It was a warm morning. Sunny. Horribly, almost mockingly unfit for the events that would occur later. It seemed the whole world was silent, and you could bathe in the gray anxiety in the air. It was the day of the Reaping for the 137th Hunger Games. In these days, all 13 districts would compete and all were at risk of being reaped from a young 12 up to age 30. It was mandatory to compete, in the event that your name was drawn- that is unless someone volunteered to take your spot. That's exactly what happened in the 9th district that day.

"Anne Fleck." The name echoed for what seemed like forever in the hollow silence. The young girl's face drained of all color. It wasn't my name, She assured herself. Anne could see the heads turning towards her, staring with their concern-filled eyes. She stared straight ahead in denial for what seemed like minutes as more and more heads searched for her. Yes. It was. She wanted to stand there forever, motionless. She prayed that time would stop, and she could stay in District 9, harvesting grains for hours. She'd never complain of the heat or smell, or long hours again. "Anne Fleck?"

Anne reminded herself to breathe as she brought herself to take the first step forward, wincing as she did so. She slowly, lifelessly made her way to the stage, step by step. As she walked along the dirt walkway, she avoided looking at anyone, being only 12, she knew she would burst into uncontrolled tears if she made eye contact with any of her friends or family.

Anne reached the stairs, feeling every eye pounding on her back. There were 4 steps to reach the stage. She stopped before the first one, staring at it as if she didn't know how to reach it. She weakly placed her small right foot on the first one, releasing a shaky breath while doing so. She wobbled, and brought her other foot up. In the crowd, Catherine couldn't stand to see her cousin like this.

They were more like sisters than cousins, and although Catherine was just over a year older than Anne, Anne looked up to her as if she were the wisest person in all of Panem. Catherine had always cared deeply for her cousin. She made sure no one ever laid a finger on her, and was always ready with advice. Anne would tell her every problem and they would fix it together. They would play Spies in the wheat fields when they were younger. Catherine remembered once while playing, Anne tripped over an uncollected bushel of wheat. She fell on her ankle wrong, and bruised her hip badly. The fall wasn't bad, Anne was just so small and frail. Ignoring her rapid, deep, heartbeat and churning stomach, Catherine knew what she had to do for her small cousin.

_
"Ruby Lewis." A wave of pure numbness flew down the girl's spine. She stood stick straight, if she moved she would have fallen down. Ruby hadn't slept at all the night before and had been having nervous tics all day. District 13 was usually a safe feeling place, but at this moment she felt more vulnerable and sick than ever. She knew she had to move quickly to ensure that the Peacekeepers didn't grab her and haul her to the raised platform.
Watching the 14 year old walk towards the stage, you could tell she was more complicated than meets the eye. The loss of her father had aged her about three years, internally. There was a sort of hollowness to her, not quite sad, but as if she wasn't always present. Ruby walked at a steady pace with her short haired head down, and made her way up to the stage. She tried to mask her fear, but her eyes gave all away. She stood on the stage staring blankly through the crowd, holding her left hand over her right. No one could see it, but on her 4th finger on her right hand, she wore her father's ring.

Everything was a blur to Catherine. The sunny sky became faint. It was dark and all sounds were slurred. She felt her hand go up, and her mouth moving. In all the distorted madness, she heard four words clear and loud. "I volunteer as tribute." Heads spun, eyes wide. Her hand lowered and everything whooshed by in a flash.

"Thomas Hiddles." Everything was still. No one spoke. There was absolute silence for a full 30 seconds. Heads turned every way. There were a few quick mumbles between adults, mainly consisting of one word: "Who?". Perhaps the name was mispronounced, or was a joke. The Hunger Games was no laughing matter, somewhere in the crowd, there had to be a Thomas.
But no one knew a "Thomas Hiddles".
The quiet mumbling had become significantly louder, and confusion was everywhere. All people were turned, questioning their neighbor on who the boy was. A young man, average height, with dark curly hair turned to the boy next to him.
"Do you know who that is?"
"No, do you?"
"I wish I didn't." He sighed under his breath.
"Thomas? Thomas Hiddles?" The name was called again. Ruby was standing to the right of the podium, seemingly unshaken by the announcement and it's confusion. Little did the crowd know she was absolutely petrified. Her throat was closing. She twisted the ring around her finger repeatedly. No. Not Tom. Anyone but Tom. Please. How did his name even get in there? How could it have gotten in there?
"Thomas? Thomas Hiddles, you are required to identify yourself."
The boy who had spoken before said nothing. He looked around, and in the confusion slipped behind his line and slid down to the end. He had just reached the end when a tall man, who was noticeably strong, suddenly grasped his arm. "Where are you going?"
The boy gasped, and pushed a loose curl out of his pale face. He stuttered "What? Nowhere, I w-was just g-I was just-"
"Are you this Thomas guy?"
"I-I... what? N-I'm-I w-was just-"
The man whistled to one of the Peacekeepers and nodded at the boy. The large, suited man grabbed the boy's arm aggressively, and another joined in. Their tough grip pained Tom, but he obliged. He was visibly panic stricken. He walked with them towards the stage, trying to shake their intense handle on him, never looking away from Ruby.

"Joseph Richter."
Joey's mind went blank. His jaw dropped slightly. "Wh-?" He turned to look at the boy next to him, who was just relieved that his name wasn't called. Joey looked up at the stage and the young girl with tear stains on her face. He felt nauseous, then guilty. Here he was, frightened of what had just happened, when there was a girl who had been brave enough to take someone's place. Joey walked forward, still in shock.

The Peacekeepers released the sixteen-year-old on the stage, throwing him slightly. He stumbled over to his place, glaring at them over his shoulder.
"And we have our tributes!"
Tom and Ruby stood side by side. There was an odd tension between the two, and tears brimmed in the girl's eyes.
"Please shake hands."
Ruby turned. Tom turned. Their hands met.