Ashira Marlstone, District Twelve, Victor of the Fifth Hunger Games
It's weeks before she's fit to go back to Twelve.
She's spent much time in the hospital, her collarbone and arm slowly healing and strengthening themselves as she impatiently waits to get up. But strangely, she doesn't want to leave her bed. She wants to stay in the Capitol, not go back to Twelve.
Maybe it's because the nightmares will get worse if she leaves.
She spends her days reading and avoiding any footage of the Games, staying awake as long as she can. She doesn't want to fall asleep. She can't fall asleep.
Pollux brings in visitors from all over the Capitol, including the four other victors. She notes that Rosanna's motherly, fussing over Ashira and helping her with her pillows, while Maddie's blunt and sparky nature brings fire to the victors. But it's Falcon who's truly interesting to observe for Ashira. She notes that he doesn't want to get too close to her, jumping at small sounds and shivering when he greets her quietly.
"My Games were cold," he had told her when she asked if they wanted any cold drinks, instead opting for a steaming cup of coffee. And they were. Falcon had fought in the arena of ice, icicles hanging from his clothes when he was carried out of the frigid sea of ice. She brought back too many memories for him.
Clay was warm with Ashira, talking quietly about how she felt in the arena and reminding her that it wasn't her fault that she had killed Sidney and Harper - names that she had learned from Falcon and Craig. "I know a guy who can help you figure it all out. He's the appointed therapist for all victors; President Ember specifically appointed him after my Games for the position. You feel like you need any help at all, he'll be there for you. Trust me."
She had nodded and smiled, turning over on her side as the victors had walked quietly out of the room. But they were wrong. Nothing, not a therapist, the victors, not even the president could help her nightmares.
Because when she falls asleep, she's torn apart by Sidney and Harper in her nightmares.
The day soon comes where she's allowed to get out of bed, and she fakes a smile as she stands up and walks around unsteadily on her own two legs. She felt safer in the bed. At least she didn't have to care for herself. Now she's all alone.
Pollux monitors her everyday, a worried look on his face every time the doctors come in to monitor her. She willingly submits herself for inspection, waiting patiently and thanking the doctors. Her escort commends her on her manners, saying that Ashira's one of the most respectful tributes she's had the pleasure of escorting. Ashira nods and goes back to her books. She's tired of the neck brace. But strangely, she still wants it back. She wants the security.
A Capitolite comes in one morning and requests to interview her about the Games, a camera crew obediently following the woman around as she seats herself next to Ashira. The questions are short and sweet; Ashira theorizes that Pollux requested the woman to not ask too much about the Games. She answers softly, saying yes, she does like music, and that she had loved the dress that she had started out in the bloodbath, then smiles as the interviewer reveals a row of young girls in the same dress that Ashira had worn, all holding flowers for her.
But then the interviewer asks Ashira about her home life.
"So, are you from the Seam side of Twelve? That beautiful dark skin suggests your heritage, young lady!" the interviewer gushes, pronouncing beautiful 'bee-yootiful' in that high, lilting Capitol accent that she has. Ashira stiffens, drawing her bedsheets closer to her. "I'm… well..."
Pollux steps in for Ashira, his green hair flashing in the lights of the cameras. "Ashira's from both sides of Twelve. We have ourselves a hybrid here!"
The interviewer laughs and Ashira cringes, turning away from Pollux. The rest of her answers are short and blunt, the interviewer realizing that the interview is past its prime. She leaves with a copy the bloodbath dress for Ashira as a present, leaving it inside a beautiful grey box.
She leaves the box shut until she leaves the Capitol.
The train slightly invigorates Ashira, the young victor standing up and walking around her car. The Capitol had graciously prescribed her sleeping pills before she left, and she had dreamed nothing those nights on the train. She had been free from the nightmares. Always the nightmares.
But when Pollux had warned her about the addictive power of the pills, Ashira had flushed the rest of them down a toilet in her bathroom. She wouldn't risk becoming an addict, no matter how bad the nightmares could get.
But she could almost forget them when she steps off of the train and back into Twelve.
Mother and Father had waited for hours at the train station, waiting for the train to pull in and reveal their daughter. Ashira had been worried that they wouldn't be there, that they had forgotten about her.
But when she hurries out of the train and into their arms, her fear is erased.
She eats at their house that night, her grandmother bustling around her as she served Ashira a beautiful home-cooked meal of roast pork. Ashira greedily eats the meal, letting the taste of home slide down her throat. Her parents smile and chat genially with an obviously uncomfortable Pollux, her father obviously poking fun at him with snide little comments that make Ashira smile slightly and her mother blush. But it's good. She's back.
Until the nightmares come again. And it's impossible to get rid of them.
Months pass, and the nightmares don't go away. But Ashira doesn't tell anyone. She just retreats into herself a bit more, trying to stay away from the world. Her parents turn away visitors to their new home in the empty Victor's Village, telling them that Ashira's ill once more. And she is. She's sick with fear of her nightmares.
When the Sixth Hunger Games approach, a wary Ashira walks towards the stage and watches her first tributes get reaped. They're both from the Seam, and the two malnourished, dark tributes shy away from Ashira when they remember that she's from the town. She tries to bond with the pair, but the more she tries, the more they shy away.
When the two die in the first few minutes of the bloodbath, Ashira walks out of the control room. She's not going to talk to the press. She's not going to talk to anyone.
She's going away.
For days through the Games, headlines from the Games are lined up with stories about the disappearance of the fifth victor. Peacekeepers converge on the Capitol and search for days upon end, the arrival of Kaitlynn Spark, the sixth victor, clouded by tabloids publishing morbid theories about Ashira's disappearance. But the theories fade away when a lone peacekeeper discovers Ashira in a dingy music store at the edge of the Capitol, quietly singing along to music playing on the intercom. The fifth victor has been found.
President Ember narrows her eyes at the young victor seated across the table from her, throwing her the headlines of the Capitol's biggest newspaper. "Kaitlynn Spark wins Games while Ashira Marlstone is found once more."
Ashira looks away, her mouth shut and her eyes closed. President Ember sighs, leaning in towards Ashira. "I know how it feels to lose someone, Ashira. Do you need a hiatus from mentoring? I'll give it to you on one condition: that you won't disappear again. We cannot have more headlines like this."
Ashira nods, a bit of light coming to her face. But then it vanishes, and she walks slowly out of the room.
Years pass, and the nightmares are still there. But she doesn't speak about them to anyone. She continues to be polite and calm, but something's different. Ashira's reserved. She's closed off from the rest of the world a little piece of her heart, and she doesn't want to let anyone in.
But when Ashira wakes up with a scream one night, her grandmother walks in and sits down next to her. "Child, you can't hide anymore. You are going to that therapist tomorrow, and that is final."
Aline clicks her knitting needles peacefully as her granddaughter nods, getting up out of bed and slowly dialing the number to Jonathan Alexopoulos. She's ready now.
The therapist comes quickly, bringing with him kind words and a triumphant Aline. He sits down next to Ashira and smiles, patting her on the back. "I'm glad you called, Ashira."
She nods slowly, looking away. Her voice is barely more than a whisper when she replies. "Thank you."
Aline shakes her head, clicking her knitting needles together rapidly. "The girl's been like this for years. Tell him about your nightmare, child."
Ashira whispers about her nightmares, trembling when she recounts how Sidney and Harper tear her apart. She always wakes up. Always.
Jonathan nods slowly, scribbling something down on a small notepad. "You say that you've had these for years?"
Ashira nods, shivering slightly as she looks down. Jonathan writes something else down, looking up at the ceiling. "And you had nothing of the sort in the arena, I presume."
Ashira nods again, shrinking into her chair. Jonathan smiles, standing up. "Then you lost something that you gained in that arena in your final fight. And we're going to find it."
They meet for weeks upon end, Ashira crying and shuddering horribly as she talks about the arena. Corey, the lions, Harper, Sidney, all are laid bare for Jonathan. But Jonathan nods thoughtfully, showing Ashira his notes. "You're feeling torn between the arena and victory, unable to choose one side or the other, and it's showing in your nightmares. It's combined with your home life as well, that much is obvious from what happened in your year of mentoring. But, Ashira, you don't have to run away from the situation. You won the Hunger Games, but you left a piece of yourself in that arena."
Ashira looks up at Jonathan, tracing the cream-coloured pages of the notepad. "And I'm never able to leave it. It's impossible."
Jonathan smiles, reaching over to Ashira. "It is impossible to get it out, Ashira. You'll always be stuck in there. The mind is a steel trap, and an event like the Hunger Games won't ever leave it. But Ashira, you forgot that you can choose both sides. Ashira, you can leave that piece in the arena. Because you don't need it anymore."
Ashira gasps, tears spilling out of her eyes. She rocks back and forth, colour returning to her cheeks. And Jonathan knows that she's come back.
Ashira goes to the Hall of Justice that night. The mayor gasps as Twelve's only victor walks into his room, pushing aside the mountain of papers on his desk. "What can I do for you?"
Ashira smiles, pushing her hair out of her face. "I'm ready to mentor now."
The night before the 17th Hunger Games, Ashira walks into her backyard and kneels down onto the grass. Her dark hair spills into her youthful face, and she pushes it away before opening her mouth. And she sings.
She sings for Corey.
She sings for Harper
She sings for Sidney.
She sings for Pollux.
She sings for the Seam.
She sings for the Merchants.
She sings for Twelve.
And she sings for herself.
Mockingjays catch onto the rhythm and echo back, the melody reaching the furthest corners of Twelve. People walk out of their homes and listen to the mockingjays, smiling at the beautiful melody. It sounds like Twelve.
Ashira smiles, colour coming into her cheeks. She's not from the Seam. She's not from the Town.
She's from Twelve.
And she'll never have a nightmare again.
What a journey I've taken with you guys.
Seriously, though, it's been so fun writing this! I've been working on this partial SYOT for over five months now, sometimes woefully neglecting it, and other times racing through it and creating a partially-legible plot! And you know what, guys? I've enjoyed every second of it all. This last chapter might not be perfect (I think it's not very good lol) but it's finally finished.
First of all, thanks to iridescenteverdeen, LongingForRomeo, and Jailynne for subbing to this story and reviewing it! You guys created really great characters - I honestly loved every tribute in this story - and it hurt to kill them. I hope you enjoyed their arcs!
Next, a big thanks to TheEngineeringGames for advising me in this SYOT and helping me excitedly spurt out all of my plans for this SYOT. Spoiler buddies forever ;)
RoadieMcRoadface, thanks for staying with me all the way and reviewing as much as you could. Sidney was a great character, and I'm sorry that he couldn't win as well :( I hope that it doesn't affect you too much, and that you might sub to future SYOTs of mine!
Finally, a big thanks to goldie031 for providing me with Ashira, our victor! I really enjoyed writing her, and having your reviews support me through this story was amazing :)) Thanks so much!
If any lurkers or other followers want to say a few words, a review summing up your experience here would be great! Thanks for reading ;)
I might do another SYOT to follow this up, but, for now, I've got to focus on my other ones! If you want to, follow those ones, and I'll try to get another SYOT up when one of those are finished! So stay tuned ;) For the last time, TheAmazingJAJ