I Am Not a Victim

Trifling with Teammates

< Glimmer>

After I finished my little… whatever the hell you'd call that, Katniss didn't know what to say. That little girl Rue though, she just comes over and hugs me. Um, yeah… No matter how I might tease Katniss about it, I most definitely am not a hugger. "Uh, thanks?" Not sure what her deal is. I certainly didn't ask for her to come hug me.

"It's ok, Glimmer." She reassures me. Uh, nice sentiment I guess. Not that it really matters; it doesn't change where I am or where things lead to. It seems to make her feel better least, so I suppose that's something.

I look over Rue's shoulder at Katniss; she found this girl, maybe she has some idea what to do with her. "We should get going." she announces. "We're still closer to the Cornucopia than I'd like." I guess Rue's coming with us; like that's a surprise. Honestly I don't think Katniss is thinking this through. After all, there's only one possible ending to all this. But I'm not going to be the one to burst her bubble, not now at least. Katniss and I aren't exactly tight, the last thing I need is to mess that up.

At Katniss' urging we leave the awkward lunch behind us and head further into the woods. I'm not really sure where we're going, but Katniss seems to have some idea and keeps leading us on.

As the day wears on Katniss keeps sending glances my way; the sort says 'I want to ask you a question but I'm not sure how to do it.' Wonderful. This is what I get for losing it and venting like that at lunch. I try ignoring it, hoping Katniss will take the hint, but she either doesn't get it or is just plain stubborn. Finally I just give up. "Just ask already."

"Huh? Ask what?" Katniss may try denying it, but she isn't fooling anybody.

"How should I know? But it's obvious you want to ask me something, so just get it over with already."

She looks a bit guilty but and still hesitates. The girl's busted, why can't she get it over with already? What part of get it over with already did she not understand? "Do you regret it? The um, stuff you told us about at the Cornucopia You wish you hadn't done it?" she finally asks.

"I don't know if you realize it, but that's two very different questions, Katniss. Do I regret it? Of course, how could I not? What sort of person can go killing kids and call that an accomplishment to take pride in. But do I wish I hadn't done it? Absolutely not."

"What? How can you say that?" Sigh. She just doesn't understand.

"Weaklings don't last in the Career alliance, and people who refuse to kill qualify as weak, Katniss. Weaklings are prey; they're hunted and killed. So it was simple, either perform at the bloodbath or don't survive it. So no, I don't like what I did, but given the choice I'd rather kill than die, even if it is kids I have to kill."

"You have to prove you can kill or you die?" It's Rue this time asking, sounding amazed. Honestly, I'm not sure why. Careers win better than half the time, didn't they ever ask themselves why that is?

"Every District 1 tribute has proven that we can before we're allowed to volunteer. I don't know how it is in 2 and 4, but I imagine they do it too."

"You killed someone before volunteering even?" Rue's disbelief is growing. Maybe she thinks I'm bragging, or a that there's some sort of gladiatorial blood sport in the academies? I really need to set this kid straight.

"It's not some brutal thing or whatever you're imagining. It's actually pretty weird in a way. Supposedly just after the Dark Times the Capitol had all sorts of prisoners and the academies got dozens and dozens of them, enough that everyone even close to being considered as a volunteer could kill all sorts of different ways. But that was a long time ago. The way it's done now is that before they pick a volunteer, they need to make sure all the finalists can actually kill. So what they have is either a prisoner who's been sentenced to death, which is really really rare, or a volunteer."

"What kind of person volunteers to die?" I guess Katniss is having a hard time with this too.

"Terminally ill people, usually. People who are sick, dying, in pain and want to go out helping or honoring the district. They think it's a huge point of pride, to do something so selfless and noble in their last moment. In my case it was this old man, whatever disease he had had practically eaten him alive; I outweighed him, by a lot. His family was there, all of them, treating it like a celebration. Every one of them thanked me for honoring him like this, for letting him serve the district one last time; they were proud he'd been allowed to go like that. I killed him with a knife to the heart. It was clean and as painless as I could make it. They cried a bit when it happened, but you could still see the pride in their eyes. The guy I killed didn't look scared or in pain or anything like that; he looked at peace. It wasn't a thing like here in the Games."

Well that seems to have finally put an end to this line of questioning. Good. Some things are just plain not anyone else's business, and all of this qualifies. If they hadn't caught me at a weak moment I'd have never mentioned any of this.

It all was really awkward for me, but they seemed to have no problem poking at it. I wonder if they'll be as enthusiastic if I poke at them. "Still, it's a lot more civilized than the alternative, you know."

"What do you mean?" That got Katniss' attention.

"Well in 1 reapings aren't something to be feared. No one ever goes to the Games that doesn't want to. There's no scenes like there was in 12 this year, where you had to volunteer for your sister. Honestly, I'm not sure how any district can justify not having an academy"

"I volunteered for my sister because I love her!" Definitely got to Katniss with that one.

"Yes, I saw the reaping, and it was very touching, but my point is you should never had had to. Your poor sister should never had needed to worry about taking her chances or hoping you'd volunteer for her. It's barbaric, really."

"No, what's barbaric is teaching kids to kill for their entire lives!"

"And has not teaching them worked out better?" Yeah, this is definitely more fun than reliving the bloodbath again.

"Well I'm sorry if we're not all super trained killer Careers like you. Some of us have better things to do with our lives."

I'm about to lay some come back on her when I stop to think for a second. Rather than letting this fall to the level of name calling (and I'm not sure if Katniss realizes this just a bit of payback, not a real serious go at her) I can try a different approach. "Why shouldn't you train your kids? Think about it. Don't you have kids that would volunteer for an academy? Kids from poor families, orphans, anything like that? I thought the District 12 kids were like that as a rule. They also usually die in the bloodbath. Why wouldn't you want to give them the best possible chance to live?"

"Yeah, and how are we going to afford an academy, even if we wanted one? The street of 12 aren't exactly paved with gold. Actually, they aren't paved at all." Katniss replies evenly. Good, shouting match averted. That's one point for me.

I wave my hand dismissively. "The whole streets paved with gold is just a story, none of the streets in 1 are paved with actual gold, even if a few people with no taste have tried painting their driveways gold. And an academy can be started on the cheap if you try. Just train two or three kids of each gender for each year. Yeah, it'll be a few dozen kids, but come on, I know 12 is poor, but you must be able to collectively feed at least that many. You don't need a huge building either. And supplies are easy; just carve some wooden swords and stuff and show the kids how to use them. Heck, even if you just teach them basics and feed them well I bet your odds go up a lot. And once the first one wins they'll get enough money to start building a real academy. Plus you'll have a Victor with real world experience who can teach."

"What, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? You really think that's the best solution?" Hmm, Katniss isn't buying it.

"Katniss, I don't really see any other options, do you? The Games are a fact of life. You can either train for them and have a real chance, or not train and hope you don't pay the price. What other alternatives are there?"

"And that's the sort of life you think we should lead in 12? Did you actually enjoy the Academy? It doesn't sound like you did if you had to do the whole dumb blonde act." Hmm, I didn't think she'd manage to put me on the spot again. Good for her. "Why'd you even go there in the first place, anyway?"

This girl would have made a good Career the way she keep pressing things. "Well if you must know, it wasn't my choice. But then, it isn't any kid's choice; the Academy starts when you're seven. The first few years it's just like a school. You know, reading, math, science, same as any other school. They teach that and watch; watch to see who's really smart, who's really strong, who does well in sports, things like that. Kids who get noticed get moved over to the training side. You still learn school stuff, but it's more condensed and not the focus anymore; the real focus is training for the games. Now me, I got picked in the very first batch of kids that went over to the training side." I can't hide a smile as I recall it.

"You're proud of that, aren't you?"

"Of course I am. I was one of the first noticed; it means I was one of the best. Now for a few years they'd add new kids to the training side now and then, but after a while it became elimination, not adding to that side anymore. Kids who were eliminated weren't kicked out or anything, they just go bumped back over to the school side. And for most of them, that's why their parents sent them there to begin with. Graduating from the Academy, even if you never went to the training side is still prestigious. Helps you get a job and all, see."

"But not as prestigious as if you were in the training side I'm guessing?"

"Well no, of course not. The brightest, strongest, fastest and most aggressive all get to the training side sooner or later, and the longer you last on that side, the better it looks. Eventually they narrow it down to three boys and three girls. That's when they do that test to make sure they all can kill. After that they're ranked. If any of the top three get picked from the bowl, they get to go. If not, then the top ranked kid gets to volunteer, and if they decide not to then the second and so on."

"And let me guess, you were the top girl." Katniss sort of sounds like she isn't thrilled about the bragging she knows she's about to hear, but that's just too bad for her.

"Absolutely I was. I was the best, the best girl in all of District 1 this year, and I'm proud of it. I worked hard to be." Damn right I'm proud. Screw the districts if they look down on Careers. I earned my place here.

"If you're so proud why'd you have to go through pretending to be someone you're obviously not?"

"Because it gave me an advantage; because it made people underestimate me, and being underestimated is a big advantage. Academy life might not be life or death like in here, but it absolutely was all about being number one. People could see I was good with a weapon, but if they thought I was an idiot they didn't see me as a huge threat, so I slipped under the radar a lot, and that was a good thing. An awful lot of nastiness passed right by me because people treated me like a piece of furniture. Dumb blondes get treated like that a lot; people don't even see you're there."

"That sounds terrible." Is Rue actually pitying me? As if I need that.

"I agree, it does. Everyone just treating you like an idiot or some sort of sex object. I'd hate to live like that." What, Katniss is joining in now too? Since when does she care about social standing?

"You try living in a place like that, a place that rewards aggression and testosterone. And then try doing it when you hit puberty and start to grow like this." A quick gesture to my extremely ample chest. "You can either be a victim and let it control you, or you can use your sexuality. It's a weapon, just like any other, except this was one only I had. So don't bother pitying me or thinking like I was treated like less than a person or any garbage like that. I dealt with morons who were too stupid to see what was right in front of them. They'd stare at my boobs and listen to me say inane things and think they had me figured out. I'm not some person to be pitied. I was the one that took advantage of them all."

"Hmpf, so what, you just slept your way to the top?" God Katniss. Give it a rest already.

"They wish. Any girl can sleep her way to the top and just be a whore to get what they want. I'm better than that though. To get what you want without giving it up, to just offer vague unfulfilled promises, that takes skill. But I had it. I got out of there, I was the one that got chosen, and I did it still being a virgin. I'll be the one to decide if and when that changes, not anyone else." Damn right it'll be me. I don't need some weakling who can't keep his pants on taking control over me. I'm stronger than that.

"What's a virgin?" Rue asks. Crap, forgot there was a kid here. Judging by the look on Katniss' face she did too.

How am I supposed to answer that? Nobody's told me how to teach this stuff to little kids. It's not like I'm the kid's mom. But really, if a kid hasn't learned about the birds and the bees can we agree they're too young to be in here? Explaining how to kill is one thing, and I didn't really care for that little talk, but giving this kid a sex talk is definitely out. I look over at Katniss; it's time she picked up some of the slack. She found this girl after all.

"A virgin is someone who hasn't been with another person. Like how moms and dads are." Hmm, not bad. Heck of a lot better than I could have come up with certainly.

"Oh, ok." Good, she's buying it, because I am absolutely not answering follow up questions on the mechanics of sex. "That's weird. A girl who's pretty like Glimmer is and is her age would have kids already back in District 11."

"Yeah well there's not a lot of people back at the Academy I'd want to have kids with. It's not exactly a place to finds lots of people you can trust to play house with." Ok, it's time to take control of this conversation again, and I know exactly how. "You know, the Academy might not have had a lot of people who were my type, but you never know where you might find someone…" I give Katniss a seductive smile.

She looks at me oddly. "Uh, what do you mean? You met a guy in the Capitol or something?" Ok, not the reaction I was going for at all.

"Oh no, no one in the Capitol. Could be someone an awful lot closer is my type…"

Katniss still looks confused. I can't believe it. Usually I just bat my eyes at someone and they're all over me; I don't think I've ever had to work for it. But all right, if Katniss is that dense, I can deal with that too.

"You know Katniss, you didn't mention a boyfriend back home, and your district mate's declaration of love didn't seem to sway you either… Maybe it's that he's not the right sort of blonde for you? Maybe a blonde with a few more curves?" I pose, making sure Katniss gets a good look at all my curves. That better be blatant enough.

Katniss nearly falls over, finally getting it. "Um, no! I mean um, you're really pretty and um, hot and uh… sexy and all that, Glimmer." Katniss sputters "I'm sure you'll make some girl happy, but I'm um, I'm not like that! I mean, into girls…"

I break up laughing. Oh my god, this was so worth the effort! "Oh god, the look on your face, Katniss!" I can't stop laughing, the girl's reaction was just so priceless!

Katniss stops and glares at me. "What, all that was a joke? All the flirting was made up just to see what I'd do?"

"Yep! You got it!" I'm trying to keep my giggling under control, but it's hard.

"This isn't funny, Glimmer!"

"Sorry, Katniss, but it totally is."

"If you always flirt like that you're lucky nobody ever just tried to just take what they wanted." Katniss mutters.

"They did, but only once." I answer, dead serious now.

"Wait, really?" Seems like that was a throwaway line, not something Katniss expected a serious answer to.

"Yeah, really. There was this one guy who wasn't taking the hint that I was done with him. I'd gotten all the information I wanted out of him, and really, it's not like he even knew enough to be worth the time. So I was totally done with him, but he kept thinking he was a big shot and somehow deserved me. And instead of realizing I was trying to dump him he tried putting his hands where they didn't belong. But like a moron he was too busy trying to paw at my boobs and not paying attention to what my hands were doing; if he had been he might have seen I was going for the knife I always carried. But no, he was a moron and so he won't be doing anything productive with a girl ever again."

Katniss winces. "Ouch. And you didn't get in trouble for that?"

I scoff. "As if. There's no way he'd admit what happened. I think he claimed it was a training accident or something stupid like that, but word of what really happened got around. After that nobody ever tried anything with me again.."

"And you really think growing up like that is a better thing that being normal and going to a regular school?" Geez, Katniss. You're killing me here.

"Oh, you mean how you grew up? So what, sit through classes pretending to pay attention to things you don't really care about? And then what, go run and play and do sports or whatever the heck it is you all do after school in 12?"

"I don't have a lot of friends." Katniss replies quietly. "And I don't play sports. There's extra fees and… no one except a few families in town can afford to pay them."

"Seriously? You don't have any friends and you can't even go kick around a soccer ball or throw a football or something? They can't even afford a field a few balls?" What the hell? I'm actually starting to feel bad for Katniss. Just how bad are things in District 12 anyway?

"I have friends!" Quiet Katniss is gone, just as quickly as she appeared; loud and defensive Katniss is here now. "I have, well, two… And um, no we don't um, really do those things much. My sister has friends she spends some time with, but I really don't…"

"Only two friends? Really? Why? And just what do you do all day long when you aren't in school?"

"Well, yeah… Two… Madge Undersee, the mayor's daughter. We see each other at school and stuff, but not a lot outside. Her family's one of those that can afford whatever they want. And Gale Hawthorne, I spend a lot of time together with him."

Oh, is this a guy in Katniss' life? So even a girl like her can get something going. "Spend time doing what?" I don't even try to hide the grin on my face.

"We pretty much spend every hour of the day we have trying to put food on the tables for our families. Usually we manage ok." Good god, is she serious? Putting food on the table? Like if she doesn't they don't eat that day? What the hell kind of place is District 12?

"Don't you have family to do that? You know, parents or something?"

"My dad died in a mine accident a few years back and my mom… Um, she doesn't really manage so well sometimes. So I have to be the one to make sure we all have something to eat."

"I have to work to help out my family too." Rue breaks in. "I work in the orchards with them; I have two little sisters and two little brothers, but they're still all too young, so I really have to help out a lot to make sure everyone gets enough to eat." What the hell? Food comes out of 11; how can they not eat? What kind of messed up places are the districts? "What about you Glimmer? What's your family like? Do you do anything at the Academy to help out your family?"

"Um, my dad owns a jewelry place; makes his own stuff, some for a little store my family has, but mostly it's sold directly to the Capitol. Uh, my mom helps out at the store some, you know, a few hours a day, but when I was little she stayed at home with me."

This is really awkward. Sure, I've heard of poverty, families like theirs but it's rumors, stories, that sort of thing. Real poverty just doesn't exist in District 1. One parent supporting their family is normal, never mind needing two incomes. And kids working? I thought there's laws against that or something.

"They um, don't pay us at the Academy. It's not like I got home often anyway, it's a boarding school, so everyone lives there; l just went home some weekends, that's really it." God I feel weird saying that, and the looks I'm getting from them really aren't helping.

<Katniss>

It's getting pretty late in the afternoon, and that means we need to find a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, that's not as easy as when I was alone. I think I could stick a twig in the ground and Rue could climb it, but Glimmer's a bit harder. She may not have an ounce of fat on her, but she's still older than me, taller than me and outweighs me, and all that means I need a bigger tree than usual to accommodate her. The Careers have got to be hunting us, so we'll need something good and tall to not get found.

I've been looking for a while now, and if I don't find something soon we're going to have to just settle for whatever's close and hope it's good enough, and that possibility really worries me. We're the biggest targets for the Career alliance now and how good a place we have to spend the night can make all the difference in the world.

The Games have been quiet all day long; I'm sure Glimmer and my teaming up was entertaining for a while, but a lot of our talking probably was either too boring to televise or the sort of thing the Capitol wouldn't want seen, and that means the chances of the Gamemakers doing something to entertain the audience are high. So that means a place to spend the night is all the more important.

There don't seem to be a lot of caves in this part of the arena so a tree seems our only real bet. But with the light starting to fade I just can't afford to be picky. Without hours to search and compare I decide the nearest big tree will have to do. I stop and point at the tree. "We're spending the night up there. You can climb, right Glimmer?"

"Um, yeah sure, no problem. But what do I do if I roll over in my sleep?"

I hold up some rope from my pack in response, which seems to satisfy Glimmer. It's not a difficult climb, and fortunately the tree is big enough that we manage to get about thirty feet off the ground before I think we're close to the limit of branches big enough to hold a sleeping Glimmer. We each pick a branch, secure our packs, tie ourselves in and wait for darkness to fall.

"You want the first watch, Glimmer?" I ask.

"Doesn't matter to me. What were you thinking, switch at midnight? I'm assuming it's just you and I on watch, right?"

I nod. Rue's adorable and it's impressive she's survived this long, but still, I don't know about her standing a watch. I'm good in the woods and Glimmer's a trained Career, but as far as I know, Rue has no special qualifications at all. And besides, she's just a little kid; it'd be like asking Prim to take a watch.

Hopefully tomorrow we can find a better place to camp. Random trees are all fine and good, but I know forests can offer far better places, places we can set up more permanently even. I open my mouth to tell Glimmer she can have first watch when I stop. Something is wrong.

The sound of the forest has suddenly stopped; the birds chirping, the insects buzzing, it's all suddenly gone. That can only mean one thing: the creatures in the woods sense a predator near and have gone silent hoping it doesn't find them.

I start searching for the predator; looking for it, listening to it; smelling for it. Predators aren't usually obvious, but they're hunters so that means their stealth is only to help them stalk, not to actually hide full time, so that means if you know what to look for you can find them.

It takes a few moments, but finally I see it. It's an animal that looks vaguely like a black bear, but with white fur on its chest, with forelegs that are longer than its hind, large pink ears and a long, fur covered tail. I've never seen a creature like this before, so odds are it's a mutt. I have no idea what this thing was before the Capitol got at it, but if it's in the Games it's bound to be lethal.

I quietly reach for my bow, sparing Glimmer a glance to make sure she's ready too. She is, sword already in hand, waiting to be drawn from its scabbard, her tie into the tree quietly cast off. I hope still hold out some hope it won't come to that though; even if this terror knows we're here, we're way too high up in a tree for it to jump at us.

I look at Rue and open my mouth to tell her it's going to be ok but am cut off by this otherworldly screech; it's like nothing I've ever heard before, sort of like a combination of nails on a chalkboard and what I imagine the wail of an animal being crushed in some freakish Capitol machine must sounds like. I look down at the source of the ungodly wail and see it's even worse than I thought; the mutt can climb trees. I nock an arrow and try to line up a rather awkward shot straight down, but there's too many branches in the way; I'll have to wait until it's much closer.

Above me Rue screams and I look up just in time to see her off like a shot. Apparently she doesn't just look like a bird, she moves like one too, jumping from our tree to a branch on a neighboring one, scampering towards the trunk the moment she sticks the landing. So that's how she got so close to me when the Careers had me treed and how she's survived this far into the games. It's really impressive to see, actually.

Unfortunately this mutt seems to decide she's the easiest meal and jumps to the ground starting its pursuit of her. I fire a panicked shot as soon as it's clear of the branches under me and hit the mutt near its hind legs, but it doesn't slow it down at all. It lets forth another unholy screech and continues after Rue in a berserk fury.

Rue jumps from tree to tree, trying to get away and the mutt follows on the ground. They quickly move past any hope I have of another clean shot, and if I don't hurry they'll be too far to follow soon too. I frantically climb down from the tree, still armed, with Glimmer just behind me, but the mutt's lead is huge by now.

I've just reached the ground when I hear the sound of a branch snap and Rue's terrified scream. I start in the direction of the fearful noise just in time to see Rue tumbling down a tree, seemingly bouncing off of every branch on her way down to the slobbering Capitol abomination waiting below. Glimmer and I sprint after her, but Rue falls faster than we run. She hits the ground with a crash, and before she can even think about getting to her feet, the beast is on her.

The mutt pounces, biting down on Rue's right side with the sickening crack I know all too well heralds broken bones. It thrashes its head around in a frenzy, seemingly trying to rip her in half. Glimmer and I run to try to save Rue, but the lead the creature had means it has several long seconds to gnaw on her.

As soon as I'm close enough to have a shot I start firing on it, but my arrows are completely ignored; Its crazed lust for food and death totally overshadow any injuries I seem able to cause, but I don't let that stop me. My fourth arrow has just buried itself in the creature (still without effect) when Glimmer reaches melee range and brings her sword down on the beast. Her blade is remarkably sharp and cleaves off huge chunks of meat at a time.

It seems like an eternity but probably is only a matter of a few seconds before we finally do enough damage to the mutt that it is stops thrashing and finds the stillness of death. I drop my bow and pry the creature's jaws from Rue, but the damage is done; the entire right side of her rib cage appears crushed. I don't need to be a healer to know the wound is mortal.


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