I wondered why somebody didn't do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.
It's Reaping Day here in District 10. It's Reaping Day all over Panem, actually. Across Panem, twenty-four families are about to 'sacrifice' a child to the Capitol for the Hunger Games. Those twenty-four children, called Tributes, will be chosen at random and swept off the Capitol to be forced to fight to the death, and twenty-three will not return to their districts. The single Victor will be crowned and loved and adored and will win a year's supply of food for their district. My district hasn't won in nearly fifteen years due to a series of poor Tributes and some droughts that left depleted our already meager food supply and income. I look up at the stage in front of the Justice Building. Two large glass bowls are full of slips of paper. I know my name, John Watson, is on nearly fifty of them. I had to take out tesserae ever since I could just to help my family stay alive. The extra rations of grain and oil aren't much, but they're better than nothing. They are the reason my name is that bowl so much, since my sister, Harry, is now nineteen. She's no longer allowed to collect tesserae. At seventeen, I still have another year.
There are hundreds of us packed into the square in front of the Justice Building, just like cattle waiting for the slaughter in the hot sun. Sweat is dripping down my back, soaking my shirt. Our families surround us. Somewhere in that crowd, are Harry and my mother. There are also those who are sneaking through the crowd, taking on bets on who will be reaped, if they cry, faint, scream. That's how a fight started in the crowd one year. The Capitol loved it.
The escort for our district comes out onto the stage, a woman named Anthea. She has very red hair, redder than any I've ever seen, than any natural colour, but that was anyone from the Capitol really. Her skin looks too pale, her lips the same unnatural shade as her hair. Her clothes, though, are black. It's as though someone finally told her that we don't think the Reaping is a happy occasion in the districts. I shuffle my feet, waiting for her to speak. I'm still wearing my filthy working boots. Mum wasn't too pleased when I refused to change them.
Anthea welcomes us all to the Reaping, sounding excited despite her black attire, and explains the same boring thing she does every year.
The thirteen districts of Panem rebelled against the Capitol during the time known as the Dark Days, ending with the complete destruction of District 13. Following the defeat and surrender of the remaining twelve districts, the Capitol instated the Hunger Games to remind the districts that we are completely at their mercy. So, once a year, each district must offer up one male and one female child between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete. As she explains all of this, I cast my eyes over to the large group of girls, looking for one face in particular. There I see her. Mary Morstan. She's my age and lovely. Lots of boys are after her, but she turns down every one. Then, they all get jealous of me.
Mary's been my best friend for as long as we can remember. Her and her family work on our ranch, helping out with everything that needs to be done. We learned everything together: how to ride a horse, rope cattle, hunt predators in the wild. She keeps her eyes on me now and nods, as if she is trying to reassure me that everything will be okay. Her blonde hair has been set in a long plait down her back, tied up with ribbon. Her brown eyes don't leave mine until Anthea calls out, "Ladies first!"
My heart beats in my chest. I don't want them to call Mary.
A mousy girl with dull brown hair and eyes moves forward like a ghost. Only Anthea applauds. I look the girl over. She might be about fourteen, and she doesn't come from a ranch. She lives in town, for sure. What exactly her family does, I have no idea. At least it wasn't Mary.
"And now, the gentlemen!"
I watch her hand swirl over the bowl, then dip in to shift the papers around. My name is on fifty of those papers. My heart is still pounding, only this time, it's for me. It's not my name she calls.
No. Not him. Mike shouldn't even be allowed to sign up or be Reaped. Sure, he's big and strong and a good worker… but he's simpleminded. He still thinks like a young child at the age of sixteen. He's too good, too friendly, too much of a child. Even now, he looks utterly confused by what's happening. I hear his mother crying out, and it suddenly hits me that he's an only child. Peacekeepers close in on him, wanting to usher him to the stage. Without thinking, I do the only thing that seems to make sense out of everything. I surge forward to him, shouting, "No! Not him! I volunteer! I VOLUNTEER!"
The world stops. Everyone falls silent. I say, loud and firm, "I volunteer as Tribute."
My mother and sister cry out. Mike looks more confused than ever as I squeeze his shoulder on my way by. I'm not sure how I make it to the stage. The male mentor, Greg Lestrade, nods at me. I can't discern the look on his face. Sarah stares blankly ahead. Anthea, however, is excited. District 10 hasn't had a volunteer in nearly fifty years, not since the First Quarter Quell.
"Well, well! We're off to an exciting start!" she chirps, coming over to me, "And now, young man, what's your name?"
"Alright, how about a round of applause for this year's Tributes, Sarah Sawyer and John Watson!"
She starts to clap politely, but no one follows suit. Instead, they press their three middle fingers to their lips and then hold them out in a salute. It's old and rarely used, usually at the funerals of old timers. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love. It's a bold move. Anthea's clapping quickly dies out.
After that, our mayor reads the Treaty of Treason. It just reminds us of the terms of our surrender after the Dark Days. I'm not listening. I'm staring at Mike Stamford, a poor simpleminded boy who looks scared and sad and confused. I vaguely hear the mayor tell me and Sarah to shake hands. Her grip is limp and weak, her hand sweaty. As the anthem of Panem plays, I suddenly get the feeling that Sarah won't last long in the arena.
Once the anthem is finished, we are ushered off the stage and into the Justice Building. There is an hour before we will be headed to the train station. There is an hour for me to prepare myself. I will not cry. They cannot see me cry. My mother and sister come in first, both crying and upset. I hug them and try to calm them down. I tell them to be careful to make sure the cattle are taken care of, to watch for predators. They just nod. They know what to do. I emphasize that they should look after my horse. He'll be worried when I don't come back, and he's a good horse. If I don't win, at least he'll be worth some money.
The Peacekeepers come in and escort them out. Mary comes in next. She throws her arms around me and calls me an idiot. I wrap my arms around her waist and just breathe in. Then she whispers, "Get a knife. That's your best chance besides a bow. If they have a bow, then get that. I know you can win. You have to win, John. For me."
She kisses me quickly on the lips, says, "It's just like hunting. Remember that," and leaves.
The last ones to visit me are a surprise: Mike and his mother. She embraces me like I'm her own, just whispering, "Thank you," over and over. When she's done, she gently pushes Mike toward me and tells him softly, "Give it to him, honey."
He fishes clumsily in his pocket and pulls out a gold pin, circular, with a bird in flight at its center.
"Here, this is for you," he says.
"Thanks, Mike," I murmur.
"Will you wear this in the arena? You're allowed one item from your district as a token. I hope you'll take this with you," his mother explains, "Good luck, John."
She hugs me again, and so does Mike. I'm touched. After they leave, the Peacekeepers come in again and lead me out of the building to the train station. I've never been on a train before. People in Ten are only allowed on trains for official business, which really only includes transporting livestock for slaughter and processing. Mostly people travel by foot or on horseback. This train is special, though, a sleek bullet model from the Capitol that goes up to 200 mph. We are surrounded by a great deal of photographers and flashing lights. I try to keep my face a mask of calm. I see myself on a screen and am pleased to see that I am succeeding. Sarah has clearly been crying, her face splotchy, her eyes red and wet. I'm suddenly reminded of a girl who won the Games not long ago, Johanna Mason from District 7. She spent the whole Games appearing weak and vulnerable until there were only a few Tributes left. Then she killed them all and won. It was pretty impressive. Somehow, I don't think Sarah is pretending like that.
We're ushered onto the train where Anthea is waiting for us. She doesn't even look at us as she directs us to wash up for dinner, and we're shown to our rooms on the train. The floors are richly carpeted, and everything looks expensive, lavish. I even have my own indoor bathroom with a shower. I've only ever had an outhouse, definitely no shower. We had to boil water if we wanted it hot. I find that I enjoy a warm shower. It's nice. I quickly scrub down and redress, putting on different shoes. I find my way back to the main car, and I am assaulted by the best smells I've ever encountered. It almost makes me lightheaded.
Anthea and Greg, as well as the female Mentor, a middle aged black woman named Jeannette, are all seated and chatting politely, Anthea tapping away on a strange device. I have no idea what it could be. Sarah emerges not long after I do. She still looks very sad. We both sit down and start eating everything in sight, at least I did. It was all so wonderful. I ate three bowls of a delicious lamb stew with plums by myself.
"At least the two of you have manners," Anthea states, "Those two from last year ate like animals with their hands. No manners at all."
The two Tributes from last year were poor kids from the sheep country who'd lost half their flocks from starvation, drought, and predators. They hadn't had a good meal in years, maybe their whole lives. I make a point to start eating with my hands when I can. Anthea presses her lips together in distaste, and Greg smiles at me. I nearly make myself sick from the richness of the food. Anthea picks delicately at her plate, while Sarah just pushes everything around with her fork, barely eating at all.
After dinner, Anthea turns on a TV screen in the car so we can watch the highlights of the Reapings from every district. The Capitol spaces them out so a person could feasibly watch every one of them, but only the people in the Capitol can do so. They don't have to actually attend one. I watch only to see who I will be fighting in the arena. The boy from One is smallish but has dead looking eyes that honestly terrify me. The girl looks calm and gorgeous. Two's boy is large and muscular, while the girl is of average height, with dark brown skin and hair; she looks smug. There's a boy from Five with dark hair and a plain face that looks like he finds everything unpleasant. The boy from Eleven can't be more than twelve, very small and thin. The girl from Three looks even more upset than Sarah, barely holding back tears on stage. It is the boy from Three, though, that holds my attention. He volunteers before any name is called, looks genuinely bored with everything. His clothes look nicer than everyone else's, like he's of a higher class, and he's thin but not from starvation. He's intriguing.
I go to sleep that night with his face in my mind. I'm not sure why.
A spark neglected makes a mighty fire. ~Robert Herrick
My skin still feels raw after being scrubbed down and plucked by my prep team, who chattered above me like a flock of brightly colored, annoying birds. They leave me alone in the prep room, naked, waiting for my stylist; I know who it is. The pleasant older woman comes in, looking very normal for someone from the Capitol. Her graying hair is natural, and her only concession to the style of the Capitol is a bit of colored eyeliner that makes her eyes stand out nicely. She wears simple, black clothing so as not to distract from her Tribute. She circles me briefly, eyeing me up, checking me out, then says, "Go on and put on that robe, dear."
I pull it on and sit back down as she pushes a button to reveal a table of food. One look at it, and I know it would take a lot of work and time to create this meal in Ten. It must be very nice to be able procure such a fine meal at the push of a button.
"You must think we're all so horrible, John," she says quietly.
I don't answer. She speaks again, saying, "I'm Mrs. Hudson, your stylist, but you know that."
"Yeah. You're here to make me look good. Handsome."
"I'm here to help you make an impression, starting with tonight's chariot ride."
I'm worried now. The Tributes from Ten are never dressed cleverly. We are always dressed as animals or farmers or ranchers. It's always stupid looking.
"I want to make you unforgettable, John," she continues, "How do you feel about fire?"
Fire is terrifying. It destroys barns and houses, kills cattle and horses, annihilates grazing fields. It also keeps us warm at night and in winter and, after a fire, the grass always grows a little better.
"I don't know."
"Well, I hope you'll like it. See, every year we do the same thing. I want you to stand out. So I'm going a bit metaphorical this year. District 10 provides meat for the nation, yes? And how do you prepare this meat? Over a fire, of course."
"That's brilliant," I say.
"I thought so myself."
I like Mrs. Hudson very much. However, as I'm standing in the stables under the Remake Center, I'm not so sure. Sarah and I are dressed in matching black, skin-tight bodysuits with flowing orange capes that already look like flames. Mrs. Hudson and Sarah's stylist (Mrs. Turner) chatter eagerly, waiting for the right moment. Just before we roll out, our blood bay Appaloosas only at a walk, Mrs. Hudson steps forward and lights us. I prepare for the worst, but it only tickles slightly. (I'm a bit concerned when Mrs. Hudson sighs with relief.) Our horses take off at a healthy trot.
The chariot ride is the first real glimpse everyone will get of us. This is when sponsors start considering your potential, and the best looking Tributes usually get more from the sponsors: food, water, weapons, medicine, everything. Twenty minutes can make or break you. I grip the front of the chariot, and I suddenly recall Mrs. Hudson's words: Smile. They'll absolutely love you, dear. I plaster a huge, winning grin on my face and start waving. I am floored when I catch sight of myself on one of the huge screens around Capitol Circle. I look amazing, like some creature of myth from the times before the Dark Days. I might get some sponsors after all. We are the focus of attention. I hear people (women mostly) calling my name, having actually bothered to look it up. I will even admit that I blew a few kisses and caught some roses. These people could be my only hope in the very near future.
We stop at President Snow's mansion so he can welcome us with a speech. I see Sarah and I up on the screens more than the small man with the paper white hair that rules us with an iron fist. The cameras love us, holding on us as we parade around the circle a final time before going into the Training Center. Many of the other Tributes are giving us dirty looks for being so much more impressive than them, especially the Careers. Again, I am transfixed by the boy from Three. His eyes are piercing as he looks at me but not angry. He seems… curious. I wonder why.
It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how things are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it. ~Carl Jung
For the next three days, there is training for the Tributes. There are various stations set up for everything from archery to spear throwing to knot tying to edible plant identification. I look around and go right to knot tying, trying to avoid the Careers, the Tributes from One, Two, and Four. They're mostly all huge and deadly looking. I especially don't like the boy from One. He's rather small compared to the rest of them, but his eyes look dead. I also avoid Sarah. She's clingy and sad, and I don't want her around. I work on a snare to string up a human by their leg until it's perfect, along with refining my other snares. It's not long before I realize there's someone there with me. It's the boy from Three.
"Mind if I join you, John?" he asks in a deeper voice than I expected.
"Of course… erm, I-"
"I'm Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes."
"Of course, Sherlock."
It's a funny name, but he seems a bit funny, too. I feel like his eyes look right through me, right into my soul almost. It's very nearly unnerving.
"You're… you're from Three, right?" I ask stupidly.
"And you're from Ten."
He just gives a small smile and works quietly beside me. We both easily master our snares, leaving in silence. Together, we move through camouflage, edible plants, fire starting, shelter building, all the necessities of survival. I avoid the archery station. I want to save that for my private session with the Gamemakers. I do, over the three days, practice the things I'm not good at, like spear throwing and hand-to-hand combat. (I'm alright at it, but I could be better.) The entire time, Sherlock is at my side. I try not to get too close to him. I don't want to kill someone I actually like. However, he still sits with me at lunch, when all the Tributes eat together. We even chat, usually about hour homes.
I'm fascinated by life in Three, which is apparently a large city full of factories for making electronics for the Capitol. Kids there work as early as ten, and they get a full time position at eighteen. I'm surprised to learn the people there still starve. He, in turn, seems intrigued by the life of people in Ten. He can't seem to understand how the people who raise the food don't have enough to eat.
"It's nice, though," I tell him, "the open space. The stars are lovely at night."
The other boy frowns, the color of his eyes shifting darker, the first time I have seen them do this. Then, he mutters, "I've never seen the stars. It's too bright in Three."
It suddenly occurs to me that I hadn't seen any stars in the Capitol, either. I am somewhat saddened by the thought. I start explaining everything I know about the night sky. I tell him about the constellations and their stories and how useful they can be. He drinks in every word, listening with rapt attention. I should not be letting myself get this close to him, to like him. I can't help it. There is something entrancing about him. His face, for instance, is a strange compilation of features that seem like they shouldn't look good together but do: a mop of dark curls, high cheekbones, pale eyes, a thin face, full lips, long neck, lanky body. Somehow, he's handsome.
I don't cut such an imposing figure. Where he is tall and willowy, I am short and stocky, like most of the ranchers from Ten. My dirty blonde hair and sun-tanned skin aren't as eye-catching as his contrast of dark and light, and my eyes, well… plain old blue can never be as stunning as the kaleidoscope his pale eyes produce with each emotion. He'll have sponsors falling over themselves to get to him. No such luck with me.
"Are you rich?" I ask him at one point, sort of blurting it out.
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, you're pale. In Ten, anyone who's rich is pale because they don't have to work out on the farms and ranches in the sun all day," I explain.
"I sort of am," he tells me, "but mostly everyone in Three is pale from working inside a factory, even the very poor. Usually in Three, the wealthy are the tan people. They don't need to be cooped up in a factory working, and they spend leisure time outdoors."
I start laughing at how different even ideas of wealth and leisure are in our districts, and he starts to laugh with me. The Careers look at us with contempt, but I don't care. I'm just having a laugh with my new friend Sherlock. We'll both be dead soon anyway.
On the second day, after lunch, the twelve-year-old boy from Eleven starts following us around, Henry. He doesn't approach us, just sort of hovers. Up close, he looks even younger than twelve. He's very good at climbing, though, and he's handy with a slingshot. I'm not sure how much use that will be in the arena. I just wish he wouldn't hang around; he makes me sad.
Sherlock and I take the same elevator, and he gets off too soon. On the tenth floor, back in my quarters, I try to avoid Sarah some more. Anthea and Greg aren't speaking, and Mrs. Hudson is nowhere to be found. I wolf down dinner just so I don't have to deal with all of them. However, when I go back to my room, Greg follows and stops me.
"How's training?" he asks.
"Making any friends? Or alliances? 'Cause apparently you're ignoring Sarah."
"Why should I make friends with anyone? We're all dead in the end anyway. Don't wanna start liking someone and then have to kill 'em. It's not fair."
"Alliances can help. You can keep each other alive."
"We can watch each other die."
Greg sighs, saying, "John, I'm only trying to help. I don't want you dead."
I look up at him, and I suddenly remember that he's my mentor because he was once a Victor. He won these Games once upon a time. He knows what he's talking about. I let out a breath through my nose and say quietly, "I'm getting along nicely with the boy from Three… Sherlock. He's odd, but he's nice."
"From District 3? Be careful of him. The Tributes from Three are usually really smart. Too smart. Don't let him manipulate you, John."
"He's not manipulating me," I say defensively, "He's just lonely and afraid and looking for a friend."
"That may be true, but just remember, he volunteered for the Games, and not in anyone's place."
Then he walks away, leaving me alone and confused. Some mentor he is. That night, I see the boy with the kaleidoscope eyes in my mind again. I don't know what it means.
Reviews and concrit are love love love!
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955
I am sweating horribly, waiting to be interviewed by Kitty Reilly. She's interviewed every Tribute in Panem for years now, but she still looks the same. It's very odd. In Ten, it's quite the accomplishment to reach old age and look it. To be plump is to be wealthy. Not so here. In the Capitol, everyone wants to look young and thin. I'm not sure I'll ever understand. I look at Kitty on the big screen. Every year she wears a different color, and this year, she chose blue. Her hair and eyebrows are dyed powder blue to compliment the midnight blue skirt suit she is wearing. She's wearing pale blue lipstick, and I think she may have even dyed her tongue. She's almost scary. However, she does do her best every year to make all the Tributes shine and look their best for the sponsors. I'll need all the help I can get, even with my (exceptional) score of eleven.
All the Tributes are seated in a half-circle, waiting to be interviewed or for the other interviews to end. We all get three minutes with Kitty, no more and no less, and we go in ascending order of districts, starting with One.
The girl from One, Irene, simply oozes sexy. She'll have no problem getting sponsors at all in her slinky, black dress. The boy from One, Moriarty, still scares me. Even on camera, his eyes are dead, but his voice is soft, and somehow he's charming.
Sally is the girl from Two. She has dark skin and is fairly pretty. She sounds cold and calculating but smart. Sebastian, the boy from Two, is huge but speaks little; he looks dangerous. The Careers are formidable this year.
Molly, the girl from Three is next. She looks young and innocent and gushes about all the nice fancy things in the Capitol. The sponsors will love her if she survives. She only got a three.
"Now, everyone, let's meet Sherlock Holmes of District Three!" Kitty announces.
The crowd quiets a bit as he gets to feet and walks over to her calmly, shaking her hand and lounging in the chair. He looks stunning. His stylist dressed him in what appears to be a simple black suit and shirt, but when all the lights catch it, the fabric shimmers like iridescent feathers. It's incredible. He sounds almost bored as he answers Kitty's questions and by everything around him. I wonder why the Gamemakers gave him a ten. He must not have seemed bored to them. The crowd can't decide what to with him, whether they like him or not. I only know what I think.
The boy from Five is the next vaguely remarkable Tribute. His name is Anderson, a smaller, rat-faced boy who pushed his intelligence as his best attribute. I can see Sherlock shaking his head across from me. Clearly, Anderson's wit doesn't impress him.
I nervously await my turn as they call Sarah. She looks fairly gorgeous in a red gown and fiery designs painted on one of her arms. Like Molly, she's gone for smiley and bubbly, giggling and twirling for half her interview before actually answering any questions. I anxiously drag my sweating palms over my trouserlegs. When they release Sarah from the set and call my name, I get shakily to my feet and make my way to the chair, shaking Kitty's hand before sitting. I look up at one of the screens. Mrs. Hudson did a great job. My black suit looks wonderful with the flaming accents. Parts of me look like they're on fire.
"So, John, what do you like most about the Capitol so far?" she asks.
I barely process the words. My stomach is churning with anxiety because Greg never gave me a persona for the interview. All he said was 'Be yourself'. I mull the question and honestly answer, "The food. The lamb stew is delicious."
"Oh the one with the dried plums?"
"Yes, it's my favorite as well. I eat it by the bucketful," she explains, quickly adding to the audience, "I hope it doesn't show!"
The crowd reacts by shouting "No!" and cheering. She really does try to help. Once the noise dies down, she says, "So tell us about that costume from the opening ceremonies. I swear, I think my heart nearly stopped when you came out. What did you think of it?"
"After I got over my fear of being burned alive, you mean?" I blurt out.
I actually get a laugh from the crowd that time. I'm doing better. Kitty nods at me.
"I thought it was brilliant and amazing. Mrs. Hudson is wonderful to me. It was the best costume I'd ever seen for the ceremonies. I never I thought I could ever look like this," I answer.
"Oh yes, come on, stand up!" Kitty says excitedly, "Let's get a good look at it!"
I do as she says and stand up, turning slowly for the cameras to see.
"Wonderful, John! Just wonderful! Now, why don't you tell us about that score. E-le-ven. Come on, give us a hint of what happened in there."
The cameras focus on the Gamemakers, and I have to think quick. I can't tell Panem that I shot an arrow at the Gamemakers to get their attention from a dead pig.
"Well, I can say I think it was a first."
The Gamemakers chuckle and nod. Kitty groans, "You're killing us! Details, John!"
"I can't, I'm not supposed to talk about it," I say, then address the balcony, "Isn't that right?"
One of them, a large man who fell in a punch bowl, shouts, "No, he's not!"
There is laughter from the audience as I respond, "Sorry. Can't talk about it."
"Alright, then. Let's go back to the Reaping, when you volunteered for that boy. Can you tell us about him?"
I look around and find Mrs. Hudson. It'll be easier if I pretend I'm telling her.
"His name is Mike," I say softly, "I've known him my whole life, and he's the kindest, friendliest person you could ever hope to meet."
"Are you related?"
"Then why volunteer?"
"He's his family's only child. I didn't want him to… I didn't want that for his family. Family is important back home."
"Did he see you after the Reaping?"
"Yes, him and his mother."
"She hugged me, thanking me for doing what I did… and she told me to try and win."
"And what did you say?"
Capitol Circle is dead silent. Not even a cricket.
"I said," my voice has dropped lower than it ever has, " I said I would."
"I'm sure you will," Kitty says, "but our time is up. Ladies and gentlemen, the Tribute from District 10, John Watson, the Boy on Fire!"
The crowd cheers wildly as I sit down again. I feel a pair of eyes watching intently and see Sherlock watching me intently, like I'm under a microscope. I meet his pale eyes briefly but have to look away, his gaze too intense. I might be blushing. I cast my eyes back to the interview and see the girl from Eleven. She's on the bigger side, muscular. She could do some damage to a person if she got a hold of them. She doesn't speak much, seems almost shy.
The audience is quiet as little Henry flits across the stage to Kitty. He looks calm but still nervous. Kitty is nothing but sweet to him, complimenting him on his seven in training and asking what his greatest strength in the arena will be.
"I'm fast," he says confidently, "Very fast. And if they can't catch me, they can't kill me, so don't count me out."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Henry!"
I look across the group at Sherlock again, as we're basically even with each other. His eyes are still fixed on me. It's still uncomfortable, like he's trying to see through me now. I try not to squirm through the last two Tributes. I don't look at him again. The Games start tomorrow, and I don't want to miss him when he dies.
I hurry back to my room, avoiding Sherlock, not wanting to be around him. I don't want to pretend to have a friend. I shower and clean the scent of the Capitol from my body. My mind wanders to Mary. I wonder what she must think of me right now, looking so done up and proper in a fancy suit. I miss her. She would know how to calm me, make me smile, put me at ease. I need that right now, as sleep is not easily coming to me. It takes two hours for me to finally give up on sleep and go to the roof. It's warm up here, and the Capitol shines out below, the citizens in the middle of a huge party to celebrate tomorrow's Games. I sit on the edge of the roof, just breathing fresh air and thinking of home. My parents. My sister. Mary. Even my horse. I wonder how they will cope with me broadcast before all of Panem. With me fighting, and killing, to survive. Will I stay sane? Will I turn into one of those savage Tributes, the kind that tries to eat your heart when you're dead? There was a boy like that from Six a few years ago, that started eating his victims. The Gamemakers took him out with an avalanche just so he wouldn't win. I don't want to end up like that, a raging monster. My heart starts pounding faster, so I take some deep breaths to try and calm myself and look back down at the party. The music I can hear is happy and upbeat. It doesn't make me feel any better.
"What are you doing up here?" a voice behind me asks.
I jump a bit, startled, but I don't turn around. It's Sherlock.
"I just wanted to clear my head," I say.
He walks over and sits beside me on the roof, looking down at the party.
"Yup. What brings you up here?"
"My head was too full. I couldn't sleep."
We sit in silence for a few minutes, just watching the party down in Capitol Circle.
"Are they in costumes?" I ask.
"With the way they dress, how would we know?"
Laughter bubbles up from my throat suddenly, and he laughs along with me. For a little while at least, we can pretend tomorrow isn't coming. It's almost nice.
"What were you thinking about?" I ask him.
"Everything. It's how my brain works. Sometimes, I just think about… everything. I can't stop my mind from working. There are times where I don't sleep for days because of it. But what were you thinking of? Home?"
"Sort of. I'm really just thinking about the Games. I want… I dunno how to explain it," I say slowly, "I'm thinking of a way to make sure that I don't become a different person in the arena. If I die in there, I want to be myself. Not a monster. I don't want my family to deal with that… but I'm still trying to win. For myself. For them. For my district."
"You want to die as yourself? How could you die any other way?"
"Just the way I said."
"Do you mean you won't kill anyone?"
"No, I'm sure I'll kill to survive like anyone else when the time comes. I just don't wanna become… some crazy person, I guess."
"I… I'm still not sure I understand, John."
I look over at him. He seems genuinely confused and shocked by his confusion. I swallow and look to the sky, knowing that my next words are dangerous. Softly, I say to Sherlock, "I guess it's… I dunno… I just want to show the Capitol that they don't own me… that I'm not a just a piece in their game."
His face is serious as he replies, "But… we are. We're just that. Nothing more."
"No. I can't afford to think like that. I have to believe in something… for my family. For everyone."
We fall silent once more. Finally, I decide to go back to my room to try and sleep, knowing I will regret it tomorrow if I don't. I get to my feet and turn to leave when Sherlock says, "Wait…"
He looks up at me from his place on the ledge and extends his hand to me. His voice is soft when he tells me, "Good luck tomorrow, John Watson. If anyone deserves to win, it's you. You shouldn't even be here."
"Neither should you, Sherlock Holmes."
The boy with the kaleidoscope eyes doesn't answer with words, but his sad smile is enough to tell me that doesn't think he will live, much less that he deserves to. I consider making him my ally right here and now, but I decide against it. If he lives more than a few days, then maybe I'll ask. For now, I release his hand and return to my room. My scant dreams are filled with the colors I've seen swirling in his constantly changing eyes. I'm not comforted by it.
*No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness,
finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.*
The golden Cornucopia glints in the sun as we stand on our platforms. We all must wait one minute before leaving the platforms, or we'll be blown to bits by land mines. I survey the bounty. There's some plastic not far away; that will be useful for shelter. The orange knapsack sitting nearby will also be a good catch. I spy a small loaf of bread not far away. The items around the Cornucopia, however, are of more value the closer you get to the center. That plastic sheet is on the outer edge. An expensive tent sits within the Cornucopia itself, along with most of the food and weapons. Suddenly, I see a bow and a quiver of arrows.
*That's mine. They put that there for me.*
I quickly calculate the run in my head. While I'm short and stocky, I'm pretty fast on my feet when I need to be. If I could get off my platform right when the countdown ends, I might just make it. I look around at the other Tributes. Some of them may beat me there, and they are better fighters than I am. I catch sight of Sherlock about five places down. It looks like he's shaking his head at me. Before I can figure out why, the gong sounds.
I've missed my shot! I launch myself forward, immediately snatching up the square of plastic and loaf of bread, then head for the backpack. Just as I grab it, the boy from Nine tries to fight me for it. I debate fighting back, trying to figure out a good punch, when he coughs blood all over my face and collapses, a knife stuck in his back. The girl from One is grinning evilly at me, knife poised. On instinct, I hoist the backpack up to protect my head when she throws it, and I feel it stick. I keep running, headed for the woods.
*Thanks for the knife.*
She doesn't pursue me as I run into the woods ahead of me, putting distance between myself and the other Tributes. I don't dare stop and examine my pack until I've walked for half the day. All the gorging I did in the Capitol paid off. I'm not remotely hungry even after all my walking. Finally, with the sun low in the sky, I stop to look at what I've got. The best thing is a sleeping bag made of a material that reflects body heat, just like my jacket. That will come in handy. I've also got extra wool socks, a spool of wire, a pack of crackers, a pack of dried beef, and a half-gallon water bottle that I am disappointed to find empty. I don't think it would've been much trouble to fill it.
Its emptiness alerts me to my own thirst, the burning in my throat and dryness of my mouth. I need to find water. Soon. Water is not something I can survive without. I'll be dead in a week from dehydration, and it's a horrible way to die. I scale a tree to scout the terrain. The Cornucopia sits at the center of a large plain, surrounded by a huge pine forest. A good-sized lake sits to the extreme east of the arena, but so far it's the only visible water. However, I know there must be some nearby now. The rabbits on the forest floor have to drink somewhere.
I scale a few more trees just to look for water but no luck. Thankfully, by the end of the day, I find a small pond. I fill my water bottle and add the right amount of iodine to ensure it's safe for drinking. I definitely don't want to be that stupid Tribute who died of disease from drinking bad water. I drink the whole half-gallon by increments and then refill it for the night. As darkness falls, I find a nice willow to settle in for the night, as sleeping in a tree is so much safer than kipping on the ground. Anyone can kill you if you're sleeping on the ground.
I lay my sleeping bag over a nice thick branch, stuffing away the bright orange knapsack so it won't be seen. Then, I take my belt and loop it around the branch so if I fall out, I won't hit the forest floor. The air is getting cooler as it blows through the branches, so I pull up my hood and settle in to sleep. Even though my stomach rumbles, I don't dare touch any of my meager food supplies.
I am about to nod off when the boom of a canon pulls me violently awake and the anthem of Panem keeps my attention. I forgot. Every night, they show the faces of those who died, just their picture and district number. The first face is the boy from Four. That's odd. Usually all the Careers make it through the first day. However, it means that both Tributes from One, Two, and Three are all still alive. I was sure the girl from Three would be dead. The next faces are the girl from Four, the girl from Five, both Tributes from Six and Seven, the boy from Eight, and both from Nine. The sky goes dark after that, the anthem silenced. That's ten Tributes in all. There are fourteen of us left in the Arena. I try not to think about it as I go to sleep.
I spend the next couple of days making snares and catching rabbits and squirrels for dinner. I make sure to stay close to the creek and pond where I will be sure to have plenty of prey. Over those two days, both Tributes from Twelve die, as well as the girl from Eight. Eleven of us remain.
By the fourth night, things must have been too quiet for the Capitol, as I am woken up by the sound of animals thundering by. The smell of smoke is thick in the air. Immediately, I swear and hurriedly unhook myself from the tree, stuffing everything in my pack. It doesn't take me long to get to the ground and start running with the animals. I look back for a split second and see a wall of fire descending on the forest; I swear again. This wasn't some campfire gone out of control. The Gamemakers created it to make the Games more entertaining. Well, this is certainly a fitting end for the boy on fire, I think as I pull my sweaty shirt up to cover my nose.
I have no idea how long I've been running when I hear a loud bang and hiss, and I see a nearby tree destroyed by a fireball. More swearing. I will my legs to go faster. I dodge what feels like a hundred of them before I am able to stop and hide behind a rock formation. I start heaving right away, spitting black soot onto the rock in front of me. Another bang and hiss. I do not move fast enough. The fireball grazes my right calf. My pantleg is on fire and so is my leg. I cry out, furiously beating at my leg to put out the fire. After only a few seconds of the agony, I grab my knife and cut the burning fabric away, throwing it as far as possible and getting up to run again.
Finally, after what feels like forever, the wall of fire is gone, and I find another small pond. My leg is burning and my hands are starting to blister, so I put them both in the cool water of the pond. It feels so good on my burns, but they hurt even worse when I try to remove them. Unfortunately, when I hear people crashing through the underbrush, I have no choice. I wrench myself away from the pool and dash for an enormous pine nearby. The blisters on my hands burst on the rough bark, and pain flares through my leg as I climb, but at least I am twenty feet off the ground when the Career pack shows up. I hear them yelling below me and keep moving up. An arrow hits the tree above me. I pull it out and wave it tauntingly.
"So, how are you lot today?" I call down.
Oh, the Capitol will love that. The always love sass.
"Not too bad," the pretty girl from One calls, "What about you?"
"Well, it's a been a bit warm for me, but you can't have it all, I reckon."
"I'm sure it's much nicer down here. Won't you join us?"
"Nah, I think I'll stay up here. Nice and cozy, y'know?"
"Then we'll have to come up and get you," shouts the boy from One.
"Try it then."
He quickly turns to the Boy from Two and tells him, "Get him, Sebastian."
"Here, take this," says the girl from Two, holding out the bow and arrows.
"Nope, I just need my sword," Sebastian replies, "Try to hit him again, Sally."
She misses by a long shot. It's nearly funny. Sebastian growls and gives chase, so I shinny further up the tree. He's too big to get very far, anyway. He breaks branches and falls at thirty feet. I'm briefly hoping he broke his neck, but he gets up quickly. I look down from my perch. The four Careers are huddled around the trunk, along with a surprise: the girl from Three. She must have something pretty good to offer if they let her tag along. I'm having trouble thinking of what it could be, though, especially because she only got a five.
"Oh, let's just give up," says the girl from One (Irene I believe), "He'll have to come down eventually."
I hear murmured assent and watch as they all bed down for the night. I try to do the same, but my leg is burning painfully and my hands aren't much better. I bite the bullet and take a look at my leg. It's not the worst burn I've ever seen. It's just startling to see it on my own leg. It's blistered and red and some of the skin is charred black. I know there are herbs around here I could use to help the pain and heal the burn a bit, but I'd have to reach the ground to find them. I can't risk that. Not now. I lean back and mutter, "Damn it, Greg. I need help. What do I do?"
In the middle of my worrying, a silver parachute falls from the sky into my lap with a small box attached. I tear it open and look inside, finding a small pot. I twist off the lid, sniffing the contents. Medicinal. I take a small amount and apply to one of my burned palms. The relief is immediate.
"Thank you, Greg," I whisper.
I quickly slather it over the burn on my leg, sighing with relief. Once I'm done, I place it in the knapsack and settle in for the night. I idly look at a pair of animal eyes peering at me from a nearby tree, rustling the needles and branches. Suddenly, I sit bolt upright. Those are not the eyes of an animal.
It's Henry Knight, the little boy from Eleven.
A/N: Since there has been a direct question to me as to what happened to the scene in which the tracker jacker nest is cut down, I had one written but I cut it for being too similar to the book. I would assume that everyone reading this is familiar with the Hunger Games and knows what happened during that scene anyway.
*An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy to be called an idea at all.
"Oh, good. You're awake," says a small voice behind me.
I turn to find Henry. He looks so small, so frail. He's young and pale and thin, but his smile is so bright and innocent. How is it that no one volunteered to save him?
"How long was I out?" I ask, "Who's gone?"
"It's been a couple of days," he answers, "You were pretty out of it. I figured I should hide you until you woke up. And… I think that girl from Two is the only one gone."
I don't say anything. Henry continues, "Here, I've got something to help with those stings, too. We have a lot of tracker jackers in Eleven, so we have to fix them all the time."
He sits beside me and pops some leaves into his mouth, chewing them into a sort of paste. Then, he pulls the wad from his mouth and places it on the sting at my knee. I can't hold back a sigh of relief. I find myself begging him, "Oh, fix my neck! My cheek!"
With a little laugh, he agrees, chewing up more of the leaves. I can't believe I'd forgotten them for even a brief moment. Mother showed them to me long ago, when she was training me to be a Healer. Harry wasn't any good at it, and Mum always said Healers were born and not made. You have to have a special affinity for it, and I had it. Even this early on in training, I could heal a lot.
Henry and I talk for a bit, and I tell him, "I had the weirdest hallucination when the tracker jackers got me. I thought I saw Sherlock coming for me and taking me away, saving me."
"Good thing I did, too, or Sebastian would have killed you."
That oddly deep voice can only belong to Sherlock. He moves into my line of sight and I grin up at him. He looks thinner and sports a fat lip and bruised cheek, but he appears otherwise healthy as he presents me with the bow and arrows. I take them gratefully, examining them, shooting a few practice arrows into a nearby tree. After that, I take down a funny looking bird about the size of a turkey. It makes a pretty good meal for the three of us (even if it is pretty greasy), so I shoot a couple more. Henry devours what he can, but Sherlock barely eats. I wonder if he's always like this.
"I don't like eating too much. Slows me down," he says.
"What? Why'd you say that?" I ask.
"You were staring. You were wondering why I wasn't eating. I could practically hear the thoughts in your head, John. So, I am answering your unasked question. Eating slows me down."
"Really? I always found eating keeps me going."
"Of course. You are average. I'm not. I work differently than most people. For me, my body is just transport for my brain. My brain is everything, all I care about."
"Why?" Henry asks.
"It's my work. I can see things around me that no one else can. I just observe the world more closely than the average person. Doesn't really matter in here."
He falls silent and pops a bit of meat into his mouth. Henry picks up the lag in conversation, telling me how much he likes the bird, called a groosling, and says he's never had the chance to eat this much of it before. We don't have them in Ten, but he says they're very prominent in Eleven. He tells me all about his life, how he's the oldest of five, how he takes care of the younger kids especially since his father's died in an accident, how he works in the highest trees they have because he's so small.
"They can send me up to get the fruit growing at the top of the trees. It's useful because I can see when it's quitting time from up there, so I let everyone else know with a special whistle. The mockingjays help me out."
Henry shows us his whistle, four simple notes, and I suddenly remember the pin Mike's mother gave me, running a finger over it. Mockingjays are everywhere in Panem, and it's no surprise, really. During the Dark Days and the Rebellion, The Capitol created several creatures meant to crush the rebels, and the rebels called them muttations. One of the big failures were the jabberjays. They were birds that had the ability to memorize human speech and could repeat back entire conversations. They were used to spy on the Rebellion, but once the rebels figured it out, they simply lied and created false information for the jabberjays to carry back. The Capitol quickly abandoned their all male jabberjays to the wilderness across Panem, where they mated with female mockingbirds. Their offspring were the black and white mockingjays. These birds, while they can no longer repeat words, can mimic and learn a variety of human noises, and they can memorize whole songs if a person has the patience to teach them. My father could make them fall silent on our hunting trails or while we were herding cattle. Henry does it now, whistling the four notes again until the forest erupts with the simple tune. Sherlock seems perplexed.
"What are those? What's making that noise, John?"
"Just birds, Sherlock. It's only the mockingjays," I answer calmly.
His pale eyes still look around curiously. It occurs to me that mockingjays might not exist in Three, especially if it's just a big city like Sherlock told me it was.
The three of us stick together even at night, all climbing up into one tall tree. I set up the sleeping bag, and somehow we all fit comfortably inside, although Sherlock put up quite a fuss. I told him he was welcome to freeze to death on his own. He decided that sharing the sleeping bag was better. It's certainly the warmest night any of have spent in the Arena.
We wake with the sun the next morning and spend the day searching for food and water.
"The Careers sure aren't doing much," I state, "Nothing much has happened the last few days."
"Well, they've got all the food and supplies and weapons haven't they?" Henry replies, "It's all stockpiled down by the Cornucopia near the lake."
Of course. No one's going to challenge them for the supplies. They could hoarde whatever they wanted and not have to want for anything.
"They've probably never been hungry in their lives," I say to Henry and Sherlock, "I bet if they were hungry, we could beat them easy."
"But they're not hungry, John," Henry tells us.
Sherlock has a glint in his eyes when he turns to us and says, "No… not yet they're not."
Some days there won't be a song in your heart.
Sing anyway. ~Emory Austin
Now, I need to find Sherlock and Henry. I pass the fires they set as a distraction. The first two had been lit and were now ash, but the third was untouched. I whistle those four notes Henry taught us to alert them to my return as the sun just begins to set. The first one I run into is Sherlock.
"Why aren't you with Henry?" I ask, "Where is he?"
"Not sure. We had to split up after the second fire," he explains, "The Careers were coming for us, and we thought we'd be harder to find if we weren't together. I'm-"
A shrill scream fills the air, and we both run to the sound. It's a high-pitched scream, one from a child… from Henry. We find him trapped in a net, struggling to free himself. I am within six feet of him when the spear pierces his stomach. I see Sebastian smiling, and I shoot an arrow right into his neck. I ignore his gurgling cries as he slumps to the ground in favor of tending to Henry. Even with my skills as a Healer, there is no hope for him. No one can help little Henry Knight now. Sherlock seems unsure of what to do with himself, afraid to touch the dying boy. After a moment, he clutches the tiny hand in his own. I kneel beside him, pulling Henry's head into my lap.
"Did you get the food?" he whispers, "Is it all gone?"
"Yup. Every last bit of it," I answer.
"You have to win. One of you has to win."
"We will. I promise."
The cannon sounds for Sebastian.
"Don't go," Henry whimpers.
"No, of course not," I choke out, "We'll stay right here."
"John… will you sing for me?"
This is the last request of Henry, the little boy from Eleven, the one I took it upon myself to protect. Sing, he says. Sing what? I know some songs, songs my father taught me on the trails, songs my mother sang to send me to sleep and to soothe patients. There are few I remember all the words for, and only one of these seems fitting.
It's a lullaby my mother used to sing when Harry or I was sick, and I've sung it to Harry a few times even though she's older. She gets sick a lot and has nightmares, so I sing it to calm her. Most often, this song is used for sick or hungry little ones, just so they will sleep. I'm not how comforting it will sound with my voice choked from tears and smoke, but I will do it just for him.
I clear my throat and begin:
"Deep in the meadow, under the willow
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head and close your sleepy eyes
And when again they open the sun will rise
Here it's safe and here it's warm
Here the daisies guard you from all harm
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you..."
"Deep in the meadow, hidden far away
A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray
Forget your woes and let your troubles lay
And when again it's morning, they'll wash away
Here it's safe and here it's warm
Here the daisies guard you from all harm,"
"Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you."
"There's nothing we can do," I mutter thickly.
He looks up at me. I suspect he's never seen anyone die before the Games, definitely not someone he's known or liked. The kaleidoscope eyes are wide and wet and red, tears rolling freely down his face. I watch as Sherlock gently lets go of his hand and lays it over the now stilled heart. Little Henry still looks so vulnerable, even though he's out of harm's way now, and I can't even find it in me to hate the boy from Two who looks so unlike a killer in death. I can only hate the Capitol. I hate them for killing Henry. I hate them for the Hunger Games.
I tell Sherlock, "You collect the packs and what we need from Henry. I'll be back," and go off to a small embankment where I'd seen wildflowers growing. I will make sure that no one in the Capitol forgets Henry. I collect a number of yellow and white flowers and return to Sherlock and Henry. Sherlock is trying to remove the spear.
"No," I say, "leave it. They'll take away any weapons left in a body up in the hovercraft, and we don't have any use for a spear. I'll be happier with it gone."
I hand him some of the flowers and set to wreathing Henry's body with them. It's an old custom in Ten for deceased children. Sherlock watches me for a moment before joining to help me. When we're finally finished, I give his body the three-fingered salute I was given when I left Ten, take my arrow from Sebastian's neck, and we both leave so the hovercraft can pick them up.
We wander through the forest aimlessly until it gets too dark to see properly. Neither of us speaks, and I do not hunt. I don't think either of us is very hungry anyway. We finally find a tree to kip in for the night, both us tucked away in the sleeping bag as the temperature plummets. Just as we get comfortable, a silver parachute drops from the sky into our laps. Sherlock pulls it open to reveal a grainy, crescent-shaped loaf of bread.
"I think it's from Eleven," he mutters, "Look at the seeds."
"It must have cost the people a lot. They would've had to scrape together any money they could to send it… and then they gave it to us instead of pulling it. We should be very grateful."
I gingerly take the loaf from him and hold it up in front of us, whispering, "Our thanks to the people of District Eleven," just they will know. They could have sent it to their remaining Tribute, but they gave it to us. I now know the whole of Panem watch me sing him to sleep. That night, when the anthem plays, we see Sebastian, Molly, and Henry in the stars. I feel Sherlock move closer to me, and he whispers, "John… I don't want you to die. I'll never survive without you."
I say nothing, feeling that there must be some deeper meaning to what he says as if he has trouble saying exactly what he means.
"It's not fair," he murmurs not long after.
"It's the Hunger Games, Sherlock. When have they ever been fair?"
He nudges even closer to me and drapes an arm across my middle, as if I will disappear from his side sometime in the night. I try to reassure him by pressing my nose into his dark mop of curls and pulling him tight against to my body. My dreams that night are bright and joyful, full of Sherlock, Henry, and I living happily far away from these horrible Games.
A bit of Johnlock in this chapter, as it follows the basic plot of Katniss and Peeta in this scene. I hinted at a bit more romance though :)
Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby. ~Langston Hughes
Light is streaming through the entrance to the cave when I wake up. I briefly wonder what's happening when I remember that Sherlock drugged me. How long ago, I'm not sure because I can't be sure how long I've been out of it. I sit up carefully, feeling better than before I was drugged. I perform a quick check on myself and find that my shoulder feels the best it has since I was wounded. The once infected gash no longer smells of festering flesh, the signs of blood poisoning no longer crawling down my arm. A smallish orange pack sits beside me on the floor of the cave along with a red one of similar size, maybe a little bigger. The memories flood back.
The call to a Feast. (One should keep in mind that a feast isn't always food. Sometimes it's just things we need. This was one of those.)
Arguing with Sherlock over whether or not he should go. ("It's something we need, John! What if it's medicine that could save you? I can't simply sit around this cave and wait for you to die!" "Dammit, Sherlock! You can't go! You'll die out there! I won't let you!")
Sherlock drugging me. (Even in my feverish state, I could taste the sleep syrup in the berry juice he made me drink. Bastard even forced me to finish it like a parent would their child. Sneaky prick.)
I quickly look around for him, stupidly calling out his name. My heart drops when I see him. He's lying in a terrifyingly large pool of blood, his dark curls slick with them. I crawl to him and turn him onto his back, praying he's still alive, so grateful to find that he is. A large cut on his forehead still bleeds sluggishly. A pair of bloody socks lies abandoned next to him. I grab the socks, and quickly as I can, go to the stream just outside to wash them out. When I come back in, I use one to stem the blood flow and the other to clean the blood off his face. After that, I dig through the new packs and find bandages in the orange one. I wrap a length of bandage around Sherlock's head once I get the worst of the bleeding stopped. I don't know what happened at the Feast, but I intend to ask him about it as soon as he's awake.
That doesn't happen until the next morning. I watch as his pale eyes flutter open and blearily look around. He moves to sit up, but I hold him down, saying, "You've had a nasty head injury. I'd stay down for a bit longer."
"It's raining," he mumbles, eyes darting around.
"Yeah… started up not too long ago," I answer.
Sherlock doesn't reply. He just reaches up to finger at the bandage on his head. I help him drink some water and say, "Alright, now… I'm gonna get you out of some of these damp clothes so you can warm up, 'kay? You don't have to do anything…"
I carefully pull off his boots and socks, remove his trousers, and rub some warmth into his feet before wrapping my own jacket around them and tucking him into the sleeping bag. I then feed him a bit of meat and some dried fruit to help him get his strength up. Once I am confident he's finally resting, I get up and set up a couple of containers to catch the rainwater trickling into our cave.
"So," I say, sitting back down beside him, "I saw that girl from One, Irene, died. You kill her?"
"No… that huge girl from Eleven crushed her skull with a rock."
"Good thing she didn't get you, then."
"She did, but she let me go," he replies softly.
"What? Let you go?"
"Yes. Irene was going to cut up my face (she did this"-he gestures to his bandages-"earlier), and she said something about Henry. Right when she was going to start, that girl came and just picked her up like a rag doll. She screamed at her, asking if she killed Henry, but as soon as Irene called for Moriarty, she killed her with that rock," Sherlock tells me, "Then she turned on me, asking why Irene mentioned Henry to me. I told her everything that happened… the boy from Two, you singing Henry to sleep, me holding his hand… and she said she would let me go because that way there would be no more owed. I didn't understand. I still don't."
"You probably wouldn't. Doesn't sound like something that happens where you're from," I reply, "I know exactly what she means. Gifts are hard to pay back, and the first one is always the hardest."
"And what exactly was my gift, John?" he asks darkly.
I think about it briefly.
"We made sure a little boy didn't die scared and alone far away from his family," I respond quietly, "and then we avenged his death, too."
"You avenged his death. Not me."
"Did you tell her about the flowers?"
"Yes, I did. I think that's what got her, really..."
I sit back and sigh, saying, "So, the girl from Eleven and Moriarty, huh?"
"I suppose it's too much to hope they'll kill each other simultaneously, eh?"
It suddenly hits me that I don't want that girl to die. If she lived in Ten or Three, I think we'd like her, be friends with her. Sherlock carefully pushes himself into a sitting position as my lip starts to tremble. I'm tired of all the death. I don't want anyone else to die. I wish this was all a dream I could just wake up from, that I will find myself in my bed, my mother calling me to breakfast before my farm chores. Tears pool in my eyes.
"John? What's wrong? Are you in pain?" Sherlock asks, worry in his voice.
No, I'm not in pain, but I can't tell him the truth. I tell him something very near it instead.
"I want to go home, Sherlock."
"You will. I promise."
"I want to go home now."
"Then go to sleep for a bit," he tells me softly, "You can dream of home."
He shifts a bit in the sleeping bag, making room for me to slip in beside him. I nestle in against his body, falling asleep as he strokes my hair. I will be angry with him for drugging me. I will be angry with him for putting himself in danger. For now, though, I try not think how if we are the only two left… one of us must die.
I don't want to lose the boy with the kaleidoscope eyes.
The rain falls for another two days. I cannot go out and hunt. Neither of us can go out and gather anything. The gnawing hunger in our stomachs is almost painful, and I'm sure the Gamemakers are using it to flush out Moriarty and the girl from Eleven. I can't imagine anything interesting has happened in the last few days, not since the Feast. Anderson is probably holed up in his den. Moriarty and Eleven are likely cold and wet and hungry, maybe even weak. Sherlock and I certainly haven't done anything more interesting than nap and huddle together for warmth. At one point, on that final day of pouring rain, Sherlock says quietly, "John… you know we can't both win… right?"
"I've tried not to think about it, actually."
"Me, too… but we can't keep lying to ourselves. Even if the two of us are left, one of us will have to die. I think it should be me."
"No, Sherlock. Stop talking like that."
"It's true. I don't deserve to win," he explains, looking directly into my eyes, "Do you know why I volunteered? I was bored in Three. Nothing was stimulating enough for me, so I volunteered, thinking that when I died, at least it would be interesting. Not if I died. When. I came into this knowing I wouldn't go home. You though… you deserve to win and go home. You volunteered to save someone else. You befriended me when no one else ever has. You gave a little boy comfort in his dying moments. You're a good man, John Watson. Something I will never be."
I just look back in shock. How can he think that of himself? I can't believe it.
"Sherlock… you are a good man. You may have volunteered for selfish reasons, but that prevented another family from losing their son. And those other things? You did those, too. You're just as good as I am, if those are your only parameters. I wish you could see that… like I do."
He stares at me in disbelief before burying his head into my uninjured shoulder. I feel his arms slip around my neck, and he murmurs, "Play along," so quietly against my neck that I barely hear it. He pulls his face away from my shoulder and looks into my eyes, making me feel frozen under his pale gaze. I wet my lips nervously.
I don't react when Sherlock leans in and presses his lips to mine. I can't. He brings a hand around to cup my cheek, muttering, "Kiss me back," and squeezing my hand in a warning. When he kisses me this time, I clumsily move my lips against his. I have never kissed anyone, and I don't think he has, either. While I know it starts as a simple deception, a way to maybe make people see that we both should win, a way to influence the people of the Capitol who love us, it's not long until it changes. It starts to feel just so right that I can't help but wonder if I have wanted this all along… if he has wanted it all along. Something sparks lazily up my spine, settling in a quiet buzz at the back of my skull. I weave my fingers through his dark curls as his hands clutch my face, our mouths working slowly against the other. I don't want it to end.
He pulls away, and I start to lean into him, wanting more. He simply kisses my forehead, whispering, "Here, let me check your wound, then we can go to sleep. It's time for bed anyway."
"Fine, but I'm going to check your head, too. Want to make sure it doesn't start bleeding again."
When we settle down in the sleeping bag, he faces away from me, butting his back up against my chest. I wrap my arms around him and bury my nose into his hair, breathing deeply and evenly.
If I try hard enough, and I am very lucky, tonight I will be able to have a nice dream about a time after these Games, when Sherlock and I both survive and stay together. If little Henry happens to make an appearance, well… that's even nicer, I suppose.
I am so sorry this took so long to post! Life has been crazy lately, with working a great deal and working on being accepted to graduate school... but here it is, the penultimate chapter. I hope to get the last one up soon, and I'll keep on apologizing for how long this took to post....
As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.
Sherlock is loud. I've no idea how someone so slight could make so much noise. It's as if he's just stomping through the forest, doing his very best to scare away any prey within a mile. Finally, I tell him, "You need to be more quiet, Sherlock, if you're gonna stay with me. I can't shoot anything like this. Why don't you… go collect some berries and roots? We'll need them."
I quickly tell him what he could find in the area for us to eat and teach him a short whistle for a signal between us. I also leave him the knife for protection. Without him, the woods come to life around me. In what feels like no time at all, I have three squirrels, two rabbits, and two groosling. Happy with my catch, I signal for Sherlock. He doesn't respond. I whistle again, thinking it possible he just didn't hear me the first time, but still get no response. Fearing the worst, I run to meet him. I see my old sheet of plastic on the ground, the bread and cheese laid out with some berries. Not too far away, I find Sherlock.
"Why didn't you answer me?" I demand.
"Didn't hear you," he replies casually.
"That's not good enough, Sherlock! When two people agree on a signal, they have to stay in range of each other and pay attention to what's around them because when one doesn't answer, it means they're in trouble! Look what happened to Henry!"
He doesn't look at me, which means he knows I'm right. I stalk away, back to our makeshift rendezvous point, and get ready to clean my kills when I notice some of the cheese missing.
"Sherlock, did you start eating with out me?" I ask loudly.
"No, of course not. Why?" he answers, coming over.
"Well, I don't suppose the cheese ate itself."
"I don't who or what ate the cheese," he replies stiffly, "I wasn't here. I was down by the stream collecting berries. Care for one, John? They look delicious."
He holds out his hand, filled with small, round, blue berries. They look very similar to the berries Henry picked up but not quite. I puzzle over it for a moment before remembering what they are. I can hear my mother telling me, "These are nightlock, John. Very poisonous! You'll be dead in seconds if you eat these berries."
I'm startled by the boom of the cannon and whip around, half-expecting Sherlock to be dead on the ground. He merely raises an eyebrow at me. Not too far in the distance, we see the limp body of Anderson being carried away.
"Do you think Moriarty got him?" Sherlock asks.
"Nope. You did."
"What? How did I kill him John? I haven't laid eyes on him since day one!"
I say, "You did kill him, though," and gesture to his palm.
"They're called nightlock," I continue, "and they're really deadly. I think Anderson's been surviving by scavenging off everyone else through the whole Games. It finally caught up with him."
Sherlock seems put out, disappointed in himself probably.
"I thought they were the ones you gathered before."
"No matter. We'll just get rid of them. No harm done."
Of course, there was harm done. A person is dead. But we can't afford to think like that at this point in the Games. I don't get rid of all the berries, however, pocketing a few in case we can trick Moriarty into eating some. With only three of us left now, the Gamemakers will want us to meet Moriarty soon. For now, Sherlock whips up a fire for us, and we cook the meat I got us earlier. When that's done, we throw some green wood on the fire to make smoke and try to throw Moriarty off our scent (I doubt he'll fall for it), and I find us a nice tall tree to kip in for the night. As the sun sets, we tuck ourselves into the sleeping bag, pressing close and eating more of the meat and bread. It's very cozy in our tree, protected from the wind, watching the twinkling stars, feeling each other's body heat. Sherlock sleeps soundly next to me, and I lean in to press a kiss to his forehead, not for the audience of Panem but for myself. I am so glad that the cannon wasn't for him, that he is still with me. Unfortunately, even if we beat Moriarty, we both can't make it out alive. It's so unfair for both of us to have come this far together and then be forced to decide which of us will be allowed to live. I want to cry from the injustice of it all.
Instead, I begin working on a plan to defeat Moriarty, wondering if Sherlock has already thought of one himself. Moriarty seems to me incredibly smart but extremely unhinged. He reacted violently to the destruction of the supplies, but he didn't kill the girl himself. He had the boy from Two do it. Can he do his own killing when the time comes? I have no idea. It's a long while before I drift off to sleep.
When we wake in the morning and descend to the ground, I find that all the little streams and ponds have dried up overnight.
"They're driving us to the lake," Sherlock says, "Moriarty must be near there."
"Or he'll be going there soon, like us. Come on, we'd better leave while we're rested and fed. We'll have to ration our water until then."
We walk for the whole, not stopping for anything. All there is to care about is the lake. Sherlock walks close to me, his hand occasionally brushing mine; it's nice. I briefly wonder what Mary thinks of our act, of us playing the lovebirds. I suddenly feel it might not be entirely an act.
It's nearly sunset when we reach the Cornucopia. We take the extra time to the surrounding area for Moriarty, but he's nowhere to be found, so we rush across the open area to the lakeshore. I fill the bottles while Sherlock keeps watch, saying, "It's getting dark soon. That's when Moriarty hunts. We'll have to be careful, John."
"I reckon we can wait half an hour for him. Then we'll take cover in a tree for the night."
Around us, there are black and white mockingjays perched in the trees, whistling and singing to one another. I open my mouth and sing Henry's four notes for them. The mockingjays pause curiously, listening to the new song. I repeat the four notes to silence. There's a beat, then a single bird takes up the tune, then a few more. In a short time, the forest comes alive with the song.
"That's Henry's song," Sherlock whispers.
"I wonder who'll sing it now, when it's time to quit the harvest."
I don't have an answer for him. He waits a moment, then says, "They went silent for you, John… listening."
"They've been known to do it," I reply softly, "They do it for my mum and dad, too. They know what voices they like, what they don't like… try to imitate what they do. I kept a mockingjay when I was younger to help it heal a broken wing and taught it a whole song."
"What sort of song?"
"A very old one. I don't even know the words anymore…"
Sherlock falls silent, listening to the mockingjays sing for Henry, and takes my hand in his. It feels like it belongs there, and I allow myself a smile.
All of the sudden, the mockingjays' song becomes distorted and breaks off, huge numbers of them swarming out of the trees with a cry of alarm. Moriarty bursts through the trees, bearing down on us. I don't even have time to fire an arrow before he blows past us, ignoring us entirely. A moment later, I see why.
"RUN!" I scream.
I grab Sherlock's hand and drag him with me right behind Moriarty, a pack of six enormous, wolf-like muttations on our tail. The three of us sprint for the Cornucopia and start climbing it, our fingers scrabbling for any purchase they can get. I manage to get myself up first, then haul Sherlock up by his arms. The mutts below us bark and howl. Beside me, Sherlock lets out a cry of shock.
"What? What's wrong?"
"John! John, the mutts!"
"What about them?"
"They're the dead Tributes!"
I look at the nearest one. Glossy black fur, pale blue eyes. A leather collar with a diamond studded '1' on it. It's Irene. I see another with the eyes of the girl from Three, Molly. There's one with greasy looking, dark brown fur… Anderson from Five. Then, most horribly, I spy the smallest one, with sleek brown fur and chocolate brown eyes bearing a collar woven from straw with an '11'. Henry.
"What did they do to them? Are those their eyes?" I ask.
Sherlock starts to reply when he's jerked away from my side and onto his feet. I jump and face him, quickly drawing an arrow and nocking it, ready to let it fly. Moriarty, although a bit shorter, has Sherlock in a vicious chokehold, slowly cutting off all his air. I aim the arrow at Moriarty, but he says, "No, no, Johnny boy! You hit me, and I'll tumble off the edge with your precious Sherlock, and we'll both be eaten by those mutts!"
I definitely do not want Sherlock ripped apart by those mutts, not one bit. However, his lips are now tinged blue. He struggles to pull in even a little air. Moriarty's grin is evil. We are at a standstill. I start running scenarios in my head, trying to figure out a way to kill Moriarty and not kill Sherlock. I could shoot Moriarty in the hand or arm. That might make him let go of Sherlock and allow one of us to push him off the edge. I change the aim of my arrow, making a barely noticeable shift, but Sherlock catches my eye. He gives a tiny shake of his head. I see his lips form the words, 'Do you trust me?' I give him a slight nod, hoping Moriarty sees nothing more than a twitch. An icy chill runs up my spine as Sherlock's lips curve into a smile. 'Goodbye, John.'
I barely have time to comprehend what he's doing when he jerks his whole body back into Moriarty. They both lurch back before tumbling over the edge of the Cornucopia.
I fall to my knees upon hearing a cannon go off immediately. Moriarty must have snapped Sherlock's neck on the way down. Moriarty's pained screams fill the air as the mutts rip into him. I crawl over the side and hazard a look down. At least Sherlock's body is untouched. I don't dare leave the safety of the Cornucopia to check on him while the mutts are still there. They've probably been engineered to attack anything living, for when the second cannon sounds for Moriarty, the pack of mutts runs back into the woods. They are no longer needed. The Capitol has their Victor.
I slide down the side of the Cornucopia and approach Sherlock's body. Tears spring to my eyes without me wanting them to. This is the most unfair thing to happen in these Games. Why couldn't they let us be? Why couldn't the Games have two Victors? What would that hurt? I forget there are cameras surrounding me, and I simply lay my head on Sherlock's chest and cry. I let the nation hear my sobs for the boy I led them to believe I loved… that I truly did love more than I would a brother. Overhead, I hear Claudius Templesmith, the official voice of the Hunger Games, announce, "Ladies and gentlemen of Panem, I give you the Victor of the Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games! From District Ten, John Watson!"
I pull my head up as the hovercraft comes for me and the last bodies. Just as the claw is lowered to pick up Sherlock's body, his eyes shoot open and he sits up. I could practically hear Panem gasp with shock. I immediately ignore my hovercraft and hurry back to Sherlock, throwing my arms around him. Nothing could ever make me happier than finding out he's alive. Nothing. I feel his arms around me, his nose rubbing against my neck. I don't care about anything else.
"There has been a revision!" Templesmith's voice booms, "As there are two Tributes left, no Victor can be declared. Good luck to you both."
"No!" Sherlock shouts, "That's not fair! I died! All it says is that I had to die! It doesn't say I can't come back once I'm dead! IT'S NOT FAIR!"
"Sherlock, be quiet," I whisper, "That's not going to work."
"Then what are we supposed to do?"
"We could refuse to kill each other. We could run off an live in the arena forever," I murmur.
"No, John," he breathes against my neck, "The Capitol needs their Victor."
I get an idea. A very stupid, dangerous idea. I pull away from Sherlock, saying for all of Panem to hear, "No, don't say that, Sherlock. I can't live without you. I won't. I just thought I lost you, and I was so afraid and sad and alone."
"Don't. Just don't, John. We both know that if anyone deserves to go home, it's you. You're such a good person, so much better than I am. I don't deserve the chance to win and go home… especially if it means killing you."
"Of course you deserve it. You have family like everyone else. I can't kill you."
"Then I'll do it myself."
He pulls out the knife and moves it toward his arm. I slap it out of his hand.
"John! Just let me do it! One of us has to win!" Sherlock shouts.
I fumble for my belt pouch and retrieve the nightlock I put in there the other day. Sherlock recognizes them. He's not stupid. He knows what we have to do.
"On the count of three?" he asks shakily.
I lean in and kiss him on the lips very gently, then embrace him, my lips close to his ear and hidden from view, so I can whisper, "Don't chew them up."
When I pull back, I say for Panem, "On the count of three."
I flatten my palm, showing the berries to the cameras while allowing Sherlock to take some. They'll figure it out.
Maybe I'm mistaken.
Maybe the Gamemakers don't remember. Maybe they'll just let us die.
I find that I don't care anymore. With one last look at Sherlock, I move the berries to my mouth, holding the gaze of those kaleidoscope eyes. He mimics my movements. I have them nearly in my mouth when the frantic voice of Claudius Templesmith shouts, "Stop! Stop!"
We both lower our hands, looking confused and relieved.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Panem, I give you the two Victors of the Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games! From District Three, Sherlock Holmes! And from District Ten, John Watson!"