Darkness bleeds, inking out into colors dancing between violet and rosy pink as trees wisp around violently and screams echo endlessly. Your eyes dart around, craning and darting so fast that nothing registers as more than wisps in your vision. Your hands reach out and find purchase against the plush heat of skin, skin you’re familiar with and lean in to. The person careens back, dark eyes crinkling against the rich caramel color of his face, while a blistering smile weaves over it. You cry out something, the world behind him spinning, but you can’t hear anything over the screams.
He touches your face, hands so smooth that you melt into them and face so tender and loving that you can do nothing to detach him from you. You continue to cry out, “Raza! Raza!” but there is nothing else to be heard aside from the horrific screams that slowly shatter your eardrums, bleeding and gushing as the sound begins to muffle. You’re losing your hearing and you’re trying to coax something out of the boy in front of you, begging to hear his voice but there’s nothing. He mouths something, something you can’t understand no matter how long you focus on those lips, when red splatters your vision. It’s everywhere, it coats him like paint and, all at once, his face drops into horror as his eyes turn into limpid pools. You scream, then.
And you realize that all along the screams you’ve been hearing are your own.
Your eyes burst open in agony, hands ripping at silken bedsheets and yelps of terror bursting past your lips. Your voice begins to die out slowly, your mind quickly registering the gilded ceiling and intricate patterns of your home--reality sets in.
You’re back in the real nightmare.
You groan softly, rolling slightly in order to set your feet against the firm wooden floor beneath you and hoping that it will anchor you back. You stare down at the ground for several minutes, body losing its battle grasping at the threads of your willpower, and you can do nothing but slide to the floor and crawl your way into the bathroom.
Today will be another hard day.
You’re no stranger to them; in fact, they’re probably the only things you can count on with any measure of certainty. You can’t seem to build more strength into your legs, the last part of your journey a desperate clawing to the bathtub while your lower body was dragged behind you lifelessly. You pull yourself inside, not even taking care to pull off your clothes, and press several buttons to unleash a steady stream of scalding water all over you. The blistering heat seems to awaken something in your useless legs, and you slowly manage to get yourself to a wobbly standing position. You peel the layer of nightclothes away from your body before lowering the heat to a more bearable temperature, your arms hung at your sides while the weight of the upcoming day drowned in your muddled brain.
‘No use in being useless.’ A voice echoes through your head then, a deep and affectionate tenor, it reverberates under the thin layer of your skin with enough power to coax into existence. You begin to wash yourself, going through the motions of getting ready for your day. Pinning your hair back, swathing yourself in sturdy yet casual attire, and dragging yourself to the long desk nestled just in front of grand veranda glass doors. Your eyes cast out into the distance, taking in the tepid sights of dawn creeping over the fields and bathing the orchards in a dim light. Your eyes flicker down to meet the star of your dreams captured in a singular photo, the boy’s face bright and smiling while strong arms wrapped around your shoulders tenderly. Happiness, smiles, the look of love and adoration covering both of your faces as if you both had no idea where you had been caught in such a tender moment.
Waiting in the light of the Capitol. Waiting for the start of the Hunger Games.
“You’re early.” You smile at the woman who opened the doors of her humble home to you, despair nestled deep into her gaze, the kind you knew too well--the kind that would never leave so long as there was breath in the body. You mutter a soft greeting to the woman before she moves back to let you push yourself farther inside. It was kept crisp, a nice breeze coming through even as the morning began to produce the heat that would be sure to intensify through the rest of the day.
“Woke up early.” You didn’t need to explain why, you’re sure she knew well what you meant. “The little ones getting ready for the day?” She nods to you as you follow her to the downtrodden kitchen in order to help with breakfast. You place a large backpack on the sturdy table, taking out a package of pork along with an array of colorful vegetables before handing them to the woman deftly. She grabs them without a word as you grab the loaf of bread from the bottom of your satchel nestled beside a pitcher of goat’s milk. You both begin to work in silence, you slicing the bread rhythmically while she tossed the meat and vegetables together in a large pan. You walk over to a modest cupboard, pulling small cups out and placing them on the table just as a small body waddles into view.
You glance up before readying yourself, eyes narrowing and features contorting as the face echoes painfully in your mind.
Just like Rue.
“[Your Name], you’re here already?” His voice seemed hushed, as if he were drawing the words out as carefully as possible, as if he would break something if he spoke much louder. You watch as the boy glances over towards the television in the corner of the room, streaming live coverage from the Capitol all day long as per the law due to the Quarter Quell. It hummed quietly in the background, showing brief shots of Caesar’s glowing persona while he spoke fervently about the various games playing on repeat all over Panem.
“Wanted to see you kids off today.” Off where? To school? You can hear something in the distance, an argument or a murmur, and you wonder just how long it will be until this entire area will be set into flames. Days? Weeks? You let a smile rise onto your face, masking the familiar pain at seeing the boy and the thoughts of the rapidly approaching chaos, just as you went and sat your bag near the front door. When you turn back, the others have filed into the small kitchen without even a sound, fluttering around the table in synchronization before settling themselves in just as quietly as if they’d never even entered.
Like a pack of birds.
You try to keep your spirits up as you poured the goat’s milk for the children, watching them eagerly to see their eyes either trained on the table in front of them or the milk swirling in their glasses. You do this wordlessly, lips growing dry from both stress and the growing anxiety in your body bulding up.
“They announce the Quarter Quell today.”
The room stills as the youngest spoke up again, your body almost convulsing of its own accord and sending some of the milk onto the wooden table. You mutter multiple apologies before you began blotting up the mess with a spare towel, moving as quickly as possible to hide the shaking of your hands.
“Let me.” One of the girls say, hands warm as they ghost over yours to finish the job you could not hope to get right in your current state. You backed up instantly, breathing hitching silently as you began counting out your breaths. One, two, three, three, two, one; you sought to focus on the soft thrumming of the television while you began to picture a distant sunset while talking to yourself.
‘The question was observant, he was right about that being today. This is no surprise, we were not prepared and not being prepared is okay but reacting now in front of these children is not acceptable.’
You came back into reality, brain running properly and breathing kept perfectly in check.
“Better?” You glance up at the woman serving breakfast to her children, smiling tenderly as you nod. “That psychology of yours seems to work well for you.”
“How’s that District Four girl, the one you learned it for?” Your eyes darted to one of the boys chowing down on his food eagerly, eyes trained on his plate instead of you.
“Fine.” As fine as she’s ever going to be, but you don’t bother inserting that into the conversation. Yes, you got into the field for Annie, the friend you gained from District Four, but it seemed to help you out more than it did her.
Her only solace, really, was Finnick.
“Worried about who you’re going to have to mentor?” You are surprised when the soft voice comes so close, your eyes fixing on the speaker in surprise. She smiles gently, glancing back at her children before training her gaze back on you. “You’ve done so much for us, [Your Name], but now you’re going to have to move on to a whole new family, move on to a whole new Tribute.”
You aren’t prepared for this conversation and the stoic expression you settle over you face is all you can do to keep yourself together.
“I don’t stay just because I was Rue’s mentor.” If you were honest, if you were really honest, you’d tell her that you stay because your guilt over not saving her forbid you from doing anything else but staying.
“No, I know. But you can’t hold on forever.” It was here that the woman reaches into her apron and pulls out a thin piece of string with a trinket held on it while your breath caught in your chest.
“Don’t torture yourself.” She shoves the last piece of Rue she has, the last shred of her daughter, into your hands.
“I can’t take this…” She smiles at you again, patting your shoulder just as a strong and proud man waltzes into the kitchen proudly.
“Ahh, [Your Name], didn’t expect you so early.”
“That’s what everyone is saying!” The woman gives your arm another reassuring squeeze as she smiles at her husband, the sight warming your heart just as much as it rips it apart. They lock eyes for a moment, lost in the solace of each other, before she turns back to you. “You should go rest--”
“[Your Name]! Look, it’s your games!” Your jaw tightens hard against the strain of your neck, eyes darting over the sporadic images playing over the television screen. Most just showed you running and hiding while intermingling the images of gore brought about by your hand, but not without lazily lingering on the tender moments between you and the dark boy from your dreams.
“Who could forget these games?!” Caesar’s voice boomed in your ears, though you know that the volume remained the same. “Our first pair of Lethal Lovers, though their love blossomed on the battlefield instead! A classic tale, beautiful and tragic, that I never thought would be outdone until our most recent lovebirds. Unlike them, however, this love was never meant to be.”
And then the screen flashed, you screaming over the body of the boy as he died.
Was your name passing over someone’s lips just now? You could swear it, echoing through the air like a song, or the boom of a canon. Or are you traveling back into the void, where time cease to exist and you start to fall through the abyss into a place where you’ve only ever been able to scrape yourself from once before?
You won’t survive doing it again.
“[Your Name]!” Your entire body responds in panic, hand traveling back to the sturdy knife hidden in the back belt loops of your pants. You bring it up instantly, eyes wide in terror, as the room settled into silence. All eyes trained on you, or the knife in your hand, as your body screamed at you in terror and your mind tried to make sense of the world around you.
“[Your Name]... are you okay?” The melody of a soft voice hits your ears, ringing out like a birdsong, the sound catching your attention as your gaze catches that of one tiny girl staring at you in worry.
“I’m… fine.” You only pulled a knife on the only people you still have in your life.
You had to laugh at the irony of that, laugh at the irony that your only kind of “friends” came in the form of a family left behind by the girl you couldn’t save.
“Who is the boy with you?” Your body reluctantly turns towards the direction that one of the boys pointed, your darkened gaze trained on the images of you smiling at a tall boy while walking through the wilderness while hand in hand.
“Raza.” You were surprised when it wasn’t your voice that responded, but the boy’s father. “He used to work in the orchards, strong boy with a good head on his shoulders.” You were paralysed, arms hung carelessly while your mind strained to pay attention to those talking around you.
“Did you love him, like the colorful man said?” You look down at the ground then, eyes darting to the swinging of something in your vision.
No one speaks again until they all move to go to work.
“Sounds like you didn’t handle that well.” You let out a terrible sigh, hands wrapping around the cord of the phone you held to your ear while the voice on the other end chuckled.
“Not all of us possess your charm and finesse in the presence of discomfort, Finnick.”
“It must be so difficult admitting how beneath me you are.”
“If there’s one thing I’ll never be, fishboy, it’s beneath you.” You can’t resist the smirk at your little joke, delighting in a brief silence from Finnick on the other line.
“Alright, that was a good one.”
“Now, can I talk to the person I was actually trying to call?”
“I guess.” You laugh again, enjoying the banter that you and Finnick were able to exchange. He had this way about him, this ability to help you understand yourself better and find a reason to laugh.
You’re glad every day that Annie has him.
“[Your Name]!” Your heart leaps at the sound of Annie’s voice, soft and timid but still had this genuine quality to it.
“Annie! How are you, honey? I wanted to see if you’ve been taking your medicine regularly.” Reaping announcements are difficult on the small woman, she’s lapsed into almost catatonic states a few times. You have explained to Finnick how important her medicine and reassurances of safety are to her; he keeps things in order but you have always stressed how important it is that Annie is aware of what’s happening around her.
“Finnick got them for me, I’m doing good.” You let out a breath of relief at the strength in her voice while making a mental reminder to talk with her doctors in District Four about testing her on a smaller dosage of medicine. “They’re going to talk about the Quarter Quell today.”
Your heart almost stops at Annie’s independant mention and you are sure that Finnick is probably feeling the exact same way in that moment. You manage to get your voice to function, lowering the tenor in a reassuring fashion. “They are, are you going to watch it with Finnick?”
“Yeah. I’ll be okay, I still have the medicine you suggested to take beforehand.” Those will at least keep her calm, no matter how ramped up the announcement can get. “I’ll be alright, [Your Name].”
“I know you will, Annie. Here, let me talk to Finnick really fast.” You hear mild shuffling as the phone is passed again, your mind moving quickly as the telltale sounds of Finnick’s breathing echo into your ear. “Stay beside her the whole time, there’s no telling what this announcement will come to.” You made sure to adjust your tone just slightly, sounding strong and demanding but with an edge that you know Finnick will recognize.
“It’s going to be bad for the Tributes, even worse for the Mentors.” You hear it in his voice, which may sound as if he’s talking normally to anyone who could overhear, but you know what he’s really saying. He’s talking about Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, sparking rebellion all over Panem; and her fellow victor, Peeta Mellark. Regardless of what others in the rebellion, or even Katniss, may believe--he is in as much danger as she is because she cares about him.
If there’s one thing President Snow enjoys--if there’s one thing the entire Capitol enjoys--it’s taking away those that you care about.
“We’ll just need to work hard to protect them.” Both of them. They focus on Katniss, consider Peeta a commodity, but you know. You saw her face whenever he was in danger, whenever she was burdened by the thought of losing him.
If Peeta isn’t protected, she won’t be the Mockingjay--all she’ll do is fall apart.
You know this better than anyone.
“We will.” Finnick let out a groan as your eyes flickered to the roaring television screen just as the screen began panning over the crowd in the Capitol. “It’s beginning.”
“I’ll talk to you later, go to Annie.” You did not press any farther goodbyes--you never bothered to say it to anyone anyway--and focused your attention on the slimy voice of President Snow. You fade in and out, he spews on and on about the Quarter Quell and the like, before he announces what will be so special about the newest one.
“Spread around the pain, eh, Snow?” You lifted your legs onto your chair casually before listening in once the notecard was taken from the delicate box beside him.
“On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.”
Time seems to move in slow motion and the room begins to spin and, before you know it, you’re on the ground. You can’t think, you can’t even remember anything before those words were spoken.
The male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.
Tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.
Existing pool of victors.
A scream tears through your throat, loud enough to draw blood and ringing with ghostly familiarity. The scream you hear every night, in every nightmare--the cry of pure devastation.
The same scream you let out as you watched Raza die.
You begin pounding on the floor of your lavish home; your screams echoing thick as the blood pouring down your lips gargles the noise, like you’re drowning. Your eyes shut tight, fists slamming into the hardwood floor as images of gore and pain splash before you.
You have to go through it all over again.
You somehow manage to draw yourself to your feet, legs beginning to sting like fire and threaten to give out as uselessly as they did when you awoke. You slide across the ground--only briefly realizing that you must be sliding in the slickness of your own blood--before stumbling your way through your house and managing to find the front door. You exit the clastrophic hovel quickly and bound down the streets brimming against the throngs of Peacekeepers weaving around the narrow streets dangerously. You only barely keep yourself from sprinting, your throat closing as you reach the end of the small community and continue forward. The buildings begin to thin out as you enter an area with more destruction, more charring and more defilement, and you finally grant yourself the will to run as fast as your legs will take you. Between wreckage, over debris, you’re bolting so quickly that you’re sure that no Peacekeeper guarding the area would even know you were human.
You begin to approach a large, gated area; your body slamming into the gating so hard that it swings open and almost flies off the hinges. You weave past modest markers in the grass, wooden crosses and even the occasional placard, before you reach a sanctioned area with a perfectly crafted arch that simply read “Fallen Tributes.” You take the worn path with no trouble, no conscious thought--you could lose your eyes tomorrow and still find your way to your destination. You come to a stop in front of a lovely granite slab with some drying flowers cradled delicately beside.
67th Hunger Games
He honored his district bravely
The corners of your eyes prick terribly, threatening to spill your emotions, when your eyes flutter to the side and catch sight of one other tombstone. You only have to see the name before you dissolve into a puddle of pathetic sobs.
The screams are back, somehow louder than before against the unnatural silence of the entire world that surrounds you. You fall to the ground, hands gripping at the large tombstone in front of you, body wrapping around the sign with every bit of strength you muster. You can’t stop screaming, can’t stop crying, and you can’t stop the pain.
‘No use in being useless.’ His voice, Raza’s strong and heady tenor, flutters past your ears and seeks to calm you down to silent weeps and breathless pants.
“No use… in being useless.”
President Snow is trying to kill Katniss.
Katniss and Peeta will undoubtedly go into the arena together.
And you, you… you will have to go into protect them.