(A/N) Hey all, we're back with our latest update for In the End, You Always Kneel, and we return to Kate Bishop, written as always by robbiepoo2341. Robbie suffered a terrible blow this week, as her uncle was taken off life support, after a routine operation went wrong and placed him in a coma a little while back. We here at The Freelancer Collaboration are all keeping her and her family in our thoughts, and if you can, spare a thought her way.
VengefulVixens: Delighted to hear that you're enjoying the fic, and I hope you'll continue to do so. We're a big group of writers of various ability, and a lot of us are pretty early on in our writing career, so creative criticism is always appreciated.
Created to Write: Actually, ever since 2012 Carol Danvers has been Captain Marvel, and the upcoming Marvel movie with Carol in the lead role is titled "Captain Marvel". The current Ms Marvel is Kamala Khan. And don't worry, Steve's coming…soon!
Enjoy, and let us know what you think!
Chapter Nineteen – Getting to Grips
Training Day One
Kate Bishop of District Twelve
Written by robbiepoo2341
"When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important."
– Ellen DeGeneres
"This. Is. Awesome."
Kate only barely resisted the urge to run over and claim the staffs, the ones that were so clearly Bobbi Morse's staffs that there could really be no mistaking them – and shout "Mine!" at the top of her lungs.
Of course, she still ran over and grabbed them and clutched them to her chest and giggled maniacally as she tried them out on the training dummies, but that was all part of the whole 'everything is awesome' thing she had going on.
It felt so good to get back to doing things, not getting picked over by stylists or paraded around the Capitol.
Not that it wasn't fun being paraded around and taking in the sights, especially with the really cute Noh Varr as her head stylist. She could just eat him up with a spoon the way he danced around singing old songs while he directed the stylists on how to do her hair.
And not that it wasn't...interesting...with her district partner, Loki, hanging around. Kid clearly thought he was better than anything having to do with District Twelve – not that she could blame him. She'd have been uncomfortable with having to go to another district for Reaping Day, too. And then to have his adopted brother as one of his fellow tributes...
That had been strange. Finding out where Loki had grown up. Big blond guy from Four had just waltzed right up to Loki and embraced him with a booming "Brother!" that echoed across the entire training facility.
It had certainly answered a few questions. Loki didn't seem very...Twelve-like. But meeting Thor, Kate could definitely see where his affected speech and his high-and-mighty attitude came from. District Four. Career district. Explained a lot.
So it wasn't that she didn't feel for him. It was just nice to be by herself and away from that snarky kid for a while. She could only take so much, and he really didn't have to be so snippy at Blackager Boltagon, their mentor. It wasn't like the guy asked to be put in charge of them, and it really wasn't his fault he wasn't able to talk.
Plus, she sometimes caught Loki staring at her, like he was trying to figure her out. No, like he had already figured her out and was just trying to decide how best to use that knowledge.
It was a bit unsettling. The staring.
She decided not to care too much about Loki, for now, anyway, and twirled around with the staffs a bit. The trainer, who everyone said went by Marrow, said she was "relatively impressive for a kid from Twelve," and even grunted her approval at Kate's "unorthodox" style. She laughed at the backhanded compliment, grinning over at the nearest Tribute she could find to meet her gaze. It was…oh, what was his name...the kid who did the vanishing act during the parade. That was cool, and she'd tell him so.
She replaced the staffs and rushed over to the swords station where the boy was standing. "Hey, Disappearing Kid," she called over to him, "you any good with these?"
He stopped talking with the trainer, Jacques Duquesne (who everyone just called the Swordsman because he was so ridiculously good at his job), looked over at her, paused, and then gave her a slight smile when he recognized her.
"I hope so. I've got no chance out there if I'm not," he said.
"Up for a playful joust?" she weighed the sword in her hands. It felt good. Better than the sticks and the wooden swords she'd played with back in Twelve when she'd passingly mentioned to America that she might want to learn self-defence. But it wasn't much of a sword, really, not with the edges blunted and the insides hollowed. Worst she could do was give somebody a good bruise, and with Duquesne keeping watch, even that was pretty unlikely.
Guess it wouldn't do to have the Tributes kill each other early. Or even injure each other. Bruises weren't too pretty for the interviews. And Noh Varr would probably get upset if she showed up with a bloody lip or something.
"Kate Bishop of Twelve! What have you done to yourself?" he would probably say, in that funny little way of speaking he had when he was trying to be cute.
Duquesne handed her a...well, it was technically a fencing mask. It was kind of shimmery, if you looked at it the right way, and it was clearly pretty durable. Whatever material it was made of was thick enough that it took her a minute to adjust to looking through it. It was like looking through glass, but slightly...shinier.
"Don't want any head shots. No going for the eyes or ears," Duquesne explained gruffly. He was an older gentleman, aging gracefully with bits of grey in his brown goatee. She wondered if he ever smiled.
Kate nodded her understanding, adjusted her headgear, and looked over to see if her dance partner was set, too.
The Disappearing Kid waited for her to take a stance, and then gave her a gentle smile. "I'll go easy on you."
Guy was serious, too. Pure gentleman, with none of that veiled contempt or fear that she kept seeing from the other tributes. That was going to be interesting to deal with.
"Please don't," she said, making a face.
He bowed to her, all formal, and she couldn't think to do anything else but give a surprised little half-curtsy. Their swords met, and then the dance began.
It was a relatively short dance.
He was good. It surprised her how light he could be on his feet, dancing around perfectly balanced and deflecting even her best shots.
He was going easy on her, and she hated that, so she gripped the sword with both hands and pressed a little harder, trying to channel her best crazy-America-Chavez impression. Duquesne stepped in and scolded her with a sharp, "Save it for the Games. You try to kill each other now and you won't even make it to the Tesseract, kid, I promise you that."
Kate grumbled that she wasn't trying to kill Kurt before they squared off to face each other again.
He knocked her over not even a minute later.
"Okay, okay, you win," she giggled, dropping her sword and raising her hands in surrender.
He offered her a hand up, and she took it gratefully, brushing herself off. "Wow," she croaked, "you're pretty good."
He smiled. "You're not bad – you just need more practice." He was being nice to her, and they both knew it, but she appreciated the gesture all the same.
"Lots more practice," she said, looking mournfully at the sword that lay at her feet. "I thought I was good at swords."
She grinned at him. "Kate Bishop, by the way. Not sure if you remember my name, seeing as how I forgot yours and everything." She thrust her hand out for him to shake. "But that disappearing act of yours was something else. Made me jealous – you stole the show before I even got there!"
"Kurt Wagner," he said, taking her hand. He looked a little flattered.
She picked up her sword and flipped it over twice in her hands. "Go again?" she asked.
She ended up on her back another three times. The third time, she winced, sighed, and didn't pick up her sword. "I give. I give," she said after he managed to disarm her yet again and flip her over.
"I could show you that last move," Kurt offered, giving her his hand again.
She adjusted her headband so that her hair was no longer in her face. "Yeah, but then I might have a shot at beating you."
"I think I might be safe," Kurt said with a laugh.
"Oh, just you give me another year or two. Then I'll kick your butt."
Kurt looked like he might actually smile, but then he stopped and frowned. "If only," he said quietly.
Kate realized only too late what she'd said and put a hand to her mouth. "Right. Sorry."
"It's fine," he said, but he was a little stiffer, a little more distant. She was stupid, stupid, that was the wrong thing to say. Time for some backpedalling.
Kate sighed, then forced another smile. "Listen, why don't you show me that move tomorrow? I'm bothering you, aren't I?"
"No, not at all—"
"Yeah, of course I am," Kate said, waving him off. Her gaze fell on a bow that looked like it might just be her size. "Besides, I think I'd like to get my hands on some other weapons. Maybe I suck less at them than swords."
Kurt laughed. "It was very good sparring with you, Ms Bishop."
"Oh, please. It's Kate."
He laughed. "Alright then. See you again, Kate?"
Kate left Kurt to go back to learning some fancier sword techniques and made her way back to the weapons rack and put her sword away, wincing and rubbing her backside where she'd fallen. So much for not getting bruised.
She heard a derisive snort and looked up. She thought maybe she was just hearing things until she saw one of the Careers, the redhead, looking her over with an appraising kind of smile, sort of knowing. Like Kate was going to be no problem on the battlefield.
Kate stuck her tongue out at the girl. Stupid Career. Wasn't Kate's fault Kurt was better at swords than she was. Just wait 'til she got a load of Kate and her bow...
Kate paused. No. No, wait. She should probably not get any Career's attention and look too dangerous.
"That was pretty stupid," said a new voice behind her, and Kate turned with a start. Oh man, she was going to have to seriously step up her game if people could get the jump on her like that.
"Didn't see you there," she said, quickly recovering her smile as the much younger girl from Eleven gave her a wry sort of grin.
"That's the point, ghost gum," Eleven whispered, and her smile widened. She jerked her head in the direction of the Careers. "You should stay off the radar, Twelve."
"I don't seem to be very good at that," Kate admitted, rubbing the back of her neck.
Eleven laughed, but she disappeared in the split second Kate had taken to look back and make sure the Careers were distracted with other, not-Kate things. Girl was fast as lightning.
She sighed, walked over to the archery station, and picked up the bow anyway. She'd just aim at other things besides the bulls-eyes, then. Practice her aim and throw off the Careers at the same time. Maybe if she consistently hit "almost" shots, they'd back off. Think she was good enough to hold her own, but not enough to notice. Maybe if she was at least "average," they'd stop looking at her like lunch meat.
The trainer, Danielle Moonstar, said something that sounded like "how to hold the bow," but Kate didn't need hand-holding.
She raised the bow to aim it when a new voice interrupted her: "Katie, right?"
Kate frowned and turned. She hated being called "Katie," and not even America could get away with calling her that. "Princess" and "honey" and other ridiculous names she'd answer to, sure, but "Katie" was what Dad called her when he was talking down to her, and she hated it.
"It's Kate," she said, crossing her arms.
It was that kid, the one who was District partners with the redhead. Kate couldn't remember his name, but he was a Career. He seemed to be all smiles, though, and he had a bow of his own. His own targets were filled with arrows, all really close but not quite perfect. But they made a cool little lightning design instead of being dead-centre, so Kate though he might have been holding back until the Games. Kid stole her idea.
"You're a decent shot," she said, nodding at the training dummies.
"Are you?" he asked. He leaned casually against the nearest wall, eyeing her up and down.
"I'd say no, but then I'd be lying," Kate said with a grim smile. He was too nice, too smiley. What did he want?
He laughed. "Name's Clint," he said.
"I remember," she said, which was a lie.
"Uh-huh," he looked amused, and Kate wasn't sure she liked that look. "Okay, Katie, I'll go first."
"I pick the target, though," she said, the idea coming to her so suddenly that there was really no use trying to stop it from tumbling out of her mouth.
Clint paused for only a second before the grin split his face. "You're on."
Kate had to work hard not to grin right back. That smile was infectious, but he was a Career, and she had to be careful.
"Okay," Kate said, chewing her lip as she looked around the room. "Left pinkie toe of the farthest right dummy."
Clint made the shot.
He handed her his bow. "This one's better than the one you got," he said, jerking his head to indicate the bow in her hands.
She took it, surprised, and ran her hands over it. Balance felt good. Wasn't too heavy for her. "Thanks?" she said.
"Didn't want you to think you lost because of any unfair advantage," he explained, a sly grin spreading over his face.
She snorted at him, rolled her eyes, and strung the bow. "Okay, your call."
"Right eye of the centre dummy."
"Then let's see you make it."
Kate looked at the dummy, then at Clint, then at the arrows. So she nocked a second one. And then – one, two, left, right – straight through both of the eyes of that dummy.
She handed the bow back to him. "Told you it was too easy."
She looked around again, trying to find a new target.
"Let's get creative," she muttered, looking out beyond the archery dummies and into the other stations. She thought she saw the surly kid – the one from Seven – smirking at her (or at Clint?), and she made a face at him before she moved on to find something else interesting to shoot at.
Finally, she spotted it. "Knot tying station. The place where no one's standing? See if you can thread the loop knot."
Clint grinned. "We should make this more interesting," he said as he took aim, pulled back, let it go, made the shot (of course).
"You try to kiss me and I'll deck you," she said as she snatched the bow back.
"What? No! Eww," Clint said, which was both a relief and kind of disappointing because who wouldn't want to kiss Kate? "I was just thinking loser should have to retrieve the winner's arrows all day tomorrow."
Kate snorted. "Better warm up your humility muscles, then."
"We'll see." Clint looked around. "See that hole in the wood rafter where there used to be a screw?"
Kate followed his gaze until she could spot it. "Eyes like a hawk, you've got," she muttered. "Yeah, I see it."
She fitted her arrow and let it fly, and the arrow embedded itself into the wood. Probably too tightly fitted to move. It'd be stuck there next year, Kate figured, and after she won, she'd tell her own Tributes to look out for her arrow in the training room. She grinned around to see if any of the other Tributes had noticed, but all she got for her troubles was a glare from the guy from Ten, who looked like he thought archery was beneath him or something, the way he was disdainfully sniffing at her.
He caught her gaze and licked his lips. Kid looked like he'd much rather be up close and in your face and feeling every drop of blood and . . . . Kate shuddered, making a mental note to steer clear of him.
"Not bad," Clint said as he took the bow back, though she noticed he had also seen Ten and glared at him. Was he . . . was he backing her up? Kate noticed he took a slight step in front of Kate, almost protective. Huh. Interesting. This kid was clearly not the typical Career.
"Let's see you hit a double shot, too," Kate said, shaking off the discomfort and forcing the smile again. "Since I did first."
"Bring it on, then."
Kate grinned. "Kneecaps. Dummy with no arrows in it."
"Looks like we're running out of those."
"We're just too good, I guess."
Clint grinned at her, then laughed. "You're pretty cool, Katie Kate."
Kate almost didn't mind when he called her that, since he seemed determined to call her anything but Kate. "You still haven't made the shot, I notice."
Clint snorted, fitted two arrows, and then fired. One, two, left right, perfection.
"You take dares?" he asked as he handed the bow over.
"We're already in the middle of a bet. You want to make it a dare, too?"
"You can take a shot at that water bottle next to Four's messed up brother, or you can thread his shoelaces."
Kate frowned. "Guy's my district partner."
"Thought you said you could take a dare."
Kate wrinkled her nose. "I didn't say I took the dare."
"You backing out, then?" Clint's eyes glinted mischievously, and now there was no way Kate could back out.
Kate sniffed, nocked her arrow, and fired.
Loki started when the arrow went straight through the loop in his shoelaces, then looked up to see who shot it. Clint tried to grab the bow away to take the blame, but it was no use; Loki had seen them.
Kate waved shyly at him, stifling a giggle, while Clint busted out a full laugh when the nearest instructor shouted, "Hey, no fighting!" and Kate groaned, "Aww man, not again."
"You're all right, Katie," Clint said through his guffaws, twirling the bow and giving her a high five.
"I'm more than just all right. I'm awesome," Kate laughed, then winced as Loki stalked over.
"And what, may I ask, do you think you're doing?" Loki had the arrow in his hand and was pointing it at her like he wanted to put it through her hand so she couldn't shoot at him again.
Kate tried not to giggle – she really did – but the look on his face was too priceless. "Sorry. It was a dare," she explained.
Loki sniffed but must have decided she wasn't worth the trouble, because he went back to talking with his brother and looking generally like he was too good for the Games.
Clint burst into another round of heavy guffaws. "Just for that, you don't have to get all my arrows."
"Excuse you, but I'm pretty sure you have to win before I have to be your arrow retrieval girl," Kate sniffed.
"Did you see my last shot?" Clint laughed, pointing up.
Kate gasped. "Didn't even see you shoot," she said as she stared up at the water bottle now pinned to the ceiling. And she'd just been thinking maybe she was a contender!
Clint grinned, then, noticing her expression, leaned in closer to her to add in a conspiratorial whisper, "Yeah, well, if anyone asks, you won after you threaded your partner's shoelaces."
Kate pulled away and raised her eyebrows. "I did?"
Clint shrugged easily, but now his gaze was darker as he looked back at the other Careers. "Yeah. Wouldn't want them to think you're an easy target."
Kate followed his gaze. She spotted the redhead, who thankfully wasn't looking their way at the moment, and shuddered. "That's surprisingly nice of you," she said quietly.
Clint shrugged. "Figure us archers gotta look out for each other." Then, his grin suddenly returned, and he winked at her. "Thanks for playing, Katie. See you around?"
"I'll keep an eye out. Only for the next few days, though. After that. . . ." Kate shook her head. "I'd hate to have to shoot you in the Games. You're not half bad for a Career."
Clint laughed. "And you're not bad for Twelve."
Kate watched as Clint returned to hanging out with the other Careers, talking animatedly with the redhead from his district. He was the only one Kate had seen that could get anything like a smile from that girl, but it wasn't even a smile – it was more like a twitch that she tried to keep under control. Which was weird, considering she was all smiles and giggles when they were out in the Capitol. Kate wasn't sure what game she was playing, but it probably wasn't a good idea to get too close.
Kate sighed and plopped down on the nearest bench, taking a long swig from the nearest water bottle. She leaned up against the wall. "Okay," she said to no one in particular, "I think that's plenty of exercise for today."
And politics, she thought. She had no idea interacting with kids she was supposed to kill in a few days could be so...exhausting (go figure). She liked it better when she knew who was on her side, not this weird walking on eggshells and forming semi-friendships stuff.
She missed District Twelve. So much.
She took another long drink and then looked around, taking in the other tributes.
They were scary. That was her being honest. Honest-to-Thanos terrifying, and she could actually see her chances of winning dropping to fairy godmother levels of unlikely.
The guy from One taking down dummies left and right with any weapon he could get his hands on (and all while cracking jokes, mostly to himself). His criminal district partner looking like she might maybe eat Kate if she had the chance. The girl from Four looking like an aggressive watch dog beside her cousin – was it cousin? Kate remembered they were related but not exactly how. Girl from Five lifting stuff that should have been way too heavy for her. And she'd completely lost track of the kid from Eight. He was good at the hiding thing.
Oh, no, wait, there was Eight. Kate giggled, watching as – what was his name? Peter or something like that? – the kid let himself carefully down out of the rafters, all spider-like, to rearrange a few boots at the swimming station. The first few tributes who came out exhausted after trying to stay afloat through the crashing wave pool were suddenly very confused as to how their feet had managed to shrink a few sizes in the cold water.
Eight was still in the rafters, laughing to himself, and Kate managed to catch his gaze and grin. At least someone else was having a little fun around here.
But then she let her gaze drift, and now there was the genius from Three learning traps (that was so not a good idea; who let him get close to something he could actually use?) and the daughter of the Red Skull furiously practicing hand-to-hand like she'd done it before and the guy from Four knocking a dummy's head clean off...
"I'm so dead," Kate whispered, dropping her head back to thud against the wall. The headband hit her ear. It was still kinda sideways from her swordfighting with Kurt earlier.
She took the headband out of her hair and played with it, staring at the red ribbon lining the inside. It was America's.
"Your sister give you that?" America asked, almost disgusted, when she saw Kate holding the headband.
Kate was still in shock. She'd just said goodbye to Susan and Dad. She just stood there holding the headband, and it wasn't until America came busting in, claiming to be Kate's cousin and therefore family who absolutely, 100 percent had a right to visit Kate, that Kate broke out of it.
She gave America a slight smile. "Yeah. Susan said to be sure to wear it all the time, because when I get back in a few weeks, all the girls will want the Kate Bishop look."
America took the headband and glared at it, especially at the teeth on the inside. "You get bashed on the head when you're wearing this, and the headband will do half the damage for you," she said. She quickly got down to work with a knife sanding down all the prickly bits.
"I think it was Susan's way of giving me something concrete from home – and making me promise to come back and be the fashion diva she wants me to be," Kate admitted.
"Your sister's stupid, but she's got her heart in the right place," America said. She finished sanding down the headband and then studied it. "Missing something," she muttered before she tore a ribbon right off of her brand new Reaping Dress and jammed it into what was left of the pointy bits. "There," she said. "That should help it stay on." She handed it back to Kate.
Kate grinned and put the headband back on, settling it into her hair before she took the rest of the red ribbon and tied it underneath. "What do you think?" she asked.
America grinned. "Susan would say you look darling."
Kate blinked out of her thoughts just in time to see a water bottle sailing at her head. She caught it with one hand and looked up to see who had thrown it.
It was the guy from Seven.
"No fighting," she said sternly, mimicking the voice of the instructor from earlier.
He gave her a half-smile. "You looked like you could use one of those," he said with a gruff shrug.
"Figure it's good to get hydrated before the Arena, y'know?" she said lightly. Don't trust anybody, Blackager Boltagon had told her – well, written in a note to her – before they started the day. And Kurt was nice, and Clint was fun, but this guy was gruff and aloof, and Kate was trying not to get taken in for a sucker and killed by a supposed partner. Besides, Kate was running out of energy navigating the moves and countermoves of the not-friendships around here.
"You tired out already?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Nah, just pretending to be," she said, sitting up a little straighter as she re-tied her headband. She pulled a grin out of her quickly diminishing supply as she added, "That way, I can get a good view. We've got some good-looking Tributes this year."
She tilted her head at Five, who, despite initial appearances at his Reaping, seemed to be getting more and more handsome with each passing day at the Capitol.
Seven snorted. "Right," he said, but he didn't argue. He paused, seemed to consider, and said, "Nice shootin' back there."
Kate flushed. "Thanks," she said. "I was pretty good back home..." She trailed off. She wasn't supposed to talk about back home. That was dangerous, and they were in the Capitol, where everything had ears.
He raised an eyebrow at her sudden quietness. And when Kate stayed quiet, suddenly unable to come up with something to say to fill the space, he seemed to lose interest.
"Thanks for the water," she said quickly, not wanting to lose an opportunity. She might not trust anybody, but that didn't mean she didn't want friends before they got to the arena. And he had been nice enough to give her a heads up before he hit her with the bottled water. Which had to mean something, at least.
But Seven just shrugged her off and went out to go investigate the climbing course.
Kate sighed. Didn't know why she bothered. She had to face facts – she was a scrawny kid from Twelve, one of the younger ones there, and she didn't have much to offer.
Not that she'd let anyone know that, of course.
But she was small, and she wasn't a Career, and she wasn't as good at swords at Kurt, and she was only maybe as good at archery as Clint, but Clint was a Career, so he was probably better. And she wasn't as good at disappearing as Eleven or as terrifying as the guy from Ten, and she wasn't a Capitol darling like Clint's district partner pretended to be, and she wasn't a genius like the guy from Three and...why would anyone want her around? Why would anyone sponsor her or ally with her or do anything but laugh at the cute little girl from Twelve who had fun in the Games right up until she died?
Kate sighed, retied her headband for good measure (maybe she'd have Noh Varr fix it up so it stayed on better; she wouldn't mind having an excuse to talk with him more), and then pushed those thoughts aside. She didn't have to be the best. She didn't need allies or sponsors or whatever else. She could win this on her own. She just had to be the last one standing.
So she wasn't the strongest or the oldest or the fastest or the smartest. Didn't mean she couldn't get under everyone's skin. Maybe if enough people liked her, they'd at least pause before they stabbed her in the back. And then Kate could beat them to the whole stabbing thing...assuming she didn't freeze up, too, but that was a whole other problem, and Kate only had the energy for one disaster at a time.
Kate stood up and took another long drink from her water bottle. Surveyed the group. "Welp," she said with a heavy sigh, "back into the fray."