BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

REGINAROADIE

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 13
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Everyone returns to the mansion, Johnny helps a grieving River with some Van Morrison, and Gabriel asks Mal to end it all.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2801    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Like the drive to the cemetery, the drive back to the estate was completely silent. All three modes of transport were solemn as the Tam’s returned to the estate that now seemed even emptier than before. As the others came onto the grounds and looked at the majestic dereliction of the place, Gabriel was already heading towards the house. He didn’t break stride as he opened the front door and walked straight through the main hall and up the stairs to the second floor. He was already gone by the time Simon, Kaylee and River lead the way for the rest of the mourners.

They each had different reactions to stepping into the Tam estate for the first time. Inara were used to these elaborate estates, but felt slightly saddened at the sense of disarray that the place had. Book and Zoe merely regarded the building as just another place. So did Jayne, but he looked around to see if there was anything worth stealing. Wash, George, Cliff and Keith couldn’t help but feel a bit amazed by the place where Simon and River grew up. Shooter was particularly disappointed in that even with the knowledge of their children’s imminent return, the Tam estate still wasn’t clean. But he merely held his tongue as he came in and headed for the kitchen, hoping to bring out some remotely edible food they could have. The only ones that weren’t impressed with the place was Mal and Johnny. The former rested a hand on his gun, while the latter clenched his guitar handle as they passed the threshold. They had a sense of being in enemy territory, even though there was nothing in the building that posed as an actual treat to them.

“So this is where the enemy sleeps.” Mal said to himself as he looked around the main hall. He ignored the dirty looks that Inara and Zoe were giving him and pretended to look at the veneered carvings. As the rest of them followed River into the living room, Mal trailed behind and began up the stairs to look around and see where the old man had gone.

The rest of them slowly entered the living room. Some sat on the furniture, others only stood. Shooter was the last to arrive, since he was carrying only two dinner plates full of the only edible food in the whole house. As he placed the plates on the coffee table, he saw from the looks on their faces that maybe he shouldn’t have bothered. They didn’t look like they wanted to eat. Hell, they didn’t even know what to say or do.

“So what? Are we supposed to talk or what now?” Jayne interjected.

A dozen pairs of angry eyes all suddenly pointed towards him.

“What? I ain’t never had to stick around after the body’s been buried. Don’t know what we’re supposed to do afterwards.”

Everyone still looked at Jayne, angered by the insensitivity he was displaying. Jayne merely stepped back a few feet and looked away, failing to keep everyone’s eyes off of him.

But the anger soon resided, and the awkward silence filled the room again. After a few moments, Johnny brought his guitar up from the floor from where he had set it and placed it on the table. He unfastened the latches and opened the case. He took out his guitar and set it to the acoustic mode. After tuning the notes, he began to strum a background melody. It was simple, and yet respectful sounding. He then began to play the main tune slightly louder than before. All eyes were on him now as he began to softly sing the lyrics. “We were born before the wind…Also younger than the sun.” As he continued to sing, he began to sing towards Simon, River and Kaylee, with River in the middle being his main focus. “Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic.” As Johnny continued, Keith, George and Cliff were cursing themselves in their minds when they realized they should have brought their instruments. “Hark, now hear the sailors cry...Smell the sea and feel the sky.” This was the only way he knew how to express himself, and he knew that River needed to hear this now. Any sense of self-consciousness had fallen away as he continued. “Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.” “And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home…And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it…I don't have to fear it, and I…want to rock your gypsy soul, Just like way back in the days of old…And together we will flow as we sail into the mystic.” By that point, River had grabbed her guitar and began to play along with Johnny during the solo. Fresh tears were flowing from her, but her spirit was beginning to lift again as she heard her new boyfriend show her a tenderness she had never seen before. This was not lost on the other people there in the room. As they saw the impromptu performance and the connection between the two damaged kids, each of them came to the slow realization that something good did come out of this trip to the Core. (The two finish the song and some recognition is given to them. This leads to some regular wake activity. Simon overhears River talking to Jayne about how she doesn’t feel any anger at her parents for what happened. She explains that by not going to the Academy, none of her time on Serenity would have happened, Simon would have missed out on the love of his life and parenthood, and she wouldn’t have met Signal and found her salvation through music. So she has no anger or regret at all. This inspires Simon to go find Gabriel.) * * * * * * * * * * As everyone was downstairs talking and eating (albeit not much), Mal decided to wander around. He ran his hand alongside the walls of the estate, decidedly unimpressed by the grandiose environment. It may have been older than his ship, but the ornate setting seemed artificial to him. In his mind, the elaborate facade was designed only to intimidate and cover up the termite infested foundation.

He stopped at a room with an ajar door. Out of curiosity, he poked his head in to see what it looked like. Judging by the bookshelves, the oak desk, the fireplace and the half empty bottle of brandy next to the leather chair, Mal guessed that this was the study. And sitting in that chair with his back turned to the door was assumedly the old man that Mal saw from the video Shooter brought on board a month ago. Mal turned and was about to leave when a voice came from the chair. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

Mal turned around and looked back into the room. "Like what?” he replied. Gabriel held up his hands. "This. Everything. It wasn't supposed to be like this. When we first set foot on this planet, we wanted to avoid making the same mistakes that nearly wiped out humanity on Earth-That-Was. It was supposed to be a new start. A clean slate. A new age of man.” He sighed deeply and took another swig of brandy straight from the bottle. “We weren’t supposed to make Nazi Germany and Communist Russia look like a bunch of mall security guards." Mal stepped slowly into the room, his eyes roaming around the settings. “Yeah, well, I can see how well you folks accomplished that.” He then sat down across from Gabriel with a smirk on his face. “You know, they say to love your enemy. But I gotta tell you, barely functioning alcoholics ain’t my type.” Gabriel looked at Mal with a look of icy defeat. "Mr. Reynolds, please. I just buried my wife. I'm not in the mood for gloating. After ten years, you've finally won your gorramn war.” He snorted. “Hell, if it was still there, I'd fly you all the way to Versailles to sign the treaty.” Mal squinted in confusion to this vague historical reference as Gabriel waved his free hand around drunkenly and proclaimed “Just take what you want to steal and go. You already took the two things I cherish the most. Why not take everything else while you're at it."

Mal looked at Gabriel with indignation. He quickly understood why Simon was so hesitant as to come back here if it meant dealing with this hundan. “I might not be an educated man like yourself, but I'd like to think I know what the meaning of cherish is, and you sir, you did everything but cherish those two. A man keeps the things he loves close to him. He'd fight a war to keep 'em safe. That's cherishing them. Selling them off to the enemy to be a lab rat, that's down right cold hearted. Ain't a man in the world that truly loved his children that could have rightfully done what you'd done, knowing what you knew.”

Gabriel looked at Mal defensively. “You don’t think that hasn’t crossed my mind in the last four years?” His voice was filled with self-loathing. “Trust me, your disgust of me pales in comparison to the contempt I have for myself.” He held the bottle straight up and emptied the whole thing in a few gulps. He looked back at Mal as he sat at the edge of his chair. “Before you self-righteously label me as evil incarnate, I’d like to state for the record that we genuinely did not know what they were doing to her. And before you paint me as both stupid and heartless, let me ask you something. Have you ever wondered about your legacy?”

Mal remained silent as he thought of an answer to give. He found that he didn’t really have one. “You know, somehow I don't see myself really leaving much of one. Kinda the perils of the life I lead. Not that I’d care about leaving one anyway.”

Gabriel smiled and chucked drunkenly at his own stupidity. “I guess self-aggrandization is only a sin of the rich. I only bring this up…because it’s legacy that really brought us all this.” He sat up and began speaking in a way that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a one man play. “At a young age, I knew that this was fleeting.” He waved his free hand around for emphasis. “The money, the social standing. Everything that the Tam name had stood for would one day just disappear. The only thing that would last would be what we had accomplished. What advancements we would have achieved that would benefit mankind. And when we had Simon and River, it was as if we had been chosen by some greater force than the universe itself to make that impact. I did everything to encourage that. I could write volumes on all that I had done for them. And when we got the brochure for…that place…it seemed too good to be true. Looking back on it now, I realize I was blinded by my delusions of grandeur. I was so blind that I made my only son out to be an obstacle unto himself and River.”

"Yeah, you really did good with that last part." Mal paused and glanced away. "You know, for a while there I was of the opinion Simon isn't the kind of person to survive out in the black, much less do as well as he's done.” He then looked back at Gabriel and addressed him directly. “But if there's one thing you did do, it was to give him the determination to prove me wrong."

Gabriel replied with a short and cynical laugh. “Like that’s going to matter in the grand cosmic scheme of things. You know, for the longest time, I kept blaming Simon for whatever reason I could think of. And when I ran out of reasons, I blame others. I’d blame Regan for her humanitarianism, I’d blame the ‘verse for it’s unjust order, I’d blame everyone else for whatever reason I can think of. And now,” he paused as he sat back into his chair, deflated and hollow ”now I have no one left to blame but myself. So you can see why I’m drunk and rambling. In my quest for legacy, I’ve made sure that it would live forever. As one of madness, betrayal and covers of mediocrity.”

Mal was already tired of the cheap drunken monologue he was hearing. It galled him that despite all that his kids had accomplished that he couldn’t see past his own arrogance. It was about time someone actually talked some sense into him. "'Grand cosmic scheme'. Is that the only scheme you can think on? And your legacy? Yeah, you've messed that up quite a bit. But don't throw Simon out the airlock. You wanted greatness for him, and you got it. I don't know many that would do all that he did to get his sister out of a place like that. He lost everything by being the most unselfish son of a bitch I've ever met. You want a legacy left, that's it."

Gabriel still wasn’t impressed. "And what about River? Abilities that could change the course of humanity, and all she does is play a battered up guitar with some punk degenerates. Tell me how that's supposed to be a legacy to be proud about."

Mal shook his head. This hundan still wasn’t getting it. "Do you even have any idea what they planned on doing with her? Knowing the Alliance, I'm not too sure that they would have passed on your legacy very well through her. You should have seen her when she came out of that box. She was confused, battered, and a complete basket case. I'll be honest, I never believed that she would be anything other than a mess. But guess what, she proved me wrong, too. She survived. She overcame."

That last word echoed in Gabriel’s mind. He then realized that she wouldn’t have had to overcome what she did if it weren’t for him. He sank back into his chair and looked at Mal dejected. “So that's how they continue our legacy. By surviving the damage I've wreaked upon them. If you're trying to convince me that our family name still has some validity to it, I don't think you can.” He exhaled as a dead look came over his face. “We’re a fucking joke, is what we are. We’re a cautionary tale for all those who’d give a damn in the first place. And every tale needs an ending. A villain to vanquish.” Gabriel stood up, his robe dangling off his body. He looked at Mal with an admitting stare as he held his arms to the side, as if he were begging to be literally crucified. “Well here I am. The Big Bad. The last pathetic remnant of everything you stand against.” He staggered towards Mal and slurridly stated, “Why don’t you take out that gun of yours and just write the last page.” He pointed clumsily between his eyes, as his alcohol tinged breath flooded Mal’s nostrils. “Put a big period right here. Bullet in the brainpan, squish.” He said this last bit with emphasis as he mimed his head exploding. For a brief flash, River’s moments of despair flickered across Mal’s memory as he saw Gabriel drunkenly taunt him. “Here’s your chance to be the big damn hero and fire the last shot that’ll clinch the Browncoat victory. You know you want to.”

It was at this point that Mal reached an internal crossroads. On the one hand, he had the man who in his mind was the personification of everything he had come to hate in his life literally begging him to kill him. It would be quick and efficient. And maybe he was right. He would be doing a favor in putting the bastard out of his misery.

But on the other hand, this was a man who had just buried his wife and had gone through his own personal Hell, fueled by guilt and alcohol. This was a man who was going through the same crisis of faith Mal went through ten years ago. For a brief instant, Malcolm Reynolds saw himself reflected back to him in Gabriel’s sad eyes that were praying for annihilation. Mal stood up, clasped Gabriel’s shoulders and shook his head.

"No. War’s long over. And I ain’t gonna kill you. There ain’t always a villain, and not every tale needs an ending. You might have started with the wrong intentions, and paid some pretty big prices for them, but in the end, you've still got a family. As much as you've screwed up, they're still there. Alive. Thriving. And stronger, maybe even because of you.” As Gabriel tried to avoid eye contact, Mal continued to speak to him and to re-establish his stare. “That boy wanted to prove himself to you. Do you want him to go through all this just to see you standin' here wanting to die? River wouldn’t have discovered her salvation if you didn’t play a part in her breakdown. She’s already lost a mother. She don’t need to lose you. And your wife. You think she’s want you to be in the ground next to her?” It was at this point that Gabriel looked back at Mal. “No. She would want you to live and to find your forgiveness. You made you're mistakes, but you've got a unique chance here to do something that not everyone gets a chance to do: make things right. You've got your children back. Don't throw them away again."

Gabriel stared at Mal for a few moments. “I know that.” He replied quietly. “I think the real question is if they want me back.” Gabriel pointed feebly at himself, looked at Mal and began to cry. All the pent up guilt and self-loathing and mourning was all flowing out of him a rush of tears and a weak admittance. “I love them. I love them so much. And I have so much to give. I want to know River for real. For who she is and not what I or they think she’s supposed to be. I want to talk to Simon about who he’s become. I want to tell him how proud I am of him. I want to impart what little I know to him so that he could be to Brooke what I should have been for them. And I want to apologize to her. She’s so much like Regan. I can’t bear the idea of her hating me as well.”

"She doesn't hate you." Both men turn around to see Simon at the door. "She might be angry at you, but I think it's impossible for Kaylee to hate anyone."

Mal let the slow smile play across his lips. "Ain't that the truth." He turns to Gabriel. "Trust me, she's had every reason to hate me on more than one occasion, and yet she still calls me nice, even though I keep telling her I’m a mean old man.

"Mal, do you think you could leave me and my father alone for a bit. There's something I want to talk to him in private about." Simon stepped into the room and motioned towards the door, hinting to Mal to get out.

For once, Mal keeps his mouth shut, and nodded slightly to Simon before heading out of the room.

Simon went over to the door and closed it. Slowly, he approached his father and sat down across from him in one of the matching chairs. They were both silent as Simon gathered his thoughts and as Gabriel composed himself and did his best to alert his dull senses. Gabriel opened his mouth to talk, but before he could say anything, Simon interrupted. "Before you say anything, I have just one thing to say." He paused and took a deep breath. "Thank you."

Gabriel blinked in surprise. “For what?”

“For sending River to the Academy.” Before Gabriel could interject, Simon continued. “I was just downstairs, talking with the crew, River and her new band about all that’s happened to us. And River said something that, quite frankly, astonished me. She was talking about cause and effect, and how every event and decision that we make in our lives has produced this very moment. And that if she could go back in time and change it, she wouldn’t, because then everything she has would be gone. And I realized that it was the same for me. If you hadn’t told me four years ago that the next time I got caught up in something major like this that I’d be on my own, not only would I not have River, but I wouldn’t have Kaylee and Brooke. The last four years would’ve been erased. And in retrospect, they’ve been the most important years of my life. So I would just like to thank you for doing this to me and River.”

Gabriel stared ahead in shock. With all that has happened between them, he never once imagined his son would have anything positive to say to him. For once, he had no idea what to say.

“You’re welcome…then…I guess.”

Simon leaned back into the velvet cushions of the chair and chuckled. “That was a little more awkward than expected, wasn’t it?”

Gabriel got in on the joke and began to laugh quietly at it as well. “I guess showing gratitude comes a bit harder for us Tams than other people.”

Both men began to laugh a little louder than before, until the relief of the humor came over them and quieted down. Both men sighed.

“Thank you, son. I needed that.”

“Well, we did bury your wife and my mother today. I suppose a good laugh could help in easing the pain.”

“That, and also a long overdue celebration.” Gabriel got up and slightly staggered to his desk. He pulled open a drawer and pulled out a wooden box. He opened the box, sniffed it, and smiled as he took in the aroma. He reached in and pulled out a single cigar.

He walked over to Simon and placed it in his hand. “What’s this for?”

“That...” Gabriel paused as he took his seat “is for getting married and for becoming a father. Congratulations.”

Simon smiled politely as he put the cigar in his breast pocket. He never smoked, and always hated the sight of Jayne with a dirty cigar in his mouth. “I’ll save this for later.” He courteously responded.

“You save it for when that baby arrives. I know it’s some dumb tradition from Earth-That-Was, but I rather enjoy it. That’s the only one left from the box I got when River was born.” He paused before asking point blank, “You nervous?”

“About smoking a twenty one year old cigar?” Simon gave a short laugh.

Gabriel gave him a grin. “I mean about becoming a father.”

Simon shrugged. “A little.” He stopped to really think about and then replied “OK, a lot, actually. I’ve only delivered one baby before, and the patient wasn’t my wife. But barring any unforeseen complications, it should actually be fairly routine.”

Gabriel shook his head. He had raised his boy too well. “Simon, Simon. This is the time when you need to be a husband first, and not a doctor. I always hated our doctors for being so eerily calm while Regan was in labor with you and River.”

“I’m trying. It’s just that…I’ve been keeping a somewhat objective view on the whole thing. It’s weird. Kaylee has been obsessing all over the baby ever since we found out, but I haven’t really been overly ecstatic about the baby. My instinct is to make sure they’re all right. I haven’t really thought beyond giving her the required shots.” In his mind, Simon stepped back from himself and was amazed by what he was saying and to whom. Two days ago, he hated his father more than anything else. Now he was telling him something he’d never tell anyone on Serenity. “I suppose my attitude will change once she’s born.”

“It will. I never really put that much thought into being a father until I saw her hold you in her arms.” His smile disappeared as he contemplated that past memory. “She would have loved to have held a grandchild in her arms before she died.”

“I know.”

Both men remained silent as they mourned the loss of her and of the pleasure she was denied. Gabriel broke the silence with a hasty proclamation. “Well, we’ll do the next best thing. Tomorrow, we can clear out her room and set it up as a nursery.”

Simon blinked and looked back at his father. “Shenme?”

Gabriel began to speak uncharacteristically enthused and desperate. “There wasn’t much in her room except for the bed, the tv and a few clothes. But we could just put that stuff in storage. I know it might be a bit expensive putting it together, but I think we can-“

Simon interrupted. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. What nursery?”

Gabriel looked confused. “For Brooke. Where else would she sleep?”

“I was thinking of the crib in our bunk.”

Gabriel remained confused for a moment. And then it dawned on him the implication of what his son was saying.

An uneasy silence entered into the room as Simon waited for Gabriel to respond. “Dad? Say something, please.”

Gabriel sat back into his chair and retorted. “Well that’s a Hell of a thing to say to me at a time like this!”

Simon couldn’t believe it. No matter how many times he tried, his discussions with his father always turned into arguments. “You son of a bitch. I can say the same thing about you right now. I thought you were happy about me and Kaylee.”

“I was until you told me that you’d be raising Brooke on a transport ship, of all gorram places.”

Simon raised his right hand to his forehead. On top of it all, he was starting to get a migraine from all this. “Dad, dad. I don’t want to fight about it.”

Gabriel sat up and ignored this as he went right into it. “Well I’m voicing my views as a soon-to-be-grandparent. Living on a ship out in the black might be all right for adults, but for a child during its early development, it’s a bad environment. Living in an enclosed environment, surrounded by an airless vacuum and god knows what catastrophes could strike. It would disrupt and warp its cognitive development and mentally scar her.”

Simon countered with, “Some could argue that you’re describing a Core planet.”

The air went out of Gabriel’s argument with that remark. He retreated back into his chair as he dejectedly admitted, “I suppose you’re right in that aspect. But tell me honestly. Do you really think raising Brooke on a ship is the right thing to do?”

Another long, permeable silence came over them as Simon thought long and hard about this. Gabriel was wondering why Simon would actually have to think about this.

“Come on, Simon. You’re smart enough to know the answer.”

Simon quietly countered. “I was also smart enough to talk to Kaylee about this. And we’ve decided we’re just going to play it by ear.”

Gabriel, with a quiet inquisition, asked, “Can’t you do it here?”

Simon wondered how he was going to break the news that his home world was no longer a home to him. He humbly admitted, “I’m sorry, but no. If there’s anything I’m sure about, it’s that I don’t want to raise her here.” Gabriel gave him a look that asked why. “The whole economy is in debt, and even if thing’s go back to normal, I don’t want Brooke to be some spoiled, rich brat.” He chuckled as he imagined a six year old girl that had Kaylee’s smile and laugh and a miniature wrench set to play with. “I want her to be like Kaylee.”

Gabriel sat still for a few moments as the truth of the matter was sinking him. His prodigal son was leaving him. Not to save his sister, but for his own family. One that wanted nothing to do with him and the world he raised him in. Surely, despite the last seven years, there was something here to keep. Some value to make living here worthwhile. “Is there really nothing here worth salvaging? Not even me?”

It was a surreal experience to see his father like this. All his life, he had only seen his father as a dominant force. Of a man who wielded such authority over every one and thing in his life. Now he looked so weak, and asked questions with the timidity of a child. It still didn’t deter him from his decisions. “It’s not a question about salvaging. It’s simply a decision about my family and what’s right for them. For providing them a home. And I don’t think I can do it here.”

Simon inhaled and then admitted what he tried to deny ever since he arrived home to try to resolve.

“And it still hurts. Your betrayal. I’ve tried my best to get past it. I thought that by coming here and talking it out after four years that I’d be able to forgive you. Mom wanted that more than anything else. But I can’t. Not fully yet anyways. I’m grateful for all that you’ve done, and for the results of what happened. But I can’t give you a pass for the act itself. For essentially letting River be mentally raped for years. I’d be glossing over it all.” He sat up and spoke to him directly. “The thing I want from you, more than anything else, is for you to realize your part in this and what you’ve done to her. And until you do that, I don’t see any reason for us to be here.”

So there it was. The absolute truth. Any chance of reconciliation and of returning home for good was gone. Gabriel realized that after tomorrow, he would probably never see his son again. The life he had worked so hard to achieve had vanished. And it all was his entire fault. He did not cry. He did not rant or rave or rage or show any kind of emotion. He just stared ahead blankly. If strangers were to see him now, some would confuse him with an insane man, while others would mistake him for a corpse.

Simon saw this and tried to counter this with a warm truth. “It won’t be that bad. River is going to stay here with you. She wants to take care of you while she pursues her music career.”

Gabriel stared back at him and queried, “What about her medication?”

Simon sat back into his chair and thought about the progress she made with her instrument. “That guitar has done far more for her therapy than anything I’ve treated her with. As long as she keep’s on playing, she’ll be fine. She says it’s her turn to take care of the family.”

Gabriel stared back at Simon for a while and then stood up. “Well, if you are serious about this, then now is good enough of a time for this.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet. Out of the wallet, he took out two plastic cards. They were bank cards that one could use anywhere. As Simon stood up, he squinted in curiosity.

“What is it?”

“This,” Gabriel stated as he held one of the cards out to Simon, “is your inheritance. Or what’s left of it. Regan left all she had to you and River. Your half should be enough for you to start a new life anywhere.” Gabriel stared at Simon now with desperation, while Simon sighed in reluctance. Money was the last thing he wanted to be talking about at this point.

“Dad-“

“Take it.”

“No.”

“Take it.”

“Dad, I don’t want-“

“GORRAM IT, TAKE IT!!” He stared back at his son, his hand pressing the card into his son’s palm. Gabriel was frantic now, his eyes wide in desperation and his voice quivering. “I might’ve been a go se father, and I know it’s too late me to make things right, but this is the only way I know how to make it better.”

After a few seconds of intense eye contact, Simon took the card and slipped it into his pocket. There was an air of finality to the discussion. Simon made his way to the door, when he was interrupted by Gabriel.

“Don’t ever assume that you’ve disappointed me.” He took a deep breath and admitted to his son what he could only admit to Mal beforehand. “I know it may seem like I’m disappointed in you, but...” He paused as he caught his breath. Tears were forming in his eyes as he confessed, “I am so proud of what you’ve become. You’ve become a far greater man than I could ever hope to be.” He shuddered as he finished saying what was in his soul. “I know now what I should have known all those years ago. And while it haunts me, I think in time I will learn to accept and forgive myself for what I did. I just hope that one day…you’ll come to forgive me.”

Simon looked at his father, looked away to fight back his tears, looked back at him and said quietly…

“I think one day I will.”

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