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Once and Future King

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Case file? Check. Overcoat? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Ceremonial chanting beads? Check.

There was no reason to linger, not when his car was idling in the lot below, not when he had his orders and a tight schedule to keep. But linger he did, straightening a picture on the wall, wiping a smudge of dust off the corner of the desk, looking around for anything he might have missed.

Looking for a reason to avoid returning to Twin Peaks.

But two minutes later, Special Agent Dale Cooper put on his overcoat and stepped out into the rainy October day and hit the road.

~~~

Diane, it's 9:46 a.m. on October the tenth and I'm heading east towards the town of Twin Peaks. You'll recall that it was four years ago in Twin Peaks where I acquired what the FBI discreetly calls my illness, and what I refer to as the beginning of my long journey. I can't say I'm keen on heading back, but it's my case and Gordon insisted I was the man for the job, and since my reinstatement I can't afford to argue otherwise.

It's been raining since I arrived in Seattle, and it shows no signs of letting up. A man named Meat Loaf is on my radio telling me he would do anything for love. I have to say, Diane, that I can relate.

~~~

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he approached the town, even before the first few telltale signs came into view. Like he'd passed an invisible barrier that separated the world he lived in from the world the town existed in.

He took a deep, cleansing breath and let it out slowly, and felt alone inside his body. It was the best feeling in the world.

"Welcome Twin Peaks," the sign still greeted him as he approached, but the population was scribbled over in glossy black spray paint and a new number scrawled across the bottom. It didn't look to Cooper like it had been done recently.

~~~

"Agent Cooper." Sheriff Harry Truman greeted him at the door with a steaming mug of black coffee. "How've you been, stranger?"

"All things considered, Harry," he said, shaking the water off his coat, "I've been just fine."

"That's good to hear, Coop," he said, then paused. "I got your letter."

"I had imagined you had, Harry," said Cooper, inhaling deeply. The scent of coffee made his senses tingle. "Well, we'll have time to talk about that later. Right now, you'd better show me the girl."

The letter had been over a year ago now, a missive mailed from the Hong Kong airport that detailed his stay in Tibet. That gave assurances that the thing they all feared had been taken care of once and for all. After all that had happened, though, he wasn't sure any of them quite believed that.

"I'll take you myself," said Harry, but Cooper remembered the way. "I have to say, I was relieved to hear that you boys at the FBI already had a suspect in custody for this..."

"He killed four other girls, Harry, exactly the same way. We knew this girl was out there, from the souvenirs he kept, we just didn't know where. It's just best that she showed up now, and not a month down the road."

"She was already in pretty rough shape when we carried her out of the ditch," admitted Harry. "It was a little while before we were sure she wasn't local."

"That must've brought back memories," said Cooper, not unkindly. "I'm happy for you that she wasn't."

"Whether she was or not, she still had a family out there somewhere who lost her. It might've been a long time before we tracked them down."

"We flagged it as soon as the details went into the database," said Cooper, clutching Harry's shoulder, a brief moment of comfort for the memory of horrors past. Harry, to his credit, didn't flinch. "She's a long way from home."

"That she is," he said, and they fell into silence as they crossed the parking lot to Truman's truck.

~~~

"Is Doc Hayward still in charge?" Cooper asked as they travelled the corridors of the hospital, solid, wet heels click-squishing on the buffed tile floors.

"Sure is," said Harry. "He won't retire for a few years yet. Donna's off at college now but the youngest still goes to the high school here." They paused at the elevators, Harry thumbing the button. "This isn't the same town that you left."

"I'm not the same Cooper who left."

"Thank God for small favors," said Harry, staring up at the numbers. "So he's really...gone?"

"Trapped forever inside a stone and crystal prison in Tibet," said Cooper, emotionless, clasping his hands behind his back and looking up at the numbers, too. Waiting for the red memory to finish flashing though his mind before he continued. Pain, struggle, death, torture, his own hands clawing for his soul. "Bob will not be returning to Twin Peaks, Harry. In this guise or any other."

Harry let out a low sigh that was almost a whistle. "I feared for you, when I heard--"

"I feared more for everyone else, when I realized," Cooper interrupted him. "There are things, things that my soul must own up to, even if the FBI covered them up neatly for me. You were all in danger."

"We were all in danger before," said Harry. "You were maybe the only person who was strong enough to defeat him in the end."

"Not me alone, and not nearly fast enough," said Cooper. "But that's in the past now, Harry. That chapter in the book is closed, the page is turned, and we all have to move forward."

"Funny," said Harry, head still tilted up toward the numbers. "After everything, something like this happening and you coming back to Twin Peaks. It's a hell of a coincidence."

"I don't believe in coincidence, Harry." The elevator arrived and they both looked down, stepped inside and faced one another again. "Despite the demise of Bob, there's still a great force in those woods. I think, sometimes, that evil is drawn here."

"Well, that's a comforting thought."

Twin Peaks, an oasis away from the world, where people went through the motions of happy without being it, where relationships fell apart one after another after another. Where the twin potentials of good and evil both reached their peaks.

"On the bright side, Harry, you still have the most breathtaking scenery and the best cherry pie I've ever tasted."

"There's always that," said Harry, and gave him a grin as they exited the elevator and headed down the hallway to the morgue. "Are you going to need to do an autopsy this time? She really is in pretty rough shape."

"I'm afraid it's procedure, Harry. But the good news is, Albert's already on his way."

~~~

"Twin Peaks, huh?" said Rosenfield, slipping out of his overcoat and sniffing the pungent air of the morgue. "What are the odds?"

"Well, I'd tell you, Albert, but I haven't quite figured them yet," said Cooper. "Thanks for coming out for this." Rosenfield eyed him knowingly. It wasn't as though he'd actually come out here just for the medical examination.

"Enough chit-chat, Coop. Do we have a positive ID yet?"

"The parents are on their way from Boise. They should be here this afternoon."

"Plenty of time to get started then," he said, opening his case and reaching for his gloves.

"Well, not exactly, Albert," he said apologetically. "We can't touch her until the parents make an identification."

He snapped one glove back off. "Now what kind of asinine regulation is that? The sooner we get started on this, the better the results."

"It's not a regulation, it's a request, Albert. And it's one we're going to follow." Cooper stood his ground, and gave Albert a tiny smile. "Another few hours isn't going to hurt her."

"Who knows what trace evidence might be left that'll be gone in a few hours? I need to get started on that body and I need to get started on it now. I didn't just waste a morning driving up here when I could've had a late brunch and a latte before hitting the road."

"It's certainly not time wasted, Albert, and I have it on good authority the Great Northern serves up a fine brunch. Now, I thought you could verify what I saw on the body--"

"Ligature marks on the wrists?"

"Yes."

"Full make-up?"

"Hard to tell."

"Scalping?"

"Yes, Albert, she was scalped."

"It's her, then. We won't need the parents from *Boise* to tell us that."

"Nevertheless, Albert, you're just going to take a quick look and then we're going to leave her be until they're through with her. A little lost time is not going to hurt the case at this point; this examination is little more than a formality. Now. Even you can't say that a latte is better than the joe at the Double R."

"I can and I do, Coop, so how about you just show me the stiff and then we'll be on our way to do our part to civilize this godforsaken town."

"Attaboy, Albert, I knew you'd come around," said Cooper, clapping him on the back.

Godforsaken might not have been so far from the truth, though. Every whisper from those majestic pines reminded him of when he'd been here last, and why he hadn't returned.

~~~

Diane, it's twelve-twenty-three and I'm on my way to check into the Great Northern. Sheriff Truman assures me he'll call the moment the girl's parents arrive at the station, and until they do, there's very little to be done. Albert is right behind me, and is eager to get to work on this one, as well as renew his acquaintance with the fine people of Twin Peaks. I've bet him five dollars that the flapjacks at the Great Northern will rival the finest crepes in the capital.

After we're through with the girl and I file my report, Albert and I are off on a little expedition of our own. I'll have to get back to you on that, as though it's of a personal nature, I'm sure the FBI is eager to hear what comes of it.

~~~

Cooper was hanging up his second suit in the closet when Albert arrived, pulling his pristine suitcase behind him. "I hope you got a room with a view this time, Cooper, because if I have to spend one more night overlooking an industrial waste site I'm packing up my Egyptian cotton sheets and leaving you."

"It's Twin Peaks, Albert," he said cheerfully. "Every room has a view."

Albert threw open the curtains, both arms spread wide, and made an approving hum. "So when are we going to go on this little expedition of yours?"

"Work first, then we'll deal with my personal life."

"The sooner we get it done the better," said Rosenfield, pulling the curtains closed and turning back around. "You're gonna be a basket case until you get this cosmic mojo thing all worked out, Coop."

"It is all worked out, Albert. You were there. You remember."

"There's worked out, and then there's worked out, and while you may have gotten the metaphysical part taken care of, your head's still a mess. And as a doctor, that's a clinical observation for you."

"You're a doctor who cuts up dead people."

"I observe the human condition. I can tell from the set of a person's mouth what they ate for dinner, can tell their emotional state from the lay of their intestines and carve out their innermost secrets from inside their skull. And you, my friend, are far easier to read than that."

"Well, Albert, I believe that all things happen for a reason. And if this case has taken us to Twin Peaks in what seems like a very random fashion, then I'll do what I think is being asked of me. I'll go into the woods and face this thing, for what I hope will be the last time."

"It will be the last time," said Albert confidently. "He's not there to face anymore. We made sure of that."

"He may not be there, but something sure is."

"That something has no control over you, and never will have any control over you. We've seen to that. And if, God forbid, something should happen, I'd follow you to hell and back. You're in good hands, Dale."

"Ain't that the truth, Albert," he said, and smiled at him.

~~~

The parents from Boise didn't arrive until four, so Sharon David wasn't identified until going on four-thirty and Albert didn't get at the body until after five.

"Cooper, you don't have to stay for this," he said, snapping his gloves back on again. "I'll have my full report to you in the morning, this shouldn't take long."

"No, I'll stay, Albert," he said, finding himself a hard, plastic chair to perch himself in. "I got all my interviews done this afternoon while you were catching up on your beauty sleep and Norma Jennings was kind enough to supply me with all the information I needed."

"You know you hate the sound of the drill, Coop. You say it reminds you of the dentist."

"Then I'll cover my ears and close my eyes, Albert," he said. "I might as well be here where the action is."

"You," said Albert, pulling out the body and uncovering it, "don't want to be alone."

"Be that as it may, Albert, I'm more use here than anywhere else right now."

"As our beloved Sheriff Truman would say, you're about as much use here as tits on a bull, Coop, so if you're going to stay you sit there and don't touch anything and don't say anything and you wait until I'm done."

"Whatever you say, Albert."

He paused before beginning his work on the body. "There is nothing to fear but fear itself, Cooper. Those are words to live by."

"I'll keep that in mind."

~~~

Diane, it's going on ten p.m. Albert and I arrived back at the Great Northern about twenty minutes ago. I would tell you the exact time but I've left my watch in the bathroom, which Albert is currently occupying. I can see steam swirling up from under the door so I suspect his shower must be almost finished.

We'll be meeting with Sheriff Truman in the morning to discuss the results and clean up any loose ends. I suspect I remember exactly how he likes his eggs and will have them ready for him when he arrives.

Albert will spend the next two hours typing up his report, at which point he will join me in bed for activities I need not detail for you.

Tomorrow is the big day.

~~~

Cooper pulled up to the Double R at eight-twenty-five, Albert in the passenger seat straightening his cuffs. Harry's truck was already in the lot.

"There are tables, right?" said Albert. "We don't have to eat out of a trough?"

"Not unless you want to, Albert. If that's your liking, I'm sure they could accommodate."

"I'll just bet they could," muttered Albert, slamming the car door and stalking toward the entrance to the diner. Cooper locked up and followed, a half a minute behind. He walked in to the sight of Albert and Harry embracing enthusiastically, clapping each other on the back before sliding into the booth.

"I suppose we're late then," said Cooper, sliding in next to Albert and resting his forearms on the table.

"No, not late. I just had trouble sleeping last night, decided to take a stroll and head over here bright and early."

"That seems to be a common complaint in this town," mused Cooper, as a waitress -- not Norma, not Shelly, not anyone he knew -- came by with three plates of breakfast.

"I took the liberty of ordering for you," said Truman. "I hope that's not a problem."

"Not at all, Harry, it's much appreciated," said Cooper before Albert could open his mouth, digging in lustily. "I could eat a horse."

"Are you sure you're not?" said Albert.

Harry just jabbed a fork in his direction, warningly, and they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. The sounds of the Double R were surprisingly familiar to Cooper, as though he'd never left.

"You know, there are a lot of folks around here who'd like to say hello to you before you go, Coop," said Harry around a mouthful of eggs.

"There'll be plenty of time," Cooper assured him. "I just have a few things I need to take care of today."

"Paperwork?"

"Among other things," said Cooper vaguely. Harry raised his eyebrows, but didn't question it. Somehow, Cooper bet he knew. "I'll have to go back to the station with you, cross our t's and dot our i's."

"There are just a few things to take care of," agreed Harry as he cleaned off his plate. "It shouldn't take too long."

"If you'd like to head back to the hotel, Albert, I'm sure the sheriff would be happy to give me a ride." Albert had long since finished his meal and had been sitting with his hands behind his head, listening to them.

"Well, sure I would," said Harry. "And a ride back up to the Great Northern when we're through. It would be no trouble at all."

Albert leaned over and gave Cooper a kiss square on the lips. "I'm going to head back now, then. Sheriff--" He reached out for Truman's hand. "--always a pleasure. I'll see you later, Coop."

~~~

Cooper hung up the phone with profound satisfaction. "Thanks for your help, Harry, you've always been a credit to local law enforcement. I won't forget this."

"Well, it's always a pleasure to work with you, Cooper, though I could wish there weren't a dead body around every time."

"Such is the nature of our work, Sheriff," he replied. "We deal in tragedy, day in and day out."

"But we also deal in hope."

"If we didn't, Harry, why would we do this at all?" Cooper looked up from his papers and smiled. "Sharon David and four other girls just like her may be dead, but her murderer is in custody, her parents have closure and there will be no more after her. Not by this man's hand, at any rate. That's what we do, we bring about the end to tragedy. We help people move on."

"And sooner or later, we all must move on."

"Truer words, Harry, have never been spoken."

"That's what you'll be doing today."

Cooper closed the folder and patted the top of it, staring at the back of his hand. "The time has come, Harry," he said finally. "And it's been a long time coming."

"Need some company?"

Cooper held up a hand to him. "Thanks, Harry, but I have all the company I need. But here's a promise -- I'll check in with you here at the station on our return."

"And if you don't return?"

"Then you know where to come looking."

Truman nodded and Cooper put the folder in his briefcase, latched it and hauled it off the conference table.

"So, you and Albert, huh?"

"The kind of love that Albert wields is not the kind you can find just anywhere, Harry. I wouldn't be here without him."

"I have no doubt of that."

"A lot has happened between when I left this town and when I returned--"

"You told me some of it in your letter."

"--and Albert has seen me through all of it, Harry. He's a fine man."

Fighting his way back to himself from inside an endless red room, remembering everything he'd done in the meantime, when there had been a heavy weight blacking his soul, learning to live with that in the year following. The lingering darkness.

"It should surprise me, but it doesn't. Whatever floats your boat, Coop."

"That he does, Harry, that he does."

~~~

Diane, Albert and I have just finished a delicious lunch of rainbow trout courtesy of the Great Northern and we're heading towards Ghostwood National Forest and our rendezvous with fate. The sun has finally come out for the first time I arrived in this state, and it looks to be a lovely autumn day.

The woods are very quiet.

~~~

"This is it?" said Albert, staring at the ground.

It was the place, Cooper could feel it in his bones. It wasn't something he would ever forget. Glastonbury Grove was burned to the ground, like a firestorm had swirled up from the middle of it, burning the grove but none of the surrounding forest. The grass hadn't returned, but there was a ring of twelve sycamore saplings, rising from the charred earth.

"This is it," he said firmly, and let go of Albert's hand and walked, step by step, breath by breath, across the clearing. He could hear a blackened crunch under his feet and no birds sang. Not even any owls. He reached the other side, turned, and returned the same way, walking overtop of real and imagined places.

There was no moment of relief, no instant realization that he was safe. There was still something here, something ancient, something of mixed dark and light that would persist, he thought, to the end of time.

But it no longer weighed on his soul.

"Look at me."

Cooper turned, looked Albert straight in the eye with absolutely clear sight. Albert nodded at him approvingly. "I think we're done here."

He'd come, over four years later, four years of unimaginable horror and unimaginable joy. He'd returned to the place it began and confirmed that it would not, could not, take hold of him again.

"Yes," he agreed finally. "We're done."

The grove would grow again, the saplings would grow to adulthood and the grass and wood and stones would return. It would be as it was again, and it would always be, and he had to be at peace with that. He had no choice.

"Do you think we'll ever understand?" he asked finally.

"There are some things in this world," said Albert, "that I think I'm happier not understanding."

Cooper nodded; there were times when he felt the same way. "The only thing I know for sure," he added as they turned back toward the path to the car, turned to leave this place again, "is that I will be back."

It was something that was destined to be.

"Come on," said Albert, taking his arm. "It's time to go."