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familiar as a fist to the face

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Billy hangs out of the window, the glowing cherry of his cigarette the only light around. The neighbours are all asleep, and the bathroom is in the back of the house, away from the streetlights. He closes his eyes as he exhales, though it barely makes any difference.

There’s a bang from inside, and a stream of expletives. Billy wishes he wasn’t here, but there’s a lot Billy wishes wasn’t happening right now. When he looks at his hand, it still looks red. He takes another harsh drag and drops what’s left of the smoke into the darkness, slamming the window shut behind him.

‘No wife then,’ he says when gets back to the kitchen. Dignam rounds on him with his lips curled, almost knocking over one of the cups as he does. Billy bites back a smirk and raises his hands. ‘Sorry.’

Dignam looks like he wants to retort, or lash out physically, which Billy doesn’t doubt has crossed his mind; probably been on his mind as soon as Dignam arrived home to find him sitting on his doorstep. But now, he doesn’t do anything, doesn’t even say anything, just grabs a cup and gestures to the other, pushing past Billy into the sparse living room. Billy looks at the coffee for a moment, weighs up the likelihood of Dignam having spit in it and deciding to take his chances - what’s a bit of spit between friends anyway?

Friends. That’s a fucking laugh. But right now, Dignam’s all Billy’s got.

All Billy’s got is currently sitting at the table in his living room, staring into his coffee like it holds all the answers to all the problems in the world. Billy wishes it would hold one answer to just one of his problems, but he suspects that’s too much to hope for.

He lingers in the doorway, legs crossed at the ankles; one foot in the kitchen, one in the living room. He takes a sip of coffee and hisses when it burns his mouth. He sees Dignam tense at the sound, before his shoulders slump, as though he forgot Billy was even here and has just remembered.

‘Sit down,’ he barks, indicating the chair opposite. Billy would rather stand than sit with Dignam, nowhere to look but at the furious blame in the Sergeant’s eyes.

‘Don’t worry about it, I’m fine,’ he says gruffly.

‘You’re anything but fine, kid,’ Dignam snaps, jumping at the chance to argue, at the opportunity for normalcy. ‘Shut up and sit the fuck down.’

He supposes, now Queenan’s gone, Dignam’s technically in charge of the operation, in charge of him, and his stomach churns in some way at that thought. He walks slowly, quietly, and drops into the other chair. There’s a beat, two, silence except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Billy glances at it. The glass face is cracked.

‘Do you blame me?’ Billy asks, trying to sound accusatory and failing, landing somewhere in the realm of desperate and ashamed instead. Dignam had been staring into the distance, at a spot just above and beyond Billy’s right shoulder. Now his eyes drop back down to his coffee. They avoid Billy entirely, and no answer comes. His chest clenches, ribs tightening around his heart and lungs as though his own body wants him to suffocate.

‘Would that make you happy?’ Dignam says suddenly, voice gruff as always, but somewhat emptier than Billy’s used to. Billy all but jumps at the sudden break in the silence. He doesn’t get a chance to reply, which is actually a welcomed sense of the routine; he’s got Dignam started. He won’t have to speak again for a while unless he interrupts, and he feels hurt enough without adding a (by now all-too-familiar) fist to the face into the mix. So instead he just looks down into his coffee, unable to take the look on Dignam’s face, whatever it might be, and lets the words wash over him.

‘If I sat here and told you it was all your fault, that a useless motherfucker like you had cost this department one of its best Captains to date in the whole fuckin’ history of Boston, would you be happy then? Add another few fuckin’ feet of water to the pity pool you’ve got going on here? Let yourself wallow a bit more? You need to get your head out of your ass because this isn’t all about you, understand me? We’ve got all the fuckin’ time in the world to grieve and mourn and cry our asses off about this later but for now, we’re the two people on the face of this whole fuckin’ Earth that have the best chance of bringing down Costello and his crew, because the Feds aren’t worth shit, alright? So we have to suck it up and get it done because if we don’t, they’re not gonna pay for what they did to Queenan and I am sure as hell not about to let them get away with it, do I make myself fuckin’ clear, Bill?’

Billy meets his eyes, swallows once, nods. ‘Yeah. Yeah.’

‘Are we clear, Bill?’ Dignam repeats, poking at a wound, and part of Billy rejoices at that.

‘Yes, Sergeant.’

They fall silent again. Billy picks at his fingers, bites his lip, and Dignam drinks his coffee. Occasionally their eyes meet, but Dignam seems as happy to glance away and not mention it as Billy is.

But soon the silence is deafening and the stillness is suffocating and Billy needs to talk, to move. He takes a deep drink of his coffee, cool enough now for him to fill his whole mouth and swallow without burning himself (although he almost wishes it did) and taps his fingers, pushing his chair back and standing up.

‘Where are you going?’ It’s barked, but it’s empty. A flash of Dignam came back for that tirade, but no more. It’s sunk away again. Billy wonders if he could dig his fingers in, draw it back out.

‘I can’t just sit here in a dark room in your sad little house staring at the walls in silence, alright? For one I need a fucking cigarette.’

‘You can smoke in here, you think I give a fuck?’

‘And I need to move and I need to talk, alright, do you know what I saw today, Sergeant? You tell me we’ve got all the time in the world to grieve him later, but I gotta ask you, who’s we? Maybe you do, sure, but they think I’m the rat, they know I’m the rat, I’m dead. I doubt I’ve got 'til the end of the week, I don’t have all the time in the world, I’m a dead man walking!’

‘Yeah but you’ve known that for a while...’

‘Fucking listen to me!’ Billy shouts, barely remembering who it is he’s yelling at here, and when he does he pauses, stops, stares, waiting for Dignam to jerk himself upwards, waiting for the fist to the face. Dignam just looks at him. Okay, kid. I’m listening.

‘I’m not getting out of this alive. Queenan said it would take time, but he’d get me out. He wasn’t gonna let me die. No, but instead, I let him die. Now you’re out of the office, and now there’s no one that can help me and I am going to die!’

He breathes sharply. Dignam takes a drink of coffee. 

‘Were you going to scream all that to the shrink you’ve been seeing?’ There’s a sneer on the last word. Dignam knows. Billy wonders if he cares.

‘I don’t know, maybe. Christ knows I got to scream it at someone.’

‘Me,’ Dignam says without missing a beat. ‘You screamed it at me.’ He drains his coffee and slides the empty cup over. ‘Ashtray for you. Have a cigarette. You don’t have to sit.’ He leans back in his chair, folds his arms. Billy huffs a humourless laugh.

‘I see what you’re doing, I get it. Queenan’s dead now, right? You have to be good cop and bad cop, oh boy. Let’s see how much you enjoy it, being two different people at once. And while we’re at it, let’s see if you’re any good at it, actually trying to not be a fucking asshole for once in your goddamn life.’

Dignam looks at him for a long moment before standing up. Billy braces himself without a second thought.

Punch me, he thinks. Fucking punch me. Let’s do this let’s go come on let’s do it come on punch me…

From the a mostly bare bookshelf next to the clock on the wall, Dignam produces a bottle of Scotch and two glasses. He pours them each a drink and doesn’t sit back down, coming over to stand by Billy and handing him one of the glasses.

‘This is the best drink in the house and my coffee’s pretty fuckin’ good, so you don’t have to sit or talk or do anything you don’t want but if you don’t drink that, the glass is going in your face, you understand?’

Billy takes the glass, ignores it when their fingers brush, the same way Dignam does.

‘Queenan said he’d get me out.’

‘I can’t do that Bill...’

‘And you wouldn’t if you could,’ Billy finishes for him, takes a swig of the scotch. ‘I get it. The job comes first.’

‘We need to get this done.’

‘Even if it gets me killed.’

Dignam looks at him. The that isn’t as important now hangs silently between them. He doesn’t need to say it, but Billy half wishes he would.

‘Stay in touch and watch your back, stay safe, be careful, but most importantly, stay in touch. You get anything, you call me. You hear anything, you call me. You want to meet up, you call me. The only person you should hear from in SIU is Captain Ellerby, understand? You hear from anyone else, you call me.’

‘And, what, if I get lonely, I call you too?’ There’s sarcasm on the tip of his tongue; hope hanging at the back of his mouth. Dignam sneers at him.

‘Fuck yourself, alright, this is important, and I need you to give a shit.’

Billy snaps, drains his drink and throws the glass aside, shoving past Dignam to the door, fumbling for a cigarette. Dignam takes off after him but once Billy makes it outside, he stops at the doorstep wand watches him storm down the path, flicking his lighter furiously until it catches. Then he spins, points the orange cherry of his cigarette at Dignam, silhouetted in the doorway.

‘I’m important too, asshole.’

-

Three days later, he calls.

‘What have you got for me?’ Dignam sounds gruff, somewhat out of breath.

‘You run for the phone? You miss me, Sarge?’

Dignam doesn’t even dignify him with a response. There’s a long pause, and then Billy sighs.

‘I heard from SIU.’

‘And?’

Billy bites at his thumb, kicks at the already cracked glass at the bottom of the phone booth.

‘I don’t want to say-’

‘Listen here, asshole-’

‘Over the phone,’ Billy continues, louder. ‘Can we meet?’ Silence. ‘I don’t have time for this shit, alright, I’m almost out of quarters, say yes and we meet, say no and I show up unannounced at your house at 2am while you’re balls deep in some skirt you found at a shithole bar some place...’

‘We can meet,’ Dignam interrupts, keeping his voice even, the way that Billy knows means he’s impossibly, incredibly angry. Better make it somewhere public, then, instead of those seedy motel rooms the Sergeant likes, where he’s less likely to get his head kicked in.

‘Do you know anywhere we’ll be protected? A diner outside the territory or somewhere?’

Dignam barks a laugh. ‘You’re not protected anywhere, dickhead, not anymore. If we meet publicly, you go citywide, you are fucked and so’s the operation. We meet at the motel in three hours or we don’t meet at all, got it?’

Billy all but whines, pressing the phone to his forehead and taking a deep breath. ‘Got it.’

Another pause, and Billy knows his money’s running out, time’s ticking away, why isn’t he hanging up, why isn’t Dignam hanging up…

‘Look, kid, I’m-’

And that’s when the line cuts dead.

Billy curses and slams the receiver back onto it’s handle and pulls his arm away and punches the glass in one swift few second movement. Cracks spread from where his knuckles impact and he feels the sharp sting of split skin and doesn’t even blink. He doesn’t yell like he would’ve done once, doesn’t hiss like he would’ve done a few weeks ago. He just watches blood slowly slide out from the opening skin, little red spots growing larger. He shakes his hand and slams his way out of the phone booth, lighting a cigarette and wondering why the only thing that makes him feel anything these days is Dignam.

The motel is only an hour or so South, so Billy pays a visit to the bar, hoping to bump into one of the boys and fortunately finds himself buying Fitzy a drink.

‘He want us around today?’

Fitzy gives him his usual sideways glance. ‘Why, you got someplace you need to be?’

Billy bites back a smartass reply and just smirks before tipping back his beer. ‘Maybe I do, Fitzy, what’s it to you?’

Fitzy waits a second, because he does that - he waits, lets the other guy (victim, conversational partner, buddy, the fucking shopkeep, whoever) sweat before he answers. Billy isn’t sweating, though. Billy’s gotten good at this. The thought makes him neither angry nor pleased; just another odd thought that comes and goes and isn’t dwelled on again. He’s full of them, these days, they rattle around his brain like beans in a can.

‘Ain’t nothin’ to me Bill, can’t a guy make a little conversation?’ Fitzy says, aiming for casual and missing. They’re still suspicious of him. ‘He don’t need us today. What’s that smirk for, anyhow? Some skirt finally spare you a second look?’

Billy buys Fitzy another drink and stands up. Fitzy looks up at him.

‘Feelin’ generous, Bill? Remind me to try and get you laid more often.’

‘Will do, Fitz,’ Bill says, clapping him on the shoulder and all but running out the bar.

He drives slowly and still makes it to the motel an hour early, and once he’s got the room key he stands outside by the broken vending machine, smoking until his throat is sore. He goes inside, washes his hands, his face, his hands again - no matter how much he cleans them, he can use all the warm water and soap in the world, the blood just doesn’t come off - and sits down to watch infomercials until he hears a car door slam. Then he slips back outside to wait for Dignam to find the room.

He’s getting quicker, and Billy’s close to wondering if maybe the Sergeant can almost sense him these days. He appears from the other side of the vending machines just as Billy’s swallowing a pill. He caps the bottle quickly and shoves it inside his jacket, but Dignam’s seen. He sighs and almost growls when he speaks.

‘Get inside, come on. Move.’

The door shuts behind them and Dignam leans against it, arms folded. He’s silent until Billy’s sat down on the bed and is meeting his eyes.

‘I tell you something Bill, your idea of how to upset me is way the fuck off if you think talking about the fact I get laid is an insult.’

It takes a moment for Billy to catch on, and then he’s sneering.

‘I should’ve mentioned that I meant hooker, huh? Not like you can get it any other way, no woman’s gonna want to be around you for more than the ten seconds it takes for you to insult her.’

Dignam scowls and points at his wedding ring. Billy barks a laugh.

‘Yeah, and where is she now Sergeant?’

It’s a low blow, and for a brief second Dignam looks taken aback, but then Billy blinks and now he’s crossed the room in record time, his hands are on Billy’s jacket collar, and Billy’s being yanked painfully to his feet.

‘Better than you following that shrink around, am I? You like to imagine she loves you, that you’re not some horrible little creep who doesn’t know when to back the fuck off or leave the fuck alone-’

Billy feels something inside himself break and cuts Dignam off by lashing out, shoving him away, throwing a punch that misses by a mile, shrugging out of his jacket and pressing forwards-

Dignam’s fist feels almost good when it collides with his jaw, and he actually smiles until his teeth slam shut onto his tongue, and then he’s spitting out saliva and blood and the kind of curses and insults that would make his poor mother turn in her grave. He’s yelling and flailing and it’s only when his hands find purchase on Dignam’s jacket that he realises his back’s against the wall and Dignam’s holding him down with his forearms on Billy’s shoulders, hands clenched in fists against the wall either side of his head. They’re both breathing harshly, and Dignam’s face is flushed and angry. Billy smiles at him viciously, and not a little triumphantly, because maybe he is the one with the split lip, but when he tongues at the bloody cut, it’s not his eyes that immediately flick down to his mouth and darken.

For a second, Dignam looks out of his depth, lips slightly parted, eyebrows knit tightly together but eyes actually wider than usual, and Billy wants to crow with delight, but then the sneer is back in place, and Dignam steps back, letting Billy go, drawing away with a gentle slap to his cheek.

‘Not bad, kid.’

What the fuck, Billy wants to say. You can’t leave me like this man, you gotta give me something, come on...

‘Now you called me for a reason, and I better not have driven all this way just because you needed someone to throw a few shitty punches at, because that’s not why you have this number. You said someone from SIU called. Who was it?’

‘Some guy called Sullivan?’ Billy answers, still against the wall, staring at the line of Dignam’s back and seeing how he tenses a moment before he turns back around. Billy forces himself to meet his gaze; the moment is gone, whatever brief spell between them broken, and it’s too late for Billy to start looking now.

‘What did he want?’

‘Said he’d been given Queenan’s unit, you’d taken a leave of absence and couldn’t confirm it, said he wanted me to come in.’

‘What the fuck did you say back?’

‘I hung up.’ He pauses. ‘Can you confirm it?’

Dignam curses. ‘I don’t fuckin’ know, I’m not there, am I? He wasn’t lying about that... Ellerby could’ve given him you, I guess.’

‘Ellerby should’ve given you me,’ Billy says, before he can stop himself. Dignam pauses, stares at him for a second too long, just to confirm that he caught the possible implication there and he’s choosing to ignore it (Billy wants to swear and break and cut and run, the moment’s over). ‘What do you know about him?’

‘Queenan assigned him to find Costello’s rat.’ Dignam’s started pacing and Billy stays by the wall, standing still; polar opposites to their usual positions when shut in a room together. ‘It doesn’t stick, you know? Why would he be assigned both operations? That’s way too much for any fuckin’ Sergeant to handle.’ Billy pointedly doesn’t say anything about how Dignam’s a fuckin’ Sergeant too. ‘He’s got an immaculate record but something about this stinks like week old shit, and I don’t trust it. Not to mention I don’t like the prick.’

‘Why, what the fuck did he ever do to you?’ Billy asks, voice contemptuous, fitting back into the way things were before.

Dignam only seems to be half-listening, answers without giving Billy a second look. ‘Arrogant scumbag thinks too much of himself, is all. Reckons he’s got it all figured out. Hated him the moment I saw him, which coincidentally was about four minutes before the moment I saw you. He started investigating Queenan, the fuckin’ nerve of him. Tried shit-talking you, too, once I questioned him on that. Can’t fight to save his fuckin’ life, either, least you give it some, and nothing pisses me off like a guy who starts shit and chokes the second the stink hits him.’

Billy stares at him. ‘What did he say about me?’

‘He suspected you killed Queenan.’

Billy’s blood runs cold. ‘What did you say?’

Dignam looks up at him, eyes flashing, anger evident on his face. ‘The truth, kid, that it was a fuckin’ lie.’

‘Was it, though?’

‘What the fuck are you talking about?’

‘What if I did kill Captain Queenan?’

Dignam sighs loudly. ‘Are you about to start blaming yourself again, Bill? What did I say to you last time?’

‘That I’m not important?’

Dignam stops pacing, stares at him. ‘What-’

‘Did you spit in my coffee? 

‘What the fuck is that supposed to mean?’

‘When you made me coffee that night, did you spit in it? I would have, if it was you, if you’d done what I’d done.’

‘I don’t-’

‘I left him there to face them alone and he died because of it. Because of me.’ By now Billy’s staring into nothing, absently picking at his fingers. Dignam takes a deep breath and exhales it slowly.

‘You need a fuckin’ cigarette, Bill, now.’

‘I’ve still got his blood on my hands.’

‘Who are you, fuckin’ Lady Macbeth? Come on Billy, step outside for me.’

Billy lets Dignam take his upper-arm and guide him outside, and he lights his cigarette running on autopilot. He’s not thinking, he’s just doing, going through the motions. Dignam leans against the vending machine, keeping a few feet of distance between them, like maybe he needs the space. Maybe he thinks Billy does. Billy’s never wanted him closer.

‘Captain Queenan’s blood ain’t on your hands, kid.’

‘It was. It is.’ Billy can remember the sound the body made on impact, the spray of blood, the stain on his shirt. He remembers standing there in shock, looking around, looking down, and his hand, wet and warm and red with blood, and he remembers the tears sting in his eyes, the bile sharp in his throat. ‘Maybe I didn’t kill him myself, Sarge, but his blood’s on my hands.’

Billy’s hands fumble and he almost drops his cigarette, cursing as the cherry catches and burns the inside of his thumb. He curses again when Dignam appears in his space, suddenly, catching his wrist, holding him still.

‘Get the fuck off me,’ Billy says, no real heat behind in his voice, his tone conveying the exact opposite of his words. ‘Let me smoke.’

At that, Dignam moves, walking around to Billy’s other side, placing his fingers on his left wrist instead. Billy doesn’t make any attempt to shake him off.

‘Bill...’ Dignam pauses, and of all the things, that’s what throws Billy off-kilter. Dignam always knows what to say, the fastest, wittiest asshole Billy’s ever had the misfortune to know, and right now he doesn’t have any words.

‘This wasn’t about the call from SIU,’ Billy says, and Dignam huffs a laugh.

‘Yeah, you don’t fuckin’ say?’

‘You got me all figured out, huh?’

‘Had you pinned from day one.’ He pauses. ‘So why the hell are we out here?’

‘Don’t blame me, I just wanted to get a cup of coffee.’

‘And, what, if I get lonely, I call you too?’

Billy feels uncomfortable here, because this isn’t familiar territory, and he doesn’t know what Dignam’s thinking when Dignam’s being nice to him. So he does what he does best; he prods.

‘Thought you might have something to say about my little bottle, Sergeant.’

‘Hey, if you got a drug problem that’s your fuckin’ business. For all I know, scamming pills from doctors who you’ve led to believe your mother is still alive helps your undercover. Nothing like a criminal with an addiction, after all. Nothing makes people more desperate.’

‘It helps.’

‘‘Course it does, we all need something to take the edge off.’ That comes out empty; Billy doesn’t know if it was supposed to be empathy or insult.

‘Even Costello, he’s a fucking cokehead.’ Billy glances around, leans in. ‘He’s losing it, Sarge.’

‘It’s nearly over, kid, I swear.’

‘Yeah.’ Billy tilts his head back as he exhales, looks up at the thick dark clouds and steely grey sky. ‘Yeah, I know it is.’

‘I’ll look into Sullivan. I don’t trust the prick.’

‘Thanks for defending my honour.’ There’s only a hint of sarcasm.

‘He insulted me, implying my undercover was a double-crosser. I couldn’t stand for that.’

‘Your undercover,’ Billy repeats. Dignam shrugs.

‘Queenan’s undercover, what-the-fuck-ever.’

Billy shrugs back. ‘Guess I am yours, now.’

Dignam claps him on the shoulder, and Billy barely moves, even to breathe, as the pad of Dignam’s thumb skims, barely there, across his slightly exposed collar. Then the warm, grounding hand is gone and Billy feels as though the world has tipped ever so slightly off its axis. This meeting’s changed something, and Billy wants to ask Dignam to stay even as he turns his back and walks away - but, in line with Dignam’s constant need to have the last word, even when it’s just a conversation and not an argument (although that is rare), not without one last parting quip.

‘Guess you are, kid.’

-

He sits on Dignam’s doorstep, looking at his phone, watching the minutes pass until the little numbers on the screen change from 01:59 to 02:00, and then he gets up and knocks, loudly and continuously, until he hears footsteps and the familiar angry voice.

‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you Bill, guaranteed...’

The lock clicks and the door is yanked inwards, and Billy doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Dignam is fully dressed, with the exception of his shoes, cup of coffee in his other hand. His eyes look red, but Billy’s going to assume, judging from the way Dignam looks and the fact that this is Dignam he’s looking at, that that’s from lack of sleep rather than crying.

‘The fuck do you want, it’s two in the morning...’

He trails off, and then a smirk cracks over his stony features, although his eyes stay cool and distant, as sharp as always. He looks down at himself.

‘Not balls deep in anyone, obviously. Alright, whatever, get inside...’

Billy nods, hasn’t worked up the guts to speak yet, and he still doesn’t really know what he wants to say. He steps past Dignam, noticing that the Sergeant moves slightly, placing another few inches distance between them. No part of them touches as Billy walks by. His stomach turns.

‘Coffee?’ Dignam asks gruffly, passing him and leading him towards the kitchen. Billy shakes his head and hitches the backpack on his shoulder up higher. Dignam stops and turns around, eyes flicking to the backpack with a frown.

‘What, you moving in?’

In another life, Billy wants to say. Instead he just forces a weak smile.

‘Come on, you look like shit. Coffee’ll do you good. What if I swear not to spit in it?’

‘And what’s your word worth?’

At that, Dignam pauses. ‘What’s going on with you?’

Billy sighs, scrubs his hand over his hair. ‘Yeah, I’ll have a coffee, hold the spit.’

‘No problem. You can sit.’ Dignam pulls a face. ‘Or whatever you want, you don’t have to sit. I know what you’re like.’

Yeah, Billy thinks. Yeah, you really do, and his heart aches.

Dignam puts his own coffee on the table where they sat only a couple of weeks ago and walks into the kitchen, out of sight. Billy waits a beat, hears the machine start up. Dignam doesn’t come back. He slips his backpack off and unzips the side pocket, pulling out a packet of cigarettes, a lighter, and the small orange bottle. He uncaps it and tips out almost the full bottle, somewhere between 60 and 80mg. He hates himself for this, but not enough to stop his hand from reaching out and opening above the cup. He pops a few of the pills himself and stuffs the bottle away, lighting a cigarette and leaning against the table. He feels nervous, probably should’ve researched this more; how long does it take them to dissolve? Is that enough to knock Dignam out? Christ, what if he kills him? Worse, what if they don’t dissolve and Dignam finds out Billy tried to drug him? Billy has his reasons and he’d explain them if he thought Dignam would listen, but the chances of that are slim to none.

So he sits back and waits and thinks that with all he’s been through, he deserves this one small favour from whatever higher power might be watching.

Dignam comes back with his coffee after a few minutes, hands it over with something that’s almost a smile, passing Billy a small white sugar bowl as an ashtray. Then he pours himself a glass of Scotch and sits down with that, and Billy’s heart starts hammering, because if Dignam doesn’t drink the coffee Billy’s only other option is to knock him out by force, and he’s not sure he could physically bring himself to do that - neither physically nor emotionally.

As it is, he doesn’t have to worry. He must have been looking or something, because Dignam shrugs and says, ‘I’ll drink that when it’s cooled down’ like he has to explain himself. Billy thinks about how far they’ve come and before he can stop himself he’s choking back a sob.

Dignam frowns at him and Billy covers himself by taking a drag of his cigarette, but then he looks down at the ashtray in his hand and chokes again.

‘What’s going on, Bill?’ Dignam asks, slowly but firmly, as though Billy is an infant or a scared animal. Billy thinks that isn’t too dissimilar to the truth right now, considering how he feels.

‘So it’s all over?’ is all he says. Dignam shrugs.

‘No,’ he says. ‘Costello’s rat is still in our department somewhere and nobody’s got a fuckin’ clue who he is.’

Billy hums and Dignam narrows his eyes.

‘You got something you want to share, Bill?’

It’s now or never.

‘Yeah, I do.’ He sits down, leans back in the chair, looks at his coffee. ‘I never thought I’d get out of this alive, you know? Never thought what I’d do afterwards, because I have no options and I thought this operation would be the end of me.’

‘And now, what, you’ve had some great fuckin’ epiphany?’

‘I guess so.’ He takes a deep breath. ‘Sergeant...’

‘Is there much point calling me that now, kid?’

‘Sean.’

Dignam looks away and Billy feels his heart tug. He’s never used his name and it feels foreign on his tongue.

‘I want to know what you think of me.’

‘What?’

‘I know you don’t like me, but I want to know why, because I can’t think of a single fucking thing I might have done to make you hate me so much.’

‘Besides threatening to kill me?’

‘You asked for that,’ Billy counters. ‘You threatened me first, with the one thing you know I couldn’t take, the one thing that actually scared me in all of this. You called me nobody.’

‘But you know that’s not true, you’re still on file...’

‘You threatened to erase me...’

‘I would never have fuckin’ done that to you!’ This comes out more strangled than Billy would ever have expected. Dignam’s eyes are as wide as that day in the motel. ‘I wouldn’t do that to you Bill, not after everything you did for us. Everything I asked you to do...’

‘I was prepared to die for you.’

‘I know that, what-’

‘So the least you can do is tell me what I did to make you hate me.’

There’s a long silence. Dignam stares at his Scotch and then knocks it back in one swift movement.

‘Look at this, alright. Look at us, right now. Does this look like I hate you, Bill? Does it feel like I hate you? I’m an asshole to everyone, respect and love aside.’

‘Love?’

Dignam sits back and folds his arms, looking away to the clock with the cracked face. Billy follows his gaze and realises that the hands are in the exact same place as before; the clock is broken.

‘Are we really gonna fuckin’ do this right now?’

‘Are we gonna get another chance?’

Dignam’s gaze snaps back to him, suspicious. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nothing,’ Billy says quickly. ‘It’s just. I know you, alright, and pretty damn well by now I’d say, and if we don’t finish it once it’s started you’re never gonna let us have another chance, and I want it fucking finished.’ He pauses. ‘Look at what I just went through, years of that fucking bullshit, waking up every day knowing I might die, watching people die, and I did it, every day. I finished it, because I don’t believe in dropping things halfway and letting them hang and fade, alright, and I’m not letting whatever this bullshit is between us do that, I’m gonna finish it. Whether it ends good or bad, we’re dealing with it tonight Sean-’

He’s cut off, right at the last second, before he can finish, despite what he was just saying, and that angers him even more than the knuckles connecting with his jaw. He reels back and the chair tips, almost falls, except Dignam’s caught him by his jacket collar again and it’s just like the motel except this time-

This time the fucker goes for it, and it’s not a nice kiss, but it’s the best Billy’s ever had, and it’s really the only way it could be between them, hard and bruising, and Dignam’s unyielding, just like Billy expected him to be, imagined him being. The chair tips forward again and his knees crash into the table and he hisses into the kiss as his hands scrabble for purchase, settling on Dignam’s arms and gripping tightly, and he doesn’t let go even after Dignam’s pulled away.

And the best thing, perhaps the best thing of all, is that he doesn’t go very far, puts only a few inches between them so that every breath washes warm and smelling of Scotch over Billy’s face, and Billy revels in it, wants to taste it again.

‘Alright,’ Dignam mutters, casting his eyes down. ‘Does that answer your fuckin’ question?’

‘Thank fuck for that,’ Billy murmurs in reply. ‘I’ve been losing my fucking mind.’

‘Don’t try and blame that shit on me, you prick,’ Dignam answers without heat in his words.

Billy huffs a laugh, squeezes Dignam’s arms. All he wants is to stay here, like this, maybe closer, with less clothes, but…

‘Drink your coffee before it goes cold.’ He hates that he has to say it, but he keeps his voice casual, and Dignam sighs and pulls away. Billy feels the distance like a weight in his stomach, but he keeps that to himself.

Wait, no, fuck it, come back here, I need you, after all this I need you, come on, give me something, I need you this time. He doesn’t say it, and Dignam drinks his coffee in only a few gulps. Billy hasn’t got long, and he’s got a lot to say.

‘Happy now?’ Dignam grunts, and actually presses close again, like maybe he needs Billy too, maybe he was being more honest than he knew, that first day in Queenan’s office, all those long hard months ago…

‘There’s something else,’ he blurts, before Dignam can kiss him again and distract him. Dignam stops and pulls back, narrows his eyes.

‘What are you talking about, Bill?’ His voice is darker than it has been for some time. Billy cringes and begins to withdraw into himself.

‘I have some information for you,’ he says, quickly, because he doesn’t know how much time he has. He really should’ve done more research. ‘About Costello’s rat.’

‘What kind of information?’

‘I know who he is.’

Dignam breathes in sharply and Billy waits.

‘Are you fuckin’ serious?’

‘I needed to talk about that first, alright, trust me on that, but. Yeah, I know who the rat is, and you’re really gonna hate this.’

-

When Sean comes to, he’s lying on his couch, and the television’s on, although it’s muted, or maybe his hearing’s just a little fuzzy. There’s a reporter onscreen; he fell asleep watching the news, that’s not unusual…

No. No, he didn’t fall asleep watching the news, because he wasn’t alone last night, he was with…

Billy fuckin’ Costigan, the little snake, the little rat, the sneaky little…

He’s there, onscreen, suddenly, and Sean’s lurching upright into a sitting position, staring wide-eyed, the sharp taste of bile in his throat as they pull a sheet over him and…

He scrabbles for the remote, unmutes the report just as they cut away from the ambulance to…

Colin fuckin’ Sullivan, making an official report outside the station. It’s all coming back now, and Sean listens to what Sullivan’s saying - a shoot-out, Officers Barrigan and Brown, tried to save Costigan - with white noise growing in his ears and his vision turning red. The remote hits the screen with a smash.

There’s a note on the table, repeating in scrawled handwriting what Billy had told him last night - in case you don’t remember, it starts with. Sean grabs it, scrunches it up, punches the table with it clenched in his fist, before unfolding it again and reading the end.

I’m leaving the news on, just in case this goes another way. I hope it doesn’t, and I know you do too. If you don’t hear from me, I’m sorry for all this shit. I guess some guys don’t get any luck at all.

Love, Billy.

Some guys don’t get any luck at all. Sean thinks of Sullivan. Some guys get all the fuckin’ luck. He thinks of all the information he managed to gather on the prick - knew he was right not to trust him, should’ve followed his gut fuckin’ instinct. He remembers the address - don’t know why he memorised it, but thanks whatever higher power might be out there that he did.

And then he curses that higher power, because he didn’t go through all that shit with Billy Costigan just to lose him when they started getting their reward.

He calls Ellerby, leaves a message when the useless asshole doesn’t answer, because for some unknown reason (he’s a Captain in the fucking SIU for Christ’s sake) he never answers his goddamn cell phone, tells him about the tapes, recordings of conversations between Costello and Sullivan.

‘And you liked him,’ he spits. ‘Who’s the better fuckin’ judge of character now, huh?’

He still has his gun, because he wasn’t going to hand that over for two weeks of absence, no fucking way. But he needs a bit of time, and before he digs that out, he needs to find a black suit for the funeral.

-

Seeing Sullivan bleeding out on the clean floor of his nice apartment isn’t as satisfying as Sean had hoped it might be, and he wishes he could’ve done more - shooting the bastard was merciful, he thinks, all the things I could’ve done to him, wanted to do to him. Maybe that would have been more satisfying, hearing his screams instead of his quiet, accepting ‘okay.’

But it’s all bullshit; he knows the only thing that could really satisfy him now is six feet under with a bullet in his head.

He strips off the bullshit in his car, pulls off the hat and the gloves and the fucking foot wrap, puts the safety on the gun and drops it out the window as he pulls out the parking lot. By the time he reaches the cemetery he’s almost stopped shaking, but it picks up again when he stands at Billy’s grave. That Madolyn lady, the shrink, has left flowers, but they’re damaged by the rain. Not that there’s much Sean can do about that; he left the house with a gun, not a bouquet.

‘Fuck you,’ he tells the gravestone, without any heat or anger or… anything, really, except inescapable sadness. ‘We were gonna have everything, you and me. Knew I should’ve taken those fuckin’ pills off you when I had the chance.’ He chokes, but he doesn’t cry. He never cries. ‘I got him. I avenged you, or whatever.’ He looks away, at the lines and lines of graves around him. He wonders how many of those are for people who didn’t deserve to die, who were nothing but good and deserved nothing but good and, because of people like Sullivan, because of people like himself, got only the worst.

‘It doesn’t feel right,’ he continues. ‘It doesn’t feel good, this vengeance bullshit. Kinda fake, not really as satisfying or cleansing as they make it out to be. You know like when you drink something and it doesn’t taste right, like how you thought it would be or how it’s tasted before?’ He huffs a humourless laugh. ‘I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, I don’t even know why the fuck I’m talking to you. I got a smart mouth, but I’m no fuckin’ good with words.’

He rubs his face, nudges at the flowers with his feet, lays his hands on Billy’s stone. William Costigan, Jr. Beloved Son. Not brother, husband, father. He deserved so much more.

‘You deserved so much more, Bill, and I’m really fuckin’ sorry.’ He pats the stone and steps back. ‘But hey, I should’ve said this weeks ago, you asshole; fuck you, I would never spit in your fuckin’ coffee.’

When he walks away, having said that, he almost feels better.