The Visit-Zoë’s Tale
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Zoë has to deliver some very bad news in this post-BDM story. Those who have not yet seen the film should steer clear of this tale, it's very spoiler heavy.


Spoiler warning: This story takes place a few months after Serenity, the film. It deals heavily with some very major spoilers from the film. I'm operating under the assumption that the refit Serenity undergoes at the end of the movie takes, at minimum, one month. This is the fifth story in the Tales series. The rest can be found here: River, Wash, Mal, Kaylee, Simon, Inara, Jayne, Book Rated PG for some mild language. Thanks go out to my much appreciated beta-ers. Thanks ladies. ***** Zoë Washburne was alone in her bunk. Serenity had landed hours ago. The crew was mended and the ship was mostly repaired. There’d been that buffer panel that’d fallen off during the burn out of Persephone, but Kaylee had managed to get that problem fixed. She needed a few new parts to finish the work. As it was, Serenity was holding together mostly by her gumption alone. The captain wanted to try and find a new job for them while they were here. He figured that the time was ripe to go out and make a bit more money. It was either time to capitalize on the fame they’d earned from Miranda or try and make some funds before the Alliance got testy and the hammer fell. Simon and Kaylee were planning on turning her parts run into an evening on the town. Jayne and the Captain were going to try and sniff out a few new contacts. They intended to bring River along to sniff out any deception that might be about. Inara had a client lined up that involved her taking the shuttle off by herself. And that left Zoë alone on Serenity. She’d insisted on coming here right off after the ship had been repaired. She didn’t have a choice in the thing. It never got any easier, telling them. She’d had to do it a hundred times in the war. Usually, the captain had been there too. They’d done it together, informing the families. But this time, Zoë had to do it by herself. Bringing along the captain wouldn’t make any sense, and she thought it’d cause more trouble that it’d fix. She might feel better, but the woman she was going to see probably wouldn’t. Somebody had to tell Mrs. Adrienne Washburne that Reavers had killed her son. Adrienne had been one of the few guests at the wedding. Mostly it’d just been Serenity’s crew. Zoë didn’t have much by way of family of her own. Zoë had grown up aboard ship, flying from world to world. Her parents were crew on a long distance cargo hauler, the Nebuchadnezzar, which pulled transport duty on occasion. Zoë had seen all manner of settlers going from the border worlds to the rim worlds. Mom and Dad had died in a decompression accident right before the war, but by that point she’d already gotten a reputation as a hell raiser. A rough man on his way to Higgins’ Moon had made a comment about her virtue when she was seventeen. Zoë had broken the man’s arm in three places, busted his jaw, and cracked two of his ribs by the time Dad had pulled her off him. After Mom and Dad had died, she’d left the ship. She’d landed on Shadow just as the Alliance decided to move out from the central planets. She signed on with the Independents and wound up serving with one Malcolm Reynolds. The captain had always been there for her after that. She hadn’t had much by way of a rudder in the ‘verse after her parents had died, and the captain helped her find that again. He was still helping her find it. During the war, he’d given her a cause to fight for, and now he’d provided a safe haven to live in. Without the captain, Zoë figured she’d be drifting about in the ‘verse, with nowhere to call home. He had a way of bringing a body under his wing and making them family. She’d tried to do the same for Wash, and eventually she’d managed to get the captain to welcome him in too. Wash hadn’t cared that much about a proper wedding. Zoë was the one who really wanted to be officially wed. He’d told her “Zoë, it’s a piece of paper. It’s one of those quaint customs that followed us out into the ‘verse, like smiling at little old ladies and pretending to like someone’s new haircut.” She hadn’t taken his argument. “Honey, a piece of paper is all that keeps anyone from taking this ship right out from under us. Even the Alliance has to recognize us when we’re legally wed.” “I still don’t think it’s necessary. Don’t you know that marriage is the number one cause of sexual deprivation in men my age?” “It is necessary. Let’s just say I want legal ownership. And it’ll make your mom happy.” He’d stopped smirking. “Do you really think Mom would like it?” Zoë nodded, but hadn’t spoken. He made a show out of surrendering. “Fine! If I have to sign over my surname for you to stick around, then so be it. I relent, my queen.” Wash had always been a clown, but he got serious quick if his mother was involved. If he had to sit through a stupid ceremony to make her smile, he’d do it without a second thought. Wash had always wanted to do whatever he could for Adrienne, and now Zoë was going to have to act for him. He wouldn’t have stood for her receiving some message on the cortex about something as important as a death in the family. That difference might not matter to a lot of people in the ‘verse, but it did to Wash. That meant it did to Zoë, as well. She had a duty to her husband. Of course, duty wasn’t the only reason she was doing this. Adrienne was a friend to her, and she wanted to be there to help her mother-in-law when Adrienne got the news. People tended to misunderstand Zoë. Excepting the captain, of course. If any man knew her as well as her husband, he was the one. A private in the war had called her “the biggest hardass in the whole ruttin’ ‘verse.” That wasn’t it at all. Zoë cared deeply for everyone on the boat. Kaylee was as a little sister to her. River was a tad odd, but she still liked the girl. The doctor was fancified and real far from home, but he had heart to him. Inara was a kind soul, and Zoë couldn’t share the captain’s opinion on her occupation. And Jayne…. Maybe she didn’t care deeply for everyone on the boat. Point was, after spending her young years aboard ship, she’d gotten used to not flashing those feelings about. When your mom and dad were out tending to other folks most of the time, you tend to get hard. She’d gone through growing up in the black and made it through the war, and she’d been tougher for it. There’d always been something brewing that needed looking to, and there wasn’t time for crying. Even when Wash had died, there hadn’t been time for crying. The Reavers were coming and they had to get the signal out. After that, she was busy healing herself and helping get Serenity back into the sky. The captain needed her to stay together, now. She’d told him that she could fly true, and she meant it. But lately, she’d been having problems. She hadn’t slept much. She hadn’t eaten much, either. It hadn’t affected her though. Her aim was still sharp when she’d skeet shoot, and her reflexes were fine. She would still be able to pull the captain out of any scrape they might find him in. But she’d had an….incident. It’d been a few days ago. She’d walked onto the bridge, just like she’d done a thousand times before. River was sitting in the pilot’s seat. That didn’t bother her, at least not too much. But River had Wash’s stegosaurus in her hands, looking at it thoughtfully. Zoë hadn’t taken any time to think before she snatched it from the girl’s hands. She sat the dinosaur back down on the console, carefully. She didn’t raise her voice when she spoke. “We don’t play with those.” River looked at her for the first time. “Do you think he’s in there somewhere?” “Doesn’t matter where he is. He wouldn’t want you playing with his….” “Toys,” River finished. “Toys are meant to be played with. He knew that, or he wouldn’t have had them. And played with them daily. It follows that he would want them to be played with, doesn’t it? Otherwise, they aren’t anything to anyone; just composite plastics painted various bright colors.” Zoë didn’t have any response. She’d just turned around and left the bridge. That hadn’t been like her at all. River had always been moving through the ship, touching things. She’d never had a problem with River bothering anything aboard Serenity before. It was just the way that River was. Zoë couldn’t hold it against her that the Alliance had changed her. And Zoë never, never made a tactical mistake as blatant as suddenly grabbing something from a trained Alliance assassin. River could have killed her a dozen ways if Zoë had startled the girl. Zoë figured it was lack of sleep. She’d started taking some meds from the doctor for that, but they hadn’t really helped her. She needed to get this problem under control, immediately. The captain needed her. But right now, Adrienne needed her more. Adrienne just didn’t know it yet. She sat down on the bed to put her boots on. She hadn’t done any re-arranging of anything in the cabin. Wash’s socks were still on the mirror where he’d tossed them. His shirts were still scattered about the floor. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to touch his side of the bed. For some reason, it felt to her like she’d be spitting in his face if she changed things. She loved Wash, and she wasn’t about to do anything to spite his memory. She was afraid, if only a bit, that the memories might fade if she gave up the things that spurred them. Zoë got up and walked slowly over to the ladder and pulled the hatch open. There were nasty men about on Beaumonde, so she pulled her shotgun out for the trip. Wash had made a point of not letting his mom know what exactly Serenity usually carried, but he had always been a terrible liar. Zoë wasn’t going to tell Adrienne what they did, and she had a notion that Adrienne didn’t want to know the details. Still, that didn’t mean that she was supposed to take any chances with her safety. She wouldn’t do anyone any good if she was riddled with holes. She’d risk Adrienne picking up some details from her weapon. It wasn’t like Adrienne didn’t probably know already. She was stalling, and she knew it. Zoë holstered her piece and climbed up the ladder. The ship was quieter than it should be. The ship had seemed quieter to her for awhile now. There were echoes about of Wash. He was supposed to still be sitting in the pilot’s seat on the bridge, or down with Kaylee working with the mule, or snacking in the kitchen. On the way to the ramp she passed the weight bench that the Preacher used to share with Jayne. She hadn’t given much thought to Shepherd Book’s dying. ‘Course it hurt her too, but it was like comparing a scraped knee to losing an eye. The Shepherd’d been a good man, but he hadn’t been her man. She probably should feel more for a good man’s passing, but she just couldn’t. Not right now. The ramp opened before she could lower it. River nearly floated up, followed by Jayne and the captain. The girl looked at Zoë with a certain sadness, but didn’t say anything. Jayne looked happy with himself, probably on account of finally finding a cold enough day to wear his orange hat, while the captain looked angry. Jayne grunted at her and moved past towards his bunk. He looked over and just said, “Zoë.” She walked over to the captain. “Problems, Captain?” “Damn fool broke the nose of the man’d set us up with some real equitable crime, smugglin’ foodstuffs out to Whitefall. Seems some of the settlers that Patience don’t own don’t take kindly to her hoardin’ supplies. Man’d pay us good money to go out and make her look a fool, and we get to be all noble-like in the process. Then the fella went and made a comment about how ‘that fine hat looked like it were stitched by retarded monkeys’ or some such, and Jayne up and punched him. “Fact is, I’m inclined to agree with the gent, but next thing I know there’s a barstool flyin’ at my head and it’s an hour before I can find Jayne. Somehow he’d found himself a contact lookin’ to move legal cargo.” Zoë didn’t say anything. The captain didn’t really need anyone to respond just now. He needed someone to listen to the problem. He trusted her enough to know she’d pipe in if she had an idea of merit. He looked to be calming some as he headed for the bridge. “I’m ready to leave, Sir.” The captain stopped in mid-step. For some reason, he was having problems making eye contact. “You gonna be all right?” “I’ll manage.” “If you want me to come along….” “Doesn’t matter if I want you to or not, Sir.” The captain came down to her and put his hand on her right shoulder. He looked her directly in the eye and didn’t say a word. He just nodded his head. Zoë knew what he meant. He was telling her that he’d be there fast as lightning if she needed him. Zoë nodded back and walked down the ramp onto the world of Beaumonde. The ramp closed behind her. ***** Adrienne’s apartment was a simple place in just another neighborhood of New Dunsmuir. The complex was the sort of low rent prefab Zoë’d seen all across the ‘verse. Adrienne’d paid for it on her own; she had been one of the lucky few who’d managed to scrape together enough money to move out of the factory’s dormitories and get herself a proper home. Of course, it was likely that she’d be working right up until she wasn’t able any longer. Retirement wasn’t much of an option on Beaumonde, no matter what line of work a body was in. In the meantime, she lived fairly comfortable, with plenty of food and her very own roof. That was more than most could afford on factory pay. Every time Wash had tried to send her some credits she’d refused the transfer. Adrienne thought that her son needed the coin more than she did. Zoë could appreciate that kind of attitude. The two of them might be very different in a lot of ways, but they were the same in many others. Zoë couldn’t picture herself in a factory, and she knew that Adrienne wouldn’t make any kind of soldier, but they both knew they’d gladly give up anything for someone they loved. Zoë steeled herself and pushed the com. Adrienne’s voice was, as always, terribly cheerful. “And who’s come to visit me?” Zoë was afraid she’d find Adrienne in a good mood. “It’s Zoë, Adrienne.” “Zoë! It’s been too long, dear! What in the ‘verse are you and Hobie doin’ here? Shouldn’t you be out movin’ cargo for somebody or other?” Yes, Zoë and Hobie should be out moving cargo. She gave some thought to trying to sound happy when she answered, but decided against it. She never could do pretense worth a damn. Trying now wouldn’t do anyone any good. “I’m here to see you. There’s something we need to talk about.” “Oh….well, of course, dear. Come right up.” There was a beep, and the front door of the complex slid open. Zoë walked through and headed up the five flights of stairs leading to Adrienne’s apartment. The stairwell was small and smelled vaguely of something she couldn’t place. As she climbed, she looked for the best cover points. She found she always tended to do that, since the war. There weren’t many--anyone coming at her from above would have a clear shot at her and she’d be very dead. From below, she’d be able to get a few shots over the railing but wouldn’t be able to hit anything with accuracy. If anyone came for her here, she’d probably not be able to take them down unless she surprised them. Zoë hated that feeling; it was like being naked to her. When she made it up to the fifth floor, Adrienne was waiting for her. Adrienne reached over and pulled her into a hug. Zoë put her arms around her mother-in-law and thought, like she usually did, that Adrienne felt fragile. Zoë knew that she could break the old woman in half without trying hard. Adrienne wouldn’t have lasted a day in the war. Hell, she probably wouldn’t have survived through half of what Zoë’d seen on Serenity. They didn’t say a word as they walked along the single hall towards Adrienne’s apartment. It looked just like every other apartment in the building. There was one bedroom, a kitchen, and a tiny living area between the two with a set of chairs and a small table. Adrienne had put a few flowers up around the place, and it helped some. Adrienne waved at one of the chairs and went into the kitchen. She came back in with a teapot in one hand and two cups in the other. The set didn’t match. As she set one cup in front of her chair and another in front of Zoë’s, her hand was shaking. She knew. She knew that her son was gone. She poured them both a cup of tea, and slowly sat down in the chair opposite Zoë. She leaned back in her chair and took a sip, then looked Zoë in the eye. Her voice was trying to be pleasant, but it was cracking. “So dear, what did you need to tell me?” Adrienne knew it was coming, but she was still waiting to hear the word. Somehow, she was holding on to the hope that Zoë had come here for any other purpose that to tell her Wash was dead. Zoë ran through her options. She could try and break the news delicately, but that would come out like a soldier talking. Zoë had no talent at being too sweet. Every time she’d told one of her troops’ families the news, she’d used a script. “I’m sorry, Mr. and/or Mrs. BLANK, but your son and/or daughter was killed in battle. He/she fought bravely and died honorably. I’m very sorry for your loss.” “It’s Wash, Adrienne. He’s d….gone.” Zoë expected some reaction. She thought that maybe Adrienne would cry, or maybe start yelling something or other. She figured that the teacup would fall to the ground and shatter. She expected something from Wash’s Mom. But there wasn’t anything. When Adrienne finally did talk, it was a lot clearer than she would have given credit for. “How?” Zoë had thought about lying. The captain had encouraged it, in fact. He had said that all of the attention that came with surviving a Reaver raid wasn’t worth the trouble. But she couldn’t, not to Adrienne, and not now. It would have made Wash furious. He wouldn’t dream of lying to his mom about anything. Zoë couldn’t do any less than tell the truth. “We were on a job. There were Reavers, and they caught him with a spear. We were able to get him back before they could….do anything to him. We gave him a proper burial on Haven.” “Was he flyin’?” “He was on the bridge of Serenity. Hadn’t been for him, they probably would have killed all of us.” Adrienne looked a little reassured by that. Still, Zoë thought she saw a glimmer of a tear in her eye. “Well, then. He died doin’ what he loves, then. And you were with him. You know that he never loved anyone more than you, Zoë. He once told me, ‘Mom, if she asked me to, I’d let the flying thing go. But that’s why I love her. She’d never ask.’ “How are you holdin’ up, dear?” Zoë wasn’t sure how to react. She’d come here expecting to comfort Adrienne. She didn’t know how exactly she would go about that, but she never expected to be on this end. She’d never been much for coddling. “I’m fine, Adrienne.” Of course, that wasn’t true in any sense. Adrienne looked her over, carefully. “Do you want to stay with me for a few days, dear? It might help you to get away from that ship and spend some time with family. Nothin’ shores up the soul quite like family.” “This isn’t about me. You’re the one I’m worried about.” “That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about yourself, Zoë. You have just as much claim to grieve right now as I do.” “I don’t think staying here would be a good idea, Adrienne. The captain needs me.” “Of course he does. Everyone on that ship needs you, dear. But what do you need?” Zoë was getting uncomfortable with where this conversation was taking them. “I came here to tell you, because I knew you’d want to hear it in person. I didn’t come to stay. We’re shipping out as soon as the ship is ready.” The last part was a lie. The captain had never put a timetable on their departure. For all she knew, there was a week’s wait for the cargo to arrive. She just needed to get out of the apartment. Fast. “I just want to make sure you’re all right, dear. Wash cared so much for you, I’m sure that he’d want me to look after you.” Zoë’s tone was sarcastic. “You look after me?” She regretted saying it immediately. Adrienne hadn’t done anything to her. She decided that it was time to leave. She simply said, “I’m sorry,” and got out of her chair. She was nearly jogging to the door when she heard Adrienne’s voice. “Take care, Zoë. I love you.” That was it. Zoë stopped in mid-step. She spun around in a sudden, furious anger. “Don’t you feel anything? Doesn’t it matter to you in the slightest that your son is dead? He died! I’m the one that survived, you shouldn’t be feeling sorry for me!” Adrienne was surprised, but she didn’t flinch. “What in the ‘verse makes you say that?” Zoë thought of Wash on Niska’s skyplex. Wash would wake in the night, terrified that he was being shocked or cut by the lunatic. But Zoë would have her own nightmares, too. She’d dream that he’d be pulled from their bed, and there wasn’t a thing that she could do about it. Someone would come along and rip them apart, and Zoë couldn’t stop it. All they could do was hold each other until the nightmares had faded. Lately, they’d come back. And Zoë didn’t have anyone to fight them off. “You don’t know anything about us. You don’t know what our jobs are. You’ve never left this little hell-hole of a world, you have no idea what the ‘verse is like!” “Maybe not. But I know enough. I know that he would have followed you anywhere, and he’d be glad of the privilege.” “Maybe he shouldn’t have.” Adrienne came out of her chair. “Don’t you dare question him like that. He loved you because of who you were. Are you telling me that my son was a fool for that?” “Maybe!” She turned for the door again, but didn’t take a step. This woman was telling her that Wash had no problems with the life she’d made him lead, and neither did his mother. Why the hell wasn’t Adrienne angry? Wash would have been better off without her. She’d dragged him all over the ‘verse and nearly gotten him killed, over and over. Now she’d finally done it. He hadn’t wanted to give her a baby because of their lives aboard Serenity. He’d been afraid of something happening, and it had. He was right. Why couldn’t Adrienne see that she’d pulled Wash out into the black where he didn’t belong? It was only a matter of time until he died. And now, Zoë was alone. She was alone. Suddenly, Zoë felt a sob work its way through her. She fell to her knees, and started to weep. She was naked again. The whole ‘verse could come by at their pleasure and snipe at her. There wasn’t any Wash to come and protect her now. He’d always been there to protect her; she just hadn’t noticed. She couldn’t very well go to the captain when she needed to talk, but Wash had always been there. Whenever she needed to give up her cover, when she just had to walk about and be emotional, he was always there. Wash was always the one that she could count on to have her back, all the time. She needed that, and now it was gone. He was gone. It wasn’t her fault that he was dead, but that didn’t help. She’d forced him into a mold he didn’t fit. And he loved her enough that he hadn’t complained. She may have saved his life, more than once, but he’d helped keep her sane. She wished that she’d have thanked him for that more often. Adrienne came up to her and hugged her. This time, there wasn’t anything fragile in her arms. Zoë felt a tear drop on her cheek. “I miss him too, dear.” ***** Zoë left the apartment early the next morning, before Adrienne was awake. She didn’t feel up to talking right then. She was still a little bit shaky from her outburst the night before. As she turned the corner, she stopped dead in her tracks. It wasn’t possible; it couldn’t be possible. But there it was. There, across the street, was a man with a bowl on the sidewalk performing for change. The sign next to him said, in Chinese and English, “Witness! The fabled art born of the rolling oceans of Newhall! See the brilliance that is this traditional performance piece!” The man was juggling goslings. Zoë thought she heard Wash say “See, lambytoes? I’ll always be here.” Zoë walked up to the man and put a full twenty credits into the bowl. The man seemed surprised. Apparently, he didn’t usually get such generous payment from the passers-by. He spoke to her in a thick accent that was called French back on Earth-That-Was. “Oh, thank you Madam! You truly are too kind to a poor performer!” Zoë smiled at him from one corner of her mouth and nodded her head once. She turned back towards Serenity and made way for home. ***** That night, Zoë walked through the ship. The rest of the crew was bunked down, leaving her alone. Almost alone, at any rate. She started in the cargo bay. There were still scorch marks along the deck where the mule had torn through when Wash had caught them in a barn-swallow. He was always doing something crazy like that. The captain had Jayne try mightily to scrub them clean, but they refused to come. She headed for the aft hall. There were still a few bullet holes in the walls where Wash had helped Kaylee trap some of Ranse Burgess’ men. It probably hadn’t occurred to him that Kaylee would have been better suited to being in the engine room and him on the bridge. All that mattered to him was he wouldn’t let Kaylee be the one shot at. After that, it didn’t concern him much. Her husband could be distressingly stupid sometimes. She kept moving towards the fore of the ship, passing through the galley. There wasn’t any single thing here that reminded her of Wash--everything here seemed to remind her of Wash. He had his favorite chair at the table, the one that squeaked just a little bit. He’d used it to annoy her on countless dinners. The paint job was a source of near-constant humor for him. There were cook pots that still smelled like that disgusting something that he’d cooked her on their first anniversary. Zoë wasn’t sure how she’d managed to eat it. Up ahead was the bridge. Zoë ran her hand along the back of the chair that her mister had always been in. Wash’s dinosaurs were still on the console. The captain hadn’t had the heart to remove them, and neither had Zoë. She’d fallen in love with him here. This was the spot where she saw some of the man behind the cheesy mustache. She never thought she’d get him to shave it. She turned around and walked down the corridor. She kicked the ladder to her quarters and climbed it. This was the place where the bulk of their memories had been made. She could still smell him. She’d decided to get rid of most of his possessions. It wasn’t like he’d been able to gather up much by way of worldly goods aboard Serenity anyway. But, along with the dinosaurs on the bridge, she’d decided to keep one shirt—the short-sleeved Hawaiian T-shirt he’d been wearing the day they’d met. It was hanging just beside the exit hatch. Wash was still here. He was all over the ship, and he was still in this room. All of the deckplates and bulkheads had a little bit of him in them. She’d been worried that Wash hadn’t fit into this life of crime she led. Really, he never did fit into the role. But he’d made the role fit him. The ship became his home because he made it his home. More than that, he’d made it their home. She’d been willing to accept him as a goof of the highest order, and he’d accepted her as a soldier turned criminal. Along the way, they’d complimented each other and rubbed off on each other. They were both richer for having loved each other. They had been happy together, and that had to count for something. Wash wanted her to move on and live life, and so did she. Wash would always be with her, and she wouldn’t cheat either of them by spending her whole life crying in the corner. Or trying not to. It’d be awhile before Zoë was able to sleep in the middle of the bed. But still, that night she slept soundly for the first time in weeks. She had a ways to go before she was mended. But still, she’d started on the road. And she wasn’t alone. Zoë Washburne would, as always, find a way to survive.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006 2:37 PM


Lovely! Sad, reflective and a very fine piece of introspection for Zoe. Just miss our very fine leaf on the wind... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 5:47 PM


Actually, what I meant with Zoe needing to get the captain to warm up wasn't to wash himself, but to the thought of Zoe marrying Wash. Little things, I guess. ;)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 4:14 AM


You bastard!! You made me cry at work!! My coworkers thought I was nuts!! Anyways, great story!!!

Friday, February 17, 2006 11:28 AM


Sadly beautiful. Zoe and Wash are standards; their relationship will always be something I compare any great relationship to. The grief of her losing him was excellently staged here. You did a great job.

Monday, February 20, 2006 7:01 PM


I actually teared up. That's why I don't read post BDM Wash and Zoe stories they alwasys make the sad. :(
Good story.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 9:12 AM


*sniffle* so sad and beautiful...i miss wash *consoles self with jayne*


Tuesday, March 21, 2006 6:44 PM


This was a very touching tribute to their relationship. Thanks.

Oh, and the goslings? Perfect.


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