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And All the Things Left Unsaid

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They'd put him in a damn non-smoking room. What pleasure he might have derived from complaining about it had been short-lived thanks to the world's most doe-eyed receptionist, shoving a form under his nose that said he did, absolutely, ever-so-grateful-for-your-understanding-Mr-Rosenfield, hold a reservation for a room of that type. Diane, no doubt. She'd been trying to get him to quit for years. On a different day, Albert might have picked up the phone and pestered her until she fixed this, but that would have taken ages, and he’d promised to meet Coop back at the Sheriff's station. Besides, his current room had two double beds and a decent view, and whatever smoking room they’d switch him to would probably be cramped and woodworm-infested, judging by the receptionist’s face when she’d thought he wasn't looking. Better not to push his luck.

Which was why, several hours later and despite the drizzle that was trickling down, Albert was having his third smoke of the evening with the window open and his head stuck out.

Cooper had been in no state to drive, what with two cracked ribs and a bullet hole to boot, so Albert had dropped him off at the hotel after finishing up at the Sheriff's station. He’d planned to go back to the morgue right after. The Renault guy wasn’t getting any deader, and they were desperate for clues right now. Instead, some impulse he didn’t want to analyze had made him escort Coop to his room - which, surprisingly or not, was right next to Albert’s own. Goddamn Diane again. Anyway, it’d be stupid to have come this far and not at least shower before heading back out, so he’d done the former and would now be doing the latter… if not for the sounds of Cooper moving about in the next room, which made it far harder than it should be to tear himself away.

How long had they known each other? Almost a decade, and still Albert couldn’t define the nature of whatever fragile thing existed between them. That was to say, he knew perfectly well there was nothing ‘between them’ in the sense people tended to mean by those words, but in Cooper’s case, like in physics, even a vacuum was never truly empty. Cooper was… a riddle, Albert might have said, except he didn’t mind a good riddle because riddles were supposed to have answers. What frustrated him was mysteries. Like life and death and the success of the Beatles, Dale Cooper was a mystery, and, like a ball of string that had gotten all tangled, the more you tried to tug at it, the bigger a mess you had on your hands.

Not that Albert would ever stop trying. He always said smoking was his one addiction, but of course that wasn’t right. Picking at the scab that was Dale Cooper was pretty damn addictive too.

In the other room, there was a noise like a door creaking open, followed by the murmur of Cooper’s voice. Albert almost went outside to check, but chances were slim that Cooper’s wannabe killer was trying to get lucky for the second night in a row. Probably Coop had just ordered room service. Maybe even asked for Señor Droolcup to deliver it, to make it clear there were no hard feelings. That’d be typically him. Somehow, despite all the ugliness he’d seen and lived through, Cooper still believed in the basic decency of people. Not that Albert didn’t believe in that, in theory. He’d just found it saved a lot of energy if one didn’t try too hard to accommodate it. That, and of course people were inherently stupid, so it was safer to trust only a precious few. Albert trusted Cooper implicitly; he used to think that would never change. Which made it feel like an even worse betrayal that Cooper had picked Truman’s side before.

He crumpled the butt of his cigarette with one hand, poked at the skin above his cheekbone with the other. It still felt tender, and was bound to for a while; this wasn’t the first time he’d gotten clocked on duty, so he knew the drill. The humiliation would stick longer, but as tempted as he’d been to tell Gordon to haul his own ass out to Twin Peaks if he wanted someone there to hold Cooper’s hand, even Albert wasn’t that petty. Bottom line, his own ego was expendable. Cooper’s safety, and that of this nightmare town’s residents, wasn’t. That Cooper had gotten himself shot meant he was off his game, which had Albert a lot more worried than he was about to admit.

As for Cooper’s dogged insistence to defend that knuckle-dragging excuse for a Sheriff: frustrated though it had left him, Albert’s principal emotion at Cooper’s behavior wasn’t anger. It was fear. For Cooper to be so obsessed with Twin Peaks that it affected his objectivity was bad news. Especially since the man’s last big lapse in judgment had led to him almost kicking the bucket, courtesy of Windom Earle. The same Earle who’d just escaped the funny farm, and how he’d break that news to Cooper, Albert still didn’t know.

But enough waffling. There’d be plenty of time to contemplate the fragility of his ego and Cooper’s objectivity - or lack thereof - as long as they caught their killer first.

Albert flicked his cigarette stub through the window, then slammed it shut with a vaguely satisfying thump.

The knock at the door was so soft he almost missed it.

He made it halfway across the room before common sense kicked in. His gun - which he hated carrying - was locked into his briefcase, and Albert spent a frantic second or two torn on whether or not to get it before settling on a no. Still, no point in being naïve with a killer on the loose.

He took up position at the door, gripping the knob experimentally. “Who’s there?” He did his best to make it sound irritated, not concerned.

“It’s me, Albert. Dale.” Oh, terrific. Not even just ‘Cooper’ but Dale, and if they’d reached that point already, there was no telling how any of this would end.

When he opened the door, Cooper was balancing a tray on one hand and clutching a paper bag in the other, jaw taut with concentration. When he saw Albert, his face lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree.

Albert had half a heart to just turn around and let Cooper see himself in, but that would have been cruel, and he wasn’t a cruel man. So he held out his hand, waiting till Cooper took the hint and passed him the paper bag. There was a small desk at the back of the room, and Cooper hobbled towards it to put down his tray, then propped himself against a corner. Albert didn’t often play doctor to anyone with a pulse, but the effort in Cooper’s movements was glaringly obvious. So was the way his stance tightened subtly before he turned to face Albert again.

“Thanks for seeing me, Albert.” Cooper spread his hands, fingers thin and almost bloodless against the black of his suit. It was impossible to tell if the innocent look was spontaneous, or part of some meticulously crafted shield. "I came to bring you a peace offering. Somehow it seemed… appropriate.” His lips quirked, like something was funny about this. If so, Albert wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

“I hadn’t realized we were at war,” Albert said, pitching his tone just this side of sulky. He remembered the bag in his hands and went to put it beside the tray, not bothering to check what either of them held. Gunshot wound or not, it wouldn’t hurt to let Cooper stew a little.

“I would hope we aren't,” Cooper said, still with that same, maddeningly calm demeanor. “So I suppose I should say my goal is… proactive? I don’t want a quarrel with you, Albert. I certainly don’t want it to escalate into war, be it a cold one or not. And it struck me recently that in the affair with Sheriff Truman, I may have been remiss in some of my responsibilities… perhaps not as a federal officer, but as a friend.”

Albert realized he hadn’t been blinking only after his eyes began to sting. Something heavy and unidentifiable stirred below his breastbone. He fought it down. “Cooper, if this is your idea of a practical joke, I swear to God…”

“No joke, Albert.” Cooper stole a glance at the unused second bed, then, with a hiss of air through his teeth, lowered himself onto its edge.

Looking down at him, Albert had a flash of memory of the last time Cooper had been injured, admittedly far worse than now. It had been a couple of years, but given Cooper’s involvement in what had happened - Windom Earle’s slide into madness and the murder of his wife - there was no way the whole thing hadn’t left its scars. Emotionally, if not physically. The truth was, seeing Cooper in pain did things to Albert’s brain that he wouldn’t admit at gunpoint, and Pittsburgh had only made things worse. He’d never had much of a protective streak, but all his usual instincts went out the window when it came to Cooper. At times he wondered if Cooper knew, but as brilliant as the man was, some clues had a way of sailing right past him. Or maybe he was trying to be tactful, who knew.

He was being tactful now, and something about that rankled Albert more than a mere dressing-down would have. Which was why he made no move to get down to Cooper’s level, but just stood at the edge of the bed, arms crossed, waiting for him to talk.

The faint half-smile Cooper gave him suggested that Albert’s poker face wasn’t nearly as good as he’d thought.

“Albert, there’s something I wanted to share with you.” Only the utter lack of irony in Cooper’s tone kept Albert from saying something scathing. Cooper’s smile deepened, like he’d been braced for a putdown and was surprised it didn’t come. “Last night, after I was shot, I tried to reconcile myself with the prospect of death. In doing so, my thoughts inevitably turned to the people who had stood by me during my life and career. It may or may not surprise you that this list included you.” That was a statement, not a question, but Albert opened his mouth to react anyway, then snapped it shut when Cooper held up a hand. “As I contemplated our friendship, I was struck by regret at our recent conflict. It’s at times of great personal peril that the truth drifts to the surface. I might not always have made it clear in the past, and it pains me if lately there has risen some doubt, but… I truly am grateful to have you by my side.”

“Oh? You and exactly zero of the… how many others in this burg?” Somehow he managed to make that come out affronted, not stunned or petulant or, God help him, touched by Cooper’s statement. He wasn’t sure what he found more disturbing: that Cooper’s surprise visit was triggered by a near-death experience, or that Albert himself had been on Cooper’s mind as he lay bleeding out.

“51,201 according to the sign, but actually it’s only a tenth that,” Cooper said, almost absently. “And I’m sure not all of them resent your presence here, even if some do.” He sighed, deflating, and passed a hand across his eyes. “I understand you’re feeling less than generous right now, Albert. You said Gordon ordered you back here - against your wishes, I take it. We both know how Gordon gets when he sets his mind on something, so I realize that can’t have been easy on you.”

“You’re damn right it’s not easy.” The anger that had been simmering below the surface was this close to breaking through, and for a second Albert was tempted to just let it happen, to lash out and damn the consequences. But that’d make him no better than Truman and other goons who let their hindbrain govern their actions. He gulped down a breath and got a hold of himself, hating the effort it cost him. “I lost face, not just here but with my superiors. You know me; you know my methods. I won’t treat anyone with kid gloves until I know they can be trusted. It’s how I pick out the bad apples; I don't care if it makes me look like a bad apple myself.” No need to mention where those methods had come from: closeted gay man passing through Quantico, adopting cynicism as a smokescreen until what used to be a defense mechanism practically became a way of life. “We can all agree I’m not a nice person, but I do try, where possible, to be a good one. ‘Good’, in my book, doesn’t constitute officers of the law punching citizens for being too abrasive while trying to do their jobs.”

Cooper tilted his head. “In all fairness, Albert, ‘abrasive’ is putting it mildly. Which -” His hand shot up again, cutting Albert off before his affronted sputter could become coherent, “- was still no excuse for physical violence. That said… Sheriff Truman is a good man. In his view, when he struck you, he was protecting Laura’s rights, in death as in life. He can be overly spontaneous, but I can think of few lawmen less likely than Harry to abuse their position for personal gain.”

Harry. First-name basis already, huh? Albert wrestled down a surge of envy that was as pointless as it was undignified. The truth was, he didn’t really think Truman was a bad apple, but Cooper’s defense of him had been so far out of proportion that all of Albert’s instincts had been screaming at him to push back. Whether or not he’d been justified was open for debate. "Well, you could have just said so after I filed my report, instead of…”

“… allowing the situation to escalate. I know.” Cooper blinked up at him, looking way too vulnerable for what was left of Albert’s defenses not to crumble on the spot. “That seems obvious now. I just… don’t understand why I didn’t see it at the time.”

Albert shrugged, trying not to show how much that statement raised his hackles. When something got under Cooper’s skin to the point where it screwed with his priorities, people tended to get hurt, and that included Cooper himself. “I guess you had other things on your mind.” He knew it sounded weak even while he said it. But if Cooper could wave an olive branch, then Albert supposed so could he. “So.” He nodded at the contents of the desk. “Did you bring all that for show, or are you gonna tell me what it is?”

“Yes, of course.” Cooper raised his head, perking up a little. “It hit me that neither of us has had a proper dinner, so I took the liberty of placing a call to room service. Could you just… put that down here?” He patted the bed beside him, waiting for Albert to transfer the loaded tray and then beckoning him to sit. Albert rolled his eyes but indulged him. There was a large plate, contents hidden by a serving cover, which Cooper proceeded to lift with an expression of triumph.

Pie. He should have known. Three heaping pieces of what looked like blueberry sour cream - although under the boatload of whipped topping, he could barely tell. Just the sight was enough to turn Albert’s stomach, and he looked up into Cooper’s expectant face with a stab of remorse.

“Coop… not to be contrary for the sake of it, but there’s no way I can have that for dinner.” Unlike Cooper, who thrived on those things, Albert couldn’t subsist on a meal of carbohydrates and sugar. Not unless he wanted to be chugging antacids for the rest of the night. “I appreciate the gesture, but -”

“That’s all right, Albert. I’ve known you longer than just today, so I was prudent enough to implement a contingency plan. Here.” Cooper grabbed the paper bag that lay forgotten to the side, thrust it at him with a grin that was as sharp as ever. Something in Albert’s gut unclenched; this was Cooper the way Albert knew him, and having him back, even for a moment, was a sight for sore eyes.

The bag turned out to hold a plain chicken sandwich, and a half-pint of -

“Johnny Walker?” Albert squinted at the label. “Cooper, in what way does it strike you as a good idea for me to have this?”

Cooper’s grin wavered slightly. “I’m aware you’re a Scotch person, Albert, but I’m afraid I had to make do.”

“No, I mean…” Albert sighed. He hadn't realized how badly he wanted a drink until Cooper had gone and reminded him, but that didn’t mean he ought to have one. Nor was he particularly tempted to ask why Cooper had thought Albert needed that much hard liquor, or who in the hotel he’d bribed to have it delivered. Still, he slipped the bottle into a pocket of his vest, just in case. “What I’m saying is I need to get back to the lab. Our man Jacques’ postmortem isn’t going to handle itself, so if I want to keep my head on straight, this is a bad idea. No offense, Coop.”

“None taken.” Reaching for the pie-loaded plate - slowly, still favoring his ribs - Cooper gave him the kind of smile that, had Albert been ten years younger, would’ve left him in a puddle on the floor. As it was, his sandwich was a welcome distraction; it tasted better than expected, and having something inside him almost made him feel human again, instead of the walking vat of bile and bitterness he’d been for most of the day. From the corner of his eye he saw Cooper tuck into his pie with relish. By the time Albert had finished a third of his sandwich, Cooper had already cleaned off his plate.

“You’d been counting on me not to eat that, hadn’t you?” Albert said dryly.

“Let’s say… I took a calculated risk.” Cooper dabbed the crumbs off his mouth with an expression that betrayed nothing. He picked up the empty tray and pushed himself up off the bed - or tried to. Albert couldn’t see his face, but he heard the hiss of pain just in time to grab Cooper’s elbow before the whole shebang in his hands could crash to the floor.

“Coop - hey, easy. Let me take that.” Somehow he managed to get both tray and assorted crockery out of harm’s way without letting go of Cooper’s arm.

“Albert, it's fine,” Cooper was saying, but Albert wasn’t in the mood for another round of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey to get Cooper to spill his beans this time. The stubborn set of his mouth and the way one hand wrapped - deceptively casually - around his ribcage already told Albert everything he needed to know.

“Sit,” he said, manhandling Cooper back onto the spot on the bed he’d just vacated, then dragging up a chair for himself. “And stay there. You look like crap.”

“Is that a medical opinion, Albert?” Cooper sounded slightly breathless.

“Damn straight it is.” Albert held out his hand until Cooper obediently presented his wrist, took it without making eye contact. Cooper’s pulse was rapid but steady; so was his breathing. Which meant he probably hadn’t just sprung a hemorrhage or anything as alarming as that. ‘Probably’ being the main qualifier. The last time Albert had practiced regular medicine had been during his internship, and most of the skills he’d acquired since then didn't apply to the living.

“Really, I’m all right,” Cooper repeated. "I should have been more careful standing up, but I -”

“Coop… Don’t.” Albert released his grip on Cooper’s wrist, crossed his own arms with a feeling of helplessness that he struggled to channel into indignation. “I realize you’re doing this to reassure me, but I guarantee you it isn't working. As hard as it may be for you to fathom, I’m not trying to play the asshole here. I want to help.”

Had that finally hit home? He wasn’t sure, but the way Cooper’s lips compressed made Albert think he’d struck a chord. After a long, tense moment, Cooper sagged and rubbed his breastbone. “Yes, I know,” he said softly. “So… what is it that you would like me to tell you?”

The sudden capitulation caught Albert off guard. “Well… How about the last time you got some decent shut-eye? And I mean sleep, not being passed out or sleepwalking or having one of those weird-ass prophetic dreams.”

“I slept for an hour or two the night before last. The one before, maybe twice that.” Cooper straightened, the hand on his chest dropping into his lap. “We’ve been very busy here, Albert,” he said, with quiet dignity.

Busy trying to get yourself killed, Albert thought, but he didn’t say it. Instead he leaned forward, elbows on thighs, stopping five inches short of touching Cooper's knee. “Okay,” he said, enunciating slowly. “Let me explain to you how this is going to work. I don’t really have any kind of authority over you, but we’ll pretend I do anyway, for your own sake and mine. I’m about to head over to the morgue, and when I do, you’re gonna leave this room, get changed, and get into bed. Then you’re going to stay there for eight hours minimum, whether you’re able to sleep or not. If you expect sleeping to be a problem, I can give you something that should do the trick. Am I clear?”

“Perfectly, Albert.” He couldn’t tell if Cooper’s meekness was genuine or if he was piling it on for Albert’s sake, though he wouldn’t be surprised by the latter. “But there’s a part of that progression which might… pose some difficulties.”

Albert frowned. “Look, I know you’re biased against sleeping pills. But sometimes the benefits outweigh -”

“It’s not that. You might call it… a logistical problem.” Cooper shifted a little on the bed. “You know I believe the human body can endure nearly limitless hardship, but my personal limit, at this point, appears to be with respect to…” Long pause. “… getting undressed.”

He was serious. Cooper was being goddamn serious. Not just that, but nothing in his words had carried a hint of innuendo, or even an acknowledgment that that sort of statement might carry less than innocent implications. Which was one of the mysteries about Cooper he still couldn’t fathom. He’d long admitted to himself that his feelings for Coop went far beyond the professional, and Cooper was way too sharp not to read him like a book… except sometimes, Albert wondered if that was true. Not that he’d ever work up the courage to ask. Anyway, all of the idiots who had Albert pegged for a loud-mouthed bully had no idea how far off the mark they were. What Albert was, was the biggest sap in existence, and Dale Cooper was living proof of that.

“Let me get this straight.” Albert had to fight the impulse to roll his eyes, not because he meant it but because he didn't trust his face not to betray him otherwise. “Your ‘logistical problem’ is you need help putting on jammies?”

To his credit, Cooper didn't flinch. “Dr. Hayward helped me get dressed this morning. I made an attempt earlier tonight, but I…”

Albert waved him into silence, with a growing sense of helplessness at the absurdity of it all. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was being the butt of some elaborate practical joke… but this was Cooper they were talking about, whose idea of fine humor was ‘why did the chicken cross the road’? Besides, Cooper hated medication, and with nothing to take the edge off, he could imagine the man was having trouble. “OK. Fine,” he muttered. “Go get your damn PJs, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Actually, I left them at the door.”

“You… what?” For a second, he didn’t have a clue what Cooper meant.

“I left them. At the door. Before coming in.” Cooper sounded almost apologetic.

Albert blinked, got up from his seat, made his way towards the door and wordlessly swung it open. Sure enough, a pair of neatly folded flannels was sitting on the floor of the corridor outside. He picked them up, trying not to let his mind dwell on the details of what he was holding or how Cooper had deliberately left it there. He was, first and foremost, a medical professional. M.D., Ph.D., half the damn alphabet. Surely one patient - even this patient - shouldn’t be too much to handle.

When he turned around, Cooper was on his feet, giving him a tight-lipped smile. “Don’t worry, Albert,” he said, hobbling over to relieve him of the bundle in his arms. “It’s just the shirt that was giving me trouble. The rest I can handle. I won’t be long.” He went into the bathroom and shut the door behind him, leaving Albert with plenty of time to wonder what the fuck he’d just been told not to worry about.

By now he was dying for another smoke, but Cooper, like Diane, disapproved of the habit, and Albert wasn’t in the mood for being lectured. Instead he took up pacing, trying not to think about the bourbon that was burning a hole into his pocket. Still a bad idea to drink it now.

Cooper reappeared with his uniform shirt unbuttoned, a pair of pajama bottoms underneath. He wasn’t looking too steady, so Albert took him by the elbow and parked him on the corner of the bed, for once not saying what was on his mind. This was starting to feel like a slumber party; one of the truth-or-dare variety, which was a recipe for disaster anytime.

Albert eased off Cooper’s shirt as carefully as he could, trying not to jostle his ribs. The dressings looked clean, but not nearly tight enough; whoever had bandaged Cooper up this morning had cared more about caution than doing a good job.

“Want me to re-wrap those for you?” Now he was treating Cooper with kid gloves, but damned if he could help himself.

“Yes, please, Albert. A little tighter if you could.”

Albert nodded. “Will do.” For once, Cooper made no overt attempt at eye contact - a fact for which Albert felt irrationally grateful. While he removed the wrappings, Cooper sat still as a statue, his breathing shallow but controlled.

“How’s Gordon?” Cooper asked casually, as Albert moved to his front to inspect the wound. No sloppy needlework, no signs of infection. Good. Hayward was at least somewhat competent, then. Gordon, though… that was a touchy subject, and something told him Cooper wasn’t asking just to help pass the time. Once again, Albert considered bringing up Windom Earle, and once again he dismissed it. First order of business: recovery, and that wasn’t gonna happen if Cooper was fretting about Earle instead.

“Oh, you know Gordon,” he muttered, sitting down on the bed at Cooper’s back. “Acting all innocent, right until he picks up a scent and then he’s in full bloodhound mode.” He handed Cooper one end of the bandage, made him hold it in place so he could wrap him back up - nice and tight, like he’d asked. “I think he really wanted to come out here himself. Not necessarily for your sake, though.” The bandage had gotten bunched up at Cooper’s side, and Albert gave it a sharp tug, distracted by his thoughts on Gordon Cole. Cooper let out an oomph of escaping breath. “Shit. Sorry.” Albert hurriedly relaxed his grip. “I just… Call me crazy, but sometimes I wonder if he really cares about anything except these cases. About… well, any of us.”

“He’s my supervisor.” Cooper’s voice was harsh with effort. “His responsibilities are numerous and far-reaching, so I don’t expect him to prioritize my personal safety. Though I’m grateful to know there are others… who… do.” His last couple of words were choked off and thick with pain, and Albert froze in the middle of tightening the final loop of bandage, palm braced across Cooper’s chest.

“Nearly there, Coop.” He swallowed. “Not used to patching up live people, remember?”

Cooper nodded shakily. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort, Albert. Just… give me five seconds?” He sounded so weak that Albert’s heart clenched.

“OK,” he said. “You can have ten.” Feigning nonchalance might be an art he excelled at, but it was a good thing Cooper couldn’t see his face. He didn’t see Cooper’s expression either, but he had a perfect view of the line of his shoulder blades, the way his hair curled ever so slightly behind one ear. His chest bobbed rapidly under Albert’s hand, which he’d neglected to remove in those first few seconds and couldn’t bring himself to pull back now.

For a moment, he was filled by a wild impulse to thread his hands through Cooper’s hair or brush his lips against the nape of Cooper’s neck… but that would be unforgivable. Chances were, in the morning Cooper would be happy and rested with all of tonight’s odd vulnerability forgotten, replaced by an incessant drive to natter on about pine trees and the questionable charms of rural life. They’d likely pretend this moment had never happened, so whatever Albert did, he’d better make sure to have plausible deniability.

Right now, though, Cooper looked small and frail and somehow impossibly lonely… and Albert might be many things, not all of them an asset to humanity, but emotionless wasn’t one.

Slowly, hoping against hope he wouldn’t screw it up, he put a hand on Cooper’s shoulder.

What he hadn’t expected was for Cooper to lean into the touch, letting out a shivery sigh that sounded like he’d been holding it for way too long. Albert responded with a gentle squeeze - not an embrace, but the closest thing to it that he dared, fingers closing on Cooper’s bare skin. His pulse was pounding in his throat, and for a second he felt almost drunk with longing, in spite of being stone-cold sober. Keep it together, Rosenfield. Don’t be a fool.

Cooper straightened, reaching up towards his midriff, where Albert’s other hand was. His fingers folded over Albert’s, stroking lightly with his thumb. "Thank you, Albert,” he whispered. “I know I too often take you for granted. I’ll try to do better.”

By the time Albert’s heart had settled back into an acceptable rhythm, Cooper’s hand had withdrawn into his lap.

He finished bandaging in silence, then helped Cooper shrug into his nightshirt. Leaving him to deal with the buttons, Albert retreated to the bathroom to clean himself up.

Some impulse made him turn around, doorknob in hand. “Cooper?”

"Yes, Albert?” Cooper raised his head.

“The person who shot you. You think it’s the same one who butchered those girls?”

“It’s possible, but… at this point, I don’t want to rule anything out.” A beat. “Why?”

“When you bring him in…” Albert hesitated. “I wanna be there. To see the light in his eyes go out when he realizes he’s finished hurting others, except for the odd critter on the floor of a prison cell.”

Cooper’s eyebrows lifted. “I didn’t realize you cared about payback.” He didn’t sound disappointed so much as… curious?

“I don’t,” Albert said, more out of reflex than anything else. It was true he didn’t usually care about revenge, not because the concept was foreign to him, but because he’d fought tooth and nail not to give it a foothold in his life. But all the mental discipline in the world wouldn’t change the fact that, when it came to Cooper, the moral high ground he’d worked so hard for might as well have been an active volcano for all the stability it had. In the end, he wasn’t that different from every other fool who’d ever been in love. “I guess no one’s perfect.” He shrugged.

Cooper gave him a faint smile. “I suppose life would be dull if we were.”

“‘May you live in interesting times’, huh?” Albert snorted. “You do realize that’s not a blessing but a curse?” He turned his back before Cooper could be tempted to answer that with a monologue that’d take up the rest of the night. “If we’re done here, I’m gonna clean up and head out. Do you need a painkiller? Anything else?”

“No need, Albert,” Cooper said, predictably. His voice had the kind of dreamy quality that suggested he was either brooding or ready to pass out. “I’ve always found that a little pain sharpens the mind.”

“Yeah, right.” Albert wasn’t sure if it was the words themselves or the sentiment behind it, but he really, really had to get out of here. “Just try not to cut yourself, will you?” With a sigh, he shut the bathroom door behind him.

When he came out after a couple of minutes, he was expecting Cooper on his feet and ready to leave. The room was so quiet that, for a second, he thought the man had actually snuck out on him without warning. Then he noticed the prone form on the second bed.

Sleeping. Not even five minutes, and Cooper was sleeping - flat on his back with his head nestled into the crook of his elbow, as if he’d conked out on the spot. His other arm was draped across his chest, fingers outstretched towards a button at his collar, and Albert had to swallow, hard, to convince himself he hadn’t suddenly fallen through a rabbit hole and into a dream himself. Then Cooper grunted, his mouth sagging open just a little, and Albert snapped himself out of it.

He could stay. He could. As much as he wanted to finish Renault’s autopsy and make some progress on the search for Cooper’s shooter, none of the evidence would go stale by morning. He could stay here, get into bed - the other bed, not the one Cooper had taken - and go to sleep to the sound of Cooper breathing in the background. He could be here when Cooper woke up in the morning -

And spend all night choking on guilt for putting his own petty desires in front of his duty. Yeah. Like that’d bring him one scrap of satisfaction.

His coat was on a hanger near the window, and Albert put it on as quietly as he could. Picking up his briefcase, he realized he’d better leave his room key, in case Cooper needed it later tonight. He’d ask for a spare one at the reception; surely he could come up with some excuse that wasn’t ‘I left a coworker passed out in my bed’. The little bottle of whisky rattled in his pocket, and Albert gave it a little pat to reassure him of his presence. He might need it before the night was done.

He got back when dawn was a vague promise at the horizon, painting the Great Northern’s parking lot in an obscenely rosy hue. Albert shuffled up the stairs on autopilot, then onwards through the empty corridor to end up outside the door to his room. Fatigue tugged at him with greedy fingers, not quite dulling his frustration at the bits and pieces he’d scraped together tonight. Just imagine what the big boy might have told them if he hadn’t been murdered - which must’ve been the killer’s reasoning too. Damn amateurs, letting a key witness be snuffed in his hospital bed. And then there was the still-unsolved riddle of whether Renault’s killer had shot Cooper too…

Cooper. Until now, Albert had managed to steer his thoughts away from last evening, but he couldn’t keep that up much longer. Not if he wanted to spend what was left of the night in his room, instead of down in the lobby gulping bad coffee from a dispenser. He gave it a few more seconds, then sucked it up and turned his key in the lock.

The bed was empty. Pristine, even, looking like it hadn’t been slept in at all. Cooper must have woken up during the night, removed every trace of his presence and returned to his own room - where, hopefully, he was still sleeping. The only sign he’d been here was a note, taped to the inside of the door and stating in neat block letters: “Breakfast downstairs, 8 a.m.”

It was signed Dale, not Cooper.

Coincidence, or a conscious gesture on Cooper’s part? Best not to wonder, or - God forbid - to ask. Albert had spent too many years chasing monsters who preyed on human weakness not to be acutely aware of his own. He’d also learned the hard way that some things were better left unsaid. Cooper was his Achilles heel, the one thing ever to endanger his vow of rationality and non-aggression. Pacifist or not, when it came down to it, Albert would damn well fight for those he loved, and fight dirty if he had to. He doubted if it was the kind of loyalty Cooper would have signed up for, but it was what Albert had to offer and he wasn’t about to withdraw it. As for what it might cost him… he just hoped he’d never have to find out.

In his vest pocket, the whisky bottle clinked invitingly. Promising a whiff of oblivion, if not real comfort. Oblivion offered and paid for by Dale Cooper, which had to be in some way symbolic - or maybe that was just his exhaustion speaking. It didn’t matter. For once, Coop had been wrong: oblivion was the farthest thing from Albert’s mind.

For the first time, he felt like a good thing had happened to him in Twin Peaks, and damned if he was going to let himself forget.

*