Third in the
Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.
How The Light Gets In
Xander was dreaming about the firing squad when the phone rang just after noon. He woke up drenched in sweat, tasting the Jack Daniel's from eight in the morning. He fumbled with the phone, dropping it twice before he managed to croak "H'lo?"
"I'm sorry, is this a bad time?" Giles asked.
"Yeah. No. You just woke me up. It's fine."
There was a pause at the other end, and Xander imagined Giles doing the math. "Still a bit jet-lagged, are you?" he suggested politely.
"Actually, I was up all night. Up and around I mean, not—not with the nightmares again." The one he'd just woken up from was fading already, and he didn't feel the need to share. "I found your girl."
"Not a Slayer. Turns out she's some kind of primordial god, I didn't follow the whole story." Xander snatched his jacket from the floor by the bed and fished the cigarette pack out of the pocket. "But that's not even the big news of the night. You'll never guess who not-a-Slayer lives with."
He lit up a cigarette, took the first drag. Smiled a bit. "Come on Giles, it's no fun if you don't guess."
"You did say I'd never guess."
"Okay, okay. She lives with Spike."
"Oh." There was the glasses-cleaning silence at the other end of the phone. "I did know Spike was alive, in fact; Andrew encountered him last winter. I suppose I should have mentioned it to you, but it hardly seemed likely that you'd meet him randomly in a city the size of Los Angeles."
"Giles, I'm from Sunnydale. The laws of probability work differently around me. Anyway, I bet you didn't know he was alive."
"Sorry, I think we have a bad connection; I just said I knew he was—" Giles stopped, catching the emphasis. "Wait. Alive? As in, no longer a vampire?"
"As in human. Un-undead. Pulse confirmed by yours truly."
"Oh my." Giles paused again, which was understandable under the circumstances. Not that a vampire turning human was any weirder than ten thousand other weird things in their everyday lives, but it wasn't just any vampire; it was Spike. "Did he say how it happened?"
"No." Xander ashed his cigarette into the empty Coke can on the nightstand. "He was still a vampire when Andrew met him, right?"
"So what do you want me to do? I mean, there's no Slayer here."
"Well..." A shorter pause, this time. "Did Spike happen to say anything about whether he's still working for Angel?"
"He was working for Angel? He hates Angel."
"He hated us when he first started cooperating with us," Giles pointed out.
"True. But I don't think he's with Angel now, not the way he acted when Angel came by last night."
"You met Angel, as well? You've certainly had a full night." There was a light edge of sarcasm in Giles' voice, a reproach for not mentioning Angel right away. "Did you meet anyone else interesting? Ethan Rayne, perhaps?"
Xander felt himself tensing up. "Okay, okay, don't bite my head off!" he snapped. "I would've got around to Angel in a minute, he just didn't seem as important as all the other stuff. I'm still half asleep, y'know. I spent most of the night in a fucking emergency room with a former vampire who apparently doesn't understand the concept of 'not to exceed recommended dosage.'"
"I'm sorry," Giles said, in that backing-off gentle tone that let Xander know he sounded like he was about to totally lose it. "Why don't we start again from the beginning, and you can tell me everything that happened. It sounds like you had quite a difficult night."
So Xander finished his cigarette in one long drag, settled more comfortably back on the bed, and told Giles everything—starting with finding the girl who could kill a Polgara demon barehanded, and ending with leaving Spike at his apartment in the care of that same girl.
"I want you to learn as much as you safely can about this Illyria," Giles said finally, when the story was exhausted and they were back to the what-does-Xander-do-next? part of the agenda. "Is she a danger to us, or a potential ally? And on a related note, I want you to convince Spike to come back to Rome with you."
"You want me to what, now?" Xander's voice nearly cracked, he was so much not expecting that one. "Not only is Spike at pretty much the bottom of our list of trusted allies—well, okay, not as far down as Angel, but still—but he doesn't even have any powers anymore. What the hell could he do for us?"
Giles kindly refrained from pointing out that Xander didn't have any powers himself, unless you counted not getting killed despite ridiculous odds. "I don't need to tell you how thinly spread we are," he said instead. "Spike knows about the shadow world. He certainly knows more about vampire society than any surviving Watcher, myself included. Good lord, if nothing else he's the only living person who speaks Fyoral, and what with the Council library having been destroyed we could certainly use his help writing a new dictionary."
"Okay, let's say I go along with this. How do I convince him to join us? What's in it for him? 'Cause I gotta say, last I checked we weren't offering much in the way of benefits."
"Hm." Silence on the other end while Giles thought.
Neither of them mentioned Buffy, or the strong possibility that Spike would come to Rome if she just asked him to. That had Not Going There written over it in big red letters. Besides, there was the question of why he hadn't gone looking for her yet—maybe he finally was over that obsession. Xander still wasn't convinced Spike wasn't screwing Illyria.
"We might be able to offer him help with the headaches," Giles suggested. "He said they started after he became human, correct? Perhaps they're magical in origin, something to do with the transition."
"Yeah, okay," Xander agreed reluctantly. "I'll try."
And that pretty much wrapped up their business. They did the small talk thing for another minute, then Xander told Giles to tell Dawn 'hi' for him and they hung up.
Xander rubbed his gritty eye, considered smoking another cigarette, and decided to go out for lunch instead.
Xander figured if Spike was working again today it'd be the same shift as yesterday, so he went by the apartment at four in the afternoon.
Spike opened the door just a crack at first, with the security chain stretched across the gap. Xander saw a flash of rumpled hair and blue eyes, heard a muttered "Oh, it's you," and the door shut.
He lifted his hand to knock again but the door swung away from his knuckles, opening all the way this time, and Spike caught Xander's fist in his cupped palm.
"'Lo," Spike said with a tilted half-smile, not letting go, "What d'you want?"
Xander twisted his hand away from Spike with an irritated jerk. "Just to talk. Can I come in?"
Spike backed away from the doorway, raising an eyebrow. "Not if you need to ask, you can't."
It took Xander just a couple seconds to think that one through. "Huh. That's a good one. I should use that," he said, and followed Spike in. "Is that god-king chick here?"
"Nah. She seems to've killed all the nocturnal demons in the neighborhood, so she's taken to hunting by day." As he spoke, Spike gathered up the loose sections of newspaper that were covering the couch and dumped them in a pile on the floor. "Have a seat. Want a cuppa tea?" He glanced back at Xander, noticed his expression, and scowled. "I just woke up, it's my fucking breakfast, all right?"
Xander held up his hands, still smirking, and sat down on the couch. "No offense, but you just had a Giles moment there."
Spike shot him a look of disgust and padded off to the kitchen. He was barefoot, wearing gray flannel pajama pants and a black T-shirt with a Dark Side of the Moon logo half worn off. His left forearm still had the neat white hospital bandage wrapped around it, and it was sort of weird to think that it was going to be weeks before Spike healed, and he'd probably have a scar after that.
Welcome to the club, Xander thought.
He glanced around the living room; he hadn't had a good look when he'd dropped Spike off in the morning. As low-rent basement apartments go it didn't look that bad—there were only a couple visible mildew stains, high on the wall. Besides the couch there was just a TV and a coffee table for furniture, and the paint-splattered coffee table looked like it'd been pulled out of somebody's trash. There was a Playstation 2 hooked up to the TV, and a controller and a few games were scattered on the table along with a couple empty mugs and plates with crumbs on them. Up against the wall there was a pile of books in want of a bookcase—a colorful mix of paperbacks and hardcovers, too far away for Xander to see what any of the titles were.
Spike came back with a steaming mug in his hands and settled at the other end of the couch, propping his heels up on the table. He ignored Xander, raising the hot drink to his lips for a careful sip. Up close Xander noticed several long pink scars on Spike's unbandaged arm—it looked like last night hadn't been his first fight since turning human.
"So, um, how are you doing?" Xander asked.
"Fine," Spike said. It sounded automatic, kind of curt, so Xander wondered, but he didn't wonder enough to pursue the question.
Last night it'd been obvious enough when Spike wasn't fine—when he'd been passing out in the passenger seat of the rental car, too dozy to even tell Xander where the clinic they were supposed to be going to was, so Xander had just taken him to the nearest emergency room. Now he looked okay—he was holding his mug with steady hands, and not wincing away from the light.
"What was it you wanted to talk about?" he asked now, glancing over at Xander impatiently.
"I talked to Giles this afternoon," Xander said. "He wants me to find out more about Illyria."
"You told him about me, then?"
Spike gave a sort of resigned shrug. "Figured you would. Well, if he wants he can ring me and I'll tell him what I know directly. Illyria gave you the number, yeah?"
"He also wants you to come back to Rome with me."
"No," Spike said quickly. "I'm not going to be his bloody science project. Had enough of that already."
"Calm down, he doesn't want to study you. He wants you to join the Council."
That got an amused look from the ex-vampire. "He wants William the Bloody to join the Council of Watchers?"
"He has this theory that you know enough to be useful."
Spike snorted. "He said that about me? Sure you had Rupert on the phone there, not a clever voice impersonator?"
"Don't get a big head about it. Remember, Andrew has a position of authority in the new Council. Our human resources department isn't exactly turning down hundreds of qualified applicants every morning."
"You have a human resources department?"
"Actually, no. That was a joke."
"Oh." That got an eye roll. "What do you have, then?"
"A whole lot of Slayers. Willow thinks there are about seven hundred in the world, and we've managed to make contact with about a third that number. There's sixty-four working full-time with us now, including all the girls who survived Sunnydale. The others we try to get to come to Rome for a few weeks of training, and stay in touch." While he spoke, Xander pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked automatically, already shaking out one cigarette.
"Actually...yeah, I do." Spike gave an almost apologetic shrug. "When I woke up human, I wasn't addicted anymore, and...well, I tried smoking one a while later, and it's bloody disgusting, innit?"
Xander stopped just short of lighting up, and gave Spike a curious look. "Were you really addicted? I always kind of wondered how that worked—with vampires, I mean."
"I got shirty if I went too long without a fag, yeah," Spike said, and took another drink of tea. "Dunno if it's the same as for humans."
Xander rolled the Camel between his fingers and gave a moment's thought to all the times Spike had annoyed him with cigarette smoke in the basement, in the Bronze, in his fucking closet. Then he stuck it back in the pack and put it away, because he was trying to recruit Spike to the Council and pissing him off probably wasn't the best way to do it.
"What was it like, anyway? Turning human?"
"Wouldn't recommend it," Spike replied, deadpan. "Woke up exactly as I'd been the night Dru killed me—stupid hair and all."
"Stupider than the bleach job?"
"Hey, I'm fucking hot with the punk look." He smirked. "Never had any problem pulling, birds or blokes."
Xander blinked. "You just lost me there. Pulling what?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "I've gotta get you a bleeding English dictionary."
"So why'd you stop bleaching, if you liked it so much?"
"Thought it better to lie low. Too many demons in town who've heard of 'the vampire with the long black coat and the white hair' and since I don't have the fangs anymore..."
There was something else different about Spike, and it'd been bugging Xander ever since he first saw him in the porn store—and suddenly it clicked. "Hey, you used to have a scar on your eyebrow, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I guess." Spike touched the place where the jagged white scar used to be. "Got it from the first Slayer I killed. Carried it for over a century." His voice sort of faded at the end, faraway. Then he drained his tea and stood up. "Look, I've got to get ready for work. You have anything else to say?"
"You didn't say whether you'd come to Rome."
He shrugged. "I'll think on it. Rupert can ring me, like I said."
Xander stood up too. "There was one other thing. I told him about your headaches, and he said it was possible there was some magical cause. He could look into that, or Willow could."
That stopped Spike. He stared at Xander for a few seconds, only it was like he was looking through him instead of at him. Then the corner of his mouth twisted up at he looked at Xander for real. "That's the deal, then? If I work for him he'll try to fix me?"
Xander shrugged, since that was pretty much what Giles had said. "You got a better offer coming from somewhere?"
"No," Spike admitted, pretty quietly. "Not particularly."
"Hey, before I go—" Xander said, taking a step towards the door and looking back, "When you were working with Angel last year did you ever run into Cordy or Wes?"
"Oh. Yeah, uh," Spike rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, like he was trying to figure out how to answer the question. Which gave Xander kind of a bad feeling, because it was a pretty simple question. "Actually, what would you say to getting together for drinks after the store closes?"
"Yeah," Xander said, pushing the worry away for now. "Sure. I'll meet you at two."
"I know an afterhours place nearby," Spike said as he locked up the porn store. "Hunted vamps there a couple times last year."
"Oh, that makes it sound really appealing and safe."
Spike gave him a sideways look. "Used to hang out at the Bronze, didn't you?"
Xander shrugged and pushed away from the wall. "It was Sunnydale. There was nowhere else."
It was a warm night. Xander was comfortable in a T-shirt and khakis. Spike was a bit overdressed for the temperature in a battered jean jacket, and Xander guessed he was hiding the bandages on his arm. "What did you tell your boss about last night?" he asked.
"Said a drunk customer banged into the glass. Georgie's being nice and only taking the half of it out of my salary," Spike said with a kind of weary resignation that made Xander think of the Year of the Basement. "Couldn't tell him anything else—he'd've wanted me to talk to the police so he could claim the insurance."
It seemed like maybe Spike made just as bad an ordinary guy as Xander did. Xander felt stirrings of empathy, which prompted him to say in a cheering-up kind of voice, "I could probably get you a green card so you wouldn't have to worry about that anymore. Magic plus computers equals unbeatable fake I.D., y'know?"
"That'd be a bit of all right," Spike said. "Couldn't pay much for it, though."
"Pay?" Xander repeated. "Hell, Spike, I wouldn't charge you, you're—" He stopped, not sure how to finish it. A friend? They'd fought side-by-side for a few years, sure, but they'd kept their distance. And Xander wasn't forgetting the many very good reasons he hated Spike—but he'd travelled a long road since Sunnydale. "—one of us," he finished lamely after too long a pause.
Spike gave a bit of a shrug, and turned to go down a flight of steps to an oversized metal door just below street level. "This is it," he said, yanking the door open.
The bouncer just inside nodded them in without asking for I.D. Just past the foyer they hit a wall of techno-pop loud enough to make Xander's bones vibrate; strobe lighting gave a stop-motion surreality to the packed dance floor. Not the kind of place Xander would've expected Spike to choose, but he guessed their options were limited at this time of night.
Spike shouted something but Xander couldn't hear what; he held up his hands in the universal 'what are you talking about?' signal. Spike grimaced, grabbed Xander by the hand, and pulled him around the edge of the floor to the bar.
They ordered drinks by pointing, then Spike took Xander's hand again and led him down a staircase. The lower floor was smaller and quieter, and there were tables to sit at. Spike led the way around the edge to an unoccupied one.
Xander sat down and shoved the empties on the table to one side to make room for his own drink. "Okay," he said. "Tell me."
Spike didn't need to ask what Xander was talking about. "They're dead," he said without preamble, and took a long drink.
It hit him hard; sound and sight got distant suddenly, and his chest felt tight. He'd suspected this ever since Spike had evaded the question in the afternoon, and he'd thought he was ready to hear it, but it was different when the words made it real.
Spike was watching him with a solemn, patient expression.
"How?" Xander asked.
"Wes got his a couple months back, fighting a demon sorcerer."
"And Cordy?" Xander's voice came out low, almost steady.
"I guess she went down fighting, too. No one ever told me the details. She was already in a coma when I came along, and she died sometime in the winter."
"Shit," Xander said softly. It wasn't enough. Nothing he said could possibly be enough. "She was my first girlfriend."
Spike's eyebrows raised slightly. "I didn't know that. Christ, I'm sorry, mate."
"You should be," Xander said. "You're the reason we broke up." At Spike's startled look Xander shrugged, brushed that grudge away. It was too stale to be really bitter. "It was a high school thing. I hadn't even talked to her since she moved to L.A. Weird how in the end it was Willow who kept in touch with her." Xander stopped, thinking about that. "I guess Willow doesn't know, either. She would've told me." He blinked, and felt a tear building up in his good eye. "God," he muttered, brushing it away, "Angel should've said something."
"He's a complete wanker," Spike agreed.
Xander took a drink of his beer, but he couldn't taste it. "God," he said again, softly. "Two ex-girlfriends killed fighting evil. Think I should stop dating?"
It was gallows humor, and he didn't expect Spike to smile or anything, but he was surprised at the other man's look of shock. "Anya's dead?"
"She never made it out of the high school." Xander spread his hand on the tabletop and stared at his fingers, because watching Spike absorb the news made the loss seem fresh again and Xander wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out without weeping like a girl. "I thought you knew."
"Bloody hell," Spike whispered, his voice suddenly thick like he was on the verge of tears himself. "Andrew never said. Thought I'd look her up once I got it a bit more together, like, compare notes on turning human."
A woman at the next table broke into loud peals of laughter. It was too much. Xander stood up abruptly, nearly knocking his chair over. "Let's get the hell out of here."
They ended up at Spike's kitchen table, sharing a bottle of tequila without the benefit of lemons or salt and talking about the past. Illyria was in the living room playing video games when they arrived, but she left not long after muttering something about the stink of grief.
Spike, for all his rough punk masculinity, didn't seem embarassed at the tears welling in his eyes as he clinked his mismatched glass against Xander's and said "To all our dead heroes."
"To Anya and Cordelia," Xander replied, and drank it down. It tasted like lighter fluid smelled, and it would have made a good excuse for the tears that were streaming from his own eye but he realized now that here, with Spike, he didn't need an excuse.
"And Wesley," Spike reminded him, and took another drink. "Fred, too," he added after a moment. "And Charlie boy."
"Tara," Xander added. He didn't know who Charlie was, but for now it was the naming that was important. "Miss Calendar."
"Cheers," Spike said, rough and low, and tipped up his glass to the toast.
It could have been painfully maudlin, but a few shots in they were laughing through their tears.
"I never did figure it out."
"Remember her funny-shaped pancakes?"
"...made me hot chocolate with mashmallows in it..."
They got really fucking drunk, and by the end of it they were both on the floor and Spike was resting his head against Xander's shoulder and Xander was patting his hair and telling him he was sorry for getting mad at him for having sex with Anya.
"She was a hell of a woman," Spike mumbled against Xander's neck.
"Yeah," Xander agreed sleepily, "She sure was."
Spike's couch wasn't the stupidest place Xander had ever woken up with a hangover, so he didn't waste too much time cursing himself as he levered himself into a sitting position and painfully straighted his neck.
And nearly jumped out of his skin. Illyria/Fred was standing just a few feet away, watching him.
"How long've you been there?" he croaked.
"I just got in," she said in the soft, girly drawl she used when she wasn't scary and blue. "I must've woken you up when I shut the door. Sorry about that."
Xander rubbed his throbbing temples and noticed the eye patch had slid around sideways while he slept. He tugged it back into place with a faint twinge of embarrassment. "Do you know what time it is?"
"It's about seven o'clock."
Way, waaaay too early. Xander swallowed against a dull surge of nauseau and realized he was still probably a bit drunk.
"You look terrible," she observed, her tone some mixture of motherly and annoyed. "Did you and Spike stay up drinking all night?"
"Pretty much. Do you have any coffee?" he asked, contemplating standing up.
"Maybe. I don't eat or drink, so I don't really keep track. I'll go see," she offered, and set off for the kitchen.
Xander wasn't sure what was more disturbing—her perkiness in the face of his hangover, or that little I don't eat reminder that she wasn't really a pretty girl, just a god-king faking it.
He realized he should probably just leave before all this action woke Spike up; being human, Spike must be just as wrecked as Xander. And Xander didn't really want to face him this morning, especially not with fuzzy drunken memories of cuddling swimming to the surface when he thought about the guy.
But the sound of running water in the kitchen let Xander know that Illyria was going ahead and making coffee, and he figured it'd be rude to leave now. So he dragged himself to his feet, holding his head to make sure it didn't fall off, and made his way into the kitchen.
Besides, Giles had told him to find out more about her.
"So, did you kill anything interesting last night?" he asked by way of small talk as he sat down at the kitchen table.
"No," she said with her back still to him, measuring spoonfuls of instant coffee into a mug. "There's not much overt demonic activity in L.A. these days—not on street level, at least."
"That's, um, too bad," he said, since she sounded disappointed about it.
"My existence is tedious enough already, I don't know what I'll do when I've eliminated every foe that can even make a pretence of threatening me," she said, and though the cadence of her speech was still chirpy-Texan-girl, Xander recognized the sentiment as a god-king one.
"Well, hey, if you like killing super-powerful demons," he said, "I might just be able to hook you up." He pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and shook one loose. "Remember that Council I told you about, first time we met?" He flicked his lighter, sucked in a lungful of smoke, and felt his hangover ease up a fraction almost at once. "We've got leads on all kinds of supernatural baddies."
"Really?" The electric kettle came to a boil, and she added water to the mug.
"For sure. Hey, maybe you can come to Rome with Spike and me, talk to Giles yourself." And he can figure out for himself what the hell you are and what to do with you, he added silently.
Illyria plunked the mug down in front of Xander and sat in the other chair. She had a faint worry line between her eyebrows now. "Spike's going to Rome?" she said, not sounding pleased about it.
"Oh. Well, I offered," Xander backpedaled. Do not upset the super-powerful and possibly evil elder god. "He said he'd think about it. I'm sure he was planning to talk it over with you."
"Talk what over?" Spike said from the doorway. "Harris, I told you not to smoke those fucking things in here."
"Huh? Oh!" Xander glanced at the cigarette in his fingers with a guilty start. "Sorry. Hung over, brain not working, didn't think." He looked around for something to use as an ashtray—he hadn't even thought that far ahead. "Anyway, think of it as payback for all the times you stank up my apartment."
There was one window in the kitchen—a small one high up on the wall over the sink. Spike stalked over to it and yanked it open as far as it would go.
"This human thinks you are going to travel to your god's ancient seat of power with him," Illyria said, no trace of the Texas girl softness now. When Xander wasn't looking, she'd slipped back into blue.
"I wouldn't go anywhere without making sure you're well set up, luv," Spike reassured her, then coughed into his fist. "Put that bloody thing out, Harris," he said, and coughed again.
Nothing on the table looked serviceable as a makeshift ashtray, so Xander got up and went over to stub it out in the sink. "I was just telling Illyria that if she wants bigger, more exciting demons to kill, the Council could maybe help her out."
"I said I'd talk to Giles," Spike said, sounding annoyed. "You don't need to go bringing Smurfette into it."
"Look, she said she was bored. I was just offering—" He broke off because Spike was coughing harder, leaning against the kitchen counter. "Are you all right?"
Spike flipped him off and left the kitchen. A couple seconds later a door slammed shut somewhere in the apartment.
"Shit," Xander said quietly, but with feeling. He glanced at Illyria, who looked back at him with calm dispassion. "Is he allergic to cigarettes now, or something?"
"I believe the smoke from the processed tobacco irritated his lungs."
"You could have warned me."
"Human weaknesses are multitude, and unpredictable." She tilted her head, examing him. "You appeared to breathe the smoke without harm."
"That's not what the surgeon general says." Xander stood up. "I'll see if he's okay." He felt a bit guilty, but also pissed off. The pissed off part was kind of irrational, but there nevertheless: Since when is Spike all environmentally sensitive? He smoked for like a hundred fucking years! A detached part of Xander's brain noted that he was kind of a bastard when he was hung over.
He went and rapped his knuckles on the closed bedroom door. "Hey, Spike?"
Xander opened the door. Spike was sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over with his head in his hands.
"Said bugger off," he said without looking up.
"Are you okay?"
"For half a bottle of tequila and three hours of sleep? Yeah, bloody brilliant."
"Sorry about the smoke. I think your kitchen will air out okay. Maybe if you opened another window?"
"Isn't another window." He lifted his head, peering at Xander with bloodshot eyes. "When'd you take up smoking, anyway? Not very Scooby, is it?"
"The Congo." Xander shrugged. "Not so much a Scooby anymore."
He half expected Spike to hassle him about it the way Buffy, Willow and Dawn did, but Spike just nodded and said "So how about shoving off and letting me go back to sleep?"
"Yeah." Xander's one remaining eyeball was still trying to crawl out of his head and his tongue felt like one of those fuzzy caterpillars you see in the spring, so the go back to sleep plan was definitely one he could get down with. "So, uh, see you later maybe."
Spike stood up and something hit the floor. It looked like an inhaler. Spike snatched it up quickly, shot a quick fierce glare at Xander, and tossed it into a pile of clothes in the shadowy back corner of the room. "I'll show you out," he said.
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