It was a normal Wednesday morning. Liam was making his way down to the kitchen when he first heard the word. He stopped in the stairs, thinking what it can mean. Did Ian had a car accident? Was he okay? Liam was worried for his big brother as he walked down the rest of the stairs. Mickey was already up, and on the phone with Ian’s boss, Rita, explaining that he won’t be able to come to work for the next couple of days.
Mickey looks tense and stressful but not in an anxious way. He looks tired but also calm. That must mean Ian is okay, right? Just as Liam opens his mouth to ask if Ian is okay, Lip comes into the kitchen, Fred on his hip. He looks around, surprised there are only two people up.
“Hey, where’s your better half?” Lip asks.
“Ian’s crashed.” Mickey says, again. Liam sees the worry flashed in his brothers face.
“Like crashed crashed?” Lip looks as lost as Liam feels at that point. His face still reflects the worry as Mickey nods once. He puts his hand on Mickey’s shoulder and squeezes once. Surprisingly, Mickey doesn’t shy away from the touch.
“What do you mean by Ian is crashed?” he asks finally. He wanted to know if his big brother was okay. Mickey gives him a confused look while Lip huffs out a breath and scratches his eyebrow.
“He – well, Ian is going through a low episode, kid” Mickey explains. And low episode? Liam knew Ian had a sickness that requires him to take meds daily. But he never heard of a low episode before. He had always thought it was something like blood pressure or diabetes maybe.
Seeing the confused look on Liam’s face, Mickey turns to Lip.
“Seriously, Philip” he arches his eyebrow, “you didn’t think of explaining this shit to your brother?”
Lip grimaces and walks towards him, “Okay, buddy let’s go. I’ll explain it to you on our way to school.”
Debbie drives both Liam and Franny home that day. He was actually hoping to see Mickey so he could ask him about Ian. He now knows Ian doesn’t have high blood pressure or diabetes but has bipolar disorder. Lip explained to him that it’s a chemical imbalance in Ian’s brain, and that it is normal for him to experience highs and lows from time to time.
He had also told him about Monica, how she suffered from the same disease but also refused to believe it. Apparently she embraced those lows and highs as a part of her personality. That piece of information made him curious. Liam was wondering if Ian was any different back then. When he didn’t have his first manic episode.
“Debs,” he finally says after gathering enough courage, “was Ian any different before his diagnosis?”
“Well I – I don’t think so.” she says after a long pause but it comes out more like a question. “Ian was always so secretive, Liam. He didn’t run around the place talking about how he feels and shit.”
He just nods and watches the streets from the car window. He should have asked Lip or Mickey in the first place. Lip was out for the day, busy with the renovations at the rental. He wouldn’t have time to answer his questions. Even if he did, Liam knew he would baby him. Give him slightly true answers with edges softened so much. Liam wasn’t stupid, he knew his siblings were treating him like the baby of the family – even with Franny and Fred around. They wanted him to live the childhood they never had a chance to experience, attend school trips, and eventually leave the South Side. It was also why he didn’t know about Ian’s bipolar, they didn’t want him to be worried about it too.
So, it leaves Mickey to ask, Liam thinks. He likes his brother-in-law, he doesn’t tend to baby him like the rest of the family and gives him the answers he wants. He wasn’t sure how he would answer this question but he was hopeful.
They find Mickey on the couch when the trio walked into the home. His eyes fixed on the TV, but not really watching and looking tired. Debbie smiles and nods at him, knows her little brother will ask the same question to Mickey too. She takes Franny upstairs so they could talk.
Liam sits on the armchair, feeling nervous as he asks the same question for the second time that day.
The kid sure know how to ask unexpected questions, Mickey thinks. He was trying to find a way to answer the kid’s question without revealing the worse parts of their relationship. The cheating, the porn, taking off with Yev, their break-ups. How the fuck was he supposed to describe the change, the baggage of his diagnosis. Should he talk about the failed dreams of West Point and army? Nah, he thinks, let the kid think of his big brother as the responsible role model with a cool EMT job.
“He was, in some ways I think.” he finally says. “He was more carefree, dreamed big. All that normal teenager shit.” he smiled. Liam was silent, waiting for him to continue so he did.
“Used to solve fucking math problems at work to make it into West Point.” He thinks of the freckled boy he first fell in love with, remembering the little details he longed to hear. “200 push-ups every fuckin’ morning and ran a mile in 6 minutes. Fiona and Lip never really told you about him?”
“No. Lip said I was a baby when Ian was diagnosed and no one ever told me anything.” he explains with a shrug, “I thought Ian was just too caught up during that Gay Jesus stuff.”
Mickey shakes his head in disbelief and mutters a ‘fucking Gallaghers’ under his breath. How could they not explain it to the kid? He was probably more clever than fucking Lip.
“Nah that was his manic episode. He talked too quick, barely slept and was energetic right?” Mickey waits for Liam to nod. “Those are the classic manic shit. If he acts like that it means he is off his fuckin’ rocker.”
He lets himself think of the time they used to live at the Milkovich house. Mickey knew something was not right but he couldn’t pinpoint it. Refused to believe it was bipolar at first, hoped and fucking prayed it was not bipolar. He was more than ready to accept Ian was just withdrawing from all the drugs and shit. It was clear as day at the end Ian, with all that energy, with too bright eyes and too wide smiles, was bipolar.
“So do I pay attention to it? Ask about his pills maybe?” Liam asks after a beat.
“No no. None of that shit. He fucking hates it.” Mickey shakes his head. “It was hard for him to get used to taken care of, kid. It’s one of the changes you asking for. He used to take care of others and then one day it just changed.”
Ian was Fiona’s biggest supporter, her rock and friend, someone she didn’t have to worry about. Ian added money to squirrel fond, took care of his siblings, pulled scams with Lip. And it just changed, catching them all unexpected. With the weight of his then recent diagnosis, Mickey had to step in to help. The bastard was too stubborn to accept any kind of help. He still was in some ways. And, Liam was Ian’s little brother, someone he needs to take care of. Him asking Ian about his meds would make him feel like shit.
“You are the kid here, alright? You are not supposed to fucking worry about his pills. It’s my job to worry.” Mickey assures Liam. “So, want pizza for dinner? I ain’t cooking shit today.” Mickey asks as he rises up from the couch. Tilting his head for Liam to follow him and dropping a hand to his head, tousling his hair.
It was a week later when Ian started to feel like himself again. Liam watched his brother as he was sitting at the kitchen table, trying not to get caught. He has been looking for changes ever since his talk with Mickey. It was enlightening in a way, he knows what to look for now. Mickey had given him surprisingly open answers and explained him the signs of highs and lows while they were sharing a pizza.
Looking for his big brother made him feel good, like he was taking care of Ian in his little own way, even if it’s his and Mickey’s secret. That they were some sort of a team. He finally started to feel the relief when he saw Ian joking with Mickey.
“If you come close to me with that fucking mayonnaise I’ll knock your teeth outta your fucking head, Ian” Mickey was giving him a serious look, walking backwards to get away from Ian.
“This is the second time I’m hearing this threat, Mick.” Ian laughed, “You obviously love me so much to do that, huh?”
“Fuck off.” he said with a stern voice but didn’t resist when Ian pulled him into a hug, and kissed him.
Liam knew his brother would be fine.
He had Mickey and Liam to take care of him after all.