You'll Never Leave Harlan (Alive)
Justified
Raylan Givens/Boyd Crowder, (Boyd Crowder/Ava Crowder)
R
Warning: zombies, murder
written for [profile] undeadbigbang
art by [personal profile] someotherstorm

hell is real






Songs in the Key of Apocalypse



Raylan settles gingerly on the edge of a 40 gallon steel drum. “Well, now,” he says, “what is it you think I’m doing down here?”

Boyd snaps off his rubber gloves, picks up the stick he’s using to stir. “Down here outside your safe city walls, past the hollows and creeks filled with walkers and the lone survivors with their armories and hair triggers? All the way down here?” He makes a show of glancing up at Raylan through his eyelashes. “I don’t suppose you’d come all this way just to see me, Raylan.”

The usual centripetal pull between them tugs at Raylan’s chest. Makes him lean in a little toward Boyd and homemade plastic explosive and every bad decision he’s ever made.

“Don’t suppose I would,” he says.





--


There’s ten feet of barbed wire around the baseball diamond where Raylan hit his first home run. The original chain link fence has been reinforced with plywood and sheet metal and corrugated tin roofing. There’s a fifty foot killing field between the fence and the building where Raylan repeatedly failed to master trigonometry.

This is where Boyd has settled his new flock.

Never surprised Raylan much, the choice of this place; it’s the largest and most easily defensible building in town. Harlan County High School, home of the Black Bears, has been re-christened Camp Black Mountain.

Up in Lexington they call it ‘Fort Crowder.’

The guards on the gate recognize Raylan. They make him show them his arms and legs and chest but once he proves he’s free of bites or scratches they let him pass unescorted onto the grounds. Let him find his own way to Boyd.

--

It would be harder, people agreed, if the walkers who came back, shambling along the streets and making the forests a very literal death trap, remembered who they had been. If they’d been capable of speech and recognition and preying exclusively on loved ones. But since they mostly weren’t capable, mostly didn’t remember, pretty much everyone got okay real fast with shooting grandma’s rotting corpse in the face.

--

Boyd says, “Raylan Givens, as I live and breathe.”

He looks much as he always has; shitkicker boots and cuffed jeans, shirt buttoned all the way to the hollow of his throat even when his sleeves are rolled up past his elbows and he’s wrist deep in gasoline and Styrofoam. Sticking as close to forty as can be reasonably believed.

“The government still frowns on the manufacture of explosives, even in light of recent events,” Raylan tells him.

“Which government would that be, my friend? The one which can no longer protect its people or enforce its will upon us in light of ‘recent events?’”

Raylan settles gingerly on the edge of a 40 gallon steel drum. “Well, now,” he says, “what is it you think I’m doing down here?”

Boyd snaps off his rubber gloves, picks up the stick he’s using to stir. “Down here outside your safe city walls, past the hollows and creeks filled with walkers and the lone survivors with their armories and hair triggers? All the way down here?” He makes a show of glancing up at Raylan through his eyelashes. “I don’t suppose you’d come all this way just to see me, Raylan.”

The usual centripetal pull between them tugs at Raylan’s chest. Makes him lean in a little toward Boyd and homemade plastic explosive and every bad decision he’s ever made.

“Don’t suppose I would,” he says.

--

The rest of the country, hell the rest of the world, is in panicked, rioting, religious warfare survivalist shambles, but Harlan county survived pretty well. Most of the rural counties did. Sure, there’s a family graveyard behind every farmhouse which meant walkers outside every door, but there was a rifle and an old army revolver under every bed, too.

Harlan county is full of people who don’t know how to do anything but survive, and Boyd is their prophet-king.

--

“I’m looking for a man,” Raylan says.

Boyd glances up through his eyelashes again. He doesn’t smirk, but he doesn’t have to.

“Fuck you.”

“Not if you don’t learn to ask nicer’n that.”

--

There are army camps in every state, well outside the charnel houses that most major cities have become, where survivors can go. Get strip-searched for bites, and assigned a work detail, and placed in a bunk house. You have to eat the army’s food, supplemented with whatever you can coax from the hammered-flat earth, and follow the army’s draconian martial law, but you don’t have to be outside anymore.

--

“Where’s Ava?” he says on the evening of the first day. He’s sitting at a much-scarred cafeteria table with a plate of late summer squash and some meat he’s not gonna question too deeply. Doesn’t taste quite right for venison and anyway there’s been a precipitous drop in the deer population since interstate shipping became a thing of the past.

It’s an unacknowledged truth that the armed camps in the hills eat better than the people in the military settlements.

Boyd, his mouth full of sweet potatoes, makes a winding gesture with his bent fork which Raylan interprets as ‘supply run.’

The old drug pipelines run penicillin and D batteries now. Chocolate and coffee are worth more than heroin.

“You alright with her being out there?” Raylan asks, skeptical and wary of the boundaries of this trinity but he sure as hell doesn’t like the thought of Ava taking a truck past the border to pick up the accumulated efforts of civilization without which the camp cannot survive. Trading pumpkins and corn and salt pork for morphine and sterile needles, Seconal and tampons.

“Raylan,” Boyd wipes his mouth neatly, “you ever try telling Ava what to do?”

Raylan takes another bite of maybe-venison.

--

There was no industrial accident that released toxins into the air, though millions of people believe the government and/or pollution was ultimately responsible, no mutated super virus, though there are at least a hundred mythical ‘patient zero’s. For all the apocryphal tales of water turning to blood and fish falling from the sky and livestock running backwards and black lightning dancing in the clouds, the truth is that one day (sunny and mild, in Kentucky) the dead left their graves, got up, and walked.

--

Boyd says, “Has it occurred to you, Raylan, that you are in fact much better suited to this world than to the previous?”

Raylan would sigh, if he hadn’t been expecting something like this. “No, Boyd, but I have been a bit too busy for much philosophical thinking.”

“So I hear,” and Boyd does his pause and smile thing that says he’s leading you into a conversational trap. The forewarning has never saved Raylan. “Tell me, my friend, how many more men have you put down now that we have returned to the days when you can shoot a man on sight?”

“You counting walkers as men?”

“You know I do not, Raylan. I count them as lost souls, and their deliverance as a blessing.”

Raylan strikes a match, conversationally speaking, and says, “You preach it that way on Sundays?” just to watch Boyd rock back on his heels and smile in faint surprise.

“Why, yes, indeed I do. You’d be more than welcome at services, if you’re curious or so inclined.”

“Oh, I think I’ve heard enough of your preaching to last me the rest of this life.”

Boyd does an impression of earnest and friendly so good it’s almost believable. “As always, Raylan, I’m merely concerned for the state of your soul, and for your peace of mind.”

“Nothing you say is gonna bring me peace of mind, Boyd, but I thank you just the same.”

--

There’s still justice, of course. They mostly don’t call it “law enforcement” or “peacekeeping” anymore, but wherever there are people living together, under any circumstances at all, there will be justice.

Someone’s idea of justice, anyway.

--

“Richard Laner. His friends would call him Dick if he had any friends to speak of.”

Boyd shakes his head slowly, tapping a Bowie knife against the block of wood he’s whittling. “Can’t say as I could name every soul within these walls, but it don’t ring a bell.”

“You mind if I ask your subjects?” Raylan says, just to make Boyd smile a little and shake his head again.

“These people are my comrades, Raylan, and of course not; long as you keep turning up with baby formula and gunpowder you’re welcome here.” He puts a sarcastic drawl on the last part but Raylan knows he’s mostly serious. The denizens of Fort Crowder can and do cast their own bullets out of pretty much anything, but making gunpowder that won’t cause a misfire is significantly more complicated.

Boyd shaves off a long curl of pale wood. “What’d he do, this unfortunate Mr. Boyer?” he asks with a casualness that doesn’t fool Raylan for a second. “What crime is heinous enough to bring a United States Marshal out into the badlands?”

Raylan says, “Murder.”

--

Hunting fugitives has gotten a lot harder with the demise of credit card systems, GPS tracking, and most law enforcement officers.

Of course, there are fewer places to run now.

No one in the camp knows the name Richard Laner, but a few of the girls of the establishment formerly known as Audrey’s, now under the command of a steely little Bennet county matron, think the sketch looks a little like a man who might’ve been around last week or maybe two, three days ago.

It’s not like he’s never found a man with less.

Raylan gets a couple of the girls to promise they’ll send one of the camp kids running for him if Laner comes around again, gives them a handful of water purification tablets each, turns down offers of restitution in kind.

He’s questioning a group of sullen, grubby orphans used around the camp as runners and assistants when Boyd leans into the room and kind of slithers around the doorframe.

“How goes the manhunt, Raylan?” he asks, and spares a smile for the kids who light up like Boyd hung the moon and discovered fire and invented bubblegum.

“Slowly,” Raylan tells him, resettling his hat, “as most things do, these days. You checking up on me for some particular reason?”

Boyd leans back into the hallway, leading with no doubt Raylan will follow, and says, “I thought you might be inclined to do me a favor.”

“I might be, if any good ever came of my doing you favors.”

“Well, Raylan, I’m sorry you feel that way and it’s something we’ll have to address in the future, but right now I have a small dispute which I am required to arbitrate, and I wonder if you might go out and meet Ava at the bridge.”

“Ava’s due in today?”

“She is. And she called from the Cumberland gas station half an hour ago. I was gonna take a group out and meet her myself before this domestic situation arose. Now, there usually ain’t much trouble ‘tween the bridge and here, but a heavily armed welcoming party of reinforcements never did any harm.”

“Well, Boyd, no one ever accused you of being imprudent.”

--

Tate’s Creek Bridge is still standing. Walkers mostly can’t figure out how to use roads except by accident and are thus just as likely to fall down the bank into the creek as they are to cross the bridge.

This tends make creeks both dangerous and disgusting.

The men Boyd sent with him don’t grumble much about taking orders from Raylan; they know him, by reputation if nothing else, and they think they know what Ava means to Boyd.

If they actually knew what Ava meant to Boyd, they’d be looking a damn sight sharper than they are now.

As it is, the walkers are only forty feet out when someone whistles a warning. They’re relatively safe inside the truck, but you put walkers down whenever you can and every man here is an old hand by now at firing through a duct-tape patched window. Raylan takes half the skull off a woman in a faded housedress with dried blood all down her front, fires at a teenage boy in a torn and filthy service station uniform, misses, re-aims, puts the second shot through his left eye and blows out the back of his head.

Judging by the outfits these are the Turned, not the Risen. The Risen, in their rotting suits and black dresses and painted, half-eaten faces, are rarer and rarer these days. Their advanced decay making them easier to spot, easier to put down, though it was much too late to stop the spread of infection.

People disagree on whether or not the Turned are actually dead or just infected, maybe with something that could be cured, but Raylan’s watched too many walkers in jogging outfits and coveralls and bathrobes drag themselves along with one eye missing and no legs to subscribe to that theory.

The driver crunches the front wheel over the head of a walker someone took to the ground with a bad shot and the eternal argument over who shot what picks up.

Raylan reloads in silence.

They make the bridge without further trouble, though one of the men thinks he’s seeing movement in the woods along the road. Bandits, probably. People who won’t go to the military, but won’t go to Boyd or any other alcalde either. Scavenging survival off the dead and the travelers. They’re unlikely to attack this many people, but desperation makes for the worst of decisions and Raylan’s put down his share of bandits. Filthy as walkers, most of them, and about as mannered.

Ava’s caravan is on the bridge by the time they get there. Weaving carefully around the burned out wrecks that dot the rails, pushed to the side not only to clear the road, but to ruin any cover for an ambush.

The drivers flash their lights in the pre-arranged signals, the guns come down, and the caravan, an old school bus with boarded windows, a mid-sized U-haul, and a windowless painter’s van, pulls past.

The walkers hit them just as the last truck in the caravan is pulling past.

It’s the best time to hit a group like theirs and Raylan hopes to hell it’s just bad luck, that the walkers aren’t capable of that kind of strategy.

The driver slams them into reverse, plows straight over two walkers without slowing, letting the men in the car fire out the back. Raylan puts down three walkers in baseball uniforms and resolutely does not think of them as ‘kids.’ He’s drawing a bead on a man with no shirt and only one arm left when they hit a fire hydrant.

Knocked into each other by the impact, they stagger out into the road, knowing they have to get out before the stopped vehicle is surrounded and overwhelmed. The guards on the caravan are firing to provide cover and to thin the mob but Raylan still gets closer than he likes to the rotting, stinking maw of a walker in a Hooters shirt, the logo nearly obscured by dirt and dried blood.

They reach the caravan, which has slowed for them but not stopped, and pile in ones and twos into each truck. At his shoulder the driver gives a sudden scream and staggers and Raylan hauls him into the cab of the U-haul by main strength and nearly ends up face down in Ava’s lap as she nurses the truck along in first gear.

“Marshal,” she says, her voice tense but calm. She seems about to continue but when she darts her eyes from the road to look at Raylan she sees the truck driver, and the spreading pool of blood seeping from the eight-inch gash in his thigh. “Shit,” she says instead.

“Shit,” Raylan agrees and as Ava shifts up and gives some more precious gas to the struggling engine he presses his hand against the driver’s leg, knowing there’s no point.

He’d never even asked the man’s name.

--

Boyd puts his shoulder against the faded tile of the boy’s bathroom and watches Raylan wash his hands. Kiwi-watermelon scented soap that just smells like chemicals no matter what it claims to be. They haven’t run out of soap here yet. When they do they’ll just make their own out of fat and ashes, Raylan has no doubt.

The water runs pinkish and dirty into the chipped sink. He’d let Boyd take his hand if he tried. Let him wipe the blood and soot and splinters away with hands that weren’t any cleaner.

He is certain Boyd knows this as he says, “What’s the point, Raylan?”

“In washing your hands after you burn a body? Well, Boyd, there are these things they call ‘germs’ and I seem to recall learning that they aren’t good.”

“Don’t be facetious with me, my friend, you know what I meant.”

Boyd has his back against the one remaining, cracked, silvering mirror. Raylan assiduously avoids his own reflection.

“I don’t, actually,” he says, truthfully. “I know you think we speak some secret language just the two of us, but I have to inform you that while it’s true I have better luck decoding your bullshit than some, at times I find you and your motives and your meanings just as inscrutable as everyone else seems to.”

“I think you give yourself too little credit, Raylan, but I’ll ask again, as clearly as I can; what’s the point of you?”

“Of me?” And this is another trap and he knows it. Knows it like he knows these hills and his own name and the skin just to the right of Boyd’s heart where once he put a bullet. Knows it and knows it doesn’t matter.

“Of you coming down here from Lexington and attempting to apprehend this villain. Lord knows he won’t last long outside.” Boyd’s not pretending to be casual, something he does very badly, but looking straight at Raylan with his eyebrows up and his face innocent, something he does very well.

“He killed a man,” says Raylan like the next line in a script, knowing it’s a mistake, hearing the trap spring.

Boyd says, “And tell me again, Raylan, how many men have you killed?”

Raylan feels a little stupid, a little like a stubborn child, when he says, “That was different,” but he says it.

“I suspect it always is.”

“Boyd, I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Just tell me what you’re driving at.” This is defeat, in the way Boyd reckons things. This is defeat and Raylan is conceding it, as he always does, lacking the patience to play the game.

“What I’m driving at, Raylan, is this,” Boyd levers himself away from the wall, not quite into Raylan’s space but like he might be thinking about it, and he says, “Do you truly remain unconvinced of the futility of pretending these are not the end times and the federal government can fix this broken world, or do you just not know how to do anything else?”

“I’ve been told I’m a decent lover,” Raylan says, and he wouldn’t like to give a name to what made him say that.

Boyd’s grin has honest humor and a whole lot of teeth.

“Truthfully,” Raylan says, somehow still arguing a point he knows Boyd agrees with, “I just don’t think the world needs a man like Dick Laner running around in it. Things being bad enough as is.”

“And you think you’re the man for the job.”

“It’s a job. I like to think I do it well.”

Boyd spreads his hands wide, palms out in a protestation of innocence, “Oh, your competence is undisputed, my friend,” he says. “Indeed, your results speak for themselves. No, Raylan, it’s not your job performance I question, it’s your choice of employer.”

Oh, here we are, then. Raylan would laugh, if he could summon the energy, or the humor.

“That why you ask about my purpose? You want me to come enforce your justice instead?”

And because, of course he does, of course that’s what this is about, Boyd neither admits or denies it, says, “Justice is justice, Raylan. It’s an absolute.”

Raylan takes his hat from the edge of the next sink, resettles it on his head. “Is that so?”

“It is the way you and I see it,” Boyd says, sliding his stained, scarred hands into his pockets.

Raylan walks out the door.

--

“You have a hard time accepting he might have your best interests at heart, huh?” Ava says, inspecting a hole in the sleeve of a shirt.

Raylan offers her a patch from the pile beside where he’s perched on the table. She rejects it with a smile and chooses another which, to his eyes, is exactly the same.

“Yes, Ava, as a matter of fact I do have a hard time accepting that.”

Ava shakes her head. “You’re a complicated man, Raylan. The world is a complicated place. You keep trying to make it seem simple you’re going to miss a thing or two.”

“You think I’m complicated?”

Around the threaded needle in her mouth Ava says, “You think you’re simple?”

“And Boyd?” he asks.

“Boyd is Boyd,” she says, and shrugs.

--

They’re drinking whiskey in the principal’s office, which is now Boyd and Ava’s office-cum-bedroom, when the power goes out.

This is not an emergency situation, Raylan gathers from the way Boyd and Ava sigh and bring out little battery operated camp lanterns and the bottom left drawer in Boyd’s desk yields a dozen fat pillar candles.

Shortly a small, extremely grubby man who seems to be a lieutenant of some sort comes around and says something about the generator and wires and rats and kids running over the lines and possibly the archangel Gabriel, although Raylan might have heard that wrong.

Boyd nods, wise and unconcerned and the man goes off again. They go back to drinking.

At some point Ava gets up and says she promised she’d spend the night with someone improbably named Chastity. That two of her girls are sick and the baby cries all night and she’s afraid her ex-husband will find her.

She gives Boyd a kiss and Raylan a significant look as she goes.

Boyd sips whiskey and watches her leave before he turns his thoughtful look on Raylan.

“If you’re gonna start on about justice,” Raylan says, feeling the whiskey like fire in his belly and like ice around his heart, “don’t.”

And Boyd lifts his glass (a Disneyworld coffee mug pillaged from the break room) and pauses, smiles, sips. Starts to say something, doesn’t, puts the mug down.

Raylan, watching him with suspicion, isn’t at all relieved when Boyd says, “Alright, then,” slides across the burnt and torn carpet very nearly into Raylan’s lap, and kisses him.

Boyd tastes mostly like whiskey and a little like the squash and beans they ate earlier, but under that is something Raylan will swear is just like the scorch in the air after a handgun’s been fired. Something like metal and fire and inevitability.

They’ve got some new scars, both of them, but that ain’t nothing to give pause; they’ve been hard years, these last few, but all their lives have been hard years and they’re hard men for it.

In more ways than one, at the moment, Raylan thinks, and has to bury a laugh in the washed-soft flannel of Boyd’s shirt. Boyd raises an eyebrow, slipping Raylan’s gun conscientiously beneath a pillow within easy reach, but lets himself be drawn back down when Raylan shakes his head, palms the curve of his spine.

Once, he thinks they would have bitten, clawed. Left blood on the sheets and marks on each other and curses in God’s ears, but life is sharp enough now and anyway people are funny about bite marks these days.

Gentle wouldn’t be the word for it, and neither would comforting. Desperate comes close, but so does worshipful.

“Has is occurred to you,” Raylan says some interminable time later, “that you’re much better suited to this world than to the previous as well?”

Boyd scratches idly at his chest. “I like to think of myself as adaptable,” he says.

“Bullshit,” Raylan says. He moves his head a little on the pillow, smelling strawberry shampoo and pulling a long blonde hair free of the fabric. “You never change.”

--

The girl is lying face down in a pool of her own blood. Head wounds bleed a lot. Smashing someone’s head in with a shovel makes a dramatic scene.

She’s still got a couple of the water tablets that Raylan gave her shoved in her pocket.

Mrs. Carlsen, who’s first name almost certainly isn’t Audrey, pitches her voice over the wailing of her other girls and says, “Dolly probably told him you were on his trail, Marshal. Tried to see what she could get out of him.” She shakes her head and sniffs, derisively. “Little fool.”

Boyd tracks the steely little crow-voiced matron as she shoos a motley collection of half-dressed women ahead of her back to their rooms, then leans into Raylan, the brush of his shoulder sending an electric thrill through Raylan’s bones, and says, “You never did get around to mentioning why Mr. Laner committed the murderous act that brought him into your purview.”

Raylan crouches, partly to move a blood-matted strand of Dolly’s hair from across her eye and partly to move aside from the tingling awareness of Boyd.

The spreading pool of blood seeps around the toe of his boot.

“Near as we could figure,” he replies, “someone told Laner he couldn’t dress a deer for shit.”

--

There was a lot of predictable howling about the end of the world, in the beginning. Still is, as a matter of fact, though the army frowns on it in the settlements. Lot of talk of judgment for this thing or the other that people thought was wrong in the sight of God. Lot of people calling each other heathens and spreading blame like the wildfires that claimed most of Oklahoma and Kansas.

Problem was, didn’t seem to make a difference if people were buried in sanctified ground with a cold-eyed angel to watch them or in the yard behind a farmhouse with a wooden cross; the dead rose in droves from both. Those who had been cremated didn’t, of course, and neither did those buried under steel and concrete vaults, though there were a thousand stories of burial urns throwing themselves off mantles and marble tombs cracking from the inside out.

--

“You got some idea where he’s headed, or is this some never-ending apocalyptic quest?”

Raylan glances sideways but Boyd’s staring out the passenger window.

“You think this is the apocalypse?” he asks, instead of answering.

He hears Boyd shift on the cracked vinyl of the bench seat to look at him. “You think this isn’t?”

Which is fair enough, really, so Raylan says, “Why’d you come with me, Boyd? Not that I don’t appreciate the backup, but you could have sent one of your men ‘stead of risking your valuable self.”

Boyd smiles, like Raylan’s refusal to understand anything is endearing. “Raylan, I’m no more important or valuable than any other living soul. ‘Sides, you think I’d send you out after a man who killed a woman under my protection and stay behind?”

Raylan absorbs that for a minute, as they roll past a highway sign that announces Cumberland to be thirty miles ahead and a spray-painted billboard that proclaims ‘HELL IS REAL.’

“Laner’s mother had a second husband and a house in Cumberland,” he says, swerving to avoid half of a flamed out, bullet-riddled Prius. “Worth a look.”

--

The house has a wide, wrap-around porch and sagging shutters. Once, the wisteria that climbs the clapboards must have smelled sweet and heady in the air, full of the buzzing of bees. It’s dry and brown and brittle now, scraping against the windows as they search the house in the gathering dusk.

Of the two bedrooms upstairs, one is a tidily unused guest room, the sheets musty and stiff but perfectly neat, the walls painted a pale dove color, the closet used to store extra blankets and winter coats. The other bedroom is the master, big king-sized bed with the sheets tossed awry, makeup scattered across the dresser, dirty clothes in the hamper long since gone rank. Crusted and dried blood-brown stains on the sheets and the carpet, something that may once have been a woman’s leg under the bed.

He’d bury it if there were any point in burying bodies any longer. He thinks Boyd is maybe murmuring a prayer under his breath.

They drop their bags in the guest room, take the framed pictures off the wall and stand them up on each stair so they have to step carefully through a field of faded smiles and frozen laughter to get up or down. Walkers don’t have much of a problem with stairs, but they’re given to neither speed nor stealth and any advantage you can plan in advance…

The water isn’t running in the house, but there’s a pump in the yard that must connect to an old well because it gives up bucketfuls of cool, clean water when Boyd works at it for a couple of minutes, Raylan watching the treeline and the way the dark is coming on, both hands on Boyd’s shotgun.

He’s glad the bed in the guestroom is a double; he wasn’t looking forward to trying to fit two grown men into a twin, lax though conceptions of personal space have become, non-existent though Boyd’s conception of Raylan’s personal space has always been.

It’s wrong, he thinks, wrong in some deep, intrinsic way, that lying shoulder to shoulder with Boyd in the dark in a dead man’s house, burningly aware of the shape of Boyd’s profile, the pressure of his hip and knee, listening to the crickets and owls call to each other and the dead branches scrape at the peeling paint, should feel more like home to him than anything else has in his whole life.

--

Raylan drags himself up at close to dawn, feeling every day of his forty-five years, dips his hands into well-water in the bathroom and scrubs at his face. The mirror over the sink is dusty and splotched with fingerprints but whole and clear enough to show Raylan the mess of his increasingly-grey hair, the permanent purple shadows under his eyes and the gray stubble on his cheeks.

“Vanity is a sin, Raylan,” Boyd murmurs at his shoulder and Raylan snorts, flicks water at him, and moves aside from the sink.

He beats Boyd down the stairs, picking their way through the maze of picture frames, and beats him into the hall where he nearly walks face-first into Laner’s gun.

“Freeze,” he drawls, unnecessarily. Raylan’s already frozen and Boyd at his shoulder is still as a statue as Laner relieves him of his shotgun.

“You feelin’ pretty good right now, huh?” Raylan says, and Laner laughs. His breath is rancid, his teeth yellowed and rotten.

“I got you, Marshal,” he says. “I got you good and you ain’t gonna trouble me no more, following me around spreading lies about me.”

Raylan raises his eyebrows, feeling Boyd tense and still beside him, waiting. “You saying you didn’t kill those people, Dick?”

Something like animal fury goes through Laner’s face. “Oh, I killed them,” he says. “I killed them good like I’m gonna kill you,” and his voice is rising and this is so far from good.

“I’m first cousin to the cholera,” Laner shouts, his face flushed red and streaked with blood. “I killed more men than the walking plague and I’ll still be killing long after you’re dead and eaten!” He raises Boyd’s shotgun.

And then he screams.

Boyd starts to move almost before the sound hits the air, but Raylan makes a wild grab, snags the back of his shirt with three fingers and manages to drag him down far enough that the shotgun blast sails over their heads into the wall instead of making a mess of Boyd’s face.

Laner is still screaming, trying to find the trigger on the shotgun again as the walker from the kitchen drags him backwards across the floor.

Raylan scrambles for his pistol, gets off a shot that buries itself in the floor. Boyd sweeps his own pistol off the top of the sidetable, pulls the trigger and curses as the gun misfires and jams with a hollow click.

The screaming stops, which just makes the chewing, sucking sounds from the other side of the refrigerator that much more audible.

Raylan puts his shoulder against the kitchen wall and waits for Boyd to clear the jam before he cranes his head around to look.

He doesn’t wince at the sight, but he puts three bullets in the head of walker chewing its way through Laner’s stomach and watches for a beat to make sure it’s down for good. Laner is unquestionably dead.

“Fuck,” Raylan announces to no one and nothing in particular, staring down at two dead men and trying not to think about his purpose in life. Boyd, praying quiet and rushed beside him, is not precisely a comfort.

--

“So, then,” Boyd asks forty miles later, halfway to Fort Crowder, “is this your justice, my friend? You going away satisfied?”

Raylan bumps the front wheel over an unidentifiable carcass in the road, the carrion crows flapping angrily across the sky at his interruption of their meal. Kentucky rolls by; woods and creeks and fields and death behind every green tree.

He stares resolutely out the windshield so he won’t see Boyd smile when he says, “Don’t recall saying I was going anywhere.”

--

fin
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