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Ways Most Mysterious

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Cooper is discovered in Vegas by a member of the Gaming Control Board, having a buffet lunch one afternoon where a disheveled woman is loudly telling everyone about her blessing by Mr. Jackpots, the winner of thirty in a row on the slots in a single day. Between bites of macaroni and cheese, he makes a round of phone calls which eventually lead to a house with a red door and then to man who isn't named Dougie, at least not by the records of his fingerprints which they obtain easily, the man offering no objections to them taking a set.

In fact, he's monosyllabic in the extreme, even when a number of FBI agents storm his house and lead him away from the protests of his not-wife and the confused eyes of his not-son. One of them, Albert Rosenfield, holds onto Cooper's elbow and helps him into the sedan without a word as Gordon sits on the other side, his hearing aid on 'high'.

The ride is silent and uncomfortable with Gordon staring at Albert, Albert staring at Cooper and Cooper staring straight ahead through the windshield to the winding black ribbon of road.

Finally, Albert is the one who fidgets and breaks the silence, his voice tight. "I'm a doctor," he says to Gordon, who simply keeps his gaze trained on him. There's a certain lack of ... trust ... in that gaze. "Let me try to bring him out of this."

Gordon's reply is slow and deliberate. "Do you think that's a good idea, Albert?"

"Good idea," Cooper repeats faintly with a faraway grin, his eyes still taking in the road, one mile after the other.

"I wouldn't suggest it if I didn't." Albert finds it hard to keep his hands still. He hasn't smoked in fifteen years, hasn't missed it for a minute until right now. "It's safer, especially with ..." He has no idea what to call the 'other' Cooper, that corrupt, filthy thing they saw back in Dakota. The thing he sold his soul for because it knew him, knew his heart and wanted nothing more than to shatter it into jagged, irreparable pieces. "One week. Give me a safe house and a week. If I don't succeed, you can try something else."

They hit a speed bump, the ones Vegas puts there to keep drivers from falling asleep and the jolt nearly sends all their heads against the roof of the car, making Albert curse roundly once they settle back in.

"Safe house," Cooper grinds out with some agitation, his mouth drawn tight into a nervous line. "Safe house."

Gordon exhales slowly, his owlish gaze sliding from Cooper to Albert, back to Cooper again. "One week, Albert. Bring him home to us."

Albert nods. He has no idea where home is or what is waiting inside of it for them but he will get them there, if it kills him.

Or when it kills him, either way.

~*~

The safe house is a casino hotel room in the Old Quarter where broken neon flashes and elderly gamblers shuffle from air conditioning to the hot street back to air conditioning again. It looks like a Western ghost town which is appropriate as Albert feels like the caretaker of a ghost, the ghost of the man he's loved for so long this seems like nothing but a strange dream.

The first thing he does is try to settle Cooper inside the room, which is easy as the man will go anywhere he's led without protest. He looks expectantly at Albert without a glimmer of recognition crossing his features with nothing but a faint, bewildered grin plastered onto his face.

Albert finds this more unsettling than anything else.

A medical examination follows. He's had a complete doctor's bag delivered, even wrangled a prescription pad from somewhere -- God knows he's not licensed in this state but the Bureau has its ways. He helps Cooper strip down to his underwear and warms the stethoscope -- Cooper complained the last time he did this, not liking the cold metal against the gun shot wound he'd examined all those years before.

Cooper seems healthy enough, physically, although Albert notes he's developed a tic in his left arm, a constant shivering twitch that he'll have to keep an eye on. There's no malnutrition, something you'd expect to see in a semi-catatonic person, especially when Cooper demonstrates that eating and drinking appear to be a newly relearned skill after room service is brought up. Coffee and pastries, Albert's ordered these to tempt him and it works, somewhat, except when most of the Danish lands on his lap, where Cooper stares at it, confused.

The coffee is swallowed boiling hot and Albert winces as he spends twenty minutes trying to treat a burned tongue.

"What the hell happened to you?" Albert murmurs, more to himself than anyone else.

Cooper attempts to eat the Danish again. "What the hell happened?" he repeats, his mouth full.

So it goes for the rest of the day, into the night. Cooper eventually falls asleep, as still as a corpse. Albert sits next to him, taking a single long drink from his flask to try and calm his nerves. He racks his brain, going over anything that makes sense for him to look at next, even things that don't make sense until he too drops off into a restless doze.

Albert dreams. It's a nightmare without much happening in it except a one-armed man asking him if he wants to buy a pair of shoes. New shoes, good shoes, shoes for policemen, shoes for doctors, shoes that make you dance all night long. Albert struggles to wake up but he can't, not until the man holds up a small gold ball bearing and brings it to his lips, deliberately, before he disappears -- horribly -- in a puff of black smoke.

With a gasp, Albert's eyes open. The sun is just about to rise and he'll be damned if he doesn't know what he has to do.

As insane as it is.

~*~

"Agent Rosenbloom?"

Deputy Andy Brennan's voice on the other end of the line is as credulous as ever. The sound of it always made Albert's teeth grind in his head. As much as he tried to be understanding, there are just some people who drive him over a ledge. Andy, unfortunately, is one of them.

"Yes, Andy, it's me. Can you put whomever is in charge now on the line?" He keeps his voice as calm and polite as possible, for him at any rate. "Now, please."

"Okay. Hold on for one minute. Or maybe two minutes, I have to tell Lucy to find him. Did you know that Lucy and I have a son? His name is Wally Brando. He was born on Marlon Brando's birthday. Isn't that something?"

Albert's mouth goes dry with impatience. "Now, please," he says more forcefully, knowing that in one more minute, he'll explode.

"Oh, right. Lucy ..." Andy's voice fades into a faraway murmur. "That's right, it's Agent Rosenflower. Can you believe it, Lucy? Just like we were talking about yesterday. Or was that the day before? Do you think that it means something? Maybe it has to do with the chocolate bunnies and ..."

"NOW PLEASE," Albert yells into the phone, startling Cooper who peers at him in askance. Albert exhales and shakes his head. "Sorry," he whispers to Cooper, who looks vaguely disappointed. "I'm sorry, just ... give me a minute. This guy drives me nuts."

Finally, thankfully, another voice comes on the phone. "Hawk here."

"Thank God," Albert breathes. "This is Agent Albert Rosenfield. Do you remember me, Deputy Hawk? I was the pathologist on the Laura Palmer case in '91. I know it's a long time ago but I need some information from your files on that case. You'll probably have to dig for them but it's an urgent matter."

"I remember you," Hawk's voice is as slow and deliberate as ever. "This is a strange coincidence. The files are already upstairs. What do you need from them?"

Albert looks at the receiver in surprise but shakes it off. "Whatever you have on the one-armed man, Mike. His medical history, what there is of it beyond the obvious."

There's a shuffling of files, then of papers before Hawk's voice comes back on the phone. "He was on a drug called Haloperidol. Not sure what that is. The other stuff, I think it falls under the obvious."

Suddenly, the road is laid out in front of Albert, the direction he knows he has to go in. "Right."

"Agent Rosenfield, I have to ask. Is this about Agent Cooper?"

"No," he lies. "Thank you, Deputy. I appreciate your help." He glances at Cooper who is looking at him balefully. "And thank Deputy Brennan for me as well. Congratulate him on his kid or whatever." Albert hangs up the phone and shrugs at Cooper. "That's the best you're going to get, pal."

"Best I'm going to get," Cooper says before looking in his coffee cup, noting that it's empty by turning it upside down. "Pal."

Getting the message, somehow, Albert turns the cup upright before pouring out more. "You should know that anyway by now," he says, giving into the temptation to squeeze Cooper's shoulder, which feels frail beneath his touch.

He hasn't touched him in so long, it's odd how natural it feels. He wants to touch him everywhere, in simple ways. Feel his cheek, the strength of his jawbone, brush the delicate fingers he remembers, now wrinkled with age. Silently become the sultan of sentiment again, as Cooper once jokingly called him after they came back from a case, losing themselves in each other all night long, letting the darkness slip away.

That day is gone. Another night is coming and there's no time for any of that.

Dr. Rosenfield has a prescription to fill.

~*~

Haloperidol is one of the older anti-psychotics and doesn't seem indicated for Cooper's condition but medicine is an art and Albert has a hunch. Maybe Cooper has rubbed off on him in ways better left unspoken but the dream he had has a deeper meaning, a message. He starts with a higher than usual dose and prepares to deal with the side effects, the twitching and akathisia, trying to avoid Cooper's frightened look of betrayal when his body stiffens like a board before going into violent spasms and jumps.

The words take two days to come. They are halting shot-like outbursts, more questions than answers. "Where? How ... Albert!" Cooper stutters, his hands fluttering like birds at his sides. His mouth twists and his arms bend back before he keeps rattling on, his eyes wild with slow recognition. "I'm here, aren't I? Albert, please ..."

"You're here. With me." Albert doesn't tell him he's safe. He's not going to lie, not about that at least. He hands him more water and helps him bring the glass to his trembling lips, the liquid sloshing over the sides as Cooper's hands shake. "Drink."

"I ... can't ... can't ..." Cooper swallows convulsively. He lies down again, his body stiffening before dissolving in more spasms. "No more," he begs as Albert hands him more pills, silently demanding he swallow them. "No more."

His pleas are ignored as Albert relentlessly increases the dosage. Two more days pass, the storm in his muscles calms, his stomach rebelling instead. This is easier, holding Cooper as he vomits, brown bile, part coffee, part whatever crap they've ordered from room service the night before. Albert washes his face with a cold washcloth, helps him rinse his mouth out before it starts all over again until there's nothing but dry heaves.

He prays that whatever was in Cooper, whatever is left of That Place, is purging itself out. By nightfall, Cooper is curled in a ball on the bed, breathing hard, his eyes clear and focused. Albert tentatively touches his face, afraid of what will look back at him when Cooper meets his gaze. Afraid that Cooper not only has come to his senses but knows that terrible thing Albert has done in the name of love, what Albert will do for him again if he has to.

"I'm here. With you," Cooper says, putting his hand over Albert's and holding it there. "I know where I am now, Albert."

Albert trembles and shuts his eyes, holding back tears. "Good," he rasps. "Because I'm not picking any more donuts off the floor."

"Where's Gordon?" Cooper asks, still not letting go of Albert's hand. "I have a lot to tell him."

"Waiting for you to come back. He gave me a week, we still have a day left. I think we should take it. To make sure this takes," Albert lies again. It's selfish, but he wants a day alone with Cooper who has come back to him, finally, in the most miraculous and mysterious of ways.

Just like he always knew he would.

Tomorrow will be the end of the week. Tonight Albert will crawl into bed beside Cooper and hold him while he sleeps, keeping the lights on, his gun on the night table. His hands will touch Cooper's jaw, his cheek ... his lips will press against the cool forehead while keeping his eyes on the door.

Something is coming, something wicked.

He has to be ready.

~*~

"What do you want to do with this?"

Albert holds up Cooper's black suit, the one he was found in. Unsurprisingly, Cooper no longer wants to wear it.

"Burn it," Cooper replies. He's sitting on the bed in his underwear, his hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. He's lost in thought, but no longer lost in mind.

Fortunately there's a men's shop in the casino complex. Albert orders some separates, cobbling together a respectable facsimile of a suit for their meeting with Gordon. They're delivered within the hour -- Albert's long ago learned the power of throwing money at problems -- and Gordon texts that he's outside waiting for them.

Both of them emerge from the side door where the sedan is waiting. Cooper, pale and aware, Albert in sunglasses and scowling. They climb in the car on opposite sides, ending up with Gordon sitting between them.

Gordon has never looked so relieved in all the time Albert has known him. He examines Cooper minutely, unable to stop grinning. "Good to have you back, Coop." He turns. "Nice work, Albert."

"It's good to see you Gordon." Cooper nods at him with a grin that quickly fades. "There's a lot to be done."

"We figured as much. Are you ready, Albert?"

"I guess," Albert replies dryly. "Just as long as it doesn't entail heading back to Hee-Haw Mountain to hobnob with Deputy Doofus and the Donut Gang."

For the first time, Cooper's smile is as luminous as he remembers it to be, once upon a time. "In that case Albert, I have bad news for you ..."

Albert smiles back. This is going to be terrible and God help him, he's going to be grateful for every minute of it.

~*~

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