Wiping the blood messily from his hands, Puck put the throwing spear he'd just used back in the holder over his shoulder. The wild turkey lay on the ground in front of him, lifeless, and he picked it up.
"See, I still got it, Zizes," he said cockily to his companion, who stood a few feet away.
Lauren rolled her eyes. "That was just a fluke," she said, her words coming out as short and clipped as always. "You botched the hell out of that rabbit a few minutes ago. Easy prey and you choked."
"You distracted me." Puck was bullshitting, though, and they both knew it. Rabbits were his little sister's favorite animal and he never liked bringing them home. The look on Sarah's face was always too much for him to deal with. When Lauren pointed out that he was fucking shortchanging them both because of his stupid soft heart, though, he made a compromise with himself and brought the rabbits to the communal market in their District instead of to his mother. It was better to be able to still reap the benefits of a hunt rather than not hunt at all, when that was the only option they really had.
On any other day, Puck would've killed the rabbit and that would've been that. But the rabbit made him think of Sarah, and how this morning she'd clung to him way too tightly before he went off to hunt. She always was like that on Reaping days, not that Puck could really blame her. He was eighteen and his name was in the ball twenty-eight times.
"Come on," Lauren said, after too long of a silence. Puck figured that she knew about his odds just as well as he knew about hers -- thirty-six. "That turkey isn't going to sell itself."
A few hours later, Puck was standing in front of the one mirror in their front room, combing his hair and wearing his cleanest pants and shirt. Sarah had just turned 12 two weeks ago and was watching him nervously. "Quit it already, will you?" he snapped, the nerves making him unnecessarily gruff. "It's gonna be fine."
"Mom," Sarah said whiningly, almost immediately followed up with a Noah! from their mother. Puck turned around to glare at her, standing at the window and alternating her gaze between the crowds already beginning to walk to the town center and her two children.
"Whatever." He stuck his hands in his pockets as dropped down to kneel in front of Sarah. "Sorry, okay?" He hesitated a little as he tried to think of how to say what he needed, before settling on a straightforward approach. "Your name's only in there once. It's gonna be fine."
"I'm not worried about me," Sarah countered, looking at him tenaciously. "Nothing's allowed to happen to you."
"Nothing will," Puck replied, a moment too late. He stood up and held his hand out to her. "Come on. The sooner we go, the sooner we can come back home."
"Hola, hello, wilkommen, bienvenue," trilled Holly Holliday, the way-too-perky escort for District 12. Her face was right up against the microphone and Puck winced at every one of her overemphasized and amplified consonants. It was his seventh and final reaping, so Puck could practically say the words right along with her.
He never liked to focus too much on this shit, anyway. Think too hard about it and he actually started to worry, and he didn't let himself do that, ever. Not since his first year, anyway, when he'd thrown up in the square after mishearing Holly and thinking he'd been chosen. That was the year Jason Zuckerman won their district some brief notoriety for standing up to one of the Careers from District 2… at least for a few minutes, before he'd been run through with a sword.
The bullshit propaganda movie was over and all they needed to do was get through the next few minutes before he and Sarah could go home. He made himself think about how, if he concentrated hard enough, Holly Holliday was pretty hot under all that Capitol makeup and clothing, and thinking about that was almost enough to distract him completely before all of a sudden --
"Sarah Puckerman!" Holly called out, waving the strip of paper in the air. Puck's head jerked over to where his sister stood, frozen in place over on the girls' side. "What the fuck," he whispered, barely realizing the words were coming out of his mouth. "No. She can't. No." Images from the seventeen Hunger Games he'd lived through and been made to watch, with his sister's face superimposed over everyone's dead bodies, filled his mind and he closed his eyes tight to try and will them away.
When he opened them again, he realized that Sarah was halfway up the stairs to the podium and started to scream. Puck pushed his way through the boys surrounding him and started to run before the world went black.
"What happened?" Puck said warily. His vision was blurred and they were on some sort of moving vehicle. As he took in his surroundings, in a way-too-fancy room with a blonde and a brunette seated at a table, he strained to fill the gaps in his memory. "Where are we?"
"You must have blacked out when the Peacekeeper hit you," the brunette said matter-of-factly, her back still to him. Her voice seemed… familiar. "When your sister's name was called, you broke out of your ranks and tried to come after her. They grabbed you and tried to keep you in your place, but you started shouting about how you wanted to volunteer as tribute."
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Puck forced himself to focus on what was most important, even while his voice was shaking just as much as his hands. "I… Sarah's okay?"
"Noah… Puckerman, is it?" The blonde stood up and walked over to him, and he swallowed hard and tried to fight the nausea rising in his stomach as he recognized Holly Holliday. "Your sister's all right. A rather… heavy girl carried her off after the scene you caused."
So Lauren was okay, too. Clearly, she wasn't the second District 12 tribute. "I actually-- I'm the tribute," he muttered to himself, noticing almost simultaneously that the train they were on was speeding along its rails… towards the Capitol.
"I have to say, in the history of the entire Hunger Games there's only been one other instance of an opposite-sex volunteering, and that was in District 4 during the 13th Hunger Games. You're actually making history, young man, even if it did take three Peacekeepers to settle you down after you tried to assault me." Holly looked almost sternly at him, and despite her ridiculous appearance, Puck found himself nearly quailing in response.
"Whatever," Puck said, still working hard to hide his fear. "Just a little taste of what everyone's gonna get."
"Noah," the brunette said, finally turning around so Puck could see her face. "I strongly believe it would be in your best interests to just… calm down and try not to make a fuss. Certainly you've already done enough of that for today."
He shot an almost scandalized look at her, disgusted that she had the gall to tell him to calm down, but one second looking into her eyes showed that she was much more terrified than he was and all of her talk was just her way to try and cover it up. He swallowed hard and nodded slightly, then asked as a means of apology, "What happened next?"
The brunette waited a moment before talking. It seemed as though she was steeling herself to continue retelling what had just happened. "After you were accepted as tribute," she said -- and he was beginning to be able to put a face to the name now, Rachel, just as her voice started to shake -- "they needed another girl tribute. So Holly reached back into the bowl and came up with my name. Rachel Berry. So now I'm here."
"That's right! Your… brave sacrifice for your sister, Noah, is the reason why Rachel's here," Holly said with a disturbing amount of mirth as Rachel shot him a briefly wounded look before putting on another brave face. "And I have to say, if there's this much excitement in District 12, I can't wait to see what else will unfold in this year's Games!"