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Make the Lay of Long Defeat (Rogue One)

Title: Make the Lay of Long Defeat
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: Things might have gone very differently at Saw Gerrera's hideout on Jedha..
Author's Note: This takes place during the events depicted in the film Rogue One and diverges from canon. After reading Matt Forbeck's quote (below) from the Rogue One junior novel, I asked myself, "What if?"
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Depictions of injuries, torture and its aftermath, and character death

“Cassian might have been in worse spots than this one. He just couldn’t remember when. He only hoped that when they finally reached the rebels’ hideout, Jyn wouldn’t sell him out to Saw Gerrera. It would be so easy for her to deny him and his mission and just have Saw kill him…”
Rogue One: A Junior Novel, Matt Forbeck

Jyn Erso was neither idealist nor crusader. She had made that clear. She viewed her universe in purely personal terms: pain and its absence, freedom and the want of it.

It seemed like folly then to build Operation Fracture on the shifting sand of her coerced loyalty. But Captain Cassian Andor was in a better position than most to understand why the Alliance leadership could not afford to wait until a perfect opportunity for action presented itself. The Rebels would – to be precise, he would – have to make the problematic plan work, somehow.

The burden lay heavy on his shoulders, and he felt the weight of it.

He had been grateful for Jyn’s quick thinking when she insisted that he be included in her audience with Saw Gerrera. He had hoped to put the Alliance’s plea to Gerrera himself after foster father and daughter had their moment of reunion.

He hadn’t counted on finding a failing wreck of a man in place of a formidable leader. Clearly, neither had Jyn.

The cool defiance she had shown on Massassi Base masked, as Cassian had suspected, not hate but hurt. It proved no match for Gerrera’s pitiable state and genuine (if half-mad) warmth.

Independence was her first priority, but clearly she also yearned to be convinced that she hadn’t been thrown away and forgotten. And who wouldn’t?

When Gerrera protested that past abandonment had been meant as protection, she faltered.

When he whispered in his broken voice, “Not a day goes by I don’t think of you,” tears filled Jyn’s eyes, although she refused to let them fall.

Cassian felt it, as unmistakable as the Jedha stone beneath his feet: Jyn was not there alongside him, speaking to Saw Gerrera. Jyn was with Gerrera – in sympathy, if not solidarity – and Cassian and his Cause were unwanted trespassers.

“But on this day?” Fragility shone through Gerrera’s paranoia. Jyn took a step forward, meeting it with strength, shoring up the man.

“So you did get a message from my father? Because that’s what his Alliance thinks.”

She jerked her chin at Cassian but kept her eyes on the one who had raised her.

“I’m here because of him, Saw, but I’m not with him. The Alliance gave me no choice. I was the Empire’s prisoner, and then I was theirs, someone to use to get through your door. If it’s true that my father built a weapon for the Empire, they want him to testify to the Senate.”

“We’re on the same side here,” Cassian said, raising his still-bound hands in a gesture of conciliation. He kept his voice soft, non-confrontational, all too aware of Gerrera’s instability and the armed guards at his own back. “If you—”

“The Senate?” Saw wheezed, ignoring Cassian. “The Senate gave us… the kriffing Emperor… in the first place.”

“I know,” Jyn agreed. The half-smile that twisted her mouth held no humor. “And when in doubt, form a committee, right? Because that always works so well.” These sounded like Gerrera’s own well-worn words being given back to him, a kind of personal offering.

“Maybe there’s a better way,” Cassian countered, trying to sound reasonable, to salvage something from this. Gerrera was, after all, the only path he had to Galen Erso – or any fresh intelligence about the planet killer. “You know more than we do. Let’s talk—”

“You and your Alliance… and your talk!” Saw’s laugh was sudden and harsh, and it sent him to his oxygen mask. He glared at Cassian as he drew what was obviously an excruciating breath. “Action must be taken… and my people will be the ones to take it. And…”

The ailing veteran turned, fumbled for his cane, and then leaned his weight into it, hand trembling.

"…Speaking of my people… did you think I’d ignore the deaths in the city?”

Without warning the butt of a blaster came down brutally hard on Cassian’s shoulder, and he buckled to his knees with a wounded sound.

“This is the one who killed them, Saw,” the guard said.

Gasping, Cassian looked to Jyn. “If I hadn’t, you’d be dead right now. You know that. I did it to save your life.”

Her shrug was more than a dismissal, Cassian realized. It likely was his death sentence.

“I was in harm’s way in the first place because you put me there,” she said.

He read no malice in her eyes, but no investment in his fate, either. She was doing what her file had suggested she always did when on her own; she was looking out for herself, because few others ever had.

Again Cassian opened his empty hands toward Gerrera. “I’m sorry about your people. I am.” He meant it. “Surely you—”

“Alliance,” Gerrera sneered. “Always talking.”

Cassian swallowed, rethinking his tactics. He made no attempt to regain his feet, but rather settled himself back on his knees. “Then tell me how to make things right,” he said, forcing calm into his voice. “Please. We have the same enemy, and it seems that enemy has a new weapon. We have to act now, and we should work together. We want the same thing here.”

Gerrera took a staggering step forward, metal grinding on stone. “We do not, Captain…. No, we do not.”

His smile was beatific and quite possibly insane.

“Because I want you turned over to my soldiers for justice” – Gerrera spat the word and then paused to struggle for another lungful of air – “and to hell with the Alliance.”

A glance at Jyn showed her to be unmoved. “I just want my freedom,” she said simply.

“Trust works both ways?” It was a question and an accusation, the last card Cassian could play on his own behalf. His conscience – still dogged, despite all that had been asked of it – reminded him of what he had been tasked with doing if he found Galen Erso. It was one more bitter thought he swallowed down like bile.

An unreadable expression passed across Jyn’s features – but only once, and then she sighed. “When it works at all. And how often is that? You’re the spy. You should know.”


Cassian set hope aside. The mission came first, and he couldn’t afford to let his own survival instinct get in its way.

“Listen to me.” A second guard joined his comrade, freeing Cassian’s hands only to re-secure them behind his back. Cassian kept his focus on Gerrera. “I must pay for those deaths. I understand. Give me to your people, but” – his captors hauled him to his feet – “talk to the Alliance. Please. Share what you know about this superweapon, about Galen Erso.”

When only silence met him, he added, “Don’t you see? The fate of the galaxy’s at stake!”

He looked from one to the other once more, desperate for any foothold. The words planet killer reverberated in his skull.

“Worry about your own fate,” Gerrera rasped. “Let me worry about the galaxy.”

Despair clawed up Cassian’s spine.

Gerrera nodded to the guards. “He’s yours. Avenge your comrades.” He turned to Jyn. “I have something to show you.”


By the time Cassian’s escorts shoved him back into main cavern, he had settled on a strategy. His horror at the magnitude of his failure lay just below the surface of his mind, ready to swallow him whole, but it had to wait.

A hush fell across the gathered soldiers when he appeared. The Tognath guard on Cassian’s left announced, “Saw says he’s ours to kill!”

As cheers and snarls of approval echoed, the Tognath tightened his already punishing grip on Cassian’s arm. Cassian relaxed into the bruising hold, drawing himself up with as much dignity as any bound prisoner could muster.

He pitched his voice to carry. “I did what I did only to protect Jyn Erso. That grenade would’ve killed her. I acted on instinct to save her life. That’s not an excuse; it’s an explanation. I am sorry, truly, about your comrades.”

Curses and jeers and malevolent glares assured him that his words changed nothing. More fighters appeared from nearby chambers and passageways, and several of those in the central area rose to their feet.

Cassian soldiered on. “I understand how this works. I know you want my blood. Just give me one minute to speak to you first, please. What harm could it do to hear a dead man’s last words? Besides, I killed stormtroopers in the Holy City, too – stormtroopers who were there to hunt you. Surely that counts for something.”

Looks were exchanged. The relative quiet that answered Cassian couldn’t be mistaken as receptive, but these men and women observed a code of sorts, and he had bought himself one more minute.

“I’m here on behalf of the Rebel Alliance. We’ve learned that the Empire may have developed a new superweapon, one that’s capable of destroying an entire planet.” He paused for a breath to let that penetrate. “Saw Gerrera may have the key – or at least a clue – for acting against it. I’m here to say you don’t have to fight this alone. I’m asking – begging – you to encourage Saw to share information with the Alliance, or do it yourself, so we can do our part to meet this threat.”

He scanned the faces of his executioners, willing them to see his sincerity.

“This is a critical moment. If this window of opportunity closes – if a planet killer is unleashed on the galaxy – it may spell the end of any resistance to the Empire. Your people, my people, we can’t afford to be divided. Our cause is the same: we have to stop this weapon from being used.” He licked his dry lips. He felt spent and empty, and the horror called to him. “It’s up to you now.”

For several heartbeats a surreal kind of pause descended on the little drama.

“In the end, Saw will make the decision and we’ll follow his lead,” murmured a frail-looking Twi’lek from his chair.

And Gerrera was no longer entirely in his right mind. So Cassian’s failure was complete, then.

He stood unmoving, absorbing the blow.

“And you, Captain, won’t be alive to see it,” the Twi’lek added.

At an abstract level, Cassian comprehended the rationale for the kind of crude vengeance they had in mind. From Gerrera’s perspective, he had a motley fighting force composed of all types, from true believers to cynical mercenaries, with most falling somewhere on the spectrum in between. They needed cohesion. Giving a prisoner over to them for group violence reinforced a sense of shared kindship, while also keeping them hardened for the next bloody work he ordered them to perform.

From the soldiers’ perspective, acting in honor of the fallen offered some modest proof that their deaths (and, by implication, lives) mattered to those with whom they served, and that their comrades would mourn them – and avenge them, if possible – when their own ends came.

This latter idea, in particular, struck a poignant note for Cassian, because he knew he couldn’t exactly say the same. In accepting an Intelligence agent’s life, he had knowingly embraced a similarly solitary and invisible death. The Rebellion was his family, to be sure, but due to the clandestine nature of his service, it could be neither a close nor a warm one.

Cassian denied himself permission to think on the exception to this rule, the true friend he hoped was safe in the ship even now.

At any rate, the statistics had warned him to be prepared: less than a quarter of Alliance operatives survived to finish their twentieth mission. Before he had ever heard of Jyn Erso, Cassian already appreciated he was living on borrowed time.

It seemed he had survived just long enough to fly this vital mission into the ground in spectacular fashion. And how many would pay for the mistakes he’d made here? How many lives would his failure cost?

Only one last self-appointed task remained.

He knew Gerrera and many of his extremists viewed members of the Alliance as cowards. He could try, in some small way, to prove that assumption wrong.

Chin up, shoulders back, Cassian gave a grim nod to the Twi’lek. “Get on with it, then.”

The Tognath had never released his hold on Cassian, but now the human guard took a harsh grip on his other arm, as well. Suspended between them, bound hands curling to fists behind his back, Cassian waited as a huddle of nearly a dozen fighters of different species and genders resolved into a rough queue before him.

Just as the first soldier stepped forward, a calm voice sounded from the other side of the cavern.

“May the Force of others be with you. May the Force of others be with you. May the Force of others be with you…”

Instinctively Cassian turned his head to seek the source of those words. At the front of the barred cell stood the larger of the two imprisoned Guardians of the Whills, the one so devastatingly efficient with his heavy repeater cannon. Slightly hunched in deference to the cave’s low ceiling, arms crossed across his wide chest, he stood as Cassian’s silent, scowling witness.

Cassian could barely make out the man’s partner in shadowed silhouette behind him, sitting and staring sightlessly at the opposing stone wall, the chant on his lips. This wasn’t the blind man’s mantra from their forced trek across the sand – “I am one with the Force; the Force is with me” – but a blessing. Not “I,” but “you.”

A prayer, Cassian thought. For him?

His face was still turned toward the Guardians when the first blow fell.


Few jeers came now. Any noticeable undercurrent of sadistic glee had all but disappeared, and the individual acts of mourning and retribution made by fists and boots and truncheons and tools took on a grim ceremonial note.

Cassian managed to keep his jaw clenched against all but the most involuntary grunts and hisses for some time, rocking back and doubling over in the prison of his captors’ grasps, or folding to his knees, only to be hauled upright and presented in all his vulnerability to the next attack. He heard ribs give way with audible cracks; he tasted gore after agony ruptured deep in his belly.

As the strikes began to accumulate, wearing him down while tearing him apart, memories surfaced from the corners of his nightmares in a sickening collage. Some possessed specific faces and titles; others were blurred phantom he knew only as “collateral damage.” As saboteur, spy, and assassin, wearing names such as Joreth Sward and Willix and Aach, he had traded parts of himself in the process of carrying out his orders, holding to the conviction that the ends would justify the means.

He had compromised his own soul for the sake of a just Cause, only to fail it now in its most desperate hour. Did this failure render all of the blood he had shed meaningless, all of the wrong he had committed unjustifiable? What was left of him, to satisfy the ghosts?

Throbbing behind every pulse beat of anguish, every unwanted recollection, one thought returned in constant refrain: planet killer.

The guards allowed him to crumple to his knees and remain there after a particularly vicious blow to his already wounded abdomen. He gulped air in small sips, at last raising his head just as a diminutive Talpini drove a heavy boot up between his legs.

At this, they released him to crumple to the floor, wet-eyed and retching weakly. He hadn’t eaten a proper meal in at least a standard day; all he brought up was acid and blood. In quick succession well-aimed kicks caught him repeatedly, savaging his kidneys and forcing something in his shoulder to give. He heard himself scream.

Next a defiant “What? What?” pierced the cavern.

The blind Guardian ceased his steady chanting.

From his awkward position curled in on himself, Cassian could sense that even those who had opted to be passive spectators rather than active participants were turning their attention elsewhere. Bodies shifted and gave Cassian a partial view as one of the younger humans charged at the prisoners’ cell. He struck its bars with a metal pipe only a hand’s breadth from the face of the Guardian standing there, presumably for the mere satisfaction of watching the imposing man flinch and back away.

Except the Guardian did neither. He didn’t even blink. Arms still crossed, he only stared at Gerrera’s man with something like disgust in his shadowed eyes.

“Got something you want to say, old man?”

“Respect!” bleated an onlooker from the far end of the cavern. “He may be our prisoner, but he is a Guardian.”

“You’re right, Kullbee,” the Twi’lek agreed.

“So… what is it?” the soldier repeated after a beat, this time muted, chastised.

The Guardian’s gaze slid to Cassian where he lay panting and pressing the side of his face to the cold stone. “What he said deserved to be heard.”

The rumble of his words resonated deep in the cavern, filling up its empty spaces, a stark contrast to the clear, bright tone of the other’s chant, which had seemed to rise above them on another plane. It was as if the two voices found harmony, even when each spoke alone.

Returning his attention to the young soldier, the Guardian added, “But if you’re going to kill a man, do it. Make it clean.”

No response came. After several heartbeats, moving figures obscured Cassian’s view of the barred cell. The blind Guardian resumed his chant.

Gratitude welled up in Cassian like blood from another wound, even as a new kick clipped the back of his skull, blurring his vision.

It was the last one.

A sudden alarm ran through the assembled band. Some kind of emergency summons from Saw Gerrera? Cassian understood little, muddled as he was and shivering now, except that the next blow was temporarily postponed.

Urgent hands dragged him across the uneven floor and hoisted him to a semblance of verticality that Cassian had no hope of maintaining on his own. Awareness dimmed as they manipulated him; the complaints of his injuries united into a deafening chorus.

His captors gave him a mighty shove. As he pitched face-first toward the cave floor, he squeezed his eyes shut.

Strong arms caught and cradled him, as if he weighed nothing at all. As if he were something valuable.


“Are you with us again, Captain?” The blind Guardian’s voice came from somewhere above his head.

Cassian’s mouth was dry, his tongue foul. He cleared his throat, tasted fresh blood, and coaxed his jaws into movement.

“Cassian,” he murmured. “Cassian Andor.”

“Captain Cassian Andor,” came the prompt answer, “we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Chirrut Îmwe, and this is Baze Malbus.”

He had felt two pairs of hands making gentle inquiries against his wounds as he climbed back to awareness. Opening his eyes now, he blinked as the second Guardian came into focus, frowning down at him: Baze.

The man half-held Cassian, supporting his back and neck as one might embrace a child, keeping his weight from resting on his bound hands and avoiding added strain on his wronged shoulder.

“Easy. No sudden moves or deep breaths,” Baze said, “or you’ll put a rib through your lung.”

Cassian nodded his understanding, eased by such frankness.

“I’m sorry. You’re here because you helped us. You saved our lives, and this is the thanks you get.” Cassian’s words tumbled out now, slurred with pain, stretched thin on shallow air, laced with the guilty knowledge that he had warned Jyn against making friends with such dangerous strays as the last remaining Guardians.

“You didn’t lock us in this cage, Captain,” Chirrut said, seemingly unperturbed. “And all is as the Force wills it.”

A derisive snort welled up through Baze’s chest in answer. Cassian recalled enough from the men’s previous exchange over a mountain of downed stormtroopers to suspect that Baze scoffed at mention of the Force and not Chirrut’s words of absolution.

As if to confirm this, Chirrut added, “Baze Malbus was once the most devoted Guardian of us all.” Chirrut may have meant his pronouncement to convey dramatic irony, but what Cassian heard was sorrow.

Baze let the comment go unchallenged, and Cassian thought he heard an answering pain in that silence.

As the galaxy so often saw fit to remind him, Cassian wasn’t the only one who had lost everything.

Chirrut brushed Cassian’s sweat-matted hair away from his brow and then began to comb his fingers through the tangle in deliberate, measured strokes across the crown of his skull. Under his breath, in barely a whisper, the blind man resumed his mantra: “May the Force of others be with you. May the Force of others be with you...”

There was a method to the Guardians’ ministrations. Cassian had identified the cold fog descending on him earlier as shock, and now the warmth of Baze’s support and the repetitive stroke of Chirrut’s fingers grounded him, restoring a degree of clarity.

Cassian could not remember once being touched like this – with a kind of unconditional, selfless care – in the two decades since his father fell.

He was under no allusions; this wasn’t restoration for the wounded, it was comfort for the dying. Even so, the raw, animal hurt in him quieted. He could think again.

“Three things,” he said, and Baze raised his eyebrows in silent query. Chirrut did not pause his near-silent words, but Cassian was certain that he was listening, too.

“One: in the inside of my right boot, you’ll find a kit with a lock pick. When you see your chance, get yourselves out of here.” Bending his right leg, he put his calf within Baze’s reach.

A light kindled in Baze’s dark eyes. “Thank you.”

“Two: the silver disk above my left breast pocket: it’s my transponder. Unscrew it and take it, please. My droid, Kay-Tu – you saw him in the Holy City, he’s a KX-series Imperial droid, but I reprogrammed him – he’ll follow it when he doesn’t hear from me. I’d rather he find you than my body and no answers.”

He paused, fighting for air, and Baze tightened his hold briefly in silent support.

“We remember the droid. Kay-Tu?” Baze said.

Cassian nodded, concentrating on the steady strum of Chirrut’s fingers against his scalp in order to slow the rate of his shallow breaths. “Kay for short. Tell him it’s his call, what he does next: return to the Rebels, do something else. Stay and help you? He’s a good friend.” His voice wavered with emotion. “Best I ever had. He deserves a choice.”

A thought occurred to him. “If you can get to our gear on the table, you’ll find my comm unit. It’s tuned to the ship. Kay is waiting there. Tell him I said to pick you up, and he’ll trace your location and come immediately. Tell him,” – the torment in his belly, never stilled, was steadily mounting, and he swallowed around it – “tell him, ‘Cassian knew you remember Jenoport,’ and he’ll trust you.”

“Cassian knew you remember Jenoport,” Baze repeated.

“Yes. He’ll understand.” Cassian gathered himself for more effort, appreciative of Baze’s considerate silence – no useless platitudes about saving his strength, no reassurances that he would be fine – and Chirrut’s never-faltering chant and touch.

“Three: under the transponder, there’s a pill. Put it under my tongue? It won’t activate ‘til I bite it.”

“Suicide?” No judgment, only clarification. Baze’s free hand was already at work unscrewing the silver disk.

“They want to drag this out. I don’t.” He suspected it might be a moot point anyway, given his internal injuries, but it seemed important, somehow, to know that he had the option. “Thanks for speaking up for me, earlier.”

With a half-shrug, Baze said, “Courage deserves respect.”

Cassian held onto that as he drifted.

Without intention, Cassian found himself recalling his father’s dead body through the senses of his six-year-old self: oddly pale, stinking of charred flesh from the blaster burn, cold in a way that mocked the inherent warmth of the man in life.

When Baze tapped his lips with a finger, Cassian opened his mouth, lifted his tongue, and accepted the pill with a nod.

Shortly thereafter, he came back to himself with a start and a half-smothered cry.

Abandoning his mantra, Chirrut said, “Easy, Captain, easy,” and cradled Cassian’s head in both hands.

“Your gut?” Baze asked, bracing him as he shook with pain. “You took some bad blows. Must be hemorrhaging.” Cassian rocked, fighting the instinct to twist into a fetal position around his agony, knowing his ribs couldn’t take it.

Even as he shuddered, a spike of hope drove through him.

“One more… one more thing,” he said, his voice shredded. “If you see a young man in an Imperial pilot uniform, then—”

“He’s dead,” Baze said.

As swiftly and overwhelmingly as hope had returned, all of the breath left Cassian, and he sagged against the two Guardians with a ragged, defeated sound.

“In the next cell. I killed him.” The parallel lines etched between Baze’s brows deepened. “He wasn’t Imperial?”

“Defector,” Cassian whispered. “With news of the weapon.”

Baze made a growling noise, and then added, “His mind was gone. Torture. He didn’t know who or where he was.”

“Then it doesn’t…” The sheer futility of all of it – the pilot’s ordeal, the Alliance’s Operation Fracture, even Jyn’s defiance and poor, mad Saw Gerrera’s struggle – swept over Cassian, wetting his eyes, blurring his vision of the skulls and bones embedded in the wall of this cave-turned-crypt-turned-cell. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”

He twisted weakly with the pain. Chirrut smoothed his hair back again. Chirrut's other hand, Cassian saw, reached out to grip Baze’s shoulder.

As his wounded body wrestled with its limits, Cassian’s breath came like a small child’s after a fit of weeping, in shallow, hiccup-like starts and stops. “I have done… such terrible things,” he murmured. “Terrible things.”

Baze made a fist, thumped it against his own chest, and then pressed it to the spot above Cassian’s heart. The gesture was archaic, but the message was undeniable: I have, too.

This is what war does to us.

“You’ve built a prison for yourself of guilt and grief,” Chirrut said. “You’ve carried heavy burdens for such a long time, all alone, in the service of what’s right. I may be blind, but I see you through the Force, Captain Cassian Andor. And that prison isn’t you.”

Chirrut leaned forward so that Cassian would know of the soft smile on his face.

“Behind those bars, you are luminous.”

Even if it was a kindly-meant lie, Cassian thought, his heart broke in thanks for it.

“Be at peace," Chirrut added. "There’s nothing to fear from what follows.”

Time seemed to stretch out for Cassian in an infinite moment of grace, suspended there in the unexpectedly gentle hands of these two deadly, feral children of Jedha. In fact, it was more than he had ever expected for himself.

The catacombs began to rumble. Shouts sounded from Gerrera’s people. More soldiers fled the cavern.

“Proton bombs,” Baze said, turning his eyes to the ceiling.

Chirrut shook his head. “No.” But he ventured no alternatives.

Planet killer.

Understanding dawned. Duty called one final time.

“Get out,” Cassian gasped. “Call Kay. Go.”

His tongue maneuvered the pill. He closed his eyes and bit down with all of his strength.


Vital Stats: This story was completed in March 2017.

This story borrows freely from the details and text of Alexander Freed’s Star Wars: Rogue One novelization and Pablo Hidalgo’s Star Wars: Rogue One – The Ultimate Visual Guide.

The title refers to the lines “I will make the lay of long defeat and draw the chorus slow/I'll send this message down the wire and hope that someone wise is listening when I go” from the exquisite song “When I Go” by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2017 05:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, so heart-hurty good (as your writing so often is). Thank you for sharing this.
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! That passage in the novelization really hit me, and the only way to stop thinking about the "What if?" was to write this. I'm glad it worked for you in a good way, despite the hurt. I really appreciate your feedback!

Edited at 2017-03-07 12:23 am (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )