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Raylan tosses his jacket on a chair, drags his boots off one by one, balancing one foot at a time, and strips out of his jeans and shirt.

He opens the mini-fridge where he’s got a barely touched bottle of Maker’s Mark for special occasions, such as when he runs out of the cheaper stuff, and takes the bottle and a glass back to the old, lumpy bed.

Now that the Judge situation has been squared away, he more than needs a drink, he deserves it.

The bed feels damn good after three days of tracking down leads and watching over the Judge at night. Raylan stretches back, coming down from the adrenaline into lassitude. He sits up and stuffs the second pillow behind him, at an angle that lets him drink without choking.

He finishes off the first glass of bourbon with his eyes closed, props up on an elbow, pours another. Sips this one.

Before he gets too comfortable, Raylan snags his jacket from the bed beside him, and extracts his phone. He can think of one thing that’ll make the evening better. He hits speed dial for Tim.

Two-three rings. “Gutterson.”

“Hey, it’s me.” Raylan says. Nothing like relaxing after working hard, and saving a life. “I got the rattlesnake guy.”

“Good for you. I’ll get you a Boy Scout badge.” Tim sounds tinny, like he’s on speakerphone. “You up for a bit?”

“I am. Could be up for you if you show up in, oh, the next 45 minutes.”

Tim snorts. “You have somewhere to be?”

“That’s how long you’ve got before I pass out, all full of bourbon and a job well done.”

“I can be there in 20. Save me some liquor,” Tim says.

“Will do.”

Tim hangs up and Raylan heaves himself off the bed to gather up a few stray pairs of shorts and socks. Then he flops back down and clicks on the early news, nurses his glass so he’s not drunk or snoring when Tim walks in.

As the local CBS affiliate winds down the weather report, there’s a sharp knock on the door.

Raylan opens up, and Tim pushes him back into the wall, and kisses him. Raylan kicks the door shut, grabs Tim’s ass and pulls him closer.

“I was going to offer you a drink,” Raylan says, against Tim’s mouth.

“Later.” Tim gets his hand in Raylan’s boxers, and Raylan’s hips jerk.

He doesn’t want to discourage Tim’s train of thought, or the hot hand saying hello to his dick, but his knees are not going to hold him upright once Tim really gets down to it. Luckily, there’s a solution just a few feet away.

“Bed. Bed. Tim, bed.” Raylan tries to guide Tim backward, but Tim shoves him into the wall, rubs all up along him, pinning him back.

‘Til now, he’s never appreciated how strong Tim is. Plus, Tim has all that Ranger and Marshal training. It really turns Raylan’s crank.

He relaxes, lets himself be trapped by Tim’s chest and thighs and hips, mouth yielding to Tim’s, dick bucking into his palm, getting hard, rising up.

Tim breaks from Raylan’s mouth. “Let’s take this to the bed.”

“That’s an idea,” Raylan says, trying to get his breath back.

They fall on the bed, eager, elbows and knees bumping. Raylan helps Tim strip off, fumbles with his own stuff. Goes down on Tim’s stiff cock with his undershirt still on and boxers around one ankle. He takes Tim deep, fast, with Tim’s hand in his hair, his own palms curving around Tim’s hips. Tim mutters, take it, right there, your mouth’s so hot.

Raylan lets Tim’s cock slide almost all the way out, takes it down again, guides the shaft with one hand and teases his balls with the other, over and over and over - until Tim comes, stiffening, the thick, weight head of his cock shooting seed onto Raylan’s flexing tongue.

Raylan laps at him, eager, until Tim hisses and tugs him off.

Tim takes some huge gulps of air, echoing Raylan’s panting, and then plants his hand on Raylan’s chest and pushes him flat. Settles in between Raylan’s splayed legs, circles his dripping cock with calloused fingers, thumb tracing the head, and Raylan makes a small noise, grabs a pillow and shoves it behind his head so he can watch.

Then Tim sucks him in, just the head, tongue playing the underside, the little knot, and pleasure jolts a groan from Raylan’s chest. With maddening care, Tim swallows Raylan’s cock deep, his throat fluttering around sensitive flesh. If you had asked Raylan five minutes ago what he wanted, he would have said, fast, hard, don’t make me wait, but this deliberate sinking and then sliding back lights his nerves, and if he’d been less wound up, less eager, he could have enjoyed the slow build forever. Now, the pleasure mounts, climbing and feeding on itself, higher and higher.

He’s nearly surprised by his orgasm, prompted by the obscene pressure of Tim’s lips, sliding over the head as his cock stutter-thrusts in the vault of Tim’s mouth, and Tim pulls off and lets the first spurt paint his slick lips. Raylan’s hips jerk, Tim’s fingers work the base of him, and Raylan’s seed spatters over Tim’s face. The rush of seeing his come splashed over Tim’s cheeks and eyelashes makes his cock twitch and shoot again, this time catching Tim in the neck and chest.

Raylan lets his head drop back, breathing hard. He’s going to remember the sight of his semen on TIm’s face for a long time, especially those nights when he’s alone with only his hand for company.

Tim kisses the inside of his thigh, crawls up Raylan, and kisses him. Raylan fancies he can taste himself on Tim’s lips, mingling it with Tim’s flavor. He’s tempted to lick his come off Tim, all over, but he doesn’t have the energy, and then Tim’s getting off him, and heading into the bathroom.

Tim comes back, wiping his face and neck with a wet towel. He looks refreshed, relaxed, and Raylan has to smile.

Pats the bed, and Tim comes back over and stretches out next to him, drops the towel on Raylan’s belly. Raylan swipes at the few spots of come that made it to his skin and throws the towel on the floor, reaches for the bourbon glass, swirls bourbon around his mouth.

Tim yawns. “So tell me about rattlesnake guy. Did he throw dangerous wildlife toward you?”

“No, but the Judge did shoot him,” Raylan says. He tips the glass back, drains it, and balances the tumbler on his chest. “So my night was not completely normal.”

“Hero of the hour,” Tim says.

“I’ll tell you the whole story later,” Raylan says, “though I can’t say anyone involved covered themselves with glory.”

“Least Art won’t yell at you for shooting someone else,” Tim says, his hand finding Raylan’s wrist, scratching at the underside.

Feels nice. “What’d you get up to tonight?”

“Well, I didn’t get paid to go to a titty bar,” Tim says.

“Oh, hush.”

“It’s okay. I ain’t jealous,” Tim says. “I went to see Mark tonight. I told him. About me. And us.”

“You coulda led with that,” Raylan says, surprised.

But Tim doesn’t take offense. “Mm hmm. I missed you.”

“Aww.”

“Mostly the sex. I really needed that. It’s been about a million days since we’ve fooled around.” Tim levers himself up, and reaches for the bourbon bottle.

As far as Raylan can tell, Tim uses some combination of ab muscles and magic get upright. Raylan is as slack as an overcooked noodle himself.

“Asshole,” Raylan says. “Mark okay?”

Said he always knew. About me. Said it was okay with him.” Tim plucks the glass from Raylan’s loose grasp, splashes liquor into it, and drains it.

At least Tim has someone in his corner, Raylan thinks, uneasy in a way he can’t define. “Good. That’s - real good.”

Tim pours himself another inch of Maker’s Mark, rejoins Raylan. “Figured I had to just go do something about it, stop worrying so much.”

“How’s that working out?”

“I’ll let you know. Ain’t tried to sleep yet.” Tim turns the tumbler around in his hand, slides down onto his side, turned toward Raylan. His eyes start to droop closed.

Raylan slips the glass out of Tim’s loose grip, sips bourbon. “You going to tell anyone else? Should we maybe make some posters?”

Tim breathes slow, and his face smooths out, losing some of his everyday mask. Says, “Not now. Not anybody - we agreed, right? I can tell the other guys later.”

He reaches out and pats at Raylan’s arm, closes his eyes, goes limp.

Raylan’s glad Tim’s asleep, because it lets him pussy out of saying what he really thinks.

But Raylan thinks it, looking at Tim in the half dark.

I’m proud of you.

 

The bed shifts, and Raylan opens his eyes a slit, sees Tim getting up and reaching for his pants. Clock says 4 a.m. He must doze off a moment, and next he registers the door clicking open, and then easing shut. The lock clunks behind Tim, and Raylan drops back into sleep.

Raylan surfaces again, when the sunlight starts reaching across the floor. Blinks at the clock. Eight and change. He heaves himself upright, a thought buzzing.

Tim did. Something.

Came out. Just to one person, a man who has no influence or say over anything. A pill addict in a halfway house. He doesn’t even have an apartment or a car anymore, according to Tim. But. Mark is one of Tim’s best friends. That much is clear to Raylan even without meeting him, just from the way Tim talks.

And Raylan’s not so sure he’s cool with meeting him, not as Tim’s. Well, as his … boyfriend.

What he said last weekend, about not caring who knows, outside of work, he meant it. On the other hand, he can’t even call Tim his boyfriend in his own head without hesitating, so maybe there’s something else going on there.

This is not the first time his own motivations have been a mystery to him, but it surely is irritating. Maybe he needs to let it churn while he showers. But he’s no closer to a clue when he dries off and gets dressed after. Once he's made himself presentable, he eats a couple Pop Tarts straight out of the package, rounds up his dirty clothes, and heads down to the laundromat.

Raylan is perhaps still a little distracted when he finally wanders into the office around lunchtime, debriefs with Art, and is tasked with getting back to work on the Crowders.

He’s distracted enough that he doesn’t feel up to sparring with Boyd. It’s a little late for the trek down to Harlan in any case, so he gets to work on his report on the last few days.

Tim’s out of the office with Rachel, which is not a bad thing. Raylan has no idea what to say to him.

He knows what he wants, in general terms: a future with someone, dates and vacations and nights at home, doing nothing much.

A couple desks away, Nelson is having a low voiced argument with his wife - another reason no one likes Nelson, he has no concept of keeping his shit private - but that sounds okay to Raylan, too, having little squabbles and big blow ups and staying together anyway.

Living his life that way, with Tim, well, he’s always wanted something like that, with a man. Not just the fantasy he used to have, where he could ride off into the sunset - that boy from the truck stop comes to mind - but never have to shovel any horse shit after. He wants the real thing, having someone in his life, a man he can trust and, and love, to make the gritty details of day to day life easier to take.

Hell, he wishes Tim were here right now, just so he could see him out of the corner of his eye.

Maybe the decision isn’t if they get that far, but how, and when.

Raylan heads down to Harlan the next day, grumpy and tired from a night of wrestling with his worries, and coming to no conclusions whatsoever. On the one hand, he wants to be with Tim, on another hand, he doesn’t want anyone to know. These two things do not go together.

He is definitively not in the mood for another round of Boyd banter this morning.

In fact, he is entirely over trying to suss out Boyd’s motivations, location, evidence of his crimes. If not for Boyd and his misdeeds, Raylan would be back in Miami by now, and life would be a ton less confusing.

When Raylan finally winds his way from Lexington and through the mountains to an otherwise non-descript clearing in southeastern Kentucky, it turns out Boyd is not in camp, and Boyd’s disciples are not forthcoming as to his whereabouts.

Trust Boyd to be inconvenient.

Boyd’s haunts are spread far and wide around, and sometimes outside of, Harlan County. Raylan sighs. He could be at this most of the day. Maybe he needs to put some kind of radio tracking collar on the guy.

Nothing for it but to cruise around southeast Kentucky instead, hoping to catch a glimpse.

Damn it.

He’d psyched himself up for talking to Boyd, the last few miles, got all prepped for the verbal sparring sure to ensue. He tries not to stew about it, but Harlan just does that to him.

Not that he doesn’t have enough on his mind already.

He heads for Harlan itself, hands driving on autopilot, leaving his brain idle.

He can’t help noting the changes to the hamlet of his youth.

On previous trips, Raylan had noted a Wal-Mart, and a few other big box stores. Easier than going all the way to Corbin for necessities that can’t be found at a general store, though there are still plenty small stores run by your neighbor, or the wife of the gym teacher, or the creepy guy who has a shoplifting mirror angled to let him look down girls’ shirts.

The signs on the old shops, the ones still open, are pretty worn, but the modern world has come to Harlan, and denizens can now buy cell phones and satellite dishes alongside hammers and pork rinds in a lot of them.

Downtown shows a couple new shops and restaurants. Some fresh paint.

The general store has a Red Bull display in the window. Probably still offers loose Fireballs, and Mary Janes, and Bazooka Joe bubblegum to Harlan’s kids, though Raylan suspects you can’t get a single piece of candy for a shiny nickel in 2010. The shoe store, though, still looks the same as when Mama used to bring him down here for new school shoes, maybe a bit dustier.

The secondhand shop across the street is gone, the space just sits abandoned, still some old clothes hanging askew on worn mannequins, messy racks and shelves looming in the dimness beyond. Mama had bought a lot of her own clothes there, saving quarters from her house money. When Arlo was feeling generous, she bought new for Raylan, not herself.

The old library of his childhood, a rambling old house, has been turned into a senior center, the books moved to the outskirts, in an ugly new building clearly designed and constructed by the absolute lowest bidder.

He takes a left out of downtown, impatient at all this unwanted nostalgia. Hadn’t thought about it at all the other times he’s been down here since his Kentucky exile began. No reason for that shit to come up now.

No reason to remember hiding out in the woods and fields, and the old library, wasting all day on the weekend or in summer downtown doing nothing much, as soon as he was old enough to find a ride with some neighbor, when Arlo was being Arlo.

No reason to think about the old preacher at Mama’s church Mama, chastising her for leaving her husband and going up to Noble’s Holler. The preacher had worn a fine suit, the church always seemed to have a new coat of paint, and the women fluttered around him for scraps of attention, though everyone knew he had a thing for teenage girls.

The best looking structures still tend to be churches. Televangelists have nothing on a small town preachers in poor communities, who can take donations with one hand, while praying with the donor about the falling down house, sick child, unemployed husband, with the other.

At least he can give Boyd that; so far his ministry doesn’t seem to be bleeding poor folks dry in the name of God.

Raylan shifts in his seat. Banks back the heat in him best he can. Nothing to be done.

But his hate for this place, once guttering to ash, rekindles every time he has to come down here, a low level grind he can’t shake.

All he can see are the negatives: black lung, cave-ins, abuse, drug addiction, sickness, rotting teeth, intolerance that rings down judgment, judgment, judgment; because that’s the only way the powerless can feel powerful.

Miners die, and mine owners reap the profits. Preachers smile and smile, take poor folks’ hard earned money, have extra-marital affairs, make shady business deals, and harangue their flocks about sin. Women go back to abusive husbands, because you can’t stay in Noble’s Holler forever, and the kids, they grow up to be their parents, low paying or dangerous jobs, too many kids too soon, addictions legal and criminal.

‘Course, all that can be forgiven.

Being queer, though, that’s hellfire and condemnation.

Being out and proud would be a big fucking finger, a massive fuck you, to Arlo and Harlan and all the shit that swirls through these valleys to keep people down.

But Raylan already hates the idea that people know him and Ava hooked up, so soon after she killed her husband, so soon after he shot Boyd, and that this fucked the case.

People in Harlan are probably thinking it’s the white trash Givens blood in him, can’t keep his dick in his pants around a woman who ain’t no better than she should be.

Folks in these parts still say, blood will out. And they don’t mean his mama. No, for him, that only ever means Arlo.

To the people he grew up with, Raylan’s not a federal marshal who shot a violent criminal to defend an innocent woman. He’s just another white trash shitkicker, son of an asshole jailbird, who shot an equally low class rival for the affections of a woman who not two days before had killed her own husband with a shotgun over the same dinner table.

That the rival had been the woman’s brother-in-law, and there had been plates of fried chicken on the table, just added to the tarnish.

Cliche all the way down.

Him fucking another man, though, that would reduce him in the eyes of these folk to … subhuman. No matter what else he’s done with his life.

He’d walked away without a second look. Thought he was well out of it, out in the world.

But this place sets its hooks deep, ready to drag anyone down. If it’s miserable for one, it should be miserable for all. Like crabs in a bucket.

Raylan had learned young that you had to act like you didn’t care what people thought. Eight, nine years old, coming home with a bloody nose and split lip, because of stuff kids said, until he learned to walk away, learned not to show when trash talk about his family landed.

Fought about other things that didn’t matter so much - he’d needed to fight - about girls he liked, sports teams he loved, a running disagreement over Captain America vs. Superman that lasted most of fourth grade, Raylan standing up for the Captain.

But nothing personal, not Arlo, or the shit Arlo got into, the time he spent in jail; that time in junior high when maybe Raylan looked too long at a shirtless picture of a baseball player in Sports Illustrated, rolling his eyes like being called queer wasn’t even worth denying, it was so idiotic. Everybody knew he fucked a lot of girls, he made sure they knew.

Under it all, he’d simmered, furious at Arlo, at Harlan, at the boys around him, beautiful and horrible and unutterably out of reach. At his mother, too, for always coming back. At Aunt Helen, for offering refuge but not saving him, not until she absolutely had to.

At the assumption that the mines were the only thing for an honest man, and that leaving wasn’t even a choice to be made.

That leaving makes you a coward.

Shit. Raylan finds a CD, shoves it in the player, and turns the volume all the way up.

 

Raylan finds Boyd by accident, finishing up a long loop around all Boyd’s known spots with another pass around the places Boyd frequents the most, in and around Harlan. Doing his duty, checking twice, and then he can report to Art that he gave finding Boyd a fair shake.

Before he heads back to Lexington, he stops at a strip mall on the outskirts of town for a vanilla ice cream cone from a 32 Flavors, a reward for not losing his shit and just taking off for parts unknown.

Just as he gets back to his car, a voice interrupts his train of thought.

“Raylan Givens.”

Boyd. Just when he’d given up all hope of finding the asshole, and completely lost any desire to actually talk to him. “Well, if it isn’t Boyd Crowder.”

“Were you looking for me at the supermarket, or am I just lucky?” Boyd stows a couple grocery sacks in the passenger side footwell.

“Uh, neither one?” The thought of Boyd pushing a shopping cart up and down the aisles of a grocery store strikes Raylan as seriously odd.

“Well, it is good to see you, nonetheless.” Boyd gives him that razor sharp grin.

“The funny thing is, I stopped by your campsite, was disappointed to hear that you were out and about, and now here you are. As if I summoned you.” Like a demon who could not be banished.

“So disappointed that you had to take yourself out for an ice cream,” Boyd says. “Vanilla was always your favorite.”

“Only a small ice cream,” Raylan says. Chases a drip with his tongue. “Not that disappointed.”

“Not so hot to talk to me then.”

“I figure, you got some kind of invisible tether to this place, you won’t go far. Have to run into you sooner rather than later.” Raylan nods to the grocery sacks, which show simple fare: dried beans, rice, a big box of salt. “Where are you getting your funds?”

“The community has always been generous to men of faith,” Boyd says. “And we pick up a little work here and there.”

“And they trust you with this largesse? Isn’t that a temptation?” An idle question, a little needle. In Raylan’s experience, Boyd would much rather steal money than accept it as a gift, or in exchange for honest work, though stealing from his own church would probably bore him.

“I think you are mistaking me for a certain biblical figure who accepted 30 pieces of silver to betray a dear friend.” Boyd leans back against the truck, arms linked loosely over his chest. The grin is gone, but his posture is that of a man just chewing the fat with an old friend. “I thought we had gotten past that unpleasantness.”

“After shooting you in the chest, I suppose our relationship has nowhere to go but up.” Raylan crunches into the cone.

“Well, that is an optimism you do not often hear,” Boyd says. “I applaud you for it. And if we are venturing into the realm of the personal, then may I say, you seem more settled within yourself than the last time we spoke.”

Raylan has a momentary vision of just saying, right out loud to Boyd, that he’s dating a man. He rejects the notion as a mean pleasure that would last for a few seconds and then later become a liability. Boyd is incapable of not using something like that, no matter how much he likes to pretend that he and Raylan are friends.

That year they’d dug coal together, descended as boys into the world of men, Boyd had been a lifeline. Not that he’d ever thought of doing anything with him, not that Boyd had ever looked at him twice, but he had burned bright, and there had been a pull, as they toiled alongside men who never looked further than the next drink, the next fuck, whose biggest dream was to move from a trailer to an actual house.

Boyd was the one other boy he’d known who looked past the hills and hollers, with those searching eyes, eyes not dulled by the back wrenching work, the limited view of the sky.

That he’d only broken away from local conventions to become an outlaw was a disappointment. Raylan would have loved to hear that Boyd had moved away, to Lexington or New Orleans or Houston, was selling cars or real estate with that silver tongue. Was somehow writing books or teaching philosophy. Hell, working in a factory somewhere else and holding his own as a barroom philosopher would be better.

But Boyd can’t be blamed for that. Despite all his efforts, Raylan hadn’t quite escaped, either.

Raylan had been similarly struck with fancy when he’d encountered that boy at the truck stop in East Texas, but his longing then had been more solid. Had some life experience under his belt, had made the acquaintance of a few gay neighborhoods, had gotten comfortable in gay bars. A few times walked down the street with another man, hands on each other.

The idea of riding off into the sunset with that boy from the truck stop, that had been a hard one to shake. And even at the time, he knew that it had been set off by his prospective marriage to Winona, a fancied escape from a life he wasn’t sure he could pull off.

None of that had been real, a child’s idea of life.

Raylan shoves those fancies aside. “Well, I got an ice cream in my belly, the sun is shining,and while I am in my least favorite place in the world, I can leave any time I want. Things are good, Boyd. Except for the continuing level of criminal activity in this cesspit, which I am tasked with addressing.”

“I am doing my part to reduce the malfeasance in our poor, blighted community,” Boyd says, passing for sincere. “I am truly trying, Raylan.”

Damn it. He hates when Boyd starts being human. “In that vein, Boyd, I could sure use some help, what with your connections to the criminal community of Harlan.”

“Oh, Raylan, this whole town, this whole county is part of the criminal community. You know how many people in this region depend on a little illegality to get by. A little welfare fraud, a few pills sold on after dental surgery, some marijuana plants up the mountain where only hunters go,” Boyd says.

“I know how tough it is to make it in these mountains. You don’t have to tell me.” Those folks, they would never call themselves criminals, and Raylan can see their point. There is a bright line between doing what you have to do to get by, and being a bad guy.

Hell, even Bowman had a day job.

But Boyd had gone over the line with his eyes wide open, and no one can say he didn’t have the chance to go another way.

“It’s sad that this is all we have, truly. Though I would point out that there is a tradition of flouting the law in these parts, and you know how we esteem our traditions here. Why would you want to interfere with such a rich cultural history?” Boyd has that damn twinkle in his eye, inviting Raylan in on the joke.

“Never heard meth cooking and pot growing described as traditional folkways,” Raylan says. “Moving weight and killing people are not traditions I think we should be preserving.”

“They are indeed scourges on this county,” Boyd says, sobering. “I am trying to offer a way out, some small help, to men as needs it.”

“You could help a hell of a lot more people if you gave us some information about your Daddy.”

Boyd’s mouth tightens up. “You are asking me to betray the only family I have left, Raylan.”

“I’m asking you to stand up to the principles you espouse, that you claim to have the authority to teach, and enforce among your flock. It’s called being a hypocrite, Boyd. But I’m sure you’re used to that.” Raylan opens the Lincoln’s driver side door. "Hey, remember Jared the skinhead, murdered on a bridge couple months ago?”

You owe the world, Boyd. You owe the world your freedom. Expiate your sins. Inform on your family to the US Marshal Service, and you will be absolved. Praise the Lord.

“I’m sure I heard something about the poor young man.”

“I wonder if Jared’s people will ever have closure.” Raylan gets in the car, ready to head back. “See you around Boyd.”

Winona’s waiting outside his room when Raylan gets back to the motel that night.

God damn it. Raylan adjusts his hat, hides a sigh, and goes to meet her. At least the miles between here and Harlan have worn away his bad mood. “Winona. What a surprise.”

“Raylan.” She pushes a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to drop in like this. But I can never catch you at the office.”

“You been sitting here since quitting time?”

“I tried calling you at work earlier and Rachel said you’d left Harlan around 4:30. I took the crazy gamble that you’d return to the place you live.”

“You have defeated my clever plan to avoid you.” He’s supposed to meet Tim in half an hour, and he just came home to change, after getting coffee all over his shirt. He really doesn’t need anything more complicated in his life tonight, not after Boyd.

“I - look. I just. I’m scared, Raylan, and I don’t know what’s going on. I mean, I know, but I don’t. This is not my world.”

Raylan clamps down on his impatience. Being decent will get her on her way faster than starting an argument. The bar’s only a fifteen minute drive. “Okay. What’s going on?”

“Gary agreed to wear a wire. To talk to those people. And I don’t know what our options are.” She pushes a strand of loose hair behind her ear.

It’s unconscious, but so familiar. So familiar it makes him tense. He has to remind himself that he isn’t responsible to her anymore, and he’s not here to carry her burdens. “Well, you can do it. Or not do it. That’s pretty much it.”

“But if he doesn’t, does that mean he can be charged with something? Or what?”

“Come on in,” Raylan says, softening a hair. He had wanted to just get in and out of this conversation, but he’s not enough of a shithead to completely blow her off.

Winona sits down heavily in a chair at the table. Raylan retrieves the Maker’s Mark and pours them both an inch.

“Excuse me for a minute.” Raylan goes to the closet, takes his stained shirt and undershirt off, and pulls on the brown henley. He knows he looks good in that one.

“So here’s the thing,” Raylan says, joining Winona at the table. “The U.S. attorney can’t do anything to Gary. He hasn’t done anything wrong. Stupidity is not against the law.”

This ruffles Winona’s feathers a bit, and she starts to defend her husband, but Raylan talks over her protest. “But if he doesn’t wear the wire, if he doesn’t cooperate with the investigation, then Arnett and Duffy are still out there, they are the real thing, and death is permanent.”

Winona gulps bourbon. Blinks back tears. “You would say that, wouldn’t you? You’ve always been loyal to the Marshals.”

That stings, especially the overtones of Raylan being more loyal to the Marshal service than to her, when she was the one who cheated. “I think the Marshals are right about things like putting bad guys in jail. You think Gary’s the only one they’re threatening? This is not their first time at the rodeo. They’ve probably got a trail of bodies on them already. Don’t forget, they’ve already menaced you to get to your husband.”

She wipes at her eyes. He’d offer her a tissue, but all he has is scratchy motel toilet paper.

“See, I should have known. Gary takes these short cuts,” she says.

“He’s a dealer, that’s what they do. Sometimes it works out.” He can’t believe he’s defending Gary, but then, he’s been known to gamble on a short cut or two himself.

“So I what, just walk away? Because I can’t get past it, Raylan. I can’t see Gary going undercover and helping get those guys. He’s not an actor, he’ll screw it up. What if they’ve been watching us? What if they’ve seen him go into the courthouse?”

“They can’t be sure of anything. You work there. It’s not unheard of for a man to visit his wife at work.”

“Okay,” she says, sniffing.

This time he gets her a wad of toilet paper, and she blows her nose.

“Let me make a call. I can’t promise you Marshals but Lexington PD owes us a few favors. I can get some squad cars to come by the house pretty often. Otherwise, I think Gary has to suck it up. We do a lot of this, we’ll coach him pretty well. Hell, if he wasn’t nervous, in these circumstances, they’d be suspicious.”

“Are you sure? Because me and Gary, we’ve been having some problems, but I don’t want to see him get hurt. And I don’t want him to do something like this because of me. Like he has to prove himself.” Winona pushes hair out of her face.

She looks as beautiful as she ever has, with red eyes and worry lines, and Raylan has to resist the visceral urge to go to her. He’d always responded to her damsel in distress moments, wanted to be her hero.

He’s never been able to determine whether she does it on purpose, suspects the damsel/hero dynamic is something they created between them. But he doesn’t want to be part of that anymore.

“Maybe he does have to prove himself,” Raylan says, crossing the room to drop his empty glass by the fridge.

“Yeah.” Winona sniffs, then takes up her own tumbler and drains it. “I’m sorry, I just. Had to let it out, I guess. I hate being all weak. And he just keeps telling me it’s fine. You can practically hear him saying, don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

“You could haul off and smack him.”

Winona snorts. “He deserves it.”

“Yes, he does.”

“Hey, I’ve got dibs. Don’t bogart the smacking.”

“All yours,” Raylan says. “Listen, talk to Gary. Don’t let him shut you out.”

“Since when did you get all wise?”

“I didn’t. I just watch a lot of Oprah.”

“You’re different.”

Raylan shrugs. “I’m forty now. They say it changes a man.”

“No, that’s not it.” She looks at him, that way she has of looking right into him.

But he would wager now that she never could see into all his corners. Hell, no one probably can. “I would love to continue this oblique discussion of my former faults, but I have somewhere to be.”

“Oh, yeah? You have a date?”

Later, he’ll ponder whether he actually could tell her. Now, he just says, “Meeting the guys to watch the UK game.”

It’s true. There will be guys there, other than Tim. Other women, too. Just not anyone he knows.

“My god, how can you even stand UK anything after living in this town for a couple months? UK this. UK that.”

“Why were we ever married? I went to UK, remember.”

“I ask myself that all the time,” Winona says, but she’s joking, and she gives him one of those crooked smiles.

“I have to go,” Raylan says, reminded of better times with her, set a little off balance.

Winona looks at her watch, gathers up her bag, taking her time, but lets herself be ushered out, when Raylan shrugs on a jacket and heads for the door.

“Next time just call me, on the cell. My schedule is going to be pretty unsettled for awhile,” Raylan says. “Don’t know where I’ll be.”

“Oh,” Winona says, “I just. It’s kind of more reassuring if I talk to you in person.”

“It’s going to be tough to catch up with me, the next month or two,” Raylan says, and decides to keep Tim away from his place, in case Winona stops by anyway. “Rachel or Art should be more reachable.”

“Okay, thanks,” Winona says, smile turning a little forced.

He heads to his car, raises a hand as she drives past. Blows out a relieved breath.

Raylan’s only a few minutes late to meet Tim. He finds him at the short end of the bar, closest to the huge screen, claiming space enough for two. Tim has bottle of Stone Horse in hand, and there’s a bottle of Dogfish Head waiting for Raylan, one of his favorites. “Hey.”

“Hey. You get lost?” The corner of Tim’s mouth quirks up.

“Winona stopped by.”

“Oh, shit.” Tim starts laughing.

“Yeah. She wanted to talk about this thing with Gary.” Raylan fits his hand around the still cold beer bottle and takes a fat swallow. For all the fretting he’s been doing about the two of them, he’s still damn happy to see Tim, and that probably says it all.

“I figured she’d track you down sooner or later,” Tim says.

Tim’s got on that black shirt with the shoulder straps that fits just right. Makes Raylan want to run a hand down his belly. Pull him close by his belt. Next time they should meet up at a gay bar, so they can say hello the way he wants to. Do other things they don’t do in public. “Anyway, I invited her in, we talked. She’s worried about Gary’s situation so I offered to get LPD to do some drivebys of the house.”

“You invited her in? I thought you were avoiding her.”

Raylan shrugs. “Can’t avoid her when she’s on my doorstep.”

“Okay.” Tim turns a little to focus on the the massive TV. The teams are coming out onto the court.

“Is that okay? Me talking to Winona?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Uh, because some people might worry I was trying to get back with her?” Raylan can’t tell if Tim is pissed, or annoyed, or just more interested in the game than Raylan and Winona’s current relations.

Tim turns back to Raylan, gives him his full attention. “Dude, if you wanted to get back with her, me telling you not to wouldn’t make a difference. Anyway, I’m not bothered. I trust you.”

“You trust me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Raylan closes his mouth on a reply, shrugs instead. In his experience, people don’t have that much faith in their fellow man. Or woman.

Maybe it’s just that simple, and fuck it, that’s what he’s going to believe.

“Next time we have to go to a different kind of bar,” Raylan says, leaning into Tim’s ear.

“Oh, yeah?” Tim licks his lips.

“Mmm hmm. I’m sure one of them will be showing the UK game.”

“Don’t think any of ‘em have a screen this big.”

“There are compensations,” Raylan says, straightening up, his hand sneaking onto Tim’s hip for a brief second, then dropping away.

“I see your point,” Tim says, and shifts a few inches away.

Raylan turns his attention to the game, where the players are getting into position for tip-off, but pleasantly aware of Tim right there at his elbow.

 

Saturday night, pissing cold rain outside, they drink Kraken rum on Tim’s couch, talk about this and that, backgrounded by a country-rock station Tim found on his laptop, sprawled in opposite couch corners. Their feet knock together sometimes on the coffee table. All Raylan’s mad from yesterday, all that stuff about Boyd and Harlan, is gone.

Raylan reaches for the rum bottle. Sometimes Tim buys liquor just because the label is cool. This one has an etching of a squid on it.

“I was thinking we could go over to Louisville tomorrow. Have a drink with Mark,” Tim says.

“Thought you wanted to get the rock for the fish tank?” Raylan balks. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do, yet, and he ain’t ready to decide.

Tim shrugs. “We can do both. We have all day.”

Raylan swirls the rum under the lamp. Pretty. Knows full well that he’s stalling. “This stuff is good.”

“I was hoping it would taste more like sea monsters.”

They’re both a little drunk.

“Fishy?” Raylan raises an eyebrow.

“Mysterious and magical. And predatory.”

“What does that taste like?”

“I’ll know it when I swallow it. So, fish store, then beer with Mark?”

Cornered, Raylan rubs the back of his neck, speaks without thinking. “Do we have to go see Mark?”

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want. Never said you had to.” Tim’s drawl comes out thick as syrup. He gets up and heads into the bathroom. The door clicks shut, then the toilet flushes, and water runs.

“I can handle him knowing I’m queer,” Raylan says when Tim comes back into the living room. He leans forward, but too fast, catches himself on the coffee table. “I don’t know about. I’m not ready for. Both of us, together.”

“That doesn’t even make sense. Shit.” Tim gets a packet of cigarettes from his jacket, draped over the back of the couch, and yanks open the door to the patio, stays outside long enough to smoke a couple sticks.

There’s nothing stopping Raylan from going out and saying sorry, except he thinks it’s shitty to apologize for pissing someone off, but not for the actual problem, what he said in the first place. Instead, he pours himself another drink, hopes his can brain figure out how to fix this without any real input, because he has no clue where to begin.

No real clue where it came from.

The whole idea just unsettles him.

When Tim comes back inside, he throws the empty cigarette pack in the trash and comes over to the couch, but doesn’t sit.

Raylan tries to find something to say, comes up empty.

Tim speaks first. “Look, it’s fine. You don’t have to tell anyone. You don’t have to meet Mark. No one has to know about us.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not - I’m not ready, Tim.” Raylan’s face burns, shame coloring his skin. He can’t meet Tim’s gaze for long.

“I’m going to bed. You can make things up to me with a blow job tomorrow.” Tim grabs the rum bottle and screws the cap on, puts it in the cabinet. Turns off the computer. Gathers up the beer empties and chucks them into the recycling tub with a crash of glass, and heads into the bedroom.

Raylan can see Tim’s shadow through the doorway, bobbing against the back wall as he strips, and gets under the comforter. He’s not sure if Tim wants him to stay out here, or go home, or if he can share the bed. So he finishes his drink, a little lost, the silence unbroken.

Finally, Raylan goes to stand in the bedroom doorway. Taps on it, not sure of his welcome.

“Yeah?” Tim looks up from the paperback propped on his chest.

“You want me to head out?”

“Do what you want. Don’t drive, though,” Tim says.

“Let me give that another go.”

Tim lets the book flop onto his chest, waiting for him to say his piece.

Raylan clears his throat. “I wasn’t planning on leaving. But if you want me to, I could sleep on the couch. ‘Cause I was shitty.”

Tim says, “Get in here.”

Okay, so Tim’s peeved, but it’s not fatal. Raylan hope his welcome won’t evaporate as he brushes his teeth, pisses and washes his hands. When he comes out of the bathroom, Tim’s still reading, and turns a page as Raylan hesitates.

Without looking up from his book, Tim says, “You going to stand there staring all night or are you going to get in?”

“Sorry,” Raylan says, and heads around to the other side of the bed. His drops his shirt and pants to the floor, and he slides under the covers in undershirt and boxers.

“Don’t even try to tell me you’re sorry,” Tim says. “You’re drunk.”

“Okay.” Raylan turns on his side, towards Tim. “I am, though. Sorry.”

“Yeah. I know. But - “ Tim puts a coffee-stained pizza delivery menu into his book to mark his place, and sighs. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Go to sleep.”

But Raylan lies awake for a long time, inches separating them. Finally, he gets up and heads out to the couch. He finds a book on Tim’s shelves, The Hobbit, one of his favorites as a kid. He’d checked it out of the library a dozen times.

Harlan was a poor stand in for the Shire, but it had the forests, and the mountains, and the mines, and Raylan had had a very busy imagination, and a strong desire to pretend he was somewhere else.

Eventually, he dozes off, book slipping out of his hand, wedging into the space between his arm and the back of the couch.

 

Raylan wakes up with the sun in his face, a little cold, and stiff. Probably too old for sleeping on a couch. The smell of coffee hangs in the air, so Tim must be up. Raylan takes a piss and goes into the bedroom. No Tim. He pulls his clothes, pours a cup of coffee, and lets himself out the patio door.

“Hey.”

Tim looks up from his book. It’s maybe 40 degrees out here, 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but as usual, he seems fine in just a sweatshirt. “Hey.”

Raylan, on the other hand, is shivering in his flannel shirt, and he buttons it all the way up to the neck before joining Tim at the table. “Been up long?”

Tim shrugs. “Two, three hours.”

“Shit,” Raylan says.

“I’m used to it,” Tim says. “You want some breakfast?”

“Ugh, not yet.” Raylan gulps coffee, considers going inside for his coat. Too old for this shit, too.

“I’m going to make some toast.” Tim shoves back and gets up.

Raylan snags his wrist with loose fingers as he passes by. “Hey. Let’s go back to bed. I owe you an apology.”

“Well,” Tim says, “if you insist.”

Chapter Text

Tim is already out in the field by the time Raylan wanders into the office Monday, working on a long standing open file on his own. They’d patched things up Sunday, mostly by not talking about it, and Raylan feels like he should be relieved.

With Winona, there would have been an argument, and then probably another, or they’d have sniped at each other all damn day. Tim seems to have just let it go. But then, Raylan doesn’t know what Tim’s thinking most of the time when they’re not working. He just senses that they’re not done with this.

They can’t be done with this. It’s too big.

Tim might not understand that, since he has no experience with relationships.

So it’s up to Raylan to figure it out.

No matter what he’s afraid of.

Before he can think it through, he texts Tim: Sorry again I was an ass. Dinner tonight?

Eight minutes later, Raylan’s phone pings: Already accepted apology dumbass U R buying.

Raylan taps out, Roger that.

Tim sends him a smiley.

 

Raylan picks a new, fancy burger place that always smells great when he drives by. It’s a step up from the diners and barbecue places they usually go to, but not the sort of place that screams ‘date’.

He picks Tim up at his place, Tim coming to meet him at the curb after breaking off his conversation with the college girl who lives in one of the other apartments.

“How’s the girl next door?”

“Wants to go on a ride along,” Tim says. “Keep telling her we don't do that.”

“Maybe she likes you.”

“Nah, she’s a sociology major. Wants to do some kind of paper.”

Raylan sneaks a quick hand onto Tim’s knee, squeezes. “Burgers okay?”

“If you take me to McDonald’s you will be in the doghouse forever.”

“Let me rephrase that question. How about that new burger place down by the old movie theater?”

Tim mulls it over. “I guess I could put up with that.”

Raylan’s good feeling about the night is only enhanced when they find on street parking on the first pass.

Even though it’s prime dinner time, they also get a booth right away. The waitress is even super efficient, seems to have a sixth sense when they’re ready to order.

They make small talk about the office and the restaurant while they wait for their food, which comes pretty quick, fat juicy burgers with french fries and fancy coleslaw.

Though the music is pretty loud, Raylan swears Tim make a little high pitched noise of pleasure at the first bite.

“Good?”

Tim nods, mouth full, swallows. “Want a bite?”

Raylan takes the burger, and Tim helps himself from Raylan’s plate.

Mmmm, rosemary and Irish cheddar and something, whiskey, he doesn’t know or care. So good.

Food out is taken care for the next forever. There are at least 30 different burgers on the menu, not counting the specials. He wants to try them all.

“Good choice,” Tim says, handing Raylan’s burger back.

“We aim to please.” Raylan dabs a fry in some sauce on his plate, wondering where to take the conversation. He doesn’t want to rock the boat. But he doesn’t want to bring up the Mark thing, either.

He could say sure, let’s go hang out with Mark, and then they would plan to go over to Louisville, and Raylan knows himself, knows that he’s good at going along only until the last minute, and he doesn’t want to be the guy who agrees to go, and then gets more distant and picks a fight; he’s done that plenty of times and he knows exactly how it will go. So it’s better to just not say anything.

Somehow this leads to Raylan talking about Harlan - the non-situation in Harlan, because nothing is really happening, nothing they can point to.

“Art’s talking about doing some sort of raid,” Tim says. “Could be fun.”

“As long as they don’t start shooting.”

“Early morning raid, plus gunfire? Turns me on. Don’t ruin it.” Tim points a french fry at Raylan, then eats it. “But the really important question is, does this place have chocolate cake?”

“Well, that is clearly way more important than a long-standing criminal conspiracy to sell drugs which occasionally murders people.”

“Mmm, it’s not that,” Tim says, deadpan. “It’s just that I can’t be in public and talk too much about gunplay without embarrassing myself.”

Raylan narrows his eyes at him. “Cut that out.” “I mean it.” Tim smirks at him.

With that in mind, Raylan beckons the waitress over and asks about dessert. He’d like to get out of here sooner versus later. His jeans are a little tight right now.

The burger joint does not have chocolate cake. Or any other kind.

What a tragedy. Maybe they’ll just have to go home and get started on the making up.

Raylan pays the bill, leaves a big tip, and they make their way out to the car, comfortable with each other.

They’ve gotten to the point in the year where it’s starting to get actually cold, and it’s dark early, so there aren’t too many folks out walking or driving.

“You know how you can get some version of everything by driving through? Not always a great version, but still? Like, Frosties are okay, but they’re not real milkshakes.” Tim says, lounging back against the passenger seat. He’s a lot more relaxed the last few days, doesn’t watch the sides of the road obsessively, which is a relief.

“Uh huh.” Raylan slows to a stop at a red light.

“How come you can’t get cake? All kinds of ice cream based desserts, everything fried, but what about the baked goods?”

“I hear in L.A. there are cupcake vending machines.” “Yeah, but you still have to get out of the car.”

Raylan snorts a laugh.

“Hell, you can even get beer and liquor drive through right here in Lexington.”

Trust Tim to know that.

“American commerce moves in mysterious ways,” Raylan says.

Tim tips his head towards Raylan. “I mean, I get why Chinese food and pasta and stuff isn’t drive through worthy. You can’t really eat that in your lap in the car.”

“I see you have given this a lot of thought.” Raylan snakes the Lincoln through back streets, listening to Tim ramble. Enjoying it. “I bet there are grocery stores open that have cake.”

“It lacks the magic of never having to get out of your car.”

There’s a side road that’ll take them only a mile or so out of their way, and has just what Raylan’s thinking of, so he turns off, and parks at a Piggly Wiggly with the flickering sign. “Be right back.”

He finds a plastic six pack of chocolate cupcakes in the bakery section, grabs a pint of 2 percent milk, pays upfront, and goes back out to the car. “Here.”

Tim makes a pleased sound and Raylan surrenders the plastic grocery sack.

Raylan accepts a cupcake and they pass the milk carton back and forth. He’s going to have to stop by a gas station with a vacuum hose and clean the crumbs out of the car tomorrow, but that’s a small price to pay. The cupcakes are good, not too sweet, intensely chocolatey, a perfect foil for the milk. After the last bite of cake disappears down his gullet, Raylan licks chocolate icing from his thumb.

Tim leans over the center console and kisses him, not quite square on the mouth. “Thanks.”

The parking lot isn’t quite deserted, but no one’s looking around in the cold, just hurrying to their cars.

“You’re welcome.” Raylan adds, “You’re bold, all of a sudden.”

“It’s dark.” Tim might be blushing, a little .

“Uh huh. Your place?”

“Roger that.” With a nod, Raylan heads that way. He really should start leaving some stuff at Tim’s.

Tim seems to be reading his mind. “We should swing by your place so you can get some clothes.”

 

Raylan gets a hit on one of Boyd’s men mid-afternoon Wednesday, prints out the info, and takes it to Art. “Got something. Parole violation in Boyd’s camp.”

“Is that so?” Art holds his hand out for the file, and Raylan waits while he reads through. “Looks good. Call the state police, and I’ll call the Harlan Sheriff. We can head down there tonight, raid ‘em in their bedrolls tomorrow morning. It’ll be fun.”

Before quitting time, the entire sworn complement of the Lexington Marshal’s office is on the way to Corbin.

At the Holiday Inn, Art arranges the use of a conference room for briefing the troops, and books four rooms. He keeps one keycard for himself, and hands Rachel the other three, lets her sort out who’s bunking with whom. Tim volunteers to share with Nelson, and Rachel gets her own room under federal rules, which leaves Raylan by himself. It’s probably for the best that he’s not sharing with Tim. In fact, it’s a relief. There are some parts he just cannot play.

Raylan drops his duffel in his room, lays low for a half hour so he doesn’t have to stand around making small talk with Harlan deputies, who are probably still sore at him over the Sheriff Mosely thing, as the briefing comes together.

When Raylan wanders into the conference room, Tim’s in heavy discussion with the local SWAT folks, looking very intense over a huge topographical map. It’s hot. Raylan wants to snap a picture.

“You take a nap?” Art looks up.

“This face takes work,” Raylan says, and folks laugh in a noncommittal way.

Everyone ends up leaning over the map. Someone produces a diagram of the camp, tent locations and such. Art defers to Tim on staging the raid, who goes where, does what.

Tim designates positions with an off hand confidence that Raylan can easily imagine in the hills and mountains of Afghanistan. He’s grateful that he’s not 17 anymore, or these jeans would be getting mighty uncomfortable. He might have kind of thing for Tim being competent.

“No one moves before the signal,” Tim says. “All clear?”

There’s a round of assent from the gathered men.

“Chief?” Tim steps back.

“You heard Deputy Gutterson. Tim, you’ll take point, and I’ll signal you when to move. Everyone keep an eye on him, and take your cues from that. Any questions?”

A weedy guy with a mustache, wearing a Harlan Sheriff’s office uniform, and an attitude, says, “Still think it ought to be us. No offense, but Crowder’s our asshole, and we don’t need some chair sitting federal to tell us how to handle him.” “No one wants to hear about your asshole,” Tim says.

Real laughter around the table.

Weedy guy flushes red, embarrassed and hostile. “You learn all those Xs and arrows out of a book? All you Marshals do is drive around in shiny trucks and swan around with those stars and get in the way of real police.”

“He learned his Xs and arrows as a sniper with the Rangers, served in Afghanistan. Graduated Ranger School, SERE. I bet you know what those are.” Wannabe, Raylan’s tone says. “Any more questions?”

More laughter. Weedy guy is not well liked.

The meeting breaks up after that. People peel off, some to go back to work, some to go home for dinner. A few guys stick around to talk to the Marshals, and the whole group migrates to an Applebee’s out on the highway, where Raylan eats too many appetizers, and drinks as much bourbon as he thinks he can get away with, wishing he could sit next to Tim, maybe put a casual arm around his shoulder.

The raid is a success, for certain values of success. No one gets hurt, all the assorted Marshals and deputy sheriffs and state police officers do their part as instructed, and Tim seems to be having a good time.

Truth is, Raylan enjoys it, too, and the rest of them probably more than they let on. It’s an adventure out in the woods, not too high stakes, and a lot of them have been after Boyd or his daddy for years.

Things back at the office don’t go so well, but Raylan could have predicted that. Not like he had high hopes for a major break. This is how you sometimes have to build a case. Needling Boyd, jacking up him and his followers and dragging them up to Lexington, those are just different ways of bringing pressure to bear.

Nothing’s ever quick or easy in Harlan, either, and that’s something Raylan knows in his bones.

Finally, Art decides he’s done with Boyd and his men, all except the guy who violated his parole, and Tim and Nelson start the release paperwork. There’s nothing else to do, so Raylan heads back to his desk.

Boyd, out of handcuffs, pulls a visitor’s chair up to Raylan’s cubicle.

It’s an effort not to look up. Boyd does command his attention.

“It disappoints me, Raylan, that you cannot just come to me and ask what you want to know,” Boyd says. “I can always pencil you in.”

“I ask you questions and I get word salad, Boyd. Why should I bother?”

“I had hoped that I could earn your trust,” Boyd says, leaning forward. “I was hoping - hoping that you would be one of those who could understand where I am coming from.”

Manipulative asshole. “I need more than pretty words, Boyd. Since you held a gun on me in Ava’s dining room, I can’t say I’ve had much call to think of you kindly.”

“I still consider you one of my oldest friends,” Boyd says.

“The operative word being ‘old.’”

Boyd leans forward. “I am completely and unreservedly sorry for what I did, to you and Ava. I will never blame you for shooting me, because the errors were all mine. I only hope that you can one day forgive me.”

“It’s easy to say things. What I need is action,” Raylan says. “You know what kind.”

Boyd looks discomfited, for maybe a millisecond. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t see it, but Raylan knows him too well.

“Do you know what you are asking?” Boyd’s voice is low, so low Raylan has to strain to hear it. “To hand over my own kin? I may disagree with him, but unlike you, I do not hate my own father.”

Raylan matches him in volume, tone. “What kind of man are you, Boyd? Are you a new soul, reborn in the eyes of God? Or are you the same old selfish outlaw? Do you take? Or do you give?”

Boyd has no answer, or no time to formulate one, because the whole thing is breaking up. He merely murmurs, “Pray for me, Raylan.”.

“Let’s go, Crowder.” Art strolls up, hands in his pocket. Eyes of a lawman. Protective, like Raylan can’t handle Boyd.

“And you were so eager for us to come in the first place,” Boyd says, getting to his feet, regaining some of that outer Crowder confidence.

“The best guest knows not to overstay his welcome. But I’m sure we’ll meet again soon,” Art says.

“Although it is always good to see you, perhaps next time, you could call first,” Boyd says, and turns on his heel to rejoin his flock.

Dewey’s voice rises out of the small crowd of Boyd’s men, nasal with grievance.

Art claims the chair Boyd had just vacated. “Now was that all a colossal waste of time? Or just mostly?”

“Word’ll spread. Bo might make a mistake.” Raylan notices that Art looks unimpressed. “Don't worry, I got some ideas. Boyd wants me to believe in his religion schtick, and I just not so subtly suggested he needs to prove himself to me. Something will come up, and I am betting it will come from Boyd.”

“Okay. Keep working it.” Art gets up, turns toward his office. Turns back. “You ever think about talking to your daddy? Seeing as how he and Bo Crowder were in cahoots before, perhaps there’s something there we can get a nail under. Pry up the corner.”

“Thought about it,” Raylan says. “Went to talk to him the other day, when I was down there for Boyd. Could not locate the old bastard.”

“Seriously?”

“I looked in all his usual haunts, and some of the not so usual ones. Not a hair nor a hide.”

“Try try again, Raylan.”

“I will keep on it, boss.” Art gives him a considering look. Then just says, “okay,” and goes back into his office.

Oh, fantastic. Someone else who doubts him.

Also, shit. He’s now under orders to talk to Arlo. He’d rather eat his own toes raw.

Art and Raylan track Arlo down to the Harlan VFW post the next afternoon, where for all intents and purposes, Arlo is forted up, down to a guard on the door. Luckily, they have an in.

First thing Art does is call Tim, to come down and get them in, and then they hang around out front for three hours in case Arlo tries to leave. Raylan is confident he won’t, since he doesn’t want to talk to them, of course, but the plentiful supply of liquor available to him is probably as great an incentive.

Standing around in front of the VFW is just as boring now as when Raylan was a kid. He’s happy to see Tim drive up for more than one reason. He makes sure to hang back a little when Tim arrives. If he’s going to talk to Arlo, he needs to stay focused. Relaxed, dressed down, tipsy Tim is a pleasure to be kept private.

Art clocks it too, that Tim’s semi-lit. Probably files it away.

Maybe, when they get done with Arlo’s shit, Raylan’ll suggest he drive Tim home, let Art take Tim’s truck.

Maybe being with Tim will get the bitter, dealing-with-Arlo taste out of his mouth.

Tipsy Tim is also slightly flirtatious Tim. Raylan might should be grateful they had that talk the other weekend, the official we are an item talk, or he might have competition.

His slightly amused mood doesn’t survive talking to Arlo, the old bastard.

Raylan prefers to have him where he can keep an eye on him, so he pulls out the chair closest to the old man, crowds him a little.

Art takes a seat opposite, and then Tim sits, after giving Arlo a long stare. Tim knows a little bit about Raylan’s childhood, but he’s too disciplined to do more than that.

When Arlo slaps him, Raylan, as coldly furious as he is, spares a thought to be grateful that Tim isn’t armed right now.

As it is, Art has to step in to keep Tim from intervening.

Raylan files that away, pleased.

An ugly part of him wishes they could...demonstrate...their relationship to Arlo, see the twist of disgust and derision on the old man’s face - but he would never use Tim that way, for something so base.

Better not mention it to Tim, though; the way he’s going, he might insist they do it. And Arlo, well, he isn’t worth it.

Raylan hadn’t expected anything, as necessary as it had been to talk to the old bastard, in the interests of exploring all avenues.

He’d known Arlo would be useless. If he could spit in Raylan’s eye by being of no use, there’s no other way he would go.

Next time, he hopes Art will listen when he tells him that talking to someone in Harlan is a waste of time.

His anger at Arlo turns cold when the message about the meth cookers comes through, as they leave.

 

Raylan’s seen plenty of dead men, and a few women, but these corpses trouble him.

Though he did not pull the trigger, he feels the bodies of the dead meth cookers can be laid at his feet; if he had kept his dick in his pants, Boyd would still be in jail.

That meth cookers can easily blow themselves up with their own equipment, or be killed by any of a variety of other criminals, from Bo Crowder on down, does not comfort Raylan. Not a whit.

This was all Boyd, and Boyd is only out here because of Raylan’s fuck-up.

He turns away from the bodies. Art is talking to a Kentucky State Trooper, and Tim is having an animated conversation with a Harlan sheriff’s deputy about skydiving. People are kind of avoiding Raylan.

With a handshake, Art breaks off his conversation with the trooper and comes over to Raylan and Tim.

“Tim, you ride with Raylan. I’ll take the truck,” Art says, fixing Tim with a mild and implacable look.

Everyone in the office knows that look, but Raylan expects that he and Tim are most often the targets.

Tim nods, apparently not willing to fight the point, and gets in the passenger seat of the Lincoln.

“Keys?”

Tim pulls at his key chain and tosses the truck key to Art through the open car window, underhand.

Art grabs them out of the air and points at Tim. “You are not cute.”

Tim makes a rude noise. “I’m adorable.”

Raylan joins him in the car, dark mood lifting a little at the byplay. He must be smiling a little, because Tim says, “Shut up.”

Tim slides the seat back and sprawls.

“Buckle up, soldier.” Raylan eases the car slow down the rutted track, a sure touch in the dark.

Tim watches him drive.

“See something you like?” Raylan says.

“I like the way you drive,” Tim says, sounding a little drunk.

“Thanks,” Raylan says. “You okay over there?”

“Mmm. Fine. How do you know all this? Where you are, and shit? In the dark? Little trail like this.”

“Well, I did grow up here,” Raylan says. “And there’s not a hell of a lot to do in high school but drink and fuck and drive around, mostly looking for places to drink and fuck.”

“You should show me sometime,” Tim says. “When we’re not working.”

Raylan’s mouth tightens a little, tone flattens. “Not sure there are all that many things I’d want to show you, around here.”

Stung, Tim straightens to face front. “Sorry.”

“Shit,” Raylan says.

Tim gets his phone out.

Raylan doesn’t say anything, and Tim doesn’t look up. After a few miles of silence, Raylan punches the Play button on the console, and his current book comes on.

By the time they reach real road, the one that will take them to the highway, the silence is well established. Art pulls around the Lincoln in Tim’s truck, probably pushing to get home before his wife goes to bed.

Raylan doesn’t follow suit. Sooner they get back, sooner he has to say sorry to Tim again. Soon Art’s taillights are out of sight, around a mountain hugging curve.

The book narrator stops at a chapter break.

“I talked to Mark earlier,” Tim says.

“Do we have to talk about this now?” But Raylan hits the pause button.

“We aren’t talking about anything. I’m telling you something.”

“Shit.”

“Anyway, so. I talked to him and said we couldn’t make it out this week because of work. He won’t push,” Tim says. “You’re off the hook.”

“You don’t have to protect me.”

“Yeah. I do.” Tim says. Like it’s the simplest truth in the world.

“Jesus fuck, Tim.” Raylan’s fingers contract around the steering wheel, and something in his chest shakes. He wishes he could walk away, get settled down. That’s not the sort of declaration he was ever expecting, and it gets him, deep, more than any outright statement of affection.

He doesn’t know what to do with that.

Tim says, “Pull the car over.”

“No.”

“Pull. The car. Over.”

Raylan, without thinking about it, takes his foot off the gas a little.

“Now.” Tim is implacable.

This is a Tim that Raylan hasn’t encountered before.

Raylan jerks the car to the right, shifts his foot to the brake, and the car rolls to a stop on the bumpy and pitted asphalt shoulder of the road.

“I don’t know much about relationships,” Tim says, turning in his seat to face Raylan as much as the seatbelt will let him, “but I know how to take care of people I care about.”

“I don’t -”

“Not done.” Tim overrides him. “You ain’t okay with being out to Mark? I got your back. I’m not going to make you do something you hate.

“It’s not Mark,” Raylan says. “Dan knows, my chief in Miami, maybe Winona figured it out. Had a couple guys I’d see out at the bars. Spent a few weeks here and there with fuck buddies. We went out, we did things sometimes.”

“But that wasn’t here.” Not a question. “Didn’t matter because those people didn’t know anything about you.”

Raylan takes a deep breath. Rolls the window down for the cold air on his face. The air blows in autumn damp, and rotting leaves, a whiff of cow shit. Finally, he says, “The thing I have a problem with - the thing that’s fucking me up. Is. I’m scared. Okay? I don’t know what I’m scared of, but I’m scared.”

That’s what Harlan does to the souls grown on her soil.

Fear runs down the mountains like water, collects in the valleys around the people.

“All my life here, I was afraid,” Raylan says. “Of Arlo, of what other people thought. Poor kid, jailbird daddy. I was popular, I had all these girls, I played high school ball, and I was afraid still of what people thought about me. Now, I’m just afraid.”

The reason, there is no reason, yet it’s all around him, and he can’t shake it, can’t get free. Can’t.

Not on his own.

Tim breathes quiet in the dark next to him, patient.

 

Raylan hits the release on the seatbelt, leans over the center console, catches Tim’s jaw in his hand, and kisses him.

Might be the bravest thing he’s ever done.

Kissing a boy under the Harlan sky, and the stars still wheel and shine in the night.

Chapter Text

Friday afternoon Raylan tracks Tim down in the courthouse cafeteria, having a paper cup of tea - sometimes he gets tired of coffee - and reading Outside magazine. Raylan gets in line and grabs a cup of coffee, pulls the other chair out at Tim’s table, and sits. Sips the coffee, which isn’t good, but at least it’s bad in a different way than the office coffee - and stretches his legs out so the tip of his boot grazes Tim’s ankle.

“What are you doing, bothering me when I have this important reading to get done?” Tim doesn’t look up.

They’re owed a lazy Friday afternoon, Raylan agrees, after this week.

At least Tim looks better rested. Raylan pats himself on the back for that, having worn Tim out several nights this week, so he slept right away, and slept hard. “Got plans for tonight?”

“Nothing specific. You got something in mind?” Tim leans back and sips tea.

“I called Mark. Thought we could meet him later.”

Tim lets the magazine flop closed. “You did what now?”

“Called the halfway house. Asked for the Mark who used to be a Ranger. Had a very pleasant conversation - in which he mentioned a few things about Sgt. Gutterson that you have never seen fit to share - and arranged to meet in person tonight. I suggested food and alcohol. He thought that was a fine idea.”

Tim, considering. “You sure?”

“Yeah. I want to meet him.”

“Well,” Tim says, the drawl in full evidence, “if you insist.”

Raylan nods, and gets up. Looks down at Tim, can’t help but give him the ghost of a smile, a mere stretching of muscles, maybe some crinkling around the eyes.

There’s about two other people in the big room, looking at computers. Nothing to see, really, but Tim tilts his head in acknowledgement, like a secret signal.

“See you later,” Raylan says, and heads back upstairs.

Raylan waits on the sidewalk while Tim goes into the halfway house to get Mark. The plan is to get food, and go to a bookstore. Tim’s idea, lets them talk and then gives them an excuse to avoid each other. Tim’s better at this shit than he knows. Raylan’s not sure whether to tell him that, or not. Probably embarrass him.

He might blush. That could be fun.

This thing lately, all sprung up in the last week, where Tim does something and Raylan feels these swells of...pride? affection? ownership?, well, if he hadn’t been aware that he is in danger of falling, really hard, he is now.

It’s a danger he thinks he can live with.

The door opens, and Raylan straightens from his slouch against the SUV. Tim comes down the steps with another man, a little shorter, a little stockier, walks with a limp. Looks like the pictures Tim had shown him from his Army days.

“You’ve got to be Mark,” Raylan says, holds out his hand. “I’m Raylan. Glad to meet you.”

Mark has a firm grip, Looks him right in the eye. “Any friend of Tim’s is a friend of mine.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have any other friends,” Tim says, shakes out his keys. His pocket chimes, and he hauls out his phone, checks the screen. Probably Rachel. They’d been working a fugitive bank robber together off and on all week. He starts texting back.

“Why do you like him?” Mark asks Raylan.

“He’s going to let me pick out a fish,” Raylan says. “Plus, he has a really big TV.”

“Bribery. Always a good move.”

A couple feet away, Tim’s frowning a little down at his phone.

“I don’t think I have to tell you what will happen if you fuck with Tim,” Mark says, low voiced and serious, letting Raylan see the tough soldier he used to be.

“I would never do anything to hurt him,” Raylan says. “I give you my word.”

“You need to be on your toes to do right by him. He ain’t used to this rodeo, but you are. You know just like I do that fucking up isn’t usually on purpose,” Mark says. “You get me?”

“I hear you,” Raylan says. “l learned my lesson with my ex-wife.”

“Glad to hear it. I’ll be watching,” Mark says.

Raylan nods. He’s not scared of Mark, but he appreciates the sentiment. Glad Tim’s got someone else looking out for him. God knows, he never outright intends to fuck up in relationships, but somehow, it still seems to happen.

He plans to keep a pretty close watch on himself.

“Now that we understand each other,” Raylan says, “we should probably get in the car.”

Mark reaches for the truck door. “Guts, let’s go.”

Raylan goes to pass around the hood, to the passenger side, and touches Tim on the elbow. “You guys done?”

“Yeah, hang on.”

“Finish up at the restaurant. I’m starving,” Raylan says. He hooks an arm around Tim’s neck and urges him towards the truck. “Or you could give me the keys.”

Tim shoves the phone in his pocket and doesn’t resist Raylan’s manhandling. “Okay, okay.”

Raylan drops his arm, presses Tiim toward the truck with a flat hand between his shoulder blades. “Go on.”

 

Mark rolls his eyes."Get your hands off each other and get in the goddamned car.”

Tim gives Mark the finger, and beeps the door locks open.

For a moment, Raylan stands in the street with the passenger side door open in his hand, just watching. Tim’s standing back, waiting for Mark to haul himself into the back seat, making no bones that he’s ready to help Mark if the leg gives him trouble. There’s a weird orange light down his face, courtesy of the sodium vapor bulbs in the streetlights.

Tim looks younger, face a little softer; looks like someone familiar from somewhere else. Raylan shakes it off. Weird ass deja vu. He likes Tim as he is, a grown man with some trouble behind him, probably with some trouble ahead of him.

That’s alright. That’s life.

He’s going to live out here in the light. With Tim.

Raylan won’t let the mountains shadow him any longer.