Thrice Returned

by Nefertiti

Summary: After discovering that Treebeard has let Saruman go, Gandalf struggles with memories and with fears for the future.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to these characters; this story is offered purely for the enjoyment of fans

Author's note: Book-based. This series takes its name from my sequel to Poncing Ponies' lovely story, "Twice Given." As always, my thanks to her for welcoming a sequel by another hand and being so encouraging. Many thanks also to Elanor for betaing, encouragement, wonderful suggestions, and engrossing wizard-slash discussions. Without her, this series would most likely never have developed past being a sequel.

The first half of the story takes place during Volume 3, Chapter VI, "Many Partings," beginning with the passage: "Now the guests were ready, and they drank the stirrup-cup, and with great praise and friendship they departed, and came at length to Helm's Deep, and there they rested two days. Then Legolas repaid his promise to Gimli and went with him to the Glittering Caves." The second half takes place during the same chapter, a few pages later, as the remaining members of the Fellowship, along with Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, and Elrond's sons visit Isengard.

Part 10: August Sun over Isengard

Gandalf and Frodo were gazing up at marvelous formations of stalactites and frozen waterfalls of stone in hues of orange, pink, and yellow. They had been trailing along behind Gimli and Legolas as the dwarf showed his friend through the caverns behind Helm's Deep. The members of the Fellowship were making their leisurely way back from Minas Tirith to their respective homes. During their two days at the fortress, their friends showed Sam and Frodo around the area and told them of the great battle that had taken place there. Gandalf had downplayed his own role in the climax of the battle, but Frodo had been thrilled as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas all described in detail how the wizard had appeared suddenly as all hope was lost, bringing victory out of defeat.

As Gimli went on into the depths of the cave, leading Legolas by torchlight, the wizard stopped and lit up his staff. "I must say, I enjoy visiting beautiful places like this, but I have a somewhat limited tolerance for caves. I share Legolas' preference for growing things. Have you seen enough?"

Frodo nodded, somewhat overwhelmed by the huge spaces and the eerie silence. "Still, it's nice and cool in here after the heat of the day. Shall we go back and sit near the entrance and have something to eat?"

"Have you brought something? Oh, yes, I might have known. Well, that sounds very pleasant, my pet."

They made their way back and sat in the shadows just inside the bright entrance to the cave. Frodo extracted a bit of dried fruit and little cakes and water from his pack and handed some to Gandalf. They sat munching in silence for a short time. Frodo noticed that Gandalf was looking preoccupied, and the hobbit tried to cheer him up.

"What's the matter, my dear wizard? You're not regretting your decision to take me with you when you leave Middle-earth? Are you upset at the prospect of being saddled with a silly hobbit forever?"

Gandalf nearly laughed, but he tried to keep a straight face. "I must admit, the utter madness of the whole plan has finally struck home to me. I have begun to ask myself, 'What have I done?'"

Frodo looked up at him with a triumphant and complacent little grin. "Well, it's too late. You'll just have to put up with me, I'm afraid, because I'm not giving up my wizard for anything."

He nestled up against Gandalf, who put his arm around the hobbit and squeezed him briefly.

"But seriously, Gandalf, what were you brooding about? Does .. . does this place remind you too much of Moria and what happened there?"

Gandalf looked at Frodo with a little frown.

"No, that's not it. These caverns are not very much like Moria, after all. No, I am just thinking about the next stage of our trip. I have said that my task is over, but there are a few loose ends dangling. One thing I absolutely must do, much though I dread the prospect, is visit Isengard again and check on Saruman. That will be our next stop on this otherwise very pleasant journey." He clenched his teeth, and the tendons in his jaws worked. "I do not want you to go there with me. There is no . . . no point in it. We shall make a camp at the mouth of the valley, and you can wait for us there."

"Why? Why can't I go? I want to see Isengard and Orthanc and Saruman."

"No! Absolutely not!"

Frodo was startled by the wizard's vehemence. Gandalf had never spoken to him in quite that tone before, and his mood had changed so suddenly since their little bantering exchange. He tried to think if he had done anything to upset his lover, and he spoke rather uncertainly. "But, Gandalf, so much happened that I didn't see. I want to know how to describe it all when I come to write my book. I need to understand where you were imprisoned and how you defeated the White wizard and all sorts of things you can't just tell me. And I've heard so much about them that I must admit I'm just very curious to see it all for myself."

Gandalf made an obvious effort to respond quietly and calmly. "Frodo, listen to me. I have good reasons for not wanting to take you there. Please, just do what I ask. I'll answer your questions about all those events at any length, and describe where they took place. I'm sure Merry and Pippin can fill in that part of the tale. They both had considerable experience of Isengard."

Frodo was more puzzled than ever. Gandalf's attitude seemed to make no sense. At least, though, the wizard was apparently not upset with him. He ventured again, "What reasons? Why can everyone go to Orthanc but me?"

Gandalf sat for a long time without answering, his face dark and brooding. At last he glanced into Frodo's earnest eyes. "Frodo, Saruman is dangerous in ways other than the ones I revealed to the Council. He did not imprison me just to obtain news of the Ring." He paused and took a deep breath. Frodo waited expectantly.

"You see, Frodo, Saruman turned out to be in love with me."

"In love! But I thought you had become enemies-that he hated you."

"He does. Remember how I once remarked that Gollum both hated and loved the Ring?"


"I think Saruman's desire for me or the Ring or both may have done something similar to him. He both loves and hates me, I think-and he wanted my body as much out of hate as love."

Frodo stared at him, horrified. "He didn't . . . he didn't . .."

"No, he did not force me. He came very close to trying at one point. He taunted me in foul ways and even touched me, a bit. Somewhat like the Orcs in Cirith Ungol, I imagine, though your experience was undoubtedly far worse. Fortunately Saruman was overweening. He could have taken me-maybe--but he wanted, apparently, to coerce me into returning his love. He thought if he could get me to submit to him, he could eventually make me want him-of all perverse, self-deluding notions! I suspect it would not be enough for him simply to have my body. He could only defeat me thoroughly if I became enthralled with him. Of course there was never a possibility of that. No, the thing that terrified me was that he threatened to harm you in order to force my submission. I shall not tell you what he said, but he would have used you cruelly in order to obtain me. He had absolutely no compunction about it. And that is why I do not want you anywhere near him, imprisoned though he may be."

Frodo made a little grimace of disgust. "I can't believe he would be foolish enough to think you could ever love him. And why you? He is so powerful, surely he always could have had many lovers if he wanted."

"From something he said to me during that grotesque attempt at seduction, I think Saruman wanted me partly because I was the only one in Middle-earth more-or-less equal to him in rank. He would not deign to take one that he perceived as below him-though I suspect he has secretly on occasion, just as he hid his smoking. Only casually though, for purely sexual gratification. He would not want an ordinary being as a long-time lover. He often criticized me for my joy in simple pleasures and people. I gather that by exhibiting such "low" tastes I had betrayed him in some way, and he wanted to force me to see that only he and I were good enough for one another." He shook his head with a wry smile.

Frodo thought for a while. "Well, I want to go with you to Orthanc. More than ever now. Otherwise my imagination would always conjure up dreadful ideas about him and what he did to you. I want to see him as a prisoner, to see you in control of him."

"Well, I do not wish to taunt Saruman as he did me. Indeed, when I visited him with Theoden I forced myself to be magnanimous to him, perhaps more than I should have been. But I do remember what he was like before, and it makes me very sad. Long ago he was a wise and admirable wizard, and a very great and powerful one-if a bit haughty, even from the start."

"If he was anything like you, he must have been wonderful."

"We were never much alike, and we were never really friends, but I respected him a great deal. It was very difficult to have to depose and imprison him, despite all that he had done to me and threatened to do to you."

Frodo looked thoughtful. "But he loved you, and he must have been desperate-and very jealous of me, I suppose."

Gandalf stared at Frodo. "You have learned the lesson of pity better even than I had hoped, Frodo. And yes, Saruman is pitiable. But I'm not sure that he isn't dangerous still. That is one reason I should speak with him-but I hope it will be the last time. Perhaps, though, you are right. Perhaps I would feel better about the whole thing if you came with us. It would show him that he has failed to hurt either of us in the long run, that our love remains unsullied by his sordid desires. Seeing you should shame him, but I doubt he is capable of feeling anything other than jealousy and anger towards us both. And I would also like for him to see two more of the simple little hobbits that he scorns so much-two simple little hobbits who were able to destroy the great Ring. And, as you say, it might be good for you to see him defeated and powerless. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that is the memory of him that I would wish you and I to share. All right, I shall take you with me, though it will be difficult for me to see you in his presence, to let him touch you with his eyes, to talk to you-though I do not imagine that you, as the Ringbearer and my lover, would ever succumb to the lure of his voice."

Frodo nodded. "I can't imagine it either." He paused, then again tried to lighten the conversation. "On the other hand, I'm not sure I want you to be in Saruman's presence."

"Why not? I am hardly in any danger of yielding to him at last."

Frodo narrowed his eyes in mock accusation. "Are you sure? Gand-alf! Were you deliberately leading him on?"

Gandalf looked at him with an incredulous little frown.

"Confess, you were flirting with that dreadful wizard behind my back. You secretly wanted him, and he knew it!"

Gandalf let out a great guffaw, then continued to laugh more quietly for a long time. Finally he shook his head, shrugged, and said, "I just couldn't help myself. Those flashing eyes, that contemptuous curl to his lip . .. they drove me mad! He was completely irresistible." They both laughed and smiled fondly at each other.

"Trust you to make things seem-not quite so grim. Indeed, my dear hobbit, it was thoughts of you that helped me through that lonely, frightening imprisonment. Well, that is settled then. You shall go."

He leaned down and kissed Frodo, nibbling at the hobbit's soft lips. Frodo moaned softly with pleasure at intervals, and the pair savored the first hints of arousal, anticipating how they would satisfy each other later when they could be alone in their room. Soon they heard the voices of Gimli and Legolas, echoing up along the cavern walls in friendly argument as they emerged from the depths. Gandalf and Frodo stood up to await them, and then the four walked slowly back toward the fortress.

Later, at Isengard, the group had their meeting with Treebeard. The ent revealed that he had let Saruman leave Orthanc and depart. Frodo had seen that Gandalf was quite upset but that the wizard had stifled his reaction in order not to seem ungrateful to his old friend. After a while there came the sad partings as Gimli and Legolas left the group to head toward Fangorn Forest. As Treebeard said his farewells to Galadriel and Celeborn, and then to Merry and Pippin, the wizard turned and stared thoughtfully up at the pointed horns of the great black tower. Frodo watched him and wondered how the news of Saruman's departure was really affecting his lover.

After Treebeard left them, the group agreed to spend a few hours at Isengard, surveying the work of the ents and enjoying the garden they had created. They also dreaded the coming departure from Aragorn. As the others wandered off in pairs or small groups, Gandalf sat on a low block of stone near the entrance. The hobbit drifted over to him and asked in a low voice, "Are you thinking about Saruman-worrying that he'll try to do something to one of us?"

The wizard looked at him solemnly. "There is certainly that possibility. I do wish Treebeard had not given in to him. Of course, there is nothing to be done about it now, but naturally I am disturbed by this development. From what I know of Saruman's state of mind from our last meeting, he is far from resigned to his fate and thus quite likely to seek revenge of some sort. And he knows that the best revenge he could take on me would be to hurt you. Still, I suppose we should not let worry overshadow our joy in all that we have accomplished. After all, without his staff or any of his other possessions, Saruman is vastly reduced in power. And you and your fellow hobbits have all become much more powerful, in your own modest way. I would like to think that you could deal with him yourselves and that you don't always need my protection-though of course you will have it much of the time, my dearest Frodo. Nevertheless, our hope of having you see him as my prisoner is certainly not going to come true," he added ruefully, ruffling Frodo's curls gently.

Frodo looked at the bleak, forbidding tower with an anxious little frown. "Could we . . . would you mind terribly . . . going inside? With me, I mean, and maybe some of the others who want to go."

Gandalf stared at him for a moment. "Why?"

"Well, I cannot see him as your prisoner, true. But I could at least see where he kept you and know that you can walk away from it this time. I don't know, maybe it would help you, too, to see it that way. Or perhaps I'm asking too much. Maybe it would be too horrible for you to go back in there, especially with me."

Gandalf looked up at the tower for a long time. Finally he nodded. "If you think it would make you feel better in any way, I shall go inside with you, Frodo. I dread the thought, but, yes, let us try it. If I find it too difficult to face, we shall simply abandon the attempt. And I suppose Aragorn might want to have a quick look over what is now his. He has never been in Orthanc either."

They looked around and found Aragorn a short distance away, talking with Galadriel and Celeborn. Briefly Frodo explained their plan to him. Aragorn did not know the full extent of Saruman's obsessive and vicious treatment of Gandalf or his threats against Frodo, so he accepted their suggestion at face value and agreed to accompany them. The three walked slowly along the road toward the main entrance to the tower. Frodo held Gandalf's hand and glanced up into his face occasionally, but although his lover betrayed some slight signs of agitation, he was suppressing them as much as he could.

They climbed the long, high stairway toward the door and paused by a cracked and chipped patch. Gandalf pointed to it and looked at Frodo. "There is where the falling Palantir nearly ended my incarnation as Gandalf the White," he said to the hobbit with a slight smile. Frodo wrinkled his nose as he looked at the cracks, and he squeezed Gandalf's hand and pressed against the wizard. Meanwhile Aragorn had gone up the last few steps, using the great black keys to open the door.

Inside it was gloomy but not pitch dark. Filtered light came in through tall, narrow slits in the thick wall. Gandalf supplemented that illumination by lighting up his staff. He led the other two up a short flight of steps to Saruman's study, which had two large windows and was considerably brighter than the entrance hall and stairway. "This is where he welcomed me when I first arrived." The wizard sat down in an ornately carved wooden chair with a padded leather seat. "Yes, I sat here and ate a bit of bread and cheese and had a glass of wine. I was rather tense, since my conversations with Saruman had long ceased to be pleasant. He was always goading me about something, and I frequently had to restrain myself from becoming quite sharp with him. Still, on that occasion I had no suspicion of what was to come. Despite my disapproval of Saruman's decision to establish a permanent home-especially such an elaborate one-I always found this room intriguing. I knew he had been doing experiments, and I wondered if there were secrets tucked away amidst this clutter. I suppose he took any important documents with him, but he could not carry anything heavy. I can't say I fancy the idea of digging through it now. I doubt now that he ever discovered anything really significant-like the old secrets for making rings of power. If he had, he would have used it against us. His most precious possession was the Palantir, and of course he did not make that himself."

Frodo wandered around, looking at curious maps and instruments that were hanging or lying around the room. Aragorn said, "I think I shall go on and try to get a sense of the layout of the place. It seems impossible to get lost here, since all the rooms apparently open directly out onto this central staircase. I'll make a torch out of a piece of this wood," he added, moving to the fireplace.

Gandalf hesitated. "I think I shall go up to the roof. Alone to begin with, if you don't mind staying here by yourself for a while, Frodo. Give me a little while up there, and then if either of you wants to see the top, come and join me. The view is quite spectacular, of course, if one does not have to live with it for months on end."

Aragorn was occupied with making his torch, but Frodo watched with a little frown as Gandalf went out of the room and paused on the long stairway looking up. At first the hobbit thought his lover might decide against visiting his old prison, but eventually Gandalf walked up the steps and soon disappeared around a bend. Frodo wished he could go along, but he realized that he had to respect Gandalf's wishes on this matter. He continued to inspect the room, glancing at various documents left lying about, but nothing seemed particularly important-or indeed particularly comprehensible.

Gandalf reached the large door that led out onto the roof. As he stepped through, he hesitated. There was no key and no one to lock him in, but he paused and put an opening spell on the door, just to reassure himself. He slowly went up the stairwell until he was standing on the hard, black flagstones. Exactly a year ago he had been trapped there, and the beautiful summer weather was the same sort he had experienced on many days. At least, he reflected, walking to look over the edge, the grim devastation that Saruman had wreaked upon the area around the tower no longer dominated the view below.

He paced slowly across the roof and clicked his tongue in annoyance. Why had Treebeard given in to Saruman? Despite the fact that the treacherous wizard had been responsible for destroying so many trees and even killing several Ents, Treebeard had nevertheless fallen prey to that unnaturally persuasive voice. He gave a humorless little snort of laughter. Treebeard had always claimed that he worried too much about the future, and now, when Gandalf had believed that he could put such worries behind him, the Ent himself had forced Gandalf to return to brooding on things to come.

He wondered why he had put himself through the ordeal of returning to this roof. Partly no doubt to reassure Frodo that he was not haunted by the events of that dreadful time. Partly perhaps to prove the same thing to himself. True, he remembered vividly the constant fear of expecting, week after week, to be sent off to Mordor and the Dark Tower. Still, the previous visit to Isengard and his breaking of Saruman's staff had made that memory less oppressive to him. But now there was a renewed, and very real fear that Saruman was out there, somewhere, almost certainly with vengeance on his mind. Ironically, he thought, they were probably safer here in Orthanc than they would be when they rode into the bleak, deserted lands to the west of the Misty Mountains. He recalled Saruman's vicious threats against Frodo, and the ugly, gloating tone in his voice as he made them. Here I am again, Gandalf thought, standing on Orthanc and worrying about what Saruman might do to Frodo. He shuddered slightly. Well, they were hardly vulnerable to attack, traveling as they were, in a group. There was no way that Saruman could carry through those threats. He did not know their plans and hence could not be deliberately hiding in ambush. They would just have to be particularly cautious.

He was tempted to leave the tower as quickly as possible, but he had promised to show Frodo his rooftop prison. He sat on the paving, his back against one of the tower's horns, as he so often had during his captivity. Gradually he relaxed a little and began to enjoy the view and the superb weather. He barely flinched when he heard a footstep on the stair, and he smiled in welcome as Aragorn emerged. He looked at the amazing vistas all around, then slowly walked over to the wizard.

"To let, one spacious wizard's tower, beautiful views, luxurious accommodations. What say you, would the prospect of such a home tempt you to stay on and advise me, my friend?"

Gandalf smiled briefly. "Now, we've had all this out before. You know I must leave Middle-earth."

Aragorn sat beside him, and his own smile faded. "Oh, yes, I know. But I have your promise to return for a long visit before you go, at least once. You won't forget, will you, dazzled by two beautiful blue eyes that lure you to stay in the Shire?"

"You know I won't forget. I can visit you and still manage to spend far more of my time with Frodo than I did before his Quest began. But like you, I dread the time when we must say good-bye forever."

Aragorn was silent for a moment. "I have just seen the pain of Arwen's separation from Elrond, and I'm afraid that I shall feel much the same way when you and I part for the last time."

Gandalf glanced at him and then looked out over the distant mountain peaks, sighing. "You have Arwen, you have your throne, you have a great kingdom to rebuild, to preserve, and to expand. You have many friends and allies across this great continent. You no longer need me."

"No, perhaps not. No, I realize that. You have taught me well in the many years we have known each other. When problems confront me, I can almost always imagine what you would do in the same situation. But I shall miss you, Gandalf. We have been through so much together. We have shared so much joy and tedium and fear and triumph. It is not because I need you that I wish you could stay. It is because I love you, as a friend, as a father, as a teacher." He stopped, tears standing in his eyes.

Gandalf put his hand on Aragorn's shoulder. "I know, Aragorn, my friend . . . my very dear friend. I feel the same way. I never had a father myself, of course, or any family in the sense that mortals have them. But to the extent that I can imagine what that would be like, I think that you have indeed been a son to me. There is no one in Middle-earth that I shall leave behind with half so much regret."

They sat silently, and finally Aragorn said, "Well, no sense in plunging ourselves into melancholy now. I shall look forward to your visit .. . when, do you think?"

"Oh, perhaps in a year. Summer would be a good season for traveling. We shall probably not reach the Shire until around the end of the year, and I want to spend a good long stretch of time with Frodo before leaving to come south again. Speaking of which, I rather expected him to be up here by now."

"I'll go down and see what's keeping him."

Gandalf thanked him and stood up to stretch his legs as his friend disappeared down the stairwell. On the way down, Aragorn met Frodo, treading carefully in the gloom of the stairs. The hobbit looked inquiringly at him. "Do you think it would be all right to go up and see Gandalf now? Does he seem . . . upset at being back here?"

"He seems fine, but perhaps he's just putting on a brave front for our benefit. At any rate, go and comfort him whether he needs it or not. He certainly wants you, you lucky hobbit. Go on up. We'll wait below, for as long as you two want to stay up there together-within reason, of course."

The wizard greeted Frodo with a brief kiss when he reached the roof, and then the pair strolled slowly around the pavement. "My very elegant dining room, sleeping room, sitting room, all in one," Gandalf said with a sweep of his arm across the roof.

"Well, it's certainly as bleak and barren as you described it. I can't imagine spending ten weeks here."

"No. I have had many dangerous and trying experiences here in Middle-earth, but that period must rank high among them. Shall we sit down here, out of the sun? Or have you seen enough? I suppose the others will want to depart soon."

"Aragorn said they could wait a while. And as before, we won't have much privacy once we're traveling in the uninhabited country."

The pair sat in the shade, and Frodo leaned against Gandalf , his head lying on the wizard's beard. Gandalf stroked his hair slowly and softly. "I missed you so much during that time, my lovely hobbit, and yet I was most grateful that you were not here." He chuckled. "I wish I could have seen Saruman's reaction after Gwaihir rescued me. He had taken a great risk by not sending me to Mordor, and he must have realized that he was in even greater danger once I was gone."

"Let's not think about him any more. You once said that you would make some new memories for me, to help banish the bad ones. Maybe I can as well."

Slowly he slid his hand down from Gandalf's chest, past his thin, muscular belly, and finally to the front of his trousers. The wizard inhaled sharply, then remained utterly still as Frodo gently rubbed his member through the cloth. At first the hobbit thought that his lover was not responding at all to his touch, but gradually he felt the first signs of arousal and realized that Gandalf was gasping softly and raggedly. Through the white cloth, the hobbit nudged the half-hard erection upright along the wizard's stomach and pulled and squeezed it a little harder. Gandalf continued to run his fingers through Frodo's hair. They sat for long minutes, neither speaking, as the hobbit's hand stroked Gandalf to full arousal. The wizard was writhing slightly under him by now. He began to put his arms around Frodo, but the hobbit whispered, "Don't move." He began to unlace Gandalf's trousers, sliding down so that his head was against the wizard's stomach, just above the gap that formed as he pulled the laces apart. He reached in and pulled Gandalf's erection out, stroking it a bit more firmly and pulling it toward his mouth so that he could lick its head wetly. The wizard let out a long sigh, then drew in a hissing breath through clenched teeth.

Frodo prolonged the climb toward ecstasy, relaxing his grip as the wizard became more aroused, running his fingers teasingly over the throbbing veins, and brushing the large balls with just their tips. He swirled his tongue luxuriously over the black slit in the end, tasting the first drops leaking from it. Gandalf began to whimper quietly in combined pleasure and frustration, but Frodo refused to increase either the speed or pressure of his caresses. At last the wizard gasped, "You do plan to relieve me eventually, my dear hobbit-I hope."

Frodo dragged his tongue along the ridge on the underside of Gandalf's length. "Eventually, yes," and he resumed his tantalizing attentions.

After a few more minutes, Gandalf was writhing more actively. He tried to push his erection harder against the hobbit's tongue. "Frodo, please!" he begged in a strangled voice. At last the hobbit took pity on him and engulfed the big, plum like tip with his mouth, pumping the purple shaft in a tight fist for a short time until the wizard tensed and moaned loudly. Gush after gush of thick hot liquid filled Frodo's mouth, and he swallowed deftly, then coaxed little additional flashes of pleasure through the wizard's cock in a long, slow descent.

As Gandalf sighed in bliss, Frodo pushed himself upright again and leaned against the wizard's shoulder. As he expected, Gandalf laid his cheek on top of the hobbit's head and immediately drifted off to sleep. His trousers were still undone, but Frodo did not want to move to close them, supporting the wizard as he was. "Aragorn is not likely to let anyone come up and disturb us," the hobbit thought with a grin. "He probably suspected we'd need some real privacy."

A few minutes later Gandalf sat up and looked at him with half-closed eyes and a very contented expression. He kissed Frodo's forehead. Frodo quickly scrambled to his feet. "Well, that was very pleasant, but we wanted to cover some distance before sunset. And I have now had a thorough sample of the dreadfully hard floor you had to contend with all that time. Do you want to leave now?"

Gandalf rose and looked down at him lovingly. "Yes, let's go, my darling hobbit. You have definitely provided the last memory I want to associate with this place. Off to the road again-the one that leads toward home."

TBC and concluded in Thrice Returned #11: His Own Private Wizard

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