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Sep. 29th, 2002 | 10:11 pm
mood: accomplished
music: a perfect circle

For mon_starling (The Cookie "Mon"-ster), because she wanted Angel cookies. This is better than a cookie, it's a whole fic. ^_-



Title: People Undone
Author: Viola
Email: viola_1895@yahoo.com
Rating: PG-13 -ish
Spoilers: Season 3
Disclaimer: Round up the usual suspects...
Story notes: The title comes from "Hell" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The epigraphs at the beginning of each section are from "Jazz" by Toni Morrison. And the bit of poetry Wesley reads is from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'
Summary: "Instead, it was a story about love, sin, forgiveness and a hero who turned out to be the devil after all." Fred/Gunn, Wes/Lilah, Connor/Justine (Shush!) and Angel(Or is it Angelus? ^_-)/Cordelia.


People Undone

I'm crazy about this City... A city like this one makes me dream tall and feel in on things.


There was a time when I went a little crazy. Not bad-crazy, or even old lady-crazy, like my Great Aunt Cressa, who dyed her hair blue and had all the cats. Just... hurt-crazy, which makes sense, I guess, 'cause it sure hurt like crazy.

There was a time when I said the crazy was like being at the bottom of the ocean looking up. But, I don't like to say that anymore 'cause... well, I just don't. Let's just say, the ocean's not my crazy anymore.

I guess you could say noise is my crazy, which is why the ocean used to fit. You know how the ocean is loud without ever seeming like it makes a sound? The kind of noise you don't really hear till it's gone? That was my crazy. And it didn't start with my trip down the rabbit hole or over the rainbow. It started with Los Angeles and too much traffic and being very, very young and too far away from home. By the time the library swallowed me whole, I thought my eardrums might break.

And then it was quiet. Too quiet, for way too long.

So now I talktoomuch, eattoomuch, lovetoomuch, because there was a time when all I could do was think. I don't like to think so much anymore and there's nothing that stops those bad thoughts like love and taco sauce and the sound of a voice. My voice, his voice, any voice. But especially his. He doesn't talk so much anymore, not in front of the others, but he still talks to me and that's all that matters. There are times I think maybe that's not right, that I should feel that way. But if I'm going to be selfish I won't hide it. Hiding our wants behind words, pretending everything was about Them not us, is what's brought us all down to this.

We're all down. Down so low. I could reach out and touch the others, most of them, and keep on reaching forever, right through them and all the way back again. They wouldn't feel me, they couldn't, they can't. None of us exist for each other anymore, not the way we did, even when we're all sittin' in the same room.

Sometimes I think maybe we're all still down there underneath the water. We're all still caught up in the ocean-noise.

But I can make the noise go away, and sometimes I think maybe I'm the only one who knows how.

So, next time, when somebody asks, if they ever ask, I'll hold myself tall like I was always supposed to and say to them that, yes, it's about me. Me and love and salsa verde and what I want from the world.

I want things, things that are good. And I've learned, finally, that it doesn't always have to be about Them for those things to be good or right or for me to be good and true. I can want and have and ask and I will.

There will come a time when someone will ask me what I want and I'll stand right up and tell them.

***

If the LAPD ever catches up to Charles Gunn he will go to jail.

For exactly one night, or he will pay them his $365 debt to society. Or, and this is even worse, they'll impound his truck. Sure, he could walk downtown and write a check. Make it go away. But he won't. Because he hates the idea of it. He hates the cliché. He hates the image of the poor, black kid in handcuffs, hates the words "bench" "warrant" and "outstanding."

He hates that he's saved lives, saved the world even, but all that's written down and stamped in red is a summons to appear and an unpaid fine. Sure most of it is in the past, dropped charges and time served, but that last, that three-hundred sixty-five dollars and no cents still remains. He didn't pay it. He doesn't. He won't. He's pretty sure he never will.

There are, however, other things in the official file (law enforcement-red and beige with a number where a name should be) on Charles Gunn. Things he would probably never guess. He'll never know, though, and, fact is, he doesn't really care.

When it all comes down, really, it's about more than that file or that fine. It's about loyalty and brotherhood and love, people he'd die for, people who've died for him. It's about taking a bullet, it's about remembering what really matters and being brave enough to give things up for it.

And, maybe, what it's really about is the fact that he isn't that kid anymore.

That maybe the last couple years of sunlight and soft beds and pancake syrup have made him forget. That maybe he's not the guy who would do the right thing anymore.

It would be very easy to blame this on Fred. It would be so simple to look at the skinny, white girl with letters after her name and more school than everyone he knows put together, too goofy and too damn smart for her own good and say, "Yeah. That's where it went wrong."

But it isn't.

And whatever else he may have become, Charles Gunn is still honest. Most of all with himself.

This is why he doesn't say much, not to anyone but Fred. Honesty these days is definitely not the best policy and the world is made of eggshells. Now is not the time for Gunn, the strong one, the dependable one, to be asking the big questions.

But late at night, he can't help asking anyway. Fred gets this and that's why he loves her. He loves her and that's why he can't be too upset that he's not that guy anymore. Fred gets it and doesn't bug him about it, doesn't want the big talk about feelings or the future. She's just as unsure as he is and it's enough that they're unsure together.

He likes that a lot.

For now at least, they'll stand strong. They'll stand in the background, be the backbone and not ask. But, the day will come, the day is coming, when things are going to break. When they're going to have to make the tough choice. When he's going to have to make that choice between what's right and what's right for him.

He wonders what his decision will be.



You have to be clever to figure out how to be welcoming and defensive at the same time. When to love something and when to quit. If you don't know how, you can end up out of control or controlled by some outside thing.


He tells her he loves her and kisses her on the mouth, in a way that's chaste and wild all at once, and she wonders if he has any idea that he tastes just like his father. That he sounds just like him, burns her the same way.

If he did know, he'd probably be proud.

She tries to explain that this is a bad thing. That this thing between them, the thing neither will say out loud, is bad and wrong and shouldn't be. She tries to put it in terms he'll understand:

It's a sin, she says and he smiles at her and takes her hand.

He tells her that she doesn't understand sin, doesn't know what it means, because she's never seen it. Not really, not up close. Because if she did, if she had, she wouldn't say those things. He smiles again and she can't refuse him anything. She'd walk through flame and flood and it's the same old story all over and new again. With one very important difference.

I love you, he says and tells her with his eyes and fingers that she's his lover, his family, his anchor, his whole world.

She likes it, even though she tries very hard not to.

She shouldn't because she knows where this will go, how it will be. It will be her turn, after all, to be the betrayer. Her turn to follow in the steps of his father, and he will follow where she walked. He will not bear that well. He is too proud, too set, too stubborn. He is casually cruel and easily hurt. He's a child and a monster and the only person who really gets where she's coming from.

She also knows that he only loves her because he doesn't know any better.

He looks to her for all the things he never had with Daniel, all the things he never knew were missing until Daniel was gone. Mother, sister, lover, friend. It hasn't occurred to him yet that he can get all these things elsewhere. She wonders if it ever will.

She can't help but laugh when she thinks that she's the adult, responsible, the one who should put a stop to all this. She knows she could fight him, knows she probably ought to. But what would it earn her? Steven, like Daniel, is stronger than he looks.

He's the best and worst of both fathers, with one very important difference.

I love you. Don't leave me.

And she won't.

***

Until he met Justine, it never occurred to Steven to ask about his mother. Fathers seemed much more immediately important.

He understood the mechanics of motherhood, of course. His father had explained, in that passionate-dispassionate way he'd had, how children came to be and why Steven was different.

So Steven understood mothers, in theory. Women were incidental. No more real than butterflies or vegetable marrows or trout or any of the other mythical figures that existed only in his father's stories. He grew up in a world where ogres and dragons and magic spells were tangible and mundane, but he still wasn't sure whether he really believed in mountains. Maybe Justine would take him to see some, and then he would know.

She'd taken him to Palm Desert once. He liked that, it reminded him of home.

He liked Justine. She reminded him of home, too. They'd stood together on the side of the road, looking out across flat rock, and he'd asked her what his mother had looked like.

She blinked, a heat wave-shimmer halo around her face, and told him she didn't know. "I think," she said, a bit apologetically, "that she might have been blonde."

That surprised him. He'd begun to imagine her with red hair.

It was funny that he'd known so much about Angelus -- enough to recognize him immediately the first time they met -- but nothing about Darla. His father never bothered, and he'd never asked. (Come to think of it, his father had never bothered to tell him about Justine or the mother of those first children, whose deaths had set all of this in motion.)

Now that he wanted to ask the question, there was no one left who knew the answer.

"There might be someone," Justine said, reading his silence correctly as usual. "There might be someone who'd know about her. But you'd better go talk to him alone. He... doesn't like me very much." With reason, she didn't say. Steven could read her silences just as well as she read his.

"That would be good," he said, taking her hand and pretending not to feel her flinch every time he touched her. He wished she wouldn't, wished he could make her understand that he knew why she did and didn't care. He didn't think they were wrong to be together. He didn't think his father would think it either. He didn't like that she thought it.

He would just have to make her stop. He didn't think, after all, that it would be so hard. She wanted to believe in him.

So, he would go see this man, but Justine would have to come with him. Stand by him. Because she was his family now and that was what families (real families) did. She was more than that, too, which also made it right that she would stand with him while he asked the question.

"It would be good to know about her, I think," he said. "For a lot of reasons. But I think you should come with me. How else would this man know who I was?"

"He'll know you," she said, softly. "We all did."

That was true and it had never occurred to him to ask why. He didn't ask it that day either. But he wondered.



I like the way the City makes people think they can do what they want and get away with it... All you have to do is heed the design -- the way it's laid out for you, considerate, mindful of where you want to go and what you might need tomorrow.


After that first, disastrous night in the bar, Wesley saw Connor occasionally around the city. After Angel disappeared, he saw the boy more frequently.

It wasn't so much that he followed Connor, per say. Wesley simply knew, instinctively, the sorts of places the boy was likely to go. Just as he'd known somehow, amidst all the chaos of that first night, that it was Angel's son he was looking at. No matter how impossible it might have seemed.

Lilah had seen it, too. A fact which Wesley found extremely interesting.

There had been, of course, one other person there that evening who'd known Connor immediately. Wesley saw her occasionally, too.

He took great care not to let her see him. He felt, though, that she knew he was there.

They were caught in a strange cat-and-mouse, the four of them. Wesley found, as the weeks turned into months, that he rather liked it. It gave him equilibrium. So he was understandably upset the night Justine called his bluff.

"Come on. I know you're there." She paused, kicking at something on the pavement. "This is fucking stupid. I've got something to tell you, but I'm not going to shout it at the dumpsters, okay?"

Wesley stepped out from behind a convenient shadow, but didn't move any closer to her.

She noticed. "It's not like I'm going to hurt you. You know that, right?"

Not a chance. He remembered the last time they played this game.

She must have remembered too, because she kept her distance. "Steven wants to talk to you," she said. The confusion must have shown in his face, because she added, "Connor. Wants to talk. To you."

It was hard not to laugh.

"Does he? Why do I find that more than a little hard to believe?"

"Believe what you want," she replied, managing to look, of all things, a little offended by his reaction. "I just wanted to warn you, give you some time to prepare." She laughed then and it was full of bitterness and maybe a little self-hatred for measure. "After all, I owe you one, don't I?"

"You could have done something useful, like pay my hospital bills."

She ignored that. "Look. I told you. Go tell Angelus or whatever. Plot, plan. Get a little of your old life back. I won't do anything to stop you."

She turned to walk away and he closed the distance between them, grabbing hold of the scruff of her jacket. "Where is Connor now?"

"Don't you know?" she asked acidly. Then, "Around somewhere. He'll come find me later." He let her go and she turned to face him. "You watch us. Learned anything interesting?"

"I know that you aren't doing this for me. It has nothing to do with 'owing' me anything."

That got a reaction, which pleased him, because he'd only been guessing.

She swallowed and said, "Just take what I'm offering. Okay?"

He stepped up to her and put one hand on her throat. She made no move to fight him, but he didn't have the sense she'd go quietly either. "The last time I believed you I ended up worse than dead."

She smiled at that. He hadn't expected the smile. "Welcome to my world," she said. And closed her eyes.

It was a clear invitation. She thought she read him so well. Not this time. He stepped back. "I don't know what your game is, but I won't play. Maybe Connor does want to talk. Fine. I'll talk to him. Not you."

"Then talk. Apparently, it's all you're good at anyway." She backed away from him and took off into the night.

Wesley stood a few minutes, not entirely sure what to make of things. He would have to wait, he realized. Wait and see whether the boy did seek him out, and then he would decide what to do. But he wouldn't be tricked again. He wouldn't turn his back on any of them.

***

My Judas walks in looking like he just got an unexpected thirty pieces and that's how I know things are about to change.

This could be good. For me, at least. On the other hand, it could be very, very bad. Also for me.

"How was your day, honey?" I get a glower for my trouble. This whole place smells of twelve-year-old scotch and the ghost of decades-old Balkan Sobranie. It suits him.

"Did you bring me a present?" I ask. Wesley hates this game, or at least pretends to. But he still plays and that means something. "I always bring you something. Don't you think it's about time to return the favor?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" he says.

"That isn't what I mean and you know it." He does. "I think you have brought me something," I say, betting that he won't lie to me. I'm usually right. I get him, which is useful but doesn't do wonders for my mental health.

"Well, why don't you buy me a drink and tell me all about it," I say after he sits down on the stool next to me. This is my bar, my side of town. He's come to seek me out this time. We're making progress.

"I have got something," he says once there's a glass in front of each of us. "But it's not for you, Lilah. You ought to know better."

"I know lots of things." He may hate the game but that little touch of femme fatale turns him on, I know it. It lets him pretend, just a little bit, that he's Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. It lets him feel like the protagonist, just for a little while. I offer him a cigarette just to keep the fantasy going. He refuses it, which is just as well considering this is California. But I have to admit I'd like to watch him smoke one, just once. Maybe later, outside. Maybe if it rains. I have my little fantasies, too.

"I'll bet you don't know this."

He's right about that, but I can also see that he's going to tell me. It makes sense really, he doesn't have anyone else to tell.

"Connor sought me out today. He wants to talk."

Well, what do you know? It is a present for me after all.

"How interesting." He isn't looking at me, so I stretch a little, brush up against him. He watches our reflections in the mirror behind the bar and I know I've got his full attention. "What did the prodigal son have to say?"

"Not much."

"What did he want?"

"I'm not sure he knows. He asked about Darla." Wesley looks thoughtful at that, stirring ice around in his drink. "I wasn't quite sure what to make of that."

I am, but I'm not about to tell. Wesley will figure it out eventually anyway. He's a smart boy. "Well, I did bring you something, you know," I say, changing the subject.

He leans in close. He's all old books and leather and scotch and something all his own and, oh, I really do like him even though I know I shouldn't. It's just bodies and sex and animal reactions, but there it is. At least I recognize it for what it is. At least I admit it. He doesn't. He likes to pretend this is all something much bigger: punishment, penance, exile. I know better. And, way deep down, I think he does too.

"Another book?" he asks.

"Milton this time. Paradise Lost. Hope you like it." After all, why give up on a good theme? I give him a smile along with the book. He tosses it on the bar, but he'll read it eventually. He ignores the smile, but I know he sees it. "Have you read it before?"

"Yes, a very long time ago."



Word was that underneath the good times and the easy money something evil ran the streets and nothing was safe -- not even the dead... A host of thoughtful people looked at the signs (the weather, the numbers, their own dreams) and believed it was the commencement of all sorts of destruction.


Cordelia remembers something Wesley read to her once, even though she doesn't really like to think about him, not even his name.

Thinking about Wesley feels like betrayal.

But still, Cordelia remembers. She remembers (long-ago in a different world, a different girl, a different everything) that Wesley read aloud to her one night in an empty library. He read aloud while they sat together and pretended not to worry about things going on outside. She'd wanted to hold his hand, but he held more tightly to the book, his knuckles going white. She hadn't listened much to the words at the time. Instead she'd thought about his accent, his voice, the way his neck bent over the book and the blue of his eyes behind those Hugo Boss eyeglasses. But some part of her had listened, because, even now, years later, she can still remember: "Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing, Becam'st enamoured..."

He picked the book because it was the first one he recognized, the first one he came across that was about pretend demons rather than actual ones. Well, mostly anyway. Instead, it was a story about love, sin, forgiveness and a hero who turned out to be the devil after all. At the time she didn't understand (didn't try), but now she does. Satan fell in love with Sin and fell from heaven for it. At least, she wishes it were that simple. Because Satan never loved Sin, he only loved himself, and because of it, out of it, came evil and darkness and broken things.

Out of it came the world she lives in now.

She remembers the book Wesley read from was bound in leather, like all the others Giles didn't like to let her touch (until he was desperate). He didn't like Wesley touching them either, which is why they only opened it when it was the two of them alone, after they'd been left behind for the thousand-and-first time. She still resents the hell out of that. Maybe she'll get over it someday, but she doubts it.

In some ways, things then weren't so different from things now. She gave up everything that mattered to her to do something that mattered. Something she thought mattered, anyway. But now she doesn't know anything. She has no idea where things stand. She keeps running toward something, thinking she knows what she wants, what she's doing. Only to find, time after time, that she's wrong, been tricked, lied to, used.

She's beginning to think that maybe that's the way things are meant to be. If that's the case, then maybe she finally gets it. Maybe she finally knows the score.

But still, she can't help but wonder. She wonders when, how, why, she tricked herself into love with dust and shadow, smoke and mirrors. She wonders what it was in her that started down this path in the first place. Sometimes she wants to go back and change it all. Other times she thinks she never could, that any choice would be the wrong one. That every choice would lead her here.

She's fallen from heaven and found nothing but her own reflection.

***

Angelus always liked nuns. Something about the purity, the chastity, the denial appealed to a creature who never denied himself anything.

Angel, though he would never admit it, was not so different. Angel liked saints. He liked sweet, strong, bruised women, on a mission from God, destiny, the Powers, whatever. He liked it when they suffered, and if it was him they suffered for that was best of all. Doomed Buffy, martyred Faith, haunted Kate, fading Darla and long-suffering Cordelia. Joans and Catherines all, marked and shorn and burned and stoic. Cordelia was best of all because he made her what she became.

Not, of course, that he would ever admit this, even to himself.

Angelus, though, the barely-kept-in-check-demon-on-his-shoulder, thought it was sweet.

Darla was a beautiful tragedy, but she was also last century's news. And Buffy, of course, he'd already gotten to know real up close and personal. Faith was locked away from him. But he'd liked Kate a lot, she tasted like whiskey and honey and tears. Cordelia, though, was something else all together. Kate had hinted at freedom, but Cordelia kicked the door wide and invited him out to play.

And not in a way anyone would suspect, and that was best of all, too.

He didn't even suspect himself. The demon inside had been forgotten, buried, ignored. In favor of missions and destiny and fate. In favor of love. Angel was a champion, a hero and Angelus had no place in that world.

Which was why. They'd all forgotten, even Cordelia and she of all people knew better. She should have. They were all living with their eyes shut, even Angel. Couldn't see, hear, speak the fact, when they should have been preparing for war.

They fought with each other instead.

Petty wars over love and passion, things they were too childlike to understand. Angelus wanted to show them how it was really done. And he thought, looking out at Cordelia from behind Angel's eyes, that soon he might have the chance.
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Comments {8}

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from: mon_starling
date: Sep. 30th, 2002 02:32 pm (UTC)
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*glomps madly* I LOVED it! You have such a way of finding the characters´ voices, dear... I honestly don´t know how you do it. I´d just start reading something in first person, and just in the first line I´d be able to tell who it is. I could hear Fred´s voice in my head in the beginning, and it fit the character so well it was amazing. Although I have to admit it... Connor/Justine is so NOT my thing. ;) And ooh, I love the hint of darkness you added to Cordelia/Angel; if only the writers would go in that direction! And of course, as usual, Wes/Lilah is lovely. Specially when written by you. And now, you have inspired me to finish my picture of the Angel cast, which I am thinking shall be dedicated to you in turn when it´s finished. :)

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Viola

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from: viola_dreamwalk
date: Oct. 1st, 2002 03:16 pm (UTC)
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Ooo. Thanks! I'm pretty happy with the Fred part. I'm glad it worked for you.

I have to admit it... Connor/Justine is so NOT my thing. ;)

*laughs* Well, I never said it wasn't creepy. Just that it was interesting. Just wait till I get around to finishing my Hamlet-y Connor/Justine/Dead!Holtz fic (with a little Dead!Darla thrown in for balance), then we can talk really creepy. Heh. ^_-

you have inspired me to finish my picture of the Angel cast, which I am thinking shall be dedicated to you in turn when it´s finished.

*glomps monica in return* Aw, shucks! I can't wait to see it.

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Viola

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from: viola_dreamwalk
date: Nov. 6th, 2002 09:42 pm (UTC)
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How we miss you in the HP fandom!

*wibbles* And I miss the HP fandom. I haven't really left, I'm just on a bit of an enthusiasm plateau. Maybe Tom Riddle on the big screen with jump-start my interest again. ^_-

but Lilah you just nailed. I could actually hear her voice and my little inner fic critic was going, "YES."

That's so cool to hear. *grins* That Wes/Lilah bit was a bitch to write, let me tell you.

due to my undying love for all things Connor, I decided to try some Buffy fanfic and of course I started with you.

Hee! Connor so pretty.

And I came up with some fic recs, just for you. ^_- But, unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of Connor!fic out there. (Actually, there's a ton of schmoopy Connor/Dawn, but I will. not. go there.)

Yahtzee writes a gorgeous Connor. (Yahtzee writes gorgeous everybody, actually. But that's beside the point. ^_-) I recommend The Uninvited Guest and On the Education of a Young Man as a good place to start.

And while I'm admittedly not wild about either Connor/Cordelia or Connor/Wes, but Jenny-O's Seven People in Search of Dreamland and debchan's Deliverance both have good Connor characterization.

And I wouldn't usually pimp my own fic for anything, but there's so little Connor fic... *shrugs* I recently posted another Connor ficlet: Them Bones, in which Connor sees dead people.

Will check out Parable soon.

Connor does play a big role in that series. Not so much in the first part ('Amour'), but the second and third are all-Connor, all-the-time. ^_-

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prufrock, before he got famous

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from: likeadeuce
date: Dec. 27th, 2005 05:53 am (UTC)
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I came across this recently on FF.net and am reccing it on crack_van. Great character voices across the board! (though I have a particular soft spot for the Lilah section)

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Viola

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from: viola_dreamwalk
date: Dec. 29th, 2005 01:20 am (UTC)
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Oh, wow! Thanks so much for the rec! I'm so glad you liked the Lilah section. She's one of my favorite characters and I really felt like I caught her voice there. :)

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prufrock, before he got famous

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from: likeadeuce
date: Dec. 29th, 2005 04:08 am (UTC)
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no problem, I was very happy to find this!

I was looking for Justine stories and somebody steered me your way.

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