It’s cold outside, not abnormal for Chicago, but the chilled air is making his teeth hurt. The wind bites at his skin even through his tux and winter coat. A cigarette rests between his lips, unlit, because he made Lip take his lighter after the first 4. His hands are shaking, not from the cold, but more from the anxiety that feels as though it is crawling up his throat. The truth of it is that he feels sick to his stomach. He feels like having a fit, collapsing into a chair on the inside of the building, and bawling his eyes out with his head between his legs. Suddenly, he wants to call for Lip and have him drive the two of them out to Lake Michigan like he did when they were still dumb teenagers who didn’t feel the need to go to school. Like they could’ve when they could still risk jacking a car and not think about geometry and late bills and helping Fiona with the kids and keeping Frank from searching through their rooms for extra change when he was on a bender. He longs for it, but he knows it isn’t an option now. There’s too much at stake now. Freddie. Mickey. Parole.
When he was younger, he never dreamed of getting married, not even because of him being gay, but because he didn’t see the point when all it did was ruin everything. He can thank Frank and Monica for that example. Even so recently as 6 months ago, he didn’t think about marriage seriously. When he was in prison, he laughed when one of the guys called him Mickey’s prison wife, but never did he actually stop to think about what it would be like to be someone’s husband. Mickey’s husband.
It took the separation from Mickey (albeit for less than 2 weeks) when he got released on parole for him to start thinking about it seriously. His homecoming had admittedly left him feeling neglected and lonely, foolishly longing to be back in that tiny cell fighting with Mickey about rinsing his spit out of the sink after brushing his teeth. At least at the end of it, there was the warmth of another person, an undoubtable feeling that someone was devoted to him.
He loves his family so much though, and would never hold them having their own lives against them. He can’t, especially not now, when it seems everyone is finally being forced to grow up without Fiona there to guide them.
In the midst of his thinking, the door to the chapel opens, and Lip walks out.
“It’s fucking freezing, man. What are you still doing out here?” Lip asks, plucking the cigarette from Ian’s lips and tossing it onto the ground. He ignores Ian’s protesting sound. “It’s almost showtime, Romeo. Come on, come inside.”
Ian pushes himself off the wall and sluggishly walks inside, instantly wondering why he was doing his brooding outside when it was perfectly warm inside the chapel. He plunks himself down into one of the fancy ornate chairs in the room. They’re in one of the chapel’s back dressing rooms. The walls are covered in brown paneling and the entire room smells like cinnamon. Mickey is in the other one across the hall with Liam and Carl, with both of them probably asking him for prison horror stories even though Ian’s sure they’ve heard them all by this point. Neither of them wanted to hear Ian’s horror stories, nevermind that he didn’t actually have any, it’s the principle of the thing.
“You look like shit, Ian.” Lip says, taking a sip from a bottle of water and looking like he’s holding in a belly laugh.
“Fuck off.” Ian groans, yanking the bottle from Lip’s hands and downing the rest of it in a few gulps. He hears Lip mutter “Jesus…”, but pays him no mind. He gives the bottle back to his brother and closes his eyes.
“I’m fucking nervous, alright? Is that okay with you?”
Lip puts a hand on his shoulder. “’Course it is. It’s pretty fuckin’ normal, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve been to more weddings than I have.” Ian groans, even louder than the last time, “Shit. I probably shouldn’t have said that, huh?
“Look, Ian, you’ve been up Mickey Milkovich’s ass literally and figuratively since you were 15. Yeah, you dated other guys, but you and I both knew you were never gonna end up here with them like you are with Mickey. I didn’t even really think you’d end up here at all, if I’m being honest. I didn’t think any of us Gallaghers were ever getting married, but you’re beating the odds, Ian. Just one more way you’re proving that you’re better than the rest of us, huh?” Ian smiles at that, some of the nausea going away.
“I’m just afraid I’ll fuck it up.” Lip makes a humming sound, and squeezes his brother’s shoulder.
“You’re gonna fuck up sometimes, that’s just human nature. Mickey’s gonna fuck up too. What makes it count is that you’re both gonna stick around and choose to fix the fuck ups instead of letting them destroy you. That’s sort of what this whole day represents, you know? Your commitment to one another.”
Ian opens an eye and peers at him curiously. “When did you get so wise?”
Lip smiles and says, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s part of being a dad. Maybe it’s just part of growing up. Or maybe it’s just part of my best man duties.”
They both laugh, and the weight in Ian’s chest is halved. Instead of dread and the threat of bile, he only feels normal nerves. “I’m still kinda terrified.”
“I actually think I have something that might cheer you up.” Lip says, still smiling and looking towards the door.
“The only thing that could cheer me up right now is a fucking bottle of vodka and a joint.” Ian moans, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. He never anticipated being so anxious today. He sort of still feels as though he could be sick at any moment.
Lip grins wider, if that’s even possible, and looks over Ian’s shoulder. “You got any vodka, sis?”
“Nah, they actually don’t let you bring your own bottles on the plane. Joints either. These hard fuckin’ times we live in, eh?”
Ian turns so fast in his chair that he nearly falls out of it. He can’t believe she’s here after all this time.
“Hey, sweetface.” She says, spreading her arms wide. And just like when he was little and ran to his big sister for comfort, he rushes into her arms, pressing his nose into her neck to smell her, to be reminded of the stable presence she’s always had in his life. He needed her now more than ever today, and somehow, like she always did, she knew.
It feels impossible to let her go, but he does. He pulls away from her, blinks back the tears that are gathering in his eyes, and takes her in. He hasn’t seen her in a year. She looks just as beautiful as always, just less tired. Her hair is longer than he’s ever seen it, still just as wavy. She’s crying, but her smile is wide.
“I didn’t think you were coming.” He manages to croak out, unwilling to take his eyes off of her.
“You thought I’d miss my little brother gettin’ married? Besides, I’ve been gone long enough and I thought it was time for a visit.” She straightens out his tie as she talks, smooths out the wrinkles in his shirt. Her touch calms him.
“You couldn’t have decided to come visit when my son was born though? You need cake to get you to hop on a plane?” Lip says, but it’s obvious he’s joking with a smile that wide.
“Cake, a chance to dress up, and a golden opportunity to test out my new waterproof mascara? You bet!” She laughs, pulling Lip towards her and Ian, and pulling them both into a hug. She throws an arm over each of their shoulders and doesn’t let go for a few moments. When she releases them, she gives them both a kiss on the cheek, and they both make a show of being disgusted by it, even though they’re both smiling so hard to the point of it hurting.
“How are you, Fi?” Ian asks. He spoke to her on the phone a few days ago, but between managing a successful boardwalk restaurant in Orlando by day and taking night classes to get certified as a nurse, she’s been busy.
“I’m good, really good. School is kicking my ass, but it feels good to study for stuff again. My dishwasher at the restaurant is helping me study.” It fills him with relief to hear that she’s doing well. There were a few times after he told her to leave that he was worried things might go wrong for her, but they seem to be working out well.
“Anyway, I just saw Mickey. He’s ecstatic, Ian. I’ve never seen him so happy before in my life, it was sort of surreal. He even let me hug him! He was telling Liam and Carl prison horror stories, but I think they both just thought they were cool.” Ian bursts into laughter. The weight in his chest feels virtually non-existent.
“I’m so proud of you, Ian.” Fiona flutters around Ian, straightening his jacket and tightening his tie a little bit, whispering an apology when Ian protests. She pushes back the lone strand of hair that’s been trying to break free from its gel all morning. She stands back from him, tears starting to sparkle in her eyes again. “So, so, fucking proud. And so happy for you.”
“Thanks, Fi.” He whispers, struggling to hold back his own tears.
Lip checks the time and looks up at Ian. “It’s showtime, little brother. You ready?”
Ian smiles at him, then looks to his sister who apparently needs a refund on her waterproof mascara.