’s not gonna be able to keep the rest of the herd away for long. But he’s happy with not having Debbie the furry banging on their door this morning.

“Lip’s asking if your answer means you’re picking up Fiona or you tell him to fuck off.”

“Both.” Mickey smiles. And Ian smiles too.

Mickey grabs Ian’s free hand. Squeezes gently. Brings his other hand to his husband’s cheek. Leaves it there, for just a second. Just enough for him to search Ian’s eyes. He strums his digits on the cheekbone for just another set of seconds before he retrieves his hand. The eyes stay longer, not really searching anymore. And Ian knows what’s coming next. And if it was anyone else, he’d be in fighting mode already. But it’s Mickey. Mickey’s allowed to ask. Mickey’s allowed to pry. And most of all, Mickey’s gonna get an answer, an honest to god, heart on the sleeve, not openly annoyed answer.

“How you feelin’?”

“OK. It’s weird, I guess. I don’t know. But I’m not feeling down. Or manic.”

“Good.”

“I just… I guess I understand better how you felt with your dad. It’s like I’m a quarter happy, a quarter sad and the rest of me doesn’t care. All at the same time.” Mickey kisses him. It’s gentle. It’s purposeful. It’s calming.

“I… I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For not understanding what you went through with your dad.” Mickey dismisses the comment with a wince and an annoyed throw of his hand.

“I’m serious Mick, I wasn’t that supportive. I could have been more understanding.” Mickey shifts closer to Ian, invades his space a little, brings his hand back on his cheek, slides it to the back of his head and pulls him slowly. Their lips meet. It’s sweet, it’s full of love. It’s exactly what Ian needs right now. Mickey knows that. He’s always known what Ian needed. He wasn’t always able to provide but he’s always known.

Ian doesn’t always know what Mickey needs. Sometimes he guesses, often he’s wrong. Like when Mickey was all emotional about his dad. He hadn’t known what to do or say, only dismissed his husband’s tears. Now that the roles are reversed, Mickey is here, by his side, providing the exact amount of support he needs.

“Don’t go there.”

“What?” Ian realises that they’ve stopped kissing. And now Mickey looks anxious.

“Don’t go there,” he repeats, bringing two fingers to Ian’s temple. His voice is soft.

“It’s just…” Ian doesn’t want Mickey to know what he was thinking. But he also feels that familiar pit forming in his belly, and he knows he has to let him in. They’re much stronger when they tackle it together.

“It’s just that I feel bad. You know. I wasn’t really supportive when your dad died. I didn’t give you what you needed. And now I realise, that… What’s funny?” Ian is dejected by Mickey’s guttural chuckles. Mickey notices it and stops laughing, he bumps his forehead to Ian’s, breathes in.

“I have you, fucker, that’s all I need.” Now it’s Ian’s turn to laugh. But it’s a bright laugh. One that surprises by its volume. One that have them both relieved. The kind of laugh that would never happen if Ian was heading down the rabbit hole.

“You’re a bit of a drama queen, you know that?” Ian says as he smiles at his husband.

“The fuck man? How did I go from barbarian to drama queen?” Ian laughs again. Mickey loves that laugh, but he’s not going to say it. Right now, he has more pressing matters. He has to regain his barbarian status.

“You’re both. You’re Cruella De Vil!” Ian is happy with himself. Mickey looks confused.

“Who?”

“Mickey!” He drags the ‘y’, “you don’t know the 101 Dalmatians?”

“The fuck would I?” Ian laughs some more, and Mickey lets it go, just happy to hear his husband laugh. He gets up and reaches the commode by the window in just a few steps. He opens the first drawer and retrieves a joint. Knowing the ashtray and lighter are already on Ian’s bedside table he quickly makes it back to his husband.

“Hey. So I’mma go get Fiona at the airport and on the way back I’ll pick you and the kids up, alright?”

“Yeah, ok.” Ian grabs Mickey by the arm and pulls him until he’s seated on his laps. Plants a kiss on his lips and releases him. Mickey wastes no time and get to the door. If he waits another second, he stays here, in his husband’s arms, making out.

“Oh, and Ian, stop calling that asshole ‘my dad’.” Mickey says on the threshold of their bedroom.

“How should I call him, then?”

“You shouldn’t at all.” On that last perfect comment, he leaves. Ian remains in bed for a while, smoking his joint and thinking of a time, hopefully soon, when someone will call Mickey dad.

Fiona

Fiona grabs her luggage on the carrousel and heads to the exit, already mapping in her head the best way to the southside. She looks for signs to the public transportations, finds Mickey Milkovich instead. He’s smiling. He’s a handsome fucker when he’s smiling. Not that she’s ever gonna tell him that.

On a wims, she hugs him. He’s family now, after all. She’s surprised that he returns the hug, even if only for a few seconds.

“Hey Mickey! I told Lip I could’ve taken the L.”

“Well, yeah. But I’m here now, so…” He grabs the handle of her suitcase and starts walking toward the car park. Fiona follows suit.

“The fuck, Mickey! Ian told me you had to be creative with the transportation for your business. But an ambulance?!”

“You haven’t seen the back yet; we got a fuckin’ safe!” Mickey can’t hide his pride. He opens the back door much wider than required to put her luggage. He gestures toward the inside, a smile on his face he cannot hide. A smile he doesn’t want to hide.

Fiona shifts forward to look inside, she shakes her head and smiles.  When she looks back at Mickey, she’s resting her hands on her hips. A very Fiona like position if Mickey remembers well.

“It’s all Ian’s idea!” He’s proud, he wants her to be too. And she is. She’s always been proud of her family’s achievement.

“You’re doing well, he told me!”

“We get by.” They’re actually doing very fucking well. But that’s none of her business.

“You left southside, I think that’s a little more than getting by, Mickey!” The man growls at that. He doesn’t see it that way. Apparently, he’s the only one. Mickey is slowly getting used to their new apartment, their new neighbourhood. Ian’s bending over backward to make him feel good there. Mickey knows he’s home where Ian is. He just needs to get used to the surroundings.

They exit the airport with little traffic for which Mickey is grateful. He wants to get rid with the chauffeuring. Fiona is ok he guesses. But she’s a talker. He’s not.

“How’s Ian?” Here it is. Mickey had been expecting the question. He still gets pissed.

“He’s good.” He is. Despite the shit show in the last few hours, he’s taken his meds, he’s been sleeping, he’s been alert. Mickey understands Ian’s annoyance when his family is like that, they can be pretty invasive. And Fiona is the worst.

Ian had told Mickey all about Fiona going all Fiona on him when he blew the van. Apparently, it means that she’s smouldering them until they do what she thinks is the right thing to do. If you ask Mickey, the whole fucking family is that way. Pushing, pushing, pushing until you bend their way. Maybe not Carl. But he’s a pig so fuck him!

Ian is that way too. Doing things, he thinks are right without discussing it first. He’s just lucky that Mickey is pliant with him. Mickey knows he’s a real pussy with Ian, he’s accepted that almost ten years ago. He’s fine with that. As long as no one knows about it. Ian knows about it.

It’s possible Fiona realises Mickey doesn’t want to tell her more because they get silent for a while. When they take the direction of the west side, Fiona seems surprised; so, he takes the time to explain that they’re going to pick up Ian and the kids before going to the house.

“Oh, so Am I going to be privy to your location? Am I trusted with the address of your apartment?” She is making an exaggerated excited face that makes Mickey laugh.

“Didn’t think of that. I might have to kill you, then.” They both laugh. The tension dissipates a little. As they park in the apartment complex carpark, Fiona grabs Mickey’s wrist. He looks at her. Not so long ago he would have violently jerked away at the invasive gesture. Guess it’s not him anymore.

“You know why I came back today, Mickey?” He shrugs.

“I guess I feel a little something about Frank’s death. Not pain or sorrow. Maybe more like it marks the end of an era or some shit like that. But I didn’t come back to Chicago for him. I came back for my family. I came back so they wouldn’t have to take care of the asshole’s funeral.” Her eyes are wet, Mickey looks away. She is still holding his arm; he thinks maybe she needs to hold onto something.

“My family is everything for me Mickey. I’d do anything for them. I moved, because I… I guess I needed to do something for myself. But I’ll always be there when they need me!” Her shin is up and shivering. She looks like she’s gonna cry, but she doesn’t.

Mickey understands what she needs, what she’s asking.

“He’s good Fiona. Hasn’t had an episode in I don’t even know how long. He’s managing his meds, taking them every day. He sees a shrink, too, now.

I’ve been checking on him since we got the news. We’re good, promise.”

“I know you’re doing good, Mickey!”

“IAN is doing good!” He says, defensively. She nods, and with that the conversation is over, he thinks. Mickey gets out of the truck and grabs Fiona’s luggage in the back. As they move toward the entrance of the building, Fiona calls for him.

“Mickey! You’re family now too. I’d do anything for you!” He tenses at the words until he sees a grin on her face as she reaches him. He smiles too as he shows her the finger.

Fiona sports an impressed expression all the way up to the apartment. She doesn’t need to know that there’s another way up than through the swimming pool and gym area. She doesn’t need to know that Mickey gave her the grand tour.

Franny is seated on the floor playing on Ian’s phone when they come in. She looks at them and doesn’t seem to recognise Fiona, at first. It’s only when Liam runs toward his big sister screaming her name that the kid puts two and two together and jumps at Fiona with a strident “Aunty Fiona!”

They hug for a while. A strong hold. Fiona cries and kisses them. Franny hugs her aunt fiercely, and Liam is buried under the two more exuberant Gallaghers. He’s crying. He doesn’t show. He never shows. It’s easy to forget that he’s still young. Still at an age where you need support.

Mickey catches Ian by the hips, stops him in his motion as he was making his way into the living room. He looks him in the eyes for just a split of a second. Enough for Ian to know he’s there, behind him, always. Ian kisses him and resume his decided walk toward his sister. She emerges from under the kids and grabs him into a tight hug. He reciprocates.

“If I’d known it takes a death to make you come back to visit, I’d have murdered Mickey instead of marrying him!” It’s said softly. It’s a joke as much as it’s a reproach. Ian forgave his sister a while back. It’s just his way of telling her that none is forgotten but all is forgiven.

“Well, next time give me more than a few days notice, asshole!” And that’s her way of apologising.

“There ain’t gon’be a next time! Why should there be a next time!” Mickey is positively outraged that Fiona could think Ian might get married again.

Ian’s heart swells at the sight of Mickey openly showing feelings and weaknesses. He rushes and surround his husband with his arms, let Mickey be reassured in his embrace.

“She’s speaking about the next big celebration, baby. Like a birth for example.

Mickey’s down right scared now. So much so, he doesn’t even react to Ian calling him baby with witnesses around.

Frank

“The fuck Ian!?” Debbie jumps at her brother the second he steps through the door. Tries to stand strong on her feet as Mickey unceremoniously pushes her out of the way as he walks in past Ian.

“The fuck you too, bitch!” Without elaborating any further he makes his way to the kitchen and grabs two mugs in the carton on the counter.

Debbie forgets her grief with her brother and his annoying husband – momentarily at least – when she sees Fiona and Franny stepping up the outside stairs, hands in hands. The little girl puling her aunt she’s not sure she remembers into her house she’s not sure she will keep.

“Fiona!” Maybe she’s a little louder than necessary, but she’s happy to see her big sister. She picks Franny up. The little girl keeps holding Fiona’s hand, so the walk to the living room looks like an awkward caravan.

Soon, Franny jimmies herself out of her mother’s grip, runs to the kitchen and obnoxiously asks her uncle Mickey if he can make her a hot chocolate. To which she receives an equally obnoxious ‘no’ before he picks her up, sits her on the counter and starts searching through the mess of the kitchen under-construction, for a cup and powder chocolate and milk, and the microwave and marshmallows too - which he finds first and shows the little girl who obviously matches his grin.

Fiona witnesses the scene from the corner of her eye, thinking the Mickey she knew would have never indulged like that. He’d changed. Or maybe he would always have, and Ian had seen through the armour what everyone else had failed to realise. Mickey Milkovich is a fucking Teddy Bear.

The sisters hug for longer than necessary, or than socially acceptable in the middle of a pandemic. They missed each other. They speak regularly on the phone but being in the same room is different; it’s more real.

“How you’re doing Debs?”

“Good, except Ian and Liam kidnapped Franny last night!”

“No, we didn’t!” Liam erupts from behind, coming down the stairs. “Franny and I had a sleep over at Ian and Mickey’s because the house was too noisy!” The kid makes a bee line toward the kitchen, not trying whatsoever to hide his frustration.

“What was that?” Fiona, disentangles from Debbie to look her face to face. The younger woman purposefully ignores her sister and goes to the kitchen, hoping to make Ian feel worse than Liam for the predicament they put her in.

“Ian, you cannot let Liam take my daughter to your place like that! You must…”

“He must do nothing, Raggedy Ann,” Mickey cuts. “You, on the other hand should review your life choices, ‘coz they suck ass.”

“When a Milkovich tells you that, I guess it’s time to make some actual changes, Debs!” No one had paid any attention to Lip and Tami seated at the kitchen table; so his comment, while very true, surprised everyone. Fiona is the first one to recover and reaches for Tami and Fred in a few steps. She’d never met Tami, except for her regular facetiming with Lip. But Tami is family and Fiona hugs family. Tami is surprised, has a backing reflex at first but finally leans into the embrace for a short moment before handing Fred to his estranged aunt. The toddler seems to recognise the Gallagher bloodline as he giggles at the raspberries she blows on his neck.

“Mommy, I told you I don’t like Heidy.” Franny is seated on the makeshift counter, drinking her hot chocolate. And, well, Debbie might be lost most of the time lately. But her mom instincts are there, and the second her daughter says she doesn’t like someone, that someone shall not be part of their lives anymore. As simple as that.

“Franny! I know, you told me last night. She’s gone, now, we won’t see her anymore!”

“Mhm, she left a parting gift!” Mickey says matter-of-factly, pointing his coffee mug to the very visible (that no one saw before) red marks on Debbie’s neck. Everyone looks, she feels on the spot, wasn’t expecting anyone to notice. Wasn’t expecting anyone to say anything in front of her daughter.

The girl’s blissfully ignorant to the adult conversation, dutifully drinking her chocolate, licking her chocolatee moustaches after every sip. Debbie grabs her daughter from the counter, dismissing the cup away in Ian’s hand.

“Come on Franny, go to the living room and draw a nice picture for auntie Fiona, she’ll be happy!” She lets her off her arms and the girl moves nonchalantly. She might not understand everything that’s happening, but she’s learned how to read a room by now, and that room was very much unwelcoming.

As soon as she loses sight of Franny, Debbie turns to mickey and plunges her index into his solar plexus, definitely going more deep than comfortable.

“What’s your problem, Mickey!”

“She didn’t know what he was speaking about Debs!” Ian interjects. “Yeah, instead of going all almighty on him you should tell us where she is!” That’s how everyone notice Carl is there.

Before Debbie could say anymore, Lip had appraised her injury and comes up with the next course of action.

“What’s her phone number? You should call her; we call trace her that way.”

“Yeah, Debs, no one hurts a Gallagher without repercussions!” Fiona is decided, chin up and eyes glowing. It’s very likely all the Gallaghers in the room realise how much they missed their big sister right there and then.

“Will you all cool your fucking horses!? She left another gift before she left!” And with that Debbie pulls 3 bloody teeth out of her jean back pocket.

Silence.

Brocken first by Mickey’s click of a tong. “Good for you, chucky!” He proceeds with helping Ian, Fiona and himself to the coffee still hot in the coffee maker that had been left by the sink. Wilfully ignoring the cheering and laughing erupting mere seconds after his comment. Every grown-up Gallagher hug Debbie, even Liam, finally happy the harpy was out for good. Of course, Debbie Gallagher went feral. What other way would she react?

The time is spent drinking coffee, speaking loudly and eating the donuts Carl brought for breakfast (“Ain’t eating anythin’ c’min from a pig!” Mickey says before handing Ian his favourite donut and biting in a plain sugar glaze one).

When Franny runs to her aunt and gives her a drawing, Fiona melts and examines the art in detail.

“The fuck!” She says holding the paper in the light high above her as if trying to decipher a hidden secret.

Dear family,

By the time you find this I will be Dead. I’m not gonna ask for your forgiveness because you bunch didn’t do shit for me. So let’s just call it a draw.

I know some of you think you hate my guts and truth be told I never liked you much either.

But were GALLAGHERS. My only advice is to party more and stop worrying so damn much.

We’re supposed to ask people on their death

bed if they wished they’d worked more or spent more time with they’re family.

Me? Hell I wished I’d partied more. Nobody ever said our neighbourhood was the garden of heaven but it’s been a good home to us, to me and my KiDs. I’m proud of all of you.

Because every single one of reminds me a little bit of me. of me

Lip, you’re smart as a whip, he just can’t seem to get out of his own way!

Ian, industrius, incredible work ethic. Not a clue where he gets that from. Touch of mental illness from your mother. And he ended up marrying a milkovich!

Carl, I never fiGUre you out! I can’t believe you betrayed the family and became a cop! I H you already on the take!

Debbie, you remind me of your mother, not in Good!

way

Liam, you the aple of my hair you devl. Every body says you look like me. KevEE, you are bad neighbors!

Fiona! Fiona!

“God, he really was losing his mind!?” Fiona reads through the letter with difficulty, between Franny’s drawing and Frank’s scribbling that becomes more and more erratic throughout the letter. The end of it makes no sense.

All the Gallaghers are reading over the elder sister’s shoulder, pulling the paper, straightening it, huffing while trying to make sense of Frank’s last nonsense.

Mickey doesn’t read. He doesn’t give a shit about Frank Gallagher’s last drunken/demented words. He holds Ian’s hand, discreetly. To remind him he’s got someone to lean on if he needs; he cares about Ian.

The atmosphere is heavy, everyone’s mood shifting as they go through the last thoughts they’re father had for them. Words transpiring how far he was gone. It hadn’t really hit them until right this instant. None of them knows what to think, what to do with this new information. Well almost none of them.

“Asshole.” The word is nonchalant. Said matter-of-factly as Carl helps himself to a coffee. And that’s all that is needed to diffuse the situation. Carl’s always been good at that. They all start laughing, even the toddler Freddy, who is really just picking up on the mood rather than the reason for the communal fit of laughter.

Soon life resumes its course. Only Mickey sees Ian pick up the letter/drawing and put it in his back pocket. He gently pats Ian's back as he walks past him on his way to the living room but says nothing.