Sherlock knew full well that he ought to be more worried than he was, as Mycroft had pointed out several times this was the year of the hundredth Hunger Games, thus a Quarter Quell, and the Capitol had just ordered that District Five would assemble in the main square and that all children between the ages of twelve and eighteen would have to be there.
Indeed, alarm bells were going off in the fourteen-year-old's head, ringing all the louder considering his parents and Mycroft were so worried, but Sherlock just couldn't bring himself to care too much. He kept on telling himself that it was the middle of winter, the Reaping couldn't possibly be occurring for at least another five months, ignoring the little voice inside his head whispering that this was a Quarter quell and the Capitol did whatever they damn well liked, tradition or no tradition.
Sherlock slowly put on his best suit and, hearing his bedroom door open, looked into his mirror, noticing his big brother standing in the doorframe with a solemn expression on his face.
"You look smart, 'Lock," Mycroft said, a sad smile appearing on his features. Sherlock scowled.
"Don't shorten my name, it's a juvenile thing to do and it's not proper," Sherlock snapped, folding his arms and watching as Mycroft entered the room properly and sat down on the boy's bed. Reluctantly, Sherlock shuffled over and set himself down next to his brother. However much he claimed to hate Mycroft, and however annoyingly pompous Mycroft had proven to be at the best of times, Sherlock had to admit that he did have a grudging respect for his brother and recognised that in a situation like this anything Mycroft had to say could be valuable.
Mycroft sighed. "Father says it's a Reaping," he said, carefully watching Sherlock, whose expression didn't falter. Of course, their father would know this, he was the Mayor of District Five and had been forced to make the announcement himself.
"I'm not bothered," Sherlock promptly responded. "There are thousands of boys in District Five between the ages of twelve and eighteen, the chances of me being reaped are astronomical even if you factor in my three entries."
If anything, this statement only served to make Mycroft's expression even more sombre. "Yes, that's what I thought, but then I was reaped," he said sadly, and reached out a hand to brush a curl of Sherlock's hair out of his eye. The boy gave Mycroft a dangerous look but didn't swat his hand away, instead turning towards his brother, who got off the bed and kneeled down in front of Sherlock, tying his shoes.
"I can do that myself, Mycroft," Sherlock said irritably, not letting Mycroft's logic bother him. After all, what are the chances of two siblings both being reaped on separate occasions? Then again, what are the chances of the younger brother of a previous victor being reaped? Sherlock puzzled over this for a minute, reasoning that although the odds were beyond highly unlikely, it was the sort of drama the Capitol sheep couldn't get enough of.
When Mycroft had finished tying his shoes, Sherlock pointedly drew his feet up to the bed, untied the knots and redid them himself as Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "Really, Sherlock? Will you be so childish?"
"I am a child, in case you hadn't noticed, brother dear," Sherlock retorted. "Besides, I am not particularly fond of the way you tied them."
"Of course," Mycroft said softly, rolling his eyes subtly as the boys' mother appeared in the room.
"Are you ready, Sherlock?" she asked nervously, and as he nodded she took his hand and led him out of the room, Mycroft following in their wake. As they reached the landing, Sherlock's father emerged from the master bedroom and joined the family party as they walked down the stairs and out of the house, towards the square.
The Holmes family manor was a lovely old building built just after the uprising a century ago. One of the largest homes in the entire district, it was made of an attractive grey stone with ivy creeping up the walls and picturesque, sweeping grounds in which Sherlock had spent much of his childhood collecting insects and just generally being curious about the world around him. The house was furnished with handsome, polished oak and it was clear to all who visited that the Holmes family were significantly more affluent than the vast majority of District Five, many of whom were starving.
In fact, as the family made their way down the street Sherlock caught sight of several dangerously thin kids of about his own age walking the same way, mournful expressions adorning their visages. Despite the fact that Sherlock was largely apathetic to other people's problems he couldn't help but reflect on how allowing people to starve just wasn't right, it resulted in the vastly underutilised sources of potential intelligence if nothing else. Granted, most people were idiots but you never did know who might be the one to cure the common cold. After all, District Five produced power for the entirety of Panem and was the biggest on scientific research and medicine, and you could never have enough scientists in the world. The thought that many great contributors to the world of science wouldn't even make it to their teenage years and many breakthroughs would be delayed, or never happen because of this, sent Sherlock into a fury. The Capitol is restricting scientific progress, Sherlock thought, and that was enough to cause him to harbour deeply rebellious sentiment towards the regime.
The rest of Sherlock's family did all they could to help the starving waifs in the district, Sherlock's mother giving generously to charity, his father creating as many jobs as possible on his coal plant to give to those most in need and Mycroft shaping up to take over his father's role as Mayor and head of the coal plant. However, even if the Holmses gave up everything they had they could not afford to feed the thousands upon thousands of hungry mouths sharing district space with them. The rumours that it was worse in other districts was naturally of no consolation to them.
As the family approached the famous square in the centre of the district, large enough to house thirty thousand people, Sherlock's father stopped the party and, turning to face Sherlock, grasped the boy's shoulders and gave his son a worried look.
"Make sure you don't end up reaped, Sherlock," he said. "Even I can't get you out of that situation." Sherlock stared back steadily at him, gave a firm nod and watched as his father gave his mother a kiss and looked expectantly at Mycroft, who was brushing back the stubborn dark curl that had fallen in front of Sherlock's right eye again. Mycroft gave Sherlock a last look before he and their father disappeared into the crowd, no doubt so Mr. Holmes could make the speech the Capitol forced him to give every year.
Sherlock was somewhat surprised when his mother swooped upon him, enveloping him with her arms. Ordinarily he couldn't stand physical contact but Sherlock found himself perfectly willing to return the hug, understanding that she was worried for him even though as far as he was concerned she didn't have much need to be.
"Be safe, Sherlock," she said, before giving his forehead a kiss and gently pushing him forward into the confused looking crowd.
Sherlock looked towards the stage he knew would have been erected on the North side of the square, where he knew his father would be. Sure enough, he saw his father mounting the platform, closely followed by Mycroft. As Mycroft sat down at the back of the stage, Mr. Holmes made his way to the conveniently placed microphone stand at the front and spoke.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of District Five," he said, as the crowd grew silent and turned to give him their full attention. "You might all be wondering why you've all been called out here today on such a cold afternoon. The Capitol has asked me to inform you that due to the fact that this year's Hunger Games is a Quarter Quell, the rules are a bit different. The reaping has been moved forward to today." The crowd broke out into a panicked-sounding chatter, and Sherlock's father waited a few seconds to speak again. "In addition to the bringing forward of the Games, nobody is allowed to volunteer in place of the chosen tributes this year." Sherlock could practically hear his father thinking 'please, Sherlock, don't end up picked.'
"Would all boys and girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen present themselves in the appropriate lines to be registered, and don't forget to inform your Peacekeeper if you wish to enter your name for tesserae. The tables are by the stage. Thank you." Sherlock watched as his father retreated to the back of the stage, muttering urgently to Mycroft.
Sherlock found himself being jostled into a line of boys, clearly being pushed towards the tables by Peacekeepers. Sherlock could hear conversations going on around him but didn't feel the need to join in, nobody much liked him anyway. Fair enough. He didn't like them either.
Sherlock reached the front of the line and found a man in a white uniform asking for his name. Sherlock gave it, watched his name flash up on a small screen as they verified him. He was quickly waved on and took his place in one of the makeshift pens that were being erected, effectively splitting the square in half. Over the course of the next half an hour the rest of the potential tributes filed in, nervously awaiting the almost certain death sentence for whichever two unlucky children ended up with their names pulled out.
Glancing up at the stage Sherlock noticed Mycroft keenly training his sight on Sherlock, most likely looking for signs of fear. Worry not, brother, nothing scares me, Sherlock thought, and even from a distance Sherlock could have sworn his brother's left eyebrow had been raised a centimetre. Sherlock scanned the makeshift platform for information and noticed two large glass balls, each with thousands of slips of paper inside that hadn't been there before. Once all eligible children were accounted for and sorted into their pens Sherlock's father took to the stage once again, all the district's eyes on him.
Mr Holmes proceeded to recite the annual speech he was forced to give every year, the infernal speech which always had bothered him. He had always said that it was simply an opportunity for the Capitol to put words in his mouth in order to extol the virtues of the Games and justify their actions, and that he wasn't able to deviate at all from the script for the Capitol was eagerly watching the reaping on their own televisions several hundred miles away and would know immediately if something were amiss.
Sherlock was calculating odds in his head as quickly as he could and as such was not listening too attentively (how often had he heard his father take the speech apart in the privacy of their own home?) but he caught various snatches of the speech, individual phrases which were blatantly untrue.
"Giving thanks..."? What for, not blowing up the country on a whim? "Strong leadership..."? If you count oppression and censorship, yeah. "Mercy and kindness..."? That was such a blatant contradiction Sherlock didn't even know where to begin. Sherlock was paying so little attention to his father he didn't even realise he had finished his speech until everybody around him was reluctantly applauding and a woman with the Capitol's customary bad taste (an orange waist-length perm and hot pink cocktail dress which made Sherlock feel physically ill) mounted the stage and gave the crowd a wide smile.
"Good afternoon, District Five! And what a lovely afternoon it is!" she declared, evidently oblivious to the fact that every single eyebrow in the crowd was being raised: the overcast sky and chilly drizzle surely couldn't be anybody's idea of a lovely afternoon. It's nearly as bad as clear skies and the sun beating down, Sherlock thought. The strange woman continued speaking. "Let me tell you, District Five, it is just such an honour to be here! I have acted as escort for many of the districts in the past but this is my first time here and I must say, I already feel welcomed by all of you!" Sherlock glanced around at his pen-mates and knew immediately that being accommodating was far from the minds of the district at the moment.
Ginger waffled on a bit about her afternoon and Sherlock filtered out the entire speech, making sure to tune back in when the woman announced "let's have the girls first!" She put her hand inside one of the glass balls, rooted around a bit and withdrew a small slip of paper. She unfurled it dramatically and read out "Molly Hooper!"
Ah, Molly, Sherlock thought as a man and a woman somewhere on the edge of the crowd burst into hysterical sobs. He was familiar with miss Molly Hooper, she was in his year at school, often worked with him in science lessons. He had nothing against her but found her to be generally a bit irritating. Still, pity, he thought as two Peacekeepers descended on a certain spot in the girls' pen and emerged leading the terrified looking girl out of the crowd, which was buzzing. Molly actually did have a brain, albeit in a fluffy pink package. What a waste of that brain to receive such a death sentence, for surely mousey Molly is incapable of putting up much of a fight. She'll be one of the first to go, Sherlock judged.
"Wonderful, come up here, darling!" Ginger cooed as Molly hesitantly made her way up the makeshift steps. Sherlock could see identical looks of semi-concealed reservation on both his father's and Mycroft's faces and the sound of Molly's parents despairing in the distance penetrated his thoughts. When Molly reached Ginger the woman clamped an arm around Molly's side, pinning her firmly but not forcibly in place. "Ladies and gentlemen of District Five, a big round of applause for your new tribute Molly Hooper!" The throng gave Molly some scattered applause and the girl gave a small, uncertain curtsey, obviously forcing her features to remain in control.
Ginger pointed Molly towards a spare chair next to Mycroft's and gestured for hush after Molly had stumbled away. "And now for the boys!" Ginger cried, making her way over to the second glass ball and once again carefully selecting a slip of paper. She staggered back to the microphone stand (that's what happens if you will insist on wearing six inch heels, madam) and addressed the crowd clearly.
Sherlock's brain hadn't even processed this turn of events before he heard the cry of his mother from where they had entered the square, a truly distraught sound Sherlock had hoped to never hear again after the only other time he heard it: when Mycroft was reaped. Sherlock suddenly became aware that he was being seized by two burly Peacekeepers, who were frogmarching him up the narrow gap between the two pens towards the stage. Aside from his mother's sobbing, the crowd was now completely silent. Of course, it would be, Sherlock was deeply unpopular with everybody else his own age. It didn't even matter that volunteers had been forbidden this year as there would certainly have been nobody willing to go in Sherlock's place.
As he approached the stage, Sherlock glanced up and saw his father and Mycroft. Mycroft was wearing a sad but determined expression, but Sherlock could see that all cameras would be on his father, normally so strong and dependable, who had broken down into tears. For the first time, Sherlock understood just how horrible it must have been for his parents to receive one son back from the Games, against all odds, and then to have the other packed off to almost certain death only a few years later. He didn't feel afraid as such, but for once Sherlock did feel resigned and sorry for his parents.
Once Sherlock had reached the stairs he made eye-contact with Molly, who was looking even paler than she had when she had been reaped herself. He nodded briskly at her and she turned green. He gracefully climbed up the stairs to be greeted by Ginger, who was even more hideous in person. As Sherlock inspected her repulsive blood-red eyeliner and silver-blue lipstick she clamped him to her side as she had done with Molly and once again asked the district for a round of applause, a request which was met, as Sherlock had predicted, with complete silence.
Ginger held him in place for a few seconds, grinning at the crowd in the square, but as soon as it was apparent he was going to receive no applause from his peers she just directed him towards the chairs at the back of the stage.
"Well, thank you very much, ladies and gents!" Ginger squealed excitably at the crowd. "I shall now hand you over to Mayor Holmes who will go over the Treaty of Treason." She herself ambled towards the chairs, handing the microphone over to Sherlock's father who was simply sitting, looking at Sherlock. After a few seconds, he realised that he was to talk and got up to give the rest of the speech he was so used to giving, inevitably to stumble over his words in distraction.
"What did I say, Sherlock?" Mycroft murmured as their father stammered into the microphone, all eyes in District Five and the Capitol undoubtedly on him. "It's not about chance, anybody at all can be reaped."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, about to explain why it was indeed all about chance, when Mycroft spoke again, addressing both Sherlock and Molly.
"I suppose this makes me the mentor to the pair of you. Mrs. Hudson, District Five's penultimate victor from the sixty-first Hunger Games will serve as deputy mentor and help me to properly prepare you both. I daresay we'll have a chance to properly discuss arrangements in due course, but now is not the time." As Mycroft finished his pompous mini-lecture their father also brought his speech to a close, asking Sherlock and Molly to join him at the front of the stage again and shake hands. Sherlock held out his hand in a businesslike fashion and was surprised when Molly responded by giving it a slight squeeze. Sherlock thought she must be trying to reassure herself, for surely his own body language wasn't showing alarm.
The pair turned to face the audience, District Five and Capitol cameras alike, and the national anthem of Panem played. Sherlock noticed Molly gazing at him with a half-smile and looked back at her thoughtfully. Of course, he reasoned. She must already be plotting my death. Good luck to her.