A/N: Tw for very sad content.

-Rosemary Mariano, District 7-

"Family meeting in the lounge, let's go chicos!"

Usually Mary wouldn't mind hearing her voice. Hell, wasn't there a time that she would have loved to be summoned by the bassist of one of her favorite bands?! Well, that was before all this shit happened. Mary didn't want to do shit, she didn't want to be involved in this anymore. Talking about it with patrons at the bar was one thing, but looking it in the face was something entirely different.

She could still hear the sounds of gunshots in her ears. And yet, the one that took his life away seemed to be louder than all of them. It echoed in her ears and resonated through her entire body, all the way up to her fingertips. The wall didn't move, or change, and the more she stared at it, the worse she felt. She felt terrible.

"Are you coming?" Ember asked, coming out of the small bathroom attached to their room and giving her a wavering smile. Mary wanted to tell her to please just leave her alone. The fucking pity just surrounded Ember like an aura and she didn't want to be treated like a fucking glass doll. And yet, that was how she felt…

As soon as she heard her voice, Mary straightened up her shoulders, clearing her throat as that smile found its way back across her face. She didn't even notice it at this point- it just… It just happened, after so long of having to keep it up. "Yup, just waiting for the bathroom to open up. You know what they say…" she swung her arm in front of her, keeping on that relaxed smile. "Always pee first. Right?"

Ember smiled at seeing her. Ember was a smart girl. If Mary could fool her, she could fool any of them. "Okay. I'll go out there and make sure they know you're on your way. I'm not being subjected to more physical exertion from Mari. How can someone so small be so scary!?"

"No idea," Mary commented with a laugh. The words might have been coming out of her, but she had no idea what she was saying. It was all fluff. It didn't mean anything. In reality, she felt like she wasn't even there. She was completely numb. Her heart was so numb she didn't even know that she had one.

"Alright, pee quickly," Ember said, shooing her off into the bathroom and going out to meet the rest of them in the den. Oh, how Mary fucking hated being the baby. She was way younger than the rest of them and she was so fucking tired of being coddled by them. She wanted to show them that she could be strong just like they all were. Just because she was the youngest didn't mean she was the one that had to be sheltered. They killed her friend. As scary as it was to her, she wanted to be involved in bringing hell down on them too. In fact, she deserved it.

She put down the toilet lid and just sat on it with the door closed for a moment and took a few shaking breaths. She was used to being the happy little girl. She was used to being the one that could come back from anything. She was so used to it that sometimes she wondered if she could even feel weakness. Back home, working at the bar and coming home and stepping over empty beer bottles every night, she thought that she couldn't. But now, now that she had been thrown into a fight into the death and witnessed what she witnessed, she knew that wasn't further from the truth. She never in all her life felt this fucking weak. And she hated it. Hated herself for it.

The tears fell out of her eyes and dripped onto the bandage that was covering the stitched red line on her arm, making abstract shapes on the fabric. How was she going to go back out there with a smile on her face? Right now, she didn't feel like she could. She'd never felt like this before. Trapped, hiding away from the world, after watching Dante die… Despite herself, despite how hard she fucking tried to push him away, it didn't work. He was too kind. He was too good. Without even knowing her, despite being in a fight to the death, he was still a friend to her. Fuck. Maybe she should have just… Said fuck it, and enjoyed the time they shared together more before it ended. She never had someone her age that was so interested in what she did, so… Enamored, with her! And she pushed him away. He died without even knowing… How much his friendship meant to her. Because she was trying to protect herself. But if anything, it hurt more to live with so many what-ifs. Of everyone that had to be in the way of the Peacekeeper's gun… Why did it have to be him?

But Mary knew that she could only stay in here for so long. She could only spend so long pretending that she was taking a piss and had to get it together. She had to be strong and show the others that she had just as much of a place there as they did, despite being the youngest by three years. She wasn't just a helpless little girl. She was strong. She took a washcloth and wet it a little bit to wipe her face.

There's my happy girl. She wished that her father actually said that to her. But never. He loved her, she just had to remember that. Despite all those things he said… He loved her. She was all he had after her mother died. She just had to keep being useful to this group, and maybe she could go home someday.

Mary went back out to the rest of the group. As soon as she saw all of them in one place, that smile was back on her face like clockwork. She only knew it was there by the tightness in her cheeks. Mari was sitting cross-legged on the little coffee table, and next to her sat the girl that Mary knew so well. After all, just last year she was one of the faces of hope for District Seven. And yet, Mary could always recognize that dark look of sadness in her eyes. And today, despite everything… They never looked sadder. And yet, she kept that calm look on her face.

"There we go, the fam is complete," Camellia said quickly, ushering Mary over to where Amiah was in the middle of a big cuddle pile on the couch. Kodi was laying on Ryder's lap who had an arm around Ridley who was stroking Amiah's hair, where the spot for Mary was open between her and Ember. Mary sat down slowly, keeping her face completely relaxed and happy still. It was a game they all played, pretending they weren't broken.

"It's still so weird to see you not as Rose!" Mari said with a laugh. "Good thing Ani left clear instructions for how to get all that dye out."

"I think we did a pretty good job," Camellia said with a grateful smile for trying to keep up the mood. "I definitely feel more like myself. Never contouring again."

Kodi gasped at that and sat up. "Never contouring!? Sin!"

"Oh, shush," Ryder said with a laugh, pulling him back down. "Just think, it's more for you."

"I guess so," Kodi said with a sigh.

Camellia gave those two a smile, but it was obvious that something was weighing on her. The past few days were weighing on all of them. "Alright. So, basically, since we have you here, Mari and I are going to do everything we can to prepare you for… Whatever happens out there. So over the next few days, we'll be equipping you with some practical survival skills – may be review if you were studious in your training. Or perhaps new, if you were not." She looked at Ridley when he let out a nervous laugh at her gaze. "Stuff like stitching up wounds, finding food and water, starting a fire… Making a tourniquet… Shooting a gun…"

I don't trust this one with a gun, Amiah signed, pointing over at Ridley.

"She doesn't trust you with a gun," Camellia said, looking back at Ridley with an eyebrow quirked.

"Hey!" Ridley said. "I can absolutely be trusted."

"Ehhh," Ryder said, laughing and elbowing him a little bit. When Mari giggled at that, Ryder's grin only grew as they looked at her.

"Excuse me, Miss Camellia, I feel attacked."

"Alright, alright," Camellia said with an amused smile, putting up her hand to stop them. "Before we can do all that shit, I thought we would start with a little bit of team-building." The smile fizzled off her face and she reached up to rub her cheeks. "It's been… A tough few days. But whatever you do, it'll be together. Trust me, I know it can be tough to transition from competitors in the Games to… A team. But unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the challenges you're going to have to face together. As a family." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she locked eyes with Mary. "I'm sorry."

"I don't really do the whole family thing," Kodi said with a shrug. "I want a family that chooses me, not one forced to be family. Sorry."

"You may be forced together," Mari said quietly. "You have to be a team. But you have to choose to be a family. Please don't knock it out without giving it a chance. Kodi, I'm an orphan too, and there was a time I didn't want a family either. Then I made one, with One Man Circus, and now with Out of Spite too…" She closed her eyes just thinking about them. "Just… Give it a chance."

"I claimed you as my brother before we even knew what was going on," Ryder said, reaching over to rub his cheek a little bit. "You're not getting out of this."

"Trust me, Kodi. When I got here, I didn't want to do the family thing either. I lost my brother." Her voice caught as her eyes filled with tears. "But in this place, I made new brothers. Nobody could ever replace Syca…" her voice dropped. "Or Numi… But I couldn't have done any of this without them all."

"Being part of this family helped me kick my eating disorder's ass," Mari said with a sigh. "They were there to comfort me when Bonnie sold out the band. With Freddy in his clutches and Lizzie… Gone. No matter what happens, we can't do any of it alone."

Mary closed her eyes at that, not wanting to see how Amiah was already nodding. But Mary agreed with Kodiak. She didn't need the others always in her business. She could do this. On her own.

"So, I thought I would start us off with… The team-building activity that changed my life forever." She smiled fondly thinking about it. "It's a fun play on speed dating."

Ridley perked up immediately at that. "I'm listening."

Camellia just laughed at him and shook her head. "You're going to get a ten minutes to meet each other one-on-one. Be honest and candid with each other. Otherwise, this is never going to work. Mari and I will be coming around to check on everyone and be sure you're staying on-task. Then, Mari here will blow the airhorn, and you'll move to the next."

"Oh, I bet she's going to be the best airhorn blower ever," Ryder said quickly, grinning when Mari giggled and Ridley and Kodi both sighed loudly.

"Do you want to have an interpreter?" Camellia asked Amiah, who shook her head at her right away. "Okay. So, we're going to start with the following pairs. Kodiak and Mary in her room. Ryder and Amiah in their room. And Ridley and Ember in his room. When the horn blows, you'll rotate."

Mary just sighed at this. But she just kept that smile on her face as she went to her room and held the door open for Kodiak, who closed it behind him.

"Look Mary, you're a good kid," Kodiak said right away once they were alone. "But quite frankly... Family sucks. I would really just like to be chosen because I'm loved. Not because we all need someone or whatever. Families may chose you, but then-" his voice broke a bit. "They choose to throw you away." He sighed quietly. "It's nothing against you."

He frowned a little bit at her, but Mary just shrugged. "Fine by me."

"Really?" Kodiak asked, squinting at her. "Oh. Okay. Good."

"What, you thought I was gonna cry about it?" Mary asked, climbing up on the bed. "Beg you –" she pretended to sob as she said, "please, Kodiak, I need a brother? I won't. I'm not a weak little girl like everyone wants to think I am." She crossed her arms as she sat on her bed and just looked at him.

"Oh. Well, okay then. I can respect that." He sat down on Ember's bed and rubbed his hand on the cut spot of his arm. "Glad you understand."

"Back at you," Mary said. Then, they just sat in silence. Mary didn't even want to try to break the silence. Being real with people only ever ended in pain. She could never show what was inside. It was a game of maintaining appearances. She didn't know how long they sat there in silence, but when the door cracked open, neither of them budged. After a few seconds, the door was opened the full way and Camellia was on the other side, giving them a glare.

"Seriously? This is the trouble pair!?" she groaned as she pulled the door closed behind her. They weren't even looking at each other. "What have you been talking about?"

"I told the truth. I have no interest in playing house with this group just because we have to like each other. And I certainly don't want to have a little baby sister to be responsible for in the middle of a damn war."

"I am perfectly capable of fighting for myself, just shut up!" Mary snapped at him, growling at the little bristle in his voice. "Yeah, no, I'm not going to beg him to be my big brother. I don't need a big strong man to protect me. Especially not a fucking poser like this. I'm young but I'm strong and I can do this. Alone." Family was such a fucking scam. She got enough of the blame for her mother's death at home. She didn't need another group of people that she had to come home to every day and be nothing but helpful, polite, and happy to keep them happy. She didn't want to try and earn another family. It was always a fucking losing battle.

Camellia just groaned. "It pains me to do this." She grinned as she whipped out the oversized shirt. "But not really!"

"What the fuck is that? That is the ugliest thing I've ever seen," Kodi said quickly.

"It's the get-along shirt. Both of you in. You don't get out until you reach an understanding."

"Camellia we have reached an understanding," Mary said. "And that understanding is that he obviously sees me as a fucking weakling and I'm not worth his time or protection. Fine!" She didn't need it anyways.

"Yeah, understanding reached," Kodi said, his voice cold as he pulled his knees in and hugged them.

"MARI!" Camellia yelled, before grabbing Kodi's ear and pulling him off the bottom bunk.

The girl was in the room right away as Kodi was crying out at being dragged up by the ear. "Shirt," Camellia said, putting it in Mari's hands. While she got the shirt on him, Camellia climbed up to grab Mary's legs. "Let's go."

"I never asked to be here!"

"Too bad," Camellia said, easily pulling her off and putting her over her shoulder while Mary yelled and hit her back a few times to get her to let her down. Camellia plopped her down on the ground and Mari put her in the shirt. "In the shirt you will live until you figure out a positive way to proceed."

"This is hideous!" Kodi said quickly. "You can't let anyone see me like this."

"That's up to you," Camellia told him, standing in the doorway and gesturing Mari to come with her. "Less pouty pouty. More talky talky." The door closed behind him.

"Way to go, you got us put in this monstrosity," Kodi told her.

"Me!? You're the one that attacked me first!" Mary said, standing her ground and shaking her head. "See, this is exactly why I don't fucking want a family. This is what family fucking does. They just snap and snap and fucking snap on me, and why!?" she closed her eyes. She couldn't cry in front of him. Not when he already thought she was a weakling. "It's not my fault we're here. It's not my fault she's dead! I've spent too much time proving to my own father that I'm worth keeping around and taking care of. I'm not gonna do that for you too." She was met with silence at that. She let out a frustrated groan and punched the floor a couple times. "Just say something! Yell at me, whatever, I don't care, I've heard it all before, just… Say something!"

But he didn't give the response she expected. "I'm sorry for snapping," he said quietly. "I didn't mean it. I just wanted to get her off my back…"

Mary blinked a little bit. "Oh."

"I understand," Kodi said quietly. "I've been yelled at too. Beat. Thrown on the floor on my knees. He wanted me to believe that made me weaker, and I did, for such a long time…" he sighed quietly and closed his eyes. "But it was all a lie. The only person that made me weak was myself."

Mary closed her eyes and when she opened them again, she was staring at the wall. "The worst part isn't ever the pain."

"They just don't understand. It must be easy to claim each other when you grew up with loving parents and great cute twink brothers and all. Not all of us are that lucky."

Mary glanced up at him for a second, and sighed. "I'm sorry I said you were a poser," she said quietly. "When I'm provoked… I fight back."

"You're right, though," Kodi said with a shrug. "I am the fakest bitch you'll ever meet. But I have to be fake to protect myself. If people saw the real me… They wouldn't like what they saw." He started scratching his hip – intensely.

Mary reached over and grabbed his wrist. She didn't know why he was doing that, but… She didn't like it one bit. "Stop, this shirt isn't big enough for you to do that." She just hung her head a little bit as she could feel the familiar sting in her eyes. "You don't have to explain that to me," she said quietly, swearing quietly when a tear broke out of her eye. "I already know. I said that about you, but… I was really snapping at myself…." She quickly turned away from him to try and hide her tears.

Kodi just sighed a little bit, reaching up and putting an arm around her. The crook of his arm was… Comfy. And warm. It smelled pleasant. Little sweaty, but mostly cinnamony. She'd never been held like this. As much as she liked the bar patrons… They didn't even know the real her.

"I know how much it sucks to not be able to be your real self," Kodi said with a sigh. "I wish I could tell you how to stop acting all the time. I can't. But… I'll letcha know if I figure it out. I promise."

"Maybe… Don't fall over, but… Maybe this whole family thing has something to do with it?" Mary said quietly, reaching up to wipe her cheeks. Kodi was quiet for a long while and when she could feel his shoulders rising and falling with sobs, Mary frowned right away. She upset him. This would be it. Nothing ever lasted. She could never be her real self… "Say something," she whispered. Tell me off. Break my heart. Ruin my hopes.

"You might be right," Kodi whispered, sniffling a little bit as the mascara started to leave black trails down his cheeks. "I just feel scared to find out because… What if it's not?"

"I don't know," Mary said quietly. "But…" She curled up into Kodi's side. "Well, let's be scared together."

Kodi smiled a little bit. "It's a start," he said quietly. "And for now… That would be enough."

~.~.

-Odessa Anthony, 18, District 9-

The excitement of the chase had long since faded. Now, Odessa felt like she was on some shitty roadtrip, except with people she didn't know at all and had no opinion about. The woods looked exactly the same after a while and the only thing that made the road interesting was a bump over a fucking root or something. She looked over to where Cadmus had his cheek on his hand, elbow resting on the door and holding his head up as it bumped against the window. Nadia had the whole backseat and was curled up, trying to sleep.

"Are we there yet?" Thack smiled as he leaned back to look at the rest of them.

"Where exactly are we going?" Odessa asked them. Obviously she was the only one that even cared, considering Cadmus hadn't spoken a single word since he got in the car and Nadia was trying to sleep.

"After refilling that tank in the back, we should have just enough gas with the refill in the back to get to the outskirts of District Nine," Thack said.

"Oh goody." It was the first Cadmus had spoken in almost a full day. He hadn't even spoken up about a piss break. Like any of them had to, with how often Thack was asking Calliope to stop for a piss.

"Well, you don't get to go home yet," Calliope said quickly, not wanting to get their hopes up. Like Odessa's hopes were up at all. This wasn't her home. But at the same time, she couldn't help but worry about her mother here in Nine…

Cadmus groaned at that and bonked his head against the window a couple times. "I can't believe we all got caught up in the middle of a fucking war. Just my fucking luck. You're telling me that you all did all this shit, somehow started a fucking war, and now I don't even get to go back to my siblings?! Do you really think they can survive a fucking war on their own!"

"I never wanted this, and I don't want any part of it. I just want to live." Nadia rolled over. "You think your luck is shit? I came in this place with two objectives. First is to win, second was to finally get my damn revenge on the District that killed my best friend. Not only did I get robbed of my chance of Victory, but they fucking killed the kid before I could!" She punched the seat a little bit.

"No offense, but that is literally not even close to the same thing as I'm going through," Cadmus told her, obviously a little offended that she would try and compare that problem with the problem of his siblings being alone with war on the horizon.

"I, for one, am at least glad that we're not all going to be put in a fight to death anymore," Odessa said, trying to look on the bright side. "But everything else about this is just not good news." She sighed a little bit. "First of all, my parents are on opposite sides of all of this, secondly, do you know how many people are about to die? Look, I get it, the Games suck, but this ain't it."

"Okay I liked it better when there was silence in the back," Calliope said as she gave Thack a look that indicated that she was driving and it was his job to sock it to 'em.

Thack sighed and turned around to them. "First of all, being salty about being robbed of the opportunity to kill people, that's fucked up."

"Isn't that what you're doing?" Nadia asked, sitting up. "On a much bigger scale than me. Don't play the moral game with me when you're gonna cause all these people to die because you're mad that they shot your friend."

"Shut the fuck up, this is about way more than just Phil!" Thack shouted, and Odessa's eyes became wide at hearing the soft-spoken band manager yelling at them.

"Someone sounds touchy."

"Let it go," Calliope said quietly. "They're processing."

Thack took a few heavy breaths and closed his eyes.

Odessa crossed her arms. That was an obvious indication that it truly was personal to him. "Look, what happened to Phil was wrong," she conceded, looking at the other two tributes who both nodded in agreement with her about that. "He didn't do anything wrong. But that one thing is not worth all of this. It's not worth putting all our families in danger like this and so many other innocent lives. Lives that are just as important as he was to you."

"We aren't putting more innocents in harm's way," Thack said. "We're giving people the opportunity to fight for freedom knowing what could happen. But it's a willing risk. And it's one that all of us just made, to save your fucking lives."

"You can't know that for sure. If it was as you said, then Phil would still be alive," Cadmus said quietly, staring out the window. "Their cruelty knows no bounds."

"They only repay what was paid first. If Numitor's gonna slander them, they have a right to fight back."

"Against an innocent!?" Cadmus asked.

Odessa looked between the two of them. She… She didn't know how to feel about this. She didn't know how to feel about any of this. War was bad, it was not the way to get out of this. But… Cadmus was right. She had seen cruelty from the Capitol. She couldn't defend what happened that night. And… She couldn't defend the state that Robin was in when she saw them, either. Robin hadn't done anything wrong…

"That's enough of that," Calliope said harshly. "I don't care if you think all this is right or wrong, right now we saved your lives and we're the only hope you have of getting out of this alive, so if you don't wanna die, you better fucking listen to us and do what we say. Follow us and Thack and I are willing to do what it takes to protect you. But if you go rogue, we're not going to put ourselves on the line."

"I don't want your protection," Cadmus said quietly, staring out the window. But it was obvious he wasn't sure if he actually meant that or not.

Odessa looked at the other two tributes and then at Thack and Calliope who were both pursing their lips, obviously trying to stay calm. She just sighed quietly. Cadmus and Nadia were both being unreasonable on both sides of the spectrum. And while Odessa definitely didn't agree with everything, she had to try to diffuse the situation.

"Thank you for saving our lives," Odessa said. "I wouldn't be able to believe anything about anything if I was dead. I will follow your plan because this is our reality now and I would like to leave it alive."

"You're welcome, Sweetie," Calliope said, giving a smile. "We're gonna keep you safe."

"Thanks," Cadmus said quietly, glancing at Odessa and then at the two in the front seat. "Guess I still have a shot at protecting my siblings since I'm alive. Better than if I was dead." Nadia just gave a grunt, obviously not ready to let it go. But the atmosphere was much less tense as they rode along. And it stayed that way until the car started spluttering and slowing down, indicating that they'd used up all the gas possibly left in the tank. It slowed to a stop before rolling forward a little more.

"Well, looks like we're doing the rest of the trip on foot," Calliope said, pulling out the holo map from the dash. "We have twenty-four hours until this thing shuts down, so let's not waste any time."

"You're sure we're gonna get there in time?" Cadmus asked, squinting at the holo.

Odessa tried a smile and leaned forward to punch Thack's arm. "Only if we limit our pee breaks."

Calliope gave her a grateful smile and a laugh. "He peed his pants last year in front of everyone at the party, now he never likes to go anywhere with a full bladder."

"Understandable," Odessa said with a laugh as she remembered watching that happen on TV and got out of the car.

"Everyone take as much as you carry. We don't want to leave a trail."

"Can't believe it. I have to do all the shitty parts of the Games without any of the good parts."

"Killing people is not a good part," Cadmus told her, loading up a backpack with food and a few bottles of water.

"Geez, leave some for the rest of us," Odessa said, squeezing his arm as she took as much food and water as she could carry. She was trying to trust this group, but she was always going to put her life first.

"Alright, ready to go- Babe, are you really peeing again?!"

"APF, darling!" Thack said, turned away from them all but they could hear the stream.

"Could you not have taken a few more steps away?!" Nadia asked him with a groan.

"I'm not going anywhere alone," Thack said, shaking his head as his smile faded at the thought.

"Alright, everyone stick together now," Calliope said, ushering them all together as she gathered the rest of the supplies and divvyed them up between the two backpacks for her and Thack. She pulled up the holo and brought up the map. She took a few seconds to orient herself and then started walking, ushering Thack and the others after her. The tributes followed them in a tense silence. Odessa was so fucking tired of the bickering. But she knew how to diffuse it.

"Well, now that the Games are over, I guess our deal is off. Guess what I saw at the party?" There was a few seconds of silence before Thack turned around for a second to look at her with a raised eyebrow.

"What?"

"You know the drummer for One Man Circus?" Odessa asked, snorting when she remembered the face he made when he saw her. "He was drunkenly sucking face with the intern behind a building."

"What?" Calliope asked. "Bonnie? I thought he was dating Hosanna."

"Remember, Hosanna isn't real," Thack said with a laugh. "I imagine that was a pretty loveless relationship considering they were both playing each other."

"Oh yes, I keep forgetting. They did a great job disguising that lot!" Calliope giggled again. "Guess Bonnie was just releasing all his repressed horny feelings."

Odessa was still trying to work through the whole Out of Spite thing, but… That made a lot of sense in hindsight. "You know, I hate cheaters. But he really didn't seem like a bad guy. And now that I know what I do about their relationship, I'm not surprised. But he was really bothered at the idea that I slander his reputation by outing him as a cheater, so…" She snorted. This all seemed so ridiculous now that they were here and not fighting each other to the death. "I blackmailed him with pictures into being my bestie for the night."

"I knew you couldn't just make a famous bestie!" Cadmus said, thrusting his hand out across Nadia to point at her, who grunted and swatted his hand away.

"What's that supposed to mean!?" Odessa asked, putting a hand on her hip.

"I spent all night trying to get an in with one of the celebrities to up my image, and they were all taken." He grumbled at that. "Even the girl from Eleven got one! Come on! Ryder got one and they didn't even do anything!"

"I mean… They had big biceps and a winning smile?" Odessa asked with a snort.

"It's nothing against you, Cadmus, Mari was scouting rebels."

"Still can't believe my own District partner would feel that way. That's… That's disgusting and I hope that they get their ass kicked by those mothers of theirs. That's traitorous! If I were them I would never show my face again. I mean, I expected the step-brother to switch the moment a hot boy said something rebellious, but Ryder?! Going into the Games!? A rebel?! Dumb."

"This is all crazy," Cadmus said quietly, shaking his head.

"Well, that's all the tea I got," Odessa said with a shrug. "Lester got all moody and upset that Bonnie didn't want the pictures released. But then he went off with Kodi."

"Scouting rebels," Thack said.

Odessa just snorted. "He was scouting ass. Just so happened to have rebellious tendencies."

"You right," Calliope said with a laugh, laughing more at the look that Thack gave her. "She's not wrong!"

"Well excuse me for wanting to believe that Stellan's mole would actually do his job."

"He did," Calliope said with a giggle. "Just also got some ass while doing it." She shrugged a little bit and kept walking. The group went into silence. They walked until the sun set, until Odessa's legs were burning and aching and she thought she couldn't walk a single step more. But as soon as the fence came into sight, it was like a new life came over them, all of them hurrying over to it, staying together and leaning on each other.

"My legs are going to fall off the moment I sit down," Thack said quietly, leaning heavily against Calliope.

"Mine too," she said with a giggle. But when she saw the truck on the other side, she could have practically cried with relief. She hurried the rest of the way over, standing protectively in front of Thack and the tributes. "Wolf is rad," she said quickly.

"What-" Odessa said quietly, but Thack gave her a look to stop talking.

"Cowabunga!" came a voice from the other side of the fence, and he soon came into sight from the rest of them, waving. At the response, Calliope visibly relaxed. "So, you must be Stellan's Arena refugees. A fine-lookin' bunch you are." He came over to greet them and Odessa smiled a little bit at the gentle look in his eyes. Welcome to District Nine. Oh, I should say… Welcome back!" he smiled at Cadmus and Odessa. "Alright, let's get you city slickers under the fence. You're gonna get comfy in the bed with a little feed on a tarp over you. Then you'll stay the night in the stable and we'll get you movin' to the bunker early in the mornin'."

"Oh, great," Nadia said. "As if this day couldn't get any worse!"

"Sorry, what's your name again?" Calliope said. "I'm Calliope and this is Thack."

"Jem, pleasure to meet ya. I hope y'all ain't afraid'a a little dirt." He brought them over to a small hole at the bottom of the fence. "I dug as much as I could on this side, but you might gotta dig on yours."

"Got it," Calliope said, producing a mini shovel from her bag. "I knew we'd need the shovel." She got to digging right away while Odessa watched in horror. Dirt? Feed? Stable?! Oh, the things she did to stay alive.

Soon, Calliope dug enough that she could get through the hole, pushing herself under and squeaking in surprise when Jem grabbed her and pulled her the rest of the way through. "Phew. Thanks! Ladies, you'll have to squeeze the titties."

"Goody," Nadia said again, crossing her arms over her chest as Thack wiggled under the fence through the hole. The rest of the tributes followed – and Odessa thought her tits were going to suffocate, but thankfully only for a few seconds as the others pulled her through the hole. She could feel the dirt on her legs and butt, but didn't even get a second to brush off before Cadmus was the last to come in and they were ushered into the bed of Jem's truck. Odessa could feel the hay put on them on top of the tarp, barely able to breathe with only her nose outside of the tarp. But they had to keep from being detected, so the five of them stayed quiet through the drive back. It seemed to go on forever, before the truck was slowing down and in reverse. The smell of shit filled Odessa's nose right away and she could hear snorts and kicking and clumping around on the other side. The truck shut off, but Odessa already felt like she was going to miss the truck ride. They heard the door close and Jem appeared, holding a lantern.

"Alright, you folks are good to sit up. You should be safe here. We're on the most rural outskirts of District Nine. Welcome to the farm!"

"Ugh!" Nadia said, sitting up right away and throwing hay off of herself.

Cadmus let out the loudest sneeze chain that Odessa ever heard while she sat up and rubbed her eyes a little bit.

"Bless you!" Calliope said with a laugh.

"How can you be laughing!? We are trapped in a stable with animals that smells like shit!" Nadia said.

"Sorry, tried to shovel before meeting y'all but…" He smiled and walked over to rub and pat the nose of a cow. "These guys are adorable little shit machines. It's okay Gloria."

"This had better be the greatest plan ever," Odessa said, crossing her arms. The animals were cute, but the smell in here was just fucking awful.

"I don't know, I think they're cute," Thack said, jumping out of the truck and trying not to make a face when he sunk into the floor a little bit. "Oh boy."

"Well, thank you for hosting us, Jem," Calliope said, also getting out of the truck and holding a hand down for the others to follow. Cadmus went first, Odessa next, and Nadia scowled as she slid out last, taking no help. "It's just one night, guys."

"Sure, sure," Jem said with a smile. "Now, if the ducks come 'round, don't be shy, they love pets! The geese, though…" He shuddered. "Don't ever look a goose in the eye. If you do, they'll nip at your balls like wild."

"I wanna pet a duck!" Calliope said, elbowing Thack, who forced a smile.

"Well, get settled. Don't be scared, you're surrounded by the most gentle and noble creatures. In fact, Gloria over there, she's a cuddler!"

"A what?!" Cadmus asked, staring at the cow in question, who snorted and shook a fly off of her ears.

"Alright, you guys find a good spot to avoid eyes and I'll be back with some dinner and lemonade for you all. I bet you're exhausted." Odessa didn't want to admit that lemonade sounded fucking amazing right then.

"But… If anyone comes in, just make some cow noises. You never know who might be peepin'."

"Like… Moo?" Thack asked.

"You think that's a cow! That's a damn city slicker. Nah. Like you mean it! Moooooo." Jem's voice was much deeper and way more convincing. So convincing that the cow looked over at him.

"Moooo!" Thack said, impersonating Jem's.

The cow didn't look, but Jem gave a thumbs up. "There ya go. I'll be back to bring y'all some refreshments. And Squiggles!"

"And what?"

"Pet pig, you'll see!" Jem said in a sing-songey voice as he left.

"I am not mooing," Nadia said.

"Oh, come on," Thack said with a laugh. "Don't you want to help the moooooovement?"

Odessa hated that she laughed at that. It caught her off-guard.

"I love you," Calliope said, a grin spreading across her face. "Very moooooooch."

"Not as good," Cadmus said, shaking his head.

"Oh, come on… Cadmooooooooos." Odessa laughed at herself and ruffled his hair.

"Oh, good one!" Thack said with a laugh.

"Will you all just shut up?! This is literally the worst day ever." Nadia shook her head.

"Look, this sucks," Odessa said, but she just shook her head. This was ridiculous. "But at least we're all alive. Let's just… Make the mooooooost of it."

Cadmus finally broke and laughed at that. "You're right," he said with a sigh. "At least we're alive. And this is shit, but I always wondered what the rural areas were like. So…" he shrugged a little bit. "I can deal. At least I'm close to my family."

"That's the spirit," Calliope said. "I know it's not glorious, but it's what we have to do right now." She sighed a little bit. "Dibs on the cow cuddles though."

That got a few laughs from the group. But the smile soon came off of Thack's face.

"I'm here," he said, putting his hand to his ear. His face darkened immediately and his mouth fell open a little bit. "What?!" Calliope's brows furrowed in confusion as she put a hand on his arm supportively. "Understood. We made it to Nine safely. I'll… See if Jem knows anything."

The man in question came back with lemonade and stew that smelled delicious, but he noticed the looks on their faces under the light of the lantern and his smile slowly fell. "Is everything okay?"

Thack looked at them all, looking like he didn't want to speak with a troubled look on his face, he finally sighed. "It wasn't anyone that is in conjunction with us or our group. But… Someone bombed a Capitol orphanage." He frowned a little bit. "It wasn't ordered by any of the rebel groups we know, even if it's being pinned on us…"

"Who would do something like that?" Calliope asked, her jaw dropping in horror.

Cadmus looked over at Odessa, both of them with identical expressions of horror on their faces as they reached a mutual understanding. But Cadmus didn't say it out loud, so… Odessa closed her eyes, and spoke.

"An entity whose cruelty knows no bounds."

~.~.

-Bonnie Bunsen, 19, Capitol-

He sat by himself, looking up at the screens that were lining the wall with a frown. He could see how Freddy was pacing around in the absence of Lis, he could see where Lis was sitting still in the make-up room. He could see the look on her face as stylists swarmed around her, sitting still. He could see the flighty look in her eyes. He tapped his fingers on the console as he took a few deep breaths, only looking up when the door opened and he saw Crimson on the other side.

"Here you go, kid." He held up a cup that was steaming. "Careful, it's hot."

"Thank you," Bonnie said quietly when Crimson set the cup of coffee in front of him.

"Got this too." He passed him a bag of ice.

Bonnie frowned at him. "What's this?"

"For your face. You look a little swollen."

Bonnie's mouth opened for a second before anything came out of it. "O-Oh. Thanks." He took it from him slowly. He didn't want to accept anything from him, but… He pressed the ice against his nose anyways. He sipped the cup of coffee. "Have you heard from Agent Eight?"

"Nothing," Crimson said with a frown and a sigh. "Any way we had to track him went down with the Gamemaking Complex."

"Great," Bonnie said quietly. "You've worked with Commander Apollo before…" he said quietly. "He won't beat me too… Will he?"

Crimson looked at him for a moment with sad eyes. "I… Don't know," he said quietly. "He changed after the rebels took out Junius…"

Bonnie sniffed a little bit but quickly cut off the tears. Everything was okay. Lis and Freddy were doing what they were supposed to, at least. And the rebels had gotten quiet. Suspiciously quiet…

"Don't worry. I'm going to make sure nothing bad happens to you. I promised your brother."

"I don't want his pity. Not after he left. He left me with our sick grandmother to go live with a family that had everything. He left, and… And I was just a kid, that had to care for her and do all the funeral shit on my own." He crossed his arms and turned away from him. "I don't want to hear a single thing from Andrew."

Crimson just sighed quietly. "Well, he still asks about you every day and loves you very much," he said quietly. "For what it's worth."

"Nothing," Bonnie said, crossing his arms. "It's not worth anything." Andrew left him alone. He didn't want his brother back in his life after that. For leaving him on his own. He thought he had it made, he was dating Lester, happy with Andy protecting him. Then, Andy just left. Made Bonnie grow up at the age of fourteen to take care of his rapidly deteriorating grandmother.

And Lester… How was Bonnie supposed to know that Lester could also lose his mind someday?! Bonnie liked to take care of people, but when it was someone he loved, slowly losing their sanity to their own body attacking brain cells… How could Lester expect him to stay and witness that!? Take care of him and lose him before their fortieth birthday!? That wasn't fair.

Crimson just took a sip of coffee. "At least Kin isn't stubborn as hell."

"He can be, don't let him fool you. He can be a little monster."

"Aw, he seemed like such a nice kid."

"He always does, at first." Bonnie shook his head. But Kin was just as bad as the rest of them. He existed to give Bonnie a hard time and try to stand in the way of his dreams. Well… The joke was on all of them, because now he was here, a top advisor to the Head Commander. He made it. This… This was what he always wanted.

And yet… He wasn't happy here. None of this made him happy. He just… He failed so much to get here. He hurt so much to get here. And right now, this didn't even feel worth it all… What would it take for him to have that feeling?

"Well…" He sighed quietly. "You're lucky to have each other. Agent Eight, he was… Like a brother, so…" He gave him a sad smile. "I'm realizing how much I wish I would have told him what he meant to me. I thought he was invincible."

Bonnie could feel his eyes become glassy, but he turned away from him. "I don't need brothers. I don't need a family. This is what I want. This is what I need. And… I can take care of myself." He put the bag of ice down on the table.

"Poor kid," Crim said quietly with a sigh.

"I'm not a kid!" He was now nineteen.

"To me you are," Crim said with a small smile.

Bonnie opened his mouth to protest, holding his finger up, but quickly closed it when he saw Lis crying on the screen. Hopefully for the footage… But he watched in horror as a few unmasked guards came over to her. "Give me volume on screen ten."

Crim was going to log in to turn it up, but it was too late – they were already taking her. Bonnie's eyes widened as he stared at the screens. No. Fuck. He felt helpless as he watched, but as soon as he saw their destination, he got up, pushing out his chair. "No."

"Bonnie, you know what Apollo said," Crimson said quietly. "He said they would do anything to smite the rebels."

"Well he's not doing this," Bonnie said, grabbing his card and storming out of the room before anyone could stop him. He moved quickly through the halls, glad he'd memorized the floorplan for this place earlier so he could get there as soon as possible.

He knew he was getting close when he could hear the screaming from the room, and could see the door sliding shut. He took off at a run towards the door and held it with his arm, keeping it from closing all the way. He stood there for a second as he looked at the room for a long second. He hadn't been down this way before. But… The room was white, and empty, except for a chair she was strapped to and a screen that was right in front of her eyes. There was nothing to even monitor her vitals with. Vasilisa had gone quiet, looking around the room with nothing but fear in her eyes.

Bonnie swallowed hard as he pushed the rest of the way into the room. "Stop!" He ran inside, panting a little bit as the door slid closed behind him. He saw a guard prepping a needle and slapped it out of his hands. "I said, stop!"

"We are under direct orders from-"

"Please," Bonnie said. "Don't do this to her. Let me have one more talk with them, please don't do this…"

"Sorry, but-"

"I'll take the fall," Bonnie said quickly, casting his eyes down. "If I can't get them to change their minds, I'll take responsibility and face the Head Commander. Just…" His voice grew quiet. "Stop this, please." He was left in silence for a long while. He cleared his throat and straightened back up. It was a game of composure. "Allow me to escort Miss Castle back to her room and you… Take a nice long break. How long? An hour? Two?"

"Two," one of the guards said, looking at Vasilisa and back at Bonnie, leaning towards him. "Alright. Take her. But if the Commander comes 'round, your ass is getting thrown under the bus and run over."

"Understood," Bonnie said, swallowing nervously at that thought. Fuck, why did he always get himself into trouble like this?! This was why it was better not to care. But Bonnie already made his choice, even if he was kicking himself for it. He walked over to Lis, un-doing the belts around her wrists. "Please, come with me, Miss Castle," he said quietly.

The girl in question got up quickly, and couldn't have left the room faster. Bonnie walked with her, trying to slow her pace and keep her calm as all eyes were on him on their way out the door. To her credit, Vasilisa stayed quiet until Bonnie scanned her into her room. As soon as the door closed, she let out a small scream. "What the fuck was that?!"

"Vasilisa, please calm down," Bonnie said quietly. "What happened? I thought you were going to cooperate…"

"I-I couldn't," she sobbed quietly. "They killed Dante…"

"Lis?!" Freddy appeared, but at soon as he saw Bonnie, his expression went sour. "Get the fuck away from her! I said get AWAY!" He lunged at Bonnie with a loud yell and Bonnie screamed and ran backwards away from her, not stopping until his back slammed into the door. He couldn't get away from there faster. Freddy was mad and he was going to hurt him. This was always what happened. No good deed went unpunished.

"PLEASE DON'T!" he shouted at Freddy, leaning down to defend his vital organs and squeezing his eyes shut. He could hear his heart roaring in his ears as he hugged himself, tense and crying as he was just waiting for the impact. When there was a long silence with no impact… Bonnie finally peeked up. His heart was still racing and he was half expecting to look up to Freddy's shoe coming at him, but… Freddy was with Vasilisa on the other side of the room. Bonnie could feel the flush of humiliation and shame wash over him for his reaction. Fuck, he hated when he curled up and accepted defeat. But after being beat so much at home, and at Three Oaks… He couldn't bring himself to inflict physical violence on someone else.

"Just go," Freddy said, his voice cold as he was holding Lis who was sobbing in his lap. "You got what you wanted from me so just go. It's obvious how little you care about us so leave us alone. You sold out your own bandmates! I thought we were a family. You were my brother, I loved you, and you repay me this way! I'm just going to give them what they want from now on. So leave us alone. I don't want your help."

Bonnie stared at him, but he was too afraid of the look on his face to try and argue with him. He hated getting hit so fucking much. And… He wasn't sure he could take it, coming from Freddy. "I just don't want to see you get hurt," he told them quietly.

"Well it's too late for that," Freddy said coldly. "So just do us a favor and leave instead."

Bonnie hung his head, but he was right. He did sell out Freddy, and the girls. Whether they were his family or not. This was more important to him than them. What was he thinking?

No. This was worth it. Bonnie was doing something good. He trusted the government. He believed they had his best interest in mind. After all, his father was a politician. He loved the government. He dedicated his life to making this country a greater place. Bonnie wanted to follow in his footsteps, and he was! This was what he was meant to do. No matter how much it hurt, all of this pain would bring about growth. He had to keep believing that. Otherwise… What was he?

Bonnie scanned his card, turning around and walking away from there. He would have to come back later, maybe when Freddy was asleep, and try to talk some sense into Lis. Sometimes, to get ahead, you just had to do the thing you despised while keeping a brave face. In her case… She had to find the strength to do it in order to survive. Hopefully she could. Bonnie had a feeling he wouldn't be able to save her from the hijacking room again.

He went into the bathroom to splash his face, his hands shaking a little bit as he tried to get it together. He just had to find it in him to keep being strong… Somehow. Bonnie took a few breaths. He was willful. He could make himself do anything. Otherwise… What was he?

Bonnie rubbed his cheeks. When he came out of the bathroom, the flashes of the TVs on the wall caught his eyes. Fuck, why did they have to haunt him with the Games Complex explosions again? All of those lives he could have saved if he wasn't such a fucking coward. He kicked his foot hard into a support pole and swore quietly, shaking his head to try and get back with it. Fuck, he hated doing stupid shit like that and hurting himself…

But while he was standing there and holding his leg… They started the footage again. It… It wasn't the Complex explosions. No. Bonnie knew that building. Bonnie recognized that tree in the front yard. Hell… He recognized the kids playing in the front yard when the unmarked hovercrafts loomed above them. Bonnie stopped breathing when he watched the bombs fall on the place. He stood there for a second and stared at the footage. The captions flickered past his eyes, but Bonnie didn't move. He didn't move until he heard his phone buzz.

Bonnie didn't even check who was calling him, he silently put the phone to his ear. He couldn't force out a greeting, but he didn't have to before he heard his brother's voice on the other side.

"Have you heard from Kin?"

He couldn't respond.

"Bonnie. Answer me!"

At the urgency, and the anger in Andrew's voice, he forced out a response. "No."

"Fuck!" Bonnie heard a loud crash from the other side of the phone and his brother's scream. He was silent, staring at the wall as he watched the footage of the building, which was now nothing but ash. "What do we do!? We have to find him!" Andy's voice broke as he was yelling and Bonnie heard the sound of a door slam and Andy shouting. "KIN! KIIIIIIN! Fuck. ANSWER ME!"

Something about hearing Andrew shout his name knocked the sense into Bonnie. He looked around quickly, and then hurried at a run to the Commander's office, all while Andy stayed on the phone, screaming their youngest brother's name. Surely Kin wasn't there. He was surely out with his friends. He was always out and about. He hated that place. And yet, Bonnie left him there. Why?

They had to find him.

Bonnie pushed past the secretary as he felt the familiar sting in his eye. But he couldn't cry in front of his boss. He knocked on the door before pushing it open, surprised when it was unlocked, and found a smiling Apollo on the other side.

"Apollo, the rebels," Bonnie gasped out, putting Andy on mute for a second. "Three Oaks. My baby brother."

"Bonnie Bunsen, just the man I was waiting to see. I heard that you made the executive decision to give the hijacking team the afternoon off."

"Please, I'll be in early tomorrow, I have to go look for him." Bonnie fell to his knees and begged. "I convinced Lis to do it a different way, I swear, take her in this evening, she'll be ready, where for hijacking you'd have to wait at least a day!"

He was met with silence, the only sound in the room his own shaking breaths. "Well, boy," he said with a sigh. "The girl had better live up to this promise. I wouldn't want you to get in trouble after you just redeemed yourself from your first screw-up." He sighed and put his face in his hands. "Take the rest of the day off today. Seems like you've had a tough day. I'll be sure to have someone cover the shift you were too weak to take."

"I wouldn't any other day, it's just… The rebels. The orphanage. My brother…"

"The rebels? Oh yes. I will do anything to smite them. Dear boy, you know that to gain power, you must make sacrifices. Look at all the sacrifices you've already made to get to where you are. Some sacrifices… Are worth making, if it brings about a new era of peace."

Bonnie slowly looked up at him at that. He… He didn't want to appear weak. If he threw everything down the drain now, none of those sacrifices would be worth anything. But… Bonnie didn't like the tone of his voice. He didn't want to look at this man anymore. He had to go looking for his brother.

"I have to go."

Some things weren't worth sacrificing for this.

~.~.

The door was pushed open slowly. But he couldn't sneak past Lester. Not when Lester knew what happened. Not when he knew to be looking.

"Any luck?" Lester asked, quickly taking the soup he was making off the stovetop and hurrying over to him. Bonnie swallowed a lump in his throat and just silently shook his head as his glasses misted over, hiding his eyes from view. He wasn't sure he could talk without crying. If he could even talk at all. His voice was so tired from running around and yelling his name.

Lester's eyes filled with tears at that and he threw his arms around him and held him tightly. Something about being in his arms… It finally broke him. Bonnie released a quiet sob, interrupted in the middle by a voice crack from his exhausted vocal cords. He hugged him back tightly as he released another high-pitched and painful cry and grabbed him. That was it. They searched everywhere. They tried calling him, checking the number again and again, fifty times, and it didn't even ring, just like Andrew said. If they weren't able to find him today…

He was gone.

Bonnie's baby brother, gone. He was fucking fourteen. "He was too young," he croaked.

"Too young to leave us," Lester said quietly, punctuated by another sob. "I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault," Bonnie said quietly, trying to be strong. After all, Lester grew up with him too. But… It was just something about being around him. He couldn't fake anything. He couldn't try to hide how this was tearing him up inside. "It's mine."

"No," Lester said quietly, pulling him back to brush the tears away from his face and revealing his teary face to him.

"YES!" Bonnie shouted, turning away from him with another sob as he took his glasses off and threw them down on the couch, violently wiping at his eyes. "I left him behind."

"You had no idea this would happen. How could you have possibly known!?"

"It doesn't matter! My baby brother died alone!" Bonnie sobbed and pressed his face into Lester's neck. Lester held him tightly and didn't move.

"Sh…" he said, but it didn't help that he let out another small sob. "Quiet, darling… If you slow your tears, you can have some soup, it'll make your throat feel better at least…"

"It should have been ME!"

"No," Lester said quietly, clutching onto him again. "I need you."

Bonnie was just reduced to tears again and Lester pulled him in close, pressing his face to his chest. "It's okay, you're safe here, with me," he said quietly, burying his wet face in Bonnie's hair. "I love you, I'm going to protect you. Count heartbeats now, dear."

One, two, three… "Kin."

"Sh," Lester said quietly, still stroking his hair. "Deep breaths."

Bonnie closed his eyes and took a deep breath of him. Four, five… He was fourteen. He was a kid. And Bonnie did to him exactly what Andy did to him, all those years ago. He was no better than him. In fact, he was worse… Kin died because Bonnie left him there. It couldn't be. He couldn't really be dead…

"Just keep breathing, you're safe and you're going to have some soup and then we're going to spend the night together, okay, I'm not leaving your side."

"You should. It's my fault he's gone. I left."

"If that's your argument, then I left too," Lester said, his voice fiery. "And Andy left him. All of us did."

"No," Bonnie said. It wasn't their faults… But if it wasn't, then it wasn't his either… He clutched Lester's back tightly. He didn't want to believe it. He didn't want to calm down, not when his brother was dead and it was because of him… He didn't feel like he deserved it. He didn't deserve to be calm, or happy, he deserved to be in tears, desperately gasping for air. He deserved to be alone, just like Kin died. Alone.

"Heartbeats," Lester said again, and Bonnie closed his eyes again. Six, seven, eight…He didn't want to keep counting… But he was already feeling dizzy and just… He wanted to wither away into nothing, but his self-preservation was too strong. "There you go," he said softly, pushing his hand through his hair. "I'm proud of you."

His gentle voice, his familiar scent that smelled like home… They calmed Bonnie's sobs down and caused him to press his ear against Lester's chest to keep counting the steady beats of his heart. Nine… He took another deep breath, his stomach rumbling and his throat pulsing like needles were shoved down it. Ten.

He didn't know how Lester was staying strong like this. But he was thankful. He needed it. "Thank you," he whispered. Not even whispering could sooth him.

"It's what you do for the person you love," Lester said quietly, putting an arm around his waist to support him as he walked him over to the table. He poured both of them bowls of soup and Bonnie watched silently.

"I never deserved you."

"Sh," Lester said soothingly, putting the bowl in front of him. "Eat."

Bonnie sniffled a few more times, still crying silently as he looked at the soup. He took a big spoonful and put it in his mouth, letting out a small scream at how it scalded his mouth, but still swallowed it down.

"Hey!" Lester said quickly, jumping up to take the spoon from him. "Careful."

Bonnie hung his head so he couldn't see his face. "Wasn't thinking. Silly mistake." But he liked the pain. He deserved the pain.

Lester shook his head at him, obviously not trusting him as he sat down again beside him, feeding him each bite and testing it himself before offering it to him. Bonnie took the soup from him. The warmth of it made his throat feel better already, and swallowing the soup and water helped him to swallow down his tears.

"You need to eat," Bonnie told Lester quietly when he was about halfway through his bowl. "I'm okay. Yours will get cold."

"I have a microwave." Lester stubbornly spooned another bite into Bonnie's mouth, and he took it silently. He didn't deserve to be taken care of like this. Not when he had so much death on his back. He could have saved this nation from war. But he didn't.

More tears came out of his eyes and Lester was right there to dabble the snot from his nose with a tissue before it dripped into his soup. He just didn't know what to think.

"Who would do something like this?" he asked quietly. "They were innocent children."

"Bonnie…" Lester said, looking around quietly before he lowered his voice. "It wasn't the rebels. You have to believe me. Wolf would never do that…"

Bonnie looked over at him. "What… What makes you say that?" he asked quietly, blinking a few times to get the water out of his eyes.

Lester frowned at him and let out a small sigh. "Because…" he sighed and looked away with them. "I'm with them."

"Lester-"

"Run away with me," Lester said, grabbing his hands and holding them so tight. "Take refuge with me. Please!"

"This is crazy," Bonnie said quietly, staring at him. "You said-"

"I know what I said," he said quietly. "But-but, please, Bonnie…"

Bonnie closed his eyes. This couldn't be true. He… He was living with one of them all this time and didn't even know!? And worse… It was Lester! How could he possibly turn in the man he loved!? He could… To save this country from war, get back in a good standing with the Commander, and have everything he wanted.

But… Was that really what he wanted?

Some things.

They just weren't sacrificing for this.

"I don't know who did this, but it wasn't-"

Bonnie's face darkened as the words of the Commander echoed in his ears.

Some sacrifices are worth making.

He spoke in the lowest, deepest whisper. "I do."

Lester sniffled a little bit and reached over to wipe his mouth, staring at him with those hopeful green eyes that made Bonnie melt inside. "Please Bonnie, come with me. I'm not leaving you alone."

"You have to," Bonnie said quietly, all of these things and all of the things he'd seen swirling in front of his eyes.

Lester dropped the spoon in the empty bowl. "No!" he said with a small sob. "I won't!"

"Lester." Bonnie looked at him and shook his head. This was Lester's path. And now… Bonnie had the chance to choose his own. And he knew what he had to do.

He took Lester's face in his hands and came forward to kiss him softly in the dim light of the kitchen of his apartment. Lester's cheeks were wet with tears but he grabbed Bonnie's cheeks and held him there, trying to drink in every single detail of this moment. The moment he finally got what was rightfully his…

Bonnie pulled back first, opening his eyes slowly as he felt Lester's breath against his lips he was so close.

Forgiveness.

Can you imagine?

"We'll always find each other," he said quietly, lacing his fingers through Lester's as his expression became pained. "But you have to get to safety alone. I…I want to come with you, but…" He sighed a little bit looking into those eyes. He had to trust that they would find each other again someday.

"…There's something else I have to do first."

~.~.

A/N: This chapter really is a big kahuna of stuff, isn't it? Hope you enjoyed! Keeping the A/N short because we've already peaked over 11K for this oops.

Anyways, let me know your thoughts, no real CQ but know that I'm Emo okay Bye.

Next chapter: The something else, a mentor/escort check-up, and Ruthie.