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In the Dark Night, Remember Me

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By the time the whole mess came full circle; by the time Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI was himself again, exorcised of the demon, freed from the lodge by the grace of who knows what power and the help of Harry, Annie, Hawk, Big Ed, and, in the most unlikely of circumstances, Johnny Horne; by the time Cooper woke up free, Audrey was long gone.

Months had passed by the time he came back to himself on the edge of Glastonbury Grove. Harry and Hawk filled him in on Eckhart's bomb – Andrew Packard was dead for real; Pete had lost an arm; and Audrey had spent several weeks in a coma but had, for the most part, recovered. So they told him, but the fallout of other events – Doc Hayward's attack on Audrey's father, followed by his descent into madness, and the subsequent suicide of Donna Hayward, along with the burning of the Great Northern – had given Audrey the impetus to flee Twin Peaks at last. She had a lover in Texas, they told him, a wealthy lover who was sure to take good care of her.

After a week in the hospital, Harry drove Cooper home – home? - out to Dead Dog Farm. They drove with the windows down. The summer air crackled with heat, and clouds piled up in the distant sky, electricity snapping, raising the hair on Cooper's forearms, the back of his neck. A scent of rain and dry dusty Douglas Fir and pine needles made his nose itch. As they rounded a bend in the road, a shaft of late afternoon sunlight burst through the trees, and Cooper drank in the light, willing it to pour into his self and soul, to wash away every shadow that lingered in all the corners of his being.

They drove in silence until Cooper said, "Harry, I owe you a debt I can never repay."

The sheriff glanced sidewise at Cooper, his eyes crinkling in a smile. The past several months weighed heavy around Harry's eyes, pressed his shoulders down into a slump, but he answered in his usual strong voice. "How's that, Coop?"

"You kept me... you kept BOB from harming anyone in my name, in my image," Cooper said, looking out at the thirsty trees spinning past as they sped along the highway. "You kept your people safe, and then you came looking for me. It was... an impossible thing, Harry, but you did it. It's a tradition in many different cultures that to save a man's life is to own his life. My life belongs to you – in this incarnation and many others to follow."

Harry stared at him a moment, then laughed, a sad little laugh, before casting his eyes back to the road. "Coop, it's good to have you back," he said. After a moment he added, "I give you back your life. I've barely got a handle on my own right now."

The two men grinned at each other, each with his own sorrow to put aside, and Cooper felt some of the heaviness lift off of him. Thanks to Harry's vigilance – and Hawks, and Big Ed's (poor Ed), and the rest of the Bookhouse Boys – BOB hadn't harmed anyone and in the guise of Cooper's doppelganger hadn't committed any crimes that would have caused Cooper to lose his badge again, and had been sent back to the Lodge, its entrance sealed away by Johnny Horne. So Cooper's homecoming was more sweet than bitter, but it was bitter enough.

"So... Annie," Harry said.

"Harry, I believe the applicable phrase here is 'let sleeping dogs lie,'" Cooper replied.

"Whatever you say, Coop."

Annie wasn't coming back. She wasn't waiting for him at home (really, home?). Cooper accepted this. She was well, and she'd made her decision, and he felt it was a wise one. Both of them needed to heal, and she'd born the brunt of the discovery that the Cooper who returned from the Lodge on the same night she returned was not the same Cooper who had gone in to rescue her. She'd found herself pursued by BOB, terrorized by him, and ultimately saved from him, but seeing BOB's face mixed with Cooper's face – well, it was no wonder that she couldn't look at him anymore without seeing BOB, too. And truth to tell, he couldn't look at her without seeing Caroline, over and over. No, they were best apart. Maybe after healing, they would meet again, someday.

Harry turned into the long driveway, and as they came around the corner, Cooper felt a surge of his old enthusiasm. Across the dry, brown yard, he could see that the house had been freshly painted, repairs had been done, and there in front of the porch door stood Lucy and Andy, Lucy bouncing on her toes like a little round, radiant golden ball.

"Will you look at that, Harry?" Cooper turned to the sheriff with a grin, which Harry answered.

"It was all Lucy's idea," Harry said. "She rounded up an army to fix up the house and do some sewing for the curtains and things, and she picked out some of the furniture herself. It's not all new, but it's some to start with."

"Harry, it's going to be great."

Lucy held out her hands to him as Cooper strode over to thank her. "We hope you like it, Agent Cooper," she said, looking up adoringly at Andy.

Cooper took her hands and pulled her in for a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then shook Andy's hand. "I don't know what to say. It looks fantastic. There aren't words enough for adequate expressions of gratitude."

"Well, c'mon in and see if you like it," Andy said, stumbling over the threshold and catching himself on Lucy's shoulder.

A huge pot of coffee waited on the counter beside a box of donuts, and they all sat around the little kitchen table to talk – not about the tragedies of recent days but about little bits of frippery and gossip, silly things – and Cooper just sat back and listened, sipping his coffee. They stayed until twilight, then left him to settle in.

So he wandered alone through the house, sitting on a chair here, poking a lamp that turned on with a touch, looking at a painting of a bright hillside covered in Douglas fir that hung in the little bedroom. It wasn't a large house – just two bedrooms, the living room, and the kitchen, so it didn't take him long to explore every square inch. On a little wobbly table by the front door lay a single envelope. Cooper picked it up, turned it over, and saw a familiar handwriting addressing the letter to "Special Agent Dale Cooper, FBI, c/o The Double-R Diner, etc." Audrey's handwriting, no return address. He opened the letter, dated from over two months ago.

June 8, 1991

Dear Special Agent,

Shelly wrote to me to tell me all that happened after I left. I know you'll understand why I couldn't bear to stay. My family just seems to be all tangled up in all the bad things, the dark things that create the nightmares in Twin Peaks. I don't know if they told you, but I was the one to find Donna, and I feel like if I'd gotten there sooner, I could have saved her. And I feel like it's my fault because my father – well, I guess you know about that. We were sisters. I had a sister. And she was gone before I ever knew her.

And Johnny – Shelly told me what she heard about what he did. I think there's more to it than what Shelly knows. She talked too much about what she didn't know, and I know there's something strange about what happened to you, and I know that Johnny did something more than find you in the woods. I don't know how I know it, but I know it. But now my brother is gone, too. A sister, and a brother, one dead, one lost. Sometimes I think [the rest of the sentence was scratched out entirely.]

I don't think you'll remember this, because I honestly believe you weren't there, even though it seemed like you were, but I saw you one day, in the hospital. I had only been awake for a day, and I opened my eyes and saw you standing in my doorway. You looked like you wanted to ask me a question, so I waved at you. You came to stand by my bed, and I looked up into your eyes, and – I know this is going to sound crazy, but it wasn't you. I didn't even recognize the – soul, I guess – behind the eyes that were looking at me. And then I saw – someone else, too. And you laughed this creepy laugh, and I was about to scream when you turned and walked away. Was I crazy? Was it you? Or something else? Or did I dream it?

Anyway, I knew I had to get out of there – out of the hospital, out of Twin Peaks, away from everything. That night, the inn burned. I snuck out, stole some clothes, got some money from my father's bank account, and bought a bus ticket to Texas. So here I am. I phoned Shelly at the diner and told her to let me know what was going on. She said you were still... sick. I hope you're better by the time this gets to you.

You can get my address from Shelly – I'm not putting it on any of my letters because those ladies at the post office gossip something fierce. Just... don't mail your letter in Twin Peaks, OK? If you write to me. I'm happy here – I'm going to start college in the fall. Me, going to college. Right now, I've got a job in a doughnut shop, and the smell of coffee and doughnuts makes me think of you all the time.

Love,

Audrey

P.S. - I enclosed a picture for you to remember me by. Shelly sent it to me. You look far too serious, Special Agent Dale Cooper, FBI.

Audrey and Cooper

He didn't remember the photo being taken – had Shelly taken it, or Norma maybe? He did look too serious, perhaps, but those had been serious times – murders, mysteries, mayhem. But Audrey – his eyes lingered on the figure of her, leaning in to the background of the photo. She looked so young, but there was something so intelligent, so empathetic in her soft expression, even in the graceful tapering of her fingertips and her wistful pose, laying her cheek to her hand. A heart that yearns, he'd once said. And a mind that reasoned things out, that reached out for more than the simple explanations. He had spent too little time considering Audrey's mind, and suddenly he missed her wit, her vivacity; suddenly he longed to sit down over a cup of coffee with her and just listen to her talk.

He folded the letter and slid it back into its envelope. The picture, he carried into the bedroom and propped it up on the lamp beside his bed. He'd get a proper frame for it tomorrow.

Her letter didn't mention a boyfriend; not that it was any of Cooper's business. But Lucy had chattered quite a bit about Jack Wheeler, and how he'd flown off into the sunset, leaving a breadcrumb contrail for Audrey to follow. And she had. And it was senseless to regret. After all, what did a beautiful girl of eighteen (or was she nineteen? he didn't know her birthday...) have to do do with a man of thirty-seven; a man who was all but broken, in spirit, if not in body. He felt broken, shards of himself cast about like glass from a shattered mirror – a piece of his soul in the Black Lodge; a piece of his soul carried off by BOB; a piece of his soul still held by Laura Palmer, by her cousin Maddie, by Theresa Banks; the piece that Annie took, and the one that was buried with Caroline.

He would not take Audrey's soul, too. Putting her in danger as he had done to so many women... never again. He always said that – never again. But it happened over and over and over. No, he wished Audrey joy of her life in Texas and hoped this Jack Wheeler cherished her in every way she deserved to be cherished – for her bright mind, her beautiful eyes, her smile, and her willful, mischievous spirit.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and strobe-like flashes of lightning tossed around shadows on the wall. Leaving the lamp on, he pulled the covers up to his chin, but sleep never came.

~*~

Maybe he dozed a little bit, because his mind was mazed with fitful dreams when he opened his eyes again to stare off in the dark and startled to find that sunlight had replaced the thundering darkness, dappling the wall with bright patterns through the shade of the white curtains. The brief storm had brought the temperature down a little. Cooper levered himself out of bed to push aside the curtains and open the window to let in the crisp, clean early morning air.

The aroma of fresh-brewing coffee led him into the kitchen, where Harry and Hawk lounged in mismatched chairs around the rickety little table. “Morning, Coop,” Harry said, cheerfully, and Hawk greeted him with a congenial thrust of his chin. “That cowlick of yours looks like it misses your comb.”

Cooper smoothed his hair self-consciously. “Morning, Harry, Hawk,” he said, and helped himself to a cup of coffee, joining them at the table.

“Gordon Cole called the station this morning, looking for you,” Harry said. “You need to get yourself a phone line fixed up out here.”

“I could use a ride into town to take care of that, if you've got the time,” Cooper said. The coffee was perfect, and he sipped it too fast and burned his tongue.

Harry grinned. “Well, as to that... Hawk's cousin had an old clunker truck he wasn't using, so Hawk borrowed it off of him for a while. It's all yours to use until you can get some wheels of your own.”

Hawk was leaning back in his chair, arms folded over his chest in a self-satisfied way, and Cooper grinned at both of them. “I'm going to owe you and everyone in Twin Peaks for all eternity and my next several incarnations, if you keep this up,” he said.

“Yeah, I think you mentioned something like that before,” Harry replied. “But don't forget, we owe you some, too.”

“All things,” Hawk said, “come back into balance, with time.”

“Too true,” Cooper agreed, with a contented sip.

“Meet us for lunch at the Double-R?”

“Sure thing, Harry.”

And Hawk and Harry rose up from the table, clapping hats on their heads, and out the door they went, into the dazzling sunshine, leaving Cooper behind with the coffee and the shadows across his table.

~*~

The Double-R was teeming with patrons when Cooper arrived; he'd had to circle a couple of times for a parking spot, using the time and the round-about motion as a kind of meditation, which refreshed him so much that he lost one parking spot out of a desire to continue in circles for just a little longer. When he finally pushed through the door, Harry and Hawk and Andy were waiting for him in one of the booths, waving him over. He lifted his hand in greeting but motioned that he was going to the counter first.

Shelly looked more cheerful than Cooper had ever seen her. Stress lines had faded from her face, and she looked young and bright. She gave him a little wave and a wide smile when he caught her attention. Once she finished serving a platter, she came to his part of the bar and leaned on her elbows, propping up her chin in her hands. “What can I get for you, Agent Cooper? It's still Agent Cooper, isn't it?”

“Yes, Shelly,” he said, without thinking, “Still Agent Cooper.” But then, he paused to contemplate that statement: in so many ways, it was true – but in how many ways was it no longer true?

“Agent Cooper?”

“Yes?”

“Um...” Shelly looked frantically at the back-up of customers. “Can I...help you?”

“Yes...” Cooper said, recovering himself. “I had a letter from Audrey. She mentioned you would have her address.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Shelly said. “I'll write it down and bring it over to your table.”

“Excellent. Oh!” Cooper remembered. Shelly gave him a quizzical, half-impatient look. “I spoke with Gordon Cole this morning.”

“Oh?” Shelly's smile turned shy at the corners.

“He said to tell you hello, and that he can't wait to hear your voice again.”

“Oh, that's sweet,” she said, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. “Is he going to be coming back to Twin Peaks anytime soon?”

“He didn't say,” Cooper replied, “but my guess is, it's a definite possibility, Shelly.” She wrinkled her nose at him and waved him off, whirling around to gather up the backup of plated meals from the kitchen shelf.

After lunch, Shelly brought him a piece of cherry pie, and under the plate was a slip of paper which he tucked away in his pocket.

~*~

August 25, 1991

Dear Audrey,

I'm so glad to hear that you are doing well in Texas – what's the weather like? Everything here has dried out, but we had a storm last night. Summer will be over soon, I guess. Thanks to Andy and Lucy, and Hawk, Harry, and the rest, I'm getting settled in here. Strange to have a home after not having one for so long. I hope you have a place to call home, Audrey, even if it's just a comfortable, quiet room. But I wish you mansions, or palaces, if you like.

I think I'm ready to get back to work. I imagine they'll take me at the Spokane field office. I have to say, I'm looking forward to an unexciting case load and a return to a normal life. If I can call it a return. Come to think of it, I've never had the chance to experience what one might define as a “normal” life, so it should be quite an adventure.

In your letter, Audrey, you spoke of nightmares. I hope you will forgive me for not being ready to speak of nightmares. I'm sorry that I can't tell you anything about your brother. I wasn't there for that part, so to speak. But I am grateful for what he did, however he did it, and I hope he will find his way home. When I can, I will do some investigating of my own, but for now, I feel it's best to leave this work to others who are less susceptible to nightmares.

Good luck in your studies. Please write to me about what you're studying. You must be just about ready to start your first semester. I hope it has gone well. I remember my first semester in college. I found it to be something of an anthropological study of young adult culture in the first stages of freedom. At times I wished for a mountain top to call my own, but in the end, it was well worth the journey. That's what I told myself at the time, anyway.

Take care, Audrey. I wish you all the best.

Regards,

Special Agent Dale Cooper

PS – Thank you for the picture. I will enjoy it, though I must tell you that the memory of you needs no aid.

He drove to Spokane to mail it the next day, taking care to be home before darkness.

~*~

It seemed to her a cold, impersonal letter, so she tried not to take it personally. At least he had written to her – that he had written at all was encouraging. But the letter didn't sound like him; rather, it sounded stilted, bland, reticent – oh, a whole college thesaurus of relative synonyms. Well, the last part sounded more Special Agent Cooper-like. Anthropological study, indeed. And the gallant comment about memory needing no aid for her, that was like him. So, there was hope.

Audrey looked around her dorm room at the University of North Texas. She'd been able to acquire a single room and keep it with a little help from her job at the doughnut shop. Her desk was piled with books, littered with paper and pens. The twin bed was unmade, and dirty laundry was scattered about. The only clean spot was the area around the coffee maker sitting on the dresser top. Was this home? Or, “a” home? She rather thought not.

This place was transitory. A means to an end. One of these days, before you know it, I'll be grown up and on my own. And you just better watch out. He had better. She fought down the urge to answer the letter right away. She had a psychology class later this evening, and she enjoyed verbally sparring with the professor. But a girl couldn't spar if a girl didn't stay one step ahead of the game, and she did so love making the pompous old thing look like he wanted to eat his tie. So, study first, letters to prodigal Special Agents later.

Pushing herself up from the desk, she went to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. Snagging her textbook from atop a pile of precariously stacked notebooks, she shoved some clothes off the bed and settled herself against the headboard to study, mug in one hand, book in the other.

In high school, she'd done just the amount of work she needed in order for school not to be a bother, not to get in the way of her real life, because there were more interesting things in life than sitting in a classroom with stodgy teachers and stodgier classmates, most of whom would marry each other and never leave Twin Peaks. Not that Audrey had thought about leaving Twin Peaks until her life there had gone up in smoke, but still... She'd always imagined her life bigger, brighter, stretching far beyond the boundaries of that catty little high school.

And now – now she was way past that boundary. A college girl. It hadn't taken more than a few weeks under the care of John Justice Wheeler to know that he was definitely not what she'd wanted. And what he wanted was even more definitely not for her. Marriage? Kids? After he pulled out that ring... She couldn't get her parents out of her head. She couldn't stop thinking of Johnny, of Donna, of Laura. Jack was the absolute antithesis of her father – he was the promise of a dream come true, a bona fide American Dream and all the picket fences she could ever hope to want.

Well, she didn't want picket fences.

She'd sat down. Made a list of what she thought she wanted, crossed some things off, added some things, and after a sleepless night or two or ten and some major soul-searching, she'd packed her bags and hied herself to UNT, where she made an almost perfect score on a GED exam, then a reasonably high score on the SAT and entrance exams, and had been accepted to the university immediately.

Got a job, started classes, found that she enjoyed the life of a student. It felt like a race, a race in which she was behind, but with every exam passed, every 'A' earned, she got closer to winning. She had to prove herself to herself now, competing only with herself to be smarter, better, stronger. But she also took smug satisfaction in overtopping her classmates and confounding her professors, challenging them and what she perceived to be hidebound ideas. Well, some of her professors, anyway. In one or two classes, she sat quiet, in rapt attention, soaking in new ideas that had never crossed into her sphere of existence, and she felt herself expanding, the ideas spreading across her mind like an inkblot creeps over a page and forms a kind of pattern, beautiful or ugly, depending on the beholder.

She'd shed a whole life when she shed Twin Peaks, like an old skin that fit too tight, that squeezed the breath and life from her soul. Her new skin – a new soul skin, she thought, whimsically – was one that moved with her, stretched as she grew, didn't hold her back. This wasn't a hard lesson to learn, to depend on her own approval, to test her own strength, to challenge her own self. She hadn't know what she'd meant about being all grown up when she spoke those words to Agent Cooper, but she thought she was beginning to understand what she'd been trying to work out in those airy sentences.

She wasn't grown up, wasn't done, yet. But as her very self had changed in the months since their separation, so had her feelings for her special agent. Oh, he was still very special to her, but her connection to him felt so different now – stronger, but more tender, with less need in herself and more to offer, and the promise of more to come as her new soul took deeper root. As she touched the paper, ran her fingers over the neat, even letters, she could feel his need, somehow.

Shaking out of her reverie, she took a sip of coffee and opened her book.

~*~

September 9, 1991

Dear Special Agent,

The weather here is, as they say, “hot as balls.” Everything is sun-scorched, and we all sit around like miserable old lumps drinking gallons of iced tea. I don't think I ever sweated a day in my life until I came to Texas, and now I never stop. And they won't let us shower more than once a day because of drought rationing. I'm sure you're really glad to hear about that.

I never thought I'd say this, but I love college. And talk about anthropological studies: here's a story for you. A few nights ago, a bunch of boys from the dorm opposite scaled our balconies and taped centerfolds to every window on that side of the dorm. In the morning, when the girls in 22 opened their blinds, they saw the picture, and what did they do? They screamed. Because a naked woman is something to scream about, you know? And that woke the girls in the other room up, and so the girls in 22 ran into 24, and the girls in 23 went in to see what was going on, and when they pulled up the blinds in 24, guess what was there? Another picture of a naked woman! So they screamed some more! And pretty soon, we had a gaggle of girls stampeding up and down the hall running in and out of the rooms, screaming like banshees.

The RAs made the boys take the pictures down, but I cornered one of them - a cute guy who looks like the archetypical engineer, with his glasses - and got him to give me the picture they'd stuck up on my window. I've got it stuck on the inside of the window now, just for kicks.

I haven't decided what to major in, yet, but I'm considering psychology. I think about my dad, and Johnny, Laura, and, well, everyone in Twin Peaks, just about, and I just keep thinking, "Why? Why were they the way they were? Why did they do the things they do?" And I just want to get inside their brains and walk around in their heads and get it all figured out, you know? I know I can't do that - can't change the past, what's done is done, etc. - but I think, maybe I could help someone else. Maybe I could help myself not end up like Daddy or Mother. So, psychology. Or, if I get really ambitious, psychiatry. I've heard that there's a place in the Bureau for PhDs. What do you think of that, Special Agent Dale Cooper?

I sure would love to talk with that Agent Bryson you introduced me to that one time. She could give me some tips on what to expect as a woman in the FBI. If I decide to go that route. They keep telling us we have lots of choices ahead of us, and I believe it. Sometimes I just feel so lucky, you know? To have choices.

Sometimes, I wish Laura and Donna were here with me. I wish we were roommates, getting on each other's nerves, stealing each other's food, short-sheeting each other's beds. I never liked Laura much when she was alive - and to tell the truth, I didn't like Donna much, either. But I think if we'd all just gotten out of Twin Peaks and out into the world a bit, maybe we would have been friends, or sisters, or whatever we were meant to be.

Sorry, I don't know why I'm telling you all of this - it's silly to wish for what might have been. What's important is now, and right now, I've got an exam to study for, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that guy who sits beside me and sneers at me all through class get a better grade than I. He calls me "little girl". One of these days, I'm going to lay him out with my fist, I think. Didn't you learn some sort of martial art somewhere? Will you teach it to me?

All my love,

Audrey

~*~

October 31, 1991

Dear Audrey,

...Cooper paused, his pen hovering over the nearly blank sheet of paper on the lap desk. Outside, the wind was whuffling madly in the treetops and around the eves of his house. He could hear an owl, faint and distant, making its sinister call, Its "Who? Who? Who?" refrain. Who? Cooper thought. Who am I? Even after two months had passed since his return, he wasn't entirely sure.

A loose shutter banged sharply against the side of the house, causing Cooper to jump, the pen skidding across the paper. Irritated, he lifted the sheet of paper, wadded it up, and tossed it across the room. The wind howled again, and the lightbulb flickered. Cooper considered climbing into his truck and driving over to the sheriff's station. Harry would surely still be there, or Hawk. But no. He'd been doing that all too often lately. He'd never been afraid of the dark, or the wind, or the woods, and this had to end.

The light flickered. Flickered again. Flickered once more, and went out.

He looked to the window, his eyes straining for light, thinking to let moonlight guide him to the flashlight he kept on the bedside table.

A face, pressed against the window. Hands, pressed to either side of the face. "Let me in," she hissed. "I need to come in." Blonde hair tumbled wildly across the window panes. Cooper sat, frozen, his mind scrambling for a thought, a solution, a mantra, anything to ward off the wraith outside.

Cold fingers pressing into his shoulder. He whipped his head around to look up, to stare into the mad and maddening eyes, blue beneath a white film, blonde hair falling over him like a deathly curtain as she leaned in for a toothy kiss.

~*~

Audrey was running against wind, lost up in the mountains that encircled Twin Peaks like some kind of barrier - to keep what out? or to keep us in? she wondered, as she ran - down, down the mountain, stumbling over rocks, bouncing off trees, until she discovered she could float, that she could change her speed and direction with the agility of a bird of prey. After that, even the owls couldn't slow her down - owls? Oh, yes, the owls - they tried to catch her, tangle their talons in her hair, her clothes. Even with her newfound speed, they were difficult to evade. So she formed herself into mist and floated down the mountain in wisps, driven along by the howling gale, bodiless.

At the little house, surrounded by fir and pine, a house she'd seen once before, in pictures, she gathered her body around her again. Somewhere, a shutter banged out an arrhythmic beat. She started to wonder who lived in this lonely little house, but she had only to wonder to find that she already knew.

Clouds scudded across the moon, and a stray moonbeam bounced briefly off of something in the yard. Audrey floated over, bent down to pick it up. A simple gold ring. She slipped it onto her left ring finger. As soon as she touched it, she could feel his fear, his confusion, the way he was slipping into madness. She floated up the porch steps, but she couldn't float through the door.

"Let me in!" she yelled, angry, banging on the door. "Let me in, damn it!"

But he couldn't answer, he couldn't come let her in because someone was already inside with him. So she became mist again, and slipped herself under his door, softly, because so much damage had been done to him already.

The little house was so much bigger on the inside. Where she had expected to see a living room, she saw a long corridor, lit in red light that pulsated queasily and seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. The light confused her because when she was standing outside, she hadn't seen any light at all. She moved down the corridor, absently turning the ring on her finger. She couldn't float, not here, not with this red light weighing her down. So she ran, or tried to, and her legs dragged underneath her the way they do in dreams where you're trying to run away from something unseen, but you can't quite manage to run. You couldn't scream in those dreams, either.

"Am I dreaming?" Audrey said aloud, just to see if she could say it, just to see if she could hear her own voice. The words seemed to echo across the walls.

"No." A voice, strangely toned, near her elbow.

Throwing herself against a wall, she found she could scream. The little man in a red suit grinned widely at her, and then between one pulse of light and another, he was gone.

She found herself sitting on a bed, dressed in a fripperish concoction of lace and ribbon, the costume she'd worn at One-Eyed Jacks. Between her breasts nestled the Queen of Diamonds.

"Wait just a minute," Audrey said, angry. And then she looked around her.

From the shadows, her father stepped forward, his eyes strangely clouded. Leland Palmer, too, and Jean Renault, Blackie too. Jack.

"Jack?"

"Audrey."

He stepped forward, pulled her into a rough hug.

"Jack, what is going on?" She tried to push away from him, but he held her tight.

"C'mon, Audrey, I'll take you home." But he didn't let go. In fact, his arms tightened, and she felt her ribs bend in.

"Jack," she gasped. "You're crushing me."

"I know," he said, and she threw her head back to look at him. His eyes, like her father's, were clouded, and his mouth was frozen in a wide-open grin.

"NO!" She screamed. Felt the ring go cold on her finger. Closed her eyes, thought of wind on the mountain tops, of clouds across the moon, mist over water.

"Audrey, behave yourself!" Not-Jack snarled.

But Audrey Horne had never "behaved herself", not one single day in her life. If she wanted to be mist, then by God and hell, she would be mist, or any other precipitation she damned well pleased.

In the long red corridor, she floated, tried to gather thoughts to her mind. It was hard to think as a foggy wisp, so she slipped back into her skin. Why was she here? She couldn't remember why she had come here.

A scream. Not hers. It echoed through her, vibrated her very being, reverberated through her soul. She gasped at the wave of sadness, of despair and hopeless longing that engulfed her, and then she remembered. Wading through the tide of bleak emotion, as it became a physical thing, flooding the hallway, she followed the thread of anguish to a door, not at the end, nor near the beginning of the hall, but somewhere in the middle.

It was locked. Even as a mist, she couldn't enter, not under the door, not through the keyhole. As a woman, she leaned down to peer through the keyhole and saw Special Agent Dale Cooper surrounded by women. Laura. Her cousin Maddy. A woman and a girl, neither of whom Audrey recognized. To her eye, the scene was frozen and flat, like a painting. The women stood around him, skin blanched with death, hands clawed and reaching, and he, still and pale and terrified, unable to act.

Audrey straightened, touched the ring on her left hand, pulled it off, and formed it into a key. She slipped it into the keyhole, turned it, and the lock snicked open. The door fell away at her touch.

Only their eyes moved. His eyes filled with tears, and she could feel his soul begging. Not her. Not her. Not her, too.

"It's not 'me, too'," Audrey told him.

As if her voice broke a spell, the women dropped their statue poses and lunged for her throat.

She only felt a moment's fear, but her clear eyes met his haunted ones, and she felt something snap into place in her heart, and at that moment she knew nothing could touch her. She flung out her arms, and the women became mist, and faded.

"I put you in danger," Cooper said, a single tear tracking down his cheek. "Just like the others. You have to get out of here. You'll die, because of me, you almost died because of me before, because I can't protect you or anyone... I can't let you..."

"I don't need you to protect me," she said. "I don't need you to keep me safe."

She thought about that for a minute, thought about some things she'd wanted to say to him for a long time. She could feel his soul, his heart, his mind, weighted down by guilt and fear and even by love turned and twisted until it was sick and wrong. "You need to let it go, Agent Cooper. My choices are my own, and it's not up to you to 'let' me do a damned thing. I'm sure by now you know that I'm accustomed to doing just as I please. You saved me once. And now I'm going to save you." Her lips quirked up in a smile. "And you can't stop me." But he didn't laugh. If anything, he looked more stricken, more child-like and broken.

"No, I made mistakes too," Audrey went on. "I said you were perfect. I put you up there, on that pedestal, and that just made it worse for you, didn't it? You're not perfect, and I'm not perfect, but here we are, in this... what is this, anyway? It's OK not to be perfect, Agent Cooper. You can't save everyone. Sometimes you've got to let other people do the saving part."

Audrey moved slowly, gently, because his fear for her, of her, hurt a lot, and she didn't want to make it worse. Climbing into bed next to him, she took him into her arms and held him, and he sobbed all his nightmares out, cradled on her breast.

~*~

Audrey, like some kind of bright, benign spirit, stepped into his room, took him in her arms, and the haunted things faded as if they'd never come pouring through his window, all his nightmares come to him in one night to drag his soul back to the Black Lodge, where he felt he belonged. She came clothed in light, armored against fear, strong and true and more beautiful than he remembered. And when she reached for him, touched him, Cooper could feel that light burning through him, felt the guilt and heaviness burn away.

"Look," she said.

He looked up. She gently disentangled herself from him, and drew aside the curtains. The sky was bright blue above the evergreens, and the sun came pouring in.

~*~

"Aaaaudrey!!" Gina, one of her dorm-mates, slouched in her doorway. "You coming to the Final Final party?"

Audrey grinned. "Not this time," she said, with only a little regret. "Maybe next semester. I had my final final yesterday, anyway."

Gina snorted and glanced over at the suitcase on Audrey's bed. "Packing for home?"

"Bus leaves in an hour."

"Well, have a nice Christmas holiday, then, but you're missing out on one great party."

"Probably, but I think I'll survive. Plus, where I'm going, there's snow. And I packed a little something to keep me warm." Audrey winked.

"Don't drink by yourself, girl." Gina wagged a finger at her. "Anyway, Merry Fucking Christmas, and all that shit. I thought you didn't have any family back in Washington."

"A Happy Fucking New Year to you," said Audrey. "I don't."

"Well, whatever you're going back for, we'll miss you. I was hoping you'd stick around through vacation."

"Don't worry, I'll be back before you can miss me."

"Give him my love." Gina winked.

"Ha ha, you're funny, darling. But I will. He needs all the love he can get."

"Oh, a charity case."

"Not exactly. Just someone who needs a little help once in a while."

With a parting grin, Gina took herself off to the party, leaving Audrey to hastily finish packing. She slipped a little flat parcel between the layers of clothes where it would travel undamaged. Snapping the suitcase closed, she went downstairs to meet the taxi.

~*~

On Christmas Eve, everything froze. Icicles hung from the eves, and the tree branches groaned under the weight of snow and ice. Out the kitchen window, Cooper could see moonlight sparkling over the icy crust atop the snowdrifts.

Lucy had insisted on putting up a tree in his living room, and it seemed like half the people in town had come up to leave a present under it, or sent one up with Harry. Cooper had done his shopping in Spokane, and he'd left gifts for some folks at the Double-R; others, he'd taken 'round to people himself. Hawk, Harry, Lucy, and Andy were coming over for Christmas Eve dinner, and Denise had promised to try to get here for the holiday, too. He had all of their gifts under the tree. He hoped the weather wouldn't keep them away, for although he no longer feared being alone in the darkness, he felt he'd like to spend this evening in the company of friends.

As if in answer to his wish, he heard a knock at the front door, and he shoved a tray of rolls into the oven and went to let them in. He wondered why they hadn't just come around to the kitchen door like always.

In the darkened living room, the little tree glowed, fairy-like, and a benign fire blazed in the fireplace, the whole scene very like a Christmas card. Out of habit, he peered through the peephole before answering, then flung open the door in astonishment.

"Hi there, Special Agent," Audrey said, her dark locks half-hidden by a bright red scarf, her cheeks rosy. Frost tipped her eyelashes, and her lips curved up in that familiar, sweet, mischievous smile.

"Audrey... Audrey Horne," he said, with not a little wonder. "Come in, Audrey, before you freeze." She did, and she dragged a suitcase in behind her.

"I hope you don't mind," she said, closing the door behind her. "I'd rather stay with you than a hotel in Spokane, because there's... nowhere else for me in Twin Peaks, now."

"Of course I don't mind," he replied. "I'm just shocked to see you at all. Why didn't you call, or send a letter to tell me you were coming?"

They were talking in sentences old acquaintances might have used. Her eyes caught at his, shyly, and he felt just as shy. Had it been just a dream, or more than a dream, or not a dream at all? Since that night, he'd turned out the light and slept until dawn, and though he would sometimes slip into a dream, he always seemed to catch a glimpse of her. Audrey peering around a pillar of stone, turning a corner in the crowd ahead of him, standing across a rainy street beneath a bright red umbrella... Always watching him, then letting him get on with the business of dreaming, and when dreams turned to nightmares, he had only to wake, to reach across the table beside his bed and touch her letters, her photo, and the nightmares turned to mist and receded.

She tilted her head and touched her tongue to her upper lip, thinking. "I don't know," she answered him. Then she turned and laid down her suitcase, opened it up, and pulled out something flat, wrapped in tissue paper. "I have something for you."

"Audrey, you shouldn't have." But he was pleased that she had. He took the package and folded away the paper. Inside was a circular frame, woven with an intricate web of blue thread. Caught in the web were beads of crystal, gold, rose, and orange. Sunset colors. Sunrise colors. Knots of thread and more beads dangled from the frame.

"A dreamcatcher," she said. "To hang in your window. It keeps the nightmares away. Or so they told me in Texas."

They stared at one another for a moment, and again he wanted to ask her if that was her, if she had come wrapped in light to save him once on a windy night.

"I have something for you, too," he said instead, and walked over to his writing desk. Laying the dreamcatcher carefully down, he took the little box out of a drawer and held it behind his back. "I meant to mail it to you, but somehow I never got the chance."

"I guess you knew I was coming," Audrey said, and she closed her eyes and held out her hands. He dropped the box into it, and she smiled at him before opening it. Against the black velvet cushion lay a silver necklace with a charm fashioned in the shape of a crescent moon. From its pinnacle dangled a tiny diamond star. "This is beautiful," she said. "I love it."

"I don't know why I thought of you when I saw it, but I did," Cooper said. "Let me put it on you."

"Oh," said Audrey. "I just remembered. I think... I have something that... belongs to you." She put the necklace and box into his hand and pulled a small gold ring off of her left finger. Blushing, she handed it to him. "I meant to take it off before I got here, but I forgot."

He set the necklace box aside on the coffee table and took the ring she held out. His mother's ring, the ring the Giant had taken, had given back again. "Audrey, where... how did you get this?"

"I," she said.

They stared at one another across the ring.

"It was... I made it into a key," she said, "but when I woke up it was a ring again. On my finger. All the way in Texas." Her voice held a note of wonder.

"Audrey," he said, slowly, "Thank you." Not just for the ring, he thought, and he was certain she understood what he wasn't saying.  For my soul. For my absolution. And she smiled at him, the special smile that she only let him see, and he leaned down and brushed his lips against hers.

She laid a hand on his cheek, barely touching, but it was enough to draw him closer to her as she leaned into his kiss. They seemed to float together in some liminal space, some timeless dream, the opposite of a nightmare, a place in the heart that was both beautiful and nameless. His arms fell around her waist, and her arms settled around his neck, and then she pulled back and wrinkled her nose.

"Something's burning," she said.

And then, from the kitchen, a worried "Coop? Cooper?" and Harry's quick-booted tramp invaded their idyl-space. "Oh," Harry said, "Hey there, Audrey." He looked from one to the other and smiled. "Coop, I think you've burned something in the oven, there."

"Just rolls, Harry," Cooper said, slipping an arm around Audrey's waist. "We'll just have to go without."

"No we won't," said Andy, poking his head around the door. "Lucy brought extras, just in case."

"Is this where the party is?" Denise's soft and husky voice floated through the kitchen. "Hey, Lucy! Andy! And this must be your little girl - you've got your mother's dimples, don't you, darling? Hawk, how are you? Where's Cooper?"

Audrey started to follow Harry back into the kitchen to greet Denise and the others, but Cooper caught her hand and pulled her back. She looked at him, eyes glowing with a plain, ordinary happiness. He smiled back at her, looped the necklace around her neck. The ring, he tucked away in the necklace box and left it on the table.

"Thank you, Special Agent Cooper," she said, her voice playful as it always was when she used his full title.

"Audrey," he said, and she looked a question at him, "call me Dale."

"Merry Christmas, Dale," she said, and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Audrey."

Hand in hand, the went into the kitchen to greet their friends, together.