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sophonisbaworks
has Sophonisba fecit
[fanfic] [repost] Puruussashanji ~ The More Things Change ~ 
12th-Jul-2009 01:14 pm
calling
I've thought in gigantic multicrossovers for rather longer than I've been on livejournal, and somehow or another, they always wind up talking to one another (indeed, the Melioranda-verse has turned out four-petalled, and my own pet Zophonisbeion mostly an extended AU for the Melioranda in Oriente). Which tends to make some of the stories more than a little opaque; and I've never been entirely sure how to fix that.

I bring this up only to introduce one of my stories -- one that, somehow or another, inexplicably never made it onto my website -- which, while I hope and trust that it remains comprehensible without its context, is nevertheless rather firmly woven into the pattern of my larger story.

-title- Puruussashanji (plus ça change) ~ The More Things Change ~
-authorial credit- Sophonisba (saphanibaal)
-fandom- Shin Kidou Senki Gundam Wing; implied others
-category- Drama; background crossover
-timeline- During Episodes 31 and 32
-pairings- Nothing specific, although there are Implications implicating themselves all over the place
-notes- This story was previously posted to the Gundam Wing Addiction BBS, which at this time is currently down for maintenance. Contains numerous literary and popular allusions, the less obvious of which are noted at the end.
-summary- Vignettes from one of the more allegro movements of Relena (Darlian) Peacecraft's adolescent apocalypse; your youth is when you define these things for yourself.


Puruussashanji
(plus ça change)
~ The More Things Change ~



"Humanity has always had impulses to peace. It's only that now we truly have incentive to maintain it: if we can't restrain ourselves, what is there before us but mutually assured destruction?"

Dorothy Catalonia looked at the earnest girl, flanked by matching tired-eyed blond and brunet youths. "Ah yes. 'And it's one, two, three, four; / What the hell're we fighting for?/ Don't ask me, I don't give a damn... '"

"But we have to," Relena Darl-- Peacecraft objected. "We want our peace to last. So we need to find out what people would fight for, so we can find a way to get them not to fight for it."

"And how do you propose to get them not to fight for it, Relena-sama? Humanity has always had impulses to war. There is no way to keep them from wanting to fight."

"There is." Quatre Raberba Winner's voice was utterly polite, and far too controlled. "Kill them all. I have never seen belligerent dead."

Relena was not touching that one. She might be fifteen and she might have been sheltered, but she could recognize too much pain when it stepped into the way and made itself comfortable in the middle of her path.

"Besides that," she said firmly.

"There's a besides?" Dorothy raised her eyebrows.

"If there's one way, there must be more. All we have to do is find them."

"Suppose there aren't more?"

"If you can prove, undeniably, that there aren't more, we'll discuss that then."

Relena swept on, avatar of peace between votaries of war.

"Suppose you can't find them," Hiiro said at last.

"As I said... we have incentive."

*

"What is courage?" Dorothy asked.

"Courage," Relena said confidently, "is when you're scared to do something, and you do it anyway."

"But what if you jumped off a cliff?" Dorothy arched one forked eyebrow. "You'd probably be afraid to do it, but if you did it anyway..."

"Well..." Relena's brow furrowed. "I suppose it's when you're scared to do something that isn't stupid, or something worthwhile..."

The other girl took a half step forward, dropping her voice intimately. "But who decides what's worthwhile? What's intelligent?"

"Well... that's not..." Relena narrowly held herself back from stamping a foot in frustration. "Let me think about it for a while, all right?"

"Certainly I'll give you the time to think," almost breathing in her ear now, "Relena-sama."

Dorothy straightened, turned, and walked away, a few strands of flaxen hair dragging across Relena's arm as the spin lifted and then dropped them.

*

"Ru-ro-u-ni... Kenshin?" Relena looked at the handlabeled discs dubiously.

"Duo lent them to me," Hiiro said. "To see what they are about. You should see, because of this school."

"Duo?" Relena decided to work out what 'because of this school' meant later, possibly after watching the discs. So often what Hiiro meant was only clear in hindsight, anyway.

Hiiro looked at her for a long moment. "Duo Maxwell," he said at last, offering the name up as a precious gift. "The boy with the long braid, who shot me before your eyes."

"So... you're working together, then? I wasn't really sure what was going on there... are these about the Gundams? Is that why you think I should see them?"

"No." Hiiro evidently felt, after a short pause, that this needed more amplification, and added "It is fiction. About an assassin, in Japan, long ago, who stopped. And Kaoru's ideas are dreams, but he likes them better."

Description of plot as opposed to facts or scenes, Relena reflected, had apparently been left out of Hiiro's training regimen.

"So he thought you should see what they're about because..."

"He wrote, 'I think you'd like them,'" Hiiro reported. "He put them in a box and mailed them to where I went to check for important packages, and they were there when I checked, after..." His voice trailed off. "Before -- when you came and saw us, when we were at that school, he said 'Geez, man, don't you ever loosen up and have some fun? I mean, not related to The Mission or Maintaining Cover. You ought to stop and smell the roses now and again. "Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are STAAAAARVING to death!"' Although I think that last was a quotation from somewhere."

"Ah... yes, it is," said Relena, who had been subjected to a lecture from Lady Catalonia on Classic Stage Musicals Of The Early Rocket Age that morning.

"And later than that, he said 'Take some time for yourself now and again. I thought you were dead, goddamnit, and it wasn't fair that you should have ended without ever having begun. There's no point in surviving if you can't live while you're alive.' Which parses but doesn't quite make sense. But I think that's why he sent me these and the others, as part of that conversation."

"Oh." Relena pushed a wisp of hair that had worked its way loose behind her ear. "Maxwell-kun is your friend. You should have told me."

"Friend," Hiiro tasted the word, letting it roll around on his tongue. "A friend is someone who gives you things? Or someone who tells you to loosen up?"

"Both." Relena stood up, putting the wallet of discs on the shelf next to her. "Or neither. It depends."

"It's confusing." Hiiro stood up abruptly, as if it were vital that he get clear of the innocuous chair as quickly as possible.

"People always are, particularly as the group size diminishes." Relena thought for a moment. "Tell your friend, 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.'"

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it," Hiiro repeated. "I think he... my friend already knows that."

"Yes, but I think he'd like to know that you do. And if we don't start right now, *we'll* miss the beginning of Western Civ."

*

"Your mother doesn't approve of this. Of me."

"Nonsense," Dorothy said blithely. "No one believed more in the ideals of Cinq and the Peacecraft rule than she did. No one was more hurt than she was when they were destroyed."

"And she and her brother survived that."

"Well, my uncle never was very interested in politics, and as she vouched for him and happened to be married to my father at the time..."

"Ah yes, I can see how being part of the household of one of the highest officers of the invading army might grant some immunity."

"Why, Relena-sama!" Dorothy went so far as to clap her hands in delight. "That was actually cynical; I'm so proud of you!"

"Don't." Relena held the other girl's eyes for a moment. "I'm actually surprised the Alliance didn't try to pull a Scipio Africanus and order your father to divorce her."

"Oh, they did." Dorothy threw her hair behind her left shoulder. "He told them to go stick it in their pointy ear, and as he was such a respected and well-connected officer, they were forced to heed him."

"Pointy ear," Relena repeated.

"It is common parlance among a certain subset of the nobility, Relena-sama -- oh, I forgot: you wouldn't know, would you?"

"But that's why I have you and Pargan, Dorothy. You're so kind to tell me these things." Relena beamed innocently at her blonder companion.

Dorothy's lip twisted slightly.

"So it isn't the Academy; your mother just doesn't approve of me."

"My mother always upholds her family and their values. Why, we were practically raising one of my cousins for a while when I was small."

"Oh? Is there another hidden pacifist eager to come support me?"

"Oh, dear me, no." Dorothy leaned forward slightly. The leftmost portion of her hair fell in front of her shoulder again, softening her pale pointed face. "He went into the Alliance military, like my father before him. You may have heard of him: Zechs Marquise."

"No wonder your mother doesn't like me."

*

"So Dorothy told me that while the Darlians had me, the Catalonia household had Zechs. Milliard. Whatever."

"No wonder you don't like her, Hiiro." Quatre dropped out of the tree and sat down next to them.

"Quatre-san, we were having a private conversation. It's considered polite to let people know you're there or leave beforehand."

"I knew he was there."

"I didn't." Relena glared at Hiiro.

"I really am most terribly sorry. I hadn't realized Hiiro hadn't let you know."

Relena pulled her jacket more closely about herself.

"So!" Quatre said brightly. "You think Lady Catalonia dislikes you because she considers you an usurper?"

"I suppose that's possible..."

"Zechs isn't here." Hiiro almost visibly clicked into tactical mode.

"And Noin-san said that he more-or-less abdicated any possible position in favor of Relena-sama." Quatre matched him. "Although, given that Lady Catalonia is a kinswoman of the late Peacecraft king, perhaps -- "

"She's my father's second cousin." Relena eyed the boys distressedly. "But really, I expect she doesn't like me because I told Hiiro to kill her foster-son, even if I took it back."

"I don't believe I quite caught that." Quatre had a look of polite inquiry on his face, but his posture was just that fraction too stiff for it to be inconsequential.

"When I was dueling Zechs in Antarctica. Relena had someone fly her there, and called -- "

"I was sure Hiiro was fighting for his life," Relena said loudly, "so I yelled at him to kill Zechs and get away safely, and Noin scolded me over the radio for being a fratricidal spoiled brat."

Hiiro's brow furrowed. "She didn't say anything about a spoiled brat."

"Yes, but she meant it."

"I thought you believed in total pacifism, Relena-sama."

"I do now." Relena looked at Quatre earnestly. "But that was before I'd really discovered what my parents believed in, what my real father was trying to accomplish. As his daughter, I need to carry on his legacy, now I know of it."

"Relena-sama." Quatre's face was distant, and perhaps a little sad. "That's what your father believed in. What do you believe in?"

"Why -- what my father said, of course -- "

"You can't believe in a cause just because your father does. It's not fair to you, and it's not fair to the cause... and it's probably not fair to your father, either."

Relena stared at him for a moment. Then she jumped to her feet and walked off. Gracefully. As befits a queen.

Even when she heard Dorothy, who had apparently been coming up behind her, saying "My dear Quatre, I am impressed. What on earth did you say to Relena-sama?"

*

"But, Relena-sama, what about Lady Anne?"

"What about Lady Anne?" Relena was almost certain that a headache was beginning to develop slightly above and behind her right eyebrow. Now, if ever, she was not in the mood to deal with gracefully vicious Catalonias (as she kept thinking of them).

"You attempted to kill her, did you not?" Lady Catalonia wound her blonde veil of hair into a chignon rather than let it hang free, but she had the same direct, mocking-accusatory stare as her daughter.

"I -- I don't -- "

"Or perhaps you missed on purpose, in order to summon her guards? Suicide by military; how original."

"I didn't -- I wasn't -- "

"Regardless of your intentions towards the commander, I suppose you expected the other partygoers to save you? How calculating, my dear Relena. How... callous."

"I didn't expect that -- "

"Then what did you expect, Relena-sama?" General Lord Catalonia's widow almost spat the honorific.

"I don't know!"

"But you were there. You should know what you were thinking at the time."

"I don't remember!"

"I expect you weren't thinking straight at the time," Quatre said.

"I wasn't thinking straight," Relena shot Quatre a look of gratitude, "and now that I am, I cannot remember what it was like not to."

"Oh, yes. Young Master Winner would be an expert on that, wouldn't he."

Relena drew a deep breath and mentally counted to ten. Then she turned slightly to Quatre, who had gone a very nasty color, laid a hand on his forearm, and did it again.

"I do beg your pardon, Cousin, but we are about to be dreadfully late for our study group and must excuse ourselves. Come on, Quatre, you know Polly was threatening to rearrange people's internal organs into the shapes of their names in kanji if she had to round them up one more time."

"How very peaceful," Lady Catalonia said.

"Oh, she was planning to do it in an utterly nonviolent and harmless way..."

*

"Just this last shot, and we'll be done for the day!"

Relena rolled her eyes at the too-bright ceiling lamps and considered the possibility of pacifist ways of strangling overenthusiastic photo shoot directors. Then she noticed what she was thinking and chastised herself for Unfilial Thoughts, Failing To Live Up To Herself, and Generally Acting Like A Two-Year-Old.

"I'm still unsure of the wisdom of this pose." Pargan determinedly stared into a corner of the room.

"It's a classic!" The director was nearly bouncing up and down. "Innocence, honesty, womanhood, the potential for wisdom, the uncertainty of the enterprise, the black-and-white film gives it an otherworldly effect..."

"It's a large snake." Pargan was not convinced.

Dorothy tossed her wealth of hair. "It's art."

"A large snake. That won't stay in place and be photographed."

"Mariah's just a little antsy." The director's voice dropped to a croon. "Aren't you, baby?"

Mariah wriggled across a sensitive bit of Relena, who did not quite manage to choke back a squeal.

Dorothy did not quite manage to choke back a snicker.

Relena drew in a deep breath, let it out, and hissed at Mariah the Snake, "Look, the sooner you settle down and be photographed with me, the sooner we can all get out of here and get some sleep. As you were? Please?"

Dorothy giggled, which in itself was rather disturbing.

Mariah let out a long breathy hiss that seemed more like a sigh than anything else, settling back into position with what seemed to Relena to be a shamefaced air.

"Oh, wonderful. Lean your head a little farther over the arm, Your Splendourness... ohhh, yes. Just like that."

The photographers were snapping off shots quickly or letting what seemed to be some sort of timed exposure expose itself, respectively.

"Beautiful. Beautiful." The director came forward and carefully picked up Mariah. "Wonderful, honey. That's Mama's girl."

Relena twisted her neck around, trying to get rid of the crick in it.

The director gently settled Mariah back in her traveling terrarium. "You can put your clothes back on now, Your Resplendency."

Relena sat up, swung her feet down from the couch, and began to do just that.

"Was it good for you, too?" Dorothy whispered in an all-too-accurate imitation of the director in yes-that's-perfect mode.

Relena reached for the pile of the various costumes she had worn for the shoot, snatched up the laurel wreath, and threw it at her cousin.

*

"It's all very well to say 'peace, peace,'" Dorothy ran to catch Relena up under the archway, "but what do you do when they attack you? It only takes one foe to make a war."

"It's only a war," Relena looked at her earnestly, "when both sides are fighting. We'll try to persuade them not to."

"And if they won't be persuaded -- will you fight then?"

"Dorothy. The whole point is not to fight. If we fight, we lose."

"And if you don't fight, you die."

"Yes -- but we'll have been right. And that's what really matters. We'll have won where it counts."

"Right, Relena-sama?" Dorothy laid a hand on Relena's arm. "Was Vice Minister Darlian right? And did it matter? Can you say he won?"

Relena jerked free of Dorothy's arm and stalked off at a near-run, Hiiro falling into place beside her.

"It all comes down to willingness to kill, you see." Dorothy's light voice carried through the quad. "He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing!"

Relena strode on, ignoring her.

"She's wrong." Hiiro's voice was tentative in her ear.

She tilted her head towards him.

"It's not being willing to kill. It's what you're willing to kill for."

Relena turned her face away from him as they walked to their next class.

*

"So you see, that's why it's thought of as a derivative function."

"Thank you, Quatre-kun!" The bushy-haired redhead flung her arms around a very surprised Quatre and hugged him once before rushing off to her next class.

"I think you have an admirer, 'Quatre-kun,'" Relena laughed, leaning against the wall.

"I certainly hope Polly likes him." Dorothy stepped over to Quatre, looking him up and down. "If this is how she treats someone she's indifferent to, I'd hate to think what she might do were her affections truly engaged."

"Must you talk like Treize Khushrenada, Dorothy?"

"I've known Cousin Treize all my life, Relena-sama. I hardly find it surprising that we may have some ways of speech in common."

Quatre rolled his eyes.

Hiiro tapped Relena on the arm. She turned towards him, immediately noticing the probable cause; Dorothy's mother was fast approaching them, heels failing to click on the thin carpet as they might have on linoleum.

"Relena-sama." Lady Catalonia drew up before them, eyeing the two boys as if they were some form of amazingly intelligent slime mold. "A word?"

"Anything you have to say to me, you can surely say in front of the three of them." Relena smiled pleasantly. There were days when she'd rather deal with all of Romefellar put together than with her eldest remaining paternal kinswoman. At least with Romefellar, she'd have some idea of where they stood.

Lady Catalonia was now eyeing the pilots as if they were a form of amazingly intelligent slime mold that had taken up residence on the good china. On a day when company was expected.

"Very well, then," she sighed. "From what I hear, you have been misconcentrating your attention."

"I'm sorry, I've been what?"

"Relena-sama. You -- through no fault of your own -- have not been raised in the politics of Cinq, and of our particular European culture. There are certain officials, certain families, who have more... influence than others. You don't need to spend your time convincing the wrong sort."

Relena was trying to formulate some polite but conclusive rebuttal when Hiiro answered. After that, she was too busy gaping.

"Really, Mother," he drawled in an accent that reminded Relena of watching Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries with her mother -- Imogen Darlian -- her mama, "Relena's a bright girl. I'm sure she can figure out the wrong sort for herself."

Relena managed to tear her eyes away from Hiiro in order to verify that the other three were as flabbergasted as she was. Quatre was mouthing 'Mother?', bemused; Lady Catalonia had frozen, a dull flush spreading up her cheeks, eyes burning the green of beam weapons; and Dorothy was looking from Hiiro to her mother to Relena with the avidity of a gladiatorial spectator once first blood has been drawn.

"Thank you," Relena managed, half-unconsciously laying a hand on Hiiro's forearm and feeling his muscles warm and solid beneath her palm, "but..."

"On your own heads be it, then," Lady Catalonia said, in the same tone of voice as she might have used to comment that the weather was very nice out today, did you think it might rain? "'The world breaks everyone... but those that will not break, it kills.'"

She turned and walked away, refusing to let tension dislodge her elegant golden chignon or quicken her steps.

"Er," Relena said finally, after her second cousin once removed had turned the corner and vanished. "Did I just do something very stupid?"

"Oh, probably," Dorothy said.

"I think it's more like 'did the two of you just do something very stupid?'" Quatre shook his head. "And Hiiro -- what in the world was that?"

"I'm not sure." At least his voice had gone back to its normal clipped tones.

"I think it's a quotation from somewhere," Relena said.

"I'd... heard somewhere before," Hiiro half-agreed. "Something like it. Not... maybe..." He shrugged, obviously uncomfortable. "You should have said it, so I said it for you."

"And so familiarly, too." Dorothy beamed at Hiiro, if the definition of "beam" were taken to include "razor-sharp fangs or the impression of same". "I'm afraid I don't quite recall when you joined our household..."

"Hiiro tends to quote very literally," Relena said, realizing where her hand was and quickly moving it. "That's probably the way it was in whatever it's from -- do either of you recognize it?"

Dorothy's "No" was almost swallowed by Hiiro's "No, it wasn't."

"I'm afraid I don't recognize where it's from, either," Quatre had waited until the other two finished speaking, "probably something that never made it to my corner of L4."

"Probably something popular among the masses." Dorothy's voice was as sweet as mead.

"I did recognize Lady Catalonia's quotation, however. It's from that Evangelion thing Duo was reading me bits of. 'It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.'"

"It's from Hemingway, nitwit." Iced mead. "I don't know where you're getting this Eva-whatsis from. Philistine."

"It could be from both." Quatre looked at her earnestly. "Evangelion might have been quoting Hemingway."

Dorothy had pulled some sort of large milky bluish gem, set in gold, out of... somewhere... during the conversation, and was now flipping it over and over in her hand.

"It's clear enough, anyway," she said. "Break or be killed. Choose one."

"That's not right." Hiiro looked directly at Dorothy. "Won't the world kill you anyway? Eventually?"

"You've read Hemingway."

The next time she tossed the gem (bracelet? wristguard? elaborate pin?) up, Hiiro caught it.

"No."

"Do."

Hiiro cupped the gem in his hand and looked at it. It appeared to be... glowing?

"Maybe you could have been our adopted baby brother after all," Dorothy said, reaching over and taking it out of his hand. She restowed it, although Relena couldn't quite tell whether she put it in a pocket or her sleeve. "You'd have fit in, it seems."

Hiiro eyed her suspiciously.

"My brother, the efficient killer. Wonderful ornament to the family."

Hiiro glared and then stalked off down the hall, in the opposite direction to the one Dorothy's mother had gone, stopping out of earshot to lean against the wall and watch them.

"Goodness." Dorothy turned back to Relena. "Was it something I said?"

Relena didn't bother answering that. She turned to Quatre.

"They stalk off the same way."

"So do you two." Quatre gestured to her and Dorothy. "Maybe you all are related somehow."

Dorothy shrugged.

"Mother left some of it out," she changed the subject. "'The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places.' So it doesn't even really matter whether you break or not."

"No," Relena said. "It matters to you."

Dorothy glared at her and then stalked off in the direction her mother had gone, with the same long-legged narrow-hipped stride Hiiro and Lady Catalonia had used.

"Relena-sama." Quatre gazed at her with infinitely sad eyes.

"I didn't say it was necessarily a good thing. Or necessarily a bad thing. Just... it matters."

"Yes. It matters."

*

"First calling for Zechs's death, then trying to kill Lady Anne -- oh, forgive me, that should be the other way around -- do your admirers know what a violent thing you are, Relena-sama?"

Relena glared at Dorothy. "I wasn't trying to kill Lady Anne.

"I didn't want to kill Lady Anne," she repeated, voice slow with realization.

(A woman laughing, weapon in her hand -- a woman staring at you, making split-second calculations, arm goes back and compact goes forward, high parabola -- you can see the pathway, see its inevitable end through the opening -- it explodes and for a moment nothing makes any sense at all, except of course it makes sense, it always made sense and you're just lying to yourself -- you've got to get to him, never mind if there are enemies all around, never mind if it's certain death, he's the only father you've ever known and it's all your fault and you've got to get to him -- )

"I didn't want to kill Lady Anne. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted to hurt her really badly.

"I didn't. Hurt her. But I wanted to.

"And I don't like knowing that I'm the kind of person who can want to hurt someone really badly. But I don't know how to not be that person. So I'm trying to be the kind of person who doesn't hurt someone no matter how much she wants to."

"My friend said something." Hiiro looked at her earnestly. "When we were in prison together. He said, 'Welcome to humanity! It's a bitch! You're gonna love it!'"

Relena blinked at him for a moment, completely knocked out of the solemn mood she had put herself in.

"I thought," Hiiro looked worried now, "I thought it fit."

"Oh, it does." Relena smiled. "It fits excellently well. Thank you."

"Your friend has a remarkably crude way of expressing himself, Hiiro," Dorothy smiled.

"And I suppose 'stick it in your pointy ear' is a highly refined expression?" Relena lifted her eyebrows.

Dorothy opened her mouth, closed it, and then flounced off.

"One," Relena drew an imaginary line in the air, "for my side."

"Who's winning?"

"... I think she is."

"Mm."

"... I think... we both are."

*

"Relena-sama, that was stupid."

"I know it was stupid, Dorothy. You needn't tell me."

"Relena-sama, that was really stupid."

"Honestly, Dorothy, it's not as if it's the stupidest thing I've ever done."

"Well, that's true, at least. There was the time you brushed my mother off -- "

"Part of that was her fault, you know. If she hadn't been throwing around loaded classist terms, I wouldn't have reacted badly to them."

"I beg your pardon, Tsukushi-sama. The fact remains, a lot of the remaining old Cinq nobility remember her as their golden girl, and you really could have used her.

"And then there was the time you had yourself photographed wearing a very large snake."

"That was a good photograph!"

"I didn't say it wasn't."

"It was a nice picture," the third member of the group chimed in. "She looked... " Hiiro ran out of words, looked inside his head to find them, and went on, "like home. Like where you come to when you've been looking all this time, and there it is, but you knew it all along."

"Dear me." Dorothy blinked. "I hadn't known we had a budding poet among ourselves. And it was a perfectly lovely, luminous black-and-white photograph, and I have a print of it framed on my nightstand -- you still shouldn't have done it."

Relena spun on Dorothy. "You were there at the time!"

"I wanted a copy for my picture frame. Honestly, Relena-sama, I'm not your bodyguard."

"Excuse me," Quatre broke in politely. "The picture under discussion is a photograph of Relena-sama wearing a very large snake and... "

"My skin?"

Quatre dropped his forehead into the heel of his hand.

"See, Quatre agrees with me."

"I went to a lot of effort to have that picture taken. I got to bake under floodlights, and have a very large snake crawl over me until I told her to please sit down and shut up."

"Oh, is that what you were doing, Relena-sama? I thought you were treating us to a charming imitation of a teakettle."

"Dorothy, do you honestly think that if I were to scold a snake, I would scold it loudly enough for the rest of the room to hear?"

Quatre looked up. "Relena-sama... are you saying that you hissed at the snake?"

"Well, I suppose you could say so..."

"When a snake hisses at a girl," Quatre said calmly, "that is not news. When a girl hisses at a snake, that is news."

"Hiiro?"

Hiiro looked up.

"Hit him."

Hiiro blinked.

"Gently," Relena hastily corrected herself.

Hiiro blinked again, walked in front of Quatre, and carefully slapped him on the upper arm.

Quatre met Hiiro's eyes, raised a hand slowly, and smacked him on the chest.

Hiiro set a hand to Quatre's shoulder and pushed.

Quatre smiled, wide and sunny, and poked Hiiro in the ribs.

"I'll just leave you and your friend to your male bonding," Dorothy said, and walked off.

Hiiro looked from her to Quatre. "Is this... something friends do?"

"Sometimes," Quatre said. "My men do... if you let someone do this to you, either you're scared of them, or you're friends. Or family, I suppose. And if you're doing this, but not so it really damages anyone, either you're testing the waters, or you're holding back for a strategic reason, or you're holding back because you don't really want to hurt them. So if people are doing this, maybe they're friends. And if people are friends, maybe they'll do this."

Hiiro shoved him, not hard enough to hurt, and took two steps over to Relena. Slowly, he reached a hand up, caught the lock over her ear, and gently pulled, not quite enough to hurt, definitely enough to feel it.

Relena reached out and ruffled his hair.

It didn't make a noticeable difference.

*

"I think you should go."

"No, Pargan," Relena said gently. "I need to answer her first.

"It's not just being willing to die. It's what you're willing to die for."

"So some ideas are worth dying for." Dorothy's face looked even paler and more sharply pointed than normal, as she stared at Relena.

"No," Hiiro said unexpectedly. "People are."

"I suppose," Relena took it in stride, "it always comes down to people, in the end, if it's true.

"It's... anyone can choose to die for people they know. It's harder to die for people you don't know. Or for people who you know won't appreciate it. It's hard when you don't want to.

"But no one ever said that hard had anything to do with right or not. It's... I said, that if we stay true to what we think is right, we can't lose, even if we die."

"And Vice Minister Darlian didn't lose?"

"Yes. He didn't." Relena sat down on the couch. "I lost. I lost my father. But my father didn't lose."

"I thought he wasn't your father."

"Hiiro -- " Relena's hand clenched the sofa fabric. She carefully
pried her fingers loose.

"Hiiro, please!" Quatre caught at his shoulder. "Relena-sama -- "

Relena ignored him. "He loved me. He raised me. He protected me from things that would have hurt me. He helped me grow strong, so that I could defend myself from things that can hurt me. I loved him. I trusted him. He was there when I needed him.

"If that isn't a father, what is?"

"So... " She could almost see the switches flashing in Hiiro's head. "So Dr. J is my father?"

Relena hoped she had control over her face. She truly did.

"If... if you want him to be, then of course he is."

"I suppose if you want to consider anyone in the world your father, they can be, as long as you don't expect anything out of them." Dorothy tossed her hair behind her shoulder.

"Dorothy, has it ever occurred to you that the world would be a far-better-run place if people only spoke on subjects they knew something about?"

"And what do you know about peace, Relena-sama? About Total Pacifism?"

"I know... that my parents died for it. That my fathers died for it.

"I believe... that we can make it happen. If we try. If we work together.

"But I know that if we don't try -- then they died for nothing. And all those other people died for nothing -- the peace doves, the colonist leaders, the diplomats, the people of Cinq -- they didn't mean anything after all, just spare people, wipe them out if they get in your way the way you'd blow away old computer data -- "

Relena wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten to her feet, but she was on them and leaning forward into the somehow-solid air, raising her voice to cut through its inexplicable thickness.

"And nobody's a spare anything, not really, not when you get down to it, and if they died it has to mean something, and can't you see that I can't bear my father to have died for nothing?"

She knew she was screaming now, knew it was rude of her to twitch Pargan aside, but she was getting to Dorothy, she was finally getting to Dorothy-under-the-gracefully-malicious-Catalonia Dorothy, and she only had to finish --

"It can't have been for nothing! It has to mean something! Don't you see that if I can't make it mean something, NOTHING WILL EVER MEAN ANYTHING?"

And then Dorothy was running away from her, hair streaming out behind like a banner, and Quatre's -- Quatre's! -- arms were tight about her and her chin was on his shoulder, and Hiiro was staring at her with an expression of sheer panic on his face that she was sure she'd seen sometime before.

"It will mean something," a sexless alto murmured. "We'll make sure all our dead mean something."

*

"I'm sorry," Noin said again. "I'm so sorry. You're too young for this."

"I am NOT," Relena said.

Then she realized that this did not precisely help her case. She changed tactics.

"We're all too young for this, but we're stuck with it anyway. And I've got the easy part."

"Romefellar is a snake pit." Noin's voice was harsh.

"I really must protest. That is a completely unfair analogy, and demeaning to snakes everywhere."

It seemed she could still make Noin laugh.

"Metaphors aside, your backers are bad, and your potential supporters worse. I've met Catalonia and her relations! If you're not from the right sort of family, or you don't have the right sort of talents, you're some sort of lesser human being, to be protected and have all your rights respected and never let have a seat at table with the grown-ups... and those are some of the ones who have the most dealings with the outside world. What do you know of this world?"

"I know," Relena held her voice flat, "that there is something profoundly wrong with a world that makes fifteen-year-olds seasoned killers."

"Actually, we volunteered." Quatre had been so silent that Relena had half-forgotten he was even there. "That is, I volunteered, and Duo told me he did... "

"Dr. J asked me, 'Hey kid, do you wanna pilot a Gundam?'" Hiiro had been equally silent, but he was far less ignorable. Relena thought it was rather like having a silent tiger in the corner of the kitchen -- certainly it may be silent, but it's a tiger. In the kitchen. "I was maybe ten. I think. I'm not good at keeping track of those things."

"Well, then!" Relena put her hands on her hips and attempted to glare down Noin. "And now you're all here because of Total Pacifism, so it behooves me to -- "

"No," said Hiiro.

"No?"

"No." And he walked out without another word.

Pargan, standing by the doorway, looked from it to Relena, the shadow of distress on his face.

"I don't know about anyone else," Noin said, "but I'm staying here because of you."

Pargan nodded, thin shoulders straightening in pride.

"As Hiiro said," Quatre smiled, "people are the only things worth dying for."

"You shouldn't," Relena said, desperately, helplessly.

Perhaps it was a side effect of having worn herself out and risen from the depths of a dreamless sleep, but she could feel the weight of things moving, the shape of their pattern as they unfolded, the music of what happens laying down the Great Spells that move the world, as if someone had whispered as much to her in the still of the night when she was too young to understand, so that at last she could put them all together. And perhaps someone had.

And she didn't want to -- now she knew she didn't want to -- but someone must, and she was not the sort of person who made someone else do something she didn't want to, and she wouldn't let the others be caught in it as long as she could help it. Oh please no.

She wondered if Katelina Peacecraft had felt as much. She'd tried to summon the image of the mother who had rocked her and held her to her breast, but all she could picture was a younger Imogen Darlian, and sometimes Martha from the Golden Dawn movies. But even if Relena had been able to go to her for some semblance of advice, she'd still have wound up alone.

"You really shouldn't."

"I've done a lot of things I shouldn't." Noin's voice was warm and motherly, and her embrace was warm and didn't feel at all like any mother Relena had ever known. "It never stopped me."

*

"I hope you have recovered from... your cold, Relena-sama."

"I'm quite well, thank you, Dorothy. And I've figured out what courage is."

"Oh? What is it?"

"As I said," Relena sat on the low stone wall, "courage is when you're scared to do something, and you do it anyway."

"But what if you jumped off a cliff?" Dorothy arched one forked eyebrow. "You'd probably be afraid to do it, but if you did it anyway..."

"It would still be brave. It would also be really stupid, most likely, but it would be brave. Courage doesn't have anything to do with how smart or how stupid a given action is."

"Very interesting." Dorothy's eyes gleamed. "Then what's recklessness?"

"Reckless is when you do something that's either brave and stupid, or something that would be brave if you were scared, but you're not scared even though a sensible person would be."

"And who decides what's stupid and what's sensible?"

"History." Relena shrugged. "History is the daughter of time, after all. All we have to do is live through it when it's happening to us, and decide as best we can. We don't have to worry about the rest of it until it's over and all the information's in."

"But I thought you said that what's right has nothing to do with what's easy?"

"Exactly. Sometimes the right thing to do will be hard, particularly when there's no right thing and only a least wrong thing. And sometimes it'll be very easy, because it'll be the only choice you can make. And I really must run, as I have a meeting with the Regents and I want to be there early."

And Relena trotted off, the ends of her hair nearly brushing Dorothy's nose as she spun.

*

"Free at last!" Relena said to her two companions and self-proclaimed bodyguards, running down the long gentle slope. "Free at last! For half an hour, I'm free at last!" She stopped at the low retaining wall and twirled around, laughing beneath the shade of the large tree.

"I thought it was something else," Hiiro said. "Not half an hour."

"I expect it was, but I only have half an hour until the next seminar. You could stay out here if you like when I go in... "

"Thank you," Quatre said quietly, "but I think I'll take the chance to use the music room once it's free. I haven't been able to lose myself in melody in far too long, and I'm not even holding up your courseload."

"You... have been doing a lot of work." Hiiro frowned at Relena.

"It needs doing." Relena's voice dropped. "Although..."

"Although?"

"Sometimes, I just want to fly away from this. From everything. Just me and the wind."

"When this is over," Quatre jumped for the first branch and caught it, "I could teach you to fly a little plane. Or Noin-san could."

"Oh. No, no. I don't want to fly in a box with instrument panels and things. I just -- want to fly. Just me, and the wind, and maybe something to sit on when I get high enough so I can stop and look around."

"Changing direction with every move you make." Hiiro was still standing, more or less unobtrusively, at attention. "And no need to refuel, ever, so you only come down when you get tired."

"Yes! Yes, exactly." Relena turned into the wind, shading her eyes with one hand. "To wheel and soar and swing high in the sunlit silence, and chase the shouting wind along..."

"But how do you plan to top the windswept heights without your own atmosphere?" Quatre settled himself on the third branch, which had by chance or design grown in such a way that it made a cozy seat for a slender and under-tall youth of fifteen or sixteen.

"Oh, I needn't go so high," Relena said. "I mean, I would if someone else took me -- and it really is splendid up there -- but for my own part, I just need the winds of earth, between the top of the grass and the bottom of the clouds.

"Just -- when the days are clear and the work is heavy, sometimes the sky calls. As if there's a song there, or as if I belong there. And I've never been there, but I know the way...

"Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, before I'm up and rational, I'll think I could. Pack a lunch and a book and take off, fly over trees and around mountains and stop somewhere high over a gorgeous view to eat my lunch and read..."

"And at which point, two thousand meters up, where the air is thin, in attempting to manuever your book and your lunch sack, you drop your apple."

A snort which might have been laughter escaped Hiiro.

Relena, on the other hand, wasn't the least bit disconcerted. "And then I dive like a peregrine falcon, falling out of the sky like a thunderbolt, and match velocities and catch the apple without giving it so much as a bruise!" As she had matched gestures and leaps to her actions with the enthusiasm of a girl of five instead of fifteen, she was later to reflect that it was a very good thing Quatre Raberba Winner was far too polite to laugh where she could hear him. "And then I stuff it in my lunch sack and zip it up -- the sack, not the apple -- and SCHLOOP up and catch my book, which I let go of to dive, and which has been happily falling rather slower than I dove, and of course I don't damage it when I grab it either -- "

"If I were there," Hiiro had apparently decided that no suspicious persons could get within a reasonable distance of themselves during the next five minutes, "I'd catch them both on the way down and hand them to you when you got there."

"ExCUSE me?" Relena whirled on him. "This is MY flying fantasy. I'd catch them much more quickly than you could, before you even got there!"

"Relena-sama, I don't think Hiiro -- "

"I'm the one with flying experience! I'd catch them even more quickly!"

"Hiiro, it really isn't -- "

"I'D be the first to catch them!"

"Relena-sama -- "

"I would!"

"I would!"

"I would!"

"I would!"

"I would!"

"My, it's a pity Dorothy-san isn't here, to enjoy the sight of the two of you acting like little children."

Relena coughed, choked, and then laughed. "It is, isn't it?" She held out a hand to Hiiro.

Hiiro blinked, coughed, deliberated, and then grouchily took Relena's hand.

"You'd get the book while I got the apple," Relena said. "Might as well be efficient. Or the other way around, if you'd like that better."

Hiiro shrugged.

Relena let go of his hand and looked up into the tree. "You... don't like Dorothy very much, do you, Quatre?"

"Well," Quatre shrugged, "she doesn't like me."

"It's a shame," Relena said. "You and she and Hiiro all feel a lot like the same sort of thing. Only to different levels. Like the two of you are different sides of the same thing, and Hiiro's reflecting both of you. Or something."

"You and Quatre and Dorothy," Hiiro said. "I thought."

"No, no, you're all... very gentle warriors." Relena leaned against the tree trunk. "With prickles round the outside."

Hiiro looked at Relena thoughtfully. "Is Dorothy your friend?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I think I hope so."

Hiiro grunted.

"But Dorothy's always so mean to you." Quatre sounded even more confused than Relena felt.

"It's terribly lowering to admit, but I'm afraid I work best when I'm being snarked at. Not that it makes it any easier to deal with her on a daily basis. Hiiro, give me a leg up?"

"A what?"

"I want to climb the tree, and it's too high for me to get into easily. Cup your hands so I can step into them and get halfway to that branch."

Hiiro stared at Relena for a moment, then moved to do so.

"And don't look up my skirt!" she hastily added.

"Why not?"

"Because it's not polite!" she and Quatre yelped in unison.

With a little struggle and a helping hand from Quatre, Relena managed to get into the tree and round the other side.

"Thank you," she said, unhooking her skirt from a branch stub. "I don't think I've climbed a tree properly since I was twelve." She clambered up two branches.

"I never climbed a tree before I came to Earth," Quatre said, looking out across the grounds.

"I've never climbed a tree," Hiiro said.

"What?"

"I've never had a mission that required me to climb a tree."

"Oh for -- " Relena muttered. "Hiiro, get in this tree and climb it!"

"Get in the tree."

"I'm in the tree, Quatre's in the tree -- you can see for miles from up here -- "

There was a dull sound. The tree shook.

"Nice jump, Hiiro." Quatre sounded as if he were complimenting the other boy's shoes or bicycle.

There was a rustle, and a few thuds, and shortly Relena was eeling around the tree trunk looking for another branch and met Hiiro's head next to her knee.

"This is an easy climb," he said, and wriggled up ten feet and onto another branch. "Is it supposed to wave like that?"

"Well... it's a tree." Relena checked the next branch up for sitability and the presence of backrest and footrest branches, and promptly sat. "You probably don't want to go up any higher."

"If a mile is as many kilometers as I think it is, I don't think you can see for miles," Hiiro said. "Not from here."

"It's an expression," Quatre called up. "Can you see far enough?"

"Yeah."

The distant sound of cars on the road was easier to hear, too.

"You said you didn't know if Dorothy was your friend," Hiiro said at last. "How do you know if someone is a friend?"

"Well... " Relena thought. "There's a definition in a mystery novel that belonged to my mother. My other mother. Agh. Anyway, it went something like this: 'If you ask them to do something that's going to be inconvenient for them without any good reason, and they do it, then they're a friend.' I'd add that if they do it for you without needing to be asked, too."

"So. That's a friend."

"Yes. 'But there's a catch. You have to be willing to do it back.'"

"Ah.

"I have three friends," Hiiro said at last.

And it's one, two, three...

"I don't think I ever asked right out," Relena said. "What *are* you fighting for?"

"Peace and freedom," Quatre said.

"Um... definitions?"

"Freedom," Hiiro shifted on his branch, making the trunk shake as far down as Relena, "is when you want to ask your friend to climb a tree, and you can. And if your friend doesn't want to and would rather go swimming, that's fine too."

"I'll have to remember that for Dorothy. Uh... Hiiro... do you want to go swimming?"

"No," Hiiro said. Vehemently.

"Um, okay..."

"Duo likes to go swimming. All that liquid."

"And you can't breathe it," Quatre agreed.

"And you have to breathe in more than you breathe out, to create an air chamber big enough to float you and everything you have on."

"You do?"

"I... suppose you do," Relena said. "I never thought about it that way. And it's not as if people generally go swimming in all their clothes, besides -- oh good lord. You'd been swimming in a spacesuit. Oh, no wonder."

"Trowa said something once," Hiiro said. "He said, 'I have had fun. This was not it.'"

"Is Trowa another of your friends?"

It was strange how very silent silence could be.

"He was," Hiiro said eventually.

Stupid, Relena.

"I'd think you'd want to stay until we find out more..."

Stupid, stupid.

There really weren't that many cars on the road. Not that it was near them or anything.

"'The blue sky should always be high and infinitely clear.'" Relena looked back at the school, tilting her head to see through the scant foliage. "I think we can stay for a little longer before we have to go back."

***********************************

Notes:

On names - there are several possible spellings for several of the names in Gundam Wing. In my orthography, Cinq is the country, Cinque is the adjective thereof, Katelina was the name of the last Cinque queen, Colonel Lady Anne is Treize Khushrenada's right-hand-woman, and Hiiro is the other hero.

Also in this universe, Dorothy is technically Lady Dorothy P. Read y Domonova Soissant de la Catalonia (or Read y Domonova i Soissant de la Catalunya, depending on whom she's speaking to), the daughter of General Lord Read y Domonova Khushrenada de la Catalonia, but that's a long enough tag that everyone thinks of her by her canonical name anyway. ^_^


The title - is the roomaji spelling of the katakanization of the first part of a French saying, which I have promptly translated.


"one, two, three, four..." - Dorothy is misquoting Country Joe and the Fish. Granted, it has been over two hundred years, and quotations seem to morph into pithier/more picturesque forms in much shorter periods of time. The original lines were "And it's one, two, three -- / What are we fighting for?"


"Kill them all" - Cf. one of the more chilling lines from the history of the Albigensian Crusade, ascribed to its leader Arnald Amaury. Quatre is beating himself up for having shared that mindset several episodes back, even for a moment; he jumps ahead to the logical result.


Rurouni Kenshin - Hiiro really cannot describe plot. The RK series shares several themes with GW, in particular Hiiro's self-discovery; Rurouni Kenshin is the story of a man who had been in something resembling Hiiro's position. When his war was won (well, all except a couple of fierce battles of mopping up the remaining resistance and the total restructuring of the government, little things like that), Kenshin stuck his sword in the ground and walked off, to wander Japan for ten years. When the series itself begins, he runs into a woman named Kaoru, who teaches a form of swordsmanship she calls "the sword that protects life" and has her share of Thug Problems...

In the very first episode, when asked "Do you believe in these girlish dreams of 'a sword that protects life' too?", Kenshin answers "No. A sword is a deadly weapon. Swordsmanship is the art of killing people. No matter what pretty words you dress it up in, that's the truth. Nothing Mistress Kaoru is saying will pry your hand loose even once. It is but rose-colored nonsense.... Howbeit, your humble servant prefers Mistress Kaoru's rose-colored nonsense to the truth. If he might have his wish, it would be that that rose-colored nonsense should become the truth in the future world at hand."

Much later, when he needs to surpass the limits of his own potential in order to save everyone, he discovers that as long as he is willing to throw his life away in order to do so, he cannot. It is only when he believes that his life still has value, and that in order to keep everyone alive he must logically keep himself alive as well, and that above all else he doesn't WANT to die, that he can do the previously-impossible and save everyone else as well. Cf. GW Episode 49.


"Life is a banquet..." - One of Mame Dennis' signature lines. The book Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, hilarious in its own right, was made into a play, a stage musical, and several movies. (The movie version of the musical really isn't that good, but the songs are certainly well-done.)


"Life moves pretty fast..." - Tagline to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, one of those movies that you either love or are left cold by.


Scipio Africanus - During the Second Punic War, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio's ally, Masinissa, king of a people living in what's now Algeria, defeated one of Carthage's allies and married said Punic ally's wife, Sophonisba daughter of Hasdrubal (a Carthaginian general). Scipio looked on this very suspiciously and told Masinissa to divorce her; Masinissa did so, sending her poison to drink if she wished to avoid possibly marching as a defeated enemy in a Roman triumphal parade. (She did, with the remark "I should have died a better death, had I not married on the day of my funeral.") Scipio went on to defeat Hannibal, for which he was awarded the name Africanus to distinguish him and his line from all the other Cornelii Scipiones out there.


"Stick it in your pointy ear" - This originated with Weird Al. More specifically, with "The Saga Begins." And if you ever get a chance to check out Katsu no Miko's GW-thened meta-filk of it you really should...


"He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing"! - From Dune, by Frank Herbert. Excellent book, I want to grow up to write like that, too bad all the sequels went Downhill Real Fast.


"It's what you're willing to kill for" - and this is from The Ruins of Ambrai, by Melanie Rawn. I rather liked it, and it really isn't that much like Star Wars.


That Evangelion thing - Neon Exodus Evangelion. This alternate universe is located at http://www.eyrie-productions.com/NXE/ and is one of the stories where one really loves it or hates it, mostly due to the twofold basis for its alternity.
1) Shinji, the protagonist of Neon Genesis Evangelion, in the NXE world arrived too early to have his hand forced in the manner it was in NGE canon; not unnaturally, he turned his father down and ran off, and NERV went to a second-best candidate who was Shinji's polar opposite. Therefore, while Shinji is quiet, introverted, shy, near-starving from lack of love and willing to tie himself into knots for something resembling parental approval, DJ (the hero of NXE) is vocal, extroverted, charismatic, a product of a loving home (from which NERV extracted him by trickery) and unwilling to give an inch in the face of anything he believes to be wrong.
2) As this is an Eyrie production, the main action has been moved from Tokyo to Worcester, Massachusetts, and as many other series/movies/books/whatever as can logically be thought to fit into the story/world somewhere have been woven in somehow.
If this sounds intriguing, you will probably like NXE; if this sounds like a waste of time, don't bother. I do think, however, that Duo Maxwell would infinitely prefer NXE to NGE.

And DJ did quote Hemingway, to Asuka, in (NXE) Exodus 3:6.


Tsukushi-sama - A reference to Makino Tsukushi, the heroine of the manga Hana Yori Dango. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks who got into a very prestigious private school on a scholarship, Tsukushi wanted to keep her head down and graduate with good grades. Instead, due to her loyalty and inability to keep silent in the face of blatant injustice, she wound up noticed, admired, and out to break the stranglehold of the clique of "beautiful people" on the student body's attitudes.

Relena, in this particular universe, actually wanted to be just like Tsukushi when she was fourteen. (The -sama is Dorothy being Dorothy, of course.)


"Wheel and soar and swing" -
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

-- Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, "High Flight"



"Sometimes the sky calls..." - from "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday," by Paul Williams and Ken Ascher, performed by the Great Gonzo.


A mystery novel that belonged to my mother - The PMS Outlaws by Sharyn McCrumb. I think. It was one of the ones in that series, and I'm almost certain it was that one, but feel free to read them all anyway.


"I'd think you'd want to stay until we find out more..." - When Hiiro and Quatre first came to Cinq, Hiiro said he didn't plan to stay, and Relena said that they were searching for the missing Gundam pilot Trowa, and she'd think he'd want to stay until they found out more. Sometimes one's mouth outruns one's memory.


"The blue sky should always be high and infinitely clear." - Used as something of a running theme in the Rurouni Kenshin movie, Requiem for the Ishin Shishi.
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