Delano Astarte • District Eight Male

Train Eight / July 4th, 1:21 PM

Delano's lucky to consider himself better off than most folks that live in Eight. Still, he's not prepared for the ridiculous display of luxury that awaits him inside the child murder joyride train.

"Jesus fuck," Delano whispers under his breath. He stares, mouth agape, at the interior of the train car. It's spacious and incredibly well-furnished — the place doesn't even look like a train car, just a regular room. Floral wallpaper stretches from floor to ceiling, and artisanal, intricately-woven rugs are strewn intentionally on the hardwood floor. A glass chandelier hangs delicately right above the dining table, already set with plates, utensils, and lace doilies.

His District partner stands beside him. Dottie's slightly moth-eaten dress drapes loosely on her slight frame. Her shock of brown hair's been brushed out, likely in preparation for Reaping day, and tied back into a ponytail. This is his best friend's little cousin: the one Delano had been told so much about, but never got around to meeting.

Well, until now. In less than preferable circumstances. He doesn't want to think about how distraught Quentin must be right now, to have both his best friend and his cousin Reaped — in the same year, no less. Delano swallows down the lump in his throat.

(He looks at Dottie's frizzy hair again. He wonders if Quentin had helped her brush it.)

Dottie's wide eyes dart around, but he can't tell whether she's impressed by the display. In fact, Delano can't gather much of anything from the girl. Where his eyes are likely still red-rimmed and glassy, hers are noticeably blank, like she's somewhere else in her head entirely. Her strangely empty expression is difficult to parse; her gaze travels around the train car but doesn't seem to latch onto anything.

Just as he thinks that, Dottie's line of vision zeroes in on the center of the dining table, where a glass bowl of candied fruit chunks sits. She makes a beeline for the table, takes a seat, and starts to pick out the purple candies with intense focus.

Delano startles slightly as the doors behind him slam closed. Slowly, the scenery outside begins to move. The train is on its way to the Capitol. He looks at the dining table again, where Dottie is arranging her selected candies in a circle on the bare table. Nowhere else to go, he thinks to himself.

Delano smooths out his skirt with his one hand and takes a breath. He forcibly shoves away all thoughts of District Eight, and then makes his way forward to the table, taking a seat in front of Dottie.

"Are those any good?" he asks her, gesturing at the candy bowl.

She glances up at him, but doesn't answer immediately. She licks her pointer finger and presses it onto the table, where individual grains of sugar have fallen out of the candy circle.

Delano just stares at her while she does this. When she's finally satisfied with her work, she answers. "Dunno," Dottie says. "Haven't eaten any yet."

Delano points at her candy circle. "You picked out all the purple ones, though," he says. "Gotta be pretty confident it'll be a good flavor. Or you're one of those frea— uh, people who like grape flavor."

The girl shrugs, and then flashes a funny smile. "I'm not collecting these to eat," she says smugly. She counts the candies on the table aloud. "Twelve — that's twelve purple things. There's no way Quentin can top that."

"Huh?" Delano blinks.

She leans back and crosses her arms, a little smirk on her lips. "He's so gonna flip when I show him," she laughs to herself, ignoring Delano. "Twelve purple things. Today must be a very, very lucky day…"

Delano blinks at the strange girl in front of him again. In the back of his mind, he vaguely recalls something Quentin had told him once, months before Delano was on a train, on his way to add to the teen mortality rate statistic.

"There's one thing about Dottie you should know before you meet her someday," Quentin says, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "She's a little, uh, not normal. Some shit happened when she was a kid and it made her a little…" Quentin makes a coo-coo gesture with his finger. "You don't get to say that about her, though! I get to, 'cos she's my lil' cousin and all. But, uh, you kinda gotta… go along with things. Keep her happy, y'know?"

Delano abruptly starts rubbing his nose, trying to ignore the hot pricks behind his eyes. "Today's definitely, um, a day," he nods awkwardly, "Certainly one of the days of all time."

She nods along with him, then turns to look up at him peculiarly. "Do I know you?" she asks.

"Not really," he says. "I know your cousin Quentin, though. I'm Del. Nice to meet you."

"Del," she tries, "Del, rhymes with bell, shell, show-and-tell…" Dottie nods approvingly. "That's a good name. You should tell your parents that they did a good job."

"Don't think I'll get a chance to anytime soon, but thanks," he says.

She gives him an encouraging thumbs up. "How do you know Quentin?"

Delano swallows. "He's my best friend," he says.

Dottie smiles at him. "Quentin's a good cookie. If you're really his best friend, you've gotta be a good cookie, too. So, I've decided I like you."

Despite the circumstances, Delano laughs. "Stellar reasoning," he says, amused. "Thank you again."

"Where'd your arm go, by the way?" Dottie asks, point-blank.

"Car accident," Delano says, used to the questions. "It's really not all that interesting of a story."

"Yeah, it's not," Dottie agrees. "Pretty boring. You should tell people a different one. Like… it was blown off in an explosion. Or you were swimming in a lake, and a shark got it."

Delano laughs. "Not many lakes in Eight, though. Or sharks that live in lakes."

To this, Dottie shrugs. "Not with that attitude."

"You know what, true say," Delano concedes.

Just then, a stressed-looking woman walks into the train car, clutching a mess of papers to her chest. "Oh, good," she says, hurrying up to the dining table where Delano and Dottie are sitting. She drops the papers onto the table and wipes her palms on her pants. "I take it you've already introduced yourselves to each other?" she says, extending her hand out for them to shake.

Delano shakes her hand with the only hand he's got, a little taken aback by the woman's firm and slightly sweaty grip. He doesn't think Dottie even realizes that she never got around to telling Delano her name, but it's not like it made much of a difference. "Yeah," he says in response to the woman's question. "Um, respectfully, who are you?"

"Right," the woman laughs awkwardly. "I'm your mentor. Name's Minisa Dhall." She releases Delano's hand to attempt to shake Dottie's, who just stares at her blankly. "You guys will meet Wyver and our escort in a couple hours. We didn't wanna overwhelm you guys just as you got here, so it's just me to get you guys off the ground for now. There's two things we have to talk about really fast and then I'll let you rest, that's cool?"

"Yeah, that's chill," Delano nods, looking over at Dottie, who's back to licking sugar grains from the table. "Uh, she's probably good, too."

"Okay," Minisa says, her eyes darting over to Dottie puzzledly before looking back at Delano. "Well, first things first. Do you both think you'd be interested in sticking together in the Arena?"

Oh, God. Is he? "I don't really know yet," he says honestly.

Minisa nods, as if she expected this answer. "And that's totally fine," she assures him. "Just wanted to see where your head's at. You, Dottie?"

Dottie looks as if she's deep in thought, before giving a noncommittal shrug at last. "Gotta think about it," she says. "I've read nature books in school. Big animals always go for the weak, funny-looking prey first, and Del's only got one arm. If something tries to gobble him up and I'm with him, I'm next."

Without thinking, Delano starts laughing, not sure whether he should feel worse about being called weak or funny-looking. Before he can stack onto the joke, Minisa cuts him off.

"Actually, that brings me to what I wanted to chat about next," their mentor says. She turns over to Delano, eyes locked on his intensely. "Do you mind stepping out with me?"

"Oh. Sure?" Delano's a little bewildered, but he gets up from his seat and follows Minisa out of the train car. "What's up…?" he asks when she stops, one arm rubbing the back of his neck.

"I've never had to do this, so I don't know if it's a sensitive subject or anything," she prefaces. "So, first off, I'm sorry if I say something offensive. Just let me know if I'm being, like, a total wipe, or if my language isn't correct, or—"

"This is about my arm, right?" Delano interrupts, lifting his nub. "Lack thereof?"

When he sees Minisa shift from one foot to the other, uncomfortable, he sighs a little to himself. Delano always finds himself consoling abled people for shit that literally had nothing to do with them. "It's okay, I don't have an arm, it's cool. You don't have to make it weird."

"Sorry," she says.

"You don't have to say sorry, either," Delano says, trying to sound more patient than he feels. "Okay, what about it?"

"Ever since Head Gamemaker Jarstova assumed her position, she's been making a couple changes to the way traditional Games operate," Minisa says. "She wants to personally extend you the option of getting a mechanical arm."

Delano's jaw drops. "What?" he says. "Are you serious?"

Minisa nods. "Every tribute's got disadvantages, and in your case, well…" She glances over at his nub. "I'm sure you're more than aware you've got a pretty obvious physical one. The Head Gamemaker wants to level the playing field where she can. So she'll fix you up with a working arm, if you want it."

"Shit," Delano says, reaching out to the wall with his good and only arm to steady himself. "That's nuts?!"

"It'll be detachable, too," Minisa adds. "You'll be able to take it on and off yourself. I've already said it'd work, right? Fully functional. Connects to your nerve endings and all that neat technology jazz."

Delano stares at the gnarled skin on his nub, floored. He could be nubless? He could be armful again? The thought sits strangely with him — he's gotten used to having no arm, gotten used to the stares, gotten used to being treated a certain way because of it.

His amputee status is like an accessory that's half-fused with his flesh. He doesn't remember what it's like to not walk around hyper-conscious of the empty space on one side of his body. Or to not exchange his boys' clothes for girls' and accessorize to high hell, so that people stare at him for being a weirdly-dressed guy instead of for being disabled. He can hardly imagine what that's like, but God, does he want to imagine.

He envisions a Delano with a mechanical arm. He'll get the benefits of being able-passing when he wants to be, without losing his amputee sauce. He'll probably look dope as fuck. People will stare at him, but this time, they'll stare because they think he's cool, or they'll stare because they're jealous. Delano imagines that for once, he'll get looked at like he's someone to be envied, instead of pitied.

That Delano could be him.

"Anyway, yeah," Minisa chuckles to herself. "I'm obviously no rocket scientist, so I'm not gonna try to explain how it works. The gist is you've got that option. And I wish I could say 'take your time thinking about it', but we don't actually have that time and I'm gonna need your answer within the next couple hours if we want the thing to be set up by Parades."

He doesn't need time — Delano's decided. He looks up at Minisa, unable to hold back a smile.

"I want it," he says at last, grinning. "Hook me the fuck up."

Keesha Cathode • District Five Female

Train Five / July 4th, 3:33 PM

Over the last two hours, Keesha's scavenged every room on the train that she can lockpick into, but to her extreme disappointment, there's nothing! She didn't expect that such a lavish train — owned by the Capitol, for Panem's sake! — would be such a major bust in the ridiculous goodies department. All of the decor is gregarious and attention-grabbing on the surface, but none of it is truly interesting to Keesha. Nothing actually has a personal touch or a story behind it, the things Keesha actually finds valuable. Not to mention the thrill of stealing is just gone when everything technically belongs to her for however long she's in the Capitol.

Here she sits, proven wrong and now incredibly bored in the train car, fingers itching for something, anything to do. The train car's bigger than she was expecting. Keesha could do a cartwheel from one wall to the other and still have space for a landing spring if she felt compelled to do so. Which she doesn't, but she supposes it's nice to have the option. Still, it's no open concrete, no empty street. Hopefully, when she finally reaches the Capitol, they'll have something better to offer. Because right now this however-many square feet isn't cutting it.

The train car feels unbearably cramped compared to the home hundreds of miles behind her. It's not like Keesha's ever considered District Five to be a real looker or anything, but at least it had fun, rusty architecture in the downtown district to do varying levels of dangerous stunts with. At least it had a seemingly infinite number of copycat houses within its patches of suburban sprawl, to break into whenever she so pleased. At least there were always people passing by on the street who looked interesting enough to rob!

Messing with the escort had been fun while they were here — ("Oh, heavens! Where have the buttons on my petticoat gone?!") — but everybody else is painfully boring. Er, her mentors are, at least — she doesn't even remember their names, that's how boring they are. One's named Cory or something like that, and the other has a real girly name even though he's a dude.

As for her District partner, well — Keesha's already been there, done that. A week ago, to be exact. As soon as Fioynder's name was called on stage, she immediately recognized him as the sleeping boy from the house she last broke into. Of course, that's not something Keesha could let him know, so when he struck up a conversation with her, she played it cool.

"I like your shades!" Fioynder exclaims as they were escorted from the Justice Building to the train. He flashed a pair of finger guns at her.

"'Preciate it," she said casually. "Your whole blue get-up is kinda cool, too. And happy birthday, by the way."

Fioynder huffed a little through his nose. "Thanks," he said, albeit a little dejectedly. "My outfit would've been way better if I had the vest to go with it — I've been looking for it all week, but I just couldn't find it! It's like it just went missing in my house!"

"Oh," Keesha looked away and smiled. "That's like, really weird."

That had been an… eventful night, to say the least. Her District partner's funny little vest is probably rotting in Blaine's room somewhere.

But as much as she'd like to reminisce on the past (which is to say, not at all) the truth is that Keesha would rather keep her distance from him as much as she could help it. After a couple of hours of exposure to her District partner, Keesha can safely conclude that Fioynder Itamor-Nilth is a bona fide freak. Usually, she'd get more creative with the name-calling, but it's quite literally the perfect word for him. If she cracks open a dictionary, there's a fat chance his smiling photo would be right under the definition.

Maybe what had been playing onscreen before Fioynder decided to pass out on his living room floor should've been a dead giveaway. Keesha doesn't know anybody who just… watches recaps of the Hunger Games for fun. But to be honest, she hadn't even remembered that detail until their conversation took a sharp turn for the disturbing; it had taken almost zero time for Keesha to realize that Fioynder was a full-fledged Games fanatic.

Which, on its own, isn't a deal-breaker. Granted, it's still really weird, but at first, Keesha had hoped he'd be the kind of weird that'd be fun to mess with. But the longer she talked to him, the more uncharacteristically unsettled she felt about the whole mess. While they watched the Reaping recaps together, he'd talk about the characters onscreen very… strangely. Less like they were people, and more like they were specimens to throw into a petri dish and scrutinize. It doesn't take a genius to know that there's something rattling upstairs with Fioynder… but Keesha supposes she doesn't mind lending her expertise anyway.

Now, she's not the type of girl to get easily scared by dumb shit. But Fioynder has bonkers written all over him, and not the kind she likes. There's something extremely off about him, and Keesha, strangely enough, does not feel the slightest urge to find out what. Her instincts are telling her to nope the fuck away from the dude.

And if there's one thing about Keesha, it's that she always trusts her instincts.

There's not much noping she can do right now, though, stuck in this cramped car with her mentors and Fioynder. Judging by his animated voice and wild hand gestures, he seems to be holding them hostage in a conversation. Meanwhile, Keesha lies with her back against the floor, cornrows spread askew on the plush carpet. The shades she still hasn't taken off her face cast the indoor space in a dark tint. There's not much to see, anyway; she hasn't been given a good reason to take them off.

"It's just crazy," Fioynder says excitedly, for what Keesha swears is the fifth time in a row. "I can't believe I'm seeing you in front of me! In the flesh! Coro Galloway, Victor of the 83rd Hunger Games. Youngest Victor to ever emerge from the Arena at twelve years old. With zero kills, no less!"

"Um, yes," Their mentor, apparently Coro, says hesitantly. He's a twiggish thing; Keesha's not surprised at all that the man didn't manage to kill anybody. "That's me…"

"I watched your Games just last week," Fioynder continues to gush, "I could've sworn you were dead coming out of the Bloodbath. I mean, the discus that girl from Nine threw looked like it tore through your neck, at least from the camera angle! And then that super conveniently timed cannon — as I was watching, I was thinking to myself, 'man, Coro's totally donezo.' But what do you know! You lived and slithered away from the scene like… like some miserable little cockroach!"

Keesha snickers. She might not like Fioynder's vibe, but shit, he's entertaining. Funnier yet, he seems to not realize that everything he's saying about Coro right now sounds like a backhanded compliment. Coro barely has time to stutter a small "uh—" before Fioynder launches back into a tangent.

"Anyway, after I finished watching your Games, I knew I had to have your Victor collectors' card. I told my mom to bring it for me the next time she comes down to the Districts. You know, a lot of people say it's the most worthless trading card in the whole set, but I actually think there's something really special in having a card that nobody wants. It takes a whole different kind of impressive, managing to win despite doing barely an—"

"That's probably enough chitchat," the other mentor, the dude with a girl's name, interrupts. He clears his throat, waiting for Fioynder's yammering to peter out. "It's about time we talk business. Keesha, if you could sit up, that would be great."

Reluctantly, she does just that, braids slithering off the floor. She looks up to where the mentors are sitting, straight-faced.

The non-Coro mentor claps his hands together with a resounding sound, signaling the start of a discussion. "Now that we've had the chance to get to know each other somewhat, we should start thinking about strategy. How are we feeling about allies? Specifically, with each other?"

Fioynder's face lights up. "Oh, Kinsie, that's a fantastic question," he says, like he's in an interview or something, "Allies would serve to be an incredibly useful resource and tool—"

"No allies for me," Keesha interrupts, checking out her nails. She points a thumb in Fioynder's direction. "At least, not him."

"What? Why?" Fioynder says, taken aback. "I'm useful! I know almost everything there is to know about the Hunger Games!"

"That's exactly why," Keesha says flatly. "It's giving fanboy, but like, not in a good way. Even if I wanted allies, you are definitely not my first choice."

Fioynder puffs his chest, seeming to take her resistance as a challenge. "Okay, but what if I told you I know the difference between what's an edible and what's a poisonous plant? What if I told you that I can make accurate guesses about tribute strategies based on past trends? What if I told you I was trained?"

"You're trained?" The other mentor, Kinsie, deadpans.

"Yup!" Fioynder says, enthused. "Got a training gym in the garage and everything. I got this battle scar when I was ten, trying to learn how to throw knives." He points all too proudly at the scar across his chin.

"Battle scar," Kinsie repeats slowly.

"Obviously I'm better with throwing knives now, though. I've practiced a lot since then and my bullseye rating is now twelve percent!"

"That's not exactly good," Keesha mutters.

Fioynder glares at her. "What do you know? That's actually above the 85th percentile of all outer-District—"

"Okay, regardless of whether you're actually good or not, Fio, you're still gonna want to keep that information to yourself." Kinsie says. "That you're, uh, 'trained' or whatever. You don't want the Careers to take a special interest in you — then it's game over before you even had a chance to start."

"Y-Yeah," Coro jumps in. "In fact, I think you guys should just do what I did and lay low for the entire Games…"

"No," Keesha and Fioynder both say simultaneously. Keesha knows all about sticking in the shadows, but that doesn't mean she wanted to be totally forgettable and do jackshit like her pipsqueak of a mentor. She's in it to win it, baby. And she wants to win big.

"Okay, Kinsie, that's super fair," Fio concedes, "but my point was basically, I'm covered in the survival, strategy, and weapons department. I'm pretty much a free carry." He turns to Keesha. "So, not to say you're wrong — like, I respect your opinion and everything, but you'd be dumb to pass on probably the best, most formidable ally you can get."

"Then I guess I'm dumb, 'cause I'm still passing," Keesha says.

Now it's Kinsie's turn to look at her. "Keesha, I understand thinking you can survive fine by yourself, but it's not bad to have help. Even if you might not like Fioynder, he's right when he says he'd make a better ally than, say, a person you don't know from another District. At least have Five solidarity. It may not be productive to reject this sort of thing upfront — I think you should take more time to consider it."

Keesha wants to roll her eyes into the back of her skull. And she does exactly that, because no one can see anything through her shades anyway. Kinsie doesn't get that she's already thought this through. Sure, Fioynder might seem like a logical ally to make, but frankly, she's not impressed with what he has to offer her. His accuracy rate is garbage. He's got about the same level of applied survival knowledge as any other kid in Five, which is to say, none. And whatever he can do, whatever strategy he could come up with, Keesha can probably do better, in her own Keesha way. It wasn't like making smart decisions was hard.

Most importantly, Keesha's gut tells her that Fioynder's like a ticking time bomb. There's something abnormal about the guy that she can't predict, so sue her for not wanting to put herself in danger's way for District solidarity's sake. She knows that Kinsie's advice probably is sincere, but she's decided she doesn't need it. She knows herself better than anyone else.

Keesha shrugs. "Nah," she says to Kinsie, getting up to her feet. "'Preciate the suggestion, but I'm good. If you're gonna spend the rest of this meeting giving me bad advice, then I'm just gonna save myself the trouble and leave. Let me know when there's food."

With that, she strolls out of the train car in the direction of her room. Not total surprise the adults here are just about as… adult-y as the ones back home, Keesha thinks to herself, checking her nails. It's not as if she was expecting much, so she's not terribly disappointed or anything.

It just reaffirms what she's known since day one: if Keesha wants anything done, she'll have to do it herself.

Kieran Locke • District One Male

Train One / July 4th, 11:58 AM

"So." Himeros lazily raps his knuckles against the mahogany table. "Are we going to talk about the dead brother thing or what?"

Kieran says nothing. Sitting beside him, Reverie does the same, poised and frustratingly perfect. She's always been a natural performer, but still, this forced nonchalance feels so wrong. There's hardly a trace of the fiery, passionate girl Kieran used to know. All that remains is this ever-present cruelness that seems to simmer off her skin in waves.

He really hates to admit it, but she looks good in the outfit the Academy picked out for her. Her short-cut, platinum-gold dress makes her look both elegant and fierce. It took a stubborn effort to not look at her as they walked inside the Justice Building. That would give her too much pleasure — after all, Kieran knows better than anyone just how much Reverie Berlusconi loves attention.

He's aware that he looks the duller part as they sit side by side; his dark, almost casual outfit contrasts starkly against her flashier one. But Kieran doesn't really mind, as long as it means not looking like a matching set with Reverie. He hopes their looks clash when they watch the recaps.

Himeros gives one firm knock against the wood, snapping Kieran out of his stupor. The man raises an expectant eyebrow at the two of them as he crosses his arms over his blouse. "Anyone home? What, are we all shy now?"

"No," Reverie responds, voice light. "I just don't think there's anything to talk about."

She's right, of course. There's not a goddamn thing to say. It's pretty cut and dry, the way he sees it. Murder is murder. Riveting discussion. Kieran snorts.

Himeros turns to look at Kieran, expressionless. But the intensity of his stare catches Kieran off guard — something about it feels icy and inhuman, almost as if he's appraising him. Without meaning to, Kieran sits up a little straighter, but keeps his gaze. If this is a test, he's not going to let off that he's intimidated.

Himeros Yuan. One of the most famous Victors in One, if not the nation. Just as beautiful as he is vain, charming as he is uncooperative. His Games were one of the most ruthless in history — a seamless slaughter, an effortless execution. It was almost art, the way Himeros's deception unraveled for all of Panem to see. The man before him looked impossibly graceful, almost dainty, but Kieran wasn't going to let his guard down. After all, that had been the fatal mistake of Himeros's allies.

"I'm no moron." Himeros is now twirling a toothpick between his fingers. Kieran doesn't even know where he found that. "Anyone who had eyes and the mind to look would know that something went down with you—" he points to Reverie first, and then trains his finger at Kieran, "— and your brother."

Reverie sniffs. "What do you think happened? I don't—"

Himeros raises a gloved hand, swiftly cutting her off. "I'm not finished, girl. You'll get nothing from playing coy with me," he says airily. He then laughs, high and mocking. "But, if you'd like, we can dance around the topic all evening. I don't have to help you, you know."

Kieran furrows his brows. "You're our mentor, though," he says. "Isn't that your whole job?"

The man across the table shrugs, unbothered. "The Capitol doesn't pay me to be a babysitter. They pay me to be a whore, and a damn good one at that. I'm too valuable to get rid of, so I can do absolutely nothing for the next week and get on with my pretty little life. For all I care, you can both die in the Bloodbath and I'll get an early vacation. Whatever suits you."

Kieran's mouth twitches. The rumors about Himeros Yuan being uncooperative, intolerable, and callous seem to be right on the money. Lucky him.

Himeros hums. "So is it 'Yes, Mister Yuan, we want to die in the Bloodbath!'" he says in a shrill, mocking voice, one of his hands shaped into an obnoxious talking puppet. "Or, 'No sir, please mentor us! We are nothing but mere plebians in the face of your great mentor glory!'"

It's clear he wants Kieran or Reverie to say something. Kieran knows Reverie is too stubborn to ask for help, so he bites the bullet.

"Mentor us." Kieran grits the next word through his teeth. "Please."

The man has the audacity to preen. "Of course~ since you asked so nicely..." Himeros leans forward, resting his chin on his palm. "I'd like to see what we're working with here. So let's start by airing out our grievances, shall we?"

Reverie speaks up first. "There's no problem anymore. Right, Kier?"

Kier? Who the fuck do you think you are? "Speak for your goddamn self," Kieran mutters. "Glad you got over it. Really, I am."

"Of course I did."

"Not like any of it meant anything to you, right? Bet you hardly felt a thing."

The girl beside him gives him a glare, the first ounce of emotion she's shown this whole time. "Why are you talking like you know anything that went on in my head?"

"That's the thing — I don't know, and frankly, I don't want to. His corpse did all the talking."

Something unreadable passes over Himeros's face. He points his chin at Kieran. "Pause. You— come over to this side of the table with me."

Kieran doesn't budge. "Why can't she move?"

"Oh, did you think that was a suggestion?" Himeros starts to laugh and, just as abruptly, stops. "Get the fuck over here and sit, Locke."

Reverie snickers, the sound making Kieran's fingers itch. He almost considers staying put just so she won't get the satisfaction, but he decides not to test his mentor's patience. He reluctantly walks around the table and lowers himself into the seat next to Himeros, jaw clenched tight.

"Good boy," Himeros hums. "All right. Continue."

Kieran already feels lightheaded. He doesn't even know why Himeros is making them talk. It's as if he just wants to watch them argue. What could any of them possibly stand to gain from this?

"You killed him," he repeats, trying to keep his voice steady. "You slaughtered Aurelius."

Reverie's expression turns dark. "If you expect me to sit here and defend myself while you flip your shit, then just save yourself the trouble and throw yourself off the train."

"You'd like that, right? It would save you the trouble of getting rid of me yourself."

"Oh, trust me. I don't expect that to be an issue at all."

In retrospect, it's a good thing that Himeros made Kieran move to the other side of the table. Otherwise, he'd be throttling Reverie right now. He sneers at her instead. "Killed a couple people and now you think you can take anyone, huh? You really let all the Academy's praise get to your head after the trial. Nothing's enough for you. None of it was. Not the mink coat, not killing Aurie. And to top it all off, you just had to follow around where you knew Callista and I would be, and—"

Reverie cuts him off. "Don't get your panties in a twist, now. You really think I was following you? I just went where the biggest parties were, and you'd happen to be there with that girl. Please. Deluding yourself into thinking that I care enough to follow you around places."

"I know you were jealous of Callista," Kieran says. The constant party-hopping happened too much for it to be a coincidence. Reverie couldn't make it more obvious if she tried. Wherever Kieran went, he knew she'd eventually be. Callista was happy to be his plus one, happy to mess around with him in places they both knew Reverie would see.

"Jealous? Jealous?" Reverie scoffs, incredulous. "Why would I be jealous of Callista?"

A feeling of triumph floods through him, having gotten a reaction out of the girl across the table. "I feel like it's pretty obvious. You got rid of her because you hated seeing her with me."

"Don't flatter yourself. She was blocking my way to the Dean's office."

"Oh, my bad. A perfectly normal reason to shove a knife in someone's mouth."

"Like I said, I'm not going to defend myself to you. I'm really not interested in having a repeat trial when you've made it clear that you're unwilling, or rather, flat-out incapable of listening."

"What makes you think I'd listen to what a murderer has to say?"

Reverie barks out a laugh. "Newsflash, Kieran, you're as much of a murderer as I am! Acting like your hands are fucking clean when we both did kill tests to get here."

"That's not true," Kieran grits out, clenching his fists under the table. "Those aren't the same, and you know it."

"Aren't they, though?" Reverie sneers. "Is it really different, or is it what you tell yourself to gaslight yourself into thinking you're still a good person?"

His body feels as tight as a wire. "You're worse."

"Oh, love," Reverie shakes her head, "I never pretended like I was a good person, but at least I'm not delusional enough to lie about it. You've always been like this. So embarrassingly stupid. We've both got a kill count — two of mine just happened to be your brother and that botox-bloated bimbo you let hang off your cock like a monkey after the trial."

Got you! he thinks to himself. Kieran's unable to restrain the smile that cracks through his face. "So you were jealous!"

Reverie turns red. She opens her mouth to retort, but no words come out.

Himeros starts laughing.

"I know I'm right," Kieran says, his smile growing wider. "Face the music, Rev. You couldn't stand seeing me with someone else. You couldn't stand seeing me happy. You wanted me all to yourself."

"Who would want some… some brute with a skull denser than a fucking rock?" she sputters, trying in vain to insult her way back to even ground. "For the record, I think you and that troll deserved each other. I know all about you carting Callista around town like a penny whore to piss me off."

She's losing her cool, Kieran observes, with a glee that near frightens him. It feels so good to be vindicated, even as they stray further and further from the starting point.

"Yeah, maybe I did." Kieran hardly knows what he's saying at this point. "And it worked, didn't it?"

"You're fucking obsessed."

"Aw," he coos, "I love you, too."

"Wow," Himeros interjects. "I can't tell if you're about to fight or fuck right in front of me."

"No," the both of them retort simultaneously. Himeros's expression just grows more amused as he raises both his hands in mock surrender. "I'm just saying," he says. "So, what's the end goal here?"

"What do you mean?" Kieran says.

"God, you're slow." Reverie rolls her eyes. "My end goal is to win, obviously."

"I mean more with each other," Himeros clarifies. Kieran should win some sort of trophy for the amount of self-control it takes to not burst out laughing at Reverie. "What do you want?"

"Easy," Reverie says breezily, recovering quickly. "For him to die."

"Me too," Kieran butts in. "As in, her. To die."

"And I want to be the one to do it."

"That too," Kieran adds.

"And here I thought you wanted the moral high ground for not being a murderer or something." Reverie's voice is chokingly sweet, in a way that makes his fingers itch. "Thought you didn't want to stoop to my level, Kier."

Kieran opens his mouth, then closes it. There's a short pause. "Well, you're a fucking bitch, so," he retorts lamely.

Himeros starts slow-clapping. "Bravo, bravo," he exclaims, voice dripping with sarcasm. "I've seen enough."

"I didn't get to finish," Kieran says, a little petulantly.

"That's right — you don't," Himeros beams. "Quiet, now. Here's what I think."

Reluctantly, Kieran says nothing. Both he and Reverie turn to look at Himeros.

"You're both fucked," he says, way too cheerily. "From this cute little conversation, I've gathered that you're both petty, stubborn, and act like overgrown toddlers. I would honestly be surprised if either of you made it to the finale."

"Real encouraging," Reverie says dryly.

"Deepest apologies if you were under the impression that I care." Himeros's grin hasn't faltered. "You might think that I was just sitting here laughing at the both of you. and for the most part, I was. I've also made catalogs for the both of you in my head."

He turns to face Reverie first. "You're spiteful, hypocritical, arrogant, and fatally impatient. Prone to reckless behavior at best, and at worse, putting yourself and everyone else in danger."

Kieran spares a glance at Reverie, whose face is pinched in that way it gets when she wants to say something, but can't. Before he can gloat, their mentor trains his gaze on Kieran.

"And you," Himeros murmurs, "you're too much like him."

Kieran gives him a level stare. "Like who?"

"Like the boy I killed in the finale," Himeros says, much too casually. "Cute, gullible… simple. Easy to read. Even easier to manipulate."

Kieran's mouth goes dry. Even easier to manipulate.

He feels like a boxed butterfly, wings pinned corner to corner. He thinks about that goddamn mink coat. He thinks about how he could never tell Reverie no.

Himeros cocks his head at him. Somehow his eyes feel even more piercing than they did before. "Fascinating, really," he whispers. "You don't even know what you want. It's as if you have to be told."

Kieran keeps staring at him, jaw set. He refuses to buckle under Himeros's gaze, but it gets more difficult as the seconds tick on. He can't explain the relief that floods through him when the man finally looks away.

"Anyway," Himeros says, voice light again as if nothing happened. "Only one of you can get out of here alive, and I just pray to God it's the smarter one. I do recommend that you both try not to get bogged down with killing each other. It gets in the way of the whole leaving-the-Arena-alive thing. Keep your eye on the prize and all that."

Their mentor rises to his feet effortlessly, smoothing his hands over his sheer blouse. "Berlusconi, in the hall with me. Let's have a private chat. As for you, Locke—" Himeros gives him a smile, something about it strangely feline, almost predatory. "Don't be too jealous. You'll have your time with me after I'm done with your girlfriend."

Kieran can't explain why his cheeks grow warm. "She's not my girlfriend."

"Semantics," Himeros waves nonchalantly. "Stay put, yes?"

It's not as if Himeros gives him much of a choice as he leaves Kieran at the table alone, Reverie in tow. The door clicks shut behind the two of them, and then all at once Kieran feels unbelievably drained. The past ten minutes play through his head all over again.

You're as much of a murderer as I am.

Even easier to manipulate.

It's as if you have to be told.

He lets out a sigh, balling his fists together to keep his hands from shaking. Kieran wonders if he'll be able to escape more uncomfortable truths.

Somehow, he doesn't think he'll be so lucky.

Mavis Marigold • District Twelve Female

Train Twelve / July 4th, 2:13 PM

"I'm not supposed to be here!" Mavis bemoans through a tear-streaked face. "Girls that look like me aren't supposed to get Reaped!"

Mavis and Artan sit on two plush recliners in front of a television, some Capitol reality show playing on the screen. There's a charcuterie board on the coffee table in front of them, a disproportionate amount of crackers and meat left compared to the cheese. Only one or two cubes remain on the tray; the rest of them are cupped in Mavis's hands. She places each cube in her mouth one by one with her grimy fingernails, chewing slowly to savor the fleeting cheesy delight.

In the other chair, Artan sits motionless, curled in on himself. He hasn't made any move to touch the charcuterie board. His legs are perched and tucked behind his arms in a position that reminds Mavis of herself when her father is awake, angry, and hungover. She'd do something similar in one of the dark crooks of her shack, daring not to make a sound, lest she attract his attention and consequently, his wrath.

She feels guilty for even thinking it, but she's glad to be here after the scene she made on the podium. She had sat rigid in the visitation room, dreading her father's face, but he had not shown up to punish her. Perhaps he considered seeing her to be a waste of time better spent getting drunk. Mavis couldn't explain the relief she felt when the allotted time for visitation ran out.

(Her father hadn't come but neither had anyone else, for that matter — not her mother, not Jessica. Mavis tries not to feel hurt about this, but the dried tears on her face keep getting replaced with fresh ones.)

At this point, Mavis is about two, maybe closer to three hours from Twelve. Their mentors had come and gone, and now she and Artan were left to their own devices.

From the moment they walked into the train car together, Mavis had instantly felt a kinship with her District partner — with his fair skin, freckles face, and light hair, she knew that Artan must've been from a genetic heritage similar to hers, and that she could trust him. The only slight hang-up was that Artan's hair was not blond, but instead reddish in color. However, it was still a hair color that dirty Seam folk could never access, so Mavis supposed she could make some exceptions.

From the corner of her eye, Mavis enviously observes the silky look of the boy's hair and the crisp press of his clothes. They look recently washed, something Mavis can't say for the pink dress she currently dons. Something tight and bitter grows in her chest.

"It doesn't make sense," Mavis continues, sniffing loudly. "The escort obviously made a mistake Reaping the both of us — especially you!" She wildly flings a pointed finger at Artan. "You're rich!"

Artan side-eyes her, still sitting daintily in the recliner. "I'm upper-middle-class," he retorts, "and I fail to see how that's relevant."

Mavis scoffs. A piece of cheese almost falls out of her mouth, but at the last second, she slurps the half-chewed cube back up. She pretends she doesn't see the way Artan physically recoils, face pinched in disgust. "Isn't it self-intuitive?" she says. "If you're poor, you have to take out tesserae to eat. If you take out a lot of tessarae, the number of slips you have in the bowl increases."

"I'm aware of that, but you're under the assumption that people who have money can just… buy their way out," Artan says. "Everybody is at the mercy of the draw, even those who are financially comfortable."

Mavis wrinkles her nose. "But isn't that how that works though? If you're rich, you can do whatever you want. Buy whatever you want. Tell people what to do. Pay them to do things for you."

"No. It's not."

"It's probably because dark folk have infiltrated commerce. They've disturbed the sanctity of money by obtaining it, so now it's not worth anything anymore."

"What?" Artan says, taken aback. "What are you saying?"

"Do you need it in simpler words? The money becomes dirty once they touch it." Mavis says, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Because it is.

Artan just stares at her, at a loss for words. "Surely you're kidding, right?"

She furrows her brows. "I'm totally serious. And I'm right."

"Wow," Artan mutters, "I can't believe people still think like that."

"Think like what?"

"Never mind," Artan responds, abruptly enough for Mavis to tell that he doesn't really want to talk anymore.

But Mavis has run out of cheese cubes to eat, and she feels antsy with the silence. She can't imagine the next however many hours on this train stuck in her own head, nothing but her own thoughts to keep her company. She wishes she had brought her diary with her so that at least she'd be able to write.

(Even if it's just more prettily-penned lies.)

(Mavis's precious diary is filled with them, every passage written co-written by the fear of her father. I love my father. He is very good to me. One day, the Marigold name will reclaim its family legacy, just as he says. I just have to be patient and well-behaved until then.)

(She doesn't quite know whether she'll be able to keep up the delusions so far away from the source. At the same time, they're the only thing keeping her somewhat together, strings woven around her lungs so taut she can hardly breathe.)

(The image of a blond, scrawny girl in a casket with her diary tucked in her arms haunts her. Perhaps it's a good thing that she didn't bring it, so no one will ever read it.)

"What are you thinking about?" Mavis asks Artan abruptly, forcefully shoving these thoughts away.

Artan looks like the last thing he wants to do is answer, but after a long pause, he does. "Just… a story," he says.

"Story? Story about what? I love stories. I've read a lot of them. I think it's important to be well-educated so that the lower class can't steal jobs from the people that actually deserve it."

When Artan doesn't respond, she takes this as a good sign. "What's the genre? If you don't want to tell me the name of the story then just tell me the genre. I can guess! It'll be like a guessing game!"

"Realistic fiction," he responds reluctantly. "It's, well, it's a story I'm working on. Or… was."

"What about?" Mavis insists.

The boy flushes, the tips of his cheeks tinting slightly. "Well," he squeaks, "it's about a boy by the name of, um, Arran. And he gets Reaped for the Hunger Games." Artan clears his throat, embarrassed. With both hands, he makes a vague gesture at the train car. "I was just thinking about similar all of this was to my story. And how different."

"Boy named Arran? That sounds so close to your name."

"A coincidence I did not consider," Artan says quickly.

Mavis idly plays with the fabric on her dress, smearing it further with the remnants of cheese grease left on her fingers. "How's your story different?"

"The biggest difference is that Arran was Reaped alongside a girl named Melisandra." He bites out the next part a little bitterly. "The love of Arran's life. Or who was supposed to be, anyway"

"And Melisandra sounds really close to the name you said on stage," Mavis taps her chin. "Melisande, I think it was. By the way, did she actually kill someone? Who?" She doesn't really believe it, but she can't pass up the opportunity to gossip about someone more well-off than her.

"I would prefer not to talk about it," Artan murmurs, embarrassed. He fiddles with the detailing on the armrest of his recliner. "Anyway, there's no Melisandra or Melisandra-adjacent character here. Which is a large thematic departure from the story, because the original plot was heavily focused on the romance. The trials and tribulations of entering an arena with a person you love more than life itself, when only one of you can leave alive." He sighs morosely. "But now I'll just die alone."

"That's not true. You have me!" Mavis exclaims.

"Kindly," Artan says, not very kindly, "I would pick dying alone over engaging in any sort of romantic affiliation with you."

"That's — that's not what I meant." Mavis feels her cheeks grow red. "I meant you have me, and I can help you get your romance plot back in order. She doesn't have to be your District partner, you know? She can be someone else."

"I suppose that… could be an option," Artan says slowly.

"I can help you find someone," Mavis insists, "but for my help, there's one thing I want from you."

"I… don't think I need your help?"

"You can't do that. I gave you the idea. You owe me now for the idea." Mavis grows panicked. She reaches out to grab Artan's arm from the other recliner, alarming the boy greatly. "We're partners now! Which means we help each other — I help you get a girl, and in exchange, you let me be in your alliance, okay? People of our kind have to stick together! You can't leave me alone!"

Artan tries to shove Mavis's hand off with limited success, expression colored in poorly-repressed disgust. "Fine! Fine — you can be in our alliance, just stop touching me!" he exclaims. When Mavis finally releases him, he sniffs poshly. "I don't prefer to have a third wheel in the narrative, but some things just can't be helped, I suppose. It could be good comic relief."

Mavis pretends she doesn't hear the overt implication behind his words. "This is great!" she says, holding her hand out for him to shake. When Artan does not, Mavis retracts it, trying not to let the rejection get to her.

This conversation has been incredibly productive — she's gained an ally, but perhaps the seeds of a budding friendship, as well. And they have a plan! Mavis can't wait to see the potential candidates for Artan's match. Surely someone with light skin and fair hair, just like the both of them. Sponsors would probably like the visual cohesion in their alliance.

Mavis doesn't need fake friends like Jessica — it was her and Artan against the world now. Together in the train car, and in a week, together in the Games. At last, she'll be able to do the Marigold name its due diligence and restore her family to their former glory.

And if she doesn't, well… Mavis just prays she won't have to leave the Arena the same way she left the Justice Building — alone.

hello! been a while. ehh you know the drill at this point. train rides 2 is in the process of being written. my schedule is real cute next semester but i'm still not promising shit becuase uuhhh do what i want

i have scrambled pregames again once more. so everything i put in the a/n of district one intros is now null and void. any expectations you have? obliterate them ?

huge shoutout to goldie as always for betaing this chapter! i owe her my whole life i am forever indebted she is my god whom i love above all things

q: if you had a theme song what would it be?

$wag im out this bitch,