Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 29

RIONACH

When Emeric said he had a “cabin”, what he really meant was he has a completely renovated and modernized A-frame house that, just like his home in the city, belongs on the cover of an interior design magazine. While I was expecting a log cabin decked out in flannel and a genuine wood-burning fireplace, what I found is an architectural designer’s wet dream with its black siding and floor-to-ceiling windows. The interior is decorated similarly to his penthouse with its dark and moody color palette, but this “cabin” is cozier.

I could imagine coming up here in the winter and watching the snow blanket the plethora of surrounding trees while cuddling up on the couch. It’d be like a Hallmark movie scene, but without the slightly religious undertones and with a lot more kinky sex.

Already showered and dressed in clean clothes that consists of only a white button-down shirt I found in the primary bedroom’s closet, I stand at the large window overlooking the forest I’d run through an hour ago. In case you were wondering, it turns out I hadn’t been headed in remotely the right direction when I was searching for the cabin. Quite the opposite, actually. Emeric had smirked at me when I realized my mistake as he carried me here. The cocky fucker.

With the sun starting to drop below the tree line, I thank my lucky stars that Emeric hadn’t forced me to run from him in the dark. Then I really would have been fucked.

I see him coming up behind me in the glass reflection before his large hand grasps my shoulder and turns me around.

His dark hair is mussed and still slightly damp from the shower we’d shared. I’d almost wept with joy when he’d dropped to his knees on the tile and buried his tongue in my pussy. The relief alone of finally being able to come nearly had me collapsing. If he hadn’t kept a steadying arm around me, I’m positive I would have ended up on the shower floor next to him.

He’s dressed in a black hoodie and joggers, both things I’d yet to see him wear before. Today was also the first time I saw him in jeans, which I also quite enjoyed. With his disheveled hair and casual outfit choice, he doesn’t look like the kind of man who enjoys making his enemies beg for mercy before he forces them to choke on their own blood. I can’t help but wonder how many people have been granted the opportunity to see this more relaxed side of him. I feel special and slightly territorial that I’ve been gifted access to this side of the illustrious man in front of me.

He passes me the cup of coffee he holds. “Almond milk with vanilla syrup and a dash of cinnamon.”

Eyebrows raised, I accept the glass mug from him.

“What?” he asks, shoving his hands into the front pocket of his sweatshirt. “Didn’t think I paid attention?”

“To the big things? Without a doubt, but to the small things like my coffee order? No, not really,” I tell him honestly.

After taking a sip of the steamy-hot, sweet drink, I move to sit on the king-sized bed that’s the focal point of the room. Between the way it’s positioned and the wall of windows, you’d feel like you’re going to bed in the trees every night. I don’t know what his plans are for the rest of our evening or if he needs to get back to the city for work, but I’m silently crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to spend the night here. I want to wake up surrounded by the trees. It’s also nice to be away from the bustle of the city for a minute. Don’t get me wrong, I thrive in the chaos and noise, but there’s something about stepping away that resets the soul.

Emeric nudges me forward so he can sit behind me with his back against the headboard. His arm snakes around my middle, holding me against him as his thumb instantly begins to caress back and forth across my ribs.

“You should know by now I know everything about you, Rionach Banes,” he murmurs into my now clean hair before pressing his lips to the side of my head. The simple act of affection has my heart fluttering in my chest. He catches me off guard when his chest rumbles with a low chuckle. “Though, I will admit I didn’t know you were quite the pickpocket. That was a surprise.”

“Your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell anyone I was able to surprise the all-powerful Mr. Banes.” The grin I’m hiding with the brim of my cup falters when the guilt from earlier has my abdomen clenching. The fear that was tangled in his furious voice replays in my head. “I know I already said it, but I want you to know I truly am sorry for today.”

Emeric stiffens around me. “It was beyond careless of you to leave. Putting yourself in danger like you did…” he trails off. “You’re smarter than that, princess.”

“You’re right, I am,” I agree easily. “But—and that’s a big but—that doesn’t change the fact that you cannot keep me locked up like you are. You promised me you wouldn’t put me in a cage, and for the past almost two weeks that’s exactly what you’ve done. I’m your wife now, not your prisoner, Emeric.”

He tightens his hold around my middle. “Yes, you’re my wife and that means your safety is now my responsibility. It’s a responsibility I take very fucking seriously, too. I’m not willing to put your life in the hands of someone I can’t fully trust to keep you safe. As it stands, the only person I trust with such an important task is myself.” His free hand brushes the hair off my temple so he can tuck it behind my ear. Chills scatter across my shoulders and down my spine from the gentle touch. “You can be as pissed at me as you’d like, Rionach, but I won’t apologize for putting your well-being before a promise I made.”

Emotions swirl in my gut at hearing him say this. When have I ever been a priority in anyone’s life? “My family wanted very little to do with me when I shared their last name, I just don’t understand why you think they’d care about me now.”

“That’s simple,” he says, fingers tracing over the side of my neck. “They care because they know I care about you. I could lie and say I usually have a better hold on my temper, but I showed my hand to Niall when I blew apart his hand for disrespecting you.” He pauses for a beat. I can hear the smirk in his voice when he adds, “Seeing as I had him shot in the hand and not between his goddamn eyes, I suppose I was exhibiting some level of restraint that night.”

I scoff and roll my eyes at this. “Would you like a gold star for not putting a bullet in my father’s head?”

“I’m not very motivated by stickers, no matter what whimsical shape they might come in. I will, however, gladly take a blow job as my reward.”

I nearly choke on a mouthful of coffee. Once I manage to swallow—pun not intended—I can’t help but laugh at his absurdity. “If I blew you every time you refrained from putting a bullet in someone who simply annoyed you, I’d never get off my knees, Banes.”

“As fun as that sounds, I’m afraid you might be underestimating how many people I shoot in a week, dear wife.”

Other people might find this news a tad bit alarming, but all it does is make me laugh harder. Ophelia’s horrified face when I’d laughed earlier crosses my mind. That’s twice in one day I’ve laughed at something others would balk at, and I can’t say I give a shit. It’s nice to emote the feelings and thoughts I usually keep safely tucked away from others. Expressing myself without fear of judgment is freeing.

Emeric cups my cheek and turns my head so we can look into each other’s eyes. The amusement flickering in his is nearly drowned out by the exhaustion staring back at me. I didn’t notice it earlier, but the dark circles under his turbulent eyes are prominent. The last time he was in bed with me was… days ago.

“You really don’t fear me, do you, princess?” There’s a distinctive air of surprise in his tone as he asks this.

My head shakes once. “I don’t fear you in the same way others do because I know you’re not going to hurt me. When people see you, they think they’re looking death in the eye. I look at you and know I’m staring at a wild and dangerous thing, but we both know I run toward those things, not away.” I skim the pad of my thumb across his lower lip. “I think I’m addicted to the kind of fear you give me. You’re my favorite adrenaline rush.”

I’ve seen it on his face before but right now, it’s more evident than ever. Emeric regards me like I’m the greatest prize—no, not prize, a gift—he’s ever possessed. This simple expression on his face has my heart plummeting into a dangerous territory, a territory where it might end up getting shattered into pieces if this all goes south.

He doesn’t say anything back, but he doesn’t have to. I smile against his mouth when he presses his lips to mine in a fleeting but still toe-curling kiss.

I’m still grinning like an idiot when I pull back and look around the room again. It is pretty here, and the view out the window is serene. It’s a bit stereotypical, but when you grow up in a concrete city, you tend to appreciate the simplicity of nature more.

“Why do you own this cabin and all this land?” I want it noted, I still don’t think “cabin” is the appropriate term for this place.

He relaxes further into the pillows against the headboard with a content-sounding sigh. “Do you want the partial truth or the whole truth?”

That’s stupid question. “If you’re going to tell me that this is your secret love nest and you’ve fucked women on every surface in this joint, you can go ahead and keep that to your-fucking-self.”

His genuine, unhindered chuckle has my lips twitching with my own smile. “No. Just like our home in the city, I’ve never brought a woman back here.” Our home. That’s not the first time he’s referred to it as such, but it still has my heart panging. “I own a sex club. There was never a reason to bring them home.”

And it better stay that way…

“Okay, so then what’s the real reason you own this place?” Coffee now gone, I lean over and place the mug on the dark wood nightstand.

Emeric takes my free hands and entangles our fingers together in my lap. My attention is glued on the way he runs his fingers over my knuckles in gentle unhurried strokes. After the way he chased me and then pinned me in the woods earlier, you wouldn’t expect such gentleness from the same man. I appreciate both sides of him equally, but I like it even more that the softer side is reserved exclusively for me.

“I bought it for two reasons, but both have to do with privacy. There’s a concrete room in the basement of Tartarus I have people delivered to when they’ve wronged me or they have information I need. That’s where the Italian who shot me on New Year’s was brought. It’s soundproofed and secure but occasionally I appreciate having the option to prolong my torment. Having space to get creative with my… punishments is something an isolated property like this allows for.” I asked for the full truth and he’s not holding back. He told me before he will always give me the truth if he can, and it seems he’s holding true to this promise. I mentally tuck away the knowledge he has a torture room in the same basement he operates a sex club in. That just seems very on brand for him, and I can’t say I’m totally shocked to hear it. “The second reason is, I wanted a place away from the city that was kept off the books. No one other than my most trusted men know of its existence. I like that for a couple reasons: it guarantees my privacy, but it also means if shit goes tits up and I need to get somewhere safe, I can come here.”

“So, it’s like your safe house?”

Our safehouse,” he corrects me immediately. “I’ll give you directions on how to get here when we get home. Keep them somewhere safe and don’t share them with anyone. If something happens and I can’t get to you, this is where you’ll come.”

“Emeric…” I interject, not enjoying the sudden spike of anxiety coursing through my veins.

“I’m serious, Rionach.” His sharp tone has me flinching. “We have to think like this. As long as I hold power, people will try to come for me and what’s mine. Half-wit people just like Niall. I already told you he isn’t going to let this go—that was the risk of allowing him to live. If he hasn’t already, it’s only a matter of time before he crawls back to the Russians for help. Igor and Bogdan will agree to reenter the alliance because in their eyes, I’ve humiliated them by stealing you out from under them. I’m very familiar with how they operate and think, which is another reason why I haven’t allowed you to leave the penthouse without me.”

My father’s cutting remark about Emeric’s history with Igor crawls back to the forefront of my mind, along with the beautiful tattoo he has across his shoulder blades.

Squeezing his fingers tighter between mine, I nervously release a long steadying breath before asking, “Will you tell me about your history with Igor?” My body turns into a piece of stone as I wait for him to lash out at me for asking such a personal question. My brother and father didn’t appreciate it when I asked them anything, so I’m mentally preparing myself for Emeric to react similarly. “I think I might understand better why you’re so adamant about keeping me at home if I knew more about it.”

With the small amount of information I already have, I know the father-son duo is deranged in ways Emeric isn’t. Emeric isn’t a moral man by any means, but he doesn’t slaughter innocent women for sport.

Emeric’s body mirrors mine by going painfully rigid.

“You don’t have to tell me,” I rush out before he can so much as inhale his next lungful of air. “I shouldn’t have said anything, I don’t have the right to pry about your secrets.”

The minute that passes in tense silence is one of the longest of my entire life. My mind races with a million thoughts and my heart pounds wildly against my sternum. With each pump of blood, more and more regret and anxiety filter into my system. When he remains quiet, I wish I could rewind and stop myself from opening my big dumb mouth.

“You’re my wife, Rionach. You and you alone have the right to ask me anything,” he finally says. His words are quiet, but steady and they instantly put me at ease. “My father, Ambrose, wasn’t a good man. I know that’s rich coming from me, but it’s the truth. He never should have had a child, let alone three of them, and he shouldn’t have taken a wife, especially one as softhearted as my mother, Daria. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t lift a hand to us. One of my first memories is his fist cracking a rib when I accidently spilled my orange juice during a Sunday family brunch. Anything set him off and if we cried, our tears only made him hit us harder. When he wasn’t slapping us around over small things like spilled juice, he was inflicting the unimaginable on my mom. For eleven years, I watched him leach the life out of her and rob her of her will to live. She was too gentle and kind for our world. They tried to tell us she threw herself down the stairs and broke her neck, but my brothers and I knew the truth. When Ambrose got drunk enough, he would all but admit to the role he played in her death. He’d sound proud of himself for finally freeing himself of his weak wife.”

The coffee I’d just ingested curdles in my stomach and my throat tightens. A wave of nausea washes over me as the visual of Emeric as an innocent child being beaten by his own father forms in my mind. And his mother… she didn’t deserve that fate. Emeric didn’t deserve to lose his one loving parent in such a horrific way, and by his own father’s hands, no less.

I don’t know what to say, so I simply bring our joined hands up to my face and press a kiss to his knuckles.

“I stopped fearing him and his wrath after that. At the ripe age of eleven I was just… numb. I’d laugh when he hit me, which would thoroughly piss him off, and the angrier he got, the harder I laughed. My brothers Astor and Ledger begged me to stop goading him, but I didn’t care. They hated seeing the bruises all over my body from his fists and whatever else he deemed suitable as a weapon. I. Just. Didn’t. Care. For six months straight, I think I had matching black eyes. We were homeschooled by tutors during this time, so there weren’t any adults who could raise concern on my behalf. Not that they could do anything. The Banes name wasn’t as prominent then as it is now, but it still carried a lot of weight. People weren’t going to go against Ambrose Banes. I was apathetic toward his abuse and everything else until the night of my initiation.”

“Initiation?” I repeat, my voice barely a whisper.

“It’s a tradition of sorts in our family that my great-great-grandfather started. When the Banes boys turn twelve, they’re officially brought into the family business after they prove they are worthy of carrying the name. A random person is selected and we—the kids—are instructed to shoot them in the head. They could be a homeless person they found under a bridge somewhere or it could be a nurse walking home after a sixteen-hour shift at the hospital. It didn’t matter to them. They weren’t picky.”

I can’t hold back the gasp of horror that creeps out from between my lips.

His heart is beating so viciously inside his chest cavity, I can feel it through the two layers of clothes between us. I can’t be sure at this moment if I do it for him or me, but I clumsily twist around in his lap. His muscles lock when my legs and arms wrap around him like a vise. For a moment, I think he’s going to push me away, but to my delight, his arms encircle me in a fierce hold that rivals mine.

“I was yanked out of bed and dragged to the basement of my father’s estate one night. I still remember the tops of my feet scraping against the concrete of the basement staircase as two men carried me down. They brought me to the back room we were never allowed to go into. My father was waiting there with a hooded figure curled up into a ball in the corner of the room. The gleeful smile across my father’s face as he handed me the gun is something I’ll never regret.”

My own father has his faults, but Ambrose’s treatment of his children and wife makes Niall look like a pretty good guy.

Then again, he did sell me to a serial killer, so perhaps they both just fucking suck?

“My brothers told me about their initiations. Their victims had gags in their mouths the entire time. They never got the chance to speak—to beg for their lives. My father removed the woman’s gag after he took off her blindfold. I didn’t understand why he’d do such a thing until she started begging.” Emeric’s entire body shudders against mine, and all I can do is hold him tighter. “She was a mother. She pleaded with me to let her go so she could return home to her young children. Ambrose didn’t select a person at random. He selected a mother because he knew how it would affect me.”

Emeric’s words from The Irish Wife replay in my head. Watching my father choke on his own blood and finally die will go down as one of the best moments of my life. I find a small sliver of peace knowing that Emeric already eliminated his father, and I can only hope that Emeric did too when he plunged the knife in.

“My hand holding the gun shook violently as my father yelled at me to pull the trigger and the woman begged to go home to her babies. At one point, he got sick of watching me hesitate and backhanded me across the face. Once I managed to get back to my feet, I turned the gun on him. He laughed and laughed at this. He stopped when the bullet ripped through his shoulder, though. I took my worst beating that night and the mother still ended up with a bullet in her brain. To this day I don’t know her name.”

The tone of his voice has turned emotionless. Revisiting these memories is painful and disconnecting is how he’s protecting himself.

“Bloodied and broken, he threw me in the trunk of his car and took me to his friend’s house. He told me if anyone could teach me to behave correctly, it would be Igor. He said, ‘Igor will show you the way’. I was kept in a crypt below Igor’s family cemetery on his property in New Jersey. If I wanted to eat, I needed to earn it. If I wanted clean clothes, I needed to earn it. If I wanted to use a real toilet instead of the bucket in the corner of my stone cell, I needed to earn it. The only way I earned any of those things is by executing the teaching he beat into me. I rebelled and refused him, but that only lasted a week. A hot iron poker with his family’s insignia pressed to my shoulder had me falling in line without any more fight. Igor taught me how best to inflict pain on a person with a blade. He showed me the fastest and the most efficient way to strangle a person.” His voice catches in his throat when he says this. “I learned how much blood they could lose and how much of one’s body could be dissected before they finally died. I discovered the most painful and effective ways to get information out of people. For three years, I was nothing but Igor’s weapon. I cut and sliced where and when he told me to, and I never hesitated again after the weeping mother in the basement. Igor helped me become the killer I am today, but I took his teachings and evolved into something more.”

If people knew this story, I know without a shadow of a doubt they would look at my husband differently. In a good or bad way, I’m not sure. On one hand, he was an innocent child forced to do horrific things. This could make them feel sympathy for the boy he once was like I do now. On the other hand, he was only a child when he first learned and began to excel at the carnage he’s known for today. This could incite even more fear and further darken the lore that accompanies Emeric.

“I don’t think Igor or Ambrose expected I’d put my new skills to use so soon after I finally returned home. The shock on my father’s face as my blade sliced him open from his navel to his throat was proof of how much he underestimated me. I’d played the part of the dutiful soldier for three years perfectly, never once giving them a reason to doubt my loyalty. With my brothers’ help and support, I showed my father what he’d actually created. In those final moments as he choked on his blood, I saw in his eyes that he knew what a grave mistake he’d made.”

I pull back so I can see his face. In the span of him telling his story, the circles under his eyes have darkened and the color in his usually golden-tan face has turned ashen. The same unfocused, wild look that was in his eyes earlier today when he had me pinned against the van has also returned. Clasping his face between my palms, I gently stroke my thumbs back and forth under his fatigued eyes. In slow, rhythmic order, I press kisses to his forehead, nose, both cheekbones, and then finally his mouth as I do.

It takes a couple minutes of this for the haze to lift from his face and for him to return to the present with me. I wait until I know he’s fully back before whispering, “I hope his death was slow and agonizing.”

I want to know why he hasn’t taken out Igor yet, but refrain.

He blinks, but the bleary look in his gaze remains. “It was.”

“Good,” I tell him, pressing my forehead to his briefly before pulling back so I can continue to examine his face. “Are you with me, Emeric?”

I’m expecting another one of his usual self-assured responses, so when a choked-sounding, “No,” comes from his lips, I nearly flinch.

“What’s wrong?” feels like an extraordinarily stupid question to ask given the traumatic history he just divulged to me, but I don’t know how else to find out what’s going on in that head of his.

His wild eyes drift to stare over my shoulder. “Koslov is standing behind you right now and he’s telling me to strangle you. Just like he did when you first got here.”

I nearly topple off his lap and the bed because of the breakneck speed in which I turn around to search the room for signs of a sadistic Russian. To my relief, but also horror, the only people in the room are the two of us. “Emeric…”

“He’s not actually here, I know this,” he explains, his voice sounding distant. “But this is what happens when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. My brain conjures him up to torment me more.”

Eyes wide and pulse racing, I scan his face and once again linger on the agonizingly dark circles residing there. “When was the last time you slept?”

He pulls his focus away from the hallucination that is apparently occurring behind my back. “With you, the other night.”

“Emeric! That was days ago.” My brain races as I try to figure out what I can do to help him. He seemed okay until he deep dived into his past and between unearthing those bad memories and the lack of sleep, he’s spiraling right before my eyes.

He nods once. “I struggle with sleep. Have since I was sent to Igor. It turned into severe insomnia about a decade ago. I can usually manage it, but I think dealing with Koslov again has aggravated it.”

My heart is breaking for the boy who was sent to that monster and it’s breaking for the man who is still sporting the physical and mental scars over twenty years later.

“Okay. It’s okay,” I say more for myself than anything. “Emeric, you have to tell me what to do to help you. Do I need to call Nova?” I have no clue where my cell phone is, but I’m sure Emeric’s is around here somewhere. “What will help you fall asleep? You fell asleep the other night, what helped you then?”

“You.”

“Me?” I repeat like a confused and panicked parrot. “I don’t understand.” But I’m willing to help him in any way I can to make the apparition of his tormenter vanish.

“I don’t either,” he admits. “All I know is, when I’m inside you, not only do I fall asleep, which is a feat all on its own, but I stay asleep. The longest I’ve slept in years was our wedding night. That’s when it first happened.”

It takes me a moment to fully register what he’s saying.

“Oh…” I murmur. Flashbacks of him coming to bed late the other night and getting me off before slipping inside me play in my head. I also remember how comforting it’d felt to have him so intimately close to me as we fell asleep.

“I know how it sounds⁠—”

I cut him off with a quick wave of my hand. “It sounds like you’ve found a way to ward off the ghosts that haunt you, Emeric.” Another woman might not understand him and think this is some perverted ploy, but I know it isn’t anything like that. Emeric doesn’t need ploys to get between my legs. I let him enter there freely and as often as he likes. Tricks aren’t required. “You could have told me sooner.”

He barks out an unamused chuckle. “Didn’t exactly know how to tell my new wife that I get insomnia-induced hallucinations if I go too long between REM cycles, but I discovered falling asleep with my cock buried in her warm cunt seems to be my own personal sedative. I’m my very own mouthwatering brand of crazy, I’m well aware of this, but that makes me sound certifiable, princess.”

“I’ve stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry from New York’s high society because I like the rush of slipping diamonds and other precious gemstones off the bodies of the people who’ve always refused to acknowledge my existence. I don’t even keep the money, I donate it,” I explain in a rush. He’s told me his secrets. I think it’s fair that I divulge a few myself. “I once stood so close to the edge of a subway platform that a patrol cop tackled me to the ground because she thought I was trying to kill myself. I had to escape and run from her so my parents wouldn’t be notified. That’s when I found out running from the police is way more fun than it should be. You know and accept that I crave things that scare me, and that’s why you tie me to beds and have me run from you. You give me that, so I can give you this. Isn’t that what marriage is about?”

He stares at me for a long moment. “I had you run from me as punishment.”

“No,” I shake my head. “Withholding orgasms was my punishment. You knew I’d get off on being chased and pinned down.” I untangle myself from him and stand from the bed. With steady fingers, I begin to unbutton the shirt I’d stolen from him. “And besides, it’s not really a burden to sleep with your dick in me. It’s comforting. Safe feeling.” My attention turns downcast as I quietly admit, “I like being close to you.”

His gaze heats when I stand before him naked and reach for the hem of his hoodie. He allows me to pull it over his head and throw it to the ground to join my discarded shirt. Emeric shifts down the bed until he’s lying flat. Once he’s gotten his joggers over his hips, I help pull them the rest of the way off. Already, his cock is half hard and I haven’t even touched him yet.

Bending over, I press a kiss to each of his hip bones before walking away and quickly turning off all the lights in the bedroom and connected en-suite bathroom. Double checking the bedroom door is shut and locked, I return to him.

The sun has a couple hours before it’ll fully set, but still shadows surround us. As I crawl up Emeric’s body, pausing to kiss either of his defined thighs as I do, I can feel his intense gaze watching my every movement. Straddling his hips, his hardening cock nudging my pussy, I bend down and press my lips to his thundering heart.

Rising up on my knees, I fist him in my hand until his hips are rocking and matching each languid stroke. I feel powerful—in control—as I lower myself onto him. I work him into me an inch at a time, until only the very tip is inside before sinking down and taking more of him in. I repeat this until I’m fully seated on his cock.

My muscles clench around him, begging for me to start riding him, but that isn’t what this is about. This is about giving him the refuge he needs to fall asleep without his demons interfering. We have plenty of time to chase our orgasms later, but for now, he needs rest.

Lowering my body, I press my naked chest to his and wrap my arms around him the best I can. His heart pounds under my ear as his head dips and he presses a kiss to my hair.

“Go to sleep, love,” I whisper, eyes closed. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’d chase after you if you did.”

“I know.”

My eyes flutter closed when he drags the nearby soft blanket over our naked forms and his strong arms cocoon around me. Intimate. This is so incredibly intimate.

We lay like this in serene silence for so long, I think he’s passed out already. It’s the softly offered, “I like being close to you too, princess,” that tells me he’s still fighting off sleep.

I smile into the shadowing darkness and snuggle my face tighter against his sculpted chest. I think I’m still smiling when his breathing evens out and he succumbs to his exhaustion.

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