Because a certain headcanon just wouldn't go away.

(Nevermind that I intended this to be finished and posted the weekend after the finale... I got there eventually, right?)

Also, to any readers of Sealed Fate— I promise I'm still working on it, things just got pretty crazy with medicine and preparing for my final exams (spoiler: I passed). The chapters are all already mapped out, though, so it will all definitely happen eventually. And, well, at least it will give me something to do over the hiatus.

Until then, I give you this.

The pink stars rose in lines.

Like the world's strangest fireworks display, the stars shot silently upward toward the pinnacle of the dome— and then exploded, hundreds of individual sparks colliding and merging together, erupting into a gigantic white starburst in the middle of the sky, filling the dome with blazing light.

Standing on the now-illuminated platform with a noose around his craning neck, Barbie stared at the near-blinding light, trying and failing to find any kind of understanding or rational explanation for exactly what the hell was happening. Somewhere behind him, he could hear Jim's shouts becoming more insistent, almost agitated, his oddly distant-sounding voice demanding for Junior to do it already, to pull the lever and end it— end him— and he braced himself for it, thinking that if he had to die now, at least he was going to go out with a big goddamn bang.

And hell, if he had any luck at all, one that would take Big Jim and some of his minions out with him.

He was just about to glance over at Junior— and the surprisingly still-untouched lever — when a sudden flare from above had him squinting, his eyes watering against the glare. Barely a split second later, an explosion of noise roared through the relative silence of the town, near-deafening him as the platform shook beneath his feet, a sudden force sending him painfully to his knees, his head feeling like it was going to burst apart with the pressure—

And then, just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

Forcing his eyes open, Barbie blinked against the spots dancing in his vision, the sound of screams and shouts filtering through the ringing in his ears. Lifting his head, he looked up at the clear blue sky— and then at the singed, dangling end of the rope that hung from the gallows, now completely severed from the noose that still encircled his neck.

For a moment, he simply stared, too stunned to react— until a nearby shout broke through his daze, the faceless voice wrought with uncontrolled panic.

"Dad! Dad!"

Following the voice— Junior's, he realized— Barbie turned his head, his eyes finding Junior on his knees next to the spot where Big Jim had stood, just moments ago.

The exact spot where Big Jim now lay, his body limp and motionless, his clothes smoking faintly.

Watching Junior grasp at him, hearing his choked pleas, Barbie felt the truth sink in, a silent moment of shocked understanding.

Big Jim had made himself a threat, and so the dome had made itself heard.

Looking away from the sobbing teenager, Barbie drew a deep breath— half-surprised he could still breathe at all— then slowly forced himself to his feet, his shoulders straightening as he faced the remainder of the stunned crowd.

"Is that a sign enough for you?" he called loudly, his voice roughened but strong, carrying through the sudden silence to all who were gathered below. If there was ever going to be a time when they might actually listen to him, this would probably be it, so he was sure as hell going to make them hear what he had to say.

"From the day the dome came down, Big Jim has been lying to you," he announced, hoping he wasn't about to end up with a grief-enraged Junior putting a bullet in his back. Stepping closer to the edge of the platform— feeling slightly encouraged by the crowd's continuing silence— he pressed on.

"Every moment that we've been trapped in here, he has done nothing but manipulate his way into gaining control over this town, murdering anyone who posed a threat to his power. Yesterday morning, I confronted him, told him I would do whatever I could to stop him. I became a threat to him, so he used his influence to turn me into a scapegoat, to set me up to take the blame for his crimes. He framed me, threatened the people I care about to keep me quiet, and did just about everything in his power to have me killed."

Fixing his gaze steadily on the crowd, Barbie stood a little taller, raising his voice just slightly as he continued, hoping like hell that the gamble he was about to take would pay off.

"But I'm still here. God, the dome, whatever you believe— it saved me and it took him. If anyone doubts that I'm innocent, you can take your chances and try to kill me like Jim did, but odds are you'll end up the same way. I may be a stranger in this town, but I haven't ever hurt any of you, and I don't want to. I just want to find Julia and go on living my life."

Having said what he wanted to say, Barbie released a slightly unsteady breath, but stood firm, determined not to let them see him waver. Staring defiantly down on the silent crowd, he tried to subtly gauge their reactions, to predict whether any would dare to challenge his bluff. If they believed him, or even just feared the alternative enough to leave him alone, then it was possible that he might actually have a shot at surviving this whole thing.

A shot at having an actual future again.

Just as he began to feel the first tiny flicker of hope light in his chest, there was movement in the crowd below, a tall figure shoving his way to the front of the gathered residents.

"Never hurt any of us?!" Phil shouted, his voice tight with fury. "You killed Dodee!"

Biting back the reflexive retort about just how fucking physically impossible it was for him to have killed Dodee from the other side of the goddamn town, Barbie drew a steadying breath, and was just about to speak when another voice suddenly rose above the crowd.

"No, he didn't!"

The breathless shout came from the back of the group, sharp and familiar, and suddenly the three teenagers were there, weaving through the staring bystanders as they raced to the platform.

Craning his neck, he stared over the crowd, his eyes searching the direction that the three had come from, seeking the familiar flash of red curls amongst the sea of strangers.

Moments later, they stood before him, the three of them stepping past Junior's silently-rocking figure to form a protective wall between him and the crowd below. Sharing a brief nod with a relieved and determined-looking Joe— who would have had his emotions written all over his face if something had happened to Julia— Barbie released a slow breath, something loosening just slightly in his chest. Still, he wouldn't be able to relax until he'd seen for himself that she was okay; he couldn't shake the feeling that she'd had something to do with the dome's unexpected light show, and he knew that any kind of interaction with the dome came with risks.

God, just let her be okay.

A split second later, Angie caught his gaze, and he forced himself to focus, giving her a tiny nod as he allowed her take charge. As she turned away, Norrie threw him a grim smile, and he briefly returned it, surprised at the tiny ripple of relief that was spreading through him. It had been a long time since he'd had a team to watch his back, and while these three wouldn't necessarily have been his optimal pick, he was glad to have them.

"Barbie didn't kill Dodee," Angie repeated loudly, her petite body stiff with determination as she faced the crowd. "I was with him when the radio station burned— we were on the way from my house to the clinic, trying to sneak in to rescue Julia before Big Jim could have her killed for knowing the truth. There's no possible way Barbie could have been across town at the radio station at the same time. He had nothing to do with what happened to the station, or to Dodee."

Phil's voice rose again immediately, angry and accusing. "You've been helping him! Why should we believe you?!"

Barbie saw Angie open her mouth once more to argue, but another voice answered for her.

"Because she's right," Linda said somberly, her words sounding tired, heavy, yet still firm enough to carry to nearly all present. "The math never did add up about Dodee, and you know it, Phil. You just couldn't see because you wanted someone to blame. We all did."

"Blame Big Jim," Angie said loudly, her tone scathing. "He used us, lied to us, hurt us. Barbie may be a stranger but he's only ever helped protect us. He saved my life when the Dundees killed Rose. He saved Joe when the plane crashed into the dome, and he saved many of you by bringing in the antibiotics when you were sick, or by helping to catch Randolph and the Dundees when they threatened all of us. He's a hero, not a goddamn murderer!"

As the echo of her words hung in the air, there was a moment of stunned silence from the crowd, and even Barbie found himself staring at Angie in surprise. He couldn't completely agree with that last part, but hell, he wasn't about to contradict her; after all, she had just made a far better argument for his life than he ever could have done for himself, and he'd take what he could get.

"I believe them," called a steady voice from below, one that he thought he recognized— and, glancing over, he saw Carolyn swiftly hurrying towards the crowd, another familiar figure right behind her.

"I believe them too," Harriet added hurriedly, her voice slightly breathless as she kept up with the older woman. He could see little Alice bundled in her arms, somehow asleep despite the commotion. "Barbie delivered my baby— she would have died without him. I know that he's innocent."

Looking down, Barbie met Harriet's gaze, giving her a small, grateful nod. Her answering smile was anxious but resolute, her arms cradling Alice closer to her chest. Around her, signs of uncertainty began appearing on many of the gathered faces, the sheep wavering without Big Jim to shepherd them.

"Exactly. Barbie's innocent, so he's free to go," Angie spoke up firmly, adding, "Right, Linda?"

Almost immediately, all eyes turned to the sheriff, and Barbie watched her hesitate, seeing the concern and indecision that crossed her features. For a moment she looked down, seeming torn, but when she looked back up again just seconds later, her face was set, her expression grim. She stood a little straighter, her eyes roving around the gathered crowd— yet never turning in his direction— and Barbie felt his jaw tighten, a heavy feeling building in his gut. After all, he knew better than practically anyone how hard she had been fighting to keep the town safe, how heavily the responsibility weighed on her shoulders. If she decided he was too much of a risk... well, it wasn't hard to see that in the question of his life versus the welfare of an entire town, he didn't come out on top.

Which meant that after everything— after getting so close to having his life back, to having the chance to see Julia again— after all that, he was just going to lose it all again anyway.

Letting out a slow breath, Barbie lowered his head, already preparing to accept the inevitable when Linda finally spoke, her voice heavy, grim, but ringing with authority.

"Dale Barbara is cleared of all charges," she began, and Barbie lifted his head sharply, his eyes fixing instantly on hers, a moment of silent communication passing between them before she turned away, speaking over the murmurs that buzzed through the crowd.

"Anyone who has an issue with this decision can come and see me tomorrow during business hours. But right now, I think it's time we all just went home."

Whatever response she'd gained to that suggestion was lost on him; he'd stopped listening.

In fact, he'd stopped paying attention to anything but the single word that seemed to echo in his head, stunned relief spreading through him like a drug.


He was cleared. Free to go.

And right now, he had somewhere to be.

Suddenly recovering himself, Barbie blinked, his mind already working on the task of getting himself free from the cuffs, his eyes automatically casting around— only to see Norrie moving toward him, her eyes meeting his with a small smile before she reached up and pulled the noose over his head, tossing it off the side of the platform.

"Now, that's better," she commented dryly, and he drew a deep breath, clearing his suddenly unrestricted throat.

"Thanks," he said gruffly, meeting her eyes, then Joe's. "Think we can find some keys for these cuffs?"

"On it," Angie replied from somewhere behind him, and he turned to see her crouching silently beside Junior, her hand resting briefly on his hunched shoulders. The young deputy showed no sign of even being aware of her, already semi-catatonic with shock. Barbie had seen it plenty of times before, among both soldiers and civilians, on and off the battlefield. Physically, the kid would recover soon enough. Mentally... well, that was a different story.

A moment later, Angie had unhooked the keys from Junior's belt, her eyes meeting Barbie's as she stood. Giving her a small nod of thanks, he turned his back to her, feeling the press of the metal against his skin as she unlocked first one cuff and then the other.

And then finally his arms were free, tiny bolts of pain immediately shooting up into his shoulders as he gingerly moved and stretched, letting his muscles readjust. Within minutes, he knew, the pins and needles would fade and he'd be back to full range of movement once again; after all, this wasn't exactly the first time he'd been bound with his hands behind his back and a death sentence on his head.

He was just kind of hoping it would be the last.

Keeping an eye on the slowly dispersing crowd, Barbie turned to the teenagers, his voice low and urgent. He'd managed to ensure his own safety; now, there was a higher priority on his list.

"Where's Julia?"

"We don't know," Joe answered quickly, his forehead creasing in its usual concerned frown. "She left the diner with the egg about half an hour ago, but she didn't tell us anything about what she was going to do. But whatever all that was, with the stars and everything— she definitely made it happen."

Clearly, Joe had intended his news to be reassuring; instead, he simply confirmed what Barbie had already feared.

Somehow, because of Julia, the dome had protected him— had saved him— and in his experience, that kind of thing never came for free.

At that thought, Barbie felt his jaw tighten, his fists clenching subconsciously as he fought to control the fresh surge of anxiety that was taking hold in his chest.

If anything had happened to Julia...

Drawing in an unsteady breath, he squared his shoulders, calling on his training as he forced himself to focus.

"Alright, I'm gonna head home, see if she's there," he told the teenagers, then fixed his gaze on Joe's, adding firmly, "I want you three to get out of here. Go with Carolyn, get home and lay low for a while, just in case."

"You shouldn't go off alone," Norrie protested, earning immediate nods of agreement from both McAlisters. "There could still be some people who want to hurt you—"

"I'll be fine," he cut in sharply, his impatience momentarily breaking through. But then, looking between the three of them— seeing the genuine concern reflected on their faces— he let out a breath, his tone softening.

"Look, you guys saved my ass, and I appreciate it. But between Linda's orders, my training, and the dome's little light show, I doubt anyone's gonna want to come anywhere near me for a while. It's not my safety that I'm concerned about right now, so if you really wanna help me, you'll go home, get some rest, and just give this whole thing some time to blow over, alright?"

The teenagers hesitated, trading brief looks of concern before Angie spoke up, her eyes stark and serious as they met his. "Just be careful, okay?"

"I will," he promised, then added dryly, "Now go home."

Without waiting for a response, he turned and swiftly crossed the platform, giving Junior and Big Jim a wide berth before descending the stairs two at a time. Back on solid ground, he paused for a moment to do a quick sweep of the remaining residents— who, true to what he'd said, all seemed eager to avoid him— and then was instantly on the move again, already several feet from the platform when he heard Linda call his name.

Turning warily, he watched her approach, his muscles immediately tensing as he saw her hand lower to her gun, her eyes fixing on his.

"Take this with you," she said quietly, surprising him as she drew the gun and held it out to him, grip first. When he didn't immediately take it, she sighed, then stepped closer, her voice impatient. "Take it, Barbie. Just in case. You can pick yours up when you and Julia come into the station tomorrow to explain just what the hell has been going on in this town."

Looking down at her, and realizing the gesture for what it was— as near to an apology as she could manage— Barbie gave her a slow nod, carefully accepting the gun-slash-olive-branch before tucking it away into his waistband.

"Thanks, Linda," he murmured, and this time it was her turn to nod, just a tiny jerk of the head in acknowledgment before she was suddenly gone again, striding across the grass to clear the last of the crowd. Drawing in a quick breath, Barbie set off once more in the opposite direction, keeping his pace steady as he headed towards Julia's house— towards home— waiting only until he had turned the corner and was out of sight before he began to run.

Less than fifteen minutes ago he was as good as dead. Now, Big Jim was gone, and he was free.

Free to go home, free to live his life and maybe even have an actual future here in this town.

A future that would start the moment he found Julia.

So this was totally intended as a oneshot, but it kinda got huger than expected so I've cut it into two parts. The Julia chapter is almost finished, so I hope to have it up for you guys (if anyone is even still around lol) within the week.

Anyway, hope you all enjoyed reading this, and if so, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Reviews make great christmas presents... ;)