katstales: (John-reading fanfic)
[personal profile] katstales
Title: What Money Can't Buy
Rating/Pairing: G/None
Characters: John and Patrick Sheppard
Summary: When John gets into some trouble at his new school, help comes from a very unexpected source.
Notes: This takes place when John is around ten years old. It was written as a birthday gift for [livejournal.com profile] karri_kln1671 Happy Birthday, my friend!! :)

What Money Can't Buy

The voices inside Mr. Woolbright's office occasionally grew loud and heated, but never quite loud enough for John to hear clearly what was being said. He could pretty well imagine, though. He'd known as soon as he'd stood up for Carlyle Benson that he was doomed. Still, he couldn't just stand by and watch Winston Harold George Oscar Davis Prickard the Fifth abuse yet another of his schoolmates. Calling the bully chubby or plump was being far too kind--he was, simply put, a...fat blob of lard--and he never hesitated to use his weight advantage against any of his classmates if the occasion arose. Most of them referred to him as Porky the Prick--but never within the bully's hearing, of course.

Everyone at the school came from big money families--the academy was VERY exclusive and was rumored to have a waiting list that stretched nearly half a century into the future. And the Sheppards had plenty of money, possibly even more then the Prickards, but John was the first in his family to be enrolled in the school whereas Prickards had been attending the academy for generations--pretty much since the school had been founded back in the late nineteenth century. They'd been very generous contributors over the years, too, and so it went pretty much that what the Prickards wanted, the Prickards got. And right now what they wanted was John's head on a gold platter for messing with their precious little Winny.

The voices again grew loud and John wished, not for the first time, that his mother was there inside that office with his father and Mr. Woolbridge. That wasn't ever going to happen again though, not because John was never going to get into trouble again--some things were simply inevitable after all--but because a car accident on a deserted rain-slick road nearly a year earlier had taken her from them forever. With her on his side, he might have a fighting chance to tell his side of the story. Before the accident, his dad would have at least asked him about his version of events. But the stupid shrinks had certainly done a thorough job of putting an end to that with their reports and dire predictions of how he in particular would be prone to buck authority and act out in ways he hadn't before in an attempt to...well, he wasn't sure exactly *why* he was supposedly going to become a juvenile delinquent but apparently that's what was now expected of him.

John was deep enough in thought that he was startled by the sudden opening of the door and the tight, clipped tone of his father's voice. "Come on, John, we're leaving."

John quietly stood and slipped on his jacket, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He struggled into the heavy backpack that contained all of his books and belongings, glad that the hallways were long empty of others. At least no one else was around to witness his final exit from the school, a total disgrace to his father and the Sheppard name. Not that he really cared what anyone thought of him, but the inevitable snickering and pointing would have pissed him off all the more and he likely would have decked someone else before all was said and done. And wouldn't Dad just love that, he thought, stumbling along after the man in question. He'd overheard talk of calling the authorities and pressing charges before his father had arrived, but Mr. Woolbridge had convinced Prickard the Fourth that the publicity would be bad for the school and expulsion would be far less damaging to the school's reputation. John's hand automatically traveled to his midsection, where Porky the Prick had punched him when John had told him to leave Carlyle alone--well before John had ever laid a hand on the bag of blubber.

John was badly winded by the time he caught up to his father, which wasn't until they reached the car. The elder Sheppard's features were pinched into a tight expression as he wordlessly held the door while John dumped his pack in the back seat. Patrick slammed the door shut with far more force than was necessary, prompting John to cringe as he made his way around the car to the passenger side. He climbed in as quickly as he could, not wanting to upset his father any more than he already had and buckled the seatbelt as fast as he could. His hands were shaking by the time he finished and glumly sat back against the seat.

Patrick reached forward to turn the key in the ignition, but suddenly stopped, staring ahead at the empty field that was to become the school's new gymnasium a few years from now. Fundraising was going well, but they were barely halfway to the required sum and construction wasn't scheduled to begin for another three to four years at least. Apparently last minute changes to include Olympic-sized swimming facilities drove the price far over the initial estimates and pushed the project back at least several years, or so John had heard.

John looked over at his father, not entirely certain what to expect, and waited for him to move. Patrick continued to stare blankly ahead, his anger not gone but certainly dimmed. It seemed to John like an eternity passed before Patrick Sheppard suddenly flung open his car door, pointing to his son with a stern expression. "Stay put and do not touch one single thing while I'm gone." Then he closed the door and walked back into the building with a determined stride, leaving John to simply sit and wonder what was happening.

While Patrick Sheppard had always been a very busy man, he had always made certain to take time to spend with his sons. Both he and Dave adored their father and lived for the times when Patrick took them riding or sailing or just played football in the back yard. John preferred the water activities to the football, whereas Dave seemed to like football and baseball better--but it was time with Dad and that made it fun, so neither of them ever complained about the choice of game or activity.

Then came the day when the accident happened. John had been competing in a swim meet at a school two hours away and his mother, as always, had driven him. An unexpected thunderstorm had begun to pummel the area about halfway home and they'd missed the turn leading to the interstate highway and home. It had been raining so hard they hadn't even noticed at first that the town along the local highway had suddenly disappeared, the scenery rapidly changing into an isolated rural area. He hadn't been scared though, laughing along with his mother over their misadventure as she started to turn the car around. Then suddenly the car was spinning out of control, flipping on it's side and tumbling down the steep embankment lining the road.

The next thing John knew, he was smelling the strong odor of gasoline and hanging awkwardly by his seatbelt. He called to his mother but received no answer, so he tried to unbuckle himself. He screamed from the pain shooting along his right hand and up his arm, but his mother still did not respond. Things got a little jumbled after that, but he remembers clearly how she told him that he had to get out and summon help, that she was depending on him, her big brave boy, and that she knew he wouldn't let her down. He can't recall actually getting out of the car, but he remembers trying to run along the road, the wind and rain beating against him like an invisible hammer. He remembers car horns blaring as they passed him, but he can't recall anyone stopping to help him. He can't really recall anything aside from forcing himself to keep going even though he was cold and hurt and wanted nothing more than to just stop and rest, but she was depending on him and he couldn't let her down.

He thinks he knew that she was hurt really bad, but he's not sure. There is so much missing from his memories of that time, and what's there is hazy and jumbled up in his mind. He can't remember the policeman finding him staggering along the highway or any part of the ambulance ride. He doesn't remember being in the emergency room, but he remembers the man who took the x-rays of his arms and leg. He doesn't realize until he wakes up later in a private room with casts on both arms that he'd broken both of them, but he has no memory of getting to that room either. He was lucky that neither break required pins or plates, but he doesn't learn this until much, much later.

He remembers his mother coming into his hospital room and bending over to kiss his forehead. He remembers so clearly how she ran her hand through his hair as she told him that she was so proud of him and that she wanted him to know that he had not let her down. He didn't understand why she was so very insistent that he must not blame himself, not until later anyway. Some nights when he has trouble sleeping, he lays there wishing that he could snatch the moment back and beg her not to leave them. In his imagination, he pleads with her and she relents, staying with them instead of dying, and his old dad comes back to them, too. It never works for real though and when he goes down for breakfast the next morning, his new father, the one who is cold and distant and short-tempered, is the one downstairs at the breakfast table. He never tells anyone that he does this, especially the shrinks that they still make him see occasionally.

He can still see the looks of alarm and shock on the nurses face the next morning when he asked if his mother could come and see him again or if he could go see her. He had been confused by their reactions, because suddenly none of them would look him in the eye when they spoke to him. He remembers wondering for a long time what he'd done or said to anger them. He kept asking for his mother to visit anyway, but none of them would say anything other than that his father would be there soon.

His memories get a little hazy again after that. He remembers being very upset that no one would talk to him about his mother or let him see her. He's pretty sure they drugged him for a long time after that, but he doesn't really know for certain. He remembers being wheeled from the private room and into one he had to share with an older boy. He didn't stay there long, but he remembers the teenager more clearly than anything else about the entire hospital experience. John still doesn't know the boy's real name, as he told John it was something different every time they spoke. The nurses seemed to always call him 'young man' or 'buster' or something equally generic. Still, no matter what his name, he was the only one who would actually look at John when he spoke to him.

Most importantly, he was the one who taught John how to play The Game of Shrinks. "Don't ever tell them what you're really feeling," he said. "Tell them what you think they want to hear. Don't worry, you'll catch on quick--you're a real smart kid, I can tell." And John did--on both counts. Within a couple of days he was back in the private room again, but he's pretty sure they continued to drug him because he always had that floaty, disconnected feeling in there, too. He remembers his father coming to see him every night, but it was the new distant-dad and not his old caring-dad. After a less than enthusiastic greeting, Patrick would settle down to a pile of reports and folders for the evening, with only an occasional acknowledgment of John's presence. He can't remember ever seeing Dave at the hospital, but he knows his brother had to have been there from his unmistakable signatures on both of John's casts.

A blast of air entered the vehicle, bringing him back to the present and signalling the return of Patrick to the car. John hadn't even heard him open the door, but watched warily as his father slid in behind the wheel and started the engine. Patrick buckled his seatbelt, but before putting the car in gear he reached into his coat and pulled out his checkbook, throwing it angrily down onto the seat between them. "You'll be back in two weeks," he said, his tone still clipped and measured. "Cost me a damn fortune, but you're suspended instead of expelled."

John nodded, unsure if he was supposed to say anything or not. It had been so much easier with his old dad; John knew how to talk to him, whereas this new dad was a whole other thing. John never knew what would set him off on another tirade, so he and Dave usually opted for silence. Sometimes even that set him off though, and they were left with no choice but to endure the consequences. This new Patrick never got physical when he was angry, but his rage was still a scary thing to see and invariably left them shaken. John wasn't quite certain if he should be worried that Patrick was being so careful in keeping it contained or not; he quickly decided that either way the best course of action was to continue the silent routine.

He almost jumped out of his seat when Patrick began to speak, his words still measured and still with the simmering rage just beneath the surface. "You'll be restricted to your room for the duration of your suspension from school, no television or stereo, no phone, and no going outdoors. During your two weeks home, I'll be bringing in a tutor who will keep you up on your lessons; you may come down to the dining room for that, as well as your meals. The rest of your time will be spent in your room thinking about what you've done and how you've disgraced this family."

John answered in the most sincere tone he could muster. "Yes, sir." His father said nothing more for the rest of the drive, but John could tell that the anger had not left him. Still, he was glad for the silence; it was much preferable to the constant fear of doing the wrong thing and speaking at the wrong time.

When the finally pulled into the drive, John hurriedly climbed from the car and ran around to retrieve his pack from the rear. It took some effort to drag it out and slip the straps over his shoulders, but he finally managed it. He could feel his father's eyes on him as he struggled with the heavy bag, but the elder Sheppard made no move to assist him. By the time John set off for the house, he was fighting some anger of his own. His old dad would have helped him, no matter how mad he was, thought John peevishly. His old dad would have asked for his side of the story, too, and not just taken a bunch of strangers' words for it.

Dave met him just inside the door, practically ready to explode with excitement. "Is it true?" he demanded. "Did you get kicked out?"

John glared at him and snapped, "No!" before stomping off to the stairs and heading up to his room. He thought about slamming the door, but decided that would probably only invite even more trouble and instead settled for closing it firmly but quietly and locking it. He shrugged out of the heavy pack and let it fall to the floor right there in front of the door. It's not like anyone was coming in and he certainly wasn't going out, he reasoned. Leaving where it fell, he stomped over to his bed and flopped down. Without thinking, his hand strayed immediately to the sore spot in his midsection where Winston had attempted to sucker punch him. He could help but smile in satisfaction remembering the look on Porky's face when he had remained upright after the blow instead of falling to the floor in agony. John had watched a movie several days prior and seen the trick performed there, so he decided to try it out as soon as it became apparent that Porky was going to play dirty and he tightened his muscles against the blow.

A small fist banging on the door chased the memory away and John sighed. He really didn't feel like dealing with all of Dave's questions right then, so he tried ignoring his brother. Dave, however, didn't go away. "Dad says it's time to eat, John. He says to tell you you can come eat with us or take dinner in your room tonight if you want. Missy can bring a tray for you. John?"

He sighed. Not the least bit hungry, he really didn't relish the thought of another silent dinner that ended in with yet another of his father's tirades against him about all the starving children in Africa that would be more than happy to have that food John was so carelessly wasting. One of these days he planned to bite back and offer to wrap it for them and ship it off, but now didn't seem like a very appropriate time, given the depth of the trouble he was already in. Dave banged on the door yet again, interrupting his musing. "John?"

"Not hungry," he yelled back. In fact, the mere thought of food was enough to have him seriously considering heading for the bathroom to be sick. No, food was definitely NOT a good idea right now.

"You sure?" called Dave, more than a hint of desperation in his voice.

"Yeah, I'm sure." He thought about apologizing for leaving his brother to endure the painfully silent meal with Dad, but that would have meant breaking their unspoken rule regarding feelings and talking and that wasn't somewhere John ever wanted to go again.

Hearing Dave shuffle off down the hallway at last, John relaxed back onto the bed and drifted off.

John managed to make it through the following day and the next as well, but on the the third day he couldn't stand it any longer. Being stuck indoors 24/7 was killing him and he not only couldn't concentrate, he was fidgety and snappish as well. He'd made it through the morning lessons--mostly because it was math, one of the few subjects that actually interested him--and even through lunch. Barely half an hour into the afternoon session, the tutor had sent him to his room and gone home.

Lying on his bed, John stared at ceiling morosely and waited for the fallout when his father got home. Sun streamed in through the glass and cast shadows on the ceiling of the trees blowing in the gentle breeze. It looked like an unbelievably gorgeous spring day and here he was stuck indoors. It wasn't fair, he thought, his anger again rising. Moments later, he was out of bed and at the window, pushing it open and climbing out.

He didn't think about his father's reaction to his disobedience as he climbed up to the roof and scampered across to the huge elm tree on the other side of the house. The branches there were large enough to hold his weight and he could easily climb down it and head for the barn.

John was careful to stay out of sight until the grooms and stable boys had all gone for the evening. One he was certain he wouldn't be caught, he headed straight for Lightning's stall. After lavishing the stallion with attention, he curled up in a corner in the straw. He knew he should go back to the house and up to his room, but he couldn't bring himself to move.

He heard his father's car pull up and then another he didn't recognize right after. Doors slammed and he heard muffled voices. That was different, he thought. Dad hadn't brought home dinner guests in ages. Not since before...before The Accident. No one ever referred to is as 'Mom's death' or even 'Mom's accident'; no, it was always The Accident, as if distancing it from her would make it less real somehow. The door to the house opened and closed, but John stayed in his straw bed and waited for the fallout to happen.

It didn't take long. Within minutes, his father's voice bellowed across the property. "John! Where are you, son?"

Odd, thought John. He sounded...different. Not all rage and fire, like usual. Though anger was still unmistakably present, Patrick sounded...worried? No, he thought, that can't be right. Must be putting on a show for the guests, he reasoned. The door to the barn creaked and John's heart began to pound. Only a matter of time now, he told himself.

"Thought I might find you here," said Patrick, sounding far more like his old dad than the new one. "You okay?"

John shrugged. "Yeah. I guess."

It was then that John noticed they weren't alone. But instead of one of his father's business associates, he saw the last person he'd ever expect standing next to Patrick. "Mr. Woolbridge?" John rubbed his eyes, certain they were deceiving him. "What are you doing here?"

Patrick dropped his head for a moment, then looked sadly at his son. "Show us where he hit you, John."

John's mouth dropped open in shock. "H-how did you..."

"That doesn't matter right now," interrupted Patrick. "Please, son, just show us where."

His heart pounding, John crawled to his feet, holding his still-sore stomach. He stood in front of them for a moment, feeling almost as if he were facing a firing squad. His father motioned him to proceed and after a slight hesitation on his part, John reluctantly lifted the front of his shirt to expose the deep purple mark.

John's eyes were closed, not wanting to see their reactions. He heard Mr. Woolbridge gasp though, and he was pretty certain that it was his father who punched the gate of the pen next to Lightning's. "Sorry, Dad," he mumbled, his eyes now open but firmly fixed on the ground. He heard the gate being punched again and then his father's anger erupted.

"Here's what's going to happen, Woolridge. First, my son is going to be immediately reinstated to class and his record will be expunged. He will also receive a very public apology, from both the school and from that fat little toad you've been allowing to terrorize everyone in sight for fear of losing his family's money. Next, assault charges are going to be filed on my son's behalf against the boy and the school is going to back them every step of the way. Third, Winston Harold George Oscar Davis Prickard the Fifth is going to be expelled immediately and with no chance of appeal or future reinstatement to the academy. Do I make myself clear here or would you prefer it in writing from my lawyer?"

The principal sputtered, partly in indignation and partly in horror. "Yes, of course. I mean, no, of course it's not necessary for your lawyer to get involved in this. I'm going straight back to the office now to clear John's record and begin the paperwork for young Prickard's expulsion. I'm certain we can arrange for the school's apology to your son in a manner that will be acceptable to all concerned. I really am sorry, Mr. Sheppard. We had no idea...well, that's all water under the bridge, I suppose. I'm certain you'll be finding the school more than helpful in bringing this unfortunate incident to a satisfactory conclusion."

Patrick said nothing, allowing the silence to build to the point of discomfort before he finally responded. "I'm certain you can find your way out, Woolbridge. I'll be in touch in the morning, after John has been seen by a doctor."

John still stood rooted to the spot in Lightning's stall, his eyes wide with shock. He barely noticed Mr. Woolbridge's exit and before he realized what was happening, his father was on his knees in front of John. Tears filled Patrick's eyes as he reached a shaky hand to run through John's hair and around to cup the back of his neck. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, his voice cracking.

His heart still pounding, John debated for a moment whether to trust that his old dad was indeed back. Fearing the new-dad would return any moment, he nonetheless took a chance. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He finally settled on one-shouldered shrug.

Patrick closed his eyes, dropping his hand from John's neck and falling heavily to sit in the straw pile John had just vacated. "Because you didn't think I'd listen," he said, his voice resigned. Scrubbing his hands wearily across his face, he looked John right in the eye. "You're right. I probably wouldn't. I've been so busy being angry at...everything and everyone for what happened with your mom that I...I'm sorry. You and your brother deserve better. Think we can start over?"

Still in shock, John nodded. When Patrick held out a hand, John took it and allowed his father to pull him into a hug. "I'm sorry, John. I've let you and your brother both down. And since your mom wasn't here to give me the kick in the pants I needed, it took awhile for someone else to step up and do it for her."

John pulled away slightly, looking curiously at his father. "What happened? How did you find out?"

Patrick chuckled, pulling him close again. "I've had quite an interesting day, son. From what I hear, so has Mr. Woolbridge," he said. "I've had parents of your classmates in and out of my office all day long, son. It seems once word got out about what happened after the fight, your friends started complaining to their parents. Everyone was outraged at what Prickard has been getting away with and they've had enough. I had planned to go see Mr. Woolbridge first thing in the morning about it, but then Janice Benson stormed into my office. She threw my coat at me and ordered me to the car."

John pulled away, stunned and alarmed. "Wow," was all he could say. John couldn't imagine anyone doing that to his father and getting away with it, other than his mom anyway.

Turning serious, Patrick continued. "Janice pointed out a few things on the way to the school. Held up the proverbial mirror for me, as it were." Tears again welled in his father's eyes, but the didn't fall. "I gotta tell you, son, I didn't much like seeing what was looking back at me either."

Puzzled as to what he was talking about, John frowned. Patrick chuckled again. "Sorry, I shouldn't be quite so metaphorical, should I? What I'm trying to say is that Janice said flat out what a lot of other people have been hinting at for months. Namely that I've been so wrapped up in my own anger and what I'm feeling that I haven't been a very good father. Heck I haven't been a very good *person* and I've let you boys down--badly. There is no excuse for that and I won't try to make any. Your mother wouldn't be very happy with me if she were here, I'm afraid."

John was still half in shock, but he was also elated. He had his old dad back! He threw his arms around Patrick's neck and held on for dear life. "It's okay Dad. We can start over, just like you said. We can, I know it--Dave will say so, too, so don't worry. We can do stuff again and everything."

Patrick held him, too, just as tightly. "Yeah, that we can. But," he said, pulling John away. "We need to get you to a doctor. That bruise is pretty dark for being three days old already. God, John, I wish...no, we aren't going to go there. Just promise me that next time something like this happens, you'll tell me? Make me listen however you have to, but don't just hide it like that, okay?"

John grinned. If it meant getting his old dad back, he'd gladly suffer through a visit to the doctor--even a shrink. "Does this mean I'm not grounded anymore either?"

Patrick rolled his eyes. "Well, you *were* fighting at school--even if was for a noble cause. What do you think?"

John's grin faded. "Can I just be grounded from going to activities and stuff? And I'll stay in the fenced areas to ride and not go out on the trails."

"Oh so you think you're in a position to negotiate now, do you?" asked Patrick, his eyes twinkling. "Well, then, my budding little businessman, how about this? No extracurricular activities for the next two weeks, no leaving the immediate area around the house either--and you clean out Lightning's stall yourself for the next two months."

John considered the offer. "Make it one month and you've got a deal," he agreed.

Standing, Patrick nearly choked on his laughter. "Oh, yeah, you've definitely got a future in business, kid." He turned serious, giving John a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that had nothing to do with the bruise there. "Three months, and that's my final offer."

John's mouth fell open. "But you said two," he protested.

"That was before you tried arguing," explained his father.

"I was negotiating," said John.

"Yes, you were. And you negotiated yourself right into three months. Wanna go for four?"

"No! I'll take the three," he said, resigned to his fate.

Patrick reached over and ruffled the already messy hair. "Good man. Now come on, let's get that stomach of yours checked out."

"Okay," agreed John, following him out of the barn. "Can we stop for ice cream on the way home?"

Patrick stopped abruptly, turning a wary eye on his son. "What's this? Another attempt to negotiate so soon?"

John thought a moment before answering him. "No. Just asking."

Laughing, Patrick nudged him toward the car. "Well in that case, we'll have to wait and see, but I'm fairly certain something can be arranged."

Patrick made sure John was settled in his seat before going around to his own side and climbing in. John sank contentedly back into the seat and as they backed out of the drive, he smiled. For the first time in a long time, John began to believe that things just might be okay after all.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 05:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] karri-kln1671.livejournal.com
Beautiful story, dear Kat! Thank you muchly! *hugs*

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 05:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm so happy you enjoyed your little pressie! :D

*hugs back*

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 05:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] padawan-aneiki.livejournal.com
AWWW! That was perfect and priceless. I loved it!

*claps enthusiastically*

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 05:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thank you! :D I'm so happy you enjoyed it!! And thanks for holding my hand there at the end, lol. *hugs*

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 06:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kriadydragon.livejournal.com
Aww, that was sweet :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 06:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm very happy you enjoyed it. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-17 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kairi2310.livejournal.com
Aww...beautiful story! :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-18 08:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed reading. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-18 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] titan5.livejournal.com
This was great - I love backstory stuff! It explained a lot about the grown John Sheppard as well.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-18 08:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thanks so much! I love delving into possible scenarios from his childhood and how they affect the man he later becomes. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-26 07:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wildcat88.livejournal.com
This was wonderful! I adore John backstory, and you did an excellent job with this.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-27 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katstale.livejournal.com
Thank you! *beams* I'm very happy to hear you enjoyed it. :D

I am of the notion that there can never be too much exploration of John's backstory especially since the show told us diddly-squat during the whole FIVE YEARS and I so adore delving into the what-might-have-been in regard to his childhood. :)


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May 2009


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