Six and a half years later.
They'd fought all manner of demon, horseman, wraith, ghoul, imp, banshee, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Just when they thought Moloch had exhausted his toolbox of devilry, he'd unleash some other gruesome thing meant to kill them, maim them, drive them insane, or drive them apart.
Jenny joined the fight sometime during Year Two. She and Abbie mended their rift. Jenny was released from the institution and had proven to be an invaluable ally to their cause with her resourcefulness and mostly-unflappable nature.
But now, in Year Seven, they're all waiting. The anticipation hangs heavy over them like stormclouds. When will the End Times begin? How will they start?
They didn't start with the heavens opening up and raining fire from the sky. They didn't start with a great, booming voice crying, "Repent!" They didn't even start with a 12-foot-tall, hideous beast that stunk of brimstone and breathed fire.
They started with gargoyles.
Abbie had always rather liked gargoyles. She had always thought they had a certain charm, a certain cleverness of purpose. Had found them to be somewhat whimsical and enjoyed seeing them stuck on the corners of buildings like silent sentinels.
Moving gargoyles tearing around town turned out to be a different matter altogether. Moving gargoyles, with glowing red eyes and fierce teeth, leaping from rooftops to wreak havoc on the town, effectively killed any affection Lieutenant Abbie Crane held for them.
Especially because, despite being ambulatory and surprisingly spry, they still were made of stone.
It's been a hell of a week. It's late July, hotter than blazes, halfway through Year Seven, yet Crane and Abbie don't feel like they're any closer to the end of this nightmare, even though they know they must be. It's Year Seven. Abbie's stress level is pretty high. And when Abbie's stress level is high, so is Crane's.
Thankfully, their cozy home had become even more of a sanctuary for them as their battle waged on. It's located far enough away from the forest (a very deliberate choice on Abbie's part) and the center of town to be away from most of the fracas. Apparently, Moloch and the Horseman do not know where it is, either, which is very good. So, when they are home, Crane and Abbie sequester themselves from the world, staying in their safe haven, lost in one another.
Luckily, they've found a quite effective method of stress relief. It turns out there's nothing better after a day of chasing down demons than a good, old-fashioned tumble between the sheets.
It's actually one of the things that has kept their marriage so strong. Not a day passes where Abbie doesn't take a few moments to say a silent prayer of thanks that their union has remained solid throughout these trials.
Instead of being torn apart by the stress and pressure, they've grown closer than ever. Anticipating one another's actions in the heat of a fight. Communicating silently and effectively when making any noise would be catastrophic. Knowing when a hug is needed. Knowing when space is needed.
"Something has to happen soon," Abbie says, eyes dancing across her computer screen, looking for key words to help them defeat the gargoyles. Key words like weakness and vanquish. "The anticipation is really starting to get under my skin."
"Patience is not a quality with which you've been overly gifted, my love," Crane comments mildly from across the desk, his own eyes scanning a page of a Latin text, translating as he goes. Occasionally, his attention turns to General Washington's bible, also open in front of him, as though he is cross-referencing the texts.
"And knowing when to be less than brutally honest is not a quality with which you've been overly gifted," she shoots back, smirking.
He looks up, feigning hurt. "You would have me lie to you?" he gasps in mock horror, grabbing his chest.
"Shut up," she laughs. "Find anything?"
"I think so… wait…" he says, his eyes alight. Abbie watches him, knowing he's found something significant. She recognizes all the signs: shallow breathing, twinkling eyes, fingers flexing. Like a kid on Christmas morning.
She watches, waiting, until he taps the bible decisively with his finger. "Yes. Yes. Moloch, we have you." He looks up at Abbie. "Boo-yah?"
Abbie bursts out laughing. After seven years in the 21st century, Crane has made huge strides in acclimating himself. His old frock coat is still around, but mostly stays in the hall closet, along with his old boots (which Abbie actually likes more than she'll admit). He's got his own, latest edition "smart-phone" and is a pro at navigating it. He's been playing Words With Friends with Abbie for years (almost always winning), and often expresses his pleasure in the fact that the game has not been discontinued. And when he chides Abbie for her lack of patience, it only reminds her of how he wound up deleting Candy Crush in a fit of pique when he could not get past level 147. Crane, long ago, also acquired his own email account, iPad, and has even mastered using the DVR.
Language, it seems, continues to elude him. Abbie suspects this is intentional considering his incredible gift for languages. However, he occasionally tries out a "modern" turn of phrase, almost always correctly and almost always resulting in Abbie laughing her butt off.
Abbie suspects this is also intentional. Shortly after they were married, Crane once told her he loved the sound of her laughter and wished he could hear it more often.
"Depends," Abbie says, recovering. "How certain are you that we've got him by the short and curlies?"
"The short and what? Wait, never mind," he says, holding up his hands, piecing together what she means. "Yech," he shudders. "The imagery you've just conjured is most vile."
"I know," she says, laughing. "So, whatcha got there, Baby?"
Much later, under the silver light of a bright, predictably full moon, Crane and Abbie lead the gargoyles back to the forest with the help of Jenny and Irving. Abbie had a breakthrough of her own that afternoon: the gargoyles are afraid of fire. They managed to dig up a couple of flamethrowers (Irving called in another favor from one of his seemingly-endless network of "friends") and herded the creepy stone critters back to the forest (to the spot with those four unnaturally white trees), where they intended to send them back to their place of origin.
It worked. However, before the portal closed, Moloch seized the opportunity to burst through, invading the world of the living.
"The gargoyles were a ruse. A… device," Crane whispers. "He knew we would open the portal to send them back, therefore providing him an opportunity…"
"Shit," Abbie curses. "Now or never, Babe," she says, taking Crane's hand.
"Right." He quickly withdraws a small 2-way radio from his coat pocket. "Miss Jenny, bring the items. Now."
"Fucker came through the portal, didn't he?" Jenny's voice answers through the speaker. "Be right there."
"Shut up and stay alive."
Crane drops the device back into his pocket.
"IT IS TIME." Moloch's otherworldly voice fills the atmosphere, vibrating through their bodies. He is not speaking English, yet they understand him perfectly. "THE END IS AT HAND."
"This is unsettling," Abbie mutters.
"Indeed," Crane answers, knowing she's referring to the voice speaking in a strange tongue they can understand, not the actual message. "Pray Miss Jenny is swift."
"Stall… stall…" Abbie says between gritted teeth. "Moloch!" she calls out, causing Crane's head to snap in her direction, surprised. "I suggest we negotiate. What are your demands?"
"I DEMAND YOUR SOULS."
"Of course he wants those," Abbie mutters under her breath, but she stands her ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Jenny behind a tree with a black velvet bag. "Go," she whispers to Crane. He darts to Jenny's location. "What will…" Think quickly, Abbie. "…appease you, O Moloch?"
Crane returns to her side, muttering, "'O Moloch?'" under his breath, incredulous. Laying it on a trifle thick…
Moloch pulls himself up to his full, terrifying height, well over eight feet. His horns stretch out from his head, shiny and black and fiercely sharp, glinting in the light of the full moon. "SACRIFICE. I REQUIRE THE SOUL OF AN INNOCENT."
Abbie lifts her chin a fraction of an inch, glancing at Crane. He motions with his eyes, looking from Moloch to a spot about six feet in front of them. He needs to come closer.
"The soul of an innocent? So, a virgin?"
"A CHILD. UNTOUCHED AND FREE OF SIN. PURE." Moloch fixes her with his steely black, challenging gaze.
Abbie hesitates a moment, pondering his demand. Then, she takes a step. Toward Moloch. "Very well," she says, her voice shaking somewhat.
"YOU ARE NO CHILD."
"I am with child," Abbie says. She takes a deep breath, wringing her hands in front of her. "It is yours."
"LIAR! YOU DO NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO GIVE AWAY THE FLESH OF YOUR FLESH."
"You have no idea of what I am capable," she answers defiantly, squaring her shoulders. "You had me once, but that was a long time ago. I'm not the scared little girl I was then. The child I carry belongs to him," she waves her hand back towards Crane. "Now, it belongs to you."
"Abbie, no! Please, don't…" Crane's voice speaks behind her, thick with emotion.
"Crane," she snaps, turning her face towards his. "If it means stopping the apocalypse, what choice do we have? It's for the greater good. It's one soul given to save millions. Billions." Her words are brave, but her voice wavers again. As Crane looks at her, he sees tears rolling down her cheeks, reflecting silver in the moonlight against her dark skin.
He sighs heavily and bows his head, his shoulders slumped in defeat. "Do… do what you must. I… cannot bear witness to this…" Crane says, turning his back on them. He catches a glimpse of Jenny, still hiding by the big tree, now with Irving right behind her. They are both wide-eyed, mouths agape.
"I REQURE PROOF." Moloch takes a step forward. "SAY THE WORDS."
Abbie takes another deep breath. When she releases it, it is shaky, as though she is shivering from cold, yet the night is warm. She opens her mouth to speak, falters, then tries again. "Moloch… I p-promise to give you that which is… contained… in my womb." Her voice wobbles. Tears continue to roll unchecked down her face.
Moloch steps closer. Abbie holds her breath, praying. The demon extends a long talon towards her stomach, sensing for a presence in her womb. His fingers flex, opening wide, then relaxing again, rubbing the tips together thoughtfully. Anticipatory. "I ACCEPT THE CHILD OF THE TWO WITNESSES."
He withdraws his hand, and Abbie releases her breath. "Now," she whispers.
Crane immediately steps forward, Washington's bible in one hand, a large alabaster bowl in the other. Moloch startles and begins to lunge towards Crane, but he is quicker to act.
Jenny rolls the Horseman's skull towards them. It bumps to a stop against Crane's foot and Abbie immediately retrieves it. Crane defiantly holds the bowl aloft and loudly pronounces, "'And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.'" Abbie places the head in the bowl as Crane continues. "Moloch the King, I hereby banish you to the depths of hell from whence you came! Go, and take thy minions with thee, never to return!" Crane shouts, gripping the bowl tightly in one hand and holding it in front of him at arms' length. As he shouts, Abbie hurriedly opens a flask and pours holy water over the skull, which immediately starts smoking.
Moloch screams, an eerie, shrill, otherworldly sound that rips through them. Abbie covers her ears, flask still clutched in one hand. Crane nearly drops the bowl. The smoke from the Horseman's skull envelops the writhing, screeching demon, pulling him to the bowl. Crane hastily sets it on the ground and he and Abbie dash away, heading for Jenny and Irving, as Moloch is sucked, howling, into the bowl, long talons scrabbling at the earth as he tries to cling to this world.
They stand transfixed, bracing themselves as the ground opens up, swallowing the bowl, the head, Moloch, and the four white trees in a sucking vortex of blackness.
There is no sound. The silence is even more unsettling, having followed Moloch's ungodly roars.
As the air clears, the forest appears as it did before, minus the white trees, minus the bowl and skull. Minus the huge, white-skinned, horned demon.
Abbie, Crane, Irving, and Jenny stare at the space, stunned by its… normalcy.
They stopped it.
Abbie grabs Crane's hand, gripping it tightly lest her knees give way beneath her, her eyes wet again, this time with tears of shock and extreme relief. Crane, her beloved husband and fellow Witness, supports her automatically. Breathing heavily and pulling his wife with him, he leans against a tree, sagging into its strength. Irving releases a breath that sounds like it had been held for ten minutes.
"Holy shit," Jenny whispers, the first to step forward.
Abbie looks around, blinking. The forest feels lighter. It has always harbored a creepy, oppressive presence. That is now gone. She hears the hoot of an owl in the distance. The wind swirls through the leaves of the trees again. She marvels at the sense of peace gently filtering throughout the woods.
"Let's go," she says, starting to walk back to their car, the tension slowly easing its way out of her body. Crane immediately follows, tucking Washington's bible under his arm.
Jenny finds her feet and jogs to catch up, her senses now returning. "Abbie, what the hell? You promised that demon your baby? I know it was a fake-out, but still. You didn't know it was going to work! And since when are you pregnant?" Jenny yells, grabbing Abbie's arm, effectively stopping her. Crane stops beside her. Irving is behind Jenny, watching with interest. His face suggests he has the same questions.
"And you!" Jenny looks up at Crane now. "How could you just stand there and let her? Do you remember the threat I made when you two got married? I should kick your ass right—"
"Jenny, I'm not pregnant," Abbie interrupts, placing her hands on her sister's shoulders. "I promised him the contents of my womb, not an actual child."
Jenny furrows her brow and stares at Abbie's abdomen. "But… he used the Force or whatever, and said…"
"Yeah, there's something in there. My IUD." Jenny stares in stunned silence. "Can we go home now?" Abbie asks, smiling as she marches away, enjoying the rare occurrence of rendering her sister speechless.
"But, how did you know he would fall for it?" Jenny asks, jogging to catch up again.
"I didn't. I just hoped. Basically, we needed him to get close enough to use that bowl thing we found in Ichabod's tomb. So, it really didn't matter if he was fooled or not. It just made it easier to perform the banishment, because he wasn't all riled up," Abbie explains. "Nice bowling, by the way."
"Thanks," Jenny says, finally laughing. She runs a scarred hand through her hair, now a tousled, chin-length collection of curls. Two years ago, during a narrow escape from a tomb, her braid got caught in a stone doorway. Jenny chopped it off and has kept her hair short ever since.
"So, she's not pregnant, then?" Irving asks Crane, now walking behind the two women.
"No, she's not. We actually planned the entire sequence, down to the wavering voice and my rather weak-willed acquiescence," Crane answers. "I must say the tears were unexpected, my love," he calls ahead to Abbie.
"Yeah, they were for me, too," she turns back and says. "But effective, you have to admit."
"Jenny and I sure bought it," Irving admits. "But, I was wondering why you didn't fight harder," he says, now chuckling a little.
"Yes, well, we all must play our part. I am only thankful the ruse worked. Seeing Abbie willingly move so close to that demon…" he trails off, shaking his head. "I never cease to be amazed at her bravery, even after all these years and all we've experienced."
"She's something, all right." They climb into Irving's car, parked by the side of the road. "Hey, what was up with that 'Moloch the King' stuff?" Irving asks.
"That is his Name," Crane explains.
"And?" Irving asks.
"Oh, right," Jenny pipes up from the back seat, where she and Abbie are seated. Irving starts the car and heads back to the station. "If you know a demon's Name - capital 'N' - you have power over the demon."
"And a capital 'W' Witness with a capital 'N' Name can do some capital 'D' Damage," Abbie says, smiling. "Hey," she elbows her sister, "how did you know that?"
"Hell, that's Demonology 101," she says, shrugging. "The hard part is finding out what the demon's Name is."
"Washington's bible," Crane volunteers before anyone asks. "In invisible ink, written in the margin of the page containing the passage I read, Leviticus chapter 18, verse 21. The passage was also underlined in the same ink." He turns and looks back at Jenny. "The hard part was finding the correct page," he says, smiling at her.
Irving swings into the parking lot, pulling into a spot beside Abbie's car. They all climb out, exhausted.
"When was the last time you had a vacation, Lieutenant?" Irving asks Abbie.
"Oh, at least seven years ago," she says, leaning against her car, Crane beside her, his left arm looped around her shoulders. "I think I'm due, don't you?"
"Yeah. Just let me know when and I'll sign the request without question," he says, extending his hand towards Crane. "Thanks," he says, shaking his hand. "Inadequate, considering you just saved the entire world, but I thought someone should say it."
"You are most welcome," Crane says. "And thank you for all your help and indulgence during these years."
Irving extends his hand to Abbie, and she hugs him instead, taking him by surprise. "Thanks, Captain," she says, smiling. "And I'm gonna take a whole month of vacation time."
Irving laughs and looks down at her. "If I say no, you'll unleash hell again, right?"
"No, I'll just tell Jenny where you live, Old Man," she teases, smirking at him. She gave him the nickname when the gray started outnumbering the black in his hair. Thankfully, none of the other officers are brave enough to call him that. Not to his face, anyway.
"Hey!" Irving protests.
"Hey!" Jenny echoes, but steps over and hugs Abbie anyway. "Glad you're alive."
"You, too," Abbie says.
Jenny hugs Crane briefly, slaps his shoulder, and heads to her truck.
"Go home," Irving declares, getting back into his car.
"Yes, sir," Abbie says, climbing into the passenger seat of her car, letting Crane drive. He got his driver's license shortly after the Luke Incident, and discovered that while he trusts Abbie's skills completely, he prefers to drive. Abbie had just chuckled and called him "such a man."
"So, where should we go on our vacation, Treasure? Someplace warm and tropical, a place I would not have even known existed in my former life? Someplace faraway and exotic, perhaps?"
"I was thinking we'd go someplace meaningful. To you, anyway," she says. Her eyes had been closed, but she opens them to look across at him, noting the streaks of gray in his beard, the faint lines around his eyes. Stress ages a person, but he is still unbelievably handsome. "Would you like to go to England?"
He stops at the red light and looks at her, his face bearing that same child-at-Christmas look she loves to see. "Truly? You would like to go there?"
"I would love to go there. I've always wanted to go to England," she says, reaching her hand across. Crane holds it against his thigh as he easily maneuvers the car on the road, no longer clinging to his stringent adherence to the rules of driving. He's abandoned ten-and-two for one hand at twelve and the other holding Abbie's in his lap.
"You would?" he asks, still excited. "That's wonderful! How different things must be there…"
She squeezes his hand. "We'll look at flights tomorrow, then," she says, closing her eyes again. "Tonight, all I want to do is curl up in bed with you." She opens one eye. "And just sleep." A pause. "Maybe."
Crane chuckles and turns into their driveway.
Inside, they collapse into bed, exhausted, still reeling from the knowledge that their seven-year task is complete.
"Abbie?" he asks, brushing his lips against her forehead. His hand strokes her hair, shorter than it was when they met. A few gray strands stand out here and there, but he pays them no mind, and neither does she. He strokes her cheek, still smooth and soft. Beautiful. Still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
"I was wondering something. Now that this is all over…"
"I'll call my gynecologist tomorrow, Baby," she says, snuggling into his embrace.
"To get it…?"
"Yes. Taken out. I want to have your child as much as you want me to have him… or her," she says, smiling and lifting her face to kiss him. She intends for it to be a small kiss, but it quickly escalates and soon pajamas are landing on the floor.
"We should keep in practice, then," Crane mumbles, trailing kisses down her neck, "what with all the spare time we'll have…"
The day after Abbie's appointment with her gynecologist, she and Crane returned to the forest and buried her IUD deep in the ground where Moloch was swallowed up. Just in case.
Two weeks later, Crane gets to go on his first airplane ride, his beloved wife at his side.
A year later, Abbie gives birth to a son, August Corbin Crane, who grows up bright and sassy like his mother, with her wide brown eyes and carefree laugh.
A year after that, his sister joins them, Isobel Jennifer Crane, the apple of her father's eye, brilliant and studious, with keen blue eyes that remember everything and a cantankerous side that flusters Crane and amuses Abbie.
"One day, we shall have to tell them everything, Treasure."