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In the end, he asked Tammy to set up the meeting. It reeks of cowardice; hell, it probably is, but he’s entitled to a little self-preservation and if there’s one thing Albert has learned, it’s that some statements deserve to be made in person. No phone calls, no bellowing to make himself heard either literally or metaphorically, no having to bear with this backwater burg’s abominable cell reception. Just him, Gordon Cole, and maybe, for the first time, the truth. At least the truth as Albert knows it, about himself and the decision he made. Everything else is out of his hands, and, to his surprise, there’s actually some relief in that. No matter how badly Gordon might take this - and close to thirty years of working in the man’s shadow is enough to tell Albert it might not go down well - his own mind is made up and he isn’t budging. No one can take that away from him.

Out of all the locations in Twin Peaks, he’d never have thought of the Great Northern as neutral territory for a meeting. But at least there’s a familiarity to the place, even if much of it goes back to the days where Albert was combing its corridors for clues after Cooper got shot. And it’s still better than the Sheriff’s station, which, apart from being a too-painful reminder of what led them here, is also filled with people who know Albert’s face and would undoubtedly have an opinion to share about the shit that went down yesterday.

Tammy is waiting in front of the entrance, spotting him as soon as he leaves the car. Albert can feel her stare from fifty yards away, but he keeps his own eyes on the pavement until the very last moment, which is when it hits him that she isn’t alone.

“Albert.” Tammy’s head dips down, her tone guarded but sympathetic. Then a second voice echoes “Albert,” less gentle but with no shortage of feeling, and from one instant to the next Albert’s throat has gone dry.

He gapes as she steps out of the shadows, one hand sneaking up to tuck her hair behind her ear. Copper hair, not white, which seems both wrong and right at the same time, but something in his brain short-circuits as he tries to press on the memory of when and how he saw Diane Evans last. They lost her in South Dakota, didn’t they? Lost her at Albert’s own hand… except something is missing from that story, something vital, and he can’t for the life of him put his finger on what.

“I… killed you,” he stammers. “You’re gone. There wasn’t even a body…” And then it all comes flooding back: storming into the Sheriff’s station, braced for every possible outcome, except the sight of Dale Cooper passionately smooching a woman. This woman, whose reappearance Albert must have somehow blocked out in the wake of Cooper’s vanishing act. Simple lapse of memory, or something more sinister than that? He doesn’t know if he wants to find out. “Is it…” He gulps, clears his throat of something thick and bitter-tasting that makes it hard to catch his breath. “Is it really you?”

The shrug she gives him looks as tired as Albert feels. “What does it mean, ‘really me’? I was somewhere, or I thought I was, but for the longest time it didn’t seem real. Then Dale came, and I fell, and when I woke up I was here, and I remember things I’m pretty sure never happened, and there are things they claim I should remember but I don’t. And now Tammy here tells me you’re about to resign, which doesn’t really help convince me that the world I ended up in is the same as the one I left.”

Albert scowls, a headache pressing at his temples as he tries to make sense of that monologue. Wonders what him resigning from the Bureau even has to do with anything, but if this Diane, wherever she came from, thinks it’s a bad call… “You don’t think I ought to quit?”

“Oh, no.” A small, mournful smile tugs at her mouth. “No, I think you should’ve quit years ago. But my point is, if you had, then it wouldn’t have been you, right? The Albert I knew was too rigid in his convictions to break out of that box. The man you’ve become… he’s something else. You’re something else.”

“Same as how it was someone else who quit in your place?” he shoots back, then cringes at his own lack of tact. Nerves, mostly, but that’s no excuse. Whoever this Diane is and whatever she remembers - and judging by her words, she’s still figuring that out herself - she was hurt by this too, far more than he was. If some Diane quit the Bureau twenty years ago, it’s not any Diane’s fault that one Agent Rosenfield has been haunted for years by the question if he shouldn't have had the guts to do the same.

He wonders if the conflict can be read from his face, because Diane doesn’t act shocked or even surprised by his reaction. Instead she crosses her arms in front of her, gives him the most disarming of raised eyebrows, and says: “Fuck you, too, Albert.” She makes it sound almost loving.

He’s still struggling to respond to that when Tammy clears her throat. “I’m sorry… I know you two have a lot to catch up on, but Gordon said he’d meet us at four and we’re running late.”

Albert barks out a startled laugh. “Really? When the man says jump you still ask how high?” At the look on her face, he bites back whatever he might have said next. The truth is, the prospect of confronting Gordon is scaring the piss out of him, and he wasn’t prepared for Diane to be thrown into the mix too. But that’s no reason to take it out on Tammy, who is still with the Bureau, still working for the deputy director and, despite the grace with which she’s handling Albert’s decision, not in any way planning a career change of her own.

But Diane isn’t Bureau, hasn’t been Bureau for a long time, and the look she gives Tammy is painfully raw. “Let me give you some advice, Agent Preston. It’s true that Gordon Cole isn’t a bad man. But he’s a man who’s drawn to power, has grown comfortable with power, and I won’t ever let someone like that have influence over me again. Because it’s true what they say. Power corrupts, and those who spend too long opposing evil risk forgetting what it means to be good.” She throws a long, silent look in Albert’s direction - not accusatory, which it might’ve been, but full of melancholy, longing, regret. Then, before either him or Tammy can react, Diane’s head has turned and that fragile connection is gone. “Let’s go. The sooner we get this over with, the better.”

That ‘we’ meant something, Albert is sure, but he doesn’t dare to press and anyway she’s right. Crossing the lobby together, Diane at his left shoulder and Tammy at his right like they’re some kind of honor guard, he can barely keep his nerves in check. Tammy looks professional as always, in a fresh-pressed ensemble that makes Albert feel grimy in his week-old suit, and Diane is still Diane even if she might not be, walking like a person who knows they owe the world nothing. Albert wishes he could say the same. But he’s seen too much, gone too far down the path for any of that to be true, and his hands will never be clean again - because of Cooper, because of Gordon, because of his own fear of making a choice for himself instead of letting others dictate what to fight for. But he’s done fighting here, and that’s a start.

Tammy leads them to the entrance of a small conference room - more private than the bar, more neutral than a hotel room, and probably having been the setting for too many of the kinds of parties that Albert would happily slit his wrists to avoid. “Should we wait outside?” she whispers. The flicker in her eye betrays her excitement: a part of her is as fascinated by this as the rest of her is dreading it, which is Tammy through and through. It’s also the kind of attitude that gets agents killed, or worse… and no, no, he can’t think of that now, because all it will do is remind him of Cooper again. But Cooper is gone, Albert’s obligation to him lifted, and whatever he’s going to say in there shouldn’t be about Cooper but only about himself.

He gives Tammy a shrug, more to help dispel the tension than anything else. “You can come in if you want. I don’t know if it’s true for the guy in that room, but I’m fresh out of secrets, so anything I have to say, you two can hear as well.”

He doesn’t wait for her reply, just walks through the half-open door with all the nonchalance he can muster, hearing Tammy and Diane trail along in his wake. Gordon is there, bent over a notebook at one of the tables, a coffee cup at his elbow. He’s sketching something, Albert can’t make out what, and as his hand flits across the paper the seconds tick by. Deliberate, no doubt. There are times when Gordon gets wrapped up in a task to the point where he doesn’t register anything else, but Albert’s gut tells him that’s not the case now. Psychology, then. Trying Albert’s patience, hoping to rile him so he’ll lose his composure, be more pliable to arguments. It’s the oldest trick in the book and the irony is that it works, or has worked on Albert for as long as he can remember, even when he can see right through it. But not today. His dignity is all he has left and he’ll be damned if he’s going to relinquish it now.

Another half-minute passes. Behind him, he hears Tammy shift from one foot to the other, while Diane is silent as stone. Gordon still hasn’t glanced up, probably isn’t going to unless Albert speaks first, and if that’s how they’ll play this game then Albert has no choice except to play along.

Digging into his jacket’s inner pocket, he pulls out an unmarked envelope and cradles it in his hands. The full, crippling weight of his decision, bound up into a few flimsy sheets of paper… But that’s how these things go, right? The moments that really change us are gone before you blink. A secret revealed, too late for an apology to mend the fences. A look shared between old friends - or the absence of it. Walking into a sick man’s hospital room. All of it so brief and fleeting, which makes it no real surprise that all he’d need to end this is a couple of words scribbled onto a page.

He approaches Gordon’s table, looks down at his silvery white hair and the spider’s web of arteries threading his hands. Feels a moment of pity for the man, but shoves it back down before it can take root. “I thought about this long and hard,” he begins, his voice ricocheting off the walls like a bullet looking for its mark. “Well, not too long, seeing as you waited to drop that bombshell on me until the calf was already drowned, and come to think of it, maybe not too hard either because I’ve been with Harry Truman who, as you know, isn’t the brightest leaf on the tree and he’s rubbed off on me, no doubt. But I thought about it, and I didn’t see any other option. So here.” He lets the envelope drop onto the table, right next to the old man’s hand.

The displeasure inching its way across Gordon’s face is almost subtle enough to miss, and for a second, Albert wonders if he came all the way here just to be ignored like a wayward child throwing a tantrum. Then, slowly, Gordon puts down his pen, and blinks at the envelope as if at a ticking grenade - or at a particularly healthy green salad. “WHAT'S THE MEANING OF THIS, ALBERT?”

He already knows, of course. Tammy promised she’d give him proper warning, and Albert can’t imagine someone like Gordon failing to see from where the wind is blowing. Which means this is just about making Albert say it, and of course he came prepared to do exactly that, but damn, Gordon’s not going to give him an inch here, is he?

“My resignation letter.” There. It’s out. Suddenly his heartbeat is thudding in his ears, and his legs feel like he’s had to run several miles in pursuit of the courage he needed to spit that out. But it’s said now, and he’s not taking it back.

Gordon’s eyes flick up to him from across the table. “GLAD TO HEAR YOU’RE FEELING BETTER.” With a solemn nod, he lifts the cup beside him, takes a carefully measured sip. Waiting.

Albert should have known.

It’s the final straw. He wanted to do this right, deliver Gordon the news in person and at least give him a chance to react; not that Albert has any intention of changing his mind. But if Gordon is going to take that from him too, play the fucking game to bait him into showing weakness while refusing to do the same… well, Albert doesn’t need to stand here and take this bullshit. He’s got nothing to lose anyway.

“IT’S NOT RIGHT,” Gordon calls out after him, Albert’s back already half-turned. “NOW, I UNDERSTAND THIS HAS ALL COME AS A SHOCK, BUT GIVING UP WITH SO MUCH WORK UNFINISHED - I SIMPLY CANNOT ACCEPT THAT, ALBERT. CAN’T ACCEPT THAT AT ALL.” He wriggles a hand into his jacket pocket, pulls out an envelope of his own. Holds it out to Albert, who is standing half-frozen in the center of the room.

“What’s that?” Albert says. He doesn’t shift his stance, doesn’t dare to move closer out of fear that Gordon will see it as capitulation. Work unfinished? But the work is never finished. It won’t ever be finished as long as there are people on this Earth - flawed, living, breathing, bleeding people, piling failure upon failure out of ambition or greed or simply because they don’t know any better. And Albert isn’t giving up, as much as realizing this is no longer his battle. There are better hills to die on than the one Gordon - and Coop too, it seems - have picked for themselves. Better hills, and other battles, too.

“THREE WEEKS’ PAID LEAVE. MORE IF YOU WANT IT. TAKE THE TIME OFF, COME BACK WHEN YOU’RE READY.” The frown on Gordon’s face is vaguely chastising, the hand holding the envelope still outstretched. Take it, his eyes urge, and at one time, just the intensity of that look might have been enough to throw Albert off. Right now, he barely even feels it.

"No,” Albert says. Not no but, or no because; just no. He came here to explain his reasons, not to be pressured into a half-baked compromise that won’t do either of them any good in the long run.

Gordon’s frown deepens. "WHEN WE TALKED, AFTER DIANE DISAPPEARED, YOU SAID YOU UNDERSTOOD."

"Oh, I understood, all right.” It’s strange how foggy his memories of that conversation are, almost like he wasn’t all there at the time. Then again, given that he’d just shot Diane - or one version of Diane, at least - it probably shouldn't surprise him that his brain shied away from dealing with the messy aftermath. Cooper. Judy. Jeffries. All the secrets Gordon had kept. “And I understand even better now. We’re expendable to you, all of us. You said you were sorry and maybe you are, maybe you do actually give a damn, but that never stopped you from throwing us into the line of fire. Me, I’m the one who got lucky. Phillip, Chet, Cooper… Not so much."

The way Gordon’s posture changes would be subtle enough to sail past anyone else, but to Albert, it’s a screaming red flag: the look of someone who was just challenged on his own domain and isn’t about to take it lying down. "COOPER WAS FULLY AWARE OF THE DANGERS HE WALKED INTO. SO WERE THE OTHERS YOU NAMED."

Albert can feel his hands start to clench into fists, forces his body to relax and pours his rage into his voice instead. "Cooper wasn't fit for the fucking job. I’ll be the first to admit that he should've known better than to accept that kind of mission so soon after the Earle debacle, but we all know how gung-ho he was to prove he was up to the task, and as his superior, you should have protected him against himself. The man would’ve danced naked on the rooftops if you’d told him to. He fucking worshiped you, Gordon. You knew it, and you used it.”

Was that a flicker of unease in those diamond-hard eyes? He can’t be sure, but what is sure is that Gordon is bristling. “COOPER ACTED OUT OF LOYALTY TO THE CAUSE.”

The cause. Long ago, back in the days when he was still young and eager and full of himself, Albert thought he knew what that cause entailed, but now he doesn’t have a clue anymore. “Don’t you dare talk to me about loyalty,” he hisses. “I pledged myself to the Bureau, to you, never asking for anything in return because even when I disagreed with your methods, I trusted you to be on the side of good and somehow that seemed like enough to me. Do you even remember why I joined?”

A long silence. Then Gordon nods, once, almost solemnly. "TO STAND BETWEEN EVIL AND THE WORLD."

“That's right.” Albert swallows, briefly caught off guard. Whatever reply he’d been braced for, he hadn’t expected it to actually be on-point. “Thought you'd forgotten. But there's plenty of evil in the world without any of us stirring up more. Judy? You're meddling with forces beyond our control, and from what I’ve seen, those forces don’t appreciate being meddled with. Which would be one thing if you gave us full disclosure, and even taking your word for it that Coop was aware of what he signed up for, I know I wasn't. Agent Preston isn't. Diane…” His voice cracks. “Diane sure as hell wasn't. And you can say the Diane that we killed wasn’t real, but I knew her, I fucking knew her and she was my friend -”

“He’s right about Dale,” Diane interrupts, her voice ringing out with sudden authority, and for a moment Albert isn’t sure if she’s addressing Gordon or him. But her gaze is locked on Gordon, who actually flinches for the merest of instants - just a second, then it’s gone again. “He wasn’t ready. Not the first time, and not this time either. I knew him as well as anyone. I could tell.”

Gordon straightens in his chair. “NO ONE WILL DENY THAT YOU KNEW COOPER, DIANE, BUT YOU MUST ADMIT YOU’RE HARDLY UNBIASED -”

“Then it’s high time for someone to be fucking biased,” she cuts him off, and for the few seconds it takes her to spit out that sentence, she’s every bit the Diane Albert knew so well. The one he mourned Cooper with, and drank with… and ended up having to put a bullet into. Then the anger drains out of her, but the intensity remains. “I remember how you used to preach objectivity, and look where that got you. Where it got us.” Her voice is trembling. “It’s so easy to think of love as a failing, but I know love will win this in the end. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Did that finally leave a dent in Gordon’s armor? If it did, it’s not showing in his face, but there’s a vein throbbing rapidly at his temple that Albert can’t help staring at. “THE POINT IS, DIANE, THAT WE ARE FIGHTING A BATTLE -”

“No.” And finally Albert has found his voice again, not a second too soon, either. “We’re fighting your fucking battle. Phil, Chet, Cooper, Diane, Tammy, me…” Halfway into the progression of names, Gordon’s façade wavers, but Albert averts his face before he can be tempted to let that stop him. “Soldiers for your cause, all of us, and I for one am fucking done. I joined your little club because I was sick to death of human suffering and I was naïve enough to think I could change the world. But these days, it seems we carry suffering in our wake more often than we prevent it. It’s gotta stop.”

Gordon shakes his head so vehemently that Albert’s surprised it doesn’t fall off. “WE TALKED ABOUT THIS, ALBERT. SOMETIMES SACRIFICE CAN’T BE AVOIDED -”

“That’s what they said when they dropped the fucking A-bomb. You’ve had that picture on your wall for years and you still haven’t drawn any lessons from it, although I thought that was the point. How about ‘do no fucking harm’?”

And there it is, finally: regret. It’s only the tiniest shift in Gordon’s expression, but it’s the first sign of vulnerability Albert’s seen in him today, and he’d almost given up hope he’d get to see it at all - but now that he has, he almost wishes he could unsee it. "I DID DRAW LESSONS FROM IT.” Gordon blinks down at his pale, old man’s hands on the table, his gaze unfocused. “ALBERT, I… I NEED YOU."

“You need me?” Now it’s Albert’s turn to blink. Is this Gordon’s last-ditch strategy to sway him? Except something makes him think that it’s genuine, which is a thought he doesn’t know what to do with except throw more sarcasm at it and hope that’ll scare it off. "Need me for what? To be your blunt object? To dirty my hands when you can’t - or won’t?”

“TO REMIND ME THAT GOODNESS HAS A FACE.” The intensity of the words stops Albert dead in his tracks. There’s sorrow, guilt, hope, longing, regret, all bundled up into those sparse few words, and they leave Albert’s anger draining away as suddenly as if someone just pulled out the plug. “ALBERT, IF THIS IS ABOUT ME SAYING PLEASE -”

"It's not about you,” Albert says, surprised when it comes out almost tender. “Not this time. I have to do this for me.”

Gordon nods. Swallows, nods again, his shoulders slumping. Resignation in his face now, stirred up briefly by a last surge of resistance, a last verbal gauntlet thrown at Albert’s feet. “WHERE WILL YOU GO?"

The defiance rising up inside him is drenched in pity more than anything else. Does Gordon really think Albert has nowhere to turn? That might have been true twenty years ago, but not for a long time, and that Gordon still believes it says more about the man himself than it does about Albert. It only strengthens his conviction that he’s doing the right thing.

“Where will I go?” Albert shrugs. “I don’t know yet. But I’m no longer the rookie you took under your wing - the one who got booted out wherever he opened his mouth and would rather have died than rely on someone else. I got people now. I’ll find a place.” Pause. “Maybe even this place.”

“YOU WON’T STAY IN TWIN PEAKS.” It’s not even a question.

“Not forever, no. But for now, I promised an old friend I’d stick around. He’d do the same for me, and I’m not about to let him down. Whatever else I am, I’m still a doctor, and it’s time I started acting like one. I’ve been carrying this thing for way too long.” He reaches for his service weapon, walks back to the table and slowly puts it down. Losing the gun is actually a relief, but his badge is something else; still, Albert cradles it in his palm for just a few seconds before placing it next to the weapon. When it’s done, he feels his shoulders slump, his lungs straining around a long, shuddering breath. “Look…” he mutters. “Don’t get me wrong. You saw something in me at a time when no one else did, and I’m grateful for that. You offered me a life, but now I gotta take it back. While I still can.”

Gordon nods stiffly, his face a mask as he contemplates Albert’s badge. The last of his agents not to have vanished into thin air, walking away out of his own free will. That’s gotta sting like hell, and Albert almost feels betrayed by the lack of reaction - but then, Gordon’s always been the Spock to his McCoy, and there’s no reason for this conversation not to fit that pattern. In a way, it only feels right.

To his surprise, it’s Tammy behind him who breaks the silence. “Will we see you again?” Her tone is shaken but resolute, and he doesn’t think he’s ever appreciated her more, both for respecting his choice and for making him feel like he’ll be missed.

“It’s your call,” he says, tearing himself away from the remnants of his past life to look his now ex-protégé in the eye. “You’re a fine agent, Tammy. And I won’t be sauntering off to some other dimension like Cooper did, so I trust you’ll be able to find me. If the old man gives you any trouble, call.”

“I can handle him,” she answers, and the way her hand finds her hip while she says it make him think it’s not an idle boast. She’s fond of Gordon, sure, but she isn’t naïve, especially now she’s seen firsthand what happens to agents who get in too deep: they either vanish, like Chet and Phillip and Cooper, or they quit - like Diane and him. Tammy won’t be keen on doing either, so he’s willing to bet she’ll be more careful.

“I’m sure you do,” he says, not a scrap of irony in the words, and then turns around one last time. “Gordon…”

“ALBERT.” There’s no hand held out in parting, no attempt - genuine or forced - at a smile. But a grudging understanding has settled on Gordon’s features, and Albert could swear there’s a touch of envy there too. Because Albert can leave and Gordon can’t? Chances are he’ll never know. “THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY LIFE.”

Of all the things Gordon owes him for, this one barely even made Albert’s list, but that doesn't make it any less true. Albert’s been Gordon’s shield for a very long time. As well as his secretary, his sounding board, his smokescreen, his sword arm, and in spite of everything, his friend… but if none of those are acknowledged out loud, that doesn’t make them less true either. “Just be careful with it, will you? Last time I checked, you only had one life, not seven, and if you end up like Cooper and the rest, don’t count on me to come looking for you.”

“BUT YOU’LL COME BACK FOR HIM.” It comes out almost subdued, and it’s all Albert can do not to flinch at the statement. But there was no challenge in it; if anything, it sounded like… jealousy? Does Gordon think Albert would return for Cooper but leave his former boss to rot? Truth is, if Cooper did show up again, Albert doesn’t know what he’d do. If Cooper came back asking for help, now, that would be a different story, but Albert won’t waste the rest of his life waiting for it to happen. He already made that mistake once.

Gordon will wait for Cooper, though. Albert is as certain of that as he’s ever been about anything. Cooper, and whatever the purpose of his mission was, is Gordon’s last real hope right now. Along with Tammy, but somehow he doubts Tammy will let herself be pushed to the point that the rest of them did. No… Cooper was the last, which makes all of this so much more painful. And as relieved as Albert is to be free of this nightmare, leaving also means giving up hope he can still save Gordon and Tammy from the same thing. But Gordon is too far gone to let himself be saved, and he’ll have to trust Tammy will know to get out in time. In the end, all you can really do is save yourself.

“Goodbye, Gordon,” he says, trying to keep his voice free of anger, letting the pacifist in him dig in his heels as he turns and starts to walk through the door. There’s no answering goodbye ringing out in his wake. But there are footsteps following behind him, and when he turns his head, Diane’s eyes are bright and empathetic as they meet with his.

“If Dale comes back, we’ll be here,” she says, the conviction in her voice unbending, and her mouth turns up into a small, broken smile.

You maybe, not me, he almost shoots back, but he can’t get the words to leave his throat. Fuck, who is he kidding anyway? Not himself, for sure, and when it comes to Coop, Diane’s the last person on Earth who’ll swallow that lie.

“Buy you a drink?” he says instead, and the answering gleam in her eyes tells him it was the right thing to ask.

*