“That kraken was some wild shit, huh?”
She looked up from where she’d set down the iron triton that had killed the monster and scanned his face. “You’re going back. I was wondering.”
“When Lara appeared and reality didn’t collapse—yeah. “
“One way trip, suicide mission. I know. I’ve thought about using the Traveler’s Spell, too.”
They were tucked behind the staircase in the Vault, away from the others. He’d tell them all in due time, and didn’t wish to make a ceremony of it. He was sorry to leave them, but they’d be better off in the long run.
“The good you can do here …” He cut off with a deep, shuddering breath. “In any event, what happened was my failure, not yours.”
“Not going to argue with you about that.”
He let a smile lift the corners of his eyes. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed the … connection developing between yourself and Agent Thomas.”
Jenny chuckled. “But has she?”
“No one can long ignore the charms of one of the sisters Mills.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t make me get all teary-eyed.”
She slipped her arms around him, and not for the first time was he envious of her sure-footedness. He noted, though, that despite her words, she seemed pleased with his decision.
“Do it right this time?”
He squeezed her tightly before letting go. “I shall. This is the hand we have been dealt, so this is the hand we play.”
She stepped back and regarded him with eyebrows raised. “The hand you play.”
Pandora’s Box needed a Witness soul.
He had a spare to give.
There was no rush. He talked through strategy with Jenny and Jake, gathered the information he needed, and said his goodbyes.
The team, including Molly, saw him off from the Vault; they had figured jumping from Sleepy Hollow would present the fewest complications. At least the journey on the train would give him time to himself to compose three important letters.
He kneeled and scooped Molly up into his arms. He had, in private, told Agent Thomas that Dreyfuss had been wrong. It was never a father-figure the child needed—it was simply a parent who loved her, which Agent Thomas did in spades.
“Now, you will listen to your mother? And Miss Lara, when she returns? And Miss Jenny? And Master Jake? And Miss Alex?”
She nodded, grave. “Yes.”
“Good. And you understand there are still two Witnesses. You and your sister.” His eyes slid up to Jenny’s face--though she avoided his gaze--before focusing back on Molly. “As it should be.”
Suddenly bashful from the attention, the child squirmed away.
Crane stood and surveyed the group, who huddled together like a cast of characters from someone else’s life, letting the unfamiliar hope warming his chest speedily put distance between him and them.
“All together, you are a team of great fortitude, to which my aid has always been superfluous. It has been a pleasure.”
He clasped his hands behind his back to avoid further handshakes or hugs.
This mission would be faced just as all the others had.
“Well. Do remember to bash the monsters for me.”
Jenny followed him out of the building and into the sun, but kept her distance.
“We have prepared well.”
But this wasn’t going to be a moment of small talk. “You’re a selfish asshole, you know that?”
In all of their discussions about technical details of his trip, they had scrupulously avoided the elephant in the room.
“I said before I would die a thousand deaths. I am lucky but one is needed.”
“You’re really going to keep pretending you have a fucking choice. You forgot I know what that brand on your arm is?”
“I decided on this course of action prior to my sojourn to Hell, Miss Jenny.”
She crossed her arms, clearly incredulous.
“So, if not to weasel out of your little eternal damnation deal with the Devil: why?”
“You know why. We’ve discussed it.”
“Nope, we’ve talked around it. I need you to say it. I need to believe you.”
He looked down at his hands, willing them to still. “And what of you? You act as if your sister is but a distant memory, as if she were an obstacle for you to move past. How many hard words have I heard from your mouth these past months? Were you so desperate to escape her shadow? You could not hold a candle to her then, and you cannot hold a candle to her now. ‘Tis fortunate for you that with my departure, you will no longer have to endure the comparison.”
They shifted awkwardly, the silence between them tense and angry.
Finally, Jenny shook her head. “The old you, other you—whatever … he better not fuck it up.”
“Indeed. I am taking steps to ensure that does not happen.”
“You need to catch your train,” she said, squinting in the direction of Union Station. “See you in another life, Ichy.”
He had a single chance to get it right. He didn’t like waiting until the last moment, but intervening earlier allowed far too many possibilities for failure.
Joe's irreversible loss troubled him, but the temptation was to attempt too much, to become—like Solomon Kent or his wife—mad with the power of altering the past.
He had almost gone mad with the possibility already: first, in the custody of Dreyfuss’s imposter FBI agents, and then, in the many hours alone between cases. Miss Jenny had thought his distance was healthy, a sure sign he hadn't given into his "emotions." Little did she or the others know. The Grand Grimoire—retrieved from a safe deposit box in the Sleepy Hollow Central Credit Union—had been tucked in his coat pocket when he had visited Abbie’s gravestone. It burned when he reached to touch it.
He promised her—in his head and sometimes aloud—that he would only use it when his grief had ebbed to a manageable level. And he imagined her admonishing him to “hold up” and “think, Crane” when his thoughts slid too easily to casting the spell. After all, rushing into it would only help ease his own agony. It wouldn’t save her.
He knew there would be no reunions, no reconciliations, no revelations, no redemptions; every comforting fantasy he had had of seeing her again had to be beaten back. Even now. He was glad for the probable (and unexpected) luxury of a separate physical existence from his past self when he traveled back. Without complication, he could plausibly avoid touching her, holding her, speaking to her.
It calmed his mind to think the letters would convey what couldn't be said directly, but, in truth, all that mattered was Grace Abigail Mills. What did his feelings--past or present--matter if she lived?
He closed his eyes to the New Jersey countryside speeding by and imagined the cold embrace of the Box.
It would be over soon enough.
He arrived at the Archives late in the afternoon.
“Well, Miss Mills,” he said to a photo of her he unpacked and laid carefully on the desk she’d used—next to the grimoire. “I am finally ready to keep my promises.”
He was sure he heard her chuckle in response.
Perhaps he had gone a little mad.