Hi everyone! Here I am, with my second THG fanfic. I was going to wait until I wrote the last chapter to post it, but then I remembered that Catching Fire is coming out in a few days. As this fic will probably be rendered AU by then, I want to at least start to post it before Catching Fire comes out so I have an excuse.
Yeah. Just read and enjoy.
The second I wake up in the morning, I know that this day isn't going to end well.
No, I'm not psychic or anything, although that would be really handy. I can't see into the future. I don't particularly want to, either. My instincts aren't amazingly well honed – I'm not a worker, and it shows. But I know, with one hundred percent certainty, that this day is going to end badly for at least one family in District Ten.
How? Well the answer, like so many other things in life, is simple, if you use a bit of logic and common sense. Really it should be called uncommon sense, since no one – especially not the Capitol – seems to have it.
It is the first day of the seventy fourth annual Hunger Games.
Now anyone who somehow managed to get into my head at this moment would notice something odd. Hang on, this invisible listener would say, he only mentioned one family. But there are two tributes from each district. So even if he was only talking about his own district (which I was), there would still be two families, not one.
This is where I differ from the casual observer. See, unlike most people, who are generally lacking in both logic and mathematical ability, I actually bother adding up the numbers. The average family in District Ten contains maybe two and a half kids. I can't speak for any of the other districts since I don't know anywhere near as much as I'd like to about them. But we're talking about my district at the moment.
Providing that there is one boy and one girl in each family – which happens pretty often – and that they are both within seven years of the other, it is possible for both tributes for the same district to be siblings. To borrow the Capitol's favourite saying, the odds are definitely not in this possibility's favour. However, it is still possible. If there's one thing I've learnt in life, it's not to rule anything out. They thought that I'd never be able to walk after the accident, and here I am. And it's the beginning of the Hunger Games. Unlikely odds are their specialty.
I am rudely shaken out of my musings by a hard kick to the side. My breath is jolted out of me and my eyes fly open.
I immediately wish that they'd stayed closed. The sight that greets me is not a pleasant one, at least in my opinion. Apparently, half of the female population – and some of the males - of District Ten think otherwise. I don't know what's been messing with their heads.
I am talking of course, about my big brother Eoin. Current state of dress: half naked. Ugh.
He looks fairly staple District Ten – brown eyes, dark brown hair, olive skin. He has a rather prominent nose and some stubble growing on his chin. His build is also classic Ten, at least my part of it. Big, but not too big, strong but not fat. He's more well-fed than some, thanks in part to me. Currently he has one foot raised to kick me again. That's gratitude for you.
"Hold your horses,' I grumble. "I'm coming, I'm coming!"
I sit up, making sure to only use my left leg to aid me. My right trails limply across the mattress. Usually I'd have no hesitation about using it – real pain makes my act look better, and it doesn't bother me that much. But today being the day it is, I think it's better not to strain my foot. To conserve my strength, just in case.
"Why am I getting up so early anyway?" I ask him. "This is reaping day, or have you forgotten that already? We have a holiday, idiot."
He kicks me again. Hard.
"Hey!" I yelp. "What was that for?"
I could play the cripple card, but that would give him permission to use it too. And I don't want to get into a fight about how useless I am, or hear how giving me food is as good as throwing it away. Not today.
"Don't get smart, little brother." He says those last two word like they're poisonous, spitting them out – and spraying me with saliva at the same time. "I'm well aware it's the Reaping today. Mum's called a family meeting in five minutes. She sent me to wake you up."
The look on his face suggests he'd rather be anywhere but here. I don't blame him. How could I? After all, I feel exactly the same. Eoin and I don't have the world's best relationship. More like the world's worst.
I get down to the main room in just under five minutes, closely followed by a yawning Nan. Predictably, Eoin and Mum are there already and they glare at us as we come in. I don't see what their problem is. I mean, we're here on time and everything. There's just no pleasing some people.
The meeting gets underway. It's the same routine we've gone through every Hunger Games since Eoin was old enough to become a tribute, so I can recite Mum's speech exactly word for word – and I'll probably be asked to, as it's aimed mostly at Nan and I. Especially me. Eoin's safe, even though he's still eighteen and eligible. Lucky bugger.
As usual, my thoughts shift off into other places while my face looks like I'm paying attention. This time, I think about my family – also known as the definition of the word dysfunctional.
Firstly, there's my mother. Eoin takes after her – they have the same dark eyes, the same hair, the same heavy build. My brother has Father's nose though.
My mother has a very domineering personality. She's one of those people who seem to take up all available space the second they enter a room. Even before the accident which killed my father and took away the proper use of my right leg, she was very much the head of the family.
My father was always happy to be trodden over by Mother. He was a quiet, simple man. All of my memories of him are good ones. Like most of District Ten, he worked at the quarries, doing double the work that we had to before District Thirteen was destroyed. Twelve pitched in a bit too, as did Nine, but we were closest in the resources we had so we took over most of their work. Dad was a good worker, but the work never really suited him. He had lighter skin than my mother, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Supposedly I'm the splitting image of him.
But back to my mother. Mum's a quarry gal, hard as granite and with a heart to match. She's one of the few females who actually work in the quarries, doing what is considered to be a man's job. Needless to say, may mother did not take that news well. She's a modern day version of a – what were they called again... – that's right, a feminist.
Next, I think about my brother. Best to get the worst over and done with, that's what I say. Eoin is something of a bully. He works in the quarries, and has done so since he was old enough to enter the Hunger Games. We don't exactly get along very well. I have no idea why, since I've treated him the same way I treat every other person – at first, at least. We got on okay until the accident, then he started treating me like dirt. I think he somehow links me to the death of our father or is annoyed that I survived while Dad died.
No idea why. Linking me with my father's death is one of the most illogical things I've ever heard. I'm not a vicious Career for heavens sake! And I don't think that even a Career would want to kill their own parents!
Well, maybe one or two of the more psycho ones would. But not all of them… I think.
My mother drones on. The same old speech about what happens if Eoin gets chosen. Nothing I haven't heard before, and I really don't want to focus on how I have double chance of becoming our male tribute.
I glance across at Nan, who looks as bored as I feel. Nan's my younger sister, not my grandmother, despite what her name suggests. She looks like a cross between Father and Mother – she has my father's light skin and smaller frame, but her hair and eyes are my mother's dark brown.
Nan's real name is Nantucket, the poor girl. Unlike myself and Eoin, who have relatively normal names, Nan was named by our slightly insane Aunty A. Aunty A was born with a terrible name herself (Andromeda) and she seems to think it's her life mission to make someone else have to put up with also having a bad name.
I shouldn't criticise Aunty A though, as she was the one who looked after us in that rough year before Eoin could start working and receive tesserae. Mum had to work in the mines full time so Aunty A cooked and cleaned and managed to get food for us. I don't really want to know how. She also looked after me in that year, when my leg was still really bad and I couldn't move out of bed. I'm forever grateful for that.
I'm talking about Nan though. She tends to be the peacekeeper between Eoin and I. Like me, she's quiet but while I'm firm and quietly confident she's less secure and hates conflict. Nan takes care of the rest of us while we're out earning money. She cooks, she cleans, she bargains for food… She's the woman of the house, and she's only thirteen.
The second Mum decides that the meeting's over, I'm out of there. Pausing only to grab half a loaf of bread off the table, I race out of the house as fast as my leg can carry me. Which admittedly isn't very fast – I can go faster, but I don't want to put any strain on it, what with my double chances of being picked and all.
I rip a small bit off the bread. Predictably, it's stale, but what can you do? Nan isn't stupid enough to leave fresh bread lying around where anyone can take it. And half a loaf… I usually don't get that much, being last in the feeding order and all that.
Double chances… Mum's little speech has just served as a reminder of how abnormal my life is. Way to put me in a bad mood. Thanks, Mum.
I guess I should explain a few things. The thing is, it was all Eoin's idea. It's also a reason why I loath him so much. His reasoning is logical yet short sighted. It goes something likes this:
I'm a cripple, so I can't work in the quarry. This means that I can't bring in as much money as the others and I consume more than I produce. True, but only for the time being. I'm smart. I'm top of my class – probably nearly top of my District. I could get a good job doing the accounts for someone or working for the Capitol. I do have a job, doing accounts for the butcher. It doesn't pay very well, but it's something.
I've gotten used to not getting as much as others because of my disability. It doesn't bother me anymore. I can see why it bothers my family, but in a few years I will be able to produce more than I consume. I might even have a better position than Eoin, since he dropped out of school as early as possible so he could go to work full time. That might be another reason he resents me, now that I think about it.
I waste some of my family's precious time and resources in looking after me. This is true, but not as true as it used to be. I'm not the freshly injured eight year old I used to be. I'm fifteen now, and I can look after myself. Just ask Ren. She's my best friend, maybe even more, and she's the person I'm on my way to see at the moment.
But anyway, Eoin's logic says that I'm a burden to the family and they would probably be better off if I didn't exist, so if his name gets drawn in the Reaping then I should volunteer to take his place. He has more of a chance that I do, but District Ten is still one of the poorer districts. We've only had five previous winners out of seventy three – he doesn't have a chance. Better that the useless cripple dies.
While I'm at it, he doesn't need to take any more tesserae than he has since I turned twelve. Oh, crippled boy's useless, let him increase his odds of dying greatly. In fact, let him take more tesserae than the minimum we need – it can be his contribution to the family. We can also preserve the lives of the two normal members by not letting them take any tesserae whatsoever, just to add insult to injury.
Forgive me if I'm bitter. I can't help it. I should be used to it by now, but it still stings to see how little I mean to my family. I meant something to Dad, and Aunty A, but they're both dead now. And Nan's nicer to me than the others, but she still won't stand up for me. Human beings can be so selfish sometimes, myself included.
I've been walking without really thinking, my feet retracing the path I know so well. Ren's house is only a few streets closer to the District Centre than mine is so it isn't a very long walk.
The streets are empty, with most people using the holiday to lie in and try not to think about the Reaping. Ours isn't till one, so we have plenty of time. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. I've never had the Reaping at any other time, so I don't think I'll know either.
A hand waves in front of my face.
"Hey. Earth to Lucas."
That's my name. What, you think all of us kids have a name like Nantucket? Seriously? Not all of our parents are insane. Just Aunty A.
I smile. "Glad to see you too, Ren"
And it is Ren, I can tell without looking. Only she would be brave enough to wave a hand in front of the 'crippled boy'. Anyone else would be too scared. What if he falls over and can't get back up? What if this, what if that. I'm sick of being treated like an invalid, like I'm a bomb that might explode at any moment. I can take care of myself!
Ren's pretty much the only person outside my family who gets that. Her Dad was injured in the same rockslide that killed my own father, maybe injured even worse than I was. He never managed to recover, so Ren and her brother and mother have to support all of them now.
Similar to the situation back home, I suppose, only her father can't do anything to help at all, so food's stretched tighter there than at my place. He has to sit around and twiddle his thumbs all day – he's become an expert at whittling spare pieces of firewood. When he wants to move he has to be carried. Poor guy.
Anyway, Ren and I were friends even before the accident. Now, however, we're inseparable. Partners in crime, I suppose. Only we don't really steal. We… redistribute wealth, I suppose. From the rich to the poor – AKA us.
No, we don't do anything against the law. I'm not suicidal. Relax, would you?
What we do is we act. There's no way I'd beg – I might be a cripple, but I still have my dignity. So we're actors.
Of course, we look poorer than we are. Just to get more sympathy votes. I emphasise my limp, and we both dress in more ragged clothes than we already have – but not too ragged. I have my pride, and our technique is more effective if people don't immediately place us as beggars – which we're not.
We're buskers. That's not a word I invented, even though it sounds cool and sometimes I wish I had. Ren picked it up from school somewhere. It defines what we do perfectly, so that's what we call ourselves. The Buskers.
We have a little skit we go through. Actually we have several. We also recycle locations – people are more likely to pay us once or twice than consistently, so it's good to have a varied audience.
Ren and I have gotten better over the years. Our acting's improved and we've become experts at knowing exactly where we can set up our show to get the most money. We never get a lot – this is District Ten, after all. But we always manage to get something, even if the coins are in the smallest change possible or if it's only a stale crust of half eaten, mouldy bread.
Yet again, Ren pulls me into the real world.
"What is it with you today, Lucas? You don't usually space out this often unless… Oh."
Finally, it clicks.
"I'm sorry. I didn't remember what day it was." Her voice is laced with sympathy. From anyone else, it would annoy me, but this is Ren. She's different. She's… special.
She's lying, of course – she did remember the Reaping. How could you forget it? But I'm not going to mention it.
"It doesn't matter. Want some?" I hold out my piece of bread.
Her face lights up. "Yes please. Thanks."
So I spend the morning in the company of my best friend. I can almost forget that it's the Reaping today. I'm going to stay here till it's time and then just go to the square with Ren and her family. My family only ever meets up after the Reaping, and I can't say I'm sorry about that.
Of course, we do go out a bit later. We don't get many customers as there is hardly anybody out and about. But the few we do get pay well. I guess everyone is feeling generous today.
It could be the last time they see us, after all.