I debated long and hard about posting this fic. I started writing it in 09, between the third and fourth series of Skins and before Mockingjay came out. I took a lot of liberties with the world of The Hunger Games to make this story work. The fourth series of Skins came out and things became decidedly darker than I had anticipated and I made a few minor additions. But I largely lost the urge to write this because I was so damn depressed about the fourth series. But I've started to get into it again. The first chapter or two aren't exactly what I would call my best examples of writing, especially the very rushed first half of chapter one, but I like the overall story I'm telling and hope you like it too :)
Reaping day. It was all anyone was thinking about this morning. Today was Reaping day and someone was going to die. I try to keep my mind on my work, nimbly climbing up the tree I'm in to continue checking for tree rot. I'm still small enough to be able to do the job assigned to children. I haven't been forced to work in the factories yet, which is a blessing. The women of my district, District 7, are all forced to work in the paper factories, trapped in the chemicals and stale air. I'm allowed a degree of freedom out here in the woods with the men and the children climbing the trees as skillfully as monkeys.
"Effy!" I look down and grin at the sight of my brother Tony's dirt streaked face. "Move on Eff! The Peacekeepers are making their rounds and you've been in that tree too long!"
I nod my understanding and easily throw myself into the air, aiming for another tree. The branch I land on bends in protest but I deftly shift my weight just right and the branch, for all its thinness, stays stable. I grab the trees trunk and begin a new investigation.
I move to climb up farther but the next branch I try snaps and suddenly I'm freefalling. I grab at branches to slow my fall. But it doesn't work as well as it used to. I'm getting too heavy and even in falling this thought scares me more than the impending impact. I brace myself. To my surprise I fall on a body. Tony got to me quick enough and now we're on the ground in a tangled heap.
The branch I'd stepped on lands next to us with a thump. I groan as I sit up. "Tree rot. Thanks Tone."
Tony sits up too and rubs his head. He whistles loudly for the rest of his crew. The men come crashing through the foliage and Tony indicates the offending tree.
They start their work cutting it down. I move to start another climb but Tony stops me. "No, we'll finish this tree and head back in. We still need to change and get to the town square."
I sit down and open my pack that I always keep at my waist and pull out a piece of jerky. Tony's crew is fast, they'll be done by the time I finish chewing.
We're not allowed to hunt in these woods, but everyone does. It's why we're on of the districts that gets fed pretty well all year round. Rarely does a family have to take out a tessera on a child. I'm sixteen years old and have only had to do so once in my life. Tony has two against him. Compared to other districts we have it good. As Tony's crew finishes I get up and quietly move further into the woods to check if any of our traps have caught anything. Two rabbits and a wild turkey greet me. I remove them and carefully reset the traps. I carry the kills back to the crew and we all work to hide them within the day's haul. On the way backing we pick berries and herbs and try to act cheerful as if it's a normal day and we're celebrating a good haul. But half the crew and their spotter, me, are up for the Games this year.
We bring in our wagon full of trees and sneak out the game before we turn it in. The crew splits the kills and we get half of a rabbit and a turkey leg. Tony puts it in his pack. He grabs my waist and swings me up into his arms. I laugh and he carries me all the way to our house. Dad isn't back yet but Mum's home, looking as haggard as she always does. She's dressed nicely and she's holding out a tunic and skirt for me to put on.
By the time I'm dressed and my hair is set my family, including dear old dad, is ready and waiting for me in the hallway. We all leave without saying a word to one another.
The square is already packed and Tony and I head to the roped off areas reserved for the candidates of the Games, boys on one side, girls on the other. One boy one girl. Every year for the past 60 years.
There are three major cities in Direct 7. We live in the main one, the city with the most yearly exports. We're the most well off. Two screens are set on each side of the stage, each showing one of the two cities. If we're lucky someone on these screens, not here, will be chosen for each gender. No one here will be sentenced to death.
Behind the podium and two glass bowls holding all the names of the boys and girls 12 to 18 in District 7 there is an even larger screen set to broadcast the other district picks as they are chosen. As I watch the Mayor of District 7 mounts the stage, along with our representative from the Capitol and the three victors from our district still alive. They sit and almost instantly the screen started to light up. Our mayor stood again as the emblem of the Capitol shone behind him. He gives the speech he's given every year since I can remember.
60 years ago there was an uprising of the districts. We lost. 12 districts were suppressed. One, District 13, obliterated. Since then the Capitol has hosted the Hunger Games to remind us we are in their control. The Hunger Games are an event in which a boy and a girl from each district are placed in an arena to fight to the death. So 24 kids slaughter each other for the amusement of the Capitol residents in the most gruesome ways possible.
Our representative, a nervous little bird named Josie, mumbles a good luck and says, "May the odds be ever in your favor."
Everyone on stage sits. We are forced to stand and watch the first tributes be called. District 12 is first. Two scrawny kids, neither older than 15, have the misfortune of being called. Next, District 11. An older girl named Tula is called and then a somber looking dark boy named Thomas Tomone. District 10. My heart leaps unexpectedly at the sight of a shaky blonde girl with hair pulled back in two plaits and big scared blue eyes. Her name is Pandora Moon and she doesn't look like she's worked a day in her life. District 10's mayor has gone incredibly pale and I realize she's his daughter. My eyes stay locked on her as the boy is called. I don't want her to die.
I stop paying attention until a gasp ripples through the crowd. I look up in time to see a very familiar face mount the stage of District 8. A girl named Emily Fitch, made famous by her extremely unorthodox lineage, steps forward stonily. She looks down and her crimson hair falls to cover her face. She stays frozen until the next name, a little boy at his first reaping named James is called. She looks up and her face is a mask of pain. She runs to the boy and wraps her arms protectively around him.
The tension is as high as it can get now because it's our turn. Josie's hand is in the jar and a piece of paper is drawn.
I step forward woodenly and behind me I can hear my brother begin to howl in horror. I look and see him trying to get to the stage, to me, but two of his crewmates grab him before he can be forced back by the Peacekeepers. Tony doesn't settle. He continues to scream at the top of his lungs as I ascend the stairs and stand to face the crowd. He would volunteer to take my place in a heartbeat but he's a boy and wouldn't qualify. Tony and I are as close as anyone can get. All our lives we've been together, inseparable. He can't save me and it is killing him.
The next name is called. It's not someone in our city and from this vantage point I can't see the screens broadcasting the other two towns so I have no idea what my competitor looks like. But I hear his name announced. Freddie Mclair. I picture a boy that looks like Tony mounting the smaller stage in the other town, alone but for the head official and a few Peacekeepers.
I'm led quickly off the stage and escorted to our town hall. I've never been inside and from the looks of things neither has anyone else since the last reaping day. I'm led to the waiting room where family and friends say goodbye and good luck to their loved ones.
My family are my first and only visitors. I don't make friends easily or at all really so all Tony and I have is each other. My parents spend the entire time standing in the corner while Tony had me in a firm embrace and was muttering over and over, "If you don't come back to me I'll kill them. I'll kill them all." And I knew he meant it. He'd take on the entire Capitol single handedly and die trying. He'd lose it if I died. So I had to come back.
Too soon he was torn away from me. The last thing I heard was Tony shouting, "I love you Effy! I love-"
I was hustled away from the train station. We had to stop and pick up the other District 7 tribute at another stop so we had to move quickly. We had to get all the way to the Capitol for our makeovers and be presentable by tomorrow night.
The three victors were Yoni Nicobu, a 71 year old who won the 5th Hunger Games, Ozhim Mishel, who was now 39 and had won the 38th Hunger Games, and lastly 21-year-old Timber Lakely who at only 13 had won the 52nd Hunger games. She was the only one who was there to greet me as I entered the dinner car of the train. Josie swoops in on me. "Effy you must be so excited for the Games! Was that your brother in the crowd."
I give Josie a lethal glare and she backs up. Timber chortles and eyes me harshly. She takes a drink of what I can only guess is some type of alcohol and then throws the class at me. In surprise I catch it and hurl it back in retaliation. She easily ducks. I am in a fighting stance now, on edge from the attack. Timber leans back in her chair. "Oz might like you." I don't like her.
Josie shows me to my room and tells me we'll all have dinner in about four hours. I don't have to come out until then. I flop down on the bed but I can't sleep. From where I'm laying I can just see the tops of trees flying by so fast I can't identify any of them. I think about my brother, my town and for an instant the girl from District 10. My chest tightens at the thought of her but I have to win. I can't leave Tony. So if that means a soft hide girl named Pandora needs to bite it-
I close my eyes in fright. How can these dark thoughts already be entering my head? Tony would be so ashamed. Or would he? Would he be proud that I was already thinking like a survivor?
There's a tiny vidscreen in my cabin. I decide I might as well see my competition. I turn on the show just as the broadcast finishes reairing the tributes from the 5th District. I guess I'll have to wait until he gets here to see my District 7 counterpart.
District 4 is a district that often produces Career tributes, those that spend their entire lives preparing for the Hunger Games. The other two districts that train Careers are districts 1 and 2. Not us lowly 7s, who spent half our lives in the trees like squirrels. We're not the quickest or the strongest, all we have is our balance and ability to survive in forest areas. But not all arenas for the games have forests so we can sometimes be at a huge disadvantage.
The tributes from District 4 are a girl named Naomi who has the palest blonde hair I've ever seen and a boy named Leio whose upper body is think with muscle. Naomi looks bored but I can tell it's a practiced look. She's probably just as terrified as all of us. Leio is grinning nervously but takes the time to flex his muscles for the camera.
A boy named JJ is introduced as the male tribute from District 3 along with a girl named Ioen. They both look extremely pale and weak. Strangely the boy looks less afraid than I would expect. He is staring straight into the camera. It looks as if he's giving the entire nation a calculating look. He's trying to see how we all tick.
The tributes from District 2 are classic Careers named Crispin and Abigail. Both volunteer for the Games.
The tributes from District 1 catch me off guard. They're both legacies, kids whose parents won the Games in past years, and one is Katie Fitch. It can't be a coincidence.
Robisn Fitch won the Games when he was 18 years old. He was the popular pick of the year. Every girl fell in love with his wit and charm and were impressed by his ability to fight. He was one of the most beloved Careers ever to enter the Games.
On his victory trip around the country he managed to slip his handlers in District 8 and bed a woman he'd known for all of 60 minutes. He left thinking nothing of it, but the woman ended up pregnant. She tried to get word to him but the Peacekeepers in her district immediately arrested her. Word spread like wildfire through the Peacekeeper ranks until it finally got to the Capitol. Fans of the beloved victor rallied to support him as he demanded his child and it's mother be brought to live with him in District 1. The government had never dealt with anything like this before. The law, as rusty and ill-used as it was, stated that no person could be moved from one district to another. But the law also recognized his right to his child.
The government felt they had a lucky break when the woman gave birth to twins, two healthy girls. One was left with the mother in District 8 and the other transported to live with her father in District 1. The legend of the Fitch babies was born.
Apparently they'd be meeting again for the first time since they were born in a fight to the death.
The other District 1 tribute is James Cook, son of Flick Cook, one of the most lethal Careers ever to enter the Games. He was ruthless, killing over half the tributes competing with his bare hands. Games can last weeks, even a month, but Cook killed everyone in a little over a week. A Hunger Games record. As he sees his son's name pulled he whoops in excitement. The bloodlust has never left his eyes.
Cook Jr definitely catches my eye. He jumps up and down in excitement, beating his fists against his chest and waggling his tongue at the camera. He looks every inch his father's son. He's quite handsome too. That'll give him some points in regards to sponsors.
I switch the television off. I'd rather see my counterpart for the first time when I meet him. I wonder what he looks like. One of the tan muscled boys 'round my village? Probably so. Would he look at me like them? I make a face into my pillow. I hope not. Ever since I grew girl parts and started looking less and less like a District 7 monkey child boys and men have been keeping their eyes on me. It's disturbing and I know it bugs Tony to no end.
I mentally start to sort the tributes into levels of danger. I'll have to steer clear of all the Careers of course. They're all prepared for this far more than I ever could be. I could probably take out the two District 3 if I really wanted to but I'd rather get through the Games with as little blood on my hands as possible. I haven't seen the tributes from Districts 5 or 6. I'd wager Freddie and I have the same basic skills so we'd probably be pretty evenly matched. I make a mental note to avoid him as much as I can in the arena.
District 8… I could take the little boy but form what I saw Emily Fitch will be trying to protect him. She looks like a regular District 8 person, pale and thin from the life lived in factories and polluted air. But I'm not sure. As a famous Fitch twin she'll have known all her life how the Games can effect everyone. I can't imagine her not having taken some time to train for this if it ever happened. The Games have shaped her entire life. I'll watch her carefully.
I hadn't been paying attention when the names for District 9 had been called but I imagine they won't be too hard to beat. District 10… Pandora. I could kill her with a flick of my wrist probably but… I won't. I refuse. Someone else will have to take her out because if I'm confronted with that situation I doubt I could let the knife fall.
District 11 had those two bigger tributes, Tula and Thomas. Definitely stay clear of Tula when it comes to hand-to-hand combat but I might be able to sneak attack her. Thomas had been quiet and seemed pretty serene but his muscles warned of immense power. I'll probably steer clear of him too. And District 12 had been those tiny little things dark with coal dust. They'd be killed soon after the Games began.
I think about my strategy until Josie raps at my door and starts singing for me to come out and have dinner with everyone. I haven't changed out of my reaping clothes and have to suffer through two whole verses of song while I change into something more comfortable.
I follow Josie back to the dining cabin. The train had stopped while I was planning so Freddie is there to meet me. He's talking amicably to Timber as I enter and when he senses my presence he turns.
He's very pretty for a tree hopper. His skin is tan from genes and years of working in the forest all day. He stands and I realize he's very tall. His smile is genuine and a little crooked. It wrinkles the skin around his almond eyes, making him look ten times more handsome than he already was. If I wasn't me I'd probably be drooling on the floor just at the sight of him. He reaches out and steps forward to shake my hand and almost immediately trips over himself. He rights himself and looks incredibly flustered. "Erm, hi, I'm Freddie." His voice is warm.
"I know who you are," I reply, giving him a playful smile.
"Oh, yeah, of course!" His hand flies back to his side as he stands rigid in embarrassment. I laugh and grave his hand from his side to shake it.
His grin is back. I can almost see a blush grow under his skin. He holds on for longer than necessary, forcing me to wriggle my fingers free of his grasp.
We sit down to dinner, a lavish meal like I've never seen before. Yoni and Ozhim have seen fit to join us and are already tucking away the food as if they weren't given everything they ever wanted. As a rule I don't like victors. They spend all of their lives on Victor's Village content with ignoring the suffering of their peers all around them. If I win- no, when I win- I'll share with my community. My crew back home, my schoolmates, everyone.
As we eat Josie babbles on about how exciting this years Games are going to be what with the Fitch twins and Cook Jr and all the other tributes that are bound to be of some interest. Apparently the tribute from District 2 Abigail is the sister of a tribute from a few years ago. "He died," Josie natters on, "so she'll be looking to prove herself. And maybe exact revenge yeah? Oh, you'll have to watch out for her."
I pretend to be thoroughly fixated on my meal. I'd hate to admit that some of what Josie is saying may be useful information. Tula from District 11 is set to be married. She'll want to get home more than anything. The little boy Gunth from District 12 is reportedly the only child who survived a bear attack a few years ago when a hole in the fence allowed a black bear to break in and wreak havoc on a class of fifteen. District 9 Sophia is an orphan. District 8's James Vicor is next door neighbors of Emily Fitch. They grew up together and he's practically a little brother to her. District 3 JJ is the son of one of the head designers of the arenas made ever year for the Games. He's been trained all his life to take his father's place. He'll know things about the arena other tributes can only guess at.
My head is spinning from all this information. My brain has begun to scream at me to run You'regoingtodie!Runnow!They'llkillyoubutit'sbettertobedeadnowthanbehuntedandslaughteredlikeananimalintheHungerGames!
I look up in alarm. Freddie's eyes are locked on me and he slowly shakes his head. Ice courses through my veins. He knew, heknew what I was thinking.
Timber is watching us critically. I turn and give her my fiercest scowl. She sneers back at me. She leans over and whispers something into Ozhim's ear. Ozhim stops chewing for the first time since I've entered the room and lifts his eyes to regard me. He points his fork at me and says over a mouthful of foot, "Your fire is directed the wrong way Effy Stonem. We are not your enemy."
"That's debatable," I retort calmly. He grins and starts to roar with laughter spitting food back onto his plate and in my general direction.
"Too true! You're a sharp one. Maybe we are your enemy. We'll work you ragged before the Games. Does that make me your opposition or your ally?"
"Neither. It makes you a victor. You want one of us to win to make you look good. But if we both fail you can blame it on our weakness," I reply. I probably should be getting o his good side. Victors are the ones that allow gifts from sponsors into the arena. He could deprive me of any aid. But I cannot stop the venom from pouring form my mouth.
Ozhim laughs even harder. Yoni finally looks up joining us all in the awkwardness. He pulls his lips apart in a terrifying smile. "Good pick you are. They were right."
What? Who was right? Ozhim stops laughing and elbows Yoni roughly in the side. I don't understand. Who was right?
Timber turns to Freddie who has stayed silent through my exchange with Ozhim. "So you now. Show us you can survive more than an instant in the Arena."
Freddie smiles softly and shrugs his shoulders. "I don't have anything to add to Effy's tirade. Maybe I don't have the right fire out here. I don't feel in danger currently I suppose." His face grew hard. "But in there… that war zone. How can I not fight for my life?"
Timber looks disappointed. "That melancholy peaceful pretty boy act may work to get you sponsors but will do nothing for you in the real Games."
Freddie just shrugs again. "Sorry I'm not as impressive as I should be." His eyes meet mine and suddenly his brow furrows doubtfully. "Maybe I don't necessarily want to win."
This causes an uproar from Josie, Timber and Ozhim but I'm frozen. Why did he look at me like that? What did he mean he might not want to win? Why would he want to die? Yoni is looking from me to Freddie. He looks like he gets something I can't quite grasp.
Freddie doesn't react to the yelling in the room. He starts to eat again and the three adults finally stop shouting as they realize he's ignoring them. I can't eat anymore. My throat is suddenly tight and my stomach churns threatening to upchuck what I've already consumed.
I leave without saying anything else. My mind does not want to process all the new information so I decide to go to sleep.