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                                                      While Nereus could understand Alex’s reluctance to accept the shirt, he also understood the amount of pain the boy was in for… Because, unfortunately, Nereus had been there and done that back in his home District. But instead of advising against it or saying anything otherwise, he’d simply muttered a ‘suit yourself’ before pushing the bone back into place. And he certainly couldn’t deny that he’d garnered some amusement from watching Alex trying desperately to keep himself quiet…For the big, angular man that he was, it was a rather interesting sight.

                                                      “Hey…” Nereus voice was soft now, dawning a slightly worried tone that was once again buried under his businesslike voice as he rest against the cave wall, eyeing up Alex’s arm. “I understand not wanting to disappoint dear old pops… But don’t be stupid. Okay?” He let out a sigh then and shook his head pinching the bridge of his noise for the briefest of seconds before he let out a breath. “If you injure that any further, you really will be in danger.”

                                                      After he’d said the warning though, Nereus allowed himself to slip back into typically easy going demeanor and let out a quiet laugh, his own gaze dropping towards his torso for a moment before he looked back to Alex. “Yea, I guess so.” He managed, running one light hand over his shoulder before it dropped to the ground below, running lightly over its alternating smooth and rough surface. “It’s too damn hot out there to wear a black shirt.” He added, nodding towards the shirt that he’d discarded once Alex had rejected it. Why the Gamemakers would choose such a location baffled him, honestly… The years where kids died of heat exhaustion and dehydration were some of the most boring years in the Games history… so why would they bring it about now? It made no sense… But he hardly seemed in the place to question their decisions.

                                                      So instead he allowed himself to get a bit more comfortable, feeling the heat settle into his frame and pull him towards exhaustion, sleep coiling its fingers around him carefully and causing his eyelids to droop. “Why don’t we… get some rest?” The words slid out in a slow sluggish manner as Nereus rearranged himself, moving so that he was more lying on the ground than sitting. He snatched his shirt as well as his jacket and coiled them together, using them as a make shift pillow beneath his head. “We’ll both need to have energy for tonight, and I’m sure none of them will come looking for us right now.” As he neared the end of the sentence the words petered off into a quiet tone that soon gave way to even breathing, indicating that Nereus had, indeed, fallen asleep.

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                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'Cause I'll return as soon as possible
                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXSee, I'm trying to find my place
                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXBut it might not be here where I feel safe



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                                                      you are my sweetest downfall
                                                      i loved you firstxx



                                                      "I'll be as careful as I can afford to be."

                                                      The words were actually a fairly heavy price to pay: they meant that no matter how he felt it might disappoint his father, if he didn't need to be reckless, he wouldn't; they meant that he wouldn't be as ruthless as he otherwise might be able to be. They meant that he might be slightly less interesting to watch. But he'd heard that worried tone. Maybe it was mostly covered by his businesslike demenor, but they'd been far too close for far too long for Alex not to hear it, and the last thing Nereus needed right now was for Alex to completely ignore the fact that he didn't have to help him out.

                                                      For Alex to just spit in his face by disregarding the fact that he'd gone out of his way to help him.

                                                      As he continued, though, Alex found himself smiling in return while Nereus laughed. Something about his smile - it added to the static, because Alex almost always found it contageous and warm and enticing, and felt himself drawn to it like a moth to a flame, desperately trying not to think about it. Desperately trying to stay away from the trap that was all of the things that existed beween himself and Nereus that they both ignored. That was how it was: he either felt himself entirely too relaxed around Nereus, or he felt his tongue feeling as if it was swelling in his mouth and leaving him to choke on himself. "At least you won't sunburn." Was the only thing that managed to get out past his lips. But honestly, it was Nereus's smile that had his attention right now, even more than his tanned skin.

                                                      It made the static stronger again, like he'd felt when he rested his head against Nereus's shoulder, or when they stood close enough to feel each other's body heat, but not quite touching. Today, he knew, wouldn't be any of the worry of getting too close.

                                                      He managed to stay up a bit longer than Nereus, the pain in his arm helping with that until it settled finally into a dull throb that matched the way everything around him seemed to throb in the wake of the static that'd just passed when Nereus went to sleep. It wasn't that he'd never seen Nereus asleep; he had. There had even been one point where they'd both fallen asleep on the bed in Nereus's dorm room, having been tucked together even before they went to sleep in a way that wasn't quite acceptable for friends, and passed the majority of the night that way. It was just that they were here now.

                                                      In the arena.

                                                      And there were so many things that maybe he should say in these quiet moments, since he'd never get another chance, and yet he still couldn't bring himself to say any of them. He couldn't bring himself to admit that maybe, there was something nice about being able to glance over and see the subtle rise and fall of Nereus's chest as he laid among the sand. He couldn't bring himself to admit that whenever he went to the beach at home, his mind wandered at least fleetingly to his District Four friend, and what he might've done on the not-terribly-beautiful beaches of his own district.

                                                      In those thoughts, rocked to sleep by the heat and the quiet throbbing of his arm and his head, Alex finally slipped into unconciousness, his eyes closing and his own breath slowing until he was sound asleep - jacket back in place to hide his splint. And though they didn't touch, his hand in the sand found that same area where they always lingered: too close to be friendly, and not yet close enough to be intimate. It was, however, just a hand, with fingers twisting themselves in the dirt.






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                                                      “Alright, it was your suggestion to go at this time, now get off your a** and get moving.”
                                                      Ili’s voice echoed out lightly over their small encampment, her hand finding a home on Nereus’ shoulder as she shook him, attempting to wake him up. When the dark haired boy didn’t move, she let out a huff and placed both hands on his shoulder, shaking him a bit more violently.

                                                      “Come onnn… We don’t have time for this…” She grumbled. When it was clear that Nereus simply wasn’t going to wake up, she huffed out a breath and sat back on her feet, her eyes narrowing and her lips pursing. They needed to get moving… Gold and Glitter had been up for a half hour or so already, their nefarious little minds plotting the various ways that they intended to kill their victims, some of them rather gruesome in nature, even for Ili. Medea had woken up shortly after herself, and that left Alex and Nereus… The District Two and Four females had each agreed to wake up their own counterparts, which meant that Medea was behind her tending to Alex while Ili tried, and apparently failed, wake up Nereus.

                                                      “You leave me no choice…” She grumble as she brought a finger up to her mouth sucking on it for a long moment before she pulled it out and stuffed it in Nereus’ ear.

                                                      “What the hell?!” The words came out as a dull roar as Nereus sat bolt upright, knocking his head on the low ceiling of their small shelter. “Ow…” He grumbled as he reached a hand up, lightly rubbing the affected area.

                                                      “It’s not my fault you sleep like the dead…” Ili grumbled as she shrugged her shoulders, a completely non-apologetic look dominating her face.

                                                      “Come on, it’s time to get going. Move it…” This time it was Glitter who spoke up, her eyes narrowing as she snatched up her knife and twirled it in her fingers, clearly anxious to get moving. Gold was right beside her, his blonde hair hanging in his face and his shirt tied through his belt loop as he shift, obviously ready to go as well.

                                                      “Give me a second. Christ…” Nereus grumbled as he sat up and rubbed his eyes, letting out a yawn.

                                                      It was then that Ili noticed his now shirtless torso and allowed himself to smile slightly, shaking her head. “I swear… Everyone is going to be naked by the time this over…” She grumbled, but clearly in a joking tone. Nereus glanced at her, his mouth turning up into a half smile but he didn’t bother to reply. Instead he reached out and grabbed his shirt, slipping it on over his frame before he grabbed the jacket as well and wrapped it around his waist. For just a moment he hesitated, clearly thinking about something before he shook his head and reached out, wrapping his fingers around his spear and pulling it to him.

                                                      “Okay. Let’s go.” He finally managed with a nod, finally allowing himself to move towards the outlet that let them into the broad, open desert.

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                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'Cause I'll return as soon as possible
                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXSee, I'm trying to find my place
                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXBut it might not be here where I feel safe



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                                                      you are my sweetest downfall
                                                      i loved you firstxx



                                                      It was an agreement Medea'd gone easily for - and one that was obviously working out well in her favor, because while Nereus apparently slept like a rock, Alexander was probably one of the lightest sleepers she knew. Not that she had any real familiarity with his sleeping patterns; she'd only gotten to know them, really, since they'd gotten on the train together, but it was enough familiarity that she knew all it took was one quick little motion, her hand reaching out to rest lightly on Alex's right shoulder, and a quick: "Alex, let's go."

                                                      The trained career in him had him reaching for his sword the instant he woke up. Even now, there was sweat clinging to his brow that reminded him of where they were, though he could quickly feel the temperature beginning to drop. He wasn't as quick to move as Nereus, though; he didn't jump up. But also, he hadn't had a wet finger inserted in his ear.

                                                      "Finally. Let's go!" Gold barely gave either of them time to wake up, before he was skittering out from under the shelter, his assortment of weapons making more noise than was advisable with Glitter shortly behind him. They'd need to find the rest of the shelter, and then ... Well, then they'd have fun, now wouldn't they? His eyes ran over the surrounding areas, before he spotted it - another rock formation, off in the distance.

                                                      Glitter'd apparently seen it to, with the way a wide smile spread quickly across her face and she looked back at their little group. "There we are."

                                                      It hadn't taken them more than a moment to be on their way, and only slightly longer for Alex to realize that maybe still wearing his jacket wasn't such a bad thing, because as they treked across the empty sand, winds began to pick up, and the heat that had nothing to hold it in place started to evaporate. The lower the sun got, the colder it got, until Medea was stopping to let her pants down, and untuck her shirt. A few feet further up, and Gold stopped the party to put back on his own shirt.

                                                      And for a few minutes, Alex actually felt like the most appropriately dressed member of their party.

                                                      The walk hadn't been long enough to be prohibitive; it wouldn't've been. That would have taken all of the fun out of the games, and before long, they were there. At a small mountain side that was practically riddled with little fissures here and there that could've easily held a person - especially some of the younger tributes. A few minutes of careful watching and listening gave away which ones were occupied - two of them were, apparently, and then it hadn't taken any effort for the movement to start. Alex headed up the hill, taking Medea with him, who was talking all the while as if they hadn't found anything, and how it was a shame, and damn did the gamemakers know they'd made it this cold?

                                                      Once in place, carefully above one of the fissures, he pulled his sword from the hilt carefully, and began working at a few of the larger rocks, sticking the edge underneath them and wiggling it about to get them loose enough. It was quick work, really, and then he'd tossed the sword in the air, flipping it around in his hand (and being fairly careful not to rely to heavily on the injured arm), grasping the blade. No point in ruining that.

                                                      When the hilt of his sword hit the stone, the sound echoed through the night. Metal on rock, a dull clanging that rang out once in a sort of warning. Twice, and it became obvious that it wasn't unintentional. A third time, and the side of the hill began to move.






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                                                      Gold and Glitter had taken the lead, Alex and Medea after them, which left Nereus and Iliason for last as they trekked across the landscape towards the rock formation that Glitter had pointed out. The walk, though brief, was entirely uneventful… Leaving Ili to step just a bit closer to Nereus as they walked.
                                                      “So… Are we going to wait?” Her voice was low, hardly above a whisper so as not to be heard by the other’s in front of them… And it certainly didn’t help that the wind was blowing at their faces, carrying their words away from the other four.

                                                      “Wait for what?” Nereus questioned, his dark brow arching skywards as he let his gaze slide sideways towards her, his head turning just slightly. By the look on his face it was clear that he hadn’t any idea what she was referring to, and this lead to her rolling her eyes, the motion accompanied by a small sigh.

                                                      “Until we’re the last six. Ya know, to break away. District tributes stay together the longest, it works better. Come on now… They taught us that in the Academy. Don’t you remember anything?” She questioned, her tone somewhat chastising… Something that Nereus either didn’t notice or simply didn’t particularly care about.

                                                      “I don’t know. It’s the first day, Ili. We have time…” He grumbled, shrugging his shoulders as he kicked a foot forward, watching the dirt fly up as a result. Perhaps they didn’t have a ton of time, but they still had some.

                                                      “Yea… I know… but I figured the earlier we figure it out, the better.” She retorted, folding her arms over her chest. Nimbly she began to run her fingers up and down her arms, the chill of the desert now settling into her skin and causing it to raise slightly. “Jesus… Can’t they make up their mind between cold and hot?” She grumbled. Her fingers retreated from her arms and down to her waist where she quickly untied her jacket before pulling it onto her small frame. Nereus only let out a quiet laugh in response, shaking his head but he refrained from responding because it appeared as though they’d arrive.

                                                      Already Gold and Glitter were lurking around a few of the fissures entrances, listening intently in order to hear if anyone was inside… And it seemed that Alex and Medea were doing the same thing. Nereus and Ili simply hung back, their hands on their weapons and ready to attack should any of their ‘prey’ attempt to flee… which would be unlikely. Honestly, Ili highly doubted that any of them would make it past Gold and Glitter if that was who they ran into first… Those two were barbaric.

                                                      Without a word to the other four, Alex and Medea began to move up the side of the rock formation, Medea talking as though they were simply walking… Not hunting in the least. A good mislead, Nereus noted as he watched curiously… When Ili saw Alex grip his sword, a broad grin stretched over her face and she reached out, hitting Nereus’ shoulder. “See… I have good ideas.” She murmured, causing Nereus to chuckle.

                                                      And it would appear as though her plan worked… Because as soon as the rocks began to tumble free from Alex’s strikes, Med, the male tribute from District Six, darted out from the fissure, panic flooding his face. Once he was clear of the falling rocks, though, he skid to a halt and took in the sight in front of him… Four Careers that he could see, and with a quick glance back there were two more… So all six of them had come out to get him, and he was only one tribute with no real weapons… At the realization, the panic turned to sheer terror and his eyes began to dart around, clearly looking for a way out.

                                                      But that wasn’t about to happen… Nereus had caught the wicked grin that had slid into place on Gold’s face as he grabbed up a knife from his side and twirled the blade in his hand before confidently gripping the handle. It was easily seen, the way his eyes danced at the prospect of a kill… And without a word he darted forward, boxing out Glitter who’d attempted to go in as well. Med let out a shriek and tried to dodge, almost succeeding… But Gold grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back, throwing him to the ground.

                                                      “I don’t know where you think you’re going…” The District One tribute growled as he dropped to the ground beside Med, eyes bright before he brought the blade out and down on Med’s neck, slicing it in one quick motion that left the boy lying dead, blood discoloring the sand beneath him.

                                                      “Look! There’s another one up there!” Glitter called out, her arm extended and finger pointing to Rijeka, the District Eleven female tribute, who had been attempting to flee quietly… Even if Glitter had wanted the kill, there was way in hell she could have reached her because Rijeka was closer to Alex and Medea than anyone else.


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                                                      you are my sweetest downfall
                                                      i loved you firstxx



                                                      Rijeka was fast.

                                                      Honestly, it was a part of how she'd hoped to stay alive for the entirity of the games - out running her competition, and leaving them in her dust. And it might've been a good plan, had she not seen the four careers on the ground and begun making her way up the uneven ground towards Alex and Medea, her eyes not hitting them until she heard the shreik from Glitter down below. For the breifest of moments, her eyes went wide, and then they narrowed, and she made every effort to change directions, darting much like the rabbits she'd often seen in the fields, stealing bits of grain or other food, trying to avoid being shot by the peacekeepers. Zigging and zagging, and making every effort not to get caught.

                                                      It was Medea who took off after her, letting out a barking laugh as she did so and practically launching herself after the girl. She was thin and nimble; her strength belied her. Hurdles; she'd loved running the track and jumping hurdles in the Academy, and this mountain, with all of it's rocks and pitfalls was nothing more than one big track. It was the sort of scene that the Capitol would have loved; two fit young women, sweat glistening on their cheeks as they chased each other, Rijeka's eyes intent with fear, and Medea's eyes narrowed with a primal wanting.

                                                      Her moment came when Rijeka slipped, her ankle twisting in a hole that she hadn't seen, and a cry escaping her lips as she tried desperately to pull herself up in time. There wasn't time. Her fingers grasped anxiously at the ground, pulling at anything and everything they happened upon, but it took only a few seconds before Medea was on top of her, bringing the hilt of her own knife down and into Rijeka's temple. Again. And Again. And Again. Until blood was splashing up and in her face, spattering her with every hit. Until the girl's pretty face and high cheekbones accented by the lack of food in her district were smeared across the mountainside.

                                                      There was nothing gentle or child-like about it. It was brutal and deadly.

                                                      And when Medea stood up, she gave a light huff and reached up with her blood-soaked hand to push some of the hair back out of her face, ignoring where it'd escaped the tight bun her stylist'd tied it in. "Not anymore!" She called out, giving a grin and a wave down to the other tributes, before walking back over to Alex, and looking up at him with her eyebrows raised. It was no secret that among the competetors from their district, he was the best. It'd been as clear as night and day, and the look that she gave him was something of the same approval seeking look that he often gave his father.

                                                      "Good job." He told her, clapping his good hand on her shoulder, and leaving it there in an affectionate sort of gesture as they made their way back down the mountain - a touch more carefully than they might've, given the nasty fall they'd just seen Rijeka take - to their allies. Once their feet were firmly on the ground (or as firmly as they could be, considering the shifting sand that continued to move in the light wind, trailing and stinging slightly against any exposed skin - especially Alex's exposed skin, because there was a very tell-tale redness to his face that indicated what would be an awful sunburn after a couple more days in the arena, and already was a pretty rough one), he looked over the group for a minute, before turning his attention back to the rock-face.

                                                      "I think that's all we're getting out of here tonight; anyone else that's in there knows we're here and isn't going to come out." Which meant they had two options: try to find somewhere else in the growing darkness and cold that was now beginning to n** at even him, and had Medea struggling her way back into her jacket, or go back to their own little shelter. He could already hear Glitter's teeth chattering from the cold, though, and he knew there wasn't much else to it.

                                                      "We should try to find a fire, and keep warm. Hunt again first thing in the morning, before the sun turns everything into an oven again." Dawn and dusk. Those would be the only safe hunting times. This would be a boring Hunger Games, he thought for a minute, wonderin if the Gamemakers had entirely thought this one out. Probably not. At least not enough. Either way, his eyes went to Nereus again - the only person in their little group that he currently trusted to be logical, and not entirely driven insane by some sort of blood-lust. The only one that he trusted completely in general.

                                                      Nevermind the static, or the way looking to Nereus like that shouldn't be something he should be doing; his attention should be on Medea. And the part of him that knew this had him redirecting his attention rather quickly, his gaze shifting down to the sand as he waited for the response.

                                                      It was only fortunate that Glitter was used to things like luxuries and that Medea and Gold had both currently had their blood lust stated, at least for the moment. Because Glitter nodded and gave a little smile. "Didn't you guys find some blankets, back at the cornucopia? Let's go get them."





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                                                      The kill had been impressive to watch… Rijeka had certainly had speed on her side, but Medea certainly couldn’t be considered slow herself… and as soon as the District Eleven tributes foot caught in the hole, it was over. It had allowed Medea to quickly make up what precious little ground Rijeka had gained.

                                                      “Way to go, girl!” Glitter called as she watched Medea relentlessly drive the hilt of her knife into Rijeka’s face more time then probably necessary. It was honestly an impressive site to see, one that had Glitter grinning from ear to ear. If it hadn’t been for the fact that eventually they’d have to kill each other, Glitter may even have grown to like Medea after that.

                                                      “Impressive…” Nereus managed as he and Ili stood back, allowing the grip on their own weapons to relax because it was clear that they wouldn’t need them. Just a few minutes later all of them were gathered back at the base of the rock structure… Glitter and Gold had jogged over after Medea had finished the kill, and Alex and Medea had come down moments after. Hazel eyes found Alex almost instinctively, the look coming just a moment before he spoke.

                                                      “Find? Don’t you mean make?” Ili teased, her lips twitching up into a smile as she reached up and brushed a loose strand of hair from her face. Nereus let out a quiet laugh, but said nothing, instead allowing his gaze to flit towards Glitter who, for perhaps the first time, had a legitimate idea rather than ‘let’s go kill things!’.

                                                      “We need to hurry, though.” Nereus spoke up, his eyes narrowing as he reached down and grabbed his own jacket, finally tugging it on… One glance around indicated that he was the last one to actually do this as the others had done so earlier. “The temperature’s dropping quickly and the last thing we need is to freeze on the first night.” With that he nodded in that direction and turned, Ili following quickly after.

                                                      It had taken the group approximately thirty minutes to reach the Cornucopia again, and when they did Nereus was a bit relieved to find that all of the crates were still there… The Gamemakers hadn’t decided to remove them. “I think it was this one…” He murmured as he moved over towards the crate that he and Alex had opened together. The lid was still off, and inside rest the blankets that he’d run his fingers through… Still exactly where he left them. A brief smile flit across his features before it suddenly disappeared and his eyes widened.

                                                      He’d heard it a second before he felt it, allowing him to call out the briefest of warnings.
                                                      “Get ba-“ But the shouted words were cut off as he felt himself being tackled to the ground by a large creature that he couldn’t see. From somewhere in the distance he was sure he heard a scream… Whether it was his or someone else’s he wasn’t sure… But it had reached the edge of his mind just before it kicked over. Everything suddenly seemed to narrow, his mind slipping into focus as every bit of training he had came rushing back.

                                                      With a grunt he reached up, placing his hands roughly on the creature’s shoulders and rolled. The movement allowed him to get some room between him and his attacker which gave him the slightest opening to roll away and spring to his feet. Not even a second later he had his spear in hand and his feet spread shoulder width apart in an obvious fighting stance. For the first time he actually looked the creature over, finding its shape horrid… The head resembled a cobra, and moved with the languidness of one… drifting back and forth as it eyed Nereus up, clearly debating on the best route of attack. The torso was big, about the size of Nereus as whole, perhaps a bit heavier, with four legs and light fur… If he were to hazard a guess, he’d probably say that the midportion was modeled off a lion… and the tail that was curling over its back, lining up to take aim at him was undeniably a scorpion’s tail…

                                                      For the briefest of moments Nereus allowed his gaze to slide sideways, finding the other members of his group to be just as occupied as he was. Ili had somehow managed to get on one of the creature’s back, her arms wrapped tightly around its neck, her dagger in hand, as she tried desperately to injure it. Glitter was squaring off in much the same fashion as he, facing down another one of them same mutations with an icy stare… though her co-tribute was fairing as well. Nereus couldn’t exactly see what was happening with him, but Gold’s screams were unmistakable. Medea seemed to fairing her own well enough… and Alex… Spartan like Alex with his broken arm was probably fair better than any of the rest of them. For a moment he felt that swell of static, enough to draw his attention away for just a moment too long, barely giving him enough time to dodge and roll out of the way of the mutt’s striking tail. A deafening thud echoed out as the thing collided into the ground, leaving a decent sized welt in the sand as well as a pool of liquid that Nereus could only assume was poison.

                                                      “Great.” He grunted as he turned and took off, drawing the mutt that had attacked him further away from the group and out into the open. After a certain distance he stopped and turned, facing the creature directly with a clearly determined look on his face. This simply wasn’t his day to go. He was not about to die on the first day of the Hunger Games… Not when he’d been chosen as the best that District Four had to offer. That absolutely was not happening.

                                                      Adept hands gripped the spear and he took a few steps back, increasing the distance for a moment between him and the mutt that was charging… He’d need the extra space. With a slow exhale he narrowed his eyes and drew his arm back, his right left foot stepping out before he lunged forward on his right and extended his arm, sending the spear flying directly forwards.

                                                      Even if he hadn’t been watching, the satisfying sound of skin ripping and bone crunching would have let him know that he’d hit his mark… The spear had found the base of the mutt’s neck that connected with the rest of his body and dug straight through, completely impaling the creature. In a matter of moments it crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from its body and Nereus simply couldn’t help the grin that stretched across his feature. It took only a few steps forward to reach the creature, and a moment more to extract the spear from its body before he turned and jogged back in the direction of his allies.

                                                      The first one he saw was Gold, lying dead on the ground with his body completely torn to shreds… How he’d gotten that way, Nereus couldn’t tell you… But he was the only casualty that Nereus could see at a quick glance. A glance to the side showed that Ili had finally dispatched of her own creature, having stabbed it multiple times in the back before finally slitting it’s throat… And Glitter had managed to land a few of her throwing knifes in some incredibly accurate spots.


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                                                      Muttations.

                                                      Alex'd heard of them, and even been prepared for them in Academy, but he'd never seen one before today, and even now the amount that he could actually see it was up for debate. Nereus's warning had reached his ears just in time for him to spin around and lift his arm, blocking one of those tails just in time, the very edge threatening to poke through his shield.

                                                      A roar tore from him in response as he pushed it away, tossing his arm back with as much strength as he could manage, and suddenly incredibly thankful for the piece of wood that made it far more stable. From there it was a careful dance, every step taking precidence and care and settling down into the sand only moments before he moved again. He struck and missed and spun in time to again catch the mutt's tail in his shield and push him back. It continued this way for several long minutes that seemed to stretch into eternity - the clang of tail and paw and teeth against his shield and his sword as he stepped into the monster and away. Retreat wasn't an option. Every hit with the shield was accompanied by the same sort of roar and grunt; they hurt. Not enough to stop, never enough to stop until the thing was dead. It was a noisy sort of dance, set to the music of their strikes. Unlike Nereus, he didn't need to lead the monster away, or to get distance to be effective. He just had to watch.

                                                      To play this little game, to dance the dance until he'd mastered his partner's moves. Until he could -- he waited. The tail rose. Up and up, the head bobbed back and forth and Alex watched as the muscles in the creature's legs tightened, his own eyes narrowing in response. It curled just enough at the tip, the point angling straight for him, and his own leg muscles tightened, but he didn't move. Not until the last second, not until it was close enough that he could feel the air it moved against his cheek as he stepped forward, burying his sword to the hilt in the center of the creature's bent chest.

                                                      Risk and reward.

                                                      Strength and skill, not speed.

                                                      He'd barely finished with that one when another one was upon him, but he'd figured it out now, and the fight went about the same, except it ended with a severed head this time, Alex having decided to up the ante, to keep things fresh and exciting. And it'd been a closer call; his shield was taking an obvious beating from those tails, and he wasn't sure how much longer his arm would hold up against it, and so it'd pushed him to make more desperate moves, having pushed the tail away with the sword before striking the head, leaving his sheild arm to simply come up and cross back over the cut his sword'd made, the blade on the edge of his shield tracing along a similar pattern and completing the cut.

                                                      It was only then that he managed to stop and look around, the things seeming to be done. Medea'd actually found herself something new in the cornucopia where the thing'd chased her; her little knives might've done, but she wasn't wanting to get close enough for that. A harpoon gun, though, that'd remained buried in the recesses of the heat, propped up between a couple of pieces of metal that'd no doubt been scorching in the sunlight, had become her weapon of choice, and the mutt that she felled was practically peppered with them, five trailing along its side and leaving it bleeding out onto the sand.

                                                      She'd done well. Ili was next on his list of people to check on. Glitter. Gold - oh. That wasn't a pleasant sight. Nereus was last on his list, only because if something had happened to him, Alex didn't want to see it; he wasn't sure he'd handle it as well as he should, with his normal, calm demenor. And if nothing had happened to him, then there wasn't any reason to rush to check on him. Fortunately, when his eyes finally made their way over to him, he saw him. Standing there in one piece.

                                                      And he slowly let out a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and gave the other boy something of a smile, before moving to the crate to grab up the blankets. The exertion had them all sweating again, and with the way the chill was setting in, that could spell death if they weren't careful. "See if you can find anything for firewood." He said, not bothering with formalities or grieving over Gold, even if Glitter was.



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                                                      The first person that Nereus actually reached was Ili, his eyes dancing over her frame as she bent down, hands on knees and breathed in. It was a quick look, checking just to make sure that she’d hadn’t any major damage to her body before his eyes found her face and he offered a smile. She’d done well… Well enough to kill the damn thing… As it appeared all of them had. Well, save Gold of course. Gold was the first of the Careers to fall, and perhaps Nereus should feel a bit more remorse than he did, but it didn’t matter. He could afford to focus on that anyway.

                                                      Nereus smiled slightly and shook his head before he disappeared into the Cornucopia, the shadows engulfing him so that his frame dissipated in the darkness. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that he finally rememerged with a few bits of broken wood under his arm and a small lighter in his hand that he was currently in the process of flicking on and off. Hopefully now they’d be able to keep themselves warm through the night, because hypothermia certainly wasn’t a fun way to go… Back at the academy it was one of the classes they’d had to attend. An ice filled pool that actually induced hypothermia so that they could recognize and treat it immediately should the unfortunate situation ever arise… And it was, perhaps, Nereus’ most hated class… And that was saying quite a bit considering all the classes that they’d been forced through there.

                                                      “Alright, let’s get back and settled in before we all freeze…”
                                                      At Nereus’ suggestion, Glitter finally pulled herself from Gold, her eyes narrowed and face contorted, clearly in anger… Which meant that tomorrow she’d probably be far more ruthless than necessary, but hey… At least the viewers would watch.

                                                      The walk back went by quietly because everyone was really too exhausted to say much of anything to one another. Once they’d crawled back underneath the overhang and gotten all of the wood as well as the blankets up, Nereus quickly set about making the fire, finding it hard to get the wood to light initially, but he finally got in the end. Ili had decided to help in divvying up the blankets and it honestly looked like there were more than enough for everyone to have at least one, perhaps even two. All in all, it looked as though they make it through the night without losing a few fingers or toes…

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                                                      Ili set to the blankets, Nereus set to the fire.

                                                      That left little for the rest of them to do, until Alex took one of the blankets from the stack that was being divied up and a couple of Medea's knives (which earned him a loud: "Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing??", which he'd ignored in favor of just showing her, by using the blanket and the knives to create something of a wind barrier for those desert winds that were making the fire harder. "That." He said simply, before sliding back under the shelter, and setting himself down beside Nereus and his fire-making.

                                                      Medea just rolled her eyes at him, muttering something under her breath about him showing off - what with the strength it took to push those knives into the rock - and dug through the supplies they'd brought with them earlier to find the bit of food they had. Salted meat and bread that'd be stale in a few days, and fruit. Oh the fruit. She gave a quiet cheer when she found a mango, and used one of her knives to cut it open without hesitation, munching on it to herself as she began to distribute the rest of the food. She wasn't stupid enough not to do so evenly though.

                                                      Alex looked up at her when she handed him his portion and took it gratefully. "Thanks." It wasn't enough, of course; Alex was always famished even when he was well fed, but it would have to do. So he began to munch on the meat thoughtfully, before leaning just a touch to knock his shoulder into Nereus's, and then looking over at the other boy, giving him a bit of a smile. "Good job out there. I bet your family -" his brother, of course, but Alex wasn't saying that, only because it'd make it obvious how close the two of them were "Was screaming their heads off when they saw how you impaled that thing. Pretty impressive... for a fish-boy."

                                                      There was a teasing tone in his voice, though, and the way he looked up at Nereus out of the corner of his eye couldn't have been classified as anything but genuine. He wasn't being malicious or mean - though perhaps a touch arrogant, but that was something he had a hard time avoiding, and was always completely unintentional.




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                                                      Nereus had glanced up once when he felt the bite of the wind relax just slightly, the corner of his mouth rising for a brief moment before he focused back on the fire… He’d gotten it started, but that didn’t mean it would take. If he didn’t play with it, poke it, and shift the wood around it would no doubt eventually die out… And it was a weak flame anyway, one that he was attempting to get stronger. Delicately he reached a hand in, quickly snatching at one of the pieces that was actually on fire and tugging it so that it fell over one that wasn’t. He could feel the heat burning in his fingers, but there appeared to be no damage to the skin… And that was good enough for him.

                                                      Hazel eyes shift sideways when he noticed that Alex had joined him, flashing the other boy a brief smile before he finished up his work with the fire and finally sat down, allowing himself to relax. It was only now that he actually felt his entire body uncoil… His muscles relaxed from the tension earlier and his mind settled back into his usually comfortable state. One hand had reached out and gratefully accepted the food that Medea was offering out, but only after Glitter and Ili had gotten their own portions. Dried meat, bread, and a bit of fruit. It certainly wasn’t what he was used to living on, but he could definitely make do with it.

                                                      His full attention was focused on the food in his hands as he bit a piece of the meet off, deviating only when his body weight shift and he felt Alex bump into his shoulder, causing him to let out a quiet laugh. At the mention of his family he reached into his pocket and tugged out the small golden trident, his token from his District, and turned it over in his hand for a moment before bringing it to his lips and placing a light kiss to it. The people watching just might be absolutely baffled by the gesture because he’d made damn sure they had no knowledge of his token, not that they’d particularly cared… But he was sure that if Glaucus was watching at home, that little boy probably had tears in his eyes.

                                                      Eventually he tucked the trident back into his pocket and nodded slightly, looking back to Alex once more. “For a fish-boy?” His tone was light and playful as his eyebrow shot up, clearly challenging Alex. “Well, hey… I gotta admit. You’re dexterity out there was pretty impressive too.” And he’d meant it… There was no joke tacked onto the end of the statement, it was simply a straightforward compliment. Never mind the fact that he’d noticed just how vulnerable Alex had to make himself for those strikes, but they were still impressive nonetheless. After a moment he leaned in and knocked his shoulder against Alex’s, returning the favor and offering the boy a broad grin before he took another bite of the meat in his hand as well as the bread.


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                                                      XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXBut it might not be here where I feel safe



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                                                      "Well. It was impressive in general." He might've been tempted to continue with the teasing, but Nereus's genuine compliment seemed to deserve the same, and it was true. That was always how it happened though; they'd start with friendly conversation, which would turn complimentary, and before they knew it, they were knocking into each other and flirting and Alex was wondering what'd gone wrong in his head, because he shouldn't be doing all of that, but he just couldn't seem to help it. At the moment, though, he wasn't thinking that far ahead, and had just turned his head to smile at Nereus, watching the gesture quietly.

                                                      While Nereus hadn't shown him the token, he'd been playing with it enough on the roof for Alexander to gather the meaning, so he didn't bother inturrupting any of that, and instead devoted himself to eating the rest of his food, though his eyes strayed to the other boy a few times more than they should before he felt himself being knocked again, and he couldn't help the little laugh that escaped him in turn at the behavoir, shaking his head. "I know. I'm not entirely an oaf, am I?"

                                                      Because he knew how he could come across, what with all of his size and his strength. Like there wasn't much to him aside from that brawn. Really, his father might've been happy if there weren't personality behind it as well, but that was unavoidable. And maybe he was just mentally being a bit too harsh; he did believe that his father truly loved him. He just also seemed to have deeply internalized the belief that he needed to do something to earn that love.

                                                      He'd had to reach out a hand to catch himself, though, at the bump, and shook his head at Nereus. Not that he was discouraging any of it, really. "You're really proving your worth. Maybe tomorrow you can teach the rest of us how to run over sand like you did; I feel like I'm almost falling on my face half the time, with the way this stuff shifts." Not that he hadn't walked on sand before; he had. But he hadn't grown up on the beach. And of course, by 'the rest of us' he meant himself, Glitter and Medea, because he assumed Ili already knew.

                                                      Medea herself, however, had her head bent over the mango she was enjoying, not even bothering to think twice about how delicious it really was, and watching them out of the corner of her eye, feeling something flaring inside as she did so. There was an ease there that she'd never had with Alex, and something else that seemed to permeate the air around them. She wasn't sure what it was, but she knew she didn't particularly like it. What to do about that situation, though, was still up in the air. It was starting to look like Alex might indeed be more buddy-buddy with the District Four boy than he was with her. And that certainly wouldn't do.




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                                                      “No, not entirely.” Nereus responded with a shake of his head that was followed quickly after by a laugh and a smile. This was how it always went back in the academy… the easy conversation, the laughter and the jokes… Followed by things that broke the border of just friendship like light flirting and play… followed by playful touches that turned into intimate ones… and on a few occasions it had even ended up with them pressed closer than they should have been, or at least Alex’s perception of what should have happened, and they somehow found their lips locked in a kiss. It had rarely been heated (only once or twice that Nereus could recall) and always been genuine… More times than not it was a simple kiss, one that lasted beyond a second or two before Alex pulled away and the wall dropped between them once more, like a door slamming in Nereus’ face. Even though that was how it’d gone in the Academy, he knew that it wouldn’t move in that direction tonight. Not when Alex consciously knew his father was watching somewhere.

                                                      “Although you might be a bit too oafish to master that skill.” The words slid out in an easy, playful tone as he shook his head and finished off the meat and bread, his fingers now working on feeding himself the fruit piece by piece. “It’s actually fairly easy…” Nereus managed a moment later around a piece of fruit that he’d just popped in his mouth. He paused to chew and swallow before he continued. “You just have to know how to balance your weight just right at the right speed." Okay, perhaps it didn’t exactly sound simple, but it really was. Once you knew the speed at which evenly distributing your wait didn’t completely displace the sand, it was easy. After Nereus had eaten his last piece of fruit, he bent forward and once more poked at the fire, using his bare hands to grab and move the wood so that it kept burning and didn’t peter out. The warmth caught onto his skin and spread, heating up his entire palm and when he sat back, a grin settled into place. Carefully he reached out and slid his hand into place on the side of Alex’s neck, his warm skin contrasting greatly with the cooling temperature of Alex’s. And while the touch hadn’t intended to be at all misconstrued as intimate, he could feel that old, familiar static suddenly leap… so fast, in fact, that it caused him to blanch and pause for a moment before he shook his head and pulled his hand back. It did, however, cause the grin on his face to widen slightly which he covered by turning his attention back towards the fire.

                                                      “Okay… I have to ask…” He broke the small silence that had formed between them in a lighthearted way, leaning in so that he was closer to Alex and less able to be heard by anyone else, his voice dropping to a low whisper. “Was I the only one who actually laughed when Glitter and Gold were the announced victors for District One? I mean… who the hell names their kids Glitter and Gold of all things…”


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                                                      One eyebrow shot up skeptically when Nereus explained it all so incredibly simply, as if it were the most common thing in the world - his ability to run over shifting sand. "Oh, is that all? Just time everything completely perfectly. Completely simple, I see." He said with a solemn sort of nod. Except that then his face cracked into something of a smile, and he found himself looking over at Nereus, watching him as he ate. Alex'd finished his own food already; it didn't take him long, and he pretty much'd just inhaled it, as unhealthy as that might've been, given the situation.

                                                      "If that's all it takes --" The rest of his sentence was lost, though, when he felt Nereus's hand sliding against his neck like that, and the gesture quite literally sent a shiver through his spine. His hands were warm, and Alex found himself fighting hard to resist the urge to just lean into the touch. Suddenly, all of that comfort and ease was again underlined by a tension that felt like the air was a rubber band, pulled taunt and ready to snap at any moment if anyone just happened to move wrong - and between them, wrong moves happened a lot. Not that Nereus counted them as wrong moves, or that Alex could write them off so easily either, but deep down he had a feeling that it was wrong.

                                                      His eyes looked up, meeting Nereus's eyes easily at the touch, full of all of those unspoken things and echoing the static that built around them, his smile faltering just a little bit in favor of a more serious expression.

                                                      And then as quickly as it'd happened, it was gone, and they were free to resume pretending like had they been anywhere other than where they were, Alex might've leaned into the touch, and might've put his own hand on Nereus's leg affectionately. That if they were back in their dorms at the Academy, it might've easily slipped from the friendly banter they were having into something else entirely before Alex remembered himself. Fortunately at the the moment, Nereus was doing the remembering for him.

                                                      That was enough to bring a smile back to Alex's face, let alone the jokes that Nereus threw his way as he leaned in closer, and Alex leaned in as well, so that they truly appeared to be conspiring, whispering secrets to each other, even if his eyes were glued to the fire now. "Oh, come on. You have to have expected it. What were their tributes last year? Diamond and Sheen? And Satin and Shimmer the year before that?" A quiet, low chuckle escaped him, and he did turn his gaze to Nereus, trying to ignore the way that made his mouth dry out again, and the way it made his heart pound just a little bit harder in his chest.

                                                      "I have no idea though. I think the entire district must be on something. Or entirely too self-important." And that was saying a lot, considering how self-important his father was.

                                                      Their conversation was mundane; to anyone else it probably would have been downright boring. To them it was exciting and friendly and the perfect sort of thing to take their mind off the arena. To Medea, it was trouble. That touch - the way Alex had responded to it. They told her all she needed to know. Nereus was cute and charming and a good fighter, and he needed to go. Now. Before Alex decided to keep his alliance with his friend from Academy over her. Before Nereus worked his charm to win over jher co-tribute. It was a matter of survival, really.

                                                      "Hmmm... Glitter, why don't you and Ili and Alex sleep first tonight? Nereus and I can keep first watch." THere was something suggestive in her suggestion, as she looked over at Nereus and gave him a sort of smile that was definitely as fliratatious as she'd been earlier when she suggested he'd strip. "After all, you did wait until I was asleep to take off your clothes earlier. I feel like I've been deprived."




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                                                      Once more, a low, quiet laugh emitted from Nereus and he nodded his head, his grin broadening while he shift away and towards the fire once more. “I guess that’s true. Really shouldn’t have been surprised.” The words were hushed so that it didn’t extend beyond them, but a bit louder than he’d been talking before since he was no longer close to Alex. “But still… Glitter and Gold?” He arched a brow before shifting so that he rest back, his hands now behind him, supporting his wait. “I guess at least it wasn’t Silver and Gold…”

                                                      As soon as the words left his mouth, Medea’s voice met his ears and Nereus found himself turning, his hazel eyes finding her fairly quickly as he smiled. “Deprived?” He questioned, his tone inflecting the fact that he didn’t necessarily believe her, but he played along. “Well, it’s a shame that I can’t fix that seeing as how it’s way too cold for me to take my shirt off now.” And with that he winked at her before he turned to Alex and nudged his shoulder lightly.

                                                      “She’s right, though. We can handle the first watch… You should get some sleep.” For a brief moment he allowed his gaze to drift down to Alex’s arm before it cut back up, clearly indicating to the fact that he had to be exhausted from using it all day. How he wasn’t howling in pain, Nereus never would have known. “You too, Ili.” He called out over the fire, watching as the brunette’s head peaked up from something she was working on, her blue eyes finding Nereus in an instant.

                                                      “I’m not tired, really. I mean, if one of you would rather sleep…” She trailed off as she received a look from Nereus, one that she read easy enough before she huffed out a breath and rolled her eyes. “Fine…” She grumbled. Carefully she pushed herself to a kneeling position and grabbed the blankets, offering one up to Alex before she skittered across and gave one to Glitter as well who was already very nearly passed out in her own little corner against the wall.

                                                      “You sure?” She questioned as she came back towards Nereus, eyeing him carefully as he nodded. “Alright… Wake me up in like… two or three hours and I’ll take the next shift. Okay?” Once more Nereus nodded, and with a quiet huff Ili retreated to her own corner and pulled a blanket over herself, curling up so that she was within reach of the fire’s heat, but far enough away that she wouldn’t even come close to risking rolling into it.

                                                      After everyone had finally moved off to their own respective sleeping places, Nereus made room by the fire for Medea to come an join him. His gaze focused on her for a minute before he turned and looked at the fire before him, extending his hands out so that the heat seeped into his skin and traveled up his arms, warming him up just a bit.



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