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and we're coming for blood

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“You could try and take us,
But we're the gladiators
Everyone a rager
But secretly they're saviors
Glory and gore go hand in hand
That's why we're making headlines
You could try and take us,
But victory's contagious.”

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The year they were reaped, she was twelve and still wearing her long dark hair in pigtails and his name was in the bowl for the last time.   He’d never been chosen despite the amount of tesserae he’d taken for the last six years.  Because they were from the Seam – the poorest area of District 12, located just on the edge close to the border that enclosed them from the rest of Panem – they had that dark hair and he had the distinctive grey-blue eyes.  Hers were an oak leaf green, the same as their mother had had (May she rest in peace).  The Salvatores’ father practically lived in the mine, where he worked with the majority of the Seam’s adult men.  It must be noted that it appeared that soon Damon Salvatore would be following his father into the depths of the mines when he turned nineteen, and was officially in the clear of the Hunger Games.

Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately considering Damon had never wanted to work with his father - that was the year that he and his baby sister were reaped by the Capitol.

It started as these things usually started, with their District representative, Effie Trinket, standing atop the stage with their previous victor nearby – if one considered on the ground puking their guts out as nearby – and the two bowls full to the brim of pristine sheets of paper with carefully printed names of the children ages twelve through eighteen. 

Effie Trinket cleared her throat and her voice rang out over the hushed District with her distinctive Capitol accent.  Cheerily, she greeted them.  “Welcome, welcome to the 69th Annual Hunger Games!”  She paused, and when it became apparent that no one was prepared to applaud, continued. 

Damon ignored her and the following proceedings.  Instead of listening to Effie’s prattle, he searched the crowd for his best friend, Alaric Saltzman, and found him over by District 12’s lone victor, Haymitch Abernathy.  Considering Alaric had been a bit of a drunk since his wife had mysteriously disappeared three years ago, it wasn’t particularly surprising to find him with the drunken victor, helping him to his feet from where he’d fallen off the stage. 

Effie’s voice got a little shriller as she said, “Well, ladies first!” She giggled loudly and plunged her hand into the large, see-through bowl and shuffled around until her fingers grasped one starch white sheet of paper.  She drew out her hand dramatically and flourished it in front of the microphone.  Damon couldn’t resist the urge to roll his eyes.  “And the female tribute is . . .”

Alaric pushed Haymitch back towards the stage so he could sit in his designated seat and then the younger man unobtrusively slunk back to this spot in the crowd of adults.  Damon shot him a sly wink when he passed, only for Rick to shake his head in exasperation. 

“Stephanie Salvatore!”

Damon’s blood ran cold.  “No.”  Sympathetic glances shot in his direction made Damon realize he’d spoken aloud.  Immediately he searched the crowd for his tiny sister and found her walking determinedly towards the stage with her head held high and her green eyes staring forward.  Effie Trinket’s left arm was reaching towards her and Damon thought that her fingers looked particularly like the curling talons of a bird of prey.  After Steph was ensconced into her grip, Effie’s hand went searching for the boy’s name.   She called out, “And now for the men!” 

Damon was already striding forwards when the Capitol woman called out his name.  “Damon Salvatore!  My, my, are you two related?”

Damon could vaguely hear the crowd behind him whispering in hushed voices as his long legs bounded up the stage steps.  He ducked out of the way of Effie’s reaching arm and took Steph’s warm hand into his own.  She looked up at him with huge, rounded eyes, and her fingers squeezed back.  We’ll get through this, her face seemed to say.

Damon wasn’t going to hold his breath.

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When they were allowed to have their good-byes, Alaric Saltzman visited Damon first.

“Damn,” Succinct, but accurate, and it summed up Alaric’s thoughts on the matter.

“Got any bourbon to go?” Damon joked, but it fell flat.  The room was quiet for several painful seconds.

“I’m sure they’ll have some in the Capitol,” Alaric assured him and then scowled.  “Damn them, Damon.  Damn them all to hell for putting you through this.”

“Glad to know you’re on my side, buddy,” Damon smirked quick and easy.  Alaric stepped forwards and they hugged briefly.  The broke apart and Alaric blinked rapidly to pretend he wasn’t tearing up.

“You do whatever you need to do to get one of you home,” Alaric said grimly.  Damon only nodded and then his best friend was gone.  He knew it would be the very last time he’d ever see him.  A heavy feeling in the fit of his stomach filled him at the realization.  Heavy footsteps approached the door and paused there, giving Damon time to compose himself and make his face look aloof and uncaring.  Giuseppe Salvatore stepped into the meeting room seconds later, his wrinkled and haggard face pulled into a dark frown.

“Damon.  Son.”

“Father.”  The tension was so thick that it could be cut with a knife.  Idly, Damon wondered if he’d learn how to throw a knife in the competition.   

“You save her,” Giuseppe finally said gruffly, “you understand?”

“Come on, Dad,” Damon drawled lazily as he rolled his shoulders.  Something popped loudly.   “You could at least pretend to love me a little bit.”

“Damon,” Giuseppe warned.  His heavy brows were furrowed into a deep scowl.

“I’m not an idiot,” Damon snapped back, unable to keep from rising to the bait, “and I’m not heartless.  Of course I’ll make sure she gets back.  I’ll protect her until it’s the last two.  And then I’ll end it.”

Giuseppe’s eyes met Damon’s and searched them.  Finally, the elder nodded once.  “Good man.”  He turned but didn’t leave the room.  Several quiet moments passed before Giuseppe attempted to say anything more.  Speaking to the door, his voice floated back to Damon’s tense and quivering form by the chair next to the window.  “You’re just like her, you know.”

“Steph?”

Giuseppe slowly shook his head from left to right.  “Your mother.”  And then he stepped out and the heavy wooden door shut behind him hollowly. 

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They sat on the train and ate dinner – a real, full-fledged feast in comparison to what they usually ate, which at best sometimes included squirrel or rabbit they bargained for from the District’s two poachers, Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne.  Damon ate more than he’d ever eaten in his life and then some, so eager to taste everything in front of him as he was.  There were sweets and roasts and wine and mashes potatoes and chicken and cheese rolls . . . the list went on and on.  Stephanie’s eyes were the size of their dinner plates and tried to keep pace with Damon as they wolfed down their food with greedy fingers.  Effie wasn’t pleased at their lack of table manners, but excused them because of their “poor upbringing.”

“We’ll be teaching you how to properly . . . use etiquette . . . before we reach the Capitol,” She said loftily and sniffed.  Her hair floated around his face in obnoxious pink curls.  Damon didn’t even want to think about the atrociously bright colors her wardrobe was adorned with.

“Where’s Haymitch?” Stephanie politely inquired.  She swung her legs beneath the table and blinked up at Effie.  She was still in her reaping dress – a bright red corduroy thing – and her nice black shoots that only had a bit of coal dust on them.  Steph’s long hair was pulled back into a braid that fell just passed her shoulder blades.

“Right here,” Haymitch Abernathy grunted as he dropped down sluggishly into a chair across from Damon.  He set a bottle of amber liquid onto the table and poured himself a tall glass.  Then he started to drink it like it was milk.  Steph’s eyebrows hiked up on her forehead and Damon admitted to himself that Haymitch was slightly more impressive than even Alaric was – concerning his drinking habit that was.

Damon reached for his own glass and the bottle; Effie clucked in disapproval.

“I’ll be dead in the next few weeks anyway.” He rolled his eyes. “So what’s the harm of drinking something now?”

Stephanie flinched.  “You’re not going to die,” She said evenly, entirely too adult and yet so naïve.  “You’re going to make it back to Twelve.” Steph leveled Damon a stern glance and then a soft, fluttery one to Haymitch.  “You’re going to help him get back home to Father, right Mr. Abernathy?”

The little devil.  Haymitch arched his raggedy brows and then gave Damon a quick glance.  “Sorry, doll face, but I don’t think either of you are going to make it back, to tell the truth.  The other tributes this year look tough.”

“Damon’s tougher,” Steph insisted.  “He’s strong and handsome and charming; the Capitol likes that.”

“Well, aren’t you just a little genius,” Haymitch drawled, but Damon could see that the older man was at least a little impressed – Damon supposed that his usual tributes were too downtrodden and tearful to think about strategy.

“Steph, give us a minute,” Damon said suddenly and dismissively. 

“Damon,” Her voice rose into a tone dangerously reminiscent of a whine as she turned to glare at him.

“Stephanie,” Damon said sharply and Steph’s brows furrowed before she finally – slowly – acquiesced.  Effie collected her and took the small girl down the hallway towards her room.  Steph shot Damon curious glances over her shoulder the entire way.  Damon refused to meet her gaze.

“Well, now that you’ve got me alone,” Haymitch snorted.  “What do you want?”  He poured more alcohol into his glass and took a long, slow swig.  Damon wondered if he was going to remember this conversation at all in the morning.

“One of us is going to win,” Damon said flatly, “and I’m going to make sure it’s her.  But she’s twelve and self-righteous.  I need your help to tell me how to keep her hands clean and unharmed.  So if you’d be so obliged . . .” He leant forward and hissed into Haymitch’s ear, “Tell me how to murder the other twenty two tributes in the arena.”

Haymitch leaned back into his chair, fingers laced behind his head.  Damon tapped irritably on the table.  “I might be able to think of a few workable strategies.”

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The first thing they were supposed to do when they reached the Capitol – a very colorful and interesting and busy place – was head directly towards the Remake Center, where the siblings were promptly split up and sent to separate rooms with different stylists and prep teams.  Stephanie worried her lip as she was led away, but kept herself focused on the moment.

There would be plenty of time to worry about her brother in the arena.

Her stylist was a pale woman in her thirties, who had a sly smile that instantly made Stephanie want to shiver.   Her style was relatively tame compared to the other Capitol fashion elite – she had golden tattoos on her shoulders and collar bone, and diamonds embedded into her ears, but there was nothing animalistic about her.  No, there was something about Isobel Flemming that just unsettled Stephanie.  It was Isobel’s last year for being the District 12 stylist; she will be moving up to District 9 next year, which is arguably a better work placement. 

In the meantime, Steph was stuck with her.

“This won’t do . . . much too hairy . . . good complexion . . . but some horrid scars . . .” And on and on.  Stephanie waited patiently as Isobel and the three other of her prep team decided to fix Steph up to base beauty and then work from there. 

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Her stylist must have coordinated with Damon’s, Stephanie realized when she saw her brother as they readied themselves to mount their chariot; they’d conspired to make District 12 look like coal this year.  Stephanie had been wrangled into a close fitting silky dress and elaborately done up makeup, which was a bit ostentatious for a twelve year old.  On the other hand, what she was outfitted in was far tamer than what Damon’s stylist had come up with; her brother was covered in what looked like to be soot all over his body and the only real clothing on him was a scrap of black cloth covering his crotch and rear.

Stephanie arched her brows when she saw him.  Neutrally, she said, “Father will be appalled.” And then she smirked.

Damon rolled his eyes and held out his hand for his sister; together, they climbed into their chariot that would take them to the Training Center.  “My stylist’s said that I’ve got it,” He said wryly, “and so there was really only one thing to do.”

“And what’s that?” Stephanie teased.

“Flaunt it.” He gave her a wicked smirk and Stephanie giggled behind her hands.

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The training center was . . . interesting.  It was full of the other twenty-two children from the Districts and there were many instant alliances that happened before their very eyes.  Haymitch had warned them about the Careers – not that the Salvatores needed advice about them or anything; Damon and Stephanie saw every year on the compensatory broadcasting of the Hunger Games that the Careers banded together and hardly ever accepted alliances from other Districts and most definitely wouldn’t want District 12.  So the volunteers from District 1, 2, and 4 stuck together and it was apparent that they all mostly respected each other, even if they didn’t particularly like each other.  The youngest of them was perhaps the District 2 girl – Davina Claire – who was sixteen.  The others were all at least seventeen and looked to have trained for this for years. 

“Haymitch said to not show them your strengths,” Stephanie reminded Damon as they previewed the other tributes and the different stations.  “Save that for your one-on-one training with the Game Makers.”

Damon only waved her off though.  “I paid attention, don’t worry.  Let’s split up and meet up again later.”

“We’ll cover more ground and maybe make some alliances,” Steph nodded.  “Good idea.”  She left Damon and headed towards the rope tying station, where a pretty blonde girl was struggling with a knot.

“Hello,” Stephanie greeted quietly.

The blonde flung down the rope and huffed.  “Seriously?!  I’m never going to get this right!”

“We could figure it out together,” Steph suggested quietly.  “I’ve never done much with knots either.”

The blonde sighed.  “Anything to help; my mentor said that I needed to work on the survival skills stuff before I tried anything with the weapons, but this is impossible.”

“I’m Stephanie,” Steph stuck out her hand.

“Caroline,” The blonde smiled and flashed her pearly white teeth, “from District 3.  We make a bunch of the techie stuff, but,” Caroline lowered her voice into a whisper, “I’ve never been very good at any of that stuff.  My dad is super disappointed and I think he hopes that I make him proud in the arena.”

Stephanie tried to smile encouragingly.  “I’ m sure you’ll be fine.”

Caroline beamed.  “Where are you from?”

“District 12,” Stephanie said and she joined the bubbly blonde at her station.  Together with the help of the station master, they managed to construct a few very crude, loose knots.  “Where’s your District partner?” Stephanie inquired a little later.  Caroline’s tongue poked out of her mouth as she worked a slightly more complicated knot.

“He’s around,” Caroline gestured vaguely in the direction of the spears.  Suddenly and without any apparent cause, the girl burst into loud, carrying sobs.  Steph’s eyes widened in surprise, but she stepped forwards and gave Caroline a soft hug.  “He’s my best friend’s little brother, you know?  And I just don’t know how we’re going to get through this!” She wailed inconsolably.  “What if I win like my dad wants me to?  What do I tell Elena?  I can’t go home without Jeremy!”

Stephanie, despite what she’d said earlier, doubted that Caroline would be winning with people like this year’s Careers mutilating the practice dummies, but did not say as much.  Instead, she gripped the taller girl tighter.

“You’ll think of something,” Stephanie comforted.  “She’s your best friend – she can’t be too angry with you for trying to survive.”

Caroline sniffled.  “But who am I kidding?  Those big guys from 1 and 2 are going to chew me up and spit me out the first day.”

“Hey,” Stephanie rebuked, “Don’t think like that.”  She felt a little bad, telling this clearly very sweet girl that she was going to get out of this alive when Stephanie had serious doubts about that and in addition, would be actively working to keep her older brother alive.

Caroline gave Steph a watery smile.  “You’re sweet.  Come on; let’s go to the fire making station?”

“Sure,” Stephanie said warmly.

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Damon watched Steph and the little blonde girl move stations and wondered if he should warn her about making friends in the arena.

As if he was reading his mind, the boy approached.   He looked to be the same age as Damon, and a volunteer as well.  He drawled in something very close to the Capitol’s accent, “You really should discourage the mite from reaching out to the others; especially weak little things like that girl from 3.  That alliance will go nowhere fast, mate.”  When Damon said nothing, the boy bared his teeth in a savage grin.  He asked, “What can you do?”

“Ah, that’s for me to know and for you to . . . dot, dot, dot,” Damon trailed off with an enthralling smirk.   

The District 1 boy laughed.  “Klaus Mikaelson,” He introduced.  “Did you know that I came into this with my sister too?”

Damon felt something clench in his gut.  Was this guy trying to throw him off his game?  Get Damon to sympathize with him?  “Am I supposed to care?  You’re a Career, mate.  You little shits prepare for this your entire lives.”

Klaus’ lips curled.  “Just thought it was curious, is all, mate.  How many times do siblings get put into the arena together, let alone multiple sets?”

It was a valid question, but not one conducive to Damon’s goal for this Hunger Games.  “Don’t know, don’t care.  Have fun with your Career buddies, Klaus.”  Damon sidestepped the curly blond headed Career and headed towards the knife station; he’d really like to learn to throw them.

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For her one-on-one with the Gamemakers, Stephanie picked up a knife, balanced it onto her palm, and decapitated one of the dummies with it.

She didn’t tell anyone.

(She received a 7).

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For his one-on-one with the Gamemakers, Damon chose a spear and skewered two dummies to the back wall.

He bragged about it.

(He received an 8).

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The interview process felt much longer than it actually was.

First there were the preparations, and then the extremely long wait as Caesar Flickerman went through every tribute, female then male.  The man himself looked just as plastic fake as the rest of the Capitol with his blood red suit and the little light bulbs decorating it, along with the extravagant make-up and the obvious (and obnoxious) skin and hair treatments – everything about him that year was dripping, bloody red.  He was loud and charismatic (insomuch as a Capitol man could be, anyway), and very, very optimistic.

Damon hated him.

“Welcome to the 69th Hunger Games!” Caesar crowed and the crowd went absolutely ballistic.  The host jumped to his feet and raised his hands, eager to get his audience louder and to show their enthusiasm.  “I got a behind the scenes look at this year’s tributes,” Caesar winked, “and let me tell you, they are gorgeous!  And all of them appear to have big personalities – I’m looking forward to finding out your favorites!  Let’s welcome District One’s female tribute . . . Rebekah Mikaelson!”

The audience screamed as a blonde bombshell stepped out onto the stage; she was tall and curvy, and Damon could see a slight resemblance between her and Klaus.  She had big blue eyes and a charming smile that awed the crowd.  Her dress was a strapless, canary yellow thing that fell in waves below her waist – he had to admit that she was certainly attractive.  Her long blonde hair was pulled to the side and held there by a matching yellow butterfly clip.

“Hello, my dear,” Caesar cooed and kissed the girl’s hand.  “Have a seat, have a seat,” He encouraged and then sat down in his chair as well.  “How old are you, sweetheart?”

“Fifteen,” Rebekah Mikaelson articulated clearly, in a carrying, bell-like voice.  She certainly did not look fifteen.

Caesar was of the same opinion.  “But you’re a beautiful rose, my dear!  Just lovely.  You look older than you are – and that’s a compliment, I assure you.  I’m sure the Capitol loves you, right everyone?”  The audience screamed and catcalled, absolutely wild.  Rebekah looked down pretended to flush.

“So, I understand that you didn’t volunteer this year?” Caesar asked gently.

“No,” Rebekah shook her head.  “I would have when I was eighteen, you understand.  But the Capitol obviously wants me now, and . . .” She gave a wicked grin that did not at all fit her so tactic so far – soft and sweet – “I love to please a crowd.”  It set off the audience again and Caesar brayed with delighted laughter.

Damon sighed and settled down for a long wait.  Next to him, Stephanie clutched his hand.  Rebekah’s interview focused on her home life – she had three brothers besides Klaus, two of which were too old to be reaped and had never volunteered, and the other was just a year older than her and sounded like a psychopath – and how she was just devastated that she had to come with this particular brother. 

“We’re going to ally with each other, of course,” The girl said firmly and the crowd roared. 

“Of course,” Caesar had immediately agreed.  When Rebekah’s time was up, Klaus was called to the stage in a black suit and tie, which was a surprisingly tame outfit for Capitol standards, and he smirked at Caesar and the Capitol like he was made for the public’s entertainment.  Hell, he was, now – made for the Capitol’s entertainment, that was.  His dimples had the women swooning. 

His interview was different from his sister’s, and was much more strategic than pity inspiring – he was going to convince them he was the best killer.  “I’m going to destroy anyone who tries to kill my darling sister,” Klaus told them with a charming grin, “and I will wear a smile on my face when I do it.”

Damon believed that he would try.

After the Mikaelsons, two of the other tributes from the Career pack were called out – a seventeen year old Marcel and a fourteen year old Davina – who played the charming and charismatic childhood friends.  District three had the thirteen year old Caroline Forbes and the twelve year old Jeremy Gilbert – both were tiny and Caesar and the audience adored them. 

“I have to help Jeremy win,” Caroline Forbes confessed to Caesar, “because he’s my best friend’s little brother and I promised.  And I just can’t break a promise.”

District Four had two fierce looking eighteen year olds – a boy with a military styled hair cut called Brady, and a fiery haired girl with sultry lips called Sage.  Volunteers, this year.  They played their parts well – him, the well trained Career, and her, the beautiful seductress.

District Five had two easily forgotten tributes this year – a cocky boy named Ben, and a flighty, airheaded girl named Aimee.  District Six was slightly more interesting, with its burly boy Tyler Lockwood, and its snarky blonde Lexi Branson, who charmed both Caesar and the Capitol with her innuendos, quick wit, and a sharp smile.

“And now, we welcome District Seven’s very own . . . Katherine Pierce!”  The boy, Galen Vaughn, had been unremarkable, but Katherine was drop-dead gorgeous.  And smart.

“Hello, Caesar,” Katherine greeted with a secret smile.  “How’s the wife?”  Her voice lowered a little, turning husky and alluring.

Caesar grinned.  “Wonderful!  But, I must ask – how’d you know I had one?  The dear is a bit camera shy, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I have my ways,” Katherine winked a little and the crowd fell a little bit in love with her and her long brown curls, bright red lips, and black pointed nails.

District Eight’s Trevor and Rose were best friends and childhood sweethearts; District Nine’s Daniel and Mindy were angry spitfires, but ultimately forgettable.  District Ten’s Matt and April were earnest and noble both – Damon was sure they’d be killed instantly in the bloodbath at the cornucopia.  District Eleven’s tributes were on fire.

Or rather, the girl was. 

“Bonnie Bennett, my dear, you look angry tonight?  Something the matter?” Caesar inquired gently.

Bonnie Bennett, a dark skinned beauty that was maybe fourteen snorted derisively.  “Is something the matter?  No.  I’ve only been chosen to fight to the death in an arena for the entertainment of a bunch of stuck up snobs.  And on the off chance that I do win, it’ll be because I murdered children.  It’s despicable.”

The crowd was dead silent.  Next to him, Stephanie whispered, “I like her.”

“She’s Judgy.  It’s dangerous.” Damon gave Steph a wicked smile.  “She’s alright.”

And then, finally, they reached District Twelve.

“Stephanie, dear, sit, sit,” Caesar urged and Steph ran her hands over the skirt of her dress and sat on the guest chair.  “Hello, and welcome to the Capitol!  What do you enjoy the most so far?”

“The food, I should think,” Stephanie said with a slight smile that Haymitch had said would make them all love her.  It worked in District 12, anyway.  “We don’t have anything like it at home.”

“I bet you don’t,” Caesar said sympathetically.  “Anything else?”

Stephanie shrugged.  “I miss my own bed.  But I know that I won’t get to sleep in it ever again.”

The crowd awed as one and Caesar pulled a sympathetic face.  “Now, don’t say that, darling.  I’m sure you have a fair chance of getting home again.”  It was blatant lie on his part, but he didn’t know what Damon was planning.

Stephanie resolutely shook her head.  “I’m not going home, but that’s okay, Mr. Flickerman.”

Something in Caesar’s eyes flashed.  “And why is that, dear?”  Damon sat forward in his chair in the lounge, curious despite himself.

“Because even though I want to go home, I want my brother to live even more,” Stephanie shared quietly, in her soft and compelling voice.  Her face was earnest and her eyes determined.  “He deserves to go home and marry the girl he wants to and have children if he’d like.  He could use the Victor’s money and not have to go down in the mines – Damon’s never wanted to go into the mines, see – he can do whatever he likes.”

“But don’t you deserve to live too?” Caesar asked quietly.

Stephanie was firm.  “I have to save my brother.  He always takes care of me and now I’m going to help take care of him.  I love him.”

Caesar wiped away tears – real or not, Damon wasn’t sure – and the crowd was nearly bawling.  The timer went off and Stephanie stood, curtseyed a little, and left them to it.  She passed Damon and said nary a word to him.  Damon was forced onto the stage, where he stuck on a plastic smile and shook Caesar’s hand. 

“Welcome, welcome,” Caesar greeted a little more soberly.  “My first question, of course, has to be – what do you think of what your sister shared?”

“She’s naïve,” Damon said and leaned back in his chair as casual as you please, “Especially if she thinks I’m going to let her sacrifice herself for me.  And let’s be honest, Caesar – can I call you Caesar? – Stephanie is twelve.  She’s not going to be making any big kills.  She’s my baby sister and I know her; she’s not capable of murdering anyone. 

“But that’s fine,” Damon assured the crowd, turning towards them.  “She’s innocent.  That’s what makes Stephanie, Stephanie.  I wouldn’t have her any other way.”

“So you’re going to trying to her out of the arena?” Caesar clarified.

“Of course,” Damon smirked and the audience cheered.

“Now, moving on to slightly cheerier topics,” Caesar guided, “you’re a handsome lad,” he addressed the crowd, “isn’t he?” They roared.  “Do you have a girl at home?”

“No, but do you think that District Seven girl will give me her number?” Damon grinned and several people whistled.  The cameras shot to Katherine Pierce’s face and she blew him a kiss, making the crowd grow louder.  She winked.

“I do believe so!” Caesar crowed.  “Now, Damon, can you explain your challenge score?  Or even your sister’s?  District 12 hasn’t had such fierce competitors in a long time . . .”

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The day the Hunger Games arrived was a quick one.  Stephanie was roused from bed and dressed in sturdy clothes, a parka and boots, a tracker injected into her flesh, and she was transported to a plane next to her brother and the girl from District 11.  She clasped hands with Damon and didn’t let go until they landed and she forced away and into a room with only a tall, clear cylinder than ran up to the ceiling.

“That’s your pod that’ll take you up to the arena,” One of the guards gruffly explained.  He made sure she was in it well before shutting her inside.  All sound was cut off from her little pod, and so she had no indication of when she was going up until she was jarred off her feet.  The ceiling rapidly approached and then opened to clear blue sky, and she was thrust into the open air.  The durable plastic fell back and left her on her stand.

The arena had been many things in the past: cities, deserts, mountains . . . but never anything quite like that year’s.  Stephanie blinked and wondered if she was dreaming because everything around her was coated in a blanket of thick, white snow.  Big, fat flakes fell from the sky and tickled her snow and dusted her dark hair.  She shivered in her thick parka that her style team had shoved her into.  Her eyes sought out her brother, but she didn’t immediately locate him.

The tributes were set up in a circle like every Hunger Games, with the cornucopia in the center.  Ice and snow covered the top of it, and a chilly wind blew the snow around in the air.  To the left of them were the mountains, and to the right was a large, frozen over pond.  There was a forest dead ahead of her and if Steph craned her neck behind, she could see just a vast, empty land of snow.

She rubbed her hands together and hoped she didn’t get frostbite.

The timer counted down and finally, they were released from their stands.  The tributes around her ran off towards the cornucopia, though Stephanie spied a couple running straight to the woods to avoid the coming bloodbath.  Stephanie darted into the crowd of children and teenagers, ducking around many much taller tributes, and thanked the powers that be that she was as small as she was.  She pumped her legs frantically and dived into the cornucopia and snagged one of survival packs and a dagger before tucking in her legs and rolling out of the fray.  Behind her, Steph heard shrill screams and the sharp clang of weapons.  She didn’t look back.

She sprinted toward the forest and worried about the tracks in the snow; the Careers could easily hunt her down and slit her throat in the night.  But there was nothing to do about it; she had no way of clearing her tracks and getting away at the same time without delaying herself further.   Steph broke the tree line and settled several feet in behind a bush and caught her breath.   She panted as she used her trembling fingers to grapple with the survival pack she’d gotten and fumbled with the opening.  Inside was treasure after beautiful treasure; there was jerky, water, matches, and an insulated blanket. 

Nearby, a twig snapped.

Stephanie’s head shot up and she gripped the dagger in her hand, raising it.

“It’s me,” A familiar voice hissed and Steph relaxed a little.  Caroline’s friendly visage popped up and behind her was a boy the same height as she, but he had light brown hair and hazel eyes.  “This is Jeremy, my best friend’s brother.”  Jeremy grunted in response.

“Hi,” Steph waved her cold fingers.  She looked at Caroline.  “Did you see Damon at the cornucopia?”

Caroline worried her lip.  “Yeah, but he was fighting with that boy from Five.  You know the one who used the spears in the training center?”

Stephanie licked her lips and thought about Damon fighting someone.

“I’m sure he’s fine!” Caroline rushed to reassure Stephanie.  “He’s older than that other boy, and he got an 8 on his challenge score, so I’m sure Damon will do just fine!” She was almost squeaking.

“I need to go back for him,” Steph said seriously and she stood, stretching.  “Thank you for telling me about it.”

“Wait!  We should just stay here until he gets back, you know?  You’d just be a distraction while he’s fighting anyway,” Caroline appealed.  “We can make an alliance.”

Stephanie looked at Caroline and Jeremy and wondered how she and Damon were supposed to kill them so that one of the Salvatore’s could get out of the Hunger Games alive.  “Okay.”  She wouldn’t think about it until later.  Caroline sagged, visibly grateful, and even Jeremy’s lips quirked into a small smile. 

“You want to share the blanket?  I don’t think we should use the matches unless there’s an emergency,” Stephanie said and she and the tributes from Three huddled together beneath the insulated blanket and waited.

And waited.

That night, Damon had yet to find them, and the canons were firing as the anthem started up.  Steph shot up and her eyes searched the night sky immediately.  Pictures of the dead tributes flashed as Caroline and Jeremy stirred to watch the proceedings as well.

It skipped over the first four districts, surprising Stephanie.  Five’s Aimee Bradley was gone, along with Eight’s Trevor, both of Nine’s tributes Daniel Warren and Mindy, and Ten’s April Young. 

“Only five dead from the bloodbath,” Jeremy said gravely, really speaking for the first time.  “That’s got to be some kind of record.”

Steph pressed her lips together.  “The Gamemakers won’t like that.”

Caroline shivered.  “At least your brother isn’t dead,” She offered and Stephanie nodded, relieved.  She hugged her arms around herself and wondered what had happened to her brother if he hadn’t been killed.

Where are you, Damon?

.

.

.

Damon was lost.

Damon was fucking lost.

He’d fought with that snotty brat, Ben from Five, over a beautiful spear (which Damon had won), and then proceeding to stab the kid in the gut with it.  He didn’t think Ben would last the night, even if he hadn’t been killed by someone else during the bloodbath.  Damon had then headed towards the forest and got turned around.  So he was really fucking lost.

He only had the spear on him and he hoped that Stephanie had managed to snatch one of the bags and that she was safe somewhere in the forest where none of the Careers would find her.  He scowled down at the snow and shivered in his thick parka.  District 12’s winters were cold, but it seemed that the Gamemakers had done something to the arena’s temperature to put everyone at a disadvantage.

Damon took another step but froze when he felt the tip of an arrow at his back.

“Don’t move.”  Whoever it was dragged the arrow’s head down his neck to make their point.

“If you wanted to have sex with me, all you had to do was ask,” Damon said cockily, even as his heart raced in his chest.  “This might get a little kinky with the bow and arrow though.”

“You’re a real riot,” The person behind him said.  “Now, turn around slowly.  If you even think about raising that spear, I tear it in half and skewer you with it.  Your intestines will become your out-testines and the Capitol will see that your pretty face is just to disguise your nasty insides.”

Damon obliged and found that the girl who was holding him at arrow-point was the previously sunny girl from 8, Rose-Marie.  Her brown hair was cut short and her eyes were fierce as they took Damon in.  No longer was she the happy teenage girl, who was going into the arena with her boyfriend.  She’d already lost Trevor in the bloodbath.

“So, how can I help you?” Damon drawled. 

“Where’s your sister?” Rose-Marie demanded.

“I don’t know, Rose-Marie, where’s Trevor?” Damon asked slyly.

Rose-Marie brought the bow back up.  “First, it’s Rose.  Second, you saw the anthem play; he’s dead.  But your sister isn’t.  I thought you were going to watch her?”

“Got separated in the bloodbath,” Damon answered honestly. 

“Make an alliance with me,” Rose demanded and Damon wiggled both brows, bemused.

“Why?  I was just kidding about the sex, what with the entire country watching, but if you’re into that kind of thing . . .”

“Pig,” Rose snorted.  “No.  I’ll help you find your sister.  You both got fairly good scores and my District partner is dead; I need some people on my side to keep the Career pack at bay.  Everyone is going to underestimate District 12 because you haven’t had a victor since the 2nd Quarter Quell.  That’ll help us survive.”

Damon tried and failed to keep the surprise off of his face.  He certainly had not been expecting that.  “Deal.”

Rose grinned for the first time and lowered her boy.  “Good.  But if you try and double cross me before the Career pack is dead, I’ll smother you in your sleep.”

“Joy.”

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.

“Should we move on?” Caroline asked hesitantly in the morning.  Her lips had a bluish tint to them, which concerned Stephanie.  Jeremy was shivering.  Steph deliberated.  She wanted to find Damon, and she thought if they stayed in once place they might have a better chance of him finding them.  On the other hand, it couldn’t be particularly safe for them to be sitting ducks for the Career pack.  And they could be well on the way to frostbite if they didn’t start moving around.

“Might as well,” Stephanie decided and stood.  She repacked their bag and led the way deeper into the forest.  “Maybe we can find a thicket to hide out in during the night.

“We could build an igloo,” Caroline giggled.  “It could look like a snow fort.”

“And we might as well build a snowman too,” Jeremy muttered.  “That would totally be unnoticeable.”  He grumbled some more, making Caroline slump.  Stephanie patted the blonde’s shoulder in reassurance.

“It’s a nice idea, but Jeremy’s right.  We can’t risk doing anything too risky.  Maybe we can build a small one if it comes to that.”  Steph smiled when Caroline perked right back up like a sunny flower.  A moment later, all of their stomach’s growled.  They eyed the bag on Steph’s back.  “We need to access that frozen pond; this jerky isn’t going to last very long if all three of us continue to eat it.  We can melt snow for water.”

The trio traced their steps back to their starting point and headed out of the forest and toward the cornucopia.  The Careers were worryingly absent, but they weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  They took advantage of the opportunity and sprinted across the snow with stumbling feet and met the pond.

Jeremy inspected the frozen water and took a delicate step onto the pond; it didn’t as much as groan.  He took another step and put some more pressure onto it.  He jumped and Caroline bit her nails.  The ice cracked, and Stephanie’s arm shot out and snatched Jeremy’s elbow and yanked him backwards, just in time.  The crack grew and spread, making the ice groan and creak.  A crevasse opened up in the water, revealing a smooth surface beneath it.  The trio of children smiled at each other.

“Does anyone know how to ice fish?” Caroline asked quietly.

Jeremy opened his mouth but did not get a chance to say anything at all; there was whizzing noise in the air and then the twelve year old boy was choking on his blood.  He fell face first into the snow.  A cannon fired.

A spear was embedded in the back of his head.

Caroline and Stephanie screamed, scrabbling backwards towards the icy water.  Steph looked upward and saw the boy from Five, Ben, bearing down on them.  He was holding his stomach and blood was pouring through his fingers, dying the snow the same color.  His face was paper white and his eyes bloodshot.  “You’re next,” He rasped at the two girls.  Ben stumbled and fell to his knees, but stood himself up again and careened towards Caroline.  The blonde covered her eyes and screeched in terror.  Stephanie grappled for her knife and launched herself onto Ben’s back, scrabbling for purchase.  Ben roared and tried to rip her off of him, but he was weak from blood loss and blinded by ugly fury.  Steph took her knife and using all of her power, shoved it into the back of the boy’s neck.  She fell off of him as Ben stopped moving and fell in the snow.

Another cannon fired.

And Ben’s head hung at an angle from his neck.

Caroline was trembling, eyes wide in horror and Stephanie scrambled to her side, hands comforting and her words soothing.  The blonde’s eyes were wild and she turned her head just in time to throw up everything in her stomach.  She dry heaved several times as Stephanie rubbed her back and put her actions in the back of her mind.

Steph tried not to think about how little remorse she felt for killing Ben McKittrick. 

.

.

.

Haymitch was sitting in the lounge of the training center, draining a glass of brandy when Caesar and Claudius Templesmith came onto the screen with surprised faces and eager chatter.  He was about to leave when he caught the name of one of his tributes.  He froze.

“– and she just made her first kill.  It was gory, let me tell you – I loved it!”

“But certainly no one expected this from someone so . . .”

“Young?  Small?  But clearly we’ve underestimated her.  I really think that Stephanie is going to be a major competitor in the Games this year.”

Haymitch watched the footage they had on a loop, a constant replay of the scene Claudius and Caesar were debating.  The arena was a snowy hell hole that year, and there was Stephanie and the tributes from Three at the pond.  One moment the boy was talking, the next, dead.  Then the boy from Five was on the scene, and Stephanie turned almost unrecognizable as she attacked him, burying her knife into the boy’s flesh and instantly killing him.

He drained the rest of his brandy.

“Mister Abernathy?  There’s someone on the phone that wants to sponsor your girl.”

Haymitch chuckled darkly.

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.

.

“So, what did you do all day before you came to the arena?”

“We’re not playing twenty questions.”

“I flirted with girls, did a little bit of illegal hunting, and argued with my dad.  Your turn.”

Rose had had it up to here with Damon Bloody Salvatore and she was beginning to regret allying with him.  The first evening of their alliance they’d watched the sky for Damon’s sister’s face, but only saw Jeremy Gilbert’s, Matt Donovan’s, and Ben McKittrick’s.  They’d let out a collective breath of relief.  They were on day three of their alliance and no one else had died, and they were on edge because the Capitol loved a blood bath and the Gamemakers always obliged the Capitol’s wants.  They were waiting for a natural disaster or a feast or something to happen that would get a bunch of them together.

There was a constant pit in Rose’s stomach that was Trevor shaped, but if Damon continued to irritate her, she might just become too annoyed to focus on it, which was the only thing at that point that was keeping him alive.  Because honestly, that boy was a pain in her ass.

“I have no siblings,” Rose finally said.  “My mum practically adopted Trevor into the family when we were seven.”

Damon grinned victoriously. 

A twig cracked and the two readied their weapons.  An axe came flying at them through the air and embedded itself into a tree behind them.  Rose let an arrow loose but it went wide, missing the shadowy figure ahead of them.  The person laughed loftily.

“Missed me,” Her husky voice whispered.  Another axe came at them and the duo ducked, but found them being shoved to the ground from behind.  “Leave me the boy, Brady.  I want to play first.”  The ginger girl from Four smirked at them as she walked forward.

Brady, her District partner, grunted.  “As long as he’s dead by the end of the day, I don’t give a flying crap about what you do with him.”

“Looks like we just wandered into the Career camp,” Damon huffed and Brady’s foot jammed into the middle of his back.  Damon grunted.

“No shit,” Rose growled and Sage stepped on her extended left hand.  The bones cracked and the girl’s screams were shrill and painful to listen to.

“So where’s the rest of the pack?” Damon tried to distract Sage and Brady.  “Out hunting?”

“You’re not nearly as witty as you think you are,” Sage drawled and set the tip of her axe on Damon’s nose.  She leant forward and exerted a little pressure, drawing blood.  “And not half as clever.”  She leant down and picked up Rose’s bow and examined it.  “Brady?”

Brady snatched it and threw the instrument into a tree trunk, breaking it.  Rose half snarled, half cried and Sage stepped on her other hand.  Damon winced in sympathy while his mind raced with ways to get out of the mess they were in. 

“Looks like you won’t be using your hands for anything else again,” Sage shrugged.  “Too bad; you seemed fairly talented with the bow.”  Rose struggled and Sage retrieved one of her axes and swung it down, hard.  Brady turned when she screamed – an anguished, blood curdling sound – and Damon took advantage of the other’s distraction.  He whirled to his feet, snatched his spear and impaled it through Brady’s knee.  Brady went down, Sage shrieked, and Rose limped to her feet.  Damon grabbed his spear, and lending Rose an arm, sprinted away from the scene.  They had to duck two axes thrown their way, but they missed and no cannons fired.  They were not pursued. 

They found a place to stay in the forest a while later, and breathed in quick, panicky breaths as the adrenaline drained out of their systems. 

“That was close,” Damon tried to joke.  There was no answer besides the girl’s sobs.  “Rose?”

“Shut up!” Rose moaned and leant against his shoulder, “Shut up shutupshutup –“

“Rose!” Damon searched for the source of her pain and felt his face pale when he found it.  Sage had used her axe and cut Rose’s arm at the elbow, leaving a very short stump.  “Oh, God.  Oh God, oh God.  Rose, don’t look.”

Rose looked and shrieked.  “It’s gone – my arm, it’s gone, Damon –”

“Shh, shh,” Damon rocked her.  “Hey, hey, it’s going to be okay.  Look at my face.  Look at my face.”  His blue eyes captured her gaze and held it there.  “Stay still, okay?”  He stripped his parka and immediately felt the cold, but kept going.  He found his undershirt, took it off, and then put his jacket back on.  He tore the thin shirt into strips and wrapped Rose’s stump, but the blood was very quickly seeping through.

“Make sure to keep watch,” Rose rasped, her voice almost gone from screaming.

“Can do, Captain,” Damon smirked half-heartedly as Rose slipped into an uneasy, painful sleep.  Her hand – the one left – was swelling rapidly, looking purple and her fingers were bent out of shape.  He frowned at them while Rose slumbered, and thought about splinting the fingers with some sticks and cloth.

His stomach growled at him and reminded Damon that he hadn’t eaten it a couple of days.

“We are so screwed,” He whispered.   A beeping alerted him, and Damon’s head craned upwards to see a parachute coming toward them.  He snatched it out of the air and tore it open.  Inside was a note from Rose’s mentor and enough breath for both Damon and Rose to eat.  Most importantly, it held bandages.

“Rose, Rose,” Damon nudged her.

“Hm?”

“Your mentor gave us a present.”  But she was already asleep again.

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.

.

Stephanie and Caroline had left the pond immediately, as they had no use for it anymore and it was far too exposed to linger.  Caroline was in a state of shock, so Stephanie probed her on and took care of the older girl as if she were a sister.  They burrowed in the brush at the tree line and ate jerky, having failed to figure out a way to fish without any tools or Jeremy to tell them how.  A craft had touched to down to pick both Ben and Jeremy’s bodies up.  Caroline had cried.

At the moment, they were huddled up together, hoping that their joined body temperature would warm them up, combined with the insulated blanket.

There was high pitched beeping noise above their heads that had Stephanie reaching for her dagger and moving into a better stance to protect Caroline.  Instead of a threat though, it was a parachute from some sponsors.  It floated down, and the two girls slowly opened it up to find hot drinks and warm food to fill their hollow bellies.

“Thank you,” Steph whispered and began rationing out their food and drinks between themselves and made sure there was some being saved for later.

That night, Luka Martin from Eleven and Davina Claire from Two died.  Could have been frostbite or murder – there was no telling.

Stephanie and Caroline slept peacefully with the knowledge there were only eleven others, discounting themselves and Damon Salvatore left.

.

.

.

Several days passed quietly, with no events or deaths.  Caroline and Stephanie stayed huddled together in their shrubbery, and probably would have stayed if it weren’t for the fact that they had run out of food and water.  Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, a feast was called that day.

“They just want to get us all together,” Stephanie argued.  “We’ll get killed – it’ll be like the cornucopia all over again.”

“But we’re going to die if we stay out here!” Caroline snapped.  “We need stuff and no more sponsors have helped us out!  I’m going whether you come with me or not.”  She turned her back and started towards the cornucopia. 

Stephanie waited several seconds, but finally relented.  “Wait up,” She called.  “I’m coming with you.”  It wouldn’t be remiss if she could get another weapon as well.

They didn’t have far to go to reach the feast.  The cornucopia had been replaced by a long table that contained labeled places for each remaining district, and contained food, clothing, and weapons.  Across the snowy field, Caroline and Steph saw the girl from Seven dart towards her place and snatch all of her district’s supplies, leaving nothing for her district partner.  She saw them and threw the other girls a quick wink before disappearing back into the mountains.

“See?  Katherine Pierce did it,” Caroline pointed.  “So we can too.”

Stephanie narrowed her eyes and searched for anymore tributes, but saw none.  Not that they couldn’t have been hiding, in which case it was unlikely Steph would ever spot them until it was too late.  “Ready?”

Caroline nodded fiercely.  “Ready.”

Together, they ran across the snowy field, slipping and sliding on the ice, but managing to hold each other up.  They reached the table and searched for their districts’ things, and Stephanie left enough things for Damon, just in case he arrived.

“Let’s stay close, to see if Damon comes,” Stephanie said firmly.  “Okay?”

Caroline nodded her head swiftly.  “Sure.”  They turned to go back to the trees at least, for some cover, but stopped when they caught sight of a group of rowdy children heading their way.

“The Careers,” Caroline breathed and Stephanie’s heart raced.  Caroline was right; it was a group of six, made up of the tributes from One, the remaining tribute from Two, both of Four, and the boy from Six, who’d apparently joined them. 

“Care, we have to run very quickly,” Stephanie whispered.  “They’ll kill us.”

As if they were heard, Rebekah Mikaelson’s head snapped in their direction.  Slowly, a smile grew on her face.  “Two little mice out of burrow,” She sang, “Nik.  Let’s get them.”

The one called Marcel grinned, the white of his teeth contrasting with his dark skin.  “I’ll do the honors.”  He readied his spiked mace.

“It’s the sister of that bastard that took out my knee,” Brady from Four hissed.  “Let me.  Then I’ll brag to that kid that I was the one who took his sister out.”

“No, no, Marcel, Brady,” Niklaus stopped them.  “Let Tyler.  He’s yet to prove himself loyal.”  As one, they turned to look at the boy from Six.  The kid from Six, Tyler, bared his teeth.  And then he started towards them with no weapons of any kind.  It dawned on Stephanie with a detached kind of horror that he meant to kill them with his bare hands.  The other Careers stood back, eager to see the ensuing fight and hoping that Tyler would prove his worth.  Stephanie and Caroline ran like the hounds of hell were chasing them, but Tyler Lockwood was a large kid, much older than them, and very well fed.  He gained on the young girls quickly, grabbing for Caroline’s hair.  He snatched the curls and dragged her backward.

“Stephanie!” Caroline shrieked, terrified.  She lashed out and kicked Tyler, nailing him in the crotch.  His grip was loosened, but he refused to let go.  Distantly, they could hear the rest of the Career’s laughter.

Stephanie spun around and readied her dagger.  “Let her go!”  She snarled.

“Or what?  You’ll stop me?” Tyler asked when he caught his breath.  “I’d like to see you try.”  He wrapped his hands around Caroline’s neck and began to squeeze.  The blonde gasped for breath, eyes bugging out of her skull and her face was rapidly turning purple.

Steph saw red.  She took her dagger and stabbed Tyler in the thigh, making him cry out and drop Caroline into the snow.  “Run!” Stephanie screamed at her and Caroline took off with their supplies.  Steph ripped the dagger out of Tyler’s thigh while he was on the ground and he punched her in the nose.  She went sailing into the snow and when she looked down, she saw her blood dripping and turning the pure, white precipitation red.  She curled up and braced herself against Tyler’s vicious kick.  He bent down to strangle her, and that’s when she struck.  Stephanie took her dagger and dug it into his neck.  Tyler’s eyes widened in astonishment and he dropped to the ground.

His eyes were still round in surprise as he stopped breathing.  A cannon fired. 

Stephanie looked up to see the Career pack advancing towards her as one.  A hand on her arm startled her so badly, Steph dropped her knife.  She looked up to find the girl from Six standing over her, her blonde hair in a braid that hung down her back and her blue eyes were intense.  “I’m Lexi,” She said quietly, “and I need you to do something for me, okay?”

Stephanie swallowed.

“I need you to pick up your knife and find your friend.  Can you do that for me?  Get out of here.”  Stephanie stooped down, picked up her dagger, and sprinted off.  Behind her, she heard Lexi facing down the Career pack by herself.  “You guys think you’re tough?  Hunting down little girls?  Do you get off on that?”

There was ringing of steel on steel and the quiet intake of someone’s last breath.  And then another.  Two cannons fired.

Then it was quiet.

.

.

.

“She’s a regular ripper, isn’t she?”

“She sure is, Claudius.  She sure is.”

(Haymitch fielded several more calls.)

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.

“We missed the feast,” Damon said quietly to Rose, who was unresponsive.  Her body was burning up with fever and she tossed and turned, but Damon refused to leave her alone.  “There was probably medicine somewhere.”

It was dark.  The anthem played and Damon was almost afraid to look up, but he forced himself to.  Brady from Four was dead.  The both of Six’s tributes, Tyler Lockwood and Lexi Branson, dead.  The Games were crawling on and on, the tributes slowly but surely were killing themselves off.  Damon breathed a sigh of relief that Stephanie was not one of the deceased that evening.

Rose moaned.  “Hey.” Damon patted her cheek gently.  “Rose?”

“Damon,” She breathed.  “I’m dying.”

“Nah, tis just a scratch.” Damon’s voice cracked.

“Don’t . . . lie . . . to me,” Rose rasped.  “I thought . . . we were . . . friends?”

Damon laughed, but it was broken sound.  “Oh, we’re friends now?  Don’t die on me yet, okay?  Maybe we can get some medicine or something.  We could cauterize the wound, or –”

“And then what?” Rose asked, even as her eyes slid closed.  “You’re . . . going to . . . save Steph . . . anyway.  What’s the . . . point?”

Damon licked his dry, cracked lips.  “Gotta live as long as you can, you know?”

Rose shook her head weakly.  Her eyes were closed and a small smile curled onto her lips.  “I see Trevor.  He’s . . . waiting.”

Damon’s brows furrowed. “Rose?  Rose!  Trevor can wait a while longer.  Trevor can wait!”  Rose didn’t answer.  “Rose!” Damon reached down and pulled the girl into his lap and shook her.  A cannon fired and one lone, solitary tear slid down Damon’s cheek.  “Damn you, Rose-Marie.”  He pressed a kiss to her forehead and lied onto the cold, snowy ground of the cave they’d hidden in.  Damon rummaged around their packs and took everything he could.

He left the cave and Rose’s body and heard a craft in the distance.

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.

There were ten of them left.  Two more deaths and they’d be doing the final eight interviews with the families.  Damon wondered what their father would say about them.  What he’d say about the people they were becoming.  Damon wondered where Stephanie was, if she’d killed anyone, if she had any allies.

Damon heard someone hop down from the trees in front of him and he looked up.  “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the spear wielding miner’s brat from District 12,” Seven’s Vaughn drawled.  Damon was still raw from Rose’s death and not in the mood for this wiseass.

“Not the time, dick face.  Go find your district partner and find a nice cave to snuggle up in,” He barked acerbically. 

“But I’d much rather stay here and slit your throat,” Vaughn said.

“Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not happening,” Damon snapped.  He picked up his spear and readied it in his hand. 

Vaughn had come prepared though.  He pulled a whip out of his bag, something with a spiked end that would sure shred someone’s skin to smithereens.  He saw Damon watching it warily, and smirked.  “That boy from Eleven screamed for so long when I killed him.  His district partner tried to kill me, but I knocked her brains around her head so hard, she’s probably still wandering around the mountain side.  Pity.”

Damon tightened his grip on his spear and dove at Vaughn.  The other boy’s whip snapped in the air and tore through Damon’s parka, raking the skin off of his back.  He forced himself to move through the pain and he threw his spear.  His aim was true; the whip had fallen to the ground when the spear had pierced Vaughn’s heart, tearing out the organ and impaling the other tribute to the wooden bark of the oak tree behind him.  The cannon fired.

“Have fun in hell.” Damon spat on the ground, picked up his spear, and grabbed the whip.  He shoved the new weapon into his bag, and took Vaughn’s as well.  It had some food and matches.  “Thanks for the bag, moron.”  He stripped Vaughn’s hands of his gloves.

And he trooped on.

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.

.

Stephanie found Caroline in a snow drift, sobbing on top of the bags they’d gotten.  The blonde girl looked up, her face tearstained, and she nearly bowled Steph over in her eagerness to hug the smaller girl.

“You’re okay!” Caroline beamed and tears continued to stream down her face.  She sobbed and then hiccupped loudly.  “I thought they’d killed you.”

“Nah,” Stephanie whispered softly.  “I’m tough as nails.”  She hugged Caroline back and inquired, “So, what did we get?”

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.

“She died saving me,” Stephanie said some time a few days later.  Vaughn had died; the Capitol had shown them during the anthem that night.  So had Four’s Sage.  Steph wondered if the pack was already turning on itself this early.  (Eight left.  They’d be doing interviews back home.)

“Who?” Caroline asked.

“Lexi Branson.”

“I wonder why,” Caroline mused and bit into some of the food they’d gotten from the feast.  “You didn’t know her, did you?”

“No,” Stephanie shook her head.  “I’ve never met her before in my life.  But she saved me from the Careers.”

“Well, you must be pretty lucky,” Caroline said quietly.

“Yeah,” She was lucky enough to get drawn for the Hunger Games and get separated from her brother and make people risk their lives for her. 

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.

.

Damon stumbled upon the Careers as they were dismantling, their hierarchy falling apart.  His back was on fire, though one sponsor had sent some ointment that would prevent infection from taking him.  (Rose hadn’t had any).  Eleven’s Bonnie lied dead a few feet away from them, and Marcel and Klaus were dueling each other with swords.  Both looked heavily wounded, and Rebekah Mikaelson stood on the sidelines, screaming herself hoarse at the both of them.  “We still have to find District 12!  And the girls from Three and Seven!  Bloody hell, we need each other!  Please!” 

Damon barely believed his eyes as he watched the maniac fight and thought that the Capitol must have been eating this up; two friends turning on each other and dueling with regular old swords?  Then, the impossible happened; Klaus and Marcel roared and their swords impaled each other at the same time.  Two cannons fired and Rebekah fell to pieces before Damon’s very eyes.

And just like that, they were down to five tributes.

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.

.

With the anthem that night came the announcement of Klaus Mikaelson, Marcel Gerard, and Bonnie Bennett’s deaths.  Stephanie and Caroline were huddled together, whispering.

“My district is known for all of the techie stuff, you know?” Caroline abruptly said.  Stephanie’s head lifted and she shivered.  The moved closer to their small fire.  They’d been receiving food from sponsors and were relatively well fed but it seemed they could never get warm enough.

“Yeah.”  Stephanie nodded her head and rubbed her hands together.

“Well, I have a confession.”  Caroline shifted awkwardly in the snow.  “I’ve never been very good with that kind of thing.  I – I like to organize events for my school.  I ran for class president last year and I – I won.”  She smiled a little.  “My dad was always really disappointed in me, but my mom always said to do what I thought would make me happy.”

“My mom was a merchant,” Stephanie shared.  “She married my father, who’s from the Seam, which is the poorest part of our district.  Her parents were butchers.”

“What happened to her?” Caroline asked in a hushed voice.

“She got real sick and died.  The doctors said there was nothing to do about it.  Then we lost our money and had to live in the Seam with our father’s relatives,” Stephanie said.

“I’m sorry,” Caroline hugged herself.  “My dad left my mom when I was little.  He was in love with someone else.”

The night was quiet, until in the distance, something howled; it was a long and lonesome wail of some kind of wolf mutt.  The girls looked towards the noise.  It repeated, closer.  Together, they slowly rose to a standing position and Stephanie gripped her dagger tighter in her hands.  When the howls came for a third time, it was clear that there were multiple mutts and that they were very close.

“I guess the Capitol is ready for their finale,” Stephanie said grimly and she grabbed Caroline.  “We need to run.  There’s no telling how many there are.”  Together, they stomped out their fire and grabbed their bags and sprinted out of the forest.  The wolves were right behind them.

Across the snowy field, Steph caught sight of a familiar dark head.

“Damon!” She screamed.

The teenager looked up and his eyes widened.  “Stephanie!  Look out!”

Steph turned her head in time to see two huge wolves – both with pale blonde hair and eerily familiar blue eyes – snapping at Caroline and Stephanie.  The larger one grabbed the back of Caroline’s jacket with its teeth and yanked her backwards.  It jerked her side and side and the blonde screamed.  There was splatter of blood on the pristine snow and then a cannon fired.

Stephanie leapt into Damon’s arms and her brother pulled her close to his chest.  They gripped each other tightly, him yelling and her crying.  Behind them, the wolves devoured Caroline’s corpse, tearing her flesh off of her body. 

“Caroline’s dead, Damon, Caroline’s dead,” Stephanie cried.  “She was my friend.”

“I know,” Damon whispered into her hair and together they sank downwards into the ice and snow.  “I know.”  He rocked her.  The wolf mutts dispersed, apparently full, and a craft came down and took away the remains of Caroline’s body.

Another cannon fired and the siblings’ heads jerked up frantically, searching for the source of the death, but they could see nothing.

Stephanie turned to look at Damon’s face, but was forced to look down as the tip of a knife became visible as it tore through his heart.  He choked.  “Well, that’ll be the poison kicking in,” A disinterested voice said and Stephanie looked to see Katherine Pierce admiring her nails.  Her hair was wild and she looked half starved, but she was alive.  “Rebekah,” She clarified, “if you didn’t realize.  She went a little off the deep end there after her brother and boyfriend did themselves in.”  Katherine swirled a finger around her ear.  “Cookoo.  So I guess it’s just us.”  She ripped the knife out of Damon’s back and he fell forwards, vomiting a fountain of blood. 

“Damon,” Stephanie whispered.  “Damon.”  A cannon fired and blue eyes stared up blankly towards the forest’s ceiling.  “Damon, no.  No, nononononono.”  She gripped the front of his parka and screamed into his face, sobbing.  “Get up!  Get up, you jerk!  I just found you again!”

“Not that this isn’t touching and all, but I really just want to go home, so I’m gonna have to cut this short,” Katherine drawled.

Stephanie was trembling with rage and she dropped Damon’s body and picked up her dagger. “You killed him.”

“I’m a survivor, sweetheart.  I killed Rebekah, I killed Damon, and now I’m going to kill you.”

“No, you’re not,” Stephanie hissed and she tackled Katherine’s knees, dragging the older girl down.  They wrestled in the snow, spitting and hair pulling.  Steph lost her dagger in the fray, but she curled her fingers into claws and raked her nails down Katherine’s face.  “You selfish bitch!”

“It’s called surviving,” Katherine growled and she grabbed Stephanie’s long hair and slammed the younger girl’s head in the trunk of a oak tree.  Stephanie saw stars and tasted blood in the back of her mouth.  “And I’m going to get out of this hell hole and I’m going to live.  I’m going to go to parties, and fall in love, and travel.”

Stephanie kicked up her knee and jabbed it into Katherine’s gut and then she grabbed a handful of snow and shoved it into the other girl’s face.  Steph frantically crawled away and she searched for her dagger, fingers cramping in the cold and wet snow.  She heard movement behind her and saw something glint in the moonlight.  Stephanie grabbed Katherine’s fallen knife and curled around it on the forest floor and endured Katherine’s vicious kicking. 

“I’m going to carve you up like a jack o’ lantern,” Katherine hissed, “just as soon as I find my knife.”

“Not today,” Stephanie told her and she curled and took the knife stabbed Katherine in the belly with it, making the older girl drop to the ground.  Steph ripped it out and then came down hard onto Katherine’s neck, hearing a squelching and then a low crack of bone.  The final cannon went off as Katherine’s head rolled.

Stephanie dropped the knife.  Crawled back to Damon’s body and wrapped herself around it, resting her head onto his cold, unmoving chest.  She heard Claudius Templesmith’s booming voice and Panem’s anthem, announcing her victory.

“Congratulations to our youngest victor ever!  District 12’s Stephanie Salvatore!”

A craft landed and Peacekeepers tried to pull her off of her brother’s body.  “No!” She screeched, clawing their hands.  “No, don’t take him!  You can’t take him from me!”

A needle slipped into her neck and the world faded away.

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The following days were a medicine induced blur.  She went through the remake again and was sent back out to Cesar Flickerman’s show in a frilly, strapless black dress.  Stephanie might have liked it under different circumstances.  She was also adorned with makeup and the crown that President Snow had bestowed upon her curly hair, which was stylized into loose ringlets.

When she stepped out onto the stage, the crowd went ballistic.  Steph saw her face on the big screen and wondered at the mature looking young woman walking confidently across the stage.  Her face was closed off and aloof.  She was taller, stronger looking.

“Welcome, welcome!” Cesar was in an outlandish blue suit with frosted hair.  His face looked especially plastic as he grinned ear to ear.  “Sit, sit!”  He turned to his crowd.  “Let Miss Stephanie know that she’s welcomed, ladies and gents!”   And the crowd screamed and applauded.  Stephanie swallowed thickly.  She felt her mask falling into place, something she’d been perfecting since she woke up from the arena.  It was a little of Damon’s sass, some of Katherine’s seductress act, and a bit of Caroline’s happy, optimistic smile.

“You know,” Cesar beamed at her, “everyone’s calling you the Ripper, now.”  He turned to someone off screen and made a twirling motion with his finger.  “Let’s see why!”  He turned his attention to the big screen, as did everyone else, and Stephanie felt a pit in her stomach.

On the screens was an edited video, full of cuts of her three kills with her dagger and Katherine’s knife.  When the camera focused on her face during the fights, Stephanie thought that she looked scarily intense.  And there was no remorse in her eyes, which perhaps frightened Steph the most.  They’d edited some fast paced music and sped up a few of the clips, making it look entirely more exciting than it had been.  They spent the most time on her last fight, zeroing in her on expression and anguished scream at Damon’s death, and then the way she transformed into a furious murderer.

She couldn’t force herself to look away.

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The train ride home was the first real time that Stephanie was alone with Haymitch Abernathy again since the beginning of the Games.  He was drinking, as usual, but Steph thought he wasn’t drinking as much. 

“Did you think we were right?”

“About what?” Haymitch asked gruffly.

“When we said we’d get one of us home,” Stephanie elaborated.  “Damon said he’d get me home, but I swore I was going to save him instead.”

“Plenty of people think the same,” Haymitch said in a gravelly voice.  “None really make it.  So no, sweetheart, I didn’t think you were right.  I thought you’d both die in that arena together.”

“When did you realize we were right?  That one of us really was going to return?”

“The moment that you tore Katherine Pierce’s head off her shoulders.”

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District 12 wasn’t the same.  She and Giuseppe no longer lived in the Seam, but in Victor’s Village just across the street from Haymitch’s place.  No one treated her the same; they looked at her with wary eyes and even her own father seemed to hesitate when hugging his daughter.  Alaric was about the only person from town that said hello to Stephanie anymore.

So Steph started to journal.

Then she started to visit Haymitch.

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The Victory Tour came after Stephanie’s thirteenth birthday.  Effie Trinket was happy for her, smiling brightly, but Haymitch was the one that Steph sat next to and commiserated with as they visited all of the districts.  Their first four stops – Eleven, Ten, Nine, and Eight – were difficult, but Stephanie managed to get a rhythm; she’d take Effie’s cards, pick a few things from them, and then make up the rest of her own speech.  It worked for her and she didn’t start any riots, so Effie kept her complaining to a minimum. 

Then they arrived at District 7.

Stephanie had found out later that Damon had killed their male tribute, Galen Vaughn.  And then, of course, Steph had killed Katherine.

To say the least, it wasn’t a good visit; the district was rowdy and upset.  The families were glaring, and they shouted obscenities to Steph and all of District 12, cursing her and damning Damon.

District 6 was a little better.

“I killed one of your tributes,” Stephanie opened with and saw that Tyler Lockwood’s family was just his parents – his dad was evidently the mayor.  “He was going to strangle my friend, my ally.  And so I protected her.  I’m not sorry I did it, but I am sorry I had to.

“Your other tribute saved my life.  I didn’t know much about Lexi Branson, but I did know that she was brave and selfless.  There isn’t a thing I can do to repay, but I would like to thank her and her family.  Thank you.”

District 5 was the home of Ben and Aimee.  Ben’s family had refused to show.  District 4 was grumbly, but a lot of that was due to the fact that they had sent Careers that year, which they didn’t only occasionally.

District 3 was difficult.  Not because the district was angry – they cheered for Stephanie, actually – but because it was Caroline’s home.  Steph imagined Caroline running with her friends, Jeremy Gilbert and his sister.  They welcomed her and listened to her talk about Caroline with tears in their eyes, and a girl with pin straight hair touched Steph’s hand as she passed.

“Thank you for trying to protect Caroline and Jeremy.”

“They didn’t deserve what happened to them,” Stephanie said quietly.

Elena Gilbert’s eyes closed to keep from shedding more tears.  “I know.”

Districts 2 and 1 were furious.  Their tributes had been promising, but they’d been taken down by anarchy in their ranks, and suspicion, and then poison from District 7.  Most of all, they were angry that a street rat from Twelve had won the Games for the first time since the 2nd Quarter Quell, and to top that, the youngest tribute to ever have won.

The Capitol welcomed her with open arms and called her the Ripper.

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At the end of the tour, there was huge celebration held at President Snow’s home.  It was bustling with people, music, food and fireworks.  The Capitol really went all out for their parties. 

Though, perhaps most interesting was the fact that most of the previous victors were present and accounted for.  Finnick Odair, playboy extraordinaire was flirting with a few very influential political bosses.  Cashmere and Gloss, sister and brother, mingling around with half-filled wine flutes.  Chaff wondered through the bodies with Haymitch, both already drunk.  And on and on the guest list went.

Stephanie passed Enobaria and glanced at the woman in passing, only for the older victor to grin with sharpened teeth that looked more like fangs.

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He watched the young victor throughout the party; she was just a year younger than when he’d won the Games.  He watched her pretend with each Capitol citizen and struggle with her façade that kept her from falling to pieces.  But he noticed other things too; the Capitol was infatuated with her.  Several of her sponsors were quick to ask her to dance and speak with her, though Stephanie Salvatore didn’t know who they were. 

When he was able to get away from his client for a moment, Finnick wandered and caught sight of Haymitch and Chaff.  They were well on their way to being drunk, but it was mostly an act as they too kept an eye on the newest victor.

“Haymitch.”  Haymitch grunted in response.  The head Gamemaker asked for a dance and Stephanie obliged him, twirling in her blood red dress.  “She’s popular.”

“Steph had a lot of sponsors,” Haymitch said gruffly.

“President Snow will take advantage of that,” Finnick warned.  “He’ll use her as one of his gambits.”

“I know.”

“You should tell her. I wish Mags had told me.”  And so he drifted away again, back to his client to dance and then take home.

(Haymitch doesn’t tell her)

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Annie Cresta from District 4 won the 70th Hunger Games.

Stephanie turned 14.

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Johanna Mason the 71st Games by acting meek and helpless.  In her interviews afterwards, she attributed some of her ideas to the 69th Games.

Stephanie turned 15.

Sometime after, she went to Haymitch’s and broke into his liquor stash.  When he found her hours later in the middle of the night, he joined her for a drink.

“Does it ever get easier?”

“Not much.”

“How do you cope?”

Haymitch had laughed.  “Does it look like I cope?  I’m almost forty years old and am a fat drunk, sweetheart.  I’m not coping.  I’m just like the morphling addicts; I’m killing myself slowly.”

(Stephanie started hiding his liquor and paid off everyone in the Hob to make sure he didn’t get anymore)

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During Katniss and Peeta’s Victory Tour, Stephanie turned 18 and was called to a private meeting with President Snow.  He was wearing his usual white rose on his lapel that smelled of blood and Stephanie knew she’d be having nightmares that evening.

“Stephanie Salvatore,” President Snow purred.  “You look delightful.  Such a pretty young thing.” 

Stephanie didn’t know what to do.  “Thank you, Sir.”  She’d not grown particularly tall, but with her money, she was able to buy healthy amounts of food for herself, and so was curvy and according to many, very beautiful. 

President Snow continued.  “It has come to my attention that you just had a birthday.  Eighteen.”

“Yes.”

“It’s time you’ve started to earn your keep as a victor, my dear.”

Stephanie felt her stomach roll.

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For the 3rd Quarter Quell, our tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.

The 75th Hunger Games arrived and Stephanie felt nothing as she and the other victors were led to the stage.  Effie Trinket was sobbing into an elaborately embroidered hankie as she announced she’d be picking from the ladies first.

Stephanie knew Katniss thought she’d be going into the arena for certain because of the trouble she’d stirred from her own Games.  And hell, she was probably right; Katniss probably would be drawn out of the glass.  But Stephanie was a sucker for romance, epic or otherwise, and she knew that Peeta was in love with Katniss Everdeen and that even though Katniss wouldn’t admit it even to herself, she felt something for that boy too.  She’d gone to Haymitch, Steph knew, to make sure that Peeta would have someone volunteer for him if he was drawn.

So when Effie pulled out Katniss’ name from the pool of tributes that held only two names, sobbing on the last two syllables of the pronunciation, Stephanie surprised everyone when she raised her hand.

“I volunteer as tribute.”

She’d always been a bit of a martyr, anyway.

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Fin.