Fanfiction is a crowded field, but Kevin Fanning quickly became a standout in 2014, when he began publishing chapters of Kim Kardashian: Trapped in Her Own Game, a serial novel that involves the titular character being cursed by Paris Hilton to live inside a video game. It’s been read over a million times. Fanning is no one-fan pony, though. As part of our package on modern fandom, Fanning has now written Through the Dark, a mash-up that places the boys of One Direction in the universe of Harlan County, Raylan Givens, and Justified.
Through the Dark
Louis Tomlinson was luxuriating in bed, stretching his lithe and tattooed limbs to the four corners of his silk sheets, when he heard a knock on his hotel-room door. Odd that someone would be calling so early. He and the other members of One Direction had performed three encores at their sold-out show at London’s O2 Arena the night before. He was absolutely knackered, and everyone — his bandmates, their staff — knew this. So who would be knocking at this hour? An overeager fan, perhaps, hoping for a glimpse, a word, something more? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Whoever it was, they knocked again, so Louis sighed and slid out of bed and padded over to the door. His fingers instinctively went to his head to see what kind of shape his hair was in.
Louis looked through the peephole and saw Zayn Malik’s face peering back at him from the hallway. Otherworldly handsome, even through the tiny fish-hole lens. Louis swore under his breath.
“Who goes?” Louis said, watching for Zayn’s reaction.
Zayn gave an exasperated look. “Come on,” he said. Oddly serious in a way that worried Louis.
Louis opened the door and let Zayn in. “What’s the rumpus, mate?”
Zayn was nervously fingering a piece of paper folded in his hand. “Spot of bad news, I’m afraid. Sit?” Zayn motioned to the bed and Louis nodded.
Louis sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. He was naked except for his silk boxers, which rode up his muscled thighs as he slid closer to Zayn to accept a piece of paper held out to him.
“The managers got this in the middle of the night,” Zayn said. “I thought you should hear it from me.” Louis unfolded the paper and began to read.
“My Uncle Jedediah is dead?” Louis asked, his eyes scanning the paper in disbelief, searching for some indication that he was misinterpreting the words.
“I’m afraid so,” Zayn said. “I’m so sorry, mate. Sounds like there was a mining accident. Bloody awful.”
“Wow,” Louis said, looking away, out the window, trying to comprehend this news.
“I didn’t realize you had an Uncle Jedediah,” Zayn said. “He was a miner?”
Louis nodded. “Coal miner. And not really an uncle, more like a distant cousin,” Louis paused, memories of Uncle Jedediah flooding back. “Still, he was very important to me. He was always very supportive of my music career.”
Zayn nodded in understanding and reached out to rub his friend’s back. “Where was he? Out Yorkshire?”
“No,” Louis said. A heavy sadness was seeping into his body, dragging him down. He leaned into his friend, pressing his body to Zayn’s. Louis needed to feel Zayn’s warmth. His strength.
“He was from the States, actually,” Louis continued, as Zayn’s warm hands ran up and down his back. “Kentucky. A little place called Harlan County.”
A yellow folder, thick with uneven pages, flumped down on the desk in front of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.
Raylan looked up and saw his boss, Chief Deputy Art Mullen, smiling down like the cat that ate the canary.
“Am I supposed to say thank you?” Raylan asked.
“You are,” Art said. “You’ve been blessed with another opportunity to serve your country and remain gainfully employed for another day.”
Raylan picked up the folder and began leafing through it. It was mainly photos of incredibly handsome young men.
“This is going to make for one hell of a lineup. Who are these pretty young fellas?” Raylan asked.
“I believe they prefer to be called ‘blokes,’” Art said. “Being on account of how they’re British. They belong to a musical outfit called One Direction.”
Raylan looked skeptically at Art. “You asking me to join a boy band?” he asked.
“Well, it’s as close as you’re ever likely to get, anyway,” Art says. “They’re on their way to your neck of the woods as we speak. Performing a benefit concert in Harlan.”
Raylan kept flipping through the pages. “Why in the heck is a British boy-band coming to Harlan?” he muttered, half to himself. “Wait a minute,” he paused at a data sheet containing facts and background info on Louis Tomlinson. “Tomlinson. You suppose he’s any kin to the Tomlinsons out in Bledsoe?”
Art nodded in the affirmative. “Apparently one Jedediah Tomlinson was killed in the Black Pike accident a few weeks back.”
“If it was an accident,” Raylan said.
“You’re thinking Boyd Crowder had something to do with it?” Art asked.
“Like as not,” Raylan said. “Can’t prove it just yet, exactly, but the whole thing feels a bit too Crowder-y for my liking. You want me to look into it?”
“Not at all,” Art said. “We got an angry mob of affected families, we got Black Pike’s lawyers circling the wagons, and now we got these pretty fellers coming in to set every heart all aflutter. The whole thing’s a powder keg. You’re on guard duty. Keep an eye on things and make sure the lads there steer clear of any trouble. And vice-a versa.
“Babysitting?” Raylan said, throwing the folder down on his desk. “Art, hell.”
“Well they may have baby faces, but I assure you, they are grown men, so it could hardly be babysitting, now, could it?” Art said. “But do try to have ’em tucked in by 10, Raylan.”
Art turned and walked back to his office.
Raylan watched him go and then looked over at Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson, sitting over at the next desk.
“Babysitting boy bands,” Raylan muttered under this breath, picking the file back up.
“One Direction is actually really great,” Tim said.
Raylan nodded noncommittally and went back to his work, but Tim persisted. “I have a playlist of their best stuff if you follow me on Spotify.”
Raylan nodded again and attempted to look occupied with the contents of the folder. He wondered if his demeanor betrayed his fear and confusion. What in the hell was a Spotify?
Boyd Crowder was sitting in his office behind the bar, feeling like a carpenter with no hammer. There were beautiful and highly lucrative crimes to be committed, but it was becoming increasingly clear that those crimes were never going to happen with the crew he had at his disposal.
It had all started back a few weeks ago, with the Black Pike explosion. Which had surely been no accident. Of that, Boyd was certain. He knew that shaft, and he knew the men who worked it. There was no way that mine should’ve blown like it did.
And then Boyd recalled, a few weeks back, a fella asking around about how he might get his hands on some emulex explosive. Boyd hadn’t thought too much about it at the time; if this fella wanted to get himself blown up on some harebrained scheme, well, then, surely that was God’s will.
But then, apparently, it was, because that same gentleman’s name had turned up on the list of those killed in the Black Pike explosion. Either it was a coincidence, or that fella had been clumsy with a handful of emulex.
So Boyd got to wondering what schemes that man had had in mind, and went poking around in his house.
The fool had actually been planning on robbing the Black Pike mining company. Not payroll, never payroll. But they had an office over in Teetersville with a safe that wasn’t terribly complicated to blow open. Not much more than a tulip, just needed a little help peeling back its petals.
But that was before the cave-in. Every indication was that the money was still in the safe, but everything was on lockdown since the mine had been shut down.
But still, it wasn’t impossible for the right crew. And say Black Pike was to blame for the cave-in. What right did they have to be holding on to that money? It was a complicated job, but not impossible, for the right crew.
And that was the problem. Boyd didn’t have the right crew. They had firepower and muscle and a driver. But they’d all get recognized soon as they went through the door. They needed one more guy. A new guy. A stranger, not associated with their group, but someone who could create a distraction while the others went through the side. But where were they going to find a handsome and entertaining stranger who also had it in for Black Pike?
Boyd found his reverie interrupted by his cousin Dewey Crowe.
“Hey, Boyd,” Dewey said. “Is there such a thing as fancy vodka?”
Boyd just stared straight through is cousin. “Dewey, there is a full bar back behind you, but you’re coming back here to ask me about vodka? Can you not see I am conducting my affairs here?”
If Dewey understood the questions, which was a big if, he ignored them. “Well, there’s this guy out there. Can’t hardly understand him on account of his accent. And we only ever get people in here drinking bourbon or a beer. But this guy wanted vodka, and Jimmy” — Jimmy was the bartender — “made him a drink, but the guy said he wanted a fancier vodka, and I just, well, so, is there a fancy vodka?”
Boyd had no earthly idea what his cousin was on about, but it was clear that even his quicksilver tongue would likely find no ingress through the brick wall of Dewey’s head.
Boyd rose from his desk, smoothed down his vest, and walked past Dewey and out to the bar. He immediately saw a disheveled young man sitting on one of the stools, looking skeptically at a glass of some clear liquid. The man looked up and met Boyd’s eyes. Boyd recognized him instantly. It was Louis Tomlinson from One Direction.
Without taking his eyes off Louis, Boyd reached out and grabbed Dewey by the collar and pulled him in close.
“Dewey Crowe,” Boyd whispered angrily. “The next time someone comes to my bar requiring assistance with his libation, when you come back to my office to bother me about it, I suggest you lead with the part about him being one of the most talented singers in one of the most popular bands on Earth.”
Boyd held Dewey’s collar for another slow moment, then shoved him away in frustration. He made his way around the bar, pointing out to Jimmy which bottle to use, then sat himself down next to Louis.
“You look troubled, son,” Boyd said. Jimmy finished making the drink and sat it down in front of Louis, who picked it up and took a slow sip. He nodded, either at Boyd’s words or the caliber of the drink, maybe both.
He didn’t seem likely to offer much more, so Boyd tried a different tack.
“Now, a fella once said,” Boyd said, staring straight ahead at the row of bottles lit up behind the bar, “The fire beneath my feet is burning bright / The way that I been holdin’ on so tight.”
Louis looked over at Boyd. “I said that,” he said. “In ‘Story of My Life.’”
Boyd turned to Louis and met his stare. “Well, so you did,” Boyd said, extending his hand to shake. “Boyd Crowder.”
“Tomlinson, yes I know,” Boyd said. “We do have the internet even here in Harlan County. Say.” Boyd leaned back in his chair, sizing Louis up as a thought occurred to him. “Tomlinson. I don’t suppose you’re any kin to the Tomlinsons out in Bledsoe?”
Louis nodded. “Distant. Had a cousin, Jedediah. He was killed in the Black Pike accident.”
“Well, that’s a terrible shame, I’m sorry, son.” Boyd motioned for the bartender to bring them another round.
“Well, Louis Tomlinson,” Boyd continued. “What a fortuitous occasion, us meeting like this. Practically a family reunion, as a matter of fact. Crowders and Tomlinsons go way back. Why, now, I believe it woulda been your cousin Jedediah’s Uncle Obadiah used to help my grandaddy run shine through that part of Harlan.”
Louis nodded, like the information was vaguely interesting to him, but he was too distracted to really care.
“You strike me as a man with a whole heap of woes on his shoulders,” Boyd said.
“We’re doing a show, to benefit the families,” Louis said. “But it’s not enough. It’s not right, what Black Pike did to those families. There’ll be lawsuits, but their barristers will have it tied up for years. By then, who knows who many other families they’ll ruin.”
“I sense you have a very strongly held contrarian opinion of the Black Pike Coal Mining Corporation,” Boyd said.
Louis wasn’t sure if Boyd was joking. “Got a problem with that?” he said.
“Why, no, not at all. In fact,” Boyd said, showing his teeth, “it just so happens I am aware of an opportunity that may help you work through your feelings on the matter.”
Ava Crowder had just gotten out of the shower and was standing in her bedroom in only her slip when she heard a loud, panicky knock at her front door. She hadn’t been expecting anyone. She debated throwing something else on to cover up, but then the knock came again, so she ran downstairs, figuring Boyd must be in trouble again.
She pulled open the door and saw the handsomest goddamn stranger she’d ever seen in her life.
“Hullo, I’m terribly sorry for the intrusion, ma’am,” he said in a British accent that set something stirring deep inside her. “My name’s Zayn. Zayn Malik. I’m looking for a Boyd Crowder? Is he home?”
Ava took just a moment too long in formulating her response. She was staring at the perfection of his stubble, sculpted and trimmed just so. She caught herself wondering how it’d feel against her skin.
“He ain’t home,” Ava said, pulling the door open and standing back. “But come on in anyway.”
Zayn stepped inside and Ava closed the door behind him.
“What business you have with Boyd?” Ava asked.
“None, actually,” Zayn said. “I’m looking for my friend Louis, I was told he was last seen with Boyd.”
“Hmm,” Ava said. “Well your friend ain’t here, either.” Ava was transfixed by Zayn’s hair — he had a haircut like none she’d ever seen before, even after all those years working in the salon. Shaved on the sides and back and all swoopy-like on top. He had this one curl that kept dangling down in front of one of his eyes, and damned if it wasn’t about the sweetest thing she’d ever seen.
“Ah. Well,” Zayn said. “It was worth a shot. I’m lucky I even found this place. Google Maps is shite out here.”
Zayn looked disappointed, and something in Ava was desperate not to turn this boy away disappointed.
“Well, you came all this way, I hate to send you off so forlorn,” Ava said. She paused, turning an idea over in her mind. Turning it over and over and over. “Can I show you around?” she asked, her eyes low on his waist but her voice innocent as anything.
Raylan was driving, the wheels skidding around the dusty curves as he sped up through the hollow. Harry Styles was sitting in the passenger seat, nervously tapping his fingers on the armrest.
“We’ll find your friend, don’t worry,” Raylan said.
“It’s just not like Louis,” Harry said. “This concert is important to him. They all are. He’s the consummate professional. To run off like this?” He shook his head in disbelief. “And Zayn? Where’s my Zayn?”
“The bartender said Louis left with Boyd, so it doesn’t sound like he’s been kidnapped. They’re probably just out looking for Zayn. We’ll find them. But your other friends, they’re all accounted for? Niall and …?”
“Nialler and Payno? Yeah, they’re fine, back at the hotel. They rarely get up to any trouble. It’s just,” Harry shook his head. “We’re a family, you know? If something happened to either one of them, I don’t know what I’d do. Do you have family?”
Raylan nodded. “Sort of. Got a daughter, down in Florida.”
There was a sudden silence in the car, the first time Harry’d stopped talking or drumming his fingers since he’d gotten in the car. Raylan looked over at him to make sure he was alright. Harry was just staring back at him, with a wide open smile and look of astonishment, almost hunger, in his eyes.
“You’re a dad,” Harry whispered.
“Not much of one, truth be told, but yeah,” Raylan said.
“Dads are THE BEST!” Harry said. “You have to tell me everything. Has it changed you irrevocably, becoming a father? Did it suddenly cast everything in a different perspective? When your daughter was born, did you love her immediately, instantly knowing, beyond all reason or doubt, that you would do anything, anything, to keep her safe and happy?”
“I suppose,” Raylan said, looking warily over at Harry. “All of that.”
The car was quiet again. Harry was staring out at the road, smiling wide, thrilled about something and shaking his head in amazement.
“I want to meet her,” Harry said, finally.
“Who?” Raylan asked.
“Your daughter,” Harry said. “Someday I want to meet her. And I want to tell her what a fine man her father is.”
Raylan tried to suppress the face he was sure he was making. He pressed down harder on the gas.
Ava heard a car pulling up the gravel drive and quickly sat up in bed.
Zayn sat up next to her. “Oh, no,” he said. “Is that your husband?”
Ava wrapped a sheet around her and ran to the window. “No, worse,” she said. “It’s the Marshals.”
Ava threw on a dress and put up her hair and ran down to the door just as Raylan finished knocking.
“Hello, Raylan,” she said breathlessly, opening the door.
“Ava,” Raylan said, tipping his hat. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Nope, not at all,” Ava said, before her attention was drawn to the goofy-looking fella standing next to Raylan.
The boy lunged forward and grabbed her hand, eagerly shaking it. “Hi, I’m Harry, I love your house, it’s great to meet you,” he said.
Another one with an accent, she noted. “Oh, Harry, like the wizard?” Ava asked.
Harry cocked his head and gave her a look like he’d missed something.
Raylan brushed right past it. “Ava, our apologies for the social call, we were wondering if you knew where we might find Boyd.”
“Not here,” Ava said. “Did you try the bar?”
“We did. Fella there implied Boyd had run into a mutual acquaintance of our friend Harry here and taken off for parts unknown. We need to get said friend back in a hurry. Hopefully they’re not up to anything untoward.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know,” Ava said. “Boyd left early this morning, said he’s gonna be in Lexington all day.”
“Speaking of untoward,” Raylan said, looking past Ava.
“Harry, is that you?” Zayn said, coming down the stairs, his shirt in hand. “Ava, I thought you said Boyd was in Teetersville today.”
“Zayn!” Harry screamed. He ran into the house and hugged his friend like they hadn’t seen each other in years.
Ava caught the look Raylan was giving her and offered an apologetic shrug. Zayn and Harry were laughing and hugging and tousling each other’s hair in the hallway.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said.
Raylan nodded. “Break it up, you two,” he called to them. “I’ve got an idea where your friend is.”
A short while later in Teetersville, Raylan parked his car on the side of the road, across from the office of the Black Pike mining company.
“You two stay in the car while I assess the situation,” Raylan said.
“Hell, no,” Zayn said. “We’re a team! Our mate needs us!”
“What your mate needs is for you to not get yourself killed,” Raylan said.
“We’re not just incredibly talented singers, you know. These are registered weapons,” Harry said, making karate hands.
“Well, so’s my gun, and the guy with the gun is saying stay the hell in the car,” Raylan said. He stared at them a minute, then slammed the door shut and walked away.
Crouching low, he ran around the side of the building to get a look inside. He was looking for a back door when he heard a bunch of yelling in what he was sure were British accents, followed by two gunshots in rapid succession.
“God damn it,” Raylan said, drawing his gun and running around to the front of the office, both fearful and annoyed about what he might find inside.
What he found inside the office was two burly-looking dudes with swastika tattoos sprawled out across the floor, and Harry and Zayn standing over them, smiling. Harry looked ready to judo-chop the next hillbilly who got in his way, and Zayn was holding the still-smoking Glock he’d taken off one of the fellas laid out on the ground.
“What in the hell?” Raylan said.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Zayn said.
“We’ve had to rescue Louis before,” Harry said.
Raylan tried to keep his cool, but he had to admit he was impressed. Incredibly talented didn’t even begin to cover it. His mind reeled, wondering what other skills these boys might have hidden up their sleeves. Not that he’d let them know he’d been wondering.
“I thought I made myself clear about you two staying in the car,” Raylan said.
“Raylan? Raylan, is that you?” came a familiar voice from the back room. “Is it safe to come out?”
Raylan watched as Boyd emerged. Louis was right behind him, with a very starstruck woman clinging to his arm.
“Louis!” Zayn and Harry cried. The boys all ran to hug each other, and their three-way hug was so raucous and joyful that they quickly tipped themselves over, falling to the floor laughing, still hanging on to each other.
“They do that a lot,” Raylan said.
“Well, I thank you for coming to our rescue, Raylan,” Boyd said. “Louis overheard these fellas at the bar talking about taking a run at Black Pike. He told me about it, and then we came up here to try to convince them otherwise.”
“Is that a fact,” Raylan said. “And you didn’t think to call me first?”
“Well, time seemed to be of the essence,” Boyd said. “We met the young office manager here and had locked ourselves in the back room, but it’s lucky you got here when you did.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Raylan said. Because what else could he say? He knew it wasn’t the truth, but he had nothing to hold Boyd on. He saw a safe in the back room with the door swinging open, but who was to say it wasn’t like that when they got here? The woman might know something, but she wasn’t likely to be much use as an eyewitness. She was watching Zayn and Louis and Harry roll around on the floor with a fearsome thirst in her eyes.
Whatever this was, it was over.
“Come on, boys, it’s getting late,” Raylan said, reaching down to untangle the giggling Brits. “I believe you all have a show to do this evening.”
Raylan and Tim stood off to the side of the stage, watching the boys perform. Raylan just kind of stood there, taking it all in, but the crowd was freaking out, and Tim was bouncing up and down, singing along to every word.
“How in the hell do you know so much about One Direction?” Raylan said, leaning in and yelling to be heard over the noise.
“I was posted up in the sandbox with a commando from the Royal British Marines. Taught me all kinds of fun things, including an appreciation for British pop music.”
Sometimes it felt to Raylan like nothing ever made a lick of sense. Maybe it was just the way the world was headed. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was the one who didn’t make sense anymore.
The Black Pike disaster had been a terrible thing, but now they were here, with these handsome British singers, bringing joy and hope to all these people who for so long had only known darkness. Was Raylan part of the darkness, or part of the light? It was so hard to tell these days.
Maybe it was time for him to get out of Harlan. Time to go to Florida and be with his daughter. Be a dad. Be the dad, the one his daughter needed, and the one Harry imagined him to be. In fact … Raylan watched Harry out there on the stage, laughing and singing. To raise a child takes both darkness and light. And if Raylan was the darkness … There was an idea buzzing around inside Raylan’s head, almost too quick to catch. Like a fuse that’s been lit and you’re just waiting for it to wind its way down to the explosion. The way Harry had looked at him in the car. The way Harry had been so intent on meeting Raylan’s daughter. Could he ask Harry to come down to Florida with him? Could they raise his daughter together?
He found himself bouncing up and down in his boots. Onstage, Harry was singing:
Hope your heart is strong enough
When the night is coming down on you
We will find a way through the dark.