It's Reaping day in District 12 and Noah Puckerman makes an impulsive decision that changes everything.
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!"
Rachel meets her and Puck's mentor for the first time, and struggles with the fact that her survival will hinge on her ability to make people like her.
It is 1,776 miles from District 12 to the Capitol, exactly. Rachel looked it up for a Social Studies project back when she and her classmates had just turned twelve, in honor of their first inclusion in the Reaping. They hadn't needed to know the precise distance, but Rachel wanted to be prepared just in case her name was called. She needed to know what to expect.
She knew that kind of thinking was typically just reserved for the Careers, but her parents had raised her to always be prepared, aware of her surroundings, know how to defend herself, and understand that sometimes, you just needed to dance out your frustrations. It had started when she was just a little girl, the 'training.' One of the District 12 Peacekeepers had looked a little too long at Shelby Berry's daughter, a disgusting leer firmly planted on his face, so when the two of them got home to their tenement building, Shelby sat her daughter down at the kitchen table.
"There are some things," Shelby had begun, her voice low and serious, "that a young woman needs to keep in mind at all times. There are a lot of bad people out there. Those men and women in the white suits and helmets, they aren't like us. They tell us that they're here to watch out for us… You're the only one who can watch out for you, my darling Rachel. Your father and I will try to keep you safe, but…"
Shelby had hesitated then, and sixteen year old Rachel, thinking about this moment now from the Capitol's train, wondered if her mother had been thinking about the Reapings.
"Only you, Rachel, can be the one to keep you safe."
If it weren't for her parents, Rachel wouldn't have been sad at all to leave District 12. The rundown buildings and ever-present rotting smell, the garbage on the streets and the bugs in their cramped living spaces, the kids at school who teased her for being the daughter of an ex-homosexual… Rachel was glad to leave it behind. And when she returned, she'd take her parents, move to the Victors' Village, and never look back.
It is 1,776 miles from District 12 to the Capitol, exactly, and even with their technology they've still got a ways to travel. By this point, the terror she'd initially felt when she'd heard her name called, coupled with the anger she felt at Noah Puckerman for volunteering for his sister, had mostly dissipated. She was too busy steeling herself for the inevitable. Rachel knew there was nothing she could do about her fate… but she was the only one who could change her destiny.
"Tell us what we have to do," she commanded the newcomer in their dining car, a soused-looking woman with dirty blonde hair and a half-filled glass in her hand. "I may not have been District 12's first choice for a female tribute," Rachel added, sending a sharp glare in Noah's (and god, was 'Puck' a silly nickname) direction, just to remind him that she was holding him accountable, "but I plan to be the best."
April Rhodes tilted her head appraisingly as she looked over her two new tributes. "Give me time to finish my breakfast," she said, bringing her glass to her mouth and swallowing a sizable amount of liquid without a wince, "and maybe we'll talk then."
"April's always like this," Holly commented distastefully from where she sat next to Noah, delicately cutting a cinnamon bun into bite-sized pieces. She was making no effort to lower her voice or even pretend as though she wasn't talking about the other adult. "You'll be lucky if you get an iota of survival help." She put a piece of cinnamon bun in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed. "But isn't this so much better than that District 12 of yours? You really both should be glad to experience this. I ordered this mahogany dining set myself, specifically for our train. We may be traveling towards your certain death, but at least we're traveling in style! "
Rachel glanced back and forth between the two blondes, taking in all the differences. One was poised and polished to no end, with pink streaks throughout her hair and ruffles Rachel recognized from the District 12 factories. The other was barely able to keep her eyes open, so inebriated was she. Rachel could tell that once, long ago, April Rhodes had been a beautiful woman, but time had not treated her well. She glanced over at Noah and, from the look on his face, guessed that he was thinking very much the same thing.
"You can't be serious," Noah said argumentatively. Rachel wished he had another way of talking. "You won the Games yourself. It's your job to mentor us. Or are you the reason why the District 12 tributes always die off first?"
Holly let out a dramatic gasp at this. Rachel hadn't made a sound, though she was just as horrified as she wondered if Noah had some sort of death wish.
"I'm a damned good mentor," April said slowly, her gaze fixed on Noah's defiant face. Rachel couldn't help but be impressed that her voice was that steady, considering how much she'd obviously already had to drink. "I can't do all the work for you tributes, you know. It isn't just fighting and survival skills that keep you alive. You have to make the audience like you. They need to want to see you alive. It's my job to ask them, 'Do you want to see this boy alive?'"
"Absolutely not," Holly responded cheerfully. "He's much too surly." April inclined her head towards her as a thank you.
Rachel looked down for a moment, trying to take all of this in. All of her training had never prepared her for this. She had never been liked at school, ever. Her family's reputation had preceded her and made her an untouchable. If her survival depended on making others like her… she was doomed.
"Tell us what we have to do," she said again, a little more hesitantly this time. "To make them like us. To make them like me."
There was a long pause then, before April drained her glass and set it down loudly on the table. "We'll start today, before we arrive in the Capitol. But first, I have to slip into something a little more comfortable." She pronounced the last word in the Capitol accent, giving it a few extra syllables.
Once April had exited the dining car, Holly clucked slightly at Noah, who was still sitting there looking like he was ready to start a riot. "That's no way to behave. You've got much to learn, young man."
"And… what about me?"
"You, Rachel…" Holly was silent for a moment before speaking again. "You we can work with."
Our District 12 tributes watch the rest of the Reapings with April and Holly. Puck finally gets to see what happened during his volunteering.
"Why don't we, now that we're only just an hour or so away from our final destination, watch the rest of the Reapings? I'm sure the other boys and girls are, as always, that splendid mix of brutality and innocence that makes the Games so exciting!"
All three of the members of District 12 turned their heads, almost simultaneously, and shot narrowed glares at Holly Holliday. She huffed a bit, though said nothing as she pressed a button on the wall panel to cue up the programming.
This was the last thing Puck wanted to do. Watching the Reapings meant that he would inevitably have to see what had happened in his own District, and he had a feeling that his system had blacked it out just so he didn't have to relive it. It meant he would have to see his sister, and Lauren, and his mom, and he didn't know if he would be able to handle that. He silently cursed the Capitol's trains for how quickly they were taking him away from everyone he cared about.
"Thank you," Rachel said suddenly, interrupting his thoughts. He looked up and saw that she was accepting a pen and paper from Holly, and had already written all of the Districts down neatly.
"Seriously?" Puck questioned her, an incredulous look on his face. "We're not in fucking school anymore."
Rachel aligned her features to send him an exasperated stare right back. "Noah, honestly," she said, right as Holly sent him a glare of her own and said, Language! "All of these people are going to be attempting to kill you. Would you rather face them with absolutely no idea of what you're going to be up against because you were too busy staring into space?"
Puck had to admit that was actually a good point. He was about to answer with a retort of his own, though, when suddenly the anthem of Panem filled the train car and the footage began.
The camera pans in to display a broad expanse of desert and sky. There is a crowd of people, all of them in their finest. It is obvious immediately that this is the richest District, in charge of supplying the Capitol with its luxury goods. Their escort, a man with a pointed mustache and a powder-blue suit, dips his hand into the bowl and pulls out a name.
A girl with dark hair, small, begins to make her way out of the grouping in the square, but suddenly she jerks back. The reason for this is soon evident as the camera zooms in on a blonde girl with cold, hazel eyes and a lithe physique, her hand on the other girl's wrist. The blonde pushes past her, discarding her as she steps into view. "I volunteer as tribute," she calls out, an eyebrow raised and a smirk playing on her lips. She walks up to the podium and, taking in the fact that the Capitol escort is raking her with his eyes, leans in towards the microphone on her own. "My name is Quinn Fabray. Now go ahead and draw for the boys, why don't you?"
"She's probably a Career," Rachel said, writing the girl's name down in neat penmanship on her paper. If he strained just enough, Puck can kind of see the rest of the notes she's taking, a handful of words at a time. 'Beautiful, Career… Don't trust that smile.'
"Probably? Oh, honey, I'd bet my double vodka and lime on that," April said grimly. "I'd watch out for her, Puck. Girls like that, they rip boys' heads out for lunch and swallow them whole."
Puck remained silent for a moment, watching as the boy from District 1 is reaped. Quinn's counterpart, named Finn Hudson, wasn't a volunteer, but with his height and solid build, it seems he'll be just as deadly… until he stumbles a little on the stage as he walks towards his appointed place. Bigger than Quinn, but younger, if appearances can be trusted. Biting down on his lip to stifle a laugh, Puck watched Rachel write 'Clumsy?'
The scene shifts, suddenly, to mountains and District 2. Before the escort can even finish reading the name on the first paper, a tanned girl with a wicked smile pushes her way to the front row. "Santana Lopez," she announces over the escort's voice, and the commentators make jokes already about how she'll probably ally up with Quinn Fabray of District 1 the first second she gets, so similar are they. “I volunteer.”
Unlike Quinn, though, she isn't already playing to the camera. Instead, she stands there, a hand on her hip insouciantly, looking bored. The muscles in her arms are visible even from the camera's vantage point. Santana is tiny, with slender arms and legs, but her eyes flash in a way that makes it obvious she can't wait to sink her weapons into the opposition.
She's followed up by Azimio Adams, an enormous boy with a shaved head and dark skin. He grins down at Santana with easy familiarity and the camera focuses on his teeth, sharp and pointed. He pounds one sizable fist into his other hand and keeps grinning.
Puck turned his head to look over at Rachel's notetaking. Her pen was still hovering in midair over the paper, but she hadn't actually written anything down next to 'District 2' yet. Her eyes were wide. "Of course," she said quietly, almost to herself. "Their district works with stonemasonry. And they supply the rest of the districts with Peacekeepers." Her voice seemed to shudder slightly when she named the armed guards who were ever-present in District 12. "They would be… like that."
"Come on. I could snap that girl in half with my bare hands." The words were coming out of Puck's mouth before he even had the chance to realize what he was saying or think about why he was trying to reassure Rachel. It was going to come down to either her or him in the end. "And that Azimio kid? I bet he's a real crybaby. It's no big deal."
His words, however, do not get the desired effect from Rachel. "Come on," she mimicked back, though her glare is tempered by her obvious anxiety. On screen, the view flashed over to buildings surrounding a bay, showing two Asians standing nervously next to each other for the District 3 Reaping. Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang, according to their escort. "We can't underestimate our opponents. Do you understand how dangerous that would be?"
"I have no idea," Puck said sarcastically, slightly annoyed. So much for trying to reassure her. "And you know they aren't 'our' opponents, right? We're not exactly fighting on a team here. I'm pretty sure there only gets to be one victor."
"And you think it's going to be you?" Rachel snapped, her eyes flashing as she turned to look entirely over at him. "While you likely have the better chance between you and I, the fact of the matter is that District 12 has only had one Victor ever."
"And she's sitting right here wondering why her damned tributes are trying to give her indigestion," April commented from the other side of the couch, lazily swirling the contents of her glass around before pouring them down her throat. "Oh, there's Finnick, cute as ever."
"Oh, yes," Holly said in response, a little too loudly. Puck realized suddenly that they were trying to turn their attention back to what mattered, instead of just bickering. Maybe they really did mean to look out for them both, despite his still-persistent concern that April wasn't worth much as a mentor. "And that Sam Evans is going to grow up to be a real looker. Maybe if he wins, he'll follow in his mentor's footsteps, mm?"
Suddenly, April slammed her glass down on the coffee table in front of the couch. "Don't talk about Finnick like that. You have no idea what he's been through and I wouldn't wish it on anyone else." The reapings continued onscreen, but suddenly none of the four were paying attention.
"I didn't… I wasn't talking about that," Holly said after a long pause, her voice quiet.
"So what are we talking about?" Puck ventured, sure they won't answer him straight-up but figuring it was worth a shot.
"Nothing, hot stuff," April said, but not before she and Holly shared a significant look. She sighed, then, slightly, looking somewhat sad for a moment. "We'll have to watch 5 and 6 again, another time."
Trees, trees, trees. The camera lingers on the scenery for only a moment before zooming in on a clearing within the forest. A young brunette is chosen, but as soon as she makes it onto the stage she makes a break for the microphone. "My father is the Mayor of District 7," she states, clearly upset. "And he will not stand for this."
The view shows an older man in one of the chairs of honor, looking sadly on as two Peacekeepers grab his daughter by the arms and move her away. The woman sitting next to the Mayor organizes her sharp features in a look of obvious disgust.
"Johanna does not look happy," Holly commented, likely trying to do away with the tension still in the car. "I don't suppose she rates her own tributes very highly, especially not that Sugar Motta."
April inclined her head slightly in agreement. "Johanna's never happy."
"We're very happy with the pair of you, though," Holly chimed in, taking in the concerned looks on both Puck and Rachel's faces. "We're so glad that Rachel made you apologize, Noah, for your lewd behavior," she added as April leaned over to pat both of their faces reassuringly. "And if you continue to cooperate, we'll be able to work with you."
"Thanks," Puck muttered, though he was still unconvinced. He hadn't been left with much self-confidence earlier, and it was clear that Holly and April both preferred Rachel.
The four of them watched Districts 9 and 10 mostly in silence, with Holly only commenting briefly on Matt Rutherford and Mercedes Jones from District 10. "Chaff might be able to do something with those two." As they grew closer to watching their own Reaping, though, Puck grew more uncomfortable. But first, there was District 11.
This is in stark contrast to Districts 1 and 2. The buildings are in shambles and coated with a faint dusting of black. Perhaps once, before Panem, the region was beautiful. The people fill the square and there is audible dissent when Brittany Pierce is called up to the Reaping. A younger girl with long blonde hair, it is clear that she is a favorite of the District. She makes her way up steadily, though, and when she turns around to face the cameras her trembling bottom lip is the only indicator that she's upset.
The boy tribute, David Karofsky, joins her up on stage and reaches for her hand. He's older, big and serious looking, and she puts her hand in his and smiles thankfully up at him for a moment.
Then suddenly, the tall buildings and dirtiness of District 12 are onscreen.
Puck closed his eyes almost immediately, reflexively, before forcing them open. If Rachel was taking notes on the other tributes, the others were probably taking notes on them, too, and he needed to know what they saw.
"Sarah Puckerman!" Holly calls out onscreen, and the crowd gasps when her brother charges forward to take her place. "You can't-- My name is Noah Puckerman. I volunteer. I volunteer as tribute," he shouts, his voice raw and ragged as he screams over and over. One Peacekeeper has him tightly but he struggles against the hold and breaks free, running.
"Sarah," he says, kneeling down and pulling her into his arms. "I won't let anything happen to you." She's crying, and as two Peacekeepers pull him away again, the camera shows the tears running down his cheeks, too.
Lauren Zizes appears, picking Sarah up and taking her away.
Puck struggles again and draws the point of his elbow hard against one of the Peacekeepers' stomachs. He jerks back and drops his arms, so Puck forms a fist and lands it squarely on the other's face. Three more Peacekeepers rush in and push him to the ground to subdue him. The camera clearly catches one raising a baton and aiming for his head. Puck's body jerks, then stills on the ground, and another Peacekeeper sends a kick to his stomach, just to make sure.
The silence onscreen, coupled with the silence in the train car, is almost too much to bear.
"We don't have to watch the rest," Rachel said suddenly, pushing herself up to go turn the screen off. As she returned to her seat, Puck thought he saw her bring a hand up to quickly wipe a tear away.
Rachel and Puck arrive in the Capitol and, after some time with their prep teams and designers, are paraded in front of the crowds for the cameras. Afterwards, they have an altercation with the Career girls and April and another mentor, Johanna Mason, come to an agreement.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Rachel stared at herself in the mirror, her mind thinking over everything that April and Holly had just told her and Noah. They were only a few minutes away from pulling in at the Capitol's station. Only a few minutes away from staring into the faces of people who would soon be putting money on whether she'd live or die. People who would soon be paying to watch her die.
"No," she said, loudly enough to break through her thoughts. It worked, and she shook her head a little, too, just to make sure the spell had broken.
She was only a few minutes away from the people she needed to win over. Her first real audience. People who would soon be paying to ensure that they would be able to continue watching her perform. Her face on every screen in the Capitol, in all of Panem. This was her chance. If she could make it through, outsmarting the others without having to resort to killing anyone…
"It's show time, Rachel Barbra Berry," she commanded herself, putting on a bright smile before stepping out of the bathroom and walking over to the train window.
Noah was already there, shrugging awkwardly as he stood there with his hands in his pockets. "That's what you call 'making an impression with our fans’-- I mean, audience?" Rachel asked him, unimpressed. Despite her late arrival, she had already flashed the Capitol crowds a smile and maybe a little bit of a wink.
"Apparently that's all he can do," April commented from where she was still sitting. "We've been trying to get him to relax a little more, be more friendly, but he just stands there and stares."
Holly tutted quietly. Rachel thought that was the extent of her contributions, but suddenly she spoke out. "Do you think, April dear--" and despite Rachel's position next to the window, she could still see a conspiratorial smirk flash across her mentor's features. "We might have better traction if we abandon Plan A."
"Plan A?" Noah asked, apparently as new to the concept as Rachel was. So the two of them had been planning strategies for them already, it seemed.
They had to wait for April to get up and teeter over to the drinks cabinet, then refill her glass. "The typical tribute strategy, for those of us who aren't Careers, is to make the crowd like you. But for certain ones…" She paused, looking at Noah appraisingly, before continuing. "Yes, Plan B might be a good idea. The 'ironic bad-boy image,' as you called it, Holly. And it'll be easy enough for Puck, seeing as apparently all he can do is stand there and glower--"
"I'm trying to be friendly!"
"--Even when he's 'trying to be friendly,'" April finished, looking pleased with herself.
"Excuse me," Rachel said, stepping forward slightly. "We have a crowd of people already looking at us, watching and assessing our every move. For all we know, they're already queuing up, mentally, their sponsorship decisions. We're not paying attention to them, so why should they pay attention to us?"
"You know, she's right," Holly said, getting up and moving Noah and Rachel back over to the window. Rachel immediately began to smile brightly again, waving her hand regally and tossing her hair. Next to her, Noah looked over his shoulder hesitantly, probably at April and Holly, before continuing to stare back at the crowds. He hesitated for a moment before crossing his arms and hunching his shoulders slightly. Rachel glanced over at him, then realized that what he was doing seemed to make him look bigger, more aloof and unbothered by anything, even being Reaped.
'Hm,' she thought to herself as the train began to slow down to a stop. 'Maybe he does know how to play to an audience after all.'
Rachel was separated from Noah once they were off the train. For some reason, even though she had really only known him for a day or so, being without him made her feel strange. She didn't know how to describe it, but things were just different without his solid presence next to her.
She pushed all thoughts of Noah aside, though, once her prep began. The people around her treated her like her mother handled a piece of brisket. First the waxing, then the tweezing. The scrubbing and polishing soon followed, and she closed her eyes tightly and wondered why, if all they were doing was making her over, it felt so invasive. And as though that wasn't enough, she was surrounded by people chattering idly on about the upcoming Games.
"That Quinn Fabray, we haven't seen a District 1 competitor so deadly beautiful since Cashmere!"
"It's always so sad when the younger ones are called up to the Games. That little boy from 5 and the blonde from 11… I do hope they die first, just so it goes quickly."
"Oh, but that would be awfully dull, now, wouldn't it? No drama at all."
Rachel sighed and did her best to keep her eyes closed, opening them only after what felt like hours.
"My name is Cinna," she had heard a voice say. It took her a moment to make sure, her eyes still closed, that her prep team had left. Once that had been accomplished, she carefully pushed herself upright so she was seated on the table rather than completely lying down. "And I'm here to help you make an impression."
He paused then, clearly waiting for a sign of recognition and welcome from Rachel, and she obliged him after a moment by nodding her head slightly, remembering her best manners. Despite the actions of the team who'd gone before him, this looked like someone who planned to treat her with some decency.
"Hi… Cinna. I'm Rachel. From District 12." She lifted her chin slightly and reminded herself that the plan was to make people like her. "It's nice to meet you."
She was rewarded with a smile, one that looked almost genuine. "There's that charm that Holly Holliday told me about," he said in response, and Rachel couldn't help but smile back.
"I've been told I make an impression, but not necessarily the right one," she confided. She wondered how well she could trust him. He was one of them, after all, and she needed to be careful. So she just smiled and pushed the memories of being teased and mocked endlessly to the back of her mind.
Her smile must have faltered, though, because suddenly she realized Cinna was slowly, carefully reaching his hand out towards her. "Rachel," he said, and something about his voice made her feel safe. She willed herself to relax again. "It's okay. I want to help. And we can start by making you unforgettable. I want the people out there to know that they can't overlook District 12 this year."
"Why would you want to do that?" Rachel found herself asking suddenly. "I mean… I'm sorry. I just don't understand why you'd want to go to the trouble. Unless you want to get promoted?"
"Never you mind that," Cinna said before immediately adding, "Let's talk about factories. What comes to mind when you think about them?"
"Long hours, stress injuries, no food sometimes, definitely no bathroom breaks for hours, accidents, deaths sometimes," Rachel listed off, again without thinking. Certain she'd done it now, she ducked her head, but after hearing nothing she looked back up to find a smile playing on Cinna's face.
"The machines can be dangerous, yes?" he prompted gently, taking what she'd given him and turning it into something they could actually use. "I'm a designer. Loving textiles is in my blood. But the machines that make them, and the work that actually goes into it… It takes a lot of hard work. I know what I do can't possibly compare to what you and your family must put in to make everything the factories produce, but I want you to know, Rachel, that I thank you for your work."
She stammered slightly, completely taken aback. "I've seen the machines cut off an arm. It happens so fast. The foreman, he doesn’t even care if stuff like that happens. We just have to keep going. Stuff like that, it happens all the time if you lose your head in the middle of your shift," she said, almost in a whisper. "That was… probably an awful choice of words. But you get what I'm saying. "
He set the hand he'd extended towards her gently on one of her own, for just a moment. "I do. And I want to make you proud to represent your District. Come on. Let me show you what I've been working on."
"What happened to your hair?" Rachel whispered to Noah as he made his way towards her and the chariot they were supposed to board. His team had made him almost unrecognizable, much in the same way that hers had. She had barely been able to see herself in her reflection, once she'd gotten into the intricate costume Cinna had designed for her. The skirt was made of several asymmetrical layers, each one a different textile and color, that tightened around a bodice made out of a glistening, gold satin. Underneath, she had a lace blouse. However, only the lacework on her left arm was visible because Cinna had also given her… Rachel didn't know quite how to describe it.
"I guess you got one of the machine arms, too," Noah replied, clearly uncomfortable with what had happened to his hair. He looked down at his own right arm, which had been covered in an intricate mechanical map of gears and machinery that had been made to resemble his own human arm. One big gear was directly over either side of his elbow, connecting two sheaths of polished steel that covered the rest of his arms. A piston, angled diagonally from his bicep to his wrist, gave the illusion that he could raise and lower his hand and forearm only with its aid. Even his hand was covered in pieces of metal.
Rachel nodded as she took Cinna's hand with her, well, regular hand and stepped up onto the chariot. Compared to her, Noah was dressed much more simply, in tight-fitting pants and a utilitarian shirt. She suppressed a smirk as she watched him fiddle slightly with a pair of suspenders his stylist, Portia, had made him wear, before running his regular hand over the partial buzz his prep team had given him. Instead of the full head of hair he had back at home, he now had a thick strip running down the center of his head. It made him look... different. Someone who could be a real threat.
He must have caught her watching, because he dropped his hand and flushed slightly. "They said it would go with April's 'Plan B,'" he explained, and Rachel wondered if he was embarrassed.
"It doesn't look bad," she said after a moment, and told herself she was reassuring him to make herself feel better. This was their big opportunity to present themselves to their potential sponsors, and she knew she would be more settled if she thought her District partner was just as attractive as she had become.
Was that vain? Rachel had barely been able to recognize herself when she'd looked in the mirror. She had looked like a more polished version of herself, and her prep team had kept her makeup simple, choosing solely to accentuate her features. When she had seen the mechanical arm, she had found it hard to speak. And her own hair had been styled so it fell down over her shoulders perfectly. One more sharp-looking gear had been carefully arranged in her hair, resting in a nest made out of ribbon.
Rachel had been holding her right arm and hand as rigidly as she could, worried that it wouldn't be able to flex and move. Curious about what would happen, her eyes widened as she experimentally extended her arm fully.
"Cinna," she said, quickly and nervously. "Was a… ball of fire supposed to come out of my elbow gear?"
"Oh, yes," he replied, obviously pleased. "It works!"
Even though Rachel and Noah hadn't been the only tributes in the parade, the crowd couldn't take its eyes off of them. At least, that's what Holly said. Or maybe Rachel had heard her incorrectly. Her Capitol accent was difficult to understand sometimes, like when she was rushing towards them in a hall full of tributes, mentors, and prep teams and raising her voice to try and talk over the noise.
"She's right," April said smugly, the ever-present glass in her hand full with a brownish liquid this time. "Don't worry your little heads about it too much, but I've actually gotten a few sponsorship messages already. Definitely a first for everything!"
"You've… never gotten sponsorship messages this early?" Noah asked, clearly trying to be optimistic.
"Well, yes, that. And I've never gotten sponsorship messages in general," April said cheerfully.
Suddenly, Rachel heard an entirely different voice and she turned around just in time to see the girl from District 2, wearing a somewhat-revealing silver outfit and a laurel wreath in her hair, standing next to the blonde from District 1. "People are sponsoring District 12?" 2 asked, a derisive sneer on her face.
"Just the ones with no taste," 1 responded before anyone else could. That one was covered in glittering diamonds and Rachel felt a sudden wave of insecurity crash over her as she looked at the Career tributes.
She was about to say something, anything, when all of a sudden Noah was stepping towards the intruders, his hands balled into fists. The action caused a few sparks to shoot out from the mechanical arm, which kind of helped him look more intimidating, Rachel thought. "Scared you bitches won't be able to win unless people buy it for you?"
2 -- Santana, Rachel remembered, from the Reaping videos -- stepped forward as well and actually reached out to shove Noah. Hard, despite her size. "As though you've got a chance," she snarled, before an enormous woman appeared and wrapped her arms around Santana, pulling her away.
"That's enough," the newcomer commanded, before nodding curtly towards April. "I'll make sure she saves it for the Arena." The woman had short, spiky black hair, and her teeth were unnaturally pointed and sharp.
"Take that one too, Enobaria, while you're at it?" April suggested, jerking her thumb towards 1. "Cashmere's probably looking for her." The other mentor, Enobaria, shot April a dirty glare, probably not appreciating the command, but took the other tribute -- Quinn -- by the hand and led her off as well.
"Let's get out of here," Holly suggested, looking around almost fearfully at the rest of the tributes as though waiting for the next attack. April agreed and they started to walk towards the elevator that would take them to their apartments. "Though, Puck, that was very good. Great job sticking to Plan B!"
"Yes, great job." Someone else new? Rachel turned around again, ready to try and confront the newcomer, when she realized she was looking at someone who was older than any of the other tributes. And practically naked.
"Johanna!" April handed her drink unceremoniously over to Holly, who could only hold on to it as Rachel's mentor embraced the other woman tightly. "As radiant as ever."
"Actually got something to work with this year, April?" Johanna asked, shooting a curious look at Rachel and Noah.
Rachel could tell that Noah was still trying to curb his temper after the run in with the Careers, so she spoke up for the both of them. "I sure hope so," she said, flashing the other mentor a smile.
Johanna nodded, looking them both up and down again. Her glance made Rachel feel somewhat exposed, and she had very little skin revealed in comparison to the older woman. Meanwhile, Johanna had reached out and trailed a nail down Puck's cheek, smirking. "Much better than those whiny little wimps they've given me this year."
"Sugar Motta must be a handful, isn't she?" Holly asked, obviously looking to be a part of the group, sneaking a sip from April's glass when the other blonde wasn't looking.
"I've given up on her already," Johanna said, waving her arm dismissively as though to punctuate her words.
"You can do that?" Rachel couldn't help but ask.
"Quiet, the adults are talking." Johanna moved in a little closer to April. Rachel could easily hear her whisper, though she knew Holly could not. "The terms we talked about… I accept. You'll have the money tomorrow morning."
April nodded, then reached her hand out to Holly for her glass. "We should take them up to the 12th floor," she said quickly, as though Johanna hadn't said anything important. Rachel's mind was racing, though, as April and Holly both put a hand on her and Noah's backs to guide them towards the elevator. Terms? What terms? And there had been something about money. What money?!
"Something's going on," Rachel whispered to Noah in the elevator. "And I'm going to find out what it is."
"You do that," Noah whispered back. The four of them ascended to the 12th floor in silence, broken only once more. "I forgot to tell you," he added, quietly still. "You didn't look bad either."
Rachel opened her mouth to respond, but Holly ushered her out of the elevator and into her room, where she was ordered to go to bed and rest up for their first day of training, before she could say anything in return.
Santana Lopez, the tribute from District 2, goes through her first day of training with potential friend and definite rival, Quinn Fabray, from District 1. Sparks fly in more ways that one.
I drew inspiration from this awesome District 2 career training essay when coming up with this Santana's characterization.
“No fighting the other tributes yet? Then what’s the point of training? I already know how to do all of this shit.”
Santana Lopez directed a smirk up at the Gamemakers’ balcony as soon as the words were out of her mouth. It hadn’t taken much time at all for her and Enobaria to come up with a strategy that would take her all the way to the finish line: cold, calculating, born ready for the arena and haughty to boot. That was what everyone was expecting, anyway, so why not?
Much as she’d expected, the trainer didn’t scold or reprimand her. Instead, he was talking about how they should spend time on the stations that weren’t directly devoted to fighting. It kind of sounded like the bullshit Brutus had tried to tell her and Azimio to do. Just as she had then, she tuned the trainer out and only started to pay attention once she and the rest of the tributes were let loose.
She hadn’t been very old when she had been recommended for the training academy back home in District 2. Just six years old. All she’d had to do was make a young boy miserable for two months straight. It had almost been too easy. There had always been something… off about Blaine Anderson.
Santana’s teachers had noted what she was doing and sent a letter home with her, encouraging her parents to enroll her in the extracurricular activities the academy put on. Everyone knew it was a front, an easy way for them to see which young kids had the qualities a District 2 tribute needed. And if they didn’t quite make it all the way, they were able to join Peacekeeper training at an advanced level. But being a Peacekeeper had never been in Santana’s future. Her first day at the after-school program, they’d played dodgeball and even at the age of six she had deadly aim.
She’d grown up hearing the stories of Brutus, Enobaria, Lyme, and all the others who’d brought District 2 glory. Their Games were often replayed on the television in the Lopez household, and Santana’s eyes had grown wide when Enobaria had bitten through that tribute’s throat with her teeth. She could still remember that day clearly.
“I want to be just like her,” she’d whined to her father as she was settling down for bed that night. He’d just laughed, sleepy and ready to relax after a long day’s work at the district’s military base, and kissed her on the forehead.
“Maybe one day you will, mija.”
“Look, over there. Boy Three, that Asian kid,” Quinn whispered in Santana’s ear, trying not to draw attention to who they were scoping out. “He’s at the traps and snares station, twisting a wire around one of the sticks. What do you think he’s up to?”
Over at one of the weapons station across the gym, Santana hefted one of the knives and, pretending to judge its weight and balance, squinted over in the direction of traps and snares. “Electronics,” she muttered back in response as the boy and the trainer staffing the station moved a few feet away. “That’s their focus, right?”
She didn’t need to wait for an answer from the girl from District 1. The snare exploded, scattering its components in a decently wide radius.
“Rookie mistake,” Quinn said, picking up a sword and checking her reflection in it briefly before tossing it from hand to hand. “That could’ve been a big reveal in the arena.”
Santana just nodded in response. “Still, it’s worth keeping in mind.” It had been probably the most impressive thing she’d seen all day. Well, she wasn’t exactly counting how the girl from District 7 had a tantrum outside the gym and her escort had to shove her in through the door, though that had certainly been something else. She was pretty sure that she and Quinn were the only ones worthy of winning this year’s Hunger Games, and she was especially sure that the victor was going to be her.
When they had announced that it was time for lunch, Santana took her tray and sat down at the table closest to the door. Quinn and Finn, the blonde’s District counterpart, were in what seemed to be a serious quarrel about training.
“No. You’re wrong, I’m right,” Quinn told him through gritted teeth.
Santana raised an eyebrow at them both before reaching for a piece of familiar District 2 bread. She had to agree with the general assumption that Finn was kind of an idiot, even without knowing what was going on. He would probably be an okay fighter, due to his size and height, if he wasn’t so stupid. “What the fuck did I miss?”
“Hudson thinks the loser from 12 is worth inviting over,” Azimio said through a half-full mouth, jerking his head towards where the mohawked boy sat with his District counterpart and the boy and girl from 10.
“No, no way,” Santana replied immediately. Quinn smirked and gave Finn a look that plainly read ‘I told you so’ before nudging Santana with her elbow.
“What do you think about Boy Four?” Quinn asked, nodding her head slightly in his direction. As she had in training, Santana brought her gaze over to the boy with wavy blond hair. Sam, Santana remembered vaguely. He was dressed in the same outfit they all were, tightly fitting black and red pants and shirts with their District number on the breast and back. Santana remembered noticing his muscles flexing as he’d climbed a woven rope up to the ceiling in record time.
Santana knew that the Careers - the Panemwide name for the tributes from Districts 1 and 2 - frequently allied with one or both District 4 tributes. Though the girl hadn’t seemed like much from what she had seen that morning, Santana thought it might be a good idea to at least keep an eye on the boy.
“We’ll see,” Santana said lightly, twirling a knife she’d stolen from the gym in her hand before using it to cut her chicken. There wasn’t any harm in keeping their options open.
That night, Azimio and Santana were in their quarters with Brutus, Enobaria, and their escort, William, talking a little more strategy after dinner, when a knock on the door interrupted them. She and Azimio argued for a brief moment over who should get up and answer it before he finally slammed his fist on the arm of the couch, frustrated, and stood up.
“Are you allowed to be here?” Santana asked, though the teasing smile on her face clearly showed that she was unbothered by the sight of Finn and Quinn following Azimio back into the living room.
“This is typical procedure,” Cashmere, the mentor from District 1, said as she settled down into a plush armchair. “We’re the best of the best, aren’t we? And I know the four of you have plans to work together.”
“Quinn and I do,” Santana remarked, shooting Quinn a devious smile. She was rewarded by a slight wink Quinn sent her way before she shifted in her chair and nodded in agreement.
“I suppose we’ll take Azimio and Finn along for the ride too,” Quinn said, her voice sweet. She lifted her eyes up to make eye contact with Santana again, and the message she was trying to convey was clear: … until they become unnecessary and we dispose of them.
Santana bit her lip hard to suppress a smile.
About half an hour into the strategy talk between Districts 1 and 2, one of the Avoxes had brought in bottles of wine and champagne and they’d all had a glass or two. Santana thought the camaraderie was kind of pointless in that funny kind of way, seeing as how there could only be one winner, but whatever. She excused herself to go to the bathroom, then sat back down next to Quinn when she returned.
“It isn’t much,” Enobaria was saying to everyone. “I just have to go to the dentist about every three months or so to get them resharpened.” She smiled broadly, the points of her teeth well on display. “It’s a common procedure in District 2 now, after I won.”
“Plus they look damned good,” Azimio added, showing off his teeth as well.
Santana rolled her eyes and leaned over to whisper in Quinn’s ear. “This is pointless as fuck all.”
“I know,” Quinn replied quietly, turning her head slightly to make eye contact. Their faces were close, Santana noticed, and all of a sudden she realized that Quinn was probably the prettiest girl in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Well, besides herself.
“Do you want to get out of here for a little bit?” Santana asked, and Quinn nodded eagerly.
It hadn’t taken much convincing for their mentors and escorts to let them slip off, unattended. There wasn’t exactly a lot of places they could go.
“How did you know about this place?” Santana asked as they stepped out of the elevator and made their way outside. They were standing on the roof now, and the faint hum all around them made it obvious there was a forcefield to prevent any pathetic tributes from trying to kill themselves beforehand.
Quinn shrugged and sat down on the ledge, her glass of champagne held tight in her hand. “Cashmere told me. She said she discovered it on accident and it had a great view of the Capitol.” She fell silent after that and continued staring out over at the lit up buildings and crowds of people on the ground all around them, even when Santana took a seat next to her.
“It’s nice,” Santana said, taking a sip of her own champagne. She felt suddenly nervous now that they were alone, for some reason, though that was probably the alcohol affecting her. The silence settled between them again before she suddenly blurted out, “We can’t be friends. I don’t want to have to kill someone I’m friends with.”
Quinn looked up and bit her lip, a move that made Santana feel a kind of anxiety she hadn’t experienced since the first time she’d fought anyone one on one in the training academy – a nervous feeling, though it was anticipatory at the same time. Then the worried expression was gone, replaced by the confident smile Santana had gotten used to seeing on Quinn’s face. “Who said you’re going to kill me?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m the Capitol’s favorite, didn’t you hear them going over the initial odds?” Santana retorted, tightening her grip on her glass.
“And I was right behind you. You don’t know how the rankings will actually play out, no one does. Don’t count your diamonds before they’ve formed.”
“Don’t give me your District 1 bullshit.”
“That’s right, #1 for a reason.”
“There’ve been more winners from 2 than 1,” Santana snapped, standing up. Her hand went immediately to the knife she’d stolen, tucked carefully into the waistband of her pants.
“What’re you going to do with that?” Quinn responded immediately, her eyes noticing the movement. Santana silently cursed the other girl’s shrewdness. “Slice me up before we even get to the Games?”
“So what if I do? Then I win,” Santana nearly yelled this time, drawing the knife out and holding it out in front of her. “You die. You lose, Quinn Fabray.”
With one deft movement, Quinn reached out and hit the inside of Santana’s arm with her own. The surprise of the blow caused the knife to drop out of Santana’s hand, and suddenly Quinn was gripping her by the throat. “Don’t underestimate me, Santana Lopez. That victors’ crown will look so good in my hair.”
Looking back on it later that evening, Santana was unable to distinguish how they went from being about to come to blows to kissing furiously, Quinn’s tight hold in Santana’s dark hair instead of around her neck. Both of their champagne glasses now lay on the floor of the roof, in pieces. She did remember very clearly, though, how she’d managed to pull away, breathing heavily, and say, “I’m going back to the 2nd floor. See you in training tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Quinn said dumbly as Santana bent down to retrieve her knife then stand up to exit. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”
It's day two of training and Puck and Rachel bond with the District 11 tributes, Dave and Brittany. Meanwhile, Johanna and April's plans for Puck are revealed and so are Rachel's hidden talents.
Screaming, pounding, high-pitched noises. Was he already in the Games? Puck jerked awake and sat up in his bedroom on the twelfth floor, the sheets tangled around his body, and let out an annoyed noise once he realized that what he was hearing was Holly Holliday trying to tell him to wake up for training.
“Just give me a minute,” he called out, then waited for the sound of her heels to disappear before he sighed, rubbed at his eyes sleepily, then got up and out of bed. He stared at his reflection in the mirror once he was in the bathroom, running his hand over the strip of hair on his head. Were there any changes?
The day before, Puck had shown up to breakfast and done a double take when he saw the woman April was friends with – Johanna Mason – sitting at the table with them. She picked up a syringe and waved it in the air, apparently in greeting.
“We’re taking your ‘ironic bad boy image’ up another level,” April said cheerfully, noticing the look of apprehension on his face.
“This is what your agreement was?” Rachel interrupted, looking back and forth between April and Johanna with big eyes. “You’re going to give him something? Isn’t this… this is illegal. Cheating.”
Johanna rolled her eyes and shifted so one of her feet was on the seat of Rachel’s chair, presumably in response to Rachel’s protests. Rachel shot her a glare. “Don’t think they haven’t already given this to the Careers,” Johanna said, reaching for Puck’s arm.
“And what exactly do they give them? Like what the fuck are you giving me?” Puck shifted his chair away from her, a wary look on his face.
“I told you he wouldn’t,” Holly said mildly, buttering a piece of toast as April stood up and moved over to Puck and Johanna.
“You don’t have to do this,” April started. (“Yes, he does. I already donated my god damned budget to your district.”) “We just thought you’d like the opportunity to bulk up a little bit before the Games. It’d go with your image.”
Puck looked down at himself. He had always thought he was in okay shape. He didn’t really get that much to eat usually back home in District 12, but since he and Lauren hunted, the Puckerman family wasn’t as hungry as others. Sure, he was kind of lean, but that was okay, right? “You really think I need the help?” he asked, kind of offended.
“Of course we do, scrawny,” Johanna said, rolling her eyes and grabbing a croissant. “At least you two–” She glanced over at Rachel almost derisively. “You both kind of have a shot. My weak ass tributes have no chance.”
“So you’re legitimately trying to help right now,” Puck deadpanned, still having a hard time wrapping his head around this. He had to admit that he was actually kind of tempted. His mother probably would smack him over the head if she knew what he was considering… but his mother wasn’t here. He was in the fucking Capitol. And the only way he could go home to his family was if he won the Games. “And… you’re saying that if I take that, I’ll bulk up. Be stronger and shit. Be able to fight better.”
“Noah, don’t,” Rachel interjected, shooting him an almost pleading look, but then she looked away as Puck rolled his sleeve up and held his arm out to Johanna Mason.
After another shot that morning, this time administered by April, Puck and Rachel made their way to their second day of training. He’d been reminded by April and Holly to not show off what he could do with the spears, so he stuck mainly to trying to figure out how to work an axe. Rachel went from station to station, chatting up the trainers, and seemed to spend a lot of time at the nutrition section.
They settled down for lunch afterwards with Brittany and Dave, the tributes from District 11. They’d had lunch together on the first day of training and it seemed to be continuing on the second day. It had been convenience at first, since it seemed like none of the other tributes wanted to sit with kids from District 11 and 12, but Puck genuinely liked them both. They were in the middle of talking about what strategies they were thinking of using for their upcoming interviews when Brittany spoke up.
“I’m just going to tell them that I can talk to animals,” she said around a mouthful of clam chowder.
“Oh yeah? What do they tell you?” Puck smirked, then shrugged as Dave shot him a look. Having decided that Puck was more teasing than mean, Dave spoke up after a minute.
“Brittany has a pet goat. I have no idea where she got it from.”
“I sell its milk and cheese at the market,” the younger girl interjected, perking up obviously at the mention of her animal. “And I have a cat. He was a stray and I talked to him and got him to come live with me. I make some money off of him by bringing him around to people’s homes and letting him mouse. They say cats don’t really know their name, but Lord Tubbington always does when I ask him very politely to come back while he’s mousing.”
Puck nodded a little at this, pressing his lips together in an attempt to not laugh. He wished his sister had been lucky enough to have a cat. “Sounds like it’ll be really helpful in the arena,” he said eventually, wincing when Rachel kicked him under the table.
“What about you guys?” Dave asked the two tributes from District 12. He had already explained how he and his mentor were kind of going the big, strong, and silent route.
“Dunno,” Puck said, running his hand over his mohawk as he often did nowadays when he felt anxious. The truth was that he had no idea what to do. He, Holly, and April were still going with the ‘ironic bad-boy image’ concept, but what that actually meant for an interview wasn’t really clear.
Rachel turned her head to make eye contact with Puck, then looked back at Dave and Brittany. “I’m going to use the 3 minutes I’m allotted to make everyone aware of my talents,” she said, very primly, before wiping her lips with a napkin. “Same with my one-on-one with the Gamemakers.”
Puck was about to ask what talents she was talking about when all of a sudden the trainers were back, telling them to return to the gym. As he stood up, tray in hand, he mouthed at Rachel: ‘What talents?’
She smiled brilliantly at him and he blinked, not really expecting that response. ‘You’ll see,’ she mouthed back before turning away.
“No, seriously, what talents?” Puck asked for about the 10th time as he and Rachel watched the televised coverage of the Games before dinner. They were on the couch, dressed in the ‘relaxation’ clothes that were in each of their bedrooms.
She shot him another evasive look, though he could tell that she was beginning to become exasperated with his repeated questioning. “And I told you, you’ll see.”
He turned on the couch to face her better, pulling his legs up underneath him. “Come on. We’ve been in training together for two days. You mostly just look at the first aid and nutrition stations. Today you tried out a bow and the arrow went sideways.” He wasn’t actually trying to be an ass. Rachel was kind of all right, even if she did talk too much and was kind of a suck up to Holly and April.
“Will you just shut up?” An annoyed look appeared on her face, an expression he hadn’t seen since the day of the Reaping when she had basically told him that him volunteering for Sarah was the only reason why she was in the Games. (While that was true, Puck didn’t see why that was his fault.) “I’m not going to talk to you about this right now.”
Holly appeared just then from her bedroom, wearing a purple corset and a matching wig. “Dinner!” she trilled brightly.
Rachel stood up to move over to the dining table, and Puck followed close behind. “Are you just bluffing ‘cause you don’t have any talents?” he asked. “I’m not trying to be rude. Just like if you don’t have any, then we should focus on getting you some before you get in the arena.”
She glared at him over her shoulder and kept walking.
“Come on,” Puck pressed. “You just seem to be all about preparing for this and knowing who our enemy is and doing research and taking notes. All that work’s gonna go to waste if you don’t have anything to go on once we get in the Games. Just trying to look out for you.” He reached out and poked her in the small of her back, then tapped the side of her arm repeatedly.
Suddenly, Rachel whirled around and advanced on him. The shock of it was enough to send Puck walking backwards for a few steps at first, then more as she kept moving towards him. “Don’t touch me again,” she said, her jaw tight, backing him up further.
“Come on,” he said again, holding his hands up in front of him as a kind of peace offering. “I was just kidding. God, you’re uptight. Like, if your strategy is actually just hoping one of the mines blow you up before the Games even start, just so it’s over fast–”
A wild look fell over her features suddenly and before Puck could register what was happening, Rachel had shot her hand out and – ‘punched’ probably wasn’t the right word, but the palm of her hand had made definite contact with Puck’s nose and he crouched down, hands up to his face, wincing as they came away bloody.
“I’ve been preparing for the possibility of being Reaped ever since I was 10,” Rachel snapped from up above him, her hands balled into fists. “Daddy would aim punches at my head and solar plexus, slowly at first so I would get used to blocking them, and then faster, like a real assailant would. Mama gave me a knife to train with when I was 12. I’m not as good with it as Santana, I can’t throw or anything, my aim’s terrible. But I can fight with it. No one’s going to come near me and take me down without me taking a piece of them down with me, too. No one. Not even you, Noah, if it comes to that.”
Puck looked up at her through blurry vision, taking in the ready stance she was still in just in case she needed to prove her point again. He got up carefully, still holding his face with one hand, and held the other up as though to say ‘Okay, I give.’ She held her position for a few more seconds before relaxing, a worried look coming over her face then once she saw the state of his nose.
“I’m pretty sure you broke it,” April said, in as good of spirits as ever, from where she and Holly were seated at the dining table.
“And I told you both that we needed to tell Puck, repeatedly,” Holly added, looking slightly less cheerful. “Rachel knows about our strategy for him.”
“I didn’t know how to bring it up,” Rachel said, an almost upset tone creeping into her voice now. She walked closer to him again and put a hand on his arm, tentatively. “They told me I couldn’t show anyone what I could do in the gym. People needed to assume I couldn’t do anything. I suppose if you fell for it… that’s what everyone else thinks, too.” She set her jaw, looking purposefully over at Holly and April, before looking back at him. “Noah… I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you.”
“Whatever,” he grumbled, pushing past her to where an Avox stood silently, a Capitol first aid kit in his hands. “So much for being trained together.” Puck was vaguely aware of Rachel looking almost sadly at him, and he shook his head hard despite the fact that the action made him decidedly woozy. “We’re done.”
On the last day of training, Sugar Motta tries to jump off the roof. Their one-on-one sessions arrive the next day and during hers, Rachel Berry bursts into song.
On the morning of the third and final day of training, Rachel was the first at the table. She and Noah weren’t speaking – though it was really more like Noah wasn’t speaking to her – and she wanted to do something about it.
“Can I get sugar cookies, please?” she asked one of the Avoxes. It still felt strange that they were there to serve her. More than strange: sick and wrong. It was like a daily reminder that the Capitol had all the cards and she held none. “And some frosting.”
Ten year old Rachel clapped her hands together happily as she and Shelby spread cream colored frosting over a small piece of cake. It was barely big enough for an individual serving, all the Berrys could afford for the occasion.
“Use your fork to write the message you want,” Shelby instructed. She watched carefully as Rachel painstakingly wrote out: ‘Happy Birthday, daddy!’ “See? It isn’t much, but it’s more than enough.”
Twenty minutes later, when Noah, April, and Holly came in for breakfast, six cookies were set out on a serving platter. All of them had ‘I’m sorry’ carved out of the frosting, and Rachel was smiling hopefully. She knew that cookies were rare enough in District 12, so it was likely that Noah ate them just about as regularly as she did. Rachel watched as Noah reached out for a cookie, then chewed and swallowed a bite.
“Is this ‘cause you broke my nose, or for the lying?” he asked conversationally. But he ate three of the cookies before they went down to training, so Rachel knew they had helped a little bit.
The night before the first day of training, Rachel had excused herself to bed but had only spent fifteen minutes in her room before going back into the main rooms.
“April,” she said, tentatively. As her mentor looked in her direction, Rachel felt suddenly very aware of the fact that she was wearing pajamas that were slightly too big for her.
“Yes, honey? Change your mind about the nightcap? I’ll pour you a glass.” Rachel shook her head quickly, but April got up and retrieved another glass anyway.
“No, I didn’t come here for that. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
April stopped mid-pour to comment, “Well, that’s fine. If you don’t drink this, I will.” She finished filling the glass with alcohol, then looked steadily up at Rachel. “Go on. I won’t bite.”
Rachel laughed kind of nervously. That wasn’t the kind of thing that was actually a joke in the Hunger Games. “I wanted to talk to you about what I can do.” That got an eyebrow raise out of April, but nothing more, so Rachel forged on. “I have some… hand to hand combat skills. And I’m good with a knife.”
“Oh yeah?” April stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and emptied the glass she had been nursing when Rachel had first approached her. “Show me what you got.” She set the glass down, backed away from the table, and put her hands up in what was undeniably a fighting stance.
Rachel blinked a little, not really sure what to do. “Is this a good idea? You’ve been drinking…” April was tinier than Rachel herself was, and she was sure she could probably take her. But it seemed rude. When April just gestured for Rachel to continue, though, she sighed and put her own hands up.
April was the first to actually test the waters with the first punch, a quick jab aimed to the right side of Rachel’s face. Rachel sidestepped it easily and connected her own fist with April’s stomach, though she didn’t put all of her power behind it. Her mentor staggered back a few steps accordingly, and Rachel allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction.
They circled each other for another moment and Rachel noted approvingly that her mentor was still in good shape, despite the drink. She had barely had enough time to think that, though, before April came at her again with a one-two combination of hits. Rachel brought her arm up to block the first punch, but April’s second connected with her head. Rachel’s eyes widened in response and she grabbed onto April’s wrist with her hand, twisting it. With a half-turn, she drove her elbow into April’s stomach.
Rachel self-congratulated herself on gaining the upper hand. However, she was suddenly face to face with April, who had somehow wrenched her arm free and was now dropping down to sweep Rachel’s legs out from underneath her with a kick. Rachel fell down to the ground and April immediately leapt onto her to hold her down.
“Nice work, sweetcheeks,” April said lazily. She held Rachel down for a half minute longer, probably just to prove her point, before moving away and letting Rachel get up. “Don’t show them any of this in training. Pretend you aren’t good at it, if you have to do any hand to hand combat at all. And stay away from the knives.”
Rachel, used to doing what Holly and April wanted with her, bit her lip slightly, faltering. “You really think I shouldn’t do my best? Aren’t the training sessions our first opportunities to perform in front of the Gamemakers?”
It took April a while to respond, as she had to first sit back down and refill her glass. “I want them to think you’re out of their league.”
Their last day of training was somewhat uneventful, besides the small scene Sugar Motta had caused right at the start. She’d arrived much later to training than any of the other tributes, in an unmistakable state of disarray.
“I hear she tried to jump off the roof,” Dave muttered to Rachel, Noah, and Brittany at lunch. “Her mentor told her to.”
“Her mentor?” Rachel’s voice caught on the word and she looked at Noah in shock, forgetting that he was still probably angry at her. “Isn’t she Johanna’s–”
“Later,” Noah said quickly.
Rachel bit her lip briefly, thinking. Johanna Mason had made it clear that she couldn’t stand her own tributes. In fact, Rachel vaguely remembered her saying that she’d given up. But trying to kill her off before the tributes were even sent to the arena? “What happened when she jumped off the roof?” she asked Dave, hoping he knew more.
“She came right back onto it,” Dave said, glancing over at Sugar and the other District 7 tribute. “Some kind of forcefield up there or something.”
“Probably just wanted to teach her a lesson for being a whiny brat,” a different voice said. Rachel looked up and saw Quinn Fabray, the District 1 tribute, standing next to their table. Her blonde hair was neatly pulled back into a ponytail and the smirk she was giving them was dangerous.
“Hi, Quinn,” Rachel said politely, dipping a piece of her bread into soup. and eating it. If she didn’t give the other girl anything to pick on and tear apart, it would be fine, right?
“Hi, 12,” Quinn replied, her smirk changing into a too-sweet smile. “Why don’t you go up and try it yourself? The forcefield. Maybe a running start will do it. If you hit it with enough force, it might send you back hard enough take you out. I mean, if I didn’t have any training, skills, or brains like you, I’d want to die before I get to the Games too.”
Rachel kept her eyes on Quinn as she slowly moved her hand onto her knife. She knew the blonde was just trying to get a rise out of her, but it was working all too well. She told herself that she couldn’t show what she could do, not here, and especially not in front of a Career. “Thanks for the advice,” she said finally, forcing a smile onto her face as well. “But I’ll be seeing you in the arena.”
That evening, after dinner, Rachel was sat in front of the enormous screen in their apartments, only half-watching the commentary about the Games that was seemingly the only thing available to watch, when Noah took a seat next to her. “Sugar, huh?” he said after a moment, and Rachel turned her head to look at him. Whatever April and Johanna were injecting into him every morning, it really was doing the job. Noah visibly looked bigger, more dangerous.
“It just seems… cruel. She used to be one of us, and now she’s throwing a girl from her own District off the roof? Literally.” Rachel found it kind of ridiculous that she was discussing cruelty in a room in which onscreen, Claudius Templesmith was cheerfully narrating a slow-motion replay of one of the deaths from last year’s Hunger Games.
Noah looked around, probably for April, Holly, or even Johanna Mason herself, before replying. “I kinda hate myself for thinking like this but… Sugar probably isn’t gonna last long in the Arena anyway. And if we – well, one of us. If you win, then you’re a mentor too. There’s only one winner every year. How many can you bring back alive? It’s cold of me to say, yeah, but I’m glad she’s betting on me.” He paused for a minute, then added, “No offense.”
“None taken,” Rachel said, a half-smile on her face despite herself. Yes, it was sick that the mentors had to pick one kid every year, and it was even more sick that Johanna had played a trick like that on her tribute, but she was just glad that she and Noah were talking again. She turned so she was sitting sideways on the couch, facing him, and leaned her head against it. “Do you think everyone thinks I don’t have any – what was it? Training, skills, or brains?”
Noah rubbed at his nose a bit ruefully as he thought about it. “Probably, yeah,” he said bluntly. “But that’s what you’re going for, right?”
“Yeah,” Rachel said, nodding a little. “That’s exactly what I’m going for.”
Their one-on-ones with the Gamemakers were the next day. While the tributes got to sleep in for once, Rachel was wide awake when the sun came up. She lay there restlessly, trying to think about what she needed to show them, wondering what her rating would be by the end of the day. The sponsors would only pick her if she showed enough promise in her short session, and she needed to make sure she had their attention.
The sessions were in District order, with the Gamemakers seeing boys before girls before moving on to the next pair. Rachel’s session was last, then, and she couldn’t help but think that no wonder District 12’s tributes nearly always lost. They weren’t exactly given the favor of making a good impression, always being slotted at the end. Rachel thought, though, that maybe if she was the last one seen, they’d remember her best.
She took a deep breath as she walked into the training gym, then stood directly in front of the Gamemakers’ vantage point when they called her name to confirm her arrival. Rachel took her time, glancing around the room to decide what to show first, before settling on one of the larger knives. It wasn’t a throwing knife, not like the ones Santana Lopez from District 2 was so fond of, but it fit well in Rachel’s hand and she liked its balance.
Walking over to a training dummy, she made a slight adjustment on her grip before she allowed herself to think and remember everyone who had ever been mean to her. All of the kids she’d had to learn how to ignore as she walked to school alone, the other students who teased her for being the daughter of an ex-homosexual, who said she had a disease by association. Rachel didn’t want to actually hurt any of them, not like they’d hurt her, but it worked, just like she practiced, and she was able to summon up enough anger and defiance to show what she needed to. Her tormenters’ faces began to blur in her vision as she imagined them standing in place of the dummy. With a swift movement, she pivoted and sent a kick solidly into the dummy’s solar plexus, then followed it up with a hook to its head.
“If I didn’t have any training, skills, or brains like you…”
Quinn’s face appeared in Rachel’s mind, and she dropped down and kicked out to sweep the dummy out from underneath itself – just like April had shown her. It fell to the ground with a thump, and she leapt on top of it and sunk her knife into its side.
Realizing that she had just envisioned herself actually stabbing another teenager, with intent to maim, if not kill, Rachel got up. She left the knife in the dummy, her hands shaking, and closed her eyes.
Rachel vaguely recognized that one of the Gamemakers had announced to her that she could be dismissed, but she was too angry now. She was tired of girls like Quinn Fabray, kids like the Careers, deciding that they were on top. It was more than that, though. The truth was that no one was, not when the Capitol could exercise its vast influence on them all by turning them into killers, ready to sink weapons into each other and submit to the Capitol’s desires. And suddenly, she was singing.
“Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putter. Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter.” It was an older song, one that had its origins before Panem. Her parents would sing it to each other at home. The thought of them sitting around and watching her death on television spurred her on. “Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade!”
“This session is over. You’re dismissed.”
Rachel was too far gone by this point to obey. She had a message for them, and she needed to make sure it got through. The words were spinning around in her head, and she opened her mouth and belted them out. “I’m gonna live and live now, get what I want – I know how –”
“Rachel Berry, you are dismissed!”
“Eye on the target and wham, one shot, one gunshot and bam! Here I am!”
“Rachel Berry, you are dismissed!”
When the Peacekeepers came to escort her out of the training gym, she went quietly, having finished her entire song just a few moments ago. There wasn’t a need to say anything else.
The Districts 1 and 2 career tributes watch the ratings announcements with bated breath. Rachel Berry, off-screen, pulls off an unexpected victory. Santana finds out Quinn's latest scheme and the two of them make a truce, of sorts.
It's been a ridiculous amount of time since the last update - lots of life changes and all of the plotting meant I lose my muse a bit, but I'm determined to finish this fic. If you're still reading, thank you for doing so. I've plotted the rest of the fic out and it will be finished in 2013. :)
There was always champagne. Cashmere and her brother Gloss liked to keep their glasses filled, and the District 2 mentors certainly didn’t complain. While Azimio and Finn loved the camaraderie between the two districts’ mentors and tributes, it only served to put Santana on edge. She had a feeling that Quinn knew exactly what she was doing, too.
They hadn’t spoken of that night, or, more importantly, their kiss, up on the roof, ever since. However, the way that Quinn behaved during the next day’s training session – waving to Santana as she arrived in the gym and beckoning her over, always wanting to be next to her – made it clear in Santana’s mind that everything was forgiven and Quinn was still interested in allying her district with Santana and Azimio. (Try as they did, they couldn’t quite shake Finn. It looked like he was in their pack for the long haul.)
What had happened was probably just one big misunderstanding, Santana thought. Sometimes, in wrestling training back home in District 2, you got up close and personal with other people. Before they kissed, she and Quinn had been literally at each other’s throats. It probably wasn’t even a real kiss – just an inadvertent collision of mouths. It wasn’t a big deal. She carried on with her days and made sure to play nice with her other Career counterparts. However, Quinn had been a little too nice lately. She probably didn’t even mean anything by it, Santana thought, but Quinn had taken to sitting close by Santana at dinner, giving Santana knowing glances… there had even been one time where Quinn had licked her lips, very slowly, after applying some lip gloss. Santana had stared as Quinn smirked, her eyes fixated on the other girl’s lips, before she’d forced herself looked away.
It probably wasn’t even anything, Santana mused. Just some coincidence that whenever she was looking at Quinn, the other girl was being… sexual. Her District 2 training hadn’t left much time for any distractions like that so she chalked it up to a weakness of the District 1 tributes; obviously, if they’d had time to learn moves like that, they probably wouldn’t be as good in the arena. Maybe the looks had been intended for Finn or Azimio, too – although she knew Quinn had better taste than that.
Eventually, Santana just resigned herself to the fact that one of the people in her career pack kept… making eyes at her. It wasn’t a big deal. She couldn’t really blame her; Santana knew she was good looking addition to being rather deadly with her knives. It was, all around, a killer combination. As long as Santana maintained the upper hand the whole time, it would be fine. Besides, she knew she wasn’t allowed to be interested in girls like that, and she could play it off well. It was going to be fine.
“Santana, sit next to me,” Quinn called out, a devious expression on her face as they all settled down to watch Claudius Templesmith and Caesar Flickman present the ratings for this year’s tributes.
Santana feigned disinterest, lingering a little near the dining table in District 1’s suite as she watched everyone. Her gaze eventually drifted back to Quinn, though, and although she was focused on the screen, Santana’s eyebrows raised as Quinn slowly, almost deliberately uncrossed and crossed her legs. Had Quinn known that Santana was watching? Potentially can see way past normal peripheral vision limits, she noted to herself. The information could come in handy in the arena.
As always, the announcers went in order of the Districts, boys first before girls. Santana gave in and obliged Quinn, sitting down on the couch just in time to see Finn’s face and large build appear on the screen.
“District 1: Finn Hudson. 6.”
Almost immediately, everyone turned on Finn. “This is disgraceful,” Cashmere was saying, loudly, a disgusted look on her face. Simultaneously, Gloss was standing up and gesturing wildly with his hands. “The lowest score a District 1 tribute has ever gotten?”
Quinn rarely raised her voice, but she had an uncanny ability to break through the din and make herself be heard. “Can we all stop focusing on Finn’s complete lack of talent?” she asked, smiling sweetly at everyone. She moved her hand between her and Santana, then ran the back of one of her fingers against Santana’s leg. “I’m next.”
“District 1: Quinn Fabray. 9.”
Santana noted the way in which Quinn allowed herself a satisfied little smile before saying, “Okay, let’s talk about how Finn’s sad excuse for a training score is historical levels of pathetic again.” Finn’s face fell immediately and Santana was suddenly torn between laughing at the sad, shamed expression on his face and the need to smack Quinn’s hand away from her leg.
“Stop it,” Santana whispered, bringing her own hand between them to press down onto Quinn’s. “I don’t know what you’re doing but you need to quit it.”
Quinn turned her head and smirked, just slightly, at Santana. “I thought you’d like it,” she whispered back, holding Santana’s gaze, just as the Hunger Games announcers continued onwards.
“District 2: Azimio Adams. 8.”
Santana could tell her face was flushing and she wasn’t sure why. “I don’t,” she told Quinn, pulling her hand back and scooting away in time for her own training score, noting that she really did look good in the official picture they’d taken of her.
District 2: Santana Lopez. 10.”
“Yes!” Santana punched the air with a fist, a contented smirk on her face. “Suck it, Finn Hudson!” Azimio leapt out of his seat and thrust a massive hand towards Santana for her to slap. She slapped his hand and shot a glance at Quinn, expecting to see jealousy, defensiveness, anything like that written on her face.
Instead, though, Quinn beamed at her, almost as though she were proud. Santana narrowed her eyes, confused, before turning to face Enobaria; her mentor had gotten up for another bottle of champagne (she didn’t trust the Avoxes to serve her – she had this random fear of being poisoned) and was now standing above her to refill her glass. “Make us proud, Lopez,” Enobaria said, actually smiling (and not just baring her sharpened teeth).
“Haven’t I already?” Santana replied, a remark that got a laugh out of Enobaria and Brutus. She brought her champagne flute to her lips and had nearly forgotten about Quinn’s mind games until suddenly she felt hot breath on her ear.
“Looks like it’ll probably be you and me battling to be on top,” Quinn whispered, fully distracting Santana from the other training scores (both of District 3’s tributes, Tina Cohen-Chang and Mike Chang, had gotten scores under 6). “I knew you had it in you.”
“You should’ve expected nothing less from me,” Santana replied under her breath, barely turning her head towards Quinn, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of knowing she was getting under her skin. Santana took another sip of her champagne, enjoying the feeling of moving one step away from sobriety and towards tipsiness, and noted that Sam Evans, from District 4, had received an 8.
Districts 5 through 12 rarely, if ever, contributed any worthwhile tributes to the Games. While Cashmere busied herself with taking notes on their tributes’ scores, the talk in District 1’s chambers turned quickly to interviews: strategies, outfits, tactics. It was clear that their mentors wanted it to be known from the start that Districts 1 and 2 would be allying from the start. It would be a careful balancing act, though, making sure that they simultaneously positioned themselves as likable enough to be a part of a team (apparently, a recent public opinion was that the Career tributes were too brash, too grating, lately) and dangerous enough to win on their own.
Santana wasn’t too worried about her interview. She knew how she’d be playing it: continue the cocky, bloodthirsty image she’d been carefully cultivating so far. It’d been the strategy her teachers had picked for her in District 2, even before she’d volunteered as tribute for this year’s Games. Santana was certain that she’d be the winner this year. All she needed was to keep her eye on the prize – and not let certain distractions get in the way.
Meanwhile, the ratings – "District 7: Sugar Motta. 2." – were still being called. “Should’ve been a 0,” Santana remarked cattily, eyes narrowed on the young girl’s portrait on the screen before it flashed away, replaced with District 8’s boy tribute. “Bets on how soon she dies?”
“Bloodbath,” Finn said, eagerly, leaning forward.
“No shit.” Azimio smacked him on the arm, heavily; Santana smirked as she took in how Finn tried and failed to hide a wince in response. “I bet on first death.”
“Why waste your time going for someone that weak as your first target?” Quinn asked, glancing quickly up at the screen (District 9’s tributes were both negligible both in rating and personality) before turning her focus back to the conversation at hand. Santana glanced over at Quinn, tuning out the ratings – "District 10. Mercedes Jones. 5." – in the meantime, in time to see Quinn’s hazel eyes locked on hers. “I’d focus on the real threats.”
Santana nodded in agreement; while taking out the easy kills seemed like a good strategy, she thought she’d be better off working to cripple those who’d be more likely to give her a run for her money further down the line. Could Quinn be implying that she’d play up the tributes team image until the cornucopia, when she’d strike first at Finn, Azimio, even Santana?
She forced herself to look away in time to hear Brutus confirming that David Karofsky from District 11 had received an 8. And, in a surprise twist, 11’s Brittany Pierce, 14 years old and meek as all hell, had scored a 7.
It was obvious that the Gamemakers’ decision had caught everyone off guard. Even Claudius and Caesar looked shocked, glancing at each other questioningly before they moved on to District 12. Enobaria and Gloss were arguing loudly about what Brittany could have done to earn a 7 when, to Santana’s surprise, Quinn interrupted.
“I want to keep an eye on these two,” she commanded, almost imperiously. “If their showing during the parade is anything to go by, we should expect some surprises from them. Not only during the interviews tomorrow, but today, as well.”
And then, almost as if on cue, Caesar announced that Noah Puckerman had received an 8 and Rachel Berry – Caesar paused, his eyes widening slowly...
"District 12: Rachel Berry. 10."
Santana stood up immediately and stalked towards the screen, as though getting closer to it could reveal that what she’d seen and heard had been a trick of the distance. Little Rachel Berry from District 12 had gotten the same score as her? Santana had already been daydreaming about emphasizing her status as the highest-ranked tribute in the Games during her interviews, and now that claim would be sullied by the fact that Rachel fucking Berry from District fucking 12 had gotten the same rating as her?
She turned to face the rest of her team, her jaw clenched. “Forget Sugar Motta, forget all those other idiots.I want her taken out immediately.”
Dinner that night was a tense affair. Despite Enobaria’s best efforts to take Santana’s mind off of the ratings, she’d spent all of the meal fuming, plotting a myriad assortment of all of the potential ways in which she could kill the girl from District 12.
After letting herself get engrossed in her latest fantasy – something involving death by drowning; Santana keeps the ideas vague in order to make room for improvisation in the arena – Santana jerked slightly, caught off guard by the touch of Quinn’s fingers on the inside of her forearm, and her reflexes resulted in her bringing her other hand over to trap Quinn’s in a tight grip, twisting slightly. “What?”
“Relax,” Quinn whispered, unfazed. She then turned her head to smile, almost hopefully, at Cashmere. “Remember how we picked out a few dresses for tomorrow but weren’t sure which one was best on me? I was thinking it’d be nice to get Santana’s opinion. May we be excused?”
“Don’t tell me you’re actually going to try all those on and make me say which one’s what you should wear tomorrow night,” Santana said, rolling her eyes as they walked into Quinn’s room. It was a direct copy of hers, directly upstairs on District 2’s floor, and several dresses were spread out on the oversize bed.
“No. I wanted to talk.” Quinn shut the door – Santana was pretty sure she hadn’t locked it, but she made sure she took in how to undo the locking mechanism in case she had and she needed to make a break for it – then strode purposefully towards Santana. “Alone.”
“We’re never really alone, here.” The words had come out in a blurt, catching Santana herself off guard. She and Quinn knew, they all knew, that the Capitol was listening, so whatever Quinn had to say needed to be worth it. “What’s going on?”
Quinn stood there for a moment, uncertain, before stepping forward and moving a dress on the bed, making room at the foot. “You can sit down.”
“Sitting’s more vulnerable than standing. Until I know what you’re doing, I’ll stay right here, thank –”
“I told Cashmere about what happened between us,” Quinn interrupted, her eyes looking at Santana almost searchingly. “The kiss.”
“Why?” Santana hadn’t told anyone about what had occurred between her and Quinn on the roof, that night. She didn’t understand why anyone would possibly need to know, and she wasn’t sure if it made Quinn less or more trustworthy – not that she had room to trust her, or anyone. “Why would you do that?”
“I didn’t mean to. Improvising on the fly isn’t… my strong suit, especially when someone like Cashmere’s threatening me.” Quinn bit her lip then, an almost foreign expression of remorse appearing on her face, before she continued. “I came back to our floor afterwards and she could tell something had happened. I ended up saying that you kissed me –”
“You kissed me.”
“I clearly did no – Santana, that isn’t the point.” Quinn took a deep breath, looking torn. “She told me that you were my biggest competition here –”
“Santana, will you let me finish?” Quinn snapped, exasperated. Santana shrugged and allowed herself a small smile before tilting her head slightly, looking at Quinn expectantly. “She thinks that if I play to your lesbian – don’t interrupt me – weaknesses, you’ll be too distracted in training and score lower than me. Then I’ll get the sponsors and be in a better position to win.”
“Except, #1, I’m not a lesbian, and #2, I knew something was off about the way you were suddenly laying it on thick with me.” So it’d all been a game? Santana wondered briefly why that hurt, in a weird niggling way, before she continued on. “Why the hell are you telling me all of this now?”
“Because I don’t… I wanted to not win because I tricked you. I know you’re the only one who can give me a run for my money here, and victory won’t be as sweet if I know that I didn’t give you your best shot at winning before I do.”
“You really think you’re going to win?” Santana scoffed, shaking her head. “The fact that you just told me all of this means that you’re the one with all the weaknesses.”
“Come on, Santana.” Quinn took another step forward, and Santana forced herself to not back down in response to the intent look on the other girl’s face. “I’m telling you this because… I want us to be equal, going in. And I’m telling you this so you know that I’m doing this because I want to, and not because I’m doing it because of Cashmere’s scheming.”
“Doing what–” Santana had been ready for another rebuttal when all of a sudden, Quinn’s mouth was on hers again. Santana closed her eyes instinctively, expecting the kiss to be as aggressive as their first, but this time Quinn moved tentatively, her hands finding their way onto Santana’s waist instead of pulling and tugging at her dark hair.
It felt good, and Santana let herself go with it for a moment, allowing herself to be distracted by the feel of Quinn against her, before she broke the kiss. “No – are you fucking crazy? We’re going to be in the fucking arena in a few days, trying to kill each other, and you think we should be doing this tonight?”
Quinn’s hands stayed on Santana’s waist where they were, tight around the shirt she was wearing, as she looked up at her. “Can you honestly tell me that you don’t want this?”
It was a complication that Santana knew she didn’t need, but as she forced herself to keep her breathing calm, she ended up saying instead, her voice low, “Just until the Games begin. We’ll make sure it’s just you and me at the end, like it’s supposed to be. And then we’ll really see who’s the best.”
The smile that appeared then on Quinn’s face felt like a reward, somehow. “Not a lesbian, huh?”
“Homosexuality’s illegal, isn’t it?” Santana allowed herself a small smirk as she reached out and pulled Quinn even closer, sitting down on the bed finally. “If I win, they can’t arrest the Victor. If I lose, I’m dead and it’s no skin off my nose.”
Quinn let go of Santana briefly as she moved onto the bed as well, straddling her hips. “Just until the Games begin,” she echoed, then leaned down for another kiss.