Fin here everyone! I'm very pleased to present to you our first Reaping, the tributes representing the amazing District One! Our girl, Nani, is written by the wonderful Flyere, and Tobin is written by the brilliant Elim9!
So, a bit of information here for you; there is only one reaping being held, where all 26 tributes are selected. So, things might get a bit repetitive, and I do apologize for that. Our authors have tried to focus more on their tribute's backstory, instead of the actual reaping, but I believe it important to show what each tribute is feeling at the reaping.
I would also like to thank the wonderful beta's who worked extremely hard to fix the mistakes our authors missed! Si big round of applause to Chaos, Rue, Hope, and Kitty who helped in some way!
A review would be appreciated by all 26 of us, if you have the time! Anyways, enjoy the chapter! First though, a word from the two who worked hard in order to bring you this chapter!
Elim9 A/N: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Reality Shift. This is my first time participating in a collaboration fic, and I'm very excited! We have a lot of great authors involved, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this turns out. I suppose there's not much else to say except that I hope you have as much fun reading this as we do writing it. Thanks for reading!
Flyere A/N: Hi all! Flyere here, writing for Nani of D1. I've been on fanfic for a bit over two years and tried out writing for lots of different stories, but always seemed to come back to Hunger Games fanfics. Enjoy the chapter!
Sorry for the obnoxiously long AN, but we're still in the works of getting organized, and things are still a bit messy!
"I gotta take a chance tonight
so I'm doing me, myself and I"
- Leona Lewis, Forgive me.
Written By Flyere
It is cold - for the Capitol, at least - and most of the people around me are shivering. I'm not though - I don't get cold.
Or, at least, that's what I tell people.
I'm not cold, uncomfortable, or nervous today, though, despite most people around me feeling that way. I stand out in the strange, colorful crowd of shivering people packed tightly together and trying to fight the bitter wind. Today is a special day.
Today the tables turn, I think to myself. It's early, for most of the pampered people in the Capitol anyway, with grey cloudy skies at 11:00 AM. Thinking back to the reapings I've seen on television, I recall that people in the districts look nothing like we do. Whilst we are huddled together, layered under expensive fur coats and scarves, the people of the districts always stood apart from one another, unfazed in extreme weather. So much stronger than we are, I think, looking around at the people surrounding me.
Today is different, though, not just another reaping. Today is the day I finally have the chance to dig myself out of the hole I'd been born in to and win just a shred of honor for myself and my family. Today was the moment I had wished I had my whole life, and the day I had always envied the District Kids for.
What most people don't understand is that in the Capitol, you have no chance to change your status, your ranking, or your wealth. No chance to become a respected member of society after being born in to a poor, average family with a factory owner for a father. No one ever let me forget it either, as I've plowed through life, dodging taunts and teases, always an outcast. In the districts, though, things were different. Even the poorest kids could volunteer and win themselves fortune. I've always wondered why the kids in the poorer districts didn't volunteer more often.
I've wished my whole life to be able to do that - to be in this position, with an opportunity to dig myself out of this awful ditch that I was born in. I'm pretty sure I'm the only excited person in the crowd, gathered here in the city circle. Most people are nervous, unwilling, even unexcited when these games had been announced, but not me.
I made a promise to myself when I was younger. I promised myself that if I ever had the opportunity to be in these games, I would, because I knew I could win them. But more importantly because I had to prove to everyone that I was more than a stepping stone to be trodden on. Until now, that's all I've been.
Turning around, I feel my shoulder bump in to someone. Looking up slightly, I see her - the girl I've despised and hated for the past eight years, since meeting her when I was nine. Spoiled brat child, the girl who has made my life a misery since I've known her.
Her name is Erifily Jinx. She wouldn't last a moment if she was chosen, I remind myself as I try to step around her to get to my section. I should have known she wouldn't pass up such an opportunity.
"Watch it," she sneers, her strangely dyed pink hair flipping around as she stumbles. The idiotic group of air heads who follow her around desperately shoot me glares as well, obviously trying to emulate her.
"Watch it yourself," I mutter in reply, looking up at her. She looks startled for a moment. Until now, I've never bothered replying to her, always choosing to edge around her and walk away, leaving her triumphant. However, feeling extra special today, I don't ignore her this time.
"What did you say to me?" she snarls, and I remember suddenly why I've never bothered responding to her.
"I said, watch it yourself," I repeat.
"What are you on, idiot?" she spits, taking a step forwards. "You have no right to talk to me that way."
"I have every right," I reply with a laugh, "Who's going to stop me? Your Daddy?"
It's a low blow, I know, but I don't care. I had to say something to keep myself from simply punching her in the face.
For the first time, I render her speechless. Narrowing my eyes and feeling accomplished, I step around her and give her a nudge on the shoulder as I pass.
I can't wait to win this thing, I think to myself with a grin as I plow through the crowd of seventeen-year-olds. I don't really stop to think about the way they all seem to back away from me, although I know why. Rumors have spread about me, from me being a maniac, to being a witch - or both - no doubt spread along by people such as Erifily and her following of idiots. I don't mind though. Having a reputation as a secret mass murderer, a witch, or a maniac might help me in the Games.
I stand at the edge of my section in the back corner, fingering the taut ropes that divide us thoughtfully. I don't think anyone would try to take my spot, but you never know. If I didn't know what an air head Erifily was, I might even think she would take my spot. Though she'd be too scared. At least I hope she would be too scared.
The wind is blowing stronger now, whipping my dark brown hair into knots, although I don't care much. If I'm being honest, I admit to not being able to afford to dye my hair, and fit in with all the Capitol idiots. But honesty never was my style. Leaning back against the rope, I look around the circle.
My eyes fall on the stage, where a girl who looks to be about thirteen or fourteen is pacing nervously. I raise my eyes, trying to figure out why she looks so familiar. She is obviously from District One, with her perfect blonde hair and blue eyes. I can't place her with a name though, so I let my eyes drift away. Scanning the stage, I make out the clear glass of the two reaping bowls. Somewhere in one of those two bowls, Nani Coven is printed clearly. One out of thousands, but it could happen, and I won't even need to volunteer.
I've been to the City Circle before, and of course seen it on televeision, but never have I been on the floor of the circle like I am now, only packed into the stands, watching the tribute parade once when my father had managed to get tickets. I feel more like a tribute on the Reaping Day - I feel alive, ready to claim my place in the 76th Hunger Games.
And I will claim it, no matter how many others try. Looking up at the sky, I can faintly make out the outline of a hovercraft hidden behind the grey clouds. Most likely broadcasting the reapings to the district citizens. I tap my foot, excited; I want to give them all a show.
I look behind me at the eighteen year old girls, and then at the boys' section. A boy in the back catches my eye. Two peacekeepers stood beside him, one holding on to each of his arms. It doesn't seem to be changing anything though, since his hands are cuffed in front of him anyway. He's looking down, obviously embarrassed. I look him over, trying to see if I know him, but without seeing his face I can't tell who he is.
I lean forward a bit but am startled by the screeching of a microphone. I jump, nearly falling across the rope, but managing to steady myself just in time. My eyes scan the people near me, making sure no one has seen me tripping. Stepping back, I look up at the stage, my dark eyes locking on to the small blonde girl.
"Welcome to the District One reapings of the Seventy Sixth Annual Hunger Games! Please welcome your escort, niece of two of District One's most famous victors, Satin Nelyn."
Suddenly I realized why she looked so familiar. She is the niece of Cashmere and Gloss Nelyn, the siblings who won back to back. I've watched their Games over and over, for they were some of the most exciting ones to watch. Satin doesn't look too happy to be up there though - tapping her foot, biting her lip. I see her take a breath before stepping up to the no-longer-screeching microphone.
"Welcome to the reaping," she says with a smile, "My name is Satin Nelyn of District One, and it is my pleasure to draw the tributes for the 76th annual Hunger Games."
Bending my knees slightly, I prepare to make a dash for the stage. Yes, it is unlikely that anyone would volunteer, but I've always been a bit paranoid.
"We'll start with the ladies," Satin says, and I fight the urge to snicker. She can't be much older than fifteen, and even that is a stretch. To hear her refer to us as ladies, as though she was older than us, doesn't sound right.
Plunging her hand in to the reaping bowl, she plucks a small piece of paper from the bowl. I began to move forwards, then stop short as she reads the name.
I step forwards, then back, not sure of what to do. For the first time I'm hesitant - my feet shuffle one way, as my brain tells me to go the other way, all for one reason.
Should I let her die?
Erifily wouldn't stand a chance in the Games. She'd most likely die within the first hour. Why should you save her? the voice in my head asks, Why should you let her live?
What if she does win? The other side of my brain asks. What if she wins, and you'll have missed your chance? You'll be even more of a nobody.
I was missing my chance. Looking up, I see Erifily, halfway to the stage, looking back as if she's just waiting for someone to save her. I narrow my eyes and say it slowly.
No one speaks as I carry myself towards the stage, head held high as I brush past Erifily. I look back for a moment and catch her staring at me curiously, most likely wondering why I chose to save her.
I take the stairs two at a time, desperate to get on that stage and claim my spot.
"Nani Coven," I say quickly in to the microphone, stepping back beside Satin, and finally letting out a deep breath.
"Can you tell us why you volunteered?" Satin asks, holding the microphone out in front of me. My mouth falls open in surprise.
"I-I wanted to represent the Capitol," I respond, because there is no way in hell I would ever say the real reason.
I don't want to be poor any more.
Satin raises her eyes, obviously dissatisfied with my answer, but turns back to the second reaping ball. "Now on to the gentlemen" she says, hurrying along to pick another name. I look down and roll my eyes at the girl's obvious discomfort.
"Aldrich Camdin," Satin reads, holding out the paper. My eyes scan the crowd, waiting for someone to step out.
Instead, however, I hear the familiar words. "I volunteer."
It's the boy with the handcuffs. Looking at his face, I still don't know who he is. He looks vaguely familiar in some way, but I can't attach a name to his face. The two Peacekeepers who had stood by him earlier march him up to the stage. One produces a key from his pocket and unlocks the boy's handcuffs. He rubs his wrists thoughtfully before proceeding to step up on to the stage, taking his spot on the other side of Satin.
"So what do you want? Your freedom?" Satin asks.
The boy looks down. "I'm here to apologize. To offer my life as repayment for the lives I took. For now, I can only ask that you understand that. If I come out of this alive … maybe then I can ask for your forgiveness." He offers his hand to Satin, and she hesitates a moment before accepting it and smiling at him.
I snort. That was obviously the sappy sort of response she was looking for. Never mind the fact that it's obviously not true - although the audience seems to have bought it. I can tell, from the fact that he wasn't looking up at the audience, he was shifting from foot to foot, and the answer was too smooth to be anything but rehearsed. He is a good liar, but I can tell.
"Well, District One," Satin says with a smile, stepping back. "I give you your tributes for the 76th annual Hunger Games! Volunteers Nani Coven and Tobin Peladon!"
Slowly, people start clapping. I look over to Tobin. He has a fixed, false smile on his face, and I can't help but continue to scowl. The audience must be made up of idiots and nothing else to buy in to this idiocy.
Tobin smiles at me, and I turn away, looking back out to the clapping people assembled before us. My eyes drift to Erifily's - hers are locked on me, curiously staring me down. I raise my head and look away, not wanting her to think I volunteered for her or anything.
Satin steps to the back of the stage, and I suppose we are to follow her. I sigh, annoyed that I had to have been from the first district. It is going be a long wait until the other tributes finish their reapings. I put on a sour face and look down, trying not to pay too much attention. I can't help but look up as the reapings continued on-particularly the District Two reapings, as they are directly after ours. I find myself bored for the most part. The District Two girl is a laugh for the most part, obviously angry I had taken her spot, and I wonder how she had managed to lose even with my long moment of hesitation. The boy from District Three looks pathetic - not someone I would associate myself with in the Games. The only other noticeable tribute is the boy from Four. After asking how he would win, he mentions that it must be easy if Odair had won. I have to stifle a laugh as Annie slaps him. Satin shoots me a glare.
After what feels like hours (most likely just my impatient mind) all the tributes have been called. The audience claps, as they are instructed to, and it is done.
Well that was easy.
As the clapping dies down, we are ushered back inside a building at the back of the city circle. They mentioned we would be allowed to say goodbye to loved ones.
I am led in to a small room, adorned only with a red couch and a simple wooden desk. I highly doubt I will have any visitors - my father doesn't dare show his face in public after supporting the Capitol during the war, and I doubt my mother knows of my existence at times. I am surprised when the door cracks open, and a Peacekeeper sticks his head inside.
"Two minutes." he says, letting in the last person I would have expected - Erifily Jinx.
She sits down awkwardly on the couch. "Um. Hi." she says, looking down at her nails.
I'm stunned for a moment. "Wh-what are you doing here?" I ask suspiciously, sliding farther down the couch, away from her.
"I-I wanted to say, I mean..." her voice breaks off. "You saved me. Why?"
I raise my eyes. "I didn't save you," I snap. "I wanted to be in the Games."
She is obviously confused. "Why?" she asks, raising her eyes.
I roll mine. "If you really must know? I was tired of being the poor girl you always ridiculed."
She looks down, obviously embarrassed. "Oh." she says uncertainly. "I thought you did it for me."
I laugh genuinely. "For you? Why the hell would I do anything for you? I despise you and always will. I'd appreciate it if you left now, thanks very much."
Her mouth falls open. Well, this is a record: I left her speechless twice in one day.
She stands, her pink hair falling over her back and her bright gold dress swishing across her legs. "My time was up anyways," she huffs. She pulls the door open before looking back. "You'll probably die anyways," she snaps before slamming the door.
I sit back against the couch, considering her parting words, and suddenly feeling fear. What if she is right? What if I do die? My heartbeat quickens. I am an idiot. In all this time, I've never once considered the possibility of dying.
I sit for a moment, frozen on the couch. I have to win.
I have to.
Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm my rapid heartbeat, I swear it on my life, I would win. But really, what else could I swear it on?
Looking out the window, I can see people filtering out of the City Circle. I could have been with them. I could have been safe, assured to survive for the rest of my life. I suppose I chose the risky path.
Yes, I'm nervous.
But I don't regret it.
Written By Elim9
I'm not sure why the daisy catches my eye.
I almost miss it because the light is so bright after the dark of my cell. The sun is just rising through the fog, but the light still feels warm and welcoming. As I breathe the fresh air for the first time in weeks, the little weed catches my eye. A single flower growing through a crack in the cement, fighting for its freedom, forcing its way towards the light.
Merrick prods me with the end of his gun, and I stumble forward.
"Move it, Peladon," he growls.
I straighten up, wordless, careful not to fight back. That's what he wants. Merrick is a good head taller than me, bulky, and more than a little unhinged. And he holds me personally responsible for a failed mission during the rebellion that killed his brother and two of his closest friends.
The trouble is, of course, that he's right.
So I do nothing. I give him no excuse to shoot and say that I was trying to escape. I keep my guard up and my head down, the same thing that's kept me alive in prison for the last four years. I board the train without resistance and sit down, doing my best to look as nonthreatening as possible. It's not hard. I'm not a very imposing figure on my best days, and I've certainly had better than this.
Merrick handcuffs me to my seat and sits down across the aisle, his gun still leveled at my chest. I lean back in my seat and close my eyes. Even at the train's speed, it'll still take a few hours to reach the Capitol. It looks like we're both in for a long ride.
Just as I've resigned myself to hours with only Merrick for company, I hear a voice.
"So sorry I'm late! Thank you for waiting. Hope I didn't hold you up."
My eyes fly open, and my stomach knots up. No one told me he was coming, and now I'm caught between relief and dread.
Captain Anders boards the train with a warm smile. A tall, lean, grey-haired man of about sixty-five, Anders is a father to every soldier he meets. Four years ago, he took me under his wing. As far as he knew, I was a new recruit, wide-eyed and eager to do my part against the Capitol. He taught me everything he knew, treated me like a son.
He didn't realize I was a spy, hand-picked by the Capitol to infiltrate his camp. Chosen because of my youth and inexperience, because I was exactly the sort of person Anders would trust. For months, I fed the Capitol information about his whereabouts and plans, even managing to foil a few missions – including the mission that killed Merrick's brother.
Before I was discovered.
Merrick springs to his feet and salutes. Anders returns the salute, then claps Merrick on the back. "I've got this, Merrick. Take a break, have a drink, get some sleep. I'll watch him."
Merrick nods and hands Anders his gun. "Yes, sir."
And that's all it takes. He heads to another car, and Anders takes his seat, laying the gun aside on the seat ahead of him.
"Good to see you, Tobin," Anders says, and the sincerity in his voice pierces through me like a knife. "Sorry about the circumstances."
I shrug. "I'm not." And it's true. After four years in prison, any change of pace is a relief. A chance to be outside. A chance to see the Capitol again. And, most importantly, a tiny chance for freedom.
Because that's what the Games are, for me. The rebels – no, the districts, I remind myself – see it as a punishment, retaliation for the seventy-five Games they were forced to endure. The Capitol, no doubt, sees it as cruel, punishing children for the crimes of their parents. And they're both right – on a larger scale. But, to me, the Games are a chance.
A chance to win my freedom.
Anders nods, suddenly serious. "So you're planning to go through with it – volunteering."
"Yes." Ever since the announcement, I've been planning. Preparing as well as I can, given the conditions in the prison. I've exercised as much as possible, trying to regain some of my muscle. I've eaten every scrap of rations I can get my hands on. I'm as prepared as I can be.
Anders shakes his head, and, for a moment, I think I can see tears in his eyes. "Tobin, you don't have to do this. You have a life here. It's not perfect, but, maybe, in time…"
I look away. It's only thanks to Anders that I'm still alive at all. When my true loyalties were discovered, when it was revealed how much trouble I'd caused, most of the camp wanted me shot. But Anders stepped in on my behalf. I was fourteen years old, he said, too young to truly understand what I was doing. It was a lie, of course; I knew exactly what I had done. But it was a lie that saved my life. Anders gave me a priceless gift.
And there's a pretty good chance that I'm about to throw it away.
I'm not fooling myself. At eighteen, I'll probably be one of the oldest tributes, probably one of the only ones who has actually seen any real combat, but it's still only a chance. Only one person comes out alive, and I have no particular reason to believe that it will be me. But there's always that chance – that one-in-twenty-six chance – that it might be.
Anders has stopped talking. He knows my mind is made up. "All right," he says quietly. "I suspected as much. Just … promise me something, son."
Even after four years, my stomach still churns when he calls me 'son.' This man whose camp I infiltrated, whose trust I betrayed, still treats me like a wayward son who might come home. But District Six was never my home. It was all an illusion. Every word.
Yet, somehow, the words still come out of my mouth. "Promise what?"
"I want your word that you're only doing this to gain your freedom – not because you think you deserve to die."
My gaze strays to the window again. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind – that, either way this ends, I'll be free. If I win, I'll be free of my physical chains, free to live the rest of my life in peace. If I die, I'll be free of guilt, free of the memories, the doubts that have haunted me for years.
It's ridiculous, of course. I have no reason to feel guilty. After all, I'm not really a traitor. To betray something, you must first be loyal to it, and I was never truly loyal to Captain Anders or the rebel army. My loyalty, my duty, was always to the Capitol.
After having a few years alone in a cell to think it over, however, I can no longer pretend that I never questioned that loyalty. It's probably humanly impossible to live with people for months on end and not start to sympathize with them, to understand their position. After seeing children fighting with dogs in the streets over scraps from trash cans, after seeing families huddled together in houses no larger than my closet back home, it became harder and harder to think of these people as troublemaking rebels who needed to be kept in line.
But my loyalty, in the end, was still to the Capitol. To my home. My family. I nod, meeting Anders' gaze. "You have my word. I just want to be free. I want to go home."
Anders smiles. "Then you have mine. I'll do everything in my power to help get you home."
A few hours later, the train comes to a stop. Anders calls Merrick back in, then puts a hand on my shoulder. "I have a few things to take care of; Merrick will take you the rest of the way."
A few things? I'm not sure what he means, but the look on his face tells me not to argue. Anders uncuffs me from the chair and hands Merrick back his gun.
Don't try anything, Peladon," Merrick warns.
As if I would. As if there's anywhere for me to run once we step off this train. As if I'm in any condition to try.
Gun in hand, Merrick leads me to the City Circle, the area that was once used for the tribute parade. His gun, combined with my handcuffs and prison clothes, draw stares. It's funny, almost, how many people point and whisper. Most of them are terrified to be here. Their lives are in danger. In a very short time, their names may be called, and they may be chosen for a fight to the death. And yet, they still find the time to stare, to point, to whisper. To wonder.
Even I have to admit, though, that I'm probably a strange sight. Everything about Merrick's attitude would suggest that I'm dangerous. Threatening. Ready to snap at any moment. But everything about my appearance suggests otherwise. I finally got a good look in the mirror earlier this morning. I've grown in four years, but I'm also thinner from the prison food, paler from the lack of sun. My hair has grown out, a medium brown that I used to keep flecked with an icy blue. But the biggest difference was in my eyes. They're still the same blue-green, but duller. Darker.
Or maybe that's just how I see myself.
Merrick leads me to a line, where the children are waiting to have their blood taken. Children. I have to remind myself that, going purely by my age, I'm still a child, as well. But the teenagers around me – even the taller, stronger ones – seem so young. So scared. So innocent.
Is this what they saw in the districts every year? Innocents led to the slaughter while they stood by, helpless. Not for the first time, I find it hard to blame them for rebelling, and I'm a little bit surprised that it didn't happen sooner.
A little boy next to me in line – maybe twelve or thirteen years old – looks up at me, terror in his eyes. I try to smile. That's what Anders would do. Smile and assure him that everything will be all right, even if he was certain that it wouldn't. But I'm not Anders. I don't have the right words. And if I make a move to put an arm around the boy, Merrick might shoot me. So I settle for a smile, which receives only a confused look.
Stupid. For all I know, this boy's name might be called. I might have to kill him in a few days. I shouldn't be smiling. But, for a reason I can't place, I am.
The woman who takes my blood looks confused for a moment. Whether by my clothes or my handcuffs or my smile, I'm not sure, but she quickly shakes it off and gets on with her job. Merrick escorts me to the edge of the eighteen-year-old section, directly in front of the stage. Only a rope separates us, and, as the other boys begin to file in, I keep my place, determined not to give Merrick the excuse he wants.
Instead, I focus on my surroundings. It's been a long time since I've had so much to look at. Outside of our roped-off sections, thousands of adults line the stands, watching, waiting. I can pick out cameras. Newsmen. Weeping parents. Younger children frightened for their older siblings.
Then I see Anders.
He's in a section near the stage on the right, sitting with a group of men and women, wearing his full uniform. I guess I'm staring, because Merrick pipes up. "You didn't really think he came all this way just to see you stand here for a few hours, did you? He has actual business here; he volunteered to be a mentor for this thing."
"Yeah. He gets to train some Capitol brat for a few days and then watch them die. Not something I would have volunteered for, myself, but he always had a soft spot for children. Of course, you would know that," he spits.
I almost laugh. Merrick doesn't know. He hasn't pieced together what I'm planning to do, doesn't realize who the "Capitol brat" is going to be. He's got it all wrong. Anders did come all this way just for me. That was what he meant on the train. He's trying to save my life one more time.
Yet another favor I don't deserve.
I'm so shocked that I almost miss the beginning of the president's speech. The president. It should feel strange. All my life, "the president" had meant President Snow. He was the absolute and final authority. Unquestioned. Unchallenged. And now he's dead. Has been for years, of course, but it never quite seemed real until now.
And yet it doesn't feel strange. It feels right. Everything has been completely turned on its head, and it somehow feels good.
No, that's not it, either. It doesn't feel good, or bad. In fact, it doesn't feel different at all. It simply doesn't matter. As if the change isn't the least bit important. As if it doesn't matter who stands in front of us. Above us. Because, at the end of the day, we're all the same. All capable of what Snow and his predecessors did to the districts.
So let them play their games – the politicians, the leaders, the generals. I'm playing a different one.
I try to listen. Really, I do. But she loses me somewhere around, "Today is the fault of the Capitol, because for seventy-five years we in the districts were punished for something those of us today had no part in." It's close to the silliest thing I've ever heard. "Our children were punished for something we didn't do, so now we're going to punish your children for something they didn't do." For all their talk of justice and punishment, it's really a lot simpler than that. This is about revenge, plain and simple, and it would be better for everyone if they would just admit it.
Finally, the president introduces the "representatives" from each of the districts. A few of the younger ones catch my eye. Satin, from District One, the niece of Cashmere and Gloss. Matthias, from District Eight, the son of Cecilia. Children. There's a certain poetic justice to that, I suppose.
Matthias looks absolutely terrified, but Satin is taking the whole thing in stride. Of course, she grew up in District One, with two victors in the family. Cashmere and Gloss. I'm too young to remember anything but recaps of their first Games, but I was cheering for them in the 75th Games. The idea of a brother and sister competing together was, to me, even more compelling than the "star-crossed lovers" who seemed to be everyone else's favorites.
And Satin grew up with that as part of her family. The Games were probably a huge part of her life. How much of what she has known, I wonder, is left now that they're gone?
Or almost gone. The Nelyn family has one last part to play in the Games. "Satin, go ahead and start us off!" Paylor announces, and, with that, Satin steps up and reaches into the first bowl.
To no one's surprise, when the first tribute's name is drawn, a volunteer takes her place. She's smiling, but, once she's onstage, she pauses for a moment to glare in the direction of the girl whose name was chosen. Which seems a bit strange, but, then again, she did just volunteer for a fight to the death. "Strange" is part of the bargain, I suppose. Soon, the girl –who introduces herself as Nani Coven – returns to smiling confidently at the audience. Just like someone would expect from District One.
Except she's not from District One. She's from the Capitol, just like the rest of them.
Them. My stomach churns as I realize what's been bothering me. All of this – the streets, the lights, the people – seems so foreign now. As if I'm not really from the Capitol any more. But neither am I from the districts. I no longer have a home. It didn't disappear, but I did. The Tobin Peladon who left the Capitol four years ago … he never came back.
Satin's announcement that the boys are next snaps me out of my thoughts. She reaches into the second bowl, and my gaze strays to Captain Anders. Maybe I'm seeing things, but it looks like he's nodding at me. This is my chance. My turn to make an impression. And, looking up at him, I know what sort of an impression I want to make. What they want to see.
What he wants to see.
Satin draws out a name and reads it. "Aldrich Camdin."
My voice isn't particularly loud. But the fact that I'm right next to the stage means that Satin hears me immediately, and the cameras follow her gaze. I have just enough time to glance at Merrick's bewildered expression before making my way to the stage. Slowly. Calmly. Careful not to run. Not to look eager. I take each step deliberately. Dutifully. Because, for this moment – for them, for him – I am a soldier once more, going willingly to a battle I know I may not win, but one that must be fought, nonetheless.
I take my place next to Nani, and only then does a Peacekeeper approach and uncuff me. Silently, I exchange my physical bonds for the invisible chains now binding me to the Games. I nod knowingly. There had been Peacekeepers all around me on the way up to the stage, but they had waited. They wanted everyone to see. A prisoner volunteering for the Games. They sense a story there, and they want it.
"What's your name?" Satin asks, as curious as any of them. She looks so young up close, despite the fact that she's almost as tall as me and easily as strong. And beautiful, just like her aunt and uncle.
"And why—" She starts, but then realizes she doesn't quite know how to word her question.
I finish it for her. "Why would someone like me volunteer?" I force myself to look up, out at the crowd. "I was young during the war. A child. I thought it was my duty to the Capitol to fight, so I volunteered as a spy and was sent to District Six, where I infiltrated a rebel camp and fed the Capitol information that cost lives. Lives of district citizens who wanted nothing more than their freedom. Freedom from tyranny and oppression, freedom to live their lives in peace."
"So what do you want? Your freedom?" Satin asks, curiosity making her eyes wide.
Yes, I think, but it's not what I say. Instead, I tell them exactly what they want to hear. "No. No, I'm not here for my freedom. I'm here to apologize. To offer my life as repayment for the lives I took. For now, I can only ask that you understand that. If I come out of this alive … maybe then I can ask for your forgiveness."
I hold out my hand, waiting. Hoping. Then, in the blink of an eye, my words pay off, and a district citizen, the niece of two dead tributes, shakes my hand, ready and willing to believe every word I said.
Too bad it was all a lie.
The rest of the reaping starts to blur together. Name after name after name. Some are volunteers – eager, confident, thrilled to be living out their childhood fantasies of volunteering for the Games. Most are not.
A few catch my eye. An Avox is chosen for District Seven, and part of me wants to protest how terribly unfair that is; he's already suffered plenty at the hands of the Capitol. But then I remind myself that no one here is really concerned with being "fair." If they were going for "fair," they would round up a couple dozen of us who actually fought for the Capitol during the war, make us fight to the death, and then shoot the victor.
"Fair" doesn't sound like a good idea for very long.
Then Anissa Snow – President Snow's granddaughter – is chosen for District Twelve. I can't help but wonder if they arranged that one. It seems like more than coincidence when the Mockingjay is the one to call her name. Oddly enough, she doesn't seem the least bit upset. She's smiling and winking at the victors as she takes the stage, as if she's actually happy she's about to die.
Because she is; there's no doubt about it. There's no way the districts would accept President Snow's granddaughter as their victor. The victors will never let it happen. But the cheerful little girl onstage seems completely oblivious to this, blissfully unaware of the fact that the people she's winking at already hate her, and are probably already plotting her death.
Her district partner is a bit odd, as well, taking the stage with a mischievous grin on his face, kissing Anissa's hand and telling her it's a pleasure to meet her. I wonder who he thinks he's trying to impress. It's not as if he'll win the audience's favor by flattering Snow's granddaughter.
Then again, it might impress some of the more Capitol-supporting tributes, something my apology certainly didn't do. I can tell from some of the looks I've gotten that I've already made a few enemies, whereas no one seems particularly upset by his attempt at gallantry. Surprised, yes, but not upset.
The reaping is topped off by two volunteers for District Thirteen – odd that they waited so long to volunteer – and we're all led off to the Justice Building behind the stage.
No sooner have I sat down in my room than the door opens, revealing a man I hadn't expected to see.
For four years, I've wondered if he was alive or dead, and I know he must have been wondering the same about me. I run to the door and throw my arms around him, near tears.
"You're alive!" Obviously. But it's all I can manage to say right now.
"So are you." He holds me close, but something about it feels wrong. When he finally lets go, I can see his left arm is missing, an empty sleeve hanging from his shoulder. "Oh, that," he shrugs, a gesture that looks odd with only one arm. "Damn rebels. Attacked us in the middle of the night. Woke up to find they'd already killed half the men in the tent, the sneaky bastards."
I look away. He doesn't say it, but I hear it in his voice; he thinks I've sided with them. I denounced everything he fought for, everything he ever taught me, everything we had in common.
"I'm sorry," I whisper.
He reaches towards me with his good hand and tilts my head back up. "Don't worry about that right now. You get out of this alive, and then I'll give you a good, stern lecture about honor and loyalty. Deal?"
I manage to smile a little. "Deal."
We spend the rest of our time together catching up on the four years we've missed. He tells me sadly that my mother is dead, although I'd guessed as much when he arrived without her; they were inseparable. I tell him my story from the beginning – running away to join the army, being recruited as a spy, joining Anders' camp, being caught red-handed in the middle of a communication with my Capitol contacts. Caught by a seven-year-old boy lurking around in the hope of finding some food, no less. I'm sure Anders rewarded him with as good a meal as he could muster.
Our time is over too soon, but, as he's leaving, everything feels oddly … right. Peaceful. Calm. I've tied up my one remaining loose end. Whatever happens now, I'm ready.
I'm even smiling a little as Anders opens the door and takes a seat next to me.
"You found him, didn't you?" It's not even a question, really. My father would have had no reason to be at the reaping unless someone had told him I was still alive. Told him I was planning on volunteering. "That's what you were doing this morning."
Anders nods. "Finding him wasn't particularly hard, but, let me tell you, he wasn't too happy to see me – especially in this uniform."
I stifle a laugh, picturing my father about to punch Anders in the face for showing up at his doorstep in a rebel uniform. But I can't help thinking that, if I could ever get them to sit down and talk to each other, they would get along splendidly – these two men whom I admire so much. Both with strong principles. Both loyal. Both determined to do their duty. It's just that one of them happens to be on the wrong side.
I'm surprised to find myself wondering which one.
Maybe they're both right. Maybe they're both wrong.
Not that it matters, in the end. Because I'm done choosing sides. The only thing that matters now is that I get through this alive.
Because I'm not like them. I'm not a soldier. Not a hero. I'm not fighting for duty or honor or redemption.
I'm fighting for my life. My freedom. I'm a daisy – a little weed – struggling to break my way through the only crack I can see, forcing my way towards the light.
And weeds are hard to kill.