Because I had a craving for D3-fic and couldn't find any…

I really should be studying right now. There's nothing like doing well off not enough study in your Mocks to sap motivation for Finals. Maybe I'll be able to pay more attention now that this is out of my head…

Of the various victors featured and alluded to here, I created Willow, Marchessa and Johan. Fortune is the creation of Caisha702. Beetee, Wiress, Chaff and Haymitch are, of course, the property of Suzanne Collins.

When she is born she is allowed to stay with her parents for six months. No more, no less. Just as regulations specify. Then, on the one hundred and eighty third day of her life, she is transferred to the Community Centre to allow her mother to get on with the rest of her life. It isn't the mother's fault. It is merely regulations. Nothing more, nothing less.

Wiress is born in Factory One. She spends her entire life being watched, being tested to see if she is fit to go back there. All children of District Three are, of course, but she is a member of the rare group to be born to two of those already deemed intelligent enough for the dubious honour of being selected for the place once before. She is different. Special. More likely to fit the criteria.

It isn't easy, being marked out as different. Her last name does the job as well as anything, though growing up in the Centre she's unaware of that fact. There she is normal; at any given point of the Centre's cycling population about half of them will be like her. If any are related by blood they do not know it, but they all share the same last name. Factchild. Child of the Factory.

At school, though, she feels the difference. There are a few other Centre kids in her year, but none with her last name. The teachers pick up on it immediately; the children retaliate, as children do, keenly aware of the one who is singled out. Children can be cruel, sometimes. She tries not to let it bother her.

The result is that she retracts back into herself. The girl, already so quiet and unassuming by nature, becomes more introverted than ever. Instead of becoming an active participant, she sits and watches life as the years move past.

She thinks differently to other people.

Of course, she can't be sure. It is one of the great tragedies of life, Wiress thinks at age ten, and fourteen, and seventeen, that she cannot enter other people's brains and see how they think. What they think. What trails their thought processes take. She wonders how the world would look through the eyes of one without her perfect vision, wonders how a male body would feel instead of her female one. Later, how the world would look through the mind of someone who has not been through the Hunger Games.

Thought is something that has always fascinated her, perhaps because she has had so much time to do so. Thought and perception. How can anyone know that Wiress's perception of a certain wavelength of light is the same as anyone else's? They all call it by the same name, but does everyone see 'red' as red, or do some people view it the same way she sees blue or green or violet? What about taste? Or smell? Or even touch, although that is the one she's least convinced about.

Come to think of it, how does she even know her world is real? She has dreams, many of them, vivid ones, which felt completely like reality before her awakening. What is there to say that she is not living a dream at this very moment, and will one day open her eyes and emerge from the nightmare that is Panem? Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe this is the refreshing dream, a figurative breath of air as she slumbers in a world so much worse than this one. Or maybe this is real, after all, and this is all there is. How can she tell?

No one listens to her when she tries to talk to them. District Three is a place of great intelligence, sure, but of highly focused and channelled intelligence. Everyone is preoccupied with solving the practical problems that form their day to day existence – how to fine-tune new products for the Capitol, how to best organise a production line, how to bypass a certain environmental condition. Nobody has time for thinking about thinking.

Wiress finds herself doing more and more of it as she gets older, especially as she finds many people do not share her way of thinking. Not all that many people think in colours, she realises. For her, Tuesdays are a shade of pale blue similar to the number for her District, Wednesdays a dark shade of maroon, Thursdays a yellow-orange tan. Each letter is individualised, and each word determined by its first few letters. But for others, Wednesdays are just Wednesdays. Nothing more, nothing less.

Others cannot understand her, sometimes, when she talks about a missing word in terms of its shade, or moans about the colour guidelines on resistors not matching her internal colour system. Often, she muddles up her words, using the one that makes sense in the context of her mental image rather than the situation in front of her.

She thinks two steps ahead of a given problem, and forgets that other people can't follow her trail of thought. She speaks little, and talks fast when she does speak, words tripping over each other in the attempt to match the speed of her thoughts.

But she copes. For the most part she manages to muddle her way through communications without too many problems. Every so often she needs to stop, think and rephrase her words in a way other people can understand, but usually everything turns out fine. She's not communicative by nature, but she can learn.

Her test results are mediocre. It is not that she doesn't know the material – she does, and is often one of the first in class to pick up on a new concept. The difficulty is in the questions themselves; often, she thinks, they are stupidly worded, too open ended, too impossible to answer accurately within the scope of her own knowledge.

Accuracy is more important than precision, she thinks, even if her curriculum places the importance on learning the latter first and applying the former second, once the mind has already been trained in precision. She can see the reasoning – in District Three's industry precision is incredibly important – but it does not mean she likes the methods. No matter the rationale, she cannot answer questions with answers she knows are wrong.

On practical tests she does better. There is something about fitting components together to form a whole, like an elegant puzzle, which grabs her attention. Electrical components are okay, but what she really enjoys is the mechanical aspect. Fitting cogs and levers to translate motion from one plane to another, from one form of motion to another. They're more real, solid, results immediately observable than with the purely electrical side.

One year she is taken on a field trip to see where the watches and clocks are made. The digital ones are purely District Three, but there is a section for mechanised watches. The elaborate array of cogs fascinates her, but she will never be able to build one; the mechanical body is made in District One and shipped over to Three for the addition of holographic displays, lights and so on.

Her teachers have no idea where to place her; on the one hand is her obvious brilliance, on the other the poor test results. In the end the decision is taken out of their hands for them by the luck of the draw.

On the year she becomes eligible for the Reaping District Three wins their first ever Hunger Games after thirty eight years without a victor. This is cause for much celebration throughout her home District. They have food now, for a whole year. (But she never needed food anyway; she has enough in the Centre). One of them has made it out alive for the first time. (But another of them is dead, and thirty eight times two more children of District Three lie in their graves.)

She observes the celebrations. Notices the language. 'Us' and 'them'. But 'them' is not the Capitol; it is the other Districts. When did this happen? she wonders. How is it that you watch the Games and cry in revulsion at their barbarism, only to cheer on the boy with the cold eyes and the electrical trap primed to kill five others, merely because he is 'us' and the other children are 'them'?

She joins in, while observing. Celebrates while simultaneously recoiling in disgust from her own happiness at what is essentially a tragedy. Feels a strange mix of admiration, fear and an odd sympathy for the quiet boy with the glasses who is not that much older than her but seems so far removed when seen through the eyes of a twelve year old.

The boy's name is Beetee Actlan. He is fifteen years old, and his Games will always be those she remembers most vividly apart from her own.

She is eighteen when she is reaped, six years later. They call her name and it turns out her issues expressing herself are now a blessing in disguise because she walks onto the stage quietly and docilely. Her face must reflect the fear she feels, but not a sound escapes her, nor any tears. As the crowd cheers – as they are forced to, she reminds herself, not because the reaping of a Factchild means that there is one less grieving family – she is struck by the contrast between the tears streaming down her District Partner's face and the blankness of their mentor's.

The Community Centre all streams in to bid her farewell, but none of them have anything special to say. Wiress was never close to any of them; they'll miss her, but there will be no inconsolable grief on her account. She's glad of that, really.

On the train, she makes sure to get acquainted with her District Partner, who seems such a child in comparison to her. The boy is called Ferrite Trenton, she learns. He is thirteen – almost fourteen – and has not yet gone through puberty, making him look even younger. But he is not helpless, he insists, and she hopes it is true. She suspects that the boy will be cannon fodder. Nothing less, nothing more, in the end, even if there is so much more to him than that. Harsh but true.

Their mentor is only twenty one, now. Only three years older than she is. It is hard to believe; Beetee seems as far off and distant as he did when she was twelve. The reasoning is different now, though. Back then it was her natural reaction to anyone bigger than her – she's grown, now, and come to view adults as equals. Now he radiates… something, she's not quite sure what. Words don't always fit to what she means to say; it's why she thinks in combinations of colours and shapes and words and feelings, most of all. Not emotions, feelings. There is a difference, at least to her.

It must have been the Games that changed him, made him different to others her age she knows, she decides after a few days of close observation. That and a few years of mentoring tributes older than he was, forcing him to adopt a persona of quiet authority over them. He doesn't seem to have remembered to turn the aura off; maybe he can't, anymore.

She talks to him in private a few times before her Games. He's friendly enough, but distant. If it weren't for a few flickers of emotion, barely visible, she'd think he left his ability to feel caught in that electric trap. Instead, she realises, he's locked it up in the attic of his mind. Tightly, but not tightly enough.

When not observing her mentor, she's watching Ferrite and the other tributes. Trying to pick up on information, any, scrounging up knowledge in the hopes that it might come in useful. She spends training as she's spent most of the rest of her life; quiet, in the background and entirely unnoticeable.

It would be pointless to try and pick up any weapons skills, she decides on the morning of her first day. A few hours are spent learning how to find food and water; she's always been rubbish at memorisation for its own sake, but she makes an effort. The rest of her three days is spent almost exclusively at the knot tying station. Her fingers fumble on the ropes, but she makes an effort. Watching Beetee's Games she'd learnt that the only way someone like her could win was through intelligence, and she has a plan.

Going before the Gamemakers she says nothing, just gets to work. She uses up most of her time setting up what appears to be a bunch of completely unrelated and useless mechanisms, before putting several finishing touches and linking everything together to reveal a series of traps, mostly of her own invention but some created with the help of Beetee. She drops a training dummy into them – no point throwing and showing weakness - one after the other, to show their effectiveness. Before she leaves she makes sure to completely disassemble each of her traps.

She gets a seven for her trouble, high for a non Career, and hopes it will not gain her too much notice. Ferrite looks at her with new admiration after his own five and pesters her with endless questions. He never learns the reason for her score. It is something that stays between her and Beetee.

Interview day probably helps her to lose whatever notice her seven would have gotten her. She speaks quietly but clearly for the most part, to her relief, and trots out the lie of having been found by the Community Centre as a baby when asked about her family. It's close enough, and Beetee has informed her in no uncertain terms not to mention Factory One to anyone outside the District. 'Us' and 'them' again, she thinks, even from him, but sees no reason to disobey.

She wins her Games. Those two weeks in the arena are a period of time she tries not to think about, but finds her mind wander to it whenever she has a free moment for years. She finds things to focus on, instead, whenever she feels herself slipping into memory. Bits of poems and songs, lists of components. Anything she can force herself to try and remember to distract from the images. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Her arena was a giant scrapyard, full of deadly mechanised traps and nooks and crannies to hide in. There were no weapons at the Cornucopia, only food. There was no need for weaponry, not when almost anything from the surrounding environment could become an improvised killing machine. She couldn't find quite as much rope as she'd have liked, but she managed, setting her own traps in addition to the arena's.

She still doesn't know how many people her machines killed. She doesn't want to know.

But she dreams. Of landslides of scrap metal, of what seemed to be solid ground turning into spiked pits, of death traps far more elaborate than the ones she set up. Of the wild eyes of the girl from Two as she chased Wiress, knives landing inches from her skin. Of the look changing to one of fear as one of the arena's traps closed around her.

Of two weeks spent slowly starving with the occasional sponsor's gift or food pillaged from the bodies of the dead her only sustenance. Of lakes of water amidst the mountains of metal; of far more deadly things disguised as the water. Of the bloodbath and watching the carnage from a relatively safe distance while trying to get her breath back from that frantic first sprint out.

She nearly died in the arena, so many times, and sometimes in those first years out of it she wishes she had never come out.

"How do you cope?" The question leaves her lips unbidden. It is the first full sentence she's managed since her Games two months ago. The trick is not to think about it, evidently.

But how can she stop thinking? Every waking moment her mind is a tumult of thoughts, images and half formed snatches of phrases and mixtures of meanings chasing each other around her brain like a dog running after its own tail. It takes all her effort to structure her mind into something almost bearable to live in; any loss of focus and she finds herself back there, in the metal and the chaos.

Beetee shrugs. She is at his house, like she has been for much of the time since she got back. There is not much conversation, but the quiet, almost unacknowledged companionship is exactly what she needs.

"I don't."

"But you…" And here she goes again, stumbling over her own thoughts, trailing off in mid sentence. She hated her inability to communicate before her Games; now, where it's so much worse, she is ambivalent towards it.

"But I what?" He is calm; too calm, she thinks. Like she always does. Like he always is.

"Seem so…"

"Seem so what? Calm? Composed?"

Mutely she nods. Only that's not quite it. The words he uses are positive, but the attitude he has is far from it. Maybe he tries to seem calm, but it comes off as cold and emotionless. Like the look on his face when he killed five tributes in one stroke.

"You need to be. To give off the appearance of coping, I mean. Convince the world even if you can't convince yourself, or else…" He shudders, and suddenly Wiress has the impression that her former mentor is seeing something quite different from the cluttered table in front of them.

"You've seen my Games, haven't you? You know I killed. I killed in cold blood. Lured them into my trap, because I was so smart and they were so stupid." His sarcasm is cutting and bitter. It's the most emotion she's seen out of him in one go. "I liked it at that moment. And that terrifies me, Wiress, more than you can – but no. You can imagine, now. You have the remorse, you have the guilt, you have the nightmares too."

Again, she nods. She doesn't know what to say. Even if she did, she wouldn't be able to get the words out.

"And yet I'd do it again in a heartbeat, and that's what scares me most. I'm a killer, and I hate it, and the thought of taking someone's life again is up there with the most awful I've got, but if I were there in the Arena once again and there was the choice between killing and dying, I'd kill again."

Silence. Beetee sits there, clenching his fists with a look of inward loathing on his face, obviously trying to wrestle himself back under control. Suddenly, Wiress feels like their positions have been reversed, like he is the tribute fresh out of his Games and she is the mentor who views her own at a close distance.

She feels the strong urge to comfort him somehow, but words fail her. She raises her hand to awkwardly pat him on the shoulder instead. He flinches away, and suddenly becomes the slightly distant Beetee she knows again.

"Sorry," he says. "I…"

Don't worry about it, she tries to say, but as usual only the first word comes out.

Somehow that day becomes a turning point in their relationship. They speak more in each other's company, and slowly Wiress becomes more comfortable talking around him. It is still rare that she can finish her sentences, but Beetee is always patient with her. Every so often he even manages to guess her meaning correctly.

She tells him more of the pain she feels as a result of the Games. Knowing for certain that he still struggles with the aftermath of his own is slightly reassuring. He understands; he's been there too. And now he has someone who understands him, as well. He hates himself for thinking that, she knows, but she doesn't hold it against him. He's human. Not perfect. She almost feels like his equal, sometimes.

They spend much of their time together at his house. She prefers it to her own, so associated with the result of his Games and so empty. At least at his there's his family, even if they are barely around. His brothers, both older, have all gotten married and moved out. His half sister lives with her father. His parents, unused even after six years to the new child who inhabits the body of their son, spend much of the time in their old family home. Even so, the house feels lived in and much more like a home than the stagnant mansion she's been given.

The routine never changes. Perhaps sensing that she needs something orderly in her life, Beetee never insists on moving their meeting time by an hour to fit anything unexpected in. She comes over at a regular time each day, and he is always there. Always.

Which is why it is so odd when she turns up one morning a month and a half before her Victory Tour to find the house completely abandoned. When she returns to check later in the day he is still not there, but his mother is.

"Are you looking for Beetee, dearie?" she asks upon seeing a silent Wiress at the door.

Wiress nods; nice as his mother is, she still isn't Beetee. She doesn't know if she can trust her mouth to say anything.

"He's not here. Been called up to the Capitol for Snow knows what." She must see the disappointment on Wiress' face, because she adds, "Tell you what, I'll send someone over to tell you the day he gets back."

Wiress smiles gratefully, and manages a whispered "thank you" before fleeing back to her own house.

Beetee comes back a few days later. True to her word, his mother sends him over to Wiress' within a few hours of his arrival. He is pale when he turns up at her doorstep; she lets him in and offers him food, which he declines, before asking him where he'd been.

"The Capitol."

"And what were…"

He shakes his head and doesn't answer the question directly. "When the president asks you to design weapons for him… Please, please do me a favour and say yes."

She is speechless from anger, this time. His tone is pleading, but it goes right over her head. How dare he? How dare he ask her to build weapons, when he knows just how much she is hurting as a result of her traps in the Games? In her eyes it is the ultimate betrayal.

She doesn't speak to him for a week.

When Snow calls her into his office during her Victory tour, she remembers Beetee's advice. Remembers, and ignores it, and refuses the request. Traps of her own design have already killed too many people. It doesn't matter that she doesn't know the exact numbers, didn't set it off herself. Her hands are red, stained with the blood of so many dead. Indirect but certain. She will never build killing machines again.

He lets her go without a word, and she – naïve, so naïve – accepts it. He offered, she refused. Nothing else will happen.

When he calls her in a few days later to give her the ultimatum – her body or her unknown parents, her few pre-Games friends, everyone in the Community Centre (not Beetee, and she really shouldn't be this grateful when so many others are being threatened) – she wishes she had listened to her mentor. She accepts this offer, because what else can she do? She is not a killer; she's made that much clear already.

Beetee doesn't say 'I told you so'.

She could hug him for that, and does after a few seconds of deliberation. He tenses at first but does not step away. Relaxes and returns the embrace after a few seconds. His body is skinny; she can feel his bones clearly through his skin even after years of plentiful eating, and the warmth of his body through the winter clothes they are both wearing. His shoulder is just the right height for her to rest her chin on.

She has not been hugged much in her life; this feels far more comfortable than it should be. It feels right, more than anything else. Like their bodies were meant to fit together like this, like two cogs in a machine.

He releases her and gently disentangles her arms from around his waist. Sits her down on an armchair and sprawls across the sofa next to it. They are in the train, on their way back to District Three for the final night of the party. She is just glad she's getting out of the Capitol, travelling further and further away from Snow.

There is silence for a bit. A mixture of awkward and comfortable and terrified.

Beetee doesn't lie to her and say she'll be alright. It's not his style, and she's grateful for it. It's one of the reasons she likes him so much, now she's gotten to know him so well.

"Has he given you a time yet?"

She shakes her head.

"That's good. That means he hasn't found anyone yet. They might leave you more or less in peace."

"What about you?"

He forces a smile. "I'm lucky."

"Didn't seem like…"

"It a month ago?" When she nods, he continues. "More lucky than some, anyway."

She cannot get anything more out of him that night, and doesn't push him. If he doesn't want to talk about it, that's fine with her. If the memories are painful, who is she to make him relieve them?


They get back to District Three. Settle into a routine much like the one before, only different. Neither of them mentions the hug on the train, but it lurks behind everything they do, everything they say. Like her talk with Snow and the message she will undoubtedly receive any day now, but much less malevolent.

The tone of their interaction has changed slightly. She notices when their hands brush when passing over components, notices probably unintentional double meanings in their dialogue. They touch more; hands on backs, on shoulders, ruffling hair. Sometimes even hands on hands. The occasional hug, once they've been back a few months and gotten even closer.

It is unspoken and intimate and new and very much them, very much right.

The private dynamic between them would puzzle anyone else their age, if they knew. She is eighteen and he is just twenty two; by rights they should be pumped full of hormones. But neither of them wants to ruin this, whatever it is, between them by rushing. She is still in pieces from her Games, he is much better than he was about physical contact, but neither of them wants to rush the other.

They kiss, once, when she gets the letter that has been hanging over them like a guillotine for months. Beetee has not been called back to the Capitol yet. She is as glad of that as she is terrified of what awaits her in a few days.

Once and only once, but she needs at least one memory of physical intimacy to preserve against the taint which is to come. And part of her, the part of her who still cares about these things, wants her to at least do it in the right order. Beetee lets her, even kisses back a bit, hugs her tightly and sets her on her way with sad eyes and a few words of encouragement.

For the second time in her life, Wiress enters the Capitol and comes back changed.

Luckily for her she doesn't stay there long. A day there, before – with prep teams and everything. As if the whole affair wasn't disgusting enough already. Then a night. She leaves at noon the following day.

She barely says a word to anyone the entire time. Locks herself into her room-compartment on the train and tries in vain to feel like herself again. Tries to differentiate between the mind and the body. The body might not feel like her own, but no one can enter her mind. It doesn't quite work.

Beetee insists on staying the night when she gets back. She needs someone to keep an eye on her, he says, and she doesn't protest. It is nice to have a friendly face around, especially when the friendly face is his. He sleeps in one of her spare bedrooms, the one right next door to her own. Without either of them saying anything, he knows where to draw the line. He understands what she's going through, and it is this knowledge that lets her trust him more than anything.

She finally lets herself break down that evening, and he is there. He doesn't touch her, though, not until she nods consent to his unspoken question. Even that, just a comforting hand on her shoulder, sends her body tense and her mind back to memories she'd rather not have, especially not fresh as they are. It's Beetee, she reminds herself, just Beetee. The man she trusts most in the world. Mind over matter; she manages to regain self control and he keeps his hand there.

"Did you ever…? Before?" She doesn't know why she's asking, but it somehow seems important to know. To see if it makes a difference.

He nods. "They gave me a few years grace after the Games," he says by way of explanation. "Don't know when's the youngest they start it – Willow was only sixteen when she won and they started her that year – but I had a few years without. They must've figured I looked too young or something."

He doesn't elaborate, and Wiress doesn't prod. It's none of her business, anyway.

"Does it…?"

"Help?" She nods. "I don't know. You'd need a comparison, and I don't have one. I don't think it helped me. Might have even made it worse, because I had the knowledge of what it's supposed to be like in my head."


She doesn't know what to think of that, really. But at least the conversation is the distraction she needed. Beetee stays with her until she falls asleep; when she wakes up in the morning, fully clothed, he is gone. Someone has tucked her into bed, though.

More months pass. She turns nineteen. Neither she nor Beetee gets called up to the Capitol again. Slowly, they slip back into the old routine, memories and trauma still fresh but not quite as raw.

The Hunger Games roll round again and she is introduced to the third horror of being a victor – that of mentoring tributes who go to their inevitable deaths. Both theirs die in the bloodbath, that year. They stay in the Control Room anyway, and she learns of the odd camaraderie of the victors. There are bitter rivalries between some of them, dislike between others, but the twenty odd people in the control room and the forty five in total are all alike in a way no one else in the country is. Some of the victors – those who were Careers especially – terrify her, but she sticks close to Beetee, who seems liked by pretty much everyone, and for the most part they leave her alone.

A boy from Eleven wins that year and literally leaves part of himself behind in the arena. Many 'armless quips are made from the Control Room by some of the more vulgar victors. Wiress wants to hit them, but tries to ignore it instead. She's better than her Games have made her.

Years pass. Between the two of them Beetee and Wiress get summoned up to the Capitol about three times a year; whoever doesn't go gets the job of holding the other together upon their return. They never get called up at the same time. Wiress is eternally grateful for that, and she knows Beetee is too.

Her communication improves as she gets more distant from her Games only to get worse every time she's called to the Capitol. At her best she can now speak almost completely in full, legible sentences when she's alone with Beetee. With anyone else, though, she's not nearly as good. As they get closer and know each other better, Beetee gets better at translating for her, until she can swear he can almost read her mind. She can read him, too. They can say as much in a look or a gentle touch as others can say in a hundred words, now.

"I don't think I can ever sleep with anyone," she tells Beetee. "Not of my own free will." Not anymore, but that is left unsaid. It is almost five years after her Games – this is how she measures time now, in Before Games and After Games – and she has just returned from another summons to the Capitol. It is her twenty third birthday, too. Not that anyone but Beetee cares.

He reacts to the declaration surprisingly calmly, especially since she'd freely admit – to him, and to herself, if to no one else – that if she were to sleep with anyone of her own free will it would be him. His hand goes to hers and clasps it tightly, offering reassurance. They sit there for a while, in silence so comfortable despite the events of a few days ago that she thinks there is nowhere she'd rather be but here with him.

"I don't know if I could, to be honest," he muses quietly, finally breaking the silence. "It'd depend who it was."

"And?" she asks, curious despite herself.

He just looks at her, like it should be obvious. She tinges pink.


And it should be obvious, really. This might be the closest to formal acknowledgement from either of them, but there has been something between them for years which both have been aware of. A mutual unspoken connection.

It stays there for years as they grow emotionally closer and closer. Not physically, though – they're both too broken for that, as wistful as it makes them both sometimes.

The Second Quarter Quell comes and goes. The winner is Haymitch Abernathy from Twelve, and soon news hits the other victors- if not the rest of Panem – about the tragic death of his entire family.

Wiress feels sorry for him, but also a little jealous. Now Snow has no one to use against him. He gets to escape the punishment so many of the others are forced into. He's lucky, really. Even if it doesn't seem that way to him.

"We're lucky too," Beetee points out when she mentions it to him. In response to her unspoken disbelief, he clarifies. "Look at Fortune. He's been in and out of the Capitol once every few months for nine years."

"Yeah, but he enjoys it." The man from District One probably does, too. He's a singularly unpleasant specimen of humanity, in Wiress' opinion and in that of most of he fellow victors.

"Or he pretends to." Beetee is, on the whole, much more optimistic about people than she is, especially now that it's been eleven years since his arena. He's managed to convert most of his earlier coldness to calmness; he's nowhere near over his Games, but he's a lot more well adjusted than he was when she met him. She probably is, too, despite everything.

"I doubt it."

"Okay, then, so we'll ignore Fortune. Look at Willow." The woman from Seven won the Games before Wiress' but is actually a year younger "You know she has more… customers than either of us. And she's pretty – conventionally pretty, I mean. The type of person who'd go for her would be much less sympathetic than most of the people we visit."

He does have a point there. She's heard tales from some of the others about perversions that would give even the most hardened victor nightmares and make even the worst of the people she's seen seem angels in comparison. Beetee says that once ha had an old man buy him just to spend a night having an intelligent conversation with someone.

"And that's without mentioning Chaff. You know as well as I do what type of people would go for him. I'm not especially good looking or charismatic – don't give me that look, you're biased-"

She whacks him lightly over the head, pausing to ruffle his hair. "Who said that was what I was thinking?"

He doesn't need to say anything.

"Just don't let it go to your head, eh? It's swollen enough already."

Because it's true. He's not what the Capitol would think of as good looking – still too small and scrawny, though taller than her. Skin too pale, especially with his black hair as a contrast. Eyes that are really quite nice – but a lighter brown than she remembers, every time – always hidden behind his glasses. She thinks everything suits him. His appearance suits him to a tee, represents who he is. And because he's Beetee, that means his appearance must be just like him – not perfect, but made better by the small imperfections. Made real.

There's a rebellion afoot. There's always a plot against the government, the cynical bit of Wiress says. It just barely ever works. Nevertheless, she and Beetee join in, help out in what little way they can. It is too early to incite the people of their District to join, but they start scouring the citizens to find those most eager and most discrete.

More importantly, they start working on machines to short out the ever-present bugs, to find them, to replace audio and loop video. Start making their own bugs, so that the budding rebellions can have their own information systems. They do nothing else, not yet. It's still too early.

But give it time. Just give it time.

They've almost given up on having another District Three victor by the time the Fifty Sixth Hunger Games roll around. It's almost stopped mattering; Beetee is thirty two, Wiress is twenty nine, and neither of them has gotten a letter since before the Fifty Fifth Games. They are as content with their lives as they've ever been.

The female tribute this year is called Marchessa Denoro. She is sixteen years old. They've pulled out school records on her, like they have for all other tributes. The records don't show anything special – average grades, average student. Very consistently average. Too consistently average, Wiress thinks, and resolves to watch her closely.

She's right to. The girl is scathingly cynical of everything around her. She dismisses her younger counterpart as an idiot right off, and refuses to accept her mentors' help until given evidence of their supposed intelligence. Wiress notices her eager interest in the Capitol technology. How quickly she grasps concepts – far too quickly for a supposedly average student.

She corners her on the first day of training, takes the girl up to the roof of the Training Centre. Forces herself to speak slowly and clearly. Beetee isn't here to translate, and she's ashamed to admit how reliant she's become on him to do so.

"You've been…" She takes a deep breath, tries again. Marchessa watches patiently, for once, perhaps sensing the importance of what her mentor is trying to tell her. "You've been fooling the system."

Her tribute is all innocence. "What system?"

"The one back in…"

"The one back in Three?"

Wiress nods, and sees Marchessa's expression turn to one of admiration. "How did you work that out so quickly? No one else has, and I've only known you for a few days."

"I'm not…"

"Stupid. I realise that now." The girl looks sheepish for a second. "If it's any consolation, I work on the system that everyone is until proven otherwise. It's quite depressing the amount of times I've been right." She pauses, before launching her question with the eagerness of someone who's never been outsmarted before trying to work out how she has been. "So seriously, how did you figure it out?"

"Your grades. Too… Too consistent."

"But I made sure to vary it a bit and everything," she protests, before smiling and shrugging. "Ah well, you caught me. Not like it matters anymore, anyway."

Wiress has heard the rumours of people doing this, but she's never met anyone who actually has. People who are so terrified of Factory One and the unknown solitude, the rumours – all designed and faked to breed fear and thus control, Wiress suspects – of horrible things happening to its inhabitants that they deliberately make themselves seem stupid to avoid it.

"We're telling Beetee," she orders the girl.

Marchessa makes some token protests, but Wiress is the mentor here. Beetee is told. He double checks the room for bugs and any stray stylist, escort or male tribute before addressing the girl.

"You didn't rig the Reaping, did you?"

Her shock at the question is genuine enough. Enough to reassure him

"I had a friend," he says by way of explanation. Wiress, who knows the story, places a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Marchessa's eyes follow her motion. "Oh, are you two together?"

They both shake their heads, and Beetee speaks for them. "Not in that sense."

The girl takes that as meaning they have a strictly platonic relationship, albeit a very close one. It's not quite the truth, but its close enough. Nobody else would understand, anyway.

Marchessa wins her Games, as Wiress had suspected she would. The girl is far too intelligent, far too cynical, far too callous in her division of the world into genii and idiots not to have found a way. District Three has its third victor.

They do their best for her, after. She takes a while to learn to trust them; longer than Wiress did to Beetee. Pretends she hasn't been affected by her Games, but becomes even more cynical than she had been beforehand. Then one day she just breaks down completely. They both help her put herself back together. Marchessa never mentions it again and neither of the older victors brings it up, but there's a bond between the three of them from that day on.

Marchessa must feel a bit excluded from the other two; Wiress and Beetee are so very close, and while they try to make her feel welcome she must sense that deep connection that she's not a part of. Still, they get on, more or less, the three of them.

They warn Marchessa before she goes to talk to Snow. It's Wiress' idea; she argues with Beetee over it before he finally agrees. Knowledge is power, and Marchessa is the type of person who'd like to be prepared.

She takes the news about as well as expected. Which is not at all.

Still, she must negotiate some kind of deal with Snow when her Victory Tour is up, because she comes back with new hope in her eyes and a swing in her step. Eventually, Beetee and Wiress learn that she's sold out her skills with electronics and computers in exchange for her body. Done what neither of them were willing to do. Changed sides, if you will.

Wiress tries not to hold it against her.

Beetee gets no more letters calling him to the Capitol. He's too old, now; they've moved onto easier pickings in the form of younger, better looking victors. Wiress, who's always looked young for her age, gets one more, her final one, a few months after Marchessa's Victory Tour. There is pity in the younger victor's eyes, at first, but it vanishes soon after Wiress makes it very clear she needs no pity. Things are still a bit frigid between them after Marchessa's apparent betrayal.

She goes, she tries to distance herself from her body, she comes back. Spends the usual few weeks flinching from any touch, spends much of her time alone with Beetee, learns how to trust and recover and speak again, begins to return the contact. Just as it always is.

Only this time, they have a third. And that changes everything, throws the entire dynamic of the village off. Marchessa is a distant spectator in those first weeks back, a teenager in the way neither of them were. Perhaps she senses she shouldn't intrude, perhaps she's busy making sure she can keep her promises to Snow. Wiress doesn't know, and she doesn't ask.

Over time Wiress – and Beetee, though he shows much less of it originally – loses her anger at her tribute's decision to side with Snow. Marchessa loosens up to them while simultaneously becoming more cynical about the world at large. They become a sort of family, the three of them, without quite realising it.

Two years after Marchessa District Three gets yet another victor, this one a seventeen year old boy by the name of Johan Taly. He's amiable enough, and much more optimistic in general than his predecessor, who's only one year older than him. It'll do the girl good to have someone her age to talk to, Wiress thinks.

Things don't quite work out like that. Johan gets on fine with Marchessa, his stunt with that car having proven that he has a brain and that he can use it, but he goes to Beetee to talk as he recovers from the trauma of the Games. The girls do what they can, of course, but it is Beetee he takes to best.

Not to mention Mac. None of the others had really had any friends to turn to after their Games – with the exception of Beetee, though in the end that just made things worse. But Johan has had a boyfriend for years, and of course Mac is the first person he goes to whenever his nightmares keep him up at night. He's not allowed to officially move in until he turns eighteen, but even before that Mac practically lives at Johan's.

Mac is blonde, unusually enough for the almost exclusively dark haired District, but as pale as any of the others, with eyes dark enough to be black behind square frameless glasses. He's about a head shorter than the conventionally good looking Johan, and takes good care of him. Marchessa, typically, dislikes and distrusts him at first. He doesn't have the same level of intelligence the victors do, but he's perceptive and has an easy charm that makes him likeable.

Most of all, he's good for Johan, and that's good enough in Wiress eyes. She knows what the poor boy is going through; anyone who can help with that is welcome. Beetee agrees with her, and one vastly improved user interface later Marchessa comes round as well. He's one of them, now; not a victor but close enough that it doesn't matter.

Years pass. Johan goes to the Capitol with more frequency than either Wiress or Beetee ever had. Mac is always there to put him back together, Beetee and Wiress always ready to help. Even Marchessa is ready to offer condolences, in her own twisted way.

Rebellions blossom, and fall, and blossom again. She and Beetee, and now Johan too, are ready to help with what little they can. Slowly more and more people in the District indicate their readiness. Marchessa turns a blind eye where she can. She might work for Snow, but her true loyalties are known to her and her only.

They tinker. Inventing has been Wiress' chosen talent for years, Beetee's too. The younger victors follow in their steed. It's much nicer working on projects in groups, and Wiress discovers that it's nice to have a couple of fresh brains to give a new outlook on things. Similarly, Johan is happy to take advantage of their experience. Marchessa, too, once she grows out of the teenage phase of refusing help on principle.

The younger female uses her influence to get them a workshop in the catacombs of the training centre in the Capitol. It is heavily bugged, at first, but between them they take care of that. Having their own little oasis in the depths of enemy territory is nice. Reassuring.

Their family has grown from two to three to five, and while a lot could be better in their lives, a lot could be worse. Wiress looks around the workshop. Marchessa is typing rapidly at a computer at the corner; programming has always been her forte. Johan and Mac are arguing over how to improve on the existing user interface of Beetee's glitter sized music player. She suspects Mac will win this one.

She glances over to the chair next to hers, positioned closer than anyone else would be able to get without severe injury. Beetee smiles back at her. Under the table, their hands reach for each other simultaneously.

This isn't her happily ever after, but it's as close as she can get.

For those interested, trivia time: You can find out about Factory One in more detail in my (much older) oneshot 'The Master of Traps'. Johan's 'stunt with that car' is described fully in the beginning of chapter five of 'From Fearful to Fearsome'. Wiress, like myself, is mildly synaesthetic.