They're on their last few gallons of gas, their last box of bullets, and a road that goes on forever. Connor can't remember what state this is when they've spent so much time avoiding the cities. Their lives have turned into a series of one-lane highways and twisty backroads, and the map's been gone longer than the shotgun shells.
Murphy dozes in the passenger seat, forehead against the window, cheek resting in the crook of the seatbelt like a sling. If Connor spares enough attention, he can see the dark shape of the Virgin shivering with the steady beat of Murphy's pulse. The road's empty, so Connor keeps one eye on the long slant of Murphy's neck, and one on the flat stretch of tar taking them nowhere.
"Hey," Connor says, and Murphy doesn't so much as twitch. Another mile comes and goes and the gas tank is going towards empty while his bladder does the opposite. Connor tosses an empty coffee cup towards him and it bounces with a cardboard rattle into the footwell. "Wake up, you lazy bastard."
Connor stretches across the console of the latest in a long string of cars they've been getting a feel for, and holds his hand under Murphy's nose. "You're still breathing, so wake the fuck up." He sticks a finger straight into Murphy's nose and laughs when Murphy bats his hand away, letting fly another curse before slugging Connor in the leg.
"Where are we?"
"Same bumfuck nowhere we were the last time you asked, only there's hills now, and I've got a powerful need for a piss."
"Well, fuck me." Murphy shoves up in the seat, his hands wiping away his grogginess as they smooth down his face, palms scratching over a few days of avoiding a shave. "Think we'll find a gas station anytime soon?"
There are a good lot of things Connor would rather not talk about, and Murphy can sense this is one of them. He pulls the gun off the dash and lets the silence ride as Connor eases the car to the shoulder. State of the world as it is, not enough Saints for the sinners and the cities crumbling in the face of pure fucking anarchy, Connor could stop the car in the middle of the goddamn I-90 and not see a soul for hours, but old habits die hard and there's something soothing in the crunch of tires slowing into gravel. He leaves the engine running as they step out, Murphy rubbing a bit of warmth into his arm as he scans the tall grasses growing unchecked behind barbed-wire fences. Connor doesn't go far to do his business, and keeps an equally watchful eye on the wide span of land to the south, where the long shadows cast down the sloping hills could hide any manner of trouble.
"Maybe we'll find a new car," Murphy says, and Connor looks up to see him pointing with the gun towards the horizon where a thin finger of dark smoke rises high into the darkening sky. "Or a bit of God's work."
Can't hardly tell the bad from the good these days, and that's another thing Connor doesn't much like talking about. "Maybe," he says, taking the moment to stretch his legs when Murphy tosses him the gun and takes his turn. "And maybe a pub for a decent pint. Or a whole goddamn arsenal so we don't have to keep sharing the same fuckin' gun. "
"You don't have to be a fuckin' asshole about it, you fuckin' asshole," Murphy says, twisting around to share the slant of his smile, and Connor goes between blinks from wanting to smack him to wanting to fuck that smile straight off his face.
"I'd settle for a bed," Connor says, and the way Murphy turns before tucking himself back into his pants says he's thinking the same.
There's a weight in the space between them as they start down the road again, the whole of the car filling with it like it aims to drown them. Connor cranks the window open but the rush of air only stirs up the hot prickle under his skin. The smell of smoke rides the breeze the same way the itch for a proper round of fists and bullets piggybacks on the desire to fuck Murphy so hard one of them is bound to black out.
"Anything'll be better than Denver," Murphy says.
"Ain't that the truth."
"Or Pittsburgh," Murphy adds. He eases down in the bucket seat, knees splaying wide, hand drifting up denim worn so smooth Connor can see the pale hint of skin through the weave. "Fucking place was a mess, would've taken a whole goddamn army to sort it out."
Connor remembers simple, and the easy whirlwind of months with Da before all the good and honest folk discovered that they too had it in them to rise up and cure the world of its ills. Connor remembers unwavering faith, and how he didn't wake up wondering if it wasn't God at all that'd sent him and Murph down this path.
The source of the smoke is a farmhouse. It waits postcard perfect down a long dirt lane that stretches away from the main road in an arrow-straight line. Connor rests his arms on the chill roof of the idling car as Murphy opts to climb halfway out the window and perch there.
"Might be we've a bit of shepherding to do," Connor says, squinting at the figure burning in the distance, unmistakable in its shape. "That's not for roasting marshmallows."
"Aye, and that could be a gas tank up on those stilts." Murphy thumps the roof of the car with the side of his fist. "Enough of a slope we could roll in, take 'em by surprise. Ninja style."
The shadows are longer now, stretched to their limits while waiting to be eaten by the night. Connor drops back into the car and finds his gloves, tugging them on as Murphy eels back in through the window.
Connor puts the car in reverse, turns off the road and cuts the engine. The steady dip of the lane carries them forward, the momentum pulling them like fate towards the farmhouse and the cross burning in the yard.
"Would you look at that." Murphy goes halfway out the window again as they creep past an old oak, its wide crown rippling in the faint breeze. "No question now we're in the right fuckin' place."
The bodies swaying from the limbs are little more than skin on bones, the epithets writ on the rags of their clothes almost impossible to read but easy enough to imagine. "We'll cut 'em down when we leave," Connor says.
Gravity carries them almost all the way to the yard where piles of scrap junk lay like the bones of rusting metal beasts. There's no sign of life, the house looking like it's waiting for a hurricane with plywood nailed in crooked layers and only slivers of darkness behind them.
The structure, which they'd hoped was a gas tank, turns out to be fertilizer, the red skull and bones label staring down at them with a stern peligro. Murphy spits into the dirt. "This is a fuckin' shithole."
Connor tears his attention from a pile of pipes where he's found one of a decent length and weight. It slides through his hand to settle into a comfortable grip. He gives it a few test swings, the hollow end of it blowing a low whistle in the quiet. "Keep your voice down."
"A shithole," Murphy says, louder yet, stooping to grab a rock and hurl it straight at a blood-red swastika painted on the boarded up windows.
Bullets rip through bleached plywood, the shots echoing and pinging off the piles of scrap as Murphy scrambles for cover. Connor drops the pipe to catch Murphy's arm and pull him down into the dirt before the second burst from the semi-auto peppers the yard. A laugh explodes out of him at the whites showing in Murphy's eyes.
"Didn't see that one coming, now did you." Connor grabs Murphy's face in both hands and plants one on him. "You noisy motherfucker."
"Now what?" Murphy asks, brow cocked like he's got all the devil's mischief brewing up a storm inside him.
Connor almost kisses him again when the thunder of a high-calibre round blows a chunk the size of his head clean out of the tree a few yards away. He makes the sign of the cross and gives Murphy a shove. "What's that sound like to you?"
Murphy grins. "Sounds to me like an arsenal." He checks the clip on their gun though they haven't fired a shot since Denver. He shifts, levering his weight up on one leg and trying to peer through the tangle of steel to get a line on who might be in the ramshackle old farmhouse. His grin only widens, rendering his face luminous in the early evening gloom. "Might even be a pint in there."
"One way to find out," Connor says, reclaiming the pipe and picking up a rusty coffee can to use as a distraction as he prepares to move. "I'll go in fast, aim for a quick finish."
"Ain't that the way it always is."
"Oh, don't you even start now, Zippy." He rattles the can like a threat, ducking when the semi-auto goes off again and just like in the movies, puffs of dust reveal where bullets strike the dirt. Another booming shot takes the seat clean off of a dilapidated tractor. "You shut your filthy lying mouth and make certain you don't squeeze one off early like usual."
Murphy snickers and nods his head towards the light visible now through the holes in the wood. "Make it count."
"Same goes for yourself." The can sails through the air towards the tractor, a nice and easy target, and Connor runs in the opposite direction at full tilt, bouncing off a boarded up window before dropping to his belly and narrowly missing getting a chest full of lead.
Peering through a split in the wood, he has enough time to count three figures moving in the dim lamplight inside before they crumple, one after the other like dominoes, blood welling dark as ink between their fingers. Two to the chest for each of them, and if the glow of Connor's faith had dimmed, now it flared, bright and merciless as the sun. No matter how good they'd become at delivering God's vengeance, nothing but the swift wings of angels could guide those last six bullets where they were needed most.
"Neo-nazi fuckheads," Murphy says, striding fearlessly across the yard with the gun still raised. Hurrying the last few paces, he uses it to pry a loose board off the window and darts a glance inside to make sure the trio had gone down for good. He shrugs and tucks the gun in his pants, then offers a hand to help Connor up.
The door splinters at the hinges as they kick it in, and with their eyes adjusted to the gloom outside, the low light of a wood stove seems as bright as a bare bulb. "Nice shooting," Connor says, rolling the nearest body. He finds a pack of cigarettes in a shirt pocket and shakes a pair out, lighting them both and handing one to Murphy.
Murphy's moan gets Connor's pulse jumping. "Mother Mary, finally," he says, head tipped back and words breathed out on a string of smoke.
"You going to help or just watch as I do all the fuckin' work?" Connor says, cig bouncing on his lip as he stoops to catch the dead man's ankles.
"If you're offering me a choice, I'll just be watching." Murphy shifts his weight, gaze sliding down Connor's back in such a way that it feels like a hand follows, featherlight.
Connor grunts as he starts dragging the body, blood painting streaks across the floorboards. "Get your ass over here, and give me a fuckin' hand, Annie."
Murphy makes a gun with his fingers and shoots a wink and a kiss at Connor. He ambles over, taking his sweet time with the weight of his interest burning straight through Connor's tee, but in the end he takes hold of the dead man's wrists and helps Connor haul the body outside. They make swift work of the other two, leaving them in a row steps from the threshold with pennies and a prayer. Once inside again, Connor's hardly stripped off his gloves let alone closed the door when Murphy pushes up against him.
His back grinds against the rough edges of the bulletholes in the wood as Murphy's hands shove up under his shirt, going first as they almost always do for the raised scar that traces the curve of his ribs. Later, Murphy's mouth will go to the uglier scar on his leg left from Da's bullet, and Connor will punch him for making him think of Da when they're rolling around naked with hard-ons, and Murph'll smirk, the saucy fucker.
Connor turns his head for one last drag on his cigarette and snuffs it out carefully. He reaches out to set it on the windowsill, the smoke still purring in his lungs. Murphy's hand on his chest stretches wide, palm pressed firm to feel the beat of his heart. "Let's go find that bed," Connor says, taking the cig off Murphy's lips to leave it beside his own. His hands return to settle high on Murphy's sides and skim down to his hips.
"Thought you'd never be ready." Murphy walks a few steps backwards, escaping Connor's lax grip. He peels his shirt off over his head, leaves it over the back of a kitchen chair and stretches, spine popping before he bolts up the narrow stairwell at the back of the room, taking the steps three at a time and leaving Connor to follow.
It's a chase, as it always is no matter who starts it or how slow they're moving, and a fight, also the same. This time they end up grappling in the dark of the moonlit hallway, banging into walls hung with family pictures and shitty landscape paintings. Connor loses all his air on a rough groan at the first feel he gets of Murphy's cock.
"Precious memories," Murphy says, flicking a frame carelessly as Connor's hand digs deeper into his pants. "Ma, Pa, and Granny Hitler with the kids. Sweet, isn't it."
Murphy's dick is hard as steel, his balls so very soft in comparison, the warmth of them shifting at the push of Connor's fingertips. "Christ, I've got more important things on my mind right now, Murph."
"Aye, and when are you going to get those important things in your mouth?" Murph shoves him back and fumbles for a feel of Connor's cock, trapped and aching in his pants. His clever hands curl over the length, squeeze just shy of too hard, and Connor finds the leverage to spin him around, get him pinned to the wall with his mouth opening on a gasp.
He eyes the glisten of spit on Murphy's lip and wets it with a lick of his own, tongue dipping inside the heat of Murphy's mouth before his eyes slide shut and the wind of their tongues becomes a proper kiss, lingering and desperate. They've been curled around each other since the womb, so close they might as well share a single heartbeat for how much alike they are beneath the skin if not on the surface. Two halves, mirrored, and he knows Murphy will always want this, same as him, fuck the Almighty himself if at the end of their days Peter won't open the gates.
But Murphy never tastes like sin, never tastes forbidden, just welcoming and perfect and so very right. Connor smears a kiss towards Murphy's throat, traces the ink there by memory alone, the leaping pulse under his tongue better than the moan that comes shamelessly pouring free.
"Dirty bastard," Murphy says, inching up on his toes. His hands flutter at Connor's shoulder before dragging up to catch Connor's face, guide him back into another kiss and breathe a curse into his mouth when Connor grinds against him, needy.
One more long wet kiss and then they tumble into the nearest room, stagger towards the low shape of an unmade bed and fall into the sheets like they've fallen into everything in their lives—with a few hard knocks along the way but ultimately easy and twined so tight around one another Connor can hardly tell which flash of ink, which scar or which faint scatter of freckles is his own.
He gets his mouth on Murphy eventually, swallows him down with the harsh sounds of his pleasure humming down to Connor's very bones, but Connor can't stay in one place long, all his skin drawn tight and his nerves electric. It's all spit and tongues and grasping hands here in the bed of an evil man they've killed and when they fuck it's beautiful. Murphy's arms lock behind Connor's head and he twists like he'd crawl right inside Connor's skin if he could, and Connor does the same, mouthing curses against the sweat-slick crook of Murphy's neck.
They fuck like it could be the last time, but the crushing ache in Connor's chest isn't fear but joy. They're never so close as when they fill the silence with fucking. Never so unafraid as when it's just the two of them, skin and bones, and to Hell with everything else.
It's long minutes before he can breathe again, but each lungful comes more freely. Connor rolls away, tries to claim enough space that Murphy won't just end up sleeping on top of him. The bedsprings squeal like a warning and between one blink and the next the room goes bright as day, the bulb in the ceiling burning through his lids as he squints and falls straight to the floor on his ass.
"What the fuck!" Murphy's gone up on his knees in the trashed sheets, a hand shading his eyes.
"Timer," Connor guesses, hauling himself back onto the bed and trying to blink away the spots in his vision. "There's a generator somewhere. I can hear it."
"Crazy survivalist jerkoffs are good for something, hey." Murphy falls forward onto one wrist and reaches out to smack him in the arm. Like he hadn't just been spread-eagled gasping and thoroughly fucked out, he grabs his pants and starts hauling them on. "Let's go take a look."
"You can go fucking take a look all by your lonesome." Connor falls back groaning, crook of his arm covering his eyes. "Turn off the light on your way out."
"C'mon, after such a fine performance on my part, what with the shooting first and then the shooting last, don't be pissing on my parade."
Slowly, Connor drags on his pants and grabs his rosary off the dresser. The beads slide cool and familiar into his fist, settle like a sigh over his skin as he hangs it around his neck. "Jesus Christ, Murph. Couldn't it wait until morning?"
"Not if it's on a timer, genius."
The hallway remains blessedly dark, and Connor becomes Murphy's shadow, following silently behind as he heads downstairs. At the foot of the stairs, Murphy pauses to cock his head and listen for the sputtering growl of the generator. With the thinness off the walls and the narrowness of the hallway, the sound bounces, seeming to come from everywhere at once.
"Cellar," Murphy guesses, moving through a mess of furniture strewn like an obstacle course through the hall. He flings wide one door after another until he finds the one which opens to a void. "Hallelujah," he says, as the sound rises up unhindered.
Connor crowds close, curious now. "There a switch? I can't see a fuckin' thing."
"I'm looking, don't get your panties in a knot."
There's a note in Murphy's voice that Connor's slowly been cluing in on. It's not the idea of an empty gastank that's been on Murphy's mind, it's the slowing down. He's been running, same as Connor, from the dark voice suggesting it's them that's caused the world to fall to ruin. But maybe the path had already been set and what they did in the name of God was precisely as planned. It had been their duty not merely to warn the men and women who could still claim goodness before the murderers, rapists, and all the filth of the underworld tore them to pieces, but to prepare them for it. Even if it's a lie, looking at the faint frown edging in on Murphy mouth, Connor will choose to believe it, and he'll make certain that his brother does as well.
Murphy finds the switch, and he's the first to speak, his words mere breaths as he descends the steps in a daze. "Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive."
All thoughts fly from Connor's head, no room left for worrying about which path was the righteous one when a Sign is laid out before them, sheltered in concrete and bathed in flickering florescent light. "Amen," he echoes, equally breathless as he leaves off the bottom step.
"Merry fuckin' Christmas to us," Murphy says, running his hand lightly over the muzzles of a whole row of assault rifles. He kicks a five gallon drum next to the generator and it thuds, full to the brim.
"You can say that again." Connor reaches into a open crate and comes up with a bottle of Jameson.
"And plenty more besides."
Murphy laughs, a pure, joyous sound. Surrounded by the bounty delivered to them, Connor abandons the bottle and tugs him close, finds the rapidfire beat of his heart matched.
"With all this packed in the back seat, we could go back to Pittsburgh." Murphy's eyes are bright, his smile a razor's edge. "Think I even see some rope over there."
"Do you now." Connor's lips nudge against Murphy's until the litany of possibilities slows to a whisper.
"Grenades, even. Christ."
"Drinks first, smokes second, then we'll see if the Lord has seen fit to also leave us a map," Connor says, eyes sliding shut as he pushes his tongue into Murphy's mouth. It doesn't really matter to him where they go from here as he sinks into the honest taste of his brother's kiss.
Murphy's moan rises like a purr, and when they break apart, he slants a grin. "This fuckin' place is still a shithole."
"No argument there."
Connor remembers simple, remembers unwavering faith, and it feels fucking glorious. "Aye," he says, rescuing the bottle and slapping it into Murphy's hand. "Drinks."