As far as she remembers, she's always hated princesses and their vanity and fondness for frilly pinks and their ever-present need to be saved from harm time and again.

they're catalysts. their capture motivates the heroes to move.

they're idiots. why can't they ever rescue themselves?

then what good are their heroes for?

She runs and runs and runs while her friends all die behind her, all die for her - to save her, give her a chance to escape.

She can hear them, the sounds they made, can imagine the last breath they took, the last thought they had:

save us.

She's princess and hero in one, but she isn't aware of anything else other than the burning in her legs and the ugly taste of fear coating her tongue.

The first few days after the first time it happened, something's irrevocably changed in the dynamics of their group.

She's gone from 'tolerable' to 'indispensable', and suddenly her welfare is all they are concerned about.

has she eaten?

is she feeling well?

she needs to rest. i'll watch over her.

She's always the first to be fed, the first to be offered a chance to sleep, the first whose wounds are tended to, and she hates it, hates the hungry eyes watching her every bite, the tired bodies guarding her as she counts the stars every night.

But she knows she has her role to play, just like they do, if they all want to live.

She takes comfort in the thought that they're forced to do this, care for her this way, not because she's like some goddamned damsel in distress but because if she dies, they all do. Her survival must be ensured so theirs can be, too. They're saving her now, so she can save them when the time is right.

Closing her eyes, she wonders for how long they can keep doing this. If living is even worth the sacrifices they're forced to make everyday. If getting caught and ripped to pieces is the easier choice to make.

Dying is never pretty, but who says surviving is?

He holds her hands and she sighs, leaning on him, needing the contact despite the coldness of his skin.

it's been seven times now.

how'd you know?

i asked.

She shivers. She knows, having asked the question, herself.

(and sometimes, sometimes, if she concentrates hard enough - she can glimpse the fragments of gruesome truth that bishop never tells them about - unless they asked.)

He was the third to die, that day-that-never-was. Just after James, but before Clarice. Peter was the first, Roberto, last.

The order sometimes varies, but all the line-ups always have one thing in common:

She's never in it.

i'm sorry.

what for?

She runs and runs and her eyes meet his as his ice takes him to his doom.

no! no!

Her heart constricts and sobs threaten to explode in her chest but she can't stop, won't stop, not even to say goodbye to him because if she does, if she wastes a goddamned second, then his death will have meant nothing.

So she lets him go, lets him die, lets him be the sentinel's plaything in her stead - all to buy her time to reset things.

To give them another chance to relive this awful cycle again, and again, and again...

(she lies awake beside him that night, listens to clarice and james talk like old friends, listens to bishop and peter bond like family, listens to roberto snore up a storm.

and it's times like this one that makes her realize that survival may be fucking hard but it's worth it - if only because she still gets to enjoy moments like this, with them.)