2010-12-23: There Was A Bear

Starring:

Maggie_V5icon.pngLaurie3_V5icon.png

Guest Starring: John, Jackie, Karen and Petunia

Date: December 23rd, 2010

Summary:

Laurie and John decide to brave the storm to follow a lead at the local wildlife rehabilitation center.


"There Was a Bear"

Forrester Ranch

Echo, Wyoming

The snow has turned into a storm, and that storm is starting to truly rage. As pitch black as the middle of the night, the clouds are invisible, hiding the stars. The cold wind whips viciously, not in gusts, but unrepentantly, and without pause.

From inside the Forrester's ranch house, the wind sounds like a wild thing, alive and howling, sending its hunting calls out around the perimeter. The structure is sturdy against the buffeting wind and the small guest room Maggie lays in is still and safe from all but the threatening noise. In the dark, she lays on her side curled up in a blue-and-white patchwork quilt that she holds close. Her sleep appears no more peaceful than it did on the plane; maybe it's not sleep at all.

A rumble outside certainly wakes her from something, and it's with heavy eyes and heavier movements that she stirs unpleasantly, trying to place it. It's barely there, a familiar roar that comes and goes under the sweeping wind. It comes to the fore for an instant as a revving sound and Maggie pushes up onto her elbows, giving the dim room a troubled, sleepy-eyed stare; she twists to push aside the plaid curtains behind her with her fingers. All she sees is snow, but what she hears is a truck engine.

* * *

The back of the house is — questionably — sheltered from the worst of the wind. The old, four-wheel-drive pick-up with faded robin's egg blue paint hasn't been new for decades, but looks both sturdy and battered — in other words, it looks the same as everything else in the vicinity, aging, worn, but standing strong. Included is John, standing in his black-and-red flannel coat grimly with one arm inside the cab of his truck, getting it started and warmed while, at the end of a long, neon pink leash that seems to oppose every molecule of his being, Petunia the Labrador continues to try and re-investigate the mystery that is Laurie.

Clues presented forth unto Petunia the power sniffer were as such: one, the infamous hat — off of a head, and, two, the washed but exposed version of her earlier handiwork to show where she laid claim, as well as, three, Laurie's scent in general. This last one biased by a heavy waft of what is best categorized as 'deliciousness', originating from voluminous coat pockets. His soft, lightly amused, expression for the dog shows no trace at all, nor hint, for the incident before; he treats the labrador as an equal. Following some time batting half-lidded, unchallenging eyes at the yellow canine, the consultant glances up to the stir of the engine — glances to the ranch windows and the exposure of lights behind some curtains — then to John. "Tell me about the woman on the phone."

Petunia, impervious to the snowstorm, is wary of this peculiar man who seemed a threat and now seems a friend. As her tail tentatively wags back and forth and she sniffs Laurie every which way, she seems to prone to forget the whole incident.

"Assistant caretaker of the center, introduced herself as Jackie Innes — now, that's not a name from Echo, she must come in for work. She had a young voice. She was a poor liar; not unlike Powers." John rattles off calmly, an attentive but uninterested eye on the dog. "It sounded to me like she was protecting someone."

John climbs into the truck, gives the leash a tug, and she the dog seems reluctant to go and stop investigating Laurie — but comes along. The cab of the truck is wide, but it's going to be a cozy ride with two men and a dog; there's no backseat.

Laurie winds his way to where he'll climb in, grabbing the upper rim of the truck's doorframe to ease him in, his right leg pulled rather than pushing. He gives an idle glance to the side; the cheerful scarf bearing stripes in every version of purple an artist could dream of is holding steady, shielding the torn section. With an absent pat of the hand against his other leg, he encourages Petunia to drop her reluctance now that he's there; she can share his space. "Protecting." It's a question — sort of; he doesn't challenge John's ability to tell between that and, say, fright; he only presses for his own clarification before assumptions.

The Labrador does share Laurie's space — more accurately, she takes all of it, walking on top of him like she's the size of a poodle and looking out the window at the exciting view of the unmoving ground.

"Protecting," John clarifies in a rumble while buckling up — and there ends his explanation. It takes both a heavy hand and careful maneuvering to get the truck out of its spot. Strong hauls on the gearshift later and a swerve of tires well-equipped for the weather later and they're rolling away from the house past a barn. Petunia is jostled this way and that, a heavy passenger clambering on top of the other. "Buckle your seat belt."

A low oof is all the air enthusiastically leaving Laurie under the application of a medium-sized dog's weight to his lap. Breathless chuckles later, and he gradually adjusts so that both dog and passenger seem amiably comfortable with each other. Reaching over his shoulder to get the male portion of the seatbelt is easy enough; maneuvering it around Petunia's legs without dangerously entangling the dog is another feat; one that Laurie works around artfully and without complaint. As it cinches together, he looks out around the labrador's companion gaze. Without a single trace of sarcasm: "Nice weather you're having here."

Whirling snow threatens visibility at every inch, wind already assaults the truck, and they've yet to reach the end of the driveway. Staring out into the storm with focus, John replies without a single trace of facetiousness: "About average."

* * *

Twenty-seven minutes by someone's watch — a clock in the truck is about as non-existent as the CD player and air conditioning — and the storm has only gotten worse. The venture has been like driving in the middle of a tornado, but with the added hazard of snow; tough going, though close calls on the road would have been more frequent if there happened to be anyone else on the road. There wasn't. Ahead, the sign for "EVERGREEN WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTER" is barely visible past the white sheet of it; the same conditions threaten to blind the truck's driver as he turns down a long, narrow driveway not unlike his own, but though it's tough going, John navigates it. The vehicle plows determinedly over blessedly small drifts of snow toward a dimly lit window. Headlights barely catch on a building, trees, a metal fence.

Even through the storm, something cues Petunia to suddenly let out a low whine.

"Tch, tch— hey girl," is the soft reassurance as Laurie's hand pats non-threateningly along the bulk of her side. No negativity or calls that she stop; he wiggles a treat from out of his pocket, tempting her nose, distracting, but ultimately rewarding, her behavior. Easing his leg out from under the two of Petunia's on it, he pauses a hand, prepared, along the curve of the door handle. "Maybe," to John, "you should walk her around a little." Namely, not inside the center. Since the weather's so nice, and all.

"I'm not convinced…" John says as he leans over the steering wheel to squint sharp-eyed toward the rehabilitation center, rolling ever closer, "…that it would be a great idea." Seeming to agree, Petunia gives another little whine, shifts about on Laurie, and growls out the window.

The truck then comes to a stop in what might be the parking lot — who can tell, the truck is the only vehicle around. John eases his door open. The structures ahead are clearer: the building, a small, low brick affair, nothing special, one light on inside telling of life visible through window blinds. Beside it, a series of large, heavy-duty, fenced-in outdoor pens: the largest of which is the only one that is not empty — not empty because it houses a large, shaggy, pacing grizzly bear.

"But it could be a good one." Laurie's head thrown to John's side, the comment is also a throwaway; looping his hand several times around Petunia's leash, he eases the restless dog away from the window and his door, securing her a spot in the middle where she won't leap out upon John's exit. Another pat on the side, another treat. "Walking," the consultant continues, undeterred by Petunia's new delegation to car guard, "is good for you." Dropping from the higher truck cab briefly delays him. He reaches down to tug the scarf keeping him from scratching the unhappy bite site.

Snow and storm are on full assault even before the truck ceases to be a shield in one direction, and footsteps crunch in the newness of the fallen flakes — crunch, and are swept away by forceful winds. Laurie's cheeks redden fairly quickly in the cold; it's the most color he's shown in a while. "She's just been warned for someone she's protecting," he calls out over the gusts, glancing to John but also eyeing the light inside, "Whether out of loyalty, fear, or denial— so, either, destroying evidence, spooked for her own safety, or tipping someone off. This," his hand escapes the shelter of his pocket to indicate the main entrance, "isn't the most important door in this building."

As the truck door rattles shut behind John and he starts to plod toward the building, his eyes, especially narrow against the wind and snow, consider Laurie, though his considerations are masked— opinions distant. In the truck, the dog is no guarding sentinel just yet — left behind, she paces and lets loose a singular bark. It's answered by a heavy groan through the wind as the caged bear makes slower paces back and forth, half exposed to the elements.

John is unmoved by both animals — but nods succinctly to the deputy-consultant with a huff of agreement, not unlike the bear's. His own weathered face reddens in the vicious outdoors; it makes him look older, as though walking takes great effort. "You take the front." The front which, though it shines with that little light, doesn't exactly scream open for business. "I'll check around back." Straight away, he takes a route toward the side of the small building, the side which does not contain any wild animals — that they can see.

Deputy-consultant, retired cop — there are no weapons in this situation — visibly, at least — and Laurie's approach on the front is doubly unguarded without. Trotting, his head bowed to the weather, he pauses to knock snow from boots that are more style than substance in this state. Checking on John's status through what low visibility there is, he moves not right against the door, but nearby. A rolling lean allows him to glance in the window for as much as he can stretch it to either side when pressed close. Emptiness — but betraying signs of recent activity — and that light on.

Shifting to the actual doorframe, his hand drops to the handle, testing. It turns. Tends inward. There's a less pleased line made of his mouth for that, but he doesn't hesitate long. Hand on the knob, he pushes in, starting the door opening with his hand and then catching some of the action on his leg. Right leg; it makes him have to instinctively readjust and he catches himself wanting to look down to check. He switches his hand to splayed against the thicker part of the door to push, his body at a nearly parallel angle, presenting a narrow side of him to the room for as long as possible. But, the more the door opens, the more the room's revealed and, in trade, the more he is.

Around the side of the building, the whims of the wind have almost created a path for John between snowdrifts. Unfortunately, removed from the light of the front, the going is dark.

Inside— the view for Laurie is, almost, the same as his view from the window. A small front desk; spread across it are a computer with the monitor on, a closed textbook — Handbook of Veterinary Pharmacology — and a coffee cup. The room is small; the whole operation is low on space when it comes to indoors. To Laurie's left, sharing the same wall as the narrow hallway that disappears into the rear of the quiet building, is a row of cages and kennel-like housing areas, unlit, more shadowy the further down the hall they are. A raccoon in a leg cast is the only obvious guest, half-lit by the front room's glow, and it blinks smart little masked eyes at Laurie from its cozy bed in rehab.

Outside— while Laurie enters out front, John has turned the corner out back, and there, at his all substance, no style boots, are tracks in the snow. Impressions of wheels; deep patterns, smaller than a car; no road for them to follow. He crouches down, glances in the direction they came from; the snow and wind have whipped the rest of the tire tracks into oblivion, but the only possibly path is the blackness and woods beyond.

Inside— breath by another presence is held tenuously so as not to be heard from a shadowy cage, perfectly still. Sweaty hands clutch metal, a wooden grip, wasting no time. As the door opens— the second Laurie is viewed there, standing in the doorway— a trigger's release.

Perusal of the room is swift, honing in on what couldn't be seen from outside. The door creaks a little louder when pressed beyond its usual in a hinge-freezing weather. A light stinging bothers his skin beneath the shirt. Rattling of metal radiates down the hallway, movements not belonging to the patient beady rest of the raccoon. "Hell— " Hold on. Stinging — too low to be a part of the constant sliced digging between his ribs; it comes from the thin clear cylinder, tagged with a puff of red fur at the protruding end that's embedded into his hip, just inside the bone. "… oh."

Inside— Laurie's mind, the seconds of realization, recognition, and then acceptance drag on sluggishly— but he forces reality to the head; he has a counter of four minutes, and reactions before that are purely psychological. With this forefront, he commands his body to perform exactly as he expects it to.

In a flash of fluttering New York designer coat, the man vanishes right from the doorway he appeared in. Like an apparition, he's jumped out of the building, leaving the door to swing crankily in his absence. But pushed up against the center carpet, it declines to yield to closing, letting in the howling storm winds to lend to the atmosphere as they whistle through.

In reality, Laurie's flattened himself to the left side of the doorway, obscured from the view out the same window he used to peek in, and invisible from the doorway. Determinedly wrapping the syringe, he yanks it from out of his skin, through his coat, and drops it all into the pocket that's been recently emptied of treats.

Seconds pass — dragging, dragging, a ticking time-bomb to the blood stream.

Out back, half wading in snow, John heads down the few cement steps built into a small hill leading to the back door of the rehabilitation center. The heavy maroon door is locked, he notes with a quiet twist of the knob, but it's the lock itself his large gloved touches on. Scratches mar the shiny new metal around the keyhole. Someone's amateur attempts to pick the lock over and over.

Out front holds a more immediate problem. Clattering sounds inside: metal creaking, the cage door shutting, the window blinds shaking in a hurried inspection that finds no intruder as Laurie remains out of sight. For the moment, so does his attacker. Tick, tick…

John treks his way back, his practical, plodding steps making time. He stops immediately on seeing the vague shape of Laurie against the building, and freezes to assess — but in doing so, he's in the sights of someone else.

A long, slender, metallic shape juts into the outside world, just barely an inch. A weapon; a rifle; fashioned, at least, to look like one, to work like one— its purpose is more benign. The use of the tranquilizer gun tonight, however, is not. A hand follows at that very same moment, holding the door open tentatively. It's thin, the hand; feminine. The wielder of the gun, the glimpse of her through that bit of open door, shows a young woman in a brown University of Wyoming sweatshirt (their mascots are The Cowboys, naturally). She's lanky, brown-haired, freckled. Snow assaults her glasses already; the eyes behind them are frightened.

Traitorous blood pumping with every second, Laurie's body shifts once impatiently, rubbing against the outer wood of the building, but he has at least minutes left of sheer force of will; making himself recognize the signs, adapt to the changes; then focus more on the signals from inside, interpreting and following this other person's movements. It's questionable whether he blinks, much less notices John coming around. The point is the doorway, that rifle-shaped muzzle.

As felt by him, the action reads slow — but the truth is that his hand whips out fast, cutting underneath the visible front of the gun, catching it by the end where its long shape is least controlled by the young wielder. The arm throws upwards, taking the gun with it. Pivoting, and at the same time, his right hand flies in to take control of the weapon's more sturdy middle. Backwards momentum from the upward draw loosens grips, bends elbows, and it takes just a measured yank to move the tranquilizer from one person's possession to another's— to Laurie's.

Somewhere between first and second grabs, her appearance has registered, and that leaves the gun being clasped to his side at the end of the takedown, rather than finding home somewhere next to those foggy glasses.

Thud thud thud. The sound of his own blood might be filling his ears— but he's calm, peaceable. And pressed with the weight of required timeliness. "Jackie Innes." Not a question. "Can we have a moment of your time." Not really, either.

Completely, utterly bewildered by this whirlwind that steals her singular weapon, the correctly identified Jackie Innes backpedals with a shriek, holding her empty hands up. It's not entirely a pose of surrender — she looks like she might just punch Laurie, though there's little about her appearance that suggests she's ever thrown a punch in her life.

The high-pitched noise and activity inspire a string of threatening barks from the truck.

"How do you know my name? Oh!" Jackie clamps her hand over her mouth in realization: her eyes have landed on the sparkle of silver that goes along with Laurie's greeting. The badge. "Are you with the police? Oh thank God! I'm sorry, Deputy— I thought— I was stranded here and I got a call about Wes…"

John has gradually appeared behind them — saved, maybe, from Laurie's fate, one he makes no obvious note of. The hand he holds up as he leans to one side, to get a peek at Jackie, is more placating than his stern expression, but that lessens, too, as he states, "John Forrester." He would be the caller.

"I shouldn't have lied," she says, worked up, "It's just that Wes doesn't work here officially, but I know my boss pays him under the table 'cause he wanted to work here so bad but I guess he doesn't have the credentials, he's been talking about how he wanted to go to vet school like me— I didn't wanna get him in trouble. Wes is such a— such a quiet guy, he seemed so nice, he's like a puppy dog, you know? But then I thought about that missing girl." A worried glance goes to John. "I figured I'd just check— we have this store room we don't hardly ever use and I saw it's got— there's stuff missing, and I got to thinking and then— the way he is sometimes… and then— wait, are you okay, did I get you, Sir?"

Laurie's been leaning ever more and more sideways during Jackie's rambling, gradually losing his upright position, until he's finally leant against the door-frame at his right. It isn't a far progression, and he props himself up casually enough, now that the hand with the badge has dropped. Wandering eyes have to be focused back in when he's addressed. "Jackie," he presses, trying for that same polite urgency but— mostly, he's serene. Pulse beating a more frenzied pace, and respiration following cue; but he's oblivious to physical responses. "Whennn's the last time you saw Wes? Does your boss keep any— uh, contact information for him?"

Jackie seems to take Laurie's further questioning and calm demeanour as a no — she must have missed, after all. It all happened so fast. John, becoming increasingly stony again, drags an attentive glance between the university student and the man now holding her weapon, however. His watch balances vigilantly between both.

"He was in… I dunno, a few days ago. I don't remember what day it was," Jackie says nervously. "There's a list of contact information at the desk— but he's not on it! If my boss has his, I dunno where he keeps it. Wes just kinda… shows up, and lends a hand where it's needed. Anyway, I thought I heard something out back while I was waiting for my fiance to come get me… now I think it was just the bear… but I just flipped when I saw there was someone here after I found out some of the ketamine," a nod goes to the tranq gun grasped by Laurie, "was missing, and some of the TPN bags. Like we use for feeding the animals by injection when they can't eat for whatever reason— I mean what the heck, right?"

Oh yeah, the tranquilizer gun. It takes Jackie's mention to get Laurie to remember he's even holding the thing, taunt at his side and, once discovered, he uses it to push off the door some, regaining a semblance of posture. "What does he drive to get here," the deputy-consultant questions, blinking rapidly several times, his brain pummeling past what will be to register what is. "Wes?"

"Uh, sometimes he gets dropped off, by a truck," Jackie says, probably describing more than half of the vehicles in the area. "I think it's a Ford Ranger. It's black. Sometimes he shows up on a four-wheeler."

John narrows his eyes on that point. "Does he have a key to the building?"

"No, no way, my boss might be dumb enough — sorry — to hire someone under the table, but he didn't give Wes an extra key."

"There's evidence of someone picking the lock out back," John tells Laurie. "Someone's been getting in through the back door."

The wind threatens to drift the snow right inside; after second, it does. Nervously, Jackie pipes up. "The store room's a-around back."

Laurie's head swings to look at John as he's told, then around to acknowledge their directions, but he never quite makes it to looking towards the exact back way. Wafting white snowflakes drift hazily past his vision. When he brings his attention around to Jackie this time, his chin is lowered, made heavy by the weight of the thought pinching above his eyebrows. But he finds his way up to her, giving a swift lick to his lips. "And did he evvvver mention having a— special place— woods that he liked? Maybe… he volunteered for certain kinds of calls in…"

"He mentioned going camping, once, with his friend— I dunno where, I don't know him very well, he'd kind of just follow me around. And… he was mostly just allowed to do some maintenance, here 'n' there — sometimes he'd feed the animals… the small ones. But uh, he tagged along real close watching when we helped bring in that bear that mauled that body of the waitress… God— he really did do it, didn't he!" Jackie backs up, wrapping her arms around herself.

Hard lines etch the face of the former detective, dark brows curving with anger. It's the only mark of emotion. His focus is placed in full on Laurie. He reaches out to lay a hand on the tranquilizer gun and relieve him of it, eyeing it as well. "You sure you're all right, there?" His query is direct; more assessing than concerned.

John's only response is a curt nod of the head, but Laurie's tight hold on the gun is not quite so allowing to the former cop. Leaning into the tranquilizer that's resting, butt end to the ground, he doesn't give way to the other's demand. It's still being pushed off of when Laurie brings a slow hand up to Jackie's retreating shoulder, cupping around her upper arm gently. "Right now, it's an investigation," he tells her coolly— a pillar of just complete mellowness against John's solid anger. "For which you— have been great; how about you take a seat… you said youuuurr… fiancee… ?"

"…is coming… eventually…" Nodding, but nervous and distracted by the possibility of a killer breaking into the center in the meantime, Jackie backpedals again until she can weave around the desk and flop down into the office chair.

Steadily, John shuffles past Laurie in the doorway. He has no qualms about completely blocking his path to get a good, clinical look into his eyes — there is urgency to be found in his own, but it's directed with purpose. Meanwhile, he levelly speaks to Jackie. "If you fired — your gun, there, if you used it — where…" His eyes narrow again at the other man. "… did the dart go."

"I don't know, I thought it … I don't know. He'd be flat on the floor by now if I actually hit him. My Pharmacology exam isn't until after Christmas break, but I sure know what ketamine does."

"We can stay here until he arrives," delivers Laurie — to Jackie, but while under the direct influence of John's stare-down tactics. Bright blue eyes are bright; they're also almost completely swamped by intensely widened pupils. In the darkened night, the hazy storm, that would be an envied state. If they were outside. Waiting on the others, Laurie's left alone in the doorway with his tranquilizer post. It feels long — too long; he isn't sure all of the sudden how much time is passed since the last word was spoken. "I'm right here," he interjects, not as late into the conversation as it feels, and with the right amounts of sullen, but extra parts uncaring, flattening the joke.

Right here, and then he eases right off of the suspect dependency on the gun. A couple of steps out of the cold, his hand diving into pockets not for that added warmth, though it's not entirely obvious at first when his fingers hold there. "Besides, that one's easy; I have it here." Up comes hand; there presents dart, with its wicked needle pointed to the ceiling in proud salute. "In my pocket."

"Ooh…" Jackie breathes out from her post at the desk; by her tone, she may as well have said uh oh. The electricity takes this moment to agree with her by flickering in the storm.

John has already decided how damned Laurie presently is by the time the telltale red-flagged dart was revealed. His forbidding expression summarizes his observation, as plain as the dilated eyes of the deputy-consultant. He reaches to Laurie's elbow, gets the gun instead, and hands it back blindly to the center's employee. The other reaches up toward that dart, the way a father might try to calmly remove a known forbidden item from a toddler's hand. "Mhhm," he grumbles in prompt, becoming more pressing, then, assessment turning to actual concern, though terse: "Now what reason would put it there. Do you think that maybe we should get to the truck."

"Mmmnnnnn…" If it was meant to be a word, it isn't one now; Laurie's chest rumbles with a chuckle for this silly predicament. Passing off the gun was an instinctive preventative measure — one of the last he has left. The raised arm becomes swiftly too heavy to keep there, and drops. Whether he's handed over the needle or not first, he can't seem to process. An evaluation of this exact state of mind is perhaps the last very clear, controlled thought through his head. So, with a now known to be influenced calm, and lazy, delivery, he squints at John — John's general vicinity… wherever John was last will do. "I will tryyy… buuut— I do not think I will make it… to… the truck…"

"I thought you might say that." John, not far but not exactly where Laurie happens to be looking, tucks away the dart in his own coat pocket. There, it seems less likely to sting someone for a second time. He claps both hands to Laurie's elbows and gives him a rough, purposeful squeeze: bracing as much as a call to snap out of it, to stay talking and thinking as long as possible. It might be a lost cause. "Ms. Innes," he says meanwhile, "what do you say to telling me everything you know about ketamine and the dosage loaded in this gun. How harmful is it, to humans…"

Squeezed, Laurie reacts; although completely unaware that John is touching him, he responds to the general sensation by attempting to look down quickly — too quickly. "Ketamine," he responds faster than the girl — a general feat when you're unsure of your own feet. "is a dissociative anesthetic, hallucinogen, psychotomimetic." Or, as it sounds: anesthehallupsychometic. His face registers being impressed by this knowledge even as he says it. Then, more drolly, a recitation: "It blocks dopamine… uptake and— therefore elevates syyyy— naptic! Dopamine levels. Inhibition of— central and… peripheral cholinergic transmission could, uh— could, uh— contribute to induction of the anesthetic state and!— Hallucinations. I'm sorry— " at first the apology filters right in with the clinical information, absorbed by the same flat, affected tone as Laurie frequently disconnects then slides back onto the rails of his own speech. A flicker of lucidity follows: "I can't feel my legs."

It's the fairest warning he can give before, numb and unsupportive, his legs do out underneath him. Knees bending like rubber, he crumples downward while his eyes roll the other way.

* * *

By some kind of miracle, John's old truck doesn't get stuck in the snow on the way back. It's a small blessing in times that are not very blessed.

The storm is still raging when it pulls into the yard of the Forrester home. The imminent rumble of its engine and the toil of its tires as it keeps going, plowing roughly over and around snowdrifts until it stops with urgent suddenness a few feet from the porch, is a racket that overcomes even the wind — and gets the attention of the life inside.

Slam. A single door of the truck shuts. John's deep voice in command. A whistle. An unfamiliar female voice. Thump. Thump. Thud against the front door—

Karen whisks from the kitchen, still wearing her apron, hurrying to the door. The house is a bastion of warmth from the storm, at least literally; warm light welcomes John and Laurie back. The fireplace is blazing. Karen just makes it to the door when it bursts open with an icy blast of wind. John's back is first to greet his wife, bent down, tromping in snow as he hauls a dead weight. Next comes Laurie's back — John's arms are hooked under the arms and around the body of the apparently other man, dragging him in a half-upright position inside with an industrious effort.

"John! What on earth happened out there?!" Karen's alarmed shout is a call to vigilance for the house's one other guest.

Footsteps hurry down the stairs, as fast as a kid on Christmas morning — but it is not quite Christmas morning yet, and no cause for celebration awaits in the living room. Concern was already alight on Maggie's face when she started downstairs; halfway down, when she recognizes the shape being dragged inside as Laurie, it blazes. For an instant, she pauses taking in the scene, which plays out down below as a cold and bizarre contrast to her cozier image aligned to her recent necessary sleeping — white v-neck t-shirt, bluish pyjama pants and a tired look that suggests her nap was not long enough.

John doesn't deem it necessary to explain just what the hell is going on just yet; he's a little busy. He hauls the limp body of Laurie back until his boots pass the threshold. Outside, Petunia comes leaping out of the bed of the truck, right into a snow bank joyously. She bounds inside, leaping over Laurie, snowy and wet and oblivious.

Maggie's concern quickly turns to alarm to match Karen's, but hers is silent, waiting— yet she does not stand by idly. She rushes into the midst of everyone and leans down to help John get a grip on Laurie by grabbing the back of his jacket, and they work together to pull him out of the path of the door, wincing distractedly as Petunia shakes out over absolutely everyone.

"He was hit with ketamine," John explains brusquely, "tranq gun. It was an accident…"

"What?" Maggie's distress rises with her voice and she clamps down on her jaw. "An accident," she repeats under her breath afterward, faintly contrary, cynical, though it seems more directed at Laurie than John. Her concern is no less for it — as John's grip shifts to haul the man up higher, backing toward the living room, Maggie's there to carefully, hurriedly instruct. "No— no, you have to be careful. He has— injuries. Here— "

"You better set him down somewhere warm!" says Karen on the verge of being frantic. "Do we know what do to— isn't that uses on horses? Should he be at the hospital— well, there's no getting there, I suppose…" She sneaks around the others to close the door agains the weather and peeks out warily. "W-who's in the truck…" Jackie. She looks out the truck window wide-eyed.

"His shooter," John replies.

Maggie manages to share a knowing look with Karen. "We can't even leave them alone for an hour."

* * *

Everyone has settled into their own manners of usefulness: John, this particular situation no longer being his strong point, has ventured once again into the snow so warned against driving in to deliver Jackie safely to her fiancee; sounds of quick, frenzied chopping place Karen in the kitchen; and in the living room, it could seem like a great deal of time has gone by even to a person who isn't on a powerful sedative that interferes with one's perception of time. The length of time passed is, in fact, not long at all; an illusion, crafted by the way in which the three blonde guests of the Forresters seem to make a comfortable image.

On the floor in front of the crackling fireplace, Petunia; she lays down, head on her wet paws, a certain purple scarf is looped around her for what appears to be no logical reason at all, basking in the drying warmth of the heat. Next to her, Laurie has been placed to do the same: his head propped with a throw pillow, resting on a quilted woodland scene, his jacket missing. And on his other side, Maggie; she sits on the floor against an armchair, mostly just a length of legs beside him, slightly bent at the knee, sock feet and half-bare calves at his shoulder— opposite the dog at the other. A brown blanket is wrapped around her shoulders. Cozy; an illusion. Behind her, on the chair, are a phone and a pad of paper recently scrawled with signs, symptoms, side-effects, risks; KETAMINE. Her pose is a familiar one of vigilance.

It doesn't happen with a start. And for Laurie, there's no complete certainty where dreaming and reality separate — do they; they've been poured into the same glass and liberally shaken. Red, white— something beyond black registering in vision. But unlike typical anesthesia when administered, there's no gradual regain of sensation. Is he standing up right now? Thud; Laurie's right arm flies to the side, out, and then dropping without any presence of mind to control its fall. There's a fireplace — with a fire in it — perilously close, but all he can tell is solid. Contact. Arm. All the way on arm. Nope— he's probably on the floor.

There at his immediate right, Maggie is jostled — literally — by Laurie's apparent trek toward some form of consciousness before his arm hits the floor. The Labrador, whose comfort is the most honest here, wags her tail and takes up a bout of nosing him— sniffing for treats she hasn't been able to find yet in an invisible jacket. Finding none, she resorts to licking his face repeatedly.

With an abruptness that suggests it is not the first time this has happened, Maggie leans into her knees to reach an arm across and tug at Petunia's collar to dissuade her. Her focus is honed onto Laurie, however, much more than the dog; she blinks out of what was an attentive, but very tired stare, into one of more immediate worry. She remains leaned over her knees, providing herself with a closer view of his face. "Miles," concerned, "aaare you…" she ventures, unconvinced considering the contents of that list sits behind her, "…awake in there?"

Voices assail his state of mind, but an attempt to hone in on that dreary noise is met with distraction. Long after his face has been left alone, he drags a hand up there to pat at his cheek. While the motion is well-performed, he can't focus on his fingers individually, leaving them loose. A bit more movement doesn't necessarily ground him, but leads to a vague understanding — or at least acceptance — of… being. But what is that stupid drumming— ? Attempts to put it from his mind prove futile, and undetermined mumbling is his only vocalization. He wants to keep grounded, but it's moving; in actuality, he's moving; Laurie rocks onto his side, away from Maggie, and onto the sore rib that he does nothing to heed.

As Laurie moves, so do the presences on either side of him. Still wagging her tail, the dog shuffles down away from him. Maggie, much less happy-go-lucky, follows toward him with a lean and twist, her concerns following just as fast. "Hey, hey," she says in quiet, soft demand — soothing and firm at once.

The quick-paced sounds of preparations in the kitchen drift from one thing to another now; distant rattling, beeping, whisking, changing but never stopping. Stopping for Karen seems a dangerous thing.

Maggie lays her right hand on Laurie's shoulder, as if to roll him back over, but in actuality the force is more gentle; so far, it exists as more of suggestion to urge movement back to her. "Do you know where you are?"

Muttering. His hand still at his face, little of his quiet statement escapes past his fingers. Finding them blocking his eyes, he shifts the hand… only to have the blurriness remain. Shapes sorted about in front of him, around him. He doesn't seem to notice the hand on his shoulder so gentle. But now he remembers the fireplace — the crackling recalling to mind what that means. Fireplace, shapes. Disorganization; he's on the floor — by the fireplace. He might be in the fireplace. Now, he can see clearly: the tall bookshelves, all full of familiar, reassuring clutter. The TV set is right across from him. She's humming… "… that song…"

Maggie stops as if to listen, although she knows there is no song; only Karen busy in the kitchen, the comforting snap and crackle of the fire and, every so often, the wind. Around them, the ranch house with its old wood beams, walls, hardwood floors save for the rug in front of the hearth. Forrester family photos. A Christmas tree on the far side of the room, its lights dark and forlornly unlit, a black mark on the illusion of comfort.

"There's no song," she informs him almost apologetically; it has little conviction. If there's a song for him, there's a song for him. It's her hand that increases in conviction, firming to his shoulder to pull.

He's pliable to the pull, rolling where her hand takes him; here, the fire is a fire. There was never any fire there; they can get in through the chimney, it had to be blocked… and then it needed a guard… He's not there. There's no protection. "That's right…" Admitting to Maggie's comment, but not looking at her. "… she's dead…"

A worrying assessment if there ever was one, but it could mean anything here in the world outside of Laurie's mind. Maggie eases herself ahead along the floor, stretching her far leg out. "Are you hallucinating?" she asks, her voice warm but detached; she doesn't expect him to really process it. "I had hallucinations." Another time, a different drug, a malicious intent in a city faraway. Now, her words only continue to float around for the sake of talking while she performs the more focused task of taking his head in her hands, her firm touch over-warmed from the close proximity of the fireplace. She tries to determine his state by looking into his eyes; and tries, too, to catch his attention by so doing; or, rather, figure out if it's possible. "You were sedated. Do you remember?"

Laurie's swiftly disoriented by his head moving, and his eyes shut reflexively — making Maggie's task briefly difficult — until he opens them again, blinking widely up at her. If her eyes weren't so very blue, it might be harder for him to concentrate on them; even then, he appears to get lost. Then, a chuckle goes through him, lighting his face. "There was a bear." Which, by the sound of it, is incredibly awesome, though the mentioning travels hard through him when the noise of humor emphasizes the occasional struggle with relaxed breathing. Near her fingers, his pulse is wild even while his body relaxed in numbness. "Oh yeah…" a challenge, a question, an affirmation? "— what did you see…"

A bear! Even as the feel of Laurie's pulse and breath beneath her skin worries at Maggie's expression, her eyebrows raise and she smiles a little, amused, as if indulging a child's grand tale. Given where he ran off to tonight, however, the authenticity of the bear goes uncontested. "Uhhhm…" The smile then falters, and her focused blue eyes shift to the fire, which catches in them, glowing reflections for the brief time her gaze is there. Moments. Quick.

Looking back, a hint of the smile returns at the very corners of her mouth. It's markedly changed this time: harboring secrets. "If I told you— " She moves her right hand to keep a more purposeful touch to Laurie's rather worrying pulse, and her other swipes knuckles gently across his forehead to check for drug-induced fever. A thumb runs along his hairline in the process, more doting than practical; all the while, that almost sly smile persists. " — I'd have to drug you some more to make absolutely sure you wouldn't remember."

A worried line appears in the wake of Maggie's knuckles going by, contesting the sedated nature of the drug. Thumpthumpthump. If he's trying to puzzle out her smile, his intent attempts to focus on her face isn't helping. Thump — not his pulse; he's rolling a shoulder to drag his hand up. It floats oddly for him, seeking that little secret at the corner of her mouth as if it could be slipped out by a thumb — but unable to quite get there on his own. He becomes distracted, and his hand wavers. Without touch, he won't remember what he was trying to do. More troubling, his first go at words are completely garbled. A sunken breath. "I… don't know you…"

"I do sometimes wonder," Maggie answers with a clear, light matter-of-fact as if Laurie's comment wasn't the confused result of drugs. Her concerned expression for his troubles tell a different story; her smile slowly disappears, taking her secrets with it. His forehead to his hand, hers moves in to re-route, guiding his reach by the wrist to lay it on his chest instead. Hauling her knee closer to herself, she rests her chin down on it for continued sentinel. "What do you feel?"

Fingers fold supplely with the setting, under knuckles that press them down indiscriminately; his hand lays where she sets it, splaying in whatever odd angle the unresponsive limb provides. His lips move a couple of times, though it's unclear if it's to answer or not. Eyes have since drifted off of Maggie, pinpointing some unremarkable angle off the ceiling. In front of bleary blues, there could be triple rainbows. But in truth, there's nothing. Truth does also finally command beyond Laurie's distraction, long and dragging seconds of fire crackles and idle dog readjustments. He smiles; only one side of his mouth obeys, making it crooked. But he hums happily as he relays, "I don't," and his cheek turns into her arm.

Fingers curl over, under Laurie's wrist where it's laid, as if securing it there before Maggie wraps her arms about her curled-up leg. Her blanket drops from its cozy purchase in the process. "All right," she accepts. It's logical. "You will when the ketamine wears off. I'm told." To the lean into her other arm, her hand naturally adapts; her pinpointed check of his pulse spreads out along his neck, jaw.

"I thought I heard voices." Karen appears suddenly from the kitchen, brisk of foot. Despite the older woman's obvious concern, she can't shake her distraction. Her anxious air only has a little bit to do with the man laying drugged in front of her fireplace; a testament to her life at present. "Thank goodness he woke up. How is he?" She leans down and sets a hot cup on the floor beside Maggie where man or dog can't knock it over. A cup of something; it could be anything, she doesn't announce what it is, and it wasn't asked for.

Drifting from what has swiftly become a lip-biting regard of Laurie, it's accepted all the same with a quick smile from Maggie. More seriously, "I'm going to go with… " Her head turns the way of the chair behind her where the notepad lies. "…oh, at least… half of that list."

The half that includes a failure to recognize surroundings or people. Although Laurie's eyes remain somewhat open, and he's capable of moving his hand or foot once in a while, he stares emptily off to the side that his head's fallen to and no longer responds to other presences.

"Well, I don't know much about this kind of thing," Karen admits; as if Maggie is the expert. It does seem that when it comes to guarding over and mending Laurie, she is. "But if you need any more help…" She gestures to the kitchen to where she'll be, "I'm making soup. Maybe in a while, he can have some."

Maybe, Maggie's smile seems to agree while being a little skeptical around the edges. After Karen bustles away again, she gently slides her contact off of Laurie — with a pause; reluctant, then concerned, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, questioning it — and reaches for the pad of paper behind her. Retrieving a pencil from its coils, she curls up to lend some of her concentration to the blank page she flips to. Case details gradually begin to fill the page: names, connections, more connections, more and more fervent. Despite Maggie's initial enthusiasm, however, half of the page eventually disintegrates into whimsical drawings in front of her tired eyes — she's looking as catatonic as Laurie.

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