A/N: I wrote this a while ago as the beginning to a much longer life of Mags/history of Panem that I wanted to write. I don't really have time for that; but that's why I made the decision that 80 and 80ish would look the same to a teenager like Katniss.


Aqua Vitae


It is the 9th Hunger Games and Mags goes over a waterfall.

This is not a choice, understand. The waterfall is taller than the tallest building left in District 4 and the Gamemakers will have made sure the rocks are sharp at the bottom.

But on the top of the waterfall is a boy. He is eighteen and he has blood on his arms and chest and legs, blood that does not belong to him. The blood is a monument to more than one of their dead comrades.

The boy anointed with blood is named Shine. He has two brothers and an older sister and he laughs in a quiet way, as if he doesn't do it often. His mother made him bring a bracelet covered in carefully painted daisies for his token.

Shine has a knife that was once silver and is now red, but it is not because of the weapon that promises to take what she values most that Mags remembers his name. Remembering is something she has always been good at—she can remember the dress her mother wore the last time they went to the pier, she can remember her sister's scowl when the last bit of bread was stolen from her the night before reaping day, she can even remember her father's laugh though he died when she was a child. He was a sacrifice, too, though he didn't know it. The districts didn't have a chance against the Capitol.

They paid. Now their children pay.

Welcome to Panem.

Mags could fight Shine but she dives over the waterfall instead. Her arms are strong but he is stronger and they both know it. She does not want to die just yet.

It's a long way down, but the buildings in District 4 are not as tall as they once were. The Capital destroyed the tallest buildings when Mags was eight, to remind the districts how they have nothing of value.

Mags thinks the waterfall is low enough that she should survive the fall.

Maybe.

Shine sprang from the woods; she was by the river, trying to catch fish, the first food she would have had in three days. Out running him is out of the question—she is tired, hungry and his legs are longer—but she has a plan. Mags always has a plan, even if it's not always a good one.

Shine told her he couldn't swim and she bets her life that he made a mistake and told the truth.

She jumps, leaving him and his knife behind.

The wind catches her, blows her auburn hair into her face, choking her, blinding her. The roar of the water means she is deaf as well, helpless in the air. It is not a new feeling, so she is not scared. The smell of salt envelopes her and she doesn't mind the screaming wind as much.

Her arms go out; they break the water so it doesn't break her. It saves her from the worst of the pain, but water is not a gentle mother gathering her child to her. It is a brutal lover, as every sailor can tell you, slapping her until she cannot breath, pushing her down, deeper and deeper down...

The water is on top of her. She lacked the energy to jump further out and now the water will not let her up.

Mags surrenders to the water.

It isn't fair, of course, but she is of Panem and screaming about unfairness just ends up with twenty-four shaking children in an arena. Mags wastes no time on what cannot be changed. There are stories in her home about the dangers of swimming too deep, where the sea is dark and it brings ringing to the ears and weight to the chest; it has not come to that yet. Still, she knows that everything about water is dangerous. The men on the wharfs sing drunken love songs to their indifferent goddess.

Down she sinks, the water pounding into itself above her. Unsure as she is which way is up, she knows fighting to nowhere will just get her killed faster, so she lets the water take her where it will, down to the depths. Pressure has begun to build behind her nose and ears and throat—the salt burns her eyes when she tries to look around.

The pain is nothing, for there is enough light and now Mags knows the pool is not too deep. She begins to fight back, forcing the water to let her into position. It takes time, but she cannot panic now. If she did the water would win. By the water she was born and maybe by the water she should die, but Mags is not a poet (there are still some poets in District 4, drunk by the sea, still murmuring to the sky not even the Capital can take from them). She is a survivor; her air is running out but she manages to right herself.

The floor of the river bed is rough against her feet, but it is there and that is all that matters. Mags launches herself off of it, upward through the murky depths.

There is nothing frantic in her movements now, only the sure, powerful strokes she has spent her whole life perfecting. She has not misjudged this time; the angle of her movement is bringing her out from under the power of the falling water. Her legs kick out, not desperately, but evenly. Timing is key.

On the top of the waterfall is a boy. When she breaks the surface, greedily sucking in air, she can see him watching her for an instant before he disappears from view, unwilling to follow her. They each make one mistake—Shine is going to die for his.

Swimming to shore takes her a moment and then she is pulling herself out, wet and sore and alive. Her arms and chest are red from the impact, but the bruises will fade. Her feet have small cuts, but if they are tender she can still run on them. Secure in her belt is a blade that is all she needs. A plan has come to her underneath the waterfall, one with too many variables, but a plan nonetheless. She wrings out her hair, flexes her hands one last time and she is ready.

The waterfall has given her two truths that buoy her to victory.

She is not going to die.

The water is hers to use; she remembers the nets of her people. She will catch more than fish in the arena. The other truth is sweeter, though the water runs with blood by the time she is finished telling it to all of Panem.

She is going to win.