2010-12-25: Maggie and Laurie Save Christmas



Guest Starring:


Date: December 25th, 2010


Maggie and Laurie spend a slightly non-traditional Christmas morning together.

"Maggie and Laurie Save Christmas"

Forrester Ranch

Echo, Wyoming

A snowflake slow dances along the subtle breeze that whispers through trees and makes lively the curling route to the ground. It's joined by a thousand others. The golden sun lights the way, adding a crystalline sparkle to the fresh pattern aligning with already piled drifts, snow upon snow. Their shine is mirrored inside by the dazzle of a spectacularly lit tree.

It's a white Christmas.

Nestled inside the Forrester ranch, a once charming fire has dwindled into quiet heat in the late morning, coals throbbing red, lending a gentle warmth to the downstairs. The occasional crackle is the bass to a cacophony of homely winter noises: above the fire, the flute trilling of awakened birds, celebrating the passing of the storm, and, as accent, the light scuffling of animal claws against furniture — a snuffle and sniff, just gentle readjustments. Inhaling is no idle task, where the glow of these comforts are not the only thing to fill the room; fresh fruit, walnut, the robust scent of primely cooked meats, a dozen intermingling spices in perfect harmony, reminiscence of cinnamon especially, a flirting suggestion of the hearty chocolate, and, there — winding out of the swinging kitchen doors, up stairs, and basking in being the first to greet a morning riser, the sign of a perfect awakening — waffles.

Awash with these hospitalities for the senses, the ranch main floor could have been folded out of a catalogue. There is just one sight, amiss to the theme, unlikely to be featured in the latest of Country Home Decor:

He's in the large armchair positioned between tree and where carpet becomes wood-flooring for the entryway. One foot extended onto that oak, its toes barer than its companion, pulled in towards the chair, clad in a designer boot that hasn't been tied, with his knee knocked all the way over, tipping his foot onto the boot rim. Grey capris remain, bunching loosely below his knees, their other hang difficult to discern in the way he sits, forward in the chair as if about to push to get up. Over them, another white sweater, this one ribbed, with a zippered collar that's opened to show a second one, green, below, from off a dress-shirt. Sleeves are both rolled, though the arm slung over that of the chair is loosing a bit of ground to the white. The other sleeve end is pinched inside his palm, where his knuckles are jammed against his temple, partially covering one eye. At first sight, he could almost be about to move — but none happens after too many long moments, and his chest rises and falls with peacefully spaced breaths.

To movement outside of this bastion of comfort, a jingle — Petunia's head lifts, dragging with it the ornamental bell that's been attached, and, with a rustle, the ends of the leash still hooked on. Then, she wiggles her shoulders and replaces her jaw onto the treasure tucked between her lightly crossed front legs — Laurie's other boot.

Into this world on Christmas Day enters Maggie, taking her descent into the welcoming scene that has cheerily taken over the downstairs since she last stirred. Her steps are slow, and might be on the sore side, but so too are they leisurely; there is no horrific emergency to solve here, and she's in no hurry. First to appear to Petunia's contentedly distracted attention is brown corduroy, then a hand trailing along the banister, and a splash of colour well-matched to the most vivid of holiday shades that decorate the home— a sweater of cozy and simple make save for a long, softly draping cowl neck, about which much tidied hair waves against the soft fabric. Battered bruises and cuts are hidden as if they never were, the only evidence of the day before existing in the first aid kit she carries against one side.

Many hours of sleep later, she is the definition of well-rested, and it shines through with a certain brightness; but also attributable are the sights and scents unfolding before her. There's a smile forming, pleasantly quizzical and wondering. Though calm, the glint in her eye may not be that of a child running downstairs on Christmas morning, but it's present, heartened and warm.

The last few steps present the image of Laurie to her, and she pauses; given the little increase in her smile, his apparently dozing state appears, to Maggie, no less idyllic than the rest. Concern naturally tinges her gaze and she moves quietly to the armchair, where she kneels by Petunia to lay a hand on pale ears and try to urge the stray boot away with a few kind murmurs, half-whispered and half-high-voiced and endearing: "Hey, shh, he-ee-y, that's not yours, puppy…" She tilts a look up to Laurie, planting her right hand on the seat beside him, turning a quiet study upward.

What! No— hey, other woman, this is Petunia's boot. Was it not obvious by her coddling of it? The labrador's paws hastily dap in their spots, attempting to get some weight on the escaping boot to force it back down into her grasp. Perked up, her head juts down, chin lowered to her own chest, to watch this phenomenon of escaping treasure. Her back legs begin to wiggle with growing enthusiasm, and her back-end leads the rest of her into a stand. Losing the boot, she prances a couple of times, perhaps expecting some action to come from it.

When none immediately satisfies her from Maggie's end, she turns a nose onto Laurie — unmoved, unaware — by the way, this is also hers — snuffling affectionately, but with an odd bit of urgency, into his side. She gets in, hooking underneath his sweater, and a couple more huffs distort the fabric's fall, curling it over itself to show, beneath, a hint of bandaged white — but only a hint; that clinical packaging has been overrun by red.

As it happens, Maggie is in the midst of shuffling the first aid kit from its tuck under her arm before Petunia's prying about reveals a glimpse of red quite unrelated to the sights of Christmas. Her realization is slow at first, obscured by the dog's very nose; she watches for a moment before a hint of bandage catches her eye. The kit is set upon the arm of the chair, and — as Petunia's nosing no doubt has ample time to turn into licking — Maggie gives her a gentle nudge.

There it is; the blood escaped from wounds not stitched the night before. "What're we gonna do about that, Petunia," she queries in a much softer and casual tone than the way she now eyes Laurie's side, reaching into aid the dog's lift of his sweater. Verdict: wake him up. There's no jarring wake-up call in his future, however, at least not traditionally speaking: no shaking, no loud voices. Instead, Maggie's touch naturally goes to Laurie's face, in the form of a hand — so much warmer than the day past — that splays along the side of his face opposite his lean onto knuckles. Her soft voice not unlike that directed at the dog, she searches out his consciousness— "Miles?" Tilting her head more on par with his, Maggie studies the dozy consultant, a thumb smoothing light concerns above his eyebrow without conscious thought. "Heeey…"

Encouraged away from her slobbery ministrations, tongue lapping at the tell-tale red, Petunia gives a low whine as to her answer and then bustles in to attempt and regain her nursing. Now, though, Maggie's hand blocks the way, and the labrador obligingly backs off a step, thumping down hard on her butt to sit and making an expectant noise that coincides with the tingling of the bell and whipping about of the leash.

"Mmmm…" murmurs Laurie as soon as he's addressed, fluttering so lightly between out and in — but it's out that clings to him a little longer. Shoulders roll, he shoves a touch more towards the edge of the seat: all signs of intentions to move, that don't quite pan out. The knuckles dive into the socket, rubbing along that closed eye. His bare foot draws reluctantly in to the chair, the booted one considering straightening but, in its carelessness, nearly shucking off the loosely applied footwear, instead. "What…."

"Good morning," is the reply — amused, even cheerful atop more pressing concerns. "I think you fell asleep on your way out." Swept back by Laurie's attempt at moving, Maggie's hand has been rearranged to settle at his free temple; there's no intent to the contact, only the instinct it's brought on by as she continues to study him for signs of being less than well. Her other hand holds all the purpose; from overused bandage to shoulder, she urges Laurie ever-so-slightly back, prompting her to shuffle upon knees slightly closer to the chair, at a slight angle to the mess of boots and the jingling dog. Her concerns, however, certainly put her in his way. "And," she begins to deliver with this calm concern, "you're bleeding… kind of considerably…"

"Gummorning…" is muttered back to her, Laurie's reluctance lending him a heavier lean into his propped arm, simultaneously making more available the source of Maggie's concerns. Warmth has done something to revive the skin around the scratches across his cheek, cutting a healthier picture around his sharp angles — the gauntness of weight he's never regained since the hospital. If anything, the compliancy with which he folds into the chair at Maggie's prodding is the most obvious warning sign of possible frightening change. So far, the bandage's uppermost layer has managed to keep all of that soaked in blood from rising to tag his green dress shirt, tucked inside that white sweater. Even the dog bite, visible underneath his pants' shorter reach, has closed — though that is surrounded by puffy red swelling over all the exertion it was put through. He adjusts, there, shoulder tucked to the chair back, and face tipping slightly towards her — not enough for him to open his eye and actually look. "Yeah," grumbled through his foggy awareness, not irritably, but perhaps aimed to end the conversation that's keeping him conscious, "That happens…"

"Yeah," Maggie agrees with a hint of a laugh just under her voice, her concern quite intact throughout. "Especially when you wander away from my very questionable sewing skills," she reminds him, though the scolding remains good-natured to his half-conscious self. "You've certainly been busy. O-kay," she says slowly as, her gaze wandering gaze roaming over his face, she nods to his closed eyes. "Okay…" Under the watchful eye of Petunia, she detaches from Laurie only to move both hands to the lowest edge of the bandage, prying to off bit by bit until she can unveil most of the torn skin beneath, holding up the layers of his shirts here and there. "You can pass out again, if you want to; I'm going to fix this up either way." She reaches for the first-aid kit. "You just better wake up again…"

Blood's gotten everywhere below the bandage, clotted up at the holes, and smeared on the skin; the largest wound appears especially cranky about something — or maybe all the blood flow has just worsened the bruises cuddled up nearby. "You needed to sleep. I am awake…" the man drowsily insists, almost right into the hand he's let roll onto his cheek; oww, it rolls off again, sparking a bit of life from a twitch above Laurie's closed eyes. "Can't," a yawn expands his chest, inflating his sides along with, "sleep… I'm just waiting on the…" Slow words drift along until his brain catches up, jogging into place after a slow start at the gunner's mark.

Bam! Sudden blue; his eyes jump open; there's a person in his way. Split-second evaluation of the obstacle, and the consultant has lightning-fast swung his leg around the chair arm. His hand falls to the opposite, forcing him up and, with a tumbling throw of his weight, over the side of the chair and onto the floor. He's left his boot behind in the process, leaving him barefoot to scamper, skidding a little right before the doors, into the kitchen. With the skittering of claws unable to find purchase on a smooth floor, Petunia goes flying after him, trailing a leash and making a merry jingling of holiday bells.

Reeling backward slightly at Laurie's jarring leap from sleepy to flying off the chair, Maggie is left with her hands in the air near the space Laurie used to be. She ought to be perturbed for his takeoff when his wounds need perhaps more care than before, but the sudden scamper and explosion of jingle bells has her smiling despite herself and directing a bewildered expression at the kitchen doors. They seem as if they're about to swing straight off their hinges following the veritable whirlwind of man and dog. A roll of her eyes and shake of her head precedes her slower rise, using the abandoned seat to push up from.

A couple of moments later, she catches a door and pushes it open with her red-sleeved elbow, slipping into the kitchen, instantly enveloped more fully with the rich scents of Laurie's Christmas accomplishments. Immediately her eyes go a touch wider for it. "The— ?"

"— Day is saved!" the kitchen-worthy consultant announces as soon as she's entered. Laurie spins to acknowledge her, brandishing in either mitted hand the clear baking dish bearing that which brings the heartiest of the scents there: a highly seasoned pork roast, adorned on its sides and between the folds of meat with the breadcrumb stuffing of applesauce and walnuts. Bark, bark! Petunia enunciates excitably, twining about his legs in a victory dance that, if he were any less deft, could've turned triumph to disaster. But he steps safely around the dog's winding, finding a bit of practiced harmony with her — this has probably been going on all morning.

In fact, there is evidence filling every countertop that it has. Rather than heaps of cheerfully wrapped presents with neatly tied bows appearing beneath the Forrester Christmas tree, it seems the holiday has landed a miracle upon their kitchen. Already basking on the surfaces near the refrigerator is a bowl of waiting lettuce, protected over the top by plastic wrap, and next to a jar of what appears — and smells like it appears — to be bacon grease and dressing. More of the speckles of other ingredients sit nearby, collected into a plastic container. Some kind of creamy brown sauce takes its place on the stovetop, now neighbor to the pork roast as Laurie sidles it onto a grate. He sheds the mitt off his left hand, but the right remains encased.

Meanwhile, heartiness gives to freshness at the small table that was once adorned with layers of muffins. A bowl of assorted fruit, a few leftovers from the main meal preparation. Few inches away, the torn open and hopelessly crumpled bag taken from Langston, with its insides spilled out on the plate set under its gaping mouth; every single peanut has vanished, and a good deal of the chocolate chips, leaving raisins, M&Ms, and dried fruits to complete the assortment.

For all of it, the kitchen is bright, with a few traces of sugar or spots where cups sat too long and created a ring on the table-cloth, and organization has not fell on the wayside to production. Every used dish has been rinsed and awaits its washing patiently in the sink.

"You've rescued Christmas," which is quite the accomplishment, earning her a beaming look from the over-night cook, "Or, at least, Christmas dinner— which, to some, might not be the spirit of the holiday, but a rewardable service nonetheless. Here," he's strolled around the maze of food dishes to pick up another full plate out of seemingly nowhere, and now appears in front of her with it offered, "have some breakfast," the celebrated waffles! Stacked high, and fluffy; there's only two, but they're voluminous enough to be a three-course meal. Fishing one hand into his pocket, he adds, "and a caramel," and, flipping the wrapper off with a finger, unhesitatingly plops it right between Maggie's lips. "But only one! The rest are for the fudge." His eyebrows hopping excitedly at this notion finally gives focus to what his knuckles had been hiding back in the chair: an appled, red and merry, shiner on the swell of his cheek below that left eye; not there before.

Maggie is momentarily overwhelmed by taking everything in — and she does take every single thing in with her bright, and still brightening, eyes. Her open mouth is an easy receptacle for the candy as a sugary start to her day. Her hands are wrapped around the breakfast plate almost before she realizes what's on it. She's caught between blinking at the damage newly done to Laurie's face and staring at the kitchen wonders in front of her. She's delayed by speaking on anything at all by the caramel she chews through without complaint, but she certainly smiles, cheerful as can be.

As she looks down at her plate, there's a faint laugh to her reply: "Waffles," she manages to get out, seeming rather amused and warmed by her breakfast "You've rescued Christmas. You must've gotten up so early to do all this." Maggie carefully meanders further into the kitchen to slowly inch toward some free space— perhaps the table… she pauses anyway to shine a beaming smile of her own at the chef. "This is amazing." Even through her smile her sights narrow on Laurie with concern; she can't ignore— "But what happened to your face?"

A weird little quirk happens to Laurie's smile, "What, don't recognize your own handiwork?" But he lets it drop, with a small shake of his head, "At least I still have my— " a brilliant yawn interrupts him — what was that about being up early? — and he raises the back of his hand to his mouth to cover, "… questionable uses after my looks are gone. If they don't find you handsome, etc, etc…" He turns about to address the sink. This time, a notion of a wince as his side caves in, the injury awakened and unapproving of flying-off-chair antics. Laurie exercises a few squirms that must be replacing his shirt, or the loosened bandage more comfortably. Either way, he never sacrifices his hands for the job, keeping them clean and clear, except to push sleeves back up around elbows on both sides.

With a twist of the faucet, water gushes out into the sink, and he grabs a bowl from next to it to run under the rinsing. There's already another, chockfull of slouching bags of sugar, a bottle of vanilla, a package of those caramels and, as Laurie removes it, a measuring cup filled just right with those selected peanuts from the trail-mix.

Meanwhile… "My— ohh. Oohhhhhhhh." Maggie's drawn-out realization sound almost contrived, it's so lively — but no, that is simply the extent of a foggy memory coming to the fore and being rather regretted. She goes quiet after that, until she reaches the set aside table to place her plate upon. "I didn't realize I hit you. Hey— " she says, pitched above Laurie's work at the dishes— and coming closer, as she begins to whisk against counter's edges, opening a drawer— no cutlery there… " — I'm really sorry about that… I'm light sleeper. At least you've learned your lesson." Maybe. Even while firmly informative, Maggie is apologetic, wincing and smiling at the same time: "You shouldn't have been trying to move me, I was quite capable of… walking… or sleeping on the floor. It could've been worse though," she looks up, up to where heavy cookware hangs on pegs against one wall; among them, cast iron frying pans, "I could've fallen asleep in the kitchen."

He glances over to her rummaging amidst gathering a really inordinate seeming amount of butter into a separate mixing cup. Beside it, he slides a large dark brown canister labeled Choxi cocoa powder, while his eyes follow the search. "What are you talking about," is mentioned in-between, words meaning his eyes are on his work, and pauses letting him drift over to mark her progress. "I haven't learned a thing. I'm vastly incapable." So, no. "Besides," he sidles a couple of paces away from where a second brown powdery substance was being added to the first, leaning along his weak side to jut open a drawer on the opposite one of the sink. From here, he produces a fork, and a knife, and a follow-up grimace; only the former two are tossed with a gentle underhand to the table, clattering in a couple of bounces next to her waiting plate. "Just because you are capable, doesn't always mean you should have to." Back on his post, pouring brown sugar up to the dotted line, he spares a turn of the head to note where her joke lies. A hint of a laugh on a breath, and he shakes his head to get it on task; pour pour. "Eh eh… bash me once…"

Maggie's gaze sails with the cutlery. "Thanks," she says with quick politeness before going on. "Alright, well, I've learned my lesson then: to stop getting myself into positions where you carry me against— my better judgment," she says on her way back to breakfast, "I'm not very portable." Settling in affront the bountiful plate of waffles, they're lathered with butter from the side, and syrup from the bottle on the table, spilled liberally over everything. As Maggie sets into her breakfast, which seems, for now, to quiet her, she has her eye on Laurie. Partly, she watches his baking preparations; partly, it's concern — his state of bleeding hasn't been forgotten in all the food-filled cheer.

"But you have such good judgment," Laurie mentions, managing to make the compliment sound like a bad thing, "That seems horribly limiting." Eyes on his work, he redistributes the brown powders into the cleansed bowl with the butter. Dribbling a bit of vanilla onto a spoon, that is then added in along with. Yanking out another drawer, he pulls out a whisk, bringing it around with his left hand into the bowl. The right, in its mitt, keeps a hold of the dish while he spins the ingredients around and around, to combine, and the secondary hand has no difficulty keeping up the precise motions needed. Strain comes where Maggie's most looking for it, instead; as his arm whips about, so does it shuffle his side here and there. Barreling right past this potential hurting, Laurie has grown absent, and soon muttering, hints of noise come from around his turned back. The hmm hmm hm hmmm of humming, and, trickling in, low, "… whose arms will… hmm hmm hold you good and tight…"

Whoosh~ he's on the move, maneuvering the counters like a dancer — or a fighter. To the hanging refrigerator, where his humming becomes muted and muffled by something plucked up by the hand still juggling the now chocolate-coated whisk. Liquid is swished around the sides of its container, then the rush of pouring. The whisk comes around, handicapped by whatever he's clinging to from the fridge. Whirling, he's come to face Maggie, and to stride up to her breakfast of champions, to adorn a large strawberry atop its pile. "Strawberry," he announces, needlessly but with enthusiasm; the green top of the other one he picked up is sticking out of the side of his mouth, blurring, as he twirls to find the hanging microwave, the words: "… welcoming in the New Year…"

Maggie seems more merry for Laurie's enthusiasm than the strawberry itself; concerns aside, she in fact appears perpetually amused by his cheerful whisking about the kitchen. It would be a shame to interrupt his singing — another cause for her smile — and so she doesn't, not for a little awhile. The size of the waffles in front of her might be tremendous, but she puts a similarly tremendous dent in them with a hearty appetite.

It's as she pauses to pluck the strawberry from the top, and leans comfortably over the table, head in hand, turned toward Laurie, with an elbow resting heavily beside her plate (manners, detective…) that she pipes up. "You really like the holidays," she observes aloud, a casual statement that holds some pleasant commendation, too. "What— " Maggie interrupts herself with a bite of strawberry, " — do you usually… do for Christmas? Or is hunting killers and cooking for victims' families in the middle of nowhere the norm."

The microwave creates a new humming noise, while Laurie's filters underneath, smooth and soft — not required to be heard; "Maybe I'm crazy… to suppose… I'd ever be… the one you chose…" From out of his pocket arrives a hefty bag of individually wrapped caramels, from whence Maggie's morning treat came. Tossed onto the counter, they're to be shucked of their wrappers, one by one, and it's this that the cook is indulging when he glances over, humming running to a close, when Maggie speakers.

"I usually," he announces, popping a caramel into the bowl — and its partner into his mouth; so has it been going, one for you and… one for me. It can only be assumed that he's carefully counting the product so as not to run out before the cup is full. His mouth is what's full when it comes to finishing his thought, "try not to be usual." A small shrug. The candy in his hand is forgotten briefly, and he taps it against the counter. "The fact of the matter is, I haven't planned Christmas for— oh, years. I spent— " he slows words, returning to work, though taking a goodly time on this particular crinkling paper as he watches it bend under his attentions, "The last seven or so at the houses of families I'd consulted for… Before that," his posture's become increasingly pensive, dropping his right elbow onto the counter, he leans, and nearly faces Maggie, except eyes stay down on what he's doing with that especially difficult caramel, "was more regular," he twists, rotating along that standing elbow to finally drop the candy with its fellows, "I spent Christmas with Salvatore, and his family."

The familiar name of the mobster brings about an instant, quick blink from Maggie, but it doesn't prompt the darker sentiments that could easily be lent to Salvatore — not for this. It's a realizing variety of smile she adopts, a soft expression, wondering. "My last few… or… well several, I suppose… haven't been planned, either…" The same hint of a regret, a faint undertone of something a little troubled, also tips of her head down toward the table and averts her eyes — but not for long. Her gaze is happy to return to Laurie and his four-legged helper who brings the light jingle of a bell to the kitchen every so often, just as it was. Undemanding, only curious — casual — Maggie asks, "What was that like?" Another bite of strawberry, leaving her with a corner of her thumb in her mouth, "Christmas with the Salvatores."

Time is required for the answer, and Laurie spends it dutifully, his eyes batted to a corner of the floor, his mouth rolled out in visible pondering as he, towards the end of the sustained minute, sways his head very lightly side to side — finally accepting the approximation. "Welcoming," he's decided on — no sarcasm, or sugar-coating. If anything, it's wistful, pawing for a feeling since, and before that, absent. In the theme of pawing, Petunia's nose nuzzles near his paused hands as he stays still too long. Patiently, he fits his palm on top of her head and navigates it strongly off from his bad side, where she was, once again, searching to get under his shirt. It's enough reminder to turn the cook around, rattling the last of the caramels from the bag and making quick work of them. "Rich— fantastic food. I got, ah— " he brings his hand out under the light, turning it this and that way to catch if there's any evidence between knuckles, " — warning stabbed that first year for trying to lift a recipe."

As if trying to determine the truth of that story, Maggie raises her eyebrows high at Laurie — but with a furthered smile, she nods along as though agreeing. "I hear it's a very serious offence," she says informatively, "stealing a family recipe." Especially when that family is a family of crime. "Otherwise it sounds lovely," she adds, sincere. Welcoming is welcoming— no matter where the reception.

She's made remarkably quick work of her breakfast in the spans of quiet here and there— stacked waffles that once occupied nearly the whole plate and seemed impossibly large are dwindling all at once. It's as she addresses this last bastion of syrup-covered breakfast that Maggie nonchalantly pipes up, as if naturally reminded— and yet out of left field: "So… you know how to pick locks." Not a question as much as a disconnected statement that she follows up with a questioning look— it widens ever-so-slightly into hopeful territory just as her voice becomes just as slightly cautious. "You do. Right?"

If there used to be a scar or symbol to commemorate the story, there's no such one on any of his fingers as he shows them off now. Yet his delivery is simple, and does not smack of an overworked deception. "No one enforces the rules better than Grandma Salvatore." And that's that. Glancing to the left, he puckers his lips, making a few reassuring smooches in the air to Petunia's light whining. Reaching over, he undoes the labrador's collar where the leash is attached, stuffing the heavy end into his pocket, where the rest hangs out like a noose, tapping his leg as he moves between sink and microwave. Behind a frosted window, the softly rotating mixture can be seen to begin to be disturbed by heat beneath the surface. "Sure— locks. Handcuffs, safes, mood music— what kind is it?"

A smile lingering for amusement over Laurie's clash with Grandma Salvatore, a lighter quality clings to the talk of lock-picking. Maggie is soon rising from the table with her empty plate in hand. Both hands, in fact, as she makes her way into the proper kitchen realm of cooking and baking. On her way, an eyebrow inches just slightly up at his last list item, but she gets stuck on: "… Safes, why— " Momentary; whatever curiosity she has over this skillset of Laurie's is — partly — dismissed with a small shake of her head on her way to the sink. Nearing, she reaches out toward it with a sideways lean, a warning that she might be in the way of Laurie's sink-microwave zone for a second. "A— door, in this case… uh— two, one is conventional but the deadlock, that's fairly powerful…"

Using the yet mitted hand to moved the bowl from the microwave where it's started to boil, Laurie trades one for the other — heated powders for stripped caramels. "Why not?" Coming in to lean both elbows on the counter, he strips away the mitt, setting it nearly aside near the hot bowl. The hand beneath has dried since its massage, and, before he can get to his ingredients, he caters to its fierce itching by rubbing those skinless knuckles quite actively along the side of his pants and alighting the patchiness with brighter red. Brought around, it seamlessly transitions to measuring out a pour of vanilla into a teaspoon. "Ooo, fairly powerful," he muses, dumping the vanilla sidelong into the bowl, his smooth kitchen moves distracted briefly by imagining this deadlock, "Sounds fairly interesting. Are you giving me a challenge for Christmas? Lick." That is— the creamy chocolate-covered whisk he's brandishing towards her.

"Maybe — if you're up for it," Maggie answers, her glance taking her way from attention for a second as she reaches for the tap. "I have— " A chocolate-covered whisk in front of her, she quickly discovers when she looks upon the realizing the command. Settling the plate and its cutlery into the sink carefully without looking, she reaches to take the whisk from Laurie, quite content to do as told even despite— "Are you trying to put me into a sugar coma?" The implement is twirls naturally in her grip as she gives the chocolate a quick taste at the top. As it ought to, it encourages a smile — an easy feat today, it would seem, as Maggie has barely stopped, but this one is particularly beaming for a moment. "That's really good, Miles. Who did you steal this recipe from?"

"If this is all it takes, we need to seriously work on your tolerance." Maneuvering a few other dishes in a clinking dance, Laurie gets in front a greased pan. There's just one more stop first: topically, more sugar; he weighs it out, then dips the measuring cup into the pried open top. When it comes out, billowing like a mountain on top, he holds it over the bag and runs a smooth-backed knife along the top, crisply evening it out right to the line. It's deposited into the bowl of what Maggie's currently sampling. "If I told you," he informs her soberly, casting a warning eye out of the corner of his, "I'd have to stab you." But behind the idle threat, there's a secretive dimple at one corner of his mouth containing immense satisfaction, and he quietly sets the — rather dull-edged — knife on the counter. Then he lines up the measuring cup to perform the task again — sugar coma, indeed.

As she spins to the sink, Maggie catches the secretive satisfaction out of the corner of her own eye. "Oh, well." Her own expression almost becomes a match as she busies herself with her task. The whisk is given a wash in the sink — but not before a finger swipes over its tines to salvage some of the chocolate for herself. Also subjected to running water and soap are the plate and cutlery; all is quiet on her front as she studiously, quickly cleans everything, dries them and sets them aside. She heads past Laurie, giving Petunia a ruffle on her way, and disappears through the swinging doors without a word.

The distant creaking of stairs sounds out her progress; up, down. Maggie isn't gone even a minute before she's back, but she's not empty-handed: everyone's favourite first aid kit is in her possession, and in one hand she displays a plastic box that is just as familiar, if more elusive. "Look what I found," she lightly announces on her way back to the baking consultant. "Keep doing what you're doing — I wouldn't want to stop you," she says, really quite cheerfully, "but you're not going to stop me, either." Decisive, she moves in on Laurie, tucking the sutures in temporary corduroy storage in her back pocket and reaching out to swoop a pointed gesture upward— she's pointing at you, sweater.

While the dishes had been running, Laurie delegated out three and a half more of the smooth-topped sugar cups, all up-ended into the same, chocolate-y bowl. By the time Maggie returns to the kitchen, that bowl is empty. Not — mostly — because it's been consumed (whereupon, likely both Laurie and Petunia would be found on the floor, dead from overdose), but poured into the greased and waiting pan. The microwave is buzzing for a second round, now spinning the collection of caramels, and Laurie hovers over a third bowl, leant on his elbows and a propped hand feeding in a chocolate chip to his mouth.

Look doesn't quite get him to; he's sluggish to obey, not managing to tear his eyes away from his forming mixture before she's already approached. "Fantastic for you," he mutters rather generically, then, more possessively, "Can't stop fudge once you start, anyway. It's the ruuules. But— since I don't follow rules, it's also just a good idea." With the mild concentration of someone flipping a gossip magazine — which, wouldn't exactly be out of his realm, in other situations — he stirs what's in front of him; he doesn't even see her gesture at all, and the sweater, itself, has nothing to add. More attentively, Petunia circles nearby and gives an encouraging yip.

Petunia's attentive yip earns a reassuring pet from Maggie. "See, some rules are good ideas." Her instructional gesture since bypassed — to, truly, no surprise on her part — she nevertheless pauses her determined mission for a moment, ruffles of the dog becoming more idle as, with a bit of hesitation, she looks between Laurie and the fudge he must watch. She sets the first aid kit down on a clear, out-of-the-way, but easily in reach, edge of the counter.

"Alriiight…" she says quietly — more to herself and, by default, Petunia, than to Laurie — but it is the only further warning he gets before she snags a few fingers under the bottom of his sweater. She steps in just behind him, gets the other side; left and right, each grip curls under to search out layers upon layers until there are none left. The tips of her fingers find skin, knuckles brushing against his sides. Infiltration successful— and now there is a break in the proceedings. It's in this pose, nothing bared, only touched, that Maggie delays, casting gauging glances up.

Warning, wasted; to those starting fingers, Laurie brandishes his own, not as if to stop the detective, but a general dissuading gesture that would sooner push the head of a dog away. Happily, Petunia obeys by staying right where she is. Her soft, enthusiastic pants finally urge the consulting cook to look over — to see the dog he thought was nudging his sweater is two feet away, beaming in a canine fashion at him — to just miss as Maggie steps out of his periphery and into his back. Eyebrows dart down, drafting momentary confusion.

And then, his dress-shirt abandons him to sudden knuckles— "Tcch— !" Nothing more articulate, as what is a rash of honest surprise bolts Laurie into… where's there to go — the counter. Hands at either side dart up, perhaps defensively, perhaps reflexively; either way, it's raining chocolate chips over the bowl they were prepared for, counter, and a couple onto the floor. It's over quickly, he's instantly relaxing, trying to reach across and catch the last tumbling chip before it also becomes a guest of Petunia's realm.

"Did I surprise you?" A surprise in and of itself. "I didn't mean to startle you— " Maggie reassures. Just then, she spies a blur of enthusiastic canine movement; that little bit of chocolate plummets over the edge at the very last second anyway, doomed, and Petunia is at the ready. So is Maggie; spurred somewhat by the same sentiment behind the apologetic (and faintly sheepish) expression she now wears, she adopts a sideways lean and half-crouch to aid in gathering up the few fallen chocolate chips that did make it to the floor before the dog gets them. One-handed because she more or less hangs off of Laurie slightly in doing so: she doesn't let go of the opposite side of his wardrobe. No, she's not letting him out of her grasp; he's slippery.

Or just slipping. Whether by his own reach, or her latch, Laurie folds down along with her, hand stretched once to catch the chocolate changes mission to bop Petunia on the nose for her, admittedly, good taste. Hitting her paws is more effective, and the route he takes to rescue a stranded chip before it's too late. As the labrador backs up, likely soon to charge back in with renewed interest, he glances around the floor for any misses. There, with the most energetic trajectory, one has landed even past Maggie. The rescued chocolate tucked in his palm, two other fingers extend in that direction. "We've got a runaway…" he mutters, half because, even while indicating, it seems he plans to reach for it, himself, and half because regular talking seems overkill; they've gotten so close. When he turns, twining her attached arm around himself, it's into her.

Quite; Maggie is both in his way and doesn't get out of it, when doing so might mean more a tangle. Her reaching arm bars his way— for a just a moment; his movement is concurrent with her glancing to his destination. "Oh," she says and her reach withdraws along the floor, chocolate in hand; her shoulder leans out— if not away from him, as it only frees his path enough for him to turn— into her— and the hold she found on his shirt stays, but slackens now as if she might let go. Instead, she seems to be waiting out his task, paused with a certain awareness — hyperawareness — set, watching, upon Laurie.

Mission successful, as Laurie's fingers pluck up the stray chocolate — the last of its escaping kind. Unlike her, the man's focus pins entirely on this, his arm, freed space by hers, stretching past her crouching side to do so, his eyes — almost level with hers — on the goal, his lips — aligned by hers — gently parted. If he turned his head to see her there, maybe it would be a collision — eyes, lips — but she's presented his cheek as he slants at an angle to her, dipping in for the chocolate, then bouncing back onto his heels. As he slides, there it comes: pressure on her lips— he's shifted backwards, hand popped up, with chocolate, to dap the tiny sugar dosage into her mouth, the pad of his thumb pressing so familiarly against lips. "Five second rule," his voice breathier in its retained quiet, but his watching eyes bright in almost naive enthusiasm. "That's a good one, too."

Maggie is mostly motionless throughout every single move of Laurie's that brings him inadvertently even closer in an already close space. Mostly motionless; not quite. Her eyes cautiously track him — eyes, lips — under the half-shaded fall of her eyelids; neck muscles strum under the subtle play of tension. "Mm— " she starts as if to resist when the chocolate comes as a surprise. Lips move under the press of thumb, but to no practical purpose; her warm breath is there where it had stopped before. Her own watching eyes aren't naive or enthusiastic, but they are bright — through hazier clouds. With a voice not matched to his quietness — hers quieter — she says after a moment: "You know that rule was disproved…" But the sugary chocolate does, now, roll about in her mouth all the same.

Across from hers, his eyebrows cant challengingly. Eyes locked with eyes as if, staring hard enough, he could pierce those clouds. "Then stop me— " is issued, right on her level, more comment than order. His thumb drags lightly down, parting her lips, breaching the lower's soft, wet underside. " — and give me it back." The air in the kitchen seems to have taken Maggie's side: hazy, indistinct, and hovering — in this moment, with them; it expectantly waits on her choice.

Silenced, if Maggie has considerations they go unvoiced; her mouth floats further open as Laurie infringes upon it, only a small tense breath of air that may have been an intended word coming to pass. As if her hand remembers where it is around Laurie's side, it moves indistinctly under clothes. She stares ahead, the cloudiness in her rounding eyes giving way, under close scrutiny of matching blue, to an intensity just as imprecise… but her gaze takes a precise track: down to his mouth where words have barely left… up—

Decision-breaker; a colossal blond wall juts into their stand-off, fur everywhere, Petunia, shoving her head importantly between them, paws skittering on the tile floor and against the sides of their feet. There was chocolate here. As the most likely perpetrator, she turns on Laurie, smartly investigative — unlike Maggie, the labrador has exactly no qualms dashing her tongue all over the consultant's face and ear.

If the shoving of a not inconsequential furry body was not enough, the licking definitely is; Laurie staggers, floundering just briefly, sideways, halfway to tipping right over onto the floor; swaying to the side where Maggie's fingers are inserted makes her hand also move indiscriminately a second before equilibrium wins the day. "Whoa— whoa, whoa. Hey, lady girl, hey…" Grabbing for one side of Petunia's head, he's laughing underneath, and puckers those so carefully watched lips into a blown kiss that she lunges in advance to claim.

Before doggie molestation can continue, another factor makes itself into the equation: the microwave hails the room with a triumphant beeping. Swirling limbs, Laurie disentangles from Petunia — Maggie — "Mmm, the caramels!"; bewilderment at having forgotten turns to enthusiasm for a project returned to in time. He clambers more gracefully to this feet than the incident that got them here would suggest, picking his way for the appliance sounding off.

The verdict is out on whether not Petunia is ultimately an unwelcome or welcome interruption— Maggie is left a little out of sorts, blinking her way into catching up. The Lab is a lovely distraction, anyway, and Maggie wraps her arm — now completely jostled and sliding away from Laurie — around the bundle of fur. It becomes a game of keeping one hand away from Petunia when it's discovered that she, too, has chocolate and becomes the dog's second choice. "He-eey, girl…"

Smiling, Maggie pushes her way up off the floor, not so fast to leap to her feet as Laurie. She steps around him to drop a few chocolate chips safely on the counter; the bit of melted chocolate clinging to a decidedly warm palm gets cleaned off on her pants of a conveniently similar colour without care. "Where uhm, where— were we…"

Back to their regularly scheduled programming, which is both not unusual and completely peculiar— as evidenced when, as Laurie is tending to the sweets, Maggie resumes her task of trying to get at his gunshot wound, following him to get the same grasp as before. It's not without some hesitation, again — in fact moments longer, this time, only eyeing his back — but this time, when she gets to it, the fabric is ultimately shoved up. It's like ripping off a band-aid. She immediately stretches to sweep the first aid kit off the nearby counter.

If there's some minor hesitation, a pause as if sensing, this time drastically aware of her presence behind him, from Laurie, then it blends into his patting around the bowl in the microwave, getting a feel for its safety in grabbing — while… other parts of him are being grabbed. Shoved, the sweater is clingy enough to lay wherever its set, but the dress-shirt hangs, here and there stuck up only be merit of the white overlap holding it in place. Meanwhile, below, lack of shirt reveals the capris have gained no composure: still loose, still flashing Christmas cheer boxers to the room. Maggie's most likely target — the wound — pulsates angrily, the bandage immediately falling off most of its edges when the support of the sweater is gone. Not minding this at all, Laurie begins collecting up the chocolate chips from the counter, one by one, but not too slowly.

The wound — among other things — revealed, nothing is immediately done by Maggie; she stands hands upon either side of Laurie's sweater only assessing what's now in front of her. At least it begins as assessing; her gaze drifts over the same landscape, unfocused, before she abruptly looks at the ceiling and gets on with it.

She's required to go about a series of maneuvers to get the job done while keeping close to Laurie, and she's quiet throughout. Get the first-aid kit, only to set it down closer on the same counter and coerce it open one-handed… retrieve the last remaining pair of clean disposable gloves and get those on… tuck Laurie's dress shirt up away from his side… pry off the rest of the bandages, and stretch a good distance to be toss them in the trash bin… quickly give the worst wounds a clean again… grab up the numbing gel from the last attempt… all this, while trying to avoid getting Petunia underfoot, and while making a concerted effort to look only at the inflamed wounds.

The artificial scent of bubblegum fills the air to combine with chocolate; the kitchen smells like a candy shop. "This might be…" she starts out as her efforts slow down to gently apply the gel as before, shifting to stand at a bit of an angle to him, "…one of the strangest things I've done on Christmas…"

Laurie has his own grocery list of things to be done — and his, being more related to an actual grocery, are therefore deemed 'more important'. While nothing is consciously or viciously done to interrupt the good detective's work, nothing is either done to give it much consideration. When she's trying to get his shirt up, he's reaching over for the last chip, jostling another part of his clothing down from where she'd left it. The bandage comes off easily, but what she seeks to clean is on the move, as he — done with the chips — sidles closer to the sink for the sealed container of scavenged peanuts. Then to the microwave to stick the third bowl into its boxed heat. A blessed moment of stillness while he tips the peanuts into the melted caramel.

Tumble of saltiness against the hard bowl, and into gooey caramel. "That doesn't set up a very positive platform for me to ask what you've been doing previous years…" Rustle, rustle. His right hand comes along his side, irreverent to her tasks, rubbing all up and down his pants to ease a passing itchiness. The swelling burns, but is satiated. Maggie is treated to his capris shifting around, but luckily the jostle leaves his shirt alone.

Maggie expresses no complaints for his irreverence to her ministrations on him, only follows wherever she need go. Now is no different; she waits out the coming and going of Laurie's hand, naturally following its movement with her eyes, a pause coming over her application until he's back at the fudge. "I did say might," she points out as the last jagged edge of injury is carefully coated to send flesh into a state of non-feeling — to some degree. "But mostly," Mostly! "they didn't involve very questionable medical procedures," Maggie pauses a moment before adding with a hint of amused secrecy, "at least not in the kitchen."

She stretches to take the whole first aid kit into her possession, and uses Laurie as a convenient surface to balance it between — the other being herself — while she uses both hands to pluck this and that out. It's bound to be short-lived and is thus precarious, so she works quickly; it's soon sliding back on the counter, leaving her with alcohol and a needle in hand. This is it. Thus, a warning: "I'm going to stab you now. If you're doing anything very delicate over there, you should be careful."

"Sounds like these other Christmases didn't have very good taste." Her balance board is more precarious than she even knows; Laurie's checking on the counter, and his not finding the spatula just where he left is spares her those moments as he glances around a few other bowls and cups. Determined to go on, he ventures finally aside to open a drawer and option a new one. It's dipped in along the edge of the caramelized-peanut bowl as he chuckles — even this affecting Maggie's critical work zone. "Stabbing!" He announces, as bright and cheerful as seems so contradictory to it, "Now it's beginning to look like Christmas."

Maggie smiles along, a cheerful hint of laughter under her breath though it stays just that — breath. Her cheer is more for Laurie's than the thought of stabbing. "No, they were lovely," she says fondly of Christmases past. She cleans the needle while Laurie's chuckles jar her workspace anyway, and setting the alcohol aside, she spends a moment pulling the box of heavy-duty sutures out of her pocket to go with the slightly curved needle. The two items are clearly not meant for each other, but she works it out the best it can be worked out. "Until I left they were spent not far from here…"

A hand lays beneath the exit wound, and Maggie crouches beside Laurie (bouncing on the balls of her feet, wisely ready to move), to get a better angle on it, looking up past grey, red, and green. "But there was one time— " Just up above her, fingers press lightly upon either side of the small wound nearest his back, then more firmly urge the edges together. Metal touches the numbing skin. " — during one of my Christmases in Africa — " Her focus hones in and she forces the tip of the needle through, wincing slightly— "Stabbing was avoided, but and I broke my arm with absolutely no hospital nearby — other than that it was also really very lovely…" Said without sarcasm, no less; her tone is only one of pleasant nostalgia. Her wincing is more for his sake than hers as the thicker-than-usual material is then urged through, but her progress is not slowed, as the faster she does it, the faster it'll be over.

"That— " The spatula bashes against the bowl side as Laurie hesitates between recovering words, "Missed the joke by that much…" He's not exactly telling her outright, not entirely convinced she didn't catch the pun-making — and cruelly ignored it — but a curious glance to her face is averted by a couple of peanuts needing to be rounded up, so her work goes uninterrupted by what could've been. A small ripple runs through him as the needle pierces in, the numbing letting it be more odd pressure than pain, for now. But the thick supplies stretch the hole behind the smaller needle, baiting more tender insides. Above the procedure, his right hand flexes around the grip of the spatula. "It always seems," he mentions after the tale of African Christmas, borrowing her nostalgia, "That I get the most curious stories out of people while they are sticking needles through me. Some kind of radical new therapy— maybe I should really tell someone about this."

Her canvas, having been disarmingly peaceable this long, moves. Peanuts and caramel are a blend of salt and goo in their bowl, and the pan of Maggie-approved chocolate requires their presence. To this end, Laurie sidles along the counter away from her towards the dish, and not with any considerate slowness, sliding the bowl along with him.

Ready to move, Maggie springs up halfway to follow Laurie with only one out-of-place tug of the sutures to show for it. With Petunia trailing along behind, they make a strange train of activities. The small wounds and small stitches being forced with larger material require her focus an increasing amount; there's no hesitation now that she's started. Her fingers are deft at the task, and even if her technique isn't a doctor's (or a veterinarian's), it's turning out fairly passable for what it is. "It doesn't feel particularly therapeutic," she says timed through a needle's jab, her voice distracted. "Do you … get a lot of people sticking needles through you then? Pass me one of those paper towels, will you?" Maggie gestures past him, a quick blur of a bloody hand that should truly not get anywhere near his baking. "And scissors."

Spatula grooming the round edges of the bowl for every last spare sentiment of ingredient, Laurie performs a bit of his own rapid balancing to keep it in place, moving, and detach a hand to swoop around the paper-towel dispenser hanging above the sink. A rough tug and twist and she's got two sections instead of one. "Oh, I dunno," he reacts breezily, the rip of towel coming off punctuating his pause, "It worked for our therapist. Besides," he's given a glance with her items, "I've seen you in therapy. You're not exactly a well of openness to the feeling." Laurie's hands have been everywhere near his baking, leaving them a meld of flour dusting, chocolate, and candy, despite his care and practice in the art; in the kitchen, it's unavoidable — and just not as fun without. So, with a twist of his mouth to deliberate, he offers, "I don't have a pair up here, but there's a pocket-knife, appropriately, in my pocket."

The paper towels are grabbed and immediately moistened by a swell of vivid red spreading from contaminated fingertips. A raise of Maggie's eyebrow upward marks a bit of skeptical wonder over the mention of the therapist and her gaze travels up to another familiar place upon the canvas that is Laurie; another gunshot wound, another time. There's a frown and a pause in her work for it before the overspill of blood is swiped away from today's wound without squeamishness. "I suppose this is better than therapy," she admits after a moment, though there's a lightness to her voice that places it on the edge of joking.

Getting to her feet behind him, Maggie tilts her head slowly one way, then the other, getting glimpses around him, assessing pockets, considering. With a silent sigh, she uses a thumb to peel off one of her gloves with a telling crinkle, and holds it, and the towels, gently against the wound mid-operation. Her freed hand reaches toward Laurie's nearest pocket, around his hip — though she stops and starts the motion several times as she works out the best angle at which to approach the knife hidden within.

"This is the third time since yesterday…" she begins to slowly say as her hand, too, begins to dive into the pocket, stepping closer at his back in her search, just short of standing against him, "you've encouraged me to go into your pockets, Miles." She sounds neither complaining nor quite amused… or perhaps undecided; the spoken fact is the same one that has her reaching down, wary of sliding material upon the more slippery red and green she knows to be underneath, to catch the weight of the pocket-knife — as it turns out, a slower and more tentative process than piercing him with needles.

"This is the third time you've opted to do so," responds the consultant whose pockets are being invaded, as though they were merely swapping factual statements. Hands he didn't volunteer for the job are occupied, tending to cooling mixtures that must first be layered a top one another. Smoothly it goes, adding sugary caramel to sugary chocolate, a potent combination that strives to dwarf that artificial bubblegum in the air. Meanwhile, the boxers getting a breather above the capris peek further as the pants cave — without ties — and weight — Maggie's — needing them down. The widest part of Laurie's hip catch them, but not perfectly.

Her fishing expedition has a deeper way to go in sizable sagging pockets, past the bump in the road where the more minor gunshot wounds opened up his thigh below. And then, Laurie shifts — or thinks about it. The slight coiling of muscles being called to action is a small indication versus the pause he employs, instead. "I'm going back to the microwave," he elaborates for her; it's a first. Turns out, this really is a more tentative process than one where thread is being put through his skin.

A low, quiet "ummmmmmmm" is hummed out in response to Laurie as, continually biting her lip, Maggie reaches down; conversely, her eyes point up to the ceiling through the task as if something up there may grant her some sort of guidance. Her outside hand momentarily moves off, improvised medical aid and all, so she may brace her wrist against his opposite hip, beneath the line of red and green, made to stall him in his goal, or — perhaps just as much — to make half an effort to keep his pants up.

"Just one second…" Her gaze takes a few swift journeys down toward a face she can't quite see as her searching hand progresses with renewed intent that at least feels less tentative, using the tensing muscle and contours of his thigh as the needed path — or at least taken path; how necessary is it really in a kitchen undoubtedly full of knives? Maggie's reach makes her an even closer presence at Laurie's back, just a few hair's breadths away, until— a curling of fingers atop moving fabrics— a pause— she has the pocket-knife securely in her possession. Her hand frees and the knife is flipped into action with delayed triumph — "… Aha." — and Laurie is free to go wherever he may go — with her always tagging along, until the very last suture.

That last oversized thread stutters through his skin, tying him off as a completed project — not unlike most of the food laying out before them. Melted chocolate is especially pungent, invading every breath with its heavy temptation; its strongest competition is the wrapped can of bacon grease that is the last thing Laurie attends after the fudge is safely layered with the top of its sugar and ready to be chilled. The oils are dribbled over standing lettuce as dressing, seeping into each leaf, slowly starting the process of turning crispness into the recipe's namesake: wilted lettuce.

By this time, Maggie's been rewarded for her efforts there — once she's diligently washed her hands — with a spatula covered every nook with caramel-chocolate, and just a hint of peanut remaining. Laurie swiped a finger across it first, suckling the goodness unabashedly off a finger while setting dishes to wash. This task absorbs him, newly bandaged side and all, and, by then, conversation has drifted into silence, into the spirit he started with so that, behind the spray of running water, there's a hum — a complimentary jingling of Petunia's bell as she strews herself across feet — and, every once in a while, a melodic query.

Maggie's assistance is accepted not with words, but a lack of protestation as she settles in beside him, companionably near, even when there are few of the dishes requiring much attention at all. It's more of a homely moment, than a workful one, lending a gentle audience, who is willing to package up the waiting containers, and toss the leftovers of the trail-mix, and who stands, alone, privy to that lilting invitation: "What are you doing… New Year's…"

"New Year's Eve…"

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