05: Memoirs Of A Roadkill.

Shelter ghosts to show who we could blame

Nothing to show for, nothing to write to my name

Now when the hands all sing your song

My breath is poison, all I know it is gone

Tenna Tallion, 15, District Five Female.

Five days before the Reaping.

She entered the main hall of the Cage to raucous applause from the crowd. It wasn't directed at her - she'd turned up a couple of minutes late to the match's warmup, and the main event was about to start. Tenna quickly made her way through the bleachers, a few people making annoyed noises as she stomped in front of them, others recognising her face and making comments. "Oh, that's Tenna Tallion! Dark horse of the Cage!" "Did you see her fight last week in the semi-finals? She'll be up against the victor of this match next week!" "She's been dominating the fifteen to seventeen class!"

It pleased Tenna to hear. She was decidedly less pleased as she passed a face she recognised - dark and quiet, with a knowing smirk on his face as he gave her a playful punch to the arm.

"Buzz off, Molotov," she retaliated, unable to hold back the harsh tone. "I know you're not betting on this match, why are you here?"

"Is it really so bad for me to wanna watch a good fight?" He responded with a shrug.

She sighed and rolled her eyes, continued walking past him as he laughed awkwardly. Why the guy pestered her to no end whenever he saw her here, she'd never know.

Tenna soon found her father, one of the rows near the front of the bleachers. From here, they'd get one of the best views of the match.

"Finally graced us with your presence, Tenna?" He joked with a clap on the back.

"I wanted to miss the mad rush for seats." She said hastily. "Is that so bad?"

She'd stolen the phrase from Molotov, but dad didn't have to know that.

"Well, you haven't missed the fight yet. So no, I don't think it is so bad."

Tenna peeled her eyes from the face of her father and focussed yet again on the ring. The Cage was a sprawling structure operated within an abandoned warehouse, the large square fighting pit barred on all sides by, as the name would suggest, a wrought metal cage. On either end of the pit were two doors, where the girls fighting today had already been locked in. Only once one of them emerged victorious would the doors be unlocked.

The Announcer of the Cage, a dramatic older man, was hyping up the crowd. "Welcome, scum and scoundrels, to the second semi-final of this season's tournament! Can I hear some support for today's fighters?!"

The already unruly crowd went even crazier. Tenna remained still as a statue as she studied the ring, chewing her bottom lip. On one side of the Cage, her arch-rival, Cat Martins, had just been locked in. This would be her second-to-last fight before she moved up a class into the eighteen to twenty-one division - and she knew that, because on the other side of the ring, Jeanne Maybach didn't stand a chance. She'd been lucky to even get to the semis.

Without much more fanfare, the fight started. Cat was a brutal combatant, one who went for tackles and traps, hoping to overwhelm her opponent with her brute strength. The girl was a tank, seventeen but over six feet tall - Jeanne was a more honourable fighter, opting to go for traditional boxing punches that hardily even grazed Cat. Tenna herself had fought Jeanne on a couple of occasions, and her hits were easy to parry. Just as she predicted - the crowd let out winces of sympathy as Cat barrelled into Jeanne and pinned her against the outer bars of the Cage, her arms unable to move to defend herself as Cat sharply jabbed her knee into her opponent's stomach. Cat let the girl free, and she tumbled to the floor, looking as if she was only just keeping herself from vomiting up her last meal.

She remained on her hands and knees, but a solid kick from Cat had her tumbling. The Announcer started the count - "Five!" - and, as Tenna expected, the first round belonged to her rival.

Since Tenna had entered the fifteen to seventeen class, the two had been neck and neck. Her fast, reactive fighting style had acted as the perfect counter to Cat's brute force, and their matches of cat and mouse had been some of the best shows the Cage had seen in recent memory, if Tenna said so herself.

Training to be the best in her class was all that mattered to her. Ever since her father had revealed his true profession as one of the trainers in Five's largest underground betting ring, she knew the thrill of the fight was her life's calling. She'd been lost before now, but the Cage brought purpose to her life.

Cat barely gave Jeanne the time to prepare before the second round began, even more brutal than the first. Jeanne had been badly winded in the first fight, and she only got in one solid punch to Cat's jaw before the other girl returned it tenfold.

Jeanne didn't seem to understand her opponent. In the Cage, as in life, you had to study your opposition to truly be able to stand a chance against it. You understood the system, you understood how to exploit it. The leaders of the Cage had understood the law and its' loopholes, the ways to legally classify the Cage as a career training centre when it was anything but. Sure, whenever kids from the Cage were reaped, they stood more than a fighting chance - but the life of a gladiator was one that you spent your whole young adulthood pursuing. A life in the Cage was one very different to one of the Hunger Games, and many were content not to volunteer, even if they had the necessary experience. Tenna knew she'd take over her father as one of the trainers one day, after living out her adolescence as the best fighter the Cage had reared in its' short, ugly life.

On the outside, District Five was a beacon of education and development in the outers - but for those living inside its' grimy walls, Five's underbelly was filled with all of those who fell through the cracks, those whose blood ran fiery with the need to let it all out against an equally deserving opponent. Though they were scum, the Cage was about honour, and that's what truly made it special to Tenna.

Cat Martins didn't get the memo as she stood above Jeanne, steel-toed boot solidly planted on the other girl's back as the Announcer unlocked the Cage and announced her the victor of the semi-finals.

"Looks like you'll have your dramatic final showdown after all," her father whispered, clapping for the match's victor. Tenna clapped as well - despite Cat's lack of grace and decorum, she'd won fair and square.

She leaned over to her father. "Did you really expect anything else? This is Cat Martin we're talking about."

"Well, dear, I'm sure you'll emerge victorious in the finale and show everyone that the Tallions are a force to be reckoned with."

A smirk graced Tenna's lips, and she tapped her temple knowingly. "Oh, I know. I think I have a couple of strategies in mind for dealing with her."

Her careful study of her opponents' fighting styles had been carefully built over the last four years, and her eye for detail and ability to apply that knowledge in brawls had served her well. She'd never been the most physically strong or tall competitor, especially when she'd only just started competing, but to Tenna, brains had always been as important as brawn (even if she didn't actually go to school). Her father taught her everything she needed to know, anyway. Anything else was irrelevant.

"Now, y'all, we have our season finale lined up - Cat Martins versus Tenna Tallion, in one week's time - June third, mark your calendars!" The Announcer boomed after the fighters had left the ring.

Tenna had known the date in advance, of course, but the timing had always struck her as extremely poor. It hadn't happened for years, but the teenage bracket finales always happened in summer - it had been inevitable that some fighters in the Cage's history had been reaped for the Games. They were the lowest of society, anyway, living off of the cash they won from bettors and sponsors. Tenna had won enough fights this year to afford not to take out tesserae, but the thought still nagged at the back of her mind. What if she was reaped? What if Cat was reaped? In a way, she thought Cat going into the Games would be the worst thing ever. If she died, they'd never have their final showdown as rivals, and if she won, she'd entirely overshadow Tenna, her name fading into naught but memory.

She furrowed her eyebrows, and her father looked at her funny. Eh, whatever. There were plenty of kids in Five to reap from. She'd be there for the finale, and so would Cat.

As the crowd began filing out of the warehouse noisily, Ari Tallion clapped Tenna on the back heavily, shaking her from her contemplation. "C'mon, kiddo. Let's get something to eat before home time."

She followed her father from the Cage, staying close to him so as not to lose him in the gaggle of people. A weird mish-mash of sorts came to watch fights at the Cage - middle-aged drunkards, teenagers who loved the thrill, sex workers, cartel operators, and even just your average blue-collar workers who needed to watch something cathartic to wind down. Tenna sometimes even saw the faces of off-duty Peacekeepers in the crowd, enjoying the show despite the questionable legality of the fighting pit. She may have seen Molotov as well, a small smile on his face as he left with his 'coworkers' - the league of information brokers who operated both in and out of the district, discussing the upcoming finale. Rebels, too, needed entertainment, she supposed.

The benefits of the Cage over the Games were numerous, Tenna thought as everyone began seamlessly blending in with the crowds of downtown Five at night. Nobody died, for one, and it was run by the people, for the people. It was entertainment and glory for all, not some sort of punishment. And all the fighters were there by choice. If she had anything to say about it, there'd be fighting pits in every district.

The tight, dingy streets were illuminated by a couple dim streetlamps, and the pair decided to stop at the little noodle shop owned by a friend of Tenna's dad. Sure, he was probably involved in the more serious crime rings, but his food was cheap and homemade - the perfect treat to de-wind after a Cat Martins fight.

Starting tomorrow, Tenna would double down on preparing for their finale. It would be the most important day of her career yet, and she had to cement her name in the history of the Cage for good.

Ira Molotov, 18, District Five Male.

The Reaping.

It became immediately evident as soon as the words left Ira's mouth that he hadn't thought this through.

He'd almost been distracted by Tenna Tallion - the girl he'd joked at in the halls of the Cage, the one he'd seen fight a hundred times - being reaped, but she hadn't stopped him from shouting at the top of his lungs that he volunteered.

District Five's escort looked positively delighted. They were bouncing on their heels, a grin spread across their electric blue face. "A volunteer! Oh, goodness, how long has it been since we've had a volunteer?" They looked back and forth between the Mayor and his to-be mentor. Stefan Conroy looked somewhat baffled, shrugging wildly.

"Just get him on stage, already." He muttered, a hint of irritation in his voice.

Ira had remained stuck in place, his feet not wishing to move before a boy behind him pushed him forwards. Someone within the eighteens section was calling his name desperately - he knew it was Livvy (or at least, he hoped it was), but it was too late now. This is what you wanted, isn't it? Come on, Ira.

God forbid the Peacekeepers drag him onstage. He forced himself to move up, walking through the central parting in the crowd. His hands were tight fists inside the pockets of his jacket, back slightly hunched as he stood by his district partner's side. She recognised him, and he recognised her. Standing a few inches shorter than him, Tenna's expression was one of barely hidden rage, her icy eyes staring daggers at him. He'd have to explain once they were on the train, he supposed.

The microphone was shoved in his face, the bright blue Capitolite grinning even wider now that they could see him up close. He wanted to push them away - his eyes were too busy scanning the crowd for Livvy.

"Come on, soldier! Tell us your name!"

He glanced sideways for a moment, tearing his eyes from the sea of faces. "Ira," he mumbled, almost sounding timid. He cleared his throat, set his jaw. "Ira Molotov."

"Exciting! Ferocious! Mysterious! District Five, your tributes for the one-hundredth-and-sixty-second Hunger Games: Tenna Tallion and Ira Molotov!"

As the crowd began to clap, Ira searched it yet again - and there. There he was, despair lining his features. It wasn't an expression Ira had seen Livvy wear before today - usually, the boy was all smug smirks, stupid jokes, even when the situation called for a more serious demeanour. Even when Livvy had been all but imprisoned under his brother's guardianship, even when Ira would sneak a visit after his last job left him covered in cuts and bruises, even then. Ira wasn't sure what he made of it - what that expression made him feel. Was it disappointment? What had he expected in the first place?

He didn't have the chance to dwell on it; he and Tenna had shaken hands before being swept off the stage and into the Justice Building. What a stupid name, Ira thought, for a building in which absolutely no justice at all is served. Of course, he'd always lived in the abysses of Five that couldn't see the light that had earned the District its' wealth. A Peacekeeper - he had to take a second glance at his face, because he swore that was someone he recognised, but no, it was just his imagination - pushed him lightly into a room, shut the door behind him.

As he stood alone, the weight of his situation hit him like a truck.

"Oh my fucking god." He whispered to himself, crouching down, head in his hands. "What the fuck."

He'd really gone and fucking done it. It hadn't sunk in until just now - like a thick-skulled moron, he'd volunteered. Of course, Ira had been psyching himself up for this for weeks, now - ever since the last time he'd seen Lucilian Solus, the bastard - and Livvy, Livvy, oh god.

He'd laughed it off, told him "bet", didn't think that for once in his life that Ira would be serious about something like this. He hadn't been serious about work - when he had near-capture scrapes with the law, he'd always just laugh it off, say that even if he had been caught, he'd pull some insane stunt to get himself out of whatever ridiculous predicament he'd found himself in.

There was no stunt that could get him out of this mess, now. Livvy had been shocked. He'd looked scared. Ira had gotten too cocky and he'd gone and... Done that.

Would he even come? Would he want to face Ira after he'd just - in a split second, gone and abandoned him? He -

The door to the room opened with a click, a voice sternly saying "Three minutes."

Heeled boots clacked along the floor, and Ira looked up to see the haughty expression of that bastard, shutting the door behind him with too much grace to be legal. He scrambled to his full height, locking eyes with Lucilian. His gaze wouldn't waver. There was only one reason he'd be here, and Livvy...

"Ira. I certainly didn't expect a display such as that from you. Bravo, I must say. Really takes some courage to stand up for a random stranger as you did out there." Sarcasm dripped from his words, slick as oil. Ira could never stand that District Two accent (at least from Lucilian's mouth).

His gaze faltered, but he wouldn't be off-put. "Where's Livvy." It was less of a question; more a demand. I want to apologise. I want to explain.

"I thought it unwise to allow him in here. He's quite upset, you know?"

Oh, the urge to knock another one of those teeth out was so strong. Every time he opened that mouth of his, Ira noticed the off-white tint of the veneer that had been placed over the missing socket.

Breathe, Ira. He's riling you up.

"I need to explain-"

"Oh, you can tell me. We have the time."

But the thing was, Ira couldn't tell Lucilian. He'd told Livvy the last time he saw him - "I can't stand seeing you stuck in this gilded cage. Hey, it's our last year, I could go into the Games and come out with the influence and wealth to free you from your brother."

Lucilian was the whole reason he was here right now. The whole reason other than his own stupidity, that was, thinking that Livvy's brushing off of Ira's suggestion was proof that it was what he wanted.

Always, with the jumping to conclusions. Always, with thinking that he could read Livvy's mind.

God, he was a moron.

The silence must have lasted a moment too long, because Lucilian looked down at his wristwatch, boredom and impatience expressed so openly.

"I-" he stammered, trying to think of something palpable to tell him. He came out short. "I hadn't thought it through. I just wanted to tell him that I was sorry."

"For...?" Lucilian teased.

Ira sighed, finally breaking eye contact with the man in front of him. "Everything. Leaving him. I don't know."

"So you volunteered for a death game on a whim, and now you're only just realising you won't be coming back."

"No, I - I can come back."

He smirked. "You don't sound too sure."

Behind him, the door to the room opened yet again.

Lucilian didn't even wait for the Peacekeeper to speak. "It appears our time is up. Best of luck, Ira. For your sake and Livius's, I hope you don't make too much of a fool of yourself out there."

As he left the room, Ira finally collapsed into one of the plush chairs lining the back wall. Interacting with that man always exhausted him. Of course he wouldn't let Livvy visit. What had Ira expected? Mercy?

He was asking for too much.

The boy who walked through the door next hadn't been someone Ira had expected. Lucilian, in the back of his mind, is someone Ira knew would be here. But his brother wasn't.

The expression on his face expressed a desire to call Ira stupid, but the rift between them that had been left untreated kept Isaac from speaking his mind. His brother breathed in heavily through his nose before opening his mouth.

"Why? What is going on in your fucking head, Ira? First you get involved with possibly the most dangerous group of people in Panem, now this? Are you suicidal? Was leaving me not enough?"

Isaac's annoyance had morphed into distress, and guilt nagged at Ira's heart even more.

"I'm sorry. I know how badly I've fucked up. A lot, many times over the last couple years, I know. I just... Wasn't thinking it would be like this."

"What, did you think it'd be all sunshine and rainbows?"

"No." Ira snapped. "No, I just... Ugh. You know Livvy, don't you?"

Isaac almost laughed. "The son of the old Head Peacekeeper? The guy you're totally smitten with?"

"Shut the fuck up. He, um... His home situation is pretty dire. I thought that... If I won the Games, I'd be able to stand a chance of getting him out of there. I don't think there's really any chance of that if we just... Continued on the way we have. So I'm here. To help him."

Though the tension between the brothers remained high, Isaac's face softened, and he looked almost sad. Almost mournful. "No matter how much you dress it up altruistically, somehow I know that you're not doing this to be brave or kind."

Before the Peacekeeper could come to tell them their time was up, Isaac turned towards the door and opened it himself. He gave one last look at his brother before declaring, "Goodbye, Ira."

After that, there would be no more visitors for Ira Molotov. All he could do was wait, a growing pit of doubt in his chest, to be collected and shipped off to the Capitol.

AHHHH this was a fun one! I really hope you guys liked this pair! Tenna was submitted by illuminating-spirit, and Ira by shiftseveny! thank you guys so much, additionally for letting me have them know each other in passing before the Games. I'm so, so excited to write this pair more in pre-Games! There's a lot more to discuss and reveal with them both (cackles evilly)

Chapter song is "Memoirs of a Roadkill" by Diablo Swing Orchestra. D6 fun is next, probably in another week's time! See you all then,