DISCLAIMER: I do not own Pretty Little Liars and all its characters. All characters in this fanfic except for maybe two belong to PLL. A few events in this fanfic were borrowed from the PLL storyline.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Below is a lengthy version of what this fanfic is all about since the summary only allows 300+ characters.
The violent and sudden tragic death of Paige McCullers' parents more than two years ago resulted in the deterioration of the relationship between Rosewood's once "IT" couple, Emily and Paige. Devastated by her sudden loss, Paige vows to find out the truth about everything that happened that fateful night and decides to leave Rosewood and Emily behind to search for answers. Emily, guilt-ridden for her indirect role in Paige's loss, struggles to come to terms with Paige's decision to end things between them for now and desperately tries to move on in the two years they were apart. However, Paige's unexpected return to Rosewood dredges up old wounds and feelings and the once prominent "IT" couple is forced to confront the issues between them once and for all. Emily's hope for a reconciliation between them is shattered when she realizes that Paige didn't come back for her and that she didn't come back alone. Noticing the change in Paige, Emily comes to understand that Paige has let her darkness and rage inside consume her and decides to do everything she can to prevent Paige from doing something she wouldn't be able to come back from. Changed by the events since her parents' death, Paige refuses to let Emily in and succumbs to the darkness and rage she has been keeping at bay, vowing to do whatever it takes to avenge her parents.
~This is my first ever fanfic so please be nice with your comments/criticisms. Thanks!~
Chapter 1: Coming Home
"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned." – Maya Angelou
"We need to get her to the nearest hospital."
"Calm down. We'll get there. Just keep your eyes on the road Nick."
"Damn it. I can't see anything in this freaking weather. You better dial 911. Tell them there's a fire in the marina."
"Ok. Watch your speed. The road's slippery."
"We need to get to the hospital fast."
"I know. Just be careful."
"She's so cold."
"Emily she's going to be fine. I think there are some blankets back there. Try to keep her warm."
"Paige! Thank God you're finally awake. It's okay, you're safe now. Take it easy. We're taking you to the hospital."
"What? No. No hospital. I'm fine."
"You need to get checked out just to make sure you're fine."
"Dad? Mom? What's going on? How did you find me?"
"Emily asked for our help when she realized you were missing."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do."
"You shouldn't have dragged them into this."
"I know. I panicked. I'm so sorry. But I can't lose you."
"I'm fine you guys. Really. Just take me home. I just need to rest for a bit."
"Just to be sure, we're still taking you. We're almost there."
"Dad watch out!"
Paige jolted awake, her heart pounding wildly in her chest. Another nightmare. She took a deep, shaky breath and sat up from the bed. Disoriented, she took a minute to calm down herself, ran a hand through her hair and then looked at her surroundings. Her eyes fall on the clock on the bedside table. 3:21 am. She placed her head on her hands and sighed. Dad. Mom. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes and for a moment she almost let them. Almost. She angrily wiped her eyes and clenched her teeth. She could feel the rage inside her start to build again. She took a deep breath and started to count. One. She closed her eyes and bit her lip so hard she could taste blood. Two. She clenched her fists tightly willing the darkness to subside. Three. Her head was starting to pound. Four. She fought the urge to vomit. Five.
"Hey." A voice from the doorway said cautiously, stopping her in mid-count. "May I come in?"
Paige swallowed and opened her eyes slowly, looking in the direction where the voice came from. A sliver of light from the hallway illuminated the dark room. She nodded silently, grateful for the distraction.
"Another nightmare?" Dani asked while she entered the room and closed the door behind her. She walked towards Paige and sat on the edge of the bed.
"What gave it away?" Paige asked bitterly, not bothering to try and pretend it wasn't. "My violent trashing again? Your neighbors probably heard that."
Dani shook her head before adding, "You were yelling."
Paige laughed drily. "Great. As if trashing around and having recurring nightmares weren't enough, now I yell in my sleep. I'm sorry I woke you up."
"I wasn't sleeping." Dani hurriedly assured her, giving her a small smile.
"I just wish the nightmares would stop." Paige said quietly.
"I know." Dani looked at her sadly, noticing the dark circles under her best friend's eyes. She was at a loss as to how to comfort Paige. Ever since that night Paige showed up unexpectedly on her doorstep after her parents' death and asked for her help, her best friend hasn't been able to sleep well. There was never a night that Paige didn't wake up trashing violently from a nightmare ever since she came to live with her.
"Same dream?" Dani asked cautiously. She knew Paige wasn't really the type of person who talks about her feelings. They've known each other for years. When something was bothering her, Paige would rather keep it to herself than talk about it. It would take some coaxing to get her to open up. That was before the accident. Now, Paige was even harder to talk to. One wrong word or gesture and she completely shuts you out, retreating to her own world. It scared her sometimes.
Paige just nodded. "Why were you still up?" she asked, trying to change the subject.
Dani decided not to force the issue and took a deep breath before answering. "I was following a lead. I think I found something." She hesitantly pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from the back pocket of her shorts. "I was going to show this to you in the morning but…" she shrugged, "I was going through some of the footage my brother sent us the night of the fire at the marina. Again. I don't know. Something just bugged me, like we were missing something important. So I decided to watch the footage for that entire day and not just moments before the fire. At first nothing seems out of the ordinary, people just coming and going. Until I saw this." She hands the piece of paper to Paige. "I don't know what to make of it actually. But it seems kind of weird so I thought you should see it. Notice anyone you know?"
Paige took one look at the contents of the paper and felt her blood run cold. "I want to see the footage." She said, standing up and heading for the door.
"It's in my room." Dani said quickly.
Once they were in her room, Dani went straight to her desk where her laptop sat. The desk was cluttered with various printouts, maps and gadgets Paige knew only Dani and her brother could operate. She was reminded again how lucky she was to have Dani and her brother on her side. Dani sat in front of her laptop and began sorting through the footages. Paige looked around and found a chair, grabbing it and positioning herself beside Dani. Dani finally stopped at a particular footage and turned the laptop so it was facing Paige. She then pressed play. Paige watched intently, holding her breath. As the footage continued to play, she felt herself getting anxious. This was it. After years of following leads that mostly led to dead ends they found something. Something big. And she knew what this meant. Apparently, so did Dani and she was the one who dared to speak what they knew they had to do.
"We're headed back to Rosewood aren't we?" Dani asked her in a tone that told her Dani knew the answer to that question already. Paige looked at her and saw the fear in her best friend's eyes.
"Dani you don't have to go back with me. You've done enough." Paige said, knowing if Dani came with her it could mean reliving some painful memories.
"Are you kidding me? I won't let you do this alone. Not now." Dani argued. "We're leaving in the morning." She said, turning the laptop around to face her once again. She began typing something in it.
"What are you doing?" Paige asked curiously.
"Bus schedules. We need to know the earliest time we can get there." Dani said. "I'll give my brother a heads up."
"Wait. Dani are you sure that's the right move? Maybe someone else should meet us when we get there. Just to be safe." Paige reminded her.
Dani stopped what she was doing and faced Paige. "Someone else like Emily?" She asked warily. She couldn't help it. Even after Paige assured her repeatedly that things between her and Emily were over she still felt insecure when it came to Emily. Sometimes Dani felt like something was happening between her and Paige. She could feel it when Paige looked at her or held her hand briefly. But maybe it was just her imagination. She knew at the back of her mind that Paige still loves Emily even if she won't admit it. Still, she hoped one day Paige would finally tell her she wants to be with her.
She sighed. Emily. The center of Paige's life in Rosewood. The center of Paige's existence actually. She didn't know exactly what went down between them. Paige rarely talked about it. But from what she's gathered, since the accident things between them were never the same. Emily blamed herself for Paige's parents' deaths and while Paige repeatedly assured her it wasn't her fault, she still refused to open up to Emily, slowly causing a rift in their relationship. Finally, Paige decided to leave Rosewood and Emily behind knowing things will never get better between them until she finds out what really happened that night.
Dani was distracted from her thoughts when she saw Paige shake her head. "Not Emily. Dani you know things between us are over and she's with someone else now. And that's the way things should be." She took Dani's hand in hers and squeezed it lightly, causing Dani's heartbeat to race. "I was talking about Hanna."
"Oh." Dani smiled, relieved. "Hanna's cool but… can we trust she won't tell Emily?"
Paige nodded. "I trust her. I'll tell her I can't let anyone else know we're back. Not yet. She'll understand."
"Okay. If you trust that she won't spill the beans then that's good enough for me." Dani said. She reluctantly removed her hand from Paige's to continue working on her laptop. "I'll book the tickets. You better start packing."
Paige nodded once and then stood up, heading for the door to go back to her room and start packing. When she finally reached the safety of her room she sighed. Rosewood. Paige felt a wave of sorrow hit her. Emily. I can't bring her into this mess. Not yet. Not until we have enough proof. Shaking out of her reverie, Paige reached for her phone on the bedside table and nervously dialed a number she has come to know by heart.
"Hey Hanna. It's Paige." She said nervously before looking at the clock on the bedside table once again. 5:06 am. "I'm sorry for waking you up. I know it's been a while since I called you but I need a huge favor. I'm coming home…"
It was a little after 3 in the afternoon but the rain was pouring so hard in Rosewood one would think it was close to night time. It seemed like everyone had places to go, people to see. Despite the gloomy weather the streets of Rosewood was teeming with people. Emily rushed past some of them in the opposite direction, in a hurry but still careful. I can still make it. She thought before checking her watch for the umpteenth time. Looking up, she checked both sides of the street before crossing to the other side and hurriedly made her way to the structure in front of her. Half running, half walking briskly, she stopped for a minute in front of a window to check her reflection. Not bad. God Em, try not to look so giddy and excited. She chided herself. Tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear before nervously bringing her hand to the ring on her necklace, she noticed she was trembling. Biting her bottom lip, she nervously looked down on the bouquet of flowers she held on her other hand. She sighed with relief when she saw that it was still intact. Okay. I can do this. There's absolutely no reason to be nervous. Willing her hands to stop shaking, she took a deep breath and checked the time again. 3:15 pm. Just in time. She hurriedly joined the crowd in the bus station, her eyes scanning everywhere for a familiar face. She brought her free hand once again to the ring on her neck and started playing with it. Paige. Where are you?
"I just think it was a bad idea." Aria said to Hanna as they walked briskly towards Spencer's house, in a hurry to get out of the pouring rain.
"No it's not!" Hanna said indignantly. "They haven't seen each other in two years. I think I did them a favor."
"What you did was barely a favor Hanna. It's an ambush. For all we know Paige has moved on. Like Emily did. Briefly." Aria said, shaking her head at Hanna. "I mean two years is a long time to be apart. You shouldn't have told her that Paige is coming back today. There's a reason Paige asked you to pick her up Hanna, she's not ready to see Em."
"Okay why are you being such a downer right now?" Hanna asked, annoyed. "It's bad enough the weather's ruining my day not to mention my hair, now you're making me feel all kinds of guilty. This is Paige we're talking about Aria. The girl who has been in love with Emily since forever. And we both know Emily never got over Paige. Hence that messy, short-lived fling with Tara the co-worker."
"Will you stop calling her that? Just call her Tara. And you said it yourself; Paige HAS BEEN in love with Emily. People change Hanna." Aria said while opening the door to Spencer's house.
"Feelings don't. Not overnight. My plan was romantic!" Hanna stubbornly replies while following Aria inside, closing the umbrella and placing it on the porch.
"Two years is not exactly overnight Hanna." Aria said before calling out, "Spence?"
"Upstairs!" Spencer's reply was muffled.
Aria and Hanna made their way to Spencer's room and knocked twice before opening the door. Spencer turned around from her laptop screen to greet them.
"Hey guys! Just a sec, I'm just finishing up my essay for my History class. I need to turn this in before 3:30." Spencer said then turned to face her laptop again.
"Why didn't you come with Em anyway?" Aria continued their conversation.
"She didn't want me to. She said she wanted to surprise Paige by herself." Hanna replied while checking her reflection in Spencer's full-length mirror. "Plus I think she was just really nervous about seeing Paige again and she didn't want anyone to see how their reunion goes down."
"I have a bad feeling about this Han. There's a reason Paige asked you to pick her up instead of Em." Aria said warily.
"You said that already." Hanna replies exasperatedly.
"And done." Spencer said, closing her laptop and facing them again. "What's up? What's this thing about Paige and Em?"
"Paige called Hanna out of the blue this morning and told her she was coming back today." Aria began.
"Way too early if I do say so myself. I was barely awake the entire time we were on the phone. But I didn't mind. I was just glad to hear from her again. I agreed to pick her up but after that call I suddenly had this brilliant idea to tell Em so she could surprise her instead." Hanna grinned proudly.
"But I think Paige had her reasons why she called Hanna and not Em." Aria argued and then looked at Spencer. "What do you think?"
Spencer pursed her lips and furrowed her brows before speaking. "Uh Hanna, what exactly did Paige tell you when she called?"
Hanna thought for a moment before replying. "She called me at like 5 in the morning and I was so out of it I barely remember her exact words. I think she said something about it being kind of sudden and she knows it would be weird but she was hoping I could give them a ride from the bus station."
Spencer and Aria looked at each other before Spencer leapt into action, fumbling to get her phone. Aria turned to look at Hanna.
"What time was she supposed to arrive?" She asked frantically.
"3:15. What's up with you guys?" Hanna asked, confused.
"She's not picking up." Spencer said while trying to dial Emily's number again.
"Try Paige." Aria said. Turning to look at Hanna, she worriedly says, "Let's hope we get to Paige or Em first before they see each other."
"Why?" Hanna asks, still confused.
"Hanna. You didn't find it odd that she told you it might be WEIRD but THEY needed a ride?" Aria rolls her eyes. "She didn't come back alone."
Emily continued to nervously scan the crowd for Paige. She was getting restless and more nervous if that was even possible as the minutes passed. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. When Hanna told her this morning that Paige called her out of the blue to tell her she was coming back today and asked her for a ride from the bus station, she could swear her heart did an actual somersault. Paige was coming back. Finally. She kept her word.
Two years have passed since they last saw each other, since the day that Paige decided to walk away from their relationship in an effort to keep Emily from coming with her. Paige thought Emily wouldn't understand. That she wouldn't forgive her for leaving her behind. But Emily understood what Paige needed and wanted to do. Playing again with the ring around her neck, she thought to herself, I knew she'd come back to me. So why was she so nervous? Maybe because at the back of her mind she knew there was a reason she called Hanna and not her. It had been bothering her ever since Hanna broke to her the news but when her friend suggested that she show up instead to meet Paige all thoughts of why she would call Hanna and not her vanished. She just wanted to see Paige. In the two years they spent apart, she rarely heard from Paige. During the first few months of their separation, Paige called her constantly. But as the months passed, the calls became less frequent. Until one day they just stopped coming.
In the days that followed, she stubbornly refused to leave her room and if she did leave it, she still kept her phone with her at all times, afraid Paige might call and she would miss it. Then one day she realized this was Paige's way of telling her things were over between them. That she was cutting all ties with Emily. She was setting her free. The realization was so sudden, so gut-wrenching, she couldn't breathe. That was the second time she broke down since Paige left her. For days she was inconsolable. She didn't know how she felt. She was heartbroken of course. She was shattered. She was mad at Paige. She wanted to be mad at Paige. But she knew she couldn't be mad at Paige. Not when the reason Paige left in the first place was because of the decisions she made that night. After all these years she still blamed herself for being the reason why Paige's parents were gone. She was suddenly hit with a wave of nausea. She wanted to get out of there. She had to. I shouldn't have let Hanna talk me into this. It was a stupid, stupid plan.
Just as she was about to turn around, she caught sight of Paige. Her nervousness was suddenly gone and she felt ecstatic again. She was about to call out to her when she saw her look back and stopped to gesture to someone behind her. When she saw who it was, Emily felt lightheaded. They haven't seen her yet. She took the time to study them. She felt a pang of longing and jealousy and her throat constricted. Paige was more stunning than she remembered. But it felt like she was looking at a stranger. Something was different about this Paige and it frightened her. She seemed darker, full of pent-up rage she didn't know Paige possessed or was even capable of feeling. Whatever happened to her out there, she didn't find what she was looking for. Emily suddenly realized that Paige came back to Rosewood. But not for her. Not yet. That's why she called Hanna. She was brought out of her reverie when she saw the girl beside Paige touch her arm rather affectionately before whispering something in her ear. Dani. Emily thought. I know she didn't come back for me. But why did she come back with Dani?
Paige sighed for what felt like the hundredth time, scanning the crowd again for Hanna. "Maybe she forgot to pick us up." She told Dani while searching for her phone.
Dani stopped looking around to touch her arm reassuringly and leaned in close so that Paige could hear her against the sound of the rain and the din of the crowd. "I'm sure she's around here somewhere. Don't worry, after that bus ride from hell I wouldn't mind standing for a few minutes."
Paige looked at her gratefully and was about to tell her something when she felt her phone vibrate. She looked at it, confused.
"Why is Spencer calling you?" Dani asked curiously.
Paige shrugged before answering her phone. As she brought it to her ear, her eyes focused on a lone figure standing in the crowded bus station, one hand fidgeting on her necklace, the other holding a bouquet of lilies and her breath caught in her throat. If it was possible she looked even more breathtaking than she remembered.
"No wonder you girls are getting harassed by 'A' on a daily basis. You guys suck at keeping a secret, you know that?" she said edgily to Spencer, never taking her eyes off Emily.
"We know. And I'm so sorry. We're too late aren't we? Emily saw you guys already." Spencer said dejectedly.
"Yep. Just now. We are staring at each other as we speak." Paige said to Spencer, trying to control her annoyance while waving hesitantly at Emily. Emily gave her a tentative wave in return.
"Who did you come back with?" Spencer asked.
"Dani." Paige said while still staring at Emily from across the room. By the looks of it Emily already saw who she was with. Great. Paige thought to herself.
"Oh no." Spencer whispered.
"Yeah. Exactly my thoughts." Paige said. "You know what Spencer, it's fine. Next time I need a ride remind me not to ask Hanna for one. I'll talk to you guys later."
As she hung up her phone, she looked at Dani. "So. There's been a slight mix up. Remember what you said this morning about me asking Emily for a ride when we get here and me reassuring you I have no intention whatsoever to tell her we're back?" She said cautiously.
"Yeah." Dani said.
"And me telling you we could trust Hanna with this secret?" She continued.
"Yeah." Dani repeated.
"Uh. Don't freak out but… I was wrong on both counts." Paige said apologetically. "It won't be weird if it turned out Emily picked us up would it?"
Dani shrugged nonchalantly, trying hard not to let Paige know this sudden change of plans really bothered her. "Fields? Not really. I mean, like you said, it's all in the past. Right? She has a new girlfriend now. It's totally not weird. At least not for me. We came back to Rosewood for a reason and that's not Fields."
"I know. I just want to make sure that you know that being around her won't change things…" Paige started to explain.
"P, I'm over it. Honestly. It's fine. Let's just get this over with." Dani said, trying to hide the frustration she was feeling.
"Dani things are different now and I just…" Paige clenched her fists and tried again, "I have no intention of getting back together with Emily. I just need you to know that."
Dani squeezed her hand for a second and nodded. Paige was starting to get agitated. She needed her to calm down. "Hey. It's okay. I hear you. No need to get yourself worked up. Let's just go meet her."
Taking a deep breath, Paige nodded and started walking towards Emily, dreading the moment she would come face to face with her ex-girlfriend. Behind her, Dani sighed and followed silently; steeling herself for the moment she had been dreading ever since they left for Rosewood that morning.
Emily felt her palms begin to sweat and for a second felt like she was going to pass out. They're coming over. She smiled at them weakly even if it was the last thing she felt doing. That's it. I swear Hanna is so dead.
"Emily." Paige said in greeting, her voice barely registering any emotion. Emily almost choked back a sob. I missed her so much. I missed hearing her voice. I missed hearing her say my name. In that moment all Emily wanted to do was wrap her arms around Paige's neck and never let go. She smiled in greeting and looked at Dani.
"You remember Dani." Paige gestured.
"Who wouldn't?" Emily said rather harshly, making Paige tense. Emily noticed this sudden change in Paige's posture and she wondered if there was something she should know. She turned to look at Dani and nodded at her. "Hey."
Dani smiled at her and said, "Fields. You look breathtaking. As always."
Emily was taken aback. She and Dani never got along and Dani never complimented her. At least not sincerely. But now Dani really seemed to mean what she said. "Thanks. You look good too. Both of you." she said, her eyes lingering on Paige. Something's definitely wrong.
"Uh, here." She shyly handed Paige the flowers. "Welcome back. I was in a hurry. Sorry for the mix up. Hanna left a crucial part out." Emily rambled on; knowing Paige understood she didn't expect Dani was coming along with her.
Paige nodded and wordlessly took the flowers, careful not to make contact with Emily's hand. Emily felt her face flush with embarrassment. Paige was standing right in front of her but she felt like they were still miles apart. Paige was making it clear she didn't come back for Emily. Trying to swallow the bitterness she felt, she cleared her throat and started to walk towards her car.
"We better get going. My car's parked this way." Emily led them to where she parked her car, silently cursing herself for even bothering to buy a bouquet of Paige's favorite flower at the last minute.
"Thanks again for picking us up. You didn't have to. You must be busy with your classes and swim practice. I'm sorry for bothering you." Emily didn't notice that Paige was walking beside her and she felt her heartbeat quicken. She missed being this close to Paige.
She shrugged, trying not to show Paige how much being near her again was affecting her thoughts. "It's not a big deal really. I don't have swim practice and I only have two classes on Fridays. I'm done for the day." Then before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "I missed you." There. She said it. She anxiously held her breath, watching Paige from the corner of her eyes, waiting to see how she would react to those words.
Paige didn't say anything for a second before speaking again; her steps almost faltered but she quickly steadied herself, trying not to show how those three words Emily just uttered affected her. She thought she could handle being around Emily again. She actually believed what she said that morning to Dani. That things were different now. But now, walking beside Emily, seeing her again after two years, she felt herself losing control. She can't let her know. I missed you too, Em. So much. You have no idea. All I want to do right now is stay in your arms and breathe you in. "Still, you didn't have to pick us up. I'm sure you have better things to do. So thanks." Then, before Paige could think it through, she said, "You can just drop us off at the first motel we come across. We're not really picky." Behind her, she could imagine Dani's jaw drop and she could feel Dani's eyes on her, shooting daggers. Shit. She's going to kill me. Paige may not be picky when it comes to living situations but Dani was. Even if they spent most of their time on the road, Dani still liked to live in comfort. That's why Paige always let Dani choose where they would spend the night. But not this time. Letting Dani choose where they would stay would mean enduring a longer car ride with Emily and she couldn't handle that. It was much too soon. She'd have to apologize to Dani later. But right now she just wanted to get as far away from Emily as possible.
"Oh." Emily said, not bothering to hide the disappointment in her voice, not quite knowing what to say to that. She didn't even say she missed me. Is that how desperate she is to get away from me? Just drop her off at the nearest motel from here? "Are you sure about that? I mean you guys can stay at Spencer's. You'd be more comfortable there." She offered, not quite ready to give up. Then as an afterthought, she added. "And it might be weird at first but you know you can always stay at mine, free of charge. These days I pretty much live there by myself. My mom went to live with my dad in Texas. So I could really use the company." Emily tried to gage Paige's reaction when she mentioned they could stay at her house. Paige's face however remained stoic.
Paige shook her head, not looking at her. "It's fine. Really. But thanks for the offer." Paige said in a way that told Emily to drop the issue. "Besides, how would Tara react to that? Your ex-girlfriend living under your roof? That could be a deal breaker" She said rather harshly than she intended it to be.
Emily was surprised. She didn't know Paige knew about Tara. She guessed Hanna told her she started seeing her co-worker. But then Hanna mustn't have told Paige about Emily ending things with Tara just as quickly as it began.
"Oh we're not together anymore." She said to Paige hurriedly. "It just didn't feel right. I wanted someone else." I wanted you. It will always be you. She thought sadly, wanting desperately to just pull Paige in a corner and ask her to say something, anything that resembled the old Paige she knew.
"I'm sorry to hear that then." Paige said after a beat. She didn't know how that little piece of information made her feel. Hopeful? Happy? Disappointed? Nervous? They made their way to Emily's car in complete silence after that.
When they finally reached Emily's car, she saw Paige look at Dani apologetically before getting on the front seat. What was that? For a second there it looked like she was reassuring Dani, subtly conveying she had nothing to worry about. It bothered her.
Dani nodded and got in the backseat. Emily sighed, taking a moment to compose herself before settling in the driver's seat. This is going to be one long ride. Emily thought as she started the car, preparing herself for the drive back to town.