it's weird to have a vibrating cat on your head (meiface) wrote in chineseink,
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[INCEPTION] Abandoned WIP post, Arthur/Eames

Abandoned Inception WIP dump post. I have around 10,000 words and a lot of regrets, but I figure it wouldn't hurt to clean them out?

Everything is c/p-ed directly from my writing files, so you get my fun mid-fic parenthetical notes and typos galore as well as mid-sentence endings where I gave up. Some bits might seem familiar because I've posted excerpts before or because I've reused certain scenarios and characters in fic I actually managed to finish and post. Enjoy!

So here, have a lot of Arthur & Eames & co.

Arthur the celebrity, Eames the paparazzi | A/E | 357 words

"So you're gay then?" The shout made itself heard over the other babble of voices. Arthur hid a flinch but felt his features tighten anyway. Press conferences were some of his least favorite things in the world. He made a conscious effort to school his expression into something more relaxed, easy smile sliding onto his face.

"If you'll give me a moment," he said, leaning forward into the microphone, "I'll tell you my story and you can ask all your questions afterwards. I'll answer them. Yes, even that one."

He met the gaze of the reporter who'd shouted the question initially, who now sat with a shark-like air in the front row with his notepad and talking to the cameraman by his side. His eyes were still on Arthur.

Arthur was going to kill Eames.

--

"Asshole," Arthur muttered as he slammed the door of the car shut.

"Ah," said his driver. "It's going to be one of those days."

Arthur rubbed at his forehead and wondered if it would make him high-maintenance to demand Dom bring him two extra-strength painkillers. "I hate tabloid reporters." He texted him anyway. As Arthur's PA, maintaining Arthur was probably in Dom's contract.

"Well, sir, they seem to love you."

Nash was kind of an asshole too. Arthur glared at him.

"So," Nash said cheerfully. "To your hotel, then?" He pulled away carefully into traffic, deftly avoiding the small crowd of reporters and photographers surrounding the car desperate for any glimpse of Arthur.

Arthur stared broodingly out of the tinted windows. It was gloomy and gray outside, a heavy overcast of clouds that threatened rain. It didn't help Arthur's mood in the least. Fucking London.

Fucking London and fucking Miles. His agent usually knew what he was doing, Arthur had to give him that, but that didn't mean Arthur had to be pleased with his decisions. Landing the role in the current film was great -- hell, Arthur would be co-starring with Mallorie (MAKE UP A LAST NAME?? apparently she has no canon maiden name) -- but to find out last minute about the interview Arthur was apparently granting tomorrow morning?


Eames the celebrity, Arthur the college student | A/E | 203 words

Arthur was the type of college student who sank into his studies with a tunnel vision dedication, surfacing from treatises on moral philosophy and Platonian metaphors with less frequency "than dolphins surface for air," Dom told him dryly.

"Your metaphors need work," was Arthur's noncommittal reply.

"You're reading about cave metaphors," Dom shot back, "and it's a simile," but by then Arthur had already subsumed himself in his books again, interest in the conversation severed as Dom sighed, put upon.

So when the news broke that A-list actor Thomas Eames was transferring to their university, Arthur had no idea. He didn't read the news, or watch it, or listen to it: he lived in a bubble of dead philosophers, all of whom he was more familiar with than the star of the Versatility action trilogy.

It would have been nice, he thought later, a little bitterly, to have had some forewarning.

--

Aciditea Café was housed on the main floor of the student union. It saw good daily business from students in the midst of developing a caffeine addiction they would sustain for life. Arthur came by every morning at eight-fifteen, before his eight-thirty class.

Today, he stared at the clump of people


Can you tell I really wanted to do a celebrity AU?

Eames the celebrity, Arthur his PA | A/E | 5263 words | November 2010

There's this thing that Eames does that absolutely drives Arthur crazy - all right, really, there are any number of things that Eames does that drives Arthur crazy - but this one thing in particular, this is the thing that more than any of the other things gets to Arthur, in his blood and under his skin and even in his dreams even after he's off work (but is he ever off work? being Eames's PA is sort of a 24/7 job in which Arthur earnestly maintains he is completely underpaid and underappreciated)-- The thing that Eames does where he refuses, time after time, each and every time, to do up his own tie. No matter what event: fashion spread, red carpet premiere, a night out, interviews, whatever. His stylists will dress him up and pick out the perfect tie and he will wrap it around his neck and let it dangle loose until Arthur comes up to him, frazzled, BlackBerry tucked under one arm, and ties the damned thing for him. Arthur could probably do it with his eyes closed in his sleep these days, after endless and endless ties, his fingers working deftly with the silk - sometimes heavy, sometimes slippery thin - until it's knotted in the perfect Windsor or half-Windsor appropriate for the occasion.

"Have you never learned to do a tie?" Arthur demanded the first few times, but Eames only smiles at him, that stupid crooked smile that charms everyone he meets and makes women throw themselves at him and probably has high school girls swooning in their rooms at their computer screens. Arthur is immune to it by now (or so he likes to tell himself) so he only rolls his eyes and grumbles and ties the tie. he's tried to teach Eames how, tried to leave the tie knotted but loose enough for Eames to slip it on over his head and tighten it back up, but it's all to no avail. Eames will pull a knotted tie loose and then look expectantly at Arthur to do it back up.

"You will kill me one of these days," Arthur tells him, rubbing at his throbbing temple. "My blood pressure can't stand you." We don't have the fucking time for this - whatever this is, he thinks, but every single time he caves and ties the tie and shoves Eames out the door or under the camera or whatever he has to do to make Eames look presentable and do his job.

It's not all bad, of course. Eames is generally a good boss. He's friendly and witty and likes to crack jokes with everyone around him, likes to make them feel comfortable. He's intelligent and well-spoken when he needs to be, thoughtful in his answers to even the most asinine questions fielded his way by interviewers or fans. Generally reasonable, he asks for certain things but never demands them. He gets into tempers sometimes, as everyone does, but always makes a point of finding whoever he's snapped at later on to apologize. It's more than Arthur expected, really, and he knows it's more than what other celebrities will do, from the horror stories he's heard from other PAs. Eames doesn't even come in hung over all that much, which he always attributes to "having got my wild ways out of my system" in his youth. Arthur knows his history, of course: Eames's personal background is splashed all over the internet. He knows Eames is clean, likes to take risks in different ways now.

Mostly Arthur enjoys working for him, likes the people around Eames, generally likes Eames himself. Arthur is good at his job, always on top of the game, on the little details and scheduling and good at keeping Eames to task. His multi-tasking skills are unrivaled, his memory is sharp, and he has mastered the art of juggling two lattes, talking on his Bluetooth, scrolling through his BlackBerry, flipping through a manila folder, and walking briskly down a busy sidewalk without spilling any coffee onto his Dunhill suit.

"Here," he says to Eames on Monday morning, depositing one of the lattes into Eames's grateful hands, "No, he's filming until six on Thursday," he says into the Bluetooth, "but Friday morning might work. Confirm with Christine." He shoves the folder at Ariadne, nodding at her as she skims through the contents and notes which pictures he's marked. "Move," he tells Eames, gesturing with his now free hand at the corridor leading to Studio A, where Entertainment Tonight awaits him.

Lily and Zoe hustle beside Eames as he moves, Lily dusting some sort of mineral powder over his face and Zoe sweeping a loose lock back behind his ear with a little gel. Arthur keeps pace and sips his own coffee between arguing with Cobb about the availability of Eames for a teleconference with some director interested in soliciting Eames for a movie about a remade fairy tale complete with zombies. The things Hollywood comes up with these days, god. And yet the shit sells. Probably a good indicator that Arthur is better in his job as is than as a creative director of whatever. He's good at what he does and that is good enough for him.

"Arthur, love," says Eames, pausing outside the door just as Arthur snaps at Cobb to consult with Eames's publicist. Arthur looks up at him and adjusts his collar, the navy blue tie that Arthur tied earlier snug against his throat. There's an odd look on Eames's face, one that makes Arthur's eyebrow arch.

"What?"

"What're you doing for dinner?"

Arthur blinks. "Probably yelling at Dom some more and rearranging your schedule next week so you can make Fischer's fucking birthday party that he gave us zero notice about, that self-involved, spoiled ass--" He stops himself. "Do you need something? because you have the night off and god knows you've been whining for one forever, you'd better take advantage of it."

Eames looks a bit like he wants to hit Arthur, but it's a fond expression and a familiar one. "I'll tell Robert I can't make it, give yourself the night off, Arthur. Make reservations for two at your favorite steak place-- Two," he emphasizes, "meaning you and me." He winks and opens the door, stepping inside the studio before Arthur has a chance to protest.

Arthur suspects he is gaping like an idiot at the door right now, which is just unacceptable. Eames should no longer be able to throw him off his game; Arthur's game is to deal with sudden changes in plans, to adjust on the fly, to ride out the bumps and smooth them over. Arthur closes his mouth and meets Lily's amused look.

"Get in," he says firmly, shooing her and Zoe in after Eames, who will need touch-ups throughout the interview. Arthur, on the other hand, absolutely does not need to deal with their knowing smiles.

"Peter Luger's good," Zoe says and pats him on the arm as she passes.

Jesus. Arthur gives her a dirty look and leaves them, already back on his BlackBerry updating Eames's schedule. No Fischer party in LA then. That sets them back on the schedule Arthur had sorted out earlier, which means-- Well, it means a hell of a lot less work than he expected. He stares down at the tiny screen and thinks about meaning you and me, thinks about Peter Luger's famous porterhouse, which Arthur hasn't had in god knows how long. He's been living off caffeine lately, it seems.

Arthur shakes his head and puts the thought away for later. For the moment he needs to find a new gift for Fischer, because the extravagance has to go up if Eames isn't going to be there in person. Arthur selects three possibilities for Eames to pick from later, enters in a notice to remind Eames to call Fischer on the day of, and then ends up back in the dressing room. For the rest of the interview, he is pretty much free to sit and finish his latte. The pressing matters are dealt with for the moment.

The lights in the dressing room are fluorescent and bright, a quiet buzz in the back of Arthur's head as he sinks into a chair and contemplates Eames.

Thomas Eames, A-list celebrity, award-winning actor. Theater-trained, British, darling of Hollywood with the accent and the crooked smile and the bad-boy-gone-good backstory of his. Eames, who slides fluidly into every role's he's been given, a completely different person under the camera than he is away from it. Arthur's worked for him for two years now, and he has no idea if he even knows who Eames really is.

He tosses the empty Starbucks cup into the trash and smooths his hand over the crease in his slacks. "Have dinner with me," Eames said and it stopped Arthur dead. It's not like they haven't had dinner together before, take-out on the set or even a pit stop at some restaurant or other - as Eames's PA, Arthur is at his side nearly all day, meals included. It's part of the job. This is-- This is something different though. This is a deliberate invitation and Arthur has no fucking idea what it means, if anything.

Sort of like how he has no fucking idea what the deal with the ties is, other than some harebrained scheme to drive Arthur up a wall, which could be the case but seems to be out of character with Eames now that Arthur knows him better (even if he still doesn't know him at all). Eames likes to tease, but he doesn't deliberately set out to make people uncomfortable or unhappy, not people who work with him, anyway. There are more direct ways of getting rid of a PA if Eames doesn't like him.

Ariadne walks in while Arthur's in the middle of his-- whatever. State of complete and utter chaos as created by Eames. This is fairly normal, he thinks, but she takes one look at Arthur and says, "God, Arthur, you're not going to get fired for breathing, you know." He must look worse than usual.

"Thanks," he says wryly as Ariadne sits down beside him.

"Well, I've sent the proofs on to Christine and Gerald. The charity dinner's set for aril 3rd. And, oh, Mal called. She wants to have dinner with Eames."

Arthur looks up from putting the charity dinner into the calendar. "Why didn't she call me?"

Ariadne grins and elbows him. "Why do you think, Arthur? She knows you're against them spending time together."

"She's married."

"Yes, to Dom. They're hardly being inappropriate--" Ariadne sighs and cuts herself off, knowing Arthur will never change his mind about it. There's just something about Mallorie Cobb that sets him on edge whenever she spends time with Eames. He likes her as a person - she's lovely, truly - but he discourages Eames from spending any time with her in a non-professional capacity. Publicity reasons, he always argues, knowing Christine will back him up. Tabloids are vultures for celebrity gossip. They will make mountains out of molehills whenever they get the chance, so it makes sense to Arthur to just not give them the chance.

Arthur's mouth flattens into a thin line. "She wants to have dinner with him," he repeats. Ariadne nods. "Tonight?"

"Yeah. She says she left a voicemail on Eames's phone but she wanted to clear it with-- Well, me, since she knows you would never."

Eames adores Mal. He adored her before he knew she was married to his agent, when she was just another actress with a résumé of classy French films. They bonded over being European darlings of Hollywood or some nonsense like that, Arthur supposes. He doesn't really know or care how they met; he just knows he doesn't approve of the way Mal touches Eames or looks at him under her long lush lashes. It might be completely innocent, maybe it's just because she's French, but it's entirely inappropriate if Eames doesn't want to be caught up in the scandal of an affair. Mal is huge, well-known, renowned, respected; her marriage to Cobb is equally publicized, repeated as a Hollywood love story. They met in Paris, they fell in love, the whole works. Even a hint of extramarital impropriety with Eames would backlash entirely on Eames. Arthur might have a stroke if that ever happened, or at least land himself in the hospital with the ulcer he's slowly been cultivating over the years. Fuck.

Eames knows, for a given definition of "know", that Arthur doesn't entirely approve of his friendship with Mal. Well, not even that, they can be friends all they want - appropriately and without weighty looks and intimate body language and definitely not in public where paparazzi can catch them-- Eames knows this, more or less, though perhaps not the breadth to which Arthur and Christine stress and fret and bitch about it, but he does his best not to aggravate them without due. Still, Eames is Eames, very much his own man, and he refuses to let other people dictate his life. He makes his own decisions about who deserves the honor of his friendship, or respect, or trust. He would never let Arthur forbid him to see Mal, and so Arthur has never tried. (He has grumbled and he has glared, but he feels like that is well within the dictates of his right and duty.)

Eames is going to fucking say yes to dinner. Arthur can feel it in his bones, a pattern of behavior that has become standard operating procedure. Eames has been busy filming for the past two months, devoid of his closer friends. To say no to Fischer's party is one thing; to turn down Mal is another thing entirely.

Arthur calls in a reservation to Peter Luger's for two. Mal has always appreciated a good hunk of meat. And this way Eames gets to go to the steakhouse anyway. He tells Ariadne to pass on the information to Mal and stands up, tugging at his tie. "I'm going to call Christine," he says and pretends it's because it's for the job - it is - and he's not just looking for an excuse to pace the hallway.

Whatever. Arthur hadn't been looking forward to having dinner with Eames anyway. Hadn't he spent the entire time before Ariadne arrived freaking out about it and what it meant? This saves him a night of stress.

(He doesn't acknowledge that casual conversation with Eames over dinner with a glass or two of wine might have been the least stressful part of his day - Eames is one of those easy conversationalists, charisma oozing out of his pores. It's what makes him a successful actor.)

Arthur doesn't have time to stop and overthink, or mope, or try to dissect whatever the hell Eames's motives were in asking him to dinner. He's busy, he's good, he's fine.

He calls Christine to alert her about the dinner and unknots then reknots his tie, just for something to do with his hands.

--

Eames says, "That's not--" and then looks angry. Arthur looks steadily back at him. "I wanted to have dinner with you, Arthur," Eames says quietly, jamming his hands in his pockets.

"You see me every day. I thought you would appreciate the chance to see Mal." It goes unsaid that Arthur is breaking character in arranging this. He pivots on his heel and heads towards the elevators because the interview has taken most of the morning and Eames has a schedule that needs keeping to. "Anyway, I appreciate your decision to miss out on Robert Fischer's party and staying in New York, but I'm still busy tonight."

Eames follows him, wordless. Arthur can practically feel the tension vibrating off him, displeased. He doesn't know what to make of it so he ignores it.

"Anyway, we're headed back to set, you've got a few scenes to shoot today but you'll be done by four. Then you're free. Your reservations are at eight."

When the elevator door closes behind them, leaving them alone, Eames says, "Look, Arthur, if you didn't want to have dinner with me you could've just said. No need to foist me off on Mal."

Arthur meets his gaze and notes the tightness around the corner of his mouth. "I thought you'd prefer this," he says, a little more honestly than he'd meant to be. He hides a flinch. Stupid, he thinks, even though it's true. He maintains eye contact and ignores the strange feeling in his chest. Eames may get along with Arthur, generally like him, joke around with him, but it doesn't mean anything. Eames is like that with everyone. He and Mal are friends. Close enough friends to send Arthur and Christine's blood pressure soaring in attempts to keep said friendship from being spun the wrong way. Whatever intention Eames might have originally had in suggesting Arthur have dinner with him couldn't be more important than a chance to see Mal, whatever the consequences.

Arthur fights the urge to fidget with his tie again. This is ridiculous.

After a long moment, Eames sighs noisily. "Jesus," he says and looks away. His shoulder slump.

"Look, I'm right, aren't I? You've been on set for two months and I know you haven't seen people and, well, she's Mal." Arthur has no idea where this sudden need for validation has come from.

"You're a fucking idiot, love," Eames murmurs but it's not cruel; it sounds oddly weary instead. "But yes, you're right, I love Mal. I'd love to see her."

Vindicated, Arthur strides out of the elevator when it pulls smoothly to the ground floor.

"Just not tonight," he hears behind him, nothing more than a mutter.

Arthur really has no fucking idea what Eames is doing or what he wants. As a professional haranguer and someone who is paid to stress out over finicky little details, Arthur wants to bang his head against a wall - or maybe bang Eames's head against a wall - until things are cleared up. Instead, he ignores the mutter and sends Eames out he back entrance into the van where Ariadne is already waiting.

"Meet you there," he says with a wave of his hand. "Have some things to take care of."

When the van pulls off, Arthur fishes out his cigarette and lighter. His first drag makes him slump against the side of the building as he stares blindly into the sky.

--

Things change. Subtly. Arthur doesn't notice at first, but when he asks for Eames's input on what Eames's schedule should look like for the next week, Eames shrugs him off. "Whatever you deem best, Arthur," which would be fine except for the mocking lilt to his voice.

Arthur's spine snaps straight. "A little specificity would be nice, Mr. Eames. I'm not doing this for fun, you know."

"Specificity," Eames mocks. "Why don't you decide. You're the one who is all caught up in the specifics. Make all the decisions, pull all the strings, tell me whom I should meet and what I should say to them and where I should be photographed and with whom I should have dinner. The calls are all yours, Arthur."

"I'm your PA," Arthur explodes, temper fraying. "This is my job, Eames. If you hate having someone else make all your decisions, maybe you should take responsibility and make some of your own."

"Is that all you fucking are, Arthur? My PA? It's been two years and you don't even consider us friends?"

So perhaps it's not that subtle.

Eames is angry with him. Eames is pouring himself a glass of whiskey and glaring at Arthur, like he expects Arthur to know and cater to his every want and desire. Arthur can't do this: he doesn't fucking know what Eames wants, he's just trying to do his job. He doesn't know when it got so complicated.

It's 9 p.m. on a Wednesday and Arthur's in Eames's hotel room having a breakdown. He's still in his suit, sleeves rolled up and jacket discarded. Eames has changed into a pair of loose track pants and a thin gray t-shirt. He's barefoot and tired from the day of filming, hair scrubbed clean of gel in the shower, but he still looks like a movie star. He still is a fucking movie star.

It's been two years. Maybe he should be more than that to Arthur now. Is it normal for movie stars and their PAs to become friends? Arthur has never approved of mixing business with pleasure-- Except, except that Eames is so good at it. Casually friendly and personable with everyone he meets in the business, from the lowest junior assistant to the big-name directors and studio execs.

Arthur sinks into the couch and tries to pull himself together, feeling flushed and unsettled.

"All I wanted was to have a non-work dinner with you," Eames says. He's quiet now, standing behind the minibar, glass in hand. "And then you shove me off onto Mal-- And you know I love Mal, I do, but Arthur." Eames shakes his head. "Is it so wrong to want to get to know the person behind the suits and the BlackBerry?"

Arthur thinks about Thomas Eames, movie star. Millions of people he's never met know his name, his parents' names, his entire childhood story; how he got into acting and the name of every person he's dated is common knowledge to people who have never even had a conversation with Eames. He's is a public commodity, more or less.

Arthur knows these things and more: he can tell you how Eames likes his coffee, how he likes his tea, how he prefers coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. He knows could never be bothered to color-code anything he owns but he appreciates Arthur's organizational efforts, that Eames hates cauliflower, that he hates it even more when people crack the spines of their books but is somehow fine when they dog-ear the pages. He knows the difference between a sleepy rough voice and a potentially disastrous scratchy voice boding illness. He knows that Eames has over a hundred pairs of shoes and maybe half that number of ties and he knows Eames neve does up any of his own ties.

Eames is a movie star and Arthur is his PA and it's been two years. Arthur knows an endless amount about Eames and he's not sure Eames even knows how many siblings he has.

But, he argues with himself, why should Eames need to know? It's not his job to know about Arthur's personal life or preferences, whereas it's most definitely Arthur's job to know about Eames-- He says as much aloud, at a loss rather than hostile, but trails off when he sees the dark look return to Eames's face.

"Is that all this is, then? a job? After two years, I'm nothing more to you than your boss?"

It seems he's circled back to the problem at hand.

Arthur opens his mouth but he doesn't know what to say. "Yes," is on the tip of his tongue, but he knows that's not the answer Eames wants to hear. Something in his gut rebels against the idea, despite the logical insistence that they have nothing more than a professional relationship.

A professional relationship where Arthur wanders in and out of Eames's house and hotel rooms at will, brings him food and sees him half-dressed, and can rattle off the full names and birthdays of Eames's family and closest friends? Arthur says, a little helplessly, "Eames, I don't know--" What you are to me or what you want from me or, perhaps more importantly, what i want from you. He slumps against the back of the couch, shoulders sinking into the leather. Christ, an existential crises was not on the schedule tonight.

Eames's glass clinks against the marble counter as he sets it back down, empty. "I have a better relationship with Saito," he mutters, "and he's an arrogant bastard. Arthur, do me one favor tonight, would you? Get out." He pours himself another glass of whiskey.

"But--"

"No, love," and the word is heavily sarcastic, "let's not argue. There's no fucking planning to do, I'm not going to Robert's party, I'll abide by your precious schedule for the next week like the good boss I am, and you won't have to worry your pretty little head about what the fuck I might want. Get out."

"Eames, don't be unreasonable--"

"I will be as fucking unreasonable as I want," Eames says calmly and Arthur thinks it's worse than if Eames shouted. His voice is steady and cold. Gget out, Arthur. As your boss, that's an order." He picks up his tumbler and walks away, shoulders stiff.

Arthur picks up his jacket and folders silently and leaves.

--

Ariadne corners him at craft services, nursing his second cup of coffee of the day and picking over the remains of his breakfast bagel. "What's wrong? What's going on between you and Eames?" she demands, pulling him by the arm to the end of a deserted table. Most of the crew is busy with the ongoing scene and it's two hours yet until lunch. They have the best semblance of privacy besides being inside a trailer and-- Well, Arthur suspects Eames wouldn't precisely be happy to find Arthur in his trailer. They're still at odds.

A generous way of putting it, Arthur thinks dryly to himself. He meets Ariadne's irritated expression with a resigned shrug. "We had something of a disagreement," he says.

"A fight." She sits back a moment on the bench and eyes him speculatively. "Good lord, Arthur, you fight with everyone at least three times a day, it's part of your job description. You've never let it get to you like this before. The tension is ridiculous. You could cut it with a knife!"

The corners of Arthur's mouth tip up slightly. "Not exactly our ordinary run-of-the-mill disagreements, I guess you could say."

"Run-of-the-mill disagreements," she repeats and she sounds a little incredulous. She rolls her eyes, making Arthur feel about half his age. Ariadne's always been good at that, clever and quick despite her youth, and making everyone else feel like they are the one who's clueless and naive. Arthur is grateful for her anyway; her help has probably been the only thing keeping him from working himself into a coronary these days, what with Eames's ever-increasing reputation and the correlating increase in his scheduling demands.

Ariadne waves a hand in front of Arthur and he snaps back into focus. "Hello? Arthur? Listen, I don't care what kind of disagreements or fights or whatever you're having with Eames. He has that interview with Esquire tomorrow--" Arthur nods, because of course he knows, "--and he needs to not be so irritable."

"I got it," he says because he's been talking himself around to this for days anyway and evidently just needed the last push. He's an adult. He should handle this like an adult. And that means none of this awkward, stilted business, made worse by the fact that there is no possible way for Arthur and Eames to avoid each other. They'll talk or something similar and equally adult, and deal with this. He fiddles with his BlackBerry, scrolling the calendar up and down for no real purpose other than to evade the piercing look Ariadne's giving him.

"You're going to talk to him?"

"Something like that."

Ariadne sighs, but it's all Arthur's willing to concede. "All right, well, I'm off to meet with Gerald. Call if you need anything."

Arthur finally looks up and catches the rueful smile Ariadne directs at him before she heads off. "See you," he says, and starts making a step-by-step plan in his head, because Arthur's one of those, a perpetual list-maker, about how he's going to approach this.

By lunch, Arthur's got three different lists with at least seven steps on each and a balanced checkbook. Hey, he can't be in Eames's business all the time - sometimes Arthur has to deal with his own life. He's also finished the USA Today crossword and sudoku, doodled in the margins, and scared off a grippe and another PA with his look of intense concentration.

"Constipated, darling?"

The taunt is good-natured and it is that more than the words themselves that have Arthur's head snapping up. Eames is smiling at him from across the table, still in his hair and make-up and navy blue suit from the scene he was filming. There's a white foam box of food in one hand and a Coke in his other.

"Eames."

"Arthur." Eames gestures at the table, currently only occupied by Arthur's empty coffee cup and pieces of USA today. "Mind if I sit?"

"Go ahead."

Eames's smile is not the winsome crooked one that he's known for, but rather one that is more reserved. still, it's the genuine article. Arthur doesn't try to guess what caused the change in heart or at least change in tactics - who knows? maybe Ariadne had a chat with him too - but he's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"How was filming?" he asks cautiously. He tries a smile of his own. Ariadne's right: he and Eames need to work this (whatever this is) out before it drags on for much longer. They need to be in some sort of harmony if Arthur's to do his job properly. And, well, beyond that, Arthur is not so much into self-denial that he can't admit that he misses the Eames from before, the one who wouldn't look stiffly past him or speak coldly. The one who might be now sitting across the table from him, poking at his pot roast and gravy and pasta salad.

Arthur smiles. Craft services provides vegan options, of course, but Eames will never be one of the ones who partake. He's digging in too enthusiastically into his meat, ravenous.

"It was all right," says Eames between mouthfuls. "Martin's on crack, like always, but I suppose I have no choice but to trust in what he's doing. He's driving Catherine mad though." He takes a swig of his Coke. "Not going to eat? Too busy?" Ah, the edge is back.

"I will." Arthur carries on like he hasn't noticed. "I-- To be honest, I forgot, actually. Got caught up in the crossword."

Eames flicks his eyes over to the crossword Arthur's filled out in pen. "Impressive. So this is what I pay you for?" Oh, thinks Arthur, but Eames finishes, lightly, "To become a crossword grand master? Aiming to rake in the millions then turn around and hire me?"

Arthur's laugh is surprised. It's uneasy ground, but they're joking again. Almost like they were before-- Almost like they're friends? He spins the ballpoint across his knuckles. "Then you can tie my tie and learn every little detail of my life for a change."

He means it to be a joke, if their positions were reversed, if Eames was Arthur's PA - but Eames pauses and Arthur's brain catches up with itself and then Eames's expression shuts down rapidly.

"Perhaps I should consider it," he murmurs, "if only so I might know the answer to the age-old question: boxers or briefs."

He smiles beatifically as Arthur stares at him, resuming his lunch.

And then Arthur's laughing, again startled. "I-- "


Original help_pakistan canon job fic featuring truth serums! | A/E | 4347 words | Sept 2010

Arthur makes lists. Arthur thrives off his lists and hates deviating from them, which makes Eames roll his eyes and chide, "You've no imagination, Arthur." Arthur rolls his eyes right back and ignores him, because he doesn't need Eames's approval to carry out his duties on the team. Just because Arthur doesn't enjoy deviating from his meticulous plans didn't mean he's incapable of doing so, if the need arises. All it means is that he'll walk away from the job - usually successful, occasionally a disaster - in a foul mood, berating himself for not having the foresight to predict that things would go wrong or for making an oversight on a changed key piece of information. Arthur is harder on himself than anyone else.

So when the Zhou job goes pear-shaped in not one but three unexpected ways, Arthur should not have left the job in a good mood.

But the day after they deliveredhe information to their client, Arthur sits on a plane to Tokyo, smiling.

Maybe it's the fact that they managed to finish the job despite the curveballs thrown their way, the unexpected kinks in the plan. But they've had other successful jobs in the past that leave Arthur displeased afterwards, mouth tight and turned down at the corners as he replays in his head the mistakes he should've caught before they occured.

Maybe it's the handy two million dollars now being distributed among Arthur's numerous unmarked and offshore accounts. But two million is small change compared to what Arthur had accumulated over the years in his criminal profession.

Maybe it's the company, Eames beside Arthur and flipping idly through the Sky Mall magazine, chuckling over the inventively useless things people have patented to sell. But it's hardly the first time Arthur has worked with and left afterwards with Eames. Their relationship is strained at times and full of easy banter other times, but their companionship is not a novel thing.

Maybe the focus should shift away from the fact that three unexpected things occured to speculate instead on what exactly those three unexpected things were.

--

Beijing is chilly and gray. Arthur didn't really expect differently, as his research into the area reported a distinct lack of blue skies, even during the hot summer days. They're here in early April with just enough bite lingering in the air that he's grateful for the thin trench coat he's thrown over his suit.

("Tan," Eames sighed when they met at the airport's coffee shop, "over black. Arthur, do you hate all color?"

"Tan is a color," Arthur replied with a quirk of his eyebrow.

Eames made a face but let it go. Arthur didnt think he had room to judge, considering his place on the other end of the spectrum, embracing color with a wild abandon that strained the eyes. Mauve-and-blue striped shirt, mustard-yellow pants, and a jacket that hadn't decided whether it wanted to be purple or navy. It was so distinctly Eames that Arthur almost felt fond, but then Ariadne walked in making desperate noises for caffeine, and Arthur chased the idle thought out of his mind.)

"Be polite," Ariadne's saying to them now as they cross a sky-bridge over a busy road. She's mostly looking at Eames. "Hanling's a friend from school and she's perfectly lovely. Please be professional."

"You wound me, Ariadne." Eames affects a hurt tone. "What makes you think I wouldn't?"

Arthur doesn't think he's imagining the edge of genuine annoyance underneath Eames's playacting. He has never enjoyed imprecations on his ability to do his job, as he's made clear to Arthur over the years. He hides it under a veneer of geniality, of light-hearted joking, but Eames knows he's good at what he does and it grates when he thinks others don't. Particularly others that he is currently working with. Arthur's learned this lesson; they don't talk about it, but Arthur silently acknowledges that Eames had probably been more instrumental to the success of the Fischer job than either Arthur or Cobb. Arthur doesn't like to dwell on that - one of his biggest mistakes, with unspeakable backlash. It still stings.

"Hannah is gorgeous," Ariadne says and pushes at Eames's arm. "Don't let it distract you."

Eames practically slinks into step beside Arthur, pressing their shoulders together as a sly grin slides across his face. "But Arthur is gorgeous and I've never let that interfere with our working relationship."

"Oh is that what you think--"

"Yes, a prime example of your professionalism."

Ariadne's chortling and Arthur's stepping away from Eames, giving him a pointed look. Eames laughs, eyes dancing, and Arthur's pleased to see the edge from before has disappeared. He's genuinely teasing this time.

A good thing for the job, Arthur determines, because they can't be bringing their personal tensions into the dreams. Better also to present a united front for their client, if she's to trust them to such an important task and to believe they can succeed.

They're entering the apartment complex now, gates open and guard box empty. When Arthur expressed concern about the inappropriate amount of attention three foreigners might have drawn walking into a residential block, Ariadne quickly assured them that Hanling promised no problems. Living on her own, her apartment is nowhere so luxurious as to garner high security, but she is still situated close enough to the tourist district that seeing non-Chinese faces wandering around is not to be unexpected. Arthur still thinks they should have met somewhere less conspicuous, but Hanling refused anywhere even semi-public. It's a rather....delicate matter she wants to discuss with them.

Isn't it always, Arthur thinks, following Ariadne into apartment building 6. Eames holds the door open for them and meets Arthur's eyes as Arthur passes. The merry sparkle is still in Eames's eye as he reaches over and flips the collar of Arthur's coat down, fingers smoothing over the fabric.

"Wouldn't want you to look anything less than perfect when meeting a client," he murmurs. "First impressions are vital, after all."

Arthur doesn't even blink at having his own words turned back on him. "Essential," he agrees and Eames's smile broadens as he steps after Arthur and the door swings shut.

They head up the narrow stairs.

--

Eames takes off his shoes without hesitating when he walks into Zhou Hanling's apartment. Arthur stares at his socked feet for a moment before looking up to see Hanling's smile grow noticably warmer. "You can call me Hannah," she says, stepping back to gesture them inside. Her English has a trace of a French accent.

"A pleasure to meet you," Eames replies in French and her eyes light up.

It shouldn't startle Arthur but he finds himself unsettled anyway. They've been conversing in English since meeting at the Starbucks at the airport; it's their default, something they don't even consider nowadays. It makes sense to speak in French though, because if Hanling attends school in Paris with Araidne for most of the year, she is probably more than comfortable in the language. It's strange to hear another language from Eames's lips, though. It's been a long time since Arthur's heard anything but English - accented (a different accent every time, like Eames is experimenting), teasing, irritated, brusque, but always English - from Eames.

Arthur slides a sideways look at Ariadne, but she's grinning at her old classmate, who seems to have practically forgotten their existence in favor of smiling at Eames. Nonplussed, Arthur slips out of his loafers and lines them up neatly beside Ariadne's flats, then follows her towards the couch. The apartment is crowded but neat, as Hanling - Hannah - has obviously made the most of the tiny space. Fitting for an architecture student.

When they're seated on the couch, Arthur next to Ariadne next to Eames, whose knees are practically knocking into the low-set tea table, Hannah offers them something to drink. "Tea?" she asks.

"Oh," says Ariadne eagerly, "do you have any of that stuff you brought to Paris? That was divine."

"Iron Buddha?"

Eames shifts. "Tie guanyin?" he says. "Really? I've not had any in ages. It's never the same outside of China."

Arthur's speciality has always been European languages - he's fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and he can manage passable Hungarian. He's studied the writing systems of of East Asian languages but he knows his strengths, and those languages are not his. He knows people whose specialities are East Asian languages, and that is good enough, because he knows who to call if he needs.

Eames is not one of those people. Eames's speciality is the Middle East and Africa, Arabic and French and a passing familiarity with Swahili. He knows more Portuguese than Spanish, and Arthur didn't know he knew any Mandarin Chinese.

At least he's not the only one surprised. "I didn't know you knew Chinese." Ariadne stares at Eames with open curiosity as Hannah disappears into the kitchen, looking more and more smitten with Eames by the minute.

"Traveled here a few times," Eames says easily. He meets Arthur's carefully blank gaze, his mouth twitching upwards as if he knows how much it bothers Arthur to not have known this. And damn him, he does. Arthur's displeasure for holes in his research is not exactly a mystery. "For pleasure," he adds, "not work. Knew a girl, once."

"Oh," Ariadne says knowingly. "Dated a girl."

Eames doesn't deny it, leaning back into the couch with a kind of sprawl that should be impossible in such cramped quarters. Still, he manages to look loose-limbed and at ease, like they're here for a friendly visit, not to discuss a job that may penetrate the highest echelons of the Chinese government. Like it's perfectly normal for him to know Chinese culture and customs unthinkingly, the way Arthur knows how to shoot guns or incapcitate an enemy at thirty paces, before ever engaging in close combat.

Arthur has never been so arrogant as to think he could know everything about Eames - or about anyone he works with. But he prides himself, as the best point man in the business, to know all the things that matter.

He watches as Ariadne tries to pry Eames for more information on his ex, thinks about the way Hannah smiled at Eames in the five minutes she's known him, and the way she'll smile at him when she comes back bearing tea - and Arthur thinks about what he knows about Eames and what he's assumed to know, what he's dismissed as unimportant. He doesn't fidget but props his elbows on his knees, leaning forward, contemplative. There's an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

--

They conduct the rest of their meeting in French, with the occasional Chinese name slipping into the conversation. Their mark is a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Hannah doesn't like the way he's undercutting her father's work and suspects bribery from certain interested parties: opponents to her father's push for domestic reforms. Her voice goes grim when she tells them what she wants. Extraction, naturally, but more than that: she wants a careful trail left, so the mark knows he's been targeted. She wants him to know that someone his rifled through his mind and looked at his darkest secrets. She does not, however, want him to know by whom.

It's easy to focus on the job. Arthur packs away thoughts about Eames behind his focus on what Hannah wants and how to get it for her. Thorough research and detailed planning will be necessary for a clean execution. This is what Arthur excels at. He's already jotting notes down on a notepad.

"We may need Yusuf," says Eames presently. He's obviously been running through possible plans in his head, fingers wrapped around his delicate tea cup. He never takes notes.

"He's in Mombasa," Arthur points out, because it's not as if they don't have other chemists at their disposal.

"We'll fly him in if we need." The reply is crisp, voice brooking no argument.

Arthur writes down Yusuf's names in his notes and underlines it once, silent. Part of the lesson he learned from the Fischer job was to trust Eames.

Ariadne glances at him like she wants to say something, but turns at the last second to Eames, lips pursed and a gleam in her eye that Arthur can't identify. Hannah sits back in her chair, relaxed, like she trusts them to know what they're doing. She has to.

It's almost disconcerting to see someone like Hannah so calmly determined in taking down the people in her way. Her long hair is tied back in low ponytail that spills down down her back; her clothes are trendy but well-cut, silk and cashmere. She's young, a few bare months older than Ariadne, and Arthur can picture her fresh-faced and bright-eyed, same as Ariadne, as they talk excitedly about Beaux-Arts architects. Almost disconcerting but not quite, because Arthur has seen Ariadne's eyes flashing enough times by now, gleaming with a sort of focused intent that would be more suited to cutthroat business executives.

It's not Arthur's job to ruminate on the unlikelihood of their client, though. He knows better than most that appearances are far from the best indicator of the type of people who are drawn to their business, the type of people who desire their services. He doesn't comment, just gets the job done. That's why he's hired, after all.

They leave Hannah's apartment a rough plan. First things first: Arthur's going to find a quiet out-of-the-way warehouse to rent out.

("One of these days," Ariadne says with an unhappy expression, "we'll do our jobs from a nice, posh hotel. Like the one I'm staying at right now. And we'll add a hacker to our team so they can cover the cameras.")

--

The first curveball leaves Arthur furious, because he should've seen it coming.

"She wants to what?"

Ariadne shuffles her blueprints nervously. "Come with us," she repeats. "Into the dream."

Eames rubs the bridge of his nose. "Do you think we look like a dream tourism company?" He sounds exasperated. "Really, Ariadne, Hannah's lovely and all but Saito was an anomaly. We can't allow amateurs to tag along on a job. It's too delicate; we've no time to babysit." He shoots Arthur a look, commiserating.

Ariadne doesn't miss the way they're rallying against her. "Look, I'm just reporting what she said. I'm not saying she should be allowed."

"We're full up, love," Eames says with a shrug. "Tell her sorry but no."

He turns back to looking over Arthur's research on their mark, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, as he scribbles notes in the margins. Things I've picked up from the news, he says carelessly, like the news isn't in precise Mandarin that Arthur can't make heads or tails of. It's another disquieting reminder of Eames's hidden depths, a capability that Arthur never fully mined. It shows again in the way Eames is directing the job, as comfortable leading as Cobb ever was. Arthur hasn't found it as difficult as he first imagined to slip into his role as point man to Eames-the-extractor, when all his previous interaction with the man had been as Eames-the-(irritating-)forger.

Eames has brought only one member of his usual team: Chloe, his hacker.

("A hacker," Ariadne says reverently and Arthur doesn't have to be inside her mind to read her thoughts.

"You did say we needed one," Eames tells her, grinning while Araidne clutches his arm in joy.

"So we can move our base of operations into the hotel?"

"Anything you'd like--" and at Arthur's disgruntled look because he's already secured a warehouse, let's not forget that, Eames adds, more seriously, "Do you really think a group of foreigners disappearing into a warehouse anywhere in this city wouldn't be a bit suspicious? The Party's got watchdogs everywhere. We'd be far more securee in a hotel room with Chloe monitoring the camera feeds. Trust me."

And the thing is, Arthur does.)

Chloe is tall and absolutely brilliant with any kind of technology, incredible at her job. This makes Arthur love her, even if she has a wicked sense of humor underneath her sometimes-cool exterior that makes itself evident with dry quips at Eames's expense. In all honesty, that might make Arthur love her more. He doesn't know what he expected of someone from Eames's regular go-to team, someone who has not only put up with Eames over the years but has chosen to. In light of Arthur's recent reevaluation of Eames's better qualities, Arthur admits quietly to himself that anyone who has chosen to work with Eames consistently has probably been a better judge of Eames's acumen than Arthur.

Currently, Chloe is running multiple searches of hitherto locked government databases for information on Wang Keming. Arthur would feel a little redundant if it weren't for the fact that Eames still trusts him to make the plans based on the information gathered. He hopes he does a better job of the rest of than this, missing the fact that Hannah, their client Hannah, has developed a sudden itch to join them on their voyage through the mind of her father's political rival.

Should have seen this coming, he thinks again, angry, remembering in flashes the warmth of her smile and the way her eyes lingered on Eames. Remembers the soft flow of French and Mandarin when she spoke to him, a manner to it that she lacked when she spoke to either Arthur or Ariadne that Arthur now recognized as flirtation. Arthur's pen taps against his notepad, rapid and irritated. "Ariadne," he says. She glances over at him. "Did Hannah mention why she wanted to come along?"

"Funny you should ask, actually. Seems like she wanted to make sure things went smoothly."

Arthur raises an eyebrow, because that can't be all.

"I told her she would know if we were successful or not depending on whether, you know, we get her the information she wants. But..."

Chloe and Eames are looking at Ariadne now too, Eames's gaze steady over the edge of the papers in his hand.

"I got the impression that she was worried about your safety, Eames."

Suspicions confirmed. Arthur's mouth flattens even as Eames's parts in surprise. "Really now, Ariadne? Are you sure you're not just projecting?"

"Ha ha," says Ariadne sarcastically and thwacks his arm with a roll of blueprints.

"You've won yourself another heart, I see," Chloe comments blandly.

"Deal with it," Arthur cuts in smoothly before Eames can retort. His tone is measured. He meets Eames's eyes. "You're right. We can't afford tourists in this job." And whether Eames needs to talk or fuck her into compliance, he needs to make sure it's not an issue. Arthur didn't expect this curveball and has no contigency plans in place, so the only route to take is one that eliminates the unexpected element and restores things to the order in place before.

Eames nods once, all professionalism. Then he slips into a drawl, twinkle in his eye, "Yes, dear."

Arthur grips his pen in an effort not to throw it at Eames's head and rolls his eyes internally. Hannah obviously knows nothing about Eames if she thinks he can't take care of himself. He can and he does, in the most ways most aggravating to Arthur as possible.

--

"She'll wait for us outside," Eames announces as waltzes into Arthur's hotel room.

"You're not completely useless after all," Arthur tells him, mouth quirking. It surprises a laugh out of Eames, who knows he's joking.

It says a lot for how far they've come that Arthur is joking, that he recognizes how capable Eames actually is, and that Eames knows that. Their defenses have dropped since the Fischer job.

"Your condescension warms the cockles of my heart, Arthur," Eames tells him, brushing close as he drops off a coffee. "Now show me what you've got.

--

The second curveball Arthur doesn't know how he can have possibly seen coming.

"Truth serum?" Ariadne wrinkles her nose and regards Eames skeptically. "You said we didn't end up needing a chemist. Isn't it too late to fly Yusuf out? We're on a schedule."

Arthur hides a smile, thinking that she's taken all the words right of his mouth. He's trained her well. They're assembled in the suite they have under one of Eames's many pseudonyms, signed for with his practiced hand, the base of operations as they flesh out a few remaining details of the plan before the first practice run. Ariadne and Chloe are curled up next to each other on a lavish leather couch, Ariadne studying photos of Wang's house in order to integrate the familiar elements into her architecture. Chloe's at ease, checking in on the CCTVs monitoring their room and the footage from the miniature camera Hannah placed in Wang's office at the Ministry.

Arthur's going over his list of ___, but his attention's on Eames right now, who walked into the room just moments before with another thoughtful announcement. He has evidently integrated that into his style of leadership, these pronouncements that leave various team members staring at him.

Ariadne pauses. Then she adds speculatively, "Are truth serums even possible? I thought they only existed in science-fiction or Harry Potter."

"Veritaserum?" offers Chloe.

She and Ariadne share a delighted, conspiratorial look. Eames watches them with some amusement, hands tucked in his pockets. "Never fear. We won't need a chemist. I wouldn't lie to you, sweet Ariadne."

"Then how--"

It dawns on Arthur and his breath catches. It's brilliant. "In the dream," he says. "We'll be in a dream. We don't need an actual serum. Wang just needs to think he's been given one. His subconscious will do the rest."

Eames looks inordinately pleased, and a little proprietary, like he's presented Arthur a puzzle to solve and is happy with the results. His test subject has performed satisfactorily. "Precisely."

"It will let him know he's been targeted, too," Chloe says slowly, her fingers pausing over the laptop keyboard. "He'll know he's had information extracted, just like Hannah wants."

The admiration in Ariadne's eyes is clear and bright, plain as day.

They decide that they'll try out the serum in their practice run tomorrow. Arthur will play the mark, Ariadne will hold up the dream, and Eames will administer the test. Chloe won't go into the dream: she will maintain survelliance in the real world and be responsible for timing the music. Eventually, Ariadne and Chloe wander out to get dinner from one of the nearby noodle shops. They offer to bring something back Arthur waves them off. He'll go out at some point for his own dinner but he has a few questions for Eames right now.

"The serum's not going to work on me if I already know it's only a placebo," he says as he straightens away the plans.

Eames tosses a folder on top of Arthur's pile and Arthur sweeps it away. "Ah, but I won't be testing it on you, darling. I'll be using it on Ariadne, since she won't be expecting it, thinking you're the test subject."

Arthur smiles. "You've thought of everything, haven't you?

"I'm not terrible at my job, Arthur."

Arthur locks the papers into his briefcase. "I know, Mr. Eames. You've made that quite evident these past few weeks."

Eames follows him to the door of the suite. "Is that a compliment I hear?" He flips his poker chip xx-ly and Arthur laughs.

"There's no need to be obnoxious."

He gets a grin in response and Arthur feels his own smile widen in response, indulgent and automatic. It makes him remember the way Hannah's eyes followed Eames around, warm and fond. He dismisses the comparison almost immediately. There's a world of difference between Arthur and an architecture student, as well-connected as she might be in China's political sphere. Arthur has seen and done things she could never imagine, even in her dreams. He has died more times than he can count. Even if Hannah is far from naive, she will never have the experiences Arthur has had.

Moreover, Arthur thinks decisively, she will never know Eames the way Arthur does. She doesn't have the history either. Arthur has reason to appreciate how their relationship has changed. Progressed.

"Beijing's famous zhajiang noodles?" Eames suggests as they wait for the elevator. "Or do you feel like something more refined?"

Arthur chooses the city speciality because he knows Eames will regale him with its history over the meal. He does, keeping Arthur effectively distracted from the job until they arrive back at the hotel.

Ariadne is waiting for them in the suite with a determined look on her face. Chloe's returned to her laptops but the TV is on in the background. They can afford this one last night of relative relaxation before the practice run tomorrow and then the fine-tuning begins. The job is in three days.

"You're coming out with me," Ariadne says, and it's not a question. "Hannah's friends are going to a café in Haidian--"

A night of relative relaxation for Arthur does not typically include surrounding himself with spoiled twenty-somethings throwing away their parents' money at an overpriced Western-style café. Arthur coughs and tries to let Ariadne down gently. "I don't think," he starts, but Ariadne cuts him off.

"The mark's son will be there," she says, eyes glinting. "Hannah thought we could use this opportunity for more recon."

"We've already done a thorough report on the mark--"

"Arthur," protests Ariadne.

"It never hurts to have more information," interjects Eames.

Arthur gives in. "Fine," he sighs and tries not to notice the way Chloe's smothering a smile behind her cup of tea. As if she's ever had to stand up to being double-teamed by Ariadne''s pleading eyes and Eames's calculating ones. Arthur shakes his head. "Fine, but we'll need a cover."

Ariadne promptly replies, "I'm Hannah's friend from school and you're my boyfriend."


EVERYTHING ENDS SO ABRUPTLY, I'M SORRY. So much wasted potential... :(
Tags: #wip post, inception, inception: arthur/eames
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