Just look at me, a savage beast, I've got nothing to sell.
And when I die, I want to go to hell.

What a lovely finale it had been, Panem decided as the victor was lifted into the sky. A collective sigh came from one district; from two others, infinite heartbreaks and silently closed doors, two families hanging their heads as they began funeral preparations. Yes, the finale had been done excellently. Certainly action-packed and enough to thrive off of for the remaining months until the next Reaping. The Capitol had been satiated once again.

But how did they get here?

The three tributes had each arrived at a reckoning, whether they were aware of it or not.

Aston had nothing to lose and everything to gain. His entire life had been dependent on his own self and how badly he wanted to survive; now, scars aching and trust shattered as he gazed out at the other two tributes in front of him, he decided he wanted nothing more than to live.

Cedric's accidental betrayal lingered on his mind even as he had conjured up a shaky truce with Aston. He might not have been someone that Panem had wanted to come this far; they might not have even wanted him to claw his way out of the bloodbath in the first place. But there was something deep, underlying about Cedric that everyone had always underestimated. He just intended to prove them all wrong for the final time.

And then there stood Tamira, bloodied and beaten to a near pulp with her fire fading fast. On one hand, she almost breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the two young boys in front of her, eyes wide and full of fear. On the other, it made it even harder. I've had my fair share of being shitty and proving myself to be a terrible, immoral girl, she mused as she slid a knife from her pocket. And now they have me up against two of the youngest tributes?

The scene was sullen, steeped with the blackness of the night and peppered with flashes of white light. The Gamemakers hadn't planned for a nighttime finale, clearly – a lightning storm was just what they needed to illuminate the final battle.

It was Cedric who stepped forward first. "Congratulations."

Tamira shook her head. "I'm done with pleasantries. I can't do that shit anymore."

Somewhere, the boys understood.

"Well, who strikes first?" Aston's eyes flickered to Cedric's side for the slightest moment, feeling the blade in his own hand and being surprised that, somewhere inside of him, he prayed that Cedric had forgotten a weapon. He shook his head in brief acknowledgement, tension twisting a knot inside his stomach.

"She's the Career," Aston mumbled. "She's probably been in fights this entire time. Bet she'd know better than we."

And as soon as the words left his lips, he was proven right. Tamira threw herself forward, two blades whizzing from either hand. The boys shrieked, each diving to their own respective sides in fear.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck this shit! Cedric's mind whirred as his hands searched his body, frantic to find a weapon. Did I leave my knife somewhere else? Did I drop it somewhere in the fray?

Unfortunately for him, what Cedric was displaying was an act of weakness. And above all other things that Tamira had capitalized upon during her times in the arena, the Capitol, throughout her whole life, sniffing out weakness was just one of her many strong suits.

So it was he that she lunged out at first, another knife through the air, a blade soon embedded deep within his shoulder.

Cedric screamed, a flurry of panic and terror encompassed into one, and Aston was powerless to just watch. His ally, his accomplice from the beginning, the snake – they had never had to encounter a real fight in the arena. They'd fought with manipulation, underhandedness, and words, never violence or actual action. Aston's nerves tensed as he watched Cedric flail backwards, coming down onto the ground hard.

And then he remembered the hooligans of his district that he'd run with back in Six, and he called upon their constant drive to never ever give up a street fight. All the memories of coming down with force upon an enemy, especially if one of their own was in a vulnerable position. Tamira might've had age, strength, and physical prowess on her side, but Aston had never known what it felt like to leave someone behind.

She scrambled for another knife, her heart in her throat as her hands slipped along her stomach. There's got to be another knife, she told herself frantically as she searched along her entire body. I can't have exhausted my entire supply.

And yet, it seemed that she had.

Tamira's heart was now in her mouth as she stared out at the boys, one of them fallen and writhing about on the ground, one of them simply standing and gawking at her. She took it to mean he was unsure of what to do. Aston didn't move a muscle. More weakness, more uncertainty.

So she surged forward.

Aston knew he couldn't outrun the girl, not in a million years. Conjuring up all the courage he had within him, he bent his arm back, praying to whatever god existed that his aim would be true. His arm shot forward.

The knife caught her right in the… chest.

Tamira cursed herself instantly for coming at him straight on, and she cursed the blade stuck in her chest. But it didn't hurt, not yet. She knew enough from training and real life experience that she couldn't just yank it out. Something like this had to stay if she wanted to make it out, truly.

This meant she had to be fast.

Fast, and fierce.

Aston scrambled backwards as Tamira tackled him. No doubt the knife drove itself further within her chest – why wouldn't she just die?! His mind screamed. He screamed as his face hit the ground, coming down against some rock or branch, ripping open the old claw wounds and sending him into a new, fresh world of pain.

It was impossible for the boy to turn around. Tamira straddled his back, hands coming upon his throat and clenching just as she'd held the maces and spears back in training. Hand to hand combat was never her strong suit. She'd always considered it quite brutal, really. But there was just nothing more to do. She had lost all weaponry.

Aston saw stars as her hands pressed against his throat, instantly cutting off all means of breathing and oxygen. A sputtering noise choked its way out from him, a gagging that made Tamira feel all too animalistic and brutal. But there was just no other way. It had to be done.

In the darkness, she felt the contours of his throat, his vocal chords, but she didn't see the way his face turned crimson, then purple. She felt the blade lodged within her chest, making her want to vomit and collapse all in one but really just giving her more drive. She didn't see the way his fists pounded against the ground, desperate for a breath. She didn't see the tears leeching from his eyes, a mixture of pain, of loss, of an innate need to survive.

And she didn't see as Cedric rose behind her, clutching one of her fallen knives.

And she didn't see as he let it descend into her back.

It caught her off guard, truly. "What the fuck?" she screeched, letting go of Aston instantly and writhing around to meet his eyes in a flurry of distant lightning. "When did you fucking revive yourself from the dead?"

Cedric knew better than she, from a healer's perspective, that it was a fool's move to dislodge the knife from his shoulder. As he lay eyes upon the girl on the ground, he saw the blade in her chest – clearly, this girl was smart in her own ways.

She was caught off-guard. She was in pain.

And where Tamira capitalized off of weakness, and Aston capitalized off of trust, Cedric had found that he capitalized best off of moments of uncertainties.

"I'm a healer," he murmured to himself, not really caring if either of the others heard him or not. "Keeping alive is what I do best."

As Tamira convulsed on the ground, finding her bearings and trying to find her feet so neither her back nor chest touched the ground, he found his foot kicking out at her. Sending her straight back into the dirt, flat onto her face. The knife in her chest fell deeper, completely buried.

It was almost too easy for him to bend down, remove the knife from her back, and swing it somewhere toward her neck. And despite never having touched a weapon with intent to harm, somehow his aim was true.

Tamira lay on the ground, blackness upon blackness clouding her vision. Memories flooded her mind, almost a parade of images from her past. Meeting her girl gang, clawing past others at the Reaping, laughing along with Remo, laughing at Scout and Cerico, feeling the pain in her chest as she realized her closest ally was dead. Defining moments, whether she knew them or not. They'd built her up, made her into the person she was today. They inspired her to move forward, given her the motivation to truly make it out.

And yet, as the knife sat in her esophagus, she realized with her eyes wide open that they'd also made her the villain. No matter how she viewed herself as a strong, capable girl, at the end of the day others would always think her to be the true evil of the arena.

That was the final thought lingering on her mind as her cannon exploded over the arena. Her eyes locked open, up at the sky with tears streaming forth.

Aston shakily made his way to his feet, rubbing his neck and wincing. Cedric stood silently, fingers tracing over the blade in his shoulder, knowing it wasn't a fatal hit. He could still win this.

"So it was us all along."

With a sigh, Aston forced himself to smile. "Who would have thought that out of everyone here, we were the ones to beat?"

"Don't think anyone saw it coming."

A heavy silence consumed them. As lightning illuminated the areas around them, their eyes were set upon each other. Neither would make the first move, but neither would remove their gazes from each other. The trust that they'd both depended so heavily on was shattered, completely obliterated with the fall of their final competitor.

"I don't think I'll be able to kill you," Aston said finally, his voice defeated. "I just can't."

"…I don't think I can either."

"So we figure this out." Aston swallowed hard, a laugh finding its way through his battered vocal chords. "God, this has gotta be the weirdest finale that Panem has ever seen, huh?"

Cedric shook his head, moving towards their supplies. He dipped to the ground, bringing up their two water bottles. "I suppose so. What I'd do to be watching this in the comfort of my own home."

His hand moved, extending Aston's water bottle forward. An olive branch, one might call it. It took a moment before Aston accepted it with no small deal of caution. He held it before him, unscrewing the lid and peering inside as if it held something unsavory for him.

"Relax." Cedric rolled his eyes, unscrewing the lid of his own. "I didn't poison it."

In a weird moment of weakness, Aston believed him.

The boys drank.

Cedric watched his former ally, the same torturous feeling of angst and impatience and shittiness he'd felt that first night as Annie had died in his arms. I'm a healer, he reminded himself. I don't take lives, I save them – unless absolutely, bloodily necessary. And I never wanted any of this. I only wanted to save my own ass. Shame on me for having the drive to survive.

It took a moment, but at more or less the same time, they both felt it. The haziness of their heads, the sudden jerking of their limbs, the awful feeling of decay that consumed their innards.

The two boys fell to their feet, gasping for air, eyes gaping wide as they realized what the other had done.

"You had another pill," Aston choked out.

"You didn't even tell me you had a pill," Cedric gasped.

"Why would I… I wouldn't… fuck, Cedric!" Aston's head lolled backwards. He wasn't paying attention to Cedric anymore, he was all too focused on trying to shove his own fingers down his throat in an attempt to regurgitate the poisoned water. Cedric followed suit, sputtering and gasping as the water refused to come back up his pipe.

Cedric had always fought dirty. This was nothing new to him. But Aston had been the only one to constantly be on his trail, constantly eyeballing him with suspicions unsaid and expecting the worst. He'd known, and he had never lunged out at Aston - probably the only reason he'd come this far.

Trust but verify.

The words of his mentor resonated in Aston's head as it spun around, vision blurry and chest heaving. Trust but verify. At the time he'd wrote it off as something cryptic, just one of those stupidly sentimental notes that mentors tended to write their tributes to provide a bit of hope. He thought it might've been an inside joke that they'd had, but he'd forgotten.

Yet as he and Cedric lay side by side, hands down their own throats and bodies writhing next to the fallen Tamira, the words of his mentor provided him with a new sense of clarity.

With a shaking hand he reached deep inside his pocket, fingers coming against the tiny yellow pill that he'd saved up. Who knew if it was just more poison? At this point, it was the best idea Aston had.

He forced the yellow pill down his gullet with the last bit of weakness he had within him, falling backwards one final time and praying that he made the right choice.

Minutes past. Neither of the boys moved. Panem collectively held their breath.

And finally, finally, a cannon erupted.

As Aston's head continued to spin with flashes of lightning and thunder, he hazily heard the cannon in the distance. His head lolled to the side, mouth falling agape as he saw Cedric's eyes glued to the sky, mirroring Tamira's.

It was over. He'd done it. He was Panem's newest baby.

But the world did not deserve Aston, for whatever it was worth.

Aston deserved the world.

"May I present to you the Victor of the Tenth Hunger Games, Aston Lamar of District Six!"

A/N: One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell by Morrissey.

3rd: Tamira Calise, District Twelve Female.

2nd: Cedric Passios, District Seven Random.

Omg… and here we have it xx

To be honest, this finale has been a long time coming. It wasn't always these three, but as I got down to writing them all, something clicked within me and I saw this finale and I just KNEW. And if we're being completely honest, I knew it was always going to be Aston.

Nate, as soon as I got his form, I just saw something special within him. His battered history. His desperate desire just to live. No matter the challenges thrown at him, he always managed to overcome, no matter how underhanded or slippery he had to be to accomplish it. He came to life as I delved deeper within him, and it was always Aston.

Padraig… you knew I loved Tamira to bits. She's my favorite creation of yours like ever, no intent to be biased. I saw myself (and you) within her in so many ways. There was just so much I could do with her, whether it was taking her along a villain's route or a redemption arch… And maybe she got both. Either way I loved her to absolute pieces and why wouldn't I? You always pull out the stops for me xx… love you babe! Heidi for victor?

Rain. Thank you soooo much for submitting Cedric to me. He was complex in his own ways and had such a strong inner battle that I really had never seen before and was completely intrigued by. I loved him for wanting to be better, I loved him for wanting to make others feel better, I loved him for being so neutral on so many fronts except within his own mind. Cedric will be missed!

Epilogue will come soon… when? Literally no idea. I guess I'm bad at updating now. But he'll be featured as a mentor in Ready for War, so this isn't the last time you'll see Aston. Don't miss him too much!

Questions for the story as a whole will come next chapter so I won't ask any here, just your general thoughts on this chapter as a whole.

Thank you all so much for sticking along this far – means the world. I hope you're all ready for war!