AN: Thank you for the two who had reviewed my story! Now I have the confidence to continue.
Tsuna had finished eating her dinner. She consumed all the broth from the bowl, running her tongue across her teeth to swipe away any vegetable residue, and set the dishes into the sink. After washing the dishes and drying her hands, she went to the back of the kitchen to haul the sack onto the table. During her chores, Tsuna had gotten a stain on her skirt, and it spread when she attempted to dab it with a wet cloth. Good thing that the skirt was black, she figured.
It was about six o'clock when the drawing occurred. Attendance at the town square was mandatory, and there were officers from the Capitol swarming around to make sure that there weren't hideaways; if caught, prison would be the unalterable fate. However, those closing in on to death's door were always excused—there wasn't any point in dragging in the ill or the old. It was a known issue of Sawada Nana's health that had eventually reached the officers' ears, so they would omit the mother every year henceforth.
Tsuna didn't think that her mother was going to die anytime soon, but she was very much aware that the woman was terribly weak. It was fortunate that she would get to miss the dreadful drawing anyway.
What was also dreadful—and this was a shared opinion amongst many—was that the drawing had to be held in the square, which was the most pleasant part of District Twelve. The square was surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if the weather was pleasant, there was a holiday feel to it that would get Tsuna's blood rushing from delight. Nevertheless, despite the brightly colored banners that hung on the buildings, the atmosphere was grim and silent. The camera crew that perched on rooftops like hungry vultures only added on to the effect.
Cubicles were stationed outside of the square where the people filed in to sign. This was a way to keep tabs on the population. Twelve to eighteen year olds were herded to their designated age groups. Family members were lined up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another's hands and murmuring prayers.
Others, who had no one to love at stake, or no longer cared, took bets on which would be drawn. Odds were given on their ages, whether from the Seam or the merchant section, if they would break down and weep. Tsuna didn't know much about the betting grounds these people had made up, but it wasn't like she wanted to know. She preferred to keep to herself.
The space became smaller as more people arrived. Though the square was large, it wasn't able to hold District Twelve's population of eight thousand. Latecomers would be directed to the adjacent streets, where they could watch the event on screens as it would be televised live by the state.
Tsuna was shoved to a clump of sixteen-year-olds from the Seam. They didn't give any indication of her presence as they focused their attention on the temporary stage that was set up before the Justice Building. Tsuna did the same as well. On the stage were three chairs, a podium, and two large glass bowls containing paper slips with names written on, one for the boys and one for the girls. Sixteen of those slips had Sawada Tsuna written on.
On the chairs sat Miura's father, the mayor, and Carcassa Skull, District Twelve's escort, fresh from the Capitol with his odd purple hair, ear-to-lip chain piercing, and dark leather jumpsuit. It could be seen that the two were talking to one another in quick-mouthed sentences, the mayor appearing to be concern and Skull irritated. They kept glancing at the empty seat.
By the time the town clock stroke six, the mayor stepped up to the podium and began to read the script that was laid out for him. He told the history of Panem, listing the droughts, storms, disasters, and fires. He told them about the past wars, but more particularly about Panem's revolt. Thirteen districts that stood against the Capitol, twelve defeated and the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave the people new laws to guarantee peace and, as a yearly reminder that such event must not be repeated, gave them the Olympic. It was the same story told every year.
The rules of the Olympic were simple but hard to carryout. In punishment for the uprising, each district was to offer one boy and one girl, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes would be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute would win.
Taking children from their homes and forcing them to kill one another while the districts would watch on a large televised screen was the Capitol's way of showing how the people were at their mercy. Nausea pooled in Tsuna's stomach every time she thought about it, and it would make Sasagawa ground his teeth.
Whatever words were used, the real message was clear, sneering and smirking. "Look how we take your kids and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift one finger, we'll happily destroy every last one of you, just like we did to District Thirteen."
The ash remains of District Thirteen were still there.
To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol required the people to treat the Olympic as a festivity, a sporting affair, not like a sentence to hell. The last tribute alive would earn a big reward: money, food, and a life of ease. All year, the Capitol would show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest would battle starvation.
"It is a time for repentance and thanks," intoned Miura's father.
Then he read the list of past District Twelve victors. In seventy-four years, the poor district only had two. Both dead.
Afterwards, a tall man dressed in black walked across the stage with long strides and sat down in his seat, eliciting a scowl on Skull's face. Reborn was notorious for being late to these events and being a fiend to Skull. He was also a mysterious figure who bore no surname, at least that's what it seemed to be. It wasn't even known whether Reborn was his actual name or not.
Given that all this was on air nationwide, the mayor, as Tsuna could see from where she was standing, subdued his surprise when Reborn made his appearance. The mayor then introduced Skull.
"A merry Olympic day," Skull said, a smirk embracing his painted lips, "and may the odds be ever in your favor!"
He went on a bit about what an honor it was to be here, although it was a no brainer that the young man was aching to get bumped up to a better district and a different partner.
Through the crowd, Tsuna spotted Sasagawa who was looking back at her with a faint smile. As far as drawings go, this one at least had a slight entertainment, watching how much more Skull could take presenting before a filthy borough. Suddenly, Tsuna thought about Sasagawa and his seventeen names in the big glass ball. Tsuna hoped that the odds were not in his favor, just like every other year. But then again, there weren't that many seventeen and eighteen year olds to begin with. Sasagawa must've been thinking the same thing when he frowned and hung his head.
Tsuna wished that she was standing next to him right now. If she was, then she could murmur next to him, "There are still thousands of slips." But then again, he wouldn't approve her saying that.
It was time for the drawing. Skull reached his hand into the ball that contained the boys' names. When he pulled out a slip, everyone drew in a collective breath as an eerie silence layered the crowd. At that moment, Tsuna knew that she had just foiled with fate. It was over.
Skull crosses back to the podium, smoothed out the crinkle of the paper, and read the name in a loud and clear voice.
One time, when Tsuna was hiding in a tree, waiting for food to fly or scurry by (a bird, a squirrel, basically anything), she dozed off and tilted backwards, then falling. She landed from ten feet on her back and the impact knocked every wisp of air from her lungs, and she had laid there writhing in panic when the struggle to inhale was too great.
That was how she felt. Unable to take a breath, as if something was lodged in her throat, Tsuna stopped breathing. She felt a hand grip onto her arm. Someone was gripping onto her arm. Tsuna must've begun to fall that someone had caught her.
She really had pushed her luck, jinxing Sasagawa like that. The odds were now in his favor now.
But she knew, she always knew, that Sasagawa, this year or the next, would be chosen to be a tribute, a competitor in the game of bloodshed. But she pushed away the forecast and substituted it with tenacious hope. She had hoped that Sasagawa would not be picked, like his sister. She had hoped that he would continue to live and not be destined to be killed.
It was literally signing a contract for death. His wooden leg would drag him down.
And it wasn't just that…Sasagawa would never give the Capitol the pleasure of actually participating. Tsuna was so sure that he would just sit there like a stubborn child. But the Capitol had so much power—anyone who they didn't like, off with his head.
It could be seen on the screen hanging above that Sasagawa was gripping onto his cane till his knuckle was white. He wore on an impassive face, in spite of the situation, like the kind when he would show when he was treating a hysterical Tsuna the large slash on her leg due to a snare mishap. As he hobbled over to the front, murmuring filled the square as eyes watched him go.
Tsuna saw that the back of his white oxford shirt was untucked, hanging over his black slacks. Sasagawa was never good at keeping his shirt tucked in, and when it would come loose he would ask her to tuck it back in again. This year, they failed to meet up at the cubicles.
Times of when they fished together, ate together, talked together, gazed under the stars together…When Sasagawa would convey family tales to Tsuna, knowing that even though she held her head low she was listening with rapt attention…Moments like these came crashing down.
This had brought her back to earth.
"S-Sasagawa," she managed to gasp out, and suddenly it became much easier to breathe. "Sasagawa!"
She didn't need to push her away through the crowd as they stepped back, forming a path for her directly to the handicap. Tsuna could see how his eyes went wide when he saw her bolting towards him, and when she placed herself before him he whispered, "Sawada?"
"I—I…!" She swallowed heavily. "I volunteer!"
There was confusion on the stage. District Twelve hadn't had a volunteer in decades and the protocol had become rusty. The rule was that once a tribute's name had been pulled, an eligible boy or girl could step forward. In some districts, in which winning the drawing was a great honor, people were eager to risk their lives, making the volunteering overused and complicated. But in District Twelve, tribute was as synonymous as death.
"Oh, well then." Skull rubbed his chin. "That's lovely, but there is a small matter of introducing the drawing winner and then asking for volunteers, and if one does come up—"
"What does it matter?" Reborn interjected coolly. Tsuna met his eyes, and suppressed a flinch at the dark orbs regarding her in a calculating manner, as if she was a bug in a box. "Let the girl forward."
Sasagawa was screaming behind her, gripping onto her with both hands and abandoning his cane. "Sawada, you moron! You extremely can't!"
Tsuna ignored him, and steeled herself when others pried him off her. Every step on the stairs came with a howl from her friend. It hurt.
"Bravo, bravo, little lady," Skull said. "That's certainly the spirit of the Olympic, eh?" Satisfaction glinted in his eyes, obvious that he was happy for the turn of action. "What's your name?"
"Sawada Tsuna," she said softly.
"Well, Sawada Tsuna, that was some courage you displayed there. How about a standing ovation?"
But no one clapped. Not even the ones holding bets, the ones beyond caring. It didn't really make sense though, since Tsuna was known to be Dame-Tsuna, the girl who was nearly useless at everything. She did get teased a lot and didn't have any friends aside from Sasagawa. She was the kid who would keep her head low and hardly utter a word. Tsuna would've thought that everyone would've been somewhat relieved to get rid of boring and incompetent Sawada.
Perhaps it was because they acknowledged the sacrifice that she had made in order to save Sasagawa, the widely beloved dunderhead. Perhaps they knew that she was the daughter of Sawada Iemitsu, the man who did many great things unlike her, or that they had met her sickly mother, who everyone couldn't help loving.
So she just stood there before the silent crowd. This was probably the boldest dissent they could manage in seventy-four years, whether it was for Tsuna or their pride. Either way, the girl felt a rush of honor and, for once, was able to hold her head high, daring the Capitol to bring it on. But she was in danger of bursting into tears the more desperate Sasagawa sounded from the crowd.
Behind her, someone clapped. It was Reborn.
"There, now let's get on with it, shall we, Skull?"
Skull huffed at the man's indifference but followed the subtle order. "Well, since we got our female tribute…" He reached back into the bowl and pulled out another slip. After returning to the podium, Skull read, "Yamamoto Takeshi."
Amidst the crowd, all eyes turned to look at the blanching boy—the paling was an ugly contrast to his tanned neck and short hair. He slowly made his way to the stage. Tall in height, lean in build, spiky black hair.
The shock of the moment was still registering on his face, visible that he was trying to remain emotionless, but his hazel-light eyes showed alarm. When he took his place next to Tsuna, practically towering over her five foot one, Skull began to ask for any volunteers. No one was willing to take his place.
This was standard. Family or friend devotion only went so far for most people. What Tsuna did was a radical thing. However, it wasn't cowardice that prevented people from making such sacrifice; it was commonsensical and self-preservation.
The mayor began reading the long, dull Treaty of Treason as he does every year at this point—it was required—but Tsuna wasn't listening. Not that she would listen anyway and would zone off into space like every year; sadly this year wasn't like any other year.
Tsuna stood uncomfortably stiff, as if someone dumped wet concrete over her and the paste immediately glued her arms to her side. Cold sweat covered her body. She tried to imagine that Yamamoto wasn't next to her but failed. The very idea that he could be the one she had to kill, and likewise for him, made things very complicated to be in.
It wasn't that she and he were friends—he wasn't even a Seam resident, and they weren't on speaking terms. In fact, neither of them ever had any interaction before. Tsuna knew Yamamoto because his many town friends would call his name after him. He was cheerful, friendly—at least that's what he seemed to be.
Ironically, he happened to be the son of the baker who Tsuna and Sasagawa would deliver fresh kill for trade. She would sometimes see Yamamoto working in the bakery, hauling in heavy trays or kneading dough. When he's not working, when Tsuna would return from a hunt, she would see him laughing, playing a game with the town boys with a bat and ball.
She had always felt a wave of apprehension whenever town people were near. They were the type of folk who get to work less than the people of the Seam. Her mother was once like that, until she moved in with her father. It was odd, in that sense, that Yamamoto and Tsuna lived in different worlds even though they were in the same district.
Maybe, aside from Yamamoto living in the town and Tsuna the Seam, it was because of his carefree spirit and how he was surrounded by many people. Tsuna was unfamiliar with people like them, thus wary. Truthfully, she was envious of him and wished to be in the same position as him—to laugh, to talk. It wasn't fair, she had decided upon one day, that how someone like her must endure hardships, harder trials to face than what Yamamoto obviously was ignorant of.
The mayor finished the Treaty of Treason and motioned for the two to shake hands. Yamamoto's long fingers encase Tsuna's small palm. It was as warm as the loaves of bread his father would bake. He looked at Tsuna in the eye and gave her hand a squeeze, as if to reassure her everything was going to be alright.
But Tsuna wasn't fooled. She couldn't be fooled. By the time they step into the arena, they would be mortal enemies.
They turned back o face the crowd as the anthem of Panem played.