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The grief was never truly gone.

It sat in the back of his mind, lying in wait for the perfect moment to strike. A constant companion to go along with the one he gave himself years ago, in the fiction that he’d been led to believe.

It was always at the most inopportune moments. Always something small, something almost innocent. He’d catch the eye of a werewolf lounging on the floor of a saloon, and he’d remember the stories Hank told about Lupe. He’d be standing at the wings, watching Mary sing the intro and waiting for his cue, and he’d see Helen in her place. At the end of every song, he wanted to ask Han what she thought, if there was anything he should change.

But she wasn’t there. None of them were. And even with Mary there, even with Hurl, he felt alone.

In moments like that, Henry almost wished that he’d asked Mary to wipe his memory before they came back to the cabaret, and leave him as Henry the Alchemist again. He couldn’t have done that, though. They were his friends, and they deserved better than that.

Things were better now, in the cabaret. He was more than just a performer, he didn’t wake up every week on stage. He and Mary had lives outside of the show, actual lives. It wasn’t always easy, though. He woke up most nights with a gunshot still ringing in his ears, or with the sound of Han sobbing fresh in his mind. Faint memories of Gadfly, pacing and panicking and going mad in a place where all he had to look forward to was an ass. He was beginning to remember other things, too. Bits and pieces, flashes of a life once lived. Kneeling beneath a holy symbol as he was beaten, sobbing as they tried to remove his sin. There was no life for him outside of the cabaret. He’d known that; it was why he chose to stay with Mary. Remembering only drove the point home.

At least he had easy methods of escape. Plans for when things got to be too much to handle. Letting Hurl out was easier now; he’d stopped drinking his elixirs when he came with Mary into the cabaret, and it only took a moment of fantasy for the beast to rise and take over. Hurl was always happy to come out and give Henry a break. He was nowhere near as hurt by all of this; after all, his needs were all met in Lost Hollow. Henry was the one left dealing with the aftermath of these visits. The debilitating hangovers, the walks of shame. Sometimes, even that was too much for him. When he had a moment free, some time to burn, he’d hop on Yates and ride past the edge of town, out into the desert.

It was easier to process everything away from the town, away from the constant reminders of his missing and fallen friends. Sitting in the sand, his back pressed to a rock as he stared out over the horizon, he wondered if his was how Helen felt when she thought of Shira, of the carnival, and her knowledge that someday she’d end up there too.

For once, he understood.

He couldn’t do this forever. There would come a time, someday, when it had to end. The carnival music would play, and he’d make his way back to Raven and the floozies. Hurl would like it there. The wild man had been right beneath the surface the whole time they’d been there.

The sun had just begun to rise when Henry made his way back to town, ready to face another day and survive.

Chapter Text

Healing happened slowly. Slowly enough that one was never truly sure it was happening.

One by one, things got better. The nightmares of his friends eased up, though there was still a past life for him to deal with. The memories he had of them stopped bringing him nearly to tears, and made him smile instead as he looked at them fondly. He let himself grow closer to Mary, no longer afraid of losing another person he cared about, and even after everything, he came to see her as a friend.

He spent years in the cabaret as Sheriff Henry, keeping their part of the collective unconscious safe and the masses in the real world entertained. Part of him wondered, as it always would, what might have become of him if he’d stayed out there. What sort of life he might have lived, if he would have healed as he did here or if he’d be worse off. He didn’t have any regrets, though. The choice he’d made was the right one. Just as he knew that his next one would be.

Staring out across the desert horizon, the cool air on his skin and the wind blowing his hair back, he knew that it was time. He’d spent so long in the cabaret, he needed some sort of change or he’d go mad. Maybe he was already going mad, and this was the first sign. He could almost hear that carnival music, playing in the distance. He felt a longing, an itch under his skin, for a change of pace. Henry would welcome chaos with open arms.

It didn’t take long for him to get his affairs in order. Mary was sad, of course, but she understood his decision. The cabaret was the only place for her; it was made with her and the rest of the AI’s in mind. Henry, though...he was antsy. He needed change, he needed something new.

It didn’t take long for him to pack his things and load them up onto Yates. There was no telling how long it would take him to find the carnival. All those years ago, he’d had his friends with him. Maybe Helen was the reason they found it, since she was the conduit. Maybe it was Han, since she was post-human. Maybe they just got lucky, and he’d get lucky again.

He couldn’t sit here and worry forever. Henry knew that if he waited, he’d just talk himself out of it. There was no big farewell from Lost Hollow. With a hug from Mary, and one last look at the town that had been his home for so long, he was on his way.

There was no way for him to know how long he’d been traveling in the seemingly endless desert. The days seemed to drag on, as did the nights. He slept when he could, when he felt like he’d gone far enough, resting only when necessary. The supplies that Mary had given him were much appreciated, and he tried to ration as he ate. Not for the first time, he was jealous of Hurl; the man didn’t have to endure this. Henry would let him out, if he wasn’t worried about waking up seventy miles in the wrong direction.

When he finally caught sight of a cluster of tents in the distance, lights shining brightly against the night sky, he almost thought it was a dream. Surely he couldn’t have actually found it? As Yates brought them closer to it, the sounds and smells grew more and more vivid. Music, people talking, people laughing. Henry stumbled as he climbed down from his horse, tying him off onto a post outside the gate before making his way inside. It was populated, unlike the last time he’d been here. More than that, it was thriving.

With everyone around, and the carnival in full swing, Henry felt more than a little lost. He wandered for a few moments, taking in the sights, until he felt someone grab his arm. One of the carnival workers, grinning widely up at him.

“Don’t worry, baby,” she said. “I know exactly what you need.”

Henry’s eyes went wide, and he tried to stammer out an assurance that he didn’t need any help, he was fine, thank you very much. The woman paid him no mind, though, pulling him through the maze of tents until she got to what she appeared to be looking for; a small shack. She knocked twice, gave him another grin, and disappeared without a word.

Henry was frozen in place, his eyes wide as she left him. He didn’t need to wait long to see what she thought he needed. The door handle jiggled before it opened up, and before him stood a man he’d only seen for a short time years ago.

Raven looked him up and down, confusion evident in his eyes, before Henry saw the recognition dawning. Behind him, he could see a lilac doll sat on a ratty couch. It’s head was tilted to the side, as if curiously examining him. The man before him grinned, as if pleased to see him.

“You know, I was wondering if you’d ever show up. I have been looking forward to this since I saw you before. Now,” he said, grabbing Henry’s lapel, “let’s discuss your employment.”

With a hard yank, he pulled Henry inside, the door slamming shut behind them.