DISCLAIMER: I do not own Disney, or the Hunger Games.
A/N: This is Hunhund's wife. After playing beta for Love Lesson 9, I finally felt confident enough to try writing my own fan fiction for the first time since Digimon was super popular. Fanfiction is definitely not my forte; I don't like trying to fit other people's characters into different scenarios/universes, and I'm not a huge fan of posting one chapter at a time. But alas, here is my attempt.
Ages of some characters have been changed to suit my needs. This does not follow the Hunger Games universe entirely, just the bits and pieces that I fancied. Open minds, my friends!
The sun was just over the horizon when Anna woke. It was a perfect sunrise; the light crept across the fields, chasing away the darkness and painting the district in vivid yellow and orange and red. It was like the world was on fire. Anna threw her hand over her face to shield her eyes. She did not wake early to appreciate the beauty, to bask in the dancing flames of a new day.
Today was the Reaping.
She dressed without a word, slipping into a simple green dress she reserved simply for this occasion. It had become faded over time, the vibrant emerald now dull and akin to the needles of the struggling fir trees outside of her house. She tied her hair into two braids and put on her leather boots - the only pair she owned.
Her mother was waiting for her in the kitchen, smiling despite the heavy bags under her eyes. Ever since her father died, Anna had put on a brave face for her mother every day, caring for the older woman and making up where she lacked. It was only on the day of the Reaping that roles reversed, and Gerda forced herself to be a beacon of optimism for her daughter.
"It could skip you again, you know," she chimed, squeezing her daughter's shoulder gently. "Three years now, and it has skipped you every time." Gerda had tears in her eyes and her voice wavered. For all the optimism she tried to muster, the fear was overwhelming.
"And only three more years after today for it to keep skipping me," Anna finished, trying for humour but sending a shot through Gerda's heart that made the tears stream down. The redhead sighed. The day was off to a miserable start.
Unable to shoulder her mother's worry as well as her own, Anna excused herself from the house. The streets were uncharacteristically empty; District 7 was the Capitol's greatest crop producer, and was always bustling with trucks loading and leaving. Anna's sombre mood deepened.
Kristoff was waiting for her outside of his house, and for a moment Anna forgot about the impending doom. She grinned and ran to him, and he swept her up into his arms and twirled her around. She didn't ever need to be a Victor when she had this.
They laughed and held each other until the dread smothered the joy. Kristoff took her gently by the shoulders and pushed her back to where he could look her in the eye. "Are you ready?" he asked her softly. She nodded, but she looked to the ground. How could anyone be ready to face their possible death?
They spent the rest of the morning together, and took Kristoff's horse, Sven, out for a ride to the edge of their district. They had discovered a pleasant hill there many years ago, back when they were just friends and not the slightly-more-than-friends stage they lingered in now; it had been their sanctuary then, and it still was.
"At least you only have today to worry about. After today, you're free," she mused, sprawled out on her back and staring intently past the electrified fence of the district border. In the distance, the mysterious North Mountain - the centrepiece of District 8 - scraped against the clouds. "Well, free to be a farmer, anyway, without worrying who will have the chance to kill you this year."
"Hey, none of that talk." Kristoff joined her on the grass and squeezed her hand. Sven wandered next to them, grazing contently. "You'll be free in a couple years too. But you're safe - you haven't been chosen, and you won't be chosen."
Exasperated, Anna sat up and pulled at her braids. The melancholy expression was replaced by panic. "But what if I do, Kristoff? I would never survive! I've tried and tried and tried, but there's nothing I'm really good at! I can't shoot a bow, I can't swing an axe."
"You've got a wicked punch," he interjected with a grin, remembering the feeling of her fist hitting his gut by mistake.
"Yeah, but I would never get close enough to anybody to punch them! I would be dead!" As pessimistic as it sounded, Anna knew she wasn't exaggerating. Her skills were limited to hand-to-hand combat (and even then, very limited) and domestics. She didn't think she would be able to cook a competitor into submission when push came to shove. Or could she….
The blonde man put his arm around her shoulders, and toyed a red braid between his fingers. "I wouldn't let anybody kill you, Anna. Never."
Anna opened her mouth to speak, but the unmistakable sound of a siren drowned out all other sound. Sven spooked and Kristoff quickly grabbed at his reins to calm him. When the siren faded, a calm voice continued. "All members of the District shall report to the Reaping Grounds immediately. The Reaping shall begin within the hour. All of those between the ages of 15 and 21 must report to an Officer to sign in before the hour is up. I repeat, all members…."
Kristoff sighed. "I guess it's time." He hugged her once last time, and Anna's heart sank. It felt like the beginning of the end.
The Reaping Grounds were situated at the main entrance of the District, and were little more than a temporary podium with a large white screen, and standing room. Dozens of officers dressed all in white, with their faces obscured by helmet visors, stood in a clean line around them, manoeuvring the crowds by merely gesturing with the gleaming weaponry the likes of which none of them could even dream of.
Anna wanted to hate them, how calm they were, as if they did not destroy lives every year; Anna wanted to hate them, but hate was not an emotion she let into her heart lightly. Fear, on the other hand, darted in and out of her like a horsefly, leaving painful patches wherever she let her guard down.
A member of the Capitol (or Disneyland, as some mocked) stood at the podium, a microphone raised to her painted lips. She was an alien to the District: she painted her face in colors, and wore clothes with frill and lace that were utterly unpractical, and fancied her hair into monstrous creations with oversized bows and foul-smelling spray. As oddly as the District looked at the woman, she merely looked back with awe and amusement. This was a game to them; this wasn't real. To the Capitol, the Districts were merely a catalogue of actors, and every year they picked a few to star in their twisted idea of a fairytale, to see who would survive long enough to be dubbed the year's Prince of Princess to be idolized by the frothing fans in their placid Capitol homes.
The Capitol liked to ignore that every year, families lost their beloved daughters and sons to simply put on a show.
"Welcome, everyone!" the woman cheered with the static screech of the microphone. The sea of faces in front of her did not shift. "Today marks the Reaping Day for the 74th Annual Disney Games!" The painted woman gave a little clap and paused, waiting for an applause that never came. She cleared her throat and turned her head to the white screen beside her, which began to flicker with light and sound.
On the screen, a man appeared. He looked like any other older man, except clean and proper, with a definitive authoritative posture. His hair had gone white with age, as had his immaculate moustache. He appeared to be looking at the audience, his expression neutral aside from the hint of a smile on his lips.
"Hello, District," his pre-recorded voice said. "I am President Disney. I would like to remind you today of the reason that I began this event so many years ago. Once upon a time, the Districts were in chaos: they did not produce, they did not export; they were killing each other in the streets. They rebelled against each other, and then the Capitol, and thus more people starved, and suffered, and died. The Districts were asked to stop, nicely at first. When they refused, we had to resort to more drastic measures."
"We raised the fences, electrified them. Not just to protect the Capitol, but each individual District as well; you needed guidance, to protect you from yourselves, and that is what we did. We policed you, monitored you, and given you purpose. We told you what had to be done. At first, the Districts refused: you were corralled, but you would not be contained. So just as had been done to others, we did to the Districts - we took your children."
"But we did not take your children outright and slaughter them. No - that would be barbaric, and that is not the Capitol way. We gave each and every District a chance to repent for their errors, by letting their children try and survive in the arena against the other District children. The final standing child was then given a place of privilege in the Capitol, to show the Districts how generous we can be when rewards are warranted."
"And so we are rewarding you today, by giving you this chance to prove that you are better than your ancestors. One male and one female between the ages of 15 and 21 will now be selected as tributes to this honourable event."
The man on the screen paused, and his smiled widened. "May the odds be ever in your favour."
That infernal clapping began again briefly, and then the Capitol woman wiped at her eyes. "Such a gracious thing, President Disney did for the Districts," she said into the microphone. Anna's fists balled in rage, but otherwise the crowd did not shift.
A single Officer marched briskly down the part in the crowd, rising to the stage with two large transparent bowls grasped in either hand. Inside the bowls were tiny folded pieces of paper, each one marked in ink with the names of the hundreds of possible tributes within District 7. Anna felt her mouth go dry as the Capitol woman reached into the first bowl, swirling around the paper pieces until her fingers found one at random.
"First, for the girls, representing District 7 in the 74th Annual Disney Games is…." Her voice was too cheerful. Anna closed her eyes tightly and prayed to whatever God she thought might listen. Don't pick me. Don't pick me. Don't pick me.
She opened her eyes, and there were a hundred more looking back at her, pinpointing the rotten apple in the bunch. Those standing closest to her stepped away, clearing a path for her to the main walkway where an Officer stood, waiting. She could feel her body shaking, and then a hand on her shoulder forcing her forward, stumbling past the dozens of relieved girls that didn't have to make the same walk.
When she had regained some semblance of control of herself, she was already standing in front of the Officer, being prodded in her lower back to keep moving. She could make out Kristoff's face easily in the wall of terrified boys, with his unmanly blondeness and heartbroken eyes. Her chest tightened and she wanted to cry.
"Come here, sweet Anna. It's alright," the Capitol woman beckoned, holding out a gloved hand to her. She didn't want to take it but she did, not trusting herself to actually make it without falling at that point. The fear that had been gnawing at her stomach was surprisingly absent, perhaps kind enough to relinquish their assault knowing that she was going to die anyway.
The redhead tried not to look for her mother, but misery attracted company, and soon she found herself watching her mother fall to the ground sobbing while those closest to her could only offer comforting backrubs and soothing murmurs. Today was the day that Anna was allowed to be weak and her mother was supposed to be strong, but seeing her mother crumble under the pressure made her want to rush to her side. Even if I could though, Anna thought, what would I say? I love you, and thank you for everything. It's time for me to go and die now?
The Capitol woman reached into the other bowl then and snatched at a piece of paper quickly. "And for the boys, representing District 7 in the 74th Annual Disney Games is Friedri-"
Anna's head snapped to attention. Rushing out from the torrent of children was a waving arm. Now, Anna did cry: Kristoff was waving his arm and walking towards the stage, his brow furrowed and his jaw set. "I volunteer as tribute!"
The Officers stopped Kristoff at the podium, but with a little wave from the Capitol woman he quickly took his place on the opposite side of her from Anna. He met her eyes only briefly before turning to face the audience. The Capitol woman was shocked, but delighted, turning the microphone to him as soon as she could.
"And you are, sweet boy?"
"I'm Kristoff Ericsson."
"And you wish to…..volunteer?"
The Capitol woman smiled and clapped even more fervently than before. "Splendid! Here you are, District 7! Your tributes!"
The audience was quiet in surprise at Kristoff's outburst; the boy Friedrich Larsson, suspecting his name was the one supposed to be called, was white in shock. Slowly though, a quiet rumble began in the back of the crowd, where Anna's mother had pulled herself to her feet again, and the rumble spread and spread until a steady clap sounded. Anna could not tell if they were clapping just for the sake of routine, or if they were unsure of what else to do, or were merely trying to say goodbye.
"Don't we get to say goodbye first?" Anna asked meekly as a group of Officers began to push and pull them away from the podium and towards the gate. She could not see Kristoff through the throng of them, or even the aggravating Capitol woman with her false sparkle. A voice responded, but she did not know who.
"It's better if you don't."
How do you say goodbye anyway, knowing that it's forever? Whether she lived or she died, Anna would never see the District again: there would be no reunions with her mother, or her friends; there would be no long days at work with her coworkers, or lazy weekends with Kristoff and Sven on their private hillside.
He hadn't looked at her since they left the District. She had said his name, over and over again, but he never answered. He sat on the opposite side of the train car now, his eyes fixated on the world outside of the window, passing by in a blur. Everything today had been a blur.
Sevin (the name of the Capitol woman; Anna wondered if it was truly her name, and not just a codename for her job) wandered between them, offering pastries and beverages they had never heard of and continually rejected. Finally she huffed and sat down in a plush chair across from Anna. She smiled a bit more demurely than before, and held that smile until Anna acknowledged her.
The redhead cleared her throat. "So what happens now?"
That was evidently the question Sevin had been waiting for, because she launched into a tirade. "First when we arrive in the Capitol, you will be shown your personal suites for the next two weeks as you prepare. We will begin measuring you for clothing and have a leisurely dinner together. Tomorrow - oh tomorrow, we will be so busy! First we shall get you dressed, then for lunch we will be showing you off to the sponsors - the stockholders in grains, for District 7 - and then in the evening the rest of the Capitol! There is a grand entrance ceremony where you are introduced to the public and dine with the rest of the tributes afterwards."
Anna's mind was spinning after the first sentence. This was all happening way too fast.
"Then, training begins. We will discuss the rules, the arenas, your opponents - allies, survival tactics. We will hone your skills that you have and find those that you haven't realized yet. At the end of the first week there will be a display of talents to the sponsors and to the president. Bits and pieces of your training will also be broadcast to the public to sate their appetites in the meantime! It's important to make an effort at all times; sponsors may purchase in-game gifts for tributes of their choosing, if they want to see you win badly enough."
Despite having the body of an older woman, Sevin was squealing like a schoolgirl as she spoke. She couldn't even restrict the excitement to just her voice; her whole body shook with anticipation. Anna was just a game pawn to the Capitol woman, to be picked up and placed across the board. She wondered how comfortably Sevin lived working this job; she wondered if there was a bonus if one of her tributes survived. Anna felt sick with rage and disbelief.
"There will be an interview the day before the Games: one final chance to appear every bit the star you are! The Games begin at noon the next day, and not a moment later."
Kristoff appeared next to Sevin then, sinking into the plush chair and looking wildly out of place. His expression had softened; it seemed he had left behind at least some of his brooding at the window. "There's never been an instance where a sponsor sought mercy, and tried to pull a tribute out of the Games, is there?"
Sevin looked at him, bewildered. Then she laughed, a loud and flamboyant sound that grated on Anna's nerves. "Oh heavens, dear Kristoff! Never would a sponsor do that! They bet on these games too, you know. No competition, no money."
Kristoff went back to scowling, but at least he was closer now. Anna reached out to him, and he met her halfway, entwining his larger fingers between her own. Sevin cooed. "How precious! A young love!" Anna chose to ignore the woman (did she know nothing of love? Did anybody in the Capitol? Or were they all so deluded?), concentrating on the feel of his strong grasp. She felt safer, having him there.
The train stopped as silently and smoothly as it started, and they were ushered off by yet another gaggle of anonymous Officers. From the train they were shoved into yet another vehicle, this one more like the trucks that they loaded back home, with black cloth seats and dark windows, except longer and infinitely more luxurious.
It was like entering a completely different world. Anna always knew that the Capitol was different - it was hard to ignore it, after all, when the stark contrasts were forced down your throat, year after year, the same tired propaganda that she wondered if anybody with half a mind was actually supposed to subscribe to. But this: the buildings as tall as the North Mountain, the concrete hiding away every inch of grass and nature that was once there, and the people. If she thought Sevin was extravagant with her tall, curled white hair and her blue lipstick and her pink parachute ('dress' just didn't encompass all that fabric), then the other people were simply obscene. For all the silver-gray of the metal and cement, everyone was so fantastically colourful it was dizzying. The closest thing Anna had for color in her wardrobe was the frumpy, dull green dress she wore currently.
And the amount of things was just tremendous. There were trucks and trains and cars and motorized bikes and all manner of machinery that was just so futuristic and strange compared to the simple plows and horses they used back home. That was the other thing that startled Anna: there were no animals. No dogs, or cats, or horses. There weren't even birds in the sky, and Anna wondered if insects even existed or if they all choked and died on the sterile, artificial air.
"Do you like the way the Capitol looks?" Sevin asked, trying to engage them. Kristoff, looking even more lacklustre than Anna in a simple gray shirt and trousers, only shrugged.
"It's good to know where all the wealth in the world is, because it most certainly is not in the Districts." Anna's tried to restrain her smile at Kristoff's sarcastic response, but it was futile. She couldn't have said it better herself. Sevin just looked away, seemingly unfazed.
The next time they stopped and were quickly ushered from one venue to the next, Anna hoped it would be the last one. She had been fond of adventures and trying new things, once, but this was just too much, too overwhelming. That, and coupled with the knowledge that she would probably die a horrific and painful death for the sake of sheltered tyrants….
Their 'suite', as Sevin put it, was on the 7th floor of a tall, imposing tower with no neon signs but instead an extensive array of Officers guarding each entry. An Officer even escorted them up the elevator (a disconcerting feeling for them both, with Kristoff even dropping to his knees until they stopped again) and to the door. Sevin opened it without a key, and when they stepped in Anna could hardly believe they left a place like that unlocked, even with all of the added security.
The main room of the suite was larger than her entire home, and with the additional bedrooms and bathrooms it was certainly bigger than both her and Kristoff's homes combined. More food, more decadent than the platter available on the train, was already prepared and waiting. "It's not much," Sevin exclaimed, tottering over to the dinner table. "But it's home for the next two weeks."
Anna blanched. This wasn't home. This was a confusing and terrible dream.
Kristoff was there at her side again, taking her hand, squeezing it firmly. She looked at him dumbly. It didn't take a genius to realize that he had volunteered because of her, probably thinking that he could protect her from whatever they were about to face. She tried not to think about what that meant, what that would mean when the Games started. She focused on his hands again, always so warm and strong and encompassing; she tried very hard not to think about what his hands might feel like if he were dead.
"I think I see some chocolate for dessert," Kristoff whispered, pulling her towards the buffet.
She tried and tried to ignore it, but for the rest of the night his hands felt cold to her.