As You Are Now, So Once Was I

Part VII

April 12, 2017, 10:06 A.M.
Schoolcraft County Police Department
Manistique, Michigan

To say the atmosphere in the conference room is tense would be the understatement of the century. Quite possibly the millennium. The conspicuous absence of Morgan, and the very glacial exit and insubordination of Emily's radiate throughout. They, however, are not remotely the largest elephant in the room.

The elephant being, not unexpectedly, Dean Winchester.

Garcia and Reid glance at each other, trying to see if either has a definitive Plan. Seeing that they don't, they look to Rossi, the authority second only to Hotch that'd at least seemed open to the idea of Dean helping them out. Rossi keeps his gaze firmly on the grain of the old table; not because he doesn't want to reassure the younger two, but because he's not quite sure what he could say or express.

What, that he was considering taking a murderer up on his offer? No matter how innocent Dean postured himself, no matter how much he played up the green eyes and full lips—Rossi thinks that Dean didn't consciously do so, but that old habits die hard—to Garcia and J.J., no matter the intelligence he aimed to exude to pull in Reid, no matter the respectful semi-deference to Hotch. Rossi won't deny that Dean had all the tricks that would convince anyone, and doesn't doubt that, given enough time, he could sway the unit chief, but unfortunately, Dean had sensed his window of opportunity was up.

Rossi wonders what Morgan and Emily are up to, doesn't think it's even remotely in the vicinity of Hotch's wishes, and hopes they haven't gone and done something stupid. It's wishful thinking, and Rossi's a pragmatist, but a little hope never hurt anyone.

J.J., for her part, is busying herself with putting away her handgun, prolonging the movement as much as she can, whiling away the seconds. She has no illusions that Hotch will round on her first, seeing as how she'd been the one to support him fully, and then turned around and backstabbed him. (Of course, she allows, that's how Hotch would see it; it's not how she does.)

Truthfully, she'd been as surprised as everyone else when she granted Dean her agreement. From the moment he walked in, she'd been determined to not only flat-out refuse him, but send his ass straight back to jail. She knew about Dean's charisma, had witnessed it first-hand (albeit at an incredibly subdued level; Dean wasn't exactly a Chatty Cathy back in Illinois), and so knew what to expect.

It was like being T-boned.

One minute, she's stoic media liaison, walls up, gun trained on Dean's insides that were as a result at her mercy, just waiting for one breath from him she didn't like which would award her the opportunity to fire. She'd wanted to shoot someone anyway, after all the aggravation the case brought; Dean was just a convenient, guilt-free target.

The next, Dean's words, the gentle but firm way he orated, the genuine rawness over Xander's death, everything, had her finger edging away from the trigger, her hands relaxing on the pistol, sights dropping. The worst part was that there was a nagging part of her brain that was telling her she was being manipulated—no, not manipulated, won over—but she'd, for some godforsaken reason, shut it out.

She's not overtly sure what sentence or expression of Dean's switched her allegiance, much less why. No, she admits, that's not true. It was Dean's imploring mention of Xander's age, the unintentional parallel to Henry. Dean didn't know she has a child, didn't know Hotch has a child, and yet J.J. the Mother latched onto Dean's sincere tone of anguished hatred for the monster that did this. It ached for anything that could put away the killer; it wasn't J.J. the FBI Agent, and so was far from rational.

All that part of her saw was a man with quite possibly the brains and intuition to help them, to help give a semblance of closure to a grieving mother, and by God, she wasn't going to compromise that. For all she knew—hell, at this point, it's the unfortunate reality—Dean would spook and go underground again. And since neither Victor Henricksen nor anyone who worked closely with him was around to decipher the late agent's notes (not to mention it'd been years since the Winchester investigation was closed), the probability of catching Dean again would be phenomenally low.

Especially…especially without Sam.

J.J. knows that Dean turned himself in back in 2010 because something happened to his brother—she still doesn't know what that is—but in his most recent arrival, she saw something she hadn't four years ago: life.

Admittedly, it didn't look as if Dean was about to go host a neighborhood barbecue, but there was light behind his eyes, there was a certain set to his shoulders, and something she couldn't quite place. She does know for sure, however, that he was much less…dead…than he was the last time they met. Then, it was like Dean was only helping them because he didn't have anything else to do, and it was at least something to prevent his brain from turning to mush.

Now, though, Dean had come to them, and, moreover, had told them that he'd be willing to go back to prison as soon as they solved the case. The logical, federal portion of her positively screamed that Dean had been a professional conman and that bending people to his will was part of his skills; but the illogical, trusting, spontaneous part of her whispered in her ear that maybe Dean wasn't as bad a dude as he was purported to be. Brought up the fact that he'd been the guy to crack that one case years ago.

And, stupidly, she'd listened to it. (Hell of a time to decide to acquiesce to the devil on her shoulder.) She found herself giving in just as her colleagues had one-by-one, and, surprisingly, had seen the relief in Dean's expression and in the "I am?" he'd asked her. The question was so simple, so childlike, as though he'd asked for an extra piece of pie and was granted one despite that it usually was against the rules.

She brings herself back to the present with a whiplash, forcing herself to stop dwelling on what is obviously the past. Dean's gone, gone to who knows where, and not only had they let him do it, but she knows each and every one of them in the room, sans Hotch, had half a mind to go after him. To say, "Dean! Wait up. Have you found something? Please tell us you can help." None of them had—cowards, that really, really annoying portion of her brain snickered—but had stayed with their unit chief, watched as Emily and then Morgan left.

Of course, it isn't as easy as it sounds. Considering that they just let their first potentially major big break walk straight out the door to places unknown.

Now, give her some credit: she isn't about to hand Dean a trophy for Man of the Year, and she's most certainly in favor of escorting him to prison. The addendum being, just as Dean had proposed, he help them break the case first. The unbreakable case. The nightmare-inducing case. The case whose victim list now includes a boy not even into puberty yet.

J.J. looks at Hotch steadily, waiting for his eyes to come to hers. Eventually they do, sliding over slowly, the motion implying it's taking everything for him to do just that. "Do you realize what we just did? What I just did?" Hotch asks lowly, the flatness of his voice edging on frightening.

"Sir—" tries Garcia, fingering one of her gaudy rings anxiously.

"I let a serial killer walk right out those doors," Hotch interrupts, staring at J.J. "The bastard broke out of prison, got into a police station undetected, then came into a room full of FBI agents like he owned the place. And what did I do? I let him go."

"I wouldn't say that," Rossi forwards, shifting in his chair. Hotch looks at him incredulously. A lesser man would have shied away, but Rossi's endured much more than a glare from Aaron Hotchner, however searing it may be. "Some part of you was thinking what we all were: that he might be able to provide insight into this. That's not exactly worthy of capital punishment, Aaron."

Hotch is having none of it, the deeply ingrained principles that were instilled in him from childhood abuse, cemented in law school, and maintained in the Agency at a forefront. While the others are in different stages of seeing the gray areas, Hotch is firmly set in the black and white opinion.

"I don't care that he helped us four years ago," seethes Hotch, attempting and not quite succeeding to keep his voice unnoticeable to the milling cops outside. "He didn't have anywhere to go; there was no reason not to help. Now, he's free, and he can give us whatever information he wants, whether it's true or not. Hell, he's probably working with the unsub, and we let him stride right out into the public again."

Garcia scowls like she'd taken personal offense. "All due respect, sir, I don't think that's fair," she pipes up tersely. "He might've been accused of crimes in the past, but I've been working with all of you for a while now, and didn't see any of your guys' telltale signs."

"You haven't had the best track record with sensing if pretty faces are homicidal or not," snaps Hotch before he realizes the implications of his words.

This time, Garcia flinches as harshly as though Hotch had literally punched her in the face. She'd never—never—thought he'd say such a thing, not to her, not after she'd been shot. She'd learned her lesson, thanks very much, and she hadn't thought in a million years they'd blame her for what Colby'd done. She blamed herself enough; they'd never passed judgment on her.

"I—you—how—" She can't string two words together, and so, not seeing any of her colleagues' now incensed faces, she pulls herself and her purse out of the chair and hurries out the door, curled hair bouncing.

Hotch runs a hand over his face, his eyes closed, like if he shut the colors away, he could pretend he'd never said that. Not to Garcia. Never her. He hears a couple chairs scraping, and then footsteps passing him, one set hovering for a second before leaving.

So he's surprised when he feels a tentative hand on his shoulder, the touch barely permeating his tailored suit. He opens his eyes to see J.J.'s taut but somehow concerned face looking intently at him.

"Hotch…" she starts, not completely sure where she was going with it.

"I know," he replies. "I know."

"No, you don't know," she objects hotly, for the immediacy not seeing her boss, but rather a man who'd just made a very, very ill decision. "Garcia was just trying to make a point—"

"What, that Dean Winchester is suddenly a good Samaritan with no ulterior motives whatsoever? J.J., come on."

J.J. shrugs, trying not to get angry. "No one said he didn't have ulterior motives," she qualifies. "Just that…well, so what if he does? If it means we can catch this guy…"

"When did our expertise and work become less than adequate?" Hotch challenges, daring her to say different.

She doesn't choose to mention that there'd been another time where they'd temporarily lost faith in their abilities and had to resort to other means. "When a little boy got murdered, that's when," she says instead. "Just pretend he isn't Dean Winchester, but just plain…Dean. An outside source that wants to catch this guy just as much as we do."

"Can't do that, J.J.," Hotch replies after a second. "I already let him walk out of here like the smug son of a bitch he is, and I'm sure as hell not going to ask for his help."

J.J. stares at him. "You're not even going to consider—"

"No!" Hotch interrupts sharply. "No, I'm not. You may have become indecisive on our abilities, but I haven't. I'm not going to go to a killer and admit that we, behavior analysts with the FBI, need his, a mentally deranged fugitive, assistance."

"What's changed?" J.J. asks, honestly curious. "Why'd you agree last time?"

Hotch pauses, dropping his shoulders. "Because…because then there was no one to answer to," he concedes. "Because then there wasn't a boy's mother to explain how we reach a conclusion."

"So you're just scared to tell her who we had to rely on, even if he's a convict?" J.J. clarifies stiffly. "She's not going to care, Hotch, not as long as we get the guy in the end. Trust me."

She's still not sure why she's defending Dean so much, to her superior, but every moment she's having more confidence; not in Dean necessarily, but in Emily and Morgan's determination. They're far from stupid or impulsive people, and so if they have enough trust in Dean to use him for this investigation, she figures the least the rest of them can do is give the guy a chance. Particularly given Dean's track record. (By which she means his track record for solving unsolvable cases, not, you know, the other stuff.)

"That," Hotch concedes, "and the fact that it isn't like Dean's safely in jail anymore. He busted out, stole God knows how many things, and strolled into a P.D. That isn't a good check on his record."

J.J. laughs despite herself. "Ever think why he escaped?" she prompts. Hotch doesn't answer; more because he wants to know what she thinks than what she expects him to say. "What if he escaped because he wanted to help so much but couldn't from where he was? You heard him—he said he saw my press conference. Obviously he brought something from it."

"It was just an excuse," says Hotch. "People like that, they'll use anything to get out of jail."

It's something J.J. can't really disagree with. In fact, a mere ten minutes ago, she was fully in Hotch's line of thinking. "I know that's how Dean profiles," she says. She's aware no one was actively profiling the man, but it was an idle reflex of all of them nonetheless. Granted, not like Dean was all that difficult to do so. Judging externally, anyway.

"I just think that there might be something else there. Morgan and Emily certainly seem to. Are you saying you're suddenly not trusting them?"

"Of course not," replies Hotch, legitimately offended. "But that doesn't mean I can't question their choices. It's understandable—we're all stressed, and they evidently felt this was the right direction to go in—but the farthest thing from how we should approach this investigation."

Pursing her lips, J.J. leans against the edge of the table. "Hotch, forgive me, but I'm not sure even you were heart-and-soul against this."

"Beg your pardon?"

"If you really wanted to stop him and send him back to prison, you could've. You had a gun on your, and even if you didn't, it didn't look like Dean had all intention to bolt," she says. "But you didn't move."

"It…was a moment of weakness."

J.J. laughs, even though the circumstances are anything but funny. "Whatever," she replies. It's pretty obvious she's not convincing Hotch anytime soon. "We won't go after him if that's what you want. But if another person dies and Dean might've been able to help but we didn't consider talking to him…"

"J.J.," Hotch says in surprise. She'd rarely spoken against him so candidly, and he definitely is not a fan of the new behavior. "Don't. if anything, Dean would've hindered this whole thing. We're much better off without his input."

J.J. throws up her hands in defeat. Ultimately, regardless of how much anyone may not like it, it's Hotch's call. "Fine, we'll do it your way," she sighs.

Shooting a look at him, of which neither is absolutely positive the content, J.J. then departs the room, leaving Hotch alone to wonder just how the hell Dean had, in a measly two minutes, managed to turn his entire team against him.

April 12, 2017, 10:02 A.M.
Sunny Shores Restaurant
Manistique, Michigan

"So how should we do this?" Emily asks Morgan across the table, fiddling with the straw in her water as they wait for their breakfasts.

She hadn't wanted to stop, just wanted to forge ahead, but Morgan's stomach had made the decision (in spite of his "Of course that's what a diner in this town would be called."), and they chose the only restaurant-ish abode in the place. The waitress was nice, if kind of nosy—seemed like everyone knew about the investigation—but after they made it clear, in as kind terms as they could, that they wouldn't tell her anything, she bustled away with their orders for the chef's special.

They still aren't quite able to figure out just what the "chef's special" is, but Nadine the waitress assured them it was to die for, and when in Rome, right?

"You mean, how do we find an experienced criminal in a maze of Midwest byways that we don't know from a hole in the wall but he does?"

"If you're going to be so negative, go back to Hotch," Emily snits irritatedly.

Morgan raises an eyebrow. "Speaking of Hotch…"

Emily puts her head on the table with a dull clunk. "Ugh, don't remind me," she mutters miserably.

Chuckling, Morgan sips his coffee. "Aww, don't be so hard on yourself, Prentiss," he says lightly. "I'm almost eighty percent sure your ass won't get fired faster than this town can be driven through."

Without looking up, Emily dips her fingers into her water and flicks the droplets at him. "Not. Helping," she grumbles.

Luckily, Morgan's spared from answering—and, more importantly, choosing an answer that wouldn't cause him to get himself skewered—by the diner doors opening to reveal not just Garcia, but Reid and an only somewhat reluctant Rossi. Morgan shoves Emily's elbow, and she snaps her head up, ready to chuck the salt shaker at him, when she catches sight of her three co-workers.

"What are you doing here?" she asks, any ire she might have held overshadowed by her astoundment.

Rossi looks faintly amused by Reid's squirming (Garcia not so much, since she'd known about Dean virtually from the get-go), and accepts the role of de facto spokesman. "Turns out we're all suffering a psychotic break and so are willing enough to help you find him."

"Dean," Emily says reflexively. "It's not going to kill you to say his name."

"Testy, isn't she?" Rossi comments to Morgan.

Who holds his hands up defensively. "Don't look at me, man," he says. "I like my body intact."

Emily glares, but to Morgan's relief, her gun remains securely in its holster. "What changed your minds?" she inquires to Rossi and Reid. Garcia, she notices, is uncharacteristically silent and has a poorly-hidden expression of hurt on her face, but Emily gathers that this is neither the time nor the place to bring whatever it is up. "Would've thought you both would be behind Hotch on this. You know, Dean's being a serial killer of his own and all."

Rossi shrugs, the movement more casual than normal, and which causes Emily suspicion. "You backed me when I said I could use my 'contacts' to solve a case, and they weren't exactly orthodox," he says. "Least I can do is return the favor."

"Not that I'm not grateful, but you gave that favor to me four years ago."

"I'd take what I can get if I were you," warns Morgan.

To deaf ears, Emily not remotely acknowledging that he'd spoken. "Call it a…call it that I'm betting on the long shot—incredibly shady long shot—here."

Emily thinks about objecting to that, but truthfully, he's right on target. Even she isn't showing Dean all her cards, so to speak. "So…you really want to undermine Hotch—probably J.J. as well—just to gamble on the 'shady long shot'?"

This time Reid gives his position. "Murderers are the best profilers," he recites, the phrase being one they'd all used on more than one occasion. "I'm betting Dean's as good a poster child as any."

Emily gestures next to herself and her partner. "We could use some new ideas," she allows.

As Rossi starts to speak, Emily and Morgan look at each other, their faces saying nothing, but both thinking the same:

This might maybe just work out…

April 12, 2017, 10:45 A.M.
Manistique, Michigan

Dean parks just off U.S. 2, finding as obscure a spot as he can, and starts hiking in, despite himself relishing the stringent but clear some-sort-of-tree-scented air. The address being in Xander's file Dean makes his way down Cattaraugus Street to search out the house. Given that Manistique is no N.Y.C., he aims to use the same alias, not wanting to risk a "Hey…aren't you…?" situation.

Dean almost misses it, the house nestled behind some bushes and the street number in faded letters on the beaten mailbox. Having left everything but the stats sheet in the Jeep, Dean checks the address to be sure, and then tucks the sheet into his jacket.

He walks through the low gate and up the steps, ringing the doorbell. It takes longer than Dean would've expected for the door to be opened, during which time he perfects his bereaved best-friend-of-Kari façade. Simon Kirke, he remembers at the last second.

"Can I help you?" comes the greeting, a woman who Dean'd place mid-thirties leaning against the door like it's the only thing holding her up.

He'd expected the grandmother, since the overheard police report had said Xander was staying with her, but he assumes the mother—wherever she'd been—had returned immediately. Not that Dean is assigning blame.

Which makes him almost reassess the manipulation when he sees her. She looks frail, even though Dean's sure she's normally of healthy structure, her hair mousy and lank, eyes sunken and gray. Even if he hadn't known who she was, he would have immediately pegged her as a mother who'd lost a child. Heaven knows Dean's seen enough of them to know the type.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm Simon. Simon Kirke," he says, by pure reflex making his voice less hard and gravelly than usual. "I'm—I mean, I…was—Kari Jansen's best friend."

The woman frowns briefly in confusion before recollection enters her expression. "Oh," she says flatly. "Yes. She's the one before…before…"

Dean nods, unable to be so inhumane as to force her to say her deceased son's name. "I was…I was wondering if could talk to you," he says, slathering on some timidity.

"About what?" she asks, a veil of suspicion rising.

Even though it was already soldered, Dean amps up what Sam had once termed the "Look-how-cute-and-innocent-and-not-smartassy-I-am-come-hug-me" expression. Dean hadn't appreciated the name—Sam had had a colorful bruise on his bicep for two days—but apparently it was true enough, because it'd had a ninety-nine percent success rate.

"I don't know," he says softly. "I guess I was just hoping that there might be something that…that Kari and your son had in common to…to figure out what monster could be doing this."

The woman's suspicion increases, and Dean silently curses Sam. "You're a cop, aren't you?"

Dean shakes his head. "No, ma'am," he replies. "'M just Kari's friend. God, was Kari's friend…"

Dean looks down at her, and takes back his Damn it, Sam! thought when she opens the door a little wider, allowing him entrance. "Come in," she says with a sigh. Stepping onto the foyer carpet, the woman holds out her hand. "I'm Jenelle. Nathanson."

Dean shakes it gently, and rubs the back of his neck. (So he hadn't thought this entirely through—sue him.) Jenelle retreats into what Dean assumes is the living room, and returns with a dark wood picture frame. After a moment's hesitation, she passes it to Dean, who takes it with genuine surprise.

He stares at it, and tries not to make his reaction too strong as he looks at the recent photo of Xander. The boy's covered head-to-toe in mud but grinning widely, the same dog Dean'd seen in the other picture at his feet, tail mid-wag, and a slightly deflated soccer ball in its mouth.

Dean hands it back to Jenelle reverently. "Bet he liked the dog a lot, huh?"

Jenelle's mouth turns upwards the tiniest bit. "Yeah," she affirms. "He loved that damn mutt."

"What happened to it?" Dean asks, despite himself. Everything he'd ever heard and experienced about Labs said they were always right at the door when it was knocked on or rung.

Even the small smile Jenelle had given now drops. "Up in X—in—in his room," she says, once more unable to say Xander's name. "Hasn't left there since—he won't eat or drink, or anything. My husband called the vet. Supposed to be here tomorrow."

Dean gets the sense that she'd keep on about the dog if he doesn't stop her now, and while in the past, he and Sam would latch onto small talk like that to establish a connection with the person, he doesn't have the time now. Besides, he doesn't have to be a vet to know the dog is Little Ann personified. (Just, hopefully, with a better outcome.)

He hands Jenelle back the frame, and she receives it gratefully. Then she takes a look at Dean, as if she'd never actually realized she was talking to someone. "You're not from around here, are you?" she asks.

Dean shifts uncomfortably. "No, ma'am," he replies. "I'm from Independence. What, uh—I mean, am I that obvious?"

Had the situation been anything else, Jenelle would have chuckled. As it is… "Everyone 'round here dresses a certain way, holds 'emselves a certain way. You don't."

Looking at himself, Dean takes in his jeans, boots, plain gray tee shirt and green jacket with perplexity. Jenelle takes pity on him—even given everything—and tugs at the jacket and shirt.

"It's either plaid or hunting gear in the U.P.," she says. "You stand out."

"Guess the saleswoman did have it in for me then," comments Dean, making a mental note to give Emily a big "I told you so." (Which he then immediately recounts, since if the FBI doesn't want his help, then by God, he won't give it to them.)

Jenelle sends a strange side smile. "I wouldn't say that," she remarks. "I'm sure Amelia simply thought you would look better in these."

It takes Dean a second before he gets Jenelle's meaning, and he straightens his shoulders. "She always like that?" he asks, thinking of the saleswoman who was, to put it plainly, quite handsy. Granted, ten years ago, he would have welcomed it, but…the Apocalypse…and then Sam…whatever meager flirting he may have done wasn't remotely sincere. Dean knows what Sam would say if he saw him now, but that's moot right now.

Sam's gone. And he ain't coming back. The sooner he accepts that, the better.

(It's what he tells himself, anyhow.)

"Local boys don't seem to mind," answers Jenelle. She pauses, and studies Dean's face. "You don't look like you've slept for weeks, Simon."

Dean starts to answer, then gets an idea—albeit one that makes him cringe at the sleaziness of it. "Yeah, I've been havin' nightmares for a while," he replies. It's not entirely false, but not the truth, either. He's had nightmares, but not nightmares. (In the past few days.)

Jenelle nods, like she knows exactly what Dean's talking about. Which, Dean concedes, she probably does. "I'm afraid to sleep," she admits, folding her arms around herself. "Especially since…since his grandmother said he was having them right before…I just…I feel like…"

"Like having them would make you weak," Dean finishes, having felt the exact same thing. Whether it was with the dog on his bed, or whether he had a bed to himself, he'd always withheld his nightmares. Or, well, as much as he could. He never could risk tarnishing his invincible cover with Sam. And, for the most part, he'd always been effective. Until he came back from Hell, but that's really neither here nor there.

Jenelle looks at him curiously, but doesn't comment on how Dean can relate. "Yes," she affirms.

Then Dean remembers the other part of her statement. About Xander having had nightmares also before he died. As had Kari. Now, everyone has bad dreams, but…Dean's skepticism and hunter instincts kick in with full force.

"Did she happen to say what they were about?" he asks nonchalantly.

Jenelle shakes her head. "Not really," she says. "Just that they were really, really bad. I didn't think…"

Dean hastens to put a hand on her forearm. "It's not your fault," he says. "None of this is."

She looks as if she's going to cry, which Dean takes as a cue for him to leave. "I'm sorry for intruding, ma'am," he says. "I should go."

"You—you can s-stay, I'm s-sorry for—"


She shrugs (though it could have just been a sob). "I sent X-X-Xander's grandmother away," she explains. "I wanted to deal by m-myself, and…you kind of remind me of-of him."

Dean doesn't bother to hide his surprise as his eyebrows shoot up. "Of Xander?" he asks in shock.

Jenelle's lip trembles, but it's a "yes," Dean sees that much. "You just seem so much…"

Dean feels himself being sucked in, which he knows he can't allow. "I should be heading back to Independence," he lies. "I've done enough damage here."

He heads towards the door, but then stops. Through the front window, he sees two black SUVs drive up, and some very familiar people inside. Oh, shit… he curses in his head.

"Even just an hour?" he hears behind him, and he turns, Jenelle's face tear-streaked and red.

Feeling awful, but seeing the SUVs park, he feels his heart clench in self-hatred. "Maybe a short rest before I hit the highway," he says quietly.

Jenelle nods, her lip between her teeth, and points upstairs. "There's a guest room second door on the right. Please…stay as long as you c—need…"

Dean knows she's just acting out of grief, and that what he's doing is astonishingly inappropriate, but he hears the FBI's footsteps, and he's out of time. Putting his hand briefly on Jenelle's shoulder and giving her a quick but completely sincere thank-you, he takes the stairs three at a time, only pausing for a second when he sees what must have been Xander's room on the left, wholly untouched.

Sighing, he rushes into the room Jenelle had described, and shuts the door just as the front one opens.

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."
— Nathaniel Hawthorne