In all of his life there had been one truth that John Sheppard had never doubted. It didn't concern god or time or any of those great abstracts the philosophers he'd read at the Academy had gone on and on about. It was, in fact, something he'd overheard while walking down the hallway of his high school toward the bright, rectangular glass doors, which represented to him all he knew of freedom and all he figured he'd ever need.
He'd been suspended—again—and was about to take a serious beating—again—at the hands of his father, who never once cared a whit that his boy had problems, or ideas, or dreams, or, really, anything other than a ramrod straight posture and the fixed certainty of a future that didn't involve living in his home any longer than he—John—absolutely had to.
At the time, this thing John overheard had seemed funny; he was sixteen, rebellious, a sneer the highest form of expression, and he hated the world in just about the same way it hated him back—that is to say, partially, indifferently, even off-handedly.
He didn't know the teacher—it was his third school in as many years, and he'd long since stopped bothering to know people—but he liked her voice, low and assured, musical almost, with a hint of an accent that said, "Educated." He bet she smelled good, too.
He couldn't see her through the frosted glass of the door's one window, and though he was tempted to toe the crack open and peek in around the edge, he caught himself in time. It wasn't the cool thing to do, and besides, he had places to be.
But before he walked off, boot soles a regular rhythm to counterpoint the whirring hands of the hall clock, John heard words that came to mean something to him, moreso as the years passed and he grew older, though he might not say wiser.
"Pain is not to pleasure as hate is to love," she said. "Love causes pain; hate causes pleasure. Nothing is ever simple, and the sooner you get that through your heads, the better off you'll be."
He'd laughed at the time because he thought she was being a typical adult, condescending to lay the great wisdom of her many years at the feet of her captive charges. He'd laughed because it seemed to him that there wasn't any pleasure at all in love, not if his family was any indication. And maybe he'd laughed because it hurt a little, how right she was, and laughter was the way he dealt with pain—laughter or violence, sometimes both.
Later on, at the Academy, he'd come to temper that reaction into a kind of surgical precision, eyes narrowed, breath controlled, hands easy on the yoke, and a thousand rounds of death striating the earthbound targets like a geological force, all geysers and eruption. It seemed simple, that equation: head, hands, breath, death. But he knew it wasn't, knew the math it took to keep the bird in the air, knew the way displacement changed things on the ground, shifting targets into atoms in an instant.
And in Afghanistan, he tried to simplify, telling himself that the enemy were atoms, new energy; matter didn't disappear, it merely got displaced, changed into something not-man. And this was simple, right? They were evil men, having done evil deeds. He was a good man following orders.
He knew better, even before her haunting voice flowed through his head like some latter-day Obi Wan, only probably prettier. He found himself wishing he'd seen her face just once, but that suspension had been the last straw for his impatient father, and it had been military school from there on out. So he had only her voice on the strafing runs or when he came in low on a rescue, the heavy thud of artillery so close it made the breath in his chest shake, like really good bass turned way the hell up.
Just when he wanted it to be simple—get in, get down, get 'em out, get home—he'd remember her words, and sure as shit gathers flies, something would complicate it—a winged gas tank, flak punching holes in the tail, blood like rain as his gunner sagged in his harness.
So John had learned to be patient, had cultivated chaos, remembering the rules from advanced physics about crystals in a petrie dish. No predictable pattern, but order somehow in the end. Yeah, he got that, and he found himself wondering for the billionth time just what subject that woman had been teaching, because it seemed to him that it might have been math, or physics, or literature, or home economics, or how to live in the Pegasus Galaxy.
Nothing was ever as simple as it seemed.
Naturally, since it had been true for his whole life, John knew it had to be true for the wraith in the next cell, whose name he'd culled down to Dave, since he couldn't pronounce even the first sibilant syllable of the other's real name.
Dave didn't seem to mind. He responded to the name like he responded to everything, first a stentorian breathing in the darkened corner, then legs longer than should be legal in battered leather, and then that carnival mask of a face, ritual tattoo making John flinch when he considered how it got there.
He'd never liked needles. Needles mounted to motors seemed like something out of de Sade.
What Dave had said to John before they took him out of his cage to the seventies soundstage from hell was, "Give it to me freely and it won't hurt."
John had laughed, and it had in it the same quality of sneering disbelief he'd once expressed when he was sixteen and standing in the sunlit hallway listening to the mystery woman.
It couldn't be that simple, right?
Oh, it hurt like a motherfucker the first time, ripping sounds from him he was glad that the gag muffled. He didn't want Elizabeth, Ronon, Rodney, any of them to hear the sound that life made as it was taken by a touch more intimate than fucking.
For that's what John realized in the moment or two he had to spare between breathing and screaming. When Dave laid his hungry hand over John's heart, he took not only blood, not just years; no, the wraith wrung from him his very life—his essence, spirit, soul. John didn't know all the words, didn't think there was a word in any language for the feeling of that violation.
He wanted to weep, to retch, to rage against the indignity. Mostly, though, he wanted to curl up in the lap of a smooth-voiced woman and sob until his heart stopped up his throat and he choked on it.
Instead, he sat up in his cell, ragged-breathed and angry, wishing the bars between their cages would disappear just long enough for him to throttle the bastard to a slow and agonizing death.
Instead, Dave came to John's cage, first by voice, the gravel over glass of it jarring John out of his loathing, then the hand at the gap, gauntlet taunting him as it rang against the bars.
"It doesn't have to hurt," Dave said again, and this time John listened, for he wasn't sure he could survive another session. John ran a hand absently through his hair, wondering if it would come away clumped with grey. It was too dark in the cell to tell.
So he staggered to his feet and came closer to the creature that had just raped him of years and spirit.
"Among my brothers," wraith Dave explained, "We sometimes have occasion to need one another's life-force. If I were wounded in battle, and my brother less so, he might take what he needed from me in order to save us both, and then give it back when the battle was done. In this way, the Wraith have destroyed stronger warriors than we."
John shuddered, perhaps from shock, perhaps the cold and damp of the cell, but more likely from the very idea that there might have once been an enemy stronger than the Wraith.
"Say I believe you," John said after a moment. "What do I get out of it if I let you take my life-force?"
"I am the stronger warrior, John," Dave said, and there was nothing arrogant in it, truly—just the surety of a creature who had lived for thousands of years on the life of others.
"Give me your strength, and I will defeat them so that we may escape this dungeon."
John shook his head. "You can have my strength anyway," he pointed out. "Kolya is feeding me to you."
"But he rations it, John," Dave said. The smile on his face was an ugly thing, and John shuddered. "I'll need more to effect an escape."
"And if I give it to you freely, you can take more at a time?" John was slower than usual, but he figured he deserved some slack, seeing as how he'd just had the life sucked out of him.
"Yes," Dave hissed. The smile was appalling now, but John found something appealing about its naked need.
"Even if I give you what you want," John continued, plodding along the logic trail as carefully as he could. God, but he was tired. "I'll still be old when this is over. It's not much of a life if I don't have the strength to enjoy it."
Dave's face loomed closer from the darkness, and something in his eyes fixed John to the spot. He could not look away as the wraith wrapped his fingers around the bars and said, "There is a lot about the Wraith that you do not know, John Sheppard."
"Yeah?" And he could be forgiven his skepticism. Seemed like the Wraith weren't all that complicated—life-sucking space vampires who desired total domination of this and any other galaxy they could manage to infest.
And then the familiar voice took up its mantra again. Things aren't as simple as they seem.
"It is a great gift we bestow only on those whom we find worthy, John, but we can give back the life we've taken."
John arched an eyebrow and let the breath hiss from him in a disbelieving rush.
"You do not believe me," Dave observed, stalking in a wide circle, shadow, dim light, shadow, dim light. He returned to the bars. "I do not blame you. Were our positions reversed, I would not trust your word, either. But I see little point in arguing; you have nothing to lose. Kolya will kill us both, regardless of the outcome. Even were your Dr. Weir to provide him with his desired hostage, Kolya would not release us. This I think you know."
John nodded again—and then wished he hadn't as the floor tilted beneath his feet and he pitched toward the bars and Dave's waiting face. He caught himself, hands wrapped just beneath the wraith's on the cold, rough metal. He rested his faced against his left wrist, willing the strength back into his shaking legs, the clarity back into his swimming head.
Something ghosted over his cheek and he stilled, not sure he'd really felt it.
Again came the touch, more definite this time.
"You mustn't fight your fatigue, John. You need your strength for the next feeding. Rest now. We'll have time to talk before the hours are out."
Hunger, need, strength—these motivations John could understand, could approve. Tenderness was another thing entirely. You didn't gentle your food...unless you were leading it to slaughter.
"No," he said, and he raised his head. This close to Dave, he could see the lines around the Wraith's eyes, the pain of hunger engraved by cruel hands. "No," he said again. "I need to know now—what's the plan? How will you get us both out of here if I am too weak to run? And when will you return my life to me? How do I know that you intend to keep your end of the deal?"
And so Dave told him. In his rough whisper, he detailed how they would wait until John seemed too weak to walk, until the guards had to drag him; how Dave would destroy his gauntlet against the rock and feed from their captors so that he could get them out; how John's strength wouldn't be compromised nearly so much if Dave didn't have to rip the years from him, if the life was given as a gift.
Come to the question of keeping his word, Dave merely shrugged. "You have nothing of value to secure for your life, Sheppard. You must trust me or not. Your fate with Kolya is sealed; with me, there is always a chance that I will honor our agreement or that you can find some other way to be free of me."
Dave answered all of Sheppard's questions patiently, pacing his small cell, pausing now and again to correct John's assumptions or offer a further detail that the human had overlooked. In the end, Dave told John everything he probably ever wanted to know about the Wraith and many things that he probably could have lived without knowing.
But Dave did not tell him how good it would feel to surrender up his life.
Dave had told him to simulate the pain, to scream and writhe in just the way he had done before, and John had given a hollow and half-hearted laugh, sure that he wouldn't have to fake a single expression of agony.
He'd been wrong. He'd been so wrong, he wasn't sure he could ever speak again for the rawness in his throat. The screams that had been wrenched from him were not exactly screams of misery, and he was never so glad for a gag in his life as he was just then, darting his eyes toward the camera desperately, hoping against hope that no one on the other end would detect what it was he was really feeling.
Because it felt good. It felt better than good. Orgasmic, maybe, and even that didn't cover it. Dave had schooled him on releasing his breath, on letting go as the hand came down, on pushing the life-force out of him, and having had some martial arts training, John recognized that it wasn't much different than releasing his Chi.
Of course, if Tae Kwon Do had felt this good, John would have earned his black belt, maybe become an instructor, hell, won the Olympics.
It wasn't that the sensation was sexual, really, except that it felt like Dave had his hand in several places at once, not only over John's heart, pulling his life from him, but pulling on things lower, one thing in particular that was hard at once and aching for release. Where they joined, hand to heart, John felt a profound sense of the rightness of it spreading warm throughout his body, until he was filled, fulfilled, complete, and he arched his back and gave a terrible shout as climax ripped through him, so powerful and profound and omnipresent that tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes and he thought he might die before Dave could take his fill.
Holy fucking sh... he thought, just before he stopped breathing.
It was an instant, no more, and he was awake again and alive, a buzz vibrating up from the wound in his chest to light his eyes once more. He still felt like he'd been hit by a Mack truck—a really smooth, extremely experienced Mack truck, mind you—but at least he wasn't dead.
The guards dragged him back to his cell again, and he waited awhile before he even tried to stand, and then only because there was an urgency to Dave's voice when he said, "Sheppard, are you well?"
"Yeah," he managed, though his voice was barely a whisper in the room. He swallowed painfully, staggered a few steps toward the window between cells.
"I did not think..." Dave hesitated. "I did not know that you might stop breathing. This is not a...problem...I've had to deal with before. I thought that you were...enjoying...my touch."
Remembering what he'd learned about nodding, John said, "Yeah," again. "About that... . You could have warned me it would feel like—like—like that!"
A chuckle, then, deeply satisfied, an apparently universal male sound of conquest.
John shivered, and it wasn't from shock or cold. Damnit, what was wrong with him?
He was sure the doc back on Atlantis would have a reasonable explanation for John's sudden and very physical reaction to the wraith's change in technique. Molecular trauma, maybe, or something to do with blood flow.
Heightmeyer might say something else entirely, and John made a firm mental note not to mention any of this to anyone ever. The last thing he needed was six compulsory sessions in Heightmeyer's tell-me-what-you're-feeling chair.
But John was not gay. And he knew because he'd checked. Military school had proven surprisingly stereotypical in one regard, and there had never been a lack of opportunity to see if he liked guys in that way. He didn't. Period. End of story. He'd tried a couple of permutations before surrendering himself to the idea of silent masturbation after lights out.
Now there was a wraith—a Wraith, John—drawing icy, metaphoric fingers up and down his spine and wringing heart-stopping—literally—orgasms from him at a mere touch, and John had to admit that perhaps his experiments hadn't been thorough enough.
Of course, it wasn't like there were a lot of Wraith at Vernon F. Douglas Military Academy. Or, you know...any. So the whole Wraith/human relationship thing had been pretty much a moot point until right now.
An itchy thought skittered through John's head and he made an effort to avoid it, but it came back, catching on a stray idea, and stayed firmly planted until he heard, with horror, the thought coming out of his mouth.
"Did you...you know, was it...I mean, I know you got what you wanted, but..."
Another laugh, less "him" and more "they," almost but not quite gentle.
"I can assure you, John Sheppard, that I have no complaints about our joining."
John swallowed audibly and then winced because fuck his throat hurt.
He waited for the freak-out that was surely to follow. A Wraith had just admitted that John had given him some kind of metaphysical, cosmic orgasm, and John himself had the drying evidence of his own pleasure sticking to his belly hair, so there was no way to avoid the fact that he'd just had some kind of galactic sex experience with the enemy in front of Kolya...and a camera...and John's own people.
From Kirk to Pegasus Porn Star in one quick step.
John let the wall guide him down again, bounced his head against the rock beneath the window.
"I am so fucked," he muttered to himself, but Dave heard, of course, and laughed again, a sound John had to admit he found attractive when it wasn't of the "I'm going to suck your soul and dominate your race" variety.
Of course Dave had heard his murmured remark, because the Wraith have supersonic hearing, in addition to being extra-strong and really fast and more or less invincible. Do they cook? Because, hey, maybe a wife wouldn't be a bad thing to have in the Pegasus Galaxy. Be a little hard to explain to Weir, but maybe I could sell her on the idea of assimilation by awesome orgasmic life-swapping sex.
He groaned. Freak-out. Check.
"Are you unwell, John Sheppard? Do you feel any ill effects from our joining?"
John's head rocked back and forth against the cold stone as he said, "No. No, I'm good."
And he was. He stopped banging his head and focused on a point across the cell. He was alive, albeit a little older, but that was, purportedly, a temporary thing. He had just had a mind-blowing total-body climax. And they were one step closer to fooling their captives and paying that Genii bastard back for all the pain and suffering he'd put John and his people through.
So what was he complaining about—that Dave gave him the ride of his life?
John shook his head. It wasn't that simple.
Dave—a Wraith—had made him feel a pleasure so powerful he'd actually stopped breathing in the wake of it. And now they were engaged in a post-coital chat that made Sheppard's role in this little tete-a-tete very clear—he was the wife, not Dave. Absurd as the notion had started out being, it brought to light one very significant fact: bring Dave back to Atlantis for a quick hitch, and it would be John doing the cooking and cleaning, having the headache, polishing Dave's boots.
God, John, are you really that petty?
Could it be that John was freaked out not by the sudden revelation that he could find pleasure in another man—male, he corrected—not at the discovery that it was a Wraith that could bow his spine in a parabola of pleasure, but at the fact that John was the submissive partner in this little survival dance?
"Huh," he said aloud, and he heard Dave shifting at the bars above him.
So I guess I am just that shallow.
Taking a deep breath, John levered himself slowly to his feet, feeling an age he hadn't yet achieved, chronologically speaking, and suddenly having a lot more sympathy for General O'Neill and his bad knees.
"Is there any way we can avoid the whole not-breathing thing?" John asked, like he might say, "Got any ideas about the weather topside?" or "So who do you like in the game Sunday?" He'd be damned if he'd let shallow interfere with their chances of survival; there would be plenty of time for complications and self-recrimination later.
"I can moderate the degree of pleasure you experience, if that is what you wish. But you must not struggle to release your life-force; that you must still offer openly and willingly."
Right. Open and willing. Vulnerable.
Shifting his weight a little as though having to accommodate something heavy on his shoulders, John considered that he was learning first-hand what it meant to be the woman beneath him when they made love, open and offering, out of control in a way that John had never been in the position—literally or otherwise—to experience.
I have to trust him to know when to stop.
John shifted in place again, and Dave said in a low voice, "Do you have any pain?"
John shook his head absentmindedly, "No."
Then, like an afterthought, "How do you know when to stop?"
Dave's tone suggested he did not believe John's casual introduction of the question. "Instinct and experience, John. Remember that I am many years older than you. This is not the first time I have done this."
And could I feel any more like the fumbling teenager in this relationship?
But John looked up, caught Dave's gaze, held it. "How old are you, anyway?"
The smile seemed less predatory now that John knew what it might mean, what it could mean: pleasure—the thought thrummed through him and he had to shift once more.
"We do not count time in the same way that humans do, but I believe that my age converts to two and one-half thousand of your years."
John whistled admiringly and then gave Dave a sharp look. "How do you know how we measure time?"
"Of course we have studied our food, John. And we have...acolytes."
"Oh, right, right. Wraith worshippers. Can't forget your little devotees." And if there was something bitter and self-denigrating in the remark, they both chose to overlook its implications.
"You have met some of our Helpers, then?"
"Yeah." Tersely. This wasn't something he would discuss with the enemy. Although come to that, John was having a hard time discerning enemy from friend. He had, after all, made a pact with the devil against another human in order to escape and destroy said human.
Sometimes simple is better.
The third session was just as mind-blowing, but he didn't stop breathing, and John guessed from Kolya's horrified look that Dave's work must have been effective. The colonel certainly felt considerably less spry as the guards led him gingerly—like I might break—back to the cells once more.
The difference was obvious, too, in the fact that John could not get up from the floor under his own power, preferring to lie on his side, staring up at the lighter space of the cell window, waiting for Dave's face to appear.
When it did, John had to stifle a gasp. The change was breathtaking. The lines of hunger had been smoothed away, years pared from Dave's flesh like a woodcutter carves away the rough bark to get at the smooth center of a prized piece. Even the dark demarcations of the tattoo were richer in the half-light of their dim cells, and the teeth, gleaming like a beacon, shone brighter than before. Only Dave's hair remained the same, matted and tangled, but John supposed there was little the wraith could do about hair care in this place.
Never a stylist when you need one. John snorted and then sobered.
Despite the after-effects of having been prematurely aged, the pleasure he'd gotten still swam through him lazily, sending sparks to his extremities and leaving his eyes at half-mast.
He gave Dave a slow smile.
"Almost there," he observed, and Dave gave him a nod.
"You are well, Sheppard?"
"Oh, yeah," he drawled, smile expanding. "I am co-pa-cetic." And maybe a little stoned.
Dave laughed. "Sleep now. You'll need your strength."
John slipped into the dark stream and let it carry him off.
He awoke when they dragged him from his cell for what was to be the last time, one way or another. Dave's graceful motions coincided with John's own less coordinated efforts, but they succeeded in subduing the guards.
John had to look away as Dave forced the life from the Genii, knowing what that felt like, feeling guilty for having a different perspective. He shrugged it away as Dave turned with a vicious smile and motioned John onward.
After that, everything was kaleidoscopic, all flashes of color and light, and John couldn't say when or how Dave had been shot, what had led them to the escape route they had chosen, who it was that they had killed along the way. All he knew was that they were bursting into blessed light above the underground bunker, both of them gasping in the clean air, lungs sore with exertion, pulses pounding with adrenaline rush and then the big come-down.
John looked at Dave, "You okay?" got a nod in response.
When the Wraith suggested that he feed again from John, John was emphatic in his refusal. He turned away from the shadow of hurt that flitted across Dave's face. He was sure he was imagining it, anyway.
He didn't want to tell Dave that the pleasure might incapacitate him, that he needed to be clear-headed if they were going to get to the gate and be finally free.
What became perfectly clear a little further on was that they were lost and Dave was dying. John felt a frisson of fear slide up his spine at the thought of it; he didn't want Dave to die.
He tried to tell himself that it would serve no one's purposes if the wraith died before he could give John back the life-force that he'd taken. He wheedled himself into thinking of Dave as a convenience, his life-raft. But John knew in some less-simple part of himself that he admired Dave, respected his efforts to save them both, maybe even empathized with his hunger.
Sighing, he said, "Okay, new plan."
When Dave took the final draught of life from John, it was on a wave of all-consuming pleasure that flooded John until he drowned in it. Back arched, hips thrusting upward for an incomplete fulfillment, shrieking to the empty skies, John gave and gave and gave, until Dave turned away from him with the merest whisper, "I'll return," and John lost consciousness.
When he recovered sight and sound once more, Dave was bending over him, baring John's chest and saying, "Take what you will." There was a reverence in his voice that made John focus, brought his eyes wide open to look deeply into Dave's own.
The hand was gentle on his chest, for the place was raw, and for a moment Dave's free hand ghosted again over John's cheek, along his throat, across shoulder and chest, downward, downward.
And without the thrall as an excuse, before Dave had begun to give back what he had taken, John gave assent, let the long fingers open him, wrap around his shaft and bring it to hardness. His breath was labored in his sunken chest, his skin sagging around his eyes, and John could only imagine what he must look like, envisioning the wrecked husks of other men he'd seen, of Sumner gasping his last, eyes milky with age. Only he was animate and consenting, not a victim at all, waiting in wonder for what came next.
One part of John responded immediately, and as Dave let the life trickle into him with the hand at his open wound, warming John and filling him, so did the wraith's other hand make John warm, make him fill with life, with an aching want that the human could not name, that he had no words for.
The trickle became a steady stream, and John sucked in a deep breath, feeling an elasticity where before there had been only brittle need, and an expansion of self until he felt Dave's need, too, Dave's desire to return to John what he'd taken.
The hand at his chest was an intimate caress, the hand at his shaft an insistent one, and then Dave was bending over him, stroking his inner thigh, urging him open, and as the stream became a river, a flood of life filling him, Dave's mouth wrapped hot and wet around John's shaft, and he shouted his pleasure, feeling the cycle of life through his heart, filling his belly, his core where his Chi coiled, and into his shaft, which he thrust upward into Dave's willing mouth.
Every part of him alive with a knowledge he could never express, not even in the wordless cries that poured from his open mouth, which gabbled at air for breath, John arched and came, arched and came, and Dave sucked down his willing life even as he pushed it back into John's heart with a hand that felt like it was touching him in a place so hidden John had never known he owned it.
How long it went on like that, John didn't know, except that when it ended, it was abrupt, and he found himself whining for a return of the hot hand at his chest, the hot mouth at his member. He should be spent, but he was full, full to overflowing with a vivid energy he could almost see.
And then John heard familiar noises in the woods, and while Dave was busy at John's fly, the colonel struggled to gather words again from the shattered pieces of his human understanding.
He could not remember what he shouted, except that it worked. Dave stood, unharmed, and gave John a long look, and John nodded so that only Dave knew, casually stunned him, and then turned to face his human friends, dreading that he might find in their faces a mirror of the shame he did not—could not, would not—feel.
He would be human for them, in thanks for the worry that wore their faces to sharp angles. But a part of him, he knew, was wraith. He couldn't explain how he knew, wouldn't tell any of them even if he could.
One word echoed in his head: Brother.
Could they live as brothers? Could there be a lasting peace between them?
For the crowd of uniforms at his back, John mouthed bravado about bets, knowing it was too simple an answer. In his deepest part, the one that Dave had found and touched, the human knew he could never kill the wraith who had given him life, who had risked his own life to save John's, world-altering, planet-shifting orgasms aside. There was a point of honor here.
He called me "brother."
So John fought through Ronon's angry disbelief, Rodney's panicked assertions, Elizabeth's careful cautions, and won a final duet for the two of them, the cloaked jumper landing silently on the Wraith world, darts whining high overhead.
Dave regained consciousness almost at once, leading John to believe the wraith had been faking it.
"Are we alone?"
"You know we are," John answered, smiling and stepping away from the cloaked jumper with its hatch wide open to the night.
"I see," Dave said, staring up at the familiar sky and then down at John's P-90.
They repeated the pattern of words meant to ensure the line between enemies would never again blur.
Neither believed it, and John was tempted to step forward into Dave's outstretched hand, to let him touch that secret place once more.
Keep it simple, stupid, John thought, instead stepping into the hidden hatchway of the jumper.
"Goodbye, Dave," he called softly as he moved to close the door.
If he heard, "Goodbye, my brother," before the hatch hissed shut, John did not let it complicate the familiar formula of flight.
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