I Am Not a Victim

Changing Futures

< Katniss>

Rue looks up at me with teary eyes. She doesn't scream, she just gives me a sad smile. "Did you get it?" she asks with a tiny voice.

"Yeah sweetie, we got it. It's ok now." I try to hold back tears, but I know my best efforts won't last long.

Rue's breath is ragged and blood flowing freely from the massive bite marks in her side. I want to help her, but I don't even know where to begin; the damage is just so massive. "Can you sing?" she asks me.

Singing isn't something I do ever really except for Prim, especially when she was small and would have a nightmare that left her too scared to go back to sleep. It's been a long time since I've really wanted to sing, not since before my father died, but I just don't have the heart to tell Rue that. I can't say no to her, not when she probably won't ever ask anything of me again. So I take a breath and start singing the same song I sung to Prim all those years ago, the only song I really know.

Deep in the meadow, under the willow

A bed of grass, a soft green pillow

Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes

And when again they open, the sun will rise.

Here it’s safe, here it’s warm

Here the daisies guard you from every harm

Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true

Here is the place where I love you.

Deep in the meadow, hidden far away

A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray

Forget your woes and let your troubles lay

And when again it’s morning, they’ll wash away.

Here it’s safe, here it’s warm

Here the daisies guard you from every harm

Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true

Here is the place where I love you.

BOOM

Just before I finish my song the cannon sounds. It's Rue's, announcing her death. I look down at the tiny still body and feel my tears about to overcome me. Glimmer reaches down and puts her hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Katniss. I know you really liked her." I nod up to her. I don't think I can thank her for her condolence without breaking down at this point.

I slowly get to my feet. No matter how I feel, I know we can't linger here too long; the Gamemakers get angry if they can't recover corpses in a timely manner. We really should go, but it doesn't feel right. Not yet; there's something I have to do first. I look around and quickly find what I need. "Help me out here." I walk a short distance and start picking flowers.

"What?"

"Help me out. Start picking. We need a lot for this."

"For what?"

I give Glimmer and exasperated stare. "Just pick some flowers, will you? You'll see what it's for soon enough. Now please, will you help me?"

"All right, all right." I think she's just agreeing out of some sort of sympathy or something similar. Maybe it's pity? I don't really know, and at the moment I don't care. I can hate the fact I need pity later. For now she's doing what I asked and that's good enough.

We each gather an armful of flowers and take them back to Rue. I know the Gamemakers are probably upset we're still here, but that's just too bad. I'm upset too. "Just set them down here, I won't be long." Glimmer steps back and watches, still being patient with me. I start setting the flowers around Rue's body, braiding a few into her hair quickly. I know I don't have much time, so I settle for simply laying most around her, finishing with a bouquet that I rest on top of her chest, crossing her tiny arms over the flowers to hold them.

"She should never have been here, you know; girls like her or Prim don't have a chance in a place like this. They can't fight or hunt, they're only here to die." I get up and look to Glimmer, still waiting for me. "All right, let's go." I start off into the woods, going in no particular direction. It's almost dark now and I know we need to find a place to spend the night, but I can't stay here; I need to get some distance from this place before I can sleep. I make it a few steps only before I stop.

I look around, quickly finding one of the literally thousands of cameras in the arena. I stare into it a moment before putting three fingers of my left hand to my lips and then extending my arm in salute. It's an old thing from District 12, a way to say goodbye to the dead, a way to silently show distress, sadness and disapproval. I don't know where it first came from, but it feels appropriate now. After a moment Glimmer copies my gesture as well. Finally there's nothing left to do so we begin our trek and search for a place to sleep tonight.

<Haymitch>

The Capitol loves their mutts. Genetic engineering isn't something they get to show off to the districts often since we never get to see the freakish Capitol citizens walking around these streets, so their mutts are all they have for time in the spotlight. Some sort of twisted hall of fame or some shit I guess. I'm pretty sure this last mutt (the TV feed called it a Tasmanian devil, whatever the fuck that is. Crazy fucking bastard seems a better name to me.) qualifies for an award or something.

People watching may think this is just some game with 24 kids, but I've done this for enough years to know it's a lot bigger than that. The Games are control. The Capitol steals children from the districts every year to show them who's in charge, and they give the districts just a bit of hope that they may see a child back again. Of course the hope is crushed more often than not, and even when it isn't crushed it's one winner out of 9 districts that aren't Capitol ass kissers. Crappy odds. So all in one package the Games show Capitol power, give a bit of hope and then break it. It's a great setup for the Capitol really.

It must really piss them off that it isn't working as well as it should this year. Sweetheart and princess teaming up makes for great drama on TV, but the ending is supposed to be princess stabbing sweetheart in the back; at least that's the ending the Capitol wants. So far they aren't getting their wish, and I'm starting to think it might not happen. Princess seems too set on a big titanic battle to prove who the better girl is. The Capitol probably could live with that too, but I don't think they really want either one to win.

After all, sweetheart is a big shiny toy from a place that shouldn't have them and princess is a traitor against the Careers, so in effect a traitor against the Capitol. That and she seems a bit too cynical for her own good. Not exactly the good Capitol cheerleader they want (even if she would look pretty damned good dressed as one).

All the conversations after they found the little girl humanized princess a lot; she's basically being treated like a well trained district girl, not a Career anymore, which means the deck's stacked against her by the Gamemakers and Snow. Funny thing is since her mentor doesn't like this whole ditch the Careers super early thing and hates the ally with District 12 play I'm basically princess' mentor too. I just wish I could tell them to tone down the treason shit; it's just going to piss Snow off more and more, which means that mutt will just be the start.

Well, the kids look reasonably safe, seems as good a time as any to get a drink and poke my head up, see what's going on outside the Mentor Room there shouldn't be any more trouble for the kids tonight. After all, can't make it too obvious they're targeted for death, got to make it look suitably dramatic and shit; let the audience think they have a chance, give them hope. That makes it hurt that much more for everyone when you crush them

Shame I had no idea before the kids went in it'd go like this; I'd have told them a lot more shit about how to act. Sweetheart and princess both could have used some pointers, especially about where the line not to cross is. Yeah, that'd have gone over well; washed up old drunk giving advice to the latest beauty queen from 1.

I wander over to the mentor cafeteria and grab a drink and a newspaper. I should be able to get drunk and not miss much. Damn. That sounds weird coming from me. 12 usually has starving kids that die in the bloodbath; it's weird having to actually think about taking care of tributes rather than just getting piss drunk on the top shelf liquor they have at the Capitol.

Seriously, after what I went through in that fucking arena you'd think they could at least ship the good stuff out to 12; not like I have anything else to do with my blood money. And now that I'm here and can have all I want I need to actually strike a balance: get drunk enough that I actually pass out and don't have the fucking nightmares, but no so drunk I'll be useless tomorrow morning; the kids will need me, after all. Hmm, wonder if I can have an Avox bring me a crate to fill with the good shit so I can ship some home.

The newspaper's boring, as I'd expect. It's just the usual Capitol bullshit, but I don't really care; it's what's inside that matters. Inside this particular issue is some real news. There's not a lot of rebels in the capitol, but there are a few, such as the one that makes sure the paper I grab every day here has a few extra news stories.

Usually it's just more of the same: lot of crap about this and that but nothing that really matters. I could sum it all up as 'don't hold your breath for a rebellion to actually break out'. But today there's actually something worth reading here: riots in 11. Big ones. Seems like seeing their kid team up with sweetheart and princess was a big shock; actually gave them some real hope that their sweet innocent little girl might be ok if she's with two heavyweight favorites like those two are now. Yeah, they should have known that shit wouldn't last. It sounds like things were the usual have your hope crushed and move on shit until sweetheart pulled that funeral thing with the flowers.

That sort of shit just isn't ever done; the Capitol never allows it, for this exact reason. That sort of compassion from one district for another, that sort of unity, the emotional ties and all that crap, that's exactly what the Capitol doesn't want to allow.

Honestly, I'm amazed they televised as much of princess' little breakdown as they did. I don't think they realized how far it'd go. Now it's getting out of hand for them. Riots where they had to send in Peacekeepers, real serious confrontations that have the whole district shut down. Damn are those kids going to have a bad time; this sort of thing won't just get the Gamemakers after them, this will get Snow on them personally. I'm not sure if I'm hoping they keep their heads down or if they set more fires. Damn I wish I'd gotten to talk strategy with them in advance.

<Madge>

I made it a point to run into Prim after school. We've never really talked, but I know what she looks like from Katniss, and well, let's face it, Prim stands out in a crowd. "Prim! Primrose Everdeen!" I call to her. It might not be the most polite way to get her attention, but it works. Besides, being polite has me sitting alone and I really don't want to do that anymore. I'll just be sure to apologize for my bad manners later.

Good etiquette or not, I get Prim's attention and she comes over to me. "Um, hello? Madge Undersee, right? Katniss' friend?"

"That's right." I smile at her.

"Um, what can I do for you, Madge?"

"I was just wondering how you're doing with the Games and everything." Not my most eloquent moment.

"Ok I guess; I mean, as much as anyone's ok watching someone they love in the Games. Honestly Gale's handling it worse than I am." No surprise there. "What about you? You're Katniss' friend too."

"I'm managing all right I suppose. It's lonely without her, though." Not exactly subtle, but, well, I'm about results at the moment.

"Ah, that's right, Katniss said you weren't really social. I think that's part of why she gets along with you."

"Yeah, I'm not surprised she'd say that. Honestly, it may be easier to watch it all if I wasn't alone for it." I know, I know, it's absolutely terrible manners to invite yourself over, but, well, I'm doing it anyway. I'll apologize later.

"Oh, well I suppose if you really wanted you could watch with us tonight. I think that'd be ok. You know where we live, right?"

"I know where you live, yes. Thank you, Prim. I'll be by later on tonight." She smiles at me and heads off with a wave. Mission accomplished.

I pick up a pie on my way home, a gift for the Everdeens. It's polite to bring a gift when you go to someone's house, after all. Well, that's what I'll tell them at least. Fact is, I know food is scare at that house and this way I can help them out and use etiquette as a cover. I've never been the sort that's made a huge difference, I'm just sort of… there. It's not much, but even if it's just a little change it's still something I can be a bit proud of; some way I can actually make a difference, even if it's just for a few minutes in one house.

It's a bit after dark, just before the start of the mandatory night broadcast when I knock on the Everdeen's door. In short order a smiling Prim answers. "Ah, Madge, you came! Hi!" I love how enthusiastic and happy she is. It's so rare to see in the Seam.

"Of course, I told you I would." I smile back at her. "Here, I brought a gift for you and your mom. Thank you for having me." I hand her the pie and she stares at it with wide eyes.

"Seriously? You didn't have to do that, Madge."

"Nonsense. I was taught it's good manners to bring a gift when you visit someone's house. Usually with grownups it's a bottle of wine, but I figured this would work out better."

"Oh, well thank you, Madge, that's very nice of you. Come on in. I'll get some plates." She takes the pie and heads into the kitchen, leaving me to go into the living room where Gale Hawthorne is sitting on the couch.

"How to buy friends and influence, Undersee? Good politician's daughter there." Well, it was nice having someone smile at me while it lasted.

"Not at all, Gale. Like I told Prim, it's polite, that's how I was raised."

"Ah, so not an act of pity? Are you sure?"

"Ask anyone, they'll tell you it's good manners."

Gale snorts at me. "Yeah, because I know a lot of high society types. We don't all run in the same circles as you, Undersee."

"And what circles are that, Gale? Just who do you think I hang out with? You see me with lots of friends? Maybe doing things with the town kids who think I'm some spy for the Capitol? Or maybe the Seam kids who are just like you and resent me just because of who my parents are? See me with lots of them? No, you don't. You know why? It's because no one wants to be around me. No one except Katniss. I don't have any other friends, I don't have any brothers, don't have any sisters, just one person, and right now spending time with her family is the only way I can even come close to not being alone right. And if they need help, then I'll help them. And if it takes using etiquette as an excuse so they accept the help we all know they can use then that's what I'll do. And if you don't like it Gale Hawthorne that's just too bad. There's more to this world than your pride. It's about time you learned that."

Oh, wow. That's a lot more than I meant to say. An awful lot more. I know Gale doesn't particularly like me and it's nothing personal, usually I don't let it bother me. I never hold it against him or anything, it's just how he is. I can understand, I've seen the Seam, I can only imagine what my house and my life must look like to them. And it's not like we've exactly earned it; my family didn't work in the mines or anything like that, it's just how it is.

I had the good fortune to be born to a father who went to political school and got the job of mayor of a district's town. Gale was born to a miner. It's just how it is. But tonight, I just don't have the patience for his prejudice; days of being alone and watching my one and only friend fight for her life have worn me down more than I thought apparently.

Gale stares at me. I imagine it's the same stare he must have when he's hunting. The hunter assessing if his target is prey worth taking down or not. Well, it's too late to take it back now. After all, it's not like an apology will change whatever he's going to do. "Fine." he eventually states.

Wait, seriously? Fine? That's it? I know Gale isn't one to say a lot, but I was expecting more. Maybe two words? Possibly even three? I guess it's better than him trying to throw me out. So I suppose this qualifies as a small victory. After all, I'm not alone tonight, and that was the goal of this all along, right?

<Glimmer>

We walked a mile or two from where Rue died before Katniss picked a tree to spend the night in. I think the only reason she did was because of me; if I wasn't there she might have just kept walking all night. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, she did say that Rue girl reminded her of her little sister.

I normally would ask who's taking first watch, but I'm pretty sure it's a pointless question. Katniss is basically in a daze; it's obvious losing Rue hurt her badly, but I get the distinct impression she doesn't want to cry where I can see, so I've been keeping a distance as much as is possible while wandering through dark woods with just a flashlight. And in this tree, well, she's just the next branch over; hardly privacy there. So I suppose the best I can give her for privacy is to sleep, or at least try to.

I know it's probably dangerous to not keep a watch, but there aren't any other realistic options. Katniss isn't in the sort of shape where she could be counted on to take a watch, and I can't stay up all night. Up all day today, if I had to do all night and then tomorrow I don't think I'd make it, not without being a disaster and that's just as dangerous as being vulnerable now. At least at night we're hard to see and from the ground, so the odds are a bit better.

After a few minutes I've made a discovery: sleeping in trees sucks. Yeah, they're fun to climb, can play in them, hang swings from them, but sleeping in them is where I draw the line. Give me a nice fluffy bed any day of the week. Yeah, maybe it's all soft and weak for a Career, but I don't care; just because I'm a trained killer doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good night's sleep. But I don't say a thing and do my best to act like I'm asleep so Katniss can have the time she needs.

Katniss is crying; she's trying to not be so loud that half the forest hears, but it's a halfhearted effort really. I suppose I understand; I've never lost anyone close to me, so I can't say I know firsthand, but I can imagine it'd be tough. Honestly I don't know if I really have anyone so close to me that I'd be broken up like that. I love my parents, don't get me wrong, but after 11 years in the academy, only seeing them on the weekends, and even then sometimes not every single one, I can't say I'm close to them.

So maybe I don't know exactly what Katniss is going through. I don't know exactly why I'm being nice to her like this either. If I'm really honest with myself, I don't exactly have normal relationships with anyone. Everyone is either a potential competitor, enemy to take seriously, people that aren't a threat, people that could get me closer to being the tribute from District 1, people that were in my way, people that I could manipulate with my looks, so many things, but never people I was close to.

I'm not sure what Katniss is, really. Yeah, obviously, she's my ally, but I had allies in the Career alliance too; it wasn't really the same. There it was the tributes I didn't have to worry about and the tributes that would kill me when the time came. Somehow it's not the same with Katniss though.

I know she's a threat to me if she wants to be; her training score alone tells me that. But even more than her score telling me she can be a threat it's her attitude. I've seen it before at the Academy, in students who went to the Games in the years ahead of me, in the instructors and former Victors who taught there. It's a way of carrying yourself, and Katniss has it; a confidence, an experience, a swagger almost.

But at the same time I'm not scared of her. I know that (if all goes well) it'll eventually come down to the two of us and then we'll have to settle things, but for some reason I just know she won't stab me in the back or do anything to betray me before that.

Maybe I'm losing my edge, going soft or something. Or maybe I'm so in love with the idea of some great battle to end the games against someone actually worthy of me to make up for that disgusting bloodbath at the start. Who knows.

<Katniss>

I'm not sure how Glimmer managed to sleep with me crying right next to her. She obviously was faking for a while, but it's a bit of dishonesty I really appreciate. She's ok, but I don't think I could really handle it if she was just staring at me all night or something; it's bad enough all of Panem was watching.

Since the sun's coming up I'm sure there's some idiot on a Capitol morning talk show watching me and talking all about how this affected me. Worse still I'm sure something or other will have to keep them entertained or they'll send more mutts at us; see how the unlikely alliance handles it or some nonsense like that. God I hate the Capitol. I regret ever doubting a single one of Gale's rants; I should have told him he was being too nice.

We'll need to spend some more serious time hunting soon; the food Glimmer got won't last forever. I'm just not sure how much she can get done hunting. We also need to find a better place to set up a camp, preferably something we can defend better than whatever tree happens to be the best we can find before we collapse for the night. Maybe we'll make that our day's plan: hunt and scout. I didn't sleep so well last night and I don't think Glimmer did either, so a lower energy day like that would be good for both of us I think.

I hear Glimmer waking up on the next branch over. Good, I don't want to spend any more time in this tree than I have to; nothing good seems to happen to me in trees. I get a bit of food out of my pack for breakfast for the two of us. I don't know if Glimmer's one to ration so well, so I'll do it for the both of us. I reach over and hand her the breakfast I've made. "Morning."

"Morning." Ok, definitely not a morning person. "Trees suck to sleep in."

"Yeah." I nod. "I was thinking today we hunt for food and look for a better place to set up a camp. Hopefully we can get enough food to last a few days and find a place we can set up a bit more permanently. Maybe a cave or something like that."

"All right. But if you see a nice hotel or something like that, don't fight the urge."

"I'm not sure the Gamemakers have ever thought of adding hotels and stores and things like that to an arena."

"A girl can dream."

We eat our breakfasts and climb down from the tree. Neither of us is sad to walk away from this particular resting place. Just like seemingly every other day I go in a direction basically at random. I'm keeping my eye out for game, slipping into the same frame of mind as back in District 12 when I hunt, so much so that I almost miss Glimmer speaking. "I never answered your question. About why I didn't kill Vera at the Cornucopia."

I stop and look at her. "Vera? The District 4 girl? Wait, where is this coming from?"

"You wanted to know."

"Yeah, and you told me to shut up when I asked. So why talk about it now?" I miss a quiet hunting partner.

"I thought you might like to know."

"Uh huh. Well fine, whatever. Tell me if you feel like it." Death, everyone's favorite topic all of a sudden.

"I didn't want to."

"That's it? You just didn't want to?"

"Yeah, that's it." What the heck is this? Since when does wanting matter around here?

"You think I want to be here? You think I wanted to have to volunteer for my sister? What's it matter what any of us want? We can want everything we like, but that doesn't change a thing! I don't want to be here, I don't want to be hungry, I don't want to have lost my dad, but it doesn't matter what we want! Because no matter how hard we want or hope it doesn't change a thing! We can want as hard as we possibly can but all of a sudden, boom! Some Gamemaker gets bored and here comes a mutt to kill someone and make us watch them die! So I don't see what the hell wanting has to do with anything!"

"That's exactly my point, Katniss." I hate it when I'm angry and the person I'm talking to isn't. "What we want doesn't always matter, and that's what makes it so important in the times it does matter. I don't have anything against Vera, she's a decent enough girl from everything I can tell. I don't want to kill her, heck I don't want anyone else to kill her either. Now I know what I want for her fate doesn't matter. But what does matter is how it happens. If she does have to die in this arena, I don't want her blood on my hands. She's not any sort of serious threat to me; she isn't the sort who was going to betray me, she couldn't beat me in a fair contest. The fact is her odds are bad. But I didn't want to be the one to end them completely. So I chose not to."

"And the point of telling me all this is what exactly?"

"I know you didn't want Rue to die; I didn't either. I might not have been comfortable around her, but I know that has nothing to do with her. I didn't wish her anything ill, really. And yeah, she died anyway. But you have to remember that nothing either of us could have done could have changed that. Like you said, some Gamemaker got bored and sent a monster at us. It sucks, but that's how it is. But what you can't lose sight of is that there are times when what we want and what we choose does matter. You can't just give up on believing that. Otherwise this place has beaten you. You may as well lay down and wait to die if that happens."

I look at her, trying to think of a response, but unfortunately I didn't think to stop walking while I did. Before a single word comes out of my open mouth I feel my foot catch on a tree root and my momentum carries me forward; I start rolling down a hill. The words that were meant to come out of my open mouth are replaced with a loud yelp as I tumble down the incline.

Fortunately it's a rather gentle (and rock free!) slope. Not any sort of trap for tributes or Gamemaker nonsense; I doubt they ever thought anyone would go falling down it. I finally come to a stop at the bottom on something soft. I look under me to see that someone else apparently never thought a fellow tribute could come rolling down this particular hill either.


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