Rating: M (disturbing themes, child abuse, violence, sexual content, implied character death)
Characters/Pairings: D2 OCs, Clove, Cato
Summary: Other Districts think that Two has nothing to fear at the Reapings. They’re wrong.
Notes: I got to thinking about how D2 volunteering can get “complicated” according to canon, and I decided to take a different interpretation of that word. I allude to a few things here that you can find described in more detail in my D2 training essay if you’re interested (not necessary for reading!).
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
-- The Eagles
30. Peacekeeper guns herd him down the long, long Justice Building hallway. He’s not going to the Capitol. Oh no. He made sure of that himself, didn’t he? It’s too late for that. He’s going somewhere much worse now.
It wasn’t supposed to be him.
They open the door and drag him through it in handcuffs and force him onto his knees before the fifteen-year-old he was supposed to speak for. It’s a tall kid with sandy blond hair and wide gray eyes that have temporarily replaced paralyzed fear with shock at his new visitor. He looks stronger than some of the ones called in the lottery, but he’ll never make it. He’s never killed a bird with his hands or survived weeks on his own on a blistering mountaintop or wielded a sword like a third arm.
He wasn’t going. He was never going. It was going to be Adam, it was always Adam, it wasn’t supposed to be him. And then Adam died last week and it was him anyway and he didn’t speak. He just didn’t. He just had his heart in his throat and every camera in the universe on him and they never told him it would be like this and he just didn’t.
A heavy black boot lands squarely in his ribs, and he calls on years of training to keep the pain off his face. He was always good at the acting. That’s how he got this far, probably. It certainly wasn’t for being stronger or faster or better than Adam, but it was always going to be Adam, he thinks as they grab him by the hair and force his face upward.
“Look him in the eyes, you piece of shit,” they say, and he does, and the kid shrinks back into the couch with a face that can’t decide on one emotion to display at a time.
“You look him in the eyes and tell him you’re a fucking coward.”
“I’m a fucking coward,” he says, because that is all he can say. Because it’s true.
“You tell him you’re a fucking traitor.”
“I’m a fucking traitor,” he says, and the mask slips a hair’s width on the last word because this is the one thing they can never be, the worst thing they could ever be in the world. He swears he can feel the world tilting when they land a blow between his shoulder blades.
“Take him back to the dorms,” the first tells the other two. “Tell the kids we want to see physical evidence of how much they disapprove of sabotage. If he’s dead before the Head can organize the execution, whoever did it will be in deep shit – but I want them to be creative. And I want it all filmed.”
They drag him up and away before he can get another look at the kid, but he can feel the gray eyes on him all the way out of the building and into the van.
“You’re going to wish you’d gone to that fuckin’ Game before you die,” one of them whispers to him just before they shut the door with a low hiss of finality. He knows it’s true.
It wasn’t supposed to be him. It wasn’t supposed to be him.
45. “I’m going to kill you,” she’d whispered with her nose in June’s throat the night they’d announced the decision.
It’s not going to be her; it’s not going to be Carra. It’s going to be June with her long, black hair and her deep golden eyes and her laugh that could curdle blood or start a war or make Carra’s breath catch or all of the fucking above. It’s going to be Kale, too, for the boys, but no one cares about Kale. It’s only about them. It always has been.
That night, June smells like Capitol soaps and lotions, and if they leave any visible marks for the next morning they’ll both catch hell. They leave marks anyway, teeth and claws in soft skin to reveal the sweet iron tang of familiar blood, so much more familiar in her nose than sickening perfumes.
They compete to the bitter end, they always did, didn’t they? And this night is just as much a fight for dominance as all their other matches, from age ten on the first day of Transition with June’s hands wrapping around Carra’s curls and yanking. And now, this last night with Carra’s nails tearing at June’s breasts and their hips sawing into each other.
“I win,” June says with that devilish grin, and something twists inside of Carra and then she’s flipped them again and pinned June to the thin carpet with hands at her throat.
“Not yet,” Carra growls in her ear.
June clamps a hand over Carra’s mouth when she comes. It’s the one with her bracelet attached to the wrist, the bracelet that matches Carra’s down to the individual thread except for that damn gold bead.
Later, Carra is wearing a yellow dress they picked out for her that clashes horribly with her pale skin. She stands next to June in the midsummer heat, and the irony of the name isn’t lost as sweat slithers down her neck and pools in the scratchy fabric. Capitol perfume and perspiration assaults her senses. June’s gold bead matches her glittering gold dress. Yellow looks better on her.
They read the name. Carra doesn’t hear it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s going to be June.
Not yet, she thinks as she speaks before June can get the words out.
Not yet, she thinks as she mounts the stage to oblivious applause from the crowd and looks of horror and shock from the Center kids and something else from June.
Not fucking yet, she thinks as the Peacekeeper lands a blow to her liver as soon as the door to the Justice Building is mostly closed behind her.
“I’m going to kill you,” Kale says on the train with his meaty arms crossed over his chest. His eyes are furious and crazy.
Carra shifts in her electrified handcuffs and looks out the window as home melts away. A guard clamps fingernails that will never be as sharp as June’s over her shoulder and barks, you speak when spoken to, traitor.
“Not yet,” she says with a smile that tastes bloody a split-second later as Kale lands a blow. Nobody stops him.
51. “They said they’re withholding this year,” Coral Merchese says.
Next to her in the crowd, an older man with salt and pepper hair makes a derisive noise. “They’ve been saying that the past three years. Never going to happen.”
“You would feel differently if one of your children were down there.”
“My children were ‘down there’ for twelve collective years. I’ll say what I like.”
“It isn’t right,” says Coral. “Parading the trainees in here, perfectly capable of taking their place. Look at them; they look angry. I think it’s true – they really are withholding. Not fair to anyone – those kids want it. They’re taking this opportunity from them.”
“You know what wasn’t right? When we didn’t make it known how much we disapproved of the uprisings in Three,” says the man.
“They want it!” Coral says, outrage building within her.
“Those kids are somebody’s children, too, you know,” says a woman next to Coral who’s clutching the hand of a little girl of about six.
Her husband levels a disapproving look at her with righteousness in his eyes. “You’re a bleeding heart, Maya. You’ll understand when Jena’s old enough to stand down there.”
“What will you understand, Mommy?” The little girl runs her palms over an imaginary wrinkle in her lavender dress. It has big, puffy sleeves and skims her knees. Lace-trimmed socks peek out over her buckled white shoes.
“Hush, Jena,” says her mother. The lines at the corners of her eyes and the grooves in her forehead seem to intensify. “You know the rules.”
The little girl clamps a hand over her mouth.
“All of you, hush,” says Coral. “They’re about to read the name.”
The papers in the bowl flutter, and then Adelaide Reger booms out of the microphone and the camera focuses its laser sharp lens on a girl in the sixteens with endless rows of intricate braids that reach her waist. She freezes, like many of them do, and a hush falls over the crowd as she’s led to the stage and climbs the stairs and looks out with lost brown eyes. Her breath is held for the one who will save her.
For the one who doesn’t speak.
A whisper ripples through the square like poison as no one speaks and no one speaks and no one speaks. The girl’s fingers tremble, and her gasping breath rattles the microphone. In the back of the crowd of children, the seniors stand together with stony faces and unreadable eyes, a line of black bracelets and crossed arms.
“None? All right then, for the boys – ”
“Addie!” a man howls from the nameless sea of adults in the wings. There’s scrambling and feet over rows of benches and elbows in ribs and then her father is silenced with a stun gun.
The girl on the stage is panicking now, saying wait, there’s a mistake, this can’t be right. The glint of Center beads in the morning light answers her from the back of the square.
Coral swallows the bile in her throat. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair.
A blue-tinged hand reaches into the boys’ bowl, and a clear voice trills, Samson Merchese.
“This is so great,” Suze says. She’s practically bouncing on her toes behind the rope. Her hands itch to grip it, but she knows they aren’t allowed. The other kids are right: the Reaping is so much better up close.
“It’s not great,” Prosper says. He toes the ground with his shoe and seems on a quest to melt into the pavement. “The sun’s in my eyes. I don’t like it down here.”
In some of the other Districts, they keep the boys separated from the girls, even the young ones like them, but not in District Two. Nobody cares in District Two.
Vienna smirks. “Fraidy cat. You gonna pee yourself if they call you?”
“They aren’t going to call any of us,” Suze says. She stands up a little straighter and her heart thrums with eagerness to explain something important. “None of us have our names in there more than once, right?”
“I’ve got tesserae. Four times,” Vienna says. Nobody ever wants to admit that they have tesserae, but Vienna’s the type of kid who can say it with her head held high. She spent a year in the Farm, even, when she was eight. Her family’s poor, but she’s beautiful enough and strong enough that people forget that.
“So what,” Suze says. “Four whole times. How many papers are in that ball? When’s the last time any of you ever won a drawing at school? This is ten times less likely. A hundred times.”
“It won’t matter even if one of us does get drawn.” Vienna glances over her shoulder, to the older kids behind them, to the Eighteens and the Seventeens. “We’ll get replaced in five seconds. We won’t even have to go to the stage. Wonder who they’ve got this year. You can always tell because they look the best. You know, they have people who work on them for a whole hour before the ceremony, to make them beautiful.”
Vienna knows more about the Volunteers than anyone else in school because she’s been to the Farm, and other kids ask her to explain it all the time. Suze has nothing important to say about the Farm. She knows about math and numbers and rules, but she doesn’t know anything about training – and she really, really hates not being the one to know things.
“I don’t care,” Prosper says. His hands are clenched at his sides.
“Bet you’re scared,” Suze giggles.
Prosper crosses his arms defensively over his chest. “I’m not scared.”
“Bet you are.”
“Bet I’m not.”
“Prove it,” Suze says. And then she thinks of it. It’s a great idea. Maybe the best she’s ever had. She leans in close to Prosper, so close that she can count the freckles on her forehead, and whispers, “I dare you to Volunteer.”
Prosper’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates. He doesn’t say anything.
Vienna rounds on Suze, and her face is really angry. “Don’t ever say that again,” she commands, her voice intense but quiet. “That isn’t funny, Suze.”
“Yeah it is,” Suze grumbles as she locks eyes with Vienna. She hates being wrong, and she won’t be wrong here. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“It’s not funny,” Vienna insists. She wipes her palms on her cornflower blue dress, and they come away leaving sweat marks. “Now shut up; they’re starting.”
They hardly get a good look at the girl who gets called because it’s hard to see from the ground, and the cameras hardly have time to focus on her before she’s replaced. She’s from the Sixteens with pale skin and long, auburn pigtails. She freezes when they say her name and her eyes go blank. She’s not very pretty and doesn’t look nice on the screen. She tries to say something, her mouth open like a dead fish, but no sound comes out.
Suze barely has time to look at her brown dress when the camera pans to her Volunteer from the Eighteens. She’s tall and beautiful with skin as dark as her silky, curly hair. Suze can see the lovely green of her eyes even from this far away on the screen, and she’s wearing a coffee-colored skirt with a jeweled green top that exactly matches her eyes. Suze imagines the team of stylists Vienna talked about working on her before the ceremony, putting on her makeup, fixing her hair, adjusting her clothes. The cheers when she takes the stage are so loud that they hurt Suze’s ears.
When the screams finally die down after what feels like forever, they reach into the boys’ ball. Suze can’t resist a giggle and a glance at Prosper as the man on the stage’s fingers swirl around the sea of papers, searching for the right one.
“Dare ya,” she whispers with a wink. Prosper looks back at her as if she’d just killed his puppy.
“Say that again and I’ll punch you,” Vienna says.
But she doesn’t need to say it again.
And just like that, before the man can even finish reading the next name, someone’s yelling, high-pitched and uncertain, “I volunteer!” It is not the deep, confident male voice they always hear at this point in the ceremony. The camera does not swoop to the Eighteens or the Seventeens to look up, up and up at their latest hero.
Prosper clamps a hand over his mouth. But it’s too late.
The people of District Two don’t remember the Sixty-Fifth Hunger Games for Finnick Odair. They remember that first somber bloodbath death without honor, Two turned against Two in the first thirty seconds of the Game and a lesson to all of them that rules must be obeyed and the Center is not mocked.
Suze Hanlon remembers the notched dagger held in a manicured hand that splashed Prosper’s intestines across her television screen.
Isis stops breathing when a Senior is reaped. The crowd hushes and all eyes swing between the back of the square and the huge screen at the front. The camera zeroes in on a row of trainees, lean and muscled and tall except for the one who isn’t tall, and it couldn’t possibly be her – except it is. Nobody makes a sound as the girl flinches on the screen for a moment so brief that Isis wouldn’t have seen it if she weren’t watching it magnified. And then she’s walking, the crowd parting for her more out of fear than the usual respect, and Isis can’t stop watching the bracelet. Ten black strands. She can’t count all the beads, but oh, they’re there. Orange and red and silver and gold, the Volunteers always have the gold, don’t they, but she isn’t a volunteer.
Isis swallows the bile in her mouth when even their escort looks confused. Will they draw again? Will they expect someone else to volunteer for her? This has never happened before, well, maybe it has, but not that Isis remembers. It was in her history book once, she thinks as her mind buzzes a thousand miles an hour, and she should have paid more attention in that lesson and what’s going to happen now? Isis knows that unusual Reapings are never good. She knows that the last time this happened, a little boy died. She’s too young to remember it, but her father still talks about it. Such a shame, he’d say at the dinner table. Don’t you children ever say a word during the ceremony, he warns them every night when the Reapings get close.
We won’t, Papa, they’d say, and Isis bites her lip until she tastes blood.
She clasps the hand of the girl next to her, a stranger with a complicated pattern of braids down the side of her blouse, and the girl grips fiercely and doesn’t let go. They don’t look at each other. They don’t need to. They know.
There’s the call for volunteers. Isis scans the crowd desperately, and her heart hammers between her ears.
There’s silence. The girl on the stage has perfect makeup and a face of stone.
Alistair puts his painted nails in the second bowl and reads the boys’ name. Isis doesn’t recognize it and doesn’t care much anyway. She’s just looking at the back of the square, at the Senior boys, to see if it belongs to any of them.
But before Alistair can even finish the name of the boy with dark skin from the Fourteens, another boy speaks. It’s the enormous one in the back who looks so much more like a man than a boy. He has blond hair and a beautiful face and his arms are thicker than Isis’s waist.
They always wait for the name to be read. They always wait for them to ask for Volunteers. This isn’t right. Isis wipes her clammy hands on her cotton skirt.
The crowd is as silent and scared as Isis feels inside when the boy takes the stairs three at a time to the stage. There’s something horrible on his face, something ugly and wrong even though he’s one of the most beautiful boys Isis has ever seen. He turns to the girl on the stage, and for a moment, Isis thinks she sees his lips move. The girl flashes a tiny smile, like butterfly wings on her lips. She’s so small and he’s so big and Isis holds her breath until her chest burns.
Alistair calls for a round of applause for this year’s Tributes. Isis holds her breath and holds her breath and holds her breath.
Then the boy raises a powerful fist to the crowd and the spell is broken and they’re all screaming for him, screaming for the little girl next to him, screaming for a Reaping that’s gone back to normal.
A grin warms Iris’s face as she holds her hands out to the Tributes and shrieks in time with the energy of the crowd. Adrenaline and relief rocket through her veins as her world melts back into the place where nobody dies. Warm air floods her lungs.
The girl next to Isis catches her eye, grins, and releases her hand with a gentle squeeze. Isis smiles back and claps until her hands hurt. And a chorus of her mother’s words plays itself inside her head, the ones she says when something horrible doesn’t happen, like when they thought they lost her baby brother in the city center or when a terrible storm roared right past their town without hitting them.
Thank Snow, the words say to her in light, breathy music notes. Thank Snow. Nothing’s gone wrong and they have their Tributes and they’re safe for another year.
The girl’s waving at the crowd now, and her dark green eyes catch Isis’s as the boy on the stage touches her hand. Thank Snow. Thank Snow. Thank Snow.