Disclaimer: The Hunger Games is not mine.
Note: This chapter brings the Ninth Hunger Games to a close. It's been quite a ride, and I hope you've had as much fun reading as I've had writing. Thanks for sticking with the story, and thank you to all of you who submitted a tribute; the story literally could not have happened without you. (It sounds sappy, but it's true.)
Edge of Chaos: The Tenth Hunger Games is in the works, and the first chapter should be posted soon. Until then, here's one last hello from our victor.
When it is Needed
Victor of the Ninth Hunger Games
Harakuise glanced over at Tania and shook his head as the train finally slowed to a stop. He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to go back. And he was surprised that he was willing to admit that to Tania. "What will they think?"
Tania cocked an eyebrow. "A week of people wanting to kill you, and you're worried about what the people in the district are going to think?"
Harakuise shook his head. He hadn't expected her to understand. "I never really cared before – what they thought of me. It was enough that they feared me – or, at least, feared my name, my family. I grew up knowing that the Swallot name was one that struck fear into the hearts of the rebels … and, to some extent, everyone else, as well. I'm not sure what to do if I step of this train and people are … smiling. Cheering. What if they … like me?"
Tania laughed, and, for a moment, Harakuise was sure she was going to pass out. "That's what you're worried about? That they might like you?"
Harakuise nodded. "Oh, not the ones who knew Brie – at least, not those who knew her well. But to the rest of them? I'm their second victor in five years. We're the first district with two victors. For a year now, they'll be showered with gifts and food from the Captiol, and, for most of them, that's all that will matter. And I'm the one who did that – who won a year of plenty for our district. What kind of image is that?"
"One you don't deserve," Tania replied, but held up her hand before Harakuise could continue. "One none of us deserve. But it's one that they need. They need heroes. And, whether you like it or not, Harakuise Swallot, you're a hero now – at least to them." She smiled a little. "But if it makes you feel any better, I promise that I will never like you."
Harakuise smiled a little. "Thank you, Tania. That's most kind."
Most of the crowd was smiling, but, after the screaming fans in the Capitol, the people of District Five were refreshingly subdued. After a little smiling and waving, Harakuise and Tania made their way through the crowds towards the Victors' Village. A peacekeeper stood waiting for him outside one of the houses. "Mr. Swallot."
"Good afternoon," Harakuise nodded crisply. "Is the boy inside?"
The peacekeeper nodded. "He's been well taken care of."
"And his father?"
The young man shook his head. "After the Games, his father's illness grew worse. He was already weak, and I'm afraid he simply couldn't bear the grief. He passed away two days ago." He looked down. "The boy doesn't know yet."
Harakuise cursed quietly. He'd meant to provide for them both, but the boy would have to suffice. "I'll tell him, sir," Harakuise offered. The peacekeeper nodded, and Harakuise headed inside.
The boy was easy enough to find; he was in the only room with a guard outside it. Harakuise nodded, and the guard opened the door. Harakuise took a few steps inside before part of a chair came flying at his head. Harakuise ducked instinctively, holding up his hand to signal the guard to stay where he was. Jai hurled another chair leg at him, and, this time, Harakuise caught it. "Why don't you just kill me now?" the boy demanded, stepping into the light.
Harakuise caught himself staring. The boy looked so much like Brie – smaller, but with the same spark of courage. Harakuise tossed the chair leg aside. "I don't want to kill you, Jai. If I wanted to, I would have done it already – or had someone else do it as soon as the Games were over. In fact, I ordered an investigation of your case myself ... an investigation that has just proven your innocence."
"Why would you want to save my life?"
Harakuise took a step closer. "Why not?"
Jai held up another chair piece defensively between them. "That's not an answer."
Harakuise smirked. "Oh, yes, it is. It's simply not an answer you like, or the answer you expected. There's a difference."
"You killed my sister."
"I did. But her death was necessary if I was going to survive. Yours isn't. I would gain nothing from your death, Jai, and, to be honest, I've had my fill of needless waste. You're free to go. There's a peacekeeper waiting outside to take you anywhere you wish."
The boy finally set the chair leg down. "Then I want to go home. I want to see my father."
Harakuise shook his head. "I'm afraid that … won't be possible."
Harakuise had been prepared for the boy to attack him. Maybe break apart another chair. Certainly get out as quickly as possible. Instead, Jai simply slumped to the floor in a heap, sobbing. Harakuise stood frozen for a moment, unsure. He'd always been good at reading people. Manipulating them. Fighting them. This was different. What was he supposed to do with a crying boy?
Then he had an idea.
Harakuise took a few steps toward Jai and knelt down, looking him in the eye. "Do you have anywhere else you can go? Any other family? Distant relatives?"
Jai shook his head, still sobbing. "No one. Just me." Slowly, the boy got up and headed for the door.
Harakuise waited until the boy had almost left before playing his next card. "Jai … Would you like a job?"
"I do not slay man or beast needlessly, nor gladly even when it is needed."