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Blood (Must Have Blood)

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Clarke’s knees hurt, throbbing against the cold hard ground, her back aching as it often had over the past few months of sleeping on an uncomfortable, dingy, cot with a moth-eaten blanket that was far too thin to protect against the musty underground draft. She drew absentmindedly, conjuring to life images of trees that she would never smell in the air and water she’d never feel against her skin, using up the last bit of chalk a guard had provided her a few days before. At least she thought it was a few days; she’d lost track of time since her sudden residency in solitary confinement.

She wasn’t a criminal. She didn’t belong there. Anger welled up, threatening to bubble over into the perpetually silent space around her and instead erupted as a dejected sob filled with longing and loneliness and the ever-constant pain of a broken heart. Her father had been killed, and blue eyes still watered at the thought of Jake’s kind smile, dimples creasing his cheeks, dirty blonde hair falling over his forehead and down into sky colored eyes. He hadn’t deserved to die, yet it was his actions that unleashed the events that followed; his murder, and his daughter’s imprisonment.

Clarke thought back, letting her mind draw up the last few moments she had ever spent with her father. She wasn’t supposed to disturb him while he worked, but she had wanted to surprise him, so she’d snuck into his office with his favorite coffee drink in hand. What she stumbled in on was never meant for her ears. Her father was recording a message, speaking into the microphone on his laptop as if his very life depended on it. It was a call to action; inspiring the district leaders to pull together and rekindle the revolution that Katniss Everdeen had started long ago.

He went on to explain a fatal flaw he had found in the Capitol’s defense system, one that could weaken them enough to leave them vulnerable. Clarke knew she should have turned away right then and there, but she was drawn closer, and from over his shoulder she could see the blueprints outlining her father’s plan. It was the scent of coffee in the air that had alerted Jake to her presence, and he whirled around to see his daughter standing there, eyes going wide in fear.

“What did you hear?” he asked her, and she remembered the way his voice cracked wit urgency, but her trembling hands and ghostly expression had told him that she’d heard all of it. “You can’t tell anyone about this, Clarke,” he commanded, turning back to his computer and frantically entering encryptions and firewalls and she watched as the information on the screen was jumbled and deleted.

“Dad?” she gasped, unsure of what to say.

“Thelonious is on his way,” Jake said. “You have to hide, Clarke, and no matter what happens, don’t come out.”

“But, Dad, I—

But it was too late, her sentence had been cut off by a loud pounding at the door. “Hide!” Jake hissed, and Clarke obeyed, scurrying into a nearby closet and shutting the door just enough to obscure her from view, but still open enough so she could see what was happening.

Chancellor Jaha had entered, his expression grim, and his brown eyes sad as Jake urged him to call a meeting of the district leaders. “I have to show them what I know,” her father rambled, waving a hand towards his laptop that was now only accessible by him.

“Jake, listen to what you’re saying!” Jaha had growled, voice angry and teeth gritted. “Thousands of people will die! You will start a war!”

“Listen to me, Thelonious!” she recalled her father saying, letting the memory of his voice consume her, picturing it all as if it had just happened. “This knowledge, these blueprints, could change everything that we know! This could rekindle the revolution Katniss Everdeen started ninety-seven years ago!”

She had listened intently as Jake vaguely described what he’d stumbled upon; the weakness in the Capitol that could bring all of Mount Weather to its knees in one swift blow. After Katniss and the rebel army managed to infiltrate the Capitol of Panem almost a century prior, the leaders of the time decided to move the capitol city to a more secure location, constructing an impregnable metropolis beneath the ground of a mountain, putting hundreds of billions of tons of rock and dirt between them and those that would seek to oppose them.

But what Jake had discovered would allow anyone with enough courage to stand tall and strike at the heart of the fortified city and the oppressive rulers within. He had told Jaha of his plan, but had left out the crucial details of what exactly he found and how to use it. That exact knowledge, Clarke had heard in the message he’d recorded and seen in the blueprints on the screen before Jake encrypted the data. Other than her father, she was the only person who knew that Mount Weather could be destroyed, and how to do it.

Clarke had been proud, overwhelmed at her father’s bravery and intellect as he once more encouraged Jaha to call a summit of leaders of the other twelve districts, bringing them all together so that they may face the Capitol as one united force. But for all Jake’s cunning and ingenuity, it was his naivety that had gotten him killed. She watched from the crack in the closet doorway as Thelonious told Jake his snooping would get them all killed and cause an uprising if the knowledge ever got out; that the balance between the Capitol and the Districts was too fragile to tip; that Jake’s plan would only lead to war and death. She watched, helplessly, as Jaha told Jake he could not allow him to live. The look on her father’s face when the Chancellor pulled his gun was something Clarke had never seen before: fear. He had trusted the information to his leader, his best friend, and Jaha had betrayed him.

Clarke couldn’t hold back the sob that escaped her lips when Thelonious lifted the gun to Jake’s head and pulled the trigger before the engineer could even muster a final word. She remembered the way her father’s body had crumpled to the floor, lifelessly, as if his bones had turned to rubber, no longer able to support his strong frame. The scream that erupted from her chest is what had given her away, and Jaha’s deep brown eyes were sad when he realized that she had witnessed the conversation. Everything after that had happened too quickly, and by the time the shock and devastation of witnessing her father’s murder had worn off, Clarke had found herself alone in a cell. The very same cell that she hadn’t left in months.

She knew they were just waiting for her eighteenth birthday. In District Thirteen, minors who committed a crime were held as prisoners until they came of age when they would then face a trial and be excused of all punishment, released back into society, or charged for their actions and sent to the Capitol. Nobody that was sent to Mount Weather on criminal charges ever returned, and though it was not explicitly stated aloud, everyone knew it was a death sentence. She figured that was the fate that awaited her, though she had never actually committed a crime, but the hole in her heart left behind by the death of her father was a painful reminder that Chancellor Jaha would kill in order to keep what she had seen and heard that day out of the hands of those who could use it.

But there was one other possibility…one that made her blood run cold. It was Katniss Everdeen who had led the failed rebellion ninety-seven years before, and it was the Hunger Games that had sparked her to action. The old tradition would have ended had Katniss and her forces been successful, but it seemed the revolution they had started only added fuel to the fire, and now the Games were more brutal than ever. The old rules still applied, the pool of names for the Reaping drawn from those under the age of eighteen, however, each district governed its Reaping differently. Districts One and Two still hailed Career Tributes, while others still used the lottery method, but District Thirteen reaped it Tributes specifically from those imprisoned for crimes committed. As far as Clarke knew, she was one out of a hundred that called the Cell Block home.

But hadn’t Reaping Day passed already? She couldn’t remember. She had been locked away in solitary for so long, taking her meals through a slot in the door, living in a cell that had no windows and beneath the constant harsh light of the fluorescent bulb overhead that never went off. She didn’t know what time or day it was, hell, she was surprised she hadn’t lost her mind yet. It was the thought of her father’s words, the information he had discovered that grounded her and kept her sane. She knew she would die, but not before she got the word out. If she was going down, she was taking the Capitol, Jaha, and everyone else down with her.

The last bit of her chalk crumbled between her fingers and Clarke let out a heavy sigh, brushing blonde hair back from her face with the palm of her hand and fighting the tears that prickled at the back of her tired blue eyes. Through her door, she heard a commotion down the hallway and maybe she actually was going crazy because she swore that she could hear the voice of her mother. The noise outside grew louder as it got closer, and as her door swung open and a woman rushed in, she realized it was her mother.

Abby Griffin looked as if she’d aged five years in the time Clarke had been stuck in solitary, her normally kind hazel eyes were rimmed in red as if she’d been crying and framed in deep black circles like she hadn’t slept in weeks. Her usually pristine doctor’s attire was wrinkled and untucked and her brown hair was greasy where it was pulled back behind her head, as if she hadn’t had the time to wash it. She was frantic, but her movements stopped as soon as she spotted her daughter, and both women were crying as Abby crashed into Clarke’s arms.

“Mom,” Clarke whispered, her voice hoarse and nearly unrecognizable from months of disuse. Abby was trembling in her arms, sobbing hard into the space between her neck and shoulder and clinging to her tightly enough to draw breath from Clarke’s lungs.

“That’s enough,” the guard spoke from where he stood in the doorway watching them. He looked young for a Peacekeeper, Clarke thought, his brown eyes darting around the room beneath a mop of brown hair as if uncomfortable by the reunion. “Chancellor Jaha says you’re not allowed to speak,” he informed them and she thought she may have recognized his voice, searching her mind as she tried to place it.

Abby pulled away and held Clarke at an arm’s length, scanning her body to see if she was well and unharmed. “You’re okay, sweetie,” Abby said, though her voice was trembling and sounded as if she didn’t even believe her own words. She looked scared, and her grip on Clarke’s shoulders only tightened like she was trying to keep herself from shaking.

“Mom,” Clarke croaked again. “What’s happening?”

“Clarke, I don’t know what your father did or what you know, but Jaha is accusing you of treason against the Capitol! You have to tell me—

“Hey! I said no talking!” the young Peacekeeper snapped again, cutting Abby off mid-thought. “Come on, it’s time to move,” he commanded, stepping aside so the Griffin women could exit the cell. Clarke eyed the gun at his belt and the baton in his hand, idly wondering if he would actually use them, but at the moment she was more distracted by the realization that she was actually getting out of her cell.

She walked forward and tensed slightly as Abby slid her hand into hers, clasping it tight enough to cut off circulation to her fingers. “Where are we going?” she asked, this time directing her question towards the guard.

He glanced at her and sighed, softening slightly, and in the light Clarke could see the splash of freckles across his nose, making him appear even younger. “It’s Reaping Day,” he said, his tone laced with what she thought was sadness.

“Reaping Day?” Clarke repeated, feeling the way her blood chilled in her veins, stinging like shards of ice and suddenly the thought of her cell didn’t seem so bad. She stopped, instinctively, and felt the tug on her arm as she pulled her mother to a halt with her.

“Don’t stop moving,” the guard commanded, but the intimidation was gone from his voice.

Clarke met her mother’s eyes, and the redness of tears behind soft hazel told her all that she needed to know. “They’re going to draw my name,” she whispered, knowing the words were true even as she said them, but the slight nod and the wetness that trailed down Abby’s cheeks was enough to confirm it. “Mom, I can’t—

“You have to be brave, Clarke,” Abby replied, cutting her off and squeezing both of her shoulders tightly. “You have to win.”

“They killed Dad,” she croaked. “They’ll never let me win.”

“The fact that they are letting you compete at all means they have plans for you, Clarke,” her mother hissed, urgently. “They would have simply sentenced you to the Capitol on your eighteenth birthday if they didn’t.”

“I said no talking!” the Peacekeeper snapped, pushing them forward once more. “Dr. Griffin, please,” he spoke softer. “Chancellor Jaha—

“Gave you orders, I know,” Abby shot back, equally as sharp. “What if it was your sister, Bellamy?” she asked, and suddenly Clarke placed the young man; he was Bellamy Blake, brother to Octavia Blake, the longest standing resident of The 100 members of the underground prison station.

Bellamy sighed heavily and glanced behind them; the cellblock was being emptied, prisoners being hurried out to the main courtyard in order to be present for the Reaping Ceremony. There were Peacekeepers all around them, enough present to keep the rowdy teens under control, and on top of that, there were cameras trained on their every move. If not for that, Clarke thought that Bellamy may have given them a moment, but instead, his shoulders fell and he looked at them both with an expression of sorrow.

“I can’t,” he whispered so that only they could hear. “I’m sorry.”

Before Abby could open her mouth to answer, another Peacekeeper was approaching them at speed. He was much older than Bellamy, his white uniform well-worn, and his shoulders stiff as he carried himself with an air of superiority. Clarke recognized him as David Miller, one of the guards who had brought her meals on several occasions, and she knew the dark-skinned man to be an avid supporter of Chancellor Jaha. He came to a stop behind Bellamy and placed a firm hand on his shoulder, startling him as he whirled around.

“Peacekeeper Blake,” David addressed him. “The Chancellor requests that we transport this prisoner to the Reaping Ceremony immediately. Please escort Dr. Griffin out of here,” he said, tone commanding, and it was clearly an order.

“No, wait,” Clarke replied, reaching for her mother once more, dozens of thoughts racing through her mind as she tried desperately to calm her nerves. Her breath was coming out far too quickly and she felt as if her heart was going to explode, an anxiety attack looming in the white bursts popping behind her eyes.

Abby held her at an arm’s length again, placing both hands on her shoulders and holding her daughter’s terrified gaze. “Listen to me, Clarke,” she said, trying to pull her back from the brink. “Whatever you know, use it. Whatever you heard is a bargaining chip. Be brave,” she urged, crashing their bodies together for a solid embrace as the Peacekeepers tried to pry them apart.

“I love you,” Abby said, voice frantic as Bellamy pulled her away, leading her down the hallway in the opposite direction.

Clarke wanted to call back to her, but her voice was buried deep beneath the ball of fear that had tangled itself in her chest. Her entire body was trembling and she hardly registered David’s hand on her elbow as he pulled her towards the cellblock exit. “Relax, Griffin,” he said, his voice sounding far away. “There’s a hundred other names going in with yours, I doubt you’ll be picked.”

The words shook Clarke from her daze and she almost let out a sarcastic burst of laughter at his ignorance. The only thing that was certain was that out of the hundred names going in, hers would be drawn. But she knew it was pointless to say as much, so instead she busied her mind, focusing on one thought at a time to keep from collapsing into a fit of anxiety. Why would they put her into the Games? What purpose would it serve? At any moment, she could reveal the Capitol’s secret on the nationwide broadcast, so why risk the exposure? They wouldn’t. Not unless they had a way to ensure her silence.

So, what did she have that they could use? She had knowledge enough to kill thousands of people in Mount Weather; that was what she had against Wallace, and she assumed that is exactly what he wanted from her. Jaha, however, was a different story. The death of people in the Capitol would have little effect on him other than to cause a newly rekindled revolution. Suddenly it became clear; Jaha was a Capitol loyalist, and Clarke was aware of it. He killed her father to ensure what he knew would not get out, but if the other district leaders knew he’d covered up the truth, they would surely kill him. Or if Clarke managed to make the knowledge public, the citizens of District Thirteen would rise up on their own.

It was obvious then that they had been unable to decode Jake’s encryptions, and they needed her to tell them what he’d found so they could attempt to repair the flaw and ensure that nobody else could ever use it. They’d get what they needed from her, and then they’d kill her in the Games to make sure she stayed quiet. The unrest in Panem had been evident for decades, and she recalled Jake’s words before he’d been killed about getting a message to the other district leaders. A resistance was forming, that much was clear, and President Wallace would use her knowledge to try and stop it once and for all. But how had her father gotten tied up in all of it?

She didn’t have time to work it out, taking in her surroundings as the guard ushered her into the labyrinth of an underground courtyard. The thousands of members of District Thirteen were crammed into the area, a cacophony of voices echoing loudly off the high ceiling as they shouted to be heard over the noise. There were potted trees spread out sparsely, though they had never seen the true light of day, and two giant monitors flashed to life on either side of an enormous white stage. The Mount Weather logo sat prominently on the screens, and every Peacekeeper that called District Thirteen home was present, guns held securely across their chests as they attempted to keep order. The hundred prisoners whose names would be entered in the Reaping were sorted into neat lines in front of the stage, each person wearing a similar expression of fear. Sobs could be heard from around the room and Clarke struggled to pick out whether they were coming from the prisoners or their surrounding family members.

At the front of the stage, Jaha sat stoically, gazing out over the citizens of his district with thoughtful brown eyes that stopped the moment they landed on Clarke. A range of emotions crossed his aged features; a mixture of anger, sorrow, fear, and eventually resignation. He looked as if he’d aged ten years in the time that Clarke had been imprisoned, but any pity or affection she had ever felt towards the man who’d been her father’s best friend died along with Jake. This man was not the man she knew; he was her enemy. And he was here to deliver her death sentence. She read as much when he forced his eyes away, too ashamed to hold her gaze.

Clarke sighed, letting the anger boiling in her heart chase away the fear that tangled itself in her stomach. She would not let the man who murdered her father see her breakdown and crumble beneath a mountain of nerves and terror. Instead, she took in a calming breath and ignored the sounds of sobs and hushed whispers around the cavernous room. She pushed through the crowd in front of the stage, making her way towards the Chancellor as she wove between people like a ghost, unnoticed. She was a few feet from the stage when the ceremony began and the anthem played as the cameras around the room flickered to life and the eyes of Panem were on District Thirteen.

Jaha stepped up to the podium behind the mic as the anthem lilted away and the room fell silent. “Ladies and gentleman of District Thirteen,” he began, his voice echoing off the high ceiling. “Welcome to the 172nd annual Hunger Games. As you well know, the Games serve as a reminder to ALL that rebellion, treason, and revolution will not be tolerated, and they are the price we pay as retribution for the past. You see, in order to ensure the survival of humanity, there must be balance; balance within the districts, and balance within the Capitol. We must coexist for the betterment of all mankind, and we must pay what is due,” he paused for a moment, letting his words sink in as his eyes again landed on Clarke as if he was speaking directly to her.

“That being said,” he continued on after what felt like an eternity of meeting her gaze in challenge. “In District Thirteen, we aim to spare the innocent of an uncertain and dangerous fate. We draw our names for the Reaping from the existing pool of criminals beneath the age of eighteen. For some of you, this is the last time your name will be entered, but for two of you, you will serve as the Tributes for District Thirteen as payment for your own crimes. Let’s begin,” he finished.

Clarke felt her blood run hot as his speech concluded to the sounds of terrified whimpers and angry mutters, the unrest evident in the room. If only the people knew what she knew; that Jaha murdered one of their own to protect a secret that would cripple Mount Weather; he would not be standing there about to sentence two children to death. She watched in disgust as he reached into a bowl full of neatly folded strips of paper and drew a name, pulling the male Tribute first.

“Finn Collins,” the Chancellor annunciated into the microphone.

“No!” she heard a woman’s voice from somewhere towards the back of the room, broken and filled with fear.

She didn’t recall the name and had never met the boy before, but spotted a young man with shaggy brown hair making his way towards the stage, flanked on both sides by two Peacekeepers. He had to have been Clarke’s age, his chin dotted with brown stubble and his already pale face a ghastly shade of white. Other than his pasty complexion and sheen of sweat on his forehead, he showed no outward signs of the terror that Clarke was sure was gripping him, but instead trudged willingly forward without resistance. He was boosted up onto the stage where he gripped Jaha’s hand before coming to a stop at his side and facing the audience. He appeared to be strong, a worthy competitor compared to the bawling twelve-year-old boy whose name had been drawn a year prior.

“Right, now for the ladies,” Jaha continued once the murmurs had settled.

This was it. Clarke stared at the bowl full of folded strips of paper and imagined that every name in it was hers. She was about to be condemned to die a brutal death for the entertainment of others over a crime she did not commit; yet she felt calm. She sucked in a steadying breath, setting the nerves in her stomach to rest as she took a step towards the stage, moving confidently of her own accord. She would die, but she would not give them the show they desired of it, and she would never give them what they wanted. She moved to the side of the stage and began ascending the stairs before Jaha even read her name, holding her spine straight and her chin high in a show of strength and defiance.

“Clarke Griffin,” he read, just as she reached the top of the stairs.

The Chancellor turned to face her and his brown eyes darkened as he reached out to shake her hand, as was the customary tradition. “Why am I not surprised?” Clarke asked, voice seething with rage. She spoke loudly enough to draw attention, but Jaha had turned his mic off so only the two of them and Finn Collins could hear the exchange.

“Just play your part and nobody else has to get hurt, Clarke,” he whispered, the threat evident, his hand still outstretched in the space between them.

Clarke knew that “her part” was to reveal what she knew, and then die in the Games, so the threat could only apply to the one other person that she loved: her mother. She felt the anger flow through her like fire, setting her veins ablaze and rekindling her broken spirit. “You’re wrong,” she growled, gripping his hand with force as her own threat hung in the air.

They clasped hands for a moment longer than necessary, searing brown eyes locked in battle with seething blue, and then Clarke released her grip, moving without a word to stand beside Finn. The boy looked confused at witnessing their brief exchange, but didn’t say anything as Jaha cleared his throat and the microphone clicked back on.

“Ladies and gentleman of District Thirteen, I give you your Tributes for the 172nd annual Hunger Games.”

<-><-><-><->

Lexa breathed in heavily through her nose and let it out in one solid stream, taking in the scent of the forest and morning dew through her open window. It was just after sunrise, the light filtering in in a soft shade of orange, and it was far too early to be awake, but she knew that sleep would not find her again. Not on this day. This was the day she had been training for her entire life. Countless hours drilling in the hot sun, endless lessons on leadership from Titus, and too many wounds to count had led her to this moment. This was her destiny.

The Conclave would begin shortly, where she would emerge victorious, and soon after, the Reaping Ceremony, in which she would claim the honor of Tribute for District One. She just had to get past one opponent and the bundle of nerves twisting like a knife in her abdomen. She absentmindedly ran a rag down the lethal edge of one of her swords, polishing it, as she often did, when she needed to ground herself. Her green eyes caught on the dancing flame of a single candle lit in the corner of her empty room, and her thoughts wandered.

She remembered a few years ago, sitting in this same spot, equally as nervous but not for herself: for Costia. Costia had won her own conclave and had been granted the right to compete in the Hunger Games as District One’s female Tribute. Lexa had been proud up until the moment her former lover was gruesomely decapitated on screen for the entire world to see. Then, she had been devastated. She knew they did not lead normal lives; training in Polis Academy from the time they are children until the time they turn eighteen. They were what the other districts called “Career Tributes”, the Tributes from District One and Two that competed for their spot in the Games and volunteered to take part in the slaughter. To others, their ways may have seemed harsh, but to Lexa, it was how they survived.

District One thrived on the extra rations earned from winning the Games almost every year, and even the Victors themselves were charitable, working to ensure that their people were fed. It was a system that had been in place for 172 years, and for 172 years they hailed the fiercest warriors and strongest competitors. Their biggest competition in District Two seemed to be the only ones that could stand against them. But Lexa took no comfort in the thought of slaughtering scared children from the other districts for the entertainment of the citizens of Mount Weather. It was a practice she aimed to end, but first, she had to win.

Her meditations were interrupted by a gentle knocking at her door, and she offered a brief nod of respect as her mentor entered the room. Anya was a few years older, a battle-hardened Victor and a fierce teacher, but an even fiercer friend. Lexa had known the snarky blonde with impeccably high cheekbones for nearly her entire life, and regarded her as more family than friend. They had grown together, trained together, fought together, faced hardship, and sorrow and heartbreak together, and it was together that they would change the lives of their people.

“Are you ready?” Anya asked, brown eyes surveying the room. Her voice was cold, but not harsh.

“I’ve been ready for years,” Lexa replied, steel in her tone.

Her mentor sighed and stepped forward, placing both hands on her shoulders and meeting her gaze. “This is too important to let your emotions cloud your judgment, Lexa,” the blonde said, urging her to hear the weight of her words. “The people need you to win. Our people need you.”

Lexa rose to her feet and brushed Anya’s hands from her shoulders. “I am more than capable of separating feelings from duty,” she noted, hefting her shoulder armor from the chest at the foot of her bed and weaving it slowly into place.

“I know you are,” Anya answered, again moving towards Lexa and using deft fingers to tie the leather straps across her shoulder and chest. “I’m proud of you.”

“I haven’t done anything yet.” Lexa sat still, letting her mentor help.

“But you will. You’re going to end all of this, Lexa.”

“One thing at a time,” she answered, though her vision was finally in reach. “First I must win my Conclave, and then the Games. Then we’ll deal with Titus.”

Normally she would feel guilt at saying the words aloud, but once they were out in the open, she felt nothing but impatience to see it done. Titus was not a bad leader, but he was a weak one. He had no vision for the future, no ambition; his only ambition had been to create a winner from District One each year. He was a pawn of the Capitol, a slave of President Wallace, yet he didn’t even know it; too blinded by his desire to win to see that his people were suffering. They weren’t as hungry as the other districts, Titus ensured that, but they were over worked, underpaid, abused, and tortured by the people their leader unknowingly served. He was a puppet, but Lexa would sever the strings. She would win the Games and challenge Titus for the position of Commander, as was their custom. And then they would have their revolution.

Anya finished tying her armor into place and handed Lexa her sword in its sheath. “Luna will not surrender easily,” she cautioned.

“I do not expect her to, but I will not lose. Costia died for this. I won’t fail her.”

“Fight for yourself, Lexa,” Anya warned. “The dead are gone.”

“And the living are hungry,” Lexa finished, strapping her sword into place across her back and sweeping towards the doorway as her mentor followed closely.

She didn’t stop for breakfast, too nervous to eat, but she did accept the water Anya provided her as they trudged out into the morning light. The arena was already filling up fast, the stands bustling with people excited to witness the Conclave and the crowning of new Tributes. The wooden stands were built in a circle, surrounding a center ring in which the novitiates would fight, the floor covered in a thin layer of sand. There was a raised platform facing the crowds, atop it was a podium, and to the left and right of the stage, massive screens hung down to project the fight for all to see, and the Reaping Ceremony soon after.

Anya left to join Titus and the other Victors on stage, and Lexa quickly busied herself with warming up her muscles, gently swinging a few different weapons through the air as she felt her body pull and stretch. She was most comfortable with a weapon in hand, as if the swords she carried were merely extensions of her body, and she felt her confidence grow as the crowds began to gather in. She heard the way the people whispered about her, how they revered her prowess in combat; on her other side, she could see the younger novitiates watching her, eying her with admiration. She always put great emphasis on taking the time to teach and mentor the younger kids, her brother, Aden, being one of them, and she was glad now for their support.

If only they knew the plans she had. Again, Lexa’s mind drifted back three years prior, remembering the way she had watched Costia from the very same spot. She had looked like a goddess in the morning sun, her brown skin glowing radiantly beneath caramel eyes as she offered a reassuring smile. She’d easily dispatched the rest of her novitiate class, earning her spot as Tribute, and Lexa had seen no better fighter in her entire seventeen years of existence. Costia had been an artist with a sword, and the only person who had ever been able to best Lexa in the training ring. She should have won the Games.

Lexa felt the way anger boiled in her chest at the memory and the loss, but she shoved it down, locking it away as she had always done. Love was weakness, after all, and a distraction that she couldn’t afford. Instead, she allowed her emotions to go numb, tuning them out so she could focus on the task at hand. Her duty to her people was what mattered most, and she held onto that thought as her opponent made her way into the ring.

Luna was a skilled warrior, having trained at Polis Academy for longer than even Lexa had, but it was her confidence that was her greatest weakness. Her unruly brown hair flowed in bursts down over her shoulders, and she had opted to wear nothing more than training garments as opposed to Lexa’s battle armor. Her shirt was a milky white, cut off so that her bronzed shoulders were bare, and it tucked into tight black pants that disappeared beneath calf-length leather boots. She was a speed fighter, clearly not wanting to be encumbered by any extra gear, but that meant she would have to be fast enough to dodge Lexa’s blows, otherwise the fight would be over rather quickly. Her brown eyes sparkled with confidence and mischief as she offered Lexa a taunting smirk before grabbing a spear and twirling it about her shoulders. Where Lexa’s greatest strength was in using swords, Luna’s had always been with a spear, and she was fierce.

A few minutes later, the stands were bursting with spectators, spilling out to standing room around the fighting circle as hundreds of voices cut sharply through the late morning air. Titus approached the podium, clad in billowing grey and purple robes that flowed down to his ankles, his bald head reflecting the overhead sun. He held up a single hand, bringing the roaring chatter to a steady halt, waiting patiently as the last bit of noise faded away so that he could address the crowd. Lexa fought the urge to roll her eyes at his theatrics, but instead stared straight ahead, honing her emerald gaze on Anya as her mentor offered her a reassuring nod.

Titus cleared his throat and leaned down into the microphone. “There is no greater honor than to fight for your district in the crucible of battle,” he began, his voice demanding attention. “For well over a century, District One has hailed the strongest and bravest Tributes, and has repeatedly claimed victory. We gather here today, as we do each year, to witness the ascension of two new Tributes, one of which, will go on to capture eternal glory,” he explained, the stars visible in his black eyes and Lexa had to choke back her sarcastic scoff of laughter. “Since my ascension as Commander of District One twenty years past, we have seen a Victor return more often than any other district, for in these great victories, our district thrives.”

Lexa’s gaze met Anya’s once more, and an entire conversation ensued in the space between them. Titus was a fool, a pawn, and the whispers of dissent around the arena at his words did not go unnoticed in Lexa’s ears. District One was not thriving, it was suffocating, drowning beneath the weight of supporting the Capitol, just the same as the other twelve districts were. Their victories in the Games provided food and sustenance, but they did not provide warmth, shelter, medicine or protection. The Peacekeepers were violent and often times forceful, drunk on their power, beating, raping, and murdering the innocent, and winning the Games did not spare them of that. But it did, however, train many of them to be warriors; a factor that Lexa intended to use in the very near future. But first she had to win.

“Over the past few weeks, the novitiate class has been narrowed down to four finalists: two boys, and two girls,” Titus continued on, drawing her back in. “Today, they will fight in single combat until two are left standing. Lexa and Luna,” he said, addressing them directly. “You may begin when ready. May the odds be ever in your favor.”

The crowd erupted into cheers at that, the murmurs of discontent replaced by thunderous applause as Lexa and Luna made their way to the center of the ring. They squared off, facing each other as Lexa drew her sword from its sheath across her back while Luna twirled her spear in a few showy flourishes. Their gazes met, challenging one another, as ten years of pent up rivalry built up in the space between them, threatening to explode. Lexa knew it was in her best interest to be patient, to let Luna use her speed and dance around a bit, so she waited.

Luna, ever confident, played into Lexa’s strategy and struck first, lunging left before dipping right and closing the distance between them in two long strides. She jabbed at Lexa like a javelin, but the armored girl quickly parried and side-stepped, batting the spear away before resetting her stance. Luna danced away, twirling her spear about her shoulders as she circled around Lexa like a shark circling its prey, though Lexa remained unfazed. She stood her ground, clutching the hilt of her sword in two hands as Luna brought her spear down towards her head in an overhand arc. Lexa blocked the heavy blow, dropping to one knee and rolling beneath Luna’s next attack before popping up on her other side.

Catching her opponent off balance, Lexa went on the attack, lashing out with her sword in two quick strikes that Luna managed to turn away with the shaft of her weapon. Luna stepped forward quickly, closing the distance between them and rendering both weapons useless as she grabbed a fist full of Lexa’s shirt and crashed her forehead into her nose. Lexa staggered back, feeling blood running down her face into her mouth, and she brought her sleeve up to wipe the sticky substance away. Luna offered her another confident smirk, but retreated quickly as one of Lexa’s expertly aimed swipes just narrowly missed her abdomen.

Lexa went on offense again, hacking three strong blows at Luna in rapid succession, finishing the sequence as she spun and drove her sword downward in a viscous arc that her opponent had to block using two hands on either side of her sword. Luna pushed back with full strength, throwing Lexa’s sword away from the shaft of her spear and sending a well-aimed boot right to Lexa’s chest. She tumbled backwards, her armor clamoring on the ground as she rolled out of the way of the tip of Luna’s spear, the sharp edge connecting with the ground where her head had been a second before. Lexa grunted, hauling herself to her feet and gasping for air as she just barely managed to get her sword up in time to block another oncoming blow.

Luna had her on her heels, retreating backwards towards the edge of the arena as she jumped out of the way and ducked beneath sharp strikes coming in rapid succession. Lexa was out of room, her back pressed to the surrounding crowd and her nose dripping steadily as Luna closed in on her. She had nowhere to go but forward, jumping over a swipe that was aimed to take out her ankles, then diving beneath another blow aimed towards her head, summersaulting forward and rolling to her feet back in the center of the ring. She had underestimated her opponent’s speed, but Luna’s confidence was growing as was her grin, and Lexa spotted the weakness in her defense.

Lexa had chosen to fight with a single sword against Luna’s spear, but her normal weapon of choice was two blades, wielding each with deadly accuracy in both hands. She’d been fighting with the blade in her right hand, or using two hands on the hilt, up until now, and Luna was leaving a space in her guard where Lexa’s other sword should be. Lexa sat back, waiting for her attacker’s next onslaught as she readied her own stance. Luna lunged forward once more, eager to end the fight as she thrust her spear tip towards Lexa’s chest, but Lexa had been anticipating it and batted the strike away. Luna drew her weapon back and swung it side arm this time, missing as Lexa ducked beneath the horizontal swipe and playing right into the armored girl’s trap.

The world seemed to click into slow motion, and Lexa watched as Luna stepped back on her right foot, shifting her weight in anticipation to block a right hand shot from Lexa’s sword. Instead, Lexa rolled to the left, switching her sword hand as she popped back up on the other side of Luna’s guard. In one precise motion, she gripped the spear in her free right hand and ripped it away, using the sword that was now in her left hand to bring the fight to a swift end as she held the blade flush against Luna’s throat. It was not forbidden to kill other novitiates in the Conclave, but Lexa had her opponent beat, and saw no need for pointless bloodshed.
She waited as Luna registered her defeat and held up both hands in surrender. “I yield,” she whispered hoarsely, and the crowd that had been silent in anticipation erupted in applause.

“You fought well,” she replied, though she knew the other girl probably wouldn’t have spared her if their roles were switched. That was what set her apart from the rest; her knowledge of when to take a life, and when to spare one.

Lexa lowered her weapon and held out a hand to grip Luna’s forearm in a show of respect for a worthy opponent, but her mind was racing as her victory put her one step closer to winning the Games, and one step closer to her ultimate goal. She would emerge victorious and challenge Titus for leadership of District One, and then she would unite the thirteen districts and lead the rebellion against Mount Weather. Of that, she was certain.

She released the breath she had been holding, momentary relief flooding through her as she met Anya’s approving eyes up on the platform and made her way towards her mentor. The ecstatic crowd chanted her name and clapped her on the back or brushed her shoulders as she climbed the stairs to stand beside Titus. Her nose was throbbing, but the pain was dulled by the rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins, and she barely registered it as Titus announced the second fight of the day in which a male Tribute would be crowned. However, the duel was over quicker than it had started as she watched Gustus obliterate his opponent, and then the anthem began to play, marking the immediate start of the Reaping Ceremony.

When the music finished and the cameras switched on, broadcasting them nationwide, Titus stepped up to the podium once more, Gustus and Lexa flanking him on both sides as he spoke to the hushed crowd. “There is no greater glory than to sacrifice oneself for the good of others,” he began, again trying to stir inspiration though Lexa could see anger instead of awe written on most faces in front of her.

“Earlier this day, we held a competition in which only the strongest and bravest were left standing. It is these two individuals beside me that are worthy of bearing the name of Tribute and representing District One in the 172nd annual Hunger Games. Lexa Woods and Gustus Greene, do you accept this honor?” he asked, feeling the eyes of all of Panem and the Capitol on them.

Lexa and Gustus held their chins high, their spines rigid, their hands folded behind their backs, and their posture commanding, just as they had been taught. Their voices echoed in unison as they each said, “I volunteer as Tribute.”

Chapter Text

Finn could feel the way his palms were sweating, hands shaking and stomach churning its meager contents as two Peacekeepers grabbed him by the elbows and whisked him towards a door at the back of the stage. He heard no applause, no fake noise of celebration, but also no protest; the people of District Thirteen had accepted his fate and that of the girl who was chosen with him. He glanced back over his shoulder one last time, surveying the gaunt and grim, downturned faces of the people he would probably never see again. Tributes from District Thirteen never came back alive. They hadn’t had a winner in over twenty years.

He swallowed heavily, allowing the guards to lead him through the door offstage and into a hallway. At the other end was another door that he knew would lead to an elevator, the elevator would then take him up to the surface where a train was waiting, the train would taxi him to the Capitol, and the Capitol would send him to his death. It was a bleak thought process, though his wallowing was interrupted when he spotted the blonde girl, Clarke, he recalled, being led through the opposite door. It didn’t sit right with him, he knew they were allowed five minutes to say goodbye to their families, but Clarke was being forced away without so much as a backwards glance. She seemed resigned to it as well, walking with her chin held high and her shoulders squared, as if she had somehow already known she would not be allowed a brief moment with her loved ones.

He recalled that her father, the Lead Engineer, had been found dead a few months back, his death ruled a homicide, though the murderer had never been caught. It was a crime that shook District Thirteen to the core, but he knew that Clarke’s mother was a surgeon, and she should have at least been able to see her before being taken away, possibly never to return. Still, he watched as the door slammed shut behind the blonde and she was gone. A moment later, the Peacekeepers led him into a nearby room and shoved him inside, shutting the door behind him.

He was alone. The walls around him were blank and white, making the entire room feel more like the prison cell he’d been locked in for the past year. No more than a few seconds passed, counting the beats of his own rapidly thrumming heart, when the door burst open again and a figure rushed inside, barreling into his chest. He breathed in the scent of Raven’s hair, wrapping his arms around her tightly as he let his eyes flutter shut. Although she was crying, he took a second to enjoy the moment, letting his body take her in and remember her; the way she felt in his arms, how he rested his chin atop her head, the feel of her favorite red jacket, and the smell of her honey and vanilla shampoo. It had been over a year since he’d experienced any of those sensations. Then, reality set in, and he realized that this would probably be the last time he would ever get to.

“This is my fault,” Raven croaked, her voice breaking behind a sob. “It should be me, not you!”

“Raven,” Finn whispered, his voice laced with the reverence he felt for the girl he’d loved his entire life. “I did it to save you. I’d do it again a thousand times over.”

She sobbed into his shoulder again and tightened her grip around his waist. “But who’s going to save you?” she questioned.

Finn felt his heart tearing apart inside of his chest, breaking at the weight of the guilt he knew she must’ve been feeling. “I’ll try to come home to you,” he said, trying to lend strength to his quivering voice. “If I become a Victor, they can never touch us again, Raven. We’ll be more than taken care of.”

“Finn, when is the last time anyone from District Thirteen won?” she asked, though it was rhetorical because they both knew it had been far too long.

“Maybe it’ll be me,” he supplied, mustering his courage. “Maybe I’ll find a way to make some strong allies, or maybe I can just stay hidden the whole time. I’m not totally defenseless.”

“You’ve never held a weapon in your life!” Raven snapped, heavy tears streaming down her tanned face.

Even through the tears and running makeup, he thought that she was beautiful, her lovely chestnut eyes rimmed red from crying, and her caramel colored hair pulled back tightly as it always was when she was working. He didn’t know how he had gotten so lucky as to have spent his entire seventeen years of existence with someone as amazing, beautiful, and smart as Raven Reyes. He leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to her trembling lips, feeling a slight bit of hope that perhaps the luck that had brought them together had not quite run out yet. He would find a way home to her.

“Have some faith, Ray,” he whispered, the affectionate name rolling off his tongue. He had missed her more than he could describe. “I saved you, didn’t I?”

“More than once,” she replied, leaning her forehead against his and closing her eyes, breathing in the narrow space between them.

“Maybe I can save myself too,” he suggested.

Raven opened her mouth to reply, something sarcastic and biting no doubt, but was interrupted as the door burst open once more and a Peacekeeper entered. Finn recognized the young guard as Bellamy Blake, and had several conversations with the man during his last year of imprisonment. Bellamy looked miserable now, his expression riddled with guilt and his jaw clenching behind obvious anger. Finn thought that just maybe Bellamy hated his job, and was as much a prisoner as the rest of them. But at least he wasn’t being sent to die.

“Finn,” Bellamy rasped. “It’s time.”

“No!” Raven sobbed, throwing her arms around his shoulders and latching on tightly as if she could keep him there if she protested enough.

He sighed and squeezed her tightly, knowing their time was at an end. “You have to let me go, Ray,” he whispered into her ear. “They’ll hurt you if you don’t.”

“No, please!” she said again, turning and pleading with Bellamy. “Please, just one more minute! Please!” she begged, desperation seeping into her voice.

Bellamy looked conflicted, glancing over his shoulder before letting out a heavy sigh and turning to Raven. “One minute,” he agreed, stepping into the hallway but leaving the door open.

Raven buried her head in Finn’s chest once more, sobbing heavily, and he could feel the warmth of her tears soaking through his shirt. “Finn,” she whispered, and he had to strain to hear her. “You have to stay alive.”

“I’ll do my best, Raven. You know I will,” he promised.

“No,” she hissed. “Listen to me. You have to stay alive. Bide your time. Hide if you have to. I will find a way to get you out of there,” she said, and his heart practically leapt up into his throat. “It’s my turn to save you.”

He pulled apart so he could look down into her brown eyes, the tears replaced with a steady look of resolve and determination. “Raven,” he cautioned. “What are you going to do?”

“Alright, time’s up,” Bellamy called, entering the room again. “I’m sorry, Finn.”

Finn gave him a nod of acknowledgement, but kept his gaze trained on the girl in front of him. “Please don’t do anything stupid,” he whispered. “I’m not worth the risk. Just let me do this on my own,” he begged.

“Stay alive,” she repeated, leaning up to press one last lingering kiss to his lips. “I love you.”

“Come on, Finn,” Bellamy said, taking him by his elbow and pulling him away from Raven.

“Raven!” Finn called over his shoulder as the Peacekeeper led him from the room. “Promise me you won’t do anything!” he yelled, not caring who could hear him. But, he was already halfway down the hallway, and if she had replied, he’d been too far away to hear it.

Bellamy led him through the doorway at the far end of the corridor and pressed a button to signal the lift to take them up to the surface. “This isn’t right,” he whispered, once the elevator doors slid shut behind them and they began their lurching ascent.

“Bellamy,” Finn said, allowing the urgency to fill his voice. “I know we’re not friends, but please, keep an eye on Raven.”

The young guard stared at him for a moment before offering a single nod. Understanding passed between them, two people that would sacrifice anything to protect the person they loved the most, and Finn knew that Bellamy would honor his word. He would look after Raven, though he owed Finn nothing. Bellamy may have been a Peacekeeper, but he wasn’t like the rest, abusing his position of power, no, Bellamy was a good man.

“Thank you,” Finn whispered just as the doors slid open.

He had never been to the surface before. Had never seen the sky or felt the breeze against his cheeks, and as he looked up into the vast, endless, blue above, he felt sadness crushing down on him. He had longed to see the ground his entire life, only having ever breathed stale, recycled air, and only knowing the harsh artificial light that illuminated the underground metropolis. The sun was soft and warm against his cheeks now, and there was no whirring of electricity or humming of metal pipes; it was peaceful here. He wished that Raven could see it, but then reminded himself that the only reason he was here was because he had sacrificed himself to save her. He would die up here, and suddenly the thought of being trapped in a cell beneath the ground didn’t seem so bad.

It was a short walk to the transportation hub, the outpost bustling with landing pads and hovercrafts that transported goods to and from the other districts and the Capitol. The only people with access to the hub were merchants, Peacekeepers, and members of the Council, such as Chancellor Jaha. Finn allowed himself to wonder what it would have been like to have been a merchant, like his father, free to roam the surface and travel to other districts. He would have enjoyed a life like that, but instead, he had forfeited his future. Even if he hadn’t been chosen in the Reaping, he had been a convicted criminal, destined to live a life of doing meaningless tasks like kitchen duty or sanitation. Now, he would probably be dead in two weeks.

His wallowing was put on hold for a moment as Bellamy led him to the train that was waiting to take them to the Capitol, sleek and silver on its tracks. He gave Bellamy a single nod, unsure of whether he should say goodbye or shake his hand, so instead he let the silence linger and climbed the steps into the passenger car. The compartment was lavish; all sleek leather couches, dark wood floors, and decadent chandeliers. There was a feast laid out on a table consisting of roasted pig, fried chicken, potatoes, salads, beans, chocolate cakes, pastries and several bottles of wine. It was more food than he had ever seen in his life, and if he wasn’t certain that he would be dead within a matter of days, he might have been excited.

He spotted Clarke on the far side of the room, perched in a leather chair with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands as she stared out a window. Her blue eyes were dry, and her jaw was set, and she appeared to be more angry than scared. He considered letting her be for a moment, she was the competition after all and only one could survive, but decided against it. She was probably just as scared as he was, even if her hardened expression didn’t show it, and maybe they could be allies long enough to eliminate some of the harder competition.

He sighed and plopped down in the chair next to her, but her eyes remained ahead, staring out the window as if she took no notice of him. “Not hungry, Princess?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood. “I bet you’re used to feasts like this with an engineer and a surgeon for parents.”

“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, voice laced with bitterness but he felt it was more towards the situation than him. “And my father is dead. I was a prisoner, just like you. So, no, I haven’t seen any feasts recently.”

He stared at her for a moment, considering what she could have done to wind up in prison station like him. She came from privilege, so what crime would she have ever been forced to commit? “So what did you do?” he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him despite the fact that he knew she was trying to ignore him. “To end up here?”

She sighed heavily, rolling her eyes and edging slightly away, putting more space between them. She was quiet for a long time after that, clearly in no mood to talk, and Finn was about to get up and leave her alone when she finally spoke up. “I didn’t do anything,” she said, voice small and defeated, though there was still defiance in her posture. “It’s not about something I did, it’s about what I know.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, confusion evident in his tone. If she had not committed a crime, then she wouldn’t be here, about to ride a train towards the most dangerous game she would ever play.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she grumbled, glancing away to stare out the window once more. “The secret they locked me up to keep will die along with me when I die in the Games.”

“What—

He began to question but was abruptly cut off by the sound of a sliding door. An older man entered, salt and pepper hair cropped just below his ears, mouth pressed into a grim line and framed by a short beard. His eyes surveyed the both of them, but they lacked warmth, and instead were calculating as if trying to solve a problem. Finn had seen this man on television many times before, spanning back longer than he could remember, and he recognized him immediately. This was Marcus Kane, the last Tribute from District Thirteen to ever win the Games over twenty years ago. He was their mentor now.

<-><-><-><->

After the Reaping Ceremony, Gustus and Lexa had gone willingly through the door at the back of the stage, ready to embrace their futures. It was what they had been trained to do, after all. He imagined what it must have been like in the other districts, for Tributes who were chosen at random, not because of the skill and expertise they possessed in combat. He felt sorry for them, knowing many would die by his hand, but he knew that it was a necessary evil. It was his duty to protect Lexa now, and ensure her victory.

They stood together in an empty room, awaiting Anya’s arrival. He knew that this time was meant for goodbyes between family and loved ones, but they would not waste these precious minutes so carelessly. He spared a glance at Lexa, nose crusted with the rust of dried blood, and felt a rush of admiration. He had always admired her, having grown up beside her, training in the same novitiate class, and overcoming the same grueling instruction. Lexa had always been the strongest and wisest of the novitiates at Polis Academy, her skill with a blade an equal match for her cunning, wisdom, and diplomatic prowess. She was meant to lead, born for it, and he knew that she would be the next Commander of District One. But in order for that to happen, she had to win the Games before she could challenge Titus for his role, which meant that he had to die.

If any other Tribute had been standing beside him, he would have been planning his own route to victory, glory, and honor. But this was Lexa, and her fate had been written long before, planned carefully, and measured expertly through the cautious whispers of those ready to stand and fight. For too long, District One had lived beneath the boot of Mount Weather, starving, freezing, suffering, and crying out for help. It would be Lexa who delivered them from that fate; he knew as much. If there was ever going to be a face of the rebellion, it would not be Katniss Everdeen or the Mockingjay, it would be Commander Lexa. And now he was charged with the task of ensuring it so.

“Steady, Gustus,” Lexa cooed, reading his emotions in the silence around them.

Sha, Heda,” he replied, addressing her with the formal title of Commander though she had not yet seized it.

A moment later, Anya whisked into the room in the dramatic fashion that was uniquely her. Her brown eyes were blazing with pride behind high cheekbones and she looked at them both with a mixture of hope and caution. “Well done. Both of you,” she said, nodding to each. “We’re one step closer now.”

“Anya, we don’t have much time,” Lexa said, voice laced with urgency. “We must look towards the future. What should our strategy be going in to the Games?”

Anya nodded. “Trust no one but each other,” she cautioned. “You are not there to make allies and friends, you’re there to win. Stay close to each other and eliminate the hardest competition first, while you still have the energy to fight them with skill. You don’t know how long you will have to survive in the arena or what the climate will be like, you must destroy the largest threats before you’re weakened by exhaustion or hunger. Stay together, always. Take turns keeping watch and sleep in shifts. Use the skills that Polis taught us, and you will survive,” she explained.

Gustus thought back to the Games that Anya had won two years prior, and knew that her strategy was proven. The arena had been on a deserted island with only one source of fresh drinking water: a small pond in the forest at the center of the island. Anya had known to find water first, but the other Tributes had not been trained to do so. She stored what she could in a canteen and several plastic bags she’d retrieved from the Cornucopia at the start. The male Tribute from District One had been killed in the initial fray, so her strategy changed from offense to defense. She hid with her water stores for the majority of the Games, watching from the trees as the watering hole became a blood bath as the Tributes were forced into the open to either collect water or die of dehydration. Eventually, the pond became so saturated with blood that the water became undrinkable, and those that hadn’t died already slowly wasted away. But not Anya. By the time she finally did run out of water, the rest of the competition was so weak that they could not even fight back. She hunted them down and killed them all, emerging victorious.

“Gustus,” Anya spoke directly to him, drawing him back in. “Gustus, do you understand the weight of your role?”

He nodded once. “I must protect Lexa with my life, and die for her when the time comes,” he acknowledged, finally saying the words aloud. Now that they were out in the open, this was real, and he would be dead in two week’s time. But it was for a cause worth dying for, and for that, he was proud.

“Only claim victory for District One if Lexa falls.” Anya sighed and held out her hand, clutching his wrist in a show of respect. “You are a brave man, Gustus Greene,” she whispered, and then turned to Lexa.

“Lexa,” she said, urgency filling her tone as their time together drew quickly towards its end. “Stay alive. You’re going to be the one to lead us all into a better future.”

“A future in which our children may thrive without the shadow of death looming over them. A future where we can live together, in peace, without the threat of war, and can grow without fear or hunger,” Lexa finished, her vision for the future swimming brightly in the emerald green of her eyes.

“Win the games,” Anya stated. “Unite the districts. Show them that you are a leader worth rallying behind, even if they don’t know you yet.”

Lexa nodded her understanding just as Titus entered the room, and their conversation swiftly ended, not wanting the older man to hear a word of their plans. He had been kept in the dark for this long, they needed him to stay there a little longer. “The train awaits,” he said.

Anya held out her hand to the girl that she believed would one day lead the nation to victory against the Capitol, clutching her wrist and staring at her with pride. “May we meet again,” she called.

“May we meet again,” Lexa returned, squaring her shoulders and following Titus out of the room without a backwards glance.

Before Gustus could follow, Anya placed a hand on his shoulder. “Your brother would be proud,” she said, and he knew instantly that he believed her. His older brother had been the male Tribute that died in the Games with her the year that she won. They had known each other well. “May we meet again someday, Gustus,” she added, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

“In this life or the next,” he said, accepting that his fate was not his own. Lexa was his fate now.

He exited out of the room and strode down the hallway, following Lexa and Titus out the back door and catching up to them on the path that led down to the transport hub. The dirt road cut through the trees, and he breathed in the afternoon air, smelling the scent of pines from the forest and listening to the birds call back and forth to each other. They did not speak as they walked, and he was fine with it, enjoying the silence and the sounds of nature, relieved that where they came from, they did not see the need to fill silence with useless words. Instead, he enjoyed the warmth of the sun on his face and let his gaze linger on the woman that he was destined to die for.

Lexa carried herself with confidence and grace, and had always had the look of leadership about her. Her wild brown hair was knotted in intricate braids down her back, and her shoulders were squared, high beneath her armor as her green eyes surveyed the forest around them. She was wise beyond her years, compassionate when compassion was required, and strong enough to bring the nation to its knees. It would be an honor to protect her, guard her with his life, and honestly, he had always known his path would lead him here should he ever win his Conclave and stand beside her as Tribute. There was no greater death than to die fighting so that others may one day truly live.

They came to the train station in the transport hub and said their farewells to Titus as they climbed up into the passenger carriage. The ride to Mount Weather from District One would be brief, and they would have little time to do more than enjoy a meal. At the table, surrounded by a feast of foods he had never seen before, sat a woman he recognized well. Her face was framed in thick scars, a shade lighter than the deep brown of her skin, and she sported the tattoos that marked her as one of their own. Her black hair was cropped short, and she glared at them through hardened brown eyes, her expression emotionless.

She stood and greeted them both soundlessly, gripping each of their wrists before returning to her spot at the table. “Has he been filled in?” Indra asked, directing her question towards Lexa.

Lexa nodded as she pulled out a chair at the head of the table and sank down into it regally. “Anya saw to it,” she said. Gustus was lost to confusion for a moment, but of course Indra would be privy to their plans, she was a Victor and their new mentor, after all.

“So you know that it is Lexa who must return alive?” she questioned, addressing him now.

Sha,” he answered without hesitation. “I will do my part.”

Indra stared at him for a long moment, brown eyes scrutinizing as if looking for any fault in his resolve or any dishonesty in his words. After a moment, she seemed to be satisfied because she nodded once in a show of respect. “Very well then,” she said. “Let the Games begin.”

<-><-><-><->

Octavia stared at the ceiling mindlessly, really, what else was there to do locked away in a cell? She had been confined to the tiny quarters for the majority of her existence, accepting a few meals a day from a guard as her only contact with another person and only allowed to wander out to the common room for one hour a week. One would think that she had committed a crime so atrocious that she deserved to be treated like an animal in a zoo, but no. Octavia’s only crime was that she had been born.

In District Thirteen, far below the ground with meager supplies and barely enough rations to go around, parents were restricted to having only one child. Seeing as Octavia had an older brother, her birth had been a death sentence for her mother. They had kept her hidden beneath the floorboards of their tiny one-bedroom apartment for as long as they could, but it was only a matter of time before the Peacekeepers found her. At first, it hadn’t been so bad. She finally had a room of her own and two full meals a day, but it had been five years now, and she had long since grown tired of the blank white walls and blinding overhead light.

She spent every day alone with nothing but her thoughts to occupy her. The knowledge that she had gotten her mother killed; the thoughts that her mere existence was an affront to the law; that she should have never been born in the first place. It was enough to drive anyone crazy, but she was determined not to let the circumstances of her birth break her. She was stronger than that. And, at least she had Bellamy.

Her big brother had managed to get a position as a Peacekeeper, and a few times a week, he was the one to bring her evening meals. He would talk to her for the brief moments they had together and remind her that all of it was only temporary, but it was easier said when he was the one living on the outside of the cell. She didn’t fault him though. She couldn’t. He had taken a job that he hated, living miserably day in and day out, all to keep an eye on her and keep her safe. She thought that if she ever did make it out of there, he would probably quit right on the spot.

She knew that the fastest way out of that cell would have been to have her name called in the Reaping Ceremony. Wouldn’t that have been something? Sentenced to death for simply existing. But even she couldn’t get that lucky. Some other girl’s name had been called.

She thought about the Reaping and how peculiar it had been this year. Most people would have thought nothing of it, but she paid close attention to the Games each year. In fact, she enjoyed them; it was the only time they were allowed out of their cells for more than one hour at a time to watch the federally mandated slaughter. They gave her something to think about when she spent her days alone, and she couldn’t help but notice how odd the female Tribute’s behavior had been compared to others over the years.

All of the prisoners knew about Clarke Griffin: the girl who had been confined to solitary for the past few months because the crime she committed was so terrible that she wasn’t allowed to be with the rest of the prison population. Rumors started of course, and people speculated about what she could have done. Some thought she’d been stealing from medical, her mother was a surgeon after all, and others thought that she had been the one responsible for her father’s death, murdered in cold blood. But there was no evidence surrounding these rumors and Octavia put little stock in any of them. She knew many of the residents in prison station, and many of them were murderers and thieves themselves, yet none of them were confined to solitary.

It was peculiar, however, that Clarke seemed to have known that her name would be called in the Reaping. She had moved through the crowd and was practically up and across the stage before Jaha could even pull the white slip out of the bowl. They’d had a conversation, but of course the Chancellor had shut the mic off, so the only people who could hear it were those on stage. The citizens accepted it without question though, simply relieved that it was not their own child being sent to die. But Octavia wasn’t ready to let it go that easily.

The sound of metal rapping against metal interrupted her thoughts, and she stood up as the door to her cell swung open. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that it was her brother who entered, carrying a tray full of food. He smiled as he set it down on her bed and opened his arms to her for a tight hug. He was warm and solid, and she closed her eyes as she reveled in the contact with another. It had been almost a week since the last time he visited her, and she had been growing restless.

“How you doin, O?” he asked, brushing a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear.

“I’m going crazy, Bellamy, same as usual,” she retorted, not intending her voice to sound as sharp as it did. She knew it wasn’t his fault.

“I know,” he replied, sorrow swimming in his brown eyes. “One more month until your eighteenth birthday. Then you’ll be free to live a normal life.”

“Normal?” she questioned. “What about my life can ever be normal, Bellamy? I’ll always be The-Girl-They-Hid-Beneath-The-Floor.”

He sighed and placed both hands on her shoulders, looking down into the forest green of her eyes. “You’re more than that,” he said. “You know you are.”

“You’re right,” she snarked. “Now I’m Prisoner-Number-One-Seventeen,” she added, rattling off her cell number.

Bellamy looked at her for a long moment before letting his hands fall away. “I should go,” he murmured. “It’s been a long day.”

“No!” she shot quickly, stopping him. “I’m sorry, I just have some stuff on my mind.”

“Oh?” he asked, curiosity peeked. “Like what?”

Octavia hesitated a moment, unsure whether to lend voice to her thoughts. “The Reaping Ceremony,” she admitted.

“Why?” he asked. “Your name didn’t get called, and you’ll be eighteen before the next Games. You’re safe, O.”

“Yeah, but didn’t it seem weird to you that that Clarke girl seemed to know her name would be called?” she questioned.

Her brother’s eyes hardened and she watched his posture go slightly rigid. “She didn’t know,” he stated as if it was a fact.

“Please, Bell, she was practically on stage when Jaha read her name,” Octavia replied, sensing his discomfort. “She’s been locked away in solitary confinement for months now, nobody knows what she actually did to end up here, and then her name gets called? Either she committed a crime so awful that they rigged the Reaping as a death sentence, or they’re trying to shut her up. I think it’s the latter.”

“Octavia,” Bellamy warned. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Just forget about it.”

“Well then tell me what her crime was,” she countered. “You’re a Peacekeeper, you should know.”

“Well, I don’t know,” he snapped. “They classified her case. Only Jaha and the Council have access to it, but officially, she’s been charged with treason. I don’t know the details, those are above my pay grade.”

Octavia felt as if she was on to something, tugging at a few loose ends and hoping the entire mystery would unravel. “Come on, Bell,” she prodded. “Think about it. It’s too suspicious. That girl knows something, and they’re willing to kill her to keep it quiet.”

“And if they’re willing to kill her, they’d be willing to kill you too!” he argued, struggling to keep his voice down. “Just forget about the whole thing, O. You’ve got one month until you’re free,” he said, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be back when I can,” he promised, turning to leave.

He was already in the hallway and closing the cell behind himself when he called, “Let it go, Octavia.” And then he was gone.

But she had no intention of letting it go.

<-><-><-><->

Anya sighed, trying to silence the thoughts dancing around in her head and keeping her awake. It was late, and the night was dark and still, but sleep had not yet found her. She was too worried about Lexa, wondering if their plan was actually good enough to succeed. They had a long road ahead of them, and every turning point on it would lead to new dangers, but no one was in greater peril than the girl she regarded as a sister. For all Lexa’s bravery and wisdom, she was still young, and Anya worried if she’d asked too much of her. Of course Lexa would never admit it if she had, intent to carry the weight of the world and the responsibility of their people.

She had always been that way. Lexa and Anya had found each other many years before; their parents had been taken by Mount Weather, and they had known they would never see them again. They learned to depend on each other instead, and eventually made their way to Polis Academy, committing their lives to training for the Games. What the world didn’t know was that they had made a vow to each other to take the knowledge and skills they learned and use them to bring down the Capitol. They had been planning this for years, working out the details, training, making the right allies and putting their faith in the right people. They had earned the support of the former Victors and the other novitiates, and now it was up to Lexa to earn the support of the nation.

But Anya’s role was not yet finished. While Lexa was in the Games, showcasing her talent and wisdom for the world to see and earning the right to challenge Titus for his title of Commander, it was Anya’s duty to start searching for allies in other districts. She knew she could start with the other Victors and try to get a sense for where the other districts were at in regards to the Capitol and where their loyalties lie. If she sensed enough support, she could arrange meetings and work on garnering trust so that when Lexa returned, she could call a summit. But first, she needed access to Titus’s office and the communication hub he possessed.

She let out another heavy sigh, deciding it was better to get it over with now than to wait, and threw the blankets off her legs, climbing out of bed. She slipped into some clothes and crept from her room, sticking close to the walls and blending silently into the shadows as she trekked across the tower. Titus’s office was located on the top floor, and she had to avoid several Peacekeepers as she made her way there. She was certain none of them would question seeing a former Victor wandering the halls at night, but she wasn’t sure which guards were on Titus’s payroll, and decided that it was better to be cautious.

She reached his office door, her hand closing around the handle when voices from inside had her stopping in her tracks. At first, she thought it was footage of the Arrival Banquet that had aired a few hours earlier, but the voices were too loud to be a recording. The male voice was Titus, deep and easily recognizable as he fumbled about his words, but the second voice was harder to place. It was slightly mechanical, clearly coming from the communication hub rather than actually being there in person, and it was a woman. Anya listened a moment longer, certain she had heard that voice before, but it couldn’t possibly be…

“Do we have a deal, Nia?” she heard Titus ask, and felt her heart skip a beat as her suspicions were confirmed.

Nia Queen was the victor from District Two that had killed Costia in order to win the Games three years before. She quickly rose to power after the Victory Tour concluded, far too quickly to have done without help from the Capitol, and now sat in control of the Ice Nation. She had been ruthless on screen, taking pleasure in killing the other Tributes and not hesitating to cut down the male Tribute from her own district, stabbing him in the back with his own blade. She had smiled when she cut off Costia’s head, ending the Games. Anya had thought that Costia would win, she was strong, she had food, water, and shelter, and she was a fierce warrior. But she had grown violently ill seemingly overnight, and Nia had stumbled across her in her weakened state and ended her life. The woman was brutal, and Anya also knew that she was loyal to President Wallace the way a dog was loyal to the hand that feeds it.

She pressed her ear to the door to listen for more. “How can I trust you, Titus?” she heard Nia question.

“I helped you win the Games,” Titus argued. “I ensured your victory by weakening my own Tribute.”

Anya’s heart jumped again, and she felt anger seer through her veins and burn hot behind her eyes. “Why?” the Ice Queen questioned.

“So that we may forge this alliance!” Titus retorted, his voice sharp. “District One and District Two have been bitter enemies for over a hundred years. Let’s put it behind us and ensure that our Tributes are the ones that reach the end of the games from this point forward. A Victor from one of our districts will be crowned each year with this alliance; no one will be able to stop that. And we will continue to earn Wallace’s favor by ensuring the other districts never gain the strength to rise up.”

Anya was shocked, and she had to clasp a hand over her mouth to keep from shouting. She didn’t know what Titus had done, perhaps poisoned Costia so that Nia could win, but he was brokering a deal with the devil. He was so obsessed with his desire to win and bring victory to their people that he was willing to sacrifice an innocent life. He was a fool. District One rarely ever had a Tribute fall before the final four, and hailed a winner more often than not. The alliance was dangerous and unnecessary, and more than that, he was openly plotting against the districts to help the Capitol.

“Very well,” she heard Nia agree on the other side of the door. “You will have your alliance until the point in which allegiances are no longer useful. I will contact my Tributes and see it done.”

She wasn’t sure whether the call ended or not, but she no longer heard talking, and had to scramble back behind another door when she heard Titus approaching. She watched in disgust as he left his office and locked the door, struggling to stay hidden when every fiber of her being was screaming at her to kill the man. He had been the reason Lexa’s former lover, Anya’s friend, had been killed. And now he was brokering an alliance with their most hated enemies. Titus was foolish to think that alliances meant anything to Nia or District Two. Which in turn meant that not only was Lexa entering an arena with twenty-four other people that wanted to kill her; she was probably also walking into a trap.

Chapter Text

The ride to the Capitol took several hours, and Clarke had hardly moved from her spot in the plush leather chair, staring out the window mindlessly as the countryside flew by. She could see the subtle changes when they passed through one district and on to the next, marked by differences in the landscape and the few people she could see watching as the train passed by. She had seen videos and photos of the ground many times, but it was different seeing it for herself, and if she weren’t convinced of the fact that she was being carted to her death, she would have liked to stop and paint for a while. As they rode on, something else became apparent: the districts were suffering.

District Twelve had hardly made a recovery from when the Capitol had bombed it 97 years before, but the metropolis required coal, therefore people had been relocated to take up the duties left behind by those who were killed in the blasts. In District Eight, or so she thought, they sped through a low-lying valley, the people there hauling crops of corn and wheat, yet they looked starving. In District Six, the masters of horses road about their vast plains, but as she stared, she could see that the livestock were weak, many were lying decomposing on the ground, and she wasn’t sure if it was hunger or disease that had taken them. She watched as cliffs and boulders shot by, gazed in awe as they traveled alongside the ocean, and glanced up in wonder as the train made its way through thick forests and dense trees.

She listened to Kane and Finn, huddled around the table and talking strategy as they munched on the food in front of them. Every strategy was designed to play to one’s strengths and avoid one’s weaknesses, so they had started there, searching for things that Finn may use to his advantage. On several occasions, the men looked up, asking Clarke if she would like to join them, and every time she replied no. She didn’t intend to come off cold or untrusting, but the truth was: it didn’t matter what strategy she went into the Games with. If Jaha and President Wallace wanted her dead, then she would be.

She recalled Jaha’s threat, inferring that if she dared to reveal what she knew, they would kill her mother. It made her blood run cold and hot at the same time, fear and anger clashing in a raging battle. In the end, it wasn’t fear nor anger that won out, but rather indignation. She resigned herself to the fact that she would die, but that didn’t mean she had to give them the show they wanted. She would not be another pawn in a Game that had been played for 172 years.

Sighing heavily, she watched as the place where the Capitol once stood appeared over the horizon. The high-rise buildings were war torn and crumbling, long since abandoned after the rebellion that Katniss Everdeen had failed to win. The Districts may not have overthrown the Capitol, but that’s not to say that they hadn’t done their fair share of damage to weaken them. In fact, the Capitol city of Panem was so ravaged after the war that the government and its citizens had no choice but to relocate. However, it was their relocation that basically ensured they would never be challenged again. They had chosen to take over the mountain that had once been called “The Nut”, hollowing out billions of tons of rock so that they could construct their fortress within, shielding them from attack and protecting them from the elements. This new city was then renamed Mount Weather when the first President Wallace came into power after the death of President Snow.

Clarke saw the lumbering mountain peek into view amidst a forest of green trees, and no more than a few minutes later, they were disappearing inside a tunnel, delving deep into the center of the earth. The deeper they went, the darker it got, until suddenly they were shooting out into blinding artificial light as the train started screeching to a halt. Once Clarke’s eyes adjusted, she gazed out the window, staring up at enormous high-rise buildings and glowing billboards, the cavern ceiling so high above that she could not even see it and she figured they must have been a mile below the surface. Her view was cut off as they came to a stop in a train station, but outside she could hear the sounds of cheering crowds.

She stood from the comfort of her chair and followed Marcus and Finn to the door where they were met by a force of Peacekeepers clad in their white armor as they formed up around them and led them from the train station. Out in the open, Clarke stared up in wonder, craning her neck to see the tops of buildings and looking further beyond to try and find the top of the cavern that was not in sight. Paved streets and sidewalks wove between the different buildings, and crowds were gathered around as far as she could see, straining to catch a glimpse of the Tributes as they emerged from the train. Across the street stood the one of the largest buildings within the underground metropolis, the windows made of glass, marble staircases leading to the front doors, and a red carpet sprawling down from the entrance and across the street to where they stood. Bright white letters across the top of the building read: Tribute Center.

The Peacekeepers started huddling them towards the building, the red carpet roped off by chains and a line of even more Peacekeepers on each side to keep the cheering crowd at bay. It wasn’t just spectators that gathered to witness the arrival of the Tributes, but reporters as well, calling Clarke’s name and begging for an interview. She had no interest in talking, but let her eyes wander over the crowd, and then again to the city around them. She knew from what her father had said that the city got its power from a large dam and an even larger nuclear generator, and drew in air through a ventilation system. She glanced around now, spying cameras looming on every street sign, the sides of every building, and hanging down from the lampposts. She also noticed the overwhelming force of guards that were present, standing at attention with guns slung across their backs on every street corner.

Mount Weather was well guarded, there was no doubt about that. The cameras allowed them to monitor every action of every person, every minute of the day. The Peacekeeper army appeared to be well-trained and swelling to an excess of numbers. They could not be touched by bombs or affected by wind and rain or erosion, and there was no way to sneak into the city unnoticed. From all points of view, the Capitol appeared to be impregnable and invincible. All points of view, except Clarke, who let thoughts of vengeance fill her head as she remembered the fatal flaw in the Mount Weather defense system that her father had discovered.

The people that shouted her name and called for her attention were pale, having never seen the sunlight, and it reminded Clarke of how the people back in District Thirteen looked. The only difference was: the citizens of the Capitol chose to live this way, but the members of District Thirteen were forced to. Strange scents filled the air of foods and goods Clarke had never even fathomed, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to try them or turn her nose up at them. Her people were starving, living on meager rations and two small meals a day, but the people of Mount Weather were gluttonous, and the contrast made her insides twist in revolt. Cameras flashed and the big screens hanging high above the city projected her face as she gazed around wide-eyed, stumbling her way across the street towards the Tribute Center.

For all the death and damage the last rebellion had caused, these people had learned nothing. They still made a spectacle out of scared children being killed for sport, and still exploited the Districts to the point of poverty while they sat fat and safe beneath their fortress walls. Clarke felt her chest tighten and her heart begin to beat erratically, a wave of anxiety flushing through her and making her gasp for air. She was relieved when Kane ushered her up the Tribute Center stairs and through the doors, shielding her from the eyes of the people who chanted her name now, but would be celebrating her death in little more than a week.

<-><-><-><->

The ride from District One to the Capitol was short and quiet, silent understanding passing between the Tributes and their mentor as they shared a meal together. There was no reason to talk strategy, no further plans to make; every detail had already been carefully thought out and planned far in advance, and now all that was left to do was ensure that they succeeded. She knew she should have felt some sort of sorrow for Gustus, but when she glanced at him through thoughtful green eyes, she felt only pride. He had volunteered for his role, and she knew that he would uphold his duties with the highest regard and honor. As for Indra, Lexa had known her for years, and trusted that she would do all that she could as their mentor to ensure her victory.

Their train disappeared into the depths of Mount Weather, and Lexa had to fight to push back the foreboding feeling that was lingering in the back of her mind. This unnatural place was the home of the people that had taken her parents from her and thrust her own people into submission, no better than indentured slaves. She would see it razed to the ground at the feet of her united army, or she would die trying. She didn’t try to hide the look of disgust on her face when the artificial light brought the city into view as the train pulled into the station.

“Control your emotions, Alexandria,” Indra warned, reading the sour expression on her face.

Lexa nodded and stood, the other two quickly following. “Stay close to me and speak to no one,” Lexa commanded, knowing her words would be obeyed without question.

Outside, she could make out the sounds of the roaring crowd, waiting for the Career Tributes to make their appearance, as they were always the Capitol favorites. She thought them foolish and fickle-minded, and she would not afford them the distraction. Even as the Peacekeepers opened the door and formed a barrier around them as they guided them towards the Tribute Center, Lexa kept her eyes trained forward. She was not interested in the cameras or the people shouting her name, and she had no desire to take in the city and its streets. She was here to win.

Without a word, Gustus and Indra huddled closer to her, almost entirely shielding her from view and adding an extra layer of protection on top of the barrier that the Peacekeepers had already formed. She kept her face impassive, unwilling to show any hint of emotion at all as she held her shoulders up and her chin high, making her presence as commanding as possible. She wasn’t there to put on a show, she was there to earn the respect of the districts and to prove that she would be the one to lead the next rebellion and lead the people to freedom. It was imperative that she remained stoic, strong, and mysterious, and she focused on her training as reporters shouted her name and shouted questions at her.

They had almost made it through the Tribute Center doors when one reporter’s question finally grabbed her attention, and she knew that she could use it to make an impression. “Lexa!” the man called, frantically, waving at her from behind the barrier. “Lexa, people are already saying that you are a shoe-in for Victor this year. There are reports that you’re one of the most talented Career Tributes to ever enter the Games. What do you have to say to these rumors?”

She stopped, and Gustus and Indra stopped with her, flanking her closely as she approached the man. Her expression was empty and her voice was strong, cold, and calculating as she replied, “We are what we are.” And then she spun on her heel and disappeared into the Tribute Center.

Chapter Text

Each floor of the Tribute Center Tower was dedicated to individual districts, their Tributes, and the staff attending to them. That was how Kane found himself on the thirteenth floor of the tower for the twenty-first year in a row, once again mentoring kids that were likely about to die. It took a toll on him, one that he would never wish upon his worst enemies, to grow close with the Tributes each year, to guide them and protect them, and then to watch them be slaughtered. A lesser man would have turned to drink and drugs years before, but Marcus possessed a stronger willpower than that. Yet, he felt the same gut-wrenching heartbreak each and every year that crippled his ability to grow close to anyone, even on the outside of the Games, and so he chose to be alone.

He sat with his crop of Tributes for this year’s Games, watching the arrival of the other Tributes on a wall-length TV. He had discussed at length with Finn, a young man with more bravery than intellect, his strengths and weaknesses as they rode the train to the Capitol. Finn had courage, Kane couldn’t deny that, but it was evident that he’d rather solve issues through negotiation than by force, and that would not serve him well in a competition designed to pit people against each other. He may be able to make a few allies through his charm and diplomatic abilities, but eventually allies would become enemies, and then he would have nothing.

Clarke, on the other hand, had been distant and sullen. He had heard about her, of course, accused of treason by Jaha himself, and for some reason he hadn’t been surprised when her name had been called in the Reaping. He, like the rest of his district, wondered what it was that she could have done. Marcus had known her father Jake, he was a good man, loyal and brilliant, and her mother was a surgeon, so what could have driven Clarke to commit any act of treason or measure of crime? The circumstances were curious, made more mysterious still by the blonde girl’s silence and apparent acceptance of her approaching untimely death. He wanted to say something to her, to instill a sense of hope and renew the fight within her, but who was he kidding? He couldn’t even do that for himself. Still, it was his duty to mentor her, and he would do his best to uphold his responsibility.

They watched on screen as the District Two, the Ice Nation as it was commonly known, Tributes filed out of the train and onto the red carpet, surrounded by peacekeepers. He recognized the male Tribute immediately, his build that of a warrior, looking regal and dangerous beneath a mane of brown hair. He was strong, chest solid and arms toned, and his brown eyes scanned over the crowds while he offered a dashing smile and a few flirtatious winks at various women that had them swooning. The female Tribute that stood at his side appeared almost wild as her eyes dashed over the crowds as if plotting how to murder each and every one of them. She wore a wicked grin and a heavy gray overcoat that flowed to the floor behind her, her black hair braided in strands down her back.

“Who are they?” Finn asked, a hint of fear laced in his voice.

“The Tributes from District Two,” Kane answers. “Roan Queen, brother to last year’s Victor, Nia Queen. And Ontari Natblood; she’s rumored to have murdered all the other female Tribute prospects in her class just to compete in the Games this year,” he elaborated, though he realized that he probably could have done without sharing that last bit of information with them.

Clarke and Finn were silent, captivated as the District Two Tributes disappeared into the tower, and the footage flicked over to the District One Tributes as they arrived. They emerged at the same time, standing close together, united, but also in such a way that it appeared they were forming a protective stance around the female Tribute. He knew the boy’s name, Gustus Greene, but no more than that, and staring at him now, he could see that he was a mountain of a man. He towered over his mentor, Indra, and the rest of the Peacekeepers around them, and it looked as if he could cleave a man’s head off with a single blow. His blue eyes were focused and trained forward, scanning the crowds around them as if searching for danger, and framed by waves of black hair and a thick black beard. If he wasn’t positive that Gustus was seventeen, he could have easily mistaken him for a man twice that age.

Tucked behind Gustus and their mentor was the girl that Kane had been waiting to see for several years now: Lexa Woods. As a mentor in the games, sharing the same building and the same dining halls with the other mentors year after year, he had heard rumor of Alexandria Woods many times before. She was supposedly the most skilled fighter ever produced by District One, and on top of that, she was wise beyond her years, destined for political greatness and supposedly the person who would take over command of District One after Titus, if she survived the Games.

Looking at her now, she held herself regally; chin high, spine rigid, green eyes staring forward as if the surrounding crowds were not even worth her attention. Her hands were folded behind her back and she wore a thick, fur-lined overcoat that flowed below her knees where her skintight pants disappeared into leather boots. Her brown hair flowed down her shoulders, wild and unruly, framing her sharp jawline, and he couldn’t help but see her appeal and the reason for the hype surrounding her; she looked like some sort of queen, awaiting her rule, ready to come into power and change the world.

The young brunette came to a stop halfway up the steps to the Tribute Center, a reporter’s question apparently catching her interest. . “Lexa, people are already saying that you’re a shoe-in for Victor this year. There are reports that you’re one of the most talented Career Tributes to ever enter the Games. What do you have to say to these rumors?” the man asked.

Lexa was solemn and cold as she answered, her voice strong and commanding attention as if she was destined to stand in the spotlight. “We are what we are,” she said, before dramatically whisking away.

He saw Clarke sit slightly towards the edge of her seat. “Who is she?” the blonde questioned.

“Alexandria Woods,” Kane replied. “Perhaps your greatest competition.”

“Why?” Clarke questioned again.

Kane sighed heavily, deciding that truth was the best way to prepare them. “The Tributes from District One and District Two are what are called ‘Careers’,” he started. “They spend their entire lives training in special facilities up until the time they turn seventeen, and then they volunteer as Tribute for their districts. It is considered a great honor to fight and die in the Games for them, all for the chance to bring extra food, wealth, and glory to their people. They are raised knowing that there is a very likely probability that they will be killed before they turn eighteen, but they embrace their fates willingly. Lexa, Gustus, Ontari, and Roan are trained killers. Lexa especially,” he adds, directing his words towards Clarke now. “The rumors about her are not fabricated. She’s supposed to be the best.”

“So, what you’re saying is they will kill us as soon as look at us,” the blonde replied, again eyeing Lexa on the screen.

“Yes,” he answered. He had seen many of his Tributes fall victim to the Careers over the years. “If you want to survive, your best chance of doing so is to take out the Careers first. If you let them get a foothold in the arena, you won’t live to see the end.”

Finn cleared his throat, mind turning with possibilities. “Can we ally with them?” he asked.

Marcus stared at him grimly. “They don’t take allies. Especially not with districts that have not been trained to fight.”

“So, we have to kill them first,” Clarke chimed in, new resolve set in her voice as if her life had been given purpose, and it was a stark contrast to the girl Marcus had seen on the train. “Or perhaps we can outmaneuver them, maybe negotiate a truce rather than an alliance…” she suggested, a hint of detest in her voice. He didn’t blame her, the thought of teens training their entire lives just to murder other children was quite despicable.

“If strategy is how you want to play it, Clarke, you’ll have your chance,” he said. “You’ll be meeting all the other Tributes tonight. At the Arrival Banquet.”

<-><-><-><->

Indra despised the Games more than anything. It wasn’t watching her Tributes die that angered her most; dying is what they had trained their entire lives to do. It was the fact that no matter how hard they worked, how many years in a row they won, or how many Victors they produced, their people still suffered. Although better off than most districts, her people at home were starving, overworked, and barely surviving day to day, yet nothing ever changed. Even the extra rations their district was provided when they hailed the winning Tribute seemed to be growing smaller each year, as if the Capitol intentionally shorted them to ensure they did not grow too strong.

But, this year, that would change; because this year, they had Lexa. Her fate had been written since she was a child, no more than eight years of age and arriving at Polis Academy for the first time to begin her training. She had been chosen by the previous Victors, all except Titus, who was still oblivious to their plot, and too focused on winning to see the coup taking place right beneath his nose. But Lexa had been groomed to be Commander; trained in the art of war, the subtleties of leadership, the strategies of planning, and the ability to inspire a following. She was the strongest and wisest novitiate to ever come out of Polis, yet she had been many of those things before she had even completed her training. She had been chosen by the Victors of District One to one day lead their people into a new rebellion. And now her time had come.

Indra was proud of the part she had played in Lexa’s selection and training, but her role was not yet done. Now, it was her duty to get Lexa home safely to District One, and she would do anything to ensure it. She wouldn’t even have allowed Lexa to compete if not for the nearly two-century old tradition of District One that demanded any Commander that rose to power must be a Victor, forged in the crucible of the Games. It was because of that tradition that they had to put their future at risk; if Lexa were to be killed in the Games, it would take another decade before they could prepare another leader for the role of Commander. It would be another decade of suffering for their people, and Indra would die before she let that happen.

As for Gustus, the young man who had so bravely fought and volunteered for his position beside Lexa, well there was nothing she could do for him; his death would be a good one, a selfless one. And looking at him now, he seemed to have made peace with that. He sat intently, watching the arrival footage of the other districts, blue eyes calculating as he mindlessly twirled a strand of hair from his beard. Lexa sat beside him, studying the other Tributes just as intently, searching for any standouts or obvious strengths and weaknesses. They would make a good team in the Games, provided they both survived through the initial onslaught of the Cornucopia.

“Those are the Career Tributes from District Two,” Indra pointed out, seeing them emerge from the train. District Two had a similar Tribute training academy that District One possessed, and Ice Nation was often their greatest competition, producing skilled warriors each year themselves, though District One often emerged victorious. The year Costia had been killed had been one of the most brutal Games in over a century, and Indra could see Lexa’s spine stiffen as the male Tribute winked and waved at the crowd, a striking image of his older sister. “Roan Queen,” Indra stated. “Brother to Nia. And the woman is Ontari Natblood. She is as ruthless as the ruler she serves.”

“Nia,” Lexa growled beneath her breath, hatred radiating off of her in waves at the mention of the woman who had killed her lover three years prior.

Indra had her suspicions about Costia’s death, and had a distinct hunch that Titus had orchestrated the entire thing to ensure Nia’s victory in the Games, but she had no proof. She assumed he had made a deal with the Ice Nation to secure an alliance both within and outside the Games that would strengthen both districts; or at least that was probably what he had been thinking. As far as she knew, she was the only person with suspicions about Titus and the possible poison he had slipped into a meal he’d provided for Costia via the parachutes sent by sponsor donations; it was the only logical explanation for the girl’s sudden illness. She had wanted to tell Lexa and the rest of the Victors, but had chosen to remain silent until she could come up with some semblance of proof.

“Titus wishes us to seek an alliance with them this year,” she informed and watched as both sets of blue and forest green eyes simultaneously snapped towards her.

Lexa was already fuming, rising to her feet in defiance. “I will not align with the district that has stood as our greatest threat for nearly two centuries,” she seethed through gritted teeth. “I understand separating feelings from duty, but we would be foolish to trust them.”

“I am in agreement,” Indra stated. “Titus is blinded by his desire to win, and therefore cannot be objective in his orders. We should stick to our initial plan and eliminate them first. You will have little resistance with the rest once they are gone.”

Lexa nodded once, and then returned her attention to the screen to continue studying the remaining competitors. The District Thirteen Tributes were arriving, and when they emerged onto the red carpet, she saw the way Lexa’s eyes narrowed. There was a boy, probably seventeen by the look of the stubble dotting his chin, and he gazed around wide-eyed and awestruck by the Capitol city around them, overwhelmed by the people cheering and calling his name. From the look of him, he seemed to be an average boy, no stronger or meatier than the rest, and she assumed he had probably never laid hands on a weapon in his life. District Thirteen, as she knew, was strictly governed, and only those which served in the guard or Peacekeeper force were allowed combat training. The boy would be an easy target.

It was the female Tribute from District Thirteen that stood out from the rest. The blonde girl wasn’t marveling at the city around them like witnessing a miracle for the first time, but was instead surveying her surroundings as if searching for weaknesses, the way a warrior would, and paying no attention to the wild crowds at all. She carried herself with confidence and dignity, and a slight hint of defiance, as if she came from a family of power or great wealth. She didn’t appear to be scared or excited like the other Tributes they had seen, but rather indifferent and almost angry. She charged down the red carpet with her crew in tow, the male Tribute rushing to keep up, and disappeared into the Tribute Center as Marcus Kane, the District Thirteen Mentor, huddled her through the door.

“Indra, how does District Thirteen select their Tributes?” Lexa asked, turning her gaze on her mentor after the blonde girl had vanished.

“In District Thirteen, anyone under the age of eighteen that commits a crime is separated from the rest of society and held in prison until they come of age,” she explained, having known Marcus Kane for several years now and speaking with him about it several times before. “Up until that time, the delinquents that are imprisoned are subject to the Reaping, and their names go into a lottery each year.” For a district that did not allow weapons training, at least they had the chance to select a violence-prone teen for Tribute, or maybe even one that had killed before.

Lexa nodded her understanding but was not yet satisfied. “What crime did she commit?” she questioned, motioning towards where the blonde had vanished.

“The girl is Clarke Griffin,” Indra replied, having watched the Reaping Ceremony several times already. “She is accused of treason against the Capitol.”

“Treason?” Lexa’s normally impassive expression flashed to one of shock for a moment. “What did she do?”

“Nobody knows,” Indra answered, having heard the same rumors as the other Mentors. “But, you can ask her yourself tonight at the Arrival Banquet.”

<-><-><-><->

Raven was never one to be humble about her intelligence. In fact, it was her sheer genius that had served to put her in a position to be Head Engineer one day. She was already the youngest engineer to ever be placed on active duty, and she had easily earned the respect of her colleagues with little more than minimal effort. She was living her dream; the dream she’d had since she was a child, but that dream meant nothing without Finn.

He had always been the Boy Next Door. He was kind and gentle, and sometimes too headstrong for his own good, but he was hers. He had saved her from starvation and her abusive mother, had taken care of her and encouraged her to follow her dreams, and had sacrificed his own freedom for hers in the end. She loved him with every beat of her heart, every breath she drew, and there wasn’t a thing she wouldn’t do for him. He was innocent, condemned to suffer a horrible fate for a crime he never committed, and it was all her fault. That was why she had to save him.

She sat in front of the television of her small apartment, her leg propped up on a pillow and a heavy ice pack pressed to her hip and low back as she clutched the remote in hand, watching and rewinding the same fifteen-minute segment of film over and over again. She had initially watched the Reaping Ceremony in a desperate attempt to feel closer to Finn, longing to see his face, first in shock and fear, and then eventually in resolve and even courage. He had always been brave to a fault. But it was something else that had caught her eye, first at the Reaping Ceremony, and now again as she played the tape back over and over.

It was the way that Clarke Griffin, the female Tribute that had been chosen, seemed to know that her name would be called. Raven’s keen brown eyes followed blonde hair from the back of the room towards the front of the stage as she moved closer, as if in anticipation, while the rest of the 100 prisoners seemed to hang back. Clarke turned her head and Raven paused the recording, typing in a quick command that allowed her to zoom in on the blonde’s face. She appeared angry, despite the tear tracks that were fresh on her cheeks, but definitely not scared.

Raven zoomed back out and pressed play again, muting the Chancellor as he gave a speech but allowing the video to resume playing. Off to the side, just barely on the edge of the screen, Raven could make out the face of someone she recognized well. It was Clarke’s mother, Dr. Abigail Griffin, the woman who had been the lead surgeon on Raven’s case. And she was crying. No, not just crying, but bawling hysterically the way any parent would if they were about to send their child off to die a brutal death.

Jaha finished his speech and Raven unmuted him, watching for what must have been the twentieth time as Finn’s name was called and her boyfriend slowly made his way towards the stage, flanked by two Peacekeepers. She could hear her own voice in the background, crying out for him in desperation. Her heart had broken the moment Finn’s name left Jaha’s lips, and fear and panic had gripped her soul, strangling the breath from her lungs like a noose. But now the fire and fight within her was rekindled as the video played on.

She watched, seeing Clarke start moving towards the side of the stage and ascending the stares before her name was even called, and waiting expectantly as Jaha turned to greet her. They shared an exchange of words, but for some reason the Chancellor’s mic had cut out, and she couldn’t make out what they were saying no matter how loud she cranked the volume. Instead, she rewound the video to the point where Clarke reached out to take Jaha’s hand, and zoomed in on her face, slowing the video to half speed as she tried to read the blonde’s lips.

It took a few tries, but her eyes went wide when she realized what was being said. “Why am I not surprised?” the blonde seemed to ask, though the Chancellor’s reply was lost because his back was to the camera. They appeared to clasp hands a moment longer than necessary, and then Jaha concluded the ceremony a minute later as Finn and Clarke disappeared off stage.

“You may not be surprised, Clarke,” Raven whispered, speaking out loud to herself considering the blonde could not hear her. “But I sure as shit am. How could you have known?” she questioned.

She rewound the video to the beginning and watched it through once more, pausing when the footage got to the spot where she could see Abby. “How could both of you have known?” she pondered aloud again.

There was something going on that was far bigger than just a normal Reaping Ceremony. First, there was the unsolved murder of Jake Griffin, Clarke’s father. Then, the conditions surrounding Clarke’s arrest were muddled at best, consisting of far more rumors than truth before Jaha openly accused her of treason but presented no evidence to back his case. And now, she had been chosen for the Reaping and seemed to have known that her name would be drawn. Raven wasn’t sure how any of it would help her find a way to save Finn, but at the moment it was the only lead she had, and she would follow it right to a source closest to it. She needed to go see her old doctor.

<-><-><-><->

Lincoln was staring blankly up at his ceiling for what must have been the third straight hour, unable to put his mind to rest enough to sleep. He knew that the footage of the Tributes from the Arrival Banquet had aired hours earlier, but he’d been too dejected to watch it. Instead, he had spent his evening at the training ground, drilling until his palms were blistered and his body was drenched in sweat from head to toe. He was livid with himself for having lost to Gustus in the semifinals of the Conclave two days prior, forgoing his only shot at Tribute. He knew it wasn’t a real honor; to fight, kill, and die at the hands of other teens, but it was what he had trained his entire life to do. Now, he would be eighteen before the next Hunger Games (if there was a next Hunger Games), and he had nothing left to train for.

It felt like a piece of him had died; the part of him with identity and purpose. He was a novitiate of Polis Academy, training to one day stand as Tribute for his district, and now, he was nothing. But, even the most remorseful parts of himself could not truly envy Gustus for his role. He stood beside Lexa now, and would die for her, just like every other novitiate would. Gustus had no real shot at winning at all. He never really did, and it was that knowledge that comforted Lincoln in his defeated state. It had been agreed long ago by their class and the former Victors that Lexa would be the one coming out of the Games alive, and whichever male Tribute that stood beside her did so knowing that it was his sworn duty to protect her.

An insistent knocking at his door startled him from his broody thoughts and he snapped wide-awake, bolting upright and reaching for the nearest weapon. His hand wasn’t even on the door handle when it turned and Anya bolted in like a whirlwind, slamming it shut behind her. She appeared rattled, more unnerved than Lincoln had ever seen her, and she was breathing heavily as if she had just sprinted from the other side of the tower. Her brown eyes narrowed when she took in his sorry state, hands bandaged and black bags beneath his puffy eyes.

“Don’t tell me you’re still upset about the conclave?” she scoffed, tone dripping with sarcasm. “Lincoln, seriously, get over it. You should be happy that Gustus won because now you get to live.”

“What’s the point of living when you have no purpose?” he questioned, perhaps allowing too much self-pity to leak into the conversation.

Anya was having none of it, marching up to him and delivering a swift smack upside his head. “Shut up,” she commanded. “You do have a purpose. An important one at that.”

“What?”

“It’s your job to help me keep Lexa safe and to make sure that everything is prepared for her when she returns from the Games,” she explained, stating it as if it were obvious.

Lincoln sighed and rolled his eyes. “Is that not Gustus’s purpose now?” he asked.

“It’s all of our purposes you idiot. And Titus is going to fuck it up if we don’t stop him,” she returned.

“What do you mean?” he wondered, devoting her his entire attention now.

“I just came from Titus’s office,” Anya hissed, lowering her voice to a whisper as if the walls could hear them. “He is plotting with District Two. He seeks an alliance for Lexa and Gustus.”

Lincoln was revolted at the thought of it. How could Titus be so foolish as to trust people that would sooner stab them and leave them to die than work with them? “How do you know this?” he questioned, unable to believe it without proof.

“I overheard him speaking to Nia Queen on the communication hub,” she replied, voice still low. “And that’s not all, Lincoln,” she added with a moment of hesitation. “He confessed to arranging Costia’s death in the Games to ensure Nia’s victory and rise to power, and then openly plotted against the districts.”

“What?!” Lincoln gasped, unable to keep the shock and anger from his voice.

“Shhh, shut up,” Anya whispered, covering his mouth with her left hand and glancing over her shoulder to make sure the guards would not come barging in. “Nobody else can know,” she said. “Not yet. Not while Lexa is in the Games. She needs to be the one to bring him to justice. She needs to challenge him for his seat as Commander. It will be easy to get the people to follow her with this proof.”

Lincoln nodded once and waited for her to remove her hand so he could speak again, this time keeping his tone low. “Why would Titus do this?” he asked. “I understand strategy and wanting to win, but to sacrifice one of our own? To plot against his own people?”

“I don’t know,” Anya answered truthfully. “Part of it was to secure this alliance and ensure that our Tributes would always have the greatest chance of winning. I don’t think he actually believes that he is working against his own people. He thinks by securing a Victor each year, he is doing what he can to help them,” she mused. “But I think there’s more.”

“What are you thinking?” He had a few speculations of his own.

“I think Titus and Nia are working closely with Wallace,” she stated, the names bitter on her tongue. “For some reason, he needed her in power.”

Lincoln clenched his jaw and breathed a heavy sigh, again trying to calm himself. “Titus is a fool,” he growled.

“Yes, and he will die for what he has done, the natrona,” she spat the word in the language the novitiates used to communicate without the Peacekeepers knowing what they were saying. Lincoln knew that it meant traitor. “But first, we have to get a message to Lexa and warn them not to trust him. Lexa deserves to know the truth,” she added with urgency. “It will give her more to fight for.”

“How?” Lincoln asked, knowing that the Tributes were far out of their reach and the Capitol monitored all incoming messages closely.

“I have an idea,” she replied, eyes set in determination.

For the first time in days, Lincoln felt that his sense of purpose had been renewed. He may not be the one by Lexa’s side in the Games, but he could still protect her now. He would see their rightful Commander ascend, and then together they would bring Mount Weather to its knees.

Chapter Text

Clarke stood in front of the full-length mirror in her very own dressing room, admiring the way her body fit into the one-of-a-kind dress her stylist designed specifically for her. The gown was black in color and cut into a v-neck that dipped down her chest, showing off just the right amount of cleavage. It fell to just above her knees, short and hemmed in a sleek straight line across her thighs and adorned with a daring slit that went all the way up to her hip. The dress clearly wasn’t designed to be practical or comfortable, but it had been created with the sole purpose of making an impression. The sleek black heels that accompanied it were equally as sultry and the entire outfit was just the right combination of sex, danger, and mystique. Clarke thought she never looked so good.

She watched as her stylist, Niylah, stood behind her, weaving her hair into delicate braids that tied behind her head and flowed down her back. Niylah was an attractive woman, albeit a bit older, but still younger than the rest of the stylists that worked for the Games. Her hazel eyes met Clarkes in the mirror and she offered a slight smile as she pushed a strand of sandy blonde hair from her eyes. “The dress suits you,” she remarked, her fingers continuing their ministrations.

“It’s beautiful,” Clarke breathed, truly stunned by her own reflection. “Too bad it’ll only be worn once.”

“Not if you win,” the stylist replied, a warm smile tugging at her lips.

“Trust me,” Clarke scoffed. “I won’t be the Victor.” She didn’t intend to sound so harsh, but watched as Niylah’s smile, accompanied by her eyes, fell. “I don’t see the point of some lavish Arrival Banquet if they’re just going to kill us in a few days anyway,” she sighed, trying to change the subject.

The other woman shrugged and returned her gaze through the mirror once more. “They want it to appear as if they treat the Tributes like celebrities,” she answered. “The red carpets, the fancy gowns, the dinner parties and feasts, are all designed to make the Games seem less….barbaric…than they are,” she explained, selecting her words carefully and Clarke noticed for the first time that she spoke with a slight accent.

“You’re not originally from here, are you?” she asked.

“No,” Niylah replied softly. “I come from District One, but the Capitol is my home now. My district has had the same stylist for many years, so I took the position of District Thirteen stylist instead,” she elaborated.

Their conversation was cut short when Finn knocked and entered the room. He was wearing a sleek black on black three-piece suit accompanied by a midnight black tie, and his outfit complimented Clarke’s perfectly. His normally unruly brown hair had been tamed; slicked straight back, and his brown eyes narrowed slightly when they landed on Clarke, his thick swallow visible where it bobbed in his throat. He stared a moment longer than necessary, but didn’t say anything, glancing away as Marcus Kane entered wearing a suit of his own, though much less stylish.

“Are we ready?” he asked, and Niylah nodded, clipping the last one of Clarke’s braids into place. “Then let’s head down there,” he said.

The four of them huddled into the elevator and waited as it carried them down to the banquet hall from the top floor of the tower. Being from District Thirteen, they were the last of the Tributes to arrive, and were greeted by camera flashes and frenzied reporters as they stepped out of the lift. People called Clarke’s name from all sides, firing questions at her that she couldn’t distinguish and begging for interviews. Finn seemed to love the attention, smiling at the cameras and stopping to chat with some of the journalists, but to Clarke, the lenses felt like microscopes and she was some sort of test subject.

She put her head down, ignoring the shouts around her and instead pushed her way into the banquet room where the party was already in full swing. A live band played, raised up on a round stage at the center of the room, their instruments strumming a light-hearted tune. The room was bursting with people; waiters milling about as they delivered food and drinks, partygoers scattered around as they danced and chatted, and an overwhelming presence of Peacekeepers standing every ten feet or so. There were dozens of round tables, covered in white tablecloths and littered with such an abundance of food and drink that it was a wonder where it all came from. Ornate chandeliers hung down from high above, the vaulted ceiling painted to look like the night sky, and the air was fuming with so many different scents that Clarke felt nausea sweep through her.

The Tributes from the other districts were there as well, milling about the guests in hopes of securing Sponsors, but sticking close to their mentors and partners. At the center of the room, just below where the band played, Clarke spotted the man that made her blood run cold. President Wallace stood in a formal gray suit, talking and laughing with a group of people that surrounded him. He clutched a glass of champagne, and smiled as someone spoke to him, his thinning gray hair smoothed over to the side. Beside him, Clarke could see his energetic son, Cage, who had just recently been made the announcer for the Games a few years back after Caesar Flikerman Jr. had passed. A woman stood at his other side in a tight red dress, tall and unmoving, her long black hair flowing down her shoulders and framing her pale face.

Clarke’s heart sank when the president looked up and saw her, immediately excusing himself from the conversation and moving in her direction. She debated for a moment, waging an argument within herself whether she should turn and flee, or stand and face him. The latter won out, and she found herself sucking in a steadying breath as President Wallace himself came to a stop right in front of her. They stood at a standstill for a moment, eyeing each other as the tension in the space between them built, filled with so much hatred that it could surely poison anyone that got too close. His gray eyes skimmed over her, sizing her up to see if she was actually a worthy opponent, before he offered his hand and a forced smile, aware that the eyes of every cameraman in the room were on them.

“Ms. Griffin, you look radiant,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips and pressing a light kiss to it in a show of chivalry. “President Dante Wallace,” he added, introducing himself.

“I’m aware,” Clarke answered, pulling her hand back and leaning away from the camera that had been practically shoved in her face to film their meeting.

“Gentleman, please,” the president said, addressing the intrusion. “Give us a moment.”

The cameramen nodded once and turned their devices away, leaving them in search for some different footage. “President Wallace,” Clarke said, after the unwanted attention had dispersed. “What do you want?” she questioned, tone biting.

“Please, call me Dante,” he replied, maintaining the niceties. “Can we not be civil, Clarke?”

Clarke snorted back a burst of sarcastic laughter and looked at him incredulously. “Not likely,” she replied.

“Ah, well, I suppose not,” he said wistfully, as if it was actually a disappointment. “I’ll keep this simple then. I know who you are, and I know that the knowledge you have can be very dangerous to my people and me. I also know that rebellion is once again stirring in the districts,” he stated, speaking low so that only she could hear. “I brought you here for a reason, Clarke. You see, your father’s computer was encrypted. And further than that, dear Jake managed to wipe half of his hard drive before Jaha got to it. Tell me what you know, and I will ensure that you win the Games. Refuse, and you will die a painful death with the eyes of the world watching,” he threatened, menacingly.

Clarke stood defiantly, raising her chin high and opening her mouth to speak, but he quickly cut her off as he continued on. “I also brought you here to keep an eye on you. If you say one word to anyone about what you know, your mother will die.”

The threat on Abby’s life set Clarke’s anger ablaze once more, roaring like a bonfire in her chest, so hot that she felt like she could breathe fire. “If you touch her, I swear—

“Hush, Clarke, she’s safe,” Dante interrupted, holding up a single hand. “For now,” he added as an afterthought. “Consider your options, Clarke. I’ll need an answer,” he said, clasping her hand and pressing his lips to it one last time before sauntering back in the direction from which he’d come.

She stared at the back of his head, willing it to explode if only she could muster enough hate. His presence left the hair on the back of her neck standing on edge, and knots twisting in the pit of her stomach as bile threatened to rise up in her throat. She wasn’t sure if it was the cameras flashing, or the reporters looming around the room, but she felt as if she was being watched, the unmistakable sense of eyes bearing down on her. She turned and looked around for a moment, finding the source of the discomfort as she spotted the emerald green gaze of Lexa Woods, the District One Tribute, watching her intently from across the room.

Clarke couldn’t deny the fact that the woman was stunning, equally as beautiful as she was dangerous, and in the skintight green dress her stylist had fitted her with, her eyes seemed to glow. Her chestnut hair flowed down to her chest in elegant cascades, and she stood rigidly with her hands clasped behind her back as if the entire ordeal happening around them was beneath her. She kept her expression empty, like she was trying to conceal her emotions, but her forest eyes quickly flicked away when they met Clarke’s.

Clarke sighed, rooted in place as she once again debated amongst herself. This girl, Lexa, was undoubtedly her biggest threat and would probably kill her just as soon as look at her. So the way she saw it, she had two options: she could try to fight her, and probably lose, or she could try to play the situation strategically, as her father would. Before she could change her mind, she reached for the nearest champagne and downed a glass, then quickly headed in other girl’s direction.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa was used to being in the spotlight, having been the top of her novitiate class all her life, she had been well known in her district and her name had been circulating through the Capitol circuit for years. Now, as people shouted it, begging for her attention, filming her, taking photos of her every move, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of boredom. She hated the spectacle that they made out of the Games each year, and saw no point in lavish parties and feasts while her people at home were starving. She didn’t understand why they treated the Tributes like celebrities when they just planned to kill them in a few days’ time anyway. It made more sense to Lexa to just start the Games immediately and let the best fighter win, rather than wasting time and resources on interviews, expensive gowns, and overdone speeches.

Then, there was the moment when each Tribute met President Wallace, shaking his hand and greeting him on camera for the world to see as if actually honored to be there. She had been polite when the elderly man took her hand in his and kissed it, forcing her expression to remain impassive rather than to reveal the disgust she was truly feeling. Secretly, she had been plotting a thousand different ways to kill the man, and vowed that before she left this life and entered the next, she would see his head removed from his neck. Still, there was nothing she could do about it then even if she had wanted to. She could have easily ended his life, but deep in the heart of the Capitol and surrounded by a bolstering force of Peacekeepers, she would have been dead within moments, and it was not yet her time to die. Not while her people needed her to live.

Now, she stood towards the back of the room, avoiding the press and partygoers, and instead observing her competition in silence. Her stylist had designed a green gown for her, the exact shade of her eyes, and she knew that it made them glow far more brightly than normal. On several occasions, photographers had asked for a photo, but she had declined. Beside her, Gustus wore a black tuxedo, the vest underneath matching the same shade as her dress, and together they made a dashing duo. As District One, they had been the first pair to enter the party and greet the president, and by the time the District Thirteen Tributes finally made their appearance, Lexa had long since been ready to leave.

Except, her boredom quickly turned to curiosity as her gaze landed on the blonde girl from the final district. Clarke, she recalled, entered the hall and kept her head down, avoiding the photographers and reporters and moving quickly through the crowd as if she wanted no part in the festivities. It was a great contrast to her male counterpart, Finn, who seemed to be caught up in his sudden fame, posing for photos and shaking hands, a happy grin plastered across his face. He was a fool, Lexa quickly decided.

But Clarke…Clarke was different. She held her spine rigid and kept her features impassive even as she declined interviews and camera opportunities, and Lexa couldn’t tell if the girl was nervous or simply practiced in keeping her composure. Silently, she wondered again what it was that the blonde could have done to have been arrested for treason and ultimately handed a death sentence in these brutal Games.

Regardless, Lexa’s interest was peaked, and she found it hard to look away as Clarke pushed through the crowds, clearly in search of someone. It of course didn’t help that the District Thirteen stylist had dressed the girl in such a way that made her look equal parts ravishing and dangerous, her sleek black dress cutting low between her breasts in the front, and a mile-long slit running up the side all the way to her hip. It certainly was not an unwelcome sight. She watched as Clarke came to a sudden halt, her posture stiffening as if in fear as her gaze landed on President Wallace where he stood at the center of the room.

A moment later, Wallace spotted her as well and excused himself from his conversation as he wove through the crowd in her direction. When he was within speaking distance, he stopped, and for several seconds the two strangers just stood and stared at each other. Lexa could practically see the tension in the air between them, so thick that it hung like fog, and what felt like an eternity later, President Wallace finally took Clarke’s hand in his and kissed it. A conversation ensued, though Lexa was much too far away to hear it, but judging by the blonde’s rigid posture, she was extremely uncomfortable. The polite smile fell from Dante’s face and he leaned closer as he spoke to her once more, and this time, she could see how Clarke instinctually shifted away. Whatever was being said, it was obvious that Clarke didn’t want to be anywhere near the man.

After another tense few seconds, the president kissed her hand once more before wandering off in the direction he had come from, returning to his previous conversation. Clarke stood absolutely still for a few moments longer, and then finally let her shoulders fall after she exhaled a long breath she appeared to have been holding. She glanced over and her oceanic blue gaze met Lexa’s immediately, as if she knew she had been watching, and Lexa felt her own cheeks go hot, quickly looking away. She cursed herself silently when she looked back and saw that Clarke was now moving pointedly in her direction.

For a moment, Lexa cast her eyes anywhere else in the room, searching for an escape and hoping that the blonde girl would turn the other way. Her hopes were dashed as Clarke came to a stop a few feet away. She felt Gustus tense up beside her, as if ready to beat the girl to a pulp if she came too close, and Lexa was thankful for his imposing presence. She shifted her own weight, silently letting him know that she would handle whatever this was.

Up close, Clarke’s eyes were more blue than Lexa could have imagined, a shade all their own like the deepest ocean marrying the highest sky, and her voice was raspy when she finally spoke. “Hello,” she said, extending a hesitant hand and eying Gustus carefully. “I’m Clarke.”

“Lexa,” Lexa replied, out of politeness alone. She didn’t reach to take the girl’s hand, but instead shifted even further away, ignoring the endless pools of cerulean.

“So, you’re the one that everyone expects to win,” the blonde said. Clarke glanced around nervously, as if unsure she should even be talking to her, then let her hand fall back to her side.

“And you’re the one who committed treason,” Lexa replied with ice in her tone, reiterating the rumors she had heard. Secretly, if Clarke really had committed treason against the Capitol, it would have been an action that she admired.

For a moment, it appeared as if Clarke was taken aback, stunned by her blunt words, and Lexa thought that she might leave but was disappointed when the other girl spoke again. “Why does it matter to you what I did?” she questioned, defensively.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lexa replied sharply, feeling the need to cut off the conversation that she had no desire to partake in. Whatever interest she held in Clarke as she watched her from across the room quickly died away as she forced herself to snuff it out. “Look, Clarke,” she said, her voice cold and unforgiving. “Let me give you some advice. Do not try to make friends here. Do not trust anyone. Do not even talk to anyone. Because a week from now, every person in this room will be trying to kill you. I will try to kill you. So keep your small talk and pleasantries, because they will do you no good here.”

She knew her words were harsh, and she almost wished she could take them back as she watched blue eyes fall. “I know that,” Clarke replied defensively. “I just thought—

“Well don’t think,” Lexa interrupted before she could finish. “The only thing you should be thinking about is how to survive. The Hunger Games are just what they sound like: A Game. And I intend to win,” she informed her.

Maybe in another life she could have made conversation with Clarke, perhaps even have become friends with her, but in this life, her people were counting on her. And her people would always come first. She pushed past Clarke without another word, leaving the blonde stunned and stuttering behind her, and she could feel Gustus following close on her heels. She may have just made an enemy out of the District Thirteen girl, but at that point, it didn’t matter. She had Gustus, and he was the only person that she needed to see her through to the end; everyone else was an enemy or a distraction. And she couldn’t afford to get distracted, not by a raspy voice or insanely blue eyes, and not by anyone that would keep her from performing her duty.

She would do what she must to survive, even if that meant killing Clarke. Her people were depending on it. She didn’t bother stopping for interviews or photos as she charged out of the room, too exhausted to put on an act for the citizens of the Capitol anymore that night.

Chapter Text

Nia was as cunning as she was dangerous, and it was her wit that she valued above all else: her ability to navigate testy situations and gain the trust of others despite her darkest intentions. She had to be crafty if she would one day rule over all of Panem, and she understood that patience and knowledge could sometimes be far more useful than the sword. Especially when utilized at the proper time, forging alliances with the right people, and making moves to ensure that she was not one, but three steps ahead of the game. That was how she had come to rule District Two at the age of twenty-one, after all.

She had procured an alliance with that fool of a Commander from District One, Titus, and had even convinced him to help her win the Games by poisoning his own Tribute. He had done it in good faith, and with the hopes of a prosperous future for both Districts, but she had no intentions of honoring her word. Even President Wallace was clueless to her aspirations and the plans she had swirling around in her head. She would militarize the largest army Panem had ever seen from every man, woman, and child of District Two (Ice Nation was already the largest district) and with it, she would wreak havoc across the country, recruiting anyone that could fight to her cause and killing anyone that stood in her way. Through fear and force, she would amass enough warriors to march on the Capitol, despite all of their defenses, and she would take it for her own. The casualties would be massive, but Nia didn’t care, as long as it was she who sat in the seat of power when the dust and rubble cleared.

But for now, she had to bide her time. She had to make President Wallace believe that she could be trusted, and she had to retain control of her title as leader of District Two. She sat in an ornate chair behind her desk that in another time could have been a throne, mulling over possible moves and countermoves she could make going in to this year’s Hunger Games. Her younger brother, Roan, was a Tribute this year, and she knew that his skill in combat was unmatched. He could easily be this year’s Victor, and would make a fine general for her army one day, but he was well-liked by the people, and that could pose a greater problem than benefit.

She skimmed over the footage of the Arrival Banquet from the night before, blue eyes calculating as she watched her brother navigate the crowds effortlessly in his dashing black suit, smiling that handsome grin, speaking to reporters, and shaking the President’s hand graciously. The women fawned over him, the men puffed out their chests when he was near as if trying to be him, and all of the people seemed to love him. She decided then, swallowing back the disgust in her throat, that he would be far more trouble than he was worth if he were to become a Victor; blood-ties that bound family be damned. He could move against her and challenge her for her seat, the people would support it of course, and that was not something she could allow.

But, she had time to work that out later. She sighed heavily and leaned back in her chair, observing the other Tributes as strategies danced their way into existence in her mind. Ontari Natblood was a factor that she had not originally counted on, and she watched as the young female Tribute from her district sulked her way through the mobs of people like a viper waiting to strike. She was never supposed to be a Tribute this year, she was sixteen, and by their rules too young to compete in the competition they held each year to determine which Career Tributes would represent District Two in the Games. But Ontari was just as impatient as she was vile and bloodthirsty, and she had murdered all the other Tribute prospects while they slept, leaving herself as the only female eligible to compete. It was a revolting crime, ordinarily punishable by death, but without their class of Career trainees, they had no choice but to let her enter the Games. Secretly, Nia had thought it was a marvelous move, worthy of a champion and a Victor.

On the screen, Ontari stopped and stared at someone from across the room, and Nia silently followed her line of sight to whom her death glare was focused on. It was none other than the District One Tributes, Gustus Greene and Lexa Woods. Lexa Woods: the name that even she had heard for years, and the girl who even the highest bidders had slated to win. She’d also heard that the girl Titus helped her to kill in the her own Hunger Games had been Lexa’s lover, and the thought of causing pain to District One’s Golden Girl made her smile. Rumors of Lexa’s skill in combat, prowess with words, and ability to inspire loyalty, had been circulating since Nia was a young teen, and she had long since grown tired of them.

The District One female Tribute posed a problem for her in more ways than one. Not only was she the greatest threat towards winning this year’s Games, but she was well-known and well-liked by her people, especially the warriors of Polis Academy. If she were to win this year and emerge as Victor, she could challenge that weak-minded idiot Titus for his rule as Commander. With Titus in charge, Nia’s plans to extort an army from the trained fighters of District One was easily attainable, but if Lexa were to take over rule, the people, Victors, and novitiates would stand behind her. That possibility was far too uncertain to allow to play out.

That was why she had already taken measures to ensure the brunette girl’s death in the Games. Titus trusted her, and sought to form an alliance that would suit them both until the playing field was narrowed down to its final competitors. The old man would tell Lexa and Gustus to trust District Two and to work together with them, and at some point she was sure that Lexa would let her guard down, and that was when she’d commanded Ontari to strike. Ontari, for how wild and unexpected she was, was controllable and loyal to Nia, seeking reward and praise for the deeds she committed, and that was why Nia would allow her to win. And if Ontari were to fail, well that was why Nia had a backup plan in place. Her false loyalty to President Wallace had secured her his favor, and if Ontari couldn’t kill Lexa, she was sure that Wallace and the Game Makers would help her find a way. All she had to do was spin a tale that Lexa was planning to lead District One against Mount Weather, and Wallace would be crying out for her death in the most brutal of ways.

Again, she smiled, an unnatural grin spreading across her cold features as the thoughts of her enemies’ deaths warmed her from the inside out. All the pieces she had played were slowly fitting into place, and soon her plans would be set into full motion, and there would not be a single person left to oppose her. She spared one last glance at the footage on screen, watching as Lexa exchanged heated words with the blonde girl from District Thirteen, and then spun on her heel and exited the banquet without a backwards glance. For a moment she almost pitied the blonde girl for having made the wrong enemy far too quickly, but then reminded herself that Lexa would probably be dead far sooner than the girl from District Thirteen.

<-><-><-><->

Abby sat quietly, watching the footage of the Arrival Banquet from the night before and neglecting her breakfast; she hadn’t had much of an appetite over the past few days. How could she? Her baby was about to enter an arena with twenty-five other people who wanted to kill her, and only one could come out alive. Worst of all was that she could do nothing about it. So instead, she brooded, shutting down and ceasing to function normally, though she hadn’t been normal in months: not since Jake died and Clarke had been locked away. She felt the sharp sting of loss and loneliness and once again wished more than anything that she could trade places with one of them and give her life for theirs. How would she ever be able to live in a world where neither her husband nor her daughter existed anymore? The answer was simple: she couldn’t.

She pushed her brown hair back from her eyes and focused on the screen, watching as Clarke emerged from the elevator in a stunning black gown. She looked beautiful, and Abby couldn’t help the tears that sprung up in her eyes as she tried to commit every single detail to memory, knowing that these moments of seeing her daughter full of life were coming to a rapid end. It was the worst feeling in the world, and she struggled to keep the vomit down at the thought of losing her child. She had begged Jaha, on her hands and knees, before the Reaping Ceremony to spare Clarke, but her pleas had been unsuccessful. He had told her the treason she’d committed had been far too dangerous to go unpunished and that what she knew could kill thousands, but putting her in the Games and sending her to the Capitol would give her the best chance at survival and making a deal with President Wallace. He’d allowed her time to say goodbye before the ceremony, but they hadn’t been allowed to say more than that.

The feel of Clarke in her arms, clasping her tightly, was still a fresh memory in her mind, and she longed to go back. There were so many things she longed for. She longed to see Jake one last time, and for Clarke’s safety and freedom, and for the life they’d had before all of this started. More than anything, she longed to know what it was that had gotten her husband killed and her daughter sent to die in the Games. Now all she could do was hope that Clarke could use that same knowledge as a bargaining chip for her life, and was overwhelmed by the guilt that she could do nothing else.

On her small TV screen, she could see that President Wallace had just approached Clarke. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but judging by her daughter’s body language, the conversation was not pleasant. She saw Clarke slightly flinch and shift nervously, and felt a rush of anger as she imagined what manner of threats the vile man could be whispering in her daughter’s ear. Her seething anger was quickly interrupted by a sharp knocking at her door that had her jumping in her seat. Clinic didn’t open for another hour, so who could be knocking?

She stood up and rushed to the door, worried that it was some sort of an emergency, but when she opened it, it was one of her former patients that stood waiting. Raven had suffered a spinal injury a few years back, and Abby had worked diligently to repair it, but the girl had still ended up with partial paralysis to her left leg. Still, despite her injury, Raven was a brilliant engineer and hadn’t let her handicap stop her from perusing her dream. Abby had been proud when Jake informed her that Raven would be the youngest certified engineer in District Thirteen history. She stood in the hallway now, wearing a metal brace she’d designed herself over a pair of tan cargo pants, and her hands were tucked into the pockets of a red jacket.

“Raven?” Abby questioned, surprised at her presence. “Is everything alright?”

Raven pushed past her, charging into the office as if on a mission. Her eyes landed on the footage of the Arrival Banquet that was still playing on screen, and she paused for a moment, staring a little too fondly at the District Thirteen boy, Finn Collins. Abby recalled a woman’s voice, crying when his name had been picked, but she’d been too distraught worrying about Clarke to see who it was. Maybe it had been Raven. Her ponderings were answered a moment later when Raven finally spoke, her words cutting through the thick silence that had built up around them.

"The two most important people in our lives are about to be sent to their deaths," she said, brown eyes sad but determined. "So I guess that means you and I have something in common."

Abby felt the sting of sorrow knowing that Raven was in the same position as she, helpless to do anything but watch the people they loved die. “I guess it does,” she agreed. “I’m so sorry, Raven.”

“I’m not here for your sorrow,” Raven snapped, but then took a steadying breath to calm herself. "Look Doc," she started again. "I'm kind of a fucking genius, so correct me if I'm wrong here, but I don't think I am. You and Clarke knew before the Reaping that her name would be drawn."

Shock coursed through her, unsure whether she should reveal the truth or not, but decided that it could no longer hurt if she did. “You’re not wrong,” she whispered.

"So, what do both of you know that is dangerous enough to earn her a death sentence?" Raven asked. "Because she has no previous criminal record, and we both know that she never committed treason."

Again, Abby was caught off guard by how astute the young girl was, but then again, Jake had always said that she was a genius. “I don’t know anything,” she admitted, truthfully. “But Jake did, and that’s what got him killed. Clarke was arrested and charged the same day that he was murdered, and I can only assume that they both knew something that Jaha never wanted getting out. That’s why they locked Clarke up in solitary. After his death, they took Jake’s computer,” she recalled. “But I don’t think they ever found anything on it because it was returned to me a few weeks later. Whatever Clarke knows, Jaha said she could use it as a bargaining chip to save her own life. He also said it could kill thousands.”

“Kill thousands?” Raven asked. “So, it’s a weapon? Jake found a weapon?”

“I don’t know, Raven,” Abby stated again, frustrated at her own lack of understanding.

Raven sighed, her eyes thoughtful as he wracked her brain. “You said they took Jake’s computer, so that’s where we’ll start,” she said.

“Start what?”

“Abby,” the younger girl looked at her with determination set in her expression. “I don’t know what it is that Jake and Clarke knew, but we need to find out. It’s the only way we’re going to get Clarke and Finn out alive.”

<-><-><-><->

Aden sat cross-legged in front of the projector screen with the rest of his novitiate class, feeling a nauseating mixture of excitement and fear. He was only in his third year of training at Polis Academy, but the rest of his classmates looked to him as a leader of sorts, and he knew he needed to act as such, forcing his expression to remain stoic despite his nerves. Aden was never sure how to feel about the Games each year; they were the very thing that he and the others trained each day for, but internally, he knew they were wrong. Still, he couldn’t help that tiny burst of elation in his chest when he watched his heroes fight and claim glory for District One, even though that glory involved murdering the innocent and the weak.

But this year was different than the rest because this year, his older sister, Lexa, was the female Tribute for their district. He was proud to be her younger brother, constantly molding himself after her and taking away the lessons she often gave, and he loved her more than he could ever admit. He knew, like most of the others, that she would one day lead. But he also knew a side of her that the others had rarely ever seen. Behind the walls and the stoic mask that Lexa wore in the presence of others, she was kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and caring. His sister existed as two people; the woman that was born to lead with iron resolve and ruthless passion, and also the soft girl whose heart still ached for the woman she had loved. Aden knew that if Lexa were there now, she would preach that love was weakness, but he could always see the truth in her eyes: love made life worth living.

The other children talked animatedly, excitement filling their voices as they waited for the Opening Ceremony to start. He knew that if his sister won, this could be the last Hunger Games that they ever watched, which tightened the nerves in his chest even more. He briefly closed his eyes and tried to imagine what life would be like if the Games didn’t exist. It was a thought he’d had many times before. There would be no training day in and day out, no busted lips or bruised bones, no bloody noses or blistered palms. There would be no killing of innocent children. That also meant there would be no Capitol. Their people could live and flourish without having to support the weight of Mount Weather on their backs, sacrificing their own needs and lives for people who never even knew what it felt like to be hungry or scared. Their people survived each day through strength of will and determination, but with the Capitol gone, they would finally understand what it felt like to actually live. That was why Lexa had to win.

He knew the road would be long and difficult. The Games were just a cog in the wheel, a step in the ladder his sister was climbing. If she survived, she would still need to take control of District One, and somehow convince the other districts to stand and fight with her. It would take the strength and resources of all thirteen districts to bring down Mount Weather, and uniting them would likely be more dangerous than the Games themselves, but if anyone could do it, it was Lexa. Then they would have their war and their rebellion, just as Katniss Everdeen had, but this time it would be the districts that emerged victorious. That, or they would all die trying.

The broadcast flickered to life, signaling that the opening ceremony was soon to start, and once again Aden tried to force away the excitement that bubbled through him. He understood the history behind the Games and the oppression that they represented, but there was something exhilarating in the spectacle of it all; the lavish parties, the instant fame, the interviews and glamorous outfits. The thrill of becoming a Victor. Normally, he would be making bets with the other novitiates as to who they thought would win, or how many would be killed on the first day, or what the arena would look like. But this year was different. This year, he sat silently while the others talked in eager tones, and he did not place wagers or imagine the unlimited possibilities the arena could hold. Instead, he focused on thoughts of safety and well-being for his sister, and suddenly his excitement felt a lot more like worry.

<-><-><-><->

It was very rare that Bellamy had the chance to deliver both Octavia’s evening meal and her breakfast the next morning, his guard rotation usually required him to be somewhere other than her cell block, but that day he’d gotten lucky. One of the other Peacekeepers had called in sick, and he’d been selected to replace him on rotation in the Prison Station at the last moment. He tried not to smile as he carted his sister’s meal towards her cell, hoping that she’d still be in there. Most of the other cells were empty as the inmates had gathered in the common room to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Games, but he hadn’t seen Octavia with the rest. It was the one time each year that the prisoners were allowed out of their cells for more than an hour at a time, and he could hear most of them cheer and holler with elation at their brief freedom. As for him, he had no real interest in the Games, only in how to keep his sister out of them.

On most days, Bellamy felt sorry for the inmates. He knew most of the kids in there were not dangerous, but had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, or had committed crimes out of sheer desperation. In fact, he was disgusted at the treatment of the minors of District Thirteen and their overly staunch laws. It may have been necessary to survive when District Thirteen was still a secret, living below ground and hiding in wait from the Capitol, but it had been ninety-seven years since they'd been exposed to the world above. But for some reason, the laws had never changed. Infractions by minors still resulted in being locked away until a hearing at age eighteen, and crimes by adults were still punishable by being sent to the Capitol, which everyone knew was a death sentence. He’d once heard the Chancellor say that the laws were in place to punish those who break them and protect those who abide by them. Bellamy thought this was a lie.

His sister had never committed a crime, yet she had been locked away for longer than any other inmate within the system. There was no justice in condemning a young girl for being born a second child, and he hated them for it. Not only had District Thirteen’s laws governing the criminal conviction of minors not changed in the last ninety-seven years, but their laws limiting each family to one offspring had not changed either. They’d tried to hide Octavia for years beneath the floor of their single-bedroom apartment, hoping to keep her safe until she came of age and would be spared the fate of a criminal sentence, but they’d failed. Octavia had been jailed, and their mother had been taken to the Capitol, never to be seen or heard from since. And Bellamy had been left alone.

It was the reason why he had joined the Peacekeepers in the first place. Not for the extra bit of wealth and rations, or the power that came from working directly for the Capitol, but to protect Octavia. His sister, his responsibility. And it was his commitment and dedication to the Peacekeepers that had kept her name out of the Reaping in the nearly five years it had been since they’d taken her away. It was a deal he had made with Captain Miller and the Chancellor; he would work overtime, extra shifts, on call at all times and for minimal pay, but Octavia’s name would be kept out of the Reaping. It meant that he never had a day off and often times would only sleep a few hours a week, but those were sacrifices he had been willing to make. Though, sleep and rest were not his only sacrifice.

That white uniform made him an enemy of the public and he saw the way most people looked at him; it was hard not to notice. They stared at him like he was a traitor, betraying his people and selling out to be a Capitol lapdog. The way they eyed the gun in the holster at his hip was as if they wanted to rip it out and use it against him. What they didn't understand was how heavy the weight of that gun had felt at first. He hated the Capitol. He hated the Games. He hated their laws and the taxes that required most of them to live in poverty. That gun had felt like an anchor at his side when he had first signed on to be a Peacekeeper. But he had done it to protect Octavia, and over time, it didn't feel as heavy anymore. In fact, he hardly noticed it at all most days.

Especially on the days he got to see his sister, and he couldn’t help the slight grin that tugged at his lips when he knocked on her door. He took a moment, fumbling with the keys before he edged the door open, and the small grin spread into a full smile when he saw Octavia’s eyes light up. “Good morning,” he said, nonchalantly.

“Back again?” she asked, though her usual excitement was gone from her voice and he could see that her green eyes were bloodshot as if she hadn’t slept.

“Someone called out,” he gave a brief explanation. “What’s wrong? I figured you would be in the common room with the others.”

She shrugged, noncommittally, glancing down at the floor rather than meeting his worried gaze. “I haven’t slept,” she answered.

He felt a wave of discomfort wash through him, knowing that nothing good could be brewing in the back of her mind if it kept her up all night. “Why?” he asked with hesitation in his voice.

“I just can’t stop thinking about the Reaping Ceremony, Bell,” she admitted. “Jaha is hiding something. That’s why Clarke was locked up in solitary, and that’s why she knew her name would be called. He is trying to kill her to keep something hidden, I just know it.”

Bellamy clenched his jaw and tried to force his frustration down, knowing that it wouldn’t do him any good. His sister was too stubborn. “Octavia…” he warned. “What did I say about letting this go?”

“But, Bellamy—

“I don’t care!” he snapped, silencing her. “You have one month left, O. One month. And then we’ll both be free, but you’ve got to forget about this. Reading into it will only get you killed, and I am never going to let that happen,” he growled, his emotions a mix of anger and fierce protectiveness.

“How can you just ignore this?” she questioned, her own tone biting.

He let out a shaky breath, sighing heavily to keep from yelling. “Because I’ve sacrificed too much,” he replied. “I haven’t had a day off in five years, Octavia. I hardly eat, and a rarely get to sleep, and nobody from the district that’s my age will even look at me. They think I’m a traitor and a sellout. I have no friends, nobody else besides you, and I will not let those sacrifices be in vain. I’ve given my whole life to protect you, O!” he pleaded, feeling his frustration turn to defeat. “Please.”

She stared at him for what felt like a full minute, green eyes melding with brown, and then he watched her shoulders fall. “Okay,” she whispered, standing up and shuffling towards him. “I’m sorry,” she said in his ear as she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tightly. “I’ll let it go, I promise.”

He felt relief consume him, slowing his erratic heartbeat to a normal pace as he squeezed his little sister. “Thank you,” he replied, the words sounding as if a prayer had been answered. After a moment, he stepped back and straightened up. “I have to continue my rounds,” he informed her, wishing that he could spend more time there. “Why don’t you eat and go watch the Opening Ceremony with everyone else? It’ll keep your mind busy.”

“I will,” she nodded, backing into the bed and plopping down onto it with her hands tucked beneath her thighs. “Thanks for coming to see me,” she added.

“I love you, O,” he replied, shooting her one last smile before turning to leave.

“I love you too, big brother,” she called from behind him, and again he felt relief course through his veins, as if a weight had been lifted and his burden was slightly less heavy. It wasn’t until later that evening that he noticed the only weight that was missing was the weight of the gun in its holster at his hip.

Chapter Text

Clarke stood perfectly still as she allowed Niylah to place the finishing touches on her makeup, transforming her appearance once more as she had done the night before. Where Clarke was an artist with pencil and paintbrush, her stylist was an artist with a needle, thread and makeup. She’d spent the majority of her morning with the other woman, preparing for the Opening Ceremony, and by the time the Games were over, she figured she’d know Niylah better than she knew herself with all the small talk they had made. The woman was friendly and easy to talk to, but it was her talent that captured Clarke’s attention as she stared at herself in the mirror.

Her skin was now flawless, a thin layer of makeup glistening on the surface, and her blue eyes were framed in smoky gray and black eye shadow that made them pop like stars in the night sky. She had awoken that morning a blonde, but the girl staring back at her now wore a fierce shade of red in her hair. Her stylist had told her that the crimson red was for blood. That it was to symbolize a sort of boldness and bravery. Gone was the innocent shade of blonde and the girl that came with it, and left behind in her place was a warrior that not only faced death head on, but commanded it as well. The Commander of Death.

Even Clarke had to admit that the color did wield a sort of demand for attention and a dangerous challenge in contrast with the bright blue of her eyes, like blood in water. She was wearing a black dress similar to the one she had on the night before, only this one had shreds of tattered material that wove down her arms and tied in bracers around her wrists as if she was clad in shadows. The dress itself was open in long gashes above her ribs, revealing milky white skin through the gaps, lending a sort of hauntingly beautiful skeletal appearance to her torso. The fabric of the dress itself was imbedded with a second material that made it shimmer the same color as her hair, and in the sun it would change from black to crimson. The theme of black for death and red for blood was ever present, as if she was the embodiment of both. Yet, despite the threatening colors and jagged features, there was an undeniable beauty to it all, and Clarke found it hard to peel her eyes away from her reflection.

“Appearances can speak more than words, Clarke,” Niylah said, smiling at her through the mirror as she took herself in. “Right now, yours is saying that you are not to be underestimated. Let your actions say that too.”

Clarke returned her grin and nodded, for the first time feeling as if she at least looked the part she’d been forced to play. “Thank you, Niylah,” she replied, her words sincere.

“Come,” the stylist replied, leading her from the dressing room. “Your chariot awaits.”

Clarke knew that she was speaking literally. Each year during the Opening Ceremony, the Tributes emerged from a tunnel to the sound of thundering crowds in chariots pulled by magnificent horses. It was an old tradition, dating back to the first Hunger Games, and she knew from history lessons that it was meant to symbolize the gladiator’s entrance into the coliseum. As she followed Niylah into the tunnel, she could already hear the sounds of cheering and excitement echoing high above her. Some of the other Tributes were already waiting by their chariots, talking in hushed voices or petting their steeds. Some were dressed in costumes that represented their districts, while others were clad in elegant suits and gowns as if attending a royal ball.

“Wait here while I get Finn,” Niylah instructed, disappearing back the way they had come before she could reply.

Clarke let out a heavy sigh and listened to the roaring crowd outside that was now chanting something she couldn’t quite make out, and she had to choke back a wave of disgust. The thought of children dying to the sound of thunderous applause was enough to make her stomach flip and her palms sweat, and she turned to her horse to busy herself. It was a massive black stallion, strong and lengthy, with a beautiful mane that furled down the length of its muscled neck. By the look of his saddle blanket, she could tell that it was made of the same material as her dress, and knew that it would glow a crimson red when it hit the artificial sunlight. It was hard to imagine the sight they would make; both gorgeous and deadly.

She heard voices a few yards away and turned, instantly catching sight of the one person she had been dreading to see again. Lexa Woods wasn't wearing an elegant dress or an eye-catching costume, but instead was clad in heavy battle armor, her left shoulder protected by a metal guarder that strapped across her chest. A crimson colored sash splayed down to the ground behind her and pooled at her heels, and she was wearing a thick fur-lined overcoat that was a dark shade of gray, and a metal waist guard that disappeared beneath the fabric. Her hands were concealed beneath bracers that looked like the bones of a skeleton and her arm was resting lightly atop a ceremonial sword that was strapped securely at her waist. Her skintight pants were ribbed at the knees before disappearing into calf-high leather boots. She looked as if she was about to command an army to charge into battle, but it wasn’t her outfit that was most captivating, it was the mask of black war paint that framed her emerald eyes, streaking down high cheekbones, and the way her hair was tied up off her face, splashing down her back in elegant braids. She looked like a goddess of war, and despite the voice in her head reminding her that Lexa was Enemy #1, Clarke was too captivated to pry her gaze away.

Her silent admiration was abruptly cutoff when a more displeasing view stepped directly between her and where Lexa was standing locked in conversation with Gustus. Ontari Natblood was standing just a few feet away, eying Clarke with amusement as if she was nothing more than a toy to play with. She was wearing the long, gray, fur robes of District Two that cascaded down to the floor behind her and were clearly made for ceremony rather than practical use. She also sported shoulder armor of her own, made of black leather instead of metal and crisscrossing over both shoulders, making her frame look twice as imposing. Her eyes were framed in flesh colored makeup that could almost look like scars running down her cheeks, and Clarke wondered if that was the intent of her stylist. The other girl was grinning at her, but there was malice swimming in her brown eyes and the grin looked more akin to a grimace.

"You're not fooling anyone, Thirteen," Ontari said, her voice menacing. "The hair and the clothes may make you look threatening, but everyone knows you'll be the first to die when we get into the arena. I bet you've never even held a weapon before."

Clarke opened her mouth to argue, but wasn’t sure how to respond. The truth was: Ontari was right. She had never held a weapon before. She’d never been trained in combat or forced to fight, she’d never even seen a fight before, other than what she had witnessed in the Hunger Games each year. In fact, Clarke had been training to be a doctor like her mother. She was a healer, destined to mend injuries and cure illnesses, not cause them. She doubted how any of that knowledge would help her in the Games now though. Her silence must have been enough confirmation for the other girl, because Ontari grinned wickedly and stepped forward, invading her personal space so that she was only inches away.

"Awe, come on, Clarke, don't be scared. I'll make it quick and painless," Ontari teased, reading her discomfort.

Clarke took a steadying breath and held her ground, stepping into Ontari’s space now. “You don’t know me, Ontari,” she growled, forcing her own voice to bear a deep threat. “You don’t know what I’ve done or the things I’ve seen.”

For a moment, she thought her intimidation may have worked, but then Ontari laughed cold and tauntingly in her face. “I changed my mind, Clarke,” she said. “I’m going to kill you slowly and painfully. You won’t be so tough when you’re begging for your life.”

“Save it for the arena then,” Clarke snapped. “I have nothing else to say to you, so get out of my face.”

Ontari blinked a few times, stunned by her defiance, and opened her mouth to speak again, but was cut off by another voice. “Ontari, I think Clarke has had enough of your presence,” Lexa said, appearing behind the other girl, her words slicing through the thick tension that had built between them.

Up close, her eyes looked even more green framed in the black of her warpaint, greener than any shade Clarke had ever painted with. “You should do as she said and save it for the arena,” Lexa added, though through the tone of her voice it was clear that it was a command and not a request.

Ontari’s shoulders went rigid as an expression of sheer disgust and hatred plastered itself across her face, and she looked as if she could murder them both right then and there. She held Clarke’s gaze in challenge, a clear threat written in her eyes, before she turned and sized Lexa up. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, and Clarke was certain that blood would be spilled before the Opening Ceremony even had a chance to start. Lexa held her ground, her expression absolutely impassive, her shoulders squared and stance imposing, as if daring Ontari to defy her. A minute later, the girl from District Two let her posture falter, breathing out a string of curse words as she shoved past Lexa and sauntered off towards her own chariot. One threat was gone, but now Clarke was left alone with another, and she wasn’t sure which was the more dangerous of the two.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa regretted her decision immediately. She had seen the altercation between Clarke and Ontari brewing from a distance, and she should have just left it at that and let them settle their differences on their own. Only, she had an unfamiliar twinge of guilt nagging at her in the back of her mind for the way she had spoken to Clarke the night before and how bluntly she had dismissed her. Then again, she wasn’t sure why she even cared: both girls were her enemy, and both would have to die so that she may live. So instead, she convinced herself that it was the utter hatred she had for Ontari and District Two that had spurred her to Clarke’s defense, and not the blonde herself or the smallest bit of regret she had for treating her so rudely. And it certainly wasn’t the pull of irresistible blue eyes.

Though she found herself staring into those eyes now, deep and endless and swimming with emotion that the blonde wore like a tattoo for the world to see. Her stylist had chosen to color her hair a dark shade of crimson that reminded Lexa of blood, and the color of her dress had been designed to match. She couldn’t deny that the girl from District Thirteen was beautiful, her milky skin and raspy voice alluring, but it was the way she carried herself that had Lexa gulping back a thick swallow in her throat. She held herself with strength and a stubbornness that could only be described as powerful, and she showed no fear in the face of danger, rising up to meet Ontari’s challenge, and standing strong still, even as Lexa bore down into her cerulean gaze.

A tension pulsed between them that Lexa couldn’t seem to break away from, rooted in place, yet not speaking. There was hatred there, sure, and uneasiness, as if unsure whether to fight or shake hands, but she couldn’t deny that there was something more. A distinct sense of curiosity that she sensed was mutual. She wanted to know more about the girl from Thirteen; she wanted to know what treason she had committed, and what she had been through to lend her such resolve. Lexa also understood that what she wanted and what her duty was were often two very different things. Her duty was to kill Clarke, not come to her aid, and she let out a heavy sigh as she turned away from the other girl, not realizing that she had been holding her breath.

Before she could retreat, Clarke’s angry voice kept her rooted in place, and she met her gaze once more, this time with fire instead of ice. “I can handle myself, you know?” she snapped, raspy voice laced with bitterness. “I don’t need your help. After all, you’re the one who told me not to trust or speak to anyone.”

Lexa was taken back by the sheer fury in her tone, but schooled her impassive expression into place. “You would be wise to take my advice, Clarke,” she responded coldly.

“Well maybe you should take your own advice if you want other people to follow it too,” she answered in challenge.

“I am not the one making all the wrong enemies,” she shot back, equally as harsh and watched as blue eyes narrowed. She knew that this conversation was a waste of her time and energy, but she couldn’t bring herself to abandon it just yet. She wouldn’t give Clarke the satisfaction.

Clarke inched closer into her space, and though she was shorter, she did well to make herself appear imposing. “Maybe it’s all part of my strategy,” the blonde sneered. “The Hunger Games are just what they sound like: a game. And I intend to win,” she added, echoing Lexa’s own words from the night before.

Lexa stared at her for a moment, unable to tell if she was put off or amused by her stubborn defiance. “Mockery is not the product of a strong mind, Clarke,” she counseled.

“Yeah, well neither is voluntarily entering a game that will likely get you killed,” she replied with bitter anger.

Again, Lexa sighed. “Sometimes the choices we make are not actually choices at all,” she answered, unsure why she was still standing there.

Her response seemed to catch Clarke by surprise because the blonde faltered in her resolve, clearing her throat before turning away. “Just stay away from me,” she said, though her back was turned and her hands were busy brushing her horse.

It was a clear dismissal and Lexa took it as such, happy to escape from whatever force had held her there. She didn’t bother replying, and instead spun on her heel and began her silent departure, though she hadn’t gone two steps before Clarke’s voice had her halting again. “Lexa!” she called, stopping her.

Lexa stiffened but did not turn back around as she waited for the next onslaught of anger and insults, but was surprised by what the blonde muttered next. “Thanks,” Clarke said, catching them both off guard.

The single word sounded forced, as if it pained her to say, but genuine nonetheless. Lexa turned only her head to offer her a single nod of acknowledgement, and then whisked away, eager to be free of the tension. She didn’t glance back at Clarke or watch her from afar, and when Gustus asked her what that was all about, she told him that it was nothing. She didn’t understand why, but somehow her answer felt like a lie.

A few moments later, a loud horn sounded and deep base drums began to play, signaling that the ceremony was ready to start. Lexa climbed into her chariot at the front of the pack beside Gustus, who was clad in similar daunting battle armor. She took the reins in her hands and spurred their stallion into motion, leading the procession of thirteen chariots out into the artificial sunlight, the deafening sounds of cheers and applause welcoming them. She knew the eyes of all of Panem were on her, expecting her to make an impression. The only impression she wanted to make was that of a leader. So, she held her shoulders high and her spine rigid, keeping her eyes trained forward even as the cameras panned in on her face where her eyes were framed in warpaint. She showed no interest in the crowds or the spectacle of the Games, and no desire to dazzle or entertain. She was there to win and to show her strength, and she would not let that falter for the entire world to see. Not even when she felt blue eyes burning holes in her back.

Chapter Text

In Anya’s opinion, the Opening Ceremony of the Games was a waste of time. The Tributes had already been selected, footage of their arrivals and the Arrival Banquet had already aired, and she didn’t see the need to parade them around in chariots and formally announce them for a third time. But even she had to admit that her District One Tributes looked good, strong and steady and proud as they zipped out of the tunnel and into the artificially generated underground sunlight. The war drums played to a rhythmic beat and the crowd roared as Cage Wallace, the newest announcer for the Games, read the names of each Tribute and the district from which they hailed.

Gustus looked fierce in his battle armor, like a warrior ready to crush his enemies. He was large and muscularly built, his broad shoulders made to appear even stronger beneath the metal shoulder guards he wore. His burly black beard flowed down to his mid chest and the warpaint on his cheeks disappeared into his hairline in sharp angles and intricate lines. His long mane was braided back off his face, and his blue eyes were piercing as they scanned the crowd nearest them as if searching for danger. He towered over Lexa who stood at his side, and his posture was defensive, as if ready to challenge anyone that dared threaten her. Anya felt a rush of relief that it was Gustus who was with Lexa in the Games, and knew that she would be well-protected.

A moment later, she felt a rush of pride as well as Lexa’s face filled her screen. The camera zoomed in on her emerald green eyes, glowing brightly behind the streaking black warpaint that they had designed together. The paint would be Lexa’s symbol, just as the mockingjay had been Katniss Everdeen’s, and it would only be a matter of time before people from every district wore her paint in a show of support. Her chin was held high, and she looked regal, like a queen ready to claim her throne; only she was a ruler that would actually fight by her people’s side rather than hide behind an army. Her battle armor said as much, strapped across her left shoulder with a blood-red cape flowing down to her heels behind her boots. Her hand rested gently on the ceremonial sword at her waist, and she paid no mind to the crowds around her that were chanting her name. She was focused, staring forward with determination and resolve in her eyes, but there was something else there too that Anya couldn’t quite place.

“Lexa is unsettled,” she murmured, addressing Lincoln who was sitting beside her on the couch in her chambers. “Something must have happened.”

Lincoln shrugged. “She looks fine to me,” he replied. “Strong.”

“You don’t know her like I do,” Anya answered, cursing as the camera shifted over to the District Two Tributes before she could read anything else in Lexa’s expression. “Her eyes give her away, but only to those who have learned to read them.”

“Well, what do you think it is that could have happened?” he questioned.

Anya thought for a moment, rewinding the tape and pausing as it honed in on Lexa’s face. She had known the girl her entire life and considered her a sister, learning to analyze her emotions had come with the territory. “She’s in thought,” Anya commented, knowing the look in her eyes well. “Perhaps something unexpected has caught her off guard. We must act quickly, Lincoln,” she decided. “Before Titus can issue commands and alliances are forged or broken.”

Lincoln nodded his agreement once. “How are we going to get a message to them?” he asked. “The Capitol monitors all messages going in or out, the only person cleared to send messages to Indra is Titus, and as Commander, he is the only person with access to communications,” he explained, listing the obstacles in their way.

“You’re right,” she answered, wracking her brain for solutions. “We’ll have to get into Titus’s office, but any suspicious messages sent to Indra will be flagged immediately, especially if it interferes with the Games.”

“There has to be a way. Someone in the Capitol has to still be loyal to District One.”

Anya paused for a moment, the solution blaring at her now. “There is,” she smiled. “Someone who can get close to the Tributes.”

“Who?” Lincoln asked, tone eager.

“My cousin, Niylah,” she replied. “She is the District Thirteen stylist.”

Lincoln returned her grin. “Which means she has full access to the Tribute Center. Perhaps she could sneak a message to Lexa.”

Anya nodded though she couldn’t help but worry. She knew from personal experience just how tight the security in the Tribute Center was. As the District Thirteen stylist, if Niylah tried to move about anywhere but the thirteenth floor, or was seen without one of her Tributes, she would be arrested. After the Hunger Games in which Katniss Everdeeen’s own stylist aided the rebels, the security and monitoring of all personnel attending to the Tributes had been increased tenfold. Anya wouldn’t have been surprised if they had cameras and microphones in the living quarters as well.

“It’ll be risky,” she stated. “But if it’s urgent enough, I know Niylah will help us. We have to make sure Lexa knows not to trust anything Titus says; he betrayed us. He’ll be trying to get them to ally with District Two, and we can’t allow that to happen. Lexa needs to know the truth. Let’s just hope Niylah remembers the language…” she trailed off.

<-><-><-><->

Jake Griffin’s computer had seen better days, that much was certain. When Abby told her that Jaha and the Peacekeepers had confiscated it after Jake’s death, Raven knew it would be in bad shape, but she wasn’t quite expecting this. The laptop looked as if it had been run over and trampled on, the screen was cracked, some of the circuitry had been fried, and that was only the extent of the cosmetic damage. She’d spent all night hunched over Abby’s desk with spare parts and various tools, trying to mend the computer to the point in which it flickered back to life. Then, when she finally did manage to get it working again, the encryptions and firewalls protecting the data were far more advanced than she expected. She shouldn’t have been surprised, Jake Griffin had been a brilliant man and a masterful engineer, but whatever he had discovered had been valuable and dangerous enough to get both him and Clarke killed. Raven was going to find out what.

She was no expert in computer programming or hacking, but she was a mechanical genius, and there was nothing that she couldn’t figure out with a little dedication and some elbow grease. It wasn’t the daunting task of figuring out Jake’s encryptions that made her nervous, but rather the time constraint that she had to do it in. Every hour that went by was another hour closer to the start of the Games, and another hour nearer to Finn and Clarke being killed. She had to work quickly to find what Jake was hiding, or they would lose all hope of ever seeing their loved-ones alive again, and that wasn’t something she could live with.

In the background, she listened to the sound of the Opening Ceremony where Abby had it playing on the TV, watching across from where Raven sat with the puzzle of a laptop. The older woman was only mildly interested, sipping a cup of coffee and lost in thought as she glanced back and forth between the screen and a stack of medical charts that she’d been working on. However, they both paused in their ministrations and directed their full attention towards the Opening Ceremony when Cage Wallace announced the entrance of the District Thirteen Tributes.

Raven’s heart skipped at the sight of Finn, drawing the breath from her lungs. His brown hair had been gelled back off of his face and he was wearing a dashing suit that hugged his muscular frame tightly as if designed specifically for his body. The material was a midnight shade of black, but as soon as it hit the artificial light, she watched as it flashed a deep shade of crimson red. Despite being in perilous danger and surrounded by enemies, Finn was smiling and waving to the crowd, eliciting loud cheers from a group of young girls. It was clear which demographic he would be popular amongst in the Capitol, being dashing and handsome, the women were sure to love him. Maybe his charming smile would be enough to win a few sponsors, but Raven didn’t intend to let it even get that far before she got him out.

For a moment, her chest filled with the sense of crushing dread as she thought about the ‘what if.’ What if she couldn’t save him? What would her life have been like without the boy that had rescued her from hunger and neglect and had always inspired her to follow her dreams? Where would she have ended up if not for the man who took blame for the crime that she committed? What would the world be like if Finn was no longer in it? The thought was enough to pull tears to her eyes, and she had to suck in a deep steadying breath through her nose to calm her addled nerves. She would have to work faster if she wanted to ensure that the last ‘what if’ never came true.

Her work was put on hold a moment longer as the cameras shifted from Finn to Clarke, and Abby gasped out loud at the sight of her daughter. Clarke was wearing a low cut dress that quickly morphed into the same shade of blood red as Finn’s had against the bright light, the sides were cut out over her ribs and strands of the fabric cascaded down her arms to her wrists. Her hair had been colored a bright shade of crimson; gone was the innocent girl with blonde hair and bright blue eyes, and in her place was a woman who looked as if she didn’t fear death, but commanded it instead. Clarke was staring straight ahead, her eyes focused on something in the distance in front of her and Raven wondered if she was possibly looking at another Tribute, or if she simply did not want to lend attention to the spectacle they were making of children's deaths. Regardless, her gaze was intense, and the crowd was going absolutely wild at her transformation.

“She looks so different,” Abby remarked, breaking the awed silence that had filled the tiny office space. Raven heard the pain in her voice, but had no words of comfort to offer. “She’ll never be my little girl again,” the doctor added with a wistful tone, as if longing for the past.

Raven knew she would sound harsh, but she needed Abby to hear the truth if they were going to figure out how to save Clarke and Finn. “She stopped being your little girl the day Jaha locked her up for treason. The girl they sent to the Games is not the girl you knew. People change when they’re faced with things that nobody should ever have to witness. Whatever Clarke sees while she’s there: that’s gonna come back with her.”

Abby was silent for a moment before slowly nodding her agreement. “Clarke is a survivor,” she said. “She’ll find a way to get through this.”

Raven didn’t know Clarke, and couldn’t pretend to know what she was like or how she would handle the things she’d be forced to do in the Games. How does anyone handle having to kill another person to save their own life? But she did know Finn, perhaps better than she knew herself, and her heart was heavy as she realized that Finn would never be able to bear the weight of another’s death. He was too kind, too good. The Games would break him. And even if by some miracle he survived and came home to her, would he even be her Finn anymore? She didn’t want to find out. She took another steadying breath, resolve renewed as she turned her focus back to the laptop with newfound determination.

<-><-><-><->

Niylah was exhausted, as she had been nonstop designing outfits and hair and makeup from the moment her District Thirteen Tributes had been announced and she’d received their sizes. She had drawn up the designs for Clarke’s gowns and Finn’s suits weeks before, but her visions hadn’t been able to come to life until she actually met the pair. Between the Arrival Banquet and the Opening Ceremony, she hadn’t actually slept in nearly three days, but the work she had created was admirable. The decision to change Clarke’s hair color had been a last minute one, but looking back at the footage now, she’d been thrilled with the results. She had managed to take the unpolished teens that had been sent to her, and transform them into mysteries of danger and seduction, and that had been exactly what she’d dreamed up in her mind.

Now, she had a small amount of time to rest before her magic would be needed again for the Tribute Interviews that were coming up in a few day’s time, and her imagination was already bursting with elegant and grand designs that were just waiting to be brought to life. She practically stumbled into her temporary quarters on the Thirteenth floor, located just down the hall from Marcus Kane, and collapsed onto the plush bed. The pull of sleep was almost too irresistible to pass up, but there was still work to be done before she could succumb to the world of dreams. She wasn’t surprised to find the red blinking light at her communications hub blaring, signaling that she had unread messages.

The Games were the busiest time of year for her as a designer and a stylist, and with them always came the endless offers from fashion retailers or private buyers looking to purchase the designs she had clad her Tributes in. There was a particular market among the women of the Capitol for the exact dress that the female Tributes wore during the banquets or their interviews. Some years were more successful than others, and sometimes the sale of a single design was enough to get her through the entire year until the next Games rolled around. She had a feeling that this year would be particularly successful, and she smiled as her eyes skimmed over the dozens of messages in her inbox.

The overwhelming feeling of pride was put on hold when her gaze landed on a message that stood out from the rest:

From: The Desk of Commander Titus of District One
Subject: Rid op snap!

Niylah stared at the unopened message for a moment as her mind swirled around the possibilities of its contents. In all the years that she had been the stylist for District Thirteen, never had the Commander of her birth district tried to contact her. Even more peculiar than the sender was the contents of the subject line, written in a language she had not seen or spoken in many years. She knew the meaning of the words (Read Quickly!), but what confused her was the fact that Titus did not know how to speak the language. The novitiates had created it in order to communicate with one another without the Peacekeepers being able to understand what they were saying, and it was passed strictly from one novitiate class on to the next, taught in the dead if night where unwelcome ears could not hear. So, if the secret language was being used in a message to her, then there was no way that Titus could be the sender. She exhaled deeply, somehow knowing that the contents of the message could not be good for her health or future, and then opened it up:

Message:
Seingeda, ai laik scrab daun kom yu kos nou don ron ai sadon op. Ai gafen infou kom Leksa. Tel em op nou wich Azgeda o Fleimkeppa. Em laik natrona. Em teik Costia au.
-A.

Niylah stared at the contents of the note and the single initial of its sender, silently translating it in her head. She scribbled it out on a piece of paper and read through it several times over just to be sure that she was understanding it correctly. To the best of her knowledge, as it had been ages, the message said: Cousin, I am writing to you because I have no other option. I need you to pass a message to Lexa. Tell her that she cannot trust District Two or Titus. He is a traitor. He killed Costia.

The signature at the bottom made sense, and she realized that Anya would not risk contacting her directly like this unless the situation was dire. The part about Titus betraying them was disturbing, as he had been in charge of District One for over two decades. If he was truly a traitor, then that meant Lexa and Gustus were walking into a trap. Niylah hadn’t yet met either of the District One Tributes, but after training for so many years at Polis Academy, a sense of loyalty had been ingrained in her very core. She couldn’t allow this message to go unpassed.

But, there was no way she would be able to contact Lexa directly. Security in the Tribute Center was of the highest level, and even being caught outside the thirteenth floor was enough to earn her a death sentence. She debated perhaps trying to sneak the note to Lexa the next time she saw her, but that wouldn’t be until the night of Tribute Interviews, and by that time it could be too late. There had to be something else she could do, or some way to get close that she wasn’t thinking of. Or maybe, she wouldn’t even have to get close at all; one of her Tributes could.

<-><-><-><->

Octavia sat in her cell, waiting. It was what she had always done. Ever since she’d been arrested, she’d spent her life waiting: waiting for her next meal, waiting for them to shut the lights out, waiting for her one hour a week of exercise, waiting for her brother. But now, she was done waiting. She had spent her entire life a prisoner, hiding in fear beneath the floorboards, only to be discovered and actually imprisoned. She didn’t know what it was like to have friends, or to kiss a boy, or to wake up next to a loved one. She didn’t know what it was like to live, only what it was like to wait to start living, and for that, Jaha would pay.

The Chancellor would pay for all the years she had been hidden or locked away, and he would pay for executing their mother. If Clarke Griffin knew something that would sink Jaha, Octavia was going to find out what it was. And if that knowledge happened to harm the Capitol in the process, then it would make her vengeance even sweeter. She’d spent the entire night planning her escape and all the things she’d say when she finally confronted the man who had stolen eighteen years of her life. The only thing standing in her way was a heavy metal door, and her even heavier conscience.

She felt terrible for manipulating her brother’s feelings, and even worse for stealing his gun, but it was the only way. She knew he had sacrificed his entire life for her; Bellamy had always thought of her as his responsibility, and she knew that the past five years in prison would have been far worse without him. She knew he was lonely and suffering, but she also knew that it was something that she couldn’t blame herself for. The only crime she had ever committed was being born, and it was something she could never take back. She didn’t want to. She’d spent her entire life feeling like a mistake and a burden, and now she finally had a chance to liberate herself. And if she had her way, she would liberate Bellamy too.

It was only a month before Octavia’s eighteenth birthday, and her brother had pleaded for her to wait just a little while longer. In a month, she would be released and free to live her life as a citizen of District Thirteen, but what kind of life would that be? The people would never look at her like she was one of them, and she would never be able to prove that she was. Deep down, she knew that she wasn’t. She was a loner. She wasn’t from District Thirteen, and she wasn’t from the prison she now called home. She belonged nowhere, and to no one. Waiting a month would never change that, and in a month’s time, Clarke Griffin would very likely be dead, as would the information that she had to bring down Jaha.

At least that was what Octavia assumed she had. Jaha wouldn’t have sent her to die in the Games otherwise, and Octavia was determined to find out. She would force him to tell her the truth, and with it, she would have enough to blackmail him into anything that she desired. She knew that her plan would likely get her killed, but at least she would go down fighting rather than rotting in a cell. She would rather die than spend another month waiting; she’d waited long enough. Now, it was time to act. She just hoped that Bellamy wouldn’t figure out that his gun was gone until after she’d gotten to the Chancellor.

She half expected him to have come charging through the door already, nostrils flaring and face beet red in anger, but all had been quiet. She didn’t want to imagine the hurt and worry he’d feel when he realized that his weapon was missing, but it was her only way out, and she’d had no choice. She knew he would lose his job, possibly even be arrested for his negligence, but if she did get to Jaha, she would bargain for his freedom. After all, the Chancellor would have a gun pressed to his head, and little choice but to agree with her demands. If her plan actually went accordingly and she didn’t get herself killed, she and her brother would have a ride out of there that very night. They would go so far away that nobody would ever know their names or where they came from or what they’d done. They would finally be free. And to Octavia, that sounded like a much better option than living her life below the ground for the rest of her days.

She sighed and stared at the door, willing it to open so that she could get it over with before she had enough time to talk herself out of it. When the sound of the lock clicking finally did ring out, echoing off the metal walls, her heart leapt up into her throat and she had to fight to choke it back down. If Bellamy came through that door, her little rebellion was over. But when it finally swung open, it was young Nathan Miller who entered carrying a tray of food. Octavia shot to her feet, summoning all of her willpower to help her see her plans through as she held the gun to his face.

Miller’s brown eyes went wide in fear as he realized the sudden danger he’d walked into, and he let the plate of food clatter to the floor when he slowly held up his hands in surrender. Octavia stared at him, determined green eyes meeting fearful brown, as she took a step forward and pressed the barrel to his forehead in order to keep her hand from shaking. She swallowed hard, searching for her voice beneath her fear and nerves, and then pulled back the hammer with her thumb. It was too late to turn back now.

“Take me to Jaha,” she commanded, her voice made entirely of steel.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, the Tributes would spend several hours in the vast training room, practicing combat and survival skills. Clarke understood that some of the Tributes had far more of an advantage in these areas than others, but it was a fact that she had no choice but to accept. The Games were not designed to be fair, they were designed to be violent and brutal, and shocking enough to scare the districts into submission. Clarke also knew that she wasn’t a fighter. She wouldn’t go into the training room and master weapons she had never even seen before in the meager two days that they were given to practice. If she wanted to survive, which she was sure was a futile hope considering Wallace would kill her the moment she refused his offer, she would have to play to the strengths that she already had.

Clarke was a healer, trained in medicine and possessing the knowledge to cure all manner of illness and injury and the understanding how to produce salves and herbal remedies from what nature provided. It was the one skill that she was sure no other Tribute had, and it would help her to survive if she found herself sick or wounded. She had seen Tributes in the past win by riding out the majority of the bloodshed and avoiding the violence, and she figured that this was likely her best chance of making it through the Games. So, over the next few days, she would have to concentrate on survival skills like building a shelter or fire, setting traps, creating fish hooks or netting, and identifying edible plants. If she found a safe place to hunker down and camouflage her shelter, she might be able to live through the initial onslaught.

She also knew that President Wallace would want an answer to his proposal soon. It was that thought that had kept her up at night over the past two days. He’d offered to ensure her victory in the Games if she turned over the information that her father knew. The bastard had also threatened to kill her mother if she spoke a word of it to anyone, and Clarke found herself in a position that no seventeen-year-old should ever be put in. She could tell Dante what she knew, and possibly save her own life in the process if he was true to his word, but it would also destroy the best hope that the districts ever had of rising up. She could try to tell someone else what she knew, maybe Marcus Kane, and hope that he acted on the knowledge after her death in the Games, but that would be putting her mother at risk. At the end of the day, even though she was given a choice, she really had no choice at all. Her father had died for this information and the hope that it could one day be used, and Clarke would die for it too; at the hands of another Tribute. But first, she had to ensure that the knowledge would not be lost with her death, and if she had to sacrifice herself and her mother to do it, she was going to make damn sure that it was worth it. She would have to find the right person to tell, someone who wouldn’t be too scared to use it. Someone who would stand and fight.

The problem was, Clarke didn’t know who she could trust. She didn’t know anyone that would be willing to lead a rebellion against Mount Weather, and she had no idea how to find someone that would. She sighed heavily, staring at herself in the full length mirror of her room and seeing the weight of civilization bearing down on her in the dark circles beneath her eyes. She looked tired, beaten, and a tad bit hopeless, likely the effect of having been awake for nearly three days straight and having no solution to her problems. She wore a lightweight jumpsuit made of a gray material that was both flexible and durable and would allow her optimal movement during their training sessions. The crimson shade of red that had colored her hair the night before had faded when she showered, and now her blonde locks were pulled back into a braid that was streaked with different hues of red, pink, and maroon.

She was startled out of her brooding by an urgent pounding on her door, causing her to jump. She hadn’t even reached for the handle yet when the door burst open and Niylah rushed through, slamming it behind her. The stylist looked pale, her forehead gleaming with a sheen of sweat as she shifted nervously from foot to foot. Her normally calm features were twisted into an expression of both worry and discomfort, and she looked as if she could double over and vomit at any moment.

“Niylah? What’s wrong?” Clarke asked, having never seen the blonde appear so unnerved in any of their previous meetings.

The stylist held her gaze for a long moment, as if debating whether or not to tell the truth. “Clarke, what I am about to tell you could get me killed,” she whispered, hazel eyes scouring the corners of the room and the ceiling as if searching for hidden cameras or microphones.

“Hey, calm down,” Clarke replied, closing the distance between them and placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Whatever it is, you can trust me.”

Niylah nodded once and swallowed deeply before continuing. “I received an urgent message in the night from my cousin in District One,” she explained. “Anya would not risk sending this to me unless it was a matter of life and death. It is imperative that Lexa Woods receives this message, Clarke,” she added. “But I cannot get close enough to her to deliver it.”

“You want me to deliver it?” Clarke asks, feeling her eyebrows shoot into her hairline, and was answered by the other woman’s single nod. “Well what’s it say?”

“I cannot answer that,” Niylah replied softly. “You must understand that I would not ask this of you if it wasn’t most important.”

Clarke let out the breath she’d been holding as she mulled over her options. She didn’t know how to feel about passing along a message to her enemy; a message that could quite possibly assist in leading to her own death. But over the last few days, she had come to trust, maybe even like, Niylah and she wanted to have faith in her now and trust that whatever the message was, it presented no danger to the District Thirteen Tributes. Clarke also understood the value in having allies, and perhaps delivering this message to Lexa could aid in securing a powerful one. When it came down to it, it was a gamble. There was an equal chance that bringing the message to the District One Tribute could spell either benefit or consequence for herself.

“Fine,” Clarke sighed. “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you,” Niylah answered, shoulders deflating with relief as she handed a folded sheet of paper to Clarke. “Put it in the inside pocket of your jacket and do not let anyone see you give it to her.”

“I’ll be careful,” Clarke promised, doing as she was told and tucking the message away.

The stylist nodded once and gently straightened the collar of Clarke’s jacket before motioning towards the door. “Kane and Finn are waiting for you, if you’re ready to head down,” she stated.

“I’m ready,” she informed gritting her teeth and following Niylah to the elevator where the men were waiting. How ready could a person be to witness the hundreds of different ways that twenty-five other people will try to kill them?

When they got to the training room, it was worse than Clarke thought it would be. The room was divided up into different stations, separated by combat and survival, and further broken down into sections depending on which weapon or skill was being utilized. The archery station had two lanes, each with a target and several different sized bows to practice with. The District Three girl, Emori, Clarke thought her name was, was shooting arrows into the target one after another, hitting the bulls-eye nearly every time. In the next station over, Quint, from District Six, was hurling a spear into the chest of a dummy with enough force to send it flying ten feet back. On a mat at the center of the room, Ontari and Roan were sparring with training swords, locked in battle so intense that Clarke actually thought they aimed to kill each other.

A few of the younger Tributes were spread out at the survival stations, learning how to make shelters and build fires, and Clarke could see the tears in their eyes as they watched the more dangerous competitors show off their murderous skills. On the far side of the room, the District One Tributes were standing at another range, taking turns hurdling throwing knives into targets painted to look like a silhouette of a human body. Gustus was good, his knife finding its way into the abdomen and chest of the dummy each time, but Lexa was remarkable. Each knife she threw flew straight and true, zipping through the air end over end and thudding into the target where the heart should be. She threw another round of three, and all three jutted straight into the center of the dummy’s head.

Clarke watched the way she moved with poise and grace, her body flowing effortlessly as if the knives were just an extension of her hand, obeying her every command. Her sharp jawline clenched, and her brow furrowed in concentration above forest green eyes that honed in on her target like a predator stalking her prey. She had removed her gray jacket and stood in a tank top, her arms toned and muscled, and her skin was bronzed from spending her days training in the blazing sun. On her right bicep, she had a tattoo etched into her skin that wrapped around her arm, framing it in a sort of black tribal design. Her wild brown hair was braided in several strands down her back, and her forehead and neck glistened with sweat in the harsh artificial light. For some reason, Clarke felt herself drawn to the other girl, unable to peel her eyes away as she watched her move; it dawned on her then that Lexa was like living art, and Clarke longed to capture her in paints and pastels. As dangerous and daunting as she was, and as much as Clarke despised her, there was no denying that Lexa Woods was beautiful in all her deadly glory like a living contrast between life and death.

Her silent admiration was cut short by Finn tapping her on the shoulder and informing her that he was going to try his hand at the archery range. Clarke nodded her acknowledgement, and when she turned back around, she found emerald green eyes staring at her from a distance as if Lexa had known she’d been watching. The imaginary weight of the message Niylah had given her felt like it was burning a hole through her pocket, and Clarke sighed, knowing that another meeting with the girl from District One was unavoidable.

She held her chin high, appearing as confident as possible as she strode across the room, aware that there were other eyes on her. Lexa had been observing her the whole time, and arched a single brow in question as she approached. “Clarke,” she acknowledged, her voice dry and emotionless. “You tell me to stay away from you, yet it is you who always seems to seek me out.”

“I need to talk to you,” Clarke answered, trying to convey the urgency in her expression without giving too much away to the video cameras and Game Makers that were surely watching them. “Alone.”

<-><-><-><->

Out of the corner of her eye, Lexa could see that Clarke was watching her from where she had just entered the training room. The sight of the other girl brought with it a wave of confusion, and she wasn’t sure if the weight of her eyes made her more nervous or angry. Everything that she had experienced about Clarke over the last two days was infuriating, but what was more infuriating was that as much as she wanted to hate the blonde, she couldn’t. Maybe it was her snarky attitude and blunt stubbornness that reminded her so much of Anya, or the blue eyes that were both sad and fierce, or the knowledge that they had a common enemy in the Capitol, but Lexa found herself unable to shake the girl from Thirteen from her thoughts. Granted, not all of her thoughts were pleasant.

Clarke was stubborn and annoying and too headstrong for her own good, and yet, Lexa couldn’t help but admire her courage. Still, even her admiration wouldn’t save the blonde. The knowledge that Clarke would have to die in order for Lexa to live was never far from her mind either. She would perform her duty when the time came, but a large part of her had started to hope that she wouldn’t have to. Clarke would die, that much was certain, but perhaps it didn’t have to be by her hand. Maybe the blonde would get picked off in the initial slaughter that always occurred at the Cornucopia, or perhaps she would be hunted down by Ontari if she did manage to survive the fray. If all else failed, and she was forced to be the one to kill Clarke, at least she could make it quick and painless. Her duty, and her people, depended on her resolve to see it done. Yet for some reason, Lexa felt herself angered by the thought.

Aware that Clarke was watching her, Lexa stepped forward and hurled a set of knives towards the target with as much strength and accuracy as she could muster, and watched as they sank one after another into the dummy’s head. She turned to look at Clarke, green eyes crashing with blue the way waves crash into the earth, and their gazes met for what felt like a solid minute. Lexa wanted to pull away, but found herself trapped in the blonde’s eyes until the boy from Thirteen, Finn, nudged her and whispered something in her ear. Lexa exhaled, feeling like she could breathe again, but was taken by surprise when Clarke turned around and started in her direction, meeting her gaze in challenge once more.

She could feel her heart rate kick up in her chest, and she hadn’t even had time to wonder why when Clarke came to a stop right in front of her. “Clarke,” she forced herself to speak the single syllable, noting the way her tongue clicked over the –k. “You tell me to stay away from you, yet it is you who always seems to seek me out,” she added, keeping her tone and expression as emotionless as possible.

“I need to talk to you. Alone,” Clarke answered as if it was an order and not a request.

Lexa considered her for a moment, taking in the way the red that had been in her hair the night before had washed out to nothing more than streaks that cut through blonde. Beside her, she could feel the way Gustus tensed up, getting ready to step between them and tell Clarke to leave, but Lexa held up her hand to halt him. The blue of Clarke’s gaze held her still, as if daring her to refuse, and Lexa met her in equal challenge, standing taller and imposing her own presence upon the blonde. It was the urgency in Clarke’s expression and not the defiance in her eyes that convinced her to agree, and she offered the District Thirteen a girl a single nod in compliance.

She turned on her heel without a word, knowing that Clarke would follow, and led her out into the hallway that took them towards the washroom. Lexa eyed the cameras above them inconspicuously, doing her best not to draw attention as she searched for a place that was not monitored by the prying eyes of the Capitol. After scanning the hallway, it was clear that the only place they would be free to speak was in the restroom itself, so Lexa pulled Clarke through the doorway and then turned on the sinks and hand dryer for good measure.

When she felt like they were as safe as they were going to get, she turned to the blonde. “What is it, Clarke?” she questioned, keeping her tone low and hard, purposely showing no manner of interest. The sooner she was away from the other girl, the better.

“My stylist, Niylah, is from your district,” Clarke began, leaning close and barely speaking above a whisper. “She said she received an urgent message from someone last night that needed to be passed on to you immediately.”

Lexa felt her stomach drop, knowing that the only person who would be passing a message through Niylah would be Anya. And if it was urgent enough to risk sending it into the Capitol, then something must have happened. “What is the message?” she questioned, almost dreading the answer.

Clarke stepped even closer still, narrowing the distance between them to just a few inches, as she reached into the inside pocket of her jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “Here. I didn’t read it,” Clarke promised, handing it over.

Lexa took the note, highly aware of their proximity and the fact that Clarke was close enough to feel her breath on her neck. She unfolded it in the narrow space between them and saw that it was written in Trigedasleng, so even if Clarke had tried to read it, she wouldn’t have been able to. Still, the knowledge that Clarke respected her enough to honor the privacy of her personal matters was somewhat comforting. Lexa held her breath as she scanned the words on the page several times over again, unable to believe what she was reading as the crushing weight of anger and betrayal slammed into her chest.

Titus had betrayed them. He’d been the reason that Costia had been killed, and he had sacrificed her for what? An alliance with District Two? A deal with Nia and Wallace? Lexa clenched her jaw hard enough to make her teeth ache, biting the inside of her cheek as she forced away the tears behind her eyes. She would not let Clarke see her weakness. She would never again let anyone see it. Instead, she sucked in a breath through her nose and forced the shattering heartache in her chest to turn to stone, and waited for a moment as it turned from stone to molten lava. A hurricane of emotions rolled through her, storming with enough force to bring down all of Mount Weather, and internally, she vowed that she would. She would win the Games, and then she would kill Titus for what he’d done, and she wouldn’t stop until Nia, and Wallace, and all of Mount Weather were nothing more than ashes at her feet.

Lexa took a steadying breath, trying to calm her storm before she found the words to speak. “Thank you, Clarke, for bringing this to me,” she said, glancing up from the words on the page to meet calming blue eyes and instantly she felt as if the fire in her heart was starting to cool. “You may have just saved many people’s lives,” she added, obscurely.

Clarke simply nodded gently, though Lexa could see in her expression that she knew something was wrong, and was grateful when she didn’t press the matter further. “I’m glad I could help,” she said instead, her voice sincere.

“Why?” Lexa questioned before she could contain herself. “Why help me when you don’t even know the contents of this message? How do you know that what is written here won’t aid in your own death?”

Clarke paused for a moment, thoughtful before shrugging. “A week from now, any and everything I do could lead to my death,” she stated truthfully. “Besides, we may not be friends, Lexa,” she added after a second. “But that doesn’t mean that we have to be enemies either.”

Lexa stood still for a moment, the anger that had been boiling in her veins rolling to a low simmer. She wasn’t sure how to respond or what she should be feeling in that instant, so instead she remained silent and offered the blonde a single nod. Clarke returned the gesture and then swept out of the room, leaving Lexa alone with the running faucets, blowing hand dryer, and her racing thoughts. She went to the nearest sink, cupping her hands and using them to splash water up on to her face as she attempted to settle her world that had just been turned on end. Anya had not sent her this message to distract her from her duty, but rather to warn her of the treachery around them and to give her yet another reason to fight. She was not about to let her heart cloud her head now.

Costia’s death had always been a mystery. How had someone that appeared to have been so strong and so willing to fight have gotten so ill seemingly over night? But it all made sense now. Titus had sent her a parachute with supplies in it that must have been poisoned, incapacitating her so that Nia could make the kill. That was the only explanation, and Lexa felt some semblance of closure at having finally learned the truth, yet it wasn’t Costia’s death or Titus’s betrayal that had her most confused in that moment, but rather the fact that Clarke had decided to help her.

She knew that it was a tactical move; that the blonde had no interest in the politics of District One or even in Lexa’s well-being. She had delivered the message in order to gain trust and as a show of good faith, probably in hopes that Lexa would return the favor at some point. But something about the whole situation had been more than just that. Clarke could have tried to read the letter and still delivered it, yet she hadn’t. She hadn’t even asked what the contents of it were after Lexa had read it. And she had seen a certain softness in the blue of Clarke’s eyes as the blonde observed her, undoubtedly having read some sort of anguish in her face. She had tried to remain emotionless, but she knew that her eyes gave her away. Her loved ones had learned to read them, but maybe Clarke had seen something in them too. The thought was disconcerting.

Lexa breathed heavily, once again forcing her emotions behind the massive wall she’d built, and checking her reflection in the mirror to make sure that her face conveyed nothing that had taken place in the bathroom. When she emerged back into the training room, Gustus was waiting for her where she’d left him at the throwing knife station. She quickly filled him in on what had happened, speaking to him in Trigedasleng so that only they were privy to the conversation, and watching as his own expression flickered to fury as well. Two things were certain: Titus had betrayed them and killed the woman she once loved; and, District Two could never be trusted.

What was uncertain was her feelings towards the girl from District Thirteen. She exhaled a steadying breath and resumed her training for the day, spending hours at the various stations and showing off her superior combat skills. Still, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from looking across the room and finding Clarke at the multiple different survival stations, learning how to set traps and find shelter or build a fire. Even when she tried to force herself not to, scolding herself each time their eyes met, Lexa seemed to be drawn to her like a magnet, unable to keep earthy green from melting with sky blue.

Chapter Text

Thelonious Jaha considered himself an intelligent man, and thought of himself as a good leader due mainly to his ability to make the hard decisions that a lesser man could not. He would do anything to ensure the survival of his people, which meant that sometimes he was forced bargain with their greatest enemy. The deal he had in place with the Capitol for District Thirteen was not a fair one, in fact, it wasn’t even a good one. It taxed them so heavily that most people were forced to live in poverty, but in his eyes, at least they got to live at all. And it was his understanding of that that secured his position as Chancellor in the first place.

The circumstances were not ideal, the tax rates were outrageous, and everyone knew that anyone over the age of eighteen who committed a crime would never be seen again, but at least they had peace. It was a tentative peace, sure, but for the moment, it was enough. The Districts would never survive another war with the Capitol; they were too weak and too scattered, and another war would only lead to the final extinction of humanity once and for all. And that was the exact reason why he’d had to kill Jake Griffin.

The knowledge Jake had stumbled upon would get them all killed. Jaha knew there was unrest in the districts, a blind man could see it. He knew that the winds of rebellion were stirring, just waiting for the right sail to catch hold of and spur on an entire fleet of rebels that would lead them all into the abyss. The information Jake had found would be the gust that sparked the momentum. That’s why killing him had been the only option in order to preserve what was left of humanity. It was just an unfortunate case of wrong place, wrong time that Clarke had witnessed the murder of her father and had seen what Jake had discovered. That was why he had sent her to the Capitol. Either she would take Wallace’s deal and reveal what she knew to bargain for her own life, or she would die in the Games. He had a feeling the Griffin girl would never see home again.

The Chancellor was sitting at his desk, lost in thought as he poured over a tax report he’d been working on for the Capitol, but his work was interrupted when his office door crashed open, sending files flying to the floor. Nathan Miller, one of the newest additions to the Peacekeepers came stumbling through the door, crashing to his knees as a girl shoved him from behind. She had long black hair, fair skin, and piercing green eyes filled with so much hatred that she could melt even the coldest frost with a single glare. Her gray prison jumpsuit was what gave her away, and Jaha recognized her as Octavia Blake. And she was holding a gun.

When her gaze met his, she raised the gun from the young guard and pointed it at the Chancellor instead, gripping it tightly enough to turn her knuckles white. Nathan saw his opportunity for escape and scurried back out of the door on his hands and knees, and Octavia let him go, kicking the door shut and locking it behind him. They were alone now, and Jaha slowly raised his hands to show that he was defenseless, rising from his seat behind his desk.

“What is the meaning of this, Ms. Blake?” he asked, trying to keep his tone level as she took another threatening step towards him with her weapon raised.

“Besides the fact that I’ve spent my entire life in a cage simply for existing?” she questioned sardonically. “I’ve got nothing to lose, Jaha,” she sneered. “You’re going to tell me what you know, and then you are going to get me and my brother a shuttle out of here. Tonight.”

Her words confused him, but he didn’t let his face betray his emotions, trying to maintain control of the situation. “Tell you what I know about what?” he asked.

“Clarke Griffin knew that her name would be called in the Reaping,” Octavia stated, pausing to read his expression. “I want to know what she did to earn a death sentence. Or better yet, what did she know, Chancellor?” she growled menacingly, stepping close enough to press the barrel of the gun to his chest.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Ms. Blake. Clarke’s name was drawn randomly, just like the rest,” he answered, doing his best to feign ignorance.

“Don’t lie to me!” she yelled, pushing harder into his chest. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I won’t shoot you!”

He glared at her and saw years upon years of hatred in her eyes, pent up and waiting to boil over. Her threat wasn’t idol, and he knew that if he wasn’t careful, he would end up dead. But at the same time, he also knew that Miller would have run to get help by now, and that all he had to do was bide his time a little longer before an entire force of Peacekeepers arrived. “Even if I had that knowledge, why would I tell you?” he asked, trying to get her talking.

Octavia wasn’t buying it, and she let her anger show when she pulled back the hammer of the gun and fired off a round into the floor at his feet before pressing the barrel of the gun to his forehead. “Because I will kill you if you don’t do as I say!” she answered.

He felt a true rush of fear and knew that if he didn’t start talking, she would kill him. Though he knew that he didn’t actually have the answers that she desired; Clarke was the only person who did. “What Clarke and Jake Griffin knew could kill thousands of people, Ms. Blake,” he said, keeping his tone steady. “I could not let that information get out.”

“Whose people?” Octavia questioned, pushing the gun to his head even harder.

“Everyone,” Jaha replied. “That information would start a war. The Capitol would not be merciful,” he explained, just as a loud pounding at the door started and he knew that the guards had arrived and would be breaking through at any moment.

“What information?!” Octavia growled, green eyes wild in desperation. “Is it a weapon?” she questioned. “Did Jake discover a weapon? A bomb?”

The pounding at the door grew louder as a battering ram slammed into the metal, followed by shouting and timed counts from the guards. “A bomb would be minimalistic compared to what Jake Griffin discovered,” he spat, ripping the gun out of her hand as she turned to watch the door come off its hinges. “I’m afraid we’re out of time, Ms. Blake,” he replied, letting a sly smile pull at his features just as the door came crashing down and a wave of guards flooded into the room.

<-><-><-><->

Titus knew the value of duty above all else. He would do anything to ensure that his people did not go hungry like the rest of the districts – even if it meant allying with an enemy. He knew that all victories stood on the backs of countless sacrifices, and that was why he had been willing to sacrifice Costia in the first place. He needed to mend their relationship with District Two, offer them a show of good faith and aid in a new leader’s rise to power in order to ensure a lasting alliance between the two bitter rivals. He understood the competitive nature of the Games, but saw no reason why the Tributes of District One and District Two should focus so intently on killing each other when there were twenty-four other threats waiting to take them out.

However dangerous an alliance with Nia may be, there was value to one too. She had made a remarkable climb to power and undoubtedly had friends in the Capitol – friends that had tipped her off on details about this year’s arena. Which is how he found himself in his office in the middle of the night, waiting on a secret call from her, but the young leader was late. He knew to expect a betrayal from her and her Tributes at some point, over a century of feuding could not be put to rest easily after all, but he wasn’t expecting one this soon. Not before the Games started. Nia would wait for an opportune moment to make her move, and when she did, Titus would be ready.

But for now, he needed her, and whether she liked it or not, she needed him too. Surely she could see the value in an alliance between the two most powerful districts, both in and outside of the Games. Value that President Wallace recognized himself and would be rather upset if it went to waste. No, her tardiness was not a betrayal, but perhaps a show of who was in charge. A less seasoned ruler would let his ego get in the way, but Titus had been at this for twenty years, and with two decades of leadership also came the ability to be patient. It was patience that had gotten him this far, and it would serve him further as he brought even more honor and glory to his district. It was also twenty years of patience that had earned him the favor and the ear of Dante Wallace himself; a valuable relation that Nia was undoubtedly looking to take advantage of. The Hunger Games were a brutal front to keep the districts in line, Titus knew that, but it was the game of politics that kept him up at night.

The one slightest threat to his rank and the progress with both the Capitol and District Two that he’d worked so hard for was Lexa Woods. He saw the way the other novitiates idolized her and the way the Victors respected her leadership, and even the people of the district admired her courage and strength. He knew she would have likely won her conclave, and if she returned from the Games, she would no doubt one day succeed him, but what concerned him was the matter of when. Was it in his best interest, the people’s best interest, to bring her home from the Games and groom her for leadership in his stead? Or, was it in his best interest to make yet another deal with Nia, or even Wallace himself, to see that she never returned at all? That was the exact dilemma that had been in his mind since the moment she claimed the mantle of Tribute.

Lexa had many friends, some of which would stand beside her even after she was gone, and that posed a problem for him. If he did sacrifice her the way he’d sacrificed Costia, there would be questions asked and any one of them could lead back to him. He had to be very careful, or he’d find himself branded a traitor even though all that he did was what was best for his people; but making the people understand that was never easy. The thing about the fickle minds of common folk was that they were never satisfied; they could not see the good in what they had, and would always look for more. He knew there was unrest in District One, he could hear it in the murmurs of the crowd at the Conclave, but his people didn’t realize how much better they had it compared to the other districts. They were favored, but Lexa or any other Victor that challenged him, could easily turn that favor into unforgiving punishment. It was his duty to ensure that never happened.

But his obsessive thoughts were put on hold as his communications hub finally sounded with an incoming call, breaking the still silence of the late night air. He pressed the button to receive the transmission, and a moment later, Nia’s face flickered to life on his screen. The young leader sat back in her chair, confidently, her blue eyes cold as she registered the sight of him. “Titus,” she acknowledged, voice even cooler than her gaze.

“Nia,” he greeted, keeping his tone stern. “You’re late.”

“I am an important person, Titus,” she replied. “I have other people I need to see and speak with.”

Titus gritted his teeth, biting back his comment at her arrogance. “And what did you learn from these ‘other people’?” he asked instead.

“The arena will be very familiar for your Tributes,” she answered, exasperated, as if forced to reveal the information. “It’s all woods and forest.”

Titus nodded. “And will there be any Mutts or environmental factors we should be worried about?” he questioned, fully aware of the Game Maker’s propensity to make the Games more dangerous, and more entertaining, by adding environmental risks like raging fires or flash floods, or by dropping Mutts, genetically enhanced beasts, into a pack of Tributes to wreak havoc.

Nia hesitated a moment before letting out a sigh. “My contact didn’t say,” she informed, though he was immediately skeptical.

“Are we not supposed to be allies, Nia?” he asked. “Yet you’re willing to lie to my face. It does not exactly spur confidence in this relationship.”

“I will not stand for false accusations!” she snapped, tone raised. “Besides, Titus, we both know that I am the least of your worries,” she added, gaining control of her emotions. “The biggest threat to you comes from your own district.”

He paused a moment, his earlier worries brought to life once more. “Lexa,” he stated.

Nia nodded once, a sly grin tugging at her mouth. “My sources in the Capitol say she’s favored to win.”

“I fail to see how one of my Tributes winning the Games is a threat to my district,” he lied, unwilling to let his weakness show.

“Now who’s lying, Titus?” the Ice Queen questioned. “I have spies everywhere. You’d do well to remember that.”

“And what do these spies tell you?”

“That Lexa is favored by your people, your former Victors rally behind her, and she’s gathering a following in other districts. You would be wise to kill her,” Nia informed.

Titus knew that Nia never acted in less it furthered her own interests, which left him to wonder what she could gain from Lexa’s death and why the matter called for her attention. But, he also knew that she was right. He’d always known. “Well, then make sure your Tributes see that it’s done,” he answered, watching as her grin spread.

“Now you’re thinking like a real leader,” Nia replied, blue eyes dancing with plans that Titus almost feared to know.

<-><-><-><->

When it came to his weapon, Bellamy had never even had to fire it before, and had long since grown accustomed to the constant weight at his hip as if it were an extension of his body. That is, perhaps, why it had taken him so long to realize that it was gone; that and a mixture of pure exhaustion. It wasn’t until the end of his two-day long shift, when he had returned to his apartment and had been removing the holster from his belt, that he realized it was empty. All manner of emotions shot through him and he couldn’t distinguish his anger from his fear as he realized that Octavia must have taken his gun; she’d been the only person he’d gotten near enough to grab it.

He recalled the various conversations they’d had about Clarke Griffin and the Games, and the possibility that Jaha was sending an innocent girl to her death to keep a secret. His heart practically stopped in his chest and he struggled to gasp for air when he realized just where his sister would be going with that gun. He glanced at the clock as he struggled to throw his boots back on, cursing at the time. It was well past curfew, and any Peacekeeper that was caught in the corridors that wasn’t on duty was subject to civilian laws, which meant he would be arrested if he was seen outside his apartment. But Octavia was out there, getting ready to do something extremely stupid and extremely dangerous, and if he had a chance to stop her, he would. She was worth the risk; his sister, his responsibility.

He opened the door and poked his head out, glancing down the corridor in both directions for any sign of the patrolling guard. When he saw that it was clear, he rushed into the hallway, sprinting in the direction of the Prison Station and using his Peacekeeper ID to gain access to the doors that had been locked down for the night. He rounded a corner and skidded to a halt, seeing a pair of guards turn the corner at the opposite end of the hall, and ducking into a supply closet just as they came into view. They passed by quietly, chatting about the footage of the Opening Ceremony and making idle bets as to who they thought would win. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, their radios were silent, no alarms sounded, which meant that maybe he still had time to get to Octavia and stop her.

His hopes were shattered when he finally reached her cell and opened the door, holding his breath for what was on the other side. His sister’s bed was empty, the tray that had contained her evening meal was splattered across the floor in smeared puddles of brown and gray. Octavia had clearly startled whichever guard had been delivering her dinner, causing him to drop the tray and likely holding him at gunpoint. Which meant that he was too late; even if he did get to her in time and stop her from assaulting Jaha, she would be sentenced to death for her actions.

“Fuck!” he shouted, slamming a closed fist into the wall with enough force to crack his knuckles before hissing a string of curse words and turning to sprint down the hallway.

Maybe if he got to her in time, if he could just reach her and talk her out of it, he could convince whatever Peacekeeper she’d assaulted not to press charges. He’d get on his knees and beg if he had to; he’d spend his entire life working double shifts and poor assignments if that meant he could save his sister from being sentenced to the Capitol. But, his last embers of hope died away as he neared the Chancellor’s office, hearing the booming sound of a battering ram crashing against a metal door followed by the shouts of several guards. Every step closer was like a knife in his chest, and he could already feel the sharp sting of tears pricking at the back of his eyes.

He rounded the corner to Jaha’s office just in time to see a force of Peacekeeper’s crash through the metal door, snapping it off its hinges and sending it clattering to the ground. The swarm of guards rushed into the office, and a moment later, a single gunshot rang out over the cacophony of shouts and screams. Bellamy felt his heart stop for the second time that night, except this time he wasn’t sure if it would start again. His feet carried him forward, though every instinct in his body was telling him to close his eyes and turn back, and he swallowed thickly as he ignored the foreboding feeling in his chest. The yelling from inside continued, and he forcefully shoved his way through the Peacekeepers that crowded the doorway, needing to see that his sister was still alive.

The office was a mess of overturned chairs and scattered papers, large chunks of plaster littered the floor from where the hinges of the door had busted free of the drywall, and there was a tangle of guards pointing their guns in the same direction. Octavia had been forced to the ground, her lip bloodied and her green eyes blazing with anger as she struggled against Captain Miller who had his knee buried in her back as he yanked her wrists into a set of handcuffs. Other than the cut on her lip, she appeared uninjured, and he was unsure where the discharged bullet he’d heard had found its home.

“O!” he cried, unable to keep his anguish from his voice. His sister glanced around wildly, squirming beneath the weight of her captor to find his gaze. He expected to see fear and pain written in her face, maybe even a bit of remorse, but when green eyes found brown, all he saw was determination.

A second later, Chancellor Jaha shoved his way past the two guards that had rushed to put themselves between him and the shooter. His left arm was bleeding through his shirt, but it looked as if the bullet had barely grazed his arm rather than having made full contact. Perhaps Octavia had been tackled as she pulled the trigger, but whatever the reason, she’d missed her mark, and the man that had locked her away and killed their mother was still alive. And he was furious. His dark eyes seethed with anger, his expression laced with enough malice to kill with a single glance. He was breathing heavily, as if he’d just run a mile, his broad chest rising and falling with each breath as he tried to gain control of the storm raging within.

His voice was a low growl when he finally spoke. “Get her out of here!” he commanded. “Get her on the next transport to the Capitol!”

“No!” Bellamy felt himself screaming, knowing better than anyone that nobody ever returned from Mount Weather once they were taken. “Don’t hurt her, please!”

It was as if he was invisible, and the Peacekeeper that had handcuffed Octavia hauled her to her feet and began towing her towards the door. “Bellamy!” Octavia screamed, struggling against her restraints. “Bell, I’m so sorry! You have to listen to me! I was right, there’s a weapon! You—

“Shut her up!” Jaha shouted, motioning to the nearest guard who nodded once and immediately cracked the barrel of his gun across her head.

Bellamy watched as Octavia’s eyes rolled back and she slumped into the realm of oblivion, held upright by the guards positioned on either side of her. Her knees dragged the floor as they hauled her away, a thin trail of blood splashing the ground in her wake. “O!” he shouted again, hearing his voice crack. He moved to go after her, but several Peacekeepers closed off the space between them.

“Please,” he said instead, turning to face Chancellor Jaha. “Please, sir, I’ll do anything,” he begged.

Jaha stared at him for what felt like an eternity, calculating and cold, before his eyes flicked down to the empty holster on Bellamy’s belt. He bent down slowly, scooping up the gun that had wounded him and slamming it down onto his desk. “Did you lose something, Guardsman?” he asked, low and threatening.

“I didn’t know she took it, sir, I swear,” Bellamy promised, holding up both hands to show he had no intention to finish what his sister started. “If I had known, I would have stopped her.”

“Would you have?” the Chancellor asked, tone laced with disbelief. He shook his head and let out a long sigh, dabbing at the blood on his arm. “I let you take rotations in Prison Station because I pitied you and your sister. I can see now that my compassion was misplaced,” he said.

“Sir, please, I—

“You are relieved of duty, Mr. Blake,” Jaha snapped, cutting him off. “Turn in your uniform and your gun in the morning. I’m sure we can find an opening for you on the janitorial staff.”

Bellamy took a step forward but was quickly halted by a firm hand grasping his shoulder. “Sir, do whatever you want to me, but please don’t take my sister, she’s just a kid!” he argued. “You can’t take her to the Capitol, she’s not eighteen yet!”

“I am the Chancellor, Mr. Blake,” Thelonious replied. “I can do whatever the hell I want. Get him out of here!” he ordered, and Bellamy found himself being dragged away before he could get another word in.

They dumped him onto the floor of his apartment, confiscating his Peacekeeper badge so that he no longer had access to the doors that allowed him to move freely through the underground station. He stayed there for a long while, curled into a ball on the ground as grief wracked through his entire body. The next day, his sister would be loaded onto a transport and taken to Mount Weather where she would face who knows what, and there wasn’t a thing that he could do to stop it. He had failed her, and he had failed their mother, and now he would lose the only thing that ever mattered to him. The pain of it was enough to crush anyone’s spirit, and for a moment, he thought about what it would be like to just lay there and never get back up.

Except Bellamy wasn’t just anyone. He wasn’t the type of person that would just lie down and take his beating, and he certainly wasn’t the type of man that would give up on his sister. He had devoted his entire life to protecting her; he had become a Peacekeeper just to keep her safe; and he had sacrificed years of his own in order to make sure she was taken care of. She meant everything to him, and if there was a way to save Octavia, he would find it. In the morning, he would go directly to the person that his sister knew was at the center of this entire mystery: Doctor Abby Griffin.

<-><-><-><->

Raven’s eyes burned and her head pounded with exhaustion, but she was too determined to rest. Every minute that went by was a minute closer to Finn’s death, so she had no time to waste. She’d been trying to crack the encryption on Jake’s laptop for nearly thirty-six hours, and by this point, her brain was so numb that she felt practically useless. The words on the screen blurred together and her fingers ached from typing, but she felt so close to the answer that she could practically see it right in front of her face, teasing her.

Abby had fallen asleep hours before, her head buried in her arms where they rested atop the table, but she hadn’t slept peacefully. Once an hour or so, she would stir or jolt, murmuring Jake’s name or begging Clarke not to go. Whatever fear Raven felt towards Finn’s selection in the Games, she couldn’t imagine what Abby was feeling. The things the older woman had already been through was enough to break anyone’s heart, but having to watch your daughter slaughtered on live TV for entertainment would surely put her over the edge. As it was, Abby hadn’t broken yet, she still had hope, and Raven admired her for that.

She sighed heavily and glanced back down at the screen, forcing her attention back to the task at hand. She was about ready to walk away from it and brew another pot of coffee when the encryption finally gave way, revealing Jake Griffin’s cluttered desktop. “Holy shit,” Raven mumbled in surprise, blinking a few times to make sure that her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.

“Holy shit!” she said more loudly, shooting to her feet in excitement. “Abby, wake up!” she prodded, reaching across the table to shake the doctor’s shoulder. “Abby!”

“What?” Abby asked, tone heavy with sleep. “Is it Clarke?” she questioned, instantly filled with worry.

“I did it!” Raven smiled. “I cracked Jake’s encryption. We’re in!”

The doctor quickly straightened up, rejuvenated by the news as she stumbled over to stand behind Raven, looking down at the screen over her shoulder. “Great job, sweetie!” Abby exclaimed.

Raven felt a surge of warmth at the term of endearment, never having had a close relationship with her own mother. Her own mother had been a drunk and an addict, using Raven’s rations to buy drugs and alcohol and letting her child starve. Finn had saved her. “I told you I’m a fucking genius,” she replied, masking her true feelings.

“You really are,” Abby answered, squeezing her shoulder. “Now, what did you find? What was Jake hiding?”

Raven’s keen eyes flicked over the various files on the desktop, stopping when they came to one that stood out. “Look,” she said, pointing. “M.W.B…” she read the file name aloud. “Mount Weather Blueprints?” she guessed.

She double clicked on the file, typing in a few more commands to unlock it, and sure enough, blueprints filled the entire screen. There were dozens of maps of the underground city, the sewers, the tunnels in and out of the mountain, and the streets and buildings that made up the maze of a metropolis. Sure, the information was good to have, but Raven could see nothing in it that would pose a true danger to the Capitol. Certainly nothing that would entail the murder of a man and his teenage daughter. Again, Raven typed hard on the keyboard and scrolled through the files with the mouse, and her elation at having cracked the encryption quickly turned to dread. The blueprints were muddled in some places and cut off entirely in others, there was information missing, and some files were still locked or tampered with beyond repair.

“His hard drive has been messed with, Abby,” Raven stated. “The blueprints are incomplete, some of the files are still encrypted far beyond my abilities to unlock, and huge chunks of code are missing. Whatever Jake knew, he didn’t want anyone else finding out. There’s some sort of video file here, but I can’t open it,” she explained. “This is a dead end, Abby. There’s nothing here we can use.”

Raven felt her heart sink as the fresh burn of tears welled in her eyes, blurring the screen as she blinked rapidly to keep from crying. She wasn’t exactly sure what she would have done if they’d found what they were looking for; what Jake and Clarke knew. Maybe she could have sold it to President Wallace in exchange for Clarke and Finn’s freedom, or at least a guarantee of their safety, or maybe she could have used it to blackmail the Capitol. Whatever the next steps would have been, they were dashed now, dashing all of Raven’s hopes to see Finn alive again as well. They were out of leads to follow and quickly running out of time, and for the first time in Raven’s life, she had no way of coming up with a solution.

“Abby, I’m so sorry,” Raven whispered, too heartbroken to speak any louder.

The Doctor sighed and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “You did your best, Raven,” she croaked, voice cracking behind unshed tears. “Maybe we just—

A loud pounding at the door had her stopping midsentence, the knocking insistent. Confusion flickered across Abby’s face, as it was far too early for patients, but she took a deep steadying breath and turned to answer the knocking. She had hardly unlocked the door when a young Peacekeeper was shoving his way into the room, not even taking the time to request entry. For a moment, Raven feared that they’d found out they were trying to hack Jake’s old laptop, but a closer look at the guard told a different story. His eyes were puffy and red, as if he’d been crying, his hair was a tangled mess, the gun was missing from the holster on his belt, and his uniform looked as if he’d slept on the floor. Raven recognized the young man as the Peacekeeper who had taken Finn away on Reaping Day. He’d also been kind enough to give them a few extra minutes together.

“Is something wrong, Bellamy?” Abby asked, clearly having met his acquaintance before. Raven wasn’t surprised, they lived in a community underground with less than a thousand people; everyone knew everyone.

Bellamy’s brown eyes darted around the room, skimming across the table and laptop, and landing on Raven. After a moment, realization flickered in them, and he seemed to remember her too. He offered her a solemn nod before turning to Abby. “Dr. Griffin, I need your help,” he began, but hesitated. “Can we speak privately?”

“Are you hurt?” Abby asked, surveying him for injuries.

“No, nothing like that,” he answered. “It’s about my sister.”

Abby nodded, but folded her arms across her chest. “Bellamy, I’m afraid Raven and I are in the middle of something important. Can this wait?”

“No!” Bellamy practically shouted, voice smothered in desperation. “No, please!”

Raven exchanged confused glances with the doctor at the sheer urgency in his tone and offered Abby a shrug. “What is this about, Bellamy?”

Bellamy sighed, frustrated as he glared at Raven, willing her to leave. Ultimately, he must have decided that his sister was more important because he seemed to let his protest go a moment later. “Octavia had it in her head that Clarke knew her name would be chosen at the Reaping,” he explained. “I told her it wasn’t true, but she was convinced that Clarke knew something that Jaha was trying to keep secret. She thought the Chancellor was hiding something dangerous, and Clarke found out, so he had her chosen in the Reaping to cover it up!” he stammered out.

Abby and Raven were stunned, silently exchanging glances again. So, Raven hadn’t been the only person paying attention to the odd behavior at the Reaping Ceremony; Octavia had noticed too. “If you told her it wasn’t true, then why do you need Abby’s help?” Raven asked skeptically. Bellamy may have seemed desperate, but he was still wearing a Peacekeeper uniform, which meant he could very well be loyal to Jaha and the Capitol.

“Because she didn’t listen!” Bellamy snapped. “She stole my gun and held Jaha at gunpoint, trying to get information out of him! She shot him in the shoulder!”

“What?!” Raven asked, incredulously. “Did you see her? Did she say if Jaha talked?”

“Where is she now?” Abby added, swiftly.

Bellamy opened his mouth to answer, but quickly shut it again, looking back and forth between the two women before steel settled in his gaze. “She was right, wasn’t she?” he questioned. “And you both already knew.”

“Yes, we knew,” Abby admitted. “My husband was killed for the same reason that Clarke was entered in the Games.”

“Bellamy, where is Octavia? If she got Jaha to talk, that could be the key to getting Clarke and Finn back!” Raven explained, her hope renewed.

“They took her,” he answered sharply. “They’re going to take her to the Capitol, that’s why I came here.”

“Did she say anything?” Abby prodded.

“I don’t know!” he growled back. “They were dragging her off to her death, so I wasn’t really focused on what she was saying! She said something about a weapon!”

Raven pounded her fist on the table at the small revelation. “I knew it!” she stated.

“Okay, but why come to me for help, Bellamy?” the doctor questioned.

“Because,” he started. “Your daughter is at the center of all of this. And as Head Surgeon, you have access to the Transportation Hub. I need you to help get me in there before the shuttle leaves with my sister on it.”

“Abby, he’s right,” Raven added, seeing the hesitation in the older woman’s features. “The laptop was a dead end, but maybe Octavia found out what we need. We have to get her.”

“Are you sure it’s a weapon?” Abby asked, face conflicted. Getting them into the hanger bay and freeing a prisoner could cost her her job, her freedom, and all that she had left.

Raven paused, taking a breath to think rationally. She moved to the other side of the table and bent over the laptop once more, trying to piece together what little information they had. “M.W.B…” she mused. “What if it doesn’t stand for Mount Weather Blueprints. What about Mount Weather Bomb?”

“A bomb?” Abby sputtered. “Jake was a mechanical engineer, would he really build a bomb that could kill thousands?”

Raven took another moment to think, letting her eyes scan over the blueprints of the underground Capitol once more. The schematics of the building structure and tunnel systems had been left on the laptop, and those would be vital to planting a bomb in the city, so why would Jake leave them on there and wipe out everything else? It didn’t make any sense. “We can’t rule out the possibility,” Raven stated. “But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.”

“Can someone tell me what the hell is going on?” Bellamy snapped, drawing attention back to the matter at hand. “My sister’s life is at stake here.”

“I’m not certain,” Raven admitted, as much as it pained her to do so. “But one thing is for sure: whatever information Octavia got from Jaha, we need. We have to get your sister back, Bellamy.”

Chapter Text

It was the second day of training and already Clarke felt slightly more confident than she had on the train ride in, albeit slightly more exhausted too. She had spent the entire day before in the survival stations, learning how to find shelter, set traps, which plants were edible, and how to gut a fish. The hardest skill had been trying to make fire from nothing more than twigs and branches, but she knew that being able to boil water and cook food would be imperative to her game plan. She’d been at it again all morning, hands blistered and frustration reaching its breaking point, but she’d finally managed to spark smoke and eventually fire.

Now, she stood at the camouflage station, dabbling in earthy paints made from berries and clay and painting an intricate design that made it look as if earth was melding with the sky. She knew painting wouldn’t help her survive, but it was the first time in three days that she had actually felt free, and she took a moment to revel in it. Besides, she had no plans to train for combat, no desires to learn how to use the various weaponry spread about the room, and no urge to fight the other Tributes in hand-to-hand combat. She wasn’t stupid, she knew that no matter how hard she trained over the next few days, she would never be able to compete against the Career Tributes that had been practicing for the Games their entire lives.

Still, although she had no interest in combat training, she couldn’t keep her eyes from wandering towards those who did: one person in particular. She had watched Lexa fight with dual swords, wielding them effortlessly as if they were part of her body; she had seen her with a bow, firing arrows rapidly into the center of the target without even blinking; she had witnessed her with a spear, sweeping the legs out from under her opponent and had seen her with throwing knives, slicing through the air with lethal accuracy. She had also spotted Lexa in softer moments, whispering quietly with Gustus or offering the rare hint of a smile as he gently nudged her in the ribs. It was clear the two were close, friends even, which made the thought that one of them might have to kill the other even harder to fathom.

Clarke idly found herself wondering what the girl from District Ones’ childhood might have been like, unable to contain her curiosity. Lexa had been raised to kill, given the knowledge and the skills to take another life, and with the innate understanding that she would likely die before her eighteenth birthday. Yet, she carried herself with grace and dignity and a certain air of wisdom that could be seen once you looked past the cold demeanor and outward display of superiority. Clarke had seen the vulnerability hidden behind the green of her eyes the day before, and had sensed her pain when she’d read the letter. She wondered if Lexa had ever been allowed to be vulnerable, and then she wondered why she even cared. But, the more she tried to fight her growing curiosity, the more she wanted to know, and she was finding it hard to focus on anything else.

“Either you are incredibly good at combat and do not want anyone to see you fight, or you have never touched a weapon in your life and do not want anyone to know,” the voice of the very person she had been thinking of startled her from her thoughts. “Hello, Clarke,” Lexa added, offering the slightest whisper of a smile.

Her eyes were green and sincere and her high cheekbones were tinted red from her workout while Clarke watched a single bead of sweat snake its way down her impeccable jawline. “Hello, Lexa,” Clarke forced herself to reply, clearing her throat. “Have you been watching me?”

“It is wise to study your opposition, Clarke,” the brunette replied, pushing her tangled braids back from her face. “And you did not answer my question,” she added.

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out just like everyone else, won’t you?” Clarke answered, offering a playful grin. Something about the exchange caught her off guard, and a wave of confusion mixed with elation flushed through her when she realized that the joking tones and awkward smiles were slightly flirty.

“Hmm,” Lexa mused, still lighthearted. “My instincts tell me it is the latter of the two,” she guessed.

Clarke stared for a moment, debating whether she wanted to keep talking or return to her work, and unsure why Lexa had even come over in the first place. “Are your instincts often wrong?” she asked, before she could stop herself.

“Not usually,” the other girl replied, shifting from joking to serious in an instant.

“Well, perhaps my strategy is different than yours,” Clarke suggested. “Though showing everyone just how deadly you are will probably make them think twice before attacking you.”

Lexa’s eyes lit up at the comment, glowing with amusement and wonder. “So, you’ve been watching me, too?” she asked, though Clarke was well aware that Lexa already knew the answer.

“It is wise to study your opposition, Lexa,” she answered, repeating the brunette’s words with a slight edge.

Lexa sighed. “Mockery is not—

“The product of a strong mind,” Clarke finished. “Yeah, you told me already.”

Lexa paused for a moment, letting the tension between them build before she exhaled and glanced away, looking down at the painting Clarke had been working on. Clarke felt a rush of self-consciousness, unsure if she was willing to share something so personal as her artwork with someone who had been her hated enemy not more than twenty-four hours before, but she still didn’t move to cover up the piece. She watched Lexa’s expression soften as her gaze took in the blends of colors and the ebb and flow of intricate lines created from years of practice.

“You’re very talented, Clarke,” she remarked after a moment, though any trace of amusement that had been there before was gone from her voice. “But painting a beautiful picture will not spare your life in the arena.”

“Not all of us were raised to be cold-blooded killers, Lexa,” she snapped, feeling the need to defend herself. Something about the brunette set her on edge, and she found her nerves fried and her emotions frayed each time the girl was near.

If Lexa was fazed by the harshness of her tone or the bluntness in her words, she didn’t show it. Instead, her expression was empty when she spoke again. “Which is why I will teach you how to shoot a bow,” she said. “Come,” she added, turning away before Clarke could agree or protest.

Clarke stared after her, stunned at the offer of help. The stubborn side of her wanted to refuse, to prove to Lexa and the Game Makers that she didn’t need to kill to survive. A larger part of her wanted to accept the help, if not to kill, then to at least use the knowledge for hunting. The largest part of her would never admit that just maybe she wouldn’t mind spending a few more minutes with the mysterious girl from District One that tried so hard to hide the truths written in her eyes. Clarke shook herself from her daze and the thoughts from her mind as she willed her feet to follow after the other girl.

“Why are you trying to help me?” she questioned as they came to a stop in front of the archery station. Lexa was the one who had preached that she should speak to no one and trust no one, so what had changed?

“You helped me, Clarke,” the brunette stated. “I am returning the favor, and then we are even.”

Clarke nodded, trying to ignore the sting in her heart at the fact that Lexa was helping her out of honor and obligation and not because she wanted to. Again, she considered refusing her help and returning to her art and her fire-making, but her instincts had her rooted in place. Every fiber of her being was screaming at her to run before they both got hurt, but the prospect of forging somewhat of an alliance with District One was too good to pass up. An alliance was all that Clarke allowed herself to hope for, because the possibility of anything more would be a tragic impossibility. They were destined to kill each other in less than a week, and nothing they did could change that.

<-><-><-><-><->

Lexa wasn’t entirely sure how to answer Clarke’s question, so she told her that she was helping her in return for the favor she had done for her the day before. But the truth was: she had been watching Clarke for hours. True, she had been watching the other Tributes as well, learning their skills, memorizing their strengths and weaknesses, but her eyes always returned to Clarke. The infuriating blonde girl from District Thirteen had yet to even pick up a weapon, and Lexa knew that it was because she didn’t know how, not because she didn’t want to reveal her fighting style. She had wanted to answer her question differently when asked. She’d wanted to tell her she was helping her because she wanted Clarke to be able to defend herself when the time came, but that would mean that Lexa actually cared about her well-being. Which she didn’t. Clarke wasn’t the enemy, but she was another roadblock in the way of her duty, which made her a threat.

Still, when she did answer and tell the girl that she was helping her out of the debt she owed her, she didn’t miss the way Clarke’s shoulders fell as if she was disappointed. Lexa hated the way her own stomach twisted with guilt as if she’d done something wrong, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling. She couldn’t understand why she’d even bothered to approach Clarke in the first place, and in that moment, she almost wished she could take it back. But another part of her was glad that she had, and that part of her was growing stronger with each passing minute.

Truthfully, she had chosen to teach Clarke how to shoot a bow because it was a weapon that could be used at a distance. All the other weapons like the sword or spear, even the throwing knives, required the user to get in close, but a bow could be used from up in a tree or atop a hill, or at least a few meters away. Which meant that it would keep Clarke out of the fray of immediate danger and that was the only thing that Lexa could offer her.

“You don’t have to do this, Lexa,” Clarke said, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“I owe you more than you know, Clarke,” Lexa replied, trying to mask the truth from her voice, the truth that she actually wanted to help. “It’s like you said yesterday: we don’t have to be friends, but we don’t have to be enemies either. Let me help you as you have helped me.”

The blonde stared at her for a moment, blue eyes searching through green, before letting out a heavy sigh and nodding once in agreement. Wordlessly, Lexa picked up the nearest bow, gripping it in her hands and letting her muscles work from memory. She pulled an arrow from the quiver stand and took aim, demonstrating the proper form for Clarke to see. The other girl’s gaze on her felt like spotlights blaring down on her skin, and for the first time in her life, Lexa felt self-conscious. Not conscious of her skill with a bow, but rather the fact that she was a trained killer, and Clarke was looking at her as if she was some sort of dangerous criminal. But, they were in a Game in which only one of them could survive, Lexa understood that better than anyone, so she shook the feeling from her shoulders and loosed an arrow into the center of the target.

“Your turn,” she said, handing Clarke the bow after she’d taken a few more demonstration shots.

Clarke cleared her throat and took it in her hand, but halted as she spared a glance around at the rest of the room. The other Tributes were now watching them, undoubtedly curious to see Clarke’s abilities for the first time, and waiting to deem her a threat or an easy target. Lexa caught Gustus staring as well and shot him a sidelong glance that told him to return to his training, but the other Tributes would not obey her stern looks so willingly. By offering Clarke aid, she had also invited their competitors to get a look at how dangerous she actually was, virtually eliminating the air of mystery the District Thirteen girl had established for herself. Lexa wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction.

Instead of letting Clarke take aim and make a fool of herself, Lexa quickly stepped in, going about correcting her posture before the blonde could even take a shot. Lexa’s hands on Clarke’s skin felt as if sparks were tingling in her fingertips with each gentle touch or quick motion as she wordlessly lifted her elbow and pushed her shoulders into place. Her entire body was buzzing when her fingers made contact with Clarke’s cheek, helping her to pull the bowstring back to the corner of her mouth, and her heart nearly stopped dead when she stuck her knee between Clarke’s thighs and pulled her legs apart to widen her stance. When her posture was correct, Lexa released the breath that she hadn’t even been aware that she was holding, and moved to stand over Clarke’s shoulder.

“Aim down the shaft and let the string roll off your fingers, do not pluck it. Breathe when you release,” she instructed, her voice barely louder than a whisper but she was afraid if she spoke up, her words would give away the desire that she couldn’t deny.

“Right,” Clarke breathed, a throaty rasp of a whisper.

Lexa adjusted her aim only slightly, and then gave her a gentle tap on the shoulder to signal her to shoot, and watched as the arrow zipped towards its mark. It sunk into the center of the target just below and a fraction to the right of the bulls-eye, but still an impressive shot nonetheless. The entire exchange took only a few moments, but Lexa felt like it had been an eternity that her hands were on the other woman, and she had to swallow back the knot that had gathered in her throat. There were a few murmurs throughout the room and although the shot wasn’t perfect, at least it was enough to keep the other Tributes guessing. Lexa also hoped that her aiding Clarke would appear as if she was considering an alliance with District Thirteen, which might offer her some small semblance of protection in itself. Either that, or it would make her a bigger target.

“Good, Clarke,” Lexa said when she finally found her voice again. “Again,” she added, handing Clarke another arrow and again wordlessly correcting the flaws in her posture.

Clarke took a few more shots over the next half hour or so, each time dancing around the bulls-eye. After the first few attempts, she no longer needed Lexa’s guidance, and Lexa was grateful for the space that provided between them, feeling as if she could breathe once more. The other Tributes had long since gone back to their own training, settling for the knowledge that if nothing else, Clarke was a fair bowman. The information couldn’t hurt the blonde, and Lexa was satisfied with the fact that she had at least provided her with a way to defend herself and obtain food. What she was not satisfied with was the undeniable urge she had to feel her hands on Clarke’s skin again, and she scolded herself for even allowing the thought.

“Thank you for teaching me this,” Clarke said after she had put the bow away. Lexa offered a single nod in response, eager to get away and get back to her own training so that she could put all thoughts of the blonde out of her mind once more. “I guess that makes us even now,” Clarke added, lingering awkwardly at the edge of the shooting range.

“It will serve you well in the arena,” she answered, purposefully lacing ice in her tone to cool the heat that gathered in her chest.

“Is that really all you care about?” the blonde asked, sounding slightly annoyed. “Killing and how not to be killed?”

Lexa sighed, taking a step back and putting more distance between them. “That is all you should be concerned with as well,” she instructed. “It is how we will survive.”

“Shouldn’t life be about more than just surviving?” Clarke questioned, taking a step closer and again narrowing the space between them.

Her question caught Lexa off guard, and she blinked, trying to force her expression to remain impassive. Life had always been about surviving, that was what she had been trained to do, and it was all that she knew. The only person that had ever made her feel like life was more than just a battle was Costia, and then Costia had been killed, and life became about duty and the commitment to her people. A random girl that would be dead in a week couldn’t change that, but the question still shook her.

“Why are you here, Clarke?” Lexa asked, changing the subject and forcing the blonde to look inward instead. “My mentor told me that in District Thirteen, only criminals under the age of eighteen are subject to the Reaping. So what crime did you commit?” Lexa had heard the rumors surrounding Clarke’s arrest, but she wanted to hear it from her. It was clear that the girl from District Thirteen wasn’t dangerous, so what was it that had earned her a death sentence in the Games?

Clarke sighed heavily, clearly hesitant to answer as her eyes flicked to the various cameras in the corners of the room, fully aware that they were being watched and likely listened to. The movement was subtle, but Lexa had caught it and knew that whatever Clarke was about to say, she didn’t want the Capitol to hear. “They say I committed treason,” she answered, confirming the rumors.

“So they say, but is it true?” Lexa questioned, keeping her voice low and leaning closer. Again, Clarke glanced around the room, clenching her jaw as if chewing on the truth to keep it from flowing out. “You didn’t actually commit a crime, did you?” Lexa whispered.

“No,” Clarke replied, so low that she could barely hear. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I heard something I shouldn’t have.”

Lexa felt her heart jolt at the revelation, pitying the girl who had done nothing to deserve the fate she’d been dealt. “What did you hear?” she asked, unable to contain her curiosity.

“I can’t answer that,” Clarke replied quickly, backing away and putting an end to the conversation. “Just let it go,” she added, and Lexa could hear the fear in her voice.

Whatever Clarke knew, the Capitol wanted it; that much was obvious. And it was valuable enough to get her killed. “Very well,” she agreed, respecting the boundaries that the other girl had set. “If there is another weapon you would like instruction on, let me know,” she added before she could stop herself.

“I never wanted to use any weapons,” Clarke laughed, though it was half-hearted and full of regret. “I’m not like you, Lexa, I didn’t volunteer for this. I was a healer. I was training to be a surgeon,” Clarke explained, eyes flicking with surprise as if she hadn’t realized why she was being so honest in that moment, but she didn’t move to take the words back.

“A doctor?” Lexa questioned, more to herself than to Clarke. That explained why the other girl had no interest in combat training; she was more attuned to saving lives, not taking them. Still, that sort of medical knowledge could be very useful in the arena. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, Clarke Griffin,” Lexa stated, for once letting her eyes betray her wonder.

There was much more to Clarke Griffin than what she was willing to show the world, but somewhere inside, Lexa had known that already. Clarke was full of surprises, and Lexa suspected that she was full of secrets as well. She had been arrested on treason charges for a crime she didn’t commit, and then her name just so happened to have been pulled in the Reaping. It could have been a coincidence, but it seemed all too convenient, and Lexa guessed that there was much more to it than that. Whatever Clarke knew, it was valuable, and the Capitol wanted it. She wasn’t sure what it could be, but if the knowledge the blonde had could be used against Mount Weather, Lexa was going to find out exactly what it was.

Chapter Text

Finn’s training wasn’t exactly going how he had expected it would. He’d been at it for two days now, trying his hand at every combat station, but finding that he wasn’t particularly good at any. He had fair aim with the bow, at least he was able to hit the rings on the target, and he wasn’t bad at hurling a spear, but when it came to hand to hand combat, he was basically useless. He’d been sparring with one of the trainers assigned to each station, and somehow the girl that was half his size managed to put him on his ass each time. He had bruises on his bruises and blisters coating his palms and the bottom of his feet, his training gear had been ripped in several places, and his muscles were so sore that he could hardly hold his own body weight. On top of it all, he had formed no alliances with any of the other Tributes; not even Clarke paid him much attention.

He’d been trying to get her to talk to him for days, but she always seemed so far away, sulking or lost in thought. Even in their living quarters that they shared on the thirteenth floor, she was broody and quiet, and seemingly had no interest in trying to team up to at least survive a little while longer. Finn wasn’t stupid, he knew his meager fighting skill would never stand up to the Careers, but if he could at least get Clarke on his side, he’d have someone to watch his back. He watched her from across the room now, lost in her own world as she painted on a piece of fabric at the camouflage station. He knew her upbringing, of course; she came from privilege and had likely never gone hungry in her life, and he also knew that she’d been training to be a doctor, like her mother. Which left him to wonder what the hell a girl like her could have done to end up in a situation like this. There had been rumors swirling for months about her arrest as she sat in solitary, the whispers of treason and murder passed along by the inmates of Prison Station, but the entire affair had been kept a secret.

Not like his own arrest that had been made public knowledge, earning him a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his days: Spacewalker. The thing was, he never actually committed the crime that had landed him in jail for months and eventually led to his name being drawn in the Reaping. He was innocent, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t take the fall ten times over again if given the chance. It had been a few months after Raven’s accident, and Finn could remember it so vividly because he’d been the one to have to listen to her screams all night. Raven was brilliant, and beautiful, and so much more than he ever deserved, but she was also cocky and headstrong. It was that innate confidence that had led her to the top of a communications tower fifty feet above the ground of District Thirteen in the middle of a storm.

The rain had pounded so hard that Finn swore he could hear it, even from the bunker well below the surface. The wind had knocked out communications, leaving the entire district without contact with the Capitol, and Jaha was expected to be in an important conference call with President Wallace. Jake Griffin, the Head Engineer, had told the Chancellor that fixing the tower would have to wait until the storm passed, but Raven had been all too eager to prove herself. She climbed to the top of that tower, and slipped about halfway up, falling thirty feet to her back and crushing the nerves in her spine. Finn remembered the utter terror he felt when he received the news of her accident, as if his entire world stopped spinning and the breath in his lungs turned to prickling frost.

Abby had tried for hours to repair the damage while Finn paced the corridor outside the medical wing, waiting on news. When the surgeons finally emerged, relief had flooded through him at the fact that she would live, but relief quickly turned to sorrow when he learned that there would be permanent damage to her leg. She’d been in so much pain after the surgery, cold sweats and cries of agony had gripped her so often that she couldn’t even sleep, and she had very rapidly gone through her allotted dosages of morphine. Finn had tried to ask for more, but in District Thirteen, below the ground, where supplies was limited and inventories were taken on a daily basis, they had used all that they could spare to ease her suffering. From there, it had only gotten worse, and Finn had been forced to watch as the woman he loved quickly deteriorated.

Raven hadn’t been able to eat, she couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t even move on her own without collapsing into agony. Ultimately, it had been Raven who’d grown desperate enough to commit a crime punishable by death in order quell her own misery. She’d broken into the medical clinic one night, and stole a large supply of pain medication. When Finn found her, she was sleeping soundly for the first time in weeks, a soft smile on her face as she drifted peacefully. He knew the guards wouldn’t be far behind, and if they found her like that, she would be arrested and sent to the Capitol for punishment, as she had already turned eighteen. So, he did what he had to do to protect the most important person in his life.

He stumbled out into the hallway, clutching the vial of pain meds, and sunk to the ground in an effort to appear as wasted as possible. When the Peacekeepers found him, they said that he was so high, he might as well have been floating around in space; thus, the name Spacewalker. He hadn’t been high at all, but he had been sixteen at the time, and he knew that they would arrest him and lock him away in Prison Station for two years. He’d be giving up a large chunk of his life to suffer for a crime he didn’t commit, but at least they wouldn’t kill him, which is exactly what they would have done to Raven. Instead, he took the fall, and she eventually recovered from her injury. Neither of them had counted on his name being drawn for the Hunger Games.

Even with the way that things had turned out, Finn wouldn’t go back and change what he’d done. He loved Raven, more than he had words for, and he would do anything to keep her safe. He would also do anything to get back home to her, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do that alone. He needed an alliance, and if Clarke wouldn’t give him one, then he would just have to find one elsewhere. He watched from across the room as the Career Tribute from District One approached Clarke, interrupting her painting, and for a moment they spoke in hushed tones and exchanged what looked like a very rare smile. The Careers were known for their ruthless fighting skills and lethal combat training, and they rarely ever made alliances outside of their own district, so what would Lexa Woods want with Clarke Griffin?

A moment later, Clarke wordlessly followed the brunette to the archery range and observed as she took several shots, the arrow thudding into the dead center of the target each time. Lexa then handed the bow over to Clarke and went about correcting her posture, placing her hands on her waist and shoulders, and whispering low into her ear as she instructed her. The exchange looked intimate, but it was over quickly, and then Clarke was practicing on her own. It was the first time in two days that the girl from Thirteen had even touched a weapon, but the shots she was firing were already far more impressive than Finn had managed to accomplish by himself. Somehow, Clarke had found herself a friend in the most dangerous person there, and Finn found himself stewing in a potent mixture of both fear and jealousy.

<-><-><-><->

Gustus watched the exchange between Clarke and Lexa out of the corner of his eye, doing his best to avert his gaze as he had been silently commanded by a seething glance from his Commander. But, it was hard to ignore the way Lexa leaned in to whisper in the pretty blonde girl’s ear, or the way her face flushed and her eyes darkened slightly as her hand made contact with Clarke’s cheek. There was clearly a tangible, almost magnetic, tension in the air between the two, and he silently wondered if it was just a matter of time before that tension exploded. He didn’t want to say that it was any sort of attraction, that wasn’t his place, but it was obvious that there was something growing between the two women despite the fact that they were fated to kill each other.

It was interesting to see the changes in Lexa’s demeanor; he had always known her to be an unwavering rock in her emotions and actions. For as long as he could remember, she had been the wisest and bravest of them all, and it was that passion and wisdom that had inspired his unwavering loyalty. Ever since they were children, training together at Polis Academy, she had been the one person that everyone looked to for guidance and direction, even in her worst of times after Costia’s death.

He let his mind wander as he progressed in his idle movements with his sword, thinking back to the first time he had ever met Alexandria Woods. They were both eight years old, and young novitiates that had already begun their training, though Lexa was miles ahead of the rest of their class. Gustus had always been larger than the other boys, so they left him well enough alone, but there had been a smaller boy, Nyko, that was made more for healing than battle and often times struggled to keep up with the rest of them. Some of the other boys bullied him, picking on him mercilessly as they taunted him and routinely beat him bloody. It had been one such day when the poor kid was receiving his daily bruising that Lexa had stumbled across the scene.

He remembered the way her wild brown hair had always been untamed, sprawling down her back, and the way her green eyes glowed with a fierce sort of protectiveness when she stepped between the bullies and Nyko without hesitation. The fight had been unmatched, three boys against one girl, but Lexa had put each one of them on the ground before shouting at them to cease. They listened, out of fear more than anything, and instead of dealing them the punishment they deserved, Lexa had helped them to their feet and told them exactly what they had done wrong in the fight that had led to their incapacitation. She instructed them on the proper stance and techniques, then she made them promise to never again hurt one of their own, unless it was in training, and sent them on their way.

After dealing with the bullies, he’d watched as she helped Nyko nurture his wounds, and listened from a distance as she told him that he was not suited for Polis Academy. She explained to him that he could still find honor and glory in helping others heal, and that there would be no disgrace in admitting that he was better suited elsewhere. The very next day, Nyko left Polis and eventually went on to become a great healer, and a great friend. It was after she had sent the boy on his way that she noticed Gustus standing in the shadows. She’d called him over and asked him why he hadn’t helped the smaller boy, and Gustus realized that he had no reason to give her other than he didn’t want trouble with the other novitiates. She had told him then, even as a child, that the three pillars of being a good leader were strength, compassion and wisdom. She explained how she had shown strength in defeating the other boys, compassion in letting them go (mostly) unharmed, and wisdom in telling Nyko that he was better suited for something else. It was in that moment that Gustus knew the girl would one day be Commander, and that he would give his life to see it so.

Now, he had a chance to make good on the promise he had made as a child. He loved Lexa, as he would a sister, and if anyone could lead their people out of strife and suffering, it would be her. If he had to forfeit his life as sacrifice to make it so, he would. He didn’t fear death, even as he knew that his own was rapidly approaching, and when it reached him, he would greet it with humble acceptance. But first, he had to make sure that Lexa survived to the end of the Games, and to do so, he could not let her afford distractions.

He watched as she concluded her interaction with Clarke, bidding her goodbye before returning to his side with thoughtful curiosity in the green of her eyes. “Heda, what are you doing?” he questioned as she approached.

“Returning a favor, Gustus,” she replied, tone cold and unwavering. “Nothing more.”

“A week from now, you will have to kill her,” he reminded, bending low to catch her gaze.

Lexa stiffened, but nodded once in affirmation. “A week from now, I will do my duty,” she promised.

Gustus wanted to believe her, but the warmth in the smile that still lingered faintly at the corner of her lips told a different story. Which meant that his story would not be able to end until he took the life of Clarke Griffin.

<-><-><-><->

Kane knew the value of strategy and preparation, and he was a firm believer that one could never be too prepared. The belief applied especially to the Hunger Games and his two Tributes that would soon be facing perilous danger. They sat around a small feast together that evening, dining on pork roasts and potatoes and various green vegetables as he made idle small talk with Finn. As ever, Clarke was silent, too focused elsewhere to take part in their conversation, and he wasn’t sure if it was strategy, or if she simply had no desire to get to know her comrades.

He observed the two kids that he was responsible for training, hating the way that every year, their faces and names seemed to blur together with the last group he had sent to die. For twenty years, he had been a mentor in the Games, which meant that he had seen forty kids he’d grown to care about slaughtered. He had tried to block out the pain, but in the end he had found that the only way to live with the job he’d been given was to numb his heart entirely. Now he felt no pain, or regret, or anguish. He simply felt nothing at all, alone with his rotten heart and his rotten memories that kept him up at night.

Finn seemed to be in fair spirits, despite the bruises on his knuckles and the blisters on his hands, and he talked animatedly about the girl at home that he loved. Marcus pitied him, but pitied the girl that was waiting for him back in Thirteen even more, knowing fully well that she would likely never see the boy with shaggy brown hair and a playful smile ever again. Clarke, on the other hand, was quiet as she picked at the food on her plate, blue eyes lost in a world far away. Over the last few days, Marcus had noticed that even when she made conversation or attempted to strategize, it always seemed as if the blonde was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, burdened by something so heavy that it seemed to drag her down. He wondered what it could possibly be, but resigned himself to the fact that she would probably be dead before he ever had the chance to know.

He cleared his throat, forcing the dark thoughts to the back of his mind and locking them away until the next time that they unavoidably sprang free. “Tomorrow,” he started, drawing their attention. “You will have a chance to demonstrate all of the skills you have learned over the past few days. Afterwards, the Game Makers will assign you a score,” he explained. “You’ll be given a number from one to twelve, one being the weakest, and twelve being the strongest, and these scores will reflect your overall danger rating compared to the other Tributes. The higher your score, the greater a threat you are.”

“We’ve seen the Games before, Marcus,” Clarke scoffed, uninterested.

“Then you should know that your score will likely determine how many sponsors you get,” he shot back. “No sponsor wants to waste money on a Tribute that’s gonna die on the first day.”

Clarke rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair, crossing her arms. “These people can keep their money,” she spat.

“What strategies should we have going in to tomorrow?” Finn asked, averting attention before the conversation could grow heated.

Marcus shrugged, thoughtfully. “It depends on how you want to play it,” he replied. “If you don’t care about earning sponsors, like Clarke, then it would be wise to not show off all that you have, maybe try to fall in the middle of the pack. But if you want to be seen as a real contender, you’re going to want to show them that you can compete and you can kill.”

“Why would we want to fall into the middle of the pack?” Finn questioned, again attentive.

“Because, even though you likely won’t earn any sponsors, the other Tributes and their mentors won’t see you as much of a threat. Those with higher scores will gain sponsors, but they’ll also paint a target on their backs,” he explained.

“Well, we all know Clarke’s friend, Lexa, will have the biggest target of all,” Finn answered, and Marcus could sense the bitterness in his tone.

“She’s not my friend,” Clarke shot back, defensively.

“Whatever,” Finn scoffed. “I don’t care about painting a target on my back,” he added, meeting Marcus’s eyes. “The other Tributes are going to try to kill me anyway, might as well have the support of some rich Capitol schmuck while I’m trying to survive. I’m gonna show the Game Makers that I’m not just an easy target because I come from Thirteen.”

Marcus nodded, impressed by his courage, though bravery wouldn’t do much to keep him alive. “And you, Clarke?” he asked, looking towards the blonde. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ll figure it out tomorrow,” she replied, uninterested.

“Wow,” Finn interjected, shoving his chair back from the table. “So, you don’t want to talk strategy in front of me, is that it?” he asked, offended. “Because I’m your enemy?”

“No, Finn, that’s not it actually,” she replied, annoyed. “It’s because I know it doesn’t matter what we do, only one person gets to live. Do you really think it’s going to be one of us?”

“I think we would have a lot better chance if we worked together!” Finn snapped back. “But, you’re clearly not interested, so I guess I’ll just have to team up with someone else,” he added, turning and storming from the room, leaving Marcus and Clarke in stunned silence.

“Clarke,” Marcus said after a long while. “If you truly believe that you don’t stand a chance, then you’re already dead. You have to have some hope,” he instructed, doing his best to mentor the girl even though he held no real belief in his own words. He knew from experience that Clarke and Finn were dead the moment their names were pulled.

“Kane, it’s not about having hope,” she rasped, and he could see the way some of her walls started to crumble. “Wallace will never let me survive the Games,” she whispered, glancing around for prying eyes or possible cameras. “Not after what happened,” she added.

“You mean the reason you were arrested?” he questioned, leaning towards her and keeping his voice low.

She nodded once in confirmation, but didn’t explain. “I can’t talk about it. All I know is that I’m not going to give them the show that they want with my death. I’ll try to survive as long as I can, but I’m gonna do it my way.” With that, Clarke stood and left the room, leaving Marcus to stare after her with an army of thoughts thundering through his brain.

<-><-><-><->

There was comfort in the understanding that silence did not need to be filled with empty words, and that conversation was not necessary unless something needed to be said. Coming from District One, Indra and her Tributes shared in the knowledge of that as they shared their evening meal. The Capitol was always filled with so much sound and meaningless chatter, it was as if the people there needed it to live and breathe like noise was their oxygen. For two weeks out of every year, Indra found herself trapped in that place, and it wasn’t the death of children or the sickening banquets and feasts that made her miss home, but the endless motion and sound. She missed the stillness of the forest, and the quiet night air that hung beneath the stars, interrupted only by the chirping of crickets and calling of night birds. What she didn’t miss was the hungry and tortured faces of her people, carrying a sadness and hopelessness in their eyes as if every day beneath the shadow of the Mountain was a torture far worse than death. That was what they longed to change this year, and Lexa was that hope.

“We should discuss your strategies for the skills demonstration tomorrow,” Indra stated after the last of their meal had been cleared away by the servant staff. “As you know, your scores will secure you sponsors.”

“I want to present a united front to the Game Makers,” Lexa replied, having already thought ahead as any good leader would do. “They already expect us to be skilled fighters, and they’ve seen the abilities of our warriors dozens of times before. We need to show them something they are not expecting.”

Indra nodded, impressed. “What do you suggest?”

“They won’t let us audition together, but there are other ways of showing unity. I propose that we perform our skills demonstration with the same weapons, in the same order. Start with the bow, then move on to swords and spears, and finish up with throwing knives. Demonstrating in unison will tell the Game Makers that we are in sync in our training, dangerous as individuals, but even more lethal together,” she explained. “I believe it will aid our scores.”

“It could work,” Indra agreed. The Tributes from District One tended to work together in the arena each year, but there was always an innate understanding that they would have to kill each other, which quickly led to severed alliances despite loyalty. Never had they seen a Tribute willing and ready to die for the other as Gustus was ready to do for Lexa; not since Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark.

“Gustus, do you agree?” Lexa asked, addressing the other half of the team.

“Sha, Heda,” he replied, respectfully and without question.

“Then it is settled,” Indra answered. “I had contact with Titus earlier today,” she informed her Tributes, watching as Lexa’s eyes darkened at the mention of his name. “He continues to push for an alliance with District Two, and commands that it be done.”

Lexa’s tone was seething when she replied, dripping in anger. “Titus is a liar and a traitor,” she spat. “And I will have his head. Blood must have blood.”

Indra nodded her agreement. The news of the letter Anya had sent the day before had been troubling, but ultimately it had confirmed her suspicions. Costia had been her Second, Indra had spent years training the girl herself, and she knew that Costia was skilled and strong and would never have grown violently ill over night or have knowingly consumed anything toxic to cause her decline in health. She suspected the poison was in the parachute, and Anya’s letter the day before had confirmed it. But what that also meant was that it wasn’t just Titus and Nia that had colluded to ensure her victory, but the Capitol had been in on it as well, possibly even Wallace himself. No sponsor parachute made it through without substance screening, which meant they had let it through on purpose, and they could do so again. She would have to be diligent to ensure Lexa’s safety.

She saw the hurt and anger brewing in the young leader’s eyes, even as she tried to mask it. Costia’s death had been a blow to them all, but nobody had suffered worse than Lexa, and Indra wondered if the girl would ever be able to let herself feel for someone again. Lexa always tried so hard to remain stoic and unfeeling, emotionless, and understood that it was her duty to be so in order to serve their people. But she was also human, and behind the built up walls and the mask that she wore for the world to see, she had emotions of her own: her own hopes and dreams and fears. It was as if she existed as two different people sharing one body; the girl that was destined for leadership, and the girl that lived as a prisoner beneath the weight of it.

Indra cleared her throat and focused her attention back to the task at hand. “You will have your justice one day, Lexa,” she finally answered. “But first you must win. An alliance with Ice Nation will not happen, but are there any other districts you seek to align with?” she questioned.

She watched as Gustus shared a sidelong glance with Lexa, question written in his brow as if wondering the same thing himself. Lexa’s eyes appeared thoughtful, as if silently strategizing in her head, but a moment later, her shoulders fell in defeat and her mouth settled into a grim line. “No,” she answered, something slightly off in her voice. “Gustus and I together is the only alliance that we need. Everyone else is the competition.”

“Everyone else is the enemy, Heda,” Gustus corrected, but there was a sharpness to his tone.

Lexa stared at him for a moment, gaze unwavering, before she sighed and nodded once. “Right,” she said, standing from the table. “I’ll be in meditation if you require me,” she added, back still turned as she strode out of the room.

Indra stared after her, wondering what thoughts plagued the young leader. She knew that placing the burden of their people’s lives on Lexa’s shoulders was unfair to ask, but the girl had always accepted it willingly, putting her duty above all else. What sacrifices had she been forced to make throughout her young life? What more sacrifices would she make before her life was over? Indra shuttered to think, chasing the guilt from her heart and replacing it with resolve; she had known all along that heavy lies the crown.

Chapter Text

Lexa sat stoically beside Gustus in the hall just outside the training room, waiting for their demonstrations to begin. They did not speak, and Lexa wasn’t sure if it was because they’d already made their plans, or if it was because Gustus was just waiting to chastise her again. She had been in meditation most of the night before, trying to center herself and return her focus to the daunting task that lay just ahead, but her thoughts constantly returned to a pair of haunting blue eyes. She tried to tell herself that her interest in Clarke was simply curiosity, driven by a desire to solve the mystery surrounding the girl and the events that had led her to the Games. But, beneath the layers upon layers of denial, she knew that it was more than that; what it was exactly, she hadn’t figured out yet.

She glanced up as the elevator dinged and watched as the very girl she had been thinking of emerged from within, followed closely by the boy from her district and their mentor. Clarke wore her gray training jumper, the number ‘13’ emblazoned on her chest, and her blonde hair was pulled back into a single braid that rested on her shoulder. She glanced up and their eyes met, blue crashing into green the way rain pours down in the forest, and they held each other’s gaze for a moment longer than necessary. Lexa offered her a single, almost indistinct, nod but Clarke had caught the motion nonetheless and returned it with one of her own before following Finn down to the other end of the hallway.

Clarke and Finn would be the last Tributes to go, as they were from District Thirteen, and Lexa idly wondered what the blonde would do for her skills demonstration. Painting a beautiful picture and setting small animal snares would hardly earn her any sponsors, and her skill with a bow was abysmal at best, which meant that her score would most likely be on the lower end of the spectrum. Then again, Clarke was a trained healer, and those were skills that no other Tribute possessed, but she couldn’t possibly demonstrate them in the closed training room.

But then again, why did she even care what Clarke’s score would be? She should have been focusing on her own score, and she chastised herself for again letting her thoughts wander towards the blonde. A moment later, Gustus’s name was called by a squatty little Peacekeeper in his white suit, and Gustus stood to follow him. He placed a firm hand on Lexa’s shoulder before he went, offering her a reassuring squeeze that told her to stay diligent and focused, all without having to speak. After he had gone, she sighed and let her eyes flutter shut for a moment, feeling the need to center herself once more.

When she opened them again, any progress she had made came crashing to an utter halt as she came face to face with the deep pools of blue that haunted her thoughts. Clarke was standing in front of her expectantly, her expression unreadable, and Lexa hated the way her heart did a small backflip. “Clarke?” she questioned, keeping her tone emotionless and raising a brow in confusion.

“Hey,” Clarke replied, shifting from foot to foot as if suddenly unsure why she was there. She appeared thoughtful, like she wanted to ask a question, but instead shook it off and said something else entirely. “I just wanted to say good luck in there,” she said, voice raspy. “From one not-enemy-yet-not-quite-friend to another.”

Lexa tried to hide the amusement on her face but knew she failed when Clarke's lips turned slightly upward. "Good luck to you as well, Clarke," she replied after a moment of contemplation and was surprised by how much she actually meant it. Clarke nodded once more, as if satisfied with the simple exchange, and turned to walk away, but Lexa had her stopping before she could stray too far. "Clarke," she called quickly. "In another life, I think we could have been friends."

A small grin spread across the blonde’s face and she gave a slight shrug. “Well, that next life is approaching pretty rapidly for one of us,” she answered, turning away before Lexa could muster a response.

It was a good thing that Clarke had put distance between them, because Lexa wasn’t quite sure what she would have said, much less how she even felt. Clarke had been referring to herself and her slim chances of survival in the arena, but she had also inferred that Lexa would live, which meant that she believed Lexa would win; she believed in Lexa. It also meant that Clarke knew she would die, and for whatever reason, both thoughts were equally unsettling. However, she didn’t have a chance to figure out why she was so unnerved, as Gustus exited the training room and the moderator called her name a few seconds later.

She stood slowly and followed him into the room, keeping her eyes trained forward so that she could find her focus once more, and putting all thoughts of Clarke aside. The training room looked empty without the other Tributes milling about at the combat and survival stations, and she felt as if she could hear her own heartbeat echoing off the vaulted ceilings. Above the room, the Game Makers stood on a balcony, protected by a thick sheen of glass as they watched her intently. At the center of the pack stood a pretty woman in a blood red dress, her black hair cascading down her shoulders and contrasting with her fair skin. Lexa recognized her as a woman named Alie: this year’s Head Game Maker.

“Alexandria Woods, District One,” Alie said, her voice a soft rasp yet there was something distinctly robotic about it, as if she felt no emotion. Even Lexa’s greatest attempt to keep her feelings from her expression and voice could not compare to this woman. “You have five minutes. You may begin now.”

Lexa nodded once and wasted no time, heading straight for the archery range. She grabbed the nearest bow and fired three arrows in rapid succession, not even taking aim between each shot, and waiting as her arrows darted straight into the center of the target with almost no space between her grouping. She threw the bow down and sauntered towards the next station, scooping up two swords, one in each hand, and setting to work on a dazzling display of skill and speed as she flourished the blades in a deadly dance that left four dummies decapitated. She picked up a spear and twirled it about her shoulders and around her back before hurling it right into the heart of another dummy, and then moved on to the dagger station. Throwing knives were her second favorite weapon, and she wielded them as skillfully as her dual swords, zinging the projectiles at different speeds and arcs, each time hitting the center of the target.

The entire display took less than three minutes, and she finished up with two to spare as she glanced up into the stunned faces of the Game Makers that had clearly underestimated just how talented she was. The only one that did not seem surprised was Alie, who instead wore an unreadable expression, though her brown eyes were glinting with mischief. Lexa offered them a single bow before sweeping out of the room without a word, pleased by the effectiveness of her exhibition and hoping that Gustus had done his part as well.

<-><-><-><->

 

Clarke sat silently beside Finn as her mind wandered to the idea of what Lexa could be doing in the training room at that exact moment. She had been watching the brunette from District One for days and had seen how skilled she was with all manner of weapons, both beautiful and deadly. She had no doubt that Lexa would earn a high score, probably the highest score out of all of them. Lexa’s only real competition came from the Tributes of District Two, who were both skilled and dangerous, and undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with if they paired up. But thinking about Lexa didn't help prepare her for her own trial that was rapidly approaching, and she still didn't quite have a plan in place about what she wanted to do.

Before she could really settle in and contemplate it, the door to the training room swung open and Lexa exited, far faster than anyone could have expected. She held her chin high and confidence in her shoulders, ignoring the seething glares of Ontari Natblood and Roan Queen. She wore the same training gear as the rest of them, her athletic build prominent beneath the loose fabric, and her tanned skin appearing almost gold in the fluorescent lighting. Clarke noticed that she carried herself in a way that almost commanded attention and respect, the green of her eyes glowing as she met Clarke’s stare and gave her another single nod. Without a word or a second glance back, Lexa disappeared into the lift, the doors sliding shut behind her as the room broke into whispers.

“That seemed way too fast, didn’t it?” she asked, hissing her words towards Finn.

He had been silent since his outburst the night before, still brewing in his anger, and his words were bitter when he spoke. “I guess you chose a good ally then,” he replied.

Clarke glanced at him, exasperated. "I'm not allied with District One," she answered, though it wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about it.

The truth was, she had wanted to ask Lexa about it before the brunette entered the training room, but had decided against it at the last second. She knew that even if they did ally and she did last well into the games, Lexa would have to kill her eventually. Only one of them could survive, and if it came down to a fight between the two of them, it certainly wouldn’t be her. She figured it would be best to just stay away and do her own thing. Even if she and Lexa weren’t exactly friends, it was evident that they weren’t enemies either, and she wasn’t sure if she would have it in her to stab the other girl in the back when the time came. In fact, that was the last thing she wanted at all.

“Didn’t look that way a minute ago,” Finn said, breaking her train of thought and she could hear the jealousy in his voice.

"Lexa and I just understand each other. That's all," Clarke replied, feeling the need to defend herself and the brunette. "I'm not allying with anyone because I know only one of us gets to come out alive.”

Finn sighed, nodding. “I know,” he answered. “But if allying with someone can keep me alive longer, I’m gonna do it.”

“I don’t blame you,” Clarke answered, truthfully. Maybe Finn would team up with the right people to get through the initial slaughter and then he could ride out the rest of the Games in a cave or something. “Good luck,” she added, bearing no ill feelings towards him.

He didn’t answer, instead, he stared straight ahead, his throat bobbing behind a thick swallow as he attempted to steady himself. They sat in silence for what felt like hours, watching the other Tributes get called one after another into the room. Finn’s turn finally came, and he disappeared, leaving Clarke alone in the hallway with nothing but her thoughts and the cameras that were pointing at her from the corners of the room. Somewhere in the Capitol, President Wallace could have been watching her at that very moment, and the thought sent chills down her spine that had the hair on the back of her neck standing on end.

A few minutes later, the door opened and Finn reappeared, face flushed red and neck coated with sweat, but looking relieved that it was done with. Then, it was Clarke’s turn, and she found herself in a slight daze as she followed the tiny Peacekeeper into the training room. She felt the eyes of the Game Makers staring at her from above as if she was some sort of animal in a cage, there for their entertainment like a trained monkey. It angered her, and she felt on the verge of exploding when a woman in a red dress came forward.

“Clarke Griffin, District Thirteen,” she said, voice monotone and nearly lifeless. “I am Alie, the Head Game Maker. President Wallace wishes to know if you have considered his deal,” she informed.

The mention of the man who had dragged her from her home and threatened to have her mother killed was enough to send her past her breaking point. “Tell President Wallace that I have no interest in making a deal with him,” she spat, burning with anger.

“Dante thought you might say that,” Alie answered, still emotionless. “He has a feeling you might change your mind once you’re in the arena.”

“He might as well kill me, because I am never going to tell you what my father knew,” she replied, defiantly.

Alie stared down at her, inquisitively, as if dissecting a small animal to see how its insides worked. “Very well then,” she said. “You may begin you demonstration when ready, Clarke.”

“Like hell I will,” Clarke shot back, too fired up to stand down now.

“Is there a problem?” Alie questioned, as if unable to process the basic human emotions of anger and hatred that Clarke was feeling.

Her sentiments boiled over, and she barked out a scoff of laughter. "Yeah, actually, there is," she replied. "You see, the problem is this: I am not here to fight and die for your entertainment. If you want to kill me, go right ahead, but I'm not going to give you the show and spectacle that you want," she huffed, projecting her voice for all to hear.

Alie stared at her for a long moment, as if trying to compute something in her brain, and Clarke wondered if she was even human at all. "Clarke Griffin, you are here to compete, denying that will not change that fact."

“We both know why I’m here,” Clarke spat, and the slight flicker in Alie’s eye told her that her words were true, but the rest of the Game Makers glanced around at each other in confusion, oblivious to the dark undertones of the conversation going on in front of them.

Clarke could reveal her secret right then and there, and tell them all that she knew of a way to kill everyone in that room and all of their families. She could cause a panic and an uproar that would likely create all manner of dissension in the Capitol for President Wallace to deal with, but doing so would likely get her killed way before the Games even started. And, if she was dead, how would she leave behind the knowledge her father had discovered for someone else to find and eventually use? She was walking a dangerous line, one that could get both her and her mother killed, and Wallace wasn’t going to stop until she broke and gave him the information, or until she took the secret to her grave. Except that wasn’t her plan at all; she just had to survive long enough to leave the information behind with someone she could trust. Someone that would survive…

Instead of causing more trouble, she decided to change her tactic. . "I'm a trained doctor," Clarke said. "A healer. I know a hundred different ways to save a life and a thousand different ways to take one. The reason I'm here is to survive. And I will for as long as I can. But I’m not going to give you a show. I’m not going to murder anyone."

And with that promise, Clarke turned and strode out of the room, hearing whispers of confusion erupt behind her. She also didn’t miss the way Alie’s voice was entirely flat when she said, “We’ll see about that.”

Chapter Text

Stealing a hovercraft had been far easier than Abby had expected; especially with her access pass to the shuttle bay. All she’d done was scan her badge at the door, then Bellamy and Raven had done the rest. Bellamy had to knock a guard out to get Raven into the control room, but then the young engineer had no problem hacking into the computer systems and programming a launch. Raven was also their pilot for the day, though she’d just reprogrammed the autopilot to follow the Chancellor’s flight plan, and the ship’s computer had done the rest. Jaha’s ship had left, with Octavia on it, only a few minutes before they managed their break-in and now, even if they did manage to rescue Bellamy’s sister, they were all fugitives. There would be no going back to District Thirteen; not without Capitol punishment.

A part of Abby had known all along that if she wanted to save Clarke, it would likely mean she’d have to give up everything she knew in District Thirteen. Surprisingly, the prospect no longer scared her as it once did. She knew that even if Clarke somehow managed to miraculously survive the Games, Jaha and Wallace would never let her return home and live peacefully; which meant that there was no life for her left in Thirteen anyway. They would have to find a new home elsewhere, and as they rode in silence, it dawned on her that she was looking at her new family as well. Bellamy and Raven couldn’t go back either, so they would just have to stick together if they wanted to survive, and she needed them both if she wanted to get Clarke back, just like they needed her to get their own loved ones back.

Their dedication to the people they cared about was something that had amazed her since she’d met them, despite their youth and inexperience, Bellamy and Raven both would go to the ends of the earth and back to save the people they cared about. It also made her feel guilty; guilty that she hadn’t tried to rescue Clarke sooner; guilty that she hadn’t busted her out of Prison Station and disappeared into the wilderness just like they were doing now; and guilty that the misfortunes that had befallen her family had been her fault in the first place. Her husband was dead, murdered, and her daughter had been imprisoned and then sentenced to die in the Games, and it was all her fault.

She hadn’t intended to tip Jaha off about the project that Jake had been pouring himself into night and day. She thought he knew already; that the Chancellor had ordered the round-the-clock work. It wouldn’t have been the first time that Jake was needed in engineering for days on end, so when she questioned Jaha about it and he had no knowledge of the project, it had been an immediate red flag. Jake hadn’t told her what he was working on, he’d said it was top secret and high priority, but ultimately it was her comment to Jaha that had brought the Chancellor to her husband’s office. She knew that Jake had tried to reason with the man and make him see the importance of what he’d discovered, but when Jake had been killed and Clarke arrested, she also knew whatever her husband had stumbled across was dangerous: too dangerous to be made public.

She’d spent the first few months of Clarke’s imprisonment trying to find out what her husband and daughter knew, but she hadn’t even been allowed to see Clarke. Jake’s computer was confiscated and tampered with beyond repair, and Jaha had accused Clarke of treason and threatened to have Abby arrested too if she kept asking questions. She’d given up. As much as it pained her to admit, and despite the mountain of shame that she felt, she couldn’t deny that she’d lost hope and given up on her daughter. She’d been lost, dejected and broken, by the death of her husband and the loss of her daughter, and she hadn’t known where to turn to or who to trust.

But all that had changed now. Now, she had Raven and Bellamy, and despite all the odds and obstacles stacked against them, she had hope for saving Clarke. She would give up her home and her job and her life as a surgeon ten times over if that meant she could see her daughter safe and free. She wasn’t sure how, or if it was even possible, but if anyone could find a way to get them out of the Games, it was going to be Raven. It wasn’t like it hadn’t been done before; Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and a few other Tributes had been busted out of the 75th Hunger Games at the start of the last rebellion. 97 years later, how much had really changed? But she hoped that it wouldn’t come to that; if they could just rescue Octavia and learn what she was able to extort from Jaha, maybe they could trade information for lives.

But first, they had to get to Bellamy’s sister, and the longer they flew, the more it was apparent that Bellamy was coming unglued as he paced back and forth through the pilot’s cabin. They’d been following the Chancellor’s flight path for hours, and though the other ship wasn’t actually visible, they were close enough to have them on radar. However, if Jaha’s flight team would check their own radar, they wouldn’t be able to find their hijacked ship even if they tried; Raven was jamming their signal to make them appear invisible to both ground and air traffic. They knew the Chancellor’s vessel would have to stop somewhere and refuel before continuing on to the Capitol, and that was when they planned to strike. Now, all that was left to do was wait and hope that they wouldn’t get killed.

The flight cabin of their own ship was roomy, considering it was only being manned by three people and a computer, so they had plenty of space to spread out. Raven sat in the Captain’s chair with the panel of controls and displays blinking in front of her, though she sat back and fiddled with the brace on her leg while the autopilot controlled the hovercraft. Bellamy, unable to sit still, moved from window to window, scouring the horizon in hope that maybe he could see Jaha’s ship and feel closer to getting his sister back. They were all on edge, aware of the fact that they had just seen their homes for the last time, and were now officially on the run as the authorities would have undoubtedly reported an unsanctioned launch by now.

“Pacing a hole through the floor isn’t going to make the ship fly faster,” Raven commented over her shoulder and Bellamy stopped for a moment to glare at the back of her head.

“He’s nervous,” Abby chimed in before they could start bickering. “We all are.”

Bellamy sighed and pressed his forehead to the Plexiglas window. “If they hurt her—

“They won’t,” Abby reassured him. She understood what it felt like to see the person she loved the most in danger and unable to help; it was the worst feeling in the world. “You can’t think like that.”

“Look, Bellamy, I don’t know your sister, but if she was willing to break into the Chancellor’s office and hold him at gunpoint, she sounds like a badass to me,” Raven added. “She’ll be okay until we get to her.”

If we get to her,” he attempted to correct.

“We will,” Abby answered, lending confidence to her tone that she didn’t know she had. They had no other choice; Clarke and Finn’s lives were depending on it. The only way to save all of their loved ones was to save this one first.

<-><-><-><->

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Anya?” Lincoln questioned from over her shoulder as he followed her through the dim lit corridor.

Anya had been up all night, too worried about Lexa to sleep and too on edge about Titus to do anything other than pace the length of her room. She hadn’t been trained for leadership and groomed for politics the way that Lexa had; Anya was a fighter, and it was all she knew how to do. And if someone dared to threaten the people she loved, she would fight until her last dying breath to keep her people safe. Except, Lexa was in the Capitol and getting ready to enter the arena in a few days, and she was trapped in District One with a liar and a traitor in command of their people and Lexa’s fate. Ultimately, her decision had been easy, but playing it out would be far more difficult.

“We can’t be sure that Niylah was able to get the message to Lexa, and we can’t allow Titus to have control over what happens to them in the Games,” she explained, nodding to a Peacekeeper as they passed by, trying not to draw any suspicions.

“True, but if we do this, it will put the entire district on the verge of collapse,” Lincoln warned, always the voice of reason.

Anya stopped and turned to glare at him, eyebrow raised. “Do you have a better idea?” she snapped.

He sighed, staring back at her with thoughtful brown eyes. “No,” he relinquished. “But, that doesn’t mean I think this idea is a good one.”

“It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to work,” she answered, spinning on her heal and heading down the corridor towards the council room of the Polis tower.

The tower was old and falling apart, having survived the nuclear war that ended the modern era of civilization almost two-hundred years before. It had been renovated on the inside, with red carpeting and torches drilled into the stone walls and chandeliers lit by candles hanging from above, a rustic combination of both old and new. The council room looked more like a throne room, but it was where the Commander met to discuss important issues of politics with the other Victors of District One, though any final decision was reserved for the Commander alone. It also happened to be where Titus liked to spend his days, perched in the Commander’s chair that they were all sure he regarded as a throne, and seeing concerned citizens of the district that came to him with complaints or requests.

Anya knew that was where she would find him now, surrounded by a mess of Peacekeepers that were assigned to guard him. That was potentially the biggest problem with her plan, but even the Peacekeepers couldn’t interfere with the politics of the districts. What worried her more was Titus’s lack of honor and willingness to do whatever he needed to do to maintain his station, but she’d had the good sense to plan for it, and had called a meeting for the other Victors to join them as well. Whatever happened, the council would bear witness.

They were the last to arrive, and although Lincoln was not a Victor, she’d asked that he be permitted to attend. Titus sat atop his throne at the head of the room, his seat woven with antlers and intricate wood, the same seat that twelve Commanders before him had sat in, and where Lexa would soon sit too. The other Victors were stationed in their own chairs around him in a half-circle so that they could all see one another. Indra’s seat was vacated at the moment, as she was mentoring in the Capitol, but the rest were filled with eager eyes and interested faces, all looking towards her. She was the youngest member of the council by far, but it had been the right she earned when she won her Games two years prior.

“Anya,” Titus spoke, looking rather bored. “Why have you called this council of Victors? There are no issues at hand that require our attention.”

Anya swallowed hard, feeling the eyes of everyone in the room on her. “Actually, there is one issue we need to discuss immediately,” she responded, lending all the strength and courage that she could muster to her voice.

“Well, please, enlighten us,” Titus answered, staring her down with piercing gray eyes as if trying to peer into her brain and read her thoughts.

She cleared her throat and rose slowly from her seat, finding strength in Lincoln standing at her side like an anchor. “As you all know, Lexa is in the Capitol at this very moment, preparing to fight for District One,” she started. “Tonight, she’ll receive her score and scores of sponsors I’m sure,” and she paused at the mumbles of agreement; the Victors had all taken part in Lexa’s selection and training for leadership, and they knew exactly what she was capable of. “But, that being said, I cannot allow her to compete knowing what I know,” Anya finished.

The room exploded into murmurs of confusion and protest, and it was Titus who reined them in. “Silence!” he shouted, quieting them all. “What is it you think you know, Anya?” he questioned skeptically.

She stared him down, willing herself to appear strong and confident. “There is a traitor in our midst,” she said, eyes meeting his seething gaze and watching as he issued her a challenge through the tension between them, as if daring her to speak.

“Who?” one of the other Victors asked.

“Who has betrayed us?” another questioned.

Anya lifted a single finger and pointed it in the Commander’s direction. “The Commander,” she said, coldly. “Titus has betrayed this district.”

Titus shot to his feet at the accusation, face flushed red in anger as he towered above them, ignoring the cries of shock and outrage. “You lie!” he shouted.

“Do I?” Anya questioned, remaining calm. “You are the one who is so obsessed with winning the Games each year that you can’t even see the way your own people suffer, Titus. There isn’t a thing you wouldn’t do to secure victory.”

“I make tough decisions so that our people don’t have to!” he argued back. “That does not make me a traitor! These accusations are treason!”

“Really? Why don’t you tell the council members who you have secured an alliance with, Commander?” she seethed, finding her words more easily now.

Titus glanced wildly around at the Victors before his menacing gaze landed on Anya once more. “I am the Commander, I do not have to explain my decisions to you,” he growled. “Peacekeepers! Arrest this woman!”

The guards around the room reacted instantly, moving towards Anya and Lincoln, but the other Victors had them pausing in their tracks. “Let her speak!” one called.

“The girl is right, Titus!” another said. “You are too blinded to even see the suffering of our people.”

“We will hear what she has to say,” more voices echoed until the Peacekeepers and Titus were outnumbered.

Anya nodded her thanks to those nearest her, and then pressed on. “Titus has allied with District Two,” she informed them all. “And he orchestrated the death of one of our own to see the alliance happen.”

“What?” a nearby Victor snapped, whirling his angry gaze around and aiming it at the Commander. “What is she talking about?”

“Haven’t any of you wondered how curious it was that Costia grew violently ill over night?” she questioned, raising her voice high above the heated shouts. “She was trained, perhaps even better than the rest of us; she would have never consumed anything that could jeopardize her! But Titus sent her a parachute that night, didn’t he?” she asked, jogging their memories.

“He did!” someone agreed.

“I overheard him in his office the other night, speaking to Nia Queen. He confirmed that he coordinated Costia’s death in order to secure an alliance with Ice Nation and gain President Wallace’s favor!” Anya finished, nearly shouting to be heard.

Titus’s face was beat red, his deadly glare so pointed that it could pierce skin in just one glance, and it was aimed directly at Anya, looking to kill. “You lie!” he yelled, furious. “You have no proof!”

“I do not need proof!” she yelled back. “As Victor of the 170th annual Hunger Games, it is my right to challenge you for command of District One.”

You?” Titus laughed, sardonically and with vile anger. “You wouldn’t know the first thing about leading our people! I will not allow this!”

“You don’t have a choice,” and this time it was Lincoln who spoke, calmly, as if inserting a sense of ease into the blistering atmosphere. “There are only two things that can remove a Commander from power: death, or a unanimous vote by the Victors. Any Victor is free to challenge you for your seat. These are our laws.”

The room fell silent as the council of Victors looked on in anticipation to see how things would unfold. “I do not wish to fight you, Titus,” Anya said. “Your head is not mine to take. But, I cannot allow you to remain in power while Lexa is in the arena.”

“You’ll have to kill me if you want to take this seat,” the Commander seethed.

“Perhaps not,” Anya answered his challenge. “I call for a vote of no confidence,” she said, speaking now to the rest of the room.

“All in favor?” Lincoln asked.

There was a brief moment in which the world stood still, but then slowly but surely, the hands of the eleven council members rose skyward until all were held up in unity. “The vote is unanimous, Titus,” one of the older Victors spoke. “You must step down.”

“And then what?” Titus spat. “She’ll lead in my place?” he seethed, thrusting a finger in Anya’s direction.

“No,” Anya spoke. “You were right, I am no leader. But, we already have our leader,” she said, addressing the council once more. “We chose her years ago, together. We raised her to one day take over as Commander, and now it is our duty to bring her home. The council will rule, jointly, until Lexa’s return.”

“Lexa?” the former Commander questioned, confusion evident in his tone. “What do you mean you chose her years ago? What is this?”

“This is a coup,” Anya replied, coldly. “But your treachery has forced us to act sooner than planned. Arrest him and hold him on counts of treason!” she commanded, watching the nearest guard gape at them. It was evident which guards were on Titus’s payroll and which were not, as some moved to instantly seize the former Commander, while other’s stayed rooted in place.

Titus struggled against the guards that grabbed him below the elbows and began towing him out of the room. “You can’t do this!” he shouted over his shoulder. “President Wallace will hear about this!”

“Let him,” Anya shot back. “He’s next,” she added, so low that only the Victors could hear.

Angry shouts disappeared down the hallway, echoing off the walls until they faded entirely. “Now what?” one of the other asked once Titus had been escorted from the room.

“Now, we bring our Commander home,” Anya replied, determination thick in her voice.

<-><-><-><->

After spending several hours in uncomfortable handcuffs with a gun subtly trained on her head, Octavia was starting to rethink breaking in to the Chancellor’s office. But, they’d been flying since dawn and it was far too late to turn back now; she’d made her choice and now she had to live with it. She knew they were taking her to the Capitol, but what happened to prisoners that were sent to Mount Weather remained a mystery, and it was one mystery that she had to desire to unfold. She had to find a way out if she wanted to survive, but there was nothing she could do while the hovercraft was in flight; not unless she wanted to plummet to her death, which, would probably be a fair share better than dying in Mount Weather.

She’d been subtly trying to wriggle out of the cuffs around her wrists, but had been forced to give up when she felt the sharp burning of raw skin and warm blood begin to soak into the gray of her prison sleeve. Jaha rode in the pilot’s cabin with two guards, while they had strapped her into an uncomfortable seat in the cargo hold beside some crates and an older Peacekeeper that hadn’t said a single word to her. The man looked to be in his early thirties, the brown hair atop his head just starting to thin, and his brown eyes looking on at her in boredom. She thought back to what Jaha said about Jake and Clarke Griffin, and the information they had acquired that was dangerous enough to pose a threat to thousands of people. At first, she thought it could be a bomb, but the Chancellor had belayed those suspicions. Now, she wasn’t sure what it could be.

After another hour of silence and subtly letting her eyes flick around the cargo hold in search of a way out, Jaha’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “We’re making a pit stop in District One to refuel and offload some cargo. Make sure the prisoner is secure,” he commanded and Octavia couldn’t help the sheer hatred that welled up in her heart, taking over her body like a disease. She despised the man and all that he had done to her and her family, and she’d be dammed before she let him have the satisfaction of delivering her to the Capitol like he did her mother.

A few minutes later, the shuttle began its descent, touching down in the transport hub of District One as the engines whirred to a halt. The guard that had been in charge of monitoring her stood, joints popping from disuse as he stretched and yawned. The cargo bay door was wrenched open from the outside, and several transport workers began unloading the boxes that filled the back of the shuttle. Octavia glanced around, craning her neck in an effort to make out their surroundings and search for some sort of escape. The Peacekeeper caught her movement and glared at her, looking as if he was ready to knock her out for even thinking about running.

“Don’t even think about it,” he said, tone dull and only vaguely interested.

“I was just looking for a restroom,” she lied. “I have to go.”

The guard yawned again, shrugging. “Not my problem, kid,” he replied.

“Look, it’ll only take a minute,” she pleaded, blinking up at him with wide eyes. “I’ve got to take care of…you know…lady issues…” she alluded, hoping that he would believe her. She hadn’t seen him on rotation in Prison Station, so there was no way that he should know all the female prisoners were actually fitted with IUD’s.

He stared at her for a moment, confused. “Oh?” he questioned, before recognition registered on his face. “Oh! Um right, okay. Let’s make it fast,” he stumbled, instantly uncomfortable as he unlocked her handcuffs.

“Thank you!” Octavia beamed, trying her best to sound relieved.

There was no bathroom in the hovercraft cargo hold, so she knew that they would have to leave the ship to find one, and tried not to smile as he roughly escorted her out of the cargo bay and towards the nearest restroom in the shuttle port. Once they got there, she dipped inside the door and shut it quickly behind her, looking around for anything that could aid in her escape and praying that he wouldn’t insist on guarding her while she did her business. She was relieved when he remained outside, and rapidly scanned her surroundings: There were three empty stalls, two faucets and a rather grimy looking mirror that she could hardly see her reflection in, so unless she planned to strangle her guard with toilet paper, she knew her luck had pretty much run out.

Just as she was about to give up and resort to trying to fight her way out as a last option, she spotted an air duct in the corner of the room, the vent just wide enough for a skinny girl to squeeze through. She had no idea where the duct would lead or how far she would get before the Peacekeeper realized she was missing, but it was her only hope. She quickly sprinted to the vent, standing on a toilet to reach the grate and shoving hard to pop it out, and then she pulled herself up into the ventilation system. It was a tight squeeze, barely enough room for her to keep her head low while she crawled, and she sucked in a deep breath through her nose to keep from panicking, the confined space reminding her so much of the years she’d spent hiding beneath the floor.

Once she’d centered herself, regaining her composure, Octavia crawled forward as quickly as she could, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the bathroom, but having no real direction or idea of where she was going. She was only lost for a few minutes, turning left, then right, then right again, before she spotted a light at the end of the tunnel and went for it, scuttling through the vent towards what she hoped would be her salvation. She reached another grate and kicked it out, cringing at the clanging sound that it made when it hit the floor several feet below, but she didn’t have time to worry about it. She dangled her legs out and then lowered herself to the ground, glancing around quickly at her surroundings to get an idea of where she was, horrified when she realized that she had landed in the hallway they’d came in from…fifty feet away from her befuddled guard.

“Fuck,” she cursed under breath before taking off in the opposite direction.

She could hear the sound of his voice, shouting at her, and the thundering of his feet as he chased after her in pursuit. She didn’t bother to look back, too scared that it might slow her down, but instead trained her eyes forward, sprinting full speed around corners and through a maze of hallways. She had no idea where she was going or if there was an exit nearby that she could get to, all she cared about was getting away from the man that wanted to lock her up again. She wouldn’t go back to being a prisoner; she had been locked away her entire life, and she would die before she let them put her in cuffs again. That was all she could think about when she rounded a corner and ran right smack into a solid chest.

<-><-><-><->

After the council meeting had adjourned and Titus had been relieved of his duty, Lincoln knew that the district would be on edge until a new Commander ascended. There would be chaos and confusion until Lexa returned, if she returned, or until another Victor took control, but the council would try its best to guarantee order. At his suggestion, the Victors had attempted to put a system of distribution in place in order to ensure that the citizens received an equal share of goods; but that meant that Polis Academy and its novitiates would see far less resources than they were accustomed to. Still, it was the best plan that they had to keep their people in check, and Polis would no longer be needed after Lexa won the Games and declared war on the Capitol.

Lincoln had been worried when Anya told him her plan to stage the coup without Lexa there to take over command, but he knew that it needed to be done if they wanted to give their friend the best chance they could of coming home alive. At least this way, Anya and the Victors would be in charge of maintaining contact with Indra and securing sponsors, and there would be no mystery parachutes sent Lexa’s way. But in the meantime, there was work to be done and he had been sent to the shuttle port to retrieve a shipment of goods that they would later hand out to those who needed it most, and now that he was no longer a novitiate, training for the Games, it felt good to be useful to those who held power while Lexa was away.

He was hardly paying attention, lost in a world of thought, when he rounded a corner and what felt like a bullet ran straight into his chest. The girl stumbled a bit, but his quick reflexes had him reaching out and catching her before she could fall, holding her steady until she regained her footing. Their eyes met, and Lincoln found himself looking down into the face of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, her eyes greener than the freshest pine trees that sprawled through the forest in spring. Her brown hair was splayed out down her back and her cheeks were flushed red from exertion, her chest heaving as she sucked in bursts of air as if she’d been sprinting for a long while. She stared up at him, terrified, and he wondered what someone so beautiful could be so afraid of.

“Help me,” she whispered after a second. “Please. They’re going to take me to the Capitol,” she begged.

He glanced down at her clothes and realized for the first time that she wore an odd prison jumpsuit from material that he had never seen before. A shout down the hallway told him that whoever was pursuing her was close, and he watched as a single tear snaked down her cheek. Whoever this girl was, it was clear that she wasn’t from District One, but wherever she hailed from, it was evident that they all had the same fear of the Capitol and what happens to those that are arrested and taken there. Something inside of him dawned, as if it had been there all along, just waiting to be woken up, and he realized then that he would never let anything happen to this girl.

“Please!” she pleaded, reaching for his hand.

He nodded once, returning the pressure of her grip, before spinning in the opposite direction and leading her down a different hallway. He couldn’t pretend to know where he was taking her, all he could do was reach for the nearest door handle and hope that it was unlocked, yanking it open and ushering her inside. The room was small and dark, piled high with boxes and smelling of disinfectant; clearly some sort of storage closet, but it would have to do. He didn’t hesitate when he yanked her behind a stack of boxes and pulled her back to his chest, pressing his hand over her mouth to quiet her breathing and keep her from making noise. She was trembling in his arms and he had to fight the urge to tighten his grip on her and embrace her protectively, so instead, he remained entirely still.

A moment later, the door busted open and they both held their breath for what felt like a full minute before the sound of an angry stream of curse words filled the air and the door slammed shut again. When the sounds of footsteps faded down the hallway and they were left in silence, he finally removed his hand from her mouth and felt her shoulders relax as they both breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He moved out from his position behind the boxes, and then signaled at her to stay put by holding up a flat palm. Lincoln edged his way to the door, silently as if he was on a hunt in the woods, and quietly cracked it open, poking his head out and glancing both ways down the corridor.

The Peacekeeper that had been chasing the girl was nowhere in sight, and he ducked back into the storage closet just long enough to take the girl’s hand again and pull her out from where she was hidden. They didn’t speak, but she trusted him to lead her through the shuttle port, hurrying along as he ushered her towards the way out. He wasn’t sure where he was taking her or how he planned to protect a fugitive from another District, but he knew that he would do everything in his power to do so. If she was on the run from the Peacekeepers, then they would surely mount a full district-wide search for her once they realized that she had escaped the transport hub. That meant there was really only one place he could take her…

Once they were outside, beneath the trees and moving swiftly and quietly through the forest, he allowed for them to slow their pace. The brunette was lost in her surroundings, gazing wide-eyed up at the towering pines above and staring in wonder at the birds and squirrels flitting through the trees. Despite the obvious danger that they were in, she appeared to be happy, amazed even, and Lincoln wondered if she had ever seen trees before. She followed him without question, still clutching his hand as he pulled her along, and it was several minutes before she finally worked up the courage to speak again.

“I don’t know who you are, but thank you,” she said, her voice far calmer than it had been in the shuttle bay. Lincoln felt his heart jump erratically when green eyes met his and she offered him a slight smile.

“My name is Lincoln,” he answered, doing his best to keep his tone level. “I will take you somewhere safe.”

She nodded and gave his hand a gentle squeeze, as if realizing for the first time that they were still holding tight to each other. “I’m Octavia,” she informed him, finally letting their hands part.

“Octavia,” he repeated, tasting the way her name sounded on his lips. “You will be safe in Polis.”

Chapter Text

Clarke was only mildly interested in the scoring of the Tributes, knowing that it would help her to judge who would be the biggest threat once they got into the arena. However, after her display that morning, she was fairly positive that her death wouldn’t be at the hands of another Tribute, but very likely by some horrific mutt or detonation set off in her surroundings as Wallace’s retribution for her disobedience. And for some reason, that thought didn’t scare her as much as it used to. No matter the scores that the others received, the Capitol would always be her greatest enemy, and it was one that she would never be able to defeat alone, even with the knowledge to do so.

She had a good idea of how the scoring would go: for obvious reasons, the career Tributes would receive the highest scores, as they did every year, but it would be interesting to see where the others landed on the spectrum. There were two girls in training that she had seen who appeared to be almost as skilled as the Careers: Echo from District Four, and Emori from District Three. There were also several male fighters that she’d heard talking about forming an alliance, and they would surely be a danger if they banded together. She was curious to see how Finn would do, considering he hadn’t stopped babbling about how well he thought he did since they’d gotten back a few hours before, and she couldn’t help but wonder what score they would assign her after her blatant refusal to participate. Mostly, she wanted to know about Lexa, even when she argued with herself to not even think about the broody brunette.

They gathered on the couch in front of the large television in their joint apartment with Marcus Kane, waiting for the broadcast to begin. Finn again talked animatedly about how he’d demonstrated his newly acquired skills with bow and spear, and Clarke had to fight to roll her eyes. The thought of his excitement was almost laughable, considering in two days’ time they’d be thrown into an arena to put their weapons to the test on other teenagers. Finn was naïve to believe he had a chance against the careers, and Clarke wasn’t foolish enough to even hope that she’d come out of the arena alive, but that didn’t mean she would give the Capitol the satisfaction of a show. She’d survive for as long as she could, and she’d avoid the killing and bloodshed, but she would not die for their entertainment. When she died, she would do so with grace and dignity, with defiance in her heart and steel in her eyes.

“Clarke?” Marcus asked, grabbing her attention. “You never said how your demonstration went,” he noted for probably the tenth time that day.

“Nope,” she answered, popping the –p. “And I don’t intend to, Marcus.”

He opened his mouth to shoot her a scathing retort, but the sound of the anthem playing and the screen flicking to life cut him off. “I guess we’ll find out soon anyway,” he mumbled, directing his attention to the broadcast.

The anthem ended in a lilting melody, and then the weaselish face of Cage Wallace appeared on screen. He was dressed to the hilt in a fine black suit, his greasy hair greased back even further, and he was sitting behind a broadcasting desk that was back dropped by a large screen with the various faces of the Tributes bouncing around on it like a screensaver. He smiled into the camera as if surprised to be on air, the scar above his lip morphing with his grin that looked strained on his features. Clarke didn’t exactly see the resemblance between Cage and Dante Wallace, but the President’s son definitely inherited his father’s cruelty, and his excited voice often accompanied the death of a Tribute as he announced the Games in recent years.

“Good evening, Panem!” he said, enthusiastically. “We’re getting so close to the Games now, but there’s a few matters we still need to take care of, so you’ll have to hold on to your excitement a little longer!” he went on, laughing stupidly. “As you well know by now, this morning our brave Tributes gave a skills demonstration showcasing their talents and abilities that they will be using in the arena! Our ingenious Game Makers have conferred, and the scores are in! Get ready ladies and gentleman, because we are bound for an amazing show!”

Clarke breathed out an exasperated sigh, not even trying to hide her disgusted eye roll as Cage rattled on animatedly, putting way too much effort into trying to fill the energetic Caesar Flickerman’s shoes. Still, she couldn’t help the nerves that were building in her stomach, yet she wasn’t quite sure of the source. She had nothing to lose, no reason to be nervous, yet she had hopes. Hopes that revolved around a certain green eyed girl from District One that she didn’t care to even admit to herself. She wanted Lexa to do well, but she didn’t know why.

“Now, let’s get this party started!” Cage said, the screen behind him flicking to the image of Gustus. He always looked so serious and fierce, the photo of him was taken at the Arrival Banquet, and even in a dashing suit he still looked like a warrior. “Gustus Greene, District One, with a score of…” Cage announced, and the paused for dramatic effect. “Eleven!” he said excitedly as a large number ‘11’ flashed next to Gustus’s portrait.

Clarke held her breath, knowing who was up next, but she still wasn’t prepared for the fluttering feeling in her stomach that rocked her like a hurricane when Lexa’s photo came on screen. The picture was of Lexa at the opening Ceremony, her epic cheekbones framed in streaking black war paint, and her green eyes glowing dangerously behind the mask. Her brown hair was pulled off her face in braids, and she wore the shoulder armor and blood red cape that appeared as if she was just moments from charging into battle. Her expression was empty and her chin was held high, almost as if she had no interest in the Games or the adoring crowd that had chanted her name, but rather was focused on one solitary objective: winning.

“Alexandria Woods, District One, with a score of…” Cage halted once more and Clarke felt her heart stop. “Twelve?” he breathed, barely a whisper and more of a question than a statement like he was unsure if it was even possible to receive a score that high. “With a score of twelve,” he repeated himself, clearing his throat.

“My God,” Kane whispered from beside Clarke and she blinked a few times to snap out of the daze she’d been drawn into. “That is the highest score that any female Tribute has ever received,” he stated, reverently.

Clarke wasn’t sure what to think or how to react. She knew that Lexa was talented and skilled, but had she only been going half-speed in the training sessions? She’d clearly been the most skilled out of the Tributes this year, but a score of twelve? That was more than even Katniss Everdeen had received. A score like that would put Lexa at the top of the odds that bookies were selling across Panem, and would undoubtedly earn her torrents of sponsors and fans. But something told Clarke that Lexa wasn’t interested in any of it. She didn’t strike Clarke as someone who would care about the fame or the glory that came with winning, but was rather honor bound to aid her district in any way she could. She was commendable in both skill and resolve, and Clarke realized then that she actually admired Lexa Woods, regardless of how much the woman drove her mad.

Her thoughts were interrupted as a still-stunned Cage went on to introduce the male Tribute from District Two, Roan Queen. Roan was a seasoned warrior, muscular in build and possessing an abundance of charm that had the women of the Capitol swooning, and it was no surprise at all when Cage revealed that his score was an eleven. Ontari’s face appeared on screen next, and Clarke had to bite back the bitter comment that was searing at the end of her tongue. Ontari was a cruel girl, driven by blood and rage and was undoubtedly unstable, and Clarke found that she was more afraid of Ontari’s probable psychotic break than she was of the girl’s skill with a sword and knives. If the rumors were true, anyone that murdered a bunch of people while they slept, just to have the chance to murder even more people in the arena, couldn’t be of sound mind. She cringed when Cage revealed another score of eleven to accompany Ontari’s photo.

They watched for what felt like hours as the names and photos of the rest of the Tributes ticked by, some falling to the back of the pack, and some scoring higher than expected. Nobody had scored over a nine since the Careers and it was obvious who the frontrunners were going to be going in to the Games. Finally, the female Tribute from District Twelves’ face faded away, and Clarke could see the way Finn stiffened, going practically rigid in anticipation.

“Finn Collins, District Thirteen,” Cage announced reading his name off as his face appeared on screen. The photo of Finn was from the Arrival Banquet, his hair slicked back and looking particularly dashing in his three piece suit. “With a score of…eight!” he announced, delightedly as a large number ‘8’ appeared next to Finn’s face and the boy himself visibly relaxed, shoulders deflating.

“Eight isn’t bad, Finn!” Marcus exclaimed. “It puts you ahead of the middle of the pack! Some sponsors that want to bet on a longshot may very well bet on you.”

“A longshot?” Finn asked, dejectedly.

Marcus briefly appeared unsettled at his slip up, but Clarke decided to intervene. “Finn, Lexa got a score of twelve and Gustus, Roan, and Ontari scored an eleven. Marcus didn’t mean you don’t have a chance, you do, but we should be realistic about our expectations.”

“Oh yeah?” Finn growled. “And what are yours?”

“I fully expect to die, Finn,” she responded, truthfully. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going down without a fight.”

“Quiet, both of you!” Marcus hissed.

They turned their attention back towards the television where Cage grinned into the camera as he announced the final Tribute. “Clarke Griffin, District Thirteen,” he said, as Clarke’s portrait popped up. Her hair was blazing the same color red as her dress in the artificial light, looking as if she was wrapped in blood and shadows, and her blue eyes were storming into the camera. She realized how stoic she looked in the photo, almost as stoic as Lexa, and unnerved by her surroundings as she stared straight ahead. “With a score of…” the announcer continued on and Clarke felt her breath stall, holding it in anticipation of what would undoubtedly be the lowest score of all. “With a score of…” he repeated again, as if there was some sort of confusion going on off screen. “Twelve?” he whispered, more of a question than anything, like he couldn’t believe it, then, “With a score of twelve!” he shouted, more enthusiastically as the giant ‘12’ appeared beside her face.

Marcus and Finn both turned to Clarke wide-eyed, and Marcus sputtered, “What did you do?”

At the exact same time that Clarke whispered, “Fuck.” The Game Makers had just painted a giant red bulls-eye on her back.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa, Indra, and Gustus sat about the loft in their apartment, eagerly anticipating the scoring of the Tributes. Lexa’s skills demonstration had gone better than she’d expected, and finishing with two minutes to spare was just a bonus on top of the lethal abilities she had displayed for the Game Makers. Gustus had performed well too, according to what he’d said after they returned to the first-floor dorm, and she anticipated that both of their scores would be impressive. She knew she should be nervous, eager even, but something in the back of her mind was nagging and she couldn’t quite shake it.

She was distracted by the last words that Clarke had said to her, the sound of the blonde’s voice ringing in her ears for the majority of the day, and even now she could still hear them. Clarke believed that she would be dead very soon, and it was a rational belief considering only one person could survive the arena, but she also believed that Lexa would be that person. But something about the thought of Clarke dying set her nerves on fire to no end and it showed in the ache she had in her jaw from clenching it for too long without notice. She let out a long sigh, relaxing herself and trying to center her mind on what really mattered. Only one person would walk away from that arena, and it was going to be her. The other tributes didn’t matter. At least that’s what she was trying desperately to convince herself.

The anthem began to play signaling the start of the broadcast, and Cage Wallace’s grimy face appeared on screen. Lexa hated the man; hated the enthusiasm and pleasure he took in the deaths of Tributes, and hated the sound of his voice as he announced the killing blows. He was no less cruel than his father, and she swore silently to herself that if ever given the chance, she would drive a blade through his rotten heart. Her hatred was dulled though, cut off as he concluded his opening statement and announced Gustus’s name.

“Gustus Greene, District One, with a score of…” he paused. “Eleven!”

“Well done, Gustus,” Indra stated casually, clasping his forearm in a show of respect as if she had expected nothing less from the towering boy.

He nodded his affirmation, but was focused on the broadcast instead as Cage pressed on. A second later, Lexa’s own face appeared on screen, eyes framed in black war paint and looking as if she was ready to take on the world. The nerves that she had been convinced were nonexistent suddenly surfaced, but only slightly, and they’re quelled instantly when her own score is announced. Cage glanced down at the scorecard in his hand before reading it allowed, his expression morphing into confusion as he muttered a number that Lexa thought was surely a mistake. Then, he announced it more confidently: a twelve.

“Twelve,” Indra repeated, tone emotionless as usual but there was a glimmer of pride in her eyes. “The highest score ever earned by a female Tribute.”

“The Victors chose wisely when they chose Lexa,” Gustus voiced his agreement with an air of revere.

Lexa nodded her thanks to them both, maintaining a humble grace. She had made history, but the score meant nothing to her unless she earned it in the arena. The eyes of Panem and all its citizens would surely be on her now, and the weight of that would never be far from mind. From here on out, all that she did would have to be done with the knowledge that the people were looking at her; looking to her, and she would prove to them that she was worthy to lead. Yet, despite the fact that the score had been revealed, and it had been the best it could be, her nerves still remained, rolling around in her stomach like a ball of needles.

They watched the broadcast as face after face ticked by and score after score was revealed, yet Lexa’s nerves did not fade; in fact, they seemed to be growing, and she felt a wave of nausea wrack through her core. She huffed a heavy sigh, irritated as her mind conjured the image of blonde hair and blue eyes, and she realized that she was so nervous because Clarke hadn’t received her score yet. She was nervous for Clarke. She practically choked on the ball that welled in her throat when the realization hit her, and she stood, feeling the need to pace.

A moment later, the boy from District Thirteen, Finn, came on screen and received a relatively mediocre score but appropriate for his skill level that Lexa had observed, and then, she knew it was Clarke’s turn. Lexa stopped in her tracks when Clarke’s photo appeared, her hair blood red in a low cut dress of the same color that made Lexa’s heart beat faster and slower at the same time. She felt her stomach flip with far more anticipation than what she had felt waiting for her own score; she wanted Clarke to do well, purely for the sake that a sponsor might pick her up and send her aid while they were in the arena, and that might help her in ways that Lexa knew she could not once the Games began.

There was an issue with the scoring and she watched as Cage repeated himself several times before confirming with someone off camera, and then he looked into the screen and shouted, “Twelve!”

The world stopped for a moment and Lexa couldn’t tell if she was sick or elated, perhaps even slightly mad, and from behind her she could hear Gustus and Indra murmuring their disbelief. Cage gave his signature sign-off and the broadcast played the closing anthem one last time before fading to black and leaving them in a state of stunned silence. Lexa thought for a moment that the broadcast might come back on and correct some mistake, because surely they must be mistaken, but it never did. The silence lingered for a few minutes longer before her confusion boiled over and she could no longer take it.

“How is it possible?” she asked, directing her question at Indra. “It can’t be.”

But it was Gustus who spoke. “Perhaps your new friend was not entirely honest with you about her skills,” he suggested with a slight tone of agitation.

“No,” Lexa shook her head. “Clarke had never touched a weapon before I showed her. She is a healer, not a warrior,” she argued.

“Maybe she’s a liar,” Indra said, seething.

“No,” Lexa disagreed. “Clarke is many things, but she is not a liar. I trust her,” she admitted for the first time, trying to hide the surprise in her own voice.

“You don’t know her,” Gustus retorted, still sharp.

Lexa glared at him in warning. “I do not need to know her to understand her,” she stated, bluntly.

“Fine,” Indra interjected before the debate could turn heated. “Say she was truly as unskilled and unseasoned as you believe her to be; what could she have shown the Game Makers to earn a score as high as yours?”

Lexa breathed a frustrated sigh, perplexed, as she tried to decipher the mystery. “I don’t know,” she relinquished.

“Then let’s start with what you do know,” their mentor answered, lending her guidance.

Lexa nodded once. “We know that Clarke is from a district where weapons training is forbidden. We know that she is a healer, not a warrior,” she started. “She told me that she was arrested for a crime she did not commit, and charged with treason.”

“So, what in all of that would earn her a score of twelve?” Indra asked.

“I told you,” Gustus answered this time. “She was not honest.”

“Or,” Lexa said, bristling. “The Capitol is trying to paint a target on her back on purpose.”

Chapter Text

The interview process was the last step before the Games began and the Tributes entered the arena, and Gustus understood how important it was to give the proper impression. He had been split up from Lexa prior to hair and makeup, but they had rehearsed what they would say long beforehand. They would act cold and disinterested towards the crowd, unlike the Career Tributes who normally catered to the people of the Capitol to earn favoritism. Their plan from the start had been to demonstrate unity and strength, and that plan would not waver now. Despite the tension that had grown between them the night before about their differing takes on the girl from District Thirteen, Gustus would perform his duty with loyalty and honor.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror, noting the way his midnight black suit clung tightly to his muscles, and how blue his eyes glowed behind a single band of black war paint. His wild black hair was tied back behind his head, and even he had to admit that there was a certain rugged appeal to his formal attire. It was strange to think that less than a day from then, they would be in the arena, fighting to survive. They’d be swapping suits and ties for swords and spears, and formal dining for meager meals while trying not to get murdered in their sleep. The first day always set the tone for the Games; in the best case possible, they would be strong and uninjured, on the verge of narrowing down the field of Tributes and eliminating the largest threats first. And in the worst case, they would both be dead. But he would not allow the latter to happen.

Out on stage, he could hear Cage Wallace giving his opening statement, trying to rile the crowd for the upcoming interviews. Judging by the sound of the applause coming from the audience, the citizens of the Capitol were highly anticipating the start of the Games, and he couldn’t even attempt to hid the disgust from his face. They lived to serve Mount Weather; their people labored day in and day out to provide goods that supported the fat and the wealthy, they starved so that the Capitol could live in excess, and their teens died for spectacle and entertainment to the sounds of cheers and the delights of bookies cashing in on lost bets. It was monstrous, and the anger in his chest boiled threateningly.

He clenched his jaw and dug his nails into his palms as Cage announced his name and he wandered out on stage, keeping his eyes trained forward and doing his best to tune out the cheering crowd. He would not give them the satisfaction of his attention, nor the grace of eye contact; he didn’t believe they deserved as much. Instead, he bolted forward, his gaze burning holes into Cage Wallace’s head where he sat on a plush red couch at the center of the stage. The President’s son was a vile man, even in his fancy tuxedo with his hair gelled to the side, he still looked like a human cockroach waiting to be squashed.

He grinned and took Gustus’s hand firmly before ushering him to sit and waiting for the audience to finish applauding. “Wow, Gustus, that was quite an ovation, the audience must be excited to have you here!” he said, with fake enthusiasm as the crowd cheered again.

“Thank you,” he replied shortly, still not bothering to glance towards the cameras.

“So, Gustus,” Cage continued on, slightly unnerved by his steely exterior. “Being from District One, you had to compete in a ‘Conclave’,” he air-quoted the word, “in order to earn your spot as Tribute. Tell us what that was like; how many other men fought for the honor?” he questioned, delving for details.

“The Conclave is a battle of strength and skill,” he answered. “There were nine other novitiates in my class.”

Cage’s eyebrows shot up his forehead as he feigned surprise. “Nine?” he gasped, and Gustus had to fight not to roll his eyes. “So, you’re surely no stranger to combat then?” he asked.

“No Tribute from District One has ever been a stranger to combat,” he replied. “We are trained to be warriors.”

“That you are, my friend!” Cage shot back, garnering a fresh round of applause. “That’ll surely give you an advantage in the arena!” he added when the crowd quieted once more. “And, you earned a very high score of an eleven in your trials, which of course begs the question: how do you feel about your chances in the Games, Gustus?”

Gustus paused for a moment, unwilling to reveal the true nature of the mission he had been sent to do, so he settled for being evasive. “Lexa and I will bring victory to our people,” he responded with a half-truth.

“Lexa and I, you say?” Cage asked, waggling his eyebrows in not so subtle suggestion. “So, you two have plans to work together then?”

“I will stand by her side until my last breath,” he answered, sincerely, and listened to the cacophony of ‘Ooo’s and Aww’s” from the audience.

“Or her last breath!” Cage interjected, and Gustus again struggled not to reach out and wring his scrawny neck. “So,” he said, continuing on. “You are quite dedicated to your fellow Tribute from District One, which begs the question that I am sure we are all dying to know,” he opened his arms to encompass the crowd and laughter filled the room. “Are you and Lexa another Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark caught in a star-crossed love story?”

“No,” he responded shortly, crushing their hopes with a single syllable. “Lexa is as a sister to me. We stand together,” he explained. “She is a good friend and an even better leader.”

“Well, Gustus, you two will surely make an impressive team! It’s always entertaining to watch Career tributes in action, working together, and it’s always a pleasure speaking with you, young man!” Cage shook his hand and stood, signaling the end of the interview as the timer to keep them on schedule ticked down its last few seconds.

Cage shook his hand once more and motioned to him as he exited the stage. “Gustus Green, everybody!” he said, one last time, drawing even further cheers.

Gustus took his leave swiftly, eager to be away from the stuffy auditorium that was crowded with hundreds of people he would sooner kill than respect. When Lexa ruled, she would claim justice for everyone, and his sacrifice would not be in vain. But tomorrow, he would have blood.

<-><-><-><->

Roan stood backstage, ignoring Lexa’s interview that was currently in progress. He had no desire to listen to it. Nia had wished them to be allies, purely for the sake of getting Lexa to let her guard down, but the brunette from District One had been wiser than that. She had received a score of twelve, making history, and he’d been watching her in training; she was undoubtedly a formidable fighter. Now, she was nothing more than another enemy and another face he needed to see in the sky at the end of the day. He had no real desire to ally with anyone, not even the psychopathic sadist, Ontari, from his own district.

He would have killed her first as punishment for her transgressions against the other female novitiates, some of which were his friends, that she killed in order to stand as Tribute. But his sister had ordered that they work together, at least until the greatest threats were taken care of. He needed Ontari if he was going to have any chance and beating Lexa and Gustus, but afterwards, he would gladly remove her head from her shoulders. He would win the Games of his own accord, based upon his own talent and skill as a survivor, and his own will to survive. He was nothing like his sister who had to cheat her way to victory by poisoning her opponent, and he despised her for it.

He stood in front of a mirror, clad in the furs of his people, his strong shoulders shrouded in a white wolf pelt cape that flowed down to his feet. He thought the attire made him look fierce and battle ready, his blue eyes colder than the ice from which he hailed. His light brown hair was pulled back into a half-ponytail behind his head, the rest of his hair falling down around his square jawline. He waited impatiently for Cage to call his name, eager to get the interview under way and the night to be done with so that he could begin his conquest. He had no intention of allowing his sister to remain in power for long should he return victorious; she was a cruel leader, and her thirst for power knew no ends. Their people would suffer beneath her, and he refused to see them in any greater pain than they already were. He knew Mount Weather and President Wallace were the real enemies, but Nia was no friend either.

Lexa concluded her interview, and he only caught sight of her back as she retreated off stage, moving with speed and intent. Then, his name was being called. “Ladies and gentleman, Roan Queen from District Two!” Cage shouted, summoning him forward.

Roan sauntered out onto the stage, enjoying the warmth of the bright spotlights beaming down on his skin and chuckling at the girls in the front row who were screaming his name. He offered them a dashing smile and a wink in hopes that one of them was rich enough to sponsor him in the Games. He had his good looks and charming personality going for him, and it was a weapon in his arsenal that he had never been afraid to use. He waved to the crowd and offered Cage his hand as he reached the couches at the center of the stage, grinning and feigning appreciation for the warm welcome.

Once he sat down and the audience hushed, Cage spoke. “Roan! How are you doing tonight, my friend?” he asked as they settled in.

“I’m well, Cage,” he replied with a nod. “This place is amazing, and the Capitol and the people here have all been very accommodating during my stay.”

“Of course we have!” Cage answered with a wide grin. “We’re not savages!” he added, and Roan forced his doubt to remain from his features. “So, Roan, tell me, your sister, Nia, won the games a few years ago and returned home, and is now leading District Two?” Cage faked his surprise, his voice rising an octave towards the end as if he and his father hadn’t played a role in securing Nia’s position. “How do you feel about her wild and sudden success? She was a Capitol favorite, you know.”

Roan gritted his teeth and felt his nostrils flare though he tried to stay impassive. Even his moment in the spotlight, during his interview, and his Games, he was still overshadowed by his vile sister. “I am very proud of my sister, Cage. She is an extraordinary woman,” he answered through his clenched jaw, balling his fist into the couch where no one could see. The crowd ‘awwed’ and Roan nodded towards the cameras, trying to hide his revulsion.

“And I’m sure she’s proud of you, too! An eleven is an incredible score, Roan,” Cage pressed on with his performance. “A victory by a brother and sister from the same district has not been seen in over a century! Wouldn’t that be a thing to behold?”

“It sure would,” he answered, feeling the hatred take hold in his heart towards the woman that had spent his entire life using him for her ploys and to further her own successes. Even a victory in the Games would be shared with her name, his own glory being robbed from under him, and he felt as if he would go his entire life beneath her foot. “I will not fail my district,” he added for good measure trying to instill the fact that his victory would not be for her, but for his people.

Cage smiled and nodded. “Like the District One Tributes, you have to fight in a tournament to earn your spot as Tribute as well, don’t you?” he asked, digging for more details in order to give the audience an insight to his life.

“Yes,” Roan replied. “Only the strongest and most skilled may challenge for the right to volunteer.”

“And then you fight?”

“To the death,” he supplied, listening to the murmurs around him.

Cage looked like a mixture between impressed and disgusted, but he kept on. “Well, then the arena should be no different for you?”

“It will be a great deal different, Cage,” he answered, feeling the crowd hanging on his words. “This time, I won’t hold back,” he grinned devilishly.

“Wow! I’m sure you will do your best, my friend. We are all rooting for you,” Cage exclaimed, standing up and offering him his hand once more as their time together came to a close. “Ladies and gentleman, one last time, Roan Queen, everyone!”

As Roan left the stage, he knew the applause he heard was for him, not his sister, and he made a silent vow to himself that he would kill every last person that stood between him and the freedom from Nia’s shadow. And he would start with Lexa Woods and the rest of the Tributes.

<-><-><-><->

Ontari wore a heavy shroud of black and gray furs, thick and strong, sweeping over her body and out behind her. Her dark hair was braided back off her face and her eyes were framed with the flesh colored makeup that gave the illusion of deep, angry scars. She looked lethal, just the way she intended when she told her stylist to dress her; like a wolf on the hunt, ready for blood. She had seen Lexa’s interview, all grace and poise, and it made her sick. How any other female Tribute could have scored higher than her, she couldn’t fathom. And not only had Lexa Woods outdone her, but Clarke Griffin of all people, too? She had seen the snobbish blonde from District Thirteen waste her days in training learning how to set traps and build fires, and had been fairly confident that Clarke possessed no real skills at all. That was until her score was posted.

The two people that she had already vowed to kill first had outdone her, and now their deaths would be her greatest mission. She would kill them all, and she wouldn’t stop until blood soaked the ground at her feet and she stood victorious atop a pile of bodies. Clarke had made a mistake when she made an enemy out of Ontari, and now she intended to make her suffer. Not even Lexa, who she had seen hovering near the blonde for days, could protect her from Ontari’s wrath. They would both die, gruesomely and without mercy, and Ontari was certain that she would revel in the sounds of their screams.

“Ontari Natblood, come on out here young lady!” Cage called enthusiastically from the other side of the curtain, and Ontari held her head high as she made her way across the stage. She does her best to smile at the crowd, attempting to earn favor, but even she knew that she wasn’t made for social graces. She wass a killer, a fighter, a brawler; grinning and acting happy weren’t in her repertoire, she preferred the excitement of a kill, and the cries of battle.

“Ontari, welcome!” Cage exclaimed as he took her hand in his and kissed it. His lips felt like acid against her skin and she had to fight not to wretch at the pleasantries as she settled down onto the couch. “I must say, you are one of the youngest career tributes from District Two that we have ever had. Usually we receive volunteers at age seventeen, but here you are, barely sixteen and ready to compete!”

Ontari allowed a single nod. “It is an honor,” she replied, short and to the point.

Cage cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable by her proximity, before pressing on. “Now, Ontari, correct me if I’m wrong, but there is a rumor going around that you killed the other female trainees in your class in order to earn your spot here as a Victor?” he asked, his tone laced with surprise rather than an accusation.

Ontari grinned wickedly, the smile on her face actually genuine at the mention of her glorious slaughters. “You’re not wrong, Cage,” she replied, proudly.

“And you have no qualms about this?” he questioned, looking a little unnerved.

“I do not. I will have no qualms about those I kill in the arena either. Killing is what I was raised to do, and I will not hesitate when the time comes,” she answered, bluntly, tone flat and emotionless.

Cage turned a slight shade of green, thrown off slightly by the impassive answers. “Well, that certainly gives you an advantage over your opponents. You’ve killed before, you’ve taken life and seem to be ready to do so again!” he states, faking his excitement.

“That’s the plan, Cage,” she responded, giving off a sense of utter ruthlessness. “I will win at any cost.”

“And tell me, Ontari, would you describe yourself as a killer?” he questioned. “Or are you simply doing what you must for fame and glory?”

She shrugged, intrigued by the question. “Killing is what I do best,” she answered.

Cage let out a bark of nervous laughter and appeared as if he was ready to get up and flee from the stage like a coward. “Well, you’ve come to the right place then!” he exclaimed, drawing an equally nervous laugh from the crowd. “Uh, ladies and gentleman, Ontari Natblood!” he said, dismissing her well before the timer on their session ran out.

She stood and sauntered off the stage with a gruesome smile tugging at her lips, laughing internally at the people in the front row who were too terrified to make eye contact with her. She hoped that she had driven her ruthlessness home and that, despite the fact that she had scored lower than Clarke and Lexa, she had done enough in her interview to garner the attention of betters and sponsors. The truth was, she was glad for the night to be over. Tomorrow, she’d bathe in the blood of the other victors.

<-><-><-><->

Finn stood in front of a floor-length mirror, admiring his reflection in the elegant black suit that Niylah had designed specifically for him. The material was silky and smooth, flecked with blues, whites, and whisky purples, looking as if his outfit was made from the stars itself like the sky had swallowed him up and spat him back out. He wore a white shirt beneath the jacket, and the tie around his neck was made from the same material as his suit, giving the overall impression that he had been dropped from space and just so happened to land in Mount Weather. His long brown hair was pushed back and there was a faint sheen of sweat glistening on his forehead that he attributed to nerves rather than heat or exertion. It was strange for him to think that the very next day, he could be dead, and he would never see Raven or his home again.

He waited off to the side of the stage on his own, knowing that his stylist was puting the finishing touches on Clarke’s hair and makeup, and listened to the end of the girl from District Twelve’s interview. It had been interesting to listen to all the different Tributes as they spoke on their chances in the arena or their thoughts of home. The ones who had been the most confident were obviously the Careers, but Lexa and Gustus had been subtle and eloquent, where Ontari and Roan had been brash and unrefined. There were a few other standouts among them, like Quint from District Six who was more brawns than brains, and Echo from District Four who seemed to be constantly plotting in her head. Overall though, most of the Tributes had talked about their homes and wanting to win for their loved ones and the hopes that they would see them again. Finn held those very same hopes.

A moment later, the girl from District Twelve exited the stage to a round of subdued applause, not nearly as raucous as it had been for Lexa or Ontari, and Finn knew it was his turn. “Finn Collins, District Thirteen, come on out here!” Cage beckoned him.

The crowd cheered for him excitedly, and he gazed out over the hundreds of unfamiliar faces before looking directly into the camera and offering a small wave. Beneath the spotlight, his nerves disappeared, and he just knew that somewhere out there, Raven was watching him. If he never got the opportunity to see her again, he knew that this was his chance to speak directly to her and tell her everything he had always wanted to say. He needed her to know how much he loved her, and how amazing he thought she was, and how he would never even dream of blaming her for being in the Games. He needed her to know that none of this was her fault.

He took Cage’s hand in his in a firm shake when he reached the center of the stage, and then sat down. “Finn Collins, it’s good to see you!” Cage grinned, far too enthusiastic. “You look dashing, my friend.”

“Thank you, Cage. It’s good to see you too,” Finn answered, conjuring his most diplomatic tone.

“So, Finn, there is something I have been just dying to ask you,” the younger Wallace said, crossing his right leg over the left and leaning forward as if on edge. ““It’s no secret that in District Thirteen, the pool of names for the Reaping comes from underage boys and girls that have committed crimes.”

Finn nodded, already understanding where the topic was headed. “You want to know what crime I committed to get locked up,” he stated.

“Well you read my mind, young man,” Cage replied, again with a smile that looked far too forced. “Please, enlighten us.”

“Yeah! Tell us!” a voice from the audience shouted and the rest of the crowd murmured their agreement.

Finn leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he locked gazes with Cage. “Well, Cage, my crime is one that I would commit over and over again, because you see, I am guilty,” he started, drawing the audience in, “I’m guilty of loving a woman so much that I would die for her. And that is exactly what I will do,” he alluded, followed by gasps and hollers echoing from around the room.

The grin on Cage’s face grew even wider. “A woman you say? So there is someone special waiting for you at home?”

“Yes, yes there is, but I don’t want her to wait forever,” he said, then looked directly at the camera, breathing a heavy sigh. “Raven, if you’re watching this, I’ll do my best to make it home to you, but if I don’t, just know that I love you,” he said, offering a slight boyish smile, and again the audience ‘awed’ and a few women even sobbed far too dramatically.

“Well, well, Finn, that is quite the declaration of love. Who is this girl?” Cage asked, intrigued.

Finn sucked in a breath to steady his aching heart that felt as if it were splitting in two. “The most amazing woman I’ve ever met. I know she blames herself for me being here, but I don’t want her to. None of this is her fault.”

“Well, my friend, I guess you certainly have something, or should I say someone, to fight for in the arena!”

He nodded his agreement. “I do, and I will,” he said. “You see Cage, the difference between me and the Careers is that they fight for honor and glory, but I fight for love,” he explained. “And I have to believe that in the world we live in, sometimes love has to win.”

The audience erupted into applause that could almost rival the volume in which they had cheered for the Career Tributes, and Finn smiled and nodded as he stood to shake Cage’s hand one last time. As he exited the stage, a sense of relief swept through him, and he let out the breath he had been holding. If he did die tomorrow, he would die with the knowledge that he told Raven he didn’t blame her. Just being able to say those words for the world to hear felt as if a weight had been lifted from his chest, renewing his hope and determination. He would find a way to survive the arena, and he would find a way back to Raven, because his love was all he needed to live.

Chapter Text

Lexa could hear Gustus’s interview taking place on stage. The way he spoke about her with such high regard and passion filled her with pride, and she couldn’t help the sense of anguish at the fact that before all of this was done, he would be dead. She couldn’t help but admire and respect him as well; understanding that the true definition of a hero was someone that died so that others may live. She also understood that living could be very different from surviving, and that Gustus would die not only for her, but to ensure that their people would have a better future. She would be sure that he knew as much before they entered the arena, but first they had to resolve the tension that had developed between them the night before. She knew that he was just looking out for her, but when it came to Clarke, she was struggling to tell the difference between what was real and what was not.

She let out a heavy sigh and shook the thoughts from her head, focusing instead on what was right in front of her. She stared at herself in the mirror, taking in the work her stylist had done. She wore a simple black dress, long and elegant, flowing down to her ankles in the back, yet cut above her knees in the front. The neck line dipped low, exposing her cleavage, and the straps were thin over her shoulders where they met a backless cut out that revealed the design of the tattoo at the nape of her neck. He hair was pulled back away from her face, woven into intricate braids that flowed down her shoulders and her green eyes were framed in a single streak of black war paint from temple to temple, making them pop a vibrant forest color. She looked both beautiful and commanding, ready to fight, and ready to win.

Lexa knew that the eyes of every person in Panem would be on her tonight, and she felt the weight of the significance of the interview bearing down on her like an invisible parasite. The people of the Capitol were looking at her like an iconic celebrity; someone to cheer for and immortalize in the history of their gruesome traditions. In that crowd, there were sponsors and gamblers, all waiting to throw money her way in support of her conquests. They were foolish and blind to reality, but she had to appeal to them nonetheless. But to her, it was how her image resonated outside of the Capitol that truly mattered. She wondered how she would appear to the men that struggled to feed their families, and the women that worried for their own children’s safety. She thought about the young girls that had no models of strength or wisdom to look up to, and the boys that dreamed of being brave warriors. Those were her people, and it was her people that she truly needed to reach and become the embodiment of everything that they hoped and dreamed. The person who would finally lead them home.

Again, she sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, steadying herself as Gustus’s interview came to a close. He met her eyes as he exited the stage, offering her a single nod of both acknowledgement and respect, communicating in the silent space between them where words were not necessary. A moment later, Cage called her name, and all of her thoughts were drowned out by the sound of a relentless roaring audience, giving her a loud enough ovation to shake the entire building. She made her way out onto the stage, shoulders straight and stiff, chin strong and high, eyes forward on her target; the posture of a leader.

“Alexandria Woods, District One!” Cage yelled for a second time, struggling to be heard over the applause as he extended a hand to shake hers, though she bristled and ignored it.

The crowd roared on long after she sat on the plush red couch, and they were forced to wait a few moments while Cage attempted to regain control of the audience. Judging by the reaction she’d gotten, it was clear that Lexa was already the fan favorite in the Games this year even though she was only the second person out on stage. “Lexa Woods,” Cage mused after the crowd had finally hushed. “I feel like we know you already! Your name has been circling the Games’ circuit for years now as a top prospect from District One, your combat skills precede your reputation, your grace and elegance is unmatched; tell me, how does it feel to finally be here?” he questioned, sprinkling in far too much flattery.

“I feel like I am where my people need me to be right now, Cage,” Lexa replied truthfully, her people always a forethought in her mind. She intended her answers to be short and to the point, revealing her character rather than putting on a show for the Capitol.

“You certainly are! And with a score of twelve no less!” he rattled on, excitedly. “How does it feel being one of the first women in history to achieve such an impressive standard?”

Lexa took a moment to think, always judging her words before speaking. “I have trained my whole life for this moment, and my score is reflective of that,” she replied, vaguely. Her demeanor is cold and distant on purpose, which would normally be unpleasing to the Capitol audience, but coming from Lexa she hoped that it only added to her dangerous image. She had no desire to fake a smile or put on a show, she was a warrior, not an actress.

“And how do you feel about having to share that honor with Clarke Griffin?” Cage asked.

“Clarke…” Lexa started, caught off guard by the unexpected question and the mention of the blonde’s name, but recovering quickly. “I was not present in Clarke’s exhibition, but if she earned a score that high, she probably deserves it just as I do,” she responded, gracefully.

“Well, it certainly is an impressive score!” he remarked before continuing to the next subject. “Now, Lexa, correct me if I’m wrong, but in your Conclave, you could have fought to the death and killed the other novitiates, but you chose to spare your competition?” he asked, and she nodded once. “Why is that?”

She directed her gaze at the camera when she spoke next, keeping her tone level. “Where I come from, the foundation of leadership rests on strength, wisdom, and compassion,” she answered. “There is strength in defeating one’s enemies, wisdom in knowing when to fight and when to concede, and compassion in realizing when to take a life, and when to spare one.”

“Spoken like a true leader!” Cage laughed, drawing another burst of applause and cheers from the crowd that Lexa had long-since tuned out. “Speaking of leadership, when Gustus was out here earlier, he said you are like a sister to him and that he would stand by your side until his last breath. You two seem a lot more dedicated to protecting each other than most Tributes we see from the same district, how do you feel knowing that if you are to win, he has to die?” he asked, the corner of his mouth twisting up.

The question felt like a bomb to Lexa’s gut and she knew it was a loaded one; Cage was trying to evoke an emotional response from her, and she refused to let him have it. She looked at him coldly when she replied, “I will do what I must for my people. Victory stands on the back of sacrifice.”

A murmur surged through the audience and her answer seemed to have stunned Cage for a moment, but he cleared his throat as he recovered, standing up slowly and offering his hand to Lexa who hesitantly took it. “Ladies and gentlemen, Alexandria Woods, District One!” he announced her one last time, signaling her departure.

She pulled her hand away as quickly as possible and turned her back to the sound of even louder applause than when she entered, leaving the stage without a single glance towards the audience. She may have been there to kill and win at any cost, but she refused to treat the sad loss of innocent lives in the arena as anything less than a waste. She was surprised when she spotted Clarke standing in the wings of the stage, watching her interview with curiosity in her gaze. Her hair and makeup was not yet done, and she was clad in a long robe, hiding her costume, but she was there nonetheless.

“Good interview, Commander,” Clarke joked, referring to the title of the leader of her district.

“Thank you, Clarke,” Lexa replied, satisfied with how her interrogation had gone. She wanted to ask her about her ‘score’ but Niylah appeared a second later to whisk Clarke back into the dressing room, and Lexa resolved to return to her own dressing room and change out of her outfit. She watched Clarke go, but somehow couldn’t shake the feeling that she may never get a chance to ask the mysterious blonde all of the questions burning in her soul.

<-><-><-><->

Clarke knew that the only reason the Game Makers had given her a score of twelve was to paint her as a threat and a high value target. Making her appear far more dangerous than she was would very likely cause the other Tributes to team up against her in order to eliminate her first. Granted, her score was the same as Lexa’s, but at least Lexa had the skill to defend herself and Gustus watching her back. All Clarke had was her medical expertise and a few newly acquired survival skills, none of which could help protect her against someone like Ontari or Roan if they decided to move against her. It had been a strategic move by Wallace no doubt, putting the pressure of the eyes of Panem on her while at the same time assuring that she would be hunted down early. She wasn’t sure how it would affect her plans once she got into the arena, but if anything, it would make her more careful.

She let out a long sigh as she sat in her dressing room, once again admiring the unrivaled talents of her stylist. She was clad in one of the most remarkable dresses she’d ever seen, amazed by the elegance of the design and the way that it fit her. It was a forest green color, thigh length in the front with a slit running dangerously up both sides to her waist where the ankle-length material in the back merged. It was also low cut, elevating her cleavage out of this world, and the shoulders were clad in an intricate leaf pattern. Her hair was pulled back off her face in long braids that fell down to her shoulders; it had returned to its normal color for the most part, but streaks of pinkish red still popped in it every few inches contrasting against the blonde. Her sky blue eyes were rimmed with two pointed bands of paint, one of silver and one of blue, smeared across the bridge of her nose and disappearing into her hairline at her temples. She had to admit that she looked magnificent.

Clarke sat back and tried to listen to Finn’s interview taking place on stage, attempting to get a feel for the questions that Cage might ask her. Nerves churned in her stomach like a tornado, and she wasn’t sure if they were from trepidation or simple anxiety at the approaching interview. She had a distinct feeling that both Wallace’s would go out of their way to threaten, intimidate, and publically humiliate her if given the chance. She was distracted when a voice called from behind her, sending a wave of chills down her spine that had goosebumps cropping up on her arms and legs, and she knew who the voice belonged to before she even turned around.

“Clarke,” Lexa said, tongue clicking over the –k in a way that made Clarke’s stomach flip.

When she turned, the brunette was standing timidly in the doorway, leaning against the door frame with one leg crossed over the other and her arms folded over her chest. Lexa was now wearing black sweat pants and a baggy grey jacket, having changed out of the elegant black dress that made Clarke’s mouth go dry earlier. Her makeup had been removed and the braids in her hair had been undone, leaving the wild flowing brown curls falling down past her shoulders. Her green eyes went wide as she took in Clarke’s appearance, and Clarke thought she saw the brunette visibly trying to swallow.

Lexa cleared her throat, quickly trying to regain her composure and Clarke felt her cheeks flush slightly. “Um, I just wanted to wish you luck in your interview, Clarke,” she offered, still slightly frazzled.

“Thank you, Lexa,” she replied softly, unsure of what else to say. She hadn’t been expecting a visit from the District One star, but she assumed Lexa would find her at some point if only to ask how it was possible that she received such a high score.

Before she could voice her thoughts and provide an explanation, Finn’s interview concluded and he came sauntering backstage, pausing to glance back and forth between Clarke and Lexa as they both stared at him. He scoffed and rolled his eyes, but turned to Clarke anyway. “Good luck, Princess,” he grumbled, hardly even glancing at Lexa before heading off towards his own dressing room.

Clarke and Lexa gazed at each other for what felt like a full minute of awkward silence after his departure. “Look, Lexa—

“Clarke Griffin, District Thirteen! Come on out!” Cage’s voice echoed, cutting her off.

She felt her nerves take over again, and she sucked in a deep breath to steady herself, still meeting the green of Lexa’s eyes. The brunette offered her a single nod of encouragement, and it surprised Clarke how much could be said between them without speaking a single word. She maneuvered past Lexa, their shoulders brushing as she went, and made her way out into the bright spotlight on stage. The crowd cheered loudly, riled up at the sight of the only other female Tribute to ever score a twelve, and some people even chanted her name. She had to stifle a laugh at the thought of how surprised they’d be when their favorite underdog Tribute from District Thirteen really had no combat skills at all.

As she scanned over the audience, her eyes stopped at the sight of someone in the front row, and instantly the hair on the back of her neck stood up. President Wallace was staring at her from only a few meters away, clad in a fancy grey suit, and eyeing her with an expression of amusement and detest. She tried not to falter at his presence, but couldn’t help but wonder if he had been sitting there the entire time. She didn’t recall seeing him amongst the crowd during the other interviews, which meant that he had made a special appearance just for her. The knowledge made her want to vomit, and she rapidly hurried towards Cage at the center of the stage as she tried to choke back bile.

She reached the couches on shaky legs and sunk down into one without even bothering to shake Cage’s hand, already feeling the way her heart thudded way too rapidly in her chest. “So, Clarke Griffin, you are a peculiar situation, young lady,” Cage began, drawing her attention in. “Tributes from the higher districts rarely ever receive admirable scores, yet here you are, sharing the highest score ever earned by a female Tribute. Are you another Katniss Everdeen?” he joked, drawing murmurs from the audience.

“N—no,” she muttered out, glancing quickly at Dante.

“Well let’s hope not!” Cage answered. “We all know how that turned out. Nobody likes a martyr, Clarke,” he continued, grinning slightly at her obvious discomfort. “So, what did you do to earn a score so high?”

She wanted to tell him to go to hell; that he knew exactly what she’d done, which was refuse to even give a demonstration at all. But, despite the sheer anxiety bubbling behind her eyes, she knew that she was still in a game, and still had to play wisely. “Well, that’s knowledge that I have, and the rest of you will never find out,” she answered, words laced with double meaning.

“Oh, I’m sure we will get it out of you eventually,” he answered, eyes going dark with the veiled threat and she couldn’t help but swallow thickly. “But, tell us more about you, Clarke. You have family waiting for you back home, don’t you? Your mother perhaps?” Cage asked, the scar above his lip twitching slightly in amusement.

Clarke felt the color drain from her cheeks as her heart kicked up to a frantic pace, on the verge of bursting into a full blown anxiety attack. “Yes,” she said, voice not much louder than a whisper. Of course they knew she had family at home; Wallace had already threatened to kill Abby if Clarke muttered a word about what she knew. The fact that they were bringing it up again was just another way of cementing the threat, except this time, she was on camera for the entire nation to see.

“Well it sounds like you have someone to think about as you’re going into the Games tomorrow,” he answered, the subtly of his comment not lost. “So, Clarke, I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Finn since we are all dying to know…what did you do to get locked up in District Thirteen?” he questioned. “How did the newly famous Clarke Griffin end up in the Reaping?”

Clarke felt her anxiety level build as Cage continued to bait her, all the while Dante sat in the front row, the grin on his face growing increasingly wider. “I, um—

“You did commit a crime, didn’t you, Clarke?” he prodded, and the audience mumbled as they grew slightly restless.

Dante casted her a glare that clearly warned her to choose her words carefully, and she swallowed thickly, feeling her airway begin to close off as white spots danced around her vision. “Treason,” she muttered, forcing her words to come. “They say I committed treason.”

“Treason?!” Cage gasped, feigning shock and horror as the crowd cried in disbelief. “Well, if that’s true, then perhaps it’s fitting that you ended up here? Maybe you deserve it?” he suggested with a shrug, and the audience agreed loudly, quickly turning on her. “But, all hope is not lost. Maybe you’ll still have a chance to redeem yourself in the arena?” he guessed, continuing the relentless barrage of hidden threats. “What do you say to that, Clarke?”

Clarke swallowed again, struggling to hide her discomfort as her anxiety constricted her chest and seared like fire in her lungs. She allowed herself to peek over at Dante once more and found his eyes glistening with amusement and his expression laced with triumph. She had enough fight left in her to stand and hold her shoulders straight, even as the effort made her world spin. “I say that this interview is over,” she spat out in a shaky breath, turning her back to Cage.

“Just one more thing before you go, Clarke,” he said, grabbing hold over her arm and stopping her. “It’s something I think you have the right to know, even though the Game Makers said I shouldn’t tell you,” he teased.

Clarke stiffened and forced air into her lungs, though it felt more like poison than oxygen, and the spots behind her eyes grew slightly larger. “What?” she growled out.

“There are rumors swirling around that four people have gone missing from District Thirteen; your mother among them,” he said, and Clarke felt her entire world shatter. “Do you know where they could be?”

Clarke couldn’t begin to imagine an answer as her entire body began to shake, the impending anxiety attack threatening to consume her. She couldn’t tell the difference between fiction and reality; whether her mother was truly missing, or whether Cage had made it up to rattle her. She wouldn’t have put it past President Wallace to kidnap her mother and hold her to ensure Clarke’s silence and cooperation. She also wouldn’t put it past him to lie about the whole thing in an attempt to scare her into submission. Regardless, she couldn’t hang around to hear more as her world swayed and she felt her legs wobble and begin to give out.

“Excuse me,” she muttered as she rushed off stage, ignoring the confused murmurs of the audience and the triumphant expression President Wallace had plastered on his face.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa stood in the shadows of the curtains, watching Clarke’s interview from the wings of the stage and witnessing the blonde’s rapid decline in composure. The interview had started out as expected, with the mention of Clarke’s unbelievable score, and like everyone else, Lexa had hoped to get an answer. But after a few moments, it was blindingly clear that there was something more going on than just Cage asking questions to get to know a Tribute better. Not to mention, Clarke was consistently glancing back and forth between Cage and President Wallace, who seemed to have materialized in the front row just for Clarke’s interview. From a distance, Lexa could see the discomfort written on Clarke’s usually composed features, and at the initial question about her family back home, her face seemed to pale.

Then, Cage went on to ask her about the crime that had landed her in the Games, and it was only a matter of time before the entire crowd turned on her in shock and anger. Lexa had been ready to intervene, to emerge onto the stage and provide some sort of distraction that would take the heat off of Clarke, but Clarke had stood abruptly and ended the interview on her own. Except before she could reach the safety of the shadows, Cage had called her back, revealing that her mother was missing. That’s when Lexa saw the color drain completely from the blonde’s face, and her breathing turned ragged as she fled.

“Clarke?” Lexa questioned, reaching out to stop her, but she simply plowed by without a word.

Silent tears streamed down her face, smudging the blue and silver paint as she rushed out of the auditorium. Lexa instinctively turned to follow her, ignoring every voice in her head that was screaming at her to just stay put and let her go. She rushed after the blonde, making noise as she went so that Clarke would know she was behind her, and followed as she quickly darted through different hallways and around corners, seemingly with no actual destination in mind. Abruptly, she stopped at a wooden door at the end of a dark hallway, lit only by a glowing red exit sign, throwing it open on its hinges and ducking inside.

Lexa entered after her, eyes adjusting to the dim light. They were in some sort of supply closet, various boxes were piled up and cleaning supplies were stacked on metal shelves. Lexa flicked on the overhead light and shut the door behind them, watching as Clarke sunk to the ground against the far wall. Her breathing was labored and ragged, coming out in quick puffs as her anxiety took over and silent tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Her entire body was shaking and her face was a deep shade of red and on the verge of turning purple, looking as if she was suffocating as she struggled to gasp for air.

“Clarke!” Lexa shouted, feeling an unfamiliar sense of worry. She rushed over and knelt down in front of the blonde, keeping a short distance because she was afraid of making her feel as if she was crowding her. “Clarke,” she said again, urgently, “Listen to me, you have to breathe,” she instructed, keeping her tone calm.

“I…can’t…” Clarke managed to choke out in between gasps.

Lexa had seen anxiety attacks before; Anya was prone to them, but she had never seen one this bad, and she wasn’t sure what to do. “Okay, Clarke, listen to the sound of my voice okay? I need you to focus on where you are, focus on all your senses, what you feel, smell, see and then I need you to describe it for me in detail, Clarke,” Lexa instructed, trying what worked best for Anya. Clarke nodded frantically, but continued to gasp for air and Lexa was afraid that she was going pass out soon. “Breathe, Clarke, what do you see?” she probed.

“I…see…shelves…cleaning stuff…you…I see…you,” Clarke choked out.

“Good, Clarke, focus. What about me?”

“Green…” she gasped. “Your eyes…green…kind, but…sad,” she said, and Lexa couldn’t help but feel the sharp sting of pain in that truth.

Lexa nodded, unable to deny it. “Yes, keep focusing. What do you feel?”

“Cold…wall…against my back. The ground…is hard,” Clarke answered, her breaths were still coming far too quickly, but starting to even out, the color was slowly returning to her face.

“It’s cold in here,” Lexa acknowledged. “Now, what do you hear?” she asked gently.

“There’s…a fan blowing…you…your voice…” she trailed off, sucking in a deep breath through her nose and Lexa took it as a good sign that maybe the worst was past.

“What about my voice?” she asked.

“Gentler than I’ve heard it before,” Clarke replied in one breath rather than gasping between the words and Lexa could see that she was finally calming.

Lexa let out a soft chuckle. “I can be gentle,” she informed, though she knew the occasion was rare. “Now, take a deep breath in through your nose and tell me what you smell, Clarke.”

Clarke responded, doing as she was told, sucking in a shaky breath and letting it out before taking another. “You smell like candle smoke and pine trees,” she whispered, letting out a hoarse laugh.

For some reason, Lexa felt her heart tug, and she couldn’t hold back a small laugh. “Good, Clarke,” she smiled. “Can I put my hands on your knees now?” she asked, nervously. She was aware that sometimes touching of any sort increased anxiety and triggered another attack, but Clarke nodded once and so she put both hands on her knees. The contact was slight but warm, and it sent sparks dancing through the space that their skin touched and Lexa felt as if her hands were buzzing with electricity.

When Clarke finally opened her eyes, blue met green in a timid dance of forest and sky and Lexa thought that she had never seen anything so blue and beautiful in her life. “Breathe with me, Clarke, in through your nose and out through your mouth,” she instructed, and the blonde nodded once. They both began breathing together, sucking in deep breaths through their noses and breathing them out slowly into the small space between them.

They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, sharing some measure of unexpected intimacy that Lexa never even dreamed that she would feel again. After a few minutes, Clarke’s breaths finally evened out and the tension in her shoulders fell as she slumped back against the wall, completely exhausted. Lexa shifted her body weight to slide down the wall beside the blonde, wondering when exactly she began caring enough to help Clarke when she was in need. The voice inside her head told her again that it was time to go, to keep her distance, but Lexa was not yet ready to leave.

<-><-><-><->

Clarke leaned back against the wall in the poorly lit supply closet, highly aware of her shoulder brushing against Lexa’s and wondering how they’d gotten there. She hadn’t expected that level of kindness and tenderness from anyone, much less the brunette who always appeared cold and distant despite the fleeting moments in which she seemed to actually have feelings. It confused Clarke, but at the same time, it gave her a sense of calm and ironically enough, sitting beside the girl who would be her enemy in the morning, she felt safe. They sat in silence for a long time, neither of them speaking. Lexa didn’t ask for an explanation, and Clarke didn’t feel pressured to give her one, but she felt the need to speak nonetheless.

“Thank you,” Clarke whispered, hearing the rasp in her voice from her labored breathing. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I think you would have done it for me,” Lexa replied.

She was right. Clarke wasn’t sure why, but she knew that she would have been by Lexa’s side if their roles had been reversed. “I feel so stupid, Lexa,” she admitted before she could clamp her mouth down on what she was saying.

“Don’t,” Lexa answered. “You can’t punish yourself for things you cannot control, Clarke,” she continued.

“I’m not upset about the anxiety attack, I’m sure I’ll have plenty more in the next few days,” Clarke laughed shortly, though the joke was hollow. “I’m upset that I let Cage and President Wallace get to me,” she admitted. She was amazed at how easy it was to open up to this other woman who had started out as an enemy and somehow become a friend along this terrible and tragic journey.

“Do you really think your mother is missing?” the brunette questioned, green eyes reflecting something of worry and pity.

Clarke let out a long sigh and shrugged. “There’s no way of knowing the truth,” she answered. “All I know is if they have her, she’s probably already dead.”

“They?” Lexa asked. “You mean the Capitol?”

“I mean President Wallace,” Clarke replied, tone dropping an octave with hatred.

“I noticed him in the audience during your interview,” Lexa mused. “Why was he there?”

There was a pause as Clarke tried to steady her nerves. “To threaten me,” she admitted. Silence fell between them, and Clarke could feel her walls starting to crumble. She had been alone for so long, not knowing who to trust and unable to talk to anyone about the truth that got her father killed and landed her in prison. Keeping it pent up for so long had set her on edge, teetering on the thin line of an anxiety attack until it had all come crumbling out on stage at her interview.

“Lexa,” she said, glancing around at the small closet to make sure that there were no cameras on them. She couldn’t be positive, but she couldn’t hide the truth anymore either; she had to at least let a small portion of it out, and staring in to the compassionate green of Lexa’s eyes, she felt as if she had finally found someone that she could trust. “The reason why I was arrested back in Thirteen, the reason why I’m here is because I know something that could get a lot of people in the Capitol killed,” she whispered, tasting the truth on her tongue for the first time in months. Lexa waited patiently for her to continue but did not pry and Clarke could see her posture leaning slightly forward, listening intently, so she carried on. “My father was an engineer, and he discovered something…big,” she said. “I overheard him speaking about it to the Chancellor of District Thirteen and that’s why I was arrested: to keep the secret hidden. He killed my father right in front of me. Shot him in the head.”

Clarke expected Lexa to ask her what it is that she heard that fateful night, but she didn’t. Instead, she simply nodded her gentle understanding, and the words she spoke next caught Clarke by surprise. “I lost someone special to me too,” Lexa whispered, as if speaking any louder would shatter the air in the tiny room. “Her name was Costia.”

Clarke recognized the name and remembered the girl from District One who was killed in the games a few years before. She had seemed like the clear favorite to win, but she’d gotten sick at some point, vomiting and hardly able to stand. The girl from District Two, Nia Queen, found her and ended her life to win the Games. “I’m so sorry, Lexa,” Clarke whispered, not knowing how else to reply. She noticed the same pain in Lexa’s eyes that she had seen when she’d delivered the note from Niylah, and her heart broke at the sight of it, wishing that it would fade away.

“I loved her,” Lexa admitted, voice small as if the words hurt to say. “And I fear that she is dead because she was mine. The leader of my district betrayed me too, Clarke,” she explained. “He played a hand in Costia’s death the same way your Chancellor played a hand in your fathers. And part of me thinks he did it to punish me.”

“Why would he do something like that to one of his own people?” Clarke questioned.

Lexa shrugged once, clearly trying to form a response. “We were taught that love is weakness,” she said, sounding sad and unsure. “Perhaps he felt I needed a demonstration in such lesson. Or perhaps he is just a small and foolish man.”

“You don’t really believe that love is weakness, do you?”

The brunette sighed heavily. “I believe in the pain that I felt after her death, and the knowledge that I would have sacrificed myself to save her. There is weakness in that.”

Clarke reached over, deciding against the alarms in her head, and put her hand on Lexa’s shoulder. “There’s strength in that too,” she said, voice barely above a whisper.

“Perhaps,” Lexa conceded.

“Lexa, I wish there was something I could say,” Clarke replied, letting her words trail off.

Lexa simply shook her head and stood, offering her hand to pull Clarke up. “Clarke, I will not ask you for the information that you hold, but I want you to know that should I win these Games, it would be put to use,” she said, eyes filled with a determination and resolve that hadn’t been there a minute before. With that, she turned her back and headed for the door, but before she got there she stopped and looked over her shoulder one last time. “You may be my enemy in the morning, Clarke, but I want you to know that you are my friend tonight.” And then she was gone, slipping through the door and shutting it behind her.

Clarke stared after her, blinking as she contemplated the meaning of her words. The information she received in the last few moments of their conversation was enough to make her head spin. Lexa was far more vulnerable than she let on, and she had known a pain that no person her age should ever have to feel. But she was also stronger than anyone Clarke had ever met, carrying with her a wisdom that stretched far beyond a single lifespan. She wasn’t sure if she truly meant that they were friends, or if it had just been a moment of weakness, but she was certain of one thing: if Lexa were to win these games, she planned on going after the Capitol, and wanted to use what Clarke knew to do it.

Chapter Text

Raven had only flown a shuttle in the flight simulation program that all mechanical engineers had been required to take. If they wanted to work on the hovercrafts, they needed to know how they were supposed to run, what they were supposed to sound like, and how they were supposed to feel in flight; that way if anything was off, they could diagnose the problem. But flying one for real was a dream come true, and she’d had to hide her excitement from Bellamy who seemed to be coming unglued in the back of the cockpit. They’d been trailing Jaha’s transport shuttle for hours until it finally made port in District One’s shuttle bay, and now it was their turn to strike, but their time was limited. If they wanted to save Clarke and Finn, they needed to get to Octavia, and it was up to Raven to find a way to do it without being seen and taken prisoner themselves.

“This is taking too long, Raven!” Bellamy growled, continuing his incessant pacing that hadn’t stopped since they’d escaped District Thirteen. His brown eyes were bloodshot and swollen from lack of sleep and his hair was a tangled mess, undoubtedly from running his hands through it without end, and Raven wondered how he hadn’t actually pulled it out yet as she glanced at him over her shoulder.

"Throwing a tantrum won't make this go any faster, Bellamy," she replied, sharply. "They'll know this craft is stolen by now, so we can't exactly land next to them. Hacking their systems to find a way in or disable their launch is our best bet."

Bellamy slammed his fist into the metal wall in frustration. . "Now may be our only chance to make a grab for my sister. Octavia has the information you need to save your boyfriend, so this better work."

“I’d be able to work faster if you just shut up and quit pacing!” she snapped back. “Have you ever tried to work with someone staring at you over your shoulder?”

“Bellamy, honey, Raven knows what she’s doing,” Abby said, tone calm as she put a gentle hand on his shoulder to halt his nervous ministrations. “Arguing about it and pressuring her won’t make this go any faster,” she reminded him.

He sighed once and his shoulders fell. “Right,” he grumbled. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Raven said, perking up as she typed commands into her keyboard. A few seconds later, a crackling sound came across the intercom, and she pumped her fist in celebration. “I’ve hacked their communications system,” she explained. “We’ll be able to hear what they’re saying.”

Bellamy patted her back in appreciation, and they all quieted and listened for a moment, holding their breath in anticipation. “Where is she?” an angry voice growled over the intercom.

“That’s Thelonious!” Abby hissed, recognizing the Chancellor’s voice immediately.

An unfamiliar voice responded to the first, sounding out of breath and agitated. "We haven't been able to locate the prisoner yet, Mr. Chancellor," the man said, addressing Jaha. "We think one of the locals is hiding her."

“Find her!” Thelonious shouted and Raven could hear the bitter hatred in his tone, even through the static. “Now!”

“They’re talking about Octavia!” Bellamy said, excitement and hope filling his features. “They have to be!”

“Sounds like your sister is more resilient than you give her credit for, Bellboy,” Raven smirked, letting her fingers flutter furiously across the keys again as she followed the back door she’d opened into the rest of Jaha’s shuttle’s system. "They won't be taking off any time soon," she stated, victoriously. "I've jammed their launch protocols; that should slow them down. Now let’s land just outside of the District and find your sister. She's down there somewhere, and we have to get to her before they do."

Bellamy leaned over the seat and wrapped his arms around her tightly. “Raven, you’re a genius,” he whispered in her ear.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she answered, smiling as she took their shuttle low into the trees. She just hoped that her intelligence would be enough to find a way to save Finn, too.

<-><-><-><->

Aden was the strongest and most skilled of the novitiates in his class, talented beyond his years just as his sister Lexa was, and it was a fact that was never far from his mind. Her guidance had helped him to grow as a person and as a warrior, and although he was five years younger than his sister, the other kids in his class looked to him for leadership. While the other novitiates struggled with moves he'd perfected years before due to Lexa's training, he liked to tune in to his surroundings as she had taught him to. She told him to always be aware of what was going on around him and even the most subtle of changes, because one day it could save his life. Especially in the arena.

That was how he came to observe the commotion happening in the District streets, far below the training grounds of Polis Tribute Center atop their isolated hill. At first, he heard the sirens coming from the shuttle port, signaling an emergency; they rang out faintly at this distance, but the shrill sound of them echoed off the trees below. And then he saw the Peacekeepers going from door to door, looking like little white specks in the distance, but clearly in search of something—or someone. A moment later, rustling from the bushes beside their clearing caught his attention, and he watched as Lincoln emerged from the underbrush with a strange girl in tow, glancing around and sneaking into the building through a side passage that only a few ever used.

The scene was suspicious, and the girl was wearing clothes that were unfamiliar, as if she hailed from another district. And that was when his ears picked up the whir of a hovercraft in the distance, and he watched as a low flying vessel landed just outside the boundaries of the district, hovering so low that it practically blended with the thick forest trees. He wondered why a shuttle would land outside the transport hub, and figured that it had something to do with the girl Lincoln had snuck into Polis. He wasn't quite sure what was going on, but the pieces were falling in to place and he had a strong feeling that the people on that hovercraft knew the answer. He tucked his sword into its sheath and took off in the direction the ship had landed.

<-><-><-><->

Bellamy hated himself for allowing any of this to happen. It was his duty to protect his sister, and he should have tried harder to convince her not to follow up on her suspicions about Clarke Griffin. Octavia always was a stubborn one, headstrong, just like he was, so he figured that he couldn’t exactly blame her for going with her gut. She had been right, after all. There was something going on that was much bigger than all of them, and Clarke Griffin had the answer. But was the answer really worth getting killed for? Was it worth the danger and the exile from their home? Was it worth risking his sister over?

As Raven found a place to set the shuttle down, he sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting his mind wander back. He remembered the day that Octavia had been discovered beneath the floor of their apartment after a routine inspection; she’d been taken into custody immediately, and they knew it was only a matter of time before the Peacekeepers returned for his mother as well. Having multiple offspring in District Thirteen was against the law, and all crimes committed by anyone over the age of eighteen were Capitol crimes. He pictured the way Octavia had clung to Aurora, green eyes bursting with tears, screaming as the guards dragged her away. The memory burned in the back of his mind, seared into his brain forever, no matter how hard he tried to forget it.

He recalled his mother telling him that she would be arrested and taken to the Capitol, and they all knew that nobody ever returned from Mount Weather. She told him that Octavia was his responsibility now, and that he must try to protect her at all costs. A moment after that, Jaha had entered their family home and Bellamy's mother was taken, too, but Thelonious had lingered behind to speak to Bellamy. He told him that he didn’t have to be alone, that he seemed strong and smart, and that he'd make an excellent Peacekeeper; not to mention it would give him a chance to see his sister on his rotations. Bellamy knew that it was a ploy, that Jaha only wanted as many Peacekeepers in his pocket as possible, that even as he ruined his life, he stood there and thought to offer him a path that he could easily manipulate. Bellamy knew all along the Chancellor was nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing, but he also knew that it was his duty to protect Octavia: his sister, his responsibility.

He had vowed that day that he’d always keep her safe, and had joined up with the Peacekeepers a week later. But none of that mattered anymore, and he shook his head as he wrenched himself from the memory. The only thing that mattered now was getting his sister back once and for all, and he held onto that thought as Raven set the hovercraft down in a clearing in the middle of the woods. The forest was amazing; he had never seen trees before, or felt the breeze on his face, and he’d never heard the call of birds, or watched as a squirrel flitted up a nearby trunk. It was all that he ever dreamed it would be, and he found himself wishing that Octavia was there to see it too, and hoped that somewhere, she was.

Abby and Raven were caught up in the sights, smells, and sounds as well, staring up into the sunlight as it broke through the treetops in thick yellow streams. They were so mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the nature around them, that nobody heard the approaching footsteps until it was too late. The bushes in front of them rustled, and instantly Bellamy shifted into a defensive stance, readying himself for a fight. If the Peacekeepers had seen them land, they would have undoubtedly sent a scout party to investigate, and if they were discovered now, they would surely be taken to the Capitol and killed.

He held his breath in anticipation, but when the figure emerged, it was just a boy. He had dirty blonde hair, cropped above his ears, and keen hazel eyes as he scanned them quickly. He was wearing black robes that flowed down to his ankles, and there was a sword in its sheath at his belt, his hand clutched around the hilt but not drawing it. "Who are you and why have you come here?" the boy asked, skipping straight to business.

“Uh, look kid,” Bellamy started, holding up his hands to show that they didn’t mean any harm. “We’re not here to hurt anyone. We’re just looking for someone,” he explained.

“The entire port and all the Peacekeepers seem to be looking for someone as well, but that doesn’t answer my first question,” the boy replied with an air of authority that could have been comical coming from anyone else his age, but was daunting coming from him. “Explain,” he commanded.

Abby cleared her throat and stepped forward. “I’m Abby Griffin,” she said, introducing herself. “I’m a doctor from District Thirteen, and this is Raven and Bellamy,” she added, motioning to the other two. “They’re from District Thirteen, too. What’s your name?” she asked, calmly.

The boy eyed them warily before letting out a long sigh. “Aden,” he answered.

“Look, Aden,” Bellamy started, lending urgency to his voice. "The person that the Peacekeepers are after is my sister. They're trying to take her to the Capitol. Do you know what happens to prisoners they take to the capitol?" he asked.

Aden’s eyes darkened with a pain of his own before he nodded once. “They don’t come back,” he replied, grimly. He looked as if he was contemplating something for a moment before he opened his mouth to speak again. “Very well. I know where your sister is,” he said.

Bellamy felt a wave of relief flush through him, and he looked to the boy with hope. “You have to take us to her!” he pleaded, and Aden nodded once in response.

“Hold on, Bell,” Raven hissed, clutching his wrist and pulling him back to reality. "What if he's just taking us to the Peacekeepers?" she questioned. "District One doesn't owe Thirteen any favors, but turning over four fugitives would earn the Capitol's favor for sure."

Bellamy sighed once, wanting to argue, but knowing that she was right to be cautious. “Look, you guys don’t have to come,” he said. “But I’m going to find Octavia. My sister, my responsibility.”

<-><-><-><->

“Lincoln, what did you do?” Anya shouted, feeling her anger boil over at the sight of the girl that Lincoln was intent on hiding.

Lincoln had always been a fierce warrior with a soft heart, doing all that he could to help others and end conflicts without confrontation. She admired him for that, but not when his actions put the entire district at risk for retribution from the Capitol. He had snuck the girl in through the side entrance, and assured that nobody had seen them escape into the forest, but now they were saddled with a runaway prisoner and nowhere to hide her should the Peacekeepers perform a sweep of Polis Academy. She pitied the girl, but her pity would not allow her to make a rash decision that could get them all punished— or worse.

“She needed help. Her leaders are trying to turn her over to the Capitol,” he defended, and Anya sighed in response, forcing her own history at bay to keep it from interfering with her ability to make decisions.

“That is between her and her leaders; it is not our place to get involved,” she growled, her anger permeating in her voice.

Anya, beja,” he pleaded, addressing her low in Trigedasleng. “Nou dula dison, sis em au.

Du nou laik osir kru. Ha osir na wich?”

Kos—

Their argument was interrupted when the door burst open and four people rushed into the tiny living quarters: Aden, followed by three strangers that Anya did not recognize. They were dressed in unfamiliar attire, clearly from another District, and they looked as if they hadn’t slept in days. There was an older woman who glanced around the room before her eyes settled on Anya, cautiously, and she looked to be weary of the entire situation. Then, there was a younger girl, a brunette with darker skin and calculating brown eyes as if computing every detail in her brain and trying to add them up to a solvable answer. The last person was a young man, his nose and cheeks splashed with freckles, and his expression lit up when he spied the girl that Lincoln had brought in.

"Octavia!" the young man shouted and sprinted straight for the girl that Lincoln saved, lifting her in his arms and clinging to her tightly.

“Bellamy! You came for me!" the girl said, smiling widely and closing her eyes against his chest.

"Of course I did; you're my sister," he replied, tears pooling in the brown of his eyes.

Anya looked on for a moment before her instincts kicked in. “Enough!” she shouted, ending the happy reunion and drawing the eyes of everyone in the room. “What is the meaning of this?” she questioned, lending a biting edge to her tone that would command answers from even the most seasoned warriors.

The brunette girl stepped forward and for the first time, Anya noticed the leg brace and heavy limp in her step. “Who the hell are you, cheekbones?” she questioned, shooting a seething glare in Anya’s direction.

She felt her anger boil and forced it to remain subdued. “I am Anya Forrester, one of the current in command of this district,” she answered, coldly. “Who are you?”

“Awe, kid, you took us to your leader?” the brunette asked, looking like a disappointed child in a way that was almost endearing if Anya hadn’t been so furious already.

“I took you to the girl you seek,” Aden replied before turning his attention towards Anya. “Anya, they’re fugitives from District Thirteen,” he explained.

“Fugitives?!” she snapped, already thinking of ways to be rid of them.

Lincoln stepped forward and put himself between her and the foreign threats. “Just wait,” he pleaded. “Hear them out.”

"We do not have time for this, Lincoln!" she growled. "Our efforts need to be focused on getting Lexa home safe, not harboring criminals!"

The older woman at the back of the room perked up at the mention of Lexa's name. "Did you say Lexa?" she asked, surprised. "As in Lexa Woods? The Tribute in the Games?" Anya considered her for a moment, eying her from head to toe before nodding once. "Well that's why we're here" she replied. "My daughter, Clarke, is in the Games. And Raven's boyfriend, Finn. We have information that could save them all," she explained.

Anya let the silence sink in before deciding that her interest was piqued. If there was a way to get both Lexa and Gustus home, she had to hear them out. “Explain,” she commanded.

“Promise not to turn us over to the Peacekeepers,” the brunette, Raven, countered.

"Prove what information you have is useful, and you will be safe," Anya countered back, challenging the beautiful brunette. Something about the girl was infuriating yet infatuating at the same time, and she wasn't sure whether she wanted to punch her or please her.

"Fine," Raven sighed, dramatically feigning exasperation. "We might have a way to blow up Mount Weather," she stated, bluntly.

 

"What?" Anya, Lincoln and Aden gasped, simultaneously.

Chapter Text

Clarke stood in an empty white room that reminded her of the cell she’d been locked away in for months back in District Thirteen. It seemed so long ago that her name had been drawn in the Reaping, though she only knew that it was a few short days. Being faced with her own mortality, in constant danger and with a constant threat looming just around the corner, she’d been forced to grow; to adapt to survive. And now, that survival instinct would be put to the ultimate test. Everything that she had been put through had been leading her to this moment, and now that it was here, she felt an odd sense of calmness come over her.

Her arm still ached from where a technician had inserted a tracking chip beneath her skin, and her mind was lingering on all the possibilities of what could be waiting just above her head, past the tube that would take her up into the arena. She’d tried to search for Lexa as they’d been transported from Mount Weather to the secure location in which the arena had been built, but they’d each been blindfolded the entire time. Lying awake in bed after her panic attack the night before, she couldn’t shake the last thing Lexa had said to her from her mind. She had spent her time in the Capitol searching for a way to get the information she had to someone that she could trust to use it, and it turned out that Lexa had been that person all along. And despite the fact that they were destined to kill each other within the next few minutes, Clarke had realized that she actually trusted the broody, brave, beautiful brunette from District One.

There had been an intimacy that she hadn’t expected from Lexa when they were alone in the supply closet; a sort of softness that Clarke never thought she’d see. It proved to her that she could not judge a book by its cover, or a person based on the merits of their actions, but rather the contents of their heart. Lexa had given her a glimpse of her heart when she’d opened up and confided to her about Costia, and it had been enough for Clarke to finally let her own guard down. She’d seen a gentle longing in Lexa’s eyes, but she’d also seen a powerful determination, like a fire, that she knew would rage and burn until the Capitol lay smoldering at her feet. If anyone could lead a strike against Mount Weather, Clarke was convinced that it was Lexa Woods. And even if it wasn’t, she was running out of time and people to tell, and she refused to die with the knowledge that could destroy Mount Weather.

All she had to do was find a way to survive the initial onslaught of the Cornucopia. She had faith that Lexa would survive through to the very end, but if she could wait long enough for the majority of the competition to be weeded out, she’d have a better chance of finding her without being killed. She was wearing a lightweight nylon jacket and pants made of the same material, tucked into calf length leather boots. From the green of her attire, she figured the arena would likely be some sort of forest or grassland environment where the material would do well against the natural elements. She just thanked the powers at be that she wasn’t clad in swim wear considering she didn't know how to swim.

After what seemed like an eternity of stuffy silence, two Peacekeepers clad in their white armor entered the room. “It’s time,” the first one said, motioning towards the platform and tube that would take her up into the arena.

Kane walked in right behind them and offered her a small nod, brown eyes laced with what looked like worry and sorrow. “Hey,” he said, giving her a sad smile.

“You’re not with Finn?” she questioned, allowing the Peacekeepers to take her by the arms and lead her towards the tube.

"Already said goodbye," Kane replied. "Besides, you're the one I'm more concerned about."

“Why?” she asked.

"Finn has a strategy, and he knows what he wants to do. I have no idea what is going on in your head. What do you intend to do when the games start?" he questioned.

The answer came easily. "Survive," Clarke replied, vaguely. She had to for as long as she could. And maybe if she managed to find Lexa, she could tell her what her father knew so Lexa could use it after she undoubtedly won.

"Then when that canon sounds, you run and don't look back. Find water and shelter first," he instructed and she gave a small nod. "Good luck, Clarke."

She stepped up onto the platform that would take her up through a door and into the Games, doing her best to keep her shallow breaths coming steadily and the white spots behind her vision at bay. "May we meet again," she managed to choke out past her building fear and anxiety. He echoed her sentiment, but his voice was muffled as the tube slid shut to take her up.

She held her breath as she rose, higher and higher, and for a moment, her vision went completely white and she was blinded as she emerged out into the sunlight. For a second, she was utterly stunned. Having been from District Thirteen and living in the confines of a metal structure beneath the ground for her entire life, she had never seen the trees or the grass, or felt the wind on her cheeks; and now, she was surrounded by it all. The air smelled sweet and the breeze was warm, and it was so beautiful that she almost got lost in the nature around her, a grassy clearing surrounded by dense forest, but then she spotted the Cornucopia in front of her and remembered exactly where she was.

She stood atop a raised platform, aware that if she took a single step off of it before the tone sounded, she’d be blown to tiny bits. Quite frankly, she was surprised that President Wallace hadn’t blown her up already and claimed that it was a mechanical malfunction, but then again, he still wanted to try and pry the information from her. The arena they were in would serve the Tributes who were from wooded or forested districts well, and she just hoped that the survival skills she’d picked up over the past week would be enough to get her through. In front of her, she was just slightly to the left of the mouth of the Cornucopia at 7 o’clock, and she could see all the weapons and supplies stacked up inside and spilling out onto the grass.

She glanced around at the Tributes nearest her, plotting her best chance for escape, and hoping to dart past one of the less dangerous ones. She spotted Finn directly across from her at her 1 o'clock, shifting nervously and eying the weapons in front of him, his brown hair falling in his face and obscuring his expression. She scanned further, searching for the green eyes that she realized she was desperate to see, and finds them to her left at 9 o'clock. Their gazes locked as if Lexa had been waiting for her, and the brunette offered her a calming nod. Clarke wanted to go to her and deliver her message as soon as she could, but she knew that when the countdown ended and the Games began, the Cornucopia would be a blood bath. Everything she could read in Lexa’s eyes was telling her that she agreed, and was warning her to get as far away as possible.

<-><-><-><->

“May we meet again,” Lexa said, lending strength to her voice as she clasped Indra’s forearm in her own. Her mentor offered her a single nod of encouragement and watched with pride in her eyes as she stepped up onto the platform that would take her up into the arena.

The platform lurched beneath her feet and began to rise, opening up to blue skies and green trees above, and she wasted no time in surveying her surroundings. They looked to be in a clearing set in the middle of a dense forest, trees surrounding them on all sides, and she silently thanked the Game Makers for providing her and Gustus with the advantage of being in a setting that resembled their home. It would prove useful to them, while tributes like Roan and Ontari would struggle with elements so foreign to the ice and snow from which they hailed. As if conjuring them with her thoughts, her eyes found Roan and Ontari positioned right next to each other directly across from herself. She wondered how they had been so fortunate as to draw platform spots beside each other, and figured that Nia probably had a hand in it, but couldn’t allow herself to dwell on it.

Her keen eyes flickered around in search for Gustus, but he was nowhere to be found, and she assumed that he was on the other side of the Cornucopia, obscured from view by the giant metal monstrosity. They had planned for this though, and knew there was a chance that they wouldn’t have contact until after the Games had started, so they’d agreed beforehand to meet in the middle of the Cornucopia. Lexa watched as the last of the Tributes rose up onto their platforms from below, spying Clarke a few spots to her right. The blonde looked in awe for a moment, captivated by their surroundings as if she’d never seen the forest, before focusing on the Tributes and dangers around her.

Their gazes locked and Lexa's heart skipped a beat in her chest, wondering if it was the last time she would see those entrancing blue eyes looking back at her with the glow of life still in them. The intimate conversation she had shared with Clarke the night before had not escaped her thoughts for even a moment, and she wondered what it was that the girl had learned that was so valuable, and cursed herself for not asking. She’d wanted to be respectful of Clarke’s feelings and mindful of her pain, but now she may never know one of Mount Weather’s greatest weaknesses.

They had not officially entered an alliance together, and she wondered, should they both survive the opening onslaught, if Clarke would try to kill her if their paths ever crossed again. Deep down, she thought not. She wouldn't be the one to end Clarke's life either if she could help it. Somewhere along their journey over the past week, they had become friends, despite all of Lexa’s best efforts to keep the blonde at a distance. But there was something different about Clarke; something that drew her in and held her there no matter how hard she struggled, and she found herself wondering that in a different life, perhaps they could have been more than friends. The thought pained her, sending a jolt through her heart that had her snapping back to reality.

The countdown began, and Lexa found her attention drawn to where it needed to be, offering Clarke a single nod before prying her eyes away for good. Ontari stared at her from directly across the clearing, dark eyes narrowed and glinting with malice, looking enthralled by the bloodshed that was soon to come. If it were up to Lexa, she would have planned to kill Ontari first, simply to eliminate the most dangerous, and unstable, threat, followed closely by Roan Queen, purely to make Nia feel the pain of loss. But Lexa knew better than anyone that plans rarely lasted long in battle, and that her duty to survive was far more important than her personal feelings.

“4…3…2…1…” the announcer’s voice overhead counted down the last second, and then a loud tone rang out and chaos broke loose.

The boom of the canon sounded almost immediately, signaling the first death as Lexa took off at a full sprint towards the Cornucopia, sticking out her leg and tripping another Tribute on her way. She grabbed the nearest set of dual swords, her personal favorite, and whirled around, immediately killing the boy from District Four that was sprawled out on the ground before engaging in combat with the girl from District Six. While fighting, she briefly registered Clarke out of the corner of her eye, looking for her as if it was an automatic reaction, and saw her as she disappeared into the safety of the tree line. With Clarke out of harm’s way, Lexa allowed herself to focus on the battle raging on around her, chiding herself for searching for the blonde in the first place.

Lexa held up the blade in her left hand to block the downward strike of the sword from the female Tribute of District Six, parrying the blow and launching a counterattack. She swiped quickly with her second sword and slashed a deep wound into her opponent’s arm, causing her to stagger backwards. Before Lexa could move in for the kill, the girl’s eyes went wide in shock as two spears protruded from her stomach, splashing blood on Lexa’s boots. The girl dropped to the ground lifelessly as a canon blast sounded, and Lexa was left standing face to face with Ontari and Roan; both clutching newly blood-soaked spears that had ended her former challenger’s life.

Ontari twirled her spear behind her back and over her head in a skillful flourish, her eyes thirsting for Lexa’s death as she grinned a bloody smile, and Lexa squared her stance, preparing to fend off her two greatest enemies. But, before they could engage, Gustus appeared seemingly out of nowhere at Lexa’s side, his massive frame towering over the other Tributes as he took up a defensive position, ready to fend off their attack. Two other Tributes circled in behind Roan and Ontari, and Lexa recognized them as Emori and Otan, the twins from District Three. They owed each other no favors, but it appeared that the twins were willing to team up, if only briefly, to eliminate the threat of District Two.

Ontari and Roan glanced at each other, silent understanding passing between them, before they spun out of danger and back pedaled towards the safety of the trees. “We will meet again, Lexa,” Ontari called with a sneer.

“I pray that we do,” Lexa returned, gritting her jaw against her hatred.

Emori and Otan looked towards Lexa and Gustus after the other two fled, squaring their stances for battle, but hesitating in question. Lexa offered them a single nod, silently agreeing to spare them just this once in appreciation for their aid, and they both nodded before turning and sprinting in the opposite direction together. The bloodshed at the Cornucopia ended, and Lexa was relieved to see that Clarke was not among the dead bodies scattered at their feet. But, she couldn’t help involuntary well of fear that surged in her heart as a loud canon blast sounded the death of another Tribute in the distance.

Chapter Text

District One was a strange place full of strange people, but Octavia can’t even begin to deny the beauty and peacefulness of the vast forests and towering pines. She was a fugitive, and she’d only barely escaped with her life, but in the time that she had been amongst the nature, with Lincoln’s hand in hers, for the first time in her life she felt as if she belonged somewhere. It was an indescribable feeling, like finding freedom after being locked away for years, and it flooded her with a sense of hope and wonder. But that hope easily changed to discomfort as she felt the eyes of every person in the room on her, waiting for her to explain what they all were wondering.

“What do you mean a bomb?” Anya, the leader as far as she could tell, questioned, her tone impatient and biting.

Octavia wasn’t sure how she felt about the blonde with sharp cheekbones and an even sharper tongue, but she knew she had no choice but to trust her. The boy who had saved her, Lincoln, was a different case, and he was looking at her with kindness and patience, and there was something about him that made her feel intrinsically safe, like he would never let anything happen to her. Her brother, on the other hand, was glaring at the District One members with enough skepticism and danger in his eyes to start a war, and she shuffled her weight slightly to keep him behind her. Beyond that, Octavia wasn’t sure who the older woman and the young mechanic from her own district were, aside from the fact that they had loved ones in the Games, but being locked away in a cell for her entire life, she knew next to nothing about them. What she did know was that they had a common goal: Clarke Griffin.

“It’s not a bomb,” Octavia answered, finally finding her voice. Jaha had told her that a bomb wouldn’t cause nearly half the amount of destruction as the knowledge that Clarke and Jake knew. “But it is a weapon of some sort. A dangerous one. One that could start a war,” she echoed her former Chancellor’s words.

“What weapon? How do you know these things?” Anya snapped, tone demanding and laced with skepticism.

“I’m not sure what it is,” she admitted, defeated. “But I had a suspicion that Clarke Griffin did,” she added, looking towards the woman who was Clarke’s mother. “I watched the footage from the Reaping Ceremony and figured out that Clarke knew her name would be called, right?” she questioned.

Abby cleared her throat, glancing nervously at the faces around her. “Yes,” she confirmed.

Octavia nodded. “On top of that, she’d been locked in solitary for months. So, either the crime she committed was so atrocious that she needed to be kept separate from the rest of us—

“The rest of you?” Lincoln questioned before she could continue on.

“People under the age of eighteen that commit a crime in District Thirteen are locked up in Prison Station until they come of age. Their names are subject to the Reaping during that time period,” Bellamy explained, stepping in and putting a protective arm around his sister’s shoulders.

“Anyway,” Octavia continued, not willing to go into her past, “I guessed that the reason Clarke was kept in solitary was because she had information that Jaha didn’t want getting out. And her name was falsely pulled in the Reaping so that Jaha could have her killed without drawing suspicions.”

Abby stepped forward, hazel eyes brimming with worry. “It’s more than that,” she said. “While Clarke is in the Games, President Wallace will try to get the information out of her.”

“Why?” Anya shot, again bitter.

“Because what she knows will kill thousands; citizens of the Capitol first, and then more in the war to follow,” Raven said, addressing the issue for the first time.

“She’s right,” Octavia added. “I held Jaha at gunpoint and questioned him.”

Anya’s eyebrows rose at that, clearly impressed. “You held your leader at gunpoint?”

“It wasn’t easy,” Octavia answered. “And clearly I got caught,” she said. “Since I’m here. They were taking me to the Capitol for punishment, but I escaped in the shuttle port and that’s when Lincoln found me and brought me here.”

“And how do you know that the information given is genuine?” Lincoln asked. “Did Clarke confirm what she knows?”

“No,” Abby replied, sadly. “Nobody has been able to get close enough to her, and now she’s under round the clock surveillance in the Capitol and getting thrown into the arena as we speak. But, my husband was the one who discovered whatever this weapon is, and Jaha killed him for it.”

“Jake didn’t leave us empty-handed though,” Raven replied, slinging a black backpack off her shoulder and pulling a battered laptop from within.

“Is that?” Octavia questioned, trailing off.

“Jake Griffin’s computer,” Raven finished, setting it on a desk nearby and powering it on.

Her fingers dashed over the keys and a moment later, a desktop appeared as Anya and Lincoln gathered over her shoulder, clearly curious. Octavia moved to huddle up beside them, needing to see it for herself, and feeling the warmth of Lincoln’s skin against hers as their arms brushed. Raven typed a few more commands into the computer, and what looked like blueprints popped up on screen. They were detailed, laying out the structure and foundation of buildings, service tunnels, and roads that all appeared to be within a mountain.

“These are…” Anya gasped, immediately leaning closer. “Blueprints of Mount Weather.”

“Jake was a badass,” Raven shrugged, pulling up the different plans. “But he was also careful. These blueprints are incomplete, missing entire segments, and the rest of his hard drive has been scrubbed. There’s not enough here to figure out what he was planning.”

The blonde leader from District One was silent for a moment as she absorbed the information, still staring intently at the computer screen. “Your blueprints may be incomplete, but they’re still valuable. We now have a basic roadmap of the inside of Mount Weather.”

“And Clarke has the rest of the information that we need,” Octavia added.

“You truly want to bring down the Capitol?” Anya asked, brown eyes flicking from Octavia, to Abby, to Bellamy, then finally landing on Raven.

“We want to get our loved ones out of the Games,” Abby corrected. “We thought that if we figured out this puzzle, we could broker information for their freedom.”

Anya shook her head once, and then her expression turned to steel. “I cannot allow you to do that,” she said, tone low and threatening. “But we will help you to save Clarke and Finn.”

“What do you mean?” Raven questioned, sounding as if she was gearing up to argue.

“If Clarke has the knowledge to bring down Mount Weather, then we must bring her to safety,” Anya started. “But we must also retrieve Lexa…” she trailed off considering her words. “Because whatever it is that Clarke knows, I assure you that Lexa intends to use it.”

<-><-><-><->

How was one supposed to feel when faced with their own mortality? It was a question that had plagued Finn’s mind since the moment his name was drawn in the Reaping what felt like years ago. As he stood on his platform, listening to the countdown ringing in his ears, the world seemed to dissolve into slow motion. He could hear his own heart beating, thrumming rapidly against his ribs, and he could feel the nerves twisting in his stomach, threatening to force their way up his throat in the form of bile. But what he didn’t feel was fear. He had moved far beyond the realm of fear and entered a world of hyperawareness, feeling the warmth of the wind against his skin, the heat of the sun overhead, the smell of the trees and the sound of the other Tributes setting themselves for battle.

Directly across from him, he could see Clarke on her own platform, but as always, her attention was focused on the girl from District One, as if communicating silently with their eyes. It was clear that Clarke somewhat trusted Lexa, and he couldn’t help the pang of jealousy that shot through him, forcing him to turn his focus elsewhere. His eyes landed on the Cornucopia, the mouth of the horn open and facing him, and he saw a plethora of weapons and food. The surrounding arena was a dense, green forest, so there had to be plenty of fresh water somewhere to feed the trees, but that didn’t mean the forest would be bountiful in other resources. He knew he needed a weapon, something to hunt with and defend himself from attackers.

He sucked in a deep breath through his nose, calming his addled nerves, and continued his search, using up every last second of time to strategize before the tone sounded and the Games began. Nearby, not too close to the Cornucopia, but definitely not far enough away to be safe, he spotted a wickedly sharp spear lying in the grass. He’d trained with a spear in practice earlier that week and had managed to become proficient with it; he was by no means an expert, but he could use it for fishing and hunting as well as defending himself. It would have to do, and he quickly decided that he would make a dash for the spear, grab it, and disappear into the forest to hopefully avoid the initial fray.

Finn readied himself, positioning his toes on the edge of the platform so that he could leap off and land in a sprint as soon as the countdown ended. The last few seconds ticked away, his heart thudding so fast that he thought it might burst, and then the high-pitched tone sounded and all hell erupted. He dashed from his spot, sprinting as fast as his legs could move towards the tool that would help him survive, and praying that he wasn’t already in someone’s crosshairs. He glanced up and saw Clarke disappearing into the forest, neglecting the bounty of the Cornucopia altogether, and her blonde hair dipping through the trees was the last thing he saw before he was tumbling head over heels into the dirt.

He rolled over and popped to his feet as quickly as he could, watching as his attacker sprinted out in front of him, scrambling for the same spear that he’d had his eye on. It was the boy from District Ten, Artigas, who had tripped him up in their dash for the nearest weapon, and he now had a few paces on him. Finn caught up with him just as he reached the spear, leaving his feet and putting his entire body into tackling the boy to the ground with a heavy thud. Two sets of hands were on the shaft of the spear as they rolled around in the dirt, trying to yank it free, but Finn was stronger.

He flipped Artigas over, pressing a knee to his chest and using his entire body weight to pin him to the ground as he forced the shaft of the spear down onto his throat, cutting off his air supply. The boy gasped for air and struggled against Finn’s restraint, clawing at the skin on his hands with his fingernails as he choked beneath his full weight. His legs kicked wildly and the whites of his eyes turned a bright red as the blood vessels exploded from the pressure, and Finn had to grit his teeth and bite down hard to keep from vomiting. Artigas gave one final kick before his eyes rolled back in his head and he faded away beneath Finn’s crushing hands, and he watched as the life drained from his face, mortified and horror-struck and completely unable to look away.

It was the blast of the canon signaling the boy’s death that finally shook Finn from his daze, and he rolled off of his limp body, gagging and struggling not to lose the contents of his stomach. He hauled himself to his feet, staring down into Artigas’s lifeless eyes with pity before reaching down to pick up the spear that the boy had died for. Finn had just taken a life, murdered a boy that could be no more than fourteen, and it sickened him that he felt relief for it. With Artigas dead, that meant one less person standing between him and survival and finding his way home to Raven. And with that thought in his mind, he turned from the Cornucopia and sprinted into the woods.

<-><-><-><->

Abby knew that they shouldn’t be wasting any time; the Games were starting, and they had no time to spare when it came to planning, but every single one of them was drawn to the broadcast playing on screen as the countdown began. They were in what was the former Commander of District One’s office, and there were chairs and tables spread throughout the room, but there was also a large screen television and a communications hub. Bellamy and Octavia sat off in a corner, speaking in hushed whispers while the rest of them held their breath in anticipation. Aden, Abby learned was Lexa’s younger brother, sat cross-legged on the floor, not speaking while Anya and Lincoln stood back with gritted jaws. Raven sat beside Abby on the couch, clutching at her hand with sweaty palms and clinging to her so tightly that Abby thought her fingers might break.

She watched with a sinking feeling in her gut as the last few seconds ticked away and the various camera angles panned in on the faces of the Tributes. The screen flicked over to Clarke and she couldn’t hide the wave of anguish and disgust that blasted through her at the thought of the Capitol making sport of murdering children. Except, looking at her daughter now, she could tell that Clarke was no longer a child; her blue eyes were focused and determined, and her shoulders were set, as if preparing herself for battle. In reality, she was. And if she managed to survive this battle, the person that came home wouldn’t be the Clarke Griffin that Abby had raised. She’d be a warrior.

The countdown ticked away and the tone sounded, signaling the start of the Games as all of the Tributes leapt from their platforms. A wide-shot of the Cornucopia showed Clarke bolting in the opposite direction, neglecting supplies and weapons in favor of survival as she darted into the safety of the trees and Abby felt a rush of short-lived relief. Finn, on the other hand, had a different strategy, diving straight into the fray with his sights set on a near-by spear, and Abby winced as Raven’s grip on her hand became even tighter. Finn battled with the boy from District Ten, fighting over the weapon while the battle at the Cornucopia raged on around them. They watched with baited breath as Finn choked the life out of his opponent and then fled into the woods in the opposite direction that Clarke had gone.

“He…he just killed that kid,” Raven gasped, stunned.

Abby sighed heavily and traced a soothing palm across her back, but it was Anya who spoke. “It was a good kill,” she murmured. “The first one is always the hardest.”

“How would you know?” Raven snapped, body trembling with fear and anger.

“Anya is a Victor,” Lincoln replied, offering explanation but not taking his eyes off the screen.

Abby knew she recognized the young leader from somewhere, and recalled her victory in the Games a few years back. She’d been the only one on the island smart enough to find and collect water before the supply became polluted, and it had saved her life. “That must have been hard for you to go through,” Abby noted, sympathetically.

Anya shrugged and returned her attention to the broadcast. “We do what we must to survive. Lexa will, too.”

Just as she said the words, the camera angle flicked over to the beautiful brunette from District One, following her as she plucked dual swords from the ground in front of the Cornucopia and whirled around to drive one down into the stomach of the boy from District Four before squaring off with the girl from District Six. Lexa was a skilled fighter, Abby could tell that much just by looking at her, but watching her with a blade in her hand was like watching an artist paint a masterpiece. She wielded the blades effortlessly, blocking an attack and launching a counter that wounded her opponent and had her reeling back. Her fight was cut short when the two Tributes from District Two skewered her attacker from behind and shoved the body out of the way to circle Lexa the way a predator stalks prey.

Lexa appeared unfazed, setting her stance again and preparing for battle, welcoming it almost, with determination in her gaze and a regal power in her hard expression. But, before the showdown could play out, Gustus appeared at her side, clutching a massive sword of his own that was already drenched in the blood of another unfortunate Tribute. Silently, the brother and sister Tributes of District Three snuck in behind Roan and Ontari, flanking them, and the District Two Tributes exchanged a glance when they realized that they were outnumbered. Ontari spat some sort of threat in Lexa’s direction that Lexa returned with biting words of her own, and then Roan and Ontari fled the field and dissolved into the trees.

Lexa and Gustus were left staring at Emori and Otan from District Three, and some sort of silent understanding seemed to pass between them like a temporary truce, and Lexa signaled for Gustus to stand down while the others took off in the opposite direction, scooping up supplies as they went. They stood there for a moment, the camera panning out dramatically to show the bodies of five Tributes scattered about their feet, dead in the first five minutes. All Abby could think about was how any one of them could have been her daughter, and her heart broke for the parents who had just been forced to watch their children die.

“Come on,” she said, pulling Raven to her feet. “We need to start planning.”

<-><-><-><->

When the fray began, Gustus knew that it would be chaos; that Tributes would be making a dash for whatever supplies they could carry, but he was making a dash for one thing only: his Commander. Lexa had been obscured behind the giant metal horn at the start of the Games, but they had planned to meet around at the center of the opening. He sprinted forward, searching for her amongst the charging bodies and screams of battle, and had to duck as a blade passed over where his head had been a moment before.

He righted himself and spun around, driving his fist down into the face of the boy from District Eleven, listening to the satisfying crunch of his nose breaking beneath his fist as he toppled to the ground. Gustus reached down and wrenched the sword from his limp grip, deciding to mercifully end his life while he was still unconscious; at least this way, he wouldn’t have to feel the fear or the pain. At the sound of metal clanging against metal, he glanced up and saw Lexa locked in combat with the female Tribute from District Six. Behind them, Ontari and Roan made quick work of the girl from District Ten as they rushed to catch Lexa off guard.

He felt a torrent of anger surge through him as he sprinted in their direction, driving as hard as he could to put himself between his Commander and the looming danger. He knew that Lexa was fully capable of protecting herself; she was the most skilled warrior he had ever seen, but it was his sworn duty to be by her side, and he would not see that duty failed in the first five minutes. He watched as Roan and Ontari drove their spears through the back of Lexa’s opponent, the sharp tips jutting out through her abdomen as her eyes rolled back in her head. He skidded to a halt beside Lexa just as she squared her stance, preparing for the fight that they had been waiting for.

But Lexa had other plans in mind, and she held up her hand, signaling him to stand down as the Tributes from District Three circled in behind their sworn enemies. Roan and Ontari realized that the odds were against them and quickly fled, leaving them alone with Otan and Emori. He expected another fight to ensue, but a silent nod from Lexa sent them on their way unharmed, leaving them alone with a plethora of supplies at their feet and five dead bodies.

“Heda?” he questioned. “Why do we allow them to flee? They are the enemy.”

Lexa knelt down over the body of the female Tribute from District Six, examining the wounds in her stomach, and the girl gave a soft sputter as blood splashed up from her lips. She was still alive, but just barely, and whimpering slightly in pain. He watched as Lexa laid a soft hand over her eyes, shielding her from seeing the blade that she held in her other hand as she slipped it between her ribs and into her heart. “Yu gonplei ste odon,” she whispered, as the girl gave one last dying gasp and a canon blast sounded in the distance.

Lexa stood slowly, wiping the blood from her blade on the deceased Tribute’s jacket. “We show mercy where we can, Gustus,” she finally answered him, gazing down at the girl’s body with remorse. “Emori and Otan meant us no harm.”

“But they will soon,” he replied. “Only one can survive.”

“And we will take their lives when and if that time comes. But for now, we must gather what supplies we can and keep moving,” she explained.

“Should we not stay with the Cornucopia?” he asked, confused. It was a secure location with enough weapons and supplies to last them through the entirety of the Games, so why would it not be an ideal location to fortify?

“We can’t,” she responded. “There is someone I must find.”

He hesitated, debating whether to voice argument or not, but knew that the cameras were on them, and that Panem needed to see a strong leader in Lexa; one who would not be questioned. So instead, he obeyed, gathering up various weapons: throwing knives, a bow, a few daggers and a spear; as well as shoving as much food and water as they could carry in bags on their backs. When they were packed and ready, he silently followed Lexa towards the line of trees, wandering in the same direction that he had seen Clarke disappear earlier.

Chapter Text

Clarke sprinted through the forest as fast as her feet would carry her, listening to the sounds of battle and the cries of agony back at the Cornucopia fade away behind her. She kept her pace for as long as she could, not knowing which direction she was travelling in, but concentrating on putting as much distance between herself and the other Tributes as she possibly could. The underbrush tore at her clothes as she moved, but the material didn’t snag, and her leather boots made it easy to maneuver over fallen logs and rough terrain. She was searching for water as her top priority, and then she would focus on shelter and food, but first she needed to find a steady supply of the one resource that her body could not function without.

Only when she felt as if she had been sprinting for hours did she slow her pace enough to glance up at the trees above her. The sunlight filtered down through the canopy in thick yellow beams, and through the larger breaks she could see the bluish shimmering of the force field above that encased the entire arena. She had waited her entire life to be in a forest like this one, and despite the danger lurking all around her, she couldn’t help the sense of wonder that she felt. She wished for one day that she could just be in a place like this with her paint brushes and a blank canvas, and longed so badly to bring the dazzling forest to life in her art.

All the different hues of green reminded her of a pair of eyes that she’d locked onto just before the countdown ended, and she idly wondered if Lexa was still alive. Automatically, she wanted to scold herself for thinking of the other girl’s safety, but she knew that she was far past fooling her own mind; she did care about Lexa and her well-being. She wondered if she would ever see gorgeous brunette again, and silently berated herself for not telling Lexa the secret that she had kept hidden for so long when she had the chance. Now, there were cameras watching their every move and bloodthirsty Tributes out to hunt them down and murder them; not to mention whatever mutts and other dangers that Wallace and the Game Makers had hidden throughout the arena.

She wandered for hours more with no destination and no direction, and just as dusk began to settle, she heard the sound of what she had been searching for all day. A tiny stream bubbled over rocks nearby, echoing off the trees around her, and she followed it straight to its source, crashing to her knees and scooping up handfuls of water into her mouth. The liquid was cool against her lips, calming the fire that had built in the back of her throat and immediately she felt relief as her body inhaled what it had been desperately craving.

When she had her fill, she pulled herself to her feet and glanced around her, following the stream with her eyes as it wound through the trees. She would be foolish to leave behind her water source, but she knew that the other Tributes would be looking for water as well, so it was too dangerous to make camp on the bank of the tiny river. Instead, she walked alongside it, searching for a place she could use as shelter and hoping to find one before night fell to leave her in total darkness. She could easily build a fire, but she certainly wasn’t dumb enough to construct one out in the open where attackers could be drawn in by its glow, but she was quickly running out of daylight.

As Clarke wandered along the bank of the stream, she spotted a large fallen log about twenty yards back from the creek that looked like it could provide the basic foundations of a shelter and would be heavy enough to protect her from the elements. The Game Makers were always plotting ways to make survival harder, and although the temperature was warm and dry at the moment, she knew that it could change in an instant, and if it did, her shelter needed to be able to withstand the storm, or wind, or frigid air. Upon closer inspection, the log seemed to have crashed down parallel to a small cliff face, creating a sort of crawl space down in between the two that was about five feet in diameter and six feet in length.

She inspected the area, coming up with the most basic of shelter designs that she could conjure in her head, pulling back the memories from her survival training earlier in the week. With what daylight she had left, she broke off a thick branch from the fallen tree and used it as a shovel, digging out mounds of dirt and leaves from between the log and the cliff, creating a small alcove that was protected on two sides. Her task would have been easier if she had tools to work with, but she’d been the one to elect to flee from the Cornucopia without supplies, and now she had to work with what nature provided her. She wandered around nearby, gathering up branches and bits of wood, and using them to create a roof over her small hovel.

Using the sharp edge of a rock and brute force, she ripped several bushes out from the underbrush in different places and dragged them back towards her makeshift camp, covering her tracks with leaves and dirt as she went. When she’d gathered enough of the underbrush, she piled the bushes and spare leaves over the top of her shelter and down the open sides, sealing it off. Stepping back to look at the work she’d managed in a short amount of time; it appeared from the outside as if bushes and forest growth had long since taken over the log where it laid on the forest floor, her shelter concealed entirely. If any other Tribute did stumble across her alcove, they wouldn’t be able to spot her shelter unless they were standing right on top of it, and for that, she was proud.

She startled immediately at the sound of a mechanical whir close by, glancing around and spying a camera in a nearby tree. In all the commotion and with the task of building a shelter at hand, she had almost forgotten that she was in the Games, and that her every move was being broadcast to Panem. She scoffed and shook her head as she bent down and scooped a rock into her hand, laughing as she chucked it at the camera, cracking the lens. The red light on the camera faded out, but almost instantly, another one clicked on right beside it, and she rolled her eyes.

The sun was nearly gone, and she knew there would be no time for finding food, so she sighed and sunk down into her shelter, pulling the bushes back into place behind her. Inside, it was dark and damp and smelled of the fresh earth that she’d churned up, but she had created a space that was large enough to sit or lay down comfortably, and she resolved that if she survived to the next day, she would make more improvements. What worried her most was the cold, the temperature already starting to drop to an unbearable level, and she knew that somehow she’d need to find a way to conceal a small fire in her tiny hut, but that was a problem for another day.

Just as night fell, the anthem began to play, and she could make out the broadcast projected in the sky above through a break in the branches of her shelter. For some unknown reason, she held her breath, and slowly let it out in relief as the faces of the fallen begin to play, skipping straight to the face of the boy from District Four, followed by the girls from Districts Five and Six, the boy from District Seven, both Tributes from District Ten, and both Tributes from District Eleven. The broadcast ended and faded away into the night, leaving her alone in silence once more.

Lexa and Finn were both still alive, but seven other lives had been ended in the first day, which meant that there were eighteen left, not including herself. It also meant that Roan and Ontari were still alive as well, and would undoubtedly be hunting through the night. Clarke sighed and tried to take comfort in the fact that Lexa was out there somewhere, and although they were surely miles apart, they were both still breathing and that had to count for something. She closed her eyes, hoping to find rest and solitude in the sounds of the forest, but the booming of a canon was all she could hear.

<-><-><-><->

There wasn’t a place that Lexa felt more comfortable than beneath the trees. She and Gustus had grown up in the forest district, spending their days in the woods in training or in fun, and they understood how to move without being seen. They were silent, slipping through the trunks of the massive pines like the wind, leaving no trace of their tracks behind, and she knew that they had gotten lucky when it came to the design of the arena. The forest had always been her home, and if she closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar scent of the lush green leaves, she could almost imagine that she was back in her own district. But, such thoughts were a luxury she could not afford, and she had to remain diligent in her focus, tuning in to her surroundings and picking up on even the slightest things out of place. That was how they would survive.

Once they left the Cornucopia, she had initially been trying to follow Clarke’s tracks, trailing after her in hopes that they could find her and somehow get the information she had. Gustus knew what she was doing, as evident by his grunts of disapproval and sour expression on his face, but she could not reveal to him the true nature as to why they needed to seek out Clarke; not while the cameras were on them and the Capitol was listening in to their every move. Finding the blonde from District Thirteen before she got herself killed would be a hard enough task on its own, but managing to have an imperative discussion without the Capitol hearing it would be an entirely different challenge. One that Lexa was still trying to work out in her head, though she got the sense that Gustus thought they were trying to find Clarke for entirely different reasons. Those were the reasons that she had to chase from her mind.

Clarke’s trail had been easy enough to follow at first, but after a while the underbrush grew thick, and vines sprawled across the mulchy forest floor making her tracks much harder to find. At one point, her prints began to muddle with another larger set of tracks as if someone had been following her, and Lexa felt a wave of fear. She had to remind herself that they hadn’t heard another canon boom since shortly after the Cornucopia, which meant that whoever it was hadn’t found Clarke yet. She breathed in her relief, careful to hide it from Gustus who was glancing over at her in annoyance. He was angry with her, surely, but he was also far too honorable and duty-bound to ever question her judgement where the cameras could see, and for that she was thankful.

Crouching low and moving swiftly, she adjusted their course to follow the larger of the tracks, resolving to double back and find Clarke’s again later, but first they needed to eliminate whatever threat was stalking her. They didn’t have to follow them for long before they stopped at the base of a tree and the boy from District Seven, Athol, dropped down in an attempt to ambush them. She admired his courage, he had only received a score of eight during the exhibition, and his ambush could have worked if he had chosen any other target. But, Lexa and Gustus were of the forest, and being raised within the trees, they had been trained to always look up. Athol was dead before he even hit the ground, skewered by his own momentum at the end of Gustus’s spear, eyes frozen wide in shock.

Yu gonplei ste odon,” she whispered the words over his body as she knelt to close his eyes. She knew that the tradition was her people’s alone; to say the words for someone who had died and allow their spirit to move on to the next life. She wondered if the people of the other districts would find comfort in it as she did.

“Why do you pray for them, Heda?” Gustus asked, feigning curiosity. He knew the reason, but he needed Panem to know the reason as well, and the whir of a nearby camera told them that they were watching.

Lexa schooled her expression into a passive one. “Their death is a tragedy,” she spoke, honestly. “The lives lost in here did not need to be taken. They were forfeit. And although they must die so that we can go on, they deserve to be honored for their bravery and sacrifice.”

She knew her words would anger Wallace, but as the clear favorite to win, she didn’t care. She needed the Districts to have faith in her and to follow her should she emerge victorious, and to earn their trust, she had to first earn their respect. The truth was: although she had trained her entire life for the Games, and although she had already spilled blood within them, she did not approve of the abhorrent violence any more than the next person. These were children that were being murdered, guilty of nothing but being alive, and for that the Capitol would pay.

They left behind Athol’s body for the ships to claim so that he may be returned to his family, and doubled back to find Clarke’s tracks once more. The trail finally disappeared just as the sun began to set, taken over by the leaves and vines on the forest floor, and impossible to follow in the dimming light. “We must seek water and shelter for the night, Heda,” Gustus spoke, breaking the tranquil silence around them.

Sha,” she agreed knowing that it was far too dangerous to wander through the trees in the dark.

Their knowledge of the woods provided to them what they needed, coming to a stop at the base of a large broadleaf tree. The dirt around the trunk was damp, moist with water held in the leaves above, and looking up into the branches, Lexa could tell that the precious liquid would be plentiful. Gustus formed a stirrup with his hands, and she stepped into it, allowing him to boost her up high enough to reach the first branch and swing her leg over. Once she was secure, she reached down and helped to haul him up behind her, and they silently climbed about halfway up the tree to where the branches were the thickest.

The large green leaves around them formed tiny bowls, pooling a bounty of water in their depths from recent rainfall, and they happily helped themselves to as much as they could drink and refilled their canteens. When they’d been gathering supplies at the Cornucopia, the first thing they’d brought with them was a length of rope, using it now to fasten themselves to the sturdy branches so that they wouldn’t fall during the night. As children, they spent many nights within the trees, and although it was not the most comfortable of places to sleep, it was certainly one of the safest. Glancing down through the branches, Lexa could hardly see the ground, obscured by the large leaves surrounding them, and she knew that nobody would be able to spot them from below. If anything, they would hear them approaching and would be able to organize an ambush before their enemies even knew they were there.

As they settled in, the last of the sunlight fell away and the anthem began to play, projecting the Capitol broadcast high above them in the sky that she could just make out through the treetops if she leaned a certain way. Her stomach began to twist in on itself the way that it had when she’d been awaiting the scores, and she knew that her nerves were a result of worrying for Clarke. She tried to tell herself that her worry stemmed from the fact that Clarke had information she needed to take down the Capitol, and she needed her alive, but a greater part of herself knew that it was far more than that. She was genuinely concerned for the blonde’s safety, and she swallowed thickly as she forced herself to push it aside, ignoring the pang in her heart.

The faces of the dead began to play, starting with the boy from District Four that she had killed at the Cornucopia when she drove her blade into his stomach. Then there was the blonde girl from District Six that Ontari and Roan had stabbed right in front of her, and the boy from District Seven that Gustus had skewered in his attempt to ambush them. After that, the faces skipped straight to both Tributes from District Ten, one dead by Finn’s hand as he’d choked the life from him, and the girl murdered by Ontari and Roan’s lethal spears. Then, there were both Tributes from District eleven; she knew Gustus had killed the boy after he’d knocked him unconscious, but the female’s death was a mystery, which meant that she had been killed sometime after the Cornucopia, and that must have been the mystery canon they heard.

The anthem ended, signaling the end of the deaths for the first day, and Lexa felt unmistakable relief that Clarke was still alive out there. In all honesty, she wasn’t surprised; Clarke was smart and resilient, and she’d likely hulled up in a place that was probably safer than their own resting spot for the night. But, she didn’t lose sight of the fact that Ontari and Roan were also still in the Game, and likely trying to hunt Tributes down at that very moment. Their plan had been to eliminate the District Two Tributes first, while they still had the strength and energy to match skill against skill, but that plan had changed when Clarke came into the picture.

“Heda,” Gustus whispered, so low that only she could hear it against the chirping crickets and calling birds of the night. “Why do we not hunt Roan and Ontari? We have already wasted an entire day,” he questioned in frustration, voicing her very thoughts.

She knew that he was right. Their ultimate goal was survival at all costs, and the surest way to reach that goal was to eliminate their biggest competition first. She had to decide what was more important: killing District Two and securing a clear path to the end of the Games, or finding Clarke and retrieving what information she had to bring down Mount Weather. She sighed as she thought about it, waging war in her head with her ambition and better judgment, and trying to deny the fact that her heart was shouting louder than them both. She knew that there was no point in acquiring information to use against the Capitol if she wouldn’t be alive to use it.

She steeled herself, forcing her heart back into its cage before it could further muddle her judgment. “You’re right,” she said, voice cold. “Tomorrow we take care of District Two.”

They’d kill Roan and Ontari, and then they would focus on finding Clarke. Her duty was to her people, not to Clarke, and she had to make it home to them in order to lead them forward, but to do that, she needed to survive. And this was the best way. After their enemies were dealt with, then they would find their friends. She just hoped that Clarke would survive that long.

Chapter Text

Indra remembered what it was like on her first night in the arena. The terrain had been far different from the dense forest that Lexa and Gustus had been blessed with; hers was nothing but hills of snow and ice and sheer rock faces. Half of the Tributes had died in the battle at the Cornucopia, realizing how valuable the supplies would be in such a harsh environment, and wanting to gain the advantage of using the Cornucopia itself as a shelter. She had allied with the male from her district and both Tributes from District Three, battling ferociously for position and defeating District Two to earn the rights to the bounty. That very same night, the Capitol had sent a pack of mutant wolves into their hard-won shelter, killing all of her allies and leaving her with the scars that still mauled her face.

She was thankful that Lexa and Gustus wouldn’t have to face such a bone-chilling cold that had seeped into her very core and frozen her heart. Looking at her Tributes on screen now, they seemed to have chosen a relatively safe place to rest for the night; the nearest Tribute to them was the burly boy from District Five, and even then, he was slightly less than a mile away. She wasn’t worried about him; the poor boy had been wounded at the Cornucopia, and he had been stammering around with a broken, bloody leg all afternoon until he finally collapsed beneath a bush.

She wasn’t sure what Lexa’s angle had been, leaving the Cornucopia and heading off into the woods in the opposite direction that Roan and Ontari had gone. Their plan originally had been to take out District Two first, but it seemed that Lexa had been tracking the girl from Thirteen all day. Perhaps it was because Clarke had received a score of twelve, but Indra knew better than that. They had guessed that the score was a lie, invented by the Capitol to paint a target on Clarke’s back, and seeing how she fled from the initial battle at the start, Indra assumed that they were right. But that still didn’t explain why Lexa had been so intent on finding her.

As the camera zoomed in and she could just barely make out the conversation they were having amongst the trees, she was relieved to hear Lexa consent to going back to their original plan. Judging by the shelter Clarke had built and how strategically she had hidden it amongst the fallen tree and short cliff face, it probably would have been nearly impossible for Lexa to track. The blonde girl was clever, and she appeared to be the safest of all the Tributes at the moment, but Indra knew better than anyone how quickly that could change. All it would take was the Game Makers pushing a button.

She was startled out of her strategizing by an urgent knocking at her door, soft, but rapid. She was cautious as she stood and approached, just cracking it open slightly to see who was on the other side. She recognized the woman immediately: the stylist from District Thirteen who originally hailed from her own district, and she faintly recalled that Niylah was in fact Anya’s cousin. She looked worried, glancing over her shoulder several times before meeting Indra’s eyes with fear and insistence in her own. Indra stepped aside and opened the door just widely enough to let her slip into her apartment, shutting and locking it behind her.

“Niylah?” she questioned, confused.

“Indra,” the stylist whispered, clasping her hand in greeting as she continued to scour the corners of the room, searching for hidden surveillance cameras. “I bear an urgent message from Anya,” she finally said, passing her a handwritten note in Trigedasleng.

It had been so long since she’d read or spoken the language that it took her a moment to translate: : The female tribute from District Thirteen has vital information in bringing down The Mountain. We have formed an alliance with her people and are devising a plan to get all of our Tributes out alive. Get word to the District Thirteen mentor, Marcus Kane, and work with him to maintain the safety of our people in the arena. Do not wait.

Indra read the note several times over, forcing it to register. Suddenly, it made sense why Lexa had been so adamant about finding Clarke after the Cornucopia; she knew that the girl from District Thirteen could be the key to starting the war that would free them all. But how would they free them all from the arena? She knew that it wasn’t impossible; Katniss Everdeen and her band of rebels had done it in the 75th annual Games, but security had been increased tenfold since then. Whatever Anya and her allies from District Thirteen were planning, they needed to do it quickly, before they didn’t have anyone left to save. But until then, it was clear that it was her job to keep them alive.

“Have you shown this to Kane yet?” she asked, glancing up at Niylah.

“No,” the woman shook her head. “I came straight to you.”

“Good,” Indra nodded, tossing the note into the fireplace and watching it burst into flames. “Then we go together to form this new alliance.”

<-><-><-><->

After the countdown ended and the Games began, Roan had entered a world of uncertainties. Would he live or die? Would he find food and shelter? Would he be able to commit the atrocities required to win a game like this one? In a place where even the next five minutes were uncertain, armed with dangerous traps and mutts and being hunted by lethal Tributes, Roan felt a discomfort that he had never experienced before. It rolled around in his gut, boiling his insides with nerves that had him crouching into a defensive stance at even the slightest sound or hint of movement. He’d trained for the Games his entire life, prepared for them mentally and was ready for them physically, but now that he was inside the arena, he was starting to realize nothing he could’ve ever done would have fully readied him for this.

But, in a place of such unease and ambiguity, floating around like a spirit trapped in purgatory, he was absolutely certain of one thing: Ontari had to die. He couldn’t kill her just yet, not while Lexa and Gustus still lived; he needed her help to defeat them. But, the longer he was around her, the easier it was for him to realize that she was a monster. She reveled in the deaths of the others, enjoying their cries of pain and laughing at the sound of a booming canon, and he knew that the world could never need one such as her in it. Beyond that, she had proven to be unwaveringly loyal to his sister in the past few days, bound to her by some sick, twisted need to earn her approval, which meant that he couldn’t trust her. Roan wasn’t naïve, he knew that his sister would be looking for a way to keep him from winning, and he had a sneaking suspicion that Ontari was that way. He had to kill her, but not before she served her purpose. Not while the Careers from District One were still alive.

It was that need to find Lexa and Gustus that had kept them moving well past sun down, refusing to stop and rest for the night while their greatest enemies were still lurking. They didn’t know whether District One hunted them or not, but they agreed that under the cover of night, they would be far more dangerous. So they moved as quietly through the trees as they could, avoiding branches beneath their feet and sticking close to the trunks of the trees. There was an artificial moon overhead that provided them bright silver light that filtered all the way down to the forest floor, but in places where the leaves were thick, darkness and shadows consumed them. The night was still and there hadn’t been a canon in hours, but if Ontari had her way, there would be several more that night.

It was Ontari who spotted the small fire smoldering through the trees, letting off a gentle glow against the pitch black forest around them. “There,” she hissed, pointing towards the tiny flames. “A fool builds a fire.”

“Then you know that it is not Lexa and Gustus,” he replied, but she was already stalking silently towards the soft yellow light.

He hung back in the shadows as she crept forward, watching her move around to flank whoever it was from behind. As he got closer, he could see the girl from District Twelve in the glow of the flames, looking wide-eyed and terror-struck as she peered out into the trees, clearly spooked. He knew she couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old, her face still round with youth and plump in the cheeks, far too young to die in a place like this. She should have known better than to light a beacon for all to see, but he figured that she probably didn’t have the training, or was probably too scared to let herself be alone in the dark.

Anger dashed through him and he felt a pang of sorrow as he spotted Ontari creeping into the light directly behind the girl, unnoticed. In another place and another time, he would have leapt from his hiding spot to save one so young and innocent. He would have killed one from his own district to protect the girl. But, in the arena, where everyone was fair game and only one person could come out alive, he knew he had no choice but to stand and watch. Allowing Ontari to kill her now would prevent him from having to kill her later. Still, his stomach churned and the fire in his blood raged when he watched the way Ontari smiled as she wrapped her hand around the girl’s mouth to keep her from screaming and raked her blade across her throat.

A canon boomed in the distance before her body even hit the ground, and he stepped forward, allowing his features to be seen in the tiny firelight. “You shouldn’t smile,” he scowled, unable to bite back his words. “Her death is a sad thing.”

“Her death is my victory,” Ontari shot back, wiping the fresh blood from her blade on the hem of her own sleeve.

“And what a great victory it is,” he growled, sarcastically. “She was such a threat.”

“Anyone who is not me is a threat!” she hissed back, striding towards him with her knife still drawn. “You should remember that,” she threatened.

He stared at her, unflinching, meeting her glare in defiance. “And you should remember who you speak to,” he answered, low and menacing. “You need me.”

“That is the only reason you’re still alive,” she replied, staring at him for a few seconds longer before sheathing her blade. “Come. I haven’t had my fill of blood for the night.”

He watched her turn and dissolve back into the shadows, leaving him alone with the body. He knelt, and gently closed the girl’s eyes, finding comfort in the fact that her death had come swiftly and without much pain. But even that thought couldn’t quell the storm that was raging in his chest, and the bitter hatred that he could no longer hide. He cursed under his breath as he stomped out the fire, leaving the world in the same darkness that he felt clinging to his soul, trudging after Ontari with a newfound goal. The moment that Lexa and Gustus were dead would be the moment that he drove his spear through her vile heart.

<-><-><-><->

Kane felt a wave of revulsion at the way the girl from District Two, Ontari, smiled when she slit the throat of a child from District Twelve. He had known she was sick and sadistic, as evidenced by the fact that she murdered people in order to earn her spot in the Games, but the way she reveled in the death and violence made his stomach twist. He was thankful that his Tributes were nowhere near Roan and Ontari, and appeared to be relatively safe for the night.

Finn had found a tree with branches wide enough to sleep on and had scurried his way up, taking with him a fish he’d plucked from a nearby stream. It was still raw when he sank his teeth into it, and it appeared as if he was choking to keep it down, but at least he had sustenance. Clarke was still hunkered down in the shelter that she’d constructed between the fallen tree and the cliff face, and she hadn’t moved in hours. He wanted to believe that she was sleeping, somehow finding a moment of peace and reprieve from the violence and death around her, but he knew better than that. He remembered how hard it was for him to find sleep in the arena, even at times when he knew that it was safe. Even now, twenty years after his Games had ended, he still awoke in the night to the memory of a canon ringing in his ears.

He had survived much the same way that Clarke was surviving at that very moment, but he knew that his victory was a fluke. It was an error on the Game Makers part to leave a crawl space just wide enough for a small boy to fit in the middle of a cliff face. He had traversed the rocks, nimbly climbing his way up to the tiny cave that he never intended to find; he merely wanted to scale the cliff when he pulled himself onto a small ledge that would be his hiding place for the rest of the Games. He hid there for days, starving and dehydrated, but out of reach from the other Tributes and out of harm’s way. Even the mutts and the environmental traps that were set in the design of the arena couldn’t get to him. Starving to death took a lot longer than bleeding to death, and his final opponent had nearly reached him when she tumbled from the cliff and fell thirty feet, breaking her leg on the rocks below. She laid there for hours, crying and moaning in agony until she finally bled out, leaving a thirteen-year-old Marcus to be the winner by default.

There wouldn’t be a winner by default in these Games; that was certain. Not with Ontari on the loose and Tributes as dangerous as Lexa Woods and Gustus Greene working together. Lexa had appeared to be tracking Clarke at first, but her trail went cold and they followed a different set of prints to the injured boy from District Seven. Now, they were safe up in a tree of their own and the Tributes of District Two who were so intent on finding them were well over three miles away. If it came down to a fight between the Careers, it would surely be a blood bath, but it would also prove beneficial to Clarke and Finn if they survived that long. He knew better than to cling to false hope.

He sighed heavily as he skimmed through the feeds of the Tributes once more, shooting to his feet at the sound of a knock at his door. The Capitol had unlimited measures of security, so he wondered who could possibly be at his door in the middle of the night. He cracked it open, spying Niylah on the other side, but she wasn’t alone.

“Indra?” he questioned as he wrenched his door open further. The fiercely serious woman had been a mentor in the Games for almost as long as he had, and never once had she come calling on his door in the dead of the night. “Niylah? What’s going on?” he asked, confused.

“We need to talk, Kane,” Indra replied sharply, urgency lingering in the brown of her eyes.

He nodded once and stepped aside, allowing them into his apartment. “What’s this about?” he asked when the door was closed.

“I’ve come to seek an alliance,” Indra answered, tone deathly serious.

“What?” he asked, stunned. “You want an alliance with District Thirteen?” he repeated, incredulously.

“Not me specifically,” she replied. “But I’ve been given orders. Clarke has information that we need.”

The reason for Clarke’s arrest, he guessed. “So? You want your Tributes to get it for you?”

“No,” she answered, stepping so close to him that she could whisper and still be heard. “Some of your people are working together with some of mine,” she explained, low in his ear as a precaution no doubt. “They’re trying to find a way to get all of our Tributes out alive.”

“What?” he gasped, staggering backwards so that he could look down into her eyes, trying to search for a hint of dishonesty. He saw none. “Why?” he asked. “How?”

“The how is up to them,” Indra whispered. “As for the why: Lexa plans to unite the districts against the Capitol. Clarke has the information we may need to do that.”

Again he stumbled back, head reeling. “You can’t be serious,” he mumbled, sinking down into the couch and raking his hands through his hair. “You’re not serious, right?”

“Do I look like someone who makes jokes, Marcus Kane?” the grave looking woman replied.

“And you?” he asked, looking towards Niylah who had been hanging back by the door. “What’s your role in all of this?”

She held up her hands. “I’m just the messenger,” she explained.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” he murmured, mind racing too fast to keep track of.

“You can’t condone the Games or the poverty in which the districts live, Marcus,” Indra said, moving to stand in front of him so that she could hold his gaze. “You can’t accept living beneath the boot of a tyrant.”

“I don’t,” he replied, quickly. “But this? This is insane!”

Indra knelt, leveling with him. “Is it? Is fighting for what you believe in insane? Was Katniss Everdeen insane?”

“Katniss Everdeen died!” he shot back. “A brutal, horrible, public death at the hands of President Snow!”

“And how many more will die before enough is enough?” she asked. “How many more innocent children will be sent to slaughter in the Games? How many more of our own will be taken into the Mountain never to be seen again?”

He sighed, knowing in his heart that there was no better point than that one. He had seen too many boys and girls over the years that he had mentored and grown to care about die for no reason other than to entertain. “What you’re planning to do will start a war,” he whispered. “That’s assuming that Clarke and Lexa aren’t killed in the arena.”

“Anya and the others will find a way to free them, Marcus,” she replied, unwaveringly. “Lexa will unite the districts, one coalition, and we will stand against Mount Weather. But we need to work together to keep them alive until then.”

He hesitated for a long moment, thinking about her words, seeing the faces of all the people he’d lost, hearing the canons that haunted him echoing in his ears. “Fine,” he finally relented. “Just tell me what I have to do.”

<-><-><-><->

Ontari lived for the adrenaline of a kill; she thrived off of it, yearned for it, the way an addict yearns for their vice. Murder was her vice, and each time she sunk her blade into another person’s flesh, she felt her hunger sated for just a moment. But, the thrill of the kill quickly wore off, and soon enough, she always craved another. It was that insatiable appetite that drove her towards the Games in the first place; winning would just be an added bonus, but killing…that was what she was really here for.

She had been a child the first time that she’d ever killed anything, hunting in the frosted forest of her home district where the trees were as bare and lifeless as the land. Still, there was always food and sustenance for those who were willing to find it. Her father had taught her that starving was for the weak, and that the strong were the ones in charge of their own destinies. So, while the rest of District Two went hungry during the long winter months, they thrived, and she found solace in the thrill of the hunt. But soon, hunting small rodents and birds wasn’t enough; no, her fire needed much more. She progressed from small animals to larger ones; dogs, cats, the occasional deer, but nothing was ever enough. Not until her blade tasted human blood did she ever feel as if she was satisfied. When the Peacekeepers found her, drenched in blood and standing over the lifeless body of her own father, they put her in the one place where her particular talents could be of use. They sent her to Azgeda Academy to train to be a Tribute.

She could have waited another year and fought in her own tournament to prove that she was worthy enough for the arena, but she didn’t want to. The Hunger Games were where she belonged; where murder and treachery were condoned, and she could take as much blood as she could get her hands on. Her blade had already tasted death three different times that day, and she knew it wouldn’t be satisfied until it tasted it twenty-two more. There was nowhere else in the world that she would rather be.

The only blight on her happiness came in the form of Roan Queen. She had been forced to team up with him out of necessity, and every moment that she’d had to endure in his presence was like its own particularly cruel brand of torture. She hated the way the crowds had favored him, and hated his stupid smirk and charming demeanor. She hated how he struck fear and respect into the heart of his friends and enemies just by the mention of his last name. She knew that if Roan were ever to return to District Two as a Victor, he would easily win the people’s love over his sister. That was the one trump card that she had in her pocket: Nia would never allow that to happen.

They’d been scouring the forest for hours together, searching for Lexa and Gustus, but now Roan wanted to take a moment to rest. He sunk down onto a nearby log and pulled out his canteen, drinking greedily to sate the fire in his throat. “Don’t you ever stop?” he questioned, looking up at her through the darkness. “We’ve been at it all day.”

“I’ll stop when there are twenty-five bodies at my feet,” she replied in disgust, wondering how Nia could ever be related to someone so weak.

“Well, I need a minute. Unless you want me to die of exhaustion before we even find District One,” he said, taking another long draw from his canteen.

She scoffed, picturing all the different ways Roan’s death would please her. “I’m going to scout ahead,” she called over her shoulder. “Before I relieve you of your head,” she mumbled under her breath when she was just out of earshot.

She wandered for a bit, searching for any sign of life within the blackness of the dense trees, but it was nearly impossible to track at night. They hadn’t seen or heard a single person since she’d delightfully slaughtered the pitiful little girl from Twelve, and she was again growing restless. Her thirst to kill seemed to come in waves these days, each time stronger than the last, growing more fervent with every new drop of blood she spilled. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand to be around Roan without slipping a blade into his chest.

She only took a few steps further before she heard the sound of a familiar robotic beeping tone, drifting closer and closer. She glanced up, spotting the flashing red light of a parachute beacon as it floated down from the treetops above, landing in the dirt just a few inches from her boots. She knelt down and scooped the tiny metal canister in her hand, unsure of its purpose considering she was in no need of aid from the outside world. Inside, there was nothing but a rolled up strip of paper, no larger than the length and width of her finger.

Kill him.

The words were written in elegant, scrawling handwriting that she would recognize anywhere, and she felt herself grinning into the darkness. Nia had made her choice, though the note was unsigned, and she figured that it was to protect Nia’s anonymity from the people of her district. If they knew that she had ordered her own brother’s death, the favored son of District Two, they would surely turn on her. Her queen was trusting her with the task of making it look like part of the Games rather than an ordered assassination.

“It will be done,” she whispered, knowing that the cameras would capture and deliver her response. But first, they had to kill Lexa.

Chapter Text

Clarke’s first night in the arena was quiet and bitter cold, and camped out in the wilderness, she couldn’t help but notice how different the world sounded without the buzzing of lights and whirring of machines she had known for her entire life. If she wasn’t currently in the most dangerous place on earth, she could have almost found it peaceful to sleep beneath the stars. The canon she had heard in the distance reminded her of that, startling her just as she’d been starting to doze off, and she knew that she wouldn’t likely find sleep while she was in the arena; that was one of the things that made the Games so difficult. Not only were they a test of physical strength, but a test of mental fortitude as well, and often times Tributes wore themselves out or went crazy long before the final canon sounded.

But she was determined not to end up like ones that were practically begging for death a few days in, starving, malnourished and delirious from lack of sleep. She forced her eyes to close, reminding herself that the only reason that she was still alive was because Wallace wanted the information she had. Once he realized she’d never give it to him, then he would likely kill her, but until then, she took comfort in the fact he still needed her. She spent the rest of the night, trapped somewhere between dreams and reality, bolting upright at the slightest sound and straining to listen for footfalls on the soft ground. None ever came.

She rose with the dawn, emerging from her shelter in time to see the sky change from a deep purple to lighter shades of pink and orange, and again she wished she had her paints to capture the beauty of the moment. She found solace in the fact that despite the danger around her and the likelihood that she could die at any moment, she was experiencing things she had only ever dreamed of. The beauty of a sunrise, the morning dew crunching beneath her feet, the scent of pine in the air: those were all things she’d only imagined experiencing, trapped beneath the ground of District Thirteen and living her life like a prisoner. Wallace had freed her from that, and the irony of the thought was nearly comical.

She set to work for the day, utilizing the light that she had. Her priorities had shifted now that she’d found a fresh source of water, and with a new day, she could focus on fortifying her shelter and finding food. Still, lurking around outside the safety of her hiding place meant that she had to be aware of her surroundings, and the first thing that she did was find a sturdy branch that was reasonably straight and long enough for her to use as a spear, utilizing a jagged piece of rock to whittle the tip to a lethal point. It wasn’t as sophisticated as the weapons that had been at the Cornucopia, but it would do the trick if she needed to defend herself.

Once she had a weapon to use, she set about gathering more branches and broadleaves to better disguise the hut that she built, taking the time to also dig out more of the dirt and create a larger sleeping area. She used the leaves to line the floor, protecting some of her body heat against the damp earth so that she wouldn’t freeze like she had the night before. Stepping back, she was still amazed at the fact that she had been able to create such a competent and well-hidden shelter, and if she did need to wait out the other Tributes, she’d created the perfect place to do it.

When the shelter was as good as it was going to get, Clarke moved on to more pressing matters, such as the growling in her stomach from not having eaten since the morning before. She spent the next few hours carefully creeping through the woods near her hut, setting tiny snares and laying fish traps in the stream that she’d woven from leaves and vines. She kept herself busy, ignoring the pain that was growing in her stomach, and was thankful that she’d actually spent time at the survival stations in training rather than the combat stations like the rest of the Tributes.

It was around noon when she heard the sound of another canon and spotted the drop ship in bound to scoop up the body, relieved that it appeared to be far off in the distance and nowhere near where she’d made camp. With the seven faces in the sky the night before, plus the canon that had woken her as she dozed and the one she’d just heard; that made nine dead in total. Nine out of twenty-six were gone, but that meant that the bulk of the competition still remained, and she couldn’t help the desperate prayer that Lexa was still one of them. The thought of the brunette injured or maybe even dead sent a wave of anxiety that had her chest constricting, and she had to focus on something else in order to keep her breathing even.

While she waited for her traps to set, hoping desperately that they would snare something, she gathered rocks to build a small fire ring inside of her shelter. The way that her hut was dug into the ground allowed her to build a tiny fire, keeping the embers to a low smolder, and still out of view to anyone that wandered too close. She could actually cook a meal and have warmth to fend off the bitter cold at night, but she climbed out and walked in a circle around her hut just to be sure that the glow could not be seen from any angle.

When her stomach was rumbling so loudly that she couldn’t take anymore, Clarke grabbed her makeshift spear and set off to check her traps. She’d set several snares, hoping to snag a rabbit or a squirrel, but each of them were empty and she couldn’t help the frustrated groan that escaped her lips. She followed the stream to where she’d set her fish traps, checking each one cautiously and letting her despair grow with each empty attempt. She scooped up her last trap in her hands, clinging to the desperate hope that just maybe she’d gotten lucky, feeling sheer elation at the sight of a tiny fish flopping about in the bottom of the basket. It was just a few inches long, not even enough for a full meal, but the fact that she had actually caught it and found her own sustenance was what had her eyes brimming with tears.

She returned to her shelter, ducking inside to gently blow life back into the embers that she’d left unattended and placing a flat rock to warm up over top of them. She took the tip of her spear and quickly gutted her tiny fish, setting the entrails aside to perhaps use as bait for larger game later on. When her fish was properly flayed to the best that she could manage with nothing more than a pointy stick, she laid the filets down on the rock to cook, mouth watering as she watched it sizzle. By the time it was done, it was nothing more than a few small bites but she savored every last bit of it, licking the bones clean and allowing a small smile to pull at her cheeks. Maybe, just maybe, she would be able to survive after all.

Another canon booming in the distance quickly reminded her that it wasn’t likely.

<-><-><-><->

The night had not been as restful as Lexa had hoped. She and Gustus had traded off watch so that one could keep a lookout while the other one slept, but when it finally came time for her to close her eyes, she couldn’t seem to close her mind. Despite her meditations and her best efforts, each time she closed her eyes, all she could see was Clarke’s soft smile and endless shades of blue. All she could hear was the husky sound of her voice, or the gentle sound of her timid laughter, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake the images. She’d spent days trying to convince herself that her interest in Clarke was purely platonic, they shared a common goal and a discreet understanding of one another, but now, the more she said it, the more it felt like a lie.

That was why making the decision to go after Roan and Ontari had been so hard. She wanted desperately to find Clarke because at least if they were together, Lexa could try to protect her. But that thought itself betrayed everything that she had ever trained for and all that she’d stood for when she’d come into the Games. It was hard to think that a week ago, she was volunteering as Tribute, prepared to perform her duty at all costs, and now…now she wasn’t sure what to think. She’d forced her head to win out, resolving to hunt down District Two before they were both too tired and weak to put up a good fight, but that meant abandoning Clarke for a time, and that realization was the real culprit of her sleepless night.

When the soft light of dawn finally broke over the tops of the trees, ending her suffering, she roused Gustus into consciousness so that they could begin their day. The sooner they accomplished their mission, the sooner they could set to work finding Clarke again, and it was that thought that was driving her forward. They cracked open their bags and helped themselves to some small rations that they had taken from the Cornucopia, allowing their bodies vital nourishment that would fuel them as the day wore on. When they finished eating, they packed up the remainder of their gear and climbed down from their perch within the trees, planting heavy boots to the ground as they dropped from the lowest branches.

Lexa strapped her dual swords across her back, and watched as Gustus slung his bow and quiver over his own shoulder and offered her a quick wink followed by a fancy flourish with the spear he had in his hand. If they did find District Two that day, they would be ready. She decided that they should double back towards the Cornucopia in hopes that perhaps Roan and Ontari had returned for the supplies and claimed the giant metal horn as their own. They moved through the trees for hours, silently, communicating with hand gestures and head nods, the benefit of years of familiarity. The day seemed relatively quiet, and it was just before noon when they finally stumbled across another set of tracks. There was only one set of footprints, so it couldn’t possibly have been Roand and Ontari unless the two had split up, and there seemed to be a discrepancy in weight distribution between one footprint and the other.

Lexa silently pointed at the ground, signaling to the print as she bent down to examine it. The dirt was turned up and still damp to the touch, which meant that the track was fresh, and whoever had left it was still nearby. She debated leaving it and moving on, knowing that it wasn’t the District Two Tributes who had left it behind, but the thought that it might be Clarke, alone and injured, had her second guessing herself. She signaled to Gustus again, motioning to stay close as she crouched and quietly began to follow the tracks, staying low to the ground and making no noise.

Whoever had left the footprints was definitely injured, and Lexa stopped for a moment to dip her fingers into a drop of blood that was left behind on the leaf of a plant. It was still wet, smelling sharply of iron, and she felt the sting of worry that perhaps if these prints did belong to Clarke, she might be too gravely wounded to save. The thought made her heart lurch and she had to swallow thickly to choke back the ball of nerves that had knotted itself in her throat. She picked up her pace, moving more quickly through the underbrush as Gustus hissed a warning at her to slow down and remain cautious.

But every alarm in her head was screaming at her to throw caution to the wind as the pools of blood that she was finding on leaves began to grow larger. The trail seemed to stop as it disappeared into the underbrush nearby, and through the leaves, she could just make out the form of a body curled in on itself. She could see blonde hair matted with dirt and leaves and she felt her heart twist in grief and despair as she edged closer.

“Clarke?” she called, reaching out through the underbrush.

The body in front of her erupted into motion, rolling over so quickly that she stumbled back, watching as the boy from District Five, Semet, drew his sword and swung it wildly in her direction. Gustus was there with hardly enough time to react, unable to get his spear up to block in time, and throwing himself between Lexa and the ambusher. She watched in horror as Semet’s blade sunk into the flesh of Gustus’s abdomen, just below his rib cage, wrenching it out covered in blood as Gustus toppled to the ground.

“Gustus!” she shouted, unable to contain her anguish.

Seeing him wounded kicked her senses into overdrive, and Lexa launched to her feet, drawing her duel swords and advancing on Semet so quickly and fiercely that she was on him in an instant. His eyes went wide in terror as he just managed to get his sword up in time to block a side-armed strike from the sword in her right hand. He was wounded, unable to put his full weight on his right leg, and Lexa could see the glistening white of his bone poking through the skin, which explained the trail of blood that she’d been following. She’d let her worry for Clarke cloud her judgment and had rushed into a situation without thinking it through, and now Gustus had been stabbed, and she growled out her anger knowing that it had been her fault.

She advanced on Semet once more, spinning around in a wild floury that had her blades striking into his one after another as she whirled, forcing him to stagger backwards. She backed him into the nearest tree, cutting off any hope for retreat, and his expression twisted into one of horror and trepidation as he stared at her, seeing his death stalking so closely. She didn’t hesitate as she spun and stepped forward, closing the gap between them and driving both of her blades downward through his chest with enough force to pin his limp body to the tree behind him. She watched as the life drained from his eyes and a trail of blood escaped the corner of his mouth, yanking her blades free and letting his dead body crumple to the ground at her feet.

Yu gonplei ste odon,” she growled, more angry with herself than with the boy whose life she’d just taken. A canon boomed almost immediately, and she cursed under her breath at the fact that the entire nation had just witnessed her fury.

She rushed over to Gustus who had managed to pull himself into a sitting position against a tree, his hands were pressed to the wound in his stomach, but blood was seeping down his fingers and staining his shirt. Lexa stared at him, wide-eyed, searching for words of comfort or inspiration to keep him steady, but for the first time, she was at a loss. It was far too early in the competition for her to lose her greatest ally, and she needed Gustus by her side when she faced District Two. More than that, he had done his duty and thrown his own body between hers and danger, and it had been her own mistakes that had caused him to have to act.

She shook herself from her daze, gathering up their supplies that had been scattered across the ground and throwing both packs over her shoulders. She reached down and hauled Gustus to his feet, letting him lean nearly the entirety of his weight on her shoulders. She knew he would surely die if she didn’t get him to a healer, and she was certainly not ready to lose him yet.

“Heda?” he mumbled, holding onto consciousness. “Where are we going?”

“We have to get you to Clarke,” she answered, pulling him in the last known direction she’d seen the blonde moving in and abandoning all thoughts of finding Roan and Ontari.

Chapter Text

Lincoln had never met a woman like Octavia Blake before, and there was something about her that he couldn’t seem to draw himself away from. It was obvious that she had little experience in the world, but her lack of understanding is what gave her the courage and strength that he admired so much. She had the heart of a warrior, and if he had anything to do with it, he would ensure that she had the skills too. Or perhaps he just wanted to get closer to her. Either way, he had been captivated by her since the moment they met, and he was finding it increasingly harder to focus on anything other than her green eyes and bright smile. She glanced up from where she was hunched over on the other side of the room with the brown-haired engineer, Raven, and their gazes met, and he thought he caught a glimpse of a blush in her cheeks as she offered him a timid smile and looked quickly away.

They’d been staring at the doctor woman’s deceased husband’s computer since dawn, trying desperately to retrieve the missing blueprints, but judging by Raven’s growls of frustration, they’d gotten nowhere. Their planning had gone as far as understanding the dire need to rescue both Clarke and Lexa, yet they’d accomplished little more than that, trying to pull from a resource that they’d already exhausted. They obviously needed a new approach, and Anya was growing increasingly grumpy by the moment, her mood worsening each time the snarky engineer opened her mouth.

“If our first matter of business is to locate the arena, I do not see why we don’t attempt to capture a Game Maker and forcefully remove the information we need,” Anya growled, frustrated.

Raven glanced up and arched an eyebrow, dryly. “Not all issues can be resolved with swords and intimidation, cheekbones,” she scoffed. “Unless you want to give away the fact that we are looking to break out our friends, we should probably try something more discreet than kidnap and torture.”

“Then what is your suggestion?” Anya snapped. “You are the one who claims to be the smart one.”

“I am the smart one,” Raven shot back.

Lincoln laughed as Octavia dramatically rolled her eyes and sauntered over to him, leaving the other two behind to bicker. “So, how’s it goin over here?” she asked, placing a soft hand on his shoulder.

“What?” he questioned, finding himself lost in the green of her eyes.

“Uh, the Games?” she smiled, motioning with her chin towards the television that was playing in the background.

“Right,” Lincoln answered quickly, blinking out of his daze and turning his attention to the screen.

Cage Wallace was speaking low and dramatically, as if he himself was in the arena, hiding from enemies. “Lexa Woods and Gustus Greene appear to have come across some footprints and what looks like – is that? Yes, it is. That’s blood, folks,” he whispered. “Let’s see what they do here.”

They watched as Lexa appeared to contemplate following the trail or not, then decided resolutely in tracking down whoever left behind the blood. She hurried quickly, as if she was worried, moving far too fast to conceal her steps as Gustus spat a warning to her from a few yards behind. Everything happened so quickly as the boy from District Five rolled out from beneath a nearby bush, catching Lexa off guard as he drove his sword towards her chest. But then, Gustus was there, using his body to shield her and Lincoln watched in horror as the blade sunk straight through Gustus’s flesh, protruding out the other side.

“Anya!” he growled, waving her over as the action unfolded.

“Oh, wow!” Cage Wallace’s voice buzzed excitedly. “Gustus just jumped in front of that sword to protect Lexa! Wow, folks, she looks angry!”

They looked on in shock as Lexa exploded into a flurry of offensive strikes on screen, spinning on her heels as she drove the boy back into the nearest tree, not even hesitating when she plunged her blades through his chest with enough force to nail him upright to the wood. “Oh my!” Cage announced, elated with the action. “She just impaled him!”

“Is Gustus’s wound fatal?” Anya asked, looking towards Dr. Griffin who had rushed over with everyone else.

Lexa quickly said the words to release the boy’s soul, yanking her swords from his body to the sound of a canon blast, and they all held their breath as she rushed back over to Gustus. He had his hands pressed to the wound, applying pressure as they had always been taught, but blood was spilling out over his fingers and soaking his clothes. The wound was fresh, but he already looked pale, and Lincoln couldn’t tell if it was from blood loss or pain. Lexa mumbled something about finding Clarke, yanking Gustus to his feet and practically dragging him away from the clearing.

“So, for those of you who don’t know,” Cage said on screen, “Clarke Griffin from District Thirteen, in addition to her dodgy criminal history, was training to be a surgeon before she was arrested!” he explained. “It sounds to me like Lexa is going to try to save her friend’s life, but do you think Clarke will really help?” he asked, rhetorically.

“She will,” Abby assured them. “But with a wound like that, I don’t know how much she’ll be able to do. He needs surgery, not a seventeen-year-old girl with limited experience and no tools to work with.”

“Then get them tools!” Anya growled. “I will contact Marcus and Indra and tell them to order a sponsor parachute.”

“Wait,” Octavia said, halting her. “We need to think about this, carefully. Even with the tools and medicine required to save his life, he’ll still need time to heal, and we still need time to get them out of the Games. Is it really a good idea to utilize valuable sponsor resources if we don’t even know that he’s gonna live?” she questioned, and Lincoln was surprised by the determined resolve in her voice.

Silence fell over the room, and it was Abby who spoke again next. “She’s right,” she murmured. “His odds of survival aren’t high.”

“So, you guys are just going to let him die?” Raven questioned, angry. “He’s in pain!”

“Gustus knew what he was signing up for when he went into the Games,” Lincoln answered, lending strength to his voice. “He never expected to come home. It is his duty to die for her.”

Anya stared at him, and he could see the battle that was raging within her eyes, knowing that if there was a chance to save her friend, it was difficult to choose otherwise. “You are right,” she sighed, finally relenting. “Sometimes we must sacrifice a few to save the many.”

“I don’t intend on there being any more sacrifices,” Raven growled. “Let’s get back to work. We need to find a way into the Mount Weather mainframe.”

They all murmured their agreement, breaking apart to continue their brainstorming with a renewed sense of urgency. Lincoln stared at the screen as the feed shifted from Lexa and Gustus to Ontari and Roan where they were hot on the trail of another Tribute. He shuddered at the look of elation in Ontari’s eyes, knowing that it was far too soon in the Games for Lexa to lose her greatest ally, protector, and friend.

<-><-><-><->

Although Gustus was wounded, he was still alive; at least for the moment to Nia’s greatest disdain. She couldn’t hide that she was slightly more than irritated at the fact that both Tributes from District One were still alive, along with her insufferable brother. She watched the way he chastised Ontari for taking pleasure in her kills and saw how disgusted he was by her actions; Nia wasn’t the biggest fan either, but there was nothing worse than her Golden Boy brother. She was just waiting for Ontari to snap and kill him. She’d sent the order the night before, but Ontari was smart enough to wait to rid the competition of Roan. He still had purpose.

Ontari Natblood, on the other hand, well she was a very particular brand of insanity all her own, and Nia was not surprised by the outpouring of reactions to her performance in the Games thus far. It had only been a day, and she already had an abundance of sponsors and bookies willing to throw their money in support of the most ruthless Tribute the Games had ever seen. She was also sure that there was an abundance of people that were angered and appalled by the girl; even Cage Wallace seemed sickened by her each time he had to announce her on screen. But Nia couldn’t help but to feel impressed, and if all went according to how she’d planned, Roan would be dead soon, and Ontari would be the Victor.

Of course, Nia wasn’t someone to rest her plans on fate or the actions of others; she’d taken assurances of her own, just to be safe, and she smiled as her communication hub chimed with an incoming call, right on time. “President Wallace,” she greeted, offering him an innocent smile.

“Nia Queen,” he answered, politely. “Why have you requested this meeting?” he questioned, and she had to force herself not to gag at the mere sound of his voice.

“I wanted to be sure that our deal still stands,” she replied, intent on covering her bases.

“I am a man of my word, Nia,” he reminded her. “I will ensure that Ontari wins the Games in exchange for the unwavering support of your district,” he assured. “Though why you would want that monster to come home instead of your own brother, I will never understand.”

She shrugged once, grinning. “Ontari may be a rabid dog, but like all dogs, she is still loyal to her master,” she explained.

“You,” he noted, and she nodded. “What about you though, Nia?” he asked. “Who are you loyal to?”

Nia was loyal only to herself, but that was a fact that Dante would never know until it was much too late. “I am loyal to you and the Capitol, President Wallace,” she replied, convincingly. “You elevated me from nothing and placed me in command of my district. I owe you everything,” she added for good measure.

He stared at her for a long moment, grey eyes calculating as he attempted to weigh the truth of her words. “Very well,” he relinquished. “You will soon have a chance to prove that loyalty,” he said, catching her intrigue.

“How do you mean?” she questioned, leaning forward on the edge of her seat.

“There are rumors that Titus has been deposed in District One,” he informed, looking put out at the revelation. “They’ve not yet chosen a new leader, and the Capitol cannot openly meddle in the process. I need someone I can trust in that seat, Nia,” he explained. “District One breeds warriors like cattle and have basically monopolized the wood trade coming in to the Capitol. Titus was headstrong and naïve, but at least he was controllable; their next leader may not be so…accommodating,” he finished.

Nia felt her smile widen at the opportunity that was unfolding before her. “What would you have me do?” she asked.

“Stage a coup. March on them if you have to, I don’t care. Gain control of District One and District Two at whatever the cost. You have my support,” he commanded.

Nia had to force herself to stifle her laughter at how easily her plans for the future were coming together. She had always intended to take over District One and used the combined forces of their armies to recruit the other districts to her cause, but now she actually had the President’s support! It was almost too good to be true, and she had to cough to hide her wicked smile. “It will be done,” she replied, schooling her tone into a flat one. One way or another, she would rule Panem.

<-><-><-><->

Bellamy watched as Lexa dragged Gustus’s unconscious form through the woods in the direction that she’d been tracking Clarke on day one. He was much larger, muscular and solidly built atop a massive frame, and to be honest, Bellamy was impressed that Lexa had the strength and sheer willpower to haul him all over hell and back in search of help. He’d never met Clarke Griffin back at home, aside from escorting her to the Reaping Ceremony, but he’d seen her in medical a few times, training beneath her mother and constantly rushing about with a pad of paper as she took notes, attempting to absorb all the information that she could. If Gustus had any chance at all at living, which none of them were very sure of, Clarke would be it.

But at this point, he wasn’t entirely sure why he cared. The only reason he had come along was to save his sister, and now that Octavia was safe, it was his honor that was keeping him from taking her and fleeing into the wilderness. He owed Abby and Raven a great debt, and he would do what he could to help save their loved ones as they had helped him, but after that, he wasn’t sure how far his loyalties reached. These people from District One, they aimed to start a war, and when the fighting began, he wanted his sister as far away from it as possible. But a large part of him also wanted vengeance; for his mother and for the life he had been forced to live in servitude of the Capitol. When it came down to it, he was torn, unsure whether listen to his heart or his head.

If Gustus’s injury had done anything, it had lit a fire under Raven’s ass, and he assumed it was because she was scared that Finn could be next. “Look, we can do this,” the engineer said, once again arguing with Anya. The two were insufferable. “I know it’s not the greatest plan, but it’s the only one we’ve got so far.”

“It is not the only plan!” Anya snapped. “We can still use mine!”

“Kidnap and torture?!” Raven shouted. “That’s a terrible plan!”

“Alright, enough!” Bellamy interjected, stepping between the two out of fear that Anya might actually try to stab Raven. “Anya, as much as I would love to cause some Capitol lackey a little pain, Raven is right. Kidnapping a Game Maker would draw too much attention. Raven, what’s your plan?” he asked, curious to see what she came up with.

“We need to find the arena,” she answered, revealing a fact he already knew. “But we can’t do that from here, not with Jake’s laptop. I can rig a device that will allow me to access the Tribute Center mainframe remotely and get the information that we need, but it needs to be directly plugged into their servers,” she explained.

“So? You want us to break in to the Tribute Center?” he asked, incredulously. “I’m starting to feel like kidnapping and torture is the better plan after all.”

“Yes,” she replied, stubbornly. “Oh, come on Bellamy don’t look at me like I’m crazy!”

He held up his hands in surrender. “I’m not, but how do you propose that we do that, Raven?”

“It’s not impossible,” she answered. “The blueprints Jake left us may be incomplete, but they’re still useful. We have a map of the maintenance tunnels beneath the city,” she explained. “All we have to do is get you into those tunnels, and you can follow them to the Tribute Center.”

“Okay,” he nodded. “Again, how?”

“Ask her,” Raven motioned her head towards Anya. “She can be of more use than just standing there and looking pretty.”

Anya glared at her, annoyed. “I can show you how useful I am with a blade,” she threatened, and Bellamy couldn’t tell if her tone was laced with humor or challenge.

“Again with the damn swords!” Raven threw her hands up.

“Alright, Anya,” he said, interrupting them before they could continue bickering. “Say Raven’s plan was feasible, how would we get in?” he asked.

She let out a heavy sigh and shrugged, relenting. “I suppose as one of District One’s acting leaders, I could order a prisoner transport,” she suggested. “It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.”

“Yes!” Raven said, excitedly, gears turning in her eyes. “Someone could pose as a guard, you have your Peacekeeper armor still, Bell! The others, maybe one or two more, could pose as the prisoners. We just need to get you into the Capitol shuttle bay, and you can find your way into the tunnels from there; they run underneath the entire city.”

“And I could order a return shipment of supplies that would justify flying our team back,” Anya added, finally sounding as if she could agree to the plan.

“Okay, that solves the issue of getting in to Mount Weather, but what about getting in to the Tribute Center?” he questioned. “We have to assume the door in is going to have some sort of lock on it.”

“We have people on the inside that can take care of that,” Raven smiled, looking towards Anya with a suggestive grin.

The blonde rolled her eyes and scoffed. “I can get a message to Indra,” she said. “She and Kane can find a way to unlock the door, but I don’t think they’ll be able to take out the cameras in the Tribute Center,” she huffed.

“I got that covered,” Raven replied. “I can rig an EMP. It’ll give you five minutes to get in, plant my device in their servers, and get back out.”

Bellamy sighed heavily, running through the plan in is head. “This is insane,” he mumbled.

“My point exactly,” Anya agreed.

“Look, do you want to get our people out or not?” Raven snapped. “We’re running out of time, and the competition will run out of people to kill, so we don’t have time to stand around and debate this!”

Again, Bellamy sighed heavily and they fell silent as they all stood around and exchanged weary glances. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Anya finally spoke. “But she’s right. This is our best shot.”

Bellamy nodded, trying to ignore the screaming feeling that he was about to do something very stupid. “I guess I’m breaking in to the Tribute Center,” he said, surprised at the words coming out of his own mouth. “Who’s coming with me?”

<-><-><-><->

Jaha was not a heartless man, despite common beliefs, and he did have his regrets: Clarke’s fate being at the top of his list. He had been good friends with Jake Griffin, and their children had grown up together, attending school, playing chess, watching old-world sports matches together on the weekends. His son had always been trading his own rations for art supplies for Clarke, and even he had to admit that the girl had been incredibly talented. But what she’d heard that day in her father’s office had sealed her fate, and there had been nothing he could do to stop it. President Wallace had wanted her killed on the spot when he learned that they’d taken her into custody, but it was Thelonious who had convinced him to allow her a place in the Games. He never expected Clarke to give away the truth about Mount Weather, but he’d bought her an extra few months to live, and that was the best that he could do. At least that’s what he tried to tell himself.

He watched her now, alone in her hut, as she set to work on gutting a fish she’d caught, and he again felt the sharp pang of regret in his chest. He wondered how long it would be before Wallace tried to kill her, and resolved that her death would be yet another burden to add to the weight he carried. He’d murdered his best friend, and sentenced an innocent girl to die, and those were the decisions he had to live with. He’d done it for the good of his people, to prevent a war and save lives, and he’d made those choices because he was strong enough to do so. He was the leader of his people because he possessed the will and the resolve to make the decisions that no other person could. His people would survive, because he would make sure of it.

Steel resolved in his heart once more, chasing whatever guilt he felt away, and he steadied himself just as his communications hub began to chime. He pressed the button to receive it and quickly sat up in his seat, straightening his jacket when he saw who was on the other end. “President Wallace?” he asked, surprised. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’m afraid this is not a pleasurable visit, old friend,” Dante replied, tone darkening and Jaha could see the anger boiling behind his weathered features. “Have you learned anything more about the Griffin girl’s mother?” he questioned. “Where she is hiding?”

Abby escaping the district had been a thorn in his side for days, one he was nowhere near removing. “No,” he admitted, casting his eyes away to avoid Dante’s burning glare. “She escaped with an engineer named Raven Reyes and a former Peacekeeper named Bellamy Blake. They stole a shuttle, and we think they’re hiding out somewhere in District One. Bellamy’s sister, the girl who held me at gunpoint, was on a prisoner transport that stopped in One to offload some goods, and somehow she managed to escape,” he explained, reiterating the details that he knew. “We think they followed her there, but with Titus…disposed of…the current leaders in command are not supplying much help.”

He met Dante’s eyes once more and saw fury in them. “I am handling District One’s lack of leadership as we speak,” he snapped. “As for Doctor Griffin, well, without her I have no leverage to get Clarke to talk. It’s clear the little brat doesn’t care about her own life, but at least with her mother’s life on the line, she could have cooperated.”

“I’ll find Abby, sir,” Thelonious replied, earnestly. “I promise.”

“Don’t bother,” Dante growled. “My patience for this matter has expired. From what I can tell, Lexa Woods will be finding Clarke shortly. We will have the two greatest threats together in one place,” he said, thinking out loud. “I think they have both lived long enough.”

With that, Dante disconnected the call, leaving Thelonious to wonder just what horrible surprises he had in store for the girl he’d watched grow up.

Chapter Text

Clarke had spent the majority of her afternoon resting, hiding out in the security of her shelter as the competition continued on around her. She wasn’t entirely sure how big the arena was, or how far she’d ran after fleeing the Cornucopia, but she’d been in the wilderness for nearly two days now and hadn’t seen sign of a single person. It gave her the faintest sense of hope, but she wasn’t naïve enough to let herself be lulled into a false sense of security. Every so often, she’d hear the blast of a canon, signaling the death of another Tribute and reminding her that nowhere was safe. As if on que, summoned by her thoughts, the boom of a canon sounded in the distance.

It sent a shudder down her spine, and each time a blast rang out, she felt herself grow slightly more anxious. Anxious that the competition was narrowing, and soon there would only be a few left to hunt, and anxious that any one of those canons could have been Lexa. She held her breath, almost anticipating the sound of another as if her nervous mind had the power to command it so, but instead heard very different sounds entirely. The cracking of branches beneath heavy feet shattered the silence around her, setting her nerves on fire and causing her to freeze as she listened for more, trying to discern where they were coming from.

She held her breath, every instinct in her body screaming at her to run as she debated whether she should return to her shelter to hide, or if she should try to catch the intruder off guard. She knew that it wouldn’t take an experienced tracker to see that someone was camping in the area; all they would have to do was simply stumble across a few of her traps or snares. They would eventually find her footprints or signs of life that she had failed to cover up, and soon that would lead them right back to her. No, hiding wasn’t an option, not with someone so near.

She sucked in a deep breath, summoning her courage and hardening her resolve as she gripped her makeshift spear tightly in her hands and decided to follow. She moved slowly, softening her steps as best as she could as she trailed behind the sounds of footfalls and heavy grunting; whoever it was that had stumbled into her territory was making no attempt to be quiet about it. The footsteps stopped just ahead, and she knew that it was now or never, circling around behind where the noise of grunting and labored breathing was still coming from.

Clarke held her breath, clutching her spear so tightly that her knuckles turned a pasty shade of white, and then lunged, thrusting her weapon out towards the intruder. The person in front of her whirled around, as if expecting her attack, easily batting the sharpened stick away with a sword in her left hand and holding a dangerously edged blade to the nape of Clarke’s neck with her other hand. Clarke’s heart skipped a beat and her world seemed to come to a complete halt as she came face to face with vibrant green eyes that were filled with anger and worry that quickly melted away to soft recognition.

“Lexa?” she gasped.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa had been hauling Gustus’s immense body through the woods nearly the entire day, moving as quickly as she could beneath his massive weight. He had lost consciousness a few times, leaving her to drag him along with all of their gear, and she’d been forced to abandon one of their packs and his spear, electing to take with them her swords and a bow with a quiver of arrows, only managing the latter because she could sling them across Gustus’s shoulders. Now, as the sun began to sink and the daylight was weaning to its end, her muscles were on fire and her lungs were burning, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could carry his weight.

She’d been moving in Clarke’s direction for hours, and she knew that she was getting close because she’d spotted subtly hidden traps and snares that she knew Clarke had perfected in training earlier in the week. She had half the mind to call out for her, it wasn’t like they had been moving quietly through the trees between Gustus’s grunts of pain and their heavy footsteps, but she didn’t want to direct any further attention in case the traps they spotted weren’t Clarke’s. Instead, she pressed on, searching maddeningly through the forest for signs of life, and that’s when she spotted the figure following them.

If she hadn’t been born and raised in the forest, she could have easily missed it as the person darted behind the trunks of trees and ducked into bushes, but her senses were far more heightened than the average person. She pulled Gustus into a nearby clearing and propped his slumped body against a tree, drawing her blades and preparing for an attack. Her energy reserves were low, there was no doubt that she was dehydrated, and her muscles were crying out in protest; but Lexa Woods was a warrior. And she would dispatch whatever threat came her way.

She waited, whirling around as a figure burst from the bushes behind her, blocking away some sort of makeshift spear with one of her swords, and holding the point of the other to the attacker’s throat. Sky blue eyes went wide with surprise and then relief, and her voice was a soft rasp when she spoke, “Lexa?” Clarke asked, tone laced with surprise and awe.

Lexa quickly lowered her sword and was caught off guard when Clarke surged forward, crashing into her arms and wrapping her in a tight embrace. “Clarke,” Lexa whispered, hearing the reverence in her own voice. “I found you.”

They held each other for a long moment, letting the Games, the danger, and the world around them fade away until Gustus’s cries of pain broke them apart, shattering their brief moment of relief. “I need your help,” Lexa said, reluctantly pulling away from the blonde. “He’s hurt,” she said, kneeling down beside Gustus.

Clarke knelt on his other side, eyes frantically skimming over his body. “Help me lay him down,” she commanded and Lexa instantly obeyed, easing the majority of his weight down onto his back.

Clarke set to work, snatching a dagger from Lexa’s belt and using it to tear away the rest of Gustus’s forest green jacket. The wound was jagged and an angry color of red, still oozing heavy amounts of blood, and the skin around it was a slightly discolored purple. Clarke’s eyes went wide with shock, though her expression didn’t betray her thoughts, and Lexa admired her fort attempting to keep an impassive façade. She had no medical experience, but even she knew a grave wound when she saw one, and Gustus’s was clearly dire.

“It’s bad,” Lexa remarked when Clarke didn’t offer a prognosis.

“It doesn’t matter,” the blonde replied, determination thick in her voice. “I have a shelter nearby, help me get him there,” she said, standing.

 

They hauled him to his feet on the count of three, and Lexa allowed Clarke to lead them in the direction of her camp. When they reached their destination, she was surprised to see just how competently Clarke’s shelter had been built, hidden beneath shrubs and branches and tucked securely between a fallen oak tree and a small cliff face. When Clarke pulled the bushes away to reveal the entrance, the entire hut was large enough to fit Gustus laying down and still have enough room to accommodate them both if they knelt. She’d underestimated Clarke’s ability to survive, having done nothing but worry for her safety over the past two days, when Clarke had probably been the safest of them all. That was until she had dragged Gustus’s body to her hideout, leaving an obvious trail for anyone to follow. If Gustus survived the night, they would no longer be able to stay there.

“Lexa,” Clarke said, once they set Gustus back on the ground. “I need you to build a small fire there,” she instructed, pointing to a small fire pit that was set up at the other end of her shelter, the leaves above it spaced more sparsely to allow the smoke to filter out.

“Do you have a canteen? I need to get clean water from the stream,” she asked, and Lexa nodded, dropping her pack from her shoulder and handing it to Clarke.

“Clarke, can you save him?” she asked, disguising the worry in her own voice and replacing it with a hardness that she knew all of Panem could hear.

Clarke paused, reaching in to her bag and pulling out her canteen, sighing as she looked up. “I’m gonna try,” she replied. “I promise.”

Lexa offered her a single nod, setting to work on breathing life back into the smoldering embers that were faintly glowing in the bottom of Clarke’s fire ring. She added a few dry branches and some kindling, and a moment later, a tiny flame burst into view, just as Clarke ducked back into the hut clutching a full canteen. She knelt down next to Gustus, using Lexa’s dagger to cut the remainder of his jacket into thin strips of cloth. Lexa hunched down, keeping her head low to avoid hitting the roof as she observed over Clarke’s shoulder.

The blonde used some of the water to rinse her own hands, and then she poured it over the wound, washing dried and fresh blood away from the jagged hole in Gustus’s chest. As the grime came away, more blood oozed out, and Clarke hissed under her breath, bending down to listen to the sound of his uneasy breathing. “I don’t think the blade pierced his lung,” she remarked, “his breathing sounds are even, but we need to stop the bleeding.”

“How?” Lexa questioned, afraid to know the answer.

Clarke gritted her teeth, before decisively motioning towards the fire. “Heat a blade,” she said. “We need to cauterize it shut.”

Lexa did as she was told, understanding that burning the wound shut was a last resort, but they had no other choice. She let her dagger sit in the flames until it turned a glowing red, and then she pulled it out by the handle and gently passed it to Clarke. Without speaking, she knelt behind Gustus’s shoulders and pushed her weight down onto him, bracing his body for the shock to come. When Clarke pressed the blade to the wound, the skin sizzled and popped, and Gustus struggled against her restraint, his eyes snapping open as he let out a pained grunt before passing out again.

Clarke pulled the blade away and poured some more water over the wound to soothe the heat, reveling charred black skin that smelled foully of burnt flesh, but the bleeding had finally stopped. She wrapped her makeshift bandages around Gustus’s chest, winding them tightly in an attempt to keep the wound clean, and then sat back, breathing out a heavy sigh. Her blue eyes were turbulent in the flickering orange of the fire, and Lexa had to fight the urge to reach out to her.

“That’s all we can do for now,” Clarke said, meeting her gaze. “Can I be honest?” she asked, timidly.

“Always,” Lexa replied, sincerely, and it scared her that always could end for them tomorrow.

“I think he’s bleeding internally,” she said. “He’ll be lucky to make it through the night.”

Lexa nodded once, understanding sinking in. “Thank you,” she said. “For trying.”

“How did this happen?” the blonde asked, leaning slightly in to find her eyes once more.

Lexa felt the way her jaw clenched, angry with herself, and she stood, needing to do anything to keep herself busy. “I let my guard down,” she replied, unwilling to admit that her guard had been lowered because she’d been worried about Clarke. “I’ll check your traps and see if I can find us dinner,” she said, ducking out of the hut and leaving Clarke to tend to Gustus’s wounds. She had lost her focus, and Gustus had paid the price for her mistake. She would not make the same mistake again. But even as she wandered, blue eyes danced behind her own.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa had been gone for well over an hour, leaving Clarke alone to tend to Gustus’s injury in the weaning sunlight as dusk began to settle. Although the blood flow from the wound had nearly stopped, she still knew that it was bad, and she wasn’t sure if he would survive the next hour yet alone make it through the night. The coloring beneath the surface of the puncture had changed to a deep shade of purple that was bordering nearly on black, and from her experience, Clarke could tell that one of his internal organs had ruptured: perhaps his spleen. It was a hopeless situation and she wasn’t equipped with the tools nor the knowledge to do anything more for him, and it was just a matter of time before sepsis set in and infection made its way through his blood stream and into his brain.

He groaned in pain, and her heart ached for him, but not nearly as badly as it had ached at seeing the way that Lexa blamed herself, and the hurt in her eyes that she tried so hard to mask. For all of her posturing and bravery, Clarke could see right through her façade, and she knew that Lexa was hurting. The brunette would never admit it aloud, but the agony of her friend was clearly affecting her, and even though they were in a Game where only one could survive, it was clear that Lexa wasn’t ready to lose him yet. It was hard to try to wrap her head around what Lexa could be feeling when Clarke didn’t even know what she should be feeling herself.

Seeing Lexa again, hearing her voice, knowing that she was alive and well; it had stirred all manner of emotion within Clarke that she had no idea what to do with. The first thing she had felt was unbridled relief, the kind that swept through her entire body and settled within the very foundation of her bones, as if she’d been reunited with a piece of her that she didn’t even know she’d lost. The second, though she didn’t want to admit it, was hope: hope that even in the midst of unparalleled danger, she would be safe with Lexa by her side. And the last thing, and probably the strongest, had been confusion; confusion as to when and why Lexa had become so important to her, and what it would mean if the competition ever came down to just the two of them. All of those emotions had come crashing into her all at once, and she hadn’t even been aware that she was throwing herself into the brunette’s arms until she was already there, wrapped up in her warmth and her scent, and Lexa was holding her back with an equal desperation.

She wasn’t sure if it was attraction or admiration that she felt, or perhaps a bit of both, but whatever it was, it had been brewing for a while and she could no longer lie to herself about it. She did care about Lexa, far more than she wanted to admit, and that complicated their situation so much more. She sighed heavily, breathing her frustration into the silence, but was interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps. Instinctively, she grabbed the bow and arrows that Lexa had brought in around Gustus’s shoulders, and knocked one into place as the footsteps grew closer to the entrance of her tiny hut. She held her breath, ready to fire at whoever came through, but let it out with relief when a voice called from the other side.

“Clarke?” Lexa asked, making her presence known. “It’s just me. I’m coming in,” she said, ducking into the hut. Her green eyes instantly found Gustus, scanning over the makeshift bandages that were turning a rusty color before flicking to find Clarke’s gaze. “I am glad to see that you armed yourself. I tried to make noise when I approached.”

Clarke dropped the bow and couldn’t deny how much safer she felt in the presence of the brunette. She glanced down and noticed that Lexa was carrying a limp rabbit by its hind legs, already gutted and skinned, and she offered a small shrug as she held it up. “Your snare worked,” she commented, squeezing around Clarke in the confined space to get to the small fire pit.

“You were gone for a while,” Clarke said, watching as she pinned the meat onto sharpened sticks and propped it over the fire to cook.

“I needed to center my thoughts,” she replied, keeping her eyes trained on her task rather than meeting Clarke’s gaze.

“What happened to Gustus wasn’t your fault,” Clarke commented, feeling the need to absolve the brunette’s guilt that she was trying so hard to hide. “None of this is. We’re here because of the Capitol,” she continued, knowing that cameras were recording their conversation. She shifted so that she could sit beside Lexa, their arms brushing as she sunk down against the wall, and her skin where they made contact pulsed with a magnetism that she couldn’t deny.

“Be that as it may, Clarke,” she said, still avoiding her gaze. “I am the one who walked into an ambush.”

“And you’re the one who dragged him for miles through the forest looking for a way to save him,” she replied. “You did all that you could, and he knows that.”

Lexa sighed heavily, finally lifting her eyes to find Clarke’s, and Clarke could see the contemplation within them. “Gustus was not the only reason why I sought you out, Clarke,” she admitted, tongue clicking over the -k in the way that made her stomach flip. “In truth, I was looking for you before he was wounded.”

Clarke saw the way she swallowed heavily, as if her voice was hanging on an admission, and there was a tenderness in her gaze that she’d never seen before. “Why?” she asked, her tone unable to form anything more than a whisper.

Lexa took a deep steadying breath and shifted slightly closer, their faces only a few inches apart in the confined space. “Because you—

Before she could finish her thought, the anthem blasted through the forest around them, snapping them apart as they scrambled out of the shelter to watch the broadcast projected in the sky. Clarke felt an undeniable disappointment at having lost whatever moment they had been trapped in, but they needed to see who was lost to the competition that day. Even as the song played, and faces of the dead appeared in the sky, Clarke couldn’t shake the feeling that something much bigger than the Games was happening between them.

<-><-><-><->

For the first time in her life, Lexa had lost control of the situation. She had no idea what she was doing or why she felt the pull of blue eyes drawing her in and trapping her in a world of uncertainty. She had no idea why she was inching closer to Clarke’s lips or what she’d even been saying before she got utterly, hopelessly, lost in her cerulean gaze. She’d wanted to tell her that the reason she’d been searching for her was because she needed whatever information that Clarke was hiding, but that would have been a lie. Because, while that intel was invaluable, the truth was Lexa had been trying desperately to find her because she needed to know that she was safe. She wanted to find her because she actually cared about Clarke Griffin, and somewhere along the inescapable path she’d been traveling, Clarke’s survival had become more important than hunting her enemies. Somewhere along the way, the lines between duty and feelings had become very muddled, and she didn’t know if she would have the strength to separate them when the time came. How would she ever be able to win the Games if it meant that Clarke had to die?

She didn’t know the answer, and all she wanted to do was lean in and close whatever space was left between them, but the blaring of the anthem outside had sent them crashing back to reality. Lexa stared up into the sky as she watched the faces tick by, fighting the urge to reach for Clarke’s hand. The broadcast started with the face of the boy from District Five that had stabbed Gustus, the boy whose life she had ruthlessly taken in her rage. Then the girl from District Seven appeared on screen, followed by both Tributes from District Twelve. The anthem finished and the broadcast disappeared, leaving them alone with the sounds of the forest at night.

They met each other’s gazes once more, and Lexa couldn’t help the erratic beat of her heart as she sunk into the pools of Clarke’s eyes looking like sapphires in the silver moonlight. The tension between them from before returned, crashing into them like a wave, pushing them inevitably towards one another once more, but it was quickly broken up by the sound of Gustus moaning in pain from inside the shelter. Clarke sprang into action, turning away and hurrying inside, leaving Lexa to release the breath she’d been holding, coming out in a stream of white in the frigid night air.

When she ducked back into the shelter, Clarke was leaning over Gustus’s massive body, again checking his wound. “He’s in pain,” she commented, pressing her palm to his forehead. “And he’s burning up.”

“Is there anything else you can do for him?” Lexa asked, cringing at the sight of the charred wound that was already starting to fester.

“I could find some herbs to make a tea that would ease his pain, but it’s night time and I have no idea where to find the plants,” Clarke explained, dipping a spare bit of cloth into some water and putting it to his forehead.

“It is not worth the risk of venturing into the dark to find,” she exclaimed, as much as it pained her to do so.

Again, Gustus grunted and let out a tiny yelp though his eyes remained shut. “Lexa, there has to be something we can do for him, he’s suffering,” Clarke replied, her voice urgent. “Maybe your mentor can send some pain medication in a sponsor parachute,” she suggested, hopefully.

“No,” Lexa replied quickly, cutting her idea short. “Indra would not waste valuable resources on someone who will not likely survive,” she elaborated. The truth was, Lexa already knew what it was that she had to do, but once again, her heart was winning out over her head, and she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not yet at least.

“So we’re just going to let him suffer?” Clarke asked, sounding offended and Lexa could see the anger boiling off of her.

“I know you mean well, Clarke,” she answered, softly. “But, you can’t fix this.”

“He’s in pain, Lexa,” she argued.

“Yes,” she answered, unable to deny it. “But he also knew what he was signing up for when he volunteered for the Games. Even if he survives through the night, he will be a liability, Clarke,” she said, hardening her tone in order to say what needed to be heard. “We will waste valuable time, energy, and resources trying to care for him, and for what? We are in a game where everyone dies. Perhaps we should focus on our own survival.”

Clarke glared at her, the blue of her eyes darkening and Lexa could feel the heat from her stare. Her voice was a low growl when she whispered, “So that’s what this is about? The Games?” she questioned. “Is that all you care about?”

Lexa wanted to tell her ‘no’, that she was what she cared about, and her people, and ensuring that they both lived as long as possible, but admitting that would be betraying all that she had ever been taught. “No,” she whispered, “I care about surviving.”

“Shouldn’t life be about more than just surviving?” Clarke shot back, voice filled with passion and fire. “Don’t we deserve better than that?”

“Maybe we do,” Lexa replied, not knowing the right answer. “But in here, it’s all that matters.”

“So, you would let Gustus die for that?” Clarke questioned, still fuming. “You would let everyone die for that?”

Lexa felt her heart stop for just a moment, an admission she’d been struggling to hide dangling on her lips, and she didn’t have the strength to hold it back anymore. “Not everyone,” she whispered. “Not you.”

She saw the way Clarke’s features softened as the anger left her body, blue eyes searching as they met her own gaze, and she felt a silent understanding pass between them. The understanding that despite where they were and the knowledge that they were destined to kill each other, they could no longer run from their feelings. Lexa stood, unable to bear the thick silence that had fallen between them, and ducked out of the tent, leaving the scent of burning rabbit and the sounds of Gustus whimpering well behind her.

Chapter Text

Raven watched as Finn moved through the woods with speed, having abandoned the tree he’d spent the night in at the first light of day, he had now been running for hours. He seemed determined in his search for something, or someone, and Raven wondered if he was attempting to find a new shelter or perhaps locate Clarke. She didn’t know whether or not Clarke and Finn had formed an alliance or a friendship during their time in the Capitol, but she had hope that maybe they stood a better chance if they were together. Finn surely would have higher odds of survival now that Lexa was with Clarke, but if he was moving to locate them, he was going in the entirely wrong direction.

The camera feed shifted as Cage Wallace went on to give an update about Gustus’s condition, and she watched with Anya at her side as Lexa returned from the stream with fresh water, and Clarke set to work cleaning out Gustus’s wound once more. “Hey,” she said, seeing the worry etched in Anya’s features. “Gustus is going to be okay, they got him through the night,” she attempted, though her words lacked any sort of belief.

“You are too smart to actually believe that, Raven,” Anya answered, and Raven wasn’t sure if she should be flattered or insulted.

“Look, I’m just trying to stay positive here,” she argued. “All they have to do is survive until we get them out of there. They don’t even have to leave Clarke’s shelter if they don’t run into any trouble.”

Anya shook her head, offering a side-long glance. “Their tracks are all over the woods, leading right back to their camp. They must leave. And soon,” she answered, though her voice lacked its normal bite.

“Alright, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re gonna save them,” Raven answered.

They both glanced over to where Bellamy, Lincoln, and Octavia were preparing to leave for the Capitol, going over the plan one more time out loud. “That is if your plan even works,” Anya snarked.

“Hey, my plans always work,” Raven shot back. “Don’t tell me you’ve got your panties in a twist because we’re using my totally awesome, totally feasible, plan over your kidnap and torture routine.”

The serious blonde rolled her eyes and huffed, letting out an exasperated sigh. “Raven, even if I understood what you were saying about my panties, it is not the reason why I’m upset.”

“Then what is it, cheekbones?” she questioned, feeling an odd sense of genuine concern for the other woman.

“It’s Lexa,” she admitted after a long moment. “I fear that I put her under too much pressure to perform her duties. She carries the weight of our district on her shoulders and the entire future of Panem; she cannot afford to be distracted by Gustus’s injury or whatever is going on between her and Clarke.”

Raven had seen the tension between the two the night before, their chemistry boiling to a near breaking point, and it was obvious that there was some sort of attraction between them both. “You’re upset because Lexa has feelings for Clarke?” she asked, confused.

“I am upset because love is weakness,” Anya growled. “And I trained her better than to allow her feelings to get in the way of her duty. She will be unable to do what she must if she is too busy protecting Clarke.”

Raven sighed. “C’mon, Anya, you are too smart to actually believe that,” she said, turning her own words against her.

“What I believe doesn’t matter,” she shot back, tone biting. “What matters is getting Lexa home alive!”

“There it is,” Raven said, reading the truth behind her anger. “What matters to you is Lexa,” she guessed. “Not what she does or how she does it.”

Anya stared at her before letting her shoulders fall in defeat. “Lexa is like a sister to me,” she admitted. “Seeing Gustus wounded and how quickly a distraction could cost a life…it terrifies me,” she whispered. “Lexa and I grew up together, we lost our parents and came to Polis together, we fought our battles and took our beatings together. I feel hopeless not being able to do more to help her now.”

The admission hung in the air between them, and Raven sighed, understanding entirely what she meant. “I’ve known Finn my whole life too,” she explained. “He’s only in the Games because of me; because he sacrificed himself to save me. Watching him go through this is terrifying, and I know exactly how you feel.”

“You love him?” Anya questioned.

“More than I’ll ever have words for,” Raven replied, noticing the odd fall in Anya’s shoulders and the way hope seemed to fade from the brown of her eyes. “But I want you to know that I’m here for you if you ever need to, you know, talk or whatever,” she added, feeling the mood shift.

“We’ve done enough talking,” Anya replied, steel settling in her tone as the moment between them passed. “Now it is time to act. We may not be able to help our loved ones in the ways that we want to, but we can still save them.”

“Damn right we can,” Raven agreed, glancing back towards the screen again where the feed had returned to Finn.

She would save him, no matter what it took. Bellamy, Lincoln, and Octavia would get her hacking device into the Tribute Center, and she would find a way to get them all out alive. She smiled as the camera zoomed in on his face, his long hair matted to his forehead with sweat, and she could almost remember the way his lips tasted against hers. He was dashing through the trees, appearing to be closing in on what he had been searching for, and her smile quickly faded as her heart sank when the monitor showed the locations of all the remaining Tributes. The blinking red light that indicated Finn was making a beeline towards two other blinking red dots, and they weren’t Clarke and Lexa. Finn was heading straight towards Roan and Ontari.

<-><-><-><->

Finn set out at first light with a new plan in mind. He knew that if he was going to survive, he needed to make a game changing move, and he knew just who he needed to find in order to do that. The canons had been sounding steadily all day as the competition narrowed further, and he wondered how long it would be before one of those canons was for him. By himself, he was positive that it would be quick, but with the alliance he had in mind, he would either be the very next canon they all heard, or he wouldn’t be one at all. He was hoping for the latter.

He had been up all night, unable to sleep with thoughts of survival racing through his mind and struggling with the guilt of killing the boy from District Ten. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the kid gasping for hair, blood vessels bursting as the life drained from his face and it was an image that Finn wouldn’t soon shake. He knew his guilt would build before the Games ended, and that the actions he committed and the things he did to survive in the arena would stay with him for the rest of his life – if he survived. The only thought that had kept him grounded was imagining Raven’s beautiful face when he finally returned home to her, picturing the way she would feel in his arms, and he had resolved right then and there that he would find a way out. Even if it cost him his own soul.

As he moved through the woods, trying his best to maintain his pace, he wasn’t exactly sure of his direction, having no tracks to follow and no real tracking experience to lean on. What he did have, however, were the hover crafts that swooped in to scoop up the bodies after each new canon sounded, and he had been following them all day. The most recent one had happened only a mile or so from his current location, and he hoped that whoever was doing all of the killing was exactly the person that he’d been searching for.

He realized his hunch had been right when he emerged into a clearing and stumbled to a sharp halt as the deadly end of a spear pressed into the flesh at his neck, drawing blood. “You must crave death if you are foolish enough to run towards the killing,” Roan Queen growled. His brown hair was tied back into a half pony-tail behind his head, and he appeared no worse for wear than when the competition had started.

A moment later, Ontari stepped out of the bushes nearby, grinning wickedly at the prospect of more killing, her dark eyes glazed over with bloodlust. “The boy from Thirteen,” she remarked, looking him up and down as if eying a meal. “Let me kill him, Roan,” she said, drawing a sword from a sheath at her hip.

“Wait!” Finn urgently said, holding up his hands to halt her. “Just wait. I’m not an idiot, and I don’t crave death,” he said, directing the comment at Roan. “I tried to find you on purpose.”

“And why would you do something so foolish?” Roan questioned, still holding his spear to Finn’s throat.

“Because,” he said, realizing that he had their full attention. “Because I know you’re looking for Lexa and I know how to find her.”

Ontari shared a silent look with Roan before pressing her sword to his chest. “Speak,” she commanded.

“Join up with me and I can take you to them,” Finn replied, using the only leverage he had. He owed no loyalty to Clarke, she’d repeatedly turned down his offer for an alliance, and he was sure that she was working with District One. He’d seen which direction she’d fled in at the Cornucopia, and he knew that wherever she was, Lexa would probably be there too.

“Why would you help us?” Roan asked, skeptically.

Finn did his best to steady his nerves when he replied. “Because, I know I can’t beat them on my own. And I know that I can’t beat you on my own. But if I help you find them, that’ll eliminate half of the biggest threats to me.”

Roan and Ontari stared at him for a moment before withdrawing their weapons and stepping aside to whisper to each other in sharp tones. A moment later, they returned to him, and Ontari offered him a smile that looked entirely unnatural on her face. “Very well,” she said, sheathing her blade. “Take us to them. But if you are lying to us, know that I will take pleasure in killing you slowly,” she threatened.

Finn gulped, hoping that his hunch was right because now his life was surely depending on it. “To find Lexa, all you have to do is find Clarke,” he revealed.

<-><-><-><->

Anya typed furiously, sending off her encrypted message to Indra in hopes that she would receive it in time. They needed Indra and Kane to ensure that the door to the Tribute Center would be unlocked for when their strike team arrived, but she knew there was little she could do about it from her position in District One. She would just have to trust that her people would get the job done. Once they had the location to the arena and access to the Game Makers’ servers, then they could work on getting Lexa out; she just needed to survive a few more days.

Gustus, however, likely wouldn’t make it. She knew that immediately as the camera zoomed in on his wound that Clarke was redressing, and she could see than the skin was bubbling with puss and the rot had already seeped into his bloodstream, turning it a brackish color. She admired Clarke’s devotion to her patient, knowing that Lexa had long since ruled him dead, but she wondered why Lexa hadn’t ended his suffering yet. Perhaps she felt an obligation to do all that she could to save him out of her own guilt or sense of duty, but Anya didn’t have time to dwell on it as the feed shifted over to Raven’s boyfriend, Finn.

“Look here folks,” Cage Wallace announced on screen, his voice intrigued by what he was seeing. “It appears that Finn Collins of District Thirteen is brokering an alliance with District Two!” he said, excitedly.

Anya felt anger course through her blood like lava as she witnessed Finn telling Ontari and Roan how to find Lexa, and she whirled around on the one person she could take it out on. “Your boyfriend allies with our enemy!” she snapped at Raven.

“He – he doesn’t know any better!” Raven defended him. “He’s just trying to survive!”

“He betrays us!” Anya yelled, letting her fury rule her emotions.

“He doesn’t even know there is an ‘us’!” the brunette shouted back.

Anya stared at her, clenching her jaw in an attempt to control the fire burning in her chest. “He’s going to get everyone killed,” she stated, low and smoldering. “Including himself. He is a fool for trusting District Two, even a child could see that!”

“Then send him a parachute!” Raven argued. “Tell Indra and Kane to get word to him about our alliance! Get him away from that psycho!” she pleaded.

Anya sighed, letting Raven’s words sink in before offering her a single nod. “I will see to it,” she replied, turning away but halting as she spared one last glance at the screen.

The feed changed back over to Clarke and Lexa speaking to Gustus in hushed tones within Clarke’s shelter, but then shifted to the scenery just outside their walls. The trees around them were quiet and still, almost too quiet for the middle of the woods, and Anya noticed that all of the animals seemed to have disappeared. There was a sudden explosion of movement as a flock of birds burst from the treetops nearby, fleeing rapidly as a wall of what looked like orange-greenish fog swept through the forest, cracking unnaturally against the trees as it barreled towards their friends’ camp.

<-><-><-><->

Gustus had regained consciousness long enough to know that he was dying, despite all of Clarke’s best efforts, and he could feel the fever as it coursed through his system. His wound was severe, and tasting the blood in his mouth, he knew that the blade had struck a vital organ. Even if they could get a parachute in time, no amount of medicine in his bloodstream would heal an injury like that. He needed a surgeon, and although Clarke was trained as one, she did not have the tools to save his life. But, despite the fact that he was dying and the pain that surged through him like acid, he also felt a strange sensation of peace. He had performed his duty, throwing his body and his life in front of Lexa to protect her, and his death would mean that she could survive. For that, he was proud.

He coughed, wincing at the pain that the motion sent wracking through him, and as he gazed up into Lexa’s eyes, he could see the regret written in them. “Heda,” he whispered, his voice sounding far weaker than he thought it would. “You must survive.”

He felt her grip his forearm, though her touch seemed as if it was coming from a mile away. “You must survive too,” she replied, and her voice sounded far away as well.

“We both know that will not happen,” he replied, sadly. “You know what you must do.”

Understanding flickered in the green of her eyes and he had a hunch that she had known all along that she’d have to end his life. Before she could reply, a loud crack rang out outside, followed by another and another, and instantly Lexa was on her feet, ducking out of the shelter to locate the cause of the noise. “Lexa?” he heard Clarke hiss, chasing after her. “Oh my God, what the hell is that?” the blonde asked from just outside the shelter.

A second later, Lexa came barreling back inside, fear etched into her normally impassive features as she reached down and hauled him up by his shoulders. “Help me get him up!” Lexa shouted, and Clarke quickly obeyed, scooping him up from the other side and yanking him to his feet. The movement sent a wave of pain and nausea shooting through his entire body as his world spun, and he didn’t even know that he was screaming until they had yanked him out of the shelter and he heard his own voice echoing off the trees above.

He forced his eyes to focus on their surroundings as the world continued to spin, seeing a wall of unnaturally colored fog rolling towards them, cracking like lightning as it moved to engulf them. They took off in the opposite direction, dragging him as quickly as they could as he tried to force his legs to move, but his body seemed to disobey his every command. They were moving, but far too slowly, and each time he mustered the strength to glance behind them, it seemed as if the fog was inching steadily closer, gaining on them with each passing moment. He wasn’t sure what would happen when it reached them, but anything that the Game Maker’s had created would be designed to kill them, and even through his cloudy fever-stricken brain, he knew he could not let that happen.

“Heda!” he shouted, yanking his arms free as he stumbled and collapsed onto the earth, unable to force his body to cooperate anymore. “Leave me!” he yelled, forcing all the courage he could muster into his voice.

Lexa stared down at him wide-eyed, glancing between his eyes and the fog that was looming closer, torn between staying and leaving. “Lexa!” Clarke shouted, grabbing her shoulder. “We have to keep moving! Now!”

“Go!” he yelled at her, urging her to listen to his advice for once in her life.

“Lexa! Please!” Clarke begged, staring in terror as the fog was nearly upon them.

Lexa knelt by his side and their eyes met, and he saw in them the truth that she couldn’t deny: this was it. “Ste yuj, Heda,” he whispered, reaching for the dagger at her belt and pressing it into her hand.

She nodded once, expression hardening and always unwavering in her strength. “Yu gonplei ste odon,” she said, taking the dagger and slipping it between his ribs. Gustus finally felt no pain at all as Lexa’s green eyes faded into endless blackness.

Chapter Text

Clarke had never felt the agony of sheer terror in her life; the kind that could make her heart explode from racing so quickly; or the kind that made her want to curl into a ball, put her hands over head, close her eyes, and wish that it would all go away. That was until she saw the acid fog barreling towards them, unfurling its tendrils and snaking out to grab them as it popped and cracked against the trees, flashing as if a lightning storm lived within its depths. She was frozen in place, staring at it as she tugged on Lexa’s arm, begging at her to get up so that they could flee for their lives and escape from the noxious gas that would surely kill them in the most painful of ways.

She glanced down over the brunette’s shoulder and watched as she slipped a dagger in between Gustus’s ribs, right into his heart, and murmured something in a language that she didn’t yet understand. At any other point in time, her heart would have broken for Lexa, having to end the life of a friend that she had grown up with and considered a brother. But in that moment, all she could think about was the terror that gripped her body, keeping her from moving and rooting her to the ground as the fog lumbered closer and closer. But then, Lexa was on her feet, wrapping her hand in Clarke’s and pulling her in the opposite direction, dragging her along as Clarke forced her feet to move.

Behind them, a canon sounded for Gustus’s death, but it seemed so small compared to the harsh cracking of the acid fog against the trees, growing louder and louder by the second. They sprinted as fast as they could, ducking under branches, leaping over rocks and fallen trees, darting and weaving through the towering trunks, but each time Clarke glanced back, the fog seemed to be edging closer as if chasing them with a murderous intent. Lexa’s hand in hers was the only thing that was tethering her to her sanity, pulling her along with a protective urgency, and Clarke was sure that if not for the brunette’s firm grip in her own, she would have fallen and been devoured by the fog several times over.

But Lexa was like a rock, steady and strong and unshakeable, keeping her focus grounded and her eyes trained forward as she wove a safe path through the forest, never once looking back. She moved as if she’d been born to run, in tune with her surroundings and constantly aware of the changes in terrain, shouting at Clarke to jump or duck and keeping her upright on her feet. Still, no matter how fast they moved, the ravenous mist seemed to move faster, hunting them down and nipping at their heels like a blood hound, threatening to swallow them whole. Clarke felt the moisture of the fog at the back of her neck, tearing into her skin and ripping through her flesh as it blistered and bubbled, and she knew that she might very well die in the forest with Lexa’s hand in hers.

Suddenly, Lexa was yanking her in a different direction, pulling her as quickly as she could towards a cluster of massive boulders that jutted up from the forest floor, and Clarke could see the entrance of a cave waiting for them. Safety, their salvation, was only a few meters away if they could just make it there before the fog consumed them, and she felt her lungs burning with the exertion it took to sprint through the woods mixed with the foul air that was intent on killing her. They reached the cave just as the fog began to sweep over them, diving inside and sprinting towards the back as the mist barreled by, devouring everything in its path.

Clarke’s skin burned and her lungs screamed, and she didn’t know if she was melting on the inside from breathing the noxious fumes, or if her heart was simply a raging fire, struggling to work in the midst of an anxiety attack. She couldn’t breathe, gasping for air that seemed too thick to swallow as tears streamed from her eyes, clouding her vision, but she could feel Lexa’s hand, still in hers as she dragged her deeper into the cave. They came to a stop, and she felt the cool sensation of water being poured over her skin, easing the pain and dousing the fire of the acid that was burning her flesh. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision, and could just make out the blurry shape of Lexa dumping her canteen into her hands and splashing the water across Clarke’s skin before cupping her cheek gently and pouring it into her eyes.

“Look at me, Clarke,” Lexa whispered, firmly, as she tossed the canteen aside and cupped Clarke’s cheeks with both hands. “Open your eyes and try to breathe,” she said.

Clarke realized then that it wasn’t the fog that was burning her lungs, if it was, they would both be dead, but instead she was caught in the grips of another wrenching anxiety attack. “Lexa…you…your skin…” she gasped, trying to get the words out. Her vision was blurry and her world was spinning, but she could see clearly enough to tell that Lexa had used the entire contents on the canteen to help ease Clarke’s pain and had saved none for herself.

“I’ll be fine, Clarke,” she assured. “Now focus, just like we did last time. Tell me what you see.”

Clarke’s chest was on fire and white spots were dancing behind her vision, threatening to black out her world, but as she blinked the cloudiness began to clear. Lexa’s face was just inches from hers, her hands still soft against her cheeks, and she could read the worry swimming behind her eyes that she was trying so hard to hide. “You…” Clarke rasped.

“Yes, I’m right here,” Lexa whispered. “What about me?”

Clarke blinked again forcing her vision to clear as she sucked in air through her nose and let it out in ragged breaths through her mouth. Even in the dim light, she could see flecks of gold in Lexa’s eyes that she’d never noticed before, but she could also see how puffy and red that they were, and she could make out the small blisters that flecked her cheeks from where the fog bit at her. Clarke brought her hands up to clasp Lexa’s wrists and could feel more blisters beneath her palms. “You’re…hurt…” she wheezed, and then remembered Gustus and realized that her pain was not only external, but internal as well. “I’m…so…sorry,” she managed to choke out.

“Shh,” Lexa cooed. “We’re safe, that’s what matters. Just breathe, Clarke.”

She nodded once, focusing her efforts on breathing as she stared into Lexa’s eyes, feeling her heart rate begin to climb back down. Her surroundings slowly came back to her as her senses returned, and after a few minutes, the burning in her chest began to die out. Lexa stayed with her, breathing in unison to slow her heart rate and running soothing circles against her cheeks with her thumbs as she kept whispering to her, reminding her, to breathe in and out. For all of her hard exterior and the walls that she put up, the emotionless façade and the mask she wore to appear unaffected, Clarke could see the real Lexa behind it all, and that girl was the most beautiful person she’d ever known.

“How do you feel?” Lexa asked, finally letting her hands fall away from Clarke’s cheeks as her breathing returned to normal.

Clarke swallowed thickly, feeling colder and less assured now that there was a slight measure of space between them, but she pushed it aside as she found her voice again. “Better,” she rasped, her throat raw from breathing in acid. “Thank you. Again.”

“You do not need to thank me, Clarke,” Lexa replied, rubbing tenderly at the blisters on her own wrists. “We’re in this together now.”

At the back of the cave, Clarke could spot the remnants of a small puddle on the ground, reflecting the dim light that was streaming in from a crack in the rocks, and she tenderly took Lexa’s hand in hers. “Come on,” she whispered, pulling her towards the fresh water.

Lexa allowed Clarke to lead her to the back of the cave, standing rigidly as Clarke knelt and scooped water into the canteen. Clarke felt the way her own hands trembled with nerves, or maybe even desire, as she poured the water over Lexa’s burnt flesh, running a soothing touch over the blisters in an attempt to wash them clean. The brunette didn’t move while Clarke worked silently, standing so still that Clarke couldn’t even tell if she was breathing or not, but eventually began to soften and relax beneath her touch. Even though she said that she was fine, Clarke could tell that she’d been in pain, wincing when the water made contact with her skin, but soon finding relief as the blonde slowly scrubbed the acid away with soft fingertips and gentle palms.

“Is that better?” Clarke asked, splashing the last bit of water onto the blisters that dotted Lexa’s sculpted cheekbones.

The brunette nodded once, firmly. “Yes. Thank you, Clarke,” she replied, stepping out of her grasp and drying her face against her sleeve.

“You’re the one who saved us,” Clarke answered, backing up to the nearest wall and sliding down it as exhaustion swept through her. Lexa sighed and slid down beside her, her expression empty, though her eyes were pained and laced with turmoil. “I’m sorry about Gustus,” she added, doing her best to read the emotions that the other girl tried so hard to hide.

“Gustus was a good friend,” Lexa replied, masking her sadness in her voice. “I should not have let him suffer for so long.”

“Lexa,” Clarke whispered sympathetically, reaching over to grab her hand. “You were trying to save him. He knew that.”

“He knew that he would die,” she answered. “He knew that going in to the Games.”

Clarke nodded, figuring as much. “It was always the plan for him to sacrifice himself for you, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lexa replied, tone lacking emotion. “It was his duty. My district needs me to return alive. The people need me.”

“Why?” Clarke asked, remembering their conversation from the night of the interviews. She knew that Lexa was planning to take on the Capitol, but she didn’t know how.

“I need—

She stopped abruptly as the faint whir of a camera nearby echoed through the cave. For a moment Clarke had forgotten that they were in the arena, Wallace and all of Panem watching them, and she knew that it wasn’t safe to talk there. She didn’t know if they would ever get the chance to be alone in the capacity that they needed to be. She wanted to tell Lexa everything she knew, she wanted to learn of her plans and aid her in any way that she could, but how could she? How could she reveal what she knew without marking Lexa for dead, just as she was? How could she find the space and the privacy to finally let the truth roam free without condemning her own mother to death, if she wasn’t dead already?

“We can speak of this later,” Lexa said, undoubtedly having the same thoughts as she eyed the blinking red light above them. “For now, you need to rest. We cannot do anything until the fog passes.”

“You haven’t slept either,” Clarke argued, knowing that it was futile; Lexa would rest after she had won the Games, and until then, she would remain unwaveringly diligent.

“I’ll be fine, Clarke,” she answered, giving her hand a squeeze before pulling it away and rising to her feet. “I’ll watch over you while you sleep.”

<-><-><-><->

Lexa sat beside Clarke as she slept, idly running a stone along her blade to keep the edge sharp and letting her mind wander. She’d left home with the intent on cutting down her competition as quickly and ruthlessly as possible, but everything had changed since then. Anya had exposed Titus for what he really was and the atrocities he’d committed, Gustus was dead, and she had met Clarke. The latter of the three seemed to be the one that affected her most of all, and despite the knowledge that she should not allow herself to feel or care, Clarke stirred every manner of emotion within her. It was as if she and the blonde were tied together by some cosmic force, their fates intertwined as if they’d known each other in several lifetimes past and several more to come.

Clarke wore her emotions for the world to see, unafraid to speak her mind and stand up for her beliefs, possessing a courage and a fire that Lexa had never known before, and she admired her for that. But beyond that, the blonde was kind and caring, and strong, and Lexa couldn’t help but to see the similarities between the two of them. They were both born to lead, resolute in their efforts to remain strong, wise, and compassionate, as she had always been taught, but they were both innately different as well. Where Lexa fought to hide her emotions behind a wall, Clarke sought to free them; where Lexa utilized logic and reason, Clarke followed her heart; while Lexa carried the weight of her decisions like an anchor, Clarke aimed to cast it aside and free her of her burdens. Lexa didn’t know why, but she felt as if perhaps she and Clarke were meant to find each other, and maybe, just maybe, they could also find a way to both survive.

She wasn’t foolish enough to hope, but Katniss and Peeta had found a way to survive the arena together twice, so maybe they could too. And Lexa would kill anyone and everything in her path to see it so, but first they had to wait for the fog to pass. It had been a few hours and the afternoon light was bright overhead, but Clarke slept soundly, her features peaceful in sleep, though still haunted by the things she’d seen and the secrets she kept. Staring at her, Lexa understood why Titus had always preached that love was weakness, and why Anya had always reminded her that to be the future Commander meant that she had to be alone. She knew now that when it came to Clarke, putting her duty above her feelings would no longer be an option. If it came down to the two of them and one of them had to die, she knew she’d never be able to strike down the girl that stirred emotions in her heart that she never thought she’d feel again.

She sighed heavily as the truth settled within her, no longer able to deny it, and reached out to gently tuck a strand of blonde hair behind Clarke’s ear. She stirred against her touch, and Lexa feared that she had woken her, but then watched as her serene expression twisted into one of fear. Clarke mumbled something, trapped in the grips of a nightmare, before bolting upright and blinking rapidly as she gasped for air.

“You’re safe,” Lexa whispered, attempting to calm her immediately.

Clarke blinked the sleep from her eyes and then met her gaze, blue melding with green. “How long was I asleep for?” she asked, raspy voice even more hoarse than usual.

“A few hours only,” Lexa replied, rising to her feet and extending a hand out to the blonde. “The fog is starting to pass, we should continue moving with what daylight we have left.”

Clarke took her hand, her skin warm and soft against Lexa’s own as she helped pull her to her feet. “Are you sure you don’t want to rest, too?” Clarke asked, concern seeping into her tone.

“There will be plenty of time for rest after the Games are over. For now, we should go. I do not wish to get trapped in the midst of that fog again,” she explained, knowing that they needed to get as far away from the acid fog’s radius as they possibly could.

Clarke nodded once, releasing her hand that she’d still been holding as she gathered up the supplies they’d managed to bring with them as they escaped. All that was left was Lexa’s canteen and her two identical swords, a dagger that she had tucked into her boot and one at her belt, and the bow and quiver that she’d thought to snatch off Gustus’s body before fleeing. Clarke accepted the bow and quiver, slinging them over her shoulders, and Lexa was grateful that she now had at least some manner of protection other than a sharpened stick.

The forest outside was eerily quiet, the only sounds being the gentle noise of their footfalls against the leaves and a soft breeze whispering through the empty trees. All of the animals had scurried away from the fog, seeking shelter or running for their lives, and it gave Lexa an unfamiliar sense of discomfort at seeing the forest so barren of life. But, the air had returned to smelling of pine and moisture, and it no longer burned their skin and scorched their eyes, and for the moment, all seemed quiet and tranquil; the traces of anything sinister lurking in the pines erased entirely.

That was until they stumbled across the body. They’d only been walking for about ten minutes when the sounds of harsh breathing and whimpers of pain pierced through the silence around them, and they were easy enough to follow back to the source. The boy from District Eight lay sprawled out on the ground, his skin sweltering and bubbling, reeking of sour flesh; his eyes were glazed over, milky white and unseeing as he blinked rapidly, trying to wake himself from the nightmare; he was wheezing heavily, struggling to get air into his charred lungs, and it was obvious that he was in tremendous agony.

“He must have gotten caught in the fog,” Lexa noted as they approached. She reached down, pulling her dagger from her belt, but Clarke’s hand was closing around hers, stopping her with a gentle tug.

“I’ll do it,” she whispered, taking the knife from Lexa’s grasp and kneeling softly beside the boy.

He started at her sudden proximity, coughing and sputtering as he wrenched away defensively. “Who – who’s there?” he gasped, voice barely louder than a whisper but still trembling with fear.

“It’s Clarke,” the blonde whispered, and Lexa watched as she ran her hand soothingly over the boy’s hair. The scene made her own heart ache, and she wondered how someone so strong and fiery could also be so tender and kind.

“Cl – Clarke?” he shivered.

“I’m here,” she cooed, continuing to comfort him. “It’s okay. I’m going to make it go away.”

The boy offered a slight nod, understanding passing in the narrow space between them. “Kill me,” he whispered. “Please kill me.”

“Shhh,” Clarke soothed. “It’s alright,” she added, and Lexa could hear the way her voice cracked behind sorrow, observing the exchange from a few paces away as if intruding on something personal and private.

Clarke began to hum a gentle melody, putting him at ease as she ran her fingers through his hair, and offering him some final semblance of comfort. Gently, she slipped the dagger into the artery in his neck, and as he bled out, she continued to sing to him, staying with him until he sputtered his very last breath. A canon blast sounded in the distance as his life faded away, and when Clarke stood again, there were tears in her eyes. She looked broken, and utterly helpless, consumed with sadness and guilt, and Lexa couldn’t stop herself from stepping forward and gently pulling her into a tight hug, feeling her tremble against her shoulder.

She ran her own soothing hand down Clarke’s hair and across her back as the blonde let out a single sob before sucking in a deep, steadying breath, and pulling herself away. She dried her eyes with the back of her hand, her palms soaked in the boy’s blood, and Lexa used a small bit of water from the canteen to help her clean herself. “You did the right thing, Clarke,” she whispered, holding Clarke’s hands in her own after the blood had been washed away. “He was suffering. You showed him a great mercy.”

“I shouldn’t have had to,” the blonde replied, the sorrow in her voice turning to anger. “He shouldn’t have had to die like that.”

“You’re right,” Lexa agreed. “He shouldn’t have. One day soon, these deaths will no longer have to be meaningless,” she said, feeling her own anger well as she stared challengingly into the nearest camera, directing her threat towards Wallace and all the districts of Panem. “Until then, we fight.”

 

“We don’t just fight,” Clarke said, turning on her heel and leaving the body behind. “We survive.”

Chapter Text

It had been three days since Octavia slipped through Jaha’s grasp, narrowly escaping a dire fate, but returning to the shuttle port still made her uneasy. When she told Bellamy she wanted to go on this mission, he had been reluctant at first, but she’d forced him to see that she was going to go with or without his permission. The truth was, Lincoln had also volunteered, and she’d wanted to be by his side, ready to fight beside him or for him if she had to; she owed him her life after all. She knew it extended beyond that; that they shared some sort of connection that ran deep, and even though they’d only known each other for a few days, she felt bound to him.

She stood by his side now as they entered the shuttle depot, allowing him to lead her by the hands, having loosely cuffed both her and Bellamy. Lincoln wore Bellamy’s old Peacekeeper armor, posing as a guard while they pretended to be prisoners, and getting into the transit hub had been easy, but getting onto a shuttle would prove to be a much harder task. She knew that Anya had previously arranged a prisoner transport which would provide them the cover they needed, but each transport was assigned a guard, and Lincoln most certainly wasn’t the one that was supposed to bring them to the Capitol.

“You there!” a middle-aged Peacekeeper that was slightly balding said, halting them as they entered the shuttle bay. It was late in the day, and most of the guards had gone home already to watch the Games or spend the evening with their families, so the port was nearly empty except for the one ship remaining to take them to the Capitol and a few other guards milling about.

“Are these the prisoners being transported to Mount Weather?” he asked, motioning towards Octavia and Bellamy with his gun as her brother stepped instinctively in front of her. “You’re far too pretty to be a criminal,” he commented, and Octavia couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

“Are you the one assigned to escort them?” Lincoln, asked drawing the attention away from her and she could see the way his jaw clenched as he tried to control his anger.

The Peacekeeper nodded once, still eying Octavia as if he wanted to undress her. “I am,” he answered. “I was pissed about having to take the late shift, but I think it may be worth my time now,” he chuckled suggestively, and Octavia had to grab Bellamy’s arm to keep him from doing something regrettable as he strained against her. “Oh, protective are we?” the Peacekeeper taunted.

“You’re a pig,” Octavia shot back, wincing as his hand shot out faster than she could blink, slapping her across the face, leaving a bitter sting behind.

“Mind your pretty little tongue before I cut it out!” the man replied, anger blaring in his threat.

Lincoln cleared his throat and Octavia didn’t miss the way his fists were tightening at his sides as if ready to punch the man. “I’m going to need to see your transport orders,” Lincoln growled out, low and menacing.

“What for?” the man sneered.

“Standard procedure before turning prisoners over to someone else, is it not?” he asked.

The elder Peacekeeper chuckled once and rolled his eyes. “You must be new,” he commented. “The new guys are always such sticklers for the rules. Fine,” he added, “I have them in my bag over here,” he turned motioning to a pack on the floor.

As soon as his back was turned, Lincoln struck, wrapping his arm around the man’s neck and tightening until he cut off blood flow to his brain. His eyes rolled back in his head as he slumped to the floor, and Lincoln held on, waiting until his bitter heart gave one last beat. As soon as his body stilled, Bellamy sprang into action, helping Lincoln drag the body behind some nearby crates before anyone could see. Octavia stood there, stunned and rooted in place, unsure what to feel at having witnessed a man’s death for the first time.

Part of her was sickened by it and how easily it had been for Lincoln to end his life, but part of her was glad, knowing that this man had likely preyed upon dozens of other girls, abusing his position of power to victimize the helpless and the weak. She expected that was how one was supposed to feel when killing an enemy; a sense of both regret and relief, and she knew that she would likely feel the dread and the rush that came with killing several times more over the coming weeks. If she didn’t feel regret, she would have been worried, but she also couldn’t deny the good she felt at aiding in ridding the world of someone so terrible.

“Come on,” Lincoln said, grabbing the deceased Peacekeeper’s pack and rummaging through it until he found the transport papers he’d been searching for.

He escorted them onto the shuttle, resuming their façade, as he handed the papers to the pilot who quickly scanned them over and then nodded once, satisfied at their authenticity. Lincoln knelt in front of her as he helped strap her into the restraints in the back of the shuttle, glancing up at her with timid brown eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded once, firmly, sitting back as the shuttle lifted into the air. “I’m sure that won’t be the last time I see a man die,” she whispered.

“I’m sure you’re right,” he answered, grimly.

<-><-><-><->

“Indra, are you sure this plan will work?” Marcus asked, feeling nerves grip his body. He had been a mentor in the Games long enough to know that security in the Tribute Center was tight, and if they were caught, they would most definitely be killed.

“Of course I’m not sure, Marcus,” the serious woman hissed, standing beside him as they took the elevator from thirteen down to the ground floor. “But Anya made it clear that we need to get that door unlocked tonight,” she put emphasis on the word. “We’re running out of time. With Gustus dead, Clarke and Lexa are in greater danger than ever. And Finn is very likely going to get himself killed. We must act.”

Kane nodded, knowing that she was right. They’d arranged to get a parachute to Finn with a message about finding Clarke and Lexa, but he feared it wouldn’t reach the boy in time. If they wanted to save their Tributes, they’d have to risk their own lives to do it. “I just hope this works,” he said again, watching as she rolled her eyes.

“You have the easy part!” she whispered. “All you have to do is get drunk and I’ll do the rest.”

It was not uncommon for past Victors to drink to numb their pain and the echoes of their Games that haunted them, so a couple of mentors getting wasted in the Tribute Center lounge wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. The lounge was a place designed for mentors to meet with sponsors and bookies, securing donations for their Tributes or making arrangements for parachute drops. It was also frequented by civilians looking to place bets, and it was probably the one place in the entire Tribute Center where security would be minimal.

They reached the ground floor and stepped out into the lobby, and Marcus let his eyes wander discreetly in search of the main part of their distraction, spotting it on the far wall. They made their way into the lounge where the lighting was dimmer and soft piano music played, creating a common bar-like atmosphere. Bookies and sponsors sat at tables and couches scattered throughout the room, talking in hushed tones as the Games played on several televisions overhead. Cage Wallace was on screen talking about the recent deaths and rambling on about the acid fog that Clarke and Lexa had narrowly escaped.

Marcus followed Indra to the bar top, slinking down into a stool beside her. “Make me something strong,” he said to the bartender. “I think I’m gonna need it,” he added under his breath as Indra jabbed him in the ribs.

The bartender returned a moment later with two neon colored cocktails, setting one in front of each of them. Marcus scooped his glass in his hand and raised it up. “To those we have lost,” he toasted.

“And to those we shall soon find,” Indra added, clinking her glass to his.

He tilted it back, letting the cool liquid leave a burning trail down the back of his throat as he drained the contents of his glass in one gulp. Indra needed to remain sober for her part of the plan, so she carefully sipped her drink while Marcus ordered another. They sat for a while, talking idly about their Tributes and Games of the past, the whole time Marcus drinking with purpose, downing one after another after another. He felt his head begin to grow fuzzy and heard the way his words started to slur as they came out, alcohol pulsing through his system with a buzz that made his world spin.

When he was good and thoroughly drunk, Indra excused herself to use the restroom, and that was the signal that it was time to commence with their plan. After she’d gone, he stood from the bar and stumbled towards the door, making a show of being far more drunk than he actually was for the cameras that were watching him from above. He leaned against the wall, using it for support as he staggered back towards the elevator. It wasn’t entirely his fault, blaming it on the alcohol when his hand grasped the nearest fire alarm and pulled down, setting sirens blaring throughout the building. He watched, trying not to smile as the servant staff as well as the guests, mentors, and Peacekeepers flooded the hallways on the first floor, chaos erupting all around, and he just hoped that it would create enough confusion for Indra to slip through unseen.

<-><-><-><->

Abby felt the prick of tears stinging behind her eyes as she watched Clarke mercifully end a boy’s life, easing him of his pain and suffering. Her tears quickly turned to anger at the fact that her daughter had ever been forced to do such a thing in the first place. No child should ever have to go through what they did in the Games, and she longed to see them ended once and for all. At first, she had been hesitant to get on board with District One’s plan to unite the districts against the Capitol and rekindle the revolution. But after seeing Lexa and the way she carried herself, the wisdom she held, the strength she possessed, and the ability to inspire loyalty, including that of her own daughter, Abby was starting to see why Anya believed in the girl so much. She was starting to believe herself.

But she knew that Lexa wouldn’t be able to do it alone. It would take all of them, working together, to get them out of the arena, and that was just the beginning. It would be another battle entirely to unite the districts behind one leader and bring down the mountain, but she was determined to see it done. That was why she felt so useless at the moment, waiting around while the others infiltrated the Tribute Center and attempted to hack their systems. Even Raven and Anya were making themselves useful, continuing to work on Jake’s laptop though much of their progress was halted by snarky comments and witty remarks. Listening to the two of them go back and forth was like listening to children bicker, and that, combined with the sense of being useless, was driving her mad.

“Abby!” Raven called excitedly, snapping her out of her brooding. “I’ve got something!”

Abby sprang to her feet, rushing over to peer at the screen behind Raven’s shoulder as Anya huddled in close on the other side. It was a video clip of Jake, his handsome face filling the entire screen and she felt the tears cling to her eyes before she even had a chance to stop them. He looked so determined and full of life, wearing that same expression that he got when he stumbled onto a project that he absolutely had to finish before he could rest. He was always so kind and passionate, and she had loved him since she was a teenager, and knew that she would never love another again. Seeing his face now made her heart both ache and leap with joy at the same time.

“Play it,” she whispered, voice cracking behind her tears.

Raven nodded once and hit the spacebar. “Hello,” Jake began. Hearing his voice again made her knees go weak, and if Raven wasn’t clutching her hand she was sure she would have passed out. “My name is Jake Griffin, and if you are seeing this video, it means that I’m dead,” he said, continuing on. “I know that you don’t know me, but I know you. I know you, because I am you. I watch every single day as my people suffer, helpless to do anything about it, and struggling to keep my own family fed and safe. But I’m here to tell you that we do not have to do that anymore.”

“Oh my God, Abby,” Raven whispered. “This could be it.”

“I am a mechanical engineer in District Thirteen, and I’ve devoted the past year of my life to finding a way to end our suffering and restore humanity back to what it once was. I’m happy to tell you that I succeeded, but I cannot do it alone. I urge you, the leaders of the districts, to come together under one banner and rekindle the revolution that Katniss Everdeen once started. This is a call to action, but I do not expect you to answer the call without first hearing what I have discovered. There is—

The video feed ended abruptly, freezing Jake’s face midsentence as Raven scrambled and typed furiously into the keys to recover the rest of it. “No!” she shouted, slamming her fist into the table when she realized that she couldn’t.

Abby felt the tears sliding down her cheeks, realizing there was nothing left of the message and that was the last time she would ever hear her husband’s voice. “This must have been what Clarke heard,” she guessed, realizing that the video was taken just before Jake’s death. “Clarke knows what else is on this recording.”

Silence fell over them, and Abby stiffened as Raven ran a soothing hand down her back, attempting to ease her pain, but it was Anya’s words that had the power to console her. “Your husband had a vision,” she remarked. “Uniting the districts, reaching out to the leaders, fighting against tyranny; Lexa has that same vision. She will see his legacy fulfilled.”

<-><-><-><->

Indra waited patiently in a bathroom stall, hoping that Kane had been drunk enough to sell their little act and anticipating the fire alarm to start wailing at any moment. She knew that this would be their only chance, and if she failed now, they would likely never get Clarke and Lexa out of the arena alive. A moment later, the alarm began to sound, and she hopped up onto the toilet seat, waiting for the fire procedure to start. According to Niylah, who lived in the Capitol, it was common practice for the Peacekeepers to clear the building each time an alarm went off, and so she sat in wait, like a predator waiting for its prey.

It seemed like several minutes that the annoying droning of the alarm was blaring in her ears, but she finally heard the bathroom door swing open as a Peacekeeper entered to make sure the room was clear. When the footsteps stopped in front of her stall, she kicked the door open with as much force as she could muster, sending him tumbling to the ground and knocking him unconscious as his head slammed back into the wall. They’d chosen to hide their ambush in the bathroom, knowing that there were no cameras positioned in there to allow privacy for their guests, so she wasn’t worried as she dragged him into the stall and stripped him of his armor, taking it for her own.

With her new disguise in place, she slipped out of the bar, keeping her head low to avoid the cameras above as she wove her way through the crowds of people that were flooding the hallways in confusion. She moved from memory, following the directions in her head that Anya had sent, knowing that they came straight from the blueprints they’d discovered on Clarke’s father’s computer. She turned left then right, then left again, stopping once to nod at a Peacekeeper that passed by, but he hardly paid her any notice in his rush to end the alarms.

Indra descended down a flight of stairs, and made another right turn as Anya had described, and then followed one more flight down before she came to a dimly lit hallway. There was one camera positioned at the end of it, red light blinking, and she hoped that the confusion from the fire alarm had distracted security enough to keep them from watching the monitors. She crept forward, cautiously, ducking her head down to hide her face as she reached the door at the end of the hallway. She leaned back and used her heavy boot and a well-placed kick to break the lock, watching as it swung open loosely on its hinges.

Popping her head in, she looked around and saw that she had found the access tunnels, and she knew that a strike team was already on their way. Indra gently shut the door, making sure that it didn’t lock again behind her, and then made her way back up to the ground floor. She returned to the bathroom in the bar to retrieve her clothes, slipping back into them and filtering out into the lobby to join the rest of the rowdy crowd that was waiting to return to their business. She spied Marcus in the corner of the room, being chastised by two angry looking Peacekeepers, but he shot her a quick wink when he spotted her and she gave him a single nod in return. Their part was done, now they just had to hope that the strike team would do theirs.

Chapter Text

They wandered through the forest for hours, moving at a brisk pace to ensure they didn’t fall victim to the fog the same way that the boy from District Eight had, but Clarke’s thoughts were just as poisonous as the air had been. She found herself stewing in a sense of guilt and shame that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to shake. She knew that ending the boy’s life had been a mercy and that her kindness and bravery had ended his suffering, but she hated that she’d broken her vow. She’d swore to Alie that she wouldn’t kill for the entertainment of the Capitol, yet her mercy had made her a murderer, and the dried blood caked beneath her fingernails proved it. She couldn’t help but feel like she’d allowed herself to become a pawn in Dante Wallace’s cruel Games, and the thought of him smiling as she fled from his lethal fog and taking pleasure in her pain as she killed a boy, was enough to make her sick.

She sensed a similar struggle radiating off of Lexa as they moved silently through the trees, and though her expression was trained to be impassive, Clarke could see the battle raging inside of her eyes each time their gazes met, and she knew that the stony exterior was just an act. Although Lexa had trained for the Games for her entire life, she hated them just as much as Clarke did. They didn’t speak much as they went, searching for a place to make camp for the night and keeping their eyes peeled for danger, but the looks that were passed between them did not go unnoticed. Clarke couldn’t help the way that her eyes were drawn to Lexa, wanting to watch her, needing to feel reassured by her presence, yearning to keep her close. She felt her cheeks burn hot around the fourth time that Lexa caught her staring, and she quickly glanced away, trying to hide her blush.

“Is there something you wish to say, Clarke,” she asked, tone even. “Your thoughts are loud enough for the entire forest to hear.”

Clarke took Lexa’s hand as the brunette reached down to pull her over a fallen log and then fell into stride beside her, reluctantly letting her hand go. “Does killing out of mercy make me a murderer?” she asked, relaying the thoughts that were eating her alive from the inside out. But, she knew that Lexa possessed a wisdom far beyond her years, and if anyone could belay her sense of guilt, it would be her.

“Nothing we do in these Games makes us murderers, Clarke,” Lexa replied. “We do what we must to survive,” she said, and Clarke had felt as if she’d heard the words a dozen times before. She knew that they were true, in the arena, but also in the world outside that the Capitol had created. She wished that it didn’t have to be that way.

“How do you do that?” Clarke asked, wondering how Lexa was so capable of putting her feelings aside in order to do what needed to be done.

“Do what?” the brunette questioned, arching a perfect eyebrow. Her wild brown hair caught the sunlight, creating a sort of golden halo around her face that made Clarke’s heart skip.

Clarke coughed and refocused her train of thought. “Act as if nothing affects you. As if the decisions you make don’t bear any weight,” she answered after a second.

Lexa stopped for a moment, holding her gaze as she searched for the truth. “I bear the weight of my decisions so that my people don’t have to, Clarke,” she replied softly, as if surrendering. “That is why I volunteered for this.”

“Even though it means having to kill children?”

“I didn’t kill these people,” she replied. “And neither did you. The Capitol killed them when they sent them in here to die.”

“So you don’t feel guilty?” Clarke wondered, desperately wanting to learn how to absolve her own conscience.

Lexa shook her head once before turning and continuing on. “Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not, Clarke,” she explained. “I cannot afford to be crushed beneath it in here, and neither can you.”

“How do you move past something like that?” she asked, hearing her own voice fall as tears began to prick at her eyes, realizing that her remorse was indeed crushing her.

“By understanding who the real enemy is,” Lexa whispered. “By acknowledging who is truly to blame.”

“The Capitol,” Clarke stated, and Lexa nodded once.

Silence fell over them again, and Clarke felt her guilt churn slowly into something else entirely: rage. She was foolish to think that she could get through the Games without having to kill, but killing in them didn’t make her a murderer; that blood was on Wallace’s hands.

They walked on for a few more minutes, listening as the birds returned to calling and the animals returned to the trees around them, finally freeing themselves from the fog’s reaches. They came to a stop in a clearing, a massive oak tree towering over them, shading them from the blinding orange light of the setting sun. The trunk was wide enough to fit a horse in, stretching all the way up to the sky, but the base of it was hollowed out creating a sort of cavern beneath the tree. Lexa wandered over to it and knelt down, peering inside as she surveyed their surroundings before offering a single nod.

“We should make camp here for the night,” she suggested. “The burrow is large enough for us both to fit, and we’re losing daylight. Let’s gather some branches and shrubbery to conceal the entrance, then I’ll find us some food.”

Clarke was in no position to argue, so she easily agreed, eager to get a meal inside of her. “I’ll start gathering some wood.”

“Stay within shouting distance, Clarke,” Lexa cautioned, voice brimming with protectiveness.

Clarke nodded and then wandered off, scouring the ground for fallen branches and thick leaves, piling them up as she went. She’d been so consumed in both fear and grief all day that she hadn’t even given herself a chance to think about her conversation with Lexa the night before, and the words ‘not everyone, not you’ rang in her mind. She wasn’t sure what was growing between her and the beautiful brunette from District One, but she was absolutely sure that it was strong, sweeping her up into a hurricane of emotions that she had no control over, but Lexa was the calm in the storm. In spite of everything that was happening around them, she’d somehow managed to find solace in the one person she would have never expected to at the beginning of all of this. She cared for Lexa, and Clarke decided right then and there that in a world where even the very next moment wasn’t guaranteed, she needed to tell her before it was too late.

She’d been so wrapped up in her own thoughts, idly focusing on the task at hand, that she didn’t hear the footsteps approaching until they were right on top of her. She looked up just as a figure burst into the clearing in front of her, barreling into her with enough force to knock the air from her lungs as she landed heavily on the hard ground. Before she could even think to move the figure was on top of her, and she had the briefest moment to register that it was Quint, the burly boy from District Six, who had her pinned to the ground, wrapping a massive hand around her throat and squeezing tightly. He had a sort of maddening look in his eyes, tinged with blood lust and insanity, and she sputtered for breath and struggled against him as he reached down to his belt and pulled out a dagger, holding it high above his head.

Clarke felt herself losing consciousness, black rings swarming her vision as she watched him raise the blade and prepare to end her life. She knew she was about to die, and in that moment, it wasn’t thoughts of home or her mother that came to mind, nor the outstretched arms of her father beckoning her in; it was the thought of Lexa, and leaving her behind before she ever had the chance to tell her how she felt about her. She would die with that one regret in mind. Just as Quint brought his arm down, slashing out at her throat, Clarke heard the sharp whistling sound of a knife slicing through the air, and watched as a dagger sunk directly into the palm of her attacker’s hand, disarming him as he howled out in pain.

Quint tumbled off of her, clutching his injured hand to his chest as he tried to pull the blade from his flesh, and Clarke used the opportunity to scurry away from him, sputtering as she gasped for breath. She rolled over in time to see Lexa storm into the clearing, the green of her eyes blazing with a fierce protectiveness that Clarke had never seen before. Her voice was low, threatening and powerful when she growled out, “Attack her and you attack me.”

<-><-><-><->

Lexa wasn’t immune to guilt; at least not in the way that Clarke thought she was. But she did understand how to accept the things she couldn’t change: people died in the Games, she couldn’t change that; Gustus was dead, and she couldn’t change that; her people were relying on her, and she couldn’t change that, nor did she want to. But she also recognized that she had the courage and the strength to change the things that she could: she could change the world that they lived in, and she intended to; she could show the districts that they had the power to write their own futures, and she would; and she could tell Clarke how she truly felt about her…so maybe she should.

Would it be weakness? She wasn’t sure. But she was cognizant of the fact that they were losing daylight, and they needed to act quickly if they were going to be safe for the night. Lexa was in tune with the forest, always alert, always diligent, and she knew the sounds of the woods better than the sound of her own heart beating. That astute sense of awareness was what allowed her to hear the attack far before she ever saw it. She recognized the sounds of the heavy footfalls of someone trying to keep quiet, but unused to walking on the soft leaves and fallen branches of the woods, and she was darting in the direction Clarke had gone before she even had time to register what the danger could be.

She arrived just in time to see the boy from District Six tackle Clarke to the ground, pinning her there with a hand clasped around her neck as he reached for the dagger at his belt. Lexa felt something inside of her erupt, like a volcano of fear and fury, mixed together to create an uncontrollable explosion of anger at seeing someone so near to harming Clarke. Time seemed to slow and her world ceased to spin as she bent down to clutch the hilt of the hidden dagger in her boot, shooting to her feet and letting it fly with as much strength and speed as she could muster. She watched as it spun, end over end, zipping through the air and striking true, sinking deep into Quint’s palm and protruding out the other side covered in blood and bone.

Her rage was what propelled her forward, dashing into the clearing, and she felt as if her voice belonged to someone else when she spoke: someone who let their emotions rule them, acting with heart instead of head, but in that moment she didn’t care. “Attack her and you attack me!” she snarled, her tone laced with threat and a fierce protectiveness that she’d never known before.

Quint cowered beneath her seething gaze, whimpering as he attempted to wrench the knife free from his hand. She turned her attention to Clarke, reaching down and pulling the blonde to her feet, resting her hands on her shoulders as she scoured the length of her body in search of injury. “Are you alright, Clarke?” she asked, hearing the worry in her own voice.

“I’m fine,” she stammered out, still coughing and Lexa could make out the faint lines of a bruise already forming on her neck.

She had to hold back the low growl she heard forming in her throat when she glared down at Quint again, reaching out and forcefully yanking her dagger from his palm as he screamed out in pain. “The kill is yours, Clarke,” she said, extending the hilt to her.

Clarke stared at the blade for a moment, clearly contemplating whether she should take it or not, cerulean eyes bursting with indecision. Those same eyes met Lexa’s timidly, and she understood without having to speak, offering her a single nod of respect. Lexa spun the blade in her hand so that she had a firm grip on the handle, then turned and drove it up through Quint’s throat in the blink of an instant. His eyes rolled back in his head, and she knew that he felt no pain when he died, having severed his spinal nerves with the lethal accuracy of her dagger.

Yu gonplei ste odon,” Lexa whispered, reaching down to gently close his eyes.

She turned to Clarke apprehensively, worried that she would see disgust, or even fear, written in her expression, but instead she saw only wonder. “Thank you,” Clarke whispered, taking her hand.

“Are you sure you are uninjured?” Lexa asked, bringing her palm up to cup the back of the blonde’s neck as her gaze flickered down her body then back up to her lips. She knew that her eyes were lingering there, but she couldn’t seem to draw them away, transfixed and wanting nothing more than to lean in. It was the booming sound of a canon signaling Quint’s death that had them jumping apart.

“Um, yeah,” Clarke sputtered, breaking out of the moment. “You saved me…again,” she added, bashfully.

Lexa felt a small grin tug at her cheeks, and it felt out of place with a dead body at their feet. “Come, Clarke,” she said, turning away. “We can no longer stay here. When the ship comes for his body, it will draw in anyone else in the area,” she explained, abandoning all hope for getting any rest that night.

“Then we should keep moving,” the blonde agreed, scooping up her bow from where Quint had knocked her to the ground and slinging it back over her shoulder.

They left his body behind, though Lexa knew that she would carry his death forever, not for the prematurity of it, but for the anger and worry that it had made her feel. The thought that she could have lost Clarke, could still lose Clarke, in an instant was enough to set her nerves on fire, sending a wave of nausea wracking through her. She hadn’t felt that level of fear and despair since she’d witnessed Costia’s death in the Games, and having to feel that pain again surely would have crushed her. She knew that Clarke wasn’t helpless, that she was strong and capable, but while they were in the arena, she wouldn’t let another moment go by where she wasn’t by her side. She had come far too close to losing her, and would not see it so again.

Another canon boomed in the distance, startling them both, and she instinctively shifted closer to the blonde, their fingertips skimming as they walked. “Lexa?” Clarke asked, drawing her attention back in and the way her name sounded on her lips sent a shiver down her spine.

“Yes, Clarke?”

“Those words you say when someone dies…” she started, timidly. “What do they mean? I heard you say them to Gustus, and again just now with Quint.”

“It means ‘your fight is over’,” she explained. “In my culture, where I come from, we say the words when someone dies to release their soul from this life and allow it to carry on to the next. If I was dying, I would say ‘Ai gonplei ste odon’.”

Clarke nodded, eyes alight with thought. “My fight is over?” she asked, and Lexa gave her a single nod. “So its reincarnation?” she questioned, tone sounding slightly confused, but amazed.

“Where do you believe your dead go after they leave this world?” Lexa wondered, intrigued.

“I don’t really know what I believe,” Clarke shrugged. “We have words that we say, too, but I guess I never really thought about it until my dad died.”

Lexa took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’m sorry about your father,” she said, realizing she hadn’t yet offered her condolences.

Clarke shrugged, blinking quickly. “Wherever he is, I’m glad he doesn’t have to see me in here.”

“So, do you disagree with what I believe?” Lexa asked, trying to better understand the blonde and the place that she came from.

She didn’t miss the way Clarke’s eyes found hers, blue marrying green like sky and ground, and they held each other’s gaze for a long moment when Clarke finally replied. “No,” she whispered. “I think it’s beautiful,” she said, and Lexa couldn’t help but wonder if she was still talking about her beliefs or something else entirely.

Chapter Text

A canon cracked in the distance, echoing off the dense forest around them, and Ontari felt a tidal wave of jealousy because it had been the third one that day and not a single one of them had belonged to her. They’d camped with that fool from Thirteen, Finn, the night before and had set out at dawn to find Lexa and Gustus, but so far their exploits had yielded no results. The closest they’d come to finding anyone at all was an abandoned camp situated just off of a tiny stream, nestled between a fallen tree and a small cliff face. The hovel had been dug out, looking as if it could fit multiple people, and perhaps Lexa and Gustus had used it at one point, but there was no proof that they were ever there. All that remained was a lone spear and a pack of supplies from the Cornucopia, and that could have easily belonged to any of the remaining Tributes since the Cornucopia had been left unguarded on the first day.

They’d quickly moved on, deciding that whoever had made camp there was long gone; now, dusk was starting to fall and they had nothing to show for their efforts that day except for the blisters on their feet from the miles of walking without rest. Ontari suspected that Finn was lying and had no real idea where to find Clarke or the Careers from District One, and that he was just biding his time until he could either turn on them or escape. She wouldn’t let either happen; in fact, she planned to slit his throat at the first opportunity. She would have done it already had Roan not demanded that they follow the boy for a time, but her patience was wearing very thin with the both of them, and if she did not have blood soon, she would end up killing them both.

They continued to wander in which she thought was no real direction, but Finn was pretending to be an expert tracker, bending down to examine what he thought were tracks, scuff marks, or broken branches. “It looks like they dragged someone through here,” he commented. “Like they were running from someone…or something.”

“Really?” Ontari scoffed, snidely. “Because it looks to me like you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground,” she snapped.

“Silence, Ontari!” Roan growled, and she felt anger in her blood begin to boil. “He’s right. Someone was here. Two sets of footprints dragging a body,” he said, looking at the ground. “They were fleeing.”

“From what?” she seethed.

“I don’t know…” he trailed off, hunched over to examine the ground in the area. “There are no tracks following them. Whatever it was, we should not stay here to find out,” he cautioned.

They resolved to keep moving, following the tracks for as long as they could, but eventually they faded away, leaving them to once again wander aimlessly with no direction. Lexa and Gustus could be on the other side of the arena for all they knew, and the people they’d been tracking before could be long-since dead; they had heard three canons after all. They veered off on a different heading, instead following a river to where a waterfall crashed into a pool below, sending mist spraying up that flashed shades of orange and yellow in the weaning sunlight. They stopped to refill their canteens, and despite the loud pounding of water, Ontari could still hear the snapping of a branch above them.

She spared a subtle glance upward, careful to make the movement look natural as if she’d hadn’t heard a thing at all, and quickly spied the terrified eyes of the girl from District Nine peering down at her from the trees. Ontari struggled to hide her elation as she inconspicuously reached for the dagger at her belt, grabbing it and launching it upward so quickly that the girl never saw it coming. Before she even had a chance to dodge, the blade sunk into the meaty flesh of her thigh, and she tumbled out of the trees, falling ten feet to the flat of her back with a sickly crack. Ontari leaned over her, watching her writhe on the ground as she struggled to force air back into her lungs; her wrist was bent at an unnatural angle, and the dagger was buried in her thigh up to the hilt.

Ontari felt the grin growing on her cheeks, spreading wide at the prospect of new blood. “Well, well, look what I found,” she teased. “Tris, was it?” she asked trying to recall the young girl’s name. The girl stared up at her with tears in her eyes, and Ontari laughed as she pressed the full weight of her boot down onto the girl’s broken wrist, causing her to cry out in pain.

“Ontari!” Roan growled from behind her, barreling to her side. “Do not torture the girl! Kill her and take your satisfaction,” he commanded, tone laced with anger.

Finn stood behind Roan, turning a sickly shade of pale, and she shot a glare to each of them that was laced with enough venom to kill, daring them to challenge her further. “I do not take my orders from you,” she seethed at Roan. “I will do as I please.”

Ontari glanced back down at the whimpering girl who had a steady stream of tears coursing down her cheeks as she tugged gently at the knife in her leg. The more she pulled on it, the more blood seeped from the wound, staining the fabric of her pants a deep crimson that Ontari couldn’t help but be drawn to. She wanted more: more pain, more blood, more pleasure, and she was going to take it all. She bent down, grabbing the handle of her dagger and twisting it in deeper, feeling muscle tear beneath her blade as Tris screamed out in agony. She laughed, elated by the sound, finding joy in her first victim of the day and she felt as if her addiction was finally being sated like finding water after days in the desert.

“That’s enough!” a voice growled, and she was surprised to see that it belonged to Finn instead of Roan. He took his own spear and drove it down into the girl’s chest before Ontari had the chance to stop him, ending her life with tears in his own eyes. “She was just a kid!” he shouted as a canon blasted.

Ontari shot to her feet, anger exploding at being robbed of the blood she’d earned, driving forward and planting a heavy boot into Finn’s chest that had him sprawling backwards onto his back. “How dare you rob me of my kill!” she screamed, drawing her sword from its sheath at her waist and pressing the point to his neck. “I will have the blood that is owed to me!” she yelled, intent on ending his life for the atrocity he’d committed against her.

“Ontari! No!” Roan shouted, grabbing her wrist to keep her from delivering the death blow.

She whirled around, back handing him across the nose with enough force to send him staggering. “You are weak!” she shouted, days of pent up rage flowing through her.

“And you’re insane!” Roan shouted back, drawing his own sword, ready to meet her in combat. “We need him alive to take us to Lexa and Gustus! And you need us both if you plan on killing them!”

“Do not stand there and tell me what I need,” she hissed, voice laced with malice, but even as she argued, she saw the truth in his words. Still, she didn’t know how much more she could take, mad with her own desire to end his sniveling life and fulfill the purpose Nia had given her. “As soon as they are dead, this alliance ends,” she gritted her teeth, forcing her hand to sheath her sword as she let out a steady breath.

She turned to Finn where he was picking himself up off the ground, glaring at her. “And you,” she sneered. “I will take the blood that you owe me. One way or another,” she threatened, and Ontari knew that her threats were never idol.

<-><-><-><->

Bellamy stood in handcuffs, watching as their shuttle made its approach to a large hangar bay that had been carved into the side of Mount Weather. The night was black, and the mountain lumbered like a dark silhouette on the horizon, inching slightly closer with each passing moment. The ride from District One had been quiet, still under the guise of a prisoner escort, and the silence had set his nerves on edge. What Raven had asked them to do was no easy task, and worst of all, Octavia had volunteered to go with them. He’d wanted to leave her behind in the safety of Polis, but once Octavia set her mind to something, there was no convincing her otherwise. The one thing he had going for him was his Peacekeeper training, and if they did need to fight, he was no stranger to combat.

Their approach into the shuttle dock revealed nothing of the city that he knew was resting deep within the mountain under layers of rock and dirt, and he was aware that he would not get a chance to lay eyes on the Capitol at all. Their mission would require them to travel beneath the city, utilizing the tunnels that had been left behind when the Capitol was first built that now served as sewage systems, carrying waste out of the mountain. If all went according to plan, they would get in and out unseen, planting the device that Raven needed to locate the arena. But the truth was, they were walking right into the unknown, and there was no telling what could be waiting for them within those tunnels.

He remembered the stories of Katniss Everdeen and her own infiltration team that had made their way through the Capitol below the ground, and he knew that almost her entire team had been killed by either mines or Mutts. That was a different time and a different city, but he expected this place to be no less diabolical. Granted, they weren’t at war yet, and Wallace had no reason to expect outsiders to break in, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t find danger lurking in the darkness. They needed to be on their guard, ready for anything, and he was relieved that they’d brought guns with them.

The pilot set the shuttle down softly, giving Lincoln a single nod as he opened the cargo door to allow him to offload the “prisoners” that he was transporting. There were far more Peacekeepers milling about in the Capitol’s hangar than had been back in District One, and they all glared at them as if they were worth nothing more than the dirt on their boots. “Prisoner processing is that way,” one of them growled, pointing his gun in the direction of a set of double doors.

Lincoln nodded, giving Bellamy’s shoulder a hard shove as he played his part convincingly, except they had no intention of submitting to processing. Instead, they ducked through the doors and then veered off into another hallway when they were out of sight, moving through the facility according to the blueprints they’d each memorized. The halls were empty and most of them were dark, the staff having gone home for the night, allowing them to move with ease towards their destination. They followed a passageway to a stairwell, and took it down two floors to a room where it appeared that they stored nothing more than empty crates and cleaning supplies, the shelves and boxes coated with years of dust.

The lights were dim, but even in the darkness Bellamy could see the way Lincoln smiled softly as he reached down and unlocked Octavia’s handcuffs. He waited, biting his tongue, while his own handcuffs were undone, and then together they pushed aside a large crate, revealing a hatch door right where Jake Griffin’s blueprints said it would be. “This is it,” Bellamy said. “Now we just have to hope Indra and Kane did their part on the other end.”

“According to the blueprints, we have to follow this tunnel for about ten minutes, and then we should be directly beneath the Tribute Center,” Octavia stated, speaking in a hushed voice.

They lowered themselves down a rusted ladder into the tunnels, and instantly Bellamy was hit with the pungent smell of must and rotting flesh. He felt bile rising up in his throat and he had to cough to keep it down, the air thick and damp with the odor. It was pitch black, and they waited while Lincoln flicked on the light from his gun, handing Bellamy the one he’d taken from the Peacekeeper he’d killed in District One. The walls of the tunnel were stone, like an old mine shaft, but the floor was cement, dipping down in the middle as a river of sewage flowed through it.

“Stay close, O,” he whispered, keeping her in front of him as Lincoln led the way.

They moved along the tunnel as quickly as they could, the only sound being dripping water and their footsteps echoing off the walls. The further along they got, the worse the smell grew until it was so overwhelming that it brought tears to Bellamy’s eyes. Rotting flesh had a very distinct scent, and it stank as if bodies had been left to decompose for years, right beneath the feet of the citizens of the Capitol. In the tunnel ahead, they could hear noises, and he instinctively shoved Octavia behind him as he and Lincoln approached cautiously, keeping their lights trained down.

They saw movement up ahead, the sounds of grunts and growls growing louder, and they caught sight of something just as it filtered into the range of their flashlights. “Oh my God, what the hell is that thing?” Octavia gasped.

The creature looked up at her voice, its eyes rimmed red and gazing at them wildly, squinting as if it hadn’t seen light in years. It had the body of a man, its clothes tattered and blood-stained, except its skin was bubbled and mutated, its face twisted into a snarl as it eyed them. Hanging from the corner of its mouth was a piece of rotting flesh, and glancing down at its feet, Bellamy could make out what looked like a body – a human body, that had been partially devoured. The beast charged them, letting out a howl as it sprinted towards them with bloodlust in its gaze, and Bellamy instantly raised his weapon to shoot.

“It’s a Mutt!” Bellamy hissed, clicking off his safety.

“Wait!” Lincoln, whispered, pushing Bellamy’s gun aside as the Mutt charged. The young warrior easily side-stepped the sloppy attack, spinning and cracking the beast on the back of its head with the handle of his own weapon. “Gunfire will only draw more!” he explained, shining his light down onto the Mutt that was now unconscious at their feet.

“Is that a person?” Bellamy asked, staring at the grotesque features stained red with blood.

Lincoln knelt, examining the body. “It was once,” he answered, sadly. “It is nothing more than a Mutt now.” He flipped the body over to get a better look at his face, and then gasped as recognition lit up his features. “I know this man!” he exclaimed, shocked.

“What? How?” Octavia questioned.

“His name is Tierro. He was once from my district, taken to the Capitol for a crime he committed,” he explained, anger laced in his voice even though it was nothing more than a whisper.

Bellamy knelt, examining the Mutt for himself. Its features were so marred and warped that it was hard to distinguish any discerning qualities. “How can you be sure?” he asked.

“He was a novitiate at Polis Academy,” Lincoln answered, tearing away a bit of the Mutt’s sleeve to reveal a tribal tattoo banded across his bicep. “He still bears our mark,” Lincoln added, revealing his own tattoo.

Bellamy swallowed, choking back the anger that welled in his chest as he slowly rose to his feet. “Do you know what this means?” he asked, dreading the answer to his own question. “The people that the Capitol takes, never to be seen again….they’re turning them into these….these monsters.”

“Mom?” Octavia sobbed in disbelief, and Bellamy couldn’t bring himself to answer. If this was their mother’s fate, he prayed that she died already.

“Reapers,” Lincoln muttered as he stood, his voice echoing off the walls. “That is our word for monster.”

<-><-><-><->

Night had fallen on day three of the arena, and Roan found himself growing weary; not of the Games or the stress of having to constantly watch his own back, but of the company he’d been forced to keep. Ontari was a sadistic nightmare, and he couldn’t wait to end her life. He almost felt as if he wanted to kill Ontari more than he wanted to kill his enemies from District One, and having to constantly deal with her aggression and bitter attitude was torture in itself. She was a cruel girl, cold and murderous, and he could see exactly why his sister had let her compete. Ontari was a wild hound, and Nia was holding her leash.

They’d made camp for the night, backed up against the sheer rock face of a cliff so that they couldn’t be ambushed, and the silence that lingered thick in the air between them was enough to tell him that Ontari was still fuming over the girl from District Nine. He watched Finn idly wander off through the trees, calling over his shoulder that he was going down to the river to get more water. He couldn’t help but admire the boy from Thirteen and the way that he’d stood up to Ontari, ending Tris’s life to prevent any further torture. It had been an act of bravery, but it had also been very foolish, and he chuckled to think that Ontari had possibly found someone that she wanted to kill more than she wanted to kill him.

Overhead, the anthem began to play as the daily broadcast of the faces of the fallen appeared in the sky, and Roan glanced up just in time to feel his stomach drop like a rock. Gustus Greene, District One, was the first face that appeared, blue eyes fierce behind a thick black beard in the last photo of him that would ever be taken. Shock coursed through Roan’s veins, flooding his body as his mind began to race and he barely even registered the other three faces that floated by: Quint, from District Six, the boy from Eight, and Tris, from Nine.

With Gustus dead, that meant that Lexa Woods was the only true threat that remained, though he was aware that her fighting skill was unmatched; Lexa…and the girl from Thirteen, Clarke, who had received an immaculate score, yet nobody knew what her particular talent was. He’d observed her in training, but she’d stuck mainly to the survival stations, and he was just as surprised as the rest when she’d received a twelve. But with Gustus dead, Roan could take his chances on single combat with Lexa, especially if he had a chance to catch her off guard. He would almost prefer it to having to spend another moment with Ontari.

He glanced over at her and their eyes met; she appeared to reach the same conclusion at the same time, a cruel smile drawing on her lips as she slowly scooped up her spear from the ground. At that same moment, Finn stumbled back into the clearing tripping over his own feet in the darkness. He appeared to be tucking something into the pocket of his jacket, but his eyes went wide as he looked up and saw the tension in their stances as each of them were preparing to square off.

“What’d I miss?” he asked, just before all hell broke loose.

Ontari turned and thrust her spear into his leg with enough force to send it jutting out the other side, and Finn wailed in agony as he collapsed to the ground. Roan drew his sword, watching as Ontari ripped her spear free of Finn’s flesh, tearing muscle and skin away with it and causing him to cry out again. Then she changed targets, charging forward, barreling towards him with hatred blazing in her eyes as she swung her spear in a wide horizontal arc. Roan ducked beneath it, parrying the blow and popping up behind her to plant a heavy boot in her back that had her stumbling forward.

But Ontari was quick, and she whirled around like a viper coiling to strike, shooting her spear out in a straight jab towards his chest. Roan jumped back, batting the attack away with his blade and going on the offensive again, lashing out at her in rapid succession. Ontari defended each blow, turning them away with the shaft of her spear before resetting her stance, feigning left and then striking right with an attack that he barely had time to block, sending him off balance. Roan stumbled behind the force of the blow, and Ontari spun her spear, cracking him in the back of the skull with the heavy wooden shaft.

He blinked as his world spun, and he could feel the sticky warmth of fresh blood flowing down the back of his neck as he struggled to regain his footing. Ontari moved in again, sensing his weakness, and she grinned as she stepped forward, preparing to exact her revenge. Instead, Roan dove, rolling out of the way of a heavy downward strike as her spear sunk into the dirt where he’d been standing, and he popped to his feet, bringing his boot down on the shaft of her weapon, snapping it in half. Ontari reacted as if not even fazed, twirling her shortened spear in her right hand, and drawing her dagger in her left.

Roan shook the last bit of dizziness from his vision and lunged forward, swinging down at her with enough force to cleave her head from her shoulders in an attempt to disarm her by sheer power. But Ontari had been anticipating his move, blocking it with her spear as she spun out of the way, twirling on her heel as his sword passed through the space where she’d been and ending up behind him. He felt the tip of her dagger pressing against the base of his spine before he had a chance to react, and he instantly froze, knowing that even the smallest movement could cause her to sever his spinal nerves.

He dropped his sword into the dirt, surrendering as he slowly held up his hands, wracking his brain for anything he could use to escape and knowing that he had only mere moments to live. “Your sister sends her regards,” Ontari whispered, so low in his ear that the nearest camera wouldn’t even be able to pick it up.

If he wasn’t positive that he was about to die, Roan might have had time to be shocked, or even hurt that his sister had commanded his death, choosing Ontari as her Victor instead of her own brother, but then again part of him had always known. He was too favored by the people in his district, and becoming a Victor himself would have been a threat to her rule, and Nia would have never allowed that. Nia had a tendency to control the situations she was in, and Roan was a factor that she couldn’t control, but Ontari…Ontari was her pet.

He closed his eyes, bracing for a death that at least would be honorable, waiting for Ontari to push the blade into his spine. But then, they were tumbling to the ground as the force of something heavy barreled into them, sending them sprawling. He didn’t hesitate as he rolled over, popping to his feet and sprinting towards the tree line nearby. He spared a glance over his shoulder, seeing that it was Finn who had tackled them to the ground, saving him from what would have been certain death. The boy from Thirteen was sprawled out on the ground now, Ontari glaring down at him with burning hatred in her eyes, and his shrill screams of agony were the last thing Roan heard as he disappeared into the night.

<-><-><-><->

Lincoln’s mind raced, consumed with terrible thoughts of all the people he had known over the years that had been taken by the Mountain: Lexa and Anya’s parents, countless friends, his own brother. Nobody had ever known what became of them or where they were…until now. The Mountain Men were running horrible experiments on them. Turning them into Mutts that craved blood and violence and no longer remembered who they once were, or the people they once loved. These Reapers were atrocities, crimes against humanity itself, and he was almost certain that somewhere there were thousands of them. The Capitol had been taking people for years, from every district, and it dawned on Lincoln then that they probably had enough of these creatures by now to form an army.

Anya would need to know this information as soon as possible so that they could prepare themselves for the possibility that they would one day have to face the people they once knew. Except, they wouldn’t be people anymore, they would be monsters. But first, they had a mission to complete, and as much as Lincoln wanted to break into Mount Weather and go straight after President Wallace himself for the things he’d done to their people, he knew that getting Lexa and Clarke out of the arena was their top priority. Putting his personal feelings aside, he focused on his duty.

They reached the door that Raven had indicated on the blueprints, knowing that it would lead them directly into the Tribute Center. The door hung loosely on its hinges and the lock was clearly broken, which meant that Indra and Kane had done their jobs. “Do you have the device that Raven built?” he asked.

Bellamy reached into his pocket and pulled out a metal box with a few wires attached to it that was no bigger than the palm of his hand. “It’s an EMP,” Bellamy explained. “It’ll send out an electromagnetic pulse that’ll knock their cameras out for five minutes, so once we trigger it, we have to hurry. The mainframe we’re looking for should be on the first floor.”

Lincoln nodded, peering through the darkened doorway and spying the red blinking light of a camera at the far end of the hall. “Trigger it now,” he said, watching as Bellamy pressed a button on the tiny machine and then glancing around again to see that the blinking light had gone out. “It worked, let’s move,” he hissed, motioning for them to follow.

They crept through the halls of the lowest floor, doing their best to soften their footsteps while still moving as quickly as they could. They rounded a corner and skidded to a halt right behind a patrolling guard that whirled around at their presence, but Lincoln was already moving forward, using the handle of his gun to knock him unconscious. He made a heavy noise as his body hit the ground, and they all held their breath in anticipation for more Peacekeepers to come running, but none came and they couldn’t afford to linger. They didn’t have time to stash his body, so they left him there, hoping that nobody stumbled across his unconscious form before they finished what they came there to do.

They followed a few more hallways, turning left, then right again, stopping just around a corner from where they knew the mainframe should be according to the map Raven had provided. Poking his head around the corner, Lincoln spotted two guards standing in front of a heavy metal door, preventing anyone from entering. He motioned for Bellamy and Octavia to stay put, aware that he was the only one still in disguise as a Peacekeeper, so he holstered his gun and sauntered forward, pretending to act as if he belonged there.

“I’m here to relieve you,” he smiled, walking up to the guards and acting as natural as possible. “My partner is in the bathroom, but he’ll be down in a minute. You guys are free to go whenever.”

They stared at him, scanning him from head to toe before exchanging confused glances with each other. “Our shift just started ten minutes ago?” one of the guards questioned, suspiciously.

“Oh? Really?” Lincoln asked, wracking his brain for an excuse. “Well uh, they must have double booked this patrol. Why don’t you guys take the rest of the night off?”

The younger two of the guards seemed eager, nodding once and readily accepting the excuse, but his superior looked weary. “What did you say your name was?” he questioned. “I’ve never seen you on patrol before. I just want to radio up and check with command.”

“No need,” Lincoln replied, reaching down slowly. “I have my orders right here,” he said, yanking his gun out of its holster and cracking the older guard across the face before whirling and grabbing the younger one in a choke hold, cutting off blood flow to his brain that left him unconscious in a matter of seconds.

Lincoln straightened up, dusting off his hands as he shot Octavia a wink and motioned for them to come out of hiding. “That was amazing!” Octavia smiled, throwing her arms around him and pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek that sent butterflies soaring through his stomach.

Bellamy cleared his throat. “Two minutes and thirty seconds,” he reminded them, gruffly.

The door in front of them had some sort of heavy mechanical lock on it with a number pad, looking as if they needed a code to enter. “Raven did not have this in her blueprints,” he remarked.

“It’s an electric lock,” Octavia replied, turning the handle and pushing the door open. “The EMP knocked it out.”

He smiled and followed her into the server room, the entire space buzzing loudly as thousands of lights blinked across dozens of different square machines. Bellamy moved past them both, pulling another device out of his pocket as he scoured around behind the back of the machines, searching for a port to plug it into. He found one, and shoved the device into it, waiting until a green light blinked before offering a single nod. “Let’s go,” he whispered, moving back towards the door.

“Is that it?” Lincoln questioned.

“I certainly hope so because we are not doing this again,” Bellamy replied, grabbing Octavia’s hand and tugging her down the hallway.

Lincoln followed closely, aware that they didn’t have time to second guess themselves before the cameras came back on. They rushed back the way they came, leaping over the guards he’d left unconscious, and delving back into the tunnels beneath the city. They didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until they were back in the shuttle bay, and Lincoln was ushering them into cargo boxes as a fake return shipment to District One. Their mission had been a success, but with the new threat of the Reapers, they had a whole world of different problems to deal with now.

Chapter Text

Being in the woods at night was one of Lexa’s favorite memories. As a child growing up in District One, before they went to Polis Academy, she and Anya would sneak away on warm summer nights and fall asleep amidst the trees, the bright wisps of the galaxy coiling out into the endless space above them. She remembered watching the meteor showers, seeing the stars shoot across the sky in magnificent bursts of light, and then fade out on the distant horizon. She remembered the smells of it all: the summer flowers blooming, the thick green pine leaves, the scent of campfire smoke in the air. And she recalled the sounds: the midnight larks calling, wolves howling in the distance, and the melody of laughter from two little girls who had not yet been marred by their place in the world.

She hadn’t felt that at ease and that at peace in a very long time. Life happened. Her parents were taken by the Mountain, she and Anya were sent to Polis, they both adapted to the loneliness of leadership, and then she’d volunteered for the Games. The forest of the arena at night time was nothing like being in the woods at home; all the sounds were the same, the scents were right, but the stars overhead were fake, artificially generated by the holographic dome of the arena. And she did not feel safe here. There was no comfort to be found by listening to the sounds of the woods because every crack of a branch, every hoot of an owl, every shift of the trees in the wind, could be the sounds of death stalking them.

Lexa did, however, take comfort in Clarke’s proximity. The blonde seemed shifty and slightly nervous, staring wide-eyed into the darkness as the light of the fake moon illuminated the trees in a silvery glow around them. As soon as the sun had fallen, so had the temperature, and it hadn’t taken long before Clarke had shifted closer, their arms brushing together as they walked in an attempt to draw heat from each other. Lexa was tempted to reach over and take her hand, especially when their fingertips dusted and their shoulders bumped a little too often for it to be an accident. She could see Clarke out of the corner of her eye, discretely trying to watch her, and even in the dark she could make out the blush on the blonde’s cheeks when their gazes met.

They’d been wandering for quite some time, putting distance between themselves and where Lexa had ended Quint’s life, knowing that the drop ship that scooped up his body was like a beacon to anyone in the area. Up ahead through the gaps in the trees, Lexa spotted the faint illuminating glow of what she thought was a campfire, but who would be dumb enough to light one so large at this time of night? Surely it would draw all manner of human and beast. She allowed her instincts to take over, reaching out and taking Clarke’s hand in her own as she silently slowed their pace, pulling the blonde protectively behind her as they inched forward together. But as they got closer, Lexa could see that the light wasn’t the flickering, bouncing yellow of flames, but rather a soft pulsing glow of different shades of luminescent greens and blues and soft pinks.

She relaxed slightly, and felt her grip on Clarke’s hand loosen, but she held onto it still, pulling her along as a faint grin gripped her cheeks. They reached the clearing, and stared up with wide eyes at the plants and trees around them, all pulsating with a soft radiant light. The moss on the trees and the soft ground beneath their feet glowed a bright shade of green, the moisture on the leaves and in the dirt flickered blue, and the flowers blooming from bulbs and petals thrummed shades of pink beating in unison like a heart. Above them, fireflies flitted about, flickering yellow and orange as they darted from tree to tree, leaving trails behind them like shooting stars, and Lexa wondered how something so beautiful could exist in a place so dangerous.

And then, she turned and saw Clarke’s face, and knew that nothing would ever be more beautiful than what she was looking at that very moment. The blonde’s eyes were wide and full of wonder, glowing bluer than Lexa had ever seen, reflecting the glow of the forest around them and looking as if life itself lived within her very soul. There was a wide smile on her face that made Lexa’s heart flutter in her chest, and she felt as if she’d give anything just to see that grin every day, wanting desperately to press her lips to it and claim it as her own.

“Lexa,” Clarke gasped in awe, her voice a whisper. “What is this place?”

Lexa felt her own smile broaden, giving Clarke’s hand in hers a squeeze. Her tone was soft when she replied, feeling as if she spoke any louder then the beauty of the world around them might shatter, and she did not want this moment to end. “Trishana,” she answered. “The glowing trees. I’ve only ever heard of them in stories.”

“They’re beautiful,” Clarke murmured, mesmerized by the flashing bursts of light from the fireflies above them.

“Yes,” Lexa agreed. “The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she added, though her gaze never strayed from the look of wonder on the blonde’s face.

Clarke seemed to feel her gaze, and turned, letting cerulean eyes meld with green in the way that Lexa remembered the night sky meeting the trees on the horizon. “What’s something so wonderful doing in a place like this?” she asked, and Lexa felt the warmth of her other hand gliding into her free one.

They were facing each other now, the glowing forest around them pulsating with life that seemed to beat in tune with Lexa’s rapidly pounding heart. “Sometimes the most beautiful things can be found when we least expect it, Clarke,” she whispered, her words carrying a double meaning as her gaze flicked down to Clarke’s lips.

Clarke stepped closer, narrowing the space between them to just a few inches as her eyes shifted down to Lexa’s lips and then back up again. “Sometimes the most amazing things, too,” she whispered, edging closer still.

Lexa swallowed heavily as the entire world faded away around them, and for one blissful moment, it was just the two of them, together, and nothing else mattered. There was no danger, no duty, no threat of the Capitol or obligation to their people; there was just Lexa and Clarke, and the undeniable force that had been driving them together since the day they met, and neither of them could fight it anymore. Lexa let her desire win out, crashing her lips into Clarke’s as the passion finally exploded between them. Clarke’s mouth met hers greedily, like she’d been waiting for far too long, taking her in as if she’d needed Lexa’s kiss just to live and breathe.

She felt her hands move to Clarke’s waist, pulling her in closer so that their chests were touching as the blonde’s fingers trailed up her neck and tangled themselves in the hair behind her head, deepening the kiss. When they finally broke apart, they were both breathing heavily, Clarke’s breath still hot on her lips as she leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the blonde’s. When Lexa slowly opened her eyes, she found magnificent pools of blue waiting for her, looking at her as if she held every single star in the sky, and for the first time since they entered the arena, the forest finally felt like home again.

Clarke smiled softly and pressed another delicate kiss to Lexa’s mouth. “I thought I’d never get the chance to do that,” she admitted, voice a raspy whisper.

“Me too,” Lexa replied. “But I’m glad that I did,” she added, leaning forward to taste Clarke’s grin against her own. “And now I know.”

“Know what?” the blonde asked.

“That you were right, Clarke,” Lexa whispered. “Life is about more than just surviving.”

Lexa watched as Clarke sucked in a shaky breath, a single tear slipping down her cheek, and felt the moisture dotting her own, but she didn’t care. All she cared about in that moment was Clarke in her arms, knowing how she felt before it was too late. Their lips came together again, this time softly, as if finally coming home to where they belonged, and Lexa knew in that moment that she had always belonged to Clarke, and always would. They pulled away slowly, reluctantly, as if they both wished that they could stay locked in that moment forever.

“I wish I could have painted this,” Clarke said, wistfully as she glanced up into the glowing trees around them.

“You’ll paint it when we get out of here, Clarke,” Lexa assured her, stepping back and dreading the space between them.

Clarke arched an eyebrow, surprised. “We?” she asked.

“I’ll find a way,” Lexa promised, lending strength to her voice so the cameras were sure to hear. She was aware that all of Panem had just witnessed their moment, but she didn’t care; all that mattered was finding a way for the both of them to come out of the arena alive. “Come on, Clarke,” she said, taking her hand and lacing their fingers together. “As much as I would like to, we cannot stay here. Others will surely be drawn in by the light, just as we were.”

Clarke nodded her understanding, breathing out a heavy sigh of remorse as she glanced around the glowing forest one last time, committing the scene to memory. Lexa knew that the memory of this place would live on forever in both of their minds, not because of the beauty of it, but because of what happened there. Because, in a world where nothing was certain and each moment could be their last, they had found peace in each other. They had found peace in the knowledge that life was about more than just surviving.

<-><-><-><->

Clarke didn’t know that it was possible for her heart to pound and stop at the same time, but that is exactly what she felt when Lexa’s lips met hers. The world turned slowly, as if the entire forest was holding its breath, watching two souls come together like the last missing piece of an unsolved puzzle. There had been an urgency to Lexa’s kiss, as if she needed it the way the sky needed the stars, or the trees needed the sun. Clarke had needed it too; she’d needed it since the first moment green eyes met her own and Lexa had muttered ‘so, you’re the one.’ She didn’t know it then, but she had been right.

Lexa was the one. The one that made her feel safe even in the clutches of danger; the one that made her breathe when her own lungs failed; the one that gave her hope in a place where all hope was lost; and the one that made her feel as if they would survive, just so that they could live together. They would find a way, somehow. Lexa’s kiss had said everything unspoken that had built up between them, letting admissions linger on soft lips, and Clarke had heard them greedily. Her stomach flipped, her breath hitched, her heart skipped, and tears had found her eyes before she even registered that she was crying, letting them slip silently down her cheeks.

When she opened her eyes, Lexa was crying too, emerald gaze swimming with a soft vulnerability that she had never seen before, and Clarke knew in that moment that she was forever lost to that tender green. Clarke wanted to stay there forever, beneath the glowing leaves and flitting fireflies, Lexa’s forehead pressed against her own as they whispered sweet nothings into the narrow space between waiting lips. But she knew that they couldn’t. The Games were still going on around them, the threat of the Capitol was as real as ever, and there were still nine other Tributes out there, hunting them in the night.

Still, it was hard to feel fear with Lexa’s fingers intertwined with hers as they walked, trudging quietly through the trees. She watched the way the brunette moved, always alert, always scanning, her free hand resting on the hilt of one of her blades and ready to draw at a moment’s notice. Lexa had always been a mystery, but Clarke was fairly certain that she was finally starting to figure her out. She was in awe at the fact that Lexa could exist so seamlessly as two people: the girl who could take a life in a split second, and the girl who cried when Clarke kissed her. The two were so intrinsically different, yet one could not live without the other. Lexa could not know compassion without understanding ruthlessness; could not be strong without knowing weakness; could not be wise without first making mistakes of her own. But she wore each emotion perfectly, as if she was born to lead and see others follow, yet born to love and be loved in a way that few could ever understand. She was a never ending contrast, a living conundrum; the juxtaposition of both hard and soft, the light and the dark, the strong and the weak, and to Clarke, she was the most beautiful of masterpieces.

She was lost in a world of her own, floating blissfully through her silent admiration, and it was Lexa stopping in her tracks that brought her crashing back to reality. “Do you hear that?” Lexa asked, shoulders stiffening as she drew her twin blades from their sheaths.

Clarke held her breath, tuning her ears to their surroundings and trying to focus on anything out of the ordinary. She didn’t hear it at first, but then it hit her, a low groaning like an animal in agony, except the harder she listened, the more human the sounds became. “It sounds like someone is hurt,” she whispered, instinctively moving towards the noises.

Lexa took her hand once more, stopping her. “It could be a trap, Clarke,” she hissed, cautiously. “We should keep moving.”

The pained noises grew louder and it sounded almost like someone was sobbing. “Lexa, I can’t just leave someone if they’re hurt. You saw what the acid fog did to that boy from Eight; what if it’s like that again?”

The brunette stared at her for a moment, emerald eyes finding hers in the moonlight, and then she sighed, resigning. “Stay close to me,” she said, protectively.

Clarke nodded once, following right on her heels as she ducked into bushes and moved like a silent breeze through the trees. The closer they got, the louder the noises became, and Clarke could tell that whomever they belonged to was suffering greatly. They came to a large boulder, jutting up out of the ground and looking out of place amongst the trees, but the wails of pain were coming from just on the other side. They paused for a moment, scanning for danger and scouring for any signs of a trap, but all Clarke could make out in the darkness was trees and bushes, and the whimpering that was just a few meters away.

“Stay here,” Lexa whispered, cautiously moving around to the other side of the boulder. “Clarke!” she called a moment later, voice laced with urgency.

Clarke dashed forward, fear gripping her stomach that quickly turned to dread when she stumbled into the clearing and found the source of the noises. “Oh my God, Finn,” she gasped.

Finn was tied to the trunk of an oak tree amidst a moonlit clearing, his hands pinned above his head the only thing keeping him upright as he hung limply. His shirt had been removed, and his body was covered in dozens, maybe hundreds, of different gashes and puncture wounds, as if an entire village of people had raked their blades across his skin. Blood poured down his body staining the dirt at his feet a crimson red, muddy and smelling of iron, and his face was swollen and bruised almost beyond recognition, his nose bent and clearly broken. He moaned weakly, whimpering as Lexa set to work cutting him down.

Clarke rushed to his side as soon as he hit the ground, collapsing onto her knees as she immediately began surveying his injuries, searching for the most threatening ones, yet there seemed to be far too many. Each incision had been made with careful accuracy, as if the person intended to make him suffer, killing him as slowly and painfully as possible. His abdomen was laced with puncture wounds, some of them still oozing blood, and she could tell immediately that there was internal damage. Whoever had strung him up had left him to die, and had taken great measure to make sure that it would be a grueling, agonizingly slow death. Clarke had one guess as to who would have done such a thing.

 

“Hey, Princess,” Finn whispered, eyes flicking open to meet hers. “I really fucked up, didn’t I?” he asked.

“Finn,” she said his name, softly, picking a wound and applying pressure to staunch the bleeding though she knew it would do no good. “Who did this?”

Finn’s eyes rolled back and he looked as if he was about to lose consciousness, but he blinked a few times and held on. “Ontari,” he replied, looking past Clarke to find Lexa behind her. “She really wants you dead,” he added.

“The feeling is mutual,” Lexa answered, and Clarke felt the warmth of her hand grip her shoulder. “If Ontari did this, she could still be in the area, Clarke,” she warned. “We should go.”

“I can’t just leave him like this!” Clarke replied, feeling her voice crack with a sob. She and Finn had never been close, but he didn’t deserve what Ontari had done to him.

“Clarke…” Lexa’s voice trailed off. “You know what you must do.”

Finn sputtered, coughing as blood bubbled up behind his lips. “It’s okay, Clarke,” he wheezed. “This is all my fault. I was leading them to you…” he gasped, coughing once more. “I didn’t know about the alliance.”

“Alliance?” Clarke questioned, confusion sweeping through her. “What alliance, Finn? What are you talking about?”

“Inside jacket pocket…” he muttered, eyes flicking to where his jacket lay in a heap on the ground before collapsing into another bloody coughing fit. “Clarke,” he said, drawing her attention back in. “Tell Raven that I love her, okay? Can you do that for me when you see her?”

“I will,” Clarke answered, feeling a sob bubble up and escape her lips before she could stop it. Tears were tugging at her eyes and it was becoming increasingly harder to locate Finn’s pulse beneath her fingers.

“Clarke,” Lexa said, softly. She had a piece of paper in her hands, but her eyes were trained on Finn with sympathy written in them. “He’s suffering.”

She nodded, raising her hand to wipe the tears on her cheeks with the back of her palm. “I know,” she acknowledged.

“Do you want me to?” Lexa questioned, gently.

“No,” Clarke replied. “No, it should be me.” She smoothed Finn’s unruly hair back off of his face, and he stared up at her with knowing eyes, aware of what would come next, but he didn’t look scared.

“Thank you, Princess,” he whispered, a thin trail of blood escaping his mouth and running down his chin.

Clarke sucked in a steadying breath, accepting the dagger that Lexa held out and using the tips of her fingers to locate the soft spot between Finn’s ribs. She pressed the tip of the blade to his skin and he let his eyes flutter shut, bracing himself. “In peace may you leave the shore,” Clarke began, the words of their people finding her. “In love may you find the next,” she continued on, pressing down on the razor sharp blade as it sunk easily through flesh and muscle and into Finn’s heart. “Safe passage on your travels,” Finn gave one last sputter, expression going slack as he drifted away into peaceful, painless, oblivion. “Until our final journey on the ground. May we meet again,” she finished the Traveler’s Blessing and felt her own heart cracking.

A canon boomed, breaking the silence that fell over the little moonlit clearing, and Clarke sat back on her heals, staring down at Finn and feeling merciless remorse. Not remorse for having ended his suffering, but remorse for the fact that he ever had to suffer at all. Her heart broke for the boy who only wanted to get home to the woman that he loved, and instead died at the hands of a monster. She didn’t realize it, but tears were flowing down her cheeks again, falling onto Finn’s body in the moonlight, cutting trails through the blood that soaked his skin.

“Clarke,” Lexa whispered, taking her hand and gently tugging her to her feet. “We should go.”

Clarke nodded, wrenching her eyes away from Finn’s body to find the nearest camera. She heard it whir as it zoomed in on her face. “I’m sorry, Raven,” she said into the lens. She’d never met Finn’s love, but somewhere out there, an innocent girl’s heart was shattering, her world ending, and for that, there were no words that could fix it.

She let Lexa guide her away, never sparing a glance back as the hum of a hovercraft swooped in to carry Finn’s body away. Her sorrow lingered for only a moment longer before she forced it to harden, sucking in a breath through her nose and letting her nerves turn to steel. She gritted her jaw, feeling all manner of anger and hatred towards Ontari, the Capitol, and Wallace, and wanting nothing more to bring them all to their knees.

“What did you find in his jacket pocket?” she asked, needing to focus her mind on something other than the rage smoldering within her like a bomb waiting to go off.

“It’s a note,” Lexa replied, unfolding the piece of paper. “From our mentors. Finn must have received a parachute.”

Our mentors?” Clarke questioned. “As in both Marcus and Indra?”

“Yes,” the brunette answered, handing Clarke the strip of paper:

Find Lexa and Clarke. If you want to survive, survive together.
-I.P. & M.K.

“They wanted him to find us. They want us working together,” Clarke muttered, reading the note a dozen times over in her head as if searching for some hidden meaning.

Lexa nodded. “Our people on the outside have formed an alliance, Clarke.”

Chapter Text

Losing the love of her life wasn’t something that happened in a flash; for Raven, it took hours. There wasn’t a messy breakup, a horrible accident, or a mutual parting of ways, no, she’d been forced to watch while Finn was tortured and left to die. For a moment, there had been the faintest glimmer of hope as Finn had wandered into the woods on screen, leaving Roan and Ontari behind in the clearing as the message she’d begged Anya to send floated down to him in a sponsor parachute. She’d thought he’d see it and slip quietly away into the night right then and there, leaving that psychopath far behind him. But for whatever reason, he’d returned to the clearing, and just in time for Ontari to realize that with Gustus dead, she’d no longer have need for their tiresome alliance.

He’d been so brave, and Raven remembered why she had fallen in love with him in the first place. Joining up with Ontari and Roan in the first place had taken courage, but standing up to Ontari and refusing to let her torture the girl from Nine had taken bravery and kindness that she’d only ever known Finn to possess. But robbing Ontari of her kill had snapped something in the already volatile brunette, and Finn had put himself at the top of her death list, and she had sworn to take what was owed to her. He’d sacrificed himself again when he’d tackled them to the ground, saving Roan’s life, and maybe he’d even expected Roan to stay so that they could fight her off together, but that coward had fled and left Finn to fend for himself.

And she’d been forced to watch for hours as Ontari tied Finn to the tree and set about exacting her revenge, drawing cuts into his skin with the blade of her knife, puncturing organs in a way that he would bleed out slowly. He’d screamed when it first started, howling in pain over and over again, and Raven had doubled over and vomited several times, briefly registering Abby’s soothing touch on her back and Anya’s comforting words in her ears. She’d screamed and cried, and begged for someone to do something as Cage Wallace continued to announce on screen, the torture almost too much for even his sick heart to handle. By the time it was done and Ontari had finally left him to die, Finn had stopped screaming, drifting between unconsciousness and reality and trapped between the world of the living and the realm of the dead, and Raven had been ready to die with him.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered Lexa and Clarke kissing on a different feed, wrapped up in each other beneath a moonlit glowing forest, and it was an odd contrast to see a moment so beautiful paired with one so sickeningly devastating. Cage had gasped in shock, and Anya had cursed under her breath, but Raven’s eyes remained fixed on Finn’s feed, watching him slump against his restraints as blood flowed slowly down his body. Raven felt as if she was bleeding too, as if every ounce of joy and hope was being drained from her body, left to soak the ground at her feet the same way Finn’s blood soaked the dirt.

By the time Lexa and Clarke were near enough to follow Finn’s groans of agony, Raven was ready for it to end. She watched as they stumbled into the clearing, coming across Finn’s body in the moonlight and seeing the shock and horror written on Clarke’s face. Lexa cut him down and his body collapsed into the dirt with a heavy thud and then Clarke was by his side, examining his wounds. The blonde looked overwhelmed, scouring for his most dire injuries and realizing that there were far too many to even know where to start. She picked one and applied pressure, speaking to him in soft tones as tears pulled at her eyes and spilled over.

Raven cried too, tears leaking silently down her cheeks when she saw that Finn no longer looked scared, he looked at ease and almost relieved that it would soon be over. She heard the way Lexa softly offered to end it, but it was Clarke who took the dagger into her hands. Finn asked Clarke to tell her that he loved her, but she already knew; she had known since they were children and the Boy Next Door saved her life. He was always saving her or saving others, but when it mattered most, there was not a thing she could do to save him. She had tried, and she failed, and that knowledge was almost more painful than losing the boy she’d loved for her entire life.

She listened as Clarke said the words of the Traveler’s Blessing, slipping the knife between Finn’s ribs and finally ending his suffering. She was overcome with a grief that was strong enough to bring her to her knees, dropping to the floor as a sob wracked through her and her heart turned to lava in her chest, burning and breaking and bursting all at the same time. She cried out, unable to contain her agony and felt her entire body shaking uncontrollably as pain flooded her veins and strangled the joy from her soul like a noose. It was Anya’s arms around her that tethered her to the present, keeping her from losing herself to a place that she’d surely never come back from.

“Shh, it’s alright,” Anya soothed in her ear, the softest Raven had ever heard her voice. “Death is not the end.”

“No,” Raven rasped, voice cracking behind her grief. “You don’t understand. He was only in there because of me! He saved me and I couldn’t save him!”

Anya squeezed her tighter, engulfing her in her embrace. “He would not want you to blame yourself,” she answered, and Raven knew that it was true. “I cannot claim to have known him, but from what I saw in the arena, Finn was brave and willing to put himself at risk to help others. There is no greater honor.”

“Honor?” Raven scoffed, feeling her grief boil. She knew Anya was not the person to take it out on, but she was there and she was strong, and Raven was aware that she could handle it. “Honor won’t bring back Finn or Gustus. You can keep your honor, I want justice,” she growled.

Anya released her hold and Raven immediately missed the comfort of contact. “Gustus and Finn died because the Capitol demanded their blood,” she answered, her own tone darkening. “It is up to you whether you let their deaths go unanswered.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Raven asked, rising to her feet and wiping the tears from her eyes that had begun to fall again.

“Blood must have blood,” Anya returned, speaking the mantra as if it were law. “Clarke and Lexa are still in there, and they’re the ones with the power to make Wallace pay for what he’s done. You can still get them out. You may not have been able to save Finn, but you can still save them.”

Raven fell silent, hearing the truth in her words. She might not have been able to save Finn, but his death didn’t have to be meaningless. If anything, she would use it to fuel her own revolution, and her revolution started by saving her friends’ loved ones. “Fine,” she agreed, feeling the fire leave her chest and leaving her with grief and emptiness that couldn’t be filled with words. “But I need to be alone for a while.”

<-><-><-><->

Nia watched in disgust as Ontari tortured the boy from Thirteen on her screen, repulsed by the display of brutality, yet elated by it as well. All was going just as she’d hoped; Gustus was dead, Roan was stumbling through the forest on his own, dizzy from his head wound, and she was mobilizing her forces for a hostile takeover. Lexa was still alive, which was potentially problematic, but currently she was wrapped up in the pretty blonde from District Thirteen, and even that was something that Nia could use to her advantage. It would just be a matter of time before Ontari hunted down her brother and ended him, and then there would be nothing standing in the way of her plans.

The march to District One would be long and grueling, trudging through snow and ice for a hundred miles, but with Wallace’s support at least her warriors would be warm and fed. She didn’t expect that District One would surrender quietly, in fact, she was anticipating resistance, but with the lack of leadership, she also expected that her victory would be swift. She could take over by the end of the week and easily gain control of the two largest fighting forces in all of Panem. All she had to do was sit back and keep pulling the strings, watching as all her little pieces fell right into place.

As she packed her belongings for the journey, she let her mind drift, thinking back to a time when leadership and the burden of planning for the future had never once been a thought in her head. As a child, the only troubles that ever occupied her mind were those of how they would feed themselves the next day, or how they would survive the bitter cold of winter once the firewood ran out. Children shouldn’t have had to cope with the harsh reality of struggling to survive, but in District Two, the Ice Nation, the struggle to survive was all that they knew.

There had been entire weeks where she had gone without food, feeling herself slowly wither away as she starved to death, and there had been nights so cold that she’d been forced to sleep with the dogs just to keep warm. It was on nights like those when the freezing air turned her heart cold as ice, but it wasn’t the horrid climate or the constant rumble of hunger in her stomach that had frozen her soul. It was her parents. They had sacrificed everything to ensure that they all survived, but it was Roan who had always been given the extra scraps of food, and it was Roan who slept closest to the fire, and it was Roan who they aimed to save when they sold their daughter to the Azgeda training center. They’d sacrificed her life a dozen times over just to ensure that he lived, and she’d always hated him for it. She hated all of them.

They had abandoned her in order to save him, accepting the rations provided by the training facility in exchange for handing their daughter over to be turned into a weapon. And she had never understood why, but two years later when Roan had wandered through the doors of Azgeda, starving and half frozen to death, she knew that they had failed. Later, she learned that her parents had been arrested for stealing food to feed their son, and they’d been dragged off to the Capitol just like all the other thieves and criminals that wandered freely in District Two. She didn’t mourn for their passing, but instead reveled in it, taking comfort in the knowledge that they had finally gotten what they deserved.

Her first few years at Azgeda had been difficult. The beatings were regular, instilling the belief that strength could not be gained without first suffering, but for the first time in her life, Nia felt as if she had a home. She found her place in the world, and she found where she belonged in the blue eyes of a girl named Leah, and for the briefest of times, she felt her heart begin to thaw. But like everything in her life, the warmth and love was just an illusion, taken from her on the day that Leah was ripped from the world. She didn't die in the Games, and she wasn’t claimed by the hardships that they were all forced to live with, no, it was a sadistic Peacekeeper that had taken the love of her life from her.

He was a man named Randall, charged with monitoring and protecting those within the walls of Azgeda, but Randall had a vile secret of his own. He took advantage of the young girls and their vulnerability, and in his own twisted mind, he thought his power gave him the right to take whichever one he’d wanted. He chose Leah. And instead of facing justice for his actions, the Capitol acted as if he’d committed nothing more than a breach of rules or a minor violation, giving him a slap on the wrist and allowing him to return to his post. Nia could still feel the anger boiling in her blood when she thought about it, even years later.

Leah retreated into herself; refusing to eat, unable to sleep, unwilling to do all that she needed to survive. She was dismissed from the Azgeda training program and left to fend for herself in the bitter cold, and it was just a matter of time before news of her death reached Nia. It was in that moment that she vowed her revenge, swearing that she would one day assemble an army so large that not even the Capitol could stand against her. She would kill anyone that stood in her way, and one day, she would rule all of Panem, and no one would ever again be able to cast her aside or sacrifice her for someone else. No one would ever be able to hurt her, abandon her, or ridicule her, because one day, she would rule them all. She smiled when she’d cut Randall’s throat, knowing that one day was far closer than it seemed.

<-><-><-><->

As much as Anya wanted to help Raven, she understood that the brunette needed to be left alone. Still, listening to the sounds of her sobbing into the couch pillows felt like a knife wrenching its way into her heart, and she had to turn her attention to the screen to distract herself. Lexa and Clarke were moving through the woods, hand in hand, and Anya couldn’t help the rush of frustration that flooded through her. If anyone deserved to find someone that looked at them as if they held all the stars in the sky, it was Lexa, but getting distracted in a place like the arena was not something she could afford. They had both been taught to believe that love was weakness, and seeing the way Lexa had been devastated by Costia’s death was enough to make both of them believe that it was true; Anya did not wish to see Lexa go through that same pain again. More than that, she knew that Clarke was now a liability, and anyone in the Games could use the blonde to get to Lexa, and that Lexa would put herself in perilous danger to see that Clarke was safe. She just hoped Clarke would do the same because they needed to get them both out alive.

Finn and Gustus’s deaths so close together had taken the wind out of their sails, and Anya could feel the tension in the room and the fact that Abby and Raven were starting to lose hope. Their future was riding on the alliance they had formed and their plans to get Lexa and Clarke out of the arena, but it was hard to see the light when they were so recently consumed with so much darkness. But, one good thing did come of Finn’s death, and that was the fact that Lexa had found the note they sent him. The young Commander was wise, and she knew that Indra and Anya had both endorsed the plan of killing everyone and getting her home in one piece, so the fact that she had found evidence of an alliance between District One and District Thirteen was a good sign. Lexa would know that it would take extraneous measures to stray from their original plan, and Anya knew that sooner or later she would realize they were all working towards the same goal. She’d heard Lexa swear to Clarke that she’d find a way to make sure they both survived, but what she didn’t yet know was there was an entire team of people working to see it so. And Anya intended to get word to her somehow.

The trouble was: getting a message to her without the Capitol intercepting it. Aside from their peaceful takeover of power from Titus, Mount Weather was still unaware of their plans to get their Tributes out of the arena and start a revolution, nor their alliance with several members of District Thirteen, and they needed to keep it that way. But first they had to solve the little issue of gaining access to the Tribute Center servers and locating the arena. It had been almost eight hours since Lincoln, Bellamy and Octavia’s departure, and they had yet to return, and she was starting to worry. If they’d been captured or compromised, they would likely be tortured for whatever information they had and if any one of them broke, they were all screwed.

Her fears were quelled no more than a few minutes later when their band of Capitol infiltrators came trudging through the door. They looked entirely exhausted, heavy bags beneath their eyes from lack of sleep and fried nerves, but no worse for wear and it appeared as if they had escaped unscathed. A pungent odor clung to their dirty clothes and matted hair, smelling of death and sewage, and Anya felt her nose crinkle as Bellamy shuffled by. Lincoln wore an expression that looked to be a mixture of troubled and relieved and she could tell that he had both good and bad news, but wasn’t sure which she wanted to hear first.

Octavia’s tired green eyes landed on Raven on the other side of the room, curled into a ball on the couch and trying to hide her quiet sobs. Octavia glanced back to Anya and she knew her pained expression betrayed what had happened before her words could. “No,” Octavia gasped. “Finn?” she questioned, and Anya returned with a solemn nod.

“When?” Bellamy asked, tone laced with a protective anger as he moved towards Raven and pulled her into his strong frame. She immediately started crying harder, burying her head in his shoulder.

“A few hours ago,” it was Abby who spoke, voice filled with sympathy. “It was…Ontari,” she finished, unsure of the words to describe the horrors they had seen done to Finn.

The room fell silent as the news settled in, and it was Lincoln who cleared his throat and spoke next. “I am sorry for your loss, Raven,” he stated, gently.

Raven sniffled and looked up at him, brown eyes puffy and rimmed red from crying and nose dripping, but her expression was hard as stone. “Did you plant the bug?” she asked, determination set in her gaze.

“Yes,” Bellamy replied. “But maybe you should—

“Good,” she answered, cutting him off. “Then let’s get to work,” she added, pulling herself from his embrace and moving towards Jake’s laptop on the table. She didn’t meet anyone’s eyes and Anya could tell that she was struggling to mask her pain, but she admired the fact that Raven was fixated on putting her duties over her personal feelings.

“Anya,” Lincoln muttered, drawing her gaze away from the wounded brunette that stirred every manner of feeling within her. “There is something else we must discuss.”

“What is it?” she asked, reading the apprehension in his tone.

“Down in the tunnels below Mount Weather we…found something,” he alluded as if lost for words to describe what it was they’d seen. “Do you remember Tierro?” he asked.

Anya recalled the sly boy that used to be in her novitiate class before he was arrested for stealing. “Tierro is dead,” she stated, knowing that Mount Weather had claimed him years before.

“He’s not dead,” Lincoln replied, voice falling as if afraid to admit the truth. “I saw him. He was…” he trailed off.

“A monster,” Octavia finished for him, laying a gentle hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. “He was scarred, mutated. It was almost like he was feral or something and…” she paused. “He was eating human flesh.”

Lincoln nodded, expression hardening. “He was a Mutt.”

Anya felt shock course through her system, laced with confusion and bitter anger. “Are you sure?” she asked, needing to be positive.

“Yes,” Lincoln answered. “We came across a few others, but no one else that I recognized. Anya, the Capitol is taking our people and turning them into these…monsters.”

“Reapers,” Octavia added, receiving a nod from Lincoln.

“We never knew what happened to our people once the Capitol took them…” her thoughts wandered off, thinking of her parents and Lexa’s parents. “There’s been so many over the years…”

“From every district,” Bellamy called from across the room, his voice bitter as if harboring his own pain. The truth was: they all knew someone that had been taken by the Mountain.

“Enough to create an army,” Lincoln said, voice low. “An army of feral beasts that wear the faces of people we once knew…to fight against us.”

Anya felt dread sweep through her as her stomach dropped. “We need to call a council of Victors at once,” she instructed, already moving towards her communications hub. “And we need to get word out to the other district leaders. We were waiting for Lexa to win the Games before we called a summit, but we need to organize one now and prepare for her return. I will call a meeting and send the other Victors on horseback to the districts; they can act as our ambassadors in negotiating a summit and I know their words will carry weight and respect.”

“Hey guys,” Raven called, interjecting. “You go ahead and do that, but I just thought you should know: I’m in. I know where the arena is.”

<-><-><-><->

Becoming the youngest Head Game Maker in history had been almost too easy for Alie. Her designs were elegant, her plans were lethal, and her arenas were nearly flawless. Not to mention she was one of the most talented coders that the Capitol had ever produced and she could basically run the entire show on her own with the stroke of a key or the push of a button. She had built this year’s Games to replicate a dense forest, providing an abundance of shelter, food, and water to keep the Tributes alive for an indefinite period of time, but she had also designed it to be her most dangerous landscape yet. This year had been special because Wallace had already selected a Victor, and it was up to her to see that the other ones perished in the most spectacular of ways.

The President had been delighted by her display with the acid fog, watching gleefully as Clarke Griffin and Lexa Woods fled for their lives, and he’d been impressed by the damage it had wrought on the boy who’d been caught in it. She’d been most pleased with the subtle effects that it’d had on its surroundings, leaving behind little trace that something had ever been amiss, and she’d spent weeks trying to perfect the chemical formula in the fog so that it would damage human tissue but leave the natural elements untouched. The other Tributes from District Two had wandered through the same area and had never even noticed that the acid fog had barreled through the trees there, and that for her was a victory in itself.

Dante had a particular fascination with the girl from District Thirteen, and she understood why. Supposedly Clarke Griffin had been privy to knowledge dangerous enough to kill thousands inside of Mount Weather, but she’d not yet revealed her secret. At first, Wallace had wanted to scare her into revealing the information, offering her victory in the arena if she betrayed her father, and threatening the girl’s mother, but Clarke hadn’t caved. Now, he just wanted her dead. He had asked Alie to look into the matter for a time, trying to find whatever weakness it was that Jake Griffin had aimed to exploit, but her search had yielded no results. Jake had done well to hide his findings, and now it seemed that his daughter was truly the only remaining keeper of that knowledge.

Then there was the girl from District One that Dante was convinced was some Katniss Everdeen reborn, capable of igniting a revolution and inspiring the masses. Lexa was inspiring, there was no doubt, and she had quickly become the Capitol favorite with her cold demeanor and carefully calculated words, not to mention her unmatched skill in battle. Unlike Clarke Griffin, the score of twelve that Lexa had been given was well-earned, and even Alie had to admit that she’d been impressed by her abilities with all manner of weapons. She knew they would both become even more popular now that their budding star-crossed romance had finally bloomed; trapped in a place where they were destined to kill each other before their feelings ever had a chance to truly flourish. The people were fickle-minded and suckers for doomed lovers.

She’d heard the promise Lexa had made to Clarke that she would find a way for the both of them to survive, and Alie had to fight hard to stifle a laugh. Her arena was designed to kill, Wallace had demanded their blood, and she would deliver it to him one way or another. They’d gotten lucky when they eluded the acid fog, ducking into that cave at the last second, but she knew they wouldn’t be able to escape what else she had in store for them. She grinned, watching as the two wandered hand-in-hand right into the territory of her next deadly surprise.

“Release the Pauna,” she smiled, watching the two dots on the screen edge closer and closer to their imminent deaths.

Chapter Text

Lexa felt Clarke’s melancholy radiating off of her in waves, and her heart ached knowing that there was nothing she could do to calm it. She realized a long while ago that her care for Clarke stemmed beyond just her physical well-being, but reached for her emotional well-being as well, and she wanted to ensure that both were taken care of. The blonde had been quiet since Finn’s death, and Lexa didn’t blame her. She knew they weren’t close, but losing the one person that came from the same place she had was a difficult struggle that most Tributes faced each year. What troubled Lexa most was not Clarke’s reserved silence, but the way in which Finn had been so brutally tortured. She wasn’t sure of the ideals of District Two, but Death by a Thousand Cuts was a punishment that hadn’t been enacted in their culture for over a century, yet Ontari had performed it almost ritually for the entire world to see. It was a disgrace, and one that she would seek answer for in blood.

Still, Clarke’s hand was warm in hers and slightly quivering, and Lexa felt the need to help quell her frayed nerves as they moved through the woods with no set destination in mind. They hadn’t slept, but she wasn’t sure that either of them could after all that had happened that day. The acid fog seemed like so long ago, yet it was just that morning that they were running from it; and then there was Gustus’s death, and the boy from Eight. There was the cave they rested in and the way she tried not to tremble as Clarke rinsed the acid from her skin with her delicate touch. Then Quint had tried to kill her and Lexa had never known that she could feel such fury until she saw him raise a knife to end Clarke’s life. They’d finally let their emotions win out, sharing a kiss beneath the glow of dancing fireflies, and their brief moment of happiness had been crushed by the weight of Finn’s death. It seemed almost too much for one day, but nothing in the arena was ever meant to be simple, and she feared they would deal with far more before the end of the Games.

Lexa sighed glancing over at the blonde and stilling her own thoughts as she gave Clarke’s hand a gentle squeeze. “What is troubling you, Clarke?” she asked, wanting to help ease her visually troubled mind.

The blonde startled, but then swallowed heavily and trained her eyes on the ground. “I can’t help but feel like maybe if I had allied with Finn when he wanted to that he would still be alive and wouldn’t have had to…” her words trailed off.

“The dead are gone, Clarke,” Lexa answered, reiterating the words she’d heard since childhood. “The living are hungry.”

“What does that even mean?” Clarke asked, though her tone was soft and almost reserved.

“It means that our thoughts need to be with the living, not the dead,” Lexa answered. “It is how we will survive. We must – do you hear that?” she questioned, tuning her heightened senses into the familiar sounds of the forest.

Something was out of place. It sounded as if in the distance, trees were falling steadily, cracking and tumbling to the ground with heavy booms that shook the earth beneath their feet. Nearby, a flock of birds dashed out from the branches of the trees, squawking and screeching into the night as they fled. What sounded like the feral roar of a wild animal echoed in the quiet air around them as the thudding of trees grew steadily louder like a stampede rushing towards them. A terrified scream rang out, followed immediately by two rapid canon blasts that marked the end of two more lives, and the ground began to rumble fiercely as the roaring of whatever was stalking the night grew progressively closer. Lexa knew immediately that nothing natural could ever make a sound like that or move that quickly through dense forest.

“Clarke, run!” she shouted, grabbing tightly to her hand and yanking her in the opposite direction of whatever was barreling towards them.

The blonde reacted immediately, sprinting behind Lexa as they darted through the underbrush and leapt over fallen trees, trying desperately to put as much distance between them and whatever was chasing them. The roars grew louder and it sounded as if the beast was nearly on top of them, yet they had nowhere to hide; no cave to dip into and wait out the storm as they did the acid fog. They veered off in a different direction when their path collided with a wide river, following the bank as they scoured for a place to cross. The trees behind them tumbled to the ground, snapping off at the trunks and ripping out of the dirt roots and all, yet they had nowhere to go but forward.

“We need to cross!” Lexa shouted, hearing the fear in her own voice even as she tried to calm her nerves and remain in control.

Clarke looked at her wide-eyed, blue swimming with fear. “The rapids are too strong here! We’ll drown!” she yelled back.

Lexa knew that she was right; the rapids were moving swiftly, tumbling over rocks and crashing with white-capped waves as the current whipped about, and she figured that the arena had been designed that way specifically to trap whoever wandered into this beast’s territory. She grunted, gaze darting back and forth between the falling trees and the churning water, trying desperately to decide which was the lesser of two evils, but it was Clarke that decided for her. The blonde picked a third option, yanking Lexa’s hand and taking off running again, sticking close to the shore of the river as they bounded over rocks.

“We’ll find a place to cross!” Clarke shouted, squeezing her fingers so tightly that she thought her hand might break.

The roars and thunderous footsteps crashing against the ground and uprooting trees continued behind them, but everywhere they looked the river seemed to grow more angry, thrashing about and offering no chance of salvation. A tree only a few yards away toppled over with a loud bang and Lexa whirled around, instinctively drawing her swords and knowing that she would have to fight. The wretched beast tore down the forest around them and Lexa felt her eyes go wide at the sight of the Mutt that had been sent to kill them. It was some sort of mutated gorilla, towering over them easily at nine feet tall, its muscles rippled beneath patchy black fur, and its brown eyes blazed a searing red as if consumed with blood and rage. Its teeth were like daggers, dripping in saliva and the foul stench of death as it pounded on the ground in front of them, creating huge craters in the earth with its massive fists.

“Oh my God!” Clarke gasped. “We can’t fight that thing, Lexa! Run!” she shouted, tugging on her arm and trying to yank her away, but the beast had already spotted them.

The Mutt charged, and Lexa moved instinctually, shoving Clarke out of the way and then spinning beneath the monstrous outstretched arms as she dragged her blade across its back. The beast was large, but it was clumsy and slow, and she hoped that her speed would outmatch it as it howled in pain and whirled around on her, ignoring Clarke entirely. Lexa squared her stance, preparing for another charge as her senses honed in and adrenaline pounded in her ears, narrowing the world around her in concentration. The monster lunged for her once more, this time sweeping a massive fist towards her legs, and she dove forward over its arm, rolling to her feet and slicing another thick gash down its back in one motion.

It spun around again, roaring in her face with lethal jaws and beating on its own chest as it rose up on its hind legs, towering even larger than before and Lexa felt as if she had done nothing but angered it rather than hurt it. She crouched into a ready stance, raising one sword out in front of her and holding the other over her head, preparing for another vicious strike, but watched in horror as an arrow darted past her and thunked into the beast’s bicep. The Mutt growled with rage and irritation, brushing the arrow from its skin as if it were nothing more than a pinprick before turning its blood soaked gaze on Clarke. The blonde staggered backwards, realizing that she’d drawn its full attention but she had nowhere to retreat to as she backed up into the trunk of a massive oak tree.

“Clarke, no!” she shouted, but her words went unheard, lost beneath a massive roar.

Lexa knew she had mere moments to act before the beast charged on Clarke, and she reacted without hesitating for even a second, leaping up and driving her blades down into the gorilla’s back, still clutching to the handles as it yelped and spun around, spinning her along with its momentum. She held as tightly as she could, trying to wrench her blades free now that she’d gotten its attention once more, but it was bucking and swatting at her, tossing her around like a rag doll. It gave one violent jerk and she felt one of her swords come free as she tumbled to the ground and rolled back to her feet, squaring off again though her other weapon was still lodged in the monster’s back.

The Mutt glared at her with a reignited rage, charging forward before she could even set her stance, and Lexa was lucky to dive out of the way just as a massive fist crushed the ground where she’d been standing. She didn’t have time to get back to her feet, rolling to the side as another fist came down, slamming to the earth next to her head and sending shockwaves ringing through her ears. She slashed out with her sword, striking the meaty flesh of the monster’s thigh to distract it before somersaulting backwards and popping to her feet, but the beast ignored her attack and lashed out with a backhand. Lexa grunted, hearing her own ribs crack as a fist connected with her chest, ripping her off her feet and sending her flying, crashing back into the low branches of a nearby tree. White hot pain seared through her leg as she hit the ground, and she looked down to see that a massive gash had opened up where a broken branch splintered off and lodged itself in her leg.

The world seemed to slow, and she looked up to find Clarke’s eyes across the clearing, the oceanic blue wide and terrified as the beast roared up to its full height on its hind legs once more. “Go, Clarke!” Lexa heard herself shouting. “Leave me!”

“No way!” the blonde shouted back, determination laced in her voice despite the fear in her gaze.

Clarke was cut off from view as the Mutt lumbered between them, growling low as Lexa used her sword to help pull herself to her feet, unable to put weight on her injured leg. She tested her stance and nearly fainted as agony shot through her body, stealing the breath from her lungs as she tried to retreat. Her only hope would be to somehow get behind the beast again, but without the use of her leg, she didn’t know how she would manage it. The beast lunged forward, intent on ending her life as it raised a fist above his head, and Lexa took a haggard breath, realizing that this would be her end. But if Clarke had gotten away, then her sacrifice would have been worth it, and the hopes of a revolution would still live on.

Her gaze met the monster’s and she could see death stalking her, about to knock the life from her body and crush her beneath heavy fists, but then she heard the familiar whoosh of an arrow. She watched in astonishment as an arrow sunk deep into the gorilla’s eye, blinding it on one side as it howled in pain and thrashed about, trying to yank the projectile from its seeping eye socket. Clarke was by her side a moment later, throwing her bow across her back as she took Lexa’s arm and draped it over her shoulders, instantly pulling her away.

Lexa couldn’t stand to put weight on her leg, but with Clarke helping her they were able to flee, putting some measure of distance between themselves and the howling beast. Briefly between bouts of searing pain, she had a moment to thank herself for taking the time to teach Clarke how to shoot a bow, but none of that would matter if the Mutt caught up to them. A loud roar echoed off the treetops around them, followed by thundering footsteps coming even more ferociously than before, and she knew that the beast was chasing them again. The river was moving so rapidly now that the current looked almost more dangerous than the monster that was lumbering close on their heels, and up ahead Lexa could make out the sheer sudden drop-off of a waterfall.

She tried to make her leg move faster, but she could feel it giving out beneath her weight, and beside her Clarke was panting for air and clearly winded as she half carried her along the bank of the river. They reached the cliff, running out of room to run and unable to retreat backwards as the giant gorilla barreled over the trees behind them, thundering closer with each passing second. Lexa leaned over the edge, staring down into the churning white water thirty feet below, scouring the surface for any signs of rocks jutting up, but it appeared to be bottomless. Mist rose high into the air, and the sound of water crashing against water was almost louder in her ears than the roaring of the beast, and she knew they only had one choice.

“We have to jump, Clarke!” she yelled, weaving urgency into her tone.

Clarke turned and looked at her wide-eyed, shaking her head. “N – no,” she stammered. “Lexa, I can’t swim!”

Lexa felt her heart lurch, glancing back and forth between Clarke’s terrified eyes and the bubbling water below, clutching both of her forearms tightly. “We don’t have a choice!” she yelled. “We either jump or we die!”

“I – I can’t!” Clarke screamed, tears welling up and spilling down her cheeks.

The roars of the Mutt were nearly on top of them again, and Lexa knew that it was now or never. She leaned in, pressing her lips to Clarke’s in a desperate kiss that seemed to settle her nerves. “You can do this, Clarke!” she yelled. “Just hold on tight to me!”

Clarke looked scared to death, peering down over the cliff before offering a single nod. “Okay,” she rasped.

Lexa sheathed her remaining sword and took her hand in hers, weaving their fingers together tightly and hoping that their grip on each other would be strong enough to survive the fall. “On three!” she shouted. “One!” The trees behind them crashed to the ground. “Two!” The Mutt roared, charging at them with full speed. “Three!”

They took a running leap, together, ignoring the screaming pain in her leg, and Lexa felt her stomach drop as gravity set in and carried them down towards the water below. The last thing she heard was Clarke yelling and the beast above them howling in anger, and then everything went dark.

<-><-><-><->

Clarke was aware of exactly two things when she hit the water: the first was that she didn’t know how to swim; growing up in District Thirteen, she’d never even been given a chance to learn; and the second was that Lexa’s hand was no longer in hers, having been ripped away by the force of their fall. The water was pounding in her ears all around her, tossing her about as she tried desperately to reach for the bottom but couldn’t tell which direction was up and which was down. She wrenched her eyes open beneath the surface and saw only bubbles and churning white water as she felt herself being carried downstream. Her lungs were screaming at her, needing oxygen and she was certain that she was sinking, but then she reached out with her hand and felt the brisk night air against her skin as her fingers broke the surface.

She kicked her legs out wildly, not knowing what else to do, and felt herself being propelled towards the surface. She gave one hard kick, and sucked in a giant gulp of air and water just as her face broke free from the depths and she sputtered as the mixture filled her lungs. Still kicking, she coughed and spun around as the current tossed her about, searching for Lexa amongst the violent waves. The brunette was nowhere to be found, and Clarke felt terror grip her as she was pulled beneath the surface once more, tumbling hard as her body slammed into a rock that was hidden beneath the water. She used her arms to push and pull, flailing about wildly, and again broke free, filling her lungs with air once more.

“Lexa!” she shouted, hearing the panic in her own voice but nothing in return. “Lexa!” she called again.

She whirled around in the water and spotted the navy green of an arena jacket and brown hair just as the waves dragged the brunette under once more. Clarke felt terror grip her heart, burning in her chest like the coals of a hot fire, and she did all she could to try to swim towards where she’d seen Lexa go under. She reached the spot, but the current had already hauled her away, and a few yards downstream, she could see the brunette bobbing on the surface face down. Adrenaline and fear propelled her forward, and she kicked and pulled and clawed at the water with every bit of energy that she could muster, feeling her body begin to give out just as her feet touched ground beneath the surface.

Gaining her footing, she shot forward. “Lexa!” she screeched, reaching the brunette and turning her over. Lexa’s eyes were closed and her lips were blue, there was a deep gash in her forehead above her eye, and Clarke couldn’t tell if she was breathing or not. “Oh my god, Lexa!” she shouted, hooking her arms beneath Lexa’s and using all of her strength to drag her up onto the river bank.

Clarke’s heart was pounding and tears were flowing freely down her cheeks, mixing with the water that was running off her skin in heavy streams. She pressed her fingertips to Lexa’s throat, feeling for a pulse, but felt nothing beneath her skin as her entire world began to crumble around her. On instinct alone, her medical training kicked in, and she instantly set to work, starting chest compressions and counting in her head as she tried to force the brunette back to life. She bent down, pressing her lips to Lexa’s and felt how cold and lifeless she seemed to be beneath her touch as she tried to breathe life back into her lungs.

“Lexa, please!” Clarke shouted, her face only inches from the brunette’s. “Please don’t leave me here! I just found you!” she begged, unrelenting as she pressed on Lexa’s chest over and over again.

She bent down and desperately breathed air into her lungs once more, feeling the tears run off her face and drip down onto Lexa’s pale skin, and then forest green eyes shot open. Lexa coughed and sputtered, spitting out an entire river of water as she gasped for air, sucking oxygen back into her starving lungs, and Clarke couldn’t help but sob, framing Lexa’s face with her hands and letting their eyes meet. “Lexa!” she cried, voice breaking. “I’m here. I’m right here,” she repeated, over and over again, feeling relief in a way that she had never felt before, as if she had been the one drowning and now she was saved.

“Clarke,” Lexa rasped, voice nearly gone from coughing.

Clarke smiled and leaned in, pressing their lips together again and finding complete joy in the fact that Lexa managed to kiss her back. She knew that she was crying, but she didn’t care; all that mattered in that moment was that they both were alive and they were both breathing. Though, Clarke knew that Lexa was far worse for wear, and she sat back, releasing her face so that she could examine the rest of her. Her leg was badly injured, a thick slab of wood still wedged into the muscle from where she’d crashed into the tree, and the wound was oozing thick blood that looked almost black in the moonlight. Her head laceration was bleeding too, and judging by the glassy look in the green of her eyes, Clarke suspected that she had a concussion. She resolved to tend to her other wounds later as the wind kicked up, freezing them both to the bone. The temperature in the arena had dropped to a near arctic point, their breath coming out in thick white puffs, and Clarke knew that if they didn’t find shelter and get warm soon that they would die of hypothermia far before another Tribute had the chance to kill them.

“Come on baby, we have to move,” Clarke said, feeling blood rush to her cheeks at the slip of the term.

Lexa didn’t seem to catch it, and instead just offered a single dazed nod as if fighting to keep consciousness, wrapping a weak arm around Clarke’s shoulders so that she could pull them both to their feet. Clarke felt Lexa’s almost entire weight in her arms, clinging to each other as they both shivered against the wind, and she didn’t know how long she had before Lexa passed out from pain or blood loss. They set off downstream, sticking close to the trees to block some of the wind, but Lexa could do little more than hobble and their pace was excruciatingly slow. Clarke could tell that she was in pain, gritting her teeth and bearing the weight of it, but she could see tears brimming behind emerald eyes, and Lexa’s agony only made her want to move faster and search harder.

The sound of another, smaller, waterfall echoed in front of them, and Clarke dragged Lexa towards it, hoping to find some barrier against the wind on the other side of the cliff. If they could just find a spot that was even partially sheltered amongst the rocks, Clarke could build a fire and they could survive the night, but if they didn’t rest soon, she knew she would be dragging Lexa’s unconscious body. They reached the waterfall and found that the way down was a sloped hill rather than a sheer cliff, and Clarke felt her heart plummet seeing no viable place to build camp for the night. She half-carried Lexa down the rocky hill moving as carefully as possible, but the brunette’s leg gave out towards the bottom, and it sent them both tumbling to the ground.

Clarke debated laying there and never getting up again, letting the elements take her as the cold swept through her body and chilled her to her very core. But then she heard Lexa cough and give a soft whimper in pain at the effort of it, and she knew that if their roles were reversed, Lexa wouldn’t give up on her. She sucked in a steadying breath, drawing on whatever strength and willpower that she had left, and hauled herself to her feet, staring up at the waterfall that they’d somehow managed to traverse. The whitewater glinted in the moonlight, echoing loudly as it crashed into the pool below, and Clarke thought that it almost looked peaceful. But then it hit her that the echo of the waterfall seemed a little too loud, as if the sound was reverberating off the walls of a cave, and she shot to her feet. She shimmied along the rocks until the water was pounding only a few feet in front of her, peering around the torrent, and finding a deep cave hidden in the cliff behind the waterfall.

She laughed, almost in surprise that they’d actually gotten lucky in a place so horrible, but the sound was lost to the crashing water. Rejuvenated, she hobbled over the rocks back to where Lexa was still laying down, groaning in pain and fighting to keep her eyes open. “I found a cave, Lex!” Clarke hissed, scooping the brunette up once more and helping her stagger over the uneven ground and back behind the waterfall.

Lexa hardly seemed to register it as the mist sprayed them, soaking them once more, and her last bit of strength gave out just as they entered the mouth of the cave. The hidden cavern was deep, and Clarke half dragged, half carried her towards the back, away from the swelling water and rolling spray from the waterfall, laying her gently down on a patch of even ground. The temperature in the cave was slightly warmer than the air outside, but they would still freeze to death if she didn’t get a fire going. And she needed the light in order to tend to Lexa’s wounds, so, mustering up her energy once more, she pressed a gentle kiss to Lexa’s lips and then scurried out of the cave and into the night.

The bitter air whipped against Clarke’s cheeks as she stumbled as quickly as she could through the woods, scooping up branches to use for a fire. She felt empty and unprotected, having lost her bow when they jumped into the river to flee the monster, and she just hoped that there were no other Tributes stalking nearby or any other Mutts waiting for her in the darkness. She couldn’t help but wonder who were the two canon blasts that sounded just before the gorilla reached them, and a very large part of her was petty enough to hope that it was Roan and Ontari that were killed at the hands of the beast. She shivered as she finished gathering up the supplies she needed, rushing to get back to Lexa and get warm.

Lexa was still unconscious when she returned to the cave, and she felt her heart skip a beat as she searched for her faint pulse on the inside of her wrist, breathing a sigh of relief when she found it. Clarke shed her own jacket, stripping down to just a thin t-shirt as she draped the extra layer over Lexa, trying to offer her a bit more warmth even though they were both soaked through. Then Clarke set to work on building a fire, recalling all that she’d learned in her survival training as she constructed a teepee and a spindle, using friction to attempt to ignite a wad of kindling. It took a few minutes, and she was practically sweating by the time smoke rose from her nest of tinder; she blew a flame to life as she tucked it underneath her pile of wood. A moment later, a fire was crackling loudly, illuminating the walls of the cave in a dancing orange glow and radiating warmth.

Clarke stripped down immediately, ridding herself of her damp clothes and laying them out to dry next to the fire before she turned her attention to Lexa. She felt exhaustion sweeping through her, pulling at her eyelids and screaming at her to rest, but she knew that she couldn’t allow herself to sleep while Lexa still needed her. She used the light of the fire to navigate the brunette’s wounds, starting first with the most urgent priority, which was getting the remaining hunk of wood out of Lexa’s leg before it became infected. She heard the whir of a camera zooming in over her shoulder as she gripped the wood in her hand, and thanked whatever powers at be that Lexa was unconscious as she yanked it out, pulling it carefully away as to avoid damaging even more muscle.

Immediately, the wound started pouring out more blood, the gash in her thigh running about six inches in length and two inches wide, sinewy muscle poking out from deep within. Clarke gulped, recognizing the severity of the injury and knowing that there wasn’t much she could do aside from cleaning it out and applying a tourniquet and bandages to staunch the blood flow. She did what she could using clean water from the river and tearing off strips of her own shirt to apply as bandages, tying one particularly tight just above the wound to cut off blood flow as she elevated Lexa’s leg up on a nearby rock.

Once the wound was dressed, she moved on to remove Lexa’s jacket and shirt, knowing that she needed to dry them out, but was struck with both shock and awe to see dozens of different scars interwoven in cross-cross patterns across Lexa’s chiseled abs, shoulders, and down her arms and back. She was no stranger to injury or battle, that was for sure, but each scar etched into her flesh surely had a story behind it that contributed to making her the woman that she was, and for that reason, Clarke thought they were beautiful. Beyond that, she had an intricate tribal tattoo that Clarke had seen once before buckled around her bicep, but there were several designs that ebbed and spiked down her ribs and across her back as well. Her body was a work of art, in all its battle-hardened, broken, perfect, beautiful glory, and Clarke wanted nothing more than to sit and paint each line and each scar, lending stories to them of her own, but she knew that she had work to do.

There was a deep black and blue of bruising on the pale skin above Lexa’s ribs on her right side, indicating severe trauma. They were clearly broken, and Clarke knew there was nothing she could do except hope that they weren’t shattered and puncturing her lungs with bone fragments. By the time she reached the brunette’s head laceration, her hands were trembling and a fresh wave of fear was gripping her, boiling up in her throat and threatening to break free in the form of stomach bile. The wound over Lexa’s eye was probably the least concerning, but it was still seeping blood and clearly required stitches from a suture kit that Clarke didn’t have, so she settled for having to bandage it with what was left of the strips from her shirt.

When she was finished Clarke sat back, finally allowing herself to collapse beside Lexa, watching as the girl who was the epitome of strength whimpered and groaned in pain in her sleep. The sight was enough to shatter Clarke’s heart in her chest, and she couldn’t even help to control the sob that erupted as she leaned down and pressed a tender kiss to Lexa’s mouth. She’d spent months in a cell after witnessing her father’s murder, going mad in solitary confinement, yet that seemed like nothing compared to how alone and helpless she felt in that moment. She felt as if her very own life was being ripped away, fading out right in front of her like a setting sun, and all she could do was sit and watch.

“Help me,” she rasped, voice thick with tears as she looked up and let her eyes meet the camera, speaking to whoever was listening on the other end. “Help me save her,” she begged, hoping desperately that someone out there would respond.

Chapter Text

There was one time each and every year when Cage Wallace felt like something more than a pawn in his father’s never ending games, and that was during the Hunger Games. When the Hunger Games were in full swing, he was in his element, evoking every emotion possible from the people of Panem, and catering to his own adoring fans as he announced the Games with vitality and vigor. It was the one aspect of his life that his father did not meddle in, and he strived each year to live up to the impeccable standards that his predecessors, the Flickerman’s, had set.

When he was on camera, he felt like a god among men, never mind the brutality and death that he made into a spectacle; that was all part of his job. It was his job to put the people of Panem at ease while they watched dozens of kids die onscreen, and it was his job to entertain them during the more dull moments of the Games, though even he had to admit that there hadn’t been a single one of those this year. All in all, he adored his job, and nothing in the world made him feel better than the moment in which he got to announce a new Victor’s name after a few grueling weeks of high-class parties and brutal bloodshed.

“Now, let’s see what Emori and Otan do here,” he said, winking into the camera as the feed changed over to the Tributes from District Three.

The brother and sister duo had played a relatively boring game so far, sticking to the shadows and surviving mostly by stealing from the other Tributes. They were sly little thieves, he had to give them that, but they hadn’t even fought yet aside from the initial battle at the Cornucopia. The Capitol and its citizens could almost sympathize for them, being twins and knowing that only one could survive, except Emori and Otan were not exactly the most likeable of Tributes – especially with their play it safe routine. Besides, all of Panem had found its new darlings in the unlikely romance that had sprouted between Lexa Woods, the stoic badass from District One, and Clarke Griffin, the feisty blonde from Thirteen. It hadn’t been enough that both women received a score of twelve, but then they had to come together with an undeniable chemistry that could melt the heart of even the coldest Hunger Games critic. It was almost poetic except for the fact that he knew his father would never let them live.

But at that moment, his full attention was focused on the twins from District Three, watching as they set up camp in a tree for the night. Little did they know that they were resting in the heart of Mutt territory, and Cage knew that Alie had a particularly awful sort of beast roaming the area. Clarke and Lexa’s trackers were nearby too as they attempted to put distance between themselves and where they’d found the poor boy from Thirteen who’d been nearly tortured to death. There was a rumbling on screen and Emori and Otan looked to each other, confused and terrified, as it got louder and louder, and Cage knew that it was his time to shine.

“Do you hear that, folks?” he asked, rhetorically, lacing his voice with excitement and mystery. “It sounds to me like our favorite twins stumbled into Mutt lands!”

A moment later, a massive mutant gorilla broke through the trees, letting out a vicious roar as it pounded heavily on its chest. Emori shrieked as the Mutt scooped Otan up into its giant hands, squeezing the life from him as it crushed his bones in its grip before the boy even had a chance to cry out. Then the monster whirled around on Emori, swatting at her with a crushing fist that made a sickly sound as it connected with her head, killing her almost instantly. Two canon blasts rang out to mark their deaths, and Cage shot to his feet, staring wide-eyed at the screen.

“Oh my God! Did you see that?” he called, ecstatically. “It just decimated District Three in one blow! And now look!” he shouted, watching as the monster sniffed the air and seemed to pick up the scent of new targets wafted in the air. “It looks like the Mutt caught wind of Clarke and Lexa,” he announced, just as the gorilla took off into the trees once more.

The camera feed shifted to Clarke and Lexa, holding tightly to each other as the brunette listened in to her surroundings. “Now, we all know Lexa is from the forest district,” he said. “She has to know that what she’s hearing isn’t normal!”

He was right, and a second later the brunette shot off in the opposite direction of the Mutt, clasping Clarke’s hand and practically dragging her through the woods. They were running as fast as they could, but the beast was plowing over every tree in its path, barreling towards them faster than they could get away. It seemed like the two women were looking for a place to cross the river, skidding to a halt when they realized that there was nowhere to go. Lexa turned towards the trees, drawing both of her swords as she shoved the blonde behind her protective stance.

“She can’t seriously intend to fight that thing!” Cage questioned, watching as the gorilla broke through and headed straight towards the girl from District One. Lexa ducked beneath its attack and raked her sword across its back, drawing blood. “Oh my! She wounded it!” he shouted, impressed.

Cage watched on the edge of his seat, as he was sure the rest of Panem was doing, as Lexa dueled valiantly with the monster. Clarke attempted to intervene with her bow at one point, and Lexa was forced to throw herself onto the beast’s back to keep its attention drawn on her as she hung on wildly to her swords lodged in the Mutt’s back. “It’s trying to throw her off!” he yelled, his own adrenaline coursing through him.

The beast gave a violent buck that sent Lexa flying before spinning around and trying to crush her with its heavy fists. The brunette was quick, but not quick enough, and all of Panem watched as it sent her crashing into a nearby tree. “Oh no,” Cage said, feigning worry. “This could be a tragic end to our star-crossed lovers, folks,” he said, adding a dramatic flair.

He was sure that the entire nation was collectively holding its breath as the Mutt closed in on Lexa, raising a fist to end her life. But then an arrow came whizzing out of nowhere, straight into its eye! “Wow!” Cage hollered. “This is incredible! No wonder why she scored a twelve, Clarke just shot the Mutt right through the eye!”

He watched as the two women held tightly to each other, stumbling through the woods until they came to a waterfall, effectively running out of room to retreat. Lexa leaned in and kissed Clarke, shouting her words of reassurance, and then he watched them leap. The soared through the air and the camera angle panned out to show them crashing into the mist below, sucking them both beneath the water. He felt as if his own lungs were burning as a wide grin spread across his face. He truly loved the Hunger Games.

<-><-><-><->

Abby watched with baited breath as Clarke struggled to the surface of the water, trying to make herself float when she didn’t even know how to swim. Abby had never felt so helpless in her life than she did in the past day, watching her daughter flee from acid fog, a giant mutant gorilla, and now nearly drowning amidst a rushing river, and there was not a single thing she could do except hold her breath and hope. She hoped as hard as she could, willing every power in the universe to pull Clarke out of the water alive, and she watched as the blonde head bobbed back up above the surface and sucked in a long gulp of air.

Clarke somehow managed to half-swim, half-paddle her way over to where Lexa was floating face down, and Abby felt Anya stiffen beside her. The bossy blonde with the high cheekbones from District One had a mouth like a sailor and a ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ attitude, but in that moment, she looked terrified. Abby took her hand and held it, staring at the screen as Clarke dragged Lexa up onto the riverbank and began administering CPR. She was crying as she attempted to breathe life back into the unconscious brunette, and beside her she could feel Anya holding her breath too, her grip on her hand tightening. It seemed like minutes that went by, and Abby was about to tell her how sorry she was, but then Lexa opened her eyes and gasped for air.

“It’s okay,” she whispered to Anya, giving her hand a squeeze. “Clarke got her back.”

“For now,” Anya replied. “If they do not find shelter, they will both die from the cold.”

“Clarke will get them to safety,” she answered, tone sounding confident though she didn’t even believe her own words.

She watched as Clarke and Lexa stumbled through the woods, searching for a place to make camp. She watched until she couldn’t stand to watch anymore, and then she turned away, needing to do something, anything, so that she didn’t feel useless anymore. Raven was typing quickly on Jake’s laptop, trying to find a way to break into the arena and lost in her own world as she threw herself into her work so that she didn’t have to think about Finn’s death. Bellamy was passed out on the couch, exhausted from their trip into Mount Weather, and Lincoln and Octavia were huddled up together in the corner of the room, talking in hushed whispers.

“Hey,” Abby said as she walked up to them.

They startled but looked up at her expectantly. “Everything okay, Abby?” Octavia questioned, concern in her eyes.

“No,” Abby replied. “My daughter almost just got eaten by a mutant gorilla, Raven is trying to figure out a way into the arena, Anya is organizing this whole thing, and I’m just sitting here, useless,” she explained. “So, no, everything is not okay.”

“Abby, you’re not useless—

Octavia began, but Abby held up a hand to cut her off. “I need you to go over these ‘Reapers’ again with me, one more time,” she stated. “Their bodies are still alive, but their minds are gone…there has to be a medical reason for it. They had lives, memories, emotions, all of that doesn’t just go away,” she felt her medical expertise kicking in, and this was a mystery that she intended to solve.

“We told you everything, Abby,” Lincoln answered. “They had red eyes, and they were feral-like, eating human flesh. Their skin was marred and warped, as if mutated—

“But were there any actual physical mutations?” she questioned. “Physical mutations are caused by years of evolution and natural selection, they don’t just happen to people over night,” she rationalized.

“It was hard to tell,” Octavia replied. “Honestly, we can’t be sure.”

“Well then we can’t be sure that they’re incurable, either,” Abby replied.

Lincoln arched an eyebrow at her, questioning. “You want to cure the Reapers?”

“I want to diagnose them,” she answered. “And then maybe, yes, find a cure.”

“How?” they both asked in unison.

Abby sighed. “That’s where I need your help,” she admitted. “I need you to capture one and bring one back to me.”

“What?” Octavia snapped, practically jumping out of her skin. “How do you expect us to do that? Do you know how hard it was to get in there the first time?”

“Yeah, but isn’t it worth the risk?” Abby shot back.

“Abby’s right,” Lincoln said, cutting Octavia off before she could protest further. “If there is a way to cure the Reapers and she can find it, then we have to try. We’ll be able to return countless people to their loved ones, and we’d be able to cripple the Reaper force that the Capitol has assembled over the years.”

“Okay, fine, but—

“Abby!” Anya hollered from the other side of the room, tone urgent. “I need you over here.”

Abby rushed over to where Anya was still huddled around the television, watching as Clarke tended to Lexa’s wounds beside a small fire. She’d removed the sharp hunk of wood from her leg and applied a makeshift tourniquet, but the wound was still bleeding through and from the camera angle, Abby couldn’t tell if there was severe muscle damage or not. The bruising on Lexa’s ribs was a clear indicator that several were broken, but the coloring also told her that there was thankfully no internal bleeding. And then there was the head laceration that looked as if it needed stitches, but what she worried about was the possible concussion Lexa had received when jumping over the waterfall.

Clarke looked directly into the camera, blue eyes pleading and filled with tears as she begged for help, and Anya looked directly to Abby. “Can she fix her?” Anya questioned.

Abby gulped heavily, remembering all the years Clarke had spent beside her in the operating room, training and learning. “Yes,” Abby answered, letting out a long sigh. “With the right supplies.”

“Then tell me what we need and I will find sponsors to see it done,” Anya replied.

<-><-><-><->

Dante grinned, watching as Clarke Griffin sobbed over her lover and cried into the camera, begging for help. The blonde may have escaped Alie’s Mutt, but seeing her so utterly broken and helpless was a victory in itself. He considered sending a pack of his ‘special Mutts’ into the cave that they were hiding out in to end their lives right then and there, but he knew the citizens of the Capitol would never stand for it. He’d already tried to kill them with the acid fog earlier that day, and a third attack would make it far too obvious that he was trying to end their lives on purpose. No, he couldn’t have that.

Instead, he decided to let them both live for now, though it appeared that Lexa was closer to dead than alive, and he enjoyed watching the way that Clarke suffered to see her so weak and injured. He hadn’t been moved at all by their little onscreen romance, unlike his fool of a son who yelped for joy when their lips finally met. As far as he was concerned, they were just another Katniss and Peeta, putting on an act so that the feeble-minded people begged for them both to live. Sure, it was obvious that the two women cared for each other on a deeper level, but that wasn’t his concern. His only concern was ensuring that whatever information Clarke had died with her.

Dante didn’t consider himself a bad man, but he did fancy himself a ruthless one. He would do whatever it took to protect the people of Mount Weather, no matter the cost, and that was all he’d ever done. He’d inherited the rule of Panem from his father, who had taken the mantle up after his grandfather, and he hoped one day to pass the reins on to Cage. Of course, his son would need a little refinement in the lessons of politics, but he hoped to have years to teach him. Except, that dream was hanging in the balance now that Clarke Griffin had a way to kill thousands of his people.

That was precisely why he wanted to see her dead. He’d given her a chance, to be fair. He’d offered her her life and her mother’s life in exchange for what she knew, he’d even tried to intimidate it out of her, but the little blonde bitch from Thirteen was too strong to break. Not to mention he had no idea where Abby Griffin was hiding, or even if she was still alive, so he couldn’t even use her mother as leverage. He had a sneaking suspicion that they were still somewhere in District One, but the Peacekeepers there weren’t able to turn up anything.

But now, now he was witnessing Clarke Griffin finally crumbling right in front of his eyes, and he knew exactly how to get her to finally snap. And the answer was: Lexa Woods. If the brunette survived, he could easily use her to crush Clarke’s spirits and get her to surrender, and then he would take pleasure in killing her slowly. Or, he could simply kill them both. Alie had presented him with so many different opportunities with the arena this year, and he’d only just begun to explore their full potential.

Ultimately, he knew he would have to let it play out for a while, and perhaps even toy with them for a bit, but then he would see them both dead. But at the moment, there were more pressing concerns like the fact that Nia Queen has seemingly managed to mobilize an entire army over night. He had given her permission to take District One by force if need be, but her efforts seemed far too eager, and he suspected that this was something that she had been planning for a long time. The real question was: why?

He’d spent the last thirty years ruling over Panem and maintaining control of the districts, and he didn’t stay in power by being foolish. He stayed in power for precisely the opposite reason; he was smart. Smart enough to sniff out threats and eliminate them before any hint of a revolution could stir, and that is exactly what Nia Queen was: a threat. But she was also an asset, and that is why he’d decided to lend her his full support. The truth was, he knew that Nia was scheming, untrustworthy and spiteful, but also far too power hungry for her own good. He also knew that the only way to control someone like that was to outmaneuver them, and that’s exactly why he’d presented Nia with the illusion of control. She believed that she was pulling all of the strings, but Dante was the true puppet master behind the curtains, and he intended to use her to do his dirty work.

He could not interfere in district politics, that is why each district had its own system of leadership, but another district could if they chose to. District One was a problem, and the Victors there were not shy about their displeasure about the treatment of their people, and that was why he had kept Titus in place for so many years. The old man was easily controlled, and he truly believed that he was doing what was best for his people by focusing all of their attention on producing winning Tributes for the Games. But now that Titus was gone, he needed someone to step in that would put the Victors in their place and crush any hope of a rebellion; and Nia was that person. Once she performed her duty, he’d have her killed and put someone in power that he could actually trust; someone who was loyal to their master an unafraid to be ruthless, someone like Ontari Natblood, if only he could win her allegiance.

<-><-><-><->

Octavia didn’t want to return to Mount Weather any more than she wanted to return to prison back in District Thirteen, but she understood that going there again would be necessary. She just wished that she had the time to train with Lincoln and learn to fight the way the warriors of Polis did; that way everyone could stop looking at her like she was some fragile thing to be taken care of. She’d spent her entire life locked away, and now that she was finally free, she wanted to do something meaningful. She wanted to stand up for a good cause, take a few risks, stare down the face of danger, and, if she was lucky, maybe fall in love.

At the moment, she felt like the latter was more possible than the rest. She loved watching Lincoln in his element, planning and strategizing, using the knowledge he’d acquired through years of training for something that was innately good. He was strong and dedicated, and focused on doing whatever it took to bring an era of peace and prosperity to his people, and she couldn’t help but admire him for that. It also couldn’t be helped that he was definitely not bad to look at. Then again, they were on the cusp of war and working day in and day out to free their friends, and she knew that it was definitely not the time for distractions.

Still, when she looked up and found his warm eyes staring at her from across the table, she felt the grin tugging at her cheeks. “Let’s go over this again,” she said, trying to remain focused. “We can’t use the prisoner transport excuse for a second time, so how are we gonna do this?”

“And we can’t exactly charge in there, guns blazing, and drag a screaming Reaper back onto our shuttle,” Bellamy added, presenting another problem.

“No, but we can schedule another cargo shipment,” Lincoln suggested. “And use the crates to smuggle our people in, and smuggle the Reaper out.”

“A Trojan Horse,” Bellamy grinned. He’d always been a history buff. “I like it, but how are we going to secure the Reaper? They’re a bit deranged if you haven’t noticed.”

“I have a solution to that,” Abby interjected, setting a syringe on the table. “It’s a sedative,” she explained. “Shoot a Reaper up with that and it’ll give you a few hours before they’re up and running again – if they’re still human.”

Bellamy scooped the syringe in his hand, holding it at eye level to examine the clear liquid inside. “Have Anya schedule a cargo shipment,” he said, directing his words to Lincoln. “We should leave as soon as we can—

“Not so fast, Bellboy,” Raven interjected, looking up from where she’d been transfixed on her laptop for the past six hours. “I’m gonna need you to stay here. I’m this close to cracking how to get our people out of the arena,” she held up her hands only a fraction of an inch apart to exaggerate her demonstration. “And we’re gonna need you, both of you preferably,” she nodded towards Lincoln and Octavia felt a burst of irritation for being considered less useful than the other two. “But I understand that what Abby needs you to do is important, so Lincoln and O, you’ll catch us a Reaper, and Bellamy, you’re here with us to rescue Clarke and Lexa.”

Bellamy stared at the Latina for a moment, looking at her incredulously. “Raven, I know you’re smart, but if you think I’m going anywhere without my sister – or the other way around – then I think you need to get your head looked at.”

“I can take care of myself, Bellamy!” Octavia snapped, unable to control her anger any longer. “I’m not fragile!”

“Octavia,” Bellamy warned. “You have no combat training. No experience at all, really, so I think I have a right to be worried about you!”

Octavia stood, slamming her hands on the table and meeting his gaze with every ounce of defiance that she could muster. “None of you would even be here if it wasn’t for me!” she argued. “So, no, I may not know how to shoot a gun or kill somebody with a sword, but I’m stronger than you think!”

“I agree that Octavia can handle herself,” Lincoln interjected, refusing to cower beneath Bellamy’s glare.

Her brother looked as if he was ready to strangle someone, brown eyes darkening. “Octavia, you’re my sister, which means you’re my responsibility,” he growled.

“No, I’m my own damn responsibility, Bellamy,” she shot back. “I’m not the scared girl under the floor anymore, and I’m not some prisoner in a cage, so stop treating me like one.”

Bellamy stared at her, looking as if he wanted to argue more but biting his tongue, and then he let out a heavy sigh, turning to Lincoln. “Bring my sister back in one piece or I’ll kill you myself,” he threatened, low and menacing.

“I won’t let anything happen to her,” Lincoln promised, his tone so protective that she actually believed him, and she couldn’t tell if she should be offended or flattered.

“Good,” Raven chirped, her attention never leaving the computer monitor. “Now that that’s settled; that isn’t even our biggest problem.”

“Wait, it’s not?” Octavia asked, grateful for Raven interrupting whatever dick measuring contest was going on between her brother and Lincoln.

She shook her head. “Once I figure out how to get Clexa, that’s Clarke and Lexa by the way, out of the arena, the Capitol is going to be all over us – and our allies. Especially those that are currently behind enemy lines…”

“Indra and Kane,” Lincoln muttered.

“And my cousin,” Anya added, drawing her attention away from the television long enough to lend her thoughts to the conversation.

“The Capitol will go right for them as soon as we make a move for the arena. They need to get out of there. Now that I have access to the Tribute Center servers, we don’t need them anymore,” Raven explained.

“What if we need to send Clarke and Lexa another message? Or more supplies?” Abby questioned.

Raven shrugged. “I can schedule a sponsor chute, easy.”

“Okay, so we get them out at the same time that we make a grab for a Reaper,” Octavia suggested. “Maybe they can help us.”

“How are they going to get out without being spotted?” Anya asked with obvious concern for her family.

“They’ll be so distracted by what we’re doing in the arena, they won’t even be looking right under their own noses,” Raven stated. “We just have to time it right.”

Chapter Text

Clarke had never felt so exhausted in her life, utterly and completely broken down and running on nothing but willpower and stubbornness, but she couldn’t allow herself to sleep; not while Lexa needed her. Though in that moment, she felt entirely useless to do anything to actually help Lexa other than stand guard while she rested. Even if they were attacked, what could she really do? She’d lost her bow, and Lexa still had one of her swords in its sheath, but Clarke knew she’d be utterly hopeless to try and wield it. All she could do was stoke the fire to keep them warm, check over Lexa’s bandages, and hope that someone on the outside had heard her plea.

Lexa hadn’t regained consciousness yet, and Clarke was starting to worry. She’d stopped the blood flow from her leg and had bandaged what she could, but the brunette still hadn’t stirred. All of her medical expertise was telling her that there might be something more going on with the head laceration, but each time she checked, Lexa’s pupils were dilating properly and she hadn’t experienced any seizures or precarious bleeding. Perhaps she was simply just as exhausted as Clarke was, and her body needed the time to rest and heal from the trauma of the injuries and loss of blood.

Still, it was unsettling seeing Lexa look so fragile in the flickering glow of the firelight. She was normally so strong and full of life, radiant almost, like the brightest star in the vast sea of the endless universe. But now she was dimmed, broken and beaten, and barely clinging to life like the last glowing embers of a fire that had burnt its course. Except if Lexa was the fire, then Clarke was the gasoline, and she refused to let her go without a fight. The thought of losing her gripped Clarke’s heart like a vice, squeezing hard enough to force another sob into her throat despite her best efforts to keep it down. She shifted closer to Lexa and took her hand in her own, kissing the back of it gently as a solitary tear escaped from the corner of her eye and slid down her cheek.

It was just before dawn that Clarke felt her eyelids starting to droop to the point where she could hardly keep them open anymore, and the tiny fire she’d kept burning throughout the night was starting to wither out. She sighed, resolving herself to the fact that she needed to go collect more wood, and hoped that the short walk and a bit of fresh air would help wake her up a bit. She pulled her outer layers of clothes back on; they were still slightly damp from their dip in the river, but sitting next to the fire all night had mostly dried them out. She pressed a whisper of a kiss to Lexa’s lips, grabbed her sword, and shuffled out to the mouth of the cave.

The waterfall was crashing so loudly that it drowned out most other noise, so it wasn’t the beeping that caught her attention, but rather the flashing of a red light buried in the bushes just outside their hideout. She felt her stomach do a backflip with excitement and hope as she hurried over to the source of the rapid blinking, finding the light attached to a rather large box and a parachute. She cursed herself for not having left the cave sooner, wondering how long the sponsor package had been sitting there, and thanked her lucky stars that no other Tribute had been drawn to it. She tore into the box, going immediately for the note that accompanied it and found herself holding her breath.

Clarke,
Save her life.
M.K. & I.P.

P.S. I need you to do something for me; try to remember that we’re the good guys.

Clarke felt the note crumple in her hand as a multitude of emotions slammed into her body. The first was elation: happy that her hopes and prayers had been answered and that their Mentors had managed to send help. The second was relief; utter, complete, blissful relief that in this box, she would find what she needed to help the person she had come to care about more than anything. And the third, and most daunting of the three, was confusion; confusion because the words at the end of the note had made no sense coming from Marcus and Indra, yet she had heard them dozens of times before.

She thought back to the last time in particular that she heard them. It was before Jake died and her entire life imploded into never ending chaos. She’d been assisting her mom on a risky surgery, attempting to repair a young mechanic’s spinal injury that she suffered after a terrible accident. Clarke had never scrubbed in on such a difficult procedure before, so she was excited to just be in the room, even if all she was doing was handing her mother the tools she needed. But, somewhere in the middle of the surgery, something went wrong with the anesthetic, and they were forced to close before they could repair the damage. They knew right then and there that the girl would be partially paralyzed for the rest of her life, and Clarke found tears in her eyes when her mother threw the last stitch. That was when Abby reminded her that the only way to get through difficult cases and the loss of patients was to try to remember that they were the good guys, and sometimes the good guys lose.

Clarke snapped back to reality, reading the last line of the note for a second and third time. There was no way that the words were a coincidence; if Marcus and Indra included them, it was because they were trying to send her a message. And that message was: her mother was alive, and somewhere out there, she was working with their mentors. Which meant that Wallace had nothing to hold over head anymore except her life and Lexa’s life, but judging by the way they’d been nearly swallowed by acid fog and then almost devoured by a mutated monkey, the President had no intention of letting either of them live. And it dawned on her then that she could finally tell Lexa the secret she’d been keeping for far too long. But first, she had to save her life.

She scooped up the package in her hands and rushed back into the cave, forgetting about the extra firewood for a moment as she tore into the medical supplies. There was a suture kit, antiseptic, fresh bandages, gauze, pain medication, and a couple of different vials of medical gel – one for wounds, and one for bruises. She’d seen for herself the miracles that the gel could work, easily healing all manner of wounds seemingly overnight, and the advancement of its medical properties had come a long way since Katniss Everdeen had received a similar sponsor parachute to heal her burns in the 74th Hunger Games. She knew that this package alone must have cost a fortune to get into the Games. It felt good to know that there were benefactors in the Capitol looking after them, no matter how disillusioned, misguided, and wrong their intentions were.

She set to work on Lexa’s wounds immediately, using the antiseptic to wash out the gaping wound on her leg, watching as a sea of white foam bubbled up as it killed off the bacteria that had been festering inside. Once the bubbles died down, she applied another dose just to be thorough, and then she began suturing, careful to avoid damaging any muscle as she closed the edges of the wound together. It took over an hour, but after she’d thrown forty or so stitches, she was satisfied with her work. She scooped a glob of the medical gel for open wounds into her hand and applied a healthy layer of it over the top of the stitching, hoping to expedite Lexa’s recovery and winding fresh bandages over it to keep it clean.

After that, she took some more time to clean out the brunette’s head laceration and stitch it closed, using the medical gel and bandages once more to ensure that nothing got infected. Clarke then carefully went about massaging the gel for bruising into the skin and muscle above Lexa’s damaged ribs, hoping that it would at least ease the pain even though she knew the only thing that would fully heal the fractures were time and rest. But in the arena, time and rest were the two things they didn’t have an abundance of, so for now, it would have to do. When all of the wounds were cleaned and dressed, Clarke gently injected a small dose of pain medication into the meaty part of Lexa’s hip, watching as her face gently relaxed in her sleep when the dosage kicked in.

Clarke leaned back, breathing out a heavy sigh of relief as the color had already started to return to Lexa’s face, and she felt for the first time since they’d reached the cave as if she could actually breathe again. She leaned down into Lexa’s ear, laying a tender kiss on her cheek as she went, and whispered softly, “You come back to me, okay? There’s so much I need to tell you.”

<-><-><-><->

Lexa felt as if she was trapped in the midst of a thick fog, holding her prisoner in a bleak world somewhere between waking and dreaming. She was sure that she’d slept for a long time, but she couldn’t remember why. She could, however, remember the dreams she’d been having, dancing vividly behind her eyes. She’d seen Anya when they were just young teens, sneaking into Titus’s office and stealing a bottle of spirits to get drunk off of for the first time. Lexa had felt like her entire world was glowing, stumbling around and bumping into walls, and she made Anya laugh so hard that she peed herself.

Then she dreamt of a time even further back when she first arrived at Polis. She was scared, but she pretended not to be, wearing a mask so that the other kids wouldn’t see her weakness. One of the younger boys had been caught stealing extra rations from the kitchen, and when confronted, she took the blame for it. When Indra asked her why she’d acted so bravely, she’d told her it was because she was strong enough to handle the punishment, while the other boy was not. It was the moment in which Indra had decided to take her under her wing and train her, grooming her for leadership with the other Victor’s blessings.

Finally, she dreamt of something more recent. Of endless pools of blue, and golden strands of sunlight, and the raspy lilting voice of – “Clarke!” she bolted upright, sucking in a breath as the memories came flooding back to her. They’d been chased down by a Mutt, and she’d tried to stand her ground and fight, but the thing had been just too strong. And then they jumped over the waterfall, hand in hand, but the entire world went black when she hit the river below, and she was absolutely sure that she could remember the painful jolt of water filling her lungs. She vaguely recalled stumbling through the woods, leaning the entirety of her body weight on Clarke, but the memory was a complete blur.

Lexa tried to sit up straight, wincing at a sharp pain that shot through her ribs, but trying to get a look at her surroundings. She was in some sort of dimly lit cave, a tiny fire crackled next to her, casting a bouncing yellow shadow over the stony walls, but the blonde she’d been searching for was nowhere in sight. She was aware of the fact that her chest wrapped tightly in some bandages, as well as her left leg, and there was a gauze pad taped over her right eye. There was the loud sound of a crashing waterfall coming from the front of the cavern, and the air smelled of breaking water mist and burnt pine smoke.

A moment later, Clarke returned carrying a bundle of firewood and a couple of fish strung on a line over her shoulder, but she abruptly stopped when blue eyes found green. Everything in her arms came crashing to the ground as she staggered forward in disbelief, dropping to her knees in front of Lexa, and bringing her hands up to slowly frame her face, ghosting over her skin as if she was something fragile. Lexa could feel the way her fingers were trembling, and could see the wall of unshed tears building steadily behind her cerulean gaze, and Clarke opened her mouth to speak but it seemed as if she couldn’t find the words she wanted to say. Instead, she let out a soft whimper and pulled Lexa into her arms, clinging to her as if she would float away if she ever let go.

“You came back to me,” she rasped, voice breaking behind a sob.

“Always,” Lexa answered, feeling the way her own voice quaked. “You saved me, Clarke,” she added, meaning it in more ways than one.

“I thought I lost you,” the blonde replied, pulling back only enough so that they could look into each other’s eyes.

Lexa knew that she would never get tired of the view. “I’m right here, Clarke,” she whispered, the words sounding more like a prayer. “Thanks to you.”

Clarke let out a shaky breath and offered a weak smile that she hid by pressing it desperately against Lexa’s waiting lips. The kiss was soft, but meaningful, full of tender longing, relief and the tiniest bit of hope, and as their mouths moved together, Lexa could feel Clarke’s fear slowly melt away. She wished that they could stay in that moment forever, wrapped up in each other with the simple understanding that they were alive, and they were together, and that was all that mattered. But the truth was, Lexa knew exactly where they were, and that they were in just as much danger now as they had been since the start of the Games.

When they finally pulled away, Clarke’s eyes showed that she knew it too. “How long was I out for?” Lexa questioned, leaning back down on her elbow.

“About sixteen hours,” Clarke replied. “Kane and Indra sent a package,” she added, scooting forward and helping Lexa down into a laying position so that she could examine her dressings.

“Did I miss any…” she trailed off as Clarke’s cold hands made contact with the soft skin on the inside of her thigh, sending a chill down her spine that had her throbbing in areas that were not injured.

“The anthem just played,” the blonde answered softly. “The twins from District Three, Finn, and the girl from District Eight. There’s not many of us left now.”

“Ontari is still out there,” Lexa grunted, forcing her emotions at bay.

Clarke nodded once, but changed the subject. “How does your leg feel?” she asked, gently unwinding the bandages around it.

Lexa shrugged, realizing that it was a lot less sore than it should have been if she was remembering the injury that she sustained properly. “It’s a little tender,” she replied, watching the way Clarke’s brows furrowed in concentration in the most endearing way as she worked.

She peeled the last of the bandages away, and Lexa was expecting to see some gruesome gaping wound, but instead all she saw was a thin line of stitches and the slightest bit of puffiness around the outside of the gash, but it looked relatively mild. “Oh my God,” Clarke gasped. “That stuff really works fast. It looks as if this injury is weeks old, but I’ve only had it wrapped for a few hours.”

“Good,” Lexa rasped. “We cannot afford to sit around and wait for me to heal.”

“No, but that is what you are going to do for now,” the blonde responded, sternly, as she wrapped a new roll of bandage around Lexa’s leg. “You lost a lot of blood. You nearly drowned, Lexa, you need to give your body some time. You really scared me.”

Lexa sighed, knowing in her heart that Clarke was right. She felt weak, and tired, and even as she wanted to protest, she could feel the way her eyelids tugged shut. “I was trying to protect you,” she said, feebly. “But, I am sorry for frightening you, Clarke.”

“You did protect me, Lex. You got us both out of there,” Clarke smiled, leaning forward and pushing another kiss to her lips. “But now it’s my turn to protect you. Rest a little while longer, get some food and water in you, and then we can try to move.”

Lexa nodded, feeling a wave of warmth and butterflies rush through her, taking flight in her stomach and making it feel as if she was soaring. She was so used to caring for everyone else, making decisions for everyone else, protecting everyone else; it’d had been so long since she let anyone do the same for her. She wasn’t entirely sure how to sit still and let someone else take over for once, and it felt strange. But in a way, it also felt right, because the person that she was relinquishing control to was Clarke, and she trusted her with every ounce of her soul. She was strong on her own, capable of leading and surviving and making impossible decisions, and she didn’t need Clarke to thrive. But she wanted her. She wanted everything about her; she wanted the stubbornness, and the passion, and the strength, and the weakness. She wanted it all.

“Lexa, can I ask you something?” Clarke queried, her voice much softer and more timid than it was a moment before.

Lexa nodded once, consenting. “You may ask.”

“What changed?” the blonde started. “In the beginning, you were so concerned with winning and entirely untrusting and cold. So what happened?”

“You happened,” Lexa answered, perhaps more honestly than she would have cared for where the cameras could see. “You’re special, Clarke,” she added, feeling the resounding truth in her words; Clarke was like a light, complete clarity, in an abyss of muddled, unrelenting darkness.

Clarke laughed, a small raspy giggle that made Lexa’s mouth go dry. “I think you have an elevated opinion of me,” she replied.

“You elevate yourself, Clarke,” Lexa whispered, feeling the words slip from her mouth before she could stop herself. “And if I died protecting you, it would have been worth it.”

“Hey,” Clarke answered, tone serious. “Nobody here is dying. Not you, and not me. I won’t accept that.”

“Hopefully you won’t ever have to,” Lexa replied, lending a softness to her voice that she would only ever share with Clarke, losing herself once again in the sparkling sky blue of her eyes.

Chapter Text

Roan looked towards the sky as the anthem played and the faces of the fallen floated by. He saw the twins, Emori and Otan from District Three, and wondered how their deaths came to pass, then he saw the female Tribute from District Eight, and finally the last portrait that floated by was that of Finn Collins, District Thirteen. When he fled the fight late the night before, he knew that Finn wasn’t likely to survive his encounter with Ontari, but he just hoped that his death was a swift and painless one. Truth be told, Roan felt that he was lucky to have even survived his encounter with Ontari, and he knew he surely wouldn’t have if Finn hadn’t intervened when he did.

He’d run into the forest, head pounding and world spinning from the blow he’d taken, and he wasn’t entirely sure how far he’d gotten before he doubled over beneath some shrubbery and let the darkness take him. He’d woken up late that morning, surprised that he was alive at all, and spent most of the day in a distracted haze, nauseated and vomiting, and he knew that he was suffering the effects of a concussion, but he did not have the time nor the luxury to rest. He had to pick himself up and carry on, putting as much distance as he could between himself and that psychopath from his own district now that he knew his sister wanted him dead.

The revelation, and brutal ass-kicking he’d taken the night before, changed his entire game plan. He still intended to win, no matter what it took, but with Gustus dead, District One was much less of a threat than they originally were. And even though it shamed him to admit, he knew that he couldn’t beat Ontari on his own; she was just too quick and too skilled. What he needed to do was hope that Ontari found Lexa before she found him, and perhaps the two largest threats in the Game could eliminate each other. Nia’s little lapdog had orders to kill them both, so it was just a matter of who she found first. He just needed to lay low and survive until then, and try to get his concussion under control.

With that new plan in mind, he set off into the dense trees with no real direction in mind except to find a secure location that was well-hidden to make his camp. He did feel a sense of shame at the fact that he’d been beaten so badly, and it was plaguing on him like a virus, driving him mad. His hatred and anger towards his sister were weighing on him too, and although they’d never been close, he couldn’t help but feel betrayed. His reasons for disliking Nia were far different than hers, stemming from the constant struggle of trying to get out from beneath her shadow. But he suspected she hated him because she blamed him for their parent’s death and for the life they’d led, as if the decisions of their parents were his fault, as if he had any control over them at all even though he was just a child. Whatever the reasons for their distance, the gap between them had grown to a canyon now, and he knew that just like the deep scars in the earth, some never healed.

He wouldn’t let himself be distracted by the bite of betrayal; that was exactly what Nia wanted. Instead, he would focus only on how to deprive her of her plans and rob her of victory. He’d been on the move for a few hours when his head began to clear of its fog, and he started to notice that something was slightly amiss. He felt like he was being watched, the distinct weight of someone’s eyes on him lingering against his skin like a burn. Every time he turned around, he saw only trees and green and the shadows cast by the moonlight falling on the forest floor, but he knew that someone was there. He listened instead, trying to decipher anything unnatural in his surroundings, hearing the birds call and the wind shift against the leaves, and the tiniest hint of shallow steps that attempted to mirror his own.

“I know you’re there,” Roan growled, drawing his sword and spinning around to face nothing but empty forest. Perhaps his head was far more injured than he thought, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being tracked. “Come out and I will grant you a quick death,” he threatened, just to be certain.

For a moment, all was still, the only movement being that of the breeze shifting through the branches above, but then a voice came from behind him that had him whirling around in surprise. “If you intend to kill me, you should probably at least face me,” it said.

He spun and came face to face with golden brown eyes, blonde hair, high cheekbones, and a smirk that he hadn’t seen since the night of the interviews. “Echo,” he breathed, half in relief that it wasn’t Ontari stalking him, and half in shock at finding the girl from District Four.

“Put your sword away, Roan,” she snapped, eying his blade. “If I wanted you dead, you would be. I’ve been following you since last night. I even watched over you while you slept and led Ontari off on a goose chase in the wrong direction.”

“Why?” he asked cautiously, gritting his jaw and putting his blade away against his better judgment.

“Because,” Echo eyed him up and down. “You have honor, and I need an ally that won’t plunge a dagger in my back while I sleep. Ontari is slaughtering anyone she can find, the boy from Nine is a skilled warrior and he’s paired up with the girl from Five, and Clarke and Lexa have some sort of innate connection to each other. That just leaves you and me, Roan.”

He stared at her for a moment, searching her face for any trace of dishonesty, but her gaze never faltered. “How do you know all of this?” he asked.

“You’re a fighter, talented with sword and spear; Ontari is ruthless, talented with all manner of killing; Lexa is strong and wise, talented at leading and inspiring followers; Clarke is compassionate, talented at healing and caring for others,” she described, listing the attributes of most the remaining Tributes. “Let’s just say my talent is spying.”

<-><-><-><->

Raven knew she should be grieving, or feeling some sort of remorse or agony, but she was so caught up in her work that she hardly had time to even breathe, yet alone think about what she’d lost. Finn was gone, but Lexa and Clarke were still out there, which meant that she still had a job to do. Gaining access to the server for the Games had been easy once Bellamy planted her bug, but breaking through the encryptions and firewalls they had setup within was an entire new set of challenges. She’d found the location of the arena easy enough, it was actually just past the borders of District One, sitting in lands that belonged neither to Panem nor anyone else. But getting there would be the hard part.

They needed to get in without drawing too much attention to themselves, otherwise the Capitol would come for them and everyone that they held dear. But as far as she could tell, there was only two ways in or out of the arena. The first was the tunnels that raised the Tributes up to their platforms at the start of the Games; they led to a facility situated below the arena that was really only meant for loading and unloading the participants and preparing them for their debut. The second way seemed a lot more feasible; and that was the drop ships that the Game Makers used to scoop up bodies and return them to their families after cleaning off their blood and sealing their wounds.

From the intel she gathered, it appeared as if the shuttles were fully automated, syncing with a Tribute’s tracker and vital signs and using them as a homing beacon to locate the bodies when someone was killed. They were stationed at a facility just outside of the arena to allow for quick and easy access, and they entered the dome through a small port on the northeast end that opened and closed when a specific signal was transmitted between ship and arena. She wouldn’t be able to hack the signal, but she could figure out a way to potentially clone it; if only they could acquire one of the shuttles. It wasn’t much of a plan, and there was infinite room for error, but it was the best she could come up with.

“I think I figured it out, guys,” she stated, running through the details in her head once more.

Lincoln and Octavia had already left for the Capitol, so only Anya, Bellamy, and Abby remained to aid in their daring rescue. “What do you have for us, Raven?” Bellamy questioned.

She turned the laptop to face them so they could see the detailed maps and blueprints of the arena and shuttle bay laid out. “The drop ships that the Capitol uses to scoop up bodies will be our way in,” she explained, pointing to the docking area. “They’re automated, but if you can get me inside one, I can fly one. They use a specific signal to communicate with the shields around the arena, raising and lowering them in a certain area when coming or going. I can’t hack the frequency, but I’m fairly positive that I can replicate it, or disrupt it to give us access.”

“Okay, so where’s the hard part?” Abby questioned, ever cautious.

“The hard part is we don’t know what kind of security they’ll have in that shuttle bay, if any at all, or if there will be any failsafe system in place in case something like this were to ever happen. Because the facility is out at an undisclosed location, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming Peacekeeper force there, but that’s just in theory,” she explained. She’d searched for some sort of protocols on the issues in the servers, but anything related to security wasn’t being kept in the same mainframe as the coding for the function of the arena. “As far as we’re concerned, they could hit a self-destruct button on that shuttle as soon as they know it’s been hijacked.”

They all stared at each other, exchanging wary glances before Anya spoke, voice hard. “These are risks we must be willing to take,” she stated, not a hint of hesitation in her tone.

Abby nodded her agreement. “I’d do anything to get Clarke back.”

Bellamy sighed, but then shrugged once. “So, you’re flying the hovercraft and getting us into the arena, but what do we have to do?” he asked.

Raven smiled, feeling as if her grin was misplaced after losing Finn, but unable to help it. “Just get me into one of those shuttles, and I’ll do the rest.”

“And what about Clarke and Lexa?” Anya questioned. “We undoubtedly won’t have much time to fly around looking for them.”

“I’ll get a communication to them somehow,” Raven replied. “When we’ve gotten into the drop ship hangar, I will send a message telling them where to meet us.”

“And if you can’t?”

She shrugged. “Then I guess we’ll just have to find them before the Capitol finds us.”

Bellamy arched his eyebrow. “This is insane, Raven, you know that, right? Are you sure this plan will even work?”

“Bellamy, don’t you know by now?” she asked.

“Know what?”

“Raven’s plans always work.” It was Anya who filled in the blanks, reiterating the words Raven had said to her what felt like ages before when they were planning the first break-in to Mount Weather. Their eyes met and they exchanged a soft, knowing smile, silent understanding passing between them.

Bellamy rolled his eyes. “Great,” he muttered. “So, we’re stealing a government shuttle…again.”

“It’s not the first and probably won’t be the last time,” Abby answered. “We’re at war here.”

“Then I guess I’ll go get ready to leave,” he answered, turning and heading from the room. It was obvious that he was nervous, but Raven thought it was more about the danger that Octavia was in rather than the risk he would be taking.

“I’ll go talk to him,” Abby muttered, following him and leaving her alone with Anya.

The girl from District One looked stoic, eyes hard and unwavering, and not at all like someone who was preparing to launch herself into imminent danger. Then again, Anya was a Victor, and Raven knew that she had survived much worse odds. “Are you okay, Raven?” it was Anya who spoke first, breaking the silence that had settled over the room.

Raven swallowed thickly, letting out a shaky breath. Talking about it would only make her cry again, but she felt as if she could trust Anya to care for her if she did break down. They didn’t always see eye to eye, hell they downright annoyed each other, but at least they understood each other. “I’ve been better,” she admitted, shrugging a shoulder.

“And you will be again,” Anya assured her. “Time helps. After I came home a Victor, I was sure I would never be able to sleep again without hearing screams or the sound of canons. But eventually, I grew used to them, and they came on fewer occasions, and now, I hardly ever hear them at all,” she explained. “What I am trying to say is: the pain doesn’t go away, but you do learn to live with it.”

Raven blinked, caught off guard by the kindness and lack of sarcasm in the blonde’s tone, but also hearing the truth in her words. “Thank you, Anya,” she whispered, their gazes finding each other and holding steady.

“It is I who should be thanking you,” Anya replied. “I know right now you would very much like to leave our problems to someone else so that you may focus on your grief. Instead, you’re aiding us in returning our loved ones home safely even though you could not do the same for yours. You are a very strong person, Raven Reyes,” she whispered. “And I am honored to know you.”

Raven felt her heart skip in an unfamiliar way, a way she hadn’t felt since she was a child, meeting Finn for the first time. And she was certain that she shouldn’t be feeling it at all in that moment, but she couldn’t control it, and she wasn’t exactly sure if she wanted to. Finn was gone, and he was never coming back, and that made her heart ache like an open wound, pouring out everything that gave her joy and life. But Anya was right; she would be okay again, eventually. And when she was, maybe there was already someone that was waiting there to show her how to learn to live with the pain.

<-><-><-><->

Niylah was fully aware that everything she’d done since her cousin first contacted her was highly illegal. If the Capitol found out that she was aiding and abetting an attempt to infiltrate the arena and overthrow Mount Weather, she would surely be arrested and killed. But her loyalty remained with her district, her family, and her friends – no matter how much she had enjoyed being a stylist over the years. No matter what happened in the next coming days, she was certain that this would be her last Hunger Games ever, one way or another. And now, Anya was demanding that they flee the Capitol as soon as possible, concerns for her safety and that of Marcus Kane and Indra Pines at the forefront of her most recent message.

It was written in Trigedasleng to keep Mount Weather from flagging their coded messages, but she’d already translated it for Kane’s benefit:

Niylah,
We will be proceeding with our plans to rescue Clarke and Lexa from the arena tomorrow, which means you must make preparations to leave immediately. We will no longer be requiring your aid, or that of Kane and Indra’s, within the Capitol and your safety must be a priority now. Octavia and Lincoln have already been dispatched to the Capitol on a mission of great importance; meet them in the tunnels below the Tribute Center at 0800.
Anya

“They want us to run,” she stated, summing up the message in one simple statement.

“Then we run,” Indra answered, matter-of-factly. “Once the Capitol realizes that we’re attempting to break into the arena to rescue Clarke and Lexa, the first thing they will do is come after all of us. We need to get to safety before that can happen.”

“But, how are we going to get past security?” Marcus questioned. “Last time we created a distraction, but it won’t work twice. Even if we get past the guards, the cameras will still see us and know that something is up. They might even go after Clarke and Lexa for it.”

Niylah perked up, realizing that it was her time to shine. “So let them see us,” she grinned. “Except it won’t be us – or at least they won’t be able to tell it’s us.”

“What are you thinking?” he asked, arching a brow.

“I am a professional stylist and makeup artist,” she mused. “I can make us look like anyone we want, and I can definitely make sure we don’t look like ourselves.”

Indra nodded. “That could work,” she replied. “By the time they realize who it is that’s missing, we will be long gone and Lexa and Clarke will be well on their way to being rescued.”

“And we have to hope that Lincoln and Octavia will be where they’re supposed to be if they’re our ride out of here,” Marcus added, skeptically.

“Do you have a better idea?” Niylah asked.

He held up his hands, defeated. “No,” he replied. “Either this works, or we all die.”

Niylah wasn’t sure if she should be offended, so instead she shrugged, feeling for the first time as if she had a purpose in all of this aside from passing messages. If they succeeded and did take down the Capitol, one day she could remembered as someone who played a key role in the revolution, and that sounded far better than being remembered for a pretty dress. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she smiled. “Now, let’s get started.”

<-><-><-><->

Alie could kill every single Tribute left in the arena with a push of a single button. The one rule to maintaining success was to always have a contingency plan; except, her contingency plan was marvelous and she was just dying for a reason to use it. Dante had gave specific orders that Ontari was to become the Victor, but he didn’t specify how. Still, Plan B wasn’t exactly failsafe, and it would be a shame to see the girl from District Two fall victim to the Mutts that she was aching to release before she could be crowned Victor.

Meanwhile, she was rather disappointed in the effectiveness of the Pauna, and had been hoping for a much more exciting show. The twins from District Three had been dispatched as easily as swatting flies, and it had been entertaining to see Lexa attempt to fight the lumbering beast, but Alie had been ready to rip Panem’s new favorite darlings from the world with a single blow. It would have been devastating, and tragic, and thrilling all in one fantastic moment, and as Head Game Maker, she could have asked for nothing more. Yet, Clarke and Lexa had escaped with their lives and were currently holed up in a cave recuperating from the injuries they’d sustained.

The girl from District Five and the boy from District Nine had formed an alliance and were down by one of the rivers, spearfishing for their breakfast in the blooming morning sun. They looked strong, and they worked together well; they almost could have survived through to the end if she hadn’t already been given orders to kill them next. Roan and Echo had teamed up as well, and they made quite a daunting duo between his strength and her slyness, but Ontari was on the prowl and closing in on them, a confrontation between the two almost inevitable. It would make good entertainment to see a battle between them, and that was her job after all – to be the architect, the mastermind, behind the year’s most entertaining show.

But at the moment, all was quiet, and the competition was reaching the point in which there was far too much space between Tributes, and not enough death to go around. The arena was large enough to house all seven remaining Tributes for a month without the chance of ever running into each other, and that would do no good for anyone. She suspected it would be over within a day or so, once she forced them all together, and only Ontari would be left standing. She went to type a command into the system, ready to drive Clarke and Lexa from the safety of their cave, and that’s when she realized that something wasn’t right.

Alie had been designing, innovating, inventing, and writing code since before she could walk, and she could always tell when her work was being tampered with like a vandal leaving a stain on her masterpiece. She pounded on her keyboard a few more times, searching for the intruder, attempting to locate the disruption in her art. Someone had been digging around in her system, sifting through her encryptions and sneaking past her firewalls, and it appeared as if they had been looking at schematics of the arena and the base of operations surrounding it. She was struck with anger at first, darting out of the room and heading straight for Dante’s office, mind racing a thousand miles per minute.

But as she sorted through all the possibilities in her brain, she couldn’t help but feel a sly smile begin to form on her face. She needed a way to force the Tributes together in one final showdown, she also needed a way to ensure that they would be dead before the hacker ever had a chance to utilize what they were planning, and she needed a way to end the Games with a bang that would surely be remembered for years to come. Perhaps she would get to use her contingency plan after all, and that was a thought that delighted her.

“Dante,” she said, slamming through his door without knocking and interrupting his breakfast. He glanced up at her, fork suspended hallway between his mouth and the plate. “We’ve been hacked.”

Chapter Text

Clarke had yet to sleep and it had been almost two days, but at that point, she no longer cared. Seeing Lexa awake and alive and looking at her with so much tenderness and passion had rejuvenated her very soul. She felt as if she could stand on guard for ever, watching over the beautiful brunette while she rested and healed, and keeping her safe through the night. Clarke didn’t know what she was feeling; it was as if she had been sleeping for her entire life, and meeting Lexa had been the reason she’d finally woken up; being with Lexa, in her arms or against her lips, or looking in her eyes, it was as if she seeing everything she could ever need staring back at her. Clarke had never been in love before, but she was sure starting to believe that it could very much feel something like that.

She watched the brunette and felt the way a smile came to her cheeks without even realizing it, tugging at her lips as her heart beat erratically against her ribs. Lexa was looking so much better; the miracle medical gel had worked its magic over the last day or so, and the last time Clarke had changed her bandages, the wound was nearly closed. The color had returned completely to Lexa’s cheeks, and her face was peaceful as she slept in the flickering light of the fire. Clarke thought that not even the most beautiful sunrise could compare to what she was looking at in that moment, and knew that it was a view she would never grow tired of.

But then Lexa’s features changed, and her brow furrowed as she begin to whimper slightly in her sleep, and Clarke wasn’t sure if she was in pain or if she was having a nightmare. She startled awake, green eyes bursting open as she shot up and gasped for air, breathing heavily and glancing around wildly as if searching for danger.

“Hey,” Clarke cooed, instantly shifting to her side and putting her hands on her shoulders so that she could hold her gaze. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay,” she whispered, letting her hand cup Lexa’s face as her thumb stroked her jawline. “What were you dreaming about?”

Lexa gasped, still struggling for air and wincing slightly at the effort against her fractured ribs. “Death,” she rasped. “War. The suffering of my people,” she went on, normally impassive features etched in sadness.

Clarke wanted to tell her that they could end it all: the suffering, the death, the misery in which the districts lived each and every day. She wanted to swear to her right then and there that they would stop it all and bring down Mount Weather together. But she felt the eyes of a camera and the Capitol watching them, listening in on their every word, so instead she leaned forward and pushed a kiss to Lexa’s mouth. The brunette was trembling beneath her lips, shaken by the nightmare she’d been having, but as their tastes swam together, she seemed to calm, relaxing slightly into Clarke’s firm embrace.

Clarke pulled away so that their eyes could meet once more. “Your fight isn’t over,” she whispered, remembering the words of the prayer that Lexa said over the bodies of the fallen and turning it into something more.

Our fight isn’t over, Clarke,” Lexa corrected, pressing her forehead to Clarke’s. “Oso gonplei nou ste odon,” she added, saying the words in her language.

Clarke smiled and nodded once, trying to ignore the way the butterflies soared in her stomach. “Speaking of fight; how are you feeling?”

Lexa sat back, and flexed her leg out in front of her, testing it. “Much better than I was yesterday,” she answered.

“Let me check how your wounds are doing,” Clarke replied, already reaching to peel away the gauze pad over Lexa’s eye.

The cut that had been oozing blood for hours after they’d fled the Mutt was entirely sealed up, leaving behind nothing more than a pink scar that Clarke smiled as she pressed a kiss to. She went on to look at the bruising on Lexa’s ribs; it was still there, but faint and yellowing as it healed, rather than the harsh black and purple that it had been the day before. Finally, she unwound the wrappings around the brunette’s thigh, examining the gash that the tree branch had left behind. It was puffy and red, but the stitches seemed to have vanished over night as the skin healed around them and it looked more like an old injury than a new one.

“What are you thinking, Clarke,” Lexa questioned, and Clarke glanced up to see her watching her with intense forest green eyes. “Your brow crinkles when you’re in thought,” she explained.

“I’m thinking that you should be well enough to travel today, but I’m not sure if we should,” Clarke explained. “Maybe we can just stay here and ride out the rest of the Games.”

Lexa shook her head, and used the wall for support as she pulled herself up onto her feet. Clarke shot up and was instantly by her side, ready to catch her should she waver, but she appeared strong and sure-footed. “We cannot stay here, Clarke,” she said, testing her weight on her leg. “There are only seven of us left, which means a final confrontation will be coming soon. We should not wait around and see what the Game Makers have in store to drive us from this cave.”

Clarke knew she was right; she had been watching the Hunger Games for the past seventeen years, and she knew well enough that when the competition narrowed, the Game Makers always found a way to force the remaining Tributes together. Still, the thought of Lexa having to traipse through the woods, or perhaps even fight someone like Ontari, while she was still healing was enough to deter Clarke’s decision.

“I just want to make sure you’re okay,” she hesitated, torn between staying and going.

Lexa stared at her for a moment, emotion expressionless but emerald gaze filled with thought. “We do not have the luxury of time on our side, Clarke,” she said after a moment. “We must go,” she added, reaching down to clasp her solo remaining sword to her waist.

Clarke nodded and stepped back, putting her personal feelings aside for a moment to observe the brunette the way a doctor would a patient. It was obvious that she wasn’t fully healed yet, keeping some weight off her injured leg, but standing strong all the same. Her expression was hardened, laced with determination, though there was a slight hint of pain behind her eyes that Clarke was sure only she could see. The rest of Panem would be seeing Lexa as a warrior ready to do battle, resilient and formidable, but Clarke could always read the truth in her eyes. But Lexa’s ability to generate an appearance was something that she admired most about her, always putting the needs of others and her people above her own.

“Fine,” Clarke sighed and relented. “But we’re stopping to rest when you need to,” she added, pulling her arena jacket on and zipping it up.

Lexa nodded once and did the same, lacing her boots up before following Clarke out towards the entrance of the cave. Clarke watched as she walked, searching for signs of weakness in her gape, but found only the slightest of limps. Either Lexa was trying very hard to appear strong and unharmed for the cameras, or the medical gel had truly worked a miracle. Regardless, she seemed strong and able and ready to move again, but something else had Clarke stopping in the mouth of the cavern, pausing as the waterfall crashed around them so loudly that it was ringing in their ears. She grabbed Lexa’s hand before she could stray too far, realizing that this might be their only chance to talk where the Capitol could not hear.

She reached forward and let her arms wrap around Lexa’s waist, pulling her into a tight embrace as she pressed a soft kiss to the skin of her neck, then tilted her chin up to whisper in her ear. “Can you hear me?” she asked, knowing that no matter how advanced the Capitol’s surveillance technology was, they wouldn’t be able to discern what she was saying over the crashing of water right next to them.

“Yes, Clarke,” Lexa whispered back, and Clarke felt the warmth of the brunette’s hands as they rested tenderly on her lower back.

“Good,” she replied. “There’s something I need to tell you,” she began, unsure of where to start. “Yesterday when I received the parachute with the medical supplies, there was a message in it,” she explained, choosing the one thing that she hadn’t been able to shake from her mind: her mother. “The package was from Indra and Kane, but there was a postscript on it that didn’t make sense coming from either of them. It was something that my mother used to say to me all the time. I think she’s alive, Lex. And I think she’s working with your district.”

Lexa nodded her understanding against Clarke’s cheek. “Then Wallace no longer has anything to hold against you, Clarke,” she replied, knowing exactly what it meant.

“Which means I need to tell you what my father found in Mount Weather,” Clarke supplied. “In case something happens to me, or in case we don’t make it out of here together.”

Lexa stiffened and pulled her closer, protectively, as if to shield her with her own body. “We will,” she growled, defiance seeping from her voice.

“But just in case,” Clarke answered. “What my father found; it's not a weapon, it’s—

Her whisper was cut short by the sound of two rapid canon blasts, booming loudly over the crashing of the waterfall. They froze for a moment, still clasping to each other as the whirring sound of a hovercraft engine soared right above them, dipping down into the tree line less than a mile downstream. The last time they had heard two canon blasts that quickly in succession, a ferocious Mutt had barreled through the forest and nearly killed them. They paused for a moment, staring into each other’s eyes, and holding their breaths in anticipation as they strained to hear any other noises over the breaking water around them. A second later, a chorus of shouting echoed in unison, sounding as if it was a feral mix between man and beast, animalistic in nature, but still slightly human. And it sounded as if there were dozens of them.

“Go, Clarke!” Lexa shouted, taking her hand and already leading her away.

<-><-><-><->

Lexa knew that she wasn’t fully healed when she made the decision to leave the cave, but as they ran, sprinting through the woods, she realized just how weak she still was. Her ribs throbbed in her chest, searing pain like a knife as her lungs expanded and contracted with her breathing. Her leg pounded in unison with her heart, sharp and shooting with each step that she took, and she was sure that the world was spinning around her, and she couldn’t tell if it was from her concussion or from dehydration and lack of sustenance. But Clarke’s hand was in hers, and footsteps were rumbling behind them, and they had no choice but to flee.

If they had stayed in the cave, they surely would have been cornered by whatever it was that was hounding their heels, and it sounded as if the entire arena was echoing with whatever beasts the Capitol had unleashed. She wasn’t sure of their direction or where they could even go to escape the death that was stalking them, so they just sprinted as far and fast as they could. The trees whipped by them in green blurs, and the birds above them screeched as if in terror as the sky above seemed to suddenly change; transforming from sunny and blue, to rolling black thunder clouds that began to steadily pour out rain around them.

The ground beneath their feet changed from dirt to mud that had them slipping and sliding through the underbrush, the branches reaching out and snagging at their skin, digging little cuts into their faces and hands. Clarke stumbled in the mud, and it took every bit of strength Lexa could muster as her ribs screeched in agony to keep her upright. This wouldn’t be like the giant gorilla she had faced; she couldn’t just turn around and square off against whatever was pursuing them, she knew by the sound of it that there would be just too many to face on her own.

But, they stumbled into a clearing, and everything seemed to cease all at once. The shouting and whooping of the hoard stilled, the screeching birds lulled away to faint squawks, the thunder stopped, though the rain still poured, dripping down from the trees above. It was as if time had come to a standstill, freezing them in that moment amidst a wide clearing, mud beneath their feet and surrounded by tall pines, as they skidded to a halt. Clarke’s hand was still in hers, and Lexa met her sky blue gaze, both of them breathing heavily as streams of white puffed from their mouths and floated away into the bitter cold air.

Then, the sound of footsteps resumed again, and Lexa quickly yanked her sword free of its scabbard as she faced the direction that they were barreling in from. Except this time, it sounded like only two sets rather than twenty, and she braced herself as they grew closer and closer. The bushes in front of them rustled, erupting as two figures darted out and slammed to a stop right in front of them. She reacted instantly, pushing Clarke behind her protectively as she set her stance and squared off, ready for an attack.

Roan Queen stared back, panting heavily and clutching his spear with white knuckles, the tip pointed towards Lexa in challenge. His brown hair was soaked from the rain, matted with dirt and leaves from the underbrush, and there was blood seeping down the side of his neck from a wound that had opened up somewhere on the back of his head. Behind him stood the girl from District Four, Echo, spinning a sword of her own in a skillful flurry as she gazed at Lexa with narrowed brown eyes. They both looked as if they had been running for miles, breathless, and each of them wore an expression that was laced with fear.

“Roan,” Lexa said, greeting him warily. This was the final confrontation she had been worried about, and it explained why the Mutts had stopped chasing them, as if the entire arena was holding its breath to see how this moment would play out. “Echo,” she added, addressing the girl beside him.

He looked her up and down, clearly trying to get a measure of her strength, and she did all that she could to appear unfazed. “Lexa,” he replied, voice deep and careful. “Clarke,” he supplied a second later, giving her a slight nod.

Clarke was unarmed, having lost her bow when they went over the waterfall, but she stepped forward to stand beside Lexa nonetheless, refusing to let her fight alone. The silence between them built up as the tension climbed, waiting to come crashing down in the form of violence and bloodshed, and it seemed as if they were all holding their breaths, pausing to see who would make the first move. The rain pounded into the treetops above, and the only sound that could be heard was that of dripping water as their chests heaved, and their stances shifted in anticipation of a battle.

It was Roan who spoke first, keeping his guard up, but softening only slightly. “Did you see it?” he asked. “Did you see what it was that is chasing us?”

“No,” Lexa replied, truthfully. She hadn’t seen a thing, but she’d heard it, and it was enough to scare her. “But it sounded like there were dozens of them.”

He nodded his agreement. ‘They pursued us here. Clearly so that we would meet,” he said.

“They want us to end it,” she nodded, reaching the same conclusion.

“Well?” he asked. “What are you waiting for? Do it.”

The hollering and hounding of the Mutts kicked up around them again, as if shouting their concurrence. They were beyond the line of view, but Lexa knew that they were in the trees, surrounding them, waiting to see how the moment would play out, just as all of Panem was. The Capitol wanted them to fight; Wallace wanted to see them end each other; two sworn enemies locked in battle, vying to see who would live for even just a few moments longer. The truth was, all four of them were together, surrounded by enemies, yet one person was missing: Ontari. And Lexa knew then that none of them were meant to leave that clearing alive.

“Perhaps there is another way,” Lexa suggested, timidly, seeing the same question in Roan’s eyes. “The Capitol means for us to die here,” she said. “All of us,” she added, looking towards Echo who appeared like a snake waiting to lash out at any moment.

“So?” Roan questioned, shifting slightly.

“So, that does not mean we have to give them what they want,” Lexa answered, hearing the Mutts scream angrily as they edged closer. “What I am saying, Roan Queen, is that I would rather die fighting my true enemy than die fighting you.”

He stared at her in disbelief, weighing her words as the chorus of thundering footsteps resumed, barreling towards them. He glanced at Echo, then back to Lexa, and then to Echo again, before letting out a frustrated growl and nodding once. “Together then?” he asked.

“Together,” Lexa replied, shifting cautiously as Roan stepped forward and put his back to her, showing her trust, as he edged in to form a ring with her and Clarke, moving aside to allow Echo in as well.

“Take this, Thirteen,” Roan growled, unsheathing the sword at his belt and handing it to Clarke as they all squared off, back-to-back, facing the trees around them as the forest seemed to shout its anger, closing in on them with each passing second.

Lexa looked towards Clarke, forest green eyes meeting the beauty of sky and ocean, and in them she could read the three little words unsaid between them. “This is it,” Lexa whispered, saying three completely different words instead, afraid the other ones would sound too much like a goodbye. “Stay close to me, Clarke.”

“Always,” Clarke answered, offering her a determined nod.

The footsteps of what sounded like an entire legion were nearly on top of them, the feral shouting so loud that it blotted out the sound of screeching birds, roaring thunder, and pounding rain. Lexa took a deep breath in through her nose, and let it out through her mouth, centering herself for the oncoming attack. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew all along that it would come down to a moment like this. Dante Wallace was cruel and vile, but he was also smart, and she knew that he would have figured out by now what her true intentions were in volunteering for the Games. He would never have let them live, and it appeared that he had selected his Victor already.

“Get ready!” Roan shouted as the bushes in front of them began to rustle. “Here they come!”

Chapter Text

Getting in to the Capitol for a second time had been easier than the first, but Lincoln knew that the real trouble would be in getting out. If all went according to plan, he and Octavia would be returning with three extra people and one sedated Reaper, and finding a way to sneak them all onto the shuttle would not be easy, but they didn’t have a choice. Abby needed to see if there was a way to reverse whatever Mount Weather had done to make the Reapers feral, and Indra, Kane and Niylah needed to get out of the Tribute Center before the Capitol realized that they were breaking Clarke and Lexa out of the arena. He just hoped that they wouldn’t run in to too much trouble along the way.

They had gotten into the tunnels easy enough; apparently the Capitol had released a swarm of Mutts in the arena that were forcing the remaining Tributes to a conflict, so the majority of the guards were distracted by what was happening on television. Below ground, the passageways smelled worse than Lincoln remembered, reeking of rotting flesh and human waste, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to breathe through his nose or mouth, so he alternated instead with the sting of tears in his eyes. Octavia stayed by his side as they edged through the darkness, moving slowly so that they could listen for the animalistic groans of the Reapers or any approaching footsteps. He tried to ignore the way that Octavia’s hand brushed against his as they walked, and he almost thought that it was happening far too often to be unintentional.

Ten minutes passed by, and the further they walked, the thicker the air grew around them, damp and musty and pungent, but they still had seen no signs of the Reapers that prowled the tunnels. He knew they’d be coming up on the Tribute center soon, and he froze, pulling Octavia to a stop with him when he heard the frantic whispers of a conversation up ahead. He drew his sword as they slowly edged closer, trying to make out the figures in the miniscule light provided by yellow lamps that hung down from the ceiling every thirty meters or so. He could see the outline of three figures moving towards them, and as if a subconscious reaction, automatically moved to push Octavia behind his frame protectively.

The silhouettes froze when they got closer, clearly spotting them, and Lincoln could see one of them stepping forward as if preparing for a fight. They were wearing long gray robes, layered with the furs of animals, and even in the dim lit tunnels, Lincoln could see the white war paint of District Two, the Ice Nation, layered across their faces. Except the one moving towards him looked oddly familiar, moving with the confidence of a trained warrior, and squaring off in a fighting stance that he would recognize anywhere; he had learned from it since he was a boy.

“Indra?” he questioned, calling out to her.

“Lincoln?” she shot back, voice as equally surprised.

“Why are you dressed as Ice Nation?” he asked.

At the exact same time she called, “Why are you disguised as a Peacekeeper?”

He breathed a heavy sigh of relief and sheathed his blade as the other two figures moved out from the shadows behind the District One mentor. “We needed a way into the tunnels,” he explained.

“As did we,” Indra answered. “Niylah is a talented stylist, isn’t she? When the Capitol plays back the tapes of our escape, they will see Ice Nation disappearing into the tunnels, not us.”

“Clever,” Octavia noted from beside him, speaking for the first time. “But, we shouldn’t stay here in case the Peacekeepers decide to come investigate why the delegation from District Two decided to take a stroll through the sewers.”

“You must be Octavia,” Indra acknowledged her. “Anya said that you would be with Lincoln.”

“Did Anya’s message also mention why else we are here aside from rescuing you?” Lincoln asked.

“She said you were on a mission of great importance. What’s going on?” it was Niylah, Anya’s cousin, who spoke this time.

Lincoln hesitated, unsure if it was the appropriate time to tell them, but seeing as they had yet to complete the main objective of their mission, he knew they’d likely need their help. “We know what the Capitol has been doing to our people that are arrested and taken to Mount Weather,” he started. “They’re turning them into Mutts.”

Indra gasped, sharply. “Are you sure of this?” she questioned, tone laced with hatred.

“Yes. They’re feral shells of the people they once were. They eat human flesh,” he explained, sickened by the words he was saying. “Abby asked us to capture one alive so she could see if she could reverse the effects.”

“Wait, Abby? As in Abby Griffin?” a deep male’s voice asked and Lincoln assumed that he was speaking to Marcus Kane. “She’s alive?”

“Yes,” Lincoln answered. “She’s been hiding out in District One, working together with us.”

“Lincoln,” Indra hissed, drawing his attention back in. “What you are saying cannot possibly be true.”

“Oh, it’s true,” Octavia replied, backing into him slowly. “You’re about to see for yourself,” she added.

A feral growl echoed off the walls of the tunnel, followed by at least a half a dozen more, as footsteps grew louder, rushing towards them. In the yellow light, they could see shadows playing on the walls, leaping and limping as they sprinted in their direction like a pack of wolves on the hunt. He reacted quickly, drawing a second sword and handing it to Indra as they stepped forward and corralled the others behind them, awaiting the incoming onslaught.

“Gods, what are those?” Indra gasped, just as red eyes and wild faces swam into view.

“Reapers!” Lincoln answered. “Remember, we need to take one alive!” he added before charging forward.

They met in combat, rusty blades and bloodied wooden clubs against Lincoln and his mentor’s skillful swords. Though they had the numbers, the Reapers were unskilled, wild and frenzied in their techniques that made it easy to get past their guard. What made it difficult was the fact that although Lincoln and Indra were landing solid blows, tearing through corroded armor and worn out clothes to open up deep gashes on the Reaper’s flesh, the beasts seemed to be immune to pain. Instead of wincing or howling as blood poured out of their wounds, they ignored it entirely to continue their onslaught. It was clear that kill strikes were the only way to stop them.

He didn’t hesitate as he drove his sword into the exposed chest of one of the Reaper’s watching as the woman collapsed into a lifeless heap on the ground. Indra followed suit, raking her blade across another’s throat to end his miserable existence. At the back of the pack, Lincoln spotted the familiar face of Tierro, eyes bloodshot and snarling, and he stabbed another one through the stomach as he made a break for him, leaving Indra to fend off the other two remaining Mutts.

Lincoln tossed his blade aside, opting to tackle Tierro to the ground at waist level, taking out his legs as they tumbled in a heap on the solid floor. He managed to pull out the syringe full of sedative that Abby had given him, struggling to get into a position where he could inject it, but his former classmate was far stronger than he anticipated. Tierro rolled him over, gaining the top position as he wailed heavy fists down onto Lincoln’s face and chest, knocking the needle from his hand and skittering it across the ground. Lincoln reached out, trying to block with his left arm, while feeling for the syringe with his right hand, but it was just out of reach. And then, Terrio’s hands were around his neck, choking him, squeezing the life from his body as he stared up into red eyes and a mutated face of a man he once knew.

He heard Indra shouting his name, but she was still busy blocking the spear of a lone remaining attacker, and he could feel himself losing consciousness as black spots began to crowd his vision. Suddenly, a flash of brown hair was standing over Tierro, injecting the sedative into his neck, and Lincoln watched as his crimson eyes rolled back in his head. His grip loosened, and Lincoln gasped and choked for air as he pushed the unconscious form off of him, staring up towards the ceiling as red was replaced with green and he met the eyes of Octavia. She was clutching the empty syringe in her hand, and staring down at him with utter worry etched on her divine features and he thought that he had never seen someone so beautiful in his life.

She dropped to her knees and clutched his face in her hands. “Lincoln? Are you okay?” she gasped, tone laced with fear.

He coughed, sputtering once before offering a single nod. “Thanks to you,” he rasped.

Behind them, Indra dispatched the final opponent, his body hitting the ground with a heavy thud that echoed off the walls, but that wasn’t the only noise they heard. Angry voices reverberated down the tunnel coming from the direction of the shuttle port, and this time they were legible rather than the feral growls of Reapers. “Peacekeepers!” Indra hissed, reaching down and hauling Lincoln to his feet.

“We must go!” Niylah whispered, urgently.

“They are blocking our way out!” Lincoln replied, snatching up his sword and sheathing it.

“There’s another way!” Octavia interjected. “I studied it on Raven’s blueprints, just in case! These tunnels lead outside, we just have to follow them!” she said, motioning towards the sewer passages. “I know the way,” she added.

Lincoln nodded once, aware of the irony in the fact that he had promised Bellamy he would keep his sister safe, yet it was Octavia who was saving them all. He motioned to Marcus, and together they hoisted Tierro’s unconscious body up between the two of them, dragging him through the darkness towards wherever the beautiful girl from District Thirteen was leading them.

<-><-><-><->

When Echo allied with Roan, she thought it would lead to a longer life expectancy, but of course nothing could ever go according to plan in the arena. The truth was: she could have stayed in the shadows; she could have tried to ride out the Games unseen; she could have remained neutral and survived on her own. But, her aptitude was in listening, learning, watching, and gaining knowledge from the things that she could see, and from what she had seen, Ontari was slated to win. Which meant her only hope to survive was to stand and fight with those who remained alive.

Coincidentally, that prediction to stand and fight happened to be quite literal, and she found herself back to back with the three other Tributes of an unlikely alliance. Roan had recovered from his concussion and seemed to be prepared to fight, and she felt the slightest bit more comfortable with him at her side. To her back, Lexa crouched low in her fighting stance, slightly favoring her leg as if recovering from an injury of her own, but Echo knew that her prowess in battle was unmatched. The weak link in their line of defenses was obviously Clarke, and despite the score of twelve that she received after the skills demonstration, Echo knew that she had no real combat experience. But, the blonde looked into the trees intently, clutching her blade with two hands and looking as if she would give her very life to defend the brunette beside her.

The forest around them was echoing with feral cries and howls as the Mutts closed in around them, barreling towards them like a stampede. Echo tightened her own grip on the hilt of her sword, holding it out in front of her as she readied herself for the battle of her life, but nothing could have prepared her for when the monsters finally erupted into the clearing. They flooded in around them, screeching and wailing in their own insanity, except they were not foul beasts or mutated animals like she thought they would be; they were people.

Or what was left of the people they once were. They were clearly human in nature, but their eyes were as red as coals, burning with hatred and bloodlust. Their skin was bubbled and scarred like they had been bathing in acid, their mouths were drenched in blood as if they had been feasting on the living, and their hair was of various lengths, matted with dirt and flesh and earth. Some of them clutched rusted weapons that looked like they could be decades old, and others simply charged at them with their bare hands, roaring like wild animals.

“What the hell are these things?” Clarke shouted from beside her.

“Who cares?!” Echo shouted back, slicing through the neck of a Mutt that reached out for her. “Just fight!”

Roan surged forward, twirling his spear around his shoulders and striking out at the faces and bodies of the nearest attackers, holding off a horde of them. But the Mutts acted as if they felt no pain, staggering for only a moment before they surged forward again, and it wasn’t until Roan thrust his spear into one’s heart that it finally fell still. He lashed out to the left, knocking one in Echo’s direction, and she reacted in an instant, dropping to a knee and thrusting her blade up into the chest of the off-balance Mutt. She yanked her sword out, and advanced again, slashing and slicing as the wave poured in around them.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Lexa, locked in a deadly dance as she spun and twisted, cutting down her opponents as if they were nothing more than training dummies. If Echo wasn’t so focused on not dying, she would have taken a moment to admire the brunette’s skill, but she had to turn her attention back to her own attackers as one swung a bloodied club at her head. She ducked, cutting the tendons in the back of the Mutt’s knees and then shoved her sword into its abdomen when it fell, gurgling as it gave a dying growl.

On her other side, Clarke was swinging her blade wildly, but her lack of skill didn’t seem to matter as the Mutts charged forward without caution, running straight into her blade. The blonde looked as if she was tiring, but Lexa was by her side in an instant, helping to eradicate any enemies that got in too close, defending her while simultaneously holding off the attackers streaking in from her side of the clearing. Clarke whirled around and swung her blade as if swinging a bat, lobbing off the hand of a Mutt that was reaching for Lexa’s back before thrusting her blade into its neck.

Echo felt a burst of pain as the tip of a spear passed through the meaty part of her upper arm, and she spun in time to deflect the sharp blade that was coming towards her heart. Roan stepped forward and kicked out with a heavy boot at the Mutt that had wounded her, sending it sprawling onto it’s back as Echo lunged forward and forced her blade into its chest. They moved together pushing forward against what remained of the wave, striking down the sloppy attacks of the feral beasts that seemed to never end.

She took a second to spare a glance down into the face of the Mutt she’d just slain, and recognition seemed to register in the back of her mind as if recalling a distant memory. She was looking down into the face of one of the old shopkeepers in her district that had been arrested for selling contraband goods that the Capitol had no way of taxing. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her, brought on by fear and exhaustion, but the resemblance was there and she couldn’t shake it. She whirled around as another Mutt came towards her, and this time, she definitely recognized the face: it was her own brother.

“By the Gods,” she muttered, feeling tears pull at her eyes before she could stop them. “Blare?” she asked, whispering his name. His blonde hair was the same shade as hers, matted and tangled, there was a bit of flesh hanging from the corner of his mouth, and his eyes, their mother’s eyes, were unrecognizable. She briefly flashed back to the day he was arrested for trying to steal some bread; it had been her birthday, and he wanted to bring her something special.

He didn’t seem to recognize her, and he advanced, lashing out with a deadly blade that was aimed to take her life. But Lexa was at her side in an instant, blocking the blow and spinning forward, bashing him over the head with the hilt of her sword and knocking him unconscious. “They may wear their faces, but they are not them,” Lexa growled before spinning away and returning to her place at Clarke’s side.

The torrent of Mutts rushing toward them seemed to be dwindling as they continued to hold their ground, and all Echo could do was force the tears from her eyes and grit her teeth as she cut them down. With each blow, she wondered whose brother, mother, sister, or friend that she was killing. And more than that, she wondered what the hell the Capitol had done to them, feeling the anger in her chest build up until it reached its boiling point, threatening to spill over. She stepped forward and thrust her blade into the neck of another Mutt, watching the life drain from its eyes and picturing Wallace’s face instead. She turned around, breathing raggedly as she readied herself for another opponent, but found them alone in the clearing.

They were all gasping for air, doubled over with their hands on their knees and trying to catch their breaths. Roan’s head wound was bleeding more profusely now, leaking down to soak the shoulder of his jacket, and his spear was coated in blood and the remnants of guts. Lexa stumbled towards Clarke, looking as if her wounded leg was ready to give out, and they crashed together in an embrace that had them both trembling and whispering words of worry as they cupped each other’s faces. They were all unscathed, but the ground before them was littered with the bodies of almost two-dozen Mutts, the dirt coated with torrents of blood that splashed up in little droplets when the rain hit it.

In the distance, another blast of feral howls rang out; it sounded as if another wave was closing in, and Echo wasn’t sure if they had the energy to fight off any more. “That’s enough!” Lexa yelled, and Echo was caught off guard by her sudden outburst.

The brunette was glaring into the nearest camera, only mere inches from her face, and she wore an expression that dared to be challenged. “These are people!” she shouted, motioning to the dead. “Our people! And you’ve turned them into these monsters,” she growled, spitting the word in disgust, and it was clear that she was speaking directly to President Wallace. “You may kill us here, you may kill me here, but Panem will not stand for what you’ve done,” she threatened. “You’ve made an enemy of us all.”

Echo couldn’t help but admire the passion behind her threat, as if she truly believed she could make it come to fruition, but then the entire world came to halt when the sound of slow clapping resonated off the trees around them. Ontari stepped out from the shadows, grinning and very clearly unharmed as if the horde of Mutts hadn’t even deigned to touch her. She wore an expression of utter amusement on her face, and she laughed as her beady brown eyes raked over them all, searching for weaknesses that she could exploit.

“You were always so noble, Lexa,” she mused. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I told you we would meet again.”

“It was unwise for you to come here, Ontari,” Lexa answered, already shifting her stance for a fight.

“Well, since you’re here, I think this is exactly where I should be,” Ontari grinned, mischievously.

Clarke stepped forward, halfway positioning herself between Lexa and the deranged brunette from District Two. “It’s four against one, Ontari,” she stated. “You can’t win.”

Ontari laughed, almost maniacally. “On the contrary, I’ve already defeated Roan once, we all know you can’t fight, Clarke, and Echo is better at hiding than confrontation. Besides, I have no intention to fight all of you. I’m here for one of you.”

“We both know what you’re here for,” Lexa replied, tone angry. “Issue the challenge and let’s get on with it.”

“Very well,” Ontari smiled. “You are challenged.”

“And I accept your challenge,” Lexa replied.

“Lexa, what is this?” Clarke questioned, wearing a look of confusion, but Echo understood already.

She stepped forward and put a gentle hand on Clarke’s shoulder. “Solo combat,” she explained. “To the death. Honor demands that Lexa fight alone.”

<-><-><-><->

Bellamy was a giant mess of nerves, consumed mostly by worry for his sister and his current inability to do anything to protect her. Of course, how could he? He was in the hovercraft they’d stolen from District Thirteen, flying out to the arena on the edge of the Wilds to break into a secure hidden facility, and Octavia was in the Capitol with Lincoln running a mission that in all likelihood was just as dangerous as his own. Not to mention Raven and Anya had done nothing but argue like an old married couple since they left District One, and it was doing nothing to help calm him. The only person who seemed complacent was Abby, and he knew that her thoughts were on getting her daughter back and nothing else.

Below them, the trees zipped by in a blur of greens and browns, and if he stared for too long, he felt as if he was going to be sick. Or perhaps his stomach was just twisting and churning out of dread for what they were about to do, bubbling up the bile in the back of his throat. According to Raven, the ride from District One to the location of the arena would only take a few hours, and they’d already been flying for that long, so he knew they were bound to be getting close. Except, the nearer they got, the more anxious he grew, and he couldn’t help but dismantle and reassemble his hand gun several times over again just to keep himself busy.

“Raven, are you sure they will not be able to detect us as we approach?” Anya questioned, and by this point Bellamy felt as if she was nagging at the engineer just for the sake of bugging her.

“Of course I’m sure, cheekbones,” Raven answered, rolling her eyes. “I’m jamming their radars, duh.”

“And how are we going to get into the facility that they’re storing the other hovercrafts in?” Anya went on.

“They’re going to let us in. I’ll hack their hangar doors or something,” Raven mumbled, dismissively.

The blonde from district one looked taken aback, as if ready to explode. “Or something?!” she snapped.

“Relax, Anya. I’ve got this,” the Latina replied.

I’ve got this?!” Anya repeated. “Your plan is: ‘I’ve got this’?!”

“No,” Raven shot back. “My plan is to get in, kick some Capitol ass, and rescue our friends. Maybe blow a few things up along the way; I’m pretty good at that,” she explained.

“You can’t be serious…” the blonde replied, clearly exasperated.

“Oh, I think she’s serious, Anya,” Bellamy interjected, having had enough of their arguing. “Now can you both shut up? I see the arena coming up.”

On the horizon, he could spot the dome shaped force field that enclosed the arena, rising up out of the wilds like a giant oasis. The outside of it was camouflaged, or perhaps it was even clear, because all he could see as they neared it were the trees from the forest below. He tried to look for something, anything, that would hint at life or signs of movement in the woods, but it appeared as if all was eerily still. It was huge, at least five square miles around, and he wondered how long it would take to locate Clarke and Lexa in an area that vast.

“It’s a projected image,” Raven answered his thoughts a moment later. “The outside of the force field is designed to reflect its surroundings, but we can’t actually see inside. Finding Clarke and Lexa is going to take them having to meet us at a location that is easily recognizable from above once we get inside.”

He nodded, in constant amazement of her brilliance, but his amazement turned to trepidation when he spotted the facility they would be infiltrating. As if on cue, the side of the dome seemed to open up, or dissipate, as a shuttle emerged from within the arena, entering the hangar as giant metal doors slid shut behind it. Another Tribute must have been killed if a shuttle was returning, and he dreaded to think which one. The last they’d seen of the Games, Clarke and Lexa were still in their cave, allowing Lexa’s wounds to heal, but after seeing the Mutt gorilla and the acid fog, he knew that safety could disappear in an instant.

“Give me a second,” Raven said, entering a few quick commands into her control panel. “Got it!” she added as she took them in for a landing.

The hangar bay doors slid open before them as if by magic, and she quickly set the hovercraft down. Out the front window, Bellamy couldn’t see a single Peacekeeper, and he thought it odd that they weren’t being flanked at that moment. Then again, why would they need guards to man a facility that nobody was supposed to know the location of? And furthermore, even if the location had been disclosed, how would anyone have gotten there? Well, their answer cropped up in the form of a witty little brunette that had almost as much sass as brains.

“This facility should be almost fully automated,” Raven spoke, glancing around outside to see if there were any approaching guards. “The shuttles pilot themselves and are triggered to launch by the death of a Tribute. The only people that should be here are the ones that handle the dead bodies and returning them to their families, and maybe a couple of guards at best.”

Bellamy nodded, spotting movement in front of them. “Well, if they didn’t know we were here, they do now,” he said, pointing towards a technician that had come to retrieve the body out of the shuttle that had returned just before them. The elderly blonde woman looked at their ship, wearing a confused expression on her face before saying something into a walkie and retreating back the way she’d come.

“Get ready for a fight,” Anya commanded, looking at him. “She will be retrieving whatever security they have.”

Bellamy nodded once, loading an ammo clip into the chamber of his gun and clicking the safety off before retreating down the ramp to the back of their shuttle with Anya on his heels. Raven opened the door for them, and he nodded to the blonde from District One once before moving left while she banked right. There still hadn’t been any movement, and they took the opportunity to move into a flanking position around the sliding doors that the technician had disappeared into a minute before. A moment later, the doors slid open, and a force of five Peacekeepers rushed in, guns in front of them.

Bellamy didn’t hesitate; and he pulled the trigger twice, taking out the two Peacekeepers towards the back of the pack while Anya lunged at the one’s towards the front. She was a whirlwind of deadly precision and skill, striking out with her two blades in rapid succession that the guards had no idea how to block. She lobbed the hand off of one, forcing him to drop to his knees, before she spun and drove her blade right through the chest plate of his armor. She left her sword where it was, turning with her other blade to bat away the rifle that was pointed at her back before she thrust the pointed edge up into the Peacekeeper’s neck.

The fifth guard looked on in horror, too stunned to fire his weapon, yet too scared to run. He blinked a few times and reached for his walkie, perhaps to call for backup or to report the intrusion to the Capitol, but Bellamy was there in an instant. He cracked the Peacekeeper over the back of his head with as much might as he could muster, knocking him unconscious and sending him sprawling to the ground. The radio the guard had been clutching crackled and popped as a distant voice came over the other end.

“Hangar Squad, report,” the voice commanded.

Bellamy scooped the radio up and cleared his throat. “Um, this is Hangar Squad, all clear down here. False alarm,” he lied.

“False alarm?” the voice on the other end questioned, suspicious. “What about the unsanctioned landing?”

“Just a cargo shipment from the Capitol,” he lied, shrugging his shoulders at Anya who was rolling her eyes.

The walkie was silent for a moment. “Who is this?” the voice questioned after what seemed like an eternity. “State your name, soldier.”

Bellamy stared wide-eyed, unsure what to do. Before he could formulate a halfway decent lie, a hand was snatching the radio from him. Raven and Abby had emerged down the gangway of their shuttle, and Raven quickly fumbled with the nobs on the radio to shut it off. It wouldn’t stop them from sending another team to investigate, but it was better than wasting time trying to lie while another group of guards was surely inbound at that very moment. “Come on,” she said, motioning towards the shuttle that had entered the hangar just before them. “We’ll take that one.”

Anya ripped her sword from the chest of the dead Peacekeeper she’d left it in and shrugged as she sheathed it. They followed Raven to the other shuttle and waited on edge as she hacked into its systems and overrode the autopilot, giving her full control. Bellamy half expected a barrage of Peacekeepers to come barreling in at any moment, carrying enough firepower to kill them before they had the chance to even take off, but none ever came.

“Why didn’t they send more guards?” he questioned, skeptically.

“I don’t think there are any more here,” Raven answered. “I told you this facility was mostly automated. The guy on the radio was probably reporting from their command center in Mount Weather. You killed the Peacekeepers that were stationed here,” she explained. “By the way, cheekbones, that twirling thing you did with the swords…that was hot,” she added, as if an afterthought.

Bellamy swore he caught the pink tinge of a blush in Anya’s cheeks, but before she could muster some sort of snarky reply, the shuttle whirred to life. “We have to hurry,” Raven said, already punching commands in. “Now that the Capitol knows we’re here, it’s just a matter of time before they come after us…or they’ll send something awful to kill our friends. And let’s just hope we don’t blow up.”

<-><-><-><->

Ontari could have sat back and watched as wave after wave of Mutts crashed down upon the other four remaining Tributes, bombarding them until they were too tired to fight back anymore – but what would the fun in that be? No, if she was going to become the Victor, she was going to do it by striking her enemies down herself – not at the hands of Mount Weather’s experiments. And that started with Lexa Woods. Ontari would prove to the entire nation just who the better fighter was; that way when she won, they would say she earned it, and did not win by default. She also had an unbending desire to see Panem’s Golden Girl begging for mercy at her feet.

And like an honor-bound fool, Lexa had accepted her challenge. She wasn’t worried about the hordes of Mutts lurking in the trees and darting around her peripherals; the Capitol would keep them at bay and let this moment play out. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for, after all. First, she would kill Lexa, taking the blood she desired most, and then she would handle the others. Roan would not escape her twice, and Clarke would probably be easiest of all to kill. She hadn’t forgotten the way the snarky blonde from District Thirteen had insulted her before the Opening Ceremony.

She watched the two together now, allowing Lexa a moment to prepare as custom demanded. The stoic brunette appeared unfazed, calm even, as she leaned in close and whispered something in Clarke’s ear, and Ontari felt a rush of fury at the fact that she did not at all seem nervous. Clarke, on the other hand, held enough fear in her expression for the both of them, blue eyes wide and glistening with concern as she clutched tightly to Lexa’s hand. They gazed into each other’s eyes for a long moment before sharing a desperate embrace, and Ontari could tell immediately that the alliance between them was far more than just an alliance – they were lovers.

“Come, Lexa,” she taunted. “I want to be named Victor before the day is out.”

Lexa stiffened at the threat, her shoulders going rigid as she turned slowly and drew her sword. “You will be dead before the day is out,” she growled, and Ontari couldn’t help the smirk that gathered on her face.

Lexa stepped forward, squaring her stance to do battle, and Ontari took a second to examine her in the search for weaknesses. Lexa’s fighting form was impeccable, a technique that had been practiced and mastered through years of training, but Ontari knew she had the skills to match it – despite the insulting discrepancy in their scores the Game Makers had given them. But as she examined the brunette, more was revealed: there was a cut over her eye that looked to be freshly healed, she seemed to be slightly favoring one of her legs, and when she pulled her blade through the air in elegant arcs, she appeared to slightly wince – indicating broken or bruised ribs. The girl from District One had been beat up, and she was undoubtedly tired from fending off a legion of Mutts; and Ontari smiled wider because she was in perfect shape and uninjured.

Lexa sat back on her heel, awaiting the first attack, and Ontari knew that she was attempting to read her in the same way, though she didn’t intend to give her the chance. She lunged forward, feigning left before surging right, thrusting her spear towards Lexa in a straight jabbed aimed at her abdomen. Lexa stepped back and parried with her sword, blocking her attack and turning it away to reset her defensive stance. Ontari couldn’t help but grin, the adrenaline of battle coursing through her veins and demanding blood, as she went on the attack again. This time, she swung her spear in a wide horizontal arc towards Lexa’s left, anticipating the easy block but using the momentum of her spear rebounding off the brunette’s blade to spin around and go the other way. Lexa just barely managed to get her sword up in time again to block the spear, but it left her face exposed to the sharp fist that Ontari planted above her eye, opening up the cut again.

Lexa’s staggered back but kept her composure, flashing her blade in a flourish before resetting her stance. Her blood looked nearly black as it streamed down her face in the pouring rain, and Ontari felt her desire to draw more pounding behind her eyes and demanding her attention. She swept forward with a combination of rapid blows, spinning and thrusting her spear in an attempt to sneak past Lexa’s guard, but the brunette was quick despite her injuries. But, not quick enough as she held up her sword with two hands to block a downward strike, leaving her chest vulnerable to Ontari’s heavy boot that had her stumbling back through the mud.

“Come on, Lex!” Clarke yelled from somewhere behind her, and Ontari felt rage seer hot when Lexa stood, holding her ribs, but offering her a reassuring nod as if she had the entire situation under control.

She dashed forward, using the shaft of her spear to block a quick strike that Lexa aimed towards her face before ducking beneath another and spinning, sweeping the brunette’s legs out from beneath her. Lexa crashed to the ground in a spray of mud, landing flat on her back with a heavy thud, and Ontari let a small bubble of laughter escape her lips. She towered over her now, staring down at furious green eyes as she hoisted her spear above Lexa’s heart, ready to prove that the other girl had never been a match for her. Nobody in all of Panem was a match for her, and she would kill anyone who dared say otherwise.

“You see, Lexa?” she goaded. “You are nothing. And your legacy will be nothing.”

“Lexa!” Clarke shouted, her voice panicked and cracking behind a sob as it once again interrupted their fight. “Get up! Please!”

As if the command had issued her new life, Lexa kicked her legs out, spinning with enough momentum to pop back up to her feet, catching Ontari off guard as she cracked her across the face with a well-aimed fist. Ontari staggered backwards tasting the blood on her own lips, and when she looked up again, the world was ablaze with her anger. She surged forward, vision tinted red as her entire world narrowed on her target, honing in on the defiance in Lexa’s eyes as she gritted her jaw and held her ground. Ontari swung her spear with all the strength that she could muster, aiming to cleave the brunette’s head from her shoulders by sheer force, but Lexa had been ready.

She held up her blade with two hands, one on the hilt and the other on the blade itself, blood pooling in the palm of her hand as it bit into her skin, and then she was pushing back with more fight that Ontari could have ever anticipated. She threw the spear off her blade and lunged forward, digging a knee into Ontari’s gut that had her gasping for air as she stumbled backwards. Before she had a chance to regain her footing, Lexa was coming towards her again, spinning and twirling in a whirlwind of deadly skill and speed, and it was all Ontari could do to block her attacks. Then, Lexa dropped to a knee and kicked out, ripping Ontari’s legs out from beneath her and sending her crashing into the mud.

The air left her lungs when she hit the ground, and she gasped, stunned at the sudden display of strength that threatened to end her life – a display that was all brought on by Clarke. She staggered to her feet, doubled over to catch her breath as Lexa stared at her with glowing green eyes, and Ontari spared a glance towards the blonde at the other side of the clearing. She recalled a vague memory of Nia teaching her a mantra that they said in District One – love is weakness. And then she found herself smiling, unhindered and triumphant because she had found Lexa’s weakness after all. And her grin grew even wider as she turned and hurled he spear towards the blonde.

Chapter Text

Lexa knew that she was playing right into Ontari’s trap when she accepted her challenge, but she also knew that the entire nation was watching when the girl from District Two issued it in the first place. How would she appear to be a strong leader if she was too weak to accept a challenge from an inferior opponent? She was the future Commander; she needed to fight. And if she ended Ontari’s life in the process, then they would all have one less thing to worry about. But the fact of the matter was: she was tired, and not only physically, but emotionally too. Fending off hordes of Mutts that were once innocent people, her people, had struck a nerve in her very core.

She was far too wise to underestimate her opponent, but when the challenge started, perhaps she’d underestimated just how much damage her injuries had caused. She felt sluggish in her movements, and slow to read Ontari’s attack, at times just barely managing to get a block up in time. Ontari had landed a heavy blow that reopened the cut above her eye, causing blood to pour out and cloud her vision, running down in slick streams due to the pouring rain. The mud beneath their feet was doing her wounded leg no favors either, and just keeping her balance on the slippery surface was taking all her strength. Then, when Ontari’s boot planted itself heavily in her chest, she was sure she heard her ribs crack, and felt the searing pain of them re-breaking beneath her flesh.

But what she also heard was Clarke’s voice; the desperation in it, the worry, the pleading, and the hope. And Lexa drew from it. She drew from it the way a plant draws life from the sun, or lungs draw breath from the air, rejuvenating her and centering her despite the pain and screeching protests of her worn out body. She went on the offensive, catching Ontari off guard by the sheer strength and tenacity of her attack, and landing a few heavy strikes that had her tumbling to the ground in a splash of muddy water. She would have ended it right then and there, but she wanted Ontari on her feet when she killed her so that she could look her in the eyes when she sent her to greet the afterlife.

She allowed her to rise; and then her entire universe came crashing to a halt, shattering around her as if it was nothing more than dust and broken glass. She watched in slow motion as Ontari gave her a sick grin, standing and hurling her spear in Lexa’s direction, except it soared past Lexa, and she turned and watched as the projectile buried itself in Clarke’s abdomen. The blonde looked stunned for a moment as her fingers fumbled and closed around the shaft of it, glancing down before looking back up and finding Lexa’s terrified gaze with wide eyes. She looked as if she wanted to speak, but no words came out before she tumbled to the ground in a heap, unable to stand any longer.

“Clarke!” Lexa heard herself screaming in a voice that didn’t sound like her own, filled with trepidation and fear and breaking behind worry.

Behind her, Ontari chuckled, and something inside of Lexa snapped as she whirled around on her, letting anger and hatred consume her. It was everything that her mentors had taught her not to do; allowing her emotions to take control and her grief to fuel her actions, thinking with her aching heart instead of her head. In her rage, she charged forward, lashing out at Ontari who just managed to draw the sword from the sheath at her belt in time to block the strike, but the utter force behind the blow had her staggering backwards. Lexa advanced again, unrelenting as attack after attack crashed down into Ontari’s guard, swinging her sword with no other purpose but to kill.

She heaved until her arms screamed and her lungs burned, feeling the moisture of hot tears running down her face and mingling with blood and rain. She swung until the smirk fell right off Ontari’s face, replacing it with an expression of fear when she realized just what monster she’d unleashed. Lexa had only felt that level of grief once in her life before: when Costia died. And back then, she had no way to deal with the ten different kinds of pain she was feeling, and no way to get justice for the death of her beloved. But she had a way now, and she’d be damned if she let Ontari live after what she’d done; blood must have blood, and Lexa was determined to take it all.

Ontari attempted a counterattack, kicking her leg out as she tried to aim a shot at Lexa’s wounded ribs, but Lexa was too furious to feel any pain, and she simply weathered the blow as she shot forward and cracked her opponent across the jaw with the hilt of her sword. Ontari stumbled back, stunned, but Lexa was already on the move again, fainting right before shifting her weight and launching herself to the left, leaving her feet as she thrust her blade down towards Ontari’s heart. Ontari managed to block in time, but Lexa simply spun the opposite direction and whipped her elbow back, catching it against the other girl’s nose as she heard the distinct sound of bones breaking.

Blood instantly began pouring out of her enemy’s nose, running in thick droplets over her mouth as her eyes filled with tears that she tried to rapidly blink away. Ontari lashed out, swiping her blade blindly towards Lexa’s head, but Lexa ducked beneath it and popped up behind Ontari’s guard, kicking her legs out from under her and sending her sprawling to the ground on her back. Ontari sat up on her elbows, breathing heavily as she stared up at Lexa, and their gazes met in a defiant challenge of brown and green. Ontari reached for her blade, but Lexa was faster, kicking it away and sending it skittering across the muddy ground to the other side of the clearing. Unarmed, Ontari could do nothing but retreat, scrambling backwards on her elbows as Lexa towered over her.

“Nia was right,” Ontari spat, blood pooling between her teeth. “Your love is weakness.”

A few weeks ago, Lexa would have believed those words; but after everything she had been through, everything she experienced, with Clarke, she now knew they were false. “You’re wrong,” she growled, pressing the tip of her blade to Ontari’s neck. “My love for Clarke is strength, not weakness. She is the reason why I still fight, and the reason why your fight is over,” she finished, not hesitating as she drove her sword through Ontari’s throat.

Her enemy choked and gurgled, spitting out her own blood as she attempted to speak, but it was only a matter of seconds before her eyes rolled back in her head and her body fell still. “Yu gonplei ste odon,” Lexa whispered through a clenched jaw. “For Finn. And for Clarke.”

A canon sounded, bringing Lexa crashing back to reality as her chest heaved and her heart felt like fire in her chest. She sheathed her sword and dashed over to where Clarke was laying on the ground, surrounded by Roan and Echo. They removed the spear, but her blood was flowing out heavily, staining the muddy water around her a rust-colored red. She was still conscious, reaching for Lexa’s hand as she collapsed to her side, tears pooling in the oceanic blue of her eyes. Lexa squeezed her fingers, letting her gaze trail over the injury and feeling the fire in her chest begin to erupt with more heat, the pain becoming almost too much to bear.

“Hey,” Clarke whispered, her voice weak. “You did it.”

“Clarke,” Lexa rasped. “Tell me what to do. You have to tell me how to help,” she begged.

The blonde nodded and looked down at her wound, trying to diagnose herself. “You need to put pressure on it,” she said. “Try to stop the bleeding.”

The trees around them exploded with the feral roars and howls of Mutts, and it seemed as if the Capitol had had enough of the show now that Ontari was dead, unleashing the beasts down on them once more. “Lexa!” Roan called, grabbing her attention. “We have to go!”

“Go where?” she shouted back. “Nowhere is safe!”

“We can still run!” he returned, already edging away with Echo on his heels.

“Roan, I am not leaving without Clarke!” she yelled, clinging desperately to the blonde.

Clarke looked up at her, a single tear sliding down her cheek as she offered a weak smile. “It’s okay, Lex,” she whispered. “You can go.”

“No!” Lexa replied, furious. “I can’t! Not again…” she whispered, letting her heart crumble as she thought about having to grant Gustus mercy before the fog consumed him; she would not do it again, not with Clarke.

“Lexa…I…need to tell you—

“Don’t. You are going make it, Clarke,” she stated, trying to apply enough pressure to stop the wound from bleeding. “Please.”

“Lexa…” she rasped, giving her hand a squeeze. “Ai gonplei ste odon.”

“No!” Lexa shouted at her as the roars from the Mutts grew closer, echoing in her ears. “I won’t accept that.”

“You don’t have a choice…” she coughed, voice sounding weaker.

Lexa felt her world crumbling all around her, her heartbeat pounding in her ears, her eyes overflowing with tears, and all she could think to do was sit there and hold tighter to the one person that made her feel like she could find a way to not only survive, but to live. Suddenly, the thundering sky around them seemed to flicker and dissipate, and the anthem started to play and stop, cutting out and back in, as the Capitol sigil projected against the dome above them, but something was wrong. The symbol of Mount Weather momentarily flickered and changed into the form of a raven, and the sky shone with sunlight yet stormed at the same time, and it was as if the entire arena itself was acting out, glitching and fighting back against the Game Maker’s control.

A loud voice blared all around them, as if coming from the trees and plants themselves, reverberating off the dome above. “Lexa!” it called, and she recognized it immediately. “Get to the Cornucopia, now!”

Just then, the sigil in the sky disappeared, the storm resumed, and the anthem ceased to play, as if whoever was running the show had taken over once more, but not before she was positive that she’d heard Anya’s voice. “Roan!” she shouted, springing to her feet. “Grab Clarke, we need to move!” she commanded.

“Whose voice was that?” he questioned, skeptically.

“We don’t have time!” she shouted back. “If you want to live, carry Clarke and follow me!”

Roan looked as if he wanted to argue for a moment, but instead grunted his consent, tossing his spear aside so that he had both arms free. Gently, he scooped Clarke into his muscular frame, her head lolling back as she struggled to maintain consciousness. “Just hold on, Clarke,” Lexa urged her, desperately. “We’re getting out of here.”

<-><-><-><->

Clarke wasn’t sure if she was awake or dreaming, caught somewhere between the realm of fantasy and reality as her vision came and went in bursts. The one thing she was certain of was that she was bleeding out; Ontari had seen to that when she hurled a spear into her abdomen. She wasn’t sure if anything vital was hit, but she could feel the warmth of her own blood spilling out, and she could see the terror in the green of Lexa’s eyes each time their gazes met. All she could think about was if she was going to die that day, she hadn’t yet told Lexa how to defeat Mount Weather, or how she truly felt. In her head, it seemed crazy. They’d only known each other for a few weeks, and had only just confronted their true feelings for each other, but somewhere inside, Clarke had always known that Lexa was meant to be hers, as if their souls were intertwined.

At the moment, they were fleeing for their lives, and as she flitted in and out of consciousness, she could hear the shouts and howls of the Mutts on their heels. She felt heat on her skin, and vaguely recognized the bouncing motion of being carried while running, and she glanced up to see that she was being held securely in Roan Queen’s arms. She could see Lexa and Echo flanking them on both sides as they hurtled through the forest, fending off any Mutts that tried to ambush them. She wasn’t sure where they were going, but in her delusional state, she barely recalled a disembodied voice yelling at them to get to the Cornucopia.

Except, what good would that do? The Mutts would still try to kill them no matter where they were, and they would surely run out of strength to fight before the Capitol ever ran out of tricks to throw at them. And Clarke could feel herself slipping away, unsure of how much longer she could hang on. She tumbled into nothingness for a moment, and when she woke again, she was laying on the ground in the middle of a protective triangle as the other three fought off a wave of Mutts, Roan doing so with a rusty sword he’d stripped from one. Lexa drove her blade into the chest of a beast and spared her a glance, green eyes finding blue as she mouthed words that Clarke could no longer hear, the world fading away once more.

She awoke again, and this time they were streaking across a grassy clearing, heading straight for the giant metal horn that had marked the starting location of the Games. They skidded to a halt next to the Cornucopia, and Clarke watched as wave upon wave of Mutts filtered out of the trees around them, all converging in on their location. Lexa cupped her hands into a stirrup and boosted Echo up onto the top of the horn, and then shouted orders before turning and charging into battle, disappearing into a group of enemies. Clarke tried to keep her in her sights, but she felt herself being lifted up as Roan hefted her weight onto his shoulder and Echo’s hands slipped beneath her arms to pull her up onto the horn.

“Lexa!” Clarke tried calling for her, but her voice came out as little more than a hoarse whisper.

 

She watched as a herd of Mutts crashed into the wall of the Cornucopia, surrounding them from every direction, and it was all Echo could do to slash them down with her sword as they attempted to scale the walls, forcing them at bay. Clarke tried to find Lexa, tried to spot her in the relentless crowd of mutated warriors that the Capitol had unleashed upon them, but all she could see was grotesque and warped faces of the people who were once human, and all she could hear were the constant growls and howls that echoed louder than the thunder over head. Echo was struggling to hold their ground as the Mutts began to pile on top of each other, climbing over dead bodies and using them as steps to inch closer and closer to the top of the metal horn, and Clarke could feel herself beginning to lose consciousness once more.

She tried to hold out for as long as she could, but she could feel her life slipping away, like trying to hold water in a closed fist. Then, like a beacon of light in the darkness, she spotted Lexa; back to back with Roan as they slashed and cut through their enemies, mowing down a path back to the Cornucopia. Lexa’s eyes glowed a fierce emerald green that Clarke had never seen before, and they met hers over the distance between them, speaking a volume of unspoken words. Lexa was willing her, no begging her, to hold on just a little longer; and Clarke would, if it meant getting to hold her even just one more time, even if it was just for a few seconds while the horde of Mutts crashed down on top of them.

But then, a noise rang out over the roars of the mutants, and Clarke thought she was hearing things in her delusional and weakened state, because she swore that it sounded like gunfire. She must have lost consciousness for a second, because when she opened her eyes again, Lexa was standing above her, somehow making it to the top of the Cornucopia with Roan and Echo by her sides, and they were working furiously to cut down the Mutts that were attempting to climb the walls. Overhead, Clarke saw a large object hovering just above them, and she swore it was a ship, opening its gangway to allow a team of people to jump out. There was a young man with a gun, blasting away the Mutts that got too close, and a fierce looking woman with two swords that wielded them like a whirlwind of death, and a third person. The third figure rushed straight towards her, and Clarke knew that she must have lost too much blood, because she swore that she was looking up into the face of her mother.

And then her entire world went black.

She drifted through the darkness for a long while; not quite dead, yet not quite living either. She had imagined that it would be beautiful on the other side, but when she got there, she was greeted by nothing more than unending, everlasting, infinite darkness. She felt like a paper boat trapped amidst a raging storm, or a tiny spec of a star amidst the vast and endless universe, the last embers of a slowly dying fire beginning to fade out. Then, through the immeasurable darkness, came a voice; and it was one that she recognized well because it made her heart flutter, pumping new life into her veins, and it was begging her to stay; to please just stay.

Then, blackness ended, and there was finally light, bright and white and blaring in her face, and she gasped for air as she shot up, memories flooding back to her. They were trapped in the arena, and the Mutts were coming for them in unstoppable torrents, and they were surely about to die. Except, she also vaguely remembered seeing her mother, and when she blinked the focus back into her eyes, she realized that she was definitely not in the arena anymore. She was laying in a bed, an IV drip attached to a vein in her arm, and she was surrounded by a whirring noise that sounded distinctly like a ship. But if she was on a ship, that meant that she’d made it out….it meant that she was a Victor. But if she was the Victor, then what happened to…

Her heart felt as if it was turning to ash in her chest, skipping the burning phase entirely and melting straight to dust as a sob bubbled up and escaped her throat, and she didn’t even try to control it. She buried her face in her hands, unable to help the tears that came, wishing desperately that it would have been her instead; it should have been her instead, not Lexa. Somewhere behind her a door whirred as it slid open, and then the rush of footsteps was coming towards her, barreling into her and wrapping her in a relentless embrace.

She winced at the pain in her abdomen and the tugging of fresh stitches, but all of her pain was forgotten when she looked up and met the most vibrant green eyes she had ever seen. “Lexa!” she gasped, but before she could say anything else, the brunette’s mouth was crashing into hers, sweeping her away in a desperate kiss that felt like a hello and a goodbye all at once.

When Lexa pulled away, tears were streaming down her own cheeks as her eyes raked over Clarke, gathering her in as if in disbelief that she was alive. “Clarke,” she whispered, her name sounding like a prayer on her lips. “I thought I lost you.”

“I’m here,” Clarke rasped, voice still fragile, but she needed the words to be heard. “I’m right here. I will never leave you,” she promised, framing Lexa’s face with her hands and running her thumbs over her jawline.

“I will never leave you either, Clarke,” Lexa whispered, pressing their lips together once more. “I am yours.”

Clarke felt the smile tugging at her mouth, but couldn’t let it grow because she was too busy kissing the woman that she was sure she was madly in love with. They were still crying when their lips parted once more. “When I woke up, I thought I was the Victor,” she explained. “I thought you were—

“I’m not,” Lexa answered, cutting her off. “We’re safe. We’re all safe. Roan and Echo, too.”

“But…how?” Clarke wondered, feeling as if her entire world was a dream and that soon she’d wake up to a much more grim reality.

“I think we can explain that,” another familiar voice called from the doorway; a voice that she had heard her entire life.

She inched around as best as she could in her current state, laid up in bed with Lexa clinging to her, and felt her heart soar at the sight of the one person she’d never thought she’d see again. Her mother was standing there, tears in her own eyes as their gazes met, and then Lexa was moving aside, making way so that Abby could take her spot, yanking Clarke into a fierce hug. It was a moment that Clarke was sure she’d never be in again, feeling a lot like coming home, and she didn’t even try to stop the tears that escaped her eyes and rolled down her face.

“Mom?” she rasped, disbelief in her voice even though it was little more than a whisper. “How?”

A fierce looking blonde with impeccably high cheekbones entered the room alongside a beautiful brunette with a limp that Clarke recognized as Raven Reyes form when she and her mother had tried to save the girl’s spine. “We came to get you,” the blonde spoke. “Together. District One and District Thirteen.”

“Clarke,” Lexa said, scooping her hand in hers as she stood beside her bed. “This is Anya. She is as a sister to me,” she explained. “Anya, this is Clarke Griffin.”

Recognition registered. “I recognize you,” Clarke said. “You’re a Victor. But how did you get here? Why would you help get us out?” she asked confused. “And, Mom, how did you end up in District One?”

“It’s a long story, sweetie,” Abby said, shifting in to doctor mode as she set about examining Clarke’s stitches.

“It’s really not,” the brunette, Raven, interjected. “Your mom, Bellamy and I broke out of Thirteen and flew to District One to rescue Bellamy’s sister and that’s where we ran into Anya and her friends. They sheltered us from the Peacekeepers while we made a plan to get all of you out of the arena,” she explained. “Finn is…was…my boyfriend,” she finished, sadly.

Clarke nodded, feeling her heart break for the other girl. She had apologized into the camera the night of Finn’s death, speaking directly to Raven, but it was different seeing her face to face now. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, reiterating her words from before because what else could she say?

“You gave him mercy, Clarke,” Raven replied. “Thank you for that. And you,” she said, looking at Lexa. “You avenged him.”

“It was my honor to do so,” Lexa replied, offering her a single nod.

“Okay, but how did you guys get here?” Clarke questioned. “How did you get us out?”

“Raven is a fucking genius,” Anya answered. “And good with computers.”

Raven shrugged. “Thanks, cheekbones, glad you finally see things my way,” she replied. “Basically, we hacked the Game Maker’s servers, stole a hovercraft, and busted our way in,” she summed up, and Clarke was sure that was the short version of the story.

“Okay,” Clarke nodded, trying to wrap her head around it all. She couldn’t pretend to understand or even comprehend the fact that her mother was alive, they were all alive, and that they’d just escaped the deadliest place on earth on live national television. “So you broke the remaining Tributes out of the arena, but now what happens?” she questioned, knowing the Capitol would launch a manhunt as soon as possible, if they hadn’t already.

“We’re going back to District One, Clarke,” Lexa replied, softly. “I will ascend to the rank of Commander when we arrive. We will be well protected in Polis.”

“And then what?” Clarke asked, wincing as Abby applied a fresh layer of antiseptic to her wound. “We spend our entire lives hiding from the Capitol?”

“We fight,” it was Anya who answered her. “I have already dispatched messengers to the leaders of every district. We will hold a summit and unite the districts under one coalition, and one leader. And then we will take down Mount Weather.”

“It’s what your father wanted, Clarke,” Abby whispered, letting another silent tear fall.

Clarke remembered the video that Jake had been recording the night Jaha killed him. “You heard Dad’s message?” she asked.

“Yes,” Abby replied.

“Not all of it,” Raven said. “Not the part about how to blow those fuckers to hell.”

“Clarke,” Lexa said, drawing her gaze in with eyes that looked like the forest just after rainfall. “You have to tell us about the weapon your father found. You have to tell us how to beat them.”

Clarke felt the weight of every set of eyes in the room on her, waiting in anticipation, holding their breath for the answer they’d been searching for for weeks. It felt strange, she mused, having kept the secret for so long; the secret that her father died for; that she’d been locked away for; that she’d been threatened, and hunted, and nearly killed for. And she couldn’t help it when a soft, delirious burst of laughter bubbled over her lips and spilled out into the tense silence around them.

“Uh, doc?” Raven questioned, addressing Abby. “Are you sure you didn’t dope her up on too many pain meds?”

“It’s not that,” Clarke replied, still laughing. “Don’t you guys get it? Everyone is so busy trying to find the weapon, but what nobody realizes is that Mount Weather is the weapon.”

Chapter Text

They were lucky that Octavia had taken the time to memorize Raven’s blueprints of the tunnels, but they’d still had to wander through the dark, dank, rancid sewers for an hour before they finally saw the light of day. They emerged out onto the side of the mountain, surrounded by a dense forest full of plush green pine trees, finally breathing in air that wasn’t scented with death and decay. She felt somewhat heroic, saving Lincoln’s life and being the one to lead the group to safety, and for the first time in a long while, she didn’t feel helpless. She hadn’t needed Bellamy or Lincoln to protect her, in fact, it had been the other way around, and deep down she knew that she was no longer the girl who had hid beneath the floor – she was becoming something else entirely.

Now, they had been hauling the unconscious Reaper through the woods for several hours, heading south as they made their way back to District One on foot. The journey would likely take an entire day, and they didn’t expect to arrive back in Polis until the next afternoon. As they trudged on, Octavia wondered what was happening in the arena at that very moment. She knew that Anya, Bellamy, Raven, and Abby were very likely on their way to free their friends, but what would happen when the Capitol undoubtedly caught wind of it? There was no way they could get in and out undetected, not with all the cameras and sensors planted in the arena, and she knew it was just a matter of time before Mount Weather took counter measures to ensure that nobody made it out alive. She imagined Wallace releasing hordes upon hordes of Reapers and saw her own mother’s face at the front of the pack, and the thought brought tears to her eyes.

“Octavia,” a voice called, startling her, and she turned to see Lincoln fall into stride beside her. He’d swapped with Indra, and now the fierce looking woman was helping Marcus to drag the drugged Reaper.

“Lincoln,” she greeted, trying to shake the images of her mother’s warped face from her mind. “Are you okay? You took a beating back there.”

“Actually, that is what I came to ask you,” he answered. “Your eyes are troubled.”

She glanced at him, gaze raking over his handsome features. “And how would you know that?” she questioned, curious.

He shrugged. “I have had experience in learning to read people’s eyes when the expression on their face does nothing to betray how they truly feel. I’ve learned to read yours too over the past few days. When you are happy, they glow one shade brighter; when you are mad, they deepen like a smolder; when you are sad, they tinge red around the edges; and when you are troubled, or thinking, they do not glow at all,” he explained.

The attentiveness of his observations caught her off guard, and she found herself staring at him in awe, shocked that he cared enough to learn her so well. Even Bellamy struggled to read her at times, but it seemed as if Lincoln had solved her mystery, and it made her heart flutter in her chest. “Wow,” she gasped, unsure of what else to say.

“So?” he returned. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed, searching for the right words. “I can’t stop imagining my mother as one of these…monsters,” she muttered. “She was a good person, Lincoln. She never committed a crime. Her only crime was having a second child – me. And they took her away for it.”

“I cannot imagine how that must feel,” he replied, gently, catching her off guard. “But you cannot blame yourself, Octavia. She wasn’t taken because of you; she was taken because of them,” he said, seeing right to the very core of her most intimate self-doubts. She had secretly always blamed herself for the loss of their mother and for the life that her brother had been forced to lead – if she hadn’t have been born, then none of it would have happened.

“But, what if she’s…” Octavia trailed off, sparing a glance towards the shell of a body that was formerly Tierro of District One.

Lincoln reached over and took her hand, offering it a reassuring squeeze before letting it fall back to her side and she instantly missed the contact. “We cannot know if she is or not. All we can do is help Abby find a way to cure them.”

“Do you really think that’s possible?” Octavia questioned. “Do you really think any of this is possible? Freeing Clarke and Lexa? Leading a rebellion against the Capitol? Bringing down Mount Weather?”

“Yes,” he replied without hesitation. “After all that they have done to us, after all that our people have suffered; I have to believe that it is. I have to believe that we can fight.”

“How?” she wondered, inspired by his unwavering determination.

He was silent for a moment. “There is a saying my people have,” he started, after a minute. “Ge smak daun, gyon op nodotaim,” he said in his native tongue. “It means ‘Get knocked down, get back up.’ I have to have faith that of all the years we have spent crumbling beneath the boot of the Capitol that there is still enough fight left in us to get back up again and keep pushing forward.”

Ge smak daun, gyon op nodotaim,” she tried, tasting the foreign words on her tongue before giving them a firm nod. “Then we will fight.”

He smiled and the warmth reached the brown of his eyes. “Until we have won or until there is no fight left in us.”

He opened his mouth as if to add something else, but shut it quickly as his gaze whipped forward and he held out a hand stopping her in her tracks. He held up a closed fist, signaling the others behind them to halt as well, and then pressed a single finger to his lips, commanding them to be quiet and listen. At first, all Octavia could hear was the natural sounds of the forest; the birds chirping as they dashed between trees, the branches swaying in the wind, the sound of bubbling water of a nearby brook. But the longer they listened, the more noises distinguished themselves; she could hear leaves cracking, twigs snapping, the shuffling of feet and the creaking of armor.

Lincoln motioned for the others to stay put, but Octavia ignored his order, shifting in behind him as he crept forward through the trees. They came to the top of a hill and dropped to their stomachs to sidle forward and peer down the other side, and what they found made her breath catch in her lungs. There were dozens upon dozens of men and women, warriors, marching in organized lines through the woods, filtering between trees, sprawling on for as far as she could see. They did not speak, but instead kept their eyes trained forward, gazing out from behind masks of white war paint. They wore furs and armor that looked as if they hailed from the coldest reaches of Panem, and they marched with discipline and determination, all heading in the same direction – towards District One.

“Ice Nation,” Lincoln growled. “We have to reach Polis before they do. We have to warn everyone.”

<-><-><-><->

Nia was traveling with her army, marching south towards District One where she planned to take Polis Academy and TonDC by force. Her ass was sore from too many hours in the saddle, her stomach ached for food, her clothes were drenched from an unexpected rainfall, and her patience was wearing terribly thin. They had stopped to make camp for a few hours, finding reprieve after traveling through the night, and she wanted nothing more than to flip on her portable television within the confines of her mobile command tent and see Ontari slaughter some of her most bitter enemies.

Except, when she tuned into the broadcast, she saw something else entirely. Lexa, Clarke, Echo and her brother seemed to have formed some sort of unlikely alliance, but it appeared as if that alliance was about to come to a swift end. They were surrounded by dozens upon dozens of creatures, Capitol Mutts, that looked like men and women but were clearly crazed and altered, mutated into something else entirely. The four Tributes stood back to back, fending off wave after wave of the beasts that seemed to attack without direction or purpose, except to kill, and the sloppy attacks were easily turned aside as the skilled warriors cut down their opponents. But it was obvious that Wallace had been aiming for quantity over quality when it came to these Mutts, and Nia could tell that the Tributes would tire out long before Mount Weather ran out of beasties to throw at them.

The camera angle changed, and Cage Wallace spoke on screen announcing Ontari’s approach as she closed in on the source of all the commotion. She moved through the bushes and stuck close to the trees, ascending like a ghost on her enemies while dodging the Mutts that streamed around her. Nia wasn’t sure that the monsters would have attacked her even if they did spot her, knowing that Wallace had ensured Ontari’s victory, but it was better to maintain the façade as to not draw attention from the rest of Panem.

The onslaught stopped as Ontari made her way to the clearing, flitting in to view as the Mutts fell back into the trees, allowing the scenario to play out. She knew that the young warrior was more than capable of killing three out of the four Tributes within the clearing, and she groaned as Ontari issued the challenge to Lexa for solo combat. If it had been her, she would have let he Mutts kill the others and claimed her title without even having to get her hands dirty, but Ontari was too bloodthirsty and unpredictable for that. It was her hubris that propelled her to issue the challenge, her need to prove that she was the most deadly Tribute to enter the Games, and killing Lexa Woods would surely grant her that title.

But Nia knew that Lexa was a skilled fighter. When she asked Wallace, the president had told her that the young leader from District One had most definitely earned her score of twelve – unlike her little blonde lover from Thirteen. Ontari was skilled too, but risking the fate of the entire Games and all the plans that Nia had set in motion for nothing more than pride and bloodlust was unreasonably foolish. Enough so to boil anger in the pit of Nia’s gut as she watched the two women square off on screen, preparing to do battle.

To her great surprise, Ontari appeared to have the upper hand to start, though she knew that it was because Lexa was still recovering from her injuries and had been fending off Mutts for the better part of an hour. The brunette from District One looked tired, and her expression twisted with pain each time Ontari landed a calculated blow to one of her healing wounds, but the green of her eyes was set with sheer determination. It was Clarke’s voice, pleading for her to get up and keep fighting that seemed to inspire Lexa most, and it was only a matter of moments before she was pushing forward on the offensive.

Nia growled as she watched Lexa advance on Ontari, landing skilled blows that had her stumbling backwards and cowering behind her defense. Lexa managed a heavy shot that had Ontari tumbling to the ground, breathing heavily, and glancing around wildly as she was slowly starting to register her imminent defeat. Nia shouted at the television feed, yelling at her to get up and fight rather than die a coward on her knees, yelling over the sound of Cage’s broadcast. She watched as Lexa allowed Ontari to rise, fighting with honor, and that was her mistake. Ontari shot to her feet and hurled her spear, not at Lexa, but at Clarke, skewering the blonde through the abdomen.

Nia wasn’t sure if she was elated or terrified at the move, seeing the effect that it had on Lexa. The brunette seemed to go mad with grief, the same way she had when that boy from Five had stabbed Gustus, and she advanced with a flurry of attacks so rapid that Ontari had no chance at all of stopping them. Her idiotic young pupil had done nothing but draw the wrath of a far superior opponent, yet it gave her some pleasure at seeing the way that Lexa’s impassive exterior crumbled beneath the weight of her grief. She wondered if the brunette had had a similar reaction when she’d ended the life of her former lover a few years back, and the thought made her smile.

Except, her smile was quickly wiped from her face when Lexa drove her blade through Ontari’s neck without mercy and a loud canon sounded signaling her death. Nia sat for a moment in stunned silence, feeling her rage simmer just beneath the surface at the fact that her plans, her constant scheming and endless game of chess, had been disrupted by the infuriating actions of Lexa Woods. She shot to her feet, unable to contain it any longer, ripping the television off its stand and hurling it across the room with as much force as she could muster. Her anger had yet to be sated though, and she moved on, grabbing anything she could get her hands on as she set about like a tornado through the tent, breaking anything in sight.

When her energy finally weaned, she sunk down onto the floor and buried her face in her hands, huffing and gasping heavily. “Uh, my queen,” a voice called from the entryway, interrupting her brooding.

She snapped up, glaring at the messenger with enough hate to kill him with a single look. “If this is not important, I will kill you myself,” she growled.

The messenger gulped, but then proceeded. “We intercepted a rider from District One,” the man explained. “He says he is a former Victor, sent to deliver a message to you. They wish to host a summit of leaders of the thirteen districts.”

Nia sucked in a heavy breath through her nose and letting it out slowly through her mouth, trying to process the information. She rose to her feet, composing herself once more before turning back to the messenger. “Kill him,” she commanded. “There will be no diplomacy between us and District One.”

<-><-><-><->

Dante watched in mild horror and utter rage with Alie at his side as the remaining Tributes sprinted at full speed towards the Cornucopia. He had seen the glitches in the thunderstorm, and the sigil of a raven glowing on the dome of the arena, and he had heard the disembodied voice of the person who had managed to hack their systems, commanding Lexa to get to the starting point of the Games. He’d done all that he could to prevent it, unleashing the full force of the Mutts on them as they fled through the trees, but they were fending them off valiantly. The only benefit that had come out of the altercation back at the clearing was that Ontari had managed to wound the Griffin girl, and he hoped that it was fatal.

If Clarke died before they reached the Cornucopia, then the secret she was keeping would die with her. And from what he could tell, she was looking worse for wear as her unconscious frame bounced up and down in Roan Queen’s arms. “What is happening?” he growled, turning his anger towards the head Game Maker.

“I told you we were hacked, Dante,” Alie replied, her voice that annoying monotone that he couldn’t stand, as if she held no emotions at all. “Whoever is behind it is likely already in the arena.”

“Well stop them!” he shouted, feeling his anger reach its limits.

“There is nothing we can do at this point,” she answered, unfazed by his outburst.

The Tributes reached the giant metal horn and Roan helped to haul Clarke’s slumped form up to the top with Echo while Lexa turned and sprinted into the wave of oncoming Mutts. He was transfixed, listening to his moron of a son chatter excitedly about how Lexa was cutting down the feral beasts as if they were nothing more than pesky weeds, and he slammed his fist down onto the table as Roan Queen fell into stride beside her. It was an unlikely pairing, one that he had high hopes to turn into a rivalry at the beginning of the Games, but now they were fighting side by side just to survive.

Atop the Cornucopia, Echo was fending off Mutts that tried to reach them, protecting Clarke as she dashed about, cutting off arms and hands that grasped at them. Lexa and Roan realized that there were far too many to take on, and were cutting a path back to the horn when a hovercraft appeared in the sky above them. “No,” he gasped, as the cargo bay doors opened and three people jumped out.

The scene was all too familiar, and he recalled seeing videos of a similar occurrence that had happened ninety-seven years before. Katniss Everdeen and her band of cohorts had been rescued from the arena of the 75th annual Hunger Games, and returned in the following weeks to lead a full on rebellion against the Capitol. Their rebellion had failed, but thousands from both sides of the conflict had died in the process. He could sense the winds of rebellion stirring now, holding his breath as all of Panem witnessed the events unfold.

A young man with a rifle blasted away the nearest Mutts, keeping them clear as a woman he recognized as former Victor, Anya Forester, stood side-by-side with Lexa, cutting down the Mutts on the other side. The third figure rushed over to Clarke, checking her pulse before enlisting Roan’s help to carry her up onto the cargo platform and disappearing inside the shuttle. Th