Set in Stone

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

It wasn’t too late when Yata woke on the morning of the solstice – at least, not compared to the day before. Well before noon, anyway.

For once, Fushimi – Saruhiko, he had to remind himself, with a tiny rush of triumph from the previous night’s success – was still asleep too, breathing heavy and even against the back of his neck. Yata couldn’t help but smile a little at the sensation. It was sorta nice to wake up to, despite the discomfort of being crammed into the same bed. One of Saruhiko’s arms was slung carelessly over him, probably something that had happened during the night since they’d started out back to back, and their skin was in contact. It was too hot and Yata’s knees were hanging off the edge of the bed, but he still liked it. It was… intimate.

They’d fucked again when they got in the night before, reaching for each other in unspoken consensus immediately after the door had shut behind them. It had been slower and less urgent than the previous night, but just as amazing; the feeling when their bodies joined brought out a deep satisfaction in Yata. Not just the physical sensation of Saruhiko moving inside him, but… Well, it was hard to explain.

He liked it, though. A lot.

Guess it has been a while. Not just for sex, but the little things, too – like waking up next to someone. It was a really good feeling.

It was clear out again that day, too; Yata could tell by the light streaming in through the little window above them. If they were doing any more charging, it probably would’ve been a good time for it.

The thought brought the stones back to the front of his mind; without really considering it, he reached under his pillow and slid the moonstone free, moving slowly to try and avoid jostling Saruhiko. It was smooth against his fingers as he rolled it absently in his hand, watching the light catch against the ice-like cracks within. He could feel the sun’s power within it, warm and inviting, and it seemed to give that glitter less of a sharp edge – more welcoming, even as it maintained its cool beauty.

For some reason, he felt like he was gonna miss having it when they had to hand them back in. It set off a little pang in his chest just thinking about it.

Saruhiko shifted behind him, a low moan muffled against the pillow behind Yata’s head, and the arm draped against his side moved sluggishly. A huff of warm breath hit the back of his neck, making the fine hairs rise up, and then Saruhiko was mumbling out a sleepy-sounding, “What are you doing?”

“Huh? Nothing.” Yata closed his fingers around the stone, cutting it off from view, and tilted his head to try and aim a smile over his shoulder. “Morning.”

“Mm.” Saruhiko sighed again, breath ghosting along Yata’s skin again, and then he shifted again, hand bracing purposefully on Yata’s abdomen so that his fingers teased the line of his underwear. “Morning,” he drawled, low and throaty with sleep but still carrying that teasing undertone.

Yata couldn’t have stopped the lazy grin spreading on his face if he’d wanted to, reveling in the beginning prickle of arousal as his body responded.

This was an invitation he wasn’t about to turn down.

After they’d finished and cleaned up, Saruhiko asked him, “Does the Captain ever ask you to work on the solstice?”

“Nope.” Yata stepped into his shoes, turning as he adjusted them. “I’m part of another coven, so the shit I do for him can’t get in the way of that. We don’t have a real contract or anything – I just do that stuff on the side – but he’s gotta know that’s how it is.”

“Yeah, he would.” Saruhiko frowned slightly. “There are a lot of limitations to what you can do for him, huh?” he mused, almost to himself. “I wonder how he plans to fill that gap.”

Yata raised an eyebrow. “What d’you mean?”

“Nothing.” Saruhiko shook his head. “Never mind.”

“Huh.” Yata eyed him for a second longer, then shrugged it off. “Okay.”

Homra was busy when they arrived, which was more or less what he'd expected, with it being solstice. Normally they didn't do regular meet-ups unless there was a major spell-casting planned so it was kinda hard to get everyone together at once, but there were certain occasions when everyone went out of their way to be there. Both solstice holidays fit into that category - and with Homra's ruling aspect being the sun, the summer solstice was always the most energetic. So when he swung open the door with his usual greeting on his lips and was met immediately by the lively blend of sounds coming from his friends within, it was warm and familiar.

“Yo, Yata-san!” Kamamoto greeted him boisterously, and grinned when he caught sight of Saruhiko behind him. “Yo, Fushimi.”

“Still here, hm?” Totsuka added, with a smile.

Saruhiko clicked his tongue, but didn't respond. Yata offered a sheepish grin and a shrug.

“Man.” The response came from Chitose this time, who was leaning back against the back with both elbows braced on it. He shook his head, letting out a mocking sigh. “The rest of us can't bring dates, but Yata’s allowed his demon boyfriend, huh? That's favoritism for ya.”

Boyfriend. Yata shot him a frown, trying to cover the little wriggling feeling of something within him responding to the word. “Hey, not like I have a choice here!”

Chitose spread his hands in a ‘what can you do’ manner, that teasing smile still on his face. “Noticed you’re not denying the 'boyfriend' part.”

Somehow, that caught him off-guard. Yata blinked. “That’s...”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue before the silence could become more telling. “There’s only so many times you can tell a joke before it starts to get old and predictable,” he muttered. Lowering his voice even further to a tone that sounded almost dark, he added, “Anyway, I won’t be around to bother you for too much longer.”

“Ah...” It was the truth, but somehow it strung a funny, almost painful chord in Yata's chest. He cleared his throat to cover it up, and nodded, avoiding the oddly compelling urge to turn and catch Saruhiko’s expression. “R-right. What he said.”

The hell’s up with me lately?

“Well, it shouldn’t be a problem for one solstice celebration,” Kusanagi cut in smoothly. He offered Saruhiko a smile. “Consider yourself our guest this time, Fushimi.”

Saruhiko didn't respond; when Yata turned to sneak a glance, he was standing with his gaze turned slightly, hands in his pockets and shoulders hunched. It was a casual enough pose for him, but with the fresh insights of the night before, somehow it now struck Yata as... really awkward. It was obvious that Saruhiko felt out of place.

If he was younger... fresh and enthusiastic and thinking the world of his newfound coven... he probably would’ve shrugged that off and tried to pull Fushimi along into his circle of friends. Assuming everyone felt like him, and just bulling ahead with his own interests...

That was in the past, though. Yata swallowed back the little rush of self-consciousness and went with his instincts. “You got the decorations ready, Kusanagi-san? We'll go on ahead and set up.”

His older friend tilted his head, a considering look in his eyes. “If you want. It’ll be a few hours yet before the rest of us can join you.”

“Yeah, it’s cool.” Yata shrugged. “We can take our time flying out there.” He grinned over his shoulder. “You’re up for it, right, Saruhiko?”

That expression he caught was that vaguely bewildered one again. It was familiar by now, but it still felt like Yata’s heart kicked up a notch or two when he saw it. He wasn't sure why, but as usual Saruhiko seemed to shutter up almost as soon as their eyes met. He reached up to push his glasses higher on his nose, momentarily causing them to catch the light and hide his eyes from view. “It’s fine.”

Totsuka let out a low whistle, breaking into the moment. “‘Saruhiko’, eh?”

“Huh?” Oh – right. Yata turned sharply, already waving his hands with a kind of flustered ferocity even as he felt warmth build on his face. He still wasn’t used to it himself, using that name, so it felt weird to have someone else commenting on it. “W-wait, that’s – that’s just – ”

“Misaki.” Anna’s quiet voice cut through his babbling. She’d crossed the room while he’d had his head turned and was now standing in front of him, holding out a box full of what looked like fresh red flowers. “Use these to decorate.”

“Oh.” It would’ve been hard to deny her anything when she offered that tiny smile, eyes seeming to shine despite the calm expression. Yata took the box, letting the rest of it go as he smiled back ruefully. “Yeah, leave it to me!”

“I’ve got the rest in the back room,” Kusanagi added. “If you’re planning to head out right away, want to grab 'em now?”

“Of course!”

He ended up leaving the flowers to Saruhiko, who didn't offer much beyond a muttered ‘why should I have to help?’ even as he took the box. The second load, which was quite a bit heavier, Yata took himself, and they set out like that.

Despite the fact that he’d talked about taking their time as they flew over, he didn’t linger in the air for too long. Not because the burden he was carrying was all that cumbersome – he’d handled worse, and for longer – but because he was anxious to settle somewhere he could actually talk with Saruhiko. There wasn’t anything specific to say, but somehow he was eager for it all the same. It was funny: even though they were together all the time, lately he found himself looking forward to those interactions more and more.

It was… weird, honestly. Things had changed a lot between them. And maybe some of it was the last few days being really intense, but in a way it kinda felt like those last few days were another symptom rather than the cause.

Still, he had no idea what the cause was. It was bugging him, like an itch he couldn’t reach to scratch.

“So?” Saruhiko asked him after they’d landed and set their burdens down at the scorched patch of land near the grove of trees that concealed his garden. “What do you do once you’re out here?”

“Decorate. Well, sorta.” Yata offered him a grin. “We can at least get the bells and flowers out so they look decent. Anna will probably want to move things around a bit when she sees it, but it’s easier than doing it all at once when she gets here.”

“If you say so.” Saruhiko looked from the boxes to the sparse trees in the area, expression dubious. “Where exactly are you planning to hang them all?”

“We got a couple of folding posts I just gotta set up – plus the trees.” Yata shrugged, setting his hands on his hips as he surveyed the area. “It’s kinda sparse and all, but the fae don’t mind as long as there’s a good party going.” At that, he smirked. “If you don’t watch out, they’ll prank you.”

Saruhiko raised an eyebrow. “I’ll manage somehow. Either way…” He raised his hand, languidly turning it up and materializing a copy of one of the red flowers Anna had given them. “If you’re worried about decorations being sparse, I can help with that.”

Yata blinked, momentarily startled, and then shook his head, smile turning sheepish. “Right, that – I kinda forgot.” Looking up from the illusion to meet Saruhiko’s gaze, he added, “You’re a pretty useful guy to have around, huh?”

Saruhiko’s eyelids lowered just a bit, lips turning up in a small, almost mocking smile – but without the usual edge. “I wonder how you’d react if you could hear yourself say that when we first met.”

Somehow, that look made his heart skip a beat. “Yeah, well things change when you get to know a guy.” On impulse – and because the feeling swelling up in his chest flooded him with the urge to do it – he took a step closer, reaching out to brush his fingers over Saruhiko’s. Even that simple contact set off the pleasant flutter in his belly, shivering through his body and along his skin.

Saruhiko blinked at him, clearly taken aback, and then shut his eyes, letting out a small, amused huff. “This morning wasn’t enough, huh?”

“Eh?” Yata frowned, puzzled – and then the meaning struck all at once and he jerked his hand back, mortification surging up fast and furious within him. “Th-That’s not what I was going for, you asshole!”

“Hm?” The little mocking hum came at the same time as Saruhiko opened his eyes to half mast, a lazy smirk on his lips. “Could’ve fooled me.” He turned his own hand, letting the flower dissipate. “Well, not like I mind.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t.” Yata snorted, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head with a kind of confused and flustered energy. Had he been giving off a vibe like that? He hadn’t thought of it that way, but maybe…

Fuck, who knows what it feels like on his end.

It wasn’t worth thinking about too much. Yata shrugged off the embarrassment, stepping back to look around again. “Anyway, everyone else will probably get here pretty quick after we finish, but if not, we can visit my stash. Or fly around, whatever.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “‘Whatever’ sounds like the best option.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Somehow, that brought a fond smile to his lips. “Fussy bastard.”

Decorating went by pretty quickly. Yata was used to it after years of Homra celebrations. With his wings, he was in the best position to get things up in high places like on the trees. He arranged the various bells and wind chimes with Anna’s flowers around them, trying to space them evenly and stifling his annoyance at Saruhiko’s critical comments long enough to fix whatever didn’t look right. When he began to set up the folding posts so that more bells and flowers could be arranged around the blackened fire pit, the help he got became more concrete – additional posts, small decorative fences, and extra flowers and bells.

There was a small breeze already, so by the time they’d finished, the area had a faint musical aura – one that Yata could feel tugging at some deep part of him. The whimsical atmosphere made him feel relaxed and energized, eagerly anticipating the festivities that they were setting up for.

Plus… the setup looked great, even if he had to say it himself.

“We make a pretty good team, huh?” he commented lightly as they surveyed the result.

There was a slight frown on Saruhiko’s face. “It wasn’t a complete disaster, I guess.”

“Heh.” Yata grinned at him in response. “That sounds a lot like ‘yeah, we’re awesome’, coming from you.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue, glancing at him only briefly before looking away. “Think what you want.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that.” The pessimistic attitude wasn’t about to dampen his spirits. “I’ll bet Anna won’t even have anything for us to fix this time!”

As it turned out, Anna did have a few requests, but her first action upon leaving Kusanagi’s car was to look around slowly and then turn to smile at them. “Thank you, Misaki.” Her eyes drifted past him. “And thank you for helping, Saruhiko.”

Saruhiiko looked vaguely nonplussed with that praise. He clicked his tongue. “I didn’t do much.”

“Don’t listen to him, Anna – he helped out a lot!” Yata beamed at her. “There’s a bunch of extra stuff around here thanks to him, and we don’t even have to take it down. Pretty cool, huh?”

Chitose, who’d parked his motorcycle behind them, let out a low whistle. “Sounds like your boyfriend’s got you beat when it comes to this stuff, huh?”

“Huh? Hey, I still did most of this shit!” Belatedly, Yata remembered to add, “And he’s not my boyfriend, goddamnit!”

“Sure, sure.” Chitose laughed, shrugging, and moved to help unload the purified wood from Kusanagi’s trunk, ignoring Yata’s scowl.

“You sure are lively,” Saruhiko mumbled, sounding irritable.

Yata glanced at him. “What’s wrong with that?” Without waiting for an answer, he went ahead with, “Anyway, we’re just goofing around. This shit is normal.”

Saruhiko’s frown deepened. “Not for me,” he muttered.

It doesn’t have to be for you. The words were right on the tip of his tongue, fueled by a sudden irritation, but before he could say them, Anna said, “Misaki. I want to group those bells together.”

“Oh… right.” That snapped him out of that mood. Yata turned to offer her a sheepish smile, following the line of her finger. “You got it!”

With everyone working together, they made quick work of fixing the decorations to Anna’s satisfaction and setting up both the fire pit and the tables that were quickly loaded with food. Coolers holding the drinks were set up beside them, and Totsuka brought out his guitar to begin a counterpart to the music of the chimes and bells as the sky started to darken.

Almost time, huh?

The air was thick with magic and presence even before the fire had been lit. Yata could feel the sense of familiarity and comfort settling in his bones, and stepped back away from the lively conversation that had formed around the food and drinks and entertainment to stand slightly apart, raising his face up to greet the moon for a brief moment as it became clear in the sky on midsummer’s eve.

He was happy. It was normal, being around the people closest to him, and especially on the solstice, but somehow right then he felt it more than usual. It was strange and consuming, making him feel giddy and light – as if he’d gotten drunk on his own contentment.

“Just about time, huh?” Kusanagi’s voice cut into his thoughts; when Yata lowered his gaze, he found his older friend fixing him with what looked like an appraising gaze. “I’d give it a minute or two before we finally put Mikoto to work.”

“Ah… right.” Yata grinned back, a bit sheepish at being caught drifting. It wasn’t unusual in places this close to fae territory and on holidays where their magic could be felt in the air, but he still couldn’t help it. The comment had his gaze wandering to where Mikoto lounged near the fire pit, back up against one of the posts and eyes closed as Totsuka continued to play the guitar not far from him. “Mikoto-san is always the one who ends up tending the fire, huh?”

“It’s the only job he’ll actually do,” Kusanagi noted wryly. There was a fond undertone to his voice despite the criticism; when Yata turned back to him, he was also looking in Mikoto’s direction. “Something about dealing with fire seems to suit him, anyway.”

Not that long ago, he probably would’ve responded with something like ‘because Mikoto-san is fierce and powerful like a fire’. That sense of his old self wasn’t so far off that Yata couldn’t feel the little echo of his own overblown pride and blind hero worship from back in those days – an overzealous reaction to finding a place that he could belong to and excel in. These days, he’d tempered a lot of it but the traces were still there. Despite having spoken on a personal level with Mikoto more than once and being aware that he had burdens of his own to struggle with, the instinctive sense of awe that inspired Yata’s respect and loyalty still lingered.

Because of that, he felt the need to respond with something strongly in Mikoto’s favor, even if it wasn’t on the level of his previous thoughtless praise. “Feels like Mikoto-san is someone who could win against a fire most of the time.”

Kusanagi shot him a startled glance, and then let out a brief huff of laughter. “That’s a different way to look at it.” He shook his head. “Though, if it came down to it, you may be right.” His gaze slid past Yata then, somewhere beyond his right shoulder. “Is Fushimi all right on his own over there?”

The comment had him instantly turning his head in that direction, though he already knew what he’d see. Saruhiko had positioned himself deliberately on the outside of the celebration, his arms crossed as he stood awkwardly, head turned as if he were studying something in the distance with fascination. When Yata had first noticed him doing it, he’d gone out and suggested that Saruhiko come in and join the group, which had earned him a click of Saruhiko’s tongue and a low “I’m fine out here”. Yata had stayed a couple of moments longer with the thought of keeping him company, but had eventually gotten a pointed “Didn’t you come here to celebrate with your coven?” and gave that up as well. It was like Saruhiko had decided before anything had started that he wasn’t going to have any fun, and he was stubbornly sticking to that no matter what.

If it had been a few years ago, Yata would’ve kept trying to drag him in; even now, he couldn’t help but feel a tiny bubble of confused annoyance. After all, if Saruhiko just tried, or at least didn’t let Yata’s efforts go to waste… But he’d done enough of that in the past, forcing his own feelings on others, and the understanding the two of them had built was still fresh. If he stopped to think about it carefully like he was trying to do more these days, he had to admit the truth: they were similar in a lot of ways, but this wasn’t one of them.

“Don’t think this is his kinda scene,” he admitted to Kusanagi, letting his eyes linger on that cool, distant profile just a bit longer.

Despite his obvious discomfort… Saruhiko hadn’t complained at all.

“I think you’re right about that,” Kusanagi agreed, and then chuckled. “Well, at least you know he can compromise – you’d be surprised how important that is.” When Yata turned to shoot him a puzzled look, he shrugged. “You’ll probably learn it soon enough, but you know that ‘love conquers all’ is a myth, right? Sometimes disagreements run too deep to just talk out.”

Realization sunk in – Yata felt a rush of mortification surge up through him, bringing heat to his face. “Wait, wait, wait!” He waved his hands furiously. “Saruhiko’s not – not actually my boyfriend or anything – it’s – things are kind of…”

“Oh?” Kusanagi drew a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, offering a knowing sort of smile. “It’s ‘complicated’, right? I’ve been there.” He pulled out a single smoke, holding it between his fingers as he returned the rest of the pack. “Dunno if things are serious yet, but I know that look.” His smile turned a bit rueful as he fished for his lighter. “Love will either come at you hard and fast or sneak up on you to the point you can’t tell you’re hit until it’s too late. It doesn’t take long when find one that clicks.”

One that clicks. Yata frowned, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder again. “You got it all wrong, Kusanagi-san. Yeah, we’re – y’know – we’re doing it” – the admission caused another fierce heat to flare beneath his skin – “but it’s not… not that.” It felt too awkward to say the word, a kind of squirming discomfort forming within him even as he talked about it.

It wasn’t. Right?

“That so?” Kusanagi lit his cigarette, taking a long drag and letting it out before responding further. “Well, if I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong, don’t mind me.” He reached out to clap Yata’s shoulder lightly, offering an easy smile that was strangely offset by a serious gaze. “Maybe give it some thought before you write it off, though. Save yourself some pain in the end.”

Yata stared back at him, unable to think of anything to respond with. It felt like his mind had gone blank.

“Well, enough of that.” Kusanagi pulled his hand back, tilting his head up to regard the darkening sky. “I’d say it’s about time to get the fire going, hm?” Without waiting for Yata’s response, he stepped back and away, heading off in Mikoto’s direction.

The stunned paralysis that had struck Yata in his wake was interrupted by a nudge in his side. “Oi.” When he jerked and glanced over, startled, he found himself facing a frowning Saruhiko. “What was all this” – one slender finger reached up to tap the side of his head lightly – “about?”

“Eh?” For a second, Yata could only stare at him blankly – and then it sunk in exactly what he was being asked, and he couldn’t help the rush of flustered panic that washed over him in response. “Th-that… Nothing!” He waved his hands again with frenzied energy. “Just – just never mind!”

If anything, Saruhiko’s eyes only narrowed with further suspicion, but Yata was spared the trouble of making any more useless excuses by the soft notes of the guitar fading and Totsuka’s voice calling out, “We’re starting the fire, everyone! Come on!”

The flurry of activity around them was like a blessing. Yata cleared his throat, grinning with relief. “Right, fire time!” Impulsively, he reached out to take hold of Saruhiko’s wrist, dragging him in towards the fire pit where the others were gathering. “C’mon!”

He could hear the telltale sound of Saruhiko clicking his tongue with annoyance, but he didn’t resist.

This was the highlight of summer solstice as far as Yata was concerned. The way the flames caught on the wood and began to rapidly grow, reaching up toward the sky, made it seem like they were dancing along to the haunting music from the various bells and wind chimes set up around the site. He could almost get a sense of a soul from it, gleefully expanding and swaying as they became a part of the magic of the night. He could’ve watched them for hours.

Maybe that was why his previously frazzled brain began to calm. Watching the fire grow, Yata could feel himself settle, thoughts clearing. Saruhiko’s wrist was still held in his hand; no attempt had been made to free it, and the notion that the contact might even be welcome made him feel pleasantly warm – like the mental reflection of the heat from the fire brushing against his face.

“Love will either come at you hard and fast or sneak up on you to the point you can’t tell you’re hit until it’s too late.”

Or both, Yata’s brain appended, and it felt like that clicked things into place.

That was really it.

All the moments of feeling good in a way that he couldn’t explain…

The flutter in his belly when their eyes met…

Looking forward to being together – interacting in whatever way – even when they had nothing in particular to say, and they did it all the time anyway…

He was seriously in fucking love with this guy.

Maybe not totally. Maybe just ‘falling’ – but falling fast and hard enough to call it love, even now. And like Kusanagi had said, it had also snuck up on him. Yata felt that little tendril of something warm and thrilling spreading out from his chest – partly wonder and partly a kind of release at finally knowing. At finally admitting it. He’d been feeling this way for a while, falling for Saruhiko, and hadn’t recognized it for what it was.

I’m seriously a dumbass. Even the self-deprecating thought held too much good humor. Yata could feel the corners of his mouth edging up. He felt like laughing. Like jumping off the ground and throwing his arms in the air. Finally – finally he could place this feeling.

He was here at solstice in front of the fire, surrounded by the most important people in his life, and he was in love. It was hard to believe, but it was real.

He loved Saruhiko.

At the peak of that soaring height, Yata felt his eyes drawn to the side, the solid weight of Saruhiko’s wrist within the circle of his fingers seeming to send little sparks of warmth through him. That bubbling happiness had him nearly trembling with the expectation of Saruhiko’s eyes meeting his, sharing the understanding of that emotion he’d taken so long to identify and accepting it – maybe even returning it. In that moment, he had nothing but hope – optimism, even – that surely this was mutual. They had clicked in almost every single way, their thoughts and feelings seeming to synchronize more and more as they got to know each other. It had to be mutual.

And yet, when he turned, all he saw was the side of Saruhiko’s head, a frown on his lips and his gaze fixed stubbornly in front of him.

Confusion hit first. He… he feels it, right? All of Yata’s emotions got through to Saruhiko – that had been proven again and again. There was no way he didn’t feel it.

No way he hadn’t felt it… all of it…

All this time…

Slow, cold realization was settling. Yata felt his body still, growing awareness making the contact of his skin against Saruhiko’s feel clammy and uncomfortable. He was just figuring this out now, yeah, but Saruhiko had been feeling it through him the whole time.

The whole time, he’d known exactly how Yata had felt, and he’d said nothing.

He was still saying nothing.

Say something! A knot of dread had formed in his stomach, but he couldn’t quite release the last, desperate dregs of hope from pounding around in his chest. Yata tightened his fingers on Saruhiko’s wrist a bit, watching his face for a sign – anything. At least look at me, goddamnit!

The frown on Saruhiko’s face shifted to a grimace; he clicked his tongue, turning his head to the opposite side to further obscure his expression.

That was enough to kill the last tattered shreds of it. Yata released his grip, feeling numb to the core as he pulled his hand back and turned away. The only sensation that seemed to register across his entire body as the sound of fire crackling and bells chiming softly played in mocking counterpart to the moment was the throbbing ache that spread across his chest and up his throat.

The fall from that height was crushing, as it turned out.

 

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