Disclaimer: This is set in a universe entitled Death Is So Red, and what follows is a canon-divergence fic, from the 55th Games and beyond. 74th Games won't happen. There is substantial F/F content.

Trigger warnings: This is mostly an exploration of suicide and what it means to live. It's less Games-focused, and more character-oriented. I hope that you'll enjoy it regardless!

Details on the upcoming partial SYOT set in this universe is at the end. :)

PART 1: They That Are Broken By The Night.

Brynn. District 6.

She has her name down in tesserae eight, nine times. She's long stopped counting; she can't do math well, anyway, and not knowing her odds is easier than the pain if you do, and you are chosen.

She is sixteen. Her mother jabbers on about numbers; Brynn tunes it out and away. All she needs to know is if she is picked. Or not. The odds don't matter; not as much as people think they do.

(She knows. She knows the way the Peacekeepers look at her. With scorn and smugness. It is a constant. Brynn knows they know; and from how they are acting, the Capitol knows as well.)

So she cannot be surprised when they tell her: Brynn!

Everyone around her shuffles away. Like Death's descended to reap. And she's contagious. Brynn walks to the stage. Like you'd walk down a street, or stroll inside a bar. She is scared. But she has prepared for this day. Not like the Careers have. But she has rehearsed her walk.

They thrust her hand up sky-high. It is an act they do every year; they pretend she has a chance at victory, at bringing glory back to the tribe. Brynn sighs. She would roll her eyes. She does want to.

They don't have to keep pretending. Not with their dumb little ritual. So when her hand comes down. She does roll her eyes. Stick a middle finger up too, for good measure. But it's hidden from the cameras, and her eyes look like she's shying away from a glint in the sky.

Scott. District 5.

He is reaped. They call his name, one shrill reverberation. For one second, he thinks; that's it. I should wake up now and start screaming.

He scuffles onto the stage; he feels eyes everywhere on him. Scott sees Parricia's pitying glance, which morphs into a plastic smile just as quick. She raises his hand, and cries: everybody, the male tribute for District 5!

He isn't an idiot. He knows he has no chance. But he smiles and waves to the silent crowd anyway; he doesn't want his death to be more painful than it already is.

Madison. District 1.

They make outfits. Madison wants to set them on fire. See the smoke suffuse the walkway. Hear the chokes of the dead. She hears it in her head. She feels better about herself.

(The Capitol, dead in her head. She feels better about herself.)

Scott. District 5.

They interview him. He sees Casear's eyes flicker with pity once he enters the stage. He feels the same when he waves at the crowd. Their eyes are frozen, their faces morph in a half-seized state. He remembers the plastic smile Parricia gave him, and projects it onto the crowd. They think he will die.

(They are not wrong. He is doomed. But they will keep up with this facade. As he will. They cannot make this senseless slaughter too obvious.)

Lights blare unto him, and he blinks at its glare. Then, Casear's mic is already on him, as is the cameras, the people, the cranes and the drapes. It freezes him. He does not know what to say when Caesar moves his mouth. He can't hear Caesar.

What he sees is pity. Caesar's face is awash in it. As is the crowd's; like a tide. Drowning him. He is among vultures, reaming dead flesh from his brains and organs and what is left of him. Poor kid. Shock. Can't wait to see him die in the bloodbath. Or be dragged to the end. Then we'll really watch him suffer.

He is awash in their faces. Their words. "Scott, everyone!" Caesar yells, and the audience applauds in an uproar. Their words churn in his head. He leaves the stage, too mute.

Brynn. District 6.

Jordyn is her district partner. She is athletic and strong; a lot stronger than Brynn is. That is fine. That is good. That means that, if they need to kill somebody, it is Jordyn that will do it. Not Brynn.

(Brynn doesn't tell anyone about her Axis diagnosis. She has a feeling that her mentor already knows, from the way he looks at her. Like the Peacekeepers back at home. But if she does not bring it up, then it will be fine.)

The Capitol is unreasonable. They haven't moved Jordyn to the female section yet. She'd known Jordyn enough years to know she should've been moved years ago. But they have not.

They will have to kill other kids. Kids younger; kids older. Brynn thinks about how she should mind. She should mind more than she is minding right now. She should feel stricken pain, go through an internal moral dilemma, all those things the Capitol don't show the audience.

But she is not. She does not. It would be scary that she does not feel. That would mean, in Capitol terms, a killing machine. A warmonger. Somebody crazy.

Brynn isn't the best at numbers. But she knows that the Capitol wants a cold-blooded serial killer. Chopping off head-after-head, they'll build her up to be the antagonist. Until a hero steps up to sickle her, or she fells the tragic hero. She knows that is the show they want.

(Axis II tells her that's what she should be. It tells the Capitol what they want her to be.)

But she is not that. She will never be that. Not because she cares about other people. But because she'd like to watch the Capitol squirm. They love their power; they love to press it on her. District 6's local sociopath, they sing and snarl, do you think you're safe from us?

Fuck them. Fuck their power, pretending they're better than her, pretending they know her, pretending they'll get her for their Games and get her to play the reticent part. Never will she do what they need her to do.

Jordyn will do it. She has a mind to survive. She is determined. The Capitol can make Jordyn their story instead. Prescribe the psychopathy on. But her?

The Capitol will not get to tell the story they want to tell.

Scott. District 5.

He meets Madison first. She's the first nice girl he's met. She's a Career. But she also says hi to him and sits with him during mealtime and sometimes they go back to his room. Where he sobs freely. Despite the cameras round him, dangling up-high for the Capitol to see. Where she comforts him and the thing in her eyes isn't pity but sadness.

She's a Career. But he's learned not to judge people by their names. He can see the torment in Madison too. Where her long-sleeves hide the smattering of scars that just peek out. She doesn't talk about it. Not to him, at least. He's not sure if she's ever felt safe enough to tell anyone. So he is kind. He doesn't press. But he opens himself raw. Parts the flesh from his chest and shows her himself. So she'll trust him.

When she opens up to him. He'll be there to listen.

Sometimes, when he's delved too deep in the recesses of his mind, he thinks he wants to kiss her. It's a little stupid. But he hasn't kissed anyone in his life and Madison's the only girl he's really wanted to. Just a little bit before he dies.

(But it'll not be right. He might want to kiss her. But she doesn't. It's unfair to put that on her. So he pushes that deep inside.)

She could be playing it up for him. Making him trust her and then slaughter him like meat for the audience to see.

But, at least, he thinks. She's good with her knife.

Madison. District 1.

She meets Maeve during training. District 2. They're supposed to team-up.

Kind of dainty. She thinks. It's unlike the Careers she'd seen before. But Madison sees her hurl an axe at the first station and they strike through all three targets. Unlike the Careers she'd seen before.

Madison introduces herself. "Hi, I'm Madison," she says, holds out a hand to shake. Maeve looks at her, and Madison thinks she's sizing her up. But then a huge smile breaks her face, a smile too wide for the arena here.

"Maeve," she says back. Before she knows it, Madison's smiling too. Sharing Maeve's happiness in the dreary training room. Where only one person here will survive.

They train together. They are a duo; Maeve gives her a throwing knife and Madison tosses her an axe. They face-off against others and they are the best of them all.

One night after training, after it is so late that the rest of them have left back to their own quarters. They are fresh from a fight and they are catching their breaths on a bench by the side.

Are you excited? Maeve asks. It's the big day soon.

Madison thinks about the wide-eyed kids. Madison thinks about her family, bloodthirsty for her victory. Madison thinks about the twenty-three lives that will have to disappear. No, Madison replies. No, not really.

Maeve's eyes shimmer. They look at her like she's finally found someone that understands.

They talk for the rest of the night. Maeve tells Madison about her family, about how her younger brother is struggling to breathe and how it was only her tesserae from the Academy that kept them alive. Tells her that she has to volunteer, or else they won't help them anymore.

"Who do you blame?" Madison asks.

Maeve's lips curl. Not even a beat, she says: "Who else?"

(Madison thinks that she will find a way to help them, no matter what. Whether she lives or dies. She will try. It is the least she can do. For her.)

Madison tells Maeve about how Levine beats her for not killing as ruthlessly as he wants her to, shows her the scars that line her waist and points to her eyes, tells her about how she will go blind. Maeve traces her fingers around Madison's eyes. Whispers: Maddie, oh Maddie. Are you. Okay now?

Not for long, she says back. Maybe. By the end of three weeks. If I'm hoping. Maybe.

Maeve's touch is hot, and soft. Her eyes burn, pretty candent coals, enshrined in pretty quart-glass. You'll see me? For as long as you can?

Madison thinks about Maeve's smile, and says: yeah. Yes, of course, yes.

Then, when they part to leave, Maeve pushes up on her tiptoes and kisses her on the lips. Madison's just a little stunned as she watches Maeve go.

She holds a hand in a wave. The door swings shut. And she stuffs her hand back in her pocket and she turns to leave, until Maeve giggles outside the door. It swings open and then she kisses her back, or she kisses her again, and they kiss each other and the night away.

They will be a formidable force. Madison and Maeve, they will reckon the arena. They will paint the palace red and raw the other to her gruesome death.

Flickerman and the Capitol. They do not know Madison and Maeve. They do not know how Maeve is after she is injured. They do not know how much they care about each other. They do not know how Maeve kisses her at night.

They do not know them. They know caricatures. That is all.

Brynn. District 6.

She talks to Jordyn at night. She keeps the lamenting to a minimal. The Capitol has eyes and ears everywhere, and the last thing she wants is to die in excruciating pain. She wants to survive.

But she talks. She tells Jordyn about what she feels. About how she is a sociopath. She doesn't feel. She knows the Capitol wants to use that. She won't let them. But. She does not want to die.

(She doesn't expect to go to the end. But she wants to survive. Even if it is hellish. She wants to survive. Show the Capitol their place. It would be the best middle-finger to them.)

Jordyn listens. And Jordyn shares her own. Fills in the gaps that Brynn's mind doesn't give her. How she is dreading the day she will have to rip somebody's throat apart with her fingers. How she wants to live but she doesn't want her last days to be spent running away, trudging through mud, fearful, either. Brynn's intuition tells her that this makes Jordyn good backstab material. She knows that Jordyn knows this, too. She's not sure if Jordyn particularly cares.

"But," Jordyn says, and that is when Brynn perks up. "I don't want this to be useless. You get what I mean? I don't want my life to be built up. To be here. To end or prosper here. This wasn't my plan," and the last words are a haze, a whisper, that Brynn almost doesn't catch.

"What was your plan?" Brynn asks. Jordyn exhales, a tiny, not-really chuckle exiting her lips.

"I wanted to—to be a fashion designer. I-I know, I can only do it in the Capitol. I'd do it back in Six if I could. It's my passion. I never thought it'll—"

"—it'll just end here."

Brynn keeps a record. She thinks that maybe somewhere off in the future, somebody could find it. She borrows Jordyn's ideas. They will see what she has said; a moral dilemma, a story wretched with pain, of knives and killings and of crushed dreams. Something that the Capitol will not show.

(She tells herself that change will happen because that is the only way she can cope with knowing how the Capitol lours at her.)

Jordyn. District 6.

She wants to live.

Her life is ahead of her. Her dreams stretch a walkway in front of her eyes and red-orange glitter pulls over dresses and there's a paintbrush and power in her fingers. She'd studied her life for it; she won't waste what she's built up here.

She'll do anything for it. She's destroyed her family to reach her dreams. But she doesn't want to kill for it either.

(Here is her conundrum, broken down. She does not want to die and live a life of nothing. She doesn't want to win and live a life broken.)

Madison. District 1.

Before they go up into the Arena. Maeve turns to Madison and asks. Why are you here, Maddie?

I— and then she stops. Why is she here? For being the best? Because she's the top-dog that beat Cadmus half to death with his own bayonet, that hooked Luke's eye in and dragged a three-clawed scar down his face, that exploded Shavia's knee off after tossing her back one of her cocktails? Why is she here? Other than for being the Capitol's pet?

Maeve must see her eyes, and realise how shallow she is. Realise how pathetic Madison is. Realise how worthless she is. A girl that has no reason or purpose than to raze pain here. But Maeve intertwines her fingers with Madison's, brushes a bit of her hair away. Her eyes shimmer in understanding.

"It's… okay," she says. "We're... all here. For one… shitty reason."

Then, she presses her lips to Madison, softly. Devoid of any thought, any care, any bother. Maeve kisses her, moving on feeling, on instinct, on feeling alone. For a moment, they are normal. They are nobody but two girls in love. For a moment, they are nobody.

"I'm worthless to them, otherwise," Madison says, quietly, once they break away. "After three weeks."

Maeve's hands leave her face, but the warmth of hers lingers. And Madison looks away.

Levine. She's here because of Levine. He carves pain into her like she's his masterpiece. He pervades her. The Capitol's Scientist. Mishmashes tributes from the years bygone and stabs in knives and spears and sickles and everything she's supposed to pull out of her skin and throw. She's a wrecked taspery with an expiry date. He offers her to the overlords.

The fucked-up filth he's made out of her. The fucked-up filth she let.

Madison takes in a breath. Maeve's eyes flicker slightly up to her; vulnerable, shining.

"But it's… it's an escape." Madison says. Feels the words on her lips again: escape. Like if she doesn't pin it down it'll scutter away. Back inside the recesses of her mind that she'll pretend opaque.

Maeve's eyes flicker. They shift, just a little; the panels that understand drench with pain. They shimmer; of endless sinkholes, spiralling down in the dark. Entrenched with understanding. Understanding, and Madison chokes, because oh—she didn't think anyone would understand. She didn't think they'd let her say it.

Maeve, with a half-not-really smile floating in her eyes, says: "I'm… sorry."

"Don't be," and then she exhales, feels a little bit of a smile tug her lips. "I'm glad."

Brynn. District 6.

They rise. Shrieks of the wild assault her senses. Brynn inhales the too-fresh air. Too fake; too artificial. It'll rattle inside her for the next weeks to come.

It'll begin. She listens to the countdown go; ten, nine, eight. Her limbs tense. She eyes the stash in the centre; her vision goes away into the pungent woods, where the screeches come from.

Seven, six, five. She's not ready for this. But she sucks in a breath again and remembers; only one of them'll be breathing this dead air when it comes to the end.




(They take off.)

It is one of the forests. Artificial algae hang in the branches. Metallic chirps echo from trees. Water sloshes down the lake. (Brynn's lake, as it is later known.)

It is normal arena, a normal game. It will emerge in a bloodthirsty victor; the Capitol bet on the Careers, the bloodthirsty shriek for the dead, the children scream. That is all it should be. Nothing more.

It is normal, and it is not.

Brynn. District 6.

Brynn runs. She pushes into the trees, into the undergrowth, into the shrieks of the wild. Then she's panting with Jordyn. The noises of the cannons ring in her ears. Battle rages away—but away from them. And she can breathe again.

"Quinn's killed three," Jordyn exhales. "Jules got two."

She breathes. Hands on her knees, she looks up, asks: "They're Careers?"

Jordyn's lips tighten. "Yep. Quinn's Fourth. Jules is Seven."

"What about One and Two?"

She can only hope—

"Intact. But the Boy from One was sickled—head clean off. By Jules." She exhales. Brynn's mind races. Threats are already taking threats out. Maybe—at this rate, she can just let them all slaughter each other. Hide.

God, that's pathetic. Hiding from the Capitol dogs. That's what she'll do. Hide from the Capitol and the power it gloats over her. She'll be a goat. And then die at the end. That's what she's doing.

No. Fuck, no. She'll never do that. She'll burn them to the ground with her. Till the very end.

"Don't know about the girls. But they're together. Don't think they're with Jules or Quinn. At least."

"Good." Cracked Careers—that's easier to manage. Then, she notices the strap on Jordyn's shoulder. "What've you got?"

Jordyn lifts it up, rummages inside. There's a sleeping bag. Three cans. Two water bottles. Some medicine. Good enough for two days.

Two days. She tries not to think about what'll happen by the end of two days.

Maeve. District 2.

They form the Career pack.

It is typical. Her, Madison, and Randy, the other District Two tribute. Yes, the District One boy was killed during the bloodbath. That was slightly unusual. But Seven occasionally brings. Rivals. That was what had happened. She doesn't mind. There would be less threats to deal with. And rivals are nice. Sometimes.

The only thing not-so-typical is Scott.

He's not a Career. Far from. He is wispy. She thinks a gust of wind would knock him over. Kind of willowy. Even a little more than she is.

Maeve knows she doesn't look like a Career. She's dainty. Kind of sticklike. She looks more like Scott than Madison. They probably bet against her. Bet on Randy. Bet on Madison for the end. It's okay. They don't know how she can kill.

(She won't mind if it's Madison. She is strong. And broken. The Capitol thinks she is their lapdog. They don't know how much she hates them. And herself. They don't know either of them. Not really.)

Scott will not win. That is the consensus. Maeve's watched clips where some Careers dragged goats to the end. Sheep to slaughter. But she has a feeling that Scott is not that.

(She doesn't really mind Scott. Madison is Scott's friend. And Maeve's learned not to judge people on the outside. So whoever's Madison's friend is Maeve's friend, too.)

Hi, she says. She walks up to Scott. Scott blinks.

Hello. He says. You're Maeve.

Maeve giggles. She thinks about how he knows her name. Madison talk a lot about me?

Scott's eyes are inexplicable. He blinks, slowly, again. His mouth opens and moves before any words even come out. Yeah. He says. He is trying to figure something out. Maeve can tell.

She smiles. He is nice. She is okay if he knows. That Madison kisses her at night.

Maeve gives him a sword. He holds it weird. He has not trained with it. He stares. He is in mist. I can teach you, she says. Scott nods mutely. She will give him time to understand.

When she goes, a hand wrestles her shoulder back. She stumbles and looks up at the shadow over her.

Why're we keeping him around? Randy growls. He is a brute. He has a bloodstained sword hanging on his belt. Muscles. He advertises. He is everything Maeve is not. He is insignificant. He thinks that Maeve and he will last to the end. Two glory, he had said. Don't worry, I'll fuck you up. He said, ravishing, flashing his teeth. Maeve had ignored him. He does not know how Madison kisses her at night.

He's our friend. Maeve states and she moves away. She sees a chain on the ground. She goes to pick it up.

Randy laughs like it's a funny joke. When he realises Maeve is serious, his chuckles change. "Wait. Maeve, what the fuck? You're joking, right?"

No. Maeve says. She feels the chain over. One of the ends is sharp.

"That's not our plan!" He hisses. "The plan is to kill everyone. After we make a show out of One. We give them a fight. It's what the Capitol viewers want."

Scott is my friend, Maeve echoes. She ignores him. Holds the chain in her hands. They flick it, she thinks. If you throw it like a javelin. The sharp bit hits its mark.

"I'm your friend." He insists. He talks at her. Like she doesn't understand what he's saying. Like what they all said about her. Half-words and five-word sentences. Glazed eyes. Brain away, stuffed with snow. Like she is retarded.

You're not really my friend, Rand. Maeve says, softly. She curls the chain in her hand. Then, the whiplash of steel hits; he falls down to the ground, dead.

He stares with wide eyes. Maeve puts the chains down, and her lips pull at Scott. Sorry. She apologises. He was saying shitty things. About you. And Maddie. Scott blinks, slowly. He doesn't really understand yet. Anyway. She smiles. Welcome.

She goes to find Madison. She kinda wants to kiss her now.

Jordyn. District 6.

They find the Careers. Or, rather; the Careers find them. They're near a creek when it happens; Brynn's drinking, and Jordyn's watching. She hears a rustle, an inhumane shriek desecrate the arena. Her blood freezes; her heart hammers. The ground shudders. She looks up to the sky; she grips her knife.

"Brynn." she urges. They're inside the paper forests. Sound's everywhere they step, and the branches tear so easily, and they'll never be able to get away from anything the Gamemakers stick in here.

Brynn scrambles from the creek. "Go, go," she says, gritting her teeth, and they dive through the trees. Noise crackle all around them as they run, and the shrieks draw closer, and Jordyn thinks—oh, it's over now. The freakish bird—she assumes it's a bird—will raze them apart. Even if they escape, anybody within a fifty-mile radius would've been alerted to their location. They'll go hunting.

She's not ready to die. Not yet. She needs to live; she needs to make something of her life and she needs to be alive, needs to find some way to break into Capitol fashion, needs to create outfits and styles and oh it sounds ridiculous, it does. Especially when thinking about the magnitude of that compared to the magnitude of this, now.

But it is comforting. To think about her dreams. In another life, maybe. She would be what she wants to be.

(But she's not ready. She's not ready for everything to end.)

They run and shrieks deafen her ears and she knows, knows it's getting closer, its jaws open, ready to rip her in half— no, she's not ready to die, not yet, not just yet—

Then, something soars past her, up. A spear goes through the bird's gut. It hangs, mid-air, upon a trapeze. Then, the gore drizzles out; and it explodes, piece-by-piece, falling out of the sky in a pink explosion, drapes of red showers careening down. When it hits the ground in front of them, there's not so much as a husk left. The smell of chalky-medicine spills through the Arena.

She looks up and she sees the Careers. The girl that threw the spear draws back her hand, satisfied. Jordyn recognises her; she's a Career, she's seen her train with the girl from One, but she's also pale and thin and small. Her hair's wildly tossed back and she is brilliant in the dying light.

Next to her's the Career from One. She's taller, at least half a head over the other girl, and her jaw is gaunt, bones sharp like it's been set there by sculptors. Jordyn knows she's strong; she's seen her pin down the other Career boys easily. Strength exudes from her quietly. Her face's a mask of nothingness. She's the one that her mentor said to avoid. Told her that she'd kill her in an instant.

But the last one's a wispy boy. There's a sword bouncing by his side. He seems kind of weak and the most out-of-place out of them all. He might be like the girl from Two, she thinks, secretly strong. But something tells her that it's not it. He might be a goat. That'd make sense.

It's the most un-Career-like pack she's known. Brynn seems to notice the same because she tilts her head up to the Careers. And begins to walk towards them.

Jordyn splutters. "Brynn, what the—hey!" She watches as Brynn walks to her death. She glances around; god, she should run, right now. But—and she casts her eyes back to Brynn again, still trudging, she can't leave her there.

But the girl from Two waves her hand, and Jordyn's thoughts falter. Slowly, warily, she approaches; it had to be a trap. But the girl from Two looks far too overexcited that somehow, it feels genuine. Somehow.

"Nice to meet you." The girl from Two says. She holds her hand out to Jordyn. Jordyn looks down, a little unsure. But the girl from One's gaze is boring into her head—and Jordyn, hesitantly, accepts.

"You… too." She squints at the girl; looking for the glimmer of darkness in her eyes, a razor-sharp grin that tells her she's about to be murdered. But her eyes are a clear sky; there's none of that in her.

A name forms in her mind. "You're Maeve, right?"

The girl's lips part and she pauses. For a moment, she's watching a child, eager to form words, but unable to express them yet.

"Madison tell you?" she finally says, enthused, and Jordyn just nods, dumbly, along.

"I'm Brynn," Brynn says beside them; looking at them just as warily. Jordyn takes the names in her head: Madison, Maeve, and…

"Your name?" Jordyn says to the boy. He says: "Scott."

They stare at each other for a few moments. Jordyn isn't sure if they should fight. Theoretically: they would. Careers vs. the slaughterhouse kids. It happens every year. Names were probably for chivalry's sake. Before she and Brynn died. But nobody even seems to be bothered about weapons, and her hand falters on her knife.

"Let's go," Madison finally says. "Our camp's awhile away. It'll take us till the sunset."

They trek. Madison and Maeve lead. Jordyn and Brynn fall behind, and she watches their shoulderblades move, their backs exposed for any weapon's hurl.

What the hell?

Scott's next to her. "Are you their hostage?" Jordyn asks. Wordlessly, he shakes his head.

"They saved me," he says, and he gestures to both the girls. Huh. Jordyn thinks. That's a new one. The Capitol won't like this game. She's studied them to learn their culture and blend in when—if she became a fashion designer. It always rounded back to the Games; and Jordyn found herself sick watching their uproarious cheers when a tribute died, when the Careers won. They would not like him.

"And you're not their goat?" Scott just laughs a little. Jordyn starts. Then, it turns into a tiny, sad scoff.

"No." It's so firm and certain that Jordyn's taken aback. "Do you think they'll go to the end without each other?" At his words, Jordyn looks up to them.

Maeve's joking with Madison. She's nudging her, and to Jordyn's eye raise, Madison's reciprocating. They're almost play-fighting, nudging and pushing and despite the arena around them, it's not malicious. Far from. Suddenly, they erupt into a fit of giggles; which almost makes Jordyn stop in her tracks.

"What's up with them?" The fact that they're Careers don't stick in her mind. "They realise they're gonna have to kill each other, right?"

"They're… friends." Scott says, slightly hesitant. "Good friends."

Right. Friends didn't act like that in arenas. Not even brothers and sisters. Jordyn watches Madison and Maeve, too happy with each other in an arena of death. She just shakes her head and trudges on.

Madison. District 1.

They save the screwed.

Maeve does. She chucks a spear at the screeching bird-Mutt that would've ended their lives. Now they have two more in their camp. Scott is with them. Outside around the campfire; they shiver to the fires there.

Why did you do that? Madison asks Maeve in the canopy. There is no judgement there. She is just curious.

Maeve shrugs, just a little. She picks at her fingers. Well… she says. They shouldn't have to. Die terrified.

Okay. Madison says. She finds herself a little envious. It's a blessing. For them. They don't have to be at the mercy of the Capitol. They don't need to be killed by them.

Maddie? Maeve says, just as Madison is about to go away. Madison looks back. Gives her a glance in question.

What is it?

I love you. And then she's back to her weapons. Back to picking her fingers. Madison raises her eyebrows. Walks towards her. That's when she sees the smug smirk there. Lingering upon her hair-hidden face. Dancing amid the shyness. Madison brushes the lingering strands aside.

And Maeve stands and her hands are warm on her cheeks and so are her lips. Madison's hands are warm on her cheeks and she kisses back. She kisses and she's out-of-breath; she kisses her and they are gone, away in bliss, ethereal, not here. When they breathe again holding each other's foreheads together, tight together, under the darkness that glimmers silver upon their skin, Madison exhales: "I love you."

She loves Maeve. She loves that she cares. About them. She loves that they are not just numbers to her. Not just statistics. Rankings. Like they are to the rest of the world. Like they are to the Capitol. She loves how she doesn't care what the Capitol thinks. She doesn't care that she's a Career, that she's supposed to be cocky and murderous, that she's supposed to be backstabbing Madison here. That Madison's supposed to be doing the same.

Two Career girls in love. Who will end the world before they end each other. Madison kisses her some more; it will look so much like a middle-finger to them. But she can't care less about what they think; Maeve, Maeve, Maeve, that's where her mind is now. She loves her and she the same. As long as they're happy. As long as they are here, together. They kiss. It is tender and Madison thinks she's at home. Despite the Mutts in the wild and their cold campfire.

Despite the Capitol. Displaying them, kissing in feverous lust, blood matted in their hair and skin, so tinted in red. So certain they will raze the other to death in the end.

(They don't know how Maeve kisses her at night.)

Brynn. District 6.

They save them. There's no reason to. But Brynn had looked to their faces. And she found something different in their eyes.

(When she walked up to them. It was a gambit. She's not suicidal. She wants to survive.)

"How are you?" Scott asks. Brynn wants to scoff: how well do you think I am?

But the words that come out are honest. "I'm fine. You?"

"I'm okay." He says. Brynn hears his voice shiver a little, but she thinks it's because of the cold. It's okay, though. The fire's getting warmer.

"It's okay if you're not," he says and turns back to the fire. Jordyn's beside him, and she glances at him, her lips slightly parted like she's found someone that understands.

"No. We're not," Jordyn says. Then, quieter, she hears her ask: "Why'd you guys do that? Save… us?"

"Well," Scott says, and he smiles a faint smile. "You didn't do anything that meant you deserved to die."

They sit in quiet. That is not the mindset of a Victor, is what Brynn thinks. It makes sense. It is sad. But he will die sooner or later. But then; that is not the mindset of a tribute, either.

"Thanks," Jordyn says. She doesn't smile, but there's a glint in her eyes.

Brynn wonders if they even want to survive.

Madison approaches. There's not a single weapon on her. Except the blade dangling from her belt. Glowing red in the campfire. For a second, Brynn thinks: she must've changed her mind. That they deserved to die anyway. But then she sits on a log, exhaling quietly.

Behind her, Maeve trudges out and sits right next to her. Madison's blade tilts, and glints orange.

"I'm sorry our campfire's not all that warm," Madison says. "They made it all cold and wet for us."

Maeve laughs a little. Brynn's eyes whip towards her; Jordyn's does too. She glances at them all, still content as if they were all life-long friends already.

And when Maeve meets Madison's eyes; Madison's jaw relaxes from its sculpted grip. She grins slightly; and her features soften in turn; she is no longer a Career, Brynn realises. She is Madison.

"Maddie. You love the cold." She tilts her head at the rest of them. Like she is asking them if they do too.

"I don't like it," Jordyn says, nose wrinkling.

"Second that," Scott says. "It's awful."

Brynn agrees. Only because everyone is being friendly. Why are they being friendly? They will have to murder each other soon. But they are grinning at each other, and the weather is cold, and she already feels a little warmer. She is fine with it for now.

Jordyn looks at Madison, exasperation evident in her eyes. "You're alien to me, I'm sorry. How can you like this weather?"

"I hate it," Madison says, half-scowls, but then bites her lips down and nudges Maeve's leg with hers. Maeve giggles and nudges back. "I don't know who this girl thinks I am, but I'm not her."

Maeve gasps. "Maddie!" she yelps, indignant. For a moment, Brynn thinks that she would pull out a knife. It is the Games. But she buries her head in Madison's shoulder, her shoulders shaking with laughter. Madison moves her hand up and down Maeve's back like she is soothing her; she has a smile on her face, too.

"Christ, you guys…" Scott shakes his head, and Brynn thinks he's smiling just a little, just under the shadows.

Brynn shakes her head. She kind of wants to laugh, at this fucking absurdity. It is the Games, and yet—

Tension breaks. There is chatter about warmth and home and the feeling of it makes Brynn's heart pang; there are chuckles shared amongst them all. Scott begins to hum, and Maeve joins along and so does Madison, and Jordyn too and Brynn finds herself humming along too. They fall into a rhythm that is discordant to the shrieks of the forest.

They don't stop. They talk. Jordyn opens up about her dreams. Scott mentions things about love. Maeve murmurs things about family and smiles giddily as she does, but her eyes shimmer just so vulnerable, to Madison. Madison doesn't speak, but she listens to them all intently; her scars tell her story. And Brynn thinks. It's an unusual sort of rebellion here.

Scott describes his morning-ritual in vivid detail and it arouses chuckles from them all. Madison goes on about training with a gun once and Maeve smacks her upside the head. Jordyn tells them about how she'd tried to fish and how spectacularly she failed. It's warmer now, see! Madison grins as she kicks the coals out, and Maeve yelps and kicks back, and they throw up a dust-storm. Jordyn screeches indignantly, and Scott and her team-up to send a log careening into the storm. When it ends they are out-of-breath and exhausted and smiling.

And Brynn wants to stay here.

Scott. District 5.

He rises in the morning. He goes out hunting. He sees a girl. He finds himself opening his mouth to say hi until she begins to run at him like a panther that has seen prey.

He runs. Something whizzes by his ear; it thunks next to him, and he accelerates; through the malignant branches, the snickering undergrowth. The forest laughs at him like the Gamemakers do. How have you forgotten? Just what place you are in?

He almost dies. He finds their camp and lets out shuddery gasps. He realises he might've brought the girl back to camp; he can't care, not now. He needs to find—someone, Madison, someone. He stumbles into his tent. He can't breathe.

He remembers the Arena. And not what they have made of it.

He remembers the Arena.

And he remembers how he will die.

Madison. District 1.

Scott ducks under the canopy during the wet afternoon. Madison looks up. She's sharpening a knife, and Scott's breathing heavily, like he, stick-thin, wispy, had just taken half a mile run. He doesn't say anything to her when he sits down on the box next to her; Madison just says a customary hi.

Moments pass. Madison's about to pick up her knife again, pick up the whetstone, but that's when Scott's words fumble out of his mouth and he says: "w-wait."

Madison waits. He's fidgety and uncertain. It thrums through his body, and he can barely look at her when he says, a little too throaty, a little too rushed: "Can I just tell you something?"

"What is it?" Madison asks.

"I—" he stops. He seems to think it over a little, and a few more moments go. It's then when the words really come out of his mouth: "I was almost killed. By the District 8 girl."

"What?" She says. Her eyes are wide; unconsciously, she grips the knife tighter. "Do you want us to hunt her down?"

"No! No," Scott says, but Madison's grip stays tight on her knife. "It's, it's just made me realise. There's… things I have to say." He swallows; he's incredibly uncomfortable even as the words come out of his mouth. "T-that I won't get another chance to. So…"

"You don't have to say anything, Scott. Or justify anything. You don't have to—"

"I wanted to kiss you," Scott says, in a rush of breath. Madison's breath quickens, once, just a little. Her stomach sinks; it's a slimy feeling she doesn't want to diagnose.

Oh, she thinks. She looks at Scott and his glimmering eyes, and Madison knows he knows it just isn't going to fly. She feels bad, the sinking feeling swirls, pools to the recesses of her stomach left. It's cold.

"You know I'm with Maeve," she says, softly. Her eyes remain on Scott's the entire time—but there's so much of her that wants to look away. Madison bites her lip; god. Let's let him down gently in a murder game. Where everybody knows that he's gonna die.

I know, Scott says. I know you don't like me like that, either, Madison. I just wanted to get it out of me. I'm sorry, he says. Then; he gets up, and goes.

When he's gone, Madison sighs and looks down on her fingers. They're crusted with blood; and she grips down, grips down tightly onto her palm. Fucking hell, she thinks. Fuck all of this. The knife clatters down like the ground's made of steel. Fuck this place, she growls to the cameras—to the Gamemakers up there, on their podium sky-high, enjoying their little drama here. Fuck, she thinks, this fucking world.

She presses until a red rose sprouts, and she feels better about herself.

Maeve. District 2.

Madison isn't okay.

She hasn't been. Okay. For two hours already. When she suggested to fight. She had just sighed. She sat beside Maeve. Sharpening her weapon. Like she's sharpening all her hours away.

Madison sharpens and sharpens until there's a sheen of sweat on her forehead. And still she sharpens some more. Maeve touches her hair, brushes it aside. Maddie, she asks. She hopes Madison can't hear the worry in her voice. Do you want to. Tell me anything?

Madison's mouth opens, and Maeve can tell the answer is yes. But then she shakes her head, and a lie exits her lips. No.

No, you do. She is insistent. It is the Arena. There is no time for secrets anymore. Secrets that weigh down your heart and make you not okay.

I'm okay, Madison says automatically. Maeve sighs and cups Madison's face in her hands and presses a kiss to her lips. When she leaves, Madison's breath is quietly erratic.

Now you're not okay, she says, with a grin. She plops down next to Madison. So tell me. What's not okay.

All of this. Madison says. Her eyes flick away from Maeve's. She sighs. Maeve thinks that she does not want her to look. See her broken eyes.

I know. Maeve says. Quietly. So Madison does not need to explain.

Yeah. She exhales. In it is a little chuckle. But Maeve hears the relief in it too. And she knows. She holds Madison's hand. And Madison holds hers. They sit there.

Maeve waits a few moments. Then Madison clears her throat. Scott told me he liked me.

Oh. Okay. Maeve says. Madison's hand is still warm. But it is uncertain now. Temporary. Like she will remove it any second. Shy away like she has touched fire. And move away.

Madison is scared. That she will react. With an explosion. Of anger and rage. Like a man. Exploding shards. And then blaming her. Like Levine. Impaling her in shrapnel. And telling her he did it. Because he loved her. And stabbing her. Again and again. Until she bleeds and she is ready for the Arena.

So she smiles. Bites back a tiny giggle. Because Madison thinks a little weird sometimes. But that is okay. Because Maeve does too. Maeve can tell on other people's faces. The way they look at her. After she speaks. After she says something right from her brain. She understands. How the world sees them. Differently.

So she smiles. Crinkles her eyes. To quell Madison's fear. Just a little. And she knows. The world watching on. Will not understand. But that is okay. Maeve is not entertaining them.

That's okay. He can like you. You're cute, she adds, grins again, and something like a smile's on Madison's saddened face.

That's not really it. Madison says quietly. She opens her hand. It's red.

Oh, Maddie. She says. And she thinks about Madison's scars; the big one tunnelling her stomach, the pair travelling down her arms, the small nick just beside her eye.

And she thinks about her own. The ones she has from Career training. Where she's dying a minute a magnitude and she's shuddering and shivering but she's alive.

Maddie's dead every time.

She kisses Madison. Madison's hoarse. So much hoarser than she's ever been before. When she speaks again.

"How is it going to end, Maeve?"

Maeve just brushes Madison's black hair behind her ears. She wants to touch Madison's throat. Press her fingers on it. Her fingers are cool. Maybe she can cool her throat. Soothe it. And make the hoarseness go away.

So she does. And Madison's eyes are streaked with wet lines. That reflects back orange in the light. When she meets Maeve's eyes. She chokes. We'll die.

She kisses Madison again. She puts her mouth next to her lips, for a second, and Madison hustles in a breath. It is as close to a hitch as she will get.

And she kisses Madison. Stop thinking, she says. Between breaths. And Maeve kisses Madison some more. Madison's hand reaches for her neck. But she cannot stop her. She kisses Madison more. Topples her on the boxes. She is on top. And she kisses Madison harder. Stop breathing, she says. And Madison kisses back. Madison kisses back and she's righting herself. She moves and Maeve is no longer on top. They are equal. She kisses and she seals them together. And they are kissing and they are not breathing.

(On the first day, after they'd gotten together, Madison had asked a question. What if, she'd said. We were the last ones left?

Maeve, smiling, like it was barely a thought, had said: Maddie. We will kiss. Until the end.)

Jordyn. District 6.

Jordyn has always lived in a binary: this or that. Her mother would give her options: you'll do your homework, or you'll go out there and fix engines with your Dad. Housework was always assigned so, too: you'll wash the dishes, or you'll make your ten siblings' beds. It had morphed when she'd grown older; each one more unwinnable than the last: you'll work as a mechanical engineer, or you'll work as a fashion designer. Then, at last: you can take Eva, or you'll stay as Jordyn as you should be.

They are unwinnable battles; battles that had only one true option. So, the one time she deviates from the narrative is when she metamorphoses into she instead of him. She'd always thought that she was the only one.

But, she soon realises: this is not true in the Arena. Scott should be a goat, yet he chooses to live. Madison is a Career, yet she loathes herself. Maeve is insane, yet she saves rather than murders. Brynn is a sociopath, yet she rebels.

And they should all create murder; a bloodbath and a pit of strewn corpses; yet it is not so.

There are no binaries in the Arena, is what she understands.

And so, this is why, her life is not made any easier here. There are two choices: win or die. She'd stayed in the liminality for so long.

But if there were no binaries—

(Should she still stew in her liminality? Or could she do—something else?)

Scott. District 5.

He doesn't know what to do.

Scott goes back into his tent. He lies on his sleeping bag; and no matter how he tries not to think. He thinks back to the girl, fury in her eyes, an animal licking her lips for her prey. A prey she has hungered days for.

They are impatient. He has outlived his days; that's what the Capitol thinks. They haven't predicted him sticking with Madison and Maeve. They didn't think that Maeve would choose him over her District Partner. They haven't thought he'd live past day three. He defied them. He'll get punished for it. Maybe he should ask Madison about the knife.

But he doesn't. He wants to live. He's not ready for death; not just yet.

(He is the Capitol's lamb; this he knows clearly. But he would not quietly enter the slaugherhouse.)

Madison. District 1.

They are in their tent.

She is tired. Her bones ache and hurt's all over her and dirt fills her scars but it's not that.

She is done. Her eyes close but she is wide awake. She is acutely aware of everything. Of the mangled chirps outside. Of the footpads, soft, falling, through the whole Arena. Of the little cameras tucked in the trees. Of the scratchy tracker embedded in her skin.

Maeve sleeps beside her. She's breathing, quietly. Like she is sleeping at home. Like she is okay and sane. Like she is not here to kill people and raze red and die.

And that is when Madison decides, fuck it.

Fuck it.

She'll fight back.

Brynn. District 6.

She is in an Arena. She does not feel like she is in one.

(That is her downfall. The Capitol pinpoints. She will relax. She will grow complacent. And someday later somebody will put a spear through her stomach. They will decapitate her. And she will die.

That is the important bit.)

It is this: the storyline where Brynn falls and a Career prevails, or Brynn wins and becomes their pet sociopath, and the Games repeat again next year.

They've mistaken it all. A Career won't prevail. Madison and Maeve are the two Careers left. And they barely deserve the name or the mantle. Brynn is a sociopath. But she would rather die than give the Capitol what they want.

They are here. In this alliance-not-quite. This rebellion-not-quite.

The Games are perennial poppies. They spread through blackened fields; strangle the life out of weeds. She thinks, maybe they can stop this. They could put down their swords and guns and knives and spears and—and she doesn't know what'll happen next, but just something that isn't death. But she knows. They have power. To rip the perennial rose from its stem.

She concocts a plan. She communicates it in words softer than the microphones can pick up. She does it with her eyes. Gestures.

Madison and Maeve listen intently. She knows they want a way out. Together.

Jordyn listens. She wants to live.

Scott listens. He does not want to die yet.

She concocts a plan. It is a first. As was the many firsts in this Game. But this—she hopes this will be the biggest.

(Not like joint or triple or quadruple suicides. Those were rehearsed again and again so long before that they see it as normal. It will not be a refusal to fight. The Capitol has seen enough shredded apart for that sin. No. This will be special.)

She does not know what will happen. What the Capitol will say. But she really doesn't care.

She wants it to work.

It needs to.

Madison. District 1.

Sometimes, there are haphazard items in the Arena. They put it there because Sterling from One won by exploding the last tribute's head off with a makeshift pipe-bomb, created from broken-off metal pipes in the city, gunpowder from sponsors, from the nail rains and the everlasting fire in the season. Her face was punched-in like a board of nails and she was charred to the point unrecognisable. They loved her. Loved her so much that she sank knives in her arms and was found exsanguinated, a mere year after her victory.

Metal hooks. A firecracker. A chain. A ratty pipe. It's thrown across the Arena, like a careless fling from a flick of a wrist. It's a blessing; the Capitol don't know that.

There is a shimmering dome which encases the outskirts of the Arena. Something that kills tributes who run so far from the Cornucopia that they forget the other ways the Capitol could murder them.

Something that Levine told her never to go, "and Madison," he'd said with defibrillators in his hands, crackling with excess energy, "here's what will happen if you should."

Something that can short-circuit.

Brynn's idea germinates in her head. It becomes reasonable, rational, possible, the more she thinks it. That is when Madison finds herself. Picking apart her pocket-knife into various little sharp pieces. Rattling inside the pipe beside her. There was a pouch with gunpowder Maeve had requested a few days before. She wants to do it.

She wants to live.

(And they won't let her win with Maeve or Maeve with her. That's not how they want to tell their story. They want two fucked-up murderers. To conquest each other and the Arena then cannibalize for the victory.)

So. This is how she'll do it.

It isn't enough. Not really.

But she'd like to hope.

Scott. District 5.

He goes out to gather parts.

It is inane. He wants to doubt, so badly. Surely the Gamemakers can't be stupid enough to—. Surely they wouldn't let us—. Surely this is—.

But he remembers the Gamemakers. Raising his hand into the skies, hollering and pretending he had a chance to the world when they all knew. Making facades and imposing that mask on the Arena; like children with sticks and swords can do nothing to the gods above.

Thinking he can't win. Thinking he'll just kneel over and die. Thinking so many things that aren't true. He won't let it be.

It might work.

He picks up nails. Gathers gunpowder and slips it into the can. Maeve's metal chain is cool against his hand.

It is insane. It might work. He wants it to. Needs it. To show them—that he is not weak. That none of them are. That he can fight back. That none of them'll kneel over and die, just as none would kill to grovel to them.

And then a spear goes through his stomach.

He breathes. Stutters. Blood leaks from the corner of his lips. It bubbles from his wound. The girl towers over him and pulls her spear out. The harsh scream doesn't register as his.

There are roars. He thinks he can hear them. A mile away. Feet pounding. Muffled. He can't hear them. His ears are wet with snow.

Where are they. They are coming. He tells himself. They are coming. They will retrieve the fallen pipe prickling his fingers. They will come.

He watches. His vision edging with snow.

A tribute runs into the forests.

His blood sprawls over snow.

(Ominous and brilliant. The Capitol comments. The camera's birds-eye view lifts, lifts, higher and higher. Until the world can see how the rebel sprawls like a crescent moon. That exhumes blood, out and out, into the white snow.)

Madison. District 1.

Scott dies with a spear in his stomach. His last words are in tattered breaths.

Do you… he chokes. Madison hoists his head up onto her knees. She presses her fingers to where the blood sprouts; god. Please breathe. Keep breathing.

(She forgets Career training. Where Levine pointed to her stomach. Four inches, he said, levelling the knife to her skin. He was pushing it. You let them get you there? He chuckles, and he embeds it in, half-an-inch before Madison stumbles back and cries. Good luck surviving.)

She presses down, tighter. She doesn't think about a spear's head (four inches), and says to him, Scott, Scott, keep fighting.

He lifts his hand. It is the pipe. You take it from his hands. Bloody imprints trail on the metal. No. You say. That doesn't matter right now. Right now, it's—

Madison, he says.

No, she chokes. Conserve your strength. Don't speak.

He doesn't hear her. His head turns to your eyes. His mouth opens. Bloodstains on his chattering teeth. I'm… glad that I found you here.

Scott—she says, but his eyes are clear.

I lived a little before I died. Thank you.

His eyes don't close. But Scott slips away. Then a blast goes.

There is nothing left.

Maeve. District 2.

Madison returns to camp. She is alone. She says nothing. Just goes back to their tent. There was a blast before.

(Maeve is not an idiot. She knows what happened.)

Scott. With his wonky sword. That Maeve taught him to use. He tried to bat away her knife that time. When he couldn't make it budge. They were laughing in the marshes. Collapsing-over-each-other-laughing. Kiddie-laughter.

It didn't save him.

Something quick enters her breath. Once. Twice. Her eyes go to the coals. They are not alive anymore. He sang beside the campfire. He liked to. He joined in with her every-time.

Stark silence suffuses. Jordyn and Brynn are there. Somewhere. Poking the coals. Hanging a jacket up. Going inside the canopy. But they are just figures. Who do not want to be seen.

There is a pipe on a black log. It rattles when she lifts. And she pulls the chains out. It cools her hands. Scott is dead. Her insides empty-out. Her lungs shutter. She feels it close on itself. Heavy.

(They do not breathe for the next few hours.)

She can't do this.

When she slips back into the tent. Maeve doesn't say anything to Maddie. But Madison looks at her. A plea.

And Maeve gets beside her, and wraps her arms around Madison's. Madison does not cry. But she sniffles into her shoulder. Heaving and shuddering. But there are no tears. She does not have the power to.

Brynn. District 6.

Scott died so they could live. His last breaths; a plea. The pipe, shaking towards Madison's hands. Take it, his eyes gleamed. Help-us-win.

The pipe is still with them. It sits, abandoned, next to the campfire. Look, it says on its throne. Look who had sacrificed so I could live.

Anyone else would have sat up. Said to themselves: Scott died for us. He died for this cause. We should crusade. To the grave.

Was it worth it?

Suddenly, it takes her. He was the only one of them. That had not wanted to die. She—she could not care less if she did. Madison was passively-suicidal. Sardonic because she was the Capitol's lapdog. Alive for revenge. Maeve was bound to explode into the skies with her energy. She would not give a rat's ass if she did, just how. One grandeur end. Killing herself with Madison Saros. Jordyn was liminal. Neither living nor quite dead. But Scott?

Scott wanted to live.

It was not worth his life.

Now? They are a bunch of half-suicidal kids left. And the compass that directed them where. What to kill. What to do. How to escape. That told them there was reason too. He, glue. That stuck them together.

Was gone.

(There is no way to bring it back again.)

She thinks about the world, and how they've failed.

The last rebellious flames—


Maeve. District 2.

Artificial sunlight breaks dawn. Brynn tends to the fire, her eyes away into an abyss. She is thinking about home. There is an ache in her chest when she looks at Scott's old tent. Slumped from the rain. The quietest of them all. Or when she looks at the fire again and sees the spot where Scott should be. Cracking jokes and keeping them warm.

It's empty without Scott.

So she forces her mind to move on. Today, tomorrow, and the day after. She does not want to be the one that falls. She doesn't exactly want to win it, really (because winning would mean killing Madison. And no she can't do that). But she doesn't want to die. Not here. Not in an arena like here.

(The truth is, Maeve the Career is terrified. She's gonna die some way. She accepts that. But how? Drowning, maybe. Dragged undersea by the ghosts of the dead. Down and down and down. And she will exhale. Let the water fill her lungs. Or hold long enough. And asphyxiate to death. A combat wound? Stabbed in the gut. Left to bleed. A sacrificial goat to the Capitol. It will be hours until she dies. Suicide? Maeve can't kill herself. Blood. Driving down her arms. Metal in her mouth. She should. It will be better than what they have in store for her. But Maeve is too terrified. She wants to live. A second more. A minute more. She is not Madison. Weary and aware of how things die. She is not scared.

She hopes it's quick. She hopes it's not Mutts.)

Madison's commanding. Quiet imperatives. It tells them who's in charge, without saying it outright. It means that when they do break apart, they won't go hunting for them first. Jordyn, she says, can you go hunt? Anything'll be good, a bit of algae or rabbits. Jordyn nods, picks up a knife and goes. Brynn, do you mind tending to the fire, or should I take over? No, I'm good. What's on your mind? I'm not sure. I was thinking we ride this day out. Of course, Brynn says, turns her propped head back onto the fire.

Then, Madison looks at her. Her furrowed brow instantly breaks. Her leader-facade crumbles apart. Only Maeve can see it, and she covers her mouth with her knuckles. Stops herself from giggling, just a little.

(Maeve loves Madison. She thinks, that if they both reach the end, they'll kiss a final time. It'll light up the night, and maybe there'll be explosions, engulfing the world into a red-hot dawn. If the Capitol was being merciful, maybe that's how they'll let them end. Maeve isn't scared of fire. Orange is her next-favourite colour after all. Other than red.)

Madison strolls up to her. Her hands are shoved into her pockets. She seems abashed. Though her tone is serious. "I was thinking—we finish this today. Tracking down Jules—what do you think?"

"Okay," Maeve says. She gives a rare grin, just because. And she, just before she goes. Presses a quick kiss on Madison's lips.

Madison's cheeks go a tad red. Though she was aiming for a full blush. Maeve's satisfied with that. She waves to Madison, bids her a easy adieu; she knows she'll see her soon.

Madison. District 1.

It should be a quiet day. That is what she planned it to be, anyway. After yesterday; they are all tired. They can barely breathe.

(She thinks that the Arena is asphyxiating them. Gamemakers seep the oxygen out. Now they are on the moon. Under the sea. Trying to breathe. But it is too shallow for them.)

But the fire thrums in her heart. Scott. Dead. In her head.

So she takes a knife. Quinn. Fourth District. That was her. And she heads into the forests. Where she knows she will find the girl at.

Blood thrums in her skin. Screams echo around them. It isn't there, in front of her, where it matters.

"You're dead." Madison says. She shakes her knife at Quinn; hides the tremor in her fingers with a half-hearted grin.

"Right. What have I done to deserve death again?" Quinn says, and Madison wipes the blood from her lips. Christ, this girl's stupid audacity, still intact with her stupid words like it isn't all an act, like she hasn't killed half of everyone here. Both twelves. Eleven boy. Nine girl. Scott. It makes her want to laugh.

"Go—gonna murder me, like you did Scott, aren't you?" Madison laughs; loud and crazy and oh she'll be insane. She'll be insane like the Capitol want her and she'll ride this crazy. When she stabs in Quinn's face until she sprouts like a pomegranate, red-and-red unto red. When she gets revenge for all of them. All till the end.

Quinn blinks at her, and Madison scoffs. "Fuck you."

"Madison…" Quinn warns. Warns. Can you believe it? She goddamn warns Madison. Madison's been ready so long to gut this fish halfway to hell and now because of that she wants to drive down the minutes. "… I'm not gonna survive if you fight me. Neither are you. Do you want this to be your end?"

She lets her lips curl into a snarl. Quinn doesn't know her. She drives Madison up to the brink of the cliffs and cracks her split-down from the middle with a guillotine. She cracks her split-down and she thinks Madison'll just take it, take it while her friends die down-the-middle by her blade, take it as they drop like flies, die without fucking fighting. She thinks she'll lay down and die. She doesn't know her. She doesn't know her at all. She doesn't know how mad she can be.

Madison grins, and that's when fear strikes down Quinn's face. "I know."

And she leaps.

Quinn screams when Madison rakes down her face. She snarls as they tumble onto the ground, rolling over and over, knives against knives and blood, blood spreads across the dirt, carpets it like the red rugs to the Victor's crown.

Madison doesn't see anything but a flurry, of flesh under her nails and knives, of the scent of metal smeared on her jaw, of a sickening crunch under her knee, and that's enough—that's enough to finish her. She just has to press—

And something leaps from the wayside—a snarl, paws leaping off the ground, snarls—


Madison moves. She darts, and it lands like a cat, paws comfortable on the ground. Her prey scrambles away, and Madison snarls. Quinn staggers away from—from the hunger behind them, droplets of red trailing down like breadcrumbs for the damned thing, and good, Madison thinks, she'll be dead.

But she has to run.

Madison casts one last look to her prey—slumped against the tree, eyes pleading up to her. Behind her she hears the sound of lapping. Good. She just has to find Maeve, Maeve just across the other side of the jungle, Maeve who'll be duking it out with-with Jules, who's half-dead already, she just has to find Maeve and she'll—she'll be fine, they'll be fine again.

One blast goes. Quinn's, she thinks and trudges on. She heaves, forcing her legs on, and hopes that the Mutt's still too engrossed with the girl's remains to catch up with her. Shit, the mud…

Another blast. And Madison needs to run, she has to go, get the hell out of this place. She can hear the skittering of paws, she can feel the thrum of blood in her ears. She knows that if she doesn't get the fuck out she's gonna die here, and she grips the knife just a bit tighter. It's gonna be a fight, she thinks. She's gonna die here, she thinks.

Thunder rumbles; and then it shudders, shutters, like terror closing on in itself. And the world falls silent.

Madison swivels back. Where the hell's the Mutt? It's—no, it's too quiet. It's deathly silent.

Silence, silence, fills her nerves. Fear, fear permeates through her. She snaps her hold on her knife; no, she can't tremble. Madison looks up; and nervously, she calls: "Maeve?"

A blast throws her sideways. Her heart goes; and then, ringing pierces through her ears, eyes, jars through her skin. She shudders; then, she can't feel anything. Wet dirt slaps, slick, against her cheek; cool, so cold. She registers a blast.

A blast.

No. This—this can't be. No no no no please NO—

And Madison sees Maeve, pooling into a ditch, stink-red blood suffusing with marshland reek—no, she scrambles towards Maeve, turns her over, looks for life in any goddamn way.

The eyes that meet her are empty; and, and,

Madison screams.

Maeve is dead.

She drags her feet across the mist. Maeve is dead. She stumbles. Crashes down next to the oak. She exhales, gives herself a little cragged smile. Fuck. What the—what the fuck, Madison, did you expect? You came in. Knowing you'd both die. You came in and you—got together with her anyway. It's your fault, Levine would say, lips curling. You—you killed her. You're responsible, Madison, now don't you feel so much better? Your biggest competitor. Gone. Why, don't give me that look. Don't look so pathetic! You've won. Backstabbing, that's something new from you! Finest manipulation to the heavens. Got to fuck along the way too. What, don't tell me the way you led the Mutt was unintentional.

She is drowning. In him. In his condemnations and his taunts and in.

In Maeve. Laughing among the palsies. Kissing her in the darkness of the tent. Holding her hands. Warm. All so warm. Now cold. Half of her spine ripped out. A toybone for the Mutt to chew on. Another corpse the Capitol claims.

They were gonna kiss in the end.

Maeve. So alive. Careless and carefree. She held a metaphorical middle-finger to the Capitol, to the Arena, to all the rules and unofficial rules ordaining what you should do. Who cares?, her eyes shimmered. I'll do what I want. I'll live for myself.

They were—they were—

(She stays with her for the night. She does not move even when the Capitol claws her away from her.)

She is broken for the rest of her time there.

She is a spectre. Her dragged feet can be heard by anyone within a thirty-meter radius. They often run. She will reap their souls. That is what the tributes think. That is what the Capitol say.

She will reap their souls. For the dead.

She will reap.

Like she is not broken.

Like Maeve was not reaped.

Like she is not broken.

She will reap.

Jordyn. District 6.

The Cornucopia camp disappears after Madison is gone.

She and Brynn stay, for a little while. They attempt to tend to the campfire. (His rousing songs in her ear. Her incessant giggles in the other.) They try to fix the canopy. (Her laughter. Madison's laughter, too. Normal.) The grounds freeze over that they can barely walk in their shoes without frostbite. ("Maddie. You love the cold.")

(Ghosts. Scott, Maeve, Madison, whisper in her ear. Stay, their apparitions say. Where we've been. Honour us here.)

But camp deteriorates. Until Scott's tent collapses entirely. Like his memory, fresh but dulled. Attrited with the snow of time. Madison's and Maeve's slant sideways. Like its life has left with its owners too.

Their resources go. Until everything is bare. And it does not resemble the days before anymore. Jordyn looks at it; the memories it held; the purpose they once had, and sucks in a hard breath. All of them who had resisted: all of them that tried had succumbed, in the end.

(There is a binary, that still remains intact.)

She and Brynn part ways amicably. But before she leaves, she whispers in Brynn's ear, too quiet for the microphones to hear: I'm not giving up.

Brynn nods. There is respect in her shimmering eyes. Pride? Hope? Good luck, she says. Quiet, encouraging, and then she disappears; off and away into the woods.

She had expected the pipe to be destroyed, by the elements, knocked down by a tribute, taken away by the wildlife; but it had stayed there, upon its throne on the logs, in solitude, stolid, as if waiting for her. So Jordyn takes the pipe with her.

And she ventures to the ends of the Arena.

A binary lasted here, but over there?

(No, hopefully not—not yet.)

Brynn. District 6.

Madison breaks. She sees her when she drags her feet around camp. Catch a glimpse of her in the forests. Haughty and wolfish. Deranged.

(That was what the Capitol would show of her. The broken monster. They'll cast her as the destroyed killer. Red and murderous. Always murderous.

And they'll find another. Their reluctant hero. Always.)

Her and Maeve. They were supposed to last until the end. They all saw that.

The Capitol didn't want that. Of course not. Of course they did not. Not after Madison and Maeve turned out to be not so much Careers. That they were more than less willing. To stab each other in the back. That they'd kill themselves before they'll kill each other.

(She thinks, that in some way, the Capitol has known it all from the start. But they'd clung to the old narrative they created. And rode it until they could not ride anymore.)

The Capitol's getting the story they want, now. The story that satisfies themselves and their power. The Capitol will win another Game.

And Brynn has a new role to play for them now.

Jordyn. District 6.

Explosions. Tributes die right and left.

None of Madison's doing. None of Brynn's. None of Jordyn's either. It's Jules, the girl from Seven, that murders the rest. She razes the arena and splatters it red. (But the Capitol showers her in hues of pink and purple, like she is still that pretty, innocent girl they interviewed.)

They die. Left and right. Day and night. Jordyn waits for the day she falls. The day Jules finds her and curls her lips, says her catchphrase: time's up.

(She doesn't want that to happen. It's not her time, not yet. She has somewhere to go. The Arena's dome casts wide. But every day it gets lower, and lower, and Jordyn knows that she's right, she's getting closer.)

It goes and they do not register the days anymore. But then, a day comes. When Jules trips into a frozen lake and drowns screaming for her life. Her cannon explodes and breaks night.

It is just three of them left.

And they are all alone.

(And Jordyn is in front of a dome. She takes out a pipe. She has a mission to do.)

Madison. District 1.

She does not go anywhere.

And she sees Brynn beside the creek. It was frozen the day before. She is tending to a makeshift campfire. Resources litter around logs. Slumped bags. A knife strapped to her belt.

Brynn catches her eyes. For a moment, Madison thinks they will fight. But Brynn's eyes are weary. She beckons to her.

Madison goes.

Jordyn. District 6.

It shimmers before her. An energy so transient that crackles to life between moments. She hopes it'll work.

She needs this.

There is a binary, that has always lasted in the Arena. There is a binary, within herself as well. She had hovered in its liminality: win and live a life not worth living. Die and die a life wasted.

But lines blur, when you are near the end.

She needs this. To escape. To—and her life's gonna change, has changed from the Arena, and she's accepted that. But she's not taking any of the outcomes the Capitol give her. She won't.

(Die and lose the future you can have. Win and lose the future you want.)

She'll escape. She doesn't know what'll happen after that, not really. But she knows it'll be better than accepting them. She knows of a choice, a third one: not restricted to the confines they've pressed unto her, her entire life.

She places the pipe down. An assorted mix of metal and nails and oil. Gunpowder. Scott, she mouths, thank you. She takes a breath. She braces herself.

She kicks it in. She closes her eyes.

She hopes.

She needs to.

Brynn. District 6.

They huddle beside the fire. It's a cold night, Brynn thinks, colder than any ever before. She wonders why the Gamemakers did it; probably to give them something to remember; to mark the end.

Madison shivers beside her. She has her jacket on and a blanket around her too; but she still seems so cold. Her frame's sunken inwards and Brynn realises that that's all she's been since. Broken.

Brynn understands. Brynn is, too. There are three souls left, and two of them are here. Huddling together near the fire, trying to keep themselves warm. She knows she should care more. A showdown, the last two contenders—two knives in a faceoff next to the fire. Or maybe she should be wary; of the frothing-yellow eyes that haunt the forests, of the Mutts of all kinds that might ambush them now. They want a fight. But she doesn't care. She knows it's the end and her insides feel broken and. Damned if they fight.

"Mutts are gone," Madison says, chuckling, to the fire. "Hope I didn't jinx that."

Brynn thinks about the Gamemakers who love their famous last words, and maybe they'll send a Mutt their way, tear them apart. But she knows they won't. The Gamemakers won't end it like that. Not when there's a confrontation begging to happen.

"I've never been colder," Madison whispers, and Brynn thinks back to campfires, flickering through the night; of noises, rancorous.

Silence. Brynn inches a little closer to Madison. Then, she reaches down into her bag. Madison's eyes flicker to her, weary. She isn't even scared. If Brynn were to end it, now would be the moment.

(She sees it, now. Madison, the monstrous Career. She, the reluctant hero.)

Brynn takes out her extra jacket and drapes it over Madison. Madison's eyes flicker, in what might be small surprise.

"I've missed seeing you," Madison says, a little croaky from the cold, and Brynn looks away. She sucks in a small breath because the last time they've seen each other was before when they were mourning them mourning him and—

Madison seems to feel the same, because she sucks in a breath too, looks away as well.

"I think they'll call this a denouement," Brynn says, with a half-smile. It's tragic she's mentioning them. The people riveted to their screens. The Capitol watching. Snow, probably. Thinks he has the power over her. They all do. Like she can't just kill them with a flick of her wrist. Knives thudding into their skin. Then they'll see. They'll see who she really is.

"It is, isn't it?" and Madison's wry, and Brynn falls silent. Brynn doesn't know how it happens, but then Madison's next to her, and then they're huddling and shivering together.

"For the night," Madison whispers, and it feels like a compromise. "We'll do this for the night."

There are words that linger under her words. Quiet, unwilling, and so despondent. Then we'll fight.

But Brynn understands why. They were punished for daring to revolt. Scott was. And now the Capitol has broken her mind.

"Yeah." Brynn replies. We'll fight.

And then she feels her stomach wither. It's just them left, in the end.

Who would win? Madison? The Capitol's old designated victor, that strayed from the victor's path. Or Jordyn. Who—and Brynn hopes, who'll find some way to live. Who'll find a way to escape. Who'll fulfil her dreams and everything beyond? Who said fuck you to the Capitol with her presence.

Her friends. That brings half a ragged smile to her face. Jordyn, doing what she couldn't. Madison. There for all of them.

"You know," Madison says, and the fire in front of them crackles like it's heard her speak, but they're still shivering. "I didn't expect to be here. I… I was around people better than me. So much better. Scott. Too—too fucking kind," and there's a twisted note of pain in her throat, and the choke drags when she says, "Maeve."

Brynn thinks—thinks about when Madison and Maeve play-fought the night they all allied together, picking flowers and chucking them into each other's hair, mulling over weapons and scowling over each other's choices—two peas in a pod, curling up together at night, you'd think—you'd think they'd win at the end.

Madison, curling strands of Maeve's hair behind her ear with a bit-lip grin, burying heads into each other's necks, chests, like they needed to hear the other's breathing, holding each other in the cave like they were a lifeline to this hellish world and—oh. Oh.

Madison's still shivering, despite how much the fire's grown. Her shoulders caved in, her face entrenched in misery. Maeve, her goddamned lover, dead in a ditch and forgotten and—and away—and I'm sorry, Brynn thinks, but how could she be? She can't apologise for what killed Maeve, for what the Gamemaker's done, for this entire Arena that was made, for the fucking hand that picked their names outta a glass basin.

(They were too good for the place, Brynn thinks, but Madison already knows that.)

"I thought I'd die from the Mutts. Get murdered, backstabbed maybe. But they never got me." The words tear at Madison's throat. What is not said, lingers:

But I'm still here.

Brynn's stomach drops. "I—I thought I'd come into the game. Knives out. So damn ready to live. I'd have this entire fantasy in my head. I was gonna—gonna change this place," the Capitol, she was gonna rebel, she wasn't gonna hide anymore.

Brynn laughs, chokes back a breath. "But I just kept running."

"I know," Madison whispers, so quiet. "Me—me too." And Madison's eyes are sunken, away, and Brynn thinks about how she must be thinking of Maeve. Of Scott. Of all those dead. Of how—of how they all died, dead, and what'd they do to protect them? What'd they do to avenge them?

Not in a way that mattered.

"I don't want to kill Jordyn," Madison says, and Brynn knows that this means that the Capitol's screaming, that the Gamemakers are fuming, that Snow wants to do something to them. But Brynn lets it linger in the air, pulls it around them like a safety net, like a blanket.

"I don't." Brynn whispers in response. There's quiet that comes over both of them again, Madison's admission drifting in the air, and Brynn gets to ask, "Do you wanna live?"

Madison's eyes stay the same, drawn down to the fire. She lets out an exhale from her lips, pulls her jacket closer. More cold than warm, Brynn feels her shiver. "No."

"No, me neither."

They're quiet again. She wonders how it'll be like. In the Capitol. Because there must be a victor. And one of them will win. And neither of them want to.

(Not Jordyn even. She knows from the tapes. Not so they'll die so she can live.)

But Brynn doesn't care about that, right now. That drifts off, like snow, into the back of her head. She looks at Madison, and goes: "How was it, then?"

Madison's eyes flicker up, almost in a haze, to her. Then, her lips pull.

They both know what she's asking.

"At the start… when we'd, all allied-up together, I thought it'd be not so bad a way to go." She exhales a little, quiet. She looks at Brynn like she expects her to be fazed by her admission, but Brynn just shakes her head, tight-lipped. Oh, she gets it.

"Thought that, maybe, it would be okay. You'd all live and…"

Madison's breaths falter.

"But Quinn came in and ruined everything and just for that moment I thought—thought that they would win."

She laughs, wretched. Madison's shivering is worse, now. Even as the flames glow brighter; even as heat streaks down Brynn's face.

"I did Scott good. Got back at—at her for him. Maeve—" and her breath stutters, her eyes seem to empty under the reflection the flames. "Maeve—" another chuckle, like she can't get the ragged words out, like breathing it all out's too much to take. "—fuck, fuck you guys. Fuck you," she whispers, and it's soft and broken to the flames that, that Brynn feels the moment she cracks some more.

A blast shakes the arena. Madison doesn't move; it's like she barely feels it. Brynn's nerves seize. She knows the sound, she's heard it reverberate twenty-two times before, but now it's a thundercrack.

"So it's this now." Madison finally says. Her eyes seem to register the blast, but only barely. They're haunted by a memory. Brynn needs to go, she needs to scramble away from Madison and hold her at knifepoint—but—but she doesn't.

"Yeah." Brynn says, and tightens the blankets around her, too, despite how hot she already is. "Yeah, it is."

She tries not to think. One more to the list, she thinks, and she almost laughs, because fuck—fuck, it doesn't matter. Doesn't matter that they both didn't wanna kill Jordyn. Doesn't matter that they both wanna die. They're both here now, huddling, together in the end.

Can't we end it here?

Brynn finds her eyes falling onto Madison. Madison doesn't look at her; she's still focused on the fire like she's already been, but a smile comes across her lips.

"Brynn, you know what to do," she says, shivers some more. And she finally looks away. Her eyes are clear, the flames that danced in them are gone; and she's, she's not empty but smiling and clear. They're clear and—and Brynn chokes.

"You know what to do," she says, and it's like a gust falls over them.

"Madison…" Brynn says, warns, pleads. No, she can't—no, Madison can't just die here, not—not like this, fuck, no, not like fucking this—but no, she can. God, she doesn't wanna be the one with the crown searing her head, she wants to die, for fuck's sake, she wants to die! She'd rather die than be a plaything of them.

(Why couldn't she have died earlier? Why were they the last ones here?)

But Madison—Madison's eyes are even farther, gone, and her lips lift like she's in another world herself.

"You know what was the first thing Maeve taught me in here?" she says, and it's not a whisper, not anymore, it's strong and soft and crackling with pain. "She taught me how to paint this place red."

Her eyes are suffused with a memory. "She told me. That's what the Capitol expects you to do. I didn't want it. It's okay, she said. I don't want it, either. Fuck them, Maddie. And then—and then— her lips fell on mine again. We—we, were together. Red was how we'll rebel—" and, she chuckles, "—and course, they're all red now."

Brynn's quiet, too. She says: "I know," and turns the knife's hilt over, thinks about—shivering here next to the river with half-a-mind to die. Living because they expect her to. The way Jules drowned in the river. Gasping for life. Asphyxiating.

She thinks, she thinks, she thinks about ends.

Can't it end here?

Why not?

Madison's looking up at Brynn again, and she whispers: "It's time."

She says it, as if another moment's gone on, Mutts might ravage them both to deaths. As if they'd another second continue, this world will descant into darkness and they'd be eaten alive by the night. But Brynn feels the quiet around them and knows that's not true.

"Do—do you know what's the most important thing Maeve's taught me? She taught me how to live for myself." Madison smiles, just a little, but it's no longer wretched. She's staring into a fire, into a memory.

"Do you still want to?"

"Yeah." Madison's throat cracks. "And I will."

She takes the knife from Brynn's hand. Her eyes leave the fire, and shadows dance on her face again. Madison studies it over. Like she's giving it a decree. And then, she gives it back, hilt turned to her.

"Please," is what Madison adds, and the world falls into black. She's shivering, the both of them are now, but she's in a fever and Madison in cold.

I'm cold, too, Brynn whispers, and understanding shines in Madison's eyes. She pulls her lips, small like a crevice cracking open; her teeth, raw-ragged and dull, catches light. Under the darkness dancing on her face; wretched and crumpled-in and broken. But she smiles.

We'll go, then. Hand-and-hand into hell.

(For we are they: they that are broken by the night.)

Brynn slips the knife in Madison, like you'd put it, back into a sheath, back into its slot. Madison lets out one, long exhale. Then, her eyes close shut, and she slumps, head resting on Brynn's shoulder, like she's just fallen asleep.

It trickles. Pools wet against her chest. She expects the victory horn to blow—for the Capitol to declare her, the winner of the Games. But they don't. And seconds break apart. It tears, moment-and-moment fragment. She takes them, their edges, and pulls the knife out of the slot.

And Brynn puts it in herself. She feels Madison's head against her chest; she feels her breaths, still ragged, still breathing, but not soon, not any longer. She grips Madison's hand, and it's warm; and she feels the warmth seep, seep away, away from her. She glances at the flickering fire and smiles, just a little; she'll be cold, she'll be cold soon.

The last thing she hears is a cannon's blow.

It was too cruel? How do you apologise?

They tried to resuscitate Brynn, but she dies. They say she, their Victor, died related to post-Games trauma; but everyone saw how she slotted that knife inside. Saw the dead light in her eyes.

And they demanded explanations. Disbelieved they were; even Flickerman, impartial he tried to be, was aghast.

There was supposed to be one survivor. A Victor. Somebody that beat the odds; somebody who clawed, blood and teeth, tooth and nail out of the dredges of hell. Somebody to revel in.

But there was no glorious battle. No betrayal, no backstabbing. The end belonged to two broken kids. So broken by the arena that they died not by the arena itself; no, why break even more? - but by their own hands.

It was too cruel? How do you apologise?

It was not a star-crossed narrative. It was not even about retribution, of the rights and wrongs of killing. It was about kids. Kids, marred and ravaged by the horrors of the arena; kids, that became apparent to the Capitol. They were not the weak kids that killed themselves in the beginning, no; those they could sweep under the rug, those they could pretend and neglect. But they were kids who braved every single thing this arena had to throw at them and yet. Kids that killed themselves in the end.

Kids that are just kids.

There were cries to repel the Gamemaker this year. For the suffering he infused into the Arena. But it was no special Arena.

(All that was special was the dead kids that littered the ground. Cuckoo Maeve. Broken Madison. Rebellious Brynn. Doomed Scott. They had them in the previous years, of course; every single archetype. But never like this.)

It was too cruel? No, it was not. How do you apologise? No, of course you do not.

(Next year, it began, with more grandeur and blood and more; just to forget. Haymitch watches the 55th Games and picks up a bottle, and a seed forms in Cynane's head.)

Jordyn. District 6.

She escapes. In a fizz of light and an explosion so loud it broke her eardrums. And then she's breathing and she's—she's on the other side.

They think she is dead. But she is a survivor. A survivor and not a winner. A tribute and still-alive.

She will find a way. She will forge a new life. Someday, the Capitol—it will sink to its knees. And she—she will be the reason why.

She will. For Scott, for Maeve, for Madison, for Brynn—she will. Goddamnit, she needs to.

So she finds the 13th District, and takes on a new name. One they hadn't let her have before. She is the survivor. She is—


A/N: If you've made it down here, congrats! I literally don't expect anyone to. Anyhow, I hope you've enjoyed this one-shot; this story is set in a universe, entitled Death Is So Red. From here on out, it's canon-divergence. This is the first part, chronicling the 55th Games. There will be three or four parts in total; the third part will chronicle the growing revolution, and the last part will be a prequel part, exploring the stories of the outer tributes.

Right now, I'm looking for tributes — Career tributes — for the second part! It will be entitled They That Are Told To Survive, which chronicles the 56th Games, and I'll be exploring the mindset of your Careers, in the format of this fic/these POVs. However, please be aware that it isn't going to be your typical Games — as there will be no Victor, for a relatively specific reason. Also: this isn't the end of the tale for these characters here (or your tributes); because there's going to be a revolution arc that's gonna happen. :) Therefore, this is a partial mini-SYOT, and I'll be accepting Career tributes only; it will not be a first-come-first-serve, and your tributes will be chosen based on quality rather than quantity. Give me Careers that can grow. Give me Careers that hurt. Give me abnormal Careers; insane Careers; driven Careers; happy Careers. Give me neurodivergent Careers; queer Careers; diverse Careers; anything that I can develop! I'll be accepting around 5-6 Careers to study.

So, if you're interested, the submission info's on my profile — please PM me your tributes with the form provided!

Otherwise, please let me know what you thought, and thank you so much for reading!