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The Orphan Games

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It was quite simple. It wasn’t as if a Reaping hadn’t been rigged in the past. Of course, not on this scale… but still. It could be done. Had to be done.
“Rachel?” Aldous Leekie turned to the woman who had been pointedly ignoring him all morning. “Are you with the Capitol, or aren’t you?”
“Aldous, you insisted I would never partake in the Games.” She remained facing the window, stony as ever.
“Your District needs you.”
“District 1 has over twenty Career Tributes, I do not see why they need me specifically. I am more use to you here, am I not?”
Leekie closed his eyes. Rachel had a habit of asking questions. Which was especially uncomfortable now, because he was almost certain she knew more than she was letting on.
“Tell me the truth, President Leekie,” she spat, turning to face him. “What is the genuine reason you want me in that Arena?”
“It’s not just you, Rachel.” He took a steadying breath. “This project has gone far enough, and it’s time to start over. Your siblings will join you in the Arena.”
“And I will be the Victor?”
“How could you not?”

 

Cosima Niehaus was, like, so cool. Seriously even her typing was cool. All fast and stuff. She looked especially cool right now; she’d obviously had a major breakthrough.
“Scott!” Cosima spun around in her chair to face him, eyes shining. “There are eleven of us, I think.”
“Eleven?”

“Well, I can’t find a Clone in District 11 or 4. But they’re in every other.”
“Trippy.”
She slid her chair over, showing Scott the computer screen.
District 1: Rachel Duncan

District 2: Helena Johanssen

District 3: Cosima Niehaus

District 4: ???

District 5: Elizabeth Childs and Tony Sawicki

District 6: Alison Hendrix

District 7: Katja Obinger

District 8: Janika Zingler

District 9: Danielle Fournier

District 10: Jennifer Fitzsimmons

District 11: ???

District 12: Charlotte Bowles

“District 4 makes sense,” Scott ran his finger down the list, “they’re the Capitol’s butt munchers, like 1 and 2. But what about 11?”
“I really don’t know.”

 

The cries in the night were getting more frequent, not that anyone in District 12 cared. Kids crying were normal. They were hungry, or in pain. Maybe their parents hadn’t come home from the mines. That happened, too. But these were new ones, cries from a girl that had never cried before.
“Charlotte,” Sarah Manning crouched down beside her sister’s bed. “Char, wake up, it’s just a dream.”
Charlotte was quivering. She was all pale and skinny. God, Sarah hadn’t been getting her enough food, had she? She finally opened her eyes, quickly nuzzling into Sarah’s side.
“See, you’re all safe. All safe, baby.”
Sarah would probably have been like this on the eve of her first Reaping, too. If she’d ever been entered. Useful thing, not existing (at least on paper).
“Tell me a story,” Charlotte whispered.
Sarah crawled up onto the bed beside her sister, holding her close.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl, only three years older than you are now. She lived in District 11, and spent all her time up the fruit trees. While she was there, she met a lumberjack. It was a secret though, because he worked in District 12. She loved the man very much. Soon, she had a beautiful baby girl, and she loved her more than anything. But people were mean to the girl. Men hurt her, and her own mum wouldn’t help her out. The lumberjack wasn’t able to help her. When her baby was two, she had to run away.”
“Where did she run to?” Charlotte knew Sarah’s story by heart. But she listened.
“To a place just a few miles away, the lumberjack lived there, and she was found by a kind lady. The kind lady took care of her, and even introduced her to her cute, adorable,” tickling fingers found Charlotte’s sides, “baby sister!” Charlotte squealed. The laughter was much better than the tears.
“I see plenty of sleeping is occurring,” Marion stood in the doorway, an eyebrow raised.
“Sorry mama,” Charlotte giggled. “Sarah was telling me a story.”
“Too right,” Sarah kissed the little girl’s forehead. “But sleepy time now, a‘right?”

“Okay.” She bit her lip.
“It’ll be fine. Remember, your first year, only one entry. They won’t draw your name.” Sarah bit her tongue as she pulled away from Charlotte. They wouldn’t draw Charlotte. They wouldn’t. But Charlotte wasn’t the only person in the Reaping pool this year.

 

“It’ll be okay, Kira,” Arthur pulled a brush through her tangled curls.
“But you should have taken out the Tesserae. I’m fine.”
“No,” he said more fiercely. “We don’t need the Tesserae. What we need, is for you to be safe. Your name only has to be in there once, it’ll only be in there once.”
“Art, please, we need food.”
“I need you alive, Kira,” he walked around, crouching in front of her. “I told your mother I’d take care of you, putting you up for slaughter just for an extra pound of grain and oil isn’t taking care.”
“Mum would understand.” Brave monkeys didn’t sacrifice things they needed ‘just in case’.

Art just continued to brush Kira’s hair. The flicker of doubt… Sarah Manning probably wasn’t even alive. He hadn’t heard hide nor hair from her in ten years.

 

Delphine Cormier took a shuddering breath. Why did she take this job, again? At this point, she wasn’t even sure if being in the Capitol was better than being stuck in District 5.
“It is done, Aldous.”
“Thank you, Dr Cormier.” He looked over her shoulder at the screen. “The Reaping will go to plan?”

“Of course.” She turned to face him, “every Clone will be in the Arena. I must ask, though,” she frowned, “there is only one that is of Reaping age. The rest are over twenty-six. How do you plan to-?”
Leekie chuckled. “Come to the telecast room, Dr Cormier.”

 

“Citizens of Panem!”
Oh shite. It was one of those. Those messages that came over the speakers and filled literally the entire country. Leekie was a self-absorbed idiot.
“I am broadcasting to tell you of a truly exciting change to the rules of The Hunger Games this year, for our Quarter Quell. Collectively, the Gamemakers and the Capitol have come to the conclusion that we need to widen the age bracket for our Tributes.”
Sarah was pretty sure the entire country gasped. If it wasn’t so awful, it’d be funny.
“In lieu of the disease outbreak in our outlying districts, the pool of twelve to eighteen year olds is small. So, we will be offering this thrilling opportunity to far more of our citizens. Anyone thirty-five years or younger can now participate in the 75th Annual Hunger Games, remember, the Capitol knows what is best for you all. Thank you for your attention, Panem. And may the odds be ever in your favour.”

 

It was strange, to watch an entire country grieve. It was even stranger to be the only one who wasn’t upset. Beth Childs took out 25 Tesserae that morning. Her family needed food. At 27, she hadn’t been able to offer this kind of sacrificial help for almost ten years. Now, they wouldn’t starve. They wouldn’t starve this year.
“You dipshit!” Tony whacked his sister around the back of the head. “25? Why the fuck would you take 25?”
“If you would stop being a selfish dickhead, you could take some out and feed our family too. You’re in the Reaping now, just like me.”
“Beth,” he said softly, grabbing his twin by the arm. “I love you so much. What if they choose you? What if you die?”
“What if?” She gave a shrug.

 

“I can fight?”
“And win, Angel.”
“I am not of too old?”
“No longer,” Tomas pulled Helena’s jacket from her shoulders, handing her a blade. “Isn’t it wonderful? You can continue your work.”
“I volunteer for the tribute,” she hissed, and a stream of blood trickled between her shoulder blades.

 

It didn’t even burn anymore… the alcohol had no stronger taste than water.
“Jabberjay,” she cursed softly, shaking the flask. Empty again. At least she could take out Tesserae this year. Take some of the money pressure off. “Get it together, Alison.” Not that she ever listened to herself. Time to go visit Ramon again.

 

Leekie and Delphine sat together, watching the monitors. One by one, they would watch the LEDA failures be plucked from the onlooking crowds. He’d never admit it, but he knew there would be some sadness as these creations of his died. It had been so much effort, after all. Especially Rachel.
District 1 was waiting with bated breath. “Rachel Duncan.” An impassive face. “Daniel Rosen.”
District 2, always the most excited. It was a training ground for Peacekeepers. People wanted to participate. “Any volunteers?”
“I volunteer for Tribute,” Helena scampered forward. The unpredictable one, Leekie noted. The biggest risk.
“I too,” Tomas followed her to the stage.
District 3, the tech geeks. “Cosima Niehaus, Scott Smith.”
Ah, Cosima. Her expression was calm, but her eyes filled with tears as Scott walked up to the stage. Delphine’s face, though, was far more interesting… But then District 4 went silent. No Clones to be had, but Maggie Chen and Jesse Adams would be quick kills.
District 5, the twins, Beth and Tony. Beth, indifferent as always. Tony only had eyes for his sister.
6, the insufferable Hendrix woman and the Morphling Ramon.

With 7 came Katja Obinger. Leekie would miss her. She was spunky, though accompanied by the rather pathetic Benjamin Kertland.
District 8 and 9, Janika Zigler, some teenager, Danielle Fournier and a twelve year old. Pity, the young ones were never good killers.
10 offered up Jennifer Fitzsimmons and the doctor, Colin.

 

Everyone in District 11 was silent. Waiting, waiting, who was going to lose a child this year? Art put a protective hand on top of Kira’s freshly brushed curls. She usually shook him off, claiming she was far too old for him to baby her, but this time she pressed her head into Art’s side, squeezing her eyes shut. Monkey, monkey. Kira the monkey. It’s all she remembered of mum, that she called her monkey. Kira had tried her best to live up to that. She could swing up to the top of fruit trees in seconds, the thinnest branches could – impossibly – hold her weight. She could curl herself tight and small, and disappear altogether. She liked being a monkey. Monkeys were carefree and happy. But this monkey was scared.
The Mayor drew out the first piece of paper, smiling broadly. “Everyone congratulate our first Tribute,”
Monkey, monkey, brave little monkey.
“Kira Manning!”
So that’s what it felt like to fall out of a tree.

Art’s hand slipped from her head, and as she briefly met his eyes, she saw the tears. No. Brave monkey.

To the credit of 11, everyone was silent as Kira took her shaky steps up to the stage. Except for Art. He was already rehearsing under his breath. Whispering the words he would use to give Kira a fighting chance in that Arena.
“How do you feel, Kira?” The Mayor looked like an eagle. Eagles eat monkeys.
“I’m fine,” she set her stony little face. In her head, she was already swinging through the branches, out of District 11, out of Panem.
“Well, you’re a brave girl. Now for our young man,” she swirled the papers, drawing out a name with a flourish. “Axel Finch!” The name was barely off the Mayor’s lips when a voice shouted from the audience.
“I volunteer as tribute.” Art was a panther. He liked monkeys though. Stupid panther.
The entire crowd reeled, looking for this insane man. No one volunteered, in 11.
“No!” Kira shrieked, “Art, no!” She ran towards the edge of the stage and took a flying leap at him. If she told him now, beat on his chest and screamed that he couldn’t, mustn’t, do this for her, maybe he’d stop. Take back those words. Not follow her into the Arena. But Peacekeepers caught her, holding her back. She was kicking and screaming, cursing her tiny lungs out and swinging wildly in the Peacekeeper’s arms, and all the while, Arthur Bell made his way onto the stage.
“Well, well, well!” The Mayor laughed, eagle eyes locking on Kira. “We have a little spitfire. Watch out, Mr Bell. Watch out.”

 

“Merde,” Delphine shook her head at the screen. “Two twelve year olds in one year? You know the outer districts don’t like that, Aldous.”
“I know, but they’ll never say anything.” He gestured to the screen. “She’ll be a crowd favourite, little Kira. Might even draw attention away from our Clones.”
Delphine just fixed tear-filled eyes on the monitor, as Kira screamed.

 

“Welcome, welcome, to the 75th Annual Hunger Games!” Siobhan Sadler was one of those Capitol women. Powerful, but totally ridiculous.
“She looks like such a twat,” Sarah whispered to Marion.
“S has her ways.”
Apparently, her ‘way’ today was obnoxious green hair and lipstick to match. Sarah seemed to be the only one laughing, though. Everyone else was scared of Siobhan. Maybe it was the voice. Or the fact that she always had her arms crossed, even when she was smiling. Or maybe it was because she was about to read off two death sentences. Probably that.
Charlotte curled her hand into Sarah’s, gripping tight.

 

“Make that three twelve year olds,” Leekie gestured to the monitor. “Charlotte Bowles is our youngest clone.”
Delphine just shook her head.
“We have to get rid of them somehow, Dr Cormier. And this way, we get sponsorship to do so.”
What was the word for le vommissement in English? Puke?

 

“Now, our brave young lady will be: Charlotte Bowles!”
Marion was one of those people who looked like she was never bothered by anything. Ever. Until her daughter’s name was called, that is. The blood drained from her face, tears sprang to her eyes, and Charlotte looked past Sarah, up at her.
“Mama?”
“Char…”
Fuck this. “I volunteer as bloody tribute.”

 

Leekie wasn’t even looking at the monitor. They’d called the last Clone, Charlotte. He was already planning his evening meal in his head. But Delphine brought him back to reality with a sharp cry.
“Someone just volunteered for Charlotte Bowles!” She immediately bit her tongue, though of course too late.
“Oh dear,” he moved closer to the monitor, trying to make out the face of this volunteer. Two volunteers in one Games? Both from non-Career Districts? Utterly unheard of. Worst of all, that would leave a Clone out of the Arena, unless Siobhan thought very quickly on her feet. Then the face came into focus. Big, brown eyes lined with black. A mane of curly, dark hair. Small nose, full lips. Short, slim. Very pissed off.
Mon dieu…” Delphine leaned in with Leekie. “She… she’s a Clone.”
“Not one we have on record,” Aldous said softly. “I… I have no idea…” Siobhan Sadler was looking up, directly into the camera, uncertainty etched in her features. If Aldous didn’t know Siobhan better, he’d think she wanted help.

 

“We weren’t-” she stopped, as Sarah approached the front of the stage. “Your name?”
“My name is Sarah Manning.”
“Well, Sarah Manning,” Siobhan looked her up and down, beckoning her with an absurdly manicured finger. “May the odds be ever in your favour.”

Chapter Text

What were the damn odds? Charlotte had no Tesserae. It was her first year. One entry. One name in a pool of thousands. Sarah hadn’t been seriously worrying about her little sister, because what were the odds? Remote, was the answer.

Not that ‘remote’ mattered to whatever higher power was buzzing around making decisions this week. Sarah was already being ushered into the waiting rooms by peacekeepers. She didn’t even get to look out and see Char.

 

That slip may as well not have said ‘Charlotte’ at all. In something as dangerous as the Reaping, Sarah would always put herself first.

It was the only reason Marion Bowles slept at all the night before. With the knowledge that even if Charlotte was chosen, she would never take so much as a step toward that stage. Not with Sarah around. Char’s first word was Lion. Not because there were any in Panem – in fact, she’d only ever seen crude sketches – but because that’s what Marion called Sarah. Her Lion. A roaring protector for Charlotte from day one, Marion’s peace from the start. Char was safe, with the Lion. Marion’s only job now, was to pretend – for Charlotte’s sake – that she knew Sarah would be alright in the Arena.

 

As Art was ushered into the waiting room, he felt a fist close around the hem of his shirt.
“Hey, hey, leave off Spitfire,” one of the Peacekeepers started to pull Kira back. “You’ve got your own waiting room.”
“No.” Well, at least she wasn’t shouting anymore. Art turned to the Peacekeepers, cringing at their grip on Kira.
“Let her go, she’s my only family.”
And she flew into his arms. He held her tight, letting her relax, finally. For now, anyway.
There would be 22 other people in the Arena. As long as Kira didn’t have to watch him take a life, or watch someone else take his, it would all be okay.

 

Could it get worse? Sarah probably asked herself that FAR too soon. Turns out the boy-tribute from 12 was Paul Dierden. Yeah. THAT Paul Dierden. The Mayor’s son, with the face and the body and the dick. He was The Other One. They didn’t exactly talk much. But you could communicate without talking. He’d snuck food to Charlotte through the fence at the Seam a few times… He was the one that Sarah could feel watching her when she was running through the woods with Cal. He was the reason she looked over her shoulder, even when her hand was linked with Cal’s.
Ah well. At least there were other people in the Arena. Maybe someone else’d finish him off early and she wouldn’t have to think about it.

 

“Who the bloody hell is she, Aldous? And don’t feed me some bullshit story, I didn’t screw up here. She’s not on 12’s records. She doesn’t goddamn exist in Panem.”
“She’s… an anomaly.”
“Anomaly?” Siobhan scoffed, turning up the volume on her ear piece. Now wasn’t the time to be asking him to repeat himself.
“Yes. Anomaly. But she is a Clone.”
“So we proceed?”
“We proceed. We’ll rid ourselves of Charlotte some other way, Sarah will be in the Arena.”
Siobhan shut off her ear piece, pasted on a smile, and strode toward the waiting rooms.

 

Charlotte curled in Sarah’s lap, arms fastened around her neck like a little monkey. Sarah winced at the thought. There were lines being crossed in her mind already… Charlotte was not Kira. But she was just as precious.
“Hey Char Char,” she whispered. “Be good for your mum, okay?”
“Isn’t she always?” Marion perched delicately on the arm of the sofa, running a hand across the top of Charlotte’s head. Her gaze moved from Charlotte to Sarah, who bit her tongue as she watched Marion’s eyes fill with tears. “Thank you, Sarah.”

“What else could I have done?”
So much.
“We will miss not having you around.”
“I know,” Sarah pushed Charlotte back slightly, cupping her face in her hands. “Now, you gotta stay safe for me, okay? Cal is going to help you find food, he might even teach you to hunt.”
“Can I use your bow and arrow?”
“We’ll see, Char,” Sarah forced a little laugh, but turned to Marion. No tears. Not now. There would be many cameras to come, she didn’t need to look weak this early on in the Games. “Look after her.”
“Sarah…”
“I mean it, Marion. You saved me, ten years ago. I’m returning a bloody favour. Don’t make it in pointless.”
The tears finally overflowed Marion’s eyes, and spilled down her cheeks. She pressed a kiss to Sarah’s crown, and took Charlotte’s hand, pulling her away from Sarah.
“We need to go, love.”
“Wait…” Charlotte bounded back to her sister, holding her face tightly, forcing Sarah’s eyes to meet hers. “You stay safe, too.”
“I’ll try, Char.”
“Maybe you can win.” That little voice was so soft. “You’re fast and you’re brave.”
She knew Sarah couldn’t, right? Knew that there are highly trained Careers, people who train desperately for this their whole life... People with more money, more muscles, more skill, more friends. People who actually exist on paper. Sarah could shoot an arrow through a goose. Woohoo.
“Maybe,” she whispered, touching her lips to Charlotte’s forehead.
Maybe she’d come home. Maybe she’d see Kira for the first time in a decade. Maybe she’d come home to riches like 12’s old, drunk Victor, Ethan Duncan. Maybe she’d come home with blood on her hands, her heart, but a smile on her face.
Maybe she wouldn’t come home at all.

 

Paul had known before the Reaping that he’d be chosen. He’d been told. Hadn’t exactly volunteered himself… but he seemed (to DYAD) the best choice in 12. Flattering? Probably. Depressing as hell? Yes.
Kill all the ones that look the same, Paul. All the Clones. You’ll have plenty of sponsorship, Paul. Your main job is to protect Charlotte Bowles for sympathy, Paul. Look sad when she dies, Paul. Kill the other Clones, Paul.” He muttered to himself as he paced back and forth in the waiting room. So what the hell was he supposed to do when Sarah Manning volunteered herself for Charlotte?
Sure, she was still a Clone. But he’d done that thing where he hadn’t told Olivier or Leekie that she existed. They were probably kind of shocked. Probably. It wouldn’t be such an issue if it was anyone else. But it was Sarah Manning. Hands-like-sunshine-tongue-like-razor Sarah. Beautiful Sarah. Unique Sarah. Different, stunning, intoxicating Sarah. Sarah of quiet kisses and not-so-quiet moans. Sarah who he’d never really spoken to, but had spent hours inside of. And now he was up against her in a battle to the death. Great.
“Paul Dierden.” It wasn’t a voice he could forget. Pretty grating, to be honest.
“Siobhan.”
“So, as you’ve probably noticed there’s been a change of plans.”
“Last time I checked, Charlotte wasn’t that tall, no.”
“Don’t sass me,” she clucked. “We will go ahead with the plan. Make it sympathetic. Make them care.”
“You still want me to protect her?”
“Undoubtedly. We have to garner viewer support somehow.” She grabbed Paul’s cheeks. “Now stop frowning, you’ll line that gorgeous face.”
“To be honest, Siobhan, I’m not really worried about aging right now.”
“Your looks are your only asset, Paul. Worry.”
She was sweet.

 

“Cal…” To be honest, Sarah was probably never going to let go of this man. They’d have to surgically remove him so they could throw her into the Arena. She didn’t care. Right now, holding on to Cal, she wasn’t about to die.
“I’ll look after them.”
“I know. Just make sure they eat. Please.”
“Sarah,” he pulled back, and Sarah cursed under her breath because the tears in his beard were hers, not his. “You can do this.”
“You sound like Char,” she wiped her eyes quickly.
“I mean it. The Games… it’s just hunting.” Oh God. “You’ve been doing it for nearly eighteen years. You can hit a moving target with your eyes closed. Get a bow, get a knife, anything… Please, Sarah. You can kill.”
“Animals. These are people.”
“People die too.” It wasn’t just her tears in his beard anymore. “They’re not all that different, in the end. If you do it, we… Come home to me. Come home and you’ll see Kira. You’ll see our little girl. And we’ll be safe. Come home.”
“Cal…” The Peacekeepers were opening the damn door. Sarah threw herself at Cal, gripping him for what she was so sure would be the last time. “Keep them safe!” Her breath was hot against his ear, but the Peacekeeper’s hands were closing around his arms, starting to pull them apart.
“Sarah, I will, Sarah, I lo-”
But he was gone.
And she was glad he didn’t get to say it.

 

Sarah had to admit, the train was definitely the most luxurious place she’d ever been. Save for the company and the destination, she could enjoy herself here.
“Four hours to the Capitol!” Siobhan teetered down the carriageway, catching herself on a light fitting as the train turned a corner. “Sarah, Paul, down to the dining carriage for some lunch, alright?”
“Because I’m so hungry right now,” Paul muttered.
“Eat while you can,” Sarah said grimly, stalking past him up the train. She felt his eyes on her back until she closed the dining cart door behind her.

“Well!” Siobhan sat up rather imperiously at the front of the table, but the effect was ruined by the wobbling green wig perched atop her head. “Welcome to the Hunger Games, Paul and Sarah. Your advisor should be down soon.”
“Advisor?” Paul looked up from the bread he was shredding.
“Yes, 12’s previous victor. He’ll give you tips for the upcoming games.”
“Oh yeah,” Sarah chuckled. “Just keep drinking and then you can’t see anyone coming anyway. That kind of advice right?”
Siobhan looked pained, but didn’t say anything. Ethan Duncan was rather well known for his… dependency… on spirits.

 

Deep in the meadow, under the willow

A bed of grass, a soft green pillow,’
Kira was doing it again. Where she’d curl up and hum that little song. Arthur couldn’t believe she still remembered it. The last person to sing it to her was her mother, ten years ago.
‘And when again they open, the sun will rise…’
Art placed a hand on her curly little head. She’d be okay. She’d be okay. Three more hours on the train. Three more hours to pretend this isn’t real.

 

%MCEPASTEBIN%

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: On Fire

 

Well, Cosima had to hand it to the Capitol folk, they had quality digs. Especially the beds. Extra springy. Compared to this suite, the train was a hovel. Forthcoming massacre notwithstanding, this was a sweet setup.
“Cosima,” Scott was standing at her door, not quite touching the frame. (Had he never been in a girl’s room before? Probably not…) “Why aren’t you freaking out more?”

“Why do you think?” She beckoned him over.
“Are you still high?”
She laughed as Scott sat rigidly on her bed. “Okay Virgin Scotty, aside from that.”
“You’re a heck-tonne braver than me.”
“Oh man, I’m a SHIT-tonne braver. But that’s not why I’m so cool and collected and generally amazing,” she tossed her dreads back, smirking at him. “Truth is, I’m not scared because… because this is going to be incredible.”
“Cosima, no!”
“Not in the murder-is-fun way.”
“Please continue.” Scott was looking at her like she’d grown another head. Which, considering all the genetic modification, wasn’t entirely improbable.
“I mean, look where we are.”
“A five-star penthouse?”
“The Capitol.” She leaped up, pulling the curtains open. The entire city sprawled beneath them like a patchwork quilt… colours and patterns and bustling movement everywhere. “This is where I came from,” she turned back to him, eyes shining. “This is where there’s answers.”

 

“Where are these mangoes?” Helena was pouting as she touted her rucksack into her room. Tomas had – regrettably – mentioned mangoes twenty minutes ago. And Helena wouldn’t shut up about them. “I wish to see the mangoes.”
“After the ceremony, кохана.”
“There will be mangoes?”
“As many as your little heart desires.”

 

Sarah Manning was a tough nut to crack. Siobhan wanted Paul to build sympathy or whatever… but she was a cold little fish. (Well, most of her anyway.) This wasn’t going to be easy.
“Sarah,” he came up to the bench where she was sitting, covered in a sheet and awaiting (he assumed) some form of hair removal before tonight’s ceremony.
“Christ, Paul. You here to laugh at me or what?”
“Just thought I’d keep you company.”
“Why aren’t they doing chemical peels on you? Bloody sexist.”
“You’re worrying about sexism right now?"
“Keeps my mind off the bloodbath, I gues- HOLY FUCK!” A little Capitol beautician emerged from beneath Sarah’s sheet, triumphantly holding a fuzzy wax strip. “Can I just point something out? That was NOT my leg.”
“Close enough.” The girl shrugged, turning back to her vat of hot wax. Paul bit back a laugh.

 

After nearly an hour of depilation (Paul had left at the third wax strip) a young man approached Sarah and the torture-mistress she had come to know as Bobby.
“That’ll do, Bobs.” He shooed her away. “Sorry, she’s a stickler for smooth skin.”
“You don’t say,” Sarah rubbed her now-hairless arms as she looked up at him. He was very… Capitol. He had big, brown eyes and full lips… both lined in glittering gold. You could cut yourself on his cheekbones, and his hair seemed to defy gravity as it held an effortless upsweep.
“I’m Felix, personal stylist.” He held out a nicely manicured hand.
“I have a personal stylist?”
“You do now.” He helped her up, completely ignoring her partial nudity as the sheet fell away. “Now come on, we’ve got a lot to fix.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Paul looked down at his outfit, glancing at Sarah’s almost identical one. “This makes me look almost as heterosexual as your stylist, Sarah.”
“You look fine,” she snapped.
“Now, now, ducklings. Don’t we look wonderful?” Felix fluffed Sarah’s skirts. “You’ll blow all the Capitol butt-munchers away.”
“Set a blazing trail, won’t they Felix?” Siobhan raised an eyebrow, sashaying into the room. In the spirit of the opening ceremony, her shoes, dress, hair, lips and eyelashes were all a blazing, fire engine red. And there were bloody butterflies circling her head.
“At least we look better than her,” Sarah whispered. Paul snorted.
“That’s the spirit!” She tottered over to them, grasping their hands in hers. “Friendly interaction, you two. Remember, what gets sponsors?”
“Relationships,” they replied dully. 
“So at least pretend to like each other.” She pushed their hands together. “And don’t let go till the cameras turn off.”

 

Their fingers had linked together… she didn’t remember when or how… but God he felt good and his teeth on her neck and why were they holding hands they didn’t hold hands “Paul…” his name caught in her throat because they were fucking when they were fucking she never spoke no no no. Up against the fence, outskirts of 12, Cal on the other side of the valley, shut your eyes then it’s not him not him until… “Sarah.” His words rasped into her ear and they were there and they were together and this was okay just for a moment not forever just now here and now this was okay…

 

Felix gave them a strange look, gold lighter in hand. “Ready to torch the competition?”
“Am I ever.” Paul’s thumb grazed the back of Sarah’s hand. She shivered. And it wasn’t cold… in fact, she was on fire.

 

She couldn’t see a thing past the flashing lights, couldn’t hear a thing through the screaming crowd and the hoof beats of the horses pulling their carriage and Daniel’s laboured breathing. But what did it matter? She’d seen it a hundred times. Just never from inside the runway. She gave a wide smile, turning to the bulk of the lights and cameras. Beautiful as ever, radiant in the white, silk gown, there was nothing imperfect about Rachel Duncan. And the crowd knew it. Hell, she knew it. District 2 was close behind them, and she could hear the feral growls ripping from Helena’s throat as she bared her teeth at the onlookers. The commentator, Alexander was calling District 5 now… thunderous applause for the twins… murmurs as Beth and Tony’s faces joined the lineup on the screen. Five of the ten up there were the same. Her carriage was stopped now, she could watch the other Tributes approaching. There was a cry as District 11 was announced… the little girl and the stoic man next to her. In the final second, the child – Kira, that was her name – whipped her head around. The last thing Rachel saw on her face, before she was shrouded in flashing lights, was tears. Finally, 12, the one with the rogue clone. 11th identical face up on the board.

“Put your hands together for Paul Dierden and Sarah Manning!” And the entire runway went up in flames.

 

Kira. Kira was thundering down the runway ahead of her. Kira was dressed in a little grey outfit. Kira had perfect golden ringlets. Kira had giant brown eyes. Kira was going into the arena. Kira…. But then she was jerking forward and people were cheering and she was probably breaking Paul’s hand but at this point she really didn’t care, because she was on fucking fire! She felt Paul tugging at her, the baby. She wasn’t gripping that hard… but when she looked at him he had a smile plastered on. He held their hands to the sky, and she smiled too. The stands erupted with cheers. They were on fire… And  as Kira’s carriage pulled to a stop at the end of the runway, she saw her swipe away a final tear… as Kira looked at her, she finally let the smile touch her eyes.

 

“Superb, superb, chickens…” S was dousing the flames on their clothes and Paul was laughing and Sarah was still smiling and her heart felt like it was about to stop because Kira… She ripped the dress off… there was nothing much left on her body but she didn’t care… she ran… just ran. When she reached her suite she kept running, slamming into the floor-to-ceiling windows, pounding her fists in rage because they wouldn’t break, she couldn’t jump, she was stuck in this fucking room and they’d ferry her into the fucking arena and she’d have to watch her daughter die because she was such a fucking SHIT mum that she abandoned her and left and now Kira was going to die. And Sarah was going to watch.

 

Felix was the only one she let into the room.

“How many years?”
“Ten. I haven’t seen her in ten years… I was… I was seventeen and stupid and I up and left to go have grand adventures and fuck boys and drink myself stupid.”
“You’re too hard on yourself, Sarah.”
“I’ve spent ten years telling people I left because I was in trouble.”
“Yeah?”
“And I wasn’t, Fee.” There it was. Her eyes finally overflowed with tears. “I was scared and I cared more about drugs and sex than I cared about my daughter.”
“You care now.” He caught a tear on his finger. “I can feel it, Sarah. You care about that little girl.”

She looked up at him, face wet and swollen. “I regretted it from the moment I jumped the boundary from 11 to 12. But I never went back.”
“Sarah…”

She stood slowly, looking around the room. The window… Capitol humming with life. The bed… cold, unwelcoming. She splayed her hands on the glass. Was Kira in the next room? The floor below? Could she jump the boundary now? Maybe if she pushed hard enough against this window, it’d break… then Kira’s last memory of Sarah would be her smile.
“What if she watches medie, Fee?”

“Then don’t die.”

“If I don’t, then she does.” Sarah turned to the man. He was crouched on the floor, looking up at her, ready to grab her when she did something stupid. Fear was etched into his features. Fear and – eugh – pity. He pitied her. How pathetic she was, how worthless. She sank to her knees, burying her head in his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“I know.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Conditions of Existence

The limitless supply of coffee at the breakfast table was doing nothing for Alison’s headache. She was forcing in a slice of dry toast, trying to keep it down, as Ramon staggered into the dining room. He flopped into his chair, head in his hands on the table.
“Fuck, Ali, I can’t…”
“Shush, Ramon. Eat and drink, it’ll go away.”
He looked up at her incredulously, taking in her puffy eyes and pasty skin. “Has yours?”
“We both knew withdrawals would be unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant? Alison I feel like I’m going to...” Ramon began turning the butter knife in his hand. “I can’t do this… I can’t,” fingertips running across the blade, “I don’t think I can take it.”
Softening, Alison reached out, plucking the knife from his hands. “Well a butterknife isn’t going to kill you, I’m afraid.”
“Can’t you hook us up with something? Just a bit to keep us going until we get into the Arena.”
“And you’re going to be better off having these withdrawals in the Arena, are you?”
“I won’t have to.”

 

Donnie Chubbs had expected President Leekie to be more… impressive. Maybe taller. Or with more muscles. And definitely not wearing a shiny fuchsia robe. His right hand woman, Dr Cormier, on the other hand… Wow. She was taller than him, legs that went up to heaven and curls that defied all earthly laws of physics. She’d be beautiful if she weren’t so terrifying. The viewing room was filled with people far more important than her, but Donnie was pretty sure that if she so much as raised an eyebrow, the whole gathering would fall silent for her.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Leekie called the room to attention. “You are all in very highly esteemed positions, and as Gamemakers you play a vital role in this year’s Games. I’m sure you are all aware of the unique nature of this year’s competitors, are you not?”
People nodded, some peering out through the viewing window that overlooked the training centre. It was still a little unbelievable, after all. All of them were so… the same. Damn.
“Yes, yes,” Delphine ushered them all back to the centre of the room. “No need to make a spectacle of them.”
“Yet,” a woman behind Donnie whispered.
The glorious French specimen shot her a glare. “Now, you know that the next week will be vital for you all, as Gamemakers, and as our most influential sponsors, you need to know what you’re putting your valuable time and money toward.” She strode forward, clearing the room in three strides and gazing out over the Tributes below them. “These men and women are your responsibility now. Make the right decisions.”

 

This was probably not a valuable use of her time. But it made it look as if she was doing something, when really she was watching the people around her. This would be a great strategy, if she were actually looking at their abilities with weapons or their strength; instead she was watching the way they walked, the way the talked, and she was wondering which life she might’ve had, if her embryo hadn’t gone to the woman it did.
“Cosima!” Scott snapped her out of her reverie.
“Huh?” She looked down. “Oh my God, I’m sorry…” she rapidly began undoing the twine she’d used to tie Scott’s wrists together.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Them,” she nodded towards the rest of the room.
“It’s pretty surreal.”
“Yeah, for you, imagine how it is for me! They all have my face, Scott. It’s weird as fuck.” She shook her head. “Like, I knew they were out there and I knew there were all these clones walking around somewhere but it hadn’t really sunk in until…”
“Cosima?” A hand landed on her shoulder and she spun around. “It’s Cosima, right?”
“Y-yeah.”
“I’m Beth.”

 

They were the little pigs and she was the great bad wolf, arf arf… Helena prowled forward, faux-dagger in hand. She launched forward, imbedding the knife up to its hilt in the chest of the training dummy.
“You missed the heart,” Tomas said darkly.
“I know.” She sank to her knees, holding the dummy by its hips. “Shhhhhhh, angel…” She caressed it, swaying with it like one would a lover. “You will die soon enough.” She crept her hands up the body, pressing herself in close until they were face to ‘face’. She cupped the moulded plastic, lips inches from its fake ones and thumbs caressing its cheekbones… and she pressed her thumbs so hard into the orbits of its eyes, that they popped from the sockets, dropping to the ground with a sickening clunk and slowly rolling away.

 

Alison really hoped she wasn’t the only one confused about the exorbitant number of lookalikes in the room. She glanced around… her dreadlocked counterpart looked disaffected, deep in conversation with a slightly skinnier one (was her name Elizabeth?). The one with the lion’s mane of dark hair seemed absorbed in her own thoughts and actions, her only associate being the attractive gentleman who came as the other District 12 tribute. The career ones were busy, too. Then there were the mousey ones reading about plants… the one with artificially red hair looked rather bored.
“SHIT! Fuck sorry, jeeze, shit…”
Alison was lying on the ground after having been seemingly tackled by a young man. He hurriedly sat up, dusting off his Captiol-issue jacket and oh fishsticks… Another one. There were more. This one was… was a boy, though?
“Hey dipshit, don’t sit on the other Tributes!” The Elizabeth one called out at him from across the room.
“I didn’t do it on purpose, the feral one threw a ninja star at my fucking face!”
“I. Um. I, er, who, what…?”
“Tony,” jumping to his feet, the man held out a hand to Alison. “Sorry about knocking you over.”
“You’re forgiven…”
“That’s my sister, Beth,” he gestured toward Beth and Dreadlocks.
“I’m Alison.”
“Pleasure.” And he bolted off, starting manic sprints across the training floor. No wonder he nearly got hit with a ninja star.

 

I think you’ve got a shadow, Sarah,” Paul nodded towards the tree-like structures in the corner, where a little girl hung upside down, quietly observing. “Been following you all day.”
“I know,” Sarah replied softly. She picked up a stick and a knife, walking toward the ‘trees’ and settling herself in their roots. Gradually, with short strokes, she began to whittle away the tip of the stick – a makeshift arrow. “Monkey,” she whispered.
“Shhhhhhh,” the little voice replied, and Kira’s face appeared in the branches above her, finger to her lips. “I know.” And the little girl disappeared again. She should be feeling weird about all the shit happening around her. But how could she? How could she when her baby was hiding 20 feet above her?

 

A thin arrow rooted itself in the board behind Art’s head, and he jumped to his feet, looking for the source.
“Cool it, Art.”
“Jesus, Sarah.” He shook his head, beckoning her. “Ten years and you’re still a fan of grand entrances.”
“Good to see you, too.”
“She’s fine.”
Sarah looked around slowly… the feral Career was throwing stars at the twins and the other one was painting her nails. The Chen woman was tossing knives with alarming precision. Paul was lifting weights. The Morphlings (Alison? Ramon?) were deep in conversation with Dreadlocks and her super-geek friend, who was miming explosions.
“Twelve years old in the Hunger Games. Yeah. She’ll be fine.” She walked away, without a backward glance at Art.

 

Sarah! Sarah!!” the voice was insistent and annoying and she had better things to do than talk to a mirror image of herself that was probably going to kill her later anyway, like learn to not die, but Christ Dreadlocks was persistent. She finally stood up, walking over to the congregation of lookalikes that had gathered by the ropes.
“Hey, I’m Cosima.”
“Alison.”
“Beth.”
“Tony.”
“Scott.”
“Okay, so what the effing fuck is going on?”
Cosima shook her head slowly. “You really have no idea? You’ve lived in Panem 27 years and never noticed the weird shit that goes down?”
“My therapist said I’m ‘avoidant,’” Sarah deadpanned. “Of course I’ve bloody noticed.”
“Well, you’re a step ahead of Ms Withdrawals over here,” Tony laughed.
“Tony, so help me…”
“Cool it, Alison,” Beth stilled her with a hand. “What we’re trying to say, is that there’s a reason for the shitstorm, and there’s probably a reason we’re all here right now.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Cosima stepped in. “There’s more two it than just… Freaky-Leekie twins or whatever. I’ve been studying it for years and-”
“Jesus, just tell me. What’s all this about?”
“We’re clones,” Alison said softly. “We’re someone’s experiment and they’re killing us off.”