Whenever Wilbur thought about the Day of Reaping, he felt two emotions, and neither cancelled out the other.
The first was fear, tugging at every limb, weighing him down and longing to drown him in the overwatered land of District 9.
The second was anger, a loud buzzing within his ears that wished to be heard but never would. Inspiring songs not even he would ever hear. That would forever live in his head. An empty melody. Words of grief, not hidden in metaphors, but harsh and short sentences.
More forward than Wilbur could ever afford to be out loud.
When he thought of the reaping, he thought of the beetroots in the ground - vibrant in colour, hard to come by, barely enough to keep the tiniest child from the grasps of hunge
Of no purpose for the people of the capitol but harvested for them either way. For no reason other than they had the power to demand it.
He knew his sensitive and romantic mind made it seem that way, but he thought himself and those vegetables to be the same.
Unwanted by anyone outside of his district who cherished every last one of them. They cared for them and went to great lengths to protect them from the weather and wildlife, but they would not fight to keep them.
If the capitol wanted them, they could have them.
Wilbur had never expected anyone to volunteer in District 9.
They were not rich, unlike 1 or 2 who breed their children like warriors for the chance at getting into the arena and winning the games, bringing pride to their families and home. Those children were known as careers , and it was an honour to be one.
But in the lesser districts where food was lacking, their ribcages jutting out of their pale skin, only a fool would volunteer.
When his parents were alive, they had reminded him of this fact every reaping. They had sensed Wilbur's need for attention as he sang his songs and put on plays for anyone he could, even when they didn't want it.
He still had a long white scar across his left eye to remind him of that day. Telling him every time he looked in the mirror that he stood no chance in the arena.
But when he saw the small eleven-year-old, his ginger hair falling unevenly across his eyes, his steps careful and calculated, his head held high, his pupils nothing but small slits in his eyes, he broke his last promise to his parents.
He found himself screaming words that he could never take back but never would even if he had the chance.
"I volunteer!" His words echoed down the cluster of people. His shoulders were his battering rams as he made his way to the front, sweat running down his temple. "I volunteer as tribute!"
The man in the stands looked down at him, the note with the ginger boy's name still in his hand.
Tommy cried tears of joy when Tubbo's name was called out on the microphone, a deafening ringing following.
All his worries for the past few weeks were gone all at once.
This was Tommy's final reaping ever, and he couldn't be more glad of the fact.
It was the price he would have to pay for playing with flint and steel.
Tubbo had known it too, which had terrified him most as the day closed in.
He knew his best friend would do anything for him, go to the end of the earth if he so needed. He'd done all he could to make sure he wouldn't volunteer in his place when his name was pulled out of the great glass bowl by the one person who had put it there in the first place.
Told Tubbo Ranboo needed him. To be there on days when the nightmares of the previous year got too much. When his memory failed him or when it didn't and he remembered being by Tommy's side on that late spring day.
Ranboo needed Tubbo to help him not to spiral.
Tommy had never been good at emotions, at least not of the softer kind; he traded only in anger. Having only Tommy by his side would do the boy more harm than anything else.
Ranboo needed Tubbo, and Tommy would rather die than watch Tubbo on that screen.
It was a win-win situation in a game where he would ultimately lose.
And in a way, he was lucky that their friendship was well known to the rest of district 12, as they never gave Tubbo the chance to volunteer in Tommy's place.
Watching the blood drain from his friend's face, Tommy smiled and screamed the words he had heard earlier that day. "I volunteer as tribute!"
Tubbo's face turned into a grimace. But he remained where he had stood, clinging to Ranboo's hand as he said his last words to Tommy.
"I'll take care of him."
Tommy nodded at him. "I know you will."
District 2 treated the reaping like a festivity.
Techno hated it.
He always had.
It reminded him of the one time he had seen peacekeepers walk a bull into the town centre to slaughter in front of all who weren't too sickly to stand. It was not killed for any good reason. Not for food or leather. But simply to prove a point. To shove the District just how sharp the axes of the capitol were.
As if they weren't the ones who had forged them.
Techno felt naked without his version of the weapon, lesser in all ways but skill, as he stared out at the mass of people before him.
This was what he had prepared for his whole life. The big fight. Doomsday.
And he was closer than ever before. The moment that girl's name was called she had knowns she was safe. That every career would beg to take her place.
None of them cared for her life as much as the glory, but being upset at that would do her no good. She would get to live to her old age, and Techno made a vowed that he would offer her some lessons in combat once he returned.
Even if she never were to go into the arena, he knew he could trust her to fight by his side against the capitol when the time came. He had saved her life, and that was the sort of thing that gained one loyalty.
He was first to the chase, and no one dared challenge him to the spot. If they had, they would be dead before they ever got the chance to compete.
Techno knew he would win the games. They knew it too. And once he had, he would use all the power it earned him to get rid of the capitol.
All that remained between himself and his life goal was 11 strangers.
11 people he didn't care about.
This was going to be the easiest fight of his life.