after over 2 years of work I can finally say that I've finished my very first story. Thank you so much for reading this story and taking this journey with me, I'm super attached to Max and will really miss writing for him. Also, I'm starting a new one, check my profile for details and submit!

In closing, enjoy his epilog, I think it's my best writing to date.

There you go, there you stay

Keeping low never wanna play

Wandering far, disappearing

Feet stuck in place, not moving

You've been up and down down

You've been low low low

Traveled seas so deep, traveled non no sleep

You've been flying so high

Avoiding the road

Pretending to not feel alone

A cannon sounds and I look at Caius. Was that really his cannon? I try to focus on his body, I don't see the rise and fall of his chest. He lost so much blood, could he really be dead? Or maybe I'm in the afterlife and this is all some type of cruel joke god plays on those of us who die in the arena.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the victor of the 58th Hunger Games:

Maximus Treiglad of District Three."

The voice of Zion Tzorin blares through the otherwise silent arena. Wait. He said my name! My name!

I won!

With the last of my energy, I push myself to a standing position, leaning against the tree heavily for support. I list a fist in the air, proud of myself. Within a few seconds, a ladder lowers down to my level. I'm not sure I can climb up a ladder right now. Fuck. I'm going to be the first victor to die because they fell off the ladder.

When I make contact with the ladder a quick bolt of electricity courses through my body. The muscles in my hand tighten around the metal rungs. The hovercraft flies quickly and I'm reeled in by men in white suits. The lift me into the cabin of the craft and without even congratulating me they stick a needle in me. I go to say something but waves of warmth lap over my entire body and I let my eyes close. One thought sticks with me as I drift into the medically induced unconsciousness.

I won. For the love of life, I won.

When I come to the first time a nurse with plump lips covered in bright ruby red lipstick gasps.

"You're not supposed to be up yet!" She squeals and runs over to a device. She starts tinkering with the nobs. I try to speak and tell her it's ok, that I feel fine, but there's a pair of tubes running into my mouth and I can't seem to say anything. I try to wave my hands, but the right one is heavily bandaged and my left one has half a dozen tubes and IVs running from it. I survey the rest of my body. My stomach and torso are completely wrapped in sterile bandages and I'm completely naked.

What's going on? Let me out.

Get me out of here! I am your victor! You will do as I say! Release me.

The same black peace runs through my body. I fight it, wanting to know more. What's happening to me? What're you doing?! Stop this!

The second time I wake up my right arm is no longer bandaged and I don't have any tubes in my mouth, just a nasal cannulas. There's only one needle sticking into my arm, and I feel amazing. I lift my shirt, until I realize that there isn't one, and check the wound that Rio gave me in our fight. There's nothing. If anything my skin looks tanned and better than it did when I was healthy before the arena. Although I notice that I'm considerably skinnier after my stay at Ohio State.

I clear my throat loudly and Beetee comes through the door wringing his hands with a small smile on his face.

"I'm so glad to see you again." He says with his type of even steadiness. My face feels hot and I want nothing more in the world than to jump up and give him a hug. But I stay laid down and let him approach me.

"Same." I say with a smile.

"The good news is that you're going to make a full recovery. That last battle certainly did a toll on you though." Beetee sits next to me with a pleasant smile. "A total of four broken ribs, the gash across your stomach, as well as the acid burns from your battery. And it goes without saying you've lost a little weight as well." Beetee always sounds like a teacher. I let his voice lull me into a calm stupor.

"I'm tired Beetee." I tell him feeling overwhelmed. Tears start forming in my eyes, but I quickly blink them away.

"You've certainly earned your rest. You have five hours before your interview with Caeser Flickerman. I know this sounds contrite, but at least pretend to enjoy the experience. It helps." He stands up and starts to walk out. Before he exits he turns around and looks me dead in the eye. "We're all really proud Max." I sleep.

"Never thought you could do it kid. I was betting on Caius since the start. Lost a big piece of coin when you killed him." Tanner Platinum tells me as he ushers me down the hallway.

"Sorry to inconvenience you." I say harshly. He doesn't get it, most of the Capital never will. He chuckles at me.

"Don't worry. The money I'm going to make for having a victor is far more than I lost on that kid. You'll do just fine." I roll my eyes internally. All I am to him is a walking checkbook. How many other people are making a fortune off of my victory? My stylists? My prep team? Other people I don't even know? Probably. It doesn't matter, as the victor I get the largest stipend of all.

Tanner leads me underneath the stage. He messes with my bowtie for few seconds and Beetee joins us.

"Answer all his questions and smile Max. They want to see a victor. Not who you really are. Understand?" I nod at Beetee. He and Tanner leave the platform as it starts to rise.

I don't care about their victor. They'll see me for who I am. For what they've created.

Hot beams of light blast my face and Caesar Flickerman's laughter finds my ears. I smile and wave at the crowd I'm sure is there. I see a seat and take it quickly, I'm starting to feel light headed. Caesar walks over to me and gives me a strong handshake.

"Maximus! Max! The man Max! We are all so thrilled to have you back!" He booms to the cheers of the audience's applause.

"I'm thrilled to be back, much better than the alternative." I say slightly dejectedly. This really is all one big sick joke to them.

"That's true! I have so many questions for you, but first! Let's go to the recap!" The lights dim immediately and a giant projection lights up the wall behind me. I swivel and face the screen to watch the Hunger Games. My Hunger Games.

The reaping blur past with a heavy emphasis on District 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9. They zoom in on me as I get reaped, my eyes start watering and a resounding 'aaawwww' comes from the audience. They show Caius hit some kid with a shoe as he volunteers and Aquamarine as she nearly kills a girl to get on stage.

There's not a heavy focus on the chariot rides, honestly Mel and I were kind of underwhelming. They again show Aurora and Caius being beautiful and Ripley's silent strength. They show Adrian being sly and making eyes at people and even zoom on Solonor, her matador costume was the best. Although they pan over me at least twice I'm never the sole focus.

All our headshots go on the screen and our scores appear over them. A few hoots and hollers from the audience, but I just look at my pathetic 6. The interview goes by quickly as well. Aquamarine comes off as sufficiently violent and Destiny talks a really big game. Each of the younger boys fumbles through their interviews and the crowd laughs at them. Laughing at three dead kids. What else is new.

All of a sudden the video pans over the cornucopia. We're all standing around it again. My mind flashes and I feel sweaty and contained. I go to stand and run but stop myself.

It's not real! This is all just a video! I tell myself while steadying my breath. The countdown starts and they give close ups on all our faces. I know my only fear the whole time was that Ferro would kill himself, but to the normal eye I look intense and ready. The gong sounds.

Chaos ensues, but the camera makes it easy to follow. Adrian throws a trident into Mel's chest and joins a brawl of careers, so that's how she died. I never really knew. Abrianna escapes the cornucopia as Raphael kills Cecelia. Caius quickly knocks out Shelby and Evander, he beats her face until it's unrecognizable. The littles alliance gets together and Eleni starts pulling them away from the bloodbath, that is until Dustin takes an arrow to the neck. Jamie beats Karam and Caius finally finishes off Evander.

They show Ferro and I stocking up in the cornucopia and negotiating with Rio. God, we could have just killed each other right then and there. Of course, we let him go and he chases after Jamie. Ferro and I escape in the nick of time as Caius joins the fight with the other careers. Aqua pulls a fancy maneuver and trips Adrian to the ground before cutting off Destiny's head. I always wondered how she died, she seemed so strong.

That first night they show everyone getting settled until Solonor gets ambushed by the careers and Aqua kills her. Next they show Kinley poisoning Raphael and getting away. She had literally everyone fooled, clever girl.

Day two Cinder ties up Eleni to let her starve after they narrowly avoid getting killed by the careers. That poor girl only wanted to help them. My blood pressure rises as they show the kid walking into Buckeye Donuts. He attacks and Ferro kills him. I console my ally for a few moments until the careers break in.

They show Caius letting me live and Aquamarine finally killing Ferro after being tortured for information about where I was. He stayed silent and endured all that pain to protect me.

The next day Thaniel runs into Ripley and gets kill. Raphael finally dies from the poison and Aurora cries a lot. Then the camera tells the story of how all the secondary alliances form. Me trying to ambush Caius, Abrianna and Rio getting together and awkwardly letting Aurora join, only after Jamie tries to kill Abrianna of course.

Claudius Templesmith announces the feast as Eleni dies of starvation. The feast is just like the bloodbath, controlled cinematic chaos. Caius and I escape as Adrian kills Abrianna and Rio takes revenge out on Levi for teaming up with the careers. Adrian leaves Aquamarine and sets off on his own. That night after the feast an infection kills Jamie. They show Rio being relieved.

Nothing crazy happens day 7, but on day 8 they show the pigeon mutts sending Kinley and Aquamarine up to Ripley's domain atop Thompson library. An epic fight ensures that leaves Aquamarine dead and Ripley wounded like no other. Kinley leaves him alive. I throw my Molotov cocktails everywhere and the building lights up quickly. As it turns out, Ripley was my first official kill. The cause of death was smoke inhalation. It doesn't seem fair for such a stronger fighter to be killed by mere smoke. But the games never were fair. I did what I had to.

Kinley's arm gets blown off and the crowd starts laughing and jeering. My sponsorship goes up about 10 fold after that day. No one even paid attention to me until then. I guess hiding in plain sight always was my specialty.

Aurora drowns Kinley and Caius strangles Adrian as I watch. Then dawn breaks for the final four. It's all very dramatic, buildings falling down and each of us marching to battle ready for the end.

My entire fight with Rio is shown and, although I know the ending, I still flinch when he attacks me. He gets his long cut across my stomach and I know I throw the rules out the window, dosing his face in acid. They show me burying my knife in his neck as the pan to Aurora and Caius.

She shoots him a few times and he punches her as she stabs him in the calf. He charges at her and she gets him in the ear. He tackles her to the ground and both start screaming. He takes the bow from and jams it into her mouth and down her throat. I want to look away, but I can't. I owe it to everyone who died to watch. Someone needs to remember them all.

Caius and I face each other, slightly weathered. We talk for few moments after I try to cover him in acid. He never realized what he was getting himself into. Our fight isn't nearly as incredible as the previous brawls, but I feel scared none the less. I watch as I stab him in the side and blood starts gushing from the wound. He throws me to the ground shattering a few ribs and concussing me. I crawl away and we stare at each other. I guess my willpower is stronger because he bleeds out first.

The stadium lights fade back on and the crowd applauses deafeningly. "That was quite a show you gave us there!" Flickerman says.

"Well, I do what I can I guess." I say shrugging. I never was a good spokesman.

"Tell us, which kill was the hardest?" He leans in and stares at me with a creepy too white smile.

"Well, since I didn't know about killing Ripley I would say Caius. He was a friend and really strong. If Aurora didn't do a number on him before I got there I think he would have won." I reply honestly, they can't force me to lie for their fun. I've already played the game, I'm not going to keep playing.

"Was pitting the District Two tributes against each other part of your plan?" I scoff at the thought.

"No. While Caius was dense, I don't think Aurora would have been convinced by anyone other than herself and her anger. Them fighting each other had little to do with me and more to do with her." Flickerman immediately responds with another question.

"Do you think that she was insane? What about any of your other fellow tributes?" I run through everyone in my head and Cinder is the obvious standout.

"Cinder was certainly a creepy kid. He probably would have grown into a weird adult. But, no I don't think she was crazy. I think she had something she loved and it was taken from here. Love will make you do awful things. It'll turn you into someone, something, that you didn't know you were capable of being." I stare at my feet.

"Does that apply to you Max?" I swallow a lump in my throat. I want to scream that of course it does, I killed people just to go home. But I give a more tactful answer.

"I would say yes, just to a lesser degree. Aurora loved Raphael more than her own logic and judgment. That was her downfall I think. As for me, I love myself number one. I did what I had to without sacrificing any part of myself." As soon as I finish I want to punch myself for lying. It dawns on me that I am still playing by their rules. I'm still covering my ass.

"Well said Max." I find Beetee in the crowd who is nodding with a smile. He thinks I took his advice.

The rest of the interview is filled with random questions about where I learned to dismantle machines like that, who I liked the most, what I thought about Ferro, and if Mel coming in last place is 'funny' because we came in first and last.

Bottom line, I still really hate The Capital.

The train zips quickly along the tracks. The last time I made this trip I was being ripped from everything I had ever known, from everyone I had ever loved or cared about. Now heading back I'm still leaving people behind, people I cared about. The difference is that they're dead. Some at a my hand.

"Ok, so it's a small speech in front of the district and then you can go to Victor's Village." Beetee says calmly. Tanner Platinum sits in the corner checking his teeth and I have half a mind to punch them in, just to spite him. But of course, I don't.

"I don't have anything ready for this." I admit. Beetee told me about this speech yesterday after the replay with Caesar. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't think of anything to say.

"Don't worry. I didn't either, basically smile and say what feels natural." He pats me on the back and hands me a papaya. "There's one other thing today." A lump forms in my throat.


"It's no officially on the books, and you don't have to go."

"What is it Beetee." I say a little aggressively, not willing to play any games.

"Mel's funeral was planned for today." His words punch me in the guy. Mel. My long dead ally. She was so broken in so many ways, and Adrian threw a trident into her chest without blinking.

"Right. Great." We don't talk the rest of the ride. When we do pull into District Three's train station it's shiny and bright and clearly cleaned. I guess since I'm a victor I should get used to this place having a little more money. Wiress and Drake, the only other living victors from District Three greet us as we walk out. Drake immediately pats me on the back and starts laughing.

"You did it kid!" The back pats turn into a hug and finally he releases me.

"Good j-j-j-job." Wiress stutters out. She's really not 'all there', her games were particularly rough on her and something in her brain didn't come back. They lead Beetee and I down the station and in the distance I can hear a crowd cheering. We turn around a corner and suddenly I'm in front of what looks like the whole District, a sea of people all clapping for me. I immediately get goosebumps and start waving to the crowd.

I'm really back. Holy shit, I'm back.

Tanner dashes to the mic and starts. "It is I! Tanner Platinum! This year we have the honor of a victor!" The crowd cheers. "Give it up for Maximus Treiglad!" The applause doubles and my face feels flush. I approach the mic hesitantly. I stand in front of it as the crowd quiets down to a murmur, and then to pure silence.

"Hey." I stutter. "It's good to be back." I start scanning the crowd for Athea, and I guess Desmond as well. I keep talking to stall for time. "It has been with great honor I was able to fight and bring back wealth and pride to District Three."

There! I can't help but smile.

She's holding Desmond's hand and smiling at me. She gives me a thumbs up and I swear everything is right with the world, if only for a moment. I go from her to Desmond, who looks decent compared to his normal wasted self. He nods at me. I continue at the mic.

"I would like to thank Beetee for all the help he gave me in The Capital and thank Tanner for all he's done." They both takes bows and I bullshit through a few more sentences of lies glorifying The Capital and avoiding any talk of my fellow tributes. Finally, Tanner takes the mic and dismisses everyone. My shoulders relax.

I hop off the stage and push through the crowd for Athea. I shove past people until they begin to naturally give me a tunnel to run, victor privilege I guess. When I reach her she jumps up in my arms and I pick her up and squeeze her tight against my chest. This is everything.

Everything I did in the Hunger Games was to get back to her. Athea's arms barely reach around me, but she holds on tight. I feel my eyes start to leak and I force myself to maintain my composure. Desmond joins us and suddenly it's a family hug. I set her down and give wrap an around both of them and smile. I'm back to my family.

"We've missed you so much!" Athea says enthusiastically. "I can't believe you're really back. Max, you did it." Look at my younger sister makes everything seem better.

"I'm proud of you son." Desmond says quietly. "You gave us a few scares, but I'm just glad to have you back."

We continue talking as Beetee joins us and shows us the way to Victor Village, I live next door to Drake. He shows us all the rooms and the amenities of living the life of luxury. Athea goes and falls down on a bed saying that it's her room and Desmond opens the fridge and pulls out something and starts drinking it. Beetee pulls me aside.

"Are you coming?" I nod. "We should go." I give Athea and Desmond each a tight hug and follow my mentor out the door. We hop in a cab and drive for a few minutes. I recognize the crappy neighborhood from where I used to live. I guess Mel lived in the same shit area.

The car stops and my door is opened for me. I follow a peacekeeper to a hole in the ground. There's only like half a dozen people here. I recognize a few, the mayor, Drake, Tanner, and Wiress. There's an oriental guy as well. Beetee and I approach.

"This it?" The major says. Beetee nods. "Great. We're here today to bury Mel Jake. She died in the 58th Hunger Games at the hands of Adrian Mariner. She fought bravely and honored her district. Though she may be dead, her sacrifice to The Capital shall never be forgotten." He makes a motion and a pair of peacekeepers drag a wooden coffin over and throw it in the hole. "May she rest in peace." The major finishes and walks away.

"What." I say aloud. "That was it?" I question incredulously.

"Her family didn't claim the body, so this is what she gets." The mayor says. Everyone leaves aside from myself and the oriental guy. He walks over to me.

"I'm Aiko, she was my friend." That's all he says as he buries his head in my shoulder and starts bawling. I pat him on the back. Maybe a minute later he leaves as well.

"Mel, I'm so sorry." I say and kick some dirt over her coffin. "But I'm really not. You had to die for me to get here. Either way I guess."

I walk away from her and never visit her ever again. Too many haunted memories.

I'm running. I don't know why, but I know that my legs are pumping. I reach for my knife and hold it ready to kill again if I have to. No one is stopping me. Rio is standing in front of me with a red gaping hole in his throat and he's cackling. Blood spurts from the wound and sprays all over my face. His eyes have an acid scar keeping them shut, but he takes his knife and pries them open peeling around wounded burned skin to reveal red eyes that start leaking blood. The blood from his neck continually sprays in my face as I try to get around him and I trip to the ground.

Desperately I wipe my face until I open my eyes and Caius is there. His giant hands grab my collar and life me from the ground. I try to grab my knife, but he takes it from me and throws it far away. I kick against his shins and his groin, but he doesn't seem to register the pain.

"You killed me Max. I thought we were friends and you killed me." He starts saying. "I just didn't want to suffer and you watched me bleed out. I thought you were on of the good guys. You're worse than I am." He starts laughing hysterically and throws me down on the ground. I feel the pain of my insides cracking again and he stomps on my chest.

"No." I mutter and he straddles me and grabs my neck. "Please no." He starts squeezing. I gasp for air trying to fill my lungs one last time.

I fling forward from my bed and inhale sharply. The cool air of my bedroom dances across my sweat covered body. I paw at my neck and chest and find them both unharmed. My pulse thrashes in my ears and the darkness prevents me from really being able to see. But I've lived in this mansion long enough to know my own room. I swing my feet over the side and grab an ice water from my second mini fridge.

"It was just a dream."

Thank God it was just a dream.

The presidential dinner is just as awful as I thought it would be. Zion Tzorin and President Snow himself throw this shindig for every victor. It's just myself, Zion, President Snow, a few of his game makers, Beetee, and Tanner. Not exactly a choice list of people to hang out with.

"So Maximus, I trust that you're quickly getting used to normal life." Zion says while munching on a piece of turkey smothered in gravy.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be." I stumble around trying to find more words. "People who never knew I existed are now trying to be my best friends, and I'm learning how to cook like real things. Better than not eating at all." I shove some potatoes in my mouth to shut myself up.

"Yeah, you're getting fatter." Tanner says sipping some champagne.

"Hold your tongue Platinum." Snow interjects. Tanner's face goes pale and he apologizes profusely.

"You should be very pleased to hear that your victory tour is in the planning stages, I know it's a few months away, but you should be getting ready." Zion says.

"Ready? For what?" I ask.

"Don't you know? Most victors who blow their brains out do it while they're on their tour. Caelreth, who was that one kid who blew his brains out a few years ago?"

"His name was Riley Stone, he killed himself after his sister killed herself when he came back. It was a big huge fiasco. That kid had so much potential." A security guard with blue hair speaks with a militant tone.

"Plus he was a hot one, he would have went for so much on the black market." Zion says laughing his ass off. "I would have paid a pretty penny for a night with him back in the day. Before I was an old man!" He continues laughing.

Black market? Suicide?

"I'm sorry?" I say confused.

"Let's hope you never really understand Max, you're only 17 right?" Zion asks me. I nod at him. "Then you've got some time to figure it all out.

I never understood what they were talking about that night until my 18th birthday.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me!" I scream as loudly as possible. Athea hides in the other room. I grab Desmond by the collar and throw him against the wall. "Are you fucking simple?!" I can feel my heart pounding harder.

"Get yur azz offa me!" Desmond slurs strong with the stench vodka and beer strong on him.

"Fuck you Desmond!" I punch him in the gut as hard as possible. "You fucking moron!" He buckles over in pain. I grab the back of his head and knee him in the nose. Athea comes bursting around the corner and tackles me against the wall. She's much smaller than me, but she still manages to get me away from him.

"Stop! Max what're you doing!?" She shouts while crying.

"He took all my victor's money for this month and went and fucking gambled it! How can you be the father of the richest person in the whole district and still feel the need to gamble!" I step around Athea and go back to Desmond. I get my face inches from his and start screaming at him.

"How fucking stupid are you! I fucking killed people for that money! I killed one of my fucking friends so I could come back to your sorry worthless ass." Pent up tears pour down my face. I keep yelling, unable to stop the words I've always wanted to say. "You're nothing but a sick twisted selfish old man. You never loved me! You never loved her! Athea is literally the only person in this world who matters to me. You know why? Because I spent my whole fucking life working and in school to keep her fucking fed! Then I get shipped off to a death fight and won! I watched my friend Ferro get killed and I killed my friend Caius. I would take either of them over you."

"Stop talkin'a me. Fuckhead." My father tries to interrupt me. I punch him in the throat and he falls to the floor.

"I'm fucking talking! For once in my life you're going to listen." I kick him in the head for good measure. Athea runs over and wraps her arms around me, trying to prevent me from getting at Desmond. With a stiff arm I push her off of me and she falls to the floor. "Get off me. He deserves this."

"Stop!" Athea shouts with tears rushing down her face. "Please!" I get down on the floor and straddle over Desmond and I punch him across the jaw. Strongly at first, but my strength quickly wanes. My screams turn into sobs and I roll into a ball next to my bloodied father and my crying sister. Both because of me. I can't get anything right.

"Desmond get the fuck out of my house. If you ever talk to me again, I'll have you killed. If you ever touch my money again, I'll have you killed. If you ever so much as think about Athea again, I'll have you fucking killed. Even if I have to do it myself, I'll kill you Desmond. Now get out." He stands up, drunk off his ass, and stumbles out my front door.

"Athea, I love you more than anything and that man was fucking toxic. He'll never touch either of us again." I wipe tears ways with haste. I'm not sad, just disappointed. I went through so many people who deserve life more than him; Mel, Caius, Rio, Ripley, Ferro.

I only saw my father once after that night, and it was when a peacekeeper found him dead outside a pub. Apparently he made a wager he couldn't keep. No one cried at his funeral because, just like Mel's, none of his family was there.




-the complete loss or absence of hope

"Dude, just fucking do it." Drake urges me. He opens a velvet lined box and takes out two needles. "Don't be a pussy." He finished tying a tourniquet around his upper arm. Drake plunges the needle into his arm and presses down on the plunger. I watch the silvery milky liquid disappear into his veins. He leans back against the wall and his eyes roll back in his head.

"That's the stuff Max! The life of a victor is the life of luxury!" He sets down the morphling and enjoys the ride. We've done this a few times. He taunts me into doing it, and I don't. Today's different.

"You're right. Fuck it. I do what I want." I tie a bandana around my upper arm and pull it tightly. I count to 20 in my head and stab the needle into the crux of my arm. Without really debating the consequences I press my thumb down and feel the warm morphling seep into my arm.

In a matter of seconds my gaze goes from standard to fuzzy and colors I've never seen before melt out of the walls and from the floor. My head feels light and fluffy like there's nothing in the world that could ever go wrong. Drake pats me on the shoulder as I pull the needle from my arm.

"You did it man!" His voice is both higher and lower at the same time and his brown hair keeps pulsing light.

"Yeah!" We both start laughing and high fiving. I feel so good. Everything feels so billowy and warm and like nothing in the world could ever touch me. I won the motha-fuckin Hunger Games and I do what the fuck I want.

"Max?" A familiar voice sounds from the door. I turn my head and see Athea standing in the doorway with a bouquet of flowers from her little garden. "What're you doing?" She runs over to me.

"I'm doing great man." I tell her nodding slowly.

"Oh my God." She holds the needle up, knowing it for what it is. "You're doing morphling? Oh my God." She stands up and back away from me. "I don't even know you. Who are you?" She keeps mumbling as she walks away. "This can't be real."

When I come back to reality I have a giant rash of pox along my arm where I injected the morphling and Athea is nowhere to be found. I go to her room and the bed is made with a small note on it.

Dear Max,

I need some time to think. I love you very much, but I can't watch you do this to yourself.

I don't know how long or if that was the first time, but I can't watch. At least for now, goodbye.


P.S. I took some money so you needn't worry about me.

Athea has been gone a week. A full week of living alone in this giant mansion, with my victory tour only a few days away. Every day no matter how hard I try I can't help but inject myself. It just feels so damn good. But not today, today all that ends.

Everything ends.

I stand perched on the edge of my stainless steel table with a lamp cord tied around my neck. I'm just a few inches from peace. I start nudging forward until my toes are off the edge. I think of everything I've 'accomplished' in my miserable life. As much as I hate to admit it, my greatest achievement is that I won the Hunger Games. A scrawny little kid from District Three won. I mean I killed like 2 of the biggest threats in the game, and Rio. Hell, no one was ever betting on me.

But I did it. Go me.

I inch another quarter step forward. The cord pulls slightly harder against my Adam's apple as I lean forward.

I'm ready. I'm ready to die.

I should've just died in the games like I was supposed to. There's a reason no one ever bet on me. Images of Rio and Ripley come to mind. Ripley slowly dying of smoke from my fire and Rio choking on his blood as he tears at his acid covered face.

It's then that Caius and Ferro both step out from behind a wall. Neither one of them has any wounds and they're both dressed in all white.

"Hello, Max." Caius says with his friendly voice. He has a wide smile across his face. "What's going on here buddy?"

"You're dead Caius. This isn't real." I say out loud. "I killed you."

"Good job, you're still not crazy. That's a plus." Ferro chimes in. "It's good to see you."

"You can't see me Ferro, you don't exist. I'm hallucinating, this is all in my head." I try to blink away the two boys, but they linger.

"It's not your time Max." Ferro says. "You saved me when I thought it was my time, and now I'm returning the favor."

"Leave me alone Ferro." I turn my head and a tear starts running down my face.

"Untie the cord Max." Caius says sternly. "I didn't die for this." My knees feel weak, but I obey Caius and undo the cord. I collapse onto my knee and curl into a ball sobbing.

I always was too strong to die, I'm glad that followed me out of the games.




-admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

The victory tour is just as awful as I thought it would be. District 12 was easy, Cinder was a budding sociopath and I never said anything to Shelby, like anything at all. District 11 was much much harder.

Ferro's father, the mayor, couldn't be in attendance apparently he's under some serious prosecution from The Capital because of the way Ferro was treated. I guess in death Ferro has at least some justice. That's good. It's really the only thing that gets me through my speech.

District Ten goes by without a hitch. I take a few shots before I go on for District Nine when no one is looking and giving my speech is a lot easier. I just avoid looking at Rio's family, not even family it's his whole acrobatic troupe up there on his podium. His face stares at me, but I avoid looking at him.

The middle districts are probably the easiest to get through. I never had any real interactions from any of tributes from Districts Eight, Seven, or Six. Kinley's father gives me a few glares, maybe he blames me because I blew off her arm or because I sold her out to Rio and Aurora. His gaze doesn't bother me one fucking bit. I didn't kill your daughter. That was all on Aurora.

After I give my speech in District Five I'm met by the mother of Ripley Harker. Apparently she petitioned to see me and they thought it would be a good idea. She's a thin woman with taut muscles and a sharp angular face.

"Maximus Treiglad." She starts.

"Please, just Max."

"Fair enough. I just wanted to say thank you." I look at her confused. She's giving me gratitude? "I miss Ripley more than anything in the world, I won't lie. I would trade your life for his without thinking twice."

"Yeah, I get that a lot." She makes a small smile.

"You seem like a well adjusted young man." If only she knew how poorly adjusted I am. "Regardless, my little boy had so much pain in his life, but when he died he died unconscious and peaceful. Thank you for that." She jumps forward and gives me a tight hug. I clutch onto her tightly. She puts her lips a centimeter away from my ear and whispers. "One day, we'll bring The Capital to their knees, and Ripley's death won't be in vain. Promise when that day comes you'll be on the right side."

"I promise."

District Four is the most hostile place I've been yet. They blame me for Adrian's death. Whatever. They were nothing compared to the crowd in District Two.

The entire town seemed to shut down for my arrival and the second I stepped out on stage they all started screaming at me. They shouted awful profanities, death threats, accusations of cheating, of cruelty, and tell me that I don't deserve to live.

As I start reading from my note cards they hell louder, each hateful voice echoing in my ear. Halfway through my speech I go off script.

"Hey! Would you all shut the hell up and listen to me!" Surprisingly, they quiet. "Clearly you didn't know either of your tributes. Or what they stood for. I didn't really know Aurora, and that's fine. But, I know that everything she did in the arena was for love. She loved Raphael and tried to honor his memory. Why don't you all do the same to her memory? She learned the hard way that hating only brings on death and violence. Is that what you want? I didn't think so."

"And Caius, I really got to know that kid. He was my friend, and he almost killed me. Sure, fine I killed him, and you might think I'm evil for that; for killing someone I care about. But, he did the exact same thing. So don't start throwing stones at me when I know for a fact that Caius would rather have everyone just get along. He believed that I was one of the good guys and with his last words he told me how glad he was we met. I think about him every day and will mourn him longer than any of you. So please, shut the fuck up."

For a few moments they all stand quiet until a man shouts from the back. "Fuck you!" The crowd goes berserk pushing forward against the peacekeepers. They all whip out batons and start beating the front row into submission. My personal bodyguards surround me and usher my quickly back into the train. Within seconds we're zipping on our way to District One. Beetee enters my personal cabin.

"That wasn't smart Max."

"Shove it Beetee. I earned that." I close the door on him and take a nap.

The next day in District One is tame. Nothing extreme happens, but I learn that Aquamarine had the most adorable grandmother in the world. How did her granddaughter become the spawn of evil? Who knows.

My 'party' in The Capital goes off without a hitch. All sorts of drinking and dancing in my honor. I notice a sick joke that, apparently, is all the rage now in The Capital. They drink all their alcohol from vials identical to the ones I used with my slingshot and the new vodka of choice is called 'battery acid'. I take shots with every single person who comes up to me just to spite them. I blackout somewhere around the 13th shot. But I don't care. My handlers took care of me all night.

I was told I had a lot of fun. I just enjoyed living for a few hours with no memory. If only memory was selective. I can think of about 2 weeks I'd love to erase from my mind.

If only.

A knock sounds from the front door and I open it to find Athea standing in the doorway. I haven't seen her in about 2 months. I can't help myself from giving her a huge hug. I start talking before she has the chance to scorn me.

"I promise that was the first time I had ever tried morphling. I've wanted to do it so many more times but every time I didn't. I only did it once, I'm so sorry I disappointed you. I just wanted to be numb for a little while, I know how stupid it sounds and I'm so sorry. Please just come back."

"Max, stop." She says calmly. I immediately silence. "I want to move back in, and I believe you. I needed to adjust to the new you the same way you needed to adjust back to District Three. I'm not angry at you anymore. It's just, I believed in you is all." I cut her off.

"Don't pretend like you know what I've gone through to get back. I've earned your forgiveness ten times over. I've earned everything that I have. I earned my life back, and I'll do with it what I want to." I try not to sound harsh, but as much as I love her, I have to love myself first. She may have been my fuel to survive the games, but at some point I have to learn to become my own source of vitality.

"If I ever find out you did it again, you'll have no family." She says staring directly into my eyes.


"You know Dad took care of me while you were gone. He's not a bad guy." She barely mutters.

"Don't call him that, and never mention him around me ever again. I provided for you for all 14 years of your life, and I won the Hunger Games so I could keep doing until we're both buried. He is a terrible leech on society. He watched me nearly die and couldn't change."

"I watched you nearly die and he was the one who would hold me as I cried! You left me Max, and he was there for me."

"So I'm supposed to think he's a great dad because he cared for you for the 3 weeks I was gone? He must be a fucking saint." I ball my fists at my side, I want to hurt someone, to fight something.

"He did his job when it counted!" She loudly retorts.

"No! I did his job! I cared for you, I kept you fed, and I made sure we had a place to live. He just coddled you when I left. If I died in there you think that he'd still be there for you? He would have bet you gambling and you would end up some drunk's whore locked up in his basement. Don't you dare pretend like Desmond ever fucking cared about either of us!" I feel like I should be crying, I want to. But my words are too red hot angry to produce tears.

"When did you become so bitter? I used to look up to you! I thought you were the greatest person in the world. You've changed so much Max. First morphling and now this." She starts crying enough for the both of us.

"When did I become bitter? Maybe when I watched my friend Ferro get tortured by a pair of psychotic fucking girls. Or when I build a bomb I used to take off someone's arm. Or when I stabbed another kid in the throat for the enjoyment of another. Or maybe when I watched my best friend bleed out after stabbing him in the side! Maybe that's when I became so bitter! When I learned there are worse things that poverty and watching your sister starve! Maybe that's when!" I scream until my whole body is shaking, every fiber of my being trembles with anger and I punch the wall next to the door. I break through the outer plaster but hit a wooden beam.

"They died for you to come back. If you can't accept and get over that then, then I don't know what. But you need to get over it."

"Whatever. You're welcome to stay until I'm dead. You're welcome by the way."

"Excuse you?" Athea replies.

"Just saying you're welcome. You know you should be thanking me, I won this house fair and square. But you'd probably respect me more if I won it gambling. Whatever." I walk away and leave here there in the doorway.

I guess she stayed. The next morning I wake up to her cooking breakfast like we never fought at all.

My 18th birthday is celebrated by the entire Capital. The 59th Games are still a few weeks away and they needed a good reason to party. I gaze out across the entire city from the comfort of my penthouse balcony. People start to pack in as the music gets louder and starts pumping. I meet and drink with a few of the younger victors, Natalie Argyle and Aspen Browning in particular. They're from District Eight and Seven respectively. We dance and chat nonchalantly about this and that. Frankly it's nice to talk to the more recent victors because I think we all still have a little good left in us. Drake is great, don't get me wrong. But he's 29, and not getting any younger.

The party keeping going well into the night and at one point in time Zion Tzorin comes in with another 15 people. They bring more 'battery acid' and I take shots with them. It's honestly a lot of fun. We eat small snacks and sweat from grinding on each other and the world is just at peace.

"There's someone I want you to meet!" Zion barks over the music. He leads me across my apartment to the punch bowl where a beautiful girl with long blonde hair is standing. She's wearing a little black dress that hugs all her curves in the right places. She's the definition of human perfection.

"Hello." She says with a coy smile.

"This is my friend Jasmine." Zion says patting me on the back. "She put a lot of work into getting here tonight. Make nice, Max. He's all yours." The Head Gamemaker winks at her and kisses the side of her face.

"The scruff is coming in nicely Zion." She says.

"Thank darling." He walks away waving at us.

"Hello, Max." Her emerald eyes stare directly at me. My heart jumps a few times and my palms start getting sweaty.

"Hi, it's it's a pleasure to me you." I stammer. I try to shake her hand, but she kisses me on the side of my cheek instead. When she does a small tremor of pleasure runs through my body. "Would you like a drink?" She holds out one of the vials of battery acid and we both toss them back.

"Whoo!" I shout. "Feeling good!" We both start laughing.

"It's so loud in here, you know?" I nod along with her. "I wish we could talk more in private." She bites her lower lip as she finished and I swear I can see her pupils dilate.

"Yeah, my room is down the hall, it's pretty quiet." She grabs my hand and starts dragging me to the hallway.

"Perfect!" The walls seem to pulse back and forth at me as she pulls me farther into the darkened hallway. "You're really nice." She says in a low grumble that echoes in my head.

"Thanks. I'm not feeling so great-" She cuts me off.

"Shhhhhh, we're having fun!" She opens the door to my room and my white sheets are transitioning from one color to the next in ripples. The next thing I register is that I'm laying on the bed and Jasmine is whispering in my ear. I'm not sure what she's saying though. The ceiling tiles keeping dropping a few feet and zipping back up.

The last thing I register before my eyes go completely fuzzy are Jasmine's lips going down my chest and belly as her hands fumble with my belt buckle.

When I wake up I'm completely naked sprawled out across the bed. About a half dozen different styles of handwriting have written something on my body.

'You're a crazy ass kid!' cross my chest in delicate cursive.

'I'm very impressed!' written on my thigh with bulky letters.

'From one man to another you got nothing to be ashamed about' scrawled where a belt should be.

I find a note on the side of my bedside table.

You were worth every dollar Max!

My friends and I had a great time.

We should do it again.


"What the fuck." I say terrified of how blank my memories of last night are. I find my underwear and jeans in a pile at the foot of the bed, but there's a barf stain on the pants so I put on some clean boxers and a loose fitting tank top. I leave my room to find my entire apartment trashed.

Broken vials of battery acid litter the floor and random articles of clothing hang from multiples surfaces in the room. In the corner a girl sleeps cuddled up with a bottle of wine, my presences doesn't wake her and I don't care enough to. Aspen flips off the back of the couch.

"Dude! Where'd you go! Like halfway through the part Zion asked you to meet a friend and you fucking vanished. Max, this party was crazy! I swear the Hunger Games ain't got shit on last night!" Aspen cackles and gives me a one sided hug.

Then it all comes back to me.

Meeting Jasmine, taking shots with her, how everything started to get fuzzy and distorted, how she took me to room, how she undressed me, how she... she drugged me, and and ... My god.

She bought me for the night, and got her money's worth.

"Oh my god." I fall back against a wall and down to the floor too in shock to cry. "Aspen I think someone, you know." I make random hand gestures at my body.

"How much did you go for? I remember my first weekend back from the Hunger Games. I was already 18 so no one stopped them from bidding on me. I was just glad it was a girl the first time. The worst is when it's an older guy, makes everything so much harder." Each word sinks into my skin deeper and deeper.


"You know. The victor human trafficking rings. You'd better get used to it. You'll be in high demand for a few weeks. But once the 59th games start next month you'll probably be good except for the occasional night. You're not exactly the sexiest of the victors you know?" Aspen tosses back a some battery acid and stares at the ground.

"You knew that this would happen to me?!" I say slightly louder than my normal voice.

"I didn't know it would happen last night! I thought you were just partying Max! If I knew I would have, I don't know what I would have done." Aspen replies.

"You would have gotten them off of me!" I bark. Aspen chuckles and pushes his hair from his eyes with a dead smile.

"Yeah right. Victors who fight back get it the worst. You ever heard of Fleur Stark?" The name sounds familiar and I recall it being a victor from District One. The epitome of sex appeal in the world, I'm pretty sure it's how she won her games.

"She was only 16 when she won the Hunger Games. President Snow didn't even keep the 18 year rule once the bidding got so high for a night with her. You think last night was bad? Talk to her for a few minutes, when she's not popping pills of course." Aspen stares at the ground with dead eyes.

"But Beetee would stop them." I say to no one in particular.

"Even if he tried there's no way he could stop whatever Tzorin and Snow want, and they want money and power over us. It's just another tool in their box." We sit in silence for a few more minutes until Aspen says one last thing.

"I'm really sorry Max."

"For what."

"That you won. Sometimes I think it would be easier to be dead like all the other tributes. It just really sucks when a good guy like you comes back." He holds out some battery acid and I take a few sips.

A good guy. That's what Caius always called me.

The follow weeks between my birthday and the 59th Hunger Games I'm bought 8 times, Jasmine and her posse are 3 of those. Each time I shoot up and try to enjoy it.

It doesn't work.

"And now for the boys, Abner Derelick." A scrawny kid with bulging glasses and no discernable muscles makes his way to the stage. He's my first tribute to mentor. We're totally hosed.

During the chariot rides he has to lean against the side because the headpiece they gave him was too heavy for his neck. He was unanimously decided as the weakest tribute in the games. Every night when he would tell me what he did during training it was always the same story. No one wanted him as an ally and he tried to learn something but didn't quite understand it. When he had his private training session and scored a 2 no one was surprised. Me least of all. He botched his interview and no matter how hard he tried he always said the wrong thing. Poor kid.

He jumps off his platform and sprints to the nearest weapon rack. I distinctly told him to turn and run, but he didn't listen. The boy from District Four rips the knife from Abner's hand and stabs him in the neck. He came in 24th place, not that anyone was shocked.

That night Drake, my fellow mentor, and I get rip roaring drunk. We laugh about how hopeless our district was, his tribute died in the bloodbath too. Drake said something I barely remember but will never forget.

"Everyone likes to make fun of us because we're all nerds or some shit. But fuck them, we have more victors than any other district that doesn't train. Frankly I'd rather have a bunch of victors than a bunch of bodies."

Victors like me.

Life was never easy. But no matter what I never gave up, and I'm proud of myself for that. I never marry, though I have a few serious relationships. At one point in time Natalie and I debate getting engaged but decide against it. Nothing good could come from 2 victors having children.

A few weeks after the end of the 59th Hunger Games were over Aspen, Natalie and I dress in all black and go to Jasmine's house. We break in perfectly, all pretty well versed in stealth, and I slit her neck. It's the last time I kill someone, and the only person who deserves it. Zion Tzorin confronts me about it, but I play dumb and the case goes cold quickly.

Aspen, Drake, Natalie, and a victor from two years after me Gracelyn prove to be all the family I need. Each year we mourn our tributes together and celebrate each other's triumphs.

Athea lives with me until she's 25 and gets married. She moves in with her husband, Tommick, but they still visit at least two times a week. I give them a weekly stipend that I don't even notice is gone. It took a few months, but we reach an understanding of each other. She grew up and I grew bitter. We just had to accept that.

I only bring back one victor, her name is Tansee Dedrick. Her victory, much like my own, was complicated and filled with both luck and tactical decisions. She won the 72nd Hunger Games. I don't think I was ever more proud of myself than in that moment. I made sure that she was never bought, selling myself in her stead time and time again. It's worth it if she can manage to stay whole.

During the 74th Hunger Games I watch my tribute get his neck snapped by the boy from District Two, Cato. A few days later all the rules are shattered when Cato, dressed in the same armor as Caius, gets mercy killed by a rebellious girl from District Twelve. She manages to one up The Capital and bring herself, and her 'boyfriend' home.

Katniss and Peeta. These two will make quite the stir.

Where to fly? who knows

Winds rapidly, blow

From branch to branch you go

When you see the sun dear friend let it glow

Don't shun it all, don't let it fall

From your hands how you used to crawl

You're walking tall, no need to hide

Behind the clouds in the sky

Vagabond is you, ran the mile no shoes

If the sun goes down too soon

Embrace the starry eyed moon

Vagabond is you, swam the sea at the darkest blue

You made it, made it through

You made it

the lyrics are from the misterwives song Vagabond.

I can't believe that this is actually over. It's surreal, thank you for sticking with me and reading this story, it's been quite the ride, poor Max had to deal with a little bit of everything in his life, but it was his emotional strength, his mental determination, and his ability to never give up that defined him and got him through his life. I'll miss writing him the most.

May the Odds be Always in your Favor