A/N: Well, Snuff, here's the first part of your story request I finally got started on! It's not completely what you asked, but this is the first of three (maybe four; we'll see) chapters, so there'll be more. Hope you all enjoy~

"Amer, I'm going to be fine."

My gaze doesn't budge an inch from Matt's. "But you know how many siblings they've been sending in there lately!"

"Well, I'm not going to be one of them."

I exhale a long, hopeless breath and lean forward on the counter. "No, Matt, we can't take the chance, okay? Just act really sick and stay here."

"It wouldn't do any good—you know they would catch me. I have to go to the reaping," he insists, pulling the other sleeve of his dress jacket over his shoulder.

"No, you don't! Just..." I put my face in my hands for a second, trying to figure a way out of this. All I know is this can't happen. If they take Matt... put him in the Games... If he has to die or kill someone just because the Capitol thinks he might give as good a show as I did... I can't even think about it too much. It honestly puts me on the verge of throwing up.

"No, wait," I start, swallowing some bile. "How about I stay here sick, and you just have to stay and take care of me? That could work, right? And I really don't feel good, so we could totally pull it off..."

Matt shakes his head and tries to sidestep me to get to the door. Him getting just that much closer to the reaping makes my pulse rocket even higher.

"We've gone over this, bro," he says quietly, giving up momentarily on getting past me. "If they pick me, they pick me. It doesn't matter if I'm there or not. And they probably won't draw my name, anyway."

"Yes, they will!" I respond, nearly hyperventilating. "You can't go, Matt, you can't! They didn't choose you already because it could wait, but it's their last chance this year, and... and..." My brain's firing off too many things at once for me to figure out what I'm saying anymore.

Matt sighs, shaking my shoulder a little. "Don't lock your knees. You look like you're about to faint."

I weakly comply, but I'm so dizzy at this point it nearly throws me to the ground. Matt uses the opportunity to slip past me, but I seize his arm before he gets too far.

"Matt, no," I whine pathetically.

"Come on, bro." He doesn't try to shake himself out of my grip since it's more or less hopeless. "They're not going to pick me."

I just shake my head repeatedly.

"Amer," he starts suddenly, frowning, "would you kill yourself if I was lost to the Games, one way or the other?"

Crap yes. "No, of course not," I say, smiling. "Come on, Matt, we've been over this..."

"Be honest," he says, unswayed.

My smile falters. "I mean... I would want to, but..."

"Yes, you would want to, and I probably wouldn't be around to stop you. Odds are too high you'll commit suicide, and you know what? The Capitol doesn't want that. They want their Victors to live long and suffer. You're still close to the edge—don't deny it—and they're not going to push you over by reaping me. Okay?"

"Okay...?" I echo. I guess that makes sense, but... I still don't want him to take a chance...

Matt carefully peels my fingers from his arm and steps lightly past me.

"Amer!" Mom's voice makes me turn my head the other way. "Honey," she says, tapping along on her heels towards me, "go shave. You'll be late."

"Oh. Yeah, that." I start to wander back towards my room. I don't get too far before Mom squeezes my wrist.

"It's going to work out fine, you know that, right?" she says quietly. "Your brother is not going to be reaped, and I know you'll do the best you can with whatever poor souls are. So take a deep breath, think good thoughts... and get shaved already. No son of mine is going out there looking like a hick."

I cross my arms strongly. "I don't look like a hick! I look like an action hero."

"Sure you do." She grins, glad to see me somewhat happy even if a lot of it is an act, and elbows me towards my bathroom. "Now go take care of it already."

"All right, all right." I head to the bathroom and get to shaving.

This feels kind of weird. It's only, like, the third time I'm using a razor unsupervised. Guess I'm making some sort of progress, at least. Hopefully it's the good kind.

I finish up and head for the front door. Matt's already left. With how I've been acting, I can't really blame him. And there's no reason for me to act that way because he's going to be fine, because I need him and the Capitol won't serve me justice by taking him away. All right...

I'm having to pull out all of my acting skills up here. I'm not the main attraction, but I'm onstage and everyone can see me. I just hope I don't look as sick as I feel. And by the time Meridia announces she's about to draw names, I have to hope I don't throw up.

I already asked her to draw the boy's name first, so I would either be relieved sooner or... well, not be relieved sooner, I guess. But as she swirls her hand in the bowl, grabbing a slip I'm sure has Matt's name, I start to wish we could have at least put this off a little longer.

"Den Copen!" she calls.

The flood of relief is so powerful I start to feel guilty. Yeah, my brother got out, and I can't even explain how... how... relieving it is. But somebody did still get picked to go fight and die or even worse, live through it.

Able to calm myself down a little by the conflict of emotions, I take a good look at Den as he walks onstage. He's no bodybuilder, but he looks strong enough, from a better-fed family like mine. He looks pretty confident. I don't think he understands just what he's in for. I don't think I'll break it to him if I can.

Meridia goes over to the girl's bowl and picks one. Plutonia Agnelli. I've never heard of her, either.

She comes from the fourteen-year-old section trembling and watery-eyed, but she doesn't burst into tears. She must have a better idea of what this means. Poor kid.

The two shake hands, and then they're off to the Justice Building to say their goodbyes. Make them good ones, guys. You never know what's going to happen to you.

As is customary, I'm not going to chat up the new tributes until supper hits. I'd really rather not talk to them at all, since I can never quite figure out whether not giving them tips keeps them from being killers or just leads to their deaths sooner. But I'd feel really bad if they came to me for help and I just ignored them. So I just lock myself in my room and check out the reapings as the train rattles along.

This year seems to be the normal bunch. And then we get to District 5.

I slam into my bench and start lifting before the horror can completely get to me.