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Billy is something of an anomaly, being South Boston born and bred and an only child. His mother would take his face between her hands and call him ‘sweetheart’ and ‘special’ whenever he asked about it and it wasn’t until much later, maybe as late as her deathbed, that Billy finally understood her reluctance.

Sean has two older brothers and a sister. A nightmare according to him but Billy’s seen the way he softens around his sister, swapping between the two expressions he has mastered, a scowl and a psychotic grin, only when her eyes well up with tears.

Not that Billy’s jealous, he has a cousin he sees far too often, and Sean is always quick to leave them all behind whenever Billy slaps his open palm against their door, scraping the mud caked on his boots off on their doorstep while he waits.

They look an odd pair walking the streets of Boston at an age where other mothers might keep them tucked under their arms with stories of monsters shaped like men. But this city is their home; all drunk filled gutters and abandoned corner shops, it’s the only home they know. And as they slip between alleyways, passing back and forth a single cigarette Sean swiped from one of his brothers, they almost blend in completely with the graffiti. Billy, slight and fair-haired, just as sharp and bright as the tags on the wall; Sean is his opposite, what he lacks in height, he’s already making up for with the width of his shoulders and the strength of his glare.

At this age they believe they’re invincible. They are, just not for the reasons they might think.

-

Billy is nine years old when a trooper, fresh from the academy, finds his uncle Jackie outside the airport, a bullet lodged in his skull.

He stands beside his dad at the funeral in a suit several sizes too big. Just this morning, he had straightened out the cut on his shoulders and told him with a sad smile that he’d grow into it. Billy didn’t like the sound of that or the resigned look on his father’s face. It’s the first funeral Billy’s been to and one of many for the family. It’s not an experience he would like to repeat.

Hushed expressions and wry smiles pass them by. Again and again he hears, “Sorry for your loss,” and “Jackie was a great guy,” all spoken around a closed casket lid. Right under his father’s nose they all look down at Billy, not as someone’s son but as ‘Jackie’s nephew.’ In this bizarre setting it’s an identity he’s used to at least.

Throughout the service a man stands at the back of the church. Not a man of any legal authority but certainly the weight of one. He has wild eyes that linger on Billy but he’s also the only one who sounds sincere when he shakes his father’s hand and grasps Billy’s bony shoulder. The two guys that flag him either side have guns hidden under their jackets that Billy pretends not to see. It goes a long way to shattering the stories his mother used to tell him, about devils not being able to cross the threshold of places of worship.

At the wake his dad points out the guy with the most prominent badge on show. He’s slouching against the back wall, beer in hand, and Billy will remember the look on his face, blank and disinterested, long into his future.

-

When he recounts it all to Sean later, Sean seems more put off by the closed casket than by the poor standards of today’s police force. Billy would find that funny in retrospect.

-

It’s years later that the image of the funeral, and its criminal/cop extremes, becomes too hard for Billy to ignore.

They’ve passed the lot thousands of times before and this time it’s cold enough to see their breath in front of their faces. Sean, having grown bolder in age but still smart enough to be careful, has pilfered a watered down bottle of beer from his brother’s stash, and he hands it over to Billy in hopes that the alcohol will warm them from the inside out.

He makes it a few steps, holding out the beer, before he realises Billy has stopped.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he asks, backtracking, but Billy barely hears him, too busy peering through the fence that separates them from the junkyard on the opposite side.

Sean comes to rest against his shoulder and the warmth of his bulk bleeds through the connection. He follows Billy’s stare to a dog chained up amidst the rubble. It’s some kind of Pit bull, or at least it would be if it was anything more than skin stretched over bones. It’s coloured the same shade of rust that litters the lot and Billy feels sick just looking at it while Sean sneers.

“Bryce said the guy gives it pig’s blood when he can be bothered to feed it. Makes it meaner or some shit, the sick fuck.” Sean, as eloquent as ever, takes a swig and then tries to push the bottle into Billy’s chest.

But instead of taking the bottle, Billy hooks his boot into one of the links and lifts himself up. Sean fists the back of his jacket before he can get too far.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Did you hear what I just said? That thing will rip you to pieces.”

Billy shakes the hand loose, growls “Get your fucking hands off me,” and continues climbing.

No one likes Sean. His brothers are half-way popular and his sister, with her dark eyes, dark hair and ‘fuck you’ attitude, even more so. But Sean, Sean bleeds companionship like a body left to rot in the sun, sluggishly and when you wish it wouldn’t at all. Billy can’t remember how they became friends, just that Sean made him laugh without meaning to and if he ever expected more from Billy, he kept it to himself.

That’s all Billy needs in a friend. Turns out, he’s not so popular himself.

It’s in that moment, though, that he’s reminded why they’re friends. Because after he’s safely tucked the beer out of the way and Billy is well clear, Sean starts scaling the fence as well. It sways dangerously under his weight but he makes it over to drop down on the other side with none of Billy’s grace.

“Your stupid ass is going to get us killed, Billy, you know that right?”

Sean is the only one who calls him Billy. Never ‘Bill’ like his dad or ‘Costigan’ like a faceless criminal. Billy’s never really taken a moment to appreciate that and now is still not the time.

He starts in on the dog slowly. He’s reckless not stupid and Sean keeps step with him the whole time, not one to cow behind or take the leading step; which honestly says a lot about him too.

The Pit bull lifts its wide skull once they’re close enough to reach out a hand and touch it. The warning growl starts deep in its chest and gets louder and louder until Sean stops, holding out his palms in useless surrender.

“Doesn’t look like he’s fed it in a while,” Sean says, despite the red stains around its mouth, and his voice doesn’t waver but Billy can hear fear under the bravado.

“Distract it or something so I can get closer,” Billy says, simple as, and Sean snorts before he realises it’s not a joke.

“Are you shitting me?”

Sean’s eyes are almost black when they snap towards Billy but he takes a step to the side anyway, circling the dog. It tracks the arc he makes, giving Billy a clear look at its throat. The chain is just slip knotted around the dog’s neck; it will pull tighter if it lunges for one of them but shouldn’t be too hard to remove if it doesn’t.

And now that he’s closer, Billy takes a second to really look at the Pit bull. Its fur is patchy and rubbed raw in places but it’s the thing’s eyes that leave an impression. Glazed over and dead looking, like it’s accepted its fate in life and given up. Standing above it, all Billy can see is his uncle Jackie laid out on the asphalt. Discarded and forgotten. Not worth anyone’s time; certainly not the cops’. He remembers the heavy hand on his shoulder and that man’s crazy eyes. How there was more compassion there than Billy has ever seen on an officer explaining to a mother why their kid won’t be coming home.

The push and pull is a fucking mess in his head, he decides, not quite understanding either force.

There’s a sharp noise then, while he’s contemplating, like metal against metal, and he hears Sean mutter “Shit” under his breath. Billy makes the mistake of glancing away from the dog and spots a guy at the edge of the lot. He’s watching them with a metal baseball bat in his hands and, before Billy can think, he swings at the shell of a muscle car and the echoing noise causes the dog to turn rabid.

It lashes out fast and sinks its teeth into Billy’s hand. Billy has enough sense to lean into the movement instead of against and Sean crashes into him at just the right moment, when it opens its jaws to clamp down again, knocking him out of its reach before it can do anymore damage.

Billy can’t climb the fence with his hand cut up to shit so Sean steers him further along until there’s a gap in the mesh. With the noise still ringing in their ears and the dog’s viscous barking adding to it, he pushes Billy through first then follows, all the while keeping his hand somewhere on him, in fear that if he lets go, even for a second, Billy’s going to do something insane again. They follow the bend around, past where they climbed over and further. They’re a block away when Sean stops him, hand firm on his shoulder and his mouth spilling over with rage.

“You’re such a dumbass,” he grits out and reaches for his hand. “Let me see.”

Sean’s grip is surprisingly gentle as he turns Billy’s hand over in his. He probes at the steadily bleeding wound and frowns. The edges are already puffing up, filled with dirt and worse, and he must have retrieved the bottle as well because priorities and all that, and he presses it against Billy’s palm, as if the winter chilled glass is going to help with the swelling.

“Well you’re not going to die,” is his diagnosis and he still looks angry but that’s about as neutral as it gets with Sean. “What the hell were you thinking anyway? In your head, how the fuck was that supposed to play out?”

A sense of calm washes over Billy, with the cold and the pain mixing together, and he flexes his fingers just to see if he still can. “It’s got a better chance living on the street than under that guy’s fucking thumb,” he explains. “I was trying to help it.”

Sean snorts but he’s eyeing Billy weirdly, unsure if this is a typical response with him. “Yeah, well a lot of good that did. You need to go home and get that cleaned out. Before your fucking hand rots off.”

Billy nods but, again, he’s not really listening. The dog is probably not going to survive the winter, not at this rate, and his uncle Jackie is deep under frozen ground next to his uncle Tommy, who he never met but hears so much about. Billy spares a brief thought to his own future, of Sean’s, of his mother’s and father’s, hell, even his cousin’s, and honestly believes each one could go either way; through no fault of their own.

He lets Sean set the pace back home while he mechanically brings the beer up to his mouth. Sean only ever steals one, he’s noticed, and Billy wonders if he doesn’t do it on purpose, for every time their fingers tangle when passing it between them. And especially now, when Sean watches him from out of the corner of his eye, as he necks the last dregs. Tipping his head way back, the blood from his hand trickles down to meet his mouth, painting his lips red. It’s only then that Sean finally starts looking ahead.

Billy files it away with the rest of the shit. He’s not the only one fucked in the head, it seems. What a relief.

-

His mother and father are waiting for him when he gets home, sitting on opposite sides of their small family room. His mother jumps up from her seat when she gets a clear look at his hand but she doesn’t dare touch him, and instead his dad pushes him down onto his threadbare recliner while he tells her to go and fetch the first aid kit.

She hovers, wringing her hands, and Billy can see unshed tears in her eyes already. He doesn’t look down as his dad wraps his hand in a handkerchief; his eyes follow her as she backs out of the room. He watches an empty doorway until he hears a door slam shut somewhere upstairs, it’s then that he realises she’s not coming back.

“What did this, son?” his dad asks, and he drags the cloth over his hand, achieving nothing but cracking open dried blood.

Billy ignores it all, intent on the empty space over his father’s shoulder. “What’s going on?” he asks but the answer is already clawing at the back of his throat.

His dad can tell because in a flat voice he says, “This looks pretty bad. You might need a tetanus shot,” and Billy feels the panic spike in him.

“What’s going on, dad?”

His father drops his head and Billy finally tears his eyes away to stare instead at his defeated hunch and the way his limbs are shaking in comparison to Billy’s rock steady hands. It’s with one great big pull of air that his father climbs to his feet.

“Come on, I’m taking you to the ER.”

He tries to drag Billy up with him but Billy is having none of it. “No,” he says, and he’s fighting his dad now. “Not until you tell me the truth. What the fuck is going on here?”

When he thinks back on the incident, it’s always the bright fluorescent lights of the ER that sticks out the most, not the sad look in father’s eyes when he says, “Your mother, she’s decided…well, we’ve decided, that she’s moving back up shore. We’re getting a divorce, son.”

The subsequent drive to the emergency room is silent. He sits next to his father while his hand bleeds through the handkerchief and forms a small puddle at his feet. He says nothing as a nurse pours liquid fire into his palm and preps a syringe with nails that are painted a deep purple. Outside, he leans his head back against the wall, surrounded by nervous cigarette smoke and waits for his father to fill out the final paperwork. In the end, he climbs back into the car feeling more like a ghost than a patient.

They stop at a red light and without looking over his dad clears his throat and says, “We want you to have the choice about where you go. With me or your mother. You don’t got to decide right now, but-”

“Here,” Billy answers too fast, “I want to stay here.”

And there’s a moment, a very brief second, when his father looks over at him with the most disappointed expression. Pure grief over what must feel like losing a son despite his choice and Billy feels the sting long after the light turns green.

When they stop again, outside the house, his father presses his hand against his cheek and lightly slaps some colour back into his pale skin. Billy feels like he’s made the right choice then. He recalls that time his dad let him drive the luggage cart along an empty runway and how they both smiled for the camera. He thinks about Sean’s dark eyes and his cousin’s magnetising ability to draw in disaster and feels content. As long as he doesn’t think about how secure it felt to instead have his mother’s warm hands around his face, how loved and wanted he felt, he’ll think he made the right decision.

-

Billy doesn’t tell Sean that he had a hand in whether or not he stayed. In fact, he doesn’t mention his mother at all. And if Sean notices she’s no longer about, he doesn’t say anything. Like the friend Billy needs, he keeps his mouth shut, even as Billy seems to darken, pulling into himself like a black hole.

-

It’s not long before his mother finds herself another guy up on the North Shore. He’s the kind who plasters on a too white smile whenever Billy comes up to visit on the weekends and one who seems to live in a suit and tie, to the point where Billy seriously considers he might not have a neck at all. But guilt must really do funny things to a person because, within a week of meeting him, he pulls some strings and gets Billy into Deerfield Academy.

Now Billy spends his mornings tugging loose a red and black striped tie of his own, and his afternoons mocking the teachers and their perfectly formed vowels with Sean. He gets to be so good at it, slipping in and out, that sometimes Sean’s grin falters and suddenly it’s not funny anymore.

To be fair, they can’t really blame him for snapping like he does.

-

The gym teacher at Deerfield has a habit of spitting out ‘Costigan’ like bile from his stomach. Someone must have fucked him over in another life, one of Billy’s ancestors from the looks of it, as he singles out Billy for everything.

He finally figures it out over a friendly, school versus school, basketball game someone has arranged. Their team is losing, 11-23, and the longer it goes on, the redder their teacher’s face gets. Billy throws wide on purpose just to see if the guy’s going to have a heart attack and amazingly enough he delivers, throwing his clipboard across the bleachers and marching around the edge of the gymnasium to snarl at Billy.

“You’re as bad as your scumbag uncle, Costigan,” he hisses over the static of the crowd. “Your whole family bleeds money from me like a fucking tick.”

His uncle Jackie was a bookie over in Somerville, as well as a piss poor bartender, and the realisation touches home for Billy just why this guy has such a fucking problem with him. Billy should have spotted the signs long ago. No ring but the tan lines that show he probably hocked it for cash, a beer belly gut, and an overall air of desperation; his teacher has a gambling problem.

He grins back, for once in his life proud to be a Costigan from South Boston, and the teacher pales with rage then goes twice as red. His eyes have turned vicious when they meet Billy’s again.

“How’s your mother, Costigan? Last I heard-”

He doesn’t get to finish because Billy abandons the game and launches himself at the teacher, tackling him to the ground. He goes down hard, years of stress weight piled on, and it sounds thunderous around the gym as everyone freezes at the same time.

Billy loses track of how many times he brings his fists down into the guy’s face and vulnerable stomach. But he’ll always remember how cool the folding chair feels in his hands when he reaches for it.

Students and once proud mothers scatter, and it takes three people to drag him away in the end.

-

Billy comes out of the whole situation with an official record on file and a promise to actually attend his mandatory counselling sessions. He’s lucky and he owes a lot of it to some faceless force back in the projects. The memory of that guy at his uncle’s funeral comes back sharp and foreboding but Billy knows better than to question it.

His father is beyond disappointed, his mother distraught, but his cousin thinks it’s the coolest thing. Sean wears an expression of deep betrayal when he catches sight of the mottled bruising from where the teacher got in one good hit. There and gone so fast and then he’s back to standing too close like a guard dog of his own device.

-

Dr Monroe sits like a king in his North Shore office. He calls Billy ‘chief’ and ‘champ’ instead of his name. Calls him every C word but Costigan and then sits back to assess the way Billy doesn’t bristle.

Their first session together is a standoff. His father comes to collect him after forty-five minutes, registers the tense air and takes Billy out for ice cream on the way home.

At the start of the second session Monroe says, “Your mother tells me you’ve been reading Hawthorne,” and Billy finally looks away from counting the ceiling tiles and raises an eyebrow, as if to say ‘And?’

Monroe shrugs, tapping his gold plated pen against the pad on his desk, the one he writes shorthand notes in about how fucked up a kid Billy is. The sun glares off his diploma when he says, “Sticking with your roots, I see.”

“Anything’s better than Shakespeare,” Billy answers, but it’s really just something he picked up around his mother’s house. Something from her school days because there are pencil marks in all the borders and her maiden name is scrawled across the first page.

Billy was flicking through a number of them the last weekend he stayed over, and spent several minutes just stuck on The House of Seven Gables. He read the foreword over and over until finally he slid into a chair and started reading it for real, feeling the constant static in his head turn muted.

The wrongdoings of one generation lives in the successive ones…becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.

Billy feels more relief reading that than he ever will sitting in Monroe’s office, listening to him talk shit about something he knows nothing about.

-

They’ve been forced into a room together for three months when Monroe suggests it.

“If the custody agreement was reversed, and you spent the weekdays with your mother and the weekends with your father, how would you feel about that?”

Like a fucking punk, Billy thinks. Like the worst son in the world. But something must be working because Billy’s immediate reaction isn’t to throw himself across the desk and drag Monroe’s head down onto the surface using one of his gaudy ties.

He just feels tired. Way older than his seventeen years.

“Whatever I have going on now isn’t working…” Billy shrugs and Monroe smiles, a row of perfect teeth. The promise of a success story he can pass on to some bullshit psychiatry journal is already half formed in his mind.

Still, Billy doesn’t want to strangle him. That’s progress.

-

“What the fuck are you saying to me?”

Sean actually takes a step back when Billy tells him, like the words are a literal slap in the face. He circles the decaying picnic bench Billy’s sitting on and starts pacing.

“I’m going to live with my mother,” Billy says again, around a drag of his cigarette. He holds the half burnt stub out to Sean but he doesn’t take it. “Monroe thinks I’m better suited to a different environment.”

Sean makes a face at the mention of Monroe. Never met the guy, only through Billy’s twisted impressions, and he already hates him and everything he stands for. “You mean you’re too good for the rest of us,” he corrects, and he pushes away the hand Billy offers him again, already building up to a rant that Billy doesn’t want to hear.

Billy’s stoking the fire when he says, “Maybe I am, yeah,” but sometimes he just can’t help it. Even therapy can’t knock the smartass out of him.

It sets Sean off though, and he unravels like a snapped rubber band, using that stored up energy to shove at Billy’s shoulder, sending him off kilter across the bench. Summer is reaching its peak, bearing down on them like a tangible weight, and the sweat on Billy’s palms causes him to slide further than Sean probably intended. Only, with the years, Sean got bigger and now cares even less.

Billy rights himself just in time for Sean to wrap his fists in the front of his shirt and spit in his face.

“I know what you are, Billy. Of all the fucking people, I know. You’re a fucking Southie tick like the rest of your family, like me and mine. What you’re not is a North Shore cunt who wears a knotted up tie and vacations on his step-daddy’s boat on the weekends.”

Sean’s never actually hit Billy before. Growing up, they were always too busy throwing punches in every direction but at each other, so he’s not expecting it when Sean’s fist connects with his jaw and sends him spilling off the edge of the table completely.

“Motherfucker,” Billy hisses through the ringing in his ears and he has his arm around Sean’s leg, pulling him down, before he really thinks it through.

It must look pathetic from afar. School’s out for the summer and kids are screaming on the swings over their shoulders. They probably don’t look much older than them as they roll back and forth, throwing half-hearted punches, more often than not pulling shirts and hair instead of inflicting any real damage.

It ends when Billy rolls too far, bringing Sean with him to slam his back against the leg of the picnic table. A beam of wood sticks Sean right between his shoulder blades and he grunts in pain and head butts Billy in retribution. He succeeds in breaking his own nose and making Billy’s eyes well up with sympathy tears.

They break apart to pant in the grass; Sean sounds slightly wetter and more pissed but they’re equals really, in being fucking stupid. Billy can smell his discarded cigarette burning a hole in the bench seat above his head and it’s through the blur of tears that he watches Sean stumble to his feet, one hand held to his bloody nose.

The last thing Sean says to him, for nine years, he shouts over his shoulder as he leaves, not bothering to look back. “Try not to bust open anymore heads, I hear they frown on that up shore. See you fucking never, alright.”

Billy lies in the grass for a long time before he crawls home. He has a lot of packing to do.

-
-
-

His father slips away sometime during his early twenties. Despite living a large chunk of his life up on the North Shore, Billy still doesn’t own a decent suit so he wears one of his father’s, standing beside the casket in a dead man’s suit several sizes too big.

There are no men with guns or badges, just Billy, his mother crying silently at his shoulder and her sister-in-law, Stephanie. No one tells him his father was great man.

Later, as he’s pouring his mother into her car, he swears he catches sight of another person through the gravestones. Dark eyes, bad haircut, and the general air of being an asshole, but when he turns around there’s only the priest lighting up a smoke at the edge of the grass, cigarette in one hand, bible in the other.

-

It starts as a cough that won’t go away and develops hop, skip and a jump into lung cancer. And although Billy knows it has no basis in science, he finds himself blaming the bad Southie air.

His mother was a stress smoker, did a lot of it for the years Billy was growing up and then quit cold turkey once she moved back up shore. One thing therapy has taught him is not to blame himself, and he certainly can’t blame his mother, so he blames his environment. They’re all products of the same place in the end and where Billy got a fucked up mind and his dad an early grave, his mother unfairly got a slow and painful disease.

He tries to make up for the years of being a shitty son by shepherding her to and from doctor’s appointments, sitting for hours on end in beige waiting rooms. It’s in no way enough but all he has to offer. It’s where he sits and reads pamphlet after pamphlet, one unfortunate sickness after another, and where he eventually picks up one for the Boston Police Academy. A certain sickness of its own, he thinks, infecting the city.

The blue and white pamphlet is still in his hand when his mother shuffles down the hallway, shaking off the helping hands that are trying to guide her. She zeros in on it, eyes widening in shock, and Billy goes to put it back on the pile. She snakes her hand into the crook of his elbow before he can, and it sits, crushed between them, as they hobble out of the clinic.

It screams, shield side up, on Billy’s nightstand for week.

In that same week, his mother takes a turn for the worse and has to be hospitalised. And the next time he goes to visit her, his hair is cut shorter than it ever has been, cropped close and unforgiving. He signs all the medical forms since she no longer can with her hands shaking so badly, and with those same hands she reaches up to smooth down the fine hairs at his temple.

He’d forgotten what pride looked like on her face.

-

Billy gets the second highest score on the entrance exam, having fought off a panic attack at his desk, remembering what it felt like to bash a guy’s head in. He swallows down the rushing heat in his throat and puts pencil back to paper.

He belongs here, he lies, and gets through the next forty minutes without another incident.

Never being one to make friends easily, or at all, Billy’s surprised when another cadet, Brown, strikes up a conversation as they’re running laps. Brown tries to act like the rest of them, trading barbs back and forth, but deep down he’s a good guy. Growing up, he never made his mother cry so hard she couldn’t breathe and it makes no sense to Billy that he finds the two of them compatible.

Emptying a full clip into a man shaped outline is easy compared to the introspection.

-

Billy is two weeks from graduating when Captain Oliver Queenan of the Boston PD sits in his office flipping through a series of folders, and is forced to stop as a hand reaches over his shoulder to jab at a photo.

“That’s him. That’s our guy.”

Queenan tilts his head. Old eyes are glaring up from a boyish face; the kid in the photo looks more like a shadow in an alleyway than one of Boston’s finest. Someone who would sooner swing at you than offer you an arm across the street and Queenan can’t deny there’s something there. Like a tree bending in the wind, he has a look that says, ‘push me, pull me, I’m not gonna break.’ It’s exactly what they need and Queenan nods, passing the stack of folders over his shoulder.

“Well bring him in. We’ll see a bunch of them and go from there.”

If he notices the way his Staff Sergeant shuffles the folders until his choice sits proudly on top, he keeps it to himself.

-

Billy manages flashbacks while he sits in the hangman’s chair outside Captain Queenan’s office. He’s twenty-six and finally owns a suit of his own. He bought it for his mother’s funeral, knowing that it’s weeks, days, hours away and he’s twenty-six but feels nine years old again, not understanding the world or his place in it.

He has no idea what he’s doing here, only that a ranking officer had told him to dress smart and go to this address at nine sharp. Once inside, the receptionist had pointed him towards the seat and has been ignoring him ever since. Not in a mean way, but like she knows he needs the extra space, needs the air to breathe.

They both look up when the door to the office opens and a guy walks out, well put together and cocky for it. He smirks at her and she flirts back, seemingly receptive but her eyes are cold and the action is just for show. Not for the first time, Billy wonders just what the hell kind of place this is, and then he’s gone and she’s looking at him. “You can go in now,” she says, snapping her gum. She smiles again and Billy can’t tell if this one is real or not. He feels decades older, climbing to his feet.

Billy has one hand on the door when he spots him through the glass. Academy training told him what it felt like to get shot in the chest; it’s a similar feeling now, without the vest, like all the air in his lungs has been punched out of him at once. He’s older and not exactly taller, wearing prominent frown lines that everyone and their mother could have predicted, but it’s definitely Sean standing there with a shield on his hip, doing whatever it takes not to look at the door. Not to look at Billy, who he clearly knows is there.

Now Billy has a choice. He could turn around and walk away, it’s not like he isn’t used to disappointing people, but it’s like the pull of clean sheets or that first cup of coffee in the morning. It’s a direction to go, one that feels familiar and used, and so he pushes on in a daze.

The guy behind the desk is old enough to be someone’s kindly grandfather. It’s not until you look again that you realise he’s made of tougher stuff than half the guys on the other side of the bullpen and twice as clever.

Captain Queenan gestures that he take a seat. Billy does so gladly.

“Do you know what we do here? In my section?”

Billy doesn’t want to answer if he can’t answer correctly. “Yes sir. I have an idea, sir,” he says, scrubbing his palm down his thigh and Queenan’s face is blank when Sean opens his mouth, spilling out years of loss and betrayal in words that are as harsh as they are welcome, just because they’re coming from him.

“Let’s say you have no idea and leave it at that. No idea. Zip, none. If you had an idea about what we do here we would not be good at what we do. We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?”

Queenan doesn’t look up from the file on his desk, saying impassively, “Staff Sergeant Dignam has a style of his own. I’m afraid we all have to deal with it.”

Billy glances between them, a little wild eyed. He’s had a lifetime, he doesn’t say, and he’ll never be used to it. Sean is two years older than him. A gap that should have seemed bigger as kids but it’s only now that Billy really feels it.

It’s a weird, uncomfortable situation to be in and it goes on. Gut punches left and right as Sean leaves the safety of the desk to crowd Billy in his chair. He starts in on his family, on how the Costigan name is lower than mud, Southie cockroaches at best. Most of his family members are deep in the ground and the rest are well on their way. Thankfully, his mother is a footnote in this, and Sean vaguely resembles his best friend when he glosses over her.

All of it is in print, in the folder Queenan has propped up on his knee, but Sean doesn’t need to look at it to know all of the things that haunt Billy. He knows it all too well because he lived it.

Billy gives back as best he can, as much as what seems appropriate and then a little more. To Sean’s eternal disgust, at some point he catches himself quoting Hawthorne. It bubbles up out of him like a forgotten relic and he’s regressing, he can feel it. Past, present and future are getting all fucked up in his head.

They’re tearing him down and only once Billy is wrung out, held upright in his chair with only self-loathing and rage, the emotions he’s been pretending not to have for years, Sean takes a step back. He returns to his slouch against the shelves while Billy wheezes through his teeth and Queenan removes his glasses to rub them on his shirttails. Queenan looks faintly proud as he does it like Sean eventually did find that father figure in life, after wading through so much shit and abandonment.

“We have a question,” Queenan says, “Do you want to be a cop or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question.”

“I got a question,” Sean – no – Dignam throws out. “How fucked up are you?”

Billy finally strengthens at that, feeling something inside him crack and then fall into place.

-

“Sir, with all due respect, sir, what is it you want from me?”

Queenan says nothing. He replaces his glasses and sunlight glints off the frames, filling Billy’s vision with white. It’s a brief respite before Dignam draws back his attention. And it’s like déjà vu; Billy can almost smell the summer grass and scorched wood.

“Hey asshole, he can’t help you. I know what you are and I know what you’re not. I’m the best friend you have on the face of the earth and I’m gonna help you understand something: You’re no fucking cop.”

“He’s right,” Queenan says at last, “We deal in deceptions here. But what we don’t deal with is self-deception. In five years, you might be anything else in the world, but what you won’t be is a Massachusetts State trooper.”

Blood rushes through Billy’s ears, deafening. His mother lies in a hospital bed somewhere across town and Billy wonders if his shame can cover that distance, if she can feel it too. “You sure of that?”

“I’m sure of that.”

“Guaran-fucking-teed,” Dignam adds, and it’s so much worse because it’s true.

-

“So what do I do?”

Queenan steels over and Billy finally sees this for what it is. It’s not a personal attack but a job interview. Queenan weaves the story of what should come like it’s a fairy-tale. To most, undercover work is just that. Whispers between cops as the bravest, most prestigious thing someone can do; when the reality is anxiety attacks in alleyways and the inability to sleep once it gets dark.

Billy has no impressions that it will be anything but the worst decision of his life and that’s a positive check in Queenan’s eyes and a softening in Dignam’s jaw. And although the guilty plea scares him, meeting their gazes, it’s already a decision made.

“I need you, pal,” Sean says, and it’s all shrugging shoulders and last resorts, soft and worn out. What Queenan knows and doesn’t know about them and their history, Billy can’t say, because he doesn’t even blink at the shift. “You’ve already pretended to be a Costigan from South Boston.”

“Every weekend, Sergeant.”

Sean is Billy’s oldest friend, Billy’s second worst decision, Billy’s something. He’s never expected more from him, nothing that he can’t handle anyway, and it’s a kind of assurance.

“Do it again,” Queenan says, “for me.”

And Billy nods.

-

His mother dies the day after he gets kicked out of the academy.

Some things never change: disappointing your mother and bad fucking timing being just a few of them.

Funeral blacks swap to prison orange in a heartbeat, or lack of one, and being locked up is not all that different from the academy, Billy realises. He still doesn’t fit in.

His cousin is waiting for him when he gets out and Billy’s too smart to be doing coke deals with the fucking Puerto Ricans, everyone can see, but it does get his foot in the door. Gets him a broken arm and a meeting with French too, which in turn gets him respect and a meeting with the big man himself, Costello.

If his mother and father could see him now, he wonders if they would be surprised at all.

-
-
-

For over a year, Billy is in hell.

A hell that’s made up of streets he walked as a kid and a man he’d cast as a literal devil, perching on his shoulder.

He’s no longer Jackie’s nephew, he’s Bill, a Costigan, my son, and he should be able to laugh about how right he’d been but he’s medicated now and it’s tinged with hysterics.

-
-
-

He stumbles onto his cousin again about six months under. From French’s vague description of the guy, he should have already guessed. Even his own mother calls him a ‘fucking idiot’ most of the time, taking the effort to suck the air from an oxygen tank just to tell him.

Someone has been drawing heat, doing deals drunk, and making a scene. It’s their job tonight to reinsert some common fucking sense into the guy. Billy sits in the car beside French, the man who has strangely become his guide in this world, and waits.

Around one in the morning the back door to the club swings open and his cousin trips out unaided. He’s in the process of lighting up a smoke and, in the flash of light, dark purple rings his eyes. It’s obvious he’s been sampling more of the merchandise than he’s been selling. French echoes so many before him when shakes his head, mutters a slight against the Costigan name, and kicks open the car door.

Billy follows more slowly.

He’s really not expecting French to slam him against the wall, too coked out of his mind. He probably barely feels it when his head cracks into the bricks but Billy winces. He drops to the floor like dead weight and French kicks him for every time he fails to repeat back every word he’s telling him, every bit of helpful advice.

When his cousin is spitting out more blood than words, French nods, satisfied, and heads back to the car. He slaps his hand to Billy’s chest as he goes, reading his face carefully even after all this time. Even after he’s watched Billy knock out innocent people’s teeth and laugh about it later.

It occurs to him then that this might be a test.

Through eyes red with burst blood vessels, his cousin finally registers him. He’s about to roll face first onto his burning cigarette in his effort to grab Billy’s leg, so Billy puts it out with a twist of his boot and crouches down. His name sounds horrible when it’s said through a mouthful of blood. He tries to ignore it and the fingers that claw at him when he snakes his hand into his jacket for his pack of cigarettes. The box is mostly full but a cheap brand and Billy says nothing, just stands and goes back to the car. French is watching him from the driver’s seat.

Once he’s back in the car, Billy takes one his cousin’s cigarettes and puts it his mouth. He doesn’t light it. He lets it hangs from his mouth while he brings his leg up to rest on the dashboard. French’s eyes are on him the whole time.

French sighs, an unholy noise usually followed by violence, and Billy’s right because he punches Billy’s leg back down and slaps the cigarette from his mouth. “When are you going to grow the fuck up?” he says and the gravel in his voice stings more than the actual hit.

By now, Billy has perfected his look of careful ignorance.

-

Meetings with Queenan are meant to be a relief. They are meant to be a moment of pause in his otherwise racing life but, in reality, they’re just as much of an audition as every time Costello’s eyes land on him.

They need to believe that he’s got this. It’s just as easy for them to deny all knowledge and click delete as it to be thrown in the marshes at Fenway. He knows this. But, really, who the fuck meets under a bridge?

Sean directs him to the wall and pats him down. Taunts are already on Billy’s tongue, just how long has Sean been waiting for this, but he bites them back. Sean has no problem hitting him when he’s being a dick, even more so when he’s being truthful, and he’d rather not push it; sometimes shades of him just blend together. Queenan watches them go through the routine with a blank face and he must be able to see the familiarity between them, it just must not matter to him.

Costello’s been spooky lately and Billy tells them so. Queenan looks unimpressed with the lack of real information and he can see Sean mouthing the word ‘spooky’ out of the corner of his eye. He doesn’t have much to offer them besides the precious hours that he could be spending sleeping but eventually Queenan squeezes his shoulder and says, “You’re doing a good job, Billy. Keep it up. Are you still going to see your psychiatrist?”

Billy nods and Queenan appears satisfied. He doesn’t tell them he’s been meeting her for coffee instead, huddled in the back of a café, both of them looking over their shoulders every few seconds for criminals and her fiancé alike.

He’s about to leave, melt back into the underworld with a shake of his shoulders, when Sean drops the bombshell.

“We think Costello might have a rat in the department.”

Billy doesn’t remember snapping but the next thing he knows Sean is pressing him against the brick, bracing him with an arm across his chest, fighting the way Billy fidgets and spits abuse.

“Cut that shit out,” Sean says, surprisingly level. “Fucking pussy, get a grip.”

“It’s a problem,” Queenan admits, as always the calmest of all three of them. “One we’re dealing with on our end but we need your help, Billy. We need you to keep your ears open, alright?”

“Jesus Christ,” Billy sighs, and he sags forward, dropping his head onto Sean’s shoulder. He allows it for a second, and that’s Billy’s oldest friend bleeding through. He allows it long enough for Billy to breathe out against his neck and then he separates them.

Sean avoids his eyes when he says, “You’ll be fine. Just be smart,” and they’re still connected through Sean’s fingers spread out on his chest, and then there’s nothing holding Billy up.

-

Billy ducks into an alleyway. His pulse is jacked and he scrambles for the little orange container in his jacket pocket, shaking out two pills and swallowing them dry. The neon light above his head colours the label pink and Madolyn’s name stands out like a beacon.

Nightlife is still going strong around him but that gunshot reverberates in his chest as if it actually did hit its mark.

No one cares about how close he came to death tonight, how close he came to seeing the rat’s face, and how the two are variably the same thing. He draws in a sharp breath, wondering what a heart attack feels like, and runs his thumb over the lettering on the bottle again and again until he comes to a decision.

It’s raining by the time he follows the alleyway back to the street. A fine mist that makes the pavement shine but it’s oil on shit, it’s never going to look pretty. He stops at the first corner shop with the lights still on and asks the guy over the counter for a phone book. He eyes Billy before he hands it over, gauging how dangerous he could possibly be, and taking in the red-rimmed eyes and the sleeves pulled over his hands, the guy guesses correctly.

Billy cuts straight to the pages coded white and finds Madolyn’s address too easily. With the kind of people she sees for a living: the repeat offenders, the breed of cop that isn’t afraid to use their weapon, and Billy himself, he thought she would be unlisted.

She probably should be.

-

Madolyn lives in a below ground apartment on an okay street. There are iron bars across her window but warm light spills through them as Billy stands on the top step leading to her front door. He can see her, amongst a sea of cardboard boxes that remind Billy of his mother, and he sags against the handrail, feeling sicker than ever. Madolyn’s smile is sad as she lifts a picture frame off the wall. She runs her fingers over the person staring back and Billy has already turned and gone by the time she packs it away into another labelled box.

He goes back to the corner shop, asking for the phone book again, and feels guilty. He reaches for a pack of gum and spills coins onto the counter to cover it and steps back out into the rain.

-

Sean owns a place in the bad part of a neighbourhood, a three decker thing with pale green sidings and a decaying porch. The overgrown grass clutches at Billy’s ankles when he edges past the gate at the bottom on the path. He doesn’t dare push it any wider, fearing the noise it will make, and as he moves closer he can see a dim light through the first floor window. He almost turns back.

Queenan was on shift an hour ago, when Billy was huddling in alleyways, choking on his own terror; he doesn’t know if Sean was there with him, acting as a lifeline through a shitty flip phone.

On the porch a board creaks under his boot and Billy hears something move inside. The door opens not long after and he catches a flash of Sean’s face, tired and pissed through the opening, and then he’s being pulled in and shoved back against the closed door.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Sean hisses and he gathers Billy’s jacket in his fists and shakes him. “You looking to get us both killed? Fucking idiot, fucking hotshot.”

Billy stares at a crack in the plaster, badly filled and chipping away and says, “I had him, Sergeant. I fucking had him.”

Rain falls off Billy like broken guttering. Sean stops shaking and takes a second to really look at him, noting the fresh cut above his eye, the shivering in his hands and the way he can barely hold himself up. The frown lines become less pronounced and, after what feels like the longest night of his life, Billy breathes out into his touch, letting Sean pull him further into his home, into his world, and into his personal space.

“Sit,” Sean instructs. He pushes Billy down onto his couch, not giving him a choice in the matter, and keeps moving. “And stop dripping or something, Jesus, I’m calling Queenan.”

The cushions are already warm and there’s a blanket thrown over the other arm. Billy rests his head back and pictures Sean stretched out here, just moments before, still in his work clothes, and he relaxes.

Sean comes back into the room then, phone pressed to his ear.

“Yeah, showed up on my doorstep,” he says to Queenan and he watches Billy with barely concealed puzzlement like he can’t believe that, feeling vulnerable, Billy would come here of all places. Especially when knowing that Queenan has dealt with this before, a lot better than he ever could. “Looks high or some shit,” he adds, “I don’t know. He’s falling asleep on my couch right now.”

Queenan speaks; a rumble on the other side of the room, his timbre slow and melodic.

“I’m not running a day care here, Captain,” Sean says, cutting in. “I’ll pump him full of coffee but then he’s out on his ass.”

Queenan again and Billy can hear his father in that voice. It’s comforting.

“No, I don’t think he saw the rat. He hasn’t said anything. Something’s shaken him up though, that’s for sure.”

“He shot a guy.” And Billy barely recognises his own voice when it’s this timid, this soft.

Sean frowns in his direction and cups a hand around the phone. “Wait a second, Captain. It rises.” He goes to sit on the coffee table, pushing cold remains of coffee and papers out of the way, and curls towards Billy. “What did you say? He shot someone?”

“He shot a guy,” Billy repeats and crushes the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Thought it was me. It was outside a…across the street from an adult theatre. I don’t…I can’t remember where exactly.”

“You get that, Captain. Someone’s probably called it in already.” Sean slaps Billy’s knee as he gets up. Fired up and present, he heads for the kitchenette where a well-worn coffee maker sits. “Maybe a witness got a look at the guy. Or a stray camera or something. We could get lucky.”

Sean’s voice and Queenan’s answering mumble becomes indistinct while fresh coffee brews. Sean even lowers his volume, which Billy didn’t know was possible, but the machine dies out just in time for him to hear Sean dip into respectful agreement. “Sure, whatever,” he sighs. “I doubt he could walk a block anyway, the state he’s in. Yeah, first thing in the morning, Captain, too bright and too early.”

He’s swapped the phone for two mugs of coffee when he comes back and he presses one firmly into Billy’s hand, saying, “Don’t drop it, alright. The carpet can’t afford anymore stains,” then he all but collapses into the other corner of the couch with an exhausted sigh.

Billy rolls his head to the side and stares. He tracks all the differences, all the things that are still the same, and comes to rest on the gold band around Sean’s finger. It catches the light when Sean lifts the mug to his mouth and Billy absently remembers seeing it in Queenan’s office. It didn’t add up then and, looking around at the lonely squalor, it doesn’t add up now either.

“You got married,” Billy says to the room. Not even a question but the surprise hits him all the same, laughing somewhat bitterly. “You’re wearing a ring. Shit. You got fucking married.”

Sean looks at him over the rim of his mug, assessing whether Billy’s obvious breakdown is a concern of his, and settles on simply letting it run its course.

Ten years is a long fucking time and the realisation seemingly catches up to Billy in an instant. It’s long enough that he put all the family that mattered in the ground while he, unfairly, got to live, just to run his own life into the ground as well. It’s long enough that Sean had a whole other life; lived, loved and lost, all without him. It’s long enough that countless faces have come and gone through the academy, matching the number that has joined and died in Costello’s crew, and Nicastro’s, and the next big name.

It’s too long, Billy thinks. It’s way too long for him to pretend he was something better.

“I don’t think I can do this much longer,” Billy breathes out and it’s like a secret he shouldn’t be sharing. “I’m nothing, I’m see-through. This is killing me.”

Sensing a change, Sean sits up and rescues the mug from Billy’s rapidly loosening hold and places them both on the table. There are no pictures of Sean’s family on the walls, old or new, and he wouldn’t know a maternal instinct if it reached up and took his hand but Sean pushes at Billy shoulder, fighting with him to get him to lie down.

“Just get some sleep. You’re running off your own paranoia now and little else.”

“I can’t,” Billy says and something grabs hold him, maybe the paranoia in question, because suddenly he wants out. “I gotta go. I need to get out of here. Coming here was fucking stupid.”

Billy tries multiple times to stand but he must be more tired than he realises. Sean manages to fold both of his moving wrists in one hand and presses him back into the cushions without too much effort. He’s learnt from the broken nose as a kid and keeps his distance until Billy deflates, staring ahead with glazed over eyes.

Their entwined arms are crushing the pill bottle against Billy’s chest and Sean feels it too. Without asking, he flicks open his jacket and fishes it out, scowling as he reads the label. “No bullshit, alright. The chances of you dying are pretty fucking high, which is why this,” he rattles the pills, mocking, and then in the same motion, pitches it across the room. It bounces off kitchen tile and disappears, “this needs to stop. You need to start thinking.”

It’s almost funny how blank Billy’s mind goes at that. This close, he can smell Sean’s cheap aftershave and the day old sweat and the grime of the city and it drags him back years, putting him in a teenage body where the urge to give into Sean’s obvious, if subconscious, claim on him was normal. Inevitable even.

Ten years is a long fucking time, he thinks, as he clings to Sean’s shirt collar and kisses him.

He’s immediately shoved away and completely fucking terrified is not a look that fits on Sean’s face, but Billy has always had an ability to bring out the worst in people. Sean is breathing hard and he leans back as far as Billy’s grip will allow, scanning his eyes like he expects them to be blown wide and drugged.

“How many pills did you take, Billy, because this is the furthest thing from a smart choice?”

Billy only shakes his head. He made this choice long ago but he was a stupid kid who never followed through.

“Just put your fucking hands on me,” he says, and there’s a stuttered pause before Sean surges forward, hitting Billy like a punch in his rush to get his mouth back on him.

Sean’s hands are rough and clumsy, digging into his sides. He’s been waiting for this a fraction longer than Billy and it becomes clear that he’s not about to waste a second. In the middle of tearing Billy’s sodden jacket down his arms, he pants against his lips, “You knew. You knew this whole time, didn’t you, you little shit.”

Billy laughs, dry and even. “You’re a fucking idiot, Sean. You practically, ah-” his voice catches; Sean has found a mainline to his skin and his hands are a shock of something new when they graze Billy’s stomach. “Practically printed your name on me when we were kids,” Billy finishes when he can.

He sounds breathless and Sean hums into his neck, “Always thought you were too busy being a cunt to everyone to notice me.” And there’s no shame in Sean, was born without a hint of it. He continues down, opening Billy’s pants just far enough to stick his hand down them.

And Billy’s never really thought of himself as gay. It was the last worry on his mind as a kid. He likes who he likes and most of the time, he doesn’t even like Sean. But he wants him, all the same. Wants to touch him, wants to beat the shit out of him in equal measure, and that’s not even a recent development. It’s not something he can blame on Costello, it’s just the effect Sean has on him. Sean cuts him down to his barest element and that’s exactly what Billy needs, with his head being the mess that it is.

A luxury that he’s missed this past year is the luxury of choice. And this is a choice he gets to make. He knows he could kick Sean off at any time and he would go. He’d be pissed but he’d back off. So Billy feels perfectly in control when he lets Sean bend him back against the arm of the couch.

It’s only appropriate that they get each other off like this anyway, rubbing against each other on Sean’s couch with their clothes half on. In the end, it changes so very little. As soon as Billy steps outside, he’ll be back to overthinking every move and betting his life on the smallest things.

Right now, he’s happy just to feel something besides terror.

-

Billy cries, choking on lines of Shakespeare, as he scrubs Queenan’s blood off his hands.

The blood is long gone at this point though the phantom stains remain behind and Billy shakes something fierce.

So much for being rock fucking steady.

-

In the end, it takes two rats to finish off Costello.

Course, Billy doesn’t know that yet.

He has very little to do with the raid, besides staying out the way of the bullets and keeping his head down. But that’s true of the past year and a half of his life too.

Once the dust has settled they bring him in, stick a visitors badge to his chest and sit him in Queenan’s old office. He folds up like a thug, bouncing his ankle on his knee, and every few seconds he throws a glance over his shoulder, expecting to see Sean through the half-mast blinds. He does catch a familiar face in the crowd, Brown, from the academy, and Billy has to turn his back on the muddled disbelief and admiration in his eyes.

When he does ask for Dignam by name, they tell Billy that he took Queenan’s death hard, no shit, and that he’s currently on a leave of absence. That’s where Billy raises an eyebrow but he keeps his mouth shut. Something feels off. A year and half of heightened paranoia, he’s learnt to trust his instincts.

Sullivan comes in, demure about the massive bruise across his cheek, Billy notes, and shakes his hand. Billy has memories from another life, seeing this man coming out of Queenan’s office, cocky grin and confident, but time makes fools of us all.

He can hear their muffled celebrations through the glass, raising mugs of champagne to an old man with bullet holes all over. Sullivan’s the only one who seems muted and weirdly it puts Billy at ease. He may have been the one to put the bullet holes there but it clearly doesn’t sit right with him. It’s a human reaction Billy hasn’t been around in quite a while and it’s not faked, he can tell.

Billy shifts from foot to foot while Sullivan mentions medals. Hands shoved deep into his pockets, he says, “I just want my identity back.”

God only knows what Sullivan thinks, looking at him and his criminal slouch.

“You want to be a cop again?” he asks.

And Billy is as sharp as ever. “No, being a cop’s not an identity. I want my identity back.”

What he wants is a hot meal, a clean bed, and to sleep for a week. He wants to put fresh flowers on his mother’s grave, clean the grime off his father’s. He wants to meet Queenan’s wife, maybe even his son. Wants to apologize to them and sit in their kitchen, listening to stories about a man he barely knew. He wants to go out for a beer and not feel terrified. He wants to kiss Sean in his house, make up for ten lost years. He wants to maybe go back to school.

Billy wants to do something with his life, instead of pissing it away.

It takes an envelope with CITIZENS scrawled across it twice to make him realise he’s never going to be free.

-

A box gets delivered to his mother’s house a few days later, as he’s hiding out, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He can only imagine Sullivan is doing the same on the richer side of town. The box is about the size of a milk crate and it rattles. Inside, there are neat rows of tapes. Each one labelled with a date. With everything half packed away, it takes Billy twenty minutes to find something that can play tapes and he sits back on his mother’s couch as Costello’s disembodied voice fills her home.

Billy laughs until he cries.

Then he goes about looking for a blank CD and a marker.

-

All his life, Billy has been called a multitude of names. His own, his father’s, his family’s, and others more unsavoury. He’s been every shade of cop and criminal but, right now, standing on the rooftop where Queenan died, he’s fully aware that he’s technically neither, technically nothing.

He has a plan in mind but it relies on other people more heavily than he would normally like. And if he was ever going to crack, break under all that weight, this would be the time. As Sullivan pushes open the door to the roof and takes several hesitant steps across the gravel, Billy can only hope for the best.

He kicks the door shut with a loud bang and grabs Sullivan’s shoulder in one hand and presses a gun to his head with the other. There’s a hint of the cocky man from Queenan’s office as he throws out threats but he curls into himself the moment Billy pushes back. Brown shows up just as Sullivan is spitting up blood and teeth, his hands cuffed behind his back.

Forever the good guy, Brown looks horrified at what he sees and his weapon comes up to train on Billy. Billy expects this and he hauls Sullivan to feet to place him bodily between them.

“I called you,” he says, imploring, “you specifically. You know who I am.”

Brown doesn’t waver, his aim doesn’t shake. Billy tries again.

“Where’s Dignam? I told you to bring Dignam.”

There’s a flicker of something on his face then. In that second, a whole alternate universe flashes through Brown’s head, one where Sean was Costello’s rat all along, and it’s fucking ridiculous. Lucky for them all, he shakes it off.

An echo of feet on stairs later and then Sean barrels through the door, shoulder first, skidding to a halt on the gravel. He has no gun and no badge, stripped oddly bare. They’re technically nothing together now but he wears a shark’s grin upon seeing Sullivan, a Southie at heart just like Billy.

“You better be pointing that at the right fucker.”

Brown double takes and realises Sean is talking to him. “Sergeant?”

The deferring look is a good sign and Sean obviously feels safe enough crossing over his aim to approach them. He holds out his empty hands and Billy must look feral as shit because Sean is actually faintly worried.

“Costigan?” he starts, then rolls his eyes at his own reticence. “Billy, this better be smart. This better be the smartest thing you’ve ever done because, from here, it looks pretty fucking stupid.”

“I have tapes. A box full of them.” Billy barks out a laugh and the corner of Sean’s mouth twitches. “Costello’s own fucking lawyer handed them to me. This is smart, Sergeant.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Sullivan pales between them and drops his head. He’s muttering obscenities under his breath but they’re aimed at no one in particular, just the world and his own fucked circumstances.

Sean has a look on his face, one that Billy recognises. For a second, he thinks Sean is going to reach out and touch him, slap a hand to face, the nape of his neck, but he just nods. “Good work,” he says, and Billy soaks it in. “Brown?” he throws out after a pause, waving his hand somewhere in his vague direction. “Or whatever your fucking name is? Go call the elevator.”

“Sergeant?” Brown asks again, and he’s still unsure but the safety is back on his weapon, already half way to his holster. He goes when Sean points again, slow side steps, keeping his eyes on the three of them until the very last second.

Sean sighs and turns his attention to Sullivan. He is trying to melt into the ground at this point and Billy has to keep pulling him straight. “Christ,” Sean says, something close to malice in his voice, “you’d think a guy heading for a promotion would be a little happier.” He lifts Sullivan’s head for him. “You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you? Highest paid rat I’ve ever fucking seen.”

Billy knows his eyes are wide, looking impossibly young, when he peers down at Sean over Sullivan’s shoulder but he can feel his heartbeat in his fingers where they’re wrapped around the gun and he’s close to some kind of edge. “He said he deleted my file. Can he do that? Just delete my whole fucking existence?”

Some of Sullivan’s blood has dripped onto Sean’s hand and he wipes it clean down Sullivan’s shirt front with a scowl. “What kind of piss-poor ship do you think me and Queenan were running? Of course it’s not that fucking easy. Relax. Some geek in Tech will have it back before his morning coffee.”

Billy breathes a shuddering sigh and all of a sudden his whole existence feels freer, like he could float right of the rooftop. Sean is smiling at him and it’s a real smile, a genuine one that makes him look younger too, almost friendly.

Sullivan’s own breath hitches. He could even be crying. “Just fucking kill me,” he whines.

Sean snorts, shaking his head; it’s clearly crossed his mind. “I can’t wait to see Ellerby’s face,” he says instead. “His golden boy. Who would have guessed?” He turns and makes it halfway towards to the door.

A gunshot rings out. It’s followed by a dull thud of a body hitting the ground and then Barrigan is in the doorway, face forcibly blank. It may say SIU on his resume but his life has been dealt out by Costello just as deeply as Sullivan’s has.

In this world they are nothing but kids playing cops and robbers. Sullivan is the Pit bull that Billy couldn’t save. Barrigan is the fucker with the bat. He fires again and Sean drops to his knee, clutching his shoulder. The impact hits Billy at the same time. In his head and, curiously, in his heart too. His right eye is already blurring over, turning red, when he lifts his leaden arm and shoots Barrigan in the head. They fall to the ground at the same time.

In between Sullivan’s whimpering and Sean telling him to shut the fuck up around pained hisses, Billy blacks out.

He hears sirens echoing in his head but it’s South Boston. They could be for anyone.

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Madolyn comes through for them. Say nothing about her patience because she opens the envelope Billy entrusted her with as soon as she sees the news, no sooner, and runs with it.

The tapes are stashed in a gym locker down by the shore. She uses her connections to get the trial expedited.

It’s an open and shut case, putting her fiancé away, and she cries for them both.

-

Billy’s first waking thought is of his mother.

Thinking how, if this was the view she took in for so long, it’s no wonder she was so miserable towards the end. Chemo is such a fucking drag and it can only be made worse by having to stare at off-white ceilings, all the while wanting to throw up from the pain.

He groans, hoping it will relieve the pressure in his head. It doesn’t. But it alerts the nurse at his side, the one he can’t see because she’s on his right. She shines a light into his eye, talking faster than he can understand.

He slips back into the darkness, still hearing her voice.

-

Sean is there when he wakes up again, arm in a sling and his face like thunder.

“About fucking time,” he says and one half of him is blotted out.

Billy has the feeling back in his arms and he lifts a hand to his head, mapping out the bandages he finds like they’re scars across his palm. They slant over his eye and panic begins to claw at Billy’s chest. He doesn’t realise he’s plugged into machines until the erratic beeping has Sean slapping his hand away.

“They said it should heal, granted that you don’t keep touching it. Bullet had broken up by the time it reached you. You can thank my shoulder for that.”

He tries to sit up and gets nowhere, earning an unimpressed glare from Sean. Finally, he rolls onto his side to be able to see him better. “What happened?” he asks, already breathless from the effort.

Someone has left a chair pulled close to the bed and Sean drops into it like he belongs there. There’s another chair, less worn, less used, and he pulls that over too, propping his legs up and settling in. His badge is back on his belt and someone probably forced it on him as it makes all the paperwork easier, which is a bullshit reason Billy thinks but it’s an age old argument, one he’ll never understand.

“Brown,” Sean explains, like he still can’t believe it. “Brown was smarter than all of us. He’d called the cavalry before he called me. They showed up a few minutes later. Probably the only reason you’re still alive. I couldn’t do shit.”

“And Brown?”

Sean’s face turns respectful, dark and kind of morose, but respectful. “He’s…well he’s not okay but he’s alive. Lucky for us, Barrigan was a bad shot.”

“What about the rat?”

Sean laughs, all twisted mirth, enjoying every second when he says, “Small fucking world. Your shrink, his fiancé, got his trial pushed up thanks to the tapes you left her. He’s going away for a long time.”

“So it’s over?” Billy asks, and a lifetime of lethargy is creeping in as he smothers a yawn.

“As much as it ever is.”

Sean sobers at that, swinging his legs down and around to face him. “Listen,” he says, “I’ve been thinking lately. Well, more than lately, if I’m honest. It’s like this: If I don’t like the way the guy at Starbucks makes my coffee, I tell him to change it, right? And if I don’t like the smell of the soap they stock in the gym at work, I get a different one.”

He pauses like Billy is meant to understand all the things he isn’t saying when he doesn’t even understand the things he is saying. He dimly wonders if they bothered to check Sean over at all when they fixed up his arm and asks, “Are you going anywhere with this?”

He is because Sean looks him dead in the eye and says, “I hate this fucking city.”

And Billy laughs, dry and cracking in his abused throat, but it dies out when Sean looks away, battling disappointment. “Are you shitting me? What, you want a new city?”

“That depends. On whether or not you feel the same way.”

The bandages scrape against the pillow when Billy shakes his head in disbelief. “I just got my life back, Sean. I’m not just going to run away.”

Sean nods. “Okay.” And keeps nodding. “Alright.” He goes to prop his foot back on the chair and kicks it instead. It screeches across the linoleum.

The sharp noise sends a shiver down Billy’s spine and he tries to hide his discomfort by rolling onto his back. The memory of his father taking him home from the ER comes to him out of fucking nowhere and he can’t handle making such a huge decision while he’s still coming down from the pain medication. Sean beats out an endless rhythm on the arms of the chair; the bullet tearing through his shoulder probably hurt less than opening up emotionally.

Finally, Billy says to the ceiling, “Look, if you hate your fucking job so much just quit.”

He’s can’t see him but he knows Sean rolls his eyes, giving him a look that would crush lesser men. “Like it’s ever that easy,” he says.

Billy twists his head to the side and watches a darkened image of Sean lift his hips to dig in his pocket. He knocks his injured arm in the process and winces, eventually pulling something from his pocket, something which he immediately drops onto Billy’s lap. Billy runs his hands over the warmed metal and feels sick. It’s a badge, Boston PD, and it looks more like a toy than anything official.

“God,” he says, “I thought he was joking.”

Sean is leaning on the hospital bed now, arms crossed and parallel to Billy’s legs. Close up, he looks fucking exhausted. “Ellerby wants you in SIU. I told him to shove it. You’re better off going back to school.”

Billy turns the badge over, testing the weight. He has no idea what possesses him, maybe it’s just because he finally can and that he’s within reach, but he drops his other hand onto Sean’s head, threading his fingers through his hair. His haircut is just as terrible as he remembers, desperately needs a cut, and Sean makes a face, mostly confused, but doesn’t knock him away.

“Someone needs to be the new Queenan,” Billy muses, actively not seeking out Sean’s gaze. “I could be the new you.”

He feels the disgusted shiver that passes through Sean. “One of me is enough. Fuck that. Be a new you. That’s what you wanted, right?”

Billy has no idea, to be honest. He doesn’t even know if he ever truly wanted to be a cop in the first place. He just wanted to be someone his mother could be proud of, before she died. Someone his father would have respected. The last year and a half has taught him how pointless it all really is, cop versus criminal. Cut off one head and several more grow back in its place, that much was obvious even as a kid. But the idea of going to work every day with Sean at his side, scaring new cadets with Sean’s vocal violence and Billy’s battle scars; it’s not a bad idea. They would be following in Queenan’s footsteps.

Hell, there’s always night school.

“Who would we be taking down?” he asks, and his hand is moving repeatedly through Sean’s hair now.

Sean leans into the touch, eyes drifting closed. “Fuck if I know. There’s always someone.”

And it’s Boston. He’s not wrong.

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