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Those Who Fear Life

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Chapter One

Mary finally dies on a Thursday in July.

Sean isn’t there when it happens. He’s left her long enough to get lunch; the hospice nurse swore up and down that she would last that long, and by the time he gets the call on the cell they can’t really afford, it’s too late for him to get home before she’s gone. When he gets there and his wife is gone entirely, and sure she’s not suffering but he should have fucking been there, he gets damn close to punching that nurse, woman or not. For once in his fucking life, with someone besides Mary he holds back on his anger, and it’s only because of her that he does, and instead he dials Queenan before any of their family.

Queenan doesn’t answer, so he calls the house and gets his wife instead. “Sean,” she says when she picks up, “how’s Mary doing?” The Queenans have been there for them this whole time, Mrs. Queenan bringing food and sitting with Mary when he just needs a fucking break from watching his wife die, and if anyone besides him should have been here for her, it’s them.

“Mary’s gone,” he says into the phone, and the words bounce right back at him like he’s on speaker or something. “She—” He swears. “I wasn’t fucking here.”

“I’ll be right over,” she says, her voice soft. “Oliver’s in meetings today about the trainees, but I’ll get through quickly.”

Yeah. The job, the trainees, sucking some kids into the whole fucking mess of their unit. Sean should be there for some of that. He’s about to tell her not to interrupt when he stops himself. “I’m not going anywhere.”

When he sets the receiver on the cradle—and he should get a fucking medal for not slamming it through the fucking drywall—he turns back to Mary. That bitch nurse left him alone with her, she said to let him say goodbye but he thinks because she saw that look when he got home and realized he was too late.

The thing is, he doesn’t fucking know how to say goodbye. Not to Mary, anyway. He’s been saying goodbye his whole life, but not to her. She was a Southie kid like him, got in almost as much trouble right beside him, but a pretty girl got out of a shitload more than a boy, even if she was a mouthy brat too. They’d been talking kids before she got sick, and for awhile during too, when it looked like she’d be okay. But the bills kept coming in, not so much her medical because Staties get fucking decent coverage there, but their mortgage, the new car that he finally sold and kept the beater when it looked like she wouldn’t get back to driving or teaching second grade or any-fucking-thing, everything else.

“Honey, this was a bitch move,” he says finally, and he walks to the bed to sit beside her. The rails are already down, and he sits beside her bony hip, taking her hand. She’s still warm. “Didn’t we agree this wasn’t how it was going down?”

Mary, of course, doesn’t answer. If she could, she’d probably point out that was about four years ago, the last time they agreed, and they both shut up about it since, so he should fucking shut up about it now.

She never let anyone say she couldn’t hold her own against him or anyone else. He didn’t ever have to say it for her; the second someone tried, she’d be cutting in, not letting them finish, just to prove how fucking wrong they were about her, but that’s not going to fucking happen again. She won’t even get to tell him to shut the fuck up again.

Christ, he’s still got to call her parents, his brother if he feels like dealing with that. Maybe he’ll get Mrs. Queenan to do it, if he wants to take the pussy route.

He did undercover for years, though. He shouldn’t be pussying out about calling his fucking brother when Mary just died. For one thing, she’d have kicked his ass to hell and back for it. She still might come back to do it. Not much would surprise him with her.

“I don’t know where the fuck you went, but you better know I’m still thinking about you.” He squeezes her hand, gentle as can be. The IV’s gone, too. All that shit except the fucking hospital bed is gone. “The Queenans are coming. Then I’ll call your parents, even if you’d fucking hate me for it, you got it?” He swallows. “Honey, if I could have beaten this shit with my bare hands, I would have for you. Any-fucking-thing, I’d do it.” And that would have gotten his ass kicked, too, for suggesting she couldn’t do it herself, even though she obviously couldn’t. He could do it even less.

“Sergeant,” the fucking nurse says behind him, “you have a—”

Mrs. Queenan, amazing woman she is, just pushes past the nurse and into the room. “Oh, Mary,” she says sadly, and he’s so fucking glad she didn’t just say his name that his heart squeezes. “You sweet girl.” It takes a special kind of person to see through someone like Mary, and Mrs. Queenan is just that kind. Captain Queenan’s the same. Sean always did know the idea of opposites attracting is bullshit.

“I have to call her parents,” he says. “Will you—”

“Of course.” She sits on the other side of his wife and strokes back her short hair from her face, and Sean gets up, going to hunt down the damn address book because his in-laws moved six months ago and he doesn’t know their new number. Part of that’s because Mary didn’t want him to call them, part of it’s because he didn’t want to deal with them, part of it’s because he was too fucking busy with their dying daughter who they barely showed up to see, even after they knew that was what was happening.

If he thinks about it, he doesn’t know why he’s bothering besides that it means he doesn’t have to call his brother yet. There are the kids they grew up with, the ones they’re still friends with, and he’ll get to them, but it makes more sense to him that he get this shit over with. At least there are only really her relatives.

Speaking of friends, now that she’s dead, maybe one of the women will tell him who Mary fucked before they were together so he can beat the fuck out of the bastard for giving her HPV and fucking murdering her. She never would, never let the others, said it wouldn’t make a fucking difference and he’d lose his job if he got turned in, but now he can claim grief. It’ll even be true. Besides, he knows his captain will cover his ass on it this one time, what with the reason.

He’s jerked out of those thoughts when her father answers the phone, sounding bleary, and Sean wonders if he’s already been drinking or just woke up. Last he heard, the man was working third somewhere, but it wouldn’t be the first time the bastard got himself fired for some reason, booze or fighting on the job or some shit. “Yeah?”

“Keith, Mary died.”

There’s silence a minute before he says, “She still at home?”

“Yeah. You gonna tell Deb?”

“She walked out. Two weeks ago. Said she’d call you.”

It’s about fucking time those two separated. It’s happened before, but it’s never stuck more than a few days. Two weeks is Deb’s record. “She fucking didn’t.” Who the fuck doesn’t keep in touch when her daughter is fucking dying? “She say where she was going?”

Keith grunts. “One of the kids, probably.”

Jesus, that means calling all Mary’s brothers and sisters until he finds Deb if he wants to put that much effort into it, and it’s not like her family is small. “You have any idea which one, Keith?”

“I did, I’d fucking tell you, kid.” There’s the mean bastard Sean knows and despises. “I’m coming to see my daughter.”

“You set foot in my house drunk, I’ll throw you the fuck out,” Sean warns.

“Fucking try it.”

“I’ve taken you before, old man.” Keith never hit Mary, not really. Her brothers got the worst of that. But he was a mean bastard, one of the kinds who could and would break down his family with his words and his poison, and Sean got involved one time he started on Mary, broke his nose and blackened his eye, and Keith mostly left his middle girl alone after that. One of the only times Mary didn’t light into him for getting in the middle of something she might’ve handled on her own, mostly because they both knew she couldn’t against Keith.

“Haven’t been drinking anyway.” Sean figures that’s a lie. If it isn’t, Keith’s going to start soon. “I’ll get there when I can.”

“Mary’s dead, you bastard, and you can’t get your ass over here?” This shit is why Sean didn’t want to do this.

“I said, I’ll get there,” Keith growls, and the fuck is that supposed to do to Sean, scare him?

Sean can’t be fucked to have a real fight with him, not right now, so he jabs to disconnect the line and turns the address book’s pages to the first of Mary’s siblings that he likes all right, one of her kid sisters their group would keep an eye on, let tag along. Christy sounds tired when she picks up the phone, and since Sean knows she’s got a new baby, he has to curse himself for picking her. “Christy, she’s gone.”

“Sean?”

“Yeah.”

“When?”

“Little over an hour ago. You know where Deb is?”

“I think Mike’s stuck with her this time. Need me to call?” God, even her little sister’s holding it together fine. Mary being sick so long got them all ready for this.

“Yeah. I had to deal with your bastard father already.”

Christy makes a displeased sound. “I just put Robbie down, but I’ll be over. How’re you doing?”

“Mary’s dead, Christy. How do you think I’m doing?”

“That’s what I thought. Soon as I call some of the others, I’ll get Robbie up and come on over, all right?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Their house is going to be fucking crowded if even just her sisters and their littler kids show up, not to mention their friends, but he’ll deal with it. He figures they’ve got a right to see her, too, even if it’s just going to piss him off. At least it probably won’t be all of Mary’s siblings at first; Christy knows which ones he can stand for any real time, and she knows how to put them off.

When he hangs up this time, he has to really think about calling his brother. Brian might be good about this, or he might make Sean want to shoot him. As long as the Queenans are around, he’ll hold off on that, so he picks up the fucking phone again and calls his brother at work, that fucking boring nine-to-five job he has. Something to do with computers.

“Brian Dignam.”

Sean goes through it again, and his brother is decent: “I’ll be there soon, kid.”

That’s different from the hateful, attempted put-down from Keith. Brian’s older, eleven months and a few days, and sometimes he’s a dick about it. Sometimes, like now, he makes an effort at being a decent older brother. Not that Sean makes much of an effort to be a decent younger brother himself most of the time. “Thanks, Brian.”

“If it was Kathy, you’d come,” Brian points out, and he’s right there. “I won’t be long. Want me to call Kathy?”

“She might make the Flynns more tolerable.”

“By what, an inch?”

Yeah, Brian does remember growing up around that family. “Yeah, call her.”

“As soon as I do, I’ll leave here.”

“Yeah,” and it hits him again, his wife’s gone and he’s just bone tired and about to deal with her family and has to call their friends and he’s got almost no fucking time for a decent goodbye. That shit earlier hardly counts. Mrs. Queenan might clear the room for him later, though.

Captain Queenan gets to his house just as he’s about to dial a friend, Meghan, one who has the numbers for everyone else and will take over for him. His captain gives him a long look before asking, “Do you still keep the whiskey in the same place?”

Sean just nods. It hasn’t been touched in the last eight months. He knew damn well that if he started he wouldn’t be able to stop, not while watching her go. The most he had was a couple of beers on her worst days, when she finally had enough morphine in her to put her out for a couple of hours and he could get away from watching her struggle so hard. Struggling wasn’t the Mary he knew for most of their lives. That Mary fought and kicked ass and won, fuck everything else, but this ate her away and reduced her to fucking struggling and out of every-fucking-thing Sean’s seen in his life, that was the hardest, harder even than anything when he worked undercover, harder than witnessing a murder. This murdered her. So he got away, sitting out on the porch with those fucking beers, and tried not to focus on what was happening right behind him.

Queenan brings him a tumbler a minute later, maybe just over a finger of whiskey in it, and Sean takes it. His hands are still dead steady, he’s clamped down so tight, and the whiskey burns its way down his throat. It’s good.

“Christy and Brian are getting here soon.”

“Good. That’s good.” Queenan turns back to the bed. “Deb and Keith?”

“No fucking clue,” and if he sounds bitter, he figures he deserves to. “Christy’s hunting Deb down. Keith’s a prick, so who fucking knows.”

Later, Christy comes, Robbie in her arms, and Sean can’t fucking look at the baby. Kathy gets to his house right before Brian, and then it’s most of the Flynns, Erin, Brendan, Janie, Carrie, Mike with Deb in tow, Kevin, and their friends are mixed in there somewhere. It gets too much to handle, all the fucking sympathy he doesn’t fucking want, not now, not fucking ever, and he escapes when Mrs. Queenan gives him the nod, into the other bedroom where he can demolish the drywall and bloody his knuckles.

That feels fucking good. Fucking real.