They That Are Alive By Twilight.
Part 1: Breathe.
Disclaimer: For the new readers - this fic is a companion story to They That Are Broken By The Night (AKA: TTABBTN). You can read this story without reading TTABBTN, but feel free to check that out, too, if you want a more complete story centered around morality, connection in death, and what it means to live. It's on my profile! But this fic is focused on the gays of said fic because brainrot. Without further ado, if you do read - I hope you enjoy!
CW: Self-harm. Child abuse. Ableism, in particular ableist slurs.
'Cause we could be immortals, immortals
Just not for long, for long
And live with me forever now, pull the blackout curtains down
Just not for long, for long
- Immortals, Fall Out Boy.
Madison Saros. District 1.
That's what she has to be. He stares at her from the end of the warehouse. Head tilted, lips tilted. Maybe it's a smile. Maybe it's not.
She wobbles. Her toes are weary. Her ankles shake. Her arms ache. Her neck hurts. They're approaching the eleventh hour.
But he wants her to stand.
And so she will.
She grinds her toes harder into the ground. Fluid expels from her skin: pus, rot, blood. It doesn't matter, not really: her feet are too numb to feel. He will berate her later for the mess, and she will apologise.
Her tiptoe is exhausting, but she will stay. His voice infiltrates her brain. Don't tell me you're tired already, Madison. This is barely an hour longer since the last. You can't be so pathetic. I've trained you better than that.
Her jaw unlocks. She would gasp - for breath - except there is none left in her lungs. She would tighten her stance - for strength - except atrophy draws manacles around her legs. They draw shakes into her skin and quavers into her tendons. They draw spasms into her toes and her ankles buckle. No. No, she can't fall, not like she had the last, on her eleventh birthday, two weeks ago, his eyes went stormy and he'd ended up so mad, broke her arm because she was maladroit, that was the word he'd used, flushes tangled her cheeks and she told him it won't, can't happen again, she promises, she promises.
She closes her eyes. She can't—
"Can I please…?"
It's not a request. It's a beg. It's one she doesn't expect fulfilled.
But Levine cocks his head sideways, and amusement papers his lips.
"Fine," he says. Madison's eyes flick up. It's hazy. He is. His smug face and his lanky figure's a smear, and if she lets her sight go some, then maybe Levine'll melt with the blurs of the warehouse, and then the warehouse will melt into beige and red and swirl with cedar, and then her world will disappear, dust and din and dead.
If only it wasn't just in her head.
"What are you waiting for? Do you need someone to tell you to walk, too?"
She takes the first step and almost collapses from the stand. It would've been better if he laughed. Because then she could pretend that he'd planned it all. Planned her to fail. Planned for her to fall.
But Levine only scoffs. Dismissive. Pathetic. I expected more from you. Come on. I made you better than that. I didn't rescue you from dirt for this.
"I'm sorry." It spills from her mouth, so breathless.
He laughs. His scoff still laden in his throat. "Wrong answer."
She looks up at him. It is the wrong answer. Levine can do nothing with apologies. He wants redress.
"What do I have to do?"
Levine's smile widens. "Now that's the spirit. I want you to dance."
(Her feet are bleeding, from the gaping pores, sticky with sores, sickened with ache and the nausea of pain.)
She raises herself to her toes.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
There's a story that her Mom always tells her again and again back at home.
Maeve, age zero and nothing, tried to claw out of her mother's stomach, too impatient from being stuck in aplace and too desirin' to be in the world. Almost had to cut her open.
You're a feisty little child. The run-down doctors said. Cocking their heads in their run-down clinic to the run-down child boutta be brought into the run-down world.
Just a moment more she was in there, and they could've sawed her Mom open with rusted blades. They would have sawed her head off, too.
(Would've been a shame. The doctors say. Maybe it would've been better that way. You feisty little child.)
You've never changed since then. Mom would say. Her fingers tap against their table. Rotted with ridden holes. Ra-ta-ta-ta-tat. Ra-ta-ta-ta-tat. Loud. Disorienting. It pounds in her head. Like bass.
Her voice, just like bass. It's not fond. It's not anything. Just despair because Maeve Alcraiz's in disrepair. To her. That is what she is to her.
You wanted to climb. You wanted to break free. You wanted to be so alive. You didn't care who got in the way. I still bear your scars.
Ra-ta-ta-tat. Her fingers tap against their table. One day. You'll destroy everybody around you. Is that what you want, Maeve? It's what will happen, because you won't let me help you control yourself. And when you come back again you're gonna forget I've said anything again, and I'll have to say this—this spiel again, and you'll just go again. I know—know you're mentally challenged, but—
Her Mom grabs her arm. Clutches her. So tight.
Maeve wrenches away.
Her grin's so painful on her face. It's twitching so painful on her face.
Fuck you, she thinks, but the words never make it through her mouth.
She goes. Her Mom buries her hands in her face.
She doesn't look back once.
Madison Saros. District 1.
There is one day where they break her.
She'd spaced out, for a moment, during training. Her head was stuffed in the murk of a nightmare before. It was her fault. She shouldn't have thought - shouldn't have dreamt.
It was an accident. A bludgeon too hard against the side of her brain. He crushed half her skull, and crushed her eyes in tandem, and then she was on the ground. Metallic bloodstink and malmsey fluid leaking from the hole in her head.
He'd left her there for thirty, for twenty, for ten. She doesn't remember the time. Just that it stretched on for eternity. As specks of black flashed behind her eyes. She couldn't close them. Could only watch as the world jarred and splintered into pieces in front of her. As her sluggish thoughts rolled in her brain.
Is this how I die?
(Do I mind?)
It only took forever for him to bring her back to the cell. He'd wrapped bandages around her eyes. Called another man. Veneri was his name. An Academy-man. A doctor-man. A surgeon-man.
Their splinters of conversation she could not remember: they spoke in metonymies. Metonymies. Slang. Like the Chamber, her brain leaked out as an example. A twinge of pain thundered through her skull. The Chamber? Really. So being half split open isn't enough for you, she'd thought, half a laugh in her throat.
Her brain didn't respond.
Splinters stayed with her, like the serrated glass on the ground: the Academy will cover... we will pay… no, of course… you're the Capitol's Scientist… yes, a new batch of weapons too, to replace… noted… thank you…
It was a dirty surgery. Did they take chunks of her eyes out? She doesn't know. She doesn't know. But she can't be surprised. No, not really - they own her. It was only a matter of time. Until she started not knowing what they did to her body.
(On her fifteenth, with a knife that blinds her and a bludgeon that breaks her. That is the first time she meets Veneri. That is not the last time he comes back.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
There is one day where Dad turns her into the Academy.
Because it's easier for them to handle her. Doesn't matter that she wasn't of age. Doesn't matter that she was barely a child then. Doesn't matter that she's—she's... slow, she's deficient, she's… different, you know that.
Maeve hears. More than they think she does. That is a lesson she learns. not long after. That when they think something's wrong with your brain. They talk like you cannot hear them.
It's your fault she's like this. What the fuck have you done to her?
I don't know… I've done nothing, Cassius, stop… please, I don't know.
Why did you give me a retard for a daughter?
I don't know… please, I don't know… I've done nothing… I'm sorry, Cassius, I'm sorry.
Maeve pretends she does not hear them. It is a theatre game. They play-act all the time. But that she does not mind. She play-acts all the time.
It's half the fun, after all.
Madison Saros. District 1.
They told her what happened, three days after. He told her, his face masked in a sneer. As if with that. She wouldn't be able to see the anger churning underneath his feverish eyes. Oh, it was nothing much; he'd just bashed her a little too hard, broke her a little too much - a little so much that her eyes cracked and her retina slipped and.
And they fixed her. The best surgeon in One: Veneri was his name. She had ten days of surgery ahead. But their solution is only temporary. She will dissolve away. Soon. So soon. She is running out of time. She has under three years or less.
(Madison won't admit that she'd smiled then. Even if it was at the expense of her pain. Because she's dying. Her sight is, anyhow. She'll be useless to him. She'll be useless to them all. No longer their perfect Career. No longer with all they've invested in her to be. Because of an easy accident. An empty husk - not for long, now. Perhaps with that, she'd be free.)
She should've known better than to indulge in that fantasy.
It was only a matter of time. Until they left a hole in her throat for her hopes. Not physically, no: they'll leave her throat intact for the ribbon that will entwine her neck, as the cheap medal thuds against her chest. No heart to her save a Career's antique. It was only a matter of time. Until they slotted in their own voicebox in her flesh. Not physically, no: they'll lather her throat with rhetoric, as the propaganda machine spews ideals with her body. No sense of self save a Career's genes. It was only a matter of time. Until they stripped her of her eyes and left her purblind. Oh, physically so, and then some more: they've used her up and they've broken her, as invisible armor and invisible crown weighs equal parts on her head; parts a gladiator and parts a toy.
She swallows her scream. No, she cannot speak, much less act: she is far-too paralysed by their desires.
Instead, she forces her mind into a dream. Into a world elsewhere: it is a hazy place, a nowhere place, a cozening place, a mist-suffused place, but it is a place. It is a place, and it is not her place, but it acts as a respirator enough against his place that damns her to her fate.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
The other half of her fun comes in the Academy.
Because that's where she can enjoy herself. That is where she can thrill. It's what she appreciates, if only to spite her Mom's cries: too stupid, too ridiculous, too witless, too dumb, too brain-dead. You're not supposed to be in the Academy, Maeve, please—
It doesn't matter to her, because that's where she can have fun.
(If she's being honest with herself, Dad probably thinks just the same. Nah, scratch that - more like definitely. But that's why she doesn't like to think about these things. Not just because there's a hole in her head sometimes and there's a slush-too-much sometimes and she prefers not to think, just do, because doing's easier than thinking and...)
It's… typical. It's whatever. The Academy is, that is. It's more people. It's more interaction. It's more action. It's more heat. More pain. More power all-showered. More cadets all-cowering.
Maybe it's all because of the sing-song of the bloodsong in the air. The trill of the thrill that mingles in the air. Because death's stench is just an arm's reach away that the atmosphere's so alive.
That would've made the Academy perfect. Maybe. Maybe Maeve wouldn't mind the Academy, if she doesn't know what they whisper in the hallways.
Psychotic. Crazy. Freak. Can she even speak?
Maybe she wouldn't mind the hallways. If she doesn't know what the trainers say.
Do you want to train her? Do you think she can even concentrate? Do you think she's even capable? I mean. Have you seen her? Do you think she'll win for Two? Has a lunatic ever won the Games?
Fuck off, is what she wants to say. But no, she can't: her eyes are glazed, her mouth's half-words all she says, her smile gleams too clear on her face, she can't tell, right?
So she smiles so wide, until the skin on her lips crack from the exertion of it all, under speak properly and breathe normally and quiet hands. Under stop doing what you're doing, be normal, for once in your fucking life, and she smiles and smiles and smiles.
Madison Saros. District 1.
When she is alone, she make-believes.
There is a world where she is okay. There is a world where she is less-alone than she is. Madison wouldn't wish Levine on anyone; no, that would be selfish. But maybe - just maybe. There is a world where she isn't the only one here.
Her days pass without much care. Levine had enrolled her into the Academy, at sixteen, after her injury. He'd evaluated her: her physicality, her muscularity, her stability. He tapped the pen against his lips and quirked an eyebrow. Cupped a hand over her cheeks and stroked her chin. My perfect experiment. Now it's time to put you to the test.
The Academy's cadets looked at her, scoffed and sneered and jeered. She still remembers their names. Luke and Cadmus and Shavia. She still remembers their words. Who d'you think you are? Coming into the Academy at your sweet sixteen? She stayed still, until he from their platform had cocked his head at her. Come on, what are you waiting for? So she'd looked back at the Academy's cadets, and broke their spines and snapped their bones and showed them exactly who she was.
One's Career experiment. The Capitol's pet.
He takes her back to the warehouses, every night. Her nights pass without much care. He locks her in the cell every night. Leaves her to her cot. Leaves her to rot.
The moonlight corrodes her. Silver pools underneath her feet. Silver protrudes her pallidness. It leaves her shivering and staring at the nails embedded only a little too loose in their holes. She thinks about them, sometimes. She wonders if it's intentional, sometimes. If he leaves them there to test her resolve.
(She has. When it's too much to take. She draws the ends over her arms and red rivers run parallel to her veins and that is pain she can control. That is pain that lets her breathe. That is pain that lets her feel here, grounded, palpitating and shaking and crying but alive. And she would've made it last. If not for…)
She keeps her mind so empty. It is better, that way. Having a blank slate for her mind is how she'll survive. Savouring in a nowhere place is how she'll keep beating.
It's better than the alternative.
He invades her dreams. It's only to be expected: he controls her every movement, her every breath. He wears a smirk and a sneer. She snarls and screams and tears because he's just a thing in her mind. She cuts him up raw. Until she has stumps for fingers and red for nails. She eviscerates him. Until her knives are blunt and the thousand cuts she clamps on him aren't enough. She burns him. Until the kerosene submerged in her skin singes embers at a touch and gasoline sears a wildfire across his forest warehouses.
Even if that cannot be reality. She can twist her nightmares into fantasies.
(She won't admit it, but she dreams, sometimes.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
Her only reprieve is when she goes into the golden forests.
It's all secluded behind Two. Away from the industrial smogstink and the run-down slums that she's too familiar with. She'd accidentally stumbled into the vast expanses of the world she'd yet-to-experience, after crying for a bit because Mom and Dad were yelling so loud it had hurt her ears, and she ran off to somewhere away from home to breathe.
Maeve wasn't expecting to find another realm. But the amberlight forests were exactly that: misty in yolk-gold and breathtaking in its hazes. She'd curled up underneath the hollow of a tree, tightened her arms round her legs some, and slept in the midst of cricket's screeches and the sanctity of wildlife for the first time. And ever since then - it had been home.
It's somewhere where her parents won't ever be able to reach. It's somewhere nobody'll. Not unless she lets them. This world is her realm. She is its regent. It is her dream, as much as she is its.
She doesn't need to save her breaths here. She doesn't need to be anybody but herself here. She doesn't need to stop, act, pretend. Doesn't need to… be… that person they all like to construct her as. Shattering her into pieces and reconstructing her jagged self into images that make sense in their heads. Maeve's tired of being only messed up pieces in their brains.
(Maeve would like to be buried here, too. If she dies. 'Cause it's… peaceful. It's not like home. It doesn't have their yells or the bangs of their pots and pans and sobs that wrangle their apartment. It just has susurrations. It has yellow and sure, it's not her favourite colour, but it's better than the dreary grey that meets her eyes every day.)
(Though— if she's being honest with herself. Maeve wouldn't truly like to be buried. It's suffocating. It's asphyxiation. It'll be better to burn her. At least then. She'd be so bright-alive. Igniting. Even when she's long gone and whisked away. She'll still be pulsing alight.)
The only person she allows into her kingdom's Kiernan. She'd taken him away, when she was twelve and he was six. He was huddled up so sad on the top of their bunk-beds, and she couldn't stand seeing him like that. So she whispered in his ear, lemme show you a secret, and she'd tugged him by the hand and brought him into a new world.
They play in the wilds, together, laughing and shrieking and screaming - only good things tumbling forth from their mouths. Kiernan shoves her in the golden mounds and she trips him up as he runs. He crashes in the cushions of leaves and she rolls in them right beside, twisting away from his fingers as he tries to tickle her. She launches an attack right back but he's just as deft and he smirks and goes for her again and again and again. Maeve squirms and her body twists into a dozen shapes to get away, she squeals but it's all good shrieks. She reaches to tickle him and Kier fights her back, twisting too and laughing too loud.
They do it again, and again still, until they're exhausted to the bone. Until Maeve's life's her own again. Till they're breathing and breathing and breathing again in the deluged gold. Never suffocating anymore.
"Maeve?" Kier asks every time, the moment night's about to claim their forests again. "Will you stay with me here?"
"I will," she replies every time, and the words couldn't be stronger in her mouth, just as her grin couldn't be wilder on her face. She throws an arm round his shoulders and nuzzles him in her chest and he laughs and she believes.
(That was… before. Before Kiernan starts to shake his head and glower every time she asks. Before he starts to shoot resentful looks her way, instead of that smile that'll glint across his face at the prospect of playing. Before he starts to talk bad about her, just like Mom and Dad, and she pretends that it doesn't hurt. Before Maeve curls up in the golden forests on her own. But that's okay.)
She can daydream alone.
Madison Saros. District 1.
Her volunteering is given.
Step after step. Up and up onto the stage. They stare at her: all dreary faces, darkened faces, smog-smeared faces. As if they all know. It is nothing more than a ritual of the bygone.
She follows in the footsteps of Sterling Stelvein. Who had walked the same walk. Who had raised the same raised hand. Who had peered from eyes so glassy, so broken; just as she has. It is just the same, last year, and it will be the same the next year again, and the year after that, and then still. It will last into eternity.
She's so tired. She isn't weary in the bones, no: she is Levine's perfect creation, perfect manifestation, perfect machine. No. No Career is weary in the bones.
She's weary in her soul. And she fain would sleep— she needs it. She craves it.
Her life has always been short. It would had ended, upon the streets, shivering in a ball and huddled under one dirty blanket, underneath the crusades which winter takes upon One. It did not end, then. But it will end now.
She is returning the shreds of time that Levine has forced upon her existence. She'll have rest. She'll have rest soon.
(The dead relish in that best.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
By all reasonable thoughts and intents, they shouldn't have let her volunteer.
She's a Career. Sure she's a Career. But that is because she is different enough. From last year. That is what they whisper to her. In breaths. You are not like Sappho. You're spunky. You're energetic. You're lively. Not quiet. Not like her. You're just what we want. You're just what we need.
That's their reasoning, at least. But Maeve knows the real story. Three of the Academy's top girls toppling from their pedestals, plunging like broken birds into the abyss, stopping short of volunteering. And they turn to her with an offer of tesserae and a plea.
It's funny how nice they can become when they need ya.
They stop scorning her in the hallways. They start looking at her like she means something to them. Like with a grin and a wavering breath and a beg. That she'll just forget.
She doesn't matter to them.
They don't matter to her.
She volunteers. For him. For his breaths: short, ratty, less and less in his lungs with every day past. For his life: ebbing away, slowly, because Dad's gone and they barely have any money left to get what he needs to keep breathing. Kiernan needs her.
(Kiernan drifts from her. She sees his eyes: accusing, hurt. She hears his accusations. It's implicit in his hefts. What d'you even do those nights out, getting high or spazzing out or both? When have you stopped being able to speak? Oh wait. Fucking—really, Maeve? Are you really that slow?)
But at least he says it to her face. Unlike her parents. She still has to play pretend for her parents.
She volunteers. For them. Because they need the tesserae. 'Cause Dad's left them three days after Maeve's tenth birthday. Can't take anymore. He said. That's what she remembers. 'Cause he'd spoken to Mom too, in front of her, 'cause Maeve's retarded and can't hear what he says.
She volunteers. For the tesserae. Two year's supply for you to off yourself. Who's taking?
She raises her hand, and yells.
"Maeve Alcraiz! I volunteer as tribute!"
(Does she even know who it's for?)
She volunteers. For herself. Because they won't let her breathe. She's suffocating in her life. Not quite alive and not quite dead. She has a past that wears on her shoulders and a present that isn't a present. She has a life so regimented pressing down on her back. She has a life so unfettered that it'll be her destruction. She has monotony that's so maddeningly exhausting. She has a pulse and impulse that'll make her alive again. She has names and misnomers and names again curdled round her being. She has a blade and a laugh and she'll slash them down all into the fucking ground. Throw up a middle finger, too, maybe. Prove them wrong, prove them right. Maeve doesn't care, she just needs to be free.
She has a smile on her face. But she doesn't want it fake.
Maeve needs to breathe. But all she's doing is suffocating. One moment by another. One day by another. One breath and another. How much more can she take? She's just waiting for the moment her breath'll go.
And so she goes, onto the stage, where the recrudescent stars and lights are. She's always had an actress's life: of do and play and show.
What's one more?
Madison Saros. District 1.
He visits her in the goodbyes.
His entourage follows him into the room. They're escorts and troops: those who have entertained him as Madison rose her hand and said those same words.
Right, of course. He'd made her Reapings a ceremony.
They dissipate, with a wave of his hand. He takes a step, and another forward. His hand brushes over the chair ahead of her; a ghost of a touch, but chills crawl down her skin, still. She grips her fists tighter, hidden under the wooden table, and she forces her eyes down. At least it isn't metal. Metal hoists too many memories in her head.
"Madison," he says. "I've waited long for this moment. Look at you. My creation, up on the world's stage, representing One. It's all I've wanted."
Her nails edge into the crevices of her palm too easily.
"I'm proud of you. Show them what I've made of you. I'll tell you to make me proud," and this, a scoff curls his lips, "But I'm already proud of what I've made."
His knuckles brush her cheeks. "I don't think there's much to say, other than that," Levine continues. Madison keeps her eyes ahead. His skin is cold and too veiny; they rasp against hers. She does not stiffen. She is not used to his affection, but she knows not to react when it happens.
Levine's eyes bore into the top of her head: she does not look, but she feels its burn. "You'll do well," he says, leans in, and presses a kiss to her forehead. The wrinkles of his lips brush past her skin.
She's left staring at his figure as he leaves. But he never truly goes - his shadows persist in the pillars, and the ceilings, twining around the table legs and wrapping around her wrists. His rot smears her cheeks and her forehead, a sickening murk that she can't extricate from her skin. He haunts the eyes of Peacekeeper and passerby - he's a parasite in her brain that she can't be rid of.
Her body is rigid and frozen, even as the Peacekeepers ward off the last of the remaining visitors, even as her District partner gets up from his seat, and stares at her, for long, as if he wonders what renders her so paralysed, and if he can replicate it in the Arena.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
He visits her in the goodbyes.
Kiernan. He stands at the door, peering into the too wooden and dreary grey room. The shadows obstruct most of his features. Maeve swallows something down her throat, and sadness quirks by her lips. Because… it's been too long, since she'd seen him face-to-face. Has the lines on his forehead always been there?
She opens her mouth to say his name— but the shadows move, and his glare stops any words from forming in her throat.
He looks at her so mad.
"Don't you understand what you've done? You've damned us all."
The last vestiges of Maeve's smile falter.
"Fuck you, Maeve," Kiernan spits. "No, seriously. I've held it back when you were off chasing—chasing some high, when you were messing around because you could, when you've left me so fucking alone. But I'm done pretending I'm not mad. Fuck you. Whatever's coming to you in the Arena? You deserve it."
He bristles and storms out. Maeve's throat isn't there anymore. There is a hole where her words are supposed to be: one she can't make work, no matter what she tries to say, and she's not sure if that's 'cause the words don't materialise or 'cause her mouth's faltering.
Kiernan doesn't understand. But… that's okay. She's expected it. He still doesn't understand… why she's doing this. But he will. She'll change things, after she wins, and even if she doesn't, that's okay, they'll still get their tesserae, and maybe Kier won't be so mad at her corpse.
It's so cold. Maeve isn't sure if it's the AC's doing or just because their room is so spartan and wooden and sad. She'd expected it to be nicer than that, but the first lesson Maeve's learned is this: there is not much she can expect from the world. She has to tear strips of dirt from it and carve out her own place in it for anything to be truly hers.
Her Mom enters, then. Mercurial. Whispering comfort because Maeve needs it, berating her because Maeve's ridiculous, sobbing because Maeve can't hear her. Mom stays. Mom doesn't go and find Kier. Maeve tries - she'd gotten so far as two steps before they told her to sit back down. She's left looking at the door, at where Kier's presence once was.
Mom leaves her. Eventually. When time's up and they're calling all of them up to the trains. Mom grabs her cheeks and Maeve isn't sure if she wants to slap her or hug her.
(She kisses Maeve's forehead, instead, sobbing all the way, and all Maeve can do's stand still.)
There is a while when Maeve sits in the goodbyes, quite alone. It's okay.
It'll be her show, soon.
Madison Saros. District 1.
She's not sure what she sees from the clips.
Only that Maeve Alcraiz is another being entirely. Some would say. Kind of dainty, maybe. Yet. She has a half-feral grin on her lips. Yet. There's ethereality in her poise. There's a power and a strength to her. That Madison won't let herself dwell on.
It's that strength of mind you don't have. His sneer, by her ear. He grabs her by the hair and slams her against metal. So I'll have to grow it in you.
"You have the same look that she had, last year."
Madison's head tilts up to her mentor. Aoife Fantazes. A sneer curls by her lips. She looks at Madison through her one working eye. Half-scoff and half-weary. Half-tired. Though she does not look the part: not with the attitude emblazoned on her face, holier-than-thou. Madison is not unused to that.
Aoife's braces creak when she stands. Yet it is barely present, tanged with the chugs and screeches of the tumbling train. Madison wonders if it is intentional. That she picked the loudest part of the train ride to rise.
She wonders if that is how she copes.
Aoife cocks her head at Madison. Her arm presses against the countertop. Waiting. It is that same arm. Madison registers. That she had used to rip the District Two male's head from throat. With a pike and a roar from her cragged breath. After braving through torrents from the tropical rainforests and the mutts that razed her alive.
It is how she'd achieved her victory. In the 37th Games. Levine made her recreate it, one day. Shanked metal through both her legs and she'd doubled over. Her knees hit the dirt and evergreen. He didn't laugh: only chuckled, as he pressed the button on the timer, as night mangled the horizons. Now, now. Good night. Don't let the cranky wolves bite.
She presses her eyes shut. She lets out a breath. She opens them again. The forest leaves her sight. Her eyes leave the crackling screen. She tilts her eyes up to Aoife's.
"What do you mean?"
Aoife's studying her. She's been studying her for the past few. She wonders if she knows what she sees. She wonders if she knows that the ferality of her Games is replaying in Madison's head. She wonders if she cares.
Aoife laughs. "What do I mean? You tell me. I know you know. What happened to them last year."
Madison looks away.
Aoife picks up the remote from the table. The footage shuts off. Maeve Alcraiz ebbs away from the screen. Swirls away and away until it is as if she was never there at all.
"Whatever. All I'm saying, is. Watch out for her."
Madison knows why. District One and District Two. It isn't the first time.
She doesn't reply. She lets the silence stew between them, instead. Aoife's fingers twist upon the countertop. Until finally, Madison looks up again.
"You've mentored Sterling last year."
It's a statement, not a question. They both know what's happened.
Aoife's eyes flick away. Something dark seeps into her one working eye. It's darker than the look she'd given to Madison's District partner. Avior Stolvania. After he'd glared at Aoife, and shoved her aside. Fuck you, you're not gonna mentor me, you'd let Sterling ruin the Stolvania name. I didn't volunteer to deal with you. I'm winning this thing on my own terms. Aoife had snapped back, with something restrained in her throat. I'm the best you'll get, you ungrateful bastard—
Aoife looks back at Madison once again. It is almost a glare.
"What do you want me to say?"
There's a scoff that laces Aoife's breath, after Madison doesn't respond.
It is almost eternity until Aoife looks back at her. But when she does, there is no more superiority that shines in her eyes. Nothing with authority. Nothing holy.
"I know who you are. I know what you are. I know you're… his." Aoife sighs. Her voice lowers: down and down octaves until it's a bass Madison can barely hear.
"Look. If you want to die in the Games. Do it discreetly."
(For sanity. No District One girl has come out of the Games with her humanity left alive.)
Not that it matters.
Madison Saros is dead in the head. All she has is a body that is not hers left.
What does she do with herself?
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
There are really only so many times you can flick a cork into bordeaux until you get real bored.
The train rides are that. Boring. Her District partner's that. Boring. He's especially more boring when he grabs her bordeaux from the counter. Grabs the cork (that she'd so meticulously flicked in!) out and scoffs and tosses it in the bin. Drinks the entire thing down the hatchet of his throat.
Maeve stares up at him. Half offended. Half her lips pouted.
"Hey! I was usin' that."
He just snorts. And drinks. Like she hasn't said a thing.
Maeve doesn't know where they've fished Ranulphus Marcellus from. Bad and broody and oh-so-wantin' victory. Maybe from the stereotype box buried in the Academy.
But she will call him Randy. Just 'cause it makes more sense. Just 'cause it's easier to understand. Than the long unwieldy name that he wields.
She follows his eyes. His eyes go to the screen. To the District One girl's volunteering.
She's pretty. So very pretty.
Randy tilts his bottle into his mouth. Clenches his jaw. "She's dead meat. Soon. Just as red as the fuckin' wine here. We'll toast to that. Shall we?"
Maeve frowns. She doesn't know why Rand's. So angry. So pissed. As if One girl had shoved a sword to his gut. (Well. Maybe Maeve does know. She has just a suspicion why. After all, there's a reason why the Academy was so mad at the Games last year.)
But one thing she knows is this. Dead meat isn't pretty. And Maeve doesn't really wanna see dead meat of One girl on screen.
"Mmkay," is what she says, and they stop speaking there.
Her mentor's Pythia. She's famous because she reads prophecies out. Out from her head and her mouth and they didn't believe her. Until they did. And she read a prophecy that she was gonna win the Games. And win she did.
(Maeve doesn't ask. But she might just be as cuckoo as she is. Even though she seems far more composed than her.)
So. When she went up to Maeve. Maeve grinned up to her and asked. Can ya give me a prophecy?
Pythia ignored her. At first.
But Maeve was grinning too much. And so eventually, Pythia caved. Fine. She said, her eyes steely. If you insist. I can't promise that it'll make you happy.
Maeve Alcraiz. They praise her name.
She soars into the skies.
For the life she's lived a lie.
She'll break through her guise,
Reprise as a resplendent knight
Defying her plight.
With fight that heralds flight.
She'll explode into the night.
One breath leaves her lips.
She'll be the world's upheaval.
The primeval demon.
The ethereal entropy.
Brevity in ecstasy, levity in heresy,
Dying in dream.
Preserved in eternity.
Maeve cocks her head. Huh. Something curls by her lips. After Pythia speaks.
Because. She can't say she doesn't like that.
Madison Saros. District 1.
She steps off the train, and faces the Capitol in all its glory.
Its sounds engulf her. Their cheers. Their roars. So eager to see the sheep they've plucked to the slaughter this year.
Yet. It is not an unfamiliar sight. He's always told her about the Capitol. About its resplendency and its magnificence. About its prestige and its majesty. A pastiche of war-torn victory. He'd say. A pastiche of gladiatorial depravity. She'd think. Yet Madison will bite her tongue. Hard enough that she draws blood from herself.
And when you're there, Madison. He said. Brushing strands of her black hair away. Then gripping. Tight, so tight. Pressing down. Until gleams of white protrude from her head. A maniacal grin on his lips. A laugh. I'll be the one that crowns you.
It's already there. His ghastliness stands in front of her. His grin stretches wide.
He grabs her legs. Shackles her to him like she's his wretched creature. He grabs her arms. Pushes her back against the warehouse walls. Too beige and too much a stage. He grabs her neck. Squeezes until she's choking on her breaths. He grabs her head. Caresses her cheeks, and then her ears, and then her temple and her forehead.
He places the crown down. So heavy on her head. She struggles. His grip's too tight. She can't leave. She can't—
A nightmare. It's just—that. Playing in front of her eyes, despite how she isn't asleep, a reel of his likeliness, again and again, as her eyes wander across the Capitol, their shapes, their eyes, their eyes, elysian grey, sagacious white, just like him, just like—
No, please no, fuck no—!
She shuts her eyes. She lets her lungs rise and heave.
"Get yourself together."
Madison's eyes open. Aoife gazes back at her: her jaw gaunt, her face like stone. It isn't a glare, not quite, but it isn't empathetic, not quite. But Aoife exhales, and she takes a step forward, and another, till she stands a few feet in front of Madison. Her back is nearly a shield.
Okay. She's okay. Slow. She'll take it slow. It'll be fine. She'll be fine.
She will be. That's a promise she makes to herself.
(It's a promise she can't keep, but better try than not at all.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
She is beautiful in the parades.
The Capitol does their usual-old. Injecting pomp into their romp. With songs and serenades. With cascades of blades. Malled out of liquid-so-insipid. Hung upon their waists like they'll get to use them in the Games. Yells at them. With screams and dreams. Too vivid and wicked. Death to the Eights and Fuck the Fours.Constructed from their faces and their charades and their cold wars.
Don't bore us, that's what we abhor, no, no, go soar, that's what we adore. Give us glory, give us gore, more, more, give us more!
It's only a tradition for decades. Going down their crusades, through the runaway. Maeve Alcraiz invades them: because she shouldn't be here, not at all, she's not a stoic slaughterhouse nor a tragic dreamboat, but she is here and that's what matters.
One girl's Hades. In front of her. All intimidating-like. With her dark armour and her dark glare. Maeve has to stifle a giggle into her knuckles. 'Cause she doesn't think black suits her very well. If it were up to her. She'd make her more red.
But for now, she'll focus on the crowd.
Give us a show! Make the Arena blow!
Randy's next to her. He isn't anything special. Just a gladiator. Wielding his broadsword like he's compensating for something. And a gladiator's all fine and dandy. Except. It can't match up to a queen.
Not just a queen. She's more than that. Oh, much much more. Her stylist had taken one look at her and yelped in delight. There's so much to work with! And Maeve had nodded eagerly, let up a grin on her lips, and let him do his magic.
So she stands. Now. So grand and powerful. She doesn't just know it. She feels it. The horses whine for her. The ground shakes for her. The crowd breaks for her. They revere her, and they eat her, and they scream for her. And something giddy coalesces in Maeve's throat.
She is a goddess.
They are under her. They are watching her. Oh so riveted.
But there is a caveat. She is who they behold. They will try to buy her with gold. She has a death that's been foretold. They know she will explode. She is who they intend to control. They want to swallow her soul.
(They are in her thrall, and Maeve Alcraiz will end them all.)
Madison Saros. District 1.
What she fears the most is training.
The train rides are necessary. The chariots are just ceremony. But training is different. Training is him. Training is his scorn and his laughter. Training is his derision and his punishments. Training is—
It's not the same. Training's in a warehouse and not in a building. It's the same. The selfsame arch upholds the place and the same weapons and knives are left to dry upon racks. It's not the same. There are tributes abound, not like Levine who'll just stand there and watch, though he'll bring people sometimes, like Centurion and Veneri and Auster, to record her performance. It's just the same, those Gamemakers up in the parlor, peeking out of their glass windows. It's the same. She can't breathe. It's the same. No, it's not. It's different - the walls are a gunmetal grey, not grey like the beige walls back in the warehouse, grey like the Chamber, he's sinking his hunting blades down into her body, severing flesh from flesh, peeling her down like a pomegranate part to part, neck to neck, and no, fuck, no, she can't be there—
She meets Maeve Alcraiz during training. Kind of dainty, she thinks. It's unlike the Careers she'd seen before. On Levine's screen, fleshy bodies and fleshy grins. 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. With their flashy deaths and their incurable need for victory.
"Hi," Madison says, a breath and another out of her neck, because any less and she won't be able to breathe. "I'm Madison."
"Maeve," the girl replies. And she's seizing her up, she's watching her, she's analysing her, she is, just like the rest of the tributes, just like him, fuck, she's the same, they're all the same, what made her think—
A huge smile breaks across the girl's face, a smile too wide for the arena here.
"You're real pretty," Maeve grins back up. "Y'know that, right?"
Madison blinks. Surprise leaves her mouth slightly open. But slowly - she closes them, and lets a half-smile grace her lips too.
Her words slip from her mouth, half-involuntary, mangled with the leap of her heart in her chest.
(She reaches, half-voluntarily, with the beat of a hope laden in her chest.)
"You're beautiful, too."
Maeve's grin is just as bright. Just as pretty - always so pretty. She shines, like she's an angel: a crown of flaxen around her head and a beat in her step, and there could be nothing more ethereal that would rob Madison of her breath.
Madison's heart is still erratic. But in a different way now. And so soon she is sharing Maeve's happiness in the dreary training room, where only one person here will survive.
It is better, then. For her mind. Better than Levine. Madison Saros couldn't breathe otherwise.
(A blush crawls across her face, too, at Maeve's words, but she won't admit that so fast.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
It's the second day she has training with Maddie, and Maeve starts to notice a few things that she does. Sure, they have their Career packs and all that fancy. But all Maeve really cares about is Maddie.
(Not that she knows why. But there's a tug in her chest, there's a beat, there's a thrill, there's a need, there's—a feeling. Maybe they'd known each other in a past life. Maybe that's why.)
Maddie's not a typical Career. She doesn't mind talking with the outliers. As long as they're willing to talk to her. Like… the District Five boy. Sad and scared and sticklike. Maddie approaches him, during lunchtimes and other times. Helps him. More than she should, as a Career. That's what Maeve's deep-throaty mentors and trainers would say: stupid, but not a bad strategy, if you're trying to drag a goat till the end. But Maeve does not think that Maddie thinks that.
(Do you think it'll be okay? Maddie asked her, hanging by the doorframe outside of Maeve's quarters. If I added Scott to the pack?)
(Maeve had grinned at Maddie, right then and there. He's your friend. Why not?)
Secondly. Maddie never goes to weapons. It's like there's poison in them. The other Careers rile her up for it. The District Four girl in particular. A sneer. Are you for real? Don't you know how to fight?
But Maeve knows. That Maddie is more-than capable. It was at late afternoon, middling down to night, when all of the tributes had left back to their quarters. After their long first day. It was just them: alone in the training room.
Maddie was looking at her so sad. And something twinged on Maeve. Because that wasn't okay. She shouldn't have to be sad. Anything that made Maddie sad made Maeve frown.
So Maeve grinned at Maddie. Maybe that could lift her spirits. D'ya wanna fight?
Because anything was better than letting Maddie wallow in her misery.
Maddie had cocked her head. Her sadness subsided. Behind her eyes. Okay, she said. Okay, let's fight.
They did. It was a struggle. A heated one. Lasted five six and maybe ten minutes. But it took a while. Till Maeve was pinned down. It was surprising. Because Maeve was good at fighting. But Maddie was even better.
Maeve was breathing on the mats. Grinning and oh-so-alive. But Maddie was so still - too still, on top of Maeve. Something was about to make out of Maeve's lips. Maddie. You okay?
But Maddie had been so faraway.
That was the third thing that Maeve noticed about Maddie. That she was always so… faraway. Maybe empty. Like she isn't there at all. Fighting on the mats with her was just one of the times—
"Hey. Hey, I'm talking to you. Can't you fucking hear me?"
Maeve blinks. Late afternoon and its sunset rays swamp away from her eyes and she's back at training again. Quinn's staring at her, and she's got a sneer on her face. She always has a sneer on her face. Maeve wonders if it's engraved on there.
"Did you hear a single thing I've said?"
Her tone's reminiscent of home. Of her mother. Looking at her like she's witless. Her tone's reminiscent of the Academy. Of trainers. Looking at her like she's a child. Just like them all. Treating her like she's brainless.
But before she can even speak. And explain. Or anything. Quinn rolls her eyes. "Jesus. Deaf and dumb. Don't make me kick you out of the pack, Two. Alongside One."
Maybe she shouldn't have laughed, but she couldn't keep it in.
Quinn looks at her. Shock stays too long in her expression, as her eyes narrow. "You're finding this funny? Really?"
Maeve shrugs. Still with that easy grin on her face. "Okay, but, like! Who d'ya think you are? What makes ya think that you'll be in the pack?"
Four shouldn't assume that. Nobody trusts them anymore, because of what's happened last year. It happens every year. Cold wars and cold grudges in between. They'll forget it just as easily during the next. But the Career Districts' bloodthirst is enough. Enough to justify them keeping Four out from the pack.
"I'm the pack leader." Quinn scoffs. Half-disbelieving. Half-fearful. "You can't just… overthrow me like that. I'm in control. Not you."
Maeve grins. She holds her hand out and starts to count.
"Who says? Randy's with me." She puts her pinkie down. "You already kicked Maddie out." Another finger goes down. "Even though she kinda never even noticed ya in the first place. Goes without sayin'. She doesn't want ya. An' Maddie's partner's a Stolvania." Another finger again. "He doesn't wanna be with anyone. Last of all. Your District partner is… useless." Her index finger goes down. "Oh, and obviously. I don't wanna be with ya." Maeve puts her last finger down, and only a fist is left of her hand. Maeve twists her wrist around, looks up at Quinn, and makes a face. "Sorry."
Quinn blinks, as if Maeve's just rocked (or wrecked) her world.
Maeve shrugs. She gives her a grin. It could almost be sheepish, if Quinn ignores her laugh. If Quinn wants to comfort herself with that.
"Sorry. Not sorry. Just sayin'. Maddie's in charge. Not you."
Quinn splutters. Maeve giggles, again, and doesn't bother to stifle it in her knuckles. That was nice. Quinn'll probably try and hunt for her. That's what her Arena arc will revolve around. Maeve doesn't really care. Quinn can try for all she wants. She'll fail spectacularly.
Anyways. Now that that's done. What was Maeve thinking about again?
Right. Like she'd think of anything else lately.
Madison Saros. District 1.
It's been three days in training, nearly, and there's no sign of Levine in her mind.
Madison's fingers shake. She sits down on the bench by the side. She doesn't know why she can't take her mind off the fact that Levine's no longer in her mind.
Because he's always there. He's there, for every moment she breathes: he's her saviour, he tuts, she owes her life's being. He's the one who created her, really: she was a rotting husk of herself when he'd seen value in her flesh and stolen her from the streets and made her a being. He'd slammed a breaking knife to her skin. He'd cut her flesh away. He'd whittled her bones away. He'd built her up again.
(He'd made her a machine. Not just a mental machine, a perfect Career, flawlessly augmented, conditioned to be— but a physical one too, with what he'd done to her. But she does not think about the implications of that. She will not think of the implications of that.)
He's always there in training - when he corrects her stance. When he forces her arms up in the air and slathers metal across her legs. So her eyes dart across the training room, because he should arrive. Any moment now. Any moment here. He'll be here, and he'll be the end of her.
Madison's fingers shake. She presses her fingers to her temple and lets out a breath. She can't take her mind off the fact that Levine's no longer in her head.
(Because he'll have been gone for too long. Because he'll be collecting little bits of metal pieces, all the while: a knife and a kizlar and a kukri. A scythe and a scimitar and a sword. He'll slip it into her skin.)
Tick tock goes the clock. A dozen more pieces of weaponry come up the block. He'll dangle them in front of her face. He'll smile with a scoff and a mock. The first stab's just chronic pain. It'll come again. The second hit's just a monotonic maim. It'll come again. The third's just a symphonic song. It'll come again. The fourth's another episode of her tragicomic. The fifth's microscopic. The sixth's... comic. The seventh's the same fame. The eighth's the same.
(It'll come again. It'll come to an end.)
Madison lets in a breath. Breathe, breathe. No. She's okay. He's not here now. He's okay. She's awake, she's present, she's not lost in her head—
No, there's no reprieve there. Why does she think she'll be safe in her head?
(Why, Madison? Because you had a dream, once? What are you thinking? He'll leave you catatonic when he returns. )
No. No, he's not there, he isn't, he isn't— it's not enough. Because regardless of what she does in her head, she's still here. She's still here, training, a breath in her throat and a breath not-there, she's going in the Games, she's not here, she's not anywhere—
There's a shuffle next to her, somewhere, but it's ebbing away - she's not here, she's there. He's towering over her and her palms are clammy and her stomach is numb. Her breaths remain in her lungs, too erratic, too volatile. He's here.
Her sight distills. She's away, mist's in her eyes, she doesn't see, doesn't look up. He looms over her, breathes upon her, he presses against her brain, her skull. She cries, and presses her palms to her head to keep herself together, but that's not enough, won't ever be enough. He grabs her wrists, and she swallows, she sobs, but she can't cry out loud, because there is a hole in her throat, she can't scream, it's not enough, it's not enough—
"Hey," a voice says, so soft, so light. "Come... back to me?"
So soft. So light.
That is not Levine.
A hand holds onto her hand. A hand squeezes her hand. It's warm. So warm. Madison clutches onto it, instinctively, intertwines her fingers and holds. Like a lifeline.
Hand-in-hand, breath-against-breath, so hot, so present—
Madison's breathing is ragged, short, uneven. Calm down, he'll say, rough and burlesque in his mouth. Don't panic. How are you meant to be a Career if you act like that?
A hand in her hand. A hand tightens around her hand. It's warm. It's present. It is there for her. Madison holds tighter, half-desperate, please, I need you, please don't go—
The hand tightens back, tighter, tighter still…
There are breaths. Not quite exaggerated. But pronounced. Enough for Madison to notice them. What it says persists in her head.
Breathe with me.
One breath after another. Tt. You suffocate in your own lungs. Another after another. Tt. How much more pathetic can you get? One more, and another still, and another—
Her sobs - not full enough to rise to her lips - die in her chest. The fear in her chest - so tight, as if she was wearing a corset - ebbs away. Her clutch on the hand lessens. Madison's eyes shift up.
Her vision steadies. It is Maeve that looks back at her. It is Maeve that smiles at her. It is Maeve that peers back at her, eagerness and a half-smile and a tang of relief in her eyes. Not Levine. He isn't here. The last time she'd seen him would be in the goodbyes - and that is all he will be.
She won't ever see him again.
Madison's quiet. She's too conscious of her hand's on Maeve's hand. So warm. And she expects Maeve to let go, any moment now, and leave her in cold - but she doesn't. She holds on.
She looks back up at Maeve. She lets out one exhale.
Maeve blinks. She tilts her head - somewhat uncomprehending. Madison lets out a quiet breath.
"Why did you do that?"
Because they're supposed to be fighting. They aren't supposed to be helping each other. Much less help when she's weak, when she's barely there. It's what he does to her. He'd watch her spiral. He'd leave her to shiver in the pain of her misery and her memories. He'd leave her to suffocate.
Maeve shrugs. "Your eyes were gone-away. You needed… help. I just wanted ta. Bring you back."
It is her turn to blink. She considers her words. She lets them swirl. For a few moments. Madison's quiet. Quieter than before. Until, finally:
"... Thank you."
Madison's fingers relax from the clutch upon her palms, as if she was gripping a rock-face. Her fingers relax from its clutch on Maeve's palm. Guilt overflows in her chest, then, because Maeve's left hand is so red. Red from all her presses and red from how she'd dug her fingers in and.
Confusion turns in Maeve's eyes. "Why're ya apologising?"
Madison's eyes flick up. She presses her lips together. "Your hand."
"That's nothin'," Maeve says softly, looking up from her hand back to Madison, the half-smile still twinging her lips. "But if y'wanna. You can. Kiss it better?"
Madison flushes. Maeve just cocks her head. Half a grin and half a dare in her eyes.
(Her kiss is soft against Maeve's hand; grazing across the back of her hand, past the crevice of a scar, and her soft skin. Madison doesn't dare let it last - not past a moment. She lets go. The tingles from their kiss tang on her lips, still, twitching there, ticklish but lasting.)
"Is it better now?"
Maeve grins back, enthusiastically. She tilts her head at her hand, flexes it, and looks back up at Madison. "Yeah!"
(Her blush. Maeve must see her blush.)
Maeve bites her lips. She hooks her nail in between her teeth. That gleam in Maeve's eyes are even brighter than before.
Maeve extends her right hand out. "C'mon," she says, softly. "D'ya wanna do somethin' else?"
"W… what can we do?"
Maeve's grin is wider than ever. She tilts her head at the emergency exit. "Y'wanna see the sights? It's less stuffy than here. For sure. Wanna go?"
Madison's breath stills, for a moment.
She wouldn't dare. She shouldn't dare, not really - she's not supposed to do anything than what he tells her to, she isn't supposed to go.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
They go up to the rooftops, on their third night of training.
It's a quick wind-up through the back staircases. Behind the training centre. Emergency exit doors, except there was no alarm. Maeve had found out 'cause she'd pushed it with a spear on the first day. Curious about what might happen. (Nothing happened. She'd grinned for it.)
Maeve's not scared. If they found out. 'Cause they need her. She's the lead actress of their show. But Maddie's anxious. Even though she doesn't wanna show it. Even if she is more bitter and mad than she is nervous, she never really goes around showing it.
Maeve grips her hand tighter as they walk. Ya don't need'ta be scared. Just tell em I kidnapped ya.
Maddie shakes her head a little. Maeve chuckles. Maddie tightens her hold and that is all the response Maeve needs.
They get there. Their shoes clatter against the stairs and their noses hit the tangy metal in the air. With smog diffusing through them and dust twirling in the dusky rays.
Maeve swivels on her feet. She lets go of Maddie's hand and lifts both hers above her head, starting to spin. Sensations. Dizziness assaults her. Lights and dust blur in a mosaic. Din and noise screech together and it's disorienting.
The blurry outline of Maddie's figure stays by the stairwell, in that same place, as Maeve spins round and round again. She's staring. Watching. Transfixed. Until Maeve stumbles back against the li'l raised block that encases the staircase and laughs.
Maddie catches her arm, and then her hand. Hey, she says. Careful. Don't fall.
It's okay, Maeve wants to say. She isn't afraid of heights. Taller you get, the more distance you have to drop. And if she falls, then she'll fall fast, but she's heard that in those seconds squeezed in-between feel like an eternity. It's kinda close to flying.
Maeve stops, though, because Maddie's hand is warm. Maeve doesn't really want Maddie to let go.
They both go sit by the building's ledge. Maeve sits down, there. She throws her legs over the side. She could slip. And fall. Her body would plummet and make a splat against the ground.
(Maeve wouldn't do that. She only falls when she wants to.)
A plop. Maeve's eyes flick to her right and Maddie's sitting by her side, her legs hanging over the side too, gazing out into the horizon. Half of Maeve expected her to hang back. But she slips in next to Maeve with a little emptiness in her eyes. Like she thinks it doesn't quite matter if she falls.
Maeve bites her lips a lil. Their hands are still entwined. So she squeezes Maddie's with her own, just enough to be reassuring. Maddie looks back up, and her gaze is transfixed. Maeve's broken her out of another haze.
There's a hint of recognition simmering in Maddie's eyes. An amber light tangled with the gold-yolk dusk.
They stay there, watching each other. Maddie's lips are so pretty, encrusted with dusklight and red. Maeve would quite like to kiss them.
But before she can lean in, Maddie looks away first. Her eyes cast out toward the horizon. The sky's still so golden. Amid all the chaos of noise and crazy that whirls underneath.
"I didn't think it'd be this beautiful." Maddie murmurs.
Maeve cocks her head. She squeezes Maddie's hand, once, 'cause she can't quite speak. She doesn't trust herself to speak. 'Cause if she just looks a bit more, stares a bit more, lets herself go a bit more, then the gold becomes a little too familiar.
(... The gold that looks too much like the amber gaslit skies back in the forests, dripping from the stars, leaking to coat the entirety of her realm with a gleam.)
(Her hand grabbing another hand, but not Maddie's - taking a smaller one, a quivering one, into the the gleaming forests, tunneling into darkness.)
(Running with Kier in the wilds. Laughing and shrieking without care. Languishing among the susurrating leaves. Smiling at each other so brightly. Like nothing mattered in the world except them. An' if they could stay, for a moment then, for a moment more— they could be there forever.)
(But that's not here or there. They only have skyscrapers for miles. Metal and noise and bustle again. Cars and crafts down in the roads. Tall buildings and neon lights and mechanical screeches. Everything that isn't natural.)
It's been… so long. How long since?
Too long. He hates her now. Doesn't he?
Maeve exhales once. There's a half smile that quirks her lips. It feels saddened. But no, she's - no, she's okay.
Maddie clutches tighter to her hand. As if she could sense the memory in her head.
She almost says his name. It almost coaxes out of her mouth. Out of the words barely-there on her lips. Out of her throat. Half-a-croak.
But she doesn't speak.
Maeve looks at Maddie. Concern outlines her eyes. Maddie grips Maeve's hand tighter. As if she could sense that Maeve wasn't really… okay.
Sorry, Maeve says, her lips quirking. I was… dreamin'.
Dreaming. Maddie repeats. Something else tangles in her eyes. Something nostalgic. Something wistful. About… good things?
Yeah. Maeve says. She thinks about Kiernan's face: his smile so-long gone. Replaced with a snarl and a scowl and...
Apprehension. Somewhere where she can't reach. No matter how she tries.
And she's trying. She's trying now. She's here and they'll get her brother tesserae. For volunteering. And if she wins, maybe things'll get better, and they'll reconnect and…
Does he even want you back?
Yeah. Maeve says again, her lips twitching. Good things.
The orange flecks in Maddie's eyes swirl, in sync with the dusklight. But her expression stays the same sort of wistful-sad as before. It's like she can tell that Maeve isn't quite okay.
Maeve keeps the smile on her face. Even though it's… wavering.
Anyways, Maddie, she says. Dy'a have any dreams?
Maddie's eyes flick up.
Like dreams, Maeve prompts, tilting her head slightly.
You mean what I want to be? Maddie stops. When she starts again, her voice's quieter, slower, meticulous, as if there are cameras watching her intently, even up here. I know a Victor's what everyone wants me to be. But…
Maddie's words catch in her throat. They linger on her lips for a moment - as if she's caught in a struggle between speaking and not speaking. Her hand tightens around Maeve's, but it's near-involuntary.
It's okay, Maeve wants to say. But she can't. It's sometimes like that: she blocks.
Maddie sighs. But it isn't directed at Maeve. Not like her parents, sighing like it was an addiction. What are you doing now, Maeve? Why are you like this, Maeve? A sigh and another sigh and a cascade and a waterfall down everyone's lips. Sighs alight and sighs that blight the quality of her life. Sighs again and again. It's annoying. She's used to it.
But Maddie's sigh is not that sigh.
I don't know. Maddie says. I dream about… warehouses and white places.
Maddie's eyes widen. She chuckles a bit. I wish.
Maeve cocks her head. More of the sun plays on Maddie's eyes now. More of it casts shadows and lights over her. You can tell me. Maeve says, quietly. When you're ready.
Madison's eyes shimmer. Her lips quiver. But she doesn't speak. She doesn't need to. Maeve can read the thank you in her eyes.
Maddie tilts her head on Maeve's shoulder, and Maeve squeezes Maddie's hand. Action is how they communicate now, Maeve decides. They will speak in hands and in squeezes. In a language no one else knows. It will be their secret.
They fall into that silence together. If Maeve shuts her eyes, then she'll be at the edge of a cliff. With Maddie by her side, head tilted on her shoulder as they stare out into the horizon: reveling in the dusk's phosphoresce, in the twilight before nightfall.
Maddie's eyes lift. Surprise and question turn in tandem in them. It takes a while before Maeve realises why.
Oh. Maeve has to stop the giggle in her mouth. M'sorry. It's what I call you. In my head.
Just because Maddie seems so faraway, whenever anyone calls her Madison. And so Maeve calls Maddie Maddie in her head. Because she doesn't want her to be faraway. She doesn't want Maddie to look like she's enmisted, eternally fading at melting point, on the tip of disappearing and then one day she'd wake up to see her— gone.
Don't apologise, Maddie says, and then stills for a moment or two. Like she's thinking it through.
Maeve waits. And she waits and she waits again. Maddie's still thinking. So, gently, Maeve asks: "D'ya like the name Madison?"
"What do you mean?" Maddie asks, quietly. She looks up at Maeve. Something shimmers in Maeve's eyes. She knows that Madison means something to Maddie. But nothing nice. Only spikes and pain and the past. Only everything that makes her sad.
Maeve can tell. It's not her name, not really. Especially when it makes her… unhappy.
Something echoes in the hollows of Maddie's eyes. Tears—glittering, a galaxy—understanding?
"I don't know," Maddie says, out loud. "I… I don't know if I do."
"That's okay," Maeve tilts her head. "Can I call you Maddie?"
That light in Maddie's eyes flickers. She's more hesitant now. More… nervous. More vulnerable. So different when compared to how she glowered to the world as Hades in the chariots, like she wanted to see them all burn.
Madison nods. Yeah, she says, quietly. I think... I would like that. If that's okay.
Maeve grins. Why wouldn't it be okay?
A sound filters through Maddie's throat: like she's pressing back a choke. Maeve moves her arm around Maddie's back, and Maddie tilts her head so that it's resting on Maeve's shoulder. They watch as the dusk seeps through the buildings and them. It's pretty. Or it would be, if it weren't so perverted by the Capitol here.
(It is the day after the next when Madison opens up to Maeve about Levine.)
(It is the day after the next when Maeve kisses Maddie for the first time.)
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
They sit her down. They interview her.
Caesar Flickerman stands. He's flagrant. Not in the way that Maeve is flagrant. He is too much. Excessive. With all the colours flaming from his back. She doesn't understand why he needs to be that. Glitter and gold and peacock's wings and all else in between.
(She'd enjoy it, if it wasn't so… blinding.)
"Maeve Alcraiz!" Caesar yells out loud, so loud that Maeve almost winces. But she beams anyway, 'cause despite his noisiness there's the lights and the crowds and shining and here-there everywhere. All of which she lives for. All of which she loves.
She is on a stage, after all, and that is her land.
Applause seizes the audience. Screams ricochet through the audience. Maeve would stand, and bow, and wave, except that they won't let her stand, because it's sitting time now, so she just waves instead.
Caesar sits back down. He sidles up next to her like she's his new best friend. Maeve lets him. 'Cause she could use a few more best friends. Even if they are Capitolites.
"So," he says, and it is a boom across the room, even louder than before, and she winces for real now. Except that the whole Capitol's enjoying and she's the only one squirming. "Why are you here, Maeve?"
Maeve opens her mouth to answer, words-somewhere that she has to get out. But she blocks.
Questions. She'd never been good at them.
They do not care that her mind's too scrambled to think. They do not care that she can't speak right now. They do not care that she is jittery all over. That there are flies which are abound underneath her skin - quivering, restless. She needs to move. She needs to be someplace else. She needs to not be here.
But all they care about is their entertainment. And Maeve's just a tool for them for that.
Caesar waits. They stare. They all stare. He clears his throat, then.
"Kiernan Alcraiz. You'd volunteered for him. Correct?"
He's cuing her. Just nod. Yes or no. Just give us an answer, Maeve. Say something. We're helping you. So you don't seem as idiotic as you are.
Maeve shifts. Her eyes dart across the stage. She looks at her feet. If they were looking. They'd think that she were anxious.
She is, a lil bit. She doesn't like how they're staring at her. She doesn't like how they're judging her. She doesn't like how personal they're getting.
Seconds pass into more seconds and then into more seconds and a minute and into more minutes. Murmurs echo around the Capitolites. What's wrong with her? She's not speaking.
Maeve doesn't want to. Because they'll only devour her words. Use them against her. With how they're enunciated, too. Wouldja look at that. The Two Academy's so lax. It's fucked. When did they start letting spastic freaks into the Games?
It's okay, Caesar says. Take your time. We'll wait. But not too long! We've got time to keep.
He leans close. Maeve's hands are tucked under her legs. She presses them down. Keeps them there.
They will see her rocking. They will see her. Mom. She will. She will—
Look. You can't even control yourself. Can't even speak.
While we're waiting, Caesar says. We'll move onto some more questions, shall we? What do you think your brother thinks of you? Does he admire you, does he think less of you? C'mon. Give us the tell-all.
(Spazzing out again? Can't say I'm surprised.)
(You're fuckin' retarded for volunteering. You're straight-up delusional.)
(Why're you like this?)
(I hate you.)
Those words get stuck in Maeve's throat. They stay and they stir and she can't let them go. She's looking at Caesar's twenty-watt smile and she's looking at the crowd, shifting like the tides, watching and waiting and louring, wanting an answer from her, wanting an act from her. Wanting to peer in her soul. They want to swallow her whole.
They want everything from her.
Fuck it. Fuck it.
She stands. They all gasp. They probably haven't had anybody that's broken the rules before, stand when you should, sit when you should, listen to me, LISTEN. TO. ME. punctuated with breath in sour breath. Haven't had anybody clap against their ears and she cringes it hurts it's too loud why are you doing this why are you doing this— it's for your own good goddamnit, LISTEN TO ME—
Maeve descends down the stage. She jumps down. Lands in front of the audience. Front view. They'd like that.
Why'd I volunteer?
You tell me. She says. Smiling. They laugh. They laugh and laugh as if they are in on the joke. They laugh at her, like she's their court jester.
You want to be the end of me. She says. They still smile. It's wavering now. It's flickering dim now. Dim. They'd used to call her that. Dim-witted.
You want to try. She shakes her head. Well, guess what! You can't fucking touch me!
A smile soars on her face. The Capitolites rear back, and her feral grin widens.
You can't fucking touch me! She grins, then. She tilts down her head at a Capitolite. She takes their chin in her fingers and they are so transfixed. She cackles and turns away from them. All of them. All of them stare at her just the same way.
She laughs and laughs and laughs. They are in her thrall. They're in her thrall.
(See what I said? She's lost her fucking mind.)
Maeve Alcraiz, everybody! Flickerman yells, yet none of them notice him. None of them care.
All their eyes are on her.
All their eyes will forever be.
Madison Saros. District 1.
She is left breathless after Maeve's interview.
"Maeve—" Madison says, after Maeve returns to the backstage. She reaches out to her, but Maeve tears away, something like sobs caking her throat, and Madison's left alone again in the shrouds of darkness amid the virulent stagelights.
She stands there, huddling her own arms, as the interviews continue on. Maeve's District partner, Ranulphus says something and another about victory; and they trickle on until District Three and that's when Madison decides that she can't take any more. She lets out a breath, and catches Aoife's eye, who shakes her head no, but Madison can't care anymore.
She heads to the washrooms. It's the only place where tributes get any privacy.
Madison enters, and she is greeted with the sight of Maeve crying.
She has tears that stain her eyes and her breathing's not even. Her palm's pressed against the counter and an arm's raised to her eyes, like she wants to stop her tears from flowing, like she shouldn't be crying, because she can't cry.
Madison's heart cracks. She grabs some tissues from the dispenser. She takes, a step, another towards Maeve.
"Will these help?" Madison says, softly, holds them out towards Maeve.
Maeve bites her lip. She nods, so little of one that Madison barely realises she has. Maeve wipes her eyes with her arm, and presses the back of her thumb against her tears. Till all that's left of her cheeks is red, all rubbed away and raw on her face. Maeve takes her tissues, but she doesn't use them: only twists it again and again in her thumb, swirling till infinity.
Is there anything else I can do? Madison asks. If you want, we can talk about it. If that'll… help.
I'm sorry, Maeve says, murmurs, really, and Madison knows she's talking to her, even though she doesn't look up at her. I just… I couldn't…
It's okay, Madison says. She takes a step closer. Till she can hear the hitches of Maeve's breath. She brushes a stray strand of hair by Maeve's ear. You don't have to explain.
Maeve closes her eyes and grabs Madison's neck and kisses her. Her kiss is furious as it is desperate: half a hitch and half a breath mixed in pain and need. Madison lets Maeve kiss her, deeper, and Madison holds her tighter. Maeve kisses her and pins her against the sinks. She's sobbing as she kisses, again and again, like she can't get enough of her, like she kisses her an apology. One-two-three ratchety breaths in her throat, again and again, cycling back and forth between the meet of their lips.
Maeve stops, suddenly, like she can't take any more. Madison cups Maeve's cheeks in her hands, takes her into her as if she's the sea, as if she's the world and she won't let go. Maeve gasps, once. And when she looks up to her again. Maeve's eyes are so shattered. That light in her eyes crackles, and flickers, and breaks.
Maeve throws her arms around Maddie and sobs into her shoulder. And Maeve murmurs incomprehensible murmurs under her breath and it's okay, it's okay, Madison murmurs back, again and again, because Maeve doesn't need to say anything, she shouldn't feel the need to, not if she doesn't want to. Madison presses kisses and kisses again atop Maeve's forehead and tightens her hold, she'll never let go.
It's okay, Madison says, softly. You're okay. You're with me.
It's okay, Madison says. You don't have to explain.
Maeve lets loose another sob.
She'd never seen Maeve so vulnerable. It's so different, because Maeve's always so open. Always so casual and happy. Everything would only be returned with more and more enthusiasm. And that's who Maeve is. She's so ethereal that - that it's easy to forget that she's mortal, too.
They stand there, holding each other, swaying with each other, in the flickering cold of the washrooms. Only the hums and whirs of devices too-quiet stay. It's only them, here, together.
Maddie, Maeve murmurs, as she nestles her head deeper into Maddie's shoulder, as she clutches Maddie's waist tighter. Did I hurt you?
No, Madison says. You couldn't. You couldn't ever.
Maeve turns her head, slightly. And she reaches up, hands moving to Maddie's face, and Maeve kisses her eyes. Madison closes them. She exhales. There are tears there, she realises. And one by one, bit by bit and piece by piece, Maeve kisses her tears away. It must taste so awful. It must taste so bitter. But Maeve kisses, again and again, by her eyes and then down her cheeks and upon the corner by her lips, and she stays there, exhaling soft, quiet breaths.
Madison opens her eyes again. Maeve is a blur. She blinks, once. And then again. Clearer now. But not quite enough. Maeve must notice something in her eyes— for she tilts her head.
It's okay, Maeve says. Even when your sight goes. I will still be here.
I don't think I'll live that long. To see it go.
Maeve tilts her head. Then let's make… the most. Of what we have.
We can't. I can't. Madison says. Her breaths are hitches in her lungs. They're barely-there.
"No, you can," Maeve says. She tugs on Madison's hand, and Madison's eyes widen. There's a smile on Maeve's lips. It's almost wistful. It's almost not quite there.
"C'mon," she says, so quiet, it's like it's not there. "Together. We'll live. Forever together."
Half a beg?
"We can't," Madison says, and it's a breath in her throat, a hitch barely there, pain and pain congested in her throat. "We're going in the Games."
Maeve cocks her head. There's something that twirls upon her lips. Something that would be a smile, except it doesn't make sense.
She moves forward. She tugs Madison's arm into hers. She tugs her mouth into hers with a kiss. She kisses her. She kisses her. She kisses her, amid the spinning dark lights and the flickering dimness. And when she lets go. Madison is left breathless.
Maeve tilts her head again. Something else is in her eyes.
Is it a smile or is it something crystalised?
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
It is then, when Madison asks. So breathy. So soft. So saddened.
What if, we were the last ones left?
Maeve smiles, a little sad, but it's more a smile than anything. It's barely a thought in her head.
That's easy, Maddie. We will kiss. Till the end.
(What other choice do they have?)
Madison Saros. District 1.
It's nighttime that they're together. They rest in bed: it's some quarters somewhere, for District One or Two; neither of them know. Or care. All Maddie knows is that Avior Stolvania's gone to get sponsors from his fellow socialites up-high somewhere, and all Maeve knows is that Randy's down plotting his victory somewhere.
What the boys do don't matter to them.
Their backs rest against the headboard. The bed's so muted: so military and spartan and sad. But grey sheets, twisted and tangled, swathe their legs; and if Maddie thinks, it's almost like a wavy dress: like the moonlight that Maeve wore in the parade—sharp-blade silver with the spangle of soft gold. And she looked so much like Athena, then; you'd think that she was reaching for the heavens.
Maddie's arm rests round Maeve's neck, and Maeve's head stays on Maddie's shoulder. And Maddie isn't so sure how they got there, either.
("... Watch a show before we go?", and she thought Maeve was talking Games-rewinds and she said, yes, and then they ended up looking at some trashy Capitol show that had kids and love and romance and every emotion like that. Maddie didn't quite care for it, not really, but Maeve got invested, and so she was obliged to follow along.)
(And she wasn't quite sure how to feel, when the reel blacked out and they were met with themselves reflecting back in the dark sheen of the screen. And it's then when Maddie remembered that she'll be on there, next, battered and broken and breathing and red and—)
The quiet of the night's so potent. And it's not cold—not quite, not yet, not at all. But it's empty.
Maeve's not said a word since the show ended. And Maeve's touch is comforting—her skin her heat her stupid grin— but Maeve isn't okay. That's what's obvious to Maddie, then.
Her fingers stray up Maeve's skin. Tingles rush through her fingertips; like the surge of a riptide. And she follows on instinct: lets her touch take, drowsy, drifty, like the lethargy of the sea, lets her warmth touch Maeve, cinders, embers, like the burn of the sun. Maddie lets feeling swirl Maeve's skin, swirl her own: in the flush of the stars and in the twist of twilight.
Maeve lets out a soft gasp.
"What?" and it's barely a whisper in her lips, "Does that feel good?"
Maeve smiles, slightly. Her eyes meet Maddie's—and they're twinkling, so pretty in their pit-blue depths. She buries her head against Maddie's shoulder, like a pillow, some more. As Maddie's fingers drift over her scars. Maddie had spent so much time feeling Maeve's fingers on her scars, that she'd never really traced Maeve's own.
A moment wedges between them: like a shard of starlight—of the dozen feelings (softness solitude blue black closeness quietude warmth skin breath breath)— glittering upon their bodies.
"Maddie," Maeve says. There's a star that lights up by the corner of her lips; one that warms her face through in an incandescent glow. Her head tilts, again; and the press of her head against Maddie's chest throbs her heart.
"Your touch… is always." Maeve pauses for a moment; finds the words in her head. "… Good."
"Yeah?" Maddie says. Maeve's hair's glistening in the light: like an incandescent halo. Maddie brushes them, then, and then when Maeve giggles, she tangles them deeper, like she's stroking a lyre.
"Yeah." Maeve confirms, giggly still.
They stay there, for a few more moments. Maddie and Maeve fall into a rhythmic quiet; as the cool brush of winds sway against their skin. Maeve exhales, then: and it's almost not-there.
"I wish…" and Maddie gazes away: far off into the windows, into the glittering night outside, places that reach beyond. "… This could be. Forever."
It resounds between them: a pin-drop. Maddie's eyes follow Maeve's: into the darkness of the night. There are stars, above, so far away; ones they'll never reach.
When Maeve looks back at her, her eyes are sheens of stars. "Maddie… why are we here?"
And it sticks in her throat. Why are they here? Why had they volunteered?
"—I don't know."
There's a sadness that lingers underneath Maeve's face. And Maddie wants to speak— to say something consoling, something helpful, something sympathetic—
But it fades away, quietly; ebbs into shards, into splinters that make up the night. And it's like Maeve hasn't spoken at all.
"Not talkin' bout that," Maeve says, and it's a small not-quite smile. It's one that covers what's passed over her, before. And then she tugs Maddie's chin and presses her lips to hers. It's a kiss: it's always a breathtaking kiss.
And it's still that, but a little less than, too. It's so wrought in sadness.
And when they break apart, Maeve's eyes are twinkling. They're pools of the sea; pools that don't yet fall.
"We're in, yknow." and she sniffs, grins, shyly. "Bed. I mean."
Maddie tilts her head. She lets a small something wring her lips: a smile, maybe. Maddie pulls Maeve tighter into her, then, into her chest; as the sea's jewels slide down Maeve's eyes.
Maeve's not-quite words lodge in Maddie's heart.
Maybe this could be. Forever.
It's the eve before the Games. And they stay there: as if, if they spent the night with each other, then. Then they could rest.
Then the Games'll be nowhere but forever.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
They're in bed together, and what they've said to her floats back in her head.
Caesar Flickerman. Asking her about home. About Kier. About Mom. About things that Maeve wouldn't let herself dwell upon in her head, because that just makes her sad, and feeling sad wasn't all that high up her bucket list. She'd fought back, of course she did, she'd grinned down at the world and dared them to challenge her. But it didn't make her feel any better.
Not talkin' bout that, Maeve had said, to Maddie, when sad stars had inhabited her eyes and glittered there, and Maddie had nodded. Maddie… understands. Maddie doesn't push. Not like how… everyone else does. Not like Mom and the Capitol and the rest of them. She's safe, with Maddie.
But they just keep coming back in her head.
One day. You'll destroy everybody around you. More than you've already destroyed. You know that Dad's gone 'cause of you. Kier's gone 'cause of you. Who else's left? Maddie? You're gonna break her. Just like—just like how ya break everythin'.
(When they'd asked her that question, with their mics shoved in her face. Don't you like to destroy? An easy grin had creased her lips. Yeah! Yeah, I do. She'd said. And she hadn't given it much thought. It was just an offhand remark. Until everything else that everyone else had said came back swirling in her head again.)
Maeve stifles a breath in her throat. It sounds odd. She doesn't like that breath. She steals a look at Maddie. Who's… content. So content and so happy. Here with Maeve. That tells of how she thinks of Maeve as the sea. And tells of nothing how Maeve will destroy her with her waves.
Maddie turns her head up at Maeve. It's like she feels that something's off. What's wrong, Maeve? You okay?
Maeve lets up a sad smile on her lips.
I'm gonna... and the words doesn't come out. They stay there, spinning on her tongue, a block-yet-not-quite. Her words are shards of glass, incoherent and strangled; they linger upon suspended air, they fall out in splinters, they make a glaze of stars upon their bed.
Maddie cocks her head at Maeve. Maeve's glad that Maddie's patient. She shuts her eyes. She doesn't wanna take the look on Maddie's face.
I'm gonna break you, Maeve gets out, finally.
When she opens her eyes again. Maddie's eyes are glimmering.
Maddie shakes her head. No. You haven't, Maeve. You won't.
How'd you know?
There's no more glint in Maddie's eyes anymore. It's making tracks down her cheeks, a runaway of stars, incandescent and beautiful. How can you? You're my saviour. You've… mended me, Maeve.
There are the weight of words-not-said that rests in Maeve's throat.
Mmkay, Maddie, she says, swallows, smiles again. Blinks again, because that can't be tears on her face, she can't have that now, no, not now, not ever.
Maddie's hand brushes over her cheek. Maddie's hand is so warm. Maddie holds her cheek, and gazes into her eyes, as the tracks down her eyes fall down and down onto Maeve's skin and spiral there too, and her throat flutters.
Maeve pulls Maddie forward before she can kiss her first. Maddie kisses her back, kisses her with pain and copper and desire and breath. And Maeve kisses her harder, kisses her more, again and again, desperate, needing, and perhaps that is all they need, to brave the night.
(She knows there are harder nights to come. But this night's as good as any to kiss Maddie in.)
Madison Saros. District 1.
Maeve doesn't stop kissing her.
There is an end to the night, Maddie knows, that resounds with the dawn's rise. But there is something to Maeve's touch that speaks of eternity.
Maeve's fingers travel across Maddie's skin. They run over the mars and mistakes, that run down her skin like valleys. They dance over her stomach, where the net of scars last. They flitter over her mouth. They ask her to breathe.
Maeve's kisses are sweet, honeysuckle and mildew and swelling in wetness, and it is breathy, as if they are by the wet fields and the exotic seaside, fresh in its wet flecks, and for a moment, they are in a sweet harmony: Maddie kisses Maeve, as Maeve kisses her, back, in the wreathes of darkness that she wishes could last forever.
Maeve's fingers curl around Maddie's dark locks, and she tugs her hair, softly, as she exhales deeper in their kiss. It doesn't hurt, not like how it would, when Levine drills her and damns her, seizes her hair and slams her against metal. Nothing with Maeve hurts. Maeve's so careful with Maddie. She kisses her as if she is spun glass, as if she may shatter upon touch and scatter into remnants that swirl deep and forgotten in the seabeds. Her fingers trace down Maddie's body, quietly, delicately, as if roses make up her skin and she dares not disrupt its sways, for she may break her.
It's okay, Maddie murmurs back, and presses her lips to Maeve's, it's okay, she murmurs, and kisses her again, you won't break me, it's okay, she murmurs, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay, as if it is a litany she needs.
Maeve's fingers tuck her dark locks behind her ear, trace her stomach, and linger by her legs: in themselves a tentative question. Please, is what exhales from Maddie's lips, though no words follow the leave of her breath: it's okay, please.
And Maeve's eyes are shimmering when she kisses her again, and her touch is so soft, so warm, so careful, so beautiful, so much like a dream. Maddie gasps. Tingles. They shower through her, eddying in her skin and spiralling patterns that convulse her body, a wave and another and another again. They work their way, through, and the handprint of a thrill, the presence of fingers, all last upon Maddie's skin, till she's gasping in so much bliss.
Maeve doesn't say anything. Neither does Maddie: except for an exhale, a shaky one, a breathy one, a trembling one. It's as if her soul's just left her: going up, alive and shaking, nervous and yet still so powerful. It's a sensation she hasn't experienced before: the rolling waves that run over her, that shudder her, that gush through the sands of her skin and leaves an ebb of its presence there.
(Maddie's body has never really been hers: she's supposed to be Levine's weapon, the ideal Career, his perfect machine. But under Maeve's touch - she melts, and mixes, and reforms, and for once she feels not disembodied but, for once - herself.)
Maddie feels her, too. Over every little crevice and cranny of Maeve's body; down her eyes, where a blue sea resides, through her skin, weaved of scars and memories. Maddie's fingers turn through the angelic strands of gold that make up Maeve's hair, twists them by Maeve's ears and kisses her, her eyes and her nose and her jawline, and down, and down, and down. Maeve breathes, just as she had, and Maeve unrolls in her hands, just as Maddie had. She breaks apart, piece by piece, all the faces that's made up her being, all the chaos of cracked seas. Maeve is a dream, untouchable and unbreakable - yet she is so human in Maddie's hands.
(They are both dreams, sleepless entities, transient in their existences, suffocating in their bodies, lasting only seconds and seconds longer, yet yearning to be here. They live, for a moment, together: for Madison needs that chance, and Maeve needs that chance - to breathe.)
Her eyes are droopy. Maddie's content. In the fervour of it; that bustles through her, as her limbs sink with exhaustion, as her body melts into the bed, as her mind goes to its softness and blanks with it. Maeve's feeling the same, too. Maddie's sure of it.
But, just as Maddie's about to fade, into the waiting grasp of the midnight shadows. Maeve rolls away from her, and sits up. Her feet hang by the side the bed.
She watches Maeve's back, hunched over, like there's the weight of wings on her shoulders, pressing Maeve inwards, an expanded shell that needs to hold them. Maddie's seen her chest go outwards, her shoulders backwards, inwards, when she kneels atop Maddie's legs. Maeve exhales, an angel driven up to heaven. Maddie closes her eyes, and if she thinks, if she lets herself believe; then Maeve has wings, ruffled and a little creased, suspended there, shrunken together, but not truly spread. Inanimate. Not quite alive, but not quite dead, either. They are not an angel's wings; but they're a myriad of strange colours, of psychedelics, of swirls of black lines and glass patterns that break through them. And if she lets herself believe, then she could be different too, inhuman too, immortal too, a being not human and not here, never dead, lasting in eternity.
But Maddie blinks, and her vision fades, and Maeve is just Maeve, and Maddie is just Madison, and they are two girls again, only alive for the machine's slaughter, for the world's pleasure, till the Games' end.
Maddie's breath hitches in her throat. She watches Maeve, a staccato beating in her chest. Maeve turns her head sideways, and tears roll down her cheeks, like she knows what Maddie dreams of. Maddie's head is heavy, stuffed with wool and clouds, like a fuzz's seeped into it: trapped there, chaining, weighing her down to this present, their present: the eve before the Games, only hours, until...
A tear slips down Maddie's eye.
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
They had stayed in bed, for the rest of the hours they had left. Maeve had cuddled with Maddie in bed and snored on Maddie's shoulder and put her head on Maddie's chest, as Maddie massaged Maeve's shoulders, and pressed her lips on hers too many times, and in other areas too, Maeve's fingers and Maeve's arm and Maeve's legs, wherever she could take and possess, Maddie would.
And Maeve'd let Maddie take her left hand, and she'd let Maddie smooth through her shivering hand, too, and Maddie had kissed her fingers too.
Maeve loved Maddie the same. She'd have a part of Maddie with her every moment she could, a hand or a leg or an arm, held in a koala-grip against her chest or entwined amongst her legs and she had Maddie's neck, too, and she'd gaze into Maddie's eyes, smiling a half-grin, like she could've stayed and watched Maddie forever.
And she grazed her nose down Maddie's arm, grinning shyly, and she'd pouted at Maddie when she was on her chest, and she'd buried herself into her, like Maddie were someplace, somewhere soft, safe, that she could disappear entirely into. And they're going in the Games, Maeve knows, but she needs to make the moments they have out of the Games last.
Maeve's just as careful with Maddie too. Maeve only traced her fingers on Maddie's scars when Maddie gave her the say-so, a nod, a murmur, it's okay, and she ran her fingers across the long one over Maddie's stomach, down the one in Maddie's spine, twisting in the scattering maze on Maddie's left leg, and jumped into the net of them in Maddie's left. Maeve'd traversed Maddie's scars, she'd felt how they came from, and a history book unravelled at her fingertips.
Amber sunlight had struck through their bed with Maddie and Maeve, together—overlapping, intertwined together, breathing in sync. They were together; and oh, if only that could be for forever.
Madison Saros. District 1.
It is at launch when Levine Saros decides to make his reappearance.
She blinks, once. That's how she can make him dispel, down and away from her head, as long as she acts like she can't see him and he'll be gone the next day. But a moment and another and he's still here, and fluid builds up in her throat, panic stutters her heart, oh no, oh no—
"What are you doing here?" Madison whispers. Her fingers press against the back of the glass of her tube. But he advances, and advances again, a feeling twirling his lips, he knows the effect he has on her, he knows what he's doing—and the glass in front of the tubes haven't closed yet, she's still here, he can still touch her, fuck, no—
Fuck. She isn't. He can't be here. She needs—Maeve, Maeve's hand, her hand, she's trapped, she needs her warmth, she needs Maeve, fuck—
Levine stops in front of her tube. His hand lingers on the edge of the tube. Just a reach and he'll be able to grab her throat. He'll be able to choke her. Leave marks like a crown around her neck. This is your last lesson. A crown of gold isn't so different from a crown of thorns. If you learn how to wear the latter. Then the former will come easy to you.
She must look so wild. She must look so much like a trapped animal. She shouldn't. She shouldn't. What she needs to do is—breathe, she's okay, he's here he's here, she's fine, think, think, the dusk, orange, warmth, red, hands, anchoring point, somewhere, no, it's nowhere, she's in glass-cold, with her breaths shaky, her feet unsteady, unsteady against a yawning abyss under her, only the glass under her feet keeping her from giving way, is this another one of his lessons?, no, she can't, no, can't—
A hand grabs her chin. "Breathe."
Rough. Callouses rub against her. But it's steady, he holds her, he won't let her go, won't let her spiral. She breathes, and breathes again, hears him, inhale and exhale, take long breaths, long and deep breaths. Just like that, Madison. You're doing very well. Keep breathing. Yes, like that. Just like that.
"There we go," Levine says, quietly, and his grip slacks. "Better now."
That wave of panic that suffocates her chest - subsides. Madison lets in half a breath, and another breath again. Her eyes track Levine's. He stares down at her, but there's curiosity in his eyes, something else in his eyes. Something that Madison can't place.
"Why are you here?" Madison repeats. It's all oddly empty: thudding against her chest.
Levine cocks his head. "I'm the Capitol's Scientist, remember?It's my prerogative." Yet his words aren't laced with his usual sneer.
Bitterness crosses the corner of her lips. Haven't I suffered enough?
But she doesn't let that loose: no further than her heaving lungs.
"You came," Madison repeats. "Because…"
Levine shrugs. "I wanted to see you. Not on screen, I mean. You'll give me a good show. I know that. But I wanted to take one last look before I sent you off - before you became my Victor."
"What if I die?"
Anyone else would not notice how Levine's hand grips a little tighter on the tube, presses into a ball and relaxes out again. But Madison's spent her life with him. She knows his every tick and his every habit and his every tell. She knows him, too well - just as much as he knows her.
He knows it too, now. Levine raises his cocked eye at her; and his lips twitch.
"I suppose we all take that chance. I'll be hurt, of course. We might not be related by blood, but I've raised you. I've made you. You're like a daughter to me, Madison."
Madison doesn't speak. Because she wouldn't admit to him her truth, too - Levine Saros is the closest thing she'd ever had to a father, and she saw him as a father, too. And damned that she think that way, she shouldn't think that way, 'cause all he did was injure her and break her, but with every instance he'd mended her and healed her, he'd bettered her. She knows Levine gloats in the fact: she clings to me, despite all I've done to her. Just like a machine should. Does that not embody what a perfect creation should be? See. I've succeeded.
(How much more guilty can she be?)
Madison doesn't speak. She doesn't have to. He knows what she's thinking, how she's spiralling. She closes her eyes, she won't give him the pleasure, forces another question through her lips—
"Why are you here?"
Levine's lips uptick. "It's as I've said. I've spent so much time building you up here. So much time building you up to be worthy. I couldn't go without admiring you a little, Madison. But - you're right. that's not why I'm here. I've glossed over… the basics of the Games. I realised that I didn't give you a token."
He pulls a string out of his pocket. He presses it into her hand.
It is a nightingale necklace.
Her stomach stirs. She's touched. She wants to hurl. She'd seen that token on-screen one too many times. Clutched so desperately in another District One girl's hand. The only piece of wood in the Arena of metal a year before. Not long ago.
Sterling Stelvein's necklace, the string Sterling had wound between her fingers when she tried to speak in the Career pack, the wings she'd pressed the back of her thumb into, again and again as if it could console her, the wood she'd sobbed into, catching the stutters by her lips, the moment after—
"It cost a lot to obtain it from the Capitol," Levine says. "They'd removed from the museum, after… well, you know what had happened. But you can redeem it, Madison. I'm sure it'll serve a better purpose for you than it did the Stolvanias."
He drops away from her tube. She watches, her ears searing with frustration and tears unborn. She watches, her heart throbbing in her throat. She watches as Levine goes.
A breath catches in Madison's throat. The tube close around her. Glass creaks and surrounds her and clanks in place. Plastic forces itself around her and wraps around her and down her throat and he's chuckling again, oh c'mon, if you live through this you can live through anything, come on, just a moment longer, you can do it, I believe in you, stop writhing—
It's suffocating, suffocating, so suffocating, she can't breathe, can't breathe, can't breathe—
She wants to pound against the glass, she wants to scream, but when has that ever helped?
Madison stands, and hyperventilates, and stands. Her breaths too-short in her lungs and Sterling's token in her palm. She tightens the strings between her fingers. That string stained with blood and broken girls.
Can it be any different from that?
Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.
She rises in the tube.
It's a suffocating tube. It's one she can barely breathe in. She doesn't like the sensation. It feels like she's asphyxiating. But it's… okay. Maeve will bear with it, for now. It's only sixty seconds. Sixty seconds for her to suffocate. Sixty seconds till the tube rises and clicks and the Games is where she'll be.
The Games is where she'll breathe.
Maeve closes her eyes. She inhales shuddery breath after shuddery breath but it's not—it's not enough. She wonders if that is how Kiernan feels. When dust fills his mouth and his lungs constrict. When he chokes and drowns.
Slight white-yellow, like a spotlight's, forces its way into Maeve's eyes. As the tube clicks into the Arena. She's upon its platform: steady, unsteady, steady again. She blinks, and her sight clears, and she sees. They have forests, cold and misty, for their Arena.
If Maeve closes her eyes and thinks. Then it might be golden.
FIN. PART 1.
A/N: So when I said "I eternally miss Madeve, so you'd just have to expect Madeve AU content soon"... I lied. Have some canon verse content!
Yeah, it's been a year and I'm still not over these girls. And what about it? Honestly, I'm… really surprised that I haven't posted that much Madeve content, given that I have an entire alternate universe focused solely on the both of them (which is the longest thing I've ever written), but hey, Alive's here to make up for it.
Thank you so much for reading! If you feel so inclined, let me know what you thought! What do you think about Maddie & Maeve, about their flaws, about their wants? About their dreams - are they willingly delusional, or do they truly believe in their fantasies? About names, and what it means for Madison/Maddie, in particular. About their love - do they love each other as deeply as they seem to, or is it because they need to breathe? Are they toxic - and if so, how? Are they 'recklessly human'?
I appreciate anything you have to say! Or feel free to just drop a hi, if you'd like! Here, or in my channel on Discord - anything that suits you best. (:
Last, but not least: a huge (hugh) thank you goes to Haiden for his incredible work betaing parts of this fic: it's much, much better now thanks to you! Your support for me throughout the creation of this fic has been paramount, and has been beyond appreciated (as is your love for these two! ;-;). Another huge thank you goes to Lindsay for their outpouring support when it came to this fic: our conversations and your love for these two and care has meant the world (as is your dictation of my update time very appreciated). A final thank you goes to my lovely readers, who have supported me endlessly, in all my fics - I love you so much! Drop a hello, if you feel so inclined, my band of misfit monarchs and kings and queens!
Adieu. I'll see you again soon in July: where I'll be dropping the second part to They That Are Alive By Twilight. And, of course: July is also NRFTD month, and I hope to see you all again, very, very soon. I'm working on Metanoia: we're about 10k in for that so far, and I'm hoping to have that as my backburner project as I work on NRFTD. Of course, I haven't forgotten about They That Are Buried In The Dark— you've heard mentions and snippets here, of Sterling and Sappho, and I hope to get their story out to you soon! (:
Thank you all so much again, for reading, for caring - I appreciate you all so much! It's summer, which is DISR time. I can't wait to get this show going.