They That Are Alive By Twilight.

Part 2: Dreams.


CW: Self-harm. Suicide.


"We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom." - Toni Morrison.


Madison Saros. District 1.

They are barely ten seconds into the Games before crimson desecrates the viridescent forests already.

Seven girl draws first blood. She decapitates Madison's District partner with a swift descent of a sickle. Red bursts from red and the Stolvania name is rendered dead again. By an outlier's hands, no less.

Jules Adansonia. That's her name. That's who she has to kill, later on in the Games. Because she's meant to avenge him. He's her District partner. That is the narrative the Capitol wants to see. But that fact's buried in the back of her mind. They'll all die in the Games. They'll all meet their times. Whether it was Avior or Jules. It doesn't matter if she's the one that delivers it or not. They'll all end.

There's a tug of her arm. Madison's head jerks up and she half-expects to see Ranulphus in front of her: a wicked gleam in his dark eyes, a battleaxe travelling to meet her neck. He'd made no secret of his dislike of her, and if he ends her here, well, she'll almost welcome it, except—

Maeve.

No, it's Maeve, Maeve's by her side, tugging her arm. "C'mon, Maddie," she's whispering, half-urgently, "Let's go, let's go, let's go—"

Madison goes. They descend into the chaos of the bloodbath together. Amid the cacophonous clashes and children's screams and the jettisons of blood, like fountains, that flick into life a moment and flick out the next: the fast breath of death, jaws clamping on flesh and bone. It would be horrific, if not for all Madison's done already. Breaking Cadmus, mutilating Luke, destroying Shavia, and a dozen more trainees she can't name.

Maeve's tugging her, step and step, forward and forward again, and before she knows it she's in the Cornucopia, supplies an abundance across, but all that sticks out to her's the metal, metal swords and metal axes, metal maces and metal flails, metal chain-links and metal scalpels and—

Concentrate, concentrate, it's metal but it's not his metal—

Madison grabs a knife from one of the piles, and another, and a third again. It comes as instinct: it's the blades she'd used the most before. Maeve locks a row of throwing knives into her belt, and the metal reflects back the gleam of her teeth. She scoops up a sword and spins it between her fingers, so fluidly, so effortlessly - like a goddess of the depths, bending metal into water, and Madison's breath is stolen.

"Maddie," Maeve says, turning the tip of her sword towards the outside of the Cornucopia. "Ready?"

Madison nods. Scott, she thinks. She needs to find Scott. Madison had promised him, that much, and she'd told Maeve that too. Maeve knows, too.

Maeve grins. She knots their hands together and they leave - the Cornucopia goes, and then they're thrown into the fray of the bloodbath.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

If she's being honest, the bloodbath's kinda the definition of fun.

'Cause she's out of breaths. Her lungs are heaving so hard and so fast and a grin twiddles on her face. She's breathing, so much that she's out of it. She's in the chaos and the frenzy and it's pulsing, beat-by-beat in her throat and her wrist and she lives. She's not at home, she's not with Mom, she's not with the jeers at the Academy.

It's different from suffocation. She has Maddie's hand in her hand. They're together, and that's what she wants, needs, desires, has. She's here, and she's living as she always should've.

That's what she has.

She leads the way to the horn. Cold massages down Maeve's arm but she's warm, in her exhales, in Maddie's hand. Her eyes scan across the forests and the tributes. They're looking for the wispy boy.

Quinn gets two more kills. She gloats and laughs. She slices them slowly. She tortures them as if their screams are art. She'll sic their heads off. But not fast enough.

Maeve frowns. She doesn't really like that. But Quinn's a bully, so she's not surprised. She'd go and kill her, for the dead, but Maddie wants 'em to find a friend.

That's what they'll do.

Wispy boy has to be around here. She looks through the mist and the bodies and the edges of the forests. Nowhere.

She turns to Maddie. "D'ya think he's… hiding?"

Madison clenches her jaw. "He might be. Maybe it's worth it to—"

"Oi! Two! Alcraiz!"

Maeve's eyes go to whoever's calling her name.

Randy.

Randy's towering over a fallen boy. Stuttering and saucer-eyed and grabbing against the grass. Randy's grinning at her. "Watch this."

He stomps on the kid's head. Again and again. Over and over again. Until he is dead. And then. He stomps on the dead kid's skull. Over and over again. As if he is some Roman emperor.

"What the actual fuck…?" Maddie says under her breath, eyes widening, gripping Maeve's hand tighter.

It is. As if. Desecrating a corpse would make him powerful. He isn't wrong. The Capitol laps up the blood he'll give them.

Randy turns his head at Maeve. Lifts his bloodstained blade from the crevices of the carcass and right at her head. Like she hasn't processed what he's done yet.

"Cute, right?"

Maddie's eyes widen. She steps in front of Maeve, knocks away the blade with her knife, and glares at Randy. "No, what the actual hell was that?"

"Didn't appreciate that, One?" Randy scoffs. "Come on! Does nobody have balls in here?"

"Fuck off," Maddie mutters, throwing her knife on the ground. It splays up dirt.

"Way to go, One! Temper much?" Randy yells back. Maddie sticks up a middle finger back at him. Maeve also raises two middle fingers for emphasis.

But Randy's already looking away. Scraping his sword against the dirt and looking for more kids to kill. Not that there's any left.

Maeve puts down her middle fingers. Oh well.

Maddie paces away from Randy, and then down and around the Cornucopia. "It's… whatever. He's not worth it." It's hushed, angry, fast. And Maeve knows Maddie's really so mad.

But Maddie catches her eyes, and that anger extinguishes right there and then. "Are you okay?"

Maddie knows Randy makes her uncomfortable. Always has, really. He looks at her like she is a child to be spoken down to. Like an idiot to be talked to. Enunciating his words so slowly like it won't click in her head.

Maeve can't care about that right now. She can't care about Randy anywhere. He doesn't deserve a thought in her mind. 'Cause Maddie's right there. And Maeve hides the smile on her face.

It's nice. That Maddie cares that much 'bout how she feels. It makes her feel fuzzy.

"Yeah," Maeve says. "M'okay."

"Good," Maddie responds, quietly. "Should we keep looking?"

Right. They need to find the wispy boy.


Madison Saros. District 1.

Fuck Ranulphus Marcellus.

To say that he frustrates her would be an understatement. He's a brute of a boy, more animal than man, play-fighting to be the best of them all. A golden boy doused in blood for the Capitol's screens, howling on top of his lungs like he were a lumbering wolf, for Two! He would've been a better fit for Levine's experiment, not her, fucking hell...

But she won't think about him for now.

Scott's who matters to her now.

Madison bites her lip. She isn't sure where he is. She'd told him to hide, that she'll find him. But he isn't anywhere—

A scream.

Her head whips sideways, to two figures by the trees, a few dozen meters from her and Maeve. District Four. Towering over a body, red hair gleaming in the sunlight, whimpering, so terrified—

It comes on instinct.

A wrist's flick is all it takes. Her throwing knife sinks into Four's back. He stands there, motionless for a moment, paralysed in a half-crouch like he's a demon. But his legs bend in on themselves, and he collapses into a heap.

Madison takes in a breath.

She would feel worse about herself. If it isn't just the same. If she wasn't so used to the rituals that Levine performed. Bodies of criminals lined up in front of her. Dragging metal over necks. She'd sat and watched and listened to their gargles. And then he would put a knife in her hands. Your turn. It's necessary if you want to survive. And maybe. Just maybe. You'll have fun with it too. That's what I'd like you to. And if not, and his knife touches her skin, sticks to her neck, cold dry-ice, and with a lift he'll rip her skin from flesh. If not, well. Let's just say it wouldn't be pretty.

"Maddie?"

Madison blinks. She's no longer there: not in a rickety chair stenching of wrangled legs and skinflesh, not in warehouses too much made from desert-rust and dry dust, hot rot and maggots. Not in an Academy too dreary-grey in their pallid walls and training-room coffins, drowning in their masses of dreamless dreadnoughts.

She's back again.

(Back in the Arena. As if that's any better.)

"Thank you," Maddie murmurs, tilting her head up. Maeve smiles; no problem is implicit there. She gives her hand a small squeeze, and breaks away. Nudges Maddie towards Scott, as if she's encouraging her to talk to a crush, and Madison just shakes her head, eases a smile into her exhale.

She extends a hand to Scott. Scott blinks, half-believing, like he expects her to kill him next. But then he takes her hand, and gets back up.

"Thank you for that," Scott says, quietly. "Another moment and…" He trails off. He looks down at the body underneath him. But just as quickly as he looks, he looks away. He's still so pallid. He can't take the sight of the dead. Madison realises.

An irrational part of her's almost envious. If only she could—

Feel.

"No problem." Madison says, quietly, and looks away. She isn't sure if it's melancholic or bitter. She isn't sure if it's anything.

(She's so guilty. Though she will never admit it to the screens. Where does she begin to repent? From the man she'd killed, when she was eight? And what of the dozen victims after that? And what of her desires? She wants to watch the Capitol burn. She wants Levine Saros to die. But - a repenter, an avenger - she can be none of that.)

Madison Saros would rather be numb. Madison Saros would rather be empty. Madison Saros would rather be dead.

It's better than indulging in her dreams.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

The aftermath of their bloodbath's fast.

Fast, 'cause Maeve doesn't really get a moment to even talk to Scott before Randy barges in and interrupts their peace.

Well, not her peace. Maddie's peace.

"What the fuck, One?" Randy scoffs, stomping up at Maddie, jagging his bloody blade at her. "What the hell is wrong with you? Adding Five to the pack? First of all, you didn't fucking tell me, and second of all, what d'you think a weakling's gonna add for the Careers?"

"That's because I knew you'd act like that." Maddie snaps. She pushes his blade aside with her hand, real easy, like she's just carelessly shoving a guy aside in a busy street. Randy looks infuriated. Maeve giggles. 'Cause he has to tuck the sword back into its scabbard, like a sulking child, and it's funny.

"Fuck you," Randy says, but even that's half-impassioned. Does he have anythin' else in his system other than his swearing?

Maddie doesn't even give him a look. She just strolls away. He yells things at her, but Maddie just keeps walking, and Maeve just keeps giggling. Maeve can't really be bothered to hear what he says too, so she goes right up to Maddie's side.

"How do you deal with him?" Maddie mutters.

"I don't." Maeve giggles again. She tugs Maddie's hand in hers, 'cause she's missed her warmth.

Maddie squeezes back, and she nudges Maeve. "Coward."

"Talking about cowards," Randy yells, atop his lungs on full volume. Spitting like a llama. "One. You're the one bringing a fucking goat to the end."

They both ignore him. Maddie rolls her eyes. She doesn't bother to look at him. Only squeezes Maeve's hand tighter. Her message's obvious. "Don't know how I'll be sane without you."

"Ya just need'ta thank me!"

"Oh, you can be sure of that," Maddie says. Her eyes flitter up to the Cornucopia. "Can believe I've never asked, but—what's your favourite weapon?"

Maeve stops. That's a good question. She doesn't really have a favourite. She likes switching between all types because fun can never last… if she just focuses on one. Right now, though. She's feeling like the sea.

"Spear?"

Maddie squeezes her hand. "Order noted," she says. And then Maddie winks at her. Maeve laughs a bit. As Maddie goes off towards the Cornucopia.

Silly. Maddie gets to be a bit more silly around her. And that makes her happy.

Maddie does… make her so happy.

Her eyes trail down Maddie's form. There's a string that circles her previously bare neck. A necklace. Huh. Maeve doesn't remember seeing that on Maddie before.

Before she can think any more on that, though, her eyes catch somebody else. Scott's hanging around by the forests. Maeve wonders if he's heard what Randy said. Maybe that's why he's sad.

Maeve decides she wants to introduce herself.

So she does.


Madison Saros. District 1.

It's after she fetches a spear for Maeve that she finds Ranulphus dead by Maeve's scalpel chain.

She doesn't realise it, at first. Because Maeve greets her with a kiss. A peck to her cheek. And then another to her lips. And then she smiles. "Sorry. I just wanted to kiss ya."

Maddie feels a smile turn up her lips. She takes Maeve's neck into her hands and tugs her into another kiss again, softer, closer. "Never apologise for that."

It's only after then that Madison sees the Two boy's body, blood laying out to dry in the brisk sunlight. So dead for a boy so bulging in aggressiveness. Maddie blinks, because she can't be seeing right - but she is. He's right there.

"Why did you kill him?" It's without judgement. It's just curiosity that's there.

Maeve stops, for a few moments. Then, realisation flicks in her eyes.

"Oh!" Maeve shrugs. "He was… bein' mean. Being mean to you. And Scott."

A good reason as any, Madison supposes. Admittedly, she's not wracked over the fact that he's gone. She won't act as if she was, either. Their animosity was more than evident to the screens.

(Does that make you awful?)

(Levine's smile. I, personally, am not surprised.)

Shutupshutupshutup—

"... Oh. Thank you for defending me." Madison says, quietly, half-humorous, half-truthful. Maeve's eyes go alight. As they do, every time Madison compliments her. It's one of the things which Madison loves about Maeve. She's so genuine, so easy to please. So easily happy.

Maeve beams. "'Course! I wouldn't be a good lover if I didn't!"

Lover. Madison can get behind that.

"Do I get a kiss for that?"

Hell. She tugs Maeve's hand in hers, tugs her closer. Maeve's lips part halfway to meet Madison's own, and Madison dips her head down, lips parted in a smile, but moments before their mouths meet, Madison feels her back crawl.

There are eyes on her.

It's Scott. He looks at her. His mouth slack. Madison's throat tightens, as he stares at her, and she stares right back.

He finally breaks away from staring with a blink. "Oh! Oh. Oh, sorry, I didn't realise. Just… never mind me…"

Scott looks away, as fast as he can, as if he'd never even caught them kissing. Quickly, he makes his way towards the edge of the Cornucopia's horn, as if he's going to sort out their supplies there.

Madison's eyes tear away from him once she hears Maeve's giggle. "Oops."

Maybe she should be embarrassed, or amused, or some mix in between. But her stomach churns, and Madison doesn't know why she feels weird. But she brushes that feeling aside. Focus. She's in the Games. She doesn't have much time until…

"Night's coming," Madison says, jutting a thumb towards the Cornucopia. "Scott's right. We should probably… get set up."

"Ooh. What type of tents d'they have?"

Madison blinks. She didn't really expect that to be up there for Maeve's priorities, but then again, she's talking to Maeve. Who'll surprise her with something new every moment onto the next. "I mean… there should be a few kinds."

"So. Just us in a pretty green tent?" Maeve grins. "That's real romantic. You're real romantic."

Madison blushes. It's insane how easily Maeve can elicit a blush from her. It's because every word that comes out of Maeve's mouth is genuine. It's because her eyes are so excited, because she actually can't wait to spend the night with Maddie in their tent together. Despite how there may not be green tents in its actuality, and despite how their hypothetical green tent has not yet been made. They'd like to believe.

Maeve clasps Maddie's hand into hers. Not just that, either: she's swinging her hand, humming along, and a faint smile tilts upon her lips. She knows that Maeve has her back. It's ridiculous, but Madison's as safe as she can be, as invulnerable as she can be, together with Maeve.

(Even if his necklace weighs on her neck.)

Another tug. Another smile, pulled too wide, on Maeve's face. "Maddie, c'mon! Whatcha waiting for? It's tent time!"


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

They make tents for their night together.

Turns out, the Gamemakers gave them a fair few! Six or so. Too many for them all, 'cause she and Maddie did end up killing almost half of the traditional Career pack, but hey.

Scott gets one of his own, 'cause he's a guy. She an' Maddie get to share. Maeve smiles a lil bit. She's real excited to share with Maddie. 'Course, they shared a bed last night, and that was a whole 'nother sort of fun. But. Still! Tents'll be fun.

Night comes so quickly. Maybe that's cause Maeve passed the time chatting with Scott. 'Bout what he does back at home (doing nerdy things so he gets to work full-time in a power plant), his favourite ice cream flavours (chocolate, though he does like mint sometimes), and the worst foods he had in the Capitol (fruit bats and maggoty cheese, but he didn't really hate the fish soup that much). Okay, Maeve doesn't usually hate foods an' the like, but fish soup's sorta hell, she swears it.

After all that, she gets ready to sleep with Maddie. Who seems uncertain. In the eyes.

What's wrong? Maeve says. Her brow furrows. Because Maddie's shifting. Her eyes are. Between the tent flap and then to the tent's roof and then to its window flaps. As if she's trying to get accustomed to bein' here. Or maybe she's following the cricket noises in the night. If it's that. Then Maddie should tell her. 'Cause Maeve's more than happy to go cricket-hunting together!

Maddie shakes her head. I'm… okay, she says, as she takes the blow-up pillow into her hands. It's just that I don't sleep well, sometimes. I don't want to accidentally wake you up.

It's okay, Maddie. Maeve says. We can defeat your nightmares! Together.

Maddie's eyes glimmer. That is her reply.

They doze off to sleep real quick, after that. Maddie exhales, and inhales, softly, and her warmth lingers on Maeve's skin. Maeve cradles Maddie in her arms tighter. Holds her like she's a koala grasping a tree and she can't let go or else she'll fall.

(Turns out. Maeve didn't have to fight anything at all, that night. Maddie slept just fine.)


Madison Saros. District 1.

They have to hunt down tributes.

It's the first lesson she'd been taught. Kill, Madison. It's been instilled in her, since the beginning of time. That is what the nightingale that claws round her neck in a string says.

That is her first thought after she rises from her dreamless sleep. There are still fourteen alive. Twelve of which they need to hunt.

But Maeve's arms catch her. A protesting mumble strings out of Maeve's lips. She's still asleep, Madison realises. She still wants Maddie's presence, here.

Warmth sploshes through her heart, as if moved by a turnstile.

Maybe she can rest a few moments more. After all - she doesn't have much time left. Might as well.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

Her morning came out pretty nicely!

She woke to Maddie sleeping on her chest. With her hair all messy like she was fresh from a fight and didn't bother to pat it back down. Snoozing so slightly and breathing so quietly. Clinging onto Maeve like she was the world she didn't wanna lose. She was peaceful. More peaceful than Maeve'd ever seen her before. It was like the world could try an' get her. But in their bubble together. Maddie's safer than ever.

She smiled too much at the thought.

Maeve ruffled Maddie's hair, twirled a lock of Maddie's hair in her fingers, and stayed with her there too. Until she got restless and got up (and accidentally woke up Maddie along the way, an' she apologised because she really didn't mean to, but Maddie reassured her not to worry, smiling a little too.)

After that. Maeve left their tent to the canopy, which they've hung as an extension out of the Cornucopia. She's looking, now, rummaging through the weapons there. Maddie had given her a spear, which's hanging in her belt. Even though it probably shouldn't be there, cause it's just movin' back and forth like an unsteady tentpole, but she can do what she wants! Nobody'll get to dictate what she does. No matter how dumb.

"Maeve…?"

Maeve's eyes jerk up. Scott's over at the end of the Cornucopia, leaning against the wall. He's twitching. He's nervous. He still has the sword she'd given him, bouncing by his hip. He probably still needed help with it. 'Cause Maeve ended up giggling far too much, that first time they'd tried to practice, last night. She tried to get Scott to hold it but he held it all weird. Weirder than Maeve used to hold it till they started callin' her names. And then she decided to hold it the right way. She giggled 'cause he was sorta like younger-her, and that made a fuzzy feeling go up in her heart. Maeve didn't correct him, but she'd knocked his sword aside with a knife, and Scott let out a disbelieved gasp. He'd scooped the sword up and went for a strike back, grinning with new confidence. They'd both ended up laughing far too much by the end of it.

"D'ya need help with that?"

Scott blinks. Like he doesn't know what she's gettin' at. But then. His eyes widen. "Oh, no! I'm fine. That's not what I was… is that a spear?"

Maeve nods, enthusiastically. "Yeah! It's for… hunting. Later on."

Scott tightens his arms around his chest and worries his lip. "Do we really have to…?"

Maeve thinks. Well. They don't really have'ta. They don't really have'ta do anything here. The Games are her Games, Maeve decides. She is the one that chooses the rules and plays how she wants to. Sure, the Gamemakers and Two and home might've sent her here. But the Arena is hers, and so is its skies, and she will be its reckoning. She will destroy the night with her fireworks.

She'll decide if she's killing or not, when she gets there. Who knows? Maybe they'll meet someone nice. Who didn't deserve to die. That'll be nice.

"We don't need'ta," Maeve says, cheerily. "We're hunters, 'an the like, sure. But we can do what we want. Nothing's makin' us do things we don't want."

She isn't sure if that's reassuring any, 'cause Scott still seems just as concerned as he was before. Hmm.

"But… Maeve… the Gamemakers?"

She knows what he's asking. She knows he's remindin' her. It's the Games, Maeve. We shouldn't make statements like that.

So Maeve shrugs. Half-smiling. She knows the Gamemakers won't retaliate. 'Cause they all think she's crazy, all cuckoo, mad and then some, spazzing out and insane and just another one of their batshit crazy archetypes. What comes out of her mouth doesn't make sense, why punish a mad girl?

Okay, Maeve accepts that she thinks differently. And she accepts that everybody thinks 'bout her differently cause of that. That's okay. That means she can indulge, to an advantage.

Sure, they control everything. But she's only got so much time left. Maddie's only got so much time left. She can be as reckless as she wants. Can be as recklessly human as she wants to be. That's why she's here. She needs to breathe. And that's what she's doing, now, here, right this moment now—!

Scott waits for her. She knows what he's waiting for. For the words to click in her head. It's nice of him to wait. But her head's clear as day right now.

Maeve doesn't reply. She's never really been too good at words, anyways. Her actions will say the rest.

She turns her eyes to the forests ahead.


Madison Saros. District 1.

More faces hang up in the night. But none of them are the Sixes.

They would have perished, if not for Maeve's spear, pummelling into the bird mutt and peeling it back piece by piece as it careened into the ground.

"The sky's mine!" Maeve had grinned, lowering her arm, redolent of a hero in the dying light. Though Madison knows that is the last thing she'd want to be. From hero to angel to Career to goddess: Maeve is all of those, and none of those at the same time. She laughs in the faces of anything that confines her and damns anything that damns her.

Maeve had grabbed the spear from the mutt's corpse and blew the chalky-dust off the pole. She'd spent the next fifteen minutes back at camp scrubbing the spearhead clean. When Maddie asked why. Maeve just looked at her all-appalled and exasperated smiley. Like she couldn't believe it. She nudged Madison in the side. "Maddie! You gave it to me. 'Course I ain't gonna let it... go. Like that." And that was explanation enough for Maeve.

Now they're here. Two more in addition to their pack. They'd exchanged the basics, en route to camp: names, genders, ages. Then they'd exchanged questions. Maeve had chatted up Brynn, asking her about her Reapings and what it was like back home. ('Cause she'd never met a District Six in her life. Madison's sure the same could be applied anywhere else, but she still can't help but smile). Brynn did seem taken aback by Maeve's eagerness, but she'd appeased Maeve regardless; amusement, maybe, was what had stolen her features. Scott, curious, had shot Jordyn a fair few, questions about identity. Though tiredness creased Jordyn's eyes - evidently questions hurled all too much her way - she didn't seem to mind explaining. Half of her patience might have to do with the fact that Scott was like a puppy.

Madison had stayed silent throughout their chatter. A hole swirling inside her chest. All it does is it makes her realise - she'd spent so much time confined in her own mind. She can barely name a tribute out of the Career pack. She doesn't know their stories or their dreams or their beings. They're just the same sheep to the abattoir's knife, to a knife whittled and well-practiced, a loose bone that sprouts from her palm's flesh, waiting to spin onto tender neck.

She wonders if she should feel guilty, in the hollow she has for a heart.

(What it shows, Madison, is that you are what you were made to be.)

Later. They sit by the campfire. Brynn asks why they were saved and Scott replies, you didn't do anything that meant you deserved to die. Madison apologises for the campfire, it's not all that warm, they made it cold and wet for us. Small talk would do well to relieve her mind.

They talk, for a while, about everything that does not matter. Madison's quiet, flexing her fingers in her palms, staring at the flames that flicker in the fireplace. But Maeve's eyes meet hers and she must see the hollow in her eyes, because her lips quiver a bit, and Madison quirks her lips the specific way she has for Maeve, the one that tells her she's fine.

Maddie. You love the cold.

It takes Madison aback, because that is the last thing she expects to leave Maeve's mouth. No, I don't, she thinks, and says it, after Scott and Brynn and Jordyn pile onto her with disbelief. Voices heap onto voices and they snowball into conversation, one topic tumbling after another at breakneck speed, without end in sight. Love and dreams and home's what they toast above their campfire, so ephemeral in the vast skies, yet it stays all the same. Till the night ends with their tales mingling in the air, tangling with the fireplace's smoke, clinging to her nose and the roof of her mouth and turning in her lungs. If she imagines, maybe the flame's in her heart, too.

They connect. They're themselves here. Even though they should not be: even though Madison is One and Maeve is Two and Scott shouldn't be even here. Even though the Sixes should be long dead. Even though Madison should be whittling flesh to bone and not making friends like a schoolgirl.

Has she ever had such a chance?

Madison does not mind it. (Are you out of your mind?) She does not mind it, not as much as she should. (Ridiculous. You're a Career.) No, not just mind: who does she lie to? She needs Maeve, needs Scott, needs Brynn and Jordyn, even, though she's just met them. Maeve's left a flame in the void in her heart and the rest stoke and fuel and pound that flicker of life into meaning. She needs them, oh, it's ridiculous, it is, she knows how it sounds. (Madison. Listen to me. You shouldn't be here, shouldn't be finding friends in the fucking Arena.)

She knows how it sounds.

(You've lost your fucking mind—!)

Madison lets in a breath, and out again. She lets that voice pass by in her mind, lets him be buried in the dark of her sorrows and her sins and her bitterness and her grief. She makes herself forget.

After all is said and done, and she's back alone in her tent. She remembers something that Jordyn's said.

"I don't really want to be anything," Jordyn had said, by the campfire, pieces of fire illuminating her cheeks, "Other than my dreams."

Madison wants to be her dreams, too. She wants to be in a world other than here. But that itself is nothing but a pipe dream: she was dressed and designed and damned to be a Career. Meant to volunteer, meant to disappear or to wring victory: not just Levine's perfect machine, but the system's best contrivance. She was never meant to escape, and run, out into the forests with a drumbeat heart and breathing so many breaths that she choked on them in her ecstasy. Not when her self was erected in manacles and fetters; a cage for a chest and chains for her hair and links for her veins and irons for her eyes.

She cannot be in a world other than here.

But since she can't, well.

Why not soar here?


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

Nighttime comes, too quick again: has it just been two days since she'd entered the Games? 'Cause it doesn't feel like it. It feels like she'd just gone in moments and moments before. The thrill that's exulted in her veins since the bloodbath still throbs inside of her, and it's running on unlimited gas, it's not stopping, never-ending, not for a long time coming.

Maeve loves it.

She unfurls their tent flap-door and steps in and zips it back up.

Hey, Maddie says, quietly, a half-smile weighing down the corners of her lips. Hi, Maeve says, smiling the other half of a smile that Maddie won't let go on her own face.

What'cha thinking bout?

Maddie shrugs. Her half smile's still there. Nothing, really. Until you came in.

Maeve raises her eyebrows. Delight gushes into her gut, and she can't help but lift the rest of her grin on her lips. I don't have a penny, so d'ya want a rose for your thoughts?

Maddie's brows furrow. Oh? A rose?

Maeve fumbles in her back pocket and pulls out her red rose for Maddie to see. It's a little squashed, but Maeve pats it all back better. Maeve had gotten it, after she'd gone out to scavenge, because it was so pretty, growing by the jet-cold rivers, glittering in their near-icy sheens. Must've been hard for the rose to survive next to rushing ice, but somehow it did anyway, and then she'd picked it up, roots and all, 'cause the rose reminded her of Maddie. Persisting through. Despite all the hurt and sad she feels and all the cold that torments her, day to day.

She remembers what Maddie's said. That night before the Games.

The Games. It's an escape, Maddie had said. It makes Maeve sad to think 'bout. Because the Games being anybody's escape is just saddening.

(And she doesn't think about it too much. The Games are Maeve's escape too. She knows it. Maddie knows it. The Capitol knows it. Kiernan knows it. Her Mom doesn't know it. She's too busy callin' her stupid to know it.)

Maeve hands the rose to Maddie. Here ya go, she says. It's sorta squashed, an' I'm sorry bout that. But if it's any better, it's squashed by my hand, which makes it unique! She tucks it above Maddie's ear, and fluffs Maddie's hair so that her black locks drape over it, nicely.

One rose in Maddie's hair. Only a bouquet more to go. Maeve wants to weave all the roses that she can find for Maddie, till her hair's all overflowing and pretty. Till Maddie doesn't just have a flower crown but she wears it in her hair, too.

Maddie's eyes glitter, as if there are broken shards that inhabit her eyes. Oh. Thank you.

Maeve just tilts her head. Her hand descends from Maddie's locks to Maddie's neck, knuckles brushing past Maddie's skin, occasionally raised with scars, and Maddie just lets in a shattery breath and another again.

For a moment. She holds Maddie's neck in her fingers. Her pulse beats against the nook between her thumb and her index finger. Thump-thump-thump. If she squeezes. Maddie will go.

Maddie's still. She looks at her, eyes meeting Maeve's, a little of a glimmer in them. It says: please.

(But which way? To die, or to—?)

Maeve's fingers trail down to Maddie's neck. Maddie's pulse thumps against Maeve's fingers: a little unsteady, a little erratic, a little fast.

Maeve's fingers curl around the string on Maddie's neck.

He gave it to me. Maddie says, quietly. She's looking down at where Maeve's fingers are, teasing the string between her fingers, like it is dough. It is like dough: here in her fingers, she can mould it into anything she likes. It does not have to be defined.

Maeve exhales, twice, and her breath lingers in the air. Can I…?

Maddie's nod is barely an incline.

Maeve's fingers tighten upon the string. She pulls at it, hard. It digs into Maddie's neck, makes small creases and ripples there, but if it hurts Maddie doesn't protest.

Till finally. The metal clasp breaks and the necklace comes free into Maeve's fingers. The clasp glints, once, as if it had caught a spun star into its cage. Maeve pries the metal piece from the necklace, and stuffs it into her jacket pocket. She'll throw it out later.

Maeve reaches for the knife in her belt. She focuses on the wooden emblem. She shears it and whittles it until it is no longer a nightingale.

There. She says, and she ties it back on Maddie's neck, a bow of a rope, not metal anymore. I think a cuckoo looks better on you.

Maddie's eyes glint. Thank you.


Madison Saros. District 1.

She's scavenging when she comes by it.

It's an icy river. She doesn't know why she decides to watch it, in particular, and she doesn't know why she decides to sit by it to rest.

But she does, and her fingers entwine around the rope around her neck. And then they trail down, to the cuckoo emblem in her palm. She doesn't remove it, because Maeve's tied it around her neck, and her phantom touch is still warm, radiating from the knot Maeve's pressed together.

It's no longer his. Not Levine's, nor the Stolvania's, nor anything: it carries a haggard legacy it should not have in its wooden flesh. She has half the mind to throw it out; but the beak that curves the wood is not a nightingale but a cuckoo's, and the well-polished wings are now whittled ragged and chaotic by Maeve's knifestrokes. It's not what it once was: it won't be, not ever again.

Their legacy is something she won't be. Not ever again.

Not even if metal's in her flesh. Not if she's their ideal Career. Not if she's what they've wanted to make her out to be.

A string pulls ruefulness taut up the corners of her mouth.

She could die. She thinks that they'd quite like to watch her perish: broken by the world more than it's already destroyed her, pathetic weakling, look at how she screams. They already like to watch her crack. She has a flame in her heart for it: hate and rage, frothing in equal measure. She has a flame in her heart for it: despair and anguish, might as well. They want to see her killed, and half of her hates it as much as she welcomes it. They're waiting for her doom: they as much as she.

Fuck them, Maddie.

Her eyes open, slightly.

Oh, Maeve, she thinks.

Thank you.

It is here where Maddie gazes into the icy rivers and makes a promise to herself.

I'll live. I won't fall, Levine.

You wish I would.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

Over the next few days. Maeve notices one thing. Maddie's happier.

Maybe it's 'cause of Brynn and Jordyn and Scott. Because they're Maddie's friends, now. But also. Maybe it's Maeve. Cause Maddie does smile a lot more when she's around Maeve. A messy crinkle up her lips and an adorable crinkle in her eyes. Throwing aside her face of stoicism to breathe. Suppressing her sadness for a moment to dream.

Okay, she'll be super-happy 'ta be able to say that she's part of the reason Maddie's happier. But she knows she's only part of the reason. Maddie didn't really have friends. From what Maddie's told her. Levine's never really let her make any, in the last two years she'd joined the Academy. From before that still. She never got to interact with anybody her age, because that was spent in the warehouses. Basically, Career culture on steroids with a healthy dose of obsessive scientists.

The experience Maeve had in the Academy was different. She wasn't the most popular. But she was the most notorious. Her reputation is a flame 'cause giddy and restless like a pulsing fire, careless bout what she burns, giving less a shit 'bout what she destroys. Everybody knew her: whether they were older than her or younger than her or her age, her notoriety spread through the Academy on wings.

(It's why orange is Maeve's second-favourite colour. It's vitality, breathing and expressing and flicking between panels of different shades of tangerine, a million times a minute. It's why she waved to sponsors and got gunpowder. For fireworks. She'll need it if she wants 'ta explode into the night.)

But back to Maddie.

Maddie's been is isolated and sad. For a long time. Which is why Maddie's so happy. Scott and Brynn and Jordyn are the first friends Maddie's had.

It is why Maeve turns to Maddie, in the blue-green moments before the sun releases darkness into the skies, and pulls her into the tent. Surprise jolts in the flecks in Maddie's eyes, but she lets herself be guided along. Half of Maeve wants to caress Maddie's cheeks and pull her down to her lips, pull Maddie down against her body and kiss her silly. But the other half of her knows that that can come later in the night, because they've got more important things now first.

Maddie. Maeve murmurs. Maddie's breath falters for a moment at the nickname. She always has, 'cause it's like she doesn't quite expect to be called anything other than the name Levine's branded on her. It's why Maeve's promised herself that she'll always call Maddie Maddie, repeat it a thousand and one times and for forever and five days, 'cause it's her name her name her name, till Maddie doesn't get surprised anymore that her own name is her name.

That's not why Maeve's talking to her, though.

Maddie's all cautious and curious when she looks at Maeve. Like she's expectin' something bad to be said. Like she's afraid Maeve will leave.

Maeve shakes her head. Maybe that will help dispel the ghosts that should not be there and fears that should not be there in Maddie's head.

Maeve exhales. Please. I wanna… ask one thing from ya.

Maddie's caught between curiosity and fear. Her eyes glint. Though for what Maeve isn't sure yet.

Can you. Maeve pauses. Live for yourself?

I am, Maddie says, quietly, I'm not dead yet.

Not just for them.

Maddie's quiet, then. Something hitches in Maeve's throat. She takes locks of Maddie's hair into the space between her thumb and her index finger, in her right hand, and combs down. Maddie's eyes flitter away from her eyes.

Maddie, please.

Maddie lets out a breath. She looks away. If I live then they die. And I'm not willing to…

Her eyes flick about, as if she's worried about their cameras. She doesn't finish her sentence.

Maddie…

Maddie shakes her head, more vigorously now. Maeve's hand leaves Maddie's hair, and Maddie looks at Maeve right in the eyes. If I live then you die. I'm not going to be able to live with that. I don't want to be— I don't want to win, Maeve, I can't. Not if it means them dead. Not if it means you dead. You're the only reason I'm breathing at all, I—

Maddie stops. She stops before she can go too far. She bites her lip. She is ashamed, Maeve realises, and that knowledge withers a knot in her chest.

They're silent, for a long while, only air wedging between them and only the audible noises of their breaths infiltrating the dimly-lit tent, glowing on the sides with dark-green lume and yellow domes, in the darkness too.

It's no secret that Maeve doesn't like to speak. Words never quite say what she says, 'specially when it comes to hard things to talk 'bout. Words splinter in her mouth and break apart till they no longer resemble the images and the ideas in her head. Till they're really just a mockery of her thoughts. All for everybody else to mock. That's why, as loud as she is, sometimes she just likes to... stay quiet.

But Maeve's the one that speaks first.

I don't want you die, Maddie.

Maddie exhales. Her breath is a wisp in the air too solemn in their tent. I don't want you to die either.

That's why we're, and Maeve blinks again, no, there aren't tears in her eyes, can't be, won't be. That's why we're kissing till the end. That's why we're ending it in red.

Maddie's quiet. Which's good, 'cause… Maeve isn't quite done yet. And Maddie's waiting. Waiting for her. Which's good, 'cause she needs time to get those words right. It's good that Maddie's patient.

But. Just in case that… doesn't happen.

Just remember. Please.

Live for yourself. Maddie.

I'll… Maddie hesitates. It's like she's struggling, on the inside. Because she doesn't quite want to say yes. Because she doesn't want it to be a lie. But she doesn't quite want to say no. Because she doesn't quite want to die.

I'll try my best.

That's all I want. Anyways, Maeve says, a smile turning up her lips. What're we doin' tonight?

Maddie's eyes turn up. It's like she wasn't expecting this turn in conversation. But that sparkle in Maddie's eyes tells Maeve that she welcomes it anyway.

I mean. I'm down for anything. As long as you are. What are you thinking?

I was thinkin', Maeve says, smiling, of kissin' you.

That is how they begin, and this is how they end their night together. Maeve leans in, and captures Maddie's lips into her own. Bodies against bodies. Lips against lips. Breath against breath. Until they're lying on the tent, looking up at the ceiling, hands entwined together, sweat rolling down their skin in waves. As they hold each other so tight: they can't, won't let go. As flares of dawnlight begin to make their shadow-dances upon the walls outside their tent.

Nothing lingers in the air save heat and sweat and the remnants of them together, stirring in their tent, coating their skin like blankets. Till Maddie says, so quiet, so very barely there at all, like part of her doesn't want Maeve to hear what she says. I wish we were someplace else.

A sad smile flickers on Maeve's lips, a lil. You don't have'ta leave that a dream, Maddie.

I know, Maddie says, quiet still, but firmer now. We're here, and… we can make our own world. Can't we?

Yeah, Maeve says, cracking her lips open, showing her teeth, in a soft grin. We can make-believe. She turns onto her side, reaches out to play with Maddie's hair in her fingers, and looks at Maddie in the eyes. Where do y'wanna be?

I want to run. Maddie's eyes remain on the tent's ceiling, a little distant, a little away, like she's already somewhere else. Running from the forests. Running away and… into a better place. And I won't be… alone.

Maddie's reply comes so quick. Maeve wonders if she's thought about it before.

Maeve tilts her head. So... I'll be holdin' your hand?

Maddie's breaths stops, just as they have the dozen times again this night. She looks into Maeve's eyes: a plea stewing in her, a hope burning in her, flecks in her eyes, though she lets them be nothing more than a glimmer shimmering in the surface of her irises. A question's swirling in there, a need, and Maeve wonders; when was the last time Maddie had touched others, as a human being and not a machine, as flesh and not steel, before her?

"Can I?"

Maeve nods. She exhales a soft breath. She doesn't usually let people hold her left hand. She doesn't tell anybody 'bout her left hand, either, and most of em are none the wiser. Maeve'd accidentally destroyed it during training, messing with electricity and an accident spilled down her wiry veins. And though she healed. She never recovered fully. Every flex and touch messed with her hand, fucked-up and lightning-tainted it is, 'cause it's sensitive as a baby. Maddie notices, though. Ever since she'd kissed Maeve's hand in training. Maddie holds it gingerly, always looks at it, without missing a beat, before lettin' it rest somewhere, as if she knows a spike'll occur and Maeve's nerves feel like they're bein' frazzled up alive again. As if they've done this dance, in a past life before.

Breaths exit Maeve's lips, now, a hurried breath, hitches and then some. Maddie holds her hand, so tentative, weaving in between her fingers, but not clasping them tight, only staying there, and there, a patient presence, one that doesn't press beyond what she has.

Maeve draws her hand away. When Maddie's eyes turn up, apologetic, Maeve shakes her head.

"It's… okay. You did nothin' wrong."

Maeve's right hand drops to Maddie's. She twirls her fingers upon the lines that run on Maddie's palm, brushes pasts her scars and down her arms, follows the curvatures of her veins and not the ravines that are there, half from him and half self-made. Maddie's breath hitches, once.

I love you, she murmurs again, again and again, 'cause if she doesn't say it then Maddie will forget. Maddie chokes and she kisses her back and her breath is what lingers on Maeve's lips, so warm. They are alive.

For as long as alive can last.


Madison Saros. District 1.

It's been four days in the Arena. Today marks the fifth.

She knows that the pack's stalling. They've been hunting, of course, but not other tributes - not actively, at least. That is, if they could even be considered a Career pack. With the eclectic mix of tributes, more outliers than Career Districts, Madison doubts it. The Capitol has only two tributes for entertainment: Jules Adansonia, Seven, axes and grins and a catchphrase, and Quinn Marlowe, hailing from the one-and-only District Four, their prowess remaining despite the collapse of their metal trade. Their arena is too typical of one: forests and frostbite, and perhaps that would've satiated the souls clamoring for drama and extravaganza ten years back, but a forest that simply kills its tributes is unpleasurable for anybody to watch now.

It's entertaining, maybe, if repetitive. According to the faces in the night, there are two more dead, possibly by Seven and Four's hands. Or maybe that's the arena: it is the Hunger Games, after all, and with an arena so cold, death only comes so natural. It wouldn't make for riveting entertainment, especially not with them so stagnant, but…

That means they're in the top twelve now. Almost to the top tens, and then after that the top eight, then the top four, and…

Madison doesn't really want to think about that.

They're at the camp. Jordyn's out with Scott gathering food. Maeve's somewhere else, Madison isn't sure where; but she hopes she's safe. Madison worries, of course, but her worry can't stop Maeve anywhere. Maeve does what she wants: she soars, and all Madison can really do is watch.

She's alone in camp with Brynn. Who's wary around Madison, still, even as they fall into a comfortable silence. Madison doesn't blame her: she is still from One, after all, and she is still trained. Brynn is not.

They're prodding their dead fire from last night, fixing the stones and throwing in kindle for tonight's. They're working wordlessly together: though Madison knows, from the occasional glances Brynn gives to her, that she wants to speak.

Until finally. Brynn stares at her, for a long moment. Madison looks back at her, wondering what Brynn thinks. What runs through Brynn's mind? Is that questioning whether Madison is a threat? If she is dangerous? Is Brynn here to kill her?

Madison doesn't speak - she just stays there. Nothing really stirring within her. Nothing else in her. She would not mind either, if Brynn does. A knife in her gut. It won't… won't be a bad way to end, all things considered.

There is something in Brynn's eyes. But what comes out of Brynn's mouth is what Madison least expects.

"Are you okay?"

It's direct - too direct, really, and Madison nearly flinches from her words.

She doesn't, though.

"I'm fine," Madison replies, quietly, glancing away from the damp bits of wood they've put to the pit and down at the kindle not-yet-used. "I'm just… thinking."

Not about anything, really, but she wouldn't say that to Brynn.

"Just about the numbers," Madison says. "It's twelve left, isn't it?"

"It is," Brynn confirms. She doesn't say anything other than that. "Twelve left, then..."

Neither of them mention how they make up five of the twelve. Almost half of them. Neither of them mention what it should mean. Thoughts of betrayaland backstabbingshould drown their minds now: that is certainly what had drowned the minds of the tributes a year ago (Four), and another year back (Elevens), and another still (Six and Three). Neither of them mention how that exactly is what should happen here. That's what the viewers and the Gamemakers expect: after the stagnancy before, they need drama to live. It's only so long before they get tired of her and Maeve. If they aren't tired of them already.

She wonders what Brynn's next words are.

Heaviness rests in Madison's chest. It isn't emptiness, not necessarily: it's more weighted than that, for dread crawls across her stomach like spiders with needles for legs, and goosebumps raise a rippling field across her arms. Madison would huddle in on herself, arms so tight to hold herself. She'd blame it on the winds, but she's done that enough times in the Arena already, and they all already know she's more pathetic than she lets on.

She wrenches her eyes shut. She doesn't attempt to suppress the thoughts that pound in her head.

Please don't leave.

You're my only friends.

(I don't want to be alone.)

"I understand if you go," Madison says, opening her eyes again. "We're in the top half, after all. We're nearly at the end. I don't blame you, if you do—"

Brynn gauges her. Narrowed eyes and a half-clenched jaw, opening and closing. She's examining her, running her through. Madison just stands, waiting for her words, waiting for her judgment. She wishes she could close her eyes, but if she's getting a decree then basic decency's to at least see the person passing judgment.

"I don't want to go." Brynn says.

What?

She blinks. That can't be true. Was this a joke? Maybe it's to divert Madison's thoughts away, until Brynn inevitably leaves or backstabs her. That… has to be it, right?

But Brynn states things as they are. She wouldn't... wouldn't mislead her, like that. That's what Madison's learnt, at least.

Brynn sighs. She gazes into the forests, as if she's taking a cursory glance to an audience, before her eyes land back on Madison's. Brynn's eyes burn.

"I've said what I said. I won't leave. We'll have a better chance standing together."

It toes the lines of daring; for Brynn does not insert a yet after her claim that she wouldn't leave, and her proclamations is something Gamemakers will consider. Will the Gamemakers send a hail of mutts at them? Will they do anything? For entertainment's sake? Yet, to them: there is the chance that Brynn is deceiving Madison. That's the narrative that they'd like to tell. And so long as there is that chance. They will leave them be.

(It is after Brynn speaks that, quietly, so quietly, so much so that the cameras can't hear, she looks at Madison and exhales and says: "I... I prefer it here.")

Madison almost feels something curl by her lips, but the guilt in her chest stays. Oh, is what echoes in her head, because - oh. She wasn't expecting that to leave Brynn's mouth.

Because she knows that they mean more to her than Madison does to them: they have family, they have friends, back at home. Madison has nothing, and all she has is here. All she has for friends, for family, is Maeve, and Scott, and Brynn, and Jordyn. All she has for role models, for admiration, for love, are them. It's a mistake, Levine would crow, but Madison can't care any less about what he says now.

She wasn't… expecting them to feel the same way about her.

Brynn cocks her head at Madison. "You're not a Career. Not really."

"No," Madison says, quietly. "Not really."

They both know that. The viewers know that. The Capitol knows that. The Gamemakers know that. Hell even Levine does - his failure of an experiment, a Jungian reaction. Madison isn't sure why he's so palpable in the air. The Gamemakers will modify what she'd said, cut she isn't a Career out, of course, what do you mean? She's the epitome of one.

Isn't she just?

Madison smirks grimly. But that's when Brynn moves closer. She moves until she is less than a feet away from Madison, and her heart tightens. Steel digs into her stomach. Her heart pounds in her throat. She should react, knows she should, and she can, she's a Career, she will, even if it breaks her, she has to, but she isn't moving, all Madison can think about's Maeve's face when she finds her dead and—

"Don't worry. It's for the screens," Brynn whispers into her ear. "The outer District threatening the ideal Career. Never mind them. I just don't want them to hear."

"What is it?" Madison says, softly.

Brynn exhales. "Just tell me. Are you willing to make things change?"

Change. It's deliberately vague, Madison realises - Brynn's letting her come to her own conclusions. She'd say that she doesn't know what Brynn means by it, not really, but she does. Change means upheaval. Change means altering the status-quo.

Change means getting to keep what she has.

(Her friends. Her family. Her lover.)

She has too much to lose now. She has a chance. She's in a forest and she hasn't yet started running. She has a hand in her hand and she has friends beside her and she has a chance.

She can be free.

Whatever it is, Madison replies, quietly. I'll sacrifice everything for it.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

"Will you dance for me?" Maeve whispers to Maddie, upon the brink of twilight. She has a grin on her face and she gives Maddie her best pleading eyes because she wants to get a yes.

'Cause she knows that Maddie dances oh-so-beautifully. Well. She doesn't. But Maddie's mentioned dancing, in the mornings after their last night back in the Capitol. I don't really have, um, hobbies, she'd said, an embarrassed flush eddying on her cheeks, swallowed, He's—

Maeve had brushed her knuckles over Maddie's cheeks and kissed them, all the way, so Maddie would have better reasons to blush. And Maddie looked back at her, surprised, What was that for? Maeve's eyes said all she wanted to say, y'don't have to explain. An' so much was said in Maddie's eyes, as clear as ponds and rippling-wet.

When Maddie spoke again, she was quieter than ever. Well. There's one, that I don't mind. At Maeve's look, she'd cleared her throat. That I do like.

Maddie told her about dance. 'Bout how she can tune into the rhythm of her body with the beats that flow in the air. 'Bout how she becomes somebody else, in the moment she lifts her feet. 'Bout how she can be uncoordinated and unpredictable, if she wants, and coordinated and steady the next. It's her narrative, and she chooses the story to tell.

Maddie's so-very-good at everything. When she gives her heart to it, pulsing and desperate and beating. Like she does for Maeve. But only when it's done 'cause she wants to. Not like Levine who makes her. Not like the world that makes her. Maddie's good at it all, yes, good at sparring and training and destruction. But she only gives her heart when she wants it, too.

That's how Maeve knows. That Maddie's good at it.

'Cause Maddie gives more than her heart to dance. It's how she breathes.


Madison Saros. District 1.

She dances in the Arena.

It's instinctive. It's what she'd do, after the warehouses, when she needs a reprieve. She'd tell him that she's going out for a bathroom break, and that's where she'd escape his scrutiny into the depths of One's dead redwoods.

She'd dance, then: or, at least, she'd call it a dance. It's not really one: it's a movement of limbs, of ragepainexhilarationpainsobs breathbreathbreath all amalgamated into one thing, one creation, one being. It's not graceful, it's not beautiful: it's all her contained feelings raw and out again.

But it was hers. Until one day when he'd mentioned to her how much sloppier she'd gotten. You won't succeed like that, Madison. Do you want to die so badly? There's a reason why you're supposed to keep your emotions contained. Haven't been doing too well on that, have we?

He's always known. The day after that he wrenches her arms behind her back and digs his leg into her back and forces her down onto her knees. Oh, I'd like to see you dance like this, Madison.

She opens her eyes, and his visage drifts away from sight. All that's left is her audience: the frostbite winds and the killer forests, the savaging muttations and the bloodthirsty children.

She lifts a hand.

They watch her. Watch me. They narrow their eyes. Watch me. They gape their mouths. You're my audience now. They stare with fear. You're riveted on me now.

The frostbite winds and the killer forests. The savaging muttations and the bloodthirsty children. The inhuman Gamemakers and their command. The sadistic scientist's forging hammer. The barbaric world's shaping hands.

All under my command!

Her toes pivot on the grass and her arms lift in front of her. With grace, with poise: as she's always had, as Levine's always told her to act. After the day after that.

It's the only way you can be, and his lips are so sneer-mingled, his eyes narrowed and jaw so gaunt. That's how you dance. Now show me, then, show us what you are, my little—

She lets her hands fall, back to her sides again. She lets herself rock on the balls of her feet, forward and back again. She lets out a chuckle, and then her chuckle turns into a laugh.

Shut up. No. No, you won't.

You're my audience.

Nothing more, nothing less.

You're pathetic. You can't have me.

You can't control me!

You can't touch me!

You can't hurt me!

You can't do anything to me—!

It's ridiculous, how much she's smiling, and ridiculous that she's laughing until she's breathless. She watches the world, with an amused eye, for all they make her into, for all they try, and yet she's still here, still standing. They can break her, but it won't last.

A giggle erupts.

Madison opens her eyes. Maeve's sitting on the wet grass, her head tilted ever so slightly at Maddie.

"Can I..." Maeve falters, but the grin's still on her face. "... join?"

Maddie lets out a breath. She lets her hands fall to her sides. She strolls up to Maeve: to where she's sitting, with her knees out ahead of her, rising up and down in a rhythm. Until she bursts up with a sudden explosion of energy, and Madison's heart goes erratic.

There's a gleam in Maeve's eyes, the gleam that accompanies the tilt of her head, a smile in her breath. Enrapturement's in her eyes, as she grabs Maddie by the hand, laughs, C'mon, dance with me!

It's a ridiculous sort of dance: one with a mess of limbs and a mess of laughter that ends with them with their backs laid on the fields. Madison's breathing, so hard, so fast, and sweat's on her brow, and she's breathless, but it isn't because of training. It isn't because of anything.

(He'd scold her for it. She imagines him, watching her from his screen, a scowl laden in his breath. What the fuck was that, Madison? Who the fuck do you think you are? I want you to dance, but not like that, d'you think you're in a fucking tarantella? Huh?!)

Madison's smile falters. Perhaps coldness should plunge her stomach. But revulsion and anger turns in it, instead, then there's a grip tighter on her hand: warm, warm, oh so warm.

Beside her, Maeve breathes too, with a grin infused, as if she's done it a hundred times before. She cocks her head at Maddie, and she doesn't need to speak, Maeve doesn't have to. The message's engraved in her eyes. Fuck him, Maddie.

Maeve's hand grasps Maddie's hand, tighter, tighter, as they stare up into the skies, into the night-that-is-not-yet-night, and it is in that moment that Maddie lets herself believe.

In a second, in a moment, another moment more: Madison Saros lives in forever.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

They giggle on the fields. Snow's starting to fall, but it's nothing, really. They're just decoration; a flake lands on Maddie's nose, and Maeve kisses it off. Their fleets of white don't cover them: they don't affect them, in any way. 'Cause sure, it might be cold, but Maeve's burning up. Maddie's hand is in hers and she is like a wick, resonating in her palms and rendering Maeve to bliss.

She only cares about the dandelions. She splays her hand out, and grabs one, just right by. Soft and furry and white. She brushes the seeds over Maddie's face, and Maddie breaks down into a laugh. Stop that, Maddie coughs, but Maeve only pushes it at her more, till Maddie gives up and all that's left in her's a giggle now and then.

Maeve kisses Maddie, again, softer at first, the parts of their lips touching, once and another again, coalescing and convening together, meeting and breaking and meeting again. Maeve rises, and Maddie follows. They kiss, again and again, and it is a cycle that never ends. Maddie's lips are so soft, and they transfer heat onto Maeve's own, staying and lingering, heat that reminds Maeve that Maddie's just as alive as she.

They stay there, foreheads tilted together, breaths together, for a moment and the next, it's almost like the snow's nowhere. Maddie's eyes, when they tilt back up to her again, are olive-dark, but like olives there's a white point that glitters in its confines. If Maeve really concentrates, then Maddie's eyes are the beginning of a galaxy.

Maddie stiffens at her gaze. There's panic and there's a question and there's desperation in her eyes. What are you looking at?

Maeve pushes her thumbs over Maddie's cheeks and kisses her, again and again, so she knows just what Maddie thinks. "You," Maeve mumbles, between the presses of their lips, and they're sloppy, sporadic, because she's more used to kissing, not speaking, action and not words, but she thinks that Maddie needs her words, here and now, and now.

Maddie breaks away. That shine in her eyes are so brilliant, so sad, so vulnerable. (So angry, Maeve thinks, at the world, that's how it's s'posed to be, that's what Maddie's always been, tough and sweet, but it's like Maeve's doused all of that flame from her, leaving Maddie with only ache and pain and hurt, so much hurt, and Maeve doesn't know the billion images that course through Maddie's mind but none of them can be good, if she looks so sad like that.)

"Maddie," Maeve says, softly, and curls their hands together. "Lemme bring ya someplace."


Madison Saros. District 1.

They're together at the brink of night, by the icy river, when Madison shoots Maeve the question.

"Do you think that we'll be able to be... someplace else?"

Maeve's brought Madison to the site: there's where I found ya, she said, grinning so wide, and it was only a few moments until Maddie realised that Maeve spoke not about when she'd found her, breathing in panic by the benches, but of the rose that had curled atop her ear, discovered by the lakeside. It's the same lake that Madison's found before, too, and she wonders about the coincidence of that: she and Maeve circle back to the same waters, as if a magnetic power's attracted them back. It's the same place; it's their safe place, a world only theirs to claim. It's symbolism that's theirs, only: the Capitol can't manipulate any of that.

The lakes aren't just what Madison's asking about, though.

Maeve tilts her head, then, and something pulls her lips. "Why not? I think we'll be able to get a nice place! Somewhere. It might not be, like, white picket fence and all, but we can have a small cottage in a forest somewhere. An' we'll be surrounded by berries and leaves and animals and we'll survive off that. Oh, and a rat. We can get a rat! Maddie, d'ya want a rat?"

Maddie laughs, softly. A world wraps itself round her mind, just as Maeve's described: a forest, a cottage. A nowhere place and an everywhere place, all at once.

"Yeah," Maddie says, just as soft. "I'd like a rat."

They sit in their content silence. Maeve's twisting a branch into the dirt, ever so often flicking grains into the rushing rivers. Madison watches, transfixed, as the dirt pieces run down the waters and submerge, never to be seen again. It's oddly relaxing.

Maybe they're in their place already, and they're beside each other in forests that are theirs, and they have a cottage a ways off, secluded between redwood and poplar. If she closes her eyes, lets their campsite ebb into a cottage, lets their weapons swirl into tools, lets their death game fade into the aether - maybe she can believe.

"We have'ta give it a name."

Maddie blinks. Maeve's determination is palpable: etched into her face. For a moment, Maddie wonders if Maeve's talking about naming their world, their forests and their cottage and their village-home. But then, she remembers, they're talking about a rat.

"We can cross the bridge when it comes to that."

"I've got a few names in mind, Maddie!"

"Okay," Maddie murmurs. "Let's hear it."

Maeve taps her chin in thought. "I like Gretchen! But I like Cali more. Actually, no. I think that we should go with a M name. 'Cause we're both M's, and not havin' our rat child be a M just feels wrong, yanno? Oooh, Maci! If it's a girl. Kier if it's a boy."

"Kier?"

"Yeah! Kier. He's always wanted a rat. An'... maybe I can't get one for him, but I can definitely name one after him!"

Maddie bites her lip. Half of her wants to smile; the other half of her wants to suppresses the icicle rising in her chest.

Kiernan Alcraiz. It's either her or him, Maddie knows: there's no world where both she and he can be alive together. For that would mean Madison Saros is crowned Victor, and Maddie won't allow that to happen. She can't allow that. For that would mean that Maeve Alcraiz is dead, and Maddie can't begin to consider that.

(She only wishes that there's a world where they can be. She, and Maeve, and Kiernan, maybe. Maddie's never had any siblings of any kind. But she thinks, ever so often, of what'll be like.)

She'd promised Maeve that she'll find some way to take care of Kiernan, even if it's from the grave: she's not about to turn back on that promise. Whatever comes to the end.

Maeve's still excited, ratting off more about their home of make-believe somewhere: but all Madison feels is the coldness swallowing her chest.

"Maeve," Madison asks, quietly. "Can we go?"

They stroll back into camp together, and Madison knows she should care: about the mutts, about the dangers of the wilds, about the coldness that sticks to her skin like synthflesh. But the forests are oddly still, and as Maeve talks, still, Maddie falls into her lull again. Maeve constructs their world, and she imagines a world where the forests are their kingdom: Maeve's the erlking, and Maddie is the victim, stolen away into the night. It is freedom from her shackles: and she falls, too fast, too sharply, too deeply, into the brambles that embrace her as much as they ensnare her.

It's too long till they return to their campsite again. They shrug off Brynn and Jordyn's questions, about where they've left to, and they turn to the solace of their tents again. Maeve sleeps, after the moonlight rises to the tip of the stars' spires. Soft slivers stain Maeve; as pure as funeral lilies, and she would've never liked that, if she was awake. She would've hated Maddie seeing her like that: associated with the moonlight.

(No, she never liked how the moonlight felt on her: don't you feel it, Maddie, she'd whisper and she'd shiver, tell how it cascades down her flesh, fat wet droplets, thick and laden in snow, oh, she looks positively pallid in it, sickly, drawn-in cheekbones and face-in-shambles. It's a spotlight that she hates and loves, for it energises her, maniac, as much as it erodes her, lunatic. She'd want it to go, just as the moonlight tosses the sea. Maeve had shaken her head, before, scoffed at the skies and told the moon to leave the waters be.)

D'ya hate it? Maeve had asked her, a night or another night before: Madison can't quite remember; they all blur together, by now. Maeve had sidled up to her, placed a hand over her shoulder, as if to shield her, slightly, from the moonlight. Doesn't it… stain you?

Madison had shrugged. She thought about her cell at night, and of the disc that glares down at her from the dark heavens - pouring her in silver, coating her, shivering her, cooling, moulding. I'm used to it.

But do you like it? 'Cause it eats at ya and it glazes ice over at ya… till you're a statue. You're you but you're not you, 'cause you're so silvery, you're at their mercy, you're so much different from what you want to be.

I don't like it, Madison admitted, quietly. Either. No, not really.

That night, Maeve's eyes had glinted, all-too-bright. She'd tugged Maddie in, by her jacket, drawn her under the canopy. Where they were sheltered by the darkness: prying nothing, stealing nothing. Maeve had pulled her down into a kiss, and she'd savoured it, the smoky taste, the glorious taste, the taste of the present, for they'll get no more any moment less.

They'd kissed, pirouetting in the dark, in the home that they've decided for themselves, in a plane where moonlight is barren and psychedelic colours - red and luscious fruit, blue and neon lights, crimson and rose splatters, teal and the sea eyes, all over the numbness of dead sea fruit - cascade and crash and annihilate before their eyes. They kiss, too, now; Maddie's lips trails on Maeve's nose, on her cheeks, on her forehead, as if every kiss could rid the funereal-lily stain that resides because of the celestial satellite. A breath, another breath, a third one still, and a deluded belief rises before their eyes:

We're more than the moonlight.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

It's the fifth day in the Arena when Scott nearly dies.

To District Eight. Running after him, he'd said, with a spear. She threw, and I thought I was a goner there, but it whizzed by my head and I didn't—I didn't die.

Eight. They're always so perky and contendery and ready to kill Careers-y. Not that Scott's a Career.

He was… all shaken. After he'd returned. Maeve offered to teach him how 'ta use his sword better again. But he looked at her all desolate and just walked away, ducked under the Cornucopia's canopy. It hurt her, but she didn't let the feeling stay for very long. Maeve isn't sure how to help him.

She finds Maddie under the canopy. She's gripping her palms so hard. Maeve curls Maddie's lock behind her ear and Maddie looks up back at her. Maddie shows her the cuckoo-red stains of her hands and her own blood coagulated under her fingernails. Maeve comforts Maddie. Maddie asks her how it'll end. Maeve kisses her. Stop thinking. It's okay, Maddie. Stop thinking. Stop thinking. Stop thinking. We don't need to do that, now.

(She kisses Maddie. Maddie kisses back. But Maddie's kisses and breaths and all else are different this time. It's so desperate. As if she would lose Maeve any moment now.)

So Maeve kisses Maddie and she reminds her. Of what they will do.

We will kiss. Until the end.

….

I don't know if we'll get that, Maddie had murmured, her voice shaking, her eyes turning away, her fingers finding the crevasses in her palms again.

Maeve had looked back at her, something else again glittering in her eyes, something desperate hitching a moment and another in her breath, as if she'll disappear, piece-by-piece into stardust, for every moment and moment more their fantasy slips away.

It can. I—I promise. It's our world. Remember?


Madison Saros. District 1.

Scott's confession shakes her.

She wasn't expecting it. She doesn't know what to do with it. All it does is it makes her fingers shake and it shortens her breath from her lungs. Panic's all that's in her chest: not that she shows it, not that she lets herself think about it.

(It doesn't make sense, not in the world she has in her head.)

But Maeve comforts her. She kisses her and her warmth's with her and that ebbs away the nerves that quiver in her chest and her jaw. She's not sure why Maeve hasn't left her yet, not really: but she's grateful for it. She's not sure why all of them haven't left yet, but she treasures it.

They rest against each other, across the Cornucopia crates. Maeve's head is on her chest and she's snoring softly, an exhale and an inhale and another exhale again. Maddie's hand is over Maeve's hair, and she curls her hair, combs it, feels it, relishes in its angelicity. Darkness is what subsumes their sheltered canopy quietly, and dew and humid rouses her skin. The moment is dulled and thick: a sombreness flows through her body. It's not emptiness: it's a curious nothingness. One that Madison can't say she likes, but one she can't say she doesn't like, either: it is better than nourishing a chasm where her heart should be.

"Whatcha thinkin'?"

Madison's eyes shift. Up to Maeve. Who's turned and her hands rest on Maddie's stomach, and her chin rests on her hands. Maeve's still sleepy: her eyes droop. But she gazes at Madison, still, with all the intensity possible in her sea-girt eyes.

"Oh, nothing." Madison says. "Well. I was thinking about Brynn."

Maeve tilts her head again. There's a sparkle in her eyes, and Madison half-expects Maeve to tease her about it: but she just turns her head sideways, slightly, still looking into Maddie's eyes. "Bout what?"

Madison quiets her voice. She doubts that there are any cameras in their canopy: not any close enough, at least, to pick up on her words, but being cautious won't lose her anything.

"It's just… Brynn's said something. About change. And after Scott, and... his brush with death, I think that…"

Her words don't work in her throat anymore. She stops. Madison wants better for Scott. He deserves better than her: better than a girl who can't love him, and far better than death. And if change can save him, then, well. That is what Madison wants.

Maeve's still looking at her so intently - so curiously, like she's waiting for her to finish her words.

Madison releases them from her throat's grip. "I don't think I'm ready to lose anyone. I don't think that I can take it. Not when all of you have… shaped me. I'm not ready to..."

I'm not ready to lose you.

Maeve looks back at her. Her eyes shining. It's as if she's a mind-reader, that knows what Madison thinks about. She raises her head from Madison's skin, but not so much that Madison can't feel her heat anymore, and raises the index finger of her left hand, and then her third finger, and her fourth. They draw shapes over Maddie's bare stomach. The touch of her nails sends an undercurrent of warmth under her skin: like a shooting star and its entrails, each hitting her with a grain of warmth, a dozen of them, a thousand, falling and falling.

Maddie gasps, a breath and another riven in her throat, though no noise lasts in the air. She looks at Maeve's fingers, so entrenched with tingles, and then at Maeve's eyes, so much like the seas.

(She has a dream. Running through the forests that damns her, breaths laden in her throat, one-two-three, a hand gripping her hand, feet beating against ground, eyes meeting eyes, all amid the cuckoo shrieks, we'll be free, we'll be free—)

"Whatever it is," Maeve says, the galaxy glinting in her eyes. "Can't say I don't wanna try."


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

She gathers parts. They aren't all too hard: bolts and shards and metal bits are all across the arena. Brynn's raised the idea in quiet gestures, and Maddie agreed. So she's out here. Scavenging.

Their hopes rest into a can. It ain't much, petite and small, but Maeve doesn't judge it by appearance. Small things can be dangerous. She's one of em.

Is that it? Is a can enough?

We'll kiss till the end. Maeve thinks, and she lets a glean of a smile by her lips. That's what'll happen, now. It's not just only in her mind. They'll explode. With the dome breaking across the night. Reds and oranges will annihilate the skies. Maeve doesn't know what'll happen, but that's half the fun: the chaos and the destruction's what she relishes in. She'll dance among the ashes, twisting with her hands above her head, a grin enshrined on her lips; Maddie'll be there too, and she'll take her hands into hers, and they'll dance together - they'll dance to end the night.

That's what they'll do. That's how the world will be destroyed.

With a can.

Maeve decides that she likes that.


Madison Saros. District 1.

She wants to live.

She wants to live, and thrive, and be alive.

(She wants to sing, though she won't admit that to anyone here. Else they will devour her alive. She has a hole in her throat for the songs they want her to sing. Songbirds. That is what they love to die.)

So she invests her hopes in their rebellion. She shouldn't. Consciously, she shouldn't. But she imagines how much Levine's seething, behind the cameras. His gritted teeth and his snarl embittered on his lips. What the hell, Madison. This isn't what you're supposed to do.

A laugh cases the back of her throat.

Fuck you.

She knows she's living in a fantasy. That she and Maeve can kiss until the end. That she and Maeve can live, together, someplace else, feet pounding against grass, hand in hand, bursting through the forests, running and running with so much life, so much fire, so much so much till they both live.

It's not make believe if it's real.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

There is a knock on their tent. Real early in the sunshine morning.

She blinks the rays outta her eyes. Hops over. Unzips the tent flap. It gushes wide, and light rushes into their tent.

Maeve pushes her knuckles against her lips. To stop a giggle. Because Maddie's looking back at her, from the tent doors. But it's not a nightmare. That has gotten Maddie up-early outside. Maddie has bright eyes.

"Don't know what I ordered…" Maeve bites down on her knuckles. It is harder not to giggle now.

"A gift?" Maddie suggests. Maeve pushes her teeth in her knuckles and shakes her head. Maddie cocks her head. Maddie's nose is all scrunched up. It's very cute.

So Maeve takes her knuckles out. She draws Maddie's neck into her hands to and turns Maddie's head towards her. She kisses Maddie's nose. Maddie laughs. It's a nice sound. Always lilt. So Maeve kisses Maddie's lips. Just so nothing misses out.

Maddie is soft and blushing when they break apart. Like melted dusk sunshine. So Maeve takes Maddie by the hand, and pulls her back into the tent. She touches Maddie's cheek and kisses her fully.

It is intoxicating. Smothered embers and a growing fire. Burning, bursting, melting - just some more, and they'll explode together

But then Maddie breaks apart. She shakes her head, at Maeve's questioning gaze. There is a sad smile on her lips.

"It's today," Maddie says. "I want to—too. But we have to go. Now."

"What's happenin'?"

"I think we should finish this." Maddie says, softly. Her eyes shoot towards the direction of the can, sitting atop one of their logs.

She doesn't need'ta say any more than that. Maeve grins. "Mmkay! I'm ready!"

Maeve's always wanted to fly. Debris flying, forests rippling, the world annihilating. She can't think of a better background for her to soar.

It's about time that they make it the real deal.


Madison Saros. District 1.

He's dead.

All she sees is him before her eyes. His dead corpse. His cadaver. No. She doesn't… she can't accept that. But he's gone.

He's gone, and it can't be real. Because that doesn't click. It's not— it isn't supposed to be like this. But that world which was so carefully constructed in her mind, piece by piece, built with the throb of footsteps, proliferated into forests that they controlled, obliterated with a sundusk explosion that blighted the dawn itself—

(You're in the Hunger Games. What were you expecting, Saros? Did you truly think that you would succeed? How delusional do you have to be? Hah— more than me?)

Fuck, no, Levine, no, you can't be here, stop fucking trespassing, my mind's mine, shutupshutupshutup—

She needs to avenge him, somehow, she knows that. She must.

She has to make his life worth something.

Is it?

Has it?

(What is he? Just a victim to an explosion you pretended would succeed. What were you expecting, Saros? No, better yet—what were you thinking? He's a death to your fantasies. Because you wouldn't accept reality. How vain a death— how more vain of a death could he have been? You live up to your District, One. But instead of lavish jewels and lascivious luxuries, you indulge in licentious freedom and libertine dreams. Gluttony and gore for your gall. A dreadnought dancing in your damnation. How many more lives will you cost? First the pathetic lover-boy. When is your cuckoo lover next? How many more days will you still relish in your fantasies? Since you've put your own two feet into the Capitol: you've shot your brain in your dreams, like delusion can make you fucking breathe. How many more dead till you realise the cost of your illustrious-fucking-fancies? How many more till you win a diadem?)

Fuck you, is what she wants to whisper, but nothing but a sob catches in her throat.

(Let's be real, here. You're choking on ecstasy. Is this that much better than your white place, your cozening place, your nowhere place? Living in fantasy only to fall? Come on, Madison. You were always afraid of heights.)

She's not soaring - she's falling. She's plummeting, like Icarus, to be consumed by the sea's waves. She's breaking, her world's withering, she's dying—

He's dead. He's dead, and she's withering. God, Scott and all his kindness, his concern, his love, all that which she took to construct her heartup again. And that same heart now withers, aches, screams, damned and destroyed, nothing more than the metal rubble which had made it.

He's dead, and her heart as dead as he.

Who's next?


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

It breaks, a little. Their… dreams.

Scott is dead. It's so different now, now that he's dead. Because… he isn't supposed to die, she didn't think that he'd die. She didn't expect—

It's not what was supposed to happen. It wasn't in the script. They were all supposed to soar, out beyond the cliffs, through the dusk that rapidly spins into the night. They were supposed to break the night. And they're in the Games, of course, and death's always there, 'course, but… she believed.

(She still believes. They can soar, if they try. That's what she wants to believe, that's what she needs to dream about. Without that… she doesn't know what she has. She needs her world here.)

It's so different now. Their campsite transforms in front of her eyes: it's so hollow, without Scott. Maeve tries to find Maddie for solace, for consolation - but tears are what's in Maddie's eyes, she shakes her head, and she turns away from anything that Maeve tries. She's so broken, she's so sad, she's so desolate. Not really… believing, not anymore. Maddie's suffocating, and all Maeve can do's watch.

(It hurts her. Maeve pretends it doesn't.)

Bits and pieces crack in her fingers. She sees Kiernan's back— leaving the golden forests, vestiges of darkness surrounding his body, not turning back to look at her or her realm again, only a silhouette of him she keeps. She sees Maddie— desolate, broken, her eyes cracked, her eyes fading away. Disillusioned. She doesn't believe, not as much, not anymore, in what they've tried so hard to create. She's suffocating again, when they'd breathed together before, and soon Maddie'll go from their world, and soon Maeve will, too, and—

A breath hitches in her throat. Maddie…

Heartbreak shuffles in her chest, like splinters of glass shuffled round like cards, but she doesn't let herself think that.

It's… fine. It will be fine.

(They'll still destroy the night all the same. That's what Maeve's promised Maddie. Igniting the world with a kiss. Destructing the Arena with their names. An explosion that'll kill the world and raise in its stead their new one, their together one, their better one. They'll do that, till the very end.)

(They'll kiss, till the end.)

(They can't, not really, but that is what Maeve needs to believe.)


Madison Saros. District 1.

She commands them. They listen to her, well enough. She designates them jobs that aren't too hard: animals can be found by the stream, and berries by the thickets that surround the Cornucopia. She doesn't want them to go too far.

(She doesn't want any of them to die. Her heart's a ghost of itself. She's not ready for her head, her eyes, her hand to go next.)

Madison wouldn't want to kill. But killing them's better than killing her friends. So that's what she'll embark upon.

Jules, is what Madison suggests to Maeve. If you can track her down. Then… that'll be good.

(She doesn't mention what Maeve should do, but she supposes that Maeve can infer what enough already. Besides, with the spark in Maeve's eyes, that spins with electricity and eccentricity: Madison doubts that death will be a problem.)

Okay, Maeve agrees, too easily, a smile curling her lips: clearly not quite thinking about Jules, exactly, for she still appears too dreamy. Madison's fingers dig on the fabric of her pants: she catches a strand and another in her fingertips, because she's… too nervous, for this, for a mission that isn't even hers.

Maeve kisses her, too quick, when she leaves. A wink curls by Maeve's eyes, as she waves and strolls into the forests. As if environed by its self-made darkness, of vines and leaves and branches, she disappears.

Something thuds in Madison's heart. Her mouth's so dry. Those broken strings entwined around her fingernails break. Something sinks in her gut. She wants to yell at Maeve - stop, no, please don't go. She wants to stop her - something bad will happen, please don't leave, please stay with me.

I'm scared. For who, or what, she doesn't know - but there is a feeling in her gut.

But her gut feeling stays a gut feeling, and it tunnels in her stomach. It can't be right, she's overthinking things, she's overreacting, Maeve'll look at her funny (with a smile, too, 'cause Maddie, it's okay, I'll be okay, don'tcha worry!)

She should just let it go.

(She doesn't know why she doesn't speak.)

Instead, she turns her feet down another path, a wind away from Maeve, and she lets hatred thud her dead heart. Hate sharpens her blade and hate is what slams the spikes of her weapon into Quinn's chest. Hate is what chases the mutt away - away and down, spiralling into the forest depths, to ravage elsewhere. It shares a lack of heart as she.

But for those few moments, she can pretend her heart is not a dead heart.

It is what she needs. If she needs not to think.


Maeve Alcraiz. District 2.

She's hunting for Jules. That's what Maddie's told her to do, and Maeve'll do it, because… after that's over with, that's how they'll do their world together.

(It's an interruption. Maeve's sure of it. Just an interruption. They'll figure it out. Maeve will kill Jules, and Maddie will kill Quinn, and then it will be just them left in the Games. No unaccounted variables to count. After that… they can do what they've always wanted to do.)

(Because they need to.)

Maeve needs to be so free in the Arena. And it is so free. She kisses, she kills, she's in a thrill. She has a world, she has Maddie with her. They're wrong, then: she isn't fucking stupid for volunteering. She has a reason - it's as much for her family as it is for her. Maeve can have a heartbeat, here.

It just… feels weird, recently. It's not a good kind of weird, either, so she tries not to think about it much. Nothing good ever comes out of overthinking things.

(... She and Maddie live in a world together, sure, but it's also been… less like that, as the end comes near. They failed to break through. That was supposed to be the explosion, except it didn't happen, so it isn't their explosion, which is... unnerving, it's unnerving, and Maeve doesn't like that thought, no no, not at all.)

(But there will be an explosion. Maeve's certain of it.)

Maeve turns her eyes back to the Arena. She blinks, and blinks again, to assimilate her eyes back with her surroundings. She grips the knife tighter. She has to… do things, not think things. Do things is killing tribute things, and she cannot daydream, not now.

There's a golden leaf on the ground.

Maeve frowns. She kneels, and picks it up. Turns the leaf upside-down and sideways again, as it illuminates in the light, a golden glow showing the veins that form under its film. So beautiful.

Isn't this s'posed to be just a cold arena? Why's this here?

This… shouldn't be here.

(She remembers Kiernan. With the branches of the golden forests looming over his back, making spirals and shadows and patterns across his scarf and his jacket. Her hand in his hands, running and running, bounding together, never-ending—)

She slips the leaf into her pocket. Maybe a stronger her would've thrown it away. But Maeve likes the colour too much to.

There's a hollow, in a tree, that she sees. It's like the hollow back at home, peeking out of the bark, that safe place she'd always stayed in whenever home got too much. She doesn't know what it's doing here.

Half of her wants to fold herself back in that hollow. Pull the splintering bark round her like it's her blanket. But as she stares at the hollow in the tree, all she sees is -

He.

Huddled in the hollow. It's too big for his tiny frame. But he's nervous, he's terrified, he's looking back up at her, his eyes shining.

Maeve, why did you leave?

I'm so cold here.

Please help me.

Her throat's tight. She wants to say something to him. What exactly, she doesn't know. But Kier's upset and she has to say something, if to make him feel better.

Cameras and their gazes graze over her back. She can speak. She is at their spotlight centre. She decides, then. She will speak to the entirety of Panem; but only he matters to her.

Her eyes roam for a camera. Her words start to churn: an apology, maybe, though Maeve does not know how that will start. A hope, maybe, though Maeve doesn't know where to begin. A promise? She's made many of those, but this one she means, this one she'll be sure to keep.

A rustle.

It descends down right at her: a rush of wind, an ear-splitting roar. It knocks her on her back and forces her eyes up. It's gigantic: it's a mutt, it's a panther, it's a thing that drops upon her and salivates, so hungry, so needing—

She slashes the thing. It shouldn't be hard. But this isn't just any thing, oh no no no, this is the Gamemakers' thing, it's their created thing, it is their hellspawn-thing and sent to damn her thing. It is not a creature of their world, it is a demon that trespasses on her dream, it is not a thing of their forests because it never was.

(In another world, Maeve may have been the erlking; she may have been the eldritch of the depths, she may have had it all. But that world is not this world, and this world is the world she is in. No number of fantasies can change that.)

It tears at her. A strip of flesh from her arm: rending her arm bone. Adrenaline bursts from her. A charge burns in her veins, 'bout to burst, 'bout to go—

(Kier, no, no, no, this wasn't s'posed to happen like this, no—)

Into the skies, an explosion, that was what she was supposed to be doin', that's where she was supposed to be, not here, not here, dying in the ground and gasping against dirt and dying dying dying no no no this isn't supposed to be, isn't, isn't, isn't, oh no, she can't breathe, oh no, oh no

Where is your fire?

Where is your destruction?

You were supposed to raze the arena red and to leave it alight with fireworks.

You were—

You were—

(What did I say? You'll break Maddie.)

No no no no no! She's not gonna die with all these wrongs on her chest, she volunteered to right things again with Kier, and she needs to make things right with Maddie, she made her a promise, and she's already a promise-breaker once she can't be a promise-breaker again, no, no, no—

No.

She can't die.

She can't die!

(That's not how it was supposed to happen. They can't touch her: the Capitol can't, the world can't, this is her world, not theirs, never theirs. They can't fucking touch her, she'd yelled to them all. She can't die like this, it wasn't supposed to be like this, she was supposed to dictate her end, not them.)

She is untouchable. She's not supposed to be here. She is not broken. She can't be broken. She's not…

She's not…

She's not…

Dying.

We're gonna kiss in the end, Maeve had said, all cheery, with all her heart, and Maddie had believed. Maddie used Maeve's too-whole heart to mend her too-broken one and Maeve smiled and tied them closer. She'd wound their heartstrings as one. She'd kissed Maddie and Maddie had gasped and gasped and gasped again, breathing air, for the first time. Then Maeve let Maddie see through her eyes, let her into her world, and they've made a realm together. Of forests, of explosions, of life-and-life-again, of—

(Of everything they could make themselves believe in. Of everything Maddie had dreamt, but never let herself have. Of everything that Maeve needed, because she was too alone in her golden forests, and together, here, with Maddie— they had everything together.)

She's leaving Maddie to suffocate. Just as she'd left Kier to suffocate. Just so she didn't have to suffocate.

She needs to make things right.

(How can she make things right?)

Not when she's.

She's not—

She's dying.

The thing razes her, bits and pieces, curves its jaws down the column of her spine, as if he is teasing her bone out of her skin. It eats her dreams: bit by bit, tearing it apart like she's a doe, so fragile, how hasn't she realised—how flimsy, how breakable, how frail she was? Wet noises rip free from her body, her flesh and flesh again, crunching noises curdle in her ears, and serrating pain lances up her skin, but she's numb.

Numb enough that she doesn't realise when her lungs clatter shut for the last time.

And Maeve Alcraiz asphyxiates.

No breaths, no dreams; only their stark reality.

(Maeve Alcraiz had wanted to be the fireworks. To explode through the darkness. To break all that touched her. To live in so much life. But in her explosion, she scatters - memory and dream, death and breath - until she is nothing but the broken pieces they call stars.)


Madison Saros. District 1.

Her eyes are dry.

Dry, because she's emptied of tears. Madison Saros can't cry. He'd pressed hot iron to her eyes for every time she'd tried. But she can't not cry. Not when it's Maeve.

Not when she's here. A ripped spine and a torn limb and a shattered leg, bits and pieces broken underneath her and scattering across the Arena like snow, sinking in the frozen wasteland, drifting in the air, gods, no, ashes and dust grazing her face like the ghosts of demented roses and petals and lilies, immortal flesh, mortal again.

An explosion. Maeve had told her. A smile too-bright glistening across her lips. An explosion to make up the night. We'll kiss an' kiss an' that'll be the end.

That'll be the end. That's what should've been the end. But it isn't, it hasn't been, and now all Maddie has are tears she cannot cry by her eyes, lips too cold for a kiss, and hands grey and shaking that they might as well be dead.

She collapses. She presses her knuckles to her quivering lips. Keeping her sobs away is morbidly too easy a task, for her eyes are so blank, and her tears were curdled illicit by Levine. She can't speak, can't breathe, fuck, help me—

Maddie bites down, and her lips hurt so bad, like they're withering, fuck, but she gasps and gasps again, for breath. Her gasps can barely let air into her lungs, but better that, better that than none.

(She needs a hand— a hand, any hand, please, fuck, help me, I can't breathe, I cantbreatheIcantbreatheIcantbreathe—)

Nobody reaches— nobody reaches because nobody cares, nobody cares because nobody is here, nobody's here because Maeve's dead. A sob wracks her throat. Her sight blurs and maybe she should— hold herself, at least, fuck, as if she can—

(Maeve is dead, and Madison's hands are as dead as she.)

Her lungs short, and short again—it's so cold. Snow's in her chest and it's bare in her throat, snow fills her, it enfolds her, it clouds her, it burns her, it burns.

Breathe, breathe, breathe—

It's okay, breathe— (just pretend she's there)— breathe, breathe— (pretend she's speaking)—breathe, breathe— (pretend she's squeezing)— breathe with me, it's okay, breathe— (pretend she has heartbeats)— breathe.

She returns, eventually - she does not know when, can't know when - but she returns. She returns and she's clutching Maeve's hand to her chest and she doesn't know if it's disembodied, she's too clouded in the head to care, too fuzzed in her brain for it to matter, suffocating too much in her lungs for it to matter.

We never got to explode into the night, she whispers, and chokes on the little breaths she has left. Maeve, we—

We never got to fly.

(They shoot her. The camera does. A spiral up, and up, and up again, until she is a shadow and a silhouette. Just like they did Hezediah Zenkovah, staring down at her lover's body, cradling like they were her world, and they her end. A freak, a creature, a monster. Another monstrous Career this time. Watch her die in the upcoming finale.)

She sits next to Maeve's corpse, or what would be her corpse, or the pieces that made her up, once. Did Maddie gather them together in a pile, reassemble them to resemble a human again, after she'd stopped sobbing the tears she could never cry? She doesn't remember.

She bends her head down, and presses her shaking lips to Maeve's fingers. It's so cold. Like cool ice. Frozen-over lakes, soft skin too soft, porcelain-pale too pale, too cold, too cold— was it always this cold, in her hold?

(She does not remember how many times she kisses them, again and again, as if she can kiss them the apology that Maeve had kissed her in the stalls before. Nor does she remember how long it's been, since their hands were entwined, nor does she remember how long she's sat by the cracked oak tree, slathered in the spittles of snow, dying-not-quite, suffocating-not-quite, breaking apart.)

She stares blankly ahead, into the shatterglass trees that meet her vision, into the slashes of cold that attack her in folds. Did her sight always look like this: so fragmented, so fractured, falling apart at its seams? Did she always look at Maeve like this: so cut-up, so swissed and scissored, only strips of her being tangible here? Did she imagine her threaded together, her figure whole, never damaged, did she see that, did she dream that? Were her eyes always like this, did a world blind her of her blindness? She doesn't remember. She doesn't remember.

She doesn't remember.

(Maeve is dead, and Madison's eyes as dead as she.)

...

Fuck, no, fuck, she can't be dead, no, it doesn't make sense, Maeve shouldn't be dead.

But it is, and she is gone, and Maddie clutches Maeve's hand, too cold, too dead for the world. It doesn't make sense, and Maddie sobs, how she can at least: before Levine had made her who she is.

Breathe.

She's breathing between her cries, she is, even if her heart is erratic and her lungs are heaving, even if it's so difficult to stop herself from drowning. It will be easier to let go: that'll be a fitting end, that'll be what the Capitol expects, if they can't have cannibalising rival-lovers then they'll have dead lovebirds. But Madison Saros is a machine first, not a person, and she is not wired that way to die, so fast, no, her default is survive, and fight, and death again, rinse and repeat—

But she is not actually a machine, not really, she is flesh and she is a being, they've inserted parts into her, sure, but she's human.

Is she?

She knows she is. It is just easier to think like a machine, easier to think like you are as cold as the night here, easier to pretend that metal is all there is to your being, even if it kills you all the while, that is easier than suffocating.

(It may be easier, but Maddie will be damned to be what he made her be now.)

So instead, she repeats the same litany in her mind, and she lets in breaths, same and same again, into her throat, even if they choke her more than they help her breathe.

This world was supposed to be ours.

It was our world. It would've been, if not for—

We were… we were supposed to…

Madison sobs.

Maddie. A kiss. To end the night.

Maeve kisses her lips. And Maddie is cold and she is shuddering and her lungs shake, wretched, and she can't hold her knife anymore.

That's not what they have.

She has a dead corpse in her hands. She has a dead world in her fingertips, leaking lifeblood and ruin and malmsey fluid. She holds parts, as if they are not disintegrating into ashes in her hands, the sifting sands of an hourglass falling and falling till none is left. She presses a shaking kiss to her lips, again, but only a wasteland of tar is reciprocated with her breaths.

It does nothing to revive her.

She sits with her, rather quiet, through the night, blank and broken, but they all know.

This was not a world Maddie had wished for. This was not a world that Maeve had wished for.

This was not how the end was supposed to commence.

...

Her knife falls, a clatter against the frozen ground. But neither of them care: neither of them can. Maddie's shudders turn into shakes, and shakes turn into quivers, until finally, she stills.

They're so warm, together, in the end: nothing of what the Capitol does will matter to them. It won't matter, not ever: their world is theirs, and the rest only watch their show.

Of them, in the centre, in the spotlight, upon the stage.

Kissing.

A fade to black.

She wakes up without Maeve and doesn't know how to breathe.

Sweat slides down her skin. A gasp and another catches in her throat. She curls up into a ball and rocks. She closes her eyes and wishes she couldn't see.

(It's not soon enough. Why can't it just go? It's dead already. It's taken enough time already.)

They've stolen her away. They've clawed Maeve away from her, scraped her from the arena ground. Her body's in a nowhere place, in a somewhere place, but nowherewhere Maddie is.

How didn't she notice?

There is no hand that holds her now; and Madison's hands are as dead as she. There are no lips that kiss her now; and Madison's lips are as dead as she. There are no eyes that feed a dream to her now; and Madison's eyes are as dead as she.

She has nothing.

Maddie captures Maeve's lips into hers, this time. They're in the denouement, they're the finale, they're beyond the end of it all. But they kiss, and they kiss, and they kiss still: for this is their realm, and nothing which the Capitol wants of them will matter to them.

Her steps are mechanical. Her steps are miserable.

She does not remember when she gets up, or when she begins to walk. She does not remember when she leaves Maeve's death-place behind. She doesn't remember when the snow begins to fall, or when the afternoon light dims into incandescence and into darkness again. She doesn't remember.

Maeve…

Her mind flutters to the people back at home. To Maeve's younger brother watching the screens, his sister's corpse framed in a bombastic display. Of tears drawing a pathway down his eyes, of him blinking to prevent the scene from reappearing in his eyes, guilt shackling a grip upon his stomach.

(Guilt. Is that sensation not too familiar?)

Madison's mind blanks and whirls to when they've watched a screen, together, curled up in bed. She thinks about Maeve's tears, her wretched breaths. Maddie, I'm gonna break you.

You won't break me, Maddie had promised her. Trust me.

Maeve breaks her.

Maeve destroys her.

There's a half-laugh in her throat. Oh-so-pathetic. Oh-so-ragged.

(Oh, her iniquity.)

How could she have let her lie?

Why aren't they killing each other? Why aren't they razing the other to her death? Why aren't they damning one another? Why are they—

That is not how the Games was supposed to end.

The snow's in her eyes.

She blinks. The mist is still there, drifting across her sight in clumps and fuzzes, across the white afternoon rays. She blinks, and they remain there still.

(When did she sleep? Is it afternoon already? She does not remember falling asleep. Blacking out would've made more sense; yet she does not remember that, either. But Madison Saros does not remember much, lately: there are too many gaps in her memories. They are gaps she welcomes.)

She coughs. She sits up, and realises that she is sitting down against bark, and that the snow is real, falling, covering her, now.

It is cold, she would think, except her brain is too swollen in wool to think, and she is too numb to feel anything of the arena's weather. The sunlight's rays dance upon the misted ground, and perhaps she should find solace in that, except she is still so…

Her heart is so wretched. It is so wretchedly empty, and she hates it, yet she has no capacity to hate any of it. She is too tired to, too miserable to, too…

Broken?

But she will live. She has to. She will.

Can she?

She carries Maeve with her. She carries splintered pieces of her memory, encased in flimsy film-tape in her head, jagged pieces that slip away from her brain. Maeve Alcraiz stays in her head, but she is not her all the same, because she will amalgamate, and shift, and change, and fade away— but Maeve needs to stay in her head, Maddie needs to save her, she can't let Maeve disappear, not even if all Madison has is the shattered starlight, liquid and falling from her fingers. There will be museum of malformed memories in her head. She can't, she can't, she can't forget—!

There are gaps in her memories.

(Only too many.)

She trudges on, as darkness and snow fall together in equal measure.

A step, and another step, and another step again. She does not know where she goes. Only that anywhere is better than staying. Anywhere is better than the remnants of their high-rise dreams. Anywhere is better than nighttime. Anywhere is better than a reminder, seeing themselves intertwined, butterflies and fireflies in their chests, a lullaby of the world sung from blue eyes and beautiful lips.

(Anywhere is better than the reminder of their lives, by twilight.)

They kiss, for that is what they've promised each other. They kiss, for that is the end which they need. They kiss, for that is the destiny they have chosen for themselves.

(Of course, the world and their vultures watch on, but neither measure matters to either of them.)

There is a time, in the window between the afternoon and the dusk, where she tries to categorise her mind.

I'm alive, she repeats to herself. I'm alive.

But she feels more numb than she is alive. She feels more hollow than she is alive. She feels more a reaper than she is alive.

There are bones that contain her and an exoskeleton that drapes over her like a cape. She has knives that hang like bones off her belt and she has a sword that is an extension of herself, that protrudes from her wrist's pulse, breaking through like an extended armbone.

She is a Career, and she is death, and she is their reaper, and she is that storyline they want to tell.

(I'm who you want me to be. Happy yet, Levine?)

Don't think, is what Maeve murmurs, in between their kisses. She curls a lock of black hair over Maddie's ear, and her other hand cups Maddie's cheek. She presses her lips to her again and again. Don't think, is what Maeve whispers, in between their breaths. It's okay, Maddie. We're together.

(We're together an' that's how we'll end.)

Her jacket pocket.

There are roses there. Petals encrust her fingers and they return in so much powdered red. It is so brilliant, against her skin. Her skin that is so drained of vitality and that reflects only white back. Even the rose is more alive than she is.

It's lasted longer than M—

Than its giver.

She can't even sob.

She throws away the rose. It sinks under the damp snow. She does not need to remember. Not how they've fantasised, not how she'd breathed in their world. She needs to forget. She needs to forget.

(She saves a petal.)

The world goes black, and Madison Saros wakes again.

Her survival is mechanical.

She's sure that the cameras haven't signed up for this, either. For a Career to struggle in her survival. To be enveloped by the cold winds. To drift like she is an orphaned child on the streets again. To suffer and suffer again with pathetic breath.

She knows she's supposed to win. She made a promise to Maeve. That she'd do anything she could to help her brother. How she could help, at least. And she knows she can only do that alive.

(There is a promise she has made to Maeve, which she has not allowed herself to dwell upon. Live for yourself.)

But she's drowning, moment by moment, and every breath she takes is asphyxiation in her lungs. She knows pain, but she doesn't know pain that can ache like this, be so hollow and cold and wretched and wrecked like this. She doesn't know that it can be so heavy like this, that it can drag her down like this, rock and stone. She knows torture, and she knows pain, and she knows Levine, and she knows Veneri, and she knows hurt, she knows breaking—

(But not like this. Why is it so much worse like this?)

Live for yourself. Maeve had said. And Maddie closes her eyes and exits a wretched breath from her lips, a shudder from her skin, a choked cry, a laugh that croaks from her throat and breaks her.

I'm sorry, Maeve, Maddie murmurs, as she twists the blade's hilt from side to side in her palms. I guess I'm a promise-breaker, too.

The ground's rumbles begin so softly. Neither of them notice, not at first: the beginnings of the world's upheaval are inconsequential to the meet of their lips.

She wakes up again, after her last blackout, with early snow running down her arms.

It's numb on her arms, and she can't feel her arms.

She can't feel her arms.

Why can't she…?

She blinks. She has half a mind to brush the night's dust-fluff from her body. She has half a mind to sleep. But there is a ping that registers dully in her ears, and autopilot maneuvers her body to look.

Madison turns her head, to the side. A parachute's by her side, only a few feet away. A note hangs off its package.

Stop that.

Clean yourself up.

- Aoife.

Oh, right.

She has half a mind to bleed out. It'll be an ignominious death. That's what they'll say. That's what they'll grumble. Another end, red rivers running down her arms again? It's a sore memory that pounds in their heads. Too reminiscent.

She has half a mind to breathe. To keep going. Be like the machine of a Career you're meant to be. That's what Levine would say. Don't die a death just like that here. Oh, c'mon. If you're to waste your life, then waste it in a better place, at least.

(If you're to die, then do it discreetly.)

She exhales.

Madison reaches for the kit.

She drifts away to sleep again, in her nowhere place, with effulgent snow turning over her skin, shattering against her like tides. She drifts away to a dreamless place, and it is unfamiliar, for dream was she has experienced throughout her last days, but without Maeve she cannot dream, and without Maeve she would rather not dream.

It shouldn't take long, not really, she thinks. She doesn't have many nights left.

She wakes again, and the sun blears at her, dusky-warm. Orange and gold melts into the skyline together, abstract art ebbing together.

Like the explosion Maeve so wanted.

No.

No, don't think about her.

She shuts her eyes, and inhales a shuddery breath. She tilts her head against the bark: no, she can't think about that, not here, not now.

She slips away back to the dreamless realms once again.

Ripples of red flare up from behind them. They kiss, still. Burns of orange coil the dusklight that stains them. They kiss, still. Sparks of forest-gold smear the stars that glister their eyes and their lips. They kiss, still.

She wakes because of the screams.

They come through the trees. A distance, and another away. It pierces through the air, and for a moment she thinks it's an animal cry. But another scream comes again, and it is too alike, just how Maeve would've screamed, high-pitched, anguished, pleading, needing, Maddie, please save me—!

It is too human.

She blinks. Mist's in her eyes, filling its cracks with white, and all that is left is drifting snow, even though it's not snowing anymore.

Her footsteps crunch. She looks through the forests and the brambles and she sees. It's the Seven girl. Thrashing in the waters of the icy river. Drowning and screaming. Despite the kills that she'd gotten under her belt. The waters are merciless and do not deign survival to whoever kills best.

She watches. There's nothing she can do but watch, even if she can barely see, even if she can barely care for who presides over the Games, now.

(Madison Saros watches, as Jules Adansonia drowns. By the time the gurgles are no more and a cannon resounds in the sky, nascent raindrops stain her cheeks, and only her cheeks, as the dour, rainless clouds lour above.)

(Tears for whom? She does not know, and does not care to know.)

The end comes too fast.

The snow's touching her now.

She doesn't remember the Arena being so cold. But it is so frozen, with the unrepentant winds that won't stop. The world has no mercy on her: it never has, and it never really will.

It drifts in and out of its moods: sometimes there is snow, and sometimes there is not. Sometimes there are winds, but it is worse is when there is nothing. For that means her mind will be occupied with thoughts other than survival, and she knows she is not able to survive that.

The snow's touching her now. It has touched her, throughout her tenure in the Games, the past few days. She remembers, now. White and cold and rendering her shivering, leaving her broken.

(It is so much like the moonlight, which Maeve had decried.)

She will not, will not think of that now.

Time passes, and she rounds back to the beginning again.

Brynn's beside the lake. That same lake which Jules had drowned in… was it yesterday, or days ago, or only the afternoon hours before?

She doesn't know. Does it matter, really?

All that matters that there were three, and Brynn is here now.

Brynn is here. Their end is near.

Madison slips down, next to Brynn, upon the logs.

She's shivering. She has a jacket that huddles her shoulders, but it does not salvage warmth in her any.

"For the night," is what she whispers, to Brynn. "We'll do this for the night."

Understanding registers in Brynn's eyes.

(Then you can let me die.)

I've never been colder, and she says so, to the night. She is not sure if it is because of her body, or her blood loss, or the oxygen seeping out of the arena. Or if it is because of something else, weighing down in her soul, abrading her, breaking her, damning her, ruining her, robbing her, until all she has are gasps and gasps again that will slowly annihilate her.

She watches the crackling fires, and she watches the onslaught of mist-storms that desecrate the landscape, and she watches the violent sways of the hoary trees.

Any roses would've withered, by now.

Roses fall from Maddie's hair, and they drift to the frozen wasteland underneath them: love notes and love notes again.

"I didn't expect to be here."

It is a truth, torn so bitterly out of her voicebox. It is hoarse with disuse, over the past few days. It has a hole in it, too, a thought that her mind is too dull to ponder upon.

She did not imagine that she would talk. But her days of solitude have worn upon her more than she'd thought. It would never have, before: loneliness was only a daily affair; only mandatory. But a taste of connection had landed on her lips, and it was far too addictive.

So she does not stop the words from leaving her mouth, and she does not stop the tears from crystalising by her eyes.

"I was around people better than me. So much better."

(And she does not stop the memories from flooding her head, for she has suppressed them enough already, and she may suffocate with their presence, but her remembrances deserve a little breath.)

"Scott," she says first, a half-smile by her lips, half-bitter. Too fucking kind, is the epithet she assigns, and I took his heart and made it mine.

A bygone memory flicks in her head, and suddenly she cannot breathe.

(A shard of Maeve, laughing as she tried to help Scott balance the blade in his hand, and— that's enough, that's too much, the torrents come flowing again, slamming in her, breaking across her body, destroying destroying destroying, and any guard she had up is swept from the tides, too late, she's returning again, too fast, too much in her head—)

Maeve and her smiles as she kisses her, as she kisses Maddie, and she'd resuscitated her, let her survive, let her live again, with every press of her lips, a ritual and a ritual again. Maeve, and the roses she'd twisted in Maddie's hair, lemme make you a rosebed, and she'd let up a cheeky grin on her lips, and doused her in so much red. (But gold woulda looked real nice on you too, she'd say, softly.) Maeve, as they lived in their world together, okay together, alive together, so much in need together. Intertwined together, loving together, together and together— nothing could've ended them.

Her name slips out of her lips before she can stop herself, and her voice cracks, it breaks, fuck. It's a chuckle, it's so hollow, it's an exhale, it's so hollow, it's so broken.

Brynn's eyes flicker, a little surprise and a little realisation entwined in her gaze.

She realises, Maddie registers, how much Maeve's meant to her.

They kiss, and with every breath they tangle tighter together, as the heat from their lips work down their skin and begin to pulsate in combustion. They kiss, and they kiss again: for nothing could be the end of them. They are invincible beings, untouchable souls: they would combust together, for that is what they desire together, because that is what they want together.

They will make their world oh so red.

"Do you want to live?" Brynn asks, quietly. It is a question that should not be in the air. Not when there are three left. Not when they are at the end. Not when the Capitol watches on, excepting kids who would claw their way to the Victor's crown, bedraggled and ragged, breathing too many breaths, sweating with need, dust and desire, transforming into carnivore incarnate, for that is what you need to place first upon the silver screen.

Brynn's words are an insult to them. But the Gamemakers will not interfere, for it is the finale. The mutts lack their bloodthirst, for it is the finale. Nobody will touch them, and that is far too ironic, now.

Madison's eyes lift up to Brynn's. Her lids are heavy, but her words are strong, steady.

"No," she murmurs, so softly, and it is a rasp in her throat. She's never said it out loud, she realises. Not her desires to…

Brynn's quiet, but her eyes turn up to Madison again.

"No, me neither."

Gasoline burns upon the snow: it singes and sings, a note and another of jettisoning tar, mangling the air and mingling their mouths. Spirals of smoke rise and rise again: smog, suffocating, shade-grey, yet they do not hinder them. Orange embers gleam upon the ground: spinning, fizzing, electric. Growing and bulging: orange and reds and everything intensifying again.

It is too warm, for an arena so frozen. Their kisses only amplify that; their touches only swell their heat. They would burn each other, if they are not already burning together. For a world that will be theirs, soon, and that they will end, soon, with a signature blow.

Metal is nowhere. They do not need metal to explode.

They are still shivering by the campsite when Madison speaks again.

"Do you know what's the most important thing Maeve's taught me?"

Her breaths are shallow; her words are quiet. She does not even know why she speaks them: they are thoughts that should simply remain in her head. Not here, not outside of her mind, when her thoughts are prey for the world and pecking pieces for any vulture's rapture.

Brynn's eyes tilt up: go ahead, tell me.

It is so cold, and she is ebbing away already: it is not long until the elements claim her. She opens her mouth, to say what she wants to say, but her mind is so stuffed, so away, for she is not even in the Games anymore.

(If she closes her eyes, then she will regress: back into her childhood, upon the streets again, only a rag and a cry to save herself from the winter's mires that bear upon her. If she closes her eyes, then she can pretend that her life's ended there: another child's corpse on the streetside, a frame with flesh upon it, trampled upon and forgotten, until somebody collects her bones for trash and buries her. That, at least, would've been less of an infernal fate than Levine.)

But Madison Saros opens her eyes, and she remembers that she is in the Games and not shivering on the streetside. She remembers that she is here, and as wretched as she is here, at least she had life. At least she had Maeve, and at least she was allowed to breathe, and so her chokes curl by her lips, as does her bitter smile, as does the glimmer in her eyes.

"She taught me how to live for myself," she says, quietly, and she is not looking at Brynn anymore but at her fingers, at the hilt weighed in her palm. "And I will."

Madison holds the knife out, between her shaking fingers, with a beg laced in her eyes.

"Please," she asks, quietly, as Brynn stares back at her. It is only the cold that shakes her fingers. There is no fear, anywhere, not for a girl that is long dead.

Her request is present in her eyes; it curdles a bitter fire in her chest, it is a last breath, it is a broken end.

Please. Let me sleep.

(I need to breathe again.)

"I'm cold too," is what Brynn murmurs back, and that is when Madison understands.

(I'll go with you.)

The metal sinks in her gut so easily. Madison gasps, because - it isn't as painful. Not as painful as she'd thought.

(Both of them. Oh so broken by the night.)

Maybe memory and memory should flash before her eyes, a tableaux of her life, made up by split seconds, of her birth all too innocent for the world, of her cries in the wasteland that winter takes upon One, of Levine peering at her and stealing her, of his yells and his metal sinking into her, of her shivers as she stands from dusk till dawn, of her shattered dances to regain her own sanity, of herself huddled up in cages drenched in moonlight, of a step into a square and a raise of her hand, of sea-girt eyes buzzing from a screen, of the girl that grins at her too-wide in training, of their pulsing life as they take on the Games together, of the roses that she gives her and twines in her hair, of the shaved wood from wings that turns her token hers, of their dances by day and kisses by night, of their worlds together and their ends, with a kiss and with a breath, and of her hand, holding her, saving her, warm, present—

But her brain is in a white place, a nowhere place, and there is no such reel that passes her mind.

When Brynn presses the knife into her gut. Maddie's fingers curl around her cuckoo necklace.

That is the only thing hers that soothes her to sleep.

Their world explodes. Death and life build upon each other in tandem: cycle and swell and bulge and they become alive again.

It is that easy, by twilight, that they are born again.

She dreams.

She hasn't dreamed, not since Maeve's death, not since her time in the arena. But she blinks and she is in a white place, and she knows that cannot be death, not when it was so red.

She blinks. She's in the forests again. But there is no Levine that awaits her in his warehouses, this time, a would-be saviour that has only damned her. Instead, there is a girl with a grin that graces her lips. There is relish in her eyes. She has a hand outstretched. What is said is obvious.

Run with me.

She glances around the shrieking forests and exhales a grin with her breath.

She has eyes made of the seas. She has the hair of flaxen angels. She is swathed with white and gold and reds and what must be heaven.

(Maddie. Let's live again.)


The tesserae shows. Three days after Kiernan Alcraiz is Reaped for the Games.

Anastasia Alcraiz's hand flies to her mouth. She lets out a sob-wracked cry. She clutches the tesserae in her arms. As if they are her two children, ripped away into the Games.

She clutches them, tight. As if if she leaves her hands there. They won't let go.

And she clutches still, even as the resound of boots enter the apartment. And she clutches still, even as they wrench her shoulder back. And she clutches still, as if she would not see the reflection of the Peacekeepers in the mirror in her apartment.

And she clutches still, even as they raise their guns at her apartment. She clutches still, as the bullets rampage across her. As an arm wrenches her ponytail back and drags her back and back and back.

She does not scream. She clutches still. Tight and tight to her chest—what is left of her babes. Grains that remain, of what she has not destroyed yet of them.

She clutches. Even as the troops scream and rally a cry and her home is destroyed behind.

She clutches.


Levine Saros does not know what he watches.

He switches off the screen. He presses his palms against his desk. The sweat that stains his skin, and his wooden desk, now, is too palpable. The lines that break across his brow are too much, and the veins that bulge in his forehead are too intense.

Disgusting. That is not what I trained Madison Saros to be. That is not what I made my Variable to be.

My experiment was defective. It is ridiculous to claim. It is a claim that he cannot make: not when all his theories pointed towards his Variable's success. Not when he has the Capitol's backing themselves, since Aoife's victory, to repurpose One to return to its former glory as Careers. Not when he had the entirety of the Academy's funding, and their weapons, and their best technicians and fighters and doctors, all entrusted in him to conduct his solitary experiment in the warehouses of the forest wilds.

He cannot have failed. Not when the Capitol and One had entrusted in his success.

But even Levine cannot deny. He has watched a finale where his Variable had decided to kill herself. Oh, everybody could see the look in her eyes.

Second, when he'd instructed her to be first. He'd drilled training and regiments and the entirety of it between her eyes and into her brain. He'd instilled aggression and he'd instilled the skills and he instilled a fight in her. He'd outfitted a drive, so why the hell did she become suicidal?

His results were the farthest from his hypothesis - and there had to be a reason, Jungian psychology, lack of fantasticality, attachment issues, needed codependency, Romeo and Juliet syndrome - there has to be something that had stated why. Was it the cybernetics he'd inserted into his Variable's flesh, upon the months up to the cusp of her volunteering? No, it can't be— he'd told her too much, too often that she were a machine, that her purpose was to win and that was all that she should be. To be like a machine is a mentality, and that he'd made sure was in his Variable's head.

Where did they go wrong?

Was it Alcraiz, then? That manic upstart from Two. It could've been her fault. It is her fault. So it is nothing of his own fault, then: he'd done the most he could, controlled the most he could, but it was the effect of external stimuli which had disrupted his Variable from functioning as she should. A situation he had not expected, one that veered his Variable off the course she was supposed to undertake. Yes. That was it.

He exhales. One loud harsh breath. It still does nothing to disrupt the fact - the fact that his Variable had faltered. Alcraiz. That was what led to such... volatile reactions.

But he will gain no answer. All he can do is wait - until the inevitable Capitol troops arrive.

Levine closes his eyes, and presses the bridge of his nose. An exhale later, he opens them again, and approaches his whiskey cabinet.

There is not enough that he can drink to. But he will drink, until the day Snow decides to damn him, just has his Variable had been damned in the Games.

(How ironic is that? He despises the fact.)

But Madison Saros is gone, and she cannot be the target of his wrath. He is now victim of the world, not her, and oh— so does fortune's wheel turn, and so do the fates change, and so comeuppance rests a crown so heavy on his head.

(The silver crown and silver manacles which he so wanted for his creation shackles the creator, instead, and Levine Saros can only bitterly laugh at his damnation.)

He is not entirely doomed yet.

Levine exhales. Slowly, he reaches for his phone, and pushes in the numbers. A string of beeps return to his ear, and a crackle, and then—

"Vonsettos. How is Variable Two?"

From the other end of the phone, Veneri smiles. "Oh, Viscount is well. Don't worry, Levine. Her role as Variable Two is flawless. She will succeed, where Variable One had failed."

At least. He has enough foresight to predict a catastrophe.

Oh, Variable Two. I know you will not save me. But your simple existence is enough to mean my victory. When I die, I will laugh: and it will be for you.


A hand on her hand. It is warm. As muddy-warm as the warmth flooding out of her wound. There is a hole in her abdomen. She should be dead soon. She will be dead soon. She is dead soon.

All it'll take is one moment. One moment of breath. And then she'll be gone.

One moment. One breath.

Another moment. Another breath.

Breathe.

One moment.

Another more.

Breathe.

Her eyes crack open. Slightly. Her lungs. Her lungs. She should not be. She can't. She wants to—

Why are they still…?

Warmth on her face. A mask.

Bags in her lungs. Liquid warmth. Sloshing. Seeping.

A hole in her abdomen. Arms on her abdomen. Pressing down. Keeping her… there. Keeping her… steady.

Breathe, Madison.

Her eyes adjust.

A hand on her hand. A person stares back at her. Under the dim dark. Under… here.

Where is here?

It's okay. You're okay. Just breathe.

A hand on her hand. Clutching her. So tight. So warm. So soft. So much of a squeeze. She hasn't been held. Not like that. Not in—

Forever.

Maeve?

Maeve?

Is that you, Maeve?

No, I'm sorry.

Close your eyes. Breathe.

Breathe.

You're not dead yet.

Close your eyes.

We'll take care of you.

Breathe.

Close your eyes.

Close your eyes, Madison.

Close your eyes.


"Nothing ever ends poetically. It ends and we turn it into poetry. All that blood was never once beautiful. It was just red." - Kait Rokowski


FIN. PART 2.