Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Title: D4: Mal Pris

Rating: M

Characters/pairings: Mags

Genre: Adventure & Spiritual

Wordcount (Part One): 9,649

Notes: Wanted to write an early-Hunger-Games fanfic. Who's better than Mags for the job? D4 edition of Running Through the Districts series but can stand alone.

Disclaimer: Things I do not own include: The Hunger Games, the Divine Comedy, the Bible.


Première Partie: Les Tributs

"Margaret."

"What it is, boug?" I says, reeling my fishing line back in. Rien de poissons, but I wasn't really expecting any. There ain't nowheres near our little house that's any good for catching, and if I want anything good to cook up tonight, I'll have to head on down to the docks by the town square. But it's a good two hour's walk into town, and it's reaping day, so it's best not to travel down until I ain't got no choice.

"No marécage tonight, hein?" says my brother. He sits on beside me and rests his face in his hands. "What do now?"

The reaping ceremony ain't for another four hours, and Mawmaw told us not to come home until we had to put on our Sunday best. I dunno why she says Sunday best like that, though. Ain't been Sunday mass since I made five years, before the war began and before the Capitol wrote up the Treaty of Treason and foutait all us in the districts.

I stand and dust the dirt off the seat of my pants, leaning hard on the rod and trying to think of something to do on reaping day, when beaucoup de Peacekeepers come on into District Four and watch us all real close. It's been ten years since all this Hunger Games business began, but a lotta people still make the misère at the reapings. Like it makes much difference anymore.

"Mais," I says. "Anywheres there's still des meurres left for the picking?"

My brother shakes his head, twisting around his shaggy mane of brown hair. "Been picked 'fore they even had the chance to get ripe." He smiles real wide at me and begins walking away backwards. "Not much to do but head on back to Mawmaw's and Pawpaw's and get ready for the reaping."

"Walter!" He turns, and I toss the fishing rod. He fumbles a bit, but catches it, hissing a little. "Mawmaw don't want us home for another hour. Let's see if des poissons will bite for you, hein?" I call, already pulling on up a chadron plant and stripping off the little violet petals at the top. They're edible, but they work well as hooks too, if you can strip them up well enough and sharpen up the peekons so they good and pointy.

"Merde, girl," Walter howls, sucking on the corner of his thumb. "You stuck me with the hook." But he sits on down next to me, swinging his legs in the water and gracefully casting out the line. "You lucky I ain't one for holding grudges," he grumbles.

Laughing a little, I take up a rock and try and carefully sharpen the peekons on the plant in my hands. "You deserved it, trying to disobey Mawmaw," I scold. "Wasn't for her, we'd be living at that maison terrible where all the other orphans go. Ain't no reason they had to take us in after what happened to defante Ma and defan Pop."

Walter scowls and scratches his arm. His face – which has always been a bit dark – looks real tanned from all his work in the sun – traveling into town to work on a purse-seine until the sun goes on setting. Before the war, our family had a boat all of our own – a petit rowboat named after our ma – but when the Capitol went on and killed defan Pop, our ma left with it and ain't never come back since. We always assumed elle est morte, but sometimes, I've gotta hope she's still living and found somewheres better than here.

After a while of scowling down at me, Walter turns on back to the water and pulls a little on the line. "You think I don't know that, pichouette? Dieu, I remember more of the war than you. I remember all them fighting and yelling and dying dans les rues. I seen the worst, and I know we might well be the damn luckiest fille et garçon in Panem. You ain't gotta tell me that."

He's right, of course. I had only seven years during the war and Walter had eleven. I can't remember much but Mawmaw blocking my ears and eyes and crying when her only son – my pop – turned up dead. "Je suis désolée," I apologize, a bit surprised at the response. Walter ain't serious too often, but when he is, he gets real scary. "Guess reaping day's making me all weird."

"De rien. Reaping day makes everyone all weird, don't it?" He gives me a big old smile, which gets bigger when something tugs on the line. "See that?" he whoops, reeling in fast as he can. "We gonna have marécage tonight for sure!"

I smile for a bit and tell him that he's gotta reel it on in faster if he thinks we're eating anything tonight, but then something strikes me hard in the brain and I gotta frown.

"What if they go on and reap me?" I ask. "On account of my having so many slips in there."

Walter won't look at me as he pulls in his catch – a small red snapper. "Don't you worry, Margaret. You don't got too many slips."

I kick my feet in the water, watching the way the drops go shining in the sun. A real long, long time back – around when Pawpaw was born – this area used to be all swampy and marshy, but then the water moved up real high and the world's long-time weather went changing. So now it's less swampy and all like a beach. Pawpaw says where we live used to be called Lafourche, but it's been District Four long as I known.

"Don't got too many?" I murmur. "You ain't never had as many as I got this year." And that's true as my hair is long.

About five years back, Pawpaw slipped on the dock and did a number to his knees. Couldn't make the long walk into town after that, and we all had to have one less meal to make up. I mean, we all tried our best, with Walter's working longer and my making up some fishing rods for Walter to sell in town, but things never been quite the same since.

And then Walter's last year of reaping, the Capitol went on and made this big announcement about how they'll be giving away grain and oil to any of them kids who sign up for more of those petits slips. So Walter and I did it ever since.

I think I got my name in there thirty-three times.

-:-:-:-

When Walter and I make it on home after about an hour fishing out by the water, Mawmaw hurries us along to get us ready quick. I find out she sent us out and told us not to come back until now 'cause she was finishing up a special reaping dress for me, using some floral print Walter picked up special.

Once I've got the dress put on me, I pull Mawmaw into a big hug and squeeze her real close. "Thank you, Mawmaw," I whisper in her ear.

"De rien, pichouette," she says, swatting me a bit on the shoulder. "You outta feel good about yourself, especially on a day like this here. Now," she pulls me back away from her and grips my shoulders, running her eyes on down me. "I think your hair's just fine as is." It's been done up in a million tiny braids, braids that ain't going anywheres anytime soon.

Once we girls got ourselves all ready to head on out, we move on into the sitting room where the men are waiting for us. Pawpaw's sitting down in his straight-backed rocking chair, straw hat perched on his hair and his cane sitting in between his knees. Behind him, Walter stands in a real slick but kinda old and all moth-eaten suit that used be Pawpaw's way back. Silently, we all go on and grab each other's hands.

Left, I've got Walter's hand – which feels all good and strong but kinda rough from pulling on rope and skinning fish – and right, Mawmaw's got her hand all snug in mine. Hers is kinda old and soft, and I can go on and feel them bones in it right through her skin. But her fingertips are real hard and callused from sewing and housework. They're both real comforting, especially once you consider that I'm the only one left who's gotta stand in that big pig pen and hope to the dear Lord that my name ain't gonna be called out.

"Lord," Mawmaw begins. Before the reaping every year, we all get on together in a circle and hold hands and pray on up to the Lord.

One year – when things were real bad after Pawpaw's knees went bad but before the Capitol gave us tesserae – Walter got real angry and loud and shouted at Mawmaw, telling her that there ain't no God in Panem, 'cause if there was then none of this woulda happened. Mawmaw yelled on back and gave him a good slap and told him he ain't welcome in her maison with talk like that.

Walter don't say much on the subject now – just goes on with the praying on account of Mawmaw – but I can sometimes see it in his eyes that he ain't seeing things the same way he did when we were younger and real hopeful-like. Inside of him, there's this real angry man who wants something he ain't never gonna get, and I think that's why he gets on so scary when he gets serious.

"Dieu," Mawmaw prays. "Bless this house and protect us from the wickedness of the world. Keep our chère Margaret safe on this day where we must mourn for all those lives lost in la guerre against the Capitol. And we pray for the souls of my dear fils Joseph and his wife Annie, le defan pere et la defante mere of these beaux enfants. Let them live forever in the paradise of Your kingdom."

"Amen," we all says. Walter comes on in a second after the rest of us, so his deep voice goes ringing through the air after the rest of our voices faded out.

When I look on up into his eyes, I see some of that anger dancing in them like a fresh catch right when it comes on out of the water, so I squeeze his hand real tight in mine.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est, pichouette?" he asks.

"Rien, boug," I says. "Rien."

-:-:-:-

We spend most of the long walk down into town real quiet, not saying much to each other but maybe the occasional word here or there. For a little time, we talk on about what we gonna have for dinner tonight once we get on back home from the reaping, but it just goes on reminding us that I might go and get chosen and never get to see this here dinner we're planning.

Pawpaw can't do too much walking for too long, so Walter and I take turns pushing him along in the old rusty wheelbarrow that Mawmaw's had since she was real young. And when we finally get on into the town square – where a whole bunch of different people arrived before us – Walter kisses me right on the forehead and Pawpaw squeezes my hand before they wheel on into the crowd that sits on the side.

Mawmaw straightens out my braids a bit and then just goes on standing there and looking on up at me. I dunno when it happened, but I somehow became real tall, and now Mawmaw's the one who's gotta look up.

"Je t'aime," she says to me, real quiet like it's a special secret just between the two of us. "I love you."

"Je t'aime aussi," I go on saying, not really thinking much about it. They ain't new words between the two of us, really, and it ain't until after I've gone and said them out loud that I realize how important them words really are. So I says it again. "Je t'aime aussi."

She smiles, and then she goes and leaves me to follow Walter and Pawpaw.

Not long after she goes and I find my place in the section for all us girls who can be reaped, the mayor of District Four goes on climbing onto the stage and taps the microphone good and hard, which sends a loud screeching noise all the way through the square. The mayor's a real small man, so pale you can bet he ain't never worked on a fishing boat his whole life. He sweats a whole lot whenever I see him – shakes a lot too – and I'd bet my tesserae for a whole year that the Capitol's got him right on under its thumb.

He's got a crumpled piece of paper in his hands, and he clears his throat and begins reading from it all careful.

"Many years back," he begins, "une guerre mondiale began, and the great nation of North America was greatly damaged by this crisis. They moved inwards – leaving whole cities behind them – trying to escape the threat of an attack that would never come."

In the beginning, it don't really matter what he says, on account of the fact that no one alive back then is alive nowadays.

"North America relied on many of the other countries to give them the resources they needed to survive, and these other countries were destroyed – by great nuclear weapons, by earthquakes on land and in the oceans – causing great waves to swallow up the land, by fires that came from not taking the right care of the forests."

"The filth they left behind heated up the earth," the mayor continues, "caused great storms in the North and hard droughts in the South. It caused the ice of the world to melt, and the cities on the coasts were swallowed up by great floods of the oceans, making District Four into the home of marécage as it is now.

"There began brutal fighting over the few resources that were left over, so the nation created a system of fourteen areas – the Capitol and the thirteen districts – and assigned each area it's own products, with the glorious Capitol to govern them, to keep them happy and in control.

"But soon the districts grew selfish, began asking for more than the Capitol could give, and the uprisings began."

There's a stirring in the crowd, 'cause we all were alive for this here story, and everyone in the audience wants to make sure that the mayor gets it right this year and tells us the story all straight.

A voice calls out from the crowd. I can't rightly tell where from, but I can tell it's a man's voice, kinda young sounding too. "I wasn't no uprisings," he says. "It was a War on Oppression!" That's what the districts called it back when it was happening, but the Capitol don't want to call it a war. I figure they think it'll make us here in the districts feel more accomplished.

The mayor gives his brow a good wipe with his big shaky hands, and some Peacekeepers go on looking through the crowd of spectators, looking for the man who called out.

So the mayor waits before he goes on talking, nodding on to the Peacekeepers, even while they go on disrupting his speech by scaring everyone listening. They find that young man who said those words about the War on Oppression and push him down to the ground, holding him down real good and tight. He tries and struggle back on up, but one of the Peacekeepers goes and shoots him on down, right through his skull.

A few years back, a whole lotta people would've tried and stopped the Peacekeepers, tried and caused a big old ruckus and got right on shot too. But now people just ain't got no life to them anymore. It's been stolen away by the Capitol and their Hunger Games.

Once the man who shouted out's gone and died, the mayor goes on talking like nothing happened. "After seven long months of fighting the terrorist in the districts that caused these Dark Days, the Capitol defeated twelve of these districts and destroyed the thirteenth. Upon the victory for peace, a council of Capitol Senators created the Treaty of Treason to guarantee peace within the districts. It was this treaty that gave us the Hunger Games, to remind the districts that the uprisings are never to be repeated."

After he finishes, the mayor goes and pauses for a real time, waiting for someone else to say something and get killed without no chance to live.

But ain't no one says anything after that. Ain't no one gonna make the misère aujourd'hui.

In the last nine years of Hunger Games, District Four ain't had a single victor yet, so there ain't no need to introduce anyone but Lila Fitzgerald, a young femme from the Capitol who don't know the difference between a cat and a catfish.

She goes on up to the microphone, trying to be real happy but falling a bit flat. A few years back, someone started a big old rumor in District Four that the Capitol was gonna go and cancel the Hunger Games 'cause they don't like it much more than the districts. But it wasn't true back then and it ain't never gonna be true.

"Hello," Lila Fitzgerald says with a fake smile spreading all the way across her face. "This year there will be a few special surprise changes to how the Games will work." The microphone buzzes real loud on the word work, but Lila Fitzgerald just goes on talking. "This means that we'll all meet the players before they enter the arena. Exciting, isn't it?" she asks, looking all cheery even though we all know that she ain't any more cheery than the mayor is or the Peacekeepers are.

"Alright," she says after a long pause, apparently having expected someone in the crowd to go on and agree that this here is real exciting indeed. "I suppose we'll choose this year's tributes for District Four." Now, she goes and gives a different smile to the crowd – kinda reassuring – and winks at all those kids penned on in the middle of the square. "May the odds be in your favor," she says, then pauses with her eyes real wide and laughs, as if she's just said the cleverest thing she ever heard.

I ain't ever heard anyone from the Capitol telling us may the odds be in your favor before, and I've gotta wonder if Lila Fitzgerald means that she hopes we get picked or we won't.

But before I can go and give it some real thought, Lila Fitzgerald starts digging around in one of the two big glass bowls sitting on that there stage.

When the Hunger Games started, the Capitol used a big cage full of balls with kids' names on them. The person from the Capitol would go and turn a little crank on the side of the cage, and one of the balls would come rolling out. But now they use bowls, on account of the fact it's more elegant, I guess.

Lila finally gets ahold of one of them petits slips and walks up to the microphone, clearing up her voice and unfolding the paper all careful.

"Margaret Lafont," she says slow, like she's not sure of the pronunciation.

It takes me a couple of seconds to realize that name she called was mine.

And I can't quite remember to breathe right after that.

-:-:-:-

They go ahead and give me fifteen minutes to say goodbye to Walter and Mawmaw and Pawpaw, all of us gathered around in a tiny little room in the Justice Building that ain't got any air flowing through it. I didn't realize just how hot this here day has been until we all piled into that room like those sardines they go on stuffing to cans down at the cannery.

I dunno if it's the way the room's all hot and cramped, but my head's spinning around on my shoulders, and I can't seem to catch my breath proper. Even when Pawpaw goes on and pulls me into one of those big hugs that he only gives rarement, my heart's soaring all the way up in my throat and my feet are all itching to go for a real long run.

He says something to me in the Old Language – the one only a handful of people in District Four can understand rightly – and I almost miss it 'cause he whispers it so quiet.

"Je t'aime, pichouette. Bonne chance. Tu gagneras. Je crois."

I love you, little girl. Good luck. You'll win. I believe.

"Je crois," I whisper on back. If I learned anything from Mawmaw and Pawpaw, it's that believing may well be more important than anything else in the world.

Next, Mawmaw attacks me with a whole bunch of kisses – on my cheeks, on my forehead, on my nose – and goes to crush me in her arms. She does that thing she always does, where she pulls away to get a real good look at me, holding tight around my shoulders like I'm holding her down to the world.

"We'll pray for you," she says – real firm and kinda loud – and behind her, Walter's whole body stiffens right up, like he's been slapped right across the face.

He cuts on forward and yanks me away from Mawmaw, crushing me in his hands like I ain't ever felt before. Dieu, his fingers go on digging so hard in my arm that I'm gonna have bruises for sure. He practically yells at Mawmaw, "Don't you get it, Mawmaw? It don't make no difference if we pray on up to your Dieu précieux ou non. You prayed to Him asking Him to protect Margaret, and then she goes and gets chosen right off." Walter's face burns all red and his voice raises up. "Don't you realize, Mawmaw? There ain't never been no God in Panem and there ain't never gonna be, and this," – he goes and squeezes my arm harder – "This here is proof."

Now, he lets go of my arm and turns to me, his eyes real soft and dark – like chocolate, which I got to eat once a real long time back and loved a whole lot. "I'm sorry Margaret. Je t'aime bien, but I ain't gonna be praying for you."

"Je comprends," I says, 'cause I really do.

-:-:-:-

After I finish up talking with my family, the Peacekeepers come on in and whisk me into une voiture – something that I ain't never ridden in myself but fishers use to drive the catch down to the cannery. Honest, I can't say why anyone ever could have thought this driving business was a real smart idea, 'cause by the time we all make it down to the train station, my stomach is mighty unsettled.

Later on, the train ain't much better. It ain't as smooth as Lila Fitzgerald seems to think it is, and all the lurching and stopping does a real number to my stomach. I don't really want to complain much, on account of the fact that the boy who's going on with me to the Capitol is real small and if anyone's gotta have some being taken care of, it's him. But after a few hours doing nothing but laying in the bed them Capitol people gave me to use, I gotta track down Lila Fitzgerald and ask how much longer this here trip is gonna take.

She gives me a little look when I talk to her, though, like I'm the scum of the earth and she don't want to get too near be on account of my stupid being contagious. "We'll arrive tomorrow morning at ten," she says. "If you're hungry, the dining cart is just the next one over," she adds, like she trying to get rid of me.

I ain't had anything to eat since le petit déjeuner, but I'm a little afraid anything I'm gonna eat will just come right back up again. "What we doing when we get there?" I go on asking, both 'cause I'm curious and 'cause I wanna bother her a little. "You said back at the reaping that the Hunger Games are gonna go on a bit different this year."

Lila heaves a big old sigh like she ain't never met someone so hard to deal with, but she goes on talking anywho. "They're going to interview you tomorrow afternoon. And then, you'll be given a day to train before you go into the arena."

"Interview me? Merde," I curse. "What they gonna ask me?"

Lila's lips curls on up. "Ax you?"

"Ouias," I says, not sure why she's going on and looking at me like that. "You know what questions they gonna ask me?"

"No." Reaching on up to pat down her hair – which ain't the same colour as her eyebrows – she begins walking over to the next cart – the one that ain't the dining cart. "I suggest you get something to eat before they put all the food away for the night."

She got a point there, and she made it good and obvious that she ain't up for any more conversation with a District Four backwater hick, so I go on walking off opposite her. There's a moment where I'm sure as hells bells that I'm gonna die when I'm between the two carts and the wind's all flying around me and the world's passing right by me in a blur, but I slam the dining cart door behind me before I go and do something real embarrassing like throwing up.

When I get calm enough to pay much any attention, aroma of the food reminds me how hungry I really am. On the big table sitting in the middle of the cart, they got everything a gal could ask for. Un poulet, plums, des patates, and even chocolate. Heck, they got foods I ain't seen before in my life but look better than any poisson I ever caught or meurre I ever picked.

"Dieu," I says, inhaling deep so the smell fills up my whole body. "J'ai faim."

"Stuff's delicious," says a young voice sitting down at the table. It's Edward Martin – who's petit and looks like he ain't even made thirteen yet. I reckon he might be from town, on account of the way he speaks kinda like he got a school education instead of having his mère ou père teach him. I ain't heard him say much, but he don't seem to use much of the Old Language.

"Sure looks fine, boug," I says. I go on and take the seat across him, piling un patate and some chocolate high on my plate.

"Don't you go calling me boug," Edward Martin warns, his eyes dark and his face in a scowl. "I'm gonna fight to win, and I don't want you to go on and get in my way." He finishes his little warning by tearing off a piece of his poulet with his teeth, trying to look all tough but just looking real small and immature.

Taking a big bite of chocolate – which might be the best thing I ever tasted – I look at Edward real hard. "Mais, you got probably, what, twelve years? You even know what the Hunger Games are about?"

"'Course I do," he screeches around a big old piece of meat that's hanging outta his mouth. "We learn about the uprisings in school."

But he goes on using that phrase uprisings, so I know that he ain't heard anything but propaganda straight from the Capitol itself. "You mean the War on Oppression?" I ask, thinking about that poor young man in the town square who lost his life for saying the same thing. I figure I'll be losing my life real soon too, so it don't really matter. But that thought makes it so I gotta shove the fear rising in my throat back down.

Edward must be thinking along the same lines as me, 'cause he cringes a little and stares at his plate. His eyes are vert – the same colour as the seaweed that goes and gets caught on the shore during the hottest days of the year – and his mouth's wide as a trout's. "No one in school ever called them the War on Oppression."

"Yeah," I mumble. My stomach's still kinda upset, so I don't manage eating more that half of the chocolate and un petit morceau du patate. "Ain't no one in the Capitol ever called them the War on Oppression neither."


Sometimes I forget that not everyone can slip in and out of French, so if there's anything that needs clarification, let me know.

In addition, this is a three part story (six chapters, though. Two for each part.), much like how THG itself is separated into three parts. If you leave a signed review, I will happily send you a preview of the next chapter (Les Tributs, II), which should be posted sometime next week.