Disclaimer: She let it slip.
Training comes and goes and then it's time for us to have our one on one session. Undersee's nervous, I can tell because she isn't making smart jokes at me and she tugs on the tips of her hair. The room slowly clears as district by district is called out. When Thresh gets up to leave he tips his head at me, Undersee catches the interaction and raises an eyebrow. I pretend I don't notice though. Then she busies herself by watching the little girl from 11 and biting her nails. Eventually, the little girl, Rue, is called, and she scurries out of the room without looking back.
We wait for awhile until my name is called. "Gale," Undersee grabs my arm before I leave. "The bow, it's probably a bit tighter than the one you use at home. Okay? Take that into account."
I can't help but smile, "Thanks." And then I leave the room, glancing over my shoulder once and watching her pace back and forth in the empty cafeteria. I almost wish I could go after her so she doesn't have to sit in there alone, I know she's nervous as hell. I make quick work of getting to the training center, my hands sweating as I wipe them on my pants. I don't know what I'm going to do. The thought of the gamemakers just watching me throw things and shoot is kind of awkward.
I enter the room and glance up at the gamemakers, half of them are tipsy, and the other half barely acknowledges me. I hate District 12. I hate that we have to go last. I hate the gamemakers. I'm fighting for my life and they're drunk. They sure as hell weren't drunk when the careers were impaling dummies with spears. I hate the Capitol. I hate the Games. I hate this. "Gale Hawthorne," they call out. "District 12." I nod and the one in the center, the head gamemaker smiles. "Go on, then. You have ten minutes."
I turn to assess the weapons in front of me. Where do I even start? They've seen me throwing spears, I caught their eyes on me once or twice, so I think I can skip that one. I head for the knives. There's an entire wall of them, I don't know which one to pick. Eventually, though, I reach and spin them in my fingers. Feels like home. If I close my eyes tight enough I can almost feel the wind from the woods. I turn to the dummies, making sure at least some of the gamemakers are watching, and I know I have to do it right the first time. No mistakes or I'll lose their attention. I can't lose their attention.
Again my eyes are shut. In front of me I see a deer, I see an animal, I'm in the woods. Katniss whispers something behind me and I mentally tell her to shove off. I balance the knife in my hand and my eyes snap open. The knife goes flying from my hand, fifteen yards into the chest of the dummy. A few of the gamemakers gasp, the others who weren't paying attention now turn their gaze. Knife after knife, I send them flying. Must feed my family, must protect them from the Capitol, have to sell the deer at the Hob. Must make an impression, must get home. Over, and over again until all the dummies in the vicinity have knives right in their chests. I look up and a few nod in approval, the others watch silently. Have to keep them engaged, have to impress them, must get home.
As I pass to the archery station I go by the spears, once again showing them how easy that is for me. I've got them all watching now, all their eyes are trained, observant. It's like their bubbly spirits are now professional again at the fact I could be a career. But no, I wasn't offered to join them, Undersee was. And if I keep them interested in me then they'll be interested in her too. Can't mess up. A pig is carried out and not one watches as it sits, they whisper and point at me. I am a career, my own career. I'll show them. I move to the snares quickly, setting up one that hoists people up by their ankles, using a dummy as bait. A few of them smile at the knots, others discuss strategy, and then, as it's hanging in the air upside down, I rush to the archery station. I have to feed my family, I have to make money from the Hob, that's not a person it's a deer, it's a wolf, it's game we can eat. It's a Game, the Hunger Games. I have to win. The bow in my hands reminds me of Katniss. As I pull the bowstring back, I think of Undersee. Take that into account. It strains my muscle, I want my bow, but it's easy enough to figure out the differences the first time I pull it back.
I know what I have to do, and I shoot the target with perfect precision. "That's time, Mr. Hawthorne." I nod, placing the bow back on the shelf, and then flash them a smile, it's about the charm. I meet eyes with the head gamemaker, though, and I know he sees my true thoughts. I hate this. I hate you. I hate all of this. But I'm going home. He smiles back, and I walk out of the room after giving a slight bow. I should've shot them. Easy enough to take them all out before a peacekeeper got to me.
I ride the elevators back up to our room in silence, clenching my fists the entire time. I'm going to have to kill someone. Not just one person either, but more than one. My family will be at home watching and there's nothing I can do, nothing at all. I just have to kill, and kill, and kill until I'm the last one standing. I have to go home for Posy, I promised. I have to go home for my family, for Katniss and Thom, for District 12. I have to show them that we're not pathetic, that we deserve attention, respect. I have to show them all.
At dinner Undersee sits quietly. She won't talk about what happened in the training room, so I don't either. Haymitch pokes and pries and Effie tries to lure us out, but we're both silent. Instead, Undersee makes remarks about the weather, telling everyone how much she wishes it would rain because she loves the sound. I call her crazy.
"Madge, do you know how to walk in heels?" Effie inquires. "Cinna said you'll be wearing heels and if you don't know how then I'll have to teach you."
"Of course I know how to walk in heels," Undersee nearly rolls her eyes. It causes Effie to smile. "I'd love for you to give me some pointers, though." Good old town girl charm, I see. I can be charming too. I flashed the gamemakers a smile, that has to count for something.
"Good, good, we'll be doing that tomorrow. I get you first, Haymitch gets you second. I can't wait to spend some one on one time with you, dear!"
"Great," Undersee cheers back. Haymitch has barely spoken to her since she chucked the wineglass at my head. "And what do I get to do with you, dear Mentor?"
The drunk snorts behind his wineglass, "Guess you'll find out, sweetheart." Undersee shrugs, crossing her arms lightly. I know she's not excited for it. Then again, I think back to when Haymitch offered to train us together and she denied it. The idea of her hiding something comes back to haunt me, but I keep quiet. "I suppose we watch the training scores."
"I suppose you're right!" Effie cheers. "Cinna, Portia," the two stylists push away from the table, and then Undersee and I follow.
"Nervous?" she asks quietly when she knows the others aren't listening. I shrug, I'm not nervous. I don't quite have a reason to be. Good score or bad, everyone'll see what I'm made of once we go in, that's what matters. "Good luck." I nod to her and then we move to sit on the couch, Cinna and Portia in between us. He wraps his arm around her and gives her shoulder a tight squeeze, Portia rests her hand on my knee. I watch Undersee's face go pale, she must not have done very well. Or maybe she just did something really bad. She's just nervous, that's all.
Marvel gets a 9, Glimmer gets an 8. Cato and Clove both get 10's. The careers from 4 both get 9's. Person after person, the average of 5. Each time it gets closer to District 12 I feel my heart pick up pace. Maybe I am nervous. What if I just thought they were watching and they weren't? Who am I kidding, I need a good score! Without it I'm just some sulky handsome boy who had a cape of fire! I need a good score. I need a good score. District 11, Thresh scores a 10, Rue scores a 7. A 7! I take a peek at Madge who's smiling into her hands, I know she's proud despite never talking to the tiny girl. We're next. Portia squeezes my knee, and then my score is flashing. 10. 10! A laugh bubbles out of me before I can stop it, and I almost forget to check for Undersee's score. It's an 8, she sighs with relief, I can't help but notice it's the same as Glimmer's.
"Oh my goodness!" Effie nearly shrieks. "You two scored so well! So well!"
"Congratulations," Portia whispers in my ear. I'm still grinning.
"You did great," Cinna tells Undersee.
"I was so nervous," she admits to him quietly. "My hands kept sweating and I kept dropping the knives too early, they wouldn't stick their landing. Plus they were a bit distracted by some pig, I don't know." She turns to look at me, "Good job, Gale."
"You too," I smile back. The rest of the night is spent eating cake with Effie nearly falling out of her chair in excitement. Haymitch says nothing but just drinks a bit more. I catch his eyes lingering on me more than once. But for the moment, everything feels okay. It doesn't feel like we'll be in the Games in two days, it doesn't feel like anything bad will happen. It's just us, this cake, and the stretch of the night. And it feels okay.
I sit on the couch as Haymitch paces in front of me. We've been here for ten minutes, he hasn't said anything. He just paces. Back and forth, back and forth, hand running through his hair, back and forth, sigh. "You're the first tribute I've ever had," he finally says, "that scored higher than a 6." I raise an eyebrow. "Undersee's the second."
"Madge," I correct lightly as a joke. Haymitch snorts. "What of it?"
"I don't know," he shakes his head. "I'm still trying to figure it out." He taps his chin and then takes one of the recliner chairs across from me. "I don't know what I'm going to do." He furrows and unfurrows his brows, watching me intently. "You said you've got a reason to get home, eh?"
"Family," I nod. "Little sister, little brothers. Single mother. I know you want Undersee out, I know that, but I don't care. I have to get home, you don't understand. I'll do anything, Haymitch, I've got to get home."
"That," he points at me, disregarding everything I just said. "That's it. You're determined, you'll do anything to win. That's your angle."
I laugh before I can stop myself, "What did you say?"
"For the interview, you idiot." Haymitch rakes his fingers through his hair. "That's your angle, your family. You go with that. I know you hate this, I know you do, but you have to convince everyone that you don't. Charm them, you don't look half bad when you smile. You're not entirely terrible with words, either." I snort. "You think I'm joking? Here, what's your little sister's name?"
"Posy," I say slowly. I don't want to talk about my family. If I end up dying then they'll have that stupid interview to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Little Posy, sweet God she's so young.
"How old is she?"
"Four," I force out. Five next month. I have to be there, I told her I'd be there with her. I even had my eye on this doll at the Hob that I knew she'd like. I have to get it for her, I have to be home. I have to win, I have to.
"Come on, Hawthorne, give me something to work with," he growls. "What'd you tell her before you left?"
"I promised I'd come home," I mutter.
"I can't practice being a good speaker, Haymitch," I snap at him. "It just comes to me. Plus I hate talking to you, so I doubt that's helping much."
"Okay, determined, forceful, fiery like that damn cape. Charm them, intimidate them, but you've got to win their vote whatever you do. Go along with whatever Flickerman says, talk yourself up. The audience will eat it alive, you understand?" I shrug, sounds easy enough. "Can you do that?"
"Aye aye, Captain," I salute him and he smirks. "I thought you wanted Undersee to get out?"
"I do, but I can't get both of you out. Only one can win, yeah? You've got more of a basis to get home than she does, besides you're a fighter. You hate this, the entire thing. The only reason you're cooperating with it because you don't want your family harmed, you don't want them to see you fail. I'm not an idiot, we're a lot alike, boy."
"I'm nothing like you," I bite out.
"Maybe not now, but when I was in the Games? You're a spitting image of me."
"Speaking of the Games, you and Undersee's aunt were allies." I change the subject to him and watch as Haymitch visibly cringes.
"This time is about improving your audience skills," Haymitch grumbles, tipping the beer in his hand into his mouth. "Not about me."
"Don't ally with friends," Haymitch grumbles. "You and Undersee, don't do it," he shakes his head. "Makes it worse, so much worse." He rakes his fingers through his hair and sighs. "Stay away from her in the arena. If you cross paths, run the other way." He snorts, "Or kill her painlessly. Your choice."
"I couldn't kill her," I snap. "You really think I'd be able to lay a hand on her?"
"What if it comes down to you two, eh? What about then?"
"Not gonna happen," I jeer back. God, please don't happen. Odds are it won't happen. Please don't happen.
"And if it does?"
After a few hours with Effie telling me to smile, smile, smile would you? I'm finally sent to my prep team. Aelia is overly excited to see me again, considering she's the one that gets to scrub my body. Painful raking of the skin over and over again, but this time it's not as much. I was just spiffed up a few days ago, I can't be that dirty.
"I am so excited to see you on stage!" she coos, her hands running playfully through my hair. "You are going to look so handsome."
"Only because we're the ones doing him up," Prisca jeers back. She's a bit nicer after my training score but you can still tell she hates me.
"Be nice, Prisca," Vius says angrily. "Gale's going to steal the show, I just know it." Prisca rolls her eyes, batting Aelia's hands away from my hair. Apparently, all three have specific parts of my body. Vius does hands and feet, soaking them in some strange lotion. Aelia does the rest of my body, which she thoroughly enjoys, and Prisca gets my head, hair and all. In fact, she spends the majority of time on my hair. She seems content when she spreads some strange gel through my hair, as well as when she rakes some sort of chemical across my chin that stings.
Once my hair is perfectly molded, Prisca making note of her 'perfection', she leaves the room so it's just Vius and Aelia. "She really hates me," I say, not being able to stop my laugh.
Vius shrugs, filing away at my nails. "She hates everyone." After they're done shaping my body and making me handsome, they're all gone. Forever. Maybe to never be seen again. Can't say I'd miss them. Portia enters and smiles brightly at me, strutting across the room to unveil the suit I'll be wearing for the interviews. Now Portia, Portia I'd miss.
"Here you are, Mr. Hawthorne," she hands me my underclothes and I pull them on quickly. "Oi, your hair," she shakes her head. "Sorry about that."
"That bad?" I groan, glancing at myself in the mirror. It's not me, it's slick and unappealing. "Fix it, would you?"
She smirks, "My dear boy, we don't have time for that." She laughs as she helps me into my suit, charcoal black with flames on the cufflinks. "Do you like it?"
I nod and honestly say, "Yes. I love it. Although I miss the cape." She chuckles, straightening my bowtie and cufflinks and tapping my cheek gently. "Thank you Portia, for everything. You've given me the best advantage possible."
"You would've been fine without my help," she says lightly. "You've got it all, Gale. The reason to go home, the determination. You're strong, charming, you're even a sweetheart when you're not angry." I snort and she grabs my hand. "Tomorrow when you go into the Games, you're going to do great. But first you have to wow them, you have to show them how much potential you have, you have to show them what's really in a Victor." I nod as she ushers me toward the door. "If you get nervous just look at me. I doubt you'll get nervous, but just in case." Again, I nod, and she leans up and kisses my cheek lightly. "Now, let's go kill em."
We walk out together toward the elevator where Cinna and Undersee are already waiting for us. I pause in my step before she notices we're there and just look at her. Beautiful, it's the only word I can conjure at first. Madge looks beautiful. Yellows and blues of intricate designs are stenciled down her arms, her hair is pinned up, but still down. Nothing like at the opening ceremonies. Now, it's flowing, cascading down her back yet still out of her face, framing her lightly colored cheeks. It pulls out the sparkle in her eyes, and when she turns to see us her lips tug upward. Portia nudges me to keep walking with a noted grin, Cinna smirks into his hand. I can't take my eyes off of her, the way her dress is shorter in the front but longer in the back, and every step she takes it's like flames are licking the ground behind her. Still blue, but a hint of red is in there somewhere.
"I look like one of them," she whispers to me, "don't I?"
"One of who?" I ask back once Portia and Cinna are busy complimenting each other on their work.
"A Capitol citizen," she says painfully. "Don't I?" A laugh bubbles out of me before I can stop it. "Is it that bad?"
"You're crazy, Undersee," I shake my head. "You look great." Her cheeks tingle pink and she drops her gaze, not even trying to hide her smile. And honestly, she looks great. She should know she does. God, that dress, the way it molds to her skin, the way the entire thing flares up in sparks with every step she takes. Like I said, she'll win sponsors just with looks. It doesn't help she's practically a saint. We get to the stage and are lined up in a huge arc. We're all sitting out there a moment before the camera actually starts rolling, and Undersee leans across to me, her hands darting to my hair. "What the hell are you…" I trail off as he finger brushes my forehead, it reminds me of the first night here.
She smiles, "Your hair looks atrocious, let me fix it."
"Prisca's probably cringing right now," I tell her. "At least Portia agreed it wasn't the best." She pulls her hands away and takes a moment to analyze her work. While she does so I reach up and twirl one of my own fingers around a strand of hair, pulling it to the front of her face. "You really do look nice."
"So do you," she says quietly. I drop my hand and smile just as the lights boom and Caesar Flickerman marches onto the stage. We both turn as he introduces himself, the Games, and the first person being interviewed. As Glimmer takes the stage I watch Undersee divert her eyes angrily, and I can see why. They may look a bit similar but Madge would never go out in public wearing… that. Not that I'm complaining, considering Glimmer looks hot as hell in that see-through piece of fabric, but it's degrading. Sure to win sponsors though, which is why she's wearing it. Undersee still looks better. Tribute after tribute, interview after interview. Marvel's an idiot, Clove is terrifying, Cato's deadly. Somewhere in the middle I get bored and start just watching the flames on Undersee's dress as she shifts in her seat. It's a good distraction. Rue is precious, Thresh is angsty. He's right, we're a lot alike. He just plays up the angry side more than I will. In fact, I won't play that up at all. But he does a good job at it. I can't help but smile.
Finally it's Undersee's turn to go, her nervous habits quickly disappearing as she strides across the stage, her straight posture and flames dancing behind her. "Woah, woah, woah! You're not going to burn me, are you?" Flickerman asks her as she twirls before taking her seat. The crowd eats it alive, the fire is more than anyone could have expected. My eyes find Cinna in the crowd who is wide eyed, a mystical smile spread across his face.
"Never, Caesar," she cheers playfully. "As long as you behave."
The audience laughs and she flashes them an award winning smile. "Now, Madge, let's get right to it. I know your father was the Mayor back in District 12, correct?"
"Oh, yes," she nods, "he must be very proud I've made it this far." She has a way with words, sweet God it's like she made note cards on exactly what to say. There's no way in hell her father's proud of her, he's probably terrified out of his mind.
"Especially with a score of 8, my dear!" The crowd again is cheering. "How ever did you manage?"
"Well you see, I have a hidden talent," the audience leans forward in their seats, "I wooed them with my piano playing." The crowd chuckles, what a letdown. Charm, she's all charm. I can't even tell if she's being sarcastic.
"That's right, I've heard that you play the piano! I suppose they just wheeled one out for you in training, then?"
Madge laughs, "I'm only teasing. If that had happened then I surely would have scored a 12." Caesar laughs, a genuine laugh, and so does the audience. "You know, Caesar, I've got a few hidden tricks up my sleeve. I'm more than just a pretty face."
"No doubt in my mind, love. In fact, I bet you've got all the boys back home wrapped around your finger."
She shrugs, her cheeks finally sparking a pink. "More or less." Mostly less. "I'm a little intimidating considering I'm the daughter of the Mayor."
"I'll bet. But there has to be a special boy! Isn't there? There is, I can see it in your eyes!"
"Oh, I don't know. He never really liked me much, I don't think. Not until recently anyways." I raise an eyebrow, Undersee likes someone. Undersee did say she had a reason to get home, would it be this guy? Do I know him? She hasn't mentioned anyone; maybe she's just making the whole thing up to get sympathy from the crowd. It's working, I can tell. They're all leaning forward in their seats, hanging on every word, desperate to learn more of this mystery boy. I might be leaning too, I can't tell. "I'm probably just another girl to him."
"Madge, you've got it all. The looks, the talent, you can win this. Mayor's daughter, Victor, you'll be the talk of the town! This boy would be crazy to not like you! You're much better than any of those other girls that could be stealing his heart."
"I don't know, Caesar," she says back. "I don't think it would really work like that for me. Things just aren't exactly in my favor."
"And why ever not? You're stunning, sweet…"
"Yes, but you see this boy, he… he's not really in the District."
Caesar gasps, "Perhaps you favor the affection of another Victor?" A few people in the crowd snicker, some aww. No, never, Undersee couldn't like a Victor. She's better than that. But who is it? She's not making any sense.
She laughs, "Well he's not exactly a Victor yet." Caesar goes silent, an eyebrow rising up his forehead. He obviously is unsure of how to continue. Her face goes pale as she realizes what she said. "I mean, he… he…" Undersee's fumbling with her words. What does she mean yet? She can't mean…
"My dear Madge, you couldn't possibly be implying that…" her cheeks flare up and she drops her gaze, the screen flashing to me. The screen flashes to me. I'm on the screen. Caesar looks back at me sadly, then toward Madge again. She's talking about me. She can't be talking about me, this is just some big misunderstanding…
"I told you things weren't exactly in my favor," she adds quickly, her powerful voice now dropping to a shaky whisper. Then the buzzer rings. "Thank you, Caesar."
"No, thank you, Madge. I can't wait until you're back in the Capitol so we can hear you play the piano!"
The smile creeps back onto her face. "I'll give you your own private concert," she winks, and then her flames are trailing behind her as she takes her seat again. Her cheeks again are pink as she sees me and I realize my jaw is hanging open. The crowd is screaming and cheering and jumping and yelling. Undersee fiddles with her hands and tugs at the loose strand of hair I pulled forward to her face. They have to call my name twice before I hear it. Slowly with a sudden onset of nerves, I make my way to the stage.
A/N: Well... what do you think? Of course, Madge hadn't meant to say that, it wasn't planned. She totally let it slip by accident. Thoughts, please. Criticism and opinions are welcomed.