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After. After Abbie disappears into the tree and the Eye—after Ichabod drags himself out of the rubble, he finds the two of them—Pandora and the Hidden One—standing on the banks of the river, gazing upon the surface of the water. They are quiet and serene, clasped in one another’s arms. Pandora lifts her head to kiss her lover, a victorious smile curling her lips up at the corners, and something tightens in Ichabod’s gut.

He can hear faint shouts at his back—Jenny and Joe, he thinks—but the rushing in his ears drowns out their voices. They sound faraway, as if they’re on some other plane of existence.

“Turn and face me,” Ichabod demands, with a firmness to his tone that he has no right to.

Ichabod ought to be collapsing right now. He is but a home without a foundation. He stays upright, though, through sheer force of will. He must not fail her again. He will not fail her again.

Pandora glances at him over her shoulder, eyes glistening a reptilian gold. “So kind of you to join us.” She turns to face Ichabod, gathering her skirts. The Hidden One—her husband, such an absurd thought—hovers behind her, letting one large hand come to rest on her shoulder.

Ichabod lifts his hands, showing his palms. He approaches cautiously, his footsteps light, ready to flee if need be. “I'll do anything. Whatever you request of me, I’ll do. All I ask is that you allow me to swap places with Miss Mills. One life for another.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Pandora says, letting her skirts down with a hiss of brocade. She presses herself against the Hidden One’s side. “She’s chosen her fate. It is sealed. As is yours.”

Ichabod hears thundering footsteps behind him and he whirls around; Joe and Jenny converge upon him, tugging him back. He twists and turns in their grip, entreating upon them to let him go. When he finally manages to wrest himself away, Ichabod realizes their enemies have vanished, leaving behind only a faint indentation in the soft grass. He goes over and crouches by the spot where they stood, touching and twisting blades of grass between his fingers. Sighing, Ichabod gets to his feet and goes back over to Jenny and Joe.

“They’re gone, Ichabod,” Jenny wheezes, falling to her knees and resting her head in her hands. Joe lets go of Ichabod to tend to her, pulling her sweat-soaked hair away from her neck. She pulls herself to her feet with a weary groan and slaps dust off her pants. “I’m fine, Joe. Really. Fit as a fiddle.”

Joe seems skeptical but unhands her and turns his full attention to Ichabod. He carries with him a pouch, from which he produces a small brown bottle, white gauze pads, and bandages.

“We’ve no time to waste,” Ichabod says, waving Joe off with a flick of his wrist. “I must find Abbie.”

You?” Jenny arches her eyebrows at him and puts her hands on her hips. “You’re not doing a damn thing without me.”

“I think we need to all just take a moment, decompress. Get checked out at the hospital. I’m pretty sure we all have concussions, at the very least,” Joe points out, far too reasonably, as he administers to Ichabod’s cuts and scrapes.

Ichabod grits his teeth but makes no move to shake Joe off. “We’re wasting precious, valuable time. Every second spent in—in—is another second Abbie is not here. With us.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Jenny approaches him, something like a challenge in the set of her jaw and her thin, unsmiling mouth. “I know better than anybody what’s at stake here. And you’re not gonna help Abbie one bit running around half-cocked. Especially not when you’re possibly suffering from a head injury. Joe’s right.”

“You’d take his side, wouldn’t you?” Ichabod sniffs, imperiously, before he can quite restrain himself.

Jenny’s eyes flare and, for a moment, Ichabod wonders if the magic of the accursed Eye has truly left her body. She rounds on him, hands clenching into fists. “What did you just say to—”

“Guys, come on.” Joe steps between them, putting a hand on Jenny’s shoulder. “We’re gonna get you two to the hospital, get you checked out. Then we can go from there.”

Jenny huffs indignantly and shrugs Joe’s hand off her shoulder. Ichabod doesn’t miss the look that passes between them, awkward, hesitant—and something else. He files that away in his memory banks for later.

After a few moments of tense silence, Ichabod assents, following after them to the car.

***

Ichabod lets himself into Abbie’s home with spare the key she keeps under her welcome mat. The place is large and empty, cavernous. Her absence is a physical presence, pressing and weighing on him, squeezing like a band around his chest.

Jenny and Joe had offered to come back with him, but Ichabod insisted on going alone. After much hemming and hawing, he’d finally convinced them to go on their way. They were but a phone call away, at any rate. And Ichabod had needed the solitude of his thoughts.

He moves through Abbie’s place like a ghost, wandering from room to room, as if searching for a sign of her in the lay of the curtains or the way sunlight catches in a windowpane.

Ichabod ascends the stairs. His footfalls echo and he feels the reverberations in the center of his chest, a loud hollow sound like the clanging of a bell. The sound of his footsteps make his head ache. The sunlight is too bright, almost blinding in its intensity.

Everything is too much.

Ichabod comes to her room and everything around him—the sounds, the light, the pounding on the inside of his skull—grinds to a sudden halt.

She’d left her bedroom window open to let in the breeze the night before, and the curtains are fluttering like wings. He remembers this, remembers Abbie telling him it was much too warm in her room. He’d told her she ought to close the window, lest she catch cold.

He lingers in the doorway, swaying against the wooden frame for a moment. Abbie should be here, slumbering in her bed. If he could have bade himself to run, if he could have gotten to her before she disappeared to parts unknown—without him—maybe—

It is here, now, that Ichabod wishes he’d been brave enough to have gone after her.

Something rises in him then, something hot and twisted, red and angry. It boils him from the inside, this sudden surge of anger. The anger whispers to him. Taunts him. He is a coward.

He should have sacrificed himself for Abbie and her sister, for Joe, for the town. It should have been he who made the final sacrifice, not Abbie. Never Abbie.

Ichabod strides into her room and slams the window shut. He grasps the windowsill in shaking hands and sucks back trembling breaths. The curtains stop moving with the breeze.

Stricken, Ichabod wonders if the breeze had been Abbie, or perhaps a sign from her from the underworld. Katrina—now, there is a name his mind hadn’t alighted on in some time—had sent messages to him from another realm. Perhaps Abbie might send him messages, also.

He looks about the room, takes in the simple decor. The plain white walls, the pale blue curtains, the framed pictures of her sister and mother that adorn the walls. On the nightstand are an array of smaller, pewter picture frames, bearing images of Jenny, Frank Irving, her mother Lori, and Ichabod himself.

Ichabod sinks slowly onto the bed in, he thinks, shock. He picks up the frame that contains the picture of himself—smiling, squinting at the camera, flashing two fingers in an attempt to appear modern, cool. Like a parent trying to win approval from their more worldly offspring. Ichabod chuffs out a soft laugh, in spite of himself. How funny that Abbie would keep this unremarkable picture by her bedside, surrounded by images of people very dear to her.

Ichabod places the picture back on the nightstand and closes his eyes, rubs at his temples. His head aches—he did have a mild concussion, after all—and he’d been sent home with a prescription for pain medication and instructions to avoid harsh light and loud sounds. Joe and Jenny had promised to bring Ichabod some medicine and Chinese take out later, after the two of them had had a moment to unwind.

With a weary sigh, Ichabod lays out his aching body in Abbie’s bed. This feels intimate, almost, like a breaching of her privacy. But he needs this, needs the comfort. Desperately. He hopes that Abbie would understand.

Ichabod pulls one of Abbie’s pillows—it still smells of her scent, a mix of her favorite perfume and something undeniably her—against his chest and breathes in deeply.

He lets his eyes shut, Abbie’s pillow still clasped against his chest, and soon he sinks into a restless, dreamless slumber.