original cover art by calli
Chapter 1: Rings
“10-8.” Ian releases the button on the radio of his collar.
Sue is driving the ambulance today, Ian in the passenger seat, belt buckles tight as they whip past every corner and slow through every red light, on alert for the vehicles that don’t pay attention to their siren.
They discuss what they know, as they always do on a way to a scene: the patient, age eight, a playground, possibly a broken leg. A frantic babysitter made the call. They’re trying to contact the parents, the dispatcher says, in a crackly voice over the radio. Can’t get a hold of them yet.
Sue drives smoothly through the traffic, amber lights flashing, the siren loud in their ears. Ian can tune it out now without difficulty.
Still, he gets a thrill out of it when the noise comes on, but it’s not just about the blaring pitch. It’s all of it—the whole routine from start to finish. It starts with cleaning the ambulance, scrubbing it down at the end of the shift, then refilling and restocking the supplies. The IV bags swish around in his hands as he places them in the correct compartment. The packaged needles crinkle beneath his touch as he shoves them into boxes, labeled by gauge. Easy access in the compartment with the airtight cover, the click that tells them they’re all in, all ready to go.
Then, there’s the drive. When they get to power through the roads, people glancing up for a peek in their ambulance. Are they going to or from a scene? Is there someone dying in there? Are they on their way to a hospital? Was there an accident on I-90?
He likes every part of the job, even if most days he’s exhausted to do it. He breathes a sigh of relief at the end of every shift, then thinks about how he has to do it all again tomorrow. When he cleans out the ambulance at the end of the night though, he remembers he’s working now , which means he was able to overcome.
He’s a Paramedic, not an EMT. Sue’s in charge now. She’s not usually on calls anymore, but there was a sick call today, so she has no choice. When they get to work together like this, it feels like the old days when he joined the team. Only now, he’s a veteran like her.
Being a Paramedic means he can attend to higher risk calls, administer medication, life support. He can even intubate someone, which he does a few times a year. He has more responsibility now. When he was studying, he stayed up late in the night with cue cards and books spread out over the glass table, eyes furrowed and narrowed, trying to take in all the information, memorize each detail, the corners of the cue cards sharp against the pads of his fingers.
He could move on from this job. He could work for rescue agencies or air ambulances. He could apply to nursing school. He thinks about it sometimes, but ultimately he stays because he has a loyalty to Sue.
Or maybe he’s just too scared to move on, to take the next step.
Maybe he thinks he can’t do it.
They work in District 5, which covers half of the South Side of Chicago and stretches into the outer edges of downtown, but today they’re in unfamiliar territory. They’re near the North Side because it’s where they were directed to drop their last patient off, the hospitals too busy and overwhelmed in other parts of the city. They’re not far from the scene, so they respond to the call.
As they barrel through the streets of the North Side, for a second, he thinks about transferring districts. He’s used to dealing with mental health crises and addicts, administering dose after dose of Naloxone. The little punch of two mists of medicine up the nose. Sometimes a jab to the leg. They are well stocked on account of the massive spike in overdoses, the poisonous drugs coming through the ports of Lake Michigan. One grain of the wrong kind of man-made, lab-made drug mixed with the already toxic heroin or cocaine supply, and you’re dead within seconds.
He brings people back from the dead every day. Sometimes they wake up confused and muddled, other times they wake up swinging. Sometimes they see the same person three days in a row, blue lips, mouth hanging open, a needle in the arm, a tourniquet tight on their bicep. They have their regulars. Dead, alive, dead, alive. A constant and unabiding cycle of poverty and addiction.
So this call, the kid in a playground who has a maybe-broken leg, is a relief. It’s a kid, for one. He wouldn’t wish any pain on anyone, but there’s something innocent and elementary about treating a child. If these are the kinds of emergencies that are happening in the North Side, maybe he should move on.
Ultimately, though, he knows he’s where he belongs. On the South Side, and near downtown where he lives. It’s his home and he’s always wanted to help people near his home, the place he grew up, as if he has a duty, but more than that—a dedication.
He feels important here. So, he’ll stay, at least for now.
But today, they will help an 8-year-old in a playground with a maybe-broken-leg in the North Side of Chicago.
“10-9,” he says, pushing the button of the radio on his collar, as they arrive at the scene.
Sue pulls up parallel to the playground.
They see a crowd of people, a few kids and a woman surrounding a body lying on the ground, shrouded by the shadows of the crowd.
He grabs the supply bag from the back of the ambulance; the items he might need for a splint. He knows Sue will come behind him, but she needs to get the stretcher ready and out of the ambulance. They have a good system when they work together. He doesn’t have to direct her like when he works with the rookies.
He’d probably call Sue his closest friend and confidante, besides his brother Lip. He thinks maybe he could do her job one day, but the responsibility scares him and he wonders if he could handle the stress of managing a team.
Creeping doubts overcome him sometimes, snaking their way back into his brain, but leave just as quickly.
Through the radio attached to his collar he hears that a parent is on their way. That makes their job a lot easier because treating a minor without consent could land them in a debate they don’t want to be a part of.
The crowd parts as he walks up and he feels powerful.
“I think his leg is broken,” says an adult woman. She’s leaning over the kid, touching his arm, and she stands while Ian kneels.
“Is he in your care? I hear the guardian is on the way,” he says, looking up at her.
“No,” she says. “I don’t know him.”
Ian’s quick, setting his bag down and looking him over. He’s small for eight, just a little guy. Dirty blond hair and round cheeks. Jeans covered in dust from the playground. Ian glances up and sees the swings swaying in the slight breeze. It’s a cool September day, but the sun is still beating down on him.
“What’s your name?” Ian asks, wiping an errant bead of sweat from his brow. He’ll establish rapport first. No matter who the patient is, he needs to tell them what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. It’s the first thing they learn, and it comes naturally to him.
Tears stream down the kid’s face as he stares up at Ian, fearful. He doesn’t respond.
“Yev.” Ian looks up at the source of the voice, a young girl, head down—the babysitter.
Yev . It’s a name he hasn’t heard before, and he hears a lot of names. “Yev? Where are you hurt?” he asks.
The babysitter replies, “His leg. He tried to walk, but then he fell over.”
“I’m going to feel around for injuries, okay?” he says in a calm and soft voice. He knows how to talk to kids. Being an older brother is an identity he wears proudly.
Yev sniffles as Ian does his assessment, feeling around for injuries with Sue at his side. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong, except for the leg, though nothing is visible—no bones sticking out, no blood.
They’ll splint his leg, they confirm, as the kid cries on the ground, but they can’t until the guardian arrives.
Ian isn’t elevated at all doing this. He’s used to noise, to kids screaming and crying, used to the chaos—addicted to it, even. He needs that buzz sometimes, like his brain has been rewired differently due to his childhood. He needs his fix of chaos so he can feel alive.
Ian stands up, surveys the scene, wiping his sweaty brow again, when he hears a car peeling in and coming to a screeching halt. It’s a BMW, now parked a few meters behind the ambulance, just enough room between the vehicles for them to load up Yev when the time comes.
He watches a man get out of the car, slam the door shut, and stalk over to them. He’s wearing a black suit, black dress shirt, and tie, stomping like he’s pissed off. He’s a little stocky, heavier on top. Short. His hands are curled into fists, Ian notices, like he’s ready for a fight. Ian’s body immediately responds, not able to help the physical reaction, straightening up, chest puffing out, getting ready to deal with a threat. He knows, logically, he has to remain professional, but he can’t help how his body responds, how on edge it becomes.
As he comes closer, Ian sees his face in the sunlight. He has dark hair, and dark eyebrows, and an expressive face, eyebrows shooting halfway to his forehead.
Ian notices he’s got tattoos on his knuckles, faded, no longer readable, a little odd in contrast with the expensive suit. He seems hard, like he’s got a little roughness to him. Like you wouldn’t want to cross his path in a dark alley, or rather, deal with him at the opposite end of the boardroom.
Must be the parent, Ian thinks, looking down at Sue working on the splint. He braces himself for the attack.
“What the fuck happened?!” the guy says, standing over the scene. He takes Ian in with a baffled expression.
“Are you the guardian?” Ian asks, calmly. He feels heat in his chest, but he ignores it as he often does in these moments.
“It’s my kid,” he says.
“Do we have permission to treat your son? We want to splint his leg.”
“Huh?” he says, looking Ian up and down, then at Sue. “Yeah, whatever you have to do.” He looks around at the crowd of people, eyes finally landing on the babysitter. “What the fuck happened to him?” She’s looking down at the ground, sheepishly. Her ponytail is high on her head, her hands behind her back.
“He jumped off the swing. It was too high. I didn’t know he was going to jump.” She kicks some rocks at her feet and the dust comes up in a cloud.
“Jesus fucking christ,” the guy says.
“Watch your language,” Sue says, “there are kids here.” Sue isn’t threatened by him, used to handling anything. This parent is the least of her concerns as she starts on the splint. It’s Ian’s job to deal with the parent so that Sue can focus all of her attention on what she’s doing.
The guy makes a wanking motion with his hand. It is so completely inappropriate that Ian is about to step in and say something when his phone starts ringing in his pocket.
A dramatic eye roll when he sees the caller ID. He steps away from Ian, but speaks so loudly into the phone, everyone can hear.
“Yeah, I’m here,” he says quickly, one finger plugging his other ear. “Jesus, it’s fine.” He holds the phone away from his ear. “What hospital you taking him to?”
“Memorial,” Ian says.
“Memorial,” he repeats into the phone. “Yeah, had to fucking leave, didn’t I?... Yeah, I know it was important… motherfucker can wait, can’t he?...I’m hanging up now. Go fuck yourself.” He ends the call and shoves his phone back into his pocket.
Ian shakes his head, a little taken aback. The guy is as equally concerned as he is nonchalant about the entire situation.
“I’m Ian,” Ian says, trying to push away any discomfort while communicating with this asshole.
“Okay?” he says, perplexed.
Ian ignores him. “We will transport him to the hospital if you want to meet him there. Or you’re welcome to ride with us.”
Please don’t, Ian thinks.
He’s relieved that the sun is strong because he can feel his face flush due to the intensity of the guy’s stare.
“This is gonna cost a fucking fortune, man,” he says.
Ian squints, looking at the BMW in the distance. Either this guy is in serious debt with a small dick complex, or he’s a rich CEO. Either way, he’s more concerned about the bill than his son.
Ian stays with Yev as Sue gets the stretcher ready. He’s bent down on his haunches, one hand on Yev’s leg to calm him and he sees something out of the corner of his eye. The guy wipes at his mouth while he looks at Ian, no, stares at Ian, taking him in. Ian isn’t sure if the guy is checking him out or sizing him up so he can kick his ass.
Either way, he notices the wedding band on his left hand. He glances down at his own ring, his left hand resting on Yev’s leg. He isn’t sure why. Frankly, he’s never noticed if parents have wedding bands on their fingers and wonders why the fuck he cares. He supposes he’s just a little surprised someone would marry this asshole. Trophy wife, probably.
They load Yev up on the stretcher and get him into the ambulance. The guy swaggers over to them.
“It’s okay, Yev,” he says to his crying son, climbing into the ambulance after Ian. “I’ll meet you at the hospital, okay? I’m going to be right behind you. See our car?” He points to the BMW parked behind the ambulance. “You’ll watch for me, okay?”
Ian’s glad that the guy is facing away from him so he can’t see the look of complete shock on his face. He sounds like a decent person and a good dad, like he has a heart underneath his tough exterior, like he actually loves his kid. Ian wasn’t expecting it at all.
“What the fuck you lookin’ at?” he says to Ian, who is staring at him as he turns around. Ian quickly looks away and continues to strap Yev in place. He hears Sue getting into the driver’s side door and feels the shake of the ambulance as she slams the door shut.
The guy climbs out of the rig. Ian watches him immediately take a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and light one up. He inhales, his back to Ian, a cloud of smoke releasing in the air to his right. Shutting the ambulance door, Ian watches the guy climb into his car and start it up, lit cigarette still in his hand.
The familiar siren of the ambulance overtakes him, and he looks down at Yev. “Your dad is right behind us, okay?” he says, reassuringly.
Yev gives Ian a shaky nod, his face still wet with tears.
When the ambulance pulls out he watches the vehicle behind them. It’s close, keeping up speed until it gets stuck at a red light and they lose it. Ian can see the guy slam his hand on the steering wheel. He reassures Yev again, says his dad will meet them at the hospital, says he’s close behind.
He explains what things are to distract Yev. He shows him the radio on his collar, disconnecting it from the wire, and lets Yev talk into it.
Ian listens to the ambulance siren, the familiar thrill in his blood. But something doesn’t feel right. Uneasy. He can’t pinpoint what it is, but he thinks it has something to do with the guy in the BMW.
When he gets home that evening, Ian immediately collapses on the couch in his uniform. He shouldn’t be on the furniture, his uniform dirty from the day’s activities. He can hear Caleb’s voice in his head, loud and clear. But today it’s just a little dust from a playground, a little wear from a busy day, no vomit or blood. He lies down, feeling uneasy, and takes a few deep breaths.
He stands quickly when he hears the jingle of the keys in the lock of the apartment door. He moves away from the couch, just as the door opens, like he’s been caught doing something bad.
Caleb throws his keys down on the kitchen island.
It’s a nice apartment in downtown Chicago. They can see the vastness of Lake Michigan, the dark rolling water through the glass balcony doors. Walking into the apartment the kitchen and island are on the left, a small dining area behind that with a rectangle glass table and dining chairs, followed by the living room, a couch and matching chair, a glass coffee table, the TV mounted on the right side wall, an electric fireplace in the right corner. Laminate dark floors. Granite countertop.
There are spatterings of artwork and Caleb’s sculptures on the surfaces of end tables and in the corners of rooms.
“Were you sitting on the couch?” Caleb asks immediately.
“Just got in. Haven’t even had a chance to sit,” Ian lies. “I’ll go change.”
“Wait,” Caleb says. He unties his dress shoes and toes them off. He walks over to Ian and kisses him, just a ‘hello’ peck, and says, “Don’t you want to hear about my day?”
“’Course. Tell me about your day.” Caleb squints, looking down at Ian’s dusty black pants. “Let’s change,” Ian says, distracting him. “You probably want to get out of your suit.” He fingers Caleb’s tie.
“Not used to wearing this,” Caleb says. “Maybe you can help me take it off.”
Ian smiles lazily. “Shower?”
“Shower, order in, then I’ll tell you about my day?” Caleb takes off his suit jacket, hangs it over one of the island chairs.
They walk to their bedroom together, down a short hallway to the right of the front door. The bathroom on the left, a spare room on the right, and their bedroom at the end of the hallway, also with large windows overlooking the same view as the living room. A king-sized bed. Caleb insisted on that.
Six years. That’s how long they’ve been together. Four years of marriage. Ian’s used to the ring on his finger, but sometimes he still plays with Caleb’s when they’re holding hands, a little surprised that he made it this far.
The depression had overtaken him when he met Caleb, having just come out of his manic episode. The meds, or maybe the depression, made him brain-fogged, numb, listless. Caleb helped him feel again.
Feel at all.
They made each other better, Caleb said. Caleb helped mold Ian into the person he is today, and Ian encouraged his art. That was even a part of their vows—a quiet wedding in front of the Gallaghers and some friends, on account of Caleb’s family not attending.
They shower, fool around, and order Chinese food, digging into the containers with wooden chopsticks.
“I met the CEO’s son-in-law,” Caleb says, taking a bite, swallowing. “He runs the place. He’s a dick. Like a real dick. I don’t know about this, Ian.”
The messy noodles splash around, leaving brown stains on Ian’s chin. He wipes a bit of food off Caleb’s chin, Caleb allowing him to do it.
There’s a routine in their lives—a symbiosis.
“You didn’t meet him before? At the interview?” Ian asks, sipping on the glass of wine in front of him.
Caleb shakes his head, meeting Ian’s eyes. “Nah, it was my manager. This is above him.”
“Why’s he a dick?”
“Fuckin’ arrogant rich asshole. You know the type. He orders his assistant around, fake-ass smile. Doesn’t give a shit, really. It’s not even his business—it’s his wife’s. He’s probably compensating for something.”
Ian rummages through his noodles, finds a piece of broccoli and pops it into his mouth. “You gotta deal with him much?” he says, mouth full of food.
“I don’t know. I hope not.”
“Tell me about the job.”
“Just reading up on everything right now. Next week they’ll let me go out on sales calls with someone else. Can’t really say it has the same excitement as firefighting.”
Ian places his hand on Caleb’s arm soothingly. “I know. But maybe some stability will be nice. With our schedules.”
They take in the silence. Caleb looks down, avoiding Ian’s warm eyes. They’re both thinking about the same thing. The accident. Caleb fell off a ladder trying to fight a fire. The hose fell on him too, and he had a concussion, which took six months to clear up. He still has symptoms sometimes. A little brain fog. His memory. Unable to return to work, he went into a depression which lasted until he was better enough to work again.
“You think you’ll like working in sales?” Ian sets his chopsticks down and puts his hand on his belly, like he’s full, but only a little full. He could eat more.
Caleb shrugs. “I wish I could just sculpt. Live off that.”
“I know. You have the show coming up soon, that will be good.”
“Yeah.” Caleb sighs, leans back. “I have a lot to do before that. I want to start a new piece.”
“That sounds great. I’m really proud of you.” There’s a gentleness to Ian now, maybe even more than before, because of the injury.
Caleb changes the subject. “How was your day?”
“Busy,” Ian begins. “There was this 8-year-old. He fell off a swing or jumped off, or something, and he broke or fractured his leg. So while we’re splinting it, his dad comes up. Some asshole in a BMW. He’s swearing in front of all the kids on his phone. I try to explain to him what’s happening and he just complains about how much it’ll cost—“
“But when I get in the ambulance with the kid, he comes in and goes all soft, starts telling the kid he’ll be there for him and to watch his car. Then he said ‘what the fuck are you looking at?’ to me. Like, I’m trying to help your kid, man. Why are you being such a dick, you know? It was a little bizarre.”
“Hmm. At least he cares about the kid, right?”
“People are ungrateful. I don’t miss that part of the job.”
“Well, sounds like your boss is ungrateful. Sorry you have to deal with that, babe.”
Caleb puts his chopsticks down, finishing dinner for the night. “At least I get to come home to you at the end of the day.”
“Yeah. But I’m on rotation. Afternoons next week. For two weeks, I’ll get home late.”
“We’ll never see each other.”
“We’ll make it work. We always do.”
“Gotta make up for it while we can.” Caleb stands up and starts collecting the takeout containers. Ian isn’t done eating, but it’s okay. He lets Caleb collect the containers anyway.
“We’ll both have weekends off, at least.”
“I’ll be at the studio when you’re working,” Caleb says, walking towards the kitchen sink.
“That’s great. It will be good for you. We just have to get used to the routine of it all.” Ian stands up, follows Caleb to the other side of the island.
They load the dishwasher and put all the containers away in the fridge. Their hands get all wet in the sink and they end up having a soapy playfight.
“You haven’t heard from Denise yet?” Caleb asks.
They’re in bed, ready to turn out the lights for the night. Both sitting up, leaning against the headboard, clean t-shirts and boxers on, the blanket pulled up to their stomachs. It’s getting cooler at night.
“You’d be the first person I’d call,” Ian says.
They’ve been saving up for fertility treatments for the last year, both of them knowing it’s something they want in the future. Caleb’s old high school friend Denise, who’s become part of the family, offered to carry the baby. They’re just waiting now for her ovulation cycle and then Ian will make his “deposit” at the fertility clinic. He’ll go in the morning, Denise will go in the afternoon and they’ll inseminate her through a small tube.
He’s been stable for a long time, but every day is different. His meds were adjusted again a year ago after a very mild hypomanic episode, a week of sleeping five hours a night, a midnight cleaning spree. It’s a part of the cycle, what he has to do to maintain. He’s thought about it carefully over the last year. He knows the risk of passing it on to the child, and they’ve decided they’re going to take the risk.
They considered Caleb to be the biological father, but his HIV status makes it complicated. He’s still stable, viral load undetectable. PrEp is available for Ian if they have a scare and he gets tested every six months. Caleb has regular bloodwork. Lately, they’ve been using condoms when they fuck because Ian needs to be careful before they try for pregnancy.
Ian has a lot of worries that he keeps to himself, though he confides in Lip sometimes. What if it doesn’t work after all this time? What if all the money is for nothing? What if he’s not a good dad? What if he passes on some of Frank and Monica’s poisonous genes? And even more so, what if he doesn’t know how to be a dad to a bi-racial child?
What if he fucks it all up?
Lip always assures him he’s going to be a good dad. He’s a good uncle to Franny and he’s a good brother, too. Lip just thinks the whole thing is kind of fucked up, and wonders why he just doesn’t go fuck some random woman and save the money. Ian says he’d rather puke than fuck a woman. Besides, who knows what disease she might have? Lip shrugs and says, “whatever you want to do, man. I support you.” The rest of the Gallaghers support him too, they echo what Lip says, and he feels comforted by them.
Still, these thoughts always churn around in his head.
“She could call any day now,” Ian says. “Tomorrow, even. She said this week for sure.”
“Is Sue okay with you taking off if you need to?”
“She knows. I’ll give her notice the day before. It’s only a half-hour at the clinic, probably. Maybe less. I just gotta jerk off into a cup, you know?” There’s a long pause as they both take in the gravity of the situation. “I hope tomorrow is a better day at the office.”
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll actually be having any contact with the boss. Plus, there are so many goddamn white people, Ian. Half the place is Russians.”
“Shit. Russian-owned company?”
“I guess. Never told me that in the interview. Guy’s name is Mikhailo Milkovich. Is that Russian?”
Ian shakes his head. “No idea. Eastern European for sure. He got an accent?”
“No. His wife is Russian, from what Ethan says.” Caleb leans back, gets settled under the comforter and Ian follows suit. “I’m tired. Gonna turn out the light, okay?”
“Sure, babe. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“You are stupid fucking idiot!”
“Why you let 12-year-old take him to park?!”
“Calm the fuck down! He jumped off the fucking swing! How’s that the babysitter’s fault?!”
“We have nanny!”
Mickey breathes hard, braces himself for the shitstorm that’s about to come his way. “I fucking fired her.”
“You fire her?!” Svetlana stares at him, nostrils flaring. “Why?!”
He should step down, let her have at him, but he doesn’t, physically incapable of stepping down from any fight. “She was always fucking late!” he responds. Taking a step back, he attempts to create distance between them. He wants to leap over to the other side of the kitchen island, his escape route to the backyard, to their guest house, if need be.
“Two times! Only two times she late!” Svetlana puts a hand on the granite countertop to steady herself, her face red.
“I’ve got fucking places to be! I can’t wait on a nanny! I’ll find another one.” He attempts to walk away when she grabs his arm, grips it so hard it’s sure to leave a mark.
“I call Nika to watch him tomorrow. You find someone. Tomorrow.” He’s used to getting screamed at, especially when it comes to Yev. They usually get along, but her overprotectiveness gets the better of her sometimes. He’d be the first to admit she’s a good mom and he’s a shitty dad.
“Why don’t you just hire your girlfriend to be the nanny?” he says, defensively.
“She has other job! She works in office!”
“Sure came a long way from being a hand whore.” He doesn’t know why he says it, but he immediately regrets it, especially when Svetlana’s open hand collides with the side of his face. Hard. And fuck, he doesn’t blame her at all. “Jesus fucking christ! Calm the fuck down!” He holds his hand up to his face and stumbles back, his cheek warm from the contact.
Don’t insult Nika ever again. Got it.
“My kid has broken leg because of you. Now he goes to school with crutches. It’s first week of school!”
“Hey,” he says, attempting to calm the situation, show some support. “I don’t want to see him hurt, either.” He speaks tenderly, and it’s not even on purpose, it’s completely genuine.
“You don’t get to decide without me,” she says.
“Yeah, fucking got it.”
She brushes past him out of the kitchen and he hears her go up the stairs, quietly, to console Yev.
In the living room, he opens the booze cabinet that sits on the far wall and surveys his options. Of course, his choice is always whiskey. Neat. Straight out of the bottle if he let himself, but he has some restraint.
He pours it in a short crystal glass and sits on the couch, exhales as loud as he possibly can, letting out all of the frustration of the day in one breath. He loosens his tie, takes it off completely and throws it down. Unbuttons the first three buttons of his shirt, his suit jacket already discarded on the couch.
He smells the liquor before he brings it to his lips. Savoring the first sip, he swallows it down and as he does a series of events happen in his body. First, the taste. Smokey, malty, and complex. Then, the hit to the back of the throat, a little bit of a sting to his esophagus, then the cascading warmth hits his insides, travels down to his stomach, makes his belly feel hot. The whiskey hits his blood, traveling in his bloodstream and rushes to every limb—his arms, his legs, and finally to his head, making him feel lightheaded after only one sip.
It’s always the first thing he searches for when he gets home after a long day.
He takes another sip. The effects are less pronounced this time, but still present. It’s what he likes about whiskey so much in particular.
It hurts good.
He’s had a fucking day.
He rests his head back onto the couch and squeezes the space between his eyes with his fingers. He had to cut an important business meeting short when he got the call about Yev. Some clients from San Francisco flew in—some big clients—requesting newly built factory materials that they’ll ship their way. It’s a million-dollar sale, and the pressure is on him to make it happen.
There’s a sound from his phone, a little cascade, one after another. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and glares down at the screen. Of course, it’s Marcus, looking for a hookup. He’s got a decent dick and knows how to use it, he even fucking listens to Mickey when he’s being bossy, but Mickey is just too fucking tired now, not up for the douching, and the prep, and the drive over, and the late night.
He messages back, another night, and he’s not even sure why he should grace him with a message. It’s fucking Grindr, for fucks sake. Why should anyone feel the need to respond? But he does because he wants to fuck Marcus again, he supposes. It’s not feelings, it’s just a dick in his ass, and a nice one at that.
The whiskey is almost gone so he pours another. In the booze cupboard is anything he could want or imagine. When he turns around he sees the big living room with the electric fireplace turned on—not the heat, just the flames—and the big couches and bookshelves with all of Svetlana’s Russian literature, and the front door is just beyond the living room, through a small foyer.
It feels excessive, but he’s gotten used to excess now.
There are times that it doesn’t just feel like excess, but suffocation.
He’s got this big fucking house now, and he’s got this sham of a marriage, and he has this agreement with Svetlana that they can both fuck whoever they want as long as they keep it secret. Real secret. It’s been ten years of this charade of a marriage that his dad pushed him into—no, fucking forced him into—and some days he feels like breaking and he wonders how long he can do this for.
Something’s gotta give. He doesn’t know when, or how, but it will.
Before bed, he climbs the stairs and looks in on Yev. He’s sleeping, his leg elevated on a pillow, mouth open, breathing hard. He loves his kid. He does, even if Svetlana thinks he doesn’t. He’d do anything for him. He wants him to be happy, well, cared for, and successful. He wants all those things for Yev. And he supposes it’s why he continues with this arrangement. But also, because he doesn’t know what he’d do without this lifestyle, or how he’d live differently. He doesn’t want to be like his brothers and cousins, scraping by, in and out of jail.
He goes to his bedroom and shuts the door. His bedroom feels like his sanctuary on most nights—away from Svetlana and all the other shit that bothers him. He unbuttons his shirt and drapes it over a chair. The silk tie in his hand next, hanging it up. He runs his fingers over his clothes on their hangers, perfectly neat, dry-cleaned, and pressed suits, eyeing the contrast of faded tattooed knuckles against expensive thousand-dollar items.
His knuckles remind him of where he came from. Lucky to have all this at the insistence of his dad. Lucky, he thinks, to have escaped.
At least, this is what he tells himself, and how he justifies it.
He keeps up appearances. He’s made a name for the Milkovich family and he’s determined to live up to that, to make something of himself, to make something of his son.
So, he stays.
He gets ready for bed. Tomorrow he’ll do it all over again.