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Beware of Dark

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It was the gun. Harry was behind the wheel, driving back into town with Cooper in the passenger seat, when he realized. Coop had seemed slightly off since they left Dead Dog Farm, but Harry hadn't been able to put his finger on why, or what had given him that impression. It hit him now that it was the gun. Denise's gun, which Cooper had held on to after shooting Renault. He was cradling it in his lap, not the way Harry had seen him handle a weapon before – like a tool and nothing else – but delicately, the way someone would hold an armed grenade.

Harry glanced to the side, watching Cooper in the strobing light of street lamps flashing by. With the cut under his eye, his face gray and the shadow of a beard showing through, Cooper looked less like an officer and more like one of those kids you tended to see at the Roadhouse: brooding and silent, like tinder waiting for a spark. Then again, Coop was younger than him. Harry wasn't sure by how much, but it had to be at least five years, maybe ten. Most of the time it didn't show, but every once in a while when Cooper was tired or distracted, he'd look closer to his own age. And Coop had just been held hostage for several hours, then ended up killing a man. That would do a number on anyone.

"You okay?" Harry asked casually, turning his eyes to the road again. He might be concerned, but he guessed Coop wouldn't appreciate being pampered. To be fair, Harry was feeling a little shaky himself. Not that he hadn't seen death before – it was getting uncanny how often that happened these days – but hostage situations weren't exactly up his alley. Though, after One Eyed Jacks and Audrey, even that was less true than it used to be.

Cooper let out a sigh. "I'm…" He trailed off, almost like he wasn't sure about the answer. Harry heard a click that told him Cooper had just pulled out the gun's clip. From the corner of his eye he saw Coop's shoulders sagging, then, after a moment, straightening again. "It's curious, Harry. I've been carrying a weapon for twelve years. This one is standard FBI issue, just like my own, yet it doesn't feel the same. The balance is different. The trigger too – slightly more sensitive than I'm used to." There was a pause as Cooper slapped the magazine back in, then sucked in a breath. "I've killed many people in the line of duty. It just struck me this is the first time I couldn't use my own gun."

Harry squinted through the windshield and out into the night. "You mean this is the first time you shot a man while not working for the Bureau?" He did his best to sound casual. He was far from a psychologist, but he knew that with Cooper, it paid to read between the lines. Cooper's gun and badge had been taken from him after the incident at One Eyed Jacks. Harry might have handed him a deputy's badge, had even made him a Bookhouse Boy long before that, but that didn't change what Cooper was – or the fact that a Federal agent without a badge sounded about as pointless as a Sheriff without a town. Harry wasn't that attached to his gun, and he suspected Cooper wasn't either, but he didn't know what he'd do if they ever tried to take his Sheriff's badge. He was a lawman. He didn't know what else he could be.

"No," Cooper answered, after a silence that lasted long enough that Harry had almost stopped waiting for an answer. "Not the first time. I worked for the DEA once. It's where I met Denise – well, she was still Dennis back then. And there were… other times. Darker times." There was nothing particularly strange about that answer, but Cooper's voice had taken on a dreamy quality that was making the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand up. "Harry, have you ever killed someone?"

Harry let that sink in for a moment. Once again, Cooper's train of thought had left him racing to catch up, and for some reason he found himself having to think about the answer. Had he ever killed someone? The thing was, he felt as if he had. Of course he'd seen people dead on his watch – car accidents, suicides, drug crimes, the occasional mugging that got out of hand – but all things considered, until recently, Twin Peaks had been mostly quiet. The few times he'd had to use a weapon stood out in his memory like a sore thumb, and every one of them felt like a failure on his part. There'd been the kid who'd been caught assaulting a girl and who'd been either stupid or high enough to pull a knife. There'd been the men Harry was still convinced were connected to Leo, caught with a stash of cocaine in the trunk of their car. And there had been a few others, some with uglier crimes. Most of them had lived, but sometimes their victims hadn't, and Harry blamed himself for every death. If people died who didn't have to, it could only be because the law had failed to protect them. Still, so far Harry had gotten lucky. He'd never had to pull the trigger himself. He'd gotten close, though. Just once, and it had been one time too many.

"Not with my own hands," Harry muttered. "But I could have." As he pulled up at a traffic light, he found himself squeezing the wheel with both hands. "It was in one of the old farmhouses on the edge of town. A call had come in from the neighbors, saying they thought they'd heard screaming, so we went in to take a look. Found a kid and his mother, battered almost into unconsciousness. The father…" He swallowed. "Drunk. Blood still on his knuckles. Resisted when me and Hawk tried to take him in. He socked me in the jaw, then turned and went at the woman again. I hit him. Then hit him again. By the time Hawk dragged me off him, I don't know how many punches I'd landed. Man ended up with a cracked cheekbone and two broken ribs. To this day, I don't know what would have happened if Hawk hadn't been there. If I'd have stopped before I…" The light had turned green. Harry hit the gas, turning right towards the station; his mouth tasted like acid and his throat was dry. "Ever since then, I've wondered what got into me that day. What might happen if I ever let it out again." He winced and rolled down the window, grateful for the night air streaming into his face.

Cooper sat still for a few long moments, eyes fixed on the gun in his lap. "You're a good man, Harry," he said quietly. "And we all have darkness inside us. What matters is if we choose to fight or embrace it. You would have stopped, I know you would." The conviction in Cooper's voice could have welded steel. If there was a sliver of wild hope in there as well, Harry did his best not to hear it, or to wonder what it meant.