hi 💜💜 i got a prompt about ian x body image a while ago (my inbox is a hot mess and i may have deleted the prompt lol, but i did paste it into my phone notes)- and i was feeling some feelings today & had some spare time amidst my travels & ended up writing this!!
prompt: can you write about ian and his relationship with his body image, esp post-canon when they move to the westside
(tw for body image/eating disorder/food mentions)
He didn’t really even think about it the first times that he did it— skipping a few meals that went unnoticed in the morning clamor of the Gallagher kitchen. He noticed his skin growing tauter and tighter around his abdomen with every passing day, a hollow absence sitting like a rock in the pit of his stomach.
He did it for a reason—he’d been getting more lingering looks under the flashing lights at the club, more unwelcome fingers pressed against the now-present ridges on his stomach, tracing his toned upper arms. The less there was of him, the more they wanted him.
The thing about Ian is that he was always disciplined; the middle child, the one who was overlooked and ignored and blended in until he decided that he had to make a name for himself. He and Lip and gotten into hair-tugging, jaw-smashing fights about this very reality; Ian was completely, totally, absolutely ordinary. Until he made himself extraordinary—until he burst through the storefront labeled “ARMY” at a strip mall with smudged windows and said with a tall chest: I want to enlist.
Everything had led up to this— every push-up on the creaking slanted floor of their childhood bedroom, every jog at the crack of dawn. He was going to make something of himself, he was going to be a hero.
He was going to get the fuck away from Mickey, and his wife, and whatever else kept pushing him down and holding him back.
When Ian came back from the army, when he was sleeping on exposed floorboards and working at the club all night—that was when it all actually started. When he decided that less of him meant more—when he decided that he should give people the best show he could, because everything else was fucked up anyways. This was all he was good for.
But then Mickey came through the door, pale skin flashing in the strobe lights, wearing that fucking dark button-up with sleeves folded to his forearms and smelling like nice cologne that he’d almost definitely stolen from one of his brothers’ bathroom shelves; and for a brief moment after the initial shock set in, Ian was proud— proud of how much negative space surrounded him, proud of how he could press his thighs into stretched golden spandex better than any of the other men thrumming to the beat beside him on the podium. Proud of how much other people wanted him, when Mickey didn't.
It was only later, after Mickey carried him home (easily, too easily) after he’d passed out in a snowbank, and Ian had woken and waited for Mickey to burst into his bedroom door at the Gallagher house while he leaned against the wall and scribbled on a notepad— later, when Mickey was about to curl on the floor and sleep using one of Liam’s balled-up t-shirts as a pillow— that Ian noticed Mickey’s eyes lingering on his uncovered torso, a second longer than the quick glances of admiration from the well-dressed men with greased-back hair and grubby fingers at the club. It hit Ian, then, when he saw Mickey’s gaze that was soft around the edges, the same fuzziness and confusion of Fiona’s stares when he would chatter on for too long in the mornings:
He’s worried about me.
But Mickey played along— Ian was back, and Mickey stayed beside him this time, and chuckled when he walked down the stairs to the sight of Ian cutting off the bottom half of his old ROTC pants, now multiple sizes too big and hanging baggy even at the hips. Mickey curled beside him on the twin bed, silently stroking hair back from his forehead and cradling his cheeks with a feather-light touch as Lip and Liam’s even, sleeping breaths swirled around them. And Ian kept doing pull-ups, and told Carl that he liked the way that Mickey smelled. Mickey came out for him. And for a while things were really, really fucking good, and Ian didn’t even think about the gnawing hollow feeling in his stomach at all any more.
Until a grey morning came, quick and silent, and kept him frozen under the sheets for days.
In the months afterwards, Ian trained harder, faster—he met up with Fiona as she pushed Liam in the stroller and jogged beside them, ran before and after shifts at the club, did push-ups on Mickey’s grimy floor while he was out handling Rub N’ Tug shit.
I’m not Monica. This wasn’t going to happen again. His body could do this. His body could fix his brain.
Most of what happened on the “road trip” with Yevgeny (that was the only phrasing that Ian could really mentally use to name the incident, the only semiotic filler for “kidnapping” that didn’t want to make him burrow even deeper under his tattered blankets) was a blur—Mickey feeding him fistfuls of pills and room-temperature Gatorade, luring Mickey to the dugouts where he tried to do a pull-up and felt a quivering in his limbs, a weakness rather than a familiar and fulfilling burn. Slamming Mickey in the face with a fist that was too flimsy, too weak—a fist that still left the blooming of a bruise on Mickey’s jawline, a splatter of blood caking into his eyebrow. But still weak, still not enough. Definitely not strong enough to fight off two MPs with loaded guns, tangling his hands behind his back and forcing him into the backseat of a car.
More blurry days— on the road with Monica. Breaking up with Mickey. Getting a job at Patsy’s. Withering away, purple bags sagging under his eyes. Becoming less, always less.
Then, a glimmer of light— he met Caleb. He studied to be an EMT. He got a call from Mandy, got to wrap her in his arms in less-than-ideal circumstances.
“I got tired of starving myself to fit in that golden thong.”
It was the first time he’d said it out loud.
He started to run again—and he started to not miss it, the hollow feeling gnawing at his insides, the twisting lack. He met Trevor, he went to brunches, he ordered mimosas and muffins and kept himself in shape, but didn’t push himself too far.
So it surprised him, really, when once again his body and mind weren’t in sync.
That was the biggest thing he’d think about, in the idle hours of he and Mickey’s prison cell, months later—that for once in his life, years after the nights at the club or the hazy early mornings at Patsy’s or in a baggy janitor uniform, he was actually doing really, really fucking good. He had a following. He was strong. Or at least he thought he was.
But something about being near Mickey pulled him out of his head and into his body, centered him— it always did. Mickey had always liked his body; Ian remembered how Mickey’s eyed at lingered that night at the dugouts, when they were two kids doing pull-ups and Mickey watched his muscles clench in the moonlight, two sets of shining eyes and bodies warm with beer leaning closer to each other in the muggy air. But Ian never felt a need to flaunt his body, or change his body, for Mickey— and in so many ways, those first days in prison were like his body was coming home. Sometimes it was hard, and fast, and filthy words whispered into each other’s skin—and sometimes it left them grasping for breath in an entirely different way, in fingertips lazily skimming over collarbones and fisted into roots of hair, of breathed “Fuck, you’re so fucking beautiful”s escaping Mickey’s parted mouth that Ian mentally stored but never brought up again, because he knew in the best case scenario Mickey would just roll his eyes and call him a “soft bitch,” and in the worst he would just flat-out deny it. But Ian felt balanced in a way he hadn't in months, with all the "Gay Jesus" bullshit pressing in. He took his meds, he did his nightly sit-ups, he counted down the days—until the hourglass was slipped out from under his fingertips and he was teleported back to the Gallagher house, back to the place where so much of this began and so much was about to end.
The hollowness, the hunger, didn’t really need to be there anymore once he was out— it was only a dull murmur. A ghost, a memory trapped in dreams of strobe lights and prying hands.
Mickey got out, and they got married—and in the moments before Ian called Mickey an “ugly motherfucker” as he let a smile crack onto his face—and he knew Mickey felt it, knew Mickey heard: I have never known anyone as beautiful as you.
And Ian’s fullness just kept blooming and compounding and radiating after the wedding; they fought, and then they didn’t, and it didn’t matter anyways because they were fucking married. Ian kept doing sit-ups before they went to bed, even though he felt like he didn’t really have to anymore. Something big had shifted; something had settled and given way, had filled in all the cracks.
So he’s surprised, when they move to the West Side, and that feeling starts to stir again; faint, fuzzy, like some sort of invasive and shapeless amoeba in the dark corners of his brain, whispering and hissing that there should be less of him. On their first morning in the new place he heads to the gym, wearing a camo t-shit that covered his torso and shoulders—and of course he ends up making a fool of himself next to some guy, some guy that he could have been, with sweaty toned abs and bronzed skin and rippling muscles. He doesn’t know why it gets to him, that small interaction—he’s so much happier now, so fucking happy he’s buzzing with it, but there’s also something churning in the faultlines of transition; that aching for hollow absence and stretched skin and interested eyes, that feeling that made him woozy and lightheaded as a kid but also sickeningly proud, like every moment of standing tall, of dancing, of staying alive was a statement, a challenge, a test of how much he could push his ability to be desired.
He immediately pushes the thought down. He doesn’t fucking need that anymore to keep his head above water; he’s stable, he’s loved, he’s fed. He’s growing organic tomatoes, and definitely developing a farmer’s tan from his days hunched over their way-too-tiny community garden plot tenderly watering and pruning the vines and brambles. He is desired. So it doesn’t make fucking sense that the hunger, the clawing in his stomach for the absence, doesn’t really stop.
“Okay Gallagher, spill.”
Ian felt his eyebrow raise instinctively at Mickey’s tone. “Huh?”
“You’ve been staring at this fancy fucking chicken thing you made for, like, twenty minutes. Stop staring at it and eat your goddamn dinner.”
He felt a twist in his gut. I don’t want to.
“M’actually not really that hungry.”
Mickey’s eyes narrowed. “The fuck’s up? You stressed about work shit?”
Ian huffed out a breath of relief. “Nah. It’s not that.” He fiddled with his fork on the plate, drawing lines into the sauce pooled under the tomato-basil chicken he’d made. It was healthy, it was good, he’d worked out today; he could stomach a couple bites of dinner if he fucking had to. He just had to work up to it. Even the smell was making his stomach twist— it had smelled good while he was cooking it, placing fresh-scented basil leaves into the simmering sauce, but now it just was too much.
Mickey’s boot nudged against his calf from under the kitchen island. “Ey. Is it a tired thing? Or a… sick thing?” His eyes darted to their kitchen cupboard, where Ian kept his meds on the bottom shelf by the water glasses. “Or, like, a food thing?”
Ian felt his fingers go slack around his fork. “A food thing?”
“Yeah, man, y’know. When you get all weird about food.”
A tightness in his chest. “What the fuck? I don’t get weird about food.”
Mickey’s eyes flickered to meet his—and Ian would have gotten more pissed off if he didn’t see the soft concern bleeding into Mickey’s gaze, how cautiously Mickey was trying to broach the topic. Ian blew out a breath. Of fucking course Mickey noticed this shit— he always did.
“I don’t know, man. You’re usually good, especially compared to when you were fucking starving yourself when we were kids. But, uh… I don’t know.” Now it was Mickey’s turn to play with his food, scraping his fork along the remnants of sauce on his plate that was nearly clean. “You got kind of weird about working out and shit in prison. And then at the house, with all the quarantine bullshit the first few weeks. Eating fuckin’ cereal all the time, then not eating at all. You’ve been normal since then, or whatever. Lookin’ healthy.” Ian felt Mickey’s gaze drag over him. “Just don’t want you getting stressed out and not eating again or whatever.”
Ian felt a muted warmth blooming in the hollow of his stomach, filling in the cracks of where the jagged feeling continued to claw. If it was anyone else laying out this fucking analysis of his habits Ian would’ve gotten defensive—or at the very least annoyed, that someone was pinning down yet another one of his behaviors, putting them under a fucking clinical microscope.
But of course, this was Mickey— and the difference with Mickey was that he cared, he cared so much that it made Ian’s body ache every time he realized it. Those words wouldn’t have come tumbling out of Mickey’s mouth if they hadn’t been building for a while, hadn’t been gnawing away at some corner of his mind over time.
Ian raised a hand over the table to clasp into Mickey’s warm palm—reaching over the empty plate, the plate of uneaten food.
“It’s, uh. A food thing.”
Mickey’s eyes met his—open, listening.
“You’re right about all the starving myself shit from forever ago. And the not eating. And the… quarantine stuff. I guess I just thought that now that things were good, it’d go away? And I feel so fucking good right now. But sometimes I just have weird days.”
Mickey huffed out a breath. “I fucking know you do, dumbass. M’just saying that I notice that shit. And we can figure it out.”
Ian felt the corner of his mouth tick upwards. “I really thought it was gonna go away. I’m a fucking adult.”
Mickey shrugged. “Sometimes shit doesn’t work like that, Gallagher.” He chugged a sip of water from his glass, apparently glad that this heavier part of the conversation was over now that he knew what was up. “It’s like what you tell me about my shit with Terry. Trauma doesn’t just magically fucking disappear.”
Trauma. He’d never really thought about it like that before—he had plenty of childhood shit to work through, between abandonment and raging mental illness; and he’d never really thought that his body image issues made the list.
But maybe they did— maybe this was another wound, one that he could learn to heal.
Mickey kicked his shin under the table. “There’s cereal and stuff in the cabinet, I got the Fruit Loops shit you like. Want me to wrap up the chicken and shove it in the fridge?”
All he could do was nod— and once again feel that warmth on his insides that Mickey was this good, that he knew how to make shit like this easier.
And he snuggled into the couch beside his husband, a bowl of soggy cereal in his hands.