The rain was hammering down hard, too hard to be natural, especially as the sky had been a clear blue not ten minutes ago. The Gamemakers knew the finale was approaching and wanted a dramatic setting for the last two tributes standing.
The sky was overcast; much too dark for the time of day but Blaine didn't have time to think about that. There were two of them left. It was going to end soon and he knew it. Either he was about to die or he was about to kill.
He made a mental list, trying to remember who was left. The cannon had gone off this morning marking the end of the tribute from Six, which meant that the tribute from Twelve was left. What was his name? Dave? From their training sessions he remembered a large and burly boy of around seventeen, throwing weights around like they were apples.
Blaine laughed, wiping his soaking curls from his forehead. Yeah, he was about to die. There was no way he was going to beat Dave. He absently wiped his knife on his knee, cleaning it of the squirrel he had enjoyed for his dinner. My last meal.
Squinting through the bushes he thought he heard a rustling but it could have been the wind. Gripping the knife tighter, Blaine turned slowly on the spot, waiting out his fate. The Gamemakers had dragged him back to the Cornucopia for a reason but when he had arrived it was empty.
He could feel his heart thumbing in his chest or maybe that was the thunder? A clap of thunder caused Blaine to jump and look wildly around. He could feel his face reddening, imagining his father at home rolling his eyes at his scared son. His wimpy son. It wouldn't have mattered that Blaine was one of two tributes left, no. Just the fact that he was showing fear would be enough for his father to make some snide comment. Blaine only hoped his brother Cooper was sticking up for him.
He was sure that his last gift from a sponsor was from his older brother. It had been a pumpernickel roll with goat cheese spread. Something he and Cooper would eat on special occasions like birthdays or Reaping day.
Watching his brother in the crowd when his name had been picked had been the hardest thing to watch. No, scratch that. Watching his father hold Cooper's arm so he couldn't go to Blaine had been hard. Not that it mattered. Cooper was over eighteen, he wasn't allowed to volunteer even if he had been given the chance. The pained look in his brother's eyes tore through Blaine's heart like a knife. The disappointed look in his father's eyes shredded what was left of it.
Blaine lowered the knife and frowned. Surely Dave should be here by now. The rain was easing up and Blaine wasn't sure if this was a good sign or bad. It must be hard for people to watch with the weather so dark and unforgiving. What point was there watching two guys thrash it out if you couldn't even see what was happening?
Despite the fact that the sky was lighter, a dark shadow cast itself over Blaine. He barely had time to throw his arms up when Dave leap off the Cornucopia, his own knife in hand, lunging himself onto Blaine.
Blaine cried out, shielding his face with his hands, praying that it was going to be quick. Dave landed on him hard, forcing them both to the ground with a thump. He expected to be pinned down, his throat slashed in one swift movement but nothing happened.
Dave didn't move.
Blaine whimpered underneath him, glancing up at his face, which was staring and still. Blaine considered poking him until he saw a trickle of blood leaving his mouth and that's when he realised what had happened.
Dave had landed on his knife.
Blaine's body froze and his insides twisted painfully, not just at his kill, but at the fact that this meant that he had won.
He pushed Dave off with some difficultly and stared at his lifeless body, his knife sticking out just above his ribcage. Blaine dropped to the ground, running his fingers through his hair as the world around him turned to day, the rain stopped and the sun appeared. Blaine felt a small breeze and the warmth of the sun on his face.
He couldn't get up, not even when the announcer's voice boomed out for him to hear.
"Congratulations! Let's hear it for the victor of the Seventy-Third Hunger Games – Blaine Anderson from District Eight!"
And that's when Blaine woke up.
He could hardly believe that it was only a year ago that he had been inside that arena. He still had nightmares about it. The death of Dave Karofsky being a regular dream. He hadn't meant to kill him, it had been self defence, but he couldn't get the cold empty look Dave had in his eyes out of his head.
Blaine sat up, hugging his knees to his chest as he peered out of the window. The sun was barely up, it couldn't be more than five in the morning. Blaine rested his head against the headboard, releasing a long and tired sigh. The Reaping didn't begin until two that afternoon. Once the Reaping was over, everyone could forget about him. Forget about the boy from District Eight when there were new tributes to think about.
Blaine felt terrible looking forward to Reaping day this year. But he was also getting tired of the stares at the whispering at school and in the town. Despite winning, he had been taunted at school for the first few months by the older children. They had called him Bluke, a mixture of Blaine and Fluke. He had won by chance. By accident. Making District Eight laughable in the eyes of other Districts, especially Twelve who really could have done with a win. As the tributes thinned out, they really thought Dave was going to win. Who would have thought that someone like Blaine, a small and skinny seamstress from District Eight would beat him?
When Blaine, his father and his brother moved into their new house in the Victors Village he had been slightly happier. It meant that he didn't have to live near those who picked on him. He was able to escape. Cooper had told him to ignore them, that he was proud of him, no matter what. Blaine didn't know what he would have done if Cooper hadn't been there.
There was no school today and thanks to the money he won last year, he didn't have to continue working in the factory making blazers for Dalton, the school in the Capitol. He missed working in the factory. He missed the feel of the blue blazers on his fingers; he missed hand stitching the 'D' emblem on the breast pocket. He especially missed seeing Kurt.
Kurt Hummel in his opinion was perfect. With his porcelain skin and bright blue eyes that shone like the aquamarine gemstones the dressmakers sewed onto some of the more beautiful dresses for the Capitol. Apart from Cooper, it was Kurt that dominated his thoughts everyday in the arena. Kurt who Blaine would dream of at night, welcoming him back to the District with open arms and hot and heavy kisses that sent shivers through Blaine's spine when he thought about it.
But it never happened.
It was a few days after Blaine had been back. He had seen Kurt admiring a brooch in the haberdashery. He hesitated speaking to him, unsure of what to say. The fact of the matter was that Kurt didn't even know that Blaine had existed until his name had been pulled out of the bowl. They hadn't spoken in years, since they were children really.
Kurt had looked up and flushed at the sight of him, his eyes widening. His fingers had trembled and he dropped the brooch back on the counter. They stared at each other for a moment before Kurt's brother Finn, a tall brunette who wasn't the smartest needle in the box, had ushered him away, muttering about the company he kept.
Blaine hadn't forgotten the look on Kurt's face as he glanced over his shoulder at him. Forlorn and something Blaine couldn't place. Blaine had purchased the brooch Kurt had been looking at: white coral petals centred upon a single pearl. It was beautiful but way too expensive for Kurt. Blaine kept it under his pillow with the hopes of giving it to him one day.
When Blaine had washed and dressed in a simple tunic (he would change later into his Reaping outfit), he entered the kitchen to find Cooper with his back to him.
"Morning, B," Cooper said in what he probably hoped was a cheerful tone. No one was cheerful on Reaping day, even if your name wasn't in. Blaine sat at the table as Cooper turned around, his features hard as he tried to smile at his brother. "Pumpernickel and goats cheese," he said, handing Blaine a plate.
Blaine returned the smile and took a bite of the still warm bread. "Thanks," he muttered.
"I've laid out your outfit on your bed," Cooper informed him, pouring them both a glass of water. "The cameras will be following you in town so you better look your best."
Blaine merely nodded and finished his breakfast, aware that Cooper's eyes were burning into him. "I'm fine," Blaine said, answering the unspoken question between them.
"I didn't say that you weren't," Cooper said quietly.
Blaine looked up and saw concern in Cooper's eyes. He hated seeing Cooper upset, especially if he was the cause of it. He couldn't imagine what went through his mind watching Blaine during the games last year. "My name isn't in the bowl anymore, so I have nothing to worry about," Blaine said, more to himself than Cooper.
If you asked him, this was third in Blaine's list of reasons he was happy he won, right behind not being dead and seeing my brother again. But if you really asked him it was fourth, behind not being dead, seeing Kurt again and seeing Cooper again.
"I know, I just worry about you, kiddo," Cooper said. "And besides, I'm going to miss you when you're in the Capitol."
Blaine's body went ridged and suddenly he wasn't very hungry. Yes. The Capitol. Blaine had forgotten for five minutes that come two o'clock even though he wouldn't be going into the arena, he would be mentoring the boy tribute from his District. Apart from him, there were two victors living in the village with the Andersons. Will Schuester, winner of the fifty-fifth Hunger Games and Shannon Beiste, winner of the forty-eighth Hunger Games.
Will was a shell of his former self. Once a great dancer, he was now confined to a wheelchair and he barely spoke or even left his house. Twice since the Games Blaine's father had reported that Will was brought into the Healers Sanctuary after trying to take his own life.
Alexander Anderson was the Healer Leader at the Sanctuary, something Blaine was thankful for during times in the arena when he needed medical care. Blaine often complained to Cooper about their father's failings towards him, but he was entirety grateful that he knew how to care for burns, cuts and poisons.
With Will out of the picture, it meant that Blaine and Shannon were the mentors for the tributes. Blaine was dreading it. What could he honestly say to the boy tribute that he'd be helping try to stay alive? Maybe you'll get lucky like me and everyone will die around you. It was laughable. He'd have better luck asking Shannon to mentor both while he kept his head down in the Capital, gorging on their rich food.
That sounded like a plan. Shannon was built strong like an Ox and killed almost half the tributes during her own games. People in the District not only feared her, but they respected her. She had been Blaine's mentor during his time in the games and look how that turned out. They got on well and Blaine found out quickly that under her tough exterior was the nicest person he'd met. He was sure that she'd understand his plight and help him out. The tribute, whoever he was, would surely agree to being trained by Shannon instead of him.
It was almost one o'clock when Blaine met Cooper and their dad in the entrance to their house. Cooper had set Blaine out one of his old suits: a white long shirt with a red and blue stripped bow tie and dark cotton jacket. Blaine assumed that he'd tailored it to fit Blaine's smaller stature and while it would have been easier to wear one of his own smart clothes, Blaine appreciated the sentiment.
Cooper had been right, the cameras were almost glued to Blaine the moment he walked into the town centre. At least on a normal day he could pull his hood up and walk eyes to the ground to avoid being stared at. Today it was different; it was harder to blend in with people whispering around you and cameras following your every move.
Blaine smiled weakly and ran his hand absently over the front of his jacket, feeling a small bump under the material. He had pinned the brooch he bought for Kurt under the lapel of his jacket to sooth his anxiety. He wouldn't be able to see Kurt for a month or so and he wanted something close by to remember him.
Two Peacekeepers were walking towards him and Blaine felt his breath hitch at the memory of last year, of being physically pushed onto the stage when his legs refused to work. He didn't recognise either man, they weren't the usual Peacekeepers who walked the streets here. They guided him towards the stage where there were four seats lined up.
Three of those seats were already occupied: Major Figgins, whose usual smiling face was drawn closed, his lips in a tight line as he watched Blaine approach the stage. Next to him was Sue Sylvester, the escort for the tributes. She was a tall woman, who wore a silk aqua tunic over a pair of orange sink trousers. She had aqua highlights streaked through her short blonde hair and her skin was faintly tinted powder blue. She saluted him as he passed her.
And then finally sat Shannon Beiste. She too was in her best clothes, a simple crimson red dress that fell below her knees. She offered him a smile and patted the seat next to her.
The Reaping began with Major Figgins reading the story of Panem, the uprising and the pain that followed. He then read out a list of the victors from the District. Out of the seven, only three were still alive. Blaine tried to rearrange his face to something neutral when his name was read, staring ahead past the cameras. When the Capitol video started to play he didn't need to watch; it was burnt into his brain.
"… and that is why we have the Hunger Games!" the voice in the video concluded.
Sue Sylvester stood up and approached the two large bowls positioned at the front of the stage. She smiled eagerly at the crowd, in what she imagined must be a thrilled expression that just came off as patronising. As she spoke about what a privilege it was to be here and how excited she was to choose this year's tributes, Blaine stopped listening and allowed himself to look the crowd. Some children were silently crying, others white faced with their lips pursed and their bodies stiff. He caught sight of Cooper who gave him an encouraging smile, and next to him their father, who looked sullen and who broke their eye contact almost immediately after Blaine gained it. For whatever reason, he couldn't look at his son.
He caught Kurt's eye in the crowd with the other seventeen years olds and was surprised to find him looking directly at him. His face was paler than usual, with a faint tinge of green in his cheeks. He stared unblinkingly at Blaine for a moment before his eyes fell to the ground. A small jolt to his stomach snapped Blaine's thoughts back as Sue Sylvester approached the female bowl.
"Ladies first," she quipped, placing one of her blue stained hands into the bowl before pulling out a piece of paper. She opened it, read the name and then spoke it clearly into the microphone for everyone to hear.
A knot tied itself in Blaine's stomach. He knew Tina, she was nice. She would often help him with the fancier stitching at the factory as her fingers were more nimble and she always finished her work first.
Tina took a deep breath, wiping away a few stray tears as she walked to the stage, head held up high. A small Asian girl had started to sob in the families section. She couldn't have been more than four or five years old and Blaine guessed that she was Tina's little sister. She was being held by a short woman who had to be their mother while their father placed a caring arm around the both of them.
Sue Sylvester was saying something to Tina that Blaine didn't catch. Whatever it was, Tina simply nodded and stood over by the female bowl and waited for her rival.
"At least she isn't twelve or thirteen, I don't think I'd be able to handle training them," Shannon whispered to Blaine, her eyes not leaving Tina. Blaine nodded and prayed for the same.
"And now for the boys," Sue Sylvester said, hand digging through the pieces of paper before pulling out one and opening it in front of the microphone. She smiled at the crowd and read out, "Kurt Hummel."