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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Seven - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Seven
Haymitch has not been the most useful guardian for Katniss back in Twelve, and Peeta calls him on it, and on his fairly obvious feelings for Effie. Finally, Johanna gets in touch and says that they are going to start destroying the arenas, and she wants him on the team. He returns to the Capitol, where Effie is waiting for him.


Chapter Twenty-Seven
I move back in with Effie, but I'm in and out of the Capitol every few days to go to the arenas. The first one, in the Amazon, is the hardest to destroy. They didn't enclose it particularly well, and the jungle has grown up and tangled through the Cornucopia. We don't want to cause any incidental damage -- there's no reason to -- so we have to hack through vines to get rid of the various built features. Worse than that, they were still using real war mutts -- the kind that weren't created sterile for the Games. Most, we just have to give up on. Like the mockingjays and the tracker jackers, they're part of the world now.

We finally free up the Cornucopia and take it back to the Capitol. They will melt it down and turn it into a memorial to the first twenty-four tributes. The victor is included -- if there's one thing we all know, it's that none of the twenty-four really came out alive. We'll put it back where it came from, and maybe someday, the human race will return to it, if we don't manage to destroy ourselves before we bring the population back up.

This is a major "if," of course. The real numbers of war dead are starting to come in, and it looks like we've managed to kill nearly a third of the world again. Couples are encouraged to have large families if they can, and outside our little circle, many of them seem to be gearing up to do so. We are under strict orders to look for any settlements that may have developed unnoticed outside of Panem, to try and make contact. Plutarch has special heat scanning equipment on board to search areas we won't land. We don't encounter anyone, though the early Games took place all over the world.

We travel to a viciously hot desert in northern Africa, where they placed the first primitive force field boundary. Over the years, the shifting sands have built up around it, creating strange waves. According to Plutarch, most of the tributes that year died of thirst, and the winner was the one who found and defended the sole water source. The seventh Games -- Mags's Games -- were on a cold plateau in Asia. The area around the arena is overrun with horses. A contingent from District Ten wants to come and round some up. There's a volcanic island south of Asia (Plutarch says this was how they learned that islands didn't make good locations) where we have to dig for the Cornucopia under several feet of ash; the volcano took care of the demolition.

We've been doing this for four weeks when we get a call from Annie in District Four. She's given birth to a son, who she's named after Finnick. We all make the pilgrimage to declare him the spitting image of his father, though at the moment, he could pass for any other baby on the planet. He does have green eyes, though. Annie's house is full of help for her; at least ten of the kids she was helping in the Capitol, including Juniper, made the trip to Four with her, and they are fiercely devoted to her.

Ruth Everdeen asks after Katniss, and I tell her that she seemed to be getting better when I left, and she and Peeta are looking after each other. This seems to be enough. We move on to the next arena.

After the first eight, we take a break to regroup, since they've gotten behind on re-purposing the Cornucopias. During this time, Plutarch decides that he's going to teach all of us to drive. We go up to a meadow high in the mountains where some long-ago president had an airfield, and spend the morning making our way around the tarmac. Johanna is a natural. Gale is competent, but declares his brothers (who've come along, since they're visiting from District Two) too young to drive. Enobaria seems to have a death wish. Effie is overcautious. Perhaps the best that can be said of my own attempt is that I give up the keys voluntarily.

After lessons, we spend the afternoon having a picnic in the meadow. Vick and Rory, playing some kind of ball game, disturb some butterflies in the grass, and they swarm up into the sky all at once. For a few minutes, we're in a blizzard of butterflies. I hear Johanna laugh, and when I glance over, I see Gale through a screen of butterflies, watching her fondly. They both still claim they aren't together, but I haven't seen them apart for weeks.

Back at home, there's a television report on the re-building of District Twelve. They've celebrated the arrival of fall with a new harvest festival that actually coincides with the harvest. People are showing off vegetables. Peeta and Greasy Sae have a huge tent set up for people to sample the harvest and share recipes. Katniss isn't interviewed, but I see her in the background plucking turkeys. After Peeta's interview, he goes back to help her, and I see them steal a feathery kiss before the cameras move away. They both look happy for once. Kind of deliriously happy, actually. When the coverage cuts live to a dance that's going on under the moonlight, they look frankly drunk on each other. The camera starts over toward them, but Delly Cartwright interrupts and steers it away, talking about tomatoes.

Peeta calls me the next day to talk about absolutely nothing in a high, nervous tone. Katniss is living with him, and has been for a few weeks, though technically, the harvest festival was their first date. My geese are fine. Delly and Thom went on a date but decided to just be friends. There are twenty houses in town now. And, by the way, just out of curiosity, do I happen to know how long it takes to know whether or not someone is pregnant? Also, Sae wants to open a restaurant, and they heard from Octavia, who's thinking of moving out there, and he's painting a lot today, and did he mention about the geese?

Effie laughs and schedules me on the next train out, arranging with Paylor to get me a few weeks leave while the team goes on with the arena destruction. Effie herself can't get away from the Capitol, but she says that she'll call Katniss and explain how to avoid panicked conversations about geese in the future.

By the time I get there a week later, whatever panic they had seems to have passed. They've decided to get engaged again, with the wedding set in late November, to give everyone time to make arrangements. I'm not entirely surprised to get a phone call early one morning inviting me to a private toasting, along with Delly, Thom, and Sae. We're all sworn to secrecy, though I have no idea who they think they're fooling. Certainly, by the time Effie and I go back for the real wedding two months later, there's not a soul who doesn't know, including the guests from far-flung districts. Maybe Rue's little sisters, who serve as Katniss's bridesmaids, don't know... but I'm not even sure about them.

Not that District Twelve allows that to get in the way of a very big party. They're not just celebrating Katniss and Peeta. They're celebrating being there to celebrate. The party goes on for three days, though it wasn't planned that way. It's out on the green in the open (Beetee has brought little devices to keep it warm under the pavilion tent) and everyone starts bringing in food and drinks of their own, and no one really wants to leave. People dance wildly. One of Rue's sisters latches onto Rory Hawthorne. Delly seems attached to Thom. Gale and Johanna spend the entire time together. Hell, after the first night, Katniss and Peeta come back outside in street clothes and join the rest of us again, though they're subjected to some unmerciful teasing. They take it in good grace. I've never seen either of them look so happy.

"They're so young," Hazelle says on the train back. "Is this really right?"

"I think they stopped being young a long time ago," Annie says. "And they've been through so much. It's good to see them happy." She looks at me mischievously. "Speaking of people it's good to see happy..."

"Don't go there, Annie."

"Go where?" she asks innocently. "I was talking about Johanna and Gale. Who are, of course, just friends." She hands me the baby while she goes off to clean up. Effie comes in and takes him, cooing and making a very big fuss. She talks about how lovely the wedding was. And the Capitol Lake will be lovely in the spring, too.

I am glad to get back to destroying arenas. After the twelfth arena, most of them are in Panem, where visiting is easier (though some Gamemaker decided to put Jo's in Europe, maybe hoping to spur a territory expansion that never caught on). I guess there's no reason to do them in the order of the Games, but it's become a habit, a ritual, and Plutarch airs videos from each on the night the final fire sweeps through under the force field.

There's some debate about the destruction of the arenas. People are worried about erasing history. But given the way the arenas have been used -- and they were supposed to be about remembering history -- I think that's crazy. No one is going to forget.

There's a vogue for a few months of the districts trying to rename themselves, separating their identity from the Capitol's. District Twelve would become "Appalachia" again, supposedly, and District Thirteen congratulates itself on the creativity of becoming "Lakeland," for its position between two huge lakes. District Two wants to be "Victoria." The Capitol itself holds a contest for a new name, with choices like "Panem City" and "Centerland." By the time the contest is over, the vogue has passed, and people have more important things on their minds again. Thirteen doggedly emblazons everything with "Lakeland," despite no actual person using the name in conversation.

The university re-opens, and Aurelian Benz applies. I spend time with him, catching him up on literature. No one in his family ever studied longer than was strictly necessary. His grandfather, a Peacekeeper, had some training, of course, but not an education, per se. He is very nervous. Tazzy is finishing high school, and promises to join him next year. She has decided to become a psychiatrist. Solly gives up her Katniss doll, now missing most of its hair and all but one of its outfits (and that one is looking a little ratty). The features are nearly wiped out from going in and out of her pocket. We give the doll a proper putting away, then Effie takes Solly shopping for new clothes of her very own.

We keep going through the arenas. We reach Beetee's in April, and he goes along, setting a precedent that I could do without. A week later, we get to mine. It is very close to the Capitol, and I'm glad of it, because I can go home at night and forget where I've spent the day. It takes three days to find and clear away ancient skeletons trapped in pockets near the volcano, where the tourists never went. Their trackers went out, but these weren't immediately incinerated. They must have suffocated from the gases. It's a wonder we all didn't. There must have been some kind of ventilation system that kicked in. Plutarch isn't sure; the plans are long lost.

The poisons here have been neutralized and the mutts are all dead, replaced by cute squirrels and rabbits. The Cornucopia area was cleared of ash so visitors could role play on the big meadow. A flag with my face flies over all of it. Johanna lets me tear it down and burn it on its own. I make my way to the high meadow where Maysilee died. I sit down on the small rise where she bled out. Even if I didn't remember every detail of this place, it wouldn't be hard to find. Like every other death site, it's marked with a picture of the tribute, smiling brightly, and a video of her death. There I am again, holding Maysilee's hand while she trembles and bleeds. There is a costume box camouflaged in the grass nearby for interested tourists. There is even a mostly empty jar of fake blood for them to decorate themselves with. Many have left pictures of themselves posing as me and a dying girl whose name has largely been forgotten. A few sensitive souls have written really awful poetry.

I want a drink more than I've wanted one in months.

I don't know how long I've been sitting there when I see a bright red high heel enter my field of vision. I reach up blindly, and Effie crouches down beside me and holds me.

An hour later, the arena is gone.

Four hours after that, I am dead drunk in a bar in the bad part of the Capitol. I remain drunk, in varying degrees, for three weeks. Effie kicks me out, and I end up moving into a spare room at Beetee's Capitol place. I decide that this entitles me to open another bottle. I get lost in it for a while longer.

Johanna drags me up from my stupor when it comes time to go to Finnick's arena. I don't know if it's coincidence or one of Plutarch's bizarre ideas of symmetry, but we go on the baby's first birthday. Annie needs a lot of support. She's been doing well, but not only is this Finnick's arena; her own is scheduled to go down next month, a week after Jo's. Plutarch tells her that she doesn't have to do it, but she insists. She wants to be there. She wants Finny to see it. She also wants the flag with Finnick's face on it. She takes it and folds it up ceremonially, then lets Finny chew on corner.

I call Effie when we get back. We have an awkward dinner, and I promise to try and stay sober. She tells me that I'll have to, if I want to come home.

"Is there even a chance of that?"

"Of you staying sober? I don't know. That's up to you."

"Of me coming home."

She nods. "I miss you, Haymitch. And..." She smiles. "And I love you. Why do you think I can't stand to watch you trying to kill yourself?"

I kiss her, and promise to try. I throw myself back into the work with the arenas and the memorials.

I am perfectly sober when we fly to Europe for Jo's arena, the last one outside of Panem. It is in the ruins of a town, long overgrown by what Plutarch identifies as the Black Forest. I remember it being strewn with architectural rubble and inhabited by large rats. Johanna remembers that the rats carried some kind of plague that weakened several of the more dangerous career tributes.

"I had it, too, by the end," she says. "But I..." She grimaces. "I finished up in time for them to get me to a hospital and give me medicine for it. I was in isolation for days."

"That wasn't planned," Plutarch tells her. "The plague, I mean. It wasn't supposed to be part of the arena. That's why they didn't talk about it on the broadcast. None of the arena workers got sick, so we didn't know it was there. We'd tested the native fauna to see if they were carrying anything, but it didn't turn up. It seems to have been in the fleas. The workers had repellants on. The tributes didn't."

"Fleas," Johanna repeats, bemused. "I lived through spear chucking crazy people, and almost got taken down by fleas."

"These particular fleas have taken out more than a handful of scared tributes," Plutarch says. "They nearly wiped out Europe twice before the Catastrophes. I suppose someone morbidly but historically minded let loose a genetically modified strain at the end, when everything was falling apart. The record is pretty sketchy."

"But they're gone now?"

"Yes. Well, inside the arena, it's been disinfected within an inch of its life, anyway. We couldn't afford for any tourists to bring plague back."

"And outside the arena?"

"We're all inoculated and covered with repellants. That's what the spray-down was for. We'll stop in Iceland and disinfect the hover craft again on the way home."

We go into the arena. Johanna, looking young, beautiful, and cruel, looks down on us from the flag. The real Johanna rips it down and proceeds to tear it to shreds while we set the charges. She takes the detonator and goes up into the hills outside the arena with Gale to watch it blow up. Gale accidentally turns off his comm device and it takes us two hours to find them. I'm in the hover craft when it blows, and I watch the firestorm burn itself out under the dome of the force field.

Annie and Finny join us again a week later for the destruction of the Seventieth arena. Annie is stoic throughout it. When it's done, she says, "It's over, then," and goes back to District Four. Finny is teething and colicky, and there's no reason for her to stay.

The rest of us keep going.

Effie and I go on a few actual dates -- a movie, a concert, and an official presidential dinner (though I'm not sure that counts as a date, since Effie is working and has to keep the wait staff, security, and the entertainers all on schedule). I stay sober. I don't always want to, but I do.

We're working to the end of the arenas now. The ones for future Games that were only partly built -- never stocked with mutts, never enclosed, their Cornucopias never placed -- are left alone. Plutarch thinks they can become the basis of actual new districts, eventually, especially the one that was being built as a city mock-up. All of the amenities are already there waiting, and they're not haunted by child sacrifice.

Three weeks after Annie's arena burns, only a few days before Katniss and Peeta's official first anniversary, I wake up to the smell of baking bread.

Peeta is in Beetee's kitchen, and so, to my surprise, is Katniss. She has put on a little weight and cut her hair short. She looks different.

I frown. "How are you here?"

"Minor reprieve," she says. "Plutarch wants to film us when the destroy the arenas. Well, the Quell arena is mostly destroyed already, so it's going to be the Seventy-Fourth he finishes with. For historical purposes, he says. Then it's straight back to Twelve with me."

Beetee wheels out of his study. "I'm working on that," he says. "I don't think an open-ended sentence like you have is, strictly speaking, legal."

"It's okay," Katniss says. "I'd just as soon go home."

"That's not the point," Beetee says. "It should be your choice, at least at some point."

The doorbell chimes gently, and Beetee opens it by remote control. Effie comes in, dressed in a floaty sort of dress with a bright pink wig. She smiles and says, softly, "I understand it's a big, big, big day."

Peeta goes to her and hugs her. Katniss follows.

The four of us take a taxi together to Plutarch's launch pad, and take a hover craft out to the arena with Gale, Jo, Plutarch, and a camera crew. It's a few miles outside of District Seven, and it seems very small from above. No one says much as we enter through the visitors' door and come out beside the Cornucopia (in other arenas, we've come up through the tubes, but after what happened to Cinna at the Quell, no one wants to put Katniss in that position). Peeta takes down the flag. Unlike the other arenas, the victors aren't staring out at the visitors here. Instead, they are gazing intently at each other.

He hands it to Katniss. She balls it up and throws it into the mud, starting our pile of debris, which will include costumes, play weapons, make-up, and everything else. Here at the Cornucopia, there are even wolf costumes labeled with their district numbers. No one wants to touch them, though Plutarch finally steels himself up and puts them in the pile. This part of the demolition mainly involves looking for anything we don't want to destroy -- things that ought to go to tributes' families, if there are any; there usually aren't -- but building up a pyre of the Capitol toys is, as Johanna puts it, therapeutic. Once we've finished around the Cornucopia proper, Gale goes off to check the fields where Thresh hid and Johanna goes to the lake shore. I see Katniss and Peeta disappear into the woods.

Effie stands at the Cornucopia and watches the kids on the feed from Plutarch's planned filming. The camera floats along behind them. They have their arms linked around each other companionably.

"They look happy together," she says. "Even here."

"It's good to be young and in love."

"It's good to be any age and in love."

I kiss her, but I don't say what I think she wants me to say. Not yet. I still don't know. She seems to understand this. We continue looking around the Cornucopia until Plutarch calls me and tells me that he wants to get an interview with Katniss and Peeta and me, all together.

I am not surprised to find them at the river, at the spot where Peeta nearly died. They're sitting on the rock he was hidden under. I find another rock nearby. Plutarch asks ridiculous questions about how it felt when we all realized that they'd changed the Games, and how it will feel to end the Games once and for all. He records our answers for posterity.

"Well, then," he says jovially, "I suppose that's it. Let's blow this one."

"Can we have a minute?" Peeta asks.

"Oh, yes, of course. No hurry."

I get up to go as well, assuming that they want a private moment in the place where things began for them, but Peeta signals to me to sit down again. He waits for Plutarch to disappear, then says, "We've been talking."

"What?" I ask.

"We realized that neither of us ever managed to say thank you," Katniss says. "So... Thank you. For getting us through it."

I shake my head. "All I did was send you a few things."

"You gave us the best advice ever," Peeta says.

We all grin at each other and say it together: "Stay alive."

We laugh. It's an odd sound here in the arena.

"We want you to stay alive, too," Peeta says.

Katniss nods. "Stay alive and actually be alive. Being alive is a good thing." She smiles at Peeta, and takes his hand, then looks at me. "This is the last one, Haymitch. The Games are over."

"Now what happens?" I ask. "It's been a while since I haven't thought about the Games or the war. What do I do?"

"Whatever you want," Peeta says.

"What if I don't want to do anything?"

"Hmm," Katniss says. "Maybe you should finally get a talent. It has been twenty-seven years. Effie can help. She always has suggestions. Flower arranging. Cooking. Playing the flute. I've still got the one she sent me, if you want it." She grins.

"Very funny," I say.

"But not untrue," Peeta says.

We sit there in their arena, watching the sun go down over the forcefield. At first they come up with reasonable suggestions, like going to college or teaching literature, since I enjoy teaching and reading. As we go on, the suggestions become crazier and crazier, until they somehow have me captaining a pirate ship off the coast of District Seven, and exploring the surface of the moon. We sit there on the rocks by the river, in the last of the killing fields, laughing together and keeping each other warm until Gale signals us over the commicuff that it's time to go.

We get up together and walk back toward the Cornucopia, where the rest of the crew is waiting. We leave the way we came, and come out fifty yards from the force field. The whole place has been wired to go. Plutarch hands Katniss the detonator. She looks at it for a long time, then looks at Peeta and me. We put our hands over hers. She whispers "Goodbye, Rue," and Peeta whispers goodbye to his allies, and the girl who screamed by her fire, and all of the others. I don't say anything. I said goodbye when we wrote in the book.

Katniss presses the button, and the arena goes up in flames bright enough to turn the early evening into bright daylight. We all watch until the flames use up the oxygen and smother themselves.

Katniss puts the detonator down and loops one arm around my waist and the other around Peeta's. We stand there in the sudden darkness together, then turn and walk away from the arena.
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Comments
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 28th, 2013 08:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Awesome. The part about the tourists doing re-enactments and the awful poetry ... I can totally see it, unfortunately. (I know the re-enactments were in the books, but poetry wasn't mentioned. But you KNOW some of them wrote it). I hate to think what was going on in Europe before Panem was established.

(Also, who's wondering about pregnancy? Was it Delly or some unnamed person? I'm guessing with Capitol medicine they could tell about five minutes after conception and with District Twelve medicine it was "Wait awhile, and if you start to feel kicking, you're pregnant.")
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 28th, 2013 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's Peeta and Katniss worrying. Seems they really were a little drunk on each other.

The people writing poetry probably thought they were the most sensitive and empathetic people ever.
lorelei_lynn From: lorelei_lynn Date: May 28th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haymitch's story has been so well told I'm sorry to see it coming to an end. Good work!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 28th, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I'm a little sad, myself.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: May 28th, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm really enjoying your dénouement here. It's nice and cathartic. Now all we need is for Haymitch to get his shit together and tell Effie he loves her.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 28th, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a good thing she's patient and knows him pretty well.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 28th, 2013 03:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
omg I can't stop crying. It's is so beautiful. I always love your descriptions of the countries outside of Panem. A It'nd it's so hard to pick a favorite part. Katniss and Peeta envisioning Haymitch as a pirate is fantastic though.

Are there still a couple chapters left?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 28th, 2013 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's an epilogue left.

I wanted them laughing together in the arena. I think that destroyed its power more than the raging firestorm.
redlily From: redlily Date: May 29th, 2013 01:43 am (UTC) (Link)
FYI from a tired mom: toddlers aren't generally referred to as "colicky." That's a very baby thing. "Cranky" is more common (and teething, of course, can strike any time between four months and two years, sigh).

Anyway, loved this piece. Hope we see more HGfic from you!

Question -- have you ever written a non-canon (i.e. not specifically canonized, but not flying in the face of canon per se) same-sex relationship? I've read a ton of your HP and I think all your HG and I can't think of any, but my mind is going anyway.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 29th, 2013 02:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Maurice Burke from the Teddy Lupin stories is gay, but I don't recall writing much outside the challenges on the subject; the long pieces are still in school and he hasn't come out yet at that point. He is with his boyfriend when he sees James at Beauxbatons, but James is fairly clueless there. Since I don't write a lot of ship-fic in general, other than recognizing canon ships, I don't tend to write a lot outside of canon-ships at any rate. Hayffie is a rarity for me, and it was more of a case of hearing it and saying, "Yeah, that makes sense." Johanna/Gale was mostly, "Hmm, I want to report on Gale's life in the future, and who have we seen him interact with in any way other than Katniss? Ah -- Jo. Also, makes sense." I tend to be more interested in parent/child, brother-sister, mentor-student, etc types of relationships when I'm off exploring them in any depth. FWIW, Jack Anderson, the mentor from District Seven in The Golden Mean, is gay. It doesn't really come up in the text, though. He just is, in my head. I was going to bring it up, but the subject just never happened to come up in the course of the arena break-out. I also think Mags's rampage of revenge wasn't just about her BFF.

I still have the epilogue to do.

Is a one year old a baby or a toddler?

Edited at 2013-05-29 02:33 am (UTC)
redlily From: redlily Date: May 29th, 2013 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
A 1-year-old is a toddler, generally. (They're on the cusp there.) Colic is a mysterious, indefinable ailment that peaks around three months, and doesn't get much blame after that trying newborn phase is over.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 29th, 2013 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, that's interesting about Mags. I was wondering when you wrote that bit with old pics of her from her youth.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: May 29th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Now what happens?" I ask. "It's been a while since I haven't thought about the Games or the war. What do I do?"
"Whatever you want," Peeta says.
"What if I don't want to do anything?"
"Hmm," Katniss says. "Maybe you should finally get a talent. It has been twenty-seven years..."


How much can Haymitch change? How much room does Collins' epilogue allow him?

I really hope for Haymitch and Effie (Heffie?).

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 29th, 2013 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Collins's epilogue doesn't really mention him, so I figure, what's not prohibited is permitted. :P
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: May 30th, 2013 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved the way you went about describing the end of the arenas.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 30th, 2013 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I wasn't sure I was going to include it (I'm kind of ambivalent about it, being something of a history buff), but I knew I wanted to end with Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss, and bring the thing full circle, to get them out of the Games once and for all.
jedinic From: jedinic Date: June 28th, 2013 08:49 am (UTC) (Link)
This was beautiful and sad. Wonderful work, and such a fitting ending for HG as a whole, not just your stories!
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