The Mockingjay and the Albatross

Cherish the burn

Author: Howlynn Realm: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins Story Title: Cherish the burn Summary: Finnick wakes to find the world has changed. Katniss ponders her life and feels her final reaping day is near. Character/Relationships: Katniss, Finnick, Haylee Odair,

I Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author notes: Time for some fluffy feel good, don't you think?

Warning: may contain any of the following ingredients –(old people, language. Spoilers, Sexual discussion, ghosts, sex, smexy lemons, smutty thoughts, sexual reference, sexual innuendo, reference to past violence, sadness, bondage, violence, dead characters being discussed, alcohol use, caffeine use, reference to man love, unintended exhibitionism, naked people, infidelity, torture, reference to adultery, reference to other persecuted unacceptable sex (threesome), reference to possible non-consent and prostitution -whew the warning alone could be hazardous) If you have any allergies to these subjects, please take appropriate measures for your maturity level. Side effects may include but not be limited to: flaming of the author, Pm grouchiness, and unwanted hair growth.

"How am I here?" he looks around in confusion.

"You're safe, Finn. What do you remember?"

"You didn't kill me. And then the coil fell," he whispers.

"I jumped in after you. Somehow, I got you back to the MockingJo and you are going to be fine." I can't help how I am smiling. I have missed this man. I kiss his cheek and squeeze his hand, letting him see how much I love him.

"That is impossible." His head shakes, painstakingly in denial of what he sees.

I wink, and try to speak calmly, though I feel like gushing, "Just about. I almost lost you. You will have some nerve damage in your feet, but you get to keep them. You won't be as bendy, they had to fuse your spine to stabilize it. Your lungs have damage and you will have to grow your hair back, you had some surgery. You crushed your skull a little. That's the one that just about got you. There may be some damage, but we won't know for a while." I lean forward and press a button on the side of the bed. "Are you hurting?"

"Yes. But, I was dead. "

"Almost. But not quite." I smile and take his hand, lifting it and kissing his fingers. His scent has changed, he smells like part of the hospital now. His face should sport stubble by now, but his cheeks are smooth even if every part of visible skin is either bruised or full of blue webs of capillaries, his eyes glare at me.

"I was with Annie. She was angry. Johanna was there. Katniss? I saw Haymitch. Peeta too. I cried in Mags arms. I was there. I was young again. I don't want to be here." He looks around as if he's awakened in a capitol torture chamber. "Johanna?"

I have to swallow several times, but I have to be honest. It is chilling to me that he knows. It tells me how close I was to losing him. "I'm sorry. She's gone. Three weeks now. You fought to come back. You're not ready for them yet."

He sighs deeply. "That's what Annie said. She told me not to come back until I … " His eyes glassed over and he didn't speak.

The nurse came in. "Look who is back?" I say a little too cheerfully.

They direct me out the door and I go up to Mom's office. She has given me a key for showers and sleep, when I get so tired I can't sleep in the chair in his room. Usually I did this when he had others visiting in the afternoons. Those had begun to fade as time had gone by, but Haylee would come. He knew I was tired. Prim was away, she and Rory, always traveled. They spent several weeks a year teaching in other districts and I had no interest in stopping her travels to babysit me.

Mom was out of town at a hospital administrator's convention at the Capitol. She is a keynote speaker and would return to Four in a few days. I had not seen or heard from Rue, since she'd brought me clothes to the hospital. I had called, leaving cool ambiguous messages and not mentioning Finnick. She was ignoring me. That was normal.

Rue and I were not an easy relationship. We never had been. She was Daddy's girl when she was small. When she lost him, she didn't speak for months. She functioned, did her lessons, helped with the little ones, but it was all done in silence. I can't say I was a lot of help to her. Between my own depression and facing all the constant scrutiny of media and having one function after the next to honor him, I did the best I could, but it was so far from enough. We were all a mess then. We were lost without Haymitch. We were a tall, tall ship, with no star to guide us.

Peeta became our rudder. He missed Haymitch differently. Haymitch was his safety. He threw himself into the children, keeping up with the never ending things that children do and getting Mommy to the right school on the right night for plays, honors and meetings with teachers. I became an expert on walls, sidewalks and clouds. I spent as much time as possible staring at them, lost in some half-life of disbelief and not following the stages of grief they told me to expect in the counseling Peeta sent me to.

My children refer to that time as our leap year. It barely existed. It was hard on them all but I think it broke Rue in some way. She loved the media, but when they stopped talking to her and started talking about her, she hardened in some way that I can't quite explain. She began to take an obsessive amount of care in her appearance. She was prepared for every class, every interview and every verbal argument she could manage to spark. I longed for her quiet time, at times.

I began to trust her less with the little ones, after Maysillee ended up with a broken arm. The kids said she fell, but it wasn't that kind of fracture. Not one of my children would look in Peeta's eyes as he sat them down to find out what had happened. Just Rue. She met his face with perfect distress and clear conscious, but I knew in my mind at that moment, that she was prepared.

These little hints, well, Haymitch would have picked up on it much faster than I did. Months would go by in which she was an angel for all appearances, yet things happened that we didn't tie to her. Broken things, mementos vanished, and things in the trash that nobody would think to throw away. She had a new friend every week and by the end of it they hated each other. Some of it was just teen antics and some of it was things we should have paid attention to.

She was only fifteen when we began to notice. At the wedding, she was happy and beautiful. Three weekends after, as we were flying to the capitol, she overdosed on medication she'd stolen from one of our pilots. Hay Two found her unresponsive in her bunk. She apologized, gloated in the attention, and explained that since Daddy died, she was afraid to fly. She said she found the prescription on the floor and it said it was to help you sleep. She didn't know it would make her sick. She had giggled girlishly as she explained that when she still couldn't sleep, she took a few of them. I didn't buy it at the time, but Peeta calmed me. She went to counseling and fooled Dr. Idiotwad with her charm, telling him wild tales about us and playing her perfect child part.

The boys were our next big confrontation. She was obsessed with being grown up and happily married. She wanted everything this minute, yesterday in fact. She went through boys like she went through friends. They were disposable. Rue didn't keep anything for long. She would bug us to death for some imagined need, and once she had it, she didn't need it anymore.

I loved my daughter, but she pushed me into corners with every breath. I never did push well. When I caught her for the third time with an actual cousin of Gales, whose name wasn't Hawthorne, but he was just a little too close and a little too disrobed, I snapped. It was hushed up, thank goodness, but she was furious and so was I. We talked until we were as empty as a coal shaft, but it made her more rebellious. Her opportunity was fading with her antics. People were no longer fooled by her family standing and her winning smile. People avoided her, except for a few social climbers and bash-kids who were always on their way to a party.

Peeta suggested that we send her to Finnick and Annie, just for the summer. I had no reservations other than worry for the Odairs, and many nights were spent on the phone planning this change of scenery. Honestly, I was pleased they agreed. I needed away from her. I needed a break. We had other children and she was taking up at least half of our time. She was mad at first, but then treated the whole thing as if we were rewarding her, she even convinced the younger ones, except for Hay Two, that she was off for a great adventure. Finnick had always been special to her and I knew she was Annie's favorite. I thought the attention she would receive there, would help her.

We stayed for three days, of course Auntie Jo was on hand to put her in her place, and Grandma made a huge fuss, but Rue seemed to be so alive there, we were confident that this was the best thing that could happen. Parents want to believe in their beautiful kids. We wanted to believe that her problems could vanish with a change of background. We got glowing reports for the first month. Peeta and I stopped by and she was as happy as we had ever seen her. We should have known it was a crumbling pretty cake, just meant for show.

Finnick didn't call. We didn't worry, he'd had her out on the boat fishing, to her abject chagrin, but she had gotten used to the hard work and Finn had even bragged on her. Except this time, when he began the conversation, Finn was not sharing good news. "Katniss, I'm so sorry…" he began.

I thought for the first two minutes she'd died. Married finally skittered across my brain. She married his son. My seventeen year old daughter had thrown her life away for a fisherman's son. I know he was Finn's boy, but it was not what the world had envisioned for her and I was devastated. Finn stood my anger, blamed himself, swore he would see she had a happy life and he reminded me that I had done so much more by her age. He spoke of love and how I would have been wed to that poor broody Hawthorne if our lives had not been shattered. He spoke of how young I was when I met Peeta and him and married a broken down disgusting drunken bum, old enough to be my father. "What did your mother think of Haymitch Abernathy? Look how that turned out, baby?" I had laughed and agreed that that was a much worse idea than his sweet son, Nicky.

Nicky was as beautiful as Finn had ever been. We flew to Four and she was happy. I was still mad as a wet cat, but her eyes were shining and I hoped. Peeta said it would all work out. He pointed out that they had always been family, and she'd just made it official. "She is in love," he said looking at me with those sparkling blue eyes of his so full of the same emotion. I came around and accepted. I could see why, Nick Odair was exquisite and kind and such a pleaser. He was Finnick's son and I could understand after all. They didn't have the burdens we did and their hearts were free to love. It wasn't such a horrible thing. I had imagined her dead after all and married and finally happy, was better.

I wondered what Haymitch would think of it all. I spent hours laughing at all the shocking truths. Haymitch and Finn had been lovers. Annie had graduated from Haymitch's victor training camp. Finnick and I had been so full of passion at one time. How could I fault the children for having the same taste as their parents? There was a certain justice to the outcome. Peeta, Finn, Annie, Jo and I, settled with the idea and made private jokes about magnetic gene pools and how fates were written in the stars, not the capitol any longer.

She was going to be an adult soon and I couldn't have postponed it for long. I had given her a lot more years of childhood than I had ever had. I felt bad, about Not-Hawthorne, back in twelve. Hazelle confessed that the boy was inconsolable for months when he found out she was never coming home to him. I spoke with him once, after he recovered. I offered deeply heartfelt apologies. He harbored about the same feelings for me, because I sent her away, as Gale had felt for the capitol, when they stole me away from him. He was a handsome striking boy; his eyes fell on me just like some other gray eyes had fallen on me once. I smiled and thought to myself, be careful Not-Hawthorne, I have other daughters and I will be watching you. I smiled and sat between Gale's black granite stone and Haymitch's twenty foot tall white obelisk telling them the whole story.

I lay in the sun between them imagining for the first time, grandchildren who would make trips someday to this spot and tell their children about a girl who had to be a Mockingjay and a great man who had lost everything for winning and almost drank his life away, until he made a Mockingjay sing and became a rebel and then went on to be president. It was a story of hope and I hoped for those long future children. I hoped that one day the Mockingjay could rest here and watch the loved ones, with the loved ones. I chastised myself for not asking more questions. For not demanding more information of that dreamed up Jamie from long ago.

I had included names on Haymitch's monument. He was not just a lonely man. He was the son of Lauralee and Lockland Abernathy. He was the brother of Jamison Abernathy and Myrtle who died as a baby. Haymitch had begun life as loved and cherished as my Rue, and they took years of happy moments from him, but they never took the hearts that those names identified from him. He held them inside until it was safe to let them fly. Just as he'd done with a little seam girl named Shayhan and twenty five years later with one named Katniss. He was a good father. He was my greatest love, not my first and not my last, but my greatest. He was the man who loved a Mockingjay enough.

Rue had not had enough of him. She would have fared better in the world if he'd been there to be a conductor for her. She needed him, so someone would be a couple of steps ahead of her to guide her and give her wisdom to go along with her pure brilliance. I was too blind to see that she had been so unhappy. I was surprised by what Finn revealed, but if I think on it in honesty, I am not surprised.

I knew the answers all, except one. I could not imagine why. Why would she do this evil thing to her Uncle Finn? How had she not killed a man that would raise a hand to her? Haymitch and I didn't count in that category. He never hit a woman. I didn't count sometimes. If we came to fisticuffs, I initiated it. There was something wrong with me and we all knew it. I needed battle like some people needed sweets. Finnick had a terrible sweet tooth. I had a terrible battle tooth. Johanna and I shared that deep repulsive need to feel pain and deliver it as well. She out grew it, but I never did. My mother is right. I am too old for this, but I need it still. Did Rue inherit it as a need to hurt people in a different way? Was it my fault? I drank every drop of Mother's stupid brandy. It was my fault. It is my fault. I never loved her enough. I was not a good enough mother to her. But the others turned out well? Didn't they? Hay Two is a congressman and Cinna has sat in the senate now for four terms. Thresh is more famous for his sculptures than even Peeta was for his Hunger Games collection and his infinite paintings of me.

God I needed Haymitch or Peeta. They shouldn't have left me. I never managed very well on my own. I looked out the window of the office, and then stepped out on the little balcony. I could smell the sea. I looked up at the stars and found no guide at all. The stars hung cold and the sea was full of wonder, and I would burn again for not saving Rue. Had I doomed her by her very name, or had I damaged her with my idiotic actions while I was pregnant with her? Haymitch? Peeta? I need you? No answers magically fell from the sky.

Showered and with five hours of sleep, I headed back to my Finnick cave. He lay in the bed, looking at the sun in misery. He'd been crying. He didn't acknowledge me. I sat and waited for him to speak.

"I don't understand you," he finally says. His speech is slightly slurred.

"Only the third time I have heard that sound." I say watching him.

"What sound?"

"You mad at me." I stand up and move my chair into his line of sight.

"Good ear. They said you nearly died saving me. They said you have not left me. I wake up, shattered, broken beyond repair and have to hear that you risk your life for me to come back to this. I have to learn to walk again. I can hear what I sound like. I was where I wanted to be. I have been trying to figure out if it was because you love me or because you hate me enough to –"

"I Love you. Just love, Finn I-"

"Then you saved me for you. Selfish. I can't believe how selfish."

"I am selfish. Always was," I say loudly cutting him off. "I told you that if you needed to go I would understand."

"You should have left me to the sea, Katniss. I woke up in hell for your selfishness."

"Ok. But I would have…" I stand up and I am sick to my stomach. I breathe deep and try to calm down.

"What? You would have what?" He bellows.

My eyes widen. Finn has never really bellowed at me. I have seen his temper but this is somehow so acutely nasty that I am sweating suddenly. "Gone with you. I would have ridden you to the bottom. So you be mad at me all you want. I didn't leave you. I stayed. I stayed when my ears were screaming and I stayed when I thought I was going to die. And when I got you loose and lost all my air and I saw there was no way I could make it up that far in any hope of life with your dead ass weight in tow. I didn't let go even then. And when Annie gave me her hand and I was dying too, and knew it, felt it. I didn't let go. And the old girl and I flew you home, because even the MockingJo knew. So you be mad all you want and then we can place bets on who the selfish one is. Your fatal Games are over, Finn. If you don't want me here then just say it. And I will let you go…" I am out of breath and I stand there and look at him.

"Then go. Get out. I don't want you here."

"Look at me. You look me in the eye and tell me. You told me…"

Finn's eyes met mine cold and hard as emeralds, "Go away. I don't want you here. You have cursed me."

The water was so deep it squeezed my lungs. There was no air. I stood there for a minute and dropped my eyes to the floor. "I … Finn." I beg him not to send me away, but I can't get a word out.

"If you had an ounce of kindness in you…"

He doesn't finish and I know what he was going to say. "Well I don't. " I smile at him. "Rue was right after all. You made me a whore and threw me away. "

I walk out and head upstairs. I don't shed a tear until the door is closed. I needed to hit something. I needed a full out knock down drag out fight. I searched the office for any kind of booze. Mom had nothing to drink, but she had a medicine cabinet full of wonders. I pick two bottles of possibility and tuck them into my pocket. I open my suitcase and tuck knives into my boots.

This is a sea town and the rum flows freely here. Where there is rum, there will be a fight.

I wish I could say this is the first time I have gone looking for a fight. It isn't. I was on my third bar and enough people recognized me that they were letting me make quite a rowdy show before I found another like me. The boy was in worse shape than I was, but I egged him into trouble like the master I had become at bitter sarcastic commentary. He took the first swing, but I deserved it. I leaned sideways and waited for the moment he was off balance, yanked his arm and pulled him forward. I kicked my leg out at that moment and sent him to the floor.

"Nice try, sweetheart. That the best you got? I'm an old lady and I can still kick your ass."

Then he stood up and lunged at me. I stuck my elbow out and let it meet his face with bone crushing joy. I could breathe again. I am alive still. I didn't see the pool cue from behind. I spin and hit my attacker, wondering if my skull is split open, but not feeling it so much as hearing it. He's stronger than I am. But I still pack a pretty good wallop, it's all in the leverage. He raises the pool cue again and my head is fuzzy, not feeling so good.

That is when I am recognized. Mockingjay. The murmurs are wildfire. My fun is over. There is a flash and then in my ear, "Aunt Kat? What the hell?"

I groan. I rake my fingers through my hair and grin, "Hello Haylee. Nice weather we're having?" I say dropping pool cue man like a stone by ramming his stick into his gut, yanking it out of his hand and spinning using the extra force to knock him out with precision, rather than just banging his head.

"You're bleeding?"

I look down at my hand and pinch his cheek, with the other hand, the one not recently used to slop through my bloody hair, "It's nothing." I toss the pool cue onto the table watching it roll a bloody hand print onto the felt. I grimaced, there would be a sign up next week, and people would come to see the blood of the Mockingjay. They always loved me bloody.

He grabs me by the arm and I wave goodnight to all my new friends. My head is starting to ache as we randomly turn left and right, here and there. I can't really see where we are going, so I ask him politely, "Where the hell are we going?"

"I don't know." He stops and spins me angrily. "Aunt Kat, what in the hell do you think you are doing in a bar on that side of town… Public brawl…shameful…blah blah blah."

"Well it was just a little fun, nobody even had the knives out yet!" Then I sat down. I didn't really mean to sit, but there I was, looking up at this half-Annie Finnick-boy and I couldn't hear a word he was saying.

I felt like I was floating a little, except that I had a warm chest under my head and it was bouncy. "Your Daddy flew away. Said I should have left him to the sea," I tell the bouncing shoulder.

My head woke me up. It was about to explode. I felt in my pocket and opened the bottle of possibility. I took two, I think and find water on the table next to me. I crash back to the pillow, not really caring where I am or who put me here, all I care about is how my head is screaming. I close my eyes again.

I wake up to horrible shrieking light. I sit up. I am on the MockingJo and it reeks of paint. I open my little bottle of possibility and take four, then decide what the hell and I am just tipping the bottle to my lips when it is knocked out of my hand. I look up in justified anger at the blurry face of blah-blah-boy and growl, "You butt sniffing fart smoker, you spilled my medicine!"

"This bottle says Dr. Mezereon Everdeen. I don't believe the owner of the bottle is aware that it is missing? I don't think I would have found her half drunk in a brawl with two sailors half her age. I am still pretty shocked to find my favorite Aunt in such circumstance, though it does explain a few newspaper clippings Mom had tucked away. Now after you explain how that all took place, then you can share the overdose on painkillers you were attempting." His voice is full of calm disappointed confusion.

"Well that's easy. I'm a screw up. Always have been. A broken used up nothing and I'm done." I give him my best glaring smirk, as if to say how's that for shocking honesty.

"Done brawling, I hope," he says while fidgeting with the empty bottle.

I laugh, but it isn't the kind of sound produced by a funny occurrence, it is the sound of all the tears unshed for kids who think there is some hope in life. I had been to Hope once long ago and bathed in it and took the waters of that mythical place, but I had used it all up. It had left me and I was lost in dark water, churning, murky and full of writhing debris. "No. I came here to save him. I didn't know. Had no idea that it was a trade. I saved his body, and now all my debts are done. I like brawling. Get used to it."

"You are not making any sense. It must be these pills. "

"No, sweetheart. They are just pain killers, but they don't do a thing. Made my head stop throbbing, thank you, but they don't have a chance. They can only work if I get enough of them in me. I'm going home soon, little man. I have always known where home is. It hasn't been here for a long time." I sling myself back onto the bed. I close my eyes and I feel pulled, as if an internal wind is blowing me toward the place I want to find.

"Aunt Kat?" he moves onto the bed, next to me and I feel his hands gently pushing on my head. He leaves for a moment and when he returns, a warm cloth is carefully swabbing my injured head. It doesn't feel painful; in fact, I turn my head so he can get the rest of it toward the back. "You know I always looked up to you. I loved you more than Auntie Jo, sometimes more than even Momma in her distant days. You took this hit like it didn't matter. You were too strong to let it stop you. But he has, somehow. We warned you. But you went with him anyway, risk your life to save him, like it didn't matter. But it did, didn't it?"

"No. It didn't matter Haylee. I thought it did once, but it didn't. I didn't save the first Rue and I didn't save my Rue. And I didn't save him from me. He is right. I believe him now. Your Dad is right. Tell him I'm going home. Tell him, I will be on his welcoming committee and I forgive him, but nothing I ever did really mattered and his last lessons that he taught me, finally made me really see it all for what it is. Tell him, Thanks," I say obliquely.

"I think you need a doctor. You aren't making sense."

I open my eyes and roll onto my side, propping my head on my fist supported by my bent elbow. "You may not see it now, but I know what I am saying. He will know too. I'm telling your father good-bye, sweetheart. When a soul dies, the body follows. I don't have a lot of time left and I am done. No hospital, no doctor can help me."

"So you are committing suicide. I can call services and have them come and lock you up, get you help."

"I'd be gone before they get here. I don't have to commit anything. I'm dying. I'm not sick. I'm not blowing my head off. It is coming for me. I can feel it. That's all. It has been on the attack for years and I always won. Beat it. But I had help then. I had Haymitch, Peeta, Jo, Annie, Gale, Cinna, and Finn. I have never been more than the axis, the meeting point of those great ones. They were my shield. This time I face it alone. Haylee, it doesn't matter what I do. I don't have to seek it. I just have to slow down." I take a deep breath. I sit up.

"I don't know what to say to you. I love you?" he says, looking like he did when he was about seven and Haymitch and I had brought him a load of unusual sweets and other gifts. But this time his fear was for me.

"I love you too, little man. You were always my favorite. Pick of the litter." I bend and kiss his forehead.

He smiled at that old fondness. "Then tell me. Why. You are strong and you never needed any of them. You show up thinking you can change him? I get it. You found out you can't. But it's like he's destroyed you. I saw him this morning, awake. Hospital called me, last night. I ask him where you were. He said you were gone. He didn't give a damned did he? So he did this to you, made you want to die? " He shook his head in frustration.

I get out of the bed and stretch. I look up, gathering my thoughts. "No. I don't mean it that way. Your Daddy didn't destroy me. He just couldn't, fix me. He doesn't have it in him anymore. I destroyed him in fact. My fault. I dumped my problems on him and he died trying to fix them. Trying to keep his word to me. It has hurt you all. I just figured it all out. I came here thinking he needed me. But, I just caused it to blow up and I should have never been so stubborn. I have destroyed one of the kindest men I ever knew, and that breaks my heart. So I am doing what he's ask of me and I am leaving him alone. I have been a curse to a lot of people. I just know what I know, Haylee. I don't have any death wish and I don't want you to think that. But I guess you can say, I don't have a need to stop it either. I have a few things to do, and then, whatever is coming? I will fight, love a good fight, but this time is different. I just know, Haylee and nothing I do will change it. Can you understand that?"

"Like a premonition?"

I nod. "Yes. Foreknowledge of an event."

"So you go to a rundown bar looking for it?"

"No, that's just baggage from my old wild days. Just blowing off a little dust and cobwebs. I believe we have life paths. Decisions can bring us onto lots of winding twisting places, but that one place, the roads end, it is there for each of us. My end isn't in a bottle of pills or a bar fight. So everything I do is safe, because that thing that will happen can't be altered. It is there. I think it drew me here. I got a little sidetracked but now I am back on the path toward it."

"So you're saying if you hadn't got on the boat with him?"

"Exactly. I would have probably already found more of a direct line. It might have already happened and I wouldn't have learned to drive this beautiful girl. She's looking fair bonny since I had her hauled out, aye? I was meant to save your Dad. He hates me for it, but I brought something bad to him by showing up here. Saving him just restored his path and now our fates are split again. Mine is here. It will find me." I have searched the cabinets for liquor, and there is none in this cabin, "I'm going up to have a drink. Join me?"

"Aunt Kat, you just took those pills and its ten bells," he says with repugnance.

I turn around, amused. "Haylee Odair, you are a worry wart. If a meteor gets me at eighteen bells, I have no intent of ending up sober. I fight better with a little toast in my belly. Always did. Come on, you tell me your Odair secrets and I will tell you all about the real Mockingjay." I winked.

"I don't know. This is a bad idea."

I grin at him. "Pick up my pills you spilled, and then get your little toenails ready for a curl. Never get another chance for the unvarnished truth boy. Trust me; you'll need a little snort. One day you will cherish the burn. "

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