"You know, there's only one problem with you. You're perfect." Audrey's final words, as she turned to leave his room, perplexed Agent Cooper. He had been hoping that his story of the death of Caroline, and the madness of Windom, would open her eyes, shock her almost, give her cause to consider him in a different light – not her usual fairytale image of the dashing and heroic F.B.I. Agent who saves her life and falls in love with her, but the harsh realities of a simple lawman, prone to the same flaws and mistakes as everyone else, capable of rare genius and insight, as well as catastrophic errors of judgment.

However, her words belied that hope. She still had that same adolescent crush on him that she'd had since virtually their first meeting – itchy palms and all. Of course, he'd been flattered by the attentions of a stunning eighteen-year-old girl, what red-blooded man wouldn't be? But he was a Special Agent of the F.B.I. investigating the brutal murder of one of her classmates, and so he'd tried to keep her attentions at arms length, while still cultivating her friendship. For an all-too brief time she was a delightful breakfast companion, an island of purity to start the day, before he was compelled to wade into the ocean of depravity that was Laura Palmer's life and death.

He'd been genuinely pleased when she announced, one morning, that she'd found a job. He'd believed that it would do her good to get out of the constricting corridors of the Great Northern and her cycle of endless torment of guest and staff alike, through sheer boredom and familial disinterest. It might also have taken her interest off of him. It was a shame that he'd been so tired and preoccupied that morning, had neglected to find out why she'd taken that particular job, and just what her true intentions were – it would have saved a lot of the agony and pain they'd subsequently shared in her kidnap ordeal at One-Eyed Jack's.

A few hours later, events had irrevocably changed his perceptions of, and feelings for, her. He'd returned to his hotel room, exasperated to hear those lunatic Icelanders still singing, to find Audrey, not just in his room, but in his bed, in tears, naked. The sight of her perfectly-chiselled shoulders had taken his breath away, and made him wonder if the rest of her was also cast from so perfect a mould. More by instinct than the workings of a calm, rational mind (his thoughts at the time were anything but rational) he'd deduced that what she desperately needed was a friend to listen to her troubles and fears, and so, while sharing a little food and drink, that's what he'd tried to be for over an hour. By the time she'd left his room, he had the impression that her crush had been intensified, rather than diminished, by his actions, and that taking her to his bed would have absolutely been the wrong thing to do. Not that a part of him had not ached for her.

Not surprisingly, sleep had not come easy after that, with one pillow slightly damp from her tears and her heady perfume permeating his bed. He'd dreamt of Audrey that night, for the first time, and when he awoke the taste in his mouth could only have come from her. It had been years since he'd felt the need to take himself in hand, but that morning it had brought some measure of relief. The taste in his mouth had only left him after his first cup of coffee.

For the next couple of days he'd only seen her briefly whenever he closed his eyes, vague desires more than dreams but, on his arrival back at his room after the successful mission into Canada, a note on his floor had indicated that she was still around – and playful. 'My Special Agent' indeed! Three bullets to the chest and abdomen precluded his finding out what she had been up to, however, and to his eternal shame, that was the last time he ever remembered it. The subsequent news that she was missing had shaken him more than he would've thought possible. As he sat in Harry's office, all he'd been able to think of was a collage of images of Audrey; her incredible smile that always caused his breath to catch in his throat; the nervous, yet bewitching, way she chewed on her lower lip; the carefree way she flicked her hair behind her ears; her eyes that demanded full and undivided attention. His thoughts should've been all for Laura, yet thoughts of Audrey had crowded her out, crowded everything out – even the escape of his old partner Windom Earle.

It had gotten worse. The tearful phone-call at night. The kidnap. The videotape. Watching a gagged and drugged Audrey on a screen in her father's office, trying to conceal the anger, the sickness, and the stark terror he'd felt, as Ben Horne prowled around him, smoking one of his damn cigars. Still riled by his previous 'buckshot in your tail-feathers' jibe, he'd been sorely tempted to ram it down his throat. Of course, he'd agreed to deliver the ransom money - $125,000. It had seemed a paltry amount in comparison to Audrey.

The breakthrough, when it came, had been fortuitous – and timely. Audrey's note, under the bed all this time, and he'd forgotten about it. All this time, and her whereabouts had been within touching distance, if only he'd remembered. Being shot was no excuse, how could he have forgotten? And the giant had expressly told him he'd forgotten something, and he still hadn't remembered!

The assault on Jack's had gone as smoothly as he could've hoped for, considering his fears, but the sight of Audrey, drugged and bound on the bed, had filled him with equal parts anger and panic. Anger at what these bastards had done to her, and panic that he was too late, that he'd lost her. He'd never hit a woman before, but the sound of Nancy's head connecting with the wall had been strangely satisfying – and worrying. Were his feelings for Audrey this intense?

Her recovery at the Bookhouse showed how lucky she'd been – multiple injections over several days – so very close to overdosing. And it was his fault. She had only been up there in a desire to help and please him. She had only been kidnapped so that Jean Renault could exact his revenge. She had only come so close to death because he had forgotten he had her whereabouts within his grasp, but had failed her badly in prolonging her agony. What had torn him up even more was the fact that she still considered him to be her hero. She had expected him to come to her rescue, and he had – but he knew that it was days later than it could, and should, have been.

Her conversation with her father, when he came to take her home, had intrigued him. What had been even more intriguing, though, was what appeared not to be said, or merely hinted at in the silence – just what secrets had Audrey found out at Jacks? And what connection was there with her father? He would've loved to have been a fly on the wall at their next conversation, but had trusted that Audrey would keep him in the loop. Sure enough, she'd slipped into the Sheriff's office while he'd been studying Laura's secret diary. She'd been all business, shrugged aside his queries about her health like they were inconsequential, and gave him the information she'd gotten out of her father. He was the owner of One-Eyed Jacks. He'd known Laura was there. He'd slept with her.

Those facts, together with hints from Laura's secret diary, had left him with little option but to get a warrant for the arrest of Benjamin Horne. Still, Audrey hadn't crumbled at this news – well, perhaps just a touch - and he marvelled at the extent of her will and determination. That night she had arrived at his room, ostensibly to ask about her father's arrest and, perhaps not surprisingly, she'd seemed more concerned with what he might think of her being at One-Eyed Jack's. Her strength of character had humbled him, and his days-long resistance almost deserted him, as she sat on the bed, with the longing clear to see in her eyes. Just as he'd sensed her movement towards him, the phone had startled them both, with the terrible news that another girl's body had been found, the town's nightmare far from over.

But now the case was over and, shockingly, it had been Leland Palmer who had raped and murdered his own daughter, as well as other atrocities. Ben Horne was guilty of many things, but not of this. And now he was leaving Twin Peaks, and returning to Bureau Headquarters in Washington. And he had to admit that he would strongly miss this place. Most of all, he would miss Audrey Horne. He still found it hard to believe that, in the space of barely three weeks, an eighteen-year-old high school girl could dominate so many of his thoughts and dreams. Or was it longer than three weeks? From their very first meeting he'd had an irresistible feeling that he knew her – had always known her - somewhere. There was a vague, yet consistent, image of a wren in his memory, but he was unable to comprehend its full significance, only that it somehow connected to Audrey and was, like Pittsburgh, four years old. Maybe it was just as well he was leaving now, before temptation became something that couldn't be denied and held at arm's length any longer. Although she insisted she'd pursue him when older, to which he'd agreed, secretly he was aware that it would likely never happen. Come the summer, he was sure she'd barely remember that FBI Agent who had briefly captured her heart. Still, her last comment rankled, and he wished it was otherwise. But what more could he say? He'd mentioned Caroline…

'Wait a minute. Did I, or not? I'm not sure that I actually did. I didn't mention Caroline, by name, or her exact relationship to Windom. Or the fact that Windom escaped from the insane asylum last week – I only gave Audrey half the damn story – it's no wonder her perceptions of me haven't changed in the slightest. She's almost out the door, almost out of my life - can there be any harm in one last attempt?' And so he calls out, "Audrey." The receding clicks of her shoes on the wooden floor falter and return as her head appears from around the entranceway.

"Yes, Agent Cooper?"

"Is there any chance you could close the door and come and sit down? I neglected to mention a couple of salient points."

He sits down on the edge of the bed, closes his eyes and waits, not just to compose his thoughts, but also to avoid looking at the way Audrey moves. 'Is this for her benefit? Or mine? And don't make it too obvious you're looking at her legs. Not sure I like this young executive look she's sporting at the moment, what happened to all that hatred she had for her father?' He feels the bed compress as she settles herself next to him, and as he looks up at her he smiles and says, "Thank you Audrey. I've just got a couple of additional points to make, which I should've mentioned before, they should provide greater clarity on the story I just told – I hope I'm not keeping you from your job?"

"It's okay," she jokes. "I'm Customer Relations – it's up to me which customers I spend all my time relating to!"

'God, I'm going to miss that smile,' he thinks as she beams up at him, obviously proud of her witticism.

"This isn't going to be pleasant, Audrey, it's…well, it's difficult just to think about it sometimes. Her name was Caroline, and I fell in love with her, and I really shouldn't have done, because…she was Windom's wife." He sees Audrey's eyes widen in shock, but knows that if he is to convince her that he's a far-from-perfect human being, he'll have to shock her a lot more. It's not something he relishes, but feels that it has to be made apparent. "She was the wife of my partner, my mentor. He was my friend." His voice falters as a flood of appalling memories pour into his mind and he has to stand up and place both hands on the wall, bracing himself, breathing deep, while he composes himself again. "The three of us were in a safe-house, living under the same roof, and we thought we could keep it a secret from him. The man who taught me everything I know. He knew, of course he knew, he might even have known before me and Caroline realised ourselves. You know, we used to play a game of chess every day. I never won, not a single game. One of the finest minds I've ever known - and he lost it after that night. It's my belief that it was Windom that murdered Caroline, and who stabbed me and left me for dead. While I was unconscious our bodies were…arranged, so that I'd find her dead in my arms when I awoke – if I awoke."

He turns around to face her again, and sees the tears in her eyes that he'd anticipated, hating himself for inducing them. Sitting down again, he slowly forces himself to continue his confession. "On the same day your father reported you missing, I also heard from the Bureau that Windom had somehow escaped from the asylum where he'd been incarcerated since…since his breakdown. I'd always considered that he was faking his insanity but, over time, I think he has genuinely come to lose his mind, and is now irretrievably insane. How he engineered his escape, and managed to completely disappear, no one really knows. We know what his objective is, though. He sent a note to headquarters, addressed to me, containing the opening move to a game of chess. I don't believe for an instant that it'll be a pleasant game between old partners – he hates me, with good reason – and knowing his madness, and his genius, it could well be a most deadly game. I have this feeling, a prickling of the senses, that tells me he could well have something more terrible in mind, and that the taking of a piece could equate to the taking of a life – anyone I know could be a potential pawn, liable to be swept off the board in his twisted desire to inflict the same pain and agony he believes I inflicted on him."

He takes her right hand in his, squeezing it tenderly, noticing how cold and shivery it is, before continuing. "That's why I have to leave Twin Peaks, Audrey. In Washington, I'll have the full resources of the Bureau behind me - and I'll need them. If Windom wants to use real people as chess pieces, he'd be forced to use my colleagues. F.B.I. Agents don't take kindly to being used as pawns. Eventually we'd get him, hopefully without anyone getting hurt. You know, I was thinking about spending some vacation time here, before returning to Washington, maybe even looking at local property, but I can't let him find out about this place…not Twin Peaks. Harry just doesn't have the necessary resources, even with additional F.B.I. help. There's just too much forest around here for him to hole up in, even with a tracker like Hawk on his trail. I will not let Harry's people, the girls at the Double R, or any of your staff here at the Great Northern, be used in his desire to destroy me. I will not. Do you play chess, Audrey?"

He sees that his sudden question throws her momentarily off balance, her chiselled eyebrows turning into a frown, before she answers. "Daddy taught me the basics, but I never had the patience – or the inclination, in all honesty. Why do you ask?"

"What's the most powerful piece, the most valuable? Which piece would Windom most want to capture as part of his endgame?"

He sees the realization of what he's implying in her eyes, before she whispers, "The queen. Are you saying…"

"Who would he consider to be my queen in Twin Peaks? Who would be most at risk if I stayed here?"

He feels her hands momentarily tighten in his, and she audibly gulps before replying, "Agent Cooper, I thought you said I was…just a friend?"

"Audrey…I was trying to let you down easily. Surely you know that you mean more to me than just a friend? As your father once said to me, 'You and Audrey have a special relationship.' The first time I saw you at breakfast, I knew that much, if nothing else. I saved your life at One-Eyed Jack's, and you saved my career at Dead Dog Farm. And when you're all grown up and on your own, who knows? But in order to grow up, you have to stay alive. And that isn't easy in Twin Peaks when I'm in town! You've already been far too close to death recently, and that was my fault. I can't let that happen again."

"But you rescued me, got me out of there…"

"Yes, Audrey - eventually. But I should've got you out much earlier than I did. You left me a note detailing where you were going, and why – but I forgot about it. Admittedly, I'd been shot, but that's not a good enough reason. I forgot about it, plain and simple, and by the time I eventually found it, it was almost too late. Another hour and you would've been dead. Blackie and Renault were organizing your next, and last, dose when I got there. Even the Giant remembered the note, while it lay on the floor of my…"


"Er…yes. Look, forget I mentioned him, the point is…"

"No, sorry Agent Cooper," Audrey says while utterly failing to suppress a snigger. "I need to hear about this Giant!"

He's forced to return her smile, regretting that he'd mentioned him. "Yes, okay, um, this is going to sound a bit…out there. I received several…visits from a Giant. I wasn't asleep, so I know I never dreamt them. The first time was the night I got shot at the Great Northern. He gave me hints and clues about Laura's death and my case – and they all came true. He also mentioned that I'd forgotten something, and that turned out to be your note."

Again he sees her eyebrows crease in confusion. "But why would he mention my note? I had very little to do with your case. Why would he attempt to jog your memory about my whereabouts?"

He doesn't have an answer for her. It's not a question he'd really pondered over after her rescue. "I…honestly don't know Audrey. I thought, maybe, it had something to do with you knowing your father's secrets, but now we know he didn't kill Laura…so…I just don't know. I'll ask him the next time I see him! The thing to remember, though, is that he remembered, while I didn't. I failed to remember, and you ended up nearly paying the ultimate price. And now an even earlier mistake of mine has resurfaced and, if I were to stay here, again you would be potentially in the firing line. I can't let that happen. I'll never forget the sight of you at One-Eyed Jack's, bound and incapacitated by drugs, knowing that I'd made a mistake – and you were paying for it. That won't happen again. That's why I have to leave. I'm not perfect, Audrey. I make mistakes, like everyone else. Only, my mistakes tend to have serious repercussions for others. Caroline paid for one mistake with her life. You won't pay for this one. Do you understand?" He looks into her eyes, hoping that his words of the last few minutes have had an effect. Much to his delight, they appear to have done so.

"Of course, Agent Cooper." She smiles radiantly up at him. "You may not be the perfect Special Agent, but you'll always be 'My Special Agent.' Thank you for being so honest about your past. I realise that they are still painful memories."

And with that, he stands up, thinking that, finally, he'd said all that he'd wanted to say. "Thank you Audrey. I needed you to be aware that my past can still affect our future. I hope that we can still have one."

She looks up at him, but remains seated. "You can count on it, Agent Cooper. I've a little question for you, though, if you have no objection?"

"Of course not, what's on your mind?" he replies, trying to sound nonchalant. Inside he is anything but. 'Damn it, Audrey, I've just artfully guided that conversation to a point where I was comfortable with it ending. Make this an easy question, please.'

Maintaining perfect eye contact, she says quite calmly, "When did you know? When did you know, exactly, that you were in love with Caroline?"

He tries desperately to hide the sudden fear in his gut that, maybe, he's not the only artful guide he sits back down again, trying to present a calm exterior, privately he wonders just what her motivation is in asking about Caroline. How much can he tell her? How much does he want to? After gathering his thoughts for a few moments, he hesitatingly begins. "It was only four years ago, and yet it seems to have been a part of me forever. As I said, she was the primary witness to a federal crime, and I… or rather, we, were assigned to give her protection until the trial. While in the safe-house we were in our own bubble, barely any contact with the outside world, time seemed to lose all meaning. Windom seemed lost in his own thoughts, something he was always prone to on occasion, and so I spent a lot of the time with Caroline – just talking. And she was great company, nearer in age to me than she was to Windom. Days, hours, minutes later, and I was professing my love to her, and, to my astonishment, she reciprocated that love. And for a brief time we were happy. We were in love…and then she was dead. As to when I knew I loved her – I don't know, Audrey – one moment I thought of her solely as Windom's wife, the next moment she was simply the love of my life. If I had to place a timeframe on it, I'd say about 5 or 6 days, a week at the outside – not long, but certainly not instantaneous. Why do you ask?"

"I was just curious because, you know, I've known you longer than that, and yet you never seem to be able to admit to the fact that I might be in love with you. You always couch my feelings as just an adolescent crush or a young woman's attraction to an older man. Why is that, do you think?"

Suddenly not liking the direction this conversation is taking, Cooper wishes he was fishing instead. 'Maybe Audrey already is.' "Audrey, I've tried, in all our conversations, to never talk down to you, tried to talk with you as an adult, because I've come to understand that nobody else really does – it's just that at our initial breakfast, I had the distinct impression that you weren't being…entirely serious. Our friendship then seemed to develop over the next few mornings, and you started your own investigations, I thought, because of a crush you'd developed for me. I'm sorry, Audrey, I just never saw it as anything deeper than that. If it was, and is, then I don't have any particular problem or issue with it, I just didn't recognize its existence - so much for my much-vaunted skills at human perception."

"No, you're right, in many ways, Agent Cooper. The first time I saw you at breakfast, I must admit that, along with the initial attraction, there was an attempt on my part to see if you could be embarrassed, or put off your stride." She laughs, "You did well!"

He breaks into a smile, adding, "Thank you…I think."

"But the breakfast on the morning of Laura's funeral changed all of that, "she continues. "When you analysed my hand-writing, which you manipulated far too easily out of me by the way, you said something that completely changed the way I looked at things. You said that I had a romantic nature and a heart that yearns. When you looked into my eyes, it was like you could penetrate through the mask that everyone else perceives as my true nature, to see the real Audrey Horne beneath. Very few, if any, people have done that - my father certainly hasn't. I don't think he's ever really tried. Laura was always his first love. But you saw through my mask, right into my soul, and you knew who I really was – and in real-time you'd only known me a matter of minutes. At that moment, I would've done anything for you. I guess that could be called the 'crush' stage. Then Daddy held that gala reception for those Icelandic investors, and seeing Leland Palmer disintegrate like he did on the dance-floor, with everyone oblivious to his pain, except me, I desperately needed someone to tell me that the world wasn't full of ignorant monsters. So I came to see you. Why I thought it necessary to be naked in your bed when you arrived, I don't know. My thought processes were anything but coherent at that moment, maybe I thought that that's what movie heroines were supposed to do. Too many Robert Taylor movies when I was growing up – wow, did I have a major thing for him in my early teens! Have you ever seen "Conspirator?" He gave Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in that one. Anyway, back to that night. I came to see you, and you knew the right things to say and do, as I knew you would. You knew that I didn't really want to be taken to your bed, that I might have hated you in the morning if you had. You gauged that what I really needed was a good old heart-to-heart, and even though it was the middle of the night, that's what we had. You could easily have dismissed me from your room, claimed you needed to sleep, told me to grow up – you did none of those things. You were a friend, when I was in desperate need of one. By the end of that night, I knew I was in love with you. And I still am, Agent Cooper."

He glances down to his hands resting on his knees, and blinks several times, not wanting Audrey to see the surprising effect her words have had on him. Looking up again, he replies, "Like I said, Audrey, I…don't have a problem with this, you…seem certain in your own mind, and that's fair enough." Glancing down again he wonders, 'Was that as bad as it just sounded? What's my problem here? So Audrey thinks she's in love with me, I don't mind, so why can't I just articulate that? Get a grip, Dale.'

"Are you okay, Agent Cooper? You seem…kind of flustered. If this conversation…"

"I'm fine, just gotten out of the habit of having this type of conversation, apparently - of talking about emotions and feelings, too long in all honesty." 'Holy smokes, I'm waffling again. What is she doing to me?'

"I hope this isn't being too prying, but have you actually…you know, dated anyone - however briefly – since Caroline?

"Well, the Bureau keeps me incredibly busy, you know – and crime never stops."

"That's a no, then! What is it that you're afraid of, Agent Cooper?"

The unexpected bluntness of Audrey's statement stuns him for a second and he answers with an intensity that surprises him. "Afraid, Audrey? She died, because my love wasn't strong enough to save her. If that makes me cautious about jumping into another relationship, then, yes, maybe I am afraid."

She whispers, "It's been four years. Does the memory still hurt so much?"

He takes a deep breath and focuses inward, this conversation reminding him increasingly of the endless psych evaluation interviews he'd undergone after Pittsburgh. For some reason, maybe because the evaluators were also male agents, it had been comparatively straightforward to skate around the more painful and emotional of memories – like him, they had appeared not to have the heart, or soul, for it. Perhaps the Bureau was missing a trick not having women conduct the psych tests – he was definitely finding it easier, in just these few minutes, despite his wary start, to look back on that night without the terror overwhelming him – but then again, maybe it was because it was Audrey sat next him, gently coaxing and cajoling. Again, he wonders at the almost indefinable connection he feels they share. 'Is it possible to know someone on another level of existence, beyond the merely physical? Should I tell her about the wren?' With a start, he realizes that Audrey is patiently awaiting his reply. "Not as much as it used to, admittedly, but – yes, it still hurts. Sometimes, on a bad case, like this one was, several days can pass without me reliving events – then when I eventually do, there's still a sense of guilt that those days have gone by and I didn't remember. The image of us, when I awoke, is the worst. There was so much blood, Audrey – so much blood. Hers and mine – God, it was everywhere. I often wonder if Windom intended for me to survive, if the only reason he stopped stabbing was an assumption that I was dead, or as close to death that it was inevitable."

He could barely hear her whisper, "Then why do you continue to blame yourself? If you believe that Windom killed Caroline, and made a good attempt at adding you as well – then isn't he the one to blame? And don't say that your love should've saved her – how could it? Was there any suggestion at all that Windom would, or could, do something this heinous?"

"Only in hindsight, unfortunately. After the fact, it occurred to me that the man Caroline thought she'd seen commit murder must have been Windom. If I'd realised that at the time, if Caroline had been able to break through her fear of him and tell me, then it might have ended differently, but that's in the realm of 'what ifs.' As to why I continue to blame myself? What else can I do, Audrey? Caroline died, Windom went insane, while I got off relatively unscathed – if you can call getting stabbed getting off relatively…"

"Wait a second, here," interrupts Audrey, much to Cooper's surprise. Looking over at her he sees both of her palms raised like she's attempting to halt traffic, or the incoming tide, with a look of puzzlement on her face. "You're telling me that you blame yourself – simply because you survived? From the way you've described events, it appears to me that you became trapped in their domestic affairs, and were fortunate…"

"Affair is right, Audrey," Cooper counters. "It was my starting an affair with Caroline that triggered the whole sorry business. She was involved in an active case, I had no right…"

"Sorry to interrupt again, Agent Cooper, but it's clear to me that Windom used you as an excuse to kill Caroline - but you weren't the reason he did."

This time its Cooper's turn to look bewildered. "Not the reason? I'm sorry, Audrey, but I'm not following your thoughts here. What point are you trying to make?"

Audrey bites briefly on her lower lip, in that way that always seems to make Cooper breathe a little harder, before taking a deep breath herself, gathering her thoughts. "I'm sorry if this is something that you, or the Bureau, have considered and rejected – but if Caroline thought she saw Windom murder someone, then surely, with all his abilities, he would know that she knew. He would then have considered Caroline to be a threat to his freedom, even his very existence. Her disposal would have become an over-riding priority to him, despite the fact that she was his wife. Is it conceivable that the entire safe-house scenario was a manipulation of his to give him the opportunity he needed? Then, when he saw his young partner falling in love with his wife, and her beginning to return that love, he saw that as the perfect excuse. What were the grounds given for his alleged insanity? Was it because his wife considered him to be a murderer, or because his wife was an adulteress with his own partner? Was it the reason, or the excuse?"

Cooper rubs his right hand idly over his jaw, pondering. "I've always thought you had excellent investigatory instincts, Audrey – but, I must admit, that particular theory isn't one I'd ever considered. Was I too close to see it, perhaps? Is it feasible that Windom could have artfully stage managed the whole proceedings, though? It sounds incredible, implausible even, but then he always was a genius. I'm not saying everything you've said holds up, but it appears you've given me more than a few things to speculate over – thank you, Audrey."

"My pleasure," she breathes in reply. "So, does this mean you don't consider yourself entirely to blame for Caroline's death?"

"I'm not sure I'd go that far," he sighs. "Even if everything you've just hypothesized is true, the fact remains that I survived, and that fact alone will always leave me with a sense of guilt and shame– whether it's justified or not."

"You have to be able to live with it though, accept its existence, but be able to move past it – otherwise, it will always be an obstruction to you finding happiness with someone else."

"Thanks, Audrey, but I'm not due for my annual psych evaluation until the fall."

"I'm not sure you can afford to wait, Agent Cooper."

He looks up at that, to see the merest hint of an impish smile on Audrey's face, the smile that indicates she's up to something. "You know, Audrey, you seem to possess the uncanny ability to thoroughly confuse me sometimes. I often feel like I'm stumbling in the wake of your thought processes. Tell me why I can't afford to wait?"

"Because you're preparing to leave Twin Peaks – and there are still certain things to be acknowledged."

"I'm still stumbling."

Audrey lets out a huge breath, and as if she's talking to herself says, "Well, here goes nothing." She then continues, "I've told you how I feel about you, Agent Cooper – how I've felt since we first met. Sometimes, I even think I knew before we met. Does that seem odd to you?" She sees him smile and slowly shake his head, perhaps losing himself in his own memories. "I know it's real, genuine, something more than just an adolescent yearning. I realize you're not exactly comfortable with it yet, at least you didn't appear to be earlier – so I don't suppose you'll also acknowledge your feelings, though I think you should, for your own state of mind if nothing else."

It takes Cooper a couple of seconds to fully realize where Audrey has been going, and just what she hopes his response to it will be. 'My god, she actually thinks I'm going to sit here and casually admit that I'm in love with her – but how can I? It would be tantamount to signing her death warrant. If it isn't Windom this time, it would be someone else next time. That's the way that life has dealt my hand of cards. I don't think I've felt this strongly for anyone since Caroline, and yet, while I wouldn't call it love, I know it could very well be in the future – if I allowed myself to admit…commit to it. How on earth do I let her down, though?' He glances across at her, to see her intently staring back, calm yet expectant. "Audrey…I can't say what you want to hear, because it simply wouldn't be the truth. You must know that, deep down. I'll admit you've become a special friend these last few weeks, but I came here to do a job – and that job is over. Tomorrow I'll be leaving Twin Peaks – for the moment. But I'll be back, you can be assured of that. This place is now ingrained too deeply in my soul for me to ever totally leave. And, besides, I don't make deals lightly. As of right now, you are too young, too innocent of life – but that won't always be the case. When you feel the time is right, find me, and we'll see what happens. I won't make any promises, who can? But, when the time is right, we'll see." He sees her smile briefly in apparent unconcern. 'Totally unfazed – why doesn't that surprise me.'

"To someone who doesn't really know you, that would've sounded convincing, Agent Cooper. To me, though, it sounds like something you need to believe, yet, at the same time, you're not sure that you actually do."

He snorts with brief laughter at that and responds, "For someone so young, you have an extraordinary amount of gall, Audrey – it can be quite unnerving at times. You're actually implying that you know my mind better than I do myself?"

"No, I'm not saying that at all. Your mind is, in many ways, completely unfathomable to me – and that's exactly the way it should be. Only you can know your own mind - but I know your heart. I should do – it's all I've consumed since you got here. And your heart is something totally different. That's one place where you refuse to look, have refused to look ever since Caroline died. And it's that continual refusal that fuels your feelings of guilt and blame. Until you do, Agent Cooper, you'll continue to be alone."

He stares at her for several seconds, astonished at the audacity of her words, the chiding tone. "Okay Audrey," he says, right hand touching his chest. "Tell me what it is that you think you see in here. Convince me that there are truths in here that I need to address. What do you see?"

Their eyes lock for several moments until, finally, Audrey lowers her gaze, gathering her thoughts. "I didn't mean to make you angry, but I believe you need to hear this – now. What do I see? I see a barrier. A barrier constructed out of tortured pieces of guilt, and pain, and regret. And, at all times, you make sure that it is between you and anyone else that you feel the slightest attraction to. That way, you can be safely alone with your memories – because you have no real desire to ever break through that barrier."

"I'm not sure I think too much about that analysis but, for the moment, go on – why don't I have this desire? Do you think I don't want to find happiness with someone else?"

"You can say it, easily enough – doing something about it, though…"

Cooper shakes his head. "Oh, so I'm lying to myself as well, is that it? You're not exactly painting a stable picture of my mental health, Audrey."

"Oh, I don't know," she laughs. "You're not ready for the insane asylum just…" She breaks off suddenly with a look of alarm. "I'm sorry, Agent Cooper. I didn't…Windom…I forgot."

"Hey, it's okay," he reassures. "Don't worry about it. But I'm still not buying this, Audrey. This barrier you mentioned – just what is so intimidating about it that means I'm unable, or unwilling, to even try breaking it down?"

"Because of what's imprinted on it."

'Now, what the hell does she mean by that? I've been willing to go along with Audrey's modest attempts at psych evaluation because I enjoy being in her company, and in all likelihood, this will be the last meaningful conversation we'll have before I leave – but she's losing me here. Imprinted? Realizing he's been silent too long, by the slow, yet deliberate, arching of Audrey's right eyebrow, Cooper gives the only response he feels is appropriate. "I'm sorry, Audrey, but I have no idea where you're heading with this – perhaps I'd better just shut up and let you explain."

"I thought that's what you were going to do anyway," Audrey jokes, to his consternation. "You might not like this next bit, Agent Cooper, but please – hear me out. It makes sense in the end, believe me." At a nod from Cooper she continues. "Imprinted on this barrier is a phrase - three words. Those three words have shaped your life for the last four years, and if I don't convince you, now, that you're wrong, they may shape your life for years to come. Those words are 'Love Means Death.'" She sees Cooper lower his head but feels she must press on. "Four years ago, you fell in love with Caroline, and she fell in love with you. Then, Windom murdered her, and you created this false belief that it was your love that caused her death, and you've held that belief ever since. But it wasn't your love that got her killed. She died in spite of your love, not because of it. It was Windom that killed her, not you, not your love for her, or hers for you. You've acknowledged that, in all likelihood, he always intended to kill her. You just happened to be there when he did, happened to be tragically implicated. And because you were the only one to come out the other side, sane and healthy, you blame yourself for falling in love, for causing her death. So this barrier in your heart is imprinted with those three words, because you believe that that tragedy is the way it is, the way it was meant to be, the way it will always be. But you have trouble acknowledging that directly, so instead of the real reason, you use excuses instead."

She hears Cooper snort a breath. "So, we're back to reasons and excuses again, are we? Are you sure we're not going around in circles here, Audrey?"

"You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment. These excuses are draped, like police tape at a crime scene, all over the barrier in an attempt to cover up the truth, and two examples are 'she's a teenager' and 'she's involved in an active case.' I think you're familiar with those two."

She sees him slowly lift his head to look at her, intently, before he replies in a voice that's hoarser than she's ever heard from him. "They're not excuses, Audrey. Don't belittle the valid reasons I've had for keeping you at a distance these past weeks. They're not excuses hiding some imagined truth of yours."

"People perceive things differently, Agent Cooper. What Windom saw as an excuse, you saw as a reason…"

"Yes, I see the progression. What you see as an excuse, I see as a reason. And in both cases I'm the one to see it incorrectly, according to your analysis. Almost makes me wonder how I managed to become a Special Agent!"

"You're too close to it, to focus with any surety," she whispers. "Not that you're actually looking too closely."

"So you keep telling me. If I follow your logic, and you nearly lost me a couple of times there I'll admit, you believe that I've been hiding behind convenient excuses in an attempt to avoid committing myself to anyone, because if I do…"

"You believe you'd be signing their death warrant, Agent Cooper."

He looks up at the window, though his gaze is inward, rather than outward, eyes wide as realization hits him. 'My God, exactly what I thought several minutes ago. But its right isn't it?'

"But you could hardly be accused of signing Caroline's death warrant. Sorry if this sounds a little on the blunt side but, if you hadn't been assigned to protect her, if Windom had had a different partner, if you'd been elsewhere that night, she'd be just as dead right now. So why do you keep blaming yourself? You're a Special Agent of the F.B.I. – investigating violent crime is your specialty. It's why you were assigned to Pittsburgh. It's why you were assigned to Twin Peaks. Violent death is a constant companion to you, Agent Cooper, and, for the most part, you don't seem to have a problem coping with it. Look at what's happened here, in just the past couple of weeks. Jacques got shot resisting arrest, only to die later in hospital, smothered to death; His brother, Jean, used my kidnapping as a means of getting his revenge, only for you to shoot him dead at Dead Dog Farm. Even you were shot, in this very room – your ribs are still bandaged up from it - do you even know who shot you, yet?"

"Albert is still working the forensics," murmurs Cooper, slowly shaking his head.

"You see," says Audrey, an edge of hysteria almost creeping into her voice. "Right now, there is someone in Twin Peaks who wants you dead, Agent Cooper. Who knows when, or if, they might try again? I'm not sure I could handle that, but you do. Death is not unfamiliar to you – just days ago, you were present when Leland brutally killed himself. Before that, it was the discovery of Maddy's body – and so on. You seem to cope with all these deaths and yet, for some reason, you've never, ever been able to cope with Caroline's. Saying you loved her doesn't mean you have to heap all the blame onto yourself, and then stubbornly refuse to admit to any feelings, to anyone, ever again. Love does not mean death, Agent Cooper – it never has, and it never will. Until you acknowledge that, and tear down this ill-conceived and constructed barrier then, emotionally and psychologically, you will forever remain in Pittsburgh – no matter where in the country your physical body actually is."

She takes a much-needed breath, waiting to see what Cooper tears down – the barrier she sees in his heart, or her carefully-constructed arguments. After an eternity of silence, his head still bowed, he starts to whisper. "How, Audrey? How easy is it? You say it's something I've been constructing over a period of years. Is it that simple a process?"

"Your mind conceived of it, drew up the blueprints, laid the foundations, built it, continues to maintain it – it's up to you, your mind, to reverse the process. It can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. It can be steel embedded in concrete, or tissue-paper sown together with spider-webbing – anything you conceive it to be, it's a construct of your imagination, Agent Cooper. If you really want to break it down and stride though the gap, then it's easy. If you want to remain alone with the memory of what you've lost, then the reverse is true. If there's someone you love waiting on the other side…"

"Ah, yes…," he mutters as he slowly lifts his head, fixing a steady gaze at the young woman next to him. "I'd almost forgotten the presumption that initiated this…chat. Okay, Audrey, I'm prepared to admit that, in many respects, I haven't moved on since Caroline's death – and that, emotionally and psychologically, I really need to. You've highlighted many truths that I've neglected – no, that I've refused to even look at. When I get back to Washington, I'll schedule an immediate psych evaluation – the full works. You're right, I can't go on like this indefinitely but, and I'll emphasize this – I'm still a long way from sitting here and saying what you want me to say. I care for you, Audrey. You know that – at least, I hope you know that – and I'll also admit to an intense attraction to you, and not just on a physical level either. On some other level of existence, I can't explain…a spiritual level, perhaps, or a metaphysical one. There is some kind of connection between us, Audrey, I think we're both…somehow aware of it – I have these vague images – anyway, just what makes you so absolutely certain that you're more aware of my real feelings than I am, and don't say you just know, because I need more than that. How do you know, because…frankly I don't."

"It isn't just me, Agent Cooper," she replies, cryptically, with a slight shake of the head. "You just mentioned another level of existence – well maybe that explains him."

"Don't be deliberately opaque, Audrey. Who?"

"The giant. You said yourself that you have no real idea why he mentioned my note – well I have a good idea why." Despite a snort of disbelief, he remains silent. "Perhaps he didn't just mention it so that you could rescue me – he mentioned it because you had to. Because my survival is of vital importance to you, somehow – whether now, or in the future, who knows? And before you ask, no, I don't know why, exactly. Your health, happiness, well-being, anything like that – maybe, sometime in the future, you need rescuing, and I'm the only person who can do it. Or maybe he mentioned it because of this connection we both know exists, that you wouldn't just be rescuing me, you would, in some measure, also be rescuing yourself."

"That contained a lot of perhaps and maybe, Audrey."

"Okay," she whispers. "I'll sum it up with just one definite, then – you had to. Not just for my benefit – but for yours. And so you went to One-Eyed Jacks, and you rescued me. And in the act of rescuing me, your heart gave you away. In most instances, your mind has control over your actions – but in times of intense stress and emotion, your heart takes over. And your heart took over at One-Eyed Jacks." She deliberately mentions the name of that place again, seeing the consternation it causes in him, head bowed, eyes closed, memories intruding. "Had you ever hit a woman before you hit Nancy, Agent Cooper?" His only response is a slight shake of the head. "I sensed you gained a measure of satisfaction from it, drugged and barely conscious though I was. Then you said 'Audrey, I'm going to take you out of here,' and I wasn't sure, in the state I was in, whether you meant One-Eyed Jacks, or my life in Twin Peaks. You then cut my bonds, slung me over your shoulders, and made an undignified exit. You held onto me from the moment you carried me out of there, throughout the whole journey back to Twin Peaks, until we were inside the Bookhouse. Even after you laid me in that improvised bed, I don't think you really wanted to let go. During that journey, I had lucid moments, and I was able to read so much from your touch. There was tenderness, mingled with sheer panic, the slightest, yet, the most intense of holds, somehow at the same time. I could feel the lightness of your hands on my face, fingers running through my hair, the constant coaxing of your voice, keeping me conscious, keeping me alive. Just how close to death, was I?"

"Too close," he murmurs. "Much too close."

"When we got to the Bookhouse, it was your voice, your touch, your very presence, that dragged me back from the delirium I was drowning in, and helped me to focus. I could smell the coffee on your breath, you were that close. And then, when I looked into your eyes, I very nearly drowned again. I've never seen such a whirlpool of emotions, as were in your eyes that night. Hope, fear, anger, despair, desire, confusion – there for an instant, replaced by the next one a microsecond later, only to reappear instants after that – a mad rush, an irresistible surge that was quite overwhelming. But over and above all of these raw emotions was one that shone out, blindingly, painfully, desperately – and that was love. For the first time, that night, I could see love in your eyes, Agent Cooper – not friendship, or desire, or yearning, which I'd come to recognize over the previous three weeks – but the purest emotion of all, love. And I've caught it, albeit fleetingly, ever since – the night you heard about Maddy, especially. So how do I know? Because you've told me, Agent Cooper. Not in words – yet – but in actions, reactions and body language. For someone who's expert at deducing thoughts and feelings from the merest inflection of posture, or voice, you seem unwilling to look too closely at your own."

She looks across to gauge Cooper's reaction to see him sitting, head still bowed, eyes apparently closed, both hands clenched tightly into fists, the skin around the knuckles white with tension. Silent.

"You know, there's one thing, Agent Cooper, that you are able do so well, so effortlessly, and is such an incredible thing to be on the receiving end of. And that is your ability to maintain eye contact with any person you happen to be speaking to. I first noticed it when we shared breakfast, during your first few days here. And then, again, when I came to your room the first time. No matter how mundane my conversation was, you always gave the appearance of caring, genuinely interested in everything that I was saying, your attention solely on me. Do you have any idea how wonderful that is? How rare that ability is? And yet, right now, you can't do it. You've been looking down for the last five minutes, I'm not even sure if your eyes are open or not. I want you to look at me, Agent Cooper - I need you to look at me. You know what I want you to say, but if you can't, even after all that we've discussed, I'll accept it, and let you leave. I won't like it, I won't agree with it, but at least I'll know. Can you say something… anything?" Her voice finally breaks, and she pauses to draw a ragged breath. "Look at me – Please, Dale."

Audrey's use of his name acts as a metaphorical slap across the face and he jerks his eyes open, knowing that everything she's said is right - everything. He does love her, always has if truth be told, but even now, even now, he's not sure he can tell her. Not sure he should, or can afford to. He blinks rapidly, clearing his eyes, knowing that his next action of looking at her is the potential pivot around which his entire life could turn. He looks up, to see her perfect features marred by her eyes wet with moisture, and a single teardrop making its slow, inexorable journey down her right cheek.

And suddenly he is now longer sat in his hotel room in the Great Northern, in the small North-West town of Twin Peaks. He is a small, insignificant mote in the limitless reaches of the Universe. Before him is the immense galactic phenomenon known as a black hole – and he is poised, stationary, on the event horizon – the 'point of no return.' Any forward momentum from this point will mean he is caught forever by the gravitational singularity that lies at its heart, with only one possible outcome. Spiraling down, every atom of his being will eventually be crushed into oblivion and added to the mass of the black hole, if he's not torn apart by tidal forces first. Of course, recent speculations also say that he could conceivably pass through a wormhole and be ejected from a corresponding white hole. To an outside observer, the nearer an object gets to a black hole, the slower it appears to move, due to time dilation, until it appears to stop moving all together.

Just like the teardrop on Audrey's cheek, that's been falling for a second, for a lifetime, for eternity. The teardrop that mars her otherwise exquisite visage. The teardrop that, without conscious volition, his left hand reaches out to erase.

That's all it takes. He's now past the event horizon and, even though he doesn't grasp the inevitability yet, he's now caught in forces that can't be denied. His left thumb gently wipes away the moisture, before his fingers ease their way under her ear, to the back of her neck, where they tighten and slowly pull her towards him.

The first kiss is the merest touching of lips, but even that is enough to almost overwhelm him in desires long thought unattainable. A soft, cat-like mewling from somewhere deep inside Audrey is enough to fire his blood, and he hungrily devours her, his tongue joyfully countering every twist and probe of hers, as their kiss lengthens and deepens, until he wonders if he might drown. Forces more undeniable than gravity exert their grip and they spiral down onto the bed, her hands gripping the back of his head, pulling him ever deeper, and as his hand finds her right breast, he can't help but think, 'as long as those grapefruits – are freshly squeezed.'

Breaking off, more from lack of breath than a desire to, he looks down into Audrey's face, still tear-stained - but now from joy rather than anxiety – and he finally says the words that he knows are absolute truth. "I love you, Audrey. I can admit that, now – but my life…would it be fair to expose you to…"

Her index finger thrust over his mouth stops that particular thought as she answers, "We have a unique connection, Dale, an image that binds us, inseparably, body and soul."

"The wren image? You see it too?"

She smiles. "Yes, it's been in my mind for years, as well. That connection makes us stronger, don't you see? As long as we can both see that image, draw strength from it, there is nothing – nothing – that we can't do together." She cranes her neck to kiss him, then, and he returns it with every intention, this time, of drowning in it.

Thirty minutes ago, Dale Cooper was packing his bags with the intention of leaving Twin Peaks. But then, on a metaphysical realm beyond his present understanding, he encountered a black hole in space, and he was caught in its gravity well. But, instead of being crushed out of existence, he passed through the singularity and was ejected from a white hole. Now he doesn't know what tomorrow will bring, and, at the moment he doesn't really care. For he has passed through a singularity, to be reborn, and he is with Audrey Horne, the woman he loves – and, together, they are in a New Universe.


Notes and Acknowledgments:

I'm aware that many of my efforts thank and acknowledge the Wonder Twins – but, in this case, it goes way beyond necessary. The writing of this started in mid-November, and the chances were high, by early December, that I wouldn't be able to write the story that I had in my head – it was even put aside for most of the month, while I cleaned my palette writing some of the initial drabbles published here. Then, the Twins published their seminal study of Audrey Horne, "A Horse of a Different Color," and certain elements seemed to resonate with what I was trying to say. We struck up a continuing correspondence, and they had the generosity to allow me to use a couple of elements in the furtherance of this work. Ever since then they've read, and commented on, numerous excerpts – and, finally, they did some exceptional beta work when it was completed, and the story is all the better for it. The elements they've allowed me to use are Audrey's teenage love of Robert Taylor, and his movies – and the wren connection between Audrey and Cooper. While my interpretation of this connection, namely that it is a shared image that connects their souls together, probably doesn't totally correspond with their own 'head canon,' it was an interpretation that seemed to work best for this piece. So my thanks go out to the Twins, you are both stars. (Castor and Pollux!)

There are two quotes taken from, or adapted from, British works that I need to acknowledge. Firstly, Audrey's quote "You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment" is the oft-quoted saying of Francis Urquart, as memorably played by Ian Richardson, CBE, in the BBC political drama "House of Cards." Secondly, Cooper's musing on whether Audrey is 'cast from so perfect a mould' is an adaptation of Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond's about the Princess Jelhi in the film comedy "Carry on up the Khyber."

Lastly, a note on canon and continuity. I've tried, as a matter of course, to be as canon-compliant as possible, out of respect to the writers and creators of the show – but I've taken the liberty of moving one storyline forward, so that it occurs before this story, instead of after it. That is the 'Dead Dog Farm' storyline - because I wanted there to be no debts owed on either side, Cooper has saved Audrey's life, and she has saved his career. If the projected Cooper/Audrey storyline had occurred in the TV series, I think we would've seen that it was an equal partnership, and that Audrey wasn't just a piece of arm-candy that constantly needed rescuing. After Windom Earle had taken Audrey to the Black Lodge, only for Cooper to give his soul and get trapped, it seems clear to me that Audrey would've mounted the rescue mission to get him out – duality always being a major theme of the show. Alas, we never saw it happen.

Four pieces of music helped the creation of this piece: "Falling" and "Years I Worked" by Chakk and "Black Wall Blue" and "Clear Water" by Hula.