Time was a strange thing, one moment she was watching Aubrey walk away and the next she was in a hospital room, an IV attached to her arm as she tried to come to terms with everything that had happened. Your name is Stacie Conrad, you’re 23, you’re from District 3. Your family is waiting for you in District 13. You’re alive. You survived the 75th Hunger Games. You’re in love with Aubrey. They have Aubrey. Stacie blinked back tears as she remembered that last part. Her nails dug into her palms, the memories from the arena overwhelming.
Everything from the moment her interview began to the moment she was rescued from the arena seemed to occur in a vacuum until it didn’t. Her interview had been quite the bomb drop as Caesar Flickerman had the tech team pull up footage of her and Aubrey on the rooftop or in the apartments. Them speaking, cuddling, sleeping together, kissing, everything. The Capitol knew everything.
“So, you and Ms. Posen, it appears folks that we have another pair of star-crossed lovers,” Caesar chortled. Stacie remained silent, stunned. They knew. All the yearning, the pain, the anguish. Pointless. Stupid. “I-”
“I heard you had written a poem for your one true love, we know everyone thought that meant them, but would you say it’s meant for Aubrey?”
“I-” Stacie stumbled over her words, her eyes furtively flickering towards the part of the stage Aubrey was standing. Their eyes met, equally panicked for a moment. Stacie’s heart stuttered almost to a stop, every stolen moment felt useless. Aubrey’s expression eventually settled and Stacie began to breathe again.
“Well Caesar, Aubrey, and I were really good friends and we got very close, but whatever we were ended back before the 71st games.”
“Really?” Caesar exclaimed.
“Yes, we figured out that we weren’t fully compatible, and she had so much going on that it didn’t feel like the right time.”
“When would be the right time?” Caesar inquired.
Stacie paused at that, the answer clear. When the Games are over. When the rebels win. When every single person that has anything to do with this is dead. “I don’t know Caesar, I just know it’s not now. Maybe someday though.”
Stacie squeezed her eyes shut, erasing the memory from her conscience. Aubrey had left when Stacie mentioned their incompatibility. Only coming back for the finale where they all held hands, Aubrey had missed Stacie’s attempts at persuasion. The last thing Aubrey had heard outside of the games is how Stacie didn’t think they could work.
Things only got worse within the arena.
The bloodbath went off without a hitch, all things considered. Stacie managed to grab the electrical coil along with a spear while Cynthia Rose grabbed an ax. Donald even managed to grab a bag of dried jerky. The saltwater lapped at their feet as they ran. Stacie only hoped that she could catch up with Beca sooner or later.
Donald had begun to beatbox absentmindedly while they languished around camp. The anthem had begun, the long series of cannon fire had ended a couple of hours prior. Stacie watched the sky with bated breath, praying not to see familiar green eyes looking back at her in the sky. She didn’t really know what she would do if Aubrey was up there.
She let out a sigh of relief when the first face that appeared was Chloe’s District partner, followed by the male and female tribute from 5, Cynthia’s district partner, the man from district 8, both from 9, and the woman from 10. “Blondie lives another day,” Cynthia Rose quips. Stacie sleeps easier with those words rolling around her head.
They see each other, finally, at the Cornucopia. Donald had a knife in his leg, and Stacie was helping him away. Lily would never forgive her if she didn’t get Donald out, the two had been going out on the down-low for the past three years. The Careers had come after their group, leading to Beca shooting an arrow through Pieter’s eye. Kommisar took a trident through the chest. Aubrey and Chicago were facing Donald and Stacie, weapons at the ready.
“Looks like you have your hands full,” Chicago chuckled.
“I don’t need them to take you on,” Stacie countered.
“Stacie,” Aubrey said in warning.
“Why didn’t you ask for an alliance, we didn’t have to meet like this,” Stacie muttered.
“Why didn’t you?” Aubrey challenged. Stacie shut her mouth, the blonde had a point. A point that Aubrey was about to expand upon when they all felt the ground underneath them begin to shift. “They’re rotating the island,” Donald exclaimed.
“Shit,” Chicago growled, turning to make a break for it. However, he was too late. The rotation sped up, knocking Stacie and Donald off their feet. Stacie latched onto a nearby rock, dodging the flying crates and weapons as they flew off the island. Donald held onto her forearm with both hands.
“Stacie!” Aubrey shouted. Stacie turned in time to see Chicago make a wild cut in Stacie’s direction. The sword swiped, barely cutting into Stacie’s arm as she wiggled out of the way. The man tried to make another swipe while his other hand hooked into a crevice in the rock, his eyes set on Stacie. What happened next was something even Stacie was unsure of, one moment she saw the sword coming towards her as she struggled to hold onto Donald. The sword’s trajectory was in line with Stacie’s rib cage when emerald green eyes met seafoam, a slight glimmer, and suddenly Chicago was shouting as he tumbled into the water along with a certain blonde. Stacie screamed, the scene moved in almost slow motion as she watched Aubrey spin after her district partner.
When Stacie asked about the incident, Gail, the Ex-Head Gamemaker in District 13 gave Stacie a recording. On the tape, Stacie saw Aubrey’s look of fear and her sudden decision. Stacie watched as the blond threw herself at her District partner, successfully stopping his attempt on Stacie’s life. After all that time, the blonde was still trying to protect her.
After their altercation at the Cornucopia, they didn’t see Aubrey and Chicago for some time. Which, debatably, was a good thing since Beca decided to go off on a tirade about the Careers and their bloodthirstiness. It didn’t help that Aubrey had thrown a knife at Beca’s head. “She’s insane,” Beca ranted.
“She’s really not that bad,” Chloe defended her best friend.
“Is that why she threw a knife at me?” Beca sneered.
“To be fair, you shot an arrow at her first,” Jesse pointed out. Beca groaned in response, adding an eye-roll for good measure. “Did you and her really have a thing?” Beca inquired, turning to Stacie. Stacie remained silent, choosing to ignore the question. She didn’t want to create a bigger rumor mill in the Capitol. “So, everyone knows the game plan tomorrow, right?”
“Run a wire through the jungle to kill the careers;” Beca rattled off.
Stacie winced, the idea of Aubrey dying by her hand was not a pleasant one. She briefly wondered whether she could warn the blonde, but she remembered her orders. “Tell no one from District 1 or 2,” no matter how much she wanted to. The only reason she had refrained was because Aubrey would be safer should they fail.
Stacie was in the process of digging the tracker out of Beca’s arm, blood-streaked along her cheek as she disabled the small bit of tech. “Stay still,” she whispered in Beca’s ear. The small brunette froze as Stacie rose and came face to face with a gleeful Chicago, and a shocked Aubrey. Chicago broke the silence with a whoop as he charged forward, Stacie sprinted off into the jungle, leading him away from Beca.
Stacie was beginning to make the loop around when she was tackled to the ground. Chicago had managed to catch up, his sword to her neck, smile wide. “It looks like the Capitol’s harlot finally met her end, huh?”
“Harlot? Really, what dictionary did you get that out of?” Stacie snarled.
“You know, I never got a turn, I would have -” What Chicago would have done remained a mystery, because a blade sprouted from his throat, cutting him off.
“I never liked you Chicago,” Aubrey grunted, dragging the man off of Stacie. “Right on time,” Stacie chuckled.
“You know how I feel about punctuality;” Aubrey quipped.
Dirt and blood on her face, sweat collecting at her temples, cheeks hollow from lack of food, and blonde hair up in a messy bun; Aubrey looked absolutely entrancing at that moment. “Stacie, I-” Stacie lunged forward and captured Aubrey’s lips in a kiss, fingers curved at the edges of the other girl’s jaw as she cemented the moment in her mind. “Do you trust me?” Stacie asked when she broke away.
“Always,” Aubrey replied, her finger came up to press gently at the dimple on Stacie’s chin, tilting the taller girl’s head down. “I have to do something, I’ll come back. Just stay here, okay?”
“Stacie, what’s going on?”
“Just trust me,” Stacie urged, settling one more kiss on Aubrey’s lips, she turned and ran.
Stacie didn’t make it to the tree before the explosion, in fact, she didn’t make it much of anywhere when everything started to fall apart. Literally. The arena was coming down in pieces and she could hear Cynthia Rose shouting for her. Turned around, she saw another tribute leftover in the arena fighting with someone else in the distance, it almost looked like Chloe. “Stacie!” Aubrey’s voice sounded above the chaos, Stacie ran in the voice’s direction. “Beca!” Another voice sounded, Jesse. “Aubrey?” Stacie called out, but no reply came. Instead, helicarriers appeared out of nowhere and Stacie found herself being lifted by a claw. “Aubrey!” Stacie shouted anything to get the blonde’s attention. She saw another claw come down beside her, holding Beca, burnt and unconscious. Whatever happened, they were in the endgame.
Stacie grimaced at the flood of memories. She hadn’t seen Aubrey since their last moment in the arena. When she had gotten wind of the blonde’s presence in the Capitol she had wanted to break. Cry, scream, die. It was her fault that they had gotten the blonde, if she had just dragged Aubrey with her, they would be safe in District 13. Together. Aubrey had trusted her, and Stacie had failed.
“You’re torturing yourself,” Donald remarked. He was in a wheelchair at the moment, being pushed by a silent Lily. The two made a cute couple, eating meals together as Donald interpreted what the petite woman was saying for everyone else. Sometimes she would sit in his lap as he pushed them along in his wheelchair. Lily murmured something into his ear and the man smiled. “You’re right.”
“About what?” Stacie inquired.
“She has some nice weapon designs for everyone, you are on the propo team after all. Ever since Beca agreed to be the Mockingjay. It might do you some good to get into the lab again, maybe it can distract you.”
Stacie snorted at her friend’s suggestion, it hadn’t been the first time someone tried to get her to do something “productive” for the rebellion. “Come on Stacie, you can’t stay in the hospital throughout the war;” Donald sighed.
“What’s Coin doing about Aubrey, Chloe, and Jesse?”
“Um, well;” The man spluttered.
“Thought so, let me know when the situation changes.”
Weeks passed and Stacie found herself watching the Capitol broadcasts, desperate for a glimpse of Aubrey. She had seen the blonde standing solidly beside Snow along with Chloe and Jesse. The trio looked relatively unharmed at that moment, but it only took a couple more weeks for Jesse’s appearance to alter significantly. Chloe and Aubrey were nowhere to be found in the following videos, alarming Stacie and Beca equally.
As Beca threw herself into her missions as the Mockingjay, Stacie found herself pulled along for various propos against her personal wishes. The absence of Aubrey from all of Snow’s broadcasts set Stacie’s ill at ease. If she couldn’t see Aubrey, she wouldn’t know what he was doing to her.
After some time, the Capitol had enough of her and Donald tinkering with their airwaves. Warned in an interview by Jesse, District 13 was sent scrambling towards the lower levels for a bomb drill. Stacie trailed after her brothers and parents, the alarms and flashing lights doing little for her psych med-addled brain. “Come on Stace,” Xavin exclaimed, guiding her down the steps by the arm.
Once everyone was situated in the bunker properly, Stacie sat in her bunk staring at the ceiling. Her brothers snored in the beds to her left. Her parents were in another room, watching Emily play with her cat. A knock sounded at the doorway, causing Stacie to raise her head. Beca stood awkwardly at the entrance to the Conrad room, her fingers tapping a rhythm out on her thigh. “Can I, um, talk to you?” Beca mumbled.
“Yeah, sure,” Stacie sat up and scooted higher in her bed to allow room for Beca to sit. The shorter brunette did so, settling on the bed with a pensive look on her face. “I’m sorry, you’re the only one that even understands. They have Chloe and Jesse, I don’t really know what to do. No one else gets it, but you do, probably. After everything that went on with you and that girl from District 2.”
“Aubrey,” Stacie smiled a little when she uttered the name. The longer she didn’t see the girl, the more certain she became that Aubrey was dead. The more comfortable she grew in believing that the girl was past pain. The more she hoped that they couldn’t hurt her and the piece of her heart that Aubrey still held.
“You really love her, huh?”
“Yeah, I do,” Stacie whispered, more to herself than to the other girl. “Want to know something really crazy? I never got to tell her that. I knew her since my victory tour, and we talked almost every day that following year. She told me she loved me a couple of days after her younger siblings died, and I never said it back. Why didn’t I say it back?”
“She’s dead now, probably. We haven’t seen her pop up in anything for so long, she’s probably dead and I never got to tell her that I love her.”
“Stacie-” Beca moved forward to wrap her arms around the taller brunette, her instincts told her that it was the right move, despite her personal aversion to affection. “I never got to tell her that I love her, and she’s gone now. Or at least I hope so because she’d be better off dead than in the Capitol having whatever they’re doing done to her. I’ve researched their methods Beca, if she’s not dead they’re hurting her and I don’t-” Stacie broke off as she began to emit wracking sobs. “It’s my fault, I didn’t tell her what was going on. Maybe if I warned her she would have helped, maybe she would have stayed by me and she’d be with me right now.”
“I never got to tell Chloe I love her, either;” Beca muttered, biting back her own tears. “I had a chance before we started running that wire. I could have just said it, but I didn’t. I was so caught up in the Games and my act with Jesse, I didn’t say it. I’ve never said it and she’s been missing almost as long as Aubrey. That last broadcast she was in, I saw the way she stood. She was in pain, and I couldn’t do anything. I’m the Mockingjay and I don’t even know how to keep those I love safe.”
“You’re doing better than you’re giving yourself credit for,” A voice sounded from the doorway. The two girls turned and were greeted by the hazel eyes of Emily Junk. The girl Beca had volunteered for. The girl in question was sixteen years old and stood taller than Beca ever would. “Hi, sorry, I saw you two crying and I don’t know what you’re dealing with exactly, but I wanted to say that you’re not a bad Mockingjay, you’re so inspiring and no one expects you to be perfect all the time.”
“Hi Emily,” Stacie greeted the girl, she had met the other brunette during the younger girl’s hospital rounds. She was one of Stacie’s favorite nurses. “Hey, I’d like to also say that Aubrey probably isn’t dead.”
“Why do you think that?” Beca inquired.
Emily pursed her lips together hesitantly, “I don’t know if you want to actually hear what I have to say. It’s kind of awful.”
“Just say it, Em;” Beca groaned.
“She’s not dead because they wouldn’t have any leverage on Stacie otherwise. If they didn’t have Aubrey, they wouldn’t have anything to hold over Stacie. We all saw the video of you two during your interview, your entire relationship is public knowledge now. They know how much you’re willing to do for one another. They won’t let her die anytime soon, not when you’re still alive.”
Of course, the girl was right. Stacie was completely aware of Aubrey’s pertinence to Stacie’s good behavior. She hadn’t been too forceful or verbal in her denouncement of the Capitol as a result. She had seen the way the peacekeepers beat Jesse to a pulp on camera when he had given them the warning. She had seen the way each kick seemed to physically affect Beca as well. Yet, she was even more aware of the fact that Beca’s expression fell further and further, every moment Chloe Beale didn’t step into a shot. If that was Beca’s reaction after knowing Chloe and Jesse for a year, Stacie wondered what she looked like every time she noted Aubrey’s absence.
Ex-Gamemaker Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberg decided it was a brilliant idea to get a video of the surviving victors announcing their survival. However, what she wasn’t expecting was a large number of rose petals sprinkled around the grounds. Beca barely got through half of her first line before she snapped, breaking down into tears about Jesse and Chloe, the crew rushed to calm the girl. When they turned to Stacie, she didn’t do much better, nurses had to rush forward to inject anesthetics into her system as she fought against the surrounding security.
Stacie awoke to the blaring lights of the hospital, she could hear someone rousing beside her. Opening her eyes, she turned to find Donald in her room along with bleary Beca. “What’s going on?” The shorter girl mumbled. “They’ve committed to a rescue mission. Benji, Cynthia Rose, and some of the District 13 soldiers are on their way to the Capitol as we speak;” Donald explained.
“They’re what?” Stacie stumbled over her words as she fought against the drowsiness of the drugs.
“They’re about to enter Capitol airspace now, Jessica has been doing a propo to clog up Capitol airspace. We’re hoping it's distracting enough.”
“What, let us help;” Beca began to scramble out of her bed, pulling at her IVs and connecting wires. “You were just injected with a ton of anesthetic,” Donald argued.
“Help me up, Donny, we need to do this;” Stacie said. With a sigh, Donald grabbed Stacie’s hand and pulled the tall girl with as much strength as he could muster, from his wheelchair. “Where’s the camera crew?” Stacie inquired hurriedly. Beca was clambering out of her own bed.
“I’ll take you there,” Donald sighed.
The camera crew was standing where Stacie and Beca had left them. Jessica stood in the center of the rubble, surrounded by rose petals. She was discussing her life after the Hunger Games and how she was threatened by Snow concerning her relationship with her girlfriend, Ashley. Ashley had also been captured by the Capitol, despite the girl knowing nothing of the rebel plot.
Jessica finished up her story and moved off to the side as Beca stepped forward to speak. The girl twitched slightly under the heavy lighting of the camera crew but began her monologue, nonetheless. She spoke about the death of her mother and how her father seemed to check out of reality afterward. She talked about the unfair conditions of the districts and how she was cared for by Emily and her family. She talked about Jesse and the way he saved her life by giving her hope with a piece of bread. Yet, the most interesting details of her life were revealed at the end. Everything Beca had said previously was something everyone knew or had at least surmised.
“I will always be grateful to Jesse for what he gave me, but I was never in love with him. Yes, he said he loved me, but I never returned those feelings and he knew that. I didn’t even know he liked me until he confessed it on television, but I had to pretend that I loved him for the Capitol. That was the story they needed to push because otherwise, I was simply some girl that managed to outsmart them with a handful of berries. I never loved him in the way that everyone wanted me to, and he understood that. Well, understands that. I don’t love him, but I am in love. I fell in love with Chloe Beale. I met her when I got back to the Capitol after my games. Fat Amy introduced us and she helped me with my post-victory interview.” Beca paused for a moment before continuing.
“Now, you may be wondering why I’m revealing this, but I needed to say it. Because of Snow and his games, I never got to say those words before. He’s a monster that controls our every move, and I won’t let him control me anymore. So, Snow, if you’re watching this, I hope you know that we’re coming for you. We’re going to win this war, and your time is coming, just wait.”
“Alright, cut!” Fat Amy cheered, running forward, the larger woman wrapped the tiny victor in her arms. “You did great Shawshank!”
“Stacie, you’re up;” Donald called. Stacie gulped and steeled herself for what was to come. If she was going to be effective at all, she needed to turn every single person’s head. She needed to rip away the curtain that Snow was hiding behind. For every person that had been affected by the snake and for her own sanity. For Aubrey.
“You sure about this?” Donald questioned.
“I have to do this, for Aubrey;” Stacie replied.
The camera focused on her face as the air around her seemed to buzz with a special kind of tension.
“President Snow used to sell me, my body that is. If a victor is considered desirable, he offers them as a reward or allows them to be bought for exorbitant amounts of money. I wasn’t the only one. If you refused, he killed someone you loved, so you did it.”
A breath. “One of his favorite ways to get back at the victors that refused to be sold was by rigging the Reapings. That’s what happened to Aubrey’s siblings, she refused to be used by the Capitol citizens, so Snow had her brother and sister killed.”
“I said yes. I wanted to protect my family, so I was bought and sold on President Snow’s whim. I wasn’t the only one, but I was the most popular. To make themselves feel better, my patrons would give me gifts in the form of jewelry or money, but I found a much better form of payment. And this is where you’re going to want to pay attention, President Snow. Because so very many of them were about you.”
Stacie watched as the camera crew and her fellow victors listened to her words. The ways they’d gasp and whisper amongst themselves. Stacie wove the tale of how a young Corlianus Snow used poison to rise to the presidency. She saw the shock and horror of her fellow refugees, she saw the alarm in Beca’s eyes. The stripping away of the brunette’s last shred of judgment. Most of all, she saw the arrival of her brothers and parents, stepping off the lift. They had been listening to the broadcast. Tears in their eyes, Stacie sighed in relief when she saw the way they looked at her. Gone were the thinly veiled expressions of disgust and anger, instead, they were filled with the love of old.
When Stacie finished her story Xavin and Luke rushed towards her and enveloped her with their burly arms. “Stace, we didn’t know. We’re so sorry,” Luke apologized profusely. “If we had known we would never have said half the things we did to you. We’re so sorry.”
“Stacie,” her Father approached hesitantly, his eyes clouded over with guilt. “I’m so sorry. God, how did I not realize.” Stacie slipped from her brother’s arms and finally hugged her father, tears streaming down her face. “All this time?” Her mother inquired, joining in on the hug.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Stacie explained.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Her father questioned.
“I wasn’t supposed to, it’s not something we’re allowed to tell others. It’s only really known amongst victors.”
“We’re so sorry, sweetie;” Her mother said.
Stacie nodded, accepting her family’s apology, and sank into their embrace. Her parents loved her again, she was able to help in the rescue attempt, and now she simply had to wait. Either Aubrey would be in her arms or dead. Either way, Snow wouldn’t be able to hurt her anymore, and maybe that was enough for now.
The rescue mission was a success and the rescue team was on their way back. After Stacie had finished her speech, Beca had jumped back on for a conversation with Snow that led to another breakdown. It was a trap, or at least they thought it was. Cynthia Rose took a shard of glass to the shoulder, and Benji broke some ribs, but they managed to get the imprisoned victors out.
When the rescue team walked through the hangar doors, Stacie and Beca were waiting. The first victor through the door was an unconscious Jesse. He was emaciated and bruised, his eyes sunken and blackened. Where he had previously had muscle, his skin now seemed to hang off the bone. Beca rushed to his side, worriedly when the next stretcher came in. It held a woman with brown curly hair. Stacie heard Jessica gasp as she ran towards the gurney, the other woman was awake and alert. “Jess!”
“Ashley!” Jessica reached for her girlfriend, who pulled herself out of the gurney and immediately fell into Jessica’s waiting arms. The two kissed with an admirable fervor as they rejoiced in their reunion. Stacie smiled for her newfound friend, the blonde’s excitement was nearly contagious. “Out of the way!” A medic shouted, pushing a bed past them as quickly as possible. Stacie looked at the quickly approaching medical team with wide eyes. In the bed laid what looked like a skeleton with skin. “Move it!” The medic exclaimed, pushing past Stacie. “Chloe!” Beca shouted.
Stacie turned to see Beca chasing after the gurney that just passed them. Surprise colored her features as she realized the skeleton was the vivacious ginger. Her hair was shorn off, and she was littered with bruises, but she was Chloe. Stacie gulped in fear, if that’s what Chloe looked like, what did they do to Aubrey?
“Come on, Bree;” Cynthia Rose’s voice carried from the entrance of the hangar. Stacie turned, bracing herself for the worst. Her eyes met familiar green, and Stacie picked up the pace, excited to see Aubrey. Finally, they could be together. “Aubrey,” Stacie shouted, running towards the blonde in her excitement. The blonde’s expression changed in a split second, and that’s all the warning Stacie got before the blonde punched her in the jaw. Stacie fell backward, her head hitting the ground with a thwack. Her eyes met green as she felt Aubrey begin to press down on her windpipe.