My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 5

That night, Roxas couldn't get to sleep, too disturbed, too angry, too confused by Xemnas' reaction to the lullaby.

What was it about it that made him so, defensive?

Sitting on the armchair near the fireplace of his room, Roxas rests his chin on his knees. The fire crackling at a warming level, but the heat only reaches Roxas' toes. His hands ice cold, his knuckles white as he grips his ankles, keeping track of how many times the logs pop; showering the hearth with tiny sprites of orange.

Once he was secluded up high in his room, he spent the better half of the night taking out his anger by smashing and throwing things around his room. He had a small collection of dinner plates when he and Axel would eat dinner and ice cream in his room.

They now lay scattered in shards behind him. Hopefully if Xemnas comes up, after his second meltdown about the dishes and eating in his room, he'll slip and fall on the shards.

Roxas raises a hand to his tingling cheek, no doubt still red with Xemnas' hand marred along the skin. He'd rarely ever struck Roxas, and if he did, it was out of teaching a lesson, never discipline. Roxas is still numb in shock at the feeling the harsh slap across his face.

Deep inside his chest, a seed of hatred burrows and takes root. Roxas lets it grow, and flourish. A newfound sensation crawling over him. Xemnas' outburst mixing with all the other abuse he'd received as he joined the organization. Axel, Xion, maybe Demyx the only people in out of the group he's certain he loves.

Xion. No doubt she's calm down now, but still, Roxas feels an urge to go back down and give her reassurance that everything's okay. Better now than to have her ask later.

Releasing the suffocating grip on his ankles, Roxas paces around the room for a minute to revive feeling. He steps around the pile and heads down the stairs.

Everyone's already asleep, Saix and Xemnas probably still up thought. So Roxas tip-toes around Xemnas' study and creeps downstairs. His footsteps muted by his socked feet and the plush runner carpet. Finding Xion's door, Roxas grasps the brass knob and turns.

The hinges creak and the hall light slowly leaks into Xion's darken room. The gold rectangle with Roxas' dark shadow at the center. He sees her sleeping peacefully, her soft, sweet face so innocent. Roxas smiles. He walks to her bedside and leans over her. Placing his lips on her temple, her scent infects his nose. He brushes the back of his hand against her cheek. Her skin was silk soft, compared to his, rough and bloodstained from a shard of the plate.

As he gets up, he feels her shift, but it wasn't until he was at the door that her timid voice squeaked. "Jesse?"

Roxas turns around and finds her eyes slightly open, blinking as she tries to focus with the hall light on. "Hey," Roxas whispers. "Sorry to wake you."

Xion sits up and rubs one of her two big blue eyes. She yawns as Roxas sits on the edge of her bed.

"Are you okay?" Roxas asks.

"Mm-hmm." She answers. "Are you and Xemnas fighting?"

There it is.

"No, no. Not at all. He just, didn't like the song I sang to you." Roxas covers. He resisted the urge to tell here the truth, despised by how he was still covering for Xemnas even after his moment.

"Is that all? Why was he so mean?" Xion asks.

I don't know, Roxas wanted to answer, but of course, he has been taught he has to old his tongue. He used to scare Demyx and Axel about what he'd say when he was younger. Little kids are like drunkards, always spewing out personal information meant to be secretive. They're too honest.

So Roxas shrugs and says. "Guess he didn't like it that much. But don't worry. I can still sing to you. Just not that one. Okay?"

"Okay." She yawns.

"Alright, it's late. Get some sleep. It's been an eventful night." Roxas says as he tucks her in. before he could tuck the sheets around her, mimicking a caterpillar just the way she liked, Xin sat up and hugs Roxas. Wrapping her arms around his neck.

Roxas returns her hug after a moment's hesitation. But is left surprised as Xion kisses his cheek. Right on the hand mark. Then she burrows into the sheets, slightly giggling. Roxas ruffles her hair with a chuckle and quietly walks out the room. Gently shutting the door behind him, Roxas remained there for a moment, his back pressed to the wood.

He blinks, left dazed as Xion's kiss seemed to suddenly extinguish the fire of his anger. His thoughts calmer, mind clearer. The feeling stayed with him as he mounted the stairs to his room. As he reaches the doorway, he comes to find Demyx sweeping up the glass shards.

The intrusion unrightfully reigniting his anger. "What are doing in here?!" he shouts.

Demyx jumps and takes a couple steps back. Roxas advances forward, hands in fists. Demyx holds up the broom one would when trying to defend against a rabid animal. "I, I was just cleaning up. Nearly split my toe on the way in here."

"Just leave it! Leave it alone!" Roxas yells. Stomping over the pieces and shards, not caring if they embed in his shoes.

"Roxas," Demyx says. "you're bleeding."

Roxas silent as he plops back down into the chair. But instead of leaving the room, Demyx sighs, and goes to the bathroom. He comes back with a damp cloth and gently cleans the blood from a broken plate off his hands.

Why is he doing this? Why am I letting him?

"Thanks." He says. Demyx smiles in return.

They spend the next hour helping each other clean the room. When all the garbage has been dropped into bags, Demyx sits on the floor next to Roxas' feet as he sits in the chair and stares at the fire.

"Are you okay?" Demyx finally asks.

Roxas closes his eyes and he sighs. "I'm fine."

"You don't sound fine to me."

"I'm fine, Demyx. Pissed but fine." he rephrases.

"You have every right to be." Demyx says.

Roxas looks to him with shock, but relief. It made him feel good to know he had an ally.

"I'm serious." Demyx goes on. "I mean, I don't get why he was so bent out of shape about. Where did you learn that anyway?"

"I'm surprised I even remembered anything at all." Roxas says. "I mean, I remember I was taught that when I was young. I could only remember the tune, not the lyrics. Then as I got older, I started to hum it more around the house, the lyrics seemed to come back to me."

"Wow. You still remember some of the things I taught you?" Demyx asks with a shy smile.

Roxas chuckles. "Yeah, I do. It's all I have to happiness. I was just telling Axel how I should thank you two. If it weren't for you guys, I probably would've been worse."

Demyx laughs. "Aw thank you. Happy to help." The antique clock on Roxas' wall chimes midnight. Demyx smacks his thighs. "Oh, welp, I've got to get to bed. This beauty doesn't happen naturally."

"Well then you're not trying hard enough. Maybe you should sleep more often. Solve both our problems." Roxas teases.

"Hey! That's actually not a bad idea." Demyx says. Roxas laughs, a pure and real laugh that only Demyx and Axe can draw out of him. "Night Jesse."

"Night Demy."

The next morning, Roxas hasn't left his room until noon, when he knew everyone else has let the house. His own attempt to show the rest of the organization members that he's not in the mood to converse with any of them. Much to his suspicion, since Axel and Demyx already know to leave him alone, the other members couldn't give a horse's ass if something was bothering Roxas. But in a way, everyone wins. They don't talk to him, and he doesn't have to talk to them.

He didn't go to meet Sora that morning, so he had to go to the marketplace in case Sora wanted to chew him out for not meeting them. It was mid afternoon when Roxas pulled on his cloak and decided to leave his house. Eager to escape from the small confines of his room, he's surprised to find himself looking forward to spending the day with Sora.

At the beginning, it felt like pulling teeth out to get Roxas to help him in training. They've now somehow worked their way into a tentative truce, and it feels nice to walk next to him down the pressed dirt road leading into town.

Strolling through the puddle gouged streets, he kept his hood pulled over his head and blocking his eyes. He keeps it buttoned down to his bellybutton, leaving exposed the sheath of his knife to let anyone know who's dumb enough to mess with him, he's armed. He keeps his eyes open for the symbol of the Royal Emblem on a piece of clothing. This was the only time he wished Sora had come with the guards so it'd be easier to spot, and who knows if he's even wearing the royal emblem. He said he wanted to blend in with the crowd.

The dirt road gives way to the mud-caked cobblestones of Sough Edge. The fetid, rotting smell of trash heaps lies ripe on the afternoon at, and the few people who are outside of their miserable dwellings scuttle along the streets with their eyes on their feet.

Roxas slides his knife free and holds it beneath his cloak as he enters the main stretch of South Edge. Not that he expects danger in board daylight, especially with the obvious presence of guards in the streets, but he's not going to risk it. His eyes constantly scrape over his surroundings, looking for threats.

Suddenly, someone snaps their fingers in front of his face. "Hey!" Sora yells. Roxas jerks to attention. "Yeah, hello," Sora says, circling a hand around in front of Roxas' face, as though washing sludge from a window.

"Oh, hey Sora." Roxas says.

"Don't 'Hey Sora' me!" he says. "Where were you this morning?!"

Roxas ruffles his hair, "Uh, things just got in the way."

"What things?" Sora asks, his expression softening.

"Family stuff." Roxas says turning away, but he guides Sora in his direction.

"So, what happened? You got grounded?" Sora asks as he follows him.

"I had a fight with my family." Roxas answers. "My dad more precisely."

"About what?"

"Okay. Enough."

"Too much?" Sora asks.

"Too much."

The two stay silent as Sora follows Roxas through the woods to their spot for training. They trek through the dirt to the clearing, birds chirping and squirrels chasing one another around and up trunks. The river flows softly and the flash of scales catches Roxas' attention. He makes a mental note to set a net later.

As they break through some foliage, Sora notices a practice dummy lying against the trunk of an oak. It's about the size of a full grown man. What disturbs Sora the most, is that it's the same height as his father. While Roxas sets up the swords, Sora goes over and inspects the dummy. He tries lifting him, and weighs nearly a hundred pounds. He can't imagine getting slammed with this thing, and he had a bad feeling he was going to otherwise why else would Roxas drag it here.

"Do you train with this thing?" Sora asks. He looks over to Roxas sharpening his sword with a rock.

Roxas looks up to him. "Yeah for combat. We call him Bob." Roxas the pulls out what looks like a large walking stick.

"What's that? A staff?" Sora teases.

"Haha, it's called a Switch." Roxas then presses on the thinner end of the stick and small blade pops out.

The Switch is an invention made by one of Roxas' brothers. It looks like a solid wooden walking staff, but one end is weighted enough to crush a man's skull, and the other conceals a spring-loaded double edged blade. It takes hours of work before Sora can balance the heavier end, swing it like a mallet, and knock Bob flying. Even so, he's still off balance enough that if he has to deal with two foes at once, he'll find himself skewered at the end of a sword before he can regain footing, and he's yet to manage springing the blade after the initial hit without getting knocked to the ground.

While Bob is his father's height, he weighs in at an even once hundred and seventy pounds. He's got both of the boys by forty pounds and five inches.

"My father always said if I could take out the dummy, I could handle any man who tried to give me trouble." Roxas says.

"Was he talking about the thugs in the street?" Sora asks.

Roxas is silent for a moment, "Yeah." The real reason was so that he could take out the king. Xemnas even added an extra twenty pounds so whenever Roxas does face the king, it'll seem so much easier. Roxas can't count on his fingers the number of scars and bruises he got from training with Bob alone. Then when it got to the teammates, who could think and fight for themselves, it only added more. Roxas half-expected to see himself in stitches like an old rag doll he' been broken and beaten so many times.

Tugging his burette lower, to cover his blond hair, he watches Sora try to master the Switch.

Roxas had strung a heavy wire between two trees and hooked Bob to it. The dummy slides, swings, and moves with Sora's own momentum, and while it isn't the same as fighting something with intelligence, he keeps Sora on his toes. Sora can run him through with his knife, yank the blade free, duck, and spin around to bury his weapon into the dummy's back while he slides toward him. The Switch is another story. He slams the weighted end of it into Bob, but can't spin the blade side around before his sparring partner swings back and sends him sprawling.

After his fourth disastrous attempt, he lets fly with the most creative swear word Roxas ever heard any member of the royal family sat, and tosses the Switch onto the grass beside him.

"I can't master it." Sora says. "Can't swing it around in time to deliver the crucial blow that could mean the difference between life and death."

He lays back on the grass, squinting against the glare of the afternoon sun, and suddenly feels like crying like he's a five-year-old.

Training with Leon, he'd always felt invincible since the techniques were so easy. Now with Jesse, he feels like a freshly shorn land, stripped bare of a shield he never thought he'd lose. He feels the sunlight block out and sees Jesse standing over him. A small smile on his mouth.

"I had the same thing." he says.

"What?"

"It's not easy, but if you can master a bow, then what's the difference with this one?" Roxas interrogates.

"It's like having to weapons at once." Sora says.

"Exactly. But instead of looking at it like a bad thing, use it to your advantage. Now come on!"

Sora sighs and pushes himself to his feet. Grasp the Switch. Close his yes, takes a deep breath that smells of grass, sun-warmed dirt, and the fresh buds slowly unfurling in an orchard.

He listens intently to Jesse, opening his eyes as Jesse moves to stand next to the dummy. Sora widens his stance, and crouches.

"Drop your shoulders a bit. You'll need the room to move." Roxas encloses his hands around Sora's as his hands start to slide together. "No, you don't. Nice wide grip. Keep it loose. Gives you balance control."

Sora drops his shoulders, and widens his grip.

"Alright, now, you've got a weapon on either end. You'll only have seconds to decide which one to use." Roxas lets go of Sora's hands, and places callused palms on his shoulders. "Big man, sprinting towards you."

"Weapon?"

"Doesn't matter, Sora. He's twice your size and his speed will bring him in range within seconds. Which end do you use?" Roxas' fingers curl around Sora's shoulders as if willing him to know the answers.

"Blade. No time to swing the weighted end." Sora slides the blade free and crouches.

"Very good." Roxas releases Sora's shoulders and walk around to stand near Bob. "Now, if you must engage an opponent who is bigger, stronger, and faster, what do you do?"

"Take him down. Make it so he can't get up and come after me."

"Yes. Now you'll get one chance to surprise him. Make full use of that advantage. Where do you make the first cut?" Jesse's eyes are a sparkling blue, like the sky shimmering with dew, and the fierce determination in them fills Sora with the same.

I can do this.

"Let him come in, then spin and slash the inner thigh, as I turn. Cut open the artery." Sora draws in a deep breath, imagines a man barreling towards him, lets him come almost too close for comfort, and then sin and slashes, planning his left foot to keep his balance for the next move.

"Good! He's bleeding, but the pain hasn't hit yet, and he doesn't know how badly he's hurt. He'll try to come after you. How do you stop him?" Jesse encourages.

"Cut the Achilles tendon as he passes me, then get out of range." Sora spins and slashes again, the Switch beginning to feel like an extension of his arm as he thrusts, turn, and slices in tune with Jesse's voice.

Roxas is soon clapping, pride written on his face. "You did it. I knew you could."

Sora returns his smile without hesitation. After another hour of mastering the Switch, Roxas goes on to teaching Sora how to fish at the creek. He tells Sora about how he has to angle the bow, or spear since the water distorts the fish's image. And since they can swim fast, you need to make every shot count.

While Roxas cleans off the arrows, Sora ties them together and stuffs them into his burlap sack. As he watches Roxas, he bites his lip in hesitating on whether to ask him. The worst that he could do is just ignore him.

"So, what's your favorite color?" Sora asks.

Roxas stops what he's doing and looks to him in confusion. "What's happening right now?"

Sora shrugs. "Just trying to make conversation."

Roxas sighs. "Blue. Like the sky. You?"

"Pink."

Roxas looks to him, giving Sora a face that begs him to be kidding. Sora merely shakes his head.

"I'm serious. It makes me happy." Sora encourages. "It's like a happy color."

"I guess."

"Favorite tree?"

Roxas chuckles. "Weeping Willow. I like the way when, you walk under it, and the vines make like a curtain. It just gives you that sense of security." Roxas says.

"I know right? I remember I used to love crawling into the trunk whenever it was hollow because it always felt like a cool safe spot." Sora says.

They keep this up until they make it into a game, called the Favorite's Game. Each of them says a different thing and the other says what's their favorite and why. By the time Sora's skinned and wrapped the rest of the fish, he could name Jesse's favorite color, tree, sweet, weapon, season, book, animal, and meal for dinner. He also managed to find out Jesse can play and read music.

They now sit along the creek, perched on logs and rocks, savoring a gathering of strawberries Roxas found.

As Roxas leans back on his hands, letting his head hang back, soaking up the sunlight, Sora takes the unprecedented opportunity to study him. He had very simple and smooth features. His hat always bothered Sora because he wanted to see his hair. Unless he doesn't have any hair. And those little strands sticking out were simply the remnants. Whatever the case, it seemed personal enough that he didn't feel comfortable enough showing it, and since Sora's already gotten him to open up as much as he could, he'd rather not push his luck.

"So what's your family like, Jesse?" Sora asks.

Roxas' eye snap open and he looks to him. Sora doesn't retract his question, instead he only raises his eyebrows waiting for him to answer. Roxas sighs.

"Uh, I'd say we're average. I mean I have 12 other siblings and -"

"Whoa! Twelve?!" Sora interrupts.

"Yeah."

"Whoa! How do you managed?!"

"We have a big house."

"Not like that, I mean how to you maintain sanity? How many brothers and sisters?" Sora asks, scooching closer to Roxas.

"Uh, two sisters, and the rest are men. They're all older than me, except for my youngest sister, she's five." Roxas explains.

"Wow, must be a pain, but at least you all have each other." Sora nudges

Roxas scoffs. "Please, those morons never help me. I don't even think they care."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because we're all step related." Roxas says.

Sora's suddenly left speechless. He stares at Roxas in shock. "Step-related?"

"Yep." Roxas shifts to stretch out his legs, crossed at the ankle.

"So, you're not related at all?"

"That's what step usually means." Roxas sasses. He smirks when Sora gives him a dirty look.

"So, are you, like the only one related?" Sora slowly eases his way in. He's opened the door, he doesn't want it to shut. He finally found himself slowly entering that kingdom of isolation of Roxas', and he had to act quickly but slyly before that iron-guard gate snapped into place.

"Nope. I'm adopted too."

Sora's eye widen. "Really?"

"Yeah. But don't get me wrong, I mean. Sometimes it feels like everyone for themselves, but I've managed to find a couple people I've managed to get close to. And I'll admit, we're not lovey-dovey like your family probably, but there's still that mutual respect that we have for each other."

"Oh, so what's your mom like?"

Roxas was gazing out over the water, and it takes a second before the question registers. "Hmm? Oh, I never had a mother. My step-dad lives alone."

"Well, what were your parents like. I mean you obviously came from somewhere." Sora by now has brought himself right next to Roxas, crossing his legs and resting his head on his hands.

Roxas sighs. "I wouldn't know. They left me when I was young."

"What?" Sora breathes.

A soft breeze braises their faces, stirring Sora's spikes. Roxas stretches and tucks his knees to his chest. "Yeah, I guess you could say I was born a stray."

Sora's quiet. Shocked at how casual Jesse talks about this stuff. He lowers his gaze.

Abandoned at a young age. Unwanted. Orphaned.

"Well, did they have a good reason? Like could they not take care of you?" Sora asks, wanting to put some hope into he situation, even though Jesse knows this better than him.

Suddenly, Jesse laughs coldly. His voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "I remember I asked my step-dad the same thing."

"I, I'm sorry. We don't have to talk about it -"

"Nah, it's fine." Roxas waves off.

He hugs his knees with his elbows and keeps his gaze ahead. Sora can practically see the scene replaying in the crystalline blue eyes of his. Then it seems that the forest grows eerily quiet. Soon the flowing of the river seemed too loud in Sora's ears.

"My really family," he swallows thickly. "my dad says they didn't want me." He reaches a hand down and begins picking at a trio of blades of grass growing between a thin fissure in the rock. The words are hard to say. The memory they evoke are worse. "they were a regular, manageable middle class family. They wouldn't hold me or, play with me or anything." He folds his lips in. "And so, they took me to the town. Where they left me. On the coldest, rainiest day ever."

Sora's eyes glisten with water, but he quickly blinks them away. Knowing Jesse would be angry for him showing pity.

"So, soon enough my dad found me digging through the garbage looking for food, and he took me into his home. And the rest is history." He concludes.

Sora's mouth is agape and all he can do is stare at Jesse in numb shock. He looks out ahead to avoid getting caught with watery eyes. "I'm so sorry." He mumbles.

He hears Jesse chuckle. "Eh the past is in the past."

"Do you ever wish to meet them?"

"I did when I was younger, but now? I just want to meet them so I can punch them. Scream at them for abandoning me." He fists his hands, the knuckles soon turning white. "And then, I'd tell them that they will never be my parents."

Sora looks to him.

"I thought they wouldn't live without me, but they did. And that sucks." He gives a cold smile. "They suck." He looks to Sora. Seeing his face, he quickly changes the subject. "Favorite instrument?"

Sora smiles. "Piano."

"You ever play?" Jesse asks.

"No, not really." Sora vaguely answered. His sudden silence perked Roxas' interest, but knew when to not cross a line unless invited.

"What?"

Sora takes a deep breath and exhales. "Okay, now I guess it's my turn." Roxas stays silent. "When I was about an infant, I actually had a brother. I know we were young, but I instantly felt this, connection. Like we already knew everything there was to know about one another."

He pauses and folds his lips in. He shuts his eyes and Roxas could sense an emanate sob desperately wanting to claw its way out of Sora's throat.

"My mother was an amazing piano player, and sometimes she would play the piano to help us get to sleep. My brother absolutely loved it, and she says he'd always want to sit on her lap and pound at the keys. Dad always said he seemed like the musical type." Sora chuckles, and the first tear escapes him.

Normally Roxas would think pity of those who cry, but for some reason, it was different for Sora. Even he ah heard of the story of the kidnapped prince. To this day they declare him dead. Never to be found. Sora had suffered a similar feeling of loss, and to that, that they both still managed to move on, he finds respect.

"Sorry," Sora says wiping his eyes with his thumb and pointer finger.

"Don't apologize." Roxas whispers.

Sora chuckles. "I sometimes find myself wondering what we'd be doing if he were here today. Would he like to ride with me into the woods? Would he like to sword practice with me? And I can easily picture him at the piano of out birthday party. Playing an incredible piece of music in front of all of our guests. They all stare in awe and even begin to dance along."

"Do you still think he's alive?" Roxas asks.

Sora sniffs "Yeah, I do. I mean I know it seems like everyone else has given up, but I can still see a faint spark of hope still inside all of them. And I see it get stronger when his birthday comes up. And then it diminishes to its normal state until next year."

Sora returns his gaze out back to the river. Then a moment later he feels Jesse's hand on his shoulder. Sora jerks his head in his direction, but Jesse keeps his gaze ahead. "I hope you find him. I really do."

When he looks to Sora, Sora's left breathless by the genuine hope and generosity in his eyes. Sora can't help but smile. He's weaning to reach out and hug him, but he didn't' want to spoil the moment they were having. So he keeps smiling and turns his head away.

"Thanks."

They clean up their things and after Roxas guides Sora to the trail leading to the town, they part their ways. Roxas lugs the burlap sack over his shoulder and looks back to see Sora pull the hood of his cloak up over his head. He smiles, and small bud of warmth burrowing in his chest and slowly spreading its way to his arms and legs. He doesn't stop it. He doesn't want to. It feels so good.

As Sora enters the castle, he hands his cloak off to the maid and she takes it to her room. Another servant comes up, "Your majesty, your parents want you dressed and in the throne room."

"Did they say why?"

"Only that you have guests arriving." The man says.

Instead of even bothering to stop into his room, Sora sprints down the corridor to the throne room. He bursts through the door and finds his parents in their formal clothing. His father in his robes in the color of the family crest, wearing the jeweled crown. His mother in her navy blue dress, heavy and flowing, like the inaugural gown of a queen, spilled from either sides of her covered feet while the embellished train fell in gentle folds along the stairs. The pleats and endless ripples in the lavish garment gave the illusion of softness.

While Sora felt completely out of place, with his old leather jacket and possibly sweat-stained tunic and dirt-covered boots, his eyes ignored the warning and disappointed looks of his parents. His eyes looked to the far end of the enormous hall to the entrance. Sora didn't even bother to go to his seat when he saw the blue-green eyes curtained behind his silver spiky hair. He had cut it short the last time Sora had seen him.

Now it looked the way it did when they were kids playing around in his family's garden with their wooden swords. The smell of the buds giving the fresh spring hair its scent of hope and new beginnings. Still the muscular built could be seen through his tunic and cloak as he was guided by the guards to the front of the thrones.

Sora runs up and stops just within reaching distance, proudly aware of his dirt clothing and rather unappealing appearance.

"Still a mud bug like you used to be huh, Sora?" he says.

Mud bug, that was the nickname he'd probably never let go. When Sora was younger, whenever it rained, Sora always wanted to play in the puddles and mud. He even remembered he made a small fort out of mud and when it dried, he would hide out there whenever he got in trouble with his parents. It was like a secret spot he had to himself, until he started coming to visit.

Sora smiles. "It's good to see you too, Riku."

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