*Lyric credit to chapter titles goes to Coldplay's "Us Against the World".

Chapter 1: 63rd Annual Hunger Games

Fletcher's fingers work deftly with the netting, stitching and knotting it into place. There is a thin sheen of perspiration on his upper lip, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead in the hot afternoon sun. Gulls cry overhead, searching for their prey in the ocean – in the distance, the shipping barge blares its horn. Still, Fletcher does not flinch; his eyes don't stray from the rope in his steady hands.

Twelve-year-old Finnick mimics his brother's actions, his brow furrowed at the tangled mess that is his own net. In quiet frustration, he holds the heavily-knotted rope in the air to inspect the damage. Fletcher's netting is tight; the knots are uniform and clean. The only prey that would escape is the minnows. Finnick's net, on the other hand, won't be useful in catching a shark.

"Finnick," his father says, his deep voice causing both brothers to raise their heads, "it's not about imitation. It's about understanding the function of a net and how it's made to entrap its prey. It's about many hours of practice."

Finnick sighs, squinting his eyes in the sun as he stares up at his father. "When Fletcher was twelve, he could make a net."

"Fletcher didn't spend nearly as many hours as you cavorting around with his school friends," his father points out.

Finnick knew it would come back to this. It always does. He never makes friends with fishermen's sons at school, the hardworking lot who'd steer him in the right direction. Instead, he prefers the company of the businessmen's sons, the politicians' boys – they're the ones from a world that fascinates and terrifies him, the ones who can regale him with stories of the Capitol, a place he's never been but intends on visiting. The sons of more privileged families have time for frivolities. One of them, Taye, brought back an ancient game from his most recent trip to the Capitol. It involves a ball which can only be kicked, never handled. The object of the game is to manoeuvre the ball with one's feet into a net, carefully guarded by the other team. Taye says the game existed before the Dark Days. Before even the creation of Panem.

Finnick excels at the game. When it comes to choosing teams, he's always picked first for his natural athletic abilities.

When it comes to something as dull as netting – well, it's something he'd rather not bother with. And he wouldn't bother at all if it weren't for his father's insistence.

The eyes of Leander Odair are a shimmering sea green, and in his father's eyes, Finnick finds his own. With his tanned skin, his narrow nose and his bronzed, wavy hair, Finnick is in every way his father's son. Leander's broad shoulders have the strength for the weight of the world. Under different circumstances, he could have been so much more than a fishmonger. But District 4 is what it is, and so fishing is what the Odairs will do.

Fletcher, whose muted grey eyes are a perfect match to their mother's, raises his eyebrows up and down, just once. Leander hands his youngest son another coil of rope.

"Again, Finnick. Try again."

Finnick can see his schoolyard friends playing another game of Kick-The-Ball a few hundred yards up the shoreline.

Wiping the sweat from his brow with a sigh, he begins from scratch.

Oddly enough, school is where Finnick feels most free. Away from the demands of his father, the superiority of his brother and the apologetic eyes of his mother, Finnick is free to dream he is someone else. Someone who can be anyone he wants to be.

His agility and strength make him the envy of his classmates, but his easygoing nature and willingness to socialize with the highest and the lowest makes him the most sought-after. Amongst his peers, he is king. And he likes it that way.

"My dad's taking me to the Capitol next week," Taye says to Finnick and his friends as they goof around in the schoolyard following the final bell. "Should I try to bring back some chocolate again?"

"Yeah," Finnick says, his eyes widening with excitement. Chocolate is a delicacy from the Capitol rarely exported to the districts. It's so different from the saltwater taffy Finnick and his family feast on for dessert. Creamy and rich, the food of socialites. He's only tried it once, but Finnick's mouth waters just thinking of the chocolate on his taste buds.

"How come you're going to the Capitol again?" asks Keane, throwing the ball at the brick wall of the school building and catching it when it bounces back. "That's three times this year!"

"Dad's in talks with President Snow's advisors," Taye replies with importance. He grins. "If all goes well, District 4'll be expanding its lumber production."

Finnick frowns. "Lumber? Doesn't that belong to District 7?" He remembers learning about it in class. Each district specializes in its own production. District 4 is fishing. It's what they exchange to the Capitol and the other districts for money and other valuable goods – such as District 7's lumber.

"Yeah," Taye says, "but what's stopping us? We have the resources – the trees. If we produce our own lumber, that's one less thing we have to import."

"If we had more industries running in District 4, we'd be rich. Richer than even District 1," chimes in Odin, smacking the ball out of Keane's arms.

"Right," Taye agrees. "That's the idea. The more we expand, the less we need. The more we have to trade, the more we get in exchange."

And the more options I have for myself, Finnick thinks to himself with a surge of hope.

"While I'm there, I'll learn another game, too," Taye says, snapping Finnick from his reverie. "But for now, it's Kick-The-Ball. I choose first. Odair, my team."

Puffing his chest, Finnick starts to join his friend in the ranks. He may be destined for a lifetime in the fisheries, but at least he'll have the knowledge that he can compete with the best of them if given the chance.

The rest of his friends are siphoned into teams, and the game begins. Finnick feels the rush of adrenaline as he races down the court with the ball between his feet, using complicated fake-outs to trick the opposing team. Out here, he is invincible. Out here, he shines. And out here is where he feels that he can really be someone.

In the middle of his game, heart thumping, Finnick raises his head and pushes the hair off his sweaty forehead. Panting, he catches the dull grey eyes of his brother as he walks past the schoolyard fence with two boys from the wharf. All fishermen's sons. With netting spilling out of the packs on their shoulders, there's only one place they could be going.

Fletcher's eyebrows are a thick line as his eyes meet those of his younger brother. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head, he passes the group of young boys and doesn't look back.

But Finnick watches him as he leaves, heaving breaths and wishing all at once that he could be so much more and so much less like him.

Weeks later, Finnick sits on the beach outside his family home, netting sprawled across his outstretched legs. He will learn. His fingers fumble time and time again, but he grits his teeth and forces himself to focus. The sun beats down, its rays burning the skin on his dark shoulders, but Finnick doesn't care. He's just had his fifteen-minute break of swimming in the ocean, and now it's time to focus.

Leander and Fletcher sit on the stoop outside the back door, gutting the fish from the day. Finnick is pleased that his catch today exceeds that of his brother's. He's becoming more comfortable with the trident, more confident. And he can feel Fletcher's resentment boring into his back.

But if a fisherman is what he must be, then a fisherman is what he will be best at. Taye's father had an unsuccessful visit to the Capitol – at least, Finnick guesses that's what happened. His friend has been subdued ever since, refusing to speak of it. And Finnick has noticed the occasional sign in the market pronouncing all trees in District 4 as sacred, not to be chopped. He's seen the Peacekeepers paying more attention to the rural parts of the district, keeping close eye on the woods.

Every district has one specialty. That's the way Panem was designed. Finnick knows he must get used to the idea of fishing.

"That's it, then," Leander says, wiping his hands on his shorts and standing tall. Finnick looks over his shoulder. "Finn, I'll be out again before supper to check on your progress."

He goes inside. Finnick returns to his net with a sigh.

Footsteps approach him in the sand. He hears Fletcher's voice over his shoulder. "Look at all the gaps. That's worthless."

Finnick has the urge to pounce on his older brother, but instead he hardens his gaze and huffs a breath.

"What's the use of being good with a spear when you can't trap your prey to begin with?"

Fletcher is just jealous of Finnick's proficiency with the trident.

He asks another rhetorical question. "What good's being popular in the schoolyard when you're destined to starve?"

He, too, retreats inside the house. Finnick is left alone, with nothing but the low tide and the glaring sun for company.

He swallows his anger. He swallows his fear. And he returns to the net in his lap, for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, until he can't bear the silence anymore and hurls the rope into the sand with a groan.

"It's not that hard," says a small voice. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a small figure approaching.

Embarrassed, he replies gruffly, "I know."

"You're over-thinking it." She sits down next to him in the sand, reaching for the abandoned net. "I can show you, if you want."

"It's fine, Annie," he grumbles, staring off into the sea. His pride won't allow him to be instructed by a ten-year-old girl. What would she know about it, anyway?

"You're three years younger than Fletcher," she points out. "And you're already better with a trident. You can't expect to be better at everything."

He resents this lecture from her. Annie Cresta lives with her mother next door to the Odairs, and Finnick swears she must be spying on him. Sometimes, the things she knows about his family make him suspicious.

Not that she could do any harm. She's just a little thing at ten years old. Still, it annoys him.

"Not better," he says, holding his knees to his chest, "just equal."

Annie sorts out the mass of knots and coils in the rope and continues on. "You'd never settle for equal. You always have to be the best."

"And you always have to be annoying," is his weak retort.

If his words hurt her, she shows no sign of it. "Just try it," she says, thrusting the rope into his hands. "Over, then under. Loop it and pull."

Thinking she'll leave him faster, Finnick does what she says. With her patient, gentle guidance, he realizes after ten minutes that he's made decent progress on the net.

As the sun goes down, Annie's voice lowers to a whisper. "Are you scared, Finn? Is that what this is about?"

His hands freeze in place. He raises his head to meet her gaze. Her eyes are round and wide, innocent, but probing.

With a small shrug, he asks, "Scared of what?"

"The Reaping," she replies. "Next week, it's… your name will be in there."

It's true, he thinks. Now that he's twelve, his name will be entered in the pool just one time. Fletcher, being fifteen, will have his name entered four times.

"I'm not scared," he says without faltering. And he isn't. The chances of being chosen are so slim, even for Fletcher.

"I'm scared," Annie admits.

"You're only ten. Your name won't be thrown in for another two years."

She shakes her head. "I'm scared for you."

Finnick can only hold her gaze for so long before he has to check his surroundings. He heard once, from Taye, that the Capitol's spies are everywhere. One's personal reservations about the Reaping or the Hunger Games aren't to be discussed in public. In public, being chosen as tribute is a great honour. In public, the Games are nothing more than a sport. The most exciting sport Panem has ever seen.

Annie's father is a spy. That's what they say. Abandoned his family to work for the Capitol.

"I'm not scared," Finnick repeats.

Not on the outside, anyway.

"It's an honour to be chosen," Leander tells his sons on the morning of the Reaping. "Remember that."

Rumour from the schoolyard – delivered directly by previous District 4 victors – is that Hunger Games tributes are treated like kings and queens. They travel to the Capitol by luxury train, stay in top-of-the-line suites, are served the Capitol's most expensive food by the Capitol's most in-demand chefs, and have their own personal stylists and are pampered head to toe in the weeks leading up to the Games. What that would be like, Finnick wonders – to travel to the Capitol, be waited on hand-and-foot, and have Capitol citizens cheering him on to win the Games? An honour, indeed.

Finnick's mother, Dixie, dresses him and Fletcher in their nicest pair of pants – pressed and beige, leaving Finnick feeling stiff and ordinary – and button-down, collared navy shirts. It's customary that all eligible children look their best for the Reaping. It's televised, after all, to all other districts and the Capitol itself.

It must be the outfit that has Finnick feeling jittery.

"My boy," whispers Dixie to Finnick as she smoothes down his unruly hair. "My youngest. Are you nervous?"

"No," Finnick lies, inhaling to broaden his chest.

She gives him a small, sad smile. "It's okay to be." Placing both her hands on his shoulders, she gives him a tight squeeze and looks him straight in the eyes. "Your father would have you think there's no greater honour than to be chosen. But I like you right here with me, where I know you're safe."

Finnick stares blankly back.

"I'm proud of you, Finnick," she says, her voice cracking at his name. She wraps him in a hug, and for a moment, he allows his head to rest on her shoulder, wondering which future tributes in Panem are doing the same thing with their mothers – most likely, for the last time.

The Reaping is held in the District Courtyard, with the steps leading up to the Mayor's Hall acting as the platform. Marcocia Duterre is the escort of the District 4 tributes and also has the distinct pleasure of choosing which lucky boy and girl will die (or, every so often, survive) during the Games. When Finnick and Fletcher arrive, she is already awaiting the beginning of the ceremony on the platform, dressed in a flamboyant neon green cat suit with very thin, very tall stiletto heels. The material of her outfit clings to every curve on her body, and Finnick has to fight the disturbed expression that itches to appear. Though Marcocia has been the District 4 escort ever since Finnick can remember, she never seems to get any older. She's become a sex symbol in Panem, the escort all tributes hope to get. Finnick thinks she's been assigned to District 4 because the injections in her very plump lips make her look like a fish.

The District 4 mentors are also awaiting their tributes on the platform. The mentors are past victors of the Games, of which District 4 has a fairly large pool. This year, the mentors are Mags and Jarvis. Mags is one of the oldest surviving victors, using a cane to support herself on the platform, and Jarvis is in his thirties, having won the Games by brute strength. Finnick shudders as he recalls some of the recaps from Jarvis' Games.

The immensity of the crowd never fails to surprise Finnick. Everyone in District 4 gathers in the District Courtyard for the Reaping, spilling into the connecting streets. This is the first time that Finnick will get a prime spot in the crowd, and that is only because male and female contenders are divided into two columns and sectioned off by ropes at the front of the crowd. Overwhelmed by the population, Finnick tags as closely as he can to Fletcher, who eventually snarls at him to bugger off and find his own friends.

It takes time for the Courtyard to fill and settle down, so Finnick has time to hunt through the contenders and find two of his friends, Taye and Odin. They exchange greetings, but the mood of the Courtyard is solemn verging on excitement, so they keep to their own thoughts as they wait.

Finally, the ceremony begins. Marcocia introduces herself as well as the District 4 mentors and welcomes the crowd. There's no time to waste – all twelve Reaping Ceremonies are broadcast in Panem throughout the day, so it's best to get straight to the point.

Marcocia digs around in the glass bowl filled with hundreds of slips of parchment. She calls a name – one Finnick doesn't recognize. The female tribute walks to the stage as the crowd cheers, and Finnick surveys her carefully. She's older, maybe seventeen, and is very sturdy. She may just stand a chance if she knows anything about survival.

Next, the male tribute is chosen. Marcocia closes her eyes as she feels through the bowl, as if it makes a difference. She selects a piece of parchment and unfolds it slowly, holding it straight in front of her in grand ceremony. She looks out to the crowd with a gleaming smile.

"Taye Ellery."

The words take a few moments to register in Finnick's mind. The only names he had been listening for were his own and Fletcher's, and hearing something else entirely sends relief flooding through his veins.

The crowd begins to cheer. Finnick turns to the left, but Taye has already started moving.

The skinny, privileged son of a businessman - name entered only once into the glass ball - has already begun the slow walk towards his fate.

On cool, quiet nights, the waves are calm, hitting the shore in smooth, rhythmic patterns. The itch to break free from a fisherman's dull existence always nags at Finnick's brain, but on nights like this, he appreciates his home on the beach in District 4. It's nights like this, when his brain is too loud, that he finds solace in the silence.

Knowing that his family is inside watching the recap of the day's events at the Games, he steps into the water. He doesn't mean to wade in too deep. He just likes the feel of the sand between his toes as the tide brings it in… and then tears it away, leaving him with a tingling feeling that makes him wonder if it was ever really there in the first place.

"Full moon," says a voice from behind him. He's too blank to be startled by Annie's sudden appearance.

He sighs deeply.

Her feet make small ripples as she moves quietly through the water. Before he can count to three and take another deep breath, she's next to him, her pants rolled up to her knees.

"I'm sorry about Taye. I know he was your friend."

Finnick knew it was coming. He wets his lips, staring at his hands in an effort to collect himself – but it's no use. His mind conjures up images of Taye sprawled on his back just yards shy of the Cornucopia, heading towards the woods for shelter. A pool of blood seeping from his head stains the lush, green grass.

That's all it took. Sixty seconds into the 63rd Annual Hunger Games and Taye was dead.

"He wasn't strong enough," Finnick mutters, recalling the times he'd outrun, or outplayed, or outscored his schoolyard friend.

"Yeah," Annie agrees softly. "The tribute from District 2 was twice his size."

Finnick heaves another sigh. The odds were never in Taye's favour – not in his 4 in the Rankings nor in his feeble presentation in Caesar Flickerman's interviews.

"Better it happened now than later," Finnick says, "before everyone got their hopes up."

Annie has no reply, but stands beside him for a while longer, watching the moon.

The tide comes in, pooling around Finnick's calves and burying his feet. Then it recedes, and with it, the sand.

Hey, fan fiction. It's been a while. I can't lie - this is my first venture into Hunger Games fan fiction and I can't promise I'll get everything right. What I can promise is that I really enjoy what I'm writing and I'm really excited to share the rest.

See you soon :)