Before they even make it to the cabin, Abbie is already steeling herself for what will follow. The ride seems to take too long despite the negligible distance and more than once she catches Irving and Jenny casting surreptitious glances in the rearview. Both of them had offered up sincere apologies prior to leaving the old town hall but now they let the silence lay.
When the cabin is in view and Jenny throws the jeep into park, Crane unbuckles his seatbelt, murmuring his gratitude for the ride. He closes the door behind him and three pairs of eyes watch as he comes around the car.
“Poor son of a bitch,” Irving says softly. Abbie lets out a tight breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“I was going to take Frank to his family. You got this?” Jenny asks.
Abbie nods, eyes still fixed on Crane’s slow ascent into the cabin. “I got this.”
“We can stay, if you think it’d help,” Irving adds, eyes full of concern. It’s so good to have him back.
Abbie smiles a little then even though her heart isn’t in it. “I’m sure you’re eager to see Macy and Cynthia. Go on.”
Abbie waits until Jenny has backed out of the makeshift drive and is disappearing down the lane and into the woods before she turns to climb the porch stairs.
Darkness greets her when she pulls the door open. Crane is standing in the middle of the room, back to her, as though he’d forgotten where he was going. The grand grimoire hangs loosely from the pale fingers of his right hand.
Abbie shrugs out of her coat, drapes it over her usual chair at the table and flicks the light switch. Crane doesn’t react when the room brightens. Abbie approaches him and takes hold of the grimoire, sliding it gently from limp fingers.
“Think you could eat?” Abbie asks him. Crane’s eyelids flutter as he shakes his head. It isn’t the response she wanted, but it is a response and Abbie will take what she can get. “All right. Why don’t you sit down?”
He lowers himself onto the couch robotically, saying nothing else. Abbie heads to the kitchen, setting the grimoire next to a pile of Corbin’s old research that’s gathering dust on the dining room table.
She remembers not eating for days after her mother died. When they took Jenny from her, Abbie had to force herself to eat, if only to coat her stomach so she could numb herself with pills. Then Corbin died and Abbie had wanted to die right along with him because she didn’t know how she could take another step in a world that didn’t have him in it. If it hadn’t been for Crane…well.
Abbie knows a little something about loving imperfect people and losing them.
She considers the tea kettle poised at the ready on the range, then reaches instead for the cabinet where Crane keeps his liquor because who the fuck is she kidding. She chooses a bottle of untouched Bacardi 151 Jenny had gotten him last year and gets two glasses.
“You must think me a fool.”
Abbie turns from the sink. Crane is perched on the edge of the couch where she left him, but his eyes are a million miles away. “Must I?”
“You were always hesitant to extend your trust to Katrina,” he says, “and there were many occasions you attempted to voice your concerns regarding her to me. You saw what I did not.”
She is suddenly reminded of a similar conversation she’d had a few hours ago—or centuries ago, really—while walking down a wooded path to the salvation of Fredericks manor.
The seeds must have been there. How did I not see it?
Abbie pushes back from the counter and heads back to where he is. “Crane,” she begins, “no one could have seen this coming. Not me, not you. Not anyone.”
“I could have.” Pale fingers curl themselves tightly into fists on his lap. “I should have.”
“Crane.” His eyes dart in her direction as she takes a seat next to him.
“We all had a choice,” Crane says again, only now he sounds so much less sure. “Katrina chose, as Henry chose. Do you know what he said to me just before he died?”
Abbie bites her lip and thinks please, please don’t, Crane, please don’t do this to yourself—
“‘I have no regrets’. After everything he did, to regret nothing…” Crane shakes his head again, eyes looking anywhere but at her. “An unnatural thing it is, for a parent to hate his child. I swore to myself when my father disowned me that I was to be different, that my children would never know the pain of having to bear a father’s revulsion.” He chokes out a sour, ugly little laugh. “Yet here I am, regarding my son the way my father regarded his. This is to be my legacy, then. A broken line of hatred.”
“Legacies are left by the people who have the last word,” Abbie says quietly. “We’re going to have the last word, Crane.”
“That too would have been lost had you not gone after Katrina when she cast her spell.” His lips thin into a pale, hard line. “She would have undone everything, all the work and sacrifices we and countless others before us have made to stop the apocalypse. Katrina would have brought doom upon the world just to see me dead.”
“She was your wife,” murmurs Abbie. “You loved her.”
“I did,” he says, and it’s awful, the emptiness in his voice. “I would have rent the world in twain to keep her from harm. There is nothing I would not have done for her, no sacrifice I would not have made at an instant if she needed it of me. I loved her and believed I was loved in return.”
“You were, Crane. She saved you from the Horseman.”
“Whatever she may have felt for me, it clearly was not compelling enough to draw her from Henry. It took so little time for her to renounce all that we were, all that we…” Crane’s breath rattles as he sucks it in. “Am I truly so easy to cast aside?”
Abbie reaches for his hands because she can’t stand to see them shake a moment longer. Crane’s fingers tangle in hers and knot, like her grip is all that’s keeping him anchored to the earth.
When he finally brings himself to speak, his voice is no longer toneless. “It should not hurt like this. Not after what she—what they both did to me. To us.”
Abbie’s heart breaks. “Crane.”
“She would have killed you,” he continues; Abbie doubts he even heard her. “She would have slain you before my very eyes if I hadn’t…”
“It’s all right,” she says quietly, squeezing his hands. “It’s all right.”
“It isn’t,” he bites out. “It should not hurt, I should not be—”
“Stop.” Abbie loosens their hands to press hers against his shoulders. “Look at me,” she says gently, squeezing his arms. “Ichabod, look at me.”
His eyes, when they finally meet hers, are wet.
“You have every right to mourn,” Abbie tells him in a low, firm voice. “You hear me?”
Crane doesn’t say anything. Before the tears can even fall, Abbie has gathered him into her arms.
By the time Crane finally allows himself some sleep, the sun is down and Abbie has just enough energy left to shoot Jenny a quick text update before she curls up in the guest room. She rises first the next morning and after an obscenely long shower, she decides that she’s ravenous.
Abbie is buttering toast when Crane appears, somehow looking more tired but also far less empty.
“Thought the smell of bacon might getcha,” Abbie says in greeting, tossing him a glance over her shoulder.
“You stayed.” Crane sounds surprised.
“We’ve got bacon,” she continues, brandishing a pair of tongs, “eggs, toast, and if you give me another few minutes, pancakes. And tea, of course. Any of this tempting?”
“Yes. Please.” He doesn’t specify which so Abbie puts a little bit of everything on a plate and motions for him to sit. “You did not have to stay, Lieutenant.”
She smiles, passing him a mug. “Tea’s hot. Be careful.”
Crane’s fingers curl around it, brushing hers. “Thank you, Abbie,” he says, so softly she almost doesn’t hear him. She watches as he spears a hunk of scrambled egg with his fork, lifts it to his mouth, and takes the first step.
Abbie turns back to face the stove and busies herself with the pancakes so Crane won’t see her cry.
Crane spends the majority of the next two days asleep. Abbie makes sure he at least tries to eat when he wakes up and brushes off his attempts at apologizing when he can’t. The third morning Abbie rises to find him at the dining room table, elbow deep in their research.
“If what Grace Dixon says is true—that the war is indeed unfinished—then we must be vigilant,” he says in response to a question Abbie never asked him.
She joins him at the table, watching him rifle through manuscripts and missives and the notes they had made with single-minded focus. She occupies herself reading Grace’s journal and there is silence for one hour, then another. Silence, but not calm.
When Crane goes still, Abbie glances up from the journal. Between them sits the grimoire, a heavy splash of black against the wood of the table. He is contemplating it intently, muscles in his jaw tensing. Abbie takes a breath and holds it.
It happens so fast: in a single, swift movement, Crane’s arms come over the table and sweep everything off to the side. Books and files go flying. The grimoire falls to the ground, loose leaves of paper fluttering down to follow in its wake. He makes a sound like he did when he pulled the knife from Katrina’s body and covers his face with his hands.
Abbie has never felt more powerless in her life.
“I do not understand,” Crane says some time later, when he’s calmed and Abbie has moved them to the couch. The fire flickering in the hearth casts his face in shadows. “I simply do not understand.”
“We rarely do,” Abbie tells him. “It’s been almost twenty-five years since my father walked out and I still don’t understand why he did it. The best we can do is try to survive.”
“I’ve been fucked over by exes in the past,” says Jenny when Abbie calls her a couple days later, “but this is some next level shit. How’s he doing?”
“He’s…struggling,” Abbie settles on. “He’s trying to make sense of it.”
“That’s a quick way to drive yourself insane,” replies Jenny. “Should we—I don’t know, maybe get him somebody to talk to? Professionally, I mean.”
“I’m honestly not sure.” They’re going to have to get a shrink in the know at some point because if the apocalypse continues on in this vein, Abbie herself will need somebody to talk to.
“You doing okay?” Jenny inquires, like she’d been following Abbie’s train of thought.
“Yeah. Yeah, I just…” She bites the inside of her cheek but the small shock of pain does nothing to distract her from the rising swell of anger.
“I hate that he has to deal with this,” she hisses. “I absolutely hate it. If I could take some of his pain and bear it myself, I would.”
“Oh, Abbie.” Jenny sighs. “Frank’s been asking after him. I’m sure you could use some groceries. Want us to swing by? If he’s up for it, that is.”
That night, at Crane’s request, she breaks the seal on the Bacardi.
“Remember: partners means no judgment,” Abbie tells him as she pours. “As much as you want.”
They nurse their first glasses in silence, watching the fire. After a time, Crane clears his throat. “Your sister is well? Presuming that is who you were speaking to on the phone earlier.”
“It was and she is. Just worried about you. Frank, too. They want to visit.”
“I see.” Crane thumbs the rim of his glass. “I fear I shall be very poor company. It shames me that you have had to endure my melancholy.”
“Crane, you lost your wife and your son in the same fucking day. You’re entitled to a little melancholy. Frank and Jenny more than understand. And so do I.” Abbie downs her glass, wincing at the burn. “I can tell her no if you aren’t ready.”
Crane weighs his response, sipping the rum. “Perhaps it would be good to see them. What is it?” he adds, frowning at her growing smile.
“You took another step,” she says, refilling her glass and clinking it with his. She stops at two, but Crane keeps going and she lets him.
The first thing Jenny does when Crane opens the door is pull him into a long, hard hug. Abbie helps Irving with the groceries in the meantime.
“He doesn’t look half bad,” he says when they get to the kitchen.
“There are ups and downs.”
“And you’ve been here with him this whole time?” She gives a half shrug. “You’re a good person, Abbie. He doesn’t know how lucky he is.”
“Don’t spread that around. Cynthia and Macy doing good?”
“As good as can be expected. Still wary, but heading in the right direction,” Irving says with a little smile. He glances back at the dining room table, once more laden with all their research. After Crane passed out last night, Abbie had finally cleaned up and put everything back on the table. Everything except for the grimoire, which she tucked away in the desk drawer, safely out of sight.
“So I assume everything’s been quiet on the end of days side?” Irving asks.
“It’s not gonna stay that way, is it?”
“I don’t have that kind of luck.” But until Abbie sees Crane through this, evil can go fuck itself for all she cares.
Jenny comes striding into the kitchen then, Crane at her heels. “C’mere. You’re gonna love this.” She reaches for a bag and pulls out a cake box, which she uncovers with a flourish.
Crane peers down into it, wrinkling his nose. “It is red.”
“Red velvet,” Jenny declares, rummaging in the silverware drawer. “This is the single best thing you will ever taste in your lifetime. Both of them. Ever. It’s an orgasm on a fork.” Crane splutters and turns as red as the cake. “I’m serious. Try it and tell me I’m lying.”
“She’s not lying,” Abbie cosigns when Crane hesitates, sidling up next to Jenny because if he’s not eating it, she damn sure will.
Abbie scoops up a forkful and makes a show of groaning when the taste explodes over her tongue. She swallows and licks her lips, glancing at Crane to find his eyes fixed to her mouth, skin still flushed. She smirks and passes him the fork.
He takes a tentative bite and his whole expression changes. “Not an entirely inapt description.”
Abbie bursts into laughter and Crane gives her a sheepish smile. It’s small and fleeting but it’s the first she’s seen since Katrina.
When the groceries are put away, Irving stretches. “It’s a beautiful day. I’m going to get some air. Join me, Crane?”
Irving holds the door open for Crane, Irving shooting Abbie a knowing look as he passes through it. When they are both out on the porch, Abbie tells Jenny, “That’s the first time he’s gone outside.”
“He looks pretty good for a guy digesting the fact that his wife turned out to be a lunatic,” says Jenny.
“I think that’s the crux of it all, actually. Not the death, but the betrayal.”
“I almost want to hurt Frank for making me lead him away from the bell,” Jenny replies mildly. “I would’ve loved to be there when you two confronted Katrina. I’d have shot her right then. Multiple times.”
“I wanted to,” Abbie mutters, rubbing the back of her neck. It’s something she’ll never say to Crane.
“How much longer are you going to stay?”
As long as he needs, she thinks. “I’ve still got a few vacation days left.” Abbie isn’t sure what it is she’s looking for, what sign she wants from him that will indicate that she can leave with an easy mind. “Honestly at this point, it’s as much for my peace of mind as it is for him. If I wasn’t here, I’d be calling him twelve times a day to check up.”
“Yeah.” Jenny straightens. “At any rate, I’m glad he doesn’t have to do this alone.”
Abbie hums in her throat, eyes finding the cake box. She arches an eyebrow at Jenny. “Orgasm on a fork? Really?”
“It’s too much fun getting him flustered. I don’t know why you don’t do it more often.”
“Because I’m not a sadist.”
“Your loss. And red velvet is the best pick-me-up you can have outside of tequila. Which I have too, incidentally. So,” Jenny continues, plopping down on the couch, “when are you going to tell me about time-traveling?”
Abbie is in the middle of the story when Irving and Crane come back inside, Irving declaring his intention to cook them dinner if Crane would have them over, which he accepts. Crane settles into the armchair and listens as Abbie finishes recounting her experience in the past.
When she’s done, Jenny leans back and whistles. “Land of the free my ass. Not in town twenty minutes before you got clapped in irons for the high crime of walking around. Shame it was you time traveling and not Stacey Dash.”
Abbie snorts. “It all turned out well.”
“In spite of the odds,” Crane says in a strangely tight voice.
Abbie looks over at him to find that a crease has formed between his eyebrows. “You sacrificed yourself for me, you know,” she intones. “It was incredibly brave.”
Crane makes a noncommittal sound, eyes narrowed. When the silence stretches on too long, Jenny stands up. “Drinks? Drinks, definitely.” Abbie watches her retreat to the kitchen before returning her attention to Crane.
“It is nothing.”
“Doesn’t sound like nothing,” Abbie replies, frowning. “C’mon, talk to me.”
Crane purses his lips. “You had little time to convince my other self of your identity and gain his aid in setting the world right. I remember myself back then; skeptical, suspicious. I could not have been receptive during our initial encounter.”
“I wasn’t exactly a peach when we first met here, either,” Abbie points out.
Crane shakes his head. “What I mean to say is that despite odds that truly were astronomical, you not only proved the validity of your story, you managed to garner my other self’s trust and open his eyes to the truth. In mere hours.”
Oh. Abbie sighs, leaning forward to balance her elbows on her knees, wondering how many times she’s going to have to have this discussion with him. “Yeah. Your past self was hell bent on blaming himself for not seeing through Katrina sooner, too.”
“You so easily dismiss my culpability,” Crane says quietly. “I am beginning to wonder if it is for my benefit that you do so.”
Abbie stares at him. “If you have something you want to say to me Crane, then say it.”
“You must be angry with me, Lieutenant.”
“I really wish you’d stop telling me what I must be thinking about you.”
“You would have every right to be. You risked much and repeatedly placed yourself in grave danger at my bidding to protect or assist Katrina. You endured Purgatory to—”
Abbie holds up a hand to halt him. “I’m not doing this with you, Crane.” If he’s determined to kick himself when he’s already on the floor, Abbie’s not going to lift a finger to help.
But he’s relentless. “You misliked Katrina from almost the beginning.”
“I misliked her because she refused to see her son for what he was and because she broke your fucking heart in front of me,” Abbie spits out before she can stop herself. “So what, I should feel vindicated now and hold it over your head because she turned out to be a treacherous power mad psychopath?”
Crane opens his mouth, then closes it. He averts his eyes. “I do not wish to quarrel with you, Lieutenant.”
“I damn sure can’t tell,” Abbie snaps before reining it in. She inhales deeply and tilts her head in his direction, trying to adopt a gentler tone. “Yes, I put my neck on the line for her. Yes, there were times when I thought you’d lost your mind where she was concerned and yes, your trust in her put our mission in jeopardy more than once. But however mad about it I may or may not have been, I think you’re torturing yourself just fine on your own. Christ, don’t you?”
Crane ducks his head, concealing his expression from her eyes. “I simply do not want you to feel as though you must shield me from your ire. You are well within your rights to place the blame on my shoulders for this, no matter how you protest. If it is for my benefit that you choose not to express your anger, know that I can take it.”
Annoyance drains out of her like a sieve. “Mess,” she murmurs, regarding him sadly and shaking her head. “You’re a damn mess Crane, you know that?”
“I would never have forgiven myself had you come to harm.” His voice is unsteady. “If you had…I don’t know how I would have been able to bear it if—”
“It doesn’t matter.”
He makes an incredulous noise. “How can you say that?”
“Because it doesn’t. Everything worked out.” Crane doesn’t look remotely convinced. Abbie reaches over and covers his hand with hers. “I don’t blame you. You need to stop blaming yourself. It’s nobody’s fault but hers.”
Crane studies their joined hands, turning his wrist so that he can catch her fingers in his, saying nothing. Abbie doesn’t let go.
Irving ends up making pork chops for dinner. Crane goes back for seconds. After, the three of them teach Crane the finer points of spades. Crane, because he’s Crane, picks up on the game immediately and sets out to single-handedly strip them of the chips Jenny had brought over for them to gamble with.
“This game bears striking resemblance to whist,” he comments when it’s his turn to shuffle. “I like it immensely.”
“I’m overjoyed,” Irving deadpans, fiddling with the four chips Crane’s left him after the last round. “You’re entirely too good at this.”
“There were no tablets or smart phones on ships bound for the Americas in my day,” he reminds them. “We had to find ways to keep ourselves occupied. The journey across the Atlantic made many proficient at cards by the time we put into New York harbor.”
When Crane cleans them all out of chips, they play for shots. Between the second or third, Crane launches into a long-winded explanation of something called cribbage that no one can follow after the fourth shot is downed. Eventually the cards are abandoned in favor of conversation, stretching on into the night. Irving and Jenny are putting in work to lift Crane’s spirits and for all intents and purposes, they seem to be succeeding: Crane’s smile comes easier and easier and Irving even manages to get him to laugh before the night is out. Abbie hadn’t realized how much she’d missed the sound until she hears it again.
It’s near midnight when Jenny gives a big, elaborate yawn and Irving calls them a cab and tries to do the dishes in the interim. Abbie bats him away.
“You cooked, we clean. That’s how it works. Thanks for that, by the way; it was a damn good meal. You’ve got some skills.”
“I’m full of all kinds of secrets,” Irving says lightly. Across in the living room, Crane is helping Jenny with her coat. “He’s gonna be fine, Mills,” he says when he catches Abbie watching Crane. “We had a good talk earlier. It’s gonna hurt for a while, but he’ll be fine.”
“It helps knowing there are people in his corner.” Abbie gives Irving a warm look. “This was good for him. Thank you.”
When the cab arrives, she and Crane see Irving and Jenny out. Jenny gives Crane another hug and Irving shakes his hand, both of them promising they’ll be in touch.
“A fine evening,” Crane states after they head back inside the cabin. “I am glad to have seen them.”
“And I’m glad to have my jeep back,” replies Abbie, smirking up at him. “Between you and Jenny, I don’t think it’s long for this world, though.”
“I have made great strides in driving in the past year,” he retorts, arching an eyebrow. “Your sister is pleased with my progress. Progress that could continue if you would deign to teach me as well.”
“Haven’t I had enough brushes with death for a while?” Abbie gripes before her eyes go wide and she realizes what she said. She whips around to face Crane, ready to apologize, but is surprised when he chuckles deeply.
“Ever theatrical, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah, well.” Abbie fights back a yawn. “I think I’ll turn in. I can barely keep my eyes open.”
Crane nods, looking towards the fireplace. “I believe I shall stay up for a time.” Abbie hesitates, but isn’t sure what to say. Crane must sense it because he glances down at her. “Rest easy, Lieutenant. I am well enough for the moment.”
“If you need me,” Abbie begins.
“I know where you are,” he finishes. “Before you retire, though, there is something I wish to ask you.” Abbie turns to face him properly. “You have already done so much, but I—”
“Crane,” she chides gently. “What do you need?”
“I tire of the confines of this cabin,” Crane admits. “I thought to go out. Tomorrow morning, perhaps? If you would be amenable to driving.”
“Of course. Did you have anywhere specific in mind?”
Crane doesn’t reply right away, eyes fixed to the hearth like he sees more than the fire. “Yes,” he says quietly. “Yes, I did.”
“Tomorrow morning,” she promises. “First thing. Try not to stay up too late.”
“Dream sweetly, Lieutenant.”
Abbie turns the car off and looks to Crane. “You take as long as you need,” she says softly.
He nods. A few beats pass in silence. “Lieutenant, would you…that is, I would very much appreciate if…”
“Crane,” Abbie interjects with exasperated fondness because god, the man is ridiculous. “You can ask me.”
His eyes are sheepish when they find hers. “Accompany me? Please.”
Abbie smiles and opens the door.
The early morning breeze has a bit of bite to it, rolling through the little cemetery and making Abbie shiver. She thinks about the last time they were here, back when she hadn’t known Crane from Adam and didn’t believe a word out of his mouth. A graveyard had been the absolute last place she’d wanted to be so soon after Corbin, let alone in the company of a man she’d decided from jump was crazy. The differences between then and now are staggering.
She follows behind Crane, weaving through the rows of tombstones until they reach their destination. Crane peers down at his wife’s name in silence, clasping his hands behind his back. Abbie watches him out of the corner of her eye. Though it’s been days since she’d last seen tears in his eyes, Abbie hadn’t been sure of what to expect when this moment came.
Crane’s expression is stoic and resigned. The silence stretches on for a long while. Finally, he sighs.
“Easy is the descent into Hell, for it is paved with good intentions,” he murmurs, staring down at the headstone.
“Milton was onto something there,” Abbie agrees.
“I have spent much of the last two years endeavoring to find reason in Katrina’s actions,” he continues, wind lifting wisps of hair free from his ponytail. “Why did she conceal from me my role as Witness and the magic at her sway? Why did she not tell me she was with child? Why, despite everything that she endured fighting on our side for so long, did she choose to take up with Henry? Two years I have spent thus, and I am no closer to comprehension than I was when I began.” He pauses for a long moment. “And I find that I have grown tired of trying.”
Abbie watches as he unclasps his hands, fingers of his left curling around the thick silver band on his right ring finger. He slides it off and goes to his knees in the grass. With care, he sets the ring on the ground before the headstone and covers it with a small mound of loamy dirt. Then, he bows his head.
When he rises, his eyes are dry. Abbie’s aren’t. Crane turns to her, searching her face. “She is not worth your tears, Lieutenant.”
“You’re an idiot if you think they’re for her,” Abbie mutters, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket. Before she can lower her hand, Crane catches it in his and holds it between them.
“I am not certain I would have been able to endure these last days had you not been at my side,” he says. “You haven’t any idea just how much I rely upon your strength.”
Now it’s Abbie’s turn to look sheepish. “I’m not so strong.”
“You are far stronger than I. No word or deed rendered on my behalf would ever be recompense enough for—”
“English, Crane,” Abbie interrupts with a teasing smile. “American English: think monosyllables.”
Crane smiles too. “Then I shall simply say that I could not have asked for a better companion in my time of need. You are invaluable and I pledge to you here and now that I will never again take your friendship for granted.”
“You and me against the world,” Abbie affirms. “Whatever comes next.”
Abbie feels like they should shake on it, but Crane has something else in mind. With reverence in his eyes, he lifts her hand to his mouth, dropping a kiss to the top of it. Abbie isn’t prepared for the way it makes her chest tighten, or how bereft she feels when he finally does let go.
“Deal,” she says. “So, what now?”
Crane considers the question, wrapping his coat a little tighter around himself. “As the day is quite crisp, perhaps…Starbucks?”
Abbie grins. “I’ll buy.”
It doesn’t strike Abbie until they have both put their backs to the cemetery, bound for her jeep that this is it. This is her sign; Crane’s ready to be by himself now.
It doesn’t make her feel as good as she thought it would.