The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Doreen

 

 

Hidden Treasures

A possible What Happened In Between for The Homecoming/High Riders

It was mid-morning as the doctor closed the bedroom door behind him and when Johnny heard the elderly physician's footsteps fade away he gingerly pushed his feet out from underneath the covers and placed them down on the cool wooden floor.

Three weeks had passed since he'd first arrived at the place of his birth, only to be shot two days later during the final assault by a vicious gang of land pirates as they sought to overrun Lancer and claim it for themselves.

Luckily the attack had been successfully repelled and the bullet to Johnny's back hadn't been as life threatening as first thought. However though he'd just been advised to stay in bed a while longer, not being the most patient of patients Johnny had had enough of the four walls around him and decided to escape for a while from his unusually luxurious surroundings.

Forcing himself not to scratch at the healing scar which irritatingly itched underneath the newly secured bandage it took several minutes of struggling with shirt, pants and boots before Johnny finally managed to dress. And feeling close to exhaustion from the exertion he stood up, waited for the initial light-headedness to settle then tentatively and slowly made his way down the stairs.

All was quiet and with no one else around Johnny rested on the edge of a desk in front of a large French window and looked out at the sprawling countryside before him.

When he'd first arrived and been offered a three-way partnership of the ranch he'd thought it was a future worth holding onto, fighting for…and nearly dying for he wryly mused. But having had plenty of time to reflect he'd now come to the unavoidable conclusion there was one insurmountable mountain blocking his way and a life on Lancer was not for him.

He let out a long slow breath and for now shook away the thought as he noticed in the distance the doctor's buckboard disappearing in a cloud of dust then his gaze focused on a tall, lean blond haired figure striding purposefully across the yard towards the hacienda.

When arriving at Lancer a brother was the last thing Johnny had expected to find, especially one who walked straight backed with an elegant grace of movement befitting a military training. You can take the man out of the Army but you can't take the Army out of the man Johnny inwardly chuckled, half expecting Scott to suddenly stand to attention and salute towards several ranch hands who rode by instead of the friendly wave he did give them.

As his mind drifted back Johnny remembered his original impression of the Bostonian dandy when they'd met on the stage had been one of an arrogant man in his fancy eastern clothes, aloof, someone who'd readily look down on a Mexican half-breed and not give him the time of day.

How wrong he'd been. For since being wounded it was Scott who'd insisted on sitting by his brother's bedside for hours on end, cooling the fevered brow, helping with his daily ablutions, keeping him company both day and night. Yes, he'd been very wrong about him in a number of ways Johnny willingly accepted as he heard the front door open.

About to make his way upstairs Scott noticed a familiar figure out the corner of his eye and stood for a moment with arms crossed as he regarded his younger brother questioningly, faking a stern look. “And just what are you doing down here? I made it more than clear I'd come up and let you beat me at checkers again as soon as the doctor had gone.”

Johnny's smile was playful. “Truth is Boston , the doc said he could see no reason for me not to have a little exercise and gave me the go-ahead to get up,” Johnny lied, forcing a strong positive note into his voice. “So I did.”

Scott sighed with exasperation, seeing immediately though his deception. “How strange, because that's exactly the opposite of what he's just told me. Three more days at least in bed he suggested.”

Feigning ignorance Johnny grinned sheepishly. “Did he? Must have misheard.”

With a sigh Scott unfolded his arms and ambled across the room towards him. “Just my luck to have been blessed with a brother who's as stubborn as a mule and won't do as he's told,” he groaned though the corner of his eyes wrinkled with amusement.

A good-natured smile also played about Johnny's lips. “Never was one for taking orders Boston ,” he replied. “But you can't blame me for wanting to stretch my legs and have a change of scene. How'd you like to spend every hour of the day lying on your butt with nothing better to do than count cracks in the ceiling?”

Scott's mouth twitched sympathetically as Johnny eased away from the desk. “Time I got me some fresh air,” he announced with the intention of going outside, but with his body still unused to being in the vertical position his legs buckled under him and he lost his balance, only to be caught in one fluid motion by a pair of gentle but firm hands.

“I think you'd be better laid out on the settee for a while before you do yourself another injury,” Scott advised wisely.

A look of defiance flittered across Johnny's face but he immediately realized the sense of his words. “Reckon you're right brother,” he agreed, and leaning his weight against him he walked slowly forward then was lowered gently onto the couch.

“You sure you're okay?” Scott asked as he looked down at him.

Johnny nodded reassuringly. “Apart from a little soreness I'm healing up fine, so don't worry about me.”

Scott settled onto the chair opposite and stretched out his legs, his whole demeanor of a man totally relaxed in his new environment. “As soon as you're fully fit I thought we could spend some time away exploring the ranch. Cipriano told me there are a couple of well stocked lakes just brimming with fish on the northern edge and I can't imagine a better supper than freshly caught trout cooked over a blazing camp fire and eaten under a starry sky. What do you say?”

Taking a moment before answering Johnny studied his brother's face. With his hands clasped behind his head and his gaze seemingly fixed into the distance imagining the idyllic scene Scott's expression was one of pure contentment as a smile played on his lips at his well thought out plan.

Johnny inwardly debated whether or not to admit his true intention as he absently fingered a loose thread on the settee arm.

The one and only reason he regretted his decision was sitting a foot away but as the opportunity had now presented itself he knew what he'd been thinking had to be said. “I've got to tell you Scott, I've don't reckon I'll be sticking around here in the future. In fact I've all but decided to just take my thousand dollars and head out as soon as I'm able,” he announced, the words escaping quickly before he had second thoughts.

Scott looked over as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. “But why? What's made you change your mind?”

Johnny exhaled slowly. “Spent too many years on my own as Madrid I guess, doing what I want, when I want, how I want. Can't see any way I could settle to just herding cows and having to answer to one man who'd always call the tune.”

With confusion clouding his features Scott's eyes suddenly narrowed as a realization dawned. “This is all about Murdoch isn't it? You still won't believe his side of the story about the reasons you and your mother left Lancer.”

Johnny smiled wryly to himself. “Oh, I believe him all right,” he answered, marveling at his cool tone though inside he churned with anger and resentment at the thought of all the lies his mother had spun. “But I don't reckon he was that heartbroken seeing as it took over twenty years before he got round to looking for me.”

Scott opened his mouth as if to argue the point but Johnny raised a hand to silence him. “Look I'm sorry brother, but that's the way I see it and nothing you can say will change my mind. As far as me and the old man are concerned I don't feel no connection with him and can sense he doesn't think much of me for hiring out my gun as Madrid . I just know we're not going to get along so best for us all that I walk away before we come to blows, ‘cause I tell you that's what'll happen, I guarantee it.”

Uttering an inward curse Scott was tempted to take hold of his shoulders and shake some sense into him, tell him he was a fool to walk away from people who genuinely cared and the place he belonged. But the resolute tone of Johnny's voice and the inflexible set of his jaw was enough to make him realize it would be a lost cause and for the first time the silence which settled between the two brothers was heavy and uncomfortable.

Sitting back stiffly in his chair Scott swallowed down his frustration at the thought any future plans he'd hoped to share with Johnny were slowly disintegrating before his eyes and there was nothing he could do to stop it. “I take it I'm the first to know what you've decided so just when were you thinking of telling Murdoch?”

“Might as well get it over with now,” Johnny muttered; his face expressionless except for the lines of tension around his mouth. “Is he around?”

Scott shook his head. “He headed off to Morro Coyo first thing. He wanted to make sure the lawyer drew up the contract between us correctly so it would be ready to be signed as soon as you were fit enough to ride into town. But now I guess he's had a wasted journey.”

Johnny couldn't help but give a sardonic smile. “I've got to admit at first I did wonder if he'd see that part of the bargain through once the ranch was no longer under threat. I half expected him to pat us on the head, say bye-bye boys, been nice seeing you and thanks for your help but I don't need you anymore so vamoose.”

Scott's face for once darkened with reproach as he scowled towards him. “After everything he's done for you since we got here you still think the worst of him, don't you.”

Johnny sniffed disdainfully. “Like I once said, I don't give anyone too much credit and can't see any reason to change my views now.”

“Does that include me?”

Unable to miss the edge in Scott's voice Johnny's mouth curved into a faint half smile. “I haven't quite made my mind up about you yet Boston ,” he admitted in a soft drawl. “Though you might be the one exception to the rule considering how you saved my life the way you did.”

“But that's what elder brothers are supposed to do, save their younger brother's sorry hide whenever needed.”

There was the sound of a faint chuckle. “Don't reckon I ever heard that written down in any contract.”

“In my book some things don't need to be made legally binding,” Scott answered decisively as he stared at his brother without blinking. “Just do me a favor Johnny, don't say anything to Murdoch yet. Give yourself a few more days thinking time. I don't want you to make a decision you're going to regret, not when the stakes are so high for us all.”

Momentarily thrown at the intensity of feeling reflected in his voice and expression Johnny rubbed a thumb and finger slowly up and down his nose and gave Scott a considered stare. He was just about to answer when the sound of a door opening echoed in the great room and the delicious aroma of freshly baked biscuits and cinnamon cake wafted in from the kitchen.

“Johnny! What are you doing out of bed?” Teresa questioned happily when she suddenly noticed him. “I'm sure the doctor said you needed a few more days rest before you were allowed downstairs.”

“Would seem our patient thought otherwise,” Scott told their father's young ward with a hint of sarcasm in his tone. “But a change of scene for a few hours won't do him any harm. Might even clear his head and help him think straight, isn't that right brother.”

The two men exchanged a meaningful look. Teresa frowned, could sense a tense atmosphere as she headed towards them. “You're both looking very serious. Is something wrong?”

Forcing out a warm smile Johnny shook his head. “Everything's fine pretty lady, but a cup of coffee and a couple of those biscuits you've just made would be much appreciated.”

“Of course,” Teresa replied though not completely convinced all was well. “What about you Scott?”

“You know I can't resist anything you bake,” Scott answered, managing a smile of his own and then as a thought came he changed the subject. “I've been meaning to ask Teresa. Is there's anywhere I can store the luggage I brought with me from Boston ? It's just taking up space and I can't see me wanting to use it again for a long time yet.”

For a moment the young woman chewed at her bottom lip then went over to the desk where she took out a key from the bottom drawer and returned to place it in Scott's hand. “I'm sure you'll fit it all in the store room up on the landing.”

“You have it locked?”

“Yes, but only because your father has his most precious possessions stored away in there for safe keeping,” Teresa answered then her face lit up excitedly. “Would you like me to show them to you?”

“Wont Murdoch mind?”

“Of course not,” she replied with a knowing smile. “He'd want you to see them after all these years. They're really very special and mean a lot to him.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Scott replied, raising an inquisitive eyebrow as he rose from his chair. “In that case lead the way.”

“Hey, what about me?” Johnny cried out as he watched them both begin to walk out of the room. “I don't want to miss out on all the fun.”

“You're supposed to be resting brother.”

“Ah come on Boston …don't leave me on my own. I've got to have a little excitement in my life otherwise I'll go crazy.”

Unable to ignore the pleading voice Scott turned and scanned his eyes over the reclining figure. “You know what you are?” he returned; keen to lighten the mood between them as he retraced his steps.

Johnny shook his head, a picture of innocence. “No what am I?”

“For the most part a damn nuisance,” Scott replied jokily as he helped him up. And with Johnny not taking offence he allowed himself to be gently supported on his brother's arm as the pair followed Teresa slowly up the stairs.



***



A few minutes later as they stood in the small store room to Johnny's disappointment at first glimpse there was nothing special to grab his attention.

By the light from a single narrow window he could make out two old dining chairs which had seen better days, a rolled up carpet and several well used but empty storage boxes. But as his eyes adjusted to the dimmed conditions he noticed where Teresa stood dust sheets had been placed carefully over three separate objects of different sizes and shapes.

Scott carried one of the chairs closer, brushed off a few cobwebs and then indicated for his brother to sit, and once settled Teresa pulled the first sheet back to reveal a finely made wooden baby cradle with rockers at either end.

“Your father made this as a surprise for your mother Scott. But as you were taken straight to Boston after she…well she never saw it and you never got to use it.”

Squatting down by her side Scott ran his fingers over the highly varnished surface, noting the quality of workmanship on the dovetailed corners, the hand made nails and screws. “I had no idea Murdoch was so skilled,” he murmured with a faint hint of surprise. “It's beautiful constructed.”

“He said making it was a labor of love,” Teresa admitted as she nodded in agreement then looked over at Johnny and smiled as she pointed to a few chewed up notches on each side of the crib. “See these? You did them when you were teething.”

“So I slept in it?”

“Yes. From what Murdoch told me even when you'd fallen asleep he'd still rock you in it for hours, just watching you, not wanting to leave your side. Yet much as he loved doing it, he said it always left him feeling sad, knowing he'd never had the chance to do the same with his first born.”

Scott's throat tightened at the unexpected disclosure and he stood up. It was a side to his father he'd never considered before and he leaned against the wall, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Murdoch seems to have confided in you a lot Teresa.”

“It was only after my own father died last fall that he opened up to me about you both. I suppose he needed someone to talk to as he and my father had been the best of friends for years and had no secrets from each other.”

Teresa then removed the second sheet and stood back so Johnny could get a clear view. It was more crudely made than the cradle but still a fine example of craftsmanship as they stared at a wooden rocking horse standing atop a wide rocker base. With a gold painted body and cream colored horse-hair mane and tail it was an unmistakable palomino complete with leather saddle, bridle and reins.

Johnny let out a quiet whistle in admiration. “Murdoch made this?”

“Yes. From an early age all you wanted to do was pet every horse you came across so he decided to make one of your own. It was to be your third birthday present but you were taken away before he had the chance to give it to you.”

“Did you get to play on it?”

Teresa shook her head. “I didn't even know it existed until a few months ago when Murdoch showed me what he had in here for the first time.”

“So how come the old man kept it all these years?”

There was a brief quiet as Teresa gently stroked the mane and gave a sorrowful sigh. “When you first disappeared he'd hoped you'd be found straightaway and brought back. But as time went on and there was still no sign of you he couldn't bear to part with it as he'd made it for you and so in his mind it was no longer his to give away.”

Johnny looked dubious. “He never stopped looking for me?”

“Of course not, but your mother made it very hard for you to be found. Though that didn't stop Murdoch from employing the best detectives money could buy over the years. And then as time went on and even though he heard a rumor you were Johnny Madrid, deep down he hoped you'd return of your own accord one day and accept it as a belated gift, maybe keep it for any children of your own should they come along.”

In the ensuing silence and looking slightly taken aback Johnny stared at the rocking horse long and hard. He felt the touch of his brother's fingers gently resting on his shoulder, knew instinctively Scott understood the turmoil of emotion he was going through; hardly the actions of a father towards an unwanted and forgotten son.

Scott also thought back to his own childhood, his silver-spoon upbringing in Boston and the profusion of toys lavishly bought for him. But he'd have happily given them all up to have one gift made by a loving parent's hand. He drew in a deep breath and for the briefest of moments felt a stab of envy deep within him. Then just as quickly he pushed all thought of self-pity out of his mind, telling himself firmly how lucky and privileged he'd been compared to many. But still he could dream…

“Scott?”

Shaken from his reverie Scott gave a faint smile of apology. “Sorry Teresa, I was miles away,” he said as she took hold of the third sheet.

“Murdoch didn't make this Scott but it's just as precious to him and I'm sure will be to you,” she said and giving a tug the final object was revealed.

It was a French made Rosewood writing bureau with a flower motif on the top and sides and brass edging.

“This belonged to your mother and was the only thing she insisted on bringing with her when she left Boston . Murdoch said she used to write her daily journal on it without fail when she arrived out here.”

Scott studied it for a moment with a frown and then stepped closer for a better look. With his eyes flicking back and forth over the bureau he opened the sliding lid to reveal a green baize writing board and two drawers on either side and nodded knowingly. “It's one of a pair Grandfather had shipped over many years ago. I had the matching desk left to me by my grandmother.”

He ran a hand across the interior in the same way he imagined his mother would have once done. “You said my mother wrote a journal Teresa. Does my father have it?”

“He couldn't find it after she left so he assumed she must have taken it with her.”

Scott couldn't stop a look of disappointment to flash across his face. “It's never been mentioned so I expect it was lost.” He paused for a moment and gave a faint smile. “I wonder if…”

As his voice trailed to a whisper Scott pulled out the right hand drawer and pushed a finger into the empty recess. Suddenly there was the faintest of clicks and a small hinged piece of wood dropped down from the side of the desk to reveal a hidden compartment a few inches wide.

Teresa gave a gasp. “How did you know about that?”

“I only discovered it by chance when I had a piece of paper jammed in the drawer one time,” Scott admitted. “Even Grandfather had no idea of the desk's secret. I used it for any correspondence I received from…well lets say the ladies writing to me wouldn't have wanted their letters to be read by just anyone so as a gentleman I thought it best to hide them away.”

“Quite the Casanova were you brother?” Johnny asked with a grin.

“I tried to be,” Scott smiled back teasingly without elaborating as Teresa grabbed hold of his arm. “Look Scott! There's something still in there.”

As he followed her gaze Scott's expression changed to one of disbelief as he took out a small leather bound book. He opened it and looked down for a long moment while reading the handwriting on the inside of the cover.

Catherine Lancer
1846
My First Year on Lancer



The fact he was holding something last held in his mother's hand somehow forged a link with her in a way Scott had never experienced before. He blinked hard and rubbed a hand across freshly moistened eyes.

“You okay?” Johnny asked as Scott continued to stare at the book while tracing his mother's name with a finger tip.

“Yes, I'm fine.”

His answer came just a little too hurriedly and Teresa and Johnny exchanged a glance, one that suggested they didn't believe him.

“What is it Scott?”

Although fighting to keep the emotion out of his voice Scott failed. “It's my mother's missing journal Teresa,” he admitted shakily.

“Are you going to read it?”

Scott swallowed, taking a few moments before answering. “As these are her private thoughts, it's only right Murdoch sees it first. I'll let him decide if I should be privy to what she's written,” he said quietly and placed it almost reverentially in his shirt pocket.

A thick silence filled the air as he heaved a deep calming breath. “I think I'm ready for the coffee now Teresa. How about you making a start on it while I bring in my luggage and then we'll follow you down in a few minutes?”

“All right,” Teresa readily agreed, unable to miss the effect Scott's find had had on him. On a whim she leaned across and pecked his and then Johnny's cheek. “I'm so glad you've come back to Lancer. Although he won't thank me for telling you, having you here is all that Murdoch ever wanted and he's thought about you both, every single day. You mean the world to him, you really do.”

Giving them a smile that was almost shy at her impulsiveness Teresa then left the room and for several seconds the two men stared after her in silence as they reflected on her words.

“Well, the old man sure is full of surprises, ain't he brother,” Johnny finally commented in a soft voice as his eyes once again fixed on the palomino horse and he studied it thoughtfully.

Scott nodded as he recalled Murdoch's initial cold-eyed stare given towards them on their first meeting. “Just shows how some first impressions can be so wrong,” he said and with no further conversation between them brought in his travelling cases and stacked them in a corner.

He placed the dust sheets back over the three treasured items and helping his brother to ease up from his chair they exited the room, locking the door and the memories behind them.



***



Having driven all the way from town Murdoch pulled the two-seated buggy's chestnut team to a stop by the corral, placed a foot on the iron step pad and swung carefully down to the floor. One of the ranch's vaqueros appeared and took charge of the horses, and after giving him a few words of thanks Murdoch took hold of his walking stick and made his way slowly and stiffly across the yard.

He still found it difficult to walk far unaided after being shot in the leg many months before and he paused inside the porch for a moment to regain his breath.

Still hardly daring to believe after all those lonely years his sons were just a few steps away inside, the thought sent a surge of happiness through him only to be straightaway replaced by a feeling of unease. For Murdoch had seen the brooding expression on Johnny's face as he'd laid recuperating in bed; noticed the way he warily stared towards him each time he'd entered his room.

He'd come so close to dying for the sake of the Lancer ranch yet Murdoch was sure his youngest son had decided this was not the place he wanted to be. He could only hope he was wrong and holding that thought deep inside he opened the door.

Hanging up his hat and gun belt Murdoch noticed Scott sat in a chair by the fireplace and a second figure sitting by Teresa's side on the settee. He couldn't help showing his surprised delight. “Johnny it's good to see you up at last! I only hope you're not overdoing it,” he said with genuine concern as he made towards them.

“Not much chance of that with these two nursemaids sticking to me like glue,” the younger man answered, receiving a playful whack in the chest from a female hand.

Teresa looked over with a welcoming smile towards her adopted father. “Would you like a coffee Murdoch? There's still plenty of water on the stove and I can soon make a fresh pot.”

“I'd love one my dear,” Murdoch answered gratefully, and as his ward disappeared towards the kitchen he sank down into an armchair. About to tell them his visit to the lawyer had been successful he suddenly sensed Johnny's blue eyes focused attentively on him while his eldest looked unusually pensive and serious.

“Something wrong Scott?”

As his gaze centered on his father's broad and work-lined face Scott straightened and gestured upward. “Teresa showed us the contents of the upstairs store room earlier.”

Acutely aware of the significance of the disclosure Murdoch showed no sign of disapproval as he gave a slow nod of understanding. “I would have shown you myself but with all that's been going on it slipped my mind.”

Accepting his answer without question Scott looked back down and unusually for him appeared a little nervous as he gently fingered something in his hand for a moment then offered it over. “You had no reason to know it was there, but this was hidden inside my mother's writing desk. By rights it belongs to you now.”

Murdoch swallowed hard with astonishment as he recognized his wife's long lost journal. “So it never left Lancer,” he whispered in a voice strangely tender for once. “That's good to know.”

“I haven't read any of it,” Scott quickly assured. “I hoped maybe one day you'd…”

Realizing what he was thinking Murdoch interrupted him. “How would you like us to read it together sometime son? I'm sure she'd approve.”

His offer took Scott by surprise. “I'd like that a great deal sir. Thank you,” he formally answered and sank back down in his seat, not sure what else to say.

In the following silence Johnny shifted around, gearing himself up to make some sort of announcement as he awkwardly cleared his throat. “Murdoch, there's er…there's something you need to know.”

Scott shot his brother a disappointed glance. It seemed his impassioned plea to delay telling their father he wasn't staying had fallen on deaf ears.

Murdoch visibly stiffened as he waited for him to continue, steeling himself to be told he was leaving and knowing nothing he could say would change Johnny's mind.

“Fact is I reckon I should manage to get to that lawyers office by the end of the week. So I think it's only fair you know once we've signed on the dotted line me and Scott intend heading off for a few days to check out the full extent of your…our property.”

Johnny's eyes twinkled mischievously as he gave his brother a quick glance to see if he'd taken in what he'd just said. Scott stared blankly at him for a moment then the penny dropped. His strained features relaxed and the corners of his mouth lifted as he cast him a grateful look.

It had taken a hand-made rocking horse and the words of a young woman to convince Johnny his future was on Lancer with family who cared as he turned his gaze back to his father. “You okay with that Murdoch?”

Giving a silent sigh of thanks that his worst fear had been unfounded Murdoch nodded approvingly. “Sounds like a great idea son. You boys take as long as you want.”

Johnny smiled towards him with genuine warmth. “Oh, we intend to,” he vaguely threatened with a grin then ran a hand over his bandaged back and found for once he didn't flinch at the touch. “What do you say to helping me over to the barn Boston ? Reckon I should reintroduce myself to my horse seeing as we're going to be working together around here from now on.”

“You want me to carry you across there the same way I carried you in here?”

Johnny grinned, vaguely remembering being hauled across his shoulder after being shot. “Reckon I can manage to walk on my own two feet this time, but good to know you've a back-up plan ready.”

“Oh, I always have a back up plan brother,” Scott assured as he pushed up from his seat. “You never know when it might be needed.”

Moments later Murdoch wandered over to the window and flicked through the pages of his beloved Catherine's journal, only stopping for a moment at the last entry to note the date and realizing it was written the day before she'd left the ranch, never to return.

He pressed it hard to his chest. At least their son finally found his way home…thank God both my sons have found their way home Murdoch inwardly sighed, the usually undemonstrative father choked with love for them both.

He noticed Scott had his hand resting gently around his brother's arm as though in preparation for any unexpected contingency as they made their way slowly across the yard. One of them must have said something funny because they both suddenly burst out laughing. Murdoch couldn't help but smile with contentment at the brotherly bond already fixed firm between the two.

He wasn't naïve enough to think things would be easy and a bed of roses once they'd signed their partnership deal. With different temperaments he could well imagine there'd be arguments, disagreements, fall outs, moments of passionate debate between the three of them in the years to come.

But today was all peace and harmony; tomorrow could take care of itself and for Murdoch that was good enough.

 

~ end ~

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