It was the morning of the reaping and Martin Mellark was nervous as he was every year. Technically, he had been born Martin Crieff, but his father had been killed in a mine accident and his mother died of illness two years later. Martin could not fend for himself and after getting special permission from the local Peacekeepers, the Mellark family took him in.
He was expected to work hard, but he didn't mind. He was willing to do whatever needed doing and did so with a cheerful air. The older boys hadn't looked on him very kindly when he had been brought home, but little Peeta was delighted to have a brother closer to his own age. The two were close and it was for his brother that he was most concerned. Not for himself.
"Are you boys ready?" their mother called and Martin smoothed his unruly hair down one last time, not that it was going to help too much. "Yes." he called back as he gently shoved Peeta out the door of the room that they shared.
Breakfast was eaten in relative silence, no one in the mood for jokes or stories. It was too sober a day, since two young people from their district would be chosen and would most likely never come back again.
As they made their way to the holding area, their parents and brothers melted away, leaving Peeta and Martin standing together. "I'm nervous, Marty." Peeta whispered.
"Don't worry." Martin whispered back. "I won't let anything happen to you." He had always looked out for Peeta, made sure he was all right and happy. His younger brother was a kind soul, and very artistic. He decorated all of the cakes in the windows at the bakery that their family owned.
Smiling weakly, Peeta looked up at the screen as Effie Trinket (looking ridiculous as usual) came trotting out and the video was played as it always was before the two tributes were selected. The girl tribute this year was Katniss Everdeen and Martin bit his lip. He knew that Peeta had liked her for years and if she died…well, he didn't want to think about that. Katniss was an accomplished hunter though. Their father would only buy squirrels from her because she hit them in the eye every single time. Perhaps there was some hope for her.
"And now for the boys." Effie cooed and Martin tried to breathe calmly as she withdrew a piece of paper. These were the last games he would be elligible for. He was 18 and after today, he would be an adult, no longer a part of the pool of potential tributes. His hands curled into fists at his sides as he waited to hear who it was going to be. "Peeta Mellark."
Gasps came from around them and Peeta blinked a few times before beginning to move sluggishly toward the stairs to reach the podium. He was trying to hold himself upright and proud.
Before he could even think about what he was doing, Martin was racing after Peeta. Some of the Peacekeepers grabbed a hold of him and were trying to restrain him until he shouted the fateful words. "I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"
Peeta stared at him in horror as Martin was released and instead, guided toward the steps. "Martin no!" Peeta cried as one of their old friends, Douglas came forward and tugged Peeta back into the waiting crowd of boys from their district. Ignoring his brother's cries, Martin mounted the steps and crossed to where Effie was motioning him to come.
A curious numb feeling had taken over. Nothing seemed to be truly real. He was going to wake up and this was all going to be a ridiculous dream that he and Peeta would laugh about in the bakery in the morning. But as soon as Effie moved the microphone and it threw up a bit of feedback, he knew it was all too real.
"What is your name?" Effie asked conversationally and Martin had to remember to answer her.
"Martin Mellark." he replied, his deep voice carrying even without a microphone.
"Ahhh, so is Peeta your brother?"
"Yes." Martin answered, his eyes seeking out and finding his brother. "Younger."
"Can't let the small ones show you up!" Effie trilled and it was all Martin could do not to give her a look of disgust but he caught himself. The Capitol was watching everything.
"Shake hands, you two." Effie told him and Katniss. Turning slightly, Martin extended his hand to her and she shook it firmly. Her hands were just as rough as his own were and he wondered what she did besides hunting.
But there was no time to wonder right now. They were being hustled into the Hall of Justice, to await a visit from their families and Martin wondered what his parents would say when they arrived. All he could do now was wait…