This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
“A victory in the Hunger Games will bring District 2 great honor,” Their instructor says the day before the Reaping, when everyone is charged and ready to go. “I’m certain that any one of you has what it takes to be this year’s Victor.”
“That’s us,” Beth whispers, eyes gleaming. “That is so fucking us, Gal.”
Gally is ready. He’s been ready since he was twelve, but the older kids always volunteered over him. He wants to go, to fight, to win- not like last year, when District 10 of all places managed to pop out a Victor.
They both volunteer, and finally, finally, they get in. Gally and Beth are the Tributes for District 2, and damn, they are ready!
“Let’s do this,” Beth whispers, grinning, the night before the Games, when she sneaks into Gally’s room and they do some things that are definitely prohibited by the rules. “We can take them, Gal.”
He nods and sighs. They spend the rest of the night together, despite knowing that one might have to kill the other in upcoming days; there’s no strong emotion bred between Career Tributes. And not thinking about it too much makes it easier to ignore.
When the games begin and he finds that hammer at the Cornucopia, at the foot of the Volcano where they’re released? It seems like it’s meant to be, because at home when he’s not training to fight he’s training as a mason, and it just feels like he’s supposed to grab that hammer and run with it.
This is easily one of the most intricate (and dangerous) arenas that the Game Makers have devised yet, with bursts of steam and fire erupting from the ground, sending Tributes scattering in every direction. But not Gally- Gally runs right for that hammer, weaving and dodging the streams of fire that blaze and flare nearby. He is the first Tribute to reach the Cornucopia.
I’m doing it, I’m doing it, I’m doing it, he thinks, almost giddy with excitement, and if he wasn’t so focused on his task he would be beaming with pride. He swings the hammer up carefully, uncertain of its weight, until he feels confident enough to spin around and face the oncoming Tributes.
Ironically, the Bloodbath is not much of one- it’s more like a barbecue. Three bodies are lying on the soot-covered rock, charred and blistered, and Gally only vaguely hears the sound of at least one cannon firing. A number of other Tributes, including Beth, are singed, and the others are ducking and dodging as they try to get closer- two Tributes, both boys, apparently decide that retreating away from the foot of the volcano is the best way to survive.
Abruptly, Gally sees something out of the corner of his eye, a blur of movement to his right, and without thinking, he swings the hammer in a wide arc- it catches the male Tribute from District 5 in the chest, sending him crashing to the ground.
The technique is so familiar that he doesn’t even think about it. Doesn’t even hesitate as he brings the hammer back up, and then back down on the boy’s chest.
The amount of blood is surprising. He never paid much attention to classes on anatomy beyond where you could most easily kill a person, but later he thinks that maybe he might have driven one of the boy’s ribs into his heart. Maybe.
But the blood’s all over him, and he can’t stop staring as the boy starts shaking and flailing and seizing on the ground for a full minute or two until he starts to still. His eyes roll back. His mouth moves soundlessly until a sudden, violent wretch brings an explosion of blood to rival the bursts of fire all around them. He gasps, chokes, gurgles, and then deflates like a balloon, eyes going glassy.
Gally continues to stare, motionless.
What snaps him out of it is someone slamming into him. He turns, but the hammer stays down at his side even once he sees who it is: A young girl from one of the lower Districts, no older than twelve or thirteen, with dark hair and eyes. Either she’d been avoiding the fire or not looking where she was going when she ran into him, and now she’s on the ground, on her back, propped up by her elbows, looking up at Gally with a kind of terror that makes him hurt in a way he’s never hurt, probably because he’s covered in the blood of that kid from District 5 he just murdered in cold blood-
Breathing suddenly feels a lot harder.
He’s grown up watching the Games. They all have. But he’s watched them believing that one day, he would be participating.
Gally thought it would be empowering, exciting, fighting to the death with opponents just as intent on surviving as himself. But this- This girl isn’t an opponent. She’s a kid. Just a kid. Gally knew he’d have to kill people his own age, but he hadn’t considered the possibility that he might have to kill a little kid.
Where exactly is the glory in this?
Apparently realizing that Gally’s not going to swing, a short, curly-haired kid comes running up and grabs the girl’s hand, dragging her up and away from the Cornucopia. He’s got two bags slung over his back, and Gally watches them run long enough as they run to see him hurriedly hand one off to her when they get far enough away.
Gally and the others from Districts 1 and 3 don’t run. They’ve won the Cornucopia, and now is the time for alliances. Ten Tributes are dead in total.
Once he’s certain he’s not going to be stabbed in the back, Gally sits down beside a crate of supplies. He wipes a hand across his face, thinking that he’ll try to clean off the blood, but all that does is get his hands covered in it and God there is so much. So much.
Eventually Beth sits down beside him, equally dazed. They don’t have to speak to know that they’re thinking the same thing.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
It would be easy.
Newt peeks over the edge of the cliff. It’s a sheer, straight drop, enough to kill- and potentially more merciful than what awaits him at the hands of another Tribute.
God, it wasn’t supposed to be him.
It was never supposed to be him, was it? No one ever thought it would be them next. They always assume that it’s going to be some other poor bastard, because their name’s never been called before and hey, in the last year that you’re eligible for the Reaping, you tend to get a bit cocky in thinking that you’re in the clear.
What a cruel fucking joke.
“I don’t want to watch you die!” His sister had wailed as they’d said their goodbyes. And she would have to watch, wouldn’t she? His entire family would have to, because the authorities would ensure that their spots at the factory would be filled just so they could.
They might be watching right now, for all he knows. For all he knows, they’re about to watch him get burned or beaten or mutilated or tortured (there have been sadists before, sixty-one previous years means that almost no twist has been left untouched).
And if not today, maybe tomorrow.
Newt’s not built for this. He’s been trained to make clothing, for God’s sake, not kill people. Not like the Career Tributes who picked off over half the competition at the Bloodbath. He feels stupid, like a rat dipped in meat juice and set loose in a maze full of cats. He can run all he likes, but he’s not going to get away.
And that’s what’s brought him to the edge, this edge, looking down and wondering if maybe it might not just be easier to hurl himself over the side and just die already so his family doesn’t have to watch him get stabbed to death by some fifteen year-old with hunting knife.
Newt starts to lean forward, his head spinning a bit, I’m doing it, I’m doing it- When, without warning, someone catches his jacket and pulls him back.
“Don’t. That won’t end well.”
He turns, and finds himself face-to-face with the Tribute from District 12, a boy with dark skin and haunted eyes. There’s a smear of something, some dark liquid, on his jacket, and without even looking too closely Newt knows it’s blood. He even knows where it probably came from- the Bloodbath is aptly named, after all.
“What, you going to try to convince me it’s not all that bad?” He snorts, even as his heart pounds and Newt wonders if, in seeking death, it has found him.
But the boy only shakes his head. “It is that bad- but there’s a force-field there that will bounce you right back up if you try. Don’t you remember the 50th?”
Newt starts laughing uncontrollably, the pitch bordering on hysterical, because he does remember Haymitch Abernathy’s stunt. “Fuck. We’re fucked.”
“That we are.” He holds out a hand, and Newt deliriously remembers an odd tidbit of information, that the gesture originated to assure a stranger you weren’t armed. He laughs again. “I’m Alby.”
They decide to stick together, neither of them having a lust for survival strong enough to do what they know needs to happen if they want to win; unspoken, they both seem to know they’re doomed and figure that they are at least entitled to a little company at the end of their lives.
They make camp for the night, speaking quietly in the dark, unable to light a fire for fear of attracting other Tributes. Alby tells him about his job in the mines back home, of how he worked with both his father and grandfather day in and day out; Newt tells him about the number of times he’s nearly lost a hand to the machinery at the textile factory he and his parents work in. Alby laughs when he relates a particularly amusing instance, and for a moment it’s as though Newt’s back home and their deaths aren’t an imminent, certain thing.
He doesn’t seem to share Newt’s pessimistic line of thought, that pitching themselves off the tallest available object might be easier than being rats in the proverbial maze.
“What’s the point?” Newt says. “What is the bloody point of going on with this? We’re not going to win. Not by a long-shot.”
“Maybe not. But if I have to die,” Alby says, with the most seriously serious look Newt has ever seen, “I’m not just going to lie down and take it. I’ll go out fighting.”
Newt smiles sadly. He might not agree, but at least he can admire his resolve.
It softens it, just a little bit, to have someone else with him. But it’s only a little relief he feels, because the fear of going to sleep only to wake up screaming and drawing others to them like flies was a definite, lingering concern.
“It’s fine,” Alby assures him. “I’m a light sleeper. If I hear you making any noise, or you start tossing and turning, I’ll wake you up before you get too bad.”
“You promise?” Newt sounds like a child, and that should bother him, but it doesn’t.
“I promise.” Alby settles down right next to him, and it’s only when Newt is certain that he’s asleep that he edges a little closer until they’re more or less touching.
Even if he barely knew Alby’s name before today, going to sleep in the little cove of rocks they have as their hiding-spot and knowing that he is close by, a hand resting on his hip and breathing steadily as he slept. Newt is confident that if (when) he dies, Alby won’t be the one that does it.
And he’s not.
Instead, it is the female Tribute from District 11 who slits their throats as they sleep.
If he has to die, he wants to die clean.
Not physically clean, of course- Thomas knows that’s too much to ask for, especially in this godforsaken swampland that the Capitol’s created, a stinking, soggy graveyard for twenty-three children. When the Tribute from District Seven got a dagger in the back and fell into the swamp, Thomas and Teresa had watched the Hovercraft struggle to pluck his body out. When they succeeded, the kid was soaked to the bone in water and muck and blood.
No, he wants to die with a clean conscience. He wants to die knowing that he still did something good, in spite of not being able to save Teresa from the poisoned blade that had weakened her at a snail’s pace, and then abruptly stopped her heart at night.
So when this kid, this little kid named Chuck from District 10 who’s more accustomed to tending cows than killing innocent people, stumbles across his path, Thomas decides that that will be his mission. He will keep Chuck alive to see the end of the Games. It will be he and Chuck left standing, and then Thomas will kill himself and join Teresa. Chuck will be the winner- the youngest ever.
Really, it should disturb him just how easily that ending comes to him. He ponders how unhealthy it is to welcome the idea of killing oneself- but it’s laughable to suggest that there’s anything that isn’t massively, utterly fucked up in this situation. All things considered, death is a far kinder fate than the alternative, where Chuck dies and Thomas is left alive.
Like he’d be able to live with himself, with two people he couldn’t save.
“Come on. We have to keep moving.” Thomas says, and Chuck nods immediately and picks up his bag. If he’s realized that their partnership is going to end in Thomas’s eventual death, he’s doing a very good job of pretending he hasn’t.
Part of the danger of the swamp arena is that there are only so many paths a person can take, and they are narrow and uncertain. The initial Bloodbath at the Cornucopia was morbidly hilarious, as each of the Tributes had almost immediately begun sinking once they’d gotten off their platforms. Not the greatest Game Maker accomplishment, he has to say.
“There’s… Five Tributes left. Including us.” Chuck reiterates.
“Yup. I think it was the girls from 5 and 9, and the boy from 2.” And if we’re lucky, they’ll all kill each other off and make this that much easier. He and Teresa are (were) Career Tributes, and he can probably take any of them if he has to, but Thomas doesn’t want anymore blood on his hands than is strictly necessary. Besides, he’d be pulling the double-duty of protecting Chuck while also trying to fend off their attacker.
“So…” Chuck says, after a few minutes of silence. “You’re a Career, right?”
“So you’ve been trained for this, right?”
“Right.” Too many damn years down the tubes, all so he could possibly win at sixteen and have the fact that he’d murdered/outlived a bunch of other kids be the crowning achievement of his life.
Death is looking better and better.
“Did you volunteer?”
Thomas is quiet for a moment. “Yeah.”
Because I didn’t want Teresa to be alone.
He doesn’t say that out loud, though, and so Chuck drops the subject.
Unfortunately, he also picks up on the same line of thought he’d taken to repeating every now and then. “I really want to go home.”
So did I. But Thomas tries to stay upbeat, for Chuck’s sake. “What’ll you do when you get home?” He asks, holding an arm out to steady himself as he navigates a particularly unsteady section of moss and dirt.
“See my parents,” Chuck says without hesitation.
“Bet they’ll be thrilled to have you home.” Thomas assures, hoping his smile isn’t as empty as it feels.
And in that moment, something clicks: For a moment Chuck looks a little surprised, and then it melts into a sad dread. “Wait- Thomas, what about y-”
Some hundred-thirty pounds of teenage boy knocks Thomas off his feet, sending them both crashing into the mud.
It’s the boy from 2, a nasty-looking kid that Thomas had been eager to distance himself from since the beginning. The guy was the stereotypical Career Tribute, wanting for death and blood and the “glory” that came with being a Victor.
And currently, he was preparing to stab Thomas in the face.
“Chuck- Stay-!” The boy has a hand around his throat. Abruptly, however, the arm holding the knife swings out, knocking Chuck back. Thomas is certain the kid wasn’t stabbed, only knocked into the water with a loud splash. It sets the Tribute off-balance, giving Thomas a chance to throw him off.
He leaps onto the other boy, grabbing for the knife, getting a fight as he would have expected. They’re about the same size, probably roughly the same weight, and maybe just about as physically strong as one another. Thomas grapples with him for a moment before ripping one arm away and quickly bringing it back to slug the Tribute in the face. He must hit pretty hard, because the boy’s eyes roll back and his grip loosens on the knife.
Now comes the part Thomas hates.
He tries not to look at the boy’s face, tries not to look him in the eye as he rips the knife hopes that he’s too addled to really feel anything as Thomas stabs him in the heart. He feels the boy gasp more than he hears it (he can’t hear anything but his own heart pounding in his ears) and he does it again, not for sadism or anger but simply because oh God he just wants it to be over, just wants it to be done, and even though this guy just tried to kill him he’s sorry, oh God he’s so sorry-
It isn’t until the cannon sounds that he stops. Thomas realizes that he’s crying.
He takes a moment or two to compose himself. He can’t bear to face Chuck just yet, not after what the poor kid has just seen. There is blood on his hands, and he wipes it on his pants. Then he pulls the dead boy’s jacket up and over his face, so that Chuck won’t have to see.
Thomas takes a deep breath, and then turns around. “Chuck,” He starts to say. “Chuck, it’s all right, it’s-”
Chuck’s backpack is lying on the ground, and for a moment, Thomas is certain that he bolted in the face of Thomas’s savagery, because otherwise he is nowhere to be seen or heard.
But then he realizes how deep the pool of water behind the back is, remembers the splash when the boy knocked Chuck back at the beginning of the fight, and it all clicks together.
Thomas throws his backpack aside, stripping off his jacket, mind racing, have to get to him, he probably can’t swim, have to-
But before he can jump in, the sound of the cannon echoes across the arena.
Thomas lets out a wail that’s more beast than human, and realizes that a “clean” death was just a damn fantasy.
She didn’t think it would end like this.
Sonya had been the only one, apart from Harriet’s fellow District 8 Tribute, Newt, to speak to her during training. Maybe it was the way she had held herself, maybe it was the skill she had managed to display when she was training with the weapons (Newt did say that she was rather intimidating when she was swinging an axe back and forth), but most of them had avoided her.
Though to be fair, what conversations were to be had? “Hello there, I might kill you in the near future, want to have lunch together?”
Sonya managed one, though: “That’s a mean arm you’ve got. Have you done this before?”
“What do you mean by that?” Harriet replies warily. After a moment, Sonya realizes the implication of the words and chuckles.
“Not that- I mean, used an axe?”
Harriet has. That was one of her jobs back home: District 8 was in the North, and getting the wood every other day to heat their house was a necessity. The heft of the axe is familiar to her, and for a brief, brief moment, she thinks maybe she might have a hope at not getting murdered in these Games.
Then she thinks about actually having to use the axe on someone, and that hopes dies considerably.
From then on, she and Sonya are friendly. Sonya is fast, but not strong; Harriet helps her pick a weapon that is both light enough for her to use, and Sonya helps her learn the difference between safe plants and poisonous ones. Harriet thinks to ask her how she’s so good at knowing the difference, but then looks at Sonya’s painfully thin frame, remembers that she’s from District 11, and keeps her mouth shut.
Part of Harriet doesn’t want to get attached. There is absolutely 0.0% of a chance that they will both survive what’s coming, and so getting attached is pointless. But she can’t bring herself to turn Sonya, with her sweet, sincere smile away. Maybe if she can’t survive, she can ensure that Sonya does.
And so the Games begin- ironically, they take place on a No-Man’s Land war-zone that looks like the kind that existed before Panem, the ones that Harriet has seen in painfully old pictures in school. She expects the Games to be bad; she expects to get very few supplies at the Cornucopia, if at all; she expects that she and Sonya might get separated during the Bloodbath. All three of those expectations are met, though she meets up with Sonya later.
“You all right?” Harriet asks when she finds the other girl crouching behind some bushes. Sonya smiles and grabs her hand.
“Fine, just fine. Let’s run.”
But what Harriet doesn’t expect is for Sonya to crack at the one-week mark.
Though, to be fair, she’s got a damn good reason for doing so.
The boy from District 4 is just that- a boy. He can’t be more than thirteen. And so Harriet can completely understand why Sonya would get a bit unhinged when they find his mutilated body half-submerged in a shallow pool of water. Why the Hovercraft hasn’t picked him up yet is beyond her, since they had heard the cannon go off at least ten minutes ago.
Harriet is, admittedly, more concerned about the boy’s killer still being in the area than she is with meditating on his loss. She strains her hearing, listening, but all she can hear is Sonya’s whimpering.
“Sonya- Sonya, shush!” She hissed.
But Sonya won’t be quiet, apparently can’t be quiet, and so Harriet is forced to find a temporary hiding-space and all but drag Sonya into it. After a time she falls asleep, and Harriet assumes- hopes- that Sonya will wake up at least somewhat normal.
“Sonya,” She says, taking Sonya’s hand and shaking it. Sonya stares at the ground, eyes blank; the lights are on, but no one seems to be home. Harriet feels a bubble of panic rising in her chest. She’s thrown her lot in with someone else, she’s gotten invested, and now she’s certain she can’t get through this alone. Not without Sonya. “Sonya.” Her voice cracks.
But Sonya doesn’t respond.
Harriet decides to leave her where she is for now, and come back later with food. She goes out and scavenges for supplies for the better part of the rest of the day, checking briefly around where the boy’s body had been (it is finally gone), and finding only some biscuits in a can. She finds some berries on a bush nearby, and plucks those as well.
“Sonya,” She says, once she’s returned. “Sonya, I found some berries. These are safe, right?”
She holds them out for the other girl to examine.
And to her relief, Sonya does lift her eyes and look at the berries. She stares at them for a long, long moment, and then slowly nods. Harriet sighs. “Do you want them? I’m not crazy about berries.”
Sonya nods with a little more energy than before, and takes the berries from Harriet’s hand.
They eat, and Harriet is tired; she nods off against a tree, falling into a deep sleep. The last thing she hears is Sonya’s breath in the darkness.
Harriet does not wake up until later, slowly awaking to complete silence. As she shakes off the remaining fatigue, she hopes that Sonya has improved. She hopes that she can pull herself together and they can get on with surviving this nightmare.
She turns and looks at her friend.
Sonya is flat on her back in the grass, eyes wide and glassy, with a trickle of blood trailing out of the corner of her mouth. She is dead, and Harriet never even heard the cannon.
“Sonya! Sonya!” She throws herself onto Sonya and starts to sob, wondering how it had happened until she remembers the berries. They must have been poisonous, and Sonya hadn’t-
Of course she had known. That was exactly why she had eaten them.
Harriet screams and screams and screams, until she loses all reason behind why she’s screaming at all.
Chuck’s strategy is to hide.
It’s not a difficult strategy to execute, given that this year’s arena is a rocky mountainside with plenty of small, nearly-unnoticeable caves for one to crawl into.
This is, consequently, how Chuck ends up winning: He’s forced out of a couple of hiding spots (once by a mountain lion, another by a set of explosives undoubtedly set by the Game Makers for precisely this reason), but ultimately continues to find sufficient places where no one can find him. When it’s down to three, one Tribute (The girl from District 6) kills the other (the boy from District 1) and then dies from a poisoned wound.
At first, Chuck is pretty sure he’s miscalculated how many people are left, because otherwise the second cannon that sounds would mean that he’s-
The announcer that comes over the loudspeakers sounds just as surprised.
“Ladies and Gentlemen…The winner of the 16th Annual Hunger Games…”
It doesn’t feel real, going home.
His parents are beside themselves, Chuck’s mother refusing to let him go for the first few hours after he gets off the train. “That was smart, son. Good job,” His father says, holding back tears. Maybe people aren’t quite as satisfied having a kid who’d hidden through the Games as a Victor as they would be with someone who had fought, but his parents don’t care. They’re just glad he’s alive.
The Victory Tour is simple enough; the Capitol officials overseeing Chuck give him some cards to read off of when he makes speeches in the different Districts. At worst, people roll their eyes at him; he is not hated in any Districts, though, because he is not responsible for the deaths of any Tributes. At the end of the tour, he goes home and his family moves into the Victor’s Village. Life proceeds much as it did before, made even better by the fact that he knows he can never be Reaped again. Chuck’s teen years go by smoothly.
It is fifteen years later, however, when the Capitol contacts him again.
By this point, there have been Victors from each of the twelve Districts. Now the Capitol wants to introduce a mentoring system: Victors of the past tutor the new Tributes each year, to give them a better chance in the arena.
Chuck, now twenty-seven with his own farm, is interested in helping the Tributes from District 10 survive in the arena. His girlfriend, Lavinia, snorts at the idea. “They’re not doing it to help,” She says, dragging a bag of chicken feed over to the feeding trough. “They only want the Tributes to give them a better show. If the Capitol really gave a damn about preserving the Tributes lives, they wouldn’t Reap them at all.”
She’s probably right, but Chuck volunteers anyway.
His first stint as a mentor comes during the 20th Annual Hunger Games. The Tributes are a sweet-faced, sad-eyed, fourteen year-old girl, and a sturdy seventeen year-old boy. Chuck gives them general tips about the arena, but particularly focuses on how to find good hiding spots; after all, that was how he had won. All the same, he felt as though he hadn’t given them as much wisdom as the other mentors had probably given their Tributes.
Evidently, the Game Makers have learned something from Chuck’s victory as well- good hiding spots have been harder to find in recent arenas years, and they’ve become much more insistent in their efforts to make sure the Tributes don’t stay in one place for too long. Chuck starts out hopeful, but his heart sinks when the male Tribute is killed only a few hours after leaving the Cornucopia, with his female counterpart following suit just a day later.
Watching them die makes Chuck sick, makes him never want to mentor another Tribute again; but he already knows pulling out is probably not an option.
As he gets older, he realizes that his victory has come at a price: Every year, he is forced to watch his mentees forced into the arena only to be slaughtered- and unlike the first two, many usually don’t survive the initial bloodbath at the Cornucopia. He watches it again, and again, and again, and again, and again and again. One would think that a District that specializes in animals and food and therefore the art of butchering would know how to kill. Over the years, his District produces three Victors.
In that time, Chuck develops a healthy, lingering hatred for the Capitol, and a strong, painful sadness over his role in this madness.
When it’s time for the 50th Games to occur, the Second Quarter Quell, he knows it’s going to be bad. The First Quarter Quell had been deliberately set up to rub as much salt into Panem’s collective wound as possible (he remembers the Tributes, voted in by their own communities, sobbing as he met them on the train), and he dreads having to see what the Capitol has cooked up for this one.
“I’m done,” he says to Ladena, the Capitol official at the head of the Tribute training. “I don’t want to be a mentor anymore. Find someone else.”
“You can’t.” She says simply.
“I am,” Chuck insisted.
Not even two days later, Chuck gets a call from Lavinia back home; every single animal in their barn has been poisoned.
So apparently, quitting isn’t an option.
Maybe he’s getting paranoid, but it seems as though the theme of the Second Quarter Quell is a further punishment: Four Tributes are Reaped from each District, with a total of forty-eight being pulled. In Chuck’s case, two of his Tributes (boy and girl) are thirteen.
This year, he hopes it will be different. Maybe one of them will survive. He is able now to give much more extensive advice on how to keep themselves alive in the arena. He tells them how best to hide, to run, and to fight. And when he says goodbye to them all the night before the Games, he dares to be hopeful.
And like every year previously, that hope comes to nothing.
It is hotter than Hell.
Hell is a pretty good description of any of the Games, but this year the terrain has made it especially accurate. The Game Makers must have done something special to make sections of the desert blaze the way that they do. Part of the “fun” of these Games is that the sections change every now and then- one has to listen carefully for the sound of rumbling and oncoming fire to make sure they don’t end up frying alive.
Ben knew that the Games were going to be hard. That’s what the mentors said, that’s what his parents always said, and that’s what he knew just from watching them every year. He knew what he was getting into at the Reaping.
But he had not expected this.
Ben is from the northern part of District 4, and is not terribly accustomed to extreme heat. A humid or generally hot arena would have been bad enough, but this- this is brutal. Ben likes to think he had prepared himself for the worst, but he hadn’t been expecting this.
At first, it’s just very uncomfortable. Only about four people die at the Cornucopia because everyone’s moving too sluggishly to actually run or swing a weapon properly. Ben works out at that point that these Games are going to be a little worse than he had expected, and that the only consolation was that so many people would probably die of the heat that he wouldn’t have to kill too many people himself- a prospect that isn’t exactly appealing, but necessary if he wants to make it out alive.
As time goes on, however, discomfort becomes less of a problem than actual danger does. Ben’s mouth and throat dry so quickly that any noise, any slight whimper or even a sigh, is painful. He knows he has to find water, and knows that the Game Makers have probably hidden a source somewhere in the arena for the sharp-minded to find. After all, it’s never good to have the Games be too short.
So Ben looks. He looks for that water, even stopping for a time and dumping out the backpack he’d gotten from the Cornucopia to see if maybe it was hidden in there, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. Fortunately, there is a night in this arena- the fire still blazes in certain places, but for the most part it is dark and (slightly) cooler.
The next day, panic slowly begins to set in and settles firmly in his chest at about midday. There is no water, or at least none that he can find, and Ben knows that he’s already dehydrated and on his way to much worse symptoms. He realizes that maybe there was water in some of the bags at the Cornucopia, and that he had probably grabbed one that didn’t.
I need water, or I’m going to die, he thinks when he stops for the night and realizes just how heavy his limbs feel. When death will come, however, is uncertain; living in a District that is known for water, the subject of dehydration wasn’t exactly a typical one for discussion. Ben remembers swimming in the ocean back home, remembers the cool breeze coming off the water and the smell of salt; it lulls him to sleep before the names of the day’s dead Tributes can be listed.
The next day, Ben has to force himself off the ground, force himself to stand and put on his backpack again, force himself to stop walking. Shortly before noon, he thinks maybe he sees someone running in the distance, but if he does, they do not run towards him and do not get close enough for him to see who it is.
Of course, he could also just be hallucinating- he’s pretty sure that’s a symptom of extreme dehydration.
On the fourth day, help comes in the form of a silver casket descending from the sky, attached to a parachute. Ben already suspects he knows what’s in it, thinks that his plight is probably pretty obvious to whatever sponsors he has back home. And sure enough, there is water inside, about sixteen ounces worth. Ben tries to preserve it, tries not to guzzle it all at once, but it’s gone within two hours.
And still, it’s not enough. They could send him ten caskets full of water (which won’t happen because there’s a limit on how many gifts can be sent to Tributes in a certain day from a certain sponsor) and it wouldn’t be enough. His body has already lost too much; this small bit of hydration is, ironically, only a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Ben laughs hysterically at that, throat burning.
The fifth day, he still can’t find any water and the sponsor who sent it to him the day before sends nothing today. No one does. Ben, light-headed and fuzzy, considers only now that he should have been more aggressive in attracting sponsors. Heaven knows that’s what had saved Finnick Odair four years previously.
But then, he didn’t have to worry about dying of thirst.
The sixth day, Ben sees something in the distance- a structure of some sort. Something like hope sparks in his chest, and he runs for it with screaming muscles and a throat that feels more like sandpaper than skin. He gets closer, and it gets larger, and yes, yes, he’s there, and now he can see it for what it is-
He’s become so disoriented that he’s turned around and gone right back to where he started. In vain, Ben looks for supplies, but there are none to be found: The other Tributes have cleared them all out. All that’s left are some bloodstains from the small Bloodbath at the beginning.
Ben screams so long and hard that it eventually turns into laughter.
The seventh day, he stays in the shade of the Cornucopia and stares at the dancing colors in the air outside of it. Shapes in all sizes and shades bounce about, blinding and painful but still entrancing. They are nothing more than shapes, but occasionally, one will dip or spin a particular way and Ben will find himself laughing even harder than he had a few days earlier. Thoughts of finding water linger at the back of his mind, but are ultimately not pursued.
It isn’t until he hears someone breathing behind him that he realizes he has company, and it isn’t until he feels a sharp pain in his heart that Ben realizes that this person’s presence might be significant. All the same, he never sees his attacker; he falls face-down into the dirt and can’t move.
And even as his ability to breathe diminishes and blood is all he can taste in his throat, Ben feels the wetness of the blood in his throat, on his chest, on his face, and thinks, Finally, finally, finally.
“The Tributes for this year’s Games will be reaped according to who the Districts vote to represent them.”
“Aw no,” Jorge snaps, slamming his glass down on the table. “Fuck no. Fuck you assholes, fuck you hard!” Brenda pulls the glass out of his hand before he can chuck it at the screen.
“Calm down.” But he won’t. As the esteemed Victor of the 9th Annual Hunger Games, he’s a little touchier when it comes to the subject of the Games than most.
“Fuck that! Did you hear what they just said? Those bastards are making us choose the Tributes! Like it’s not bad enough normally?!” He slams his fist down on the table and storms out.
But Brenda doesn’t think much of it. If anything, the idea of the Tributes being hand-picked gives her some small, selfish comfort; at least this way, it’s not random. People who are equipped to go into the Games will be picked, instead of little kids or people who have no chance of surviving.
Brenda is not afraid.
The day of the Reaping comes, and Brenda stands with all of the other kids from her sector of District 6, and is perhaps one of the few that doesn’t look nervous. It won’t be her. She’s not popular, but she’s not hated. She can think of no reason why she should be singled out amongst her peers, why her community would think that she should participate in the Games.
The Escort for District 6 gets up onstage, a peppy man with silver hair. He is as eager as usual despite the tense atmosphere, and it is he who receives the two slips of paper from the mayor’s shaking hands and reads them out loud.
The boy is Darnell, and Brenda’s heart sinks because he is a funny boy from her class and why on Earth would they pick Darnell to participate in the Games, he’s so popular and friendly and-
“Brenda?” The Escort repeats. “Brenda, dear, come along!”
She sees two Peacekeepers standing at the end of the line of girls she is standing with, looking right at her. Everyone is looking at her.
Suddenly, it clicks.
Brenda screams and screams and screams.
Jorge tries to comfort her, tries to tell her it’s not really all that bad- he survived, after all. You just have to be fast and smart. That’s all.
Fast and smart, right- which is absolutely why the Career Tributes make up a significant portion of the Victors, right? Because they’re just really fast and smart, and not because How could they do this to her? How could they pick her?
What had she done? Was it random, or had it been a conscious, deliberate decision? Had she angered someone? Was she disliked by more people than she thought? What had set her apart from the rest? What had made them choose her to risk her life, give her a one in twenty-four chance at survival?
Jorge sees Brenda's dejection and sighs. “Kid,” He says, leaning in close and speaking quietly. “You can’t do this. You can’t. You have to keep it together, or there is absolutely zero chance of you making it out of this crap alive, do you understand? You have to want to survive, and you have to have hope that you can.”
“And when did you become a motivational speaker?” Brenda sniffs.
“When my friend got dragged into the freaking Hunger Games.”
So they train. Jorge drills into hers and Darnell’s heads the fine art of knowing when to fight or flee in the Hunger Games. “The Cornucopia, you flee. I don’t care if you see a big, glowing sign that says ‘GET TO THE CORNUCOPIA AND WIN AUTOMATICALLY’, you get away from the Cornucopia immediately. The Tributes from the upper Districts take this shit seriously. They’ve been prepping for this. They will kill you, and you’ll be dead right out the gate. You don’t want that.”
“So when, exactly, do you want us to fight?” Darnell asks.
“When you have to,” Jorge responds, flatly. “And only when you have to. And by ‘have to’ I mean ‘only when you can’t get away safely’. If someone ambushes you, and you can’t safely turn around and run for your life? Fight. If- When it gets down to the wire and there are only a few Tributes left? Fight. Kill if you have to. Do whatever you have to, but don’t get cocky; the only thing worse than dying right at the start is dying when you’ve almost won.”
Brenda considers that Jorge has probably watched every single Game since his own to learn the strategy that he’s learned. She thinks about how he is every year when the Games recur, or whenever they’re brought up- how much he tends to drink in general, but in particularly around those times. The haunted look in his eyes.
Is that how she’s going to be, if she survives? So traumatized that she can barely even speak about it when it comes up?
Brenda is between a rock and a hard place: She certainly doesn’t want to die, but isn’t sure that survival is all it’s cracked up to be either.
“Here,” Jorge says, the night before the Games. He pulls out a small pair of silver wings and presses them into Brenda’s palm. “My dad was a pilot. He gave them to me before-” He doesn’t actually say it, just kind of jerks his head as though it is an adequate explanation. In any case, Brenda knows what he means. “It was my token. Now it’s yours.”
But she shakes her head. “I can’t take this.”
“Sure you can.” His tone is both mild and insistent at once.
“It might fall off. You might not get it back if-” Brenda stumbles over the last few words in that sentence, a thickness forming in her throat. That she is essentially going off to her potential execution tomorrow hits especially hard now.
Jorge looks her in the eyes, and his gaze burns. “You’re going to be fine,” He says firmly. “You’re going to be fine.”
Brenda hugs him, and he hugs her back, and she shuts her eyes and tries to absorb his confidence. It doesn’t work.
“Why?” She mumbles into his shoulder. “Why did they pick me? What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“Then why did they pick me?”
Jorge pulls back, smiling sadly. “They pulled names out of a hat.”
Brenda laughs, but her eyes are burning and she still can’t swallow.
All through the night and all that next morning, as she and Darnell are brought from their apartment in the Capitol to the Hovercraft, and then to the arena, Brenda thinks, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.
By the time she’s in the tube, about to be sent up into the arena, hope isn’t a factor anymore- sheer, basic survival instincts are. Even if she thinks she can’t win, the desperation in her heart and head to survive at all costs is almost suffocating. This, Brenda thinks, is what drives the Tributes in the Games. This is what turns the normal boys and girls of the Districts into killers. This is what drove Jorge.
And now it drives her.
The arena is a snowy mountain terrain, filled with pine trees and rocks; the insulated clothing they had received now made sense.
Unlike in previous years, the Cornucopia is extremely close to the Tributes. It would only take a few seconds to cover the ground between the pads and the supplies. But Brenda isn’t going for supplies, Brenda is going to turn and book-it in the other direction, is going to run for her damn life and find the smallest hole she can possibly hide in until someone dies and she can grab their weapon.
She is not going to die.
The clock counts down and Brenda is almost sick, every muscle in her body tensed, not daring to step from the launch-pad until it hits zero.
Everyone else runs for the Cornucopia.
Brenda turns and runs for the forest, some thirty feet off.
And just as she reaches the edge of the trees, the knife that lodges itself in the back of her skull kills her so quickly she almost doesn’t feel it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the winner of the 43rd Annual Hunger Games…”
Alby doesn’t hear the rest.
It has been a long, long while since a Tribute from District 12 has won the Games. Not since the 23rd Games, a fact he had repeated to himself a number of times whenever he felt his hopes getting a little too high. Victory was not in their District’s history; the odds of him breaking that losing streak were small.
And yet, here he is- alive, relatively uninjured, and covered in the blood of the District 9 girl.
They pull him from the arena and tend to his wounds on the Hovercraft. Alby is silent for most of it, his quick victory replaying in his head: The girl had ambushed him, taken a few swipes at him, and he had landed a semi-lucky, semi-targeted swing on the side of her head with the club he’d gotten from the Cornucopia, sending blood and brains flying everywhere. At some point, they let him clean up and change into something else, taking his soiled clothing away.
It’s only when he sees that they’re back at the Capitol does Alby realize that there’s still more crap to go through, but in a different form: He is now a Victor, and must be crowned as such. President Snow does so with his usual solemn decorum, and quietly congratulates Alby on his victory.
Alby isn’t stupid enough to snub the President, and so he utters an equally quiet ‘thank you’ in response.
And then he goes home.
The train ride is quiet. The District 12 Escort leaves him alone (and thank whatever god is listening for that, because the Capitol minions are annoying as all hell), and Alby spends the entirety of the trip staring out the window at the passing scenery.
There’s a crowd at the station waiting for him, cheering and waving and ecstatic because, really, it’s been nearly twenty years since a Tribute from District 12 has won the Games. For once, their District gets to celebrate a victory and the rewards that come with it. Alby is happy for that, at least.
He tries to use that happiness to force a smile, to wave once or twice and tries not to look as empty, as hollow as he feels, but his success is limited. The only true smile Alby manages is the one that comes when he sees his grandfather waiting to take him home. “Come on, son.” Albert Sr. says, and his voice is so warm and familiar that Alby abruptly starts to feel again; it takes all he has not to start bawling.
One of the few silver linings to this situation is that they now get to move into the Victor’s Village, set apart from the rest of the town. Alby’s grandfather is tough for a man of seventy, but he’s getting older. A nice house with heat and a lifetime of income from the Capitol means that he can actually have a decent remainder to his life, and Alby is definitely happy about that.
He thinks of how close he came to not coming home and leaving Albert all alone, and he feels sick.
This new house is so much larger than their old one. Their few belongings have already been moved in, though whether by officials or his grandfather, he doesn’t know. It’s certainly warmer than their old place.
Albert’s hand rests heavily on Alby’s shoulder. “There are a few bedrooms. Pick any one you like, and get some sleep.”
“I slept on the train,” Alby lies.
“No, you didn’t,” Albert responds.
And so Alby sleeps. He manages about a week of sleep following the Games without nightmares.
The Victory Tour is its own brand of hell, a lesser form of torture devised by the Capitol to drive in the guilt of the Victors a little deeper. Districts 2, 6, and 9 are particularly bad; Alby killed the males from 2 and 6 at the Cornucopia, and the female from 9 at the end. He both does and does not regret their deaths, because they attacked him first, but (at least for the latter two) they did it for the sake of self-preservation, which was his goal as well.
It doesn’t make the nasty looks he gets from their families and their Districts any easier, though.
Eventually, the tour is over, and he can go home and stay there. Alby locks himself in his room and rarely leaves the house except for when their need is dire, or when his grandfather pushes him.
It’s difficult to be around others in his District again. Whether he likes it or not, he is not like the rest of them anymore.
However reviled the Career Tributes are by the lower Districts, at least their numerous victories mean that they have others that can sympathize with them, that know what it’s like to have been inside the arena and survived. Alby has no one, and it is like a sharp divide between himself and others his age. His old friends drift away, and he becomes isolated. That isn’t terribly hard when one already lives apart from the rest.
Alby starts to wonder if maybe that’s one last dig from the Capitol: Congratulations, you’ve survived, now you can spend the rest of your life alone.
Time passes. The Games come and go, and Alby is called upon to mentor the new Tributes. He manages to tutor the Tributes for the 44th and 45th Games, but after watching the young female Tribute get viciously bludgeoned to death by that year’s District 9 male (the irony is not lost on Alby, nor is it lost on the commentators), he suffers a nervous breakdown and returns to District 12. They do not call on him again.
“And if they try, they’ll have to have a chat with me,” Albert says darkly. Even as he sips his tea with shaking hands, Alby wouldn’t dare cross his grandfather on a bad day.
Every subsequent year, Alby does not watch the Games. He can’t avoid the pain of a recognized name when the Reaping happens, but he at least does not have to watch them die. When the 50th Games come and double the amount of Tributes are Reaped, he screams into his pillow until he’s hoarse.
Those goddamn bastards.
It’s the day after the Games end that Albert forces him to go outside for a bit for some fresh air. Alby already knows the ulterior motive behind it, saw the Capitol officials and the Victor’s mother moving a few things in earlier.
When District 12’s new Victor, Haymitch, arrives at his new home, Alby says nothing and makes no attempt at smiling. He just lifts his hand in greeting.
And after a moment, Haymitch repeats the gesture.
All alone, they are.
Beth is getting nervous.
There are five Tributes left, and two of them are Gally and herself.
The other Careers are dead. Apart from them, there are only Tributes from 5, 11, and 12 left. Getting into the Games, Beth knew that there would be some concern over one of them having to die at some point- there had never been two Victors from one set of Games before- but she had thought that that would have taken care of itself earlier. She never thought that they would get to the point where she or Gally might have to kill one another.
If Gally has those same anxieties, he’s said nothing about them.
This year’s arena features a canyon reminiscent of the ones back home in District 2, and provides a small advantage and comfort for the two of them. They knew better than some of the other Tributes just how easily sound could travel in such a landscape, and could better pinpoint where those regrettable sounds had come from. At present, they’re resting at the entrance of a small cave embedded in the canyon’s wall.
They don’t speak much. They are tired, they are over the initial adrenaline rush that the first week had brought them, and now they are ready to be done- though accepting what “done” is going to mean for one of them hasn’t really set in yet.
Beth likes to think that she and Gally are friends. They trained for the Games together, they were mentored together, they stuck together in their own, personal alliance, separate from the other Careers. She likes to think that she can let her guard down and not worry about Gally turning on her.
But she’s not sure. Beth knows Gally doesn’t want to die. He must assume the same is true for her (and it is). Neither of them wants to die. They both can’t win, but they’re too effective in their fighting to be overcome by anyone else. Beth wonders if maybe Gally has thought about taking her out before now; he’s certainly had the opportunity.
And it’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed her mind that killing Gally while he’s distracted might be a good idea.
Her hesitation in doing so comes from a number of places. In part, she isn’t sure she’ll be able to live with herself if she takes advantage of Gally’s trust. He isn’t just another Tribute; he’s her friend. And what will everyone back home think of her, having turned on her fellow District-member and killed him? Some might applaud her dedication to survival. Others, such as Gally’s family, might call her an opportunistic, selfish coward. It wouldn’t be the first time a Tribute had turned on their District-mate, but it would be the first time it had been done when it was not absolutely necessary- yet.
But when it is necessary, he’ll know it’s coming and she might not have a chance. She’s good, but so is he. It will be difficult, for more reasons than one.
Beth thinks that she should feel worse about this than she does, and that’s saying something.
Both of their heads shot up in alarm, but it was only the cannon signaling that they were now down to four Tributes.
“Wonder who that was,” Gally mutters before going back to cleaning his knife.
Beth swallows. “Probably the kid from 12. I’m honestly shocked she made it this far anyway- I think she’s fourteen.”
“She is. Were you saying something?”
Beth watches the light glint off of his knife, and she shakes her head. “No.”
Sleep does not come that night.
They are down to four, which means that Gally probably has considered the implications of their position in the Games by now. Beth is desperately tired, but the fear of being killed in her sleep overrides her fatigue. She has yet to come up with a satisfactory solution to their problem.
She rolls over and looks at Gally. He seems to be asleep, but he’s not snoring tonight, and paranoia creeps in. Hadn’t he snored at least a little bit during previous nights? Is he faking now, trying to figure out if she’s asleep so that he can kill her? Part of her wants to kill him for no other reason than so that she can sleep without fear. She just wants it to be over with, because the tension between the two of them is far more concerning than the fact that there are two strangers out there somewhere who have a very real intention of killing them both.
…Make that one stranger.
Both of them jump up at once, and once they’ve realized that it’s just the cannon, Beth can’t stop herself from saying, “You weren’t asleep.”
Gally freezes, caught, but then turns a cold gaze onto her. “Neither were you.”
She is too tired to pretend anymore. “Gee, I wonder why.”
“What,” Gally says, and he sounds genuinely offended. “You thought I was going to slit your throat in your sleep or something?”
“That’s awfully fucking specific for someone who wasn’t considering it!” Beth snarls back.
“I wasn’t! Were you?” Gally glares at her, and then snorts when she doesn’t say anything. “Of course. Why am I even asking?”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“That I should have expected someone who was willing to stab Winston in the back to think about stabbing me in mine!” He bellows.
“I was never going to-!” But the words are lies, and Gally knows it.
“Oh, bullshit Beth! Bullshit! Only one of us is walking out of this, and we both know that neither of us is going to just lie down and take it!”
There is silence between them, wind stirring the dust and dirt around them.
“So what do we do? Split up?” Beth says. “There’s only one person left. The Game Makers will just force us back together once he’s dead, and then we won’t have a choice.”
“What are you suggesting?” Gally asks levelly, frowning.
Beth swallows around the lump in her throat. Then, calmly, she kneels down and pulls her sickle out of the strap on her bag.
Gally’s expression changes to one of grim understanding. “Right.” He reaches down and picks up his knife. Once he’s straightened up, they stare at one another for a long moment. “So how do you want to do this?”
Beth doesn’t have time to respond, because a moment later Gally is dead, an arrow sticking out of his right temple.
The cannon sounds.
Beth turns quickly and sees the boy from District 5, a tall kid with olive skin and dark hair. He’s holding a bow and arrow, and is looking at her with something like genuine regret.
“Thought I’d spare you that,” The boy says. He reaches back for another arrow, but his quiver is empty; his expression quickly changes to one of alarm, and he turns and sprints in the opposite direction.
Beth charges after him, despite the fact that she had dropped her sickle in surprise when Gally had fallen. She is the faster runner, and she overtakes the boy in a matter of seconds, tackling him to the ground. She grabs a fair-sized rock from nearby and, without thinking, begins smashing it over his head. She is screaming, she is sobbing, and his blood is getting all over her face and mixing in with her tears.
Beth beats him even after the cannon sounds, and only pulls herself away when the lights of the Hovercraft shine above them.
She is overwhelmed. She is grief-stricken over Gally’s death. She is angry at the Tribute for killing him.
But even worse, she is grateful that he did.
And Beth hates herself for it.
Minho has never questioned the fact that the Games are made by sadists.
He’s smart enough never to say it out loud, not in a District as heavily policed as his own, he damn well knows it.
“These bastards have just gotten more and more creative,” Chaff tells him, gesturing with his hand-less arm. “I’ll tell you right now, even during the Dark Days they didn’t have mutts with teeth that sharp. Maybe they thought it’d be funny if one could amputate a body-part with one bite.”
Minho keeps his mouth shut. Chaff’s gone the way more than a few Victors have, becoming a little too fond of alcohol. After a few drinks, it was just better to let the guy talk uninterrupted.
“My advice? Don’t underestimate the bastards. You see a cute little deer in the arena? Assume it’s going to sprout fangs and go for your neck. If it’s been too quiet for too long? Assume you’re about to get set on fire. And if it’s as bad as you think it could possibly get, then hold on tight, because it’s about to get so much worse.”
Chaff isn’t really helping that much, unless one counted making Minho a semi-paranoid wreck as being helpful.
It doesn’t help that there’s no way of knowing ahead of time what kind of arena they’re going to be thrust into, which means that Minho has no idea what sort of training he should be focusing on; if he’s in a desert-setting, then he doesn’t want to bother training with a heavier weapon that’s going to tire him out faster. In contrast, learning about what kinds of desert plants are safe to eat will be useless if they put him in a tropical jungle. And there is no way of knowing what kinds of animals he’ll be dealing with until they get to the arena either.
Minho tries everything, and feels a slow and steady panic growing inside as he tries to memorize it all. But he keeps a straight face and swears that he’s not going to let these bastards see him scared.
Sonya is a small comfort as they train, though he can’t figure out if her attitude is one of cautious hope or resignation to the inevitable. All the same, she helps him out and doesn’t give the slightest impression that she wishes him harm. He doesn’t know her well, but knows just enough of her to know that she probably doesn’t intend to turn on him. And as bad as it sounds, Minho doesn’t think that Sonya will make it to a point in the Games where she’ll have to turn on him.
Sporadically throughout their training, the Tributes are called out for superficial Capitol-bullshit designed to make the Hunger Games look like actual Games instead of senseless bloodbaths. The interviews are particularly infuriating; Minho can’t think of anything much more degrading than bringing them all onstage and asking them how they feel about fighting to their deaths. If he wasn’t certain that his family would end up dead for it, he would gladly tell the Capitol on live TV what they could do with their sick idea of entertainment.
Sonya is interviewed before him, and says that her only special skill is recognizing which plants are safe to eat; evidently, her family isn’t one of the wealthier ones in District 11. Minho’s are better off, but not by much.
Right after, it’s his turn in the chair. He’s too pissed off to be nervous about being on TV, or about the audience watching him. “So, Minho,” The host is trying to be charismatic, but he’s really just being an annoying dick. “What would you say that your special skill is? What gives you an advantage in the Games?”
Minho thinks about that for a second. “I’m fast.” He says. “I’m very, very fast.”
“That’s good.” The host nods somberly. “That’s a good trait to have in a situation like this.”
God, but Minho wants to punch him.
The rest of their training progresses, and with Sonya and Chaff’s help (limited, in the latter’s case), Minho doesn’t feel completely helpless on the night before the Games. It’s his last dinner with Sonya, and even though he isn’t terribly hungry, he’s been eating a lot lately in the event that there isn’t much food to find in the arena.
“Not a bad last meal,” Sonya mutters, stabbing at the meat on her plate. That’s unusual, because she hasn’t expressed any such dark thoughts prior to that moment.
“Not the last, hopefully.”
“It is for one of us.”
She’s looking at her plate as she says it, and Minho feels bad in a way that he didn’t before. He doesn’t know the other Tributes; he does know Sonya, and realizing that she’s more or less resigned herself to death is painful. He can understand why- even after a month in the Capitol, she’s still painfully thin from her living conditions back home. She is not fast. She is not strong.
Now he feels like crap, and hates the Capitol even more, if that’s possible. Still, Minho isn’t particularly good at being comforting, and so he just sighs and picks up his glass sardonically. “Well, may the best Tribute win, then. And by the best, I mean the one who’s actually managed to keep herself alive in District-fucking-11 for the last sixteen years.”
Sonya looks surprised at that, like she hadn’t considered that her hardships might have made her a little more tenacious a survivor than most. Minho is satisfied when she picks up her own glass and retorts, “Cheers.”
For the first time, he isn’t too nervous about dying. If Sonya survives, then the rest of her life she won’t have to worry about doing so again, and that’s a silver-lining if nothing else is.
Ultimately, the choice of arena for this year’s Games is a surprise, at least to Minho: The arena is a flat, wide plain with tall grass all around. Apart from that grass, there is no cover, none whatsoever- but the sky overhead is ominously black and cloudy. He sees Sonya seven platforms away from his, staring up at the sky with obvious concern.
That concern becomes valid when a long roll of thunder echoes across the plains, and light flickers in the sky.
It gets louder, the flashes brighter, but Minho focuses on the numbers counting down on the screen hanging over the Cornucopia.
When it hits zero, he runs.
Almost immediately, the ground starts to shake, and damn it, wouldn’t it just be his luck that Chaff was right? The Game Makers had come up with a new form of torture that year: Violent thunder and lightning storms. He saw one bolt hit the ground out of the corner of his eye, hears another one connect behind him. The thunder is deafening, and Minho’s heart is pounding because he has no idea when and where the next one will hit, or if getting near the (metal) Cornucopia is such a good idea anymore.
But he keeps running because the only thing that scares him more than the lightning is the idea of one of those huge Tributes from District 1 getting a weapon before he does.
Minho reaches a backpack with a spear lying next to it, and he skids to a stop. He turns and looks up to see if anyone is coming at him.
The light is blinding, and it almost feels like someone has doused him in oil and set him on fire.
Minho loses all sense of time after that. He can’t move, simply lying in the grass as the thunder and lightning continues to drown out all other noises and sights. He is disoriented, sees people moving and swinging at each other and fighting, but can’t conceive of why- he isn’t even afraid anymore, though he does wish that someone would give him something to put on his back, because damn does it hurt.
Eventually, he blacks out.
As it so happens, Minho ends up winning the 48th Annual Hunger Games. Lasting only five hours, it is the shortest one in history. The Game Makers were too overzealous with that lightning, and twenty Tributes died at the Cornucopia; three others killed each other, and the last died of his wounds. Minho was so badly injured that they simply assumed he was dead like all the others. He wakes up on the Hovercraft, being attended to by doctors when he realizes that he’s survived.
And that Sonya has not.
That in itself hurts badly enough, but the extent of his injuries adds an insult: The lightning has taken its toll, and he’s scarred, he’s scarred badly, scarred for life. His face, his back, his arms- they’re never going to look right again, never going to feel right again, despite every other effort the doctors at the Capitol make.
And they still have the balls to call him a Victor.
Teresa knows that something has happened.
“I knew it,” Her father whispers at the dinner table, head bowed. “I knew it. They never had a chance. I knew those bastards would-”
Teresa’s mother hisses at him and nods towards Teresa.
“Who lost?” She asks.
“Go to bed, Teresa.”
She is seven, almost eight. Almost-eight year-olds rarely receive satisfactory answers to their questions.
But soon, it becomes clear enough. Soldiers from the Capitol are stomping around in their town, calling people out of their homes for questioning, storming into houses in the middle of the night looking for weapons. Teresa’s family lives on the edge of District 3, but it isn’t as though they could hide the fact that theirs and all the other Districts were at war with the Capitol.
And sadly, Teresa realizes that they’ve probably lost that war.
“But what does that mean?” She presses her parents at dinner, wanting an answer and yet sensing that it is one she doesn’t want to hear.
“We don’t know what it means.” Her mother says quietly.
At least that seems to be the truth.
For weeks the raids go on, new rules about how late people can go out and what parts of the District they can go to are put in place, and it seems as though there’s a Peacekeeper on every corner, watching everyone.
After about two months, the Capitol finally addresses them all.
Teresa’s parents can’t stop her from hearing this, because attendance at the giant screen where the President will make his announcement is mandatory. Every citizen of every District is forced to gather around and watch his televised address from the Capitol.
He confirms what Teresa has already suspected: The war has been lost, with the rebellions in every District being put down. District 13 has been destroyed altogether. The finality in his tone gives the impression that another rebellion simply isn’t going to happen.
“And so now we turn to the Districts remaining. As of this morning, the Treaty of Treason has been signed into effect, and will be implemented in the coming weeks. Included are an array of new laws and regulations that will be put in place to maintain a new era of peace within the Districts.”
Teresa’s father looks like he wants to throw something at the screen.
“But simply enacting new laws is not enough. These days of war have been dark for every person, of every District, and they must not occur again! For bringing these days down upon us, there must now be a punishment for all those who participated in this rebellion. Each District must pay.”
Teresa sees so many adults in the crowd going tense. This, she thinks, is the part everyone has been dreading.
“The following is written in the Treaty of Treason: ‘In penance for their uprising, each District will offer up a male and female between the ages of twelve and eighteen at a public “reaping”. These “tributes” shall be delivered to the custody of the Capitol, and then transferred to a public arena where they will fight to the death until a lone victor remains.”
Cries go up around them. A few gunshots into the air quiets them.
“Henceforth and forevermore, this pageant shall be known as the Hunger Games.”
Teresa is smart. She knows what death is. She knows what fighting is. She also knows what “henceforth” and “forevermore” mean, and so she knows that when she turns twelve that she might have to participate in the Hunger Games. That’s certainly what her parents think: She hears their panicked voices all into the night.
The first ‘Hunger Games’ are supposed to be held next month. There are people who protest, but any and all mass public gatherings not sanctioned by the Capitol or local governments are illegal, and they are dispersed. Some people try to send their children into hiding. Others try to disappear into the woods, but judging from the shots Teresa hears at night, that probably doesn’t work.
On the day of the Reaping, attendance is mandatory again even though she is too young to be chosen. They pull the names out of two giant glass bowls, and the children chosen weep as the Peacekeepers march them up to the stage to be officially handed over to the Capitol.
News on the Tributes’ training is reported often on the news, and while they are not mandatory to watch (every time, anyways), Teresa hears about them anyway; it’s all people talk about nowadays. The interviews with the Tributes are mandatory, and they are painful to watch.
“They’ve threatened them to keep a happy face,” Her mother whispers, tearing up. “That poor boy looks ready to cry.” But the man interviewing them makes it sound like they’re just going to play a game. Just a game.
Teresa is young enough not to know what to make of this bizarre spectacle, because the cognitive dissonance amongst the adults is astounding. The Capitol makes it look like a sporting event, and the Tributes are forced to play along; everyone talks about it like it’s an unusually interesting TV show, and Teresa even hears a couple of men on the street taking bets on who will win.
She once believed that she had the world mostly figured out. Now she thinks maybe people are stranger than she originally thought.
The Games themselves are, of course, mandatory viewing. This is the punishment, after all. This is designed to make them suffer, make them sorry that they rebelled and realize just how bad an idea it would be to do it again.
But as Teresa watches the older children kill each other on TV (despite how much her parents try to block it), she does not feel sorry that they had rebelled against the Capitol. With every terrified face flashed on screen, she can understand why her parents and her neighbors hate the Capitol as passionately as they do.
The Capitol is evil. It doesn’t deserve to have power, and the Districts don’t deserve to be punished.
Teresa keeps this insight inside, watches the Games every subsequent year and contemplates rebellion. Wonders what it might take to get the Districts to try again, to overcome their fear of being completely wiped out like District 13, instead of just having two children offered up in Tribute to die miserably on live TV every year. The desire to put an end to the Capitol and avenge the dead is a fire in her, and it grows brighter and stronger every single day.
And when she is sixteen and her name is the one pulled from the bowl, when her father has to hold her wailing mother in place, she takes that conviction with her. The Capitol will do as they please, but one day the Districts are going to fight back again, and one day it will be the Capitol that is punished. The Districts will be victorious.
The odds are in their favor.