In a brief and frankly alarming moment of sentimentality, Albert finds himself watching Cooper. Cooper is alone in the kitchenette, filling a cup of coffee. In his lumberjack flannel and slacks the color of half-dead vegetation, Cooper stands out more than he ever did in his suit and tie. Albert frowns and lights a cigarette.
He finds himself thinking, Cooper, it isn’t fair.
The thought so horrifies him that he has to turn away for a moment. Yes, Cooper’s former partner is out of his padded cell and within murdering distance of Twin Peaks. So what? Every agent carries a life-defining tragedy or two. God knows it’s what recruits agents and, sometimes, rarely, even makes them good agents and Cooper is no different. Hell, Albert’s got his fair share skeletons in his closet. They all do. That’s just how it goes.
Except Cooper, Cooper’s seen things that Albert will never understand. Cooper’s got a life that would frighten the very best agents, a life that, well, if Albert were prone to such beliefs, might be governed by tragedy and misfortune. Like there is a universal hand, some god that Albert has no time for, that steers Cooper away from the kind of stability that every man deserves and into chaos again and again.
But Albert isn’t prone to such thoughts and he’s going to have to resign if he gets anymore maudlin over a fellow agent. He doesn’t pity Cooper. No, he respects the man too much for that. Cooper thrives in the kind of chaos that makes weaker men falter and Cooper turns that chaos into joy. Still, it is a little unfair, the way some parts of Cooper’s past never seem to stay in the past. At least Albert's skeletons keep tucked away. Cooper's keep getting dragged out.
Clamping down on that train of thought, and any others that involve thinking about Cooper’s lot in life, Albert lights another cigarette. He turns back to the station just in time to see Cooper push through the double doors, coffee mug in hand.
“Do you mind if I join you, Albert?”
There’s no polite answer to that kind of question. Cooper acknowledges the redundancy of it with a smile, polite to a fault, and lifts his mug to his lips. Albert turns away again. There’s nothing to look at except the parking lot, the road, and the trees, but it beats looking at Cooper and wondering what to say. He should say something; he has nothing to say. He’s not used to seeing Cooper so shaken. His discomfort with this irritates him.
“I appreciate you coming down,” says Cooper, after a moment.
“It couldn't wait,” says Albert. “By the time the mailman located Twin Peaks on a map, there'd be no Twin Peaks left to find.”
Cooper turns with him. “Did you drive yourself?”
“Yes.” The drive was hell. He had contemplated doing something rash, like singing along to the radio. He’s no fan of Twin Peaks, but he’d been glad to reach that first intersection. The mess of highways that make up the Seattle-to-Twin Peaks express is wasteland of trees and empty road. He'd never admit it out loud, but he's developed a nagging discomfort when surrounded by Douglas Firs. Ever since the conclusion of the Palmer case, in fact.
He stiffens and looks back the sheriff's department. It's not terribly late in the day and there's more than enough daylight left for him to get on the road and back to Seattle before bed. But there's not much in Seattle for him except a tolerable forensics lab and evidence that has been manhandled and mishandled by three different agencies in six different states. Of course, there's not much in Twin Peaks for him either except the yahoos that Cooper and Truman insist are competent deputies and the chance that Twin Peaks might turn up another body overnight. It would not be the first time.
He might as well stay the night. If nothing else, Twin Peaks has Cooper, and Cooper makes damn better dinner conversation than his boys.
That is, if Albert actually has anything to say to Cooper that won't also necessitate Albert shooting himself immediately after.
“Albert,” says Cooper, “you're very still.”
Albert has been called many things in his life, but still was never one of them. “What?”
“Still,” says Cooper. He gestures, an up-and-down sweep of the hand at Albert's general person. “You're uncharacteristically calm.”
Albert feels anything but calm. Cooper is the calm one, not Albert. No, Albert feels tense with a need to do something. Albert’s not anxious, he doesn’t feel fear or pity, not now.
When he can’t think of a response, he looks at Cooper instead. Cooper does not look calm. Cooper is wan and restless, clutching his coffee like a lifeline. His gaze moves from Albert to the trees and back again.
Albert should say something to Cooper; he has nothing to say. Albert decides that he is also very irritated with himself.
After a brief pause, Cooper continues talking, voice steady as if he were discussing the weather or the outcome of the last Phillies' game or any other number of asinine topics Albert does not usually tolerate. But Cooper’s knuckles are white and one of his fingers taps the side of his mug. “You fidget. But you're very still now.”
“Cooper,” Albert says, “toddlers fidget.”
“And yet, I almost thought you were meditating,” says Cooper. “I know better,” he adds, probably in response to the expression on Albert’s face.
“I do not fidget.” Albert feels compelled to keep defending himself. Why, he does not know. Possibly because Cooper is not yet smiling even though this entire exchange is a joke, possibly because he is wound so tight that he cannot smile either, or possibly because Cooper is still tapping the edge of his mug, an arrhythmic movement that is going to drive Albert crazy if he pays too close attention to it. He blinks. “I am--”
Albert acknowledges this with a half-smile.
“To what do we owe this sudden peace?” Cooper asks.
To what do they owe this “sudden peace,” if that's what they're going to call it? Windom Earle, for one. These firs, another. Cooper's white knuckles and skittish fingers. And, hell, why not throw in climate change and the whales as well? Since he's suddenly a goddamn hippie with a scalpel.
He should say something; he has nothing to say.
Albert has successfully avoided these kinds of raw and emotional conversations since the age of eight. He has made a science out of avoiding these kinds of conversations. He knows exactly how to cut, break, and end these kinds of conversations. It is easier than most people think -- calculate the worst thing to say and say it. Continue to say it until whatever thick-skulled idiot who believes Albert cares understands that Albert does not care. It is a tactic that has never failed him in the past. It is a tactic that he can’t use now. Cooper is not a thick-skulled idiot. Cooper is...Cooper, and he is watching Albert.
Albert notes Cooper's tense shoulders and poorly concealed uneasiness that suggests a fragility that Albert is not used to seeing in Cooper. That dim, stupid, moronic, sentimentality rises in Albert again. He cares about Cooper and it makes him angry. It makes Albert want to take off his jacket, roll up his sleeves and comb the forest himself to find Earle. Worst of all, it makes him uncomfortable and Albert has made a career out of not allowing his colleagues to make him feel uncomfortable.
But then, Cooper’s not just a colleague either. He never really has been, if Albert’s honest with himself.
Albert tries not to sigh. Instead, he calculates the worst thing to say. He calculates the best thing to say. He goes for something in between, realizing too late that he's only repeating himself. It’s pathetic and uninspired: “We caught him before. We'll catch him again.”
Cooper is silent. Albert pushes on. “It's Earle. He'll make a mistake and we'll find him and we'll put him away.”
“I never should have come to Twin Peaks,” says Cooper abruptly. “I'm endangering the lives of people I've grown to love.”
Albert snorts. “And I endanger the lives of my boys in the lab every time I pick up a sternal saw. Cooper, think like that and you'll be fast-tracked to a padded cell of your own.”
He takes a step towards Cooper. “This is a new case,” Albert says, “and this is a new town. Forget Twin Peaks. Forget Laura Palmer. ”
Cooper looks at him with utter disbelief, stunned into silence. Albert takes another step.
“This isn't Laura Palmer's town anymore,” he says. He takes a final half-step and he's standing very close to Cooper. Maybe too close, but it's important; he's holding Cooper's gaze because there is nowhere else for Cooper to look. “This is Windom Earle's.”
“Albert, please,” says Cooper. “The exchange of one menace for another does not – cannot – purge the history of this place. Windom's intrusion in Twin Peaks does not beget a new town. This will always be Laura Palmer's town. It will never be Windom's.”
“Make it,” says Albert. “Make it Windom's, because this is the venue he's chosen, Coop, and it belongs to him now. And like it or not, your herd of brainless, bucolic yokels, those precious people you’ve endangered? They’re part of it. You can’t protect them, not by thinking like that.”
Cooper grabs Albert's coat, bringing them inches away from each other. Albert should be clocked for that one and rightfully expects it. But Cooper's always saved physical violence for those who truly deserve it and the sharp hitch in Cooper's breath is violent enough as he says, “Albert, do you know nothing of love? True love?”
Albert looks down at Cooper's hand clenched on Albert's lapel and back up again. “Yeah, Coop. I'm just waiting for Mr. Right to come along so we can skip off into the sunset, happily ever after.”
“Nothing, then,” says Cooper. There is no malice in his tone, no anger, no bait. A statement of fact.
Albert would lie under oath before admitting how much that stung. Albert knows love. Above all else, Albert knows love. “Everything.”
“Then you know that true love is not bound to partnerships. I loved Caroline and I love Twin Peaks. I can't let him destroy this too. I won't.” Cooper takes a breath. “This town is not his to possess.”
“It's not yours either,” says Albert. “Cooper, for god's sake, wake up. Windom's playing a game and he's going to take every piece from you that he can. He doesn't want to destroy Twin Peaks. He wants to destroy you.”
“You want me to let him tear Twin Peaks apart.” Cooper's hand tightens on his coat.
“Twin Peaks was falling apart before you ever set foot in this town. BOB made sure of that. Windom's just picking at loose threads he left behind. Of course I want you to stop Windom. Stop him with every rock, prayer, and giant you've got in your arsenal. Cooper, fight for this backwater ashtray of a town. Fight for your beloved cretins. Save them.”
“Fight for whatever you believe in,” Albert says. “You always have. Just don't forget to fight for yourself too.”
Cooper looks frustrated and opens his mouth to speak, but Albert doesn't stop. “I don't care if he tears Twin Peaks apart,” he says. “But I don't want him to tear you apart.”
“If I am perfectly honest with myself,” says Cooper, “that is something you do not need to worry about.”
It is Albert's turn to fall silent. For a long, terrible, moment, his mind is empty and completely still. He stares at Cooper and Cooper stares back, unflinching. Cooper's hand on his coat is the grasp of someone about to fall. Albert should say something; he has nothing to say.
“Albert, your cigarette,” says Cooper softly. Albert looks down. His cigarette has burned down to the filter. He drops it and crushes the embers with the heel of his shoe. “Cooper,” he says, suddenly tired, “you can't carry Caroline forever.”
Cooper drops his hand and looks away. “No,” he says with a sigh so faint that Albert would have missed it, had he not been standing so close. “Neither can Windom.”
“Love has nothing to do with the game Windom's playing,” says Albert. He follows Cooper’s gaze, but Cooper is only staring at the trees across the road.
“No,” says Cooper. He looks back at Albert. “Love has everything to do with Windom's game. Why do you think he chose Twin Peaks--” he cuts himself off mid-sentence looking frustrated. “Albert,” he says, “you say you attempt to govern your life by love. Windom, I think, does something of the same. He loved Caroline. He loved me. At the root of his psychosis is a love he is unable to let go.”
“No,” says Albert. “The root of Windom's psychosis is chemical imbalance and possible brain damage. People in love do not murder their wives and go after their--” he stops, stares at Cooper. Cooper gives him a half-smile, so resigned and sad that Albert, for the second time today, comes close to doing something rash, like hugging Cooper.
“Fine. Say Windom acts out of love,” he says instead. “Let’s pretend we’re first year recruits. Theory of Criminal Minds 101: what do we stand to gain from that knowledge?”
“Insight,” says Cooper. “Motive.”
“We know that already.” He takes a step away, pulls out another cigarette and lights it. “We've known that for years.” He exhales, blowing smoke away from Cooper. “Coop, there is nothing to gain from that knowledge. If you hang onto whatever it was that pushed Windom over the edge, you'll follow him. Let it go.”
“Albert,” says Cooper, “why are you asking me to divorce love from reality?”
“Because,” says Albert, “love is unpredictable. Madness is not.”
Cooper gives him a look. Albert raises his eyebrows. “I'm not wrong.”
“Maybe,” says Cooper.
For a moment, they stare at each other. Cooper finally cracks a smile, a genuine one born of amusement and, possibly, joy.
“I wonder sometimes,” says Cooper, “if the root of your psychosis isn't also love.”
“It sure as hell isn't brain damage,” says Albert.
Cooper starts to laugh. He holds his mug with both hands now, fingers still. “Albert, I would very much enjoy eating dinner with you tonight. Will you be staying in Twin Peaks for the night?”
“Yes,” says Albert. “Provided The Great Northern is still standing.”
“For now,” says Cooper. “Although I believe they are about to host a young men's lacrosse convention, so you should call now for a room before they’re overrun with teenagers.” He heaves a long-suffering sigh. “I can only hope they are quieter than last week's cheerleaders.”
“Testosterone-filled teenage boys?” says Albert. “Unlikely.”
He drops his cigarette on the asphalt and picks up his briefcase. They walk back to the station.
“Thank you,” says Cooper, pausing before the door.
“Cooper,” says Albert. He hesitates and then shakes his head. “You fall in love too easily.”
“Well,” says Cooper. He steps in front of Albert. “We can't all be like you.”
Albert looks at Cooper. Maybe it's just the coffee kicking in, but Cooper's face is flushed and almost entirely devoid of that fragility Albert never wants to see again. Then that expression is gone too, replaced by a look that suggests Albert is in for a long evening of lively discussion. Whether they will talk about the merits of the Right-Hand Path in the aid of casework or the number of injuries Albert has sustained over his steadfast adherence to principles of love and non-violence, Albert does not know. It doesn’t matter. Cooper is smiling and his smile masks nothing.
“Few are,” says Albert, with smirk.
The quirk of Cooper's mouth is another quiet acknowledgment of gratitude and when he turns to open the door to the station, Albert thinks, before he can stop himself, Cooper, it isn't fair.