bright side tattoo

Excerpt from Part One of Casket Anthem, a multi-chapter Hunger Games AU:

(-16 days)

The Reaping recaps play on a constant, grating loop during the short train ride to the Capitol. Draco watches them—studies them—and feels a sudden spike of unease at the sight of his own pale face reflected back at him through the jewel-toned pixels of the television screen.

He ignores it.

He focuses instead on cataloguing the strengths and comparative weaknesses of the other tributes—because he’s observant, and he’s methodical, and he knows that these are the versions of the competition that he needs to understand; not the Capitol-polished prototypes that will be unveiled later at the tribute parade.

He fast-forwards through the District One commentary and pauses at Two.

The girl, he notices, is young—short and plump and raven-haired, with a sharp grin and a nasally voice. She doesn’t look athletic. Her district partner is her polar opposite—imposingly tall and broad-shouldered, with an unkempt mop of golden-blond hair and an off-putting air of smarmy, exaggerated arrogance. Draco thinks that the girl will likely turn out to be the more viable threat—there’s something unbearably hard about her demeanor, something that gives him the impression she won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary to survive once they’re in the arena.

He fast-forwards again, skipping over Three and arbitrarily stopping when he gets to Four.

The girl is…unimpressive, all gleaming blonde hair and sparkling white teeth and an adorable smattering of freckles spread out across the bridge of her upturned nose; Draco cannot fathom why she had been chosen to volunteer, not when her smile has twice as much sugar as it does spice—she’ll get sponsors for being pretty, he supposes, but he doubts that she’ll make it out of the bloodbath with her throat intact.

The boy, though—

He’s dark-skinned and intense and tall, and he crosses the auditorium with predatory elegance; he has high cheekbones and an enigmatic upwards curve to his lips, as if he’s miles ahead of everyone else and in on a joke whose punchline has yet to even be written. He looks mysterious, sly, and the proprietary hand he places on the lower back of his district partner as they exit the stage together is worrisome—there’s a story there, Draco thinks shrewdly, a reason for the two of them to volunteer as a single entity like that.

He rewinds to the District Three recap.

The tributes from Three aren’t volunteers—still, the boy struts down the aisle with his chin up and his posture defiant, like he’s refusing outright to be anything but brave in the face of what he has to know is a death sentence; his gaze is fierce and almost wildly stubborn when he finally deigns to look into the Capitol camera. The bottom half of a medium-sized tattoo peeks out from the short sleeve of his t-shirt, on the inside of his left bicep—it’s all thick, jagged black lines, aggressively illustrated, and Draco thinks it might be some kind of bird, wings spread out as it soars in mid-flight.

He sneers and turns his attention to the girl.

She appears to be around his age, fine-boned and small and slender, with caramel skin and an exotic tilt to her eyes, a mass of unruly dark hair tied up and curling down the delicate slope of her back. Her expression when she hears her name called isn’t difficult to read—placid, thoughtful acceptance, steady and resolute. Not even the barest hint of fear, Draco realizes, freezing the footage and cocking his head to the side; and he wonders at that, he has to, because if she isn’t afraid, she’s either a phenomenal actor—a phenomenal liar, more like—or she’s got a secret weapon—a secret talent—that’s giving her confidence.

He frowns.

She’s dangerous, he decides abruptly.