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The Late Year Lies

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The note from him lands, squashed in the corner of her apartment complex mailbox a month and twelve days after he had touched her cheek and sighed in apology, after that last fight against the horsemen.

The letter is brief and slanted and she traces the simple line drawing of a mountain at the top of the linen stationery.

She’s imagined a million scenarios since he’d been gone: she’s envisioned him dead, she’s seen him teaching, she’s pictured him living a life with a house and a fence and a kind-faced woman less rough than herself. And she should be devastated by the hollowness behind his fatigued eyes when she arrives at the small village green in Vermont, but she can’t help the relief that settles about her shoulders at his obvious loneliness.

“What mess have you gotten yourself into now, Crane?”

She memorizes the curve of his mouth as he slumps into her arms.

---

She’s quiet later, as his outstretched hand traces the opposite shoreline. She looks at the choppy, autumn water of Champlain and feels anger.

“I was sent to help oversee the construction of a fleet. I was not a naval officer, of course, but Captain Pringle –”

“You just left.”

He looks stricken. “What?”

The wind is whipping down the High Peaks and strands of hair are getting caught in her lashes. “Everything was falling apart. Sleepy Hollow was practically burning and you weren’t there,” her voice is flat, but marred by stray sparks.

She’s never felt so small as when he refuses her gaze, looking instead at the stone wall beneath him. “You had Miss Jenny.”

“Damn it, Ichabod,” her throat aches. “I needed you.”

“Indeed.” And in the end, all he can produce is: “I acted ignobly, for that I apologize.”

---

That night as she wishes for the ceiling to swallow her whole, she cries.

The couch in the corner sighs, and only hints of Ichabod’s shape beside her bed are discernible in the flaxen starlight.

When she doesn’t move, he unfolds his long form along hers, quiet for so long she’d worry if weren’t for his warm breath curling about her wet cheeks.

“Who am I, Abbie?” His rasping whisper hurts. “I do not understand what I am meant to be now.”

She had always thought it’d be relief she’d feel if they ultimately survived the septennial war. It had never occurred to her that in the ensuing aftermath, she’d wish - however briefly - that she hadn’t outlasted the horsemen at all.

She’d lived so long for one purpose and now that she’d served that role, she’s not sure why she’s still here, how she’s supposed to fill the hours and days and inhalations and feel anything but empty – anything at all.

She wants to tell him that fate has not run its course. She wants to tell him that his actions, words, deeds serve a purpose, that the world still has want for him. She wants very much to say that he is unbroken.

His beard is damp when she pulls his face into the crook of her neck and cries.

---

She didn’t think she’d be spending the year following the apocalypse following his skinny, British ass across the country, but she’d given up trying to figure out any sort of divine plan for her soul about five years and two hundred demons ago.

She takes aim at the empty Bulliet bottle and watches with satisfaction as it explodes outwards.

“Gary fuckin’ Indiana, huh?” she lines up the crosshairs on a murky glass.

Before she can squeeze the trigger, she watches it disappear in a rain of amber shards and looks at Crane with feigned incredulity.

He glances over his shoulder with that damn raised sardonic eyebrow of his and drawls a silky, “I didn’t realize my itinerary needed to meet your approval, Lieutenant.”

She snorts and hits a handle of Maker’s square in the middle.

---

The evening ends the way it usually does these days: with Ichabod’s face pressed between her thighs. Breathy moans ricocheting off paper-thin walls.

She’s gotten used to the scratchy sheets and hygienically questionable lodgings – apocalypse doing wonders for her already perilously low sensibility. She’s even gotten accustomed to the way the humid Midwest evenings, heavy with sex and thunderstorms, cling to her skin as he presses into her again and again.

“You,” she gulps, grips his shoulders, digs her heels into the dip in his lower back, “You couldn’t have chosen Chicago? It’s like – two feet away.”

The rumble of his short laugh moves through his chest to hers where their skin meets. “I don’t know,” He nips at the dewy junction of her neck and clavicle, “I find the nightlife here quite stimulating.”

---

It’s rainy in Spokane.

“Okay. Go!”

They play this game sometimes, when sleep isn’t easily found.

“Erm. Rusalka. Left rib.”

It’s probably some demented form of posttraumatic stress, but she doesn’t think they would ever be okay if they couldn’t look at the last seven years in some twistedly humorous way.

She pretends to shudder, pulling the sheet tighter around her chest. “Girl was creepy.”

“Yes, and I was put off fish for quite some time.”

It feels like that smirk of his is all that she lives for some days.

“Now you must go.”

“Oh! Umm. Mara. Broken wrist.”

He cringes, “Ah yes. I had forgotten about our nocturnal foe.” But she doesn’t miss the way his thumb skims the skin covering her once shattered bones.

---

A faded postcard of the Alamo with the message: “Made acquaintance of armadillo. Fear we did not vanquish all Hell’s minions” brings her to San Antonio, Texas.

“And this, Crane, is why you always splurge for A.C.”

It’s a million degrees and she can feel every pore on her body melting.

“Yes, well, air conditioning,” he still does that careful testing of words, studying the feel of them in his mouth before they line up and march from between his lips, “is a modern convenience with which I have not yet had the luxury of being concerned.”

“Well now you know, Mr. Seven Year Learning Curve.”

They’re lying naked on top of the sheets, spread apart from one another, connected only where his fingertips draw meaningless symbols on her palm and where her big toe occasionally collides with his shin.

“I quite like that David Crockett fellow,” he says after strung together breaths of comfortable silence. The ceiling is stucco – Mission Revival – interrupted by solid beams being swallowed in fading light.

She loves These Days, when his presence and the soft whirl of a peaceful world wrap around her and her soul is quiet. There aren’t as many of These Days as she’d like, and she knows that he echoes with loss for weeks on end, too.

She giggles and kicks his leg, “You would. Ichabod Crane: King of the Wild Frontier.”

“That does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” His palm is warm and wet, but she sings when he brings her open hand to his lips.

---

When she greets him as she gets off the plane in Missoula, Montana, the tremors of an eminent fight rumble beneath her feet.

He’s quiet and withdrawn in a way he hasn’t been since Katrina, and he still hasn’t uttered a word to her as he opens the passenger door of the 1976 C/K for her.

She doesn’t make a comment when he grinds from third gear to fourth with something less than finesse, but when he runs through a four-way stop she slams her foot into the floor.

“Whoa, Crane! Officer of the law sitting right next to you.”

“Apologies,” he mutters. It sounds like a curse.

The road kicks up dirt behind them, and the infinite Big Sky stretches on so far it’s nearly suffocating. She suspects the vastness has bled into the splintering cracks, the gaps left by battle upon battle.

She sucks in her cheeks when the truck heaves to a dead stop, clicking her seatbelt loose with shaking hands.

The weatherworn pine of the cabin is achingly familiar, and he must see it, too, because he doesn’t meet her eyes.

“Okay, Crane. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Why would anything be wrong?” He’s standing rigid in that damned coat, and for a moment it’s the first day he crawled from beneath the earth.

“Oh, do not do this. I did not take a seven hour flight to the middle of nowhere to have you ignore me and test the bounds of my patience.”

He tilts his head, infuriatingly curt. “I am truly sorry that my unhappiness is an inconvenience for you.”

She’s familiar with this dance, one of the few losing battles she ever enters knowingly. “And I am sorry that you think that is my problem.”

“You made it your problem, Lieutenant,” he incorporates a mocking bow, “the moment you stepped off that airplane.”

“Fine! Maybe I should just leave you to sulk, then!” She’s tired, she’s so tired all the damn time.

“Yes! And perhaps you should stop coming at my beck and call like an eager child!”

The words fall dead between them, the vacuum of sky upon sky upon sky leaves a buzzing between her ears in the ensuing silence.

The shoulder of his wool coat is beginning to pull, she notices, the threads stretching in effort.

She blinks, nods. “Okay.”

---

That night when they come together, as they inevitably do, it feels like the End of the World (again). All desperate hands and hurried action.

Shoving her jeans over her hips, he pushes her against the knotted wood of the wall, pressing words into the line where her hair meets her forehead, the corner where her nose meets her cheek, the hollow above her lip. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

The raised line of that first scar isn’t alone on his chest anymore, and it’s easy for her to forget that they’ve both collected angry, jagged cuts. Irrevocable evidence of damages.

His forearms beneath her as he moves in her are wiry and solid, but his mouth is frantic with pleas. “I need you. I need you.”

And Abbie knows. It’s hard to hang your existence on another.

---

The red vinyl sticks to her legs when she readjusts her position on the stool.

It’s her favorite time to be at the diner – when the last vestiges of sunlight spill long and broken across the Formica and all of the chrome glows.

“Need a warm up on that?”

Abbie smiles, “Nah. I’m good, Maddie. I’m real good.”

“I believe you are quite well, Lieutenant.”

It’s a voice she hasn’t heard in Sleepy Hollow in over a year, and she’s stopped hoping he’ll come home. She’s grown to accept that the last cent of Corbin’s bequeathal to her will be spent on a plane trip to Nowheresville, Idaho.

“Since when have I ever let you tell me what to do, Crane?”

He’s framed in the dying light, and his eyes are tired and clear and alive.

“Never,” he attests, keeping perfect posture as he sinks onto the seat next to hers. “And I pray that that does not change in any of my lifetimes.”

“I think two lifetimes is enough for you.”

“I vehemently agree,” he’s studiously looking over the menu he already knows in its entirety. “Let us hope that fate does as well.”

There’s a surge of something suspiciously like optimism in the recesses of a somewhere she thought lost.

She takes a deep sip of coffee. “Fate, Crane? Didn’t think you were too hot on that anymore?”

“Yes, well, I also thought I would like Arkansas, and I was certainly wrong about that.” They had agreed never to speak of Little Rock ever again.

When his tone takes on a serious edge she’s sitting exactly here three eons ago, hashing, rehashing plans, wordlessly acknowledging that failure and death were imminent, not probable. “I believe now, more than I have ever before, that there exist two witnesses for a very distinct purpose.”

He looks at her, and it is weighty and it is whole and he is Ichabod. “I cannot be without you.”

He turns to the counter and twines his fingers with hers, looking about absently for Maddie. “I wonder if I might get a slice of apple pie.”