A/N: This story is very strongly based on the original book, 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins, and this is the story of another tribute, chosen to compete in the games. I know that this is very similar in structure to the original book (there will eventually be 27 chapters), but it's meant to be. With the exception of a couple of characters (most notably Finnick), everyone is of my own creation, just added to Suzanne Collins' universe.
P.S. not all author's notes will be as long as this :)
I hit the ground, and the harsh grit digs into my back and cuts me under my shoulder blades. My head hits the ground hard, leaving me senseless for a few moments before the pain pulsates through my body from my injured leg. Only then does the fear return, and with it comes the imminent threat of Quintus. I try to get to my feet and run, but my legs are rooted to the spot in fear and won't go anywhere. Quickly Quintus is upon me, his tall, athletic figure silhouetted by the sun. But I can still see the bow.
Even though I'm paralysed with fear, I manage to force a small uttering as he trains his weapon on me.
"Give Finnick my regards, will you?"
Pt. I- Fear
POV: Ludovic Robertson (15), District 4 Citizen
11 Seaway Lane, District 4
7.30 am, Sunday 8th July, year of the 66th Hunger Games
I wake with a start, to hear knocks on the door. From light filtering in through the thin curtains, I can tell it's not long after dawn. I'm amazed I've slept soundly through to dawn. It's the day of the Reaping; I was expecting to wake with a sweat, shocked to the bone. But no nightmares tonight, surprisingly.
The house sounds empty. I guess from the time that my parents are out. I can remember that they left in early light last year. They're probably walking the coastal paths, clearing their minds. They have done at every other Reaping I can remember, since Bella was twelve. I don't recall Reapings before then. But that was the 59th Games; I can't even remember who won. It might have been that twin from One. I see the face in my mind, but the name doesn't present itself. Never mind, I've only just woken up.
I turn over in bed to stare at the clock on my bedside table. Seven-thirty. It's later than I thought. The sun's already been up over two hours. Past the clock, I see two photographs, something that mark our family out as wealthy among my district. They might be grainy and monotone, but they are photographs nonetheless. Both were taken out in the bay last summer, the day before the Reaping. It seems too long ago, I still remember the day so clearly. A picnic on the beach, frolicking in the sea. My family and best friends. Making the most of possibly our last day together in District 4. One photograph shows my family; me, mother, father and Bella. The other shows my best friend and myself. I'm glad he was smiling. I hope he enjoyed what we hoped wouldn't be his last day at home.
The repeated knocking at the door reminds me that I'm keeping somebody waiting. I clamber out of bed, clothe myself, and have time to check my hair in a mirror before answering the door. I'm unlucky. It's one of those days when whatever I try won't flatten it. Brilliant. Now if I'm picked in the reaping, I'll be carted off to the Capitol looking like I don't care for myself, let alone anyone else.
I push the Reaping to the back of my mind as I open the heavy oak door to whoever it might be that has come knocking.
I'm greeted at first by the fresh sea breeze that wafts in off the bay, but at least this is followed by a familiar face. You'd never have guessed the tall, muscular person in front of me had only just turned fifteen. And yet he has experienced more in his fifteen years than many others in District 4 would in a lifetime.
All of Panem would recognise the mop of bronze hair and playful look in those sea-green eyes, those eyes that belong to Finnick Odair.
Finnick and me have been inseparable for as long as I can care to remember, living a life of relative comfort and enjoyment, with not a care in the world. Coming from well-off families in our district, we've never had much cause for concern in our lives, unlike the working men and women in the docklands, who battle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads every day.
In the better-off areas of our district, in the houses owned by peacekeepers, the owners of the fishing fleet and other important businessmen, poverty and starvation are neither a reality nor a topic of conversation. But the children see it in the docklands kids at school; they notice the weedy, pale bodies of the famished kids they share a classroom with, whilst the parents turn a blind eye.
So me and Finnick go to school five days a week, and live the weekends doing what we want, in a life of relative leisure. We fish together on Sundays, so we can learn the trades to take the roles of our fathers for when it is our turn to be the breadwinners of our own families.
Although it is illegal to fish in the bay where the expensive houses of District 4 are, the peacekeepers turn a blind eye to it, as a few haddock mean nothing to them compared to the crime and suffering in the docklands.
Also, it helps that Finnick's father is friendly with the head peacekeeper. As head of the fishing fleet, almost all trade for District 4 is the responsibility of him, as fishing is District 4's export to the Capitol.
My father runs the Fish Market down in the heart of the docklands, and is a well known figure in the lower parts of the district. My mother used to work on the tills in the grocery, before she married my father and gave birth to my sister. Now aged nineteen and off in the Capitol becoming a fashion stylist, my sister Bella stopped mother from working, leaving my father to be the sole income for the family.
But it has been enough for my family to never have needed tesserae, something I am thankful for on a day like this. Neither have Finnick's family, though that didn't stop him becoming a part of the Capitol's sadistic games.
I remember the year before, standing in the wind and the rain in the town square with the other twelve thousand people of District 4 for the Reaping.
I remember the pots of names, thousands of names, which would be read out by the district's escort, a middle-aged man called Flavius, whose surname I can't remember. The motto of the Hunger Games is 'may the odds be ever in your favour', and it was true for me that day. With thousands of slips of paper in the boy's bowl, only three of them read 'Ludovic Robertson'. I stood next to Finnick, who also had the same number of entries as me. I would never forget our agreement, that if my name was chosen in the reaping, Finnick would volunteer for me. I would stand little chance in the arena (a small, thin boy of fourteen) when faced with the giants who would likely be competing for the other 'competitive districts', 1 and 2. Most likely the Victor of the 65th Hunger Games would be from one of those districts or our own- it usually is. The girl from Two won the previous games.
But I would struggle to defeat the other 'Competitor' tributes, as they are called in our district. All the outlying districts just call them the 'Career' tributes, or just the 'Careers'. Slowly everyone in Four is calling our tributes 'Careers' as well. I guess I should get used to the change.
So Finnick, who could pass for an adult even at fourteen, would volunteer for me. He had been trained for it by me, as he felt obliged to protect his friend. He knew how to survive; what plants are edible, how to build shelters, basics in first aid, how to hunt, and basic weapons training in knives and bows. He already knew how to use spears and tridents to his advantage; he has them at home in District 4. But he had a much better chance of surviving than me.
And so, after a long and forgettable speech about the Dark Days and the creation of the Hunger Games (it was the same every year), the name of the male tribute from District 4 was pulled out of the pot.
I don't remember how I reacted, I've tried so hard to block the next two hours from my head. All I clearly remember is my time with Finnick in the allotted hour assigned for people to say goodbye to the tributes. I remember walking up to him, seeing him turn, noticing the sad yet proud expression on his face, happy he had saved his friend.
I tried to talk to him, but my throat couldn't produce words. We were on the balcony at the back of the Justice Building, which claimed exclusive sea views across the natural bays on the pleasant side of District 4.
In the end, I only managed two words to him before I broke down into tears.
I spent my last twenty minutes with Finnick staring out to sea with him, both of us crying.
And then he was gone.
I watched the games (we all had to, of course) but for once I was genuinely caring who the winner was. We all saw Finnick riding into the Training Centre in a simple blue tunic holding a trident, the interview with Caesar Flickermann, the '9' in training. And then the games started.
He surprised us all.
He didn't throw his weight around at the beginning, just ran quickly to the cornucopia, grabbed a couple of rucksacks, and sprinted away again into the forests. That was all anyone saw of him for days. He didn't try to attack anyone, just stayed alive. The arena was down to fifteen tributes by the end of the first day. Then eleven. Nine. Eight. Still no intention of fighting.
That was when I realised he was weaponless. His packs had been kind to him, he had everything he needed to survive, but the best hope of killing someone would be to suffocate them with his sleeping bag. Not very likely. His plan was suddenly obvious; to sit out the storm and hope all the tributes kill each other off or die of thirst or starvation, or some gamemaker trap. This was such an unexpected strategy. Being from District 4 and having the second highest training score would have guaranteed him alliances with the other Career tributes, but no. For some reason, Finnick was on his own. But with no plan of action, and no means of defence.
Now the only way of him getting weapons would be from sponsors. I remember realising this, and realising that after Finnick risked his life for me, I could save his. He had his own weapons at home. All I needed to do was send them to him.
I was at school the next day asking for donations towards paying for his trident to be sent to the Capitol next day when I became aware of what people really thought about Finnick volunteering for me. Many thought he had done the right thing; he had been trained for it, and was much more likely to survive the arena than I would have been. Others thought he didn't care for me, that he just wanted an excuse to take all the glory. If they'd have seen us crying, they'd have understood. But no. Others called me a coward. Asking a friend, not even family, for help. But I have no brothers; the shallow people at school obviously didn't know this.
But they all changed their minds during the lunch-time update. Highlights from the morning showed us that Finnick had been spotted by the male tribute from District 7, who had shot at him with a bow and arrow. Injured with an arrow in his knee, Finnick managed the luckiest kill I have ever seen in the arena. He managed to confront the tribute head on, and largely due to the fact the tribute ran out of arrows, he avoided the bow's threat. Now both boys were unarmed, Finnick had the edge in hand-to-hand combat, and ended up finishing the tribute by pulling the arrow out of his knee and ramming it through the other boy's throat. But it was clear to everyone at school that I was right. Finnick needed a weapon. I had already convinced many to donate, mainly girls (he was a heartthrob to most at school) and those who hadn't previously been convinced even those who called me coward, were now eager to help. The trident was sent to the Capitol the following morning.
Over the next three days, all of Panem watched Finnick use some nets he had woven and his new trident to wipe out the five Career tributes, and hunt down the one remaining survivor, a thirteen year old girl from District 10, and finish her off, too. Yes, he had been brutal, and yes, what he had done was horrific, but I didn't care. His games were quick; only 10 days long. My nerves had coped, as had he in the arena. He was home the next week.
And now we are back where we were. July the eighth. The day of the Reaping. I would do the same as last year; treat the day as though it was my last on earth. At least until two in the afternoon. And Finnick would be here with me, just like the last three years.
Only this time, I'm scared for myself. I can't ask Finnick to risk his life for me twice. That would be too much even for a best friend. Even if I could. But I can't. Finnick is a Victor now, living a life of luxury in Victor's Village. Aside from the large house to live in and endless food for a lifetime, the final reward of a Victor is that their name will not be in the pot at the Reaping. As he will not be eligible to volunteer for me, and I have no brothers to volunteer for me either, if my name is brought out of the pot, I'll end up in the arena a week later. End of.
But for now, let's think of the nicer things in life.
"Nice weather," says Finnick as I come out to meet him.
He's right. Even in the early hours of the day, I can tell it'll be a nice one.
"Couldn't be better," I say. There's barely a cloud in the sky. In the cool hours before the sun rises high in the sky, I want to enjoy our district. See the sights, so to speak. And be with Finnick. Just for the laughter. The smiles. The good times, the fun, the place of belonging. As the sun starts to rise over the sea in the east we walk along the sandy beach in the bay, skimming stones into the placid waves.
It's a good day for skimming stones, there's barely any wind so the waves are calm. Still, I have a bad day. My best is seven skims, to Finnick's sixteen. I blame it on the nerves. Then I remember why I feel nervous, and suddenly stone skimming isn't so important anymore.
And suddenly I feel worried. Afraid. The reaping is a very real danger to all of us. Except Finnick. He has never really spoken to me of his time in the arena. Or his time in the Capitol. I assume he wants to erase them from his memory.
As we head towards the woodland on the far side of the bay from our houses, I decide if I'm ever going to ask him, now is the time. As we climb the steep slope at the edge of the bay into the woods, I pick my moment.
"Finnick, what were the games like for you?" I ask tentatively.
He stops walking and turns to answer me.
"What do you mean?" he replies, slightly confused.
"Well, what did you feel?" I ask again, hoping I can explain myself.
"What I felt emotionally, or physically?"
"Both, I guess."
"You'll never forget the games, if you're selected for it. Ever." his tone is serious now, as though there are some things he feels he has to say. "There are things that no-one should ever know about, or experience. True horrors. I won't tell you of them, there are things you should only know about if you need to." As we enter the wood, he reaches up to snap a twig from a tree and hurls it into the placid sea on our left.
"I understand," I manage to say meekly in reply. It makes sense. Not sharing with me the full experience of the Hunger Games. To keep things from me, yes. But he's being kind, to stop me from seeing the things he has.
I return to reality with a start as three small black birds fly mere inches over my left shoulder. Mockingjays, I think. Finnick whistles to them. Nothing too complicated, no doubt he has just made it up. But they sing back, and fill the woods with life. I can't help but smile.
But like all good things, it can't last. Most of our time in the woods is spent thirty feet up, in the branch of some tree or another. We always climb trees when we're in the woods, and always try to better ourselves by climbing trees that are higher and higher than previous ones. I'd say I'm a better climber than Finnick, as I'm lighter, though he can reach further, so it balances out.
Within an hour, the sun is high in the sky, bringing down the July heat upon us, and we both head back to our homes. No doubt we will see each other again at the reaping.
As I open the heavy wooden door to my home, my mother rushes towards me and embraces me. Despite my usual resentment at these moments, I'm grateful for her affection today. This may be the last time I'm with her as a free man.
Man? I'm just fifteen! Damn... I feel so much older than I am, as though I've aged too young. But only on the inside. I'm fifteen, barely over five feet tall and as thin as a stick. Some things never change.
I can tell she's worried. Her eyes are watering. On the verge of tears. She knows as well as I do that she has, quite possibly for the last time, dragged me from the place where I am truly at home. Out catching the sea breeze with Finnick.
She has a formal look for me as usual for the Reaping; simple black trousers and a sky blue shirt. Nothing too special, not that it matters.
And then it is time.
We say our words of good-luck and 'I love you's and words of hope on the way to the square. For once I feel like mothers are useful, not just an annoying burden there for the sole purpose of restricting our freedom, the way I did when I was younger.
When I arrive in the square, I have to register in, to show I'm present for the Reaping. It's illegal not to be. You have to be knocking on death's door to be excused.
I leave my mother behind and walk over to the back of a queue of boys who are waiting for registry. At the front of the queue there are two peacekeepers. You have to state your name and age, and the peacekeepers take a blood sample, so that they can check that you are who you say you are. Although the queue seems endless, I'm quickly at the front, registering myself for this year's Reaping. The peacekeepers are evidently very efficient at their job. Then again, I've always associated the pristine white uniforms with order and efficiency.
I join the other fifty-or-so fifteen year old boys in the centre of the square, ready for the Reaping. There must be a thousand boys and girls here, many of whom will have their name in many more times than me. I'm lucky. Only four times. But I'm more scared this time than ever before. For the first time, there's no way out if my name is picked.
Although District 4 trains its own Career tributes, the odds of a Career winning are still low, so they only volunteer for absolute no-hopers. Twelve or thirteen-year-olds, or disabled children. Anyone else is headed in the arena. So, for my first two Reapings, I was protected by the Careers. In my third Reaping, Finnick protected me when my name was pulled. Now if I'm chosen, I have no safeguard. I will become the male tribute for District 4. I look at the large clock on the front of the Justice Building. One minute to two. The Reaping is about to begin.
Out of the Justice Building at the front of the square comes Mayor and the escort for District 4, Flavius Blacklock, with an escort of four peacekeepers, clad in their usual white uniforms.
I applaud in unison with the rest of District 4, who care no more for the Capitol than I do. But we applaud because the Capitol wishes us to. Because they want to make a sadistic celebration of the Dark Days every year. And if we don't, there'll be a bullet through our skulls within an hour. I guess. We might only get ten minutes.
As the town clock strikes two, the Mayor begins his speech. The same one that is given every year, in all the districts of Panem.
He tells the history of our nation, Panem, a country that is built from the ruins of a place that was once called North America. Having heard this speech many times before, I quickly lose attention. I know what I'm missing though. He will be reminding us of the disasters that annihilated so much of the land, and brutal war for what we were left with. Then he will telling us that when the war ended, the result was Panem, a wonderful Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, working together in perfect unison. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. Finally, the mayor will remind us of the Treaty of Treason, which gives us new laws to prevent such events from reoccurring. As our yearly reminder that the districts must never rebel again, we are given the Hunger Games.
Oh, the wonderful Hunger Games. How we love it so. Ha, who am I kidding? We just have to grit out teeth and tolerate it for as long as possible. And this year's torture is about to begin.
Up steps Flavius Blacklock, to choose the poor souls he'll escort to their deaths this year. Thousands of names in the two bowls, one for boys, one for girls. Mine's only in four times. The bare minimum. The odds are in my favour.
Behind, there are two bowls, a half dozen names in each. These are bowls for the Victor's names to be entered in, to decide which of the people who have already been through hell and back will be guiding the poor young souls to their deaths this year.
And it all begins with the girls.
Flavius' slow walk to the bowl only adds to the suspense. His hand rummages around the bowl a few times, as though genuinely contemplating which random slip of paper to pull out. He settles on one, retrieves it, and takes his time to unfold it carefully.
No! Maddie! How could I forget about her? I was so wrapped up in my own fear of the Reaping; I hadn't even considered danger befalling anyone I care about. My sister is out of the Reaping, and I have no cousins. Aside from family, my best friend has already conquered the arena. So why, of everyone else, does it have to be her? It doesn't seem fair. Everyone I care about seems to have a hard time. I feel shocked, numb even, and try to steady myself, when my gaze meets Finnick's, his eyes full of sadness. He knows, even if nobody else does. He knows of the girl of my dreams.
We've known each other for years, me and Madelaine. Friends way back when we started school. When we were just seven. I was the quiet boy who knew no-one, who had no real friends. The social reject. I used to sit around at lunch in the shade of the trees, aimlessly staring into the calm sky or out to sea, daydreaming of whatever came to mind. It was never really enjoyable, but it passed the time.
But one day in spring, Madelaine showed up. She tried to talk to me, to be friends with me. She sat by me and we talked.
I remember asking he
r name, and having to call her "Maddie" because she was annoyed that I couldn't say her name properly. I was only seven at the time, though. I think her name for me, "Ludo", came as a joke to get back at me for not saying her name properly. Not that I cared. It's nice having a friend, whatever they call you.
And, over time, I came to know her better than anyone. Of how her mother died of illness when she was young, and about how her dad has to work fourteen hours a day at the docks to support her family. She had to look after her two younger brothers, Max and Hugo, because her dad was always leaving her at home when he was working. She spent so much time supporting the family; she barely knew what friends were. But I liked her company, and made every effort to be her friend, especially when I found friends scarce myself. For a year, she was like a sister to me; I was with her always. And I grew to love her.
At this time, I merely cared a lot about her, as we were inseparable. Other, more complicated feelings would come later.
Then when I was nine, I met Finnick. Then Madelaine was no longer a sister to me, more of a mother to both me and Finnick. Always the last to approve of a daring idea, some way to make the peaceful environment of school into something dangerous and edgy. But for the most of the time, she was happy letting us do what we wanted. Those were the good days. Just Maddie and Ludo and Finn.
But the blissful innocence of youth doesn't last forever. Before I knew it we were thirteen, and the Madelaine I had grown up with had changed. Now all young adults, we all took different routes. I was a much more confident person, moved away from the group a little to find new friends. Never true friends like Maddie and Finnick, but good enough friends for me to enjoy my time with them.
Maddie changed a lot too. She had changed from a little girl to a young woman, almost without me noticing. And for the first time I began to appreciate her beauty. Such an elegant figure, with long, slender copper-coloured hair, and such stunning deep blue eyes. And I began to understand why half the boys in the school wanted her. And she slipped away from me. By the time I was fourteen, she was gone, seemingly forever. And my feelings for her were so complicated it was almost unbearable for a time.
The immense sense of longing I felt having been so close to her for so many years left me feeling empty, as well as jealousy for those she chose to grace with her presence. She was gone, but I never gave up hope. Now I think she will be taken from me forever.
As I come to from my daydream and shock, I realise everyone near me had turned to stare at me. My face is on the big screens either side of the stage. What is going on?
Two peacekeepers come through the crowd. They grab me by the arms, forcing me through the crowd towards the stage. As I begin to realise what is going on, panic sets in. I glance nervously over to Finnick, who's almost in tears. This confirms my worst fears. I am to become a tribute.
I walk the stairs onto stage alone, with all of District 4 watching on, applauding me. I know the applause is forced; secretly they're all pleased it wasn't them or their son that was chosen. They just have to cheer me on. It's either that or get shot, and not many would choose the latter.
As I arrive on stage, I finally get to see what my escort, Flavius Blacklock, looks like close up.
I find it so ridiculous what the Capitol men and women look like, though they live in a world without pain, without suffering, where the most important decision is to decide what hair goes with your eyebrows, or whom to spend a fortune donating to in the next Hunger Games. A life of relaxation and entertainment. What all of us in District 4 would give for that. Due to this, despite Flavius Blackstock being of middle age, he appears to be doing everything possible to conceal it. His light brown hair appears to be dyed with blonde streaks, which tails off to a point at the nape of his neck. His clothes seem to be made of some fabric I can't name, from black trousers to a white high-collared jacket, with the Capitol Seal emblazoned on the chest. His face seems to be showing no signs of ageing, and it is easy to spot that he is wearing layers of make-up due to dark patches that contrast too strongly under his eyes.
As I approach him, he holds out a hand, and we shake hands. I notice there is a gold ring on his hand when I shake it. Gold! Real gold! How Capitol people can flaunt their wealth everywhere is a mystery. Evidently gold is next to nothing for them if they are wearing it to the Reaping. A golden ring would give a whole family in District 4 enough money to never have to work again. But that's the way this cruel, cruel world is.
As my hand pulls away, I briefly look into his eyes, expecting to see hatred and disgust. Instead, I see something akin to kindness, catching me off guard. What must he think of me? I must appear sullen and unforgiving to him. But then again, I'm the one being paraded to my death at the hands of a foreign youth in an unknown arena hundreds of miles from home, not him. I am escorted by two peacekeepers to the back of the stage, whilst Flavius conducts the draw for the mentors.
Mentors are past Victors who are there to help guide their tribute to victory, and to secure sponsors for them in the arena. Each tribute will have one, a boy for the boy, a girl for the girl.
The girls' draw passes quickly as I'm still dealing with the shock of both Maddie and myself being chosen at the Reaping. Maddie's mentor is an elderly woman who I believe was called Mags, who I know was District 4's first ever Victor, at the 11th Hunger Games. I have no idea how she survived them, though. No doubt Maddie will be armed with her techniques, though. Many tributes often act as puppets of their mentors once in the arena.
And then we move on to the boys. I've almost got control of my emotions now, and I need to pay attention; my mentor could mean the difference between life and death. I think there's a possible seven to choose from, most of which have won in recent years; Lady Luck has been on District Four's side, lately.
I'm out of control again. Before I know it I'm on my knees, coughing and retching, spitting phlegm onto the stage. I feel sick, and I want out. This doesn't seem fair at all. Now, when my blood-stained corpse is returned home within the next two weeks, it will all be on Finnick's conscience. That he has killed his best friend.
With the help of two peacekeepers who haul me up to my feet, I walk slowly to the front of the stage to greet my mentor, who's actually younger than I am.
Flavius glances over his shoulder at me and gives me a look of genuine concern. Maybe I've judged him wrong, and he is actually considerate towards the tributes, but even if he is, there's too much going on in my head for me to care. I shake Finnick's hand as I greet him, slightly pleased that there will be a constant in the mad world I will surely be entering.
Then, as customary, the two tributes are to end the Reaping by shaking hands before being escorted into the Justice Building. There are tears in my eyes now, and I've given up hope of trying to hide it. But, as I turn and grasp tightly to Maddie's proffered hand, I can't even bear to look at her. Just the thought of her makes me feel so helpless and afraid. And the full implications of the games hit me, and I'm almost paralysed with shock. I exchange a glance with Finnick, and see his eyes full of pity, stinging with tears. He's realised it too.
If I am to survive the Hunger Games, the girl I love must die.
A/N: One chapter down, twenty-six to go. More will be added soon. Any feedback is appreciated, constructive criticism is welcome :)