Characters/Pairing: Original Chars
Summary: In the first Quarter Quell, the citizens of the districts had to choose their own tributes, publicly and openly. And then those chosen had choices of their own to make.Upped a bit for language and mention of implied rape.
Notes: The beginning was written for a The Girl on Fire ficathon prompt. The prompt, by phoebebeesly, read: "Original characters, the voting of tributes for the 25th Hunger Games". I got caught up in concepts and decided to continue on with it.
And here we have the end of the story proper: Everyone dead but one. Just an epilogue left to write, to tie up some loose ends and get some audience response. Hopefully that I'll whip out pretty quickly. Thanks, to those of you who stuck with me and my extraordinarily slow updates! Also, a warning, this chapter is not terribly edited because I just wanted to get it out. Or, more properly, it may be terribly edited! If so, I apologize and will try to clean it later.
Return to the Cornucopia
It was almost a shock to step into the clearing, the rain cutting off as abruptly as though there were a ceiling—only stranger, because the rain was blowing almost horizontally and still stepping into the clearing was absolutely stepping out of the storm. The wind was stiller, the rain non-existent, even the sound of the raging storm was slightly muted. Posy entered the clearing cautiously, ready to spin and run at the faintest motion other than the constant sway and shake of storm-blown trees, but nothing happened. She looked around, waiting for some trap to spring, and saw nothing more threatening than footprints and blood stains. Jerkily, moving awkwardly with the abrupt change from fighting the wind with every step, she started towards the center of the clearing. She stumbled, leaning into a wind that wasn’t there, and caught herself. She took one more look around before taking a breath and slipping into the mouth of the cornucopia, knowing that if anyone saw her go in she would be trapped. There was no victorious shout or anything, though, so she figured maybe, somehow, she was the only one here. Quickly, she found a backpack and began sorting through the things left behind by others. She pulled off her soaked shirt and replacing it with a sweater and a raincoat, loading the pack with one water bottle, a little box of pellets that weren’t labeled but that she recognized as water purifiers, rope, some protein bars (devouring one on the spot), a plastic sheet, and a knife. She tucked another knife into her boot and found a third with a belt sheath, which she quickly attached to her belt. She glanced around, took in the vast selection of things, knowing that any of them could be useful—and decided it was better to travel light and get the hell out of here before anyone else showed up.
She paused at the entrance, peering out, trying to decide if anyone was hiding in the trees, watching, just waiting for her to make a move. Maybe it would be better to hide in here, where there was cover. But that was insanity, because this is where everyone was going to come and she knew that. She bit her lip, peering out into the forest—and then she ran. She breathed a little more easily when she hit the trees, diving into some thick underbrush and stilling, looking back at the clearing to see if anything was happening. She was almost warm, her belly something other than completely empty—and, somehow, she’d managed to make her supply run without gaining any attention. It hardly seemed possible, but there was no movement, so she settled in to wait. And then a heavy weight dropped down on top of her, and she screamed.
“Shut up,” Myra hissed, roughly putting a hand over the girl’s mouth. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The girl kept shuddering, but managed to cut off her scream, big terrified eyes looking up at her.
She moved her hand, and nodded. “Sorry I surprised you. Figured if I called out first there’d be even odds about you stabbing me or something.”
“So—so you don’t think I’ll stab you now?” the girl asked.
Myra grinned and shrugged. “You might,” she admitted, “but I don’t think so. I think it’s tougher when it’s not spur of the moment. Fight or flight and all that. Or even from ambush, when you figure if your positions were reversed you’d be dead. The Careers could do it, no problem. But you’re not a Career. So I figure if I come out and make nice maybe you’ll refrain from stabbing me.”
“Maybe you’re just waiting for me to drop my guard.”
“Honey,” Myra said, grinning, “your guard was dropped. If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead.”
“I figure time enough for that if we’re the last ones left. There’s still Careers out there, unless all four of those last canons were for them. And I figure neither of us is ready to go head-to-head with a Career. Two-on-one, though, maybe we could take ‘em. And I’d rather you or me win than one of them.”
“So—so you’re suggesting a truce?”
Myra nodded. “Sure.”
“What about the first two?” Posy asked suddenly.
“You said the last four canons, but there’ve been six today.”
“Good girl,” Myra said approvingly. “Yeah. I was there for the first two.”
The girl’s hand grabbed for her knife, suddenly afraid again, and Myra spread her hands. “Still not gonna hurt you,” she said. “The first was Grant.”
Posy stared at her hands, opened her mouth, probably to say something that would get her in trouble with the audience, so she pushed on, feeling her smile harden. “The second was Dug. Which means that, really, I accomplished my goal in coming here. I figured of everyone here, you’d be pretty much the only one who understood that.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Posy’s hands relaxed and she smiled back. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said. After a long moment, she added, “He seemed like slime.”
“Nah, no need to go insulting slime,” Myra said easily.
“So… what do you think we should do?” Posy asked. “Working together, I mean.”
“Well. I had this idea, not sure it’ll work, don’t think I’ve ever seen in done before—but see what you think.”
Merith shook her head almost in pity as the crazy girl burst out of the trees at her, dancing and grinning like she was at a party or something. She hefted her spear once and threw, her aim perfect as always, the spear cutting straight through the girl’s throat. It would be quick, at least. She always tried to make it quick when she could. She started forward to retrieve the spear, then jerked around with an oath as there was a sudden noise behind her. And the deaf halfwit she’d been trying to find for a freaking day-and-a-half burst out of the trees twenty yards away, cutting across the clearing. Her eyes went to the spear in the girl’s throat—and then she swore and started running. She didn’t need the spear to take him. Still had her dagger, and even without that, she could break his neck. It wasn’t like he was equipped to fight back, just running in a panic like he had been all along. And if she stopped to retrieve the weapon and lost him again, well…. She was sick of hunting him and just wanted to finish him off.
He ran like a startled animal, in an almost straight line, jumping over obstacles and dodging around trees, but not in any sensible fashion, not like he was actually trying to get away. Hell, he hadn’t even seen her. Well, that would make this easier. She narrowed her eyes and ran faster, gaining on him, hands reaching out. One hand brushed the fabric of his shirt, but he jerked away with a wordless yowl of fear, and she pumped her arms for a few more strides, trying to get close enough to grab him, wishing she’d had her spear—he’d be dead by now if she’d had that extra reach. She put on a burst of speed, grabbing for him—and one of his arms suddenly jerked out, grabbing a thin tree, and he spun right around it, reversing direction, and her eyes followed him for an instant even as she lost her footing, and then she was falling. She was spun in the air by how she’d been twisting to look at him, and saw his filthy face peering down at her, suddenly not looking lax and stupid anymore as the air rushed passed her, her questing hands and feet finding nothing to grab, and then pain as she landed, back first, a horrible crunching noise, and then, finally, darkness, her last image being that damned dirty face looking down at her with eyes that weren’t the least bit stupid.
Jedric made his way carefully down the incline at a much shallower spot than that he’d sent Two-girl plummeting down. He was lucky, he admitted to himself. Lucky that Tanna had happened by when she had, lucky the Career had thrown her spear instead of closing for a kill, and had chosen to chase him without going back for it. He’d underestimated her speed and overestimated his own, and she’d gotten closer than he’d planned as he stumbled and slipped and ran as hard as he could. He’d felt her hand on his shirt once, and had recognized the certainty of his death. But he’d managed to pull away for those final few necessary steps. Maybe that near-grab had even been what had made her pay more attention to him than to the ground in front of her, maybe without that she would have realized and stopped in time. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. He wasn’t sure the drop had killed her, but it had to have hurt her badly.
Reaching the bottom, he turned and started towards where she would have landed. He’d made sure it as rocks and upturned branches rather than mud, that had been one of his preparations, and she’d fallen face up, unable to see and try to ease her landing. He saw her lying still on the ground, and crept forward, still wary. She was breathing, he could see the quick, shallow rise and fall of her chest, see little red bubbles form and grow and pop on her lips. That had to be a good sign, he decided, creeping closer. Or a bad one, depending. But good for him.
He inched forward, freezing when one of her hands moved a little, but it fell still, and her eyes were still closed, and she was still breathing fast and shallow and bloody. He saw the branch sticking up through her chest, then, not quite breaking through her shirt, and realized he wouldn’t get as much use of her raincoat as he would have otherwise. Then he swallowed back bile as he thought about that reaction. But he couldn’t afford to think that way, couldn’t afford to be sick. He had to take her down and then go see who else was left and what he could do about them. There were only five left, if he’d counted the shockwaves right, if he hadn’t mistaken thunder for cannon fire at some point. Four once he finished here. And those other three opponents would probably be Careers like Merith. Better fighters than him, by far. But he had a chance. If he finished her off, took her things, filled his stomach—he had a chance.
She didn’t respond when he touched her, made no move when he cradled her head in his arms and twisted just the way he’d watched the others practice in training, feeling the crack he couldn’t hear. But her chest stopped moving, and the last bubbles on her lips popped without getting replaced. He took a long breath and then went to work seeing what of hers he could take.
Zander moved through the storm with a careful blend of jaunty unconcern and caution. He was cold and miserable, but he was a District Two volunteer—well, okay, elected official. He’d spent far longer than this cold and miserable in training, and if he couldn’t smile through it by now, his trainers would have serious words for him. Of course, they likely would anyway. He still couldn’t quite figure out how he was here in the second day of the Games with sixteen tributes already dead—and he with one pair of easy kills at the bloodbath and one minor skirmish after and nothing else. Even if he won at this point he was going to be a laughingstock. His frustration and irritation ground at him, but he winked at a camera he caught nestled under a branch hidden from the rain, and shook wet hair back from his face. The audience didn’t want to see him frustrated and pissed off at himself for having spent the whole game wasting time—they wanted cocky and fun. Besides, the Game wasn’t over yet, he reminded himself, slowing and moving with more care as he saw the break ahead that meant the clearing. A couple of these last kills and nobody would care that he’d missed the action in the middle.
He crept forward. Twenty deaths so far and eight of them had been this morning, which left him in the position of having no clear idea of who the other remaining three were. Common sense suggested some combination of Merrith, the girl from One, the ugly beast of a girl from Four, and probably the jackass from Six, but he couldn’t be sure. That would be the worst case, but also the most likely. They’d have to be taken down carefully, each one, even the Six, were at least somewhat capable fighters, though as the other Two, Merith was obviously the greatest danger. Though the girl from One scored an eleven, he reminded himself. It might’ve just been to screw with them—but she was definitely a danger.
The clearing seemed perfectly still. The halfwit giant who’d been screaming at the edge the last time he’d been here was gone, no shock there. Nobody else seemed to be around either, though. If there were other Careers, he’d expect them to be near, but they might be playing it safe, waiting it out. He scanned the woods on the opposite side of the clearing, the little ways into them he could see through the lashing rain. It stopped for the clearing itself, but visibility after that was still shitty at best. Nothing.
For a long moment he crouched, watching, listening, though that was even less useful than looking with the roar of the wind and the pounding rain. He tightened and relaxed muscles, judging his condition. His shoulder ached and the slice across his ribs burned a bit, but he seemed to have full strength and range of motion. Either could become debilitating if given time, but it didn’t look like this particular Game was going to have anything to do with stamina—it was going to be the shortest to date if things played out unless something unexpected happened. So he was good. Ready. Hurting just enough to keep him focused, he decided, and ready for a fight. Oh yeah, he decided with a grin. He was definitely ready for a fight. He slipped into the clearing, teeth flashing for the cameras. “Anyone wanna play?” he called out, voice mocking. “Come out, come out wherever you are!”
The rain kept falling outside the clearing, the wind howling through the trees, but here the air was perfectly still, waiting. Ready.
He wandered over to the Cornucopia and looks from far enough away not to get ambushed if anyone was hiding inside. Nobody was. He turned in a slow circle, keeping his back to the Cornucopia, squinting into the storm that raged on every side. Then he turned back, just a little, eyes narrowing further as he thought he saw a flutter of motion that wasn’t wind-blown tree. There! In the underbrush, which was mostly still, something moved the wrong way. He took a couple careful steps closer, then grinned as he made out the huge eyes in the pale face staring at him. “I see you,” he called.
The girl, the volunteer from twelve, he thought, squirmed back, away, out of the underbrush, and fled. Grinning, he drew his sword and ran after, skirting the thickest brush, knowing he could make up the time with his greater speed. He threw himself into the run, stumbling only slightly as he hit the storm again and was whipped by wind and rain, then speeding up, careless of the footing, careless of everything but catching the girl in front of him. Another ten strides and he’d have her. Five!
Something heavy hit him his back, and he fell hard into the mud, automatically struggling against the weight on his back, the hands that pushed his face down into the water. He rolled automatically, before he’d fully realized what was happening, getting a breath of clear water and freeing his sword arm, raising his face enough that he could see the girl from Twelve standing a few paces away, moving cautiously nearer, as someone else fought to hold him down. He threw back an elbow, a solid blow to the ribs, and was able to turn enough to see the girl from Six. The bitches had teamed up, he realized, furious. The younger one had been bait. And now she was getting closer with a six inch knife, looking for an opening.
Roaring, he threw back his elbow again, hearing another grunt of pain, and then flipped his sword around so it ran back past his shoulder. This was going to hurt—but if he won, he’d be healed. He took a breath and threw himself sideways, hand and pommel landing first, upper arm crossing over the blade, which he felt cut deep, but then the blade was up at an angle and the girl who’d been holding him was coming straight for it—it sank into her stomach and she screamed and kept on screaming as he tore the sword free with his off-hand and turned to the other girl, who was still advancing, terrified but determined.
He wasn’t as good with his left hand, but the day he couldn’t take a tribute from Twelve with his off-hand—especially a tribute from Twelve who brought a knife to a swordfight—was the day he’d give up fighting and focus on math or something. He grinned at her, spat a little mud, and lashed out, slow and easy, playing with her. She jerked back, and his blade darted out again, tapping her knife with enough strength that she almost dropped it before recovering.
He danced back a step, letting her recover. He couldn’t stretch out the fight too long, not with his arm still bleeding heavily, especially with one more—probably a stronger one—still out there to find and kill, but after so long with no fighting, he had to hold the audience’s attention for a little while at least. He swayed forward, took another little step back—and screamed in shock and pain, collapsing to the side as something stabbed into the back of his knee. He looked down to see the other girl, the dying girl, grinning at him, fierce and determined, the handle of her knife barely visible in the crease of his knee, the blade buried deep in the joint.
“Gotcha,” she gasped.
He stared at her in incomprehension, then lashed out instinctively, hearing the other girl yelp as his blade caught the younger one across the belly, not deep enough to do real damage, but easily enough to keep that damned dagger away.
“Fuck you,” he snarled. “Fuck the fucking both of you.” With his good leg, he kicked, catching the dying one in the chin and sending her sprawling back so he could focus on the one with the knife. “You’re still not gonna win,” he snarled. “Gonna kill you just like your friend.”
She stared back, white faced, still terrified, still determined, but now with something else in her eyes too. Anger. Fury, even. His trainers had mixed feeling on anger. Sometimes it gave you a boost, let you do things you shouldn’t be able to, but it mostly made you stupid. You had to control it, they always said, control it or it would control you. He figured this one probably didn’t have that much practice with that, she’d let the anger make her stupid. Him, now, he was angrier than he’d ever been in his life. However soon he killed these two, they’d hurt him badly enough that he’d be useless against whoever the last one was—at least if it was Merith of that girl from One or someone else with even a modicum of skill. He could kill them both, and they’d still probably have kept him from winning, the bitches. But he sure as hell wasn’t going to get killed by a Twelve.
He gathered himself, good leg tensing, preparing—and threw himself forward, lunging. Somehow, the girl spun aside, and he landed hard. A jolt of agony ran through him as something stabbed him hard in the shoulder he’d sacrificed to taking down the first girl, and his vision went white for a second as he automatically turned, raising his sword before he could even see, and lunging, feeling the tip hit something and sink in, hearing her gasp of pain even as he put weight on his injured knee and collapsed over it again. And then she stabbed him again.
Posy couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream, couldn’t do anything but drive her knife into the back again and again and again until finally, finally, he went still and the cannon blared and she sank shuddering to the ground.
She blinked and turned her head, tears filling her eyes as they focused on Myra, worry visible through the rictus of pain on her face. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Impossibly, Myra smiled a little. “S’okay,” she said. “L’ready won.”
Posy nodded. “You killed Dug.”
“Damn … straight,” she gasped. “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.”
“What can I do?” Posy whispered.
Myra started to say something, shook her head, and held out one hand. “Gut,” she whispered. “L’ready dead, cannon just … not firin’.”
“No, no, there has to be something—“
“Not ’less you wanna speed it ‘long,” Myra whispered, closing her eyes and panting out the words.
Posy shrank back. “I—“
There was no blame in the voice, but Posy felt a shock of shame nonetheless. She crept closer, lifting Myra’s head into her lap.
“Sh’d patch y’rsel’ up,” Myra whispered. “One t’go.”
“Time enough,” Posy breathed, smoothing back the older girl’s hair and moving her left hand down to clasp Myra’s where it clenched in the mud. She knew she’d been hurt, but she couldn’t even feel it, not yet. She just felt numb. Numb and angry and ashamed and helpless. No, not helpless. That was an evasion. If she was helpless, she wouldn’t be able to do anything, wouldn’t have to. She wasn’t helpless.
“T’k down a Career,” Myra gasped. “You an’ me.”
“We did,” she murmured back. “You mostly. And you got Dug, just like you wanted. You already won.” She ran the knuckles of her right hand over Myra’s cheek, leaving a streak of dirt and blood that was quickly washed away by the pounding rain. Then she turned her hand, preparing. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Goodbye.” She drove the knife into the side of Myra’s neck, just like they’d shown her in practice. Myra’s eyes flickered, her mouth opened a little, then closed as hot blood drenched Posy, then she went still.
Posy held the older girl and sobbed as the cannon sounded, wishing there was something she could do, something she could say. She almost hated Myra in that minute, for talking to her, befriending her. Making this hurt so much. Finally, she controlled her choking sobs and opened her eyes. The blood had been washed away from the plastic of her coat, stripped from her hands by the storm, only a redness to the mud pooling around her knees showed any sign of it. She looked down at Myra, the mask of pain gone, face relaxed, smiling just a little.
“One to go,” she whispered, and stood up, stumbling as she was brought to sudden agonizing awareness of the pain in her thigh where that last lunge had caught her, and the burning line across her stomach where the earlier slice had nearly sent her after Myra. She sighed and looked for some cover she could take advantage of to at least bind the two wounds. She didn’t want to go back into the clearing if she could avoid it. Not with only one more left and with that one probably looking for her.
Jedric felt kind of fantastic as he slipped through the trees. His stomach was full, he’d eaten two protein bars, some dried fruit, and jerky, and drunk some sort of shake and a fair amount of water. He was warm, dressed in clothes he’d taken from the girl he’d killed and covered by her raincoat, which he’d even been able to patch with a roll of heavy tape he found in her pack. He’d found some cover under an overhang and taken a nap, figuring everyone else would be heading to the Cornucopia and he had a little time and would do better for some rest. He’d woken to the feel of the cannon blast shaking him, and had felt surprisingly rested. Really, he felt better than he’d ever imagined he could after having survived most of one of the Hunger Games. But it wouldn’t do to get cocky, he reminded himself. There was one person left, and whether it was a Career or Isra, the fact that they were alive meant they were dangerous.
The buffeting wind drove rain into his hood, where it dribbled down his neck into his shirt, but after the cold and wet of the last day-and-a-half, that minor discomfort was less than nothing. He was pretty sure he’d felt better before, but it was honestly kind of hard to remember when. He slowed as he neared the Cornucopia’s clearing, creeping through storm, moving from tree to tree and bush to bush with his eyes flitting about in search of any movement that mattered against the constant motion of the storm. He timed his biggest moves with especially strong gusts of wind to further disguise his own motion, as he crept closer. When he could just make out the stillness of the clearing in front of him, Jedric began to work his way around it, pausing frequently to look towards it and away from it, searching the shadows of the bushes and the whipping branches overhead. He was too close to somehow, miraculously, surviving this insanity to lose it to carelessness now.
Carefully, cautiously, he made his way around, straining for any warning of an attack. And then he froze, pressing down into the ground, narrowing his eyes and dropping his face so he could barely see the smudge of white that had caught his eye. A hand. White even beneath the heavy smudges of dirt, tensing and relaxing around the hilt of a black-bladed knife. The black dripped, and he realized it was blood, too much light stolen by the storm to make out the red. He followed the hand back until he could make out the face above it, deep in a hood and deeper still in a clump of bushes. Face pale and shocky with lurid splashes that probably weren’t black streaked through by rain to make a natural camouflage in this light. But he could see her now. One of the young ones. He’d rather been hoping for someone he wouldn’t regret killing. And to be honest, she didn’t look like she was in very good shape, so possibly he could just wait her out. But tributes had tried merely waiting before, and it mostly didn’t end well. This, after all, was entertainment. And shivering in the mud wasn’t much more fun to watch than to do, he figured. So the makers of these special little hells had developed ways to prod the action on if the players didn’t cooperate, and he’d just as soon not be prodded.
He shimmied back a little and then worked around, away from the clearing and behind her, barely keeping her in sight. Then he drew his own knife, carefully, always aware that he had real understanding of how loud a noise could be, and putting all the more effort into muffling his movements for that reason.
She didn’t even look around as he slipped forward, and the blade sliding into the base of her skull was almost anti-climactic. He hoped she didn’t feel it as the blood sprayed him and the rain stopped as though a switch had been thrown (which, no doubt, it had), and the clouds separated to let the sun through as the report of final the cannon vibrated through him.
Jedric began to shiver as the heat of the sun worked its way through his raincoat and sweater.
And there we have it! Game over. I know a lot of you wanted someone else to win, but Jedric and his winning was the first thing that came to mind after I decided to expand the story beyond the original oneshot. Although, lord, it was hard to kill Posy. And Myra, for that matter! And--well. Yeah. I've complained enough about the having to kill off my characters throughout that you probably already know. And if I've done my job properly, it was as hard for you as it was for me. The epilogue will probably be relatively short, consisting of Jedric's exit interview. Hope you've enjoyed the run and I'll try to get the last chunk out in a more reasonable time.