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the harvest games (do you know what it's like to die slow?)

Chapter Text

What the world saw:

Sabrina Collier. Pale, pretty, weak. The pampered only child of a mining magnate who broke down on TV and roared and wept and said he would pay anyone anything to Volunteer in his daughter's place.

Some laughed in his face. "Maybe now you'll finally know what it's like to lose someone you love to the Harvest," they jeered. "Who's the pathetic brat now, huh? Your daughter's going to die on live television and everyone'll see. Colliers die just as easy as everyone else!"

Some considered. Looked at their siblings' shrinking frames, the bones of their wrists, the worn-through clothing. Thought that maybe their life was small exchange for Regis Collier's wealth. Even just a tiny percentage of the man's gold would be enough to sustain a family for a year. Was it worth it? Volunteering for someone who had been Harvested?

Some, mostly the younger ones, the ones who hadn't yet learned to think Thank Goddess it wasn't me, it wasn't me looked at Sabrina Collier and hurt inside, because Sabrina Collier was a kind girl. She went out of her way to give food to kids at school who needed it, or left it in lockers when the kids were too proud. Mysterious wools made their way to the families who were dying of cold. Money was tucked into the books of those whose fathers were drowning in debt. They looked at Sabrina Collier, and hurt, because they had learned to love the pretty, pale, weak girl.

What the world saw:

Sabrina Collier got a two, and cried during her interview.

"I only ever wanted to be happy," she sobbed. "To laugh my whole life."

When she got into the arena, she had no idea how to survive. Only got fish by sheer luck, and stayed close to water because she was smart. She had an ally. Just one. A little twelve-year-old named May.

May screamed beautifully for Sabrina when the Career boy from Four caught her and raped her. Sabrina was hiding in the bushes, weeping, and not daring to move to save her. She would just have been killed anyway.

When she died, the whole world could see Sabrina scream.

What the world did not see:

Sabrina was the only daughter of a mining magnate. She'd grown up with rock cracking under steel, dynamite blowing up passages.

When the pickaxe disappeared from the Careers' camp, they didn't think much of it – they hardly noticed it, drowning in swords and maces and daggers as they were.

They thought of it much more, when a pretty, pale, weak girl sneaked into their camp and started hacking at them with a pickaxe.

She took especial care with the boy who violated May. Made him suffer. Hacked off his bits, first, then his limbs. Finally, his head.

She was laughing as the blood spurted from his arteries.

When the hovercraft came to crown her the Victor, she was still laughing.

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The Capitol loves Vaughn, of course. Silver-haired, gorgeous, amethyst eyes and that dark, brooding manner. Men and women alike are drawn to that aura, women wanting him to open up to him and men wanting either to dominate or be dominated.

Vaughn wasn't a career trib. Just a boy plucked from goddess-knows-where, scrawny and starving, but with that silver hair and gorgeous eyes and the ability to make the whole world swoon.

Black-and-Silver Prince, they call him. He's in high demand among the rich and famous in Panem. He graces their beds, silver and lithe and gloriously naked, and when he's slithered out of your bed he'll have taken all your secrets and you'd've been happy to give them to him.

(In the games that killed his best friend in the world, there hadn't been anything to eat. Denny and Vaughn were allies, but they were starving. One day Denny'd gone out to the river, tried to fish, tried to hold on to some semblance of what he was. A fisherman, a provider. He'd died there. The piranha-muttations had destroyed him.

Blind with terror and fury, Vaughn had clubbed the fish and ran. Just ran. And when he came across the first crop of wild carrots, he had fallen upon them and eaten them, sobbing as the blood of his best friend smeared on the orange.

Vaughn Vaults despises carrots. Ever since that moment, when he ate the wild carrots with the blood of his best friend on his hands, he has hated them. They will always taste like blood and the arena to him.

President Snow knows this, and makes certain to broadcast to the world that Vaughn Vaults, Capitol darling, loves carrots.

Everyone always has a stock of carrots on-hand, just in case Vaughn Vaults ever comes by.)

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Chelsea was a Career tribute.

Born and bred Victor, she was, from a long line of Victors. Had learned to fight with sickles, with axes, hammers, plows, swords. Hand-to-hand, too. When she stood onstage with the light gleaming off of her coppery hair, everyone in the Capitol knew – she was deadly. Deadly and gorgeous.

She goes into the arena with the sponsors already fawning over her, showering her with silver parachutes, the other tributes already terrified of her, and she takes her Cornucopia sickle and reaps them all.

There's no contest. Even the Career tribs fall to her and her sickle, and she is pulled out of the arena still sticky from the blood of her conquests.

Her brother Mark dies in the Games the next year. The seventeen-year-old who had dismembered her brother looks up at the cameras with a bloody smile and blond hair streaked red, almost pink.

"She killed my sister," the boy with blond-almost-pink hair says. "Now I've killed her brother. We're even, you Career whore."

Lily Woo wins that year, and Rick Evans dies at her hand. Chelsea hisses at the black-haired woman who is all red silks and deadly daggers.

She had no right. Rick Evans should have become Victor, then Chelsea would have taken her time carving him up all pretty, bleeding out and staining his blond hair true bloodred.

Mark was hers. Hers to kill for. Hers to save.

Rick Evans should have died at Chelsea 's hand, for the sin of killing her brother. She hates and resents Lily Woo for stealing that right.

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Lanna hates her baby sister more than anyone in the world.

Perfect, beautiful Hanna, already shining like a star in her classes, the fastest the strongest the most deadly Career in her class. Already half a Victor, her teachers murmur, then cut their eyes to Lanna. It’s a shame about the sister. Shame shame shame about the sister.

Lanna is never going to be Harvested, never going to get to play. Never going to go to the Capitol, and show them what she can do. Hanna will. Hanna will go in and blaze bright and burn the arenas down, and the Capitol will love her and fear her and bow at her feet.

It isn’t fair. Lanna didn’t ask to be blonde and brown-eyed and pretty, with a voice that makes you smile and sing along, light and lithe and not good at killing the way they want her to be. She can’t shoot a bow with perfect precision, can’t even lift a sword, let alone fight with it. Hanna is lean in all the right places, sharp like a blade, built for death. Hanna has edges where Lanna has curves, fifteen different ways to kill with the hair that Lanna can only brush and straighten and condition. Hanna’s smile could rip you open; Lanna’s only makes you smile right back.

People look at Hanna and see death, trust her to bring death, and that is exactly the sort of thinking that gets you into the games.

The only thing people trust Lanna at is to trust her to be pretty, sell her beauty to some Capitol man looking to have some fun with a District girl (she’ll never be worth anything, she’ll just shame the district if we send her in)

That’s not right. Lanna wants fear, wants fame, wants the glitter of the Capitol on her skin. Lanna wants destruction.

So when Hanna Linnet! is called, like everyone knew it would be, her baby sister already running up the stage, bright-eyed and murderous and ready to shine, Lanna screams, I volunteer!

The Capitol plays it up as a selfless act of devotion to her sister. Lanna smiles at Hanna, and through her eyes blurring with joy (not love never sadness), that smile has the barest hint of teeth.

Hanna seethes.

And of course everyone knows the story. Lanna Linnet goes in and sings the three-headed muttations to sleep, convinces the handsome blond boy that she’s in love with him, that the Capitol cannot tear them apart, that they will be prince and princess together. Will Regison swallows every word, blue eyes huge with stories of knights and princesses and happily ever after (didn’t his fucking district beat fairytales out of him?). He becomes her knight, becomes her prince in shining armor, and when she mounts the unicorn-muttation with the shining sharp golden horn, blonde hair brilliant and brown eyes sparkling, the Capitol falls in love with the One girl who has never looked more like a princess.

(When the muttations turn on them she falls to her knees weeping and screaming and wailing, slashing the throat of her unicorn-muttation. But there is the slyest smirk on her face as Will Regison’s blood drenches her snow-white steed.)

She comes home to be crowned Victor, and it is sweet.

But the sweeter victory is when her sister throws a screaming rage fit when the Capitol tells her, no, no, you can never Volunteer. Don’t waste your beautiful sister’s act of selflessness now.

Lanna has won.

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When the Capitol pits Elliot Peterson against Natalie Peterson, they know there is no return.

“Together?” Elliot asks, weak and raspy and dying of the poisonous arena waters.

“Together,” Natalie agrees, eyes hard and determined, despite the cut on her thigh oozing blood and pus.

They tip the poison berries into each other’s hands, hold on tight for a moment.

“It was an honor to have you as a sister,” Elliot says, staring into his sister’s eyes.

“Goddess, you dork. Until the very end you are fucking embarrassing me.

“Nat, I love you.”

“Yeah, sure, Goddess, whatever. Don’t tell anyone, but I love you too, you fuckin’ nerd.” But Natalie is smiling through her tears.

“I’ll take it to my death,” Elliot promises gravely, and Natalie laughs. Gallows fuckin’ humor.

“Countoff to three?” Natalie asks.

“One.”

“Two.”

“Three.”

“No!” their mother screams, somewhere in the districts. But twin cannons fire and the hovercraft screeches in much too late, much too late for Elliot and Natalie.

That was the year of no victor.

(The Capitol never airs it on reruns. It would be…incendiary.)

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“Sometimes I think I left my heart in the arena,” Sabrina slurs, through her drink. It’s pink and green and bubbly and much too sweet. It’s a Magical Melody, one of a line of drinks inspired by Lanna Linnet’s recent victory.

“Hn, “ Vaughn grunts. He’s sloshed, sloshed enough to start thinking of foraging in forests and glimpses of a running boy and fences, fuckin’ chain-link fences, talkin’ through the fence, runnin’ through the forest, just two fuckin’ kids getting whatever fucking happiness kids could get in this shithole of a world, and then the goddamn Harvest…

“My heart was my brother,” Chelsea says, too calmly, though she’s been drinking nonstop since eight, and it’s now midnight. “I left my heart with him, and Rick Evans tore it out and ate it.

“Goddess, Chelsea, this is why we never invite you bar-hopping,” Lanna calls, trills, sings. Whatever. She’s happy, she’s got everything she ever wanted. Fame, fortune, all that shit. “You’re such a morbid drunk.”

“Lanna, shut the fuck up,” Pierre growls. “You don’t know anything about loss, you goddamn pretty fuckin’ bird. All you ever fucking do is sing. One day Chelsea’s gonna shoot you out of the air, and won’t that be a great day for all of us?”

“You’re such an asshole, Pierre!” Lanna screams. “I killed for this victory! Don’t you fucking forget that!”

“And I poisoned the entire fucking Career alliance with something that I said was breakfast, you songbird, that takes a special kind of ruthless,” Pierre shot back. “Who’s to say I haven’t spiked your drink? Goddess knows we’d all be happy to be rid of you.”

“Committed fuckin’ genocide,” Chelsea says. “The shit we did to survive, huh?”

“Didn’t you tear out someone’s throat with your teeth, Lumina?”

Lumina slinks over, golden and pretty and deadly. She smiles, and her teeth are filed to a point. “Want me to try it on you, Lanna?”

“Bring it,” Lanna challenges. “I’m a victor too.” She flicks her wrist, and a dagger flies into her hand. “You forget, I’m a fucking victor too! And I’m proud of it!”

“And isn’t that a sad fate,” Sabrina says, laughing maniacally, as she twirls her own dagger in the air. No victor travels without at least one weapon. Chelsea has seven stashed around her body, and ten hidden in her elaborate hairstyle. Sabrina has even more. “Isn’t that the saddest fate you could ever imagine.”

“Proud, Lanna?” Vaughn asks, slowly. Deadly. “Proud that you killed…what, seven other kids? Seven was your kill count, wasn’t it? Are you proud that you killed that poor little fool Regison?”

“I didn’t kill him, the muttations did,” Lanna said, whining. “I wept for him. I was in love with him.”

“Cut the crap, you bitch,” Pierre spits. “You fuckin’ tricked him. Like I fuckin’ tricked them. Breakfast, goddess damn, I’m a son of a fuckin’ chef and I killed them with breakfast!”

He starts laughing maniacally.

“Breakfast!”

“Pierre’s gone off the deep end,” Sabrina sighs, still twirling her dagger.

Chelsea takes a sip of her blood-red drink and says, “We’re all there, anyway.”

Vaughn thinks of purple bandanas and tanned fisherman’s sons and “I’m Denny. Let’s be friends!” and says, “I’mma fuckin’ drink to that.”