"I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games."
- The Hunger Games
He's not nervous, or at least that's what he tells himself as he sits outside the entrance to the training centre, waiting for his private session. Caroline has just gone inside and he's last – last out of every competitor and Stefan isn't sure whether that's a good thing or a very, very bad thing.
All night he'd debated with himself whether to show off all of his skills or whether to just slide under the radar. If he scored low, he wouldn't get any sponsors, but he would have the element of surprise against the other tributes in the games – they wouldn't be expecting any competition from him if he scored a four or something. However, he wasn't naïve enough to believe he could win without sponsors, there was just no way. The gamemakers would be sure to throw everything possible at him in the arena and while he could hunt for himself and wouldn't need food provisions, there was no doubt in his mind he would eventually need medical supplies.
He still hadn't decided what he was going to do by the time Caroline exited the room, pale faced and eyes shining. He could tell before she even spoke that it hadn't gone well.
"I'm sorry." He said softly, reaching out to pull her into his arms.
"It's ok." She replied quietly. "I'm really sorry for how I've been treating you, Stefan." She continued even as he hushed her, "You know how neurotic I can be and I'm just taking all my fears out on you, which isn't fair."
"No, Care…It's alright." He sighed, rubbing her back. He did know how she felt after all. Perhaps not as acutely – his chances at survival were much higher – but still, he knew what she was feeling, her worries and doubts.
"We'll talk later, ok?" Stefan smiled softly, before moving around the blonde and towards the training room. He heard her whisper a good luck and his expression hardened as he strode forward to face the gamemakers.
His eyes darted back and forth across the high stage that they had taken up residence on days ago. They were all laughing merrily with each other, talking over champagne. He cleared his throat as he reached the front of the room, waiting expectantly. Only a few of the men glanced over briefly before turning back to their conversations disinterestedly.
Stefan felt his mouth drop open. Seriously? He knew that the citizens of the capitol, those involved in the games especially, thought they were better than everybody else but this was ridiculous. They were here to grade him, that was their reason for being here today!
He was only from District 12 of course, not a career tribute like Klaus and Rebekah, but seriously? Frowning, he turned and picked up a bow and quiver from the station beside him, hoisting it up and firing five arrows in quick succession. Three went straight to the heart and two to the head – clumped together, dead centre – perfect.
His satisfaction lasted only a moment however as he turned and found none of the gamemakers paying attention – not one. They had all circled around a roast that was being brought out – the centrepiece a large pig the likes of which Stefan could only dream of being presented with. It had an apple in its mouth and was surrounded by a variety of salads.
The pompous capitol citizens poured themselves some more wine – completely oblivious to the feat of archery that had occurred behind them.
"You've got to be kidding me." Stefan muttered out loud, unimpressed.
He let the beautifully crafted compound bow fall to his feet with a clatter, staring in disbelief at the scene before him. He could feel fire licking at his gut as he watched. These people, they were forcing him, forcing children to fight to their deaths and they couldn't even be bothered to award him a few minutes of their time?
Glaring harshly, he strode over to the next station, picking up one of the deadly throwing knives, gripping it tightly in his hand. He turned to the dummy, preparing to send it flying into the heart area when a burst of laughter from the stage took him off guard.
He turned to find the head gamesmaker pointing at the hog they had been presented with and moving to take the apple out of its mouth. He lifted the shining fruit up and turned to say something to the man next to him conspiringly and that's when Stefan lost it.
Before he knew it the throwing knife was out of his hand and flying towards the stage, hitting the apple dead centre and impaling it to the wall a few feet behind. One of the women let out an ear piercing shriek and then it fell silent as all eyes turned to Stefan.
No one dared to move and it seemed, Stefan thought vindictively, that they had all of a sudden lost the ability to speak. The head gamesmaker, Shane or someone, still had his hand poised in the air, seemingly stunned at how close he had just come to losing his fingers, the knife having passed a hair's breadth away.
Stefan smirked at them before giving a mocking bow. "Thank you, for your consideration." And with that, he stormed to the doors, slamming them behind him and not slowing his furious pace until he reached the elevator.
"Unbelievable." He muttered to himself, shaking his head.
He's accosted by both Caroline and Alaric at once as he enters the apartment they've been given, the two of them vying for his attention with various questions all along the lines of 'how did it go?' and 'what happened?'.
He simply shakes his head, still far too furious to talk before striding into his room and slamming the door. He supposed his indecision from earlier was of no matter now – his mind had been made up for him. No way were they going to give him a high score now, he'd be lucky to receive a score at all to be honest.
He'd never heard of anyone receiving zero previously but there was a first time for everything and with his luck lately…
Stefan didn't leave his room when Caroline came knocking, he didn't come out for dinner either – he only migrated to the lounge area when Alaric called out that the tributes individual scores were now being announced and that he needed to 'get his ass out there'.
He missed the capitol's tributes – Kol and Katerina if he remembered correctly? – by the time he made it to the lounge though he could guess what kind of scores they had received. He was just in time to see Niklaus' face flash up onto the screen and the presenter announce his score of a ten.
That was…well, it didn't surprise Stefan that the score was high, not at all. But ten? Only a handful of people had ever received a score that high. The marks were between one and twelve, one being the lowest and twelve being the highest. From what he remembered, ten is the highest score a tribute has received to date.
He wondered what exactly Niklaus had showed them to garner himself such a score. Obviously they were paying attention earlier in the day, Stefan thought bitterly, biting his lower lip. He tuned back into the program to hear Rebekah's score of eight – also higher than Stefan had expected.
He hummed softly to himself, frowning in consternation. Next came Finn who also received an 8 and Sage with a 7. Tyler received a 7 also, but the girl who'd been reaped from his district; Amber, she only received a 3. He wasn't surprised, she seemed the pampered type and he doubted survival skills were ever a necessary skill for her to learn, much less anything violent.
The scores were mostly average after that for a little while as Alaric quickly pointed out. "They're mostly what I expected."
Caroline was quick to respond with, "what about Niklaus Mikaelson?" Because really, it would just be ridiculous to have expected a ten – from anybody.
"He's definitely something." Ric muttered quietly and Stefan couldn't help but think there was something odd about it. Whether it was the tone or the body language he wasn't sure, but something was definitely off.
When they got to District 8 the boy, Matt, was a pleasant surprise with a 7 also which had Stefan humming in consideration. He'd seemed fit enough he supposed, but nothing particularly special – or dangerous for that matter.
The girl from 11, Bonnie, received a 6 and Stefan wondered whether the Gamesmakers were even paying attention to her. He didn't expect much from her, but still, she would have gone just before them and he knew they weren't paying attention by the time they got to District 12.
He grit his teeth as Caroline's face flashed up on the screen and the room collectively held their breath. A large black 5 appeared next to her picture and he let out a shuddering breath, trying to give her a small smile.
"That's ok!" Ric said immediately. "That's alright, I can work with that."
It was then that Stefan saw his own face staring back at him and he winced, barely able to make himself look at the screen.
"What is that face for?" Alaric badgered him immediately, "what did you do?!"
The presenter's voice floated out incredulously then, "well I don't think I've ever seen this before!" And he hung his head. They'd given him a 0. He'd be the first competitor in the history of the games that they'd label bad enough to not even receive a number.
"How the hell…" Ric muttered and Stefan let his eyes flicker upward for a fraction of a second only to take in the two black figures dancing on the screen. 11.
"Shit." He croaked, meeting Caroline's eyes with a wide-eyed stare.
"What the hell did you do?!" Alaric snapped, turning to grab his shoulders furiously.
"I might have…thrown a knife at the Gamesmakers." He screwed up his eyes as Caroline punched him in the leg.
"Why the hell would you do that Stefan?!" Her lips were set in a pout and she was clearly furious with him.
"They weren't even watching me!" He stood up from the lounge, pacing back and forth, "They were just paying attention to their damn feast, not the least concerned about what I could do."
"So you thought you'd try and kill them?" Alaric cut in incredulously, standing as well and punctuating his words with his hands.
"One of them had an apple in his hand so…I hit the apple."
"Let me get this straight," their mentor ranted, "you thought it would be a good idea, to throw a knife at an apple that was sitting in one of the Gamesmakers' hands?!"
Stefan shrugged a little defensively. "What's the big deal?!" He glared, "I got an 11 out of it – that's good right?"
Saltzman growled in frustration, throwing his hands in the air. "No, you idiot! All you've done is paint a massive target on your back!" He took Stefan by the shoulders and shook him angrily, "you've labelled yourself as the biggest threat in the games!"
Stefan sighed, covering his face with his hands and drawing in a ragged breath. "Well there's not much I can do about it now," he mumbled from between his fingers. He tugged harshly on his hair before staring at Caroline in silence for a moment. When no one dared to speak he shook his head and turned on his heel, leaving the apartment as fast as possible without making it look like he was running away.
He was stepping out of the stairwell and onto the roof before he even registered that maybe coming up here wasn't a good idea – a thought that was confirmed when he spotted the blonde man sitting on the ledge of the roof, feet swaying in the breeze.
"I thought you might come up here."
Stefan shook his head with a dry laugh, eyes darting back toward the door and wondering whether the fresh air out here was worth the trouble. He could feel everything piling up in his chest, like the weight of the world was resting, not on his shoulders, but on top of his heart. Sitting there, crushing him slowly as all his feelings piled on top of one another.
He could feel a lump rise in his throat and his eyes begin to burn and he clenched his hand into a fist. It was all just too much for him – everything he had, little as it was, had been ripped from him brutally and he knew, he knew he would never get it back. He wasn't going to fool himself, even if he made it out alive, he would never be the same person – the games changed you, it was a fact.
And besides, he wasn't going to win. As positive as he tried to be, as much as he tried to fool himself...he couldn't beat Klaus. There was no way he was ever going to be a good enough match for the blonde. He'd seen him in training, Klaus would annihilate anything in his path.
He was brought back to reality sharply by the sensation of fingertips trailing along his cheek and he realized with a start that he was staring into deep azure. He'd bitten through his lip and blood was filling his mouth. He was aware for only a second of the hand fisted tightly in his shirt before it was pulling him in and Klaus covered his lips with his own.
He was vulnerable and upset and he just…gave in. Just like that. Klaus was like…a darkness that lingered in the back of your mind, never obvious but always there. When they parted Stefan rested his forehead on the blonde's shoulder, closing his eyes tightly.
Did he really want to get involved in whatever this was? Knowing that he was going to be put in a kill or be killed situation? Did he even still have a choice? Because really, did he have the strength to stop this feeling inside, crashing down on him like a tidal wave?
"I don't understand." He said softly, flinching even as the words slipped from his mouth.
"I know." Klaus replied, simply tracing Stefan's neck softly with his fingertips.
Drawing in a shaky breath, Stefan stepped back, meeting blue eyes once more but with less trepidation. "So…a ten, huh?" He muttered quietly, a small smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth.
Klaus had no problem showing his, a flash of white teeth showing as he replied sarcastically, "so…an eleven, huh?"
Stefan sighed, looking away to the buildings towering around them that formed the capitol. "It was an accident."
Klaus scoffed. "An accident? What did you show them?" He shook his head. The tone was casual but Stefan could hear the real underlying curiosity there.
"I threw a knife at the Gamesmakers."
Klaus blinked. "You what?"
"They weren't paying attention to me," Stefan frowned, aware he sounded petulant but not really caring all that much. He was shocked when a genuine laugh came from Klaus – the blonde's eyes sparkling as a true grin spread across his face.
"You really are a ripper aren't you?"
Stefan told himself he was imagining the affection in the other man's voice because it simply couldn't be there.
"What is it that bothers you the most about these games, Stefan?" Klaus changed the subject abruptly and the brunette frowned in consternation. He resisted the urge to ask for clarification, thinking a moment, before replying slowly.
"What really bothers me…" he started, "is that it doesn't bother them." He gestured out to the capitol with a wave of his hand. "It's like, we're all just characters or animals or something, I don't know. What bothers me the most is that they can all watch this – watch us dying, people's skulls getting bashed in – like it's all a joke. They laugh, like its entertainment." He sighed. "I hate it. I hate them."
He wasn't exaggerating either. While he was sure there was a nice person or two, or at least someone not so heartless left in the capitol, given the chance, he'd have no qualms about dropping a bomb on the place – District 13 style.
Klaus didn't comment on his answer, nor did he make to share an opinion of his own – he simply nodded thoughtfully and returned to staring at the skyline.
"I want to live." Stefan muttered quietly, feeling the blackness beginning to drag him down again.
Klaus turns to look at him, staring for a moment, opening his mouth and then closing it again as if deciding not to speak his mind. After another moment of silence however he hesitantly says, "you only need to survive the first few days." His resolve seems to harden after that and he looks more serious. "Be ready."
Stefan is left staring at his back – mind racing as he tries to decipher the message. What does he mean? Does he mean that sponsors will provide for him if he survives the initial bloodbath? Why is he giving Stefan false hope that maybe he has a chance in this – is he really that cruel?
His head is spinning and he just plain doesn't understand. He remains on the roof, alone, until he begins to shiver in the cool night air and is forced to retreat inside. He'd better get some sleep anyway, tomorrow they had interviews where they would have to attempt to appeal to sponsors. Basically they needed to look pretty and make out they had a decent chance of winning this – even if in reality they were screwed.
Stefan watched with a small smile on his face as Caroline charmed the audience. She may not be able to throw a weapon, that much was true, or have little expertise in any area of survival – but this…this she could do. The girl knew how to work a crowd.
She had a smile full of perfect white teeth and the stylists had curled her blonde hair into gorgeous ringlets. They had designed her a beautiful floor length gown black and jewel encrusted, quite similar to the outfits they had been provided with for the chariot. She made sure to be at least a little self-depreciative and laughed at everything the interviewer was saying – the capitol citizens were lapping it up.
When Caroline gave her last dazzling twirl to a loud round of applause Stefan abruptly realised he would now have to go and do the same thing and he had no idea what to say. His suit was jewel encrusted much like Caroline's dress and in all honestly was probably a size too small, though he was told that was 'on trend'.
Caroline pulled him into a one armed hug as she stepped off the stage and kissed him briefly on the cheek. "Your turn."
He thought if it weren't for the circumstances she could probably get used to this – the spotlight was definitely her element. He took a deep breath in but for some reason couldn't seem to make himself move. It was as if his feet were glued to the ground and it was only after a hard shove to his back from Alaric that he stumbled towards the stage.
People were clapping, though most of them were just peering down at him curiously, no doubt wondering how he'd managed to score that eleven and what skills he could possibly possess – being a nobody from District 12 that is. He was well aware of exactly how these people looked down on his home and even if he had to smile and win their admiration and affection – he would not forget what they were really like.
He would make a vow to destroy them all or something ridiculous like that but really, he wasn't getting out of this alive so he wouldn't have any chance to make his darkest wishes a reality.
"Stefan Salvatore! My oh my. Or should I call you the ripper?" It was said in a joking tone but to Stefan it only fell flat. He didn't like the nickname when it fell from this man's lips – he didn't like the crowd murmuring it either. The niggling voice in the back of his head protested that the name was reserved for one person and from anyone else it was wrong.
It seemed he had forgotten to smile at the ill joke (imagine that!) and so the man had moved onto another question, seemingly to disperse the sudden tension that had fallen over the stage. Alaric was gesturing furiously in the corner of his vision, no doubt bemoaning the fact that Stefan was stuffing all this up.
"We were all very moved, I think…when you volunteered for him at the reaping."
It took Stefan's addled brain a moment to catch up and he stared. He was sure, the moment he realised what the discussion had turned to, a dark glare had overtaken his face. That coupled with the fact that he had yet to speak since stepping onto the stage had the man shifting in his seat nervously.
He should take pity on him – fake a smile, pretend he was just like everybody else in the games – like he wanted sponsors, like he wanted the Capitol citizens to fall in love with him, but he just couldn't. If he had any chance at all he wasn't relying on these sorry excuses for humans, he didn't need them. He would make it through without them or not at all.
And how dare they bring up Damon? How dare they bring up the brother that he would likely never see again? The one person he cared about that they had nearly condemned to death.
"Did he come and say goodbye to you?"
Stefan's lip curled.
"Of course he came to say goodbye to me." He snarled, unintentionally living up to his hated nickname.
"And what did you say to him…in the end?" The man seemed relieved just to have gotten an answer out of him and continued to press where it hurt.
"I told him I couldn't live without him." He said angrily, as if it wasn't the most obvious thing in the world. Who did these people think they were? To rip their lives apart so thoroughly and then pour salt in open wounds?
"And did you say that for his comfort?"
That was it. He stood abruptly, upper lip curled into a snarl once more and threw his microphone at the man, unflinching at the loud thump as it struck him in the chest.
"Fuck you." He spat, striding off the stage and into the hall, shoving Caroline away from him as he forced his way to the lift. The doors had nearly closed when they were pushed back open forcibly and Alaric pushed through them, taking only a second to slam Stefan harshly against the back wall.
"What the hell were you thinking?" He hissed and Stefan had never seen him this angry before. "Huh? What the hell was that?" He sneered.
"Do you think I give a shit about what the Capitol think of me?" Stefan yelled at him. "Do you think I care about President Mikaelson and his little games?"
"You've made your feelings on them abundantly clear," His mentor spat back, "but I thought you gave a shit about staying alive – that's for sure!"
"Well there you go!" Stefan shoved him off. "I guess that's just proof that you don't know me. You have no idea."
Alaric shook his head angrily. "You have no idea what you're getting into. You can't win this."
Stefan remained still for a moment before letting another dark glare take over his features. "You have no idea what I'm capable of."
A/N: I can't thank you guys enough for sticking around, I'm back for hopefully more frequent updates from now on. What I can promise you is that this won't follow the story of Hunger Games from chapter to chapter, in fact after one more we're about to thoroughlly diverge. I don't think anyone's figured it out yet though, which is brilliant :)
Happy New Year!