Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Title: D4: Mal Pris

Rating: M

Characters/pairings: Mags

Genre: Adventure & Spiritual

Wordcount (Part One): 9,649

Summary: The seventy-fourth wasn't the first time a tribute convinced the Gamemakers to let two people out of the arena alive. The story of Mags' reaping, victory, and the twenty-four deaths in-between. A numbers game.

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


Première Partie: Les Tributs, II

I don't wake up the next morning until the train's arrived in the Capitol and Lila Fitzgerald and some other woman go knocking on my door and I gotta scramble outta bed to answer.

I'm still in the dress Mawmaw made for me and I wore to the reapings yesterday après-midi, and when I open on up the door, Lila clucks her tongue and shakes her head at me, looking down at me like I ain't even worthy of being in her presence. The other femme, though, tilts her head to the side and squints at me real hard. She's got a big long bag and a box in her hands, and she goes to put them on the ground before she can go on and inspect me closer.

"I like her hair," she says, reaching up to finger the braids. I go on and let her 'cause I ain't sure what else to do. "I can work with that." After a moment of fumbling around with my hair, she drops her hand down to my face and runs her fingertips along my cheeks. "Her complexion is dark, so jewel-tones will work best. That's good. It goes with the dress I made."

Letting go of my face, she walks around me, inspecting me with her hands clasped behind her back. I ain't sure whether I'm supposed to turn my head and follow her with my eyes, so I just kinda stand there, feeling an awful lot like one of them poissons that the Capitol comes on down and catches out of District Four every half year. Pawpaw says they cut them on up and look inside them to see that the water's good and healthy, but I always feel real bad for them.

"Thank you, Lila," the femme says, real polite and with a little smile that's sweet enough to be right off Mawmaw's face. It's pretty obvious this here is a Capitol lady, and I ain't never assumed that all the people from the Capitol are high strung and got no patience, but the way she acts surprises me a bit. "She'll be ready soon."

Even I can tell that's Capitol-speak for "get on outta here," and Lila nods a little – looking a bit relieved to be leaving – and closes the door on shut behind her, leaving it so it's just me and this nice-sounding Capitol femme.

"So, you're Margaret Lafont, aren't you?" she says, dropping on down to the floor and opening up the box she brought in with her. "That's a pretty name. Mine's Jocasta. Now," she pulls a few tubes and bottles out of her box and goes on giving me a wide smile. "I'm going to have to ask you to strip down. We've got some work to do."

I may well have thought Jocasta seemed real sweet and nice, but what she does to me after that's real vicious and hurts a whole lot more than it should. She starts out by stripping me of all my hair everywheres but the top of my head, and when she finishes up with that and I think all the pain's good and over and ain't gonna start up again, she comes on at my eyes, trying to poke them out. I try and keep real still when she tells me she's just doing it all to make me look pretty, but my body don't agree. Ain't nothing that hurts should be called pretty.

When she's all done with attacking my face, I've gotta put on a dress that looks just like the ocean in the sunset – all emerald and sapphire with some orange and yellow and violet – and Jocasta does some crazy thing to my hair, putting half of it up.

"You're beautiful," she coos.

I just go on scowling. "Ain't feeling beautiful."

We get off the train together and meet up with Edward Martin, Lila Fitzgerald, and some other homme on the platform. They got some people around snapping pictures with fat cameras that got huge lights stuck to the top of them, and every time there's a big old clicking sound, them lights go on flashing in my eyes. I can't see a thing on account of the black dots on my vision. But someone grabs my hand and pulls me along with them until we hop into something a whole lot like une voiture but real long and a whole lot sleeker.

"Dieu," I says, rubbing by eyes real good. "They trying to blind us all before they go on killing us?"

In the seat next to me, Edward blinks a bit himself and runs a hand through his hair. It looks like whoever made him look all fancy tried their darndest to slick back his hair clean and smooth, but it's still as spiky and fluffy as it was back in the dining cart. "I don't like this," he says, looking real uncomfortable in the suit they put him in. The bow tie matches my dress perfect. "Why can't they just put us in the arena now?"

Lila – whose lips are red and shiny as blood now – smiles at us with perfect white teeth. "The people want to see you first, get to know you. It'll make the sponsoring system run so much smoother," she gushes.

I ain't sure what exactly she means by the "sponsoring system" until I think of the gifts that some people got in past Hunger Games. "You mean, it's people in the Capitol who go on and pay for them gifts in the arena?" I think of a few years back when one boy got himself a gun from one of those parachutes and went on to shoot a little girl who hid herself in a bush.

"That's right," Lila chirps on. "Do well in the interviews and you may get your own gifts in the arena."

Everyone becomes real quiet after that, so I go on and stare out the dark window. I watch the shiniest buildings I ever seen roll on by, so tall I gotta crane my neck up high to see their tops. I catch sight of a few fat grey birds eating off the sidewalks before my stomach begins whining and I've gotta look straight ahead and close my eyes.

When the sleek voiture – which I hear Lila call a limo – comes to a stop, Lila pushes Edward and me right on out the door so we're walking behind two other kids down a long rouge carpet. All over again, fat cameras snap all around us and I gotta squint if I wanna see anything.

The fille et garçon walking in front of me are real short with dark hair – they gotta be from District Three – and walk real stoic and uncomfortable. Next to me, Edward does the same.

But then I go on thinking about Walter who got such anger in him but acts so kind and Mawmaw who went on and spent the whole matin making a pretty dress for me and Pawpaw who don't talk much but always says a whole lot when he does.

So I lift on up my hand and wave at them flashes of light, smiling real wide and pretending I'm walking down the path that leads home.

I might not be going on home to see them all again, but I ain't gonna let them remember me any other way.

-:-:-:-

All us tributes gotta wait backstage before we go on out for our interview with Virgil Maro – who's real famous here in the Capitol but I ain't ever heard of in my life. In the dark back there, I can't get a good look at most of the other tributes, but I can see the fille et garçon from District Three, and up close, they look so alike – with dark shiny hair and narrow eyes – that I could think they were brother and sister if I didn't know they ain't. Behind me, the boy from District Five coughs a whole lot – real loud and wet sounding – but I don't get no real look at him.

Virgil Maro seems nice and all, but I get the feeling that he ain't too original, and when he's calling me out onstage, I feel like I already know exactly what he's gonna ask me.

"So, Margaret," he says once I sat in the armchair across from his and the audience stopped its applause. "What was your reaction when your name was called at the reaping?"

Sitting on this here stage in front of all them Capitol folks ain't doing much but making me nervous. My stomach feels just like it did on the train. I gotta swallow before I start talking. "Dieu, I reckon I'll let you know when I do," I says, a little sheepish. Virgil and the audience laugh a bit, and I've gotta smile when my stomach stops flopping around so hard. "I wanna go home, but I know there ain't much chance of that happening.

Leaning forward, Virgil Maro mashes his fingertips together so they look like spiders walking on each other's feet. "And what do you think are your odds of winning? In the words of your escort – Lila Fitzgerald –" The audience claps on a bit for Lila – "Do you think that the odds are in your favor?"

"Peut-etre," I says, doing a little maths in my head. "I reckon my odds are good as any – one in twenty-four." I ain't much for speaking right, but it's me Mawmaw and Pawpaw turn to when they're needing maths to be done. "I reckon that's four percent."

"A little grim," says Virgil, "when you look at it that way."

I ain't sure whether he wants me to say something to that, so we just sit there for a second until he goes on talking again.

"It sounds to me that you're a pretty smart girl," he praises, even though it sounds too hollow. "But…" He trails on off, like he doesn't wanna sound rude but knows he will if he goes on talking.

"Mais," I says. "My famille et moi live real far from town, so I ain't never had a school education. Butmy mémère taught me everything I need to know. We ain't got many books, but she taught me to read from the Bible." I ain't too sure how wise it is to go on talking about the Lord in the Capitol – where barely anyone thinks Dieu is anyone but an imaginary superhero – so I move on real quick. I look on out at the audience, even though it ain't easy to make out any faces with the way the light's shining down on me. "Don't you go thinking I ain't too bright on account of how I talk."

Virgil smiles at me, all kindness and a little too real for comfort. "Well spoken, Margaret. Now tell us," – now he drops his voice low, like he's asking me to tell him a secret – "what makes you believe you deserve to win the Tenth Annual Hunger Games?"

For a moment, I don't got no thoughts in my brain. And then my mind goes flashing a thousand places, and I can barely keep up.

There's the feeling of Mawmaw's hand in mine, soft and warm but callused at the fingertips and keep our chère Margaret safe on this day where we must mourn for all those lives lost in la guerre and Walter's toffee-coloured eyes staring straight on into my soul and I know we might well be the damn luckiest fille et garçon in Panem and Pawpaw and je crois.

Je crois, je crois, je crois…

"Pourquoi croyez-vous que je le pense?" I ask, 'cause my mind's gone slipping complètement into the Old Language.

Virgil goes on and gives me a real puzzled look. "Excuse me?"

"I don't think I deserve to win," I says. "I don't think anyone deserves to go on winning if they gonna kill innocent enfants to get there, and I know that when I'm in that there arena I'm gonna go on killing people if I can."

Je crois…

-:-:-:-

Once Virgil Maro kicks me right offstage the nicest way un homme from the Capitol knows how, I spend all my time watching everyone else go on talking with him, some of them laughing it on up with him other ones acting real quiet and a little nervous.

The boy from District Five says he's fourteen, but he's real scrawny and got such a bad cough that I gotta wonder if he's lying. The boy from Seven's real wide built and ain't too worried about going into a whole lot of detail about how he's gonna go and cut down all us tributes like he does with trees back home. The girl from Eight's got the biggest eyes I ever saw, and they seem to see everywheres without even needing to look.

Then there's the girl from Ten, who goes and breaks my heart before I even get a chance to hear her speak.

She may well be the prettiest girl I ever seen, with hair that's real long and dark and skin that looks so pale it ain't even real. Makes me run my hands over my own face and feel it's dirty and pull at my own hair and feel it ain't pretty as I used to think.

I mighta felt more jealous if she wasn't pregnant.

-:-:-:-

"You all see that girl?" I ask that night when Edward, Lila, and me are all sitting together and eating dinner. They serving us all marecage tonight, and I can't help but wonder why.

Taking a big bite outta his homard, Edward scowls. "What girl? There's eleven of them, if we ain't counting you."

"The pregnant one," I says, sending him a big old glare on account of the way he's been acting since I met him. I know he's scared – so am I – but there ain't no reason to act like he is. "You all think they're gonna let her go into the arena like that?"

"They are."

I turn and look at Lila, who's cutting up her own meal real careful, putting small pieces on her fork and chewing with her mouth closed before she starts on up talking again. I ain't sure if I wanna look right in her eyes if she's saying what I think she is, so I stare at her eyebrows, which are a good twenty shades darker than her hair.

"There was some debate," Lila says, "on whether or not they should force her into labor and have her baby before she goes into the arena. The Senate even voted on it, and it was decided that she was reaped as she is and should go in as such."

"Les bâtards!" I curse. I dunno if this ever happened before, but that ain't the way to handle this situation. They don't got any right to send a pregnant woman into the arena. Mais, they ain't got the right to send anyone in the arena, but they go on doing it anywho. Ain't ten years more than enough to make up for just seven months?

Edward chuckles a little, and it may well be the first time I ever saw him smile. It scrunches on up his eyes and twists at his lips. "You kiss your mère with that mouth, girl?"

Something real hot and kinda painful shoots right on up through my chest and into my forehead, making my nostrils flare right up and the space back behind my eyes itch bad. "Va te faire foutre!" I yell at him, standing on up fast enough to knock my chair right to the floor. I ain't ever said that to anyone before and ain't quite sure when I ever heard it been said to me. And if Mawmaw were to hear me she'd be ready to beat my hide real good for it. But right now, all I can think about's my defante ma sailing on away on our old rowboat and how I ain't never seen her since.

"I don't got one," I says. If my cussing weren't enough to realize that I ain't thinking right, my next words do the trick, 'cause then I turn right on around to Lila and says, "Et je crois we all know whose fault that is."

That's when I go on and walk right on out of the room and stomp off to my sleeping quarters.

I try and not blink and ignore how my eyes itch.

-:-:-:-

That night, I have a dream.

I'm standing on the edge of the beach, looking on out at la mer. There's a rowboat sitting right on the edge of the water, and waves keep on moving farther and farther on up the shore, threatening to push that tiny rowboat right on into the sea. I try and take a step forward to stop it from drifting off, but I can't rightly move, and when I look down at myself, I see why.

I'm a tree. With tough dark bark and vines that wrap all the way around my body – trunk – with great sharp peekons digging on into me. And when I look back to the rowboat, I see there's someone slumped down inside – lying so I can't see his face – and a woman climbing on in beside him. A woman with dark, wild eyes that got so much sadness curled up in them that I can't do nothing but stare at them.

She gets on into the boat real careful and pulls the man onto her lap, stroking his face, running her thumb over his closed yeux and parted lips. Then, pulls his face up real close to hers – so that her hair falls on over his cheeks and down his neck – and kisses him right on the middle of his forehead.

"Joseph." She whispers, but I can still hear it from my place rooted on the shore, and it's my defante ma's voice on her lips, sans doubt.

The boat starts moving on out into the sea, taking l'homme et la femme with it, and I dunno why, but I suddenly feel real small and helpless and wanna run off after them.

Ma! Pop!

Someone pushed the rowboat away from the shore, and I'm so distracted by the sight of it disappearing into la mer that I don't see that someone come lumbering on up towards me until he's standing right in front of me – the boy from District Seven – with an ax coming right towards my body – trunk.

Right before I wake up – right before that ax hits me where my stomach oughta be – I get my first good look at that femme's face, the one whose drifting off into la mer. The one with my defante ma's voice.

It's that girl from District Ten. The pregnant one.

There's pain in my stomach, and everything goes fading away.

-:-:-:-

When I wake on up, I gasp instead of breathing, and I ain't too sure where I am. It's still real dark outside – or dark as it can get in the Capitol – but I can't fall back asleep no matter how hard I try.

So I stay lying in my bed and staring on up at the ceiling until it gets light out, thinking about everything that I'm scared of but can't put in words.

-:-:-:-

"You wanna team up?"

Even after all that thinking this morning, I ain't sure why I'm doing this or what I'll be getting outta it, but I can't stop myself now. Some reason, all I can think about is my defante ma. Like if I can stop this girl from drifting away it'll be like I never let my ma do it neither.

"Huh?" The girl from District Ten's squatting on the ground, rubbing two sticks together real hard, trying to make fire. But her belly sticks out so far she ain't even able to see what she's doing.

"Tu t'appelle comment?" I ask, 'cause I've been calling this fille all sorts of different things inside of my head, but I ain't never learned her name. "What's your name, chère?"

Looking on up at me, she tries and get up but stumbles a bit. I try and catch her by the shoulder, but instead she goes and drops her hand in mine so I can help her climb on up onto her feet again. Her fingernails are real long – not as long as Lila Fitzgerald's – but her palm feels rough. "Ruth," she says. "And what?"

"I asked if you wanna team up," I says, sounding more calm than I feel. "And I'd be thinking real hard on it if I was you, 'cause I don't think you're gonna get too many offers."

"But…" she places her hand on her stomach – her fingers splayed – and her eyes go hazy. "Why?"

Why didn't anyone volunteer for you, honeychile?

"'Cause I ain't gonna live knowing a pregnant woman had to die for it to happen."

Even as I says it, I know that it ain't really the whole truth, on account of the fact that I ain't under any delusions that I'm gonna live too long. After hours lying on a bed much softer than my own at home and doing nothing but thinking – about how I don't wanna die, about how Mawmaw always says that the Kingdom of Heaven's waiting for us but how I ain't too sure there's anything after I'm gone and I ain't ready to be nothing but an empty body – I finally decided that I might well use the time I got left to do something that'll at least make Mawmaw – if Walter's right and there really ain't a God – proud.

The pregnant girl from District Ten – Ruth – stares on up at me and smiles the widest I ever seen someone from the districts smile. "What's your name?" she asks, holding out her hand for a good shake.

I take it. "Margaret."

"Huh. You seem more like a Mags to me."

-:-:-:-

I spend un autre night doing nothing but staring on up at the ceiling, and après some time, my brain starts making pictures that ain't there. Un chadron, Walter's smile, Lila Fitzgerald's hand reaching on into that fish bowl and grabbing one of them slips. And always a tiny boat floating out into la mer. They all go dancing through the dark, and even when I go to close my eyes, they still there, shifting and turning right on the inside of my eyelids.

I must fall asleep at some point or another, 'cause one second the room's just starting to fill up with the light of the morning, and the next, Lila Fitzgerald comes stomping on into my room and shaking me so hard my teeth rattle.

"Get up," she hisses at me, loud as I ever heard a hiss. "You're having breakfast, and then the hovercraft will come to take you into the arena." Giving me one more good shake, she straightens herself right on up and swipes some of her hair outta her face. "You're already late, Margaret. If you aren't in the dining room for breakfast in the next five minutes, then you're just going to have to go into the arena on an empty stomach."

I ain't awake enough to watch her leave, but I hear the door click shut behind her.

First thing I think when I roll on outta bed and stumble around my room's that I ain't gotten enough sleep in the last couple of days. My eyes ache like nothing else – coming in and out of focus real quick – and I gotta squint when I'm picking something out from the closet.

I don't even bother trying to match anything together – 'cause I really ain't never had much practice doing that anywho – and when I walk on into the dining room where Lila and Edward are already eating, Lila gives me a sideways look and shakes her head a little.

Guess brown and black ain't a good combo here in the Capitol.

But I forget all about that when I find out they got flapjacks with chocolate pieces baked right into them. I have them with some clear brown syrup that's straight from District Seven, and I gotta rethink everything I ever knowed about the world when I go on tasting them. The chocolate goes on melting inside the flapjack while I'm eating, so when I put it on into my mouth it goes mixing up with the syrup, and… Dieu m'aide!

I go on eating almost three before Lila sets down her napkin atop of her plate and starts talking at Edward and me.

"Now," she says, pursing her lips a bit when she sees I gone and licked up the sticky stuff on my fingers. "A hovercraft will be situated in the city center waiting for all of the tributes to arrive. Once you're on the hovercraft, you'll be taken to the arena. We have to be there at nine thirty, so I expect to see you in the lobby by nine." Then, she stands on up and smoothes down her skirt before she strides out, leaving us two tributes sitting there all alone.

For a while, we just kinda sit chewing and digesting our food until Edward stands and follows Lila's path back to his room. "We got twenty minutes before we gotta be in the lobby," he says, his voice sounding kind of tight and high. "I'm gonna…" Clenching his fists, he blinks real hard, and I can't help noticing how bright his eyes seem.

My heart breaks a little, 'cause he's twelve and ain't got much chance of anything in the arena. 'Cause he's twelve, and he ain't gonna see another day.

"You okay?" I ask, even though any one-eyed poisson could see he ain't.

"I'm fine," he goes and snaps at me, cracking on that there last word. "I'm gonna sleep a little more. I don't care what you do."

And then I'm sitting in the dining room all by myself. I kinda wanna go off and sleep a little myself, but I know that I ain't gonna catch any z's after filling up good on them delicieux flapjacks, and it don't take me long to come up with une mauvaise idée.

The Capitol's building some big Training Center where us tributes gotta stay when we come on here for the Hunger Games, but it ain't finished yet, so we all staying in a real fancy hotel instead. It don't take me long to find the stairs and head on up to the next floor, where District Five's supposed to be staying.

I dunno what I was expecting, but when I get on up to the top of the staircase, there ain't anyone in the hallway I can see. The carpet's the same as the one on the District Four floor, and the walls are all done up with the same striped wall paper. And I'm just about ready to go on and leave for the next floor when I hear a god-awful noise coming from one of them doors.

It's kinda high and moaning but angry and low at the same time, and the only thing I can think I ever heard that sounded like it was the sound that man made in the square only a couple of days ago when the Peacekeeper shot him right through his head. Way on in the back of my mind, I remember something else too, interrupted by the sound of Mawmaw's voice – younger than I ever heard it since my defan pop died.

And I know I gotta find out what's making that there noise.

Stepping real careful, I tiptoe right on down the District Five hallway until I come across a door that's open only a little – ajar. That moaning sounds real loud here, and I can make out some words.

"Oh, God. I can't… I… Please forgive me. Why won't they leave me alone? She's— I… I'm sorry."

Slow-like, I press my fingertips against door until it backs on away from me and I can see clear into the room.

It's a man – peut-être un garçon – standing with a gun in his hand, pressed up against his chest, against his temple. He ain't facing me, and I can't get a good look at his face, but he's real familiar, especially with that gun tight in his fingers. He ain't the boy tribute – Gregory, I learned – ain't nearly as small and don't got the same shocking red hair.

It ain't until he pulls the trigger at his chest – suddenly making the most desperate wheezing sound my virgin ears ever witnessed – that I recognize who he is.

Pietro Siena. The victor of the Seventh Hunger Games. The one who got that gun, who shot that little girl.

-:-:-:-

Let the Games begin!

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

As with last chapter, if you leave a signed review, I will happily send you a preview of part two (Les Jeux), which should be posted sometime next week.