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Please Put Down Your Hands

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Raylan had never been to this particular bar, and was not familiar with the scene in the Richmond area, but he'd looked it up before coming. He'd wanted something low-key, where he might be able to find a guy close to his own age who didn't project an air of desperation. The older he got, the more difficult that became, and Raylan had been wondering just how long he was going to be able to keep doing this. The bar was pretty much as advertised, but now that he was here, Raylan was starting to think it had been a mistake to come.

He'd been in Virginia, consulting with the local police on a case involving a fugitive who'd spent a considerable amount of time in Lexington before heading east, and this was his last night in town before heading back. Being on the road always made Raylan feel restless, as if he could imagine himself as someone else for a little while.

He couldn't see himself going to gay bars in Lexington - for one thing, there weren't too many, and it was a small community. Raylan didn't want to be a part of that - didn't feel that he could be, even if he wanted to. He didn't want to date men. He loved women, found himself falling in love with them constantly, if not often very deeply. He had already slept with two different women since being back in Kentucky, both of them coming at him from out of the past, and neither of them properly belonging anywhere near his bed.

His affair with Ava had been brief, and undeniably ill-advised. She’d been in no position to start up something new, and Raylan had known better from the very start of it. It had ended, of course, but not until the unhappily married Winona, his ex, came back into the picture. Raylan couldn’t help but think that revisiting things with her was, if possible, an even worse idea than his fling with Ava, but he had never been one to deny himself the things he really wanted.

Raylan ordered a bourbon and leaned back against the bar, scanning the room. Prospects were looking pretty sparse, and he almost decided to pack it in. Still, he figured, it was a Tuesday night, and still early. He wouldn't have a chance to get out of town again for awhile, so he figured he'd give it another half-hour or so.

He’d finished his first drink and was most of the way through a second, and starting to feel like this was going to be a bust. He’d been approached twice, and rebuffed both of them with a smile, saying he was just there to get a drink tonight. It was obvious bullshit, but he thought politeness counted for something. Just as he was draining his glass, he saw some movement at the door. Three men were coming in, and the one in front looked promising. He was tall, broad- shouldered, with glossy brown hair and an easy smile. His friends came in right behind him, talking to each other. One was short, with a young-looking face and blond hair, and Raylan immediately dismissed him as a possibility.

Then he focused in on the third friend, and felt his stomach flip over. Raylan stared, and tried to tell himself this this could not be who he had thought it was. He couldn’t be who he seemed to be, because that was impossible.

Boyd Crowder was dead.

Raylan kept his eyes on the slim, dark-haired man, watched him laugh with his friends, grinning as his eyes roamed around the room. Raylan was fascinated by how much he resembled his good friend from the mines, the one he’d grown so close to. The one he’d wanted so badly, for a time, that he hadn’t been able to think of anything else. The one he’d left back in Harlan without ever confessing his attraction, or the extent of his affection. The one Raylan had sought out upon returning to Kentucky, only to be told by the man’s cousin that Boyd had died many years ago.

The man who had been in the door first, who Raylan had been checking out, glanced over in his direction. He seemed to realize right away who Raylan was staring at, and nudged his friend, saying something in his ear and gesturing over to where Raylan was standing. The man raised his eyebrows and looked over, and as he met Raylan’s eyes directly, and then Raylan knew. Someone else might have his features, but those eyes were only Boyd’s.

Boyd said something to his friends - presumably, something along the lines of, “Hey, I know that guy,” - and walked over to Raylan swiftly. Raylan didn’t take his eyes off him, stared at him intensely the whole time, as if he might disappear at any second.

He came over to stand about a foot from Raylan. Raylan looked at him, took in his clothes, his hair, his demeanor, and realized all at once why Johnny Crowder had told Raylan he was dead.

“Raylan Givens,” he said softly.

Raylan wasn’t sure he could speak, and even if he could, he had no idea what to say to this man. He just kept looking at him, thinking that he’d aged just the way Raylan had imagined he would. He looked so good, and Raylan was seized with a desire to lunge forward and plant a kiss on him. He saw it happen in his mind, and laughter started to bubble up inside of him at the image. Instead, he extended a hand, which Boyd took as if to shake, and pulled him into a brief embrace.

Raylan pulled back from it, grinning uncontrollably. “Boyd,” he said, in a weak voice that didn’t sound like his own.

“What are you doing here, Raylan?”

Raylan gave him a smirk and said, “Well, I would have thought that was kind of obvious, Boyd.”

Boyd laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “No, I mean in Richmond. I thought you were working in Miami.”

“How’d you know that?”

“There’s this new thing called the internet. You might be interested, there’s a ton of free porn on it. Also, if you so choose, you can look up the first boy you ever loved and find out where he’s living.”

Boyd was holding a steady, casual gaze on Raylan, acting like he hadn’t just said anything out of the ordinary, but Raylan wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t about to get into it right now, either. This thing was weird enough as it was.

“You been checkin’ up on me, huh?”

“I will admit to a certain amount of curiosity as to your whereabouts.”

Raylan nodded, suddenly wondering why he’d never thought to do that. Certainly, he’d wondered, but if he’d given it any thought at all, he would have assumed that Boyd was involved in his daddy’s business. Maybe he just hadn’t wanted to know.

“Well, I got transferred about six months ago. I’m working out of Lexington, now.”

Now it was Raylan’s turn to act like he’d said nothing shocking, and Boyd’s eyebrows rose about an inch.

“You? Back in Kentucky?”

“Not by choice. And not just Kentucky, they got me down in Harlan all the goddamn time. You don’t even want to know. But I did think I might enjoy having a drink with you, so the first thing I did was head down to to Johnny’s to ask after you.”

“Ah. Well, that explains why you looked like you were seeing a ghost.” His eyes were hard and briefly distant as he said that, but then they focused on Raylan again and the warmth was back in them.

Raylan felt the urge to kiss him coming back on, and wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted to resist it. He drained the last of the bourbon from his glass, licked his lips and said “So, how ‘bout I buy you that drink now, Boyd?”

Boyd had a small smile on his lips. “You could do that. Or we could just get out of here. I live three blocks away.”

Raylan felt the grin growing on his face. He set down his empty glass and stood up. “Let’s go.”

He followed Boyd to the door, watched him wave to the two guys he’d come in with, who had obviously been following the entire interaction and would likely be expecting to hear about it later. Raylan didn’t care. He’d be back in Lexington by then.

The air was warm and exceptionally humid, and the two of them walked slowly, like they had all the time in the world. They didn’t speak at first, just cast occasional glances at each other, as if for confirmation of some kind.

“So, I saw you got married.” Boyd’s voice was neutral, or as neutral as possible with such a loaded statement. Raylan knew where the conversation was inevitably headed, he’d had it before on many occasions, and he wasn’t much in the mood.

“Uh huh. Got divorced, too.”

Boyd didn’t say anything, and Raylan wasn’t sure whether that was better or worse. Now he felt like he had to answer an accusation that hadn’t actually been levelled against him, and there was no way to do that gracefully.

“Not because of that.”

“Okay, Raylan.”

“There aren’t just two options, you know. Not just two ways you can be.” Raylan knew he sounded defensive, and it pissed him off even more.

Boyd raise his hands in surrender, and laughed lightly. “Okay! I believe you. You bisexuals are so goddamn sensitive.”

“I wonder why,” Raylan grumbled. He hated this conversation.

“So what did happen? Why’d you get divorced?”

Raylan sighed. “Can we not talk about this?”

“Sure. What’chu wan’ talk about, man?” Raylan smiled at the way he’d said that, just like they were back in the holler. He knew Boyd was doing it on purpose to make up for pissing him off, but that made it no less effective.

Raylan looked over at his old friend. The effects of twenty years of life were more apparent under the street lights than they had been in the dimly lit bar, but it didn’t diminish anything for Raylan. He stopped walking, and Boyd stopped a moment later, looking a question at him. Raylan took his arm and pulled him into the narrow alley they had just passed. He set him against the side of the building, laying his whole body into him and looking at his still-familiar face.

“I don’t want to talk, Boyd,” and said, breathless with amazement at what was happening. “I want to do what we should have done twenty years ago.”

Boyd was looking at him, suddenly wide-eyed. Raylan thought Boyd must have truly been away from home for a long time if he’d managed to catch him off-guard so easily.

“Yes, Raylan. Let’s do that.”

Boyd reached up to touch the side of his face as Raylan leaned in closer, kissing him so softly that he surprised himself. He was incredibly turned on, had been since the bar, really, but something was making him gentle, making him more careful than he wanted to be. He kissed Boyd again, dizzy with it, as the memories of an old desire mingled with what he was feeling now. Everything he was feeling made him want to push forward and take him right there in the alley, but instead, he remained tender, and took his time, sliding his tongue into Boyd’s mouth and tasting his toothpaste, which somehow made him feel a little bit like crying.

Raylan put his hands on Boyd’s shoulders and stepped back, then moved over and stood against the wall next to him. Boyd looked at him curiously.

“What’s up?”

Raylan turned his face towards Boyd and leaned the side of his head into the wall.

“You quit smoking.”

Boyd made a confused frown, and gave him half a smile. “Uh... yeah, long time ago.”

“That’s good. You look so good, Boyd. You look like you got your shit together.”

“I don’t know about all that. Appearances can be deceiving.”

“I thought you were dead. Until tonight, I thought you had died more than fifteen years ago. I didn’t even know how to react to that when Johnny told me. I gave him my fucking condolences. I went and got fall down drunk and tried not to think about it anymore, but every time I had to go down to Harlan and deal with Crowder bullshit... shit.”

Raylan couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought about it until this second. If Boyd hadn’t known that Raylan was in Kentucky, he might not know about Bowman. Raylan couldn’t begin to predict his reaction, but he knew it wasn’t going to be anything good.

Boyd was frowning at him. “Raylan?”

“Boyd... I don’t really know how to tell you this, but I suppose I have to. Bowman is dead. Did you know about it?”

Boyd stared at him blankly for a few seconds. “No, I didn’t know. How did... something to do with the business?”

Raylan shifted uncomfortably. “Actually... no. Ava shot him. She said, in self-defense. He’d been abusing her.”

“Well. I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“I’m sorry, Boyd. I didn’t - “

“It’s fine. Really, I’m not gonna cry or anything.” He met Raylan’s eyes and smirked at him. “Bowman was a cute kid, a decent little brother, until he grew up and started turning into our daddy. When they found out about me, that was the end of any love or warmth between us. He hated me. Doesn’t matter if he’s dead, ‘cause I was already dead to him.”

Raylan looked at Boyd, and decided that he really did seem more or less okay about it. Raylan had never been inclined to offer a man more sympathy than he asked for, so he let it alone.

“How did they find out, anyway?”

“I told them.”

Raylan blew out a breath at that, and said, “Fuck. Really? Why’d you bother? It’s not like you could have thought they’d come around eventually.”

Boyd pushed off from the wall, clapped Raylan on the arm and started walking out of the alley. “That’s a story for later, if you want to hear it. Come on, just one more block to my place. Let’s go.”

Raylan followed him, because there really was no other option. There was no context in which Raylan could imagine himself walking away from this. Kissing Boyd had felt strangely complicated, as if there were too many feelings involved. Even the one time he’d slept with Winona, when she’d come to his room and taken off her wedding ring, even that had seemed less overfull of warring emotions. And yet, the kiss had been good in a way that nothing had been for such a very long time.

They didn’t talk anymore until they turned down a quiet block. They reached the third house on the street, and Boyd walked up the front steps. “This is me,” he said with what Raylan thought was slight embarrassment. There was no real reason Raylan could think of for him to feel that way, but he understood it just the same. Here with Raylan, he probably felt a little bit like the boy he’d been back in Harlan, and that boy would surely not be able to imagine himself living in a restored Victorian rowhouse, in a gentrified block of a small city in Virginia. It was fucking weird, and they both knew it.

Boyd unlocked the door and they stepped inside. The living room was furnished in a fairly spare way. There was a worn, comfortable-looking sofa and chair, a coffee table, small bar cabinet and a bookshelf, filled to bursting with books of all sizes and states of wear. Raylan smiled to see that, thinking that however many things he might not have understood about Boyd, this was something true about him that Raylan had always known. It was something that Boyd had trusted him with.

The pieces themselves - the bar, the bookshelf and the table - were simple, but of excellent quality, as far as Raylan could tell. He later found out that Boyd had made them himself, but at the time he’d assumed they were expensive. He realized he hadn’t asked Boyd what he did for a living, but obviously he was doing pretty well. He also wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know, considering how Boyd had been trained up.

“It’s real nice, Boyd.”

Boyd snorted and said, “Well, you don’t have to look so surprised. What’d you expect, a shotgun shack?” He tossed his keys on the coffee table and looked at Raylan. “You want something to drink?”

“Okay.” Raylan sat down, and found the sofa as comfortable as it looked.

Boyd poured them each two fingers of Jim Beam and came to sit beside Raylan.

“You know, we don’t have to do nothin’, Raylan. If it’s too weird for you, or too something, I get it. It’s been a long damn time, believe me, I know. I’m just happy to see you. I missed you, boy.”

“Of course it’s too fuckin’ weird. But I ain’t in the habit of letting that stop me, and it for damn sure ain’t gonna stop me from getting something I’ve wanted since I was 19 years old."

Boyd drew in a breath, as if this was news to him. "Have you?"

"Haven't you?"

Boyd answered by taking Raylan's drink out of his hand and setting both of their glasses on the table. He swung himself around so he was in Raylan's lap, facing him and leaning into him. He kissed Raylan this time, and it was a far cry from the one they'd shared on the walk home. Whatever had held Raylan back, didn't seem to be affecting Boyd. He kissed with abandon, hot and wet, and pressed his hips into Raylan's, so they could both feel the mutual desire there.

“Want you, Raylan,” Boyd panted into his ear, before lowering his head to suck on Raylan’s collarbone.

Raylan huffed a laugh into Boyd’s hair, and even though he was having a hard time thinking straight, he said, “Yeah, I finally picked up on that.”

Boyd pulled his head up and looked at Raylan right in the eyes. He moved his hands to hold Raylan’s face. “Better late than never. I mean that.”

The only thing Raylan could think of at that moment, the only thing he felt like he could handle, was getting Boyd’s clothes off of him and doing whatever he’d let him do. He didn’t want to think about back then, or what this might mean tomorrow. He just knew he wanted Boyd Crowder, right now, in this moment, as badly as he’d ever wanted him twenty years before.

“Let’s go to your bedroom.”

Boyd nodded, and kissed Raylan hard. He got up and took Raylan’s hand, leading him over to the stairs. He pulled Raylan up the dark stairwell to a narrow hallway, and into a surprisingly large master bedroom. When they entered the room, Boyd quickly pulled off his t-shirt and threw it into a basket in the corner, then kicked his shoes off. Raylan pulled his own off, threw it on a chair, and Boyd looked at him in a considering manner.

“You been takin’ care of yourself too. You look damn good, son.”

Raylan smirked. “You never know who’s gonna see you naked. Best not to take chances.”

Boyd walked over and set his hands lightly on Raylan’s waist. “I’m glad you’re lookin’ so fine, I can’t deny it, but you know what? If I’d seen you sitting in that bar, thirty pounds overweight and sporting a toupee, I still woulda taken you home with me. It’s you, Raylan.”

Raylan didn’t want to hear that. He didn’t want to know it. He was leaving the next day, and this whole thing felt barely manageable already. He reached for the button of Boyd’s fly and kissed him as he started opening up his jeans, just as the phone in his own pocket started buzzing.

“Fuck. Sorry. Could be work.” Raylan checked the display, grimaced, and put it away. “Nothin’,” he mumbled.

Boyd raised his eyebrows but said nothing. As they kissed, the phone started vibrating again.

Boyd sighed, and said, “Go ahead. Could be important.”

Raylan scowled and picked up the phone. “Hey, what’s up?”

Winona’s voice came over the line, tremulous and high-pitched. “Raylan, something really bad happened. I don’t know what to - “

Raylan spoke calmly, doing his best to keep the fear and irritation, which he was feeling in just about equal parts, out of his voice. “Winona. Calm down. Tell me.”

“Yesterday, a man was in my house when I got home. He said he was from a home security company that Gary had contacted, and he left his card, but he gave me a bad feeling. Then when I told Gary about it, he said it was nothing, but he looked freaked out. Then Gary tonight he came home with his face all beat to hell. I wanted to go to the police, but he begged me not to. He left about two hours ago and his phone is turned off.”

Raylan’s stomach dropped. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, but I don’t know what the hell is going on. I’m scared. I know the police won’t do anything, he’s only been gone two hours, and I’m all by myself. Can you come over here?”

He rubbed at his face, then glanced up at Boyd, who was watching him like he was trying to figure something out. “I can’t. I’m out of state. Call your sister, and I’ll be in touch tomorrow, okay?”

Winona gave a big sniff and said, “Okay. Just come over, as soon as you can, please.”

“I will.”

They said their goodbyes, and Raylan clicked the phone shut. He looked up at Boyd and gave him a rueful grin.

“Sorry about that.”

“Sounded like an emergency. Was that your ex?”

“Yeah. But I can’t help her right now, so there’s no point in worrying about it tonight.” He reached for Boyd again, pulling him in for a kiss.

“Raylan, wait, I -”

“I don’t want to wait. We waited long enough, Boyd.” Raylan hardly recognized his own voice as he said this, it sounded unaccountably ragged and full of things he hadn’t been aware of feeling. He held Boyd by his upper arms, kissing him as he walked backwards to the bed. He sat down and pulled Boyd down on top of him.

Boyd pushed himself up on his arms, braced on either side of Raylan’s shoulders, and stared down at Raylan.

“Raylan. I need to stop.” Boyd’s expression looked conflicted, and Raylan could understand why. Boyd was saying they had to stop, but Raylan could feel him, hard against his leg.

“Why?”

Boyd rolled off of Raylan and scooted up the bed to lean against the headboard.

“Are you still in love with Winona?”

Raylan pulled his head up sharply and frowned at Boyd. “What’s that got to do with anything? Jesus.”

“So, yes.”

“No. I don’t know. What difference does it make?”

Boyd shook his head. “What did you come out to the bar for, tonight?”

Raylan gave a short laugh. “To get laid, what else?”

“Sure, okay. Me too. And if I didn’t know you, I’d have been beyond thrilled to take you home with me, I would have done anything you wanted. You were the prize at that place tonight, and don’t pretend you didn’t know it.”

Raylan pulled a face and shrugged. “So, you got me. I’m right here, Boyd, what’s the problem?”

“Because, that’s not what this is. Not for me, anyway. It’s you, Raylan. The fact that it’s not a problem for you only makes it worse.”

Raylan crawled up the bed to sit next to Boyd.

“You think I don’t have feelings about this?”

Boyd gave him a resigned look, and said, “I’m sure you do, but do you have any idea what they are?”

Raylan stayed quiet for a few moments, then said, “You asked me about my divorce before. Do you still want to hear about it?”

“If you want to tell me.”

“She said that when I wasn’t with her, I forgot about her. She said it felt like I wanted to keep her in storage and take her out when it was convenient for me. Of course, she told me all this, but not until after she’d cheated on me with this fucking asshole real estate agent. I mean, this guy... Jesus Christ. She left me for him. I hadn’t seen her in years, then I moved back to Kentucky and there she was. Out of the fucking blue, still married to that dud. And it’s his fucking fault she called me tonight, because he’s mixed up with some very dangerous people, and he’s too goddamn stupid to handle it.”

“I see. So... love, anger, hurt pride, regret, nostalgia, alpha male posturing. That about cover it?”

Raylan laughed softly and looked at Boyd. “If you’re so smart, how come you never figured out that I wanted you, back then?”

“Who says I didn’t? What I didn’t know was whether you knew it or not. I thought maybe you preferred not to.”

Raylan put his hand on Boyd’s shoulder, and they looked at each other.

“I’m not that boy anymore. Neither are you.” Raylan leaned in and kissed him softly on the mouth. “Being down in Harlan so much, I been thinkin’ about you more in the last six months than I had in the past twenty years combined. I couldn’t believe I’d never see you again, it felt impossible. You were the only thing I liked about that place.”

He went in for another kiss, and this time Boyd closed his eyes and brought his hand up to touch Raylan’s face.

Raylan spoke again without pulling back, his nose brushing against Boyd’s cheek. “Then I walk into that bar tonight, not really expecting anything good to happen, and you show up lookin’ like some brand new person. Lookin’ like someone I don’t even know, until you start grinnin’ at me like it’s quittin’ time at the mine.”

This time, Boyd moved to kiss Raylan, pulling him in by the back of his head. Raylan wrapped his arms around Boyd and started to roll on top of him, but Boyd broke the kiss and pushed him back.

“Don’t.”

Now Raylan felt a stab of anger, even as he made himself stop and pull away. He stared at Boyd spoke through a clenched jaw. “What the fuck, Boyd?”

“I know, Raylan, I’m sorry. I’m pissing myself off too.”

Raylan got up, pulled his shirt on, and tossed Boyd his. Boyd frowned at him and said, “You’re leaving?”

“No. But if we’re just talkin’, I’d rather be dressed.”

Boyd gave him a half-smile and put his shirt on, buttoning a few of the buttons. Raylan sat back down on the bed, leaning back and resting the side of his bent knee against Boyd’s.

“So, I been a little bit afraid to ask, but what are you doing for work these days?”

Boyd looked at Raylan, amused but unsurprised. “Well, I’m not sure this will entirely set you at ease, but it so happens I make my living blowing shit up.”

Raylan raised his eyebrows and waited for Boyd to continue, while at the same time beginning to run his hand up and down Boyd’s leg. Boyd looked slightly uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything.

“I do demolitions, mostly industrial. I had a ton of work in the 90s, with so many cities taking down their high-rise projects, and the real estate bubble after that, so I got a lot put away. Good thing too, because demolition and construction isn’t exactly a booming industry at the moment.”

Raylan laughed. He was relieved that Boyd wasn’t involved in anything illegal, but more than that, he was happy for him. He slid his hand around to the inside of Boyd’s thigh, still moving up and down slowly. Boyd closed his eyes.

“Shit, you must be the happiest son of a bitch on the east coast. I remember how you were with those explosives down in the mine. The look on your face was something to see.”

“The novelty does wear off a bit, after awhile.” Boyd opened his eyes and put his hand over Raylan’s, halting its progress towards his crotch. “Raylan. It’s not that I don’t want to.”

Raylan pulled his hand out from under Boyd’s and swung his legs off the bed.

“Okay, Boyd. No problem. I am getting pretty tired though, so I think I’m gonna head back to the hotel. I gotta drive back to Kentucky tomorrow, first thing.”

“You really gonna leave in a huff because I won’t put out?”

Raylan wasn’t looking anywhere near Boyd’s face. “Don’t be ridiculous. This ain’t high school, and you ain’t a fucking cheerleader. Look, I just need to get some sleep. I’m real glad I ran into you, Boyd. It was great seeing you.”

“Raylan... let me give you my number. Maybe if you’re in town again some time, we can have dinner.”

Raylan waved a hand dismissively. “No need. If I’m in town, I’ll look you up.”

Boyd got up to walk him downstairs, but Raylan said, “Don’t bother, I can let myself out. I’ll lock it behind me.”

Raylan left the house with a lump in his throat. He knew he’d acted like an asshole, he’d known it while he was doing it, but hadn’t known how to stop. He briefly considered going back to the bar, or finding another one, but the thought of hooking up with a stranger tonight made him feel uneasy. He stopped at a liquor store on the way back to his car and bought a bottle of Jack to take back to the hotel, anticipating some difficulty falling asleep.

In his room, Raylan got started on the bottle while flipping through the channels on the TV. He finally settled on the ever-airing Shawshank Redemption, giving it less than half his attention while he thought about what had happened with Boyd.

When Raylan had realized it was actually him, he’d felt almost electrified. In a way, it had felt similar to seeing Winona again, after so long, the idea of something lost being returned to him, or something broken being fixed.

The problem with Boyd, of course, was that there was never anything really there to begin with. There had obviously been a strong attraction, and they’d been good friends, of course. How that could possibly translate in their adult lives, Raylan had no idea. He’d thought that if they could resolve the attraction - an attraction which apparently had dug itself into his subconscious, pretty damn deep - he’d get some kind of closure.

Raylan didn’t fully understand why Boyd had pushed him away. Why should he care about Winona, or anything else? It wasn’t like they were going to be dating. Even if they didn’t live eight hours apart, it wasn’t something Raylan could imagine doing.

After his third generous glass, Raylan started going over certain parts of the evening. He thought about that first kiss, the one he’d given Boyd in the alley. The past had pushed itself forward at him, the same way it had been doing every time he set foot in Harlan County, almost making it the kiss they should have had twenty years ago, when they were still young and things hadn’t gotten so goddamn sad.

Then, later, when Boyd had climbed on top of him on the sofa, he’d had the most unexpected thought, that what was happening right then was the only thing he had ever truly wanted. That wasn’t true, of course, he’d wanted many things in his life. He’d even gotten some of them, only to fuck them up over time, but he’d never gotten that. He hadn’t been aware of wanting it all this time, but he knew that on some level, it must have been there all along.

Raylan poured himself another drink and sipped at it. It hadn’t taken much for him to feel every bit as turned on as he had back at Boyd’s house. He was mad at himself for giving up and running out of there; surely, Boyd would have come around if he’d stayed and had some fucking patience. And really, he owed the man an apology. It was pretty late, but it’s not like he could do this tomorrow. Raylan put the drink down - if he was driving, better not finish this one - and picked up his keys. *

Raylan was unfamiliar with the city, and hadn’t paid attention to the name of Boyd’s street, so he drove back to the neighborhood where the bar was, and did his best to remember the route they’d taken on foot from there. He screwed up twice, and at some point began to think that it had not really been the best course of action to drive after so many drinks, but then - almost unexpectedly - he turned down Boyd’s street. He had to drive pretty far down the block before finding a parking space, and by the time he’d walked all the way back to Boyd’s house, Raylan was feeling pretty tired.

He practically stumbled up the steps, rang the doorbell and leaned against the glass-fronted storm door with his eyes closed. He opened them when he heard the deadbolt slide back, and Boyd was looking at him with something uncomfortably close to sympathy. Raylan couldn’t bring himself to care at this point, and decided that if sympathy was what Boyd had to offer him right now, he’d take it.

Raylan stepped back and Boyd pushed open the door.

“Hey, Raylan,” Boyd said very softly, his voice rough with sleep.

Raylan raised his eyes to meet Boyd’s, and said, “I’m sorry.”

Boyd looked at him with a tired smile, and affection in his half-closed eyes, and shook his head. “Oh Raylan, forget it. Come on.”

Boyd let Raylan go up the stairs ahead of him, then followed him into the bedroom. Raylan sat down on the bed, and Boyd sighed.

“I’m gonna get you some water. You wait here. Get undressed if you want to, but we’re gonna go to sleep, okay?”

“Sleep. Yeah.”

Boyd left the room, and Raylan flopped backward onto the bed, legs hanging over the side. He must have dozed off, because the next thing he was aware of was the feeling of Boyd taking his shoes off. He kept his eyes closed and pretended to sleep, until he felt Boyd fumbling with his jeans. He opened his eyes and grinned up at him.

“Change your mind, Boyd?”

Boyd smiled back at him and said, “Shut up, Raylan.”

“Okay,” Raylan said as he let his eyes slide shut again.

Boyd pulled his jeans off and lifted his legs up to swing them onto the mattress, then tried to tug the tousled sheets out from under him. He huffed lightly and said, “Are you really this helpless, or are you just getting off on making me wait on you hand and foot?”

Raylan didn’t open his eyes as he said, “I think I just wanted you to keep touchin’ me.”

Boyd stopped moving for a second, and said, “My God, Raylan, I can’t believe you drove yourself here. You could have killed somebody.” He resumed straightening out the sheets.

“Maybe I’m not as drunk as you think I am.”

He could hear Boyd breathing and moving around, then felt him settle in next to him, close enough that he could feel the warmth coming off his body, but not quite touching. He heard the click of the bedside lamp, and then nothing else as he drifted off to the stroking of Boyd’s fingers through his hair.

Chapter Text

Boyd woke up as the first grey morning light started to enter his bedroom. It was early, just past six, and he could barely make out the features of the man sleeping next to him. Even so, he would have known them anywhere. He kept his eyes on the man as the room got brighter, noting all the changes time had brought to his old friend’s face, studying the new lines and slightly different contours, and he felt the deep ache of regret.

This regret had nothing to do with the way Raylan looked now. As far as Boyd was concerned, he was as beautiful now as he’d been at nineteen.

His regret was simply that he hadn’t been there to see the changes as they’d happened. He hadn’t gotten the chance to see Raylan at thirty-three, or at twenty-six, or at whatever ages Raylan had gone through them. For Boyd, it had been at twenty-six that he’d lost the last vestiges of childhood softness in his face. He’d been happy about that, he remembered, because he felt like his face finally matched how he felt inside. Then at thirty-three, his hair had begun to thin, slightly. That, he was less than thrilled about.

Boyd wondered when it was that Raylan had started to go gray, and when his eyes had gotten so haunted.

When Raylan had left the night before, Boyd had been angry, both with Raylan and himself. He had wanted Raylan so badly, yet had held him back for no good reason he could think of. He had this beautiful man in his bed, practically begging for sex, but Boyd had refused. He’d said no, because it was Raylan. He had loved that boy so much, and - ridiculous as it sounded - he had already felt it rising up in him again for the man he’d become. For him to close off the way he had, so suddenly, and to leave as if nothing had happened, had hurt Boyd more than he cared to admit.

Then Raylan had returned, and Boyd had understood what had happened. The evening’s events had been just as overwhelming for Raylan as they had been for himself, but Raylan’s first instinct was always to pretend that nothing was wrong, and then to get out of the way of whatever was causing the disturbance. That he’d returned, that he’d put himself right back in front of it, was not a small thing. Even if he’d had to ply himself with alcohol and excuses, he had still come back.

Raylan had curled himself into Boyd in the night, and Boyd had woken at one point to feel Raylan’s forehead pressing into his chest. His heart had started beating harder for a few moments, and he had put an arm around Raylan’s waist. It hadn’t been easy falling back to sleep after that. He hadn’t wanted to let go of his awareness of this, to stop feeling Raylan’s breath against his skin, or the smooth muscle under his hand. Eventually, he had drifted back into sleep, and by the time he’d awoken, Raylan had moved away, or maybe Boyd had.

As Boyd watched, Raylan’s eyes opened. He looked at Boyd blankly for a second, blinked, and then closed his eyes and groaned.

“Morning, Raylan. There’s water and aspirin on the table next to you.”

Raylan leaned over and took the aspirin, then rolled onto his back.

“Listen, Boyd... last night...”

Boyd knew this was going nowhere good. He wanted to head it off, but if Raylan was anything like he used to be - and Boyd was pretty sure he was - that could prove difficult.

“Whatever you’re worried about, don’t. Just don’t, okay? It’s all fine.”

Raylan kept his eyes on the ceiling with a skeptical look on his face, then rolled over to face Boyd.

“I owe you one.”

“No, you don’t. I was being a friend, Raylan. I know it’s been twenty years, but I’m still that.” Boyd pulled himself up to sit, looking down at Raylan’s tense face.

“I didn’t act like a friend last night.” There was a stubborn look in Raylan’s eyes, which was nothing surprising to Boyd.

“I’m glad you came back.”

“I live in Kentucky, Boyd.”

“I know where you live. What’s your point?” Boyd gave him a smile that he realized, too late, might have been less convincing than he would have liked. He knew very well what Raylan’s point was, and it was as unpleasant as it was predictable.

“I’m not really in any position to - “

“Raylan. I said it’s fine, I don’t need to hear all that.”

Raylan sat up, slowly, and put his feet on the floor. He rubbed his face, then stood up stiffly and stretched. Boyd watched him, feeling like kind of an idiot for passing that up. Raylan put his shoes on and turned around to look at Boyd.

“I gotta go. Got a long drive today.”

“I know.” Boyd picked Raylan’s phone up from the bedside table, opened it and started pressing buttons. “I’m giving you my number. You don’t have to call, I just want you to have it.”

Raylan didn’t answer, just took the phone when Boyd handed it back, stuck it in his pocket. Raylan hesitated for a moment, and for a second Boyd wondered if he was thinking about kissing him goodbye.

“Thanks, Boyd.”

“Goodbye, Raylan.”

Boyd laid around in bed for awhile after that, not feeling up to doing anything at all. It felt like everything had changed, and yet nothing really had. The previous evening, and even earlier that morning, had already started to seem like some kind of fever dream, all put together of these disjointed episodes.

Running into Raylan at the bar like that - that was crazy. His first thought was that Raylan must have tracked him down, must have come looking for him, but it had been obvious pretty quickly that wasn’t the case. This added to the feeling of unreality, made him start thinking ridiculous things about fate, and destiny. He’d long since dismissed any such beliefs, and didn’t feel there was any place for them in his life anymore. Still, the way Raylan had kissed him on the walk home had felt so strange, almost as if he were under some kind of spell. It had felt weirdly protective, and Boyd had been light-headed with the restrained power of it.

After some time, Boyd heard a text come in on his phone. He knew it was going to be Neil, wanting details about last night. It made Boyd tired just thinking about trying to figure out how to explain any of that shit, and truthfully, he didn’t want to. He wanted to keep everything about Raylan to himself for now. It was too real to act like it was nothing, but not real enough to have anything of substance to say about it. Two more texts came in while he lay there.

Finally, he sighed and heaved himself up from the bed. He checked his phone, and sure enough all three texts were from his friend. Little blond Neil, who’d been trying to sleep with Boyd since they’d met three years ago. There was nothing wrong with him, really, but he didn’t do anything for Boyd. Too short, too young, too nice. Not his type.

is he still there?!

omg are you fucking right now?

text me bitch!

Boyd snorted. Yeah, way too goddamn young.

If we had been fucking, your texts would have really pissed me off.

It seemed like less than a second before the next one came in.

joe was jealous. :)

Boyd rolled his eyes.

Well, shit. That’s what I live for.

Two full seconds this time, and then:

so who is this guy anyway? where do you know him from?

Boyd smiled, imagining himself trying to explain who Raylan Givens is in a text message.

He’s an old friend. From home.

The next text seemed to come in almost before Boyd had hit send on the last one. He didn’t understand how everyone under thirty seemed to be able to do that.

from home? im starting to think i should move to kentucky.

Boyd actually laughed out loud at that one.

I am having a hard time thinking of a worse idea for you. And by the way, we weren’t fucking. Just talking.

boo. i won’t tell joe.

Boyd was pretty much finished with this conversation. He hadn’t even wanted to give out this much information.

Well, that’s a lie. And I don’t care. I have to go, I have things to do.

He turned off the ringer on his phone and went to take a shower.

 

Almost three weeks passed before Boyd heard from Raylan again. When his phone rang at almost three in the morning, Boyd knew it couldn’t be anyone else. He didn’t have family to call him in the night with bad news, so he didn’t have the fear-spiked reaction that many people would. He knew it would be Raylan, knew Raylan must be feeling pretty desperate, and would undoubtedly be drunk.

Boyd picked up and said softly into the phone, “Hey, Raylan.”

He heard the ragged sound of a breath being drawn deeply, the kind meant to ward off a sob, and then Raylan’s voice, low and mournful.

“Hey. I know it’s late...”

Boyd might have been annoyed, under any other circumstances, at the conscious lack of consideration in pursuit of his own needs. Instead, tonight, all he felt was a rush of warmth in his belly and a quickening of his breath. He realized he hadn’t been sure, since Raylan left his house, if he’d ever hear from him again. He’d been confident in the beginning, figuring Raylan would eventually talk himself into calling, but as time passed, that feeling had faded.

“That’s alright, I don’t mind talking. Did something happen?”

“Nothin’ new. Nothin’ I should give a fuck about anymore.”

Boyd was quiet, listening to Raylan breathing on the other end, trying to pull himself together enough to get out whatever this was.

When Raylan spoke next, the emotion had been lifted from his voice, and he almost sounded as if he were telling someone else’s story.

“So, I get this courtesy call from the Sheriff’s office down in Harlan. Seemed they had Arlo in lock up on a drunk and disorderly, said they’d release him to me. Course, I told them I didn’t give a shit how long he sat there. I mean, shit. My job is to put assholes in jail, not get ‘em out. But then, Helen calls me and starts givin’ me an earful about it until I couldn’t listen anymore. I said I’d go get him.”

Boyd felt something twist in his gut at this story. He knew it was going to be bad. Anything to do with Arlo and Raylan was going to be terrible.

“So I go pick him up, and you’d think - well, you wouldn’t, ‘cause you know better, but one might think - that he’d be grateful. Instead he’s his usual hateful self, callin’ me names and tellin’ me what a disappointment I am to him.”

Boyd could hear Raylan grinning as he talked, and was kind of glad he wasn’t telling this story in person, because he had no desire to see what that grin might look like. He hoped he’d never have to see something like it on Raylan’s face.

“So, I promised him I’d put him in prison, eventually. And you know what? The more time I spend in Harlan, the more I think that ain’t gonna be very difficult at all.”

Boyd sighed, and said, “I gotta wonder what those people you work for are thinking, having you down there so much.”

Raylan laughed wearily and said, “Well, I’ll have you know, I’m the Hillbilly Whisperer.”

“The what, now?”

“They think I have a way with our people.”

“And you’re okay with that? Acting the lawman, comin’ out to the hollers and rousting people out of their homes? Using who you are for influence?” Boyd’s tone was mild, but he had surprised himself by even asking those questions. He hadn’t been at all aware that this mindset was still a part of him, but it had taken shockingly little to put him right back in it.

When Raylan answered, he sounded hesitant, and almost defiant. Boyd mentally kicked himself; the last thing he’d wanted was to make Raylan wary of him. “I’m okay with doin’ what I have to do, to do my job properly, Boyd. I’d rather be doin’ it any other goddamn place, though. I... I ain’t sure how much longer I can take bein’ here. Nothing’s changed.”

“Well, one thing’s changed. I’m not there. Maybe that’s a good thing, too, considering my likely career path, had I stayed.”

Raylan was quiet for a moment, then in a subdued voice, he said, “Jesus, Boyd. I hadn’t really thought of that.”

Boyd’s voice was very quiet, soothing, and he knew Raylan was listening carefully to him. Raylan needed something from him, though Boyd wasn’t entirely sure what it was. “Bad enough you have to deal with your own daddy. You’re not fooling me for a second with your glib little story, I know how that is for you.”

“You’re the only one I can... I have to pretend, all the time. I gotta act like it’s nothin’ in front of everyone else, and ‘specially in front of him.” Raylan sounded so tired, so beaten down and sad, that Boyd could hardly stand to hear it. At that moment, he wanted nothing so much as to get in his car and drive to Lexington, take Raylan in his arms and just not let him go.

“You don’t have to pretend anything with me, Raylan.”

“I can’t, anyway. You always know.”

Boyd was momentarily taken aback by Raylan’s choice of words. Always, he’d said, as if this were simply a continuation of their old friendship. As if no time at all had passed, and Boyd knew him inside and out, just like before. This wasn’t the time to quibble about it, though, so he just replied, “That’s right. I do.”*

“I’m sorry for calling you so late. I’ll let you go.”

“No. Don’t. I’m awake now. Hey, you want to hear my big coming out story?”

Boyd could hear the smile in Raylan’s voice when he answered, “I do. But it’s still weird to hear you talking like that.”

Boyd’s voice was sharper than he would have liked when he answered, “What, like it’s normal?”

“And you called me defensive," Raylan replied mildly.

"Maybe we’re both being a little defensive."

"Maybe. But, come on, now. I'm dying to know what could possibly have possessed you to tell Bo Crowder you were gay. He must have flipped his shit."

Boyd hadn’t told this story in a long time, and most people got a very abridged version. “It was because of the Army. Sort of. We’re in the goddamn desert, nothing for miles except sand, and bad food, and people you wouldn’t say two words to under any other circumstances. Hours upon hours of crushing boredom, cut with physical discomfort and periodic gut-wrenching fear - that was Iraq. You can imagine the kind of talk you get in those conditions, with a bunch of rednecks and poor black kids from the cities, the kind of shit people would give out to each other. None of it really meant anything, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt if it hits the target.”

Raylan made a noise, maybe of understanding, or recognition. Boyd realized he probably had to deal with some version of that shit all the time, since no one knew about him. His own fault, but Boyd understood, to a degree. He could see what Raylan had done, and why, but it was obvious that the man was not at peace with his choice.

“There was this guy in my unit, name of Anderson. He was... well, let’s just say he wasn’t really passing. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was about him, but there it was. People mostly ignored it. But that pretty much meant they mostly ignored him. It’s one thing to call a guy a fucking fag, for laughs, and accuse him of wanting to blow you, but it’s something else entirely when you suspect that guy might, in fact, be a big fucking fag. This was before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but we already had our own version of that working. I assume that’s how it always was. You have to, otherwise everything falls apart.”

Boyd closed his eyes as he remembered that time, how he’d felt. It hadn’t been much more than an irritant when people would make gay jokes and homophobic remarks. It hadn’t been too different from high school in Harlan, or just growing up in the Crowder household. The real pain came with the pressure he’d felt to talk like that himself, to use what he knew himself to be, as an insult. That had caused him more shame than being attracted to men ever had, even though he hadn’t fully accepted that part of himself yet.

He had felt a little bit bad for the kid, but he hadn’t been in any position to call attention to himself in that way. Truthfully, though it shamed him now, it bothered him that the boy couldn’t hide it better. Having him there had made Boyd feel exposed, and he’d kept his distance.

One day he’d been walking past the kid’s bunk and something on the ground had caught the corner of his eye. It had just looked like a little scrap of paper, so Boyd had never been sure what made him look twice at it, but he’d grabbed it up. His stomach had dropped when he’d seen what it was, a little photo booth picture of Anderson and some other boy, smiling like they’d never been so happy, with their arms around each other.

Boyd had been about as angry as he could remember ever being. He’d stuck the photo in his pocket until he could catch the kid away from people, then he’d stepped up into his space with a menacing stare.

“Lose something?” he’d snarled, holding the picture up.

The look on Anderson’s face had been blank terror, but only for a moment before giving way to anger. Boyd had almost been impressed by that. The boy had lunged forward to snatch the photo away, but Boyd quickly pulled it out of his reach.

“You’re a fucking idiot, you know that? You’re gonna get yourself killed.” The irony of that statement hadn’t been lost on Boyd, and probably not on Anderson either, considering where they both were.

Anderson’s expression had changed again, and something like understanding had come into his eyes.

“I guess I’m just not as good a liar as some people, huh, Crowder?”

Boyd had just glared at him, handed over the picture, and said, “Burn it.” Then he’d walked away, and never spoken another word to the boy after that.

Raylan’s voice brought Boyd back to the present, and he was grateful for that. There weren’t many things he hated thinking about more than his time in Iraq.

“You ain’t gonna tell me he went out and got himself killed the next day, and you had to go bring the news to his boyfriend, or some awful, maudlin shit like that, are you?”

Boyd snorted into the phone and said, “Wouldn’t you feel like shit if that’s really what happened?”

Raylan laughed, and replied, “Already feel like shit, wouldn’t make a difference.”

“He didn’t get killed. He did, however, get the living shit beat out of him two weeks later, when some less understanding asshole found the picture I told him to burn. I saw it happen. Three guys beat this kid until he was bruised and bloody all over. I didn’t do a goddamn thing.”

“Boyd, what could you have done? I know you’re a hell of a fighter, but three men in a homophobic rage? They would have just beat the hell out of you too.”

“I’d feel a hell of a lot better about it now, if I had tried. But I didn’t, and there’s nothing I can do to change that now.”

“What happened after that?”

“Anderson... uh... ‘confessed.’ He got a dishonorable discharge.”

“What about the three assholes who beat him?”

“Oh, them. Nothing happened to them. Nothing at all.” Boyd could feel an ugly smile of his own pulling his lips back, and he ran a hand over his face. “Anyhow, after that, I decided I wasn’t going to put myself in the position to be complicit in something like that, ever again. And I sure as shit wasn’t going to end up like that dumb fuck Anderson.”

Boyd knew he was coming to the hard part of this story, the part he hated the most, and he wondered if it would even be helpful for Raylan to hear it. He was here now, though, so he plowed ahead.

“When I got home, I waited about a week. I needed to make sure I had everything together first, and there were people I wanted to see. I figured it might be the last time I saw them, or at least the last time before they started looking at me different. Then, one night, I got up and packed up my truck, took all my clothes and books, and not much else. In the morning, I came downstairs, and I can’t recall ever feeling so terrified in my life. I was more scared than I ever had been in Iraq.”

Even now, many years and miles removed, Boyd’s stomach curdled at the memory. He never wanted to feel like that again.

“Bowman’s at the kitchen table, eating some cereal, and I go out on the porch for a smoke, trying to calm my nerves. When I come back in, Bowman’s still sitting there, and daddy’s leaning in the doorway to the hall. He says, ‘Going somewhere, son?’ I say, ‘Matter of fact, daddy, yeah, I am. Don’t know where just yet, but I can’t stay here.’ He asks why, and I realize, I have no idea how to say this to him. I’m thinking, what words can I possibly use to tell him this thing. And I know, of course, that whatever words I choose won’t matter. So I say, ‘There ain’t nothin’ here for people like me.’”

“Fuck, Boyd,” Raylan said with half a laugh.

“I know. And all his anger, all his disgust, were plain to see, right there on his face. But Raylan, you know what wasn’t there? There was not an ounce of confusion, or even surprise, to be found. He just stared at me, and I just stood there, staring back. Then, fucking Bowman, he goes, ‘The hell you talkin’ about, Boyd?’ Daddy says, ‘Yes, Boyd, what exactly are you talking about? Why don’t you enlighten us. Tell your little brother about everything you’ve been doing.’ Which was pretty damn funny, really, because at that time I hadn’t even done so much as kiss a man. All I’d done was want to.“

Boyd had to stop for a minute to catch his breath, even though he’d been lying still, just talking.

Raylan’s voice came quiet over the line. “Boyd? You sure you want to - “

“Yeah. Almost done now, anyway. I walked out of the house, out to the truck, and daddy comes out after me. He gets up all close to me, in my face, and says, ‘This is your one chance. You ain’t my son anymore, and if I ever see your faggot face around here again, you’re a dead man. You’re leavin’, you stay gone.’”

Boyd could feel some tears starting to roll down the sides of his face, but he did his best to keep his breathing and voice steady. He didn’t want Raylan to know, though he wasn’t sure if that was for Raylan’s benefit or his own.

“That’s a hell of a story, Boyd. You were a brave kid.”

“Well... that was a long time ago, Raylan.”

Raylan waited a few beats before replying, “Lotta things were a long time ago. You think that makes them mean any less?”

Boyd wasn’t sure if he could get an answer out to that one. He swallowed hard, and choked out his one word response. “Nope.”

They were both quiet on the line for what felt like a long time, at least a minute, before Raylan finally said, “Thanks for talkin’ to me.”

Boyd wanted to say, “Thanks for calling me,” but he thought that might sound a little bit pathetic, considering it was the middle of the night. So, he just said, “Good night, Raylan,” and waited for Raylan to hang up the phone first.

Chapter Text

Raylan had spent most of the day with Rachel, down in Harlan, checking up on reports of a sex offender working for the Bennett clan. The history of bad blood between his family and the Bennetts, and the fragile truce that currently existed, had made for a tense meeting.

Winona was waiting in the lobby of the courthouse when Raylan left for the day. She came up and walked along beside him as they exited into the bright, early fall afternoon. He was actually getting out on time today, and a Friday at that, but he had no idea what he was going to fill the extra time with. Winona seemed to have some ideas, though.

Gary had moved out of their house a week or so before, and was staying on a friend’s couch. Raylan had done some investigation into the man Winona said had been in her home, someone by the name of Wynn Duffy. He’d gone by his office to warn him off of Gary and Winona, though he had no real confidence the warning had taken.

“Raylan, let’s go out to dinner. There’s this place my friend Jill was telling me about that’s supposed to have great Thai food.”

Raylan looked at her, marveling as he often did at what a stunning-looking person she was. He’d often thought her eyes looked like something you could go swimming in. He weighed his options, and decided that, on the whole, dinner out with a beautiful woman beat sitting by himself in his hotel room.

“That sounds nice. Should we get a bottle of wine?”

She looked so pleased that he’d ask, he felt sort of bad. He knew he had often been thoughtless and inconsiderate during their marriage, and decided he’d try harder. He was old enough to know his limitations and weaknesses, and pretty much figured they’d both eventually fall back into their familiar roles, if they stayed together. But this was nice, for now, with both of them on their best behavior.

They ate dinner, and drank their wine. It felt nice, and Raylan tried to imagine what this evening would be like if they’d hadn’t gotten divorced. Would they have children, home with a sitter? Would Winona look this lovely to him, or had her betrayal somehow sharpened her beauty?

He almost told her about Boyd. Well, not everything about Boyd, just that he’d run into him. Raylan had never liked to talk about Harlan much, had only filled her in on the bare bones of his life before he left, but he’d told her about Boyd, back when they were married. He’d called him a good friend, and mentioned that he’d gone into the Army. She’d asked why Raylan didn’t look him up, and he’d just shrugged and said he didn’t want to dig up the past.

Then, the night she’d left Gary’s home to come to his room, they’d laid in bed afterwards and talked about whatever had popped into their heads. He’d told her that his old friend Boyd was dead, and she’d told him she was so, so sorry about that.

He could tell her now that Boyd was alive, and she’d feel happy for him, but he’d have to explain too much. He’d have to tell her why Boyd was dead to the Crowders, for one thing, and he’d have to lie about where he’d run into him.

Of course, he could tell her the truth. There wasn’t any reason not to, though she might be hurt, or angry that he’d never told her about his true feelings for Boyd, or his attraction to men. He hadn’t seen the point in telling her about it, since when the two of them met, he had not yet been with a man. He’d told himself it wasn’t any different from keeping his occasional attractions to other women a secret from her - it wasn’t relevant, because he wasn’t going to act on it.

In the end, Raylan decided he didn’t want to open up that can of worms tonight, not when they were having such a nice time. He had no idea why he was even considering having this conversation now, when it had always felt out of the question before. If they ended up together, it wouldn’t matter any more than it had before. Raylan had never been unfaithful to anyone, and he wasn’t going to start now.

They got back to Raylan’s room, and Winona seemed slightly more tipsy than she normally would from two glasses of wine. She put her arms around his waist and tipped her face up to his, giving him that look she always gave when she wanted him badly. It was somehow coy and direct, all at once, and it usually had the effect of Raylan throwing her down on the bed in record time.

He kissed her, reaching down to slide her skirt up her left thigh, his thumb hooking under the leg of her panties. She moaned responsively and started to unbutton his shirt. Suddenly, nothing felt right, and Raylan had a feeling that was close to panic. He pulled his hand out from between her legs and took both of her hands in his.

“Winona, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I don’t think we should do this tonight.”

She pulled her head back sharply, her face displaying the confusion of a woman unfamiliar with rejection. “What are you talking about, Raylan? Why shouldn’t we?”

“Well...” Raylan was at a loss. He had no idea what had prompted this. He simply didn’t want to, tonight, and wasn’t even sure he’d be able to if he tried. She wouldn’t understand that, he knew, so he said, “I don’t know what this is, what we’re doin’ here. You don’t know what you’re gonna do about Gary, and I don’t know what I’m doin’ with... anything right now.”

She looked down, then back up at him with a frown. “What... what do you want this to be? If I knew that, then maybe I could make up my mind easier.”

Even though this issue was little more than an excuse for Raylan, it bothered him to hear her say that. He frowned at her and said, “I don’t think it works like that.”

She looked down again, somewhat sheepishly, and said, “You’re right, of course. I guess I have some thinking to do, and I’ve been putting it off. I think the reason I wanted to be here with you is that you usually don’t make me do that.”

Raylan gave her an amused look and said, “I can’t imagine what got into me.”

After she kissed him goodbye and left, Raylan threw his keys and phone on the bedside table and sat down with the last few inches of a bottle of Jim Beam he’d started two days ago. He knew he needed to cut back. He drank a glass and tried to think about their relationship, tried to answer the question Winona had asked, if only for his own sake.

As he poured himself a refill, his eyes drifted to his phone. He felt something turning over, deep in his gut, some inexplicable excitement. It reminded him of the way he used to feel before going out on a Saturday night, when he was a young man. The feeling that anything could happen, that there was always the chance it would turn out to be something great, even though it usually didn’t.

When he’d finished his drink, the feeling was still there. It was on the edge of unpleasant, tinged with something like fear, or at least anxiety. He picked up the phone, turned it over in his hand for a minute, then poured the very last of the bottle into a glass for himself before dialing Boyd’s number.

As soon as Boyd answered, Raylan was sure he shouldn’t have called. He could hear street noises, and people talking nearby.

“Hey, Raylan!” Boyd greeted him cheerfully. “What’s going on?”

“Hey, Boyd. Shit, it sounds like you’re out. I can call another time.”

“No, it’s fine. Hang on a sec.” Raylan heard the sound of a phone being covered with a hand, and Boyd’s voice was faint as he told someone he’d catch up with them later. Also faint, but unmistakable, was the burst of laughter that followed.

Boyd came back on the line and said, “I’m back.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your evening.”

“How many times are you gonna make me tell you that I don’t care?”

“I guess that should do it. So, who did you ditch to talk to me? Those same guys you came to the bar with?”

“Joe and Neil. Yeah.”

“So, what, are they like your crew?”

Boyd laughed, and Raylan could hear that he was in a quieter area now. “I’m not sure I’d use that word. Neil’s just this kid from Florida who kind of latched on to me a few years ago, I can barely remember the circumstances at this point. Joe’s... well, we dated for awhile.”

“Oh yeah? He the tall one?” Somehow, Raylan was sure of it. He could imagine them together, easily.

“Noticed him, did you?”

“Only ‘til I saw you.”

Boyd didn’t say anything for a little while after that, and Raylan started to feel unsure. Flirting was something that came naturally to him, so he hardly thought about it most of the time, and anyway, it was true. Maybe Boyd didn’t want to hear that from him, though. Finally, he spoke.

“Why’d you call, Raylan?”

Why had he called? He was lonely. He was confused about Winona. He didn’t want to say either of those things to Boyd. Then there was that little ball of anticipation that lit up in his belly when he’d looked at his phone, but that was another thing he’d be keeping to himself.

“I just felt like talking to you. There was something I meant to tell you about, that first night, but I didn’t get around to it.” Raylan wasn’t sure if he’d meant to tell him about Ava or not, but he thought he probably should have.

“Well, you were preoccupied.” He sounded like he was smiling, and Raylan smiled too, remembering.

“How well do you remember Ava?”

“Not that well... she was seeing Bowman when I left for the Army, and when I got home they were planning to get married. Seemed nice, but I only really met her a few times. Probably the prettiest girl in Harlan, though, I know that. Way too good for Bowman.”

“After she shot him, there was a concern that there might be... ah... backlash from your family. I went down to talk to her, see what I could do to make sure she’d be safe. I was in the door about two seconds before the girl starts comin’ on to me like a house afire.” Raylan didn’t know why he should be feeling so uncomfortable about telling Boyd this story. He’d said he wasn’t upset about Bowman, and it wasn’t like it should matter to Boyd who Raylan had slept with, anyway.

“Look at you, living the dream. So, how’s she looking these days? She get all fat and blowsy like a proper Harlan housewife?”

“Uh... no. She looks... pretty much the same, just grown up.”

“I see. And her being freshly a widow, and you being the prudent, sensitive person I know you to be, I’m sure you let her down easy. That about right?” Raylan really wished he had told Boyd this story in person, because he was having a hard time interpreting his tone.

“Boyd...” Raylan had no idea what to say, whether he should apologize - but for what? - or try to explain, somehow.

“I’m just fucking with you, Raylan. I know that girl had a crush on you all the way back when we were in high school, just like most of the damn girls around those parts. And at least one of the boys.”

“You did not. We barely knew each other in school.”

“You thought I meant me? Nah, I was talkin’ about Dickie Bennett.”

Raylan burst out laughing at that, and he heard Boyd laughing on the other end. It felt good to laugh with him - they hadn’t really done that since seeing each other again, and it was something he’d truly valued in their friendship. He’d needed someone to make him laugh, back then, as much as he’d needed food and water. Come to think of it, he could use some of that now as well.

“So, now it’s your turn, Boyd.”

“My turn for what?”

“Tell me somethin’.” Raylan was smiling, because he knew Boyd would come up with something. He loved to hear that boy talk.

“You want a bedtime story, is that it?”

“Don’t be an asshole, just talk.”

“As you please, Raylan,” Boyd said softly.

Raylan felt the back of his neck prickle with goosebumps at that phrase, though he wasn’t sure why. Boyd’s voice did sound pretty sexy when he said it, but then, it usually did.

“You want to hear the story of when I bought my house?”

“It doesn’t exactly sound like the most riveting tale, but I’m sure you’ll make it interesting. Sure.”

“Well, this was five years ago, and a bit. I was in a pretty serious relationship with someone, we’d been together almost two years and had been talking about buying a house. So we start looking, turned down like ten places before we found the one we both liked. It needed a lot of work, but I had the money to put into it, and we both had some basic home improvement skills. So we put in a contract on the place. The day before the signing, I come home from a job and go to take a shower. As I pass the sink, I notice his toothbrush is gone. Weird, but I don’t know, it’s just a toothbrush. Then I take my shower, and see that his fucking ridiculous expensive shampoo is gone too.”

Raylan knew this story, or close enough to it, and he sort of groaned in sympathy.

“Yeah, it did suck. All his shit was gone. Left me a note that said, ‘I’m so sorry. I can’t do it. I hope you don’t hate me too much.’ I didn’t hear from him for almost a month after that. Found out later he’d left town for awhile, but I wouldn’t have known. I certainly didn’t call him.”

Raylan recognized that vein of pride and toughness that was apparently hard-wired into Boyd, and all of the Crowders, as far as he could tell. He liked to hear it, because he knew that no matter what Boyd had transformed his life into, his essence was the same. He knew that part of Boyd’s personality had served him well during some very difficult times, and probably would again.

“So you bought the house anyway?”

“Sure, I did. It was the nicest one we saw. And why shouldn’t I have a house, anyway?” He sounded cantankerous and defiant, but not bitter, Raylan was glad to hear.

Raylan laughed at that, feeling happier than he had all day. Boyd made an irritated noise and said “What’s so goddamn funny?”

“It’s just what you would do, Boyd. Most people woulda run the other way and never wanted to look at the place again.”

“Maybe so. But you know, Raylan, I’m an adaptable person. If something doesn’t work out for me in one way, I can usually find an angle that does.”

“I know it. I like that about you. So, did you ever see him again?”

“Who, Joe? Sure, I see him all the time. He’s my wing man.”

“Oh,” Raylan said, feeling surprised and strangely jealous. “It doesn’t bother you, hangin’ out with someone who dumped you?”

“Nah. He begged me to get back together about three months after he split, and I shot him down, and then I felt somewhat better. Took awhile to really get over it, but eventually it was fine.”

“Ever find out why he left like that?”

“He just freaked out. You ever feel like that? Like, you been telling yourself you want something for so long, and you’re about to get it, and you suddenly realize it might be all wrong for you?”

Raylan thought about Winona, and wondered why he hadn’t told Boyd that story instead of the one about Ava.

“Yeah, I think I know that feeling. He probably did you both a favor, but the way he went about it was a real dick move.”

“It was, indeed.”

“Well... “ Raylan didn’t have anything more to say, but he hated for the call to end.

Boyd let the silence lay on the line for a few moments before saying, “Thanks for calling, Raylan.”

“Thanks for telling me your story.”

“Maybe I’ll call you next time.”

“Yeah, okay. Do that. Hey, have fun. I hope all the hot ones aren’t taken.” Raylan didn’t hope any such thing, as a matter of fact, but he brazened it out anyway.

“I think I might just call it a night, actually. I ended up walking all the way back to my house.”

Raylan felt an entirely inappropriate amount of relief at that, and said good night feeling a lot better, but twice as confused, than he had before he’d called.

Boyd waited a few days, but then made good on his promise to call. They talked for a long time, mostly about their jobs and places they’d lived.

There were several more calls between them over the next few weeks. They told each other about the lives they’d lived during the time they’d been apart, and had some careful conversations about the time they’d spent getting to know each other as young men. It seemed like such a short time, looking back, just under a year. At the time, it had seemed like forever.

They talked about almost everything in their lives, but for reasons Raylan couldn’t have explained, even to himself, he never mentioned sleeping with Winona, or the fact that they’d talked about possibly getting back together. He could have brought it up easily enough in the beginning, but the more they talked, the more uneasy he was about the omission, and the more awkward it felt to bring it up.

Almost two months had passed since he’d run into Boyd in Virginia. One chilly late-October morning, Art came over to his desk to tell him he needed to head down to Harlan as soon as possible. Sources had confirmed that a large shipment of ephedrine was on its way from Florida to Kentucky, and the person who controlled all the meth in Harlan County, happened to be the last person in the world that Raylan wanted to deal with. Raylan wasn’t even sure how he was going to manage speaking to Bo Crowder, knowing what he now knew, and told Art that he thought maybe Tim would be a better choice.

“What in the world are you talking about, Raylan? Why would Tim be a better choice than you, to go talking to some backwoods hillbilly crime lord?”

Raylan ground his teeth a bit, then said, “I had a close friendship with his son, many years ago. The two of them had a contentious relationship. The man has always hated me.”

Art looked at him blankly. “His son? Bowman? You never said anything about that to me.”

“No, not Bowman. Boyd, his older son. They’re currently estranged.”

“Well, look, Raylan. I get it, you probably don’t want to deal with him. But at least you know the man, you know where he’s coming from.”

“He won’t talk to me.”

“He won’t talk to any of us. That’s not really the point.”

Raylan sighed, resigned, and said, “Okay, fine. I’ll go. Jesus Christ, Bo Crowder. You really don’t know what you’re askin’ here, Art.”

As Raylan was leaving, Art called after him. “Take Tim with you. Just in case the man hates you even more than you thought.”

On the ride down to Harlan, Tim made several attempts at conversation, which Raylan responded to with a one-word answer, or not at all. After that, they rode in silence for a long time, until Tim got fed up enough to say something directly.

“So what did you do to make this guy hate you so much? Steal his moonshine? Cut the straps off his overalls?”

Raylan was driving, and he continued to scowl at the road ahead of him as he replied, “Well, he ain’t Arlo’s biggest fan, so that’s part of it. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you.”

That much was true. Raylan had never understood what it was about him that Bo had so objected to. He’d never been welcome in the Crowder home. Perhaps Bo simply frowned on his children forming friendships outside the family. Now, however, Raylan’s main concern was not the degree to which Bo hated him, but the measure of his own anger towards Boyd’s father.

They finally pulled up in front of Bo Crowder’s home, and before they were all the way out of the car, he was coming out onto the porch to greet them, Harlan-style, with a shotgun in his hands.

“Marshals, I’m gonna ask you not to come any further. This is my property, and you are trespassing on it.”

Raylan continued to walk around the car to stand next to Tim, and pushed his jacket back over his holster, hand ready at his hip.

“This is Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson, and of course, you know who I am. We just had a few questions for you, Bo. We ain’t plannin’ to go pokin’ around or nothin’.”

“Well, if it isn’t little Raylan Givens. Look at you, boy, cowboy hat and a badge, lookin’ all grown up.” The sneer looked permanently fixed on his face, as if his contempt went so deep it could never wash off.

Raylan looked at him mildly. He was thinking he could probably get through this, if all Bo was going to do was lob insults at him.

“We got word of an ephedrine truck heading this way outta Miami. Don’t suppose you know anything about that?”

“Who the hell do you think you are, Givens?” Bo used his family name like a curse. “Coming onto a man’s property where you are not, and have never been welcome, acting like you got a right to be here. You think a federal badge gives you license to forget where you come from? Well, no one else forgot, you can believe that.”

Raylan knew he was being baited, he knew where it was that Boyd’s talent for reading people came from, and he knew he should just shut up and let Tim handle the rest of this pointless exercise. And yet, he could feel the rage building inside of him, and he was quickly losing his will to tamp it down.

“You know, Bo, I believe I was remiss in my manners when I first returned to Kentucky. I should have come out here personally to offer my condolences for the loss of your son.”

“You mean instead of fucking the woman who murdered him?”

“Oh, you thought I meant Bowman. No, no, I don’t care a damn ‘bout that wife-beating piece a shit. I was talking about Boyd. Musta hurt, losing him so soon after he returned to you.”

The hatred in Bo’s face deepened, and Raylan smiled grimly, and turned to Tim. “I believe we’re done here. Now we can go get some lunch, and tell Art we tried.”

“Givens!” Bo had the shotgun cocked now, and aimed at Raylan. Raylan turned around with a look of cold fury in his eyes.

“You are aiming your weapon at a federal marshal, Bo.”

“Federal marshal,” Bo snarled, then spat on the ground. “Don’t think I don’t know about you. I know what you and my son got up to. You want everyone to think you’re a big man, but I know just what you are.”

Raylan stared at him in disbelief. He realized he must have touched a more exposed nerve than he’d thought, if Bo was willing to allude to that in front of anyone else. It also solved the mystery of why Raylan had been so hated.

“Just what, exactly, are you referring to, Bo?” He spoke in a low, menacing tone and kept his eyes on the man, not willing to give any ground at all. If he wanted to get into this shit for real, Raylan wasn’t about to back down from it. He thought about Boyd, twenty-one years old, standing right here, having his life threatened by his own father, and his anger threatened to take over entirely.

Bo didn’t answer, just stood there glaring, until Tim finally spoke up. “Alright, Mr. Crowder. I think we got everything we expected here this morning. You done, Raylan?”

“For now,” Raylan said, very softly, and opened the passenger door. “You drive.”

Tim only waited until they were off the Crowder property before asking Raylan, “What the hell was that all about? I thought you said his son was estranged, not dead.”

Raylan knew that Boyd wouldn’t want him to lie about this. He put his discomfort aside and said, “Boyd is gay. He left here years ago under threat of death if he were to return. Apparently, Bo hates me because he thought I was Boyd’s boyfriend.”

Every muscle in Raylan’s body was tense, waiting for the question that would inevitably be coming. He’d been prepared to put it on the table back at Bo Crowder’s house, but it seemed that his courage had dissipated along with his rage. He had no intention of lying, though, not about Boyd.

As it turned out, Tim didn’t ask. He did give him a reevaluating sort of look, and Raylan knew he was drawing his own conclusions, but that was fine. Later on, he thought about it, and smiled as he realized that part of him had actually been disappointed that Tim didn’t press the issue. He was really not feeling like himself.

Chapter Text

Boyd was having coffee with Joe, the first time Raylan called him before nine at night. Normally, it took Raylan a couple hours and a few drinks to work himself up to a phone call, although, come to think of it, the last few times he hadn’t sounded drunk at all. This, though, a call at five-thirty in the afternoon, was unprecedented.

Joe had been going on about some boy he’d met the night before, and Boyd was listening with half an ear. It had once made him burn with jealousy to hear these stories, but that was a long time ago. It had faded to a slight prickle of annoyance some years back, and it seemed that even that had gone away without his noticing. Boyd wondered if that had happened right around the time he’d seen Raylan again.

His phone buzzed, and Boyd glanced at it, thinking it might be about an upcoming job he was working on. When he saw Raylan’s number, his face lit up before he could stop it, and he knew Joe noticed.

“I need to go take this,” he said, and stood up to go. “I’ll call you later.”

Joe rolled his eyes at him and said, “Oh, of course. Can’t miss a call from your closet case boyfriend.”

Boyd paused for a second, wanting to say something, either to defend Raylan or himself, but in the end he just waved at him and said, “Sorry, I’ll talk to you later,” and walked out, answering the call as he went.

“Hello, Raylan. Little early for you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah... I guess. I just got in. I was in Harlan all day.” Boyd heard the sound of keys being set down, then of glass clinking together as Raylan poured himself a drink.

“Is that right? What for?” Boyd didn’t really want to know, but he thought it was probably connected to Raylan’s reason for calling at such an unusual time.

“Well, matter of fact, I had to go see your daddy.” Raylan’s voice sounded weirdly cheerful, though not in the insincere way it had when he’d told the story about picking Arlo up from jail. It didn’t jibe at all with what Boyd had expected to hear, when Raylan said he’d been in Harlan.

“I see. Well, do you want to tell me why?”

“Oh, no. Not really. The usual shit, you know. Waste of time, don’t know what Art was thinking. I want you to know, Boyd, I kept my eyes open for any possible excuse to kick his ass. He somehow managed to hold himself back from assaulting me, unfortunately, and as there was another marshal present, I had to behave myself.”

Raylan really did sound different, his voice lighter than it had been since Boyd had known him. What he was saying made Boyd smile real big, though, and he would have been embarrassed for anyone to know how turned on he was at the thought of Raylan beating the crap out of Bo for him.

“Well, it’s the thought that counts. And who knows, the opportunity may yet present itself to you. We are talking about Bo Crowder.”

“Uh, so... were you aware that your daddy was under the impression that you and I were fucking back then?” Boyd heard the squeak of bedsprings and pictured Raylan settling down and leaning back to drink.

Boyd let out a strangled laugh and said, “I... I was not. Although... now I think of it, that makes a good deal of sense.”

“It does. Now I know why he hated me so much. I been blamin’ Arlo for that this whole time.”

“When in fact, he probably just couldn’t look at you without picturing your dick in my ass.”

“Jesus, Boyd.” Raylan was cracking up on the other end, and Boyd laughed too, but was still puzzling over his strange attitude.

A startling thought occurred to Boyd then. “Raylan... did he say that to you in front of your partner?”

“Well, he sort of implied it. But honestly... you know, I kind of wanted him to ask me outright. I thought I might lie and tell him we had been, in case it might hurt more to hear it confirmed. Hell, maybe he woulda thrown a punch then and I’d have had my excuse for a beat down.”

Boyd had been walking aimlessly down the sidewalk, but as soon as Raylan said this, he sat down on a bus stop bench.

“Raylan, you didn’t get hit in the head today or anything, did you?”

Raylan laughed and said, “What are you talkin’ about? I’m fine. I’m just in a good mood.”

“Yes, I can hear that. I just... okay. I’m glad. It’s putting me in a good mood, too.”

They talked for another ten minutes or so, and after they hung up, Boyd walked back to the coffee shop. He expected Joe to be gone, but he was still sitting there, thumbing his iPhone. He looked up as Boyd approached the table and sat down.

“Sorry for walking out like that. It was rude.”

Joe looked at him appraisingly for some time, and said, “Oh. Well, that’s okay, I guess. You’re in love, right?” He sounded a little sad, though not broken up or anything.

Boyd wasn’t sure he was ready to use that word about Raylan, at least not in that way, so he shrugged. “He was my first love, we were nineteen. I don’t think I ever really fell out of love with him, but... that was a long time ago.”

“Oh, god. You’re a fucking goner, Boyd, just give it up. Jesus, whose first boyfriend still looks like that, anyway, twenty years later?”

“He wasn’t really my boyfriend. We never said anything to each other. We never did anything.”

“Even better. Twenty years of unrequited love, and you run into each other at a bar? That’s some rom-com shit right there. How long are you just going to keep talking to him on the phone before he gives up and finds some woman to date? You do know why he keeps calling you, right?”

Boyd stared at him, feeling a small pang of regret that things hadn’t worked out between them. Joe was being surprisingly sweet about this, considering he must have understood that Boyd had still been carrying a torch for Raylan when they were together. Maybe everyone does that, though, to some degree. It didn’t mean Boyd hadn’t loved him, too.

“Yeah... you’re right. What should I do?”

It was very rare for Boyd to ask anyone for advice, but then, it was also unusual for someone else to figure out something about his life before he had. Joe had always been a good match for him in that area, at least.

Joe laughed at him and said, “Well, it’s a rom-com, right? What would John Cusack do?”

“I can’t just drive down to Kentucky and show up on his doorstep. Can I?”

Joe shrugged. “You could go the sensible route and call him, make plans, meet somewhere in between, be adults and shit. I’m sure that would work fine too.” He yawned ostentatiously.

“You’re kind of an asshole, you know? No wonder I like you.”

Joe smiled at him and said, “I like you too. And I’m so jealous, I almost hate you.”

By the time Boyd got back to his house, he’d come to a decision. The thought of just going to Raylan like that was a little crazy, but he also thought it might be the best course of action. Even though Raylan seemed like he was working on shit, starting to come around, he still might balk at making some kind of official plans, at this point. And, if Boyd was being honest with himself, he wanted to be back in Kentucky. He missed it. He had no illusions about it; he knew what kind of place it could be for someone like him, and many other kinds of people as well. But he loved it anyway, for the things that were good about it.

He left early in the morning, Friday, and was in good spirits for most of the drive down, and only in the last hour or so of the trip did his nerves start to jangle. His biggest fear was that Raylan would have someone (some woman) in his room, or would come home with someone to find Boyd there waiting. He didn’t want to see that, and neither did he want to make things awkward for Raylan.

He found the motel where Raylan had said he was staying, and bribed the desk clerk to find out what room he was in. It was only around four in the afternoon, so Raylan would still be at work. Boyd brought his paperback copy of The Price of Salt, and settled down against the door of Raylan’s room.

 

It was almost six and getting dark when Raylan’s car pulled into the lot. Boyd watched him get out of the car and pocket his keys, and his face split into a wide grin at the sight of Raylan in his big hat and slim jeans, his jacket, tie and cowboy boots, looking like some kind of goddamn gay fantasy, and yet somehow pulling it off without a hint of camp. Or, well... maybe just a hint.

Boyd stood up as Raylan walked towards his room, and finally the man looked up and saw him. He frowned, his eyes going wide and cautious, as if he was afraid to believe what he was seeing. Neither of them said anything until they stood just a foot apart. Raylan said very quietly, “You here for me, Boyd?”

Boyd nodded and said, “For you and me, Raylan. If you want that.”

Raylan reached up and pulled off his hat, then swept his arm around Boyd’s waist, pulling him in tight and kissing him.

When they pulled apart, Raylan’s eyes were dark and wide, and he said breathlessly, “Inside.”

He unlocked the door and opened it, pulling Boyd in by the arm and kissing him some more. Boyd still didn’t feel entirely sure that Raylan had understood him. He needed for Raylan to know that it had to be something real with him, he couldn’t take being with him but not in his life. He pulled back and held Raylan by the shoulders, looking at his face. Boyd couldn’t tell what he was feeling, because at the moment, every emotion on his face had been crowded out by lust.

“Raylan, wait - “

No.” Raylan held Boyd’s face in both hands, looking straight into his eyes. “I ain’t waitin’ this time. There’s nothing more to wait for. I want you.”

“You want me?”

“I want you.

Boyd let his hands fall to Raylan’s waist, and leaned his head forward to rest on his chest for a moment. Raylan wrapped an arm around him and rubbed a hand up and down his back, then pulled his face up with the other one. He kissed him again and stroked his fingers down Boyd’s cheek.

Boyd let go of whatever doubts he’d still been holding on to, and let Raylan kiss him, let him slide his jacket from his shoulders and pull his t-shirt up over his head, let him unzip his jeans and reach in to rub his hand over his straining boxer briefs. He didn’t do anything to Raylan for a long time, just let himself be touched and kissed all over by him. It was a heady feeling, almost like being worshipped - at least the way Raylan was doing it.

Finally, Raylan stepped back and pulled off his tie, started to unbutton his shirt, and Boyd watched him as he finished getting undressed. Then they were both naked, staring at one another like they weren’t sure where they were, or when, or how they’d gotten here.

Raylan reached for him, running his hand over Boyd’s left shoulder, tracing a tattoo in the shape of the state of Kentucky, on his bicep. He smiled and said, “You missed it, huh?”

Boyd moved in close and nodded. He kissed Raylan on the side of his jaw, then his neck, then the top of his shoulder. He didn’t mind it if Raylan wanted to talk, was happy to listen to the sound of his voice, but Boyd didn’t want to speak at all. He didn’t want to take his mouth away from Raylan’s body for a second.

Boyd kissed his chest, then looked back at his face, waiting for Raylan to tell him. He didn’t know what Raylan liked, but Boyd was happy to give him whatever he wanted.

Raylan kissed his lips again and said, “What do you want, Boyd? What should we do?”

Boyd almost laughed from sheer amazement and happiness. Raylan was asking him, would give Boyd whatever he asked for. It was almost too much, because he wanted everything, all at once.

He stared at Raylan and said, “There is so much I want, Raylan Givens. But tonight, I just want you to fuck me. You think you can do that?”

Raylan let out a breath and closed his eyes. He kissed Boyd hard, then, and Boyd could feel how ready Raylan was to do this, to push forward and take him. He could tell this was going to be so fucking hot.

Boyd sat down on the bed and scooted back as Raylan crawled on top of him, suddenly assertive. They kissed on the bed some more, and Raylan stroked him until he thought he might come just like that. Boyd could feel Raylan pressed up against his leg, hard and urgent.

Eventually, Raylan moved down and used his mouth on him. He pushed back Boyd’s legs and used his tongue and fingers to open Boyd up. Boyd was a little surprised at that, and he wondered what other ways he might have underestimated Raylan. He obviously knew what he was doing, he was good at this. So good. So damn good that he almost begged him not to stop, even though he showed no signs of doing any such thing.

By the time Raylan did stop, Boyd felt almost undone by the urgency of his desire. Raylan came back up and kissed him, then said, “I don’t have any lube, Boyd. I’m sorry. You gonna be ok?”

Boyd nodded. He knew Raylan would go easy with him, and he couldn’t imagine stopping now, anyway. Raylan sat up, hesitated, then reached into the drawer of the bedside table for a rubber. Boyd smiled up at him, knowing he could tell him not to bother, and Raylan would do it. Raylan shrugged, almost shy, and Boyd was sure they were thinking the same thing. Men their age, coming up in the 90s, if they hadn’t been careful they might be dead now, or sick. Boyd was glad Raylan was in the habit of taking care of himself and whoever he was with, and this was fine for now.

Raylan started slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Boyd’s face. It wasn’t entirely comfortable at first, but Boyd was mostly thinking about the fact that it was Raylan staring down at him, just like he had that first night at the bar, as if he might be a mirage.

They found a slow rhythm together and kept it steady, even as the sensation grew in intensity. Raylan was breathing hard and his eyes were starting to look unfocused, and Boyd wondered if this was what he looked like when he was getting close. As much as he wanted to see that - it was so lovely - he didn’t want it to be over so soon.

He reached up to touch Raylan’s face, saying, “Hey. Wait for me, Raylan.”

Raylan’s eyes sharpened at that, and he grinned down at Boyd. “Shit, you want, I’ll go all night.”

Boyd raised a skeptical eyebrow and smiled as another wave of unreality swept over him. Raylan started stroking Boyd’s cock in time with his easy thrusting, and then Boyd just closed his eyes and let himself feel things for awhile.

He opened them when he felt Raylan going harder, and Raylan was still looking at him. Now his face was flushed and his mouth hung slightly open.

“Fuck, Raylan. You’re gorgeous.” Boyd hadn’t even meant to speak at all, but he blurted this out as soon as the thought was formed.

Raylan shook his head, either denying it or calling it irrelevant, and bent down to kiss Boyd on the mouth. His voice was low and breathless as he asked, “You ready, Boyd?”

Boyd nodded and pulled him in for one more kiss before letting him pull up and start fucking him harder. Raylan had his arm wrapped around Boyd’s bent knee, and he pressed his lips into the inside of his leg as he started coming. Boyd gasped with the power of it, and felt a brief, ridiculous flash of pride that he’d been able to make Raylan feel that way.

Boyd hadn’t gotten his yet when Raylan pulled out of him - he’d been too distracted by watching Raylan, too overwhelmed by the beauty of it - but he was aching for it.

“Raylan, I need more. I need...”

Raylan widened his eyes at Boyd and smiled like he’d lucked out. Then he slid down and closed his mouth over Boyd, taking him in deep, all at once, and it was too much. Boyd had gotten so close when Raylan was fucking him, and he was there again.

Raylan’s hand was resting on his stomach, and he grabbed it, squeezed it tight as he let himself go with a wordless gasp and a sharp cry.

Raylan looked a bit dazed as he moved back up the bed, and Boyd reached for him, pulling him in close. They lay quietly together for some time, and Boyd wished he could think only about the perfection of what had just happened between them, and not what a hassle the practicalities of this relationship might turn out to be. He doubted that Raylan was thinking along the same lines at the moment, however. His face was untroubled as it lay on Boyd’s chest - a rare occurrence, Boyd was sure - and his thumb was idly stroking the tattoo on Boyd’s arm.

Raylan spoke slowly, like he was on his way to sleep. “I can’t believe you drove all the way out here. You’re kind of crazy, ain’t you?”

Boyd smiled and replied, “Sure, I am. Did you forget that?”

“Nope.” Raylan tucked his arm around Boyd’s chest and closed his eyes. They both dozed off for a little while, and were jolted out of sleep by a knock at the door.

Raylan sat up fast and muttered, “Shit.” He got up and pulled on his jeans and undershirt before going to the door.

He opened it just a little bit and said, “Winona. Hey,” and Boyd knew right then that Raylan must have fucked her, at some point, since being back in town. It was unlikely she’d be coming by at this time of the evening if she had no expectations. Maybe he shouldn’t be too mad, but he was. Raylan could have told him that during any of the lengthy phone conversations they’d had, but he hadn’t done it, and Boyd had a feeling he knew why. Raylan had told him about Ava, because that was over.

Boyd quietly pulled on some clothes, wanting to be prepared if he needed to leave.

Raylan was still blocking the door, and Winona was saying something that Boyd couldn’t hear. He heard Raylan’s answer though. He said, “Yeah, I do. I’m sorry...” Boyd made out the word “Ava” in Winona’s reply, and Raylan said, “No, it’s not. Look, I’ll call you later, okay?”

The longer she hung at the door, the more pissed Boyd got. Obviously there was enough of a relationship there that she felt entitled to an explanation, and there was no way Raylan should have neglected to mention it.

Raylan glanced back into the room, frowning at seeing Boyd dressed and out of bed. He turned back to Winona, still saying something in a sharp tone to him, and said, “Fine, I’ll introduce you,” and pulled the door wide.

Boyd was pretty sure his face looked like a deer caught in the high beams as he stood there in his jeans and t-shirt, no shoes, face to face with Raylan’s impossibly beautiful ex-wife. He wasn’t thinking, just then, of what it meant for Raylan to do such a thing. He was just caught in this moment. They stared at each other for several seconds, and then Raylan said, “Winona, this is my old friend Boyd Crowder. Turned out he wasn’t dead after all. Boyd, my ex-wife, Winona Hawkins.”

She looked away from Boyd then, and glared at Raylan. “You’re an asshole, Raylan. You could have just said something, you didn’t have to do it like that.”

Boyd had to agree, it had been kind of a shitty thing to do. He wanted to back her up, but he doubted she’d accept anything of the sort from him at this time. And anyway, childishly, he’d gotten some satisfaction from it.

Winona turned on her heel and walked quickly back to her car. Raylan closed the door softly and turned back to Boyd, slowly, like he didn’t want to face what he knew was coming.

Boyd wasn’t as angry as he had been, not after what Raylan had done, but he still felt hurt that he hadn’t told him about her.

He asked the one question he thought he needed the answer to, and the one he dreaded most. “When was the last time you slept with her?”

Raylan walked towards him, still moving slowly, tentatively, and he stood in front of Boyd without touching him. He had a funny look on his face, like he was in the process of figuring something out that had been bothering him.

“It was only once. That was before... you know, before Richmond. I should have told you about it. I just...” Raylan looked away, avoiding Boyd’s eyes.

“You just wanted to keep your options open. You just wanted to keep thinking you’d probably end up back with her and have your happy ending, and everything else would just be something that happened a long time ago.” Boyd wondered if Raylan was really this transparent, or if his motivations were just obvious to Boyd because of the way he felt about him.

“Maybe I did think that, at first. None of what happened that night seemed real, Boyd. As soon as I started driving back, the whole thing started to feel like a dream. It wasn’t until... well, the next time she came over, and I couldn’t do it. Or didn’t want to, anyway. That was the night I called and told you about Ava, and you told me what happened with Joe, and your house.”

Raylan sat down on the edge of the bed, and Boyd came around to stand in front of him. Raylan reached up and held onto his hands.

“But you still didn’t tell me, after that. Why?”

“I was afraid you’d be upset. Like when she called that night. I thought you might back off again, stop takin’ my calls. I don’t know.” Raylan tugged at Boyd’s hands, pulling at him until he gave in and climbed onto the bed, straddling Raylan’s hips. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it. Winona’s right, I am an asshole.”

Boyd looked at him, tilting his head to the side like he was deciding. “Maybe, maybe. Then again, that was kind of awesome.”

“Was it just me, or did she not look as surprised as she could have?”

Boyd grinned and shook his head. Raylan grabbed him by the waist and pushed him over onto his back.

Boyd reached up and grabbed a handful of his hair, not gently, and said, “Listen. I get it. I see what happened. But you can’t do that shit, Raylan. We got a lot to figure out, and I can’t do that if you keep important things from me.”

Raylan crushed his lips into Boyd’s, wrapped his arms around him and rolled them over so Boyd was on top. Boyd would rather have heard him promise, but Raylan seemed to be done with talking just then. They kissed each other until their lips were tender and red, and fooled around for a long time, without any great urgency, starting to learn about each other. Boyd was again struck by how self-assured Raylan was, and it didn’t fit with some of the assumptions he’d made about him when they’d first been reacquainted.

When they’d finished and lay on the bed, coming down, Boyd remembered something that he’d wanted to ask Raylan about, a thought that had briefly occurred to him before he’d been otherwise occupied.

“How the hell do you not have any lube here, Raylan?”

Raylan frowned at him like he was surprised at the question, and said, “I never bring men here. You’re the first and only.”

“Never? Really?”

Raylan didn’t answer right away, and looked distinctly uncomfortable as he finally said, “I thought you knew that about me. I’m not... I only did that when I was out of town.”

“You must go out of town a lot,” Boyd replied, with a smirk. He didn’t really want to make a big issue of this. He hadn’t known this specifically, but it fit with what he had known. Yet it did bother him, mainly because it was one more obstacle to what was already going to be a challenging situation.

Raylan raised his eyebrows at him, probably responding to the irked tone Boyd had tried, and failed, to keep out of his voice. When Raylan spoke, Boyd was glad to hear that it sounded honest, and only a little bit defensive.

“Look. I know you wish I was different. This is why I never told any of the women I was with, they would have wished the same thing. I can’t change it. And I know you think I’m ashamed, but I ain’t. It was never about that. I don’t tell anyone anything about myself, ‘less I have to. Except you, Boyd. I never could shut any of that up with you.”

Boyd reached out a hand and settled it on Raylan’s chest, spreading his fingers out wide. He felt a little guilty now, and promised himself he’d be more patient with Raylan. Clearly, he was trying, and Boyd realized he didn’t exactly know how it would feel to be like him.

“I really don’t want you to be any different. I swear, I don’t. It doesn’t matter. You will have to tell people about me, though. I won’t hide just to be with you, Raylan.”

Raylan moved closer and pulled Boyd close by the waist and looked at him with some amusement.

“You’ve only been here a few hours and Winona already knows. You want me to take out an ad or somethin’? But... shit, Boyd. How visible do you really wanna be down here? It could get ugly. You must have thought about that.”

Boyd had thought about it, quite a bit, on his drive down. And he didn’t have an answer, not yet, but he was almost forty years old and it felt a bit ridiculous to him that an entire state was off-limits just because his daddy didn’t want anyone to know his son liked cock.

It had been easy enough to stay away for all those years, knowing there wasn’t really anything here for him anymore, but now Raylan was back. Boyd didn’t just want Raylan, he wanted to be with him here. And he wanted not to be afraid of his father anymore.

Unlike the unstable, unpredictable Arlo, Bo was scary because you always knew exactly what he would do if you fucked up. There had been no escaping it, and no point in fighting back. There had only been leaving, which Boyd had recognized as his best option at the time. How much things had changed might depend a great deal on Raylan’s willingness to take up that fight with him.

“Hey, you got anything to drink? If we’re gonna talk about this, I could use one.”

Raylan got up and fetched a bottle and two glasses from a shelf, and sat on the bed next to Boyd. Boyd thought some about the times when he and Raylan would drink together as kids. Raylan would always drink his first couple very fast, and as the effects kicked in he’d let go of some of the tension he normally held in his body, and become freer with his hands. He’d give Boyd friendly shoves, or sling an arm around him. Despite Boyd’s claim to Raylan that he’d known about his attraction, he’d never really been sure how much was real and how much a figment of his besotted imagination.

Boyd drank a little, then said, “Here’s how I see it. If we’re going to be together, I’m going to be here on some kind of regular basis, right?”

“I hope so.”

“We can’t spend the whole time in here fucking.”

Raylan leaned in and put his mouth against Boyd’s neck and murmured, “Is that some kind of challenge?”

“Stop it, Raylan,” Boyd said, laughing despite himself, ”this shit is serious.”

“Okay, okay, sorry.”

“If I’m going to be here, I can’t be looking over my shoulder all the time, waiting for somebody to recognize me and tell my daddy.”

Raylan frowned and said, “Shit. You want to go out there, don’t you?”

“I have to,” Boyd said, with a certainty that allowed for no argument.

“Boyd, that’s crazy.”

“Raylan, I’m not a kid anymore. This is my life.”

Raylan nodded slowly and said, “Well... if that’s what you need, then that’s what we’ll do.”

“You’re coming?”

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t? Not just me, either, we’ll take someone else with us.”

“Who?”

“Tim.” Raylan grinned. “You’ll like him.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“You’ll see.”

 

Saturday night, Raylan and Boyd drove west, out of the city, for dinner. They took their time eating, and had a couple drinks each. Boyd kept stealing glances at Raylan as he drove them back to Lexington, thinking he looked more relaxed than he could ever recall seeing. Boyd was also thinking that this was, without a doubt, the sexiest man he’d ever been with. Or, possibly, seen - but he was willing to concede bias, there.

Boyd remembered other nights, driving with Raylan on the roads of Harlan County, many years before. He’d always loved rolling down the road, in the dark, 70s classic rock on the radio when Raylan was driving, country when Boyd was.

Boyd had always loved the old-timers. He still did, despite the mocking he’d often taken from friends and dates, when he’d put on Buck Owens or Hank Williams. He’d preach on classic country until whoever he was with either told him to shut up, or came around to his point of view. He had no taste for that shit Raylan had liked back then, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, plus country rock, which was even worse, in Boyd’s opinion.

On many of those nights, riding in the car with Raylan, Boyd had imagined himself confessing everything to him. He’d pictured the conversation so many different ways, with so many different outcomes. Sometimes, Raylan would pull the car over and kiss him. Others, he’d pull over and kick Boyd out of the car, telling him never to come near him again. When he was feeling especially dark, he’d imagine Raylan beating the shit out of him, and even, one time, killing him. He’d indulged his most morbid thoughts, thinking about how broken up Raylan would have been about it.

His attention didn’t escape Raylan’s notice, and eventually he called him out on it. “Can’t keep your eyes off me? That it?”

Boyd thought he might want to talk about this some time, with Raylan, but it didn’t seem like the night for it. He put a slightly leering smile on his face and said, “Pretty much. I was just thinking about what I want to do when we get back, and wondering whose brilliant idea it was to drive this far for dinner.”

Raylan let a small smile play across his face, and said, “Well, we’ll be back in about ten minutes. But we could pull over somewhere. If you really can’t help yourself.”

“I have infinite patience, Raylan. You know that,” he said calmly, as he slid his hand between Raylan’s legs.

Raylan’s eyes widened as he gripped the steering wheel tighter, and let his legs fall open slightly. Boyd grinned, and started to rub the inside of his thigh, slowly, when Raylan’s phone buzzed.

“Shit.”

Boyd sighed, and sat back as Raylan took the call.

“Loretta? What’s up?” Raylan frowned, and Boyd could hear someone high pitched and distraught on the other end. “Calm down, honey. I need you to tell me exactly what happened, and where you are... okay... I see. Okay, listen, now. I’m comin’, but I’m gonna be a little while. I’ll get there as soon as I can. Are you safe right now? Fine, call if anything happens.”

Raylan looked at Boyd with no small amount of regret, and said, “I gotta go to Harlan. I’ll drop you off, then I have to run. I’m sorry. I don’t know how long this shit’s gonna take.”

“That’s fine. Damsel in distress?”

“Fourteen year old girl. She was kidnapped by some fuckin’ creep awhile back, and I found her. She’s a sweet girl, helps her daddy with his weed crop, thinks she’s tougher than she is. All things considered, though, I guess she is pretty tough.”

“She’s a Harlan girl.”

Raylan sighed. “Yeah. She’s been staying with Mags Bennett while her daddy was supposed to be down in Florida on business of some kind, but she just found his watch in Coover’s stuff. She knows shit ain’t right. I’m guessing she’s probably known that for awhile, and I wish she had called me sooner. Shit, I really don’t like this.”

After they’d pulled into the hotel lot, Raylan took the room key off of his keyring and handed it to Boyd. “I’ll call as soon as know something.”

“Okay. I’ll be here.” Boyd got out of the car and watched Raylan speed off.

Boyd went inside, poured himself a drink and sat back on the bed. He looked around at the shabby, dimly-lit room, and tried to imagine living here for months, as Raylan had been, with apparently no plans to change his situation. The thought made him feel sad, and protective, and then irritated with himself. Raylan wasn’t someone for him to fix. He wasn’t about to run away from him, or be run off by him, but Raylan had to live his own life the way he saw fit.

He picked up his book and started to read, sipping at his drink. He knew Raylan would be gone a long time, from the distance alone, so he resigned himself to going to bed on his own that night. He figured he might as well turn in early, since he’d likely be woken up by Raylan coming in very late.

Boyd ended up turning out the light at around 10pm, only to be awoken by his phone trilling at him at just after 1am. He fumbled for it, knocking the glass of bourbon he hadn’t completely finished off the table.

“Raylan? You okay?”

Raylan sounded tired, but in one piece. “Yeah. This thing got a bit out of hand. Loretta’s safe, but Coover Bennett’s dead, at the bottom of an old mineshaft. I’m heading back now, but I gotta come down here again tomorrow. They got a team coming with some equipment to pull the bodies out.”

“Did you say ‘bodies,’ plural?”

“Yeah. Loretta’s father is down there too.”

“Shit. You sure you want to drive all the way back here now, then back down again tomorrow?”

“Don’t know what choice I have. I ain’t gonna bunk with Dickie.”

“I know better than to suggest you stay at Arlo’s. What about Ava? She hate you so much, she wouldn’t give you a bed for the night?”

Raylan laughed wearily, and replied, “She might let me into her own bed. But that ain’t looking quite as tempting to me as it once did, just lately. Anyway, I’d rather just head back there.”

“Alright, then. Drive safe.”

Boyd got up to unlock the door for Raylan, then went back to sleep. He woke up sometime later to the swaying of the mattress, and the feel of naked skin against his as Raylan slid into bed. Boyd turned around and smiled sleepily at him, and Raylan started kissing him, softly at first, then increasing in intensity. After he didn’t speak for a few minutes, Boyd started to feel slightly concerned.

He pulled his face back from Raylan’s mouth, and said “Hey. Everything okay? Should we - “

Raylan pushed forward again, panted out, “Talk later. Promise,” then picked up where he’d left off.

Despite the late hour, and Raylan’s obvious exhaustion, they ended up fucking. Raylan seemed to need it, and Boyd couldn’t help wanting it, not when Raylan was so into it. Afterwards, Boyd knew Raylan would want to fall asleep right away, and he knew he should let him, but the night had been so strange, and his thoughts from earlier, in the car, wouldn’t let him rest.

“Raylan?”

“Mmmhm.”

“If I’d told you how I felt about you, back then, what do you think you would have done?”

Raylan was quiet for what felt like a long time, and Boyd thought he might have fallen asleep. Apparently, he’d just been thinking about the question, because he finally answered, “I thought about it a lot, you know. I always hoped you would. When you never did, I just figured I must have read you wrong.”

“You could have said something.”

Raylan gave a short, rueful laugh. “No, I couldn’t.”

“If I had, would you really have wanted to be with me?”

“I did want that. I don’t think I really knew what I meant by that, though. I just wanted you.”

“I think you would have broken my heart, Raylan.”

Raylan nodded in agreement and said, “I think we would have broken each other’s.”

Boyd frowned and pulled Raylan in closer to him. He’d always thought of Raylan as the one holding the cards in this, because he’d had more options, and because Boyd had wanted him so badly. He thought, now, that if they had started something up as teenagers, Raylan might have been the one to come out of it worse off. He would have been lost, stranded in unfamiliar territory where he’d have had no intention of wandering, had it not been for Boyd. He thought Raylan was right - they would likely have ended up hurting each other very badly.

He held onto him now, feeling grateful they’d escaped that - even if it had just been fear holding them back, rather than good sense. Raylan had already sunk deep into sleep, and Boyd eventually followed him.

Chapter Text

Boyd stayed until Sunday afternoon. They didn’t get much time together, after Raylan came back from Harlan, but Boyd needed to get back. He said he needed to finish up a job he’d already committed to, and when that was finished, he’d come down and stay for a longer stretch. Raylan promised to talk to Tim, and that when Boyd came back they would all go and see Bo.

Raylan came to work the following morning in a better mood than he’d been in since starting at the Lexington branch. Rachel gave him an almost concerned look when he passed her desk and grinned a good morning at her. He sat down at his desk with a large coffee and started in on some paperwork related to the Coover Bennett shooting, as he waited for Tim to come in.

He arrived about five minutes later and stopped by Raylan’s desk to say good morning.

“Tim! Just the man I wanted to see. Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure...” Tim had the suddenly wary look of someone who expected to be backed into a corner at any minute.

Raylan didn’t want to project his business through the whole office, at least not yet. He knew what Boyd would say about that, but he figured he could take things at his own pace, at least at work. He asked Tim to come into the conference room, and they went in and sat down.

“You remember all that shit Bo Crowder said about me and his son Boyd?”

“Hard to forget.”

“Well, it wasn’t true.”

“Okay.” Tim gave an exaggerated shrug. “Why should I give a shit, anyway?”

Raylan ignored the question and said, “Boyd wasn’t my boyfriend back then. But... well, I guess he is now. We got reacquainted a couple months ago. ”

Tim only missed about half a beat before saying, “Why are you telling me this?”

“I need to ask a favor.”

“Well, I’m flattered. But I’m really not into threesomes,” he said, dry as the desert.

Raylan kept a cool gaze on him for a few seconds, then said, “You done?”

Tim tilted his head as if he were weighing the question, then gave a brief nod. “Yes. What do you need, Raylan?”

“Boyd is dead set on going down there and letting Bo know he’s back. He feels it’s better than being caught unawares, and... well, I guess he just feels he needs to do it. But there’s no way in hell he’s going down there by himself, and I think it would be only slightly less terrible of an idea for it to be just me going with him.”

“And you’re asking me to go with you, as a favor... to you?”

“Well, yeah. I know it’s a pain in the ass -”

“Are you serious? I’d pay good money to see this shit, and you’re inviting me as a guest. I should be thanking you. Would it be completely inappropriate for me to film it?”

Raylan grinned cheerfully and clapped Tim on the arm as he stood up. “Appreciate it,” he said as they were walking out of the conference room. He held the door, and as Tim walked past him, he leaned in close and said in a low voice, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to thank you.”

Tim looked startled for only half a second and then scoffed at him. “Thanks, but I have a strict ‘no fatties’ policy. No offense.”

 

Work was busy the whole week, and Raylan was out of the building for most it, which was by far his preference. He saw Loretta on Tuesday, talked to her when she was refusing to live with her new foster family. What Boyd said was right - she was a Harlan girl. Raylan knew that meant strong, which was good, but it also meant naturally suspicious, unwilling to trust. That was fine, could be helpful, to a point. But he well knew it could also make a person ruin a lot of things that could be good for them. He kind of wished Boyd had gone there with him; he could have talked to her about fresh starts, new beginnings. All Raylan knew about was how to run away, and what that meant when you had to come back.

He was coming in from a prisoner transfer, late on Thursday, and ran to catch the elevator just as it started to close. As soon as he did, he wished he’d waited for the next one, as he slipped inside to see Winona looking at him with the iciest stare he’d ever seen in her big blue eyes.

Raylan scrunched up his face and rubbed at his temple before taking a breath, and saying, “Winona, I’m sorry about Friday night. I could have handled that better.”

She crossed her arms and turned her body away from him. “You didn’t handle it at all, Raylan. You blindsided me with it. It wasn’t fair.”

“Yeah, I know. It was a weird night for me. I apologize.”

Winona whirled around now and glared at him. “Jesus Christ, Raylan. I’m not even talking about that night. You never told me anything! The whole time we were together, you never said a damn word to me about it! You didn’t give me any credit at all!”

“I didn’t... shit. I’m so sorry. I thought you would freak out and leave me.”

“Instead, I ended up leaving you because you were always holding something back from me. Guess I know what it was, now.” She still looked angry, but not as cold as she had at first. She looked like she might be ready to cry, and Raylan felt like shit about it.

“I don’t know what to say.”

The doors opened then, and two people got on. Raylan and Winona stood there, not talking, and not looking at each other. They arrived at her floor first, and she got out and walked down the hallway without looking back.

 

Boyd called Raylan on a Thursday afternoon, just over three weeks after he’d left the last time, and asked if he could pick him up at the airport on Saturday morning.

“I can do that. How long you planning to stay this time?”

They hadn’t talked about anything in specifics, and suddenly Raylan wasn’t sure what he wanted the answer to be. When Boyd had visited for the weekend, Raylan had been caught so off guard, and by the end of that time, he’d felt ready to be alone again. It wasn’t that he hadn’t had a good time, he just needed some time to deal with what felt like too much coming at him all at once.

After a day or so of Boyd being gone, however, Raylan had begun to feel his absence sharply. He took to calling him on the phone as soon as he got home, so he could talk to him over his first drink of the day. Sometimes Boyd would be able to chat, sometimes not, and when he wasn’t, Boyd would usually call him back late, so they could say goodnight.

The phone calls took care of part of the problem, but there was no remedy for the other part. It seemed, in his memory of it, that he’d had his hands on Boyd almost constantly during the time they’d spent together. He’d been touching him in some way or another, as much as possible, felt like he couldn’t get enough contact. Now that he was gone, Raylan felt like he’d forgotten what to do with himself. Boyd was so warm, all the time, and Raylan needed that heat. He’d never realized how much until now.

He knew it wasn’t practical, or even possible, and that if such a thing were said out loud, it would probably terrify him, but he thought that maybe what he’d really like was for Boyd to come and never leave again.

Boyd answered his question carefully, perhaps wrestling with a similar internal conflict.

“I thought we could talk about that when I’m there. I don’t have any commitments here at the moment, but I know it’s best not to leave it open-ended. The way I’m feeling right now, Raylan, it’s probably a bad time to try to answer that question.”

Raylan laughed softly into the phone and said, “You think seein’ me is gonna make it easier? Not if I can help it.”

“Goddamn, Raylan, I miss you.”

“Yeah. I’ll see you Saturday.”

After Raylan put his phone away, he walked over to Art’s office, pulled the door open and knocked as he leaned inside.

“Come in, Raylan. What’s up?”

“I need to take a few days off next week.”

“Okay... want to tell me why?”

“Not particularly.”

Art raised his eyebrows at him, and Raylan could almost hear him thinking, “Did that boy really just say that to me?”

Raylan looked at him, slightly abashed, and said, “I got a friend coming in from out of town.”

“Now, why on earth would you not just say so?”

Raylan shrugged, but said nothing.

“Everything okay, Raylan? You seem a little... off to me, as of late.”

“Off?”

“Happy,” he clarified.

“Well, yes, I can see where that would be cause for concern. But I’m fine.”

“This have anything to do with your friend from out of town?”

Raylan just smiled and said, “So, after tomorrow, I won’t be back in ‘til Thursday. Okay?”

Art sighed, nodded and waved him off as he looked back down at his paperwork.

 

Raylan somehow managed to be almost late picking up Boyd at the airport. He hadn’t wanted to hurry up and get there, only to hang around and wait, so he took his time in the morning, and stopped for a second cup of coffee on the way. Then he hit a traffic snarl due to an overturned truck, and had to park and run to the baggage claim.

He spotted Boyd waiting for his bag to come around, and lifted a hand to get his attention. Boyd smiled with his whole face, then held up one finger before bending down to grab a suitcase from the carousel. Raylan moved to intercept him, and as he bent down to take the bag from his hand, Boyd leaned in and gave him a kiss. Raylan pulled up quickly, eyes wide, and shook his head.

“Jesus, Boyd. This is still Kentucky, you know.”

Boyd smirked at him and said, “You got a gun, right?”

They walked quickly through the small airport and out to the parking garage. Raylan got Boyd’s suitcase stowed in the trunk and unlocked the doors. They got into the car, and before Boyd could get his seatbelt on, Raylan grabbed him by the front of his jacket and pulled him into a blisteringly hot kiss, full of all the pent up desire Raylan had been storing for the past three weeks. He hauled Boyd towards him, half on top of him, and Boyd gripped the back of the driver’s seat for support as Raylan put his hands all over him.

When Raylan let him up for a breather, Boyd smiled into his face, panting as he said, “Why Raylan, it sure is good to see you too.”

Raylan licked his lips and gently pushed Boyd back to his seat. He was still breathing heavily as he pulled his seatbelt on and said, “Let’s get goin’.”

They made record time back to the motel, and they didn’t even bother getting the suitcase from the trunk before heading into Raylan’s room.

As soon as they were inside, both of them undressed quickly. Boyd pushed forward to kiss Raylan before he’d gotten his jeans off entirely, and he lost his balance, pulling them both down onto the bed. Boyd braced himself on his arms, trapping Raylan and staring down at his face for a moment, before leaning down to kiss him very softly.

He spoke quietly, very close, saying, “I got you,” in an awed-sounding voice. Like he couldn’t believe his luck.

Raylan didn’t want to argue with that any more than he wanted to agree with it, so he just ran his fingers into Boyd’s hair and pulled him into another kiss. What he wanted was Boyd’s mouth on his dick, as soon as possible, and he told him so.

Boyd obliged him, and it was so sweet. He didn’t want anything more than this, right now, just Boyd, and this. As soon as he came, he pulled Boyd back up to him, rolling on top of him and devouring his mouth. He couldn’t remember being so hungry for a person, so eager to get every part of someone in his hands and his mouth. He felt like he couldn’t get close enough to satisfy his desire. When he had Boyd’s cock in his hand, Raylan looked up at him. Boyd’s head was thrown back, and Raylan could only see his neck and the underside of his sharp jaw.

“Boyd,” he said, panting out his name. When Boyd looked down, Raylan just held his eyes for a little while, then nodded at him. He didn’t know what he’d meant to say, or what he was feeling. He had just wanted to see if the boy he’d known was still visible in this man. He’d felt the need to drive home the reality of who he was, who they’d been and who they were now.

Boyd just gave him a little smile, like he might just know what Raylan was about. Then he grabbed Raylan’s head by the hair in back and said, “I need it now, Raylan.”

Raylan was the one smiling now, and moved up to kiss Boyd one more time before closing his mouth over him, taking him in and giving him what he needed.

The room was chilly, something they hadn’t noticed in the frenzy of their activities, but as they lay still afterwards, Raylan started to feel cold. He reached out to pull Boyd in, and dragged the blanket over their bodies.

Raylan wasn’t tired, but he felt like he could fall asleep just from sheer comfort, and the growing warmth under the covers. He murmured into Boyd’s shoulder, “You want to go out for some lunch in a bit?”

“Yes, I do. Now, in fact. I’m starving.”

They went out for barbecue and discussed the plan to visit with Boyd’s father. Raylan wanted to know exactly what Boyd was hoping to get out of this confrontation, but Boyd wasn’t offering much in that area. All he would say was that he wasn’t going to hide from anybody, anymore, and that included Bo Crowder. They settled on Wednesday, and Raylan called Tim to set it up.

After the waitress brought their food, Raylan took a deep breath and said, “So... you said we should talk about how long you’re staying. Wanna do that now?”

“Not really. Do you?”

Raylan shrugged. “I ain’t in any hurry for you to leave. I’m a little concerned about the accommodations, though. My room ain’t really set up for long-term guests.”

“So I noticed. And speaking of that, haven’t you been here for eight months? What the hell are you doing still living in a motel room?”

Raylan sat back and looked at Boyd challengingly.

“You mean to tell me you don’t already have a theory on that topic?”

“It would hardly tax my considerable insight into the psychology of Raylan Givens to list the reasons why you haven’t yet found a permanent home in Kentucky. But, tell you the truth, it was mostly a rhetorical question. What I meant to say was, ‘You ought to get off your ass and find an apartment.’”

“Can never seem to find the time.”

Boyd started to say something, and then closed his mouth quickly. He took a bite of his sandwich and watched Raylan’s face.

Raylan narrowed his eyes suspiciously and said, “What?”

Boyd shook his head and grimaced like he knew he was going to regret his words, but said, “Well... I was going to suggest that you do it on Monday. You know, since you took the day off. But then I realized how you might take that, and I honestly had no such intentions.”

Raylan couldn’t remember ever seeing Boyd so uncomfortable. He wondered if perhaps he should feel bad that Boyd was worried about his reaction, but it was too rare an opportunity to pass up.

He sent a grin, big and slightly malicious, across the table at Boyd and said, “You wanna go apartment shopping with me. Don’t lie.”

Boyd’s eyes slid to the side. “Raylan, shut up.”

“You gonna help me pick out window treatments too?”

“I swear to God, boy, I’m gonna - “

“Boyd,” Raylan said, the grin mostly disappearing, replaced by a more sincere expression, “I’ll go see a Realtor, Monday. You can come if you want to. You should come.” He spoke with a conscious casualness that he was pretty sure wasn’t fooling Boyd. He knew why the man had felt so uncomfortable bringing it up, and Raylan felt pretty uncomfortable with the whole business, himself.

Boyd’s expression was a sight to see, though, and Raylan couldn’t regret making him look that way. He was obviously fighting a smile, looking at him with a mixture of surprise and exasperation, which Raylan was pretty sure meant that he’d guessed wrong. That was good, he thought. He liked that Boyd knew him so well - always had liked that about him - but it was still nice to win one of these, once in awhile.

They spent the rest of the afternoon walking rather aimlessly around Lexington, and talking just as aimlessly. As it started to get dark - which it was doing increasingly early these days - they stopped into a bar to get drinks. Raylan figured they could just eat bar food if they stayed long enough to get hungry. He knew the pretty blonde bartender at this place fairly well, though he kept forgetting her name. He usually flirted with her when he came in here, and she was pouring a Jim Beam for him as they two of them sat down.

“Hey, Raylan. Getting cold out there?”

“A little. Not too bad.”

She looked at Boyd and said, “What can I get for you today, hon?”

Boyd grinned at her and ordered a Jack, and then he rolled his eyes at Raylan as she went to get the bottle. “You bring me in here to show me what you’re passin’ up for me?”

“Boyd, if you want me to avoid every place where there’s a woman who wants to sleep with me, we might as well just stay in my room.” Raylan eyed Boyd up and willed the smile to stay off his face.

“Like we’re even safe there,” Boyd replied, but he was laughing.

They spent the rest of the weekend in much the same way, doing whatever they felt like doing, which mostly consisted of eating, drinking, fooling around and watching tv, not necessarily in that order.

On Monday, Raylan called a real estate office, as promised, and lined up three places in his price range to see. The Realtor did a slight double-take when they walked into the office, but quickly gave them a warm smile and showed them to her car.

Raylan wanted to take the first place he saw - he insisted to Boyd that it was simply that he liked the place, but mostly it was because he didn’t really care, and he hated this whole process - but Boyd talked him into looking at all three. He was glad of it, because the last place was by far the best. It got a lot of light in the living room, and the kitchen was recently remodeled, and Raylan signed a lease that afternoon.

Since Raylan had no furniture, he spent Tuesday morning ordering a bed, a sofa and a television to be delivered to his new apartment. He figured he could make do with that much for awhile, even though Boyd made fun of him. They had picked up some empty boxes, along with a six-pack, at the liquor store, and Boyd was helping him pack up the meagre belongings he’d brought with him when he moved in here. It was taking longer than he would have thought, with so few things, and they were still working at just past five when there was a knock at the door.

There weren’t many people it could be. It wasn’t like Raylan had a ton of friends in Lexington. It pretty much had to be Winona, Ava, or someone from work. He didn’t even know who to hope for. He glanced over at Boyd, who was steadily filling a box with some notebooks and random, disorganized papers he’d found lying around on a shelf. Boyd looked alert, but not especially uneasy, so Raylan went to the door.

It was Winona, and she stood in front of him, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else.

“Winona. Your timing is uncanny.” He gave her a small smile, hoping she’d accept it as some kind of peace offering. He’d really rather she didn’t hate him. “Come on in.”

Winona stepped in, glanced over at Boyd quickly, and said, “I’m so sorry to bother you, Raylan. I stopped by your office and Art told me you had a... friend in town. I wouldn’t be here if I... what are you doing? Are you moving?”

Boyd put down the box he was holding and said, “You know what? That sixer is almost gone. I’m gonna head down and pick up another.”

Raylan shot him a grateful look as he headed out the door, then turned back to Winona.

“I decided it was time to get a real place. This one was starting to get to me.”

“You decided, huh? Who is this guy, anyway?”

Raylan had no idea how to answer that question. He didn’t even try.

Winona stared at him with something like dawning recognition in her eyes and said, “You love him.”

Still, Raylan couldn’t answer. He didn’t know, and he didn’t want to answer one way or the other. He didn’t want to talk about this at all, with her.

He gave a quick, dismissive motion with his hand and said, “Winona? Why are you here?”

“Something really bad is going on with Gary. He won’t talk to me about it at all, but he’s in big trouble. I know it.”

Raylan raised his eyebrows at her and said, “Thought you were separated. Why not just let him deal with his own shit?”

“You want to lecture me about my marriage, Raylan? Really? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but for now he’s still my husband.”

“And you’re asking me, to go talk to your husband, who you cheated on me with and left me for, and try to fix whatever mess he’s gotten himself tangled up in by being greedy and stupid? Because, I guarantee that’s what it is - that’s always what it is.”

“Would you? Because I’d really appreciate it.” She looked at him, steadily and unapologetically.

Raylan sighed. “Yeah, okay.” He had no idea how she was able to make him feel like he owed her, when in his estimation, the score was - at the very least - even. “I’ll go see him... tonight, I guess. I got something goin’ on tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Raylan.”

Raylan nodded at her. She stood staring at him for a few more seconds, and then she moved forward and touched his arm, then kissed him softly on the lips.

She started to leave, then turned back to him and said, “I don’t know if I would have freaked out or not. I wish you had at least tried, though. It couldn’t have turned out any worse than it did anyway.”

Raylan watched her go, then came back into the room and sat down on the bed. He’d lost his energy for packing, and he didn’t want to think about telling Boyd what he was going to have to go and do tonight. The worst part was that he didn’t know how to explain his inability to say no to her, and he was afraid that Boyd would make assumptions.

Boyd came back into the room, took one look at Raylan and handed him a beer. He sat down next to him with his own bottle, and they drank in silence for a minute or so.

Boyd spoke first, saying mildly, “It’s almost a shame you two didn’t have kids together. Would have been some pretty babies.”

“Pretty, maybe. Screwed up, for sure.”

Boyd nodded slowly, drank some more of his beer, and rubbed a hand up and down Raylan’s back. Finally, he said, “What does she need from you?”

Raylan noticed his choice of words, and didn’t think they were an accident. Boyd never spoke carelessly. He looked over at Boyd, who was gazing back at him, unconcerned, even holding a hint of amusement. He felt a rush of something, or maybe several things - gratitude, affection, and no small amount of lust - and kissed him, squeezing his upper arm hard, expressing an excess of emotion that he had no idea how to even begin to put into words.

Boyd smiled at him and drained the rest of his beer. “I know, okay? Who you are, what you do. I know how you feel about me, too. I’m not worried. So just tell me what this business is, and after we take care of that, we can get your shit moved outta here.”

“Some asshole keeps beating the shit out of her husband, and she wants me to try to get it to stop. I’d be inclined to let that ride a bit longer, personally, but she feels differently. Did you say ‘we?’ You wanna come along on this?”

“Can I?”

Raylan shrugged. “I guess so. I’m doing this in a strictly unofficial capacity. Could possibly be dangerous, though.”

“Raylan, we’re going out to see my daddy tomorrow. Danger is feeling extremely relative at the moment. ‘sides, I’m dying to see the man who could steal someone away from you.”

“Well, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Do me a favor, though? Don’t look directly into his eyes. It’s possible he has some kind of magical ability, because I can’t think of any other explanation.”

They went to get something to eat, then headed over to Winona and Gary’s house. When they arrived, his car wasn’t in the drive, and Winona came to the door with red-rimmed eyes. She glanced sharply at Boyd, then said to Raylan, “He’s been sitting out back since he got home. Just sitting there, staring into space. He’s not even drinking.”

She stepped back and stood to the side to let them in, and as Boyd drew up even with her, he said softly, “I can wait outside, if you’d rather. I only came to help, and I surely don’t wish to cause you further distress.”

Winona stared at him like she didn’t quite know what to make of him, and then shook her head slightly. “No,” she said, “It’s okay. Th... thanks for helping.”

Boyd nodded at her, and he and Raylan followed her into the living room. Raylan looked out the back door to where Gary was sitting, and said, “Has he told you anything about this, Winona? Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

“No,” she said, wiping her eyes, “he won’t talk to me about it at all. Or about anything, these days, frankly.”

Raylan nodded, and started to open the door to the back yard. He looked back at Boyd and said, “Maybe let me talk to him on my own first. He doesn’t know you, he might get even more freaked out. He hates me, but at least I’m a familiar face.”

Boyd shrugged and hung back. “Whatever you think.” He looked at Winona and said, “Okay if I stay in here with you?”

Winona nodded and gave him a small smile. Raylan gave them an uneasy look and said, “You ain’t gonna talk about me, are you?”

Winona rolled her eyes at him and said, “What the hell else would we talk about, Raylan?”

Raylan hesitated for another moment, then pushed his way through the door. Gary was sitting in a lawn chair, still in his suit from work. Raylan walked over and stood next to him.

“Hey, Gary.”

“Raylan Givens. What a surprise. You come over to save the day for Winona, yet again?”

Raylan sighed, and said, “I think she’s lookin’ for me to save the day for you.”

Gary laughed bitterly. “Oh, well that’s just perfect. That makes me feel much better.”

“I ain’t after her, you know.”

Gary ran a hand through his hair and said, “I know you slept with her.”

“Call it payback, if you want.”

Gary looked up at Raylan and asked, “Is that what it was?”

“No. But it’s over now, anyway.”

“It’ll never be over for her.”

Raylan was through with this conversation. He huffed in annoyance and said, “Gary, I ain’t here to talk about your marriage. I really don’t give a shit if it works out or not. I’m here as a favor to Winona, which I may or may not owe her. She apparently still cares enough about you to ask me for something, when she has good reason to want to avoid me entirely.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’ll tell you, if you tell me what the hell is going on with you and Wynn Duffy. I want to help you find a way out of this, if there is one. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I’m out of your life.”

Gary laughed disbelievingly, but said, “I owe money. You must have figured that much out.” Raylan just waited for him to continue, and he did after a little while. “It’s a lot of money. And I don’t have it... but I will. I just need time. I bought a property that’s going to be a gold mine. As soon as the market turns around, this thing will pay off a fortune. I’m supposed to meet with Duffy tonight to talk to him. I’m supposed to be there in half an hour.”

“What is this property?”

“It’s a future site for a mall - upscale boutiques, restaurants, that kind of thing. Got a whole plan drawn up, it’s going to be absolutely beautiful. Perfect location. I just need more time.”

“Gary. You need to listen to me, right now. You are gonna sign over that deed to Duffy.”

“He doesn’t want the deed, he wants the money. And anyway, Raylan, I don’t want to sign it over. I’ll take a huge loss! This is a guaranteed money maker!”

“That’s where I come in. I’m gonna convince him. He’ll take it. You can’t get money from a dead man. And Gary? You will sign that deed over. You’ll take your damn loss. You’ll stop putting yourself and your wife in danger.”

Gary looked mutinous, but he didn’t say anything for awhile. Raylan figured he’d come around, even if he didn’t want to. Again, he wondered what the hell Winona had seen in the man.

Finally, Gary got up and trudged up toward the house, followed by Raylan. Before they reached the door, he said, “So what was it?”

Raylan frowned at him. “What was what?”

“The thing that would make Winona want to avoid you.”

“Oh, that. Well, you’re about to meet him.”

He stopped short when he saw Winona and Boyd sitting at the kitchen table, and Raylan said, “Gary, this is Boyd Crowder. Boyd, Gary Hawkins.”

Gary nodded at Boyd, obviously confused as to where he fit in with this. Winona looked at Gary and said, “See? I told you Raylan was seeing someone, and it wasn’t me.”

Gary gaped at her, then looked at Boyd, then Raylan. “Yeah, right. Okay.”

Raylan just gazed back at him and said, “Let’s go, Gary.” Gary nodded and bent to kiss Winona, who turned her cheek to him. Raylan looked away.

Boyd got up and nodded to Winona, saying, “Thank you for your hospitality. I’m glad we had a chance to talk.”

Winona smiled, still looking at him like she thought maybe he’d dropped in from another planet, and said, “Maybe we can get lunch some time.” Raylan almost choked at that, and decided he needed to move things along before the two of them became best friends.

“Come on, I don’t think we want to make this asshole wait.”

The three men went out to Raylan’s car and got in, Gary in the back seat. He leaned forward after they pulled out of the driveway and said to Boyd, “So who are you, really? I know you guys are fucking with me.”

Raylan was not in the mood to have this, or any other, conversation with Gary. He was about as sick of this situation as it was possible to be, and he snapped at him, saying, “Gary, sit the fuck back and shut up.”

They arrived at Duffy’s office, an unassuming storefront in a rundown strip mall. There were two cars parked out front, and the lights were on inside. Raylan approached the door cautiously, the other two trailing behind, and pulled it open. There were four men standing around a desk. Raylan recognized Duffy, and his muscle, Billy Mac. The other two - a man with a mustache and a suit, and a younger man who was certainly his bodyguard - were unknown to him.

Duffy looked up and raised his movie villain eyebrows at the three of them. “Mr. Hawkins. I didn’t know you were bringing company. I didn’t realize the Marshal’s office took an interest in real estate development.”

Raylan nodded toward Duffy and said mildly, “Oh, I’m just here as a friend. Moral support, you could say. I don’t think I know your friend, here.”

Duffy glanced over at the man in the suit, then looked back at Raylan. “Federal Marshal Raylan Givens, Emmitt Arnett.”

Raylan’s eyebrows shot up before he could stop them. This was something he would have liked to know, going into this, and he had to forcefully push images of himself, strangling Gary, out of his head.

“Emmitt Arnett. Well, I certainly know that name. Shot-caller for the Dixie Mafia, here in Lexington, all for Gary’s little loan?” Raylan hoped Boyd would understand what he was trying to convey. There was no way Arnett wouldn’t be familiar with the Crowder name, and Raylan couldn’t think of any benefit to putting it out there.

Arnett scowled, and said, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to, Marshal. But lest I be remiss, I don’t believe we’ve all been introduced. I know Gary Hawkins, but I’m not acquainted with your associate, here.”

“Just another concerned friend, Mr. Arnett,” Raylan said smoothly. Arnett gave him a slightly sharp look at that, but said nothing. Raylan continued, addressing himself to Duffy. “Gary has a proposition that I believe you will want to consider very seriously.”

“Is that right,” said Duffy, skeptically.

“Yep. Go ahead, Gary.”

Gary looked extremely nervous, but he stepped forward and said, “I truly believe that, with just a little more time allowed to me, I can more than double Mr. Arnett’s investment - “

Raylan’s eyes went wide and shot to Gary’s face, glaring in anger and disbelief. “Jesus Christ, Gary. Shut the fuck up.” He looked at Arnett and said, “Gary holds the deed and plans to a project that he believes will be extremely lucrative. It’s a valuable piece of land. As Gary does not currently possess the funds to repay your loan, he is prepared to sign it over to you.”

Arnett frowned. “I wasn’t looking for an investment this evening, gentlemen. I simply hoped for payment on a loan I made some time ago.”

Raylan nodded and said, “I understand that. However, I strongly suggest you take Gary up on his generous offer. The land will be worth more than the loan when you sell it, or develop it, or whatever you choose to do with it. And if you don’t, this little asshole is gonna run - with my help - and you’ll have to expend a great deal of energy chasing him.”

Arnett stared at Raylan for awhile, and finally said, “Fine. I believe that will be satisfactory.”

Wynn Duffy’s face held an expression of great outrage, and he said, “Now wait just a minute. This loan was arranged through me. I’m entitled to a sizable cut, here. That was the deal, Emmitt.”

Emmitt looked at Duffy like he’d forgotten he was there, and said, “Well, these things happen in business, Wynn. Sometimes we have to make the best of a bad situation.”

Raylan had been watching Arnett’s muscle, who was keeping a close eye on Gary, so was distracted for the fraction of a second it took for several things to happen. Boyd, however, apparently had a better read on the room.

Wynn Duffy moved to draw a gun from his desk drawer but before he could raise it, Boyd was on top of him, shoving his face down into the desktop with a hand on the back of his neck, and the elbow of his other arm pushing down the middle of his back. Arnett, his bodyguard, Billy Mac and Raylan all had guns drawn at this point, and Boyd raised his head with a look Raylan hadn’t seen on his face in many years.

It was a cool look, but behind it was a hint of exhilaration that Raylan found equally thrilling and disturbing. He looked like nothing so much as the man he’d expected to find upon his return to Harlan, and he was pretty sure he would have been just as ready to give himself up to this version of Boyd as the one he’d found up in Richmond. Boyd must have caught some of that on his face, because he flashed him a wicked grin, just for a second.

He forced himself to move his eyes away, and began to talk everyone down. When everyone had calmed down, Duffy’s gun removed, and the deed to Gary’s property safely in the hands of Emmitt Arnett, Raylan said, “Well, I guess we’re about done here. We’re takin’ Gary back to his home now, and I need to feel assured that your business with him is concluded.”

Arnett waved dismissively and said, “Yes, yes.” He looked at Gary and said, “I don’t want to see your face again, boy. Don’t come looking for any more loans.”

On the way back to Gary’s house, Raylan found himself looking over at Boyd more than was strictly safe, considering he was driving. After a while, Boyd settled his hand on Raylan’s leg, lightly stroking it with his fingertips. Raylan spared Gary a fleeting thought, then decided he didn’t give a shit. No way was he telling Boyd to take his hand off of him.

From the back of the car, Gary called out, “I’m still not buying it. I don’t know how far you were planning to go for this little joke, but you might as well quit now.”

Raylan looked at Boyd and said, “He thinks we’re jokin’.”

Boyd glanced back at Gary in amusement and said, “How far would we have to go before you believed it?”

Gary sputtered a bit, then said, “Forget it. Jesus. This night couldn’t possibly get any fucking weirder.”

When they dropped him off, Raylan called out the window to him. “Tell Winona ‘you’re welcome’ for me, would ya?”

Raylan drove them back to the motel with Boyd’s hand still in his lap, but no longer confined to the top of his leg. He concentrated as much of his energy as he could on getting them back safely, and when they pulled into his parking space he put his hand over Boyd’s and rubbed it against his crotch as he leaned over and kissed Boyd deeply.

“Can’t wait another minute. Come on.”

They stumbled into the room, already all over each other, pulling at their clothes. Raylan pulled Boyd down on top of him, on the bed, holding his gaze steadily. He wrapped a hand around the back of Boyd’s neck and said, “I want something more tonight, Boyd.”

Boyd kissed him, and kept kissing him in between words as he asked, “What do you mean? What do you want?”

“I want... will you... I want you to fuck me.” Raylan was embarrassed, but he was also determined. He wanted this. He wanted everything this man could give him.

Boyd pulled his head back, suddenly looking wary. “Why tonight, Raylan?”

“I just want you. I want it. Will you?” Raylan didn’t want to talk. He needed to be touching Boyd, and to be touched by him. “You want me to say please?”

Boyd looked at him for what felt, to Raylan, like a very long time. Then he smiled down at him and said, “I will. But we’re talking about this later.”

Raylan grinned up at him and pulled his head down for a kiss. “Whatever you say.”

Boyd reached into the bedside table for the lube they’d bought during the first weekend he’d come down here. Raylan closed his eyes as Boyd got started, doing his best to breathe and relax into the feeling of what he was doing with his hands. He didn’t open them until he heard Boyd’s voice saying his name.

Boyd was looking down at him, into his eyes with a serious expression. “Is this your first time?”

Raylan just kept his eyes locked with Boyd’s and smiled at him, until Boyd moved down to give him a kiss. “Okay, Raylan. Tell me if I hurt you.” Raylan just nodded, then closed his eyes again.

Boyd kept working with his fingers, and put his mouth on Raylan’s cock at the same time. Everything started to feel better, then, and soon he found himself pushing back onto Boyd’s hands. He wanted to tell Boyd to get on with it, start fucking him, but he figured it was best to trust him on this.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait much longer anyway. Boyd straightened up and took hold of Raylan’s thigh, pushing it back.

“Raylan. I want you to look at me now.” Raylan opened his eyes, and Boyd pushed himself into him, very slowly. “You okay?”

“Boyd... I’m fine. I can take more. Come on.”

Boyd blew out a breath and pushed himself in steadily. “Breathe, Raylan.”

Fuck, Boyd, “Raylan groaned. “Do it. I trust you. I...”

Boyd moved at an even pace, eyes roaming over Raylan’s body before coming back to rest on his face. His eyes were heavy-lidded as he said, “Touch yourself. I want to watch you do it. I want to see you come all over yourself, boy.”

Raylan started stroking himself, never taking his eyes from Boyd’s face. Boyd kept fucking him gently, but Raylan was getting impatient. He knew Boyd had it in him to give him more than this. He’d seen Boyd’s face back at Duffy’s office, and he wanted that. He wanted that boy, the one he’d left behind to take his own path out of Harlan. He wanted to see that ruthlessness, that selfish, insular, Crowder pride. He wanted to be taken.

“Boyd, I said I wanted to fuck, not cuddle. Come on.”

Boyd raised his eyebrows, and the side of his mouth pulled up in a surprised smirk. He tilted his head to the side and considered Raylan for a moment, then said, “As you please.” At that, he pulled back and pushed in forcefully, though Raylan sensed that he was still using a measure of restraint.

Boyd gave Raylan what he wanted, and as Boyd neared the edge, Raylan glimpsed a bit of what he’d been looking for in his face.

“That’s it, Boyd. That’s right. Fuck, you’re so... “ Raylan trailed off, finding it hard to maintain a thought for very long. He was still pumping himself, and getting close as the sensation of Boyd moving in and out of his body started to overwhelm. He’d never felt anything nearly like this before. “Boyd... give me... all of it. Shit, I’m coming.”

Boyd’s eyes were full of desire as he watched Raylan’s body tense up, his eyes squeeze shut for a second as his come spurted up over his fist. He didn’t wait any longer, and pushed into Raylan only a few more times before he was coming too. Raylan was sure he’d never seen anything more gorgeous than Boyd’s face at that moment, though he knew that didn’t make any sense.

Winona was, he thought, the most beautiful person he’d ever been with. She was objectively lovely, and when she was coming, her smooth-skinned face would flush and her big blue eyes would grow dark with lust. But this, now, with Boyd staring down at him like that - like the man would kill for him, and could - this was a purer sort of beauty. This was something Raylan could understand.

They were lying in bed after, exhausted from the events of the day and drained from the intense sex. Boyd’s leg was draped over Raylan’s but they were not touching otherwise. Raylan yawned, and spoke drowsily, saying, “You gonna tell me what you and Winona were talking about?”

Boyd smiled slightly and replied, “The weather, mostly.”

Raylan looked over at Boyd, just to be sure. He saw that his eyes were closed, and he had a slight smile on his face, so Raylan decided that he didn’t need to know. He was just glad Boyd wasn’t stressed out about it.

“Thanks for being so nice to her. I know it must be weird for you.”

Boyd rubbed his foot against Raylan’s calf and said, “Probably more so for her. Least I already knew you liked girls.”

“She figures I shoulda told her, back when we were together.”

Boyd laughed once and said, “You think?”

Raylan shifted uncomfortably and replied, “I didn’t think it mattered. Back then, you were the only guy I’d ever really...” Raylan paused to think about that. It wasn’t entirely true, although certainly Boyd had been the only man he’d had actual feelings for, beyond the physical. That had only happened because it had snuck up on him. It had been so unexpected, because he’d felt so connected to him before he even noticed how goddamn sexy he was. “I thought maybe it was just you.”

Boyd looked at Raylan, shook his head and said, “Did you really think that, or was it just something you told yourself?”

“Eh... I really don’t know anymore. I haven’t thought about any of this in a very long time.”

“So all this time you been going to bars on the down low, you never found anyone you thought you’d want to spend more than an hour with?”

“I never even considered it. I think - “ Raylan cut himself off suddenly, his mouth closing so suddenly that his teeth clicked together. “Never mind.”

Boyd gave him an incredulous sidelong look and said, “Yeah, right, Raylan. I’m gonna let you get away with that.”

Raylan was frowning, thinking hard about this. The thought had occurred to him at almost the exact time it was coming out of his mouth, and that was something that almost never happened. He hated talking about himself, and usually measured every syllable when it came to the personal.

“Well... if you must know. I was thinking that maybe I was just looking for you, all that time. Not literally, of course.” He smiled uncomfortably. “But then, there you were.”

Boyd spoke slowly, and answered “That’s a very fanciful notion, Raylan.”

“Isn’t it? See why I didn’t want to tell you?”

Boyd rolled over onto his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows so he could look at Raylan’s face. “Remember me telling you that you don’t have to pretend with me?”

Raylan knew that, but that didn’t mean it came easily to him. He let his hand drift up to stroke his fingers lightly through Boyd’s hair, but didn’t say anything. He felt like he’d said more than enough, anyway.

Boyd was still looking at him, and he said, “What made you want to do this tonight?”

Raylan didn’t bother to pretend that he didn’t know what Boyd was talking about, but he couldn’t really understand why Boyd was making such a big deal out of it. It was just sex, after all. But he figured he could try to come up with an answer, since it seemed to mean something to him.

“I just wanted you that much. I wanted... all of it. You.”

“Why tonight?”

“Boyd, what are you asking me?

Boyd waited a little while before he answered, and when he did, he sounded like he was speaking against his better judgement. “Did you need me to prove to you that I was a man, first, or something like that?”

“What?” Raylan was completely nonplussed. He couldn’t understand how Boyd could even ask him such a thing. Could hardly believe he didn’t understand this. “I don’t think like that, Boyd! Jesus Christ.”

Boyd frowned at him, then said, “I’m sorry, Raylan. I guess I don’t always know what’s going on in that brain of yours. I just thought... you seemed so turned on by all that shit back at Duffy’s office.”

Raylan grinned and gave Boyd a shove on his arm. “Shit yeah, I was. The way you took that asshole down, that was hot. It’s nothin’ to do with you being a man. It was like a goddamn time machine. It was like seeing you, from twenty years ago.”

Boyd gave him a look that Raylan couldn’t quite interpret - something between a frown and a smile - and said, “You wish I was still that way?”

“No! Hell, no. I just liked seeing it for a minute. That’s all. You’re good just the way you are.” He craned his neck up and leaned over to kiss Boyd. “Anyway, that’s why I thought it was so fuckin’ hot. But that’s not why I wanted to do this, tonight. That was about something else, entirely.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to take me through your thought processes, Raylan. I’m feeling regrettably slow this evening.”

“Look, Boyd. I don’t know if I can give you an answer that’s gonna satisfy you. All I know is it felt like something I wanted to do. With you. I knew you’d give me what I wanted. I knew I could trust you. Okay? That’s really all it was.” Raylan was frustrated. Boyd obviously wanted to understand something, but he was going to have to figure it out on his own. Raylan had nothing else to offer.

But Boyd seemed satisfied enough, at least for now. He gave Raylan a kiss on his shoulder and got up to brush his teeth. Raylan did the same, then they collapsed into bed. Once the lights were out, both of them were restless for quite some time. Raylan was extremely uneasy about what was happening the next day, and he assumed Boyd felt the same way. Eventually, they rolled away from each other and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Boyd felt it every time Raylan woke up. His nerves were jangling, and he couldn’t get very deep into sleep. He could almost hear Raylan’s eyes blinking open to look at the digital clock, and sometimes he’d just try to ignore it and go back to sleep himself. Other times, he’d roll over towards Raylan and put a hand on his hip, or around his waist. He had a hard time sleeping all up on someone like that, but he got the feeling that Raylan liked it, found it helpful for drifting off.

He didn’t know how long he’d been awake, but at one point he heard the birds get louder, and the first faint light started creeping into the room. By then, he was grateful for the excuse to get out of bed - trying to sleep had felt more exhausting than just being awake - so he got up and took a shower. He was still pretty tired though, and he leaned his arm against the tiles, sinking his forehead onto that as he let the warm water run down his back. After a little while, he felt a draft on his back as the shower curtain was pulled back, and Raylan stepped in beside him.

“Morning, Raylan.” His voice sounded like a rusty car door.

Raylan came up behind him and wrapped an arm around his torso and kissed the place where his neck met his shoulder, then rested his head there and yawned. “I’m tired, Boyd. Slept like shit.”

“Yeah, I know. Me too.”

“You sure you’re up for doin’ this today?”

“We’re doing it. Do me a favor and don’t ask me that shit again, okay?”

Raylan sighed and said, “You got it.”

“You come in here for something in particular?”

“Yep.” Raylan pulled Boyd around to face him and held him by the shoulders as he kissed him softly. He leaned into him, pushing him into the wall of the shower. Boyd hadn’t really been in the mood - too sleepy, too worried about today, but he couldn’t help responding to Raylan’s insistent attentions, and the feeling of his hard cock pressed against Boyd’s hip. Raylan kissed him and rubbed up against him until Boyd was just as hard as he was, then he sat down on the edge of the tub and pulled him in by the hips, taking him deep.

Boyd could tell that things were changing, that Raylan was different now, and that maybe he was too. This felt different. Last night had definitely been different.

Boyd was too tired to hold off, and he thought Raylan was probably too tired to want to suck him for very long anyway, so he let himself go. He looked down at Raylan’s head, his beautiful mouth on Boyd, his soft brown hair almost half turned to gray now. He loved everything that was happening between them, everything they did together, every joke, every disagreement, every kiss. Everything about Raylan, and about the two of them. He loved Raylan, apparently, which seemed obvious enough now, though the idea had kind of snuck up on him. It made it so sweet as Raylan swallowed against him, and Boyd gasped at the feeling, letting it send him over.

He groaned and ran his fingers through Raylan’s wet hair.

When he finished, Raylan stood and kissed him again. Boyd reached for him and stroked him, kissing him repeatedly and meeting his eyes, because he knew how much Raylan liked it. Raylan had a romantic soul, something Boyd found absolutely charming, often amusing, and sometimes exasperating, considering how frightened of genuine emotion he could be.

Boyd got him off pretty fast, and Raylan sighed into Boyd’s neck as his heart rate returned to normal. The shower was starting to run cold by that time, so they quickly rinsed off and hopped out.

They had agreed to meet Tim at 11 am to drive down to Harlan, and it was still very early. After Raylan went to pick up coffee for them, they packed up the rest of Raylan’s room, then drove the boxes over to the new place. Boyd knew that Raylan wasn’t assigning a whole lot of meaning to this move - was thinking of it largely in terms of physical comfort - but Boyd knew what a big deal it was for him to take this step towards permanence, here in Kentucky. Boyd wasn’t about to call attention to it, though. It was enough that Raylan was doing it; he didn’t need to know why.

Tim was meeting them at a coffee shop near the courthouse, so they went early and got food while they waited. Boyd’s stomach was unsettled, and he couldn’t eat much, but aside from that he was surprised to find that his nerves felt fairly calm. He was glad to be doing this, finally.

Boyd was watching the door, and when a skinny, sweet-faced boy came through it, walking like a soldier, Boyd knew it had to be Tim. At least, now, the mystery of why Raylan thought he might like him was solved. He threw a sardonic glance at Raylan, who carefully avoided his eyes.

When Tim approached the table, Boyd stood up to shake his hand. Raylan made his introductions from where he sat, half-sprawled in his chair, as if refusing to acknowledge the danger they were about to put themselves in, as well as the discomfort that Boyd knew he had to be feeling at introducing Boyd to his co- worker.

Boyd had always understood that this was how Raylan handled distress; he simply acted like it didn’t affect him, and so it didn’t, for a time. This was not without consequence, because that shit always had to come out some way, some time, but it served a real purpose. Right now, Boyd was glad of it, and thought he might try it on himself for awhile. Boyd knew how to be hard, had done it for many years while living in his daddy’s home, but he’d let a lot of it go over the years. It had served him well in Harlan, but it could be a detriment in other places. He’d let his sharp edges get smoothed over with time, but he needed them now.

 

On the drive down to Harlan, Tim drove and Boyd rode in the back. He idly thought about how his life might have turned out if he hadn’t left, and realized he might well have found himself riding in the backseat of a lawman’s car, under very different circumstances. Could even have been Raylan’s car, and it turned Boyd’s stomach to think how that might have felt, for both of them. He was sure that, whatever he might have been up to in that alternate existence, he would have been just as happy to see Raylan as he had been in that bar in Richmond. How Raylan might have felt was another question entirely.

A ways into the drive, Raylan turned towards him and said, “Hey, you remember that time we got so drunk, we fell asleep out behind your daddy’s shed and stayed there ‘til the morning? I woke up to him kicking me in the ribs.”

Boyd smiled, despite the dark thoughts he’d been entertaining, because he remembered how desperately he’d been in love with Raylan, at that time. Not that it had been a comfortable, or pleasant experience, having those feelings for his best friend, but it had made that part of his life stand out in vivid relief. Almost everything else seemed drab, by comparison.

“I remember,” he replied. “Thank God we weren’t touching. You would have gotten more than a kick.”

Raylan laughed, and said, “I think I did fall asleep on you, but then I had to go puke at some point, and when I came back you shoved me away.”

Boyd thought about that, trying to remember. It made sense that Raylan had fallen asleep on him. He’d always gotten physical with Boyd when he’d been drinking, in that maddeningly ambiguous way, so he could never be sure.

“Raylan, I am quite sure I would not have done that.”

“Well, you did. You said I smelled like shit and to get the fuck off you.”

Tim interjected at that point, saying, “Well this is adorable and all, but maybe we should actually talk about what’s going to happen today.

Boyd leaned forward and answered, “I think we should go out to Johnny’s bar instead of the house.”

“Why?”

“Well, I know Johnny is working for my daddy now, presumably has been for some time. But if I have any shot at an ally in that family, it would be him. We were pretty close, once. And he was friends with Raylan, too, of a sort.”

“Teammates,” Raylan clarified, “but we did get along well enough.”

Boyd continued, “And even if Johnny has no love left for me, at least we won’t be as isolated as we would out at the house.”

Tim glanced at him in the rearview mirror, then said, “Do you really think your father would kill you over this?”

Boyd met his eyes in the mirror and saw that he wasn’t really taking this seriously. He didn’t know what kind of a background this young man came from, but it stood to reason that it was not a place where a man would ever threaten his son’s life, over anything at all. Boyd had grown up thinking that was normal, but most people simply had no idea, and would be horrified if they knew how it was.

He opened his mouth to answer Tim, to try to figure out how to get across the truth of this thing, but Raylan cut him off. “You really see me dragging you down here with us if I thought he was bein’ melodramatic? When Bo Crowder makes a threat, he means that shit. Don’t matter if it was twenty years ago, don’t matter it’s his own son, don’t matter that it’s all over something this goddamn pointless. And as far as concerns me, he hardly needs an excuse at all. You saw how he was when we went out there. He wasn’t trying to scare me. He wanted to shoot me.”

Tim nodded, said, “Okay. I believe you. I wish I didn’t, but I do. But, tell me something. Why on earth would you want to come anywhere near here? Raylan has to, it’s his job, but you’re doing this by choice.”

“You think I should wait until someone sees me in Lexington, tells him, and he catches me by surprise?”

“Personally, I think you should stay the hell away from Lexington altogether, and the rest of Kentucky too, if it’s really like you say. Can’t imagine Raylan’s that much better than every other guy in the entire country.”

“Growing up around here, the kind of family I come from, I thought I was about as tough as a person could be. I figured maybe I was tougher than Bowman, or even my daddy, because I had this other thing, this secret. Something they would see as weak, but the way I figure, if I’d stayed here that would have turned me into stone. I would have been harder and meaner than anyone, because I’d have had to be. Maybe that’s what my daddy was counting on. But I didn’t stay. I chose to leave, and that was the right choice. I don’t regret it. What I regret is staying gone for almost twenty years, letting him put that kind of fear into me. Letting him keep me from my home. Letting him nullify my existence. I’d have let him go on doing that for, who knows how long, if it hadn’t been for Raylan.”

Raylan had been looking out the side window, maybe embarrassed, but with a small smile playing on his face. When Boyd stopped talking, he looked over at Tim and said, “Besides, how would you know I ain’t ten times better than every other asshole out there?”

Tim gave him a look like he couldn’t quite believe someone like Raylan Givens could exist in the real world. Boyd liked that look, and he imagined that Raylan must get some version of that fairly often. He’d never get it from Boyd, though, because Boyd knew what he was really about. For all that these last few months had taken on a slightly dreamlike quality, Raylan felt more real to him than anything else.

Boyd fell mostly silent for the rest of the drive, letting Raylan and Tim talk about work while he tried to keep himself calm. He knew there could be no show of nerves in front of his daddy, that he’d pick up on the slightest hint of weakness. By the time they pulled up in the parking lot of Johnny’s place, Boyd could only feel relief. He needed to be done with this.

Boyd walked ahead to be the first in the door, Raylan and Tim trailing close behind. It was very dim after the bright morning sunshine, and the place was deserted. He walked up to the bar, where a young guy was drying some glasses, and asked if Johnny was in. The man looked behind Boyd at the two marshals standing there, then went to knock on the office door, calling, “Johnny! Some cops to see you.”

Boyd could hear his heart pounding in his ears as he saw Johnny walk out of back room. The man’s face, when he caught sight of Boyd, was enough to break his heart. He knew, at that moment, that he had no allies here, and no chance of finding one.

Johnny strolled over to where Boyd was standing, and faced him from the other side of the bar. He leaned on his elbows and gazed at Boyd’s face with an expression of utter contempt. He spoke with quiet menace, and Boyd thought his voice sounded far more like Bo’s than it had the last time they’d spoken. “What the fuck are you doing in here?”

Boyd was hurt, but he wasn’t afraid of Johnny. This was something he knew how to do. He held Johnny’s stare, and smiled calmly in his face, saying, “Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have hopes of a warmer reception, but realistically, I can’t say I had any such expectations. Still, it is good to be home.”

“This ain’t your home anymore, Boyd. You know that. Get your ass outta here before you get yourself killed.” He glanced behind Boyd at Raylan and Tim and said, “You brought fuckin’ feds in here with you for protection? That’s some weak shit, even for you.”

Boyd had known it would look that way - maybe it even was that way - but he couldn’t bring himself to feel sorry that Raylan had come with him. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m not looking to prove anything to you. I’m just here to let you, and the big man, know that I believe I’ve stayed gone long enough. I plan to be in Kentucky quite regularly, starting now, and I thought we should all be on the same page.”

Johnny’s face twisted up in disbelief, and then he looked over at Raylan. His expression changed then, went slightly slack with understanding. “Shit. Bo was right, then. I always thought it was a stretch, considering the amount of pussy you got in high school. I couldn’t imagine what you’d want with my skinny, fag cousin here. Guess there’s no accounting for taste.”

Raylan lifted his eyebrows lazily and said, “Funny, I was just saying the same thing when I heard someone else was screwin’ your girlfriend.”

Johnny blew an angry breath out through his nose, then said, “Fuck you, Givens. Look here. You people can’t be in here no more, or I gotta call Bo. And Boyd, you know I gotta tell him you were here.”

“Call him, then, Johnny. He’s the man I came to see anyway, no offense to you intended.”

“Are you fucking crazy? Boyd, goddamn it. I don’t like what you are, or what you do, or certainly who you choose to do it with,” he said, sneering in Raylan’s direction, “but I have no desire to see you laid out dead on the floor of my bar. Just go.”

Boyd had no intention of doing any such thing, but the question became irrelevant in the next moment, as Bo Crowder came ambling out of the bar’s back room. Boyd sensed both of the marshals’ attention heighten further.

His eyes passed over Boyd without acknowledgement, and he said to Johnny in a deceptively mild voice, “Go? I don’t think so. I got promises to keep, son. Tell you what, though. Since you were feeling generous enough to disobey a direct order from me, as to what is supposed to happen, should this little shit ever show up in Harlan County again, I’ll let you have the privilege of helping me keep those promises. Hit him.”

Johnny looked at Bo, startled. Bo nodded at him and said, “Go on, then.”

Johnny looked at Raylan and Tim, then back at Bo.

Boyd made a decision then, which he later came to realize was a tactical error of monumental proportions. At the time, it just felt like the thing to do. He leaned in close to Johnny and said, “What you waiting for, boy? Ain’t you my daddy’s lap dog? I believe the man told you to hit me.”

Johnny’s eyes went wide with surprise, and he said, “Shut the fuck up, Boyd.”

Bo laughed, and said, “You gonna let this little cocksucker get the best of you, Johnny?”

“Bo, there are two federal marshals standing right there. What exactly do you want me to do?”

“What you’re told.”

Boyd didn’t want to let up, and if he hadn’t been so rusty at this shit, he would have realized that his anger was getting the best of him. He looked a challenge at Johnny and said, “I can see where you might be afraid to fight me. Can’t let people see you get beat by a homo. And you know you will, too, don’t you?”

“Like your boyfriend won’t drag me offa you the first time I land a punch.”

“No, he won’t,” Boyd said, still staring at Johnny. “Will you, Raylan?”

“Nope. I got no qualms about a fair fight. Not that it’s all that fair. If I recall correctly, Johnny, you fight like a girl. But who knows, maybe you’ve improved.”

Johnny ignored that, or pretended to, and came around the bar, walking towards Boyd. Tim and Raylan backed off a little further, and Boyd stepped forward to meet his cousin. They stood stock still for a few seconds, and then Johnny moved first with a fist to Boyd’s gut. Boyd shifted so he didn’t catch the full force of it, then pushed forward with an uppercut to Johnny’s chin.

They traded blows for awhile, and Boyd knew his lack of practice was hurting him. Despite Raylan’s taunt, Johnny was pretty good in a fist fight, though he hadn’t been a match for Boyd in their youth. Many years had passed since Boyd had done anything like this, and Johnny also had a considerable size advantage. Fuck if Boyd was going to lose this one, though. He’d keep at it until he won, or was dead, and he damn well hoped Raylan knew enough not to interfere.

Johnny, with his long arms, swung out with a powerful right cross, just slow enough for Boyd to get out of the way. It threw Johnny off balance long enough for Boyd to come in with a hard punch to his sternum, and when he was doubled over, Boyd got him on the side of the head with an elbow. Not exactly sporting, but he was ready for this shit to be over with, now.

Bo had been watching with a detached gaze, but when Johnny held up his hand for mercy, he made a disgusted sound. He didn’t bother to say anything to Johnny - though Boyd was certain he’d hear plenty about it later - and instead addressed himself to Boyd, saying “You think any of that’s gonna make a damn bit of difference, boy? It doesn’t mean shit. You’re still a faggot, and you still ain’t no son of mine. You’re also a goddamn fool for coming here.”

Bo looked at Raylan then, and said, “And you, ought to have known better. You thought you could protect him? You’re a bigger fool than he is.”

Raylan stayed silent, for which Boyd was grateful. This was between him and his daddy, and anything Raylan said could only make it worse. Boyd was hurting, his face burned and ached, and he could feel bruises starting up in any number of places, but he kept his face impassive as he answered.

“What did you think I came here for? You think I wanted back into the loving arms of my family? I only came to let you know that I’ll be going where I please, and that includes the state of Kentucky, and even Harlan fucking County, if I so choose.” He turned to Raylan and said, “I’m ready to go if you are. I’m starting to get the feeling we aren’t welcome here.”

Raylan started to laugh, and then suddenly he had his gun out and aimed at Bo. Boyd had never seen Raylan do that - he’d been too busy pinning down that freak Wynn Duffy to see what Raylan was doing, the night before - and he couldn’t help but be impressed. The boy was fast, and moved with such deadly grace.

Bo, Raylan and Tim all had their guns drawn, and Raylan spoke quietly. “Bo, we both have our weapons on you. You will not have time to get a shot off, I guarantee it, and even if you somehow managed, you would certainly die immediately after. Put. your gun. away.”

“You know what, Givens? I’d rather die, killing off that pervert who calls himself my son, than leave him to you. And I think you know that.”

Raylan didn’t take his eyes off of Bo, and held his gun steady on the big man, until he moved. It wasn’t much, just a subtle motion, but Boyd knew what it was as quickly as Raylan did. Raylan fired, and Bo was on the ground. Boyd moved forward before he knew what he was doing, and went behind the bar. He had to see. He didn’t know what he was supposed to feel, here, but he wasn’t ready to feel anything yet. He just needed to see.

As he rounded the end of the bar, there was an explosion of sound, and then nothing at all except pain. The pain covered every inch of his body - new pain, blanketing and extinguishing all of the pain from his fight with Johnny.

He couldn’t see anything, and crazily thought, for a second, that they were back in the mine. He felt Raylan’s hand in his hair, and his other one on his arm, and heard his voice.

“Boyd. Boyd. Please.” Raylan sounded so scared, just like he had when the mountain had come down on top of them.

Boyd understood, finally, that his eyes were closed, and he blinked them open. He saw Raylan’s face

“He really did it, Raylan. My daddy...” No, that wasn’t exactly right. It hadn’t been Bo who’d done it. But it would have been, if Raylan hadn’t... Boyd closed his eyes again.

Raylan pressed his lips against Boyd’s forehead, then said “Boyd, stay with me. Please stay here. The ambulance is comin’. You’ll be okay.”

“Raylan... I can’t breathe too good.” He felt Raylan squeeze his hand.

“It’s okay, Boyd. I got you. I got you.”

“No, I got you, Raylan.”

“Yeah, you do. You got me, Boyd. Okay, so don’t let go, now. You’re gonna be fine.”

Boyd held on as long as he could to the feeling of Raylan’s fingers entwined with his, but after awhile, the pull of the darkness was too strong, and he let everything go black.

 

Boyd was awake for some time before he felt ready to open his eyes. He knew he was in the hospital; he could smell it, and he recognized the sounds. Beyond that, he was momentarily blank. He knew it would come to him, he could feel it on the edges of his memory, so he lay still, searching for it.

His chest hurt very much, but his mind shied away from that question, and Boyd didn’t force it. Maybe he’d been hurt in an explosion, at a job. Or... a car accident. Neither of those felt right.

He felt someone take hold of his hand, felt warm breath on his face, and smelled bourbon as they kissed his cheek. Raylan. The knowledge filled him up so quickly, with so much joy, that he forgot the pain in his chest for just a moment.

He heard Raylan’s voice then, very soft, saying, “You awake, Boyd?” and he let his eyes pull open a tiny bit. His man was standing there over him, looking down with a face that looked much older than it should. It was full of worry and relief, and so beautiful that Boyd could hardly believe it.

Boyd wanted to speak, but he couldn’t get a sound to come out of his mouth. He tried to lick his dry lips, but it didn’t work. Raylan poured some water into a cup and brought it to his lips, but only let him have a little.

“Thirsty, Raylan,” he croaked.

“I know, but you can’t have much. I should let the nurse know you’re conscious, anyway.”

“Okay. In just a minute.”

“Sure.” Raylan looked him over, his eyes skimming past the bandage on his chest. “How do you feel?”

“Hurts pretty bad. Raylan, I can’t... entirely remember what happened. I need you to tell me.”

Raylan’s eyes went wide, then slid from Boyd’s face. Boyd didn’t know what had happened, but he was sure that Raylan had no reason to be looking so guilty.

Raylan said, “Maybe we should wait on that. You’ve been unconscious for two days, maybe give it a minute.”

“I’d really rather just know now. I really hate not knowing what’s...” Boyd trailed off and closed his eyes, as his memory of what had happened came back to him in a rush. “Never mind. I got it. But... was it Johnny? Who actually shot me?”

Raylan frowned and said, “No, not Johnny. It was that kid, the bartender. I suppose he was trying to make an impression. He’s dead. So’s Bo. I’m sorry, Boyd.”

“I don’t know if sorry’s what you want to be, about that. I don’t know how I feel about it at all. He got himself killed because of how much he hated me. That’s some dark shit.”

“I’m so sorry. I fucked up so bad. I don’t know what I would have done if you... I’m just so sorry.”

“What are you talking about, Raylan? You didn’t... what do you mean?”

Raylan’s mouth was a thin line, and he was frowning like he was trying to hold back some unbearable emotion. He shook his head. “I should never have allowed this to happen to you. I didn’t protect you. I went there to keep you safe, and I couldn’t.”

Boyd looked at Raylan, thinking he should be mad. He should, at the very least, feel insulted. But, between the ache in his chest and the look on Raylan’s face, he just couldn’t hold on to that. He had to make Raylan stop looking at him like that.

He lacked the energy to sigh, or roll his eyes, but he fixed Raylan with a stare that he felt should be easily interpreted, and said, “Raylan. Do I look like Winona to you? I’m not someone you need to protect. I can take care of myself.”

“This again. You think I’m treating you like, what, a woman?”

Boyd didn’t answer, just gazed back at Raylan. He didn’t really think that, and wished now that he had just let it go. He was so tired.

“Boyd... I don’t want to protect you because I think you’re helpless. Don’t you know why? How have you not figured this out, yet?” He looked truly perplexed, and Boyd thought Raylan must at least half-believe that he was a mind reader. He always had such faith that Boyd would know just what he was thinking, but most of the time he was just making educated guesses.

“I’m not exactly feeling like my usual self at the moment,” Boyd said with a tired smile.

Raylan’s face rearranged itself into a more patient expression, and he said, “You know that night, after the thing with Gary?”

“I... yes. What about it?”

“It was because I trusted you, remember? That’s what I told you.” Raylan was running a hand up and down Boyd’s arm now, slow and warm.

“I remember. So?”

“I trusted you because I knew you’d always try to protect me, if you could. You’d already saved my life once, in the mine, and you might have again that night, for all I know. And when I got the chance to do that for you, I failed.”

“So... you think you owe me a debt? That’s ridiculous.”

“You know better than that.” He stopped moving his hand and gripped Boyd’s bicep, gently, but firmly. “Boyd, if I needed you to put yourself in danger for me, would you hesitate to do that?”

“Of course not, Raylan. You know that.” Boyd knew Raylan didn’t doubt that. He couldn’t quite get at what he was trying to say, and it was very frustrating. Normally, he would know.

“Why?”

Boyd frowned. Raylan knew this, too. “Because. It’s you.”

“Well, it’s the same for me. Same reason.”

Boyd understood then, finally. His eyes flashed with an irritation he didn’t really feel, because he thought Raylan might need that. He said, “Raylan. You mean to tell me that I’m lying here in a hospital bed with a massive chest wound that you claim to feel responsible for, saying you’d put your life on the line for me, and you can’t even bring yourself to use the words out loud?”

“Well, you didn’t either,” Raylan said, but he was starting to smile.

Boyd rolled his eyes, then looked at Raylan with all the affection he felt for the man.

“Fine.” Raylan was serious again. “I love you, Boyd. I do. You knew that already, though, I know you did. And... back then, too. So much that I can’t imagine now how I kept it to myself.”

“Well. You didn’t do a terrific job of it. It was just good enough that I was never certain. I sure loved you, though. I was... consumed with it. That’s being 19, I guess. Everything feels like the end of the goddamn world.”

“What about now?”

“Now. Now, it feels so good, Raylan. So much better. Don’t you think?”

Raylan leaned over and kissed him, so softly, on the mouth. “Yep,” he said. “So good.”

 

Raylan went out to the nurses’ desk to let them know that Boyd was awake, and they paged his doctor. He was examined, had some questions answered about the nature of the injury - the bullet had missed his heart by a very small margin - and was given a button to push for pain killers. He would have liked to stay awake and talk to Raylan some more, but he was very much looking forward to dulling his pain and getting some more sleep.

Raylan kissed him again, then said he was going to go back in to work for awhile, and he’d be back in the evening. He started to leave, then turned back and said, “I forgot to tell you - you got approximately one million texts while you were out.”

Boyd smiled fondly and said, “All from the same number, I bet.”

“Most of them. I texted him back to tell him what happened. He’s what, about 16?”

Boyd started to laugh, but thought better of it as a searing pain shot across his chest. Raylan’s face turned a bit more serious, he walked back over to the edge of the bed and said, “I guess he told your friend Joe, because he called about an hour later.”

Boyd watched Raylan’s face carefully, not really sure what his feelings might be about that. “Oh?” he said, without inflection.

“He asked if he could come and see you.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘I know your friend is in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest, but sorry, he’s mine now, so you keep your distance.’”

Boyd grinned. “Oh, is that what you said?”

Raylan smiled, brushed his fingers through Boyd’s hair and said, “He’ll be here this afternoon. You should get some sleep now.” He gave Boyd a kiss on the forehead and left.

 

Boyd was drifting in and out of sleep, unable to get very deep before the pain in his chest brought him back to the surface. He was about to push the button for more painkillers, when he looked up to see Joe at the door. He looked so handsome and put- together that Boyd felt self-conscious for a moment.

Joe paused at the door, then quietly walked over to the bed. Boyd gave him a wan smile and said, “I heard you were coming, so I got dressed up.”

“On the phone, Raylan told me you were still unconscious.”

“Yeah. I just woke up... this morning, I think. Time is sort of escaping me at the moment.” He wanted to yawn, but it hurt too much.

“I’m so glad. I was scared shitless when Neil called me. What the hell, Boyd? What kind of crazy place do you come from?”

“I can’t really explain it to you. It won’t make any sense.”

“I guess it’s good you’re with him, then. He gets it, right?”

“He hates it. But yes, he gets it.”

“And you don’t hate it?”

“Not... not exactly. It’s part of me. I-” Boyd broke off suddenly when he saw someone at the door. Johnny might not have been the absolute last person in the world he’d expected to see, but he was close.

Johnny looked over at Joe, and then back at Boyd. He said, “I’ll come back later.”

Boyd recovered from his surprise just in time to call out, “No. Might as well do it now.”

Johnny came into the room, glancing nervously at Joe again, and then wincing as he looked at Boyd’s bandaged chest. He said, “I figured I had to stop in. I gotta say, I’m glad you ain’t dead. Wasn’t sure I would be, but I am.”

“How’s your face?” Boyd said, with not a little malice. Johnny truly did look terrible.

“You shouldn’t have tried so hard to win, you dumb shit. Maybe he woulda let you off with a beating.”

“That’s bullshit. And anyway, just how much do you think I’ve changed? Certainly not enough to lose a fight to you.”

Joe had been staring at Johnny like he was some kind of anthropological curiosity, taking in his busted up face, flannel shirt with no sleeves, and big shitkicker boots. He looked at Boyd in much the same way after that exchange, no doubt wondering what else he didn’t know about him.

“Anyway. I’m going. See you around, cousin.”

Boyd’s eyebrows shot up at the acknowledgement of kinship, but he didn’t say anything about it. He lifted his hand in farewell, and Johnny walked out.

Joe turned to Boyd with an incredulous look on his face. “So... is this who you are now? Dating cops and beating up rednecks and getting shot?”

“Hopefully just the first part.”

“So, do I get to meet him?”

“I suppose. He’ll probably be here soon, if you want to hang around.”

“You know, when I talked to him, I finally understood why you couldn’t resist those phone calls. He has a sexy voice. Even when he sounds sad and terrified.”

Boyd rolled his eyes. “You just got a thing for southern boys. So predictable.”

“I am a southern boy myself, Boyd, lest you forget.” He said this with a soft, plummy accent that was not his own, though Boyd recognized it as his mother’s.

Boyd made a dismissive sound and said, “Suburban Virginia. That don’t count.”

“Oh, it don’t?” He bugged out his eyes a little, and Boyd almost laughed.

Joe pulled a chair up to the bed and they talked about inconsequential things, easy things, until Raylan appeared in the doorway, carrying a small stack of paperbacks. He had a small smile on his face, but his eyes were slightly wary. Boyd smiled at him.

Joe stood up awkwardly and held his hand out to Raylan, who transferred the books to the other hand and shook it. He said, “Hi. Joe Shipley. It’s so nice to meet you, Raylan.”

Raylan nodded and said, “Well, it’s good to meet you too. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Joe glanced at Boyd, who was watching them with weary amusement. He felt like laughing at himself as well, because he knew he probably shouldn’t be enjoying their discomfort as much as he was.

Joe said, “I’m sure Boyd has probably told you about the single worst thing I ever did to him. I hope you won’t assume that’s everything there is to know about me.”

Raylan’s smile grew more genuine then, and he said, “I guess I can reserve judgement on that, if you promise not to blame me for him almost getting killed.” Joe smiled in response.

Raylan held up the books in his left hand and set them on the table by the bed. He looked at Boyd and said, “I brought the ones in your luggage. Let me know if you need more.”

“Thanks,” Boyd said. He was starting to feel the pain more sharply, and he was going to need them to leave pretty soon. He must have winced, or something, because Raylan frowned at him.

“You hurtin’? We should get out of here.”

“Yeah, in a minute.”

“I got all my stuff into the apartment last night.”

Joe looked at Boyd sharply, and Boyd said, “Raylan’s moving. Not me.” Joe relaxed, but Boyd thought it had almost felt like a lie. It did feel like his place, too. He looked at Raylan and said, “That’s good. You gonna get some more furniture?”

“Eventually.”

“Johnny was here.”

Raylan’s eyes went wide at that, and he said, “Maybe I should see about getting some security on your door.”

“Calm down. He just came by to tell me he was glad I didn’t die.”

“Well, ain’t that touching.” Boyd could see the muscles rolling in his jaw.

“Raylan. For him, that’s quite a statement. He might as well be hanging a pride flag outside his bar.”

Raylan closed his eyes for a second, and his face contorted as he tried to suppress a grin, presumably picturing the outcome of such an action. Then he said, “Okay, Boyd. You should push your little button there and get some rest. I’ll be in tomorrow morning before work.” He reached for Boyd’s hand, then bent down to kiss him goodbye. He straightened up and walked towards the door, leaning against the frame, waiting.

Joe hesitated, then kissed Boyd on the cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I can bring my laptop and we can watch a movie or something. If you want.”

“Yeah. Okay. See you then.” Boyd was already reaching for the button, and he’d pressed it before the two of them were out the door. He heard Joe asking Raylan if he wanted to get a drink, but didn’t hear what Raylan said in response. Boyd hoped it was yes.

Chapter Text

Three weeks and two days later, Raylan pulled up in front of Boyd’s home in Richmond. Boyd was sleeping in the passenger seat, and Raylan sat looking at him for a little while. He looked a little thinner and older after everything that had happened, but Raylan had no doubts that he would bounce back. Boyd was the toughest person he knew. He reached over and put a hand to the back of his neck, rubbing a thumb into the muscle.

When Boyd opened his eyes, Raylan said, “How you feelin’? You been asleep since Charlottesville.”

Boyd rubbed a hand over his face and said, “I feel like shit, since you’re asking. Much as I hate to admit it, you were right about taking two days to do this drive. Eight hours in the goddamn car was too much.”

“Well, we’re here now. Let’s get you inside. You hungry?” Raylan grabbed their bags out of the trunk and walked next to Boyd as he moved gingerly across the street toward his house.

“No. What I want is a drink,” he groused.

“You go on up to bed and I’ll bring you some water.”

“Raylan, you damn well know that is not what I meant.”

“Yeah, I know it. And you know it ain’t happening, unless you plan to leave off the pain meds tonight. In which case, I’ll be sleeping on the sofa, because I don’t want to hear you complaining.”

Boyd sighed and scowled at Raylan, but didn’t say anything else. Raylan knew he was pretty much at his limit with convalescing, and he could certainly relate, but there was nothing for it except time.

Boyd trudged upstairs. Raylan brought him a glass of water, as promised, and moved to take off Boyd’s shoes. Boyd pulled his foot away and said, “Raylan, I can take off my own damn shoes.”

Raylan looked up at him, surprised, and said, “Okay. I know.” He sat next to Boyd on the edge of the bed. Neither of them spoke for a minute or so, then Boyd let his head sink down onto Raylan’s shoulder. Raylan wound an arm around his waist and said, “You took off my shoes for me, one time.”

“I did. Took off your pants, too.”

Raylan smiled at the memory, and turned his face in to bury it in Boyd’s neck for a moment. “I couldn’t believe you turned me down that night.”

“You know why.”

“I guess.” Raylan did know, but he also thought Boyd had been wrong. Raylan had been hooked from the minute he’d seen Boyd; he just hadn’t known it yet.

“You can take off my shoes, if you want,” Boyd grumbled.

Raylan grinned and bent down to remove them. “Pants too?”

“If you must.”

Raylan helped him out of his jeans, and his shirt as well, before undressing himself and laying down next to Boyd. He sighed and said, “Let’s sleep awhile. I’ll go get us some dinner when we wake up.”

As it turned out, they woke up sooner than either of them really wanted to. The doorbell rang about an hour after they fell asleep. Raylan woke quickly, getting out of bed as quietly as he could, pulling on his jeans and a wife- beater. His hair was sticking up in a hundred directions. Boyd opened his eyes and smiled sleepily at him. “You gonna answer my door like that?” Raylan didn’t think Boyd looked much like he minded, so he quirked his mouth at him and ran down the stairs.

Standing on the doorstep was Boyd’s friend Neil, who Raylan recognized from the bar, and a very pretty, light-skinned black woman in her late twenties. They both had huge smiles on their faces and were holding grocery bags. Neil said, “Hi! You must be Raylan. I’m Neil and this is Phoebe. We’re friends of Boyd’s?”

“Yeah. Hey. Good to meet you.”

He shook Neil’s hand, and moved to shake Phoebe’s, but she gave him a kiss on the cheek instead, then said, “We assumed you wouldn’t have any food yet, so we brought some. We thought we’d make dinner for you guys, if you haven’t eaten yet. Is that ok? We’ve really missed Boyd.”

Raylan really had not been in the mood for socializing, and he was still tired from the drive, but he thought Boyd might want to see someone other than him for awhile. He’d been irritable for days, and even though Raylan understood why, it wasn’t all that pleasant to be around.

“Let me just check with him, see if he’s up to it.”

Raylan went upstairs and stood in the doorway. Boyd had pulled on his jeans and was reaching in the closet for a clean shirt. Raylan watched him wince as he pulled the shirt on, and wanted to offer his help, but didn’t feel like he should.

“Some friends of yours are here. You want me to make them go away, or do you feel up to it?”

“It’s fine, I’ll come down. Neil and Phoebe? Anyone else?”

“No, that’s it. They brought food, they want to cook for us.”

Boyd smiled, and reached out a hand towards Raylan. “Come here, would you?”

Raylan walked over and put his hands on Boyd’s waist. “I’m here. What do you need?”

“Oh, Raylan, I don’t need anything. I just wanted a kiss. You look so good to me.”

Raylan obliged him with a kiss, then another, and said, “We better get downstairs. I could just keep doing this all night, with nothing to stop me.”

Boyd went down first, with Raylan following. He accepted hugs from both of them, and then went to sit down at the kitchen table. Raylan asked if they wanted something to drink, and went to fetch vodka from the bar, for the tonics they both requested. He grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels as well, and threw Boyd a sheepish, guilty look when he saw him notice.

Neil and Phoebe roasted a chicken and made some potatoes and asparagus to go with it, and the four of them spent a long time sitting in the kitchen, talking. Raylan poured Boyd a small glass of whiskey, giving him a look meant to warn him not to ask for more.

Neil told the story of how the two of them had met in college, ten years before, and bonded over their love of early 80s New Wave music. Although Phoebe had grown up wealthy in Alexandria, and Neil was raised in a double-wide trailer in central Florida, by a single mother, they could not have been more compatible. They both loved to talk, which was always fine with Raylan, because it meant he didn’t have to. Normally, Boyd fulfilled that requirement, but he was subdued and tired tonight.

Phoebe was on her second glass of wine, after having two vodka tonics, and seemed no worse for the wear. She was asking Raylan about his job, leaning in and sparkling her eyes at him. “Federal Marshals have such an important place in the American mythos, the way they were tasked with bringing order to a lawless land.”

Raylan wanted to laugh at her, but he refrained. Instead, he raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, we’re still working on Harlan County. Got a ways to go, there.”

Boyd snorted and said, “Well, one family at a time. Now we got a Givens who’s a lawman, and I don’t think anyone saw that coming. And the Crowders have... well, me.”

Raylan laughed and said, “Yeah, but we may have hit a stumbling block with the Bennetts.”

Boyd snorted and said, ”The blood’s a little on the thin side, with the current generation, from what I remember.”

Raylan nodded. “You remember correctly. Doyle ain’t a complete idiot, but he doesn’t have Mags’ ruthless streak. He’s soft.”

Phoebe shook her head in amazement and asked, “So... you guys are actually talking about crime organizations? Is that what you both grew up in?”

Boyd looked amused and replied, “Well, when you grow up in it, you don’t think of it like that. You just think of it as business. Unless you’re Raylan, of course. He always did have an anomalous sense of right and wrong. ‘Course, that didn’t stop him from getting into the family spirit when it came to Dickie Bennett.”

Raylan shot him a hard look and shook his head slightly, and Boyd looked a little guilty. He knew better than to bring up the business with Dickie. He remembered Boyd trying to bring it up with him once when they were young, trying to get Raylan to talk about it, and they’d nearly come to blows over it. All the years that had passed hadn’t made him feel any better about it, though it had become much easier not to think about it.

Raylan blamed the lapse on him being tired, and off his game, and didn’t feel too angry with him. Still, he hoped Boyd had taken his warning, because he didn’t think he’d be so forgiving the next time. Raylan took a drink, and Boyd rubbed his foot against his calf in apology.

The other two had been watching their exchange, and it obviously caught their attention. Neil had a rapt expression on his face and asked, “The family spirit? What do you mean, like a blood feud? Like the Hatfields and McCoys?”

Boyd rolled his eyes at him and said, “That one was all over a long time ago, but that shit goes on still, today, and there’s nothing romantic, or funny, about it. It’s destructive as hell, and does nothing but keep people marginalized and invite scrutiny by the federal government.”

This was not the first indication Raylan had gotten, that Boyd had not evolved out of that Harlan mindset nearly as far as it might seem. It still surprised him every time, though, and he didn’t much like it. It was one thing to keep your edge, but another entirely to start thinking like a damn hillbilly.

He gazed at Boyd coolly and said, “I’m starting to think it’s dangerous to have you spending much time in Kentucky. I’m not sure I want to re-introduce you to your natural habitat.”

Boyd smirked and said, “Whyever not, Raylan? What could possibly go wrong?”

Everyone laughed, and Raylan nudged Boyd’s knee with his foot, under the table.

Phoebe poured herself some more wine and asked, “So, are your two families in a feud?”

Raylan said, “No, not as such. Although, there was certainly no love lost between our daddies. Bo didn’t have much respect for my father, not that I can hold that against the man. Now, the Bennetts are a different story. Plenty of bad blood there.” He left it at that, and hoped no one would press the issue. He wasn’t going into it in front of them, or anyone, not even Boyd.

Phoebe reached for the bottle of Jack and poured some into Raylan’s glass, saying, “It must have been weird to come back after all that time. Have you ever had to arrest someone you used to know?”

Boyd was watching with a look of high amusement, but Neil was glaring at them. He reached over, smacked Phoebe lightly on her upper arm with the back of his hand and said, “Hey! You want to stop hitting on Boyd’s boyfriend for a minute?”

She put on an extremely unconvincing expression of innocence and said, “You are paranoid. I was just showing an interest.”

“Yes, I could see that,” Neil replied.

Boyd smiled at him, an expression of pleased surprise on his face, and said, “It’s okay, that’s just Raylan. I don’t mind at all.”

Raylan looked over at him and grinned lazily and drawled, “You love it.”

Some time after dinner, Raylan noticed that Boyd was shifting in his seat frequently, and he knew it would be a long time before this stubborn man would admit to the discomfort he clearly felt. Raylan yawned, and said, “Listen, this was fun, but I’m about beat. We had a long drive today.”

Neil and Phoebe both hugged Raylan, then Boyd, and Neil said, “You had better not fuck this one up.” Phoebe said, “If you get tired of him, send him along to me, would you?”

Raylan caught Boyd’s eye. He could feel something sparking up between them that hadn’t been there since the shooting. They hadn’t done anything since Boyd had been shot. Boyd hadn’t seemed interested, and Raylan was afraid of hurting him.

When they’d left, Raylan walked over to Boyd and said, “Let’s get you to bed.”

Boyd was not especially subtle when he wanted Raylan, even under normal circumstances, but with his defenses weakened, Raylan could practically feel it emanating off of him. It was having an effect on Raylan, too, but he was nervous about it.

They went upstairs and got undressed, and when they were in bed, Boyd said, “I want you so bad, Raylan.”

Raylan frowned, feeling conflicted. “Boyd... the doctor did say ‘nothing strenuous.’”

“Well, that’s okay. I’ll let you handle the strenuous part. I want you, Raylan. I need you.”

Raylan kissed him, then said, “You sure? I want to, but I don’t know...”

“Please.”

Raylan kissed him again, then kissed his jaw, his neck, his collarbone, and continued downward. Boyd closed his eyes, and Raylan concentrated on making him feel as good as he could feel. He thought about what Boyd meant to him, and how easily he’d slipped back into Raylan’s life, as if no time had passed.

This idea kept coming back to him, ridiculous but undeniable, that he’d been waiting for this his whole life. That he’d been waiting to find Boyd again, ever since he’d left Harlan at 19. When it had looked like he might lose him, everything else had fallen away. Any doubts, or reservations, or fears he might have had, had disappeared as he’d knelt next to Boyd on the floor of Johnny’s bar.

Boyd’s voice pulled him out of his head, saying, “Raylan, tell me that thing again. What you said to me back in the hospital, that one time, and not since.”

Raylan smiled very big, because he wanted to say it. He loved that Boyd wanted to hear it, and he would say it to him as much as he liked. Still, it was in his nature to make a person work for it, at least a little. “You mean that thing you guilted me into admitting? The one you dragged outta me when you were lyin’ in a hospital bed and I was half scared to death over you? That one?”

“Yes, that one. Say it again, Raylan. I want to hear it.”

Raylan chuckled and kissed his jaw, and said, “I love you.” He dragged his tongue over Boyd’s nipple and said, “I love you, Boyd Crowder,” the name plucking some old, dusty string inside of him as he spoke it, resonating through his body. He trailed kisses down his stomach to the insides of his thighs, and said, “I love you so much.” Saying it somehow made him feel it even more keenly, and he felt his chest tighten with it.

He took Boyd’s cock into his mouth, and didn’t talk anymore, but he knew Boyd didn’t need to hear it again. Raylan would show him, instead. He caressed Boyd’s thighs, and his stomach, and thought about how much he loved Boyd. He thought about his 19 year old self, and how he wished he could have let him know just how good it was going to be, that all he had to do was wait.

Raylan dragged his tongue up and down the length of him, pulling off to pump him with his hand a few times, then swallowing him down again. Boyd looked blissed out, enveloped in pleasure, and he moaned with it, combing his fingers through Raylan’s hair. He spoke to Raylan, the words coming through low and desperate, and Raylan thought it was the sexiest thing he’d ever heard.

“My god, it’s so damn good. Oh, Raylan... goddamn, boy, you’re so good. It’s all so...”

Raylan pulled off of him then and looked up. He was full of love for Boyd at that moment, and he knew that Boyd felt the same, but he couldn’t understand why Boyd hadn’t said it to him yet. He knew it, but he wanted to hear it.

He kept his hand on Boyd, stroking him and watching his face, until Boyd said, “Come on, Raylan. Put your mouth on me. I want to come in your mouth.”

Raylan did as he asked, taking him in deep, rubbing his tongue up and down against him and Boyd groaned, rubbing his hand against the back of Raylan’s head almost frantically, like he couldn’t get enough of what he wanted. Then suddenly, he gasped, and stopped moving.

“Oh my God, Raylan, I’m so sorry. I told you I haven’t been myself. I hardly thought I had to say it, because it felt like I’d been telling it to you ever since that first night.”

Raylan didn’t stop what he was doing, but he ran a hand up Boyd’s thigh and squeezed, so Boyd would know he was listening.

“I love you, more than I can say. I could not love you more. I been loving you for awhile, now. Maybe I never stopped. You get that, Raylan?”

Raylan pulled off suddenly and shifted up to kiss Boyd hard on the mouth. “Yes. Now shut up and come.”

He did, as soon as Raylan put his mouth back on him. His hips jerked forward, then up, and Raylan stayed with him as Boyd gasped his name and grasped at his hair. Raylan came up quickly to kiss him deeply, taking a handful of his hair and muttering into his lips, “You are so fucking hot. Fuck.”

Raylan pulled up and started jerking himself off, very close already. He knew Boyd would want to do something, but Raylan couldn’t let him. He needed for him to recover as quickly as possible, because they both hated him being like this. He put a hand on Boyd’s shoulder, gently, but not letting him try to get up.

Raylan blinked, hazy with lust, and he panted as he moved closer to Boyd, pumping himself fast and staring back at him. Boyd stared back at him, eyes full of longing, and Raylan bent down to kiss him again. He whispered to him, saying, “I’m gonna come all over you. That okay with you?”

Boyd’s mouth was parted, lips swollen and red, and he replied, “On my face, Raylan. Come on, baby, now.”

Boyd’s words were enough to push Raylan over. He felt himself grow harder in his own hand, then his come was spurting up over his fist, into Boyd’s mouth, and striping across his cheeks and into his hair. Boyd licked his lips and reached for Raylan, kissing him, making him sloppy with his own come. Raylan’s mind was a blank, but his heart felt so full that he could hardly contain it.

Immediately after, Raylan got up to fetch Boyd’s pills and a glass of water. Boyd took them, and as he waited for them to kick in, he lay still and let Raylan touch him, rub his aching muscles and kiss his tired face. Raylan felt strangely grateful that Boyd was allowing this. Raylan was unaccustomed to caring for anyone in this way, and he had no idea when to push forward despite his objections, and when to leave off. Mostly, he let Boyd tell him when he needed something, because that was Raylan’s nature. However, it was becoming increasingly clear that Boyd was unable, or unwilling, to tell him, unless he had no other choice. And even then, it was obviously uncomfortable for him.

Raylan was straightening out the bed linens and pulling them up to cover the two of them. When they were lying down next to each other, Boyd said, “Did you have a good time tonight, Raylan?”

Raylan propped himself up on his elbow to look at Boyd and said, “Sure, I did. Couldn’t you tell?”

“It seemed like you did, but I thought I’d ask anyhow. I want you to like my friends. I know Neil can be a bit much at times.”

Raylan shrugged. “He’s a nice kid. He cares about you. Actually...” Raylan stopped, laughed and shook his head.

Boyd could feel the meds taking effect, but he did his best to fix Raylan with a stern glare. “What?”

“I was just thinking, you know who Neil would be perfect for?”

Boyd gave Raylan an incredulous look. “I cannot possibly imagine.”

A somewhat evil grin crept onto Raylan’s face. “Tim.”

“What? Raylan, that is a terrible idea.”

“Well, think about it. Tim obviously has an almost inexhaustible degree of patience for other people’s nonsense. And he’s the right age. Cute as a goddamn button.”

“Raylan.” Boyd was laughing now, because this had to be the most ridiculous conversation he’d ever had with him. “Is he even into guys?”

“You know, you’d think I’d have some idea, but I honestly do not know. He doesn’t give much away. I thought maybe you’d be able to tell.” Raylan lay back down and yawned.

“I may have been a bit distracted the day I met the man. I suppose it’s out of the question for you to just ask him.”

“Pretty much. I don’t care if you do, though.” Boyd looked startled at that, then made a wondering smile. Raylan knew that Boyd understood what he was telling him. He was finished with trying to live in some kind of divided existence. He wanted Boyd to be in all of his life.

Boyd reached out to stroke the top of Raylan’s head, scratching it very lightly. “I think I owe you an apology, Raylan.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“I do. I wasn’t sure you’d be able to do this. I thought you might be too scared.” He ran his hand down to the side of Raylan’s face, and Raylan pushed into it.

“I was scared. But I always would have done it, if I had a reason. I just never had one before. It’s you, darlin’. Isn’t that what you like to say?

Boyd looked sharply at him. “What did you call me?”

Raylan looked innocently at the ceiling and said, “You heard me.”

He kissed Boyd goodnight, switched off the light and and turned over on his side to go to sleep.

“Hey Raylan.”

“Hmmm. What?” he mumbled.

“Come over here.”

Raylan rolled over and slid in close. “I thought you couldn’t get comfortable like that.”

“Just for a little while.”

Raylan smiled and put his hand on Boyd’s hip, pressing his lips to his shoulder and closing his eyes. He knew he’d be asleep first, despite the painkillers in Boyd’s system, and he knew Boyd wouldn’t push him away. He sank into the warmth of the bed, and Boyd, and drifted off.

 

Raylan stayed for two weeks, using up all of his vacation time, and by the time he had to leave, Boyd was in a much better place, physically. They went out to breakfast with Joe, the morning he was to drive home. He’d called Raylan to ask, rather than Boyd, so he hadn’t felt like he could say no.

Raylan still felt a little awkward around him and Boyd, since they seemed to know each other so well. He wasn’t jealous, precisely, but he felt at a slight disadvantage. He liked him well enough, though, and anyway, he thought Joe might feel sort of the the same way about him. Raylan understood where Boyd came from, what had made him the man he’d become, and they shared something that went back to both of their beginnings. He wasn’t worried.

Raylan had mixed feelings about going back to Lexington. He was looking forward to getting back to work, back into a normal routine. Boyd’s house didn’t feel home-like to him; he almost felt like a guest there. Richmond wasn’t where he wanted to be, either. It was strange, but he almost missed Kentucky. Why it should have suddenly started feeling like home to him, he couldn’t imagine, but that was how he was thinking of it.

On the other hand, it felt strange to be leaving without Boyd. Their relationship had accelerated since the shooting, and he wasn’t sure how it was going to feel being by himself until the next time Boyd came to visit again. They hadn’t made a firm plan yet, because Boyd said he wanted to be fully recovered before he did. That was something Raylan understood perfectly well, and he didn’t argue.

Raylan got all of his stuff packed up in his car the night before. He didn’t want to hang around longer than he had to. Once he said he was going, he wanted to be gone.

Neither Raylan nor Boyd were very talkative at breakfast, so Joe carried most of the conversation, telling a story about his mother’s reaction to Boyd, the first time they met.

Joe’s mother came from old Virginia stock, very genteel, and a member of the first generation of her family to speak of their slave-owning days with any kind of shame. Joe had come out to her when he was in college, and she had accepted it with great grace and love. However, her son bringing home an explosives expert with - to her - very apparent hillbilly roots, was not something she’d felt required to be gracious about.

She’d been very polite - charming, even - to Boyd, in the manner of the Southern aristocracy, making it entirely clear that she did not deem him worthy of her beautiful son’s attentions. Boyd, of course, saw it for what it was. Under certain circumstances, he would have used the opportunity to prove something to her, put her in her place, but obviously that was not an option.

He’d turned all of his considerable charm and magnetism on her, finding common ground in Southern pride - though mostly letting her speak on that, because Boyd’s upbringing in dirt poor Appalachia did not, in truth, have a great deal in common with her experience - and literature, which Boyd was more than happy to expound upon.

After the break-up, Joe’s mother had brought up Boyd in every conversation they had, for the following two years until her death. She’d never let him live down what she’d believed was the biggest mistake of his life.

Raylan liked the story, though it made him feel a little sad. He wondered about what his own mother’s reaction would have been, if he and Boyd had been together when she was still alive, and if Arlo hadn’t been in the picture. He thought she might have been happy for him, eventually. Boyd looked at him like he knew what he was thinking about, and squeezed his hand briefly before getting up to use the bathroom.

When Boyd had left the table, Joe put down his fork and looked at Raylan. He said, “You know, that night at the bar when you guys ran into each other? I don’t think I ever saw Boyd smile at anyone like that. I think I knew in about two minutes that he was done for. And that was before I knew who you were to him.”

Raylan looked slightly embarrassed, and he said, “I can’t imagine the look on my face. I thought I was hallucinating.”

Joe spoke very carefully. “When he told me about you a couple days later, he said he was afraid to be with you, because he thought you’d want to keep him a secret. I was worried about him. I didn’t think I liked you very much. I thought you were... something that you didn’t turn out to be.”

Raylan shrugged. “Maybe I was.”

Joe looked at him quietly for a few moments, long enough for Raylan to feel uncomfortable, before he said, “You changed your whole life just for him, didn’t you?”

Raylan shook his head. “I didn’t have to give up anything I really wanted.”

Boyd had watched his father get killed, had almost died himself, all because he wanted to be with Raylan. He didn’t think anything he’d had to deal with was even worth mentioning, although he had to admit he’d been dreading the inevitable run-in with Arlo. The worst that had happened so far was no more than a bit of awkwardness, and he’d been far too distressed at the time for it to affect him.

He had been at the hospital, waiting to hear if Boyd would live or die. He’d been staring at the pattern of the floor tiles for a long time, as if they could somehow help him make sense of what had happened.

Tim was sitting quietly next to him, having given up on trying to talk to him, when Art walked in. He came over, sat down and sighed. He scratched his bald head, then turned to Raylan and said, “Raylan, you and I have known each other a long time.”

Raylan nodded vaguely, not really paying him much attention.

Art spoke again, a little more sharply. “You think I’m some kind of asshole?”

Raylan looked up at him then, finally registering that he was being spoken to, and that Art seemed displeased. “No,” he said, frowning in confusion, “I don’t think that.”

“Then, son, why did you not just tell me what was going on here? I assume this Boyd Crowder is the friend from out of town you’ve been so damn giddy about.”

Raylan closed his eyes, feeling dizzy all of a sudden. “Art, I can’t have this conversation right now. He might be dying. I think I might have got him killed.”

“From what Tim said on the phone, he was going to go down there with or without you. It’s not your fault his daddy was who he was, or that he comes from that damned hard-headed family.”

“I should have seen it coming. I should have had an eye on that bartender.”

“You were a little busy shooting the man’s father, at the time. Listen, Raylan. It doesn’t have to happen today, but soon I’m going to need you to come in and make a statement, and file the paperwork about the discharge of your weapon.”

Raylan had just nodded again, sunk his face into his hands, and gone on with his waiting.

 

Raylan must have looked like he was somewhere else, as the memory came to him, because Joe asked if he was okay. “Fine.” He put a smile on his face. “Just thinking about all the shit I need to do when I get back to Lexington,” he lied.

“That’s going to kind of suck, isn’t it? The long distance thing, I mean.”

Raylan nodded, not really wanting to talk about it. Or think about it.

Joe hesitated for a moment, then said, “How long do you suppose that’s going to last?”

Raylan looked at him sharply and said, “What do you mean?”

“How long until Boyd moves down there with you?”

Raylan had no idea how to answer that question. He and Boyd hadn’t had this conversation yet. Even if you counted the two months of phone conversations before Boyd showed up at his room, they’d only been together for a little over three months. However intense it had been, or how close he felt to Boyd, he wasn’t ready to think about anything like that. He knew Boyd wasn’t either. He had more holding him here in Richmond than Raylan currently had in Lexington; perhaps he wouldn’t ever want to do that.

Boyd came back to the table before Raylan came up with a response, and looked between Raylan and Joe. He said, “Would you like me to go use the bathroom again?”

Raylan smiled at him, but he knew it was a sad one, and he couldn’t help it. He said, “I really should get going. Walk outside with me?”

Boyd nodded, and they went out to where Raylan’s car was parked. Raylan leaned against the driver’s side door and looked steadily at Boyd. He said, “You need to get better soon, boy. I got no patience where you’re concerned.”

“Raylan, you have no patience, period. But I’m gonna miss you too. And when I see you again, no more amateur hour, you can count on that. I’m gonna have you.”

Raylan grinned and grabbed his hips so Boyd was leaning up against him. They kissed, and Raylan said, “You can have whatever you want.”

Boyd hugged him, and Raylan got into his car, in a bit of a state. It didn’t ease up until he had driven out of the city limits.

 

Raylan had been back in town for a week, when he got a call one afternoon, about an hour before he was to leave work. He was somewhat surprised to see that it was Ava, and he wondered what she could possibly want.

He answered the phone in his lawman voice, despite knowing it was her. “Givens.”

“Hey, Raylan. It’s Ava.”

“Well, hello Ava. What can I do for you today?”

“I need to see you. Are you free tonight?”

“Uh... well, yes. This about anything in particular?”

She hesitated, then said, “I’ll tell you when I see you. I can come by and bring dinner, if you like.”

“That sounds... fine. I’m not at the motel anymore, though. Let me give you my new address...”

 

Ava knocked at his door about an hour and a half after he got home from work, carrying some take out chicken and a pie that looked homemade. Raylan took them from her, and there was a moment of awkwardness when he wasn’t sure how to greet her. Things hadn’t ended well between them. She’d been angry, understandably so, and he hadn’t talked to her since their last unpleasant conversation, months before. He ended up giving her a smile that he hoped looked genuine enough, and offering her a drink, which she accepted.

They sat down to eat, and Raylan asked how she’d been doing since they’d last seen each other. She kept glancing at him nervously, and he could tell she was gearing up to ask him something personal. He figured she was probably interested in hearing details about Boyd, or what had happened out at Johnny’s. Still, it seemed like there must be something more going on here, because this seemed like a lot to go through for a little gossip.

After awhile, he decided he couldn’t take much more of it, and just asked her. “Ava, what did you come here for? Not that it isn’t lovely to see you, but I assume you have some actual reason to be here, beyond the purely social.”

She looked at him with a stricken expression, and blurted out, “Oh Raylan, I’m so sorry. I screwed up, really bad I think, and I can’t keep it in anymore.”

“What the hell are you talkin’ about, Ava?”

“I knew, Raylan. I knew Boyd was alive. I should have told you, I thought about telling you a bunch of times, but for some reason... I just never did. And I... I knew about you and Boyd.”

Raylan raised an eyebrow at her and asked, “You knew what, about me and Boyd?”

“I knew y’all were, you know. Together. Back before you left.” She looked embarrassed, but she held her gaze steady on him.

Raylan smiled at her and tilted his head to the side. “But we weren’t. We never were, until just a few months ago.”

She looked at him kind of funny, like that didn’t make any sense at all. “But... Bowman said...”

“You gonna take Bowman’s word for what happened between his brother and me?”

“Well, but... I thought it made sense. You were always hangin’ out together. You two always seemed... well. Then you left, and then Boyd left for the Army right after. And Bowman said that right after he got back, he told their daddy he... he was, you know. Gay. I don’t know, when he told me, it was like something clicked. I wasn’t even really surprised.”

Raylan hadn’t really thought about all that before, what that must have looked like. People must have noticed things about the two of them, things they’d telegraphed without knowing they were doing it. They’d been so clueless, innocent, really. It almost made him smile, until he thought about how dangerous that could have been for them.

“When did Bowman tell you all this, anyway? I doubt Bo wanted anyone to know about it.”

Ava snorted and said, “Oh, he was shitfaced drunk. One of the good times, when he’d get all stupid and affectionate instead of pissed off and violent. He says, ‘Ava, I know you can keep a man’s secrets. You wanna hear one?’ I said sure, and he told me. What their daddy said to Boyd, what had been between the two of you, all that. He didn’t seem like he was lying, I think he really believed it.”

“I’m sure he did. I know Bo did. He as much as told me so, just a couple months ago. But he was wrong.” Raylan paused, thinking about it, and said, “Or, sorta wrong.”

“What do you mean, ‘sorta’?”

“Well... we just... we never admitted anything to each other at the time. Too dangerous, too much of a risk.”

Ava nodded slowly. “But you loved him. You loved each other then?”

“We did.”

“Now, too?”

“Yeah.”

Ava didn’t say anything for a little while, just ate her food, then she looked up with a pretty blush on her cheeks and said, “This is so embarrassing, and I don’t even know why I’m telling you. Only, I feel so bad for letting you go on thinking he was dead all that time.”

Raylan raised his eyebrows at her, wondering if she was really about to tell him what he thought she was about to tell him.

“When you and me were together, I used to... think about that, sometimes. I thought about, you know, you and him. What you used to do together. What I thought you used to do, anyway. I had such a crush on you when you were 19, Raylan. The idea of... well. I ain’t never even seen two boys kiss each other. Not in person, anyway.”

She had, in fact, said exactly what he had suspected she was going to say, and he had no idea how to respond to it. He wasn’t going to tell her that the idea of her imagining that while the two of them were together was turning him on immensely. No, definitely not that. It did make him wish she’d told him when they were still fucking, though, because it would have added a whole other level to things.

“Ava, it’s okay. I ain’t mad. Maybe I should be, but I know the secret wasn’t really yours to tell. I know how it is there, I remember well enough.”

“Oh, Raylan, it wasn’t that. That’s why I feel so shitty about it. I didn’t tell you because... I was afraid you’d forget about me and go lookin’ for him. It was awful. I can’t even believe I did such a thing. And then I didn’t tell you after, because... well, I was embarrassed for being like that. And I was pissed at you.”

“Okay.” Raylan sighed, and looked at her very directly. “Well, you told me now. Bein’ mad at you ain’t gonna get me anything.”

Ava gave him a huge grin and said, “Damn, Raylan. What’s that boy done to your head?”

He snorted and said, “Ain’t such a boy anymore. He’s an old man like me.”

“Like you? Well, that’s okay then.”

Raylan laughed and shook his head. They finished the chicken and half of the pie, and as she was leaving, Ava moved in and gave him a kiss right on the mouth. Raylan let her kiss him, but then said, “Ava,” in a tone that clearly meant, “You know better.” She just grinned mischievously and waved to him as she headed down the hall to the stairs.

 

Raylan called Boyd a little while after she’d gone, and told him about the conversation. Boyd laughed and said, “I think I better watch out for that one.”

“Boyd, you know I wouldn’t - “

“I know. I do know that about you. But listen. If you ever, sometime, start thinking about that. If you want that... you can have it. I’ll do that, if you want. Share you, once in awhile, with a woman.”

“I don’t need that,” he said flatly.

“It’s not about what you need. I love you. You should have everything you want.”

“Nobody gets everything they want. But I want you more than anything else.”

“Raylan, this is what you’re saying now, and I know it feels like that, but someday I’m gonna be the person who’s standing in between you and your desires. I hate that.”

Boyd sounded like he’d been giving this a great deal of thought, and Raylan felt like shit that he thought he needed to worry about that. He didn’t think it would be the way Boyd was afraid it would be. It hadn’t been like that with Winona, he hadn’t been constantly thinking about what he couldn’t have. He hadn’t really given it a thought since being with Boyd.

“It ain’t like that, Boyd. But okay, I’ll keep it in mind. If I start to feel that way, I’ll tell you.”

“Promise me, Raylan.”

“I do. I promise.”

They talked for some time after that, then said their goodnights. Raylan stayed up drinking for a long time, thinking about what Boyd had offered him. He wondered if he could ever be so generous.

He couldn’t imagine what it was about himself that Boyd could love as much as he did, and it made him nervous. Winona had loved him that much, or so it had seemed, but she had eventually grown tired and frustrated with him, had taken comfort in the first place she’d found it. Raylan didn’t think he’d changed much since then.

 

Raylan had been feeling somewhat uncomfortable around Art since the conversation at the hospital. He hadn’t wanted to bring it up, but he’d been left with the feeling that Art had more to say on the subject, and when Art called him into his office about two weeks after his dinner with Ava, his stomach have a small lurch. He knew they should talk, but he’d been hoping it could be avoided.

Art said, “Raylan, come in here a minute and shut the door.” Raylan did, and went to sit on the couch across from Art’s desk. Art pulled a bottle of the good stuff out of his bottom drawer and poured some for both of them.

“What’s up, Art?”

“You know I’m not a man prone to beating a dead horse, but I feel like we maybe need to clear the air before we go forward, here.”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary.” Raylan knew there was no stopping whatever it was that Art was about to say, but he wished very much that he could. He’d felt bad about not being honest with Art since the conversation he’d had about asking for time off. At first, he’d felt uncomfortable with it because he knew Boyd would be bothered by that kind of secrecy, but it was also a shitty feeling to be lying to the one person in the office who seemed to care about him.

Art fixed him with a keen gaze. “I’m not sure of any such thing. You kept something from me that you knew had the potential to cause real problems. Which it did. And why? Either because you thought I’d give a shit who you sleep with, or because you were embarrassed for some reason. Now, you already said it wasn’t the first thing, so I have to assume it’s the second. Which seems to me something you might want to get over pretty damn quick, not that I’m any kind of expert.”

“Jesus, Art. Give me a goddamn break. You can lecture me when you have to go back to your home town where everyone just found out you’re dating a man. Who, by the way, everyone’s thought was dead for the last fifteen years.”

Art stared at him for a few seconds, then started to laugh. It was almost a cackle, and Raylan struggled to keep the look of irritation on his own face. “Oh Raylan,” he said, “Why does this shit always happen to you?”

Raylan put his face in his hands to hide a grin, then leaned back and ran them through his hair. Then he just shook his head. He didn’t know why. He thought maybe he should ask Boyd; he might have an idea.

“Alright, then,” Art said, his laughter having mostly subsided. “A bomb threat was called in on Judge Reardon’s courtroom after he made an unpopular decision regarding the Kirby Peener case. He asked for you, specifically, to come and check it out for him.”

Raylan sighed, stood up and said, “Sure, I’ll go take care of that now.”

On his way out the door, Raylan paused, and turned back around. “Hey, Art.”

“Yeah?”

“I should have told you about it. It didn’t have anything to do with you, that I didn’t.”

“Okay, Raylan. Maybe next time, you’ll give me a little goddamn credit.”

Raylan did a slight double-take at that, since those were the same words Winona had used with him. He had never thought of it that way, the lack of trust he generally felt in others. When he’d thought of it at all, it was never as a slight on their character, but a flaw in his own. He’d always assumed they saw it the same way.

 

Raylan headed down to see Judge Reardon, stopping to say hello to Winona first. He still felt a little awkward around her, but at least she wasn’t still pissed at him.

She had called to check on him a few days after the events at Johnny’s, and had even gone to the hospital to bring Boyd a book and some chocolate. It was sweet of her, even if she had taken the opportunity, later, to go on to Raylan for five minutes about meeting Joe, and how adorable she thought he was.

He knocked on the judge’s door and heard the man tell him to come in.

“Morning, Judge Reardon.”

“Raylan! Good to see you.” He waved Raylan over to his desk. “Art tell you what I need?”

“He did. I’ll be happy to check out the room.”

“In case you’re wondering, yes I did hear about you, and no I do not give a shit. Just so we’re clear.”

“Good to know, sir.”

“Bo Crowder’s boy, though. You sure you know what you’re getting into there?”

“He’s been away.”

Reardon laughed sharply at that and said, “Well, be that as it may, son, he’s not even back for good yet, and already two men are dead. You just keep it in mind.”

“So, the courtroom. I’ll go search it now.”

The judge waved him off, and he got to work. Just as he was finishing up, having found no signs of a bomb, a tall, red-haired woman walked in. He glanced over at her and nodded, and she eyed him up like she was judging cattle at a county fair.

She walked over to where Raylan was checking under the last row of benches, the speculative look still in her eye, and said, “You must be the Marshal that Judge Reardon told me about. Givens, is that right?”

“Yes ma’am. And you are?”

She held out her hand to shake, and said, “Carol Johnson. I’m with Black Pike.”

Raylan nodded neutrally, then said, “Well, it looks like it’s all clear in here. No bomb.” Raylan gave her a brief smile. “I’ll need to lock the room up behind me, so you’re going to have to leave.”

Back upstairs, Raylan poked his head into Art’s office to let him know that the courtroom was fine, and Art had more news for him. Because of the continued threat of danger, Carol Johnson required protection, which the Marshals had agreed to provide. She had apparently called to request Raylan specifically, which he realized she must have done the second he left her standing in the hallway. He ground his teeth and sighed, but he didn’t feel like he wanted to say no to Art that day. He said okay, and went to meet her.

 

She’d been hitting on him all day, and it hadn’t stopped when they reached the hotel. If anything, she’d ramped it up at that point. He couldn’t deny that she was a beautiful woman, and sexy, but Raylan found himself unaffected by her. He generally liked his women with a bit of softness. She looked soft, but it was easy to see the steel just below the surface. Possibly, underneath that, there was another layer, one that was vulnerable.

At one time, in another situation, Raylan might have been interested enough to find out. As it stood, however, Raylan had gotten more than his fill of her, and he just wanted to have a drink and talk to Boyd, then go to sleep. Not that it was going to be comfortable, as he was planning to sleep in a chair instead of taking her up on her generous offer to share the bed.

Carol went to have a bath, so he took the opportunity to call Boyd. They didn’t talk every night - maybe three times a week - and he had just spoken with him the night before, but he felt like he needed it tonight. He was finding this assignment extremely wearing, not to mention distasteful. He hated the idea of working for Black Pike, in any capacity, and he didn’t believe this woman was actually in any danger.

In addition, the thing with Art had stirred something up from the back of his mind that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He didn’t know why that should be, since it seemed to have been pretty well resolved. Whatever it was, and for whatever reason, he’d been feeling uneasy since then.

Boyd answered with a bit of surprise in his voice, but softly and with a smile, like maybe he was worried about him. “Hey, Raylan. I didn’t expect to hear from you tonight.”

“Yeah, I know. Got time to talk anyway?”

“Sure I do. Anything in particular you want to talk about?”

Raylan heaved a heavy sigh and said, “I don’t know. I’m tired, Boyd. It’s been a long day. I want you here.”

Boyd was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Something happen today?”

“Not really. Art called me in to give me grief about not telling him about you before we went out to Harlan to see Bo. He wasn’t wrong, I should have trusted him. I don’t really know why I didn’t. I apologized, he said it was fine, so it’s over, but it’s been naggin’ at me anyway. And then I had to spend entire afternoon acting like muscle for this lady working for Black Pike, because there was a threat of violence. And even better, I gotta spend the night sleeping in a chair in her hotel room, and then all day with her again tomorrow.”

“What’s she looking to do?”

“What do you think? They want to do what they always do. Take people’s land for a pittance, destroy it, and send Harlan men down there to pull the coal out of it.”

“So now the Marshal service doubles as gun thugs for the mining company?”

Raylan was instantly defensive, and he snapped, “What do you want me to do, Boyd? Quit my damn job?”

“No. I didn’t mean...” Boyd sighed. “I wasn’t trying to shame you about it, Raylan. It just makes me fucking mad.”

“Yeah, well me too.”

“Look, there’s nothing I can do to make you feel better about that, I know. But the thing that happened with Art, it’s a good thing, Raylan. He could have just let it go, but he wanted to show you that he gives a shit.”

Raylan was quiet for a moment. “I thought you’d be pissed that I waited so long to tell him.”

“Shit, Raylan, I know... I get it. This is new for you. I did it when I was still so young, and mostly around people who didn’t have any preconceived notions about me. I know it’s different for you, for all kinds of reasons. I’m willing to give you a pass, for a little while. You did a lot more than I expected, a lot faster. I know you did it for me. So no, I’m not pissed at you. You’re doing just fine.”

Raylan felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard against it. The last thing he felt like doing was sobbing like an asshole over the phone to Boyd, while he sat here in this fucking hotel room with that barracuda ten feet away in the tub. He hadn’t expected that kind of acceptance, or understanding, and realized that he hadn’t given Boyd enough credit either.

When Raylan didn’t answer for awhile, Boyd said, “You should try to get some sleep, Raylan. You sound beat to hell. I’m gonna call you tomorrow night, not so late, and we can talk longer. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay. You know, Boyd... I did do it because of you, but I didn’t do it for you. I did it so I could be with you. And I’m so glad I did.”

Now it was Boyd’s turn for a long pause, and he cleared his throat before he spoke. “Damn, I love you, Raylan.”

Raylan smiled into the phone and said, “Yeah, you too darlin’. You’re busy gettin’ better, right?”

“Better every day. ‘Night, Raylan.”

“‘Night.”

As Raylan hung up the phone, he heard a rustling behind him. He closed his eyes, wondering how long she’d been standing there. He craned his neck around to look at her, standing there, leaning against the door frame in her long, pink robe. Her eyebrows were raised, almost as if she were impressed. Raylan found it almost unbearably condescending. He turned back around and took a long pull from his glass.

“I’m afraid I overheard some of your conversation. I didn’t intend to, but it is a very small room.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He busied himself with refilling his drink, and tried to ignore her as she came around to sit in the other uncomfortable chair by the little table.

“So you’re gay?”

“Effectively.”

She laughed in surprise and said, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you know that one scene in Pulp Fiction where Samuel L. Jackson says his girlfriend is a vegetarian, so that pretty much makes him a vegetarian too?”

“Um... sure... but doesn’t he also say he still enjoys a tasty burger from time to time?”

“Yeah. But I ain’t hungry.”

She gave him a skeptical look, but shrugged and said, “Well, I guess Boyd’s a lucky guy, then. Let me know if you change your mind.”

She went to bed then, and Raylan sat up drinking until his body forced him to sleep.

 

Raylan woke up feeling like shit, as he’d known he would. He stumbled to the bathroom, leaning against the wall as he pissed for what felt like ten minutes. Then he showered, rinsed the stale taste of old bourbon from his mouth, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He cursed himself for not thinking to bring his change of clothes into the bathroom with him, and sure enough, when he walked out of the bathroom, she was gazing at him with that same appreciative, yet smugly superior expression. Fucking infuriating, it should have been, but just then Raylan didn’t have the energy for that particular emotion. He pretended not to notice, and went to fetch his clothes.

The car was waiting for them when they walked out of the hotel, and Raylan insisted that they stop to get coffee before he was willing to listen to anything about the schedule for the day. That taken care of, Carol asked Raylan to help her figure out in what order they should visit the families she was trying to convince to sell, to minimize backtracking. She began reading off the names, and after Baker, Calley and Evans, she paused and looked up, smiling like she’d just received a gift.

“Givens. Arlo and Helen. Are they... um... kin of yours?”

“First of all, don’t say ‘kin.’ You sound like an asshole. Second, unfortunately, yes. That’s my father and his wife, who was also my mother’s sister. Don’t think this is going to be of any benefit to you, at all. Even if I wanted to help you, bringing me into it ain’t gonna do it.”

Raylan’s stomach, already a mess from all the whiskey the night before, was roiling now. Not only did he have to face Arlo for the first time since everything had gone down, he had to do it while on bodyguard duty for Black Pike.

“You don’t get along with your family?” asked Carol.

“Helen took care of me a lot, as a kid. She ain’t a bad person. I can’t say the same for Arlo, on either count. But why bother telling you? I’m sure you’ll see for yourself soon enough.”

They visited one other family before heading to the Givens’ house, and she was able to convince them to sell rather quickly. Raylan had seriously considered pushing this back to the last stop, and maybe trying to stall her enough to get her to leave it for tomorrow. He hated the thought of going out there. But in the end, he realized that he hated his fear much more. Might as well get it over with, and at least he didn’t think Arlo would actually try to kill him, unlike Bo. If Boyd could face up to that shit, he should be able to handle a little venom. It was nothing new.

By the time they pulled up in front of Raylan’s childhood home, he had affixed a hard, expressionless mask to his face. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that the only way Arlo could hurt him was if Raylan let him. He only wished he could figure out how not to. He’d been unable to close himself off to that as a kid, and had left Harlan running, because of it.

When he found out that he’d have to come back, he had thought that time had closed the wound well enough so it wouldn’t get infected all over again, but he had been wrong. The poison had been laying dormant in his veins the whole time, and all it took was proximity to rekindle it.

They walked up onto the porch, Carol knocking and Raylan hanging back just slightly. Helen came to the door, hostility radiating from her, until she saw Raylan. Then she softened slightly, though she didn’t take the scowl off her face. She addressed herself to him, not bothering to glance at Carol.

“What’re you thinkin’, bringin’ her up here, Raylan?”

Carol held out her hand to shake and said, “Mrs. Givens. My name is Carol Johnson, and I work for Black Pi- “

Helen cut her off sharply, saying, “You think I don’t know exactly who you are and what you want? You got no business with us.” She turned to Raylan and said, “What’s your place in this, Raylan? Why are you here?”

“The Marshal service has Ms. Johnson under protection for the duration of her business here in Harlan.”

“Figures. The government and the coal companies always did have compatible goals.”

Raylan was very much not in the mood for a hillbilly socio-political lecture at the moment, so he just gazed neutrally at his aunt, not dropping his eyes. She shook her head once, and said, “Ain’t heard from you in awhile.”

Raylan snorted softly and said, “I figured you were pretty much caught up on all my news.”

Helen pursed her lips and looked hard at Raylan for a second, then at Carol, and said, “Missy, I’ll give you five minutes. You have your say, then you get the hell out of here. Come on.”

Helen turned around, and they followed her into the house. Arlo was sitting at the dining room table, glass of bourbon at hand, and he looked up as they walked in. His eyes widened when he saw Raylan, then filled with outrage.

Arlo sneered, and said, “Well, if it ain’t my embarrassment of a son.”

Raylan smiled, with his mouth only, and said dryly, “I guess that makes us a matched set, then.”

Carol extended her hand to Arlo. He ignored it, and motioned with his head at a chair. “You can sit. I guess you got an offer to make.” He turned to Raylan and said, “You can wait outside.”

Raylan would have liked nothing more than to do just that, but he wasn’t about to be put out like a dog by Arlo Givens. He stood still and said, “As I’ve been tasked with Ms. Johnson’s safety, I’m gonna have to stay where I can see her.”

Arlo stood up then, and walked over to where Raylan stood. “You think just ‘cause you been away, you can come back here and act any way you please. I guess that Crowder boy thought the same, but he got taught, didn’t he?”

Raylan felt that like a punch in the gut, and all at once his forbearance was at an end. His eyes bugged out, he grabbed Arlo by his upper arm and dragged him, yelling, out the door.

He pulled him into the yard, away from the house, and leaned in close. He spoke through clenched teeth, just barely keeping himself in check. “Listen here, old man. Whatever it is you’d like to say to me, I strongly suggest you resist. You want to make veiled threats on a federal Marshal? I’ll lock your ass up.”

“Can’t even fight your own fights, gotta have the government do it for you? No surprise to me, you always was a little pansy, runnin’ off cryin’ to Helen if I so much as raised a hand.”

Raylan laughed bitterly at that and said, “If you think I was weak, then what do you call a grown man who uses his fists on a woman and a child?”

Arlo snarled, “Well, you ain’t a child no more, are you?” and jabbed a fist at Raylan’s face, managing to graze him next to his eye as he ducked out of the way. Raylan had him on the ground in seconds, arm twisted up behind his back, and Helen was out in the yard almost as fast, yelling at them. Carol Johnson came out of the house, but remained on the porch.

“You boys stop that right now! Raylan, let him up. He ain’t gonna do nothin’ else.”

“And just what are you basing that on, Helen?”

“‘Cause I said so. Now let him up.” Her face was hard, and full of anger and something else as well. Maybe it was grief.

Raylan eased off of Arlo and stepped back. Arlo pointed his finger at Raylan and said, “This is the last time I want to see your face around here.” He stalked off into the house, brushing past Carol Johnson and letting the screen door slam behind him.

Helen waited until he was inside before saying anything to Raylan. She watched him steadily as she said, “You know Boyd still ain’t gonna be safe in Harlan.”

Raylan’s mouth twisted up in anger, but he kept his voice calm. “I don’t think I want to hear any wisdom from you about Boyd. Far as I’m concerned, you got some shit to answer for.” He knew she was privy to every bit of gossip in this county, going back forty years or more. No way would something that big have gotten past her.

“You think I shoulda told you he was alive, do you?”

“That would have been the least you could have done, after keeping Bo Crowder’s secret all that time. You let me go down and hear it from Johnny Crowder, didn’t say shit to me before or after about it. You should have told me fifteen years ago, when Bo first ran him off.”

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want any of this to happen, Raylan. I knew you’d go lookin’ for him and bring all this shit down on the both of you.”

Raylan looked at her sharply, wondering just how much she’d figured out about the two of them, that they hadn’t really understood themselves. It didn’t matter now, though. If anything, it made the secrecy worse. He said, “I don’t know why you thought that. I coulda gone looking for him any time in the last twenty years, and I didn’t.”

“Because you thought he’d always be here, waitin’ on you to come back.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Okay, you keep tellin’ yourself that.”

Raylan stared at her, wanting very much to disregard what she was saying. Could that really have been in the back of his mind all those years, that Boyd would be here whenever he was ready? That he could take his time, because Boyd existed only to love him? As much as he hated it, he thought that yes, it might be just like that. Jesus Christ, he thought. I’m an asshole.

He said none of this to Helen, of course, just shook his head and called out to Carol, “I think we’re done here. I doubt you’ll get much in the way of productive negotiation out of them today.” She nodded in agreement and walked over to the car.

Raylan turned back to Helen and said, “I don’t give a shit what your reasons were. It wasn’t for you to say.”

She looked at him with a pained expression on her face. “You could be right. I ain’t perfect, Raylan. I did what I thought was best.”

“I don’t know if this makes you uncomfortable or not, but I think you need to hear it. I love him, Helen. It was true then, and it’s true now. I don’t know if he wants to be back in Harlan, but if he does, then that’s what’s going to happen. He ain’t afraid, so I ain’t either. Not anymore.”

Helen’s expression changed then. It didn’t soften, exactly, but it lost some of its edge. She started to move her arm as if she were going to reach out for him, but she didn’t. “I’m sorry, Raylan. I got in the habit of bein’ afraid for you a long time ago. It’s hard to break.”

Raylan didn’t have an answer for that, and his anger had already backed off quite a bit. He knew that what she’d said was true. He knew she loved him, and he figured it bore remembering, since she was the only family he had who did.

“Alright, Helen,” he said, resigned. “I gotta go now, I’m sure she wants to hit the rest of the holler by the end of the day.”

“Maybe you should try to slow her down a bit.”

“Shit, I just want to be done with her.”

Raylan told her goodbye, and climbed into the car. Carol was looking at him with an expression of surprise and interest that, for once, actually seemed genuine.

“Am I understanding this correctly? You were in love with a boy from here when you were young. You moved away, didn’t speak for God knows how many years, and when you came back you were told that he was dead? But he wasn’t, and now you’re together?”

“Close enough.”

“That is quite a love story. It’s so Southern Gothic! Tennessee Williams would have fallen down dead.”

“He already is dead. And this ain’t a play, it’s my life. Kind of lowers the entertainment value for me.”

“Did your father say something about the ‘Crowder boy’?”

“Yeah. That’s Boyd. What about it?”

“What did your father mean when he said, ‘he got taught?’”

Raylan heaved a sigh. ”Boyd’s father disowned him years ago, threatened him with death if he ever returned. The only reason he came back was for me, and he ended up getting shot for it. He almost died.”

Her eyes were huge as she said, “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Why did you ask about him?”

“Well, it just so happens, his name is on my list. It seems he owns some property that Black Pike is interested in.”

Raylan started laughing then, and didn’t stop for awhile. “Well, shit,” he said, “Good luck with that.”

 

Boyd called that evening at around 8:30, as they were leaving the church where a town meeting had been held, to discuss what was to happen with Black Pike and the people’s land. Mags Bennett had put on quite a performance, so good that Raylan almost believed her. He’d wanted to believe her, but he knew that the minute he let himself trust a Bennett would be the minute he’d become completely useless in Harlan. She was up to something, although he wasn’t sure just what.

He answered the phone, doing his best to ignore Carol Johnson’s obvious interest in his conversation.

“Hey, Boyd.”

“Raylan.” Raylan heard him smiling, pictured it in his head. “How you doing?” Boyd’s voice was the most welcome thing he’d heard all day, and he wished he had some more privacy to listen to it.

“Well... I was at Arlo’s today.” He kept his voice neutral, knowing that he didn’t have to sound upset for Boyd to understand how he was feeling.

“Oh, Raylan. Well, I don’t have to ask how that went. You see Helen too?”

“I did. She...” Raylan glanced over at Carol, who was not bothering to hide her curiosity. “Hang on a minute.” He put his hand over the phone and said, “You wait in the car.”

He walked around to the back of the church and leaned up against the wall. He put the phone back to his ear and said, “Sorry, I just had to find some privacy. Helen said something... Boyd, I never looked you up. I never tried to find you. Why didn’t I? How could I have just... let you go like that?”

“What? Raylan... when you left Harlan, neither of us knew how the other felt. Don’t you remember how it was? I was afraid of myself, then. Afraid of what I wanted. Weren’t you? “

“Yeah. But... after a while, I wasn’t, anymore. And in my heart, I think I did know. So why didn’t I come get you?”

“What exactly did Helen say to you?”

“She said I never looked for you because I thought you’d always be in Harlan. Sitting in your fuckin’ truck where I left you, just waiting for my dumb ass to come back to you when I was good and ready.”

“And I assume you’re so bothered by that because you think she’s right.”

Raylan’s voice was barely more than a whisper now, and he didn’t feel in very good control of his emotions, at all. “I’m so sorry. God, I can’t believe how stupid I was.”

Boyd’s voice came slowly, after a long pause. “Raylan... when I saw you in that bar, you know what my first thought was? I thought, ‘Raylan finally came for me.’ I was waiting for you all that time, without even realizing it. The same way you said you felt like you’d been looking for me. We were both being fucking stupid about it.”

“Jesus, Boyd. It’s a good thing I did find you. Who else would be willing to put up with that kind of bullshit?”

“No one so far, I guess. Not for very long.”

“I can’t talk much more now, I gotta get her back to the hotel. But listen - I just found out something big. What do you know about the Crowder property in Harlan?”

“I don’t really know the extent of the holdings, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, I mean... is it yours?”

“Well... I don’t know. It would have gone to Bowman, but I don’t know what arrangements my daddy made after he died. I haven’t heard anything about it yet. I guess if he didn’t will it to anyone... shit.”

“Black Pike wants it.”

“Is that right?” he said softly.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I have to take her to some to-do out at the Bennetts’ place. She really has no idea what she’s walking into, and won’t take anyone seriously who tries to tell her.”

“Low expectations are the greatest asset of our people, Raylan. You know that.”

“Boyd, will you quit it with the ‘our people’ shit? As if they’d claim either one of us, anymore. That’s what you get for all that tradition you love so goddamn much. People who make a virtue out of never changing or learning anything new.”

“Raylan, I don’t need for any of them to claim me, because I already know who I am. What they think, it doesn’t matter. My daddy hated who I was, but I never let him make me hate myself for it. And I never let him take away my love for where I come from, though he kept me from it for so long. Why should I let anyone else do that?”

“I hear you, Boyd. I guess I just don’t feel the same about it as you. All I could ever see was what was ugly about it.”

“You saw me.”

“Yeah, but... I think I was seeing what was different in you.”

“You saw what was different and what was the same. It’s not one thing or another thing about a person that attracts you. It’s everything. And you don’t have to like every single part, in order to love the whole. You get what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I get you. Boyd... if that property does turn out to belong to you... are you gonna want to -“

Boyd cut him off sharply, then. “Raylan, let’s talk about this another time.” He softened his voice then, as if he realized he’d sounded harsh. “Okay? I just don’t feel up to the conversation right now. It’s a lot to think about.”

“Yeah. That’s fine.”

“I love you, Raylan.”

“Yep, I know. You too.”

They said good night, and Raylan trudged back to the car. He needed sleep, and he needed a clear head, and he had a feeling he was not going to get either one this evening.

Chapter Text

Almost immediately after ending the call with Raylan, Boyd wanted to call him back. He felt bad for cutting Raylan off, for not even letting him ask the question he’d started to ask. He just couldn’t, though. He couldn’t talk about that to Raylan yet, he needed more information first, needed to know if the property was really his.

He was afraid that if they talked about it, and then it turned out not to be true, Raylan would feel obligated to ask him to move anyway, maybe to live with him. Boyd knew it was too soon for that, both for Raylan and for himself, although that didn’t stop him from wanting it. It scared him how much he did want it, because he knew it could destroy everything they’d started to build.

Boyd called a Harlan County exchange instead, looking for another Givens altogether. He just hoped the right one answered.

The phone rang four times before a woman’s gravelly voice said, “Hello.”

“Hello, is this Helen Givens?”

“You got me. And you are?”

“This is Boyd Crowder. I was hoping I could talk with you for a few minutes.”

There was a pause of a couple seconds, and then she said, “Well. I suppose we should talk, yes.” Boyd could hear her pulling out a chair, then the click of a lighter, a draw on a cigarette. He stayed quiet, waited for her to talk again. She did, after exhaling some smoke. “You calling to talk about Raylan? Or somethin’ else? You got a beef with me too, like he does?”

“No ma’am. I do not. I don’t believe he truly does either. I know that you are the only person in this world he considers family.”

“I love that boy like my own son. I never meant to hurt him. Or you, for that matter. I never liked what Bo did to you. I didn’t keep the secret for his sake.”

“Mrs. Givens -”

“Boyd Crowder, I knew you when you were in diapers. You call me Helen.”

“Helen, then. None of that matters to me. I didn't call to take issue with anything you did, or didn't do. I hardly see the point, considering how things turned out."

"How they turned out? You almost died, boy."

"But I didn't. I'm not sure you know how things are with Raylan and me, but -"

"I know he loves you,” she cut in, sounding tired. “He told me that. He told me if you want to come back to Harlan, he was fine with it. He said... that he ain't scared anymore. I think that might be true. He's different. You feel the same about him?"

"I love him very much," he said simply.

Helen sighed, and said, "Well, alright then. It ain't nothin' new. People want to act like it is, but they know better. You'll have to be damn careful, though, if you do come back here. You been away a long time, you may not remember."

"I remember plenty. And as it happens, Harlan is the reason for my call. What do you know about Bo's land?"

Helen talked for awhile, about what she knew, and what she’d guessed. Boyd asked her questions about Black Pike, and Mags Bennett. He was greatly impressed with both the extent of her knowledge, and her insights.

As he listened to her talk, he realized how many phrasings, how many inflections, Raylan must have picked up from her, and held onto. It was a living illustration of history, and wondered how Raylan could not love this, at least a little bit. Boyd thought it was just beautiful.

At the end of the conversation, just before they would get off the phone, Helen paused for a bit, and when she spoke she sounded strangely hesitant. “I don’t want to interfere, or act like I know more than I do. But... I think Raylan might need someone around right now. It’s been a tough run for him lately, dealing so much with the Bennetts, that business with the little girl, and then seeing his father. Arlo was not kind to him.”

Boyd gave a surprised half-laugh at that and asked, “When has Arlo ever been kind to Raylan?”

“It was worse than usual.”

“Because of me, I suppose.”

“It’s been comin’ awhile. But I can’t say this didn’t throw some gasoline on that fire. Raylan won’t ask you for help, nor anyone else, but if he knows you love him, he’ll take what you offer him.”

“He knows,” Boyd said quietly, already on his way to Kentucky in his mind.

“I guess he does. Maybe he would have known sooner if I’d told him what I knew. I am truly sorry about that.”

“Raylan and I could easily have found each other at any time over the last twenty years. That we didn’t is on us, not you or anyone else. Helen... do you believe in fate?”

“Nope,” she said flatly.

Boyd laughed. “Well, neither do I. But I must admit, this has shaken my disbelief, to some degree.”

“Boy, you’re comin’ back here, you need to forget about things like that. Won’t help you. All that matters here is who you are, who you know, and what you have. You’re a Crowder, that ain’t changed. You’d do well to remember it.” Her voice had hardened again as she said this, and he knew she was speaking from deep experience. He was listening.

“I can’t ever forget, Helen. I’m not Raylan, you know.”

“Don’t let him fool you. He don’t forget anything, that’s his curse.”

Boyd thought about that for a moment, and he knew she was right. Raylan had pushed his memories down, and batted them aside, refusing to look at them. But they had never left him. It had taken next to nothing to bring everything rushing back up at him.

He thought about that first night, that walk back to his house, that strange, almost dream-like kiss. Boyd hadn’t understood what Raylan had been feeling at the time but he thought he did now. He must have been battling himself, wanting to pick up right where they’d left off, and knowing how impossible such a thing would be. He wished he could have the moment back, understanding what he did now. How beautiful it would have been, if they could have been in the same place together.

He said goodnight to Helen, packed a bag and went to bed. He knew what he wanted, now. He was leaving first thing in the morning, coming for Raylan, and for his birthright.

 

Boyd got into Lexington at around 6 and headed straight to Raylan's apartment. He hadn't realized how badly he'd been wanting to see the man, because he hadn't been allowing himself to think about it. He hadn't planned to come down for another week, but there was no question of waiting now.

He knocked at the door, even though Raylan had given him a key after he'd gotten out of the hospital. The ghost of the fear he'd had the first time he'd come down here, surfaced without warning, that maybe Raylan would have a woman here. Or a man, even, now that he’d gotten over himself a little. Boyd knew better than that, in his mind, but his gut didn’t quite believe him.

Raylan answered the door still in his work clothes, but untucked and somewhat rumpled. His face spread into a wide smile and he opened the door further to let Boyd in.

Boyd walked up and into Raylan's arms, pushing him back against the wall in the hallway and kissing him, before either one of them had said a word. Raylan let him keep doing it for awhile before he pushed him back slightly, smiled and said, “You keep showing up when I least expect you.”

Boyd leaned into him again, slid his hands up the back of his shirt and said, ”You love it.”

Raylan made a sound almost like a growl, and crushed his mouth into Boyd’s. He pushed back off the wall, took Boyd by the shoulders and turned him around in the direction of the bedroom.

They undressed themselves quickly, and Boyd made a conscious effort not to react to the twinges he still got, occasionally, when pulling off his shirt. He could see Raylan watching him carefully, with a concern that Boyd couldn’t help being moved by. He saw Raylan frown when he looked at the site of the injury, the skin still pink and tender-looking. When he moved in to kiss him again, Raylan placed a protective hand over it, and Boyd put his own hand on top of Raylan’s.

Boyd looked into Raylan’s eyes and said, “I’m fine, Raylan. I really am very much okay, now.”

Raylan gave him a small frown and asked, “Then why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

Boyd raised an eyebrow and replied, “Well, aren’t you perceptive these days?” He tilted his head and said, “I was planning to give it another week or so, but I wanted to see you now. I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise. Right now I want to do something else.”

“Okay," Raylan said, pushing the word out on a soft breath, then pulling him gently down onto the bed. "I remember you saying something about how you were gonna 'have me.' That offer still stand?"

Boyd grinned in response and reached into the bedside table. He always kept his promises.

About an hour later, they were lying on bare sheets, sprawled out across the bed, touching only at their fingertips.

Boyd figured there was no point in waiting any longer to talk to Raylan about what was going on. He didn’t really know how Raylan would take it, how uncomfortable he’d be with having Boyd back in Harlan, but this was why he was here.

He took a breath, let it out, and said, “I talked to Helen last night.”

Though they were barely touching, Boyd felt Raylan tense up. Raylan looked over and said, “You called her?”

“Yeah. I needed to find out some stuff, figured if anyone would know, she would.”

Raylan was quiet for a bit, then he sighed lightly and asked, “Well, did she help you?”

“She did, quite a bit. She also said...” Boyd paused, not sure how this was going to go over, then plowed ahead. “She said you seemed like you needed someone around.”

“She oughta mind her own business.” Raylan did not look pleased.

Boyd put his hand up to Raylan’s face and smoothed his thumb over the tense muscles and clenched jaw. “Raylan. Come on. She loves you. I love you. If you need me, I belong with you. Even if you don’t need me, even if you just want me, I belong with you. I was stupid to stay away from you for so long. By far, my biggest fault is pride, you know that about me. I didn’t want to look weak in front of you. But that was weak in itself, I can see that now. When someone loves you, letting them do for you can be a gift. I’m sorry I made it so hard to take care of me.”

Raylan rolled over to his side and stared at Boyd for what felt like a very long time. Then he slid over and gathered Boyd up in his arms, still being more careful than he really needed to be, and pulled him halfway on top of his chest. Boyd found a comfortable place for his head and closed his eyes.

After a long time, Raylan spoke. “Are you moving to Harlan?”

“I think I am. At least, for awhile. I guess I’ll just see how it goe-” His words were cut off abruptly by Raylan’s mouth on his. After he’d kissed him thoroughly, Raylan lay back and let Boyd resettle himself in the crook of his arm.

Boyd laughed and said, “I guess I was nervous for nothing, then. I thought you might be freaked out, or... something.”

“I’m a little worried about it, to be honest. There are still a lot of assholes around, you know. But... I’m sure you’ll be fine. You can take care of yourself. And when you can’t, I will. Is that okay?”

Boyd rolled his forehead into Raylan’s chest and stayed like that until he felt like he could talk again. “Yeah, that’s okay. I thought... Jesus, Raylan. I don’t know what to think about you. I thought you’d be worried about me moving down here like this. So soon.”

“Well, you ain’t movin’ in with me. But, I don’t know, Boyd. If you wanted to do that, I’d probably still say okay. It don’t seem so soon to me. It feels like...”

“I know, Raylan. I know what it feels like.”

“Do you?”

“I do now. I didn’t... at first. I was too concerned with keeping myself safe. I thought I had to, because I remembered how it felt before. I couldn’t put myself through that again. I didn’t get it, where you were coming from. Even when you gave me that truly amazing kiss, on the walk back to my house... I somehow didn’t pick up on it.”

“I guess you were rusty at figuring my shit out.”

“Yeah. Not so much now. I’m sorry, though. I regret it. I wish I’d understood. But now I do. You want to try it again?”

“The kiss?” Raylan looked at him with surprise and amusement. “I think we’ve kissed plenty since then.”

Boyd looked at him patiently and said, “Yes. But not that kiss.”

Raylan raised a skeptical eyebrow at him and said, "How's that supposed to work?"

Boyd raised up onto his elbow and put his other hand on Raylan’s neck. He looked into his eyes, stroked his skin and leaned in very slowly. Before he kissed him, he whispered, “What took us so long, Raylan?” and then pressed his lips to Raylan’s. He pulled back and spoke again, saying, “I wanted you forever. Now I got you. Hardly feels real.”

Raylan only moved to wrap an arm around Boyd’s waist. Boyd kissed him with the same restraint he remembered sensing in Raylan, that night in Richmond, feeling his desire build again, but not doing anything with it but letting it speak to Raylan through his lips, his touch, and his tenderness.

He stopped when Raylan started smiling too much to kiss properly, and pulled away to ask him why.

Still smiling, Raylan said, “Is that how it was? How in the world did you say no to me?”

Boyd huffed out a soft laugh and said, “Well... we weren’t naked at the time. That probably helped.”

"If this really was 1989, we could do it like three more times now."

Boyd laughed and said, "If it was, we would already have done it three times. There's something to be said for age and experience."

“Something to be said for fucking three times in a row, too.”

Boyd laughed and said, “What I really want right now is something to eat. You got any eggs?”

“Um...”

Boyd rolled his eyes and sat up, pulled on his jeans and went into the kitchen to find something. He settled for a can of soup and wondered how long he’d be able to hold out before he started doing Raylan’s grocery shopping for him.

The next morning, after Raylan left for work, Boyd busied himself with phone calls. Thanks to Helen, he had a pretty good idea of what he had, though he was sure that there were holdings Bo had managed to keep secret even from a venerable Harlan woman like Helen Givens.

At around ten, he drove into town and bought a coffee maker, then stopped at the grocery store for coffee. He picked up the coffee, started toward the checkout, then stopped. He rolled his eyes, turned around, and went to grab a cart. Maintaining a constant stream of grumbling inside his own head, he filled the cart with food that he liked, and then grumbled even more as he picked up tortilla chips and a bottle of the brand of salsa that Raylan had purchased when he’d done the grocery shopping in Richmond.

On his way back to the apartment, his phone buzzed. The number was unknown to him and had an unfamiliar area code. He picked it up and said, “Boyd Crowder.”

A woman’s voice came over the line, low and sexy, and he had a feeling he knew exactly who he was speaking with. “Mr. Crowder, I’m so glad to get ahold of you. My name is Carol Johnson, and I work for the Black Pike Mining Company. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for weeks about some property your father owned. It seems that the deeds will fall to you, as you are the sole remaining heir, and there is no will.”

Boyd smiled grimly and said, “That very well may be true, but I cannot imagine what concern that is of yours. I know you’re perfectly aware of who I am, and I’m quite sure Raylan has informed you that I have no plans to sell out to the company.”

“Yes, he’s made that quite clear. I’d still like to hear it from you, however, preferably in person. Why don’t you let me buy you lunch?”

“How did you even know I was in Kentucky?”

“Oh, it was an educated guess, based on Marshal Givens’ unusual good mood, and the stubble burn on his mouth. Then, when I asked him, he told me to mind my own goddamn business, which I took as a yes.”

Boyd grinned into the phone and said, "Lady, I'm sure you're pretty smart, and you're used to being the cleverest person in the room. I know the feeling. But I'm not trying to work any angles or get over on you. All I want is the land that's been in my family for generations."

"Just meet with me today. All I want to do is talk to you, face to face, then you can make up your mind."

"I've already made up my mind."

"Please, just lunch. This afternoon. Raylan will be there too."

"You're wasting your time.”

“Let me worry about that.”

Boyd sighed, and finally agreed. He was sort of curious about her anyway, based on what Raylan had told him. She offered to come and pick him up, but he said he'd be fine driving himself.

After putting away the food he'd bought, Boyd showered and put on some nicer clothes. The place they were having lunch sounded a little on the upscale side.

He found street parking about a block from the restaurant, and arrived just a few minutes before the time she'd told him. When he went inside, he found her already at a table, flirting with Raylan. While ordinarily, Boyd liked watching that, he could tell from Raylan's body language that it bothered him.

As Boyd approached the table, Raylan looked up and gave him a smile of relief. Carol Johnson stood up to shake his hand and introduce herself. She was the kind of beautiful woman he had always found slightly... terrifying. She was imposing, and the look on her face made it clear that she saw the world as it really was. She knew how things worked. Boyd understood her perfectly well, and wasn't surprised to hear that she was from Harlan originally, nor that she hadn't been living there for some time.

When they'd ordered drinks, Carol leaned forward and aimed the same ruthless, charged energy at him that she'd been throwing at Raylan, previously. She said, "So, your plan is to move back to Harlan County so you can be close to Raylan, I suppose? Why not just sell and get a place in Lexington?"

"My motivations aren't nearly as simple as you think."

"Oh, right. I suppose it's a coincidence then, you getting the urge to come back here now."

"My reasons are not your concern."

"Mr. Crowder... or, may I call you Boyd?"

"I couldn't care less what you call me, as you won't be seeing me again after today."

"I feel as if we've started off on the wrong foot. I respect your loyalty to where you come from, and to your family's legacy. You may not believe it, but I do understand that. I have to wonder, though, how you think it's going to be for you, living down there. Are you going to wear that jacket out to dinner at the Dairy Queen? It's very nice, by the way. Or maybe you see yourself throwing cocktail parties in the holler?”

Raylan had been quietly seething, Boyd had felt it coming off of him, and he broke in now. “You know he’s not selling to you. I told you, and he told you. What’s the point of any of this? Entertainment? You enjoying yourself?”

“Certainly I am, though that’s not why I’m doing it. Something I’ve learned in this job is that people often can’t see the bigger picture. They make decisions for emotional reasons, whether that’s familiarity, or love, or anger, or something else. But when they’re given the opportunity to see past that, they realize what’s in their own best interests.”

“You obviously don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

Carol smiled, seemingly charmed by that statement. “I can see how much you respect him. You have a great deal of faith in him, don’t you?”

“I have good reason to. He has had my back on numerous occasions, the first time being when we were 19, down in that mine. He pulled me outta there when I was too paralyzed with fear to do it myself. He knows what it is to be down there. He ain't gonna sell out to a company who looks at a community, and a people, and sees only dollar signs. If he did that, he wouldn’t be the man I believe him to be.”

“The mine is always going to be there, Raylan. You think stopping this project is going to keep that from happening? And anyway, mountaintop removal is far safer for the miners. That kind of collapse simply doesn’t happen, with these modern methods.”

Boyd eyed her keenly and said, “I know you understand that we’re not buying your brand of bullshit. Why keep it up? It must be exhausting.”

“Actually, I find it invigorating. It kind of turns me on, if you must know. Kind of like the two of you. I figured any boyfriend of Raylan’s would be something to see. You’re definitely worth the price of lunch, Mr. Crowder.”

“Well, I don’t think you have to worry about that today. I don’t feel too hungry just now.”

Carol laughed, sounding pleased. “You’ll be happy to hear, that’s exactly what Raylan told me the other night.”

Boyd stood up and said, “Raylan, I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

They went out to the front of the restaurant and Raylan gave him a rueful grin. “I was shocked you even agreed to lunch. She’s a piece of work, ain’t she?”

“Indeed. Hey, what time you think you’ll get home?”

“Maybe around 5:30, long as nothing comes up. You want to go out to eat?”

“Nope. I’m cooking.”

Raylan smiled, and said, “I’d give you a kiss, but I’m pretty sure she can see us from the table. Wouldn’t want to give her more source material, you know what I’m saying?”

“You’d kiss me? Right here on the street in Lexington?” Boyd smirked at him. “This is still Kentucky, you know,” he quoted.

Raylan shrugged. “I got a gun.”

 

Boyd spent the next few days on the phone and meeting with people in order to find out what he actually owned, and and his evenings cooking for - and on one mostly enjoyable though somewhat irritating occasion - with Raylan.

Their nights were spent wrapped up in each other, and Boyd found himself coming around to the man’s more tactile sleeping preferences. He usually rolled away in his sleep, but he had grown to enjoy drifting off with Raylan's arm thrown across his body or his own wrapped around Raylan’s chest, their bodies flush against one another.

 

Friday morning, Raylan must have gotten out of bed very carefully, because Boyd didn’t wake up until he felt him slide back under the covers, cool and still damp from the shower. He rolled over and buried his face in Raylan’s neck, smelling his shampoo and licking drops of water off his skin.

“Good morning, Boyd,” he said, smiling.

“Looks that way to me,” Boyd murmured, and rolled over on top of him. He reached down and took both of them in hand, stroking slowly, and covered Raylan’s mouth with his own. Raylan made a muffled grunt and shifted his hips upward, asking for more.

Boyd kept his pace, but smiled, and started talking to him. “I want to see your face when you’re desperate, Raylan. When you can’t take it a second longer and you beg me to let you come.”

Raylan closed his eyes and Boyd kept talking. “I remember this one time, back then, we were out at the lake, swimming. We were drinking, of course, but not too drunk. I saw you watching me. You looked like that then. Desperate for something. I thought you were gonna do it.”

Raylan gasped and opened his eyes. “Jesus, Boyd. I know the night you mean. I remember... thinking I was glad we were in the water so you couldn’t see how hard I was. I didn’t know what to do.”

Now it was Boyd’s turn to react, and he let out a low moan as he slid himself against Raylan. “You know what to do now, don’t you, boy?”

“I wish I’d done it. I should have... walked right over to you and... kissed you, and... put my hands on you. I think I knew you’d let me. I must have known.” Boyd could hear the regret in his voice, and he both loved and hated it. He doubted they’d ever get rid of it entirely - maybe he didn’t want to, even - but he didn’t want Raylan to be sad. Especially not now.

“Let’s just pretend like we did, Raylan, for a minute. In our minds, we did, anyway, right?”

“Oh, God, all the time.”

“I want you to look at me like that again. Like you want it so bad, you just don’t know what to do.”

“Almost there already... God, you were so... I wanted you so much.” His voice still held a bit of grief in it, and Boyd needed to put an end to that. He hadn’t wanted to open up anything, first thing in the morning, when Raylan had to go to work.

Boyd pressed their lips together and moved his hand faster, still picturing that long-ago scene at the lake. It might have made Raylan sad, but all Boyd could think of was the expression on that boy’s face, that longing and confusion. He’d thought of nothing but that look, later that night, alone in his room.

“Did you think about me later, Raylan? After you went home that night?”

“Yes...”

“What did you do?”

“I...” Raylan laughed a little breathlessly, but went on gamely. “I went straight upstairs to take a shower. My dick was so hard I was almost afraid to touch it. But that’s what I did. I touched myself and thought of you. It took me about thirty seconds to get off. Then I washed my hair, and I jerked off again. Imagined it was you doin’ it.”

Boyd had wanted to see Raylan’s face all messed up and begging for it, but he had a feeling his own face might be close to the same just about now. He spoke again, so ready now, his voice coming soft between his panting breaths. “In my mind, you came to bed with me that night, Raylan, and I had you under me, just like this. And I was touching you, and all I could see were your eyes on mine, and you wanted me like I wanted you, and you said...”

“Boyd... please. Now. I need it so bad.”

That was all he was waiting for, and he leaned forward, jerking their cocks faster, harder, and the only words he could access were “Raylan” and “God” and “fuck.” He looked at Raylan, and he could see that boy again. He could always see him, anyway, but at certain times more than others. They came, at the same time or close enough, and Boyd collapsed on top of him. When he started to roll off to the side, Raylan pulled him back.

“Don’t go anywhere just yet.”

“Where would I go?"

"I feel like I need to make up for lost time. But I know we can never really do that."

"Wasn't lost, not really. It just wasn't our time yet. We got years and years if we want them. It's not so late."

Raylan pulled him in tighter for a second, then released him to let him slide over to his side. "Will you let me take you out to dinner tonight? I like your cooking, but I feel like treating you."

"I was just gonna offer to take you out."

"Next time."

"Sure," Boyd said, grinning. "By the way, I forgot to tell you, but I'm having lunch with Winona today."

Raylan pushed down a grimace and said, "Oh yeah? That's nice," in a mild tone.

"I know you're weirded out by it, Raylan. You don't have to pretend."

"No..." he said, obviously lying, "It's fine. It's good. Just..."

"No double dates with Gary. Don't worry," Boyd said, winking.

"Good lord. I was just gonna say... don't let her make you think less of me. I wasn't really a great husband to her, I know that."

"Maybe I'll give her Joe's number and they can bitch to each other about how emotionally unavailable we are. I'm on your side, Raylan, remember? You know, 'cause of the love and all that?"

Raylan smacked himself lightly on the forehead and said, "Oh yeah. I'm always forgetting about that."

Boyd got up to take a shower, and Raylan hopped in for a minute to rinse the come off his stomach. He kissed Boyd on the cheek, got out, and when Boyd came out of the bathroom he was already gone.

 

Boyd got to the restaurant first, and stood up when he saw Winona walking towards the table. She brushed her cheek against his, and they sat down.

"I'm sorry I'm late, I got held up by Judge Reardon. That man will talk your ear off if you let him."

"Raylan told me about him. He sounds like quite a character."

"Oh, he is. And he loves Raylan, my god. In fact, the only way I was able to get away is I told him I was having lunch with Raylan's boyfriend. He got a kick out of that, let me tell you. He said I better not make a Crowder wait, and he sent me on my way."

Boyd was laughing when the waiter came over to take their drink orders. While they waited for them, they made small talk about Richmond, and their respective jobs. Boyd studied her face discreetly, and thought about what she and Raylan must have looked like together.

They would have been a golden couple, likely inspiring envy from other, more ordinary couples everywhere they went. He wondered if either of them had been conscious of this when they first met, had felt the inevitability of their own perfection. Winona may have been, Boyd thought, but not Raylan. He didn't think of himself that way. He knew how people saw him, but he never really believed it.

"So," she said, sipping at the wine that had just been delivered, "How long are you staying in town?”

“Well... I have some legal business to attend to, so probably about another week or so. Then I’m heading back to put my house on the market."

"Oh! I didn't realize you were... Are you..."

"I've come into some property, it seems. I'm planning to build a house on some of it."

"In Harlan."

"Yes."

"Wow. That's... how does Raylan feel about that?"

"He seems happy enough about it. Harlan's going to be a challenge in some ways, we both know that. And of course, I'll be spending a lot of time at his place while the house is going up. So that'll be... something new for us."

Winona was looking at him like she was trying to work something out. She started to speak, then stopped herself and drank some more wine.

The waiter reappeared and took their lunch orders, and when he'd left, Boyd said, "What were you going to say? I'm not going to get mad about anything."

Winona shook her head and looked into her glass. "I just... I'm happy for Raylan. I really am. I'm glad he's happy. And you seem... well, great. I like you. But... you have to understand something. Whenever I see you, I'm reminded, every time, about what Raylan kept from me for so many years. He kept this important thing, this big part of who he was, secret from me. He said he didn't think it mattered, but... how could that be true? How could he really think that?"

Boyd nodded at her, and he knew he couldn't argue with what she was saying. Raylan had been dishonest, as much with himself as with her. "He was wrong to do that. He was afraid of it, if I had to guess. It's not so easy. For me, there was no choice, as the other option would have been loneliness and misery. Raylan thought he could make the simpler choice and ignore the rest of it. It could be that he just didn't know it wouldn't work. He was young still, when he met you, wasn't he?"

She sighed. "Yes, he was young. We were young. And that's why I forgive him. And because he forgave me for what I did. But it still hurts to see him... fall into this, with you, so easily. No resistance at all, as if he's just been..." She trailed off helplessly, either unsure of what she was trying to say, or afraid of the idea. Boyd could understand why she'd shy away from that.

"Raylan and I... We were each others' first loves, but we never had a chance to say that to each other. Maybe if we had, none of this would be happening now."

Winona arched her eyebrows at him and said, "Maybe you would have had a happily ever after."

"It's hard to imagine that it would have been anything other than a disaster. I suppose you can never say for sure. But what it is now, is something that I've never felt before. I've been in love, but this feels like something more than that. I don't know what else to tell you about it, really. It's strange for me too."

"He never told me how you ran into each other that time."

Boyd blinked at her, not really sure if he should answer. He didn't know if Raylan had kept it from her intentionally, or if he just hadn't seen any reason to mention it. Finally, he gave an internal shrug, figuring there was no real harm it could do, and he told her.

She sat staring at him for half a minute or do, then drank some more wine. She finally said, in a strained voice, "How long was he doing that?" and Boyd realized, belatedly, why Raylan might not have wanted to share the information.

"Winona. He told me that he was never with a man until the two of you split up. Not before you, and certainly not while he was with you. Now, I have no reason to lie to you, and I can't see a reason for him to lie to me about it."

"But as soon as we split up, he decided he wanted to be with men."

"He wanted to have sex with men, sometimes," Boyd clarified.

"God, this is so weird. I mean, I'm sorry, I don't mean you're weird, I just mean- "

"I know what you mean. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable I'd feel, if the situation were reversed." Boyd shrugged. "Look, if you’re worried that he was using you for... cover, or something, I know that’s not true. He loved you. And anyway, I remember him in high school.” Boyd gave her a small grin and said, “I know what covering looks like, and that wasn’t it. He liked girls plenty.”

Her shoulders sagged a little and she looked relieved. He thought she might have been carrying that around with her for awhile.

"Okay. Thank you. Even if you're just saying that, I appreciate it."

"I'm not. I promise."

Their food came soon after, and they chatted about much lighter things as they ate their food. Boyd picked up the check, and when they were outside the restaurant, Winona gave him a brief, but strong, hug.

"You be careful in Harlan. I think you're damn crazy. What if you hate it? What if you miss the city, and your friends? What if people are terrible to you and vandalize your house?"

"I guess any of that could happen. But I know I'm finished with what I’ve been doing. I thought I was free, but I was still hiding. I thought I was fine, and content, but looking back, I think I was just empty. I want back what I lost.”

"Just... be careful. Raylan doesn't always make the people he loves a priority. He doesn’t mean for that to happen, I know, but that doesn’t make it easy to live with. Maybe... well, I don’t know, maybe he’ll be different for you.”

Boyd smiled and nodded, but didn’t try to answer her. He wasn’t counting on Raylan being different. He didn’t need him to be, or want him to be. He thought they would be able to give each other enough space to deal with their own business, and that sounded just fine to Boyd.

 

Boyd had fallen asleep on Raylan’s couch while reading, and when his phone rang, he woke up disoriented, with an unpleasant headache. It took him a few seconds even to figure out what he was supposed to do, before he fumbled for his phone, and he reminded himself that he really should not drink in the afternoon.

“Hello.”

“Boyd, hey,” he said, and Boyd could hear the tension in his voice. “Uh... I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna make it in time for our reservation tonight. You should go ahead and eat without me.”

“What’s going on, Raylan?”

“I can’t get into it right now, but there’s some bad shit about to go down.”

Raylan. Tell me. The short version, okay?”

“It’s Loretta. She got picked up from her foster home by Wade Messer. You remember him?”

“Unfortunately. What the hell’s she doing with him?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m afraid she’s gonna go after Mags. I need to find Messer as fast as I can, try to get to her before she goes anywhere near the old woman.”

“You gonna send someone out to the Bennetts’? Obviously the local PD is not an option, but -”

“Boyd, I gotta go. I’m sorry. I’ll call you when I know something.”

“Raylan -” Boyd heard the silence of a dead line, and tossed his phone down on the sofa.

He sat for a minute, thinking. Boyd knew perfectly well that Raylan wouldn’t want him involved. He was also sure that Raylan hadn’t called anyone else. He’d feel like he could, or should, handle this on his own, God knew why. He realized, now, what a wonder it was that he’d asked Tim to come along when they’d gone to see his daddy - not that it had made a difference in the end.

Boyd made his decision, and picked his phone up again. If he was going to Harlan to find Raylan, he wasn’t going unarmed, or uninformed. Fortunately, he had a great resource in Harlan, and as the lady herself had told him, it’s about who you know.

 

Boyd pulled up into the drive in front of the Givens home, a place he hadn’t set foot on in twenty years. He had an idea of how this was going to go, and it wasn’t good, but he had no time to fret about it now.

Helen came to the door before he knocked, shotgun in hand, and said, “You better get on your way now, Boyd. If Arlo realizes - “

At that moment, Raylan’s father came pushing his way past Helen, and shoving at Boyd’s chest. “Just what in the name of God do you think you’re doing here? You got no right being on my property, Crowder.” He was practically spitting with fury, and Boyd had just a moment to wonder what the hell the man was so angry about. He didn’t care about Raylan, had made that plenty clear from the start, so why should he be so invested in his choice of lovers? Nothing but fear, he supposed. Fear of what people would think of him, which was kind of hilarious, considering how little respect people had for the man already.

He spoke calmly, accessing some well of ice water inside of him that he hadn’t even been aware still existed until very recently. “Arlo. How nice to see you. I won’t be staying, I just came to borrow something from Helen here. I’ll be sure to return it at the first opportunity. Or I could ask Raylan to drop it off, if you’d prefer that.”

“He ain’t any more welcome here than you are. And you ain’t borrowing shit. You better get your faggot ass off my property right now, boy, or I just might test that there shotgun on you.” Arlo poked his index finger hard into Boyd’s chest, painfully close to where he’d been shot, and was attempting to advance on him, push him back.

“I see.” Boyd’s face changed then, hardened, and he stared intensely at the old man. “I’m going to tell you a couple things right now, Arlo Givens, and you would be well advised to listen.” Arlo surprised him by simply glaring at him. “First, you need to take your damn hands off me. Second, the only reason I’m here is that I believe that Raylan is in danger. I’m quite sure you don’t give a shit about that, but I do. Because, Arlo, you miserable old fuck, I have loved your son since we were teenagers. You hate that? I don’t care. You did all you could to try to destroy him, all the time he lived with you. And you’d like to do it still, and hell if I can figure out why. But I know you failed, because Raylan is a good man. He’s nothing like you.”

Boyd was breathing hard, and Arlo’s mouth was twisted into an ugly grimace. “Helen,” he said, still staring at Arlo, “I’ll take that now.”

She handed the gun over to him, and he backed away a few steps before turning around to walk briskly to the truck.

 

Boyd parked at the bottom of the hill to where Helen had told him Messer’s place was. He crept silently up the slope, cradling the shotgun in his hands. As he neared the top, the first thing he saw made him wonder if he was seeing things, because it appeared to be Dickie Bennett with a baseball bat in his hands, about to take what looked like a home run swing. Then, almost right away, he saw what was hanging in a net in front of Dickie. He saw the hat first, upside down at the base of the tree, then heard Raylan’s voice. What the fuck, he thought, and he recalled Joe’s words to him in the hospital. What kind of crazy place did he come from, anyway?

“Dickie Bennett, you fucking asshole. Put that bat down before I shoot your ass. Now.”

Dickie turned around quickly, and the expression on his face was almost petulant. He looked like a child who got a toy taken away for being naughty.

“Well, is that Boyd Crowder? I heard you been back from the dead. But this here is between Raylan and me. It don’t really concern you.”

“You know perfectly well it concerns me. That’s my damn boyfriend you got strung up there. Jesus Christ. And I said, put the fucking bat down.”

Dickie sighed in defeat, and dropped the bat. “Okay, okay. My goodness, life sure works out in strange ways, don’t it? ‘Course, it ain’t like people didn’t talk about you two even back then.”

Boyd sighed and said, “Dickie, shut the fuck up, will you? Just cut him down.”

“I ain’t got no knife on me.”

“You are so full of shit, Bennett. What kind of Kentucky man don’t carry a knife on him? I lived away for almost twenty years and I never lost the habit. Cut him down before I shoot you in your good leg.”

Dickie cut him down, and Raylan fell hard onto the ground, crying out in pain. When he stood, he was cradling his left arm. Boyd thought his shoulder might be dislocated. He glared at Dickie, and said, “Did you hit him? Raylan, did he hit you with that goddamn bat?”

Raylan walked over to him and said, “Yeah, he got me. I’ll be okay. It ain’t broken. He always did have a weak-ass swing.”

“Can you handcuff him?”

“I’m sure I can find the strength for such a pleasant task.” Boyd kept the gun trained on him as Raylan walked over. “Throw the knife away, and get down on the ground, on your belly, asshole.” Raylan pulled his arms back roughly and put the cuffs on him. “Now get up. Let’s go.” Dickie struggled to his feet and Raylan pushed him toward the car.

After Raylan had maneuvered Dickie into the back seat, Boyd lowered the shotgun and walked towards the tree. He picked up Raylan’s hat, brushed it off, and came back to settle it on his head. Raylan looked at him gratefully, and touched a finger to the brim. Goddamn, Boyd thought, and shook himself slightly.

"Loretta's probably at the Bennett place by now."

Boyd nodded quickly and said, "Okay, let's go get her."

"You follow behind me, park over the rise where they can't see you from the house. I gotta use Dickie to get into that house, there's no way I'm getting in otherwise."

"Raylan, that sounds like a bad idea. You're gonna... what, hold a gun to his head and threaten to shoot him if they won't let you in? First off, what if they call your bluff? I know they're stupid, and maybe they think you're crazier than you are, but I wouldn't count on that. Second, this is Dickie. How do you know they wouldn't just welcome the opportunity to get rid of him? The Bennetts aren't exactly a sentimental lot."

Raylan looked like he was giving this some thought, and he asked, "Well, what did you have in mind, then?"

"Who do you think is on the door? Doyle?"

"Ain't no one else left. Gotta be."

"I can get in there. He doesn't know me. He's four years older than us, and he didn't go to school in Harlan. I think I might have met him once when I was a kid - maybe 11 years old - but he wouldn't remember that. I pull up in my truck with Virginia plates, say I'm a... lawyer for Black Pike, and I got a new offer for the land. Much bigger."

"I don't know, Boyd. He remembered me."

"Of course he did, because of Dickie. I never had any contact with him though."

"You think you can fool him? Your grammar might be better, but you still sound real homelike." Raylan smiled then and said, "More so all the time, I noticed."

"Yeah, but..." Boyd paused for a second, then said in flawless Standard American, "I'm a hell of an actor when I need to be."

Raylan's eyes widened, and he said, "Jesus, that's weird. Yeah, okay, but..." His eyes flicked to Boyd's chest and back up to his eyes, and Boyd hardened his expression.

"Raylan, this is a good plan and you know it. That little girl's life and future are in danger. You want to protect me at her expense?"

Raylan's face was set stubbornly, and Boyd could tell he was fighting with himself about this.

“You know, Helen gave me some advice. She said I should never forget that I'm a Crowder. Now, I'm not entirely sure what she meant by that, but right now I'm taking it to mean that I don't take orders from any damn Givens. I'm going in there whether you like it or not. If you want it to work, you'll stay back and let me do it."

Raylan's mouth had fallen slightly open, and he was staring in what looked like fascination at Boyd. He said, "Okay, Boyd," and nodded at him. "I'll park over the rise, then, and find a position as close to the house as I can get. You call me as soon as you get her out of there. Yeah?"

"Yeah." Boyd kissed him real quick, then jogged over to his truck.

 

Boyd got into the house with very little trouble. Any suspicions Doyle might have harbored were allayed by the greed he obviously felt when Boyd mentioned the increased offer.

Mags eyed up Boyd as he entered her living room, her expression one of tired, amused resignation. Boyd walked forward cautiously, keeping his eye on Loretta, who held a gun in her hand, trained on Mags. Mags was sitting on a chair, her leg a bloody mess, but otherwise composed.

“Well, I’ll be. Boyd Crowder. Ain’t seen you in nearly forever, son.” Her voice sounded a bit weak, but strangely affectionate.

“Yes, ma’am. I been away.”

“I know where you been. Your daddy kept tabs on you, you know.”

Boyd glanced over and raised his eyebrows at her, then returned his gaze to Loretta. He couldn’t say he was terribly surprised - his father hadn’t been one to leave much to chance. He knew it wasn’t out of any kind of concern for his well-being.

Mags smiled slyly at him and said, “So, you coming back for good, now you got that land? Or you gonna sell out to Black Pike and make some money?”

“I won’t be selling to them. Beyond that, I can’t say as I have any firm plans at this time.”

“Seems like you went through an awful lot for someone who don’t have any plans.”

“Mags, I would love to continue this conversation with you at some other time,” and as he spoke, he realized it was almost true, “but right now I am rather concerned with Loretta here, and the gun she currently holds in her hand.”

Loretta frowned at him and asked in an agitated voice, “How do you know my name? I don’t know you.”

“Raylan told me. Raylan Givens, the Marshal? You know him.”

“Why’d he send you in here, instead of coming in himself?” she said suspiciously.

“I offered to go, because I thought I could get in without anyone having to get hurt.”

“You don’t look like no Marshal.”

“No, I’m not. I’m just a good friend of Raylan’s.” Mags snorted softly at that, but Boyd ignored her. “I grew up here too, just like him. We used to mine coal together, for a bit.”

Loretta looked at Boyd suspiciously and said, “You don’t look like it. You look like city folk.”

Boyd smiled at her and said, “Well, I been living in the city for a long time now. But I haven’t forgotten anything. I’ll tell you all about where I been, and why, if you’ll give that gun over to me. Then we can go outside and talk.”

“She killed my daddy! She tried to... to... to act like she cared about me.” She looked like she might want to throw up.

Boyd nodded, and said, “I know. I heard all about it. I’m so sorry, sweetheart, but if you do this... if you kill her, all you’re doing is ruining your own life.”

She made a dismissive sound and said, “I thought you said you were from here. Crowder, I know that name. You ought to understand why I need to do this.”

“There was once a time when I would have done this very thing. You’re doing what you’ve been taught is right, and I respect that. So much. You were brave as hell to come here. I have to tell you, however, that in my time away I have come to certain conclusions about some of our traditions and practices. You’re smart, I can see that. Now, Mags here, she’s smart too. But she never got a chance to use that for herself. She had to use it all up on duty, and family, and vengeance, and tradition. She may not see it as a waste, but I do. I know what else there is in the world. Even if you decide you don’t want it, you should at least see what’s there. If you do this, you never will.”

Loretta stared at Boyd for another thirty seconds or so, then walked over slowly and held the gun out to him. Boyd was pleased to see that her hand was mostly steady as she did so, and after he took it from her, he gave her an approving nod.

They exited into the bright autumn afternoon sun, blinking after the dim living room. They walked out to his truck, got in, and Boyd drove them away out of the yard. Loretta stared out the window while Boyd called Raylan's cell. He let him know that Loretta was clear of the house, and the two of them sat and waited.

Loretta looked at him curiously and said, "You're really a friend of Raylan's? No offense, but you look kind of..." She trailed off as she seemed to realize she was being rude.

"Gay?"

Loretta’s head rocked back a little bit and she looked at him with widened eyes. “I wasn’t gonna say that. I don’t really know what I meant.” She stared at him some more and then said, “Are you?”

Boyd nodded, soberly but with a hint of amusement at her shock.

“He don’t care?”

"Why? You think he wouldn't want a gay friend?"

She shrugged and looked at him like she thought it was a stupid question. "I don't know. Most guys from around here wouldn't."

Boyd sighed and said, "Well, sadly I can't really argue with that. But Raylan never was one for doing things just because that's what other people do."

"Is that why you been away in the city?"

"Yep. I live in Richmond, Virginia."

"So why did you come back? What did she mean about what you went through?"

"My father was less than pleased to see me coming around. I ended up getting shot, right here." He put his hand above his heart, and her eyes widened a little.

In the distance, Boyd could hear sirens.

"Why didn't you just stay away?"

"That's a question with several answers, and they're all right. But really, the truth is I came back for Raylan."

Loretta looked at him, and Boyd recognized the expressionless look that indicated a person was trying to figure out if you were full of shit or not.

"You came back for him? You mean... he's like, your boyfriend?"

Boyd grinned at her then and said, "He's the love of my goddamn life, if you must know."

She smiled, and Boyd was charmed and a little bit relieved to see her blush. "It's hard to imagine finding the love of my life in this place."

"Good. I don't think you should imagine such a thing. There's all kinds of things out there for you. Harlan will always be here, if you decide it's what you want, later."

"Why do you want it? Don’t you like the city?”

Boyd nodded and replied, “I have a good life there. I do like it. But this is home, and I was kept from it for a long time. Maybe I just want to see if I can find a way to fit, here, again.”

Loretta raised her eyebrows skeptically. “People ain’t gonna be nice to you.”

“People weren’t necessarily nice to me before, either, just scared of me because of who my daddy was, or because of how I had to be. I never placed a very high premium on ‘nice.’ I made it through 19 years in Harlan - you think I’m accustomed to taking a great deal of shit from anybody?”

She laughed and glanced at Boyd, almost shyly. “I don’t take no shit neither.”

“I can see that.”

Boyd’s phone buzzed then, and he glanced at the screen before picking up. “Hey, Raylan.”

“Hey. I’m just waitin’ on the paramedics. Doyle tried to pull on me, and I shot him in the shoulder, but he and Mags’ll both be okay. How’s Loretta?”

“Raylan, this girl is just fine. She’s as tough as they make ‘em. You want to talk to her?”

“Sure.”

Boyd held the phone out to her. She took it tentatively, and said, “Hi.”

Boyd listened to her end of the conversation, and realized that change had, in fact, come to Harlan County. Much more slowly than to other places, but time did not stand still, even here. Thank the good lord for television.

“I met your boyfriend,” she said, in mildly taunting, schoolgirl fashion.

“He’s okay,” she said, after a pause, and then, “He dresses better’n you.”

Boyd could hear the faint sound of Raylan laughing over the line, and leaned his head back on the seat until Loretta finished talking and handed the phone back to him.

“Raylan, you surely owe me dinner when this is all wrapped up.”

“I owe you more than that. Don’t think I don’t know it.”

“Well, if you say so. We can start with dinner, though, okay?”

“Okay.”

Boyd caught some movement in the corner of his vision, and looked up to see Raylan coming up over the rise, still holding the phone to his ear. When he saw Boyd notice him, he snapped it shut and pocketed it, then walked over to the passenger side window. Boyd got out of the truck and leaned against the bed as Raylan and Loretta talked in low voices for a minute. Then Raylan walked around to lean next to him.

“State police and paramedics are here. I gave a statement, though I’m sure I’ll have more talking to do in the next week or so. Someone’ll be up here in a few minutes to take Dickie off our hands." They both glanced over to Raylan's vehicle, where Dickie Bennett had fallen asleep with his head leaning against the window.

“You think he was gonna kill you?”

Raylan shrugged, and Boyd noticed that it was lopsided. Raylan was going to have to see a doctor about that shoulder. “I don’t know. Not sure he had it in him. Maybe he just wanted to have his way with me,” he said, and raised a suggestive eyebrow.

Boyd laughed and said, “Yeah, well, I told you. That boy had it bad for you.”

“God, I hope not. That would just be too fuckin’ sad.”

“So after they come get him, we can go?”

“No, we still need to wait for children’s services. Loretta’s gonna have to be taken into custody for shooting Mags, but she needs an advocate with her.”

“Mags Bennett got off easy, you ask me.”

“No argument here. But no way does Loretta need to carry a murder around with her, her whole life, even if she never got caught.”

“No.”

Raylan slid his arm around Boyd’s waist and pulled him closer. Boyd sighed, and said, “Hey, Raylan?”

“Yeah?”

“Remember what you told Carol Johnson about me? How I wouldn’t be the man you thought you knew if I sold out to Black Pike?”

“Yeah. It’s true. What about it?”

Boyd looked at Raylan now, imagining how it would feel to go up against him, for the face he loved so much to be the face of an enemy. He thought of that ride down to Harlan, with Raylan and Tim, sitting in the back seat of that car.

“What if I’d never left here? What if... What if you’d come back here after being away all that time, and I was still here, like you expected. But instead of waiting for you, I’d given up on you. You might have come down to Harlan to buy me that drink, and found a man you wouldn’t want to know. Whatever love we’d once had might have gotten all twisted up and ugly.”

Raylan was looking at him in dismay. “That ain’t what happened, Boyd. Don’t do that. What’s the point?”

“I feel like it was so close to going that way. I was so tempted to... to just, not tell. Just pretend like I was the person my daddy wanted me to be. Eventually, maybe I would have been. I can’t imagine how stunted I might have been, how cruel and cold. You would have hated me.”

“I would have been sad to see that. I would have been so angry. But I would never have hated you. I couldn’t.”

“I don’t know, Raylan. I think you’re wrong about that.”

“Boyd, I love you. I don’t want to think about any of that. I don’t want to think about having to arrest you, or... or anything else that could have happened, if things had turned out so differently. It doesn’t matter. We’re here. It almost feels like you’ve been here all along.”

Boyd laughed loudly, and said “I turned your whole life upside down. I don’t think you can say it was a seamless transition.”

“Maybe my life needed it. Either way, I don’t care. You probably would have hated me too, by the way. You would have thought I was a federal stooge and a traitor to our people.”

“Well, I do think that. I choose to overlook it in the face of your finer qualities.”

Raylan frowned and tilted his head to the side. “What are those?”

Boyd looked at him, at first unsure if he was just flirting or something, or if he really wanted to know. He thought Raylan might need to hear some of them, even if he wasn’t being serious, so he told him.

“Well...” he said softly, “you’re loyal. Even after what Winona did to you, you were still ready to help her without even having to think about it.” Boyd found Raylan’s hand down by his side and grasped it. “You don’t forget people.”

Raylan smiled at that and said, “I forget some people, Boyd. Just not the important ones.”

Boyd nodded, and went on. “Once you knew you wanted to be with me, you didn’t hold anything back. I had no idea that would happen, Raylan. You really surprised me with that.”

“I couldn’t help myself. I wanted you too much,” he said, and Boyd gave him a dazzling smile.

“I’ve been on my own for a lot of my life. Some of it by design, and some of it just by chance. Only one time before did I think I might want to stay with someone, but when that didn’t work out, I just kind of abandoned the idea. I thought it just wasn't for me. But then you found me again, and you... I know you won’t let me down, Raylan.”

“How do you know that? I let Winona down.”

“That’s because she wanted you to be something you’re not capable of being. She knows that, I think. She wanted Gary in a Raylan suit.”

Raylan laughed and made a face, but didn’t say anything. He seemed to be waiting for more. Boyd grinned at him and said, “And of course, there’s the hat.”

Raylan picked up his hat and resettled it further back on his head. “What, this hat?”

“That hat, Raylan, is the sexiest item of clothing I believe I have ever seen on a man. You wear that hat.”

Loretta’s voice piped up then from inside the cab of the truck. “Y’all know I can hear you, right?”

Raylan called back, “Well, it might have been polite to let us know that before you listened to our entire conversation.”

“Least I stopped you before the sex talk. And anyway, old Mags always told me to keep my ears open. She said you never know when you're hearin' something useful."

"You keepin' her advice, then?"

"Well, she took enough from me. I might as well get something back."

Boyd tilted his head back and grinned at the sky. "I do believe I love this girl, Raylan."

"I know it. She just kinda storms her way into your heart, don't she?"

"She won't have to go to juvie or anything, will she?"

"I don't think so. Not if I have anything to say about it."

They were quiet for a little while, lost in their own thoughts, until Boyd looked at Raylan with the sober expression back on his face and said, "I'm not ever going to let you go without a fight. You know that, right?"

"You mean like you did with Joe?"

"Well, shit, Raylan. Yeah, like that. I let him go because I had too much pride to go after him. I regretted that a bunch of times. But I can't feel too bad about that now, because I got you. And I learned my lesson, okay?"

"I won't ever make you chase me, darlin'."

Boyd pulled at Raylan's shoulder until they were facing each other, and Raylan inclined his head slightly to kiss him. Boyd heard Loretta mutter, "Holy crap!" but he figured she could just mind her own business if it bothered her.

Raylan wrapped his arms around Boyd's waist and held him tight. When the kiss broke, Boyd spoke in a voice that was rough, and shakier than he'd expected. He said, "You got me, Raylan. I'm all yours now."

Raylan smiled at him in apparent amusement and said, "Even I figured out that much, Boyd. I ain't blind."