This is the third part of the Victory series being collaborated on by Caisha702 and I. If you've already read those two you know what this is. If you don't, we're basically creating a series of AU's where other contestants from the 74th Hunger Games won. The other two parts can be found on Caisha's profile and my profile respectively. They don't need to be read in order though. Just to get that out there.
Oh, and I know this character's so minor he doesn't even get a name. But think of what he did, and think of what would have happened if he'd used that ability slightly differently. As for how the Games would have gone in that case… read on :)
When I open my eyes I immediately scramble to a defensible position, hand automatically reaching to the pouch at my side. That mine had been a major miscalculation, but luckily it hasn't proven fatal. Now I just need to find Thresh – he had been closer to the explosion, after all, so despite his larger mass he should hopefully still be unconscious.
Then the impulses from my senses reach my brain, and I finally realise that I'm not in the Arena. It takes a few more seconds for the implications to sink in.
I've won! My aim hadn't been as bad as it had appeared, after all. Thresh had taken the brunt of the explosion, and I had survived – if knocked unconscious. I won!
I won! Not the Foxy one, not huge, bulking Thresh. Not the Girl on Fire, with her famous eleven. Me. Me, Levi Marquez, the ultimate underdog. Me, with the lowest training score in these Games.
Me, the victor. The only tribute ever to have used weapons left in the Arena unintentionally. The only tribute to have restarted the mines, the first to have even thought of restarting them. Not even my mentor, Beetee, did such a thing, although his strategy was admittedly far more elegant than mine.
I'm perhaps the second tribute ever to have been captured by Careers and lived to turn the tables. The first victor District Three has had for sixteen whole years. I've won the Seventy-Fourth annual Hunger Games!
I'm still in a mixed state of shock and elation when some Capitol nurses file in. They reprimand me for getting out of bed and push me back in. Some tubes are attached to my good arm – one of the nurses reprimands me for pulling them out when I leapt out of bed. As for my bad arm, it's not bad anymore. The gash Thresh put in it is gone, replaced with perfect if slightly pinkish skin.
After the nurses leave some food is brought into my room and I eat it. The food isn't much – some gruel and water, tasteless but obviously filling as I can't even finish the meagre amount put before me. The second the meal is taken away some chemical is pumped into me through one of the tubes and I lose consciousness.
I don't know how long I spend in that empty room. I wake, eat, sleep, wake again. While I am unconscious they put a restraining device on the bed, apparently to prevent me from pulling out the tubes again.
One day I wake up and find some different food before me. Not the usual gruel, but a different, richer type of soup with a roll of bread on the side. I dig in hungrily. Slowly my appetite has been returning, and each time I manage to eat more and more of my food. After weeks in the Arena and then a diet of gruel and water, this tastes as good as the food I was eating in the build up to the Hunger Games. Not surprising, since it probably is.
After I finish, the door slides open and the restraints are removed from my bed and I'm guided out and into a corridor by an Avox. At the end of the corridor are four familiar shapes. Beetee. Echinus, our Capitol escort. My designer, Lyria. And poor Wiress, standing slightly apart from the others.
She's obviously delighting in the joy of having one tribute safe, but also mourning for Switch, my white-haired female counterpart and Wiress' special tribute. I can't imagine what it must be like, to put all of your energy into keeping someone safe only to have them killed on the first day of the Games.
Then it hits me that I don't have to imagine. In a year, I'll probably be mentoring. Two tributes will be my responsibility – or partially mine, anyway. They probably won't make it through alive – two non Career wins in a row is rare.
And of course, next year is a Quarter Quell. Oh, great. As if two more lives taken from our District won't be bad enough, there'll be some awful twist added for me to look out for. But maybe I won't be mentoring. Maybe they'll bend tradition to have an experienced mentor in one of the worst Games yet.
But maybe I'm thinking too early. I should just focus on my post-Games interview before thinking about anything else.
But before that, there are mentors to reunite with. And makeovers to go through. Oh, the joy.
After my reunion with Beetee and the rest, the day passes in a blur. My prep team work on me, as annoying as usual and still exclaiming over the unexpected turn in the Games. As seems to be the norm in the Capitol, they are ridiculously self-centred and completely ignore the fact that I am there, listening.
I'm not stupid – I bet my IQ is the same as all three of theirs put together. Who restarted the mines, after all? Me or them? I definitely have ears, and I know how to use them. It does pain me, a bit, to hear them exclaim over how low they thought my chances were. But only a bit. They're Capitol, after all. It's not like they know any better.
"Oh, I thought you would never make it!" exclaims the most air headed of them – I can't even remember his name.
"I would have put my money on Cato, or even the two from District Twelve!" trills the female.
"Oh, the poor star crossed lovers," sighs the first male, sounding more like a girl than the actual girl does. "Katniss and Peeta, doomed to failure. Wouldn't it have been lovely if they had made it?"
"And poor Katniss, going on like that after he'd been killed. How romantic. Him allying with the big pack to try to save her, and then her fighting in his memory?"
Really? That's not exactly how I remember the events going – and I was there, in the Arena, held hostage by that same 'big pack'.
"Oh, imagine how romantic it would have been if they had both been allowed to win," says the female, with an almost accusatory look at me.
Yeah, like they would have both been allowed to make it out anyway. I ache to point out that I won, not Twelve, and that as their tribute shouldn't I be the one they were backing? As usual, though, no words spill out. My mouth doesn't even make it open.
Only Cygnus says nothing, even shooting me a sympathetic glance, and he immediately becomes my favourite of the three.
We have lunch, where I'm still not allowed to eat as much as I want. I don't really mind though, as the little I do eat tastes like sawdust in my mouth. It's hard enough to finish the first dish, so even if it was allowed I wouldn't be eating seconds.
Wiress gives me a sympathetic look. She, more than Beetee, knows how bad the interviews are for me. My mentor can talk eloquently about any little thing, no matter how trivial. He manages to make anything interesting, too. I think he was wasted as a mentor. He should have been a teacher instead.
Wiress is like me. She trails off at the end of her sentences like we can read her mind and she doesn't need to continue. For Beetee, it's become second nature to pick up her trail of thought. I've become halfway decent at it too, surprisingly.
Me? Well, I'm fine as long as I'm talking with someone I know well, or when someone brings the subject onto technology or physics. But put me in front of an audience, ask me questions and I turn into a shivering wreck. Stage fright, Beetee called it. It's why I did so badly in my interview.
I hate it. I know I'm intelligent. Smarter than most people my age in my District, let alone those in other ones that weren't bred for their brains. Smarter than a lot of people older than me, too. So why can't I handle a small thing like public speaking?
While I'm preoccupied with my unavoidable torture, I get back into the prep room while the prep team does some final touches on me, chattering about the Hunger Games the whole time. Lyria comes in a while later and dresses me in her design, a fire and metal look obviously ripped off District Twelve. I guess she's using my mines as justification. At least it's better than the robot costume from the opening ceremony.
All too soon, it's time for the post Games recap viewing and awards ceremony. I go to a holding room eerily reminiscent of the stockyards before the Games, and the resulting combination of flashback and stage fright almost makes me loose what little lunch I had managed to eat.
To make matters worse, Beetee tells me not to elaborate too much on my mines. The Capitol is never happy when materials are used in an unintended way. Beetee's victory was bad enough – he used some wires intended for snares and the parts of a flashlight as well as salt water and the metal of the cornucopia to create an electrical trap.
"Haymitch did one better," he says, then sees my confusion and clarifies: "He's the only surviving victor from District Twelve. He won a few years after I did, in the second Quarter Quell."
Beetee explains how Haymitch Abernathy used a rebounding force field at the edges of the Arena to throw an axe back at his last opponent, after he had been disarmed and injured.
"And now you did something totally unexpected. It probably won't spark a rebellion, but the Capitol won't be too happy with you. Just step cautiously, my boy. I wouldn't want to loose you just after we thought you had won."
With those words, I am propelled upwards in the same way I was put into the Arena and anything else Beetee says is lost.
The ceremony is as bad as I thought it would be. Firstly, I have to sit through a three hour summary of the Seventy Fourth Games. Each year the compiler has to choose which type of story to tell. This year, they go with a familiar one, one that has been used before – the victory of the underdog.
They start off with the Reapings, with the hulking bodies of the Career volunteers contrasting with us smaller tributes. They put special focus on the first three Districts – One and Two to show the size and strength of this years Career pack, Three because it is my District, and as the victor special attention is put on me.
The other Districts are rushed through, and only slowed down once we get to Eleven to highlight Thresh's bulk. Then they play District Twelve, and Katniss' race to save her sister.
What is it with District Twelve mania this year? You'd think it had been Katniss or Peeta who'd won, not me.
After the Reapings comes the opening ceremony, and yet again the most focus is put on Districts One, Two, and Twelve to emphasise my role as the underdog. It works. In our poorly fitting robot costumes, Switch and I look pathetic.
Next are our training scores, merged in with the interviews. We see beautiful, deadly Glimmer. Arrogant Marvel. Clove and Cato, the Two killers. Me, Switch, the two from Four. The sly girl from Five, strong Thresh from Eleven. Lucas and Rue, the two who should be the weakest and yet got higher training scores than me. Then they play Peeta's revelation. The star crossed lovers from Twelve.
I remember Beetee groaning about that later, and at the same time admiring their mentors wiliness.
"Who knew Haymitch had it in him?" he'd asked everyone and no one at dinner. The stylists and our escort – the Capitol three – had gone out for the evening so it was just the two mentors, Switch and myself.
"All those years with alcohol obviously haven't done him as much damage as they should have. I wish I'd thought of it first. But of course, the Capitol won't fall for it twice."
Then I'd chimed in with how of course they would, they were all idiots.
Beetee gave me a piercing look. "Levi, immoral is not synonymous with stupid. The vast majority of Capitol residents may be superficial and empty headed, but someone had to have come up with the District system. Someone had to have segregated them slowly over time – do you think anyone would have gone to live in one voluntarily if they had the conditions they do today? Do you think it would have worked if the District population was not voluntary?"
Wiress continued his lecture. "Who do you think came up with the Hunger Games? A system that…"
"That suppresses and punishes one group of people, while simultaneously providing enjoyment to another." Beetee finished her sentence for our benefit. "Not to mention, someone has to be smart enough to run this system flawlessly. Perhaps the ordinary population of the Capitol is indeed, as you say, naïve and closed minded, but it is the people in control you need to worry about."
"And they are not stupid," finished Wiress, managing to finish a full sentence for once. "In fact, they are very, very smart."
By the time I jolt back to reality, the Games have already started and the camera alternates between my progress with the small pack I managed to find and the fight at the Cornucopia. The camera also switches to the progress of some of the other tributes, especially the red haired girl from District Five who decides to double back and watch the action.
Then there is a shot of Cato and Clove capturing Peeta and demanding to know about his District Partner. Not much happens for the next few days, and they alternate that with shots of the other surviving tributes travelling, with an interesting scene just after the killing of the girl from Eight.
They show all the deaths in full, of course.
The girl from Five is shown stealing from the Career's supplies, and then comes the turn for my capture. They play that scene in full, with music added in for suspense just before my famous line: "I can reset the mines for you."
Then they fast forward a few hours, until the rest of the Career pack returns. Their argument is shown, as is their final, reluctant decision to let me stay. A montage of pictures and scenes is shown of me working, until in comes the final decision and I open my eyes in the dead of night.
They show Marvel going off to relieve himself, show me climbing up and walking away. In almost slow motion, I am shown throwing the first mine. The resulting explosion is definitely slowed down. Then Marvel comes out of the bushes, and I throw another mine at him. The noise from that explosion barely dissipates when six canon shots fire.
The explosions are as impressive as I remember. But looking at myself on screen, I am surprised by how cold and clinical I look. Like a machine, not like a human. It is partially true. I didn't feel anything then, other than perhaps relief at being free again, not a captive. The pain and guilt came later, once what I'd done had truly set in.
On screen, nothing much happens after my mini uprising. They show the faces of each of the remaining tributes and their reaction to the explosion. Their expressions range from the surprised, annoyed and slightly smug look on District Five's face – who had been lurking in some bush not too far from the Cornucopia – to fearful of a Gamemaker booby trap to Katniss, who was so far away she barely heard the bang.
After a day of inaction, the audience gets bored and a fire trap is activated by the Gamemakers. It's an attempt to draw the remaining six together which doesn't work. Lucas from Ten is sleeping when the fire hits, and with his crippled foot is not fast enough to outrun the flames. It gets worse when he ventures into an area which throws fireballs, and soon his canon sounds. The others manage to get away with minor burns.
With only five tributes left, the Gamemakers wait a few days and then announce a feast. Before that though, I am shown gathering all the supplies and food sources I need and can carry, as well as one or two weapons before blowing the rest up while the anthem plays.
Apparently each player does have something they desperately need – food, mostly, especially since the fox-girl can't steal from the destroyed supplies, and weapons – since all four of them turn up to the feast.
The girl from Five is smarter than I gave her credit for, since she hides in the Cornucopia and grabs her pack before anyone can react. The camera cuts to me putting the final touches on a trap, my plan B – this happened a bit before the feast began, but I still didn't manage to reach the Cornucopia in time to get them all. The next shot is Thresh running up to the table with surprising speed for his size and grabbing the bigger District Eleven pack, then running back into the fields.
I reach the table next. On screen, I am shown grabbing all three remaining packs and running for it. Katniss and Rue emerge from opposite sides of the forest, look at each other and at me and decide to team up to get those packs. Despite Rue's age, she's a fast runner, as is Katniss, and slowly but surely they gain on me. I was never a runner, and the viewers can see me beginning to tire.
Then I turn a corner, and with a burst of strength I pick up a piece of wood lying on the ground. The camera zooms onto the stick, and it is seen that a piece of wire is attached to it. As Katniss and Rue round the corner, the Levi on screen yanks at the wire and the ground explodes from underneath them.
As the video shows the next few uneventful days, I remember that trap and how proud I was of it. What none of the viewers watching the summary see was how it worked. The trap was really quite simple. Once I got the mine reset – quite easy, since I had taken time earlier to make sure all I needed to do was join two wires together – I dug a hole for it and put the mine in.
Before that though, I made a woven platform using one of the only skills I picked up at training and made sure it wasn't going to let any dirt through. Then I experimented a bit until I got a solid way to place it without the soil shifting. There was an air gap between the mine and the platform, and the platform was attached to the other end of my wire. Some soil was put above the platform and I smoothed the dirt over to make it look undisturbed. When I pulled the string, the wooden platform moved and let some of the dirt fall onto the mine, causing it to go off.
Simple yet ingenious, if I say so myself.
On screen, we see the girl from Five die from eating poisonous berries after her newfound supplies run out. She never was very good with edible plants.
Then comes the showdown between Thresh and I. I don't want to watch. This final fight will be forever etched into my brain. Thresh is by far the better fighter, but I have longer ranged weapons. My first mine misses – or he doges it. Even on the screen I can't tell and finally decide it's a combination of both. By the time I get the second mine loaded (there's no way I would have carried around primed mines - that would be suicide) Thresh has come into sword range. I soon learn – in the real Games; watching we found out earlier – that his bag contained a sword, and that he knows how to use it, albeit not expertly like the Careers.
He gouges a deep cut in my left arm, and as he raises his sword to deliver the final blow I scramble away desperately, fingers trying to tie the two wires together in my mine.
Watching it onscreen has brought it to life in my head, and the memories are so vivid I half believe it's real. Although my arm is perfectly healed and scar-less, it begins to ache in remembrance. The deep fear I felt at the time, sure I'd be dead any second, returns, and I have to force myself to keep watching and remember that it's over, that I survived.
Just as it looks hopeless, I manage to crawl a safe distance away, prime the mine and throw it. My weight is supported on my right arm, but although my left is dominant, it's near useless and the throw falls short. The throw hurts even more than the actual cut did, but there's no time to switch hands.
The show ends with the explosion in slow motion and both bodies flying in the air. Then a hovercraft picks up Thresh, and a voice announces my unconscious form the winner of the Seventy Fourth Annual Hunger Games.
The rest of the ceremony passes by in a blur. I shake hands with President Snow and am up to dinner before I become myself again.
Dinner passes by far more successfully than lunch, with my appetite back in full force now that half my torture is over with. The conversation is the cheeriest I've had since the Reaping, the food is fantastic and I've survived the Games. What could be better? The only damper on the evening is the empty chair where Switch used to sit, and the unused set of rooms which were hers before the Games.
We sleep overnight in the Capitol before the interview the following morning. I answer questions with my usual lack of grace but do slightly better now that I've won the Games and don't have to follow almost directly after Cato and Clove's intimidating example.
Then we get through the sea of reporters, and are on the train to District Three. We should make it back home by dinner, hopefully.
I spend most of the ride staring out the window. Last time I was too preoccupied with what I thought of as my upcoming doom to focus on the scenery, but now I have plenty of time.
Beetee comes in about halfway through the ride and sits down beside me. He has the same proud look on his face he's had since I reunited with him, mixed with a tinge of relief. I can understand why. He doesn't have to go find my parents and deliver my body. Not like Wiress, who has to face up to Switch's large family when this ride is over. Esteemed member of the community or not, I know Switch's father's reputation and I know she'll be lucky to escape without a tongue lashing, and maybe a few thrown objects.
Thinking of my dead District Partner brings a fresh emotion to the forefront of my mind. It's hard to place, some strange combination of grief, remorse and anger. I made my peace with Switch's death a while ago, after looking up at the sky that first night and seeing her face there. But thinking of Wiress and her task makes me think of similar scenes happening – or maybe scenes that have already happened – all over Panem.
The sadness is bad enough for those I didn't kill – those who died in the bloodbath, the Career from Four. Arturo was his name, I think. The girl from Five, who could have committed suicide for all I know about her death. I remember her dismal scores on the edible plants tests, but she was perhaps the only competitor who matched me in intelligence and somehow I don't think she would have been killed so easily. The crippled boy from Ten, killed by the Gamemakers for a reason unknown to me. But knowing what I do know about them, it must have been for a reason. They never do anything without one.
For those I did kill, the pain is worse. For the five Careers it isn't too bad – they were using me, I know. The second I stopped being of use, they would have killed me. Slowly and painfully, knowing Cato. Anyway, most of them had degraded so much they weren't even human anymore. They were monsters. And I should know – I had to sit around their fire and hear them brag about how many people they'd killed.
Thresh also hurts, more than the Careers but not as much as Rue or Katniss, and certainly not as much as Peeta. He wanted to win as desperately as I did. He almost did win, until I threw that mine. I still feel guilty about killing him, but I know that he would have done the same.
As for Katniss and Rue, they were my only deliberate kills. You could count all of the others as deliberate, but really I had no option in order to get out of the situation alive. Those two are different. I lead them into a trap. Rue was only twelve, for Snow's sake! And I killed her. I killed her, for no reason other than to eliminate an opponent from my way. She wasn't even the last thing standing between me and victory, There was no guarantee that I'd win, even with them in the way. And yet I killed them. I killed a weapon-less twelve year old.
But as bad as they are, Peeta is by far the worst. He was nice to me, the only one out of the group that captured me who bothered to think of me as anything but a tool. He'd been as much of a captive as I had, used to get to his District Partner. He was only a victim. But it couldn't be helped, killing him. If I'd tried to get him away from the group when I'd thrown the mine at them it would have attracted too much attention. Then they would have killed me before I'd done anything else.
Still, no matter how much I justify the killing, it still feels bad. Peeta was nice. I knew him, as much as I knew anyone from the Games with the exception of Switch. And now he's gone. Killed. By my own handiwork. I know it was me or him; me or all of the others I've killed. It doesn't mean it feels good.
I miss my computers. Machines don't die. Or if they do, it's never permanent – unless they're exploding landmines. With the right spare part, machines can be resurrected. Improved. Technology doesn't try to kill you, doesn't require you to kill or be killed. Nothing is the fault of technology, only that of the bearer who uses it wrongly.
Computers don't have emotions, either. So they don't have to feel that emptiness inside of you that comes from taking a life, no matter how justified.
On the other hand, computers don't feel good emotions, either. No happiness, no joy. They don't feel that rush you get when a tricky puzzle is solved, when the tangle of wires takes meaning before your eyes. They don't feel love, elation, pride.
So there is my dilemma. To stay human, suffering the empty pain in hope of happier times ahead, or to retreat towards machinery, attempting to block out the pain by sacrificing the positive. Somehow, I don't think it's possible to do both.
Beetee has been silent all this while, but seeing the expression on my face he places his hand on my shoulder. I come back to reality with a jolt, and realise that some time during my pondering I've started crying. Silent tears run down my face as I mourn the dead, both my victims and others, and my loss of innocence.
"Does it get better?" I ask Beetee, who instantly knows what I'm talking about. He takes some time to consider my question before answering.
"The pain never fully goes away, and some people cope better than others. Over time, the memory dulls, so I suppose that yes, it does get better. It's just a question of how you cope with it. Everyone has their own method of learning to deal. You've seen my fellow mentors on television."
I reflect on the images of past victors broadcast in interviews and the build up to the Games. Some turn to drink and drugs, others become machines. Others, like Beetee, manage to stay relatively normal. In others you can see an undercurrent of insanity.
Beetee isn't saying anything else, but looks at me with eyes full of sadness and understanding.
You just need to learn to deal with the pain, he seems to be saying. It will never go away; it's part of you, now. The Games will never leave you, and others will die despite all your best efforts.
The train begins to slow down. In a few brief minutes, I'll be reunited with my family. My family, who will never want for anything else. My family, who will never understand what I've been through, despite all their best efforts.
The hard part isn't winning the Games. It's coping with being the last one standing.
As I wash off and get ready to face the cameras, I have a realisation. Learning to deal may be hard, but it's not impossible.
Nobody expected District Three to win this years Hunger Games. Nobody expected anyone to be able to restart the mines. But I did. I achieved what no one else could.
If I can do that, going forwards should be easy.
I am Levi Marquez, from District Three. The winner of the Seventy Fourth Annual Hunger Games.
I won't fall victim to the machinations of the Capitol, not if I can help it.
And I will learn to deal.