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grab your devil by his spoke (and spin him to the ground)

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Boyd Crowder meets Raylene Givens when they are both four, when Arlo first starts up with Bo. It's a Saturday, and Frances doesn't feel her best, and Helen's six shades of busy, which means that Arlo is stuck with Raylene. Rather than leaving her behind or in the car, he brings her all the way to Bo's. Has her ring the doorbell with her chubby baby hand.

Bo laughs, big and loud as thunder, and says, “Why, little Miss Raylene! I guess I'd better find somethin' for you to keep busy with.”

He pulls her from Arlo's arms, and passes her on into Boyd's, since Boyd is standing next to his daddy, wide eyed and silent.

“Now,” Bo says, already moving away with Arlo, “you be sure to mind our little Miss Raylene, Boyd. She's your responsibility, and Givens girls are a handful.”

Say what you will about Boyd Crowder, but he is a man who knows what he wants.

Boyd Crowder suspects that he has always wanted Raylene Givens.

The first real memory he has of her, she's nearly-six and he's barely-six, and they're sitting out on his back porch while his daddy talks business with her daddy. It's twilight, and the summer heat is clinging to their skinny limbs. The stars are bright and sweet, and Raylene's face is all sharp angles and small mouth.

“Boyd,” she says, tipping her head back and pointing up, “what's that one called?”

Boyd follows the line of her arm and hand and index finger, and casts his gaze into the sky.

“That's Perseus,” he tells her, and lifts his own hand to trace the constellation properly for her. “He kills a sea-monster to protect a princess. And there,” he moves his hand to point out a new patch of stars, “is the princess, Andromeda. And her mama, Cassiopiea, is over there, and her daddy, Cepheus, is over there.”

Raylene takes all this in like it's gospel – they're only six, but Raylene has already started to accept that Boyd is an expert on most things – and pauses for a moment before asking, “Where's the sea-monster?”

Boyd lowers his hand, and Raylene turns to look at him, confused.

“The sea-monster ain't up there, Raylene,” he says, and turns away.

“Well, that's just stupid,” she huffs. “Without the sea-monster, there wouldn't be any reason for the rest of them to be up there.”

Boyd has to laugh then, has to, because it's laugh or stare at her, this girl who wants to give credit when it's due, even to monsters, even in a town like Harlan. Even with a daddy like hers.

The first time Boyd Crowder wants to kiss Raylene Givens, they're fourteen, and they're borrowing her daddy's truck while he sleeps off last night's binge. Boyd's not in the driver's seat, that's all Raylene, her hair long and gleaming in the sunlight, the bruise on her cheek even darker in the light of day.

They blast down back roads, whooping and cheering, and Boyd can't stop grinning, can't stop looking over at Raylene's face, bright and glad for the first time since two days ago, when she showed up on his porch with a bruise on her face and murder in her eyes.

She laughs, tips her head back, and just like that, Boyd Crowder falls in love, and knows that he's never gonna fall out.

They're fifteen, and Raylene hasn't bashed Dickie Bennet's knee in yet, and the whole town knows that Boyd Crowder is head over heels for Raylene Givens. The whole town also knows that this is a fucking terrible plan on the part of Boyd, and will remain a fucking terrible plan until Raylene's Daddy stops pissing off Boyd's Daddy, which ain't happening until at least the second coming of Christ himself, and even that's an optimistic bet.

“She ain't even that hot,” one of Boyd's friends whines. “Jesus, Boyd, she's flat as a plank, move on to some girl with huge tits who ain't gonna make Bo mad as hellfire.”

Boyd, calm as anything, reaches out and slams his friend's face into the dashboard of the car before saying, “You'd best learn some respect where Raylene is concerned, Dennis.”

Boyd walks Raylene home from school, walks her right up to the edge of Arlo's property and waits there till she shuts the door: when Boyd gets dragged out by his daddy, Raylene waits at the edge of the holler every day, quiet and patient.

By the time Raylene kisses Boyd, all of Harlan knows that it'd take more 'n hellfire and bruises to keep those two apart.

It goes like this: when they're fifteen, Raylene comes a-tearing up his drive, her face a sweaty mess, her arms already sprouting bruises, and pants out, “You gotta hide me, Boyd, you gotta.”

And Boyd, only a month older than her and no less stubborn, pushes her inside his house, grabs a rifle, goes out on the porch and shuts the door behind him just in time for all them Bennet boys to round the bend into his line of sight.

Raylene knows that Boyd wants her to stay hidden, but she's always been too curious for her own good, and she's hardly about to stop now, so she stands in the doorway, behind the screen-door. Only her outline is showing, she knows, but not many fifteen year old girls are likely to be behind Bo Crowder's screen-door, so it's no surprise when the Bennet boys keep coming, hellbent on tearing her to bits.

Boyd holds up the rifle and says, “Afternoon, boys,” and Raylene watches as they all freeze.

One of them hollers, “Boyd, you little shit, git out of our way,” before one of his brothers or cousins or nephews elbows him into silence. No one underestimates a Crowder with a weapon in hand.

Boyd continues, generously ignoring that little outburst, “Now, as I understand it, y'all are lookin' for something. On the hunt. And, while I'd love to help you ordinarily, I'm afraid this time, you're lookin' for something that's already claimed.”

He cocks the rifle, stares down the sight, and says, “Now. Git off my daddy's drive, before he comes home and shoots y'all hisself.”

They go, and Boyd lowers the rifle, just in time for Raylene to burst, whooping, through the front door.

“Boyd Crowder,” she says, waiting for him to put the rifle down before she wraps an arm around his shoulders. “I do believe you just saved my life.”

He grins at her, smug little shit that he is, and she can't help it, she doesn't even wait for him to say anything about repaying him before she's kissing the breath out of him, hard and demanding.

– 

Raylene has never liked Bo Crowder, and Bo has never liked Raylene Givens. Boyd Crowder loves them both, loves them fiercely and openly, but never blindly. He knows that his daddy don't like Raylene, knows that his dislike is different from the usual fluxing tide of the Givens Crowder feud. Bo hates Raylene for more than her blood and bones: Bo hates Raylene for her brain, and her spitfire self. Hates her for the way she likes Boyd's wicked mind, for the way she feeds into his plans to learn more and more and more, for the way she encourages him to rebel, even in small ways.

Boyd isn't sure why Raylene hates Bo. He has some rough ideas, and he's asked her once or twice, but the question makes her face pinch up and her hands go cold in his grip, so he doesn't press.

Raylene loses her virginity to Boyd when they're sixteen.

It's not so much a surprise as it is an eventuality. The surprise is more that they made it this far before it went and happened, and Raylene knows, down in her bones, that Boyd never would have laid a finger on her if she hadn't put it there herself.

The other girls have talked about it, and the boys all brag about it, and Arlo sneers at her about how she's already given it up like a fucking slut, and Helen's given her a long speech about how to break a boy's fingers, so Raylene goes in with a vague understanding of what it means to lay down with someone.

Boyd, who has never once done what anyone expected, throws all of that out the window.

No one could ever say that any Crowder ever sported soft hands, but Boyd is gentle, and he holds her like she might explode in his hands. Like she's delicate and dangerous all at once, and Raylene can't get enough of it. He kisses her like that's all he wants to do, and she realizes, hot and shocking in the moment, that she loves him for it.

Raylene Givens pulls Boyd Crowder into her bed, and he goes with a smile on his face.

Raylene hates Bo Crowder because Boyd is better than him, and Bo will never let him see it. Because Boyd could be great, could have adventures, could see and change the world, and Bo will never unchain him so he can.

Raylene hates Bo Crowder because he ruins everything he touches, and he won't keep his selfish fists off Raylene's boy.

It goes like this: Raylene gets married at seventeen, because it's a wedding or another year living with her Daddy, and while Boyd's no prince among men, Arlo's more of a shit than Boyd could ever dream of being.

Besides, she likes Boyd. Likes his shaggy hair and wide eyes and crazy brain. Likes the sound of his thick accent and soft voice laying out elaborate theories and ideas. Likes the way he looks at her, with respect and maybe a little bit of awe. Likes the way he says her name and calls her by it, and only it – never darlin' or baby or hon. Sometimes he calls her Raylene-darlin', but her name is always in there.

Raylene is just Raylene to Boyd, and she likes it that way.

So, Raylene Givens marries Boyd Crowder, and her daddy does not come to the wedding, although Boyd's does. Raylene Givens marries Boyd Crowder, and he gives her a cowboy hat for a wedding gift, to the amusement of all.

“Well, wouldja look at that,” Boyd drawls, settling the hat on Raylene's head. “It's a perfect fit.”

Raylene laughs and laughs and beams up at Boyd, absolutely certain that this is what she wants.

When they're eighteen, Raylene gets pregnant.

It doesn't take.

When they're eighteen, Raylene gets pregnant.

The first month, she spends confused but happy, her mama's quiet joy and Boyd's open delight carrying her through. Harlan's a little town, and once their families know, everyone knows. Boyd's walks around with the best kind of shit-eating grin on his face, and he puts his hands over Raylene's stomach like she's made of gold.

“A baby,” he says, pressing his hear to her belly. “Imagine, Raylene, that baby is only about the size of a blueberry right now, did you know?”

Raylene laughs and pushes at him, but in her heart, she's glad that Boyd's so glad, so involved. Boyd knows so much, and Raylene, well, she'll try, god knows she'll try, but she's afraid that she's going to be a terrible mother.

Still, she has Boyd. Boyd, who can name stars and brands of explosives in the same breath. Complex, endless Boyd, who loves her to the moon and back. Boyd, who will love this baby enough for seven people.

The second month, Bo Crowder comes a callin', fat evil bastard that he is. Comes sailing on into their living room, and Boyd greets him with a wide grin and open joy, and Raylene greets him with veiled suspicion and a protective hand over her stomach.

Raylene and Bo have never liked each other. Raylene won't lie down and be a good, decent wife, all peaceable and biddable, and Bo keeps on dragging Boyd into his dumb fuck messes. But they both love Boyd, and they both know that it would kill Boyd to have to choose between his daddy and his wife, so they bite their tongues and keep an uneasy sort of peace.

“Raylene,” Bo says, all solemn stone faced bullshit, and then a grin breaks out across his face, “I heard you were expecting a guest soon.”

Raylene doesn't say anything for a moment. The moment lasts less than half a second, but it is enough time for several thoughts to go through her head. This baby is a Crowder baby, this baby is my baby, I can make Bo protect this baby, I can keep Bo from ruining this Crowder, I hold all the cards here.

She smiles at him, and says, “Congratulations, Grandaddy.”

It is the only time that Bo and Raylene are kind to each other. Raylene thinks it might not be the last. Thinks that, all things told, Bo Crowder would be just as happy with a granddaughter as a grandson. Thinks that maybe, maybe, this is how she'll finally get Bo to let Boyd go.

After three months, Raylene starts to relax. Starts to ease into the thought of motherhood. Starts to touch her belly and wonder.

Which is, of course, when she wakes up and finds that the sheets and her thighs are covered in blood.

Boyd wakes up to Raylene's screaming.

The doctor tells them later that nothing could have been done to prevent it. That it was no one's fault, that they'd done nothing wrong, that nothing was wrong with Raylene. That sometimes, the Lord worked in mysterious and painful ways.

Raylene just raises her chin, tightens her mouth, and leaves the hospital. Boyd follows, silent for once, one hand on her shoulder.

They never speak of it again.

It goes like this: Boyd almost gets killed in a mining accident when they're nineteen. Raylene gets scared, asks Boyd to stop mining, but he's as stubborn as her and twice as bullheaded. She begs Boyd to move them away from Harlan, but Boyd has roots, and they make him impossible to shift, even at the best of times.

Raylene's a Harlan girl, through and through, and she knows, knows from the core of her bones, that if she stays in Harlan, she'll never go anywhere else. She'll just be Boyd's wife, and nothing else, and she can't do it. Can't narrow her life down to this town, this life. She can't wake up every morning and hope that Boyd's not going to die today, can't cook dinner every night, not knowing how many will be sitting at her table.

Raylene feels trapped. Raylene feels the blood under her skin moving hot and frantic, and gets the hell out of town. She leaves Boyd a letter, packs a bag, puts on her hat, and never looks back.

Boyd joins up with the Army, and Raylene joins up with law enforcement. He never writes her or comes looking for her.

It goes like this: Raylene never asks for a divorce.

Boyd , the letter starts off, I am surely sorry, but I have to get out of Harlan.

Do you remember when we were sixteen, and talking about the future, and all the things we were gonna do? The house we were gonna build? The babies we were gonna have and raise right? Well, I still want all that, Boyd, but I don't want you dying down in the dark to pay for it.

I don't wanna die in Harlan, Boyd.

Helen gave me some money. I don't know what I'll do, but I'll be in New Orleans for a few weeks. I'll leave you the motel's number.

I hope you come after me, Boyd.

After he comes out of the Army, Boyd decides he wants a goddamn house.

Boyd doesn't build the house himself, because fuuuck, that's a lotta goddamn work, and Boyd might want a project, but he also wants to have hands that he hasn't wounded beyond recognition trying to tap shingles into place and support beams into line.

Instead, he buys the house, a creaking shell of a thing, and then rips out all the cracking, wallpapered walls. He puts in fresh plaster, bright and cheerful and white. He paints over it: butter yellow in the kitchen, pale blue in the bedroom, faded green in the living room. He carves secret hiding places into those walls, builds a path between two of the bedrooms, just for the hell of it, for the thought of Raylene's face when she realizes what he's done.

He rips out all the creaking linolium-and-carpeted floors, and lays thick, dark pine in, solid and gleaming and lovely. He puts rugs over some of it: a puzzle pattern in the living room, cream and wine designs under the dining room table, nothing in the front hall. He carves patterns out on the underside of the stairs, because he has the time and no one will suspect him of it.

He throws out all the elderly, disapproving furniture that smells of death, and doesn't replace it, because that's not something he can do on his own. Because if he's honest, in his heart of hearts, this isn't just a house for him. It's a house for when Raylene comes back, a house for them to settle into, quiet and together at last.

It's a house to hold all his hopes, so that no one can steal them from him.

The only things he does put in are: a kitchen table, four chairs, yellow curtains, blue curtains, cream curtains, one bed in a cherry-wood bed-frame, and seventeen bookshelves, each one full of books.

Ten years after Raylene Givens leaves Harlan, Boyd Crowder reads a book on the mythology of Greek constellations. It says, in a long, roundabout sort of way, that some people believe that Cetus, the whale constellation, is the sea-monster defeated by Perseus.

“Well, hell,” he laughs, low in his throat, remembering Raylene's tiny face, down-turned with annoyance, upset to see the monster left out.

He keeps the book.

Raylene Givens gets sent back to Kentucky – the last place she wants to be, mind – and the first thing anyone does is send her out to Harlan, to track down Boyd gawd-damn Crowder. Of fucking course.

She storms out the front door, and Art hollers, “What the hell's got you so riled?”

My goddamn husband, she doesn't say.

– 

Raylene walks up the drive, slow and steady and inevitable, and watches as the church door swings open, and the past comes striding out of it.

Raylene walks up the drive, and Boyd walks down it, and when they meet in the middle, there's a moment where Raylene looks into that clever, untrustworthy face, with the long-perfected smile on it, and can't help but remember.

“Look at you,” Boyd says, arms spread wide and welcoming. “A suit, your hair all nice. Lookin' good, Raylene Givens. Lookin' like the law come to knock on my door.”

And Raylene, she can't do anything but smile back, because Jesus, Boyd Crowder, ain't changed a bit after all these years.

Art doesn't realize that Boyd is Raylene's husband until after he sends her to look for him. Raylene doesn't breathe a word of it, and if she were anyone else, Art would suspect her of being ashamed, of hiding her past away like a secret. But Raylene's not a secret kind of woman; never was, back at Glynco. Private, yes, but secret is a whole 'nother box of cats.

He opens up her file, and there it is, in tidy print right at the bottom, so neatly tucked away that it's almost impossible to not miss it, Married 1988 to Boyd Crowder, separated 1989, no contact since.

Art thinks back to showing Boyd's file to Raylene, the look on her face, the way her voice had stayed perfectly even when she'd said, He's lost some hair, but that's about it.

“Shit,” he sighs, and sinks back into his chair.

Boyd's wife shoots him in the chest, dead center, and when she gets down beside him to see what she has done, her eyes are dry and her face is fixed, but her mouth is bent with sorrow and regret, and Boyd loves her all the more for it.

“I'm sorry,” Raylene tells him, even toned and honest. Boyd would forgive her if he could, would tell her that he's forgiven her for all of it, for leaving, for joining the law, for never calling, for this. If he could, he'd tell her that he forgave her years ago, that he's always forgiven her, that he'll always forgive her.

But of course, it's hard to talk when there's a bullet makin' a home in your body, so he just concentrates on breathing.

(later, much later, Ava tells him that he did say something, that all he could say was, “You really did it, she really did, she really did it,” over and over again, and he's not quite sure what to make of that.)

Later, lying in a prison hospital bed, he asks if she missed his heart on purpose. If she shifted her gun away from the sure kill because of their past, because of who Boyd is and was, because of who Raylene Givens was and always will be. He asks if she missed his heart on purpose, and she shakes her head. She tells him that she always aims to kill.

“Sometimes you don't hit the bull's-eye,” she shrugs, overly casual. She's always been so casual, his sly Givens girl, but under that shrug is a lifetime of memories, a lifetime of feelings and might-have-beens, all weighing that trigger finger down.

And oh, but Boyd loves her, his strong woman, his lawman wife, this strange and wonderful creature who is willing to do things that hurt her, just because that's what the right thing to do is. Boyd loves her, loves her for being willing to do those things, and he knows she loves him. Knew it the minute that she told him he was too smart for all that Nazi bullshit, knew it the minute she smiled at him, walking up from her car, knew it as soon as he heard she was back in town.

But Boyd doesn't wanna tell Raylene her own business, so he talks to her about God, instead.

Rachel thinks Raylene's a lunatic, but she's starting to like that in a person. Raylene is, after all, a lunatic who batters gender norms to bits, and a lunatic who helps Rachel when she can, and lets Rachel kick ass all by herself the rest of the time. Raylene might have a criminal son-of-a-bitch for a husband, but Rachel's more sympathetic than most'd think about falling for a bad man.

Raylene is, at the very least, a puzzle that keeps people's minds off the black lady Marshall, and even if Rachel didn't like Raylene, she'd at least pretend, just for that.

“Come on,” she tells Raylene, a few days after Raylene has finished washing her husband's blood out of another woman's floor. “You and me, we're going to have a girls' night.”

Raylene blinks, and then smirks.

“Will there be gossip?” she asks, barely restrained laughter gleaming through her teeth and misery fading out of her eyes, and Rachel can't help it, she grins back, because that's what Raylene Givens does to you.

“No,” she says, “but if you're lucky, there might be ice cream to go with our booze.”

Raylene tosses her head back and really laughs, and Rachel shakes her head, and guides her toward a car.

“Can I ask you something?” Detective Gutterson asks. Normally, Raylene would tell him to back off, or shrug him off, but he's already four beers in, and Raylene figures that there is no bad entertainment. And besides, she's a little curious what a sniper might want to ask her.

“Well, you're off to an okay start with that one, so I suppose you might as well keep going,” she shrugs.

He laughs, and asks, “Why haven't you divorced Boyd Crowder?”

Ah. So it's one of these moments.

“Tell me something,” she asks, “have you ever been married?”

Detective Gutterson winces, tries to smooth the expression off his face, and mostly fails.

“Once,” he admits.

“And who ended it,” Raylene asks, leaning closer, “you or her?”

Detective Gutterson's brow wrinkles, but he still tells her, “She ended it.”

Raylene nods, then leans back and turns her eyes to the bar.

“Well,” she tells him, refusing to look at his face while she explains something this complicated, something so close to her heart. “Boyd and I've been married for thirteen years, Detective Gutterson. That's impressive, or so people tell me. Thirteen years, and don't think that it don't get in my way, being married to a Crowder. Had a hell of a time convincing the Marshalls to take me, I'll tell you that much. And I'm sure it hasn't been anything like a picnic for Boyd either, what with his cop wife sending half his daddy's Florida cartel friends to do hard time. Thirteen hard as hell years, and Boyd never ended it, and I never ended it. Never said a word to each other, but never sent any papers either.”

She tips her head back, and takes a deep breath in. She can feel Detective Gutterson's eyes on her neck, can feel his stumbling thoughts trying to keep up with her. Good.

“In the end, Detective,” she says, “I married Boyd Crowder for a reason. And I wake up, every morning, and that reason is still there, weighing down on me. It's in the corner of my bedroom, on the edge of my kitchen table. It lives in my dresser and has dinner in my living room. So, I suppose, when I wake up, and that reason is no longer there, when I'm walking around and don't have to live with it everywhere I turn, that'll be the day I divorce Boyd Crowder.”

She very carefully does not say, the day that Boyd Crowder wakes up and decides that he doesn't want the burden of a Marshall wife, no matter how much he once loved her, that'll be the day that he tracks me down and puts a bullet between my eyes.

Even more carefully, she does not say, because I love him, and I don't know how to stop.

Detective Gutterson blinks at her, and then holds out his hand.

“Call me Tim,” he says.

“Did you know,” Boyd asks Raylene, his voice flat and ugly through the prison phone, “that the root of your name comes from Raymond, which comes from the Germanic word for 'protector'?”

“Didn't know you took an interest in names, Boyd,” Raylene drawls, suspicion rising up in her chest.

Boyd grins, all his teeth gleaming and bright. “Fascinatin' stuff,” he says, “how the Lord's will is done through men, even with something as small as a name.”

Raylene raises an eyebrow at him.

“Why, Raylene,” he says, affecting surprise. “Can't you see that the Lord named you for what you are? A protector?”

Raylene doesn't say anything for a good minute, and then she sighs, and tries to let the tension and bitter memories bleed out of her, because she knows why her name is Raylene, and it has nothing to do with the Lord and everything to do with Arlo being furious that she wasn't a boy.

Name her somethin' butch , he'd said. Maybe she'll turn out at least some kinda useful.

“Well, then,” she finally says, smiling a smile that she feels none of, “what did God name you for, Boyd?”

Boyd's smile never fades, and his eyes never leave her face.

“An island,” he tells her, cool and calm as ever.

Johnny Crowder shows up at Raylene Given's crappy motel room, and hands her a piece of paper wrapped around something heavy.

“Boyd sent me,” he explains. “Says to tell you're welcome to it for as long as you're in Kentucky. You shoulda told me you were back, Raylene. Since we're kin and all, still.”

Raylene smiles at Johnny, and almost means it.

Johnny's her second favorite Crowder, always was: the way he made the other boys play ball with her, just because he knew she wanted it, and because she was important to Boyd, went a long way toward endearing him to her. Johnny's always treated her like one of the boys, and in a town like Harlan, that matters. Johnny's not a good man, but he's a better man than most, no matter what goes on in his bar or behind it, and Raylene likes him for it.

She takes the piece of paper, and flattens it out, because chances are good that whatever this is, Johnny already knows more about it than her, and she might find herself needing some answers.

The piece of paper is an address, wrapped around a key. An address out in Harlan. An address far, far away from her daddy's house. Far, far away from Boyd's daddy's house. The address is written in Boyd's careful, tidy hand, the edges faded and yellowed, stiff where she bends it away from the key.

“He bought it,” Johnny tells her, hands in his pockets, eyes fixed on the floor – bashful country boy unwilling to get involved in his cousin's emotional moment. “Fixed it up. Said to say you're not to put any headstones up in the lawn. You Givens folk, crazy, the lot of you.”

Raylene wraps the key up in the paper, and carefully puts it down on the table.

“Well,” she says, slow and careful. “Thank you, Johnny. I surely do appreciate you bringing this to me. But please tell Boyd that for now, I'm going to make do with the humble lodging that the United States Marshall Service has so graciously provided for me.”

Johnny tips his head to her, and goes. Smart enough to know when he's been dismissed, probably not smart enough to keep from gossiping about this.

Raylene sits down at her kitchen table, and looks at the key to her husband's house.

Raylene runs into her daddy a week after she comes back to Kentucky. Although, it might be more accurate to say that Helen shoves Raylene back at her daddy, because Raylene sure as hell does not want to see her daddy.

She goes to visit Boyd in prison, after.

“Didja see your daddy yet?” he asks her, just like he always does.

“Yep,” she tells him, faux-cheerful, a small amount of real pleasure curling into her at the look of surprise on Boyd's face. “Yes, I have indeed been to see my father. And you know something funny, Boyd? He is exactly the same as he was twelve years ago.”

Boyd leans forward, and asks, “Did you forgive him, Raylene?”

Raylene lets that question sit out in the air for a minute or two. Lets Boyd really absorb what he just asked her. But either Boyd has a heart of stone, or he has somehow forgotten the glimpses he got of Raylene's childhood, because he just looks expectant.

“No,” she tells Boyd, and suddenly she is very, very tired. “No, Boyd. I don't think I'm ever gonna forgive him. I don't think I can.”

Boyd looks at her, and his face doesn't soften, but he smiles in a way that Raylene thinks was probably meant to be kind.

“I love you, Raylene Givens,” he says, and Raylene puts her hand against the glass and her face against her arm, and says nothing at all for a very long time.

“Raylene,” Art says, voice rising into a warning drawl. “I am only going to say this once. It does not look good that you are still married to Boyd Crowder.”

Raylene raises an eyebrow, and says nothing. She could point out that she never even cast a backwards glance Boyd's way until the Marshall Service sent her back here. Could point out that she has worse things in her past than a criminal husband. Could point out that she shot Boyd Crowder square in the chest without thinking twice about it, could point out all the men she's sent to jail, regardless of their names and who they knew or how they knew her.

She could point those things out, but she doesn't. Raylene Givens believes in saving her breath.

Art shoots her a glare, and continues, “Now, you know I'd never presume to tell you what to do, but if you don't serve Boyd Crowder with divorce papers in the next few days, then that AUSA is going to rain hellfire down on you and yours, and I would surely prefer to avoid that.”

Raylene shifts up to her feet, and palms her hat. “Well, Art,” she says, casual as she can manage, “you know I'd love to help, but it just so happens that I've stayed married to Boyd Crowder for thirteen years. Admittedly, I was only speaking to him for two of those, but still, I hardly like to mess with something that works so well, you know?”

Art stares at her, long and hard, and then shakes his head in that way she is oh-so quickly becoming familiar with.

“Gawddamnit, Raylene,” he sighs. “Why do you gotta make everything more difficult than it needs to be?”

She laughs a little, not meanly, but in a way that makes it very clear that she takes no amusement from this situation, and slips her hat on.

“Because no one else wants to make it any easier,” she says, then tips her hat and slides out the door before anything more can be said.

Ava likes Raylene – if Raylene'd been a man, Ava thinks she might have loved her, really, might have married her instead of Bowman. As it is, they have enough in common that Ava tells Raylene almost everything. Can't help herself. They're Harlan girls and Crowder wives, for all that Raylene doesn't carry Boyd's name like Ava carries Bowman's, even after death.

They're close, and Ava has secrets to share.

Raylene comes over to the house on occasion, and laughs with Ava in her kitchen, helps Ava scrub all the blood out of the dining room for the second time. Raylene puts her hands on Ava's shoulders, and doesn't say a word, and Ava puts her hand on Raylene's wrist and doesn't say a word.

Once, Ava asks Raylene what it's like to be so brave, to go haring off across the country, tracking down criminals and putting them down and out, one way or another.

Raylene raises an eyebrow, and says, “Pretty similar to being brave enough to shoot your asshole husband at the dinner table, I should think,” and Ava laughs, hiccups, cries, because only Raylene. She cries and cries, and doesn't tell Raylene about the time Boyd reached out and touched Ava's hair, during the winter, when it had gone darker and yet golden; doesn't tell Raylene how his hand rough was and his eyes were far away.

Raylene wraps one arm around Ava's shoulders, and strokes her hair, and doesn't say anything.

One night, Raylene is tired to the bone. Tired of the damn AUSA on her back, tired of her daddy's stupid fucking schemes, tired of Harlan always climbing back into her life, tired of people bleeding out on her, tired of people asking about her goddamn hat. She's tired, and when she steps into the motel, she frowns.

Looks down at the kitchen table, where a small, paper wrapped bundle hasn't moved since she put it there.

Thinks to herself, fuck it, and grabs the key.

She drives down to Harlan, too tired to think about the consequences and repercussions, too tired to be anything but numb. She drives down to Harlan, and pulls up to a house.

She walks up to the door, and puts the key in the lock.

“Well, look at that,” she murmurs. “A perfect fit.”

The house is open, and spacious, with wide, well-framed windows, all lined with curtains. The floor is a rich, dark wood, and there is no furniture. There are no paintings on the wall.

She goes up the staircase, running her hand along the gleaming wood of the banister.

At the top of the stairs, she finds a bedroom, and for a moment, she just has to stand there and look at it.

It's blue, inside, with a big, big bed in a dark, dark frame. There are pale colored sheets and enormous windows and a nightstand on each side of the bed. There's a trunk at the foot of the bed, and hanging on one of the walls, the only thing she has seen on any of the walls so far, is a picture. The only picture, actually, of Raylene's wedding day.

There they are, her and Boyd, dressed up in what they thought then were the fanciest clothes on earth, grinning their fool heads off. In the picture, Boyd's hair is as crazy lookin' as it always has been, and Raylene has one hand around Boyd's waist, and the other touching the brim of her new cowboy hat. Her mouth is open and full of laughter.

Raylene stares at her younger self for a good, long minute. Remembers.

Then she sighs, “You goddamn idiot,” at the girl in the picture, and crawls into the bed her husband bought.

Of course, because Raylene's life is a lunatic's life, she gets woken up two hours later by some moron trying to kill her with a shotgun, but that's later, and for now, she falls asleep in the house her husband built, and remembers.

“What,” Art bites out, low and furious and smothered under the thinnest layer of calm, “the hell were you doing in Boyd Crowder's bedroom, Raylene?”

Raylene doesn't really want to be here, discussing this – she's perfectly aware that there is no good way for this to go – but she has to say something, so instead of reminding Art that she's still recovering from barely dodging a shotgun to the face, she says, “Well, Art, technically speaking, it's my house.”

Art shoots her a look that says, oh really, and then asks, “Oh, really?”

“Technically,” she says, holding her hands up in a show of surrender, “because Boyd put my name on the lease, and now he's in prison, and as such, can own no property, that house is mine and mine alone. I have a key and everything.”

Art puts his head in his hands.

Raylene feels a little bad. A little.

Boyd gets out of prison, and the first thing he sees is sunshine and blue sky, pretty as any painting.

The second thing he sees is Raylene Givens, in her well-cut suit and her boots, her gun on her hip and her hat over her face.

He grins at her, and spreads his arms out wide to all that he can reach.

Boyd gets back to the house, and finally, finally, takes a look at the room where Raylene would have been murdered.

The bedframe is destroyed, as is the bed – shotgun blasts have a way of ripping right through anything and everything in their path. The walls are peppered with holes and debris, and there, right in the far corner, just under the bed, is a patch of blood, already brown and flaking. Even after he scrubs and scrubs, it'll probably have left a mark, a stain, deep down in the wood.

A part of Raylene, woven into the bones of their house.

And then Boyd stops his mind from going there, and steers it back to the shotgun blasts, and the fact that Raylene's blood is on his floor, which is a thing he cannot abide.

Boyd looks around, and pushes his anger as far down as it will go.

He's got work to do.

Raylene drags Boyd out of his church in the early grey dawn, and Boyd, fuck, he can't even be surprised anymore. Just laughs and tells his boys to settle down and go quietly.

“Nothin' to be afraid of,” he tells them, and it's almost funny, it really is. “Just my wife droppin' by.”

“You know, I had heard I was a preacher's wife now,” Raylene says, mild as a spring day.

Boyd grins at her, feral and delighted and filled with a possessive sort of pride at the sound of Raylene calling him her husband.

“How's that going?” he asks her, all formal Southern manners, and the look she gives him could scour paint, but shit, it's worth it for the flash of amusement in her eyes.

“Pretty much like being a drug dealer's wife. Less socializin', I suppose,” she says, and Boyd can't help it, he laughs and laughs.

“Seems to me, though,” she says, face perfectly composed, “that you're just about to sing the same song as last time, Boyd. I mean, given your little choir over there. Just robbin' banks and blowin' shit up.”

Boyd looks at her, and he feels more than a little careful right now, but damn if he's going to let it show on his face.

“Everyone here has paid their debt to society,” he says, and he means it to sound reassuring, but apparently he fails, because right then, he sees a flash of real anger in Raylene's face.

“Oh no,” she says, voice as polite as her eyes are cold. “No, no, no, not you, Boyd Crowder. Not by a long shot.”

Boyd talks to Raylene for thirty whole minutes, a few weeks after accidentally killing a man. She doesn't believe him, doesn't believe it was an accident, that he was trying to do good, trying to mend the past.

But then, Raylene hasn't believed in Boyd for eleven years. He's not sure why it's only hurting here and now.

“Do you believe me yet?” he asks her, and aw hell, he didn't mean to say that, didn't mean to let that out, to let Raylene know how much that matters to him. But there it is, and there's no taking it back, not from the look on Raylene's face.

She stares at him, long and hard and unreadable, even to Boyd's trained eye.

Then she smiles, and turns on her heel, and leaves, and Boyd is torn between cussing and laughing, because goddamn, Raylene Givens, ain't changed a bit after all these years.

The night after Boyd's daddy kills Boyd's flock, the night Boyd buries his men, after he begs God for a sign, for something, anything, and gets nothing, he goes to Raylene. He goes to her, his face bruised and swollen and probably still bearing traces of blood, and for the first time in so long, she doesn't send him away.

Boyd's thought long and hard about how Raylene might take him back to her. Imagines the law failing her and her soaring back to him, full of wrath and hurt and sorrow. Imagines going to her, hat in hand and heart outstretched and asking her for it. Imagines being thrown together in some crazy hillbilly bullshit, two guns forced together, memories weighing them down and dragging them forward.

In the end, he thinks, he'd have preferred anything other than this.

Boyd Crowder has always had blood on his hands, but here and now, it feels like he might never be clean again. He feels hollow, utterly empty of anything at all, and when Raylene looks at him, it's with knowing eyes that make him want to pull his own right out.

They drive and drive, and Boyd remembers another car ride with Raylene Givens, twenty-two years ago now, remembers the color of her summer-bleached hair, like a flag in the sunlight.

Boyd's daddy gets shot in the chest, and that's not the problem.

Boyd's daddy gets shot in the chest, and Boyd is not the one who gets to do it, and that just about sets him ablaze, leaves him hungry for revenge and for blood. Because at the end of the day, Boyd is a Crowder, and blood always tells, and he's never been more at peace with that than he is right here and now.

Boyd gets a shotgun, and gets a car, and gets ready to take his revenge.

Raylene gets to him first.

“I am begging you,” she says, and her eyes are bright with feeling, her voice thick with sentiment, “do not go after this woman, Boyd. Do not make me have to come after you. Let the Marshalls hunt her down, let the staties catch her, hell, let the the Feebs root her out. But not you. Please don't.”

“He was a son of a bitch,” Boyd tells her, “and he was a piss-poor father. And I woulda killed him myself, given the chance, but he was my daddy, Raylene, and if anyone was going to have killed him, it shoulda been me.”

Raylene just looks at him, and her eyes go cold, her face sets itself in a clean, even mask. He can feel her pulling back, can feel her stepping away.

“I don't wanna be a murderer's wife,” she says. “Because for all you've killed, Boyd, I know you are the same man that I married. I don't wanna be a felon's wife neither, because you've been tryin' to change, I know that. And if it's all the same to you, I'd like to keep on being a preacher's wife.”

Boyd shuts his eyes, because he hurts, he hurts, and whatever he does, he's gonna keep hurting, because that's how the world works.

“I understand,” she says, and he knows that it's true, knows and remembers every fight she had with Arlo, every bruise she ever carried back to Boyd, “God in heaven, you know I understand, Boyd, and I know that I am being selfish right now, but I am begging you all the same.”

Boyd opens his eyes and looks at her.

She's standing there in shadows, his tall Givens girl, one thick path of grey winding through her hair, her eyes blue and tired, and her shoulders rolled back, her hands away from her body.

“Please,” she says. “Please, Boyd.”

Raylene-honey, the letter Boyd never wrote would have said, I surely am sorry, but I can't leave Harlan.

I love you, Raylene Givens, but I love my daddy and my brother, too, and I can't just leave them. Harlan is my home, Raylene. Our home. We can't always be running away from that, Raylene. I tried that, a while after you left, and let's just say it didn't end well. I came home. We all gotta come home someday, and I know you'll come back someday.

I'm not a good man, Raylene. I'm my daddy's boy, and I'm going to do bad things in my life. I can't help it. I'm a Crowder, through and through. But you are more than your daddy's girl, and I know you'll do great things, out there in the world. And I know someday, you'll come back to Harlan. To me. I know that you will grip me tight and raise me from perdition, because you are my only true friend in this world.

I love you, Raylene Givens, and I do not begrudge you your escape. All I ask is that you come back, someday.

Come home someday, Raylene.