Chapter 1: Darling, Everything's On Fire
Dean’s pretty sure this is a dream. It has to be, right? There are almost a hundred kids in District Seven, their names in the pot just as many times as his (24 times, to be specific…which okay, definitely does not put the odds in his favor) but it seems so ridiculous that out of every single name in there, it’s his that’s called.
Really, it’s just not fair.
Okay, that’s selfish. But still.
Dean has a family to take care of. Sam’s only twelve years old; he hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet (but when he does, he’ll shoot up like a tree), and he’s small and scrawny, too little to be of any use in the woods cutting down trees. Their dad spends all his days at the lumber mill, working long hours to make the meager amount of money he’s paid to buy them grain to eat. Dean works just as many hours, but it’s Dean’s extra supply of grain he gets from tesserae that really gets them through the long winter months when the trees are too wet and dead from the harsh winters to cut down and ship to the Capitol.
That and his sticky fingers. He’s the best pick-pocket and con artist this side of District Four.
It’s Dean’s job to look after his little brother. His responsibility. If he goes to the Games, who’ll make sure he doesn’t starve?
Because Dean will waltz up to President Zachariah Adler and punch him in the face live on national television before he lets Sam take out tesserae in his own name. And that’s a fact.
“Dean!” Sam’s cry reaches his ear as his little brother jumps out of his place in the back of the assembled children and runs towards him. But one of the Peacekeepers, a vicious man named Azazel, grabs him roughly by the arm, twisting painfully.
“Let him fucking go!” Dean growls suddenly, jumping off the stage with a giant leap. His feet hit the muddy earth and he advances on Azazel threateningly, seeing nothing but red even as someone’s stun rod slaps down firmly on his back, sending him sprawling to the ground with a pained moan.
There’s a ruckus above him, a few of the adults outside the roped off area, rise up in protest, his father’s deep, rough voice the loudest among them. The Peacekeepers swarm on them, the scuffle bleeding into a full-blown rebellion. Dean’s still face-down in the mud, stunned into temporary paralysis, but even he can’t mistake the sounds of the small uprising being quickly quelled by the magnificent weaponry of the Capitol-funded foot soldiers.
Chaos erupts in the square, and Dean suddenly has the terrifying idea that he’ll be trampled to death long before he can make it to the Games. Talk about a dishonorable death.
Sam yelps out in pain from somewhere above him and Dean yells into the mud, inhaling the wet, earthy taste, clumps of dead leaves and wilted grass muffling his desperate cry. Samsamsam races through his mind as the fight continues brutal and deadly above him, until someone finally seems to have the good grace to wrench Dean out of the street. The long fingers of the thick dark sludge cling to him, trying to draw him back into its smothering embrace but the grip around his arm tightens. Chuck Shurley, the quiet, mousy boy who lives a couple houses down from him, appears, lifting him with all his strength and tugging him out of harm’s way.
“Thanks,” he slurs, his head toppling to the side bonelessly, as equally paralyzed as his limbs.
“Don’t mention it,” the other boy squeaks, gray eyes wide as they watch the scene unfold before them. It’s like one out one of those programs they show on the anniversary of the Treaty of Treason, the dramatic reenactment of District Thirteen being quelled by the awesome force of the Capitol, a terrifying reminder to the districts to stay in line or else.
That’s when it happens.
In terms of drama, it’s severely lacking. There’s no slow motion capture, no intense cut-away to a montage of everyone’s faces overlaid by a foreboding orchestral piece. There’s just the sound of a gun and the world stills.
John Winchester falls to the ground dead.
It’s like a flip is switched. The crowd backs off as the Peacekeeper corral them away from the square. Most of them even scurry away to their homes and lock the doors behind them. Cowards. Survivors. It’s the same thing out here.
John Winchester was a survivor.
Dean’s pretty sure he should feel something, some faint sense of loss or grief or anything really. But all he feels is numb. Achingly, relievingly numb. Disjointed. Heavy. Sam’s clinging to him now. He can feel his wet eyelashes against his skin as he buries his face into his neck to stifle his cries. The feeling begins to return to Dean’s arms and he wraps them around Sam comfortingly, still staring at the body as the Peacekeepers unceremoniously remove it from view.
“Well, isn’t this just awful,” Crowley murmurs in his thick Capitol accent, not sounding sincere in the slightest. In fact, his greasy lips (painted black this time to match his black contacts, which give his eyes a demonic edge) curl up into a sinister smirk and if Dean had the ambition, he’d punch him right in his smarmy face.
“But we really must be going,” Crowley continues and with a snap of his fingers, burly hands grip painfully around their arms and tear them apart.
“What? No – Sam!” He reaches for him, struggling against his captors with every ounce of strength he has left, biting and clawing like a desperate warrior. They can’t take Sam away from him, especially not now. He’ll die without him.
But it’s too late. His brother’s being dragged away, and Dean’s helpless to stop it.
He’s shoved into the train, head slamming against the window with a painful crack.
The doors slide shut.
Chapter 2: Over the Hills and Fall Away
It doesn’t matter that his head is pounding when he wakes up, throbbing like a giant redwood slammed down on him and then got ran over by a steam-roller that backed up and reversed over him again (because seriously, ow), the first name on his lips is still (and will always be) “Sam?”
But it’s not Sam. The figure at the edge of his plush, satin-sheeted bed is too old and too surly to be his little brother. Everything from the dirty, fraying hat covering his balding head and grumpy scowl behind his graying beard to the amber beads of liquor clinging to the empty bottle in his calloused palms screams pissed off. After the kind of day he’s had, it’s only natural for Dean to flinch in response.
“Calm down, kid,” he says in an equally gruff voice, rumbling and bitter and sounding like home, uneducated compared to the pronounced Capitol accent. “I ain’t your brother, but that don’t mean I’m gonna hurt you.”
Dean squints at him through the blinding pain in his head, and damn, he sort of wishes there were more than dregs left in that bottle because he could use a fucking drink right about now. Actually, make that ten. Better yet, just let him go home, bastards.
“Wait,” he says groggily, frowning in confusion. “I know you. You live in the Victor’s Village.”
“Well ain’t you observant,” Grumpy Old Man snorts, draining the last few droplets from his bottle. Dean scowls at him; just because he’s got a bump on his head doesn’t mean he needs to make him feel stupid. It’s not like Dean hasn’t had an astoundingly bad day already or anything. Asshole.
Grumpy Old Man finally tosses his bottle to the side, clattering satisfyingly to the floor, and Dean’s pretty sure he can hear Crowley’s eye roll from here. “Bobby Singer,” he introduces, wiping a drop of whiskey from his gray whiskers. Dean eyes him suspiciously for a moment then takes his hand, the roughness of his palm reminding him painfully of his father, the thought so sudden that it feels like his whole chest nearly collapses in pain.
He must make some sort of choked off whimper, because suddenly Bobby pats his back reassuringly, with more tenderness than the surly man seems to possess. It’d be so easy for Dean to collapse into him like a scared, small child (which he is) but he’s John Winchester’s son, and he knows better than that. His dad would kill him for showing weakness, now especially. Dean can’t afford to be weak. He has to win the games and get back to Sam; he’s all he has left. He has to take care of him, no matter what.
“My brother – “ He nearly scowls at the way his voice trembles at the end, betraying his steely reserve.
“He’s fine,” Bobby cuts in quickly, scouring the room for another bottle of liquor. And Dean thought his dad had had a liver of steel, drinking rot-gut like it was water… “Got him all settled up with a good family from town. The Moore’s,” he clarifies, muffled, his head lodged in a mahogany cabinet as he rustles around. “Their little girl got reaped too.”
“Jess?” Dean asks with a frown. She’s only twelve if he remembers correctly, with curly blonde hair that had Sam making googly eyes at her all summer.
Bobby makes a pleased sound, pulling out a hidden bottle like a trophy, a dark russet liquid sloshing around inside the dust-covered glass. “Bingo!” he exclaims happily as he uncorks it, looking like someone just handed him a year’s worth of grain, which is about the happiest Dean’s ever seen him.
But Crowley suddenly appears, practically out of thin air, looking as demonic as ever as he snatches the bottle brusquely from his large fingers. Bobby’s outcry of “balls!” just makes the suave man grin devilishly, lips curled up in a wicked smirk.
“Now, now, love,” Crowley coos, sickeningly sweet, making Dean feel physically ill at the syrupy voice. “We’re going to be on television in a few hours. No need to remind Panem how uncouth your district is. They already know, I assure you.”
“Why you slimy – “
“Ah, ah, love, sweet talk will get you nowhere,” he purrs with a fiendish wink, the bottle magically emptying into Crowley’s waiting and eager tumbler. Bobby scowls darkly and Dean suddenly understands how the older man could have won the Hunger Games years before. He’s scary.
“What are you two, seven?” a sassy voice behind the three men demands sarcastically, the spitfire’s wavy blonde hair bobbing into view as Jess appears from the other train car.
“Aren’t you?” Dean pipes up just for the hell of it, because the hell-raising twelve-year-old has always been fun to bicker with. No wonder Sam’s got a crush on her.
“Still more mature than you,” she quips back, giving him a look.
He rolls his eyes dismissively. “Keep dreaming, sweetheart.”
She huffs at him (“great comeback, squirt”) and turns to the two older men, specifically Bobby, who looks wholly unimpressed. “So, are you gonna teach us or what?”
“Or what,” Bobby snorts, only half-listening, laser-focused on the bottle of liquor in Crowley’s hands.
“That’s not funny,” Jess says darkly, green eyes narrowed. Jess is pretty scary too, actually, now that Dean thinks about it. She probably has a better chance of surviving than him. Which, yeah, is a fucking tough realization, but not nearly as bad as the one that follows. Because if Dean stands a chance of winning, that means Jess has to die. Dean might have to kill her. They’re both fighting against each other for their one chance to return to District Seven. To their families.
His stomach churns. There isn’t a thing in this world that Dean wouldn’t do to make sure Sam is okay. Not a damn thing.
“The fact that you think you have even a marginal chance of winning is mind-bogglingly comical,” Crowley cuts in smoothly, pompous and snarky. “My two-week-old pup has more chance of survival than you two pathetic pieces of pre-chewed Career fodder.”
Jess swallows at that, because despite everything, she’s still only twelve and scared, and hell, Dean’s scared out of his damn mind too, but that doesn’t give those bastards the right to laugh about a very real possibility. “Well, maybe we’d have a damn chance if you both got your heads out of your asses and helped us, you sick sonsuvbitches!”
It’s a speech worthy of a Capitol propo and Dean’s pretty sure there should be an epic soundtrack overlaid by some stock footage of a victory fist pump and the sun rising over amber waves of grain, but Crowley seems whole-heartedly unimpressed, not even sparing him a bored roll of his cold steely eyes.
Bobby, on the other hand, looks at Dean thoughtfully, eyes bright with curious realization. “Hell, you really are John Winchester’s son, ain’t you?”
“’Course I am,” Dean says, wary but proud. His dad has always been his hero; he’s tried to be just like him since the day he was born.
“Your daddy was always a stubborn sonuvabitch,” Bobby murmurs, almost thoughtfully to himself.
Dean arches an eyebrow at the older man. “You knew my dad?”
For a long moment, it looks like Bobby may not answer, but then the surly man sighs and nods. “A long time ago.”
He frowns at that. “He’s never talked about you.”
“Yeah, well, is that my problem?” Bobby huffs dismissively. “No ill respect for the dead or anything, but your daddy was an asshole sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean all the damn time.”
Dean can’t rightly argue with that because, yeah, his dad had been harsh sometimes, but he was still his father, no matter what. And it wasn’t like they live the easiest lives either. Stress makes people do shit they wouldn’t normally do. It happens.
“So you’ll help us?” Jess peeps up from the background, and they look at Bobby with closeted hopefulness. Bobby is the only chance they have of winning the games. Without him, they’re dead already. Hell, they should probably just kill themselves if the older man doesn’t agree. It’d be quicker and kinder.
“Ah, hell,” Bobby mumbles, “guess someone’s gotta keep you idjits alive. Might as well be me.”
It takes all of Dean’s effort not to slump in relief. Maybe now he’ll actually have a chance of going home; maybe now he’ll get to see Sam again, and then he can tell him how sorry he is that he left when Sam needs him the most. He’s always been the one to take care of him, but here he is, three thousand miles away, heading to the Capitol to play in their ridiculous game where he’ll more than likely be killed, leaving Sam completely and utterly alone.
Dad would be ashamed.
But then again, there were a lot of things their dad had been ashamed of him for. Dean has never been perfect in his eyes. Hell, it’s practically poetic that Dean will die making the biggest mistake of his life in his father’s eyes. Too bad Dad won’t be there to see it (which, by the way, is also Dean’s fault, if anyone’s curious).
But leaving Sam is also his biggest mistake in his own eyes, and he’ll be damned if the last moments they had together were those. Fuck that, he’ll find a way to win this damn game (sorry Jess), and then he’ll head back to District Seven and him and Sam will head far away where no one, not even the goddamn Capitol itself, will be able to find them.
“I promise, Sam,” he mumbles.
The Capitol comes into view.