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splits in the skin [game of thrones; Ned/Cersei]

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Aug. 17th, 2011 | 03:16 pm

Splits in the Skin | An ASoIaF Modern AU; R; ~9300 words.

notes: This took way longer than usual and I'm pretty sure it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. I mean... Yeah.

"He who is overly attached to his family members experiences fear and sorrow, for the root of all grief is attachment. Thus one should discard attachment to be happy."

He meets Robert’s girlfriend for the first time in the dingy little Greek restaurant up on Newbury street. It’s small and crowded, nestled into a tight corner at the end of a row of like brick buildings. They choose it more out of necessity than anything else, because Cersei gets off work at five and the restaurant is in walking distance.

It’s raining out, and the streets are grey and slick. Poor walking weather, if Ned’s ever seen it, but winter is coming, hard and fast around the end of October. It’s not unusual for Boston, this time of year, but it’s hardly convenient. Ned peers out the window at the slate grey sky. Catelyn’s got her elbow resting on his shoulder, her fingers fiddling idly with the hair behind his ear. She’s tilting the menu in his direction and staring intently at it, as though sheer proximity to her face will help her decide what she’s having to eat.

They’re not even early, but Cersei is walking and Robert is always late, so Ned nods at everything Catelyn says and tries to ignore the increasing claustrophobia clawing at his chest. By the time Robert rumbles in, shaking rain from his hair and laughing, Catelyn has decided on three different appetizers and is playing eeny meeny miny mo with the menu in order to pick one.

Robert claps Ned on the back when he reaches them and leans over into the booth to wrap Catelyn in a hug. She laughs and pretends to be choking, but they all know that Robert has always given the best hugs. Big and broad chested, with the strength of a bear, he hasn’t changed much since Ned last saw him. Perhaps a little muscle along the waistline has given way to fat, but it’s only to be expected. In the months following their college graduation, the realization that all the legitimate ways to earn money don’t involve much moving hit hard.

Ned was able to bid farewell to lacrosse and trade in for a morning run along the river. Robert, however, had suffered more difficultly. He had traded the field for a couch and a stick his hands for a remote control, only to discover that no matter how much college lacrosse he watched, it never felt the same. There were always a thousand things that he would have done differently were he on the field, and Ned was constantly reminding him that it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t.

Robert slips into the other side of the booth and begins rattling off orders to the waitress. Catelyn is obviously more than a little miffed, after spending all that time picking out what she thought looked best. She bites it down, though, when Ned wraps his arm around her shoulders and gives her a squeeze.

“Come on,” he whispers, as Robert shakes the rain from his hair like a wet dog. “He’s met a nice girl.” Catelyn grumbles something and bangs Ned’s shoulder playfully with her forehead.

“Fine,” she breathes, and Ned smiles at Robert and hopes that Cersei does, in fact, turn out to be a nice girl. In all the time that Robert’s been seeing her— and it’s only been a month —Ned has never heard him actually describe her as nice. She’s a ‘pretty’ girl, a ‘sexy’ girl, a ‘wild’ girl, a ‘golden’ girl. Words in Robert’s vocabulary that Ned has learned it’s better just to nod at.

“Where does Cersei work again?” Catelyn asks politely, and Robert is about to answer when the door clinks open.

“Speak of the devil,” he grins, and Ned and Catelyn turn to look with more gusto than is probably necessary. Ned spots her right away; she is exactly as Robert described her, pretty, sexy, golden. She’s wearing the most hideous shirt that Ned has ever seen. It’s bright pink and it says QUEEN’S BOWLING across the chest in bold yellow letters. A big yellow crown caps the word ‘queen’. Her hair is pulled up in a gravity defying bun at the top of her head, and she’s struggling furiously with her umbrella, which she neglected to close before she entered the restaurant. A group of people turn to yell something about bad luck, and she turns around and flips them off.

Catelyn makes a little shocked sound in the back of her throat and Ned has to bite his lip to stop from laughing.

Cersei buts her way through the crowd to get to them and collapses in the booth beside Robert. She grips the back of his head with one hand and pulls him in for a kiss that has Ned politely glancing at the ceiling and Catelyn scowling disapprovingly at her glass of water. When Cersei lets go, she turns to them, and cocks one challenging eyebrow.

“Fuck,” she says. “Who else needs a beer?”

Ned doesn’t usually drink. Ned doesn’t usually drink because when he does, he starts to forget where he is. This is why, after Cersei’s ordered the third round of beers, he’s laughing too loudly at one of Robert’s jokes with his face buried in Catelyn’s neck. She’s gently trying to pull away, giggling something about his being inappropriate in public, but there’s a drunken flush on her cheeks that suggests she doesn’t really mind.

The only one of them who seems at all capable of holding her liquor is Cersei, who seems just as bright-eyed and in control as she was when she first arrived. Her hair is dry by now, albeit a bit frizzy, and she’s rattling off story in an increasingly exasperated voice.

“So he’s got a green ball in one hand and an orange one in the other, and he keeps asking me which one is heavier. I tell him the green one— we’ve got a chart we have to memorize before we start work there —and he still wanted me to hold them just to be sure. I told him that on no account was I going to touch his balls and he’d better just take my word for it.”

Her phone rings. It’s been sitting on the table beside her plate for most of the evening. None of them notice until it starts chanting dumb annoying stupid Jaime over and over again in Cersei’s voice.

She grabs for it, turning it off and stuffing it back in her pocket.

“Nice ring tone,” Catelyn says.

Cersei laughs. “It’s just my brother. Nothing important.”

She reaches across the table to pull a piece of bread off of Ned’s plate. There’s a bruise on her wrist, with finger marks clearly visible. Ned catches her palm. The bread falls back to the table.

“What happened?” he asked, pull his face from Catelyn’s neck. Her fingers are back behind his ear, tickling his hair.

Cersei swallows. Robert chokes on his drink. “Sometimes customers get handsy,” she says. “Grown men who are still hanging out in a bowling alley at five o’clock. You do the math.”

No one says anything. “Can I have my hand back?” she asks.

Ned drops it, and she places it gently in her lap under the table. “Another round?” she asks, and everyone nods even though they’ve barely started on the third. She orders, but no one is laughing anymore.

Catelyn has to get the door open, because three beers are enough to make Ned blind as a bat. They barely got home in one piece as it is, but even so, it takes Catelyn a full minute to get the key into the lock. They stumble into their apartment, one after another, and Ned slams the door behind them.

“Mmmm, Catelyn,” he mumbles and wraps his arms around her waist. She’s always been tiny, and she’s giggling hysterically as he drowns her in his embrace. He cuts her off with a kiss. “I love you Catelyn,” he slurs.

“Say my name again,” she breathes, wrapping her arms around his neck.

He pulls her shirt over her head in the dark, and she pulls his face down to her breasts. “Catelyn Catelyn Catelyn,” he replies, as she pulls him down on top of her. He almost falls off of the sofa, and she’s laughing wildly at him until he slides his hand up her thigh and under her skirt.

He presses his palm against the warm crotch of her panties and her eyes go wide. “Oh, Ned,” she breathes, and the rest is just a fuzzy lovely drunken rush.

Ned thanks God for Catelyn’s neat handwriting. He’s standing in the produce aisle at the big, new Stop and Shop, staring at what seems to be three identical peppers. He looks back at Catelyn’s shopping list, and then back at the peppers. They are definitely exactly the same. He frowns.

3 yellow peppers, not the ones with the weird looking stems

Ned isn’t sure if he is supposed to know what that means, but he is almost certain that if he asked anyone who worked there they would laugh in his face. So he’s resorted to picking up individual peppers, turning them over, and staring intently at the stems.

He’s got his nose an inch away from a pepper that he thinks might not have a ‘weird looking stem’ when he feels the hand on his shoulder. He straightens, mortified.

“Ned! Hi. I thought that was you.” It’s Cersei. Ned almost doesn’t recognize her in normal clothes. Without the hideous pink uniform she is truly stunning, as she grins up at him with a set of bright white teeth.

“I hope I didn’t mess with your head too badly,” she continues, as Ned awkwardly stuffs the pepper back onto the shelf.

“I’m sorry—?” he asks. She’s so unbelievably pleasant. He doesn’t know what to make of it.

Cersei grins wickedly and mimes drinking. “You know. Morning after.” She touches her head. “Robert says you haven’t called since we saw you.”

Ned doesn’t miss the way she purses her lips when she says Robert’s name. “Oh, no,” he replies quickly. “It’s just been a busy couple of weeks. I hope he doesn’t feel... slighted.”

“No,” she says quickly. “I don’t think that he did.” Ned realizes that she’s leaning away from him, hiding her left side.

“Hey,” he says slowly. “Could you help me out with something?” He shows her Catelyn’s note. Cersei laughs, a high, twinkling sound.

“Your girlfriend is adorable,” she says, and bends forward to look at the peppers. She picks three out immediately and throws them into Ned’s cart.

“Thanks,” he says, but he isn’t paying attention. He’s looking at her arm. On the left side, her entire upper arm is black and blue. Ned points at it. “Don’t tell me that was some asshole at the bowling alley,” he says.

She pales. “I fell,” she snaps, and her hand darts up to rub the bruise.

He nods. “Alright.” But he doesn’t mean it.

“I’ve got to go,” she says. “Enjoy your peppers.”

He watches her dart away, navigating rows of fruit and vegetables. A random man leans over and says something to her as she passes, and the ‘fuck off, asshole,’ she gives him is audible all the way across the store. Ned watches her go, slamming out through the door into the parking lot, carrying not a single grocery. He wonders if she meant to.

When he gets home, he’s still thinking about her, so that when Catelyn dumps the peppers on the counter and tells him that he chose perfectly, he doesn’t even notice.

She’s spraying disinfectant inside the bowling shoes when Catelyn walks in. It’s a slow time of day, just before noon on a Monday, so she’s the only person around to work the counter. She wonders, for the bare span of a second why Catelyn would be here, now, before she hears and shrill call of children.

They enter in true duckling fashion, one after the other, gripping hands. Catelyn stands at the door, tapping each one on the head as they come in and counting quietly under her breath. Cersei struggles to her feet and checks the event calender. Sure enough, someone’s scrawled Devotion kindergarden class trip ~11 in the tiny square. Cersei sighs. She really needs to start remembering to check these.

She’s burning up, mostly because she’s wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath her uniform. She doesn’t want another incident like the one last week with Ned. There are some things that are easier to leave unexplained.

Despite the uncomfortable sweat rolling down her back, she raises her arm and waves to Catelyn. “Hi!” she calls, and Catelyn smiles.

“Howdy,” Catelyn says, herding the chattering children toward the set of seats reserved for people changing shoes. “Sit,” she says, and the children do. “And don’t move. I’ve got eyes in the back of my head.” The gaggle of five and six-year-olds nod reverently.

Catelyn skips over the desk and lays down a piece of paper. “I got all their shoe sizes in advance,” she says, but still looks apologetic. “Sorry,” she adds.

Cersei just laughs. “It’s no problem, really.” She grabs the list and starts piling shoes, which Catelyn gathers into her arms and carries over to the children. They all start snatching, and she just sighs and helps them with the laces one by one. It takes ten minutes to get them all tied up properly, and that’s after Cersei steps in and offers to help. But the time they’re done, even Catelyn is sweating, and Cersei bites her lip and pretends not to be boiling.

“So,” she says, as she and Catelyn stand up. “No one’s here, and no one’s scheduled to be here, so you can have as many lanes as you need. I mean,” she counts the children, “there are only twenty of them, so you could stick five per lane and only be that spread out. I don’t mind watching two lanes.”

“Oh,” Catelyn says quickly. “No, it’s fine.”

“Really,” Cersei insists. “It’s a lot more fun than what I’m supposed to be doing, but technically it counts as assisting a customer, so... I don’t even know what they were thinking sending you down here alone.”

Catelyn shrugs. “I was supposed to have an aid today, but alas.”

Cersei smiles. “Alright, kiddos,” she calls, and beckons with her hands. Dammit, she loves children.

When they’ve managed to get all four lanes working, guards up on the gutters, Catelyn and Cersei sit side by side and watch the children play. They are all hopelessly bad at it, but there is a lot of laughter and that’s what’s important.

“Thanks again,” Catelyn says.

“Honestly. It’s nothing.”

They sit in silence for a long while, scanning the lines of children and each counting them over and over again just in case.

“How’s, uh, Robert?” Catelyn asks after a moment. “Ned mentioned he was missing us.”

Cersei’s heart goes cold. What else did Ned mention about their encounter? “Oh,” she laughs instead. “Yeah. He’s fine. Sometimes I feel like he forgets who he’s dating, me or your boyfriend.”

Catelyn laughs. “Yeah. It’s always been that way, really.”

“Men,” Cersei says.

“Boys,” Catelyn ammends.

They laugh and laugh.

Later, when Cersei’s mopping up after the field trip, her boss pokes his head out of his office.

“That shirt’s not regulation,” he calls.

Cersei blanches. “Come on,” she calls back. “I’m freezing over here.”

He raises one skeptical brow and wipes his hand across his own sweaty forehead. “Don’t let it happen again,” he says gruffly, and disappears again. She hears the door slam shut. Cersei sighs and throws the goddamn mop clear across two lanes to clatter against the wall.

When Catelyn gets home, Ned is eating spaghetti. He grins and pulls a plate out of the microwave for her. She has never been more grateful for anything in her entire life.

She kisses him on the cheek and grabs the fork from his hand. “Love you.”

“How was the field trip?” he asks with his mouth full.

Catelyn shrugs. “It was fine. Tiring. I saw Cersei though.”

Ned’s face goes dark. “How was she?”

Catelyn doesn’t know what to say. “Um... fine? I mean. She was just... normal.”

“Normal,” Ned repeats.

Catelyn nods, and tries to ignore the fact that he doesn’t touch his spaghetti for the rest of the night.

“This is a damn comfortable couch,” Ned says, and the words sound moronic the moment they leave his lips. Cersei is curled up in the armchair beside him, and she puts her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. He glares at her.

“Damn right it is,” Robert says. “Beer?”

Ned shakes his head. He notices that Robert doesn’t offer one to Cersei. He’s been noticing things like this all night, like the way Cersei scowls every time Robert speaks and the way her hand hover just above the back of his head when he bends to kiss her. Ned’s been so busy noticing everything that he has no idea what movie they’ve been watching.

He wishes that Catelyn wasn’t busy with lesson plans. Her full time aid quit just the other day, and she’s been tethered to her desk ever since. Ned misses her distractions in social situations like this.

Robert rumbles out of the room, and the sound of clinking bottles in the fridge floats through the doorway. Ned turns to Cersei and looks her right in the eye. Two months of awkward, accidental meetings, of having Catelyn see her on the street and say that she looked ‘fine’, of analysing very word that Robert says, and Ned simply cannot stand it anymore.

“Why are you still with him?” he asks bluntly.

She doesn’t seem surprised. Her hand idly rubs her upper arm. Ned almost dry heaves at the movement. “Why do you care?” she levels back.

Because I’m a goddamn human being, Ned almost shouts back, but Robert walks back into the room, holding a beer and a bag of chips. He sits down next to Ned and tosses it onto the couch between them.

He ignores Cersei and presses play.

Ned sits with them in the darkness and pretends not to notice that everything is horribly wrong.

When he gets home, Catelyn is curled up on the couch with a book. “Hey,” she says. “How was it?”

Ned laughs dryly and sits down next to her. “As good as it ever gets with Robert.”

Catelyn sets down the book and runs her hand through his hair. She climbs into his lap. His arms come around her automatically. “You’re so mad at him,” she breathes. “What’s going on, Ned? Why are you going over there so much, for stupid movies and stuff?”

“It’s nothing,” Ned hears himself say.

Catelyn turns his head with her hand. “Please don’t close up on me,” she whispers.

“I’m not,” he says, and she finally, quietly, whispers ‘ok’.

It’s two more months before Catelyn loses it, shrieking incoherently at the top of her lungs and throwing a hairbrush levelly at his had. It barely misses; she’s always had a good arm.

“I begged you, Ned. I begged you to open up to me and you won’t. You won’t, Ned, and I’m so tired of wondering where you are, only to realize that you’re either at the bowling alley or Robert’s house and goddammit, I know you’re not there to see Robert.”

“Catelyn,” he chokes. He’s trying to reach her; he knows that if he can get his arms around her he can hold her until he makes this right. He’s trying to feel horrible, and the feelings aren’t genuine and that terrifies him. “Cat, please.”

She maneuvers away from him, dodging around to the other side of the bed. “Don’t you use my nickname, Eddard Stark. Don’t you dare.”

“Catelyn,” he hisses, reaching for her. But she’s shoving past him, digging in the closet for her coat and a pair of shoes. “Catelyn, don’t do this.”

She turns to look at him, knotting her coat around her waist. “Just admit that you’re fucking her,” she says. “Just admit it.”

Ned gapes at her. “No,” he breathes. He’s telling the truth. “She needs me, Catelyn.”

“Then fuck you both,” Catelyn roars, and runs out into the other room. The bedroom door slams behind her. Ned sits down on the bed and puts his head in his hands. He should have told Catelyn from the very start. She would have known what to do. How to get Cersei away from Robert.

Ned’s known for three months now and still he’s done nothing.

He waits an hour before he hesitantly opens the door. Catelyn will be on the couch. Catelyn will run into his arms. Catelyn will hold him and play with his hair while he explains what’s going on.

But Catelyn’s not there. The apartment is empty.

And when Ned goes to the bowling alley in the morning, Cersei never shows up to work.

He finds himself outside her apartment. He’s banging on the door, hitting the buzzer again and against with one frustrated finger. He tripped on the way over here, went skidding across the sopping sidewalk and landed flat on his face. His clothes are a wet mess; Catelyn took their goddamn umbrella when she left and he hasn’t seen her for a week since. He hasn’t seen either of them.

“Cersei,” he screams into the little speaker. “Cersei, come on. Open up.”

He stands down there for hours, brutally massacring the door with his fists. At one point an old man comes out. He glares at Ned and makes a point of closing the door before Ned can grab it. Finally, after his arm has gotten tired and he feels like an idiot, when he’s seconds away from turning around and going to figure out where Catelyn is staying, he hears the buzz.

Ned takes the stairs two at a time, and knocks gently on Cersei’s door. It opens slowly, just a crack. The lights are all off.

“What do you want?” she asks him.

I as down at your work and you weren’t there so I got worried, doesn’t sound appropriate, so Ned just says, “Can I come in?”

Cersei closes the door right in his face, and he’s so exhausted from trying to get into the building that he is about to bang the fucking door down when she undoes the chain to let him in. He almost doesn’t see it right away because the whole apartment is dark and Cersei is keeping to the shadows. But when he steps inside and the light from the hall illuminates her face for just a moment, he cannot miss the bruise which spans across her entire face.

She dips her head away from him and slams the door.

“What do you want?” she snaps, and starts to shrink away from him. She catches herself at the last moment and surges, head back chest forward, suddenly the wild and proud woman Ned had met all those months ago in the little Greek restaurant on Newbury.

Shit, he thinks. She’s beautiful. He’s pretty sure he’s never seen anything like this, like a gorgeous woman with an ugly, disgusting bruise wrapped around her cheek.

“What do you want, Ned?” she challenges. He takes a step toward her. His brain is screaming at him not to touch her, that this is the last thing she wants when her boyfriend is abusing her. He can’t stop himself, though, and he catches her by the arms as gently as he possibly can.

To her credit, she doesn’t flinch. She stays perfectly still as he pulls her forward so that their noses are almost touching. “You’re not going to see him again.”

“I’ll do whatever I damn well please,” she snaps back.

Ned takes a deep breath. “It would please you to see him again? You can’t even go to work because you know that everyone will see, and you think that no one will even notice if you hide in here because you think that no one cares but fuck you, Cersei, because I damn well care.”

She doesn’t say anything.

He stares at her, and she stares back, unwilling to avert her eyes.

“Let go of me, Ned,” she breathes, and he does, so quickly that she stumbles backward.

“Do ‘whatever you damn well please’, Cersei, but don’t lie to yourself about what that is.” He turns and storms out the door, leaving it swinging open in his wake. As he takes the stairs down two at a time, he hears her phone start screaming dumb annoying stupid Jaime after him.

The punch lands before the door is fully open. Ned lets loose with all his might, and his fist goes flying past the door jamb to land soundly across Robert’s jaw. There’s a crack and snap and Ned’s not sure if it’s his fingers or Robert’s face or the hinges on the door snapping back to far, but he doesn’t care. He’s already pulling back again.

This time Robert is ready for him, which is miraculous because he’s bleeding everywhere, from his lip and from his nose. He catches Ned’s wrist and sends him flying backward.

“What the fuck?” he roars. His hand is around Ned’s neck, pinning him to the door. “What the fuck, Ned?”

Ned can barely breathe, and Robert’s just staring at him. This is a fight he never had a chance of winning, but he is just so damn mad.

“Why?” he manages. “Why would you do that to her?”

Robert’s eyes widen. “Why would I do what? To who?”

“Why,” Ned croaks, “would you hit her? You know— you know what— who—”

“I didn’t—” Robert roars, and Ned lashes out and kicks him in the knee. Robert stumbles like a wounded boar.

“Fuck you,” Ned growls. “You did. And I want to know why.” He punches him again. Robert looks up at him, fury and hatred flaring in his eyes. He’s got blood all over his face, and Ned has it all over his fist, and for a moment his stomach heaves and he almost vomits everywhere. He shouldn’t have done this. But then Robert crumbles, collapsing in on himself and the sound Ned hears that sounds like sobbing makes him feel sicker than ever before.

This is not a man. This is not the boy he knew or the almost brother that he loved. This s disgusting and ruined and he hates it, and he swallows the bile that rises in this throat and turns away. He’s leaning against the door, eyes closed, listening to Robert cry. He hasn’t seen Catelyn in days. What has his life narrowed down to? He wonders, fleetingly, if this wasn’t Cersei’s plan all along.

“She’s helpless, Robert. Why would you do that?” Ned hears himself moan.

“I’m sorry, Ned,” Robert sobs. “It wasn’t right. It wasn’t. Sometimes I just miss—”

“Don’t talk about my sister,” Ned snaps. He feels the last tiny tethers between them stretch and rend in two. “Don’t ever talk about my sister again.”

And then he’s gone, tucking his bloody fist inside his jacket and ducking low when he hits the streets in order to keep out of the rain. If Robert calls after him, Ned doesn’t hear him. And even if he did, he wouldn’t turn around.

Cersei is halfway down the third lane, mopping up some kid’s vomit when Catelyn pushes her way into the bowling alley. Cersei half expects to see the duckling’s in tow, if only because she’s exhausted and cranky and her life has a habit of going from bad to worse. All the lanes are full, except for three, where some kid ran halfway down before disposing of his lunch all over the wood. Her boss cut her pay for the week she was absent, and she’s still wearing about a pound of concealer in order to disguise the vague discoloration that remains on her face.

But Catelyn is alone, bundled up tightly in her winter coat. She stands, looking tiny and forlorn for a moment until she spots Cersei. Then she waves.

Cersei gives a kind of half wave back, but her heart’s not really in it and her arm is sore. She hasn’t seen Robert since Ned came by to confront her a couple weeks ago, but her aches are slowly healing and real life hasn’t gotten any easier.

“Hey,” Catelyn says, stepping out onto the lane.

“You can’t—” Cersei begins. You’re not wearing the right shoes. But her boss is in his office and none of the other employees are likely, to rat, so she shakes her head and beckons Catelyn closer.

“Hey,” Catelyn repeats.

“Hey,” Cersei says to her mop. “What’s going on?”

Catelyn idly scratches her feet against the lane. It’s really rude, actually, and Cersei feels a fleck of annoyance on behalf of this goddamn bowling alley that she doen’t even care about at all.

“Can you stop,” she says, before Catelyn has a chance to speak. “Just, you’re scratching up the lane and if they have to polish it up again, the money’ll come out of my paycheck.”

“Sorry,” Catelyn says, and stills her foot. “I was just wondering if you’ve seen Ned around anywhere. I’ve been trying to get in touch with him but— um— I don’t know. He hasn’t been around.”

Cersei raises an eyebrow. “I thought you guys live together,” she says.

Catelyn purses her lips and raises her eyes, like someone who just realized who her enemies are. “He hasn’t been around,” she repeats.

Cersei lets the pause linger on just a moment too long. “I haven’t. I’m really sorry.”

Catelyn nods. “Yeah. I alright. I didn’t really think you had, but I’m running out of options.”

She turns around and walks away without a word. She’s almost to the door when Cersei calls after her.

“I hope you find him, Cat.” And she rejoices in the way that Catelyn tenses at the nickname just before she pushes out into the snowy streets.

Cersei is half asleep and sweaty when she finally stumbles through the front door of her apartment building. Her shoes smell like vomit, and she is desperate need of a good shower. Her left arm has never hurt more in her entire life. She takes the stairs one at a time, with her hand gripping desperately the banister for support.

She fumbles with the keys, dropping them twice and bending to get them before she can get the door open. All the lights are already on when she closes the door behind her. Ned’s sitting on the couch, flipping channels on the TV. He’s not wearing a shirt.

“Hey,” he says.

She stops in the doorway and looks at him. “Hey,” she says back, and a smile plays at her lips.

“How was your day? Anything interesting happen?”

Cersei thinks of Catelyn, and the ugly bags beneath her eyes and the desperation in her voice.

“Nothing,” she says quietly, and drops her keys into the little bowl beside the door. “Nothing interesting happened.”

Ned’s afraid that when he opens his eyes, the soft, warm weight against his side won’t be Cersei. He takes a deep breath.

The lights are off and the shade are drawn, and sure enough, he’s splayed among the disheveled sheets with her pale skin all stretched out against his. They’re both still sweaty, and her bare breasts stick to his side. Her leg is thrown across his, and his arm is curled beneath her. Ned stares down at the way her messy blonde hair winds absently across his chest. He’s never going to get tired of this. He can tell.

She’s an utter witch beneath the sheets; like nothing he’s ever experienced before. Then again, he hasn’t experienced anything except Catelyn. Robert was always the one who slept around. Ned tries not to think about Catelyn, though. He’s given up on the thought of her ever coming back, and that was before he found himself pressed beneath Cersei, who wanted to be on top, who arched her back and touched her breasts and had groaning senselessly into her hair by the time she’d finished.

He’s never going to get tired of this.

Right now, thought, she’s snuggled tight against him, warm and wonderful. He likes the feel of his arm around her. He likes the knowledge that nobody is hurting her. He dips his head and nuzzles his nose into her hair. She smells like peaches and a little bit like the antiseptic spray that she has to use down at the bowling alley. He likes that smell.

She rolls over in his arms and looks up at him with groggy eyes. “What?” she asks bluntly. Ned sighs.

You’re so fucking pretty, Ned thinks, but he shouldn’t say it. He opens his mouth.

“You’re so fucking pretty,” he says.


Cersei rolls over so that she’s spread out on top of him and raises an eyebrow. “Articulate as usual,” she mumbles. She brushes her nose against his neck. He laughs. She bites him.

“You should go back to your girlfriend. You can’t hide from her forever.”

Ned shakes his head and touches her hair with a hesitant hand. “She doesn’t want me anymore. She left.” And what about you? He leaves that unsaid.

Cersei thinks of Catelyn, bundled up tight and wondering where she could find Ned. Cersei hasn’t mentioned it to Ned, and sometimes she forgets. She wonders if he would go back to Catelyn if he knew.

“Oh,” she says. “Right.” She plays with his chest. “Still...”

“You don’t mean it, Cersei.” He’s combing his fingers through her hair.

She sighs contently. “You’re right. I don’t.”

“You need me,” he tells her.

I’m not the only woman in the world who needs protecting, she thinks, and pictures Catelyn herding children in from the cold.

“You’re right,” she says instead, because it’s all she needs to do in order to keep him. “I do need you.” She’s not even sure if that’s the truth anymore. She sits up so that shes stradling him and pulls his hand from her hair and moves it to her breast.

Her eyes are on his face as he hesitantly touches her skin, like they haven’t fucked in the bathroom and the bedroom and the living room today. He touches her with a reverence that she’s completely unused to, and she’s never felt anything so good.

On the bedside table, her phone starts screaming dumb annoying stupid Jaime dumb annoying stupid Jaime dumb annoying st— She picks it up and throws it against the wall, where the battery pops out and goes flying. Ned’s over hand trails up along her thigh to rest on her hip. In the low light, she can see the flash of his teeth as he smiles.

“Make love to me, Ned,” she says quietly, and relishes the feel of his hand at the small of her back when he pulls her down for a kiss.

Catelyn’s on the park bench when he gets there. The snow from last week’s storm has turned to disgusting brown mush, crowded up along the edges of the street and dripping lazily from tree branches. Ned gets there early and sits in his car for twenty minutes, fighting a losing battle with his urge to vomit. He thinks he has it under control, until he steps out of the car and retches all over the sidewalk.

She caught him at home yesterday. He’s been calling Cersei’s apartment ‘home’ for a month and a half now, ever since they first had sex. Ever since he started keeping clothes in her closet. Ever since he pressed a copy of the key into his hand and told him to take it. He’s taking to answering the phone for her when she’s out, which is how he ended up on the phone with Catelyn in the early house of Cersei’s shift on a Monday morning.

Catelyn hadn’t screamed at him. She’s spoken in a quiet, calm, resigned voice, and when Ned was baffled to hear that she’d been looking for him, she hadn’t wanted to hear a word of it.

“Just— can I see you tomorrow? Please?”

Then she’d named the park and the time and hung up before Ned could say another word. He realized later that it was probably a good thing, since he isn’t even sure what to say to her anymore.

She’s got her hands folded in her lap, her head bowed against the flurries of snow.

“Hi,” he says when he reaches her, and she taps the seat next to her.

“Hi,” she says, and looks up at him. There’s a disgusting black bruise along her cheek and sliding down the side of her neck. Ned’s hand comes up out of habit to touch it.

She slaps him, hard, across the face. “Don’t you touch me, Ned,” she hisses. “Don’t.”

“What happened?” he asks. The snow is falling harder now. The flurries catch in her eyes lashes as she blinks at him.

“I went by Robert’s,” she says quietly. “A couple days ago. I was looking for you.” She coughs and looks away. “I thought that something really bad had happened to you, and it turns out that you were just— Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He wasn’t so happy to hear your name, and he threw a book at me. It hit me in the face, and then he screamed something about you and Cersei, and um, that was it.”

“How did you get her number?” Ned asks. He has never been more ashamed in his life. All along he’s been trying to protect Cersei, and all he did was throw Catelyn in her place.

“Stole it off Robert’s fridge. When he in the other room. Yeah.”

She won’t look at him. He tries reaching for her hand. She moves it away. “Don’t.”

“I just wanted to help her, Catelyn. I just wanted her to be safe.”

“I know, Ned,” Catelyn sighs. “I know. You were just doing what you thought was right. I don’t mind. I’m over it. I’ve been getting over it these past few months. Dammit,” she shakes her head angrily. “Dammit. It didn’t have to be like this, you know.”

“I know,” Ned says, but he can’t pinpoint exactly where he should have acted differently. Not if he really wanted Cersei to be alright.

“Anyway,” Catelyn continues. “I just wanted to let you know that all your stuff is in boxes. I’m selling the apartment; half of that money is yours. And you can come by to get the boxes sometime in the next week, or else it’s all getting thrown out.” She stands up. “I’ll see you around, Ned.”

“Yeah,” he says. “See you around.”

Ned sits there alone for a long time, watching the snow fall and melt on the seat where she had been sitting.

He picks her up from the bowling alley on Wednesdays and Fridays. She makes her own way home on Mondays and Tuesdays. They meet for dinner at that same Greek restaurant on Thursdays and Sundays. Cersei has the day off on Saturdays.

When Ned picks her up, Cersei grabs his hand and they walk to the car like that. She turns off her phone before she sees him, or at least puts it on vibrate, so that it doesn’t start with the dumb annoying stupid Jaime where Ned can hear it.

They walk to the car, or run, if it’s snowing.

Does she still need me?” Ned thinks some days, and Cersei wonders, Do I still need him?

And both of them hold the other’s hand tighter just in case the answer is no.

It’s actually stopped snowing for twenty-four hours when Jaime shows up. He’s not dressed for the weather, in a hoodie instead of a winter coat. Cersei doesn’t even think he owns a winter coat. He looks wildly out of place leaning up against the counter in the bowling alley, and Cersei’s first instinct is to throw the mop she’s holding as far away from her as possible. He can’t see her with a mop.

He can’t realize that all the things she said she was heading north for came to shit.

She feels stupid as soon as she throws it, and ends up having to walk two lanes over to pick it up. Jaime watches her the whole time, a satisfied, stupid smirk playing across his lips.

“Hey, sis,” he says when she comes over to him.

“Hey, Jaime,” she replies, and then he wraps her into the biggest, warmest hug she’s had in years.

“I missed you,” he mumbles into her hair.

She laughs, despite herself. “I missed you, too.” She hadn’t even realized until right now, but she pats his back and pulls him closer.

They’re standing outside the coffee shop across the street an hour later. Jaime took her to lunch, and Ned is supposed to pick her up any minute.

“Can you hold this for a second?” Cersei asks, handing Jaime the jacket that she borrowed from Ned this morning. His clothes are far more comfortable than her own. Jaime takes it as though she’s handed him some sort of garbage, wrinkling his nose.

She moves to tie her hair back up, and Jaime watches her the whole time, with her hair elastic between her teeth and her hands fiddling back behind her head. She barely has her hair in place before Jaime’s talking again.

“You’re going to come home with me, right?” he says expectantly.

Cersei sighs. She’s been waiting for this. “No, Jaime,” she says firmly. “I’m happy here.”

His face crumples. “Come on, Cersei. You can’t be serious.” He points to the bowling alley. “That place you work... it’s... you don’t have to live like that.”

“Live like what, Jaime?” She can feel herself getting angry. “Just because you don’t want to work doesn’t mean that I can’t.”

“I know you can, but you don’t have to, and I don’t see—”

“Cersei!” They both whirl around. Ned is sitting in his car, just across the street. He’s waving. Cersei turns and gives Jaime one last look, before she turns and walks decisively across the street.

“See you, Jaime,” she calls.

The car is already turning around the corner when Jaime realizes that he’s still holding Ned’s jacket.

“Hey,” he screams. “You forgot your—” But they’re already gone.

Jaime turns the jacket over. Ned Stark it says on the tag.

He laughs and throws the thing into the back of his car.

Cersei is curled up in Ned’s lap, and whatever stupid cooking show is on is blaring in the background. They aren’t really watching; the remote is on the other side of the couch, anyway. Cersei has her arms around Ned’s neck, and he has one hand on her ass and the other tangled in her golden hair.

They’re kissing, the kind of furious, desperate kiss that comes right before Cersei usually pulls away and begs him to take her on the couch. He always protests, with a tight little embarrassed smile.

“Not on the couch,” he always says. “Come to the bedroom.”

And she leans forward to breathe out against the hard line of his jaw. “Please, Ned,” she moans. “Take me here. Take me now.”

And he always ends up bending her over the arm of the sofa. Always.

But not tonight. Tonight she’s moaning into his ear, and he has his hand up under her shirt like they’re two fourteen-year-olds in the back of a movie theater. Bobby Flay is saying something about slicing cucumber, and Cersei is grinding her crotch into the bulge in Ned’s pants.

And that’s when the banging starts. At first it’s just one and they think that they’ve imagined it. But then it starts again, a roaring, angry storm again the door to her apartment, fists raining down and incoherent drunken slurs slipping in through the crack at the bottom.

“I know you're in there, goddammit,” Robert roars. “Both of you!”

Cersei rolls off of Ned, and sits pale and tight lipped beside him. She pulls her sweaty hair from her neck and knots it at the top of her head, and when Ned reaches for her hand, she clasps his tightly. They listen to Robert pound on the door, drunk and stupid, for hours, and pretend that they’re listening to what Bobby Flay is telling them about how to cook.

They stare straight ahead and holds hands, until finally, sometime around one in the morning, the noise and the banging stop.

Cersei doesn’t move. She just closes her eyes against the silence and tries to pretend that she wasn’t wishing for Jaime to come save her the entire time.

Jaime hasn’t the slightest idea when Cersei’s hours down at the bowling alley start and finish, so he sits outside in his car for hours, every day for a week after she ran from him. He knows, deep down in the part of his heart that feels broken and empty without him, that she didn’t mean anything that she said. She loves him. She wants him. She’ll choose him; he just needs to find a way to make her see.

It’s been a week now since he last saw her. She hasn’t been picking up her phone. She hasn’t been coming to work. He might be worried, but he knows that if something had happened to her, he would be able to feel it in his heart. It would be the painful, desperate kind of ripping and it would tear him apart.

He’s leaning against the wall just outside the door around three o’clock, with Ned Stark’s jacket slung over his arm, when a little boy comes running out onto the street. He’s clutching a backpack, and when he gets out onto the sidewalk, he looks both ways and immediately starts to cry.

“Hey, buddy,” Jaime says. “What’s the matter?” He kneels down next to the kid on the wet sidewalk. The slush soaks through the knee of his jeans, but he doesn’t notice.

“I was on a school trip,” he sobs. “And they left me.”

Of course. Jaime saw the bus leave just five minutes ago. One teacher, all alone, looking unreasonably tired and frazzled. What that school was thinking, he has no idea. He pats the boy on the back.

“Your teacher,” he says. “Red hair, small, um... kept saying something about the eyes in the back of her head, yes?”

The boy nods. He takes a hesitant step back, and his foot slides off the curb. Jaime grabs him to keep him on balance.

“Hey, careful,” Jaime says.

The boy shivers.

“Here, you cold?” Jaime hands him Ned’s jacket. The boy stares at it mistrustfully, and then slowly wraps it around his shoulders.

“Thanks,” he sniffles. Jaime smiles.

“How old are you, bud?”

The boy wrinkles his nose. “Seven. Just turned seven.”

“Seven,” Jaime repeats. He looks behind him, just for a moment, and then turns with all his might and pushes the boy as hard as he can out into the street.

The oncoming car never sees what he hits, just hears the thunk and the scream. By the time he gets out and calls 911, Jaime is already gone.

Cersei opens the door, assuming that Ned forgot his keys.

“Hey, baby,” she says tiredly, blinking her sleepy eyes. She’s been thinking about quitting work; they probably should have fired her already, after missing so much time. But she hasn’t been feeling well since Robert came by. It’s not her fault, really.

But it’s not Ned at the door. It’s Jaime, holding a huge bouquet of flowers and smiling crookedly at her.

“Jaime—” she starts.

“Come on,” he interrupts. “Get dressed. You’re going out.”

“I’m going— Where am I going? No, Jaime, I’m not going out with you.”

He sighs and pushes his way inside. “Not with me, obviously. You’re going to the hospital. To see the boy that you saw Ned Stark push in front of a car.”

What?” she shrieks. “What the fuck are you talking about Jaime? What the fuck?”

Jaime shrugs. “A little boy was hit by a car yesterday. Some kid from a field trip. They forgot him. The driver says the kid was pushed. He’s on life support at Children’s Hospital right now, and Ned’s jacket was wrapped around him when he was hit.”

Ned’s jacket, she thinks. “Jaime. Fuck, Jaime, we haven’t seen that jacket in weeks. You had that goddamn jacket didn’t you?” She doubles over and almost vomits. “Oh, Jaime what have you done?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jaime insists, holding out the flowers. “You know what happened. Now you have to choose. Did you see Ned push the kid, or did you hear me tell you that I did? You have to choose, Cersei.”

She dry heaves. The room spins. But she is a Lannister. She is her brother’s sister. She has survived abuse, minimum wage, a disgusting, snowy city that was nothing she had wanted.

“It’s not love, between you and Ned. You used him. That’s what you do: you use people. But not me, Cersei.” He puts a firm hand on her shoulder. “I love you. I’m your family. You need me, and I need you back.”

There’s silence for a long time, just the sound of her labored breathing as she struggles to calm her stomach.

“Let me get dressed,” she says finally, and vomits into the sink as soon as she leaves the room.

The hospital is silent, and it smells like the bowling alley, and these two things combined almost force Cersei to vomit again. The ride over was silent, too, with Jaime driving and her staring straight ahead. He did this for me, she’d told herself over and over again. He did this for me, and I love him. And everything will be alright.

Her shoes make tiny little clicking noises against against the linoleum as she counts the rooms. The flowers feel clumsy and awkward in her hands, but she holds them ahead of her, like a sword or a shield or some other desperate form of protection. Will they look at my face and know? she wonders.

She doesn’t see how that could be, but as she pushes open the door to the little boy’s room, she concentrates on not looking guilty. I didn’t do anything, she wants to scream, but that would surely give her away. So she purses her lips and shuts the door behind her.

The room is dark, in sharp contrast to the hallway behind her. It takes Cersei’s eyes a minute to adjust at all. The boy is lying on the bed, asleep. A tube pokes out of his mouth, and a thousand little machines flicker and beep behind his head. There’s a woman, sitting in the corner. For a moment, Cersei thinks that she must be the boy’s mother, but then she looks up, and her tear stained eyes are so familiar that Cersei almost opens the door and runs.

“Hi,” she says awkwardly.

Catelyn swallows. “Hey.”

“How do you, um, why are you—”

“He’s one of my kids. I—” Catelyn has to pause because a sudden sob wracks her body. “I left him. If I hadn’t miscounted...” She dissolves into tears.

Cersei glances uncomfortably at the boy, and then sets the flowers down on a table full of other gifs; bears and flowers and books and movies. She reaches out tentatively and touches her shoulder.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she says quietly. It wasn’t either of our faults. Or maybe it was both of our faults.

“It was,” Catelyn wails. “If I hadn’t—”

“Catelyn,” Cersei interrupts. “You can’t control other people.”

“I can’t— What?” Catelyn stops sniffling, and turns to look Cersei in the eye. “What do you mean?”

Cersei takes a deep breath and remembers what Jaime had told her to say. “I was there,” she whispers, and conjuring tears turns out to be easier than she expected. “It wasn’t an accident.”

An hour later, when Cersei finally leaves the room and shuts the door behind her, she remembers how to hold herself. This is it. She is strong. Her eyes hurt when the florescent light hits her, but she stands ramrod straight and walks toward the elevator.

She is grieving, yes, for that poor little boy and his family, for using Ned as a lifeboat, for falling in love with him, if only for a moment, that forgetting to tell him that loving her might be dangerous, but these are the early stages. She will peel back these pages of her soul, and, someday, she will let them go.

For now, her loyalty is to her brother, has always been for her poor, dear brother, who could never live without her just as she could never truly cut him loose.

A woman passes her, going the other direction. She has long, dark hair, that is matted and tangled. Her eyes are red from crying, and black and blue from lack of sleep. They pass each other without a word. The mother, Cersei thinks, and forgets how to hold herself, at least as long as it takes to reach the elevator.

She runs, shoes clacking against the floor, and she finds that she can’t breathe until she crashes out onto the street and finally, fucking finally, expels all the antiseptic from her lungs.

Cersei has never been in a police station before.

She’s never looked at a line of criminals.

She’s never picked one out and swore that she saw him commit a crime.

She’s never had people look at her like she matters this much.

She’s never seen so much betrayal in a man’s eyes.

Cersei stands, dressed in black because the color makes her look small and sad. She stands in the middle of the room and points her finger at Ned Stark on a snowy, windy day with several members of the BPD staring at her back.

They turn to look at Ned, when she points, and they see him pushing a little boy out into the middle of the street. They look and they see and they believe, and all Cersei can think about is the way his hands felt in her hair and on her hips, the way he helped her when he didn’t have to.

I use people, she thinks. Jaime’s right. Even when I’m not trying to. She starts to cry.

“That’s him,” she sobs. That’s the man I loved.

She watches them cuff him. She watches them take him away. She watches the way he walks, proudly, certainly, probably without a single regret for trying to save her. I’ll be happy again, she tells herself, but purposefully doesn’t bother thinking about the ‘when’.

When Ned is out of sight, Cersei turns and walks to the door, where Jaime is waiting with an outstretched hand. She takes it, and he leads her outside.

It’s not his fault, she wants to say at the last minute. He just chose the wrong woman to save.

But it’s too late for that. Jaime gave her the choice and she made it, and there isn’t a thing she can do about it now. Blood ties are meant to be stronger than anything; they were brought up knowing that.

As she fastens her seat belt, in the passenger seat of Jaime’s car, he leans forward and gently squeezes her ankle.

“Thank you, sis,” he says.

You didn’t have to do this, Cersei thinks, but she shrugs and says, ‘you’re welcome’, because she knows that’s what he wants to hear.

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Comments {9}

hear me roar

(no subject)

from: magisterequitum
date: Aug. 17th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC)


Shit, I mean fuck I don't know if I have proper words for this. God this is so good. I love Ned and his stubborness and his need to help her and make her good and take care of her. And Cat, oh Cat, and her duckling children and crying and taking care of things. And Cersei, oh beautiful and proud and lovely Cersei.


AND THEN FUCKING JAIME. OH GOD. Pushing the kid, holy shit.

I love this and you are wonderful and amazing and that ending, oh god.

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sloth wrangler

(no subject)

from: cnidarian
date: Aug. 17th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)

i kind of hate you right now for multiple reasons

but you included him enveloping cat when he hugs her cos she's so small (which i choose to see as a reference to you know what)

so i'll let you off

i think

Edited at 2011-08-17 07:56 pm (UTC)

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(no subject)

from: trillianastra
date: Aug. 17th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)

Oh wow... I'm a bit speechless, this is so good... um... oh, Ned, Ned, always doing the right thing and Cersei was just perfect and Jaime the handsome smirking psychopath from the first book...

...you do realise that now there needs to be a sequel where something happens to Jaime and he meets Brienne and his inner decent human being comes out, right?

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(no subject)

from: iorwen107
date: Aug. 18th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)

Yes, yes I second the whole Jaime/Brienne redemption arc thingie.

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(no subject)

from: buriedbooks
date: Aug. 18th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)

I was d'aaaaawing and melting at the early Ned/Cat because your Cat is so darn adorable, even as I was bracing myself for heartbreak.
And then Cersei was amazing and proud and perfect, and then the heartbreak was delivered and I wibbled.
A lot.
Oh Ned.
ALSO JAIME. I spent a minute staring in shock when he pushed the kid, before I remembered that. Well. Yes. He's Jaime alright.
And then I wibbled some more even as it all proceeded towards tragedy because I have a horrible bias for the twins.
You are the best.

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(no subject)

from: iorwen107
date: Aug. 18th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)

how do I put my feelings for this fic into words? Joy, happiness, sadness, tears, shock, anger....this left me emotionally exhausted but that's the way it's supposed to make me feel. I loved it, despite you breaking my heart into a million pieces.

And Jaime, oh Jaime, you are so fucked up emotionally yet I love you without end.

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(no subject)

from: midnightblack07
date: Sep. 23rd, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)


I'm STRUGGLING for coherence right now--this has seriously got to be one of the best GoT fics I've ever read. Every one of the characters, despite how different a world this was for them (and even some of their roles, particularly Cersei) was true to canon *__*

I loved (LOVED) Ned, and Cersie and Jaime and their twisted dynamic (particularly liked that Jaime wasn't the "victim" here because that seems to be a belief much of fandom holds), and Catelyn--PERFECTION ALL OF IT <333

p.s. would you mind if I friended you? I'm in desperate need of more GoT love on my flist and I actually follow you on Tumblr already (I'm onlyherbones on there) =)

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(no subject)

from: the_stark_words
date: Sep. 25th, 2011 03:24 am (UTC)

I'm sorry I didn't respond to this sooner. I kind of tend to forget that I have an LJ until I go to post a fic, and sometimes weeks go by in between. Oh dear.

Firstly, thank you so much, and secondly, of course I wouldn't mind if you friend me. Go for it. :)

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(no subject)

from: lalamemory
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 09:58 pm (UTC)

Utterly amazing!

It's so Ned to want to save Cersei. Cersei trying to get some independence from her family and brother. Then only to go back because it's the only thing she knows.

I gasped when Jaime pushed the kid in front of the bus. I sometimes forget how ruthless Jaime can be.

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