In the District of stone and stone-workers, in a land that does not forget except for what it has already forgotten, there lives a boy and a girl. Long before they understand the true nature of death, they carry an intimate knowledge of how to kill. It does not take them very long to learn. The bite of steel, the flash of silver, the stain of blood: how quickly life falls from a body.
Before they could speak they learn the poetry of death, how to end a life—it is as easy as reaching out and taking it. You take it, because if you don't then someone else will do it first, and if that happens then what is the point (of this, of anything, of you) in even thinking you could be in the Games? What makes you worthy to be the Tribute? What makes you worthy to represent your District?
And so the girl picks up her knives, sweetly sharp and brittle bright, and learns the quickest way to a man's heart and the slowest way to watch him die. And so the boy picks up his sword, radiantly ruthless and cunning keen, and learns the most direct path to survival is brutal and bloody and that survival means nothing if taken without victory. Together they learn the dance of death, and they learn it well.
Long before they ever see the arena of their true Game, there is another game they like to play, the boy and the girl. It goes like this: that boy, the one that looks like he's build out of a mountain—slowly, break his arms, let him run, slash his Achilles tendon, make him beg. That girl, small like a bird—quickly, no sport in that, slit her throat and let her fall. That boy, over there with the bright hair—slowly, let him think he has a fighting chance before he gets a sword in the stomach. That girl, with the arrows—let me have her, I’ll give them a show.
It goes like this, every meeting, every passing stranger—second nature, instinctive, a way to sharpen their skills and pass the time. Competing, as in everything, they share plans and strategies with each other to see who can find the best method, the most creative technique, to destroy their prey.
By the time they make it to the Games, they have killed everyone in their District a dozen times over.
There are only two deaths they do not speak of when they play their game, and those deaths belong to each other. There is no need to speak of them, for between the boy and the girl there is an understanding—implicit and absolute—that whatever it is, however it’s done, it will be only the most glorious.
What the girl does not tell the boy is that, if asked, she would have nothing to say to him. She still hasn't planned his death, though certainly not for lack of trying—she sees him often, during the day (at training, or when they practice, or when they eat meals, or when they fight), and he often crosses her mind when they are apart (at night, as she sharpens her blades, as she hones her body, as she waits for sleep). She imagines setting a trap to string him up, neat and pretty. She imagines pining him down and carving patterns into his skin. She imagines slitting his throat and rubbing his blood into her pores. She imagines his face as he looks at her in his last moments of life, knowing that she had beaten him, that she had bested him. It always brings a smile to her face, one that catches jagged on the corner of her mouth.
The problem is, of course, that it must be perfect. Every single moment of it—and there will be many, for his death will be her hardest, her longest, her most dearly earned—must be precisely planned and flawlessly executed. It must be, because it will be her final gift to him, the most precious thing she could ever give him: he must be nothing less than her best kill. Piece by piece she will take him apart; she will accept nothing less.
What the boy does not tell the girl is that, if asked, he would have no answer to give her. Every time he imagines killing her—which is nearly every day, for there is not often one that goes by without her entering either his presence or his mind—nothing seems quite right. He could cut her down with his sword, swift and precise—but no, she would see that coming before he so much as touched the hilt. She was too quick, too clever, for his great blade to take her by surprise. He could poison her—but no, what’s the point if she isn’t standing before him when she dies? Perhaps his bare hands then—she is strong, but once he got a hold on her she would never be able to escape. She would put up a fight of course, but he could just wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze; he would be able to feel her pulse jump beneath his fingers and her breath catch in her lungs and he could look right into her eyes as she gives him her warrior's death.
For some reason, after indulging in that last particular fantasy, he always finds himself unable to quite meet her gaze for several hours; his tongue sticks in his mouth, his blood beats in his ears, and his fingers curl for want of purchase. Eventually he decides that no, strangulation will not be the way. Besides, the audience would likely want something a little…grander, something a little more elaborate, and she deserves nothing but the very grandest he can give. In fact, it’s probably best that he doesn’t touch her body at all until the whole thing is over.
However it is done though, their deaths belong to them and no one else. This is a sacred truth, one that they have known almost as long as they have known each other. They will be the last two standing, and whichever of them dies will go out in a true blaze of glory.
They do not fear any of this. With that final death, one way or the other, they will both become immortal.
This is why, when the girl’s name is called, her smirk flashes swift across her face, razor and reckless and oh so bright. She will take these Games, she will take the whole damn world, and nothing and no one will stop her from killing every last one of them. They are all going to feel the edge of her knife.
This is why the boy volunteers before she even makes it to the top of the platform. From the crowd he catches her eye, and his answering grin is savage and satisfied. He can do this. He will do this. He will win in front of all the eyes of Panem, and he will save his best for last.
The boy and the girl know, like all the children of the Districts, that their greatest calling is to death, and so from the time they are born they learn all the patterns and forms and shapes that it comes in. They are strong, and they are proud, and they will win the Games because the Games are their birthright, just as death is their birthright. They know this, take comfort in this, rejoice in this.
Before they could speak they learned the song of death, and when it calls they answer not with fear, but instead go fiercely and with joy; for nothing could be more glorious, for a girl and a boy.