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He shouldn't have even been there, tending to that deer ensnared in the trap that had been set up for him; shouldn't have bent over its bloodied, broken leg, shouldn't have whispered soothing words into its smooth speckled hair as it grunts, shouldn't have had his back to her.

She watches him, the slant of his shoulders and how his head dips; the way his fingers work deftly to free the deer's leg. Her arrow is aimed at his back, straight and true, only just beginning to shake from locking it in that position for so long. She hasn't shot him yet, and she's not sure if she's being neurotic or just stupid.

Come on, she urges silently. Turn around. She's perched in a tree not ten feet away from him, watching him patch up a deer when the more intelligent option was to kill it. Stab it in the lung, maybe slit its throat – a little too messy for her taste, but hey, to each their own. From her position on the tree she could have let loose a perfect double lung shot, the shot Dad always raves about. The million dollar shot. She could shoot it, right here, right now, and she'd be doing him a favour. But then that would give herself away, but wasn't that the point of it all? For the boy to come looking for her? Her fingers tug on the bowstring. It doesn't matter. She's ready for him.

The deer grunts and kicks and scrambles to its feet. It looks a little disoriented, but shies away from the boy's reaching hand before trotting away. The boy begins to pack up his bandages, and she never once sees his face as he leaves. Wait. She wants call out, wants to shout after him, unfold her legs, crack her stiff limbs, drop down from the tree and run after him. Come back, turn around. Look at me. Like the deer, the boy doesn't look back as he walks away, nor does he run.

Stupid, she thinks, and points the arrow high into the air before letting loose. She hopes it hits the damn deer.

 

 

 

 

She makes camp in a tree for the night, slinging her quiver from a low branch and keeping her dagger close at her side. She thinks about the boy, tries to rack her brain on where she'd first seen him. At the Cornucopia, maybe, but she can't be sure. She'd been the fastest to get out of there, barely managing to snatch a knapsack by the skin of her fingertips as she shot into the woods, kicking dried leaves from under the soles of her boots, leaping over rocks and roots, scaling trees and staying there. Watching. Waiting.

Four cannons go off that night, and she watches their faces closely. The blonde with the pink highlights. District 3. Gangly boy with freckles on his upper lip. District 6. A dark boy, tiny and afraid as he'd introduced himself in the pre-games interview. District 12. Her district partner, with his dark hair and even darker eyes. His name was Brian Zeller, and his skin had been cold when he shook her hand before the Games. She imagines his skin must be colder now.

 


 




Her first kill comes the next day when she's studying berries by a stream. Abigail recognizes her as Alana Bloom, from District 4. She was quick and light on her feet, and Abigail had seen her at the snares and traps booth during training, with the boy she hadn't been able to kill. It was this thought that filled her with a sudden swell of rage, cold and quick, and it is with that thought that she slashes her dagger across Alana's throat even as she cries, "Wait, plea—"

She feels hot blood splatter across her cheeks as Alana's eyes close and drops to her knees. Her hands are smeared with red when she catches the small parachute that floats down towards her. It's a plain silk handkerchief with simple embroidery, and she stares down at it in confusion before realizing what Dr. Lecter must have sent it for. Abigail heads back to the stream and starts cleaning herself off.

 


 




The rest of the day seems to pass her by. The wind grows colder and she blows on her scrubbed-white palms before following the river upstream. She skips from rock to rock, keeping an eye out for the fish that flash silver in the water before lunging at them with a spear she'd fashioned herself. She guts the fish the way she wishes that boy had gut his deer and she almost slices right through her catch at the thought. Kill it, skin it, make me a meal out of it. That deer with the broken leg made all the difference between survival and death, yet this boy chose to save it.

Dad would probably have clicked his tongue if he'd been there.

Their hunting trips had always been quiet ones: just the two of them nestled in the thicket, her father's light but firm touch on her arm. When she was younger, she'd always watched his eyes, waited for his nod before pulling the trigger; as she got older she learned to hone in on what Dad called hunter instincts, and didn't even notice when her father stopped touching his hand to her arm. Her first kill had been with panic surging up her throat like vomit as she waited for him to say the word, yeah, come on, Abigail, let's go kill things today—but his touch never comes, and the big doe almost gets away had she not accidently stepped on a twig.

The doe snaps its head around and she gets a good look at how wide and black its eyes are, before someone in her head screams Go, go go!, and she goes.

"You buried the bolt a little high," Dad says, pushing the doe's ears aside to show her the wound. "But right where you needed to." Abigail sets her crossbow down to inspect it as well, and when she looks up there's that unmistakable look of pride in her father's eyes.

"So do we—" Abigail pauses, then backtracks. "Show me how to dress the doe, Dad." It sounds less like a question now, and she's fourteen and she's just had her first kill, and in her ears that sounded much better.

"No, Abigail." Dad rests his hand on her shoulder. "Not the doe. Your doe."

She frowns. "My…?"

"You killed her, didn't you?" Dad smiles and bends down to heave the game over his shoulder. "She's yours now."

 


 




She almost walks in on two careers finishing off a girl with fiery red hair and bloodied lips. Abigail stands as still as she can, her breathing silent against the rustling of the leaves above them. The girl whimpers and dies as quick as the blood that flows from her chest. Boom, you're dead.

The careers pick bits of her off like vultures—her thick leather gloves, her blood-spattered beanie, the locket she had around her neck. Probably a token from home, now being swung in the air, the gold sullied by blood and pressed into flesh that was not hers. Tasteless, Dr. Lecter would say, and Abigail's lips thin the way she knows his would.

 


 




She'll think back on her kill later, as she paws through Alana Bloom's backpack. She finds strips of dried meat, a bag of trail mix, and when she dips her fingers in the outside pocket she fishes out a butterfly knife. Sharp enough to be lethal if you knew how (and Abigail knew how), small enough to be tucked up a sleeve or into a boot. How unfortunate it was that Alana didn't have it on her. It would have made a considerable difference. Maybe Alana's hand would have shot out as Abigail was bringing down her own hand; maybe Alana would have stabbed her arm and knocked the dagger out of her hands. Bring her knees down on Abigail's chest, hard, before placing that small, sharp blade at her neck.

Abigail's breathing would be harsh and ragged as she squirms; trying to free her upper torso, trying to kick the older girl off of her, but Alana would have her locked in place. Maybe she'd look into Alana's eyes and try to see the girl without the knife and without that grim set to her mouth. Try and reach out to that girl, and she's not above pleading. "Wait," she'll gasp. "Plea—"

And that would break her, probably. Alana would probably let her knees slide just the slightest, and that would be it: that would be her chance to flip them over and land swift backhand, but the thing is, no matter how much Abigail wills it, it never happens. Alana stays put and so does the knife, and her eyes would lower and her hands would tremble, and she might lean closer to whisper the quietest of apologies, but Abigail's throat would be slit all the same. It was Abigail or her, and then it was her or Alana.

By the time she's done, the sky is sinking lower in the sky, and even the grass is starting to bend from the frost that's settling. She sets up camp in yet another tree for yet another night, flipping the butterfly knife a few times in her hands, listening to the sound it makes when it slashes at the air. It makes the waiting a little easier, a little less lonely. Boom. There goes District 4. Alana's face flashes in the sky, and she's the only smiling face in a sea of heavy scowls and blank stares (it's the damnedest thing). Boom boom boom. Abigail tries to feel guilty, but doesn't. When all that's over, she turns in on herself and clutches Alana's knife close to her chest, wondering what Dad is making of all this, all the way back home.

When she wakes up, there are snowflakes coating her eyelashes.

 


 




Two things she learns that day: blood screams neon red against the white glare of snow, and it's harder to cover your tracks when your blood drips down with every other breath you take, a traitorous polka dot path, the only colour in a world of white. Abigail curses and grits her teeth and screams into her hands, but the pain won't stop, and her hot salty tears aren't enough to wash it all away.

Dr. Lecter had warned her about this. "You'll get hurt in there. It's inevitable. You'll need to treat it yourself, and immediately, lest it gets infected." He bends a little to inspect the tourniquet he'd had her wrap around Brian's thigh. He pulls here and straightens there, and suddenly it seems much neater, much more secure. "A little more practice, Abigail."

Brian rubs the heel of his hand against his eye. "This is neat and stuff, but when do we get to the actual training, Han—Dr. Lecter?"

Dr. Lecter turns to him, the smallest of smiles on his lips. "You want to learn how to kill people, Brian?"

Abigail watches quietly as Brian battles with his unsaid words. She understands his frustration. It's not male testosterone, the part of him that wants to watch the life go out of someone's eyes: it's the fact that they've spent the last three days cooped up inside Dr. Lecter's shop, learning about berries and wrapping bandages and tracking. The closest they'd come to holding a knife was when Dr. Lecter was preparing their meals and he'd asked, ever so graciously, if they'd like to help.

Dr. Lecter owned a little boucherie on Leftwich Road, just a little way up from Primrose Square, where he sold cuts of gourmet meat. He knew almost everyone in town, and everyone in town knew him. Sometimes they pop in to exchange pleasantries or exclaim over how gorgeous the day's cuts were, and if they were lucky enough, Dr. Lecter would be in his kitchen in the back, and they'd get to sit in and watch him cook. With all his mild words and geniality, it was a wonder to the people of District 10—or a suspicion, or a conspiracy, whichever mood they were in that day—that he had won the 44th Annual Hunger Games at all.

Despite being the son of the breeder of most of the livestock that went to Dr. Lecter's boucherie, Brian and Dr. Lecter had spoken, if not at all. If they had, Abigail's sure that Brian wouldn't have answered the way he did now: with a small scoff and a "Well, yeah."

Dr. Lecter sets the bandages down and turns to face Brian fully, one hand in his pocket, the other resting just the slightest on the edge of the shiny metal countertop. "It's not something that can be taught, taking a life. I could teach you how to throw a knife or how to wrap a cord around someone's neck as easily as I showed you how to tie a devil's knot, but the killing…" He leans closer. Brian seems to have forgotten how to breathe. "It's all here." Brian looks down to where Dr. Lecter is pointing—right at his heart. "It is a beast within you, stirring just beneath the surface, waiting for your call."

But Brian's stubborn. "Fine. So teach me how to throw a knife, and we'll learn some animal calls later. I'm assuming monster is in your itinerary, right after duck-calling."

Abigail lets out a breath and almost bites her lip, but all Dr. Lecter does is smile. "Let's start with daggers."

 


 




Freddie Lounds' smile matches the fire of her hair, and she seems to blow a kiss goodbye before dropping to her knees. She makes sure to mark every part of Abigail with her blood as she goes down, and even manages to dig her nails deeper into the gash in her stomach, even as Abigail's frantically kicking away, even as the light leaves her eyes.

Her blood is steaming in the cold air as she rounds on Jimmy, jamming her arrow into his chest. His arm stops the point of the arrow from burying into his chest, and he lunges at her. "You bi—"

"Shut up," she hisses, kneeing him in the groin. He doubles over and she throws herself at him, her hands shaking so violently that she almost misses his heart completely. When her arrowhead finally makes contact with his flesh she doesn't know if she's giggling hysterically or crying with relief. Probably a bit of both. The pain in her abdomen throbs in rhythm to her stabs, and he chokes and gurgles and almost sprays her face with the blood caught in his throat before he even begins to die. Abigail grasps his shirt and tries not to sob as the pain only intensifies. She pushes herself off and takes in the number of stab wounds in his chest—nineteen in all. She thinks she hears laughter rattling bloodily in the back of his throat, and wonders if it will ever leave her, but it doesn't matter. He was hers, anyway.

Ripping her shirt away from her stomach is torture, cleaning it is even worse. She bites her lips hard enough to draw blood as she applies enough pressure to the wound, the echoes of the two cannons going off barely a sound against the screaming in her head. She blinks dark spots away as she staggers out of the clearing, covered in frost and blood. She tracks red smears in the snow with her every step she takes. It can't be helped.

It's a deep laceration right in her abdomen, and she'll need stitches, probably. Most likely. Definitely. The pain has subsided into a dull humming, occasionally burning back to life when she gingerly touches where Freddie had slashed her. She wriggles out of her coat, and the cold is instantaneous: biting in her skin enough to make her want to crawl right out of it. She dresses her wound as best as she can and bundles up again, before trekking back to where Freddie is. She finds a canteen of water in her backpack and gulps greedily, careful not to let a drop spill. All the water sources had pretty much frozen over in the sudden winter that had swept over the arena: she had been limiting herself for nearly three days now, and could feel herself slowly wasting away.

She throws the empty canteen aside and drops down to her knees, slamming the heels of her hands into her eyes. She's screaming before she even realizes she's doing it, but it doesn't matter. There's no one left to listen but the two other tributes left. Her breath wraps her face in plumes of white as she hugs her shoulders, presses her forehead to the cold hard ground. She wants to go home, wants a hot shower, wants to be in Primrose Square with Marissa, talking about stupid things like boys and overdue homework and if it's lunchtime yet and hey, Dr. Lecter would be in his kitchen right about now, do you wanna check it out?

The little bell would jingle as they stepped into his boucherie, which would always, always smell like salty aging hams, well-seasoned specials of the day, and red wine. The white walls would smell like lemons and rosemary, the smoky countertops would be scrubbed clean. Sometimes Brian Zeller would be there, auditing the day's accounts, and if he brushes past Abigail on his way out, the spot where his shoulder touched hers would be cold.

Marissa suddenly remembers an errand she has to run and then it's just her in the butcher shop, making her way to the back, listening to the sound of Dr. Lecter sharpening his knives. He'd been a practicing surgeon when he did work for the Capitol, refusing to live off Victor winnings, she heard, but now he spends his days checking on livestock.

"Dr. Lecter?" she calls out, and he looks up from the slab of meat in front of him.

"Abigail," he says, not surprised, yet not unwelcoming either. "Is it time for your lesson?"

"Nope," she says, hopping onto a bar top (she's allowed to do that, she checked with him a few weeks ago) and watches the way he holds his knives, her feet dangling. "I'm ten minutes early. I hope it's alright."

She watches his face closely. Dr. Lecter volunteers to train would-be tributes, and he has them flocking to him daily by the dozen, and she knows how he doesn't like his schedule disrupted. But he just smiles and goes back to slicing up his meat. "Not at all, Abigail. In fact, I welcome the company."

Abigail swings her feet to and fro, watching him work, and then asks her question before she loses her guts. "How did you win the Hunger Games?"

Dr. Lecter glances at her. "Don't they tell you about it in school?"

She knew vague details of it, certainly. Something about a double whammy, a gasp in the crowds, of brother and sister chosen in just one reaping. She's careful about returning his gaze. "They don't really talk about it in school. Or… ever." She rushes on, "And Nicholas Boyle ran the numbers – you know how he won that award for Statistics last year – and he said that there's a high chance that I'll be chosen this year, and even though I know it's completely ridiculous because you can't calculate chance, but, you know, just in case he turns out to be right, I just want to—"

"Know," Dr. Lecter finishes for her quietly. His slicing slows, but doesn't still. It seemed a long moment before he picked up where he'd left off; Abigail had begun to suspect he'd forgotten she was in the room (you know, in a world where Dr. Lecter suddenly became beguilingly inattentive). "Suffice to say, the idea of any of them winning was not acceptable."

"Why not?"

"What happens when a tribute wins, Abigail?" He finishes slicing up the meat and starts to marinade them.

"Victory Tour," Abigail says. Dr. Lecter hums, and she continues, "Pretty dresses. Huge parades. Inspiring speeches."

"And why is that?"

"The speeches?" Abigail taps a tune against her knees with her fingers. "I don't know… to show what they had to sacrifice for Panem?" Abigail chews the inside of her cheek and jiggles her feet a little.

"Exactly. I'd sacrificed a lot for the Games." There is a pregnant pause. "Some would say too much. I was not about to let it amount to nothing." Dr. Lecter claps his hands once, and the discussion is over. "I think lunch is in order before we begin our lesson. How does Coq au Vin sound?"

Abigail drops down to her feet and takes the knife he's handing her, handle side out. "How about a good old-fashioned cheeseburger?"

Dr. Lecter lets out a puff of laughter through his nose, heading to the freezer for some ground beef and pruneaux all the same. "How about a compromise?"

The blade at her neck is cold, and she can feel it all the way to her teeth. She's on her knees, one arm locker at the side and the other twisted behind her. How long had she been in this position, she doesn't know, but her limbs are stiff and her knees crack when he hauls her up, so there's that.

Her breathing comes out ragged, but she hopes she sounds threatening enough. "If you don't let me go, I will kill you slowly and painfully." She grinds her teeth together. "If you let me go, I'll make it a quick one."

"You already tried that a few days ago." His grip tightens on her as she freezes. "Now how about that compromise?" His breath is hot against her neck, and it melts some of the snow that's caked there. "You're wounded. I have the necessary supplies to stitch you back up. All I need is for you to let me pass, and I'll be on my way."

Her knees are locked into place, and she can't squirm without her wound tearing itself open again. Already she can feel it start to throb and fester. He takes her silence for as much of a yes as he can get; drags her to a tree and gets her to lean against it. He avoids her eyes the whole time, and she wants to scream. Abigail starts to thrash against him and he presses down, once and hard, on her wound. She winces and slumps back against the tree, all the fight swept out of her. He unbuttons her coat halfway and lifts up her shirt, but he doesn't grimace when he sees the gash, so it must not have been that bad. "Was there blood when you peed?" he asks, and she responds with an "I haven't gone yet," through her teeth.

He nods. She flinches away from his touch. "Why are you doing this?" she asks, not kindly. "What do you want from me?"

"I'm not sure."

"You're not su—"

"I just need to do this right now, alright?" he snaps, hand clenched into a first around the needle he's holding. He falls silent after that, hands moving skilfully. She can't even see the colour of his eyes in this dark, even from up close. She clenches her teeth at the hiss of antiseptic against her skin, and digs her fingers into the ground when he begins sewing her up. Blood starts running down her chin after her teeth break the skin of her lower lip, and after a while she tries to block it out, thinking of Nicholas and his charts and Alana and her butterfly knife and Freddie Lounds and the way she had cornered her after she'd scaled down the tree.

"My name is Will Graham," she hears him say in a faraway voice  (to her or to himself, she can't even tell anymore), or maybe it's just her in her out-of-body experience that makes everything seem a hundred miles away; a speck in the wind as she slams her foot down on the gas and drives away. He sounds almost uncertain, but his hands keep moving. He's shaking, too, he must be; the stitches he's making in her flesh start to become uneven. "I am eighteen. I am from District 4. I'm a tribute in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. It is 8:47pm. I am still alive. I am not a killer."

Abigail scoffs, but he doesn't seem to hear her. "Look at me," she says suddenly. She voice shakes from the effort of not screaming it out raw at him.

"Why?"

"So I can kill you."

"The way you killed my district partner?" He sounds so calm, so deceptively casual. She looks down at his hands. They're still shaking. She wonders if they ever shook this way when he was practising his snares with Alana Bloom.

"Don't act like this isn't what you were made for, District 4," she practically spits out. "You're a Career. You spent your whole life training for this. This is how it wo—"

"I know this is how it works." He continues tending to her wound, eyes trained on her inflamed skin the entire time. "You let me live once. Is that how you're supposed to work?"

She's supposed to ask how she knows, but his remark rips open all sorts of wounds that aren't on her skin, and she feels that dread rise up her throat once again. "I didn't do it on purpose," she retorts, and he falls silent and actually winces, like he's hurt. There are kids dropping dead and dripping blood all around them, and he's sitting there like a wounded puppy because she hadn't even meant to let him live in the first place.

"My point being, this isn't how our lives were supposed to be." He cuts off the last bit of thread with his teeth. "And I just thought I'd return the favour." And then he's packing up, cramming bottles and needle and thread into the pockets of his coat and getting to his feet. He gives her his hand, but she doesn't take it. "I don't like eye-contact," he offers, and she doesn't know why he sounds almost apologetic. "You see too much—"

"You don't see enough," Abigail finishes, eyes hard on his face, the scruff on his jaw, the curve of his lips. He shuffles his feet and makes a noise of – something. Surprise, maybe. She can't tell. It's dark and she's tired, and she isn't being faced by someone intent on tearing her throat out for once and maybe it's that fact that lets her loosen her muscles and relax against a tree. Only for a little while. She deserves this.

But the minute she looks away, his back is turned and she wants to tell him to wait, to take his hand, to turn around and look at her. She crawls gingerly to her feet, and pushes past the thicket to where he'd gone, her coat flapping about her hips. It's getting darker and darker, and if she hadn't been able to see his face before, she sure as hell couldn't see anything now. She calls out his name, wanting to know how someone like him could have possibly survived this long, but there's no answer. The arena is large and he is lost in it, lost to it.

She spies a parachute floating down towards her and makes a grab at it. Goggles. She slips it over her eyes and grins. This time, Dr. Lecter's message is abundantly clear.

 


 




Abigail walks easily, skipping over roots poking out of the snowy ground and avoiding jagged rocks she might have tripped over before. She comes across a stream that isn't frozen, but doesn't drink from it when she sees the grass on the banks have died. She doesn't put it past President Chilton to poison the water.

She leaps over it, taking care to wipe the water off her boots, and scales the tallest tree she sees. She reaches for branches and hoists herself up, but instead of leaves she comes face to face with District 3. She's looking at Abigail with a hint of fear in her eyes, but Abigail blinks and it's gone. District 3 sends her a grin and leans back against her branch. "The odds really aren't in your favour, are they? Nice night vision goggles, by the way. Pretty sweet mentor you've got."

"Thanks," Abigail says, and plasters on a smile instead of a frown. "Is this tree taken?"

"'Fraid it is," District 3 says. "Please, call me Beverly. My friends call me Bev, but let's start slow."

Abigail's hand creeps down to her right boot. "How slow?"

She dodges Beverly's kick before she even realizes Beverly's even begun her assault – hunter instincts – and if not for her hands catching a branch she would have tumbled down ten metres to the ground. She swings herself out of the way of Beverly's next kick, mutters a quick prayer before dropping down to a branch below her. She barely manages to break her fall with her hands, to wrap her thighs around the thick branch. There's a considerable amount of leaves and space between them, but Abigail doesn't feel relieved.

"I was getting a little bored," Beverly calls out, and Abigail starts her descent down the rough bark. "So I thought I'd wait til one of you crossed my path. Shame it wasn't District 4. He's pretty cute."

The packed ice makes it harder to get a grip, but she digs her fingernails into the bark bloody. "Quite the chatterer you are," Abigail says as her feet hit the ground, and in moments her bow and arrows are out.

"Quite the chatterer you aren't," is what Beverly replies. Her voice doesn't sound so far away anymore, and when Abigail whirls around there Beverly is, an axe in her hand. The air sings around them as she swings it at Abigail, who drops her arrows in lieu of Alana's butterfly knife.

It's all dodging and slashing and muffled grunts, and suddenly Beverly's cheek is sliced with red and she's clutching at it. "Cute."

"The odds really aren't in your favour, are they?" Abigail asks when she slashes another cut, this time at Beverly's collarbone. So close, Abigail thinks, but there's a pain at her side and she knows her stitches must have ripped open. Blood blossoms on the white of her coat and Beverly takes advantage of that, swinging a roundhouse kick straight into her gut. All rhyme and reason and time and space and arena and that boy and Dr. Lecter and the Hunger Games are forgotten in that moment, where she feels white hot pain sear through her body, when she doubles over and gasps, coughing up blood. Beverly swings her axe at where her head would have been had she not bent over, and in the momentum of the swing Abigail finds herself knocked to the ground, clutching at her stomach.

Beverly's standing over her, axe in hand. "No hard feelings, right? It was you or me."

It's her, Abigail thinks. It's her. This is it. Go, go, go!, she wants to say, but she doesn't. She just lies there, staring up at Beverly, taking in her black hair and brown eyes, the tilt of her smile. She tries to imagine a colour to match that boy's eyes, shuffles through them like a deck of cards, but none seemed to work. Not hazel, not green, not grey, not bl—she whimpers suddenly, the toe of Beverly's boot digging into the gash in her stomach. Blood pools out between her fingers pressed there, and she coughs out a curse laced with blood.

"I don't think I'll be needing this after all," she hears Beverly say, and hears the thunk of her axe dropping to the ground. Beverly won't stop talking, and her blood is starting to pool around her, but it's not so bad anymore, at least she's not cold. It's sticky and messy, but it's warm, and no one's bothered to tell her that before.

She thinks of Mom back home, clutching at Dad's arm. She thinks he'd be disappointed, but she can't draw his face up in her mind because all she can think of is Dr. Lecter giving her a final hug before she'd been whisked away, sees the way his lips shape the name Mischa, the length of his arms encircling her the way a python would its prey. Survive, he would have said, if the moment had allowed it. Whatever you do, survive. And then Brian Zeller's reaching a hand out to her and she's grasping at it, and it's cold, oh so cold, freezing in fact—

Abigail flings a handful of snow at Beverly's face and shoot her other hand out to grab at her ankle. Beverly tumbles to the ground, still blinking away snow, and the next time she opens her eyes Abigail is on top of her, bring the blade of her Alana's knife down on her throat.

"Die quietly," Abigail rasps as she presses the blade down over Beverly's guttural choking. She drowns in a pool of her own blood mere minutes later, and Abigail rests her head on her chest as her heartbeats get gradually slower, and then stops all at once. Abigail takes in a deep breath and lets it out, liking how the silence resounded around her. She stays there until Beverly's limbs start to stiffen, and the arena's metal hand snakes down to whisk her body away.

 


 




A blizzard comes and a blizzard goes. Her skin burns and blisters and peels away. Her hands scream neon red, and no matter what she does, her stomach wound refuses to close up again. She leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the boy to find, red smears on snow-caked tree barks, polka dot paths along the river bend, bloody snow angels on the ground. When she steps back to admire her artwork, it's like a sea of angels rushing up to greet her. Her hair is plastered to her cheeks in drenches of blood and her coat drips everywhere, but at least she's not cold anymore.

She walks on, wondering if he was even looking for her. But as the odds might have it, it isn't he who finds her, but her him.

He's leaning back against a boulder, staring down at his hands, lips cracked from the cold. He looks tired and blue to her warm and red. When he catches her staring at his feet, he shrugs and says ruefully, "Frostbite's a bitch."

And then he looks at her. Even his eyes are blue. No metaphors, no poetry, no compromises, no Victor speech. His eyes are just blue.

She presses a red kiss to his forehead before knocking her arrow and pointing right at it. He starts to say something, but then his lips close around them and all that's left is silence. She thinks she's relieved. She thinks it's better this way. She thinks, thinks, thinks, and this is it. This is go. Go.

"Don't close your eyes," she whispers. Will Graham just sits there, waiting.

 


 

 




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