Sammy loves pear.
When he was little, he used to ask for it all the time. Mostly, Dean had to tell him they didn’t have any or it was too expensive this year. But sometimes—on rare occasions—he got to see the delight on his little brother’s face as he bit into the juicy fruit. And that was enough to make Dean happy. He always let Sam have to whole pear.
Their father is a coal miner, and every morning before there’s any hint of light, he’s off to work. He comes back after dark each night and, though Dean knows his dad misses getting to see the sun, he never complains. He comes home with a grin on his face, kisses his wife, lifts Sam in the air and spins him around (or at least he used to, when Sam was little. Now he just musses his hair), and pats Dean on the back.
But today, John Winchester doesn’t get up early. Today is the reaping.
“Sam,” Dean whispers. He and his brother share a bed in a room about the size of half a closet. In the next room over, their parents are asleep.
Sam rolls over and opens his eyes. “Is it morning already?” he asks drowsily.
“Nope. It’s before morning. Time to get up.”
Sam sighs and sits up. “Let’s go then.”
Mary, their mother, used to go out beyond the chain link fence surrounding their dirt poor district and hunt. She’d bring back game and trade it for other food, fabric, and anything else that was needed. When she was around seventeen, she met John. He was the baker’s son and her father didn’t approve of the relationship. Of course, Sam and Dean’s grandfather didn’t approve of a lot of things when he’d been alive. Mary was stubborn though, and she took John out with her one morning and began teaching him how to hunt. It turned out he was a natural. But he eventually had to go to work in the coal mines.
Between the two parents, they’d taught Dean to hunt at a young age. And after Sammy was old enough, Dean had taken him out and taught him how to hunt.
The Winchesters did alright most of the time. They even managed to be happy, which wasn’t exactly common in District 12. But reaping day always came with a weight.
Dean remembered the first year Sam had been old enough to get his name put in the drawing. John had pulled him aside and told him, “If Sam’s name gets drawn, you volunteer for him, do you understand? You protect him.”
And Dean had answered with a, “Yes, sir.”
As if he needed to be told. If Sammy’s name got drawn, he would volunteer for him in a heartbeat. He was his little brother, his world. Dean would never let anything happen to him.
Once they’re beyond the fence, the brothers retrieve the two bows they have hidden, along with sheaths of arrows.
After an hour or two, Dean catches two squirrels and a mockingjay. Sam gets lucky and catches a fat rabbit. Its fur will bring them a good deal, not just the meat. Between the two of them, they catch six fish.
“Nice job, Sam,” Dean says, slapping his brother on the back.
Sam grins at the compliment.
“We might be able to get a cinnamon bun or two with that,” Dean says.
“Well, then what are we waiting for?” Sam asks. “Let’s head back!”
At the Hob, they manage to get three cinnamon buns for the rabbit. Sam breaks one in half and says that they should give the other two to Mom and Dad. The two brothers go in different directions to get more done at once. With three fish and the mockingjay, Dean gets a pear for Sammy. He’s pretty sure the generosity is due to the fact that today’s reaping day. Two kids are going to be given a death sentence today and which two is anyone’s guess. Dean gets some butter and Sam comes back with a loaf of bread.
“That’s it?” Dean asks. “You had three fish and a squirrel.”
Sam holds out his hand. “I got you this.”
Dean picks up the cord and holds it up, gold pendant dangling at the end. It was a strange face—it reminded Dean of the ancient masks he’d seen at school—with two horns protruding from the sides of its head.
“The woman said it was a protection charm. It’ll keep you safe in the reaping today.”
Dean smiles warmly at his brother and slips it over his head. “Thanks, Sammy. I got something for you, too.”
He reaches into his bag and pulls out the pear.
Sam breaks into a grin and takes the fruit from Dean’s palm. He takes a bite and closes his eyes to relish the taste. He stopped offering pear to Dean a long time ago; whenever Dean got any, he’d always give it to Sam right away and he’d never accept any himself.
“It’s delicious, Dean. Thanks.”
* * *
Their parents enjoy the cinnamon buns when Sam and Dean bring them home to them.
They have some bread and butter for breakfast, along with a little dried squirrel meat. Mary surprises them with strawberries, but after that it’s off to get cleaned up. It’s standard for everyone to look nice—or as nice as possible, at least—for the reaping.
Sam gets ready first and Dean mocks him relentlessly about how beautiful his hair would look in long, luxurious curls. Sam scoops up a handful of water and throws it at Dean, leaving a wet spot on his gray shirt.
“I appreciate the help, Sam, really, but I think I’m capable of bathing myself.”
Sam sticks his tongue out at him. “You need to shave.”
“You need to grow a beard,” Dean retaliates.
Sam shakes his head. “I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be the older brother.”
“I think you mean sister.”
Sam splashes more water and Dean leave the room laughing.
* * *
Dean’s wearing a faded moss green shirt and Sam has on a slightly off-white one. They got in separate lines to register. This is Dean’s last year. It’s only Sam’s third. They find each other before it begins and it starts like always. The announcer begins with a small speech about how wonderful everything is blah blah blah may the odds be ever in your favor. If you were between the ages of twelve and eighteen, the odds were never in your favor. A video gets shown, and, after that, the colorful woman reaches into the massive glass bowl to retrieve the first name.
She holds it up.
She unfolds it.
* * *
Daenerys Targaryen is the mayor’s daughter. She’s a quiet girl, but not shy. When she was five, she nearly burnt her family’s house down.
Daenerys Targaryen likes fire.
What Dany does not like is reaping day.
She’s sixteen and her name is only in the bowl five times. It’s not anywhere near as many as others her age, but it’s still there. In that glass bowl. Five times. That is enough to make her nervous.
She stands quietly among the other girls, eyes watching but not registering the video that plays on the screen.
When the woman decked in hideous orange ungloves a hand to reach into the glass bowl, Dany stops breathing.
Between two white fingers, the slip is held in the air.
Long, bony fingers unfold the parchment and there’s a suspenseful pause before she announces, “Sam Winchester.”
Dany doesn’t recognize the name, but she can feel the change in atmosphere very near. Five or six people over, she sees two boys. One younger than her and one who looks older. The older one has a death grip on the younger’s shoulders, and the crowd was parting to make way. The younger tries to take a step.
In the silence, the whisper is plenty loud. It comes from the boy with the green eyes.
“Dean,” the smaller boy says, “I have to go.”
Dean shakes his head stubbornly.
“Where is the child?” the woman in the hideous orange says into the microphone.
By some miracle, the boy escapes the grip of who Dany assumes is his brother. He walks forward quickly, making his way through the crowd faster than the usual tributes. Dany doesn’t quite understand how he can make his legs move so fast after being selected.
Her breath catches and Dean runs in front of her to catch up to Sam. The breeze feels wrong in the dreadfully still air. Downright unnatural. Of course, running is very unnatural on reaping day.
Dany wishes she had a match. A small flame would be a small comfort in the moment, but a comfort nonetheless.
Three Peacekeepers clad in white hold him back, and, if it not for his next words, Dany thinks he would’ve gone right through them.
There’s a moment of absolute silence even deeper than before and Dean repeats himself.
“I volunteer as tribute.”
And Dany thinks that she’s never heard words more clearly spoken.
Sam looks at his older brother, expression frozen in something worse than fear. His lips are trying to form words, but it seems there are none to be found.
After what feels like an eternity, he manages a weak, “Dean, no.”
The Peacekeepers begin to escort Dean past Sam and then the young boy loses it. “Dean!” he screams, running after his brother and slamming into the white suits. “Dean, no! Dean!”
Someone comes from the crowd, a powerfully built man, and lifts up the shrieking boy. He carries him away and from where Dany stands she catches a glimpse of the adult crying. Their father, she thinks.
The woman welcomes the volunteer and asks his name.
“Dean Winchester,” he answers stiffly. Dany can feel the hatred radiating from him, more powerful and reaching farther than any flames she’d ever felt.
“And I’d bet anything that Sam Winchester is your brother.”
Dany has never liked the Capitol accent and she finds herself hating it more and more each year.
“Yes.” His voice is a knife scraping steel. “I’m Sam Winchester’s brother.”
Dany glances over her shoulder and sees Sam being held by his father and a blonde woman, probably his mother. Sam and the father both cry, but the mother looks strong. Dany immediately sees Dean has his mother’s resolute strength.
The orange woman smiles awkwardly. “Couldn’t let him have all the glory, could you?”
Dean turns his eyes on her and Dany is surprised the woman doesn’t go up in flames right then and there. She goes back to the giant bowl and reaches her ungloved hand in for a second time.
Another round of awful suspense.
Dany doesn’t recognize this boy either. His approach is much less dramatic, a slow walk up, hindered by shock. He is well-built. Strong arms, dark hair. No one tries to stop him. No one volunteers before he reaches the steps.
No one from District 12 has ever volunteered that Dany can recall—not until a few minutes ago.
“Congratulations, Mr. Waters,” the woman in orange says. “And now for our final tribute.”
One last name. One last name. One last name.
* * *
Gendry sees the girl when her name is called—or rather slaughtered, despite being the mayor’s daughter. He’s never seen anyone grow more still. After hearing her name, seeing her hair is the next thing that strikes him. It’s somewhere between white and silver, but not at all grey. She wears it in a complicated series of braids and when she walks, it is with a certain sense of pride.
Before now, he’s never seen her, living in the outermost area of District 12 as he does. He remembers hearing a story once, years ago, that she’d nearly burnt her house to the ground. Whispers say she has an unhealthy obsession with fire, but Gendry thinks that just might be useful to her now. Fire is a weapon.
Her eyes seem unable to decide whether to appear green or blue, and when the disgustingly orange woman asks for the three of them to hold hands, she makes no move to. Neither does Dean. Brother volunteering to save brother has added an extra layer of solemnity to the air. Gendry doesn’t know the Winchesters well, but he does know of them, and he knows that the brothers are two of the most codependent people you would ever meet. Whenever he would see one, he’d always see the other. That gives Dean a fighting chance—he’ll be fighting for his brother. His anger will make him lethal, Gendry has no doubt.
Gendry doesn’t have anything to fight for. He lives with his uncle who is a carpenter and works as an apprentice. His uncle doesn’t care for him. Gendry has no special skills. But Dean and Daenerys? Maybe—just maybe—District 12 will find itself with a winning tribute for once.
The three of them are led off the stage and Gendry doesn’t even bother to hope that anyone will come see him off. His uncle will have to find a new apprentice.
* * *
Dany is given three minutes with her family. Three minutes to say goodbye. She’s trying not to panic, but she can’t stop her shaking hands. Her mother hugs her, tells her she loves her. Her father takes her by the shoulders and tells her to stay strong. Her brother looks her straight in the eye and says, “You have to win, sister.”
She resists the urge to slap him. One would think such words were to encourage, but Dany knows her brother, and, though she does love him, she knows his reasons are selfish. Winning tributes and their families are given impossible wealth. Viserys likes riches like Dany likes fire.
The door opens again and her family is told it’s time to leave. Her mother kisses her. Her father hugs her. Her brother wishes her good luck.
Dany’s fingers ache for fire. She will burn the others, that’s what she’ll do. She’ll light them on fire and let them scream. And after that she’ll go to the Capitol. She set fire to their buildings and watch them crumble. She fancies seeing President Zachariah dance in flames. She wants to smell his burning flesh.
* * *
Dean’s not good at goodbyes. Hell, Dean’s not good at anything, really. Except looking after Sam. So it seems suiting that that’s the last thing of importance he’s done. Saving Sam. But Dean doesn’t want to die either. He will if he has to, but he thinks he’ll kill first. He’s good with a bow and arrow. He’s a hunter. He’ll just be stalking different prey when he’s in the arena. And he’ll also be the prey.
Sam bursts through the doors and throws himself at Dean, sobbing unashamedly. If he didn’t have to stay strong for Sammy, Dean would cry with his little brother.
His parents come in next and John’s face is tear-streaked, but his mother’s eyes are dry. They don’t say anything for the first two minutes. The four of them stand together, embracing each other, supporting each other. But time is running out.
Mary takes his face in her hands and tells him in an unwavering voice, “You’ll win. They’ll kill each other—they do every year. You wait until they exhaust each other and then you strike. You kill the ones that are left and you come back home.”
John does his best to give Dean a smile. “Listen to your mother,” he says.
Sammy looks up at him. “The charm didn’t work.”
Dean gets onto his knee so he’s on the same level as Sammy. “I volunteered, Sam. It was my choice. You know what this will do?” he asks, holding up the pendant. “This will help me win.”
Sam’s hazel eyes sear themselves into Dean’s mind a final time. “Then win.”