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against all odds

Chapter Text

She knew her sister wouldn’t be as happy-go-lucky as she usually was today. The whole District would seem quieter today.

It wasn’t exactly something they could ignore.

Alex left the house earlier than usual, when the sky was just beginning to blush pink with the morning sun, and headed to the market. She swung the backpack over her shoulder and tightened her fist around the few coins her mother had saved for food.

Her boots scuffed the dirt path and instead of hearing the usual chatter of the morning market crowd that she had grown accustomed to, Alex heard nothing.

Nothing but the occasional mumblings of customers asking for bread, eggs, meat, spices, flour, and salt, among other things, in the softest voices they could manage.

No one seemed to want to acknowledge what was going to happen in just a few hours.

Sympathetic smiles were thrown Alex’s way as she walked past the booths, but Alex ignored all of them. She tried hard to keep from clenching her jaw. She knew they were all secretly a bit happy that they weren’t young enough to be chosen.

But Alex was. And now, so was her sister.

This was the first year since Kara had come to live with them that she could be picked for the Games. Alex had plastered a smile on her face when they had sung her Happy Birthday just a couple months ago, when she turned twelve. But Alex hadn’t missed just how hard, just how tight, her mother had been squeezing her hand during it, and knew that she was thinking the same thing.

But there was only one slip of paper with Kara’s name on it. Alex’s name was on twenty-eight. If she could, Alex would’ve put her name in a hundred, no, a thousand, more times if it meant they would take Kara’s out.

Alex already had her name in more times than was required so they could receive extra rations and Alex, again, hadn’t missed the way her mother didn’t fight her too much on it. After this year, Alex would be free. She was eighteen, and she only needed to be bypassed one more time, this time, today, before she would be safe.

Alex’s eyes avoided another tight-lipped smile aimed at her by an older lady she’d seen around the market only a couple of times. She bumped past people, walking faster now, as she made her way down to the booth at the end.

“You’re early today,” a gruff voice said, and Alex remained silent until he turned around and faced her.

J’onn was probably one of the only people, outside of her family, that Alex could actually stand in the District. His booth had the basics, along with many of the other booths, but Alex always came to his.

“Today’s not exactly a normal day, is it?” Alex replied, the words coming out harsher than she intended, but J’onn didn’t react. She then held out two coins to him. “The usual. Please,” she added to offset her tone.

J’onn waved off the money and Alex just held her arm out straighter. J’onn shook his head. “You don’t have to pay today, Alex, and don’t try to argue with me about it.”

He turned away from her to dig through the various sacks that held what Alex needed, what she always got, from him.

“Aren’t you supposed to, you know…be getting ready or something?” Alex asked him as she slowly put the coins back in her pocket.

“I could ask you the same question,” J’onn countered.

“Well, we still need food for the week,” Alex said as she took her backpack off and rested it on the counter. “Hopefully.”

She’d said that last part under her breath, but J’onn had heard it. He straightened up again and tied off the sack. Alex took it from him and stuffed it in her backpack carefully to keep the eggs from breaking.

J’onn crossed his arms. “How many this year?”

“Twenty-eight,” Alex said after a slight pause, keeping her eyes locked on his.

J’onn took a deep breath in and out. “And Kara?”

“Just the one.”

Kara had, of course, tried to offer to put her name in more times, but Alex and her mother had both refused. Kara wasn’t technically supposed to be in there at all, Alex couldn’t help but think, but she had to be.

J’onn’s face remained passive as he leaned his hands on the counter. “You haven’t gotten picked for the last six years, Alex. And I know many other kids,” his voice faltered the slightest bit, “who have their names in there more than you. You’ll be fine, and so will Kara.”

Alex pursed her lips and shouldered her backpack again. “I know. And even if I do—”

“You’re not g—”

Even if I do get picked,” Alex continued, “I’ll have the best mentor out of all the Districts, so there’ll be nothing to worry about.” She gave him a small smile, and the only indication that J’onn had seen it was the small grunt he gave before looking over Alex’s shoulder at someone behind her.

Alex stepped to the side to let the next customer go to the counter, but J’onn told her to wait. He went behind the curtain and came back out with a chocolate bar and Alex just stared at it.

“You can share it with Kara,” he said softly as he placed it in her hand, and the look on his face told her that it would be useless to argue. Alex glanced down at the chocolate bar for a moment and when she looked back up, J’onn was preoccupied.

Alex started walking backwards slowly and waited until J’onn gave her with the slightest of smiles, which she returned before heading back the way she’d came.

When she reached their small house, if they could even call it a house, she saw her mother in the kitchen cooking breakfast. She couldn’t see Kara, so she started walking a bit slower and nervously turned the chocolate bar over and over and over in her hands.

She finally reached the door and knew that her mother had seen her by now and knew she was home. Alex pushed it open—their lock had broken a while ago and they hadn’t gotten it fixed—and stuffed the chocolate bar in her back pocket.

Alex kept her head slightly inclined when she went into the kitchen, her eyes trained on the floor after a quick glance at her mother, and set the backpack down on the counter.

“Is Kara awake yet?” Alex asked, and her mother put down the towel she was holding.

“No,” she replied, and Alex nodded slightly. “I want to talk to you about—”

“I’m going to go see if she’s up,” Alex said, pretending not to notice her mother’s eyes on her as she started to head to the bedroom.

“Alexandra—”

“She needs to start getting ready,” was all Alex added. She clenched her fist and then flexed her fingers when she was out of the room as she heard her mother sigh, but didn’t turn around.

It wasn’t that Alex hated her mother, per say, it was the way she looked at her, that Alex hated. She probably didn’t mean to, but Alex could tell. Alex could tell, every time she did, that her mother saw him reflected there.

Alex looked nothing like Eliza and everything like Jeremiah. Even Kara, who wasn’t even biologically her mother’s, looked more like her than Alex did.

And today, more than any other day, Alex didn’t want to deal with it.

Alex took a deep breath and then gently pushed the door open to her and Kara’s bedroom. Kara was indeed awake, as Alex had guessed, but she was just sitting on the bed writing something in her notebook.

When Kara had told Eliza she wanted to be a writer, Eliza had smiled and bought her a small bound notebook, telling her that it was probably the only one she’d ever be able to buy, so write small. Kara had beamed and thanked her with a hug, and Alex saw her writing in it almost every day.

Alex didn’t point out that she’d never even gotten a chance to tell her mother what she wanted to do. Not that she necessarily knew, but it still would’ve been nice to have the option. Her mother was one of only a small handful of doctors in the District and she’d been gearing Alex up to follow in her footsteps since she was a kid. And even though Alex didn’t like it very much, she was good at it.

But she liked her and J’onn’s training sessions a lot more, although she couldn’t tell her mother that. Alex got the feeling that being anything less than a doctor wouldn’t be good enough for her.

Alex had started the combat and self-defense lessons with J’onn the summer before she turned fourteen. J’onn had told her that he was doing it in case she ever got picked for the Games, and while the Tributes weren’t technically allowed to have outside training beforehand, especially from a mentor, the kids from District 1 and 2 always did.

Alex loved it from the beginning and trained with him every week. Alex asked J’onn, once, whether he would consider doing the same for Kara, just in case, but he said he’d consider it when she was a bit older. Alex didn’t argue much, and it was mostly because she liked having something to do outside of the house, something outside of her mother and Kara—the two people her world seemed to revolve around.

Kara looked up when Alex took a step into the room and Alex could feel herself smile.

“Hey,” Alex said as she sat down on the bed and pulled out the chocolate bar from her pocket but kept it hidden. “I have something for you, from J’onn.”

Kara moved so Alex would have more room to sit and closed her notebook, a curious look on her face. Alex tried not to be worried that she wasn’t talking, but the silence that seemed to be a blanket over everything this morning was making Alex anxious.

Kara seemed to light up as Alex brought the chocolate out from her behind her back and handed it to her.

“You went early this morning,” Kara said as she started to tear off the wrapper from the bar.

Alex shrugged. “I wanted to get back so we could get ready.”

“Did Mom say anything to you? About…today?” Kara asked hesitantly, and finally looked back up at Alex.

Alex shook her head. “It’ll be fine,” she said as though she hadn’t been telling herself that repeatedly for the past week. “I remember how scared I was, my first year.”

“Yeah?” Kara asked softly as she bit into the chocolate.

Alex nodded. “You were a bit of a distraction, but,” she continued, and then sighed, “there’s nothing we can do, unfortunately.” She could tell Kara it would be all be okay a hundred times, but she noticed that it helped Kara not to gloss over it, so she didn’t.

Kara nodded a bit and Alex kissed her forehead. She glanced at her watch, the only thing her father had left her before he was taken, as she stood up and went over to their closet. “We should probably get you dressed, before breakfast is ready.”

Kara’s mouth was full of chocolate when she replied, “I already picked out a dress.”

“The red one?” Alex asked as she glanced over her shoulder and Kara nodded. Half the chocolate was already gone.

“Here,” Kara said as she held out the other half to Alex, but Alex just turned her head away to find the dress.

“You can have it all, I ate mine on the way over,” Alex told her, the lie rolling off her tongue easily. She knew that as soon as J’onn had handed her that bar, she wouldn’t be having any. She didn’t need it anyway, and it did help to distract Kara for…well, about a minute, because that’s how long it took her to finish it.

Alex pulled the dress out and held it up. Kara smiled and licked her fingers before taking it from her.

“You could wear red, too,” she then said. “I don’t know if it’ll go with those boots, though.”

Alex shook her head in amusement and glanced down at her boots.

For an entire year, Alex had been saving enough money to buy herself combat boots. She’d always wanted a pair, but Eliza constantly refused, saying she didn’t need them and they had better things to spend money on. So Alex started saving little bits and pieces of money she earned for herself and when she finally had enough to buy the boots, she put them on and almost never took them off.

She’d chosen this pair because they reminded her of the one’s Jeremiah used to wear. Alex looked back up at Kara as she slipped the dress on and did a little twirl, making it float up and around her.

“You look very pretty, Kara,” Alex told her. “And there’s no way you’re getting me in a dress.”

Kara smiled and waved a hand. “I know, but it was worth a try. C’mon, Mom’s probably waiting.”

The rest of the morning was pretty much normal. And it was only normal because the three of them forced it to be. With Kara there, Eliza seemed to put aside whatever she wanted to talk to Alex about, which Alex was grateful for.

Instead, they talked about everything except the Games, until they had to head out of the house to main square where the Reaping was taking place.

Kara held onto Alex’s hand and their mother walked beside her. More and more people crowded the road and the Peacekeepers kept everyone civilized. The three of them walked up to a Peacekeeper, who held out his hand to point them to the right, where all the other eligible children were standing.

Parents weren’t allowed to stay with them, so Eliza stopped them before they joined the crowd. She turned to Kara first, her eyes already shining with tears, and bent down to cup her cheeks. She whispered something to her and Alex distracted herself by looking around at everyone gathering for the Reaping.

Kara finally let go of Alex’s hand when Eliza turned to Alex.

“Alexandra,” Eliza said, and Alex shifted her gaze back to her. Her mother was smiling a little bit, her eyes red. She paused and Alex wondered if she was going to say something else before she let out a breath and said, “I’ll see you in a little bit?”

Alex was sort of glad her mother wasn’t saying goodbye and was pretending like she was just sending Alex off to school for the day, because it made it a bit easier for Alex to calm her heart beat.

Alex nodded, not trusting herself to say anything, and smiled. Eliza smiled back and hugged her, whispering that she loved her in her ear. Alex’s arms might have tightened a little around her back before Eliza pulled away and combed her fingers through Alex’s hair to tuck a lock behind her ear. Normally, Alex would take it back out immediately, but she just took Kara’s hand again.

Another one of the Peacekeepers put a hand on Alex’s shoulder and Alex fought the urge to make him take it off as he ushered them toward the crowd of kids.

Alex glanced back over her shoulder once, but her mother had gotten lost in the audience. Her and Kara maneuvered around a couple rows of kids before they found a space for the two of them. Alex was grateful that they didn’t order them by age so she could stay with Kara, whose grip on her hand was tightening more as they got nearer to the start of the Reaping.

Luckily, the announcer stepped onto the stage only a minute after they found their spot and provided Alex a distraction from her wandering thoughts.

She had the most ridiculous outfit on and Alex sort of tuned her out as she explained what the Hunger Games was as though everyone there didn’t already know. Twenty-four kids, one boy and one girl from each District fight to the death in the arena. The usual spiel Alex heard every year.

And then she mentioned District 13, which was the whole reason these Games existed in the first place.

The Capitol’s reasoning for pitting twelve to eighteen-year-olds against each other was because District 13 had tried to rebel. And the Capitol had put a stop to it by bombing the entire thing to teach a lesson. And just in case the other Districts ever tried to forget it, ever wanted to try something similar, they created the Games.

It sent out a very clear message: Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.

Alex felt Kara’s hand flex a bit in hers but Alex just squeezed it. Alex then found J’onn where he was standing just to the right of the stage. J’onn looked at Alex and kept his face expressionless, but she knew he was thinking the same thing.

The Capitol claimed that everyone in District 13 had been wiped out, but Alex knew that wasn’t true.

Kara was living proof.

“...For seventy-three years, the Capitol has put on these Games for this very reason. And now, we’ll start the Reaping to pick the Tributes for District 12 for the seventy-fourth Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in their favor,” the announcer said with a smile. She paused as if waiting for applause, but it was almost dead silent. She then cleared her throat when she realized she wouldn’t get anything out of the crowd and motioned for someone to bring something up to the stage.

Alex’s mouth went dry when she saw the two bowls with hundreds of pieces of paper containing the names. Alex always couldn’t quite believe that this was happening, year after year, until she actually saw the bowls.

In a minute, just one minute, two kids’ lives would change. Two kids’ families’ lives would change. They were just kids, Alex couldn’t help but think. They didn’t deserve this.

Every year she refused to watch the Games when they’d screen them in the square. Others did, and Alex was always disgusted at how they could stand to watch.

Alex clenched her other fist as the announcer made a big show of positioning the bowls in front of her. She then moved the microphone next to the table.

“Ladies first,” she said into it with a smile, and Alex wanted to wipe it off her face.

Alex’s heart started to pound as the lady plunged her hand into the bowl. Alex’s hand started to get sweaty but there was no way in hell she was taking it out of Kara’s. She needed it there as much as she knew Kara did.

The announcer finally picked one and held it up, not yet reading it.

She went back to the microphone and slowly, painstakingly, unfolded it. She paused once again for dramatic effect before leaning into the microphone and taking in a breath before she read it.

And Alex’s heart dropped like dead weight and settled in her stomach when she said it.

When she said her sister’s name.

When she said, in a high-pitched voice that would forever ring in Alex’s ears, “Kara Danvers.”

Alex felt bile rise up in her throat and she couldn’t breathe. Her eyes seemed to go out of focus.

Once.

Her name was in there once.

There were hundreds of kids, and even more names, and Alex had twenty-eight slips of paper herself, and Kara had one, the paper the announcer was now holding in her hand, in that bowl.

A million thoughts rushed through Alex’s mind, and she tried to remember how to breathe again, but couldn’t.

Alex swallowed and blinked and willed herself not to crumple to the ground.

Kara wasn’t even supposed to be in there in the first place. She wasn’t part of District 12. She wasn’t supposed to be in there, but she had to be for her own safety.

And she was twelve. She was just twelve years old. They couldn’t do this, Alex thought. They couldn’t. They wouldn’t. Alex wasn’t going to let them.

Because Kara wouldn’t hurt a fly. She was smart, and fast, and young enough that people would underestimate her, and could probably make it pretty far. But as much as Alex didn’t want to admit it, if they sent Kara to the Games, Kara wouldn’t survive.

But Alex?

Alex had a better chance. Alex was trained for this. And Alex loved her sister more than anyone in the world, and she wasn’t going to let them do this.

There was only one way that Alex could prevent this from happening.

Only a couple of seconds had passed, but to Alex it felt like years.

She was brought back down to reality—this was her reality, how could this be her reality—when she felt Kara’s hand slip slowly out of hers.

Alex’s eyes locked with J’onn’s over the crowd as she heard a sob ring out in the audience through the silence that Alex recognized came from her mother because she heard that exact same sound when they’d told her that Jeremiah was gone.

Alex then looked down at her sister. Kara tilted her head up to Alex, shock and fear etched across every inch of her face and tears already forming in her eyes.

And Alex cemented her decision. It was the easiest decision she ever made.

Alex licked her lips and bent down to Kara’s level. She held onto Kara’s arms as a tear fell down Kara’s cheek.

“I love you. You know that, right?” Alex asked her with a small smile.

Kara nodded but looked confused and worried, as if she sensed what Alex was about to do.

Alex then straightened up and turned away from her sister, letting go and ignoring her as she gripped her arm tightly. Alex saw a Peacekeeper making its way over to them, but she just looked the announcer in the eye and shot her right hand up in the air.

“I volunteer,” she said, her voice cutting through the crowd. “I volunteer as Tribute.”

Chapter Text

It was raining the night Kara came into their lives.

Jeremiah used to patrol District 12’s border and Eliza was waiting in the kitchen for him to come home that night. Little did she know that twelve-year-old Alex was still awake as well, because she could never seem to go to sleep until she heard him come in the door from a late shift.

The rain outside hit the window of Alex’s bedroom in a steady rhythm and almost put her to sleep, until she was jolted from drifting off when she heard the front door open.

Alex sighed in relief and turned over, pulling the blanket closer around her and finally closing her eyes.

But then she heard voices, louder than usual when her dad came home this late. Shuffling, doors closing, three people talking.

She could only make out one word here and there, and she recognized the third voice as J’onn’s, her dad’s best friend. J’onn never came over this late.

Alex laid in bed for a couple more seconds before curiosity got the better of her as the voices became louder, and then sat up in bed when she heard:

“Both of you, quiet. You’ll wake up Alex.” The voices became quiet again.

Alex got out of bed and pressed her ear against the door, not yet opening it until she could figure out what was going on.

“Now please…explain this to me again, slower this time,” she heard her mom say.

“She says her name is Kara and she’s from District 13,” J’onn said, his voice low.

Alex’s brow furrowed and her hand hovered over the door knob. District 13? But it was gone, wiped out. She—whoever ‘she’ was—couldn’t be from 13.

“What else?”

“That’s it. That’s all she’ll tell us—it’s a miracle I even got her to come here in the first place. I saw her in the trees and told her to stay put. I found that part of the fence that’s always turned off and climbed over—”

“Jeremiah, you could’ve been caught!” Her mother seemed to hiss through her teeth. “You know what they’d do to you if they saw you. Why did you—”

“Eliza, she was soaking wet, and she’s probably, what…five years old? I couldn’t just leave her there.”

“I’m six,” a small voice, barely a whisper, said.

The room seemed to go silent and Alex slowly opened the door and started to head down the hall, stepping in places she knew wouldn’t make the floor creak.

She heard shuffling and then her mom started to use the voice she used on Alex when she was scared or nervous, “Kara, honey, can you please tell us where you’re from?”

“District 13.”

“Yes, I know you said that, but that’s…that’s impossible,” a little laugh come from her mother. “Why were you on the other side of the fence?”

There was silence and Alex held the edge of the door frame, still keeping out of sight.

“Maybe we should just let her sleep and try again in the morning,” Jeremiah said.

“She’s sleeping here?”

“Well, what do you want to do? Send her back out in the rain? I don’t think she really feels like telling us anything else right now. I think we’ll get more out of her in the morning.”

“But we don’t know anything about her. We need to get her to tell us more.”

“I’ll talk to her,” Alex said as she stepped into the room. All four of them whipped their heads towards her, but Alex’s eyes were on the girl—Kara.

She was tiny, her long blonde hair soaking wet. She had their bathroom towel wrapped around her frame and she noticeably stepped closer to Jeremiah when Alex came in the room. Her skin was deathly pale, like it had never seen sunlight.

“Alexandra, what are you doing up?” Her mother asked, standing from where she was kneeling by Kara on the kitchen floor and putting a hand on her hip.

Alex’s eyes shifted towards her mother. “Well you weren’t exactly being quiet.” Alex glanced at Kara again and then looked at her dad. “Who is she?”

“I think you should just go back to bed,” Jeremiah said, a small smile on his face. Kara looked up at Jeremiah and then back at Alex. She seemed to want to cling onto Jeremiah’s leg but decided against it.

Alex almost laughed. They thought she would be able to go back to bed.

J’onn seemed to get that and spoke up, “Maybe we should let her try, Jeremiah.” J’onn turned to Alex. “I’m sure you heard everything, but…your father found her outside the fence in the woods and—”

“I don’t think we need to be telling her this, J’onn, she’s—”

“And she’s from District 13, which doesn’t exist anymore,” Alex finished J’onn’s sentence with a smile. “Yeah, I already heard that.”

Eliza sighed but seemed to give up on not telling Alex anything else, since she knew she’d heard everything already. “She says she is, but we really don’t know how, or…or what she…” She shook her head. “You have school tomorrow, Alexandra, you should really be in—”

“Can I just try, Mom? Please?” Alex asked, interrupting her.

Eliza glanced at Jeremiah, who just shrugged. She then turned back to Alex and after a second, she nodded and stepped slightly to the side.

Alex smiled a little bit and walked into the kitchen, and Kara seemed to want to disappear behind Jeremiah, who wasn’t moving, as half her body was now hidden behind his leg.

As far as Alex knew, she wasn’t exactly a scary person. Yeah, sure, she got into some little, tiny, miniscule fights at school, but she was currently wearing her pajamas. Alex wondered why this little girl seemed to be so scared of her, but she knew she was, so she slowed her steps and kneeled, as her mother had done, a foot away from her and sat back on her heels.

“Hi. Your name is Kara?” Alex asked softly, trying to seem as non-threatening as possible. Kara nodded, but stayed silent. Alex smiled as she touched a hand to her chest and continued, “I’m Alex.”

Kara just wrapped the towel tighter around herself, but her shoulders seemed to relax the tiniest bit.

“And you’re from District 13?” Alex clarified, and Kara nodded yet again. “Okay. Can you tell me how you got here?”

Kara shrugged, but kept her lips tightly pressed together. Maybe she doesn’t know, Alex thought. Either she didn’t want to tell them, or she couldn’t because she didn’t know.

“Do you know where you are?” Alex then asked, and Kara shook her head. Alex glanced at her mother, who just nodded for her to continue. Alex looked back at Kara, “You’re in District 12.”

Kara looked at her curiously and Alex just stood up slowly to grab the jar of candy her mother kept on the kitchen counter. She saw Jeremiah put her hand on her mother’s arm and Alex kneeled down again.

Kara brought her head out a little more from behind Jeremiah’s leg and her eyes seemed fixated on the jar in Alex’s hands.

Alex opened the lid and dug her hand in to get one of the tiny red one’s she liked, and held it out to Kara.

“These are my favorite. Do you want one?”

Kara seemed to smile a little bit and Alex beamed as she stepped out a bit more from Jeremiah’s leg. She extended one arm from inside the towel and slowly took the candy out of Alex’s hand. She stared at it for a second and then began to unwrap it slowly. Once she had, she brought it up to her lips, poking her tongue out to taste it.

She looked back up with a bigger smile and popped it in her mouth.

Alex took one out of the jar as well and did the same. She knew her mother wouldn’t normally let her have candy this late at night, but got the feeling she wouldn’t say anything so Alex took advantage of it.

Kara chewed the candy and couldn’t seem to stop smiling. Alex was just happy that she’d gotten her to actually smile and placed the jar back up on the counter. Kara finished in record time and as soon as she had swallowed it, Alex started up again.

“How did you get here, Kara?” she asked.

The three adults had been silent as they watched the two girls closely, and Kara kept her eyes on Alex.

“My…my cousin,” she then said softly. She seemed to frown and Alex’s face softened.

“Your cousin. He came with you?” Alex asked, and Kara nodded. “What’s his name?”

Kara paused and hugged the towel around her again before she answered, “Clark.”

“Clark. Okay…” Alex glanced at her father, who ushered her to keep going. “Um, is he…still with you?”

Kara shook her head.

“Where is he?” Eliza asked, and Kara tore her eyes away from Alex.

Tears then seemed to form in Kara’s eyes and her lower lip wobbled. Alex cast a worried look at her mother and Eliza quickly kneeled down on the floor next to Alex.

“Kara, honey, you don’t have to tell us, right now, if you don’t want to. We just…we’re trying to help you,” Eliza told her.

A tear came out of Kara’s eye and she brought the towel to her face to wipe it off. She swallowed and sniffled, looking back at Alex.

Alex didn’t know how she could understand what Kara was trying to tell her, but she nodded slightly at Kara’s expression and turned to her mom. The rain came down harder and Kara looked out the window.

“I think she’s tired,” Alex said, turning to her mother.

“Well, since you just gave her candy,” Eliza started to say, and Alex thought she was due for a lecture, but Eliza just smiled, “she’s probably not, but…yes, it is late. We probably should let her sleep. Kara,” she said, and Kara turned back to her, “would you like to stay here tonight?”

Kara nodded and Eliza pushed on her knees to stand up again. “Well, I guess we can just—”

“She can sleep in my room,” Alex offered. Her bed wasn’t that big, but Kara was small and they could definitely both fit. “I don’t think she wants to sleep out here alone.”

Eliza sighed, and Jeremiah put a hand on her arm again.

Alex tuned out her parents and J’onn as they started talking to each other in low voices they thought Kara probably couldn’t hear. But Alex could tell she was trying to listen so she distracted her.

“Do you want to sleep in my room tonight? It’ll be like a sleepover. And I have some cool toys I think you might like. I can show you them in the morning,” Alex told her, and a small smile seemed to appear on Kara’s face again.

“Alexandra, don’t think you’re getting out of school for this.”

“You can’t tell anybody, but I have a teddy bear also, if you want to sleep with it,” Alex continued in a softer voice, leaning forward a bit so only Kara could hear and ignoring her mother. “I like it, but you can have it tonight if you want.”

She held her hand out hesitantly to Kara and Kara looked at it for a few seconds before she slowly took an arm back out of the towel and touched her fingers to Alex’s palm. Her fingers were ice cold, but Alex’s were warm enough for the both of them. The others went silent, but Alex just held onto Kara’s hand as she straightened up.

Kara came out from behind Jeremiah’s leg fully and Alex looked at her mother. Eliza looked between them with a small smile and nodded her head towards Alex’s room.

Alex took the cue and led Kara slowly out of the kitchen. She wanted to stay because she heard them start talking about Kara and how long she could stay and if J’onn should take her instead, but she focused on Kara and led her through the house.

Kara looked around at the walls, which were bare, and Alex scratched at her head.

“So, um…my room’s…I-I mean my bed’s not very…big, but I think we can fit,” Alex stuttered out. She was a little embarrassed at how small their house was, now that she noticed Kara inspecting everything. “My best friend Vicky has a bigger house and you could probably have your own room there, but, um…”

She reached the end of the hall and Kara just looked at her. Anything would seem better than sleeping out in the rain, probably. Alex slowly pushed open the door and Kara let go of her hand when she followed her inside.

Kara was looking around again, her eyes stopping on the bed pushed against the wall, and Alex didn’t really know what to do now, but she quickly realized that Kara probably needed something to change into to sleep, as her clothes were still pretty wet. Alex hurried over to her dresser and pulled out the bottom drawer.

She took a long-sleeve shirt and pajama pants out, tucking them under her arm. Alex then took the towel from Kara and replaced it with the clothes.

Kara still didn’t say a word as she changed, but she neatly folded the drenched clothes, placed them on top of the dresser, and turned to Alex. Alex tried not to smile at Kara because the pants were definitely too long, but she did when Kara glanced down at her feet, which were covered by the pants, and back up again.

“It’s too long but that’s all I have, sorry. So, do you, um…do you want to sleep on the left side or…” Alex started to say, but then she shook her head. “No, I can sleep by the wall,” she continued when she realized that maybe Kara would feel trapped if she had to sleep next to the wall with the only way to get out being over Alex. Not that Alex would ever to anything to her, but it would probably make Kara feel safer.

“Are you two okay in here?” Eliza asked as she pushed the door open. Her eyes landed on Kara and she let out a small laugh. “Wow, pajamas and everything. And your clothes are…” her eyes found the dresser, “Ah. Well, I’ll just take these and get them dried for the morning, if that’s okay. Alex, can I talk to you out in the hall?”

She had a smile on her face, but Alex could tell it was there only for Kara to see so she wouldn’t be worried, so Alex followed her mother as she grabbed Kara’s clothes.

Eliza turned to Alex once they’d left the room and shut the door but didn’t latch it.

“Alex, I know that this is all probably a bit strange for you, having her here because we don’t even know who she is. Are you sure you’re okay that she’s sleeping in your room tonight?” Eliza whispered.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I think she doesn’t like the storm, and my bed’s big enough.”

Eliza smiled and brushed Alex’s hair away from her face. “Okay. If you’re sure…”

“I’m sure, Mom,” Alex said with a defiant nod.

“Alright. We’ll get more out of her in the morning and hopefully figure out what’s going on.”

“Does that mean I don’t have to go to school?” Alex asked, a grin on her face. Eliza just looked at her. Normally Alex loved school, but she was ahead on her homework for this week’s classes already and Kara…Kara was much more interesting, at the moment. “I mean, I’m the only one she talks to, so…”

Eliza eventually sighed and kissed the top of Alex’s head. “Fine. But just tomorrow,” she said sternly, and Alex beamed. “Now please go to sleep, and make sure she falls asleep, too. I’ll come check on you in an hour to make sure everything’s okay.”

Alex just nodded but called her mom back when she turned away from her.

“Don’t you think we should…tell somebody? About her? I mean, if she’s really from 13, then…”

Eliza pursed her lips and leaned down to Alex’s level, “This whole thing, her being here, Alex, is incredibly dangerous. We can’t tell anybody, right now, until we know more.”

“Do you think they’ll be mad?” Alex asked, referring to the Capitol. If someone from District 13 was alive, then Alex could only imagine what would happen. “Do you think they’ll hurt her?”

Eliza sighed again, “I don’t know. I think we’d better talk about this in the morning.”

Alex nodded and let it go for now, as she could feel herself getting sleepier by the second, and Eliza squeezed her shoulder before standing up again.

Alex turned away and heard her mother walking down the hall as she opened the door to her bedroom again. She started to close the door but Kara, who was standing by the window, whipped her head around, her eyes wide, and Alex took her hand off the handle.

“Sorry, I’ll keep it open.”

Kara seemed to relax again and Alex went over to her bed. Once she’d gotten settled into the space near the wall, which her back was touching as she tried to give Kara as much room as possible, she reached her hand under the pillow and pulled out her teddy bear.

“Nobody can know about this,” Alex said, a serious look on her face. “This has to be our secret, okay?”

Kara just smiled and took the bear from her as she climbed onto the bed. Alex laid on her side and faced Kara, who was on her back. She played with the teddy bear for a minute, and Alex was grateful that she was extra gentle with it as it was starting to fall apart.

It was silent for another minute and then Kara turned her head towards Alex. She opened her mouth, probably to say something, but then they both heard a crack of thunder and Kara jumped. She turned her head away sharply to look out the window but, to Alex’s surprise, shot her hand out towards hers and grasped onto it.

Alex wasn’t fazed by the thunder and wanted to ask Kara why she was, but Kara seemed to start shaking so Alex just sat up a little bit and leaned her weight on her elbow.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s just thunder,” she whispered. She wondered if she should call for her mom to help Kara calm down.

Kara was taking deep breaths as she stared out the window. Alex looked at her curiously, because it seemed like she’d never experienced a storm before and Alex wondered why, but just held onto her hand a little tighter.

“The thunder comes from…it, um…it does this thing when the air pressure and temperature increase from the lightning. It makes a loud sound because the air is expanding,” she explained. Usually when Alex rambled about stuff like this, Vicky just called her a geek and rolled her eyes. But Kara seemed enthralled, her bright blue eyes fixated on Alex now, so Alex continued. “The lightning comes from the electrically charged air in the clouds during a storm and it’s really bright. But you see the lightning and then hear the thunder. And you can count how far away the storm is.”

Kara looked confused but intrigued as she faced the window again. Her eyes widened as she saw the lightning light up the room for a split second, and Alex started counting.

“You can count like this: One, two, three, four—”

She stopped when they heard the thunder, only a bit quieter this time. Kara shifted in the bed, but Alex went on, “So it’s about four miles away. That’s a long way from us, I think, so…you don’t need to worry about it.”

They stayed silent, just listening to the rain until they saw another lightning flash, and this time, Kara started counting quietly, barely moving her lips, “One…two…three…four…five…” The thunder rumbled again.

“See, it’s getting even farther away, now,” Alex told her. Kara turned back to her and seemed more relaxed, and Alex smiled. “I think we should sleep. Or else my mom’s gonna be mad tomorrow when we’re both tired.”

Kara nodded but still kept her hold on Alex’s hand as she laid on her back, so Alex didn’t turn away and just settled her head back on the pillow.

“Goodnight, Kara,” she whispered, and closed her eyes when Kara didn’t reply.

It was silent for a minute, and then she heard a tiny, “Goodnight, Alex.”

And Alex fell asleep with a smile on her face, her dreams replacing the soft sound of the rain hitting the window and Kara’s quiet, continuous counting…

--------------------

“No.”

Murmurs started to spread through the crowd, and everyone in front of them was turning around to look at Alex, who brought her hand back down to her side.

Alex kept her eyes locked on the announcer but tore them away when she heard, once again, a defiant, “No.”

Alex looked down at Kara, who looked angry. Her fists were balled up and she looked back at Alex with tears forming in her eyes.

“Kara—” Alex started to say when she kneeled down, disappearing into the crowd again to face her sister.

No, Alex. You can’t…th-they can’t do this!” she exclaimed, and Alex just held onto both of her arms again.

“I need you to be calm for me, okay?” Alex looked up and saw several Peacekeepers coming down the empty center aisle towards them, and the crowd started to part around the two girls. “You need to either stay here or go find—”

“No!” Kara exclaimed again, and she wiggled her arms out of Alex’s grasp.

“Kara, please,” Alex said sternly, trying to get her sister to listen to her before anything bad happened. She clenched her jaw to keep from crying, which didn’t work very well, and grabbed Kara’s wrist as she tried to turn around. A Peacekeeper then materialized behind Kara.

Alex held onto Kara’s wrist despite her trying to get out of it, and moved her gently to the side so she could go with the Peacekeeper.

“Let’s go,” the Peacekeeper ordered, holding out his arm to Alex like he was going to grab her shoulder. Alex just stared at him and went around Kara, keeping out of his grasp.

Kara, instead of trying to get out of her grip now, held on tighter to Alex’s arm.

Alex turned around and pressed a kiss to Kara’s forehead. Kara tried to wrap her arms around Alex’s neck, but Alex straightened up again before she could. The dejected look on Kara’s face almost made Alex flinch, but if Kara held onto her any longer, Alex knew she wouldn’t be able to let her go.

“I need you to be strong for me, for…for Mom, okay?” Alex said, trying to smile. “I need you to take care of her for me. Please, Kara.”

Tears started to stream out of Kara’s eyes and Alex had to turn away and finally let go of Kara’s wrist. The Peacekeeper stood to her side and Alex couldn’t fight his grip on her shoulder so she reluctantly let him keep it there.

She prayed Kara would stay in the crowd and not come after her, but she also knew Kara and that it was likely she wouldn’t.

And she was right.

Hundreds of eyes were on her from every direction, but Alex just looked straight ahead.

She had reached the center aisle and was walking with the Peacekeeper, who had two more men behind him now, towards the stage when she heard Kara shout her name and her shoes hit the dirt at a running speed.

Alex managed to turn her head around just as one of the other Peacekeepers grabbed Kara’s arm and yanked her back before she reached her. Kara let out a yelp of pain and almost tripped and fell.

And something inside Alex snapped.

“Hey! Don’t you dare touch her,” Alex shouted, her calm exterior now replaced with pure anger.

He wasn’t letting go of Kara and Alex saw red as she twisted and freed herself from the Peacekeeper, shoving her shoulder into his side. She heard some gasps from the crowd and the Peacekeeper grunt, but she just dodged the second one as she ran towards her sister. Kara’s Peacekeeper held his hand out for her to stop but Alex was just staring at his strong grip on her arm that she knew was probably hurting her.

Alex glared at him. “Get. Your hand. Off. Of her,” she gritted through her teeth, and she could’ve sworn she saw a flash of fear cross his face. His grip loosened the tiniest bit on Kara’s arm and she broke free.

Kara then launched herself at Alex and wrapped her arms around her neck. Alex held her off the ground and backed up as the three Peacekeepers came towards her. Their hands seemed itched to pull out the batons clipped to their belts, but Alex just squeezed Kara tighter and started whispering in her ear.

“We get to say goodbye, later. You remember that? The tributes get to say goodbye in a few hours before we go so I’ll see you then, okay? Right now I need you to go find Mom.”

Alex could hear Kara hiccupping and she combed a hand through her hair; Kara didn’t loosen her hold.

Alex reluctantly looked away from her and at the crowd behind her. There were still whispers travelling throughout it, but everyone seemed fixated on the scene in front of them. She tried to find Eliza but couldn’t.

One of the Peacekeepers went for her arm again so she shouted, “Mom! Mom!

Alex shouted it again before she realized with a pang just how long it had been since she’d called her that to her face.

Eliza finally pushed through to the front of the crowd and ran up to Alex. She quickly untangled Kara from her grip and Alex looked back at her.

“Go.”

“Alexandra—”

“Please, don’t…don’t worry about me. And don’t let her tell them,” she said quieter. “Just take her somewhere, away, please,” Alex then pleaded. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”

Eliza pursed her lips, her eyes red, before she tightened her hold on Kara and started to back away. The Peacekeeper Alex had broken free from earlier shoved her towards the stage, and Alex blocked out Kara screaming her name as she was marched as if in a trance.

She stepped up onto the stage and wiped any trace of tears from her face as she turned to find J’onn standing to the side. He looked angry, his arms crossed over his chest, but his face softened when Alex looked at him.

“Well, that was…interesting,” the announcer’s voice made Alex tear her eyes away from J’onn. She was smiling, smiling, and Alex clenched her jaw. She held out the microphone to Alex, who just looked between it and her when she asked, “Your name is Alex?”

Alex took a deep breath before she answered, leaning her head towards the microphone a little bit. “Yes.”

“And that was your sister, I’m presuming?”

Alex just nodded. Her heart clenched in her chest as she looked into the crowd and her mother and Kara had disappeared.

“And you are volunteering to take her place in the Hunger Games,” the announcer clarified.

Alex swallowed and nodded again, only another tiny, “Yes,” able to escape from her mouth.

“Okay. District 12, your new tribute…Alex Danvers,” the announcer said, turning back to the crowd. The crowd was silent now, and Alex just looked down at the stage floor. The announcer continued, “I guess we’ll just…we’ll now go to the boys’ bowl.”

Alex stepped to the side of the stage as far away from the bowls and the announcer as possible and kept her head inclined.

She shifted her eyes towards the bowl of boys’ names when the announcer once again dug her hand in.

Alex wanted to start crying but they’d just made a huge scene in front of the entire District, and, she realized with a jolt, the rest of the Districts, too. She cursed to herself when she remembered they always aired each District’s Reaping ceremony immediately after all of them were over before the Tributes were taken away.

Everyone would see that. Everyone, even the other Tributes, god, Alex thought, especially the Tributes, would have seen her cry. They’d think she was weak. They’d go after her.

Well, she thought as she straightened up and put her shoulders back, she’d just have to show them otherwise.

Alex kept a blank look on her face now, not really looking at anybody until she glanced at the announcer again when she finally picked a piece of paper.

The announcer went back to the microphone and leaned slightly forward.

She cleared her throat before unfolding the paper and speaking again, “And your boys’ Tribute for District 12 is…Winn Schott, Jr.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Alex found Kara sitting outside in the grass of their front yard.

Alex had woken up and, after realizing that Kara was not in the bed, frantically started to look for her all over the house.

The sun was up and the grass was still damp from the rain, but Kara was sitting cross-legged on their lawn with her head tilted up towards the sky. She was still wearing Alex’s pajamas that she’d borrowed the night before.

Alex let out a relieved breath (she had been running from room to room trying not to wake anyone up while she searched) and stood at the entrance to their house for a moment, just watching at her for a few seconds, before hopping down the steps.

Alex hesitantly sat down next to her, making sure that Kara heard her coming before doing so, and looked over at her.

Kara’s eyes were closed, a small smile on her face, and Alex didn’t want to disturb her peace just yet, so she leaned back on her hands. There were still some clouds from the storm, but the sky was bright blue and Alex found herself mesmerized by it for a moment.

“The sun,” Kara said after a minute, and Alex whipped her head towards her again as Kara brought her chin down and opened her eyes. “Is it in the sky every day?”

Alex furrowed her brow. She was both surprised at the question and also at the fact that Kara had even asked her a question. Kara looked over at her when she didn’t say anything, and Alex realized that she was completely serious about it.

“What do you mean? Of course it is,” Alex told her. “Sometimes you can’t see it, but it always is.”

Kara looked away from her again and seemed to be contemplating something, and Alex became even more confused. How could she not know that the sun rose every morning? Unless…she wasn’t used to seeing it.

Alex turned around as her mother opened the front door. Alex was about to smile when Eliza suddenly started waving her hand for them to come in the house, a worried look on her face.

Alex immediately pushed herself off the ground and turned to Kara, who wasn’t moving.

“C’mon, we gotta go inside,” Alex said.

Kara glanced up at the sky again. “Can we stay outside?” she asked quietly.

“Um…” Alex said, and looked back at her mother, who just raised her eyebrows. “No, we have to go in, to eat breakfast. Are you hungry?”

That seemed to work. Kara’s face lit up and she followed her into the house.

Once they’d gotten in the door, Eliza took Alex by the arm to the side and told Kara to go ahead to the kitchen.

“Alex,” Eliza said once they were alone in a tone that Alex knew meant she was in trouble. “You shouldn’t have been outside with her.”

“Sorry, I…she wasn’t in bed when I woke up and I found her sitting out there,” Alex explained.

“She wasn’t in bed?” Eliza asked, and Alex shook her head. “How long was she out there? Did anyone see her?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know, I only found her a minute before you came.”

Eliza sighed. “I told you this was dangerous, having her here,” she then said, her voice lower.

“Yeah, I know, but—”

“No one can know about her until we figure out what we’re going to do. She needs to stay in the house so no one sees her and starts asking questions.”

“Okay, sorry,” Alex said. “She really likes to be outside, though.”

Eliza’s face softened at Alex’s worried one. She rubbed her hand up and down Alex’s arm, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be…this wasn’t your fault, Alex. Just tell her to come in next time, okay?” Alex nodded and Eliza smiled. “Should we go eat?”

Alex sat down at the kitchen table with Kara as her mother cooked them breakfast. She couldn’t help but think that maybe she should’ve known that, that Kara shouldn’t be outside where people could see her. She should’ve known and told her to come in. She would definitely make sure to watch her more closely, next time.

Alex asked Eliza where Jeremiah and J’onn were and she just told her they had to go in to work, but Jeremiah was going to come home early.

Eliza treated patients in their living room they’d designated as her office, and Eliza didn’t have any morning appointments today, so it was just the three of them.

Kara seemed to be switching her attention from the window to the eggs sizzling on the pan as she tried to sit still on the chair. Alex just watched her for a minute before Eliza gave her a look and tilted her head towards Kara as though to remind her why she wasn’t in school today. Alex nodded the tiniest bit.

“Hey, Kara,” Alex said to get her attention, and Kara tore her eyes away from the window. “Um, so…last night,” Alex said slowly, trying to think of how exactly to start asking her questions about how she got here. “Were you…how long had you been out there? In the forest?”

Kara crossed her legs up onto the chair, as she had enough room to do so, and her body stilled. It took her a bit to answer, but she eventually said, “A long time.”

So not just last night, Alex thought. There were a million questions Alex wanted to ask her, but she had to be careful so as not to put Kara back in her shell.

“Do you know how long? Like…a week? Or…”

Kara shrugged, and then said, “We weren’t always in the forest.”

Alex glanced at her mother as she looked over her shoulder. “You and your cousin, Clark, right?” Alex asked Kara. Kara nodded. “Where were you?”

“We were in…there was grass, too. No trees,” Kara said quietly, and she looked like she was remembering it.

Eliza finished cooking then and slid the eggs out onto three plates. She sat down at the table and placed them in front of the two girls as she sat across from them. Kara’s eyes widened and Eliza had barely given her a fork before she started digging in like she hadn’t had much to eat.

Alex and her mother exchanged a look as Kara ate mouthful after mouthful. They stayed silent and ate more slowly, until Alex couldn’t help it and asked, “Where is District 13?”

Kara paused in her eating and Eliza gave her another look. Alex hadn’t meant to ask that so quickly, but she did because was pretty sure she already knew the answer.

And, thus, wasn’t surprised when Kara swallowed a bite of food, locked eyes with her, and then said simply, “Not outside.”

Alex glanced at her mother, who just seemed confused. But after Kara’s reaction to the storm, how she kept looking out the window as though whatever was out there would disappear if she didn’t, and this morning in the front yard, it was a pretty easy conclusion for Alex to come to.

“So it’s underground?” she asked, and Kara nodded.

Eliza let out a surprised breath and Alex looked at her. No wonder Kara was so pale—she’d literally never been outside. And this also made it easier for Alex to believe that she was from District 13 and that District 13 actually still existed. They’d somehow been successfully hiding underground all these years.

And for some reason, Kara was here. Kara and her cousin had escaped, or maybe been sent out for help?

It took the rest of the day for them to get more and more out of Kara slowly. But she eventually started telling them about how Clark had wanted to escape and find the other Districts, and Kara had begged to go with him. Alex itched to ask Kara about the rest of her family, how they felt about her going with Clark, but got the feeling that she didn’t have any other family. And every time Kara would talk about Clark her voice would get quieter until Alex pivoted the conversation away from him so Kara would keep talking.

Apparently, the two of them had been walking, had been out of District 13, for weeks. Kara had lost count, at some point, just how long they’d been walking and hiking, but she would always describe to them the places her and her cousin had been, if there were trees or a lake or a river. She described them as if they were the most fascinating things she’d ever laid eyes upon, how the river would flow over the rocks and the water was cold and Clark had begged her not to jump in a lake but she had anyway because she wanted to know what was at the bottom.

It was almost as if she was from another planet, Alex thought. Alex couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be stuck underground every day, wondering whether the sun rose every morning.

When Jeremiah came home, he started to talk to Kara as well, asking her about which way her and her cousin had been travelling and more about the District itself. He even asked her whether she’d be willing to show him, to bring him there, but Eliza had stopped him and told Alex to take Kara to her room to play with some of the toys Alex had from when she was Kara’s age.

Kara slept at their house again that night in Alex’s bed, and Alex had gotten up once Kara had fallen asleep to eavesdrop, again, on her parents as they talked in low voices in the kitchen. She knew she’d be tired the next day at school, but she didn’t care.

They talked about Kara and Jeremiah told Eliza that she should stay here, that she should live with them, until they figured out a way to get her back home. Eliza, not to Alex or Jeremiah’s surprise, started worrying that they didn’t have enough money to get another bed or feed another mouth, but Jeremiah insisted and it didn’t take very long for Eliza to relent.

“We can’t keep her inside, keep her hidden, forever,” Alex heard her mother say. “She keeps asking me and Alex when we can go outside. She wants to come with me to the market tomorrow while Alex is at school. How are we going to explain how she got here?”

It was silent for a minute before Jeremiah answered. “Well, I’ve been thinking…there’s some homeless kids,” Jeremiah started to say, and Alex could practically see her mother flinch at that. There weren’t a lot of homeless kids in District 12, as they usually got taken to the orphanage, but there were a few on the way to the market who would sleep on cardboard boxes and beg for food. “And I thought that maybe we could…adopt her.”

Alex’s eyes widened. Adopt her? Kara would be Alex’s sister, then. Alex could feel herself smile. She hadn’t ever thought about having a sister.

“Jeremiah—”

“No, listen. We could say we found her on the street and that we’ve been trying to have more kids for long time and we want to adopt her.”

“Jeremiah, I don’t think…I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea.”

“But it will work. It won’t be suspicious, other than the fact that we’ll have to give her a reason to tell them why she’s not in an orphanage. And I don’t want her to go to an orphanage. I’d feel much better if she lived with us, and the only way we can do that is if we adopt her. She’d be able to go outside, to go to school, even, while we figure out how to get her home safely, because I think it’ll take a while. If we can even get her home.”

Alex tuned them out as they discussed it. She thought about having Kara live here with them, sleep in her room probably, and go to school with her. Kara wouldn’t be in her class, nor would she be able to tell anyone about her being from District 13, which would be hard because she told Vicky, her only friend, almost everything.

Alex would also have to help Kara catch up in class and teach her everything there was to know about District 12 so that no one would be suspicious that she wasn’t from here.

But Alex could do it. She could definitely do it. She’d have fun, actually, teaching Kara science that she probably wasn’t taught at home. She’d tell Kara about District 12, take her to the market when Eliza had a full day of appointments and couldn’t go, and talk to her about things she didn’t want to talk to Vicky about.

Like when Vicky would tell her about the boys she had a crush on, and Alex could only say that she had never felt that way about any boy. Vicky had laughed and told her she’d feel it one day.

Alex didn’t want to tell Vicky that she was pretty sure she did feel it, but not with boys. That she did feel it, when Vicky would smile at her. That she did feel it, because her heart would pound when Vicky held her hand, or when Vicky hugged her every day after school when they parted ways, or when Vicky would say that she was her best friend and Alex wondered why she didn’t want to be just friends.

Alex didn’t, couldn’t, tell Vicky, and she definitely didn’t want to tell her mom, or her dad. So maybe Alex could tell Kara, if she stayed. She’d have to make her promise not to say anything about it to anyone…not that she’d really have anyone to tell.

But it might be nice to talk to someone about it, to have another friend to talk to.

It might be nice, to have a sister.

--------------------

It was much quieter when the boy came up to the stage.

No one volunteered for him, no one ran after him.

No one screamed his name.

Alex felt sorry for him, although it probably wouldn’t have been as bad if her and Kara hadn’t just made that whole scene.

Volunteering wasn’t normal. But Winn looked to be only a bit older than Kara, and Alex found herself pleading with someone to start crying for him, to run after him. But no one did. The silence in the audience was deafening, so at least Alex knew that it meant they weren’t happy about this. But no one stopped it, either.

Winn walked up to the stage with the help of only one Peacekeeper, although the rest seemed agitated and ready to fight, as if they were daring someone to test them again.

Winn kept his head down as he walked up the steps and Alex didn’t know whether to look at him or not. When he finally stood beside her, a good two feet away, he crossed his hands in front of him and held them tightly together.

Alex finally looked up when the announcer started talking again but zoned her out. She snuck a glance at the boy and he stared right back.

And he gave her a smile.

He gave her a small smile as if to say it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault that no one came after him, that no one volunteered for him. He looked back down just as quickly, his face showing no emotions now, and Alex looked straight ahead.

Then, the screen started up again with another video. Alex hadn’t heard the introduction to it, but she knew what it was.

They started with District 1, and that’s when Alex saw her.

The crowd of District 1 looked much different than District 12’s. Everyone was wearing all white, which Alex knew as the color they thought represented victory and triumph, and it was, frankly, blinding. They were standing on a paved street, much different than District 12’s dirt roads, and the stage was an actual stage, whereas District 12’s was wooden planks that Alex thought would break from the weight of the projector at any moment.

They called the first Tribute, a girl by the name of Maggie Sawyer, and then the second, Maxwell Lord.

They cut out the time it took them to reach the stage, so Alex figured that nothing had really happened. Nothing like Kara running after her, wrapping her arms around her, crying into her shoulder, and—

Alex shook her head to clear her thoughts, focusing on the screen again as they cut to footage of the District 1 Tributes on the platform.

And Alex was immediately taken aback by this girl. Not only because she was pretty—beautiful even, in a white skin-tight outfit that complimented her darker skin—but because of how she carried herself.

Every year without fail, Alex noticed that when the Career Tributes—those from Districts 1 and 2—were chosen, they always looked smug. They always looked like they knew they were going to win and it was usually because they did. The unauthorized, not-at-all-secret training they received from the time they were kids made them ruthless and the majority of the winners from the past seventy-three years.

So it was a surprise to see this Maggie girl, who looked her age, standing up there with not a hint of arrogance, but instead radiating calm. Her whole body, her slight movement to lock her hands behind her back, the look she gave the camera when it zoomed in on her, was serene. Like she had accepted her fate, or that she had expected this, that she knew that this would happen.

Alex swore that it felt like Maggie was looking right at her. But of course she wasn’t. Alex blinked when it zoomed back out again as she remembered she should probably look at the guy, Maxwell Lord, too, just to see what he was like. What he would be like as a Tribute, an enemy. Because she was supposed to kill these people.

She was supposed to kill them if she wanted to win. And Alex needed to win, needed to come back home. She couldn’t leave her sister and her mother alone.

The footage cut to District 2’s Reaping before Alex got a good look at Maxwell, but she was pretty sure he’d be an arrogant douchebag anyway so it didn’t matter much.

No one else really stood out to her, but she assessed each of the Tributes as they flashed by, trying to gain a sense of what they were like, figuring it’d be better to not remember their names because maybe that would make it easier.

There were a couple more that were older, Alex’s age, and more than one that looked to be around twelve.

Alex felt her heart start beating faster as they switched from District 11 to District 12. She wondered if they were going to show it, and how much they would show. Up until now, there had been no one volunteering to take another’s place.

Winn glanced at her as she flinched when she heard the announcer call Kara’s name again and then it wasn’t very long before Alex saw herself put her hand up in the air, saying she was volunteering. The camera honed in on her, as she was tall enough that her head could be seen, somewhat, above the crowd of children she was standing around.

Alex couldn’t watch what happened next. They cut nothing out. She shut her eyes, her hand making a fist at her side as she tried to block out any sound, too.

She wondered what everyone else in the other Districts were doing, how they felt, as they watched this.

It seemed like forever before it was done and they were calling Winn’s name and Alex took a deep breath as she opened her eyes again.

She stood there, her head pounding as she tried to keep it together until she could get off the damn stage and run. She wished she could just run, and run, and run, until she hit the woods. She would go over the fence and keep running, running, running until she was alone. She would sit in the grass in an open field, which she knew was out there somewhere, and it would be quiet. Peaceful.

This quiet, the silence of the crowd after the video ended, wasn’t the quiet she wanted.

But before Alex could get out of her headspace, her arm was being taken, once again, by a Peacekeeper. He shifted his hand onto her shoulder, holding it a bit tighter than the way he had Winn’s in his other hand, as he guided them off the side of the stage. The crowd started up again, whispers turning into conversations, but Alex found J’onn and forgot all about them.

J’onn moved so that he was in front of the three of them and glanced at Alex before he stared the Peacekeeper in the eye.

“I’ll take them from here,” he said, using the tone Alex knew not to contradict. And the Peacekeeper didn’t, although there was a second where he looked unsure, and he let them go.

Winn seemed a little scared of J’onn, but Alex didn’t say anything as J’onn looked at her again. His eyes were asking her if she was okay, but Alex didn’t, couldn’t, answer him. She didn’t know if she was okay. She knew she had to be, and could pretend to be, but she wasn’t.

Alex was grateful J’onn didn’t say anything when Winn was right there as he gestured for the two of them to follow him.

J’onn turned his head slightly so they could hear him as he told them, “I’m sure you know that I’ll be your mentor for the Games. I’ll take you to the tents so you can say goodbye to your families and then we won’t have long until we’re to get on the train. We’ll talk about everything on our way to the Capitol.”

The Capitol. Of course, they’d be going to the Capitol.

The gears in Alex’s brain started turning, started working in overdrive as she realized that she’d be in the Capitol. And what she could do, who she could try to find, while she was there.

But before Alex could think too much about it, Winn spoke.

“I don’t have any family to come, so can I just wait on the train?”

J’onn stopped walking and turned around at Winn’s question and Alex did the same.

Winn scratched at his head and Alex felt like shit. She felt like shit because at least she had a family, at least she had Kara and her mother, and she’d have her father again, too. But this kid…he didn’t have anybody.

J’onn cleared his throat and took Winn’s arm gently, pulling him off to the side to talk to him, and Alex just stood there.

She heard him asking if he had any friends, anyone who could come see him. Alex swallowed and looked away as Winn shook his head.

“Alex,” she then heard J’onn say, and she turned back. “The tents are over there.”

Alex just nodded and went past them quickly, not wanting to look at Winn. She saw J’onn sit him down and kneel in front of him as he’d done to Alex many times before.

When she reached the tents, someone held open the flap for her and she ducked in. She slumped down on the bench and put her head in her hands.

Alex wanted to start crying, but she knew her mother and Kara would be there soon, and she wanted to keep it together for as long as possible. She tried to think of something else besides the Games, and started to think about her father, and it was all that was on her mind, until a few minutes later when…

“Alex?”

The voice caused Alex to whip her head up. She knew that voice.

She couldn’t believe who was standing at the entrance to the tent, because it wasn’t Kara or her mother.

It was Vicky.

Alex stood up quickly and ran a hand through her hair as Vicky stepped hesitantly into the tent.

“Uh…hey,” Alex said, her voice small, her voice quiet. She cleared her throat, “Wh—What are you doing here?”

Vicky smiled and bit her lip, and Alex’s heart was still pounding from surprise and confusion and not knowing what to do.

“How are you?” Vicky asked, ignoring Alex’s question.

Alex just looked at her. Her hair was a bit longer and more blonde than the last time Alex had seen her at school, which had ended a couple months ago. Vicky was looking back at her with pity in her eyes and Alex willed herself to focus.

“I’m, um…I-I don’t know,” Alex finally muttered as she sat back down on the bench again. She needed to sit down. This was…she was here.

Vicky looked hesitant to sit down next to her, but she did a couple seconds later, as far away as possible.

“Yeah, that was…” Vicky shook her head with a little laugh, “I’m sorry, that was a stupid question. Of course you’re not okay. Why the hell would you be? I, um…I just wanted to come see you before…to see how you were.”

Vicky looked up from the floor at her and Alex turned her head away.

“Sorry, I’m just, um…” Alex swallowed. “You’re here.”

She saw Vicky smile out of the corner of her eye but she focused on her hands that were now fidgeting in her lap.

“You were my best friend, Alex,” Vicky said after a moment of silence. “We were best friends.”

Alex just nodded once.

They had been best friends, up until two years ago, when Alex made the stupidest mistake of her life.

“I know we ended on sort of bad terms, but…I still care about you, Alex. I mean, you’re going to the Games. How could I not say goodbye?” Vicky said, and Alex willed herself to look at her again. She still didn’t say anything, didn’t know what to say, so Vicky continued, “Have you seen Kara, yet?”

Alex shook her head. “You’re the first one to come in.”

“Oh. Well…” Vicky laughed a little bit again. “Maybe this was a bad idea. I just…wanted to wish you luck, I guess.”

“No, it’s…I’m sorry, I’m just trying to wrap my head around everything, and then you show up and it’s just a lot for me, right now,” Alex admitted, allowing a little smile so Vicky wouldn’t think she hated her. Because she didn’t. It would make it a hell of a lot easier, probably, but she didn’t.

“Yeah, no, I totally get it. I thought they would’ve told you I was waiting to come in, and you would tell them you didn’t want me to if you didn’t, but I guess they…didn’t do that. If you want me to go, I can.”

She had been waiting to come in. She had been waiting to see her.

It’d been two years. Two years since Alex…

Alex shook her head and straightened up, taking a deep breath in and out. Two years was a long time. It was more than long enough. Vicky was a nice person, and she used to be her best friend, and she was here to say goodbye, and Alex could do this.

God knows this wouldn’t be the hardest thing she’d have to do.

“No, I’d like it if you stayed. If you want to,” Alex told her.

Vicky beamed but asked, “Are you sure?”

Alex nodded. “Yeah.”

And so they talked. It was a nice distraction, talking to her again. It was a bit painful, yes, but it was familiar. It made everything going on at the moment slip into the back of Alex’s mind. But as nice of a distraction as it was, talking to Vicky about meaningless things, Alex couldn’t help but start to think of J’onn and Winn and the fact that she was getting on a train in a couple hours to go to the Capitol, for the Games.

Vicky seemed to sense that Alex was distracted, and she stood up. “They said I have an hour, but maybe if I leave now you can get more time with your mom and Kara,” she said.

“Oh, you don’t have to…I’m sure they wouldn’t even give me more time if—” Alex said, even as she pushed off the bench as well.

Vicky just shook her head. “It’s fine, Alex. I think I should go. I’m glad I came, though, to see you.”

“Yeah, me too,” Alex said. “Thank you.”

Vicky smiled at her, and Alex felt like she was sixteen all over again, and it hurt. Maybe it was better that she was leaving so quickly, after being there for only fifteen minutes.

Before Alex could comprehend what was happening, Vicky was hugging her. Alex stiffened for a split second before she hugged her back, and it only lasted a couple seconds, but Alex willed her heart to calm down.

Vicky pulled back and Alex tried to smile as she turned around and went towards the entrance again.

She looked over her shoulder and wished her good luck and Alex thanked her before sitting back down on the bench.

Alex couldn’t help a small laugh as she shook her head in disbelief. Of all the people who could come to see her…

But at least she had people coming.

She tried to think of who else could come before her mother and Kara and couldn’t come up with anyone.

And then Alex got another surprise, someone she wouldn’t ever have guessed would come see her. Someone even more unlikely than Vicky.

A girl that had to be around Kara’s age that Alex recognized from somewhere but couldn’t quite place made Alex jump again as she said, “Hello?” in a quiet voice as she pushed back the flap.

The girl had dark brown hair pinned up in a tight bun and she looked over her shoulder before stepping into the tent, and Alex just stared at her.

“Um, I’m sorry, who are—” Alex started to say, before her eyes widened as she realized who the little girl was. “Oh, you’re…you’re the mayor’s daughter, aren’t you?”

The girl nodded, and Alex wracked her brain for her name before she remembered that it was Lena.

Lena Luthor was the daughter of District 12’s mayor, whom everyone hated. Alex remembered seeing her at events, standing by her mother, with her hair up in a bun that Alex always thought looked like it was done so tight that it probably hurt her.

Lena went to their school, but Alex had never even been in the same room as Lena or her mother, let alone talked to them, and wondered why she was here, in the tent, to see Alex.

Alex looked at Lena as she came towards her.

“I see Kara sometimes, around school,” Lena then said.

Oh, that made sense, Alex thought. She was probably in Kara’s class. But Alex couldn’t remember Kara mentioning Lena, or any friends, for that matter.

“Are you in the same class?” Alex asked her.

Lena nodded. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to look out for her—for Kara. While you’re gone. She’s alone sometimes at lunch and I’ll make sure to eat with her, when school starts up again. If that’s okay with you.”

Alex smiled. She bit her cheek as she nodded at Lena. “Yes, yeah, of course. That’s…thank you.”

“If she needs help on homework or anything, too, I can help her. And if anyone gives her trouble, I’ll…” Lena paused as she seemed to be looking for the right words to say. “I’ll make sure they don’t.”

Alex let out a tiny laugh because Lena had a very serious look on her face, but Alex believed that she meant every word. Alex then nodded, not trusting herself to say anything lest her voice crack, and Lena smiled a little bit, albeit nervously.

Alex didn’t like Lena’s mother, no one did, because she didn’t run District 12 very well, but Lena was just a kid, and she seemed genuine and willing to be Kara’s friend, which Alex wasn’t going to argue with.

“I have to go, before my mother…gets here,” Lena said, and Alex could tell she was trying not to reveal how she felt about her mother, as Alex had used that tone of voice herself before, many times.

Alex nodded again in understanding and thanked her as she left the tent quickly.

When Alex sat back down on the bench this time, she had a smile on her face. Alex didn’t know what she, or Kara, had done to make Lena so intent on looking out for her sister, but Alex was immensely glad she was going to. At least Kara would have someone at school to hang out with while she was gone.

Alex was ready for whoever else was going to come in this tent now.

But, finally, the two people she’d been waiting for, and dreading saying goodbye to, came in about five minutes later.

Kara ran to her immediately and Alex scooped her up in her arms like she weighed nothing. She closed her eyes as she squeezed Kara as tightly as Kara was squeezing her, and she couldn’t imagine how she’d ever let go.

Kara was already crying and Alex opened her eyes to see her mother standing close behind Kara, her eyes wet as well. Alex tried to give her a smile but then Kara started to talk, although it came out as more of a whimper.

“Please don’t go.”

Alex reluctantly loosened her hold and Kara practically slid out of her arms, her feet hitting the ground again. She kept her eyes trained downward as well, and Alex led her over to the bench.

Eliza sat on Alex’s other side and Alex let her hold her hand as she turned her attention to Kara.

“Kara, I have to.”

“But they called m-my name,” she said quietly. “They called me. You d-didn’t have to…Why did you—”

Alex shook her head and tilted Kara’s chin up so she was looking at her. “Why did I? Kara, there was absolutely no choice to make.”

“But it’ll be my f-fault if you…” she trailed off, and Alex was glad she did.

Alex clenched her jaw to keep from crying and brushed some of Kara’s hair back from her face.

“It won’t be your fault. And I’m going to win, you know that, right?”

“Alex—”

“I’m going to win, if you tell me I can. If…if you have faith in me, Kara, I know I can win. I know that I can come back home,” Alex told her. And she meant it. If Kara didn’t believe in her, Alex didn’t know if she’d be able to do it.

Kara pursed her lips and Alex felt her mother squeeze her hand but didn’t turn to her quite yet.

Kara finally took a deep breath. “You’re the only reason I’ve ever felt at home here. I just…I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come back.”

“She’s going to come back,” Eliza said, and Alex finally looked at her. Eliza smiled and nodded like she was trying to convince herself as well. “She’s going to come home to us.” Alex put her chin over her mother’s shoulder when she hugged her. Alex took a shaky breath and Eliza whispered, “I can’t lose you, too.”

Alex shut her eyes again and shook her head. “You won’t. And…” Alex paused for a second before letting a breath out. “And we haven’t lost Dad, you know.” She felt her mother shift a little bit and then Alex slowly pulled back. “We haven’t lost him. He’s in the Capitol, I know it.”

Eliza turned serious. “Alexandra, you know I—”

“J’onn says we’re going to the Capitol before the Games and I think I can try and—”

“No,” Eliza said sternly, shaking her head. “You can’t go looking for him.”

“But he’s there. They have him, I know it,” Alex said. “I-I need to try. If anything, I can at least…confirm that he’s not. That he’s…”

Eliza held onto both of Alex’s arms, “Alexandra, they will catch you, and they will do things much worse than anything you’ve probably already thought of. You cannot go looking for him, do you understand me?”

Alex let out an exasperated breath. “Don’t you want him back?” she asked her mother, her voice quiet.

Eliza let go of her arms and just looked at her, a mixture of desperation and sadness in her expression. “Yes, of course I do. More than anything in the world, but…” Eliza paused and seemed to sense that Alex wasn’t ready to give up yet, but the next words out of her mouth just made Alex angrier. “If they find out you’re looking for him, they might kill you. They might have him but they don’t want us to find him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went great lengths to keep that from happening.”

“I’d rather die looking for him than in the arena,” Alex said, her voice becoming louder, and Kara’s hand brushed her arm as she stood up. “I…I don’t understand why you won’t just let me try.” She ran a hand through her hair to help calm herself down, but it didn’t work.

“Because you’ll be killed, Alex. They will kill you,” Eliza said as she stood up as well, and Alex took a step back from her.

“I’m going to die in the arena anyway, so what’s the point?” Alex snapped back.

Eliza pursed her lips. “The point…is that in the arena, you have a chance. More than a good chance. Against them? You have none.”

“Alex—” Kara said as she held on tightly to the edge of the bench, and it seemed like she wasn’t sure whether to stand up as well and get between them.

Alex held up a hand and Kara stopped talking. Alex focused back to her mother. “It’s like you don’t even want to find him. You won’t let me try with the one, the one,” she held up a finger, “time I can get close to him, you won’t even let me try. You’ve already given up.”

“I have not…” Eliza started to say, her voice lower, and then she took a breath in and out and closed some of the distance between them, “You…you have no idea what I’d give to have him back. But I wouldn’t give you up. He wouldn’t want that, Alex. He wouldn’t want you to risk your life for him. I don’t want you to risk your life for him.”

“But you’re fine with me doing it for Kara?” Alex asked, and she wished she hadn’t, not while Kara was there. But…she needed to say it, needed to get this out.

Eliza looked at her like she couldn’t believe that had come out of her mouth. “No, I’m not fine with it. I am your mother, Alex. How could you even…How in the world could I be fine with this? This was your choice, and I couldn’t stop you.”

Alex tipped her head back and let out an exasperated laugh. She then looked her mother in the eye, “Looking for Dad is my choice. Volunteering for Kara?” Alex shook her head, “I told her—there was no choice to make. And I meant it. I-I didn’t have a choice. Do you know why?” she asked, and didn’t let her mother answer before she continued, “Because if I hadn’t…if I hadn’t volunteered, you would’ve hated me.”

“Alex, I—”

Alex just barreled through. “You would’ve looked at me and wondered what I was doing here, at home, with you, while she was out there. You would’ve wondered, and maybe even asked me, why I wasn’t brave enough, or didn’t love her enough, to take her place. Why I wasn’t a good enough sister, why I would let her die instead of me. But you’re fine. You’re fine with me putting more of my name in the bowl so Kara doesn’t have to. You’re more okay with me going instead of her.”

Eliza shook her head, but Alex wasn’t done.

“And…and if Kara had died in the arena?” Alex swallowed and only took a split second to catch her breath. “You’d look at me the same way you look at me now. Like he’s dead and I’m a reminder of everything he was. I…used to love,” she tried to say, her voice cracking, “I-I used to love that I looked like him. But the way you look at me because I do?” She trained her eyes on the floor before continuing, “I can’t handle it anymore. I…it’s not my fault that you see him when you look at me. But you do, and I can’t change that.” Alex locked eyes with her mother again, “So if I have an opportunity to see him? To bring him home? To make you see me again? I’m going to take it. I’m going to look for him, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Eliza looked like everything Alex was saying was cutting into her like a knife, and she opened her mouth to say something, but Alex wasn’t finished yet.

“I am doing this for her. For Kara. Because she is my sister, and I love her, and I would never, ever be able to forgive myself if she went instead of me. But you wouldn’t forgive me either. And that?” Alex shook her head again. “I couldn’t live with that.”

The tent was silent.

Eliza kept opening her mouth like she was trying to figure out exactly what to say, but nothing came out.

Alex took a deep breath in and stepped back from her mother before looking down again.

“Please, just leave.”

She saw a tiny bit of movement through her blurring vision—Eliza whipping her head up and Kara looking at her with wide eyes.

There was another moment of silence before her mother choked out, “Alexandra—”

“Just go, please,” Alex whispered.

Alex kept her eyes on the dirt, on her boots, as her mother backed slowly out of the tent. She reached the entrance and stopped. And Alex almost didn’t hear her say, “I’m sorry.”

Alex just closed her eyes, waiting until she was gone. She felt a tear slip down her cheek, but she didn’t open her eyes until she felt Kara touch her arm.

“Alex, please talk to her,” Kara said softly.

“No.”

“This might be the last time you ever—”

“No, Kara,” Alex said sternly, finally looking up again. “I’m…I’ve said everything I needed to say. And this might not have been the best time to do it, but she…she needed to know.”

“She loves you, Alex,” Kara told her, and Alex bit her cheek. “She loves you, and I know you love her. Can you please talk to her? I know you’re going to regret this later.”

“I would’ve regretted not saying it more.”

“Alex—”

“There’s a girl outside the tent somewhere. Her name is Lena, she’s the mayor’s daughter.”

Kara just looked confused. “What? What are y—”

“She seems nice, and while you’re at school, I don’t want you to sit alone, at lunch. And if you need help with schoolwork, she said she’d help.”

“Don’t try and change the subject.”

“I want you to sit with her, so you’re not alone. If she turns out to be not so nice, then fine, don’t be friends with her. But…” Alex took a deep breath. “I want you to talk to her, to somebody, when I’m gone. I don’t want you to shut people out, or stay in your room.”

“I-I’m not going to…do that, Alex,” Kara told her as she shook her head, her voice uncertain.

Alex smiled a little bit. “Yes, you will. You won’t feel like talking to anybody, and that’s fine. But when you do want to talk, I want you to find someone and not keep it inside, okay? I know that you won’t be able to tell them about…” she trailed off, as she wasn’t sure who was outside the tent, but continued, “and if you only want to talk t—…to talk to Mom, then…fine. But just talk to somebody. You have to promise me you’ll talk to somebody.”

You, Alex, need to talk to Mom.”

“Promise me, Kara.”

“Alex.”

“Kara.”

Kara pursed her lips and Alex just looked at her. Kara finally sighed, “Fine. I promise.”

“Good, thank you,” Alex said with a nod.

“But only if you let Mom back in here, and talk to her. I’ll leave if you want.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “No, don’t…don’t leave.”

But Kara just crossed her arms. “Okay, but you need to talk to her.”

Alex pursed her lips and sat back down on the bench. Kara joined her and put a hand on her knee.

“She’s just going to say she’s sorry, and that’s not enough. There’s nothing she can say, Kara.”

“Well, since that’s the first time you’ve told her all of that, maybe you should cut her some slack,” Kara said, and Alex looked at her. “She didn’t know you felt that way, Alex. She didn’t know that she was…doing all that.”

“But she should’ve.”

“I know. But she does know, now.”

Alex looked at the entrance to the tent. “She’s probably already left.”

Kara shook her head and stood up, “No, no, she hasn’t. She’s probably right outside, waiting to come back in. Can I go get her?”

Alex took a deep breath in and let it out. She slowly nodded and Kara hugged her.

But Kara then stopped at the entrance and turned back to Alex. “You wanted to know if I have faith in you?” she asked with a small smile. “I do, Alex. I always will.”

Alex smiled back and Kara left the tent.

Alex’s leg started shaking as she sat with her head in her hands on the bench waiting for her them to come back in. After a minute, Alex started to hear commotion from outside the tent, but figured it wasn’t something she needed to worry about.

Another minute passed and Alex rolled her eyes as she realized that Kara was actually looking for her mother, because she had left. Of course she’d left. And when the flap opened again, it would just be Kara.

But Alex didn’t see Kara, or her mother, again.

Instead, J’onn came into the tent and told her they had to leave. Alex told him that Kara was coming back, that their time wasn’t up yet, but he said that no one could come back in once they’d left. Alex tried to fight his grip on her arm as he led her out of the tent.

Alex was numb as they walked past where they’d came, through the now empty square, and to the truck that would take them to the train station.

She wanted to start crying out of frustration and anger, but she saw Winn when she hopped on the train and instead found a chair and curled up in it, holding her legs against her chest.

She couldn’t even bring herself to thank Winn for leaving her a glass of water before he slid the door to the train car closed behind him.

And the only thing keeping her from completely breaking down was the fact that she knew the train was now speeding towards the Capitol, towards her father and away from her mother…but it was also speeding away from her sister, too.

Chapter Text

The first time Jeremiah got caught, he was let off with a warning.

Alex didn’t realize, at first, why he always asked Kara to describe exactly how she managed to get here, exactly which way they’d traveled, exactly which types of trees they saw, exactly how many miles they’d walked, exactly which way the river flowed. Could she draw it? What was District 13 like? Who was in charge? Were they safe? Would she be able to take him to see it?

She didn’t realize why his questions never really involved getting Kara home, but instead seemed to focus on bringing him there.

Bringing them there.

And because he was a patrol officer, who had late shifts at least once a week, it was easy for him to go over the fence without anyone noticing. Multiple times.

But Alex started to get the feeling that he didn’t want to just take Kara home, to District 13. He wanted to take Alex and Eliza there as well. He wanted to escape.

The first time he was caught, Alex held Kara’s hand, as Kara still slept in her bed sometimes even though she had her own now, as Eliza lectured him for an hour.

After that, he stopped trying for a while. But, eventually, he got agitated.

It must have been hard for him, knowing it was out there. Knowing that he could escape the Capitol’s regime and live somewhat peacefully in District 13. Knowing that he could protect Alex, who was now old enough, from being picked for the Games.

But Eliza told him it was risky, it would get him locked up, if he continued going over the fence. Yes, she wanted to get Kara home, and yes, it would be nice not to have to worry about raids and inspections and rations and their daughters (because she started calling Kara her daughter and Kara would smile every time she did) being chosen as Tributes, but would he be willing to risk all their lives for only the possibility of safety?

And sometimes it was Jeremiah’s fault, but sometimes it was Alex’s. Sometimes it was Alex’s, because didn’t she know to take Kara in their room when Jeremiah would start to ask her questions like that?

The second time he was caught, two Peacekeepers brought him home as he was temporarily suspended from his job, and Eliza wasn’t there, but Alex was. Jeremiah made her promise not to tell her mother, and Alex walked around the house with guilt lacing every inch of her conscience.

And when Jeremiah would leave every day like he was going to work, Alex wanted to yell at him. She wanted to ask him why he’d make her lie for him, why he was so caught up on telling her that she’d understand one day. That if she could just keep it a secret for a little while longer, just until he finished his plan, just until he could bring them all with him. Because it’d be better, in District 13. In the place Kara made sound like heaven compared to District 12, although Alex wasn’t sure about that. But her father was so convinced that Alex started to believe him.

He never finished the plan.

Alex wondered, a lot, whether telling her mother would have been better, if it would’ve prevented him from being taken. Maybe Eliza could’ve convinced him to stop, but doubted it all the same. Alex had a feeling that nothing could’ve stopped him, at that point.

Jeremiah had gotten better at sneaking around and wandering further and further outside the fence during his night shifts, because it took six months after the second time for him to be caught again.

The third time, the two Peacekeepers came alone.

They knocked on the door and told them that Jeremiah was gone. That he had been caught in a crossfire at the fence and that he was gone.

And Alex would never forget the sob that escaped her mother’s throat as she sank down onto the floor.

At first, Alex had blamed Kara. She needed someone to blame, and Kara was an easy target. If Kara hadn’t come into their lives, maybe this wouldn’t have happened, maybe he’d still be here with them.

Because Alex didn’t believe, for one second, that he had been caught in a crossfire, that he was dead. She could’ve been in denial, but she was sure that they were lying. Especially after J’onn had let it slip that Jeremiah had been brought in for questioning after the second time as they were suspicious of his motives for climbing the fence so often.

But Kara couldn’t have known, Kara was just seven years old, now. She’d been trying to escape, wanted to survive, and Jeremiah had brought her into their lives.

So Alex wondered if it was her fault. Alex should’ve told her mother he’d been caught again, Alex should’ve stopped him.

And it didn’t help that Eliza started blaming Alex for everything else.

When Kara got in trouble, several times, for leaving class to go outside to the playground because she’d get antsy sitting in a classroom all day, Eliza said that Alex should be watching her.

When Kara wanted go out and look at the stars late on a school night and Eliza caught them, it was Alex’s fault.

But how in the world could Alex watch her when she had her own classes to attend? How could it possibly be Alex’s fault, when Kara was the one who suggested climbing onto the roof? But somehow, it was. Everything was.

And, on top of all that, her mother wanted Alex to get good grades in every subject, not just math and science, make sure Kara was doing well in school, too, and help with patients when she got overwhelmed.

Alex tried to tell her mother that she didn’t think Jeremiah was dead, that they had him and were questioning him, maybe even torturing him, to figure out what he was doing outside the fence. But Eliza wouldn’t believe her, and told her to stop trying to make it better. That even if they did have him, he was as good as dead.

So Alex began to get frustrated.

She thought about telling someone about Kara. Telling them that she was from District 13. Maybe it would free her father, maybe it would free all of the Districts, maybe it would stop the Games.

But then she realized that it would only make it worse. That they’d arrest Alex and her mother for hiding Kara, that they’d take Kara, too, and torture her until they had enough information to find District 13, and blow it up again. Then, they’d probably institute something worse than the Games, to teach a harsher lesson. And Alex didn’t want to know what they’d think was a harsher lesson than forcing kids to kill each other.

That’s also when Alex started to notice her mother watching her, looking at her like that.

Because Alex was like Jeremiah in so many ways, much more than just looking like him, and Alex had a feeling that her mother thought she’d try to find him, to go over the fence as well. But even after Alex assured her that she wasn’t going to, Eliza would make sure that Alex came straight home after school, and made Alex tell her when she was coming home from Vicky’s and would be waiting up when she did.

And even after Eliza had calmed down, had stopped watching Alex for what seemed like every second of every day, she still had that look in her eyes. Like Alex was the only piece left of Jeremiah, and she needed it to cope.

So, Alex started to avoid her. Eliza didn’t notice much, as she had appointments all day now that she was the only one earning money for the family.

Alex was almost fourteen now, and Kara was eight, and Jeremiah had been gone for a year. On the anniversary of his death—his so-called death—Alex was feeling worse than usual.

She’d started getting into more fights at school, as more and more people seemed to piss her off. She saw pity in everyone’s eyes, pity that she couldn’t handle. She had been sent home multiple times, but Eliza couldn’t be that angry with her as she was still keeping her grades up, still taking care of Kara, still had friends (or, a friend). It was just that she was now more likely to get riled up and fight back when people so much as mentioned Jeremiah, or made fun of Kara for being a little strange.

But that day, Eliza sent Alex to the market after school, and she went to J’onn’s booth as usual. She had a bruise on her cheek bone from when she’d slammed a boy who was taunting Kara against the wall of the building.

He’d surprised her by fighting back and getting in a punch or two as he tried to get out of her grip, and Alex reluctantly let him go so she could take Kara home and try to come up with a reason as to why she had a purple, now shifting to green, bruise on her face.

But she didn’t need an excuse, as Eliza took one look at her and knew what had happened. To Alex’s surprise, though, Eliza just sent her to the market, alone, and promised to talk to her later, as she had a patient right then waiting in the next room. Eliza didn’t acknowledge, didn’t mention, what was different about that day, and it made Alex angry.

Because how could Eliza have forgotten? How could she have forgotten when Alex thought about it every minute of every day?

Alex had stalked out of the house without a word, swinging the empty backpack over her shoulder and making her way down to J’onn’s.

When she got there, J’onn kept staring at her as he packed the bag and Alex tried to look anywhere but at him, because she could practically see the disappointment, see the pity, in his eyes.

So it was a surprise when J’onn handed her back the now full sack of goods, but motioned with his hand for her to follow him as he closed up shop for the day.

Alex had no choice but to walk by his side all the way back to his house in silence.

J’onn was one of two winners of the Hunger Games from District 12, and the only one still alive. The Capitol promised luxury to any victor, but J’onn lived simply. Alex didn’t know why he still lived in the District, but knew that it was probably to keep his shop open; his father passing it down to him made him feel obligated to do so. He’d disappear every year for a couple weeks during the Games to mentor the District 12 Tributes, of which none under him had won, so far. Alex knew it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t produce any victors, as District 12 winning the Games was so rare that J’onn himself was basically an anomaly.

J’onn led Alex through his side gate to the back yard. He didn’t have any neighbors, as one of the few things he’d requested was solitude, so they were alone.

J’onn turned around to face Alex and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Hit me,” he said.

And Alex just stood there for a second in silence, not sure if she heard him right. She didn’t really know what to do, how to respond.

Finally, she settled for a simple, “What?”

J’onn just shifted his feet and kept eye contact with her as he repeated, “Hit me.”

Alex rubbed at the back of her neck. “I don’t…why would I—”

“You need to hit something? You might as well learn how to do it right, and how to keep people from hitting back,” J’onn said, his eyes flickering to the bruise on her cheek. “So try and hit me.”

Alex was still confused, and she let out a light laugh as she looked at the ground. “I don’t want to hit…to hurt you.”

“Who says you will?” J’onn said, and Alex tilted her head back up again to see a slight smile on his face. “I’m going to teach you how to fight, since you’re doing enough of it anyway. I’ve noticed the bruises on your knuckles, Alex,” he continued, and Alex subconsciously rubbed at them with her fingers, “and if you ever get picked for the Games, three days isn’t nearly enough time to teach you everything you need to know to win. So we’ll start now.”

“But you’re not allowed to teach me, to train me.”

J’onn shrugged. “Only the house has cameras, they can’t see anything out here. No one will know.” He paused, and then continued, “You’ve got a lot of anger, and rightfully so. Especially on a day like today,” he added, and Alex fought the urge to grimace, but was also grateful for the fact that he at least mentioned it. “I’d rather you learn how to control it and use it to your advantage, rather than let it take control of you.”

Alex just looked at him. Everyone knew the Career Tributes had training before the Games…so why couldn’t Alex? J’onn was offering her a chance to have a chance at winning if she ever got picked one day. Plus, Alex was still riled up from earlier and did kind of want to hit something.

She wondered what her mother would think about her doing this, but quickly pushed that thought out of her mind. She didn’t care what Eliza would think.

Alex slowly set the backpack down on the grass beside her and looked back up. J’onn hadn’t moved, but he looked poised as if waiting for her to come at him.

And she did.

J’onn dodged her first punch easily by simply side-stepping out of the way. Alex paused after she turned towards him and J’onn just looked at her, his eyes telling her that she could do better than that.

Alex balled up her fingers and swung again. This time, J’onn grabbed her wrist when her fist reached within an inch of his face. Then, he raised his eyebrows, and Alex knew he was waiting to see what she’d do.

But she must’ve been thinking too long, because J’onn spun her around, twisting her arm behind her back—not enough to hurt her—and shoved her forward. Alex let out a breath as she caught herself from tripping over her own feet.

He hadn’t even given her time to think about how to get out of his grip. But she supposed that was the point. She wouldn’t have time in the arena.

Alex turned around and faced him. And she tried again.

Alex spent fifteen minutes throwing punches at him, getting angrier and angrier as she couldn’t land any; J’onn would keep trapping her before she could get too close. He was giving her two, three, sometimes four word instructions, but it wasn’t helping.

“Step back,” he said as he grabbed her wrist again, this time with both hands.

“Use your other hand,” he told her as he guided her hand to his shoulder.

“Now use your knee,” he instructed as she, once again, went through the motions a bit slower.

But Alex’s heart had started beating faster, and she took shorter breaths as she went at him again and again but couldn’t seem to do it right, couldn’t seem to get out of his grip.

Finally, after what seemed like the twentieth time that J’onn had somehow managed to evade an elbow she’d aimed at him and instead pushed her away, Alex took several more steps back and focused on breathing in and out, shutting her eyes.

She finally looked back up at him after a moment and shook her head. “I can’t,” she said, but it came out as more of a whisper.

She hated this feeling—feeling weak and vulnerable, knowing that she couldn’t do this no matter how hard, how long she tried. She was used to things being easy for her, and she did like the challenge, but she could feel her punches getting sloppier, her brain getting fuzzier, as she became more and more frustrated. But she didn’t want to get water, didn’t want him to know that she was ready to give up after only twenty minutes, didn’t want him to be disappointed in her, so she stood there.

J’onn just looked at her for a second as she brushed some hair away from her face.

“Think. Breathe. And try again,” he then said quietly.

Alex took a few deep breaths in and let them out, trying to calm her heart rate. She stared at him and flexed her fingers at her sides, not sure if she wanted to try again or not.

And she didn’t know when exactly it clicked for her, but suddenly, it did. It was simple. It was so simple.

Alex swallowed and licked her bottom lip to keep her mouth from going completely dry. She could see the slight movement J’onn made to steel himself for her to come at him again, because somehow he knew she was.

Alex surged forward and made sure that her fist was aimed lower this time, towards his stomach, so he’d grab her wrist with both hands, and he did.

In one swift movement, she stepped back and relaxed her wrist as she twisted it, pulling it out from his grip and instead grabbing his. Then, she used her other hand to shove at his shoulder and created space to knee him in the abdomen, and she heard him let out a small grunt. He backed away and she let him go.

Alex remembered to breathe again as it had taken all of her concentration to do that simple defense move almost perfectly. This time, the feeling of her pulse beating in her ears felt good—great, even.

There was a look in J’onn’s eye that Alex couldn’t really name, and he slowly nodded. And Alex felt her heart soar and a smile tug at her lips as she realized that it was pride. He was proud of her.

They both stood there in silence until J’onn brought his shoulders back and beckoned her forward.

“Again,” he said.

--------------------

Stars danced in Alex’s vision as she pressed her knuckles against her eye lids, her other arm hugging her legs to her chest.

“Alex?”

Alex slowly lifted her head at the deep voice she recognized as J’onn’s. She didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there and was sure her eyes were red, but she didn’t care as long as it was only J’onn and her in the room.

She didn’t say anything and J’onn sat on the table in front of her, moving the still full glass of water Winn had brought her.

J’onn then leaned forward. “Are you okay?”

Alex just shrugged. “Do I look okay?” she asked, although she knew that she didn’t.

And J’onn wouldn’t be J’onn if he wasn’t honest with her. “No. But we need to talk about what’s going to happen when we reach the Capitol.”

Alex took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh as she slowly unfolded her legs down from the chair. She eyed the cup on the table before reaching out and taking a drink from it. She then combed her fingers through her hair as she stood up, leaving the glass on the table, and J’onn stood up as well.

J’onn then put his hand on her back to guide her from the room, and Alex let him keep it there until she’d slid open the door to the other train car, where she supposed Winn was.

There was a long dining table in the middle of the room and Winn was sitting at it stuffing food into his mouth. Alex’s stomach grumbled as she eyed the feast on display and made her way over to the chair across from Winn’s.

She didn’t make eye contact with Winn until she had sat down and filled her plate with everything from potatoes to fruit to what looked like pork to several slices of bread. J’onn sat at the head of the table and it was silent for a minute before Alex finally looked at Winn, who was, once again, already looking at her.

Alex cleared her throat and quickly said, “Thank you, for the water,” and saw Winn smile before she focused back on her plate.

Alex got a few bites in before J’onn started talking, but couldn’t seem to stop eating the mashed potatoes, so she continued to while he did.

“We’ll be at the Capitol in about an hour,” he started, and Alex realized that she’d been sitting in that other room for longer than she thought. “But for now, we need to talk strategy. What are your strengths?”

Winn shrugged and looked at Alex, who swallowed her bite of food. Alex wondered why J’onn asked both of them as he already knew her strengths, but remembered that the training he’d been giving her for the last four years was illegal so he needed to pretend like he didn’t.

“Hand-to-hand combat,” Alex said as she leaned back in her chair. “My mom’s a doctor, too.”

J’onn nodded and shifted his gaze to Winn. “And you?”

Winn just shrugged again and picked at his food. “I don’t know. I don’t have any.”

Alex and J’onn exchanged a glance and then J’onn leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “I’m sure you do,” he said.

“I don’t. Nothing that’ll help me in the arena, anyway.”

“What are you good at, at school? What classes are you doing well in?”

“I’m taking advanced physics, and learning how to code. Like on a computer,” he told them. “But I’m not sure how that’ll help me.”

“How old are you?” Alex asked him, because she knew that he could only take physics if he was in high school, and he definitely didn’t look old enough. And there was only one computer in the entire school—Alex didn’t even know they let kids use it.

“Thirteen. Almost fourteen,” Winn answered.

Alex turned to J’onn. “He’s not allowed to take physics until he’s at least a junior,” she said, and Winn gave her a look.

“Yeah, and knowing how to calculate the trajectory of a ball thrown in the air is really gonna help me,” Winn said, sarcasm woven in to his tone.

Alex just shrugged. “It might.”

“It’s not.”

“You never know,” Alex continued, and got the feeling that Winn had already sort of given up on himself, that he’d already accepted that he had no skills that would help him whatsoever, and that he was certain he was going to lose. Alex wasn’t sure why she was so intent on proving him wrong, especially because him winning meant her losing, but she was. “Don’t count yourself out just yet.”

J’onn nodded. “She’s right. And even if you don’t necessarily have training in combat or survival skills, we have three days to change that. After we arrive, your stylists will work on getting you ready for the opening ceremony tonight, and tomorrow will be the only day you’re training with the other Tributes. I want you two to keep your strengths a secret—”

“That’ll be easy.”

“—save them for the judges and instead learn something new.” J’onn hadn’t paused when Winn mumbled the comment, but now he focused on him. “You might surprise yourself, Schott.”

Winn just put his glass to his lips and drank what Alex thought looked like soda, which she suddenly wanted as she’d never had any before, and then furrowed his brow. “Wait a second, aren’t we supposed to have another mentor? Isn’t that announcer lady supposed to be here?”

J’onn let out a sigh. “Your main stylist will be your other mentor. Budget cuts,” he said as if that was enough to explain it.

Alex figured it was budget cuts, but the way he said it meant that it was probably just District 12 who’d gotten their other mentor cut. Alex wasn’t surprised, but it still made her angry that they always seemed to get the short straw.

“Who is it?” Alex asked.

“I have no idea. It seems as though they switch every year. Whoever it is will be getting you ready for your interview and designing your outfits while we’re in the Capitol. But you don’t need to worry about that right now. Do you two want to train separately, or together?”

“Together,” Winn said quickly before Alex could even open her mouth. Alex had been about to say separately, and it looked like Winn had a feeling she was. Winn looked at her and his eyes seemed to be pleading for her to agree with him. “If we train separately, we’ll each only get half the time with him.”

Alex pursed her lips. “Together, I guess,” she echoed reluctantly, and Winn smiled again.

Alex wanted to train separately because she was afraid of getting too close to this kid. He acted like he wanted to be friends with her, to be in some sort of partnership, and Alex didn’t want that. In any other situation it would be fine, but they were enemies. It would be much easier to act like rivals now than to have to start later. Maybe he was smarter than he was letting on, she thought, and he was downplaying his strengths because he didn’t want her to know what they were, or was bringing her water to get her on his side.

Alex had to remind herself that in the arena, it was killed or be killed. And if she wanted to go home, she had to be the only one left standing. It didn’t matter if he was just a kid, she thought. They all were.

But Alex wasn’t really sure if she wanted to go home. She didn’t particularly like how she left things with her mother. She didn’t regret it, telling her all that, but she didn’t like it either. Alex had been willing to let her back in to the tent, willing to give her a chance to explain, but also knew that there wasn’t any way Eliza could’ve fixed the years of animosity Alex felt towards her or broken down all the walls Alex had built up between them in the short time they had, so it wouldn’t have been worth it.

And then there was Kara. Alex’s heart ached whenever she thought of her sister. Kara was the only reason Alex wanted, needed, to go back home. She couldn’t leave her alone.

“Alex?”

Alex whipped her head up as she realized she’d spaced out and had been mindlessly pushing food around her plate. “Hm?”

“We’re done for now, unless you have any other questions,” J’onn said, his eyes asking her if she was okay.

Alex avoided his gaze. “Uh…nope. No more questions.”

“Alright. We’ll be at the Capitol soon enough. I do need to talk to you, though, Alex. Alone.”

Winn glanced at her, but Alex just wiped her mouth with a napkin and followed J’onn into yet another train car, as she had expected this.

Once they were alone, Alex went over to the window and leaned her hands on the counter, not wanting to turn around and face J’onn quite yet.

“I know you’re going to want to look for your dad,” J’onn said, and Alex gripped the counter harder. “But I would advise against that.”

“I’m going to do it anyway.”

“I know. And I can tell you a hundred times not to do it, but it would be useless. I could tell you a hundred times, as I’m sure your mother has already told you, that he’s not there. I could tell you a hundred times that I’ve already looked myself,” J’onn continued, and Alex finally turned around, “and I haven’t been able to find him.”

“You’ve looked for him?” Alex asked.

“Yes. I don’t know why you’re surprised, Alex. He was my best friend, my…brother,” J’onn said, his face softening. “You don’t think that every year for the past five years when we go to the Capitol for the Games that I look for him? That I’ve memorized every map of this place to try and find him?”

“What if he’s in a place that’s not on any map?”

“I thought about that, too. But I’ve also been to where they keep prisoners. It’s…” he paused and Alex guessed that whatever he’d seen in there was horrifying enough that he didn’t want to tell her, “You don’t want to go in there.”

Alex sighed and leaned back on the counter, rubbing her fingers together. “I’m not going to give up on him.”

J’onn seemed to allow a small smile. “I know that, too. I like that you don’t give up, but I think you need to. Getting you home is much more important. Even if they have him—”

“He’s as good as dead,” Alex finished for him. “I’ve heard that already, but…I can’t. Because even if the possibility is small, there’s still a possibility. And I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I gave up and he was here, alive, and I never got to see him again because I gave up.”

It was silent as Alex stared at J’onn, waiting for him to answer. Finally, he sighed and just said, “Alright. But don’t get caught, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Alex almost laughed. Why was it that J’onn could understand her, but her own mother couldn’t? Why was it that Eliza thought she knew what was best for her but instead made her miserable, and J’onn was the only one who saw that she needed an outlet for her anger all those years ago and gave her one that helped her cope with everything else going on in her life?

Alex nodded, and J’onn left her alone. Alex looked out the window again until she got dizzy watching the landscape blur by, and went back into the other room.

Finally, the train reached the Capitol and they were immediately whisked off of it by several people Alex could only guess were her stylists. It was just beginning to get dark outside and Alex and Winn were ushered into a building and separated into different rooms. Winn shot her a frightened look before the door closed behind him and Alex could only mirror it.

They immediately started to strip her of her clothes and Alex kept an eye on her boots and her watch, which they set near the door.

One of the people working on her, whose name Alex caught was Venia, started to weave her fingers through Alex’s hair looking for who knew what (she found out a minute later and had clenched her jaw as Venia exclaimed, “Phew! No lice.”) as the other two got wax strips ready and Alex fought the urge to let out a string of curses as they proceeded to spend the next ten minutes ripping what felt like every single hair from her body.

Alex had tried to get out of the chair several times, but was pushed back down roughly and found herself surprised at the strength these people had. They were chatting and gossiping to each other mindlessly while commenting on the parts of Alex they were working on (“The red!” “Yes, the red in her hair will be perfect!”) as they worked and Alex just stayed silent and listened to their horrible high-pitched voices and strange Capitol accents as they scrubbed her body with what seemed like five different types of soap.

Alex should’ve been embarrassed at being unclothed in front of them as they pecked around her like birds, but they weren’t like people at all—Venia had aqua-colored hair and gold tattoos almost everywhere Alex could see, while the other two, whose names she had now gathered were Octavia and Flavius, each had their own brightly dyed hair—so it was easy for Alex to forget that they were.

J’onn had warned them to trust these people and not fight anything they did, but Alex was having a hard time with that as they poked and prodded at her for what seemed like hours.

Finally, Flavius stepped back to inspect her from further away and exclaimed, “Finally! You look almost human now.”

The other two laughed and Alex forced herself to smile as she let out a quiet, “Thanks.”

Venia cupped her chin with one hand and came much too close to inspect Alex’s face before she leaned back again. “Don’t worry,” she said as she flashed a grin that showed off her glistening white teeth, “by the time M’gann is through with you, you’re going to be absolutely gorgeous.”

“You know what, I think she’s ready. And the boy—Winn, is it?—is probably already done as they didn’t have nearly as much work to do on him,” Octavia said, shooting a wink at Alex as though they’d shared some private joke, “Let’s call her in.”

They all beamed at her and darted out quickly, and Alex shook her head in amusement. They were all idiots who cared way too much about this stuff, but Alex knew that they were trying to help her in their own weird way.

She also knew how important the ceremony was, as it was the first time all the Tributes would be seen together, representing their Districts. And this M’gann woman was her second mentor who would be doing everything J’onn wasn’t tasked with dealing with, which probably meant, in addition to designing her outfits, preparing her for the interview she knew was coming in a few days.

Alex pulled on the silk robe left for her and eyed her clothes in the corner of the room. She wanted to slip them on, along with her boots, again, but before she could even think about it, the door opened.

A woman who Alex guessed was M’gann entered and Alex was immediately taken aback by how normal she looked.

No dyed hair, no weird purple or green lipstick, no tattoos. Just a slight touch of gold eyeliner was all that was applied. Alex blinked as M’gann looked at her with a calm expression, and Alex was afraid to move, waiting to speak until she said something.

“Hello, Alex. I’m M’gann, your stylist,” the woman said quietly, a slight smile on her face. No accent, no part of her indicating that she was from the Capitol.

“Hello,” Alex said cautiously.

M’gann held a hand out and Alex just stared at her for a second before she realized that M’gann was telling her to hand over the robe. Which meant she’d have to take it off. Alex reluctantly did, slowly, and stood there as M’gann set it down and started circling around her.

“I’m sure J’onn has mentioned I’ll also be your other mentor.”

“Yeah. Something about budget cuts.”

M’gann was at her front again, and she looked at her with a knowing twinkle in her eye. “Right. Budget cuts,” she repeated, and started pacing again. Alex was just fascinated at how different she was from the stylists she saw from previous Games. M’gann was nothing like Alex had been imagining. She spoke slowly, deliberately, her voice not quite reaching a normal volume. “Now…we don’t have much to work with in terms of hair, but that shouldn’t be a problem as the red will look great with what I’m planning. You’re tall, skinny…been training I see,” she continued, and Alex fought the urge to squirm under her gaze, “much more fit than Winn. We could definitely make all those boys fall head over heels for you.”

Alex let out a snort before she could stop herself. M’gann circled around again to her front and raised her eyebrows at the noise that had escaped Alex.

“No, not boys, huh?” M’gann said, a hint of a smirk on her face. “Ladies? Both?” Alex didn’t know how she was reading her so well, but she nodded and continued even though Alex hadn’t said a word with, “Just ladies. Alright, I can definitely work with that. Come.”

M’gann beckoned her to follow and Alex slipped on the robe again and grabbed her watch from the pile of clothes near the door, buckling it onto her wrist.

“What about my boots?” Alex asked as she stopped at the doorframe, not yet wanting to leave the room.

M’gann turned around and flicked her eyes down. She picked up the boots and Alex wanted to grab them from her but resisted the urge. She then looked at Alex and shifted her grip on them.

“We’ll see if we can work these in,” she said simply, taking them with her as she continued down the hall to a room a couple doors down.

Alex let out a relieved breath and followed her. Alex knew they were only allowed to take one thing from their District, but if M’gann could somehow keep them from taking those boots, maybe she could wear them into the arena as part of whatever clothes they gave her and still have her watch as well.

“Please, sit,” M’gann said as she leaned her hands on the back of a chair and Alex tightened the robe around herself as she sat. “I’ve already spoken to Winn about your outfits for the opening ceremonies. District 12’s coal miner costumes are always so drab.”

Oh god, Alex thought. She’d been kind of hoping to be a coal miner. At least then she wouldn’t have to wear a dress. But M’gann seemed to smile at her expression, so Alex fought to keep her face neutral.

“I thought that maybe we could do something a bit different. And, in the interest of you keeping these—” M’gann said as she motioned to the boots now sitting on the table, “—you won’t have to wear a dress. Not that I was going to make you wear one anyway.” Alex smiled, but couldn’t help the face she made when M’gann continued. “However, I want to spice it up a bit, so I was wondering…how do you feel about fire, Alex?”

It was a full hour later that the ceremony started, and Alex was trying to keep her eyes open as she became more and more tired from this whole crazy whirlwind of a day.

She couldn’t believe that just that morning, she was getting food for the week from J’onn’s booth. And now, she was dressed in a tight black two-piece full body suit with a matching utility belt and cape—a freaking cape—that was supposed to catch on fire once her and Winn rode out on their chariots for the crowd at the Capitol.

Alex wondered what her mother and Kara were doing. Probably already done eating dinner and getting ready for bed. Lucky them. She didn’t know whether they’d be watching the opening ceremony on the screen in the square. Alex knew it was televised, but she sincerely hoped that they would stay at the house.

“So,” Winn said as he came up next to her in matching attire. Their chariot was waiting in front of them, and Alex figured the other Districts were starting to get ready with their own. “They’re going to light us on fire.”

“Yup,” Alex said, flexing her fingers at her side as she tried not to start shaking from nerves.

“And what do you think about that?” Winn asked as he kept looking straight ahead.

“I’ll rip off your cape if you rip off mine.”

“Deal.”

“Alright, you two, hop on up. It’s almost time,” M’gann ordered as she came up beside them and ushered them forward, and they had no choice but to obey. She seemed much more excited now, but Alex could tell she was anxious, too. And Alex tried not to freak out even more when she swore she heard her mumble, “God I hope this works,” under her breath as she left them alone.

Winn gripped the front of the chariot but M’gann shot him a look and he reluctantly put his hands back at his sides. Alex spotted J’onn and he looked like he was trying not to laugh. Alex just shot him a glare and he found someone to talk to.

M’gann had highlighted the red that was already in Alex’s hair to make it a bit brighter—“To match the flames,” she’d said—and curled it a bit, which Alex was surprised to find she didn’t mind. Alex also didn’t feel herself overheating in the suit, which was supposed to keep the fire from burning her entire body. And she had her combat boots on; they were the only thing keeping her anchored to earth, anchored from falling off this stupid chariot they were supposed to stay upright on.

Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad, Alex thought. Maybe.

And it wasn’t.

The ceremony seemed to pass by in a blur.

As soon as their chariot had lurched forward, Winn’s hand shot out and grabbed hers, probably to keep himself from falling, and Alex couldn’t get out of his grip if she wanted to. And she didn’t really want to.

She couldn’t pay attention to any one thing as her senses became overwhelmed by everything happening all at once. She saw herself and Winn on the screen as they came out in their now flaming capes and fought the urge to smile as she realized how breathtaking she looked with the flames around her.

She saw the other Tributes as they all lined up and several of them seemed to be gaping at her—a blonde boy from District 8, a brown-haired one from 2, a girl in a deep red dress with a side slit cut all the way up to her mid-thigh from 4. And, at the other end of the row, Alex barely caught a glance the girl from District 1, who was wearing yet again a pristinely white costume, gave her before she shifted her gaze away. Alex just shot them a smug smile as all their chariots turned around to head back the way they’d came.

Later, Alex collapsed onto her bed, not even bothering to take off the makeup that her stylists had caked her face with.

Before she knew it, she was being woken up way too early by an alarm. She didn’t know where the noise was coming from and finally realized that it was the clock by her bed. Alex groaned and hit her hand on the top of it maybe a little harder than was necessary, but managed to turn it off.

She laid in bed for a minute trying to gain a sense of her surroundings before she realized that it was training day with the other Tributes, and quickly rolled herself off the bed, bracing her hands on the floor with a tiny, “Oof,” as she miscalculated how high the bed was, and stood up.

She wiped sleep from her eyes as she hopped in the shower. They had an actual shower with multiple buttons and different pressure settings and everything, and Alex may have spent a little too long testing all of them before stepping out in the softest towel she’d ever had the pleasure of feeling. She ran her hands through her hair and may have curled it only a little bit before she got dressed in the clothes they’d left her and went to find breakfast.

Alex wondered how long training that day would last, and if she would have time before dinner to come back to her room and start planning how she was going to go about looking for her father.

She only had three days, so she had to start as early as possible.

Alex followed the smell wafting down the corridor from the dining room and found J’onn, M’gann, and Winn all sitting around the table half done with breakfast already.

The smile M’gann aimed at her when she came in seemed to be more of a grin and Alex suddenly wished she hadn’t curled her hair. She didn’t want to give M’gann the satisfaction of knowing that she had actually liked how her hair looked when it had waves in it. But it was too late now, so Alex just avoided the eyes that seemed to follow her around the room as she sat across from Winn.

“…I was reminding Winn, Alex,” J’onn started to say, and Alex reluctantly looked up from stuffing her face with food; she hadn’t realized how hungry she was, “that at the training today you’ll have to be cautious. Keep away from the hand-to-hand combat training and the medicine station.” Alex nodded and he continued, “And you’re to stay together the entire time.”

Alex’s eyes widened. She looked at Winn and realized they were dressed the same. She wondered if the other Tributes would be matching as well. “The whole time?” she asked.

J’onn and M’gann exchanged a knowing glance and Alex was a little frustrated that she couldn’t figure out what they’d just said to each other with that look. “Yes, the whole time. Try something new, get better at something you’re not as good with, keep to yourselves, and you’ll be fine.”

If only it was that easy, Alex thought.

“Don’t worry,” Winn reassured her, “everyone else will probably be doing the same thing.”

But it turned out that they were the only ones dressed in similar outfits. Alex fought the urge to groan. What was J’onn and M’gann’s game plan? Were they trying to present them as a pair? They were anything but a pair. Alex felt bad thinking this, but Winn didn’t match her skills on any sort of level.

Maybe J’onn wanted them to be a team in the arena, too, since they seemed to get along just fine. Alex would have to tell them that there was no way that was going to happen. She’d better start to separate herself from him now, she thought.

Alex eyed the room and almost jumped when Winn reappeared beside her with a smile on his face. “So, where do you wanna start?”

Alex paused for a second and then started walking wordlessly towards the knot-tying station.

Winn started talking as he followed her. They weaved past the two Tributes from District 5 and the girl from 6—Alex only knew this because they had their District numbers pinned onto their backs—and Alex tried to size herself up against them. The girl from 6 was tiny, but the pair from 5 were both taller than her although they looked pretty skinny and underfed.

The instructor at the station seemed pleased that they had picked it, and Alex guessed he didn’t have many Tributes wanting to learn how to tie knots when they could be learning more important things. But Alex knew, from her training sessions with J’onn, that sometimes the simplest things could actually get someone out of a life-or-death situation.

They stayed there for half an hour until Alex couldn’t think of any other ways to avoid talking to Winn. And he talked a lot. He reminded her of Kara in that way. Once Alex had finally gotten her to open up all those years ago, she started talking and never seemed to stop.

“I was thinking maybe we could try spear-throwing next,” Winn offered as he hopped up from a crouching position and stayed plastered by her side.

“Yeah, you could,” Alex said. She felt bad being curt with him, as Winn seemed confused and he slowed his steps.

“But J’onn said we have to stay together.”

Alex sighed and motioned for him to follow her as she couldn’t grab his arm. She turned to him again once they were out of earshot of anyone and ran a hand through her hair. “Look, Winn, I can’t…we’re not friends. I don’t know what J’onn’s trying to do by making us train together, but I think it would be better if we…didn’t.”

Winn let out a soft, “Oh,” and scratched at his head as his face fell. “Uh, yeah. Okay. I’ll just…I guess I’ll leave you alone.” Winn walked away from her quickly and Alex stood there watching him as he went.

She clenched her jaw and told herself that she had to do this. The earlier they recognized that they were enemies, the better.

She spotted a screen displaying hundreds of different types of plants and made her way over to it, walking past the knife-throwing station—which she was definitely going to go to later—and trying not to look over her shoulder to see where Winn had gone.

Alex concentrated on identifying plants and could only seem to get the ones that had anything to do with medicine and healing. She’d done a quarter of them not nearly as quickly as she would’ve liked before she felt someone watching her.

“Alex Danvers,” she heard a voice from behind her say. “The Girl on Fire, in the flesh.”

Alex turned around, abandoning the screen for a moment, and saw the boy from District 1 standing behind her leaning against a dummy with his arms crossed. He had a shit-eating smirk on his face and Alex resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“I’m Maxwell Lord, District 1. But I’m sure you already knew that.”

Alex shook her head. “I didn’t, actually,” she lied, as she distinctly remembered him from the Reaping ceremony.

But he didn’t seem phased. “That’s fine, you will soon enough. We’re going to have a lot of fun in the arena, you and me. I can tell,” Max said as he picked up a knife from the table beside him and started twirling it mindlessly and weaving it through his fingers. Alex hoped he would cut one of them off.

“Is that so?” Alex asked as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Oh yeah. The others don’t think you’re much of a competition, and you wouldn’t be, against me. But I can tell you’re a bit…more than you’re letting on,” he said as he raked his eyes down her body, and Alex almost grimaced but kept her face from showing her disgust. Alex had been right, he was a definitely an arrogant douchebag.

Alex started to turn away so that he would stop talking to her as she remembered J’onn warning her that they were not allowed any physical contact with the other Tributes, and she didn’t think she could stand another second without wanting to take that knife and—

“You got a little fired up at your Reaping, didn’t you?”

Alex paused and clenched her fist at her side before she slowly faced him again.

Max kept his eyes on the knife, which he was now using to pick at his nails, as he continued, “You volunteered for your sister. That was your sister, right?” he asked as he looked up. He was keeping his face neutral, keeping it calm, and Alex could feel anger starting to boil up in her chest, but told herself to tamp it down. It didn’t really work.

“Why do you care?” Alex asked, trying to steady her voice.

“I don’t, but…seeing you lay it on that guy…it’s a good thing you did. Wouldn’t want to hurt a hair on that pretty blonde head, now would we?”

Alex clenched her jaw. He’s trying to rile you up, she heard a voice in her head say. Alex was telling herself over and over not to do something stupid, not to beat the shit out of him, but it seemed as though Max wasn’t done yet, that he was just getting started.

“I mean, if she was here…I would’ve taken real good care of her,” Max said as he smirked again, and Alex couldn’t believe he’d just said that.

“She’s twelve,” Alex gritted through her teeth.

Max just shrugged. “I suppose I have thing for blondes.”

Before Alex knew what was happening, a low growl escaped her throat and she grabbed Max’s shirt with both hands, shoving him so his lower back hit the table full of knives. The knives scattered as the metal table wobbled, some falling on the floor.

Alex was about six inches away from his face as they were around the same height. He was still smiling as though he’d expected this and didn’t seem scared at all, which only made Alex angrier.

“Jealous?” he asked, his voice quieter, “I mean, I like redheads, too, but there’s just something about—”

“Alex!” she heard Winn exclaim, and she turned her head to see him running towards her. Alex remembered just then that she wasn’t supposed to have her hands on Max.

Max glanced at Winn and then down at Alex’s hands on his chest and make a clicking sound with his tongue. “You better let go before you get in trouble,” he whispered.

Alex was breathing hard and she shoved Max again, causing him to grab onto the edge of the table to keep himself from falling, before she let him go. She was relieved that it seemed like no one except Winn had noticed what had just happened.

Max straightened up, but Alex just came towards him again. “Stay. Away. From me,” she warned.

“Or what?” Max challenged.

“Or next time I’ll show you exactly what I can do with those.” She tilted her head towards the table. It wasn’t an empty threat, as she was already plotting six different ways to use those knives on him in the arena.

Max just let out a laugh and Alex clenched her jaw before allowing him to walk away.

She turned her head towards Winn, who was now starting to pick up the knives from the floor. Alex realized she should help him, so she did.

“What happened?” Winn asked after a moment of silence.

Alex shook her head and took a deep breath. “Nothing.”

“I think that’s why J’onn wanted me to stay with you,” Winn muttered under his breath. Alex looked at him, but he was focused on rearranging the knives.

She cursed to herself as she realized Winn was right. J’onn didn’t trust her not to get riled up by someone like Max, who had definitely done and said those things to see how she would respond.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” she said sharply, even though she knew he was right.

Winn just nodded and hopped up again after they were done, leaving her to go to another station without a word. Alex didn’t blame him for not wanting to stay, for not wanting to deal with her when all she did was snap back at him.

Alex took a few deep breaths and leaned a hand on the table for a minute as she calmed herself down. She thought about actually throwing a few knives at a target to get the last of her anger out, but then remembered she’d left the plant station unfinished.

She turned around to go back to it, but there was already someone there.

Alex could make out the number 1 pinned to the girl’s back through the brown hair that almost went past her shoulder blades. Alex narrowed her eyes as she realized the girl was much shorter than she originally thought, but it was probably because she was slightly bent over the screen and seemed focused on what she was doing.

“Hey, I was using that,” Alex said as she walked over to her.

The girl—Maggie, she remembered—turned her head towards her and straightened up.

Alex blinked. Oh, shit, she thought. She was much prettier in person. Alex had barely been able to see her last night, and now she wasn’t wearing white and instead had dark pants and a tight t-shirt on that Alex couldn’t help but think looked really good on her. She had definitely had training.

Maggie turned all the way around to face her and leaned back against the podium. “You were using it?” she clarified, and Alex just nodded. Maggie then let out a little laugh. “I came about a minute ago and there was no one here.”

“I was in the middle of my test,” Alex said as she came closer, and Maggie barely stepped out of the way. Alex looked at the screen and it had a big COMPLETE: 90% CORRECT on it.

“Well, I finished it for you, so…you’re welcome. Got you a good score, too.”

Alex scoffed. “I would’ve gotten higher than ninety percent,” she said, although she wasn’t sure that was true. Alex hadn’t gotten that far and it probably would’ve taken her much longer than a minute, and multiple tries, to get that high of a score. Maggie must’ve identified the rest of them correctly without any mistakes.

Alex looked back at Maggie as she smiled and nodded, and Alex tried not to focus on the dimples—she had dimples, too?—that appeared on her cheeks as she did.

“I’m sure you would’ve, seeing as they were basically all incorrect when I got here,” Maggie then said. “You’re Alex Danvers, District 12, aren’t you?”

The Maggie she’d seen on the screen at the Reaping was much, much different than the Maggie she was face to face with now. Where was that calm, stoic demeanor? This Maggie was more like what she’d been expecting. She was District 1, and she acted like it.

Alex was tired and frustrated from dealing with Max, and didn’t really feel like letting Maggie walk all over her, too.

Alex crossed her arms over her chest. “What is it with you Careers?” she asked, ignoring Maggie’s question. “Acting all high and mighty just because you’ve been trained?”

Maggie dropped the smile. “Excuse me?”

“I’ve had training, too, you know,” Alex continued, making her voice a bit lower. “And you might think that being the Capitol’s lapdog means you’re guaranteed to win, but it’s not going to be that easy. Not this time.”

Maggie seemed to contemplate what she’d said for a moment as she let out a sharp breath and quickly glanced up and down, putting a hand on her hip. “Yeah, I can tell you have,” she said with a smirk, and Alex willed herself not to blush. “But we have facilities that can make wherever you’ve been trained look like a playground.”

Alex paused, but quickly countered, “We’re on an equal playing field, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Maggie replied, not backing down. Alex wished the few inches she had on Maggie would make her, but she just seemed to get more defensive and up in her space.

Alex had definitely read Maggie wrong, her first impression of her now being replaced by this Maggie. Alex kind of wanted this Maggie to prove her wrong now, to prove her first impression right, to prove that she was different from the other Careers, but she wasn’t.

“So, I suppose you’ve already decided I have no chance then, being from 12?”

Maggie shrugged. “No, not really. You’ve had two winners in seventy-four years, what makes you think that’s going to change?”

“No one’s gone up against me yet,” Alex said simply.

Maggie smirked again and glanced at the screen before looking back at Alex. Alex hadn’t noticed how close they’d gotten to each other until Maggie stepped back and Alex remembered to breathe.

“Well, something to look forward to then,” Maggie said. “See you in the arena, Danvers.”

She started to back away, still keeping their eyes locked, and then turned around after a second. Alex just watched her go.

Alex stood there for a minute until she saw Winn at the other side of the room and he raised his eyebrows in question. Alex could see the beginning of a smile making its way onto his face, but Alex looked away from him and went to the knife-throwing station.

She picked up a knife and spun it around once in her hand before sending it flying through the air. It stuck in the board just a bit to the left of the bulls-eye with a soft thump, and Alex smiled.

They still had two and a half more days in the Capitol, but she had a feeling that the Games had already begun.

Chapter Text

Alex had been having a particularly bad day—which seemed to happen more and more frequently now—when her day went from bad to horrible.

But it was because it was a bad day that the horrible thing happened.

Alex had read in a book once that there used to be so many cars that there was a thing called traffic where too many cars would be on the road at once and no one could move. You used to be allowed to drive a car when you turned sixteen after taking some test, and Alex couldn’t help but think that she’d like to drive a car now that she was sixteen.

District 12 didn’t even have a single car. Or even a tram or a train. It wasn’t big enough and no one could afford one anyway. She knew their school had a computer but no one was allowed to use it, and that the Capitol and luxury Districts had all kinds of vehicles.

If Alex had a car, she’d drive it every day. She’d drive out of District 12 and get Kara home herself, as a car would go much faster than walking. But Alex wasn’t really sure if she wanted Kara to go back to 13, if she couldn’t go with her. Alex had gotten used to having Kara around and didn’t really know what she’d do without her.

Her family had grown to four, and shrunk again to three. She didn’t want it to shrink to two.

At school, Alex was away from her mother and instead near two people who made her feel good and not like she’d done something wrong all the time.

Kara was in a different grade level, so she wasn’t around all day at school. But Vicky was.

Alex was sure, now, that she felt…different about Vicky. That whenever Vicky talked about her crushes on boys, what Alex felt was jealousy.

But she kept it inside, because Vicky never talked about liking girls. Alex was sure Vicky didn’t like girls like she liked girls. Alex wasn’t even sure she was supposed to like girls like that. But she did.

The more her crush—because she’d finally admitted to herself that it was a crush—on Vicky seemed to grow, the more Alex pushed it down.

Vicky was her best friend. Alex didn’t want to lose her only friend and she knew that telling Vicky would probably ruin it because there was no way Vicky liked her back. Why would she?

Vicky always calmed Alex down when she got into fights after school, would distract her so her heart would stop racing. Alex thought about telling her that she made her heart race even faster than those fights ever did.

Vicky always offered to let Alex do homework at her house after school and would let Kara come over sometimes, too, when she wanted to. Alex thought about telling her that anywhere with her was where she wanted to be.

Vicky always pointed out cute boys to her and told her to go after them. Alex thought about telling her that they weren’t who she wanted to go after.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, when it all got to be a bit too much, and Alex couldn’t, didn’t want to, hide her feelings any longer.

Eliza had just lectured Alex, yet again, that morning about being late to school. Alex wanted to tell her that she’d overslept her alarm because she’d been studying late last night making sure she was going to get a good grade on the chemistry test that day, but knew it wouldn’t help. Eliza would probably say that she should’ve started studying earlier so she wouldn’t have had to stay up as late. Alex had started early, but still didn’t think she’d studied enough.

Alex was exhausted the entire day, and Kara seemed to know so she didn’t talk to her that much on their way to school and wished her good luck on the test, telling her she knew she would do well.

Alex just grumbled a response and went to her first class.

Her mood lightened just a little bit when she saw Vicky, who smiled at her, and sat down next to her.

“Ready for chem today?” Vicky asked. But before Alex could answer, she continued, “What am I talking about? Of course you are. You’re a genius.”

Alex let out a “Pfft” and tried not to blush, because no matter how many times Vicky complimented her or off-handedly said stuff like that, she never got used to it.

Alex tried to keep her eyes open the whole rest of the day, and Vicky leaned over at the beginning of their chemistry period and poked her shoulder.

“You okay?”

Alex looked up and ran a hand through her hair. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just nervous.”

Vicky smiled. “You’re always nervous before tests, and you always ace them.”

“Not always,” Alex pointed out, remembering the time she’d come home with a B on a test. That…had not been a good day.

“Well, you insisted we start studying for this like two weeks ago, so maybe I’ll even do well. I mean—”

The teacher shushed them when she started handing out the exam and Vicky mimed zipping her lips closed. She rolled her eyes at Alex and Alex smiled.

But the test had not gone great.

Alex’s brain was fuzzy, and she felt herself drifting off once only to whip her head up. She tried to refocus, but she could tell, she knew, that she wasn’t doing well. She couldn’t figure out whether a certain molecule was polar or not and she swore it was one of those trick ones but couldn’t remember if it was.

Vicky finished earlier than most of the class, as always, but Alex knew she’d be waiting outside by the fence next to the playground for her.

Alex finally scribbled in her last answer and read all of them over twice. She knew they were wrong. She hadn’t studied enough. She should’ve slept. But then she would’ve had to start studying earlier. And she’d already started two weeks ago so shouldn’t that have been enough time?

Alex turned her test in and couldn’t even look at it as she hurried out of the building, shoving doors open with her shoulder.

She managed to keep her tears in until she saw Vicky, waiting for her, picking at grass mindlessly.

Alex wished she had Vicky’s life. She wished she could not worry so much about tests and grades and her mother…oh God, her mother. What would she say when she saw the test? There was no way Alex had gotten an A on it.

Alex slumped down next to Vicky, already crying, and Vicky immediately grabbed her hand and squeezed it, trying to get Alex to look at her.

“What happened?” she asked, and Alex just hiccupped, not trusting herself to say anything. “Was it the test?”

Alex nodded and sniffled, trying to stop crying so she wouldn’t seem so pathetic.

“Okay, just…focus on breathing. I’m sure you did fine.”

Alex shook her head this time and managed to get out, “No. I…didn’t.”

“You’re so smart, Alex, how could you not have done great on this?”

“I’m n-not…” Alex leaned her head back to wipe her tears away and Vicky let go of her hand.

“Alex, you need to breathe a bit slower,” Vicky said softly, and Alex tried. She took deeper breaths and blinked. “Was it because you were tired? Did you sleep last night?”

Alex shrugged, “Not really. It’s just…I-I did horrible. My mom. Sh-she’s gonna be mad.”

Vicky sighed and looked angry. “I wish she wouldn’t…” she trailed off as they both knew that whatever she said wouldn’t change anything. “Alex, you are so smart and I’m sure that even in your tired state, you did fine.”

“Not an A, though.”

“I know you never believe me when I say this, but B’s aren’t bad. B’s aren’t the end of the world.”

Alex looked at her and seemed to be calming down a little bit. They still had a couple minutes before school got out so there was no one in the yard. Alex always walked with Kara, so she couldn’t go home yet.

“To her they are,” Alex mumbled as she looked out onto the empty playground.

After a second, Vicky took Alex’s chin in her hand and turned her head back towards her. And Alex didn’t realize how close they were, or that it was becoming hard to breathe again because they were.

“Screw her, Alex,” Vicky said, and Alex managed a smile. “I’m serious. She shouldn’t put this much pressure on you. You have A’s in everything, and one B won’t change that. You can still become a doctor or whatever you—” she pointed a finger towards her “—want to be. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over one test. It’s not healthy.”

Alex pursed her lips and Vicky wiped the last of the tears off her cheek with her thumb. She knew it wasn’t healthy, but her brain seemed to do it anyway.

Vicky took a deep breath, and continued. “You…are more than capable of doing whatever you want to do because…because you’re smart and good at everything and if you don’t know how to do something? Actually, I…I don’t really know what you’d do because I can’t even think of one thing you’re not good at.” Alex let out a little laugh and Vicky smiled. “You’re so much more than a grade, Alex. You’re nice and funny and you always put up with me and you’re so sweet to Kara it’s adorable. Especially because I see you sock someone in the face and then turn around and hold her hand. And—”

Vicky didn’t get to finish that sentence because all Alex was thinking was that it was the opposite. That Alex felt that way about Vicky. That maybe what she was feeling was what Vicky was feeling also.

Alex allowed herself to believe that Vicky did for a moment. And in that moment, all Alex could think about was how much she wanted to kiss her.

Alex leaned forward and their lips barely brushed, but suddenly Vicky was jerking her head back and Alex was confused and she opened her eyes a second later and Vicky had scrambled to get off the grass and was standing up.

She had her mouth slightly open in surprise, in shock, and Alex felt her heart skip a beat, not from excitement but from fear and a very poignant thought and feeling of, Shit.

It was silent for a couple seconds before Vicky finally spoke. “Wha—…uh, Alex, what was…”

Alex’s heart started beating faster and slower at the same time and her head was pounding and she wanted to cover her face, cover her entire body, run away, and hide. If Vicky’s reaction meant anything, Alex knew that she did not, in fact, feel that way about her and Alex felt like she was going to throw up.

“I’m not…I don’t, um…” Vicky stammered. “Do you li—…a-are you…”

She couldn’t seem to finish any of her sentences, and Alex didn’t really want her to.

When Alex felt like she was going to start crying again, she knew she didn’t want Vicky to see her, not when Vicky was already looking at her like she was breaking her heart—which she was, as it definitely felt like she was shattering into a million different pieces—and Alex couldn’t handle it.

“I need to go,” Alex managed to whisper, and she could already feel the tears starting up again as she pushed herself up off the grass, avoided eye contact with Vicky, and just ran.

She heard Vicky yelling her name, telling her to wait, telling her to stop, but she didn’t.

Houses and shops passed by in a blur and she tripped once on the sidewalk but just hopped up again and wiped her knee off as she sprinted the entire rest of the way home.

Alex was breathing hard by the time she got there and struggling to fish out her keys, but she finally did and unlocked the door.

She heard the familiar clanging of dishes as she fast-walked past the kitchen where her mother was—she didn’t even want to think about her mother right now—and slammed the door to her bedroom closed.

Alex sat on her bed and put her head in her hands, holding her knees to her chest, desperately trying to curl herself into a ball.

Then, her door slowly opened.

“Alexandra?” Eliza said quietly, but Alex didn’t want to, couldn’t, answer. She should’ve locked it. “Are you okay? Did Kara not come home with you?”

Oh, crap. Alex’s eyes widened. She forgot about Kara.

God, what kind of sister was she? She just left Kara at school and didn’t even think for one second about her, instead worrying only about herself.

Alex hastily wiped tears away from her face and turned her head away from her mother as she let her feet fall to the floor again. “I, um…no, she’s still at school. I just…” Alex cleared her throat, willing her mother not to ask her about why she was crying.

“Are you okay?” Eliza asked again, coming closer to her.

Alex pushed off the bed to get away from her and Eliza stopped in her tracks. Alex didn’t want to see the look on her face right now and kept her eyes on the floor.

“I’m fine. I, um…it’s stupid. It’s n-nothing.”

“Alex—”

“Alex!” Kara exclaimed as she came in through the front door, not slowing down, and Alex almost let out a sigh of relief. She seemed to be catching her breath as she stood in the door frame to Alex’s room. She glanced at Eliza and then back to Alex, asking her a million questions with her eyes that Alex didn’t want to answer at the moment. “I need to talk to you,” she then said.

They both looked at Eliza and Eliza seemed to realize they wanted her to leave so she just slowly turned around. Kara gently closed the door with a, “Sorry, it’ll just take a minute,” and Alex flopped back down on the bed.

“So…I saw Vicky. Outside school on the playground,” Kara started to say, quietly. Alex just bit her cheek and tried not to start crying again, but it was no use. “She told me to come see if you were okay and she seemed kind of…weird, so I thought something was wrong but I couldn’t think of anything wrong that she wouldn’t be able to help with and…that kind of freaked me out and I ran here. What happened?”

Alex let out a sob and Kara immediately sat down next to her on the bed and rubbed her hand up and down her arm, seeming hesitant to touch her any more than that. Alex couldn’t help it as she leaned into her.

It was silent while they sat there for a minute.

“I’m…I’m sorry,” Alex choked out.

“What? What are you sorry for?”

“I-I left you at sch-school and I didn’t even th-think—”

“Hey, woah. No. I’m okay, I’m fine. You are what I’m worried about. Can you please tell me what happened so I can help?”

Alex just shook her head. “You c-can’t…help.”

“Please, Alex.”

Alex wanted to tell her. She wanted to. But Kara didn’t even know that she liked girls. Alex had never gotten up the courage to tell her. And what if…what if Kara didn’t…Alex shook her head at the thought, not wanting to even imagine that possibility, but knowing it was there.

“Did Vicky hurt you?” Kara then asked, and Alex shook her head sharply, although she wasn’t sure if that was true. Physically? No, she hadn’t. But if what Alex felt right now wasn’t excruciating pain, then she didn’t know what pain felt like. “She said to tell you she’s sorry. What did she do?”

Alex took a deep breath. “I…she didn’t…d-do anything, Kara. She…”

Just tell her, Alex heard voices in her head whisper. She loves you. She’ll be able to help.

But what if she didn’t, anymore, if Alex told her? What if…

“If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. But I’m here if you do. I’ll always be here. Whenever you want to,” Kara said.

Alex took a shaky breath in. She licked her lips and looked up.

“She, um…” Why was this so hard? Alex had no problem doing things impulsively—today had certainly proved that. Her life seemed to revolve around doing things in the spur of the moment because she felt like it. But this was different, somehow. She’d already lost Vicky today, she knew she did, and she couldn’t imagine losing Kara, too. “I…”

Alex finally looked at Kara to see nothing but love, and a little bit of worry, and Alex finally let out a breath.

“She…she doesn’t like me,” Alex said quietly before she could change her mind about saying it, only loud enough for Kara to barely hear her. Her heart started beating faster and she watched Kara closely, but Kara just seemed to be confused. So Alex added in a whisper, “Like I like…her.”

Kara’s confusion slowly turned to understanding and she let out a quiet, “Oh.”

Alex swallowed and trained her eyes on the floor. She clenched her hands and rubbed them together. Kara slowly put her hands on top of Alex’s and pried them apart gently. Alex couldn’t seem to look at her but didn’t want her to let go.

“So…you like girls,” Kara finally said after what seemed like an eternity of silence. Alex just nodded. “Do you like boys, too?”

“No,” Alex said, because she was almost a hundred percent sure of that. No boy had ever made her feel a fraction of what a girl made her feel.

“Okay. Well…if you want me to yell at Vicky, I will,” Kara said sternly.

Alex let out a little laugh and finally turned to her again. “What?”

“I mean, how can she not like you, Alex?”

Alex shook her head. “It’s not…it doesn’t work like that.”

“So is she not your friend anymore?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“It’s…complicated, Kara. It’s fine, I…I don’t think I can be friends with her.”

“Why not?”

Alex sighed. “Because I like her more than a friend. And it’s…” she shook her head. “It’s hard to be friends.”

Kara still seemed a bit confused but pursed her lips and dropped it. “Does it hurt?” she instead asked. Alex just nodded.

Kara hugged her and Alex felt the combination of one weight being pressed against her chest and of another one being lifted off.

Alex wrapped her arms tighter around her sister and whispered, “Thank you.”

Alex knew Kara probably didn’t understand why this was such a big moment for her, why Kara being here and hugging her and saying those things meant so much to her, as she was just ten years old, but she knew she’d understand one day.

They didn’t move and Kara didn’t say anything for a while until she said, “I love you, Alex.”

Alex let out a breath and smiled. “I love you, too, Kara.”

--------------------

Alex and Winn rode the elevator back up to the twelfth floor after group training in silence.

Now that Winn didn’t seem to want to talk to her, Alex was very aware of how quiet it was.

J’onn asked them to recount their day in detail and describe the other Tributes, and Alex was wondering how much Winn was going to tell him, because Alex certainly didn’t want J’onn to know some of what had happened.

But, of course, Winn wasn’t going to make it easy for her.

“Alex made some friends.”

Alex glared at Winn, daring him to continue, and then turned to J’onn, who was looking at her curiously, and tried to deflect away from Winn’s statement. “Did you stick me with him so he could watch me?”

J’onn crossed his arms as he paced around the room. “What does he mean by ‘friends’?”

“Nothing, he’s just—”

“No, no, it’s not nothing, Alex. Tell him,” Winn said, gesturing with a hand. “I think it’s important for him to know.”

Alex pursed her lips and addressed J’onn again, “Why did you insist we stay together?”

J’onn stopped and looked at Alex, who raised her eyebrows. He took a deep breath. “Because I didn’t want you to get…”

“Riled up?”

J’onn hesitated, and then said a simple, “Yes.”

Alex let out an exasperated laugh. “Do you not trust me to stay calm?”

“Did someone rile you up? Did you get angry at someone and possibly fight back?”

“How can you not trust me?”

“Did you?”

“…Maybe.”

J’onn groaned. “Alex—”

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“I don’t care whose fault it was,” J’onn said as he shook his head. “I knew I should’ve interfered at the Reaping, now all of them know that…Did you put your hands on somebody?”

“Yes.” This time it was Winn who answered. “That District 1 guy.”

“That dickwad—”

Language, Alex.”

“—that jerkwad Maxwell Lord started saying the most disgusting things about Kara and I just…” Alex leaned back in the chair and her voice became quieter, “I may have slammed him into a table of knives. Twice.”

J’onn would’ve found out anyway, probably from Winn, so Alex decided she might as well tell him.

J’onn pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. “Did anyone see?” Alex shook her head. “Well, there’s no way he’ll forget about that so we’ll just have to deal with it. I thought you were getting better with all that, Alex.”

“I am, but…he knew it would make me angry, saying those things about her. But he deserved it,” Alex said, looking J’onn in the eye. For what it was worth, J’onn seemed like he understood. He knew how much Alex loved her sister, and as soon as Alex mentioned that it was about Kara, his surprise seemed to dampen. Alex continued, “And if—when I see him in the arena—”

J’onn leaned his hands on the table. “You can have all the fun you want with him in the arena, as long as you stay level-headed and smart about it. For now, you need to stay away from him and the other Tributes. You won’t be seeing much of them anymore until the Games anyway.” He paused. “Was he the only one? Did you put your hands on someone else?”

“She wanted to,” Winn said with a smirk, and both Alex and J’onn looked at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex asked, crossing her arms.

Winn just looked at her incredulously and when he realized she didn’t know what he was talking about, he leaned forward. “Oh, I’m sorry…are you telling me you’re not into that District 1 girl? Her name’s Maggie, right?”

Alex felt her neck get hot. “What?” She let out a nervous laugh, “Pfft…Wh-what are you talking about?”

Winn’s smile just got bigger. “Uh oh, you’re in trouble.”

“I am not into…what are you even talking about? How…how did you get that from…I-I don’t…” Alex cursed to herself and willed herself to complete a sentence so that Winn would stop looking at her like that. “No. I’m not.”

“Mmhm,” Winn hummed. “You two were literally like this close—” he held up his hands so that they were an inch apart “—to each other. And you couldn’t stop staring at her ass—”

Language, Schott.”

“—at her as she walked away.”

“I was not staring at her a—…at her,” Alex said, trying not to start getting fidgety, which she usually did when she was nervous. Or lying.

It was quiet while Winn and Alex stared each other down, and J’onn looked between them. “So, I take it you two weren’t together during training, despite my explicit instructions?”

Winn leaned back in his chair. “It was her fault. She didn’t want to train with me. I mean, it was probably so she could get some alone time with Mag—”

“Winn, I swear to God—”

J’onn suddenly slammed a palm down on the table, which made both Alex and Winn jump and the room go silent as he dropped his voice, “Both of you, quiet.” He slowly lowered himself onto the chair at the head of the table. “This is why I don’t have kids,” he then mumbled under his breath. “We are moving on. Did you notice if any of them were particularly good or bad at anything?”

“That blonde kid from 8…he didn’t seem very smart,” Alex started to say before she smiled. “He kept asking the instructor which end of the bow went up. I think his name’s Mon-el. But that guy Jack from District 9 looked pretty competent. And Maggie got almost a perfect score on plant identification.”

Winn grinned at her again, but Alex just kept her eyes on J’onn. He wanted to know if anyone was good at anything and she just happened to remember.

“A Career who’s good with plants,” J’onn said before he nodded once as though he was impressed. “She’s well-rounded.”

Winn raised his eyebrows. “Sorry, J’onn, I think Alex already has dibs.”

Alex leaned forward and pointed a finger at him. “Alright, you know what—”

Enough. Enough,” J’onn said, his voice gruff. “If you two cannot talk to each other without arguing, I’m going to have to train you separately.”

Alex shrugged. “Fine by me. I didn’t want to train with him anyway.”

Winn pursed his lips and seemed to retreat a little bit back into his chair. “Yeah, and why’s that?”

“What?” Alex asked, not expecting that.

“Why don’t you want to train with me?” Winn asked, his voice a little quieter as if he knew what she would say. But before Alex could think of how to respond, Winn answered the question himself, “Is it because you don’t think I’m worth training with, because I’m just going to lose anyway? Because I don’t have any training whatsoever and despite what J’onn says, three days can’t change that?”

Alex opened her mouth but didn’t want to say anything, didn’t know what to say, so she closed it again and Winn huffed.

“Why were you two telling me those things yesterday, huh? Why were you pretending I had a shot at this? The other Tributes all seem to be good at something, or good at everything. Why were you, Alex, saying ‘don’t give up’ or whatever when you knew, you knew I have absolutely no chance at winning this thing?”

“Winn, I—”

“I know I don’t, okay? I know,” Winn said. “And I get why you don’t think I can win and why you won’t even bother training with me. But please don’t tell me I have a shot if I don’t.” Alex was silent and Winn stood up. He looked Alex in the eye and finished, “I don’t need you to lie to me. I’ve had enough of that.”

Alex’s eyes followed him as he stormed out of the room quickly, despite J’onn trying to tell him they weren’t finished yet.

Alex bit her cheek. She was really on a role, wasn’t she? First her mother, now Winn?

Winn, who had wanted a partner, maybe a friend, and finally had someone who seemed like it, just to have that person turn on him.

He had been nothing but nice to her, and Alex was fairly sure he had just been teasing her about Maggie anyway. And he’d mentioned he had no family, no friends to come see him in the tents…so that probably meant he had lived in the orphanage his entire life, or at least for most of it, as he had no relatives to take him in and wasn’t old enough to live alone.

Alex couldn’t understand his situation herself, but she knew Kara probably would’ve been able to.

How different would this be, right now, if Kara was here instead of her? Kara would’ve teamed up with Winn immediately; she would’ve teamed up with anybody, really. Alex missed having Kara around all the time, and didn’t really know what to do now that Kara wasn’t with her, as her life usually revolved around her.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, Alex continued telling J’onn about the other Tributes, what she’d noticed (Veronica from 4 was good with knives, Rick from 2 was a typical Career, Mon-el’s partner from 8 who she couldn’t remember the name of was small but seemed pretty tough), and then asked to eat dinner alone while J’onn finished with Winn.

J’onn asked her whether she’d like her session with M’gann tonight or tomorrow morning, and even though she would have to get up even earlier, she took the morning. She had other plans tonight.

She brought a plate to her room and ate it quickly before changing, then started to wander around the building all the Tributes were housed in. She dodged a security guard and found a back exit out.

Alex had been watching Winn during the training, too, despite having pretended she didn’t. He’d gone to almost every station and somehow avoided talking to anyone. He’d steered clear of hand-to-hand combat and seemed to stay longer to learn shelter-making, the ropes course, and tree-climbing. Alex had tried those as well, and was only successful at tree-climbing as she had the upper arm strength to keep herself from falling and was tall enough that she could reach between large gaps in the branches.

Alex forced Winn out of her mind as she concentrated on weaving through the throng of Capitol citizens. She figured out pretty quickly that she was completely out of place here, especially with her hood up so no one would recognize her face. Everyone was wearing high-class, over-the-top outfits and Alex stuck out in hers, even though it was already dark outside.

She followed signs and avoided curious looks aimed at her as she made her way to the tram she figured out ran on a route through the outside of the city.

She had no idea where to start looking for her father, but maybe a birds-eye view would help.

She’d talk to Winn later, when she’d had time to think about how to make this better. Besides, this was a bit more important right now.

Alex hopped off at the stop that was supposed to be the closest to City Hall. She went inside, found a man in a suit, and asked him where they kept records of prisoners. The man seemed skeptical of her appearance, but took her to a room full of computers with a sign that read “Citizen Records” and left.

Alex figured she’d better hurry before the man came back and asked her where she was from or who she was, so she went to a computer that wasn’t being used and sat down.

Alex stared at it, her finger poised over the screen, looking for a button to push. She quickly realized that it was a touch-screen and almost jumped when her finger pressed the Search button on “PRISONER RECORDS” and it brought up a new screen, forcing her to hide her shock from the man next to her.

She typed in her father’s name and, not to her surprise, came up with nothing.

Alex leaned back on the stool and took a minute to figure out how to close that screen, instead opening another one named “RECORDS OF DECEASED.”

Alex took a deep breath, typed in her father’s name again, and hit Enter.

1 of 1 RESULTS
JEREMIAH DANVERS

Alex pressed her lips together. It didn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe they just had to file him under deceased so no one knew what they were actually doing with him. Alex tapped on his name, which brought up another screen.

JEREMIAH DANVERS (ID: 125207)
CITIZEN OF DISTRICT 12
OCCUPATION: SENIOR PATROL GUARD
DATE OF BIRTH: JUNE 19, 2366
DATE OF DEATH: AUGUST 3, 2412 (AGED 46)
SURVIVED BY: ELIZA DANVERS (WIFE), ALEXANDRA DANVERS (DAUGHTER), KARA DANVERS (DAUGHTER)
CAUSE OF DEATH: UNKNOWN
WILL AND TESTAMENT | BIRTH CERTIFICATE | MEDICAL RECORDS | INFRACTION RECORDS | AWARDS | BACK TO HOMEPAGE

Unknown?

Alex’s heart started beating faster. How could it be unknown? She distinctly remembered the Peacekeepers saying that he had been shot during a crossfire at the fence.

Alex fought the urge to laugh and cry and didn’t know which one was making the tears form in her eyes.

Everything else was correct, but there was something off, something wrong, with his death certificate. That meant someone hadn’t bothered to fill that part out because they figured no one would look at it. Because it wasn’t important. Because he wasn’t actually dead.

Alex hadn’t ever thought he was, but this was proof, right? It wasn’t much, but this had to be some kind of proof that he was alive.

Now if she could just figure out where he was.

Alex blinked her tears away as thought after thought and plan after plan began to spring up in her mind. All of them seemed to include her finding the prison and a way to sneak in there, but nothing more detailed then that. But J’onn had already looked there. He’d said he’d already looked. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to double-check, just in case, but Alex knew her father probably wasn’t there. Did she even have time to double-check?

That’s when she was told they were closing for the evening by the person in charge. The man opened the door to his office and announced that they were closing the Hall in five minutes.

And Alex saw another computer behind him at his desk.

One that wasn’t available to the public. One that would probably have a bit more information.

The man closed the door again and Alex just stared at it.

Everyone else started to leave but Alex turned back to the computer. She tapped on “WILL AND TESTMENT,” “MEDICAL RECORDS,” and “INFRACTION RECORDS” but they were all “Password Protected”—whatever a ‘password’ was Alex didn’t know—and it wouldn’t let her look at them.

Alex stared at the screen, trying to figure out what to do, when she noticed that she was the last one in the room. The man came out of his office again and locked the door by pressing a few buttons. Alex smiled at him when he looked at her before closing the screen quickly and heading out.

She put her hood back up and took the tram back to the Tributes’ housing. She spent a minute trying to explain to a security guard who recognized her how she ended up outside the building, but he let her back in and warned her not to go to any more parties—“no matter how fun they sounded”—as she was to stay in the building until the Games.

First, Alex was going to have to figure out what exactly a password was. Then, she’d have to find some way into that man’s office—which she guessed would also be blocked by a password—and get on his computer—which would, yet again, probably have another password—and figure out how to search for her father on it.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Alex went up to the twelfth floor again and passed Winn’s room on her way to her own.

And she stopped in her tracks.

There was one person she knew who would know what a password was. There was one person who would be able to actually work a computer, and probably quick enough so that Alex wouldn’t get caught. There was one person who might be willing to help her.

But that one person didn’t like her much, at the moment.

Alex sighed. Shit.

------

Alex could’ve sworn that J’onn was trying to keep her busy so she wouldn’t go looking for her father, but that just made Alex more determined.

He didn’t even have to keep her away from Winn, as Winn was making sure of that himself.

After her meeting with M’gann the next morning in which they spent two hours talking about her session with the judges later that day, she had an hour of training with J’onn and then, finally, it was lunch.

Winn took his lunch to his room and Alex excused herself from the table a minute after he left to follow him up there.

She hated having Winn mad at her, and wanted to fix this.

She took a couple extra cookies (mostly for Winn) and stood in front of his door for a few seconds before she took a deep breath and knocked.

When there was no answer, she knocked again.

“Winn, it’s Alex. Can you let me in?” she tried.

More silence.

Then, a soft, “Why?”

A momentary surge of happiness flooded Alex at the simple question, but she quickly replied, “I want to apologize. I hate feeling like I kicked a puppy, and I completely get if you don’t want to let me in, but I want to talk to you.” Alex rolled her eyes at herself. That was so stupid. But it was true. Whenever Winn accidentally made eye contact with her, Alex felt like she had.

“So, I should let you in because you don’t wanna feel bad anymore?”

Alex groaned. Why did she suck so much at this? “No, no, that’s not what I…meant. I…let me explain. I brought cookies.”

Alex could practically hear Winn debating with himself as she just stood there waiting.

Finally, the latch to the door turned and Winn opened it, causing Alex to jump.

Winn looked at her for a second before he asked, “What kind?”

Alex smiled and extended the plate out towards him. “Chocolate chip.”

Another beat of silence, and then Winn grabbed all three of the cookies off Alex’s plate and left the door open as he went back inside. Alex wanted to tell him that one of those was supposed to be for her but decided against it, so she just followed him in.

Winn sat on his bed and started into the first cookie while Alex awkwardly placed the plate down at the desk and opted to stand so she could pace around the room.

“Feel free to start explaining anytime,” Winn said.

Alex nodded. “Right. Okay. So…first of all, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being a jerk and not wanting to train with you.”

“And you don’t want to train with me because…” Winn trailed off and looked at her expectantly, as if waiting for her to confirm what he’d said the day before.

“Because, yes, I didn’t think you were on my level or whatever,” Alex admitted. He’d wanted the truth, and Alex was going to give it to him. She’d had ample time to think about what to say to him, and so she continued, “Which I realize is bullshit, now, and completely stupid. It’s completely stupid because there’s so many kids who have won that are just like you.”

Winn looked confused, but Alex just kept going.

“Do you remember that twelve-year-old that won, what was it…five years ago? She outlasted all of them. She never killed a single person because they all wiped themselves out before she could. The Games don’t have to be…it’s not all about how much training you have, it’s about how smart you are and, sometimes, the stupidity of other people. Like me.”

Winn raised his eyebrows. “Like you.”

Alex faced him again. “Yes. Because people have egos, and a lot of times those egos get too big, and they’re so sure they’re going to win that they end up doing something stupid. Like shoving an asshole into a table of knives even though they know that person is playing them, is messing with them, and figuring out how to beat them. So that person ends up broadcasting her anger to the entire group, who now knows that…she does get angry, but for good reason,” Alex added.

Alex then paused and Winn just urged her on as he took a bite of the second cookie.

“Okay, another example. Let’s take, for instance, a Career. Someone like Max, or that Rick guy.”

“Or Maggie,” Winn suggested, a tiny hint of a smile on his face. Alex just stared at him.

“Well, yeah, maybe Maggie, but…” Alex continued, but she pivoted away from her because she was starting to rethink that whole conversation she’d had with Maggie as well. “Let’s just stick with Rick. He’s had training his entire life, everyone knows that. He knows how to aim knives so they hit right in the middle of someone’s forehead—” she pointed to her own for emphasis “—how to fight people twice his size even though he’s pretty big already, how to throw spears, how to—”

“I get it, they know how to do everything.”

“Mm, see, but that’s where you’re wrong,” Alex countered as she shook her head, a smile on her face. “Because they don’t know how to be hungry, like us.” She paused for a second because Winn stopped eating the cookie and was now looking at her intently. “They don’t know how to feed themselves besides having their food served on a silver platter, or how to be part of a team that won’t betray you the second they could get ahead, or basically anything outside of being tough and deadly. They don’t know how to survive when you have almost nothing.”

It was quiet for a second, but then Winn crossed his legs up onto the bed. “But you said Maggie’s good with plants, too.”

“Yeah, but did you see how surprised J’onn was when I told him that? He’s been a Mentor for the Games for over thirty years, Winn. He’s seen everything. He knows things that very few people have had a chance to even notice. And I stopped watching the Games after a while because I just couldn’t stand it any longer, but now I wish I had. There’s so many ways to win. And I really think that you could, if the odds were in your favor.”

Winn gave her a look and Alex knew that that was a cheap shot, using a line the Capitol was so fond of that made Alex’s skin crawl whenever someone said it. And Winn still didn’t seem like he believed her, so Alex sat down on the bed next to him, ready to continue but waiting to see if he wanted her to.

“How could I win?” he finally asked quietly.

“Well, I was watching you during training.”

“You were?” Winn asked, surprise in his voice.

Alex nodded. “You didn’t talk to anybody. You kept to yourself and learned a ton of things, like J’onn told you to do. And yeah, you probably won’t master any of them in the two-ish days we have left, but if you’re going to listen to anybody, J’onn is the person to listen to. He did stick you with me just to watch me, which wasn’t fair to you and I actually probably did you a favor by not wanting to be with you the entire time—”

“Alex.”

“…But that’s not the point. The point is that the Games are only for a few weeks or a month or so, depending on the levels of intelligence and stupidity of our fellow Tributes and how long the Capitol wants it to last. And audiences love an underdog. You, my friend, are certainly an underdog who’s probably going to outsmart us all, somehow.”

“I’m sure,” Winn deadpanned, but he didn’t contradict Alex calling him her friend, which pleased Alex to no end.

“I mean…you’ve definitely got a shot, Schott,” Alex said as she pressed her lips together, trying not to smile.

“That’s the dumbest joke I’ve ever heard,” Winn said after a beat of silence, but Alex could tell he was holding in a laugh.

“I know, I’m sorry. But I do think you have a shot, and that’s why I want you with me. As a partner…a teammate.”

Winn stared at her, and Alex could’ve sworn she saw a hint of hope as he asked, “Really?”

Alex nodded again. “District 12 is always the most underestimated, which makes sense because we’ve only won twice. So I think we could only benefit by being a duo. District 1 and 2 always team up and dominate and the other Districts rarely think of that tactic. And, plus, it’ll probably get a little lonely out there, don’t you think?”

Winn let out a breath. “Yeah, probably. But…what happens when it does get down to the end? If we make it to the end?”

Alex shrugged. She didn’t really want to think about that at the moment, because she wasn’t sure what they’d do. It was dangerous, teaming up, because of what would eventually have to happen, and Alex wasn’t sure if she would be able to do what she had to if it came down to it.

She’d debated about it, and how much trust she would have to put on Winn not to betray her and how much trust Winn would have to give back. But if they agreed to it now, it would make her feel better when they actually got to the arena. Plus, she couldn’t imagine Winn turning on her, not even for a second.

“We’ll have to figure that out when it comes to it. Until then, I’ve got your back if you’ve got mine. What do you say?” Alex hesitantly held out a hand.

Winn looked at her and glanced down at her hand. He seemed to be thinking for a moment before he shook it and Alex almost let out a relieved breath.

“Man, you talk a lot,” Winn then said before he popped the rest of the second cookie in his mouth and started in on the third one, and Alex let out a quiet laugh. “But…thank you. Most people don’t really, you know, care about…me, in general. Or people like me.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked quietly.

Winn tilted his head down a bit and stared at his hands. “It’s just…people have lied to me, a lot. The, um…the ladies who took care of us at the orphanage,” Winn said, a hint of a smile making an appearance but disappearing quickly, “they always told me that my dad would be released one day, which then changed to them reassuring me that someone would adopt me when I found out my dad had a life sentence. And I know that I was just a kid…well, I still am a kid, but…it would’ve been nice if they’d just told me I wouldn’t ever see him again, you know?” He finally looked back up again.

“Yeah, sort of,” Alex said, not wanting to say anything else so he’d keep going.

“I mean, not that I want to, really. He’s…he’s a bad man.” Winn shook his head. He didn’t continue, and Alex didn’t ask him to. “I’m just sick and tired of people trying to make me feel better when they don’t believe a word they’re saying. They think I can’t handle the truth, or something.”

Alex nodded. “I get it. I do think you shouldn’t give up on yourself though. Half of getting things done is believing you can get them done in the first place.”

“Oh God, are you going to go into a whole ‘nother speech again?” Winn asked, feigning annoyance.

Alex hit his arm softly. “No. But…in the interest of not lying to you, there is another reason why I came to see you.”

“Besides giving me the world’s longest pep talk and telling me all your weaknesses and secrets?”

Alex smiled. “Yeah, besides that. Actually there is…something else I do want to tell you. I, um…” Alex started to fidget again, even though she tried really hard not to. “I came here to apologize, first and foremost. I want you to know that. But I also kind of need your help.”

“You need my help? With what?” Winn asked, now seemingly very confused.

“Well, see, you’re not the only one with a dad in prison,” Alex said, glancing at him again to see his eyes widen.

It was a gamble, telling him all this, but Alex explained the whole situation to him with only as much detail as he would need to understand and help her.

Winn polished off the third cookie while she was talking and seemed to contemplate what she’d told him.

“So…you need me to get you into that guy’s computer to see if your dad’s actually in prison, or which prison he’s in. And then you need me to potentially get you into said prison once we find it…and you really don’t even know what a password is?”

Alex shook her head. “No idea. The only time I’ve ever touched a computer was yesterday.”

Winn laughed. “Huh. It makes sense, I guess, but…I can’t believe you don’t know what a password is.”

“Alright, let’s just skip that part, unless you’re going to tell me.”

“It’s essentially a lock that prevents you from accessing documents and such, and you need a special combination of numbers and letters to unlock it. Unless you have me,” Winn said, a smug smile now on his face, and Alex just waited for him to continue. “Because I spend a lot of time on that computer we have at school. And…I know I told you I’m learning how to code, but I’ve been messing around with some other stuff like algorithms and sometimes I unscrew the back of the computer to see all the hardware inside and rewire it.”

“I think I understood about half of what you just said.”

But Winn didn’t seem to be listening to her and stood up from the bed. “It would be way too hard to guess a password quickly, obviously, and the only way to get around it would be to hack the software. Now, see, I don’t have much practice with hacking because that would probably set off a few alarms, but I have been experimenting with some program coding that could possibly get us inside the computer. If you needed top secret files, though, that were guarded by stuff I haven’t even seen before, I’m not sure I’d be able to do that.”

“Okay, so—” Alex tried to say when he paused momentarily from talking and pacing, but he just kept going.

“But I think that security guard or office manager or whoever would have some more information on his computer regardless, as the public doesn’t have access to much of anything at all. Believe me, I’ve tried. And—”

“Winn?”

Winn stopped abruptly and faced her again. He still seemed to be in his own little world, but he said, “Hm?”

“Does this mean you’re going to help me?” Alex asked, pleading with him to say yes.

Winn looked at her incredulously. “Well yeah, duh,” he scoffed and Alex beamed, not expecting that but not willing to question it. “You think I’d miss the opportunity to get my hands on some real technology? Oh man, I bet they have they have the coolest stuff,” he said, his eyes wide and excitement written everywhere on his face. “And I’ll get to use the one thing I’m good at on a secret mission to find a missing father with a deadline of thirty-six hours and consequences that could land us both in prison or worse?” He shook his head in disbelief. “This is…” His excitement seemed to fade a little bit. “This is dangerous, actually. Really, really dangerous.”

“More dangerous than being thrown into an arena with twenty-two other kids who are out to murder us?” Alex said as she pushed off the bed.

Winn seemed to contemplate that for a second and slowly nodded. “You make a good point. I can probably do this. We…we can do this.”

Alex nodded. “Yeah, we can definitely do this.”

“Plus, you’ll technically be my sidekick.”

Alex looked at him. “Uh, well, I’m not sure about that, but—”

“I mean, I’ll be the brains and you’ll be the brawn. I’m the smart one and you just keep watch and beat people up.”

“Okay, sure…whatever,” Alex said reluctantly, as she was tempted to disagree. But if Winn believing that kept him feeling semi-good about doing this and helping her, she wasn’t going to argue. “But we have to start planning now.”

Winn turned back to her. “Like now now? ‘Cause I haven’t really eaten lunch yet and I’m kinda hungry.”

“Thirty-six-hour deadline is ticking down…”

“But it’s always more exciting when you don’t have much time left.”

Alex stared at him. “Winn.”

“Yeah, no, we can start now. I’ll eat, you talk.”

------

“So…you two want to train together again?” M’gann asked suspiciously.

Alex and Winn glanced at each other and Alex nodded once.

J’onn narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“Well…Alex came to me, begging on her knees, pleading with me to forgive her,” Winn said with an innocent grin, making it much more dramatic than it needed to be. Alex forced a smile. “It was kinda hard to say no.”

J’onn just looked at Alex. “Really.”

“Yup. That’s what happened,” Alex gritted through her teeth. She couldn’t believe she’d agreed to this. But Winn had insisted that this was the only way she could guarantee his help.

“Hm.” J’onn glanced at M’gann. Alex knew J’onn didn’t believe it, but was pretending to for the time being, probably until he could figure out what was really going on. “Alright. What happened with the judges?” he asked.

Alex let Winn go first as she, once again, was gearing herself up to tell them what had happened during her time.

She’d tried to control her anger, she really had.

But her and Winn had waited two hours before they were called, and Alex had been getting antsy. All the Tributes each had about five minutes with them and Alex was the very last one to go in.

Winn, apparently, had just been throwing around random things until they told him his time was up, and he told J’onn he wasn’t expecting more than a four. The judges rated each Tribute with score from one to twelve and there were only a few times that anyone got a twelve; it was rare to even get over a ten. They only released the numbered scores and what had happened during it was kept under wraps from the public. It was important for sponsors who wanted to place bets early, although those with higher scores tended to be targeted first by Tributes looking to wipe them out.

The judges had been sitting up there talking and joking with one another, hardly even looking at her.

Alex threw a couple knives and they all hit close enough to the middle that she thought they’d be impressed. It was a little hard to get it exactly, as Alex had only ever practiced with J’onn’s kitchen knives and they didn’t have the same weight balance, but Alex thought she’d done well.

And the judges had hardly even noticed.

Alex could feel herself getting even angrier as a roast pig was delivered to them, a shiny red apple in its mouth, and Alex tried to disguise her disgust for them. They’d started eating and now didn’t even seem to notice she was in the room.

There were a couple who would look up every so often and write something down on their clipboards, but Alex could tell they didn’t care, which wasn’t fair at all. It didn’t matter that they were tired and bored after watching twenty-three other Tributes throw around arrows and knives and weights, she deserved the same treatment from them, and she wasn’t getting it.

She needed to get their attention, somehow.

The first thought that popped into her mind made her smile. She knew it would work, definitely, but it was risky.

Alex debated for about ten seconds and then decided to just do it while the judges continued stuffing their faces with food.

Alex picked up another knife and weighed it in her hand. She glanced at the judges and specifically the pig still sitting up there so nicely on the table, and then faced the target.

It already had four knives in it that Alex had thrown earlier, but she wasn’t looking to make this one number five.

Alex positioned her arm back, and just as she made the movement to throw the knife, she spun around and released it towards the judges’ table, towards the pig, towards the apple in its mouth.

The knife whizzed through the air and within what seemed like half a second, it had struck the apple and pinned it to the wall behind them, the handle of the knife wobbling at the impact.

Some of the judges audibly gasped and one of them almost broke her plate as she stood up quickly.

The room went silent.

They all turned to look at Alex, their mouths agape, and Alex smiled, thanked them for their consideration, and walked out.

“You what?!” Winn exclaimed.

“Did you hit any of them?” J’onn asked, and Alex could tell he was debating whether or not to condone her behavior. Winn seemed scandalized while M’gann, if she was reading her right, actually looked kind of amused.

Alex shook her head. “No. It was a straight shot through the apple. Might’ve made a hole in the wall, but…”

“They probably deserved it,” M’gann said, a smirk on her face. Alex smiled at her and was about to agree before she noticed that they were announcing the scores on the television in the room.

J’onn saw too and picked up the remote, turning on the sound.

“…a chance to show off their skills to the judges and potential sponsors. We’ll start with District 1’s scores.”

Pictures of Max and Maggie came up on the screen and their scores showed up a second later. A ten and eleven, respectively.

Winn whistled and even Alex had to admit she was impressed. Usually the Careers got high scores, but Alex was just happy Maggie had gotten higher than Max as it would probably piss him off.

Rick Malverne and his partner from District 2 both received tens as well, while the District 7 pair got a five and a four, and Jack and Beth from District 9 scored eights.

Alex’s attention was divided between the screen and Winn as he began to squirm around nervously in his seat, and she was reminded of when Kara would do that at the dinner table when they’d make her wait for everyone to be done before she could get up. Alex imagined she was like that in class every day, too.

District 11’s Tributes received a four and a nine, and then Alex and Winn’s pictures popped up and Winn froze in his seat.

A second later, there was commotion.

“An eleven?” Winn exclaimed as he whipped his head towards Alex. “How did you get an eleven? You almost murdered them!”

Alex was just staring at the screen and felt J’onn give her a clap on the back while M’gann congratulated her.

A smile slowly grew on Alex’s face and she realized that the number up there was correct, and that the judges had indeed given her an eleven. She was relieved, amazed, and didn’t really know what to do.

She’d been expecting a low score because of what she’d done, so this…this was basically impossible. But it wasn’t.

A little part of her wondered and worried about whether they’d given her one of the highest scores of the group—tied with Maggie’s—to get back at her and basically guarantee that the other Tributes would go after her now. But that also meant that at least some of them would be terrified of her, which Alex had to admit she liked a little bit.

Winn received a six, to his surprise, but J’onn squeezed his shoulder too and Alex knew that the smile on Winn’s face wasn’t just because he was happy for her.

Both of them tried to get out of dinner and eat in their rooms, but M’gann insisted that they had to stay and discuss tactics for the interview tomorrow. Especially now that Alex had gotten an eleven, M’gann said she had to rethink some things.

“Now that you two are all buddy-buddy again also, maybe we should try a different angle,” M’gann suggested as their buffet arrived and they began to fill their plates. “It’ll be a risk, but it might throw some people off if we presented you as a duo. However, it could make you a target for the others.”

“Maybe it would be better if we surprised them in the arena,” Winn said, and Alex nodded.

“In the arena?” J’onn asked, looking at Alex. “You two are going to be working together during the Games?”

“Yup. We already agreed to it,” Winn answered as he shot Alex a smile. “Right, Alex?”

J’onn regarded Alex with suspicion, and Alex gave him a look he knew meant that she’d explain later as she agreed, “Right.”

M’gann looked skeptical, too, but she seemed to drop it when J’onn continued, “That means you’ll need to stay away from the Cornucopia and instead put as much distance between yourselves and the others when that gong goes off.”

“But it has supplies and food. We might need some of that stuff,” Alex said.

J’onn shook his head. “It’s too risky. The most important thing to remember is to find water. There will probably be a water source such as a lake that you need to find quickly.”

“Alright, that’s all well and good, but we need to talk about their interviews tomorrow, J’onn,” M’gann reminded him.

J’onn nodded. “Right. Interviews.”

M’gann smiled at him and then turned to Alex and Winn. “Since we’re keeping you separate…Winn, I think you’ll be fine during yours, not much to discuss. You’ve got the whole boy-next-door thing going on, everyone will love you.” Alex could’ve sworn Winn’s smile turned smug and Alex resisted the urge to roll her eyes. M’gann then turned to her. “You, Alex, on the other hand…”

Alex stopped mid-bite and put her fork down. “What about me?”

“You’re a little complicated because…well, all they’ve seen of you is the tape of your Reaping,” she paused and Alex pushed down painful memories of the Reaping that threatened to spring up. Thankfully, M’gann noticed Alex’s discomfort and quickly continued, “and now you’ve scored an eleven. You’re a surprise competitor with a tough exterior but you also volunteered for your sister, which shows a much different, softer side.”

Alex looked down at her plate and kind of wished M’gann wasn’t so good at analyzing her, but she supposed it was her job.

“So it depends on which one she wants to play up?” J’onn asked.

M’gann nodded. “Exactly. Your score ties as one of the top two with a Career and if you want to, you could establish yourself as a force to be reckoned with, or…you could play the sister angle.”

Alex scoffed. The sister angle. Kara was just an angle now, something to use to prop Alex up, to help her.

“No.”

“No to which?” M’gann asked.

“No to using my sister and the fact that I took her place to make me look better. That’s just…no. I’m not doing that. She’s my sister. I couldn’t even imagine not volunteering for her,” Alex said sternly. “I didn’t do it to make myself feel good. How could it feel good, when I might never get to see her again? I didn’t do it for me, I did it for her.”

The room was quiet, and then M’gann nodded. “Okay. That’s off the table,” she said simply, and Alex was glad it seemed like she understood. “But he might ask you about it.”

“I know,” Alex said quietly. She was already gearing herself up for that, for having to talk about it, knowing that every word she said would be broadcasted to the whole of Panem, but she’d just have to deal with that when it came to it.

“And you think you’ll be able to…”

“Stay calm and collected? Probably not,” Alex admitted with a shrug. “But I’ll try.”

M’gann just smiled. “As long as you try. I guess we’ll play up your eleven, then. Being on the same level as Maggie and a higher level than the other Careers. The sponsors will probably be more likely to bet on you since they know you have more than a good chance, and an equal chance a Career usually has, of winning now. But we need you to be likeable as well, and not just come off as cocky and arrogant.”

“You know…” Winn started to say, a small smile on his face, “you could try the star-crossed lovers angle.”

Alex raised her eyebrows at him and couldn’t help it as she let out a quiet snort of laughter.

“Not in a million years, Winn,” she then said, surprised he’d even suggested it.

But Winn just shook his head. “I’m not talking about you and me.”

Alex furrowed her brow and just looked at him. It seemed like he was waiting for her to get it—whatever ‘it’ was, Alex didn’t know—and then she looked at M’gann, who also appeared to realize what Winn was talking about before she did. J’onn was the only one who also seemed confused.

It took Alex a couple seconds, but then her eyes widened. “Wait…you mean Maggie?”

Winn smiled and nodded. Alex looked at M’gann and she was smiling, too.

Alex started laughing and almost choked on her food. “What? A-are you serious?”

“That’s actually not a bad idea, Winn.”

“I have to agree,” J’onn said with a curt, professional nod.

“Wait, woah, uh,” Alex stammered. She thought they’d think Winn was kidding, as she did, but they seemed to actually be considering it. “Hold on. That’s…no.”

“No?” M’gann said, and Alex knew she was amused by Alex’s reaction to this, but she just continued.

“No! I…how…Okay, Winn, I know that you think I’m ‘into’ her or whatever,” Alex said, emphasizing the air quotes, “but I’m really not.”

“Even if you aren’t, which I wouldn’t believe for a second,” Winn said, “I think it could work for you. And you could always just pretend.”

M’gann nodded. “You two are equally matched, according to the judges. It would be a bit of a risk to do a trans-District thing, but it could work if we did it right and managed to--”

“No. No, no, no,” Alex said as she held up a hand, still trying to wrap her head around what they were saying. “Both of you, and J’onn, just…hold on. I…no. It wouldn’t work.”

“Why not?” Winn asked.

“Because…it just wouldn’t. I mean, she…she hates me! I-I basically got mad at her during training over nothing and she would never, ever agree to this.” They didn’t seem to waver, and Alex hastily continued, “Plus…I, too, also don’t like her as well, so I’m, frankly, not even sure where you got this ridiculous idea from in the first place.”

This was ridiculous. Maggie would never go along with it in a million years. Not that Alex was even considering doing it. It was stupid. It would never work. How would it even work?

Winn seemed to ignore her ramblings and instead turned to M’gann. “I think it might actually be better as a concept if they aren’t from the same District. Especially ‘cause they’re from 1 and 12. It’s actually more accurate to Romeo and Juliet, or I guess in this case it would Juliet and Juliet—”

“Oh, my God,” Alex mumbled as she put her head in her hands and put her elbows on the table. She heard J’onn let out a quiet chuckle, but he seemed to stay silent and let them work this out themselves.

“—because it would be ‘forbidden’, too, them being from essentially opposite Districts,” Winn continued. “The whole ‘two houses feud’ thing from the play would work perfectly. Forbidden, star-crossed love. People love that stuff.”

“Did you finish that play, Winn?” Alex asked.

“Yes, I know what happens. But we’re literally supposed to murder each other, so I don’t think it could fit more perfectly.”

Alex just sighed and rolled her eyes, going back to her food. Better for them to get it out of their system, realize that it wouldn’t work, and shut it down so they could get back to talking about real tactics.

“Winn, that is a brilliant idea. I think we should try it,” M’gann said.

Alex looked back up from her food. “What?”

“Seriously?” Winn said. M’gann nodded.

“No, no, she’s not serious. I’m not doing it,” Alex stated with a scoff.

“Why not?”

“I already told you! She’d never agree to it. And I don’t even want to, because it wouldn’t work. I probably gained some sponsors from the eleven and I don’t need to do this. Neither of us need this.”

“But it would only benefit you. It would make you more likeable and would be very unexpected.”

Alex just shook her head in defiance. “No. You know, I would like to see her reaction to you telling her this. She’d think it was as crazy as I do.”

“Well, actually…maybe we don’t need Maggie,” M’gann said, and Winn and Alex waited for her to continue, as it seemed like the gears were turning in her head. “Unrequited love is another option.”

At that, Alex bristled and shook her head sharply. “No.”

“If it worked, it would certainly make the audience sympathetic and—”

“I said no, M’gann,” Alex repeated sharply as her fork clanged against her plate. “That doesn’t work.”

All it brought was pain and humiliation and Kara hugging her tightly until she finally stopped crying, Alex thought. It didn’t work. It never worked.

She didn’t need this. She didn’t need to relive liking—loving—her best friend for years and then losing her because she was stupid enough to believe that Vicky would ever like her like that.

She was certainly not going to go through that again, even just pretending. It wasn’t worth it.

“I’ll talk about Kara, or promise you I won’t even raise my voice at Caesar or whatever his name is. I’ll…I’ll even wear a dress. Just don’t make me do that.”

All three of them seemed to be looking at her with both worry and pity in their eyes, probably wondering why she’d reacted so strongly, but Alex focused on her food, not eating any, after a quick glance at M’gann.

“Are we done?” Alex then asked when no one said anything.

“Yes, I think so,” J’onn said, standing up slowly. Alex was grateful he was saving her from continuing the conversation. “We’ll finalize everything later.”

Alex just nodded and stood up as well. She hadn’t even finished half her plate but she wasn’t really hungry anymore.

Winn followed her out of the room and she walked a bit slower so he could catch up.

“Hey, I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t mean to…”

Alex shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Winn. I guess I’m just not comfortable with doing that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure I would be comfortable with it either. I don’t know why I was…I shouldn’t have pushed it. So, are we still doing that thing tonight? At the place?”

Oh, right. They were supposed to go out tonight—now—and try to get into that guy’s computer. They’d come up with a fairly good plan, and Alex had sort of forgotten about it until now.

Alex took a deep breath. “Yeah, yeah, we’re still doing that. If you’re up for it.”

“I’m up for it,” Winn reassured her.

“Okay, good,” Alex said. She pushed away any thoughts that didn’t have to do with finding her father and tried to get into her ‘work’ mode. “You get your stuff and I’ll get mine. The security guard on the right wing of the first floor sucks at his job, so I’ll meet you at those elevators.”

“Got it, boss,” Winn said with a mock salute. Alex rolled her eyes and got her card out to swipe the door unlocked. Before she could, though, Winn turned to her. “Oh, and Alex?” he said quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Whoever she is, whatever happened…she doesn’t know what she’s missing,” Winn said, a small smile on his face.

Alex smiled back. “Thanks.”

“And now…the super-secret mission to find a missing father is a-go,” Winn said, dropping his voice and holding his hand up to mouth like he was speaking into a walkie-talkie. “T-minus twenty-nine hours and—” he looked at his watch, “—thirteen minutes.” He gave her an honest-to-god wink and then disappeared into his room.

Alex just shook her head at him but couldn’t keep a smile off her face. What a nerd.

Chapter Text

“You kids almost done over there?”

Alex looked up and smiled what she hoped was an innocent smile. “Yup.” She leaned back down and whispered to Winn, “Are you done yet?”

Winn just kept mumbling to himself and tapping away. Alex saw line after line of weird combinations of numbers and letters and symbols running across the screen. Alex hoped Winn knew what they meant, or what exactly he was doing, because Alex didn’t have a clue.

“You two need help or something? The Hall’s closed to visitors now,” the man said as he started to walk over to them.

“Uh, nope. No, we’re good. Just trying to…” Alex stalled and licked her lips as he came closer and Winn hadn’t closed the screen yet. She elbowed him and after a second, he finally straightened up and wiped the screen of all the code. He let out a relieved breath, but Alex just turned back to the man. “Actually, you know, we do need help.”

Winn nodded. “Yeah, I can’t seem to get this to go to the printer,” he said as he opened another random file.

“Did you hit the right button?” the man asked. He sat on the stool in front of the computer and Alex and Winn moved away to either side of him.

Alex stood on her tip-toes and peered over his shoulder. She mouthed, “All of them?” and Winn nodded and mouthed back, “Four minutes.”

“You needed to hit this,” the man then said, pointing to the computer. “It should be sent to the printer now.”

Alex set her watch timer for three minutes and thirty seconds just in case. She then took a deep breath and turned back to the computer after picking something up off the ground. “Oh, that’s the button! I can’t believe we didn’t—” Alex stopped talking and swung a rock she’d picked up outside at the back of the man’s head.

The man let out a sharp breath before he slumped against the computer, passed out. His head started bleeding, but Alex just smoothed his hair around the cut.

Alex repositioned him so that he looked like he was typing, his forehead resting against the screen, and turned to Winn. Winn was just staring at her, his mouth agape.

“Holy sh—”

“You said we only have four minutes until they turn back on.”

Winn nodded. “Right. Right. Yeah. Okay.”

Alex went over to the man’s office door and flipped back the cover to the keypad she knew he used to get into the office. Winn had found a screwdriver in his room and was now working on disassembling the front of it. He placed it on the ground next to him and started messing with the wiring inside.

Alex bounced slightly as she turned around and eyed the cameras in every corner of the room. Winn had better have been right about being able to turn them off. If he hadn’t, they were screwed.

“Ah!” Winn exclaimed, and Alex spun her head around to see him shaking his wrist and then he sucked on his finger.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, hold on…” he twisted two wires together. “Okay, got it. Lemme just…” he screwed back on the front cover and typed in something.

Alex beamed as they heard a tiny click of the door opening and rushed into the room.

She went to the computer, but Winn gently moved her to the side. “I know how to spell his name, you just keep watch outside.”

Alex nodded. “Try everything, look everywhere, every file, please,” she said, desperation in her voice.

Winn didn’t answer her but started typing rapidly and Alex glanced at her watch. Two minutes and fifteen seconds.

She went back outside the room and stood near the doorframe so she could hear Winn if he needed her.

This was working. Alex couldn’t believe this was working. In two minutes, she’d know where her father was. If Winn could get past all the security passwords and find him.

She peaked in after another minute since Winn hadn’t given her any indication that he’d found anything yet. She turned back and repeated, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, to herself over and over and over, trying not to get too nervous.

Suddenly, the typing stopped.

“I got something!”

Alex whipped her head around. “What does it say?”

“It’s a really long file but it has a lot of info. I don’t think can read all of it quickly enough.”

“Okay, then just…printer it so we can get out of here!” Alex exclaimed. Winn had explained to her that they could have computer documents on a sheet of paper to bring with them if they ran out of time. And they were certainly running out of time.

Winn tapped on something and the computer whirred. He looked up, smiling. “The verb is print, Alex. You don’t ‘printer’ something, you print it.”

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Is it printer—printing?” Alex asked. She looked out into the computer room again. The man was still slouched against the computer and Alex glanced back to see Winn piling up sheets of paper that were coming out of the bottom of the computer.

It looked to be about ten sheets and Winn pressed a couple buttons again. The alarm on Alex’s watch went off and she looked at Winn. Winn ran out of the room, the stack of papers in his hand, and Alex took them from him as he closed the door and worked his magic again on the keypad.

Alex put her hood back up and pulled Winn’s over his head as well and they ran out of the Citizen Records room. Alex folded the stack of paper as best she could and held it inside her coat. She clutched it against her body as if it was the most important thing she’d ever held, and it probably was.

The Hall was pretty much empty and Alex and Winn’s footsteps echoed as they ran towards the front door. Alex grabbed Winn by his jacket and pulled him back behind the wall again before the security guard there saw them.

“What do we do?” Winn asked her quietly as they stood there catching their breath.

“Um…” Alex glanced around the building but there were no other exits in sight.

She thought for a second and then pulled off her hood, tucked the papers into the back of her jeans, and zipped up her jacket over them, hoping they didn’t bulge out. She shoved Winn so he was out in the hall in the line of sight of the guard.

Winn almost tripped over himself and looked back at her in disbelief, but before he could say anything, Alex threw her hands up.

“There you are!” she exclaimed, shifting her facial expression into one that showed both exasperation and relief. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Alex went to Winn and grabbed his arm.

The security guard looked back at them, one hand on his baton.

“Mom is gonna be pissed that we’re out so late. Where were you?” Alex asked him.

Winn looked confused for a split second and then glanced at the security guard. “I, uh…”

“Hey, what are you two still doing here?”

Alex turned like she’d just noticed the guard, who was now walking towards them, and then pointed to Winn, one hand still on his arm. “Sorry, we’re leaving. The security guard upstairs and I have been running all over the place looking for my brother. He snuck off. Where were you?” she asked Winn again. She then shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to explain to Mom when we get home, though.”

“Uh, yeah…sorry. I just got lost, I guess,” Winn said as Alex pulled at his arm towards the front door.

Alex’s heart was pounding as they came closer the guard as he looked suspiciously between them.

“Have a nice night!” Alex added as they passed him. Alex could feel his eyes boring into her back and then her heart dropped when she heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie.

“This is Officer Torres. I’ve got the kid you’ve been looking for downstairs.”

Shit, Alex thought. She increased her pace just enough so that the man wouldn’t notice and gripped Winn’s arm tighter.

“This is Officer Redding. Repeat that, Torres.”

Officer Torres clicked his walkie-talkie on again. “This is Officer Torres. I said that the kid you’ve been looking for is downstairs.”

Alex opened the door, and as soon as it began to close behind them, both Alex and Winn started sprinting towards the tram station, and the last thing Alex heard before they were out was, “What kid?”

Alex pulled her hood up again and moved her jacket so she could hold the papers under it. She didn’t take them out to read them on the way back just in case. They made it to the Tributes building and Alex repositioned them.

Alex then cursed to herself. She’d been hoping for a different guard to be at the door, one that wouldn’t remember that she’d been out last night, too.

But before she could think of a way around him, he saw her.

Alex smiled and awkwardly adjusted the hood on her head, slowly lowering it. “Hey, I know you,” she said, keeping her voice a little higher pitched, trying to sound nice and not like she was doing anything wrong.

“I thought I told you that you couldn’t be out anymore,” the guard said. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked between them.

“Well…Winn here,” Alex said, patted Winn on the arm, “wanted to get in on all the fun. He heard about that party I went to last night and couldn’t wait to check it out.”

The guard narrowed his eyes as he started fishing through his back pocket. “I’m going to have to bring you up to my boss. Your mentor’s J’onn, right? He’ll want to speak to him, too.”

Winn’s eyes widened but Alex started talking again, quicker this time. “Woah, easy,” she said, holding a hand out to him. “It was just a party. Can’t we have some fun? I mean, it’s kinda boring being stuck in this building all the ti—”

“Something wrong here?” a voice from behind the guard said. The guard turned around and Alex wasn’t sure whether to let out a relieved breath or not.

M’gann was standing there, a sweet smile on her face, as she glanced at the guard and then at Alex.

“Hey, M’gann. We were just, uh…” Winn started to say, and Alex was trying to think of an excuse as to why they were outside of the building as well.

The guard brought his walkie-talkie up to his mouth but before he could say anything, M’gann put a hand on his arm.

“Why don’t I take these two inside? They won’t give you any more trouble, or wander off again, I promise,” M’gann said. She put something in the guard’s hand that Alex couldn’t see and he looked at her for a second before putting both whatever M’gann had given him and his walkie-talkie in his back pocket.

He stepped slightly to the side and M’gann motioned them to follow her.

Winn pulled Alex by the arm in after him when she didn’t move and the door closed behind them.

“What did you give him?” Alex asked.

“Money, Alex. You can bribe anyone here,” M’ann said simply.

Oh, Alex thought. Why didn’t she think of that? If only she had money to give out.

“Thank you,” Winn said.

M’gann just raised her eyebrows. “Can’t lose both my Tributes in one night, now can I? What were you two doing?”

“Um, we were…” Winn trailed off and looked at Alex.

“We were at a party,” Alex said. M’gann looked skeptical about that and her eyes flicked to Alex’s jacket.

“A party. You two don’t seem like the party type.”

“Oh, well…we are. I love to party. Can’t get enough parties,” Winn said with a little laugh.

Alex resisted the urge to groan. Winn was a terrible liar.

“Alright, I don’t know why you’re both lying to me, but you’re lucky it’s late and I’m tired. So, in exchange for me getting you out of trouble…first, you both have to promise you won’t go out again.”

“We promise,” Winn said, and Alex nodded in agreement. M’gann looked like she knew why Alex wasn’t making a verbal promise, but seemed to let it go.

“Secondly, Alex, how would you feel about wearing a dress for the interview?” M’gann then asked, a mischievous smile on her face.

“But I won’t get to wear my boots.”

“Ah, that reminds me. I did figure out a way to get those,” her eyes flicked down at Alex’s feet, “incorporated into the outfit they give you for the Games.”

Alex smiled. “Really?”

M’gann nodded. “Now you owe me for two things. What do you say, Alex?”

Alex contemplated for a couple seconds. Finally, she let out a defeated, “Fine.”

“Wonderful.” M’gann started down the hall and Alex had to fast walk to keep up with her, Winn at her side.

“Wait, what about Winn? He owes you, too,” Alex tried to argue.

M’gann glanced back at them and pursed her lips. “Mm…no, he’s fine. I don’t need anything from him,” she said with a wink and kept on walking. “See you both bright and early tomorrow!”

Both Alex and Winn stopped and watched her go. Alex huffed and thought that Winn looked entirely too happy about this.

“Well…at least now we know which one of us is her favorite.”

“…Shut up.”

------

Alex paced around the room, reading page after page slowly and carefully, while Winn sat on the bed.

“How much longer are we gonna stay up?”

“Winn, I’m trying to concentrate.”

“But I need my beauty sleep.”

Alex glanced at him. “You do not need beauty sleep. If I find something, or if I don’t, we’re probably gonna have to go back out tonight.”

She saw Winn looking at her incredulously out of the corner of her eye. “Again? Alex, we can’t. We barely made it here in one piece. Plus, we promised M’gann we wouldn’t.”

“We’ll just have to find a computer here then. And if we can’t, we’re going back to City Hall.”

“It would be impossible to get in now, it’s midnight. Those guards would arrest us in within two seconds.”

“We’ll have to risk it.”

“Alex…”

Alex stopped pacing as she handed him page seven. She was giving him the pages after she’d read them so he could double-check. “I need to find him, Winn.” She held up the stack of papers and shook them, “This is all I have. I’ll go without you if I have to.”

“No offense, but you barely know how to work computers. What would you find that I couldn’t?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. Something. Anything. I…” she took a deep breath. “I can’t go home without him.”

Alex knew that the only way to get her mother to stop looking at her like she always did was to bring her father home. Especially after Alex had made such a big deal about it, and after her mother had told her she couldn’t. And she just wanted him home again. It would make everything better.

“You might not even make it home if you’re tired before the Games, Alex. You know we can’t go out tomorrow night, they’ll have this building on lockdown.”

They’d announced that after the interviews, the building would be strictly guarded because the rate of kids trying to escape so as not to participate in the Games increased rapidly the closer they got to the start. There was no way Alex could get out of the building, as they would probably have competent guards posted.

“Which is why I need to make the most of this one,” Alex pointed out.

She needed to find something in this file.

Each of the pieces of paper was a laundry list of past jobs, promotions, medical info, and family members of her father’s. There was some stuff from his childhood that Alex didn’t know, such as how he had gotten detention in second grade for pulling the fire alarm. Alex was going to have to ask him about that later.

Alex got halfway down the ninth page before she stopped.

There, on the page, were three listed infractions.

Three. Not two…three.

Three infractions for hopping the fence. The last one was dated August 3rd, 2412, the day they’d told them her father died. The listed punishment for trespassing was “THREAT LEVEL IV IMPRISONMENT.”

“Oh, my God,” Alex breathed. She could feel her heart pounding against her chest.

“What? Did you find something?” Winn asked as he hopped off the bed. Alex just tilted the paper a little bit so he could read it over her shoulder. “Is that the day he died?” he then asked, and Alex nodded.

Alex walked backwards until she hit the bed with the back of her knees and sat down on it.

She smiled and let out a laugh until she realized she was crying.

Jeremiah was alive. He was in prison, but he was alive. Threat Level IV. Alex wondered how many threat levels there were, and if that was the highest one.

The Capitol had him. She knew it. She always knew they did. Alex wished she could shove this in her mother’s face right now. She kept reading through her tears but there was no more information other than that. They probably couldn’t disclose anything else, as whoever needed to know anything would know what Threat Level IV meant and where he was imprisoned.

“I have to find J’onn,” Alex said before wiping her tears off her cheeks.

“Why? Is he looking, too?” Winn asked.

“Uh, yeah. He used to be—well, he still is—my dad’s best friend.”

“Oh. Okay. I think his room’s down the hall.”

Alex just nodded and was still staring at the piece of paper. She quickly looked over the last page but there was only the address of City Hall on it. Still, she stuffed all the papers in her desk drawer and headed out the door.

Before she closed it, she turned around, clutching the piece of paper in her hand.

“Hey, Winn.”

Winn looked up.

“Thank you. Seriously,” Alex said with a smile.

Winn smiled back and replied, “Any time,” but there was a hint of sadness in his expression. Alex wondered why, but it was gone quickly enough that she figured it was nothing.

By the time she got to J’onn’s room, she couldn’t stop smiling and thought that it would be plastered there forever.

“J’onn,” she said as she knocked on his door. It was way after midnight now and Alex wondered whether he’d be mad, but she knew that as soon as she showed him the paper, he’d forget about it. “It’s me.”

“Just a minute,” J’onn replied. When he opened the door, he wasn’t wearing pajamas. Alex wondered if he even owned pajamas. She couldn’t imagine seeing him not dressed in regular clothes; the thought almost made her laugh.

“I found something,” she said as she handed him the piece of paper.

She walked past him into the room and waited for him to finish reading it.

He finally turned around after closing the door slowly and looked up at her. “Where did you get this?”

“Winn and I broke into the Citizen Records office in City Hall and he must’ve bypassed some security passwords because he found an entire file on him.” She hadn’t been planning on telling him that, but figured it wouldn’t hurt since they’d found something and he wouldn’t be able to get mad.

J’onn eyes widened the slightest bit. “You broke into—you know what? I’m not even going to ask.” He looked down at the paper again and read, “Threat Level Four Imprisonment.”

“Do you know what that means?”

J’onn shook his head and Alex felt her shoulders slump a little bit. But it didn’t matter if he didn’t know. They’d find out somehow.

“I’ve been in the high security prisons but I’m not sure which threat level prisoners they housed. I’m fairly certain none of them were four. I don’t think they broadcast that kind of thing to the public,” he explained.

“But we can find him, right? We can find where they keep Threat Level Four prisoners.”

J’onn was silent for a moment and then he looked up and seemed nervous. “Alex—”

Alex’s smile disappeared because she knew what that look meant. “No. J’onn, you…you are not going to try and tell me not to go after him. Not now. We finally have information on him, that he is alive and in some sort of prison, and you cannot tell me to stop now.”

“It’s too risky for you to—”

“I don’t care, J’onn! I don’t care. I am not going home without him. I can’t,” she shook her head. She’d been counting on J’onn’s help and now J’onn was also giving up when they were so close.

“No, Alex, I’m not saying to give up,” J’onn told her, coming closer to her hesitantly, and Alex willed herself to calm down a little bit. “I just think that you should let me handle this, now. Let me find him.”

“Why can’t I find him?”

“Because you have a lot to do tomorrow—well, today, actually—and you cannot get out of this building. I can,” J’onn pointed out. Alex thought about that for a moment, and before she could answer, J’onn continued, “But I won’t be able to promise you anything more than finding him. I don’t know how I would break him out, and I don’t know why you think you’ll be able to without months of planning and sheer luck. I don’t know what I would do if I could break him out, where he would go, if he could go home…but I will find him. I can promise you that I will find him and tell him that you know he’s alive, no matter what, no matter how long, it takes.”

Alex took a deep breath in and out. She just figured she’d be able to break him out of a Capitol prison. But that was basically impossible, she realized. And what would she do if she was able to? She couldn’t very well bring him home, he’d be a fugitive on the run.

What was she thinking? That they’d just let him out? There was a reason they kept him in there.

J’onn was right. Alex felt herself deflate.

Why wasn’t knowing he was alive good enough for her? She could tell her mother he was, show her the proof, and maybe it would make things better. But maybe it wouldn’t. Because he still wouldn’t be home.

But it wasn’t like having him home would erase everything that had happened in the past five years and magically make it better.

She wasn’t just doing this to fix things with her mother. She wanted her family to be four again.

J’onn set down the piece of paper on a desk and came over to her, holding onto both her arms gently but not saying a word.

“Do you think I’m ever going to be able to see him again?” Alex asked after a moment, wanting him to tell the truth and also wanting him to lie because she knew, deep down, what the truth was.

J’onn let out sigh and shook his head the tiniest bit. “I don’t know.”

Alex took in a shaky breath.

“I just want him to come back, J’onn. To come home,” she then whispered.

J’onn’s smile was sad as wrapped his arms around her and she hugged him back, clinging to his shirt. “I know,” he said quietly as he took a deep breath and let it out. “I know.”

------

Alex let J’onn keep the ninth page of the file.

She got up at six the next morning and went to breakfast, but only M’gann was there.

“Where’s Winn?” Alex asked as she sat down. She couldn’t stifle a yawn and wished she’d gone to bed earlier.

“I’m not sure. He hasn’t come down yet,” M’gann said.

“He hasn’t come down?” Alex clarified. M’gann just shook her head.

Huh. That was weird, Alex thought. Maybe he was nervous about today, or had overslept his alarm because Alex had kept him up too late last night. Alex got up again and told M’gann she was going to go see if he was okay—he’d never been late to anything.

Alex went down the hall to Winn’s room and knocked. “It’s Alex, Winn. Are you up?”

Winn opened the door ten seconds later, dressed, but looked nervous about something.

“Hey. What are you still doing here? M’gann’s waiting for us,” Alex told him.

Winn scratched at his head. “I, um…I thought that…you didn’t need my help anymore.”

Alex looked at him, confused. “What?” What did that have to do with breakfast?

Winn scratched at his head. “I just…thought that you didn’t need my help. And…since you asked me to be your partner and to help you with your dad…now that you don’t need help with that anymore, then maybe…” he trailed off.

And Alex realized what was going on. “Winn,” she said with a smile, “You’re my partner and we agreed we’re training together, right? Nothing has changed on that front.”

Winn looked up at her. “Yeah?”

Alex nodded. “Thank you, again, for your help last night. I seriously couldn’t have done any of it without you. Although you do suck at lying, so maybe that would’ve gone better,” Alex said with a smirk. “But we’re still teammates and I’m not going to abandon you just because I don’t need help anymore. Sorry to tell you, but…you’re stuck with me, kid.”

Winn smiled. Then, he nodded and seemed to perk up a little. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay, let’s go,” he said, a little hop in his step as he closed the door to his room behind him. As they headed down the hall, Winn asked, “Did you find anything else? On your dad?”

Alex ran a hand through her own hair. “Um, no. J’onn’s going to…take care of it.” Winn gave her a look, but Alex just waved him off. “It’s fine. It’s all good.”

“Are you sure you don’t need any more help? We’ve technically still got seventeen hours left.”

Alex shook her head. She wished she did, but…J’onn was going to find him. He was. Alex trusted him and had faith in his ability to find him. He had to.

The interviews were after lunch, and Alex was currently standing in the same dressing room she’d gone into the first day she’d arrived at the Capitol.

“Keep your eyes closed,” M’gann said sternly, but Alex could hear a smile in her voice. Alex hadn’t even opened her eyes in the slightest, but she shut them tighter so M’gann would stop bugging her.

M’gann wanted a big reveal of her dress and Alex was, to put it in one word, terrified.

She could feel the fabric against her skin and it felt strange. Not bad, per say, but definitely strange. She’d worn dresses before, but not in a long time. The dress was tight and form-fitting, but comfortable enough to move around in. Alex knew because she tried—and failed—to stop squirming around as M’gann seemed to spend forever fixing her hair.

M’gann had insisted on getting Alex ready herself with no help from her other stylists, and Alex was grateful for it. She didn’t feel like getting poked and prodded at in addition to having to wear a dress.

Finally, M’gann stepped back and it was silent for a moment.

“Okay, you can open them now,” she said.

Alex blinked her eyes open and looked at herself in the mirror.

One of her hands immediately went to her hair, which was curled starting at her ears, while she took in what was in front of her.

The dress went down to her mid-thigh and was a deep red color with thin black ribbons snaking around her curves. It had a triangular shaped hole just below her rib cage and was long enough that Alex didn’t feel uncomfortable, but short enough that Alex couldn’t help but think that it didn’t look bad on her at all.

Alex felt herself smile. M’gann had done her makeup, too, but kept it simple, and touched up the red highlights in her hair.

“Beautiful,” M’gann said, a proud smile on her face. Alex tore her gaze away from the mirror and looked at her. “Absolutely beautiful.”

“This dress is beautiful,” Alex said quietly.

But M’gann shook her head. “Only because it’s on you.”

M’gann did some last-minute touch-ups on her hair and made sure that Alex could move around comfortably in the dress before getting out shoes. And Alex almost paled.

“I can’t wear heels that high, M’gann. I’ll trip.”

M’gann waved her off. “Nonsense. It’s five steps to the stage and five steps back down. You’ll be fine. You can even walk around in them beforehand to practice.”

All the other Tributes waited backstage as the interviews started, but Alex positioned herself away from them.

Maggie was first, as usual.

She was wearing a white dress, not to Alex’s surprise, and had her hair half up in a bun. Alex missed whatever she said to Caesar Flickerman—a ridiculous man with ridiculously blue hair—but the audience laughed at it. Or rather, they probably laughed at what Caesar said as he was pretty good at playing with the audience and always helped the Tributes out.

“…Alex!”

Alex jumped when Winn appeared right beside her and poked her shoulder.

“Jesus, Winn, you cannot sneak up on people. What do you want?” Alex said as she tore her eyes away from the stage and Maggie.

Winn smirked at her. He was wearing a collared shirt with a bowtie and he stuck his hands in his pockets. “Just making sure you were remembering how to breathe. ‘Cause, you know…” he tilted his head towards the stage.

Alex elbowed Winn sharply in the side and he let out a small grunt. “Don’t start,” she warned.

“I’m just saying, she looks good. Like, really good, don’t you think?” Winn asked.

“She always does,” Alex said, and immediately regretted it. She tried to correct herself, “I mean, they always do. The Careers. They always do really well at the interviews, too, even though they don’t need to. They have enough sponsors already.”

She cursed to herself. It wasn’t her fault Maggie looked good. What was her fault was her inability to shut up and stop talking.

“Hm,” Winn said, and he seemed satisfied. Alex just glared at him. “I thought you didn’t want to do the whole falling in love thing.”

“I’m going to give you two seconds to get as far away from me as possible.”

“Yup. Got it. I’m just gonna…” Winn spun around on his heel and left her alone.

The interviews were three minutes long and Alex only caught the last minute of Maggie’s, and lucky she did, too.

“…How does it feel to have the highest score tied with not another Career, but instead a Tribute from District 12? Do you think she’s a worthy competitor?” Caesar asked her.

Maggie shifted on the couch slightly but kept a smile on her face, and Alex watched her to see if she revealed anything that she wasn’t saying out loud.

“Well, she must be if she scored an eleven. I’m not sure what she did, but she must’ve earned it somehow, right?” Maggie said.

Alex was a little taken aback by that, as was Caesar. So, she thought of Alex as competition. Finally. Alex didn’t know why she was so happy about that, as Maggie’s opinion probably shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

And Maggie had dismissed Caesar’s obvious attempt to foster competition and had instead sort of…validated her as a competitor.

“I’m also curious as to how she got that score. But we’ll have to ask her when it’s her turn. You aren’t worried, are you? You seem pretty confident you’re going to win.”

Maggie shrugged. “No, I’m not worried. I mean…” she paused as if trying to think of the right words to say, and she ended up looking away from Caesar and right at Alex, who was standing at the entrance to the right of the stage.

Alex felt herself freeze as Maggie stared at her. It seemed to last forever, but it was over after a long moment and Maggie’s eyes were on Caesar again.

But Caesar noticed and turned around in his seat. He smiled broadly when he spotted Alex at the side of the stage and turned back to the audience.

“Well, what do we have here?” he said. “Alex is right off the stage watching. Should we bring her up?” he asked the audience. The audience cheered, and Alex’s heart pounded as Maggie looked between her and Caesar, and Alex silently begged him not to bring her up. Anything but bring her up. Caesar then clicked his tongue, “It’s too bad we can’t. We’ll just have to wait in suspense to see what she has to say.”

The audience booed, but Caesar just told a joke and brought Maggie into the thick of things again.

Alex willed her heart to calm down and focused back on Maggie as she answered whatever question Caesar had asked her.

“…No. No one back home. It wouldn’t be a boy, though. Let’s just straighten that out,” Maggie said with a smirk.

Caesar laughed and Alex couldn’t help but crack a smile until she noticed Maggie flick her eyes down and her smirk falter a little bit before she seemed to put her façade back up again.

“Now, I understand you have something else in common with Alex as well. We all know that she has a sis—”

Alex saw Maggie’s face flicker with worry and she hastily, not-so-subtly tried to cut him off. “Hasn’t it been three minutes, Caesar? I mean, it seems like it has. Not that I don’t enjoy talking to you, but…”

The buzzer went off at that moment and Maggie looked relieved. She quickly stood up and shook Caesar’s hand. She waved to the audience and a stagehand guided her off the stage.

In Alex’s direction.

The alarm bells went off in Alex’s head as she realized Maggie was coming right towards her and she quickly turned to get away, away, away, but bumped into someone. Maggie kept waving and Alex tried to move the person out of her way, to no avail.

Shit, shit, shit, she thought.

“Hey, Danvers. Fancy seeing you here.”

Shit.

Alex turned back around and tried to smile and then wondered if she should smile and ended up crossing her arms over her chest and then uncrossing them and instead pinning her hands to her sides but trying to make it look casual.

“Uh, hey. Yeah. You know, just, um…” Alex trailed off as she ran a hand through her hair and Maggie was just standing there, two feet in front of her, looking amused and confused. Alex cleared her throat. “You did great. Up there. I-I didn’t see the whole thing but you did great.”

She wanted to punch herself.

What had happened between the first time they’d talked and now? It was because of the dress. The damn dress. How did Maggie look so good in it? It was like it was made for her.

A corner of Maggie’s mouth quirked up and she tilted her head the slightest bit.

“Thanks,” she said. “I think. You clean up nice.”

Alex willed herself not to blush as Maggie did another quick glance up and down like she’d done the first time they met. Alex looked down at her own dress as if she didn’t already know what she was wearing.

“Oh, well,” she said and then realized that Maggie had complimented her and couldn’t really wrap her head around that at the moment but knew she should say something back. “So do you. With the shoes, and the hair, and all the…” she trailed off and waved a hand before realizing she was doing that and putting it back by her hip. Maggie’s smile got a bit bigger, but she ignored her ramblings, thankfully.

“So…we’re on an equal playing field now, it seems like.”

Alex’s heart seemed to calm down and she untensed her shoulders. “Yeah. I’m, um…I’m sorry about…you know.”

Alex trailed off, but Maggie just raised her eyebrows in question. “About…”

Alex took a deep breath in. “About yelling at you during training. For taking my anger out on you. Max is just…he…” she glanced over Maggie’s shoulder at Max, who was in the middle of his interview.

Maggie turned her head to look as well and then looked back at Alex. “God, he’s an idiot,” she said under her breath as the audience laughed. Alex couldn’t help a smile. “I wish I wasn’t stuck with him. What did he say to you?”

Maggie actually seemed to sort of go on the defensive again, but Alex could tell it wasn’t against her this time. Maggie looked like she was mad, actually, and Alex didn’t really know what to make of that.

“Oh, um…it was nothing, really. Just stupid stuff,” Alex said, trying to wave it off. She was still kind of embarrassed that it hadn’t taken that much for her to get angry at him. “But I took it out on you and that wasn’t fair. So, I’m sorry.”

Maggie nodded. “Well, thank you. It’s too bad we’re supposed to kill each other, huh?” And Alex couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

Alex laughed lightly and rubbed at her arm. “Yeah, too bad.” Then, she got an idea. But before her brain could decide if it was a good idea or not, her mouth started moving. “Hey, um, you know, since we are on an equal playing field…the highest playing field…” she paused. The highest playing field? What the hell did that mean? Alex didn’t know. “I mean, since we have the highest scores, I think we’d do well. As a…team. Together. Me and you.”

“You and me?” Maggie asked as she crossed her arms.

Alex just nodded and swallowed. She’d have to bring up at some point that Winn would also be part of that team, but then…

Maggie looked down and back up and then pursed her lips. “Yeah, I don’t think so, Danvers.”

Alex’s felt her face fall, but she quickly caught it and tried not to let Maggie see. “Oh.”

“I just don’t do well with partners.”

Alex nodded. “Yeah, no. That…that makes sense.”

“That makes sense?”

Alex realized how that sounded and tried to correct herself. “Well, it only makes sense in the sense that you, um…Careers don’t like to…they don’t usually do well with teams.” And Alex could tell, she knew, she had said the wrong thing as soon as she’d said it.

Maggie just stared at her and Alex pressed her lips together to keep herself from talking. She could practically see Maggie building her walls back up, block by block.

“Right. We usually don’t, do we?” Maggie scoffed. “Good luck up there, Danvers.”

Alex watched her as she walked away again, not looking back, like she didn’t feel like dealing with her at the moment.

Alex’s fist bunched up her dress and she wished she could take it back. She wished she could rewind and take every single word that had just come out of her mouth back.

How had she managed to mess that up? Again?

They were having a somewhat normal-ish conversation, and then she’d done…that.

Alex decided to distract herself through the rest of the interviews by walking around backstage to practice with the damn heels. It took almost all of her focus not to stumble and fall and she managed to clear her mind of anything but that.

M’gann led her over to the loading area after a while and Alex’s fingers couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting so she just gave up.

That morning, her and M’gann had decided that she’d play up the eleven and if he talked about Kara then she’d talk about it. M’gann reminded her to be nice and calm and civil and before she knew it, she was being blinded by lights as she stepped onto the stage.

Surprisingly, Alex managed not to trip on the thank-God-it’s-only-five steps to the chair and sat down, crossing her legs.

The first minute went great. She completed almost all her sentences and Caesar was really good at helping her out when she got stuck. Until…

“I’ve been asking everybody this, but why do you want to win, Alex?”

Here we go, Alex thought. Nice, calm, civil.

Alex tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Why do I want to win?” she clarified, and Caesar just nodded. “Well…I guess I just want to go home.”

“And see your sister, correct?”

Alex pursed her lips and nodded, and the audience got quieter.

“Now, you volunteered for her. Very touching, heartbreaking moment. I think we all felt your pain, didn’t we?” Caesar said, turning to the audience.

Alex clenched her jaw but kept a smile on her face. There was no way they could’ve felt what she felt. And the fact that they thought they did…

“How did you come to that decision? It seemed like you made the choice pretty quickly.”

Alex just looked at him. “I love her. There was…it was like there was no decision to make,” she then said, glancing instead at a camera lens aimed at her, and she wasn’t lying in the slightest bit. She hoped her mother was watching. She hoped her mother knew that she hadn’t forgotten, and hadn’t regretted, what she’d said to her in the tent.

There were a few murmurs and “aww’s” in the audience and Caesar pretended to look like he was about to cry. Nice. Calm. Civil, Alex reminded herself.

“That was certainly a surprise when it happened. And what was also a surprise was your picture up on the screen with a score of eleven from the judges,” Caesar continued as if he could sense Alex’s discomfort. “How did you feel when you received that score? Actually, as a matter of fact,” he said with a bigger smile on his face, “I think we’re all wondering how exactly you got that score. I’m sure Maggie is,” he added.

Alex laughed nervously and felt her face go a bit red as she remembered how Maggie had looked at her in that dress earlier, but willed herself to answer the question.

“Oh, well…that’s supposed to be a secret, isn’t it?” Alex looked out into the audience and spotted the lady who had almost broken her plate when she’d thrown that knife. “I’m sure they don’t want me to spoil it.”

The lady shook her head sharply and Alex just smiled at her.

“Are you sure she can’t tell us?” Caesar asked the lady and the lady glared at him. Caesar laughed. “Well that’s too bad. We’d all love to know. A girl from District 12, of all places, getting one of the highest scores. Tied with a Tribute from 1. They’ve had a streak of winning these past few years and 12 hasn’t really…”

“We’ve had two winners.”

Caesar nodded. “Yes. And do you think you’ll be number three?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Maggie’s certainly a worthy competitor, but—”

“That’s interesting, actually, that you say that,” Caesar said, interrupting her. “You both seem to not really…oh, what’s the word…hate each other.”

Alex furrowed her brow. “I don’t hate her. Why…why would I?”

Alex certainly didn’t hate Maggie. She’d gotten the same score and Alex respected her as a competitor. And yeah, they were supposed to be fighting to the death, but they were also people. With feelings. And lives. And people at home they probably wanted to get back to, now that Alex thought about it. Maggie probably had a reason to want to win, too, besides being a Career and basically being slotted to win.

Caesar looked at her curiously. “Why would you hate her? Besides the fact that she’s your competition?”

“Well, yeah, but she’s…I don’t know. She’s tough and certainly…” Alex trailed off and reminded herself to think before she spoke and ended up not knowing what to say.

Caesar leaned forward in the chair towards her. “She’s also very pretty, isn’t she?” he asked with a wink.

Alex’s eyes widened, and she could feel her face get hot as she shifted uncomfortably on the chair.

“Oh, uh…n-no,” she stuttered out before she thought that maybe Maggie was watching this, and she quickly continued, “I mean yes, she is. Very pretty.” She could feel herself start to get nervous and she had been doing such a good job up until this point, so she tried to save herself. “She’s…she’s from 1. So…I was going to say that she’s tough and smart and probably will be tough competition, but…” Alex remembered just then that she was supposed to be playing up her score, and continued, “but I think my eleven proves that no one should count me out.”

Caesar seemed to ignore what she’d said and asked, “This…is really interesting. I wish we could have you both up here together. I would love to know what she feels about this, all of this you’re saying about her.”

Alex became very confused and glanced off to the right of the stage to see Winn looking at her with wide eyes, and wondered why he was.

“I just think my eleven proves that I’m worthy competition and no one should count me out,” Alex repeated, trying to get Caesar off the topic of Maggie and back onto her. “I also—”

The buzzer went off and Alex almost let out a sigh of relief.

Caesar signed her off and gave her wink before the stagehand guided her off the stage. Alex’s head was pounding and she couldn’t really process, couldn’t really remember what had just happened. She wasn’t sure she wanted to remember.

Winn was there on the side of the stage and helped her down. Alex immediately took off her heels and sat down on the bottom step to rub her feet, not caring who was watching.

“Dude…what was that?” Winn then asked her.

Alex looked up at him curiously, and he looked happy, surprised, and a little bit nervous.

“What are you talking about?”

“You just…I thought you weren’t…I thought you didn’t want to do the whole star-crossed lovers thing. With Maggie.”

Alex stopped what she was doing and just looked at him. “What?”

“Winn! It’s your turn, you need to get up there,” M’gann said as she came up to them. She practically shoved Winn up on the stage when his name was announced. “Don’t be nervous, you’ll do great,” she added as she pushed him towards Caesar. Then, she turned to Alex. “You.”

“What about me? What’s going on?” Alex asked.

M’gann looked at her and then held out her hand. As soon as Alex touched it, M’gann pulled her up with a surprising amount of strength and took her by the arm, fast-walking her towards the dressing room they’d been in earlier.

“But…the shoes,” Alex said, glancing back over her shoulder at the heels sitting by the steps.

M’gann shook her head. “Don’t worry about the shoes,” she said as she pulled open the door and closed it behind them. “Alex, what happened?”

“What do you mean ‘what happened’? I don’t know why everyone is asking me what’s happening. I don’t know what is happening,” Alex said, starting to get very worried.

M’gann crossed her arms and paced around the room. “We agreed just this morning…I actually believe you were telling me, again, that you didn’t want to do the whole star-crossed lovers idea Winn came up with.”

Alex looked at her incredulously. “I-I don’t! I didn’t…what are you talking about?”

And then, Alex’s eyes widened.

Oh.

Oh no.

M’gann stared at her and Alex wanted to put her face in her hands, wanted to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit.

It was silent for a moment before M’gann spoke again. “You like her. You actually do like her, don’t you? Were you not faking that up there?”

“Oh no. No, no, no,” Alex mumbled under her breath. “Oh God.”

“I saw you and Maggie talking beforehand and you couldn’t seem to stop smiling. And then I thought that maybe you two had agreed on something, that you had actually somehow gotten her to agree to do this with you…and then you went up there and said all of that and I wondered why you didn’t tell me.”

“Oh, my God,” Alex groaned. She sat on the makeup table and then stood up again.

This was not happening.

Was it really that obvious?

Alex thought Maggie was pretty. And nice when Alex didn’t yell at her. And smart. And tough. And Alex liked her, but…

Winn thought she liked Maggie. And now M’gann thought she liked Maggie. And apparently everybody else did, too?

How could she have messed up so badly?

This was exactly what she didn’t want to do. The exact opposite of what she wanted to do. What she was so vehemently opposed to doing. And she had done it. Everybody thought she liked Maggie. That she had a crush on Maggie.

Suddenly, Alex straightened up. “I need to fix this,” she said, and started to go towards the door. “They can’t—I don’t…I have to tell him it didn’t mean anything. That I didn’t mean it like that.”

M’gann positioned herself in front of Alex and blocked her way to the door. She shook her head. “It’s too late now, Alex. And you need to calm down. This isn’t that bad.”

Alex let out a sharp breath. “Yes, it is! I’m sure you’re happy about this. This is exactly what you wanted.”

M’gann shook her head. “I wanted you to agree to it. I never would’ve made you do anything you’re not comfortable with, Alex. And, you know, it’s completely fine to like her,” she said with a small smile.

Alex shook her head slightly. “No, it’s…not.” She ran a hand through her hair. “It’s not going to end well for me. For either of us.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, for one, we’re being put in an arena where only one person can come out alive. And…I don’t think I even need a second reason.”

Why did she always like people she had no chance of being happy with? Was it her curse, or something? Why couldn’t she just like girls who liked girls and who weren’t out to murder her? It seemed like an easy enough thing to do.

“You don’t think she’d ever like you back, too. Is that the second reason?” M’gann asked. Alex just looked at her and stayed silent, not wanting to answer. “Alex, I don’t know why you think she wouldn’t like you.”

“Oh, well…maybe it’s because I yelled at her the first time we met. And then I ended up somehow insulting her again when she was being perfectly nice to me. And I’m not—she wouldn’t. She just wouldn’t. It would be stupid to believe she would,” Alex said.

M’gann held onto her arm when she tried to turn away and start pacing around the room, trying to both calm down and figure out a way to handle this.

“It would not be stupid. Maybe you should talk to her, ask her if she wants to get in on this. Because it’s happening, whether you like it or not, and right now it seems to only be benefitting you.”

Alex shook her head. “I…no. She wouldn’t agree to it.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I already asked her if she wanted to work together and she said no,” Alex admitted, trying not to reveal how she felt about that.

“Oh,” M’gann said as she pursed her lips.

“Yeah,” Alex said. “So…is there any way to fix this? To make this better?”

“I think you have to play it up now, if you want it to work in your favor. Well, maybe you won’t even have to pretend, given that you didn’t, just now, and started this whole thing,” M’gann said with a light laugh, and Alex couldn’t help but smile a little bit. M’gann continued, “It’s like what I told you yesterday—the audience will like it. Sympathize with it.”

“Feel sorry for me?” Alex asked. This is why she didn’t want to do this.

M’gann ignored that. “Can you trust me on this, Alex? I could make this work for you. This is my job.”

Alex sighed and looked at her as she contemplated it. If anyone could make this work, it was M’gann. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad, and she knew M’gann was on her side, knew how she felt about this, and would make it better.

Alex nodded.

M’gann smiled. “Okay. Great. I’m going to go check on Winn, make sure he hasn’t revealed any crushes I don’t know about, and then I’ve got work to do,” she said with a wink, and then squeezed Alex’s arm. “It’ll be fine, Alex. Trust me.”

Alex let out a breath and nodded again. M’gann left and Alex paced around the room.

A minute later, Winn came in.

“Hey, Alex. M’gann sent me over here to see how you were,” he said as he started to undo his bowtie.

“Oh, I’m great. Fantastic. Really, really great,” Alex said, faux cheerfulness in her voice.

“You…don’t seem so great.”

“Well, apparently I have a giant crush on Maggie that now everybody in the entire country knows about so how could I not be fine?” she said sarcastically.

Winn smiled. “So you do have a crush on her?”

“Winn. Please.”

Winn dropped the smile and turned serious. “Alright, alright. But you know I wouldn’t tease you about her if I didn’t think she liked you back, right?” Alex just looked at him and he hopped up to sit by her on the table. “I’m serious. Your crush can be seen from space. Maggie’s? Maybe you need a telescope, but it’s there.”

“A pretty freaking big telescope.”

“But it’s there.”

“She hates me.”

“She does not hate you. In fact, she cannot stop looking at you like she doesn’t want you to have clothes on.”

Alex groaned and covered her face with her hands so Winn couldn’t see her face get red. “Oh God. Stop talking. Please.” She did not want to talk about this with Winn, of all people.

“I’m just saying. It’s not impossible. And it’ll be fine. I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”

“You’re just happy because I somehow managed to go along with your ‘brilliant’ plan. Accidentally.”

She saw Winn smirk as she uncovered her face. “Well, maybe. I mean, it is a brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. The people will love it. They already love you. And now you’ll get so many sponsors you won’t know what to do with all the stuff they send you. This could only work in your favor.”

Alex sighed.

She hated to admit it, but maybe M’gann and Winn were right.

This wasn’t that bad. It was only bad because Alex was making it bad. She was making herself stressed and worried about it when she didn’t really need to. This would be fine. It would work out fine.

She needed to focus on the Games. Focus on winning.

Plus, maybe when she was actually in the arena, her brain would realize how illogical it was to have a crush on someone you were supposed to eventually kill and put a stop to it. Right now, her brain didn’t seem to want to realize that, but maybe it would.

She was not going to go through what she’d went through with Vicky yet again. She wasn’t going to allow that to happen. If the audience wanted to believe she had a crush on Maggie, fine. If it helped her in the arena, fine.

But she wasn’t going to let it impact her any more than that.

This time, liking someone was actually going to benefit her. Maybe it would hurt her in the long run, but for now, it was working for her.

She wondered how long that would last.

------

Alex found herself unable to sleep that night.

Which was bad, because they were woken up at dawn to travel to the arena for the Games that started at 9 and Alex had only gotten a few hours of sleep.

J’onn kept trying to get her to eat toast, to eat something, but her stomach didn’t seem to want to have any of it. She forced herself to eat some because she knew she probably wouldn’t have food later and told Winn to eat, too, as it looked like he felt the same.

A lady came in to put trackers in both her and Winn’s arms. Probably to keep tabs on them in the arena.

It seemed like Alex was just now registering that the Games were, in fact, starting in half an hour and she was going to be in an arena where she had to make sure to wipe out twenty-three other kids in order to make it home.

Home.

To her sister.

She might not ever see Kara or her mother again. She could die today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day.

Or she could win and go home and hold Kara in her arms again.

After breakfast, they went to the Launch Rooms and their clothes were hanging up on the wall.

M’gann helped Alex get hers on: pants with a sturdy brown belt, a green blouse, and a hooded black jacket. M’gann told her the jacket was designed to reflect body heat so there would probably be some cold nights.

M’gann pulled out a box with her boots, which Alex had had to give her yesterday so they could make sure they were okay to wear, and she slipped them on, reveling in how comfortable and familiar they felt.

Alex then checked to make sure her watch was secured tightly on her wrist and turned to M’gann.

She could’ve sworn M’gann was trying not to cry, and Alex stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her neck.

Alex held on tighter when she hugged her back. She took a deep breath in and let it out before letting go.

“It’s going to be fine,” M’gann said as she put a hand on Alex’s cheek, and Alex tried to smile. “Remember what J’onn said—find water and get as far away from the others as you can.”

Alex nodded. “Is everything okay with the whole Maggie thing?” she asked.

M’gann shook her head. “Don’t worry about that. You just do you and we’ll see what happens. And I want you to know that…I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.”

“Really?”

M’gann nodded. “Really. In a heartbeat.” She patted her cheek and then started to leave the room. “Good luck.”

Alex murmured her thanks and waited for J’onn to come in the room, but Winn came through the door instead.

“Hey. I don’t know if I’m allowed to be in here, but…”

Alex was so grateful he’d come in that she just closed the door behind him. “Who cares. We can’t get in trouble now.”

Winn smiled and stood there awkwardly. “So…”

Alex waited for him to continue, but before she could even register what was happening, he was hugging her and Alex went stiff with surprise for a moment before she hugged him back.

She patted his back, but he didn’t let go. Finally, Alex got out of his grip and his eyes were shining and Alex held onto both his arms.

“I’ll see you in five minutes. You run, I’ll follow. Try to aim for water.”

He already knew that, as they’d agreed to this last night, but Alex didn’t really know what else to say.

Winn nodded. “Right. Got it.”

“And remember: Never underestimate the stupidity of other people.”

Winn smiled and gave her a mock salute before J’onn opened the door and beckoned him out.

“Did you find anything?” Alex asked J’onn once they were alone.

J’onn just shook his head and changed the subject, and Alex guessed that they were being watched, being recorded.

“No matter how tempting that Cornucopia looks, I need you to get away from it. The bloodbath is not safe, and not worth it. You’ll be fine if you create as much distance between yourselves and the others as possible.”

Alex nodded and J’onn led her over to the glass case that was supposed to be taking her up to the arena when a red light came on over their heads indicating it was almost time.

“You need to do whatever it takes,” J’onn continued, “to win. Everyone else will be doing the same thing. And I need to get you home.”

“I will,” Alex said, but she wondered if she would be able to.

She stepped into the glass case and it immediately closed around her.

Her heart started pounding and J’onn was smiling at her and she was trying, she wouldn’t, start crying. Not now.

Alex pursed her lips and put her palm up to the glass. J’onn looked at it and then held his hand up against hers on the other side of the glass. Alex took a deep breath in and out.

After a couple seconds, she started moving.

She went up, up, up, and looked down one last time to see J’onn, but he’d disappeared from view.

After ten seconds, Alex’s pod stopped and a metal disk pushed her up onto a platform where she had to blink away the bright sun.

She gained a sense of her surroundings and noticed everything at once:

A plain of grass, a seemingly endless pine forest, the Cornucopia about forty yards away from her, and twenty-three other Tributes standing on individual platforms in a half circle equidistant from it.

Inside the Cornucopia, there was food, water, weapons, medicine, clothes. The more valuable the item, the farther inside the mouth it was.

Sixty seconds.

That’s how long they’d told them they were to stay still on the platforms, or else they’d get blown up.

Alex spotted Winn and he was looking around, too, but not seeming to pay attention to the Cornucopia. Which was good, because they weren’t supposed to go in for any of the supplies. But they did look tempting, Alex had to admit. Especially that orange backpack she saw Maggie looking at out of the corner of her eye.

It was quiet, only a couple of birds chirping, and then Alex suddenly whipped her head around as she heard:

“Oops.”

Boom.

The explosion rang in her ears.

With twenty seconds left on the clock, the District 8 Tribute whose name Alex remembered was Mon-el had dropped a small wooden ball onto his platform.

The mine under his feet went off and he was blown into the air from the impact.

Alex stood there, wide-eyed, as all the other Tributes stared at the spot where he had been. His platform now had bits of his body all over it and the ground.

When Alex remembered to breathe again, she felt like laughing.

What an idiot, she thought.

Well…one tribute down. Twenty-two more to go.

Alex glanced back at Winn and he stared at her, probably still trying to process what had happened. Alex just raised an eyebrow in an, ‘I told you so.’

With five seconds to go, the speaker clicked on and Caesar’s voice rang out in the arena.

“…Let the seventy-fourth Hunger Games begin!”

Chapter Text

Alex hadn’t planned on going after it.

She was going to follow Winn, who took off towards the woods, just as J’onn had told them to do countless times, as soon as the gong went off.

But the District 8 boy’s death had distracted some Tributes.

Distracted them enough that they didn’t immediately jump off their platforms as Alex had done.

There would be less competition.

She would make it before Maggie.

She had longer legs.

And that orange backpack had to have some good supplies. Its bright color would make it hard to disguise, a risk to take.

She noted which direction Winn headed.

Thirty yards.

Twenty yards.

Fifteen yards.

Alex made a split-second decision and shifted her course slightly.

She saw Maggie glance at her, as she was coming from the other direction, but that just made Alex run faster.

Alex was going right into the middle of the feast, and hopefully she wouldn’t be on the menu.

Alex jumped over a quiver of arrows—they would be useless to her—and bent down slightly to pick up a pair of socks on her way by. She stuffed the socks into her jacket pocket and had the backpack in her line of site when she let out a grunt as she was tackled from the side.

She hadn’t even seen Mxy from District 7 in her peripheral vision, instead focusing on the four Tributes heading towards her and the Cornucopia. They both went crashing onto the ground.

Alex tried to take advantage of their momentum and immediately rolled to get on top of him, to get the upper hand, but he somehow managed to pin her to the ground by her legs.

But, apparently, he hadn’t thought this through because he had no weapons to kill her with yet. Alex glanced to her side and picked up a knife within arm’s reach, stabbing it into his thigh.

She didn’t waste any time after hearing his yelp of pain to shove him off her and stand up again.

She ducked as an arrow whizzed by her head from another Tribute and looked around for the orange backpack. She saw a compass on the ground and stuffed that into her other pocket.

By now, there were about sixteen Tributes fighting over various supplies in twos and threes. Alex guessed the rest had been smart and ran into the woods. Hopefully none of them had gone in Winn’s direction.

Alex saw Max plunge a spear straight into the back of the girl from 6 and out through her stomach.

Alex then spotted a blur of orange and realized Maggie had managed to pick up the backpack and was stuffing whatever she could find in there.

Alex thought about leaving now and letting her have it. It wasn’t worth it.

But then she looked in the direction Winn had gone in and Veronica from 4 was aiming a knife at Maggie’s back, getting ready to throw it. She was standing a bit further away, probably to keep out of the thick of things and pick people off without having to be in the mess herself.

Alex had seen Veronica throw knives. She was deadly accurate with those knives, never once missing the middle of the target.

And now her target was Maggie, who had her back to her as she stuffed what looked like a canteen into the pack and then dropped it as she found herself grappling with the girl from District 10.

Time seemed to slow down.

Alex could hear her brain yelling at her, screaming at her to run, run, run, and not look back.

She could hear her heart beating against her chest.

Alex had straight shot at Maggie, she could make it before the knife hit her.

And Alex found herself sprinting, her heart pounding with every step she took.

Alex leaped when she was close enough, barreling into Maggie so they both fell to the ground. Alex heard Veronica’s knife make its mark into the chest of the District 10 girl and before Alex realized what she’d just done, she scrambled to get off of Maggie and took the strap of the backpack in her hand, swinging it over her shoulder, and ran in the direction she’d seen Winn go.

Alex looked back to make sure no one was following her, and spotted at least three Tributes dead on the ground already. The canons usually went off when the bloodbath was over, so Alex wouldn’t know for sure how many had died until they did. And she wouldn’t know exactly who had died until tonight, when they showed all the dead Tributes up in the sky.

Someone aimed an arrow at her and she hoisted the backpack up to block the back of her head, the arrow missing its mark. Thanks for the arrow, she thought. She hadn’t wanted it, didn’t have a bow to shoot it with, but she could probably use it for something.

She glanced over her shoulder again and the Careers were stabbing, spearing, and shooting at people left and right with no mercy, Veronica was now entangled with the boy from 5, and Maggie…Maggie was holding the bloody knife that had been meant for her in her hand, her eyes locked onto Alex’s, an unreadable expression on her face.

Alex turned back and focused on the forest in front of her as she finally reached the trees.

She’d wanted the backpack.

She’d done it because she wanted the backpack.

That was all.

Plus, it would probably help M’gann, who was trying to play up Alex’s feelings for Maggie.

Maggie would’ve been fine, some part of Alex knew that. She could take care of herself, she would’ve noticed the knife flying at her. But if she hadn’t, then Alex had probably just saved her life.

For the backpack.

She could practically see Winn’s smile, hear him say, “Sure…for the backpack.”

She shook her head clear of her thoughts. All that mattered was that she had it, and she was going to find Winn.

Alex had been running for five minutes in the direction Winn had gone in before she started to get worried.

She decided to slow down to catch her breath for a second. It was risky to yell for him. She hadn’t seen anyone go this way, but she wasn’t stupid enough to yell his name.

But if he was hurt, if he was…it would be her fault. She hadn’t kept good on her promise. She started jogging again.

If she yelled his name, it would only attract someone to her, not him. And it could help her find him.

“Winn,” she said, not quite shouting but still louder than necessary. “Winn.

She kept at it for a minute, constantly turning around and checking her surroundings, occasionally glancing up at the trees, before she heard:

“Well don’t walk right past me.”

Alex stopped and turned around. She turned again, and again, her heart calming down now, because that had definitely been his voice, even though she couldn’t find him.

“Up.”

Alex looked up and barely made out Winn in the tree above her.

She smiled, relieved. “Hey. Get down here.”

Winn hopped down from the tree with a tiny grunt. “Where were you?”

Alex immediately grabbed his arm and started jogging again, ignoring his question. “We’ve gotta go farther than this. Why were you up in a tree?”

“You weren’t following me, so I decided to wait for you. Where’d you get the backpack?” Winn asked once they’d developed a steady pace.

“I, um…”

“You went to the feast, didn’t you?” he asked, and Alex just glanced at him. “You know, I’m not surprised. Especially ‘cause J’onn told you not to about five hundred times. What’s in there?”

“No idea,” Alex replied. “A canteen, some other stuff. Hopefully good.”

“‘Hopefully good,’ she says, as if she didn’t just risk her life for it.”

Alex hit his arm and went a bit faster so he would get winded and hopefully not want to talk anymore. She knew Winn was happy that Alex had found him, just as she was happy she’d found him. He’d probably started to get worried as well.

They slowed their pace after ten minutes to catch their breaths, walking fast now. Or rather, hiking, as they’d reached a hill.

“So you decided to pick the brightest thing in the entire arena to take? It’s blinding, Alex.”

“We’ll cover it up with mud or something, it’ll be fine.”

“I feel like we’re a beacon right now. That backpack is screaming at the other Tributes to come kill us.”

“That means it’s worth what’s inside.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“I am. Now be quiet and keep walking.”

Another twenty minutes went by before the cannons started to go off.

Both Alex and Winn stopped for a minute, counting.

Nine.

One who blew himself up, and eight dead from the bloodbath.

They had hours to go before they’d know who, but the hover crafts would be there now, picking up the bodies as everyone had probably dispersed.

Alex started to hike again, and Winn followed after a second, neither of them saying a word.

Veronica, if she wasn’t dead, definitely had knives at her disposal, which was dangerous. Mxy from 7, if he was alive, had a pretty bad wound in his thigh. Max had arrows and spears, and Rick and his partner from 2 had probably teamed up with him.

Alex wasn’t sure about Maggie. Alex had almost no doubts she was alive, that she had supplies, even though Alex had taken the backpack. But she probably wouldn’t be with Max and the other Careers. That would mean they’d be targeting her.

That’s all Alex knew.

She told Winn all this and he just nodded. Alex could tell he was still trying to process the whole thing, all those cannons going off.

Alex was having a hard time not thinking about it as well. But she was also thinking about water, and the fact that they hadn’t found any yet.

Hours and hours went by, and the forest seemed to go on forever, but they kept going. The deaths had given them a new energy, it seemed.

A couple of rabbits hopped by, one almost scaring the shit out of the both of them as it jumped out of a bush, and the birds’ constant chirping was becoming annoying.

Once Alex started getting hungry and the sun dipped down below the tree line, Alex suggested they stop and see what was in the pack. It was getting heavy, but Alex wouldn’t let Winn take it because she didn’t want a literal target on his back.

Alex’s brain was getting a little fuzzy from the combination of the sun beating down on them, the hike, the weight of the backpack, and the fact that they had no rivers or lakes in sight yet.

They both sat down by a tree and Alex unzipped it.

Alex pulled out the arrow she’d stuffed in there, putting it to the side to figure out what she’d use it for later.

In addition to the canteen, which was empty, there was a rope, sunglasses, a bottle of iodine, one sleeping bag, a pack of crackers, another packet of dried beef strips, a coil of wire, and a box of wooden matches.

Alex smiled. Not too bad.

She wished she’d thought to grab a knife or something as a weapon, but this would keep them alive as long as they didn’t run into anybody. And Alex could defend both her and Winn if necessary without weapons, she was sure of that.

Winn immediately went for the wire and held it up in front of him to examine.

Alex licked her lips to keep them from going dry again and put all their things back in the pack, adding the pair of socks and the compass she’d grabbed after checking that they were heading South. She let Winn keep the wire to play with to distract him while they continued on in search of water. She figured they could go a little longer without food.

“I told you you’d be good for something,” Alex said teasingly. “What can you do with that?”

Winn shrugged. “I don’t know. I’d have to figure out how much voltage it can withstand first. But I don’t think there’s anything in the forest that I could connect it to in order to get a current to run through it.”

Alex looked at him as he focused on the wire, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

And then they heard a scream.

A high-pitched scream in the distance made them glance at each other, panicked.

Was it because of another Tribute? An animal? The Gamemakers usually liked to have fun with the Tributes, place beasts in the arena when it was getting a little boring. But this was the first day, the audience would be satisfied from the bloodbath.

Alex could tell the scream came from their left, which meant that they weren’t far enough away from the other Tributes yet.

“We should get up in a tree or something,” Winn suggested, starting to head for one that had low enough branches he could climb.

Alex shook her head. “We need to keep going, that way,” she said, pointing to the right.

“Alex, it’s getting dark anyway. Maybe if we sleep now we can walk before the sun comes up.”

“That’s too dangerous, we have to—”

A canon went off.

Ten Tributes dead now.

The two of them were silent again.

“It’s just as dangerous as walking around in the dark now, Alex,” Winn pointed out.

Alex swallowed and nodded. It was starting to get dark and she knew they were both exhausted. “Alright. Alright, let’s get up a tree. But not that one,” she said, instead eyeing the others.

She found one with high branches and jumped to make sure she wouldn’t have to climb very far to reach the lowest one.

“I can’t reach that.”

“I know. But we need one with high branches in case anyone finds us. I’ll boost you up,” Alex said. She then bent down and locked her fingers together.

Winn pursed his lips and hesitantly put a foot on her hand. They both counted to three and Alex lifted him. He was, not surprisingly, light, and managed to hook his arms over the lowest branch.

He started wiggling his legs back and forth and Alex fought the urge to laugh.

Finally, he grunted and pulled himself over the branch to sit on it like a saddle.

He looked down and Alex turned her head away to keep him from seeing her try not to smile.

“I’m glad that was fun for you,” Winn said in a monotone voice, but he was smiling. He started to climb higher but kept glancing down at her. “I’d like to see you try.”

Alex adjusted the backpack on her back before getting a foothold on the trunk of the tree. Then, she used that to push herself up onto the lower branch, swinging her body over it sideways.

Winn looked down at her now with wide eyes and Alex smiled at him. She heard him grumble something under his breath about “tall people” and “not fair” but he kept climbing.

He stopped at two forked branches and they both sat on them.

They were high enough above the ground now that if someone looked up, they wouldn’t be able to see them. But that also meant they couldn’t see much of the ground below.

Alex wished they had water. Every time she thought about it, her mouth got drier. They could probably last three days without it, or even less with the amount of hiking they were doing.

Alex opened the packet of beef strips and they each had one. Winn didn’t complain or comment about it, he knew they had to ration them.

Alex would probably have to go hunting tomorrow for one of those squirrels. She had no idea how to hunt, but maybe the arrow tip would be sharp enough that if she caught one she could skin it. Winn probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to help with that.

Once the sun went down, the temperature dipped dramatically and Alex knew the Gamemakers were messing with it. She felt bad for the Tributes who didn’t have anything to sleep in.

Alex unrolled the sleeping bag and laid it over the two branches. Her and Winn hadn’t said a word to each other in a while, but Alex didn’t mind much.

They both barely fit in the sleeping bag, but it kept them warm.

Alex took the rope out as well and tied them to the branches in case one of them rolled over and they fell unceremoniously out of the tree.

Just as they were getting settled in, yet another canon went off, but it was much, much quieter this time.

Eleven dead in the first day, one before the Games even technically started. Only thirteen left.

Ten minutes later, the Capitol’s theme came on and both Alex and Winn shifted so they could see the sky a bit better.

The pictures and numbers of the Tributes were projected, and they went in order and started with the boy from District 3, so Alex knew that the pairs from 1 and 2 were still alive. She was only a tiny bit relieved.

Then came the boy from 4, both from 5 and 6, Mon-el from 8, and both from 10 and 11.

That meant Veronica and Mxy were alive. Alex tried to think of the names of the others, but came up short.

“So, we know 1 and 2 are all alive. Who’s the girl from 3?” Alex asked, trying to get Winn to focus back on something and not have a far-off look in his eyes after seeing all those faces up there.

“Leslie’s from 3,” he said quietly, as if he was reciting something he’d memorized.

“And Veronica from 4. Mxy’s partner from 7 is…”

“Alana.”

Alex nodded. “Right. And the only other two I know are Jack and Beth from 9.”

“Siobhan is Mon-el’s partner from 8.”

“Okay. Is that thirteen, including us?” she said as she began to recount in her head.

“Yeah. Including us.”

Alex tried to keep talking to him, but he didn’t seem to want to give her much in terms of answers, so she gave up after a while.

“Can I ask you something?”

It had been an hour but Alex’s wandering thoughts kept her awake. She’d been worrying about which way they should head tomorrow and how they’d find water.

Alex kept her eyes on the sky as Winn finally spoke in a quiet whisper. “Sure,” Alex replied, her voice equally as quiet.

Winn moved a bit in the sleeping bag. “Why are you here, with me?” he asked, and Alex looked at him. “Why are you, um…you know, with me?”

“Winn, I already told you—”

“Yeah, I know we’re partners and all that, but…why did you want to be partners? Besides the fact that maybe you thought I had a chance at winning for whatever reason?”

Alex pursed her lips and played with the strap of the backpack she’d laid on her stomach underneath the sleeping bag cover. “I knew I could trust you, and I thought we’d make a good team,” she said simply after a moment. She looked away from him again. “And, um…I guess you remind me of her.”

She could feel Winn’s eyes on her, but she focused on a branch above them.

“Of Kara?”

Alex nodded. “You both talk too much, sometimes,” she said, a slight smile on her face. She heard Winn let out a little laugh.

“What’s she like?” he then asked.

Alex took a deep breath, wondering if she should answer his question, keep talking to him. But she was tired of it being quiet, she needed something to distract her. She wondered if the cameras were on them right now. If there was nothing else exciting going on, they probably were.

“She’s, um…she makes me laugh. And she wouldn’t hurt a fly. One time, there was a spider in our house and she insisted on taking it outside and letting it free. She loves to be outside,” Alex said, the smile not disappearing from her face. She had to be careful what she said, to keep her sister safe. “And she’s sweet. She cares a lot about a lot of things.”

There was more, so much more, that Alex could say, but it hurt a little to talk about her. Alex had only been away from her for four days, but it felt like a lifetime. It helped, having Winn, having someone with her here, but it also made her miss Kara more.

“Is that why you volunteered for her? You didn’t think she’d…come out alive?”

“Yeah. But I would’ve anyway, even if she was more than capable. She’s twelve, and she’s my sister. She would’ve teamed up with you, too.”

“We would’ve been the shortest team, for sure.”

Alex let out a laugh. “Probably. We adopted her, you know.”

Winn’s eyes widened. “From which orphanage? I don’t remember her.”

“Not from an orphanage,” Alex said with a little head shake. “She was on the streets. She was only six years old.”

Alex had practiced that story many times. That’s the one she told Vicky, the one she told anyone who asked. It was a lie, and she’d said she wouldn’t lie to Winn, but this didn’t count.

Winn was quiet for a while and Alex thought he didn’t want to talk anymore, but then he whispered, “So, she’s only been your sister for six years and you said before, to M’gann, that you couldn’t even imagine not taking her place.”

Alex nodded. “I couldn’t. It feels like she’s been in our family forever. I can’t really remember a time she wasn’t, actually. She’s…she’s my sister,” Alex then said as if that explained it.

And it did, for her.

There was a full moon in the sky and Alex looked at it as she waited for Winn to say something. She was also listening for sounds of other Tributes, but there was only the occasional chirping of crickets.

Alex turned her head when she heard a little clinking sound and Winn had pulled out a tiny wooden toy from the pocket of his jacket and was slowly turning it over and over in his hands.

“Is that your token?” Alex asked.

Winn nodded and wound up the knob on the side of it so the wings of the bird started flapping. Alex smiled.

“My dad made it for me. He gave it to me before he was imprisoned. He gave me a lot of toys like this, actually, but this is the only one I kept. It’s supposed to be a Mockingjay, I think.”

The toy bird was painted black with white under its wings. It did look like a Mockingjay—a cross between a mockingbird and a Jabberjay.

The Capitol had employed Jabberjays, mutations they’d created which could memorize messages and repeat them back, to spy on rebels from District 13 when they started planning to break away. Once the rebels had figured that out, they started sending false information and the Capitol was forced to release the birds in the wild, hoping they’d go extinct.

But they’d mated with the Mockingbird, creating Mockingjays. Mockingjays could no longer carry messages but instead mimic a wide range of human tones.

They were a mistake. They were proof that the Capitol made mistakes, which was dangerous.

Everything about Winn’s bird, though, didn’t look like a mistake. It looked beautiful, intricately crafted, perfect. It was old, but Winn had been keeping it in pristine condition.

“It’s beautiful,” Alex told him, her voice barely reaching his ears.

Winn ran a finger over it and nodded, and Alex moved her arm to touch his, to remind him that she was there, that she wasn’t going to go anywhere.

He put it back in his pocket.

“She’s lucky to have you, you know,” Winn said quietly as he closed his eyes slowly. “If…if I had a sister, I’d want her to be just like you.”

Alex stared at him, but he didn’t open his eyes. She pressed her lips together and looked up at the sky again.

This was a bad idea.

This was a really, really bad idea.

Alex sort of wished she wasn’t with Winn right now. That she hadn’t teamed up with him. It was going to make it a hundred times harder to…

But Alex didn’t want to think about that, right now. She couldn’t, with Winn pressed against her side.

She thought of being alone out here. And Winn being alone. Winn needed her, and she needed him, too, in a different way.

She’d promised him, she’d suggested being teammates, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to back out now.

Alex looked up at the stars in the sky. She wondered if they were real. She hoped they were, and that they were the same ones Kara was looking at right now. She had no doubt that Kara was awake, that Kara was on the roof of their house. She hoped Kara wasn’t watching, wouldn’t be watching if anything happened to her.

Alex didn’t know when she fell asleep, but woke up to Winn poking her shoulder at dawn, asking if he could eat another beef strip.

Alex didn’t realize how hungry she was until he asked, but she suggested they hunt instead and save the food they had for when they couldn’t hunt.

They’d been walking for a few hours, now heading Southeast according to Alex’s compass. Alex couldn’t catch a single rabbit, not that they’d necessarily want to start a fire to cook one, and the two of them were barely hanging on without food or water.

But then Alex realized that the rabbits had to drink, too. There seemed to be more and more small creatures running past them and Alex told Winn as much. Both of them increased their pace and finally, finally their boots started to sink into the ground, which had turned to mud, and they found a tiny stream of water at the bottom of the slope they’d started up the day before.

Winn wanted to drink it, but Alex told him to wait until they’d purified it, which would take about half an hour, if Alex remembered correctly. They followed the stream until it became a bit wider and Alex filled up the canteen and added a few drops of the iodine.

While they were waiting, Alex covered the backpack with mud and it sort of worked to disguise the orange color. It would have to do.

They took turns drinking their fill of water. Alex managed to spear a fish after way too many tries with the arrow and they had to eat it raw, but it tasted so good with empty stomachs that neither of them cared.

They followed the stream to where it widened into a lake, which had a lot more fish, and Alex suggested they camp out here. None of the other Tributes seemed to be there—Alex had checked the perimeter multiple times—and if they were far enough away while still being within reach of it, they’d be safe.

No one died that second day, and they didn’t run into anyone, surprisingly.

Alex knew that that meant the audience would be bored, would be looking for entertainment, and the Gamemakers would be happy to oblige. She knew this was too good to be true, that there had to be some reason they’d had a good day.

And she was right.

That night, Alex strapped them both onto a wide branch of a tree again, far away from the lake. Their canteen was full, their stomachs were mostly full, and Alex found her body more tired than ever. It was probably from the three nights of minimal sleep. She had a feeling she’d sleep well tonight, they both would.

But she was wrong.

Alex’s eyes snapped open when she heard a crunch of a tree branch on the ground below them, too close for comfort. It was still pitch black out, but that just made the voices stand out to her.

“Can you be any louder?”

“It doesn’t matter how loud I am. No one will come after us. They know better.”

Alex’s heart started beating faster as she recognized one of the voices. Max. And she would bet anything the other was Rick.

She covered Winn’s hand with her mouth to wake him up and keep him from making any noise as he did. He managed to let out a little squeak of surprise but quickly realized what was going on and stilled his body.

They looked at each other as they heard multiple people coming closer to their tree, but they didn’t dare move a muscle.

“So, any idea where your girlfriend is?” a feminine voice asked. Neither her nor Winn could remember the name of Rick’s partner from 2, but Alex would, again, bet anything that it was her.

“For the last time, she’s not my girlfriend.”

And Alex was glad she had the rope around them, glad Winn grabbed her arm tightly to keep her from falling out of the tree, because that voice was unmistakably Maggie’s.

Chapter Text

It didn’t make sense.

It made no sense.

Why would she be with them?

She’d told Alex…she’d said no. She worked alone.

But here she was.

Traipsing through the forest with them.

She thought Max was an idiot. (Well, that probably wasn’t a good argument because Alex was pretty sure everyone did.)

She didn’t ‘do well with partners.’

Or maybe it was just Alex, that she didn’t think would be a good partner.

But why would she have teamed up with them? To learn their secrets? To eventually betray them? Maybe she’d lied to Alex, pretended not to like them, not to want to be associated with them, to throw her off. That was certainly a possibility.

“Even if you don’t think she’s your girlfriend, she certainly does,” Rick said with a little laugh.

Winn covered Alex’s mouth this time as she almost let out a huff.

Alex did not think she was Maggie’s girlfriend. They were blowing this way out of proportion.

Maggie spoke again, quieter this time, “She doesn’t…you’re all idiots if you think that wasn’t just for the cameras. There’s no way she actually…”

Winn looked at Alex as the group came closer and closer to the tree.

She thought Alex was faking it. Interesting.

Good to know.

They could barely see through the branches, but suddenly Max appeared at the base of the tree next to them, the front of Maggie’s jacket in his fist as he pushed her back up against it.

Alex could feel herself want to shift slightly, but Winn grasped her arm tighter.

“I don’t care if she’s faking it or not,” Max said, a low growl to his voice. “You said you saw which way she went.”

Maggie glared at him and didn’t say a word. Alex wanted to help, wanted to tell him to get his hands off her, but she knew it wouldn’t lead to anything good.

When Maggie stayed silent, Max leaned in. “So where the hell is she?”

“Maybe she didn’t walk in a straight line,” Maggie countered. “Did you think of that possibility?”

“Yeah,” Rick’s partner said, and Alex could hear a smile in her voice, “I mean, she’s definitely not straight…”

Max shoved Maggie against the tree again, ignoring her. It was getting increasingly harder for Alex not to make any noise, but Winn’s grip on her arm reminded her that there were at least two people’s lives at stake here.

But why wasn’t Maggie fighting back?

Rick and his partner seemed to stay out of this as Max lowered his voice even more, and Alex had to strain her ears to hear what he said next.

“We only kept you alive because of her,” he said. “If you don’t know where she is, there’s no reason to have you around.” The tone in his voice hinting at what would happen if they didn’t need her anymore.

And Alex felt like shit.

This was happening because of her.

Maggie wasn’t with them by choice. Something had happened to her. Maybe they’d all ganged up on her at the Cornucopia, threatening to kill her unless she knew where Alex was.

Alex squinted and the first thing she realized was that Maggie’s jacket looked a little big on her. All the Tributes were given the same clothes, tailored to fit them, but Maggie’s jacket didn’t look her size. Did she get it from another Tribute? Had they…killed another Tribute and now Maggie was wearing their jacket?

Alex couldn’t see blood or anything indicating that Maggie was hurt. But it was also dark and Alex could barely even make out her and Max under the tree. Half of Maggie’s face was obscured by a shadow.

Alex then glanced at Winn and he shook his head sharply. Alex tried to communicate with him silently; he just shook his head again.

But this was her fault.

All of this was because of her.

Maggie was alive because of her. Not only because she’d had saved Maggie’s life, but because Max had decided to spare Maggie’s life until they found her.

They’d all turn on Maggie if she didn’t know where Alex was, if they couldn’t find her. It was three against one. Alex didn’t blame Maggie for not wanting to test those odds.

But it could be three against three.

Except for the fact that Alex and Winn had no weapons. And Maggie probably didn’t either.

Maggie pursed her lips and then spat in Max’s face. He let go of her before slowly wiping the spit off his cheek bone. Alex could feel Winn smile underneath her hand.

“She’s probably around here,” Maggie then said as if she hadn’t just done that, but there was a hint of anger in her voice. “If she’s not, she’ll be here eventually. She needs water at some point.”

Max glared at Maggie as she pushed off the tree and kept walking.

Alex craned her neck the tiniest bit, trying to discern if she was limping, if she was hurt in any way.

If she was, she was really good at hiding it.

They passed under Alex and Winn’s tree and Alex held her breath.

Her and Winn stayed utterly still, not daring to rustle even a single leaf.

She had to fix this. She had to do something about this.

Alex wanted to jump down from the tree, wanted to help, wanted to do something, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t because she had to think first. She had Winn to worry about, too.

For once, maybe she’d listen to J’onn. He was probably watching right now, worried that she’d do what she usually did. That she’d do something brash, or leap without thinking this through.

So, Alex ran the options in her mind.

She could take her chances and hope that her, Winn, and Maggie could take the other three on with no weapons.

She could stay in the tree and hope that Maggie would be able to escape them somehow, if Max didn’t kill her first.

She could go with Winn all the way to the Cornucopia, grab weapons, and hope that they got back in time before Max and his crew decided they didn’t need Maggie anymore.

A lot seemed to be riding on hope.

Alex racked her brain, telling herself to think her way out of this and come up with a plan.

Maybe…maybe Max and his team had set up camp here. Maybe they were keeping their weapons here, at the lake. They wouldn’t stray so far from the Cornucopia without weapons, Alex knew that. And if they were able to take control of it, but they still needed water, they’d bring as many weapons as they could, right?

But someone would be guarding their supplies, obviously.

So right now, they had all their weapons on hand, if there wasn’t a fifth person with them.

They’d leave someone at their campsite with the weapons when they got tired of carrying them. They would have to.

And taking on one person was better than three.

They wouldn’t leave Maggie alone to guard their stuff, she’d be gone in an instant. And they’d only leave one person, because Alex was pretty sure that the four of them weren’t splitting up for a reason. Because she was pretty sure Max thought he needed both Rick and his partner there to keep Maggie at bay. Max was so confident, so sure that Maggie wouldn’t fight back because she was outnumbered. If it was just Max and Maggie, Alex knew that Maggie would win that fight, and Max knew it, too.

Alex and Winn would have to figure out if there was a fifth, if there was someone guarding their stuff right now. If there wasn’t, then they’d have to wait and see who would be left at their campsite.

And if they couldn’t get weapons for whatever reason, or when they did get weapons, they’d have to split them up somehow.

Winn finally took his hand off of Alex’s mouth once he determined that the group was far enough away, and Alex did the same.

They didn’t dare talk, but Alex wanted to get Winn’s opinion on her plan (if she could even call it a plan yet). He was a smart kid, and they had to be smart about this.

They waited a good five minutes before Alex started whispering, her voice so quiet that she wasn’t sure Winn could hear her because she said, “We need to find their campsite.”

To which Winn responded almost a split second later with, “We need to leave.”

They stared at each other, and Alex looked at him incredulously as he seemed completely serious.

“What do you mean we need to leave?” she asked.

“I mean that we need to get the hell out of here. Now.”

“You heard Max. He’s going to kill Maggie if we don’t help her,” Alex argued, trying to keep her voice down.

“They’ll kill us, too, if we don’t leave right now.”

“But this is my fault.”

Winn shook his head. “This is not your fault, Alex. I I don’t care if you have a crush on her or—”

“This isn’t about that, Winn,” Alex said sharply. “They are going to kill her. Because of me.”

“No, they have her because of you. She’s alive because of you. They’re trying to get you to go after her. They’re using her to get to you. They would’ve killed her anyway at the Cornucopia.”

“But I…” she trailed off. Then, she took a deep breath. “No, they wouldn’t have. I…I stole the backpack from her, Winn.”

Winn just looked at her. They were both silent for a second to check if they could hear anybody. Once they’d discerned it was safe to keep talking, Winn finally asked, “What?”

“She had the backpack,” Alex said, pointing down at it, “and I…sort of took it from her. After pushing her out of the way of a knife.”

“…I’m sorry, what?” Winn asked again, a bit louder, and Alex widened her eyes before he closed his mouth again.

“Veronica from 4 had a knife, and I kind of…blocked it,” Alex continued, choosing her words carefully, “from hitting her. And then I took the backpack. She had it and she probably would’ve been fine, would’ve been far away from the Cornucopia and from Max and his crew by now if I hadn’t taken it.”

“If you hadn’t saved her life.”

Alex pursed her lips. “Well…it was going to hit her. And I wanted the backpack.”

Winn smiled and let out a breath. “So how did you wrestle it from her?”

Alex paused for a moment at the question. “I…didn’t. She dropped it and I picked it up.”

“But why didn’t you just let her die and then take it?” Winn asked as if it was an obvious question.

Alex almost laughed. And then she thought about it.

Why hadn’t she let Veronica’s knife strike Maggie and then take the backpack? Why hadn’t she just grabbed it? She hadn’t necessarily needed to push her out of the way first…

“I, um…I couldn’t,” Alex settled on saying, as Winn was regarding her with a confused expression on his face.

“You couldn’t.”

“No. Because…I saw the knife and I had the chance to…save her. So I did. I couldn’t not save her.”

“Because then you would’ve felt guilty that you had a chance to save her and you didn’t. And her dying would’ve been your fault,” Winn said after a moment, and Alex stayed silent.

It was true. All of it he was saying was true, somehow.

“Alex…” Winn started up again, “Sometimes things just happen and it’s not always necessarily your fault.”

“But…I…Can we figure out how we’re going to get Max’s crew’s weapons, please?” Alex asked, not wanting to talk about that any more. What happened, happened. There was no use discussing it. They had more important things to worry about. “They’re probably camped out by the lake and someone’s guarding their stuff.”

Winn didn’t answer and sat there for a minute while Alex rummaged through the backpack.

She pulled out the box of wooden matches and started to untie them from the tree. They wouldn’t be able to get any more sleep tonight, Alex knew that. It was too risky, and they had to help Maggie.

They needed to.

“First, we need to go back to the lake and find their stuff, assess what they have and who’s there. Then we’ll start a fire or something to get their attention. Split them up. Does that sound okay to you?” Alex whispered as she took the compass out of her jacket pocket and fished through the bag. “Why the hell would they give us sunglasses? These things are useless,” she muttered to herself. She then stuffed the sleeping bag and rope back in.

“But if they’re here, then everyone else is probably here, too. We all need water,” Winn argued. “And this seems to be the only source that anyone’s found so far.”

“Then we have to be out of here by the time they all come. Which means we need to go. Now,” Alex pointed out.

“We don’t even have a plan, though.”

“Were you not listening? I told you the plan. We need to find their campsite—”

“And then what? Take on someone twice my size with no weapons?”

“I’ll be there, too. If you don’t want to come, then don’t. But I could really use your help.”

“Can’t we just leave?” Winn asked, exasperation in his voice.

Alex stopped what she was doing abruptly and turned her head to him. “No, Winn. We can’t. I can’t, okay?” Alex said sharply. “This isn’t about Maggie. Well, it is, but…this is about someone being in a situation they don’t want to be in, and if we can help them get out of it, then we should. And we can get some weapons in the process. I…I hate being stuck like this, vulnerable with no weapons, wondering how we’re going to survive against those who do. We need weapons, and they have some. And we need to help her. If you don’t want to, then fine, I’ll go myself. But I’m going either way.” She slung the backpack strap over her shoulder, positioning herself to start climbing down the tree. “Are you with me or not?” she then asked.

Winn pursed his lips and stared at her.

Alex needed his help. She could probably pull this off herself, but it would be a lot easier if he was with her. And she didn’t want to leave him, didn’t want him to leave her either, but she had a feeling he wouldn’t.

Which is why she smiled when he let out a sigh and a simple, quiet, “Fine.”

“Okay. Great. Can you think of anyone else they would’ve teamed up with? Anyone they would’ve left at the campsite?” she asked as she started down the tree first, careful only to step on wide branches and not any that would break.

“Well, I would say Veronica just ‘cause she’s scary and could probably be a Career, but…they wouldn’t leave her with their stuff. She wouldn’t let them,” Winn started to say, and his voice got quieter as he concentrated and Alex could tell he was going through all the Tributes in his head, assessing each one. Alex knew he’d watched them carefully during training and, thankfully, it was coming in handy.

“How about Leslie?”

Alex glanced up and Winn shook his head. “If Leslie was there, Siobhan would be, too. They were talking during training, probably making an alliance. I don’t know if they’re still together in here, but I wouldn’t say either of them. That leaves Alana, Mxy, Jack, and Beth.”

“Jack and Beth are smart, they probably distanced themselves at first chance,” Alex said.

Alex hopped down from the last branch and immediately pressed her back against the tree trunk, waiting for Winn to follow her.

“Yeah,” Winn agreed. “Only the smart one’s immediately ran into the woods,” he added with a smirk as he slowly lowered himself so he was almost touching the ground. Alex rolled her eyes and he let go of the branch and landed a bit better than Alex did. “I would guess Mxy. Just ‘cause you cut his thigh and they probably kept him alive if he agreed to watch their stuff. They seem to be fond of doing things like that.”

Alex nodded. Winn was most likely right.

Max had some kind of game plan, keeping Tributes alive for his own benefit until he didn’t need them anymore. It wasn’t a completely stupid plan—he had Maggie and probably Mxy trapped with him for as long as he wanted.

Alex glanced at the compass again to check that they were heading back to the lake. They went the opposite way of Max and his crew and Maggie just in case, which was a bit longer, but they didn’t want to risk running into them.

Alex’s watch told her it was half past 3AM and she wondered if she would ever get a full night’s sleep again. She could definitely use one.

Her and Winn made sure they weren’t making too much noise the closer they got to the lake. Alex constantly checked their surroundings, squinting through the darkness, but still felt like the both of them were pretty susceptible to an attack. She didn’t like the feeling. She’d feel much better with a knife or something in her hand.

As far as she knew, J’onn couldn’t send her weapons of any kind through the sponsors. Usually it was medicine or food. He hadn’t sent either of them anything so far, so Alex took that as a sign that he at least thought they were doing well without his help.

Once the ground started to become damp, Alex stopped them and poked her head around to see the lake.

Most of it was obscured by thin trees, but she could see a tent.

They had a tent. A freaking tent. It wasn’t big, nor would it be very useful to camouflage their location, but it was a tent.

Alex didn’t want to speak lest anyone hear her, but she also couldn’t see anyone at the tent.

“Can you go a bit closer?” she whispered to Winn.

“Why me?” Winn asked.

“Because you’re smaller and I have this backpack. You make less noise than I do. Just a bit closer, to see if anyone’s there,” Alex explained.

“Okay, fine,” Winn said as he went around the tree they were hiding behind and darted between trees, always making sure to keep out of sight.

Alex poked her head out again and immediately pulled it back as she spotted none other than Mxy hanging out around their tent on the other side of the lake.

Winn was right.

She turned to the other side to see Winn stopped, looking at her in question.

Alex pointed to her eyes and then gestured with her hand to him and then hooked her fingers.

Winn furrowed his brow and seemed very confused. “What?” he mouthed.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Look around the tree,” she then mouthed back as she did the gesture again.

J’onn had taught her hand signals and she forgot that Winn might not know them, but she thought that one was pretty obvious anyway.

Winn’s eyes widened, and his mouth made an ‘o’ before he gave her a thumbs-up and Alex shook her head at him, trying not to smile.

Winn peeked around a little too long before looking back at her. “Mxy,” he mouthed, and Alex nodded. Winn pointed to his own thigh and then made a speaking gesture with his hand, which Alex understood to mean that Mxy was still hurt, and that he was talking to somebody.

Two people? Alex thought. Who was Mxy talking to? Was the group already back at the lake? If they weren’t, then who else would be there?

Alex looked again and couldn’t see a second person, and then she turned to Winn.

Winn shook his head, made the gesture again, and pointed to his chest.

Alex was a bit confused, as it seemed like Winn was trying to tell her that Mxy was talking to himself. Winn just raised his eyebrows and nodded at her.

“Seriously?” she mouthed.

Winn shrugged.

Huh. Mxy was talking to himself. Alright.

As long as there wasn’t anyone else there with him, Alex didn’t mind that he was. It was a bit weird, but she wasn’t going to question it right now.

Alex beckoned Winn back to her.

Their plan ended up being for Alex to go around the left side of the lake and Winn would go on the right. He was to distract him while Alex grabbed some stuff. They’d figure out how to get Maggie after, depending on how well this went.

It looked like Mxy was doing a pretty good job of distracting himself at the moment, Alex thought as she reached the halfway point and checked to make sure she could still see Winn walking on the other side of the lake. Mxy was hobbling around the tent, his leg still badly injured, and was, indeed, mumbling nonstop about incoherent things that Alex could barely hear.

He had a knife in his hand and Alex wondered if he knew how to throw it with accuracy. She looked around the tent and they’d gathered a shit ton of supplies. There were at least three of them they’d let carry everything, so Alex shouldn’t have been surprised.

She counted five knives, one quiver of arrows and no bow, three spears, and an axe. A basket of food, a lit lantern, a couple bottles of water, a rope, and cooking equipment were laying on a sack.

So they were definitely staying here for a while and not going back to the Cornucopia since they’d basically brought everything they could with them.

And then she noticed something else.

Mxy wasn’t talking to himself. He was carrying a walkie-talkie.

Alex cursed under her breath.

They had a walkie-talkie? At least two walkie-talkies? Alex had not counted on that. Mxy could communicate with them.

Alex walked slower towards him, trying to think of how she was going to tell Winn he had one and also figure out how to get it away from him.

Mxy held it out in front of him and looked at it curiously. It seemed as though Max wasn’t answering whatever Mxy was trying to tell him. But what would Mxy have to tell him?

Nothing, she guessed. Mxy kept talking into it, and Max had probably turned his off. This guy didn’t seem to want to shut up, apparently.

“…I’ve been recounting our supplies and I think we have enough food for all of us for six days if we ration it and if someone could use the spear or something for the fish and then the arrows for the animals. Oh, you know that animal we saw yesterday? That was a rabbit, wasn’t it? And the axe, yes…the axe would be good for wood if we need a fire but wouldn’t the fire let off smoke? I think the other Tributes would notice and that would be bad.”

Alex almost started laughing. He seemed to be having a conversation with himself. But then she spotted Winn at the other side of the lake and caught his eye. She made a ‘cut it out’ gesture with her hand towards her throat and Winn seemed confused. She needed a minute to think, but Mxy started up again.

“You know, we could also use—”

“Goddammit, Mxy, will you shut the hell up for one second?”

Alex bristled and pressed herself against the tree. It seemed as though Max was listening, and he’d finally decided to answer.

Mxy clicked on his walkie-talkie again. “Oh, I didn’t know you were listening because you weren’t saying anything back. I know I told you before that I prefer you to call me Mxyzptlk but maybe you didn’t hear me or something?” Mxy continued. “Did you hear what I said about—”

“Yeah, I heard, Mxy. And I’m not calling you whatever sound just came out of your mouth. Are you still alone? We’re coming back soon.”

Alex knew Winn had heard that, too, as his eyes widened. Think, think, think. She had to think. And quickly.

“Yes, I’m alone, although I’m not really sure if it’s such a good idea to—”

“I don’t care. As long as you’re alone. We’re on our way back. And don’t answer. I don’t need your answer. Stay there. We’re coming.”

The walkie-talkie clicked off and Mxy stared at it before putting it back in his pants pocket.

Winn was looking at her expectantly and Alex was about to give him the signal before a tree branch snapped under his foot and Mxy whipped his head around.

He started to reach for his back pocket and Winn quickly stepped out from behind the tree with his hands up.

Alex clenched her jaw. This wasn’t exactly what they’d planned, but Winn was preventing him from using the walkie-talkie. Mxy’s hand hesitated as the two of them stared each other down.

“Who are you?” Mxy asked, his other hand tightening around the knife.

Alex didn’t like this. She didn’t like Winn facing Mxy with no weapons. Winn’s greatest weapon was running, and if Mxy knew how to throw knives…

“Winn. District 12. I-I just need some…food. Please,” he said, his voice quiet. He hunched his shoulders a bit more and glanced in Alex’s direction for a split second, but stayed put.

Mxy stepped towards him and Winn kept his feet planted where they were so that Mxy would come closer.

“You need food,” Mxy clarified, and Winn nodded. “And we have food. But…why should I give you any?”

“Because…I…I can, uh…” Winn started to say, but he faltered. “I have some, uh…”

Alex needed Mxy to get a bit farther away from the tent so she could grab a knife, but Winn…Winn was a terrible liar.

“I have a knife. Do you have a knife?” Mxy then asked. Winn shook his head. “No, you don’t. So…I should probably kill you, right?”

“Uh…no?” Winn said, the upward inflection making it sound like a question.

Mxy tilted his head. “No? Why not?”

What the hell was happening? Why wasn’t Mxy calling for backup? Did he really just want to talk to somebody that badly?

“Well, because…I don’t want you to. And I don’t think you want to either. You should probably wait until he gets back. They get back.”

Mxy was closing the space between them slowly and Winn was shifting his gaze between the knife and Mxy and his feet seemed to want to start moving, to start running, but he stayed put.

“And why should I wait?”

Winn gulped. “I-I just think that Max might be mad. I mean, he probably wants to kill me himself.”

Somehow, this was working. Alex crept closer to the tent and was being extra careful to step around everything that might make any noise, which proved harder than she thought. She held her breath every time she put her foot down. She could see the knives, she only needed a few more steps until…

“But I’m the one here, now. And…I think that you should be my kill,” Mxy said. “Because I saw you first. You’re…you’re mine, sort of. You know what I mean?” he paused. “I don’t want to let Max have you. No, no, no. That just won’t do, now will it?”

Winn’s face started to get pale as he looked like he was frantically trying to think of how to respond. Alex couldn’t see Mxy’s face but she had a feeling he was smiling, and not in a nice way.

And Alex just said screw it—this was the closest she was gonna get—and pushed off the tree, running for the weapons.

By the time Mxy spun around towards her, Alex was reaching for a knife but didn’t get a chance to throw it because Winn jumped on top of Mxy and managed to pin him to the ground.

The walkie-talkie fell out of his pocket and Mxy stretched his arm out for it, but Winn pulled him back and got it himself. Winn threw it to the side towards the lake, probably hoping to land it in the water and render it useless, but it only hit the pebbles by the shore.

Mxy twisted and flipped them over easily as he was much bigger so he was now holding the knife inches away from Winn’s face.

Alex knew she should’ve kept finding stuff to put in the backpack, but she abandoned her search as she turned towards the two boys on the ground.

“Hey!” she exclaimed. Mxy faltered for a second and kept Winn beneath him as he glanced over his shoulder. “Get off of him.”

Alex pulled Mxy by his jacket off of Winn and slammed him onto the ground. Winn backed up and Alex stood over Mxy. Mxy dropped his knife, and Alex had one of her own now, but she put a knee onto his thigh where she knew she’d stabbed him earlier, and he hissed through his teeth.

“Alex,” Winn said, but Alex just focused on Mxy on the ground beneath her.

Her hand didn’t seem to want to move, didn’t seem to want to stab the knife into Mxy’s stomach, or his chest, or anywhere that would fatally wound him.

She could, easily.

But Mxy was looking up at her, fear in his expression, and some sort of acceptance that he knew he was about to die.

Alex swallowed as her mouth went dry.

He looked to be sixteen years old, and Alex blinked and shook her head, reminding herself where she was, what she should do, what she had to do.

He couldn’t fight back. It would be so easy.

“Alex,” she heard Winn say, but it sounded far away. “We need to get out of here.”

But if she did, the canon would go off and Max would be here even quicker. She needed to give her and Winn time to run.

And the thought of killing him…

“Grab a knife and let’s go,” she said sternly, still staring at Mxy, and when Winn didn’t move, she added, “Hurry.”

Mxy smiled as he realized that Alex was not going to kill him, but Alex pressed down harder on his thigh to reopen the wound he’d sloppily stitched so he couldn’t run after them.

Alex stood up, grabbing a loaf of bread from Winn but letting him keep a knife as they ran.

They ran by the lake but kept in the trees, and Alex glanced over her shoulder to see Mxy struggling to stand up again. He inched towards the walkie-talkie slowly, his hand pressed over his thigh.

The walkie-talkie.

Shit, Alex thought. She should’ve grabbed it. Why hadn’t she grabbed it? Better yet, why hadn’t she killed him?

Her and Winn now had two knives and a loaf of bread to add to their own supplies, but it was still basically nothing compared to what the Careers had.

They made it all the way to the other side of the lake before Max came bursting through the trees, a bow and some arrows slung on his back, as Mxy had been able to communicate with him using the radio.

Alex grabbed Winn’s arm and stopped him. They were hidden and breathing hard, but Alex tried to slow her heartrate so as to not make much noise.

She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but her eyes were on Maggie as Rick and his partner were holding both her arms, one on each side of her, as they followed Max.

The lantern lit them up in the darkness and Alex could now see a huge gash above Maggie’s right eyebrow that wasn’t bleeding. She seemed to be looking around and at the ground, and Alex wondered what she was trying to do, because it definitely looked like she was figuring something out.

Max strode right up to Mxy, who was kneeling on the ground by the lake, and grabbed the collar of his jacket.

Mxy’s mouth started moving rapidly as he was no doubt trying to explain what had happened, but it seemed as though Max didn’t want to hear any of it. Max glanced towards the trees a little to the left of where Alex and Winn were, and Winn started pulling on Alex’s arm, no doubt trying to get her to keep running again, but Alex wanted to stay, wanted to see what would happen. If he would go after them or not.

And as Max focused on Mxy and started to choke him to get him to stop talking, that’s when Maggie made her move.

She shoved her shoulder into Rick’s partner’s side and twisted so her arm bent at a weird angle. And before Rick could figure out what was going on, she swung her leg out and kicked at his knee, dropping her weight and pulling him down onto the ground with her.

Alex glanced at Mxy and his face was going purple as Max wouldn’t let go of his throat or let his hand off of his mouth, and Maggie picked up the knife Mxy had dropped on the ground and threw it at Max. It hit his right shoulder blade as she hadn’t had a good grip on it, but she just turned around and kneed Rick in the crotch. She then took Rick’s partner’s knife from her belt, picked up the axe, and backed up.

Rick was still on the ground but his partner managed to stand up. Maggie held the knife out towards her in warning not to come any closer, and Rick’s partner felt around for something to attack her with, but she had nothing. Maggie started talking and Alex barely heard Max yell, the knife still sticking out of his body. Alex didn’t know what he’d yelled, but Maggie took that as a sign to start running.

And she did.

She turned around and ran in the opposite direction, the knife in her left hand and the axe in her right. Rick’s partner ran after her, as Alex guessed Max had just told her to do.

So Maggie hadn’t needed her help after all. Alex had to admit that she was pretty impressed, watching Maggie do that.

Alex felt her arm being yanked, and she turned away and reluctantly followed Winn as he kept ahold of it and they started running again.

“Winn,” Alex breathed, and ducked as she almost hit a tree branch.

“She’s fine, Alex. She’s fine. You saw her. She’s got a knife and an axe. Rick’s partner doesn’t stand a chance. We have to go,” Winn said quickly, sharp breaths punctuating each sentence.

He was right. Maggie was fine, she’d be fine. But Alex wondered whether they should be running towards her instead.

And then a canon went off.

It was probably Mxy, Alex thought. It had to be. Max had to have completed the job. He wouldn’t have hesitated, like Alex did.

Why had she hesitated? Why had she let him go?

“I couldn’t do it,” she whispered after it was silent for a moment, and Winn glanced back at her as he dodged another tree. “Why couldn’t I do it?”

Winn pursed his lips and look ahead of him again. “Don’t worry about that right now, okay? It doesn’t matter. Max probably just killed him anyway.”

Then, his steps slowed as he seemed to realize something.

“Alex—”

An arrow whizzed by them and stuck into a tree.

Alex’s eyes widened and she pushed Winn to get him to keep going. Max was after them. He was the one with the arrows.

Or, wait. It was Rick. It had to be Rick. Max’s shoulder was hurt, he couldn’t shoot an arrow.

Alex took a sharp right and made sure Winn was following her, and she started zigzagging through the trees to keep Rick from having a straight shot at them.

But suddenly, Winn yelled and tripped over a root sticking out of the ground as one of the arrows stuck into the back of his arm.

Alex skidded to a stop and went around to his other side, pulling him up again and asking if he was alright while trying to get him to keep running. She took the knife from him and stuck it in her belt.

Winn grimaced and kept nodding that he was okay, but Alex didn’t really believe him. She didn’t want to take the arrow out until she had a way to stop the bleeding, and they had to keep going. Winn couldn’t climb a tree right now.

Their steps were uneven as they sprinted through the forest, trying to ignore the half dozen arrows that missed them.

“Alex…”

“Just focus on breathing, and not tripping, and running, Winn,” Alex managed to get out.

“Are we…are we going towards the Cornucopia?”

Alex turned her head but kept their pace up. “Um…I-I don’t know.”

“Can you check?”

“Not right now. We need to keep going, as far away from them as possible. I can check once we’re safe.”

“Okay. I was just thinking…before…”

Alex looked back at him again. “Why do we need to go back to the Cornucopia?”

“Well, you said…you said that…” he started to move his hand towards the arrow in his arm, but Alex shook her head to keep him from touching it. “They can’t survive when they don’t have all that stuff, right? The Careers?”

“Yeah. They probably don’t know how to.”

Winn took a deep breath and his eyes locked onto Alex’s.

“And we still have the wire?” he asked, and Alex nodded. It was silent as he caught his breath again and then he continued, “I think I know a way to destroy all their supplies.”

Alex furrowed her brow. “Wh—…How?”

“The mines,” Winn said, a smile on his face. “I can reactivate the mines.”

Chapter Text

“Just a little further, Winn, c’mon,” Alex coaxed as she led them through the forest.

She didn’t like having Winn behind her, but she made sure to stick as close to his side as possible.

Alex wondered how many arrows Rick had. But at least it was a far-range weapon. If he managed to get close to them, Alex had something better to fight him with.

Alex’s heart was racing to keep up with their pace, which was still pretty fast considering Winn was hurt.

She was slightly relieved that there seemed to be more and more time between each arrow, as if he was trying to make each count.

But they kept coming.

Would Rick still run after them if he used them all up? He must’ve heard Winn yell, he’d know he had hit one of them, which would make him much more likely to continue pursuing them even when he didn’t have any more.

But there were two of them and one of him.

Alex slowed down slightly and glanced at Winn’s arm, which still had the arrow sticking out of it as they hadn’t had time to stop, and the blood stain on his jacket was becoming bigger.

She knew exactly how to treat it, how to get it to stop bleeding, but she needed to look it over first. They needed to slow down, stop, rest, but they couldn’t.

They both needed water, needed to get up a tree, needed sleep…and now needed to get to the Cornucopia, too, it seemed.

Alex had no clue if Winn’s idea to reactivate the mines from the platforms they’d stood on before the Games started would work.

How would he do that? Was he even allowed to?

It was probably unprecedented; the Gamemakers wouldn’t have guessed a kid could reactivate them and use them to their advantage.

But if any kid could, it was probably Winn.

Alex had watched him when he worked with the wiring at City Hall. That seemed like so long ago, now. If the mines were made up of wiring or had some kind of programming, then Winn could probably do it as long as he didn’t need some special Capitol tech to make them work.

And then her and Winn would be able to blow up the Career’s supplies. If they could somehow transport the mines back to the lake.

Mxy had said the Careers would last six days. But with both him and Maggie gone, the supplies would last even longer for the three left standing. Max, Rick, and his partner would be guaranteed food and shelter for at least two weeks if they learned, or were forced, to ration.

No one would come near them. No one would brave getting water from the lake. Which would mean that everyone who didn’t have water already, or didn’t find another water source, would be dead within a week.

So not only would it put the Careers at a disadvantage if her and Winn made their campsite go up in a puff of smoke, but it would benefit everyone else, too.

Alex hadn’t realized she’d been in her head until Winn was tugging on her arm.

“…think he stopped,” she heard Winn say, his pace slowing down a bit. “I don’t think he’s after us anymore.”

Alex shook her head and glanced behind her before pulling on Winn’s unhurt arm to get him to keep going.

“We need to be a hundred percent sure.”

“Can we climb a tree or something?” Winn asked, his voice quiet, his breaths loud.

“You can’t climb right now. Can you even move your arm?”

Winn grimaced as he tried to lift his arm up over his head, and Alex gently moved it back towards his side.

“I can climb one-handed.”

Alex let out a laugh. “Yeah, as much as I’d like to see that, I don’t want to try it. I’d feel much better if we’re as far away from him as possible before attempting anything.”

“But we can’t camp out on the ground. I don’t want to.”

Alex pursed her lips. She agreed. It was wildly unsafe to do so, but they might be forced to.

“We’ll figure something out, don’t worry,” Alex reassured him.

You can sleep in a tree tonight, you know. I’d be fine leaning up against it. I’m definitely tired enough.”

Alex shook her head. “You’re not sleeping down on the ground alone. We can take shifts.”

Winn looked at her. He knew she was exhausted, would be much safer above ground, would be much farther away, would probably be faring a lot better without him. He was making it more difficult, making her have to slow down to stay beside him. She’d be better off right now without him.

Alex could practically see all these thoughts running through his brain.

He opened his mouth, probably to voice them, but Alex spoke first.

“If I was going to leave you, I would have already. You’re stuck with me, remember?”

Winn pursed his lips, but couldn’t seem to bring himself to argue.

It took another twenty minutes before the forest became quiet again. As they kept walking, only the sounds of their feet hitting the forest floor could be heard.

The sun was starting to come up, but Alex finally sat Winn down by a tree and he looked like he could drift off any moment. Rick must’ve gotten called back to base camp for whatever reason, as it didn’t seem like he was after them anymore.

The first thing Alex did was break off half the arrow so it wasn’t sticking so far out his arm, which caused Winn to clench his teeth and lean his head back against the tree.

She then took the backpack off and rummaged through it for the extra pair of socks she’d grabbed.

The leg of the sock was long, and she put one of them on top of the backpack before turning to Winn again.

“This is gonna hurt, Winn, but I have to take out the arrow now and make sure it’s not infected.”

Winn just nodded and shifted as if he was bracing himself.

Alex took a deep breath as she placed her hand on his arm over his jacket—she couldn’t take it off yet—and grabbed the arrow shaft in her other.

She counted to three and bit her tongue between her teeth, which she tended to do when she was concentrating, and then pulled it out as slowly and carefully as she could, but Winn started to squirm and let out a string of curses Alex thought J’onn would’ve very much liked to reprimand him for.

The arrow hadn’t cut him to the bone, thankfully, but the wound was still pretty deep and had punctured a vein. The blood started to come out even faster and Alex quickly splashed some of their water on it after determining that it wasn’t infected, which caused Winn to hiss, before she dried it and double-knotted the sock around his arm.

She didn’t have any disinfectant, so they’d just have to hope it would be fine. She couldn’t look around for the plant she knew would ease his pain and besides, if it got infected, J’onn would send them something for it.

Alex handed Winn the canteen and told him to drink some, and when he hadn’t drunk enough, to drink more, and gave him some of the crackers.

By the time Alex had the canteen back in her hands, it was about two-thirds full, but Winn needed the water more than she did right now. He needed to keep his strength up and not get light-headed or even pass out from the combination of blood loss, dehydration, hunger, and lack of sleep.

Which was why she let him sleep as she could feel her eyelids start to droop. She leaned back against the base of the trunk of the tree next to Winn and made sure she wasn’t too comfortable so she would stay awake.

She had a knife in each hand, the backpack beside her, and was watching for any sign of danger.

The only sounds she could hear were birds chirping as the forest seemed to wake up.

She thought about moving to the tree a couple feet over to face the other way and make sure that part of the forest was still clear, too, but Winn’s head fell onto her shoulder and she didn’t really feel like getting up and disturbing his peace.

Alex woke up Winn four hours later when she didn’t think she could handle staying awake, listening to his deep, even breathing a minute longer. They needed to get on the move, anyway.

She rotated his sock bandage to a part with no blood on it and tried to pull him to his feet, but he just sat there.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You need sleep, too.”

Alex waved him off. “I’m fine, Winn. I can last until tonight. And we were going East, so it’ll take us a little longer to find the Cornucopia.”

They needed to head Northwest to make it over that hill again and back to what Alex figured was the center of the arena.

“You’re running on, what, five hours of sleep? I can’t have you passing out on me, Alex. Have you even eaten anything?”

“I ate half a cracker,” Alex said quietly, and Winn gave her a look. She reluctantly sighed and swung the backpack off her shoulder to unzip it. “Fine. I’ll eat one of the beef strips.”

“And drink water.”

“But we need to ration it.”

“Just a little, Alex, please. Or else I’ll have no choice but to be very, very difficult.” He raised his eyebrows and would’ve crossed his arms, but the wound hurt too much.

Alex had no doubts about how difficult Winn could be if he put his mind to it. And he was already difficult enough…

Alex stuffed a beef strip in her mouth and took a swallow of the water, putting everything in the backpack again. “There. Happy?”

“Very,” Winn said, a smug smile on his face as he stood up by himself, although he was a bit wobbly. “Now let’s go blow some shit up.”

------

“So…do you wanna talk about it?”

Her and Winn had been walking for a day and a half and miraculously hadn’t run into anybody. It was the middle of the afternoon and they’d both slept a bit before continuing on once Alex had determined that they were far enough away from any other person and thought she actually really needed some sleep.

Winn was sweating, probably from walking all day, but Alex was willing to wait another hour or so before giving him more water as their supply was rapidly diminishing.

She didn’t know where they’d fill the canteen up. They didn’t have much left as Winn seemed to need more and more, so they’d have to get back to the lake sooner than later. Hopefully with the mines in hand.

Mxy’s face had shown up in the sky, but there hadn’t been any deaths the night before. And neither of them had heard one go off the entire day either.

“Talk about what?” Alex asked, although she had a tiny feeling what he was referring to.

“You know…Mxy. And you. You couldn’t…”

Alex looked down at her boots and the forest floor, staying silent for a moment. Then, she finished his sentence for him, “Kill him.”

“Right,” Winn said, not elaborating but instead waiting for her to speak.

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. I just…I was going to. I-I thought I was. When he was standing over you like that, with the knife…if he had hurt you…” She stopped and closed her mouth, sticking her hands in her pockets.

She saw Winn looking at her out of the corner of her eye, but didn’t meet his gaze.

She’d had a lot of time to think about it. She’d thought about how if Mxy had managed to hurt Winn in any way, with the knife or not, she’d have retaliated. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t really done anything wrong, besides being her enemy.

It wasn’t even Alex’s choice to make him her enemy. The Capital made him her enemy. She had no other reason to hate him, to want to kill him, other than to save herself and ensure that she’d have a better chance at winning.

She’d looked down at him on the ground, hopeless, defenseless, and she couldn’t bring herself to do it, in that moment.

She’d beaten boys up in school for taunting Kara. She’d wanted to hurt them, to make them realize how much they had hurt other people, but Mxy wasn’t like those boys. Actually, he very well could’ve been. She didn’t know. He could’ve been a horrible person, or…he could be a kid with a family and friends who wanted to see him come home. And she didn’t want to take that away from him. She couldn’t. She had no reason, no good reason, to kill him other than to maybe benefit herself.

But she was also a bit frustrated.

Winn hadn’t said anything and Alex continued with a light, exasperated laugh. “I mean, we’re in the Games. We’re supposed to kill each other. We’re supposed to kill each other to make it home alive. I know that. I…I should’ve been able to,” Alex said sternly.

She was angry at herself for not doing it, for some reason. But she also thought she’d be even angrier at herself if she had.

Her thoughts were all over the place, contradicting each other. All she knew was that in that moment, she hadn’t. And she wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad in the grand scheme of things.

“If you had, I wouldn’t think any less of you, you know that, right?” Winn said quietly. Alex finally looked at him, and he continued, “Like you just said, we have to. I don’t know if I would be able to kill anyone if I had the chance, but if you had, I would’ve understood.”

“But I would be a murderer, Winn. It doesn’t matter if I wouldn’t get jailed for it. I would have killed a person, a human being.”

“To save yourself. To make it home alive,” Winn argued.

Alex shook her head. It wasn’t okay to kill someone just to save herself. That wouldn’t have made her do it, wouldn’t have been enough.

To protect Winn, though?

Maybe she would’ve. She had a feeling she would’ve, which scared her.

Because he deserved to know that he had someone who would fight for him. Alex wanted him to know that she would fight for him. She had a feeling that no one had ever made him feel cared for before, and she, for some reason, was determined to be that person for him. She didn’t want to think about it, but if these were his last days…she wanted to show him what it was like to have someone who wouldn’t leave him, who wouldn’t use him and drop him immediately when they didn’t need him anymore, who wouldn’t abandon him as soon as he became a burden.

He’d had enough of that.

“If he had hurt you,” Alex said, and swallowed before she finished her sentence from earlier, “I think I would have. I can’t…I can’t actually imagine what I would do if someone hurt you, or…or...” killed you her brain finished what she couldn’t seem to speak out loud. She took a deep breath. “I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it. Does that…make me a bad person?”

This time, Winn turned his head away from her. It was silent for so long that Alex assumed he was going to drop the conversation until he eventually lifted his head and whispered, “No, I guess not. But…why? Why would you, um…do that? For me?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess—despite my better judgement—I…sort of like you. I think you’re kind of smart,” she admitted with a smirk.

“Kind of?” Winn said, a smile finally gracing his features. “What you mean ‘kind of’? I’m a genius.”

Alex shook her head in amusement.

Just then, Winn winced and squeezed his eyes shut.

Alex immediately stopped them and turned him to face her. “Winn? You okay?”

Winn opened his eyes again and his mouth to say something but nothing seemed to come out. His forehead was shiny, and Alex noticed that his lips were really dry.

Alex led him over to a tree and sat him down, now frantically trying to figure out what could be wrong. He’d eaten, he’d drank water, he’d slept, they’d been walking at a normal pace for hours on end, but something was happening.

“Arm,” Winn croaked out before his breaths came out sharper.

Alex quickly undid the sock knotted around his wound and noticed the skin around it was turning green.

“Shit,” she muttered. It had been fine yesterday, fine that morning, and now there still wasn’t any blood coming out of it, but the cut had turned brown.

A poisoned arrow. It had to be. That’s why Rick hadn’t pursued them any further. Maybe he’d kept shooting to see if he could get Alex, too, but he must’ve left thinking that hitting one of them was good enough.

It was certainly slow-acting, designed to make the victim not aware of the symptoms until the poison had spread throughout the blood stream. And it was certainly spreading. Fast.

Winn lowered his head and groaned, clenching his fist. Alex got out the canteen and shoved it in his other hand, demanding that he drink. They didn’t have much left and he resisted, but Alex pushed it towards him again and looked up at the sky.

“J’onn, if you’re ever going to send us anything,” she said, her voice curt, “now would be the time.”

Maybe J’onn was being smart and saving the sponsors’ money for when they really needed something. And they certainly really needed something now.

Nothing came, and Alex looked back up and continued.

“His skin’s turning green and the cut is brown,” she explained as she shook her head. “I-I don’t know what kind of poison it is, or what to do. Please.”

She was a bit frustrated that all the medical training her mother had put her through wasn’t doing any good. She thought she’d seen it all, treated hundreds of different types of ailments, but poison rarely made that list. And maybe J’onn wasn’t sending anything because he didn’t know exactly what antidote to give them.

As Alex focused back on Winn, a parachute with a small silver package the size of an apple finally floated down and landed on the ground next to her.

Alex reached her arm out for it and quickly screwed the lid off. Inside was a tiny vial of clear liquid that she uncorked and put up the Winn’s lips, tilting it upward for him to be able to drink.

Alex assumed it tasted horrible, because she had to cover his mouth with her hand when he grimaced and tried to spit it back up.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” she pleaded quietly, and she realized her heart was beating faster. She remembered to look around, to check if anyone was coming, and it took another minute, but Winn finally started to breathe normally again, and she sat back on her heels.

He licked his lips and Alex checked his arm again. His skin was still tinted green around the wound and she could see his veins. It would probably go away, and at least he was okay for now.

“Don’t…don’t scare me like that, Winn,” Alex said, letting out a breath. She didn’t want to tell him that whatever he’d swallowed hadn’t made it go completely away, but maybe J’onn would send them something else later.

The corner of Winn’s mouth quirked up and Alex gave him the canteen again as he seemed thirsty, but he shook his head.

“Winn, drink.”

“I’m…I’m f-fine,” Winn managed to say.

“No, you’re not. You need water. We’ll find some more later, don’t worry.”

Winn shook his head again. “I don’t…need it. You should have it. It’s not gone yet, is it?” he asked, trying to turn his arm. “It…still hurts.”

Alex pursed her lips. “No, but J’onn will send something else. I’ll make him,” she continued, and she meant it. “I don’t need the water, so drink it.”

“He shouldn’t have sent…I don’t need…you might need some…thing, too.”

“I’m fine. I’m completely fine. I don’t, and I won’t, need anything,” she said, not knowing for sure, but hoping that she wouldn’t. “Please just drink the damn water,” she then ordered, tempted to pry open his mouth and force him to.

“But I’m not…the sponsors are yours…you don’t need to…” Winn kept trailing off, and Alex wondered whether he couldn’t complete any of those sentences because he was still having trouble speaking, or he didn’t want to.

Either way, Alex clenched her jaw and then tilted his chin up, looking him in the eye.

“I meant what I said, before. And you wanted a sister like me, right?” she said with a small smile on her face. “Well now you have one. So get used to it.”

And Winn had finally taken the water from her after that.

Alex had decided not to wrap up his arm again to air out the wound and it took them a couple more hours of walking—even slower now—to reach the Cornucopia. Alex could’ve whooped with joy when they did.

Winn actually did let out a whoop and Alex quickly shushed him.

They still hadn’t heard the boom of a canon yet that day, which made Alex paranoid, but maybe the Gamemakers and the audience were wondering and interested enough in how exactly, or if, she and Winn (although it was probably going to be entirely Winn) were going to make those mines work again.

They stayed out of the grassy plain around the Cornucopia for another hour to make sure there was no one there before going in to inspect the platforms that were still protruding out of the ground.

Alex left Winn to examine the platform of the District 8 kid and then he moved to another one that hadn’t blown up. He started mumbling to himself and Alex scoped out the Cornucopia. They hadn’t been there in four days, and it looked like it was just about empty, scraped clean to the bone of supplies.

But there was a small rucksack laying in the very back corner of it, and Alex picked it up, adding it to their stash of supplies. About a quarter of all their food supplies were gone, unfortunately, which made room for it in the backpack.

She went back to Winn and leaned over beside him, and he surprised her by shoving her away, causing her to lose her balance for a second.

Alex glared at him. “What the hell, Winn?”

Winn didn’t look at her and his fingers were hovering over the top of the platform as if he was afraid to touch it.

“I don’t know if these are still active or not. They could literally blow up in our faces if I do something wrong.”

“Oh,” Alex said quietly, carefully going to his side again, but keeping her hands away from the bombs.

She opted to stay silent and try to make sense of his running commentary to himself.

He held his hand out and asked for the wire at one point, which Alex gave him, and he looked back and forth between the two.

“I need one of those big flat-tipped screwdriver things,” Winn told her.

“Okay, well, I’ll just pull that out of my magic never-ending bag of stuff we don’t have.”

Winn glanced at her, his eyes narrowed as though he wasn’t amused. “I need to get this top off to see the wiring.”

Alex leaned in closer to examine it. It looked harmless, so she hesitantly touched the edge of it with her fingers, which caused Winn to yelp and squeeze his eyes shut, but Alex grunted when nothing happened as she pried off the top plate. It was attached to the bottom of the inside of the platform by a ton of wires, and she held it carefully in her hands so as not to stretch them.

Once Winn had stopped cowering, he looked with wide eyes at Alex and the disk she was holding.

“Huh. I guess that works, too,” he said quietly, and immediately focused on the wiring that was now visible.

There were what looked like ten wires. Some were colored blue, while others were black and white. There were two red ones that Alex figured would be the ones to activate them. It was always the red wires.

“Okay, so definitely deactivated, thank God,” Winn mumbled, glancing at Alex, who smiled innocently, “now I just need to figure out how to detach this thing.”

“How are we going to make them work again if they’re detached?”

Winn looked at her and smiled. “We bring it with us.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “The entire thing?” she said, and Winn nodded. “How? Don’t we need more than one?”

“Well, judging from the force it exerted when it blew that other kid up, probably not. But we should bring two or three, to be safe.”

“And that’ll be enough to destroy all their supplies?”

“I think so. ‘Cause this thing—” he pointed to the platform “—is designed to encase the bomb, so it can only explode upwards. So if we take away the platform—”

“Then it’ll explode outwards, too,” Alex finished for him.

“Exactly. Two or three should be enough. We can’t carry all twenty-three of them anyway.”

“But how are we going to carry two or three? This one’s already getting heavy, and I don’t have much room in the backpack anymore.”

“That you have in your hand,” Winn said as he pointed to it, “is the power source with the motion detector. The actual bomb is down here, in the platform,” he continued, glancing down. “If we have one power source, we can bring multiple bombs and connect them together. There’s only two of us, so we can use the wire and not have to activate each one individually. ‘Cause the wire, see,” Winn’s smile was getting bigger as he seemed to get more excited and into what he was talking about, “we can use the wire to connect them all so if one blows up, the others will follow.”

“And how do we make the first one blow up without adding ourselves to the list of casualties?”

“Easy. We step on it.”

“We step on it,” Alex repeated suspiciously.

Winn nodded. “Any kind of motion will send the signal down the wires and to the bombs. It’s turned off right now, but I think if I just…” He stuck his hand inside the platform to toy with the other end of the wiring, his whole head almost disappearing into the cylinder.

Alex waited, holding the power source in her hands, and hoped that Winn was smart enough to realize that if he actually managed to turn it on, then they’d both be dead within two seconds.

But he didn’t turn it on, thankfully, and popped his head back up with a smile. He handed back their coil of wire to Alex, who was beginning to feel like a pack mule, and stuck both his hands in this time for a minute, emerging with a tiny rectangular thing—Alex could only describe it as a ‘thing’ as she had no idea what it was made of.

All the wires from Alex’s disk were twisted around each other at the end and held together by electrical tape. And the wires then connected to the rectangular block the size of a brick Winn was holding in his hands.

“Is that the mine?” Alex asked, her voice quiet for some reason, as if speaking loudly would set it off.

Winn nodded with a smile and traded it for Alex’s disk, now inspecting it thoroughly.

Alex let him as she stood there looking around the arena, her hand next to her belt near the knife.

“Is there any way we can do this, say, not in plain sight?” Alex suggested when it had been a couple minutes and Winn was still poking and prodding at the thing.

Winn smiled. “Oh, I get it,” he then said with a little laugh.

“Get what?”

“The joke. ‘Plain sight’? ‘Cause we’re in a plain, of grass. That’s a pretty good one.”

Alex rolled her eyes and lightly smacked him upside the head. “That wasn’t a joke, Winn. I’m serious. We need to get back in the forest or something. I don’t like being out here in the open.”

Winn rubbed the back of his head with a pout and took the bomb back from Alex. “Fine. I need to work on this a little while longer, I think.”

“You can take all the time you need, but maybe do it in a tree or something. We’ll come back and get more once you figure it out or whatever.”

And he did, eventually.

He explained to Alex what he was doing while he was doing it, which he claimed helped him work stuff out in his head, and Alex was only partially listening. Her own physics classes in school didn’t help much as she never got to work with electrical stuff, but she sort of followed along when he talked about the force and power it would potentially exert and the area it would cover.

It took him even longer to figure out how to turn the thing on once he’d figured out what all the wires did, and the smile on his face got bigger when he realized his plan would work.

They rolled out their coiled wire and it wasn’t long enough for them to get as far away from the campsite as they wanted to when the bombs went off, but it would have to do.

Winn was going to bury the mines underground so that they wouldn’t be seen. They’d be able to snake the wire to connect the first one to the power source and then the other two to that one. They’d cut off the useless wiring from the power source itself—he’d already managed to disconnect the ones that set the timer for sixty seconds, which was great.

They’d finally get to use the matches for the plan Alex had developed the last time they were at the lake, to start fires and distract the Careers if they were at the campsite.

Alex and Winn went back and forth for a pretty long while on who would do what, as Alex didn’t want Winn to be at the campsite. She wanted him to be as far away as possible, setting the fires.

But he’d argued that he needed to set the bombs off in case anything went wrong. He could run fast enough.

And Alex had no choice but to agree as his logic was pretty sound.

Their plans never seemed to pan out the way they hoped anyway, so Alex would just have to hope that this one would.

She should’ve known that it would be like all the others. Actually, probably worse.

They only took one mine to do a test run at first. Later, they were going to go back for the rest.

They headed Southwest for hours this time to take a roundabout way to the lake. The Careers knew they’d headed East before, and would probably be on the lookout for them.

They hadn’t been to the Western part of the arena yet, nor had they been North either, and Alex was kind of curious about what the rest of the arena was hiding. But she also knew that now wasn’t the time for exploring.

It was during their test run that it started raining.

Winn had buried the bomb underground and connected it to the power disk.

Alex had wanted to try it this time since she claimed she wouldn’t get to do it when it really mattered, and Winn reluctantly let her.

Alex knew they’d need to get the hell out of there as soon as it went off, so she split the supplies from the backpack and gave Winn the rest of the bombs, the coil of wire, a knife, and some pain-relieving plants to put in the rucksack along with the bread.

Alex made sure Winn jogged far enough away before she crouched near the power source, waiting for Winn’s signal to turn it on.

They were going to see if they could throw something at it from far away and hit it instead of stepping on it, which meant that they wouldn’t have to be so close to the bomb.

Alex saw Winn’s thumbs up and she carefully reached her finger under the disk, blindly feeling around for the switch Winn had found and taken the cover off of so she could turn it on.

But it didn’t turn on.

“It’s not working, Winn,” she told him, making her voice louder so he could hear her.

Winn came closer, but Alex held her hand out for him to stop when he was still at what she thought was a somewhat safe distance.

“I need to look at it.”

Alex shook her head and dug her finger back under, and her nail eventually clipped something.

Once it hummed to life, Alex held her breath and painstakingly moved her finger out from under it, careful not to touch or even breathe on the top of it, and started backing away as Winn did the same.

It was when she kneeled down as she spotted a rock bigger than the one she’d found before that she felt the first drop of water on her nose.

Alex blinked and picked up the rock, spinning back around to look at Winn, barely spotting him through the trees.

His eyes were wide and he was waving his arm to get her attention.

“Alex, run!”

And Alex didn’t need to be told twice.

She wanted to run towards Winn, but that would be going closer to the bomb and she wasn’t that stupid, so she took off in the opposite direction at a sprint.

Alex glanced behind her and saw a single drop of water plop onto the disk as if in slow motion.

And the next thing she knew, her body was thrown forward into the air and her ears rang with the Boom emitted from the mine. She smacked against a tree trunk and fell to the ground.

Alex managed to open her eyes but everything was fuzzy. She coughed dust out of her lungs and thought she could hear herself calling Winn’s name, and she tried to stand up only to lurch to the side and brace her hands on the forest floor again.

She saw blurry boots shuffling along the forest floor and looked up to see who she thought was Alana standing over her with something in her hand and a devilish grin on her face.

“Great plan there, 12,” she said, “You almost blew yourself up for me. Definitely makes it a lot easier to kill you.”

Alex could barely hear her, and only her left ear seemed to be somewhat working at the moment.

Alana then swung something hard at the back of Alex’s head before Alex could gain a sense of what was going on, and her vision went black for a second.

Alex fought her body’s sudden desire to pass out from the pain and dizziness as she pried her eyes open. Alana was standing over her, a bloody rock—Alex dimly realized it was the rock she’d been holding—in her hand.

Alex’s lungs were on fire, she couldn’t get herself to cough hard enough to get the dirt out of them, her vision was fuzzy, she had a splitting headache, and her arm felt like it was broken. She could see blood smeared on various parts of her body and wondered if it was hers.

She kind of felt like she was dying.

She wanted to close her eyes and make everything a little less confusing, a little less overwhelming, but Alana spoke again.

“Now see, I’m having a hard time deciding. Should I have a little fun with you first, or just—”

And Alex became even more confused when Alana suddenly stopped talking abruptly and a few seconds later, she coughed. Blood dribbled out of her mouth before she collapsed on top of Alex.

Alex barely registered that a knife was sticking out of Alana’s back, but her brain realized that Alana wasn’t a threat anymore.

The grass under her head was getting damp for some reason. Probably from the rain. She’d forgotten it was raining.

Or from her blood. Alex had no idea.

A canon went off.

Alex closed her eyes slowly and just breathed, feeling her chest rise and fall under the Alana’s weight, but she could tell she was slipping away and tried to fight.

And then she really thought she was dying when she opened her eyes again and saw an angel.

Wait, no, she thought.

It couldn’t be. How…no. That wasn’t possible. Angels didn’t exist.

She wasn’t dying. She couldn’t be.

She wouldn’t.

But everything hurt and she wanted to sleep. She was cold.

What was happening? Where was Winn?

Why was there was another girl standing above her now, peering down at her?

Damp, brown hair hung down and Alex stared up at her, resisting the temptation to close her eyes again because all she knew was that this was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen, and she couldn’t really comprehend what was going on.

And then the girl was gone.

She was pulling Alana’s body off of Alex’s chest and whispering something once she’d done so.

Alex blinked and the girl was focused on her again, warm brown eyes Alex thought she could get lost in gazing down at her.

Something about her made Alex feel calm. Safe.

She barely felt the girl grasp both her hands—only felt the warmth radiating from them—and slide her back along the wet forest floor.

Alex finally closed her eyes when her eyelids felt too heavy to keep open anymore…and everything went black.

Chapter Text

When Alex woke up, it was dark.

It took about two seconds for her muscles to tense up as she realized was in a cave, and another second to grab the knife sitting beside her.

She could see rain falling hard outside the entrance to the cave—she was in a cave…how in the hell…—and it was pretty cold.

And then she remembered what had happened as soon as she tried to move, to get up.

Because she felt like shit. Everywhere.

She couldn’t move her left wrist that much; she figured a bone was fractured.

Her head ached, so she hesitantly touched her fingertips to the back of it and felt dried blood caking her hair. Her forehead still felt heavy, and she noticed every time she blinked.

Her clothes were stiff, dried from the rain. She lifted up her shirt and saw a huge green bruise on her hip.

But how had she gotten here?

Where was here?

Who had—

“Danvers! You’re alive.”

Alex wasn’t sure what to do, whether to hold the knife tighter or get up or stay in the position she was in because Maggie…Maggie was standing at the entrance to the cave, her hood up, Alex’s canteen in her hand, and her other fist clenched around something.

The slight (relieved?) smile on her face faltered when Alex held her arm out straighter, shifting the knife slightly in her hand.

Alex stared at her. Maggie. Who was here. Who had dragged Alex through the forest after Alana had tried to kill her. Who had brought her here. To a cave.

But why?

Why had she saved her?

Maggie slowly bent down to come into the cave, which was just big enough for her to stand up in—meaning Alex wouldn’t be able to—and walk around a little bit. She held both her hands out after emptying the one of whatever was in it to show Alex she had no weapons, but Alex didn’t take her eyes off Maggie’s face. The cut above her right eyebrow was still visible.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, Danvers.”

“Why...” Alex started to say softly, and trailed off when Maggie finally looked at her again. “What…where…”

“We’re by the border, if you’re wondering. In a cave. Which I guess you probably already figured out,” Maggie said, gesturing around them with her hands. “And—”

“How long have I been passed out?” Alex asked, not meaning to interrupt her but she needed to know.

“Two days.”

Alex’s eyes widened. Two whole days?

“You were half dead when I found you,” Maggie continued, “After I, um…” she paused for a second and took a deep breath, “hit Alana with the knife.”

Right.

Maggie had thrown the knife.

Maggie was the girl Alex had thought looked like an angel. (Not that she was going to tell anybody that. Ever.)

So that meant that Maggie had killed Alana. For her.

For her?

But…Maggie probably hadn’t known it was Alex that Alana was trying to kill. It had been raining, and it had taken Maggie more than a couple seconds to get to her after she’d stabbed Alana, so she must’ve been a good distance away.

So probably not for her, but still.

“After I…killed her,” Maggie clarified, and Alex noticed she looked physically uncomfortable for a second, but quickly steeled herself and crouched to find a place to sit cross-legged.

Alex just followed Maggie with her eyes until she realized what else was in the cave around her.

Medical supplies. Food. The axe she’d seen Maggie take from the Career’s campsite.

And the orange backpack. Empty.

The contents of it were in a neat little pile beside Alex.

Maggie took a knife out of her belt and set both it and the canteen down next to her. She obviously didn’t think Alex was a threat, not in her current state, even though Alex couldn’t seem to let go of her knife. Which she realized Maggie had probably set down next to her, had let her have, to show her she came in peace. For now.

Alex was silent for another second before she said, “Where’s Winn?”

It hadn’t taken her very long to realize that Winn was noticeably missing.

“Winn? Your partner from 12?” Maggie asked. Alex nodded, and her heart dropped when Maggie answered with a shrug and, “I have no idea.”

Alex tried not to get worried, tried not to let her brain go into overdrive, but she knew it was no use.

“You didn’t…but he was…” Alex said, and she could tell her voice reflected her worry, “he was with me. He…you didn’t see him?”

No. No, no, no.

This wasn’t happening. He was alone, out there. She’d left him. It hadn’t been her choice to leave him, but she had.

Maggie shook her head. “Were you two still working together?”

Alex didn’t want to answer—she still wasn’t really sure what was going on, why she was here, why Maggie had brought her here—so she just focused on breathing, and trying not to let her breaths get sharper, faster, as her heart rate sped up.

This was bad. This was…

Wait, was Winn…

“Is he still alive?” Alex asked quickly.

As soon as she did, she realized that Maggie would’ve told her if he was dead, and thus didn’t really listen to her reply.

“Yeah. I mean, I haven’t seen him up in the sky. No cannons yet today, either.”

Alex swallowed, noticing her mouth was dry but not really caring.

She started to push herself off the ground with the palm of her hand, her knife under it, and Maggie immediately straightened when Alex grimaced but continued to try and get up.

“What are you doing?” Maggie asked, confusion and a hint of worry in her expression.

“I need to find him.”

Maggie glanced at her and then at the entrance of the cave. Alex was a bit frustrated that it was taking so long to get off her ass that Maggie had time to let out an incredulous laugh and say, “Are you crazy? It’s pouring, Danvers, and you’re like…half dead, still. You can’t go out there.”

Alex just continued to suppress a groan that itched to escape her as she finally got on her hands and knees and immediately felt bile rise up in her throat.

Her head was pounding now, her arm still hurt like hell, and her stomach cramped up, probably from not having eaten anything, but she was determined to at least be able to get out of the damn cave.

Maggie didn’t make a move to help her and seemed to let her try and leave herself; she just watched and didn’t say anything else.

“I need to find him,” was all Alex whispered, again, as she started to crawl, not trusting herself to be able to stand up quite yet. She glanced at Maggie and Maggie had her arms crossed, her eyebrows raised as if waiting to see what she’d do—or try to do—next.

Alex managed to get her head out of the entrance, rain now pounding down on her. It was even colder outside the cave.

And as soon as she pushed up off the ground and took half a step, she doubled over again and retched, emptying her stomach of anything that might’ve been in there, which wasn’t a lot.

Shit. That wasn’t good. She didn’t feel good, at all.

She felt like shit. Absolute shit.

“Okay, you’re definitely crazy, but I know you’re not stupid. Get back in here.”

Alex shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut to stop herself from getting dizzier.

She needed food. And water.

She needed to clean her wounds, wrap her arm up, and rest. Although she’d just slept for two days so maybe not the rest, but she did need to take care of herself. Get herself back to normal.

And she also needed to find Winn.

But she couldn’t find him like this, if she could barely walk. It was raining, hard, and it was dark. She was cold, and now wet, and didn’t even have any of her supplies.

Winn was out there somewhere, alone.

Maybe he’d gotten hurt, too. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t come to help Alex.

What had Alex given him in that rucksack? The bread, the wire, the bomb, the other knife, and pain-relieving plants. That was it. He had no canteen for water, although it was raining cats and dogs outside so that probably wouldn’t be a problem, but he didn’t have the sleeping bag either.

Oh God, where was he sleeping? In a tree? Getting rained on for two days straight?

His arm wasn’t fully healed either, and he’d surely get a fever if his feet got wet and he had nowhere dry to sleep.

Alex was getting more soaked by the second, but she didn’t care as she lifted her head up towards the sky.

“J’onn, I don’t know if you’re listening, but…you need to send Winn whatever he needs. You need to keep him alive, you…” she paused, trying not to let her voice falter, even though it was hoarse. “I-I don’t care if he needs the most expensive medicine or whatever. You need to keep him alive, do you hear me?” she continued, her voice desperate. “If he needs supplies, send them to him. I don’t want anything else. I have enough, so send him whatever he needs. Please.”

J’onn didn’t give any indication he’d heard her, not that Alex would know how he would, but she’d just have to hope he did. If Winn died out there, if J’onn sent Alex supplies and not Winn and he needed something…

Wait a minute…her supplies.

Alex hesitantly turned around and Maggie moved out of the way for her to get back in. Alex wondered if Maggie was going to say anything about what she’d just said, but it didn’t seem like it.

Alex took the empty backpack and sat down again in the spot where she’d woken up, not saying a word as she started to put her things back into it, but Maggie grabbed it from her before she could.

“I believe this is mine, Danvers,” Maggie said with a smile when Alex looked at her, surprised. “That’s the stuff that was in there,” she explained, pointing to her pile, which was bigger than Alex remembered it being. “And whatever your people sent while you were…out.”

J’onn had already sent her stuff. Her pile now had gauze, two bottles of medicine, and another loaf of bread placed on top of it, but the canteen and the rope were sitting next to Maggie.

“I grabbed those, too, before you stole the backpack from me, so I’m keeping them,” Maggie stated, pointing to the canteen and the rope as though challenging Alex to argue with her. She then continued, “And you can stay here until you’re better, but then you need to leave. I’ll give you an hour head start before I come after you.”

Alex thoughts were all over the place. She was worrying about Winn while trying not to make certain parts of her body hurt more than they already did. And everything was so confusing. Maggie didn’t want her to leave, but she also did?

And she’d taken the backpack back, claiming the stuff she’d taken at the Cornucopia was also rightfully hers. Alex kind of did want to argue with that, but she was in no position to.

This was the Games. Arguing meant fighting, and fighting meant death. And since Alex was already on the brink of it and Maggie clearly had the upper hand in this situation…

But Maggie didn’t really seem to be in such a hurry to get her out of this cave, to think of her as an enemy. She’d obviously brought her here for a reason.

The last time they’d spoken, Maggie had been angry with her.

Granted, a lot had happened since then, but she didn’t seem to be too angry with her now. Alex settled back into her spot by the back of the cave.

“Why, um…why did you bring me here?” Alex asked when it had been silent for a moment too long.

Maggie looked at her and then down at her hands. “Just…paying back a debt. You save my life, I save yours. It’s only fair,” she said simply.

Huh, Alex thought. She hadn’t been sure if Maggie knew that she had pushed her out of the way of Veronica’s knife, but apparently, she did. But Alex hadn’t really expected Maggie to ever…do it back.

“Well, I only did it ‘cause I wanted to steal the backpack. You were in my way,” Alex said, a small smile on her face.

Maggie let out a breath and regarded her for a second, most likely wondering if she meant it or not. Which was probably hard because Alex didn’t even know if she meant it or not.

“Right. And I wanted the backpack back, so…I guess we’re even.”

Except for the fact that you could’ve easily just taken the backpack and left me to die, Alex thought. But I could’ve done the same, she then reminded herself.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Alex said as she looked away from her and at her pile, concentrating now on treating her wounds.

She had to before she could go looking for Winn. And she needed to start looking as soon as possible.

She took off her jacket and gently pressed two fingers against her wrist, trying to see how bad the fracture was. She then picked up the gauze and started wrapping it around the swollen area and her hand the way the mother had taught her to do many times before.

J’onn had also sent her pain medication and something else she didn’t recognize, so she downed that one, guessing it was going to heal something. Right now, she needed the healing more than she needed the pain to go away.

Maggie was silent, watching her out of the corner of eye as she worked. Maggie had taken off her hood now and was combing her fingers through her hair, which Alex tried not to focus on ‘cause her hair looked so—

Nope. No. No, no, no. Focus on something else. Alex was focusing on something else.

Her head. Her head hurt like hell.

And Alex made sense of why everything didn’t seem to make sense. Alana had given her a mild concussion. Passing out, dizziness, vomit, confusion, trouble walking…all symptoms of a concussion.

Which meant that she needed food, water, and, most importantly, rest. Little to no physical activity.

Great.

That wasn’t happening.

She’d slept for two days, that should be enough rest, right?

Alex ripped off a chunk of bread and ate it slowly, not caring about rationing at the moment because her stomach was killing her, and she couldn’t eat much anyway. She didn’t want it to come right back up.

And now she needed water.

Alex glanced at the canteen beside Maggie and at the entrance of the cave. She was going to have to get up again as she didn’t want to ask Maggie to share.

But Maggie handed her the canteen when she noticed Alex just sitting there, gearing herself up for standing again, and Alex stared at her.

“I…may have used some of your iodine drops, so you can have some,” Maggie said quietly, as though she was guilty of something.

Alex wanted to smile as she slowly took it from her.

Their fingers brushed as she did and Alex felt a tingle go all the way up her arm, but she kept her expression neutral and pretended she hadn’t just felt that.

They’d touched before.

Alex had literally tackled her. She’d topped—on top…she’d been on top of her, but they hadn’t made any skin to skin contact that she knew of then.

And she realized that they’d also held hands. Well, Maggie had grabbed both her hands while she was flitting in and out of consciousness to bring her here, so maybe that didn’t count.

But still.

Maggie didn’t react that Alex noticed, so Alex just uncapped the canteen and drank a bit of water, again not wanting to upset her stomach with too much at once.

Her throat was still scratchy, but when she felt a bit better, she crossed her legs in front of her like Maggie was doing, and thanked her for the water.

Why was Maggie being so nice to her? It didn’t make sense. Alex had given her no reason to be.

Alex wanted to apologize for what she’d said. She couldn’t really think of a way how but started talking to break the silence that filled the cave again.

“I saw you, with them. With the Careers. Winn and I were at the lake.”

“I didn’t team up with them,” Maggie said quickly.

Alex nodded. “I know. Did Max…” Alex lifted her arm to point to her own forehead, and Maggie mirrored it, feeling the scar above her right eyebrow.

“Yeah. He, um…he threatened to kill me and I told him I knew where you were. I guess he kept me around because he thought you’d come after me, if you knew he had me,” Maggie continued, searching Alex’s face, and Alex wanted to turn her head away. “He thinks you…like me or something.”

Alex tried to keep herself from fidgeting and ended up letting out a light, nervous laugh. She remembered that Maggie thought she was faking the whole crush thing. Alex wished she was. It would make things a whole lot easier.

“Right. Yup. That’s…” Alex tried to think of what to say to that but couldn’t really come up with anything that would confirm Maggie’s suspicions but also not be a lie and make this whole thing more complicated. So she changed the subject. “Well, um…we…we were going to try and help you, but we didn’t really get a chance to. You kind of helped yourself.”

And if Maggie noticed the abrupt, not-at-all-subtle change in topic, she didn’t mention it.

“Wouldn’t expect a Career to come help you then, huh?” Maggie instead said lightly, but her tone shifted a bit so Alex knew that she hadn’t forgotten what Alex had said to her the last time they’d talked. The reason Alex expected Maggie to be a bit…bitter towards her.

Alex was actually happy she was acknowledging it, because this—Maggie not being so nice to her—made sense, unfortunately. And she really wanted to apologize. So she did.

“I’m sorry, about that. It just kind of came out. I didn’t mean to…assume something about you. I mean, I barely know anything about you, so I shouldn’t have done that. You’re not like them. At all. In any way. I don’t know why I keep saying the stupidest things. I guess I just…”

Alex cursed to herself. That was the lamest apology, and she knew it.

Then, she remembered that they might be being filmed right now. Could the Gamemakers fit cameras in this cave? Was the entire country listening to this conversation?

Oh no…M’gann was going to be pissed. She wasn’t playing up her crush at all.

But she had said to be herself.

And Alex also realized that she didn’t care about the cameras. She was going to keep talking to Maggie like she was talking to Maggie. Not everyone in the Districts. M’gann had said to “just do you,” so…that’s what Alex was going to do. M’gann was good, she’d spin this into something good.

Maggie wasn’t saying anything, probably hoping Alex would keep talking and somehow make her lame-ass apology a bit better, so she continued.

“Everything about you is not…them. At first, you know, I thought that you were, and…you didn’t exactly prove me wrong, but—”

“I have nothing to prove to you, Danvers,” Maggie said sharply.

Alex pressed her lips together. See, she thought, this is why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk. Ever.

“And I am a Career,” Maggie said. “I’m…I’m District 1. I’ve…practiced for this.” She was choosing her words carefully, probably to prevent someone from getting in trouble. Training was illegal, but everyone knew the Capitol wouldn’t punish anyone in the Career Districts for it anyway, so it didn’t matter.

“But in any other way, you’re not,” Alex tried to argue.

“How could you know that? You said you don’t know me.”

“Well, from what I do know, you’re not.”

“I know what everyone thinks of us. I…” Maggie sighed. “I know that you believe those things, too. And since you seem to keep thinking I’m like them, that I’m one of them, I know how…how you see me.”

Alex tried to smile. “But you keep proving me wrong, Maggie. Not that you need to,” Alex continued quickly before Maggie could say anything, “and I’m not saying you have to, or that you owe me anything or whatever, but…you do.”

Maggie pursed her lips and lowered her head the tiniest bit. “Just…trying to be a decent person.” Alex opened her mouth to continue the conversation, but Maggie brought her hands in front of her and said, “You know, I’m, um…I’m pretty beat. I think I’m gonna rest, for a while.”

“Oh. Okay. Do you want me to move?”

Maggie shook her head. “I don’t really want you to throw up in here.”

“Do you want the sleeping bag?” Alex tried next. Maggie was about to say no, but Alex said, “I just slept for two days straight. I don’t need it.”

Maggie seemed to contemplate it but shook her head again and instead shifted so that her back was against a rock and curled her legs towards her chest.

She closed her eyes, but Alex could tell she wasn’t sleeping. Her body still seemed to be alert, and Alex realized she didn’t want to sleep when Alex was there, and awake, with a knife.

Alex wanted to tell her she wasn’t going to do anything, but thought it’d be useless.

And Alex realized how tired Maggie looked.

Alex probably looked like how she felt—which was utter, complete shit. She set to work carefully combing her fingers through her hair, trying to get rid of all the blood and whatever else was in it while not pressing against the back of her head too much.

The only sounds she could hear were the occasional rumbling of her stomach and the rain outside the cave.

She glanced at Maggie when she shifted slightly.

Somehow Maggie still looked beautiful, even when she was exhausted, even when she was kind of mad at Alex, even when she obviously didn’t want to talk to her anymore.

Alex sighed.

This was going great, so far. Fantastic.

Really, really…great.

A clap of thunder jolted Alex out of her thoughts. She looked out towards the forest. She hoped Winn was okay. She hoped J’onn knew that if he didn’t send Winn what he needed, Alex would…well, she didn’t know what she’d do, but she’d be angry, to put it lightly.

Actually, maybe J’onn wasn’t the person to be mad at. The rain was from the Gamemakers. They controlled the climate.

Maybe they did it because they didn’t want the Tributes to die from dehydration, which most of them were likely doing as they couldn’t get water from the lake, and not enough of them had found any other source. Watching Tributes kill each other was more entertaining. They were keeping them alive long enough to get them back on their feet and give the audience a show.

But making it pour for two days straight? The ones who didn’t have a shelter would have it worse.

Alex knew she’d also be angry at herself, though. She’d still feel responsible for anything that might happen to Winn because she wasn’t there to protect him, to take care of him, to make sure he was safe and taking care of himself.

She’d promised him, she’d told him they were a team. That she wasn’t going to leave him. That he had to get used to her being around and taking care of him.

But now she wasn’t.

He was smart. He had survived two days on his own, he could survive until she got to him.

J’onn obviously had enough sponsor money to send her things she needed, so he had to have some for Winn as well.

Maggie’s mentor had sent her all kinds of stuff. Alex looked around the cave and saw that Maggie had her own loaf of bread sliced up. Maggie had placed down berries earlier that Alex now saw. She realized with a smile that Maggie had spread some of the other berries onto the bread to make some sort of jam.

And she had a cooking pot and a box of matches that Alex knew weren’t hers because hers were still in her own pile.

Alex also knew that Maggie hadn’t gotten all that stuff from the Career’s camp. She hadn’t had time to. That meant she must have some pretty good sponsors who wanted to keep her alive, who thought she had a really good chance at winning.

She had just-in-case things, whereas Alex and Winn were only sent what they needed, when they needed it.

She had medicine in case she needed it as Alex couldn’t see any reason for her to use at the moment, she had a pot in case she wanted to boil water or make soup or something, she had bread in case she couldn’t live off berries and hunted game.

She was pretty much set.

All she’d need to do was stay in this cave, keep getting sent stuff, wait until everyone else died, and make sure she’d win in the end. And if she ever had or wanted to leave the cave for whatever reason, she had enough skills to keep herself alive.

But the funny thing was that she’d decided to bring Alex here. She’d decided to share this cave with her. It was dangerous, Alex realized, from Maggie’s perspective.

Because if Alex ever decided she wanted Maggie dead, then she’d know where to find her. She could tell the others, the Careers who were after her, and Maggie would get ambushed.

So either Maggie trusted her enough to bring her here, or she was desperate enough.

Alex would’ve asked her, would’ve talked to her about it, but Maggie was still ‘sleeping.’

Alex’s head was foggy, her hair damp, her body unable to control a wave of shivers that hit her when a bit of wind blew into the cave.

Alex hesitantly laid down on top of the sleeping bag, wrapping her jacket tighter around her, but not wanting to get in for fear she’d get too hot.

Even though Alex had gotten roughly forty-eight hours of sleep, according to Maggie, she still felt tired. She knew that if she did lift up her shirt again, she would see her ribs poking out. She needed to get her strength back up.

She figured maybe a nap wouldn’t be too bad. Her body obviously wanted more sleep, and since she had to go looking for Winn tomorrow—she decided she’d have to leave tomorrow and not waste another day here—she was going to exert herself more than she should, so sleeping was the best thing to do.

And since Maggie probably wanted her out of here as soon as possible anyway, it was good for the both of them.

But Alex wondered, as she closed her eyes and felt her body drifting off to sleep, why she felt the need to leave when all she wanted to do was stay.

Chapter Text

Watching her sister’s body being launched into the air like a ragdoll and slammed against a tree made Kara’s heart leap up in her throat, made her hand clench Eliza’s ten times tighter than it already was, made her gasp and cover her mouth to stop a sob.

Eliza stood up quickly, the most movement Kara had seen her make in the past few days.

The other people watching in the square gasped as well and waited for the canon to go off. Because their Tribute was surely dead. She couldn’t survive being almost blown up like that.

But Kara knew her sister.

Alex wouldn’t die that easily.

And thank God she was right.

When the camera cut to a close-up of Alex on the ground, moaning but breathing and alive, Kara heard Eliza let out a breath she’d no doubt been holding until she saw her daughter breathing again.

Of course, Alex immediately started saying his name, started calling out for him.

Winn.

The boy who was making sure her sister was eating and drinking and not letting herself wither away while trying to keep other people alive.

At first, Kara had been kind of jealous.

Until she noticed just how much Winn was like her, in almost every way. And she knew why Alex felt drawn to him, why she felt the need, why she wanted, to care for him.

Eliza had taught her to. Because of her, Alex’s entire life had been focused on taking care of Kara. Taking care of people was all Alex knew. Which, unfortunately, often meant she forgot to take care of herself.

Kara had tried to talk to Eliza, tried to get her to come back home, since the Games started.

But Eliza had refused.

Ever since that initial gong had gone off, Eliza had been sitting in the square, day and night, watching for glimpses of her daughter.

She didn’t have to see glimpses, though. Alex was almost always on camera unless she was sleeping or the Careers were making plans. Her and Winn took up most of the Capitol’s attention.

So Eliza didn’t come home. When Kara asked her if she wanted to eat, she shook her head, her eyes on the screen, watching Alex as she ran beside Winn through the forest, away from Rick and his arrows.

Kara had finally gotten her to sleep two nights ago, after promising her numerous times that she’d be watching, that she’d wake up her if anything happened.

When Eliza had gotten enough sleep to last her a couple more days, she took most of the food from the cabinet to the square and didn’t come home that night. Or the next night.

Kara would check on her sometimes, check on Alex, too, and watch the Games for a couple hours. She’d bring Eliza a blanket, or fill up her water, or make sure she was eating.

The only indication that Eliza noticed Kara doing these things were the small “thank you”’s she’d receive when she’d place something down in front of her.

At night, Alex was usually sleeping, so Kara would go home and try to sleep, too.

But it wasn’t easy. She’d toss and turn and hold Alex’s old teddy bear in her arms, pretending Alex was sleeping peacefully in the bed next to her. Pretending Alex wasn’t risking her life every second of every day to make sure she was safe.

And when she inevitably couldn’t find a position comfortable enough, she’d climb out the window and onto the roof to look at the stars.

She wondered if the arena had stars, real stars, and if they were the same ones she would gaze up at every night.

It was the only way Kara could feel connected to her.

But now Kara watched with bated breath at the scene in front of her.

The camera had widened to include Alana, who was standing over Alex with a rock.

Kara could see Alex’s hand itching to grab the knife in her belt, but her arm was bent at too awkward an angle to do so.

She could feel Eliza’s fingers tense up as she stayed standing, but Kara didn’t want to look away from the screen. That hit to the back of her head had hurt Alex, badly, and even though she was the strongest person Kara knew, Alana might actually have a shot at—

The camera cut away from the two of them abruptly.

It moved through the forest now, blurring past trees as if it was following something.

Eliza let out a noise of surprise and confusion and Kara could feel her becoming angrier at the fact that they had suddenly cut away from her daughter, bleeding and half dead on the ground, to show the audience some trees.

But it wasn’t just trees, Kara realized.

It was Maggie.

Maggie was running through the forest, no doubt close enough to have heard the explosion. She was twirling the knife in her hand as though she was used to holding weapons like that as she came closer and closer to the scene.

Kara and Eliza had watched Alex’s interview at the Capitol with a crowd of people the day before the Games started.

Kara had wondered how in the world someone had gotten Alex to wear a dress, and thought she’d like that person, whoever they were.

But what had surprised her even more was the interview itself.

Eliza had all but flinched when Alex’s gaze had trained onto the camera lens and it probably felt like she was looking right at her as Alex had repeated the words she’d thrown at Eliza that day in the tent.

Of course, no one except Eliza and Kara knew what Alex actually meant by those words, what Alex was doing as she said them.

Kara hadn’t been too surprised by that.

No…what she was surprised at was what had happened next.

Kara knew her sister. And when Alex and the interviewer had started to speak about Maggie, who Kara only knew as the girl from District 1 who’d scored an eleven along with her sister, she saw Alex get nervous, and flustered, and blush.

The same way Kara had realized, years ago, how nervous and flustered Alex would get around Vicky.

And Alex didn’t blush often. If at all.

It seemed as though Kara wasn’t the only one who had noticed her sister’s sudden change in demeanor when she talked about Maggie.

Everyone noticed.

After her interview was over, Kara had listened as murmurs started to spread through the crowd of people in the square.

“Did you see that?”

“Oh, that was adorable!”

“That Maggie girl is District 1, right? Why does Alex like her?”

“You idiot, she doesn’t actually like her. She’s doing it for the cameras. It’s…pretty smart, now that I think about it.”

Kara had turned her head towards the man who’d said that as he continued.

“She’s getting the audience on her side. Getting more sponsors. Those Capitol idiots love crap like this. Whoever’s making her do this knows how to play them.”

And Kara had just smiled.

Because she knew her sister.

No one could make Alex do anything she didn’t want to do. She was a pretty good liar, but there was absolutely no way she was faking that.

And Kara’s thoughts were cemented when she saw Alex leap for Maggie during the bloodbath at the Cornucopia and save her life.

Kara just hoped Alex knew what she was doing. Kara wished she could ask Alex what exactly she was doing, because she very distinctly remembered what had happened with Vicky.

Maggie hadn’t known, hadn’t given any indication during her own interview that she liked Alex back. Kara wished she could watch it again to be a hundred percent sure, but she found she didn’t need to.

Because the cameras had captured Maggie’s face as she’d held the bloodied knife that had been aimed at her after she’d pulled it out of the chest of the District 10 girl. It was like Alex was the only person she could see in that moment, like Alex was the only person that mattered, like she didn’t want to notice anyone else.

Maggie had cradled that knife like it was her lifeline.

It was the same knife that was in her hand now as she ran through the forest.

Maggie paused for a moment when she spotted Alana. Alana’s long dark hair was plastered to her jacket, damp from the rain, and Maggie shifted the knife slightly in her hand before taking a deep breath.

A second later, the knife was whizzing through the air.

If Kara had blinked, she would’ve missed the knife travelling from Maggie’s hand straight into Alana’s back.

Maggie’s aim was perfect, and she wasted no time in continuing forward.

Maggie had only paused for a brief moment before, but now she full-on stopped in her tracks as she seemed to realize who was under Alana.

Kara heard Eliza suck in a breath and found herself wondering what Maggie was going to do.

But once Maggie saw Alex looking up at her, her eyes blinking slowly and threatening to close any second, she seemed to make her decision.

Maggie had clenched her jaw when the canon went off, but no one could hear what she whispered to Alana over the sound of the rain after she took the knife out of Alana’s back, wiped it on her pants, and stuck it in her belt again. She stuck her hand in Alana’s jacket pockets and quickly stuffed something into her own back pocket that Kara couldn’t see.

And then she was going around Alex and picking up her hands. Kara wanted to tell her not to, as she was pretty sure something was wrong with Alex’s arm, but Maggie started to drag Alex through the mud and Alex passed out anyway, probably from the pain.

The cameras stayed on Maggie as she walked backwards as quickly as she could, pulling Alex after her, until they switched to a brief shot of Winn.

Winn was sitting on the ground, his hands rubbing at his ankle, and he tried to stand up only to fall over and wince. He tried again and managed to start limping towards the bomb he’d run away from. It took him longer than it should’ve, and Alex was no longer anywhere in sight when he got there.

It was only then that he started yelling her name, not seeming to care that she wasn’t answering, and thunder rumbled in the sky, drowning him out a couple times.

Kara felt her heart clench in her chest. Maggie was separating the two of them, although she didn’t know it, and Kara worried if Winn could survive on his own.

But apparently the Gamemakers had more important things to worry about, to put up on screen, because the cameras just as quickly shifted back to her sister and Maggie. Kara knew the audience at the Capitol, and maybe in the Districts as well, cared a lot about Alex and Maggie separately, but even more so when they were together. She knew that that was part of the reason her sister had so much screen time, why the cameras seemed intent to show the both of them. Why no other Tribute was going to be featured for a while.

Once Maggie had reached her cave, which Kara had watched her find after she’d run away from Rick’s partner a couple days ago, she made sure Alex was fully in it before awkwardly getting the backpack off her back.

She opened it up and saw the sleeping bag. She unrolled it, maneuvering Alex so she was laying on top of it after checking her pulse.

She sat down near Alex’s side and looked like she was catching her breath. She then dug through the backpack and found the canteen, drinking until the water was gone as there wasn’t much left, and glanced outside towards the forest.

But before Maggie got up again to get more water, she looked back at Alex.

The camera was at an awkward angle and it seemed as though they only had one in that cave as they didn’t switch it so that the audience could see Maggie’s face. Kara unknowingly leaned forward slightly as she watched.

She watched as Maggie gently, hesitantly, brushed some of Alex’s hair away from her face.

And Kara smiled.

She could feel Eliza relax as well as they both realized that Alex was safe, for now. That Maggie was going to take care of her…not that she would let Maggie, probably, but at least she was safe and alive, albeit passed out.

Kara finally looked at her mom to see tears running down her cheeks that she didn’t seem to notice.

Kara lightly pulled on her arm and Eliza sat back down slowly.

“She’s okay,” Kara whispered as Eliza didn’t take her eyes off the screen. “She’s going to be okay.”

Eliza nodded as Kara repeated it again and again and again.

But Eliza didn’t move from that spot for two whole days.

Kara knew she should be out there with her, waiting for Alex to wake up, but she had to sleep. She had to go to the market to get more food, had to make sure no one had broken into their house (which would’ve been easy as they still had no lock on their front door), had to tell Eliza’s patients she wasn’t available to operate on them.

That girl Alex had mentioned, Lena, had seen her at the market one day and offered to help carry things for her. Kara had been skeptical, at first, of Lena. People at school weren’t often nice to her, but Lena seemed different, so Kara let her help as she remembered what she’d promised Alex about not shutting herself away from the world.

It was nice to have a little help. But Kara didn’t mind doing all this, because Alex had also asked her to take care of Eliza while she was gone, as if she’d known something like this would happen.

It had happened when they’d told them Jeremiah was dead, but the difference now was that Eliza didn’t seem to have anyone except herself to blame.

And it was as if she knew that losing Alex too would break her completely.

When Alex had woken up, finally, her and Maggie talked about something Kara didn’t really understand. The handful of people, which was slowly becoming larger every time Kara came to the square as they realized that at least one of their Tributes actually had a chance at winning this year, were confused as well. Something had happened between Alex and Maggie off-screen, something Alex felt the need to apologize for.

Kara’s guess was that Alex had gotten nervous around Maggie and, as smart as she was, had said something a bit stupid. Or she had been in one of her moods and Maggie just happened to be around.

Either way, Alex seemed to think she’d messed up pretty badly, that whatever it was had caused Maggie to be pretty guarded towards her now, but she would fix it. Kara had no doubt about that.

Alex knew how to fix everything, and Alex would know how to make it better.

What Alex didn’t know, however, was that Maggie had barely slept while Alex was passed out in her cave. That Maggie would drift off only to wake up every few hours. Kara didn’t know why—it could’ve been that she didn’t want to sleep when Alex was there as she’d be vulnerable, or that she was too worried about Alex not waking up.

What Alex didn’t know was how tired she looked when she finally did wake up. She didn’t know that Maggie had noticed and had let her stay on the sleeping bag because it was obvious Alex could fall asleep again any second, despite having slept for two days, despite having woken up about an hour ago, despite being exhausted herself.

And Alex did promptly fall back asleep a few minutes later, as Maggie had no doubt predicted.

Kara knew then that Alex would be fine, with Maggie.

Kara knew her sister, and that she had no idea, the effect she could have. On people she cared about, on people who cared about her, on people who didn’t know anything about her but were watching her up on that screen.

And Kara knew that it was because of that, that she loved her sister more than anyone in the world. It was because of that, that Alex was going to come home.

She had to.

Chapter Text

“Maybe we can…start over?”

Alex was picking at the loaf of bread, eating slowly in an attempt to keep her stomach from acting up.

She’d been feeling a bit better, but it was still raining outside. She really didn’t want to leave the cave while it was and was willing to wait until the storm blew out.

But then she remembered that the storm wouldn’t ‘blow out.’ It was planned, programed, and the Gamemakers could make it rain for as long as they wanted. And it didn’t seem as if they were planning to make it stop anytime soon, for whatever reason.

The ones without shelter were at a severe disadvantage, which unfortunately included Winn at the moment. Unless there was another cave he’d managed to find and hide out in. But Alex highly doubted it.

“Start over?” Maggie asked, glancing at her.

Maggie was currently spreading her berry juice concoction on a slice of bread again with her knife, which Alex couldn’t help but smile at. It was kind of funny to think about—it was like she wasn’t in the arena. They were supposed to be living off the land, but Maggie had managed to make it seem like they were sitting at a table in the Capitol, eating their dinner rolls with butter and jam.

Alex didn’t know why it amused her so much. It was probably the concussion.

“Yeah. I mean, not like start over start over, ‘cause I don’t want to just forget everything that’s happened and be off the hook for what I said or whatever, but…” Alex paused. She was making no sense. This had sounded better in her head. Which was currently feeling the after-effects of a concussion. “I just, you know…yesterday, when I said I didn’t know you very well at all, I…was thinking how I wanted to. Know you. Better.”

Alex almost groaned at herself but stayed silent to let Maggie say something.

Maggie looked at her curiously. “Why?”

Alex looked up from her hands, which were currently only slightly fidgeting as she was trying to control her nerves. She was being extra careful with what she said around Maggie, trying not to make her burrow back in her shell but instead trying to sort of…pull her out of it. An inch at a time.

But she was kind of surprised at Maggie’s question.

Alex had a feeling it wasn’t really directed at her, Maggie’s confusion and suspicion at Alex wanting to know more about her. She didn’t trust easily—Alex had figured that out pretty quick. Alex had a feeling no one had ever really wanted to get to know her for no other reason than to just…know her.

Maggie was like a puzzle Alex had to figure out. But she liked puzzles, a lot.

“Well, because we’re stuck together, here. In the arena, and this cave. And I want to get to know you better. So that I don’t say stupid things anymore.”

And even as she said it, she wanted to change her phrasing, because she didn’t feel stuck at all. She was surprised at how…un-stuck she felt. How much she didn’t want to leave without fixing this, or at least trying to fix this.

Maggie still looked slightly confused, so Alex started talking again.

“Like, for example…we can start easy. Simple,” Alex said. She racked her brain and the only thing she could come up with to ask was, “What’s your favorite color?”

At that, the corner of Maggie’s mouth quirked up a little bit, and Alex couldn’t help but mirror it.

Maggie then glanced down at her slice of bread and placed it to the side.

“That’s a pretty tough question to start with, Danvers. I don’t know if I can give you a simple answer,” she said, but Alex could still see a small smirk on her face.

“I can go first, if you want,” Alex offered. Maggie just looked up again and then gestured for her to continue. So she did. “Okay. Mine’s orange.”

Maggie’s raised her eyebrows as if she was surprised. “Orange?” she clarified. Alex nodded and Maggie pointed to the backpack. “Is that why you wanted this so badly?”

Alex shook her head. “No, not bright orange. More like a sunset orange.”

“A sunset orange,” Maggie repeated. She seemed amused. “You don’t really peg me as a sunset orange type of girl.”

“Oh, well…believe me, I am,” Alex said very matter-of-factly, which got Maggie to smile more. It felt like an accomplishment in itself. “My sister, um…when she came to live with us, she would tell me how much she loved the sunsets. She’d go out and look at them every night and I never really appreciated them before she…opened my eyes.” Alex laughed a little bit. “That’s stupid and cliché, I know, but the oranges sort of became my favorite color because they…”

Alex would’ve continued, but Maggie had dropped the smile. She turned her head away when Alex looked back at her, but not before Alex saw the look on her face. It was a mixture of sadness and longing, and Alex quickly tried to think of how to make it go away.

“So what’s…what’s yours?” she asked.

She knew she’d messed up, somehow, elaborating. Maggie looked uncomfortable again, but Alex just waited patiently for her to say something, hoping she hadn’t just backtracked the slight progress she had been making.

Maggie seemed to gather herself again and ate a bite of her bread before she took a deep breath. “Purple.”

“What kind of purple?” Alex asked, knowing it was a stupid question but that Maggie would find it amusing.

And, thankfully, she sort of did. She shrugged. “I guess…like the flower. Like a violet-purple.”

Alex hummed. “Those are two very different colors. You weren’t kidding about not giving me a simple answer,” Alex said as she put a serious look on her face. “So, which is it? Violet or purple? This is extremely important.”

Maggie just looked at her but Alex didn’t drop it. Finally, she said, “Violet, I guess.”

“Violet. Good to know,” Alex said as she nodded. She didn’t ask Maggie to go into more detail, instead waiting to see if she offered it up herself.

One puzzle piece down…about a hundred more to go.

“Why are the oranges your favorite?” Maggie asked quietly after a beat of silence, which surprised Alex.

Maggie kept her head turned away, focusing instead on the supplies in front of her and messing with the frayed end of her rope.

Alex shifted slightly. “Oh, um…I guess because I don’t really get to see them any other time. I mean, orange is the kind of color that doesn’t really show up in nature that often. So when it does, it just seems…I don’t know, like it should be looked at. Appreciated. That…that sort of thing. It’s…that doesn’t make sense,” Alex finished with a little laugh and a shake of her head.

But Maggie was nodding slightly. “No, I…I think it does. Kind of. As long as it makes sense to you. The Gamemakers seem to think we won’t notice they don’t project sunrises and sunsets here. Just the moon and the stars and the sun. It kind of makes the arena not seem real, don’t you think?”

Alex looked outside where the rain was falling, even though she couldn’t see past five feet in front of the entrance, let alone the sky at the moment. She turned her wrist and glanced at her watch; it was just past 7 in the morning. She’d slept almost the whole night, in addition to all the rest she had already gotten.

“Yeah, I guess. But the stars are real, right?” Alex asked.

Now that she thought about it, though, she should’ve known they probably weren’t real. But they had different luminosities and made constellations she recognized sometimes. Maybe the Gamemakers were trying to make the arena as real as possible, but also knew that the Tributes wouldn’t care about stuff like that while fighting for their lives.

But her and Maggie, right now, were safe enough to wonder about these kinds of things. Just as Alex had been that first night, sleeping in the tree with Winn, when she’d thought about Kara doing the same thing she was doing, seeing the same stars she was seeing.

Alex looked back at Maggie and she shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe,” she said, but it didn’t seem like she believed it.

She also seemed to be trying to figure out why Alex had asked, but Alex didn’t really feel like talking about it at the moment, talking about her sister anymore. Even thinking about her was painful enough.

So Alex started to think of something else. Specifically, the fact that her and Maggie would make a great team. She’d thought that a while ago, and had tried to make it happen, to no avail. If the two of them ever teamed up, they’d be basically unstoppable.

They were, according to those judges, the two highest ranked Tributes, which meant they had the highest chances of winning, separately.

Except for the fact that Alex couldn’t seem to do what was necessary to win. She’d told Winn that he could win without ever killing another Tribute, but she was starting to see that it was sort of impossible. The girl that had managed to do it that one time had gotten lucky.

Which just added to the list of reasons Alex had started making as to why she needed Maggie.

Because Maggie didn’t seem to have a problem with killing other Tributes. She had seemed uncomfortable and unwilling to talk about Alana, and Alex was sure she regretted it and wasn’t proud of it. But Alex really didn’t know.

As Maggie had said—she was a Career. She was enough of a Career that her childhood was spent training for these Games. She possessed all the necessary skills to survive and come out on top.

She didn’t seem arrogant or self-righteous or like them in any way except that, however. Which had been what Alex was trying to tell her.

Alex had realized that she’d made a snap judgement about Maggie during that training session and Maggie had made one right back, probably to show her how it felt.

And then, when they’d talked after her interview, Maggie had been sort of giving her a second chance, a chance to redeem herself. But it probably seemed, from her eyes, that as soon as Alex had made that comment about her not being able to be part of a team, it was as though Alex would never be able to let go of what she originally believed about Maggie. Alex would never be able to see her as anything different. Alex believed that she was a Career and she acted like it.

But it was the fact that all that bothered Maggie so much, that made her not like the rest of the them. It was the fact that Maggie was so intent on not being like them that made her not them.

She didn’t want to be seen as a Career. Maybe she didn’t even want to be a Career in the first place, Alex thought. And she wondered why, or what, or who, had caused her not to want to.

That was probably a question for another time, though.

Right now, she’d stick with favorite colors and things like that. It seemed to be working.

In fact, it worked even better than she thought, because Maggie was the one who continued the conversation.

“It might be because of the force field,” Maggie said, “that we can’t see sunsets.”

Alex furrowed her brow. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s a force field around the border of the arena. We’re…I would say only about a mile away. It bounces back anything that comes in contact with it.”

“Oh.” Alex hadn’t really thought about the border of the arena that much. She’d been running all over, but never once reached the edge.

“I’ve heard of Tributes using it before as a weapon. Well…only one, actually,” Maggie said with a look aimed at Alex like she should know who it was, but Alex was just confused.

Then, it hit her.

J’onn.

He’d won the fortieth Hunger Games when he was fourteen-years-old, becoming the second Tribute from District 12 ever to be crowned a Victor.

Alex knew that. She’d asked him about it when she was a kid. She had asked why he didn’t live in the Seam and he’d explained to her why he lived in the Victor’s Village. His was a lone occupied house with others around it waiting for more to join him, but they were always empty.

Alex had never thought about J’onn actually being in the Games, though, or how he’d won.

She wasn’t really surprised that he had never told her. She could imagine him giving her a small smile and saying, “Another time,” whenever she asked. She’d probably thought he’d tell her when she was older.

It didn’t seem like something he’d want to talk about.

But he hadn’t even told her when she volunteered, when she was going in the Games herself.

So…how did Maggie know?

“J’onn?” Alex said softly, just to be sure. Maggie nodded. “But how…how do you know how he won?” she then asked. “He’s never even mentioned it to me.”

“They made us watch the tapes of previous Games all the time. Your mentor won his by making the other Tribute throw an axe at the force field and it bounced back to h— to kill her. It was…” Maggie shook her head and Alex listened intently, “unprecedented. I don’t think the Gamemakers ever thought anyone would do that.”

Alex couldn’t help a smile.

Winn was just like J’onn, but with the mines. Winn was using the arena to his full advantage. He’d thought of something no other Tribute would’ve even considered. And even if they had considered it, they wouldn’t have been able to make them work like Winn did.

That was one of the reasons Alex believed that he had an actual chance at winning this thing, even if he didn’t.

“He was one of the smartest, definitely,” Maggie continued, a far-off look in her eyes as if she was remembering all the Games she’d watched. “There was one year where the arena was a frozen tundra and almost all the Tributes died because they stayed in one place and froze to death. Wasn’t very entertaining, apparently, so they never did it again. They’ve pretty much perfected the arenas by now. They’ve made them just livable enough so we can barely keep ourselves alive for a couple weeks.”

And, surprisingly, Maggie kept talking. Alex’s full attention was on her as she described how the arenas ranged from barren deserts to abandoned cities. The kid who had won that year had broken the skull of the other remaining Tribute with a brick.

It was when she had finished describing the second Quarter Quell that she paused.

The Quarter Quells celebrated the anniversary of the Capitol’s victory over the rebels and were special, in a way. For the first, the twenty-fifth Games, the citizens of the Districts were forced to vote on which kids would be chosen to go in the arena, to remind them that they were directly responsible for the rebellion and that it was their fault their children had to die.

The second…

“They had to double the size of the arena to fit all forty-eight kids,” Maggie explained, her voice quieter now. “It’s bad enough with twenty-four…well, I guess we’re down to eleven now, but…” she went silent and Alex didn’t want to stop her, wondering what she was going to say. She shifted slightly. “They…they teach us that it’s okay, that no rules apply in here. And every year I thought that the winning kill was more brutal than the last I’d watched. I just…” she looked up and at Alex for a second as if wondering whether to continue or not.

Alex gave her a small smile to let her know she didn’t have to keep going if she didn’t want to.

But Maggie took a deep breath. “I just want to die as myself,” she said in one breath as if she’d been itching to say it, had wanted to tell somebody. “Does that…make sense?”

Alex would’ve told her yes, but she didn’t really get it. How could Maggie die as anyone but herself?

Alex shook her head, wanting Maggie to elaborate.

“I—I don’t want them to…change me, in here, you know? I don’t want to turn into some kind of…monster,” Maggie practically whispered.

A flash of lightning lit up the forest for a split second, which Alex saw out of the corner of her eye as she didn’t want Maggie to stop, so she didn’t even glance over at it. Maggie did, and then leaned back against the edge of the cave.

Alex wondered how long Maggie had been waiting to tell someone this. She felt kind of honored that Maggie wanted to tell her, for whatever reason.

Alex opened her mouth to say something, but Maggie continued.

“But that’s the thing. I-I think I’m already—”

It was at that moment that they both heard a familiar Boom from outside the cave.

Alex whipped her head towards the entrance.

Alex’s senses seemed to come alive, and she started to look around the cave for her supplies.

She glanced at Maggie with wide eyes. “W-was that a canon?” she asked quickly.

“I don’t know,” Maggie said as she, too, started to move towards the mouth of the cave.

The rain seemed to beat down even harder now, but Alex thought it was partly because it had been in the back of her mind before.

“It could’ve been thunder,” Maggie suggested.

And as if to prove her wrong, a rumble of thunder pierced Alex’s ears about a second later.

It was like a wake-up call.

Her heart started to pound. Winn.

That canon could be Winn. Even if it wasn’t…whoever it was could be after him.

What was she still doing here? She’d been here way too long. She had to leave. Now.

She had to check if it was him. And if it was…she shook her head. She couldn’t think about that right now.

She’d taken the pain medication about an hour ago when she’d woken up, so her body felt pretty good at the moment.

Alex started to stuff all her supplies in her jacket pockets, and Maggie had been sitting towards the entrance in silence until Alex felt something touching her arm.

Maggie was holding the backpack out to her, trying to get her to look up, and she did.

Maggie held her arm out straighter as if to try and give it to her, but Alex was just confused.

“It’s—it’s yours, Maggie. I can’t—”

Maggie shook her head. “Just take it, Danvers. You can’t fit the sleeping bag in your pocket. And it’s your favorite color anyway,” she explained with a small smile. Alex was about to correct her before she realized that Maggie was making an excuse to give it to her.

Somehow, she seemed to know why Alex was packing up and leaving so quickly. Her face must be projecting her worry pretty plainly.

“Thank you,” Alex said before taking it and transferring the sunglasses, the rest of her meager stash of food, and the sleeping bag, along with a couple other things, into it quickly.

Maggie shrugged as if it was no big deal and scooted away so Alex would have more room to move.

Alex took a deep breath and braced herself for getting up. She’d managed to kneel that morning, but standing was a whole other thing.

She took her time, knowing how important it was to go slowly so as to make sure she could stay standing, and finally took a few steps forward. She managed not to vomit this time, which was great. But her legs were a little unsteady, and she could feel her heartbeat in her head.

Alex pulled her hood up and turned around at the entrance before she went outside to the rain. “Hey,” she said, and Maggie looked up. “If you’re gonna come after me, you might want to bring an umbrella or something.”

Maggie smirked and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.

Alex smiled back. She had a feeling Maggie wouldn’t come after her.

She wondered if she’d ever see Maggie again. She wanted to, so they could continue that conversation they’d been having, so she could tell Maggie what she wanted to tell her, but she had to go.

Alex stepped out into the rain and immediately wished she was back in the slightly warmer cave with something over her head.

But she reminded herself that another Tribute had just died—which made for ten left, now—and it could very well be Winn. The canon had been close enough that she and Maggie heard it over the rain, which meant that whoever it was wasn’t very far away.

Alex had no idea which way to start walking—she was going to build up to jogging as she wouldn’t be any help to Winn if she passed out again—but it was beginning to get even lighter outside and she swore she could see less dark clouds in the sky, so maybe she wouldn’t have to walk blindly for very much longer.

She started to think of where Winn might have gone. He’d had almost three days to wander around by himself. He could’ve stayed in a tree or gone looking for Alex. Alex hoped he hadn’t, but he could’ve.

She wished they’d come up with some kind of signal, some kind of meeting spot if they ever got separated. They were definitely doing that as soon as she found him.

He would probably be back near where they’d set the bomb off, as that was the place he would think Alex would come looking for him.

Or he’d gone back to the Cornucopia to grab more bombs and went to the Career’s camp alone.

Alex was definitely going to have some choice words with him if he’d decided on that option.

Alex started to get more worried as more time passed and she had no signs, no clues, no indication of where Winn might be. All she had to go on was that canon going off.

She decided to stop going forward, which, according to her compass, was East, and planned on making a huge circle.

Whoever had killed that Tribute had to be around here somewhere.

Alex tightened her fist around her knife, pausing every so often to check her surroundings and rest her back against a tree, shielding herself and the backpack from the rain for a minute. She hated that her body wasn’t at its full strength, and worried that the backpack wouldn’t keep everything inside it dry.

But even if she had to walk for hours until her legs physically couldn’t keep her upright anymore, and even if everything she currently had with her was soaked to the bone, she’d keep going.

She began to get frustrated and thought about testing her strength, seeing if she could jog or maybe even run.

No. No. She couldn’t. If she was at home, she would still be on bed rest, probably. Even walking for this long was not going to be good for her body, at all.

She wasn’t going to give up, though. She couldn’t wait until that night, to see the face of whoever was killed up in the sky. That would drive her crazy. She had a brief moment of imagining Winn’s face appearing before she heard someone running.

Or, not exactly running. At least not at full speed.

Alex flattened her back against the tree trunk, trying to discern which way the noise was coming from and hopefully catch a glimpse of who it was.

She saw a blur, but she blinked and it was gone.

The person had been short, maybe limping.

Alex felt her adrenaline kick in and walked even faster towards the person, not caring that her head was starting to hurt again. She knew this was a stupid idea, but she, frankly, didn’t care.

She caught another glimpse and almost stopped in her tracks. There was a huge blood stain she very much recognized on the arm of the jacket.

“Winn?” Alex breathed, before she realized he couldn’t hear her. She sped up her pace a little bit and shouted, “Winn!”

Winn spun around and his eyes widened as he took in who was in front of him.

Alex felt herself smile. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe…”

But then she saw Winn’s worried and shocked expression and wondered why he didn’t seem as happy to see her.

“Are you okay?” Alex asked, dropping the smile as she got closer, but Winn didn’t say a word.

He just grabbed Alex by the jacket and pulled her after him as he started running again. Although Alex didn’t know whether she could call it running as he was limping ever other step.

“Winn, are you okay?”

“It was an accident, Alex. I swear. I—I…I didn’t know that she would…that it was going to…” Winn stuttered, deep, quick breaths punctuating every couple of words.

Alex tried to slow him down, to calm her own heartbeat, but he wasn’t having it. Alex finally got out of his grip and held onto his arm with more strength than she knew she had in her.

“Winn, I can’t go that fast, I…I can’t,” Alex admitted. She swallowed. “I got hurt. Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

Winn shook his head and looked like he was about to start crying, which made Alex even more worried and confused.

“I can’t go that fast either. My ankle…” he glanced down and quickly whipped his head back up. “But we need to keep going. She’s…she’s after me.”

He started fast-walking again and Alex had no choice but to follow him.

“Who’s after you?” Alex asked, glancing behind her. She couldn’t hear any rustling or boots pounding on the ground.

Winn looked at her and opened his mouth only to close it again. “Siobhan. She’s…I—I accidentally…”

He adjusted the rucksack on his shoulder and turned his head forward again.

“Winn,” Alex said sternly, trying to get him to look back at her, to finish that sentence. She was a little scared at how scared Winn seemed to be to tell her.

“Th-the wire. There’s a tree. The lightning always hits this one tree,” he started to explain. He gulped and continued, “And I wanted to see if—if the wire…but the rain. And…and Leslie…”

Alex’s eyes widened as she began to understand.

“Leslie touched it and it…the lightning…the shock hit her heart, I think. She d-died. Ii—it was an accident. I didn’t mean to do it, Alex. I swear I didn’t. I didn’t know she would…”

Alex slowed down to process what he was saying, and Winn seemed to unknowingly slow his pace as well.

He shook his head. “A-and now Siobhan’s after me because…she saw Leslie’s…body and she…”

Alex couldn’t tell if he was crying or not as the water on his face was probably a mixture of raindrops and tears, but his voice began to shake.

“I c-can’t run anymore, Alex. My ankle hurts so badly and I can’t climb a st-stupid tree and you can’t run either and she’s gonna—”

“Winn, listen to me,” Alex said sharply, making sure he was looking at her. “I believe you. That it was an accident. Okay?” She waited until she got a slight nod from him. She knew she’d have to check again later, but they had other important things to worry about right then. “I’m going to need you to be calm for me.”

Winn let out a little laugh that Alex knew wasn’t from amusement but from a whole mixture of emotions he was probably feeling.

“How is your ankle?” she instead asked, trying to gauge how much farther he could run while figuring out the same for herself.

“I was in a t-tree earlier, but I don’t think I can climb one now ‘cause I m-messed it up even more and it hurts like hell, Alex,” Winn told her. He seemed to be trying to keep even more weight off his foot now as they kept travelling.

Alex nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay. Okay. I can’t run very much either as I’ll probably pass out and that wouldn’t be good for both of us.”

Alex wondered how far behind Siobhan was from them. But she knew it wouldn’t matter. Siobhan was probably in much better shape than the two of them, and could keep after them for hours.

Alex thought quickly. She definitely couldn’t climb a tree and also couldn’t help Winn climb one either as her wrist was still fractured. The rain wasn’t letting up and their clothes were becoming more plastered to their bodies by the second.

“So wh-what do we do?” Winn asked.

Alex looked back at him and then at the forest in front of her as she got out her compass.

This was probably a bad idea, she thought. But it was their only option. Alex pursed her lips and changed their course slightly.

“I think I know somewhere we can go.”

Chapter Text

Alex squeezed her eyes shut to stop her head from pounding and to prevent a wave of shivers from hitting her.

How had Winn survived out in the rain like this for so long?

He had probably been too busy trying to survive on his own. He told her that J’onn had sent him something to wrap his ankle in, which Alex was happy about. But then…

“I thought you were dead, you know,” Winn practically whispered out of the blue. It was just loud enough to jolt Alex out of her thoughts.

She looked at him. He had his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets to keep them from freezing.

“After the bomb went off I went back to it to find you, but you weren’t there. And then…and then I didn’t hear a canon go off, but I saw the helicopter. The one that takes the bodies away,” Winn said. He took a deep breath. “I thought it was you for…hours. Until Alana’s face appeared in the sky that night.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex said. She couldn’t imagine how he must’ve reacted, or how he’d felt. “I didn’t think about that. Believe me, I would’ve came back if I could’ve.”

“Did you kill her?” Winn asked next with a quick glance. Alex shook her head and Winn pursed his lips. He let out a sharp breath, and surprisingly didn’t question Alex further. Instead, he stayed silent before he said, “I…I can’t believe I killed Leslie.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Winn,” Alex reassured him.

“No, but…it kind of was,” Winn said with a slight nod. “I mean, I didn’t know why I wanted to see if it worked. I think maybe I did want to try it out…on someone, eventually. I don’t know. I was curious, I guess, if the wire could conduct the electricity. Or if it would be too much and it would fry it.”

“It was smart,” Alex said. Winn gave her a look, but Alex kept going, “I’m serious. I’m not saying it’s the best thing that’s ever happened, but…if we want to get out of here, we have to start, y’know, thinking like that. The only way we’ll get out of here is if everyone else is…not here.”

Alex didn’t know why she was saying ‘we.’ They both knew what would eventually have to happen, at the end of this.

It couldn’t be the both of them.

It never could.

“Do you still have the wire?” Alex then asked.

Winn shook his head. “I left it on the tree, I didn’t have time to go get it. They might have taken it, with Leslie.”

“Okay. That’s fine. We’ll just have to…”

“Figure out something else for the bombs.”

“Yeah.”

They both went silent for a while, partly from exhaustion and partly from, in Alex’s case, to let Winn have a chance to think and calm down about what had happened.

“Why are we going West?” Winn eventually asked.

He had now, unfortunately, realized that they were going West. Which Alex knew was the way back to Maggie’s cave. Alex kind of wished he was still preoccupied with other thoughts, or else he would start asking questions she didn’t know how to answer yet.

“Because that’s where…” Alex started to say, but faltered, “we can stay.”

“Stay. And where exactly are we staying?” Winn inquired, narrowing his eyes.

“Um…” Alex tried to think of how to explain this to him. She definitely liked it better when it was silent, and Winn wasn’t noticing things.

She was trying to find the border of the arena. Then, she’d stay about a mile from it so they would eventually run into the cave. That’s where Maggie had told her it was anyhow.

“Alex? Where are we going?”

Alex bent down and fumbled around for a handful of small rocks on the ground. “Here,” she said instead of answering his question, handing one of the rocks to him.

Winn seemed confused, but Alex threw one in front of her. It made a neat arc and landed back on the ground.

“Okay, are you sick, or something? Are you going crazy? Why are you throwing rocks?”

“I’m trying to find the border of the arena,” Alex said as she lobbed another one, further this time.

“Again, why?”

“Because the place I was staying was near the border and we need to find it. So that Siobhan doesn’t kill us.”

“Ah. Okay. So, this place,” he said slowly, “what exactly is this place?”

“It’s…it’s a cave,” Alex finally said. She’d have to tell him sometime. She was about to continue but didn’t get a chance to.

Winn stopped fast-walking abruptly. Alex tried to pull on his arm again, but he just looked at her, almost slack-jawed. “You…I’m sorry, you mean to tell me…that for three days, I had to camp out in a tree and you somehow managed to find a cave and you…I had to get rained on while you were just sitting all cozy in a cave?”

Alex turned back with a guilty look on her face and started walking again.

“Now that is just not fair. Not at all,” Winn then said with a scoff and a little incredulous laugh as he followed her.

“The explosion…it messed me up pretty badly. And Alana gave me a concussion so technically I didn’t even know I was in the cave for two days ‘cause I passed out. And—”

“Wait, then how did you get to the cave?”

“I, um…I may have had some help.”

“Alex, will you stop giving me ambiguous answers? It would be easier if you just told me. You’re making it seem like the most horrible thing happened.”

Well…definitely not the most horrible, Alex couldn’t help but think. More like one of the best things…

Alex sighed. “Okay, well, see— Ow!”

A pebble had hit Alex’s forehead and she realized that it had bounced back.

Both Alex and Winn stopped. Alex threw another pebble and quickly dodged it as it came back like a boomerang.

With a quick glance at Winn, Alex strode forward and hesitantly held out a hand.

She eventually touched the force field and felt a faint buzz of energy all the way up her arm. It felt…alive.

Alex smiled over her shoulder and Winn came to inspect it as well.

“Woah,” he said softly as he, too, held his hand against it.

Alex tilted her head up towards the sky. She wondered if the arena was encased in a dome, or maybe the wall only went up to a certain height.

They didn’t have time to test it though.

Alex stepped back and tugged on Winn’s jacket. “C’mon, we gotta go about a mile away from this thing and walk North now.”

Alex hoped their footprints were being washed away as they kept moving forward. During a rainstorm was probably the best time to walk around because of the limited visibility and occasional thunder clap that drowned out any noise.

But it was also not particularly fun for the people running away from someone in it.

Ten minutes later, Alex decided it was time to head North. The odds that they’d find Maggie’s cave again seemed small, as Alex hadn’t really paid attention to what it looked like on the outside. She really wished she had, but she’d been too busy worrying about finding Winn.

She hoped that it wasn’t hidden or hard to see. The sun was starting to break through the clouds now, though, as the Gamemakers—and probably the audience, too—seemed to be getting tired of the constant downpour.

Alex wondered why they bothered to make it look natural, to make it look like they weren’t controlling every drop that hit the ground.

Alex wondered how much of the arena was subject to this. Maybe it was just the Western side…or maybe, just maybe, it was meant for her specifically.

It had started to rain just as she’d turned on that mine. Literally right then.

And that early drop signaling a bigger storm had hit just in the right spot.

That was definitely something to think about.

If Maggie was right about the Gamemakers being able to manipulate every aspect of the arena, it seemed likely that one of the four people around that area—Alex, Winn, Maggie, and Alana—was the specific target for the rain.

But…why? Alex had given them no reason, other than maybe throwing that knife at the judges, to hate her. No reason to make them want to literally (almost) blow her up.

Maybe they just thought she’d had it too easy, so far. Which Alex couldn’t really argue with.

It seemed like something they’d do to amuse themselves.

And the more Alex thought about it, the more she believed that they would do it just to mess with her. It was sadistic and cruel, sure, but that was the Capitol’s intention. That was the Games. Sadistic and cruel and life-ruining not only for the kids stuck in the arena, but for the families and friends back home as well.

Maybe she’d made more of an impression on them than she’d thought. Maybe M’gann was even better at her job than Alex originally believed.

They seemed to be dowsing the Girl on Fire.

Back when Alex had been too young to be Reaped and Kara hadn’t been in her life, Alex watched the Games with everyone else in the square. Eliza would never come, but Jeremiah would.

Every time they would go to watch, though, when something particularly gruesome was about to happen, Jeremiah would take her back home.

Alex had stopped watching four years ago, the summer after J’onn had started to train her.

It had begun to be a bit too real, a bit too horrifying, to think about going in the Games herself, now that she was actually preparing for them. J’onn had never made her watch tapes of previous Games like Maggie had had to do. Although Alex kind of wished she had. As traumatizing as it must’ve been for Maggie, it was helping her immensely. In a way, she didn’t know how lucky she had it, being so prepared.

Alex hadn’t travelled very far from the cave in search of Winn, and it wasn’t long before they found it again.

The mouth was visible but that was about it. Surrounding it on all sides and the top were vines and shrubs hiding it from view. Since Alex knew to look for it, it wasn’t very difficult to spot.

But Maggie wasn’t there.

Alex had a brief moment of panic, imagining a hundred different reasons why she wouldn’t be.

She could be in trouble, or she could actually be looking for Alex. Going after her, as she’d promised. But…no. It hadn’t really seemed like she would. Although Maggie was pretty hard to read, so maybe…

Maybe she was getting water, or more food. All her supplies were still there, pushed towards the back of the cave now so that they couldn’t be seen until Alex peered inside.

“This is the cave?” Winn asked as he moved closer to her.

Alex nodded. She wasn’t really sure what to do now. Whether to wait for Maggie or go inside and hope Maggie wouldn’t flip out at the both of them being there, which Alex was sure she was going to do.

“Yeah, you can just—”

“Woah! Wait,” Winn suddenly exclaimed as he tried to back up quickly, almost tripping over his own feet. Alex turned towards him to help him up, but he kept going. “This is…someone’s here. That’s not your stuff, is it? Someone else is using this.”

“I know, Winn. I know. It’s…fine. It’ll be fine. Maybe. Just go inside, get out of the rain,” Alex said as she ushered him forward.

Winn looked utterly confused and didn’t come closer.

“Whose cave is this?” he asked. When Alex didn’t answer, he repeated, “Alex, whose cave is this?”

Alex brushed some of the hair that was sticking to her forehead away.

“It’s, um…it’s Maggie’s,” Alex finally said, her voice quiet.

Winn’s eyebrows shot up, but he stayed still.

Alex swallowed. “She…she helped me after Alana hit me with a rock and I passed out and she brought me here and then I left to go get you and now…now we’re back and I’m not really sure whether she’ll be angry or where she is, but she’s not here now so you can probably just—”

Winn held up a hand for her to stop, and Alex slowly closed her mouth.

Alex waited for him to say something, but he just took a couple steps forward and peered into the cave again.

Then, Alex could’ve sworn she heard leaves rustling and quickly shoved Winn inside, following after him quickly.

It was either Siobhan or Maggie, and she wasn’t really ready to face either of them quite yet.

Alex held her breath and turned back to Winn to make sure he wasn’t making any noise, but he was just rubbing his ankle and glaring at her. Alex mouthed a small “sorry,” and crawled even further into the cave.

They were silent for another couple of minutes to make sure whoever it was wouldn’t come near them, and then Alex pushed Winn’s pant leg up to see his ankle.

She was about to get his boot off, but Winn shook his head sharply.

“Last time I tried to take it off I twisted it even more,” he told her. “I was sort of able to wrap it up with it on, but I’m not really sure if I did that right either.”

Alex nodded as she slid the backpack off her back and took her knife out of her belt. Winn looked confused again, but Alex pressed the blade against his boot and began to cut it off.

“What are you—”

“It’s never going to heal properly if you don’t wrap it right, and definitely not if you have it at this angle. You should’ve used the knife I gave you to cut away the boot.”

“Well sorry, Doctor Danvers, I was kind of trying not to die, so…” Winn teased with a little smirk, but Alex gave him a look and he shut up pretty quickly.

People called her mom ‘Doctor Danvers.’ Not her.

Once she was done sawing at the boot, she peeled it off slowly as the rain had plastered it to the gauze J’onn had sent him.

Winn’s foot looked pretty swollen, which was probably why he couldn’t pull the boot off, and Alex quickly unwrapped his ankle to inspect it.

“Does that hurt?” she asked as she pressed her fingers around it.

“No, not r— oh shit, yeah. Yup,” Winn breathed as she touched a sensitive part, “That hurts.”

Alex wasn’t really sure how they would find him another boot. They’d probably have to get one from another Tribute somehow.

But Alex wasn’t going to let Winn walk around for a while anyway. He’d done enough damage to his ankle already and it really needed to be elevated and definitely not walked on for at least a day.

She told Winn all this and he just nodded. His hair was starting to dry, but he would still shiver sometimes. Alex noticed how tired he looked, now that she could see bags around his eyes and dirt smudged on various parts of his clothing and face.

He needed a bath.

And then she realized that she probably did, too.

They’d been in the arena for a little over a week now. They wouldn’t have fresh clothes to change into, but Alex supposed they could wash the ones they had and somehow hang them up to dry when the rain finally let up completely.

She wondered how far they were from a water source. And the lake, specifically.

Maggie would probably know.

Alex focused on re-wrapping Winn’s ankle and making him chew more pain-relieving plants so he would stop wincing every time he moved his foot the tiniest bit.

Maggie had their canteen now, but thankfully Winn had thought to keep the cap of the package he was sent that would act as a cup.

“I’m going to go get you—us—” Alex added when Winn raised his eyebrows, “some water. I’ll be right outside so you can see me. Don’t move.” Winn had looked worried, although he tried not to show it.

He shrugged. “I probably couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

Alex stood again, pulling her hood back up. She made sure Winn had a knife sitting beside him and took one for herself just in case.

But about three seconds after she stepped out of the cave, she felt a rough but small hand grab her wrist. Her arm twisted behind her back at a painful angle.

Alex’s first instinct was to use her knife, but she realized it was gone.

And before she could figure out what exactly was happening, she was spun around and her back hit a tree trunk.

Alex blinked and there was an arm against her collarbone, a cold, metal knife blade touching her throat…and she was staring at Maggie.

Alex had a hard time breathing as she tried to mask her surprise because Maggie’s face was very close to her own.

Maggie’s brow furrowed when she realized who was in front of her. It was silent for a second as Alex found that she literally could not move a single part of her body as she was somehow trapped against the tree, and Maggie didn’t seem to know what to do.

“Danvers?” Maggie said quietly. Her hold faltered the tiniest bit.

“Hey,” Alex said back with an awkward smile.

Maggie opened her mouth again and still looked confused, but nothing came out and she closed it again.

Alex took the fact that Maggie was not pressing the knife harder against her throat as a good sign and instead of worrying about whether or not she was going to die, she tried to calm her heartbeat and not think about the very close proximity they were in and how it was very, very silent.

Maggie seemed to finally realize this, too, and stepped out of her space enough that Alex could move, but Alex noticed she still kept her grip tight around the knife handle.

“What are you doing here?” Maggie finally asked. She seemed alert and her eyes darted, glancing around as if expecting another person to pop out of the trees.

Alex started to rub her hands together nervously, which Maggie also seemed to notice for a split second before she focused her attention elsewhere, and cleared her throat.

Alex wasn’t sure exactly how to start…or how to end…or how to explain the middle, really, so she just started talking and hoped she’d find her way at some point.

“Um, well, it’s a funny story, actually—” she started, even though it was not at all a funny story and she had no idea why she’d said that, but she didn’t get to finish.

“Alex? Are you okay?”

Alex’s eyes widened and Maggie had a slightly panicked look on her face as her head turned towards the cave, towards Winn’s voice, but her body stayed facing Alex.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just, um…” Alex said quickly so he wouldn’t come out of the cave. “There’s a better spot over here for the…the water, so I’ll be back in a second. Don’t get up.”

Maggie took a few more steps away from Alex now and looked at her expectantly. And Alex knew that that look meant she’d better start explaining, and fast.

So she tried.

“We’re not here to…we’re not ambushing you. I, we, I-I mean Winn, he needed to rest,” Alex rambled. “And we weren’t very far away, so I thought I’d bring him here ‘cause his ankle is really messed up. It’s got a sort of fracture or something. I’m not really sure. Anyway, I just…he needs, and I need, I guess, to rest. And this…you…uh, the cave…shit.” Alex clenched her jaw, angry at herself for not articulating the situation clearly.

Maggie still seemed very confused and crossed her arms.

And Alex took a deep breath and tried again.

“Winn and I were running away from someone. Siobhan, actually. His ankle is really messed up, and I’ve got a killer headache, and it was pouring, and we were really close so I thought that maybe I could bring him here.”

She almost let out a relieved breath. That was better.

But only slightly better, because Maggie’s expression turned from confusion to a hint of anger.

“Siobhan was after him?” she asked. Alex just nodded and Maggie looked at her. “So…you two led her here?”

Alex pursed her lips. Shit, she thought. She hadn’t considered that.

“Well, the rain washed away our footprints, so maybe she’s not…” Alex trailed off when Maggie raised her eyebrows. “Okay, fine. Yes, we probably did. I’m sorry. I-I didn’t think this through, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Maggie repeated.

“But I didn’t have time. We didn’t have time. And this was the only place, the only safe place,” Alex said, “I could think to go. For him.” Maggie’s face softened and Alex wanted to tell her that she hadn’t even wanted to leave in the first place, that she really wanted to come back, to see Maggie again, but didn’t think it was the right time.

It was quiet again while Maggie seemed to contemplate what Alex had told her. She glanced at the entrance to the cave and twirled the knife in her hand almost absentmindedly.

With her head turned away, Maggie finally spoke. “I told you that you could stay until you were better, and then you had to leave.”

“I know,” Alex said simply. She had a feeling Maggie wasn’t done, and she was right.

“And usually…usually when someone tells you to leave,” she said, her fingers running over the handle of the knife, “you don’t get to go back.”

She seemed to be purposefully not making eye contact for whatever reason, and Alex had a feeling that Maggie was talking about something else, that saying this was really hard for her. Alex had no idea why, and added it to her ever-growing list of things she wanted to find out more about.

Alex didn’t know what to say, or whether to wait for Maggie to keep talking. She stepped hesitantly closer to her, and Maggie didn’t create more space between them until they both heard Winn struggling to get up.

It seemed to break whatever spell had sort of washed over them both and Maggie suddenly straightened up as if she had just remembered that Winn was there, too.

Winn poked his head out of the cave, confused, and Alex and Maggie looked at him as his face lit up and he slowly grinned.

“Hey, Maggie! I thought that was you,” he then said a little too loudly, and Alex fought the urge to groan.

This…was going to be interesting.

Alex shot him a glare and Maggie’s face was blank, unreadable, as Alex moved so she was in between the both of them. Winn awkwardly sat at the edge of the cave.

“I thought I told you not to move,” Alex reminded him.

“Well, I heard you two talking, so I just thought I’d figure out what was goin’ on,” Winn said expectantly, looking between them. He then focused on Maggie. “I’m Winn, by the way. You…probably already knew that, though.”

Maggie nodded once. “Yeah.”

Alex noticed that Winn actually seemed a little…nervous to talk to Maggie, which was weird. Alex couldn’t think of any reason he would be. He’d literally just met her. He didn’t know anything about her. Not that Alex knew that much either, but still.

“Cool. So, uh…what’s goin’ on?” he said, turning towards Alex again.

Alex didn’t know how to answer that question, as she was pretty sure Maggie was in charge of the situation at the moment.

Alex could understand why she didn’t want them there, why she didn’t want to share her cave with them. She didn’t owe Alex anything, anymore. Not that she had in the first place, really. Alex hadn’t saved her life so she’d pay it back.

Alex was glad she had, but she hadn’t really expected her to, and not for the reasons Maggie might have thought.

Maggie seemed to be thinking, deciding.

Alex would understand if Maggie wanted them to leave.

Alex hoped she’d decide not to, but it was a long shot, she knew that.

Why had she thought this was a good idea, again? She couldn’t remember.

All she knew was that she was getting cold and she wished Maggie would decide a bit quicker so they could go into the cave…or find another place to sleep for that night.

“You knew Siobhan was after you,” Maggie said after another moment, although it came out as more of a question, directed towards Winn.

“Uh…yeah,” Winn said, looking at her but glancing at Alex as if for confirmation that he could tell her, probably wondering how she knew that. Alex just nodded slightly and waited for whatever was about to happen.

“She was pretty close, then? You saw her?” Maggie asked. Winn nodded. “So…if she was following you, then she’d be here by now.”

Winn nodded again. “Yeah, I guess.”

Maggie pursed her lips and looked around them as if to confirm that there was no one there, still not turning her back towards them.

Alex jumped on this and added, “Plus, I’ve, um…I’ve got a killer headache, so I’m not technically all the way better yet.”

Winn furrowed his brow, but Alex ignored him, instead waiting for Maggie’s reaction.

“Winn wasn’t included in that deal,” Maggie then said.

“I know, but…I’d be willing to switch.”

“Switch?”

Alex nodded. “Yeah. If he can stay in there until he gets better,” she explained, gesturing to the cave, “I can sleep in a tree or something. He needs it more than me.”

“What? There’s plenty of room in here, Alex,” Winn said. “Why can’t we all stay in here?”

Alex looked at him. “Because it’s Maggie’s cave. I don’t want to intrude. She doesn’t want us here,” Alex told him.

“I never said that,” Maggie under her breath, so quiet Alex almost didn’t hear it.

Alex felt like smiling, hoping that that meant what she thought it meant, that maybe Maggie had wanted her to stay. That maybe Maggie would let them both stay, now.

Alex had a feeling that she would, if she had a reason.

She seemed to need a reason, to need to justify, everything. She didn’t do things just because she wanted to.

She needed a good reason to keep the both of them around.

And that gave Alex an idea.

An idea she was angry at herself for not thinking of before, actually.

“Hey, Winn, what were you saying earlier about the bombs?” Alex said, practically out of the blue, and they both looked at her, but Alex kept her eyes on Winn. She could feel Maggie staring at her.

“What?” Winn asked, confused.

“You know, since we don’t have the wire anymore, we’ll need to figure out another way to blow up the whole camp, right?” she said, trying to get him to go along with what she was trying to do.

“Yeah…” Winn said suspiciously.

“What bombs?” Maggie asked as if she couldn’t help it.

Alex turned back to her. “Oh, the…the one’s that almost blew me up. They were from the Cornucopia. Winn actually managed to reactivate the mines in the platforms. We were testing it. That’s what exploded,” she explained.

Maggie glanced at Winn. “Really?” Winn nodded, and Maggie actually seemed impressed. “I…didn’t know that was possible.”

“I didn’t either. It was all Winn,” Alex told her. “We had a wire to connect them all, but now that we don’t have it anymore, we need to figure out another way to blow up the camp.”

“What camp?” Maggie then asked. Then, her eyes seemed to widen as she realized. “The Career’s camp?”

Alex nodded. Winn looked between them, still not following what was going on, so Alex continued.

“Yeah, I mean, we were going to try. ‘Cause they have a lot of stuff, and we didn’t think they needed all of it. Any of it, actually,” she said with a small smirk. “But it’s difficult because we didn’t get a good enough look at it when we were there, so…we don’t really know where to place all the bombs and such. And when they’d be gone long enough for us to do it.”

“And we’d need more bombs than the two of us could carry, anyway,” Winn added as he finally, finally seemed to figure out what Alex was trying to do. Alex gave him a quick smile and he continued, “So it’s probably not possible.”

“Unless we…you know, knew all that stuff. And were able to carry enough bombs.”

“Yeah,” Winn agreed with a nod and a dramatic, defeated sigh.

Alex waited, hoping they were being obvious enough that Maggie would also catch on. And thankfully she did.

She looked back and forth between them and crossed her arms.

Her eyes stopped on Alex for a second and Alex smiled at her.

“You two want me to help you blow up their camp,” Maggie then said.

Alex shrugged. “They have a lot of supplies, and the entire lake to themselves. They’ve had it pretty easy so far, don’t you think?”

“And it would go a lot better with someone who knew how they operated,” Winn pointed out.

“Someone who’s maybe a little angry at Max for basically holding her against her will,” Alex suggested.

“Someone who could definitely kick all their asses if we somehow got caught.”

“Someone who wouldn’t mind a little revenge on—”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Maggie said, interrupting Alex with an amused look her face.

When Maggie didn’t say anything else, Alex added in one more thing. “And we’d probably need a couple days to figure out how exactly we’d pull it off. And a place to stay while we do that. Somewhere no one could see us. All three of us.”

Alex was pretty sure Maggie wouldn’t want to work with the both of them, or even one of them, as a team.

But she definitely couldn’t pull this off herself. They needed Winn for the bombs, and Winn wouldn’t do it unless Alex was involved.

And now that Alex had planted the idea in her mind, she’d want to do it.

It was perfect. It gave her reason to keep them around. A really good reason.

Alex didn’t know a lot about Maggie, but she knew that she didn’t like the other Careers. Maybe even hated them.

They wouldn’t expect her to do it, wouldn’t expect her to team up with District 12 under any circumstances. No one would expect her to. Which was also one of the reasons Alex was sure she’d want to do it.

Alex and Winn looked at her expectantly as she still seemed to be deciding, calculating, weighing pros and cons, whatever she was doing.

“So?” Alex asked quietly when it had been silent for a while.

Maggie finally pursed her lips and shrugged.

And then she smiled a little bit, looked at Alex, and asked, “Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

Alex had sort of been expecting an, “I’ll think about it.” Or, “On one condition.”

But maybe she’d underestimated how much Maggie hated the other Careers.

(Or how much Maggie wanted her to stay.)

Alex was immensely relieved that she’d agreed, that they were working together because, as it turned out, her and Winn really needed Maggie.

“That wouldn’t work,” Maggie said with a shake of her head.

They’d pushed everything they currently had in their possession, which wasn’t a lot, to the corners of the cave and were sitting around a map they’d drawn in the dirt of the area around the Career’s camp.

“Why not?” Winn asked.

“Because they’d never leave the camp unattended. We could get two of them out of there fine, but we’ll have to find another way to get rid of whoever would stay behind,” Maggie stated.

She knew everything about them.

Probably because she’d been trained the exact same way. She knew how they thought, how the structure of their ‘teams’ worked, how they organized their supplies.

She knew a lot more than Alex had been expecting.

But Maggie wouldn’t be Maggie without surprising Alex, without doing what she least expected.

“Okay, but they could’ve recruited someone else by now. Max seems to have a pattern,” Alex said. “It’d be easier if it wasn’t one of the three of them, right?”

Maggie shrugged. “Probably. But that would mean we’d need more of a distraction. Plus, we’d still have to buy enough time to place the bombs and explode them before the others came back.”

“And we gotta bury the bombs, too,” Winn pointed out.

Maggie looked at him. “What? Why?”

“It’s much more effective and easier to control when they go off. We wouldn’t have to bury them that deep at all, but it’d be worth the risk to do it ‘cause…otherwise bad things happen,” Winn said as he glanced at Alex.

Alex pursed her lips. She had to agree with that.

Concussions were not fun. Even mild ones.

They’d been back and forth about various things for hours, and Alex noticed Winn looked tired. He’d been excited earlier, when Maggie had agreed, and pretty hyped up about it all. But Alex had noticed how exhausted he’d been when they’d first gotten to the cave, and he looked even more exhausted now.

“Maybe we can talk more in the morning?” Alex suggested when they had a lull in the conversation. “You look pretty tired, Winn.”

Winn waved her off even though he looked like he was trying not to yawn. “Nah, I’m fine.”

“Okay, that was me being nice,” Alex said with a small smile. “You look like crap.”

“Wow,” Wow said with a scoff and a glance at Maggie, who seemed amused. “Well, I didn’t really get a chance to look in a mirror this morning, so…” he teased. And then he furrowed his brow. “Wait, that was you being nice?”

“I think you should sleep,” Alex suggested again, this time with a bit more force behind her voice.

Then, it seemed like Winn had just realized something, and he smirked.

“Ohhh. Oh, oh, oh. Got it. Sleep. Yup. That is something I need to do,” he said, nodding. “And uh…if you two wanna stay up and…talk, then, y’know, that’s fine. I’m pretty tired, so don’t worry about me.”

Alex managed a tight-lipped smile and thankfully Maggie looked confused now. Winn didn’t seem to be noticing Alex’s death glare and continued.

“I mean, I can sleep through anything—”

“Winn, can I talk to you for a second? Alone?” Alex interrupted quickly, trying not to clench her jaw and acting like nothing was wrong.

Alex knew this was going to happen. Winn was about as subtle as Kara whenever she got excited about something.

It was silent for a second as they both looked at Maggie.

“You’re kicking me out of my own cave?” Maggie finally asked.

“Just for a minute,” Alex said with a smile. “Please?”

Maggie sighed. “Fine. I need more water anyway,” she said as she got up, taking the canteen and a knife with her. “You have two minutes.”

“Thank you,” Alex said as she disappeared from view. And as soon as she did, Alex rounded on Winn.

His innocent smile was not fooling her, and Alex immediately dropped her own.

“You need to not do that,” she said sternly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. You cannot say a single word to her about…the thing,” Alex said in a hushed voice in case Maggie was still close enough to hear.

“‘The thing.’ Is that what we’re calling it now?”

Alex kept staring at him as he busied himself with setting up the sleeping bag. Alex could see him grinning and she became more annoyed.

“I’m serious. I’m…handling it.”

“Well?”

Winn.”

He finally looked up. “I’m just curious as to how exactly you’re handling it. ‘Cause you did get some alone time, finally,” he said. “How did that go?”

Alex clenched her jaw. “I told you. I’m serious about this.”

“Well so am I. I genuinely want to know. Did you figure out that she doesn’t hate you? As I’ve been telling you for the past week?”

Alex crossed her arms and looked away from him. “I don’t know if she hates me or not.”

“Oh, my god,” Winn groaned as he rolled his eyes. “We would not be here right now if she hated you, Alex. Trust me.”

“What would you know about this stuff? You’re like twelve.”

“Okay, I’ll remind you that I’m almost fourteen, thank you very much,” Winn said like that was a big deal.

Alex huffed. “All I’m saying, all I’m asking, is that you lay off while she’s around. You’re not subtle about it, at all, and I know you’re a terrible liar, so if she ever asks you anything about it, avoid answering her, okay?”

Winn pursed his lips. “Why?” he asked quietly.

“Because it’s easier if she doesn’t know. It just…is. Promise me you won’t say anything.”

If Winn could keep his mouth shut, it would make this whole thing a lot easier on her.

Not that it was particularly easy now, but…

“Alright. I promise,” Winn said quietly after a moment, looking at Alex like he was studying her, which made Alex turn her head away.

“Good. Thank you.”

Winn maneuvered so he was sitting on top of the sleeping bag, and Alex insisted he sleep in it tonight.

“Are you sleeping, too? How long has it been since you last slept?” he then asked.

“I slept last night and for two whole days before that, so I can take the first shift. I have to wait until Maggie gets back anyway.”

Winn seemed skeptical about that, but Alex had Maggie as an alibi, which she told him, and he seemed to believe her.

But before he laid down, he nudged her arm with a small, “Hey,” and Alex looked at him.

“Thank you, for finding me,” he said with a small smile. “I know you didn’t want to leave.”

Alex shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. We’re partners, as I’ve told you a hundred thousand times, and I wouldn’t leave you alone any longer than I had to.”

Winn just nodded and Alex couldn’t help herself wrapped her arms around him.

He seemed surprised for half a second before he hugged her back.

Alex felt like crying for some reason, as though her brain had just now registered the relief she felt at having him back, having him safe, having him around again…as annoying as he was.

“I’ll always find you. I promise,” she whispered so the microphones that were probably in the cave couldn’t pick it up, so he alone could hear it.

She could’ve sworn she heard him sniffle and she smiled before pulling out of the hug.

“That reminds me, actually,” Alex then said at a normal volume, pretending not to notice Winn’s shiny eyes. “We need a signal in case we get separated again. Or a place to meet up.”

Winn nodded again and cleared his throat. “Y-yeah. But, uh…it’d be kind of hard, ‘cause there’s only really trees, here. And I think this cave’s pretty far from the lake.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Maybe we could—”

“Oh! Oh,” Winn suddenly said a little too loudly, and Alex jumped. “I just remembered, sorry for scaring you,” he said, and he looked a bit too amused for Alex to think he was actually sorry, but he wiped his eyes and continued. “But I saw a nest. Well, at first I thought it was a tracker jacker hive, which freaked me out and I almost fell out of the tr—…that’s not relevant. Anyway, I figured out it was a Jabberjay nest.”

“Seriously?” Alex asked. “Are you sure?”

“I’m pretty sure. I mean, the birds weren’t in it, obviously, ‘cause it was raining. But it was built a little too perfectly for a mockingbird nest,” Winn explained.

Alex believed him, as all she knew about Jabberjays were that they were mutations made by the Capitol. It would make sense that they didn’t behave exactly like normal birds, with normal nests.

But what they did do was mimic conversations.

“So, you’re saying we could communicate via the Jabberjays,” Alex said. Winn nodded. “But how?”

“We could try saying something like ‘Alex, I need help,’ or whatever within range of one and it would repeat it. And then another one would pick it up and repeat it. And it would, maybe, eventually get back to you. Somehow.”

Alex pursed her lips. It wasn’t a perfect way, but…it was all they had.

“Alright, I guess we can try it. I’ll tell Maggie. You, on the other hand, should get some sleep.”

Winn waved a hand but didn’t argue with her, instead pretty quickly arranging himself so he was comfortable in the sleeping bag.

“Tell me what?”

Alex whipped her head towards the entrance as Maggie came back into the cave.

“Oh, um, Winn had this idea,” Alex said as she pointed a thumb over her shoulder, but when she looked back at Winn, he already looked asleep. Alex smiled and turned her head away. “He thought that if we ever got separated we could use the Jabberjays to communicate.”

Maggie sat down again, placing the canteen next to her, pretty close to Alex. Although Alex wasn’t sure how she’d sit far away from her. There wasn’t much room in the cave now with all three of them, despite what Winn had said before.

“Oh yeah, I saw those nests,” Maggie said with a nod. “That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah,” Alex agreed quietly.

Did everyone know about the Jabberjays except for her?

Maggie knew everything about everything related to the Games in general, so Alex wasn’t too surprised. And Winn happened to run into one and somehow knew what kind of nest it was.

It occurred to her that the only person that didn’t seem to be needed in this three-person team…was her.

Winn had to reactivate the bombs, and Maggie had a ton of knowledge about the Career’s camp.

Alex was kind of just…there.

Although Winn and Maggie never would’ve found each other, probably never would’ve teamed up, if it wasn’t for her.

But still.

“He’s a pretty smart kid,” Maggie then said, breaking the silence that Alex had let fill the cave as she’d become preoccupied with her wandering thoughts. Maggie regarded Winn for a second.

Alex nodded. “Yeah, he is. Sometimes,” she said with a little smirk, knowing Winn couldn’t get mad as he was pretending to be asleep, and he’d know she was teasing anyway.

“How do you know him? Is he your sister’s friend?” Maggie then asked.

“Oh, um…no,” Alex said, surprised she’d asked. “I met him on the train to the Capitol, actually.”

And now it was Maggie’s turn to look surprised. “Really? You met him two weeks ago?”

Alex nodded again, realizing that she had met him just two weeks ago.

Somehow—and Alex had absolutely no idea how—he’d become like a brother to her in that very short amount of time.

“Wow. You two seem…really close,” Maggie said, looking down at her hands.

Every time Alex mentioned Kara, Maggie seemed to retreat into herself a little bit, closing herself off. And Alex wondered, not for the first time, if Maggie had someone like that in her life.

It seemed to be happening with Winn, also.

Maybe if Alex explained, Maggie would be more open to telling her about whatever it was she didn’t want to tell her. And Alex kind of also wanted to explain while she knew Winn was still awake.

“He’s like a brother to me. An annoying little brother, but I suppose that’s his job,” Alex told her with a smile, and she even got a little smile out of Maggie because of it. “It kind of just…happened. I don’t know. I mean, my sister’s not here. I…made sure of that,” she said next, and Maggie listened intently. “And um, I’ve always felt kind of responsible, for her. For…everything. Like weight-of-the-world responsible. My mom always relied on me to watch over her and now that she’s not here, it’s…I need him. And not just because of that. He’s not a replacement.”

Maggie nodded. “That makes sense,” she said.

But she didn’t offer up anything else, and Alex didn’t press her on it.

Whatever it was must be pretty bad. Or something she didn’t want to talk about in front of the entire country that was very likely listening to all this.

Alex could think of a few things she’d never say on camera, so she understood.

“If you want to sleep, I can stay up,” Maggie offered.

Alex shrugged. “I’m not really tired.”

Alex couldn’t remember the last time Maggie had slept, unless it was while she was passed out. But Maggie said, “Me neither,” while shifting into a comfortable position as if she wasn’t going to move for a while, and Alex didn’t press her further. The logical part of Maggie’s brain was probably telling her that only one of them needed to be up, needed to be on watch, but she obviously wasn’t listening to it.

And right then, as if on cue, Winn started snoring.

Alex and Maggie exchanged smiles and Alex looked over her shoulder at him again. He seemed to have actually fallen asleep, and Alex was pretty sure he’d be out for a long time.

“He sounds like an eighty-year-old man,” Alex said quietly. “How can that much noise come out of such a tiny body?”

Maggie didn’t get a chance to answer as the Capitol’s theme came on. Alex maneuvered closer to the entrance and Maggie leaned forward so they could both see the sky.

Leslie’s face appeared with the number 3 below it, and then the sky was dark again a few moments later.

Alex grimaced, but Winn was still sound asleep. She’d forgotten to make sure he was doing okay with all that, but she’d definitely ask him in the morning. He seemed fine now, but she knew that meant nothing. It was probably easier for him to try and push it out of his mind, but Alex knew he wouldn’t be able to.

“She scored a seven,” Maggie said, and Alex looked at her, settling back into her spot. “I saw her beat up some guy at the Cornucopia and then she ran off with Siobhan.”

Maggie said it as if she knew, now, that something was up. She knew Leslie and Siobhan were working together, and if Siobhan was after Winn, and Leslie’s cannon had gone off not too far from the cave, and Alex had found Winn not too far from the cave…

But Alex figured it was something for Winn to tell Maggie himself. Alex didn’t want to explain if Winn didn’t want her to, and she couldn’t exactly ask him at the moment, so she was going to play it safe and wait to see if he wanted to tell her.

“I was wondering, um…I wanted to talk to you about what we were talking about before,” Alex said, trying to change the subject and hoping Maggie would go along with it. “Before I left.”

Maggie seemed confused for a second before she realized what Alex was referring to. She let out a tiny, “Oh.”

Say the other part, too, Alex, Alex told herself.

“I wanted to come back,” Alex then said before she could change her mind about saying it, which made Maggie look up. “And talk to you, about it. You were saying that you didn’t want the Games to change you, or something. That you didn’t want to become something you weren’t,” Alex continued.

Maggie shrugged. And Alex watched as a nervous smile flitted across her face, and she shook her head. “I, um…I was pretty tired, then,” Maggie said quietly. “I-I don’t really know what I was talking about.”

Alex furrowed her brow. That…had not seemed like something Maggie had said offhandedly.

“You said you wanted to die as yourself. And that you thought you were turning into some kind of mon—”

“You know what, it’s um, it’s…that was stupid,” Maggie said, and Alex became even more confused. “It’s whatever. I don’t really…you don’t need to worry about it. It was nothing.”

And all Alex could think was, What?

Maggie was making no sense.

She’d told her all that. Alex had heard her say those words. Alex was just repeating what she’d said.

And the way Maggie had said it…

“That didn’t seem like nothing,” Alex ventured carefully. Maggie didn’t say anything, so Alex kept going. “I just wanted to tell you that you aren’t. I don’t think you are, at all. If you don’t want to be, then you aren’t. And if you don’t want the Games to change you, then don’t let them.”

Maggie seemed to realize that Alex wasn’t going to drop it, and she sighed. “It’s not that easy. They changed me way before I even stepped foot in here. My entire life,” Maggie started, and then faltered. She ran a hand through her hair and Alex waited patiently. “Almost my entire life has been about this. It’s all I know. I’m supposed to know everything about the other Tributes, about the Games, about how to win…and I do. But that’s it. That’s…that’s all I know. You wouldn’t understand.”

“You’re right. I don’t,” Alex said, because she didn’t. She wasn’t going to pretend that she had any idea what Maggie had been through, any idea about her life outside of these Games. “But I want to. If you’ll let me.”

It was silent for a moment, and then Maggie whispered, “Why?”

Alex couldn’t help a smile. This was now the second time she’d asked that, as if she couldn’t fathom why Alex would want to know anything about her.

Alex took a deep breath. “Because I want to know what made you change your mind, for starters.”

“About what?”

“About me. And Winn, too. Last time I asked you if you wanted to team up, you said no and that you worked alone. Now…” Alex shrugged and gestured around them. “Now we’re both here. Why are we here?”

Maggie didn’t look like she was going to answer, but she eventually did. “Well, I…need you both for the…for blowing up the camp,” she said. “Can’t do that all by myself. Max is…he and Rick weren’t particularly nice to me, so I would very much like to blow up their shit.”

The corner of her mouth quirked up, and Alex couldn’t help but agree with that. She’d barely met Max and she, too, wanted to blow up his shit.

And Maggie might’ve thought Alex was done, but she wasn’t.

“Any other reason?” she asked quietly. Maggie looked at her, but seemed unsure as to answering that question as well, so Alex answered it herself. “You know, at first, I wasn’t really sure about Winn. I mean, I couldn’t really seem to find any reason to team up with him. He scored a six, as I’m sure you know,” Alex said, and Maggie nodded slightly. “So you’re probably wondering why I’m with him, too. And I know I told you I need him, but…I think it was more like…I just wanted to. I had a good feeling about him. My brain was telling me that there was no reason for me to, but…” Alex shrugged. “I did anyway. I kept him around because I wanted to. And it was the best decision I ever made.”

All Alex could now hear was Winn’s heavy breathing that occasionally turned into snoring in the background.

Maggie bit her lip as if she was deciding what to do with that information, how to respond. Alex was pretty sure she’d done a good job of skirting around the topic, but not enough that Maggie knew exactly what she was talking about, exactly what she thought.

Alex was pretty sure she was right about Maggie wanting her to stay, even though Maggie might not want to admit it. To Alex or herself.

“It can get a little lonely in here, sometimes,” Maggie said quietly, so long after Alex had finished that Alex had begun to think she’d never say anything.

Alex smiled. That was the closest she was gonna get, but she didn’t mind. Not at all.

“Maybe the Games are changing you already,” Alex then said, trying not to smile too big.

And Alex couldn’t really read the look on Maggie’s face when she replied, “Yeah, maybe.”

------

Alex had a feeling something had shifted since the night before.

They couldn’t go hunting for real food until they were ready to leave the cave for the Cornucopia to get more mines. Lighting a fire was dangerous, especially since they knew Siobhan was in their area, and they needed to cook the meat.

If they left the cave right after they smothered the fire, whoever would follow the smoke wouldn’t find them.

They were stuck eating the last of their bread and crackers, and Alex thought her stomach would never feel full again. She couldn’t remember when she and Winn had last had a real meal.

Maggie had silently pushed some of the berries she’d found into the pile of things for the three of them to eat. Alex didn’t comment on it and Winn took the cue from her and decided not to question it as well.

Maggie had also given Alex her knife back, which Alex had completely forgotten she’d taken, when they heard a cannon. But it was far enough away that the three of them managed to ignore it, for the most part.

Alex had very quickly kept talking, trying to make Winn think of something else when he went quiet. It was now the afternoon, and they were in the thick of figuring out how exactly they’d pull off their plan.

“Okay, if Rick the Dick stays behind, I have to—”

“Wait, I’m sorry,” Winn said with a huge grin on his face, and Alex couldn’t help a smile as well. “Did you just call him ‘Rick the Dick’?”

Maggie looked embarrassed for a split second as if she hadn’t meant to say that before she cleared her throat. Alex could tell she was trying not to smile as she said, “Yes. I did. He’s a dick. Is that a surprise?”

Winn shook his head. “Uh, nope. No, it’s not. Carry on.”

“Thank you,” Maggie said, and Alex and Winn exchanged a look. “As I was saying, if he stays behind, I would have to go and deal with him myself.”

“Why can’t I do it?” Alex asked.

Maggie looked confused, and whatever she was thinking seemed obvious to her, but Winn and Alex had no idea what it was.

“I figured that Winn and I would be at the camp while you’re doing the distraction,” Maggie told her.

Alex glanced at Winn. “Why…what…did we discuss this?”

“Well, Winn needs to be there for the bombs in case anything goes wrong, and I need to be there ‘cause I know them. And the camp. So…it would make sense that you’re doing the distraction, leading them away,” Maggie explained.

And before Alex could respond, Winn spoke up. “That makes a lot of sense,” he said with a nod.

“Wait. Wait, wait, wait. I didn’t…I don’t agree with this.”

“How would you propose we do it, then?” Winn asked.

Alex opened her mouth to respond, but she closed it again when she thought of the other scenarios.

Winn was not going to be alone while setting off the bombs, and Maggie needed to be there, too. She was the one who knew the camp better than anyone. She’d know where to bury the bombs, how much time they’d have until Max, Rick, and his partner came back…so Alex was stuck doing the distraction.

She didn’t like it, and she knew Winn had asked her because he knew she’d work out the options in her head and realize Maggie was right.

Alex sighed, and Winn turned back to Maggie.

“That sounds good. If you’re okay with it, Alex,” Winn then said.

Alex reluctantly nodded. If she thought of another option, they were doing that one. For now, she could be on board with it. “Maybe we can light fires to distract them,” Alex suggested.

“Again with the fires,” Winn mumbled under his breath, and Alex shoved his arm.

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“She has a thing for lighting fires,” Winn then said to Maggie, pretending like Alex couldn’t hear him.

“It’s a good distraction, it’ll make them leave the camp. I’m sure it’ll work.” Alex couldn’t even remember how she’d come up with that in the first place. She must’ve read it somewhere.

“We’d need several fires, I think,” Maggie said. “One for each person we need out of there.”

“And I can light them far enough away that it’d take a while for them to get back.”

“But not too far that they can’t see the smoke through the trees,” Maggie added, and Alex agreed.

Maggie drew three X’s in the dirt on their map for potential places based on what she knew about the area around the camp.

They had no idea if Max and his gang had recruited a fourth person, which was the only part of their plan that wasn’t solid.

Everything else seemed to be coming along fine.

“We’re almost done, actually,” Winn said as if he was surprised. “All we need is to figure out how to connect the bombs to one power source. Which I…have no idea how to do without a wire or something. I guess we could bring the individual power sources with each bomb, but then we’d have to turn them on separately.”

“Which will be easier with both of us there,” Maggie pointed out.

Alex didn’t mean to, but she made a noise in the back of her throat and didn’t notice both Maggie and Winn staring at her until she looked up again.

“Is there a problem?” Maggie asked.

“Oh, um…no. No problem,” Alex said, trying to smile. She busied herself with finding things to straighten out, not wanting to seem like anything was wrong.

But, apparently, Maggie was not buying it. “You don’t want me there with Winn, do you?”

“No, no, I-I’m just…worried. About the whole thing.”

“Right,” Maggie said with a nod as if she did not, for one second, believe her. “I mean, I get it. It makes complete sense for me to be there with him, and you know it, but you don’t want me there with him. Without you there.”

Alex took a deep breath before she tried to explain, “It’s not you, Maggie, I just…I feel like something is going to go wrong and I’m not going to be there and…”

“Something could also go wrong with you there instead of me. I’m not gonna let anything happen to him.”

“I know, I know.”

“Unless…” Maggie said slowly, “you think I’m going to do something to him.”

Alex quickly shook her head. “No. No, no, no, Maggie, that’s not it.”

“So what is it?” Maggie asked, crossing her arms.

Alex didn’t know how to explain it, and she was silent for a second too long. Maggie pursed her lips and looked around for the canteen before finding it. She pushed herself off the ground.

“I’m going to get more water.”

“But you got water last night,” Alex said. Maggie just ignored her and left the cave without a backward glance.

Winn stared at Alex as she took a second to decide what to do.

She looked between the entrance and Winn before stuffing her knife in her belt.

“Don’t move,” she told Winn as she, too, got up. “And yell if you need help.”

Alex waited for his nod and she swore she heard him mumble, “Man, this lesbian shit is intense,” under his breath before she left, which made her turn around and lightly smack him upside the head before going after Maggie.

It took her about ten seconds to find her as she hadn’t gone very far. She was leaning her back against a tree and staring at the canteen, which Alex knew was still half full.

“Can you please let me explain?” Alex said when Maggie finally looked up.

Maggie shrugged. “I don’t think you need to. I thought…” she shook her head. “You wanted to be on a team with me, and now you don’t seem to trust me, or something.”

“I do, Maggie. I’m sorry if I made you feel like I didn’t, but I promise I do. It’s not you, okay? It’s me,” Alex said before she realized what she’d said. She pursed her lips. “Okay, ignore that, please. You know, with the amount of times I mess up, you’d think I’d be better at apologizing.”

Maggie smiled at that. “At least you apologize. It’s more than most people do,” she then said.

Alex looked at her and decided she’d deal with that later.

“What I’m trying to say is that…I trust you with him, it’s just that I feel like if something happens, I should be there, too.”

“We need a distraction, though. I mean, if you can light the fires and get back in time before we set the bombs off, then that’d be fine. But I don’t think you will. So you’re going to have to trust me,” Maggie said, pausing to bite her lip, “to be there with him. And trust that I won’t let anything happen to him.”

“I do. I just don’t want anything bad to happen in general.”

“And if bad stuff happens, I’ll be responsible for making sure that he’s okay. I know how much he means to you, Danvers. You’ve made that very clear. I know how pissed you’d be if he wasn’t okay.”

Alex rubbed her fingers together.

Maggie was right.

She was being stupid.

She was just having a hard time handing over that responsibility. But she’d have to.

Alex finally nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Alex took in a deep breath and let it out. “Yeah.”

“Should we go back in?”

Alex nodded again, and Maggie gestured towards the cave, following after her.

Maybe by the time they actually got back to the lake Alex would be fine with it. She was ninety percent fine with it now, but she’d have to get over herself by the time they got there.

Their plan was good. Great, even. It would go great, or…it would blow up in their faces. Literally.

At the very least, it gave them something to do. A goal to work towards.

That goal being to severely set back the Career’s advantage and fulfill Maggie’s desire for revenge. Which was a good goal, in Alex’s mind.

They took the rest of the evening to finalize everything and then decided to head to the Cornucopia in the morning after Alex went hunting (and she actually managed to catch a rabbit, with much difficulty) to give Winn’s injury a bit more time to heal. Alex wanted to stay longer, but Winn insisted he was fine.

“We’ll have to get you a cane or something. Then you’ll actually be an eighty-year-old man,” Alex told him with a smirk. Maggie looked amused while Winn just looked confused, but Alex waved it off.

They finished off the rest of their food with the rabbit so they wouldn’t have as much to carry, and then started on their way after covering the fire.

Maggie was carrying the rope, her knife, and the axe while walking slightly behind Alex and Winn. She looked pretty dangerous, in a good way (a really good way), enough that Alex didn’t want to mess with her. Which meant that if someone saw the three of them walking together, they’d be smart and stay away.

Alex was pretty sure they were going towards the Cornucopia, according to her compass, even though she had no idea how long it’d take them to get there.

It seemed like they’d been walking for hours on end before Alex grabbed Winn’s arm to stop him when she heard heavy breathing.

She walked slower now, keeping Winn behind her, and glanced over her shoulder to make sure Maggie was still there also.

She saw the bottom of a pair of boots before she saw the whole body.

She couldn’t tell who it was, but he was lying in a pool of blood. And still, miraculously, breathing.

Alex almost jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder, but it was just Maggie.

Maggie walked past her and knelt down by his head, moving some of the hair away from his face. His eyes were wide open and he stared at her.

There was an arrow in his stomach and what Alex recognized as stings from tracker jackers on his arms.

And then she noticed the dried blood on the ground trailing behind him, as though he’d tried to drag himself away from something before giving up.

Maggie looked over her shoulder at Alex. “It’s Jack, District 9.”

Chapter Text

“Who did this to you?” Maggie asked him.

Alex wasn’t sure how much longer Jack could keep breathing, if he could even speak, as his breathing was heavy and garbled.

Alex assessed his wounds but didn’t know any way that he could be fixed and back to normal without surgery and some very expensive medicine.

She also didn’t see any parachutes around, as if whoever his mentors were had already given up on him.

But when Jack opened his mouth, he croaked out, “Beth.” He paused to breathe in and out a couple more times, squeezing his eyes shut. “Crossbow.”

“Where is she?” Maggie then asked, and Alex took her knife out of her belt, checking their surroundings in case Beth popped out of nowhere to do the same thing to the three of them.

Jack coughed up blood and tried to sit up, but Maggie gently put a hand on his chest to push him back down, and he let her.

“Dead,” he said next. His mouth actually formed a little smile. “I…shot her.”

So that’s who the cannon was.

Jack’s arms were becoming more swollen, the blood stain on his stomach spreading wider and wider, and all the three of them could do was watch.

Maggie glanced over her shoulder at Alex as if trying to decide what to do next.

But then…

“Please,” Jack whispered. Maggie turned back towards him and Alex hesitantly stepped closer. “It…hurts.”

Maggie was utterly still now, and Alex couldn’t see her face, but Jack nodded at whatever look she was giving him. And Alex understood.

Putting him out of his misery was their only option, and the one he seemed to want. It was the least they could do for him, as they couldn’t do anything else.

Maggie took a deep breath in and out, leaned down, and whispered something in his ear that Alex couldn’t hear.

And Alex remembered she’d done that exact same thing to Alana.

After she was done, Jack closed his eyes and Maggie put a hand over his mouth.

As soon as he had gone still and the cannon’s Boom rang in all their ears, Maggie let out a breath and cleared her throat. If Alex hadn’t been watching, she wouldn’t have noticed that Maggie started to untie a bracelet from his wrist. It was colorful and looked worn, like he had tied it on a long time ago and never took it off.

Alex supposed this was what could’ve happened if she and Winn hadn’t teamed up. Jack and Beth were both from District 9 but had ended up killing each other. And Jack hadn’t seemed too torn up about it.

There were only eight of them left now. From what Alex knew, there were two teams of three and Veronica and Siobhan were on their own.

Maggie slipped the bracelet in her jacket pocket and finally stood up.

“We have to find that crossbow,” she said, as if nothing had happened.

They stared at each other and Alex searched her face to see if she was okay. She didn’t look okay, but she was hiding it pretty well. She glanced over Alex’s shoulder and Alex turned around and realized that Maggie wasn’t the one she should be worried about.

Winn was pacing back and forth, his head in his hands, and he was mumbling to himself.

Alex quickly put the knife back in her belt, trusting Maggie to make sure that no one was going to come attack them, as she focused on him.

“Winn, hey,” Alex said softly, carefully touching his shoulder, which made him stop pacing. “Are you okay?”

He said something, but it was muffled and Alex couldn’t understand a word of it.

“What?”

Winn finally looked up and his eyes were red. “I didn’t think about how much it must’ve hurt,” he said quickly, almost under his breath, as he kept his gaze anywhere but at Alex. He let out a shuddering breath and Alex swallowed.

Alex knew that she could tell him a hundred times that it was an accident, what had happened with Leslie. But in the end, they both knew that even though he hadn’t meant to do it, he was responsible for her death.

Which, for anyone, would be life-altering. But for a kid? For Winn? It was even worse.

And Alex didn’t know what to say, so she only reminded him that it was an accident, to which he shook his head and started pacing again.

Alex wished she could help more, wished she knew what it was like so she’d understand, but she didn’t.

He didn’t deserve to feel like this. He was a good kid, a great kid.

“Winn,” Alex tried again, “you said she was shocked, right?” She got a tiny nod from him, and even though she didn’t want to remind him about what had happened, she continued. “So it was quick. Probably even painless.”

Winn breaths became less ragged, but Alex knew part of the problem was that they had a dead Tribute lying on the ground not ten feet from them.

The helicopters wouldn’t take Jack unless there were no Tributes around, so Alex gently put a hand on Winn’s back and guided him away as best she could. Maggie followed them and they only stopped when they heard the pulsing of helicopter blades descending into the arena.

Winn slumped against a tree trunk and before Alex could go over to him to say…something she hadn’t really thought of yet, Maggie got there first.

Maggie was only a bit taller than him, but Winn looked so small and almost broken that all Alex wanted was for him to be back to normal. But she supposed that this was now part of his normal.

Maggie waited until it was once again silent except for the occasional chirping of birds before she spoke.

“Can I show you something?” she asked quietly. Winn seemed surprised that it wasn’t Alex’s voice that was speaking to him that he looked right at her, confused.

Alex hung back, hugging her arms across her stomach, wondering what Maggie was going to do.

Winn nodded and glanced at Alex, who just shrugged when Maggie smiled at him and started walking slowly away.

Winn and Alex—only after Winn had given her a questioning look as to why she wasn’t moving—followed after her.

Maggie was looking around at the ground and then paused when she found whatever it was she wanted to find.

She then lowered herself and sat cross-legged before looking at Winn expectantly. Winn followed her lead after a second and Alex stood a few feet away, but not far enough that she couldn’t hear Maggie.

“This seems like a good place,” Maggie said as she stuck her hand in her pocket.

“For what?” Winn asked.

Jack’s bracelet was in Maggie’s hand as she brought it back out. Maggie took a deep breath and explained.

“When I…when a Tribute dies, I take their token,” she said, holding out the bracelet in front of her. “If I can. If I’m around when they die, or…after I kill them.” She paused when Winn looked at her.

Winn had probably figured she’d killed a Tribute before, if he thought she was like the other Careers. He was listening intently now, as was Alex, and Alex realized that there was someone who could help him. Who knew what he was feeling.

“They don’t bring the bodies back to the families,” Maggie continued. “They don’t even give them the token. The families don’t get to bury their children. And they make the arenas into museums, you know, for people to…visit.”

Disgust was laced into her words, and Alex could practically feel anger radiating off of her.

Alex had heard about that, but her brain hadn’t registered just how horrifying it was that people actually came. That people, probably those from the Capitol who never had to worry about their children being chosen, would voluntarily go to those museums to look in awe. She had heard that they marked where memorable events took place, and she felt bile rise up in her throat.

“So, because the families don’t have a chance to do that, I bury what’s left of them. What’s most important to them.”

Maggie stopped again and looked at the bracelet in her hands before she started to dig her fingers into the soft dirt. Both Alex and Winn were silent, taking in what she was saying.

“If I could guarantee that I would win, I’d keep them and try to give them back to the families, but…I can’t. This is the least I can do. It’s not much, but…” Maggie trailed off.

And Alex was floored.

What Maggie was doing…it wasn’t something anyone would even consider. She thought it wasn’t much, but Alex knew she was wrong.

To her, maybe it didn’t seem like enough.

But to the families of these dead Tributes? It probably meant the world to them that Maggie was doing this, that Maggie cared.

It was an apology, a way to sort of try and right her wrongs.

It was dangerous, though, too, because Maggie was paying her respects to those that died and those she’d killed from other Districts. It wasn’t prohibited in any rule book, but Alex was sure the Capitol wouldn’t like it. By doing it she was challenging them, indirectly letting them and the rest of Panem know that she thought the Games were cruel and unusual punishment, that the kids in here didn’t deserve to die, and that the families deserved to at least be able to bury their children.

“The families can come get the tokens themselves, then,” Winn said after it had been silent for a moment. “If they want to.”

Maggie nodded and Winn glanced over his shoulder at Alex with a small smile as if he couldn’t believe that she was doing this, either.

“What did you say to Jack? To Alana?” Alex asked quietly, but Maggie tilted her head up the tiniest bit, not looking back at Alex but Alex knew she’d heard her.

“It’s, um…it’s just something my mom used to tell me before I went to bed,” Maggie answered. “She used to say, ‘Close your eyes and sleep, today is done. Tomorrow will be brighter, come the morning sun.’ It always made me feel like everything was going to be fine. And I think maybe it might make them feel like they’re just going to sleep, so they’re not…scared, or something. I-I don’t know. It’s stupid, but—”

“It’s not stupid,” Winn interrupted with a quick shake of his head, and Maggie paused for a second before continuing her digging.

It didn’t take her long to make the tiny hole she needed to bury Jack’s bracelet. She placed it down and Winn helped her brush dirt back over it.

Alex and Winn let her sit there for a minute as it didn’t seem like she wanted to get up just yet.

Alex didn’t know what to say, couldn’t really wrap her head around how Maggie was one of the most interesting—and one of the most amazing—people Alex had ever met. The more she learned about Maggie, the more she wanted to know.

Alex didn’t know why she had ever thought she could fit Maggie into a box.

“We should probably go find that crossbow,” Winn said quietly.

It took her a second, but Maggie slowly pushed herself off the ground.

“We could also go see if Leslie dropped her token somewhere, if you want,” Maggie said to Winn. And if Winn was surprised that Maggie had figured out what had happened, he didn’t show it.

Instead, he shook his head and put his hands in his pockets. “She had a necklace on, I think that was it. I didn’t take it off.”

He at least seemed to not be on the verge of a panic attack now, and Alex was so grateful to Maggie for calming him down.

Alex took up the rear and let them walk together as just being by Maggie was helping Winn, and Maggie didn’t object. And Alex realized that Maggie was allowing her back to be facing Alex. Alex had noticed that she hadn’t, before. She figured Maggie was trained to always keep everyone in her line of sight, in case they wanted to attack.

They headed back to where Jack had been and followed the trail of dried blood-stained grass. Jack had managed to drag himself pretty far away from where he’d shot Beth.

Only the crossbow was there, no arrows.

Winn picked it up and tilted it. “Cool,” he whispered as he held it out in front of him as though to shoot it. “Who’s gonna carry this?”

“You can, if you want,” Maggie said. “When we get some arrows, I’ll teach you how to use it.”

“Sweet,” Winn said, a big grin on his face.

He started walking again, and Alex took Maggie’s wrist in her hand and pulled her back before she could follow after him.

Maggie seemed surprised when she turned around, but didn’t tense up. Maggie just glanced down, which made Alex realize that they were dangerously close to holding hands (again?) and she may have freaked out just a little bit and immediately let go.

“I, um…thank you,” Alex then said, running a hand through her hair. “I just wanted to say thank you, for saying all that. For…showing him.”

Maggie shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. “No problem.”

Alex stayed still. “Maggie,” she said, which made Maggie tilt her head back up, “I think it’s amazing that you do all that. And I don’t know how I would’ve made him feel better, what I would’ve done. So seriously, thank you.”

This time, Maggie smiled a little bit. “Anytime,” she said.

Alex could’ve stayed there in their little bubble where it felt like they weren’t in the damn arena forever.

Alex just wanted to be out of here. She wanted to go home.

But she didn’t want to go home without Winn, and without Maggie, too.

But even if, by some miracle, all three of them made it out alive, Alex knew she’d probably never see Maggie again.

And that was the only reason she maybe wanted to be in here a little longer.

Maggie didn’t seem to want to move right then, either, and even though Alex was afraid she’d make Maggie uncomfortable, she wanted to ask anyway because this question had been in the back of her mind since the lake, and especially after the whole Alana incident.

“Why didn’t you kill Rick’s partner?”

“What?” Maggie furrowed her brow. “You mean Astra?”

Ah, Alex thought. That’s her name. Of course Maggie would know. Alex should’ve asked her earlier.

“Yeah. At the lake,” Alex continued. “She ran after you and you had the axe and you didn’t…” she trailed off.

“I don’t know, actually,” Maggie said. “I just wanted to get away from them. I guess I didn’t feel like dealing with her. And she’s, um…she’s not as bad as the other two.”

“Oh,” Alex said softly, trying to figure out why she suddenly felt…bothered. Or angry? No, no, that couldn’t be it.

Jealous, maybe?

Alex scoffed at herself. ‘Not as bad’ didn’t mean great. Or wonderful. Or any other adjective Alex was thinking of that made her try and shift her face into a neutral expression so Maggie couldn’t see right through her.

She was sort of relieved in that moment when Winn whistled to get their attention and they had to start walking again.

“It’s a good thing you got her on our side, huh?” Winn said.

Winn was able to walk a bit faster now, but still not at a normal pace. Which made Alex really unsure of when they were going to reach the Cornucopia. She knew they were going the right way, it only mattered whether they’d have to stop to rest for the night or not.

Alex stuck her hands in her jacket pockets and glanced over her shoulder at Maggie—who was, again, taking up the rear—to see her scanning around them for potential danger.

“What do you mean?” Alex asked once she turned her head back to face forwards.

Winn shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s pretty scary.” He quickly continued when Alex gave him a look, “Not like scary scary, but like…”

“But like what?” Alex said, feeling quite defensive all of a sudden.

“I mean, she’s awesome. She’s…I can see why you like her,” Winn said with a little smile, and Alex pointedly did not look at him. “But I just keep thinking that if she wasn’t on our side that she could at least take me out pretty quick.”

“Winn, she’s not going to. If she was, don’t you think she would’ve by now?”

Winn waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know she’s not. I did kind of think that, before, though. You saw her—we saw her—take out Rick and his partner at the lake easily.”

“Astra.”

Winn seemed confused. “What?”

“Astra. That’s Rick’s partner’s name. Maggie told me,” Alex explained, trying not to make a big deal out of it, keeping her tone light and casual.

“Oh. Okay. Well, anyway, I’m just saying that she could. If she wanted to.”

“I could do that, too,” Alex ventured carefully. “Do you…Are you scared of me?”

At that, Winn smiled and shook his head. “Oh, no. No. I know you’d never hurt me.”

Winn said it nonchalantly, but it made Alex immensely happy, and she couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from turning up.

“Unless you annoy me at inopportune times,” Alex pointed out.

Winn laughed quietly. “Yeah, speaking of which…do you want my knife? I have the crossbow now and I think you might need another one anyway.”

“What? Why?” Alex asked, confused.

“’Cause there’s just so much tension between you and Maggie, you’ll need two knives to cut it.”

Winn unsuccessfully dodged an elbow Alex aimed at his side. She really couldn’t blame him though; she’d walked right into it.

“Wait, wait, I have another one,” Winn said, practically bouncing on his feet as best he could.

Alex rolled her eyes, but Winn’s shit-eating grin made her gesture for him to continue.

“Okay,” he said, and Alex thought his smile couldn’t get any bigger. “You and these trees have something in common.”

Alex narrowed her eyes, trying to figure it out, but Winn was waiting impatiently so she shrugged and said, “What?”

“You’re both pining.”

It took her a second, but Alex couldn’t help a smile as Winn let out a laugh at his own joke.

Alex just shook her head at him. What a dork.

“Also, speaking of pining…I still don’t get why you won’t just tell her,” Winn said after a minute. “Actually, I don’t think you need to, but still.”

Alex sighed. She thought about not answering him but knew he’d keep bugging her about it.

“Because it would make things complicated,” Alex settled on saying, hoping that would be enough. She should’ve known it wouldn’t.

“I think it’ll make things less complicated. Not that they’re really that complicated now. What’s the harm in telling her?”

“Because it’s never going to happen.”

“Oh, c’mon, Alex—”

“Winn, it can’t. It…” Alex faltered and let out a breath. “It can’t happen. There’s no point in telling her. Only one of us, and it might not even be one of us three, can make it out of here. So there’s no point,” Alex said sternly.

Plus, she thought, it was easier with Maggie thinking that she was just doing this for the cameras. It was working well, for some reason. They were…friends.

Yeah, friends seemed like the right word. Being friends was good. Great, even.

Except for the fact that Alex couldn’t help but think that she’d done this before. And she really didn’t want to go through all that again. (Which was exactly why she was trying to avoid pining after someone she could never have in the first place.)

A little voice in her head whispered that maybe it wouldn’t happen again. Maybe Maggie didn’t want to be just friends either.

But that tiny little voice was constantly overwhelmed by thoughts reminding her that Maggie was amazing, and badass, and beautiful, and she deserved more than someone who messed up all the time, who constantly had to apologize for her countless mistakes, who wasn’t even good at apologizing.

Alex had thought that Vicky was perfect for her. Vicky knew her, and stuck around even when she was being difficult. She had also thought that she was good for Vicky. But that hadn’t been enough.

And Alex couldn’t help but think that she was far from perfect for Maggie.

So it was never going to happen.

“Bullshit.”

Alex looked up as she was torn from her wandering thoughts.

Winn crossed his arms over his chest. “Whatever you’re thinking right now, it’s bullshit,” he then said.

Alex shook her head and clenched her jaw, not wanting to answer.

“Whatever excuses you’re making to not tell her—”

“Drop it, Winn.”

“But—”

Alex held a hand up. “Just drop it. Please.”

Winn pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything else.

They walked in silence for a while before Alex couldn’t help it anymore and glanced over her shoulder.

Maggie was still far enough behind them that she couldn’t hear them (hopefully), and Alex bit her cheek.

When Maggie’s gaze landed back on her, Alex tried to smile as she realized she’d been staring at her for far too long and quickly turned her head away. But she didn’t miss Maggie’s slightly concerned expression.

Alex knew what she wanted. And she always went after what she wanted, when she wanted to.

But Maggie…Maggie, for some reason, always seemed to be the exception.

Chapter Text

When they reached the Cornucopia the next day, Winn worked on detaching the mines from the platforms, yet again.

“I can’t believe you two didn’t figure out these were night vision glasses,” Maggie said. She was holding up the pair of glasses Alex had had in the backpack.

Alex and Winn had just assumed they were sunglasses, rendered them useless, and never bothered to take them out.

But Maggie had known they were for night vision and they’d ended up being able to travel half the night last night until Alex insisted they stop to rest.

Alex took them from her and held them up in front of her eyes even though it was pretty bright out. She examined them while Winn kept muttering under his breath, messing with wires and switches and buttons.

“Yeah, well…they don’t look like night vision glasses,” Alex said. “I mean, they should be thicker. They should be goggles. The image enhancement technology that collects all the infrared light usually wouldn’t be capable on such a small frame, let alone these lenses.”

Alex didn’t realize she’d gone on a tangent until she heard Maggie let out a little laugh.

“Nerd,” Maggie said almost under her breath, but Alex could’ve sworn she heard something like affection in her voice.

Alex looked up at her and she was smiling and Alex quickly put down the glasses, trying not to get fidgety, instead stuttering out an, “I’m gonna go, um…see if he’s done,” so Maggie couldn’t see her face get red.

She got up and focused on helping Winn. She asked him what he was doing so she wouldn’t think about how much she liked making Maggie smile what Alex had come to think of as her signature dimpled smile. Which seemed to be happening more frequently now, a part of Alex noted.

“I don’t need help, Alex. You can keep flirting if you want,” Winn murmured so only Alex could hear him, his voice muffled as his head almost disappeared inside the platform.

Alex clenched her jaw and shoved his shoulder, which didn’t faze him. “I’m not flirting, Winn. What part of explaining the science behind night vision glasses is flirting?”

Winn shrugged the best he could. “She seems to like it.”

Alex rolled her eyes. God, he’s infuriating, she thought.

“Fine. I will go back to talking to Maggie. Talking,” she repeated for emphasis.

But Winn was already distracted by his work so Alex just huffed and sat back down a few feet away.

Maggie was playing with the hems of her jacket sleeves, and Alex noticed they covered her entire hands if she pulled them down a little bit.

“Is he almost done?” Maggie asked.

Right, Alex remembered. That’s what she was supposed to ask him.

“Oh uh, no. Not yet. He’s gotta work on some more…stuff,” Alex said.

Maggie nodded and seemed like she was trying to think of something to do.

Alex took a swig of the canteen. They were heading to the lake today and would hopefully be there by the next afternoon at the latest if they kept their pace up.

Alex could tell that she still wasn’t at her peak, or at least not where she had been at the start of the Games. Being hungry all day every day and the physical activity was taking a toll on her body, which definitely needed professional medical attention to make sure that concussion hadn’t caused lasting damage. But obviously that wasn’t happening any time soon, so Alex tried to take care of herself as best she could with what they had in the meantime.

“So…” Maggie said after a moment of just sitting there.

“Is that your jacket?” Alex asked, still somewhat intrigued by the length of the sleeves, and the overall bagginess of it. Alex’s was definitely not designed like that, and she thought that all the Tributes got individual jackets, so it made no sense that Maggie’s didn’t fit her.

Maggie looked down and let out a sigh. “Yeah.”

“Really? It looks way too big on you.”

Maggie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. “Well, it is. They, uh…they gave me the wrong size.”

Alex couldn’t help a smirk. “Seriously?”

She felt like laughing for some reason, but didn’t want to. Maggie seemed annoyed by this, and probably rightfully so.

“Yup. You know at the loading rooms when they give you your clothes,” Maggie explained, and Alex nodded along. “I asked if they gave me the right jacket and…they’re not tailored personally. They make them based on age. All the eighteen-year-olds get the same size jackets. So, apparently,” Maggie held her arms out to show just how baggy it was, “I am smaller than most eighteen-year-olds.”

Alex stifled a laugh. She covered her mouth with her hand, and Maggie stared at her until she dropped it.

Alex bit her lip. “I’m not…I’m not laughing,” she said before she realized that Maggie was trying not to smile, too.

“This jacket will be the death of me. It has caused me more trouble than any of the other Tributes. Well…most of the other Tributes. It keeps getting caught on tree branches, I hate it,” Maggie said, shaking her head.

Alex dipped her head down and laughed.

And when she looked back up, the smile on Maggie’s face was making the corner of her eyes crinkle, and Alex couldn’t really read the look she was giving her.

It took her a second to catch her breath, but then Alex said, “Your tombstone will read: Maggie Sawyer, Taken Down by an Oversized Jacket.”

“Or maybe ‘R.I.P. Maggie Sawyer, Drowned in Fabric,’” Maggie added.

And now they were both laughing as if they couldn’t help themselves.

“Oh, how about, ‘Maggie Sawyer Lies Here, Defeated by a Size XL.’”

It was obvious that they were both exhausted and their brains a little fuzzy, but it actually felt good to have their stomachs pained by laughter instead of hunger. Especially because Alex thought she’d never get tired of hearing Maggie laugh, now that she finally had. It was nice to have a little fun, but it didn’t take them long to realize just how grim the jokes were considering where they were currently situated, and their laughter slowly quieted.

Maggie sighed and slowly pulled her legs up to her chest, resting her chin on her knees.

“You have actually caused me a lot of trouble, too,” she then said.

Alex’s smile turned sheepish. “I’m s—”

“I mean first, you steal my backpack,” Maggie said matter-of-factly, lifting up a finger and ticking them off as she went. “Then, you go and get yourself blown up.”

Almost blown up,” Alex corrected.

“Mm…basically blown up,” Maggie said, and Alex could live with that, so she nodded and Maggie continued. “And then you leave, which—realistically—should cause less problems for me,” she said a bit quieter, pausing for a second and swallowing. Alex had no idea what she was thinking, but had a feeling that her leaving the cave to go get Winn had caused Maggie a lot more problems than she had anticipated.

Alex was going to ask why, but she started talking again.

“But then you come back, with him,” Maggie said, holding up another finger and gesturing towards Winn. “And now we’re gonna go cause some other people some problems.”

Alex smiled. “Hopefully. And ab—” she started to say, but Maggie wasn’t done.

“But see, none of that matters,” Maggie said, and Alex’s heart started to beat faster as she put all the fingers down and curled her hand into a fist. “None of it matters because if you hadn’t…if you hadn’t saved my life, I wouldn’t even be here.” Alex rubbed her fingers together, wanting to look away from Maggie’s intense gaze but forcing herself not to. “I mean, all of it does matter, of course, but I guess I…I just don’t really understand.”

“Understand what?”

“I don’t understand why,” Maggie said. “Why did you…save me?”

Well…shit, Alex thought. Maggie didn’t seem like she was going to accept ‘for the backpack,’ as an answer again.

Alex wanted to say that it was because she’d had a huge gigantic crush on her, or because something about her seemed worth saving, or because all of her seemed worth saving, or because she was pretty sure she was a bit more than halfway in love in her already and didn’t even want to think about going home, getting out of here, without her.

But Alex took too long to answer, so Maggie kept going, trying to answer the question herself.

“Did you mentor tell you to?” she asked. “Did you want me to owe you, or something?”

Alex shook her head sharply at that. “No, no. I didn’t do it so you’d owe me. It—it didn’t even occur to me that you’d…”

“So then someone must’ve told you to do it.”

Alex bit her cheek, not wanting to say no, but also very much wanting to say no. She didn’t want to lie to Maggie; she’d somehow avoided that this entire time and wanted to keep it that way.

On the other hand, telling her the truth was, to put it simply, terrifying. Especially because Maggie hadn’t seemed to realize the truth yet herself.

Had it not occurred to Maggie that she might not be faking it? Had it not even crossed her mind?

Alex wasn’t even trying to act like she was pretending to like her, so…it should’ve been obvious, right?

But for some reason, Maggie still couldn’t fathom that Alex could might actually like her.

And apparently…Alex didn’t answer quickly enough, again.

Her face must’ve been pretty clearly articulating her thoughts for her, must’ve been saying ‘no’ for her, because Maggie’s face slowly shifted from confusion to a sort of understanding. Mixed with shock.

Alex’s heart started beating faster again as she watched Maggie figure it out.

Alex was too scared to say anything now, as she couldn’t tell whether Maggie was happy about this realization or not.

Maggie opened her mouth and closed it again. And then there was a small, “Wait—”

“Yes!”

Alex looked over at Winn, who pumped his fist and spun around towards them.

“Finally! Jeeze, that took forever,” Winn continued, a huge smile on his face. “We’re good now. Got all five of ‘em ready to go.” Neither of them said anything and Winn dropped the smile. “Oh, were you two having a moment?” He waved a hand. “Eh, it doesn’t matter. We gotta go.”

Winn bent down and started loading up the backpack again. Alex noticed he was stuffing in more shorter wires, way more than they’d had last time, but trusted that he knew what he was doing.

Plus, she was kind of focused on Maggie, who seemed to be very distracted, at the moment.

Maggie couldn’t seem to get out of her headspace as Alex stood up. She guessed that Maggie’s brain was going about a hundred miles an hour, analyzing every interaction they’d had with this newfound information she’d just gained, wondering if it made more sense.

Alex knew it would make more sense, a lot more sense, but Alex also needed to wrap her head around it, too, in a way.

Because it would change everything, now. But it also wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t change the fact that they were in the arena, and there was a zero percent chance they’d both make it out alive. It wouldn’t change the fact that Alex didn’t know if Maggie felt the same way. It wouldn’t change the fact that even if she did, they couldn’t do anything about it because it would just make whatever happened at the end of this thing more painful.

So it was easier, at least for Alex, to focus on something else.

“Maggie? Are you okay?” Winn asked as he finally seemed to realize that Maggie was just sitting there on the ground, seemingly rooted to that spot.

And Alex couldn’t help but think that this reaction was not a very good one. She didn’t seem happy. Or relieved. She just seemed confused.

It was only a second after Alex’s quiet, “Maggie?” that she whipped her head up and looked at them both standing there ready to go, waiting for her.

“Hm?” Maggie hummed, her brow furrowing. She looked at the backpack. “Oh, are we ready?”

She pushed herself off the ground and wiped her hands on her pants.

She tried to smile but was very obviously keeping her eyes off of Alex.

Winn glanced sideways at Alex, probably wondering what was going on and why she was acting kind of strange, but Alex couldn’t answer his unspoken questions.

Which, later, turned into spoken questions as he leaned into her side, careful not to drop the bomb in his hand.

“Why is Maggie being weird?” he asked quietly, as if Maggie, who was again behind them with the backpack, could hear him. She’d insisted she wanted to take up the rear, and Alex knew exactly why.

Alex sighed and ducked her head to miss a low-hanging tree branch. “Um…maybe because she figured out that I like her? Like, actually like her. Not…fake-like her.”

Winn’s eyes widened. “Wait, really? She didn’t figure that out before? You’re kind of obvious about it.”

Alex shrugged.

“But why is she being so weird? She definitely likes you, too. She’s almost as obvious as you are. I mean, you should see the way she looks at you.”

The back of Alex’s neck got hot and she brushed that off, trying not to let Winn see her get flustered.

“I don’t know, Winn. It’s not like it changes anything. At all,” she said with a little scoff. If only it did.

“You might be wrong about that,” Winn said. Alex looked at him, but he didn’t elaborate.

Alex wrapped her arms tighter around the mine she was holding. She snuck a glance behind her shoulder and saw Maggie turn her head away as if she hadn’t been staring at Alex’s back.

Disappointed and embarrassed, was what Alex felt. Maggie didn’t even want to look at her, let alone talk to her, now.

These kinds of things never turned out well for her. She should’ve never told Vicky, and she should’ve kept Maggie in the dark for as long as possible. Even though it was frustrating and a bit painful, keeping her feelings to herself was the only way she could guarantee not getting her heart broken.

Every time she did something for herself, did something she thought had a chance at making her happy, it backfired.

Every single time.

If Alex focused on other people, her life went pretty smoothly. If she focused on Kara, her mom was happy, which meant she wouldn’t get yelled at. If she focused on Winn and keeping him safe, then she didn’t have to worry about her own problems.

“Do you remember what happened when you figured out that you liked Maggie?” Winn asked, distracting her from her wandering thoughts.

Alex ran a hand through her hair. “Vaguely,” she said quietly.

“You flipped out.”

“I didn’t flip out—”

“You flipped out in the dressing room and literally went through all five stages of grief in like two minutes. She’s just doing the same thing. So if you’re worried, don’t be,” Winn said.

Alex scoffed. She wished it was that easy.

Alex worried about everything, constantly. She couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t worried.

Maybe when she’d thought she was going to die and Maggie had come to save her. And in the cave with Maggie. And having Winn in the cave, too, safe. And knowing that she had someone else to help her keep him safe.

Figures, Alex thought. Of course it was when Maggie was involved. It was always Maggie.

Alex knew that Maggie was still freaking out or whatever she was doing when Alex asked her if she wanted to sleep first that night and Maggie had nodded and gotten herself situated.

No arguments, no insisting she wasn’t tired, no wanting to stay up and talk.

Winn shot her a sympathetic look and Alex ignored it, making sure she was comfortable enough to keep herself awake for a few hours.

At least Maggie was still with them. At least she didn’t want to abandon the team.

She was just sort of pushing Alex away, keeping her at a distance, and Alex wanted to know why.

It didn’t make her feel good, at all. But Alex knew there had to be a reason that Maggie was acting like this. It was such a dramatic shift from the Maggie she’d come to know that Alex didn’t want to give up on her ever being back to ‘normal’ just yet.

Alex’s mind was occupied with it all the way up until the next day around noon, when they reached the point they had to separate.

Alex had to go one way, to light the fires and draw Max and his crew away from the campsite, and Maggie and Winn had to go to the lake.

Alex was fed up of being confused and wondering what the hell was going on in Maggie’s mind.

And she thought about the fact that the stakes were really high now, and that something could go horribly wrong and she could never see Maggie or Winn again.

“So I think about a mile or so would work, Danvers, and we’ll wait until—”

“I didn’t mean to,” Alex blurted out.

Both Maggie and Winn looked at her, but Alex kept her eyes on Maggie, whose body was still now.

And now that Alex had started, she had to keep going. No matter what.

“I—I didn’t mean to say all that, during my interview. But I meant it,” Alex said with a little smile and a nod. Maggie’s eyes flicked down towards the ground, but Alex kept going. “And I didn’t mean to cause you problems, with Max and everything. I didn’t even want the stupid backpack,” Alex admitted. “I mean, I kind of did, but…I wanted to save you more than anything.”

“Danvers—”

“And I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, that I like you. Because I do. A lot,” Alex then said. Her mouth was going dry and she wished she could know what Maggie was thinking. But it didn’t matter. Because she had to get this out. “But I know that nothing’s going to happen, that nothing can happen, so that’s why I didn’t tell you. It was just easier if you didn’t know, if you thought I was doing it for the cameras or sponsors or whatever. I never lied, though. I never…I don’t know who told you, or who convinced you, that I could never like you, but they’re wrong. I mean, how could I not like you? It’s their problem if they can’t see how…how amazing you are, or how b—”

“Danvers, stop. Please,” Maggie said quietly, but with enough force behind it that Alex closed her mouth, reluctantly.

But Maggie didn’t say anything, didn’t reply to anything she’d said, so Alex continued.

“I just…I wanted you to know that. We can just be friends. We…we have to be friends. So I would really like it if we could go back to normal.”

Maggie shook her head at that, and Alex felt her heart drop.

“I don’t think I can do that,” she finally said.

Alex pursed her lips and for some reason, she felt like crying.

She’d messed it up. Of course she’d messed it up. That’s all she was good at.

So they couldn’t be together, and Maggie didn’t want to be friends, either, apparently.

“Are you gonna leave, then?” Alex managed to get out, sneaking a glance at Winn, who was being smart and trying to look like he was not listening to this conversation. “It would be really difficult to do this without you.”

Maggie seemed surprised. “What?” She shook her head. “No, no, I’m…we’re doing the plan. I’m going with Winn.”

Alex nodded, but she had to ask something else. “And you’re going to take care of him?”

“Yes, of course. I don’t think—”

“You promise?” Alex said, making sure Maggie knew she was serious about this.

If Maggie wanted to be a part of the team, then Alex had to be sure she at least still cared about Winn. And that she’d make sure nothing would happen to him.

“I promise. But, Danvers, I don’t think you understand what I m—”

“As long as you keep him safe,” Alex said. “We should…get this over with.”

Every second she stood there it was getting harder and harder to push her feelings for Maggie, and about what she’d said, aside.

She understood what Maggie meant, loud and clear.

Alex had ruined whatever friendship they’d had, and they couldn’t go back to normal.

It was fine. Or…it would be.

“If I don’t hear anything, I’ll get a fourth fire ready,” Alex then said. She looked at Winn. “Be careful, and if it’s too dangerous or it doesn’t work, then get the hell out of there. And I’ll find you.”

Winn glanced at Maggie and then looked at Alex for a second before he nodded.

Alex nodded as well, trying to ignore Maggie and the fact that she looked like she wanted to say something.

But whatever it was she wanted to say was going to hurt even more, and Alex had more important things to worry about at the moment. They all did.

“Okay, I’ll, um…I’ll see you later. I’ll try to—” Alex shook her head and let out a breath, starting to turn away. “I’ll see you, later.”

She clenched her fist and started to walk, getting the compass out of her pocket to check if she was heading in the right direction.

She turned it over and over in her hands and then tightened her fist around it.

But she just walked faster, getting further and further away from Winn and Maggie.

She started gathering sticks and broken branches, making sure they were dry.

She walked about a mile, and set up the first fire. She waited a couple minutes, and then lit it with a match.

She then forced herself to concentrate on lighting the fires. And whenever her thoughts wandered, she clenched her jaw and pushed them aside.

Alex had no idea if Winn and Maggie were at the campsite yet, but they were supposed to be by the time she lit the second one if they’d timed it right.

So many things could go wrong, and, fortunately, that took up most of Alex’s thoughts.

She had to wait five minutes before she lit the second one, so the Careers wouldn’t be suspicious.

It was killing her, not knowing what was happening with the two of them.

Alex had her knife in her fist, pausing to check her surroundings and listen every couple of minutes. She didn’t like being alone. She’d been fortunate enough to never be alone in the arena. And even though she trusted her ability to defend herself against any attacker, it was still pretty nerve-wracking.

She hadn’t heard the bombs go off by the time she’d made it to the location of the third fire, the closest one to the lake.

The three of them had figured that if the third one to leave the camp did get suspicious about the fires, they’d at least be more likely to check it out if it was closer.

But what if they had a fourth person? Maggie would have to take out whoever it was before they contacted the others on the walkie-talkies.

That was the other problem—the walkie-talkies.

Maggie had said that they had four when she’d left. Alex, Winn, and Maggie had no idea if they still had all four or not, or whether they’d be able to warn the others of the trick and send them back to the lake before the bombs could go off.

Alex had trouble lighting the third fire, but she eventually got the pile of sticks and pine needles to start letting off smoke.

Alex kind of wanted to stay nearby and see if anyone would come to check it out, but that wasn’t part of the plan.

So she waited, creating distance between her and the third.

…And then she waited some more.

She started to get nervous and checked her watch.

Maybe she should go back. Make sure everything was going smoothly.

No. She’d told them that she’d light the fourth fire. It couldn’t hurt.

So she started to jog, reaching the fourth location faster than the rest.

Still no explosions.

Maybe she should check the other fires? Check if Max or Rick or Astra (or possibly Siobhan or Veronica) were not at the lake?

Alex hated this. She didn’t know how she’d ever agreed to this plan.

Alex lit the fourth fire and forced herself to stay there for ten seconds before she really thought something had to be going wrong.

It had been about an hour since she’d lit the first fire.

They were supposed to be making the Career’s campsite go up in a puff of smoke by now.

But Alex heard nothing.

You know what, she thought. Screw it.

She tried, she really tried, not to worry, but it was no use.

She started running.

Something had to be wrong.

She’d done what she was supposed to do and now she needed, she needed to check if they were both okay.

If something happened to either of them…

That thought kept her legs moving, even when she could feel her heart slamming against her chest.

And it was when she was running that she had to stop, because she heard something that would change everything.

She heard an announcement that would change absolutely everything.

“Attention Tributes,” a voice Alex didn’t recognize boomed over some kind of loudspeaker, filling the entire arena. “We have decided to enact a new rule. We are allowing two Tributes, regardless of District or gender, to be declared winners this year. Again…we are allowing the last two remaining Tributes, regardless of District or gender, to be crowned winners. So good luck…and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Chapter Text

Alex’s world seemed to tilt.

Two winners?

That wasn’t possible. This wasn’t happening.

She’d never heard of the Gamemakers changing the rules. Ever. Especially not in the middle of a Game.

The Quarter Quells were special—rules didn’t seem to apply to those. But this was the seventy-fourth. There wasn’t supposed to be anything special about it.

Once the loudspeaker clicked off, Alex felt her body sag against a tree.

And it was as if everything paused for a moment, as if the arena itself could feel the shift in the air.

Alex’s brain went into overdrive. Thinking about how this was going to change everything.

She’d wanted to get out of here with Winn, and hoped against all hope that she could. And now? Now she could.

But Maggie.

Maggie deserved to go home, too.

It could be Alex and Winn. Or Alex and Maggie. Or Winn and Maggie.

But it couldn’t be all three.

Alex almost laughed in exasperation. Maybe it wouldn’t change absolutely everything.

It wasn’t until her eyes once again focused on her surroundings and she seemed to come back from whatever place she’d gone to out of shock that she remembered she’d been running.

Towards the lake. Because Winn and Maggie hadn’t set off the bombs yet.

Why hadn’t they set them off?

Alex blinked and pushed herself off the tree, regaining her balance before she got her legs to start moving again.

Her head felt heavy, her lungs were burning, and her thoughts were all over the place, enough that she could only focus on one thing at a time.

And the thing she chose to focus on was making sure that Winn and Maggie were okay, that they weren’t in danger.

At least no cannons had gone off, so she knew they were alive.

It took a bit, but she eventually reached the stream that would turn into the lake and made a sharp left to go the long way around.

She had to be extra careful now, as she had no idea what had happened while she was gone. She had no idea where Max and the other Careers were. She had no idea if Winn and Maggie were even still there.

Alex glanced over her shoulder and saw four distinct smoke stacks, each at various distances away. So at least they could see the smoke. They had no excuse not to have set off the damn bombs by now.

The forest became thinner, and Alex tried to remember where exactly Winn and Maggie were supposed to be hiding out, ready to do their part of the plan.

And then, after searching for a bit, she saw them.

Maggie’s back was to her, but Winn was standing at a good distance away.

Alex kept running, not wanting to shout their names in case anyone was nearby.

Once she got in range, Winn saw her and immediately straightened up.

“I told you,” he said, and Maggie turned around.

“What’s going on?” Alex asked.

The two of them seemed uncomfortable. Winn looked like he wanted to stay exactly where he was and not move any closer to Maggie, while Maggie looked…guilty?

Maggie was holding a power source in her hands, and she gripped it tighter when Alex came closer slowly, carefully.

“He’s fine. I-I didn’t touch him,” Maggie said quickly.

Now Alex was thoroughly confused, and about ten times more worried. Her hand drifted towards her belt, towards her knife, and she looked at Winn in question. Winn shook his head as if to confirm what Maggie had just said.

“What the hell is going on?” Alex asked again. “Why haven’t you set off the bombs yet? Are they in place?”

Winn nodded. “Yeah, they should work just fine. We just have to flip the switch.”

Alex looked back and forth between them and at the power source in Maggie’s hands. “Well then why…why haven’t you?”

Winn crossed his arms and tilted his head towards Maggie. “She doesn’t want to.”

“What?”

Why wasn’t anything making sense? Maggie had agreed to this, had wanted to do this, and now she suddenly didn’t want to?

Alex looked at her in question and Maggie pursed her lips.

“You don’t have to do it. We’re running out of time, though. Do you want me to? Or Winn?” Alex asked, moving forward, but Maggie held the power source closer to her chest and stepped back.

That made Alex pause. “Maggie, what’s going on?”

“I…” Maggie started to say, and then sighed. She continued slowly, “I just think that it might be more…effective if we wait until they come back.” She separated each word, imploring Alex to understand what she was getting at.

Alex was confused for a second. If they waited until the Career’s got back before they set them off, then…

Her eyes widened as she realized.

Maggie didn’t just want to blow up the camp.

She wanted to blow up the Careers with it.

And the look on Maggie’s face confirmed her thoughts.

“Maggie, no.”

“Why not?” Maggie asked, and Alex could see her steeling herself up for an argument, putting herself on the defensive. Although she also seemed sort of nervous and hesitant, as if she knew why Alex wouldn’t like this, as if she was having second thoughts about her own idea.

Alex glanced at Winn but he seemed to want to stay out of it, as if he’d already tried to convince Maggie not to do it.

Alex wondered how Maggie had gotten the power source from him. She must’ve taken it.

“Because…that wasn’t part of the plan,” Alex said, trying to think of reasons that would make Maggie change her mind.

A part of Alex understood the logic behind it. How easy it would be. Why take out only the camp when you could take out several Tributes with it?

It would get them closer to winning, up their odds of getting out of here.

“It was always part of my plan,” Maggie told her. “But I didn’t think you’d want to do it. You and Winn never brought up this possibility. That’s why I wanted you to do the distraction, so you wouldn’t be here. We have all the bombs. We could just…”

“Maggie, we can’t,” Alex said, desperation in her voice. She had a feeling the Careers would be heading back any minute. She had to convince Maggie to flip the switch before they got here.

Alex didn’t exactly know why she was so against this, but it just seemed…wrong. She knew that Maggie was already carrying the burden of killing several other Tributes and this would mean adding three more.

If Maggie was doing this in self-defense, or to protect someone, then Alex would understand. But she wasn’t.

Alex had a feeling Maggie didn’t want to do this, she was just being logical.

“Yes, we can. Do you want to get out of here or not?”

Alex let out a sharp breath. “Yes, of course I do. But not like this, Maggie. Not…not like this. After we blow up their supplies—only their supplies—they’ll turn on each other. They’ll take each other out for us. We don’t need to be responsible for their deaths.”

With the new rule, maybe Max and Rick would stay together, but Alex didn’t mention that. They’d worry about that later. At least one of the crew might have the sense to split off once they heard the announcement.

“I’m already responsible for so many, Danvers,” Maggie said, her voice not as strong now. “I…I can do it. I can live with this. I’m trained to live with this.”

She didn’t seem too sure about that, so Alex jumped on it.

“But you don’t have to,” Alex said, making sure she was gradually, hopefully undetectably, moving towards her. “You can choose not to do this, not to kill them.” She paused as she remembered Mxy, and how she’d chosen not to kill him when she had the chance. “This isn’t you, Maggie. You told me…you told me you wanted to die as yourself.” Maggie jaw twitched, and Alex continued, “And that you didn’t want to become something you weren’t.”

“But what if this is who I am?” Maggie asked quietly. “I’ve trained my entire life for this. Stuff like this is…all I know. I told you, you wouldn’t understand.”

Alex shook her head. “No, I do understand. I understand enough. If who you are is something you don’t like, then you can change. You can choose not to do this. You can show them that you aren’t just who they trained you to be. Because you’re so much more than that.”

Maggie’s grip seemed to tighten on the power source and Alex chanced a glance at it. She hoped she wouldn’t need to, but she had to have that switch in her line of sight so she could flip it if she was forced to take it from Maggie herself.

“I’m not,” Maggie said, her voice shaking.

All Alex wanted to do was take Maggie’s face in her hands and tell her how amazing and kind and smart and beautiful she was, but she had a feeling Maggie wouldn’t believe her.

But Maggie couldn’t deny what she’d done already. Alex just had to remind her.

“What Career would ever give someone a second chance? And then a third chance? What Career would pay back a debt they owed to someone they barely knew? What Career would ever team up with District 12? What Career would try so hard to show she’s not one of them? What Career would have a second thought about doing this?”

Alex could’ve sworn she saw Maggie flex her hand. Maggie turned her head and looked at the lake, at the empty camp, which wasn’t too far away from them. The power source was connected to a wire, which was connected to another wire, and it snaked across the ground towards what Alex figured was where the first bomb was buried.

“If you don’t want to be one of them, then don’t be, Maggie,” Alex continued, glancing at Winn in warning.

In the next minute, either she was going to set off the bombs, or Maggie was. They had to. This was cutting it way too close for comfort.

Winn backed away in preparation, maneuvering so he’d be behind a tree.

Maggie finally turned her head back, her eyes landing on Alex’s once again.

“It’s not that easy,” she repeated.

Alex chanced a small smile. “I know. I know it’s not always an easy choice. But you do have a choice.”

And then Alex got another idea. Maggie seemed to hate being a Career, but she also had resentment for the Capitol, too, for reasons Alex didn’t understand. It probably had to do with her training, but Alex had a feeling it was something else, too.

It might work. So she had to try.

“You can…you can show them that you’re more than who they want, who they need you to be,” Alex told her. “If you flip that switch right now, Maggie, and don’t kill those Tributes, you can defy them, and show them that you aren’t just who they bred you to be. You can show them that they don’t own you. That you’re more than just a piece in their Games.”

That seemed to strike a chord, and Maggie blinked before looking down at the ground.

A second later, Alex realized she was staring at the power source.

She seemed to take a deep breath.

And then her finger moved.

In the next moment, everything seemed to happen at once.

Alex felt the first bomb’s Boom echo in her heartbeat like a drum.

She didn’t have time to think.

The ground shook as the bombs went off one after the other, after the other, and Alex surged forward to cover Maggie and get her behind a tree. A wave of dirt and dust came crashing over them, threatening to fill their lungs as she crouched down, pulling Maggie with her.

And Alex held Maggie as the ground continued to quake with the aftershock of the explosions and all she could hear was a high-pitched ringing sound in her ears.

She didn’t know how long she’d held her, burying her face in her hair, but she stayed still until the smoke and clouds of dust seemed to settle and she found she could breathe without having to cough.

Alex then hesitantly lifted her head, blinking her eyes open slowly.

“Winn?” she said, loud enough that she hoped he’d be able to answer.

And she let out a relieved breath when she heard, “I’m fine.”

Alex turned her head towards the camp and the bits and pieces of scattered tent parts and food and clothing.

She realized she was still gripping Maggie’s jacket, and loosened her fingers, instead bringing them to Maggie’s dirt-covered hair.

She leaned back and brushed away some of the hair that had fallen in her face, and couldn’t help a smile.

Maggie had done it.

But now they needed to get out of there.

Maggie wasn’t moving, and Alex had to tuck some of her hair behind her ear so as to see her face fully.

Alex saw tears streaking down her cheeks, and immediately lifted her chin up gently. She was squeezing her eyes shut and she started to shake her head when Alex said, “Maggie?” in the softest voice possible.

In between coughs and deep breaths and hiccups, Maggie managed to whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m—I’m so…sorry.”

Alex had no idea what Maggie was apologizing for, but Winn came over and gripped her arm, a worried look on his face.

She had to get Maggie out of there, and then figure out what was wrong.

Because if the Careers weren’t heading back yet, they sure as hell were now.

And Alex didn’t want to be there when they realized their campsite was gone.

“We have to get out of here, Maggie,” Alex said.

Alex managed to pull on one of Maggie’s arms enough to get her to stand, and Winn held the other one. Maggie was walking fine, but she kept her face covered with her fist as if she didn’t want to look at anyone or want anyone to look at her.

But Alex and Winn kept moving, kept going until they found a tree far enough away to climb. Alex took the now-basically-empty backpack from Winn and hoisted him up.

She then grabbed Maggie’s hand and helped her onto the lowest branch. Maggie seemed to mechanically climb the tree, not once looking down, only focusing on following Winn.

Once Alex followed them up and sat facing Maggie on the branch she was on, she unshouldered the backpack and handed it to Winn.

Maggie had her knees up against her chest and her fingers were grasping onto her hair.

Alex noticed she was still crying, and leaned forward to swipe her thumb across Maggie’s cheekbone. She hated seeing Maggie like this, and wanted to make it better.

“I’m s-sorry,” Maggie repeated, louder this time.

“Maggie, what are you sorry for? You did it,” Alex said with a smile, trying to get Maggie to look at her. “I mean…you didn’t do it. You…you blew up the camp, Maggie, but you didn’t wait until they came.”

Maggie was silent.

But Alex just tried again. “Maggie, talk to me, please. What’s wrong?”

And eventually, she told her.

“I…I put you in danger. I put him in danger. I didn’t…th-the plan,” Maggie croaked out. “They could’ve found us, and…and they c-could’ve hurt h—”

“But they didn’t. They didn’t. You blew up their camp, Maggie.”

“I wasn’t g-going to.”

“I know, but you did. And now they’re going to be pissed as all hell,” Alex paused as she got the corner of Maggie’s mouth to quirk up at that, “and they’ll turn on each other. We don’t have to do a thing.”

“We’re a team. I feel like I…betrayed your trust, or s-something. I went behind your back and I didn’t f-follow the plan.”

“Yes, you did. You blew up the camp, and you kept Winn safe.”

Maggie finally looked Alex in the eye, and Alex smiled. But Maggie shook her head and repeated, “I wasn’t going to. I wanted to blow them up, too.”

Alex shrugged. “But you didn’t.”

Maggie stayed silent. She glanced at Winn and he smiled as well, and then she looked back at Alex.

“You don’t think I’m a bad person?” she finally asked, a worried, scared expression on her face.

Alex smiled and wiped the last traces of tears from her cheek. She kept her hand there as she shook her head. “No. No, because when it came down to it, you did the right thing. That’s what matters,” she reassured her. She would tell her a hundred, no, a thousand times if she had to. She took her hand away and clenched her fingers into a fist, wishing she could keep it there longer but not feeling right about it.

Maggie bit her lip and then let out a breath.

“I think we should be celebrating,” Winn piped up with a grin, and Maggie glanced at him, confused. “’Cause Alex and I rarely have a plan that works. I guess all we needed was you.”

Maggie let out a little laugh at that, and Alex gave Winn a grateful smile.

“We made a pretty good team, huh?” Maggie then said softly.

Alex nodded and smirked. “Yeah, I guess we did.”

And before she knew what was happening, Maggie was pulling her forward into a hug and Alex prayed she wouldn’t fall off the tree.

Alex purposefully did not look at Winn as she hugged her back until she felt Maggie shift and grab onto his hand.

“Thank you,” Maggie whispered.

“Any time,” Alex whispered back. Winn smiled at her, but all Alex was wondering was how long this was going to last. And why exactly Maggie was acting like this.

Because she’d said she couldn’t be friends, but this didn’t seem like not being friends.

“So, um,” Maggie started to say as she pulled back, and Alex immediately missed having her arms around her. She wiped her eyes and managed a smile, “What’s our next plan?”

Alex felt her heart soar. She hadn’t really been sure if Maggie would still want to stay with them after they’d blown up the camp. Their original agreement was for her to help with that, and now it was done.

But…apparently, she did.

“Well, we could go back to the cave, I guess, or—” Alex tried to suggest, but was cut off.

“Uh, woah. No,” Winn said, shaking his head. “Before we start planning something else, I think a certain elephant in the room needs to be addressed before we avoid talking about it and this gets really awkward. And I know that you two also have a lot to talk about,” he continued with a pointed look at Maggie, which made Alex confused and Maggie look down at her hands. Winn bypassed that for the moment, “But you heard that announcement, right, Alex?”

Alex ran a hand through her hair. She couldn’t see Maggie’s face. She really wanted to, to see how she felt about it, for some reason.

“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

“So, you understand that it was for you and Maggie,” Winn said next.

Alex felt her face flush and she glared at Winn, wanting him to stop talking. Maggie was right there, although she seemed to want to pretend not to listen at the moment.

“Uh, no. Not necessarily, Winn,” Alex said with a nervous laugh, a warning in her voice. “He said anyone, regardless of—”

“Regardless of District. If it was meant for you and me, if the audience wanted us to get out of here together, don’t you think he would’ve said the two winners had to be from the same District? It can only be for you two.”

Winn had a point, but Alex still didn’t believe he was correct. “There’s eight of us, Winn. It could be any combination of—”

But Winn shook his head. “No, no, it couldn’t. They want you two to stop being idiots and using the excuse that you can’t both make it out of here as a reason to not be together. I mean, it’s so obvious!” Winn exclaimed, and he didn’t seem like he was joking. “They love you two. Why else would they change the rules? They’ve never ever done that before. I think my ‘brilliant’ plan seems to be working.”

Alex pursed her lips and before she could respond, Maggie lifted her head back up.

“What plan?” she asked.

“I had this plan,” Winn said, shifting in his spot. Alex sighed. “And obviously it was brilliant, because it’s working.”

“You don’t know that—” Alex tried to say, but it was no use.

Winn held a hand up and stopped her from talking. “I thought Alex should’ve done a whole fake-fall-in-love-with-you thing, but she didn’t want to do it. Like, at all.”

“Uh huh,” Maggie said quietly, and Alex was so close to pushing Winn off the tree.

Winn.”

“No, no. Let me finish. I thought it would work because the audience would love it. So, I was utterly confused when Alex had seemed, originally, very against it for…probably good reasons, that have nothing to do with you,” Winn said, looking at Maggie, “and then, suddenly, during her interview, she does it. Accidentally. Because she actually likes you and sucks at hiding her feelings. So everyone realizes that she likes you. You thought she liked you, too, even if you believed she was doing it for the cameras. So then blah, blah, blah, Alex thinks it’s easier not to tell you the truth and all that crap, and you know what happens after that. But, the point is, is that it’s working. The point is that you two are even bigger idiots than I thought if you think that that rule is not for you.”

“He said the last two remaining, Winn,” Alex said, purposefully not looking at Maggie now, who seemed to be studying her. “Don’t you think that he would’ve said two boys or two girls if they wanted it to be me and Maggie?”

That made Winn pause for a second. “Maybe,” he mumbled.

“Exactly. That meant it’s for anybody. Case closed,” Alex said.

It wouldn’t even make sense if it was for her and Maggie, Alex couldn’t help but think. Because Maggie didn’t like her like that.

If the audience wanted them to get together or whatever, and the Gamemakers were willing to change the rules for that to happen, they were going to be disappointed. Because it wasn’t going to happen, as much as Alex might want it to.

“And besides,” Alex continued, “even if, by some small sliver of a chance, you’re right—which you’re not—there’s no way I’m going home without you, too.”

Throughout the Games, Alex had tried not to think about what was going to happen at the end of this whole thing.

If she had, she probably wouldn’t have teamed up with Winn in the first place, and made sure to stay far away from Maggie.

But she hadn’t.

Which meant that now she was faced with an impossible choice.

Some part of Alex knew that if it ever got down to her and Winn, she would’ve sacrificed herself to let him win.

Now, looking between Maggie and Winn, she couldn’t imagine ever choosing one over the other if the three of them made it to the end.

It didn’t matter that her feelings for Maggie weren’t reciprocated. This was bigger than that. Maggie deserved to go home just as much as Winn did.

And it was then that she realized there was only one choice to make.

It could only be two of them.

Kara would understand.

Alex knew her, and what she’d been through, but she’d have to understand.

Because Alex decided—even though it meant sacrificing herself—that she was going to do everything her power to make sure that Maggie and Winn were the ones who were getting out of here alive.

Chapter Text

They decided to spend the night in the tree after travelling for hours that afternoon as they hadn’t been able to find the cave and were more exhausted than they’d realized.

They were getting further and further from the lake, but it was safer.

Maggie said there had been a small pond near the cave that was a lot less risky than trying to fill up the canteen at the lake, and that they’d find food to hold them over or even go hunting later if they needed to.

They’d left the rope at the lake, the backpack was empty, and they only had one sleeping bag for the three of them. So they really needed a better place to sleep.

“Do you think we killed all the fish?” Winn then asked. “’Cause I could use something to eat. I’m starving.”

It would be nice to get some fish, maybe take a bath in the lake. But they’d be like sitting ducks if they stayed there, sleeping on the ground, with only three knives, an axe, and an arrow-less crossbow as weapons.

“I think we better wait longer before we go back there, let them get all their anger out and hopefully eliminate a third from their team,” Maggie pointed out.

That was probably what the Gamemakers thought Alex, Maggie, and Winn were going to do.

But Alex got a bit of satisfaction out of the fact that the Gamemakers would probably be bothered that they were essentially ignoring the rule, opting to stick together despite the obvious attempts to separate them.

The only very, very confusing thing about this was that Alex had no idea what Maggie was to her.

Obviously she was a teammate, but was that it?

Because it was kind of a given that teammates had to be trusted.

And Alex trusted Maggie, of course, but…

Maybe Maggie didn’t want to be friends because Alex had essentially let her believe that she was faking the whole liking-her thing for a long time. Alex had never lied, but she’d never exactly corrected her either, or told her the truth.

Now, Maggie was probably having to reconfigure every single interaction and conversation they’d ever had, knowing that Alex wasn’t faking a word of it.

So if Maggie didn’t trust her, then why was she still here?

Nothing made sense.

But that was pretty normal, for Alex.

Alex wanted to be friends because being together wasn’t an option, and she wanted Maggie to stick around. So if they had to be friends, then Alex could do it. Even though she’d tried before with someone else and it hadn’t really worked, even though she thought it would hurt more. She could do it, if it meant Maggie wouldn’t leave.

That was what was different about this time.

Alex didn’t want to run. She wanted, more than anything, to stay.

And she didn’t want to lose Maggie. So as long as Maggie was sticking around, for whatever reason, Alex wasn’t going to question it.

Maggie started showing them what plants they could pick berries off of as they walked.

Winn tried to present her with his handful of what he called ‘snacks’ after a few minutes of searching. Which led to Maggie almost paling and telling him to leave all of it, as he had picked some of what she said were Nightlock berries, and to never, ever go near those again.

Winn had mumbled a, “Yes ma’am,” put his snacks down, and they continued on.

“Are you gonna make more of your jam?” Alex asked after a while with a smile on her face.

Maggie furrowed her brow as she bent down and took a leaf between her fingers, looking back up at Alex. “What?”

“Your jam. You were spreading it on your bread when I came to…when you brought me to the cave.”

“Oh,” Maggie said, laughing a little bit. “I mean, it wasn’t technically jam. I didn’t boil the berries, or can them. The juices just made the bread taste better. Actually, these—” she picked a purple berry from the bush “—taste really good with it, if you wanna try. If we ever get more bread.”

“What are they called?” Alex asked as she knelt down and broke off a whole chunk of them to stick in the backpack.

“Beautyberries. They’re poisonous in some parts of the world, but not here. There’s not a lot of edible plants that I’ve come across in the arena, but there’s enough if you know where to look.”

Alex checked over her shoulder to make sure Winn was still around, and he was practically hopping from tree to tree. He was still happy about his plan actually working, and about being able to reactivate the bombs. It was kind of cute, but it meant he was not staying as close to them as Alex would’ve liked.

“Why do you know all this stuff? About plants?” Alex could help but ask after a moment.

Maggie shrugged. “I don’t know. I always thought it was interesting, and helpful to know in case I was ever Reaped and needed to survive off them.”

“I’m guessing they don’t teach you about it.”

“No. They don’t think it’s important,” Maggie said as she stood up again, and Alex did as well. “At least not as important as other things.”

Like knowing how to take someone out before they even realize you’re there, or how to use everything as a weapon, Alex guessed. Things like that.

Maggie glanced behind them as they travelled forward. Alex did as well, but Maggie kept walking once she saw Winn was still behind them.

Winn gave Alex a thumbs-up and Alex rolled her eyes.

“Do you think we should tell him to stick closer? He’s kind of far,” Alex said as she followed Maggie.

“Nah, he’s fine. He’s within yelling range, if anything happens. And besides, he’d just start bragging about his bombs again,” Maggie pointed out with a smirk.

“That’s true,” Alex agreed.

Alex couldn’t help but think that their conversations were sort of back to where they’d been before, but not exactly. They’d talk about things that didn’t matter. Casual things. Like plants.

Alex wasn’t sure what else they’d talk about, or what Maggie would be comfortable talking about.

Probably not the fact that Alex had feelings for her, or that Maggie had said she didn’t want to be friends, but she was still here, and a part of their team. Which didn’t make sense. But she was with them. And that was all that mattered, Alex kept reminding herself.

It was silent for a minute and Alex found another beautyberry bush, adding a few of the ripe ones to the backpack.

“So, um…what Winn was saying yesterday. About that plan he had. That brilliant one,” Maggie started to say, not really looking at Alex and focusing on finding more potential food.

Alex laughed nervously and waved a hand. “Yeah, I—I don’t think he’s right about it working and all that. You know, sometimes he says things and…you don’t need to listen to him.”

“What about that part where he said you didn’t want to do it at first for some reason?”

“Especially that part,” Alex said a bit quieter.

Alex wondered why she was asking. Why Maggie wanted to talk about this. It didn’t seem like something she’d want to talk about.

“What happened?”

Alex shrugged. “It’s, um…it’s nothing. It was a long time ago. It doesn’t really…matter.”

Alex wondered if that was lie.

Obviously it still preoccupied her mind at times. Obviously it still bothered her.

But you know…now that she thought about it, it was probably a good thing. Vicky essentially breaking her heart had made her tell her sister she was gay. Which made them not only grow closer, but also made Alex more comfortable with it and know herself a little bit better.

That whole thing made her more cautious, too. Made her more careful before she dove into things like that headfirst. (Even though she still couldn’t really stop herself, apparently.)

She didn’t mind taking risks. Doing so made her feel energized, and she was used to making split second decisions.

But she’d learned.

She’d learned that in that department, it was easier, it was better, to be more cautious.

She’d learned to make sure that the other person felt the same before she did anything stupid.

“It doesn’t sound like nothing,” Maggie said softly, and Alex finally looked at her. She had a little smile on her face.

Alex sighed.

Alex knew she was sounding exactly like Maggie did when Maggie didn’t want to tell her something important. When Maggie wanted to pretend like important things didn’t matter.

“I just…” Alex paused, and then finally got herself to keep going. “I liked somebody, and they didn’t like me. And it hurt. But, um,” Alex did a half-shrug, “it was for the best, so…” Maggie was staring at her, and Alex continued, “It was a long time ago. I just didn’t really want it to happen again, if I could…prevent it. But I guess you can’t control everything.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized what she was saying.

Alex put her hands in her jacket pockets as she bit her cheek.

The last thing she wanted was for Maggie to feel guilty. Or pity her.

Maggie wasn’t obligated to have feelings for her. And here she was, probably making Maggie feel horrible for something she absolutely shouldn’t feel horrible about.

Alex probably seemed pathetic, in Maggie’s eyes. She certainly felt a bit pathetic.

Alex concentrated on anything but Maggie as she tried to figure out how to reword her sentence.

But before she could, she lifted her head again as Maggie spoke, her voice sounding a bit nervous, for some reason.

“Danvers, I…I really think I need to explain what I meant when I said, before, that—”

Boom.

A very loud, very close cannon effectively cut her off, and Alex’s heart skipped a beat.

They both spun around, and it was empty woods.

No sign of Winn.

Alex started running back in the direction they’d come. She barely registered that Maggie was following her.

“Winn!” she yelled, not caring who was going to hear, not caring that her heart felt like it was beating way too fast to be healthy.

Oh, God, she thought. If that was Winn…

“Winn!” she yelled, practically screamed, again.

It was an excruciating four seconds of Alex thinking she might start crying and then getting angry at herself for not focusing, for not running faster, for not watching him, for not protecting him, for not finding him fast enough, when—

“Alex?”

Alex stopped abruptly and Maggie almost ran into her.

Alex let out a breath that almost sounded like a sob before she got out another, “Winn?”

And then she saw him.

Winn was running towards her, alive—alive, alive, alive—and when he spotted her he slowed down to catch his breath.

Alex went up to him, grabbing onto both his arms and looking him up and down, checking if he was okay.

“Who was that?” Winn asked after reassuring her at least three times that he wasn’t hurt.

“I-I don’t know. Are you sure you’re—”

“Alex, I’m fine. I’m completely fine. It wasn’t me,” Winn said again.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” Alex said with one last deep breath in and out to calm herself down. “Don’t do that. You’re staying by us from now on. Always. Got it?”

Winn nodded as if he knew not to argue. “Got it.”

It hadn’t even been an entire day, but Alex was already messing up her own plan to keep both of them alive. Winn could’ve died, if whoever had made the cannon go off had found him.

“Oh shit,” Alex heard Maggie say almost under her breath.

Alex finally turned away but kept her hand on Winn’s arm as she followed Maggie towards where she was heading.

Alex could see no blood trail, no sign of struggle, but Maggie found who that cannon had been for.

It was Siobhan.

Maggie glanced back at Alex as she kneeled to inspect her, trying to figure out what had happened. How she’d died.

Siobhan wasn’t bleeding anywhere. Didn’t have any broken bones that Alex could tell as she leaned a bit forward.

Siobhan was just lying there. She could’ve been asleep.

It must be internal. Poison, maybe?

Her lips were a bit blue…

Alex’s eyes widened as her eyes followed Maggie’s fingers as they gently pried open Siobhan’s fist.

In it was a handful of berries.

And Alex specifically saw some Nightlock berries.

Maggie had made sure that both her and Winn memorized what they looked like, so they wouldn’t eat them. They were barely the size of a grape, almost black. And deadly. Maggie said one only needed to eat a couple, and they’d be effective. You’d be dead in minutes.

There were some other berries mixed in there, too, in Siobhan’s hand.

It looked eerily similar to the batch of ‘snacks’ Winn had found before.

And Alex’s immediate thought was, Shit.

She backed up, taking Winn with her.

“Hey, what’s…” Winn stammered out, resisting and probably wondering why she was pulling on his arm.

Alex’s only mission was to get him away, away, away, and not let him see.

Maggie tried to subtly cover Siobhan’s hand again and pretend like she hadn’t found anything as she, too, seemed to realize what had happened.

But she wasn’t quick enough, and Winn suddenly rooted himself to the ground.

There was a second of silence before Winn let out a small, “Oh, my God.”

“Winn—”

“Oh, my God, that was…th-that was m— I…the berries. Those were mine—”

“It’s not your f—”

Winn looked at Alex with wide, panicked eyes. “I-I didn’t mean to. I didn’t…I put them down and I didn’t even think…I k-ki— I…she’s…” he started breathing heavily again and Alex led him away and he followed her almost numbly.

“It was an accident,” Alex then said in an overly calm voice.

“Those berries…th-they were mine.”

“You didn’t give them to her, Winn. It’s not your fault. It was an accident.”

Winn looked at her until he said, “That’s what I said last time.” He shook his head and let out a ragged breath. “God, I can’t believe I…again, I…”

“8? You there?”

All three of them jumped at the muffled, static voice. Alex and Winn turned towards Maggie and the body.

Maggie’s brow furrowed and she hesitantly moved Siobhan, trying to get to her back pocket.

Maggie then pulled out a walkie-talkie and swiveled around from where she was kneeling to show it to them fully.

So Siobhan was with them. She’d been with the Careers.

“I didn’t see her, at the lake…I— we didn’t know she was with them,” Maggie said, utterly surprised and confused. But she looked happy.

There was one last, “8?” that came out of it and Maggie held it away from her.

“Max,” Alex said, almost a whisper. She couldn’t believe it.

Maggie nodded. “Yeah, Max. Probably wondering where she is. Probably hoping he could trick her into telling him where she is. I would guess he’s with Rick. And that’s already two people, so…”

Alex was also kind of happy they’d gotten the walkie-talkie, too. Maybe Max would be stupid enough to keep using it to communicate so that they’d know where he was. But probably not.

“At least we have a walkie-talkie now, right?” Winn said, his voice still a little high-pitched and weird that Alex didn’t believe he was alright. “That’s good. That’s great.”

Alex turned back to him. “You did not have anything to do with this.”

“Those were my Nightlock berries, Alex,” Winn stated, surprisingly stern. “Those were mine. She ate my berries.”

“Winn, you didn’t tell her to, or force her to, or even know that she was going to. How on earth could you have known she was going to eat them?”

“I-I…I don’t know! I should’ve hidden them, I should’ve—”

“She thought they were okay to eat, because they were with the others,” Alex said. “It’s not your fault that she didn’t know. It’s not your fault she ate them.”

Winn shook his head and let out a frustrated noise from the back of his throat. “How could I…I did it again.”

Maggie was beside them now with the walkie-talkie in her hand, which she transferred to the backpack for safe-keeping, and Alex glanced back at Siobhan.

Alex figured Maggie had already taken her token, as she seemed ready to get the hell out of there. But they had a somewhat silent conversation and Maggie started to talk to Winn, taking over trying to get him to calm down.

And Alex couldn’t help it as she looked at Siobhan yet again.

More specifically, her left hand splayed out openly now.

Alex swallowed and made sure Maggie was focused on Winn and Winn was a bit too focused on what had just happened, as she slowly moved away from them.

She went back to Siobhan’s body and knelt down, making sure Siobhan’s hand would be hidden from view.

She quickly glanced over her shoulder at the two of them and then slowly, carefully, began picking the rest of the Nightlock berries out of Siobhan’s hand.

There were about six left, and Alex shifted, twisting her jacket towards her stomach, out of view.

And Alex pocketed the berries and zipped it up, making sure there weren’t enough to make any lumps.

Just in case, she thought. If it came down to it.

All she’d need to do was pop a few of these into her mouth, and they wouldn’t be able to stop her.

Alex took a shaky breath in and out.

The berries could also be used as a weapon, she reasoned. Against someone else, if she could get close enough.

Alex moved Siobhan’s hand, trying to make it look like she was doing something, like she had a completely different reason (who knew what…) for going back to the body.

And then she stood up and strode back over to Winn and Maggie.

Maggie looked at her, but thankfully didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong, that anything had happened.

“We should probably go,” Maggie suggested.

Alex nodded. “Yeah. Do you wanna walk with him? I think you’re bit better at this than I am.”

“Sure, okay,” Maggie replied before gently leading Winn forward.

They walked for a bit before Alex heard the repetitive, head-pounding sound of helicopter blades descending down into the arena.

She couldn’t help a look over her shoulder again, and pulled down the zipper on her pocket.

As she walked, she rolled the berries between her fingertips, slowly, gently, feeling each one.

Just in case.

------

“Why don’t you just explain?”

Alex tried not to listen to what Winn and Maggie were talking about, but they—or at least Winn—was talking kind of loudly.

“Because…I don’t know,” Maggie said. And then she said something else but Alex couldn’t hear.

“That makes no sense,” Winn replied after a second.

Alex slowed down a little bit even though all she wanted to do was ask them what the hell they were talking about. Alex was ninety percent sure they were talking about her but she couldn’t hear very much of their conversation.

It wasn’t until she heard Winn’s stomach grumbling for what seemed like the fifth time that Alex insisted she go back to the lake and get them real food. He was also starting to limp again, although it was obvious he was trying to hide it.

She argued that it would be just as risky to go out hunting, and this way they wouldn’t have to cook anything.

Maggie had said that she was starting to recognize this part of the forest, which meant they were close to the cave. The lake was essentially the opposite way, so Alex wanted to meet them at the cave.

“We should come with you, Danvers,” Maggie said. “It’s going to take hours for you to get there and back.”

But Alex shook her head. “Winn’s ankle needs rest, and it’ll be safer if you two go to the cave. I’ll be fine. They’ve probably already abandoned it by now.”

“But what if they’re waiting for one of us to come back?” Winn asked.

“Well then I’ll take care of it,” Alex said. “Plus, if it’s one of them, they’ll have a walkie-talkie. It’d be nice to get another one. And if I manage to, then I can keep in contact.”

Maggie and Winn both looked conflicted but didn’t say anything, so Alex figured she’d basically won the argument.

“Okay, great,” she said, handing the backpack to Maggie, who reluctantly took it. “I’ll be back before it’s dark.”

“And if you’re not then we’re going to come looking for you.”

Alex wanted to tell Maggie not to, to not bother.

Keeping them alive and safe was the most important thing.

Alex had pretty much accepted by now that she probably wasn’t going home. Which she couldn’t think about for too long or else she’d start thinking of Kara and her mom and her dad and it would make her not want to do what she knew she’d have to do.

So whenever she found her thoughts wandering as she travelled, she’d distract herself by picking edible berries or pain-relieving plants to eat and add to their pile of stuff.

Maggie had told her to be careful before she left, and right before she glanced at Winn, she looked like she wanted to say something else but decided against it. Alex wondered if it was what she wanted to say before.

Alex reached the lake quicker than she thought she would, as she’d been kind of jogging, wanting to make sure she was back at the cave before it got dark.

As she got closer, she made sure to keep an eye and an ear out for any signs of danger.

The Career’s campsite was gone completely. Replacing it was ash and a fine layer of dust on the water near that end of the lake.

Nothing useable was still there, but that wasn’t surprising.

Alex managed to catch one fish, and then another twenty minutes later, and figured that would have to be enough.

She wrapped them in leaves and set them to the side, doing a sweep through of her surroundings before filling up the canteen.

And it was when she was kneeling down towards the edge of the lake that she swore she heard something like a rustling of leaves.

Alex quickly dropped the canteen and spun around, her knife already halfway out of her belt loop and ready to throw, when a piece of fabric was suddenly clamped over her mouth.

Alex breathed in sharply and immediately regretted it as an unfamiliar taste tingled on her tongue.

The hand held on tighter and another went for her wrist, but Alex threw her head back and heard a satisfying crunch of a bone.

Whoever her attacker was let out a grunt and Alex took advantage of their momentary surprise to pull their arm forward and jerk her elbow back.

And then it seemed like a wave hit her, and her head felt cloudy.

She tried to push past it but somehow ended up on the ground, her lower back aching from the kick aimed at it and her elbow sinking into the edge of the lake.

She still had her knife, though, but when she blinked and positioned it to throw, the world went a bit lopsided.

But she managed to see who her target was.

Rick.

With a smirk on his face as he advanced towards her.

Alex managed to throw the knife like a disk and it grazed his head, which made him furrow his brow and touch his fingertips to the little scrape Alex had given him.

His nose was definitely broken, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Actually, Alex wasn’t sure if it was only his nose, or his whole face that was bloodied and purple.

Everything was swirling together and the edges of her vision were going black.

Rick leaned down casually way too close for comfort, placing the cloth over her mouth again for a few seconds, and then folded his arms across his chest as if patiently waiting for her to even try to attack him again. His mouth started moving but Alex was trying to keep herself awake and couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying.

Although she was pretty sure it was something like, “This is gonna be fun.”

Alex thought that she was also saying something, thought she was trying to punch him, to kick him, but her arms and legs couldn’t move.

…And right before she passed out, her only thought was, Not again.

Chapter Text

Alex’s eyes snapped open.

Rick was standing a good distance away, folding up a rag that Alex figured had been drenched in chloroform (wherever the hell he’d gotten that, Alex didn’t know) and held over her mouth.

It didn’t take long for Alex to realize that her hands and feet were tied up with rope.

The rope they’d left at the lake.

Of course.

Her arms were above her head, tied together at her wrists and then tied to a tree branch. She had to stand on the tips of her boots to touch the ground.

Still, she let out a small grunt as she tested Rick’s knots, but they held.

“I wouldn’t even try if I were you. It’s useless,” Rick said as he straightened up and turned around to face her, and Alex clenched her jaw. She eyed the walkie-talkie in his back pocket, trying to figure out how she could get it from him.

The lake was to her left, the woods to her right. The branch she was tied to was long, hanging out over the water.

She wondered if Max was around here, too, somewhere.

It wasn’t dark, thank God.

Which meant Maggie and Winn weren’t going to come after her yet. She’d probably only been out for half an hour.

If she could just figure out how to get herself out of this…

“You’re awfully quiet,” Rick said next, and Alex glanced at him. “What, no choice words for me? You’re probably trying to figure out how to escape, huh? Well, you might as well give up on that.”

He bent down and picked up a knife, Alex’s knife, and Alex kept her eyes on it instead of him as he came closer.

“Where’d your little buddy go? I haven’t seen him around here.”

Alex tried to keep her emotions under control when Rick mentioned Winn, but Rick smirked when he saw her slight reaction.

“Interesting choice for a partner. I was hoping I would be able to use him to get to you, but you made it easy.” Rick smiled. “Lucky me.”

It occurred to Alex that Mxy might’ve told Max, Rick, and Astra that Winn was with her, but they didn’t know Maggie was with her, now, too.

They had no idea. They would never expect it, either.

If she could just get that knife out of his hands, she’d be able to cut away the rope.

But then she heard static from his walkie-talkie, and Max’s voice came out of it. “Stage?” he asked.

Alex had no idea what that meant, but she figured it was part of some plan they had. They were obviously being careful about what they were saying to each other via walkie-talkie, as they didn’t know who had the fourth one now that Siobhan was dead.

Rick fished his out of his back pocket and pressed the side button.

He said three simple words: “I got her.”

And Alex had a bad feeling in her stomach as she realized who else would be able to hear those words.

Shit, she thought. She prayed that Maggie and Winn hadn’t heard them, that they weren’t going to come after her, now.

Maybe they’d think Rick was talking about Astra or Veronica.

Rick looked like he was waiting for a response, but didn’t get one. Alex hoped that that meant something was going wrong.

He tried to hide his confusion at not receiving anything back from Max, and casually put the walkie-talkie away again, focusing on Alex.

“Was it you or your little friend who bombed our camp?” he asked, moving the knife from hand to hand. “Because whoever it was, I need to teach them a lesson about messing with us.” He paused for a second, regarding her. Then, he asked, “What’s your game plan, 12?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alex said. Her throat felt dry.

“Why would you team up with some scrawny little nobody unless you were using him for your own gain? I didn’t even know you two would be smart enough to keep yourselves alive for this long. But I guess that’s all you do in District 12, right?”

“At least we’re not assholes who are stupid enough to not take a chance to kill somebody when they have it,” Alex shot back. She didn’t know if it was the smartest thing to say, but if Rick was going to kill her, he would’ve done it by now.

Alex wondered what his game plan was.

Rick raised his eyebrows. “Like you did with Mxy?”

Alex was silent.

“That’s what I thought. See, I just want to have a little fun before I dispose of you,” Rick continued. He was standing in front of her now with enough distance between them that Alex couldn’t try anything. “I’ve waited my entire life for this. Gotta make the most of it, right?”

Alex felt sick. Rick was…he was the Career who loved being a Career. He had not only trained, but liked it. And he was using it to his full advantage. Having fun, actually.

Alex briefly wondered what Careers did when they turned nineteen. From what she knew and what Maggie had told her, training for the Games was all they knew. So what happened when they didn’t have to anymore?

Rick came closer and put Alex’s knife under her chin, poking it slightly into her skin.

“I’ve been thinking about ways to kill you,” he said, and Alex’s skin crawled. “Well, anybody, really. But since you’re here…I thought about having you watch me kill him, but until he shows up, I’ll have to get more creative.”

“Go to hell,” Alex practically growled, trying not to clench her teeth together so hard and untense her shoulders.

If Winn and Maggie came after her, Rick might get his hands on Winn. And Alex knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do exactly what he’d just said.

Rick wasn’t fazed by her anger, which pissed off Alex even more. He smirked. “There she is. I thought the Girl on Fire might show up at some point.”

Then, his eyes seemed to light up and he got this look on his face that made Alex terrified of what he was thinking. It wasn’t often, or ever, that she felt terrified. He looked like he’d thought of a great idea, and Alex was not looking forward to finding out what it was.

She was so vulnerable, hanging from the tree like this. J’onn had not prepared her for chloroform attacks. She hadn’t known that was even part of the supplies that were available. It seemed to give a little too much of an advantage.

Maybe it had been sent to him.

Either way, Alex needed to ignore him and figure out how to get out of these damn knots.

But she couldn’t, because Rick continued.

“The Girl on Fire,” Rick muttered under his breath, creating distance between them. “I wonder…” he looked back up at her, “if the audience would like to see you drown.”

He seemed to forget all about the walkie-talkie and Max. Whatever they had originally planned wasn’t important to Rick anymore.

He’d figured out a better way to kill her, it seemed.

Alex fought to keep her face neutral.

He glanced at the lake and then back at her, and Alex couldn’t help it as she twisted her wrists in the knots, moving her thumbs like J’onn had taught her to loosen them.

This was not good.

It was like Rick wasn’t even human.

His newly broken nose didn’t seem to be a bother. He had a glint in his eye just thinking about killing her.

He started looking around for who knew what, and Alex tried to subtly start inching towards where the branch thinned out, which was way too far away.

But Rick strode back over to her and held the knife against her stomach this time, pressing in a little harder.

“Don’t even try anything, we both know—”

“Rick?”

Alex bit her tongue to keep from making any noise and furrowed her brow in confusion, even though her heart started beating faster.

It was Maggie’s voice that came out of the walkie-talkie this time.

Rick seemed surprised, but he quickly tried to hide it.

He slowly took the walkie-talkie out of his pocket again, holding it up in front of his mouth. He seemed hesitant, suspicious, to say anything, and he wasn’t fast enough before Maggie spoke again.

“I know you’re there, Rick. I want to propose something to you.”

What the hell was she doing?

She’d let Rick find out who had the fourth walkie-talkie. And now Max and Astra would know, too.

“What?” Rick said into it, taking a step back from Alex as if he was also trying to figure out what was happening. Alex didn’t, couldn’t, move.

There was a second of silence before Maggie’s response.

“I think we should team up.”

Okay, now Alex was really confused.

Rick almost laughed. “And I would do that because?”

“Because we both know Max is planning to get out of here with Astra, and we’d be able to take them. Easily.”

Confusion flashed across Rick’s face as well, but he managed to shake it off. “How do you know that? How do you know he’s not with me?”

Alex and Maggie knew Max was with Rick, but Maggie was…doing something. Alex just couldn’t figure it out.

Alex heard Maggie laugh quietly on the other end of the walkie-talkie. “Oh, c’mon, Rick. You know he’d choose her over you, at the end of all this. So why don’t we team up instead? Are you still at the lake?”

And Alex got even more nervous.

Maggie was trying to figure out if Rick was at the lake with Alex.

She was trying to figure out if the “her” he’d talked about before was Alex.

Which meant that she and Winn would come after her, if they found out.

It was somewhat working. Rick seemed on edge now, probably questioning whether Max actually wanted to be his partner or not. Which, Alex guessed, was exactly what Maggie was going for.

But Rick also appeared to have a plan of his own. He glanced at Alex, was thinking for a moment, and then he seemed to square his shoulders.

“Yeah,” he said. “I am. Why don’t you come over and we’ll talk?”

Rick probably thought he’d be able to take Maggie out, too, when she came.

The pause on the other end of the walkie-talkie made Alex silently curse to herself. Maggie basically had proof now that Rick was talking about her. She had enough reason to believe that Alex was in trouble.

Alex wanted to tell her to stay at the cave with Winn but asking Rick for the walkie-talkie would definitely not be a good idea.

“Great,” Maggie replied, her voice not as confident now. She seemed to be distracted, or worried, as Alex heard some shuffling and more background noise this time. Alex was glad Winn was staying silent. “So just…hold on, okay? Hold on until I get to you.”

The way she said that last part made Alex think she was talking to her.

Rick smirked but kept his tone nonchalant as he replied. “I’m not waiting forever. If you’re not here in an hour, the deal’s off. Got that?”

Alex knew that Rick wasn’t even planning on doing the deal in the first place.

There was one last quick, “Got it,” from Maggie on the other end, and Rick put the walkie-talkie back in his pocket.

He turned back to Alex. Alex tried to look more confused than anything, even though her thoughts were spiraling and she could feel herself becoming more and more anxious and worried.

“Guess your girlfriend’s gonna pay us a visit,” he teased.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Alex stated, her voice quieter than she hoped.

Rick sensed her discomfort and crossed his arms. “Ooh, touchy subject? It’s too bad you’ll be long gone by the time she makes it here.”

Rick had given Maggie an hour. It’d taken Alex almost two hours while jogging. There was no way she’d get here in time, not with Winn and his messed-up ankle in tow.

And why was she even…

Why was she so set on rescuing Alex? It didn’t…she didn’t have any obligation to her.

Yeah, they were teammates, but not friends, and…she didn’t owe Alex anything, like she had the last time Alex had been in a situation like this. She didn’t have to risk her own life for her.

Maybe she’d realize that, and not come.

Either way, Alex was going to have to get out of this herself.

Rick kept his eye on Alex as he moved away, searching around for something.

“See, you might think I’m stupid,” Rick said a little louder so Alex could hear him. “But I know you’re tougher than you seem, although you probably rigged those scores somehow. And I know that holding your head underwater has a small possibility of not working out well for me. Plus, it’s not as fun.”

Alex hated this. She hated feeling helpless, and she hated that Rick wasn’t worried about her winning this battle he’d started between them.

If—no, when—she got out of these ropes, she had a feeling she wouldn’t hold back against him. If she had to get rid of him, she would.

This wasn’t like Mxy. Mxy hadn’t really done anything to her.

Rick was making Maggie and Winn feel like they had to risk their lives to save her. And Alex wasn’t going to let him touch a hair on either of their heads.

There was also the problem of Max. Max could find them before they even got here. Alex, and maybe even Rick, didn’t know where he was. But he’d definitely heard all that. Maybe Rick was counting on Max to find them first.

Alex wasn’t paying attention to Rick as he searched around for a couple more minutes, mumbling to himself. Instead, she lifted her head up and started to rub the rope against the tree branch, hoping the rough surface would begin cutting into it.

Her arms were started to tingle, though, and soon they’d probably feel numb. But she’d push past it.

Rick came back over and Alex stopped.

He was rolling what looked like a small boulder past her, towards the edge of the lake, and Alex wondered what the hell he was planning on doing with it.

He took one of the fish Alex had caught, peeling the leaf away and starting to eat as he went over to the rope that was snaking across the ground, left over from when he’d tied up Alex’s ankles.

“You know, maybe it’d be better if you watched your girlfriend die, and then I could drown you,” Rick managed to get out around a mouthful of fish. He made a disgusted face at it, and Alex guessed he wasn’t used to having to eat raw fish.

Alex tried to stay quiet, tried not to let her emotions get the better of her, but she was getting a bit more angry, worried, and, to be honest, scared.

“What the hell is your problem?” Alex asked him. It came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

Rick cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

Alex scoffed and tried to keep her voice from shaking. “I mean, what the hell is your problem? Why don’t you just kill me?”

Rick stopped eating and wiped his hands on his pants, standing up again.

“Because then you wouldn’t be getting the death you deserve. You blow up our stuff, you mess with us, and now I mess with you,” Rick explained. “And it seems to be working.”

“You’re a sadistic asshole.”

Rick raised his eyebrows and came closer to her again. “And you’re a lot more talkative than you were ten minutes ago. You must’ve realized that I clearly have the upper hand here, and you’re not going to win this. And neither is Sawyer, if she comes. But you figured that out.”

Alex wanted to tell him that she was pretty sure Maggie could kick his ass and have him dealt with within two minutes, and so could she. If she weren’t tied up.

“And your little sidekick won’t last long with you gone, either. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure to deal with him first and foremost.”

Alex pursed her lips and then spat at him, hitting him right on the forehead.

It was silent as Rick blinked and wiped his arm across his face.

And the next thing Alex knew, he was clenching his fingers into a fist and he punched her right in the jaw.

Alex let out a sharp breath, and Rick grabbed her jacket collar and pulled on it, leaning forward way too close to her face.

“If you do that again, I won’t be so nice next time,” he said quietly. “You know…maybe I will make you watch Sawyer die. Since you seem to want to so badly.”

He took out a bandana-shaped piece of cloth from his jacket and tied it tightly around her head.

Alex immediately held her breath, trying not to breathe in the chloroform again, but Rick held her nostrils closed.

“But I don’t know when she’s going to be here, so maybe you should just take a nap.”

Alex managed to hold her breath for four and a half minutes (which she knew because she’d counted to distract herself) before she felt light-headed. That was one of the things J’onn had had her practice. There were a couple years they had water-based arenas, and he wanted to be sure she would have a slight upper hand in that department if it ever came to it.

Rick sensed her struggling and the last thing Alex saw before her world went black again was a smile on his face.

And when Alex woke up again, her head was pounding.

It was just beginning to get dark now.

Rick had moved her, shifted her down the tree branch so she was hanging out over the water.

Her arms felt like they were being stretched out.

When she tried to swing her legs, they wouldn’t move more than an inch.

She couldn’t see what her ankles were tied to, as it was under the water. But Rick was pacing now, the boulder no longer in sight.

Oh God, Alex thought. He was weighing her down.

If he cut the rope off the tree, she’d sink like a brick. Right to the bottom of the lake.

Something was wrong, too. Something else felt missing…

Her shoulders were sore, but she tried to lift herself up even the tiniest bit, to no avail.

The only slightly good thing about this was that the branch she was tied to was starting to bend under the weight of Alex and the boulder.

Although she wasn’t sure if it was a good thing because if it broke…

“She’s cutting it close,” Rick said, momentarily distracting Alex. He held up something in his hand and Alex’s eyes widened as she saw her watch.

He had her token. The watch her father had given her.

“Give that back,” Alex demanded. She knew she was in no position to, but she honestly didn’t care.

She was going to teach Rick a lesson, once she got out of this. She was going to…she didn’t know exactly what she was going to do, but it wouldn’t be anything good for him.

He turned back around towards her, fingering the watch, and Alex could feel anger boiling up in her chest.

“But it would look so much better on me,” Rick said, holding it against his wrist, and Alex’s own wrists were becoming sore from trying to get out of the rope’s hold. “I knew this wasn’t part of our uniform. That means it must be special to you. Pity.”

He then dropped it onto the ground and Alex watched it fall as if in slow motion.

Alex felt tears prickling at the corner of her eyes as she realized what was about to happen.

That was her father’s watch. The only thing she had left of him.

And it was going to be gone, broken, just like that.

Just because Rick felt like it.

“Please,” Alex said softly, willing her voice not to shake.

Rick paused for a second and looked at her. She didn’t want to give him anything else to hold over her, but she wanted the watch. If she couldn’t have anything else she wanted, she wanted that watch.

She’d clutched it when she used to lay in her bed and cry quietly so as not to wake up Kara. But Kara would always hear, and crawl right beside her and hold her hand as tears dripped onto the glass surface.

She’d rub her thumb over it when Kara would tell her stories about District 13. And she would convince herself that her dad risking his life to try and get them there was worth it.

She’d almost broken it herself, once. When Eliza had yelled at her for what seemed like the fifth time that week and she didn’t want to be reminded that he was gone.

She remembered when she’d found it. It had been on her bedside table and she hadn’t even noticed it at first. She remembered that she’d thought about telling Eliza he’d left it by accident, but decided to wear it to school that day.

She’d been wearing it that night, when the two Peacekeepers came to the door.

And ever since then, she’d only taken it off a handful of times.

Rick stared at Alex as she let out another soft, but forceful, “Please.”

She wished her voice were stronger. She wished she didn’t feel so weak and pathetic and vulnerable and helpless.

She swallowed, trying to hold herself back from crying.

She looked into Rick’s eyes, pleading with him to show her some mercy, some restraint, something…but she had been right, earlier. It was like he wasn’t even human.

He smirked again, that smirk that made Alex almost shiver.

Alex let out a frustrated noise from the back of her throat, jerking her wrists harder against the ropes now. The branch was starting to bend even more, but all Alex could focus on was that watch.

Alex thought he was going to stomp on it, but he took out Alex’s knife from his belt.

A knife that wouldn’t just break the glass if he stabbed it, but render the entire watch irreparable.

He bent down and positioned the knife over it.

“You know,” he said matter-of-factly, “I was going to keep it for myself. But now that I know how much you—”

Hey.”

Rick whipped his head around and Alex lifted hers up.

Maggie was standing there, flushed and looking like she was trying to catch her breath.

Her eyes darted between the two of them as she seemed to assess the scene in front of her.

Alex couldn’t see Winn, and briefly wondered where he was. But then Maggie locked eyes with Alex for a split second before she positioned her knife to throw.

And then her gaze shifted to Rick.

“Get the hell away from her,” she then all but growled. Alex didn’t think she’d ever seen Maggie so angry.

Rick paused in surprise and confusion for a short moment, but quickly recovered as if he’d realized something.

And in three seconds, everything happened at once.

Maggie threw her knife towards Rick and in one fluid motion, Rick caught it and spun around, his eyes fixed on his target.

Alex thought he was aiming for her, but the tip of the knife sliced into the stretched rope right above her head instead and effectively cut it.

Alex quickly sucked in as much air as possible as she was plunged into the icy cold water, pulled down by the weight of the boulder.

Her ears were started to react to the sudden change in pressure as the boulder dragged her down, down, down.

All sound was blocked out, it was getting darker and darker, and she didn’t know what was happening above the surface.

Alex couldn’t even try to swim back up, or at least slow her descent.

It seemed like forever before the boulder hit and sunk into the lake bottom, kicking up a bit of sand into a cloud, and Alex’s head was already started to pound in protest.

Alex tried biting at the rope that tied her wrists together, but it didn’t work.

She squinted and looked around for any sharp rocks and managed to attach her fingers onto the boulder to maneuver herself. But she couldn’t move the rope that held her to it.

Alex spied a flat rock and snatched it up, hitting it against the surface of the boulder to make it rough and jagged.

And as she was starting to cut into the rope, she felt a sharp pain her arm.

Alex accidentally let out some air bubbles and twisted her arm around to look at it.

She couldn’t see what the hell might be hurting her, but then she remembered the trackers.

The trackers they’d put in their arms the morning they’d come into the arena. The shooting pain she felt was right in that spot.

Maybe the tracker wasn’t waterproof. It felt like it had broken inside of her arm under the water pressure.

Whatever had happened, it was hindering her from continuing her work because whenever she tried to move her arm now, the pain got worse.

Alex clenched her teeth as she realized what she had to do.

The cold was starting to make her shiver and she clenched her stomach muscles to stop.

She figured she didn’t have much time (she hadn’t been paying attention to how long she’d been holding her breath…) but she was going to have to cut the damn tracker out of her arm before she could do anything else.

Alex tried not to bite down on her tongue as she positioned the rock over her arm now, right where it hurt the most.

She squeezed her eyes shut as she dug the edge of it in, and was glad no one could hear her.

It took longer than she hoped it would, but she eventually found the tiny pieces of broken material—probably glass. She carefully picked them out, and the pain subsided just enough that she could focus on more important things.

The combination of being chloroformed, twice, and not having enough time to get as much air into her lungs as she hoped seemed to be catching up to her.

She could’ve sworn it had only been three minutes, tops, and she could definitely hold her breath for longer than that.

But her lungs were started to burn and she felt dizzy.

She kept sawing away at the rope, using mostly her left hand, figuring it was best to get herself detached from the boulder first and foremost.

She’d worry about swimming to the surface with her ankles and wrists still tied up afterwards.

She almost smiled when she finally managed to cut through one part of the rope, but it wasn’t enough.

This was taking too long. She sawed against the rope faster now.

She needed to get back up to the surface and check if Maggie and Winn were okay.

She needed to breathe.

Alex groaned again, which caused more air bubbles to float up past her face, and she had to pause for a second when everything got too overwhelming.

The combination of the cold biting into her skin, the long gash she now had on her leg from missing the rope, the burning in her lungs, and the pounding in her head was just…it was too much.

She tried to remember how much of water was oxygen.

It was around one percent, right?

If only she had gills or something.

Alex shook her head to clear her thoughts, which made her headache intensify.

She felt like…she felt like giving up.

And then she immediately got angry at herself for thinking that.

J’onn was always looked so proud of her when she didn’t give up. She couldn’t disappoint him.

And M’gann said she’d bet on her, if she could. In a heartbeat.

Alex clutched the rock in her hand.

Kara, too. Kara said she had faith in her. She always did.

Alex positioned it above the half-cut rope.

Her mother wasn’t very good at showing it, but she always told her she loved her.

She began to saw against it again, back and forth, back and forth.

Winn always made sure she took care of herself when she forgot, and even when she didn’t want to. And she was the sister he’d always wanted.

Her arms felt weak, tired, useless. She could’ve sworn her heartbeat was slowing down, too, even has she kept up her pace.

And then…

Hold on until I get to you.’

Maggie’s voice through that walkie-talkie echoed somewhere in her mind as if from a place far, far away.

She had to hold on.

The loop broke off and Alex started on the next one, pulling at the others to see if they needed to be cut, too.

And she felt her heart soar when she realized that she only needed to cut this one.

She got so excited she almost gasped, but quickly stopped herself.

But she’d been so close to taking a breath that her lungs were practically screaming at her now. If she didn’t get to the surface soon, she’d drown.

Alex squeezed her eyes shut and kept going.

And the second she felt the rope loosen, she dropped the rock and ripped off the remaining strings, finally, finally, getting herself free.

She pushed off the boulder with the last remaining strength she had and started to float up, and up, and up.

But the water was darker now.

Her body felt limp and she couldn’t try and go faster.

She wasn’t going fast enough.

She opened her mouth and took the breath her lungs so desperately craved, but all that rushed down her throat was water.

And she thought she reached the surface, because she felt something touch her. She felt something grab her.

There were bubbles all around her now, the water no longer still and smooth as it rushed past her skin.

But she was floating up faster now. She was being pulled up by something now.

Alex didn’t know how much time had passed, but just as she tried to take another breath, her head broke the surface of the water.

She sucked in air and then immediately started to cough.

Her chest felt like it was on fire as she tried to expel the water that seemed to be trapped in there.

She barely noticed she was heading towards the edge of the lake.

Her body was pulled out of the water and then lifted up slightly.

Alex leaned forward as best she could and kept coughing, trying to take in long, gulping breaths of air.

But she saw Maggie’s face above her.

Maggie’s hair and clothes were sopping wet and she was cradling her head up, making sure the top half of her body was elevated.

Alex’s ears popped, which was more painful than she thought it would be, and water dripped down her chin as she opened and closed her mouth.

Maggie wiped it off and Alex realized she was saying something.

“…got you. I got you.”

Alex coughed again and tried to smile so Maggie wouldn’t look so worried and scared. She could’ve sworn Maggie was about to start crying, and Alex didn’t want her to.

“Maggie,” Alex managed to croak out after a few seconds, and Maggie stopped talking, looking right at her.

She had this relieved look on her face before she let out a laugh that kind of sounded more like a sob and she shook her head.

Then, Alex furrowed her brow as she noticed that Maggie had a cut on her arm and bruises on her knuckles. But before she could ask Maggie about them, Maggie maneuvered her off her lap and started to drag her across the ground.

Her back touched a tree and Maggie propped her up against it so she was still partly laying down.

She kneeled and moved some of Alex’s wet hair away from where it was sticking to her forehead and her cheeks before focusing on the ropes still around her.

Alex coughed a few more times because she still felt like there was some liquid down there as Maggie freed her wrists and ankles with her knife.

The rope tying her legs together hadn’t dug into her like the one on her wrists did.

Maggie gently ran her fingers over the red marks and cuts that had been painted onto her skin. She wasn’t saying anything.

“You okay?” Alex asked her when she kept her eyes cast downwards. Maybe that cut on her arm was worse than it looked.

Maggie whipped her head up to look at her again, an incredulous expression on her face.

“Am I okay?” Maggie then repeated, and let out a sharp breath. “Are you kidding?”

Alex shook her head slightly.

“You almost drowned. You…you almost died, and you’re asking me if I’m okay?”

“Maggie—”

“You’re ridiculous,” Maggie said next. She shook her head, but Alex could see a smile starting to form on her face. “You’re absolutely ridiculous, you know that?”

Alex smiled, too, and Maggie held onto her hand tighter, still rubbing her thumb over her wrist.

It was silent for a moment as Maggie took in a deep breath and looked like she was deep in thought, and still trying to keep herself from crying.

And Alex realized something.

“Where’s Winn?” she asked, immediately looking around and leaning to see behind Maggie.

“He’s at the cave,” Maggie said quietly.

Alex whipped her head back to her, panic already setting in. “He’s what?”

“He’s at the cave. I had to leave him there so I could get here in time because he couldn’t run fast enough. He told me to just go and—”

Alex shook her head. “You left him alone?”

“He told me I could. I have Rick’s radio, hold on,” Maggie continued. She leaned to the side and reached her hand out for it and unfortunately was blocking Alex’s way when she tried to get up. “Winn?” Maggie said into it. “Are you okay?”

Alex stared at it and thankfully it only took Winn a second to answer.

“Hey, yeah, I’m fine. Did you get her?”

He sounded relieved and worried at the same time, and Alex stared at Maggie as she responded.

“Yeah, I got her. We’re coming back soon.”

“Oh, thank God. Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. She’s…” Maggie looked back at Alex and smiled. “She’s fine. Don’t move until we get there.”

“Roger that.”

The walkie-talkie clicked off and Maggie stuffed it in her back pocket before leaning back on her heels.

She looked worried and Alex glanced between her and their intertwined fingers and down towards her waist where she could see the top of the walkie-talkie sticking out of her pocket.

“I covered the cave entrance so no one could see him and he told me it was okay if I went alone. I thought it’d be safer to leave him there anyway. And I know you’re mad and—”

“I told you not to listen to him,” Alex said quietly, but her voice didn’t come out as angry as she thought it would. “Something…something could happen. It’s going to take hours to get back there…” she started to push her free hand against the ground, trying to get up, but Maggie just gently leaned her back when her arm started to shake.

“You’ll be no help to him like this. You can’t even walk. And before you ask, I’m not leaving you here. This walkie-talkie is like a baby monitor, so we’ll know if something happens,” Maggie said with a slight smirk. And then she took a deep breath, “I spent five minutes after talking to Rick making sure that he’d be okay. He’s got a knife and he’s got our food and you can’t see the cave at all whatsoever from the outside. I…I had to come and get you. And he told me it was okay.”

But that…that didn’t really make sense, Alex thought.

Maggie didn’t…she wasn’t obligated to…why would she…

Alex knew she would’ve came and got her, no matter what, but that was because…and Maggie didn’t feel that way about her, so…

“You didn’t have to,” Alex said. And Maggie looked confused. “You didn’t…” Alex shook her head and furrowed her brow and tried to keep going, “Why did you, um…”

“Get you?” Maggie said quietly, finishing her sentence for her. “Why did I come and get you?”

Alex nodded the tiniest bit and Maggie’s face softened.

She searched Alex’s eyes for a moment and let out a soft, “Alex, I…”

And it seemed like she was deciding something.

Alex was confused and about to ask her what was wrong because she looked a little bit scared. And Alex couldn’t even wrap her head around the fact that Maggie had said her name before Maggie leaned forward, cupped Alex’s cheek right where her bruise was, and kissed her.

Alex’s eyebrows shot up and her heart started to beat faster and she found she couldn’t breathe again but for an entirely different reason.

It took a second for Alex to register what exactly was happening, and even when she realized that Maggie was kissing her—Maggie was kissing her—all she could focus on was how soft Maggie’s lips felt against her own and the tingle of warmth that seemed to spread throughout her entire body.

The world around them melted away and Alex tightened her hold on Maggie’s hand as she finally kissed her back. Maggie’s thumb ran along her cheekbone and it wasn’t very long before Alex, even though she really didn’t want to, had to pause. She had to stop, for a second. Because it was a lot. A lot was happening.

Maggie slowly leaned back and Alex, although she couldn’t seem to be able to move, opened her eyes again to see a nervous smile, but a smile nonetheless, flicker across Maggie’s face.

“Does that…answer your question?” Maggie asked after a second. Her hair was started to fall in her face, but she didn’t move it.

Alex had to take a few breaths and finally stuttered out, “Uh…k-kind of. Yeah. But, well, now…now I have about ten more questions, so…”

Maggie’s smile got even bigger until her dimples appeared and all Alex could focus on was her, although she was still very confused about this whole thing.

Maggie looked down and after a moment, she started to speak. “I was going to tell you, I was trying to tell you, that…I can’t be friends and that I didn’t want to, I couldn’t, go back to normal because I…” she locked eyes with Alex again, “I felt the same way. That you did. And I didn’t think I could pretend not to.”

Alex couldn’t help but think that that made more sense than whatever she’d thought Maggie meant. That made a lot more sense. That made everything make sense.

God, if she’d just let her talk for five seconds…

Hearing her say it made Alex smile and she felt…happy.

“And I wish…” Maggie shook her head and Alex stayed silent so she’d continue. “I wish that I had been as brave as you, but…it scared me. I was scared. Because, well, you’re…I mean, I’m not…I couldn’t really understand why you felt that way, about...me. About someone like me.”

Alex furrowed her brow.

Someone like her? What did that mean? Nothing good, most likely.

“But then, when we were at the lake before, I thought…I thought that you wouldn’t look at me the same way after…if I waited to set those bombs off. And that was part of the reason I didn’t. Because I was afraid of what you’d think of me. And even after I decided that I had to tell you that I had feelings for you, too, I started thinking about Winn. Because I told him, when you were gone with the fires and stuff, that I didn’t want to tell you because there was no point. Because we couldn’t both get out of here. And then…they made the announcement not very long after that. I think that’s why he’s convinced the rule is for us.”

“Oh,” Alex said quietly.

“Yeah. So, I thought that if I told you—or if I did anything—earlier, then he’d think there was a point. He’d think that I was trying to get out of here with you. And only you. And I didn’t want either of you to think that. Because I know how much he means to you and he’s important to me, too. I want to get out of here with him, too. But then…Rick had you and I couldn’t even imagine what he was doing to you ‘cause he’s just…he’s…”

“A sadistic asshole?” Alex suggested.

That got Maggie to smile again, and she nodded. “Yeah. God, he’s…yeah. And so I, um…” she swallowed. “I was so terrified of what he was doing to you. I thought that maybe you were going to die and I didn’t, I don’t, want to imagine my life without you in it. I didn’t want you to never know how I felt, either. And I’m sorry I left Winn,” Maggie said, her voice quieter now. “I’m sorry I left him alone but I couldn’t just…I had to…”

Alex nodded as Maggie trailed off and she tucked some of her hair behind her ear as Maggie pursed her lips.

Alex felt like a weight was being lifted off her chest because everything made so much more sense now.

But she also realized that Maggie was right about Winn.

Alex had told him the same thing.

The only reason they’d be together was if they both thought they were getting out of here alive. And that was two people, so Winn…Winn would be left out. He might think they wanted to be the only two left standing. But that was not the case at all. For many different reasons.

The berries, which were still miraculously in Alex’s pocket, were starting to feel heavy as Maggie’s ‘I don’t want to imagine my life without you in it’ seemed to be echoing in her mind.

“I did, um…” Maggie started up again, shaking Alex from her reverie. “I did think a lot about Winn, actually. And that whole thing, and how complicated it would be. But you know what I realized?”

“What?” Alex asked.

Maggie smiled again. “I realized that he’d want me to kiss you anyway.”

You’re damn right I would.”

Alex and Maggie both jumped as Winn’s voice came out of the walkie-talkie.

Maggie furrowed her brow and let go of Alex’s hand before she fished it out of her back pocket.

She glanced at Alex, a surprised and confused look on her face, before clicking the button.

“Winn, were you…listening this entire time?”

There was a slight pause, and then Winn replied. “Uhh…no? What are you talking about? Of course not!”

Alex felt like laughing for some reason. Maggie must’ve been pressing the button without realizing it.

Alex rolled her eyes and snatched the walkie-talkie from Maggie’s hand. “I can hear you lying from here,” she said into it.

Alex heard Winn sigh. “Alright, fine. Maybe I was. But it wasn’t even the entire conversation. You guys kept cutting in and out, so I couldn’t hear most of it. But I want you both to know that I one hundred percent agree with Maggie. Oh, and by the way, I did not appreciate the joke about the baby moni—”

Maggie reached over and twisted the knob at the top to cut him off, and Alex smiled and shook her head.

Maggie took the walkie-talkie back from her and held it, turning it over several times.

Alex wasn’t really sure what to do now. She was still trying to wrap her head around all this, and was also kind of stuck on Maggie’s comment. About Alex liking ‘someone like her.’

“I didn’t get to finish my sentence, before,” Alex said quietly, and Maggie lifted her head back up. And Alex looked her right in the eye as she continued. “I wanted to tell you that whoever convinced you that I could never like you is wrong. Because you’re smart, and badass, and funny, and sweet, and…amazing. And you’re just…beautiful.” Alex smiled and ran her finger through some of Maggie’s hair that framed her face. “You’re so beautiful.”

Maggie seemed to go still and her expression was…blank. Unreadable.

And Alex ignored every thought that threatened to keep her from leaning forward and slowly closing the distance between them again.

She thought she could spend forever kissing Maggie.

It was so much different to have someone feel the same way about you, Alex couldn’t help but think. So much different, in a very good way.

Maggie held onto her elbow as she kissed her, but then Alex felt something wet on her cheek. She thought it was from Maggie’s hair, which was still pretty damp, but realized that Maggie was crying.

Alex immediately stopped to make sure she was okay. Her eyes were shut when Alex leaned back, but she had a small, almost undetectable smile on her face.

“What’s wrong? I’m sorry, I should’ve—”

But Maggie shook her head and licked her lips. “No, no, it’s…I’m fine.”

Alex wiped her tears away. “Are you sure?”

Maggie smiled even more and nodded. “Yeah, I am. I’m fine. I’m…happy. Really happy. I promise,” she said, and Alex believed it because she was looking at her like Alex was what made her happy.

“Okay. We should…probably start heading back,” Alex said. “Is Rick…”

“Yeah. Don’t worry, I took care of him.”

Alex must not have heard the cannon underwater.

It took them—well, mostly Maggie—a couple minutes to get Alex on her feet and walking as her legs were a bit unsteady. The gash on her leg wasn’t bleeding so they decided to fix it up later.

And it was Maggie who glanced at her wrist again and said, “Where’s your watch?” as though she noticed that Alex had been wearing it and she noticed it was gone, now. Alex found her watch in the grass, perfectly untouched except for a little scratch on the face of it, and locked it back onto her wrist. Alex didn’t care if it rubbed on her rope burns a little bit. She felt better just having it on again.

Rick’s body was floating face down on the surface of the lake. Maggie insisted she get one more fish to eat before they left, and then explained that Rick had tried to drown her as well, but she’d managed to do it first.

Good riddance, Alex thought. Maybe he wasn’t as smart as he’d thought he was, after all.

Maggie insisted on keeping her arm around Alex to help her walk, which Alex didn’t argue too much with (mostly because she liked it…a lot).

She couldn’t seem to stop smiling, and feeling giddy.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this happy.

They’d check in with Winn every ten minutes, mostly to calm Alex’s nerves. Especially because her compass had broken so they didn’t know if they were going the exact right way.

Everything seemed a little too good to be true.

Alex should’ve known the universe wouldn’t let her be happy for too long.

Maggie had told her she guessed they were about halfway there five minutes ago.

The first indication they got that something was wrong was when Winn didn’t answer Alex’s check-in.

Alex had said his name into the walkie-talkie and he was supposed to reply right away, but he didn’t.

Alex said it again, and Maggie had a worried expression on her face as well.

A few seconds later, a scream seemed to echo through the forest, loud and clear.

Alex!”

Alex’s heart skipped a beat and she locked eyes with Maggie.

Winn.

Chapter Text

She knew it.

She knew something bad would happen.

This was now the second time Alex had left Winn alone for longer than she should’ve.

To be with Maggie instead.

In their little bubble.

Which was effectively popped as soon as Winn had screamed Alex’s name, the sound reverberating through the forest and her ears.

Alex realized with a pang how much it reminded her of Kara when she’d been carried away by Eliza at the Reaping just weeks ago.

Had it only been a couple of weeks?

It felt like she’d been in the arena for a lifetime.

But she couldn’t think about that right now.

Something was wrong. Something bad was happening to Winn, Alex could feel it.

Her and Maggie had immediately started running towards where they thought the sound was coming from.

It was crystal clear, like Winn was screaming from only a few hundred yards away.

But he wasn’t.

And then it came again, from their left.

Alex!”

Alex skidded to a stop to avoid hitting a tree and immediately shifted course, Maggie right beside her.

At least he was screaming, Alex thought. At least he was alive.

No cannon…yet.

But the thought of someone hurting him…

It made Alex feel sick, and she couldn’t think about it for too long.

Maybe he was running from something.

It was at least another fifteen or twenty minutes until they’d reach the cave. They wouldn’t get there in time.

And what if he wasn’t at the cave anymore?

She wasn’t running fast enough.

Her heartbeat and her head and the muscles in her legs were telling her otherwise, but she didn’t listen.

Alex was responsible for anything bad that happened to him. She knew he’d tell her over and over that she wasn’t, but…she was.

She’d decided that he was going home, and if it meant that she wouldn’t be able to, then that was okay.

Alex was shaken from her thoughts when she almost tripped on something and Maggie grabbed her hand, pulling her back up so she didn’t fall.

The sun had already set and Alex had a feeling Maggie had left the night vision glasses with Winn, as she wasn’t pulling them out to wear. Soon, it’d be a lot harder to find him by sight.

They’d be running blindly through the dark asking for someone to attack them.

But that didn’t matter.

Alex would run all night if she had to.

She thought they had to be getting close now.

And then she heard her name again. But this time, it sounded more like:

Aleeeeeeeex!

More like Winn was definitely in pain, like he was about to start crying.

If Alex could get all those little details that made her try and keep in a sob that itched to escape her at the thought of what was happening to him, then he had to be around here somewhere.

And then it came again, the exact same sound, but from behind her.

Alex slowed down in confusion, wondering if she should turn around and run the other way.

“What the hell?” she said, mostly to herself.

Maggie slowed down as well as she turned, her knife out and ready, squinting her eyes to see through the darkness.

Maybe they’d passed him. Maybe he was in a tree.

Alex shouted his name, but there was no answer.

She looked up, searching as she ran.

And then she saw it, a split second before Winn’s scream pierced her ears yet again.

A bird.

Specifically, a Jabberjay.

The Jabberjay opened its beak and Winn’s voice came out of it.

Alex was frozen.

“Oh, my God,” she breathed.

Maggie looked at her inquisitively, and Alex grabbed onto her jacket when she tried to keep moving.

Alex then pointed up and Maggie’s eyes followed her finger. She, too, saw the bird and immediately realized what was going on.

Those birds were mimicking his screams. Passing them along to each other.

That meant he could be anywhere.

Alex let out a groan from the back of her throat and slammed her fist into a tree trunk in frustration. She brought her hand to her forehead.

Alex wasn’t going to find him fast enough. There was no way.

Not with these birds who’d probably already led her and Maggie astray from where he actually was.

Alex didn’t know where to go, what exactly to do. All she knew was that Winn was out there somewhere, without her, and hurt.

Someone was hurting him and would probably kill him. It was only a matter of time.

She could keep running, but she might go the complete opposite way that she needed to and that wouldn’t help anybody.

Alex heard Maggie say her name and she shook her head, not wanting to answer.

She wasn’t angry at Maggie for leaving him alone. She didn’t know what she would’ve done in that situation.

Actually, she did know.

She wouldn’t have had to choose.

Because Maggie wouldn’t have even gotten herself chloroformed and tied up and almost drowned. Maggie had survived on her own for so long, and had even managed to get away from Max and his crew. It was Alex and Winn that were the problem. They were the ones causing her problems.

Maggie would’ve been fine all alone in that cave if Alex hadn’t made her feel like she needed to bring her there.

Alex’s training wasn’t enough because she’d still gotten kidnapped. She’d worked and worked and worked and even enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough.

She’d tried to take care of Winn. But he’d still gotten shot in the arm with a poisoned arrow, fractured his ankle somehow, and the two times she’d left him alone he’d accidentally killed people and now felt an enormous weight and guilt about it that he shouldn’t have to feel.

She’d tried being happy, too. But that had only lasted about five minutes and had backfired so, so badly.

She could care about Winn all she wanted, she could promise him she’d find him, always, but it wasn’t enough.

Nothing she did was ever enough.

She could never have everything she wanted.

She couldn’t even have one thing she wanted without having to give up something else.

She could protect Kara, but have a pretty high chance of never seeing her again. She could be happy with Maggie, but, for some reason, Winn’s safety had to be the consequence.

“We could split up. If we keep following the birds we’ll eventually find the one that heard him.”

Maggie’s voice barely reached her ears. She sounded sure, though. Confident.

Alex took a deep breath in, trying to unscramble her spiraling thoughts and worries.

She felt this enormous weight on her chest that she didn’t think would ever go away.

“Alex,” Maggie said, softer now, as she realized that Alex wasn’t answering.

Alex pressed her lips together, finally lifting her head up to look at Maggie.

Maggie was…she was everything Alex had told her before she’d kissed her, and more than that.

Maggie deserved more than Alex. She deserved more than someone who was a burden, and caused her problems, and made mistakes, and made her feel like she had to risk her life for her.

She deserved, more than anything, to go home. And it was obvious Alex wasn’t helping with that. Alex was just making it harder.

So Alex was going to try and make it easy for her.

“Maggie, I-I can’t,” Alex finally managed to get out.

Maggie stepped closer to her and Alex wanted to move back, move away, but her feet seemed planted.

“Hey, hey, we’ll find him,” Maggie tried to reassure her. “Don’t worry, okay? But we kind of have to get moving in some direction. If we split up we can probably—”

Alex shook her head. “No, I mean I can’t…do this. I knew…God, I knew something bad was going to happen.”

Maggie put a hand on Alex’s arm and Alex couldn’t help it as she tensed up a little bit. “You couldn’t have known that,” Maggie told her, keeping her hand there.

“It always happens, though. Something bad always happens when I…” Alex swallowed. “I can’t. This why I didn’t think it was a good idea to do this with…with you. You should…you have to…” she took a deep breath and couldn’t meet Maggie’s eyes. “You should go,” she finally said softly.

Alex had been selfish.

Alex wanted to keep Maggie around because it made her happy and she could also try to make sure she was safe.

But keeping Maggie around meant putting her in more danger, so Alex…Alex would let her go.

She had to.

She was pretty used to giving up things she wanted.

And, plus, why was she stringing Maggie along when she knew she wasn’t getting out of here? It wasn’t fair to her.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie said, and Alex looked back at her, confused. Maggie was pursing her lips and she looked like she was in pain, but Alex had no idea why she was apologizing. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. And I know that anything that happens to him is my fault and I take full responsibility.”

Alex shook her head again. “No, no, I know you didn’t mean to. I just…I think it would be better if you…if we…” She couldn’t even get the words out. But she made herself. “This…it was a bad idea. I think you should go.”

Every word that came out of her mouth hurt, but it was to keep Maggie safe. Which, unfortunately, meant away from her.

Maggie slowly let go of Alex’s arm. Alex couldn’t tell if she was angry or not as she glanced down at the ground and then looked back up. She seemed more sad than anything, but she also kind of…accepted it. Like maybe she’d known something like this was going to happen, like she’d expected it.

“Okay,” she said simply. “Got it.”

Alex wanted to apologize, to explain more, but her throat seemed to close up and Maggie started to back away.

Maggie opened her mouth to say something else, but decided against it.

Alex wondered, as Maggie turned away, whether Maggie would keep looking for Winn or not.

But Alex couldn’t even think about what she’d just done or her heart would start to ache. And she had other things to worry about.

She had to find Winn. That was the whole point.

Letting Maggie go was the best thing for her, was the best way to keep her safe. And now Alex needed to focus on finding Winn and keeping him safe, too.

Maggie wouldn’t just survive without them, she’d thrive. Being away from Alex upped her odds at getting out of here.

Alex could’ve sworn she was about to start crying, but she pushed that aside and began to fast walk, and eventually run, in the opposite direction.

She followed the birds as they screeched her name over and over and over again.

Every single time, Alex’s heart would skip a beat because it sounded so real. It sounded like Winn would be just around the corner, just a few seconds away, but every single time…he wasn’t.

It was probably Max. Max had him.

Alex tried to think of how Max would’ve found him. He didn’t know about the cave, so how would he—

Alex almost stopped in her tracks again.

Shit, she thought.

He did know about the cave. Her and Maggie had mentioned it, over the walkie-talkie.

Winn had heard them.

And that meant anyone else who had one had heard it, too.

But there wasn’t any way that Max would know where it was, right? How would he?

Winn and whoever had him had to be within twenty minutes of the cave.

Alex didn’t really recognize the part of the forest she was in and didn’t have her compass anymore. She used the moon, which was rising from the east higher and higher in the sky, instead, hoping it would give her some sense of direction.

She chose a slightly different path, trying to find the border. Her throat was going dry and she could feel blood dripping down her leg from where she’d cut it open. Putting pressure on it from running probably made it open up again.

She had to find Winn. And soon. Or else…

She shook her head.

How in the world was she supposed to find him like this?

Maybe…maybe J’onn would help. He hadn’t sent her anything in a while. He could give her a clue, a hint as to where he was.

He and M’gann had been pretty radio-silent for…Alex couldn’t remember how long.

M’gann might be mad at Alex at the moment for screwing things up with Maggie right after they’d finally unscrewed things. But J’onn had no reason to be mad.

Alex could go for some water, if she had to keep running like this. Or gauze, or pain-relieving medicine, or something.

“J’onn, I could really use some help right about now,” Alex said as she slowed down slightly, catching her breath for a few seconds before starting up again.

She knew it wasn’t the best way to keep up her pace, but she had to do it.

Alex waited a minute, but nothing came. She almost scoffed.

It was his job, right? He was supposed to send them things.

And Alex had no doubt that M’gann was good enough at hers that she had acquired some sponsors.

So why wasn’t he—

Alex paused for a moment again as she realized.

She must not need help.

J’onn wasn’t sending her anything because she was close. She must be close to finding him.

Alex took out of her knife, gripping the handle tighter than she probably needed to. Either there was a Tribute nearby so he didn’t want to give her position away, or she was within range of Winn.

Alex took a deep breath and treaded more carefully now.

She heard her name again.

Aleeeeeeeeex!”

As always, she looked up for the bird, the source of the noise, but she couldn’t find one in any of the trees around her.

So that meant it actually came from Winn.

It didn’t sound too far away.

Alex sped up her pace, ignoring every part of her body that was in pain.

Whoever was making him scream like that was going to be in a world of hurt.

Her adrenaline was pumping and her senses were on alert for anything that would tell her where Winn was and what was happening to him.

She wasn’t really expecting herself to make rational decisions at the moment, but she had to be prepared for anything.

She was prepared to do anything.

If it was Max who had him, he was probably as bad, or worse, than Rick. And, judging from what Maggie had said, Rick could’ve done a lot more to her.

Alex had told Max she wouldn’t hesitate to show him exactly what she could do with just a knife.

And a knife combined with the anger and frustration and determination boiling up in her chest?

He wouldn’t be prepared.

“—might’ve been wrong.”

Alex slowed down as she heard a voice, notably a feminine voice.

“But just in case, you’re going to have to scream a little louder.”

That was not Max.

Alex clenched her jaw. She didn’t really care who it was, didn’t have time to think about it, as she stalked through the forest, careful to keep most of her body behind trees whenever she could.

Alex barely heard a quiet, breathless, “No,” but she sucked in a breath.

Winn.

Definitely Winn.

“No? What, do I need to dig a little deeper? You do know how this works, right?” The girl continued.

Alex rounded another tree and quickly froze to ensure she wasn’t making any noise.

But she caught a glimpse of Astra.

Astra had Winn in a sort of choke hold against her but at a slightly awkward angle because she was holding a spear that was buried in his thigh, down towards his knee.

Alex blinked as her heart pounded against her chest and all she could see was the pain on Winn’s face and the blood running down his leg, a pool of it already at his feet.

He looked like he was barely standing up. Alex had a feeling that the only thing keeping him upright was Astra’s hold on him.

“If you don’t want to scream for me anymore, then I don’t need you,” Astra told him. “And if you’re no use to me, then I might as well kill you.”

She shifted the spear tip in his thigh and pulled it out to use somewhere else, which caused Winn to let out a yelp of pain and squeeze his eyes shut.

And somehow, Alex felt that sound shoot straight into her core more than any of those screams had…and something inside her seemed to snap.

She didn’t think.

She didn’t think as she pushed off the tree.

She didn’t care about how much noise she was making.

She didn’t focus on anything else but Winn, who noticed she was there a split second before Astra did.

She didn’t feel her fingers tense.

She didn’t feel her arm instinctively start to position itself to aim the knife.

She didn’t realize her brain was remembering where she could throw it so it would hit somewhere fatal.

She didn’t hear anything except, ‘I might as well kill you.

And she’d had enough.

All she wanted was for Astra to get her hands off of Winn, get her away from him, stop that knife from killing him, stop his pain.

It was so easy to imagine that it was Kara there instead.

She did hear Winn say “Alex—” but the knife had already left her hand.

And through the darkness and the rage that seemed to blanket her vision, Alex had aimed for Astra’s forehead, which was the only thing apart from her neck not blocked by Winn’s body, and the knife struck true.

But she didn’t have time to think about how Astra’s hold on Winn loosened, how her eyes widened, how her mouth hung open, how she started to fall backwards as if in slow motion.

All Alex cared about was Winn.

Running forward, she went to him, barely catching him as he, too, fell to the ground.

She wrapped her arms around him to keep his head from hitting the forest floor and she tried to be careful as she checked if he was hurt anywhere else.

His blood was starting to cover her hands and pants and arm sleeves already.

“You’re okay, you’re okay,” she whispered to reassure him over and over again, although she wasn’t sure if she was doing it for Winn or herself.

He was losing blood, quickly, and had been for a while.

He’d probably pass out if she didn’t stop the bleeding soon. He already looked pale and clammy and was taking deep breaths.

“Alex…”

“Don’t worry, I’m here. I got you. You’re okay,” Alex said, willing herself not to start choking up as she switched into doctor mode.

The cut was deep and looked like it had actually hit his bone.

She needed…what did she need?

She needed some kind of paste to fill it, or something to wrap it up in.

Winn’s lips were chapped. He needed water.

“Which way is the cave?” Alex asked him.

“Alex, it’s okay. You don’t have to—”

Alex shook her head, not allowing him to finish that sentence. “Which way is the cave?” Alex asked again, more force behind it this time.

Winn’s eyes flicked to a point behind her to her left, and Alex took a deep breath before shifting him slightly, carefully, so she could put her arm under his knees and the other under his shoulder blades.

She moved his hands so they gripped her jacket.

His body felt so heavy, and it looked like it was difficult for him to keep his head up.

She could feel him staring at her and she grunted as she stood up. Her legs were a bit shaky, but she managed.

And right before she took a step, a cannon went off.

Alex’s breath hitched and she saw Winn look right at her out of the corner of her eye.

But Alex had already turned her head towards the body on the ground.

Towards Astra.

Alex’s knife was protruding from her forehead, her eyes were glazed over, her body was still.

She was…

Alex felt bile rise up in her throat and she blinked.

Oh God, she was…

Alex was frozen. She couldn’t get her legs to move.

The world seemed to be closing in around her, and right when she thought she was going to suffocate, Winn’s voice reached her ears again.

“Alex…”

Alex blinked again several more times, acutely aware of the weight in her arms.

She looked at Winn as if to remind herself that he was still there, that he was alive, that he needed her.

She needed to make sure he stayed alive.

She needed to move.

The ground beneath Alex’s feet tilted a bit, but she made sure she didn’t trip and walked straight, walked towards the cave, as she mechanically put one foot in front of the other.

Winn’s blood spread over her arms with each passing tree and left a trail behind her. Her mind seemed to be blank, focused only on her goal.

She couldn’t think about…she couldn’t really comprehend…

She looked over her shoulder but couldn’t see Astra’s body through the trees anymore.

She swallowed and faced forward, looking down again at Winn.

His eyes were starting to close, but he gripped her jacket tighter.

Winn hadn’t been too far from the cave at all, and they reached it again faster than Alex thought they would.

She quickly bent down, trying not to jostle Winn or hurt his leg even more, and laid him down inside of it.

They shouldn’t be here. It was Maggie’s cave, and she probably wanted it for herself. But Winn let out a groan and Alex shifted her thoughts to other things.

The canteen was on its side and Alex quickly uncapped it and forced him to drink even though it looked like he could fall asleep any second.

The blood wasn’t letting up, so Alex stripped off her jacket and pressed it against the wound, which caused Winn to let out another groan. But Alex kept telling him it was okay, she was fixing it, it would be okay.

She pushed everything else out of her mind as she worked on his leg after the bleeding had slowed. He’d been close to going into hemorrhagic shock but she’d, thankfully, prevented that.

The only time Alex looked away from him was when J’onn had sent down a parachute (finally) with a small roll of gauze and a package of salt, which she mixed with the rest of the water in the canteen and used to clean the wound.

She didn’t hear the helicopter coming to take Astra’s body, although a part of her brain seemed to note it.

She spent what felt like hours cleaning his legs and arms and washing dirt off his face.

The only time Alex spoke was when Winn had asked, “Where’s Maggie?” and she shook her head and said not to worry about that right now.

She knew Winn had seen her slightly flinch at his question, but he didn’t press her on it at that moment.

Winn’s hands were slowly warming up again, and she held them in her own to help.

After she’d wrapped up the wound and realized she’d done everything she could, she tried to look for more things to do.

She needed to distract herself. She didn’t want to, couldn’t, think about…

All that mattered was that Winn was okay. That he was alive.

But her thoughts eventually drifted elsewhere anyway.

She didn’t even notice there were tears running down her cheeks until Winn tried to sit up and Alex could only see a blur.

“Alex, are you okay?”

Alex opened her mouth, but no words came out.

Winn sat up even more and wouldn’t let Alex push him back down as he pulled her to him, his arms wrapping around her tightly.

Alex squeezed her eyes shut and covered her mouth with her hand after wiping tears off her cheeks, but more rained down.

It felt wrong, somehow, that Winn was hugging her. That he wanted to be near her.

Alex felt sick and like she didn’t deserve it.

She’d…she’d killed her.

She’d killed Astra.

And she hadn’t even thought about it. She hadn’t even realized it until the cannon went off.

Alex took a shaky breath in and let it out sharply.

She’d done it for Winn.

And it scared her that she would’ve done it again. She would’ve done anything to make sure that he would make it out of here alive.

She would’ve risked her life for him, like she’d done for Kara. She would’ve killed anyone who—

Alex stiffened, and she opened her eyes once again.

Kara.

Winn slowly loosened his grip on Alex and leaned away as he felt her freeze, but he kept his hands on her shoulders.

Alex couldn’t move.

All she was thinking was that Kara might have watched that. Kara would see that.

And Kara…was everything Alex was not.

Kara was nice to everyone, even when she barely knew them. Kara wouldn’t hurt a fly. Kara had never laid a hand on anyone, and would never see any reason to.

Kara wouldn’t…she wouldn’t understand.

She would never understand.

She would…

“Alex, what’s wrong?”

Alex shook her head, not wanting to answer, but Winn just asked again.

Alex was silent for a minute. “She’s…” she finally said, the most she’d spoken in what seemed like forever. “She’s gonna…” Alex started to whisper. Winn stayed silent and Alex swallowed, looking down at her lap. “She’s gonna hate me,” she got out.

Alex let out a breath that felt more like a sob. She put her head in her hands, which caused Winn to have to let go of her, and Alex leaned slightly out of his reach when he tried to touch her again.

“Who, Kara?” Winn asked quietly. Alex nodded the tiniest bit.

The thought of Kara, her sister, who she loved more than anyone in the world…

The thought of Kara hating her was…

She couldn’t handle it. She didn’t know how to handle it.

Alex didn’t like herself much at the moment.

And she knew Kara would hate her.

“You don’t know that, Alex,” Winn said softly. “She’ll understand.”

But she did know. And Kara wouldn’t understand.

Kara would never look at her the same way again.

Kara wouldn’t want to hug her, or even be around her. Kara wouldn’t want to be around someone who’d done what Alex had just done.

Alex would lose her.

That realization hit her, hard, and it seemed like her heart stopped beating. It was more painful than thinking about the fact that she had killed someone.

She couldn’t breathe.

She felt like she was breaking. She’d pushed Maggie away, she was pushing Winn away, and she’d just lost her sister.

It started to rain outside, but Alex barely noticed.

She curled her legs towards her chest, trying to block everything out.

She wanted to hide—from herself, from everyone and everything.

She wanted the world to stop spinning, even for a moment. It was too much, and she wanted everything to just stop.

She’d saved Winn, but she’d lost Kara. She knew she had.

And she didn’t want to face that fact, didn’t want to think about how she’d live knowing that.

It was yet another reason not to go home.

Chapter Text

Watching her sister being plunged into the lake made Kara suck in a breath as it felt like she went underwater with her.

She wanted the cameras to follow Alex, but they didn’t. They probably couldn’t.

The cameras quickly zoomed out, keeping the spot where Alex had disappeared in the shot, as Maggie was already advancing on Rick.

Rick quickly spun around, Alex’s knife in his hand positioned to defend against her, but all Kara could focus on were the ripples in the otherwise still water Alex had left behind.

It was only when Maggie managed to pin Rick down on the ground that Kara tore her gaze away.

“What did you do her? Why isn’t she coming back up?” Maggie asked, her voice guttural.

Rick smirked until Maggie punched him right in the face. She pressed down harder on his throat with Alex’s knife, which she’d somehow already taken from him, but not before Rick had managed to cut her arm.

“She seems to be a bit weighed down at the moment,” Rick answered smugly.

And if Maggie had been angry before, now she was absolutely livid.

Panic also flashed across her face, as she’d no doubt realized that if Alex couldn’t cut that rope fast enough, couldn’t hold her breath long enough, for Maggie to get down there, then Alex would die.

And she would never be able to tell Alex how she felt.

Kara knew how she felt.

It was obvious. To everyone except Alex, of course.

There were a lot of things Alex didn’t know. Or didn’t realize.

Such as what had happened after the first time she’d left.

She’d left Maggie’s cave to go find Winn—who’d been stuck by himself in the rain for almost three days while she was passed out from her concussion—and probably thought she wouldn’t be able to go back.

What Alex didn’t know was that Maggie hadn’t wanted her to leave.

Kara had watched as the screen split in two in order to show the both of them simultaneously.

At first, Kara had been kind of confused as to why they did, but she quickly realized why they wanted to.

Because it wasn’t even ten minutes after Alex had left that Maggie had stopped eating. She’d looked between her bread and the place where Alex had been, and leaned back against the cave wall. She glanced outside and looked like she wanted to get up, but then settled back down in her spot again.

She took her knife out of her belt, the same one that had almost killed her that first day, and turned it over and over and over in her hands, her fingers gently running along the handle of it.

She seemed conflicted, and Kara was willing to bet that she was deciding whether or not to go after Alex and tell her that she wanted her to come back. That she seemed to miss not having her there already and wanted to see her again.

It was almost the same look she had on her face now as she fought Rick and realized she might not ever see Alex again.

And it seemed to give her new strength. She had a time limit to get rid of Rick and save Alex from drowning in the lake.

Kara heard Eliza let out a little gasp as they both watched Rick take advantage of Maggie’s slight pause to shove her off of him with a grunt, but Maggie quickly recovered.

She had the knife now, and someone to fight for.

She rolled to get out of his reach and hopped up, one of her boots sinking into the mud at the edge of the lake.

Rick dodged the knife as Maggie swung it at him, but then she aimed a foot at his stomach after yanking his arm forward and he staggered back, his walkie talkie falling out of his pocket, giving Maggie a bit of an advantage.

Kara glanced back at the lake again, but there was no movement, no indication that Alex was coming back up anytime soon.

Kara found her herself becoming more and more nervous and scared and tried to tamp it down as she reminded herself that if anyone could do this, it was Alex.

She had to believe that her sister would come back up alive.

Alex never gave up. Alex could survive anything the world threw at her.

And it had already thrown basically everything at her, so Kara had faith that she could survive this.

She’d survived so long in the arena and Kara believed that she could actually win this thing and come home.

The question was if she wanted to.

Rick and Maggie ended up in the water as well.

Time seemed to tick by excruciatingly slow, but Kara guessed that Alex had already spent three minutes down there.

It seemed to be more difficult for Rick and Maggie to grapple with each other. Rick pushed Maggie’s head down as if he was trying to drown her, too.

Then, pain flashed across his face and he loosened his grip, which allowed Maggie a chance to bring her head above water again. She hit him in the throat, causing him to let out a sharp breath. But just before Maggie could force him under, Rick started to speak.

“You care for her,” he managed to say, his voice strained.

Maggie clenched her jaw and she got Rick in a choke hold, but he didn’t resist much.

And Kara realized a second later, when Alex’s knife emerged again in Maggie’s hand and the water around them was getting darker, that she’d probably stabbed him.

He seemed to realize he was about to die, but wanted to get one last word in.

“Too bad she’ll never know,” he said. And it looked as though he was echoing thoughts Maggie had already had herself.

Maggie gripped his shoulder and forced him down under the water before he could say something else.

She held him there until the cannon went off, which didn’t take very long.

And once it did, Maggie pursed her lips and let go of Rick’s body, which was limp now.

But instead of immediately going into the water to get Alex, she got out, dripping wet.

She stripped off her jacket, throwing it onto the ground, and hastily searched for Rick’s walkie talkie after picking up her own knife.

“Winn?” she said into the radio once she’d found it. She was a little out of breath, her voice almost shaking as she turned back towards the lake. “You good?”

Winn’s reply came a second later. “Yeah, I’m good. Did you…is Alex—" Winn started to say, but Maggie had already heard what she needed to hear.

She dropped the walkie talkie, stuck the knife in her belt, and sprinted back towards the lake, towards a part that had a steeper drop off.

She leaped when she was close enough to get momentum to start swimming down, to save Alex, and then she was gone.

Kara and Eliza exchanged a worried glance, and Eliza grabbed her hand, squeezing it for reassurance. Not because it seemed like she needed it, but because she thought Kara did.

About a week ago, Kara had woken up to the smell of eggs and toast, and had been very, very confused.

She thought someone had broken in their house, but why would they break in just to cook eggs?

Kara padded out to the kitchen, still dreary eyed and in her pajamas, to see Eliza standing at the stove, making breakfast. Like she used to do on weekends, before the Games had started.

“Mom?” Kara said quietly. She wondered if she was still asleep, if this was a dream.

Eliza looked over her shoulder at Kara, and managed a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

She told Kara good morning and that breakfast would be ready in a minute, but Kara just stood there.

“Why aren’t you at the square? Is Alex okay?” Kara then asked. She was getting more and more worried by the second.

Eliza kept her eyes on the food this time as she answered. “She’s in the cave, with Winn and Maggie. I think she’s okay. I don’t…really know. But I thought you might like breakfast.” She turned off the stove and slid the eggs onto two plates, placing them on the table before sitting down herself. “Are you hungry?”

Kara nodded and sat down, too. She backtracked, trying to think of what was wrong, what could have caused this sudden change in Eliza’s behavior.

Eliza hadn’t been home in days. Kara had already planned her week out—when she was going to go to the market, when she was going to bring Eliza food.

Kara hadn’t been at the square the night before; she didn’t know if something had happened.

So she asked.

“What happened, Mom?” Kara said, and Eliza lifted her head up. “Why are you…here?”

Eliza got this pained looked on her face and put down her fork.

Kara wasn’t sure if she was going to answer, but she eventually did.

Her voice was quiet as she started to explain. “Alexandra was telling Maggie, last night, about how she felt responsible, for you. Like weight-of-the-world responsible, she said. Because of me. Because when Jeremiah…left, I put all that responsibility on her. She took care of both of us. And I…” she trailed off. She took a deep breath before she continued, “I realized that I was doing it again, to you. I should be the one caring for you, Kara, not the other way around.”

Kara was silent, sensing there was more. And there was.

“I want to make things better, when she comes home,” Eliza said next, and Kara noted the ‘when,’ the certainty in her voice. “I want to fix things. I heard everything she said, and I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

Kara reached out and grabbed Eliza’s hand, and Eliza looked like she was trying not to choke up.

“I want to try to be a better mom, for her. For both of you. I want her back,” Eliza whispered. “And I don’t want to lose you, too.”

Kara shook her head. “You haven’t lost her.”

Eliza let out a sharp breath. “It feels like I did…a long time ago,” she said.

“You didn’t. And you’re not going to, I promise,” Kara told her. “Maybe, um…maybe I can help.” Eliza looked confused, but Kara kept going. “She told me, once, that you never asked her if she wanted to be a doctor. Or if she liked helping you with patients.”

“Oh,” Eliza said quietly as if it had just now occurred to her that she never had. She seemed disappointed in herself and pursed her lips.

“And she doesn’t like it when you call her Alexandra. I don’t really know why, but she likes Alex.”

Eliza nodded and was very intently listening and storing all of this, everything Kara was saying.

She smiled again and squeezed Kara’s hand. “Thank you.”

And Kara smiled back.

From then on, they developed a system.

They’d switch off going to the square, and sometimes Eliza would stay a little past the time they’d agreed on as if she couldn’t get herself to leave, but Kara didn’t mind. She knew Eliza was trying. She knew Eliza wanted to sit there day and night, just in case, but she was also trying to make sure not to forget about Kara, and taking care of herself, too.

Most of the time, they ended up watching together.

As soon as Alex, Maggie, and Winn had a plan and started heading towards the lake with the bombs, Kara and Eliza couldn’t seem to go home, to tear their eyes away.

So much could go wrong, and both of them thought that somehow, by being there, they were making sure nothing would.

Now, Eliza kept her hold on Kara’s hand as she turned back towards the screen, which was only showing the lake.

The tension in the square seemed to thicken as each second dragged on and on and on.

Everyone knew Maggie would come back up, but would Alex?

And even if she did, would she be alive?

It was silent—the only noise Kara could hear was the slight whistle of the breeze.

The crowd got bigger every time Kara went to the square, every time another Tribute was killed and it wasn’t theirs.

When Alex had finally told Maggie that she liked her—like that—and everything she’d probably been dying to tell her right before the three of them split up, Kara could feel the excitement building.

And then it came crashing down for everybody, for Alex, when it seemed like Maggie didn’t feel the same way. Kara, unfortunately, knew what Alex with a broken heart looked like.

Kara had let out a little, “Alex,” under her breath as if her sister could hear her.

Because there was no way Maggie didn’t like her back.

Alex had misunderstood.

Because there were a lot of things Alex didn’t know.

She didn’t know how much she made Maggie smile. Or how much Maggie seemed to enjoy making her laugh.

She didn’t know that whenever they were travelling, Maggie would spend more time staring at her back than she would checking for potential danger around them.

And although Winn had tried to tell her, Alex didn’t notice the way Maggie looked at her. It was the exact same way she looked at Maggie.

And Kara should’ve made a bet with someone, because she got her proof not forty-five minutes later.

Maggie had tried to avoid all of Winn’s questions, which were endless, as they slowly made their way to the Career’s camp without Alex.

Maggie had tried to tell him to be quiet, that they needed to be careful, and silent, lest anyone hear them, and that he should really stop talking or she’d make him stop.

But Winn didn’t let up, and Kara was so, so thankful.

And when he’d ran out of questions—and reiterations of his questions—he had started telling her other things.

Maggie had tried to look like she wasn’t listening, but Kara knew she was.

“Alex wanted to help you, you know. When Max had you. I wanted to get out of there, but Alex refused. She thought it was her fault that Max had you, because she’d taken the backpack from you. And if she hadn’t, then you wouldn’t have been in that situation. Our plan revolved around rescuing you.”

Maggie had flexed her fingers. Kara didn’t think she’d say anything, but then she asked, “But…why? She didn’t even know me.”

Winn did a little shrug. “Once Alex decides she cares about you,” he then said with a small smile, “there’s really nothing you can do. You just kinda have to…get used to it.”

The camp was pretty much deserted. Everyone watching knew that, because the camera kept switching between Alex, the campsite, Maggie and Winn, and the Careers. Back and forth, back and forth.

When Maggie and Winn had made it and after Astra finally decided to leave the lake, they moved in.

Winn started to set up the bombs, and his questions slowly teetered off as he concentrated on getting the bombs in place fast enough, telling Maggie what to do, how she could help, what to hand him.

And Kara wasn’t sure what Maggie was trying to do when, after he’d finally finished, she asked for the power source. She claimed she wanted to see it, and nodded along when Winn started to explain what the different parts were. Maggie looked a little nervous, though, and kept glancing down at it.

She followed Winn as they snaked the wires through the trees, far enough away that they wouldn’t feel the effects of the bombs when they went off.

Kara had thought it was suspicious when Winn had asked for the power source back, but Maggie started talking about Alex out of the blue when she’d been avoiding it this entire time.

“I was trying to tell her that she misunderstood me,” she said, answering one of the million questions Winn had tried to ask her, and Winn paused.

She didn’t continue, so Winn asked another question. “So…did you mean that you didn’t think you could go back to normal because you…like her, too?”

Maggie nodded and pursed her lips. She didn’t seem happy, or relieved, but Winn did.

He smiled. “I knew it,” he then said under his breath. He crossed his arms and addressed Maggie again. “Why did you let her walk away, then?”

Maggie opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again. Her eyes flicked down to the power source in her hands, and Winn furrowed his brow as he noticed, and probably wondered why.

“I…” she said, and couldn’t seem to meet Winn’s eyes. “I don’t think that she’ll…like me very much, anymore. When she knows.”

“Knows what?”

Maggie clenched her jaw as if gearing herself up to explain something. “I’m going to wait to set off the bombs,” she said quietly, but Winn definitely heard her.

His eyes widened and he stepped closer to her, but Maggie stepped back, her arms tightening around the power source.

“I’m going to wait until they get back, and take them out, too.”

“Maggie…” Winn said. They looked at each other, and Winn finally shook his head. “She won’t want to.”

“I know. Believe me…I know,” Maggie said, as if she’d thought about it a lot. As if she’d convinced herself that there was no way Alex would ever agree to this, and that there was a chance that she’d lose her if she did it.

Winn’s eyes searched the rest of the forest. “There’s three smoke stacks already. We have to set the bombs off now, or else she’ll get even more worried than she probably already is and start running back here. She’ll make it before they come back.”

“She might not. And even if she does…I’m going to do it anyway.”

“Why?”

Maggie looked slightly surprised at Winn’s question, as if the answer was obvious. “Well, because…I have to. It’s the smartest thing to do.”

“But do you want to?” Winn then asked.

Maggie pursed her lips and didn’t answer.

Winn kept going anyway. “So, what if you set the bombs off now? What would happen when Alex comes back? What would you do?”

“What?” Maggie asked, confused. “What do you mean, what would I do?”

“I mean, would you tell her how you feel?”

“I don’t…what does that have to do with…” Maggie trailed off. Winn raised his eyebrows, and Maggie reluctantly answered. “I don’t think— No. I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because it just…it doesn’t matter, right? Because nothing can happen. She said so herself. We can’t ever…” She seemed to gather herself again. “We can’t both get out of here alive, so there’s no point.”

“That’s the exact same thing she told me,” Winn said. He shook his head, partly from frustration but partly from amusement at how similar they were.

In a lot of ways, they were complete opposites, but they seemed to agree on this, for some reason.

If only there was some way they could both get out, Kara had thought.

And she was surprised, actually, that it took so long for the new rule to be announced after Maggie had said that.

The audience loved Alex and Maggie. And they’d love them even more if they got together, like the both of them so obviously wanted.

The only thing standing in their way was the fact that they thought they couldn’t ever be happy together.

So the Gamemakers changed that.

It wasn’t long after Alex had lit the fourth smoke stack that Winn had said, “She’s going to start sprinting back here, now, Maggie. She’ll be here within the next ten minutes.”

Maggie had ignored him, and then the screen split back into two.

Winn was right, Alex was running. But fifteen seconds later, she almost skidded to a stop as the announcer’s voice filled the arena.

The crowd in the square started to murmur, but Kara had kept her eyes on the screen, on Alex and Maggie, who the cameras were trained on as the new rule was explained.

Both of them had seemed shell-shocked, and the camera didn’t show Winn until Maggie blinked and glanced at him as if wanting to confirm that he’d heard it, too. That it was real.

Winn didn’t look half as surprised as Maggie.

He had a small smile on his face as if to say, ‘I told you so.’

But Maggie wasn’t smiling. She was looking at Winn and seemed more conflicted than anything.

It wasn’t hard for anyone, and especially Maggie, to see how much Winn meant to Alex. And this new rule? Only two winners?

All three of them wouldn’t be able to get out alive.

And if Alex thought Maggie wanted to get out with only her and not Winn?

Alex wouldn’t stand for it.

That was probably why Maggie had double-checked to make sure Winn was okay before diving into the lake to save Alex.

Kara had watched as she’d covered the cave entrance meticulously.

If anything happened to Winn, Maggie thought she was to blame. Kara had no doubt that Alex would try to blame herself, but Maggie was in charge of taking care of him when Alex wasn’t there.

And it was when Kara heard Eliza whisper, “Two hundred and forty-two…two hundred and forty-three…” that Kara realized she was counting how long Alex had been underwater, holding her breath.

And it wasn’t until “two hundred and forty-nine” that Kara saw a dark shape, and then Maggie’s head burst out of the water, Alex’s following not a second later.

Alex immediately gasped, sucking in air and a bit of water. But she was very, very much alive.

Kara’s heart skipped a beat and she tried not to cry from sheer relief. She could feel Eliza’s hand tighten and then relax in hers, and she knew Eliza was much more worried than she let on.

The silence was broken in the square as everyone seemed to have similar reactions and a buzz seemed to spread. But then they quieted down again, waiting to see what would happen next.

Kara still had tears stained on her cheeks, but she smiled when she realized, a split second before it happened, that Maggie was finally going to get over herself—old rules and new rules be damned—and kiss Alex.

And Kara didn’t know who was happier about it—her, or Winn.

When Maggie pulled away and Alex looked frozen in place, a sort of dazed look on her face as if she couldn’t believe what had just happened, the camera split screened again.

Winn was beaming as he listened through the walkie talkie. He listened as Maggie explained almost everything to Alex. And Kara really couldn’t blame him when he interjected.

But after they cut him off, his smile seemed to slowly fade. He took a deep breath and set the walkie talkie down next to him slowly.

He kneeled and started to crawl towards the entrance of the cave.

Seeing her sister smile like that, as if she finally had everything she’d ever wanted, made Kara immensely happy…but she found her eyes drifting to Winn. She glanced at Eliza and saw that she was also intrigued by what was happening.

And as Winn looked like he was deciding something as he ran his finger along the vines and leaves that obscured the cave from view, Kara realized that there was another thing Alex didn’t know.

Kara had watched, her brow furrowed, when Alex had knelt down and taken those Nightlock berries from Siobhan’s hand.

She’d thought, at first, that Alex was taking them to use on someone else.

But there was something about the way Alex didn’t want Maggie and Winn to see, to know what she was doing, that made Kara sure that she was wrong.

She was so completely wrong.

And her eyes widened, her heart started to beat a little faster, she couldn’t seem to swallow, or…or breathe, when she realized that Alex was saving them for herself.

Her breath hitched and she seemed to go still.

Kara knew her sister. And sometimes she hated that she knew her so well.

Because it made sense.

Kara didn’t want it to, but it made sense, that Alex would save those berries. And, if it got down to the three of them, that she wouldn’t hesitate to use them on herself. To make sure that Maggie and Winn would go home.

Kara didn’t know what to do. How to feel.

She wished it was her, in the arena. She wished, every day, that Alex hadn’t volunteered for her.

She wished Winn and Maggie weren’t there either. Even without the two winners rule, Alex probably would’ve done the same thing, if it had gotten down to her and Winn, or her and Maggie.

Alex seemed to decide, in that moment, that she wasn’t coming home.

But she deserved to. There was no doubt in Kara’s mind that she deserved to go home just as much as Maggie and Winn did.

Kara had been glad Eliza hadn’t been there to watch this. She didn’t know how Eliza would’ve reacted, so she never mentioned it.

There wasn’t any way that Kara could tell Alex. She couldn’t remind Alex—over and over and over again for as long as she had to—that she didn’t know what she’d do if Alex didn’t come home. She didn’t know how she’d cope not having Alex in her life.

Kara could only watch and try not to cry as she stared at Alex’s pocket.

Alex was ready to sacrifice herself for the two of them.

But what she didn’t know was that Winn was ready, too.

Now, Kara watched as Winn gripped the leaves tighter in his fist before he pulled them down a moment later.

He grabbed the other vines, and yanked.

They formed a pile outside of the cave and he moved them away. He could see the rest of the forest now.

He settled back in and seemed to be waiting.

Because it wasn’t just Winn that had heard Alex and Maggie through the walkie talkie, but Max and Astra as well.

Except that Astra was the only one who had an inkling of where the cave could be.

Kara had watched as she’d chased Maggie for quite a while before Maggie had managed to find the cave and hide from her.

Astra seemed to put all the pieces together. She figured out that the cave was how Maggie had managed to evade her, and realized which way to go to get to Winn.

And how to use Winn—to threaten him and make him scream even when he refused—to get to Alex and Maggie, which was who she really wanted.

Kara just wanted her sister to come home. And to be as happy as Maggie made her, all the time.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

What Astra probably wasn’t counting on was how much Alex was willing to make herself unhappy in order to ensure that the people she cared about stayed as happy, and as safe, as they could possibly be.

And if that meant risking her life or bottling up all her sadness and anger to use it against someone, Kara had no doubt she would do it.

After Alex told Maggie to go, that it would be better if she left, Kara knew she wasn’t doing it because she was mad that Maggie had left Winn alone, and that because of that, Winn’s life was now in danger.

Kara knew Alex blamed herself. She’d blame it on wanting to be happy.

Maggie took the walkie talkie with her and went the opposite way.

She looked back over her shoulder once, but Alex was already gone.

She pulled the walkie talkie out and it looked like she thought about saying something but decided against it.

There were only six Tributes left, including her, Alex, and Winn.

And she was alone. Again.

She was clenching her jaw as she moved through the forest, her knife out and ready.

It seemed like she was looking for something—someone, maybe?—but when the camera focused on her, she wasn’t able to hear the Jabberjays calling out Alex’s name in Winn’s voice anymore.

So that must mean she was looking for Max, Veronica, or Astra, Kara guessed.

If she could wipe those three out, then it’d be the three of them left.

And the extent to which Maggie made sure that Winn was safe and risked her life so Alex was safe made Kara sure that Maggie would also not hesitant to let Alex and Winn be the ones to go home at the end of all this.

The camera switched back to Alex, as Maggie was only walking through the forest and, apparently, they didn’t sense any real entertainment there.

Kara had seen Alex angry plenty of times.

Mostly it was frustration that Kara would help tamp down before it got worse, but a handful of times, she saw how angry Alex could get.

One of those times had been during the Reaping Ceremony, when that Peacekeeper had pulled on her arm.

Alex finally found Winn, but she stayed hidden to figure out what was going on, to figure out what she could do without putting Winn in danger. Kara was glad she was thinking this through.

But when she heard Astra say, “I might as well kill you,” Kara realized that another one of those times was now.

And although she looked calm on the outside, Kara could practically feel the rage boiling up in her sister’s chest.

Kara knew what was going to happen before it even happened.

Not that she had a lot of time to figure it out, because the knife was out of Alex’s hand and whizzing through the air and making its mark in Astra’s forehead before Kara could suck in a breath.

She heard Eliza gasp, and Kara held her breath.

Alex had told Winn that she wouldn’t hesitate to kill for him, all those weeks ago.

And Alex tended to keep her word about those kinds of things.

Alex ran forward to catch Winn before he could hit the ground, and Kara pulled her legs towards her chest.

Alex didn’t realize that she’d actually killed Astra until the cannon went off. She looked…shocked. And sort of scared. Of, maybe, herself. And of what she’d done.

Alex had been so happy, not an hour ago. And then everything had gone spinning out of control.

Kara hoped Alex wouldn’t spin even more out of control.

She seemed to numbly walk towards the cave, set Winn down, clean him up, help his wound heal.

Kara wanted to be there, to make sure she was okay. Kara had no doubt Winn could help, but she hated seeing her sister like this. Especially when Alex broke down crying and was trying not to cling onto Winn as he held her in a tight hug.

She didn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have had to kill, although Kara understood why she did. She’d hoped that Alex wouldn’t have to, but…

The one camera in the cave wasn’t showing Alex’s face, but Kara could hear her crying, until she suddenly stopped.

She leaned back when Winn let go of her. Kara leaned to the side as if that would get the camera to move.

She could see a bit more of Alex’s face now, but she wanted to see all of it. She wanted to know what in the world was going on.

“Alex, what’s wrong?” Winn asked, worry etched into his face. He asked again when Alex shook her head.

Alex’s voice was hoarse as she finally spoke. “She’s…she’s gonna…” Alex whispered, and then swallowed. “She’s gonna hate me.”

Kara blinked.

Alex put her head in her hands after letting out a sob, and her shoulders tensed when Winn tried to touch her again.

Kara stared at Alex as her mind seemed to be trying to comprehend what Alex had just said.

Alex looked…small. And broken.

Kara wasn’t even paying attention when Winn clarified, when Alex nodded, because she already knew.

That for some reason, Alex thought Kara would hate her, for what she’d done.

Kara shook her head, as if Alex could see her.

Kara couldn’t even imagine how she’d feel if Alex ever hated her. She didn’t know what she’d do.

But that didn’t matter.

Alex thought she hated her.

But why would Alex think she would ever…

Kara saw Eliza glance at her in her peripheral vision, but she kept her eyes on the screen. On Alex. On her sister.

She slowly brought her feet down to touch the ground again.

She finally looked back at Eliza, who didn’t seem to know what to do either. It was probably killing her, seeing Alex like this.

It was killing Kara, too. And the fact that Alex thought she hated her?

She didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t any way she could tell Alex how completely wrong she was. There wasn’t any way—

Kara clenched her fist.

Maybe there was a way.

Alex was the one who always fixed everything, who always made everything better.

But now it was Kara’s turn.

“I’ll be back,” she said.

And before Eliza could ask her where she was going, what she was doing, Kara pushed off the bench they were sitting on and was up and on her feet, running as fast as she possibly could, practically flying over the dusty streets.

There was no way Kara would keep letting Alex believe this. She’d do anything to make her see how much she still loved her.

She ran all the way back to their house and didn’t even stop to catch her breath as she pushed open the front door.

She had to slow down so as not to run into the wall as she went down the hallway to her and Alex’s room.

She dropped to her knees and stuck her hand underneath her bed, grabbing empty air until she found it.

And once she’d gotten one out of its container and had it in her hands, she hopped back up, stuffing it carefully in her pocket as she ran out of the house again.

Kara didn’t go back to the square. Not yet.

She had no idea if this would work, but she had to try.

Even though it was almost pitch-black outside, she knew the way. She ran down the street, turned the corner, and ran down two more streets before she ended up in front of Lena Luthor’s house.

Lena was the only person Kara could think of who might be able to help her do this.

Kara ran up the front steps and knocked quickly, finally getting a moment to catch her breath as she waited for someone to open the door.

Her heart and her head were pounding, her throat was dry, but she didn’t care.

After what seemed like forever, Kara saw a light come on in the house and she sighed in relief.

When Lena opened the door, she was wearing pajamas and slippers and looked very confused to see Kara standing there, still out of breath.

“Kara?” she asked quietly before glancing over her shoulder as though to make sure her mom wasn’t going to see her there.

Kara was glad Lena had answered instead of her mom. Her mom wasn’t known to be the nicest person, and from what Lena had told her, the rumors were true. But Lena was Kara’s friend—at least Kara thought she was—and Kara knew she might agree to help.

Kara cleared her throat. “Hi. I, um…I know it’s super late, and I’m sorry that I woke you. But I need your help,” Kara said quickly.

Lena let go of the door handle as she seemed to realize how much of a hurry Kara was in, and how serious this was to her.

Lena nodded. “Sure. Anything. What do you need?”

Kara tried to smile and dug what she’d grabbed out of her back pocket. “I need to get this—” she held it up so Lena could see it “—to Alex.”

“Alex,” Lena repeated after a moment.

“Yeah. I thought that maybe you, or your mom, could get this to J’onn somehow? And he could send it down to her with one of those parachute things? She’ll know what it is. I just need to get it to her, as soon as possible,” Kara explained.

Lena looked like she wanted to know more, but sensed that Kara didn’t have time to explain it all.

Kara had no doubt that Lena had connections in the Capitol, because of her mom. And that she knew who J’onn was. Kara knew she was asking a lot, for Lena to enlist her mom for help, but…it was important.

“Um…I think,” Lena started to say, “I think I might be able to…” Kara beamed, and Lena continued, “If I say it’s a donation from a sponsor, then it would go to J’onn directly. And he would know to send it down if I say it’s from you?”

Kara nodded.

Lena held her hand out and Kara gave it to her.

Lena looked back up. “Just this?” she asked.

Kara nodded again. “Yeah, just that.”

“Okay. I think— No, I will. I’ll get it to her,” Lena said very matter-of-factly. “I promise.”

And Kara couldn’t help it as she stepped forward and hugged Lena, who seemed very surprised at first, but Kara squeezed tighter for a moment before pulling back.

“Thank you,” Kara said, and she meant it. She didn’t know how to thank Lena right now, but she knew only saying it wasn’t enough. She’d figure out something else later.

“Um, yeah. No problem. I-it’s not a problem,” Lena then said, almost tripping over her words for some reason.

Kara wasn’t sure Lena was used to having friends. But neither was she.

And Kara thought that she could get used to having a friend like Lena.

Kara said goodbye and let Lena go back to bed as she walked to the square.

She started wringing her hands together, both happy and still quite worried about this whole thing. And about Alex in general. But she was hoping this would help. It had to help.

The next morning, Kara was woken up when she felt someone tapping her shoulder.

Kara and Eliza had slept on the bench that night, Kara’s head on Eliza’s lap. It hadn’t been the most comfortable, but both of them wanted to stay to watch over Alex, who had a very restless night of sleep.

Kara straightened and realized that it was Lena who had been trying to wake her, and she immediately tried to stand up, a little too quickly. She glanced back at the screen, but Alex was still asleep.

“Hi. I’m sorry to wake you, but—”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Kara quickly reassured her. “Did you…does J’onn have the…”

Lena nodded. “Yes. Well, I found someone who knows someone, who can get it to him. But she’ll have it, soon.”

Kara smiled, and she heard Eliza start to wake up, too. Lena had come all this way just to tell her that, and she was about to thank Lena again, but then Lena continued.

“But that’s not the only reason I’m here,” she said, and brought something out from behind her back. Kara furrowed her brow. “The man I talked to told me to come back this morning. He said he had something from J’onn for me to give to you.”

The white envelope in Lena’s hand was small, sealed by wax. It looked like a regular letter, but Kara wondered why J’onn didn’t mail it.

Lena handed it to her, along with a pen, and Kara slowly took it.

“He also said J’onn needs an answer right away, so I’m going to wait…over here,” Lena said with a small smile, and stepped away.

Kara stared at the envelope and sat back down on the bench next to Eliza. She could feel Eliza looking at her, also wondering what J’onn could’ve sent them.

Kara broke the wax seal and took the piece of paper out, slowly unfolding it on her lap.

It had no name, no date, no address. No indication of who it was from.

Kara could tell it was J’onn’s handwriting, though, but she became even more confused when she read it.

The only words written on the paper were:

Would you like to go home?

Kara stared at it, and then read it again. And again.

Go home?

Did that…mean what she thought it meant?

But how in the world would he have managed to…

Kara and Eliza looked at each other as they both seemed to realize what it could mean.

“Do you think…” Kara said quietly, almost whispering, but couldn’t finish.

Eliza seemed to be in disbelief as well, and she replied, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Kara let out a breath and turned her head back towards the paper, to read it again. To let it sink in. To hope that J’onn meant what she thought he meant.

If he did, Kara knew he didn’t just mean her, but that he could easily take Eliza there as well.

The only problem was…

Kara glanced back up at the screen.

Then, she gripped the pen in her hand, looked down again, and started to write.

------

It was only four words, but Kara’s response made J’onn smile.

It was the response he’d been expecting, the one he’d been preparing for.

It was the response that made everything he’d done in the past few weeks worth it.

It was the response that made him ready to give the order, and risk everything.

It simply said:

Not without my sister.

Chapter Text

Alex stared at the ceiling of the cave, trying to fall asleep.

She could feel a dull ache in her forehead and her eyes were raw from crying.

And even though she could hear Winn snoring softly right beside her, she felt so alone.

She hoped Maggie was okay.

She hoped she’d done the right thing, by sending her away.

Because it hurt like hell, and if it was all for nothing…

Alex let out a sigh.

Winn had tried to get her to talk about Maggie, asking her why she wasn’t in the cave with them. She finally got him off her back when she promised she’d tell him in the morning.

Alex supposed he was trying to distract her from…

From other things she didn’t want to think about.

From things she couldn’t think about, or else she’d start crying again.

Alex wiggled down further into the sleeping bag carefully so as not to wake Winn. He seemed to be in a pretty deep sleep, though.

It was so warm. Much warmer than she’d ever remembered it being, even with both of them inside of it.

She finally closed her eyes, willing sleep to come.

And it did, eventually.

But it didn’t last long.

Her eyes would snap open when she heard the wind whistling through the trees, or the rain pound even harder against the outside of the cave, or a clap of thunder.

Every time, it would be dark.

She wanted it to be tomorrow. A new day.

She wanted the rain to let up so the sun could shine. And so she wouldn’t worry about Maggie not having shelter, or drinking water, or a sleeping bag, or—

Alex clenched her jaw.

Maggie was fine. She had to be. Alex had a lot more faith in Maggie than she did in herself.

Maggie didn’t need her.

At some point, the Capitol’s theme came on.

Alex couldn’t bring herself to get up, to look at the sky. She knew she’d see Rick and Astra’s faces up there, and that wouldn’t help.

Alex didn’t know when she fell asleep again, but it was finally, finally a bit lighter outside when she woke up although the storm clouds were still blocking out most of the sun.

Alex checked her watch and it was 8AM. She’d slept longer than she’d intended, but she didn’t even feel much better.

Alex supposed she’d have to go out to get her and Winn real food at some point. But all the animals would be in their nests or dens or whatever, so it’d be difficult not to stray too far from the cave in search of some.

As quietly as she could, Alex unzipped the bag a bit to make it easier to get out without disturbing Winn.

Alex lifted up the flap to check on his leg. She’d definitely need to switch out the gauze soon, and make sure he ate and drank as much as he could.

Alex spied Winn’s walkie talkie towards the back of the cave and moved it, placing it beside the sleeping bag. Trying not to want to press the button, to check up on Maggie.

She noticed the supplies Maggie had left Winn were still pretty organized and not strewn in various places, as if Winn hadn’t been able to fight off Astra that well when she’d found him.

When Winn finally did wake an hour later, it didn’t take him long to start hounding her about Maggie again even though he still seemed exhausted.

Alex kept trying to feed him berries to keep his mouth full and render him unable to speak, but it didn’t work as well as she’d hoped. He wasn’t that hungry, surprisingly.

“I’m trying to forget about it, about everything, okay? I just…I don’t want to talk about it,” Alex told him.

“Well, I do. Because I cannot think of a single good reason why she’s not here with us,” Winn said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Did you get mad at her, or something? For leaving me here? Because I told her to, and it is one hundred percent not her fault—”

“No, I didn’t get mad about that. I’m not mad at her,” Alex answered.

“So, what is it?” Winn then asked. “I deserve to know. She’s part of the team, and I am also part of this team, and if a team member leaves, then the other team members need to know why. It is required for team members to be informed of an absence from the team if one of the team members is aware of what caused the absence.”

Alex gave him a look—she wasn’t really in the mood for his teasing at the moment.

Winn sighed, realizing he wasn’t going to get a response. “Okay, at least tell me if it has anything to do with me. Because I didn’t want this to happen. I wasn’t trying to…you weren’t supposed to…” he trailed off and then gathered himself again. “If it was because of what happened, I’m sorry.”

“What happened with…with Astra is not at all your fault, Winn,” Alex said, trying not to flinch when she said her name.

Winn pursed his lips. “Well, I mean, it’s not yours. You know that, right?”

And Alex didn’t answer.

“Alex, it is not your fault,” Winn said, more sternly this time. “You didn’t have any idea that that would happen.”

“But I could’ve prevented it. We should’ve came back earlier, we shouldn’t have—”

“Taken one minute for yourselves? I could practically hear you smiling, Alex,” Winn said, softer now, and Alex looked down at her hands. “I could hear how happy you were. It’s not a bad thing to want to be happy.”

“But something bad always happens when I try to be. There’s always a consequence. And if you dying is the price I have to pay for being happy, then I don’t want to pay it,” Alex said, and she meant it.

It was silent, only the rain pattering on the cave could be heard.

Alex thought Winn was done pestering her, but, apparently, he wasn’t.

“That still doesn’t explain why Maggie’s not here.”

Alex let out a sigh and pulled her legs towards her chest.

She could still hear Maggie’s short, ‘Okay. Got it.’

And it hurt every time she remembered how her face had fallen, how quickly she’d then accepted it.

But then Alex would remember why she did it. Why she had to do it.

“She’s…” Alex started to say, and then shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut and leaning back against the wall of the cave. “It’s better if she’s not here, with us.”

“Because?”

Alex didn’t want to keep going, but she knew Winn wasn’t going to stop. She should get this over with.

“Because it just is. It’s better for her.”

“But you’re miserable, Alex.”

Alex shrugged. “So? That doesn’t matter. What I want doesn’t matter. It’s what’s best for her. It—”

“Wait, sorry, hold on…just…” Winn interrupted her. Alex concentrated on trying not to let her voice start shaking, and then Winn continued after clearing his throat, “Okay, could you…say that again?”

Alex wasn’t sure what was so hard for him to understand. She finally opened her eyes and looked at him. “It’s better for her if she’s not around. Because all I do is…is cause problems for her. I’m like a giant problem. She’s so much better off without us. Without…me.” Alex shook her head. “She shouldn’t have…”

“Shouldn’t have what?”

“She…she shouldn’t have had to come and save me. I shouldn’t have made her feel obligated to risk her life for me. Or even bring me to this cave in first place.”

“That was weeks ago, Alex. What are you even…” Winn looked at her incredulously. “What does that have to do with this?”

Alex took a deep breath. “She was fine. She was doing great, all alone. And then all this shit happens…because of me. I’m…we’re obviously not helping.”

“Alex…” Winn said softly, but Alex clenched her jaw.

“She deserves to go home, so…if not being around us helps, then that’s good. Great, even,” Alex said, but even she could hear how strained her voice was.

“It doesn’t sound so great. For you,” Winn pointed out, and Alex bit her cheek.

“Yeah, well…” she shrugged again. “I told you, what I want doesn’t matter. As long as you’re safe, and she’s safe. That’s all that matters to me.”

Winn couldn’t seem to think of a reply and Alex raised her eyebrows.

“Are we done? Is that a sufficient enough explanation for you?”

She was trying not to get frustrated, not to snap at him, but the alternative to that was to start crying, yet again, and she was not going to let that happen.

Winn nodded and shifted in place, moving the sleeping bag.

Alex supposed the problem was that he reminded her too much of…

Of Kara.

Alex brought her fist to her forehead and wrapped her other arm around her legs, wanting to shut out the world for a minute.

The only thing that made her not want to use those berries in her pocket was the thought of never seeing Kara or her mom, or having a chance at seeing her dad, ever again.

She knew that they needed her. Eliza relied on her to watch over Kara, so Kara had come to rely on her, too.

Alex didn’t regret volunteering for Kara.

She would’ve done it over and over and over again.

But if she’d known what was going to happen, what she’d end up doing, and how it would affect their relationship?

Kara wouldn’t look at her the same way.

She’d see a different Alex.

She’d see an Alex whose anger probably frightened her. She’d be scared of her.

What kind of person would she see, when she looked at her?

Not a very good one, Alex guessed.

And J’onn.

He’d be disappointed in her.

Alex had let her rage overwhelm her, and take over.

He’d spent years trying to teach her how to control it and not let it control her.

But it’d all been for nothing, apparently.

Because in the end?

She wouldn’t think, she wouldn’t hesitate, to let it consume her to a point that made her scared of herself and what she could do.

She’d probably let Eliza down, too, somehow.

So maybe not going home was for the best.

She wouldn’t have to live knowing that Kara wouldn’t ever think of her the same way.

The funny thing, though, was that all she wanted was for Kara to be here.

Not there, in the arena, but…with her.

She wanted to open her eyes and see Kara sitting next to her, a small smile on her face as she patiently waited for Alex to start talking, to start explaining whatever was wrong.

And Alex always would.

Even if it took forever, Kara would still wait as if she knew that Alex wanted to tell somebody but couldn’t bring herself to.

And the thought of losing her?

Alex somehow kept tears from falling again, but she hugged her legs closer to her chest.

Alex heard Winn getting back into the sleeping bag and he, thankfully, left her alone.

She wondered if this—this crushing weight—was what Winn felt, when he’d killed Leslie. And Siobhan.

If she felt like this, then he must’ve been…

But his were accidents.

Alex’s was a purposeful choice. A choice she’d made and only later been able to realize the consequences of.

She’d had a reason, though. What she’d thought was a good enough reason.

It was like a whole different world in here, Alex thought.

She’d been in this damn arena for so long. Too long.

There were only five of them left.

Every time Alex heard a thunder clap, her heart would skip a beat as she hoped it meant that there were four, that they were closer to the end of all this, but prayed that it wasn’t Maggie.

And then she’d realize it wasn’t a cannon, as she’d seen the lightning preceding the thunder not very long before, and be able to breathe normally again.

She’d tried to get up after a while, telling Winn she was going to get them real food, but he’d made her wait. He wanted her to wait until at least noon, when the sun would give her as much light and warmth as it could before she went out in the pouring rain.

Alex hadn’t fought him too hard as she hadn’t even wanted to leave anyway.

She’d have to at some point, though. She wouldn’t let them both sit here and starve.

She redressed his wound, which took longer than it should’ve.

It didn’t look like it was getting better, but it wasn’t any worse, either, which was a good thing.

Winn kept periodically asking her what time it was and he’d look disappointed every time she told him, making her wonder why.

She wished she had something to do, besides being alone with her thoughts. They kept circling back around to the image Alex had in her mind of Astra lying there on the forest floor, the knife sticking out of her forehead, and then to Kara, and then to Maggie, and then Winn’s voice would jolt her out of them when he would ask how long it had been since he’d last asked.

“It’s only 11:30, Winn. Are you going to keep asking me every ten minutes?” Alex said, hearing the annoyance in her voice. “Because if you are, I’m leaving to go get food.”

“I just want to know.”

“Why?”

Winn ran a hand through his hair. “Because—” Then, he looked towards the entrance of the cave and smiled. “That’s why,” he said with a little nod.

Alex turned her head to see what he was looking at and almost jumped. Her hand instinctively twitched towards her belt, but she realized she didn’t have her knife anymore.

But she wasn’t sure she needed it.

“Maggie?” she said softly after a moment, wondering if this was some sort of dream.

Maggie had just reached the entrance to the cave. Her hair was soaking wet, her boots caked in mud, two leaf-wrapped fish in her hands, and she looked…frustrated.

Maggie held her gaze a little longer, and then shifted her eyes to Winn.

She crouched a bit to fit into the cave and Winn hastily tried to move out of her way.

She handed Winn the two fish, looked him over, seemed to decide that he looked like he was okay, and then told him, simply, “Eat,” as she sat down across from Alex.

Alex was following her with her eyes, trying to figure out what the hell was happening, why she was here, why she was seemed angry.

Maggie finally rounded on Alex again and Alex couldn’t seem to get her throat to work, which she supposed was good.

Because Maggie pointed a finger at Alex and the next words out of her mouth were, “You listen to me, Alex Danvers.” Her voice was low, and Alex felt like she was being interrogated or something. Alex was still trying to figure out what was going on when she continued with, “You are not a problem, okay? You are the opposite of a problem.”

“Wh— uh…” Alex pulled her head back and looked at her.

Did she just…

But how did she know that…

How in the world could she have possibly heard…

Alex glanced at Winn. And he smiled that innocent smile he liked to do and held up the walkie talkie, dangling it from his hand, and she stared at it.

Alex pursed her lips and wasn’t sure whether she was angry at him or not. Because he’d obviously been pressing that button during their conversation earlier, so that meant…

That meant Maggie heard all of it. Or…most of it.

It must’ve been when he’d asked her to repeat herself.

Did he not remember what had happened last time they’d used the walkie talkie?

Nothing good had happened.

Many horrible things had happened.

Max still had one, which meant he’d heard it, too.

Why had Winn thought that was a good idea?

“Winn—”

Maggie cupped Alex’s chin and turned her head back so she was facing her again.

“You are not allowed to get mad at him,” Maggie then said, letting go of it. “And you are going to listen to me.”

“But—”

“Please?” Maggie said, softer this time.

Alex just looked at her, still in awe that she was here, that she was sitting right in front of her. She had this look on her face that was a mixture of many different things Alex couldn’t really decipher.

Alex tried to backtrack and remember what she’d said to Winn earlier, trying to comprehend that Maggie had been listening.

And, apparently, came back.

She looked like she was fine. Just very wet from the rain.

Alex knew she would be, but was still relieved.

Maggie raised her eyebrows, waiting for an answer.

Alex had no idea what was about to happen, but…she was here, in the cave.

She wasn’t kicking them out, although her anger did seem to be directed, rightfully, at Alex.

Alex had learned that not letting Maggie talk resulted in very confusing, not-so-good things, so maybe…

It took a moment, but Alex nodded the tiniest bit.

And Maggie took a deep breath, getting comfortable.

“If I had known that those were the reasons you had pushed me away, had told me to go,” she started to say, “then I wouldn’t have left. Because you are so wrong, Alex.” Maggie smiled a little bit. “You are so completely wrong.”

Alex waited for her to continue, although it was hard to stay silent, and she resisted the urge to look down at her hands.

“And I think it’s my fault,” Maggie said next, and Alex furrowed her brow. “Because I never told you. Well, actually, I did tell you. I just…wasn’t very good at it, apparently. Because you know what caused me problems, Alex? Was when you left,” she said, licking her bottom lip. “I-I didn’t even know how much I wanted you here, how much I liked having you here, until you were gone. And even when you came back I couldn’t even bring myself to tell you. I mean, the idea you two had was great, don’t get me wrong,” Maggie said with a bigger, slightly amused smile this time, “but that’s definitely not even half the reason I let you guys stay here.”

Alex was trying not to get her hopes up.

It sounded like Alex had been right about Maggie wanting her to stay.

And she vaguely remembered Maggie saying something like that to her at the Cornucopia, but…

“I didn’t know what to do. Here was this girl, this…crazy, stubborn—emphasis on the crazy, by the way,” Maggie added, and the affection in her voice made Alex glance down and then will herself to tilt her head back up when Maggie continued, “…girl who cared so much and who never, ever expected anything back. You give all of yourself to the people you care about, and you never expect them to give it back. So you’re surprised when someone does. When someone wants to. You…save someone’s life because…well, I’m not,” Maggie paused and shook her head, “…I’m not really sure why, but you do. And then when I did the same, you thought I was only doing it because I owed you, or because I felt like I had to. But I wanted to, Alex.”

Alex was hearing all of this and she was trying to absorb, to believe, everything Maggie was telling her because it seemed like it was sort of difficult for her, saying all this. Alex hadn’t heard her say, or tell her, anything like this before. But it looked like she meant it.

“I meant what I said, about wanting you in my life. I am not better off without you. I don’t even know why you would ever think that. You…have saved me in more ways than one.”

Alex swallowed and, for some reason, her eyes were starting to sting again, but Maggie still had something else to say.

“And when we were talking…when you said that you thought the Games might be changing me, but in a good way?” Maggie shook her head. “It was never the Games, Alex. It was you,” she told her, her voice even softer now. “It was always you.”

Alex bit her cheek as a tear slipped down her cheek.

Her heart felt…lighter.

Like a little bit of weight was being lifted off her chest.

It was also hard for her to let all of that sink in at that moment, but…

Maybe she had been wrong.

And it gave her a very small bit of hope that there was a chance that she’d been wrong about some other things, too.

Alex knew she was only supposed to listen, but it seemed like Maggie was done. And Alex had something she wanted to tell her, too.

Alex slowly reached for Maggie’s fingers. Maggie glanced down and intertwined her own with Alex’s, her eyes shining when she looked back up, a small smile on her face.

Alex hadn’t realized how much she’d missed seeing Maggie smile.

“You were worth saving,” Alex whispered, as she was afraid her voice would shake if she didn’t.

Maggie’s face softened for a moment, as if she could hear how much Alex meant it. Alex hoped she could.

“And…” Alex eventually brought her eyes down to her lap and took in a breath. “And I didn’t want you to go, I just…I, um…I guess I went a little…crazy,” she said, trying to smile. “I didn’t know what was happening and a lot was happening and…I was sc-scared that Winn was going to…”

Alex finally looked at Winn, who was just off in the corner, eating tiny bites of fish and very obviously trying to leave them alone while being about a foot away. He gave her a reassuring smile.

“I didn’t know what to do. And then…” Alex let out a sigh and clenched her jaw, leaning back again. “And then I went even more crazy, I guess, if that’s what you wanna call it. But I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Maggie looked a bit confused and concerned, but she shook her head when tears started to form in Alex’s eyes again.

“I don’t need an apology, Alex,” she said. “You have apologized enough for a lifetime. As long as you know that you’re not getting rid of me that easy again.”

Alex pursed her lips.

God, how had she gotten so lucky?

Alex had been the one to push Maggie away, and it was Maggie who came back. And was, obviously, angry about the whole thing, but still.

“What happened after I left?” Maggie then asked hesitantly after it had been silent for a moment or two.

She looked at Winn when Alex didn’t answer, specifically at his leg.

“Did Astra do that to you?” Maggie asked him, and Winn nodded, glancing at Alex.

She must’ve watched the sky, seen Astra’s face up there with Rick’s.

Maybe she’d thought it was Winn at first. Or Alex.

Alex swallowed when Maggie looked back at her, searching her face as though to try to figure out what was wrong. Because Alex couldn’t seem to tell her, to say it out loud.

But she seemed to realize what had happened on her own.

“Did you…” Maggie said, so quietly Alex almost couldn’t hear it.

Alex nodded. And then she tilted her head down, squeezing her eyes shut to keep herself from crying again, but it didn’t help at all.

She clenched her teeth together and felt Maggie tighten her hold on her hand, and Alex brought her other to her forehead.

She could hear herself breathing heavily.

She probably looked like a mess. She felt like a mess.

Maggie gently brought Alex’s hand away from her face and held onto it in both of hers.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

Alex finally straightened up again. She felt like shaking her head, telling Maggie no, but…

It wasn’t even what she’d done that was making her cry, mostly.

It always came back, always circled around, to Kara.

And maybe…Alex had a strange feeling that maybe there was a possibility that she was wrong about Kara. She seemed to be wrong regarding just about everything these days.

She remembered that Maggie knew what she was going through, too.

And she was so tired of keeping everything inside. Of bottling it all up. She needed to let it out.

“I’m just…” Alex surprised herself by managing to choke out. “I’m-I’m afraid that…” she shook her head and bit her cheek, not sure if she could get it out. “Kara is…”

Maggie shifted in her spot and let go of one of Alex’s hands to wipe off some of the tears streaming down her cheeks. Her fingers lingered over the bruise for a moment.

“I think…” Alex started up again. “She’s gonna…th-think that I’m a terrible person,” Alex admitted. “And she’s gonna…h-hate me.”

Alex swallowed again.

She willed herself to hold Maggie’s gaze, to not shy away from it, to sit still.

Maggie leaned back a little bit and seemed to be deep in thought.

And it seemed like she understood, somehow, why Alex might think that.

Then, she looked up slightly as if she was remembering something.

“Eight seconds,” she finally said, and Alex was confused before Maggie explained. “It took you eight seconds to volunteer for her. I counted.” She paused, and Alex was surprised.

Alex had forgotten that everyone had watched the Reapings. Even the other Tributes. Even Maggie.

Alex remembered seeing Maggie up on that screen.

But she hadn’t ever thought about Maggie watching her.

“I must’ve watched that tape…” Maggie shook her head a little bit. “I don’t even know how many times. It was like as soon as they said her name you knew that it was going to be you instead. The camera didn’t even have time to find her in the crowd before your hand shot up in the air. And then…”

She paused again, and Alex couldn’t help but sit there in silence, and listen to her. She didn’t want to relive that day, but the way Maggie was telling it…

“And then I found out you were eighteen,” Maggie said. “And I thought: She could’ve been free. You could’ve been free,” she repeated. “You were safe. You could’ve lived the rest of your life knowing that your name would never be in that bowl again. You didn’t have to worry anymore. But…you gave all that up, in eight seconds, for her.” Maggie grasped her hand gently again. “You’re the furthest thing from a terrible person.”

Alex didn’t know what to say, what to do.

She hadn’t really thought about it like that.

It hadn’t even occurred to her not to take her sister’s place.

She would’ve done anything to make sure Kara wouldn’t have to go to the arena.

Maggie was smiling at her, and Alex glanced at Winn and he nodded as if he agreed.

Alex didn’t know what she’d do without the two of them. She would probably be a complete, utter mess. She was so glad they were here with her, and that she wasn’t alone.

And then a parachute with a package landed outside of the cave.

Maggie squeezed her hand and let go after a moment, pushing herself off the ground to go and get it.

Alex looked at Winn again and he raised his eyebrows in question after offering her a piece of the fish he’d been working on.

“You’re welcome,” he muttered under his breath with a smile on his face when Alex took it from him. The twinkle in his eye let Alex know that he wasn’t only referring to the fish.

Alex resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and instead managed a small smile. “Thank you,” she said, and she meant it.

Alex was still kind of annoyed that he’d went behind her back and didn’t tell her he was broadcasting part of their conversation to Maggie, too, but…he’d brought her back. And that, she decided, was what mattered.

“I wonder if it’s soup,” Winn then said, looking at Maggie as she turned around again, bringing the package back inside. “That would be nice.”

The container didn’t look big enough to hold soup for the three of them, but Maggie didn’t open it and instead placed it in front of Alex.

“I know it’s not from my mentor. She doesn’t like to send me things when I’m around you two. She’s probably mad at me for coming back,” Maggie said. She didn’t seem to care, though, or be too bothered by it. She pushed the package towards Alex.

Alex unscrewed the lid and pulled it off.

And it dropped from her hand a second later after she looked inside the container.

Alex’s breath caught in her throat as she stared at it.

She barely heard Maggie say her name in a worried voice, probably wondering why she froze so suddenly.

But Alex was in disbelief as she slowly stuck her hand in the container and grasped the single piece of candy between two fingers before bringing it back out.

She held it like it would break if she so much as breathed on it.

She could feel Maggie’s eyes on her and hear Winn say, “What’s that?”

But she didn’t answer.

Because all she could focus on was the tiny plastic-wrapped piece of red candy in her hand.

“It’s…it’s from Kara,” Alex finally said so quietly she almost couldn’t hear herself say it.

The wrapper crinkled as she moved it between her fingers, trying to grasp that it was real.

And that Kara had sent it.

It was the candy.

It was their candy.

It was the candy Alex remembered giving Kara that first night she’d arrived at their house.

It had been stormy then, too.

And Alex remembered Kara not wanting to come out from behind Jeremiah’s leg, but Alex had finally gotten her to when she’d taken a piece from the jar and given it to her.

She remembered how she’d felt seeing the smile on Kara’s face when she’d tasted it, how she’d immediately eaten all of it.

How she’d allowed Alex to take her hand and lead her to her bedroom. Which had eventually become their bedroom.

The first thing to go when Jeremiah had been taken away was the candy jar.

Eliza had said that they needed the jar for other things and all that candy—of which there wasn’t even that much of—had to go.

But the red ones were Alex’s favorite, and Kara must’ve remembered that.

Because she’d taken all the red ones out of the jar, put them in a small container, and hidden them under her bed before Eliza could toss them out.

One particular night only weeks after Jeremiah was no longer in their lives, Alex had gotten into her first big fight with her mother about…something she couldn’t even remember. She’d slammed the door to their bedroom and buried herself under her covers, not coming out for dinner or for the rest of the night.

Kara had left her alone after Alex had told her to go away, but she eventually went in the room to sleep at some point.

But she hadn’t gotten in her bed. Alex remembered watching her dig something out from under it instead. And then she silently came over to Alex’s bed and placed the little red candy on her pillow.

And Alex had just stared at it.

Alex hadn’t been particularly nice to Kara in weeks, as she’d blamed her for Jeremiah being gone.

But Kara smiled at her, tentatively, like she always did.

And there was something in that smile that made Alex touch her wrist when she’d tried to turn away, to go to her own bed.

Kara had turned back around, and Alex shifted, pressing her back against the wall to make room for her.

Kara had smiled even wider and climbed in next to her.

And Alex remembered that that was when she’d realized how much Kara meant to her, and that she didn’t know what she’d do without her.

They never knew when they could get more of those candies, or if they could ever get more, so they treated each one like it was special.

And they were special.

So Alex knew that Kara was the only one who could’ve sent this. Who knew what it would mean to her.

It was the closest she could get to having Kara here with her.

Alex could feel herself start to cry again but this time she didn’t care.

A tear fell on the wrapper and she swiped her thumb over it.

And she smiled.

That little red candy in her hand meant that maybe Alex hadn’t ruined everything.

It meant that maybe Kara was trying to let her know that she didn’t hate her.

That she still wanted to be her sister.

That she still loved her.

Alex wrapped her fingers around it and closed her eyes.

And finally, finally, breathed a sigh of relief.

Chapter Text

It took hours for Alex to notice that Winn had begun to develop a fever.

But everything made sense—the more-than-usual body heat she’d felt when they were in the sleeping bag the night before, the exhaustion in his complexion even when he’d slept for a good twelve hours, the insistence that he wasn’t that hungry when her and Maggie had tried to get him to finish one of the fish.

It frustrated Alex that it’d taken a while for her to figure it out.

But she supposed that that was because she’d been worrying about her own problems, and Winn was great at acting like he was fine when he obviously wasn’t in order to not inconvenience them.

It wasn’t until she checked his wound again that she noticed what was causing it. The edges around the cut from Astra’s spear were turning red and starting to swell.

She’d gotten a bit mad at him before giving him her socks and insisting he lay back down and try to sleep it off.

His forehead was warm, but he had been shivering before eventually drifting off to sleep.

Alex gathered the wet vines that were sitting in a pile so nicely outside the cave as if Astra hadn’t been in a hurry and hung them up again to prevent the wind and rain from blowing in.

Now, she was watching Winn sleep, hoping that by noticing it sort of early, she’d be able to prevent it from becoming worse.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t mention these things to me,” Alex said quietly so as to try not to wake him up. She could hear a slight irritation in her own voice.

“Maybe he didn’t know,” Maggie replied. She was sitting next to Alex now.

“Oh, he knew. But he doesn’t think it’s important. He—”

“Was letting you try to take care of yourself before having to worry about him. Before you would put down everything to make sure he was fine.”

Alex turned her head away from Winn.

Maggie raised her eyebrows, challenging Alex to disagree.

Alex focused on her hands in her lap, which were not staying still. Her hair fell forward but Maggie reached a hand out and tucked it back behind her ear, which made Alex look up again.

She still couldn’t really believe that Maggie was here with them. She was immensely happy that she was. Maggie insisted that she wanted to be here with them, with her, even though Alex thought it wasn’t the best way to keep her safe.

Alex took a deep breath. “It’s…hard for me to…” let you take two take care of me, she finished silently.

Maggie nodded, and a corner of her mouth quirked up as she tilted her head a bit to the side. “I know.”

Alex felt herself smile.

A lot of things—actually, basically everything—about Maggie surprised Alex.

But what surprised her the most was how much Maggie seemed to notice, and how she was able to figure her out.

Maggie paid attention to things—she’d noticed Alex’s watch, she’d noticed how much Alex cared about Winn and knew that leaving him alone would make her worried and possibly angry. She noticed…more than Alex was used to.

Usually it was the other way around.

But Maggie was still sort of a closed book.

Alex had a feeling there were still some things, some big things, that Maggie wasn’t telling her.

It was probably for a good reason, though.

And anything she told Alex she was telling the entirety of Panem, so that in itself was a good reason.

Except that Alex noticed Maggie continuously glancing at the candy Alex kept turning over in her hands.

Alex couldn’t seem to let go of it for fear it would disappear, or something. Having her father’s watch on her wrist made her feel like he was always with her, and now Kara’s gift was having the same effect.

Maggie was looking at it and her demeanor shifted. Like it always did. Her face became sort of…pained.

Alex wondered if it was about Kara, or the candy itself, or something else entirely.

But Alex knew it was better to wait. If Maggie wanted to tell her about whatever it was, then she would.

“You okay?” Alex asked her.

Maggie seemed to snap out of something and she looked at Alex as if she’d forgotten she was there for a moment.

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m…fine.”

“Okay,” Alex said simply, even though she didn’t really believe her. “You know you can tell me, if you want to. Whatever it is.”

Maggie pursed her lips. “It’s…it reminds me of…”

She shook her head and let out a huff. She seemed frustrated at herself, that she couldn’t seem to say it.

“Maggie, you don’t have to. I—"

Maggie shook her head. “No, no. I…want to. It’s just hard to talk about, um…” she took a deep breath, “her.”

Alex’s full attention was on Maggie now. She shifted in her spot to face Maggie fully, but moved so she wasn’t in her space too much to give her room and not make her feel overwhelmed.

“Her,” Alex said, although it came out as more of a question.

When Maggie finally locked eyes with her again, Alex gave her a reassuring smile.

“Yeah. I…had a sister,” Maggie managed to get out. “Her name was Jamie.”

Alex noted the ‘had’ and the ‘was,’ and she wondered what happened. A lot of things were already starting to make more sense, but there was much, much more to the story.

“I was the annoying little sister,” Maggie said next. She even smiled a little bit. “We were…inseparable. And then, when I was fourteen my father, um…” she faltered again.

Her jaw twitched, and Alex wanted to reach out for her hand, smooth the crinkle between her eyebrows, take away all the pain in her expression.

“I left the house to live with my aunt until I turned eighteen,” Maggie settled on saying, and Alex had a feeling that that was not the full story. “And I couldn’t…see Jamie anymore. She would come over sometimes and bring me things, though. Like pictures and…the rest of my clothes. But she never stayed. She never…”

It seemed like tears were threatening to fall down her cheeks, but she cleared her throat. Alex waited, afraid to move as if it would make Maggie suddenly stop. But she kept going, even through the thunder rumbling in the distance.

“She could never stay. But it didn’t matter. Because a couple months later…she got picked,” Maggie’s voice was even quieter now.

Alex had stopped watching the Games four years ago.

Which, she now realized, was the same year Maggie’s sister had gotten Reaped.

If she’d watched, she probably would’ve remembered a Sawyer being chosen. She would’ve seen Jamie being chosen. But she had no idea that Maggie even had a sister, until now.

If Alex had done all that Maggie had been required to do for her training, if Alex had bothered to learn anything about the other Tributes besides the meager amount that she had, then she would’ve known.

And as Maggie continued, that’s when almost every puzzle piece seemed to click for Alex.

“Her name got called. And…I remember thinking about volunteering for her, but…I was fourteen, and she was seventeen. She…I thought she had a better chance at winning. She had had so much more training. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t…” Maggie tightened her hand into a fist and unflexed her fingers. “She…she died in the first five minutes.”

Alex finally reached for her hand, to hold onto it gently, to let her know she was still there even though Maggie couldn’t seem to look at her anymore.

“The boy from District 1 turned on her. I don’t…know why because…usually they, you know, team up and…” Maggie shook her head again. “Anyway, he did. And no one remembers her. If they do, they remember her as the Career who died during the bloodbath.”

She finally tilted her head up again to look at Alex.

And Alex realized that that had almost happened to Maggie. That she had almost died during the bloodbath, too, but Alex had saved her life.

Alex remembered when Maggie was telling them about the tokens she buried. How she knew that they didn’t bring the bodies back to the families.

Alex had figured it was just something Maggie knew, because she seemed to know everything about the Games. But now that Alex thought about it, she realized that the reason Maggie knew was because they hadn’t brought back her sister’s body, or even her token. Her family hadn’t gotten a chance to bury her.

“And every day, I think about what could’ve happened if I had taken her place. If I would’ve survived, if I could’ve prevented her death. So, when they picked me,” Maggie continued, “I wasn’t surprised. I was just…” she shrugged. “It felt like I knew, already, that it was going to happen. That it was bound to happen. And I deserved it, for not taking her place.”

Alex started to shake her head. No one, absolutely no one, deserved to be Reaped. Ever.

Especially not Maggie.

And the fact that she thought she did…

“I felt like I owed it to her to win and beat these…these stupid Games. Their Games they seem to enjoy so much,” Maggie said, her voice laced with disgust. “So I trained harder. Even harder than before. But I stayed far away from…the others. I didn’t want to be a Career. I don’t want to be one of them. But I knew that that was the best way to win, and that I was probably already…I started training when I was seven years old. That’s when we usually start. And I thought it was too late, that I was already…like them. Because that’s all I knew. That’s what I know. And all I wanted to do was win. For her.”

Alex could practically feel anger radiating off of Maggie, but there was still more.

“They killed her,” Maggie said like she was stating a fact. And it wasn’t hard for Alex to figure out who the ‘they’ was.

Alex got the feeling that Maggie didn’t blame the boy from District 1 for her sister’s death. Not entirely, anyway.

She blamed the Capitol. The Gamemakers. The one’s who had picked Jamie in the first place. The one’s who had sent her to certain death.

Alex wondered why Maggie was saying all this, why she was telling her.

It was dangerous, showing contempt for the Capitol. Showing opposition to their regime, to the Games.

But Alex supposed that was the point.

Everyone already knew. She just wanted to remind them.

And she wanted to tell the Capitol how much she hated them. She wanted to make sure they knew.

Alex wondered if they had cut her off already, if the cameras were turned on someone else. Maggie didn’t seem to care, though.

“They killed her,” Maggie repeated. “And they made sure that no one remembered her. No one remembers her as a sister to somebody, as a daughter to somebody. All anyone remembers is that she was a Career, and a Tribute. And that she didn’t even last a day in here.”

“Maggie,” Alex said softly after a while, after Maggie went silent. She tried to think of what to say. What she could do.

It had helped Alex, just having Maggie there. And Alex hoped that her being there would help Maggie, too.

But she also really wanted to… “Can I…”

Maggie nodded almost imperceptibly, and Alex wrapped her arms around her, holding her as close as she could while letting her breathe. Because it seemed to get harder for her to, as she held her tears in.

It hurt Alex to see—to feel—Maggie hurting like this.

To know that she’d been hurting like this since she was fourteen.

To know that she thought she had deserved to be sent to the arena.

To know that maybe a little part of her felt like her sister’s death was her fault because she’d had a chance to prevent it, but didn’t.

“It’s not your fault,” Alex told her. And Alex couldn’t see Maggie’s face, but she felt Maggie bunch up part of her jacket in her fist, like Alex was going to get up and leave if she didn’t. But Alex wouldn’t have moved an inch even if the entire world started to collapse around them. “It’s not your fault.”

Alex understood all the built-up hatred and disgust that seemed to radiate off of Maggie whenever she’d talk about the Capitol.

Alex had always hated them, too, but now that she knew what they’d forced Maggie to go through…

Alex heard Maggie swallow and she turned her face towards Alex’s neck. She started whispering, so quietly that Alex had a feeling she was the only one who could hear her, although she almost didn’t as a lightning flash outside distracted her for a moment. She knew Maggie was trying to prevent the cameras from picking up what she was saying.

“I didn’t…” Maggie started to say, her lips barely moving against Alex’s skin. “I didn’t think she lo— she…loved me anymore, after…because…” Alex felt Maggie shake her head. “But that shouldn’t have mattered. I should’ve…”

Alex shut her own eyes and tightened her arms around Maggie’s lower back when she trailed off, but Alex had heard enough to understand. To understand most of it, anyway.

“She was your sister, Maggie,” Alex whispered back. “I’ll bet she was so relieved it wasn’t you. And I know that she loved you, no matter what.”

She knew that last part was true, because she couldn’t imagine it not being true.

And because Kara proved it to her every single day.

Alex held Maggie for so long she lost track of time. Maggie had slowly pulled away when she was ready, and had seemed a bit relieved that she’d finally told Alex all that. Only a bit of the pain was gone from her expression.

And all Alex could think about was that she wanted to know more. To know everything.

She wanted to spend more time with Maggie, outside of the arena. She wanted to just…be with her.

She didn’t want to have to worry about cameras and feeling like she couldn’t tell Maggie everything she wanted to tell her.

She wanted to tell Maggie about Jeremiah, about Kara, about…everything. The good and the bad.

She wanted Maggie to feel like she could tell her other things she couldn’t tell her in here, too.

And Alex didn’t realize how much she wanted to go home until she had gone to put the candy back in her pocket.

She’d forgotten the Nightlock berries were in there, for a moment.

So when the tip of her finger touched one of them, she jerked it back like it had been burned.

Luckily, nothing had fallen out, but Maggie had noticed and furrowed her brow.

Alex had smiled and acted like nothing was amiss, stuffing Kara’s gift in and zipping it back up before Maggie could ask her about it.

But it felt wrong, somehow, having both the berries and the candy in there. Her pocket felt heavy again even though she knew it was practically weightless.

And for the first time in what felt like a long time, she let herself want it.

At first, she felt like she was being selfish.

Why did she deserve to be one of the two winners?

But then she thought, Why did it have to be two?

They’d already changed the rules once, why couldn’t they change them again?

She missed her sister, and her mom, and she wanted to see them, to check if they were doing okay.

She wanted to make up for everything—for when she’d told Maggie to leave. For when she’d ever thought, even for a second, that letting her go was the best thing to do.

Because Alex had a feeling that Maggie was used to that. That Maggie was used to people throwing her away, or to the side, when they decided they didn’t want her anymore.

And even though that wasn’t the reason Alex had done it, she’d still pushed her away.

Now that Maggie was back, there was no way in hell Alex was ever going to let her go again.

And as she glanced at Winn, who was awake now but not looking much better, all she wanted was to bring him back with her, too.

She had a feeling that there was a reason Maggie had left her parents’ house, and then her aunt’s house, and that maybe she was living alone now. And Alex couldn’t stand the thought of Maggie going back to an empty apartment or wherever she lived.

They could refuse.

If it got down to the three of them, they could refuse to turn on each other.

Except that Alex couldn’t help but think that the Gamemakers could do whatever they wanted. They could refuse to let the three of them out, to let them defy their rules, and punish them for it.

Alex didn’t want to know what they’d do and also didn’t want to get her hopes up that it would actually work. But the three of them would figure it out when they got there.

For now, Alex wondered why J’onn wasn’t sending them anything for Winn.

He was getting clammier as time went on, and Alex couldn’t do much else with no antibiotics for his infection.

Both him and Maggie seemed to be aware that Alex was getting more nervous and worried about him and Maggie tried to distract her but wasn’t very successful at it as they had nothing to do.

They were waiting.

For what, Alex didn’t know.

For Max and Veronica to die, she guessed.

The three of them weren’t going to leave the cave, especially because it was still raining, so they were just going to sit here.

At least they were all together, Alex thought.

She didn’t have to worry about Maggie being by herself anymore.

Finally, at six o’clock, a parachute with a package that was slightly bigger than the past one’s they’d gotten floated down right outside the cave entrance, hitting the vines on its way. Alex got up to get it this time.

“Hey, I guess J’onn does listen to us sometimes,” she said with a smirk as she brought it back in.

It made her happy to see Winn smile when she handed him the bowl of steaming hot soup J’onn had sent.

He held it in both his hands to warm them up before placing it in his lap.

“Thank God it’s not tomato soup, that stuff is disgusting,” he muttered under his breath. “I mean, I would’ve eaten it, but still.”

Alex and Maggie exchanged a smile and went back to eating the fish, insisting that Winn drink all the soup himself.

With only five of them left, they figured they wouldn’t be in here that much longer, even with whatever would happen at the end of this thing.

But they all ate slowly, just in case.

And it was silent, only the rain hitting the cave could be heard, until…

“So, Danvers, when are you gonna take me out on a date?”

Alex almost choked.

She coughed and cleared her throat as she looked at Maggie, who was smirking and seemingly very amused by Alex’s surprise and confusion at her question. Alex heard Winn snort into his soup.

“What?” Alex finally asked when she’d made sure the bite of fish hadn’t gotten stuck in her throat and she could breathe normally again.

“You know, a date.”

“A date,” Alex repeated, making sure she was hearing her right. She glanced at Winn, but he looked preoccupied with something.

Maggie nodded. “Yeah. When we get out of here, where are we gonna go?”

“Um…” Alex wondered what Maggie was trying to do. Because it wasn’t a given that they were even getting out of here, or that they’d actually be able to ever be together, much less go on a date.

But a date with Maggie?

It made Alex feel giddy thinking about the fact that Maggie wanted to go on a date with her, but she had to be realistic.

They hadn’t all three really talked about it yet, about what they might think would happen soon. They were kind of avoiding the topic right now. But…

“Well, I mean, we don’t even know if we’re going to be able to get out of here, so I’m not really sure if—”

“Humor me,” Maggie said, her tone a bit more serious now. Alex looked at her. She was still smiling but there was a look in her eyes that was telling Alex to play along. To pretend, for a moment, that everything would work out okay. Alex smiled back a bit, and Maggie seemed to relax again. “Unless we already had our first date,” she then said.

And now Alex was confused again.

“We didn’t…what are you talking about? When did we…” Alex trailed off, racking her brain, trying to think of when in the world they could’ve possibly already had a date.

“The morning after I brought you here, to the cave.”

Alex looked at her incredulously. “That was a date? How was that a date?”

“We were both eating food, and we were alone,” Maggie said nonchalantly with a shrug. “It could’ve been classified as a date.”

Alex shook her head. “No. No, no, no. No way was that our first date.” She let out a scoff, which made Maggie smile. “I was still pretty concussed for most of that time.”

“Yeah, I remember thinking it was weird you weren’t dressed up or anything. And you didn’t even pay for my food.”

Alex was happy Maggie seemed to be feeling a bit better, even if it meant being subjected to teasing, but it was taking her mind off of everything that was happening—or rather, not happening—at the moment.

“Well, I am not letting that be our first date. In fact—”

“Uh, sorry to interrupt your date night plans,” Winn said, a weird look on his face as he seemed to be distracted, and both her and Maggie turned their attention to him. “But I need to know if you two can see this, too, or if my fever is making me go crazy.”

Alex shot Maggie a concerned look and got the same back from her. They both moved closer to Winn and crowded around what he was staring at.

Winn was holding a ripped part of the parachute the package had come with in one hand, and a piece of paper in the other.

There were a bunch of zeros and ones printed on it in a seemingly random order.

“What is that?” Alex asked quietly.

Alex deduced that the paper had been sewn into the parachute—which Winn had ripped open—and folded about a million times as there were creases all over it.

“It looks like binary code—which is what they use for computers—” Winn added when Alex and Maggie both looked confused, “but you can also translate it into words, if you know the…order of…”

Winn became concentrated on the sheet of paper now, his eyes narrowed.

He started whispering to himself as he translated it, a string of half-words and letters were all Alex and Maggie could hear.

Alex wondered who had put the paper in there, if they were meant to have it.

And if whoever it was that had sent it down to them knew that Winn could read it.

Winn furrowed his brow after a while.

“What does it say?” Alex asked when he still wasn’t telling them anything.

It took him another minute, but, finally, Winn locked eyes with Alex again.

“Okay,” he said after a moment of silence with a hint of a smile on his face, “I can’t tell you why, and you’re just going to have to trust me, but…we need to go back to the tree.”

Chapter Text

“What tree?”

Alex had to put a hand on Winn’s arm to make him stop moving and trying to get out of the sleeping bag.

“The tree,” Winn repeated, reaching his other arm over to undo the zipper. “The lightning tree.”

Alex glanced at Maggie, who, thankfully, also seemed confused. To be fair, she didn’t even know about the lightning tree, but still.

“The tree where you…”

“Leslie. Yeah,” Winn finished for her with a nod. He didn’t seem to be too bothered, but Alex could’ve sworn he saw him flinch at the memory of what had happened, what he’d done. But he quickly got over it, trying to now maneuver himself to a more upright position.

“Winn,” Alex said, holding onto his arm a little tighter now. “Winn.”

Winn finally stopped. “What?” He folded the piece of paper that had the binary code printed on it and put it in his pocket.

Alex gave him a look, trying to get him to slow down, to explain.

“What’s the lightning tree?” Maggie asked when they were both just staring at each other.

“It’s where…I electrocuted Leslie. I…it was an accident, I didn’t…” Winn shook his head again. “But we need to go back.”

“Why?” Alex asked.

“I can’t tell you. But we need to.”

He started to push himself up off the ground but Alex, a bit more roughly now, pushed him back down.

“You are not getting up right now, and you’re sure as hell not leaving this cave. Not like this,” Alex said, shaking her head. “Not while it’s pouring outside.”

“But we need to.”

“Why? What do you need to do?”

“I told you, I can’t tell you. You have to trust me. And we have to go, soon,” Winn said, glancing outside. “What time is it?”

Winn didn’t wait for Alex to tell him and instead grabbed her wrist, checking her watch himself. It was a little past six o’clock. He dropped Alex’s hand and shook her grip off his arm.

“I guess we can wait a little while, but we need to get there before…” Winn’s eyes darted around the cave as if looking for something. “We’ll bring the crossbow and…I guess some other stuff…” he wasn’t paying attention to them anymore.

Maggie leaned into Alex’s side. “You don’t understand what’s going on either, right?”

“Nope.”

“Do you think it’s his fever?”

Alex shrugged. “Maybe. Winn,” she said a little louder, to get his attention again. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah. Well, I mean, I will be, if you two can start listening to me and getting our stuff ready. I’m doing all the work right now, and I’m the one who’s sick.”

“Winn, seriously. You need to slow down for a second and tell us what the hell’s going on, or else we can’t help.”

Winn reached for the canteen and stuffed it in the backpack. “Yes, you can. You can trust me, and listen to me, and do whatever I say without question.”

“Right. That’s going to happen,” Alex deadpanned, crossing her arms over her chest.

Winn paused and let out a sigh when Alex raised her eyebrows at him.

“Okay. I know we might be safer staying here. And that I’m sick, and it’s pouring, and it’s going to get dark soon, and this is not a good thing to be doing. I get that. But,” he held up a finger when Alex tried to interrupt him, “it’s important. We need to be there in time. And I really don’t want to go back to that tree for…various reasons, but this is…I mean, we can…” he smiled a little bit again, but trailed off. “You’ll have to trust that I can’t tell you, but I promise that it’ll be worth it.” He nodded. “If everything goes right, it’ll be worth the risk. And you’ll thank me, later.”

Alex was still very, very confused, but Winn had this look in his eye Alex couldn’t really name. But it was somewhat working, unfortunately.

For some reason, this was important to him. Whatever that note from the parachute said…it was important.

Alex glanced at Maggie, who seemed to be waiting to see what Alex would say. Like she’d go wherever Alex went.

Alex looked back at Winn, who pouted.

Alex almost groaned. He was so much like Kara. It was like he knew that the pout worked, every time.

“Dammit,” she muttered under her breath.

Winn beamed as he carefully wiggled his leg out of the sleeping bag and continued gathering more of their stuff to take with them.

“Can you at least tell us who the note is from? Is it from J’onn?”

“Can’t tell you that.”

“Of course,” Alex muttered. Maggie squeezed her hand and started helping Winn.

As of now, their plan was to trust Winn.

…That was it.

And Alex couldn’t help but think that that sounded like a horrible plan.

Why were even leaving the cave?

It was nice in here. As nice as it could be.

Going out into the forest again meant that anything bad could happen to them.

And especially Winn, whose temperature was probably over a hundred degrees and did not need to get any higher.

“Do you still have Siobhan’s arrowhead?” Winn asked Maggie.

Maggie nodded and got it out of her jacket pocket.

That must’ve been her token, and Maggie must’ve taken it before Alex had taken her berries.

“Okay, we need to make that into an actual arrow so we can put it in the crossbow, and then…” Winn said, mostly to himself.

Alex had pretty much given up now on figuring out what the hell was going on, especially since Winn didn’t want to finish any of his sentences. Maggie seemed to be on board, going along with it, so Alex decided she’d do the same.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alex said for the umpteenth time as the three of them trekked through the forest.

Alex had the backpack, as usual, Maggie had the crossbow, and Winn insisted that they could leave some of their stuff at the cave as they wouldn’t need it anymore. Like they weren’t going to go back anytime soon.

And the way Winn had looked back at the cave after they’d left made her wonder if that was the last time they’d ever see it.

Winn couldn’t walk very fast at all as his left leg was still hurting him and every wince made Alex more and more nervous and opposed to this non-existent plan. That leg had a fractured ankle and an infected thigh wound—it was basically useless and causing much more harm than good.

“We need to find a long, thin stick. As straight as you make it,” Winn said, ignoring Alex’s remark for the umpteenth time.

“I think you’re asking the wrong people,” Maggie said with a smirk.

Winn only cracked a small smile at Maggie’s comment and kept going. “It would be great if it was dry, too, which I realize is impossible. But if he’s right about it still being there, then…” Winn trailed off, yet again.

Alex and Maggie glanced at each other when they both heard ‘he.’

Maybe they could try to get Winn to tell them what was going on without him knowing.

But Alex had a feeling that he would, if he could.

For some reason, he didn’t feel like it was safe, or something, to tell them. He was a terrible liar, and also terrible at keeping secrets and being subtle, so this was…this had to be something big. Something he knew was important enough to keep from them, for now. To prevent…what, exactly, Alex didn’t know. To prevent someone from getting in trouble? From getting hurt?

The note had been in binary code. That meant that either the person who wrote it knew Winn would be able to read it and no one else could, or they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place.

But if it wasn’t meant to be in their possession, then wouldn’t the Gamemakers who were in charge of everything—especially the contents of the packages sent to the Tributes—have stopped them from doing whatever it was Winn was trying to do?

Winn suddenly stopped and tilted his head up to face the raindrops pounding down on them.

Alex looked up, too, to see what he was trying to see.

There were no dark clouds, which meant the storm was programmed, although they couldn’t see the sun.

Winn pursed his lips. He asked Alex what time it was, got an answer, and continued walking.

Alex and Maggie followed him from a few feet behind to make sure he was always in their line of sight and they weren’t walking too fast so that he’d be able to stay with them.

And every time Alex asked him if he wanted to rest, he shook his head, gritted his teeth, and kept going.

“He’s going to hurt himself even more doing this and he’s definitely not going to get any better. I shouldn’t have…we shouldn’t be…” Alex shook her head. “We need to go back. This is a very stupid plan that’s not an actual plan and we don’t even know why we’re out here.”

“Alex, I think we should just—”

And Alex didn’t mean to, but she flinched away when Maggie tried to reassuringly touch her wrist.

Alex had stuck her hands in her pockets to keep them warm and was trying not to be very aware of what was in one of them.

But Maggie’s fingers almost touched one of those berries and Alex instinctively reacted.

Maggie very quickly pulled her hand back, a worried look on her face, and Alex tried to play it off.

“Sorry,” Alex said quickly. “I didn’t…I-I’m not…my hand is…really cold.”

She laughed a little bit and zipped up the pocket before grabbing Maggie’s hand and holding it in hers.

“This is better, actually, so…” Alex then said with a smile. Maggie still looked kind of suspicious, but Alex tried to change the subject. “What were you going to say?”

She should get rid of them. She should find somewhere to drop them, because it was making her anxious, having them. But…she might need them.

It took a second before Maggie seemed to push whatever it was she was thinking aside, thankfully, and answer.

“Well, I was going to say that we should probably just trust him. I mean, this is clearly…something. I don’t know what it is, but he seems to think that note was important, and that we need to do this. And, you know, we’re a team, so…we should trust him.”

Alex pursed her lips and then noticed Maggie was still looking at her like she was trying to figure out the cause behind that reaction she’d had.

“I mean, if he’s not telling us, it’s probably for a reason. He would tell us if it was something he thought we should know, right?” Maggie asked, and Alex had a feeling she wasn’t talking about Winn anymore. Alex tried not to flex her fingers in Maggie’s hand. “If he wants to tell us, he knows we’re here and want to know what’s going on. Because it’s probably important.”

Alex was pretty sure she was not hiding her guilt very well at the moment because the concern on Maggie’s face wasn’t disappearing,

Alex opened her mouth and then closed it again.

And while she was debating whether or not tell her, Winn let out a little, “Ah, dammit,” and braced his hand on a tree trunk.

Alex looked back at Maggie, and Maggie nodded and squeezed her hand before Alex let go.

Alex went up to Winn and straightened him up again. “Winn, if we’re gonna keep going, let me at least carry you.”

Winn shook his head. “I don’t need—”

“Here,” Maggie said as she materialized beside Alex, “put your arms over our shoulders.”

“I’m fine. You guys don’t need to—”

“We are currently blindly trusting you with a plan we know absolutely nothing about, so please, at least let us help in the only way we can,” Alex said. “Or else I’m going to pick you up—and I know you won’t be able to fight me—and bring you all the way back to the cave.”

Winn finally sighed and reluctantly nodded.

Silence seemed to envelop the three of them as they concentrated on going as fast as they could while listening for anyone who might be around. And trying not to feel like the rain was seeping through their clothes and soaking them to the bone.

After a while, Winn told them when, before, he’d been in the area the lightning tree was in, he had tried to make a lean-to for shelter on the base of one of the trees that was probably still there.

“You slept on the ground?”

“Well, what was I supposed to do? It was raining as hard as it is now, my ankle was all jacked up, and I couldn’t climb a tree for a while. And even when I finally did, I probably should’ve waited longer, so…” Winn paused. “I have no idea how I survived without you. It was pure luck,” Winn said with a smile. “And I also don’t know how we—” he tilted his head towards Alex “—survived without you, Maggie.”

Alex couldn’t really see Maggie’s face, but she tilted her head down.

“Pure luck,” Alex echoed. Maggie looked over at her for a second, and Alex smiled but it faltered when she saw Maggie knit her brow.

Winn let out a little laugh. “Seriously,” he agreed.

Then, he suddenly stopped them in their tracks and seemed to perk up.

“Oh, there it is!” he exclaimed, lifting his arms off their shoulders, a bit of a hop in his step now as he walked faster towards it.

That’s the lean-to?” Alex asked as she and Maggie followed him.

She wasn’t sure if it was because it was dark, but it looked like…

“It’s absolute crap, I know. But I had about half an hour of training on how to do these damn things so don’t judge it,” Winn said, pointing a finger back at her, and Alex backed off. It was probably about as good as she’d be able to do.

“If you had added another branch to even it out on that side, it would’ve—”

Winn shifted his finger towards Maggie. “Don’t judge it,” he repeated. Maggie put her hands up in mock surrender, and Winn glared at them before turning back to it. “So, okay, it was that way,” he turned to the right, “I think, and…it’s, I mean, we should be able to see it from here.”

And as if to prove him right, the next lightning flash that lit up the forest was about ten times brighter and Alex could’ve sworn she saw the actual lightning rod hit the top of one of the trees not too far from them.

Alex told Winn the time—it was a little before eleven o’clock—and he nodded, the gears turning in his head again.

“We have an hour to find a branch that’ll work with that arrowhead and the wire.”

He started limping towards the tree now, and Alex quickly went after him.

“Wait, the wire?”

“Yeah.”

“But…I thought that you didn’t have it anymore. I thought it was taken, with Leslie,” Alex said. “That’s why we needed to go back to the Cornucopia, that’s why we needed Maggie.”

“Well, yeah, I thought it was gone. But, apparently, it’s not. The note says it’s there. Stuck somewhere in the tree.”

“Really?” Alex asked, and Winn nodded.

“We need to find it and get it down.”

“I guess you two could’ve blown up the camp yourselves then, huh?” Maggie said lightly.

Alex was pretty sure their plan wouldn’t have gone half as well without Maggie, if they had the wire or not.

Alex tried to figure out this mysterious plan now that she had more information. But she couldn’t see how an arrow, a crossbow, and the wire were going to help them. And why it was so important to be doing this right now, before midnight.

They all got to work gathering numerous sticks from Winn’s lean-to and the forest floor, trying to weed out ones that wouldn’t work to make a functional arrow.

A lot of them were too small, too wet, or too crooked, which meant they wouldn’t make the arrow fly far or straight.

Alex volunteered to go up the tree to retrieve the wire and, sure enough, it was there, tangled in the branches. It took her longer than it should’ve to get it out without scratching it—or herself—up too much. Her leg was throbbing by the time she hopped back down, and she was afraid her gash was going to start bleeding again but had to hope it wouldn’t.

While she was doing that, Winn said Maggie had to do a part of the plan, but still didn’t explain to her, or Alex, what exactly the outcome of doing it would be. All they knew was that Maggie had to be ready to use the crossbow and fire the arrow exactly where Winn would tell her to when it was time.

It was getting closer and closer to midnight and Winn seemed to be getting more and more nervous and, if Alex was reading him right, a little excited, for some reason.

But when his nervousness seemed to be taking over, Alex went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Winn, hey,” Alex said softly, and he looked at her. “Whatever this is, whatever is going on, it’s gonna be fine. I’m here, we’re here, so…if anything bad happens or this plan doesn’t pan out, then we’re here with you. Okay?”

Winn nodded, and Alex swore she heard him mumble, “God, I hope this works,” before he gave her a quick hug.

Alex then turned to Maggie, but she wasn’t beside her anymore.

Maggie was a bit of a ways away, pacing, now seeming to be mirroring Winn’s nervousness.

Did she know what was going on? Or was it about something else?

“Go,” Winn said, and Alex glanced at him. “’Cause it’s almost midnight and I need her back here.”

Alex squeezed his shoulder and went over to her. Maggie didn’t look up until Alex said her name, and once she did, Alex quickly grabbed her hand and led her over to a tree so they could stand under it to keep out of the downpour.

Maggie looked upset about something and Alex wracked her brain for what in the world it could be about but couldn’t come up with anything.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked.

Maggie shook her head, which meant she was either trying to pretend it was nothing, or she didn’t want to tell her what it was.

“Talk to me, Maggie. Please,” Alex tried, moving some of her hair away from her forehead and her cheeks. She tilted up Maggie’s chin to get her to look her in the eye.

“I—I don’t…” Maggie stuttered out, taking a deep breath in and letting it out. “What’s going to happen?”

“What?” Alex asked. “You mean with the plan? I have absolutely no idea. But Winn says—”

But Maggie shook her head again. “No, I mean, what’s going to happen if it gets down to us three? What are we gonna do?”

Alex dropped the smile.

They’d almost had this conversation yesterday, but Maggie had tried to avoid it. And now she wasn’t, apparently. It was as if she’d just now realized that putting it off and skirting around the topic wasn’t really going to help them in the long run.

And whatever was happening with what Winn was trying to do was putting all three of them on edge, as if they could sense it was something important. Something big.

Alex was trying to think of what to tell her, but Maggie beat her to it.

“I think it should be you and him,” Maggie said.

Alex furrowed her brow. “Wh—”

“I wanted to win, for Jamie,” Maggie quickly continued. “And only for her.” She swallowed as if trying not to start crying. “I-I almost died like she did, but you…” Maggie smiled the tiniest bit. “You saved me. And for the longest time I thought that that was the universe telling me that I deserved not to go the way she did. That I should try and win this thing. To do what she didn’t have a chance to do. But I think…” she glanced down and licked her bottom lip. “I think you and Winn deserve to get out of here a lot more than I do.”

Alex shook her head. “Maggie—” she tried again, but Maggie wasn’t finished.

“You need to go home to her, to Kara. I mean, I would…I would give anything to have Jamie back. Anything,” Maggie said firmly, but with a soft smile that Alex knew was meant to reassure her. “And I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I took someone’s sister away from them.”

No.

No, no, no.

Maggie was not saying all of this. She wasn’t…

Alex didn’t want to believe that this could’ve ever crossed Maggie’s mind.

That she was saying it now as if she’d thought about it a lot, as if she’d already decided that this was what was going to happen.

“And Winn, too,” Maggie continued quickly before Alex could say anything. “He’s just a kid. And I bet he would love to have someone like you around. He told me that…well, he’s probably already told you, so I know that you would give him the family he’s always wanted. And I don’t…I don’t have family to go home to, anyway,” Maggie said as she pursed her lips, tears threatening to fall. “No one needs me.”

Maggie tried to look down again, but Alex just cupped her cheeks.

Alex hated how much Maggie seemed to believe what she was saying. She hated how much her little comments made sense now.

And she hated how much she’d probably have to do, to say, to change her mind.

“You’re wrong,” Alex said sharply. She was a bit angry, and tried to speak softly, but forcefully. “I need you, okay, Maggie? I need you.”

Maggie tried to shake her head once again, but Alex wouldn’t let her.

Alex could’ve listed a million reasons as to why she needed Maggie in her life.

Alex tilted her face up, giving Maggie ample time to pull away, and captured Maggie’s lips in her own.

She tried to pour everything she felt into it, tried to tell her everything she couldn’t say out loud, tried to make Maggie realize how much she mattered to her.

Maggie looked even closer to crying when Alex reluctantly pulled back.

“Winn needs you, too,” Alex said after a moment. Maggie glanced at Winn, who seemed to be frantically trying to get their attention, and Alex dropped her hands from Maggie’s cheeks to grab onto her hands. “It’s 11:57, Winn, give us one more minute,” Alex told him before she focused back on Maggie. “See? He needs you. I don’t know what for, or why, but he does. And I need you in my life, Maggie. I need you to keep me from going crazy from dealing with him,” Alex said next, and Maggie managed a small smile. “Or…or when I go crazy from dealing with myself. Or when I’m being ridiculous.”

Maggie smiled even more. “You’re ridiculous all the time,” she said quietly.

Alex let out a little laugh. “Yeah, well,” she shrugged. Then she thought that maybe she should tell her, say it out loud. And before she could change her mind, she did. “That’s probably because I’m ridiculously in love with you.”

Maggie’s face slowly softened into a sort of disbelief.

Alex wasn’t sure if this was a good time to say that, but she was pretty sure there wasn’t going to be a good time, and Maggie needed to know. It was probably now or never anyway, right?

Maggie was silent, and the look on her face reminded Alex of the last time she’d told Maggie how she felt about her.

Alex always seemed to have really bad timing for these kinds of things.

But Alex wished Maggie would say something. It didn’t even have to be…

“And…and, um, you don’t, you know…” Alex stuttered out, glancing down at the ground, “we should probably do the…Winn needs us for whatever it is, so…I just wanted you to know. You don’t have to say…right now, or…or ever, if you don’t—”

Maggie let go of one of her hands and tilted her chin back up. She had a smile on her face again, much bigger than last time. “I love you, Alex Danvers,” she said with no hesitation, not breaking her gaze.

And the tiny bit of hope Alex could feel in her chest that Maggie would say it, that Maggie would go against all the odds and love her back, grew and grew and grew in her chest until she let it envelop her.

“Yeah?” Alex practically whispered. Just in case she heard her wrong or misunderstood somehow. Just to make sure.

Maggie nodded. “Yeah.”

Alex wasn’t sure what she’d done to deserve someone like Maggie, but she wasn’t going to question it.

Maggie started to lean in again to kiss her, but then—

“Guys!” Alex heard Winn exclaim. Alex almost jumped; she’d kind of forgotten he was there for a moment. “Jeeze, you two are useless. Come on, get over here. You’re cutting it really close. Maggie, you need to shoot this thing like, right now.”

Alex glanced back at Maggie, who was beaming as she pulled Alex after her towards Winn again.

“Where do I shoot it?” she asked him.

Alex squeezed her hand as Winn shoved the crossbow and the arrow—which now had the wire tied to it as well—into Maggie’s arms before letting go.

He pointed upwards and Alex followed his line of sight, trying to spy what he was looking at.

“You see that shiny part up there?” he asked her. Alex didn’t see it, but after a second, Maggie nodded. “Right there,” Winn said. He lifted up Alex’s watch again, it was basically midnight.

Maggie notched the arrow in and pointed it upwards. “Does it have to be exactly, ‘cause it’s kind of hard to…with the rain—”

“Oh, my God, Maggie, shoot it! It’s midnight, isn’t it?” he seemed to ask no one in particular.

“I want to make sure—”

“Just shoot the damn thing so we can get out here!”

Alex and Maggie both whipped their heads around.

“What?” Maggie asked.

Alex’s heart started to beat faster.

Did he just say—

“Shoot it!” Winn exclaimed.

And before Alex could get out anything other than, “Wait—” or figure out what was going on or wrap her head around what Winn had said, the arrow was out of the crossbow and sailing through the rain, up and up and up, the wire trailing behind it.

Maggie’s aim was almost perfect, and half a second after it stuck into the dome that encased the arena, the lightning struck the tree.

And then the ground beneath their feet began to shake as cracks formed in the sky and chunks broke off, hitting trees and making smoke billow around them.

Alex found herself on the ground as the static shock let out a high-pitched screech. She coughed and couldn’t open her eyes as dust threatened to creep in.

She couldn’t hear herself calling out for Winn and Maggie, couldn’t crawl blindly to try and get to them, couldn’t breathe very well.

She could’ve sworn she heard the familiar thrumming of helicopter blades and wondered what was happening, what they’d done.

Because she was pretty sure Winn had just had Maggie destroy the force field.

She didn’t know how much time had passed, but suddenly she could feel the presence of someone right next to her. She slowly, carefully, pried her eyes open, blinking and covering them. She still couldn’t see much.

And then the person was grabbing her arms roughly, shoving a bag over her head, and lifting her to her feet.

“What the hell—”

She didn’t get to finish as a rope, or something, was tied around her waist and she heard something else clip, attaching her to the person who was touching her.

She felt secure, though, and not very long after, her feet weren’t touching the ground anymore.

She wiggled, trying to get out of the person’s grip as she could hear the distinct, rapid zipping sound of a rappelling rope.

Her stomach swooped as they travelled faster now, even higher, and Alex didn’t like this. She didn’t like being handled by someone she couldn’t see, didn’t like not knowing what the hell was going on, didn’t like the feeling that she was probably much too high in the air now that if she fell she wouldn’t survive, didn’t like—

The zipping stopped, and Alex attempted to detangle herself from the person as she was, again, being handled not so nicely and her hip slammed onto a metal floor.

She could hear wind whipping past her face, the blades of the helicopter deafening now, and she swore she heard Winn saying her name in the midst of all this as the bag was ripped off her head.

Alex quickly, without thinking, rolled away and stood up a little too quickly.

But when she finally looked around, bracing her hand on something, she realized she was in a helicopter.

And the first person she recognized was J’onn.

The couple of other people clad in all black, head to toe, including the guy that had been strapped to her, were strangers.

“Alex,” J’onn said loudly to be heard, and Alex was still now, as if she’d seen a ghost. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Alex’s eye caught Winn behind him, also being detached from another man, and he was carried to a place with medical tools and equipment. A red-haired woman who looked like a doctor started to work on him, and specifically his leg.

Winn looked fine, although exhausted and dirty from the rain and dirt that seemed to cake his skin, his hair, and his clothes.

“Alex,” she heard J’onn say again, and she finally looked back at him.

At J’onn.

Who was here.

Who had his small smile that Alex was so used to seeing on his face as he came closer to her.

Words didn’t seem to want to escape Alex’s throat as she tried to figure out what had happened, and what the hell was going on.

The door to the helicopter slid closed and was locked, trapping them in, the wind no longer so loud now.

But she didn’t feel trapped, because J’onn was there, so her brain realized that whatever was happening, it would be okay.

Except that something felt wrong. Something about this felt wrong.

It was like her brain was working in slow motion, trying to do a million things at once.

“Winn’s going to be fine,” J’onn said next when Alex remained silent, as if he knew she was worried about that, too.

“What’s…what are you…where— what’s happening?” Alex said, tightening her grip on the bar she was holding onto for dear life so she wouldn’t collapse from sheer shock. Her head was pounding again, and she was trying to calm herself down. The helicopter started to move, faster than she thought helicopters were supposed to move, but all Alex could focus on was J’onn.

J’onn was here.

That was good.

That was good, right?

And Winn was okay, too.

She couldn’t even be happy, or feel…anything. Surprise and confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she couldn’t move or…function.

She wasn’t in the arena anymore. She was in the air. Free.

So why wasn’t she relieved that she seemed to be safe?

“I needed Winn to put a crack in the arena’s dome so that I could come get you.”

Alex furrowed her brow. “Wh— how…are we going back to the Capitol? Is it over? A-are the Games over?”

J’onn shook his head, pain and worry flickering across his face for a moment. “No.” He came closer and hesitated to reach out to her, but Alex probably couldn’t have fought him off if she tried. And she didn’t really want to, anyway. “No, but I needed to get you out of there,” he told her.

But that…that didn’t make sense.

He wasn’t allowed to. He’d had them basically destroy the arena.

“But…why?”

J’onn spoke slowly, imploring Alex to let every word sink in as he said, “I’m taking you and Winn to District 13.”

Chapter Text

If Alex thought she was confused before, it was nothing compared to how confused she was now.

And even when J’onn started to explain, started to tell her everything, it was like half of her brain was listening while the other half was still trying to process that she wasn’t in the arena anymore.

J’onn told her about how he’d been contacted by someone from District 13 after they had recognized Kara when she’d been chosen at the Reaping.

He told her about how he’d been working with them for weeks, planning and strategizing on how they could get them out of the arena.

He told her that M’gann had been the one sending them most of the parachutes this entire time.

He told her that it was M’gann he’d entrusted with sending that note down to them by sewing it into the parachute. How he knew that the tree and Winn—at this point he’d turned to look over his shoulder at Winn with the proudest smile she’d ever seen on his face—were the keys to getting them out.

He told her that he’d been trying to figure out how to get her tracker out of her arm—as that was the only way he’d be able to take her and ensure that they wouldn’t blow the whole operation—but she’d done it herself when she was in the lake.

He told her that Winn hadn’t had a functional tracker for weeks now. That the arrow Rick had shot at his arm on their third day in the arena had punctured it. That Winn should be dead, and that the poison should’ve been a silent killer. But it was because the arrow had hit the tracker that Winn had felt that sharp pain before the poison could spread through his blood stream, and M’gann had been able to send down the antidote.

He told her that Kara and Eliza were already at District 13, and that they would be there in a matter of hours if everything went well.

And some part of Alex realized she’d be seeing her sister and her mother again, which made joy and relief flicker inside of her.

They were safe. And Kara was home again.

She’d begun to think it would be impossible to ever get her home.

But she’d be seeing both of them, soon.

She’d begun to think that that was impossible, too.

Except that all Alex could hear while J’onn was telling all her this was, ‘you and Winn.

It was like a mantra in her head.

You and Winn, you and Winn, you and Winn.’

And then…it clicked.

And she realized why it hadn’t clicked before.

J’onn was overloading her with information, not allowing her brain to catch up or process everything fast enough. Not allowing her to figure it out until it was too late.

J’onn’s mouth was moving, and Alex balanced herself as the helicopter dipped again slightly to the left, and Alex saw Winn behind J’onn on the medical examination table, some sort of oxygen mask over his mouth now, but he seemed to be out of focus.

Alex blinked as she realized how small this helicopter was, and how trapped she suddenly felt.

“…picked them up yesterday afternoon and everything went fine. They should be waiting for you when we arrive. I haven’t been there yet myself, but—"

“What about Maggie?”

Alex’s voice was quiet.

So quiet that J’onn shouldn’t have been able to hear her over the white noise that seemed to fill the room and Alex’s ears.

But J’onn paused.

He didn’t move, didn’t even twitch, but it was precisely the fact that he didn’t that made Alex become very aware of every breath she took.

“J’onn,” she said when he didn’t say anything, but it sounded like a plea.

It meant, ‘Please tell me there’s another helicopter.’

It meant, ‘Please tell me she’s okay.’

It meant, ‘Please tell me you didn’t leave her there.’

And when he didn’t answer, it became a warning.

Alex tightened her fist around the bar she was holding on to. She swore the ringing in her ears was getting louder.

J’onn eyes flicked to her hand.

And then he lunged for her.

But Alex was already spinning around, and she slammed her fist against the glass that separated her from the cockpit, from the two pilots manning the helicopter.

Hey,” she shouted when the pilots hadn’t reacted, didn’t even seem to realize she was there. “Turn this thing around.”

“Turn it around,” she shouted again, accenting it with another bang of her fist, even though she knew the glass was sound proof.

But she didn’t care.

She didn’t care, even when she felt J’onn come up behind her and pin her arms against her sides.

She shoved her shoulder forward. “Turn us around!”

She lifted her legs up as J’onn tried to drag her back, drag her away from the glass, and kicked her heel at it.

She didn’t even realize she was starting to cry.

She continued to try and fight off J’onn’s grip on her. She grunted as she threw her body weight forward, but J’onn held on tighter.

She would break that glass if she had to.

“Alex—”

“Get off of me,” she growled, and J’onn immediately loosened his grip, which caused Alex to have to grab onto the bar again to balance herself.

She turned back around to face him, but when he reached out for her, she took a step back.

J’onn stopped in his tracks.

Her voice was hoarse as she croaked out, “Tell them to turn us around.”

J’onn shook his head. “Alex—” he tried again.

“Take me back.”

She was finally free. It was over. She was out.

But it meant nothing.

She never…she never thought she’d ever want to go to the arena, but if Maggie was still in there, alone

She’d go to hell and back to get her out.

“I can’t, Alex. I won’t,” J’onn said firmly.

“Why?” Alex asked, and she could feel her voice shaking. “Why did you leave her? Why isn’t she here?”

“Because she still has her tracker in her arm,” J’onn started to explain to her, slowly. “If I had taken her, too, it would’ve compromised this entire operation. I couldn’t risk it.”

Alex clenched her jaw and shook her head, telling J’onn he’d have to come up with a better excuse than that.

“Why didn’t you tell one of us to take it out?”

“That would’ve been too suspicious, Alex. All three of you with no trackers? They would have known. I barely convinced the people I’m working with that we had to take Winn, too. We needed you. But I knew that you wouldn’t let me take you alone. Believe me, I wish I could have retrieved Maggie, too. I know how much she means to you. But I promise that—”

“Why me?” Alex interrupted him, her brow furrowed, her voice quieter now. She didn’t bother wiping tears off her cheeks.

J’onn looked at her. “They need you. They want you to…” he tilted his head down, and it made Alex think that whatever it was, maybe he didn’t like it. “They want you to be the face of their…”

“J’onn,” Alex said, trying to get him to continue.

She was very aware that every second they were getting further and further away from the arena, away from Maggie.

J’onn finally looked up again. “There’s an organization in District 13 they call the DEO. That’s where these agents are from,” J’onn told her, gesturing towards one of the men, the one that had been assigned to her. He was sitting with two other agents, strapped in on pull-out seats. The man gave Alex a little salute, but Alex focused back on J’onn. “They got in contact with me because they’re trying to lead some sort of revolution to emancipate the Districts and take down the Capitol. And they need you.”

“Why?” Alex asked when J’onn paused again.

Why would they need her?

She wasn’t special.

She was just…Alex.

“I don’t know,” J’onn said.

But then the agent piped up. “Our President believes that you can rally the Districts,” he said, and Alex and J’onn both looked at him. “You’re the Girl on Fire. Even those assholes, the Capitol citizens, care about you and Maggie. Everyone wanted to see you win the Games. But we couldn’t guarantee that.”

And Alex became even more confused, which she didn’t think was possible. Because yes, they both could’ve won.

Alex never would’ve let it happen, because that would’ve meant Winn was dead. It could’ve happened, though. Looking at it from a logical standpoint, it most likely would have gotten down to the two of them.

But then J’onn explained. “It was never going to be two, Alex. They were never going to allow two winners. They made that rule because the audiences wanted you and Maggie to think you could get out together. Because it was likely that it would get down to you two at the end, and they were going to change it back. They allowed that rule only so they could rip it away. That’s what they do.”

Alex looked between J’onn and the agent.

This was…it was too much.

She needed to sit, or something.

The way J’onn was explaining it, it was like the Capitol, the Gamemakers, didn’t care about Winn. He wasn’t even part of the equation.

That’s probably why they didn’t try to fix his tracker. They were convinced he was going to die, so why bother?

They didn’t care about any of them.

But this organization, this thing J’onn called the DEO, needed Alex for their ‘revolution.’ She was supposed to be the face of it, for some reason.

She was the Girl on Fire.

And then she remembered that it was M’gann who had made her the Girl on Fire.

M’gann had donned her with that flaming suit during the ceremonies.

M’gann had given her a red dress to wear to the interview. And Alex wondered if it was to further cement the image of Alex surrounded by red, by flames.

M’gann was the one who had promised to make everything better. She’d told her that getting her sponsors, getting people to care about her, was her job. And Alex knew she was good at it.

Maybe a little too good.

But then Alex thought about something else.

Because from what the agent and J’onn were telling her, it sounded like…

“You don’t need me,” Alex finally stated after it had been silent for a while. “I’m not enough.”

Now J’onn looked confused, which made Alex feel a bit smug that she’d managed to turn the tables for a moment.

“You need Maggie, too,” Alex continued. “If your…your President or whoever thinks that I’m enough to spark some revolution, then he’s wrong.”

“She,” the agent butted in again. “President Grant is a woman.”

Alex shrugged and crossed her arms over her chest. “Whatever. She’s wrong. She’s wrong, because the audience doesn’t care about me alone. They care about Maggie, too. They care about…us,” Alex said, and her voice hitched. “Together.”

Alex swallowed as she could feel her heart start to ache.

Before J’onn could speak again, she continued.

“You need both of us for this revolution,” she said. She didn’t really believe in this revolution they were planning, but she could certainly use it to her advantage. “The two of us would be a much better image. District 1 and 12—”

“Star-crossed lovers, from essentially opposite Districts,” J’onn finished for her quietly, repeating what Winn had said all those weeks ago.

Alex pursed her lips and nodded the tiniest bit.

“Exactly. Which means that you need to tell them,” Alex said slowly, starting to back up again towards the glass, “to turn this helicopter around, so we can go back and get her.”

J’onn sighed. “It’s too late now.”

And that made Alex more frustrated.

“No, it is not too late. It is not…” Alex took a deep breath in, trying to keep herself calm as she could. “I am not leaving her there.”

“I was trying to tell you—I promise that we are already planning to go get her, once we can figure out where she is. We need to see how they respond to this, what they’re going to do.”

Alex shook her head. “That’s…that’ll be too late, J’onn. We need to get her now. The Capitol, they’re not going to be happy. They’re going to hurt her. They’re going to…I mean, she hates them. She hates them, and they know it. They’re going to take her and do…who knows what they’re going to do,” Alex said, her voice getting louder again. “They know I’m alive, so why not use her to get to me, huh? If they were even a little bit smart, they know I’d do anything to get her back. And why not punish her for hating them? For blaming them for her sister’s death? Why not teach her a lesson while they’re at it?”

“Alex—”

But Alex wasn’t finished.

“You need her. She’s the reason Winn and I were able to get out of the arena. I know that you sent the note down to Winn, but what would you have done if Maggie wasn’t there?” Alex asked. “I don’t know how to use a crossbow, and Winn doesn’t either. So how would you have gotten us out? Who would’ve shot the arrow?” She strode forward now. “She is the reason we are out. She destroyed the force field. And you left her there, alone.” Alex’s voice cracked. “You left her.”

God, she couldn’t even imagine what was happening in the arena right now.

Had the dust cleared? Was the force field completely destroyed?

Was Maggie okay?

Was she—

Alex clenched her jaw. She couldn’t even think about the possibility that she might be…

And what was the Capitol going to do?

Would they be able to restore the force field?

Would they stop the Games entirely?

Max and Veronica were still in there, too.

What if one of those two found Maggie before the Capitol did?

J’onn was looking at Alex, pain etched across his features, and Alex felt a tear fall down her cheek because she knew what he was going to say before he even said it.

Nothing she said would matter.

It had already been decided, and she wasn’t going to be able to change his mind.

“I’m sorry,” J’onn said, standing his ground. “I am so sorry that we couldn’t bring her, and that we cannot go back. They would shoot us out of the air the second they saw us. And we need to get Winn to the medical bay. I promise I will do everything I can to bring her to District 13 when we know, and as soon as we know, what is going on.”

Alex clenched her jaw and then took her lower lip between her teeth as her breaths turned ragged again.

It was like J’onn didn’t know her as well as she thought.

Because if he did, then how in the world could he ever think she would be okay with this?

How could he think that taking her but leaving Maggie would be the best course of action?

Yes, he’d taken Winn, too. And Alex was grateful for that. She didn’t want to know what she’d be feeling, what she’d do, if he’d left both of them and taken her alone.

Her and J’onn usually didn’t see eye-to-eye, but…he was always on her side.

She could always count on him to at least understand and listen to her point of view. And most of the time, he let her do what she needed to do.

And this time, he wasn’t even willing to try. He wasn’t willing to risk everything for someone he knew was important to her.

It was like she didn’t know J’onn as well as she thought she did.

When J’onn hesitantly reached out to her, Alex took a step back.

Don’t touch me,” she practically whispered.

J’onn pulled his hand back and looked defeated, but he nodded as if he’d expected that.

Alex created more distance between them until she bumped into something, and she slumped against it, sliding her back down until she was sitting on the floor.

She wiped her cheeks, and looked behind J’onn again.

The doctor was still working on Winn’s leg and the mask was probably drugging him to numb the pain as he hadn’t said a single word this entire time.

It was silent for a minute, until the few agents started to talk to each other about…something Alex didn’t feel like trying to listen to.

After J’onn went to check on Winn and talked to the doctor in low tones, he pulled out a seat not too far from Alex and away from the others, strapping himself in. Alex looked down at the floor, clenching her fingers into a fist.

But she lifted her head up when J’onn started to speak again.

“I think of you as my own daughter, Alex. And I know you might not like me very much at the moment, or even hate me, but I hope that you can forgive me. I didn’t want to do this. This wasn’t my choice. I fought them on this, and I said that you would not be doing anything for them until we have Maggie, too.” He let out a breath. “I would’ve done anything to get you out, to get you home. I saw you take those berries,” he looked at her, and Alex focused her gaze back on the ground. “I knew that if I didn’t get you out myself, you weren’t coming home. And District 13 is not exactly home, but your mother and Kara are there, safe. Much safer than they would be in District 12. And Winn will be there, too.”

He paused, and Alex tried to pretend she wasn’t listening. Like she wasn’t hanging on to every word he was saying.

“He asked me to take care of you,” J’onn continued. At the mention of her father, Alex sucked in a breath. “So that is what I’m doing. He didn’t even have to tell me to, but I promised him I would. If anything had happened to you, if I hadn’t been able to keep that promise, I…” he faltered, and it was so unlike him that it made Alex shift in her spot. “I don’t know what I would have done. I know that you would have been more than okay with me taking Maggie and Winn and not you, but I couldn’t do it. And I know you can’t understand that,” he said. Alex could feel his eyes on her. “If anything happens to Maggie, you can blame me. I can take full responsibility, and I will carry that burden with me. And I will probably lose you. But it’s worth it, for me. To see you safe, and with your family again.”

Alex didn’t think she’d seen J’onn seem so…vulnerable before.

But he was right.

Alex couldn’t understand.

If she had known what was going to happen, she would’ve gladly stayed in the arena if it meant Maggie and Winn would be guaranteed safety.

He was wrong about something else, though.

No matter how angry Alex felt at the moment, she didn’t hate him.

She didn’t think she could ever hate him. Even when he’d done something like this, which frustrated her.

“When we arrive at District 13,” J’onn started up again when Alex didn’t say anything, “Winn has to be taken straight to the medical bay and he might have to go completely under for them to work on his leg. And I can’t get in contact with M’gann at the moment, but I’m told the control room has cameras hacked into almost every station the Capitol runs. The second we know where Maggie is and they determine they can get her safely, they’ll send a team. I was told they already have one standing by. Does that sound okay to you?”

J’onn settled back in his chair when Alex didn’t answer.

Because no, it didn’t sound okay.

She hated this.

She hated…everything about this.

The Capitol could do whatever they wanted to Maggie. And Alex wasn’t there to make sure they wouldn’t hurt her.

Maggie was alone.

And she was probably going to think that Alex and Winn had abandoned her. Or that something bad had happened to them.

Maybe they’d already taken her out of the arena.

They had to know that Alex would want to come back for her. That she would come back for her and she would find her. No matter how hard they tried to hide her, no matter how long it took. No matter how many people she had to go through.

No matter what.

Alex didn’t move from her spot on the floor for hours, even when the helicopter went through choppy air waves, even when she had to grab onto the bar again to prevent herself from sliding around.

The only time she moved was when the doctor had given her new clothes—mostly black—and hung up a curtain around her. She gratefully changed into them, figuring she must smell and look disgusting, because the clean clothes felt so foreign on her skin.

She remembered to take the candy out and put it in the pocket of the new jacket. She watched as the doctor took her old one, along with the berries in it, away.

She hoped they’d burn it.

The new clothes made her uncomfortable, too. Because it was like she was erasing the past few weeks from herself, slowly, as they travelled further and further away.

But she was still in arena, in a way. It felt like her heart was still there.

And then, after what seemed like forever, they were slowing down and the helicopter’s movements seemed more precise.

It wasn’t until they landed in District 13 and the blades were no longer so loud anymore that Alex started to get nervous.

Maggie and J’onn and her worries and frustrations with everything that was happening had been swirling around her brain, occupying her thoughts.

But now her thoughts turned to other things.

The air lock on the door opened with a hiss and Winn was the first one to get out. He was lying on the stretcher and Alex took one last look at him before they hurried him down a tunnel.

Because they hadn’t landed outside. They were already underground. A gray cement floor and walls were all Alex could see as she, too, hopped down from the helicopter, her hair still whipping around her face.

She could tell J’onn had wanted to help her down, could sense her increasing nerves taking over, but he stayed away.

J’onn, Alex, and the other agents didn’t go down the same tunnel. She figured that was why J’onn had told her Winn had to go to the medical bay, or else she’d have been worried that they were taking him away.

It felt like the longest walk Alex ever had to do.

After they’d turned a couple corners, gone through a few code-locked doors that various agents had to open, their footsteps echoing as Alex turned the candy over and over and over in her hand before stuffing it back in her pocket, they were at the last door.

“Ready?” J’onn asked her, looking over his shoulder, his hand on the handle.

Alex took a deep breath and let it out. And then she nodded.

J’onn let her go in front of him as he pushed the door open, and immediately, Alex could hear commotion.

There was a crowd in the large room they entered, and Alex guessed the people were the various agents’ friends and family, waiting there for them to come home safe. It was a little too loud, a little too much, and one agent bumped her as he went to someone.

But Alex didn’t really care about them.

She didn’t care about looking around, about registering that she was actually in District 13, that it was real. Her feet seemed planted to the floor.

She began to get worried and was sure her heart was going to beat right out of her chest, until—

“Alex!”

And it was like the whole world paused for a moment.

Alex barely locked eyes with her, barely had a chance to prepare herself, barely leaned down and opened her arms instinctively before Kara had pushed her way out of the crowd and ran towards Alex at full speed, a smile on her face as she barreled into Alex with enough force to knock her over.

Alex staggered back but somehow kept herself upright as she wrapped her arms around her sister’s small frame and lifted her up higher off the ground.

Kara’s legs hugged her hips and Alex squeezed her eyes shut as they started to sting, one hand cradling the back of Kara’s head.

Alex ran her fingers through Kara’s blonde locks, trying to grasp that she was here, that she was happy to see her.

She swore she heard a tiny, distinct click of a camera, but she was too overwhelmed with the feeling of holding her sister in her arms again that nothing else mattered.

She didn’t care that she couldn’t breathe very well as she held Kara tighter, which she didn’t think was possible, when Kara grabbed onto the fabric of her jacket.

And the sheer relief she felt when Kara started to whisper, “I love you. I love you so much,” made Alex smile as she realized just how much she’d wanted, she’d needed, to hear her say that.

She didn’t know how long they stood there, clinging to each other, but Alex would’ve gladly stayed in that spot forever.

When Alex finally opened her eyes and blinked a couple times to make everything seem a little less blurry, she saw Eliza standing a few feet away, mirroring the smile on Alex’s face.

Alex felt her heart start to beat a little bit faster again, and it seemed as though Kara sensed that and knew exactly why. Kara squeezed her one more time before slowly loosening her grip, and Alex reluctantly started to let her go.

Kara’s feet touched the ground and Alex looked down at her to see tears on her cheeks, but she was beaming. She looked a little bit tired, too, but that was probably because it was the early hours of the morning.

Alex looked up again at her mother still standing in the same place, not moving. Kara let go of Alex’s hand and moved to the side.

Eliza brought her hands together in front of her as if itching to reach out to her, and she looked nervous.

But she waited, as if not sure what to do. As if wanting to see what Alex was going to do.

And Alex realized, despite everything, how much she’d missed her.

Alex let out a little, “Mom,” and she saw Eliza’s hands still and before she could think too much about it, Alex took two steps forward and hugged her.

Eliza seemed surprised, and it took a second before Alex felt her wrap her arms around her shoulders and she seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

In that moment, Alex was a little girl again. She was just a girl who had been away from home for too long and missed her mom more than she wanted to admit.

She was just a girl who had the weight of the world on her shoulders and was carrying a burden that was a bit too heavy and needed her mom to take some of it away.

“I-I’m so sorry,” Eliza started to say, her breath hitching, and Alex felt her shoulder start get damp. “For everything. I promise…I promise that—”

“Mom,” Alex said, to stop her, “We can talk later, okay? Later.”

Eliza nodded against her and they stayed there for a moment longer before she slowly pulled back, sliding both her hands to Alex’s cheeks. She looked at her as if she couldn’t quite believe she was there, that she was alive.

And for the first time in what seemed like forever, Alex saw what looked like pride in her eyes and heard it in her voice.

“My beautiful girl,” Eliza said softly. “My brave, brave girl.”

Alex felt herself smile and then Eliza’s eyes caught something over Alex’s shoulder. Alex turned her head to see Kara pulling out of J’onn arms before practically bouncing on her feet back to Alex.

Eliza’s hands dropped, and the smile faded from Alex’s face as J’onn eyes flicked to hers when Eliza hugged him as well and Alex could’ve sworn she heard Eliza say, “Thank you, for bringing her back to us.”

“Winn’s here, too, right? And Maggie?” Kara asked as she grabbed Alex’s hand again.

And that seemed to break the spell.

Alex tried not to let her fingers tense up, but they did. Kara immediately stopped searching for them and instead tilted her head up at Alex, who, as much as she wanted to, couldn’t seem to meet her eyes.

“Winn had to go to the medical bay, but he’s here,” J’onn answered, still looking at Alex.

Alex clenched her jaw and it was silent, except for the rest of the people in the room who were still chattering to each other.

Kara furrowed her brow. “So, is Maggie not…” she started to say, and something in J’onn and Alex’s faces must’ve tipped her off to what was going on, what had happened. “They cut the video off right after Maggie said...” she trailed off. “But you…I thought that…I said Alex and I thought that you could get all of them out.”

Alex was a bit confused, but J’onn sighed. “I couldn’t.”

Alex scoffed and Kara’s hold on her hand was the only thing keeping her from getting angry again.

Alex could sense Kara’s next question, but she didn’t really feel like listening to J’onn try to explain himself.

But she didn’t even get to interrupt him before, out of the corner of her eye, she spied what looked like the control room J’onn had been telling her about before.

It was a separate room off to the side elevated by a couple steps and blocked off from the rest of the room by a floor-to-ceiling glass window.

There were about ten television screens and agents frantically hurrying around.

And Alex realized that it was because static was taking over most of the screens, but one or two of them were starting to show something.

Alex immediately dropped Kara’s hand, hoping she’d follow her but knowing she wouldn’t go as fast as Alex needed to right now, and pushed her way through the throng of people a little roughly, not caring if she hurt anyone at the moment.

“Excuse me,” Alex said quickly, loudly enough for people to start getting out of her path before she reached them. “Sorry, excuse me.”

She ran up the steps and pushed open the door, which, thankfully, was unlocked, and ignored the protests of the agents she made a beeline for the screens.

All her eyes were focused on was the screen in the middle that was beginning to show the clearest image.

She could see the tops of trees.

Hundreds and hundreds of pine trees.

And then, just like that, the image brightened and sharpened and was no longer flickering in and out.

Alex could see the Cornucopia, and she leaned her hands on the desk, trying to steady herself.

It was, unmistakably, the arena.

But it didn’t look destroyed.

The screen switched to show Max, who looked half dead. There were bags under his eyes and his clothes were practically falling off his body. But he was leaning against a tree, seemingly very lost and confused.

And then he was gone, and Veronica replaced him on the screen.

She was doing much better than Max. Alex didn’t recognize the field of tall grass she was kneeling in, looking around like she was trying to figure out what was going on. She must’ve been in the Northern part of the arena this entire time, keeping out of everyone’s way and managing to survive until the rest of them had wiped themselves out.

And then…

“Maggie,” Alex breathed out as the screen switched yet again.

Maggie was the only one of the three who didn’t look confused.

She was standing, looking around and up through the trees as if trying to see the sky. She seemed more worried than anything, and like she was about to start crying.

Alex reached her fingers out to touch the screen.

And it was then that she started to get the feeling that the Games were not quite over just yet.

Chapter Text

Alex had a feeling the Games weren’t quite over just yet…and she was right.

She didn’t take her eyes off of Maggie when the announcement boomed over the loudspeaker a moment later.

“Attention Tributes…we’ve had some technical difficulties, which caused us to have to put you out for a couple of hours. Everything is back up and running now, and the Games will continue. Alex Danvers and Winn Schott from District 12 have been eliminated. We are only allowing one winner to be crowned the Victor of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games. So good luck to the remaining, and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

The speaker clicked off.

Alex watched as Maggie paled at the mention of her and Winn, at the fact that they had been eliminated.

Maggie, Max, and Veronica had stopped what they were doing and looked up to the sky when the announcement started.

Max and Veronica didn’t seem to be too phased by it, but Maggie…

Maggie shook her head as if not wanting to believe it. And then she slumped against a tree and slid her back down like her legs had given out.

Alex gripped the edge of the desk harder as Maggie sat there, her face shifting from shock to confusion to pain until she pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead, tightened her fingers into a fist in her hair, and curled her legs towards her chest, blocking herself from view of the camera aimed at her.

Alex clenched her teeth together and hit her fist on the desk, maybe a little too hard.

Eliminated could only mean one thing in the Games.

They were purposefully keeping the close-ups of the Tributes—they’d only shown part of the sky once before when the cameras were turned back on.

How had they managed to fix it so fast?

Alex was sure they—Maggie—had destroyed the entire force field. And the damage from it surely wouldn’t have made the arena easy to clean up so quickly.

But somehow, it looked perfectly normal.

The Gamemakers and the Capitol were pretending it was technical difficulties and they’d put the three remaining Tributes to sleep.

Alex turned, and J’onn was right behind her.

Alex was still pissed at him and didn’t want to talk to him, but he was the only person right now that could do anything about this.

“She thinks we’re dead,” Alex managed to get out. “She thinks we’re dead, J’onn, a-and that it’s probably her fault, and—”

J’onn had been watching the screen, too, but now he focused fully on Alex.

“Alex, I know it’s hard, but I need you to calm down,” he said softly.

Alex looked at him incredulously. “Calm down?” she all but exclaimed. “You…” she almost laughed. “You want me to calm down? She’s still in there. She thinks we’re dead. The Games aren’t over yet.”

“I know.”

“Well then how in the hell can you expect me to be calm?”

“Because if you were, then maybe you’d realize what’s going on,” J’onn said.

“What?” Alex was not in the mood for guessing games. She couldn’t understand how J’onn could keep his stoic demeanor while Alex felt like her world was falling apart.

Alex saw Kara come in the door to the control room out of the corner of her eye but didn’t focus on her at the moment.

J’onn gestured to the screen. “Take a second, and think. Tell me what you see. What are they doing?”

Alex furrowed her brow, but J’onn gently turned her back to face the screen.

It was split into three, focusing on each Tribute.

Maggie was in the middle, Max on her left, Veronica on her right.

Max had a quiver of arrows near him that Alex hadn’t seen before, Maggie had…well, nothing, it looked like. Alex wondered where the backpack was. Veronica probably still had most of those knives Alex had seen her take from the Cornucopia during the feast.

But other than that…

“I don’t…I don’t know,” Alex said quietly, still not getting what J’onn was trying to do.

“Did you see the sky earlier, when the video first came back on?” J’onn asked, and Alex nodded. “Did it look normal?”

“Yeah, but I don’t see what that has to do with—”

“They’re pretending nothing happened. They can’t let the audience know that the force field was destroyed, that you and Winn are alive,” J’onn said. Alex glanced back at him as Kara came up beside her, her attention torn between Alex and the screen. J’onn continued, “They couldn’t keep the video feed down for long, or else people would start asking questions. But how could they have fixed everything so fast?”

Alex forced herself to slow down and think, and then...

“They couldn’t.”

J’onn nodded. “Exactly. It’s most likely a projection. Maybe the arrow only impacted the top of the dome, and the sides are still intact. And they must go up high enough that the Tributes won’t be able to get out. But the top is a projection. I would bet on it.”

“So, does this mean we can get her out?”

A tiny bit of hope started to bloom in Alex’s chest, but it was quickly dampened when J’onn shook his head.

“No. We can’t do the same thing twice, that would be a suicide mission. But if the Games are continuing as normal, if they’re pretending everything is normal, then all Maggie has to do is win.”

Alex almost scoffed.

All she had to do was win.

Easier said than done.

Alex ran her hand through her hair, trying not to get worked up again, but she couldn’t help it.

She looked back at the screen, not wanting to take her eyes off of Maggie even for a minute in case something happened.

Alex felt like she was a million miles away from her.

And watching her sit there, not being able to see her tears but knowing they were probably there, made the pain in Alex’s chest grow.

“But we can’t guarantee that she’ll win. We can’t…what if Max or Veronica…I mean, one of them might—”

“You don’t think she can win?” Kara asked.

“No, of—of course I do,” Alex said quickly. She’d always thought Maggie was going to win. But there was always a slight possibility. “I just…what if something goes wrong, or…”

“When she wins, they’ll take her out of the arena and back to the Capitol,” J’onn told her, ignoring her worries. “And they usually spend a day or two nursing them back to health. Then she’ll have her interview after they show a video of the entire Games. We’ll be able to leave, then.”

Alex didn’t know how Kara and J’onn could be so optimistic about this.

Alex knew she should be, too, because if anything, she believed in Maggie.

Maggie could win.

But Max had arrows, and Veronica had knives.

And based on the conversation they’d had right before everything happened, and the fact that Maggie now thought both Alex and Winn were dead?

Alex wasn’t sure if Maggie would try. If she would want to win.

Maggie shifted slightly in her spot and briefly moved her hand away from her face. Her eyes were red, and she didn’t bother wiping tears off her cheeks. Alex watched as she dug her hand behind her back and pulled out the walkie talkie, setting it on the ground next to her, and then her knife.

Alex almost breathed a sigh of relief. At least she still had a knife.

She was looking at it strangely, though. Like it was more than just a knife, like it meant something to her, and Alex couldn’t figure out why. It didn’t look special in any way.

Maggie ran her fingers down the handle of it slowly and bit her lip.

“That’s the knife,” Kara said quietly, and Alex briefly looked away from Maggie and at her in question. Kara smiled. “That’s the knife,” she repeated.

And Alex realized a moment later what she meant.

That must be the same knife that had almost killed Maggie that first day. The one Alex had pushed her out of the way from.

She still had it?

She’d managed to keep it with her this entire time?

Maggie smiled the tiniest bit, but it quickly disappeared as she tightened her grip on it.

Maggie didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get up. She didn’t seem to care that she was basically out in the open. She was usually more defensive, guarded. But she looked…defeated.

Max probably wasn’t near her although he was definitely in the forest, and Veronica was far enough away that Alex didn’t have to worry about her yet.

But Max also didn’t seem to be doing so well. Alex wondered what had happened to him, because he looked pretty beat up.

Alex’s attention turned to Maggie again as she took something else out from her back pocket.

Alex leaned forward as if that would get the camera to zoom in, and it did.

It looked like Maggie was holding a picture, a square picture barely the size of her palm, in her hand.

And Alex realized she’d never found out what Maggie’s token was. Maggie had never told her, and Alex had never asked. It wasn’t exactly something she felt like she could ask. Maggie had probably figured out that Alex’s watch was hers, as it wasn’t part of the clothes they’d been given.

And, if Alex had to guess even though she couldn’t see it, she’d say that Maggie’s was a picture of her sister.

Maggie finally rubbed at her eyes, and Alex could barely hear her breath shake when she tried to breathe deeply in and out, in and out.

Alex felt Kara put a hand on her shoulder as if she could sense her starting to tense up, to get frustrated again.

Alex could practically feel Maggie’s pain in her own chest, and it was too much to handle.

She should be there.

Maggie shouldn’t be alone. Alex couldn’t believe she was still in there.

And that to get out…she’d have to win.

All she had to do was win, Alex repeated to herself.

But the Gamemakers weren’t going to make it easy for her.

Alex sucked in a breath as the first fireball landed about ten feet in front of Maggie.

“What the hell,” Alex breathed as her heart started to beat faster.

Maggie scrambled to get up and, rightfully, looked panicked.

She started running.

And the fireballs kept coming.

“What the hell?”

Maggie had been sitting there crying, and now she was running for her life as balls of fire chased her through the forest, each one getting closer and closer to hitting her.

Was it because nothing was happening?

Max and Veronica weren’t in a hurry to do anything, to go after each other and try to win, but the fireballs were only aimed at Maggie. It didn’t seem like it had been long enough for the Gamemakers to think people were getting bored. Unless…

Maybe they were punishing her. Maybe they were doing this because although Maggie didn’t know it, the Gamemakers and the Capitol knew that Alex and Winn had escaped, and were alive. And Maggie had essentially destroyed their force field.

And if they were going to blame anybody…

They hadn’t even let Maggie sit there for too long and let the announcement fully sink in.

The fireballs didn’t stop falling until one of them had grazed Maggie’s leg and she let out a yelp of pain and could only keep herself upright for a couple more steps before she basically collapsed onto the ground again.

The screen focused only on her now as her face scrunched up and she was breathing hard as she gently touched the burnt skin area, which was almost the entire right side of her calf. That part of her pant leg was gone, burned off. She just as quickly pulled her fingers back.

It felt like Alex was being punished, too.

She didn’t even notice Kara had pulled over a chair for her to sit in, but she sank down onto it because she didn’t think she could stand up anymore.

Maggie didn’t have any burn cream, or anything really, and no parachutes were being sent down to her.

Alex hated this.

She hated that she had to sit here.

She was forced to watch, and wasn’t able to do anything, as Maggie was in pain, was being punished for something that wasn’t even entirely her fault to begin with, was convinced that she and Winn were dead, was alone.

And maybe that was the point.

They weren’t just punishing Maggie.

If they knew Alex was still alive, then they knew that she was probably watching this.

Alex put her head in her hands, torn between wanting to look at Maggie and not wanting to see her like this.

And somehow, time passed, albeit excruciatingly slow.

“You’re so much like her,” Kara said to her a little while later.

Alex’s legs were getting sore from being tensed up in the chair for hours. She hadn’t moved more than a couple feet away from the screen.

She tore her attention away from Maggie, who seemed to be trying to fall asleep after searching for water for hours. Maggie was sitting on the ground, her eyes closed, not even bothering to climb a tree or look for shelter. It was like she didn’t care if anyone found her.

Alex saw a small smile on Kara’s face.

Alex’s eyes were also sore from crying, which she’d tried not to do but it was hard when Maggie had started to again.

Alex didn’t know what time it was, but she didn’t bother to check. It must be almost noon now, she guessed. Alex couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept.

“Mom sat at the square every day and every night, watching over you,” Kara told her as she wrapped her arms around Alex’s shoulders and leaned her head against hers.

“Did she go home?” Alex asked, concerned. Because she’d known her mother wouldn’t handle it well, but if she forgot to take care of Kara, then—

“At first, no,” Kara said truthfully. Alex could feel herself becoming angry, but Kara quickly continued. “But then she realized what she was doing, and she did. She realized she didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, and that she had to take care of herself, too.”

Alex turned her head back towards the screen.

The doctor had come by earlier to check on her—and specifically her head. She’d given her some kind of nutrition pill to swallow, trying to tell her something about her stomach having shrunk in size after not having eaten much and needing a strict diet for a couple of weeks until they could get her body weight and strength back up. Alex hadn’t really been listening, so Eliza had taken over and discussed exactly what she needed. Eliza had then come back with yogurt and fruit juices and tried to feed them to her, but Alex couldn’t get herself to eat very much.

Eliza had left her alone after that, promising to come back later after she checked on Winn and made sure they weren’t doing a surgery they didn’t need to do. She seemed to purposefully not be staying around the screens, not wanting to watch now for some reason.

Alex had also vehemently opposed leaving to take a bath or a nap, which she supposed was what Kara was talking about. But those things didn’t seem important at the moment.

“I’m afraid that if I leave…something bad is going to happen,” Alex said. Like many horrible things hadn’t already happened.

Maggie still wasn’t able to fall asleep, Alex could tell. She’d seen Maggie sleep, the one or two times she had stayed awake later than her. Maggie’s whole body would untense, but not fully. Her hand would hover over her knife, her breaths wouldn’t be as deep as Alex knew they should be.

It was like she was always partly awake.

But now, she was still fully awake, only not as alert. Or at least not trying to be.

“Did you watch?” Alex then asked. She already knew that Kara had watched because she’d sent her the candy, so she must’ve seen her in the cave. But what she was really asking was how much.

Kara nodded. “Not as much as Mom, but I…I saw most of it, yeah.” She paused, and Alex was waiting. Alex tried not to flinch, as she had a feeling about what was coming next. “What were you going to do with those berries?”

Alex pursed her lips and stared at the screen but didn’t really focus on it.

Alex knew that Kara didn’t even need to ask, that she most likely already had an inkling.

“I thought about you every day,” Alex said quietly. “And I wanted to come home more than anything, but I don’t…” she shook her head. “I wanted them to go home, too. I don’t think I would’ve been able to live with myself if they were gone and I was alive.”

“And what do I think I would’ve done if you were gone?”

Alex finally looked back over at her when Kara leaned away. Alex didn’t blame her for being a bit angry, she’d kind of expected it.

She didn’t know how to answer Kara’s question. But she tried. “It’s different in there, Kara. In the arena. I didn’t know how to want to come home and also want them to go home because I couldn’t. They deserved to get out of there.”

“How did you feel when Maggie told you that?”

Alex blinked as Kara raised her eyebrows.

When Kara put it that way…

She’d hated it. She’d absolutely hated that Maggie thought she was expendable. That no one cared about her, that no one needed her.

Alex shook her head. The berries didn’t matter now. They didn’t matter. She and Winn were safe, and Maggie wasn’t. The berries were gone. She didn’t want to think about it anymore.

“I was going to get rid of them. I promise, I was going to. I just—” Alex started to say, but was cut off.

Alex whipped her back to the screen when the loudspeaker clicked on yet again.

Alex hadn’t been paying attention to what J’onn was doing. She’d seen him talk to several agents and disappear for a while and watch the screen over her shoulder and disappear again. But now he was fast-walking back over to Alex, because the Gamemakers had another announcement.

This time, however, it was for a feast.

They declared that there was a backpack for each of the Tributes containing something they needed. And that they would be available at the Cornucopia at 6PM.

No explanation of what was in the packs, nothing else.

Maggie’s eyes snapped open and her head had whipped up when it started. Now, she glanced at her leg. And Alex realized why she wasn’t getting sent medicine.

But Alex didn’t want her to go. To go to that feast surely meant certain death.

Max probably needed some medicine, too, or food. And Alex had no idea what Veronica needed, but she seemed to perk up at the announcement.

“They want it over. They want the Games over as soon as possible,” J’onn’s voice broke through Alex’s thoughts. Alex looked at him. “Making them all meet in one place…”

Alex clenched her fist again in frustration, and Kara took it in both of hers, trying to soothe her.

If Maggie didn’t go, then maybe Max and Veronica would battle it out and that’d be one less person for her to worry about.

Maggie seemed conflicted. Alex hoped she would realize how dangerous it was and was leaning more on the side of not going.

But Maggie was looking at the picture of her sister again and, after a minute, she sort of…straightened up.

She steeled her expression, not quite looking so forlorn anymore as she had been for hours. She brought her knife out from behind her back again, and her jaw twitched. Then, she tilted her head up to look at the sky and clenched her fingers around the picture and the knife.

She seemed to take a deep breath, and tried to stand. It was difficult, but she managed to cling onto a tree trunk and pull herself up.

Alex could practically feel anger and determination radiating off of her.

And Alex knew then that something had shifted inside her.

That she was going to go to the Cornucopia and finish these Games herself.

Alex, surprisingly, found herself wanting to smile.

Maggie’s skills paired with a desire to win? To do what her sister never got to do? To beat the Games that had taken her sister away and basically ruined her entire life? And going against two people who’d tried, and were almost successful, in killing her before?

Max and Veronica didn’t stand a chance.

She still had six hours until the feast, but Alex guessed it would take that long for her to make her way over there. It looked like at least a second-degree burn on her leg, from what Alex could tell.

But if Maggie believed that she could win? Then Alex was going to believe, too.

Alex turned to J’onn again.

“You promise that as soon as she’s out, we’re going to get her? Before they can do anything to her?”

J’onn nodded. “Right before the interview would be the best time to leave. They have a celebration for the Capitol residents the night of. We’re trying to get in contact with M’gann to see if she’d be able to help make sure Maggie’s okay until then. But she has to be cautious now. We can’t give them any reason to suspect she’s involved in this or with us.”

Alex furrowed her brow. From what it sounded like, M’gann was still in the Capitol. Alex had assumed she was in 13, too, but…

“M’gann’s in the Capitol?” Alex asked, to clarify.

J’onn looked uncomfortable, or bothered. “Yes, she is,” he answered after a moment. There was something in his voice that made Alex keep prodding.

“Why isn’t she here?”

“She believes she can help us better from there.”

Ah, Alex thought. Yeah, definitely something.

She should’ve known. J’onn didn’t trust just anybody. And trusting M’gann with something as important as watching over Alex while he’d gone to make plans with the DEO? Trusting her to help them escape, too?

Alex hadn’t really thought about what might’ve happened wherever J’onn and M’gann were stationed in the time she was in the arena, but something was definitely going on.

It actually made a smile tug at Alex’s lips, despite the situation, despite everything.

Alex glanced at Kara, who was grinning as she also seemed to realize what was going on, too, even though she had no idea who M’gann was.

“Did you tell her?” Alex asked him next.

J’onn didn’t seem nearly as confused as Alex expected, but rather surprised that Alex was talking to him this long without yelling at him. “Tell her what?”

“That you wanted her to come to 13? That you want her here? With you?”

J’onn didn’t let his face give anything away, but he was trying too hard and that made Alex sure that she was right. J’onn narrowed his eyes, and Alex waited.

“Yes,” he finally answered. “I did. But she believes she can do more good helping us from there.”

“Well, she doesn’t have to. I mean, she could come anyway. She’d definitely be much safer in 13, especially now.”

J’onn shrugged. “If I had any say, she’d be here with us, too. But I cannot make her choice for her. If she wishes to stay there, then there’s nothing I can do.”

And Alex realized that maybe she wasn’t the only one who had to leave someone they cared about behind. She should’ve thought more about J’onn’s side, his perspective, on this whole thing. He was trying to do everything he could, to the best of his ability. He’d already risked so much for her, and he was willing to risk a lot again for Maggie. And doing all this while he had no idea what was happening to M’gann?

Although Alex still wished that Maggie could be here now and that she was safe, not knowing what was happening to her would be worse.

Alex knew exactly where she was, how she was doing. She was slowly hobbling through the forest towards the Cornucopia. And once she won—because Alex had to believe she would or else her thoughts would start spiraling down a very deep, endless black hole—Alex would find her and make sure nothing bad happened to her ever again.

And maybe when Alex got there, she’d make sure M’gann came with them, too.

------

Maggie looked exhausted, which wasn’t good.

It was almost 6PM, and Veronica was getting closer to the Cornucopia as well. They hadn’t shown Max in a while, but Alex was sure he’d make it there on time.

Alex thought Maggie could’ve passed out any minute, but she soldiered on, slowly but surely.

Maggie paused to take a break, and she was closer than she probably thought. She started to walk—well, limp—again.

Alex glanced at her watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. Four minutes.

It was slowly getting darker.

Alex guessed it would all be over in fifteen minutes, tops. Alex hoped with everything she had that Maggie would come out on top.

She, more than anyone, deserved it.

J’onn had been in and out of the room, and was now in the room, constantly pacing and putting a hand up to his ear like he had some sort of radio device in it. He’d been keeping people away from Alex, letting her have the screen all to herself—and Kara.

Kara had been sitting by her side, not leaving except to go to the bathroom and bring back more yogurt and food for the both of them to eat. Alex’s stomach felt queasy at the thought of what was going to happen, so she hadn’t been able to eat much more than Kara forced her to.

She briefly wondered if she should ask Kara to ask Eliza how Winn was doing as she hadn’t heard anything about him all day. But he had to be fine. He was here, he was safe, Eliza was checking on him. Maggie was who she should be worrying about right now.

And then, suddenly, it was six o’clock.

Kara turned Alex’s hand over and intertwined their fingers to stop Alex from fidgeting.

The camera cut away from Maggie and Veronica, and a rectangular shaped hole opened up from the ground a little ways away from the front of the Cornucopia, a table rising out of it before it shut closed again. The table had three backpacks on it—two with District 1 printed on them and one with District 4.

Alex guessed Maggie’s was the smaller District 1 pack, as she only needed burn cream.

Maggie kept limping forward and then stopped in her tracks when she saw the table. Alex couldn’t help it as she squeezed Kara’s hand tighter, but Kara didn’t seem to mind (or at least she didn’t say anything).

Maggie twirled the knife in her hand a couple of times as if absentmindedly and kept her body pressed against a tree trunk, out of view. Alex wondered if she had a plan.

The screen switched back to the table.

It was silent in the arena and the control room as everyone waited with bated breath.

And then—a blur.

It took three seconds for Veronica to sprint out of the trees towards her backpack. Just as she was about to grab it, a knife—Maggie’s knife—stuck into the shoulder blade of her throwing arm and she cried out in pain.

Alex sucked in a breath as Veronica looked panicked for a moment before she realized that Maggie had given her another knife.

Alex could see at least five different sized knives stuck in her belt loops already, and she yanked Maggie’s out with a hiss and darted her eyes around in the direction it had come from, no doubt looking for her.

Alex shifted in her spot as she realized that Maggie did not, in fact, seem to have a plan as she started to run as best she could right towards Veronica.

Alex didn’t have a lot of time to wonder what the hell she was doing, but Veronica’s surprise made her pause for a moment before she gathered herself and, faster than Alex could blink, the knife was out of her hand and sailing towards Maggie instead.

Maggie ducked, but Veronica already had another knife out and ready and positioned to throw.

And Alex realized that Maggie was trying to get close to her.

Veronica was basically unmatched when it came to far range fighting, but close, hand-to-hand combat? She probably wasn’t nearly as good as Maggie, and Maggie knew it.

Maggie managed to grab the second knife Veronica aimed at her out of the air, but by the blade instead of the handle so it cut into her hand. She clenched her jaw and switched the knife to her left hand, not bothering with the one bleeding at the moment.

Alex could tell Maggie wasn’t as used to fighting with her left hand, but she still managed to swing and stab and swipe the knife as she employed attack and defense moves Alex could barely recognize one after the other, after the other when she got close enough faster than Alex thought humanly possible. And she was definitely right—Veronica did not have the upper hand anymore.

Veronica managed to fight back pretty well, but it wasn’t long before Maggie kicked her down to the ground and immediately let out a small noise from the back of her throat as she injured her leg in the process.

But Maggie gritted her teeth and lowered herself over Veronica and the knife over her stomach.

The camera was at a bad angle, but Alex could only watch as Maggie’s dirt and now blood-stained face from when she’d tried to wipe her hair away from her forehead with her right hand scrunched up in pain as she dug the knife deeper into Veronica’s stomach. Veronica’s mouth locked itself open in a silent scream and Maggie shut her eyes, tight, as if she didn’t want to watch.

Maggie’s mouth started moving and Alex couldn’t hear what she was whispering, but knew what it was.

And then tears mixed with the dirt and the blood on her cheeks as soon as the cannon went off and Maggie immediately pushed herself off of Veronica and stumbled, landing on the ground.

And now, just like that, there were two.

“…you’re hurting me. Alex, you’re hurting me.” Kara’s voice, although quiet, jolted Alex’s gaze from the screen.

Alex let go of Kara’s hand, which she hadn’t realized she’d been squeezing so tightly that her knuckles had gone white, and fixated her eyes on the screen again. “Sorry, I’m—I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she heard Kara say, and felt her lean against her arm instead. Alex gripped the chair—she needed something to hold on to.

Maggie was on the ground and she stayed there for a minute, breathing, until she started to crawl towards her backpack. She gripped the edge of the table and pulled it down onto her lap, digging her hand in. She quickly applied the burn cream that was in there to her leg and relief immediately crossed her face, which made Alex start to breathe normally again.

“Shit,” Alex whispered as she put her head in her hands. She was not going to start crying. She wasn’t even in the arena. Maggie was the one going through hell right now.

Alex wondered where Max was. Alex hoped he’d stay away until Maggie was up for fighting again, because she looked like she needed a break.

But, of course, the Gamemakers weren’t going to give her one.

Maggie threw whatever was in Veronica’s backpack aside (as it was a tiny medicine bottle she didn’t need) and had finished stuffing a chunk of the loaf of bread from Max’s backpack into her mouth and taking a swig from a canteen they’d also provided him, when a scream come from the forest.

“Is that Max?” Kara asked, and she got her answer a minute later.

Maggie tensed and managed to pull herself up, now holding two of Veronica’s knives in her left hand before she spotted her own knife Veronica had thrown at her stuck into the tree.

She was looking around, cautiously moving towards the tree, towards the forest now to retrieve the knife. As soon as she managed to pull it out, another scream echoed, louder this time.

Two seconds later, Maggie’s eyes widened as she saw Max sprinting towards her and she looked ready to attack him, but he ran right past her, screaming the entire time.

Alex heard a small, “What the hell,” come out of Maggie’s mouth as she watched Max run towards the Cornucopia.

And when she faced the forest again, she saw what was chasing him, what was causing him to scream like that.

What looked like a pack of two dozen wolves but much, much larger were bounding through the trees and Maggie almost tripped as she tried to turn around quickly and follow Max.

It seemed like her fear and adrenaline were enabling her to run faster than she should’ve been able to, and she spotted Max trying to climb up the side of the Cornucopia, the slick surface making it hard for him to get a good grip.

The wolves—actually, creatures, Alex decided to call them as she didn’t know what they were, and they were too big to be wolves—were about twenty feet behind Maggie as she ran past Veronica’s body, past the table that held the feast. When she was close enough, she leaped for the top edge of the mouth of the Cornucopia and hooked the tips of her fingers onto it. She grunted as she swung her body and managed to pull herself up just as the creatures got close to her and one’s mouth barely missed her boot.

Max, unfortunately, had been able to slowly get himself up onto the top of the Cornucopia as well, the quiver of arrows and bow still slung across his back.

Maggie and Max didn’t even have time to deal with each other before the creatures started to jump, trying to climb up the sides of the Cornucopia.

“What are those things?” Alex asked nobody in particular.

“I have no idea,” J’onn replied. “I’ve never seen them before.”

But it didn’t matter what they were. All Alex cared about was that they seemed to be able to jump very, very high, although they couldn’t quite reach the top of the Cornucopia where Maggie and Max were standing.

Max started shooting arrows into the creature’s chests and mouths, and Maggie looked conflicted about getting close to stab them as the knives she had were short, but she did. The creatures were barking and growling and jumping, their claws scraping the Cornucopia, not giving up on trying to attack the two of them.

But there was one that made Maggie stop, made her freeze, and Alex squinted at the screen, trying to discern what caused her reaction.

She looked like she’d seen a ghost.

And, after studied it closely for a moment, Alex realized that the creatures were designed to resemble each Tribute.

The one that was attacking Maggie now, the one that made her slip and fall on her back, made her push herself away from the edge, from it, looked like Alex.

Even though it was dark, it was obvious that this creature had a longer body than the others and more auburn-colored fur, but it was the eyes that gave it away. Kara gasped as she, too, saw Alex’s brown eyes that the Capitol had someone managed to make look as realistic as possible.

Maggie glanced at Max and back at it as it bit and clawed at the Cornucopia, and she turned around, away from it, to deal with the others. She was breathing heavily and then she shook her head as if trying to get it out of her mind as she stabbed another one.

“Oh…they’re mutations,” J’onn said quietly, and Alex couldn’t look away from the screen. “Mutts, I’ve heard them called. They’re not like regular wolves, they’re not going to stop.”

Alex guessed that there were twenty-two of the mutts in total, one for each Tribute. And she wondered whether the one that looked like Winn would go after Maggie, too.

Max and Maggie had been successful in killing several each, but there were too many of them, and Alex could practically feel Maggie becoming more exhausted as time went on. Every once in a while, she’d glance over her shoulder and deliberately avoid the left side of the Cornucopia.

What they needed to do was finish the Games, Alex realized. They both needed to ignore the mutts and go after each other. The Gamemakers would have no choice but to call them off once the Games were over.

And it seemed like Maggie realized that at the same time Alex did.

Maggie was now watching Max every couple of seconds, probably figuring out how to either kill him or have one of the mutts finish him off.

Maggie’s attention was fixated on him and just as she was about to go after him, one of the bigger mutts managed to hook its teeth onto her jacket.

Alex sucked in a breath and her whole body tensed up as the mutt started to drag Maggie, who was on her stomach now, towards the edge of the Cornucopia.

Maggie tried to kick it off of her and craned her neck over her shoulder, fear rising rapidly in her expression before she bent her arm at an awkward angle and managed to flip herself over, getting one arm out.

Her knife—the knife—was scraping along the top of the Cornucopia, emitting a high-pitched screech, and Maggie plunged it into the material, halting her descent for a moment.

The mutt tugged harder at her jacket, but Maggie used the last of her strength to drag herself back up, the material ripping off her back as the mutt held onto it. Maggie immediately kicked with both her feet at the mutt’s muzzle and it let out a yelp as it tumbled back onto the ground below.

Maggie only took another second to gather herself before yanking her knife back out of the Cornucopia and glancing at Max before focusing on getting up again to get a better angle to attack him from.

And Alex almost shouted Maggie’s name even though it was useless because Maggie didn’t even have a chance to get back up on her feet before Max had barreled into her—practically tripping over himself—and then locked her in a choke hold as fast, and as best, he could. He managed to pull her up so that they were standing.

They were both at half strength, or less. Maggie couldn’t fight his grip that much although it looked like Max wasn’t even preventing her from breathing yet.

Max’s face was bloody over Maggie’s shoulder and he had bite and claw marks and wounds on his arms and his legs. His lips were chapped, split open, and Maggie wasn’t doing much better. It seemed like Max had run out of arrows.

Max moved away from a mutt that tried to attack them and Maggie attempted to throw her body weight forward, but Max pulled her closer to his body, his right hand gripping her left shoulder, and started saying something.

“It’d be a bit easier for one of us to finish the other off, huh?” he said, his voice ragged and strained.

Maggie clenched her jaw and now pushed herself backwards, probably hoping to knock Max off his feet. But Max managed to keep his balance.

“If I go down, you’re coming with me,” Max whispered just loud enough for Maggie and the audience to hear. The barking of the mutts was filling the rest of the space around them. “If you push me off of here, we’re both screwed.”

Maggie immediately paused as Max’s words reached her ears. And Alex knew he was right.

The two of them were basically attached to each other now. If Maggie stabbed him and Max lost his balance, he’d pull Maggie down with him, right into the mouths of the mutts. There wasn’t any way for her to make sure he didn’t. But Max couldn’t exactly let go of Maggie, either.

The gears were turning in Maggie’s head as she was no doubt trying to figure out how to get out of this. And Max started to stall as he seemed to be doing the same.

“Did she know how many kids you killed?” Max asked her, his voice quiet. Maggie seemed to freeze again, and her jaw twitched. Pain flashed across her face and she shut her eyes. “Veronica was what, number three? And I know you killed more. You were probably catching up to me.”

Alex saw a tear slip down Maggie’s cheek, but she didn’t say anything.

Max didn’t seem to care, because he continued. “Did she know how you made that boy scream?”

“Shut up,” Maggie finally said, and Alex barely heard her.

Max managed a smirk. “You probably enjoyed it, didn’t you? Because you’re no different than me, than us.” He dodged another mutt as it snapped its jaw at him. “You tried so hard, and it was all for nothing. Did you kill your girlfriend and her little sidekick, too?”

“Shut up,” Maggie coughed out, a little louder.

Her fist tightened around the knife in her hand and she glanced down at Max’s arm slung across her collarbone, at his hand on her shoulder. And Alex could see the moment a lightbulb went on in her head.

“We always work better alone, you should know that by now. Too bad it didn’t work out for you two.”

But Max didn’t get to keep going, because Maggie growled out, “I said, shut up,” as she shifted the knife slightly before plunging it deep into Max’s forearm, causing him to loosen his grip on her shoulder and cry out in pain.

Maggie quickly spun herself halfway around, elbowing him in the jaw before sloppily shoving and kicking him away from her as hard as she could.

Max almost managed to grab onto her arm as he slipped, but Maggie jerked out of his way, losing her own footing in the process.

And one of the mutts locked its teeth around Max’s leg, pulling him down the side of the Cornucopia.

Maggie backed up away, away, away from it all as the mutts seemed to not care about her anymore.

Maggie was breathing heavily, and the shot widened to show Max as he was quickly dragged across the ground, kicking and screaming, into the Cornucopia, the rest of the mutts following.

Kara buried her face into Alex’s neck, and Alex’s hand, her whole body, was shaking as she wrapped her arms around Kara’s shoulders, pressing her closer against her.

Maggie let out a sob—of relief or pain, Alex wasn’t sure—and Alex pressed her lips together as Maggie started to crawl slowly towards the front edge of the Cornucopia.

Because Max’s screams hadn’t stopped yet. Alex could hear growling and muffled sounds coming from inside the Cornucopia and then she focused her attention back on Maggie, who didn’t seem to know what to do. She looked like she was in shock, and she was focusing on breathing, not seeming to notice or care about any of her injuries at the moment.

All Alex wanted to do right now was touch her, wrap her in her arms, and tell her how brave, how strong, how amazing she was. How much she didn’t care about whatever Max was talking about. How wrong she knew he was.

She wanted to tell Maggie how much she still loved her.

But she had to sit there, two feet away from the screen and much, much too far away from her, and watch as Maggie seemed to want to pass out, but instead squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her fist to her forehead.

The night wore on and Max’s bloodcurdling screams as the mutts seemed to take their time devouring him piece by piece pierced their ears until they eventually became whimpers, and finally…silence.

And then:

Boom.

Kara finally lifted her head up again.

Maggie was still wide awake, but she didn’t react when the cannon went off. Her face was blank, like she was in shock or too much pain to react to anything.

And she didn’t move even as the loudspeaker clicked on one last time.

“Attention citizens of Panem, of the twelve Districts and the Capitol…we are pleased to present the Victor of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games—Maggie Sawyer of District 1. Congratulations.”

And Alex heard the rhythmic sound of helicopter blades descending into the arena and tried to memorize the look on Maggie’s face before the screen went black.

Alex was frozen in her seat, and the sounds of people beginning to chatter around her were muffled.

She won.

Maggie won.

It was over.

Alex was numb as she was helped out of the chair, out of the control room, down the stairs, and to a bedroom. She didn’t feel like fighting off Kara’s grip on her arm and didn’t allow her to let go when she tried to go to the bed across the room.

Alex heard J’onn say something about how the screen wouldn’t turn back on and Maggie had won, she was okay, she was out, they would be going to get her soon. Something about at least trying to take a nap, trying to eat, because they wouldn’t be able to leave yet. Something about M’gann doing everything in her power to make sure Maggie was safe. Something about how M’gann was going to try and tell her that they were alive, that they were coming to get her.

And Alex must’ve been so fatigued and drained and stressed about everything that as soon as her body hit the mattress and pillow that felt impossibly soft, she seemed to shut off, only staying awake long enough to tighten her hold on Kara and make sure she wouldn’t leave her.

The next day and a half passed by in a blur.

Alex managed to get up even though her entire body was sore and aching and she hadn’t gotten enough sleep to make up for the past three weeks yet, but it was enough. She wanted to know what was going on, if they’d heard anything. J’onn told her that M’gann was finally able to communicate with him for only a minute and she said she hadn’t been able to see or talk to Maggie, but she was trying.

J’onn started to fill Alex in on what was going to happen, what they were going to do, how they would get her, when exactly they were going to leave, who would be coming with them. He’d mentioned something about a photographer—some kid named James—tagging along, but not to worry about that.

Alex had managed to also go to the medical bay and check on Winn, but he’d been sleeping and the doctor said he would be out for a while. Alex had sat there for an hour before she could feel her eyes closing and got up again to keep herself awake and because the doctor promised she’d tell Winn that Alex visited.

M’gann was radio silent for the rest of that second day, and Alex paced back and forth, back and forth, attempting to evade her mother, who was trying to feed her and telling her to shower or take a bath or sleep, but the Capitol had said that the ceremony to celebrate and crown the Victor of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games would be starting at seven o’clock.

J’onn had told her that they’d leave the minute the video of the Games was over. The control room couldn’t get the screens to turn back on until two minutes past seven and there was music and trumpets blaring and those Capitol citizens that didn’t look like people at all crowded in front of a stage and then…there she was.

She looked impossibly beautiful.

The scar above her eyebrow was still visible, but almost everything else had been erased. Her white dress wasn’t long enough to cover the faint burn scar on her calf and the bite marks, but they’d obviously tried very hard to make them disappear completely.

And she was smiling.

But Alex could tell the smile wasn’t reaching her eyes as she sat down on the chair next to Caesar, who began talking to her. Alex didn’t care what he had to say to her; she was watching Maggie.

Watching her as her hands seemed to be glued together on her lap, as she nodded along with whatever Caesar was saying, as she blinked, but didn’t flinch, when he mentioned Alex and Winn. It had thrown off Caesar a bit, as he’d no doubt expected her to react more than that, but she didn’t.

Alex hoped, with everything she had, that M’gann hadn’t let them do anything bad to her, and had managed to tell her they were alive.

“…and now, we are pleased to present the seventy-fourth Hunger Games in its entirety. Shall we?”

Caesar grinned with an outstretched arm and Maggie just nodded, shifting in her seat to face the screen she was supposed to be looking at.

And then the video began to play.

Chapter Text

“Oops.”

Boom.

Alex glanced at the video as the boy from District 8, Mon-el, was blown up once again. But she gave approximately zero shits about him.

She was watching the corner of the screen, where Maggie’s face had been pushed to. Maggie wasn’t fazed by the first cannon either. She didn’t really seem fazed by anything.

Not when the video showed Alex stabbing Mxy in the thigh, not when Max shot an arrow and took down the girl from District 11, not when Alex got up.

But then the camera zoomed in on Veronica, and then switched to Maggie, and finally back to Alex.

Alex watched herself contemplate running to Maggie, putting herself in the line of fire—although it was more knives and arrows—to save her life.

Alex watched herself take off at a sprint, passing Tributes on the way by, deciding she was close enough, and then leaping.

Alex watched herself collide into Maggie, both of them falling to the ground.

Alex watched as the knife was buried into the District 10 girl’s chest, instead of Maggie. She watched as she took the backpack and started to run off with it.

The video showed Maggie looking between the girl and Veronica, who was now entangled with the boy from 5, and she seemed to figure out that Alex had just saved her life.

And the look Maggie gave her after she pulled the bloody knife out of the girl’s chest and held it in her lap?

It had a lot more meaning now.

Because Maggie was looking at her like she was wondering why she had done that. Wondering if she’d known, somehow, what it meant to her.

Maggie wasn’t focused on anything else but Alex. She didn’t seem to care that there were kids all around her, dying, and she could be next if she wasn’t paying attention.

And that’s when Alex glanced back at the Maggie in the white dress in the corner, who clenched her jaw the slightest bit.

Alex didn’t know what that meant, but she had reacted. That meant something, right? Maggie was trying so hard to keep her face neutral, keep her body still, but Alex was sure she saw Maggie’s jaw twitch.

Had they done something to her? Did they tell her to sit still, to get through this, so that they could do something to her?

But why wouldn’t they want her to react? If anything, Alex thought they would be getting some enjoyment out of making her watch this video, making her watch Alex and Winn—who she thought were dead. They would get enjoyment out of seeing her in pain.

Alex wanted to leave District 13 now. She wanted to get to the Capitol as soon as possible, get Maggie away from them, see her again.

But she found herself drawn to the video as Maggie had to quickly roll away from another Tribute that Alex didn’t recognize as he lunged at her, a spear threatening to stab her. Alex had already disappeared into the trees, and the cameras were now focused on the bloodbath at the Cornucopia.

All the Careers and a couple others were still there. Maggie quickly overpowered the boy, wrenching the spear from his grip, and she paused for only a moment before sinking it into his chest. She started whispering what she always did, and the cameras couldn’t pick it up. And when the boy let out his last breath, Maggie let out a sharp breath of her own, pushing herself off of him as quickly as she could to look for supplies.

She kept glancing back at him, though, as she scooped up a handkerchief tied around a loaf of bread and tucked it under her arm. Then, she finally decided to go back over to his body, dodging two Tributes fighting each other on the way by. She dug her hands in both his jacket pockets and Alex guessed she was searching, frantically, for his token.

Which was why she was caught a bit off-guard when the body of one of the two Tributes she’d passed fell to the ground right next to her. An arrow was sticking out of the girl’s chest and the body of the boy she’d been fighting fell to the ground as well.

Maggie quickly spun around, still kneeling, her knife out and ready, the bread forgotten about, but Max already had an arrow aimed at her. He shot it and another one in succession and they pinned Maggie to the ground by her jacket sleeve before she could move, or even blink twice.

Max obviously knew that Maggie was still a threat as long as she had that knife, and Alex heard his next arrow ping against the blade to knock it out of her hand.

Maggie was about to rip off her jacket to unpin herself as she simultaneously reached her hand out, but Max was faster. He grabbed Maggie’s knife before she could and shoved her down by her shoulder. The glare she shot at him would’ve sent anybody far, far away, but Max brought the metallic blade of the knife to her forehead, cutting into the skin above her eyebrow.

The camera switched to Astra, who had picked up the spear and used it to kill the boy from 10. All the other Tributes were dead now, or had ran off with or without supplies. Alex counted eight bodies on the ground, and what was left of Mon-el was scattered on his platform, so technically nine already dead. Only Max, Rick, Astra, and Maggie were left.

Alex guessed that Max, Rick, and Astra had already talked about—or assumed that they were—teaming up, and also knew that Maggie wouldn’t be joining them. Which meant that it was three against one. And Maggie didn’t have the upper hand in any sense.

“Go see what’s in the Cornucopia. I’ll deal with her,” Max told Rick, who gave him a nod.

Astra stood by looking bored as Max focused back on Maggie, and the blood from the cut ran in a single stream down her cheek. She didn’t seem to be in too much pain, or she was really good at hiding it, but she couldn’t get out of Max’s grip as he pressed the knife harder against her.

He shifted it down as he decided that maybe slitting her throat would be easier, quicker, and Maggie realized at this moment what was about to happen, that Max wasn’t going to waste any time before killing her, and she really couldn’t fight back at all.

“Wait, wait,” she said quickly. Max paused, and she continued, “I know where she is.”

“Who?”

“Danvers.”

Rick came back out of the Cornucopia with an armful of supplies and a huge bag that Alex guessed was holding the tent.

“I know which way she went,” Maggie said when Max was silent. “I can help you find her.”

Maggie swallowed, and Alex guessed—hoped—that Maggie wasn’t, at that point, actually going to help them find her, she just wanted to live. Wanted to give them a reason to let her live. It was her only card, and one she probably didn’t want to play, but she had to.

Alex figured Max had bothered Maggie about her before. Or that he had definitely seen that interview, and Maggie knew that he’d love to use it against either of them. And, most likely, Maggie knew what his strategy was—kill the strongest first, get them out of the way. As much as he hated it, they’d both gotten a higher score than him and he needed to prove that neither of them deserved it.

Max seemed to be weighing his options, figuring out what to do.

“What the hell are you doing, Lord? Finish her off. Malverne says there’s no water, only empty bottles, so we have to go find some,” Astra said.

Max pursed his lips. Maggie steeled her expression, didn’t allow herself to look scared, to seem like she was pleading with him to spare her. She waited to see what his answer was.

“The second you try anything, you’re dead. Do you understand?” Max asked quietly.

Maggie looked surprised for a split second, as if she couldn’t believe that that had worked, and then she nodded.

Max looked reluctant to get off of her, but he did. He yanked the arrows out of her jacket and slid them back into his quiver, keeping his eyes trained on her. “Get up,” he ordered.

Astra had the spear in her grip and she was now focused on the scene in front of her. “What the hell?”

“She’s gonna lead us to her girlfriend, and then I’ll kill them both,” Max offered as an explanation.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Alex could barely hear Maggie whisper. She then pushed herself up, shrugging her jacket back into place and positioning her hands in mock surrender at Astra and Rick’s obvious hesitation and nervousness to see her alive. They definitely knew what she could do to them, even without weapons.

Astra looked at Max. “This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had. And that’s saying something.”

Max ignored her and the three of them—technically four, but Maggie wasn’t allowed to touch anything—set to work gathering the rest of the supplies out of the Cornucopia, dividing them equally in the backpacks and sacks that were left over. They each still had a hand free to carry their weapons, and Astra and Rick weren’t taking their eyes off of Maggie the entire time.

Alex watched Maggie’s eyes subtly follow the knife—her knife—as Max passed it onto Rick, and she kept it in her line of sight after Max had gestured for her to lead the way, to lead them towards Alex, and they set off into the forest in the direction Maggie had seen Alex go, but slightly to the left.

Alex wondered if she did it on purpose.

The cameras switched to Alex and Winn, who were still walking, and then to the rest of the Tributes. Veronica and the boy from 3 seemed to be the only ones heading North, but all the others were in the forest.

At some point, the Careers and Maggie found Mxy as well. He hadn’t gotten very far with his leg injury, and Max decided to spare him as well. Astra had rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything as Max argued that they would need him to stay with the supplies while the rest of them searched the forest.

The video seemed to be focused on Maggie mostly, as she had won the Games, but the cameras did show Alex and Winn frequently. The story they were trying to tell obviously involved at least Maggie and Alex, and they couldn’t show Alex without Winn.

Every time the video switched to the two of them, Alex would glance down towards the corner, but Maggie would only blink.

Alex realized with a jolt that everyone else showcased, whether briefly or not, was dead. All of those kids were dead. And the worst part was that Maggie thought she was the only one still alive.

Alex felt Kara squeeze her hand, which made her remember that there were other people in the room watching with her. Alex tried to smile.

“Maggie’s fine,” Kara said softly.

Alex let out a small sigh. “I don’t…I mean, are you sure? Cause she’s not…doing anything. She’s just sitting there.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want anyone to know how much she’s hurting.”

Alex glanced back at Maggie. She hadn’t thought about that, but it was certainly a possibility. Maybe Maggie didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing how much pain she was in.

But she couldn’t seem to keep up her façade when the boy from 4 showed up on the screen. Alex didn’t know why, but Maggie shifted in her seat.

Maggie had already killed one Tribute, but this one…Alex wondered if something was going to happen.

And Alex got her answer pretty quickly.

The moment Max spotted the boy from 4, who was only a momentary blur in the trees, an arrow was flying towards him. Alex heard a yelp and the boy collapsed onto the ground.

Max hurried forward, pointing a finger back at Astra and Rick to stay with Maggie and Mxy as he did so.

“Can I finish this one off?” Rick asked Max as they all came closer to them. He was twirling, almost playing with, Maggie’s knife in his hand, a smile on his face as he watched the blood start to pool around the boy.

Maggie’s eyes kept darting around as if trying to figure out how to escape without getting killed herself, keeping her gaze away from the boy, as if she didn’t want to watch.

Max didn’t seem to have a reason to keep the boy around, but Alex knew his shot probably wasn’t fatal…until she remembered that those arrows were poisoned. That boy would probably lie there and bleed out for hours as the poison spread slowly and quietly.

Max stood back up and started to nod at Rick’s request, but then he saw Maggie. Maggie looked angry, disgusted, with the both of them as she tried to stay out of it.

But Max wasn’t going to let her. The corner of his mouth quirked up.

“You know, Sawyer,” Max started to say, and Maggie whipped her head back towards him as he addressed her, “I think you should take care of him.”

“Aw, c’mon, man—”

Max held a hand up at Rick’s protest. Rick actually looked disappointed, which made Alex’s stomach turn.

Maggie glanced between the boy and Max. “Malverne can do it. He obviously wants to,” she said, not trying to hide what she thought about that.

Max shook his head. “No. You do it.”

Alex could see Maggie bite her cheek, and then Astra shoved her forward roughly.

“And quickly,” Max added as Maggie glared at the both of them.

Maggie reluctantly went over to the boy, who was gasping for air and trying to push himself up, to no avail.

It was silent for what seemed like an eternity as Maggie and the boy locked eyes with each other. Maggie finally tore her eyes away and looked back over her shoulder. “Can I at least have a knife or something?”

Max let out a laugh. “Absolutely not.”

“Then how am I supposed to kill him?”

Max gave her a look. “I know you know how to without a knife, Sawyer. Do it—we have to keep moving.”

Mxy was more focused on his own problems and his leg, specifically. And he looked a bit relieved not to be in Maggie’s position.

Alex felt the chair handle dig into her palm as she clenched her fist that wasn’t holding onto Kara’s around it. The Maggie in the corner didn’t look too comfortable either, as if she knew what was about to happen.

And Alex sat there as Maggie watched herself bring her hands towards the boy’s head. Alex guessed she wanted this over quickly, for both of them.

But the boy started to beg. Maggie paused, her fingers tensed, and she shook her head the slightest bit before readying herself to snap his neck.

And then the boy screamed.

He let out a high-pitched scream, and the video screen split in half to show Alex and Winn, who glanced at each other with panic written all over their faces as they heard it.

Maggie mirrored the look before clamping her hand over the boy’s mouth.

“What the hell are you doing, Sawyer? Someone’s gonna…” Max trailed off.

Maggie pressed her lips together as she pinched the boy’s nostrils shut.

The muffled sounds coming from the boy’s mouth only lasted another minute before he went silent.

“Sawyer,” Max barked at her. Maggie had been kneeling there, not moving, after the boy’s cannon went off.

The screen split again to show Alex and Winn arguing about whether or not to get up a tree for the night, but Alex watched Maggie.

Maggie didn’t listen to Max and finally opened her eyes to unclasp the boy’s necklace and shove it in her pocket before turning around.

She kept her head down when they all started to walk again, even when Astra asked, “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing,” Maggie answered, so quiet Alex could barely hear her. She stuck her hand in her pocket. “He just…”

‘Did she know how you made that boy scream?’

Alex could still hear Max asking her that when they were both on top of the Cornucopia, and Maggie telling him to shut up, her face scrunched up in pain. But Maggie hadn’t done anything to that boy to make him scream. Her hands had been on his head, ready to kill him, and he’d gotten scared, and he’d screamed. Alex guessed he was around Winn’s age, or even younger.

Alex remembered hearing that scream. And then she wondered whether Maggie still heard it sometimes now. Alex still thought about the look on Astra’s face after the knife had made its mark into her forehead. She tried not to, but she’d never forget it.

God, when Maggie had told Alex that Max and Rick hadn’t been ‘particularly nice’ to her, Alex couldn’t have imagined they’d done anything like that.

Maggie clenched her fist. “Nothing,” she settled on saying, and Astra seemed to drop it.

After that, the video seemed to move faster and cut more out. Alex tried to figure out what story they were trying to tell the audience, what they were doing. When Alex had watched the Games a long time ago, she remembered the video was usually focused solely on the winner. But this time they were including Alex as much as possible, too, and Alex had a feeling as to why.

Because Maggie was sitting right there, watching, and although she wasn’t giving them anything—no tears, not even any kind of visible anger—they probably knew what they were doing to her.

The first night of the Games, three of the group of five would stay up at a time. Maggie situated herself as far away from the other four as they would allow, and when she thought Astra and Mxy weren’t paying attention, she started to dig a hole in the soft dirt with her fingers.

Alex saw Astra glance over at Maggie and tense her hand around Maggie’s knife that Rick had given her. But she didn’t move, didn’t speak.

Maggie kept her gaze down, focused on what she was doing, and she buried both of the tokens she’d acquired right next to each other. Maggie then tilted her head back up, her eyes shining, and saw Astra watching her, but neither of them said a word. Astra, surprisingly, pretended like she hadn’t noticed.

They showed the second night, and Alex and Winn sleeping in the tree. Max seemed to get more and more frustrated by the time they had reached the lake, set up their stuff, split up the walkie talkies, and there was still no sign of Alex anywhere. He looked close to getting rid of Maggie whether they found Alex or not.

They showed Alex waking up Winn, giving him a look to be silent, as the Careers and Maggie were about to pass under their tree.

They showed Alex and Winn arguing about going after and saving Maggie, and Winn finally reluctantly agreeing to Alex’s plan.

But the weird thing about all this that Alex noticed was that the Careers and even Mxy at times kept teasing Maggie about Alex liking her constantly. They all seemed to be pretty sure that Alex wasn’t faking it and actually liked her (which they were right about). It was Maggie who kept ignoring them or telling them that she didn’t. And Alex wondered, again, who had convinced her—because she seemed very convinced despite the teasing—that Alex was just doing it for the cameras, that Alex wouldn’t ever like her like that.

Alex didn’t think about it for long as the video cut to her and Winn taking on Mxy as they tried to steal weapons from the Career’s camp, and Alex standing over Mxy. Alex held her breath as she watched herself decide to only reopen his stitches so that he couldn’t go after them, and then get off of him to make sure both her and Winn got out of there.

Alex glanced at the corner of the screen again as Maggie seemed very focused on what was happening. Alex hadn’t told her about that, and obviously Winn hadn’t either. Alex wanted to know what she was thinking.

And then Max, Astra, Rick, and Maggie had come back to the lake, and the video showed both Alex and Winn waiting behind the tree, watching as Max rounded on Mxy. Alex heard him tell them that both the Tributes from 12 had come by, but they’d escaped, they’d gone around the lake that way, to which Max turned his head to look to where he gestured. Max was so angry at Mxy for letting them escape that he started to choke him to get him to shut up, obviously seeing no reason to keep him around anymore as he was utterly useless.

Alex once again watched Maggie escape from Astra and Rick’s holds on her arms, throw Mxy’s knife at Max’s shoulder blade, get her knife back from Astra although she could’ve easily picked up one of the other ones lying around, and heard her warn Astra not to come near her as she held the knife out.

Max growled out a “Get her,” and Maggie took off at a sprint. Winn pulled on Alex’s arm, reassuring her that Maggie was fine when she seemed worried as he tried to get her to start running. Rick took the quiver off of Max’s back and his bow and ran in Alex and Winn’s direction.

And that was what they thought was all the audience needed to see, needed to remember. It seemed like the Capitol didn’t want them to remember Winn getting hit in the arm with the poisoned arrow, which, as Alex knew because J’onn had told her, should’ve killed him but didn’t. It had destroyed his tracker, luckily.

They briefly showed a clip of Astra running after Maggie. Alex guessed Astra had been able to chase her for a pretty long time, as both of them seemed out of breath. But Maggie kept going until she ran past, but spotted the cave. She skidded to a stop and hurried inside of it. She tried to catch her breath quietly, still in a ready-to-attack position. Astra eventually gave up, but she’d been close to Maggie, she just hadn’t known, which Alex was thankful for.

That was probably how she’d found the cave—and Winn—later. She must’ve figured it out somehow.

And then Alex and Winn were trying to set off one of the bombs from the platforms. Although Alex and Winn hadn’t known it at the time, Maggie had been nearby, and Alana even closer to them.

A single raindrop fell, which caused the bomb to emit a loud, sharp Boom and Alex to be thrown forward into the air.

Alex felt Kara squeeze her hand tighter and flinch as they both watched her slam into the tree trunk. Alex looked over at Kara and ran a hand up and down her arm as she tensed up.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Alex said softly, and Kara let out a breath. “I’m okay, I’m here. I’m right here.”

“I remember watching that the first time,” Kara whispered after a second. “Mom didn’t breathe until—” the camera cut to Alex lying on the ground, moaning, but still alive, and Kara was staring at it, “…until you breathed.”

Alex swallowed. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault—”

“No, I know, but I’m sorry you had to see that. I promise I wasn’t trying to get blown up,” Alex said. Kara cracked a small smile at that.

They both turned back to the screen as Alana came onto the scene, and Alex winced when she hit her over the head with the rock, her own head throbbing now as if it remembered how much that had hurt.

And then the shot cut abruptly, and Alex’s eyebrows knitted together as all she could see now were blurry trees as they rushed past. She only relaxed when Kara said, “That’s Maggie,” and Alex barely made out Maggie’s dark brown hair among the green that took over most of the screen.

It seemed like Maggie hadn’t known that Alex was under Alana. Her hair was already soaking wet as she finally saw her and stopped in her tracks. Alex was just lying there, blinking slowly as blood pooled around her head, and Maggie decided to take both her hands and drag her across the ground.

When they reached the cave, Maggie maneuvered Alex carefully onto the sleeping bag so she was comfortable. Maggie downed the rest of the water from the canteen and then it looked like she was about to get up to get more, but then she looked back at Alex.

And she reached her hand out to brush some of Alex’s hair away that was sticking to her forehead.

The camera didn’t show Maggie’s face, but she pulled her fingers back like she’d done something wrong, or she’d kept them there too long. Like she knew she shouldn’t have done that, but she wanted to. Alex, for some reason, couldn’t help a smile.

And after that, Alex watched herself fall in love with Maggie.

It was…weird.

It started with an awkward apology, and then she was saying, “Maybe we can start over?” and was asking Maggie her favorite color—of all things—and Maggie was looking at her like she was a bit of a dork, and Alex practically rolled her eyes at herself.

But the Maggie in the corner of the screen smiled for a moment, and Alex mirrored it when she caught it.

All Alex could think was that that was not a date. And definitely not their first date. She could do much better than…well, that.

And then, of course, Alex was leaving the cave because she had to go find Winn and, if Alex watched really closely, she could see that Maggie was maybe a little disappointed that Alex left, that she was alone again.

Maggie took her knife out of her belt and was running the tips of her fingers over the blade. It seemed like she was contemplating getting up. She finally did after a long time, whether it was to go find more food or because she didn’t want to be alone anymore, Alex wasn’t sure, but she had a feeling it was the latter.

It happened to be not very long after that that Alex and Winn made it to the cave.

Maggie didn’t seem to have as much of a problem with Alex being there. It was Winn she’d been worried about, and the fact that she hadn’t fully trusted Alex yet—which Alex understood. By asking Maggie to help them with the bombs to blow up the Careers’ camp, she’d given her an excuse to keep them around. Alex remembered Maggie telling her later that she’d wanted them around, but she hadn’t known how to admit it.

The video aired their conversation from that night when Winn asked Alex if she still thought Maggie hated her. Alex glanced at the corner to see Maggie furrow her eyebrows at that.

Unfortunately, they also included Alex’s conversation with Maggie when she’d talked about Winn and Kara. And Alex had kind of forgotten what she’d said, so she winced when Kara exclaimed, “Annoying?”

Alex pursed her lips and kept her eyes on the screen. “Did you not…watch that part, before?”

“No.” Kara crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s not my job to be annoying,” she said sharply. Then, she looked at Alex when Alex didn’t answer. “Alex!”

“What? You’re a little sister. It’s kind of a given, you know?”

Kara’s jaw dropped, and then she pouted. Alex knew she was being overdramatic, but tried to hug her anyway. Kara just leaned away.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said, but Kara was having none of it. Fine. Two could play at this game. Alex rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue. “The truth hurts,” she said.

Kara scoffed, but Alex could see her smiling a little bit. She squeezed her hand and Kara squeezed back, so she knew she wasn’t in too much trouble.

They started watching again right as Alex said, “Maybe the Games are changing you already.”

And Alex hadn’t noticed it at the time, but when Maggie locked eyes with her as she said, “Yeah, maybe,” by the look she was giving her, it seemed like maybe Maggie, at that point, had already thought that it wasn’t the Games that were changing her in a good way at all—it was Alex.

Maggie telling her, ‘It was you. It was always you,’ echoed somewhere in Alex’s mind.

“Do you see the way she’s looking at you?” Kara asked quietly. Alex nodded the slightest bit. Kara continued, “It’s how you always look at her. And she had that look all the time, too. You’ll see.”

Alex wanted to smile. She could see it, especially when the video showed Alex watching Maggie bury Jack’s token with Winn, and explaining why she did.

If Alex had to pinpoint a moment when she had actually realized she was falling, hard, for Maggie, it was probably that one. Alex wondered how anyone could not fall for her. It was practically impossible.

And then Winn was teasing Alex about Maggie yet again, making his stupid pun about the pine trees and Alex’s ‘pining’ that Alex thought he looked way too proud of.

Alex also noticed that Maggie spent a bit more time than was probably necessary not really watching or paying attention to their surroundings. She would keep her gaze on Alex’s back for long periods of time like she didn’t really notice she was doing it, or smile when Alex would elbow Winn in the side to get him to shut up as they walked through the forest towards the Cornucopia.

After Winn had gotten the bombs to work and Maggie figured out that Alex wasn’t faking her crush, she spent even more time staring at her, as if trying to figure her out.

But Alex did realize that she was looking at her like Alex looked at her. Like Kara said.

Alex watched the moment her heart broke when she’d thought that Maggie didn’t like her back. At the time, she hadn’t entertained even the possibility that she’d misunderstood her. And she’d thought she’d messed it up. But oh, how wrong she was.

Alex watched as Winn and Maggie travelled towards the lake, bombs in hand, while she went to set up the fires. Winn kept asking Maggie again and again and again if she liked Alex, what she’d meant, that she couldn’t have possibly meant what Alex thought she meant, and ‘why don’t you just tell her what you actually meant because I know what you meant, but she obviously doesn’t’ and ‘did you mean what I thought you meant because I’ve seen the way you look at her and if you don’t, then…’

Alex almost groaned. Winn was unstoppable. He kept going and going and going and Alex thought Maggie was gonna smack him upside the head at some point, but she somehow managed to keep her cool.

She’d finally gotten a word in when Winn told her that Alex had come up with a plan to get her away from Max and his crew. Alex looked down at her hands when Maggie had asked why, and Winn had said, “Once Alex decides she cares about you, there’s really nothing you can do. You just kinda have to…get used to it.”

Well, Alex thought, at least Winn was getting used to it. He should be. And so should Maggie. Because there was no doubt in Alex’s mind that they both deserved to be cared about.

Maggie hadn’t been lying when she said she hadn’t touched Winn, hadn’t hurt him. She’d only calmly asked him for the power source and he’d handed it to her. She hadn’t given it back when he’d asked, and tried to distract him by finally answering his questions.

Finally telling him that she liked Alex back, which made Alex’s heart flutter in her chest. Hearing her say it always did that.

And it was fairly obvious to Alex now that the two-winner rule was for her and Maggie. It pissed her off, because they didn’t care about Winn at all, which wasn’t fair to him.

She hated the Gamemakers and the Capitol more and more each minute she sat there, watching the video and, in addition, knowing that they were making Maggie watch it when she was convinced they were dead.

Now, a part of Alex wished she’d let Maggie wait to set the bombs off. It would’ve been dangerous, and something could’ve gone wrong, but it probably would’ve been worth it if it had gone right.

Things started to make sense now that she knew that Maggie felt the same way she did this entire time, and that Winn knew. The hug, Winn trying to get Maggie to talk to her about it, everything.

And then the video showed them finding the Nightlock berries.

Alex tensed up again and she could feel Kara do the same next to her, but they were both silent.

After the cannon for Siobhan went off and Winn started to freak out, Alex opted to watch the corner of the screen.

Maggie seemed to be watching more intently when Alex turned back to go to Siobhan’s body. When she put the berries in her jacket pocket and zipped it up. Alex really, really didn’t want her to figure out that—

Maggie looked confused, and then what Alex could only describe as realization slowly softened her expression a minute later. Alex wondered if Maggie was even trying to remain indifferent, or if she knew she wasn’t, or if she didn’t care.

She blinked, her mouth slightly open.

Shit, Alex thought.

“I didn’t want to,” Alex mumbled under her breath, partly to Kara and partly to Maggie, as if she could hear her. Kara rested her head on Alex’s shoulder.

Alex had a feeling Maggie wouldn’t be too happy that Alex was going to have those berries in her pocket the entire rest of the Games. And she wasn’t going to say anything, even when Maggie would eventually ask her.

It was easier, before, when Maggie wasn’t letting herself be in pain. But it was apparent that she couldn’t hide her thoughts very well anymore.

Alex heard Winn ask Maggie why she wouldn’t tell Alex she liked her, which she’d heard, before. But she hadn’t heard Maggie’s full response, which was, “I don’t know. I just feel like the universe keeps interrupting me when I try to. It’s probably a sign and…I should listen.”

To which Winn’s reply was, “That makes no sense.” Maggie somehow got him off the topic after that, but Alex watched herself nervously feeling the berries in her pocket every five seconds, as if she was hyper-aware that they were in there. And the fact that Maggie knew now…

Alex wanted to leave. She wanted to see Maggie, and explain everything—or try to—and she didn’t want to be doing nothing. It was pointless, watching this, wasn’t it? She was reliving the worst three weeks of her life, play-by-play. Although she supposed that not all of it was bad.

The video showed Maggie glancing at Winn before telling Alex to be careful as she headed to the lake, stopping herself from saying something else. Alex thought that it wasn’t particularly fun to watch herself get knocked out by Rick again, or hear that conversation they had.

The Maggie in the corner had steeled herself again, seemed to shut herself down as she probably realized she slipped a bit.

Alex sighed, trying to tune out the video for a moment.

But then Alex heard Rick say, “I got her,” into the walkie-talkie a minute later.

The shot quickly switched to Maggie and Winn in the cave. Maggie had still been trying to get Winn comfortable on the sleeping bag and elevate his ankle when they both paused and whipped their heads towards the walkie-talkie at Rick’s voice.

Alex shifted in her spot when Maggie looked back at Winn, panicked.

“Do you think…” she said quietly, trailing off, not wanting to finish her sentence.

Winn shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Maggie forgot all about Winn’s sleeping bag as she picked up the walkie-talkie.

“Go,” Winn said after a few seconds of silence. Maggie stared at him, and he nodded.

“I-I can’t leave you here, Winn—”

“What if it’s her?”

“But what if it’s not?”

Winn gave Maggie a look. “Maggie, c’mon. He’s probably at the lake, right? And Alex is there, too, by now. It’s been at least two hours.”

Maggie seemed to be contemplating getting up. “If I leave you here and something happens to you, she’ll never forgive me.”

“Yes, she will. I’ll make sure she does.”

“You won’t be able to if you’re dead,” Maggie said sharply.

Winn pursed his lips. “Okay, well, tell her I told you to go. It’ll be entirely my fault if anything happens. None of the blame will be on you.” Maggie shook her head, but before she could say anything, Winn started up again. “You like her, you care about her, a lot.”

“That doesn’t matter—”

“Yes, it does. That is the only thing that matters. It mattered before, it matters now, and it’ll always matter. She has been walking around for almost two full days thinking that you don’t feel the same way. And she might pretend that it doesn’t bother her, but I can tell that it does. And I don’t know why whatever universe bullshit you believe in is telling you not to tell her, but I think—no, I know—that you should. Before something happens.” Winn smiled and pointed to himself. “This is me, a person, not an abstract universe, telling you to go tell her.”

“She told me not to listen to you,” Maggie said quietly, but she was smiling a little bit, too.

Winn rolled his eyes. “Of course she did. Because she knows that I am way smarter than her.”

Alex couldn’t help a scoff, but let it go when it made Maggie let out a little laugh.

Winn allowed it to be silent for a minute while Maggie turned the walkie-talkie over and over in her hands.

She told Winn she’d have to figure out if it was Alex that Rick was talking about. There was no use risking something happening to Winn by leaving him alone if it wasn’t.

Alex was right when she’d thought Maggie’s voice had started to become unsure, almost shaky, when Rick basically confirmed that he had Alex with him.

Winn had already been rustling things around looking for Maggie’s jacket that she’d taken off and her knife. They both looked at each other again.

After Maggie replied with a quick, “Got it,” she gripped the walkie-talkie harder.

Winn repeated no less than five times for Maggie to “just go,” because he’d “be fine” and if she didn’t leave right now, then he’d be forced to go himself because there was no way he was going to let Alex die or get hurt more than she probably already was.

Maggie went outside of the cave to gather vines and chunks of shrubs to cover the entrance.

She left a little sliver open to keep talking to Winn, or at least let Winn keep convincing her that she should leave, that this was the right thing to do.

“The water, the food, the weapons, everything is here. And when I get Rick’s walkie, I’ll check in, okay?”

“Make sure she’s alright first. Take him out or something.”

Maggie stuck her knife in her belt and shrugged her jacket on. “Oh, don’t worry, I will,” she said, anger lacing through the words.

And after double-checking to make sure Winn was still comfortable and reassuring him that she’d be back in a couple hours with Alex and to not leave the cave under any circumstances—to which he just nodded—and that okay, okay, she’d tell her, “I promise,” and rolling her eyes at Winn’s warning that if she didn’t, well…he didn’t know what he’d do but he’d do something, she left him and started to run.

She ran, and ran, and ran. The one time she had to pause was when her jacket got caught on a tree branch, but other than that Alex swore her legs didn’t stop moving the entire way to the lake.

Alex had always wondered why Rick hadn’t aimed for her head, or her heart, when he’d thrown that knife at her. She’d wondered why he’d cut the rope instead as it didn’t seem like the smartest move.

But Alex realized something that she hadn’t before as she watched Maggie growl out, “Get the hell away from her.”

To Rick, the Games were just that—games.

He’d wanted to use Winn to get to Alex. He’d wanted to hurt Winn to hurt Alex, because he knew it would. And he’d told Alex that he’d have her watch Maggie die because it was obvious that Alex cared about her.

So when Maggie had said that, Rick realized that the best way to hurt Maggie wasn’t to kill Alex so quickly and easily. In that moment, he realized how much Alex meant to Maggie and knew that drowning Alex and having Maggie watch, having Maggie be useless to save her, was the most effective way to hurt her.

It was only a theory, but Alex was fairly sure she was right. She hated Rick even more now, too.

She had to remind herself that he was dead. They all were. Her, Maggie, and Winn were the only ones left.

Alex’s theory was pretty much proven when Rick, mouth half full of water, choked out, “You care for her.” Maggie clenched her jaw and he continued with, “Too bad she’ll never know.”

And Alex couldn’t help but think that Maggie had already had that thought herself.

Alex jumped and whipped her head around when she heard a deep voice say, “They wanted to sound the cannon.”

J’onn was standing behind her, and Eliza was a little further away, staring at the screen. Alex wondered how long they’d been there. J’onn went in and out every so often and never really said anything, but he’d brought Eliza with him this time. She was biting her cheek, but wouldn’t look at Alex, or anybody.

J’onn crossed his arms over his chest. “Your tracker went dead, and they thought you were, too,” he said. Alex heard Maggie check up on Winn, but didn’t focus back on the screen yet. J’onn smiled at her. “But I knew you could hold your breath longer than that. I told them to wait, in case. You cut it pretty close, but I knew you’d be okay.” He sounded so sure, but Alex wondered if the ‘knew’ could be switched with a ‘hoped.’

Alex gave J’onn a small smile and turned halfway back to the screen.

She remembered how close she’d been to blacking out. She would’ve drowned if Maggie hadn’t been there.

Both Alex and Maggie’s heads came bursting out of the water and Kara squeezed her hand again as Maggie pulled her almost limp body onto dry land.

“Two hundred and forty-nine seconds,” Alex heard her mother say. Alex tore her eyes away again, and Eliza looked close to crying. “You were under there…for two hundred and forty-nine seconds,” she repeated, her voice unsteady.

“Eliza—”

Eliza stepped away from J’onn. “I told you—she shouldn’t be here. I don’t know why she’s sitting here watching this. And I don’t know how you, Kara,” she looked at Kara, “can see this again. Wasn’t it bad enough the first time?”

Alex could feel Eliza getting angry and didn’t like how she was talking to Kara, but it was making her cry, which wasn’t usually what happened when she got like this. Kara stood up from her chair and J’onn tried to put a hand on Eliza’s arm, but Eliza shook her head.

“Mom—” Kara tried to say.

Eliza ignored her and turned to J’onn. “You are telling that woman that she is staying here, do you hear me?”

This time, it was Alex’s turn to stand up from her chair and say, “Wait, what?” but Kara gently pushed her back down.

“I’ll talk to her,” she said as J’onn pulled Eliza to the side so the other people in the room would stop staring at them and the scene she was making.

“But—”

“Alex, you need to watch this.”

Alex furrowed her brow. “Why?” It wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Plus, she already knew what was going to happen, and she wanted to know what the hell her mother was talking about.

“Because…you just do. I’ll talk to her. Don’t worry about it, okay? Watch, please,” Kara added when Alex opened her mouth to protest again. “I’ll be back.”

Alex’s eyes followed her sister as she went after J’onn and Eliza out of the control room, and Alex reluctantly slumped into the chair.

Alex trusted her sister. And she wanted her to watch whatever was going to happen next. It seemed important.

Not even a minute after Winn had interrupted them, the screen split into two. Alex wondered why they were suddenly showing Winn, why they seemed to care about him now enough to show him alone.

And she got her answer about ten seconds later.

Winn’s smile slowly disappeared when Maggie turned off the walkie-talkie on him.

He started to crawl towards the mouth of the cave and then ran his fingers down the leaves of the vines that hid him.

Alex froze in place and could only move enough to flick her gaze down to Maggie, who also seemed to be watching intently, for a moment before watching Winn pull down the vines.

They made a neat little pile and he maneuvered himself as best he could to push them away from the entrance, so he could see the forest clearly now.

Alex’s heart started to pound in her chest.

That was how Astra had found him.

He’d wanted her to.

During all those check-ins when he’d say he was fine, all that time…he’d been sitting there waiting for her.

He’d gulp and look out to the forest and a couple times it seemed like he was contemplating pressing the button on the walkie talkie. For what reason, Alex didn’t know.

Alex glanced at Maggie again, but she seemed just as surprised, so Alex knew that she had no idea Winn had done that either.

And when Astra had inevitably found him, he looked terrified, but he’d practically let her pull him out of the cave, not even bothering to try to fight her off. All of their supplies were barely touched.

He hadn’t wanted to scream Alex’s name. He’d refused over and over again until Astra got tired of waiting and decided to use her spear to her advantage. Maybe he’d hoped that Alex was too far away to hear, and that Astra would kill him before she could get there.

Alex felt a tear run down her cheek and she shut her eyes, not wanting to watch Winn in pain with the other shot of her and Maggie walking together, small smiles that didn’t seem to want to disappear on both of their faces.

She felt a hand touch her shoulder and finally looked up to see Kara, who immediately kneeled next to her and wrapped her arms around her, holding her tightly.

“Why would he do that?” Alex whispered, not knowing if she wanted to hear the answer.

She felt Kara shrug. “For the same reason you took those berries?” Kara said quietly, and Alex tried not to flinch. “Or for the same reason Maggie wanted to make sure that you two went home?”

Alex took a deep breath and started to pull away after a moment. “Where is he? Is he still in the hospital area?” she asked, anger starting to replace her previous feelings. “I need to talk to him.”

“J’onn says you have to start getting ready to leave,” Kara told her. “He’s outside, with Mom.”

Alex shook her head. “I need to talk to him first. He needs to know that—”

“Alex,” Kara said, stopping her from fast-walking out of the control room. “Mom doesn’t want you to go.”

Alex finally slowed her steps. “What?”

“She doesn’t want you to leave to get Maggie. She’s outside yelling at J’onn and I tried to get her to stop, but she doesn’t…she’s not…” Kara trailed off.

Alex clenched her jaw. She wanted to go have a talk with Winn about what she’d just seen, and she wanted to get out of here because she knew what part of the video was next and she really didn’t feel like watching it, and she needed to go tell her mother that there was no way in hell she wasn’t going.

Alex let out a frustrated groan.

Maybe she could talk to Winn later, when she got back. She didn’t have enough time now to tell him everything—or yell at him as much as—she wanted to.

Alex nodded, and Kara let go of her arm, following her out of the room.

“—don’t care what that woman wants from her. She’s staying here.”

Alex went straight for her mother, who was pointing her finger at J’onn, who seemed to be trying to calm her down.

“Hey,” Alex said a little forcefully, and both of them whipped their heads around. “What’s going on?”

Eliza looked at her for a second and then back at J’onn. “She’s not going.”

“Mom—”

Eliza shook her head, still not looking at her. “You’re not going.”

“To the Capitol?” Alex clarified, and Eliza nodded. “But I-I have to,” Alex said. “I have to get Maggie.”

“No, you don’t,” Eliza finally acknowledged her again. “The DEO has perfectly competent agents who are trained for these missions, that can go and retrieve her. You are staying here, where you’re safe.”

“Eliza, I think—”

Eliza turned to J’onn again before backing away from the two of them. “No,” she said firmly. “She is done playing hero. She can let them go without her. She should be on bed rest. She shouldn’t even have been allowed to sit there. I shouldn’t have let her.”

“I’m right here,” Alex said, getting more annoyed by the second. “And you’re not ‘letting me’ do anything. I’m going.”

“No, you’re not. You just got here. I can’t…you can’t leave us again,” Eliza said, tilting her head down, her voice not as firm now.

There was something in Eliza’s gaze that made Alex pause. She looked scared, maybe even terrified, of losing Alex…again.

But Alex wasn’t going to be able to sit here and let J’onn and the other agents go and find Maggie without her. Alex needed to go with them because, even though it hadn’t been her choice, she’d left her. And Maggie needed to know that Alex would fight for her, would make sure she was safe, would let her know in as many ways as she could that she was cared about, would never let her go again.

“I have to,” Alex said quietly, trying not to raise her voice. “I don’t want to leave you—both of you,” she looked at Kara, who somehow gave her a reassuring smile, “But I have to. I’ll come back, with Maggie.”

If her mother knew her at all, she’d understand. It seemed like Kara understood that there was no use trying to get her to stay.

“You just got here. You just came back to us.” Eliza shook her head again. “Have you even looked at yourself? You’re…” Eliza gestured up and down, and Alex furrowed her brow and looked down. “You’re so skinny. You’ve barely eaten. You look almost…” she trailed off, and Alex wondered if the end of that sentence was ‘dead.’ But Eliza continued, “You haven’t slept, and you haven’t even allowed me or a doctor to look at you. You can’t go like this.”

Alex supposed she had a point. “But we have to leave now, before they do something to her.”

Eliza sighed. “I’m trying, Alexand— Alex,” Eliza corrected herself, and Alex didn’t get to linger on it for very long before she continued, “I’m trying to be okay with this. But I’m not. I tried to let you sit there, and watch that, although God knows why you want to. I tried backing off, and not forcing you into a hospital bed, but you shouldn’t even be standing up right now.”

None of that mattered to Alex, though. She’d go whether she was fit to or not, but she couldn’t really argue with Eliza’s logic.

Alex didn’t know why she was even arguing with her in the first place. She could go—Eliza couldn’t really stop her. But, for some reason, Alex wanted her to understand why she had to. And she didn’t want to leave things between them like this again, like last time.

So, Alex tried something different.

“What if it was Dad?” she said.

She saw J’onn shift in his spot out of the corner of her eye, but ignored him. Instead, she held her mother’s gaze as she seemed to freeze in place.

“What would you do?” Alex asked her after a moment. She continued, making sure Eliza heard every word, “You would go, right? You told me…you said you’d give anything to have him back. I…I lost her once, and I don’t want to—I can’t—lose her again. I have to make sure she’s okay, that they don’t hurt her. I have to get her back.”

It was silent now, as if everyone was waiting. Eliza swallowed and seemed to be studying Alex, and Alex stood there waiting for an answer.

And then, after what seemed like an eternity, Eliza slowly nodded.

“Go,” she said, so quietly that Alex could barely hear it. Alex was surprised, but Eliza repeated it. “Go.”

“Really?”

Eliza looked like she was regretting saying it, but she said, “Yes. But…come home, okay?” She managed a small smile. “Promise me you’ll come home.”

Alex smiled. She stepped forward and hugged her and realized that she’d hugged her mom more in the past few days than she had in a long time. Eliza held onto her tighter as she said, “I will, I promise.”

When they separated, Eliza looked at her. “And right when you get back, you are staying in a hospital bed for at least a week and you’re going to let me or another doctor take care of you.” Alex let out a light laugh, but agreed to that, too. It didn’t seem too unreasonable. Eliza shoved some nutrition pills into her hand and Alex stuck them in her pocket.

Alex turned to Kara, who had just been standing there. She was also smiling, but Alex could tell she was close to crying.

Alex scooped her up and didn’t ever want to let go, but she had to. She tried to memorize what it felt like to hold her, in case something happened. She whispered that she loved her back when Kara didn’t seem to want to let go either.

She was so thankful that she didn’t have to have that argument with Kara, too. That Kara was letting her go because she knew she had to.

Still, she asked, “You’re okay with this?”

“Well…no,” Kara answered truthfully. “But you’re going to come back, no matter what,” she then said, although it sounded more like a statement, like she wouldn’t accept anything less.

Alex nodded. “No matter what, I promise.”

Kara’s smile got a bit bigger, and Alex could’ve sworn it turned into a smirk before she said, “Go get your girl.”

Alex smiled and kissed her forehead.

“Alex,” J’onn said, and Alex finally turned to him. “There’s a uniform waiting for you on the helicopter. We should probably get going in case it takes a little longer. And I haven’t been in contact with M’gann yet.”

Alex nodded and pushed down her worries. She squeezed Kara’s hand one more time and gave her mom a smile, which she returned.

But, instead of following J’onn, Alex went back up to the control room first and to the screen she’d been sitting in front of for the past two days.

The video was showing Maggie sitting in a tree, shivering as she listened to her and Winn’s conversation over the walkie talkie, and Alex knew she was contemplating going back to the cave.

And then Alex looked back one last time at the corner of the screen and couldn’t help a smile, although Maggie was just sitting there. The video had been playing for…Alex didn’t know how long, and Maggie looked tired, exhausted, at having to watch everything and pretend nothing was wrong.

“I’m coming,” Alex whispered, just for Maggie, even though she knew Maggie couldn’t hear her. “Hold on until I get to you.”

She stayed there for a moment until she heard J’onn say, “Ready?”

Alex tore her eyes away and straightened up again with a nod.

“Ready,” she said.