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Danni

 

 

Not Taking Chances

Thanks to Lacy, my wonderful beta, for her careful review and contributions to this story.

 

Damn him, though Johnny.   What the hell was he thinking?  Johnny paced back and forth across the floor of the parlor in Sam Jenkins’ office.  Damn you, Scott – I had everything under control.  He stopped for a moment – looked at the door to the room where Scott was.  He wanted the door to open, for Sam to come out and tell him that Scott was alright.  But, the door remained closed.

Patience was not one of Johnny’s strengths when it came to family.  He could easily wait out someone making the mistake of wanting to face Johnny Madrid.  And, he had been - until Scott got in the way.  He began pacing again.  What had Scott been thinking?  Why hadn’t he stayed on the sidelines…where he was safe?  Damn, him.

A door opened, but it was the door to the outside.  A harried Murdoch entered.  Well, now the barrage of questions would start, Johnny thought.  But, Murdoch only looked at him, patted him on the back and asked, “How is he doing?”

“He took one in the shoulder, Murdoch.  Lost a lot of blood,” Johnny spoke quietly.  “Damn him, Murdoch.  Why did he push me out of the way?”

“Johnny, we’ll ask him when Sam says we can.  Your brother knows your skill.  There was a reason.  We’ll just have to wait to find out why.”

The wait was only another half an hour, but it seemed like an eternity.  Then, finally, Sam emerged from his operating room.  He looked tired, but nodded his head positively and told them that he had repaired Scott’s shoulder and he should be fine.  Johnny was so relieved that he practically collapsed into one of the chairs in the parlor. 

“Thank God,” Murdoch said.  Murdoch had once again been blessed with the lives of both his sons.  “Did he say anything, Sam?”

“He was in a lot of pain, Murdoch, but he told me that more than one gun was aimed at Johnny and that is why he ran and pushed Johnny down.  ‘Wasn’t part of his plan to get shot, though.”

Murdoch smiled slightly.  His boys were something special.  Scott had his brother’s back…like always.  As much as he hated that Scott had been wounded, he had saved Johnny’s life.

Johnny looked up at Sam and Murdoch.  “That brother of mine…”  His voice trailed off, but you could see his mind scrambling for details of the scene.  He had not seen the other gun.  Not like him.  How had he missed this?  Scott could have been killed.  Just as quickly he stood up, but he felt Murdoch’s hand on his shoulder pushing him back down into the chair.

“And, just where do you think you are going?” Murdoch asked.

“To talk to a gunfighter and his friend,” replied Johnny.

“Not yet,” Murdoch said sternly.

“Murdoch, this can’t wait,” Johnny insisted.

“Yes it can.  And it will.  We’ll talk with Val before doing anything, Johnny.”  Murdoch used his “I call the tune” tone.   Murdoch’s voice was equal to Johnny Madrid’s reputation – something to be taken very seriously.

“I nearly lost Scott today.  You are not walking out of here with plans to start something that will put your life in jeopardy again.  Sit down.”   Johnny recognized the command in his father’s voice.  His father knew he wanted revenge and that he didn’t want to wait to inflict his wrath on those who had hurt his brother.

==

Val Crawford stood over the man who had challenged Johnny in the street.  He didn’t like these types of men – and, especially those that had threatened and harmed his friends.  Johnny and Val were close, to be sure.  Scott and Val had a different kind of relationship.  Both had a strong sense of doing the right thing - especially when family was involved.  They respected each other and respected their differences.  Val didn’t have much family and what family he had, he didn’t see often.  But, the Lancers considered him family and he was proud to be included.

“So, where’s your friend?” asked Val.  He intensely looked into the face of the young man sitting in the chair in his office. Val had not yet locked him up, but this guy wasn’t going anywhere.

The man stuttered, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”  It was clear from his response that he was scared.

Val laughed – as he often did when speaking.  This laugh clearly conveyed that he didn’t believe a word of what he had just heard.  “Now, listen to me,” he said and then leaned over the man in the chair.  His hands were on the arms of the chair and his face was in the face of the young man.  “I don’t believe you for a minute.  I have several witnesses that will testify in court that there was another gun on Johnny.   And, my guess is that shooter is a friend of yours – and - is the one who shot Scott.  Now, if you want to spend years in prison – instead of the man who really shot Scott…”  He left the sentence dangling and stood up but continued to stare at the young man. 

The young man was clearly rattled.  “What happens to me if there was another shooter?”

Val liked what he heard.  “Well, if you help me bring him in, I will speak to the judge on your behalf.  You’re a young man –you did something stupid.  I’ll ask him to go easy on you...reduced sentence or none at all.  Depends on how helpful you are.”

==

Val walked without haste to Sam Jenkins’ place.  Without a doubt, Murdoch and Johnny would be there.  While there were men that would help go after the accomplice, Val knew that he wanted the Lancers’ help.  What he had to do was to control Johnny’s rage.  He thought carefully about the situation as he stepped up onto the porch of Sam’s place and reached for the door knob.  It was a good thing that Murdoch was there to keep the situation under control.

Murdoch, Johnny and Sam greeted Val as he entered the room.  “How is our patient?” asked Val. 

“He lost a lot of blood, but the bullet is out and he’s holding his own,” responded Sam.

“Scott said there was another gun on me.  Is that true, Val?” asked Johnny.

“Yes, Johnny there was.  Zack Brooks.  Cousin of our friend, Mitchell Brooks, locked up in the jail,” responded Val.  “Seems the young gun you faced in the street needed some reassurance that he could get ol’ Johnny Madrid.  Wasn’t going to take any chances on you being as fast as he’d heard you were.”

“So what are we waiting for?  Let’s go get him!”  Johnny was ready to push Murdoch out of the way and rush out the door.

“Hold on there, Johnny!  It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Val said loudly as he stopped Johnny.  “Seems that these Brooks fellas don’t travel far without kin.  I think we need to be prepared; We need a plan ourselves.”

Johnny did back down.  His head dropped.  This was getting complicated.  It wasn’t just getting one man…it was a number of men.  And that meant getting others involved.  It was bad enough that Scott had been hurt, but a posse was sure to include people he knew and worked with. He hated where this was going.

“So what do you suggest, Val?” asked Murdoch.  Murdoch was a staunch believer in Lancer taking care of its own, but Scott was already seriously hurt and the men they were dealing with were bushwhackers.  Val played an important role in the success of any plan.

“I think we should let them come to us.  Hold this battle on our ground – on our terms,” Val responded.

“Here in town, Val?  Too many innocent people could be hurt,” responded Johnny.

“Well, I was thinking that we make our ground the Lancer Ranch.  You have a jailhouse and we’ll have the advantage.”

“I like it, Val,” responded Murdoch.  “Lancer takes care of its own and there is no better fortress than our ranch.   Val, when do you want to move your prisoner?” he continued.

“I was thinking tomorrow.   We’ll leave for the ranch before sun-up and then later I’ll have Tommy Caldwell start spreading the word that keeping Brooks in the jailhouse isn’t safe.  Since Scott is a well thought-of fella around here, we say we are concerned about a lynchin’.  Moving him to Lancer will help keep him safe until the judge arrives next week for a trial.”

“When can we move Scott, Sam?” asked Murdoch. 

“Tomorrow is sooner than I’d like, but I think he’ll be alright.  We’ll fix up a wagon to ease the bumpy ride.  I think he’ll recover better at home - and I’m sure that I won’t be able to keep him here anyway.  There is no way he’d stay here when you’re planning a welcoming party at your place, even with a big ol’ hole in his shoulder,” answered Sam.  “Hasn’t worked before, why try and stop him this time.”

Murdoch and Sam smiled slightly – there was no keeping either one of the boys down when trouble loomed.

==

Johnny rode alongside the wagon where Scott sat propped up against pillows and blankets on top of grain sacks.  Johnny couldn’t help but notice the different moods that seemed to come and go on Scott’s face.  With his discriminating eye, Johnny surmised that Scott’s thoughts changed from being tired and weary from the ride to anger for the men that who had set his brother up for an unfair fight and then to a desire to bring those two men to justice.  He couldn’t resist asking, “So what’s on your mind at this moment, big brother?”

Scott smiled wryly – it was not often that Johnny acknowledged him as the older brother.  While he knew Johnny respected his wisdom, Johnny credited himself as being older in many more ways than Scott due to life experiences.  “Just looking forward to getting home and into a soft bed, little brother.  That’s all.”

Johnny believed this to be true, but knew that Scott’s statement “That’s all” was not really the end of Scott’s thoughts. 

And Johnny was right.  Scott was thinking through ideas to ensure that Val’s plan was successful.  Scott was an excellent strategist.  He and Johnny had played some great games of Chess since their arrival at the ranch as new brothers. 

Scott agreed with Val’s plan.  Being at the Lancer Ranch would definitely give them the upper hand, but it also put some very dear people in danger.  He was relieved that Teresa was helping her friend Becky with her new baby.  Becky lived on a small farm just outside of town. If home, Teresa would never agree to leave the ranch for the safety of a neighbor’s home or town.  From a stubbornness aspect, she fit in well with the Lancer men.  He smiled to himself remembering the time when he insisted she leave and then picked up her and threw her over his shoulder and tried to take her bodily from the house.  She was a wildcat and kicked, screamed and hit him until he eventually succumbed to her defiance.  Yes, she fit in well.

=

As Johnny helped Scott up the stairs to the second floor, he could tell that the ride home had really tired Scott.  “Glad to be home, Scott?” asked Johnny with a smile.  He took off his hat and hung it over the back of a nearby chair. 

“Yes, it’s always good to be home,” Scott said and smiled back at Johnny.

 “Well, I’d better go check on Val and Murdoch.  No doubt, they’re planning now.  You rest up brother.”

==

Val expected Tommy Caldwell to arrive at the Lancer Ranch in mid-afternoon and he was right.  Tommy rode in around three in the afternoon. Tommy got off his horse and gladly handed the reins to Phil, one of the Lancer hands.  Phil led the horse to the stable for some rest and oats.

“Well?” asked Val.

“You were right, Sherriff.  Those Brooks characters were none too happy to find the jailhouse empty and their boy moved.  I gotta say, they don’t seem like very smart men.  I think they’re all really cowards…sneaky bastards.” 

Val, now joined by Johnny and Murdoch, smiled.   “What else, Tommy?” asked Val returning to the task at hand.

“Well, they spent some time at the bar after their disappointing visit to the jailhouse.  I tried to hang around to see if I could pick anything up.  The liquor made them loud and outspoken.  I expect that they will be here tomorrow in the early morning.”

Val patted Tommy on the back.  “Good work, son.  You did good.”

It was Murdoch’s turn to express his thanks.  “Thanks, Tommy.” 

“Sheriff, if there is nothing else, I’d like to head back to town.  I can keep an eye on the Brooks for you.  And I can be back here before the sun rises,” offered Tommy.

“Be careful, Tommy.  Watch your back,” cautioned Val.

 “Well, Val, what do you say we spend some time reviewing our plans with Scott and Johnny?  Once we’ve finalized our plan, we can meet with the hands and get them ready” said Murdoch.

“Sounds good, Murdoch.  Johnny, do you think your brother is up to a meeting?” asked Val as he turned to face Johnny.

“Yep.  He’s been resting.  Strategy is one of those things he does well.  He’s been thinking about it ever since we left town,” replied Johnny.

“Let’s go meet with Scott then,” said Murdoch.  The three headed into the house and up the stairs to Scott’s room. 

==

Like dinner, there wasn’t much chat after dinner in the Great Room – just the checking and re-checking of rifles and guns and ammunition.  From time to time, a ranch hand would drop by with an update on the readiness of the ranch hands and if anyone was moving in on the Lancer ranch.

 ==

As much as rest was needed, no one seemed to sleep except Scott.  Johnny sat comfortably in a chair in Scott’s room with his feet resting on a footstool watching Scott sleep and then out the window for any movement.  Scott needed his rest; planning, dinner and after dinner review of the morning’s plans had worn him out.  Once the shooting started, Johnny knew that Scott would be out of bed, grabbing his rifle and heading for the main floor and situating himself at his appointed post.  Scott was good at giving orders, but sometimes not so good at following them.  Johnny was going to make sure that Scott didn’t put himself at risk.

He heard the quiet footsteps of Murdoch coming up beside him.  “How’s he doing, Johnny?” asked Murdoch.

“He’s sleeping soundly, Murdoch.  He was sure tired climbing up those stairs after drinks in the Great Room though,” responded Johnny.  “I’ve been watching out the window and haven’t seen any movement.”

“It’s quiet, but it’s still a bit early.  I expect in the next hour or two we’ll have visitors,” replied Murdoch.

Johnny nodded his head in confirmation.  The Brooks would be here soon enough.  It was best to take the time to rest and be prepared.

“Well, I’m going to head back downstairs.  Val was having a few men check out the perimeter and report back.  I’ll let you know if they’ve seen anything,” said Murdoch and then turned and left the room.

Johnny’s eyes went to look at Scott again - his family both a blessing and a worry for Johnny.  And Madrid, when would people forget he lived?  It was times like this that he wished he was on his own.  Not having family meant never losing someone you loved.  More than once, he had tried to leave – but, always they came after him; each time, convincing him that they couldn’t imagine life without him and that they were better with him than without him.  And each time, he had returned. 

==

Another hour had passed and Scott’s eyes fluttered.  Johnny smiled slightly.  Morning chats with his brother were often the best part of the day.  Sometimes filled with spirited banter, often talking through ranch problems and plans for the day.  His mind flashed back to the first morning chat – the morning after their arrival at Lancer.  The day after each had collected a thousand dollars from their father and the day that Pardee had burned farmland on the Lancer ranch.  Johnny was sure that he knew who Scott Lancer was – a dandy and rich man’s son.  Boy, had he been wrong!

“Mornin’ Scott,” said Johnny with a smile.  Scott seemed unsure as to where he was.  “You’re home brother.”

He could see recognition in his brother’s eyes and then the recollection of the past couple of day’s events.

“Not here yet, huh?” asked Scott.

“Nope.  Soon,” confirmed Johnny.  “Water?”

“Yes, please,” replied Scott.  He was parched.  He moved to sit up in his bed and winced as he put too much pressure on his left shoulder.  Johnny held out a cool glass of water for Scott to take.  Scott sipped it slowly and then rested his head back on the pillows.

“Where is everyone?” asked Scott.

“Everyone is in place – just as planned.  You and I are the last.  No sign of the Brooks yet, but it won’t be long.”   Johnny walked toward the bedroom window and looked out over Lancer, as he often did, in awe.

“Now don’t be going off the deep end there, brother,” said Scott.

Johnny responded by smiling slightly, but continued to look out the window.

“No talk of leaving because you are too dangerous to have around.  We’ve been down that path before and we’re not going there again,” Scott said firmly.

“Can’t help but think about it, brother.  You’re laying there recovering from a nasty bullet wound.  Wouldn’t have happened...”

And Scott cut him off, “…if you weren’t here.  There is no time to have this argument now.  We’re not going to let you leave us, Johnny.   End of discussion.”

Johnny turned to face his brother.  Despite his aching shoulder, it appeared that Scott was ready to fight him on this very topic.  “Okay, okay, okay.”

And it was at that moment that they heard Murdoch call them from the main floor.  The Brooks were on Lancer land.  Johnny and Scott looked each other – comforted by their solid relationship, but also keenly aware that it could also end.

==

The sun was barely peeking over the top of the rise when Johnny and Scott walked down the steps into Great Room.  Johnny waited until Scott was safely situated by the French door entrance to the hacienda before leaving to take his post outside near the entrance.   Johnny and Scott watched as Val escorted Mitchell Brooks into the house and then down to the Wine Cellar where he would be held. 

“See you later, brother,” said Johnny to Scott.  Scott nodded in recognition.  The plan was a good one and did the most to protect them from the Brooks, but the Brooks were the wild card in the plan.

“No heroics, Johnny,” said Scott with a serious tone.

Johnny smiled.  Ever the big brother, Scott, he thought.  “No heroics, Boston.”  He then turned and walked out the front door of the hacienda and to his post.   

The plan was to allow the Brooks to enter the courtyard and then to surround them.  It was their hope that they would be able to capture as many of the Brooks alive as possible.  Johnny and Val were to close off entry area of the main part of the house.  Scott, Murdoch and Tommy were to keep the Brooks outside the house.  The rest of the Lancer hands were to close in the rest of the loop around the Brooks.  It was a good plan.  They all said a prayer that it would work and there would be no losses on the Lancer side.  It was up to the Brooks as to how many of them would die.

Lancer hands had spotted the Brooks less than a mile from the hacienda when Murdoch had alerted Scott and Johnny that it was time to go to their posts.  The darkness of the early morning still hung over the earth and Val and Johnny watched their surroundings intently – looking for even the slightest of movements.

It wasn’t long before they saw shadows of riders not far in the distance.  Val and Johnny looked at each, nodded and then Val crossed the entrance to the other side to join the Lancer hands on the opposite side of the entrance.  As they grew closer, the outline of the Brooks riders became distinct.  There were a dozen in that group and based on the information they had, this was the number of riders expected.  Surprisingly, the Brooks riders slowed as they neared the entrance.  No guns were drawn but they proceeded to enter and ride towards the hacienda.  Once all 12 riders had passed, the gate was closed and Lancer hands covered the exit.  Val and Johnny met and then headed back towards the house. 

“Lancer!” shouted one of the riders.  “Murdoch Lancer!  My name is Virgil Brooks!” he shouted and then fired his rifle into the air.

His action was somewhat unexpected.  From inside the house, Murdoch called back to him.  “This is Murdoch Lancer.  What do you want?”

“We want to make a trade!” shouted Virgil Brooks.

“What kind of trade?” asked Murdoch.  “I know we have someone you want.  But, I don’t think you have anything we want!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that, Lancer,” said Virgil with a laugh.  “Show him, boys!”

Three on horseback rode to the front of the group.  In the middle was Teresa.  Murdoch’s heart was in his throat.  Tied to the saddle and gagged, his dear Teresa was their hostage.  For a moment, he couldn’t breathe.  Here he had thought she was safe from the danger at the ranch.

“Your girl here is quite the little hellion!  She put up quite a fight at her friend’s home.  Mitchell ain’t much – but he’s kin.  And, he sure ain’t no match for Johnny Madrid.  Zack only shot to cover Mitchell.  We’ll be taking both of them home.  Won’t cause you no more trouble, Lancer,” continued Virgil.

Murdoch looked at Scott.  Scott met his look and knew that there was nothing to discuss.  They would give up Mitchell, but they needed to ensure Teresa’s safe return. 

“You’ve got a deal, Brooks.  We’ll get Mitchell for you.  But – if you have harmed Teresa in any way, there will be no place for you to hide,” yelled Murdoch.

It was at that moment when Johnny and Val entered the Great Room.

“You heard that?” asked Murdoch.

“Yep, keep them here.  I’ll get Mitchell from the wine cellar,” said Val.

Johnny couldn’t believe how quickly things had changed.  “How did they get Teresa?” he said aloud.

“Doesn’t matter, Johnny.  They’ve got her and we’re going to get her back.  Now,” Scott said flatly.

It really didn’t matter how she had been abducted.  Getting her back was all that mattered.  There were no disputes, no discussion, just actions.

Val returned from the cellar with Mitchell Brooks.  Mitchell had an arrogant smile on his face.  Johnny wanted to wipe that smile right off his face.  Scott watched his brother closely.  Johnny would never do anything to endanger Teresa’s life, but Mitchell was sure taunting Johnny.

“We’ll meet again, Madrid,” said Mitchell snidely as he was alongside Val.

“Maybe sooner than you think, Brooks,” smiled Johnny back at Mitchell Brooks.

Johnny’s response took the smile from Mitchell’s face.

Val stopped with Brooks several feet before the door.

“Ready?” asked Val.

Murdoch, Johnny and Scott all nodded.  They had not even spoken about the trade, but they were all of a like mind.  Get Teresa back; that was the only thing that mattered.  Everyone nodded.  Then Murdoch called out to Virgil Brooks, “We’re ready to exchange.  Untie Teresa and let her get off the horse.  Once she is down, she stays there with the horse.  All your riders back away from her.  We’ll bring out Mitchell.   He’ll walk to the horse and Teresa will walk to the house.  Mitchell will get on the horse and then you will all leave.  Deal?”

Virgil Brooks smiled.  He had gotten the exchange he had wanted.  “Deal,” he said with satisfaction.

“No shots are fired.  One shot – accident or not - we will start shooting and we won’t miss,” warned Murdoch.

“Boys, help the little lady down,” Virgil said to the two riders beside Teresa.  “Rest of you – back up.”

One of the Brooks riders held the horse and the other one cut the ropes that bound her hands to the horn of the saddle and then helped her down.  The rider was actually gentle with her and then removed her gag.  Surprisingly, Teresa said thank you to him.  All this action was carefully watched by all the men in the hacienda.  

“Step forward, miss.  We’ll back up like your Pa wanted.  You’ll be safe,” the rider said.  Then he and the other rider mounted their horses and moved back with the rest of the Brooks.

Virgil shouted to Murdoch, “Okay, time for you to live up to your part of the deal.  Send out Mitchell!”

Murdoch turned to Val, “Take him out Val.”

Johnny interrupted.  “I’d like to do that, Murdoch.  Seems to me it only be fair since I was the one that caused all this.  If anyone shoots, I’m going to be there to protect Teresa.”

“Okay with you, Val,” Murdoch asked Val.

“Okay by me.  He’s yours, Johnny,” Val said with a smile.  He knew Mitchell was none-too-happy with this change.

Johnny nodded to Val and then stepped beside Mitchell.  “Don’t know why you’re suddenly so quiet, seems to me, you’ve spent a lot of energy trying to be near me,” said Johnny looking directly into Mitchell’s eyes.

Mitchell remained quiet and then followed Johnny’s lead and walked to the door.  Johnny opened the door and stepped out with Mitchell by his side.  Teresa, Mitchell and Johnny stood still.  No one moved.  Not a rider.  Not a Lancer hand.  Not a Lancer.

“Okay, Mitchell.  You walk to the horse.  Teresa, you walk to the house,” directed Murdoch.

Mitchell and Teresa started walking.  Closer to their goals, each step got a bit faster.  Johnny kept watch on the situation and when he saw tears starting to gather in Teresa’s eyes he cautioned her to go directly inside.  It was hard to watch her pass and not be able to hold her.  She was a strong girl, but she had, no doubt, been through a lot with the Brooks.

As soon as she opened the door and stepped in, Johnny felt better.  He watched Mitchell mount the horse, tip his hat to Johnny and join the other Brooks.  They all turned, as agreed, and headed in the direction of the front gate.  As they left, Lancer hands began to leave their assigned positions and come to the courtyard.

Johnny entered the hacienda.  There was Teresa in Murdoch’s strong arms.  Though he did not really remember much about the couple of years that he spent at Lancer as a child, he did remember how safe and comforting it was to be held by your father.  Still with tears on her cheeks, Teresa left Murdoch for Scott.  As she hurried to him, she noticed some blood on Scott’s shirt and stopped in her tracks.

“Oh dear Scott!  You’ve been hurt!” she cried.

“An old wound, Teresa, but I’d appreciate it if you re-bandaged it,” replied Scott.  And then, he held out his arms and she ran to him.  She hugged and kissed him on the cheek.  She stepped back and then left Scott’s arms for Johnny’s.

“Dear Teresa, you are safe,” said Johnny as he hugged her.  She stood back and looked into his eyes. 

“Johnny, they didn’t hurt me.  But I was so frightened!”   Her voice trembled as she spoke.  “Val,” she continued.  “They just wanted Mitchell back.  They told me that they will head back to Texas with him and we will never see or hear of him again.”

“Well then, we’re going to escort the Brooks out of here.  You alright with that, Murdoch?”

“Yes.  I think its best,” replied Murdoch.

“Scott.  Do you want to file charges?  You were the one harmed,” asked Val of Scott.

“As long as they leave and never return, then no.  Teresa is safe.  I’ll be fine,” answered Scott.

Teresa walked to Scott and hugged him once again.  He wrapped his arms around her.  “I’m thinking that a fine breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon and coffee served in bed will help me mend.  How about it Teresa?” asked Scott with a smile.

Teresa looked up and smiled.  “Syrup or jam for your pancakes, Scott,” she asked with a smile.

“Surprise me!” Scott responded with a smile.

She kissed him on the cheek and then almost seemed to skip in the direction of the kitchen. 

The Lancer men smiled.  It was good to see Teresa smile.  It was impossible to imagine life without her.

Johnny turned to Scott, and with a smile, said, “You know, you’re not getting coffee.  She’s going to make you that awful Willow Bark tea that she thinks cures everything.”  And then he laughed.  And Murdoch laughed.  And Scott just sighed and then smiled.

 

~end ~

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