Disclaimer:  Paramount owns a much duller version of these characters

Note:  This is my sequel to "Whimper", which is Dakota’s sequel to my story “Between Lust and Love.” Got that? (Now trust me) I wrote this because I have never been one to do things the easy way and because I believe there are things in this life worth fighting about and certainly things worth fighting for.
 

Rated PG13 (ummm maybe R- hell its only language!)
 

Kathryn was smiling at him.  It was a sad smile and he wondered how long it would take for the scenario to play out.  How long until the end?  Everything they had waited for, everything they had worked for would now all crumble around them. Chakotay smiled at Kathryn. He masked the emotions he felt, the decision he had already made. For a little while at least, she would be spared the consequences of her decision.  In the end, when she finally recognized it was over, he would accept his share of the blame.

The hours passed slowly, everything was quiet, like the calm after a storm or maybe it was only the eye of the storm.  As Voyager approached the Devore border, they faced one last threat.

“Captain, Devore warships on an intercept course.”  A nervous Ensign Kim reported.

Chakotay looked at Kathryn; her shock was real. Whatever had happened in there, she clearly didn’t expect this.

“They are hailing, Captain.”

“Open a channel, Mr. Kim.”

The entire bridge braced themselves for Prax and his well-rehearsed monolog; instead, the smiling face of Inspector Kashyk appeared on the screen.

“Captain Janeway.”  He smiled

“Inspector Kashyk.”  The Captain clearly did not share his amusement.

“Captain, I would like one last word with your crew before you are allowed to leave our space.  Please patch me through on a shipwide channel.”

“And why should I allow that?”

“Because, Dear Captain, you are still out gunned, out manned and still in Devore space.  Now, be a good captain and allow me to bid your crew farewell.”

The Captain sat eyes locked on the screen for a long minute then she nodded to Harry to open a shipwide channel.  Kashyk bowed his gratitude.

“Crew of the Starship Voyager, this is Inspector Kahsyk of the Devore Imperium.”  He smiled at Kathryn and laughed. “As if they could forget me so quickly.  You are nearing the perimeter of Devore space and I wanted to wish you well on your journey. If I were one of those telepaths your captain is so found of, I would probably be overwhelmed by the messages of hatred you are all thinking right now.  At the very least, you must be doubting my sincerity but let me assure you, your captain has played the game well and paid handsomely for your freedom.  Even in the Imperium there is – how was it put in your database?  Ah, yes, honor among thieves. So, I will honor my bargain and allow your ship to pass out of the Imperium unharmed.  As Commander Tuvok expressed to me on my earlier departure 'Live long and prosper'.”

The screen went dark and the big warship moved out of Voyager’s flight path.

“Mr. Paris resume our course for the Alpha Quadrant.  Warp six.”

“Course set.”

“Engage.”

After that, the bridge remained quiet.  Chakotay thought maybe he had been wrong.  After all it had been his idea to use the attraction between Kathryn and Kashyk, in the first place. He wondered if Kathryn had done exactly what she said she would when she told them, “I will do whatever is necessary to ensure your safety.”  It was possible that was all she had done.

Kathryn allowed her hand to rest on the console and he hadn’t removed his.  She wondered if he believed Kashyk or was merely looking for an excuse for her behavior.  He couldn’t know exactly what had gone on in there, the soundproofing in the readyroom was much too good, but he would have a good idea, especially after the Inspector's gracious announcement.

“Captain, we have cleared Devore space.”  Tuvok reported just as the lift opened depositing beta shift on the bridge.

“Thank you, Mr. Tuvok.”

Alpha shift handed their stations over and left the bridge together.  A short silent ride to deck three ended in a slow walk down the corridor.

“Commander, will you come in for a minute?”   The Captain paused in front of her door.

“Just let me change first.”  Chakotay replied without much enthusiasm.  “I’ll be right over.”

“OK.”  Kathryn gave him a smile she didn’t feel and entered her quarters.

~~~^^^~~~

A quick sonic shower refreshed her body, but it couldn’t wash away her guilt.  She was dressed in sweats and barefooted when he rang the chime.

“Come in, Chakotay.”  She called without leaving her place on the couch.  He had rung the chime, she thought, "That couldn’t be a good sign."

“Are you OK?”  He came in and sat beside her.

“No.  You?”

“No, I guess not.”

“It played out exactly as we planned – until the end.  When he knew he had lost, he sent me into the readyroom.  I guess that’s when he ordered his men off the ship.”  She shifted, pulling her feet under her, watching her hands clasp and unclasp in her lap.  “Then he followed me in, the door closed on the bridge before I could see what was happening and…”

“Don’t.  Please spare me the details.”  He put his head on the back of the couch.  “We both know what happened in there.”

“I’m sorry.  I know that is terribly inadequate, but I…”

“You did what you had to do, or what you thought you had to do.”

“Chakotay I want to accept what you are saying.  If there was an easy way out of this, I certainly would want to take it, but there isn’t.  What you're trying to do is admirable, but just as wrong as what I did.  Compounding the error won’t make either of us feel better about it—or about each other.”

“Kathryn, I heard what he said.”

“So did I.” She looked at him; his gaze was fixed on the ceiling.   “He was lying.  There wasn’t any deal.  We outsmarted him and we won.  It was over; he ordered his men off the ship before he even joined me in the ready room.”

“But you didn’t know that.”

“No, not for certain, but I was pretty sure.”

“Pretty sure isn’t good enough.  You have 150 lives to think about.  You..”

“Stop it!”  Kathryn jumped off the couch and turned to face him.  “Stop making excuses.  I did what I did and no one threatened me or you or my ship- no one coerced me!”

Her fists were clenched at her side, her face red from anger and tears overflowed her eyes.  She was shouting until he raised his head to watch her, then her voice lowered.

“I hurt you and for that I am more sorry than I can ever express.”  She moved closer and took his face in her hands.  “I love you, and I won’t lie to you, even..”  she sucked in a ragged breath.  “even if it means I lose you.”

“Kathryn.”  He voice was calmer than he felt.  “I have to accept some of the responsibility here.”

“No, you don’t.”  She shook her head. “You didn’t force me to do this any more than Kashyk did! I can’t explain it away–it was animalistic–call it lust–hell, call it anything you want. I can’t make it pretty and I can’t make it right, but I can’t deny it either.”

“What the hell do you want from me?”  Chakotay shook his head, gritting his teeth to try to hold back his mounting anger. He was trying to offer her,- both of them, a way out, but she refused to take it.  “You won’t make excuses and you won’t let me—OK!  So what now?”  Chakotay got up off the couch and paced the room. “I’m just supposed to accept this?  You’re so sorry? – You love me?”  His voice was much louder than normal.  It was harder to contain his anger; his pacing brought them face-to-face.  “But you FUCKED HIM!”  He yelled the words in her face.

“Yes.”  Kathryn whispered then dropped her face to her hands and allowed herself to fall back on the couch.

Chakotay watched her mutely for a few minutes.  His heart broke at the sight of her pain but his own was threatening to consume him.  He turned and left her quarters.

~~~^^^~~~

When the Captain arrived for bridge duty, the unusual quiet was accented by the conspicuous absence of her second in command. As she passed tactical, Tuvok silently handed her a padd, which she accepted with only a nod. The round of verbal reports told her she faced a tediously quiet day.  Kathryn settled in her chair and read the padd.

The explanations were logical if weak and hardly necessary; the duty roster for the next two weeks had been adjusted to allow for one of the most senior officers on each shift. It stated that after the extreme trauma of their encounter with the Devore, the crew would be reassured by the presence of a ranking officer.  Chakotay would be on gamma shift starting today, tomorrow would find Tuvok changing to Beta shift while she would cover Alpha shift for the first week.  After that, they would rotate shifts so that Chakotay covered Alpha, Kathryn Beta and Tuvok Gamma shift.  The plan was to be reevaluated at that point.  All of this, of course, was pending her approval but was already endorsed by both Chakotay and Tuvok and highly recommended by the EMH. Once again Kathryn found herself out gunned.  Kathryn placed her thumbprint on the padd and wordlessly deposited it on Tuvok’s station on her way to the readyroom.
 

Kathryn paced and circled and paced some more; she had never been this uncomfortable on her own ship before.  Obviously, the three ranking men in her life disapproved of her actions—she could hardly expect less- and had banded together to collectively avoid her.  Were they hiding from her or their own guilt?  After all, Tuvok had endorsed Chakotay’s suggestion to use the Captain as bait and the Doctor had approved intimate relations with the Devore – strictly on a medical basis of course.  Did they find themselves at all responsible—did she?

Kathryn wondered about the rest of the crew.  Her interactions with Kashyk had been observed by many a passing crewmen and his announcement left little to their imaginations. What must they think of her now?  Did they think she had sacrificed herself for them or was it more like wondering if their seemingly proper captain was really some slut who entertained all passing dignitaries?

The senior staff had a much better idea of what had occurred, although only Chakotay and by now probably B’Elanna knew for sure.  Tom had looked at her sadly and Harry hadn’t looked at her at all when he gave his report.  Tuvok, well you couldn’t tell anything by his appearance but his silence and obvious willingness to go along with the schedule changes said a lot.  Kathryn hadn’t seen Seven yet but she was sure their first encounter would be interesting given the former drones frank outspokenness.

~~~^^^~~~

Chakotay had walked the lower decks for most of the night, before stopping by Tuvok’s quarters to explain his idea and make the necessary changes to the roster. The Vulcan had offered surprisingly little resistance.   The vision quest Chakotay tried hadn’t worked so he visited sickbay and enlisted the help of the EMH.  Now, he sat in his quarters, trying not to imagine the heartbreak reflected on Kathryn’s face when she received his message.  Well, it wasn’t exactly a message, just the cold statistics that told her where he would be or more precisely where he wouldn’t be, for the next two weeks.  He rolled the hypospray in his hands.  It was guaranteed to give him hours of dreamless sleep; he moved into the bedroom and pressed it to his neck.

~~~^^^~~~

B’Elanna came home to find the Dynamic Duo sprawled across her living area, almost literally crying in their beer.

“What the hell are you two doing?”  She stepped over her husband who was lying on the floor.

“Tom tells me it's called drowning our sorrows.”

“What sorrows?”

“Life on the bridge just became a worse hell than double duty in sick bay or working for my wife in engineering.”  Tom pulled another beer from the cooler and popped the top.

“Captain catch you two playing poker on your consoles again?”

“Nope.”  Harry grabbed the beer Tom passed his way.

“Captain wouldn’t have noticed if I danced naked on the conn.”

“Well, Chak might and then your ass would be in trouble.”

“Nope.”  Harry said as he gulped his drink.

“Why?”

“Your buddy was a no show.  Then we got wind of schedule changes.  After a little investigation, it seems our three senior officers are on different shifts for at least two weeks, which was apparently news to the Captain this morning.  Captain Zombie stayed in her readyroom all day and Lieutenant Commander Dracula never lifted his eyes off his console all day.”

“It can’t be that bad.” B’Elanna watched them down their beers and Tom reached in the cooler to pass out more. “Can it?”

“We fucked up big time this time.”  Tom held out a can to B’Elanna.

“We?”  She took the can and sat on the floor between them.

“Encouraging the Captain to entice the Devore.  Something big went wrong.” Tom chugged the rest of his beer.

“Shit, you don’t think…?”  B’Elanna opened the beer, swallowing half the can in one shot.

“You heard his little speech.  After that even I can imagine what happened in that room.”  Harry shook his head and finished another beer.

“Pass me another one, Flyboy.”  B’Elanna opened one and passed it on to Harry.  “So who do you get?”

“Captain Zombie has alpha this week, Dracula moves to beta and Invisible Man has Gamma. Next week they all move to the next shift, after that…”

“I hope I’m dead by then.” Harry lay down on the floor balancing his open can on his chest.

~~~^^^~~~

After his talk with Chakotay, Tuvok had meditated for long hours. His efforts to gain inner peace were lacking; he tried logic.  It had been logical to encourage the Captain in her efforts to distract the Devore Inspector. A sound tactical decision to use the Devore’s own weakness against him. He had, however, failed to consider that the weapon of choice also had vulnerable points.  He had become so accustomed to dealing with the cool decisive strength of the Captain, he had overlooked the instinctive human vulnerability of the woman. He had been a good tactical officer, but in doing so he had failed his friend.  It was unsettling.

~~~^^^~~~

“He’s avoiding me.  Hell, he’s avoiding everyone.”  B’Elanna complained to Tom.

“Maybe he just needs time to work this out himself.”

‘He’s had time, a week on Gamma shift is more than enough thinking time for anyone.”  She cleared their breakfast dishes.  “He’s on Alpha this week.  He will talk to me!”

“I suppose that’s good.”  Tom gave her a halfhearted smile.

“What? You think talking to me is a bad thing?”  The challenge in her voice told Tom to tread lightly, maybe even to change the subject.

“It’s good, B’E.  I’m sure it will help – you, if not him, but…”

“But what?”

“What about her?  We expect so damned much of her and she usually delivers; we never stop to think about her.  What does this all cost her?  Who takes care of her?  Who does she get to dump her problems on?”

“She has..”  B’Elanna put her hand on his shoulder and leaned her forehead against his.  “You’re right; right now she has nobody.”

~~~^^^~~~

It took B’Elanna until the middle of the week to corner Chakotay.  At first, he wouldn’t discuss it and then he told her about the fight the night the Devore left.  He was lost, wounded heart and soul and they cried together.

B’Elanna knew her friend and she knew if she wanted to force him to take action she had to hit him hard.  She had to knock some sense into him and make him see what he was throwing away because of  wounded pride.

“What about Riley and Kellin?”

“What do they have to do with this?”

“Did she forgive you those encounters?”

“This is different.”

“Why? 'Cause it’s her this time?”  B’Elanna threw her hand in the air.  “I thought you better than some kind of chauvinist.”

“Not because it’s her. Because we weren’t in a relationship when I met those women.”

“What?”

“It was before we were involved.”

“No.  It was before you ever had sex with her, not before you committed yourself to her.  Is that what has happened here?  All these years you claimed to love her, pledged to stand by her, all that whining you did about how she is the other half of your soul, how your life is incomplete without her.  It’s all boiled down to sex?”

“You know better than that.”

“I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure.”

“B’Elanna I still love her.  I just cant..”

“Can’t what?  Forgive her for being human?  Forgive her for making a mistake?  OK, she fucked him—a hugh, whopping, mistake; a fuck up in the first degree! It hurts.  Anyone can see it’s killing both of you.  But, Chak, does it hurt more than living without her?”

“B’E I made a decision.  That very first day, when she came out of the ready room and sat beside me; I knew then that what we had would die a slow painful death.”  He ran his fingers through his hair. “Then he came back and he said she had made a deal, so I thought maybe I was wrong.  But no, she says there was no deal and he lied to try to help her.  She won’t even make excuses, she did this, she is sorry she hurt me, but she won’t deny it.  What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“First off, that was not a decision.  That was just a knee jerk reaction—we all have them.  Something hurts so we pull away – case closed.  But life’s not that easy. What you are supposed to do now is look at it for what it was.  Do you love her?  Does she love you?  Is all that mushy crap about soul mates and eternity still real to you?”  B’Elanna held up her hand.  “Don’t answer me, what I know isn’t important. Just think about it.  She made a mistake and she refuses to sugar coat it or let anyone else take the blame.  Sounds just like the woman you fell in love with to me.”

~~~^^^~~~

After two more days of Voyager’s crew living in hell, Chakotay called B’Elanna to his quarters.

“How is she?”

“I don’t know.  Nobody has gone near her.  Tom calls her Captain Zombie and I imagine she is living in the same hell as the rest of us- only worse.”  B’Elanna helped herself to his replicator.  “If you want to know more maybe you should go see her.”

“I can’t just walk in there, not after I walked out on her like I did.”

“Why not?”

“I deserted her.  I walked out and I changed shifts; I completely deserted her.”

“So, you're human and you fucked up, too.”  B’Elanna sighed. “Look, if you think it’s OK.  I’ll go see how she is—I’ve been wanting to anyway, but I wasn’t sure I should.”

“I think it’s worth a shot.  She’s had no one to even talk to all this time.”

“I won’t tell her what you said or anything and I’m not going to report back.”

“I understand, B’Ella, but if it should come up..”  He smiled weakly.  You might mention I still love her.”  He smiled again when B’Elanna laughed at him.  “Yea, I guess everyone else already knows that- so why not her.”

“So, I won’t give specifics, understand, but would it be OK to kind of insinuate that you might want to work this out?”

“Insinuate away.  I love her and I don’t want to lose her.”

~~~^^^~~~

Kathryn curled up on the couch with an old fashion book she was trying unsuccessfully to read.  She sipped her wine and wondered what tomorrow would bring.  It had been a cold and lonely two weeks and she was certain that at least the Beta shift bridge crew was happy she would return to Alpha shift tomorrow. She managed to skip a turn at Gamma shift; even now he looked out for her.  At least she could still bring someone joy even if it was by her absence.  She had seen Chakotay only a few times; on those rare occasions he actually stayed on the bridge to pass it to her.  Most days he was gone before she showed up for duty.  He had been professional, almost civil, but nothing more.  Giving up she closed the book and stared into her wineglass trying to imagine the next thirty years of her life like this.

“Come.”  It was late and it took Kathryn a minute to respond to the chime. She didn’t get many visitors in her quarters. Well, quite honestly she hadn’t had any in weeks.

“Captain, am I bothering you?”  B’Elanna peered into the darkened quarters.

“Not at all, B’Elanna, come in.”  Kathryn stood, I’m having wine; can I get you some?”

“Sure, that would be great.”  B’Elanna stood a bit nervously, unsure of just how welcome she was.

“Sit, B’Elanna, please.”  Kathryn sat on the couch tucking one foot under her.  “I haven’t had many visitors lately.”  She laughed.  “Well, actually none.”

“Pretty lonely at the top, huh?”

“And the bottom.”  Kathryn drew a deep breath.  “But I’m sure you didn’t come here to listen to my troubles.  What can I do for you?”

“Actually, Captain, I did.”  B’Elanna shrugged.  “I thought maybe you could use someone to listen.”

“That was very nice of you, B’Elanna, but I’m not sure..”

“That I’m the right person, because Chak is my best friend?”

“Well, that could put you in a difficult position.”

“Hell, difficult is my middle name- or was that impossible?”  B’Elanna was relieved to hear Kathryn laugh with her. “I figure it this way.  There aren’t too many people on this ship you might talk to and Chak being out- well maybe Tuvok but I don’t think this is his specialty.  And given that you probably would never seek anyone out and most wouldn’t have the nerve to come here..”  B’Elanna laughed again.  “OK, so I’m the only one with the nerve to come here.  So, I guess you’re stuck with me.  What do you think?”

“I think you are a kind and wonderful person, no matter how hard you try to hide it.”

“Shhh, Captain, please—my reputation.”

“Ahh, B’Elanna, thank you, but I don’t want to impose, or to interfere with your friendship.”

“It’s OK.  He knows I was coming here and he knows I won’t tell you anything he said in confidence. I won’t tell him what you say either, unless you want me to.”

“He’s OK with this?”

“Yes.  Captain, he still loves you and he’s very worried about you.” B’Elanna observed her startled expression.  “It’s OK to tell you that, he said- “Hell, why not?  Everyone else knows.”

“B’Elanna how could he after…?” She studied the younger woman as if making a decision.  “I assume you know what happened.”

“Yes, I know what Chakotay said happened. We didn’t discuss it in detail or anything, just the general idea.”

“Neither did we.”

They sat quietly for a few minutes, and then B’Elanna got up and refilled their glasses.

“And now you’re consumed with guilt?”

“I guess.”

“Well, you aren’t the only one to blame.”

“Kashyk isn’t here and I don’t imagine he harbors much guilt anyway.”

“I wasn’t talking about him.  I was talking about Chakotay and me and Tom and Harry, even Tuvok—we’re all guilty.”

“No one forced me to do this not..”  She wondered if Chakotay had told her that part.

“I know what you said and I’m sure you believe it, but you didn’t do this alone.  We set you up good and pushed you from the beginning.”

“You may have helped but the decision was mine. In that moment, when we had already defeated him, I choose to…”  Kathryn stopped talking and dropped her gaze.

“OK.”  B’Elanna said after a lengthy quiet.  “The captain is now excused from the room, cause I need to talk to Kathryn.  Woman to woman- just her and me.” She moved over to the couch and sat next to Kathryn.  “You think you’re the only woman who ever screwed up?  Think you are the only woman who ever jumped some hot sexy evil type?  Get real, Kathryn, it happens all the time!  Damn! The man was hot and he had it bad for you. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?”  B’Elanna pressed on.  “We all, and that includes my not so saintly friend, pushed you at him and...”  She held up her hand to stop Kathryn’s comment.  “OK, it came down to a choice and you fucked him!  So it wasn’t the best choice you ever made, but I bet it wasn’t bad either.”  The smirk on B’Elanna’s face made Kathryn laugh.

“Actually, it was, umm, rather pleasant.”

“Rather pleasant?  Please it was much more than that or you wouldn’t feel so damned guilty.”

“Yes.”  Kathryn laughed. “I guess you are right about that.”

“OK, now that we have that settled – I want details! No, just kidding.”

“I want to tell you about it – if that’s OK.”  B’Elanna nodded and Kathryn continued. “I don’t mean details, exactly.  Just that he wasn’t what I expected.  I thought, I don’t know exactly what I thought maybe that he would be forceful, rough.  I was so surprised.  He was gentle, considerate, thoughtful even, more concerned with my pleasure than his own.  I honestly think when he hailed us he was trying to give me a way out.  Trying to preserve the relationship he knew I had jeopardized with him.”

“But you didn’t let him.”

“I couldn’t. What I had done was hurtful enough. I couldn’t lie to Chakotay; he deserves better.”

“He already has the best.”

“Thank you, but..”

“Hey, I didn’t say perfect. None of us is perfect.”  B’Elanna smiled.  “He doesn’t want to lose what you have over this.-Do you?”

“No.  I have spent the last two weeks trying to find a way to live without him.  I know, I can do it if I have to; I just don’t want to.”

“He doesn’t want to either.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  He needed to get away.  He spent these weeks thinking and learning to forgive himself; now he’s ready to forgive you, but you have to be forgiving too.”

“He’s done nothing that needs forgiving.”

“You're wrong and you need to see that so you can forgive him – forgive all of us for that matter.  But mostly you need to be ready to forgive yourself.  That’s the really hard part, but he’s willing to help you, if you let him.”

“I want to try.”

“That’s all he can ask.”  B’Elanna recycled their glasses.  “It’s late and you’re on Alpha shift again tomorrow.”

“I suppose you’re right.  Thank you, B’Elanna.”

 “Anytime. Next time you need a friend, I hope you’ll think of me.  Now, if there’s nothing else you want to talk about tonight, we'd both better get some rest.”

“B’Elanna, there is one other thing you might help me with.”

“Sure, Kathryn, what is it?”

“The crew- how are they taking this?  What do they think of me now?”

“They still respect the Captain.  She has given them too much, gotten us through too many scrapes to lose respect for such a personal decision.”

“And how do you suppose they feel about me, about Kathryn?”

“Honestly, you almost never let most of us see you as Kathryn, that very real woman behind the captain.  They don’t know her very well.  Hell, I’ve only met her a few times myself.  I’d say most of them only want her to be happy and they might be a little confused.”

“Confused?”

“Well, it’s a common opinion on the lower decks, that Kathryn’s happiness lies with Chakotay and now, well, no one is sure what happens now.”

“Not even me.”

“Sleep on it.” B’Elanna touched her arm, surprised when Kathryn drew her into a hug.

“Thank you, B’Elanna.”  She stepped back and smiled.  “He’s right; you are a good friend.  Good night.”

~~~^^^~~~

Kathryn woke.  Something was wrong.  Not sure what had disturbed her, she didn’t move.  Slowly she opened her eyes to find him standing next to her bed. Neither spoke though they were both aware now.   Finally, he moved forward and extended his hand to her; she reached out and wound her fingers around his.

“Can you forgive me?” Kathryn's voice was barely a whisper.

“I already have.  Can you forgive yourself?”

“If you’ll help me.” She moved over in the bed.  “Will you stay with me?”

“As long as you’ll have me.” He kicked off his shoes and slid in beside her.

“I’ve missed you.”  She curved herself around him, resting her head on his chest still holding his fingers in hers. “I’m sorry.”

“I know; me too.  It won’t be easy, Kathryn, but we can do this.”

“Together.”

“Always.”  Chakotay kissed her hair.  “Sleep, we’ll talk in the morning.”

“I love you.”

Her head resting on his chest she counted the heartbeats of his silence.  His fingers tightened around hers and he brought their joined hands to his lips.

“I will always love you.”
 

The End.
 

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