Leave The Light On

By

Annie

EMAIL: Annie

Betaed by: Lyn

 

Starsky huddled further inside his woollen jacket and kept his head down, the better to avoid the rain that was unseasonably drenching the streets of Bay City.

He'd taken a different path tonight, one that took him out past the stinking alleyways, scattered with refuse and society's detritus, those souls who'd once had lives and homes and families, but who probably now saw only emptiness and the ever-present shadow of death in their future.

These walks had become his evening routine now, when he wasn't on duty. He'd begun them mostly as a way to escape a house that was too empty, too quiet, and too desolate.

In the beginning, he'd walked the streets in hopes of finding Hutch, or at least finding someone who'd seen him, but as time passed and the ache in his heart grew stronger and the photo he showed to passersby more faded, hope had begun to diminish. Finally, in self-preservation, he tucked the photo away in his wallet and the hope away in some far corner of his mind, along with his memories of Hutch and the life they'd once shared.

If not for the grunt of pain that coincided with his collision with another walker, he wouldn't even have looked up. "Sorry," he said automatically, his eyes glancing up into the familiar face of the stranger in front of him. He reached out with one hand, steadying the man instinctively.

The guy looked as if a stiff wind could blow him away. His hair was plastered to his forehead by the rain, his face thin and the cheekbones prominent, making the blue eyes look large and deepset. He tugged a worn windbreaker more firmly around his bone-thin, shivering body with one hand as he tried to pull his other arm free of Starsky's hand.

"It's okay," the man growled back, jerking his arm out of Starsky's suddenly panicked grip.

"Hutch? Oh my God, Hutch!" Starsky moved forward, grappling for the man's hand, feeling himself being shaken off more fiercely this time.

"I'm not who you think I am," the man said, his voice rough, his eyes blazing fire. He pushed at Starsky's hand.

Starsky shook his head, desperate words stumbling off his tongue. "Hutch, please, don't you recognise me? It's Starsky. I've been looking for you for so long. Babe, please, you remember-"

"I told you! I don't know you! I don't know anyone called Starsky!" The man shoved hard, straight-arming Starsky in the chest roughly and pulling his imprisoned hand free.

Starsky stumbled backward, his sneakers scrabbling for purchase on the wet sidewalk. He went down, his head thumping painfully into the wall behind him, bringing pinpoints of light to prickle across his vision with the impact.

"Hey, you all right, mister?" A voice, heavily accented, sounded in his ringing ears and he looked up, nodding, too out of breath to answer just yet.

He felt himself pulled to his feet and he rubbed at the faint soreness in his chest, feeling the thin scars, even after all this time, beneath his damp flannel shirt.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied, as he moved around his rescuer to glance up and down the street. *Dammit! * He turned and slammed his fist into the wall, not even feeling the pain in his frustration. Hutch was gone.

"You know that guy who pushed you?" the man standing next to him asked. "He a friend of yours?" He looked at Starsky skeptically.

Starsky nodded, jerkily, the lump in his throat precluding speech temporarily. Finally, he managed to swallow dryly and speak. "Yeah, he is. I've been looking for him for a long time."

The man looked at him steadily as if measuring the honesty of his words. Then he shrugged. "He'll be back here tomorrow night or the next one. He helps out up there in return for food." He pointed ahead and Starsky squinted through the rain, making out the sign that read 'Soup Kitchen' a block or so away. "It's closed now but maybe I can call you if I see him again, keep him here somehow for you."

Starsky pulled his wallet from his pocket and handed the man a twenty-dollar bill and his card. "You don't know where he lives?" he asked, suddenly hopeful that he might be able to find Hutch again tonight.

"Who knows? But he'll be back. Sooner or later, they all come back." The man took the money and the card and tucked both into the pocket of his dirty jeans.

"I'll be here tomorrow night," Starsky said, "but you call me if you see him before then, you got it?"

"He must be a good friend," the man remarked with a crooked smile.

"He's the best there is," Starsky whispered. Then he turned and retraced his steps, heading for home, allowing the hope to flicker to life within his mind again.

~oOo~

He knew that walking away from that street would be the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. His heart screamed at him to turn around and go back and he had to physically force himself to keep putting one foot in front of the other till he’d left the dingy part of town far behind him and was walking through his own front door.

Throughout the seemingly endless night that followed, he paced and drank bottomless mugs of coffee, smiling a little grimly to himself at the thought that Hutch would be giving him the lecture to end all lectures if he were here now. He formulated a circuitous response to that argument as he washed his cup and then perversely poured himself another. *If you were here where you’re supposed to be, ya big lug, I wouldn’t be wanting to drink this much coffee at oh-dark-thirty, would I? I’d want to be curled up in bed with you.*

That response ended all his pretences at not thinking about what Hutch was doing at that precise moment and he drained his cup, showered and went to work, checking his watch as he left. Five AM. Well, hopefully Dobey would let him leave early in return – if the captain didn’t have a heart attack from shock at Starsky actually being at work that early, that is.

Dobey actually did a classic double take that Starsky caught out of the corner of his eye, when he walked into the bullpen and saw Starsky sitting at his desk, a pile of reports next to him.

"Starsky! What the hell do you think you’re doing?"

Starsky looked up at the bellow and smiled at his captain. "Just signing off on some reports, Cap," he replied, putting his pen to work diligently on the next one. He looked up again as Dobey came to stand beside him. "You want something, Cap?"

"Yeah, a straight answer from you," Dobey grunted, glancing quickly down at the bandage covering Starsky's bruised and scraped knuckles. "You been in a fight?"

Starsky shrugged. "Met a wall I didn't like," he said casually.

Dobey picked up the top report and glowered at it as if suspecting this to be another of Starsky’s pranks.

"Couldn’t sleep so I decided I might as well get these caught up," Starsky explained quickly. He wanted nothing more than to grab the bigger man and shout that he’d found Hutch, but he held himself back. The Hutch he’d seen last night was a shadow of the detective Dobey knew, and Starsky had no idea if there was a chance of getting that Hutch back. Better to hold the secret to his chest until he knew what was happening. He knew from bitter, personal experience how false hope could eat away at a man.

Dobey’s big hand came out and rested on Starsky’s forehead. "Doesn’t feel like you’ve got a fever."

"Well, actually, Captain," Starsky stood up as the Captain took his hand away. "I was wondering, seeing as I’ve been here since about six, if maybe I could cut out early this afternoon, say around three–" he said, adding quickly at the frown on his superior’s face, "four, four PM would be fine. I’ve got something important I need to do."

"You got some girl lined up?" Dobey asked, an-almost smile on his face.

Starsky started to shake his head then thought better of it. "Yeah, an old friend and she’s only in town tonight."

Dobey nodded grudgingly. "Yeah, okay. Just make sure someone double-checks those reports. With Hutch gone-" Dobey stopped suddenly, looking as if he wished he’d bitten his tongue. "Well, you can’t spell worth a damn, Starsky," he amended. "Go on, get on with it. You haven’t got all day if you're cutting out early."

Starsky nodded, offered a quick smile to show he understood and sat down again.

"Dave?" Dobey's voice came from next to his ear, its tone pitched low this time. "Maybe you should see a doctor or something. Get something to help you sleep."

"Yeah, you’re probably right, sir. I’ll make an appointment tomorrow."

"Hmm," Dobey grunted but he left and went into his own office, leaving the door ajar.

Starsky smiled to himself as he noticed that Dobey and Huggy had been worried about him ever since Hutch had disappeared. The first week had found either one or the other camped out on his living room couch overnight. But as the first week wore into a month and then another and another, he’d managed to convince them he was coping and when he didn’t fall in a heap, they’d begun to believe him and things had slowly gotten back to normal. No, not normal. Nothing would ever be normal again until Hutch was back to stay. But the world hadn't stopped turning, though there were days when Starsky wished it would.

And today, as he looked up from time to time and saw the hands of the clock creeping far too slowly to four, he felt Dobey’s eyes on him and the older man’s solicitude warmed him again.

He checked for what seemed to be the hundredth time since lunch and sighed exasperatedly. Three PM.

"Starsky!"

"You bellowed, sir?" Starsky spun his chair around and faced the captain, who stood imposingly in the doorway of his office.

"Go on, get out of here. You’re making me nervous, watching the clock like that. This friend better be worth this department’s time, that’s all."

Starsky bolted to his feet and pulled his jacket from the back of the chair. He walked quickly over and grabbed the big Captain around the waist, giving him an impulsive hug. "He is, Cap."

"He? I thought you said it was a she." Dobey pushed him away but there was a smile in his eyes as he did it.

"I did? My mistake, sir. Thank you, Captain. I’ll see ya tomorrow."

Then Starsky was running as if his life depended on it, down the stairs and out to his car.

~oOo~

He waited in a side alley next to the soup kitchen for over an hour, huddled in the shadow of a dumpster, before he saw Hutch walk past.

Barely holding himself back from running out and grabbing his friend, he waited, instead, till he was sure Hutch was far enough ahead to not see him and then followed behind.

Hutch shuffled along the grime-ridden street, barely lifting his feet, his gait a poor replica of his once-athletic stride. Starsky had no problems this time keeping him in sight.

As Hutch slowly climbed the steps that led into the kitchen, Starsky hung back, his mind whirling as he tried to decide the best course of action to take. If he confronted Hutch now, would the man simply push him aside and run again? If he did, perhaps he wouldn't risk coming back and then Starsky would have to begin the search all over again.

Deciding, finally, that for once in his life, patience was the best answer, Starsky wandered across the street and bought himself a chilli dog from a street-side vendor. He ate it as he watched from the shelter of an abandoned storefront, making sure that Hutch didn't leave the building.

As soon as the sky darkened, the soup kitchen was inundated with street people, straggling in a tired line up the steps and through the doors. Starsky made his way across the street and took up a place at the end of the queue. He got a few frankly curious looks from the denizens in front of him but as the line moved on and the aroma of hot food began to waft into the air, they lost interest in him. Seemingly more concerned with the immediate problem of lining their empty stomachs with sustenance, they apparently turned their minds from the reason of why a man so obviously not in need of a soup kitchen would be joining their ranks and talked quietly amongst themselves.

Once inside the doors, Starsky could see Hutch standing behind a long counter, doling out bowls of soup to the people in the line. He watched as Hutch smiled at some, made a joking remark to others and patted several on the shoulder as they took their bowls from him.

Starsky swallowed down the lump that felt as if it would choke him. How many times had he felt that hand on his own shoulder or his back, or cupping his cheek? When Starsky was hurting, whether physically or emotionally, there was no one who could give him solace the way Hutch did. He'd given it back too, he knew. It had been a constant between them, the touches, both small and large, that weren't often seen between two men. Starsky had missed them, their absence almost unbearable over the past months.

He hitched in a deep breath as he realized he was now only one person away from his partner. As the man in front of him moved along, Starsky stepped forward and stopped.

Hutch was looking down at the bowl in his hand, carefully spooning a ladle full of steaming soup into it.

"Hey, Blintz, how ya doing?" Starsky spoke quietly, afraid of spooking Hutch as he had the night before.

Hutch looked up, the ladle dropping from his fingers, soup sloshing over the sides of the bowl onto his hand. "Shit!" he cursed as the steaming liquid streamed across his skin.

"Oh God, I'm sorry, Hutch." Starsky reached an arm out and grabbed his friend's injured hand, holding it in a firm but gentle grip. "You need to get some cold water on that," he said.

Hutch shook his hand free and turned to one of the other men behind the counter. "Can you take over for a while?"

The man nodded and Hutch turned on his heel, heading for a curtained doorway behind him, which Starsky guessed led to the kitchen. Determined not to let Hutch give him the slip this time, Starsky ran to the end of the counter and around it, following Hutch through the curtain and into the room beyond.

His friend stood at a sink, his hand held beneath a running faucet. He jerked around as Starsky stepped up behind him and placed a gentle hand on his back.

"I'm sorry," Starsky said quietly. "I didn't mean for you to get hurt."

Hutch looked at him, his eyes blazing blue fire. "Didn't you?" he asked harshly. "Why should this time be any different?"

"What do you mean?" Starsky asked, genuinely puzzled. He'd never hurt Hutch, never could. Hutch meant too much to him. He was his best friend, his partner, the other half of his soul. Didn't Hutch remember that?

"Forget it," Hutch growled as he turned and grabbed a dishcloth from a rack next to the sink and wrapped his arm in it.

"You should put some antiseptic cream or something on that. That dish towel's probably full of germs-"

Hutch snorted. "Places like this don't exactly run to first aid kits."

"Then let me take you some place to get it looked at," Starsky suggested.

Hutch shook his head. "It's fine. No big deal."

"Please, Hutch, just come with me some place where we can talk," Starsky said, his tone pleading now.

"We should've talked a long time ago, Starsky. You didn't want to," Hutch replied. He tossed the dishtowel aside and moved back towards the doorway.

"Please," Starsky said, his hand reaching out to grasp Hutch's arm, wanting nothing more than to grab hold of his friend with both hands and drag him back into his life.

"Hey, Joe, this guy bothering you?"

Starsky looked around to see a huge behemoth of a man standing behind him.

He looked back at Hutch as his friend shook his head. "No, it's fine, Max. Thanks. Just an old friend."

The man-mountain moved away and Starsky reached out his other hand, gripping Hutch's forearm. "Hutch, please, we need to talk. I've missed you so damn much. I thought you were dead. I've been looking for you for over four months. I didn't know where you'd gone or why. Hutch, come on, you owe me this much."

Hutch looked down at Starsky's hands on his arms. "I don't think I can," he whispered. "Please just go, Starsk. Forget you saw me."

"I can't do that," Starsky said vehemently, shaking his head, his fingers tightening on Hutch's arms as if afraid he'd disappear before his eyes. "You owe me an explanation, Blondie."

Hutch's head shot up at the familiar nickname and Starsky saw his eyes soften. "Maybe. Soon. I don't know. Just leave it, Starsk, okay?"

Starsky shook his head again, moving in so he was only an inch away from Hutch. He moved one hand up soothingly over Hutch's arm to his shoulder and then curved it under his chin. "I can't do that, babe. Please, Hutch. Do this one thing for me. If you want to disappear again after we've talked, I won't stop you and I won't try to find you again, I promise."

"Scout's honor?" Hutch asked, his mouth curling into a half-smile.

Starsky nodded. "Scout's honor," he said, giving the appropriate salute.

"You were never a Scout," Hutch said, smiling wider now.

"Neither were you," Starsky rejoined, his heart lifting at the sight of the familiar grin.

Hutch nodded, his face serious again. "I'll try. But don't come looking for me, okay?"

Starsky swallowed down the bitter disappointment. He'd thought Hutch was on the verge of agreeing to come with him right now. For just a moment he'd spied the old Hutch beneath the shabby clothes and the worn exterior. "Okay," he agreed softly. "You know where I live. I'll leave the light on for ya, Blintz."

Hutch smiled. "I gotta get back," he said. "There's a lot of hungry people out there."

"Yeah, okay," Starsky replied. He wiped a hand roughly across his suddenly burning eyes. "It's so good to see ya, babe," he murmured. "You take care of yourself."

"Hey, I can do that." Hutch grinned then turned and walked back into the other room.

Starsky stood flat-footed for several minutes, trying to make up his mind what to do.

Should he wait around for Hutch to finish up and follow him, find out where he was living? He shook his head. He had to let Hutch come to him. As he walked through the back door and out onto the street, Starsky could only pray that he would.

~oOo~

Surprising himself, Starsky called Dobey the next morning and said he needed a couple of days off. He'd said he was coming down with some bug or something. He knew Dobey didn't buy it so he was stunned when the Captain granted him the time off.

"This got something to do with that he/she friend of yours from last night?" Dobey had asked.

"Yeah, maybe I caught something…"

"Humph!" Dobey had grunted back. "Well, hurry up and get over it. I can only spare you two days."

"You got it, Cap. Thanks." Starsky had tried an experimental cough on for size and heard the Captain chuckle.

"Don't give up your day job, Starsky. You're a lousy actor. Listen, when you see that friend of yours again, you tell him we miss him, okay?"

"Yeah, I'll do that, sir." Starsky hung up the phone and spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around his apartment, alternately jumping every time the phone rang and racing to the door to jerk it open every time he heard a noise outside.

It was never Hutch and by midnight, he'd given up listening for footsteps or hesitant knocks on the door and instead, sat slumped on the sofa, his head buried in his hands.

Hutch had been trying to tell him why he'd left, Starsky knew, but he still hadn't been able to put his finger on it.

He groaned as he looked at his watch, the expensive one Hutch had insisted on buying for him after his own had been shot up the time they'd been trapped on that farm. Starsky had been shot in the leg and that kid, Joey was with them and for a while there, it had looked like they wouldn't make it out alive. But they had. They'd done what they always did best - worked together and when it was over and Hutch had picked him up from the hospital, he'd given him this watch. He pulled it off and looked on the back, where engraved in tiny letters, he could make out the dedication Hutch had placed there - Me & Thee.

Turning it back over, he swabbed a hand over his tired eyes. It was well after midnight. Hutch wouldn't be coming now.

He stood and went to his bedroom and grabbed a pillow and a blanket. It was stupid, he knew. He'd be more comfortable in bed but the bed was eleven paces further away from the front door than the couch was and… just in case…

He only realized he'd drifted off to sleep when a hesitant tap at the door woke him. He jerked up on the couch, almost falling as the blanket tangled around his legs in his haste to get to the door before the caller left.

He pulled the door open, his heart in his throat, feeling as if it would choke him. "Hey," he husked out. "I'm glad you came by."

Hutch smiled, his eyes shadowed as Starsky stood back and ushered him inside. "I nearly didn't," he said softly.

Starsky closed and locked the door behind him and Hutch turned at the sound of the bolt sliding closed, a quizzical look on his face.

"Making sure I don't run away again?" he asked.

"Yeah, I guess. I'll unlock it if it makes you feel more comfortable," Starsky replied.

Hutch shrugged non-committally. "It's okay. I don't mind."

Starsky stood still, drinking in the sight of his friend. Hutch was thin, his ribs showing beneath the shirt he wore. His arms were bare and he shivered.

"Don't you have a jacket?" Starsky asked.

"I sold it. Needed food more."

Starsky walked quickly into his bedroom and pulled a thick sweater from his closet, bringing it out and handing it to Hutch, who took it without comment and put it on. "Thanks," he said.

He looked around the apartment. "Hasn't changed much."

"You wanna beer or would you rather have coffee? I'll make you something to eat. I don't have any of that healthy stuff you like but I can rustle up some eggs and bacon or I could order out for a pizza-"

"Slow down, Gordo."

Starsky's knees almost gave way at the familiar nickname.

"Beer would be great. Can't remember the last time I had one. And bacon and eggs would be heaven on a stick right now. There's not a lot of healthy food on the menu at most of the places I eat these days. I've adapted, I guess."

Starsky's eyes burned as he turned to grab two beers from the fridge, setting one down on the kitchen table and taking the other one with him over to the kitchen counter next to the stove. "Pull up a pew," he said as he rummaged in the cupboard for the pan and walked back to get the eggs and bacon from the fridge. He strove to keep his tone casual, matter of fact, while inside his heart was urging him to take Hutch in his arms and hug him close.

They ate mostly in silence, Starsky watching covertly as Hutch almost inhaled the food. *Oh, babe, how long since you've had a decent meal? * he wondered silently.

He stood up and cleared away the dishes, grabbing another beer for each of them on the way back to the table.

"You wanna get more comfortable?" he asked, gesturing over to the couch.

"I'm worried if I get any more comfortable, I'll fall asleep," Hutch said, looking over at the sofa with undisguised desire.

"That's okay," Starsky replied quickly. "You could stay here tonight."

Hutch stood up, looking distinctly uncomfortable at that. "I'm not sure I should," he said quietly.

"Why don’t we just take it as it comes?" Starsky suggested, maneuvering closer to his friend and subtly heading him in the direction of the couch. "Sit down for a while, Hutch, take a load off. If you go to sleep, you can always leave when you wake up, if you want to." *Please don't want to * his mind whispered as he managed to get Hutch seated on the couch and perched himself on the coffee table.

"You gonna tell me why you left like that?" Starsky asked when they were seated.

"Guess there's no point in me being here tonight if I didn't do that," Hutch replied, taking a long draw of his beer. He set the bottle down on the table and looked up into Starsky's eyes. "I was so scared of losing you, Starsk. I think I just figured it was better to go before I really lost you, forever."

"What do you mean?"

"You remember that last case we worked?" Hutch asked. He picked up the bottle again and sipped at it. "You got clipped by a stray bullet in the head."

"It wasn't anything," Starsky replied. "You know that." His hand went up unconsciously and traced the small scar across his brow. "Four stitches and a concussion. No big deal."

"Maybe not for you," Hutch said quietly. "It was a big deal for me. My mind kept going back to when I ran around that car and saw you bleeding on the ground after the Guenther hit and I just thought I can't do that again. Can't watch you dying in front of me again."

"It was a scratch, Hutch," Starsky said.

Hutch shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Just seeing you lying there on the ground, bleeding, brought it all back." He looked up at Starsky and the anguish in his eyes pierced Starsky's soul. "I tried to tell you. I wanted to tell you I wanted you out of the force but I couldn't do that. You'd told me so many times that all you ever wanted to be was a cop. Ever since your Dad died. How could I ask you to give that up?"

"I didn't know," Starsky said, stunned. "I never knew it hit you that hard."

Hutch leaned forward and placed a gentle hand on Starsky's chest, his fingers overlaying the scars beneath. "I didn't know how to tell you," he said. "I tried to let you know. Finally, I decided it would just be better if I wasn't around anymore in case… " He stood up and paced the length of the room and back again. "I think I lost it for a while, Starsk. I couldn’t look for work in case you tracked me down, but without work I couldn't get the money to leave-"

"Did you want to leave, Hutch? Is that what you need to do? If it is, I'll give you the money-" Starsky's voice whispered out painfully.

Hutch shook his head. "No matter where I went it wouldn't solve anything. I could still pick up a newspaper tomorrow and read you'd been killed or hurt."

He moved back to the couch and sat down heavily opposite Starsky. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

"What do you want, Hutch? Really. If you could have anything you wanted right now, what would it be?" Starsky asked, his voice cracking with anguish as he fought the need to put his arms around Hutch and just hold him close till the pain went away.

"You," Hutch replied sadly. "You're all I've ever wanted, Starsk. I'm sorry." He looked across at Starsky, his cheeks flushing.

Starsky put out a hand and cupped his partner's cheek gently. "Don't be sorry, babe. I want you too. "

Hutch looked up, his eyes hopeful. "But what if…?"

"Whatever you need me to do, whatever you need me to be, that's what I'll do," Starsky said. He pushed himself off the table and down to his knees in front of Hutch. He pulled Hutch in against his chest and tilted his face down, meeting Hutch's mouth tenderly, tasting the salt of the tears that overflowed Hutch's eyes. "I love you, ya big lug, don't you know that?" he asked, pulling his mouth away.

Hutch buried his face against Starsky's neck, his hands clenching into fists on his partner's back. "I know that," he whispered brokenly. "Now I know that."

Starsky pushed himself away from Hutch's embrace, shifting back onto his heels. "You gotta promise me you'll go talk to someone about what happened to you, babe," he said.

Hutch stiffened visibly. "A shrink? You think I'm nuts?"

Starsky leaned forward again and kissed him gently. "No more than I am, Hutch. But maybe, if we talk to someone together we can head off any trouble at the pass. Know what I mean?"

Hutch hesitated then nodded slowly. "Yeah, okay, if you think it'll help."

Starsky stood up and pulled Hutch up with him. "So, you staying?" he asked.

Hutch looked at him. "You don't have to do this, you know? Give up anything for me. God knows I don't deserve it. The way I disappeared on you-"

Starsky stopped the words with a kiss. "You're wrong," he said. "I have to do this. I can give up anything for you - for us. I love you. That's all that matters right now."

Hutch nodded. "I love you too. I'm sorry-"

Starsky placed a gentle finger across his lips. "Stop apologizing. How about we get some sleep?"

Hutch looked over toward Starsky's bedroom. "Together?" he asked, hope evident in his voice.

"Of course together," Starsky replied. "But first…" he waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "You could use a shower, Blintz. Mind if I join you?"

Hutch laughed out loud at that, Starsky's heart rejoicing at the sound. "How could I say no to a request like that?" He pulled Starsky into a hug. "I love you," he said softly.

"Love you back. Always," Starsky replied.

//I'm gonna leave the light on that you left burning in my heart

It's gonna shine forever, brighter than a spark

And if you're lost and lonely, somewhere in the dark

I'm gonna leave the light on, that you left burning, burning in my heart.//

Recorded by Lorrie Morgan.

The End

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