Title: Maison Belle 1/2
Summary: Sam and Dean are drawn into a hunt by a face from the past. During the hunt Sam does his best to cope with the aftermath of the events in Mystery Spot and find Dean a way out of deal. This takes place between Mystery Spot and Jus In Bello.
When the moving truck pulls out of the driveway, her first thought is this is a huge mistake. The house is too big. There's too much upkeep. Too much responsibility. She'll never be able to convert it into a bed and breakfast. And even if, miracle of miracles, she pulls it off, she'll probably go bankrupt the first month. She bows her head, takes a deep breath, exhales. She can hear her therapist's voice in hear head. You can do this, Jayne. Yes. She can.
Jayne roots through one of the boxes and pulls out a framed photo of Leo. He smiles at her from behind the glass, a blond bowl-cut and dimples. Jayne smiles back at him fondly, rubs a fingerprint off the glass with the sleeve of her shirt. She pulls a second frame from the box. Leo's older in this one, he's wearing glasses, braces on his teeth. The dimples are still there, though. Jayne's heart lurches, threatens to free fall. Nope. None of that. This is a fresh start. She's going to be okay. This will work.
She sets both frames on the coffee table. "Okay, kiddo. We're home. What do you think?" She folds her arms and surveys the room. This will be the parlor. She can almost see the guests sitting in front of the fireplace. The east wall will have a floor to ceiling bookshelf crammed with bestsellers, Agatha Christie mysteries, Lynda Barry books, and board games. She'll have a collection of tea cups–mismatched of course–along the mantle. She'll serve tea every afternoon with a complete silver tea service and finger sandwiches. And scones. And she'll play jazz and classical music and every room will be brimming with fresh-cut flowers.
The bedroom on the first floor will be a guest room. So will three of the four upstairs. The kitchen is modern enough for her to muddle through breakfast or lunch, big enough for the caterers. That leaves the last bedroom as an office and the attic is big enough to convert into a loft. Her loft. "What have I gotten myself into?" she mutters, but she can already feel the worry seep away. She can do this.
Her eyes skip back to Leo. "So I was thinking of calling it Maison Belle. That means 'beautiful house.' What do you think? Too pretentious? Too girly?" She can imagine Leo's response. You should call it the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast, and each room can be the name of a Star Wars character. Like, the 'Boba Fett Room' would be cool. And okay, the 'Princess Leia Room' if you want to be girly. And we could make a Darth Vader room and paint it black and it would be awesome!
Jayne smiles through the ache in her throat. God, how she misses him. This feeling of loss, it's constant. It grinds her down. It never ends. She wonders if it ever will, wonders if it even should. Sighing, she reaches for the recent photo of Leo and carries it toward the staircase. "I don't know about you, kiddo, but I'm off to bed. Your mom's exhausted. Moving sucks, believe you me." She knows Leo can't hear her, but she doesn't care. Talking to his photo makes her feel better. It's one of the few things that does. Along with Jerry, of course. She grins, suddenly giddy. Just wait until he sees this place. Maybe she can bribe him into helping her unpack. Free pizza and a deck of Magic cards used to go a long way back in the day.
She's thinking of the time Jerry showed up at her dorm with a sleeping bag and a six-pack when she realizes someone's standing at the top of the stairs. Her thoughts of Jerry freeze, then shatter. She's not alone. Jayne blinks, looks again. Someone is there, right there. Her mouth is dry, her heart hammers. Her fingers are suddenly slick with sweat. The frame slips, but she catches it, holds it against her chest like a shield. Leo gives her strength.
The top of the staircase is pooled in shadow, but Jayne can tell from the height and dress that the intruder is a woman. She's wearing some kind of old-fashioned get-up, a long skirt and a white lacey blouse with about five hundred buttons marching up the front. Jayne can't get a good look at the face, but it doesn't matter. She turns on her heel and sprints for the cordless phone that's sitting on the table beside a box marked paperbacks.
"I'm calling the police," she declares with all the volume and authority she can muster. Jayne snatches the phone and turns back to the stairs.
There's no one there.
Jayne stares, heart still drumming. She sets Leo's photo on top of the box of books with trembling fingers. What the hell? Did she just imagine it? No. Someone was there. Someone was in her house.
She presses the talk button, but there's no dial tone. Jayne stares down at the phone, betrayed. She presses it again. Nothing. This is bullshit, because she knows the line works, she's already called Jerry twice. So what–
The figure's standing in front of her. Right in front of her. Jayne drops the handset, too startled to move, to make a sound. The phone clatters to the hardwood floor, the plastic casing cracking and the battery bouncing out, a red wire connecting it to the handset like an umbilical cord. The battery is a small, black cylinder; it reminds her of a 35mm film canister, the kind no one uses anymore because everyone's got a digital camera. She stares at the battery because if she looks up she'll see–
She's not going to look. There's nothing to see anyway. Whatever's there (nothing's there) isn't real. She's dreaming. She's probably sprawled in front of the sofa, surrounded by half-empty boxes. She just needs to wake up. See? she scolds herself, This is what happens when you read too much Stephen King. This is what happens when you buy a huge-ass old house that looks like Poe scribbled Fall of the House of Usher from the attic. This is what happens when–
There's a hand around her throat and her feet are off the ground, and she kicks, she kicks, desperate to reach the floor, to connect to something, anything, oh God, oh Jesus, she's going to die. And now she has to look, she can't not look, because the hand (cold, so cold) around her throat is connected to an arm (bones beneath the fabric), and Jayne beats at the arm, pulls at the fingers, but they're steel, unyielding. The face looms before her bulging eyes and she wants to scream, but there's no air. She thinks Jerry, help me, Jerry, and the face before her isn't even a face, not really, it's a shadow, it's darkness, it's every nightmare she's ever had or will have. The thing flickers, words form from the dark space above the lace collar, below the shining blond hair.
--this is my house this is my house this is my house my beautiful house–
Jayne's foot catches the edge of the table and Leo's picture falls. The glass cracks. Leo smiles up at her, oblivious.
The shadowy face grows larger, the darkness pulls at her, whispering, soothing, and her last conscious thought is I'm coming, Leo.
It's Friday. Sam knows this because he's already had the TV on, muted, and checked. He's been awake for two hours, immersed in research. The sun pokes pale fingers through the blinds and Sam reads, occasionally scrawling notes onto a legal pad.
Dean's still asleep, hasn't popped out of bed with a genial rise and shine or up and at 'em yet. Dean's been in a good mood ever since he finally (finally) admitted he didn't want to die. Sam's known it all along of course, he's always seen behind Dean's carefully constructed mask. But now that Dean's said the thing is, I don't want to die. I don't want to go to Hell, Sam's kicked the research into high gear.
And it's Friday. Not Tuesday. It hasn't been that Tuesday for nine days now. But the fear, the desperation, the failure, they're still with him, constantly whispering in his ear. Sam's chest doesn't bear a scar from a bullet wound, but the scars the Trickster left him with run deeper and hurt more. When he's not reading up on neopagan worship rituals, or paging through The Prose Edda looking for information on the Trickster, he's counting down the days (too few) he has left with Dean. His head hurts constantly. It feels like his stomach and chest are full of hot ash. He shifts in the chair, hoping to alleviate the constant burning in his gut. It doesn't work.
The Trickster told him he couldn't save Dean. Sam doesn't (won't) accept that. But if he can find a way to summon the Trickster, to talk (beg, bargain, plead) to him, maybe he won't have to save Dean himself.
It's Friday, but every day is Tuesday now.
Dean's humming Damage, Inc. under his breath when he opens the door. He nudges it shut with his foot, precariously balancing multiple bags of fast food and two cans of Diet Coke. "Dude. A little help, here."
Sam glances up from the notes he's scribbling and frowns in confusion, as if Dean just juggled an armful of cats into the room instead of lunch. Then he shakes his head like a mosquito's in his ear and jumps to his feet. He grabs most of the bags, shoves a few books out of the way, and deposits the food on the table. He stares at one of the bags, eyebrows furrowed, then crosses his arms, clearly pissed. "Dean. I said no Taco Bell."
Dean huffs in annoyance. "What's the big deal? It's not like you have to eat it."
Sam promptly sweeps the offending bag into the garbage. "You're right. And now, neither do you."
Dean stares, open-mouthed. Well, shit. There went five bucks. Not to mention those awesome little cinnamon thingies. "Aw, come on. Not cool, Sam."
Sam shakes his head in apparent disgust at Dean's culinary choices and returns to his books, bitchface still firmly in place.
Dean's considering digging the bag out of the trash and throwing it at Sam's head when he twigs to why Sam's acting like a grade A jackass. He sighs and leans against the credenza. "Is this about the Tuesday thing again?" He snorts derisively. "What? I died from tacos?" As if.
Sam doesn't look up, but his lips compress. He flips a page noisily.
Dean lifts an eyebrow. Huh. "Dude. Seriously?"
Sam slams the books shut. "Yes, Dean. Seriously. You died from food poisoning." He runs one finger along the book's spine, his face suddenly haggard. "And you got hit by a car. And you were shot." He reaches for a haphazard pile of books and begins stacking them carefully, arranging two neat piles, lining them up on each side of his laptop. "Twice. And I– " Sam cuts off abruptly. He takes a deep breath, blows it out his nose. He pushes back from the desk and stalks over to his bed, smoothes the sheet, pulls up the faded comforter, his back to Dean all the while. "Just…never mind."
Dean pulls a hamburger from another bag and takes a bite. He tries to pretend it's a taco, but the pickles and extra ketchup make it hard. "Sam," he says softly. "I'm okay." He points to the burger. "Look, see? No taco. I'm fine."
Sam whirls on him then, and the look on his face effectively extinguishes Dean's appetite. "Yeah. Okay." He's breathing hard, shoulders heaving. The unspoken for now hangs heavy in the air, and that's when Dean finally realizes that even if he's fine, Sam isn't. And that makes him feel like shit.
It's obvious Sam's been upset about the deal ever since he (came back) figured out what Dean did. And Dean understands, he does. But doing research up the ass and having secret phone calls with Bobby is a far cry from the full-on freak-out mode Sam's spent the last week in. For the first time, Dean takes in just how many books are piled on the table. It looks like Sam just emptied out Amazon. Or robbed a library. And it's not just the increased research, or lack of sleep. There's a new desperation, an edge to Sam's voice that hasn't been there since right after Jess died. Dean doesn't know exactly what the Trickster did to Sam, but whatever it was, Sam's not (getting) over it.
Dean grabs the Burger King bag along with his rapidly cooling burger. "What are you, the maid? Knock it off and eat something. Jeez." He plops onto Sam's perfectly neat bed and wiggles his ass to mess up the covers. He tosses one of the pillows onto the floor. Sam stares at it, nostrils flaring, like Dean just threw down a gauntlet. "No way. If you touch that I will kick your ass. Now sit down for two seconds and eat your shitty sandwich." He thrusts the bag at Sam.
Sam purses his lips. "Fine." The 'fine' sounds exactly like fuck you, but Sam sits. He stares morosely into the bag before pulling out a container of onion rings. He regards them with an expression of extreme indifference.
Dean filches one and stuffs it in his mouth, hoping Sam will get the idea and follow suit. "I was thinking," Dean says, still chewing, "maybe we should go after the Trickster. We don't know where Bela is yet and it's not like we have another job lined up."
Sam's eyes shift from the onion rings to the book-laden table. "We've got plenty to do."
"Yeah, I get that you're working on..." Dean searches for a delicate way to put it, "stuff. But it just feels weird that we let the Trickster off scot-free back there."
Sam dumps the onion rings back into the bag and wipes his hands on his jeans. "He disappeared, Dean." His mouth curves into a humorless half smile. "It's hard to stake thin air."
"Yeah, but all we have to do is look for some kind trail. Look for a bunch of pompous assholes who've died or gone missing and connect the dots." Dean digs in the bag for an onion ring. "It shouldn't be all that hard. Easier than finding Bela, anyway."
"No." Sam stands, shoulders rigid. "Leave it alone."
Dean forgets about the onion rings. "What do you mean, 'leave it alone?'" It makes no sense. The bastard pretty much tortured Sam with a trip to the Twilight Zone. Okay, a few dozen Tuesdays in a row doesn't sound that bad, but watching Dean die every day couldn't have been a picnic. Especially if it was boring shit like death by taco. That's just embarrassing. And obviously, Sam's exaggerating, because it couldn't have been a hundred Tuesdays -- that's just...crazy. Okay, the Groundhog Tuesday thing is already crazy, so make that crazy-er. Because if it had really been that long, Sam would be doing the thorazine shuffle by now, not research. If he had been forced to watch Sam die a hundred times via tacos--or anything else—there's no fucking way he'd have put up with it. Once was more than enough. He'd be plenty happy to perforate the slippery bastard.
"I mean, I'm not going after him." Sam says slowly, enunciating each word. He gives Dean a calculating look. "Neither are you."
Dean crumples the Burger King bag. "Fine," he fuck-you's back at Sam. He lobs the bag at the garbage can and earns two points. "Just tell me why."
Dean's completely unprepared for Sam's reaction. Sam shoves a stack of books off the table and they crash to the floor in a heap. His eyes are wide, pupils dilated and he smashes his fist against the table. Dean's careful not to flinch. "Because he brought you back," Sam growls, and leans against the table, palms flat, fingers splayed.
The room is still for what feels like forever, but it can't be more then ten seconds. "From where?" Dean asks.
But Sam won't tell him, he just picks up the books and restacks them like he's building a wall. Finally, Sam slumps into the chair and focuses on the wall above Dean's head. Dean looks over his shoulder to see an ancient pink clock fastened to the paneling.
"Don't you get it?" Sam asks, his voice flat. "I need you around."
Dean shakes his head. "Dude, you don't need me. You got along fine without me at Stanford," he reminds Sam, "you can do it again."
Sam shakes his head, and his face goes blank. "I'm not the person I was at Stanford, Dean. Not anymore. That person is long gone. I feel like I'm barely even here, Dean. I'm just barely holding it together." Sam keeps his eyes on the clock. "I don't think I can make it without you around." He shrugs helplessly. "I don't even think I want to." Sam drops his head into his hands, pulls at his too-long hair. "You said I was a selfish bastard once, remember that?"
Dean tries to speak but his tongue feels like cement. That creepy monotone voice thing Sam's doing is starting to freak him out. He doesn't want to hear this. This isn't what he wants for Sam. Sam's supposed to be happy. Sam's supposed to be okay. He brought Sam back so he'd be okay. He tries again, and this time his tongue works. "I remember." How long ago was that? Two years? Forever?
"But you're the selfish bastard, Dean. You are. You brought me back just so I could watch you die." Sam rocks back and forth, his body rigid, right foot tapping restlessly against the floor. "That's not fair. That's not fair." Sam lifts his head, and his eyes are haunted and bloodshot. "How could you do this to me after what happened with Dad?"
Now it's Dean's turn to look away. He can't meet Sam's desperate gaze. Jesus H. Christ on a crutch. He didn't mean for this to happen. He didn't think about what would happen when he made the deal. He didn't care what would happen when he made the deal. Not really. He just wanted Sam. Simple as that. "I." Dean clears his throat, rubs his chin. "I just wanted you back." He wasn't thinking about Dad, he wasn't thinking about the guilt and despair he'd spent the last year slogging through, none of that mattered. Not compared with Sam. If he could go back in time knowing what he knows now, he'd do the same fucking thing. Is he a selfish bastard? Hell yes.
Sam hunches his shoulders and seems to fold in on himself. He doesn't look like a twenty-four year old man, he looks like a lost little boy. He looks the way he did when he found out the truth about Mom, about hunting. Maybe he never stopped looking that way, and Dean's just been too blind to see.
Sam swallows, Adam's apple bobbing, misery wound through every word. "And I don't want you to go."
Dean glances toward the books. "Maybe I won't have to. Maybe we'll find a way to keep me around. You know," he wiggles his eyebrows, grinning, "so I can annoy your ass for years to come."
Sam studies the floor. "Yeah," he says without conviction. "Maybe."
Sam lies in the dark, listening to Dean breathe. He can't sleep, doesn't even try. Instead, he counts. He doesn't want to, but he can't stop himself. It's become a nightly ritual, a habit he can't (won't) break. One, shot with a rifle. Two, hit by a car. Three, crushed. Four, food poisoning. Five, cracked skull. Six, electrocution. Seven, shot with an arrow. Seven, broken neck. It's like a sick nursery rhyme, something out of Ten Little Indians. Eight, suffocation. Nine, decapitation. Ten, asphyxiation. Eleven, mauled. Twelve, stabbed. Thirteen, hit by a bus. Fourteen, aneurysm.
The list goes on and on, all the way up to one hundred and three (gunshot). He remembers them all, feels each death whether he wants to or not. He can't find a way to scrub his brain free of those endless Tuesdays, or the cold, empty hell that followed. Instead, he lies in bed and fights sleep, because sleep brings nightmares. Nightmares that make him relive Dean's death again and again, remind him how helpless (useless) he is. At least when he's awake, he knows Dean's alive (for now). He doesn't have that luxury when he's dreaming.
Sam rolls over and watches his brother sleep. He feels the familiar sting of tears behind his eyes, but he blinks them away. He presses a hand to his belly; the pain feels like a living thing. He imagines a black tumor of fear in his gut, patiently gnawing a hole through his stomach lining. Eventually, that fear will leak through him, spread like a cancer. Eventually, it will suffocate him from the inside out.
He tries to think of something other than Dean. Anything. He concentrates on the sound of the ice machine outside, the rumble of the heater. Dean shifts and mumbles in his sleep. Jess used to talk in her sleep. Sam closes his eyes and tries to remember the sound of her voice, the sound of her laugh. He can't. He feels like some vital part of him is missing, and the pain in his gut flares. He shoves a pillow against his stomach, tries to tame the hurt, drive it away. It holds on, stubborn.
His mind inexorably returns to Dean's fate, the way a tongue searches out a loose tooth. He flips through the same worn options, examines them from every angle, discards them, and repeats the process. What has he missed, what hasn't he tried? He can contact Ruby. No. She's unpredictable, and a liar. Summon another crossroads demon? No. He doesn't even have the Colt to bargain (kill) with. Locate a spell, some misplaced ritual to protect Dean? Doubtful. Bobby hasn't found anything. Sam's still looking, always looking, but it feels like he's just treading water. A relic? Maybe. But from where? Again, Bobby's got nothing, and there's only so much time. From Bela? She's a lying bitch. He trusts Ruby more than Bela and he'd sooner kill her than ask for her help. Still, it'd be nice to get the Colt back. But...maybe. If he can't find the Trickster. Because that's what (who) he really wants. To find that fucking Trickster and make him talk (help). Yes.
Sam scrubs his face with the heels of his palms. He stares up at the ceiling. He doesn't see Jess there anymore. He hasn't for months, maybe a year. Now he just sees time slipping away. He can see it in the way the shadows slide across the wall. He can feel it, immutable and immune to his pleading or prayers.
It's at times like this, when he's been awake for hours and the darkness is thick with regret and heavy as guilt, that he thinks that somewhere, his real self is still in Kansas. He's in his nursery, in the old house, and he's safe. His whole life is one long dream manipulated by the Trickster. Mom's alive, Dad's happy, and Dean's gonna outlive everyone. Sam's gonna be a lawyer and he'll marry Jess and his biggest worry will be helping Dean get rid of a glove compartment's worth of parking tickets.
If the Trickster can make time loops and kill Dean, can't he make a life as well as take one? So Sam wonders how much longer, how much longer, and wishes with everything that's left of his heart for a fresh start. He wants to open his eyes and see his mother's smiling face and know he's free, finally free, and there's no such thing as ghosts or demons or destiny or lost souls or fathers who tell their sons, by the way, you might have to kill your brother.
Instead, when Sam opens his eyes, it's morning and Dean's grinning at him like he just won the lottery. He's snapping his fingers to some private rhythm, like he doesn't give a shit he's a day closer to dying, and he says get up lazy-ass, and he's got toothpaste on his chin.
Sam doesn't want to go out for breakfast. Okay, fine. No problem. Dean can just pick up a couple of Egg McMuffins or whatever and a couple of black coffees. From the look of Sam, he's gonna need five cups just to get through the next hour. The kid looks wrecked. Dean was sure Sam would feel better after last night's touchy feely emo shit (okay, fine, truth-telling). If that lame old saying about truth setting you free means anything at all, Sam should be bounding around the room, not bricking himself behind a wall of books.
Dean, on the other hand, slept like a baby. He doesn't feel half bad, all things considered. He stretches in front of the bathroom mirror, inspects his teeth, combs his hair. He can see himself in the mirror, but his eyes are on Sam. Sam looks like a robot, some kind of terminator typing so fast on his laptop, Dean half expects to see smoke rise from the keys. His gaze slides to Sam's neatly made bed. And that's just...weird. What is up with that? Sam's never been overly–okay, that's a lie. Sam's always been sort of a (annoying) neatnick, bitching about socks in the sink and personal boundaries and boring shit like that. But this is a little over the top, even for Sam. Dean can practically see the invisible line down the middle of the room.
Dean's side of the room actually looks lived in. The bed is rumpled, his duffel's open on the floor, a knife handle protrudes from beneath the pillow. Empty Coke can beside the bed. Socks on the floor, along with yesterday's newspaper. Nothing wrong with that. Sam's side, on the other hand, looks like the cleaning police made a surprise midnight inspection. Dean's pretty sure you can bounce a quarter off the bed. Sam's duffel isn't even in sight and the books he's not studying are stacked up like a skyline. There aren't any socks, cans, or candy wrappers in view. If Dean didn't know better, he'd think he was staying in the room by himself.
Dean's not sure if he should worry or not. It's not like Sam's in the bathroom scrubbing his hands ten hours a day. Being organized is supposed to be a good thing. He's never seen one of those lame PSAs about Sudden Onset Tidy Syndrome, after all. Dean's stomach growls and that brings him back to what really matters: breakfast. He wanders over to the table and raps Sam on the head. "How about coming up for air? I'm gonna go pick up breakfast."
Sam looks at him like he just spoke a foreign language, and not one of the billion or so that Sam understands. "What?"
"Break. Fast." Dean mimes lifting a fork to his mouth and pretends to chew. He lifts an invisible cup of coffee to his mouth and makes what he feels are especially convincing lip-smacking noises. "It's even better when the food's real, trust me." He shrugs into his coat, jingling the car keys. "So what'll it be? Cuppa joe? Hashbrowns? Breakfast burrito?" Dean's feeling generous. "Hell, I'll even get you a bagel."
Sam picks up a green marker and highlights something in one of the books, tongue tucked between his teeth, all concentration. "No thanks. I'm not hungry."
"No way, José . You're gonna eat something and you're gonna like it. Okay, fine, pretend to like it. So name your poi–" Dean recalls the taco debacle from the day before and switches gears. "–uh, what you want. I mean, have you seen your reflection lately? You make that zombie chick Angela look fucking radiant. At the very least you need about a vat of coffee."
"Fine," Sam nods, distracted. "Coffee."
Dean jingles the car keys louder. "And?"
Sam rubs the back of his neck, blows air out of his cheeks. "Um. I don't know. A large coffee and a bagel. That sounds good." He smiles, and Dean can tell it's forced, but it means something that he's trying, right? It's only forced because he didn't get a decent night's sleep.
Dean's got his hand on the doorknob when his cell phone rings. He pulls it from his pocket, flips it open, fully expecting to hear Bobby's voice. "Yeah?"
Sam's only half listening when Dean answers the call. He's reading about Ásatrú blot rituals, sacrificial offerings to the Norse deities: the Vanir, Æsir, and Jötnar. He's not interested in scarecrows or apple orchards or crops. He only cares peripherally about the endless stories of Odin, Thor, Frigg and Skadi. There's only one entity he's interesting in finding: Loki.
"Was there another plane crash?" Dean demands into the phone, and the thinly veiled fear in his brother's voice pulls Sam out of the book.
"Oh. Okay. Sure." Dean darts a look at Sam and eases himself onto the edge of the bed. "You're kidding. Shit." A pause. "Is she okay?" Dean glances at his watch. "No problem. Yeah. We can be there by this afternoon, let me get the address. One sec." Dean motions to Sam for a piece of paper but Sam slides the notebook out of reach, shakes his head.
Dean's face scrunches into a what the fuck look. He glares at Sam and holds his hand out. Give me the notebook.
Sam sets his jaw. No. He gestures to the books. We've got our own work to do..
Dean shoots Sam a death glare but it has no effect. "Uh, sorry Jerry. Can you repeat that?" He pulls a pen from his coat pocket and scribbles on the palm of his hand. "Okay. Got it. See you later." Dean flips the phone shut and stares at Sam. "What's your problem?"
"We've got more than enough to do right here," Sam says. "We don't have time to hunt, Dean." Dean's expression turns thunderous, and Sam works hard to eject the anger (fear) from his voice. "We can hunt after I find a way to save you. We can hunt for the rest of our lives. I don't care. I just…" Sam's gaze drifts to the cover of a book on Norse mythology, but he's not really seeing it. "We don't have much time, Dean." Sam sighs and the anger is all gone now, replaced with the familiar claustrophobic desperation. And pain. He grits his teeth against the gnawing ache in his stomach.
Dean pulls the other chair around to face Sam and sits. He leans forward, forearms on his knees. He opens his mouth, hesitates, pushes his lips out, scratches his neck. "Okay. I get that you're worried. You can hear the clock ticking down on me and that freaks you out." Dean snorts. "It freaks me out. But people need our help." Dean inches forward, eyes on Sam. His voice is soft, almost gentle. "How many people are you willing to let die just to save me?"
Sam's hands start to tremble, so he clasps them tightly in his lap. He can't meet Dean's eyes. There's no judgment there, but Sam can't look. "I don't know what you mean." It's a lie and they both know it, but Sam can't stop the words from coming.
"Yeah, I think you do. I know you killed that girl with a crossroads demon inside her." Dean swallows, rubs his jaw. "And you killed Casey and who knows how many others." Sam opens his mouth, face red, but Dean holds up a hand. "And I…I get it. I've killed my share of demons, Sam, including the people they were…wearing. I get you think you need to be more like me, be some kind of hardass. But you'll never be like me. I mean, for one thing, , it's just not in you to be this handsome." Dean tries to grin and nearly succeeds. Sam huffs angrily and looks away, fists curled. The remains of Dean's smile hit the floor. "I'm kidding," he says meekly, struggling for the right words. "But I'm a hardass so you don't have to be, Sam. You're the one who asks questions first…and if you don't, there's no…" Dean gestures impatiently, "there's no balance or whatever. We're a team, and we both got our part. My part is killing evil sons of bitches and being awesome, and yours is lots of reading, picking locks, and being freakishly tall." Sam glares and Dean chuckles. "Okay, we both kill the evil sons of bitches. But maybe we're getting—just a little, is all I'm saying--overzealous. I meant what I said back in that cabin with you and Dad, Sam. It scares me what I'd be willing to do to save you. And I'm starting to understand you'd do pretty much anything too."
"I don't think I'd make a deal with a demon. That was just plain stupid and dangerous, not to mention asinine and—"
"I get it," Dean interrupts blandly. He sits up, claps his hands on his thighs. "But I'm not gonna sit here and twiddle my thumbs when people need our help, Sam. That's not me. And I know damn well it isn't you, either."
Sam gathers his books together, defeated. He can't argue with that. And truth be told, he doesn't even want to. Dean's right. It's one of the things he loves most about Dean, makes him proud to be his brother. "Fine." He says the word quietly, not a fuck you this time, but a you win.
"Especially," Dean adds, "when those people are Jerry Panowski."
Sam's eyebrows pop up. "Jerry? Is he okay?" He recalls Dean's question about a plane crash. Jerry's a good guy. Shit. Now he feels like an even bigger asshole. "Was there--"
Dean heads him off. "Nah. His sister needs help. Said she was nearly killed last night."
Sam grabs his duffel, throws in his toothbrush and shampoo. "By what?"
Dean grins. "Some kind of spirit."
Sam's hand hovers over the duffle. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing. It's just nice to get back to something easy, you know? Take a break from demons and witches and time loops. I mean, how hard can it be to get rid of a ghost?"
The house is huge. Three stories of fancy-ass molding, towering eaves and brick chimneys across from a park. Pale blue flowers bloom around a giant porch. The house is painted a shade of green that probably has a stupid name like "sea foam" or "mermaid", with burgundy and light yellow trim. The fence bordering the yard and oversized driveway is also burgundy, but the paint is peeling, the fence splintered and broken in half a dozen paces. Some kind of flowering tree blooms in the front yard, spilling drifts of pink snow across the lawn. Which looks like it's a bitch to mow.
"Huh," Dean says, staring. "Doesn't exactly look like it's out of the Addams Family."
Sam shrugs noncommittally, runs a hand through his hair. Jerry's waiting for them and he waves. Dean nudges Sam. "Is it just me or is he getting shorter?"
Sam aims a silent shut up, it's just you at his brother and bounds up the front porch, hand extended. "Hi Jerry. It's good to see you."
Jerry nods, smiling warmly. "You too." The smile falters, and up close Dean can see he's oozing anxiety. "Just wish it was under better circumstances. I really appreciate you boys coming out here. I didn't know what else to do."
Large bay windows flank the ornately-carved front door. The center of the door is a long panel of stained glass that Frank Lloyd Wright would envy. "Anything else happen since we talked?" Dean asks. He takes a step back and squints up at the widow's peak. "What's up there?"
"It's an attic. Well, it used to be. Jayne wants to turn it into a loft." Jerry leans forward to shake Dean's hand as well.
Sam plugs his hands into his coat pockets. "How's your sister doing?"
Jerry tilts his head toward the door. "She's pretty freaked out. Come on, she's inside."
The front door opens into a large foyer. There's large antique-looking desk along one wall. The drawers sit beside it, filled with a hodge-podge of pens, pencils and office paraphernalia. A picture hangs above the desk, a woman standing in a field of flowers. Upon closer inspection, Dean sees the picture is a collage, made from bits of paper. The woman wears wings made from strips of newspaper and the flowers aren't flowers at all--they're hands. Dean frowns. Weird.
Jerry leads them through French doors--badly in need of cleaning-- into a spacious sitting area. The walls in the foyer are painted a deep blue, and the ones in the sitting room are burgundy. The dark colors work surprisingly well inside the house. Jerry leads them through the French doors and into the sitting room.
Jayne sits on a claw-footed couch, a fancy oak coffee table in front of her. It's huge and looks like another antique. Obviously, the woman has money from somewhere to buy a house this size and furnish it with decent stuff like this. A framed collage of what looks like torn pieces of old-timey advertisements hangs above a small roll-top desk. A fireplace sits against the far wall, a fire crackling merrily behind an ornate screen. A collection of framed photographs line the mantle, most of them of a smiling boy's face. One of the frames is chipped and missing the glass.
Jayne sits in the middle of the couch, and the first thing Dean notices is she's even shorter than Jerry. She can't be more than five three, and she looks lost within the cushions of the sofa. She's got a round face and a mass of blond hair pulled into an unkempt pony-tail. She's wearing burgundy-framed glasses, and Dean's beginning to wonder if the woman realizes other colors exist.
When they enter the room, Jayne's eyes go immediately to Jerry. She's clutching a flowery pillow, and her eyes are red and puffy. Jerry sits next to her and puts an arm around her. "These are the guys I told you about," he tells her.
Jayne stares up at Sam and he promptly seats himself in one of the large chairs. "Hi, Mrs. Robert. I'm Sam," he nods to where Dean's standing, examining a glass bowl filled with M&Ms. "And that's my brother Dean."
The woman nods. "Call me Jayne." One hand goes to her throat, hovers near the collar of her sweater. "I have to tell you I never...I never believed in this kind of thing. When Jerry said he had a poltergeist a few years ago I thought," her face flushes in embarrassment and her voice breaks, "I thought it was some kind of...of hoax. Something his wife was doing to get attention, to get the kids during the divorce."
Jerry gives her a fond smile. "Bet you feel pretty stupid now, huh?"
Jayne manages a watery chuckle and reaches beneath her glasses to wipe her eyes.
"Can you tell us what happened?" Sam asks, and despite the arm twisting it took to get him here, Dean notices he's got his sincere face on.
Dean pops a green M&M into his mouth and sits in the chair opposite Sam.
Jayne darts a look at Jerry and he gives her a slight nod. "Go ahead."
Jayne swallows and clasps her hands in her lap. "I just moved in yesterday. I was unpacking and…and I saw…" Jayne stumbles, at a loss for words. "I don't even know what I saw. It was like…an apparition." Jayne laughs, but there's no humor in the sound. "Oh forget it. It looked like a ghost. Like something out of a horror movie. It grabbed me and lifted me right off the ground." Jerry squeezes her hand. "I thought I was going to die." Jayne pulls at the neck of her sweater to reveal an angry necklace of mottled bruises. "The last thing I remember," Jayne sniffs and wipes her eyes again, "is looking at its—her—face."
"It was a female ghost?" Sam asks.
"Yeah. She was dressed like…oh, I don't know. Old fashioned. Long skirt and white blouse. She had blond hair pulled up into a bun."
Dean reaches for a handful of candy. "What did she look like?" Sam shoots him a look and Dean lifts an eyebrow. What?
Jayne's mouth twists into a miserable frown. "I don't know. It was like…looking into darkness, into nothing." She shivers and wraps her arms around herself. "I keep thinking I imagined it all, you know?"
Dean eyes the angry bruises on her neck. It happened, all right. He gives Jerry an expectant look. "And you found Jayne this morning?"
Jerry nods. "I was coming by to help her unpack, run errands, figure out some last minute stuff for the bed and breakfast."
Dean and Sam exchange a brief glance. "Bed and breakfast?"
"Maison Belle," Jayne clarifies. "Beautiful house. I spent almost all of my savings on this house. I took out a business loan. This house isn't just where I live, it's supposed to be my future. I can't afford to have everything fall apart now." She looks to Jerry, eyes wide. "The contractor is coming next week and I…I don't know what to do." She runs her hands through her hair. "I can't live here like this."
"They'll fix it," Jerry soothes with a pointed look at Sam and Dean. "They'll figure it out."
"I'm a little surprised you wanted to meet here, all things considered," Dean says.
Jerry pulls a plastic bag out from beneath the sofa, taps it with one foot. "I brought salt."
Dean stares, mouth open.
"I remember a few, uh, tools you and your dad used," Jerry explains. "I've kept a bag of salt in the trunk of my car ever since. And in the basement. And the kitchen. And the bedroom closet." He clears his throat, self-conscious. "You get the idea."
Dean's impressed. "Jerry, that is awesome." He beams a megawatt grin at Sam. "Man, I wish more people were like him, I really do."
"Yeah, that's great," Sam says in a tone of voice as plastic as Pamela Anderson's tits, and pushes himself out of the chair. "Okay, it's time you two left and let us get to work." He puts his sincere face back on and smiles. "Do you have someplace else you can stay? Someplace safe."
Jerry nods. "We're heading over to the Days Inn over on Franklin." He hands Sam a scrap of paper. "Here's the number."
Sam takes it, glances at the number and slips it into his shirt pocket. "Okay. Thanks. We'll keep you posted."
Jerry and Jayne exchange an uncertain glance. "You mean…that's it?" the woman asks. "You don't need anything else?"
Dean opens his mouth to reply but Sam talks right over him. "I don't think so," he says, and stands, subtly directing Panowski and his sister to leave.
"You guys are ready to start, um—" Jerry flushes, "—ghost busting?"
Sam nods, herding them toward the French doors. "No time like the present, right?"
"So what's the plan?" Dean demands. Sam's already at the car and Dean figures he wants to head to City Hall or maybe the library to research the house. But Sam just opens the trunk and pulls out the EMF meter and a duffel of weapons and heads back to the porch. Dean trails after him, annoyed at Sam's pace and more annoyed Sam is still trying to master Dean's shoot first attitude instead of sticking with his old standby of ask questions.
Sam shrugs. "The sooner we get this done, the faster we can get out of here."
Dean grimaces at Sam's back. "Okaaaay." He wants to say more, but he's not sure what, and Sam's already inside anyway.
Jerry waves to him from his truck and mimics putting a phone to his ear. "Call me when you know something, okay?"
Jayne pokes her head out the passenger window, eyes fearful. "Be careful."
"Will do," Dean calls back. "On both counts."
Dean watches Jerry back out of the driveway and heads after Sam. The foyer is empty, but the duffel is on the bottom step of the staircase, open. Dean pulls out a shotgun and checks to make sure it's loaded with salt cartridges. It is. Good. "Sam?"
"Up here." Sam's voice comes from the second floor, and Dean can already hear the buzz of the meter. Okay then. Maybe this won't take that long. Dean turns back to the duffel, intent on finding the gris-gris bags.
Sam's voice sounds again. "I've already got the bags. Come on."
Dean shakes his head. Jesus, how does he do that shit? "Hold your horses, Haley Joel," Dean mutters, and heads up the staircase. Sam's standing in a long hallway, fiddling with the dials on the meter. Old fashioned wallpaper with twirly vines and pink flowers accents the walls. Four rooms branch off from the corridor, and a large stained glass window sits above the landing, lighting another staircase that leads to the third floor.
The EMF meter buzzes louder. "You feel that?" Sam asks.
Dean nods. He sure does. The air is growing cooler. "We already know something's here. Why don't we split up and use the gris-gris bags to cleanse the house?"
Sam switches the meter off and stuffs it into his coat pocket. He shifts his shotgun into both hands. "We're not splitting up."
"Says the guy who left me in the dust."
"We should check the attic and basement first. Just to make sure there aren't any surprises hanging around."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Because the realtor wouldn't have noticed a moldy old corpse lying around? I'm thinking Jayne would have got a pretty sweet deal on this place if Mr. or Mrs. Bones was sitting around."
"Dean," Sam says, going into put-upon mode. "There might be hidden rooms or trap doors in a house this old. We should at least make a token effort, all right?"
Dean shrugs, walking beside Sam. "Whatever, dude. You're the one who wants to high-tail it back to your books."
"It's not like I'm reading for fun," Sam says quietly. "I'm trying to help you." His expression wavers somewhere between anger, hurt, and betrayal.
Dean wishes he hadn't say anything and pretends to study the ugly-ass wallpaper pattern. "I know. And I'm thankful, Sam. Believe me." He can feel Sam's eyes on the side of his head. "I am," Dean huffs.
"Let's just go," Sam says, and Dean's more than happy to oblige.
They move down the hall, methodically checking the first two rooms. They're both bedrooms. Neither is furnished. None of the closet doors move, the only sound is their footsteps, but the temperature drops even lower. The late afternoon light shines weakly through the colored glass, frost creeping up the edge of one pane. Dean shivers. "How come ghosts never make it warm? Why's it always have to be cold?" he complains, and purses his lips. He glances into the third bedroom. Still nothing. Sam opens a closet. Even more nothing. They return to the corridor. "So do you think this ghost haunted the previous owners or just–" Dean trails off, his attention drawn to the wall.
"Or just what?" Sam prompts.
Sam glances back at Dean, concerned. "You okay?"
Dean jerks his head toward the wall. "You see that?"
Words are appearing all along the right-hand wall. Black letters bloom across the wallpaper like water stains, the same two words again and again: GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT in spidery block print.
Sam blinks. The words unfold across the flowered paper like warped origami. They spread up to the ceiling and down to the faded carpet, as if the letters are living things. Get out of my house, get out of my beautiful house, get out. Black ink curls across the carpet in long tendrils, dark fingers reach toward his shoe. Sam takes a step backward and lifts the shotgun warily. "Dean?"
Dean's still watching the wall. "So much for the welcome wagon."
That's when Sam sees it: a figure materializing below the multicolored glass window, with blond hair and in Victorian dress. And there's nothing but gaping darkness where the face should be.
Dean nearly jumps. He swings around, finger on the trigger, to find a boy standing behind him. Dean's mouth is dry, his palms are not. "Who the hell are you?" He thinks it's the ghost, but it doesn't feel right. This isn't some faceless woman, this is just a kid.
The boy nods toward the stairs, a what are you, stupid? expression on his face. The boy motions at Dean, his message clear: Get out of here!
"Dean, come on," Sam puts a hand on the back of Dean's jacket and herds him toward the stairs. Sam pauses long enough to take a shot at the misty figure and it evaporates in a blur of smoke and salt.
"What are you doing?" Dean demands, confused. "The kid's behind us." Dean looks around, eyebrows in a V. Shit, he's gone.
"What kid?" Sam wants to know, eyes darting around the hallway.
"The kid that was standing right there," Dean snaps.
Sam risks a quick glance at Dean. "I didn't see a kid. Just the woman."
Now Dean's eyebrows jerk upwards. What the fuck is going on? "What woman?"
Sam rolls his eyes. "The ghost."
The words on the walls are fading now, twisting and withering like dried leaves and they float to the floor like ash.
Dean scowls, bending down to touch the ash. "What the hell?" He stands, wipes his hand on his jeans. "It just melted! Like ice." He scratches his chin. "I'm starting to think a little research might not have been such a bad idea."
Sam doesn't reply because the ghost is back. She flickers into focus and reaches a hand toward Sam.
you did not heed my warning you will die you both will
Sam's jaw clenches and he fires again. "Go to hell," he grits and she flickers like static. The smoke clears and she's gone.
"What the fuck are you shooting at?" Dean yells. "What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with you?" Sam counters. "Are you blind?" Sam doesn't understand what Dean's problem is, the ghost has shown up twice already, and Dean's just standing there, babbling about a kid.
Dean advances toward the second staircase. "Dude, it's fine if you want to shoot first and ask questions later, but you might want to wait until there's something to shoot at."
Sam stares at him in astonishment. Like he's supposed to wait until the ghost is actually choking him? He's been there, done that more times than he cares to count. "She was right there," Sam says, pointing toward the ornate window. He's about to say more, but the sight of Dean's face squeezes the words back down his throat. He chokes on them.
Dean's face is colorless, like milk. Sam can see a cross-work of pale blue veins beneath his brother's skin like a roadmap. Dean looks at him and his eyes turn cloudy, like muddy water. The skin on his hands and neck begins to crack and pinkish fluid leaks down his shirt and onto the carpet.
Dean gags and falls back against the wall, head tapping a staccato rhythm, heels drumming against the floorboard. Sam surges forward and grabs Dean, presses a hand to his face, holds him upright with the other one. No. No. This isn't happening. Sam searches desperately for Dean's pulse, but all he can feel is his own desperate heartbeat throbbing in his fingertips. All he can hear is the harsh buzzing of blood in his ears. "Dean. Dean."
Dean shoulders his shotgun and leans against the wall, trying to work out if they should go upstairs or get the hell out. He taps his head against the wall and blows out a weary sigh. His breath forms a tiny cloud in the chill air. Sam's acting weirder than normal and he's more than a little unsettled by the strange little boy. Can the ghost change its appearance? Why would it bother?
He's about to tell Sam to screw it, just go with the Missouri method when Sam leaps at him and sticks his giant Sasquatch hand all over Dean's face, then fumbles his fingers into Dean's neck. "What the fuck?" Dean yelps, and tries to shove Sam away. But Sam won't go. He's latched himself to Dean and he's muttering, face chalky, eyes rolling, and Dean's annoyance dries up fast when Sam croaks Dean? He sounds like he's seven years old, and Dean decides if he hadn't already made a deal with a demon he'd gladly make one to ensure Sam never sounds like that again.
Dean grabs Sam's wrist and wrenches it away from his face. "Sam. Sammy." But Sam can't or won't hear him, because he's looking around wildly for someone else.
"I know it's you!" Sam shrieks. "Come out, you bastard. I don't need your lessons," Sam says, voice hitching. "Leave me the fuck alone and give me my brother!"
Dean grabs Sam's shoulders and shakes him. "Sam, I'm fine. I'm fine." Sam's looking at him, but he's not seeing him. That's when Sam's face goes perfectly blank. Everything drains out of it until there's nothing but cold hard edges. It's a look Dean's never seen before, and it's a look that makes Dean feel nauseous, because Sam's gone.
Sam looks at Dean's corpse. He pushes the agony away, down into the darkness inside him, puts the fear on top of that. Dean's dead. Again. Dean is always dying. And that's when he realizes it's always been Tuesday. It's always going to be Tuesday. Dean was attacked by that poltergeist when he was fourteen. Dean was bitten by the black dog when he was twenty. Dean was electrocuted when he was twenty-seven. He was tortured by the yellow-eyed demon and hit by the truck later that year and nearly died. Sam saw his heart stop, saw the doctors work desperately to bring him back. And then his life started ticking away thanks to (Sam) the crossroads demon. Then came everything in Brewer. And now this. Sam lifts a hand to Dean's chest and holds it there, as if he can will Dean back to life.
That's when Dean (is dead) says I'm fine. Sam can feel the laughter rise like bile and he stuffs it down with his other emotions. No, Dean's not fine, he's dead. And the Trickster still isn't done with him. Now he's going to put on a fucking show.
Sam licks his lips, tries to think, but he can't. He can feel the pain (loss) looming, and he feels broken, unable to function. He is pain. He's made from it, he's going insane because of it. He has to get rid of it. He has to put it away. He needs to bury Dean (is dead) and find the Trickster. So he takes a step back and drives his fist right into the wall. Wallpaper tears, plaster breaks and hard wood meets his knuckles. It hurts like a bitch, and he's glad. This is his pain. He controls this, no one else. He pulls his hand back out and the head of a thin nail is embedded between his first and second knuckles. He can hear Dean's voice in his head it's about time you finally got nailed, Sammy and the laughter bubbles harder, higher, and he grins.
Dean (is dead) reaches for him, grabs his shoulders with blackened fingers and speaks through blue-tinged lips. "I'm not hurt, Sam. This isn't real."
Sam stares. Dean is dead, but he's moving. Dean is dead, but he's talking. Dean reaches for Sam's injured hand and holds it carefully, inspects it and Sam lets him, because maybe this is what he gets. Maybe this is life's compromise. Maybe Dean dies, but he remains, like the glow after a flash photo. And maybe this isn't really Dean, maybe it's part of Dean or mostly Dean or a memory of Dean but Sam doesn't care, not at all, because any kind of Dean is better than none. Any part of Dean is better than being alone with himself. Maybe this is the Trickster's doing and maybe it's not, but whatever it is, as long as Dean (is dead) is talking to him, he'll take it.
Holy fuck, Dean thinks and stares at Sam's hand. Blood flows freely from his knuckles and there's a fucking nail (a nail!) stuck in Sam's hand. He's starting to get an idea of what Sam was like all those Tuesdays and he's pretty much decided he's going to kill the Trickster himself no matter what Sam says. Then there's a pull on Dean's shirt and standing there—again—is the boy. He's got straw colored hair and nerdy glasses and he's trying to physically drag Dean down the stairs. "Get out of here," the kid says, face twisted in concentration.
"Who are you?" Dean demands.
"She's coming," is the kid's answer and that's all the incentive Dean needs. If this is the kind of mojo Lady McFaceless can do to Sam, he's more than ready to haul ass. He pulls Sam along and Sam comes, docile enough until they get down to the foyer. Then Sam starts laughing, great hysterical guffaws until he's bent double.
"I got nailed," he tells Dean. "I got nailed."
"You sure did," Dean mutters. The boy is gone again but the front door swings open. Sam's hand drips blood onto the wood floor and as he watches, the red droplets spread and join and form the words GET OUT. Dean does.
Dean (is dead) pushes Sam ahead of him and they burst out onto the porch. Sam stumbles and promptly falls down the three front steps and onto the pavement. He throws his hands out to catch his fall which turns out to be a bad idea because all that happens is a bolt of pain explodes in his hand and flashes up his arm and the nail goes deeper into nerves and tendons. He rolls onto his side, vomits into the grass, and everything goes dark.
When Sam opens his eyes he's on his back. A cloud sits like a white Buddha above him, and his hand is filled with glass. He shifts and turns to see Dean (is dead) crouched beside him, staring anxiously into Sam's face. Wait. Dean looks. Dean looks not dead. Sam bolts upright, nearly smacking Dean in the forehead. "Dean?" His eyes travel over Dean's face, his neck, his hands, checking, memorizing, hoping. Dean's eyes are clear, his complexion is good, his lips are chapped, but they're nowhere near blue. Sam grins like a loon and thinks thank you God until it dawns on him this might be another trick, another trap, and his smile deflates just like his hope. He drops back onto the grass and waits for the kind of pain that's far worse than what's in his hand.
"Sam? You okay?" It's a stupid question but it's habit, it's what he says, it's his job to ask Sam shit like this, to take care of him, and unlike some people, Dean fucking loves (Sam) his job. Sam's not okay, not even close. His hand is toast and his forehead is scraped raw from where he took a nose-dive off the porch, but both those things pale in comparison to Sam's schizophrenic ranting upstairs.
Sam turns his head away, eyes still closed. He swallows and his forehead creases, and Dean can tell he's trying hard to act calm. "Are you dead?" Sam asks and his voice is dry and flat as pavement and Dean wants to pretend Sam's joking, that he's goofing around, that he's being an ass, but Dean knows better. He wants to deny and cajole and wink and smirk his way out of this, but he can't, because Sam opens his eyes and looks at him with a dull stare, already resigned before Dean says a word.
Dean coughs, but it does nothing to dislodge the hot embers from this throat, does nothing to stop the stinging behind his eyes. "I'm not dead," Dean says firmly. "Whatever you saw in there, Sam, it wasn't real."
Sam watches him for a long moment, and when his eyes finally flood with tears, Dean curls his fingers into the collar of Sam's coat and if his own eyes are wet, there's no around to see.