**Part of a longer piece I've been sitting on for nearly two years. Just wanted to get this part out into the world. The usual disclaimers apply**

Dale Cooper was no stranger to death. He'd seen it in all its forms - violent, uneventful, accidental, homicidal, self-inflicted - and had come to accept it as part of life. And he'd seen enough of it to know that it happened, no matter what one did to prevent it. He knew when it was time to move on.

However, somewhere along the highway into Twin Peaks, Cooper had forgotten how to respond to it. On this day, he had entirely lost track of time. From the position of the sun setting crimson on the western horizon and given the time of year, he surmised that it was likely between 5:30 and 6:00. He had given the time of Leland Palmer's death as 4:23 PM. That sounds about right, Cooper thought, estimating it would have taken him at least an hour and half to get where he was from where he'd been. He pushed down on the accelerator and sped up the Great Northern Highway towards the hotel, putting as many miles as fast as he could between the town below and his refuge on the mountain.

Cooper felt his still-damp hair and sighed. He could still see Leland's blood on his hands, could still feel his body weighed down against his lap by the water and the guilt. He twisted the steering wheel in his hands. It shouldn't have happened like that.

He didn't remember getting out of his car or handing his keys to the valet, or of climbing aboard the elevator in the lobby; he was only dimly aware of dropping his keys on the floor outside his room as he pushed the door open and entered the suite that he had called home for over two weeks.

Dale Cooper was no stranger to death, true. But tonight, the death of Leland Palmer had shaken him to his core.

Was it the violence of his end? The tragedy of it all? The fact that Sarah Palmer would now have to bury her husband, so soon after burying her only child? Was it because he'd held the man's head in his hands as he passed from this world into the next, that he was the last person Leland spoke to, that the moment his spirit left his body, Cooper's were the arms that held him?

He had no idea; he wasn't about to analyze it. Owing to the circumstances, Sheriff Truman insisted Cooper take the night off. And while, at the time, Cooper had protested the early leave, he now recognized it as a stroke of wisdom on the young sheriff's part. Cooper shut the world out behind him and leaned against the solid pine, trying to remember how to cry.

He found his way to the edge of the bed and sat down, dramatically imagining every spring in the mattress buckling under the weight of his body and his sadness before shrugging the sentiment off and chastising himself for being such a romantic fool. In his right hand was his tape recorder; Cooper's thumb lingered over the 'Record' button, circling but unable to depress it. Eventually, he replaced it in his pocket. What could he say anyway?

Pushing back more strands of unkempt hair, rendered unruly by a sprinkler system gone haywire, Cooper sighed deeply and found a knot in the floorboards to stare at while he calmly contemplated his next move. There would be paperwork to file, the requisite phone call to Gordon Cole about the wrap-up. There would be the funeral, of course, and he would stay for that. But eventually there would have to be an exit strategy, a way to extricate himself from the lives of the townspeople he had grown to love so much since he'd arrived. He needed to remember to talk to Diane about Gordon's next case, where he should return his rental car - Seattle? Tacoma? The airport? He blinked, knocking a single tear off his eyelashes and onto the polished toe of his dress shoe.

Cooper didn't hear the knock at his door, the slight groan it made as it swung open, or the soft padded footsteps as Audrey's slippered feet trod the distance from the entryway to the corner by his bed.

"Agent Cooper?" she asked.

"Hm?" he looked up, barely. "Oh... Audrey." He swallowed and tried sitting up straight, inhaling as he went. "How are you?"

She ignored his question entirely. "Is everything okay?"

"Couldn't be better."

She leaned forward against the wall, watching him from around the corner. "I know what happened, Agent Cooper."

"You do?"

A pause; enough time for Audrey to breathe in and consider her next sentence. "My father came home this afternoon."


"Mr. Palmer died?"

Cooper nodded solemnly. "Mm-hmm."

Audrey stood still, silent. "You were there."

Cooper's shoulders sagged and he felt his face fall as he simply nodded his assent, his head moving slowly up and down, hoping it was enough for her.

He opened his hands, palms up, an offering. Counting the lines and wrinkles he saw - he had his father's hands, he saw that now, although when did they become so old? - he imagined he saw Leland's blood sticking in the deep folds and recesses where he couldn't see it, even now, after scrubbing his hands raw at the station. He became aware of Audrey stepping towards him, crossing between him and the wall, and sitting down on his right side, nearest the head of the bed. When he saw her hand enter his field of vision - as she reached forward and lay her hand inside his, palm down, her thumb pressing into the soft, fleshy junction of his heart and life lines - he felt both eyes well up and cloud over and he lost focus altogether. He didn't care if she saw; when he blinked this time and two teardrops fell to land on her skin, she just interlocked her fingers with his and squeezed tight.

"Don't cry, Agent Cooper," she cooed, waiting a moment before continuing. "I mean, it's okay if you have to... ."

"I-I'm sorry, Audrey."

"It's all right."

They sat in silence, holding hands, for a long while. Tibetan meditation had taught him to embrace the 'now' and that's what he did, sharpening his focus and honing in on particular sensations: the discomfiting feel of his still-damp clothes sandwiched between his thighs and the bedspread... the scent of pine mingling with the lilac on Audrey's collarbone... the warm pad of her thumb pressing into his palm and the sound of his own heartbeat thudding against his eardrum. The silence, the weight of Audrey's head on his shoulder, and the crushing emptiness of Leland's death settled around him. It was all happening at once, had no fixed time or point of origin. Time ticked away, and he felt a growing awareness of the seconds as they slipped by but made no attempt to count them. It could have been five minutes; it could have been sixty-five. He had no way of knowing.

Audrey finally cleared her throat. "Agent Cooper... can I ask you a question?"

Cooper straightened up. The moment, he knew, was over. "Of course."

"You told me once that secrets are dangerous things."

He nodded. "They can be."

"And you said we're friends. And the last time I checked, friends don't keep secrets from each other."

He nodded again, failing to see where she was going.

"Well, Agent Cooper, I have a secret. Kind of. I mean, it's not a very well-kept secret but it's a secret and I should tell you because it involves you... ."

"What is it, Audrey?"

She turned her body to face him. Their knees touched, barely, but she never looked directly at him. He watched her watch the wall, seeming to chew on the words she intended to say. Finally, she parted her lips and they spilled out.

"Ever since I was old enough to know about these things, I wanted it to be special-," she nodded, unsure, "-You know, my first time. And I might have been drugged, up at Jack's, but... ." She trailed off with a sigh and closed her eyes, slipping her hand out from between his, beginning to circle her right wrist with the fingers of her left hand. "It wasn't supposed to be like that. I wasn't going to let anyone take that from me."

Cooper sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for her to finish, because it was the polite thing to do, because she needed to talk. But the pause in her speech turned into a full-stop and he cleared his throat, taking advantage of the moment. "You're a much stronger woman than I think anyone has ever given you credit for, Audrey," Cooper said.

"Except for you," she said, without a smile. Her hand lifted almost of its own accord to brush her hair behind her ear. "Agent Cooper, I need you to know why it was so important to me... ."

He almost wished she would stop, because the cave-in had begun in his stomach and he was starting to feel the slight cardiovascular tremble of the emotionally involved. He reached over to take her hand, to silence her.

She shook her head slowly, letting her eyes fall to her lap. "I know I can tell you this because... well, to be honest Agent Cooper, I wasn't just saving myself for anyone."

It clicked, suddenly and with force, even though surprise at her barely spoken revelation was an emotion he was not rightly entitled to feel. He had suspected, sure, and it had been written all over her walk and her charm and the way she looked at him, from their first meeting until now. But hearing it - nearly - from her lips... .

He glanced over at her. "Audrey... ."

She beat a hasty retreat. "And I know what you're thinking," she said, repeating his words almost verbatim, "I hardly know you and this is wrong and it can't happen." She sounded almost disappointed, dejected. Her backpedaling was commendable. "And maybe it's not even that I wanted it to be you... maybe I wanted or needed it to be someone like you. But I needed you to know that all that time, up at Jack's, thinking of you and waiting for you and praying to you and hoping it would be you was what kept me from -."

Cooper caught her mid-sentence, bringing his hand up to scoop along her jawline, fingers weaving through ebony tresses, his thumb tracing the dewy outline of her lower lip. He didn't know what he was doing. "I know, Audrey."

She pursed her lips slightly, kissing his thumb pad, before pulling away slightly and closing her eyes. And when she opened them, for the first time that night, they connected with his and what pertinacity or firmness of purpose he had crumbled away to meet the worn floorboards beside his bed.

She blinked, slowly, her lashes barely touching, as he floated over her porcelain skin and claimed a kiss. And if she had wanted to resist, her resolve weakened - though he was certain there wasn't much there to begin with - the moment his lips touched hers. He slid closer to her on the bed, felt her hands on the back of his neck, cradled her against his body. When she parted her lips, letting him in, he thought he might die.

Cooper ran through the laundry list of reasons why he shouldn't be doing what he was doing, and came away with a series of strikethroughs and marginalia declaring "I don't care" en masse. As Audrey ran her hands down from the back of his neck to the front of his shirt and began loosening his tie and undoing the buttons she found along the way, Cooper said to himself: I shouldn't be allowing Audrey Horne to take off my shirt like this. And as he pushed aside the cotton cardigan covering her shoulders and followed the line of her arms as he let it fall to the bed, he said: I shouldn't be removing Audrey Horne's sweater like this. And as she tugged up on his undershirt, or as her inexperienced fingers fumbled with his belt buckle, or as he traced a line of kisses from her lips to the soft skin at the base of her throat and felt the rumble of an intimate moan vibrate against his mouth, he said: I shouldn't be allowing Audrey Horne to do these things to me... and I certainly shouldn't be doing these things to Audrey Horne... .

Cooper realized he didn't care about the Bureau, and he was prepared to not care about the oath. He'd temporarily forgotten that he was thirty-six and she was eighteen. But he couldn't forget what she'd been through, her innocence, and even though he didn't want to care, he knew he cared deeply. He had been gutted when he heard she was missing - imagine the impact on your chest of three bowling balls dropped from the height of about nine feet, you might begin to approximate the sensation, he thought ruefully. It had taken everything in him not to rampage through town after seeing the video in Ben Horne's office, or to snap the neck of that little tart who'd led him to her at One Eyed Jack's. When he'd carried her away from that place, he'd felt such a mixture of murderous violence and gentle care that he hardly knew how to touch her, except to hold her in his arms or whisper his hands over her face to dry her tears.

He'd wanted her then - hell, he'd wanted her from the moment he first saw her, with her itchy palms in the Great Northern dining room - but after everything, how could he be sure of anything?

He'd give her an out. "Audrey?"

Breathless came her reply. "Mm?"

Cooper found it hard to speak; his voice was thick in his throat. "You can tell me to stop, right here, and I will."

"I know," she said, pulling away slightly. "Do you want to stop?"

He kissed her again. "It doesn't matter. This has to be what you want."

Audrey leaned back even further, laying against the pillows, and looked at him directly. "I want you," she whispered as she reached for him.

"This is serious, Audrey," Cooper said, grasping her hand in his as he kissed her palm. "You...we don't get to redo this."

She tugged on his hand, pulling him down towards her, and he knew she was serious. At that moment, wild horses couldn't have dragged him from her arms. With cautious footing, they made quick work of the remaining few layers of clothing separating them; when he took in the sight of her, a blush of embarrassment coloured her face; when bare skin touched bare skin, she shivered. Go slow, he warned himself, right before she whispered in his ear "Go slow" and he knelt between her knees, leaned up on his elbows, and promised that he would. She smiled and said "I know." She drew his lower lip into her mouth and he slid within her.

In the swiftly darkening suite, under blankets of sincere but sweetly seductive modesty (hers) and intense, ardent desire (his), they laughed and sighed and found their rhythm, matching movements. The callouses on his hands ran ragged against the sheets and she rice paper delicacy of her skin; she raked her nails against his flesh and evened the score. Every so often, she urged him on, lifting her hips to meet him, crying out with each harried thrust he made into and against her, and every time, he slowed their coming-together into an erotically languid push-and-pull that nearly milked them both dry before either of them was ready.

Cooper hung on her every word, every sound uttered from the softness of her lips, and she drank in his half-finished breaths, smoothing out his roughness with her naivete. She alternated heavy breaths with mewling moans and little whimpers. Awakening. Teasing and tender, soft yet searching; above all, no expectations.

And yet, whether from unchecked anticipation or design, she reached up and gripped the headboard, her hands wrapping around the post as she called his name again and again and floated away in a million pieces, arching her back and gasping for air as she trembled and shook. He hauled her up to him, holding her shoulders and pushing into her once more as he released with a sharp, shuddering cry. He buried his face in her hair to muffle the satisfied growls he was incapable of ceasing, while in his arms she came back to him, reassembled herself, regained the function of her senses and her limbs, kissed his hair as she murmured nonsense to the low moon outside their window. He had to smile at that: he felt like doing the very same thing.

Hours later, Cooper could still taste her on his lips. They'd taken their time, again and again, exploring one another. The timid way she moved, on top of him, beneath him, in front of him, was more alluring than the most overt sexual overtones he'd encountered in his life. He'd never been a prolific lover, but of all the women he'd been to bed with, Audrey was by far the most intriguing he'd ever had. Because, warming up to herself, she became unguarded, ravenous even; given enough time, Cooper thought, she'd be able to walk that line between shy and wild with such ease.

Now, however, Audrey lay on her side, her arm draped across his chest, her head nestled under his chin. So much like a child, in fact, that Cooper felt a twinge of guilt thinking about the things they'd done together, to each other... .

"We were good, weren't we?"

Cooper looked down at Audrey and kissed the top of her head. "Yeah. We were good."

She whispered her goodnight and settled back down; within minutes, her breathing had evened out and he could tell that she was fast asleep. And despite the deep desire to fall asleep next to her, he was unable to keep his wandering mind still. Even with Audrey Horne curled up in his arms - or perhaps in spite of that - Cooper felt the familiar loneliness that he'd felt every night since arriving. His thoughts whirled; Leland, how Sarah had taken the news, how Sheriff Truman had delivered it, Laura... .

When Audrey eventually unclasped herself from his body, Cooper carefully and quietly swung his legs over the side of the bed and fumbled in the dark to get dressed. With a quick sweep of his hand through his hair, he finished buttoning his shirt and stood up, grabbing his tape recorder from off the night stand as he did. Resting there, against the phone, was the last note Audrey had left him before she left for One Eyed Jack's. My Special Agent, she'd written. Like she meant it, with a firm, unbroken line; her penmanship flawless, as if she hadn't needed to pause to consider what she wrote and believed every word she scrawled in blue-black ink across the page. An unspoken secret code they had both agreed to. He slipped the note into his inside breast pocket, keeping her little possessives close to his heart.

Deep down, he liked being 'hers.'

He turned to look at her, Twin Peaks' sad beauty, his siren, and hazarded a small smile. Through parted drapes a heavy moon spilled its light over the windowsill and leaked across the room to lay - intimately - across Audrey's body, from the bend in her knee and up across her breast. He bent down and kissed her where the tip of the moonbeam's silver tongue came to stop, just below the ink-black at the edge of her eye. Audrey sighed and murmured in her sleep.

She'd be his, he thought. And I'll be hers. The twinge of loneliness, of longing, was dulled at the reminder that he'd accomplished at least one of the goals set out for himself as he'd lay bleeding at the foot of that very bed just days earlier. To make love to a beautiful woman who I have genuine affection for...

He planted another soft kiss on Audrey's forehead and whispered that he was going to get a cup of coffee.

He hoped she heard him.