Chapter 2 – Face Down the Demons

Barbie wanted to pretend that he was the big tough guy the town saw him as. He wanted to be stoic and face his end without betraying any of the emotions that were flooding through him. But as the rope tightened around his throat and constricted his air supply, he couldn't help throwing a heated glare over his shoulder. He only hoped it looked like defiance to Big Jim's smug smile. He hoped it didn't look like fear.

Barbie was frightened.

Not necessarily that he was just a few minutes away from dying. He'd been a few minutes away from death most of his adult life.

He was terrified knowing that Big Jim would go back on his word and line up Julia and the kids as his next pawns to sacrifice.

He was petrified that Julia was on her way to save him and wouldn't make it in time. He didn't want her to see him go out like this. Not like this.

Not strung up like some mangy dog.

He wanted her to remember him as better than that, at least.

Barbie had long prided himself on the ability not to care what anyone thought about him. He wouldn't bow down to anyone and he wouldn't toe the party line. Not even to save his own skin. It was what got him standing on his very own gallows about to drop to his death when he could have easily hidden his contempt of Big Jim's methods and character.

But he had sworn from now on that he was going to be true to himself to save what was left of his soul, no matter what anyone else thought. He simply didn't care.

Barbie cared more than anything else how Julia saw him. He needed to be strong for her.

He needed to be a better man – for her. She deserved that at the very least.

And that was why he needed to get out of this. Because he wasn't done yet. He didn't want to save everyone like Joe had thought he was going to. He wasn't a protector or a savior or anything else those kids came up with.

Hell, he didn't even really want to save himself. He just wanted to save her.

He wanted to go back to Julia's home and beg her forgiveness and start down a new road to a new future.

He wanted something to build towards – he'd told Big Jim as much right before he'd walked into the tyrant's open arms and unwittingly offered himself as a scapegoat.

And now, as the hangman's knot lay against his skull and the crowd murmured in anticipation, he was about to pay for his and Jim Rennie's sins.

He closed his eyes tightly against the light right before he heard the creak of the trap door's lever.

It sounded like this was the end.

...Under the Dome...

Logic had always served Julia well, and she had always relied on it to make sense of jumbles of information. It didn't matter what the information was, what it led to. She could always trust her judgment to guide her in the correct choices. Not trusting logic had led to her disgrace in Chicago.

But there was nothing logical about how quickly she'd started to trust Barbie.

{Linda said you saved a kid's life today. I'm not about to let you sleep out here like an animal.}
{I let you stay in my house. I trusted you.}
{I don't blame you for my husband's bad decisions.}

And somehow, despite every bit of reasoning that told her to run screaming in the other direction, things started to change between them. Slowly, but surely, trust that should have been broken was knitting together into something even stronger. Something that she realized she never really had with Peter. Something unconditional.

Logic couldn't hold a candle to whatever this was.

{We're going to be okay.}
{No. I'd like you to stay.}
{I've seen you sacrifice yourself for total strangers. But in the future, there can be no more lies.}
{For us to move forward, I need closure. I think you do, too.}

Julia had no idea what she was supposed to do with everything that had just been dropped on her. Having the egg in her hands had frightened her and centered her all at the same time.

But it would all have to wait.

The woman who would stop at nothing to get the answers suddenly didn't care to figure out what it all meant. It was taking too much time to get the egg safe and then get to Barbie's side.

Sometime in the last few days she'd realized that in this new world, in this new Hell, she didn't want to go it alone. Julia wasn't sure that Barbie understood that she still didn't blame him for Peter's bad decisions. Even the decisions that put Barbie's finger on a trigger and her husband's blood on Barbie's hands. No matter what the dome had planned for them – for her – she had to get to him.

But she couldn't damn all of Chester's Mill, even if it meant she'd get to Barbie in time.

It didn't look like she was going to make it in time.

...Under the Dome...

At first, the shock of dropping through the floor had paralyzed him. He'd been so surprised that the fall hadn't broken his neck that it was all too surreal to comprehend. He was dying and there was very little that he could do about it. Then, everything had hurt with such alarming clarity that Barbie actually felt more alive than he had in several years. It was staggering how much he had let his life slip away from him without realizing. Now, with only moments left to him, he was faced with such a will to live that he fought harder for a single breath than he had for anything in his entire life. All he wanted was the strength to get through this.

And his body was beginning to fail him.

Tears trickled down his cheeks as he struggled to free his hands, to twist his neck and open his windpipe, to simply draw in another breath. The sheer terror he felt condemned him and the inability to do something as basic as breathe sapped his will and strangled him far more than the rope around his neck.

They say your life flashes before your eyes. But Barbie couldn't see anything. He could hear, though. He could hear every lie he'd ever told Julia stabbing him in the eardrums as they castigated him.

{No connection to anyone in town? Nope.}
{I have no idea what you're talking about.}

But the lies were drowned out quickly with the realization that little by little, he'd voluntarily started telling her the truth.

{Then I linked up with a bookie out of Westlake. Making sure the people paid what they owed.}
{I'm sorry.}
{The insurgents captured that soldier. But they didn't kill her company. We did.}
{I'm so sorry. For everything.}
{I love you.}

In all the chaos between subverting Big Jim's plans to use him as a scapegoat and his first escape attempt that had brought him face to face with an awake - but clearly still weak - Julia, Barbie hadn't gotten the chance to make sure she had heard that last truth. It was probably the one thing he wanted to change if nothing else could be stopped. He desperately needed "I love you" to be the last thing he ever told her before he died.

Nothing else seemed to matter at that moment as he struggled to suck in oxygen through a slowly crushing windpipe. He wasn't sure Julia knew that he loved her. That, alone, was crushing him. It was almost enough to incapacitate him.

White pinpricks of light assaulted the darkness behind his tightly closed eyelids as he fought with everything he had for just another minute. If he only had another minute, maybe he could… Dimly, he wondered what another minute might buy him.

Suddenly, it felt as if the whole world was falling away from him and there was nothing he could do to break his fall.

And then it all went black.

...Under the Dome...

Julia was sure she'd never been so frightened in her entire life as when she watched the trap door fall out from under Barbie's feet. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as she pushed and shoved her way through the crowd to get to his side. She could see his feet kicking as he swung back and forth in some sick parody of a child's piñata.

As long as he was still fighting, then they were both okay. As long as he was still trying to get out of this, then they had a shot.

She wanted a real shot with him.

She wanted to take him home and make sense of all of this together.
She wanted to be with him when this damned dome finally disappeared and they could rejoin civilized society – such as it was.
She wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon listening to him rant about the Patriots' defense or cuddle up in October and hold her breath while the Red Sox fought against the Yankees in the ALCS.

She wanted to experience life at his side.

But to do that, she'd have to save him. And she didn't have much time left.

Someone was screaming and it was such a shrill sound that it hurt her ears.

It took her a minute to realize that it was her.

"What the hell are you all doing?" Julia finally got through to the gallows just as Barbie's movements became lethargic and only seconds before they stopped altogether. She wrapped her arms around his ankles, lifting with all her might and ignoring the popping of her stitches as she struggled to save him.

The pain of reopened wounds had nothing on the knife in her heart when she thought she might be too late.

She vaguely heard someone trying to reason with her, trying to make her understand. "He's a murderer. He's killed so many people. He tried to kill you."

Julia's voice was choked as she snarled back at them. She didn't really care what these people thought they knew. She only cared that they all woke up and helped her. "Barbie would never hurt me. He didn't shoot… Somebody, please."

Then, Jim Rennie's greasy voice cut through the haze and tried to spin all this for her. She didn't want to hear any of it. "Julia, I know this is all a shock, but you have to trust me."

She almost laughed out loud. But it would take too much effort. Effort that she was focusing on keeping Barbie from leaving her.

She would never remember how the rope dangling Barbie from the gallows finally severed. All she knew was that she went from trying to take the pressure off Barbie's throat to crumpling to the ground with all of his weight on top of her.

Big Jim was still cajoling her. Junior's friends were encroaching on her space to try and take Barbie back into custody. As if he were a threat with the noose tight around his neck, his hands cuffed behind his back and a blue tinge to his lips that frightened Julia nearly to death.

Tears flowed down her cheeks as she cradled his head in her lap and tugged at the rope until it abraded her fingers and mingled their blood together. The writer in her would have thought it symbolic if she wasn't so busy fighting not to break down.

She had saved their town, but Barbie still needed her to save him. She wouldn't let him down.

The rope finally started to loosen and she could see the damage it had done to the skin on his throat. Her heart leapt into her own throat as she reached down to lay her bloody fingers over his pulse.

She felt the wildly erratic beats just seconds before she heard the sweetest sound in the world.

A single, harsh, grating breath passed through Barbie's lips.

She didn't want anything else to matter other than that. Barbie was somehow still alive and that meant she could let out the breath she'd been holding for him.

Then, someone grabbed her and tried to haul her away from under the gallows. She fought like a wildcat, but was still dragged agonizingly from Barbie's side. Her head hurt for him as she watched his skull flop bonelessly against the unforgiving ground. She was suddenly petrified that despite the fact he was alive, maybe he'd broken his neck.

"Julia!" Someone shook her. She thought it might be Phil. But it could have been Linda or Jim or Junior for all she really noticed. "You don't understand. He has to pay for his crimes. He's murdered several people. He killed Dodee. He killed your husband!"

Had Barbie killed Peter?

He'd been the one to shoot him, certainly. He'd admitted to as much.
He'd been the one to come and demand the bookie's money.
But he swore to Julia that he was going to give Peter another day. She could see in his eyes that he had no desire to kill anyone.

He hadn't brought an empty gun to the cabin knowing what it would mean.
He hadn't chosen to gamble their life savings away.
He hadn't left her behind to deal with his problems alone.

Peter had done all that.

And Barbie?

He'd been a means to an end. If it wasn't Barbie, then it would have been someone else. Peter had wanted to die to save her, and if there was one thing she was still sure of about her husband, it was that when he set his mind to something, he could out-stubborn even her. Barbie hadn't been responsible for killing Peter any more or less than she had been. This was all on her husband's head.

"Peter committed suicide two weeks ago. The day the dome came down. No one killed my husband. The only thing Barbie is guilty of is laying Peter to rest." The words were soft and broken, but they were concrete. They dared anyone to contradict her.

No one did.

Not even her own conscience.

The hands that had been restraining her melted away as her proclamation filtered through rage-fired mania to reassert calm over the masses. Like the rain had fizzled out the crazy riots that shook the town last week, Julia's confident admission was like a balm to the sharp edges Big Jim had filed everyone down to.

Maybe there was something to this monarch business, after all.

Julia's own nerves were still razor sharp as she dropped back to Barbie's side and carded her fingers through his hair. She startled when someone knelt down next to her and almost lashed out before realizing that it was Nurse Adams and not someone else trying to drag her away from him. Reality finally caught up with her and she started to shiver as her own reopened wounds fought for dominance with the fear of watching the young nurse evaluate Barbie. Tears dripped unchecked down Julia's face as she waited with bated breath for some kind of sign.

She didn't know or care what else was going on around her.

She barely noticed when Mrs. Grinnell draped something warm over her back.
She vaguely heard Angie whisper in her ear that the egg was safe.
She almost heard Big Jim somewhere in the background spinning a story to cover his political ass.

He could have been condemning her and it wouldn't have mattered. Not with the only one in Chester's Mill that she cared about at the moment lying far too still on the cold ground.

Barbie drew in another ragged breath and grimaced in pain. Instinct had Julia reaching for his hand to rub her thumb across his knuckles. He looked like he was fighting against the pain and struggling to wake up before calming at her soft touch. Something in Julia's chest finally settled and her trembling began to ease.

They were going to be okay, now.

...Under the Dome...

The dim light that filtered through his eyelashes confused him. The soft, but insistent, beeping off to his left steadied him, and had him reeling all at the same time. After everything that had happened, waking up was exactly the last thing he'd expected. He'd felt the end, felt the world fall away from him.

Hadn't he?

Barbie supposed that stranger things had happened in the last two weeks.

The last thing he really remembered was Big Jim's satisfied smirk and then everything else…well, he wasn't going to even try and recreate the rest of it. The beeping at his side increased in agreement.

It was then that he realized what the sound was. He was in the clinic.

The clinic wasn't safe. He and Angie had had to flee from the clinic with Julia to keep her from Big Jim.

Julia wasn't safe!

Where the hell was Julia?

Barbie jerked fully awake and came up swinging when he sensed someone nearby. It took almost all of his depleted energy reserves to keep the punch from connecting when he caught sight of red hair.

He collapsed back against the mattress and shuddered before shutting his eyes and wheezing out the quick gasp he didn't remember breathing in. Julia was right there with him. Everything would be okay now.

Barbie only had a few seconds to try and categorize what didn't hurt before Julia had wrapped her arms around him and snuck her head onto his shoulder. It was pure instinct to lay one hand on the small of her back and tangle the fingers of the other hand in her hair. He could feel the tears soaking into his t-shirt and tried to shush her.

It turned into a hacking cough that almost made him wish he were dead. God, it felt like he'd swallowed a thousand sharp needles and then been punched in the neck. Repeatedly.

If that wasn't bad enough, the sheer force of the attack sent those needles straight up between his eyes and it felt like his head had exploded. It was nearly enough to send him back into the soothing darkness of unconsciousness.

"Barbie?" The catch of fear he heard in her voice rallied him enough to stave off falling back to sleep. He wouldn't let anything else hurt her. Not even him.

Not ever again.

"Don't leave." The choked words were punctuated with a sob as she tightened her fingers around the collar of his shirt.

"I'm right here." He whispered at just about a decibel over silent, but he knew she'd heard him all the same when she nodded against his shoulder. Barbie turned his head as slowly as he could manage in order not to set off anything else in fireworks, and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.

"Julia?" He pulled back and looked into her eyes. It was only now that he remembered that the last time they'd both been conscious at the same time, {maybe} seemed like a pipe dream.

She pulled back, too, and he felt something shift as her eyes bore directly into his soul. It was like she was pulling all of his secrets out to examine before she sealed his fate. After all that had happened in the last few days, no verdict found by the town under Big Jim's lies mattered. The next thing Julia said or did would kill him or save him.

Sleep was tugging at him, but he needed to know.

Julia leaned forward and brushed a feather-light kiss over the base of his throat. It should have hurt, but felt better than any painkillers ever had. She smiled and her lips claimed his. Barbie could taste the salt of her tears. Then she lay her head back on his shoulder, whispering directly into his ear.

"I'm sure."

...Under the Dome...

The bed that had seemed so lonely just a few days ago now felt like heaven with her arm wrapped securely around Barbie's middle. With her ear to his chest, she was content to let the world-at-large – or at least as large as Chester's Mill – roll right on by as long as it meant they could stay wrapped up in each other. The soft sounds of his sleep soothed her in such a way that she was more at ease than she'd been in a long time.

Julia wasn't entirely sure how much later it was when she realized that Barbie's fingers were tracing random shapes up and down her back. She didn't know how long he'd been awake, satisfied to lay on his back with her tangled up around him.

"You know, saving your life cost me a million dollars." Julia smiled coyly as she lifted her head from where she'd been listening to Barbie's now steady heartbeat to look him in the eye. Even after everything, she needed to make sure he knew she had no regrets. A soft kiss was placed on the corner of his mouth and she caught the glint of humor in his eye. He understood.

He was finally healing.

They were finally healing.

"I'm sure I can think of a few ways to pay you back for that." Barbie flipped the covers up over her head as she caressed the bruises on his face. Nurse Adams had mentioned the probability of a concussion when they'd finally left the clinic the day before, and it looked to Julia that he was still fighting its effects. Pain still marred his features, and what she had often called 'headache squint' pulled at still dazed eyes as the effects of those several beatings assaulted his brain. His voice was still wheezy and gravelly enough to shoot a dart of pain through her chest as she pictured – again – how close she'd come to losing him. But his tone was playful and had a lightness to it that she'd never heard in him before. It seemed that the Dale Barbara she'd dreamed he must have been - before Iraq and Max and Peter had all conspired to break him - was fighting to make a resurgence. It was a rebellion of hope that she'd nurture through the darkness of whatever the dome attacked them with next.

But they'd face whatever that inevitably was.



So there you have it. Hopefully, the season finale will play enough into this that it continues to be believable, and maybe even enough that I can take the AU tag off of it. I thought about leaving it as TBC, and seeing where the finale led me, but it seems that this story has reached a natural conclusion, so it's complete as it stands. If anyone has any plot bunnies, however, feel free to send them my way. Until this one bit, they've been sorely lacking.