For those of you who haven't seen any of the other seven, this is the eighth installment of a series written by be-nice-to-nerds and myself, where we change the events of the arena slightly so a different tribute wins.
District Eleven still looks like District Eleven. I thought it wouldn't but it does. The fields, the trees and the houses that our Capitol escort won't call houses are all the same. He calls them shacks, says they don't look like places people live in at all. I am no good at words but when he says that I find it hard to stay quiet. I can't insult his home so why can he insult mine? My home's better than where he lives to me. At least it's real.
"We're nearly there now," says Chaff, as he leans around the door for the tenth time today.
He doesn't look shocked when I don't say anything. I haven't said much at all since it ended. Since they took me out of the hell they put me in, I don't want to speak. There are no words if I did, not that I can think of anyway. He can say it for me when we get there. He knows what to say. It really is a game to him even if it isn't to me and he always likes to play.
I don't know how to react to winning. Chaff and Seeder look happy and sad at the same time, pleased to see me alive but still sorry we lost little Rue. I don't know what to feel. A lot of the time I feel nothing at all. Capitol-girl lost me when she told me her life makes her feel dead inside but now I know what she meant. Most of the time it's better to feel nothing. Emptiness is better than pain and something that feels a lot like hate. They did this to me. I didn't know what it was to hate before I saw the Capitol.
I didn't think I'd be sitting here now, I didn't think I'd win. All I wanted to do was last as long as I could for my district and for my family. Blossom needed me so I had to fight for her. I wanted her to know that I tried for her. I listened to her too. She told me to run when it started so I ran.
The others screamed at the bloodbath, I can still hear them screaming. They died too, some of them killed by the other one who told me to run. Glimmer Goldsmith was her real name but I called her Capitol-girl, not because she was like them but because they loved her. I loved her too, even if she could never have been mine.
I'd never been on a train before the Games. I didn't think even the Capitol could make something that moves so quickly. I don't think I will ever get used to how they live. I don't want to. Who would want to travel like this anyway, with everything rushing past so quickly you can't see where you are? I'm happy that it's slowing down. It means I'm home.
They're all there again, waiting on the platform. They follow me with their questions and their cameras everywhere I go. Haven't they got bored by now? There are only so many times they can ask me the same thing when I give them the same answer every time. I don't want to answer them at all. I hate them celebrating what they call my victory. Really they are celebrating twenty-three deaths that didn't have to happen. Not that they see it like that. 'It's punishment for the rebellion', they say, 'it's to make you remember not to go against us again', but I say that's rubbish. I'm not smart but even I can see it isn't only about that. I've seen the Capitol, I've seen the strange people who live there, and I've seen the look on their faces when they watch the Games. They love it. It's a game for them and they love to watch us die.
They had it good this year. Lots of drama to fill their empty, pointless lives. I'm sure it was very exciting for them. I bet they loved watching Marvel kill Rue, my defenceless child district partner. She was only twelve but she didn't matter to them. She was just a girl from District Eleven, a nobody, no more than an animal. She mattered to me though, and when it was all over, they still made me watch her call for Fire-girl to save her, they made me watch as she didn't get there in time. It should have been me she called for. I should have protected her, but instead I ran. I will remember that forever.
In the end they made me watch her die, and they even dared to cry when they watched too. They don't see that what they do is wrong. To them it's normal and I hate them for that. If I could then I would put some of them in an arena, see how they like it. Thinking that makes the hate come back, and I know it will never go away now. I hate them more for that. It wasn't only Rue's death they made me watch. I saw it all at what they call the Victory Ceremony. If you ask me then Victory Torment would fit better.
I saw the bloodbath I ran from, I saw the Careers taking control as usual. District Two was in charge, the only other tribute who equalled me in strength, but he wasn't alone because she was there too. She was always there with him, the girl with the knives who could fight like she was three times her size. They fought back to back like two halves of the same whole and the rest had no chance.
And then there was her. Capitol-girl. She fought too, as graceful and deadly as she ever was. I always knew she would. I wanted to look away but I couldn't. I want to hate her for what she did, but now I hate myself because I don't. I couldn't see the trained killer, I could only see the woman who cried in my arms on the Training Centre roof, and I can't hate what I love. And now I will never see her again, at least not anywhere but in my dreams.
I saw Fox-girl steal food from the Careers she was always watching. She was so clever that not even the boy from Three's mines could stop her. That's why it didn't seem right when she ate poisonous berries and died. She was smart, so why did she do something so stupid? Then I saw Fire-girl looking for her love, I saw her watch him get weaker and die. There was nothing she could have done but she tried anyway. He seemed happy enough with that.
I don't need the big screen to make me see what came next. I killed her and her death will haunt me until the day I die. It was so easy, to lift the rock and bring it down on her head. I wasn't thinking when I did it. I thought she killed Rue and I forgot about everything else. I remember now though. She looked so small as she lay there on the floor, still alive but only just. Blossom and Capitol-girl told me to run then, so I did. I thought the one who loved the one I killed would come for me, but he didn't. I never saw him again and I never knew why. Not until I watched the screen to see him finish her and then himself. They died in each other's arms and I couldn't look away. Now I will see them forever.
I barely noticed what happened after that, I could think of nothing but the feast and what I did, but I remember the howling of the wolves. They came out of nowhere, stepping out from between the trees like ghosts just as the sun started to set. I turned and ran and Fire-girl was running with me. We were the last two left and we climbed the golden horn together, facing each other where the Capitol's monsters couldn't get us. She didn't make a sound when she lost her footing, and they were on her before she even hit the floor. Her cannon fired and I heard the trumpets, but I felt nothing. Chaff tells me it gets better. He says his Games feel like a dream to him. I wish I could be that lucky.
When I get off the train all I see is faces. There are people everywhere, and cameras. There are always cameras. It's strange to see District Eleven faces mixed with the Capitol ones I will never get used to. Most of them don't look like real people at all. Chaff walks in front of me and I follow him. He still seems to be having a good time. I just wish they would all leave me alone. Now that I'm here, I don't know if I want to see anybody. Mostly I just want to keep running.
Then I see them and I can't look away. Four women standing in a circle of Peacekeepers. I see the guns the Peacekeepers carry and I want to take my family away from them. I didn't protect Rue but I can protect them. One of them breaks through the circle and runs to me. She looks older. She looks thinner too, and when she tries to throw her arms around my neck she can't quite reach. The Capitol did this to her and the hate inside me won't go away.
"Hello, Ma," is all I can say. I hope it's enough. I should tell her I love her. I should say some fancy words but I don't. I've never been good at fancy words and having the Capitol watching makes it worse. What would Capitol-girl say? She would know what to do, she always did, but now thinking of her makes it all worse.
"My boy. You came back to us," she whispers, and it's a shock to hear her voice. She sounds nothing like the Capitol, she sounds like home. I could listen to her voice forever. "I knew it. I told 'em all that my boy would come home."
"Where's Pa?" I ask, pushing her away so I can see her face. I don't know why I bother asking though. I already know what her answer will be.
"The orchards. Nothing stops the harvest."
More like nothing stops the Capitol, I think, turning from her to my grandmother.
"What are you doing? You'll get hurt," I tell her. I can't believe she's here. She barely leaves the house anymore, not since her pains got worse.
"Don't care. You showed the Capitol. The pride in here sends the pain away," she says, lifting her withered hand over her heart.
Her words make me smile but I quickly look to my sister. No more deaths. I can't cope with losing anyone else I love. I step forward to shield them from the eyes of the Peacekeepers and they leave the platform as quickly as Grandma can move. Nothing happens. The reporters and cameras drowned out her words, and so for the first time ever, I don't hate them.
Then she's there, throwing herself into my arms and waiting for me to lift her up like I used to. Nothing is like it used to be. It should be the same but it isn't, and I don't know what to do. I lift her up but I know I took too long. I hope she doesn't notice.
"I knew you'd come back to me. I always knew," she says, and I pull her closer as her happiness suddenly makes everything hurt less.
I don't let her go. I hold her against me so I don't have to speak. I didn't know what to say to Ma and I don't know what to say to Blossom either. I try not to think about Her. I know it's wrong but I can't stop myself. She just won't go away. I can still feel her in my arms, taller than Blossom but lighter, not as solid. It felt like I could have broken her that night on the Training Centre roof even if I know better than to think that. If I'd tried, she'd have thrown back her golden hair, her pretty green eyes would have narrowed in anger and I'd have had no chance. They said she was too beautiful to be a fighter. I always knew they were wrong.
"Thresh, put me down. Everyone's staring."
"They'd stare anyway," I say, but I do what she says and her dark brown eyes shock me when I look into them. Since the Capitol, the ones I see in my dreams are always green.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing important," I lie. I swear to myself that she will never know the truth.
She holds out her hand and leads me away from the crowd. I know then that I still love her. Can you love two people at the same time? It doesn't seem right, but I know you can. Before the Games everything made sense but now nothing does. It feels like it will be like this forever. It feels like I will never be free of what the Capitol have done to me, of what they did to Blossom, of what they did to Her.
The reporters laugh at us. I hate them again. I look ahead, straight at the back of Blossom's head, just in case they see what I'm thinking. When I hear them laugh I hear Capitol-girl laugh as well. I only heard that sound a few times but I don't think I will ever forget it. I should want to forget but I don't. I slow down and Blossom pulls me forward. She turns back and smiles at me so I smile at her too. The Games are over, and if I still have to live then I want to live with her.
It's late morning when I wake up in a room that makes me think I never left the Capitol. I didn't look at it last night, but I'm looking now and I hate it. I hate everything about this house I'm supposed to call mine. All I want is to move back home, into the house that Pa built with his own hands. I belong there in a way I will never belong here. I don't suit this place, with its fine furniture, lace and luxury. This is a place for someone like Her. It would suit her well. It would suit her in a way it will never suit me.
I don't have to look to the side to know Blossom has gone. She was talking about the wedding yesterday so she's probably talking to Ma about that. She still wants to marry me. She talks like the Games never happened. She acts like nothing's changed. Sometimes I like that, it helps me forget too, but most of the time I can't bear it. That doesn't matter though. Whatever's happened, I'm going to marry her. I still love her, and I love our baby too.
She hasn't told me yet and she thinks I don't know, she forgets that I know her better than anyone else does. I'm not the smartest man in Panem, but I'm not stupid and I've loved Blossom for years. I just wish she'd tell me. Why hasn't she? Does she think I've changed? She must do, but even if I have, that doesn't mean I'll let her down. I'll never let that happen.
I should be at work now. I wish I was. I hated it before, almost as much as I hated the Capitol for making generations of my family be their slaves, but now I want to go. Work in the orchards of District Eleven is back-breaking and I long for it. I need to do it so I can forget, but they don't want me to forget, they want me to remember forever. That's why they won't let me work. That's why I have no choice but to sit here and remember.
I see Katniss fall to her death, I see Clove on the floor at my feet, I hear Rue's scream for help that's never answered. The arena won't ever go away. I close my eyes and it's like I'm in the Capitol again. I force my mind from the arena, but it is only replaced by another memory, a happier one but one that hurts just as much.
Chaff told me to meet him downstairs, so why isn't he here? I look for him but all I can see is Capitol people. I hate it here. I really hate it. They all stare at me as they walk past and it makes me feel like it's me who looks strange. It's not me, it's them. That's what I have to tell myself.
It goes quiet when another group of people walk in. Everyone stops to look at them and I can hear them whispering to each other. It's Capitol-girl, I see her before I see any of the others. The Capitol people surround her like bees around a honey pot but that doesn't matter. She is always the first person I see.
"That's enough now, no more questions," calls the woman who walks at Capitol-girl's side. "We have preparations to make and we don't need an audience."
I've seen the woman before. I was a child when she won the Games but she's on the television all the time. She's one of their mentors this year, I've heard Chaff talking about her. He says she's more Capitol than district, and now I've seen her, I believe him. She smiles at the reporters and they smile back, happy to do anything she says. Capitol-girl isn't like her mentor. She looks pleased when they rush away, but frowns when they promise to return later.
"Wait here. I'll be back in five minutes," the woman whose name I can't remember says, looking at Glimmer before walking away down the corridor.
She stands there, looking around at all of the people just like I was. It's different for her though. They stare back at her, pointing, trying to talk to her and even taking pictures. She ignores them all, and when her eyes meet mine she shakes her head sadly. I know I shouldn't talk to her but I can't stop myself from walking over.
"A ten in training," she says when I reach her. "Not bad for an uneducated and untrained labourer, District Eleven." I can hear the teasing in her voice and her eyes seem to sparkle as she talks.
"Better than you, Capitol-girl," I reply. " Won't be the same in the arena though."
She looks away when I say that, not smiling anymore. Maybe she was telling the truth when she told me she didn't want to be here. I shrug my shoulders and she steps closer. I wish she hadn't but I don't move away. I can't move away. All I can do is stare at her.
"What are you doing, Capitol-girl?"
"Cashmere says that I have to use the way I look to win the support of the Capitol and distract the other tributes. Is it working?" she asks, smiling slightly.
She's not being serious, she's teasing me, I can tell. It makes me smile back. If she can do that to me then I can do it to her. I look down at her before moving to the side so my arm brushes against hers. I smile again when I hear her breath catch.
"It's not just me who's distracted, Capitol-girl."
She goes to say something back but stops before she speaks. She pushes the back of my shoulder with surprising strength and steps behind me when I move forward. Then I see them. The reporters have returned. She stands behind me, holding my arm tightly as if to stop me moving away, and she doesn't let me go until they've gone again.
"What are you hiding for?"
"Because I'm fed up of feeling like an animal trapped in a cage," she replies straight away, her clear voice harsh with anger.
"That's not going to change, is it? The Capitol lives for beauty and look at you."
She smiles when I say that. I don't know why, all I did was tell her the truth. She confuses me as much as Blossom does.
"Why are you waiting here?"
"Chaff. He said he'd be here. He's late."
"I'm waiting for-" she starts, not getting the chance to finish before her mentor returns to her side. "-Cashmere," she finishes.
"And now I'm here," says her mentor, narrowing her bright-blue eyes at me. "You must be District Eleven. I've not heard so much about you," she continues, turning her gaze onto Capitol-girl.
I don't know what to say so I say nothing. I nod to the woman whose name is Cashmere and she keeps looking at me. She only turns away when Capitol-girl gently puts her hand on her arm.
"We have to go now," she says, and both women turn and walk away.
I watch her go and she looks back at me and smiles. It's her real smile not the one the sponsors see, and I don't know if it is that which hurts more or what Cashmere says to her as they go.
"Don't even think about him, Glimmer. It will only cause you pain if you do."
I open my eyes as the memory ends and I am still in the kitchen. I expected to see the Remake Centre and part of me wishes I had. I get up quickly and walk out of the room, knowing that if I stay here I will never forget. I need to be outside. I need to be away from this place that looks like the Capitol.
I open the front door in time to see the insect fly across in front of me. A split second later I smash it into the side of the house with my bare hand before it even has time to sting. The rough bricks tear into my skin but I ignore the pain. All I can think about is what's left of my enemy. It was just a wasp, there are many thousands of them here, but that isn't what I see any more. I will never look at one in the same way again.
I can't look away from it. All I can see is the bigger, yellow-bodied version that made her cannon fire. The people in the Capitol called her flawless. One reporter had called her 'physical perfection' and I don't think I could have disagreed, but they found a fault in the end. They always do.
Tracker jacker stings hurt. I know because I've lost count of how many times I've been stung when I've been working in the orchards and cornfields. They hurt at the time and they hurt even more later on because that is when you fall asleep and the nightmares start. It was different for her though. They made me watch her death on the screen at the Victory Ceremony and I have seen it thousands of times in my head since. Glimmer's body couldn't deal with the poison. The few stings she got before she started to run would have killed her even if she'd had no more.
Every time I close my eyes I see her lying on the arena floor. She didn't look like her when she died. The Capitol loved her for her beauty so I don't understand why they let her die like that. It doesn't make sense, but I suppose nothing they do makes sense to me. When I see her lying there I try to forget what happened. I try to picture Blossom, I try to think of the future, our future, and I hate myself when that doesn't take the pain away. The only thing that takes all of the pain away is the thought of Her. I can still see her, how she looked that night on the Training Centre roof. She would have said she looked a mess, that the black dress she wore didn't suit her and that she looked as tired as she felt. To me, she never looked more beautiful than she did that night, when she took off the mask that the whole world saw and showed me the real Glimmer instead.
My new life is one never-ending interview, and time seems to pass by more slowly than it ever has before. Most of my time is spent wishing that everyone would just leave me alone. It's been three weeks since I returned from the Capitol and I still see the arena every night in my dreams. It doesn't matter where I am, there's always something that reminds me of that place and the people who were there with me.
I saw Rue's father yesterday. He was on his way to work, knowing that the sorrow he feels because of his little girl's death won't feed her brothers and sisters. I hid from him, acting like the coward I have become. I didn't know what to say to him so I said nothing. What could I say? That I am sorry I lived and she didn't? I don't know much but I know that nothing I could say would make him feel any better.
I walk into the kitchen but Blossom isn't there. She has left an apple and some bread on the table for me but there is nothing to tell me where she's gone. Before the arena she'd always have left me a note. I'd always struggled to read them even though she'd taught me to read and write when we were children, but I liked them anyway and I wish there was one there now. I'm not surprised though. I spend more time avoiding her than I do talking to her, not wanting to talk about what happened but at the same time hating it when she tries to carry on as normal. I haven't been easy to live with, I know that. I haven't told her about the arena and she hasn't told me about the baby. We can't go on like this, one way or another this has to be sorted.
Unable to think of anything else, I go to the place I know she'll be. The tree-encircled grove by the river. Our place.
She turns to look at me almost as soon as I see her, and as much as I wanted to deal with this, now that I'm here I want nothing more than to leave. I turn on my heel and start to do just that.
"That's it," she shouts after me, "walk away like you always do! The man I used to know would never be so cowardly!"
I spin around again, striding across the clearing towards her. Before the Games I couldn't feel anger like this. She's right, I have changed.
"What do you want from me, Blossom? What do you want me to do? Pretend the last two months never happened?"
"I want you to talk to me. I thought we were friends but now you can barely look at me and when you do it feels like you are wishing I was someone else."
I feel shame when she says that and my anger fades. I should've known she would know. She always does. She's smart, my Blossom. Nothing gets past her, never has.
"I'm not who I was. How can I be?" I reach down and lift up a rock that's a bit bigger than my fist, raising it up so she can see it. "I ended that girl, Blossom. She was younger and smaller than you and I knew it and I hit her anyway. I couldn't stop myself. Now I see her face every time I close my eyes."
"You know what she was. She was a killer, Thresh. She knew what she was doing."
"Don't make it right, does it? Can't make me forget."
Everything goes blurry then so I look away from her quickly. Why am I crying? I don't cry. She mustn't see me like this. She moves to stand beside me but I turn away again.
"Look at me," she says. "Please."
"I can't talk about it, Blossom. I can't," I tell her. "I just want to forget."
She takes a deep breath and wraps both of her arms around one of mine. "Thresh, I need to tell you something. Before the Games… I couldn't tell you, I didn't know how…" She laughs at herself. "I still don't know how to say it. I've told you a thousand times in my head but now you're here I don't know what to say." She takes another deep breath. "I don't know what to say so I'll just say it."
"Say it then," I say, smiling when I notice I feel calm for the first time since before the Capitol. "Before the Whitecoats find us and whip us for not working."
"You don't have to work anymore," she says, " Anyway, don't tease me, I'm being serious. I'm…I'm having a baby."
She thinks I'll be angry, I can tell by her eyes. She fears me and she never used to. I hate myself for that. Almost as much as I hate the Capitol for doing this to us in the first place.
"Blossom, I already know."
She stares blankly at me. "How could you know? You didn't say anything."
"I knew but you had to tell me."
"Why?" she says. Then her expression darkens and tears fill her eyes. "You want me to leave, don't you? You don't love me anymore."
This time I stare at her. How can she think that? Have I really changed that much? I know I'm not who I was and that nothing is simple now, but I still love her. She's the one thing in my life that still makes sense.
"You're the smart one, girl, so don't be stupid. We're getting married next week. I love you. Both of you."
She does cry then, and I take her in my arms like I've always done when she cries. I can still see the arena, but the pain isn't the same as it was. I know I'll never stop seeing Clove's death replaying in my mind, that little Rue will never leave my dreams, and that I'll never forget the face of the other woman I loved, but that can't stop me from living. Capitol-girl wouldn't have wanted that, and I owe it to her and to every other tribute the Capitol has murdered to not let them defeat me too.
They call me a victor but that's not what I am. I didn't win, I just happened to survive, and that's exactly what I'll keep doing. I'll keep surviving and hope that I'm still alive to see the day the Capitol falls.
So that's it - the end of the last oneshot. I've been calling this one 'The Oneshot of Doom' ever since I first started to write it (ages ago...) because it's such a struggle for me to write in Thresh's voice, which is so different to my usual 'writing voice' (Clove's ;)). I hope it isn't as disasterous as I think it is...
If you've read the whole series then please leave us a review and let us know what you think (on any chapter you like :) *says Caisha who is hoping she isn't judged on this one* ;))