Personal possessions, they said. Someone had to come pick them up, they said. Pipe was gone and John was fucked, which only left him. So instead of waiting at the International Airport to flying stand-by and get the fuck out here, he was pushing through the police station doors carrying a bag marked "Personal Effects. Dick, Joseph." And what was in it? That fucking rag of a sweater, those filthy jeans, and sitting on top of it all, The Gun. They actually handed him back the fucking gun. It was licensed to Billy's father after all, swiped when they were kids. Billy hadn't realized until now that it was that gun and that Joe had kept it, sentimental fucker that he was... had been.
Back then, sentimentality was a boot to the head. Back then, Billy had been awkward and all angles; Joe razzed him no end about it. Joe, he still had the lingering baby fat thing going on, was all big blue eyes and backwards baseball caps. And loud. The both of them, loud and obnoxious. Awkward, forward, feral children. Alone, Billy had been skittish and diffident, but together they had that eerie kind of synchronicity thing going on that creeped out all the adults. Especially Billy's father. Two or three glances and BillyandJoe had the battle plans all laid out. Oh, yeah. They were inseparable, and together, they were perfect, in a jagged-edged sort of way. Back then, they were still living in an adolescent world of absolutes, us against them, you and me and no-one else.
And Joe was at the center of their universe. "I've been both a mother and a father to you..." Well, that was true. Had been true. He had been the centre. Didn't know what the fuck he was now except dead.
And Billy had been his acolyte, his audience and his conscience. It was a fair deal. Except now, this made Billy... what? He couldn't decide between the chicken who ran shouting that the fucking sky was falling, or some asshole of a prophet who knew goddamn well that the world was ending and didn't give a shit.
But even in L.A. he was still a disciple of the Church of Joe. Excommunicate, maybe, heretic, sure, but you never forget your roots, do you? You can't escape your roots.
Just because Billy walked away from the game didn't mean that they stopped playing for good. A truce had been called, not a treaty. And Joe had sounded the call to arms. Billy hadn't asked for the fucking casualties. Joe racked up the body count all by himself.
None of this would have happened if Joe had done what he was supposed to and fucking followed him south. He was supposed to see what else there was besides filthy little Canadian clubs, but Joe never did believe Billy wasn't coming back to sit at his feet. So Joe, Joe the martyr, Joe the fucking immovable marble idol, stayed. And Billy clung to his self-imposed exile, clung until Joe himself broke the silence. The fuckhead. But for once, Billy didn't give, which bottled up Joe to the point where he couldn't stop the cracks in the facade. And Billy could only hold the dyke for so long.
Little wonder that when the dam broke, as they both knew it would, despite all the lies and betrayal and blood and sweat and goddamn fucking love, that it ended, how absolutely fucking perfectly ironic, with a bang.
Which left him with a rented van (two days overdue), a plastic baggie of Joe's personal effects (faint smudges of rusted red both inside and out), and the seductive weight of his father's old .45 in his hand (twenty years after the fact). And the grip was still slightly tacky to the touch.
The gun. The fucking gun. If it hadn't been that gun... If Billy's paranoid asshole of a father hadn't been mugged, what, must be thirty-five, forty years ago, Joe never would have found the piece of shit. His father had bought it in a fit of insecurity, and left it, unloaded, in a desk drawer. It had sat unattended under piles of papers, pushed to the back of the third drawer on the right.
They'd been through the desk looking for smokes or spare change a thousand times and never found it before.
"I know they've gotta be here somewhere." Billy, perched on the edge of the massive leather chair, scowled and abruptly shoved the middle drawer closed. He could smell it, almost taste it, the lingering traces of stale cigarette smoke underneath the dusty scent of paper and ink. This would be the week his father actually carried through on his threat to quit.
"Screw the smokes. Look at this."
When the cold metal barrel first touched Billy's temple, he would have pulled away if it weren't for Joe holding him down, left hand heavy against the side of his neck.
A joke. Ha. Ha.
"It's not loaded, Joe, you fuckhead."
"You so sure about that, Bill?" Joe asked, stroking the tip of the barrel in small circles around Billy's temple. His tone was light--almost. And Billy was positive--almost--that the gun wasn't loaded. Joe would have checked for something like that--wouldn't he?
" 'course I'm sure, asshole."
Joe tsk'ed. "Absolutely? You're taking your life in your hands, y'know."
"Fuck you, Joe."
"I'm the one with the gun," he said casually. "It's empty. I keep telling you, it's fucking empty." Billy went for bravado. "So what, like I'm supposed to blow you now?"
Again, a joke. Almost.
"If I told you to, you'd have to. Wouldn't you?"
Billy bit down, snapping turtle-style, and let the sharp click of teeth meeting answer for him.
Joe laughed. "You wouldn't have the fucking guts to do it, Billiam. We both know it."
"And you wouldn't pull the trigger."
"Wouldn't I?" Joe's voice was eerily calm.
Billy's mother would be home any minute from whatever pansy-assed church volunteer shit she had on today. And although he knew from experience she wouldn't narc him out to his father, she'd be so... disappointed. That whole guilt-trip shit was getting old real fast these days. Even though it still worked. Maybe because it still worked.
And after what had happened the last time--and he just knew his mother had only lost the fucking money--Joe had been forbidden to enter the house. Not without just cause, apparently.
"This isn't fucking funny, Joe," Billy snapped.
"Those your last words?" Joe was obviously unimpressed.
"No. This isn't fucking funny, you fucking asshole, Joe. Those are my last words."
"Brevity, Billy, I tell you, it's the most important thing. Be con-fucking-cise."
Billy snorted, in no mood for the Joe Mulgrew--no, Joe Dick--school of songwriting (est. 1976, last Tuesday, 4:00 PST), and elbowed Joe in the gut. Joe pulled the gun away, but didn't put it down, and Billy was left rubbing away the imprint of the barrel from his temple.
Joe took a step back, put the gun to his own head, and--click. "See, told you it was empty. Pussy."
Billy lashed out with his foot and caught him just below the knee, almost as hard as he'd have liked. "Fucking asshole."
"See, now that's a fucking redundancy."
And then they heard the car pull into the driveway, and Joe, limping only slightly, was up and out the unlocked window in seconds. They both knew the screen only looked secure.
"William?" Oh, shit. His father was home early. "Tell me that wasn't the Mulgrew boy I just saw cutting across our backyard."
"That wasn't the Mulgrew boy you just saw cutting across our backyard," Billy parroted obediently.
"Don't give me that lip. You know better than that. And what the hell are you doing in my study?"
"Studying," he said deadpan, as if it were perfectly obvious.
"Do you want me to take off my belt?"
And the bravado sputtered and died a quiet death. Billy stared down at his feet. "No, sir."
His father gave him a long, measured look, almost as if daring him to continue to push, but when he didn't, the old man stepped aside and motioned to the door. It had been over a week and a half since the last time the belt had come off; that bordered on a record. Billy left the room with his head bowed.
And head bowed once again, he walked down the maze of one-way streets until he was back outside the club, but the yellow and black sign outside of the Rave was tawdry and faded by daylight. Without the floodlights, it looked more like a flea market than a club.
Then there were the bunch of fucking ghouls standing over and in the spot where Joe Dick gave his last encore. He wanted to shoo them away like the vultures they were, but doubted the sunglasses would hide his identity when his face was on the front page of every paper in the fucking city.
So he walked on.
The van was parked half a block away from the Rave, Joe's sunglasses still on the dash. He picked them up, and instead of giving in to the impulse to snap them in half, shoved them into his pocket. There was blood on the steering wheel, and since Joe hadn't been bleeding until... until later, it was probably his. Joe's fingerprints, his blood. Just fucking perfect.
A sharp rap at the window, and Billy jumped, struck with the sudden morbid notion that Joe would be standing outside, grinning back at him, grinning and bleeding.
(Gotcha this time, didn't I, Billy-boy? Let's see you top that.)
But it was just Pipe, skull intact, frowning, and obviously pissed.
Billy moved to roll down the window, thought better of it, swung open the door and climbed out stiffly. He'd been sitting staring at nothing longer than he thought.
"Hey. You been to see John?"
Pipe knew damn well he hadn't. Billy stared him down, expressionless. Pipe looked away first.
"You should. He's asking for you."
"Yeah, me, Joe, and the fucking Beatles. He wouldn't know who any of us are even if we were there, and you and I both know it."
Pipe didn't get it. He hadn't been excommunicated. He hadn't even been a member of the congregation. Joe's death had ended it all. There was no band, no Hard Core Logo, not even BillyandJoe, JoeandBilly. Nothing but broken glass and blood and Joe's goddamn brains all over the road. Nothing worth even trying to pick up and put back together again. How's that for brevity, Joe you motherfucking cocksucking goddamn son of a bitch whore?
"What the fuck are you after, Pipe?"
"I came to pick up my shit."
Billy tossed him the keys. "Have at it."
Pipe threw the keys back. They bounced off Billy's chest and clattered to the sidewalk. "No fucking way. Not this time. Clean up your own goddamn mess, Billy."
The van was a fucking mess. Six days of all their accumulated shit, and damned if he'd be the one left holding the shovel. Billy stared at Pipe again, but this time Pipe didn't back down, and Billy just couldn't bring himself to care. He snatched up the keys angrily and wrenched the door open.
"Fine. Fine, you fucking asshole. Take it!" Pipe was here for his porn, and Billy hoped, his disgusting blanket. He threw the blanket down onto the wet asphalt and tossed the back issues of Hustler after it. The glossy pages fluttered pathetically, Miss October spread out on the sidewalk in all her lurid glory
And all of a sudden Billy could just hear Joe in his head ragging on the pathetic porn mag. He told the voice, "Turn-offs: assholes who shoot themselves in the fucking head. On film. On fucking film, Joe."
Pipe, snarling, scooped up his shit, but not before the wind leafed over another page. Yet another aspiring starlet bared her teeth in a desperate smile. Billy'd seen enough of them in L.A. to know the type. She was three steps away from whoring herself out just to support the coke habit she thought no-one noticed, and she didn't even know it. In another year, she'd look forty instead of twenty-two.
He never did see the appeal in the two-dimensional, airbrushed tits, try as he might. Joe had taught him that. But in a completely platonic way. Yeah. Right.
Joe believed in free will and all that shit. After all, he had left the choice in Billy's hands. Good ol' Joe.
Two months after the gun, the whole thing blew up in their faces. And it started the same way.
"Hey Billy. Look at this."
The panic hit and ebbed away so quickly that Billy was left with a dry mouth and sweaty palms without really understanding why.
It had been an innocuous enough pastime--well, relatively speaking, really, it was Joe after all. In a fit of idle curiosity, they had breached the final boundary and entered into the no man's land of his parents' bedroom. A quick scan of the room had yielded only a handful of nickels and dimes off the top of the dresser, and now they were after paydirt.
Joe was the one who found it.
"You better not be going through my mom's stuff, you fucker. I told you to leave that alone."
"If these are your mom's, your family's even more fucked up than I thought, Bill."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Joe revealed the pile of Playboy magazines hidden at the back of his father's sock drawer with a showman-like flourish.
Despite his best intentions, Billy was hard in seconds at the sheer perversity of it all. Joe flopped down on the bed and patted the mattress beside him commandingly.
"C'mere. Even you've got a better ass than this broad."
Anywhere else, at any other time, he'd have come up with a million sharp rebuttals. But right then and there, all he could do was sputter indignantly.
"What, you don't think you'd look sexy in a fuckin' sequined G-string?"
"Joe, what the fuck are you on?"
"Nah, you're right, you'd be sexier without it."
What the fuck was he supposed to say to that?
Joe must have realized that he'd pushed it too far, because all he did next was smack Billy across the back of the head and snort, "Fucking relax, Billy, you're not my type."
"What, I thought your only requirement was a fucking pulse," Billy snapped, steadfastly ignoring the queasy sense of unease that settled in the pit of his stomach. Something was about to happen, something big. He could see it in Joe's too-bright eyes, and hear it in his own ragged breath.
He wasn't prepared at all for Joe tackling him and knocking him off the bed, so of course, he ended up on the bottom. Under Joe. And for once, Joe didn't have some smart-assed crack. Then again, neither did he.
"Gonna take it back?" Joe said breathlessly.
"Okay, you don't even ask for that much," Billy said automatically.
Joe growled and pinned his wrists behind his back, but the menace was lost when Billy realized that Joe was hard too. He could feel him rubbing up against him, shifting a bit with each breath. And Billy found himself pushing back. Joe froze, and then clamoured back up to his feet, leaving Billy kneeling in the middle of his parents' bedroom floor, bewildered and shaking in a cold sweat.
"Your folks'll be back soon," Joe said diffidently. "I should split." He shoved the pile of magazines back into the sock drawer, all but one. "Here. Research material."
Billy caught it out of reflex. His first impulse was to throw it back in Joe's face, but then, meeting Joe's unreadable eyes with his own steady gaze, he called Joe's bluff. He slid the magazine up under his shirt, and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans. The pages stuck clammily to his sweaty back.
"Good boy," Joe said casually. The scary thing was, he said it as if he meant it.
Dinner that night was a cold and emotionless affair. The chill of his parents' favourite game, the silent treatment vs. the cold shoulder, was broken only by Billy's own mumbled request to be excused. He'd left the magazine tucked between his mattress and the box-spring, and had spent the afternoon in mortal terror of his mother choosing today to change the sheets.
Despite that, he stayed up to watch the Late Show, and both his father and mother had (separately) bid him goodnight before he ventured back into his own room. It was waiting for him. He knew that. What he didn't know was why the thought left him uneasy and reluctant, as if he were standing on the brink of some unrealized cliff. Wham. Sudden death on the rocks a hundred feet below, and he never even saw it coming.
It was all Joe Dick's fault. As usual.
When he tentatively pulled the magazine out from under his mattress, the seductive shuffle of glossy pages was loud enough to wake the whole household. But the smiling centerfold, navel pierced with a staple, was flat and uninspiring. And so was the next one. And the next.
Fuck Joe. No. No, no, no, don't fuck Joe. Don't even think about--this was all Joe's fault. He could just hear him now.
(What were you honestly expecting, you fag?)
"You started it," he said, voice low.
(Yeah, and now you can't fucking finish it.)
"And whose fucking fault is that?" And suddenly, it was like Billy was back in his parents' bedroom--his parents' bedroom, for fuck's sake--Joe pressed up hard against him, breath warm on his neck, and it was sick and it was wrong, and it was just so incredibly real and so fucking hot
that Billy came right then and there.
All Pipe ever saw was the fistfights and the groupies, never did have a fucking clue, didn't know how it was, when each other was all Billy and Joe needed, all they ever wanted. Even if Billy didn't realize it himself; it took his old man to show him how it was. Joe'd never let him down.
Sure. And he'd come straight home this time, any minute now, and not forget to pick up the milk and smokes. Really he would.
(Billy, you're fucking lactose-intolerant.)
That wasn't the point.
"Fuck this," Billy told the empty van. He could stand to lose the damage deposit if it meant getting the fuck out of there right now. There was nothing in the van he wanted to hang onto. Like he'd need fucking souvenirs to remember this tour.
"Thank you, Joe. Thank you and goodnight. I've been a lovely audience."
He couldn't face the bandhouse, not now. Fuck it. The cheque for his last gig with Jenifur must have come through by now, and there was an ATM across the street. There were dozens of hotels downtown. All he had to do was pick one.
The Center Suite had a fucking swanky lobby, and the woman behind the reception desk was too well mannered to comment on his bloodshot eyes and two days' worth of stubble. At least he'd left the bloody bag back in the van. She smiled nervously but didn't argue with the stack of twenties in Billy's steady hand.
An hour ago, he would have killed for a shower and shave, but now all he wanted to do was sleep. Sleep and forget the whole goddamn fucking mess. He didn't bother taking his shoes off before crashing on the double bed. Even the mini-bar could wait.
Fuck Joe Dick. But that had been the problem, hadn't it? He had. Joe had. His whole fucking family had.
Billy lay there in the dark, flat on his back in the middle of his bedroom floor until the rapid, drumbeat thud of his heart echoing in his ears slowed.
Eventually, sticky with sweat and... other things, so freaked it wasn't even funny, he was headed shakily to the bathroom to clean up when he heard them. So this was when they finally broke down and fought with words instead of loaded silence and accusing glares.
"The hell I am! You want our son turning into a goddamn queer?"
Billy froze. How the fuck had his father known? He'd only been a fag for two hours and twelve minutes. More or less.
Had this been the topic of the non-conversation at dinner tonight? But at that point he hadn't even... He shouldn't be listening in. He'd stop, really. Just one more minute.
"Billy knows better than that. I know that Mulgrew boy is a bad influence, but really, William."
"You don't see it. You don't see the way he looks at our son!"
"That's ridiculous! Maybe if you were around more often--"
"And if you didn't baby the boy so much--"
"Oh, no. You're not turning the whole sorry mess into my fault. Not this time."
"You should be here after school to keep that freaking sodomite away from him! You're so busy trying to save the rest of the world, you've got no time for your own goddamn son!"
"What? So now I'm supposed to give up..."
Billy had heard enough. He was so out of there.
They didn't even notice the door slam shut.
He could find his way to Joe's shitty trailer in the dark, drunk out of his skull, and so messed up he couldn't see straight. And tonight, two out of the three was a fucking cakewalk. Joe would take him in for sure. Wouldn't he?
"Do you have any idea what fucking time it is, Billiam?" Joe, scowling and rumpled in yesterday's clothes, demanded.
"Uh... two?" Billy hazarded a guess.
"Just asking," Joe said, shit-eating grin and all, and swung the door open invitingly. "Always wanted an excuse to fucking say that."
"You're an asshole, Joe. And what the fuck's a sodomite?"
"Billy, Billy, Billy, I can't believe you actually read the fucking articles."
"Fuck you too," Billy said shakily, and turned to leave. Nowhere to go or not, he didn't have the patience to take this shit from Joe. Not now. He could always crash on a park bench for the night.
A warm hand on his shoulder brought him up short.
"I don't fucking think so, Billiam. Get your scrawny ass in here and tell me who's been calling my main man Mr. Billy Tallent such filthy, filthy names."
"He wasn't talking about me, Joe."
"Oh," Joe said finally. Joe Dick at a loss for words. There was a fucking first. And Billy was certain that whatever a sodomite was, he no longer wanted to know.
"Screw that birds and the bees shit, Bill," Joe said. "You can crash on the spare couch."
"Joe, you've only got one fucking couch, and it's a fold-out," Billy pointed out. "Where the fuck are you gonna sleep?"
"Oh riiiight," Joe drawled sardonically. "Looks like I left my spare bedroom set in my other pants. You don't mind sharing, do you, Billy? Expand your horizons."
Billy looked away.
"I was just fucking kidding, ya freak," Joe said affectionately, slinging one arm companionably across his shoulders.
Billy was too tired to argue, too tired to do anything but lean into Joe and lie down beside him on the unmade bed.
"Sweet dreams," Joe said melodramatically, and dropped an exaggerated kiss on the top of Billy's head.
"Yeah. Fuck you too," Billy responded in like kind, but his heart wasn't in it.
Joe tsk'ed sympathetically. "Parents, eh? I'm glad I killed mine years ago."
"You're so full of it, Joe. Shut up and let me sleep."
"This is the gratitude you show me, when out of the kindness of my fucking heart, I take you into my home--and my bed--and..."
Billy smacked him. Joe shut up. He'd gotten the last word, after all; and who the hell cared if fucking actions spoke louder?
Billy was sure he'd set the alarm for five a.m. before they crashed. But when he woke up it was 8:37.
"Joe, did you turn the fucking alarm off?" Billy did not do mornings well. Especially not when he'd been up half the night and slept in his clothes. Guilt and panic fought it out, and panic won.
"What fucking alarm? That piece of shit never works. Have I ever been on time for class?"
"You dropped out six months ago, asshole."
"See? What'd I tell ya? Damn thing never worked to begin with."
Billy knew when Joe was shitting him. What he couldn't tell was if Joe was just playing the same fucking games he always did, or deliberately trying to bring the whole sorry mess to a head.
"You're an asshole, Joe. You coulda fucking woke me."
"What, and miss all the excitement?"
"Eat shit and die."
"Oooh, he's learned a new phrase, isn't that precious! Good Billy! Here, have a cookie." Joe waved an open bottle of beer temptingly in front of him.
Billy coulda throttled the cocksucker. He should have. But that would have taken too long, and the sour scent of the beer turned his stomach. Of course, he didn't smell any better himself, but he didn't have time for Joe's little games or a shower.
"Bite me," he threw over his shoulder on the way out the door.
"Promises, promises," Joe called after him lazily. "You'll be back, Billiam mine."
It was after nine by the time he made it to his own front door. All the lights were still on and both cars were still in the drive.
He didn't even bother trying to sneak in, but walked brazenly through the front door, the one reserved only for visiting royalty, births, and deaths.
His parents had been expecting him to try to slip in furtively through the back door, so for once he managed to catch them off-guard as he sauntered past with a casual "Mornin'." He started up the stairs as if he'd spent the night at home in his own bed and had just gotten in from taking out the trash.
His father looked grim. His mother had been crying. Billy, perversely, refused to feel guilty.
"Where the hell do you think you're going? Where the hell were you?"
"With Joe." And under his breath, but loud enough to still be heard, "Expanding my fucking horizons."
That was the first time he'd ever used the word fuck in front of his parents. Somehow, he'd expected it to be harder. It wasn't. "Is there a fucking problem with that, sir?"
His father skipped the part of the ritual where he asked, and just hauled him back into the kitchen, belt already in hand.
He was so screwed, Billy realized with an odd sort of clarity, that he might as well go for broke.
Of course, that was before his father got a whiff of him. And Joe. And him and Joe together. They hadn't been, but of course his father wouldn't hear a word of it.
Maybe he should have stopped to shower after all.
"This is for your own good."
It got worse from there on in, and Billy didn't even notice when his mother silently left the room.
Soft as the bed was (and for as much as he'd paid for it, it damn well better be), he should be fast asleep under the chintzy bedspread, head on the frilly pillows, dead to the world. But all he could see in his mind's eye was Joe. Lying next to him. Skull and mouth both wide open, bleeding all over the fucking Laura Ashley sheets, laughing. At him.
(C'mon Billy. Look at this.)
Billy closed his eyes but it didn't blot out the image. Sure, Joe. Sure he'd look. Not this time. There were damn few fucking things that were certain in this world, but one of them was that listening to Joe Dick always, always fucked Billy over in the end. "You're fucking dead, Joe."
(Well no shit, Sherlock. Figured that one out all by yourself, did ya?)
"What the fuck do you want?"
(What do you think, Billy? You. Just you. And you know you always give me what I want.)
"The fuck I will. Especially not after you fucking shot yourself."
(Just relax, Bill. You don't get it, do you? This isn't about me any more. Now is it?)
"This's why you fucked with the set list, isn't it?"
(Who fucked with it first, Billy-boy? We were supposed to open with "Rock and Roll," but you just had to fuck us over. "Son of a Bitch," were you talking about you or me?)
"Fuck that. We were going to close with 'Sonic Reducer.' Then you started up with 'Somethin's Gonna Die.' You were always so fucking subtle."
(All part of my charm. You fucking love it, you know you do.)
"I'm not gonna waste my time fucking arguing with you."
(No, of course not, Billy. That would be pointless. After all, I am dead.)
"Don't think I don't know it, asshole," he said thickly.
Silence. Looked like Billy's subconscious didn't have the answer to that one.
He wondered if Joe himself had even known. But once they figured out what the fucking questions were, Joe always had an answer. Even if it was wrong.
In all his years at home, Billy never fought back, and it would have been pointless to start now. So he did what he always did, and just took it.
He only realized it was over when the door to his father's study slammed shut, leaving him alone, clinging dizzily to the kitchen counter.
Automatically shrugging his shirt back over skinny shoulders, he didn't even wince when the thin cotton stuck to the raw, rising welts. He should go upstairs, wash up, pull himself back together, and head off to school like a good boy. Like nothing had ever happened. Like always.
Well, fuck that. He slammed the front door hard enough to rattle the windowpanes, and wondered briefly if his mother could hear that too, and would pretend that she didn't. Like always.
There were two cups of oily instant coffee waiting on the counter when he finally stumbled back to Joe.
The coffee was still warm.
It had been less than an hour ago that he'd left.
"Cuttin' class so early in the day, Billy? Fuck, I really am a bad influence," Joe smirked. He was standing in the middle of the grimy kitchenette, bare-foot and shirtless. It was clear he'd just gotten out of the shower. His dripping hair stuck up in uneven spikes. Billy, frozen in the doorway, stared mindlessly at water droplets as they slid down Joe's neck, down his bare chest, down to the loose waistband of his faded jeans.
"What the fuck did you do to yourself this time?" Joe reached out to touch.
Billy jerked away sharply before Joe's hand could meet his shoulder.
"What the fuck..." Joe repeated harshly, and grabbed him. Billy struggled at first, then as soon as Joe's hands touched his back, went limp in his arms.
Tight-lipped, Joe ripped off his shirt without a word. The room was silent but for the counterpoint of their ragged breath, and the sharp, percussive scatter of buttons across the linoleum. The bloodstained shirt hung from Joe's clenched fist.
"I'm going to kill him," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm going to fucking kill him."
He should say something, Billy thought fuzzily. He should stop Joe from killing his father. The fuck he would. And the only thing that stopped him from asking Joe to take down the fucker now, pretty-please was that he didn't want to be alone.
And even the few seconds Joe left him sitting alone on the couch to get a wet rag had him tight-chested and short of breath.
"This is going to hurt like a son of a bitch," Joe told him, cloth in one hand and bottle of cheap vodka in the other.
Billy shrugged, and didn't even notice when the motion opened the clotted cuts and sent a fresh trickle of blood down his raw back. At least the blood was warm, because now, he was cold. So fucking cold. Didn't Joe notice that his trailer was sub-arctic? He was surprised he couldn't see his fucking breath. He started to shake.
"Here." Joe pushed a glass of vodka into his nerveless fingers. "Drink up." But before Billy had a chance to bring the glass to numb lips, they both heard it.
"Give me back my son, you fucking faggot! I know you can hear me!"
Joe looked at Billy. Billy looked at Joe. Joe grinned ferally.
"I'll be right back, Billiam."
Billy didn't say anything to that. He didn't remember trailing Joe to the door. All he did remember was leaning against the cold metal doorframe, hands splayed against the smudged glass for balance.
"You get your sorry ass off my property," Joe drawled. Even though all he could see was the back of Joe's head, Billy knew he was grinning cockily.
"William, we're leaving. Get out here. Now."
"He's not goin' anywhere. He's mine now."
Billy's father looked from Joe, half-dressed and smirking in the weak October sunlight, to Billy standing shirtless and silent in the doorway. Face livid, William Senior swung first. Joe ducked the wild punch easily. "Goddamn cocksucking coward," he said evenly. "Like hitting boys, do ya?"
Joe ducked the next punch too, still not retaliating. The third swing connected, grazing his cheekbone. Joe cracked his knuckles, eyed Billy's father appraisingly. And threw one punch. One. Billy could hear the impact from the doorway.
He looked at his father sprawled on the patchy, yellowed grass. Looked at Joe. Joe, rubbing his knuckles, looked to Billy for permission. Billy shook his head, turned, and went back to the couch. Joe followed him in, and picked up the rag and the bottle as if the past five minutes had never happened, and as if neither of them could hear his father outside shouting about calling the cops and pressing charges.
They both heard the car pull out. "Ready?" Joe asked, rag in hand. Billy nodded silently. He'd been ready for this for what felt like for-fucking-ever.
"You remember that?" he asked the empty room. "You remember us? Fucking stupid, weren't we?"
He knew Joe could hear him, he just wouldn't admit it.
"You never would be one to rest in peace, would you, Joe? Not when you've still got a shot at making sure you're the only one who gets to fuck me over."
Still no response.
"Joe? Please," he said raggedly, the word no easier to say despite that he spoke it to a ghost his own fucking subconscious had conjured up.
(I'm fucking dead, Billy. Leave me alone.)
"You started it," he said childishly. What the fuck. He figured he was entitled to a bit of pettiness. Joe owed him that much.
(I don't owe you anything. No more than you owe me, William.)
"Don't fucking call me that."
(It's your name, ain't it?)
"I liked you better when you were..."
(What? When? When I was all yours?)
And what was wrong with that? He'd paid his dues. The knife had cut both ways. If Joe had been his, than Billy had damn well been owned for years, heart, soul, lungs, and liver, by Joe.
(You forgot ass. That's mine too.)
"Get out of my head, you fucker."
(Mine, Billy. All mine.)
(Always has been. Always will be.)
Billy stared blankly at the tasteful curtains and flowered wallpaper, and reached for his pack of smokes. Fuck quitting.
He could hear Joe laughing now.
(Those things'll fucking kill ya.)
(You fucking wish.)
"Yeah. I do."
He refused to answer. Joe gave up waiting and vanished, leaving Billy alone in his head once again.
At least the hotel room was anonymous, empty, and clean. Three things he'd never had from life with Joe Dick. But he was out of smokes, and knew he left his last pack in the van. Screw this. He could stand to go back one last time.
And of course he couldn't just get the smokes and go. No, he had to sit and brood, stupid fuck that he was. Sitting in the van, it made him sick to think that one, Joe was the last one of them in it, and two, the cops had been over every inch. A rock star who was a known addict offs himself in a fit of god-knows-what, they had to do a tox screen. They had to assume he'd been using, that he was on something.
What Joe was on, what Joe has always been on, was Billy, and cold turkey affects different people different ways. But they couldn't be expected to know that now, could they? Something like that wouldn't show up in the blood work. What little there was left of it. Of course, they could have always scraped it off the fucking sidewalk. Goddamn Joe.
The addiction worked both ways. Now Billy had no choice but to go through withdrawal alone.
It took the police three hours to show up at Joe's. Joe'd been expecting them a lot sooner, but Billy guessed Joe Dick wasn't the cops' first priority.
When Joe first moved towards him, vodka-soaked cloth in hand, Billy flinched and automatically knocked it aside. Joe caught Billy's hand in his own, uncurled Billy's fingers one by one from their tightly-clenched fist, and placed it carefully back in Billy's lap.
He met Billy's eyes, and deliberately moved to stand back behind the couch. Billy tensed, but then Joe slid down to sit behind him and he went limp again with a long, shuddering sigh. Joe straightened his legs, denim-clad thighs reassuringly warm and solid against Billy, and now, he was actually starting to warm up.
Not that the vodka didn't sting; it did. But he bit back the pain and took it. Joe made soothing nonsense sounds, treating him as if he were a dog or a horse, some sort of skittish animal, spooked but... his... and it didn't bother Billy. Neither did the kiss brushed across his bare shoulder. That actually felt all right. He would have leaned back against Joe, but his back was too sore, and Joe understood. When Joe finished cleaning away the dried blood and sweat from the livid welts, he pulled himself away from Billy, and sat down next to him.
It took a long time for Billy to want to move closer. He tried to reach for Joe, but Joe stopped him, and pulled his head down to rest across his lap instead. Billy sighed again; this was better. Much, much better. He closed his eyes but didn't sleep as Joe fussed absently with his hair.
And Joe made the cops knock twice before getting up to answer the door.
He told them Billy had taken off, and they didn't look for him. Joe didn't fight; he figured he'd done nothing wrong for the first time since the cops started coming for him. They even noticed the change.
"About time you came quietly, Mulgrew," Billy heard from the kitchen.
"Dick, it's Joe Dick," Joe said, as if speaking to a very slow child. "Sure it is," the second cop said easily.
Billy heard the handcuffs click shut, and they took him to the car. He watched from the filthy window as they ducked Joe's head below the doorframe and into the car, closed the doors, and drove off.
That was fucking weird, too.
Experience told him that it would be a while before he could get in to see Joe. So he went home to get his guitar. Joe understood that sort of thing. He wouldn't mind.
His mother's car was in the driveway, but his father's Buick was gone. He was probably still at the police station, ranting. With any luck, the cops would lock the bastard up overnight for being a fucking public nuisance. Maybe they'd put him in a cell with Joe.
He walked sedately up to the front door and rang the doorbell even before he noticed the shiny new locks. His mother answered the door for all the world as if he just forgot his key, but refused to look him in the eye.
"Your father's still at the police station."
"What's he say happened?"
"He's pressing charges. Your... friend attacked him."
"Bullshi--that's crap. He attacked Joe. Joe didn't swing first."
"It's your word against your father's. Who do you think they'll believe?"
"I could press charges too," Billy said off-handedly, speaking a language she'd understand.
"You wouldn't. This is family."
"Not any more, Mom. Joe is my family now. Tell Dad to drop it."
"He won't, you know."
"You'll have to talk him into it. For his own good."
Mother and son exchanged an identical, hard-eyed stare. Her eyes dipped down to his chest; he was wearing Joe's shirt. It had seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time. It wasn't like he could have put his own blood-stained clothes back on.
All this fucked-over bullshit, and it wasn't like they'd even done anything. But he supposed that it was all... inevitable. Yeah. That's what Joe woulda said.
(Nah, I would have gone with the "fucked-over bullshit.")
Shut up, Joe.
His mother looked away first, and Billy went back to the charade, a peace offering of sorts.
"Forgot my guitar," he said, as if he were just going to hang out after school. Be home for supper mom, I'll take the trash out later. Not this time. Not any time, ever again. And he didn't feel a thing. Wondered distantly when it'd wear off and if it'd hurt--no, how much it'd hurt. A lot, he suspected.
"It's by the back door," she said, as he trailed her into the kitchen. And it was, sitting beside yesterday's trash. His father, of course.
He picked up the guitar and lingered awkwardly in the doorway.
His mother touched his cheek, and pressed something into his unresisting hand. It was the bankbook to his college account. Sixteen years of birthdays, Christmases, and the paper route he'd suffered through since he was twelve.
He looked at the numbers. There were a lot of zeroes. A couple thousand bucks would take them pretty far.
"Don't forget to brush your teeth," she said, matter-of-fact.
Billy nodded, staring at his toes. He couldn't bring himself to look up. His eyes prickled, but he was damned if he was going to start bawling like a fucking baby now.
She kissed his forehead, turned back to the sink and kept washing the dishes. And Billy was sure that the dishes she was washing were just as clean as the ones on the other side of the sink in the dishrack, dripping in the sun.
Guitar in one hand and bankbook in the other, he left.
Halfway down the front walk, he realized that he forgot his fucking toothbrush.
Joe was out again by six o'clock, spitting about almost being charged with fucking statutory rape and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"How old does the fuckhead think I am? You've bootlegged for me more often than I've bootlegged for you!"
Billy didn't say anything. Didn't Joe get it? This was it. Everything was changed now, but Joe carried on just like he always had.
"Asshole finally dropped the fucking charges. Said he didn't want the whole world to know that his son was a fucking fag. Billy, you got a brother you never told me about or somethin'?"
Joe's monologue finally wound down as he realized that Billy hadn't said a word, just sat in front of a row of empty beer bottles, turning one over and over in his hands.
Ten thousand things in his head that Billy could have said, should have said, planned to say, but the first thing that came out was, "You're out of fucking beer." Joe took the bottle out of his hands and put it down on the table with the rest.
"Jesus Christ Billy, you still with me?"
"You look like you just lost your best fucking friend."
"Drop this monosyllabic shit, Bill. It's getting old."
"Whatever." Billy shrugged. Joe really didn't get it.
Joe scowled, and stepped closer, right there in Billy's face. "What the fuck is wrong with you? Don't give me this shit, Billy."
That was when Billy took a deep breath and... kissed him. Joe's lips were tight and still against his, and after a moment of shock, he pulled away.
"Fuck, Billy. This can wait," he said unsteadily, raking one hand through his hair.
"No, don't you get it? You're mine now. I'm yours. The rest of this shit'll come. Buddies. Never forget that." Joe's hands were warm and steady on his forearms.
"Yeah," Billy repeated shakily, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "We can do that. Buddies."
Joe never gave Billy anything he wasn't asking for. That was when Billy knew that yeah, Joe did it for him. Everything's for-fucking-ever when you're sixteen.
Because it had always been about the two of them, and they left everyone else behind. BillyandJoe. JoeandBilly. Billy-Joe, like some goddamn redneck from fucking Red Deer. As if they were one person split over two bodies. Only now it was Billyand, andBilly. And just plain Billy. From any place but here. Fuck, now he was sounding as loopy as John.
Billy looked up, and he was back in downtown Edmonton, sitting in the freezing van, alone. He didn't realize he'd taken the gun out of the bag until he found himself rubbing it back and forth against his thigh. It made him sick to his stomach to think of Joe keeping the damn gun clean for the past fucking twenty years.
(Fuck that. It was for self-defense.)
"Worked, didn't it?"
(You're just a fucking riot, William.)
Billy didn't answer. His hands were fucking cold, and he could see his breath. Fuck that. The van didn't have much of a heater, but it was better than doing without and sitting in a goddamn--
--icebox. He turned the key in the ignition, but even the low rumble of the engine didn't break the ringing silence in his head. He popped a tape in, absently. Joe's voice came back, this time forcing its way from the two speakers that still worked. "Something's Gonna Die" started up, and Billy forced himself to listen.
"How long did you sit here listening to yourself, you fucker?"
"You know, if you wanted to tell me something, you could have just fucking said it straight out; it's not like I'm talking to myself here."
(Of course you are, Bill. I'm dead, remember?)
"Fuck you, Joe. Fuck you. Won't you ever--"
(My many lessons on redundancy have been completely lost, haven't they? Spit it out, Billy. Don't I ever what?)
Fuck, he'd never say that.
"--leave me alone?"
"I've got a bullet in my pocket like a Barney Fife... saving it up for the right occasion..."
Joe, you sick fuck.
He went back into the bag. Into the pocket of the ragged-ass jeans. What he found there...
Lint, a bottle cap, and twenty-eight cents.
Billy let out the breath he'd been holding since the song began, and sagged back against the worn seat.
A joke. Ha. Ha.
He relaxed, leaning back. And felt it at the nape of his neck. The collar of Joe's fucking coat. The one he'd been wearing when he shot himself.
(Who's laughing now, Billy-boy?)
"What do you want from me, Joe?"
(What do you want from yourself, Bill?)
"For you to shut the fuck up."
If Joe had really been there, he would have been laughing. The silence behind the tinny jangle of Hard Core Logo's last performance left Billy's mouth dry and his palms sweating.
"I'm not fucking looking."
(Yeah, the fuck you won't.)
That was it. He was so out of there.
The song ended. The van was filled with the grainy hiss of static. Just like his head. End of the tape, end of the show, end of Joe Dick's fucking life.
He reached for the coat.
And as sick as it was, as fucking twisted as it was, he was expecting the bullet to be body-temperature and gritty with dried blood, not the clean, cold metal he found beneath his fingers. He rolled the dull gleam of chrome back and forth, back and forth, in the palm of his hand.
Was he the only one who felt like they were all on the same line in the same fucking hymnal, except Joe, who had written a whole new fucking songbook when no-one was looking?
Why hadn't he been looking?
(You were in fucking L.A., Billy. Fucking. Ell. Ay.)
Well, Billy sure as hell had found the right page now.
"You fucking bastard. You couldn't let me in--wouldn't let me--" Billy's voice cracked. He scrubbed at his eyes, and fiercely wished away the tightness in his throat. No fucking way would he give Joe the satisfaction of seeing him break down and cry, even now. Especially now. JoeandBilly fucking amputated Siamese twins.
Joe was the one who shot himself; Billy was the one left bleeding.
"How the fuck could you?"
(Just expanding your horizons, Billy. Just expanding your horizons.)
And Joe was dead and Billy still couldn't get away from his voice and there was blood on the steering wheel and under his fingernails and a bullet in his hand that Joe had put there himself.
(Move or fucking die.)
Billy chewed at his bottom lip.
He was standing still.