So this is my new project. It's basically a team up between myself and Caisha702.
What we're doing is taking every character from the top ten of the Seventy Fourth Games (and Glimmer) who hadn't already won them and creating an AU where they were the Victor. Then we're splitting those characters between us and writing a oneshot for each of them after (or during) their Games where it's clear they won.
That makes eight oneshots (Cato and Clove get the same one) which will be published over eight weeks – I publish one, then Caisha publishes one the week after, then me, then her, until all characters have been accounted for. You can recognise them by the 'Victory:' in the title (and by authors :))
Yeah. That's about all I have to say. Marvel's up first, so let's get on with the story :) Oh, and if I was Suzanne Collin's I'd be off getting Mockingjay published earlier, so you all know I don't own THG.
The first thing I do after stepping off the train is scan the crowd for the person I know must be there. It takes me a while to find her. With blonde hair and blue eyes, she blends in with the rest of the District One crowd.
In the end, we see each other simultaneously and she runs towards me, ignoring the cameras. Attagirl. Don't let the Capitol reporters push you around. You're the sister of the latest Victor, after all. He deserves respect, and as his favourite person in the world, so do you.
"Marvel!" she yells, throwing herself into my arms. "You came back!"
"I promised, didn't I?" I pick her up and spin her around, a grin coming onto my face despite the paparazzi, which was cool for the first bit and then got annoying. I know I'm awesome, but they could respect my supreme coolness and leave me alone for a bit, couldn't they? Genius cannot emerge on demand.
Of course, since the paparazzi won't go away until I give them something, I turn to face the cameras and give them my patented Marvellous (awesome pun, is it not?) cocky smirk. It's not as effective as Finnick Odair's, unfortunately – brown eyes do not go with blonde hair, no matter what crazy fashion statement is in progress in the Capitol – but it works.
"Everyone, this is my sister, Ruby. Ruby, Cameras. Cameras, Ruby. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and meet the rest of my family, so…"
Ruby smiles and waves, managing to look the angelic five year old, even though I know she's just turned seven in my absence. I hoist her onto my shoulders, turn around and look for the rest of my family.
And that should be that. Of course, these are Capitol reporters we're talking about, and they can't get a hint, no matter how subtle – or unsubtle. I'd be the first to admit that subtlety isn't my forte. But if you're as good at everything else as I am – after all, I did win the Seventy Fourth Annual Hunger Games – who needs subtlety?
Just as I take a step forward one woman rushes as me, brandishing a microphone like Clove brandished her knives – at me, on more than one occasion.
"Why have we not seen her before? You never mentioned a sister in your interview."
"It never came up," I tell her shortly. There's no way I want the whole world to know – and all of Panem will, if the news channels get wind of it.
"I'm sure there would have been ample opportunities. Why do we not know about her?"
"There was no opportunity to discuss it," I repeat, slightly angrier than before. Why do they keep pressing the matter when they can see I don't want to talk about it?
"But why?" asks the woman again, beady eyes happy at grabbing hold of a possible scandal.
After the third row of questions I really don't want to talk about, I finally snap.
"You know, Katniss Everdeen wasn't the only tribute who volunteered to save a sibling," I say angrily, pushing past her and striding away.
She scurries after me with remarkable speed for someone so untrained, forcing in front of me and pushing the microphone under my nose.
"What exactly do you mean?"
I expel wind through my nose in an effort to keep myself calm. I can't explode now, not with the whole world watching.
"Look," I tell her, probably a bit too shortly, "I really don't want to talk about it now. Give me a day to discuss with my family and I'll give you a press conference tomorrow."
I have only a vague idea of what a press conference actually is, but it's a phrase I gleaned from Gloss' vocabulary as he was lecturing me on Victor protocol. Looking at the exited mutters of reporters with their eye on the story, I'm glad I threw those words around. At least it gives me a day of privacy.
It's only once I'm free from the press and being guided to where everyone else stands that I realise how much lighter Ruby is. As I help her down and go to greet the family, I notice what I hadn't earlier. Her bones are far more obvious through her skin, and she's a few shades paler than she was before I left. While I was away, it seems she's gone from bad to worse.
We reach where my extended family is all leaning against a wall. At first, I am overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, as is usual whenever we all get together in the same place. There are my parents, my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents, and my few cousins. Our family is large, but there are only a handful of our children. That's why it was so important for me to get into the Games – with so little kids around, not many could be spared to train. As the oldest, of course, it would fall down to me.
The next thing I notice is my mother, and when I do, it's not good. She seems to have aged ten years since the last time I saw her. Worry for both her children has clouded her once-youthful face with wrinkles and streaked her blonde hair with grey. Luxuries like hair dye can't be brought anymore, although our family is one of the more well-off ones in the District. Every penny must be saved, to buy a miracle.
The next person I see is my uncle Nautilus, mostly due to him being the first to step forward and hold out his hand.
"Well done, son," he says.
I shake his hand and resist the urge to correct him. Nobody calls me son anymore, other than him. Not even Dad. And after I won the Games, something he was never able to do – he volunteered for three years in a row, but never made it to the top two – I would have thought I'd have his respect by now. Obviously not.
Every family that's large enough has their elephant in the room – ours is Uncle Nautilus. He's one of the most important people in District One, no question about that. By extension, the rest of us are too. Unfortunately, his status also means that he's the unofficial head of the family – trouble is, he knows it, and wields his power over us like a sword.
See, my mother was very beautiful – I think she was distantly related to Glimmer somehow as well, more's the pity. Thing is, though, she wasn't as high up in the District as my Dad's – and Uncle Nautilus's - side of the family. Most of the family didn't care about that. Uncle did, though. He was probably scared Mother'd pull him down somehow. So he kicked up this huge fuss when they got married.
The rest of the family got real iffy round then 'cause Uncle Nautilus is the boss. When he says 'jump', we say 'how high?' Literally in my case, as he helped train me for the Games. But my Dad goes and marries Mother anyway. Kicks up a huge fuss, this big family row, and they don't talk to him for years. Then I'm born, and a few years after they see I'm prime tribute material.
So Uncle Nautilus – he's gotten promoted, by then, no trouble with social status – swallows his pride and mends his bridges, 'cause having a Victor or even a tribute in training in the family raises the status even higher, and we were getting left behind by the neighbours. Then he starts organising my training and suchlike, though my folks weren't too happy about it – they believe that kids should get a choice.
Personally, I didn't mind. I liked being fitter than all my classmates, and the respect that training for the Games generated. And if I didn't want to volunteer, well - people generally only volunteer in their last few Reapings, and there are plenty of ways to play the system so that it looks like you're volunteering but you know you won't get picked. Of course, this all came later. I was five when I started training, and I didn't really know what was going on. But I loved getting all of the attention.
Anyway, Uncle Nautilus acts all kind and nice and it all gets forgotten – only not. He's ready to get his revenge on Dad and just waits for the chance. That chance came a few moths back. Ruby's been sick for a while, and then we take her to the doctors and find out that she's gonna die unless she gets treatment.
The catch? The Capitol doctors can fix her, but the treatment is very expensive, and even with the whole family pitching in we can't afford it. Nautilus could have pooled in far more money than he did though and maybe it would've been enough, but he decided that that was what you got when you married under your class.
After Uncle refuses to give money, there's this huge fight between him and my parents which nearly reopens the family rift again. They don't, since it'd probably make matters even worse, but we still have this huge problem: how to get enough money to save Ruby's life. That's where I come in. I had to volunteer after all, in the hopes of winning the Games and getting enough money to save Ruby.
Needless to say, I wasn't very happy. I am rather attached to my life, you know. Then again, if I'd only been fighting for my life, I'd be dead by now. There were others in the Games who were stronger, faster, smarter. Fighting for love and to throw something into the Capitol's faces. All noble causes, sure, but they obviously didn't want the victory as much as I did. Because they're all dead, and I'm alive. And I wouldn't have wanted to win as much if it wasn't Ruby's life on the line.
I'm thrown out of my musings by Mother embracing me. As I hug her back, I realise how frail and weak she seems. The Games haven't just taken something out of me, it seems.
"You looked vacant before. Why?" That's Amber, my next-oldest cousin.
She's a year and a half younger than me and would have been the natural choice to train for the Games in most families. I, as the oldest, would have been saved to be useful. But she's Nautilus' daughter – luckily, she isn't as nasty as her father – and he wouldn't want any of his children going in the Games, oh no. And he has this prejudice about women fighting. He believes that only males are strong enough to do important jobs, and that women should be quiet and subservient and stay at home with the children. All of my other old-ish cousins are female, other than Silver who's only eleven and wasn't alive when time came to choose a champion. So it came down to me.
I consider before answering Amber. Telling someone that you're reflecting on how evil their father is isn't exactly the best of ideas. And people say I don't know when to shut up.
"I was thinking about that reporter and what we should tell them tomorrow," I lie smoothly instead.
Nobody in the family likes Uncle Nautilus. Trouble is, no one's brave enough to let him know that, either. So we've all had plenty of practice in wriggling out of bad comments about him. Anyway, we do need to talk about how much of our private life is going public. No one's going to want the whole of Panem to know how much conflict is in our family, especially the rest of District One.
See, that's the deal in our District. Status is everything. So everyone tries to usurp the neighbours and competitors, only it's considered impolite to purposely try to reach above your status, or sabotage others attempts. This means that everyone does it, of course, and everyone knows everyone else does it too, but only unofficially. Officially, nobody has any idea. And that's how it's gonna stay, unless we give the Capitol reporters the whole story.
Trouble is, though, status equals money. Having a Victor in the family means a massive jump in income and thus in status – I technically outrank or at least am even with Uncle Nautilus, something I bet really pisses him off. If we lie and say that Uncle simply couldn't afford more than he gave, his status goes down. Since family is family and well tied up in status, the rest of us go down with him. Not too far, after all. I am awesome, and my victory will have ensured that we have a massive burst in status. Not many people have actual tributes - let alone victors - as relatives.
My comment's sparked up a discussion about what to do about the press. We need to do something with them, or else they'd have a real hissy fit and do something terrible to us – I've seen it happen before, when watching television after training on days I'm so exhausted I can't do anything else.
In the end, they reach the same dilemma I had. We can't break the number one unwritten rule in District One, but no one – especially not Uncle Nautilus – wants to risk the huge fall in status coming with the other option.
Then they turn to me. Of course they would – I'm second only to Nautilus, after winning the Games. It still comes as a shock. I've always been high on my family's social ladder – higher than my disgraced parents, even, perhaps – but I never imagined being turned to in a crisis. I am finally an adult, not a child.
"I think we should go with the not enough money option," I tell them, drawing shocked looks from some and smug from others. "It's not like we have another choice – anything else would probably be worse for our reputation." –'ours' meaning mostly Uncle's, of course – "Anyway, we've already had a boosting since the Games, and think about what will happen when the networks pick up on this story – and they will. Trust me. We'll be the first District family ever to be covered properly on television. Following winners of the Games doesn't count, they only use the tributes and not the families."
Much, I think, but don't say aloud. No point ruining my Marvellous speech. Anyway, they're bound to go for it. It's not like they have another choice.
The day of the press conference dawns bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day to meet the paparazzi. And due to form, they reach the selected place an hour before the conference is supposed to begin.
I arrive fashionably late, mostly to piss off the Capitol reporters who annoy me so much. But then we get straight down to business.
"What did you mean, yesterday, about Katniss Everdeen not being the only one who volunteered to save a sibling?" The woman from yesterday asks me.
"You all met my sister Ruby yesterday, right?"
A few nods.
"Well Ruby may not look it, but she is being killed slowly by a disease. We don't know what it's called – the healer could only give us number forty two point oh. They said something about how it's easier to just classify diseases by numbers now, something about it creating less panic."
Comprehension dawns on a few faces, and some gasp in shock or pity. Apparently they all know what it is. So much for numbers equalling less panic and recognition.
"It's very rare in the Districts, but almost always deadly. There is treatment, though. Problem is, we couldn't afford it. The whole extended family pitched in with finances, but there was still nowhere near enough to pay for treatment. The only way we could get the money was for one of us to volunteer. And so I did."
I can see some faces light up as they realise what a story they're getting. A cynical reporter, with the lightest Capitol accent I've ever heard, has other ideas though.
"If this is true, then why didn't you mention it before?" He asks me. "I'm sure it would have gotten you plenty of sponsors."
Like I wouldn't have had lots anyway. People always give money to us 'Career' tributes – they know we're likely to win.
"The reason I didn't," I respond, realising I sound slightly superior and trying to tone down the arrogance, "was because Katniss Everdeen had already done it. She ran in front of her sister and volunteered in the middle of a Reaping. If I'd brought it up during the interview, everyone would have thought I was lying to try to detract from Everdeen. Instead of getting me sponsors, it would have done the opposite."
"And did it work? Can you afford treatment?" A third reporter, also a woman, asks me.
I nod. "Yes." I say. "Yes, it did."
The weeks after the press conference blur into one. Reporters come and go, broadcasting our story to the nation. All of Panem – well, all the bits of it that matter – are right behind us. My tale of sacrifice has won their hearts.
There is an up cry in the Capitol, and they insist on bringing Ruby into one of their hospitals to get proper treatment. Most of the everyday citizens don't seem to know the reality of life in the Districts. I once thought that District One was a carbon copy of the Capitol, but since the Games I know I was mistaken. The other Districts are even worse.
I heard my 'allies' talking in training, and even District Two is totally different from District One. I didn't find out much about Two, since Cato and Clove formed an inner circle, with only Glimmer allowed access – like I wanted to be an ally to her, anyway, not after what she did. I found out a lot about Four, though - from Varia and Arturo, who were the closest things I had to friends there. I'm quite lucky they died how they did – firstly, it meant that I didn't have to kill them myself, and secondly, it meant that I could justify killing Katniss, and setting up Thresh to kill Clove and then Cato, as vengeance. You need to justify the kills you make, or else you don't last long at all. It's the only way I could live with myself after killing little Eleven. That and the thought of Ruby.
Mother puts her foot down to the Capitol's kind offers though. Ruby is too sick to travel, she says, and she wants her where the family can be with her. I know the truth, though. We may be from the best of the Districts, but we are still a District, with the District's ingrained distrust of the Capitol. She needs her where she can keep an eye on her and the doctors.
Ruby gets treatment, but at first her condition steadily deteriorates. The Capitol doctors tell us this is natural. The body needs to get worse before it can get better.
The reality of what I've gone and am going through begins to sink in, and I have nightmares. In them, Ruby is dying, killed by the ghosts of those I killed. It's a different ghost every time. Usually it's Cato, saying that in return for killing the one he loved he'll kill the person I care for most. But that's impossible. Cato didn't love anyone in the Games. And even if he did love someone, how could I have killed them? I killed none of my fellow allies – not directly, at least. He wouldn't have known anyone else, and he looked down on them all with disdain. Looked down on us allies with disdain too, now that I look back.
Sure, I managed to trick Thresh into killing Clove. It wasn't too hard, really. At the feast she ambushed me, since I'd been smart enough to know that the alliance was at an end and disappeared for a while after getting rid of Katniss and Rue. I remember taunting her mid-fight, framing her. "You trying to kill me like you killed that innocent little girl, Clove?" Thresh lost it. I'd counted on his protection of Rue to make him upset if anyone killed her, and I was right. Before Clove could protest, he bashed her head in with a rock, while I high tailed it outta there.
In other nightmares, it's Thresh's face, realising how I've tricked him. In reality, my spear entered his stomach then, in an uncanny echo of how I killed Rue, but in the dream it passes harmlessly through him. It isn't his hulk menacing down on me that leaves me cold despite the heat, but the look of utter betrayal on his face.
Sometimes it's Katniss screaming "Rue!", and her ghost never finishes telling me how I should be ashamed of myself, for killing an innocent twelve year old.
The worst ones, though, aren't of any of these. They're of Lucas, the crippled boy from District Ten whom I helped Cato to torture then kill. I didn't even know his District then – I thought that the less I knew about the others, the less guilt I'd feel for killing them. Now I know a lot about him. Out of morbid curiosity, I know all the details of those I've helped kill. Rue. Thresh. Katniss. Lucas. Cato. Clove. The ruby-red blood from six dead bodies is on my hands. Six times four is twenty four – I killed one quarter of the tributes. More if you count the bloodbath. I don't even know which ones from there are my kills and which aren't.
In my dreams, Lucas looks down at me balefully, scars all over his body from Cato's knife. Among his accusations are the last words he ever said, sarcastic as ever: "I'm from District Ten, not Nine. I would have thought you'd know that, great lapdog of the Capitol." And despite everything else I've ever done, it's the comparison to the Capitol that hurts the most.
I didn't come up with the Games! I had a good reason to do what I did. But so did Lucas, and Rue, and Thresh, and Katniss. Especially Katniss. Maybe even Cato and Clove. I took that chance away from them.
Waking up in my house in Victor's Village doesn't help. Flash as it is it's a visible reminder of the nightmares.
During the day, I put on a brave face and go visit Ruby. She seems distant, though. At first I chalk it up to her illness, but after she reaches the brink and begins to recover, it still doesn't change.
"I don't get it," I moan to Amber one day. "What did I do?"
Amber gives me a piercing look, one she inherited from her mother along with those chilling ice-grey eyes. When she gives you that look, it's like she's read everything there is to know about you – and found you lacking.
"How should I know?" she says, though her tone and expression say otherwise. "Why don't you ask her?"
So I do. With Amber as moral support, I head off to talk to Ruby. She proves surprisingly easy to get to open up, once Amber and I reassure her that it won't change anything between us more than it already has.
"You're not Marvel anymore!" she bursts out, eyes beginning to water. "Marvel died when he got into the Arena. I know Marvel, and you're not him!"
"Why not?" I ask.
But Ruby's already burst into tears, and aside from a few illegible mutterings, she says nothing.
"I think I understand," Amber says. "Do you mind if I talk to Ruby for a bit by myself?"
Of course I do – she's my sister. I'm supposed to be the one she can turn to, not Amber. But I can't do anything about it, so I nod and exit the room.
When I come back in about ten minutes later, Ruby's stopped crying, though there are tracks on her face from the tears and her eyes are red. I sit on the edge of her sick-bed and everything spills out.
"You're not Marvel. Marvel would never have killed those people. My Marvel didn't even wanna go to the Games. But… but you did. And you came back. And you're different. And I'm scared you're gonna kill me like you killed those others, even though I know you won't. I dunno you anymore. And…"
But that's as far as she gets, before her eyes overflow with tears and she buries her head in the pillow. I go to comfort her, but she pushes me back with one weak arm and I stop.
"She's right," Amber tells me softly. "You're different now. Older. More serious. And I'm not sure I like the change."
"Oh, you think I don't know that?" I ask her bitterly. "You think I don't feel guilt for what I did? You think their ghosts don't haunt my dreams? You don't know what it's like in the Arena. No one does, until you're actually there. And then it's worse, worse than you can imagine…
"Trust me, Amber. You're the lucky one. There's no way your Dad'd let you volunteer. You're safe. But for those of us unlucky enough to have to go… the Games change you. I won, but now I've got to live with the responsibility of taking others lives on my shoulders. I never wanted to be a killer. But I am."
I turn to Ruby, softening my tone. "I did this for you, Ruby. So you could live, and that others like you could live in peace without terror of the Hunger Games. I volunteered for you. I trained extra hard to be able to be picked. I almost died for you, more than once. Please don't be scared of me, Ruby. It would kill me."
She turns around, tears still dripping down her face. "I don't want you to kill for me. Killing's bad. Marvel's good. Marvel can't kill. You did, though. I don't want people to die for me, especially not you. I didn't want any of this."
"But you have it, and there's nothing any of us can do about it," I tell her. "You're alive and on your way to being healthy. I'm alive. When you're older, Ruby, you'll learn that the world's a complicated place."
"I don't wanna learn when I'm older. I'm seven, aren't I? I'm old enough now."
I'm seventeen, I think, and I'd love to have had my innocence for longer. But I also remember being her age and being endlessly frustrated with a string of 'when you're older's.
"The world is a complicated place, and it is very rare that anything can be split up into good and evil. There are many shades of grey, and a lot of good things are done for bad reasons, and bad things are done for good reasons. Everyone in the Arena was trying to kill me, and in a lot of the fights I nearly died for you.
"Ruby, Amber: I'm sorry. I've changed, and it's probably not for the better. I'll work on becoming old Marvel again; I don't know if it's possible. But I'll try, okay."
Ruby smiles and looks at me the way I think I looked at my Father the day I learned he was human after all. She'll be okay, I think. It'll be a slow battle, but maybe we can go back to the closeness we once had. This is the beginning of mental healing for both of us, with Amber along for the ride.
I still have nightmares, that night. And in my dreams, the blood of all I've killed pools up on the floor and climbs up my body, forever marking me. Deep red blood, deep red marks on my soul.
Marks as red as ruby.
They'll never be gone completely – they're as much a part of me as my physical marks, now.
But with the help of a different type of Ruby, maybe they'll begin to fade.