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Of Boys and Bloody Noses

 
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Natalya Bristol
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:33 am    Post subject: Of Boys and Bloody Noses Reply with quote

Picture the scene. A quiet street, not quite in the suburbs, not quite in the center of the city. A little slice of homemaker's paradise in Brooklyn. Mid-afternoon - the air is cold, the sun is shining, teenagers are making their way home, parents are heading out to collect younger children from school. Cut to one house on this street; a hooded teen shape slipping down between the houses to vault over the fence and jog up onto the back porch. The door is locked. He swears, and knocks hard on the glass, looking anxiously from side to side. Anyone would think he was hoping not to be spotted.

The teen was lucky in that the cop that lived next door to the house wasn't home at the moment, and so, he was able to get onto the porch without being spotted. Thankfully, it wasn't burglary he was after, but anyone seeing a suspiciously hooded teen lurking around the neighborhood might have thought differently. It was the dogs that spotted him first, the sound of barking coming from inside the house to announce his presence, but that barking sounded more like a welcome than a warning to anyone who could distinguish between them.

It wasn't long before a small, strident voice joined the barking. "S'Joey! Papa, s'Joey!" The barking increased in excitement as Ana toddled into the kitchen, clinging onto the breakfast stools to wave happily at Joey through the glass. It seemed as though Natalya was out, which might or might not be a good thing.

"Joey?" an adult male voice was heard echoing. It wasn't all that odd, really. There were plenty of times when Gina's son dropped by after school to say hello, but when it wasn't often that he showed up unexpectedly without letting them know first. Maybe it was just Rhys' naturally suspicious nature, but he had a feeling something was up - he just wasn't sure what it was yet. He took a peek out the window, as if to make sure it was who Ana said it was, before scooping his daughter up in his arms, unlocking the door, and pulling it open to invite the teenager inside.

"Don't you usually text first?" Rhys asked the kid.

A handful of busted phone parts was dropped onto the kitchen counter by way of explanation as Joey ducked inside, shucking off his bag. The teenager pulled one hand out of his pocket to tickle Ana's chin, careful to keep his face out of sight of the toddler's giggling hello. He didn't quite manage to hide the split skin on his knuckles, though. "Can I use your bathroom?" he asked, his voice just a little indistinct.

Rhys wasn't born yesterday, and though he wasn't the kid's father, he didn't miss a trick. He'd known Joey since the kid had been born, after all, and he knew when someone was being sneaky and evasive. "Is there something wrong with the bathroom at your house?" he asked, following the kid with his eyes as he stepped into the house and past Rhys and Ana.

"Uh ... Mom and Adam are home?" Joey countered, in a tone that suggested Rhys was more than a little dense for even suggesting that he go home and use one of the bathrooms there. "They, uh ... they're gonna yell, anyway. It's just easier to clean up here. Getting yelled at and cleaned up is tough ***, man."

Clinging to Rhys' neck, Ana giggled happily. "***!"

Okay, so the kid just confirmed that Rhys' instincts were spot on. Something was wrong; he just had to figure out what it was. "Language!" he reminded the teen, more for Ana's benefit than his own, as he closed and locked the door behind him before moving to follow Joey to the bathroom. The kid wasn't getting away that easily. "So, what happened?" he asked, though he had a pretty good idea already.

"Really don't think you want Ana seeing me before I'm cleaned up," Joey informed him, though it was likely more a case of him not wanting to frighten the little girl with the state of his face.

Ana was still giggling and muttering, "***, ***, ***," to herself, delighted with a new word she knew was a bad one.

"That doesn't explain what happened," Rhys countered, though he made no move to stop the boy from continuing on to the bathroom. "It wasn't demons, was it?" he asked. His gut instinct told him it wasn't, but he had to be sure. "Ana, no," he reprimanded her gently with a light tap to her nose. "That's a bad word. Joey shouldn't be using it."

The teenager snorted painfully. "Don't need demons to get your ass beat," he pointed out, ducking into the downstairs bathroom. He grunted audibly as he took off his jacket, leaving the hoodie on for now, until he was sure Ana wasn't going to see him.

The sound of keys in the front door produced a loud squawk from the toddler in question. "Mama! Mama an' Micah!"

Rhys rolled his eyes at the teenager's language, chuckling a little at Ana's declaration. She was better than the dogs at announcing someone's presence at the door. "Nat's home," he warned the teen, knowing the boy would have a hard time keeping anything a secret from her. "Close the door and don't come out until you look halfway presentable," he told him, turning to head Nat off at the pass - or the door, rather.

"Okay." As the door shut, Rhys might have caught a glimpse of another bloodied set of knuckles - whatever Joey had gotten involved in, he'd definitely given almost as good as he got.

Rhys caught a better glimpse of those bloody knuckles and could half-guess what had happened. Joey had obviously been in a fist fight over something, but he hadn't had a chance to get the details yet. He had mixed feelings about it - a sense of pride that the kid presumably knew how to take care of himself mingled with annoyance that he'd somehow gotten himself dragged into a fight. He made his way toward the door to greet Nat and derail her from the bathroom for now.

Baby Micah, now a glorious six months and fully integrated into their little family, broke out into his infectious gummy smile when he saw Papa and his big sister coming toward them, crowing delightedly. Nat glanced down at the snow-suit enveloped baby on her hip, and laughed. "Someone has been wanting to come home and play with Ana all afternoon," she declared, leaning over to kiss Rhys fondly.

"She missed him, too, didn't you, Ana?" Rhys asked the little girl in his arms, hoping she didn't mention Joey just yet or start spewing swear words before he had a chance to explain. Rhys leaned in to greet his wife with a kiss, just as he always did whenever she returned home from being out.

"Mama, *** ass!"

Drawing back from that kiss, Nat's brows rose high as she blinked, turning that indefinably Mama look onto Ana's big grin. So much for keeping the bad words to herself. Ana took one look at the expression, and her eyes went wide.

"Bad worbs," she said sagely, nodding. "Bad Joey."

Nat bit her lip to keep from smiling as she looked to Rhys. "I feel I have missed something."

Rhys sighed, as Ana innocently let the cat out of the bag. "Just barely. He beat you here by about five minutes. I haven't got the story out of him yet," he explained, as he walked her back up the driveway to the front door. "He is picking up a bit of a potty mouth, but I swear, he didn't learn it from me!"

"He is fifteen, Rhys," Nat chuckled gently. "He doesn't need to pick it up from you. Why is he here? Did he get lost crossing the street?" She gestured towhere Gina was visible unloading her own car-load of Laura, Oliver, and Amy, waving to the enthusiastic group on their way inside.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Uh, no ..." Rhys glanced over his shoulder toward Gina and the trio of kids she and Adam had recently adopted and made part of their family. "I think he got into a fight," he explained, though he didn't know the details yet.

"Ah." Nat turned back to step in through the front door. "Do you need the kit, then?" she asked, not even trying to pry about just how Joey had got into a fight just yet. She didn't need to ask why he was here now; she knew the boy loved his family enough not to want to traumatize them with the sight of his bloodied face.

"Maybe. I've haven't had a good look at him yet. He made a beeline for the bathroom," he said, closing the door behind her once she and Micah were inside. The dogs greeted them with friendly barks and wagging tails, but had learned better than to assault their master and mistress and little charges with too much jumping and licking.

"Then you should go and take a look at him," Nat told her husband firmly, opening her arm to take Ana onto her other hip as she nudged the dogs toward the living room. "I will keep them in here with me until you're both ready."

"Are you sure you don't want me to handle the kids?" he asked, leaving her an opening to play Mom with Joey, if she wanted - or maybe he was just looking for an excuse not to have to deal with it himself.

Natalya's eyes narrowed at him in amusement. "Oh, no," she refused, shaking her head. "Even I know that a young man's first fight, he does not need to be mothered. He needs a man to talk to about it. And hopefully that man is not going to give him idiotic advice." She flashed him a teasing grin.

"I'm not his Dad," Rhys pointed out, though he had, in fact, known Joey just as long as Adam had, before Adam had adopted the boy. He narrowed his eyes a moment at Nat's remark, teasing or otherwise. "What kind of idiotic advice?" he asked, a little defensively.

"Anything on the theme of revenge is idiotic," she told him warningly, though she knew he would likely disregard this if he felt the situation called for it. "And no, you are not his father, but you are his friend. You have been a consistent figure in his life, Rhys; always close to Gina. It is no reflection on his relationship with Adam that he has come here, to you."

"I guess not," Rhys replied, thoughtfully. In fact, it was probably a good thing, as Joey seemed to have implied that he didn't want to worry his parents by letting them see him before he got himself cleaned up. He didn't quite agree with her on the subject of revenge, but this wasn't the time to argue it. "I'll go talk to him," he said, seeing as he didn't have much choice.

"Good boy." With Ana giggling and waving over her shoulder, Natalya blew him a kiss as she bore both children and both dogs into the living room, out of the way of whatever they might see in the bathroom for a while.

Rhys grumbled a little under his breath, but down deep, he was proud the kid trusted him - them - enough that he hadn't thought twice about coming here. He made his way back to the downstairs bathroom, pausing a moment to see if he could hear what was going on behind the door.

What he got out of that little pause was the sound of Joey swearing under his breath, running water, and a long-drawn out hiss of pain. Whatever the teenager had got involved in, he was at least trying to deal with it himself. But he'd come somewhere safe to do it, that was the main thing.

Rhys frowned, nibbling at the corner of his mouth worriedly at the sounds coming from inside the bathroom. He remembered himself at that age and the countless injuries he'd endured in school and out. "Hey, you okay in there?" he asked, as he rapped his knuckles on the door to let Joey know he was there.

"Uh ... uh, yeah, fine!" The edge of panic was a perfect rendition of a boy who knew he was going to get into trouble for getting into trouble, but was currently panicking about someone seeing him with his shirt off.

"Don't sound fine. Why don't you let me in, so I can take a look?" Rhys asked, unconcerned about what the kid looked like, shirt on or off, so long as he was all in one piece.

"Uh ..." There was a pause, and the sound of scrambling for a moment. Then - "Sure, it's not locked."

The door opened a crack, left for Rhys to let himself into the bathroom and survey the damage. The sink was streaked with blood, though Joey was doing his best to wipe that up. A tooth was lying on the counter, carefully cleaned up. The mirror showed up the worst of the damage, though - Joey's left eye was swollen almost shut, his lip was split, his nose was bleeding but not broken. His knuckles on both hands were bloody and bruised, and judging by the stain spreading on his torn t-shirt, he had at least one cut under the jersey cotton, too.

He fidgeted awkwardly. "I'll clean up."

Rhys took one look at him and clucked his tongue, glad he'd decided to come here first before going home and scaring the crap out of his mother. "Yeah, never mind that," he said, ignoring the mess, which was easily cleaned up and looking the kid over again. "I hope the other guy looks worse," he murmured. "Take your shirt off," he said, noting the stain that was spreading across the kid's shirt and hoping it wasn't as bad as it looked. "Nat! Where's the med kit?" he called back, not even bothering to try keeping any of this a secret from his wife.

"One of them does," Joey told him in satisfaction, wincing as Rhys called to his wife.

Natalya answered easily. "In the kitchen, on top of the fridge," she called back to him. "There is clean laundry in a pile on the counter, too!" Because Nat knew that anyone who'd been in a fight and needed a medkit also needed a clean shirt.

Rhys seemed to reconsider a moment as he eyed the black eye, the missing tooth, the blooming stain on the boy's shirt. "Nat?" he called again, trying to keep the worried sound from his voice. "Can you give Aurelia a call and ask her to swing by for a few?"

"Of course." There was the sound of footsteps - evidently Nat had decided not to let Rhys go looking for the medkit, but to bring it herself. She tactfully had her eyes closed as she handed it in through the bathroom door, already dialing the Evans' number as she headed back to the living room.

Joey relaxed when he heard the door close, moving to peel his torn, bloody t-shirt over his head, revealing the cause of the spreading stain - three narrow cuts, that could only have been made with a flick knife, along his ribs on the right side. Thank God he wore a leather jacket.

Rhys took the medkit from Nat and set it on the counter, wincing at the look of the kid, though he was more concerned about the tooth and the black eye than the narrow cuts on Joey's ribs. "Okay, spill," he said, the tone of his voice leaving no room for argument, as he moved to scrub his hands clean before he could administer first aid.

Joey rolled his eyes ... well, his one good eye ... grimacing at the look on Rhys' face. "I got my ass handed to me," he said gruffly. "End of. It won't happen again."

"Mmhmm. No argument there," Rhys agreed, opening the medkit and pulling out a clean gauze pad, which he then pressed against the cuts near the kid's ribs. "Anything broken?" he asked, assuming the kid would know by now whether he'd cracked or broken any bones.

Joey shook his head, hissing as Rhys started on the rudimentary first aid. "Don't think so," he admitted. "No one got any kicks in - I stayed on my feet. Broke one nose, too, I think."

"How many of them were there?" Rhys asked further, hoping to keep the kid talking in order to distract him from his injuries - or rather, Rhys' treatment of his injuries. First, he had to stop the bleeding a little, before he could clean him up. The sooner Aurelia got there, the better, but in the meantime maybe he could get the story out of the boy.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Four," Joey grumbled. He was more pissed off about the fact that the main problem had brought friends and a knife to a fight than anything. "All because Chloe went to the movies with me that one time, months ago. Perfect Ed doesn't like it that she likes someone else."

"All this is about a girl?" Rhys asked, lifting his head from his first aid administration to arch a brow at the boy. He couldn't help but chuckle a little, reminded of himself at that age. "So, what do they look like? Broken nose. Anything else?"

Joey scowled at him. "She dumped him, like, last year," he told the closest thing he had to an uncle. "Really dumped him; went to town on him in front of everyone. He's an asshole and a coward, and I shouldn't have told him he couldn't win a fight with a girl. I guess he brought his friends just so he could say he won." He flinched again, looking down at the pad in Rhys' hand. "It's cool, Uncle Rhys, seriously. We fought, I didn't go down, he didn't win. I won't give him the same chance again."

"Because there isn't gonna be an again," Rhys said, with that no nonsense tone of voice again. He carefully peeled the gauze pad away from the wounds to check the bleeding. "Next time someone pulls a knife on you, you haul ass out of there as fast as you can. Don't confuse cowardice with wisdom," he said, replacing the pad with a fresh one and instructing, "Hold that right there."

"Didn't know he had a knife until he stuck it through my jacket," Joey pointed out, laying his own hand over the pad. "Would've been worse without it, but Mom's gonna kill me. It's pretty torn up." He squinted at Rhys through his good eye. "You're not gonna tell her, are you?"

"A jacket can be replaced. You can't," Rhys told him, though he was pretty sure the kid knew that already. "And no, I'm not. You are." Rhys took up a bottle of antiseptic and poured some onto yet another clean gauze pad. "This is gonna hurt, but there's no way around it. Black eye will heal. Cuts, scrapes, bruises, not a big deal. Even broken bones will eventually mend. But knife wounds?" He clucked his tongue again. "Knives and guns are serious business. I'd like to have a word with this Perfect Ed's parents."

Joey groaned, sighing heavily. "You know Mom's gonna go nuts at the school, right?" he pointed out. "I get it in the neck enough because she's a lawyer and Adam's a fed. Not that I'm not proud of her, I really am," he added hastily. "It's just ..." He waved a hand, unable to put into words how Gina's change in status and ability to provide for him had changed his place in the school hierarchy.

"You're asking me to keep a secret from your mom. No can do, kid. Your mom loves you and worries about you, and I know you don't want to upset her, but believe me, keeping secrets from her isn't the solution because, one way or another, she's gonna find out, and then you know what happens? Then you lose her trust. Believe me, it's better to face the music sooner, rather than later. Besides, it's not your fault, and she's not gonna think it's your fault," Rhys countered, knowing Joey didn't want to worry his mother, but keeping secrets from her wasn't the way to go.

"She'll yell," Joey predicted in a flat tone.

A knock sounded on the bathroom door, a familiar voice calling through. "Rhys? Natalya said something about you needing a witch?"

"You wanna make her yell or make her cry?" Rhys countered, in the no nonsense voice of his again. He was just about to sterilize the cuts when the knock sounded on the door and he recognized Aurelia's voice. "Saved by the witch," he murmured, meaning Joey. "Yeah!" he called through the closed door. "I'll meet you in the guest room," he told her, as it was a little too cramped in the bathroom to fit one more. "Put your shirt on, pull up your hood and go with Aurelia to the guest room. I'll meet you there as soon as I've cleaned up this mess," he told the boy.

Grumbling under his breath, Joey did as he was told. He didn't like the fuss, but he got why. Covered up, with his hood shadowing his face, he slipped out of the bathroom and followed Aurelia to the guest bedroom, embarrassed and angry and just wanting all the fussing to be over with.

Rhys didn't blame the boy. He'd done nothing wrong in his estimation. He'd only been defending himself against four other boys. He was lucky he wasn't looking worse than he was, but that didn't make Rhys feel any better. They had to figure out a solution to this problem before the kid got his ass handed to him again, and the next time, it might be a lot worse. Unfortunately for "Perfect Ed", Rhys lived right next door to a cop, who just might be able to put the fear of God into the kid. Yeah, that was exactly what Rhys was going to do, he decided, as he scrubbed up the bathroom. The only evidence he didn't dispose of was Joey's tooth, which he put in a paper cup filled with warm water for safe keeping. He'd heard of dentists being able to reattach teeth that had been knocked out if they got to them soon enough, but maybe Aurelia could take care of that, too. Once the bathroom was back to normal, he made his way to the spare bedroom and rapped his knuckles on the door again to announce his arrival.

Joey was alone in the bedroom, shirtless again and bright red with embarrassment. He looked up at Rhys awkwardly. "She did the ... you know, the disappearing thing," he started to explain. He didn't need to get much further, though, because Aurelia shimmered back into sight with a large book under one arm, and a bag of what looked like herbs and various potions in the other hand. She offered Rhys a bright smile. "How much of this are we making go away?"

For a moment there, Rhys thought Aurelia had already finished, except for the obvious fact that Joey still looked as banged up as he had a few minutes ago. "Uh, all of it?" Rhys asked, but quickly changed his mind. "Everything but the black eye," he corrected himself, holding up the paper-cup and swirling Joey's tooth around in the water. "I've got his tooth." He figured letting Joey off too easy wouldn't teach the kid much of a lesson and Perfect Ed and his cronies would expect to see at least that.

"Everything but the black eye it is ... oh, you saved the tooth, wonderful!" Aurelia looked entirely too enthusiastic about this as she opened her Book of Shadows and started to rummage through the pages.

Joey gave Rhys a slightly panicked look.

"Don't worry. You're in good hands," Rhys assured the teen with a hopefully reassuring smile and a pat on the back. "How do you feel about staying the night?" he asked, as he idly continued to swirl that tooth in the cup.

Knowing your neighbor is a witch and actually seeing her at work are two very different experiences, as evidenced by the awkwardly wary look on Joey's face as he watched Aurelia mutter over her book and start adding things to the potions she'd brought with her. It took a moment for Rhys' suggestion to sink in.

"Really?" he asked in surprise. "I-I thought you wanted me to get yelled at."

Rhys didn't bother to quote Glinda and ask if Aurelia was a good witch or a bad witch, as he already knew the answer to that question and Joey should have known it, too. He couldn't help but smirk a little at Joey's reaction to his suggestion about staying over night, though. "Yeah, really. And I never said that, though there's nothing wrong with a little scolding now and then. Like I said, it wasn't your fault. You were just defending yourself, but Gi-your mom might think differently."

"What'll you tell her about me staying over?" Joey eyed the closest thing he had to an uncle uncertainly. It was Rhys' idea, he could make that phone call, and if he wasn't convincing, they both knew Gina was going to show up here and learn firsthand why her eldest was hiding from her.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The answer was forestalled briefly as Aurelia removed the tooth from the cup in Rhys' hand, and inserted it back into Joey's gum, muttering something. There was a painful crunch, and the tooth was secure once again.

Rhys couldn't help but smirk again as that tooth went crunch as it was reinserted into Joey's gum. The look on the kid's face was priceless, but he knew this was no laughing matter. "Nothing. I'll just tell her you stopped by to see Ana and she didn't want you to leave." It was probably going to end up pretty close to the truth, anyway. Their daughter had grown fond of the teen, and though they were years apart in age, she lit up every time he walked in the door. "We'll get pizza and watch a movie later ... after you do your homework."

There were tears in Joey's eyes, but there was no way in hell he was going to cry in front of Rhys, even if Aurelia's magical first aid was more painful than losing the tooth to begin with. That was the worst of it, though. "Hey, Nat could help me with that, right?" the teen asked when he deemed it safe to move his jaw again. "We're doing, like, the Cold War stuff, and everyone at school's gone mad anti-Russian."

"There you go. Perfectly acceptable reason to stay overnight. Research for school! But you are gonna have to face the music sooner or later," Rhys warned. The music meaning that of his parents and, to a lesser degree, the school. "You know, don't you think it's kind of stupid for Perfect Ed to pick a fight with you when you have a Federal Agent for a Dad and a cop for a neighbor?" he asked, watching Aurelia work with mild interest.

Joey snorted in disgust, watching with equal interest as Aurelia held out his hand and dripped a particular potion onto his split knuckles. She muttered again, and the splits healed, the bruises fading. "Aw, man ... do I have to keep the eye?" he complained on seeing that, looking up at Rhys hopefully.

Rhys shrugged. "Your choice. 'Course, if you get rid of the black eye, Chloe won't see all the trouble you went to for her," he added, letting Joey decide for himself, though he tossed a wink at Aurelia.

Joey grimaced. "Are you kidding? She already dumped me for Mike," he informed Rhys, wincing as Aurelia rearranged his limbs to get to the cuts on his ribs. "Hey, if I get rid of the eye, does that mean Mom doesn't have to know?"

Rhys sighed. "No, that doesn't mean that Mom doesn't have to know. Did you hear a single word of what I've been telling you?" he asked, trying not to sound too much like a scolding parent, but it couldn't really be helped. "She's gonna find out sooner or later, believe me, and it's better if she hears it from you first."

Aurelia bit down on a smile as she glanced between the two of them - one, a man who had done the opposite of the advice he was giving too many times to count; the other, a boy impatient to be a man and forge his own path. "If you do not tell her, I will," she offered, giving both of them a way out. "In detail."

Joey looked aghast. "All right, all right, fine, I'll tell her!"

"You know, your mom is a lot more resilient than you think she is," Rhys added. "I don't think I need to tell you that the reason she gets so upset is because she loves you. Besides, it's not her you need to be scared of because if I find you screwed up, I'll kick your ass myself," he warned, though there was a smirk on his face so it was hard to tell if he was talking literally or figuratively. Either way, he reached over to affectionately tousle the kid's hair the way he had been doing since he'd been small. "Might as well fix him up right so he's pretty for the girls."

"It will certainly scare the little bastarde who thought he won this fight," Aurelia noted with a faint smirk. She might not approve of the fighting, but she definitely approved of putting the enemy off-balance. "Very well, petit, tip your head back and don't open your eyes."

Joey did as he was told, all his other injuries fixed, trying not to flinch as Aurelia went to work on his swollen eye. "I don't want her to get upset," the teenager tried to explain himself to Rhys. "She freaks out enough when the kids get a little bit scared. I'm not a kid, I can look after myself."

Rhys arched a brow, hearing the same speech he'd made himself countless times at that age. The only real difference was that Rhys had been forced to take care of himself at a young age, while Joey had not. "Why are you in such a hurry to grow up?" he couldn't help but ask. "You've got a nice home, a family who loves you, friends, girlfriends. Roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on the table. So, you have homework and a curfew. So you have to follow a few rules. So what? Would you really rather be all on your own, with no one to come home to? No one who gave a damn if you had a black eye or a couple of busted ribs? Is that really what you want?" Rhys blurted all at once, saying a lot more than he'd wanted to say, and hinting at his own childhood.

Joey's mouth worked silently for a long moment, unable to look Rhys in the eye thanks to the firm grip Aurelia had on his chin and forehead as the swelling around his brow and cheek went down under her magical intervention. But the truth was, he had nothing to say. He'd come to Rhys for help, and yes, he'd gotten help ... but he was being scolded by the one constant father figure in his life from age zero, who seemed to be taking all this very personally. He didn't have an answer.

Rhys sighed again, knowing he'd gone one step too far. He didn't want to lose the kid's trust, and yet, he didn't want him to grow up too fast either - the way he himself had. "Look, all I'm trying to say is that I don't wanna see you grow up too fast. I know you're all in a hurry to be a man, and I know being a teenager sucks sometimes, but you're not alone, Joey. Your mom only freaks out because she cares. Try to remember that. I care, too. And so does your Dad and Nat and Aurelia and everyone. But this isn't your fault, and I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself. I am. Just don't wish the years away so fast, okay?"

"It would've been worse if you and Adam didn't teach me how to take a punch," Joey pointed out, feeling the need to point out that he might not have engaged in the unfair fight if he hadn't had a certain amount of training.

Aurelia bit her lips, gathering her supplies together. "I will ... go now," she said cheerfully. "They will never know I was not next door."

Whatever it was Rhys was going to say to Joey was sidetracked by Aurelia's leave-taking. He turned to face her, a grateful smile on his face. "Thanks, Ree. I owe you one," he told her simply. In reality, he probably owed her a lot more than that, but then they had settled those debts a few years ago.

She shook her head with a smile. "You brought me back to myself and gave me a new life," she reminded him. "Whatever you think you owe me, you do not." She kissed his cheek fondly, turning to give Joey a wink. Then she shimmered, and was gone, leaving the two of them alone.

Joey fidgeted, one hand rising to gently test his newly healed eye.

Rhys smiled at the kiss, not quite blushing. He and Aurelia could have been something more than friends, if things had gone differently, but he was perfectly content with how things had turned out, and he assumed she was, too. He didn't bother to explain to Joey what Aurelia had meant by her remark. Joey already knew enough to make a pretty good guess at her meaning. "You need to change and I need to call your mom."

The teenager nodded, reaching for the pile of clothing Aurelia had left behind. It looked as though she'd raided his closet on her way over, helpfully enough. "Hey ... Rhys?" he said, dropping the torn t-shirt into the trash. He turned to look at his mother's best friend. "Thanks."

"Anytime, kid," Rhys replied with a smile, hoping he'd somehow managed to get through to the teenager. One problem still remained and that was how to deal with Perfect Ed and make sure Joey survived high school, but maybe that was better left for Joey to figure out on his own. Rhys knew he couldn't solve all the boy's problems for him, but if he could save him for some of the same suffering he and his parents had endured, he would. "I'm gonna go call your mom and let Nat know you're okay. Okay?"
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Sure." Joey nodded, a faint grin flickering on his handsome face as he pulled a t-shirt over his head. His hand fell to his leather jacket, a mournful expression taking over his eyes. "Man, that was a present from Adam," he sighed unhappily, lifting it up to take a look at the damage. The knife had obviously been longer and sharper than he had realized at the time - the right side of the jacket was all but shredded.

"It can be replaced. You can't," Rhys reminded him, with a cursory glance at the jacket as he made his way toward the door. At least, the kid wouldn't scare the crap out of Ana or his mother, now that Aurelia had seen to him. "You know, there's only one way to deal with a bully," he started, turning back a moment, with his hand on the doorknob.

Joey put the jacket down, more upset with the fact that it had been ripped up than the fact that he'd been beaten bloody. He raised his eyes to Rhys resignedly. "You're seriously going to tell me to ignore him?" he asked without enthusiasm. "The guy tried to knife me."

Thank God the jacket had taken the worst of the damage. That was going to have to be explained, too, at some point. Rhys chuckled. "Hell, no! If he was just taunting you, I'd say ignore him, but he brought a knife to a fist fight, and that's dangerous. You could press charges, but we've already cleaned up all the evidence," he said, indicating Joey's face with the wave of a hand. "You should avoid him as much as you can, but in the end, you may just have to stand your ground. Bullies never come to any good in the end. It's only a matter of time."

"I'm not usually on my own," Joey pointed out, shrugging into a clean hoodie. "I figure he didn't do anything sooner because of that. I'll just stay in groups."

"Mmm," Rhys murmured in reply. Maybe there was something he could do that wouldn't be seen as interfering. He'd have to talk to Nat about it first though and see what she thought. "I'll buy you a new jacket," he promised that much, anyway, turning back toward the door. "I'm gonna call your mom."

"Okay. Hey, um ... can I help put Ana to bed tonight?" Not the usual request made by a teenager around a three-year-old, but Joey was very fond of Ana. He was also fond of his new baby sister, Amy, who was the same age as Ana, and it seemed as though he was going to miss being in the house with his new siblings tonight.

"I don't see why not," Rhys replied, smiling at Joey's request. He found nothing odd about it, knowing how much Ana adored Joey. Yes, she was the same age as his adopted little sister, but he'd known Ana since birth and a special bond seemed to have formed between them that wasn't quite that of siblings nor that of friends. "Meet you in the kitchen. I'll ask Nat to make some cocoa." And then, Rhys was gone, going to make good on that promise to call Gina and fill her in.

Gina was, naturally, torn between being pleased Joey was home safe, and a little put out that he hadn't bothered to call for himself. "He didn't bring a girl home with him, did he?" she asked Rhys suspiciously, as he watched Natalya put the cocoa fixings together.

"No, he's got some paper to write that has something to do with Russian history, and he thought he'd ask Nat some questions, so I suggested he spend the night. Is that okay?" Rhys asked, as truthfully as he could.

"Oh." Gina twisted that around for a bit, and didn't find anything wrong with it. "Okay. I'll bring his stuff over in a little bit - PJs and clothes for tomorrow, okay?"

Rhys still thought it was up to Joey to tell his mom what had happened, but he knew she wasn't stupid. "Look, Gi. He got into a little trouble at school with some bullies, but he's okay," Rhys confessed, dropping his voice so the kid in question wouldn't overhear. "And he's really does have some paper to write about Russia. I promised him pizza and a movie, if that's okay. Thought it might take his mind off his problems for a while."

There was a somewhat lengthy pause on the other end of the line. "Are you telling me not to come over, Rhys?" she asked bluntly. "Just how bad was this little trouble he got into, huh? Bad enough that I'm not allowed to see my son tonight?"

"No! Of course not. You can come over," Rhys was quick to reply, though he didn't really like the accusatory tone in Gina's voice, like he was trying to hide something from her, which, in a way, he sort of was. It was the knife that worried him most, and there was no doubt in his mind that Gina would freak out if she found out about that. "Just ... He's okay, okay? I promise!"

It was at this point that Natalya decided to rescue her husband. She'd never seen him get panicky over a simple obfuscation with anyone but Gina, and funny though it was, she was the one who was going to have to spend the evening with both Rhys and Joey. She gestured for him to hand the phone over, waving him toward the cocoa.

"Gina? I have everything under control," she promised the laughing woman on the other end of the phone. Gina knew exactly what she'd just done to Rhys. "We're making cocoa, why don't you pop over for a cup and see how things are for yourself? Da. See you soon." She hung up the phone, raising her brow above a smile toward Rhys. "She finds it very easy to make you give up even the smallest lies, you know."

"And you don't?" Rhys countered. He wasn't sure why, but the women in his life always seemed to see right through him, making it difficult to lie. "I don't understand how you make it look so easy," he admitted with a perplexed frown, as he grabbed his phone back from her and returned it to a pocket of his jeans.

"I have spent my whole life lying, Rhys," she reminded him gently, leaning over to kiss his cheek as she mixed the powder into the warm milk. "Confidence will sell a lie more than words do, but there is nothing wrong with you for not being able to lie to those you love. We see through you because you want us to, at heart."

"I don't know about that," he said, not quite able to wrap his head around the psychology of his wife's statement. He looked over his shoulder to see if Joey was lurking or if he'd gone to say hello to Ana and Micah before joining them in the kitchen. "It worries me, though," he said, lowers his voice again, so Joey wouldn't overhear his conversation with Nat. "He was lucky this time, but what about next time?"

"It sounds as though this nasty child of a boy needs to be taught a lesson," Nat mused softly, vaguely aware of the sound of Ana crowing happily in the living room, neatly pinpointing Joey's location for them. "It is a shame I never found my mama's books. She was a good witch, though hardly in Aurelia's league."

Rhys arched a brow, wondering what it was his wife was getting at. "What are you suggesting? Putting a curse on the kid or something?" he asked, confused.

"Nyet!" Nat stared at him, horrified that he would think she would suggest such a thing. "He is a child, Rhys!" Albeit a child old enough to carry a weapon and make use of it, but still a child. "I thought that, perhaps, there is a way to teach him the error of his ways before they become a part of him for a lifetime."

"I'm still not following," Rhys said, not entirely understanding her train of thought. How were they supposed to teach a teenage bully a lesson without interfering? Rhys knew how he would have handled it if he'd been Joey, but he also knew Gina would kill him if he suggested Joey corner the kid and kick his ass. "Care to enlighten me, oh wise one?" he asked, a smirk on his face.

Nat flickered a faint smile at him as she poured out cocoa into a smaller mug, pushing it toward him so he could add milk cold from the fridge - Ana's portion, because otherwise she would scream the place down for being left out. "I think that Aurelia might ... might know of some spell that could ..." She shrugged. "Accelerate the process of karma, perhaps?"

"Karma?" Rhys echoed again. He wasn't stupid, but it took a moment for him to grasp the implications of what Nat was suggestions. "Oh! I see. You think that would work?" he asked, wondering what kind of karma a bully was destined to suffer. Being bullied in return maybe, or something else?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Well, if everything he does comes back to him three-fold in short time, as Aurelia's withcraft believes, then he will either kill himself being a horrible little ***, or mend his ways." She tapped her finger against his lips. "I know, bad worb, bad mama."

"That seems kind of harsh," Rhys said, though he supposed if the kid didn't learn his lesson sooner rather than later, he might end up killing someone eventually or being killed. He smiled and kissed her finger as she touched his lips. "I'll just have to punish you later," he warned, with a playful waggle of his eyebrows, before turning to fetch the milk from the fridge.

She snorted with laughter, raising her voice to call out. "Joey! Your mother is bringing some pajamas over for you! I suggest you spread your homework on the kitchen table so we can pretend we've been working on it!"

A low laugh resounded from the living room. "Got it, Nat!" the boy called back.

Rhys found himself frowning again as Joey called back to them in the kitchen, though it was hard to tell what exactly was eating him this time. He poured out some milk for Ana, brooding on his own thoughts silently for a moment, and taking longer than necessary to stir the chocolate mixture into the milk.

"You are thinking again," Natalya pointed out to him as she poured out the rest of the cocoa. She glanced up to see Joey enter the kitchen with his bag over his shoulder, Ana clinging to one hand, and Micah on his hip.

"I found these," the teenager informed the parents with a faint grin. "Do you want me to put them in the trash?"

Rhys opened his mouth to say something, but before he could share his thoughts, Joey had entered the kitchen, accompanied by Ana and Micah. Whatever it was he was going to say was just going to have to wait until later. "Hmm, do they belong to anyone?" Rhys asked, mirroring the teen's grin.

"Well, this one blows bubbles," Joey pointed out, hefting the six-month-old on his hip. Micah giggled and obliged with a long groan of spitty bubbles. "And this one," he added, waving Ana's hand, "keeps kissing random furniture."

The toddler's eyes went wide as though he had betrayed her deepest secret. "I does not!"

"Sound like a couple of troublemakers to me," Rhys teased, scooping Ana up into his arms and turning his face toward hers. "How about a kiss for your Papa?" he asked.

"Are you random furniture, milaya?" Natalya smirked faintly, obligingly taking Micah from Joey's arms so he could spread his homework out on the table. Ana stuck her tongue out at her mother, throwing her arms around Rhys' neck to smoosh a very wet kiss to his cheek.

"There," Rhys said with a grin. "I am not random furniture." He returned the favor, touching a quick kiss to his daughter's lips before setting her in her booster seat at the table. He let Nat handle Micah while he took care of Ana, not because he preferred one over the other so much as that he didn't want Ana to get too upset by Joey's teasing.

"You is Papa," Ana agreed with him, swiping her hair out of her eyes as he sat her down at the table. She eyed Joey, who had wisely put himself and his homework at the other end of the table. "Is you colorin'?"

Joey laughed quietly. "No, Ana, I don't get to do coloring," he told her. "That's only for special princesses like you."

Rhys had to stifle some laughter at Joey's response to Ana's question. "I don't know about that. I color sometimes, and I'm not a special princess." As soon as he said it, he knew Nat was going to comment, but it was too late to take it back. "Joey is doing his homework, Ana," he tried to explain.

"You are just a normal princess, Rhys," his wife said, rather predictably, glancing up to let Gina in through the back door.

"Wha's ho'murk?" Ana asked curiously, clutching her small hands around her own cup of cocoa.

Joey grinned over at her. "Stuff that school asks me to do so I'm ready to do more stuff at school, squishy."

Rhys rolled his eyes at Joey's explanation. Oh, yeah. That was crystal clear, but he didn't bother to add anything to it. "Hey, Gi!" he greeted Gina as Nat let her in. "Want some hot cocoa?" he asked, holding up a mug as proof. Nothing to see here. Everything was perfectly normal as normal could be.

"Thought that was my prize for coming over with the dude's duds," Gina answered with a grin, though her eyes flickered to Joey with concern. Joey met her gaze with as reassuring a smile as he could manage, watching her relax at the sight of him before he settled back into his homework.

Nat chuckled quietly to herself, nudging Rhys out of his seat so she could go and sit with the younger contingent and get started on that homework.

"I didn't know you needed a prize to get you to come over," Rhys countered, mirroring Gina's grin. "I think we're getting kicked out," he said, chuckling at Nat's nudge. "Take a seat and I'll get you a cup of cocoa."

"Honey, I deserve a prize just for walking in these heels," Gina commented, pausing by the table to drop the bag down beside Joey and kiss his hair, squeezing his shoulder as he murmured a hello to her. She made a wide grinning face for Micah, wriggling her fingers for Ana, and headed back to the kitchen counter to claim a stool as Rhys set about making her a cup.

It wasn't much to whip up another cup of hot cocoa, but it gave them a few minutes to talk away from the others, so long as they kept their voices down. "Is Adam home with the rest of the brood?" he asked, though the answer was obvious. He hadn't really had much of a chance to ask how all that was going, but if anyone could make it work, it was Adam and Gina.

Gina nodded, chuckling faintly. "I promised I wouldn't be more than half an hour," she told her friend fondly. "I'm home all day tomorrow, so he gets to run away for half an hour when the kids are everywhere if he needs to."

"How are things going? With the kids, I mean?" he asked, with a quick glance over at Joey. He was more worried about how Joey was handling sharing his home with three new siblings than they were with him.

Gina let out a long breath. "It's ... getting easier, slowly," she said, wrapping her hands about her cup as her eyes followed his glance toward Joey. "It was never going to be easy easy, but it was tough-going for a few weeks there. We had to get a lock for Joey's door a couple of weeks ago; that seems to have helped. He gets on with them, he loves them, but he's not used to being followed around all the time by an eight-year-old boy who's never had a big brother before. He did scare the crap out of some little prick who was trying to pick on Laura, that was kinda funny." She flashed a grin at Rhys. "Just loomed up behind her. Apparently the kid nearly wet himself."

If anyone knew what it was like being an orphan, it was Rhys. He'd been orphaned when he was nine and taken in by a hunter named Dylan, but he'd lost Dylan to vampires during his teen years. After that, he'd found his way to New York and eventually met Gina. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?" he asked, before taking a sip of his own cocoa. He'd taken it upon himself to claim the place of protective older brother in her life at a time when she'd needed it most.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

She chuckled. "Mmm, I wonder where he picked it up from," she teased her friend. "We're good, though. Things are settling down; I'm cutting down my hours. Adam's right; I don't need to work, and no matter how much I want to, my family has to come first. So I'm cutting back my workload; the department agrees, so I'm on one case at a time. Means I can really go for the bastards, too."

"Sounds like things are going pretty well," he said, feeling a little relieved. At least, where the kids were concerned. Joey's bully problem was another matter, but he'd make it a point to discuss it with Adam later and see if he agreed with Nat's idea. This wasn't something he wanted Gina to worry too much about. "It's a little weird being a stay-at-home Dad, but I like it." Of course, he wasn't entirely a stay-at-home Dad; he had duties and responsibilities as far as Avalon was concerned, and there was the occasional hunt, but thankfully, things had been quiet lately.

"You love it," Gina informed him with a grin, licking her chocolate mustache from her upper lip. "Seriously, I've never seen you this happy in yourself, and it's all wrapped up in being a husband and a father. It's wonderful, Rhys."

He smiled, almost a little boyishly shy at the rare praise. "It's that obvious, huh?" he asked, chuckling a little. "To be honest, it still feels like a dream. I keep wondering when I'm gonna wake up and find out that's all it is." It wasn't so long ago that both he and Gina had suffered such tragedy as to leave them feeling hopeless, but at least Gina had had Joey to give her hope and a reason to go on. None of them had been immune to tragedy and hardship, but maybe it was because of those hardships that they appreciated what they had now all the more.

"It's not a dream, kid," she assured him. "You earned this. All of it, diapers and spit up and all." She chuckled fondly, nudging his arm with her own. "C'mon, I bet you just light up inside when you hear them calling you Papa."

"Doesn't sound like much of a reward when you put it that way," Rhys said, chuckling again, though he couldn't deny how happy and content he was feeling these days. He'd dreamed of a happily-ever-after just like this one so many times over the years, always to have it pulled like a rug from under his feet - but not this time. He laughed at the rest of her comment. "Light up like a Christmas tree, according to Nat," he admitted, with another slightly bashful grin.

"Yes, Christmas," Gina said, abruptly changing the subject. "How does this sound? Christmas Eve over here, Christmas Day at ours, Boxing Day at whoever wins or loses the toss between the Dalys and the Evanses?" She flashed him a wide grin. It might only be November, but she liked to have everything planned out in advance.

Rhys chuckled. "Christmas is a long weekend this year, Gina," he reminded her, giving them yet another day, though it hardly mattered. Schools would be closed until after the New Year, though Adam and Jason might still have to work. "You realize no one here celebrates Boxing Day, right?" he asked further, nudging her with an elbow, a smirk on his face.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine, New Years' then," she conceded with a grin. "Someone else is hosting something as well as us this year!" Gina chuckled, taking a long drink from her cup. "We all hang around together too much not to share the holidays evenly."

"I don't know what Beth and Jason are doing for the holidays yet, but Ian and Aurelia are probably fair game. So, how about we host Christmas Eve, you and Adam host Christmas, and Ian and Aurelia can host New Years Eve or New Years Day," Rhys suggested, mostly keeping to her original plan.

Gina turned this over in her mind, and nodded. "Works for me," she agreed cheerfully. "Thank God all our houses are definitively big enough for everyone to get in and comfortable! Oh, and don't forget to invite Rach and Zach and their little knight in training, okay?"

"Right! I won't forget," he agreed. Every time the holidays came around, he was reminded of the gift of a vision he'd been given showing him a hint of the future - a future where he and Nat were surrounded by family and friends, both adults and children. Suddenly, he was grinning and tossing an arm around Gina's shoulders to draw her close so he could smooch her cheek. He was like a big kid when the holidays came around, and everyone knew it. "This is gonna be awesome!"

As Gina laughed, Ana's voice piped up from the table. "Papa an' GeeGee smoochin', Mama! Baaad Papa!"

Joey snorted with laughter as the toddler dropped his mother in the poo, glancing up to see Nat raising a brow in the direction of the smoochers.

It was only Gina's cheek, and it was pretty common knowledge that Rhys and Gina loved each other like siblings. He'd kissed her for real once when they'd been teenagers, and they'd both immediately known there was no romantic attraction between them. Rhys laughed at Ana's scolding and turned from Gina to stalk his daughter instead. "And just for that, you little imp, you're next!"

The little girl squealed with laughter, her mission accomplished - to get Rhys' attention back to herself, of course.

Natalya chuckled, leaving Joey with the notes they'd put together to rise and have a quiet word with Gina under the cover of letting Micah cover the other woman in spit.

Rhys made good on his threat, leaving a wet and noisy kiss against Ana's cheek and tickling her sides, just for good measure. Though he adored both his children, Ana was definitely a Daddy's girl.

Little feet banged against the underside of the table as Ana kicked out, small hands flailing happily at being tickled. The ruckus drew the dogs in from the living room, though - within minutes, Rhys was at the center of an excited whirling dervish of drool, fur, and giggles.

Natalya snorted with laughter. "This may be your cue to leave," she warned Gina.

The other woman laughed with her. "You know, I think you may be right."

It was just like Rhys to get the kids and the dogs wound up. He was, after all, like a big kid himself. "Hey!" he called over to Gina, even as he pushed one of the dogs away before he got slobbered. "Don't forget - Thanksgiving is at our house next week, and you're bringing the pies!"

"I know, I know," she laughed, waving to him as she headed for the front door. "You'd better enjoy them - Laura and Amy are baking them with Adam!"

Joey swallowed a loud cackle of laughter; he, Oliver and Gina were going to get the Christmas tree on the appointed day, just to avoid the war zone that would be the kitchen.

"Tell Adam to go easy on the nutmeg!" Rhys called back, a grin on his face. He really wasn't too worried about the pies, but couldn't help teasing her about it. "Down!" he told the dogs as they both did their best to knock him over.

Sasha ignored him, because she knew she was his favorite. Cody, on the other hand, planted his backside so fast, it made a thump.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gina laughed at the sight, rolling her eyes. "Okay, back to my calmer mad-house, I think," she said, pausing to look at her son. "Are we good?"

Joey offered her a smile, rising to let her hug him. "We're good, Mom," he assured her.

"Good." Gina nodded, letting him go. "See ya, insane-o-nauts!"

"Insane-o-naut to you, too!" Rhys called back, which didn't make much sense but he was too caught up in the moment to care. "Good boy," he told Cody, rewarding him with a ruffle of his fur. "Sasha, sit," he told the other dog, a little more forcefully, gesturing with one hand to indicate what he wanted her to do.

Tongue hanging out, Sasha finally obeyed, glancing at Cody as though teasing him for being a teacher's pet.

Natalya chuckled, hoisting Micah onto her other hip. "I take it I am ordering pizza tonight, hmm?"

"Unless you want me to make some," Rhys said, his attention fixed on the dogs for a moment. "Stay," he told them, extending one hand to enforce that command. He waited to make sure they obeyed before moving to fetch them each a treat.

"We don't order in that much," Natalya considered thoughtfully. She threw him a smile, knowing Sasha would be struggling to stay on command. "You can make the mush for your son, though."

"Oh, yay! I get to make the mush!" Rhys remarked with a chuckle, as he offered each of the dogs a treat. He knew Sasha was struggling to remain in one place, but she was getting better.

The dogs' impatience was not helped by the fact that Ana was repeatedly saying, "Sit, mush!" around his back.

Joey glanced up from his homework with a grin. "Is it always like this over here?"

"Ana! You're going to confuse them!" Rhys told Ana, with a chuckle, but at least she wasn't chanting swear words anymore. "No, it's pretty quiet when everyone's sleeping," he told Joey with a wink, as he headed for the door to let the dogs run around in the yard for a while. "C'mon you two, before you wear a hole in the floor," he told the pair of dogs.

Sasha was predictably the first one up, bolting for the door only to bounce off it .She whined, wagging tail hopefully as Cody trotted over to make sure she was all right.

"Sometimes it is like having five small children in this house," Nat sighed exaggeratedly, winking at Joey behind Rhys' back.

"Don't count me in that mix!" Rhys called back, overhearing Nat as he almost tripped over the dogs trying to get them outside. "Sasha, are you all right? Cody, take it easy!"

It was a little chaotic, but it was a happy kind of chaos. With Rhys being adored by the dogs, and Joey suddenly with a lapful of Ana, Natalya laughed in resignation. Just another evening in the Bristol house.
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