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WARNING: If you haven't read the warning on the index page, go back and read it. If you don't, and you don't like what you find here, don't come crying to me.

Title: True North

Author: Eleanor K.

Fandom: Metal Gear

Pairing: Solid Snake/Hal Emmerich

Rating: PG-13

Posted: 8 Dec 2002

Spoilers: for part of the intro to Metal Gear Solid 2 and minor ones for Metal Gear Solid.

Email: emungere@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money from this.

Notes: Thanks to Dave, my Metal Gear guru, for agreeing to beta this.

..___..



It was cold. Too cold to breathe, or see, or think. Hal Emmerich wrapped his arms around himself and waited, hoping.

Snake squinted at him through the wind-driven snow. "Are you sure about this, Doc?"

Hal nodded. "I can't go back with them. I understand if you don't want to take me with you, but..." He shrugged. "I'm sorry. I don't know what else to do."

A heavy hand landed on Hal's shoulder and squeezed briefly. "'S'okay. I get it. Come on."

Hal closed his eyes for a second, even more relieved than he'd thought he would be. He wanted nothing to do with the military right now. He blamed them, unfairly maybe, but if nothing else they were the ones who had thought up Metal Gear, who had brought him onto the project.

A hard grip on his arm helped him onto the ship they'd found, and he stumbled into the slightly warmer air of the cabin. Abruptly it was possible to breathe again, and he slid down the wall to sit on the floor and just do that for a while.

One too-deep breath and he started coughing and couldn't stop. His throat burned, and he pictured tiny ice crystals creeping down his esophagus and trachea, freezing his bronchial tubes and lungs cell by cell. He hugged his knees, rested his forehead against them, and eventually felt the pain in his lungs lessen.

His fingers and toes were starting to get some feeling back when he was shaken out of the drowsy state he'd slipped into. He looked up to see Snake standing over him with a frown on his face that was almost a glare. He wondered what he could have done to deserve an expression like that.

"You got to stay awake. Here. Put this on. It'll warm you up a little."

It was the thing Snake had been wearing, he realized. It looked sort of like a diving suit. Snake was now dressed in clothes he must found on the boat, jeans that were too large for him and a shirt that was much too small.

"What about you? You've got to be cold, too."

"They injected me with some kind of genetic anti-freeze. Don't sweat it. I'll be fine, but you're headed for hypothermia in a big way. Put it on."

That was an order, and Hal found himself moving to obey before he thought about it... which was what had gotten him into this mess in the first place. All the times he could have questioned and didn't, all the orders he'd explained to himself as military procedure or government paranoia. Dammit.

He pushed the guilt away and realized he was going to have to take his clothes off; there was no way it would fit over them. Double dammit.

With every layer that came off he felt more certain that he'd freeze to death before he could get the suit on. His teeth were chattering beyond his control by the time he got down to his underwear.

He'd turned his back to Snake to undress, but glanced over his shoulder as he bent to zip up the suit. Snake was watching, arms crossed, leaning against the instrument panel. He was watching and not even trying to pretend he wasn't.

***

"Doc? Better wake up unless you want to stay out here."

Hal struggled out of confused dreams with vague impressions of red paint splashed on walls and someone playing a bass drum solo over and over. Badly. He sat up straight and winced as his spine complained.

He wasn't the sort of person who forgot where he was when he woke up in strange hotel rooms, but it took him a minute to remember why he was surrounded by snow and dogs and very little else.

He looked up at Snake. Oh, yes. Suddenly everything made sense.

Snake was grinning at him. "Have a nice nap?"

"Pretty good, actually. Considering."

He fumbled off layer after layer of blankets and hides, and the cold bit at him. The sleep had been good, although it was hard to believe he'd slept through the whole dog sled trip. Then again, he still didn't quite believe that Snake's dogs had known where and when to meet them. Snake had assured him that they weren't genetically altered in any way, but there they were, waiting, when the ship had come in sight of the Alaskan coastline.

"Where are we?"

"Home. Come on. It's warmer inside."

Snake turned and walked off, leaving Hal to step gingerly from one deep boot print to the next. Over a small rise, there it was: a wooden door, once painted dark green, but now mostly bare of paint, apparently set into a snow bank.

Snake disappeared through it into an unlit interior. Hal paused at the door. He could see nothing but rough concrete stairs descending. The stairs were narrow, and the ceiling was only a few inches above Hal's head. He kept one hand on the wall as he started down.

"Close the door, will you?"

It can't ever be easy with you, can it, Hal thought as he shut the door and plunged the stairs into stygian darkness. He laughed to himself a little as he felt his way down. A week ago, he might have counted this as the scariest thing he'd ever done-- if you discounted jumping off the high dive at the community swimming pool when he was a kid.

A light flicked on ahead of him, and he hurried down the rest of the stairs to another door. He stepped inside and looked around.

One bed, one small wooden table and chair, a fireplace. A worn, paisley armchair stood in front of the fireplace, looking very much out of place. There was a sink, although he had no idea how Snake got running water out here. A cast-iron bathtub stood in the corner, its white surface flaking off to reveal the black underneath. It gave the effect of a strangely shaped cow.

"Take your shoes off and go sit down."

Snake vanished through the door they'd come in, and Hal was left to follow orders. Yet again.

He felt a surge of annoyance, but bit down on it. He didn't have to be here. He could have gone with Colonel Campbell-- and be taking orders from him instead.

He sat in the paisley chair and took off his ice-crusted shoes. There wasn't really anything else to do. At least it was warm in here, or not frigid, which was a definite improvement. His toes started to thaw for the second time that day.

Snake came back a minute later with an armful of wood and kicked the door closed behind him. He did something at the fireplace that didn't seem to involve kindling or matches, but when he moved away there was a fire going.

"How'd you do that?" Hal slid out of the chair to kneel before the fire, half to be closer to the warmth and half to check for gas tubes. Or something. Fire starting 101 wasn't a course they'd offered at college.

"It was banked with peat."

Hal looked up to ask what the hell that meant and found Snake watching him with an odd look on his face.

"What?"

"I shouldn't have brought you here. Should have taken you into town, found someone to fly you to Anchorage."

"Oh man, you can't make me go outside again tonight--" He stopped abruptly, feeling himself flush. It's his house, he reminded himself fiercely. He already saved your life about twenty times today. If he doesn't want you hanging around, bugging him and eating his food, you can hardly blame him.

"Sorry. I... I'll get my shoes back on."

But Snake was laughing. "Don't worry, Doc, I'm not trying to get rid of you. I'll let you know when I get tired of having you around."

"Then what...?"

"It's not going to be too comfortable for you. Place is built for one, and I'm not giving up the bed."

"No, no, of course not."

"I s'pose we can share, though. If you don't kick."

"I don't," said Hal quietly.

***

Hal laid down stiffly under four layers of blankets and what looked to be a bearskin. He wanted to turn over on his side, but was very aware of Snake's body just next to him. Snake was asleep, breathing in quiet little snores like a cat's purr. Still, Hal had the feeling that one move would wake him up immediately.

He wasn't used to sleeping on his back, or with anyone else, and it was a long time before he could drift off.

It seemed like no time had passed at all when he was suddenly awake again, squinting into the dark with blurry, sleep-sealed eyes.

"Quiet," Snake murmured in is ear.

"What--"

"Quiet."

Snake's body rolled quickly over his, dropping to a crouch beside the bed. A tense silence filled the room. Finally, Snake spoke.

"Stay put. I'm going to--"

An explosion cut him off and they heard feet pounding down the stairs. Hal sat frozen in the bed, clutching the blankets to his chest. He could see Snake snatch up his gun from under the bed.

The door burst inward. Men were everywhere, shouting, looking hardly human in their combat gear. All the guns were tipped with high-powered flashlights, sending beams of sharp light racing around the room. Hal swallowed hard, trying not to move or even breathe. He was only half-convinced this wasn't a nightmare.

A man stepped to the front. "Hello, Snake. Dr. Emmerich."

"Colonel." Snake's voice was flat, only an acknowledgement, not a greeting.

"I'm glad to see you both here. We were worried about you, Doctor."

"I'm fine," Hal said, after a moment of thinking he wouldn't get his voice to work at all.

"Good, good. We thought you might need some help getting home."

Hal looked around. Campbell's tone was calm and civil, but the men were still aiming guns at them. Large guns.

"I don't."

"The president would like to see you."

Hal pushed his hair out of his eyes, trying to think. If they wanted him dead, they could just as easily kill him here, so he probably wasn't in danger. And he was making trouble for Snake. He opened his mouth to say he would go with them, but Snake's voice cut him off.

"I'll take him to the airport in the morning," Snake said. "I'm sure the president didn't mean for you to abduct him in the middle of the night."

"Of course not. But surely he can sleep on the plane." Still calm and civil, but with a growing edge.

"Yeah. Tomorrow." Snake's tone hadn't even started out civil. He and the Colonel glared at each other.

"Snake--"

"Go home, Colonel."

"I have orders."

"I don't care. You don't want to push me on this. Not tonight."

Hal saw Campbell turn to him and wasn't happy to be remembered.

"Doctor, are you sure this is the position you wish to take?"

"Y-yes," he stuttered and kicked himself mentally for sounding so scared. At any rate, he was sure he didn't want to go with them. Flying to Washington tomorrow, that he wasn't so sure about. Hiding in Snake's bed for a few weeks sounded pretty good at the moment. Under Snake's bed. Whatever.

The silent standoff between Snake and Campbell lasted a minute longer, but finally Campbell ordered his men out of the room.

"I told them you wouldn't like it, and I told them I wouldn't kill you. Your success on Shadow Moses bought you some slack, but Dr. Emmerich won't be allowed to hide up here. The next team they send won't be so easy to get rid of."

Campbell closed the door behind him, and Hal saw Snake relax and replace the gun.

"Move over." Hal did, and Snake got back under the covers. "You'll have to go tomorrow. I didn't think they'd be this worried about you."

"Why--" Hal started, and then had to swallow before he could talk without squeaking. "Why did they just leave? They could have..." Done just about anything they wanted to, he thought.

"They want you there of your own free will. This was just a warning."

"Twenty guys with fucking guns is a warning?" He heard his voice climbing toward panic.

"For our government? You bet. And there were only five plus the colonel. Twenty wouldn't have fit in here. Don't worry." He pulled up the covers and closed his eyes. "When you go to D.C. I'll go with you."

"You... you will?" He turned to stare at Snake in the dark.

"Yeah. Now, get some sleep."

Hal lay down, blinking at the ceiling. It wasn't as if Snake could protect him from the entire United States Army. Still, the thought of Snake's company made Washington seem much more bearable.

***

They arrived in Washington D.C. in the wake of a storm that left the branches of all the cherry trees on the Mall coated with ice. The sidewalks were slippery with it, and the window of the bakery they stopped at had formed ice crystals around its edges from the steam.

Hal called the White House from a pay phone and could hardly believe it when he was put right through-- not to the president of course, but at least to his personal secretary. The appointment was made for later that day, which left them several hours to wander, and left Hal plenty of time to worry. He was grateful for Snake's silent, steadying presence.

They brushed the snow off a bench and sat sipping steaming coffee and eating fresh rolls. Hal wished he'd gotten more sleep the night before; it was hard to keep his eyes open. He felt like it had been weeks since he'd gotten a decent amount of sleep.

The ice coating on the trees kept drawing his eye. He imagined the ice lasting into spring, and the cherry blossoms flowering under the ice, pressing out until their petals cracked the coating.

Snake lit a cigarette and stared at the ground five feet in front of him. His eyes never moved.

"Snake?"

"Yeah?"

"Why did you come with me?"

It made no sense to him. Snake had been dragged into the whole situation when all he'd wanted was to be left alone. There was no reason for him to want to involve himself further now that it was all over.

"You're a good guy, Doc, but not too bright about some stuff. Couldn't send you off by yourself to swim with the sharks."

"Why should you care?" He winced at how harsh the words sounded, but Snake didn't seem to notice

Snake shrugged and blew a smoke ring, staring off into the distance. "I like you. I don't want them to fuck you over, and that's what they'll do if they can. You're an embarrassment to them right now, and the only thing you've got going for you is that they might need your brain in the future."

"And you."

"Me?"

Hal smiled, feeling foolish, but wanting to say it, to let Snake know how much he appreciated this. "I've got you going for me, too."

Snake was quiet for a long time, just looking at him until his smile faded and he looked away uncomfortably, not knowing what he'd said wrong or what to say to make it right. When Snake finally replied, his voice held something that Hal couldn't identify.

"Yeah. I guess you do at that."

***

"I have the reservation, sir. One room, in the name of Dr. Hal Emmerich. That is you, sir?" The guy at the check-in desk of the Hayes-Adams sounded as if he sincerely doubted it.

"Yes, but it's supposed to be two rooms. One for me and one for... my friend." The room reservation would not, he suspected, be under the name Solid Snake. He realized he didn't know Snake's real name. It hadn't occurred to him to ask.

"Look under Hayter," said Snake. "David Hayter."

"Ah. Of course... sir." He hesitated before adding the 'sir' just long enough to convey his contempt for Snake's attire and general attitude while still respecting the fact that the White House had called in the reservations.

"I'm sorry, sir. There's still nothing."

Hal touched Snake's arm to get his attention. "Let's just find somewhere else." The hotel was so nice it was making him nervous. The furniture in the lobby was fancier than anything he'd ever owned, all done in silk and velvet, and he had the feeling that the giant Chinese vases filled with orchids were probably Ming Dynasty or something like that.

"No. Give me a phone," Snake ordered the check-in guy.

Ten minutes later they were installed in the penthouse suite of the Hayes-Adams with profuse apologies from the hotel and from some guy at the White House whose job it had been to make their reservations. Hal stood in the middle of the room, just staring around him. He'd never been anywhere like this before. He'd never *seen* anywhere like this before except on television. Again, he got the feeling that everything that looked like an antique actually was, and he'd probably be in debt for the rest of his life if he broke anything.

"Shut your mouth, Doc. You're gaping like a tourist."

He looked up to find Snake standing beside him, grinning. He smiled back. "I *am* a tourist. And this place is amazing. Do you want the room with the view of the White House or the one with the view of the gardens?"

"Whatever you don't want is fine."

"Snake... do you think the president meant what he said?"

"Everything he said? Highly unlikely. For one thing, he said he was glad to meet me, and I'm damn sure that was an outright lie."

"Ha, ha. You know what I meant."

"Do I think the government will leave you alone, you mean?"

"That's all I wanted. He did promise."

"Yes and no. They might not contact you again, but you'll be under surveillance for a good long time."

"Why? I told them I wouldn't say anything, even though they got me to sign that security oath under false pretenses. I didn't do anything wrong." He heard himself starting to whine and made himself shut up.

"Right, wrong-- doesn't matter. You must have figured that out by now."

"Yeah, well, I'm not too bright," Hal muttered.

A warm hand closed on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Getting smarter all the time, Doc."

He looked over, but all he saw was Snake's back retreating to the room with the garden view. He carried his bag into the other and flopped on the bed. He still didn't really understand why Snake was here with him. Not that he was complaining; he was entirely grateful. Embarrassingly grateful, really, and he had no way to pay him back.

Snake didn't seem to want paying back. He didn't seem to want anything, and that made him unique among the people Hal had met here in Washington and on Shadow Moses Island. If he was honest with himself, Snake was right-- he really wasn't that bright about knowing whom to trust, about who was lying and who was telling the truth. Having Snake here made things easier, but also made him wonder if there wasn't something he didn't know... if Snake had some ulterior motive. If maybe there was no one he could trust at all.

He closed his eyes on the sky blue ceiling, feeling his body trying to sleep. It was only five in the afternoon. Stress-induced narcolepsy, he thought vaguely as his eyes closed.

***

"Doc?"

Hal opened one eye a crack and peered up at Snake. "People aren't trying to kill us, are they?"

There was a low chuckle. "Pretty sure not, no."

"Then why are you waking me up?"

"You want to eat?"

He considered that. "Can we order room service and make the president pay for it?"

The chuckle was louder this time. "You bet."

"Good." He sat up. "I really don't like him. I voted for him, too. I hope he runs again so I can not vote for him. What a jerk. So what do you want?"

They had steak and lobster and hot fudge sundaes. Hal felt guilty about dining out at the taxpayers' expense, but not that guilty. Snake said it was the least the taxpayers could do for them.

"Us? You, you mean. You're the hero here. I'm just the government stooge."

"You saved my life back there," Snake said. "If you hadn't, they'd have Metal Gear and be doing god knows what with it-- and I'd be dead. Not how I generally like to end a mission."

Hal shrugged, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. "I just did what you told me to do." Something occurred to him. He didn't like it, but it made sense of so much that he had to ask. "Snake, is that why you're here? Because I, you know, helped you? 'Cause you don't owe me anything, I mean, you must know that... Right?"

"I already told you why I'm here."

"Yeah, but..."

But it hadn't made sense. Hal thought back to the explanation and couldn't convince himself that making life difficult for the government was enough to get Snake to fly all the way across the country.

"But just to piss these people off and keep them from getting what they want? That doesn't seem like..." He stopped. Snake was giving him an odd look.

"Is that what you got out what I said?" Hal nodded, and Snake sighed and shook his head. "Then I didn't say it right. It's got nothing to do with them. It's you." He shrugged. "I like you. That's it. I don't come with a whole lot of deep, dark, sinister motivations."

Hal blinked. "You..."

"Just didn't want you to get hurt."

"That's... wow. That's... um. You didn't have to," he offered lamely. He was staring at Snake and couldn't make himself stop.

"I wanted to."

"Thanks, Snake. I..." He shook his head, at a total loss for words. "I'm really glad you're here."

He didn't know what else to say, and Snake apparently had nothing else he wanted to say. He expected the silence to uncomfortable, but there was an easy smile on Snake's face that he couldn't help returning. He believed him, and it was more of a relief than he had realized it would be to know that Snake was really on his side.

"Well," Hal said finally, "at least after this neither of us will have to worry about it any more."

"It?"

"You know. Metal Gear. Government plots. Stuff like that."

Snake shook his head, smile fading. "Once that kind of technology is created, it doesn't just go away. Someone will build another Metal Gear sooner or later, and our government doesn't like to be left behind."

"But it was just that one guy," he protested. "The Secretary of Defense or whatever. He's been arrested for it."

"Watch the news. See what happens to him. I'm betting not much beyond maybe early retirement. After which he can be rehired as a consultant."

"You really think they'd do that?" He felt almost sick. Of course, the way Snake explained it, it only made sense, but how could they... How could anyone want to bring that horror back into the world?

"I can guarantee it."

"Can't someone do something?" He looked at Snake, a new thought occurring to him. "Can't you do something? You know how to-- What?"

Snake was laughing. "Don't even think it, Doc. Infiltration, assassination, blowing shit up-- I'm your man. But you're talking about some serious long-term planning and organization there. Politics and crap like that. Not stuff I'm cut out for."

"Oh."

He saw the point Snake was trying to make. It would be a big job, one for more than one man. A job, actually, that he'd assumed the government would be doing.

"Don't worry. Things will work out. One way or another."

"But... they'll just call you again, won't they? I mean, if it's not them who develops it, or if someone steals it, they'll want to you to deal with it again."

Snake shrugged. "Probably."

"And you will?"

He shrugged again and one corner of his mouth turned up. "Probably."

"So," said Hal, thinking hard as he spoke, "it would be in your best interests to see that it doesn't happen-- I mean, you might think about working for a group like that, one opposed to the creation of more Metal Gears. You might--"

Snake cut him off. "No."

"No?"

Their eyes met and held as Snake spoke. "If you're talking about some theoretical bunch of tight-assed, pacifist, science geek types, the answer is absolutely not."

"But--"

"On the other hand, if you're talking about working for you-- that I'd consider."

"Snake, I... I don't even know what to say." He laughed suddenly. "Except that most people think I *am* a tight-assed, pacifist science geek."

Snake grinned at him. "Well, the science geek part, okay, maybe."

"I don't know what I could do..." Except that wasn't true, he realized.

His head was filling with plans already, all out of order and going by too fast to get hold of, but all there nonetheless. It would be complicated, but not more complicated than building Metal Gear, not more complicated than hacking the DoD's computer system which he'd done for the first time when he was only sixteen.

And he had to do it. It was his responsibility. What had Snake said-- Once that kind of technology is created, it doesn't just go away. And he was the one who had created it, good intentions or not. Just by following orders he should have questioned-- he was a civilian, for god's sake! He didn't have to follow their orders in the first place-- he'd come within an inch of letting Metal Gear loose on the world. Helping Snake on Shadow Moses was the least he could have done. He wanted to do more.

"I'll have to think about it."

"Yeah, you do that. I think I'll hit the sack." Snake stood, yawned, and stretched. The stretch articulated muscles under his thin cotton T-shirt that Hal hadn't noticed before.

Hal looked away quickly. There was no reason to notice them. He got up and went out to the balcony, leaning on the rail.

There was no reason to notice Snake's muscles, his body, his smile. His kindness. But he was. He was noticing these things more and more.

He forced his mind back to more important things. It might be possible, with Snake's contacts in the military and his own in the scientific community. They might just be able to--

There was a soft whoosh behind him of the door opening, and he turned.

"I thought you went to bed."

"Can't smoke in bed." A flame rose in the dark, wavered toward Snake briefly as he pulled on his cigarette, and then vanished.

"Smoking's bad for you, you know."

Snake came over and leaned against the low raling dividing them from the black drop to the street below. He blew the smoke out in a twisting stream, and Hal tried not to cough.

"No, Hal," Snake said dryly. "You're the first person ever to tell me that."

"All right, no need for sarcasm. It is, you know."

"I do know. I think we've pretty much covered the subject."

"You could get cancer."

"In twenty years. Because my life offers me such a high probability of living to a ripe old age."

"Again, sarcasm. No need." Pause, still trying not to cough. "What happened to calling me Doc?"

"You got a problem with me using your name?"

"No. Should I be calling you David now? Or is that even your real name?"

"So you did pick that up. Thought it might have slipped by in the excitement." Snake was silent for a minute, cigarette hanging idle between his fingers. "Snake is better. I'm used to it. No one calls me David."

"Okay. Can I ask you a question?"

"You've been doing nothing else since we met. Now you ask permission?"

"Snake."

He waved his hand, making the glowing end of the cigarette paint a short streak in the night. "Yeah, okay. Shoot."

"You just met me. How can you know whether you want to work for me... with me... whatever."

"Got to work for somebody."

"I thought you didn't want to work for anyone. I thought that was the whole point."

"Yeah, well... It won't wash. There's only so long I can hide."

"You don't seem like someone who would want to hide."

"You'd be surprised."

Hal turned toward him, wanting to get some clue from his expression, but the shadows fell too thickly. His face was probably blank anyway. His voice sounded blank. And Hal was hoping too much and thinking too hard.

"It seems like a lot to do for someone you just met, that's all."

"You got a point here? Cause I was going to go to sleep."

"You're the one who came out here."

"Good point. Think I'll go back in."

"Wait." He put a hand on Snake's shoulder, just a light touch, but Snake stopped.

"What?"

Hal took a deep breath. "You like me?"

"I've been saying that."

"How much?"

Snake turned slowly. The orange glow of the mercury-vapor lights above them shone on half his face, leaving the other half in the dark.

"What do you mean, how much?"

Hal had to know *now* if he was right, because later would be too late. He would need Snake too much to risk losing him, and he'd lose the chance of anything more. His thought as he stepped closer to Snake, tightening his grip on his shoulder, was that it seriously sucked to know himself that well.

"How much?" he whispered going almost on tiptoe. "This much?" He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to the corner of Snake's mouth.

He didn't step away afterwards, but he couldn't open his eyes or say anything else. Maybe Snake would just throw him off the balcony and be done with it. The building wasn't that tall, but he could probably arrange to land on his head.

He thought of Snake watching him on the boat, the touch of a hand in the dark when they were in bed together. Flimsy clues. But...

There was a hand moving through his hair, warm breath on winter-cold skin.

"A lot more than that, actually."

Lips on his, warm and soft. Slow, steady trace of wet tongue until he opened his mouth and let it inside. The one hand in his hair, fingers tightening little by little as he pressed forward into the kiss, into the mouth that was his only contact with something he wanted so much and might have lost so easily.

His hand gripped the fabric of Snake's shirt harder, bunching it up as Snake's tongue moved across his palate and he tasted smoke and beer.

"Well," he said, breathless as the kiss broke.

"Don't talk."

Hal found himself pulled against Snake's body, feeling every hard line of muscle, every bone too close to the surface. He dropped his head until it rested on Snake's shoulder, kissed his neck, and didn't talk. There would be time enough for words later.

For now he stood still in Snake's arms and looked out over the sleeping city, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

-------
..end..

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