Written for Lily Baggins' birthday -- if you know Lily, you may be able to guess these warnings without being told. PG-13 slash, Frodo/men, mpreg.
  This AU is set post-Quest in Minas Tirith. While I am following the timeline from the book regarding how long the hobbits remained in the city, I have brought Eomer and Eowyn back to Minas Tirith for an extended time before Theoden's escort leaves the city.

Dreams, Long-Deferred -- and Reality
by Laura Mason

"Tonight, as we bid farewell to our ambassadors to Umbar, we also celebrate an anniversary. It has been one month since I was joined with my Queen in wedded bliss." Aragorn smiled at the cheer that rose from the crowd in the banquet hall, feeling Arwen's glowing presence on his right. Just as they'd dreamt so long ago, his love was beside him, her elven beauty and wisdom admired by all his people. Nearly fifty years of struggle were now concluded, and his pride at winning the throne and her hand was so overwhelming that Aragorn had to clear his throat before continuing his remarks.

"This has been a busy time as well as a joyous one for us both, and I thank all those gathered tonight for your continuing work on rebuilding our City, securing the peace, and developing alliances beneficial to Gondor and to our friends."

He raised his goblet solemnly and everyone in the room followed suit. "A peaceful and prosperous future."

Aragorn drank, and as he did his eyes went to the hobbits at their usual low table on his right. He saw that Frodo lowered his goblet without drinking, and felt a flash of anger.

The servers knew who Frodo was; they'd seen him honored dozens of times. There was a standing order to serve the hobbits' table before any others save the King himself. How could his servants fail to keep Frodo's glass filled? They would be chastised for their lack of respect. Of course, Frodo was partially to blame; he was too modest to call attention to his empty glass. But Sam or one of the others should have chastised their server. Frodo should never be left waiting for anything he desired while in Minas Tirith.

"Ostolung," the King called, and his chief server turned with alacrity. "Bring wine for the Ringbearer." Aragorn hadn't intended to call so much attention to Frodo or himself, but he'd spoken after the room was reseated, in a fairly quiet lull in the serving. Many eyes seemed to be on him and upon Frodo, who looked uncomfortable as he shook his head and raised a hand to forestall Ostolung.

"I have wine, your majesty. There's no need." Frodo's smile looked strained, and Aragorn realized that the hobbit looked pale and rather unhealthy, despite having finally regained some weight. Again, he was angry with himself and his advisors. He'd been very busy, too busy to spend time with Frodo. But nothing was more important than ensuring Frodo's health and happiness. Surely everyone should know that he wished to be told if Frodo were ill, even if his healers were capable of handling the illness themselves.

The normal conversational buzz of the hall was still absent, Aragorn realized, because of his continued scrutiny of Frodo, who grew rosy-faced and avoided meeting his eyes. Frodo's mouth was twisted with an expression that could have been a smile or a scowl.

"Then drink with me, my friend, to the future." Aragorn raised his glass, but Frodo did not. Anger, concern, and hurt all flashed through the King, only to be overwhelmed by the chagrin he felt. The whole crowd was watching their exchange, whispering at Frodo's apparent defiance.

"Frodo, is there some reason why you refuse to drink with me?" His voice came out harsher than he intended, he realized, when he saw anger in Gandalf's eyes and concern in Legolas' gaze. He softened his voice to prod, "Ringbearer?"

Astonishingly, Frodo laughed. "A very good reason, sire, and one that concerns my future." He calmed himself and continued in a loud, clear voice, "While I agree wholeheartedly with your toast, sire, I will not drink wine. Have your good Ostolung bring me plain juice or water, and I will gladly drink with you." Frodo was still red-faced, well aware of the shocked faces turned to them and noting every word of their exchange.

Aragorn felt his blood set aflame by the defiance in every line of Frodo's body. The tilt of his head, the teasing laughter in his eyes that now would not look away -- all called to Aragorn's passions, as Frodo well knew.

"I would know your reason," Aragorn managed to grate out, and Frodo nodded. It was clear that he'd deliberately required the King to ask for an explanation.

"Very well. Your wish shall be obeyed." Aragorn heard the unspoken 'this time' in the hobbit's voice and he clenched his teeth, trying to keep his face impassive. Frodo raised his voice again, speaking loud enough to be heard in every corner of the room. "My future is within me, and I have been advised it is healthier to avoid strong drink. I am carrying a child, King Elessar. Safely bearing it to term will be my joy in the peace and prosperity you foresee for Middle Earth."

Shocked silence gave way to a rumble of hushed voices, the guests murmuring -- and no doubt questioning Frodo's sanity. One look at Gandalf and Elrond answered Aragorn's doubts, but his bride still asked the question.

"This is true?" Arwen gasped when her father nodded. Of all those in the room, only the other hobbits looked just as calm as Frodo -- though none of them looked so smug about shocking the King and his court.

"We have examined Frodo and found him three months along," Gandalf said.

"But..." Gimli stuttered and spluttered. "He's a male hobbit, not a lass! Isn't he?" Aragorn almost wanted to laugh. He knew exactly what Frodo was -- very male despite pouting lips, sultry eyes, and warm, clever hands that could persuade a man to toy with that compact, oh-so-wanton body. Frodo was temptation itself, and Aragorn had never managed to resist him.

"Evidently, under the correct circumstances, male hobbits will bear children. Now wouldn't it be better to leave the remainder of this discussion for another, more private time?" Gandalf was the voice of reason, but no one wanted to listen to him.

"What circumstances?" Gimli and Arwen demanded in unison.

"I beg your pardon, majesty," the dwarf quickly said, but Arwen ignored him.

"Father? How does a male hobbit become pregnant?" She was quite single-minded, glaring at her father even as Aragorn tried to change the subject.

"I'm sure Frodo would prefer we discuss this later," he said, but his wife ignored him. And her father had never denied her anything.

"It appears that when a male hobbit lies with a man, my daughter, he can become pregnant."

Even though he was expecting the accusing looks from his wife, her father, and all his closest friends, the King of Gondor blushed.

But Frodo of the Shire stood with his head held high. In that clear, loud voice he calmly stated, "Sadly, since I have been intimate with so many men, I do not know who might be responsible for my condition. Nor does it matter. The child is mine, and will be raised in the Shire by me and my family."

As the hobbit walked out of the hall, his friends quickly following him, the room erupted in louder talk, no doubt bawdy gossip. Aragorn drank more wine despite the shaking of his hands, certain that if he hadn't been seated during that speech, he would have fallen over in amazement.

***

"He cannot be allowed to leave the City. That, at least, is clear." The King paced before his throne, surrounded by his closest friends, all of whom had acted as his advisors in the past.

"By what law can you keep him here, Aragorn?" Gandalf spoke softly, reasonably, yet it still sounded like defiance to Aragorn. "Frodo has broken no law. He is an adult hobbit, in his right mind--"

"Oh, are you sure of that?" he snapped impatiently, but Gandalf did not change his soothing tone of voice.

"We cannot prove otherwise. His very request to return home seems normal and natural. Any hobbit in his condition might desire it."

"His condition is not natural!" Aragorn was almost as surprised by the volume of his outburst as the others.

But Gimli wasn't cowed by any man's anger. "However unnatural it seems to us, the hobbits are utterly matter-of-fact about it. Their only concern seems to be getting Frodo to the Shire before his condition is more advanced."

"Perhaps that should be our approach as well." Legolas still looked as stunned as he had been when Frodo made his announcement. "We wish Frodo to reach his homeland safely, so to ensure this, we will accompany him ourselves. Perhaps once we are on the road to his home, with him day and night, Frodo will finally open his heart to one of us."

Aragorn kept his voice soft despite the fear and bitter anger he felt. "I have just reclaimed my throne. I cannot leave Gondor to rule itself for several months while I traipse slowly toward the Shire, all in the hope that one stubborn, licentious hobbit will speak to me."

"You have a Steward," Legolas began, but Faramir interrupted him.

"I cannot remain here," he protested. "I plan to accompany Frodo." Aragorn shot him a look that should have incinerated him where he stood, but the former Steward cooly met his eyes with a challenging look.

"And what of Lady Eowyn?" Aragorn hissed.

"My lady knows my mind. Does your Queen know yours?"

"Gentlemen, this bickering is pointless," Gandalf began.

"It would be best to leave the ladies out of our discussion," Legolas added with a sideways looks at Elrond's frown and Gimli's glower. "The issue is not who may have been wronged, but what needs to be done for Frodo."

"Frodo does not want our assistance." It was a relief to hear Eomer finally speak, rather than continue his silent glaring at Aragorn. "He asked to be equipped to begin his journey home as soon as possible. That is all he asked." The man paced as he spoke, arms crossed over his chest, and Aragorn realized from his agitation that Eomer, too, loved Frodo and had no doubt been his lover. He ground his teeth as the King of Rohan continued, "We plan to return Theoden to his fathers in three days. Meriadoc wishes to accompany the Eored, and it would be sensible for all the hobbits to travel with us in safety and comfort."

Aragorn and Faramir shook their heads, agreed on refusal to listen to Eomer. "He cannot leave so soon."

"Why not?" Elrond hadn't spoken before, and Aragorn blushed to hear him. "I can return to Rivendell with the hobbits, and assist Frodo during the journey."

"That seems ideal, my old friend." Gandalf clapped Elrond's shoulder heartily, ignoring the elf's hauteur, and turned to the others. "I will travel with them as well, and help Lord Elrond in his ministrations. Between us we can assure Frodo's good health."

"Are you certain? You've already been attending him, yet he seems pale and drawn." Aragorn stated, noting that Faramir and Eomer both nodded. Despite jealousy and mistrust, they all agreed when it came to protecting Frodo.

"Frodo has been experiencing nausea, particularly in the mornings. It seems to have abated since I gave Sam directions on preparing tea and biscuits for him to eat before he rises, just a small meal to settle his stomach."

"Perhaps we should ask Sam and the other hobbits what they think of traveling so soon," Legolas said.

"No matter what they think, Frodo cannot leave now," Aragorn insisted.

"Why not?" Faramir asked, and when Aragorn did not reply he smiled. "At least I am honest about this. I claim the right to travel with Frodo because the child he carries may be mine."

"And you are proud of that?" Gimli asked.

"I am proud to have claimed a measure of Frodo's affection, yes. And, unlike some men among us, I will not deny what I have done, nor that I find Frodo most worthy of love."

"I deny nothing, though my feelings for Frodo are no one else's business," Eomer said proudly. "No doubt the child is mine, as we Eorlingas have more fire in our blood than you men of the south." Faramir moved toward Eomer threateningly, and Eomer's chin came up pugnaciously.

"Enough!" Aragorn shouted, then managed to civilly add, "I thank you all for your advice and your -- honesty." He left the room as swiftly as his legs could carry him, heading back toward the chamber where Arwen and her ladies spent their mornings. He had to speak to her first, before any public confession. But first, he had to calm himself, for he was moved to rage at hearing those other men discuss bedding his Frodo.

The hobbit had known Aragorn was pledged to another from the first. Even during their joyful reunion, as they celebrated their unlooked-for survival, Frodo knew that Aragorn was already preparing for his wedding. His love for Arwen was accepted as part of their relationship, and Frodo had never once complained -- not even when Arwen's arrival curtailed any time free to be spent with Frodo.

And now, Aragorn saw the reason that Frodo never complained. He hadn't been sitting in his rooms, pining for Aragorn. No indeed. Even in the months while Aragorn was with Frodo, still awaiting his queen, his lover had been taking other men to his bed --

They'd never discussed faithfulness. How could they, when Aragorn was breaking his vows each time they met? Yet he had naively believed that Frodo loved him enough to be his alone. He'd been a fool. A blind, gullible fool.

Aragorn slammed his fist into a marble column, glad for the pain and the clarity it brought to his mind. Then, with a deep breath, he knocked on the door to Arwen's chamber, not even seeing the streak of blood left by his knuckles.

***

He should have realized Arwen would send her father. When Aragorn's valet showed Elrond into his private study, the King knew why the elf-lord had come to him.

Yet he protested, "My wife cannot come herself to speak with me?"

"Arwen has been deeply hurt -- not by your unfaithfulness, but by your attempts to deceive her. If you'd spoken honestly to her before today, I doubt you would be alone here tonight." Elrond was composed, but Aragorn could see a spark of joy shining deep within his eyes. That joy had been missing since the day of their wedding. Its return could only mean that Elrond now hoped Arwen would forsake her vow to live a mortal life. It was an understandable emotion on Elrond's part, but it infuriated Aragorn.

Still he sat calmly, determined not to lose his temper again this day. "I understand, Lord Elrond. She has every right to be angry, for it is true that I lied. It was cowardly and wrong of me, as I told her this afternoon." He toyed with the papers on his desk as he spoke, welcoming the pain in his hand and keeping his eyes locked with the elf's steady gaze.

"Seeing your character defects has been a shock to Arwen. She requires time to think now, and decide if she truly wishes to be bound to a flawed man who is capable of such actions."

"We are already bound in marriage," Aragorn began. "She cannot deny that."

"But she does. Arwen tells me that your marriage has not yet been consummated, and I believe her. As would anyone who understands the sexuality of elves, Aragorn. An annulment is still possible."

"No, it is not." But he knew she could demand one. Aragorn fumed silently for a moment, quickly running options through his mind. "I will leave her in peace, and give her the time she requires to forgive me."

"You have no choice in the matter, your majesty. The Queen has already departed for Lothlorien with the lady Galadriel."

"What!" He rose, fists clenched, discarding the idea of going after her or sending men to force her to return as quickly as it came to him. "She has left me?"

But Elrond didn't seem to hear him, his voice full of grief as he continued, "She must travel without me because I promised my assistance to Frodo." Then Elrond seemed to come back to himself, and his grief changed to anger. "You have wronged them both, Aragorn, and now others must care for those you professed to love."

Without another glance, Elrond turned and left Aragorn standing at his desk, shaking with rage and sorrow.

***

His night was sleepless, and when the sun rose and he finally managed to close his eyes in exhausted sleep, Aragorn was tormented with nightmares of Arwen and Frodo turning their backs on him.

He was very late in rising. As he rang for hot water to wash himself, Aragorn decided to instruct his servants to wake him early each day. He'd wasted half the morning already.

Later, as he pulled on his shirt, Aragorn heard voices in the courtyard. He moved to the window and looked out to see the four hobbits lounging on the lawn, surrounded by several trays overflowing with breakfast foods. Second breakfast, he supposed, for they would not have waited this long to break their fast.

Faramir and Eomer were with them, sitting on either side of Frodo. Even from his window, Aragorn could see the tenderness as Faramir tried to tempt the hobbit with various foods, and the adoration in Eomer's eyes as he watched Frodo smile at Pippin.

Jealousy came, bitter in his mouth. Did Arwen feel such poison? No wonder she had left the city. He decided to send a letter after her this very day, full of sincere apologies for causing her such pain.

However, as he watched the scene below, Aragorn's feelings changed to satisfaction at seeing Frodo being coddled. He was still envious of the men down there with the hobbit, but Aragorn took satisfaction in knowing he was the one who had provided for Frodo's safety, as well as giving him the food he ate and the very blanket spread on the grass for his comfort. Faramir and Eomer were Frodo's admirers, but Aragorn was his protector and provider.

It was plain to Aragorn that he still cared for Frodo, even though he didn't wish to love the hobbit. Somehow, Frodo's unfaithfulness didn't matter. There was still love between them, though it wasn't like the love he felt for Arwen, and it made Aragorn want Frodo in his city, sharing his life, under his protection. He even felt regret at how lax he'd been in showing his care to the hobbit in recent months.

Of course Aragorn also wanted his Queen at his side, as they'd always planned. He'd waited so long and worked so hard to be worthy of her love, years of struggle and loneliness. Finally he'd managed to triumph, and was able to offer Arwen the position she deserved as Queen of Gondor. He'd loved her and yearned for her for most of his life; he would never stop wanting Arwen beside him, a part of his life.

What he felt for Frodo had been unexpected, a delightful surprise that had alleviated his pain and isolation at a crucial time in his struggles. Their love had never been deferred or denied; once Frodo spoke to him they'd taken every opportunity to enjoy each other. How could they not indulge every pleasure, when they knew their time together was short and deadly danger waited on every path? Desires were only set aside for hours, not years, and there were no dreams of the future, for neither expected to survive the Quest.

But now they had survived, and Frodo's belly was swollen with a child. Though unplanned, the future had still come to them both. Frodo would have a child before Aragorn, for he and Arwen might not be able to consummate their marriage for years. She hoped to give him several children, though bearing a human child would be dangerous for her...

Aragorn backed away from the window, his stomach churning at a new and unwelcome thought. Bearing a man-child was dangerous for Arwen, but surely even more so for Frodo, with his tiny frame and frail health. Frodo had a stubbornness to match his beautiful spirit -- but his body was still weak from the rigors of his journey and his ill-treatment at the hands of the orcs.

His imagination began to show him images of Frodo, his belly grotesquely swollen, screaming in pain as his labor began. Then a monstrously large child was suckling at his breast, greedily draining the hobbit's life force. He imagined a dozen horrors, but his mind couldn't conjure any pleasant images. It seemed to Aragorn that Frodo was in more peril now than he'd been while carrying the Ring. That ancient evil had threatened his soul, but the child he now bore could break his body.

Had the hobbits seen a child born from the union of a hobbit and a man? Aragorn himself had spent many years traveling in Bree-land, the only place where men and hobbits routinely lived together. Surely he would know of such unions, particularly if they produced a child.

No, Gandalf and Elrond were guessing at how Frodo's condition came to be, and the hobbits were being accepting and reassuring for Frodo's sake. There'd been no other child, for there was no other hobbit like Frodo. He was truly unique, and his child would also be unusual. Aragorn wondered if the child would have hobbit-sized feet, covered in downy-fine hair, or be more man-like in appearance.

And with that thought, Aragorn suddenly understood that the child Frodo carried might be his son. Faramir and Eomer had been making their claim yesterday, for they'd immediately known what a precious treasure the child would be. Aragorn had been too burdened by guilt and shame, so he'd never thought of what it meant, not until this moment. Now longing that it might be true filled his heart.

He could see the babe, not a monster but a sweet boy-child with Frodo's delicate features and the blood of Numenor in his veins. Why, Frodo was three months along -- perhaps when Aragorn and Gandalf found the white tree, it had been blossoming for the heir already growing inside him from their celebratory lovemaking...

Aragorn strode out of his room at last, moving past his breakfast tray, his valet, and the advisors waiting to discuss the day's business without a word. He ran down the stone steps to his courtyard, finally sure of what he should do.

"Frodo! Good morning, my friends." He ignored the stunned looks on all six faces as he crowded in between Faramir and the hobbit, grabbing a slice of apple and stuffing it in his mouth before asking, "How do you feel this morning, Frodo?"

"F..fine, majesty."

"Frodo, I've told you to call me Aragorn, or Strider. There is no king here, only your comrade." He smiled at the other hobbits, hoping to end their shocked silence. But only Eomer spoke.

"Frodo was sick again this morning, but it quickly passed. He says Lord Elrond's tea was very helpful."

"Yes, that's quite true, Strider," Sam said, snapping out of his stupor. "And Mr. Frodo slept like a log last evening, no nightmares at all."

"Nightmares?" he asked with a frown. Why hadn't he been told Frodo was still suffering?

"Only sometimes," Frodo said, looking away. Merry's face was twisted into a grimace, but he didn't contradict his cousin, just shook his head at the King. Pippin, on the other hand, opened his mouth -- only to have it stopped by Faramir's hand.

"He never has such dreams if I stay with him," Sam added. "Frodo shouldn't be sleeping alone at night, and that's the truth. Having another warm body nearby does wonders, better than any tea or drink before slumber." Aragorn smiled at Sam's bluntness and the encouragement he saw in those earnest hazel eyes.

"Well, then, we shall see to it," he declared cheerfully, but Frodo cringed and Eomer shook his head angrily. "Frodo?" But the hobbit wouldn't look at him.

"I'd better go inside now. Gandalf ... he promised to show me ... um, the library..." Frodo rose as he made his clumsy excuses, but Aragorn's hand on his arm stopped his attempt to inch away from them.

"May I speak with you, Frodo? I shall be brief." Frodo nodded, and Aragorn saw the hobbits and the men exchange relieved smiles. In confusion, he wondered why Eomer and Faramir would be pleased at his actions--

Then he saw it, as clearly as if he'd been told what they'd done, and why. He was thunderstruck, then filled with even more joy.

As Aragorn led Frodo away from the group, the hobbit still not meeting his eyes, face flushed with shame, the King knew a confession was forthcoming. But he had a confession of his own to make first. As soon as they were out of hearing, he spoke.

"Frodo, I have been very selfish and unthinking, and I want to apologize to you." A gasp of surprise escaped as the hobbit stopped walking, and Aragorn knelt beside him, not caring who saw them thus. "I was blinded by my aspirations, Frodo. There's no excuse for how I've treated you in the past, but I hope I can make it up to you in the future. If you'll remain here, with me, and forgive me."

"Aragorn-- you didn't -- it --" Frodo's voice trailed off, and Aragorn watched those large, expressive eyes change from surprise to suspicion. "You've ignored me for a month, Aragorn, and never missed my company."

"That isn't true. I was preoccupied with ordering my kingdom and, well, with giving due attention to my lady Arwen. But I often thought of you."

"Yet you never sent for me, or even sent a message to tell me how you fared. I have only seen you at banquets and ceremonies."

"I'm very sorry, Frodo. I've been remiss."

"Yet your kingdom and your Queen will continue to occupy your time, majesty. Nothing has changed."

"Everything has changed, Frodo, for I have realized how much I need you to be a central part of my life." But rather than looking happy at his declaration, Frodo looked upset, even angry.

"This is because of the baby, isn't it? You've decided you want an heir so much, it doesn't matter if it comes from me."

"Frodo, you told everyone that you don't know who the father is," Aragorn reminded him, and Frodo's deep blush and the way his eyes dropped confirmed Aragorn's theory. "But that isn't true, is it?"

"You know?" he gasped, his head flying back up, eyes burning. "Who told you?"

"My heart told me, Frodo." Aragorn embraced him tenderly, and Frodo melted against him for a moment before pulling away, still frowning. "Eomer and Faramir do love you, Frodo, that is clear even to my eyes. Either of them would be honored to care for you and your child. But they are not its father, for you have not given yourself to any other Man."

"Are you sure of that?" Frodo asked defiantly.

"Yes, love. You told a lie, to protect me. Or, perhaps, to punish me with the pain of jealousy."

"No, I didn't ask..." Frodo trailed off, though it seemed he wished to say more.

"Then their love for you led our friends to deceive me." Frodo looked so distressed at his words that Aragorn had to continue, "Actually, I owe them thanks for being so fond and foolish. They risked my displeasure to show me how badly I'd neglected you, my heart. I cannot deny that their ruse worked; it shamed me into behaving better toward you and Arwen. I told her yesterday about our affair. I did not wish to continue deceiving her, nor denying you."

Frodo's surprise at his words was evident and Aragorn's reassurance seemed to calm the hobbit, but he still kept his distance from the King. In fact, Frodo looked away, as if he wished to leave. Aragorn held out a hand and gave his most pleading look. "Frodo, don't be cruel. Forgive me." Frodo turned back to him, but did not come any closer.

"Is it true the Queen has left the city?" the hobbit asked quietly.

"Yes, Arwen has gone to Lorien. She is unhappy with my character as it has been revealed to her."

"You still love her. She will realize this, and return. What becomes of me and this child then?"

"Our child will be formally recognized as my heir, Frodo, and raised here in the Citadel if you will agree. If Arwen remains and still wishes to be my wife, she must accept your place in my heart and in our lives."

"What is that place, sire?"

"Frodo, my love -- do not distance me so with titles. Your place is in my heart, forever."

Frodo's expression remained wary, so Aragorn continued his plea.

"If you will stay here with me, and gift me with our child's presence in my life, I will love and cherish you for all my days. I will keep you here each winter, safe and warm, then send you and the child to the Shire each summer. You can see Sam's garden bloom and spend time with your family."

Aragorn saw surprise in those eyes, and Frodo's deep longing to see his homeland again. "You will be free to travel as you wish, but perhaps we can make Minas Tirith the place you love best. We might invite Bilbo to live in the city and help you organize the library. Certainly the other hobbits will be frequent visitors here as well. And Elves will visit, hoping to be close to you and honor your great deeds. Even Gimli's people will come to spend nights in the taverns of Minas Tirith, listening to stories and drinking ale with you."

Those expressive eyes softened, and Aragorn smiled at his love. "Please, Frodo. Whatever you wish to do with your life, deeds great or small, I will encourage and assist you. Your counsel will help me be a great ruler, and a better man. Stay with me and be my love."

When Frodo came to his arms and kissed him, Aragorn felt the bulk of their child between them. There was a new realm of possibilities -- and love -- in his future.

He abandoned the dreams and plans he'd cherished for so many years without regret.

 

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