This wasn't happening.
This couldn't happen.
It was Sammy's first year in the reaping. His name was in there once. Just fucking once.
Dean had done everything, everything, to stop this from happening. Taken the tesserae to feed them when their mother's death had left their father a walking shell, hunted, fought, stolen, done everything, everything he could, all to keep Sammy safe.
This wasn't happening.
It wasn't until he saw Sammy's mane of hair he just refused to cut sticking up at wild corners (despite all of Dean's efforts to comb it flat that morning) as he marched towards the stage, shoulders squared bravely just like Dean taught him and lip just barely trembling, that Dean was shocked out of his trance.
In half a heartbeat he was running, charging forward through the wall of Peacekeepers and physically shoving Sammy behind him. When the Peacekeepers came forward, electrically charged clubs at the ready, to snatch Sammy away from him for the Arena, he spent a few futile moments trying to fight them off until his brain caught up.
His shout—harsh and desperate—echoed in the packed square, loud enough that even the Peacekeepers took a half-step back. Dean took a deep breath and set his jaw.
"I volunteer as tribute."
A hushed murmur ran through the crowd, but Dean ignored it. He didn't resist the Peacekeepers as they took his arms to lead him to the stage, but Sammy's frantic, high-pitched "Dean!" and the little hands snatching at his shirt stopped him.
"Sam! Sammy." Dean shook off the Peacekeepers and took Sam by the shoulders, shaking him slightly. Sam's eyes were welling up and his trembling lip had only gotten worse. Dean tried to pry his hands loose. I can't look weak. I can't cry. The other tributes will be watching, if they sense weakness…Fuck. "Sam, look at me. Look at me. Go find Cas. Find Cas, okay? Sammy, let go of me. Let go."
Fortunately, Cas had come up behind and grabbed Sam around the chest, lifting him off the ground. He nodded once, solemnly, at Dean as Dean yanked his shirt out of Sam's fist. Dean nodded back, jaw set furiously tight, then turned around and marched towards the stage, Peacekeepers falling in step behind him.
He climbed the steps at a slow, even pace, keeping his arms at his sides and his hands relaxed and loose. It's just like starting a hunt. I can do this. I just…I gotta pretend they're not people. Fuck, a couple days in that Arena and they won't be. It's just like any other hunt, like I'm heading out into the woods. I stay calm, I stay focused. I can do this.
He shot a glance over at his fellow tribute, already selected and standing by the Capitol announcer's side, rigid and proud. He woulda been happier with someone else. Anyone else. One of the spoiled, fat, rich girls, the kind that had sneered in his face when he'd come around the back doors begging, Sammy barely more than a toddler attached to his oversized, ragged shirt.
Jo Harvelle, though. Like there wasn't enough bad blood there. She was fourteen, two years younger than Dean; they'd probably have been friends if it wasn't for their family histories. Her dad had used to go hunting with Dean's, back in the good days when their dad used to smile. There'd been a hunt, and it had gone wrong. John had come home. Will Harvelle hadn't. The Peacekeepers had flogged him in the main square until it killed him.
John was never man enough to make it right with Ellen, of course; but Dean did what he could. It wasn't much—Sammy always came first—but whenever he had a little extra, a particularly good hunt, the extra found its way through the Harvelles' window onto their kitchen table. Dean was pretty sure Ellen knew it was him, but if she did, she never said anything.
Well, it was what it was. He was coming home, one way or another. He had to. Cas wouldn't let Sammy starve—shit, nobody would let Sammy starve, everybody loved the little bastard and his floppy hair and his puppy dog eyes—but god only knew what else could happen. If Cas got nabbed by the Peacekeepers, if Sam had to take the tesserae, if John went away again…no. Dean was coming home. And if Jo was in the way of that, well. He'd figure out how to look Ellen in the face again when he got back to District Twelve, and in the meantime, he'd hope someone else killed Jo before he had to.
"And what's your name, dear?" the announcer trilled. Dean fought the urge to punch her for looking so fucking happy about sending him to his death. Although, this was probably the most interesting thing to happen in a Reaping in this district since…since ever, probably. Becky Rosen wasn't exactly what you'd call tactful on her best day, and she'd never made it a secret how deeply she resented being stuck working for a district which hadn't produced a Victor in more than two decades.
Aloud, he grunted, "Dean. Dean Winchester.", trying to sound as tough and aggressive as he could. Any of his fellow Tributes watching District Twelve's Reaping needed to see him strong, see him as a threat.
"Winchester? Oh my!" she tittered, covering one mouth with her hand, nails two inches long on each finger. "I'll bet anything that was your little brother, is that right?"
Dean nodded curtly. If the Capitol wanted a big emotional scene, they were barking up the wrong tree.
If his silence bothered Becky, she didn't show it. She just tittered again and turned back to the crowd. "Well, let's have a big hand for our tributes!"
Silence, from the crowd. A murmuring, restless, disapproving silence. Dean could see people in the crowd frowning, heads shaking, and his chest felt strangely tight.
Then, movement. A ripple through the crowd. Cas began it; Dean spared a thought to hope that none of the Peacekeepers had seen him move, that he wouldn't be punished later, when the cameras left. But honestly you could barely tell, the rest followed so quickly, and each man, woman and child raised a hand to their lips and into the air, towards the stage. Towards Dean.
It was an old salute. Dean didn't know if the Capitol knew what it meant, but Becky sure looked discomfited by it. Although it could just be the silence unnerving her, the crowd's refusal to celebrate their impending deaths. John had taught him that motion when he was just a boy, back in the good days—he'd said it meant honor, respect, love. A goodbye, to one who would be missed. Dean swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat.
Becky had her hands on Dean's and Jo's backs. He wanted to shudder, to shake her off, shove her away, but he couldn't. He was going to need her in the Capitol, need her on his side. Someone had to help him navigate Capitol politics, find sponsors, come up with a strategy.
And Bobby Singer sure as hell wasn't going to be much help. Dean fought the urge to wrinkle his nose at the smell of booze wafting across the stage. Bobby may have been a Victor back in his time, but these days, he was nothing more than the town drunk. Dean would have to win this on his own.
Well, win was what he was going to do, one way or another. He might not have the training or build of a Career tribute, but he had some skill from the time he'd spent out in the woods, and he was a lot better-fed than you'd expect a tribute from one of this district to be. True, most of the food he got his hands on went to Sam—but since he brought home enough that Sammy even showed a hint of pudge around his chin and cheeks and wrists, even the leftovers gave Dean a leg up on other tributes from the poor districts.
He had something else, too, something even the Careers wouldn't have: experience. Woodcraft might not count for much depending on what this year's Arena was like, but at the very least, he knew how to stalk, how to move without making noise, how to feed himself, and how to hide, both himself and his trail. And he knew how to kill. He'd never taken a human life, sure, but even the Careers probably couldn't say as much. That advantage wouldn't last long once the Games started, but any edge was worth exploiting.
The mayor's yearly droning speech, the Treaty of Treason required by the Capitol, finally drew to a close, and Dean shook Jo's hand briefly before they wordlessly obeyed the Peacekeepers, who ushered them into the building behind them. Jo had half-smiled at him when their hands met, but Dean didn't smile back. It would have felt too…fake, smiling into her face when a week from now he'd be trying to kill her.
They were shooed into separate rooms. Dean had never really understood why the Capitol let them say their goodbyes in private—you'd think tearful farewells would make good television—but right now he was grateful. If he did break down, seeing Sammy for what might be the last time, he sure as shit didn't want anyone to see him.
The room was lush, the richest Dean had ever been in, but its beauty was wasted on him. He sat down heavily on the velvet couch, twisting his hands together. He wasn't kept waiting more than a minute or two before the door burst open with a bang, and a twelve-year-old avalanche barreled through it. Dean was on his feet in an instant and caught Sam effortlessly, sweeping him off his feet and into his arms.
Sam wept openly and clutched at Dean, sobbing. Dean held him tightly, unable to stop a single tear from leaking down his cheek. He sat back down heavily on the couch, and Sam curled up in his lap, face buried in his neck. John, who had come in after him, hovered in awkward indecision for a moment before sitting down next to Dean and putting his arm around his shoulders.
Dean tensed up for a moment—he'd spent too many years too angry at John to let him be his father—but if there was ever a moment for forgiveness, it was now. The tension ebbed out of his body almost immediately and he leaned into John's side, letting his father wrap him in a hug. Sam was sniveling against his shirt and Dean tightened his arms, face contorted with pain.
The answer to his question from earlier jumped into his head. Of course the Capitol couldn't show this on television. The Hunger Games were supposed to be a celebration for the rich and sheltered to get off to, the Tributes eager contestants in the bloodbath. Little kids crying inconsolably didn't really fit that image. Hard to cheer for somebody's death after you've seen them as a person, with a family holding them, family who'll miss them.
"Don't—" Dean broke the silence, wincing when his voice came out strained and cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again.
"Don't worry about me." Better. He sounded tough, confident. "I'll be home before you know it."
"But Twelve never wins," Sam whimpered, and Dean mustered up a chuckle from somewhere. Protect Sammy. Don't let him see you scared.
"Where'd old Bobby Singer get that big house from, then?" he teased, prodding Sam's belly with a finger until he got a half-hearted giggle. "Come on. Guy like him wins the Games, how hard can it really be?"
A spasm of pain went over John's face, but Dean only had half a second to feel guilty for his bravado before Sam drew his attention again. "What about the Career pack?" he quavered. "They're huge, and they know all kinds of weapons."
"Well, I'm faster, and I know a weapon or two myself." Dean pulled back, holding Sammy at arm's length to look right into his face. "I'm coming home, Sammy, I promise you."
"It's Sam," and he wiped his nose on his sleeve, sniffing. He barely had time to wrap his arms back around Dean's neck before the Peacekeepers were at the door and they were out of time. Sam started crying again as John pried him off of Dean, who clenched his fists.
He shouted after them, "I'll be back soon," and then the door shut and he was alone again.
Dean only had a few moments to compose himself, though, before it opened again. Looking up from his seat on the couch he was startled to see Ellen Harvelle in the doorway. He got to his feet quickly as she crossed the room towards him in quick, sure strides.
Had she come to curse at him, another Winchester responsible for another Harvelle's death? To threaten him, or make some kind of bargain if he helped Jo survive? One thing was for sure, she wasn't the begging kind. Ellen Harvelle was a formidable woman, stone-faced and steely-eyed, her arms burly from working the mines to feed herself and Jo after her husband died.
When her arms stretched out towards him on the last step, he steeled himself to fight off the attack—surely the Peacekeepers would step in, they couldn't have a Tribute dead before the Games even began! But to his great shock, instead of his throat, her arms closed around his chest, hugging him tight.
Dean could have sworn he felt wetness on his neck before she let him go, only to touch his cheek gently with one hand. She and Jo must have been crying; her eyes were rimmed with red, but filled with the same solid resolve they always carried.
Ellen finally broke the silence. "Dean Winchester, you listen to me. I forgave your daddy for what happened a long time ago, and I want you to know I'm forgiving you now."
"Ellen, I'm—" was all he got out before she cut him off.
"Don't. Just…don't." She took a deep breath and set her jaw. "Whatever happens over there. I know…hell, the whole damn district knows how you boys are with each other, I know you'll do anything to get back to that brother of yours. But I know something else, Winchester. I know you're a good man. Better than your daddy ever was. Four years of game on my table proves that."
The muscle in Dean's jaw was working as she continued. "Now, I ain't asking you for anything. I'd like to, believe me. I'd like to ask you to look out for my little girl, to—" her voice broke— "to keep her safe, but we both know there ain't no point. So I'm telling you now, I forgive you. I know you're a good man, but we don't live in a world for good men. So whatever happens in there, whatever happens, I forgive you for it. You hear me?"
Dean could only nod, speechless, the tears he'd managed to control through Sammy's visit now threatening to burst free.
"Good." Ellen nodded, seemingly satisfied. She hugged him again, briefly, then reached up to caress the side of his head, her rough hand gentle. It reminded Dean of his mother, a kind sort of touch he'd almost forgotten existed.
"You stay safe now, you hear?" She didn't wait for an answer, instead turning quickly on her heel and marching out of the room with the same swift strides she'd entered it before the Peacekeepers could come to eject her.
Dean collapsed back onto the couch, head in his hands. If Ellen's intention was to make him feel better about Jo being in the Games with him, it had backfired badly. If he were being honest with himself—something he usually avoided as aggressively as the wild dogs he came across while hunting once in a while—it would have been easier if she just hated him. Kindness chafed, especially when they both knew damn well he stood a good chance of winding up killing her daughter.
He stayed motionless, just like that, until the door opened a third time. Dean looked up eagerly this time, but it wasn't who he expected.
Instead, Lisa Braeden, the Mayor's daughter, was standing nervously in the doorway, as if she wasn't sure if she was allowed in or not.
"Lisa, hey." Dean mustered up a smile. It wasn't hard. He'd resented her as a kid, for never being hungry when his family had come so close to starving, but he hadn't been able to keep it up. She hadn't chosen her family any more than he had, and she wasn't smug about it the way some of the other wealthier kids were.
She came in to the room, smiling more confidently now it was obvious he wasn't planning on chasing her away. "Hey, Dean. I came to ask you something."
"Understandable," he teased, winking automatically. "And if I wasn't taken, believe me, I'd consider it. Don't think your dad would be too thrilled though."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Not that, you jerk. I thought…" She hesitated again, biting her lip, and Dean realized she had something clutched in one hand. "Each tribute is allowed a token in the Arena, something to remind them of home. Would you…would you wear this?"
She held her arm out towards him, and he saw a small gold pin in her outstretched palm. A mockingjay, the mimic-birds his mother used to sing to. One of the clearest memories he had of her, actually, was a flock of mockingjays in the trees around their home, all falling silent to listen to her sing. Dean's throat felt tight.
When he didn't move to take it, Lisa moved forward and fastened the pin to his shirt. "Promise me you'll wear it into the Arena, okay? Dean?"
He shook himself loose from his stupor. "Y-yeah, sure. I promise."
"Thanks." She stood on tiptoe and dropped a brief kiss on his cheek, and then fled. Dean was left staring after her, taken completely aback.
After a few seconds in shock, he found his way back to the couch and sat down heavily. He was spared another few moments to himself before the door opened again and Dean tensed. He didn't know if he could take any more surprises today. When he looked up, though, Dean sagged in relief when he realized it was Castiel this time, framed between two Peacekeepers.
Cas, whose vivid blue eyes and unblinking stare unnerved most people in Twelve. Cas, who Dean had just found out in the woods one day, standing in the middle of a field of flowers just staring. Cas, Dean's missing half, his best friend, his hunting partner, who moved with him through the woods like a shadow, whose movements and intentions Dean understood as innately as if he was an extension of himself.
If only he could take Cas into the Arena with him, he'd be Victor in a day or less.
Dean was on his feet and across the room before he knew it. He had never really been one for public displays of affection outside of family, but despite the Peacekeepers' presence, he didn't hesitate to wrap his arms around Cas as tightly as he could. Like always, it took Cas a moment to respond, but after a second he hugged Dean back just as fiercely, and Dean even felt chapped lips press briefly against his bare neck.
"Sam will be all right, Dean," he said, voice even lower and rougher than usual, finally pulling away as the door shut behind him, leaving them alone. "He's a strong boy."
"You'll look out for him, right?" Dean hated the way his voice cracked, but if he could be vulnerable with anyone, it was Cas.
"And my dad? You'll make sure they don't—that they've got enough? If I don't—"
"I won't let your family starve, Dean. I promise you."
Dean nodded, the muscle in his jaw twitching. "Thanks, man."
Cas half-smiled and steered Dean back to the couch, sitting next to him. "The Games, then. You have a strategy?"
"I was thinkin' kill everyone." Dean smirked, his earlier bravado returning. Cas rolled his eyes.
"Succinct, but not particularly helpful. Any more specific plan as to how?"
He shrugged half-heartedly. "I think I can take the Cornucopia. I won't join up with the Careers, but I can take as many of them out as possible in the starting bloodbath, I guess. Get myself set up with some good weapons, enough food and gear to get me started."
Cas was nodding encouragingly. "You'll want a ranged weapon, and a larger knife or machete. Wire or rope, too. Don't forget, a lot of the snares we use can catch a human as well if you set them up correctly."
Dean let himself get lost in the conversation, talking through strategies and plans of attack. For just a precious few minutes, he let himself pretend that it was just another day, just another hunting trip they were preparing for. Cas was a rock, as always. Someone who didn't know him as well as Dean did would have probably thought he was just callous, accepting his friend's fate so easily, but Dean could read his fear and anguish in every twitch of his lips and flicker of his blue eyes.
It was too soon that the door was opening again and white uniforms coming through. Dean's first instinct was anger, of course. He wanted to shout at them, tell them to fuck off—it wasn't enough time!—but he couldn't risk Cas getting in trouble without Dean here to back him up.
Instead, he wrapped Cas in another tight hug. This time Cas didn't hesitate before hugging him back, tight enough that Dean felt his ribs creak. They clung to each other long enough that the Peacekeepers lost patience and came forward, physically pulling Cas out of Dean's arms and towing him out of the room. One of them held Dean back as he grabbed at Cas's arm, shouting, "Don't let them starve, Cas! Cas!"
Cas called back as they pulled him through the door, "I won't, I promise! Dean, I—"
And he was gone.
A/N: Heyo! Just figured I'd leave a note to preemptively clear up a thing. I intend on having no real romantic subplot. Dean and Cas are officially together in this fic-he's sort of Dean's Gale, except without the stupid love triangle and significantly less of a douche (Gale was a jerk fight me)-but it's not, like, a plot point. It's not *important*. Dean's not trying to get home to his One True Love, he's trying to get home to his baby brother, and if you don't already think that was the point of both Supernatural and Hunger Games then I'm not entirely sure we were consuming the same media tbqh *shrugs* Basically what I'm saying is if you were hoping for a Destiel fic you've come to the wrong place.