Chapter Two: Return

Pandora Sommers, 16.

Westside Capitolite.

Pandora sat amongst the profusely pink paradise that was her bedroom. Her clothing, hair, and makeup acting as camouflage from those looking to take her away. Her arms wrapped around Missy, fingers intertwined with the diamond-studded collar around her neck. She refused to let go because the minute she did she knew she would lose Missy forever. The poodle with fluffy pink fur stared into her eyes, knowing something was wrong but not to what extent. Missy always had a way of reading Pandora's emotions better than human people, as she called them, ever could and it was because of this that they were such close friends and why it hurt more than anything to have to leave her. Pandora had gotten the poodle on her eighth birthday, much to the dismay of her mother who thought she would end up having to take care of it. She was wrong, Pandora had devoted every second of her time to Missy. They had a very tight schedule and it was near impossible to deviate from it!

"It's going to be okay Missy, they're not going to take me away from you," Pandora murmured through tears, laughing ever so slightly as Missy licked them away. It was comforting, and her hands ran through the poodle's poofy cloudlike fur reminiscing on the beautiful time they've spent together.

Suddenly, a knock at her door made Pandora nearly leap out of her skin. She had made it quite clear she wasn't coming out of her room, not tonight, not ever. She had a six-step plan in place for when the collection agency arrived in the morning and had been spitballing for the last hour on how they would get food throughout their isolation. Last case scenario, a daring escape plan.

"Pandora honey, come out. Please, spend some time with your family before... beforeā€¦" Her father's soft voice wavered as it cut through the door sending a shiver of guilt down Pandora's spine.

"Daddy, I can't. You know if I open that door everything will change!" Pandora whimpered. Missy cocked her head a bit, and nudged her with the tip of her nose, whining.

"Things change darling. We can't always help that but we can use the time we're given and spend it with those we care about."

Pandora shifted slightly, hesitant to heed her father's call when Missy pulled herself from Pandora's grasp walking over to the door and sitting down in front of it. Looking back at her friend, who couldn't control the flood of tears streaming down her face. Pandora nodded with a shaking sigh and pulled herself up from the floor making her way over to the door. When it opened, the relieved look on her father's face warmed her heart. She didn't want to be away from them, it was just the only move that made sense. The only thing that would keep Missy from being abandoned. The man pulled Pandora into his arms and for a moment all of her worries melted away.

"Thank you, Pandora. Now come, sit with your mother and me."

The trio made their way down the beautiful hallways of the Sommers' Manor, decorated to the brim with elegant family portraits and lavish artwork. Her mother was an artist and interior designer who marketed herself as a family woman though it was so far from the truth. The only reason she loved this family was the image that it gave her, nothing more.

As they reached the top of the staircase leading down into the foyer, her mother waiting at the bottom, foot impatiently tapping away likely to tap a hole into the very floor itself. "What took you so long? How hard is it to get a teenager to leave their bedroom?" She groaned meeting them at the bottom. "What do you have to say for yourself, young lady? What you did was very selfish and uncalled for."

"Val, please. She's going through a lot, you have to understand that," her father replied sternly.

With that, the pair spun out into an argument over the well being of their daughter. Something Pandora was quite used to at this point. She ignored them, drifting off into her own Missy centric world, kneeling to pet the poodle, who cuddled up next to her in response. A sad smile spread out across her lips. In a weird sad way, she'd miss the constant bickering almost as much as she'd miss Missy. Their arguments were one of the reasons Pandora felt the need to retreat into a happy pink world with Missy by her side, only to return for sustenance and the occasional interaction with real human people, but in turn, Pandora owed so much of who she was to her parents' disagreements. If she wasn't the sad attention-starved little girl she was all those years ago, her father wouldn't have bothered getting her a dog to occupy her. She never would have met Missy and life wouldn't have been as beautiful as it was. Now that things were being turned upside down, she needed her parents to be unified more than ever. Not for her sake but for her best friend's.

"Stop fighting!" Pandora shouted abruptly to her parents' surprise. Their eyes widened and locked onto hers. Even Missy whimpered a bit, not used to her friend's voice in such a sharp tone. "I'm going to be okay. You have to know that!"

It was time for her to take charge and be strong herself. She needed to step up to the plate and leave the safety of the world she's built up inside her head. All her life she'd avoided conflict by hiding away, spending all of her time with Missy but not anymore. If she was to go away, she needed her parents to get their act together and watch after Missy while she was gone. Her mother nearly rolled her eyes, but Pandora didn't allow her to respond. "I'm not going to be around. You need to take care of Missy," Pandora rambled, pulling out a little pocketbook, "Here's Missy's daily routine. We wake up at seven for a walk. We get back at eight for breakfast. Then we meditate for thirty minutes! It has to be thirty minutes, are you getting all this?"

Pandora went on for nearly an hour. To her surprise her parents didn't interject, they simply let her spew her obsessive routine until they had heard every step. The family then made their way silently into the living room to sit with one another for one last night. It was strange, she'd never felt this kind of fire before. She had her routine, she never deviated from it, and was about to plunge into the unknown with a newfound sense of determination and drive. It was invigorating and for the first time since she'd been Reaped, she felt like she could win. She would do anything to come home to Missy even if that meant giving up a part of herself. Even if that meant losing herself completely.

Antonio Razo, 18.

Eastside Capitolite.

Oil spewed from his lips onto the torch he held high, a plume of flames billowing out before him in an intense luminous spray, lighting up dim street corners in a blazing flash. The crowd gasped, gawked, and cheered amongst themselves and Antonio reeled back once more before breathing fire once again. Cars slowed as they passed by, to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, but he paid them no mind. He needed to be completely focused on the task at hand. His friend Levi danced around him, juggling little balls of flame as Lou dove through hoops ablaze. As the performance neared its end and the patrons threw money into a bucket the Fools on Fire troupe had set aside, Antonio sat against the building as his more charismatic friends interacted with the dwindling crowd. People were never his strong suit and he did what he could to avoid confrontation with anyone, though sometimes life had a funny way turning that belief on its head.

"That was so cool!" A young boy with what had to be fake tattoos all over his face shouted, rushing through the crowd and plopping down next to him. "How does it work?" The eagerness in his voice was almost nauseating, but Antonio played along.

Antonio eyed the boy for a moment before shrugging his shoulders, "Lots of practice."

"Does it hurt? Have you burnt your mouth? Do you have any burns I can see?" The boy came ablaze, bombarding Antonio with question after question. It was flattering that he had a fan, he had to admit, though quite exhausting.

"Most of my burns are tattooed over," he replied plainly, cutting the boy off before he got too ahead of himself.

He hated to admit but this kid reminded him a lot of himself at that age. His own first-hand experience of street performance was a man named Raja, a snake charmer who a young Antonio idolized. Going as far as getting a serpent tattooed onto his chest as soon as he was of age as a show of devotion. Raja took Antonio in and introduced him to some fellow members of his troupe one of which is the fire master Draken, it seemed like so long ago.

"The only burn I haven't had covered up is here," Antonio shifted revealing a large scar on his shoulder. His finger traced across it, remembering the sentiment. The pain he went through when he received it and the lesson that came with it.

"Woah! How'd you get it?" The boy's eyes lit up. Leaning in closer, reaching out to touch it.

"It was a lesson from my mentor," Antonio grimaced at the thought. The man's voice rang out in his mind as if he stood before Antonio at this moment. Fire is difficult to control and it needs your undivided respect. You, a child, cannot fully respect it unless you've faced the repercussions of foolishness.

A woman's voice called out, causing the boy before him to jolt up immediately. "Thanks for talking, that's my mom. I'll see you at the next show Razo!"

If only that were true little guy, Antonio thought back to the Reaping earlier that day. He wasn't shocked that his name was called. Misfortune had been his legacy from quite a young age leaving Antonio to roll with the punches and adapt to survive.

As the crowd dispersed Lou and Levi made their way over to him. Smiles on their faces as they peeked inside the tip bucket. "This was the best haul yet," Levi beamed.

"Levi come on, this is his last show, I'm sure the last thing he wants to talk about is how much money we made," Lou groaned, punching her brother lightly on the shoulder. "Who was that kid?"

They sat down beside him in the alleyway, dimly lit by flickering lamplight. There was a cool breeze that felt nice on his sweat-soaked skin. "Just some kid. If I shooed him away you guys might have lost them as patrons."

The twins eyed him suspiciously but dropped it altogether. Sitting on both sides of him, staring up into the crescent moon above the city. This was his last show, the three of them knew that. Even if he won, he would be dragged off to the Westside to live with the other Victors in their little gated community, bogged down with interviews and constant surveillance.

"This was nice while it lasted," Lou smiled, grabbing ahold of Antonio's hand.

"Yeah man, you have been awesome!" Levi smiled, "Honestly I don't think the games are ready for you. You're gonna kill it! I mean, sorry. Poor choice of words."

Antonio looked at his friends for a moment. It was strange how you could spend so much time with people and then one day they're out of your life in an instant. Tomorrow's reality would be completely different. The people he loved and cared for would cease to exist and he would need to prepare himself for that. Prepare himself for the things he will need to do to survive.

"Thank you, guys. For taking me in," Antonio spoke with a sadness in his voice. It wasn't often that emotion broke free from him. This moment seemed fitting.

Wrapping their arms around him, Levi and Lou squeezed him as tight as they could. "Of course! You'll always be a part of our family," Lou spoke barely above a whisper.

"Dude, I'm so happy you found your way into our lives. You're just the kind of guy my sister and I needed."

The three sat there in the night. Holding one another and reminiscing on the past, Antonio most of all. He thought of what brought him here. The challenges he's faced. The mistakes he's made. The people he's cut out of his life. Everything he's done has led him to this night. To this very moment. With Lou and Levi in his arms, he felt thankful, and within the melancholy of his thoughts of the past. He found a blazing desire within him to make it back home, and he would.

Serenity Heavengrove, 18.

Westside Capitolite.

Gentle music filled the private studio as Serenity elegantly moved around the hardwood floor. Ballet had always been her way to relax. Most times she found herself in a trance and simply allowed her body to move in the way it wanted to, the movements coming naturally to her. Though when she propped up into an arabesque, all focus seemed to drain from her. Her mind drifted to the Reaping.

The eager voice of the news anchor rang loudly in her mind. Serenity Heavengrove. She lost her balance, tumbling to the floor. Fighting back tears she rose, brushing off her leotard and taking a deep breath before moving with the rhythm of the music once more.

Looking at this bunch, outside the younger kids of course who do you think is an early write-off? She tried to shut off her mind and spun into a pirouette. I truly hate to write anyone off so early, but I have got to say that Heavengrove girl has Bloodbath written all over her.

The voice of the news anchor poisoning her thoughts, her foot slipped bringing Serenity crashing to the ground once again. Gasping quickly for air, she brought herself up, unable to fight back tears any longer. They poured from her eyes like rapids, blurring her vision. The lights were bright, blinding even but she went on again.

Closing her eyes, she let the music take her. Swaying with the sounds, letting her body do all the work. She twirled and dipped but no amount of movement could free her from the despair she was feeling in her heart. That girl is guaranteed, first to die. I don't care what the odds say, I'd put money on it!

Serenity met the floor but this time she couldn't bring herself to get back up again. She laid there in a heap, shivering and sobbing. Almost forgetting to breathe through the tears. The sound of the elegant music intertwined with her weeping, filling up the room.

She wasn't cut out for the games. She knew this, and it was hard enough to be Reaped with that knowledge. What made it even more difficult was that it was something others had already recognized too. She felt hopeless, lost even. She hadn't even been brought to the Tribute Center and she had already given up hope. How was she to win without giving up everything she stood for? Without becoming someone else entirely.

Barely mustering the strength to sit up, Serenity stared at herself in the mirrored wall. Her honey-blonde hair tied up in a messy bun. The make up she wore was ruined, tears sending black streams down her freckled face. She felt her breathing ease, as she rose to her feet. Wiping the smudged makeup from her eyes, she closed them and let the music take her one final time. This was her last dance, she didn't want to waste it.

Pushing every shred of negativity from her mind she twirled and leaped through the air, soaring with grace. As she neared the ground, the voice of her mother broke through the walls she'd put up in her mind. I'm not ready to watch my daughter die.

Serenity panicked, landing hard but saving herself from falling. The music ended with tears streaming down her face once more, silently as she caught her breath.

"That was beautiful," the sound of the familiar voice Drake broke through the air. She turned to see the sad smile of her boyfriend, whose face instantly twisted into that of concern upon seeing the state she was in. "Your mom said you've been up here all day. So I brought you flowers and chocolate!"

She simply stood there for a moment, taking him in, seemingly unable to utter a word. So he continued. Walking up to her, placing the flowers in her hands. "The chocolate is dairy-free, don't worry, and the flowers are from that shop you like." He beamed, placing a gentle kiss onto her wet cheek before pulling her into an embrace.

"I don't know what to do Drake. I can't win this thing," she spoke with a solemn acceptance.

"Why do you think that?" There was honest curiosity in his voice. Something that confused her as the answer was so obvious to her.

"I can't kill these kids to live. My life isn't more important than any of theirs, I just don't see a path to the end that doesn't end up with me not making it out." She hated it but a part of Serenity wished she wasn't raised the way she was. That she didn't believe in life the way she did. It made her feel guilty, she didn't want to die but she couldn't compromise who she was.

"Who says your path to victory has to end in bloodshed?" Drake pondered, still holding onto her tightly. "There are plenty of ways to win this game. Even if the most popular is at the tip of a knife."

"I don't- I don't understand." It was always going to come down to two in the end. One way or another she'd have to kill to make it out. Or maybe not?

"You just need to pick the right people to go to the end with Serenity. People who share your values. If you refuse to fight, the Gamemakers will intervene. Then all you need to do then is be the one that survives whatever they throw at you!"

Her eyes lit up as she looked into Drake's. His face was so calming and his words made sense. Maybe there was a way for her to return. It was a slim chance, but it's a better feeling than the hopelessness she felt before. The despair that consumed her very soul. Maybe she wasn't the typical tribute sent into the Capitol Games, but it wasn't a reason to count her out. Perhaps this year, she'd show Panem that you could win differently. A better way.

Serenity wiped the stained tears from her eyes and planted a kiss upon the lips of her beloved. Lips she now had hoped she'd kiss again!

Isen Trivedi, 15.

Eastside Capitolite.

He was on a mission. A mission to pull off one last stunt that would cement his legend in the eyes of his friends forever. He had to pull this off. He had to be the guy they all thought he was. Isen didn't want to lose them. He was already being separated thanks to the Games, but his heart couldn't take it if he lost them in spirit too. If they forgot about him. Abandoned his memory. This was his last night here on the Eastside, and Isen was determined to make it count.

The group of boys made their way to the Ryme Bridge, connecting the East and West sides of the Capitol. Kirosh and Tycho were just as sheepish as Osian usually was. Typically they'd all be laughing and goofing off on the way to whatever prank or stunt they were about to pull, but tonight for whatever reason their journey was silent. However, Isen paid them no mind. His vision glued to the bridge in the distance and his mind stuck on what he was about to do. "Come on guys, we're almost there!"

Isen couldn't forget the way he felt when Kirosh invited him to hang with the rest of the guys for the very first time. It was nerve-wracking and so exciting to have people who were interested in spending time with him. He made a quick note of their reckless behavior, their jokes, and constant pranks. Isen had always been a keen one, picking up on the natural chemistry between them all and adapting it himself. He felt he had done a good job of it and was integrating well, though with his time cut short he needed to go all out.

The boys approached the Ryme, Isen spinning on his heels a big grin on his face. "This is going to be so awesome!"

"Isen, you don't have to do it," Kirosh spoke up. With what sounded like a genuine concern in his voice. The other boys nodded in agreement.

Isen looked to his friend, confused above anything else. Certainly, if he backed out he'd be labeled a coward. He had to. "Come on man, don't be such a baby! I've got this." He laughed before making his way down the bridge.

The skyline was beautiful. The stars hung in the sky like little diamonds, and the moon a bright beautiful glow. The flashy lights of the Westside contrasted by the darkness hanging over the East. Isen took it all in as he made his way down the bridge. One of the boys hollered about a car, and they hid behind some beams as a lone taxi drove by.

"Alright, I think this is a good spot," Isen announced as they reached the bridge's center. "So here's the deal, I'm going to do a triple front flip off the bridge and into the water! I need you guys to record it okay?"

The boys peaked over the edge of the bridge. You could barely see the water below in the darkness but it looked high up. Dangerously so. The sound of the rapidly moving water gave all but Isen pause. However, the risk factor hadn't even crossed Isen's mind. To him, it was a necessary condition of preserving his memory. He had to take that risk. The metaphorical and literal leap into memory.

"It looks so much higher when you're up here." Osian murmured.

"Yeah, Isen this is stupid let's head back," Tycho pleaded, his usual goofball demeanor had completely vanished.

"No, it's not. This is important man!" Isen shouted, quickly realizing how tense he had gotten before calming down. "I have to do this."

Kirosh looked baffled. "Why?"

Why? Isen thought to himself. So you don't forget about me... "Because it'll be super cool."

"No, it won't. Tycho is right man, this is stupid. It's too dangerous, even for you!" Kirosh spoke sternly.

Typically everyone was on board with anything. The group liked to push boundaries and be bold. Which was why Isen was so confused why they were opposed. Isn't this what they wanted? One last stunt?

"I don't understand," Isen replied, failing to hide his disappointment. "I thought you guys wanted to do something fun before I go into the Games."

"Yeah, we do. Can we just chill here?" Kirosh chuckled, smiling and placing a hand on Isen's shoulder.

"This view is insane." Tycho laughed, plopping down onto the bridge's edge, the others soon joining him, beckoning Isen to take a seat.

He remained there for a moment. Taking in the view of his friends laughing on the bridge and wondering if he ever had to try so hard to fit in. Maybe, they did just enjoy Isen Trivedi, not the boy he tried so hard to be. With a sad sigh, he pushed the thought from his mind and sat down beside Kirosh, who in turn put an arm around him.

"There ya go, buddy. Take a look at those stars!"

"Remember when we threw rocks down old man Andrews' chimney?" Osian prompted, resulting in a belly of laughs from the others. Which spun into a conversation on all the crazy hijinks the four had gotten into. Isen laughed along with them, but he couldn't shake the questions racking in his brain.

He's never had anyone want to spend time with him and up until now, he had thought the guys only hung around him because he did crazy things, pushed boundaries, and acted like a fool. If they wanted to just sit on the bridge and enjoy each other's company like this, it had to mean their friendship wasn't all fun and games. A concept that was utterly foreign to Isen. His family was basically out of the picture, a toxic environment he wanted no part of. Though maybe his real family had been with him all along.

"We're going to miss you Isen." Kirosh cut through the laughter and the other boys quieted down, nodding in agreement. "I think I speak for all of us when I say, having you as a friend has been one of the best things to ever happen to this group."

A lone tear slid down Isen's cheek as his eyes widened. He didn't respond but he didn't have to. The smile that spread out on his face spoke a thousand words. As he sat there, huddled together and looking at the starry sky with his best friends. He knew that he'd do anything to get back to them.

Hello there everything! Hope life is treating you well. This chapter took a bit longer than I thought but hey that's okay. Basically I finished Preston's pov last night and then decided that he didn't fit in this chapter and decided to save him for a future one. So I wrote Isen this morning. Anyway I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think of these four.