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Noah and the Storm (4/5)

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  • Katarina Hjärpe
    It was supposed to be quiet in the bunkhouse, since the ones who were to keep watch later needed their sleep. Who were they kidding? The riders had gotten so
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 28, 2001
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      It was supposed to be quiet in the bunkhouse, since the ones who were to
      keep watch later needed their sleep. Who were they kidding? The riders had
      gotten so far as to lie down in their bunks, but they had never actually
      turned off the light.
      �It was real,� Cody kept repeating, finding that hard to believe himself
      after all that time of scorn.
      �Yes, Cody,� Lou said patiently. �We�ve heard all that �I told you so�
      stuff already. Now, can you just forgive us our errors and shut up.� She
      smacked him lightly in the back of his head.
      He was completely unrepentant, staring right ahead with a childish
      Christmas morning smile on his face, oblivious to the fact that the others
      didn�t share his enthusiasm. �Superhumans from the future...� Suddenly a
      thought occured to him. �And Ororo is one, too?�
      �Unless changing the weather suddenly turned into everyday activity,� Lou
      said.
      �But she and Noah... I mean, could they...� Cody waved his hands
      indefinitely.
      �I don�t think they�ll have the time to figure that out, Cody,� Buck said
      patiently.
      �She seems human enough. It�s harder to think of her and the blue beast
      being the same kind than her and Noah. But then, even a lapdog is a kind of
      wolf, right?�
      �I�m not sure they even should get together,� Kid mumbled.
      �You wouldn�t.�
      Kid reacted instantly on Buck�s matter-of-fact comment. �What was that
      supposed to mean?�
      �I�m not going to hold your upbringing against you,� Buck stated calmly,
      �but let�s face it, you�re not really into the races mixing.�
      Kid shook his head, not believing that he actually heard this. �Have I ever
      turned against you or Noah? There�s more to this than attitudes or bad
      blood. We don�t even know what they think of us. They�re superhuman, right?
      More than human. Maybe they look at us the way we look at the apes, and
      they�re just too polite to tell.�
      �Yeah,� Jimmy reluctantly admitted. �They haven�t really said much about
      their own time.�
      Ike shook his head violently. <<They don�t think of us like that.>>
      �They could,� Lou said. �I mean, they seem nice enough, but what if they�re
      not?�
      �They don�t act like royalty or anything though,� Cody said thoughtfully.
      �Well, apart from that old guy in the sweat lodge.�
      �You were in the sweat lodge!?�
      �Cody!�
      Cody spread his hands to show his innocence. �I de-metaled myself first, I
      promise! And you got to admit, to him we�re some sort of lowlives.�
      �Well, we did tie him up and lock him in a tent,� Jimmy commented.
      Ike was still shaking his head. <<We�re not lowlives to the others.>>
      �Well, we like to think that, but how do we really know?� Lou asked.
      He gestured towards his eyes. <<I know when I�m seen that way.>>
      The others silenced, incapable of denying that argument. Ike�s shyness
      sometimes verged on paranoia, and he was more likely to emphasize any sign
      of arrogance than the opposite.
      Before the conversation had gotten started again, Teaspoon returned from
      his watching duties.
      �What are you all doing up?� he asked, rubbing his face to get the chill
      out. �Ike, you�re supposed to keep Miss Grey company soon, you should get
      some sleep.�
      Ike just shrugged.
      �And where�s Noah? Shouldn�t he have been replaced already?�
      �He�s staying with Ororo,� Lou said smugly, and there was a weak chuckle
      from the others. They were still unsure about the X-Men, but they never
      missed a chance to make fun of a friend.�
      �They�re probably waiting for Scott to replace Ororo,� Buck said, trying to
      hide a yawn.
      �Go to sleep,� Teaspoon said, reaching for the lamp.
      �Teaspoon, what do you think they live like in their own time?� Lou asked.
      Instead of blowing on the lamp, Teaspoon exhaled softly. �I don�t know,
      Louise, but I can take a guess. People are never too kind on those who are
      different, especially not if they seem dangerous. Now, with the power these
      people have, they could certainly defend themselves, but if they�re really
      as few as they say they are, it could be ugly. Real ugly.�
      �Do you think they�re being persecuted?� Lou�s voice was weak.
      �I�ve been sitting in the stable for the past few hours next to a girl who
      could have killed me with a simple touch, and yet she seemed afraid of me.
      She doesn�t even tell people her real name, just some code name she has
      chosen for herself. Then there are those claws that someone put in Mr.
      Logan�s body against his will. I don�t like the look of this.�
      �What about Jean?� Buck suggested. �She seems confident enough.�
      �Yes, that�s true. She and young Bobby are also the only ones that don�t
      seem to have code names... and that have no physical differences from the
      rest of us. I don�t know if that�s a coincidence.� Teaspoon thought through
      what he had said, frowning, and then his expression lightened and he gave
      Ike a look. �Speaking of Miss Grey, Ike...�
      Ike nodded and left his bunk to get dressed. Grabbing his hat and coat, he
      heard Teaspoon�s gruff goodnight to the riders: �Now, shut your mouths and
      go to sleep, you�ll need the strength.�
      Inside the stable, Jean sat on a pile of hay, reading one of Cody�s novels
      that he�d left there at some point. When Ike came, she put it down and
      smiled at him.
      �Hello. Darkest hours for us, huh?�
      He nodded and leaned restlessly against the wall. Jean patted the pile
      beside her.
      �She hasn�t been any trouble so far, there�s no reason to think we won�t be
      spending all of our hours here. Come on, sit down!�
      Hesitating, he came closer and sat down on the pile, awkward to be so close
      to a pretty young woman. Was he to think of her as a fighter or as a girl?
      The others would have known. Cody or Jimmy would probably have made some
      stupid joke about how she tried to make a pass at them.
      �I�m not trying to make a pass at you or anything,� she said with a grin,
      and his eyes widened at the way her words mirrored his thoughts exactly. It
      made him more comfortable. She wouldn�t have made joke like that if she had
      been looking down on him.
      �You know,� she said after a short silence, �just because we�re superhuman
      it doesn�t mean we�re... superior, or anything.� Now, why did she choose
      that exact word, she wondered to herself. The label Homo Superior was
      constantly used about their kind by Magneto, and she had never appreciated
      it. Sure, it was better than �freak�, but it wasn�t that much closer to the
      truth. She was the only one of the X-Men to have a good relationship with
      her parents, and although she, as all children, had often felt superior to
      them, it had nothing to do with her powers. As for this shy young man
      sitting next to her, he projected his thoughts so clearly into her head that
      she was finding it hard even to separate her own identity from his. The idea
      of feeling superior to him was laughable. His wish of acceptance was as
      great as hers, and he displayed no hatred, only curiosity. After all, it was
      highly unusual to get prisoners who couldn�t be restrained by heavy bars.
      �I suppose Magneto and Mystique aren�t your most average type of
      prisoners,� she said.
      His surprise at this comment almost made her feel ashamed of herself for
      playing games with him. She couldn�t afford picking up some of his thoughts,
      they were projected too strongly, but she did keep her mind a little bit
      more open than she should. He was so eager to communicate, closing up felt
      like fighting off a toddler�s hand. But if she wasn�t to leave him alone,
      she should at least admit what she was doing.
      �I haven�t been completely honest with you,� she said. �You see, I�m a
      telepath.� He didn�t know the meaning of the word, so she explained it
      further: �I can read minds.�
      His reaction was unusual, but not entirely unexpeced. First the natural
      surprise, then an overwhelming joy. *Why didn�t you say so earlier!?* he
      laughed inside his mind.
      �People don�t always react very well. I don�t read minds without
      permission, but...� She picked up his thought. �Well, I don�t normally. You
      were projecting.�
      He brushed that away as unimportant, still pleased at the discovery, and
      his thoughts started to swirl at her with such strength and speed that she
      winced. He immediately drew back, confused and wounded.
      �You were a little too loud, that�s all,� she explained. It felt strange to
      be speaking out loud when Ike was chattering in her mind, and so she
      silenced, returning the thoughts without words. She liked the way his
      thoughts were constructed, almost clear enough to *see*, yet more
      associative than plainly logical.
      He tried slowing down his thoughts, and got an appreciative smile from
      Jean, showing that it was working. It almost made him sad that she was
      engaged, and she thanked him for the compliment, amused. The thoughts
      proceeded more slowly, showing images from his life at the express station
      and indirectly asking for comparison with her own life. The bunkhouse
      shifted to the mansion, and Ike was both amused and annoyed at the
      realization that Jean did not know the names of all the horses in Xavier�s
      stable, while she knew the positioning and use of everything in the
      Blackbird. Although fascinating, it was just a machine. Yes, but her
      boyfriend was the devoted pilot, how could she not know it? She even knew
      how uncomfortable it was in a tender moment -- that last thought passed
      through before she could stop it, and he laughed silently. Some things
      didn�t change much.
      Enjoying the game they proceeded the comparison, the fighting techniques as
      well as the everyday living, until Jean unwillingly sent an FoH
      demonstration and the screams of �mutie freak� that filled it. Stunned by
      her revelation, he sent back the exact same words, used in other
      circumstances. Revulsion and despise, sometimes out in the open, sometimes
      hidden behind fancy talking. Yes, like the chief of hospital who explained
      far too smoothly why her promised scholarship was no longer available.
      People speaking like they would to a very small child, assuming that his
      silence meant he didn�t understand. Lies, all those lies, always pretending
      to be something you�re not. The dreaded moment when mute couldn�t simply be
      mistaken for taciturn. Scott�s back growing stiff at every comment directed
      at his shielded eyes, every person hurrying their steps. Buck�s chin held
      high, proudly declaring that the muttered prayers and curses didn�t matter.
      An outcast, themselves and the ones they loved.
      Some things didn�t change much, indeed.

      **********

      Ororo sat with her head leaning on Noah�s chest. She had a feeling there
      was a distinct reason they had only been provided with one blanket. If that
      was true, she didn�t really mind. All she had to do was sit still and hope
      to forget that she would have to leave him and that they were guarding a
      dangerous criminal, as well as the nagging speciesism even in her own mind
      that insisted of telling her all the problems of dating a normal.
      �This is nice,� he said quietly, stroking her hair.
      �Yeah,� she replied.
      He shifted his position, and she shifted with him, laying his hands in her
      lap.
      �You know,� he said, �I�ve told you about my life...�
      �And I told you a pack of lies,� she filled in.
      �I don�t blame you.�
      �I know.� She thought about what he had told her on their first date and
      the time after that. He had been born free in a liberal home, which did
      explain how he could work so easily with the other riders. But the world
      around him wasn�t as liberal. His characteristic cynicism must have come
      from when his father was murdered. When you realize you�re born to hang,
      suspicion is a way of survival. He was a reserved sort, and she still had
      heaps to find out, but then, they had only had one date. And he was right,
      she did owe him.
      �My parents died when I was little during a war in Egypt,� she started. �I
      was raised by a pack of thieves there. Then I traveled around for a bit, was
      worshipped as a goddess,� she smiled a little, trying to sound flippant,
      �and finally ended up as an X-Woman.�
      �Ever been in love?� Noah�s voice was low.
      She turned to look at him, and then turned back. �Occasionally� Talking
      about Forge wasn�t easy. �I used to go out with the guy who made the time
      machine. Forge. I had it pretty deep for him.�
      �What happened?�
      �A lot of things. I guess what it finally came down to was that the life of
      an X-Man wasn�t much of a Friday night entertainment.�
      �Is anyone�s?� Noah�s muscles tensed when he asked the next question: �Ever
      been with a non-mutant man?�
      �Quite a few, actually,� she replied.
      He swallowed. �Because you wanted to?�
      �Usually not.� She didn�t know how to explain the rest, how people had seen
      it as a work benefit whether they were protecting her or worshipping her. �I
      don�t know how Magneto knew. Does it bother you?�
      �Yes,� he answered simply, while at the same time wrapping his arms tighter
      around here. She smiled.
      �I�ve never been in love with anyone like you, mutant or not.�
      �Same here.� His voice was sarcastic, but the words were honest. �I can�t
      accept that we may not even have a second date.�
      �Not to mention a third.�
      �What�s so special about a third date?� he asked, puzzled.
      He really didn�t know, and she wasn�t about to tell him. �Never mind. We�ve
      got this, at least. It could be our second date.�
      �Yeah? Are we to have dinner then?�
      �We could have a movie,� she suggested.
      �Movie?�
      �Uhm... moving pictures. Like a theatre play, but on photographs.�
      He chuckled. �Okay, do you know any good ones?�
      �Several.� She thought for a while, and then decided on a fitting movie
      story. �In a period of great war, there was a bar owner called Rick...�

      **********

      That morning, the riders gathered to practice their shooting and other
      skills. Although they didn�t admit it, it might have been an attempt to
      prove themselves to the X-Men, who seemed more amused than anything else.
      �You want to try?� Jimmy casually asked Logan after a round at some tin
      cans.
      Logan grimaced slightly. He could take care of a handgun, it wasn�t that.
      He just liked close combat a lot better. �Sure, why not?� The old thing was
      heavier than it looked, and clumsy compared to 21st century weapons, but it
      wasn�t that hard to fire. The shots entered more or less where they should.
      �Not bad,� Jimmy said, but he didn�t seem all that impressed.
      Logan growled a little. �Not quite my sport.�
      �Try shooting him,� Jean suggested, and Logan stared at her.
      �Funny, Red.�
      �No, but seriously!� Jean mentally lifted the gun Logan had laid to the
      side, and cocked it. �Ready?�
      He got her meaning and let his claws slip out. �Okay.�
      The trigger was pulled and bullets fired in his direction. Logan put up his
      claws and blocked the first few bullets, then he changed position of his
      hand and sliced the last one. Unfortunately, although this slowed the speed
      of the fragments, one of them still grazed is arm.
      �Ow! Shit.�
      Jean lowered the gun. �You okay?�
      �Yeah, sure.� It stung a little, but the wound soon healed.
      This did make Jimmy impressed. He stared at the healing wound open-mouthed.
      Some of the other riders had gathered around as well.
      �I guess... guns aren�t really your thing.�
      Logan grinned. �Ask One-Eye. He�s the marksman.�
      �Usually not with a gun though,� Scott commented dryly.
      �Those blasts you spoke of?� Buck asked, rather curious. �We never got to
      see them.�
      Scott shrugged and turned to Jean. �Did you get my visor from the hotel?�
      �Sure, hang on.� She went inside Rachel�s house to dig through the bags she
      had brought, and soon came back with the visor. Scott closed his eyes and
      changed eyewear.
      �So that�s why they call you One-Eye?� Jimmy asked.
      �No, that�s why they call me *Cyclops*,� Scott replied coldly, although his
      slight smile contradicted the scowl on his face. He adjusted the settings by
      his ear and blasted the tins one by one, varying the strength of the blasts
      betwen the shots. The riders tried to look blas�, but it didn�t work very
      well.
      Noah and Ororo was sitting by the side of the field, not participating in
      the game.
      �You don�t care to show your powers?� Noah asked, grinning at the show the
      others excelled in.
      �Hitting a poor can with a bolt of lightning might be considered overkill,�
      she replied. �You?�
      �They know what I can do.� He caught a lock of her hair and pulled it
      slightly. �Do you?�
      She looked at him and for a second tried to keep her expression of serene
      divinity, before she had to give up and laugh helplessly.
      Some of their friends gave them a glance of interest. Rogue turned her eyes
      back to the gun she was trying to master, and smiled slightly. �They sure
      enjoy each other�s company.�
      �Hm. Won�t be easy on them when we have to go.� Jean turned her attention
      back to the cans she was spinning for the Kid. �Come on now, let�s see how
      you are with a moving target.�

      **********

      Lou hurried back from town, her hand squeezing the poster and her heels
      eagerly kicking into Lightning�s sides. She paused when she came to the
      sweat lodge, where Bobby was stuck keeping guard.
      �Your friend,� she panted, and Bobby rose in one instant move.
      �Hank?�
      Lou nodded and handed Bobby the poster. At first the boy just stared
      blankly at it, but then he swallowed. �The circus...�
      �Guess he was telling the truth,� she replied, nodding at the lodge. �Come
      on.�
      She pulled him up next to herself at the horseback and they rode up to the
      others. Lightning squirmed when Lou kicked him this time, but she didn�t
      have patience with that right now. The people on the field stopped their
      training when they saw her arrive, and she jumped down from Lightning. Bobby
      slid down too, without any attempt at grace.
      �I found your friend,� Lou said, and held up the circus poster. �They�ll be
      coming to town tomorrow.�
      The poster showed several different kind of attractions, some of which
      where appaling to a 21st century person not used to sideshows. And in the
      middle of all this was an easily recognized blue beast, if more ferocious
      than in real life. He was surrounded by the words �The Amazon Gorilla --
      more clever than a fox, more dangerous than a grizzly�.
      �I think I�m gonna go sick,� Rogue muttered.
      The other X-Men stayed silent, contemplating what they saw. Scott rubbed
      his forehead and finally nodded slowly. �Perfect.�
      The kids and the riders looked at him as if he had just grown another head,
      a so far unknown mutation.
      �It�s perfect,� he repeated. �We know where he is, when we can get to him,
      and who has him.�
      �Yeah, well, those who have him own a side show, that doesn�t bother you?�
      Jimmy asked, upset at Scott�s calm.
      �It could have been worse. They�re bound to want him alive and in one
      piece.�
      Logan gave a snarl that could have meant almost anything, if it wasn�t for
      the metal around his bones. Alive and in one piece *was* the point. �Yeah.
      Being up for display for a while won�t harm him. Hank�s strong enough to
      manage.�
      Bobby was about to protest, but Rogue put her gloved hand on his arm. She
      had seen Logan in a cage, fighting people for money. The situation wasn�t
      all that dissimilar. �It�s better than Magneto.�
      He glanced at her, and for the first time in months remembered that the
      white streaks in her hair weren�t just pretty decoration. He hated the
      thought of Hank in a cage, but he nodded slowly. �I guess.�
      The riders would have wanted to protest, but they realized that they were
      in territory they knew very little about. They just listened as the X-Men
      began to plan for the coming day and the arrival of the sideshow. Suddenly
      Logan rose his head and sniffed the air a little, looking around before his
      eyes fell on Lightning.
      �Your horse is bleeding,� he said to Lou.
      There was indeed a gash at Lightning�s side. Lou frowned. �What could have
      done that?� She looked down at her own feet and noticed that her spur was
      broken, a sharp tip was all that remained. She loosened it from her boot and
      took it up to look at. �Weird... I don�t see how it could fall off like
      that.�
      Logan muttered a curse. �How close did you get to the sweat lodge?�
      Lou paled when she realized what she had done. �I... went there to get
      Bobby. Pretty close, I guess. I showed him the poster and told him what
      happened...�
      �Which means now Erik knows, too,� Jean concluded, and even before she had
      finished the sentence, they were all on their way to the sweat lodge. Bobby
      was the first one to get there. As the others tumbled in behind him, he got
      out of the lodge, holding a sharp piece of metal in his hand.
      �He�s gone. I shouldn�t have left.�
      �If he had that thing to cut the ropes, I�m glad you did leave,� Ororo said
      calmly.
      �It�s my fault,� Lou said, devastated. Nobody argued with her, but they
      didn�t blame her either. There wasn�t any point in that.
      �Well,� Scott said, �what�s done is...� He stopped suddenly. �Mystique.�
      �Cody!� Noah said, turning around instantly. Cody was watching Mystique,
      and whatever else the cocky rider was, the two of them were a team. He was
      barely aware of the X-Men team leader running beside him. fearing the worst
      he climbed up the ladder to the stable loft and didn�t know whether to laugh
      or cry when he saw Cody manacled in there.
      �Thank God you came!� Cody said. �I�ve been calling like crazy, didn�t you
      guys hear me?�
      �I�m afraid not. Sorry,� Noah said and moved forward to loosen Cody. Scott
      stopped him with a hand on his arm.
      �Wait.�
      Only then did Noah remember Mystique�s power, and he nodded his consent,
      waiting for the others to arrive. After the kids came Jean, and Scott turned
      to her with an unspoken question. She looked at Cody for about a second,
      scanning his mind, and then nodded. It was really him. Noah noticed the nod
      and went forward to his friend.
      �Isn�t it like you to get into trouble,� he said, but the mocking tone was
      only there to mask his relief, and Cody knew that.
      �Hey, I couldn�t do much against the two of them,� he protested lightly.
      �What�s been going on around here?�
      �Well,� Noah said, looking up at the others with a sigh. �We know where
      their friend is. Too bad we just lost the prisoners.�

      **********

      �Come closer!� said a caped midget and motioned for the people on the
      square to step into the tents. �See the wonders of the world! We have the
      remarkable fire-eater Roberto Zabora, the armless wonder Lorita Cook signing
      postcards for a nickle a piece, a ferocious gorilla from the Amazons, a baby
      with two heads conserved in alcohol for the benefit of science...�
      �The benefit of entertainment,� Ororo muttered. �Well, at least it�s the
      one place Hank won�t be noticeable.�
      The riders formed a circle around the tents, slightly uncomfortable. The
      X-Men would go inside and they were going to take care of the crowd once
      Hank was free.
      A man gave Buck an unfriendly push. �Hey, Injun boy, what you doing out
      here instead of in there?� Buck looked up, as well as Ike, who had been in
      the middle of a question. The man chuckled. �Goes for that friend of yours,
      too.�
      They did what they always did in those situations, which was simply pretend
      that nothing had been said at all. Jean looked back at them for a split
      second, but when she realized they were dealing with it, she proceeded
      inside.
      �The Amazon Gorilla?� Scott asked the midget.
      �A good choice. Second to the left, a quarter for the trouble,� the midget
      replied.
      They moved into the tent, where two large men were guarding a cage on
      wheels. Inside the cage, Hank McCoy was putting on a tired act of ferocity,
      mostly to avoid the sharp stick the men poked him with when they found his
      performance less than convincing. The X-Men watched it passionlessly, and
      Rogue pressed Bobby�s hand hard to prevent him from speaking.
      Logan moved up near the cage. �Don�t they have any wonders with more
      bosom?� he asked casually.
      Hank looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, and bared his fangs in
      the slightest of smiles when he saw his friends in the crowd. Scott stared
      straight ahead, as usual without any emotions put on display, but the
      corners of his mouth twisted down slightly. *Ask Logan to create a
      distraction,* he sent to Jean, and she passed the request on. Logan nodded
      casually and moved outside.
      �I got a letter from Hank the other day,� he told Jean, still looking
      straight ahead. He had no peripheral vision and needed to see Hank�s
      reaction. �He told me he�s about to start a *duck* farm.�
      Hank slowly sank down on his knees, realizing that �duck� was the key word.
      This caused the men to slam the stick into his ribs, and he growled in a way
      that would make Logan blush in embarrassment, but the men seemed pleased
      with it, and he stayed on his knees.
      �There are some horses loose outside,� a loud voice said from the entrance.
      �They�re running away as we speak, so if you had your horse tied up by the
      saloon, I suggest you go find it.�
      There was a massive movement of people going outside, and Logan grinned at
      Hank. The distraction seemed to have worked. Scott focused on the cage and
      quickly calculated the force needed and how to best achieve it. Moving both
      his hands up the the rim of his glasses, he quickly pulled them down
      slightly and moved his head from left to right before pushing them up again.
      The beam blasted the roof off the cage, and the few people still left in the
      tent started screaming. Once the roof was off, Hank jumped out of it with
      his usual agility and grimaced in pain as he hit the floor. �In one piece�
      was a phrase with many meanings. Bobby hurried up to him and hugged him
      tightly.
      �Later,� Scott said, pushing the youth towards the exit. �Now get out!�
      Ororo called on a thunderstorm to send people inside and make them forget
      that they had just seen a force beam blast out the side of a tent. Maybe
      they would even assume it was some strange sort of lightning. Outside, the
      riders were waiting with getaway wagons and the X-Men�s last possessions
      from the hotel. Hank�s keepers had gotten over the shock enough to realize
      that their precious beast was getting away, and the first bullets began to
      fly over the wagons.
      �Come on!� Jimmy said, firing back. �They won�t miss forever!�
      Then suddenly all the guns dropped at once, and slid together into a pile.
      As they escaped the scene, Jean caught a glimpse of a distinguished profile
      and some grey hair.
      *Thank you,* she sent, and Magneto looked back at her, bowing his head
      slightly.

      **********

      tbc


      Katta

      Adventure Stories and Fun http://www.geocities.com/katta_hj
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      committed Ikeotic and card-carrying Buckette
      Cute guys go spikey when they sneeze (denying the death of the Dublin
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      Devoted to Spike and Lynda - because they both want the last word

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