There’s a church up on the mountain, or there was. By rights it should be a pile of rock and rotted wood–it’s been abandoned since before anyone can remember. But it’s still standing, stocked with wooden pews, a rusted iron bell still fixed to the hollow of its belfry. People don’t like to go there. Even the hill folk avoid it.
When Boyd Crowder gets out of prison, a thick white knot of scar tissue dug into his chest like a lighting bolt, he starts living in it. Tells anyone who asks that he’s finally seen the light, that Raylan Givens opened up a door for him and on the other side he found the truth.
Raylan Givens didn’t find out he had magic until he was nineteen and seventeen tons of dirt and rock collapsed on top of him. He walked out of the collapsed shaft dragging Boyd Crowder with him, the dirt making way and then closing up behind him. Five other men in the shaft died, but enough people saw it happen that Raylan only had about half an hour to gasp and shake in the sunlight while watching Boyd retch into the dirt before magical law enforcement showed up.
Turns out there was a fuckup in the system about eight years earlier, and the case worker that should have arranged for Raylan to have some kind of magical education never knocked on Arlo’s door. “It might not seem like it, son, but you’re one of the lucky ones,” the officer told Raylan, right there in the parking lot outside the mine. His partner was going around waving a stick at everyone’s faces until they turned vacant and easy and couldn’t remember anything at all, and Raylan was doing his best not to puke. “Kids from No-Maj homes usually end up causing trouble a hell of a lot earlier. Fourteen-year old down in Pikeville blew up her stepmom last year. Blew the woman up, just like she’d swallowed a stick of dynamite.”
Raylan left the mine and left Harlan the same day, drove all the way down to the institute at Cincinnati with a business card that kept flaring gold every time he touched it stuck in his wallet. He worked odd jobs for a few years while scraping together a remedial degree, discovered he had something like a talent for defensive spellwork.
Magical law enforcement’s tangled up pretty tight with regular law enforcement, it turns out. Raylan ends up at Glynco, and the rest is history.
Raylan’s sent back to Kentucky as punishment for using the killing curse on a man in Florida, in plain sight of about thirty No-Majs. “He drew first,” Raylan tells the chief, shrugging one shoulder. “It was justified.”
Art rolls his eyes. “I’ve heard that one before.”
Everyone in the office wears a gun and a badge as well as a wand. They’re part of the marshal service, after all. Just a very specific division.
Someone fires a goddamn rocket launcher at the church that serves as the entryway to the magical main street in Lexington, and halfway to Harlan the sheriff’s deputy finds a man shot dead in his car, cap to a rocket launcher sitting on the seat beside him. The corpse turns out to be a wizard–some half-ass Death-eater wannabe from Oklahoma. Kentucky isn’t Florida. People still talk about scourers here.
Raylan drives up to Harlan and finds Boyd Crowder sitting calmly under a confederate flag, a sawed-off shotgun hooked over his arm. He gives Raylan a warm embrace, a shot of bourbon, and enough smooth talking that Raylan’s utterly convinced someone’s broken the statute of secrecy in Harlan County, and the reigning hillbilly kingpin’s trying to squeeze some money of of it.
“Been so long since you came home, I almost forgot the look you get when you reckon you know something,” Boyd says, giving him that snake charmer’s grin. “Though I never have forgotten the day you left.”
“It was memorable,” Raylan agrees, even though he knows Boyd was obliviated, same as the others. “Can’t blame me for wanting to get out.”
“You talked to your daddy yet?” Boyd asks, still white-toothed and close.
“Boyd,” Raylan says, friendly-like. “What would you do if I came back here with a warrant and a memory charm with your name on it?”
“I’m not at all sure what you mean by memory charm,” Boyd says in the same tone, leaning in. “But I’d say any lawman ought to tread carefully in these hills, warrant or not. Lots of strange arsenals stashed up here.”
Ava’s a Squib, although the Randolphs are one of the oldest wizarding families in Kentucky.
“Don’t suppose you’ve broken the secrecy statute lately,” Raylan drawls.
“I’m the last dregs of an old bloodline,” Ava says, sitting him down in her dining room, pushing a glass of whiskey into his hands. “I got barely enough power to cast a lighting charm. Who’d believe me even if I told them?”
Raylan nods at the bloodstain in the corner. “Not your husband, by any chance?”
Ava smiles at him, somehow even prettier than she was at seventeen. “You can’t suppose that’d matter now, Auror Givens.”
“They just call us marshals, now,” Raylan says, and sips the last of his whiskey. “And I guess I can’t.”
It’s a Hatfield amulet, dug out of some long dead witch’s grave. The Imperius curse is braided into the metal; even a No-Maj could figure how it works.
Raylan’s fought off the curse before, with a hell of an effort, but Boyd’s persuasive even without mind control powers at his disposal. He sits at the head of Ava Crowder’s dinner table and tells Raylan to eat a chicken leg. Raylan obliges, and Boyd smiles at him.
“Why don’t you tell me about that man you killed in Florida,” Boyd says cajolingly. “Did you really tell him he had twenty-four hours to get out of town?”
“I really did shoot him,” Raylan says, and Boyd immediately shakes his head.
“Ah, ah,” he says. “You tell the truth, now, son.”
“I cursed him,” Raylan admits, not bothering to resist the pull of the spell.
“With what?” Boyd asks, intent. He gives Raylan a hungry little smile. “With that little stick right there? Put it on the table.”
Raylan’s hand jerks a little putting his wand on the table, but he does it. “You know this pretty necklace ain’t gonna hold me forever,” he says calmly. “It’s old, Boyd. Liable to wear right through.”
“Is that so,” Boyd says, and reaches for the wand. “Then we best get this over with now.”
It’s right about then that Ava comes into the dining room with a shotgun leveled at Boyd’s chest. Boyd draws his gun left-handed, not letting go of Raylan’s wand, and with Boyd’s attention thus divided Raylan manages to break loose of the Imperius.
It all happens in very quick succession: Ava fires, Raylan’s hand tangles with Boyd’s over his own wand, and Boyd’s eyes meet his in one wide green moment as Raylan mutters the killing curse.
They figure out later that something went wrong with the curse, that there were too many connections between him and Boyd for it to work as it should. They were touching, they were sharing breath, Boyd’s will was cinched around Raylan’s neck, they had dug coal together.
Raylan sees Boyd onto a hospital stretcher instead of zipped into a body bag, acid green veins spidering over his chest away from the wound. Boyd murmurs “you did it, you really did it, you really are,” quiet like a dying man in Raylan’s ear, and Raylan feels unsteady even with the necklace off him, like he’s lost something, like there’s a piece of Boyd still pierced in him like a splinter.
It’s Rachel who comes up with the answer, in the end, slamming down a case study from the nineties onto his desk. It’s a British case, which he’s never paid a whole lot of attention to, but the killing curse and the lightning bolt scar are similar enough to rouse his interest. He rubs his thumb over the words neither shall live while the other survives, shrugs it off. There’s a headstone with his name on it planted in his daddy’s yard. Not like a curse makes much of a difference, assuming there is some truth in it.
Boyd Crowder locks himself into the church on the mountain, sits there in that holy dark and falls to his knees. He prays, not just to God, but to the pulse of Raylan’s breath on his jaw, to the spark of bright fury in Ava’s eyes, and then for good measure he prays to the distant memory of Raylan Givens’s hand tight on his arm fifteen years earlier, dragging him out of hell and into the light. He puts his whole body and his whole soul into the prayer, and opens his eyes to the dark of the church all around him, an ancient edifice the world has forgot. He snaps his fingers, holds his breath, and a little blue light enters the world, a small star shining in his cupped palms.
“Oh Raylan,” Boyd murmurs to that little light. “I am truly grateful you’ve returned.”