Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction using characters from the Hunger Games world, which is trademarked by Suzanne Collins. I don’t own any of the characters or settings mentioned in this story.
The reaping is a festive event in District 2, unlike the poorer districts. At least on first glance. The young children don’t look as afraid. They know if they are reaped another older child will volunteer for them. It is our job to take their place, to bring pride to our districts. We save them out of duty, not love.
The District 2 escort takes her place on the stage, straightening the peacock feathers jutting out from her tall hat. The pin on her jacket reads Clementine. She is much too extravagant, in my opinion. The reaping used to be a solemn affair from what I have read. They have changed it for the worse since then.
I’m not opposed to volunteering, at least that’s what I tell myself, but I want to put my life on the line for a necessary tradition. Not for cheap entertainment.
It is against the law to bet on the games in District 2, but that doesn’t mean people don’t peg their money on tributes. They gather together, talking in exaggeratedly hushed voices that I can easily overhear.
“We’ll most likely have another Career this year.”
“Which of the girls do you think will volunteer? I’ve heard the one with the dark hair and brown eyes is the top of her class.”
“I have to say, she looks quite small. You really think she could survive those demanding conditions?”
“Definitely! Have you seen her throwing knives, it scares me half to death! She could kill a tribute before they even realize what’s happening.”
I turn around and glare in their direction, making it clear I heard every word they said about me. They look away awkwardly and move a few feet away to continue their conversation.
My eyes skim the crowd and spot Cato across the square. He stands with his arms crossed and jaw clenched as he glares at the other tributes. When his eyes meet mine, his gaze softens somewhat.
We were both chosen to start training at the academy when we were twelve years old. We respected each other's strength and chose to fight side by side.
We stood out among the other kids. My strength was my exceptional knife throwing skills, his was his brutality.
He didn’t used to admire violence like he does now. As he trained and climbed to the top, his obsession grew. An uncontrollable desirable to prove himself to his district, through murder. The academy changed him. I would know best. It changed me too.
As the best in our class, we are expected to volunteer for the games in two years. This is another year where we stand at the front of the crowd and build up our intimidating reputation.
The boys’s names are drawn first, just like every other year. Clementine reaches her bony hand inside the clear bowl, her bright orange fingernails hitting the glass. Her hand closes around an unassuming slip of paper identical to the rest, and she prances over to the microphone.
We all draw in a collective breath as she tears open the paper and reads the name aloud.
The boy identifies himself by freezing on the spot. His knees tremble, threatening to give way underneath him. Judging by his immediate terror, he wouldn’t make it past the initial bloodbath of the games. Not at all like the competitors District 2 sends to the Capitol every year.
Countless heads turn to watch the male Careers, including my own. One of them is sure to volunteer, considering the weakness the chosen tribute has already shown.
A tall boy with jet black hair steps forward. I recognize him as the Career that our instructors planned on volunteering this year. He is eighteen and a model Career; arrogant, strong, and very comfortable wielding a spear or sword.
But before he can open his mouth to say the words we are all waiting for, another voice interrupts him. A loud, demanding, ambitious voice.
“I volunteer as tribute.” Cato says, making his way to the stage.
For a second, everyone is silent.
My head spins and I clench my fists trying to hold myself together. I can’t believe it, I won’t.
I stay rooted to the spot as my eyes follow his figure up to the microphone. I choke back a sob but continue to watch the scene unfold. It’s just so awful I can’t pull my eyes away.
Why? Why did he volunteer two years early? We were supposed to have more time. Time to perfect our survival skills and convince ourselves we have a chance at winning these games. This wasn’t supposed to happen so early, and so suddenly.
“Oh, a volunteer! How exciting!” Clementine squeals into the microphone. Cato just scoffs and looks out at the crowd, his chin held high. He won’t quite meet my eyes, though.
“Now for the ladies.”
Another name is drawn from the second bowl. It really is funny, how one small piece of paper can make a moment unforgettably awful.
In the moment of hesitation that follows, I realize something. I won’t let Cato go into the arena alone.
From the first time we met, we were friendly to each other. At least as friendly as competing killers can be. We grudgingly got along with each other.
He was always slightly cold, but it didn’t bother me. There is no happy Career for good reason. Our bitter lives have made us bitter.
The more we trained together, the closer we became. Cato is my ally, my brother in arms, and the sibling I never had. He is my family.
He was going to leave me, but I refuse to do the same. I won’t leave him.
“I volunteer as tribute.”
Clove shouldn’t have volunteered, given up her life to stay by my side. I didn’t ask for her to come. I don’t need her help anyway.
She stands next to me on the chariot, wearing a golden gladiator costume that matches my own. I feel ridiculous wearing these absurd clothes. They’re not at all practical. If I got a choice in the matter, I would wear regular arena gear to the parade.
She’s watching me with an expression that lies somewhere between worry and pure shock. At least that’s what it looks like, she has never been that easy to read.
We stand side by side as the horses lead us past a huge crowd. We don’t join hands like the fiery tributes from District 12. After all, Careers are supposed to be on their own.
We watch the beginning of the tribute interviews on the screens backstage, lined up in order of our district. Caesar chatters on, entertaining the wealthy Capitol citizens with his shallow comments. Clove just rolls her eyes, openly unimpressed with the host of the games.
I hold back laughter, tempted to joke with her. We were always able to find humor in the darkest of situations.
I turn my attention back to the interviews where Caesar has taken Marvel’s hand and they are bowing in front of a hysterical audience.
During his interview, he said the games prove that if you apply yourself and stay focused you can accomplish any dream you have. That’s what I plan on doing, becoming the victor and bringing pride to my district.
Clove has made that a lot harder. Because, no matter how much I don’t want to, all I can picture is it coming down to just us two as the last tributes standing.
I know, without a doubt, that I couldn’t find it in myself to kill her.
Nothing they taught us at the academy could have begun to prepare us for the arena. If you make a mistake you can’t go back and redo that moment. You can’t hit the pause button and take the time to collect yourself, because this isn’t training anymore. It’s for real.
Cato and I immediately allied with the Careers from District 1, as all the sponsors expected us to. Glimmer and Marvel are provoking, they treat this fight like a game. Constantly putting on a dramatic show for our invisible audience.
We also allied with Lover Boy, hopeful that he would divulge the location of the girl from his district. I tried to warn Cato from the beginning about the Girl on Fire, and he dismissed me simply stating that District 12 never had any victors. His arrogance made him unable to accept the fact that a girl from a high numbered district would be a threat to them.
We are all gathered sitting on crates around the Cornucopia when Marvel shouts out, pointing to something in the distant woods.
“Guys look, there! Come one!” he says, grabbing Cato’s shoulder and gesturing toward the trees with his spear.
Wispy tendrils of dusty smoke drift up from the treetops, standing out against the teal blue sky. We all hop up from our seats and sprint off in the direction of the fire, leaving the boy from District 3 behind to guard our pyramid of supplies.
We reach the scene in barely any time at all. The wood releasing the smoke is a bright green, recently cut and not yet dried. No tributes sit holding their hands over the flames. Something is wrong.
“The fire was a distraction. To lure us away from the Cornucopia.” I come to this conclusion just as a deafening explosion causes us to whirl around. A towering plumes of smoke and fire are popping up around the Cornucopia.
Cato takes off running back to the center of the arena and I am close behind him. Marvel stays behind, determined to find the tribute who had the nerve to mess with us Careers.
When we reach the crime scene, our mountain of weapons, food, and medicine has been reduced to a mere pile of rubble and ash. The boy from District 3 stands beside the explosion, looking thoroughly confused with what just played out.
I glance over at Cato, and I can tell by the look on his face that his anger is becoming overpowering. He storms over to the terrified boy screaming.
As Cato snaps the neck of the boy from District 3, infuriated that our supplies have been blown up, he scares me. He always had a darker side to him. I never blamed him for it, he was raised that way. Cato used to be able to control his anger.
But now, in the arena as we fight to be the last tribute standing, the darkness is growing. Like inky, black poison spreading through his veins. They say the arena changes everyone, he is no different.
Soon enough, there are only six tributes left. The Girl on Fire, Lover Boy, the girl from District 5, the boy from District 11, Cato, and I. All six of us are much more likely to win than when the games started. We have a chance.
Whenever I thought about the arena, I imagined it as a place to make sure the world would remember you. A place to prove your worth to those who doubt you. I don’t understand why, when I’m so close to winning, I feel so hollow and empty inside.
The only thing that gives me hope in this dreadful place is the rule change. It allows two tributes to escape the arena together if they are from the same district. There is only one thing standing between me and victory. It takes the form of a girl with a bow.
The Girl on Fire was born in District 12, destined to be an inspiration to the poor and unfortunate. The Capitol adores her rags to riches story. Cato and I are meant to be ruthless killers, the Careers from District 2.
The simple fact is, the audience likes an underdog better than the tributes who are supposed to win. The ones that have trained their whole lives for this opportunity. No matter how hard we fight in the games, some things are already laid out.
We are all a piece in their games. Some of us are the queen and some are only pawns. But that doesn’t mean I’m going down without a fight. I have one goal now.
I am going to kill the Girl on Fire so both Cato and I can leave this arena alive.
We both immediately agree that our alliance should attend the feast. We could benefit immensely from having whatever item is in our bag. Ever since the gamemakers made the rule change, Cato has talked to me more often. Like he has finally accepted that we are in this together.
I volunteered to be the one to grab our bag at the Cornucopia, hopeful to run into the Girl on Fire. I need to finish this once and for all. Cato doesn’t usually exclude himself from a fight, but we decided his energy would be best spent chasing another tribute.
The feast might be the only time we know their whereabouts for a while. Especially Thresh, who mysteriously disappeared into the field by the lake and hasn’t been seen since.
I crouch out of sight behind the tail of the Cornucopia. The smart, sly, red haired girl from District 5 goes first. She grabs her bag and retreats back to the trees before any of us can decide to follow her.
Another slightly more clumsy figure emerges into the clearing, next, a sling of arrows shining on her back. Ready to shoot anyone that gets in her way. As she grabs her bag, she runs right into my storm of knives.
After a struggle of metal and fists that doesn’t last long, I’m on top. Pinning her arms and legs to the ground. Quite a feat if you ask me, pinning someone twice your size to the ground.
I start talking in a sickly sweet voice. All the bottled up hate comes spewing out, desperate to be freed. What scares me the most is how little control I have over myself. I am going mad, just like every tribute before me.
More slippery words escape my mouth, about the little girl from District 11. The moment I say the child’s name a strong hand wraps around my throat and throws me backward. I reach for my knife but I am forcefully knocked to the ground again.
“You killed her?” I am looking into the face of the tribute from District 11. His fists are tightened around my throat and his face contorted with anger. Anger is a dangerous thing in the arena. So is the need for vengeance. They both give us the power to kill mercilessly, in the belief that we are righting wrongs.
“I heard you!” I scream Cato’s name as loud as I possibly can. Begging him to save me from this whole mess. I hear him call my name in the distance, but I know he won’t get here in time. No matter how fast he runs.
“You said her name!”
He slams my body against the wall, his strength magnified by rage and grief. Once, twice. He kills me quickly, thankfully, resisting the urge to make my death long and painful.
Cato couldn’t save me. But I don’t blame him. I blame Snow for forcing us to fight to the death, then making us out to be the villains. I blame this world for being the way it is.
I blame myself for ever believing I could win.
I should have known it would come down to us. The gamemakers have created the perfect finale scene. Three armed tributes standing atop a metal stage, gigantic wolf mutations prowling beneath them.
We are almost evenly matched. The fight is mostly physical, each of us trying to push the other off the only safe spot in the arena. I’m not getting anywhere, though. Each time I’m about to get rid of one of them, the other comes and attacks me from behind.
A lesson from the academy comes flashing through my mind. A good fighter always recognizes the weaknesses of their opponent in order to make the victory quick and efficient. The Girl on Fire only has one obvious weakness, Lover Boy.
I grab him, tightening my arm around his neck. Barely allowing him a breath.
“Go on. Shoot. Then we both go down, and you win. Go on.”
I know she won’t. She owes him, she already has enough blood on her hands, but most of all she cares too much.
“I’m dead anyway. I always was, right? I couldn’t tell that ‘til now. How’s that? Is that what they want, huh?”
There is no way to outrun fate. I didn’t know it from the beginning, but now I understand. My story is already written out, and I am not the victor.
“I can still do this. I can still do this. One more kill. This is the only thing I know how to do. Bringing pride to my district.”
This was always what I lived for. I don’t have a chance at life anymore, that passed me by, but I still have one last opportunity to succeed.
“Not that it matters.”
Not since Clove died. I spent all this time trying to prove myself to all of Panem, and in the process I left behind the one person I never had to prove myself to.
I ruined everything trying to claim a victory that was never mine in the first place.
It just wasn’t meant to be. That is my last thought before she lets the arrow fly, claiming the victory as her own.