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Title: 'Voices Over My Shoulder.'
Summary: Angie and Rayne are two contestants in this year's Hunger Games.

Obsession was not something Rayne could be called prone to, but anyone who looked at her sitting cross-legged on the floor, concentrating on nothing but knotting and unknotting and reknotting the rope she held, might think exactly the opposite. It wasn't that Rayne had to practice - she wasn't exactly brilliant with knots, but she wasn't useless - but she was determined to get this right. To make this knot perfect.

It could mean life or death.

Not for the first time, Rayne wondered why the hell she'd had to be chosen. She set the rope - unknotted again - down beside her, glancing around the room. All the other tributes seemed much better prepared, even the malnourished little thing from District 11. Sean had likely washed his hands of her already.

So that meant twenty-three people looking to kill her. Lovely.

Rayne ran through the butterfly knot again (twelve and a half seconds; she needed to get faster) and set the rope down, jumping to her feet. Play to your strengths, Sal had said. What were her strengths?

Well, Rayne thought, a little wryly. Rope-knotting was one, now.

 

Angie rubbed her cheek as she walked away from the hand to hand combat part of the training room. The taste of blood filled her mouth, and it dripped over her chin from a split lip that looked worse than it was. She knew she'd have a bruise on her cheek as well, but that was to be expected when she let someone flip her over and throw her to the ground.

And now she was the crazy girl from District 7, who could sort of hold her own at hand to hand. Angie could see a few other tributes smirking about that, but let them. Her 'mentor' could tell her to continue with the scare tactics - 'Let them know how strong you are. Tell them that they can't touch you.' - but that was stupid. Angie knew better than to let people know how strong you are. It only showed opened the door to let them find your weaknesses as well. And that, obviously, couldn't happen.

Running a hand through her hair, Angie looked around the room, wondering what to do next. Something to keep her busy. Hand to hand was fine for that, because she could bounce in place, move around, do something, but she couldn't stay on that all day. She had to learn something. A handful of mediocre strengths were better than having one thing to rely on. A flash of red near the corner of her vision made her look lower towards the ground.

Knots. She knew knots, of course - had to, when you worked with logging - but that didn't mean she was any good at them. Instead, her feet carried her around the edge of the room, towards the District 1 girl. "Butterfly knots are only good for climbing," Angie said once she was in earshot of her. Staring down at her, Angie grinned for some reason she couldn't understand, and felt like her face was cracking at the edges because of it. She must look crazy, with bruises and blood, and sin in her eyes, but that was what she was, wasn't it? "You'll want something else."

 

Rayne had settled back down to her rope-tying after a few quick bounces on her feet, just to get the blood flowing, and glanced up when someone spoke to her. Her first impression was one of confusion; this boy wasn't familiar, and unless someone had spontaneously added a district -

Wait. Nope. Sorry. Girl. Crosspatching brought her to the conclusion that this was District 7's tribute - Rayne hadn't exactly paid a lot of attention during the presentation of the tributes, something that Sal had harangued her for later. District 7. Wood. Lots of hauling, lots of axework. She'd know something about knots, and probably have a decent amount of strength in her, too.

District 7 could be useful.

"I'd be surprised if there isn't climbing," Rayne said matter-of-factly, deftly unknotting her last butterfly without looking. She held the rope up, the coil resting lightly on her palms. "It isn't the only knot I can do, though. Just the one I've been working on."

 

That made Angie smile wider. "You aren't a Career, are you?" she asked, very amused by that fact for some reason. It was obvious, though. Angie saw her hands when she held up the rope - they were rough, but from hard work and long hours, not from weapons training. This girl wasn't a normal District 1 pretty, feathery bird of a girl, and Angie knew she should be filing her away as competition. Instead, she marked her as something else, something that she didn't know the name of, but it was something that she was at least amused by.

Even still, if she wasn't a Career, that was a weakness. If she was sitting here practicing with rope, District 1 girl either didn't need any to learn anything else - it was possible, even if she wasn't a Career - or she didn't have anything else to work on. "You'll want to learn how to lash things together," Angie said, the words a complete surprise to her, because they hadn't even crossed her mind.

 

That had Rayne's chin tilting up slightly, a frown furrowing her face. "District 1," she said shortly, "but I didn't volunteer, no." Well, she had - if 'shouting at the girl who tried to volunteer for her' counted as that. Sure, the Games were a death trap, but if she won, she'd be a hero.

If she won. The alternative wasn't exactly something Rayne looked forward to.

She considered District 7 for another moment, then patted the ground next to her. The smile she stretched across her face was rather forced, but it was a nice smile. Sal had told her to smile often and stay pretty - the sponsors would like it, even if Rayne felt like doing anything but smile.

"Sit down. Or is there a Looming station that you're practicing for?"

 

"I don't like sitting. I have to keep moving or I go nuts." She had answered again before she thought about it, and the smile fell off of her face. That was a stupid thing to say, and it could be construed as a weakness. Who was this girl that made her mouth work before her brain, when usually she couldn't get her brain to shut up?

Rocking back on her heels, she looked down at the girl from district 1, almost confused. "Who are you?" Angie asked, though that question was wrong. It wasn't who the girl was that made her talk, but something else. She wanted to ask what she was, or what she knew, or what she was doing instead, but it was too late to change it. Who she was would have to do.

 

That was an extraordinarily honest answer. Rayne shrugged, smile dropping back off her face as quickly as it had appeared. "Have it your way. I hear they take points off that in Looming, though."

She looked back down at the rope, automatically moving through one reef knot, then another. The process of timing herself (thirteen and a quarter seconds, even worse than her butterfly) absorbed her, and she almost missed the question.

But, like the comment, it had been extraordinarily honest. Blunt, if she was going to be serious. She liked blunt better than she liked the sidestepping, mincing questions the other tributes threw at her to figure her out. Rayne looked up again.

It struck her that she didn't dislike District 7. That was odd. She didn't like any of the other tributes, not even her fellow District 1. "Rayne Wyman," she replied, focusing on District 7's face. "From, like I said, District 1. Who are you?"

 

It took Angie a long moment to answer, because it took her a long time to decide how to answer. Did she mean her name, or something else? There was a lot in who she was. My name is Angie Obenhaus. I'm 16 years old. I'm from District 7, I've go crazy sometimes, I have a little sister at home, and I'm going to win this year's Games. "That doesn't sound like a usual District 1 name," she said instead, to stall. She wanted to answer the other question first, but she really didn't know how.

Kneeling down, Angie rested on her toes and leaned closer, staring at Rayne like she could figure out the answer by looking right into her thoughts. "You only told me your name, so I'll tell you mine, Rayne Wyman" she answered after a beat, because that was at least fair, and she didn't have a reason from this girl first dirty yet. "My name is Angie Obenhaus."

 

That was fair. Rayne felt a smile on her face, something of a real one this time, rather than the automatic one she put on whenever she was somewhere they would be monitored. "Well, Angie Obenhaus, my dad considered 'Sparkle,' but my mom decided she'd rather not have the other kids beat me up on the playground." Which was only half of the truth - Rayne's dad hadn't ever been in the picture, and Sparkle was such an abominable name she doubted even a District 1 father would have approved of it.

She returned Angie's stare with one of her own, just as intense, though the smile offput any sort of intimidation she might have been lucky enough to be inflicting. Her hands ran through a couple more reef knots as she spoke. "Alright, more, then. I'm sixteen years old and I can tie very good knots." My mom's from District 11, I work in a bar, my mentor is more like family to me than anything else.

Oh, something she could say. "The other tribute from District 1." She jerked her chin across the room at Sean. "He's kind of a dick. Don't expect to be friends with him. And he is a Career."

 

"Why would I bother making friends with anyone?" Angie asked. "You're all going to die," she continued bluntly. It was the truth, of course, but she still frowned as she said it. Belatedly, she realized that she shouldn't be talking to anyone. Knowing anything about them would only make them harder to kill.

If she had to kill Rayne, would she stay up at nights, wondering about the mother that didn't want to give her daughter a stupid glitter name, like all of the other girls in District 1 had?

To make up for that, she said, "I don't need knots to climb. I can live in the trees."

 

If Rayne had been holding a pin, she would have dropped it. As it was, she fumbled the running bowline she'd started on, and swore under her breath, pulling the rope out straight again. "Are we?" she inquired, rather challengingly, and looked back up from her knot to raise an eyebrow at Angie. "It's not so much that you can't be friends with him. I just wouldn't bother suggesting you two team up. He's cozy with the other Careers and he wouldn't appreciate someone from 7 trying to squirm their way in."

You're all going to die. No one else put it quite like that. They did parade their skills around, yes, and they took it for granted that they were boasting in their heads, but Rayne hadn't heard anyone yet tell her 'hey, you're not ever going to see your mom again.'

She didn't know whether she liked that bluntness or not.

Instead of fighting out all these hard questions about whether or not she liked this tribute (and despite herself, she had to note there was a refreshing sort of bravado she found interesting), Rayne chose to fight out all the hard questions like should I even bother to keep talking to her? "Live in trees?" she prodded, cautiously. "Right, 7's lumber. Climbing station must be easy for you."

 

"Haven't tried it yet. Didn't see the point." Angie finally looked away from Rayne, blinking for what felt like the first time since the conversation had started. "Do you think the Careers are going to ally up?" she asked, asking the obvious question just to change the subject, because she didn't want to talk about herself all that much anymore. She had to think about Rayne's mom now, but she wasn't about to share Sarah with anybody. She hadn't said a thing about her family during the interviews and she wasn't about to start.

And this opened up paths to other conversations. Her gaze darted back to Rayne for a second before it dropped and she watched Rayne's hand work over the rope. She could work with knots, and Angie had no time to improve - she had been messing with ropes her entire life, and her fingers just refused to work with it, but she knew what to do with lumber better than anyone else here and she was betting her life on that.

 

Rayne's eyes strayed over to the station in question. "Well," she said, matter-of-factly, "if you don't know how to climb, you're screwed when you want to get up into your tree house."

Her hands ran through a few more knots, and Rayne decided that if her life depended on how fast she had to tie a water knot, she would just have to die. She dropped the rope, blowing lightly on her hands, and looked over at the hand-to-hand combat station.

Fuck. That.

The remains of a question was hanging in the air. What - oh, right. "Of course they will," Rayne said, making no attempt to hide her awkward pause. Pay attention. She leaned forward slightly, lowering her voice just a bit. "The girl from District 4 is the weakest link. They keep her in only because she is a Career, but she's too open to others. She's weak in her left arm, can't climb for--"

Why was she telling Angie this? This was information. Good information. Rayne cut herself off sharply, not caring how rude it seemed. "Anyhow, point is, don't try to get in the Career group through Sean."

 

Angie slowly grinned again after Rayne cut herself off, though she could feel that it was more put together than the one she had been sporting the reapings. It fit easier on her face, didn't make it feel like she was about to crack. "You pay attention to people," she said, leaning back on her heels when she felt her feet and legs start to go numb with her position. "Keep doing that and you'll last past the bloodbath." She said it with a hint of a challenge, curious to see her reaction. This girl didn't know anything about hiding her strengths, and it amused her.

If she thought about it too much, it made her feel sorry for Rayne just as much. A district partner that wanted nothing to do with her, and knots and perceptiveness as her only strengths. She'd last with cleverness, maybe, but she wouldn't survive with it, and Angie again wondered if she would be the one to kill her. "Tell me that you know something other than knots," she nearly demanded.

 

Rayne stared back, maybe a bit defiantly. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. "I intend to," she retorted, a little shortly, and brushed her hair back from her face, her chin jutting up proudly. "And yes. I do know something other than knots."

Shelters, snares, how to identify plants that I can eat and plants that will make my insides mush, how to run away fast before I get caught, camouflage... Self-consciously, Rayne ran a hand over her neon curls. Unique as they were, pretty as they made her, they weren't much good except for sponsor bait. She'd slick her hair back, maybe rub dirt into it to dull it out a bit; even Sal had to agree.

Dead was worse than no sponsorship, even if they sometimes meant the same thing.

"And what about you?" she shot back, half-glaring at Angie. "What can you do besides swing an axe around, District 7?" It was pointless to try to aggravate Angie - the girl could squash her in hand-to-hand and Rayne knew it. But something else Sal had said had stuck with her - Rayne wasn't strong. But she was smart. And smart and strong was a good combination.

 

Angie laughed, before she shifted her weight and lunged forward. Her arms pinned Rayne in, and she stopped a hairsbreadth away from Rayne's face. "Take everyone by surprise," she breathed in answer before moving back and springing away from Rayne as fast as she had moved in. "Let's see how well you can climb," she challenged, grinning again, that expression that always made her face feel like it was breaking.

 

Rayne's leg twitched. It could never be proven, and it most certainly could never be proven that it was twitching to kick Angie in a place that would have really, really hurt, but it definitely did.

Angie was very lucky Rayne generally kept a level head.

"That, you do well," she quipped, pushing herself back to her feet. Without offering a hand to Angie, she started off towards the climbing station, only glancing over her shoulder to wave impatiently at her.

The expression on Angie's face? Scaring Rayne a little. But her mind was most definitely made up - Rayne needed to have Angie on her side. She was strong, she was fast, she had a tongue in her head. It was just a question of convincing Angie that Rayne would be a good ally.

 

'Remember that you have to kill them.' It was the only good piece of information the mentor had given her, but Angie had still wanted to smack her for it. She knew she had to kill people. It was the thing Sarah had worried about the most, the last time Angie had been able to see her.

I hope that I don't have to kill her, Angie thought, watching Rayne walk towards the climbing station, before realizing what a dangerous thought that was. She can't have sympathy for anyone, and it a conversation less than five minutes long to ruin that. She was being stupid. Being stupid would get her killed, and she had a sister to get home to. Her only comfort to that, as she stood and made her way after Rayne, was that twenty two other people might get to her first. And then she realized that wasn't a comfort at all, and it made her thoughts cloud and darken.

The grin completely fell from her face, and glancing around at the other tributes, began to wonder how they would kill other people. Would it keep them up at night, wondering about a mother who named her daughter plainly when she was anything but, or wondering if she had anyone depending on her at home? She glared at the skinny boy from district 12 until he scurried away from the climbing station, and left only them and the trainer. "Do you think you'll be able to kill anybody?" Angie lowly asked Rayne, wondering why she cared.

 

Rayne paused, looking over the climbing station. Almost self-consciously, she slipped her hands in her pockets, hands tightening into fists under the material.

"It's not a question of whether I think I'll be able to," she finally replied, tightly. "I'll have to, won't I?" She turned slightly to face Angie, mouth automatically thinning into a hard line. "And when I do, it won't be anybody I'm killing. It'll be nobody."

Sal again, the ever-knowledgeable mentor. Don't think of them as people. That makes it harder. So Rayne did her best not to get attached to anyone - it made it easier that the only person she could really be in danger of liking, of feeling loyalty towards, hated her because she wouldn't let someone else take her place. Instead of looking at them as tributes, she looked at them like machines - where is this faulty? What point does it break at? Which joint is a little loose, or a little rusted, or - ?

She should be picking apart Angie instead of talking to her. Talking was fine, it was distraction, it was stalling while Rayne looked people over, but this was a conversation. Angie, weaknesses. Rayne couldn't think of any. She should have been paying attention, looking for frail pieces even while she was planning to make Angie her ally, not this stupid chatting.

Rayne wasn't home anymore.

She blinked, realizing she'd been staring at Angie for the past minute or so. "Well?" she said - almost demanded, really - and gestured at the station. "Are we climbing or standing around?"

 

'It'll be nobody.' That was familiar. Rich had almost told her the same thing, before she had left District 7. 'They aren't anybody. Just think that they're trees, you know? You have a job to do, and they have to be cut down.' Still, Rayne's words, and the steel she heard behind them made her grin. Clever, yes, and maybe a survivor after all.

Angie only vaguely noticed Rayne's long pause between words, or her staring. She looked over Rayne during the silence. She was pale, but that was expected for district 1, where there was no point in working outside. Her hair was bright, curly, much longer than hers. She'd need to braid it, or cut it - hair like that was easily noticed, easily grabbed.

For a moment, Angie glanced down at her own hands, frowning at how rough and dirty they were. She looked back up at Rayne before she could start going over her own flaws.

Blue eyes, darker than her almost colorless ones, but they were sharp. Angie already knew how well Rayne saw, how well she noticed things, and she suddenly wanted to shirk away from her. Could Rayne see the cracks around the smile that threatened to rip her face in two, into the crazy feeling behind it? She couldn't help but smile wider, hoping it would make Rayne stop looking. Angie felt what was behind those cracks, waiting for her: a dark abyss that tried to drown her when she fell in.

She tore her gaze away from Rayne to turn back towards the vertical obstacle course, looking up at it. She couldn't tell if Rayne was staring at her still, but she felt it, eyes that almost saw through her, and she twitched. Because this girl was dangerous, with eyes like Sarah's, and Angie remembered what Sarah had said. Allies. It seemed stupid, having allies, when you'd have to kill them in the end.

She liked Rich's advice better. She didn't have any allies or enemies right now. She had twenty-three trees that needed cutting down, and one of them was quickly changing shape and morphing into an enemy that had a face and name, and eyes that could see her, and it was the last thing she needed.

"Please," she answered, blinking back to Earth as Rayne spoke again, "ladies first." Looking back down at the district 1 tribute, Angie tried to think of something else to say. She was interested in seeing if Rayne could climb, but was it in the way that she would be interested in studying someone she had to kill, or was she interested in her as a person? She didn't know, and that bothered her. Finally, she just said the truth, because that had seemed to be working out for her so far. "I hope you know what you're doing with this," she said, adding a challenge to her voice in hopes that Rayne would say something else and get her mind on other things. "You won't be able to keep up with me, of course, but nobody can."

 

One eyebrow went up. "Is that a fact?" was all Rayne said, turning on her heel and moving forward to grasp the first artificial stone. Career or not, she had had the occasional need to climb (usually buildings), and it only took her a couple of seconds to get at least a little distance up the wall.

It was when she was stuck for just a moment, clinging to a small red jut with her left hand and peering for one to grasp with her right, that she started thinking. And thinking in the presence of Angie, Rayne had begun to realize, was maybe not such a good plan.

Something was not quite right. No, that wasn't it - something wasn't wrong about Angie. Not too wrong, anyway. There was just something about her that was different. Strange. She was dangerous. Rayne knew that. It was obvious. The way she smiled - and here she lunged for the next handhold, and there was a heartstopping moment when her sweaty fingers fumbled on the rock and she almost fell -

Then they locked down on the false stone, and she breathed a sigh of relief. That would be brilliant. First tribute to die before the games in forever, right?

She probably wouldn't die. It wasn't that far off the ground. All the same. Rayne swung herself a little to the side to an almost impossibly large hold, crouching down on it to catch her breath. And study Angie a bit more.

I wish I could be her friend. The thought came unbidden, and Rayne frowned. She wasn't supposed to think anything like that - hadn't thought anything like that for any of the other tributes, nor really many people in a very long time. She wasn't supposed to make friends with District 7 or anyone else - just allies.

She's strong, Rayne insisted firmly. And fast. And she's probably a dab hand at building things. It's a good idea to have her on your side. But these are the Games. You're going to kill her.

You'll have to.


That thought - it didn't upset her. But her stomach sank a little, like a stone. Rayne reached up to grab the next handhold, tossing a question at Angie - "Why do you want to win the Games?"

 

Angie kept her eyes on Rayne as she walked away and started to climb up the wall. She watched her closely, eyes darting from her hands and arms, to her legs and feet, and everywhere in between. If she had any weaknesses, now would be the time to see them; climbing worked out nearly every muscle in the body, and, if she did decide to ally with somebody, Angie wasn't going to waste her time on anybody that wouldn't be able to keep up with her. Then, Rayne jumped for a hold, and Angie saw her overextend herself before it truly happened. She moved forward to - what? Catch her? - before Rayne managed to get a grip onto the stone and swung herself up to a ledge.

Angie stared up at her all the while, frowning. She was a decent climber, but Angie didn't know if she could trust that assessment. It would be stupid to assume that she was the only one hiding what she could really do, and Rayne could very easily play the pretty and harmless card before viciously murdering the lot of them. Again, the ally idea popped into her mind, and she admitted this time that it was a decent idea. Angie was strong, but she wasn't smart. She acted before she thought, even if it seemed like her thoughts never shut up, never slowed down until Angie managed to slip past the cracks. Then, she couldn't think, couldn't move until she pulled herself out again. Rayne was clever, though, and there was strength in her that Angie thought would be helpful.

And if Angie had her as an ally, she could keep an eye on her. Idly, Angie wondered, in the saying about friends and enemies, where Rayne would place. And then Rayne was asking her that question, and Angie's frown darkened. "Asking stupid questions makes you look stupid," she dryly replied, using the phrase that Sarah often used when she thought someone was being particularly thick. "I want to win for the same reason as everyone else wants to win. It's the better alternative."

 

Her knuckles were starting to hurt. Rayne covered the wince with a wry sort of smile. "But why is it better?" she probed, reaching up to the next handhold. She was at a distance from the floor that would probably hurt if she fell. Solution: don't fall. She had to shout a little to be heard. "Who will it benefit? Do you only care about the benefits for yourself?"

Ooh. This part was tricky. Rayne tuned out Angie for just a moment, focusing on the rock she was perched on, and peered upward for the next hold. There was one a few feet up, but to reach it would mean standing up and losing the bit of balance she had on this stupid little nub of stone - which was barely enough for her two feet. But there was another large ledge near that one, which would be a decent space for some rest...

Dammit.

"Here goes," she mumbled under her breath, and lunged upwards for the rock, scrabbling with her feet for some sort of hold. A bit exaggerated, yes - after all, why not play it up a bit for Sean, who she was sure was watching? - but the relief that flooded her chest once she had all four limbs set on a stone was real. Let's not do that again.

As she clambered sideways towards the ledge, she risked a glance down at Angie. The expression on her face either scared or interested her. She refuses to lose. That was a thought that - again - both scared and interested her; when the time came, would Rayne be able to turn against her? Not simply because of her own insecurity - would Angie let her turn against her? Rayne thought it would be difficult.

A challenge, she mused, settling onto the ledge. Hm.

"I'm waiting," she called down. "Or are you going to stand there?"

 

Angie twitched when Rayne started asking questions again, and she felt her face twist into a scowl. "That's none of your business," she growled, too low for Rayne to possibly hear from her position. Still, she watched Rayne closely, her scowl lightening a bit when she made it to the top. Angie had almost believed that last move, but she just caught a few unnecessary movements. She had watched Rayne close enough to know that she didn't need them, but she knew climbing. Some other tributes would know climbing, obviously - district 11 and the other district 7 tribute - but nobody else was in the immediate area. They wouldn't have been able to see everything that Angie had.

Maybe a better climber than she thought. More clever, too.

"I wanted to make sure you wouldn't fall on me," she answered, fully realizing that Rayne had asked her a question a few seconds too late. Looking away from Rayne for what must have been the first time in minutes, Angie traced her gaze back down the climbing station, before she took a running jump and grabbed hold of the wall a few feet off of the ground. She didn't climb like most people would, hand over hand to the next holds in reach. Instead, she leapt feet at a time to grab the highest holds she could, before she would settle her feet against the rock and jump again.

The climb up the wall was nearly second nature to her. She had been climbing before she could truly walk, and it almost made her think she was home again, racing Sarah or Rich to the top of something. She grinned again when she swung over the side of the ledge that Rayne was on and settled into a crouch. She could feel that it was the more put together smile that didn't feel quite so broken. "Say we raced. What do I get for winning?"

 

Rayne couldn't help but grin back. They must have looked crazy, two smiling girls thirty feet above everyone else's heads. "That's hardly a fair race," she pointed out, crossing her ankles and leaning back on her elbows. "But as for your prize..."

Her gaze drifted out along the room. Most people were moving away, now. It was getting late. She recognized Sean still hammering away at a scrawny boy - probably 11 or 12, she guessed - at the hand-to-hand station, the District 4 girl smearing green paint across her cheeks.

"What is Angie short for?" she found herself asking, instead of anything relevant. Rayne looked back at Angie, her smile fading slightly. "If it is short for anything, I mean."

Her feet swung a little over the room. Everything looked so small.

Idly, Rayne wondered if Angie and she could have been friends, outside the Games. If she would have liked being friends with Angie. Of course, realistically, it could never have happened unless Angie moved to 1 or she to 7, but it was an interesting thing to consider. If they didn't have to step on glass around each other, and paint happy faces on - what might have happened?

Losing it, Wyman, she thought. No time for thoughts like those - you'd be better off remembering which ropes are best for tying things together.

"I like Angie better," she said, not really answering as the grin faded from her face. Rocking back on her heels, Angie tumbled over and grabbed the edge of the ledge at the last minute, using her momentum to swing back over to the rock wall. She grabbed onto the wall easily, hanging in place while she looked at Rayne with the same curious and intense look from before, like Rayne was a mystery she was only a few clues away from solving. In reality, Rayne was only a mystery, and Angie would begrudgingly admit (and how stupid it was to admit) she didn’t immediately hate or tolerate her because of it. If Angie hated herself enough, she'd even go as far as saying that she liked the other tribute.

She'd only ever liked two other people in her entire life, and that was why she sent the thought away and ignored it completely. She couldn't like Rayne. She had Sarah to take care of, and to do that, she had to win. And for her to win, somebody - maybe even Angie herself - would have to kill Rayne to make that happen.

Tearing her gaze away from Rayne, Angie looked down at the drop between her and the floor. "Do you need help getting down?" she asked, only to have something to say. The jitteriness had come back, and she desperately needed to move now, her fingers twitching against the rock.

 

Rayne's thought process when Angie dropped from the ledge was something like oh shit I killed her and the Games haven't even begun. She leaned forward, fighting to keep her face controlled, and relaxed when she saw Angie clinging to the wall like... some sort of demented ape.

District 7 must be very good for climbers.

"No, I think I'll be fine," she said, forcing some measure of cool politeness into her voice. Friendliness was all very well and good, but; Remember you'll have to kill this girl eventually. Rayne hunched forward, crossing her arms and settling her elbows on her knees.

"... Thanks, though," she added, and that was a bit warmer. She smiled a little, despite herself. "Appreciate it."

Which was when she slid sideways off the ledge and scrambled down the wall, rather faster than she'd gone up it. Her style of descent was both easy and liable to get her a broken neck - essentially freefall, just grabbing a few rocks to make sure she didn't actually break said neck. Rayne landed on her feet with a slight huff, swayed slightly, and then moved back to give Angie room.

At least the mats are a bit more forgiving than pavement.

Angie grinned, watching Rayne slide down the wall. She could add brave to the list, and Angie couldn't help but stand up (metaphorically speaking) to the challenge. She adjusted her feet and let go of the holds, either grabbing onto stray juts of rock as she fell or digging her heels into the wall to slow her descent. When she was a little more than halfway down, Angie quickly and firmly placed a foot against the wall and kicked off of it. There was a moment of complete freefalling with nothing behind her where she might have laughed, before she landed on the balls of her feet and dropped into a roll.

She bounced up a moment later, grinning wildly, and she couldn't tell if it was the good or bad smile. Angie just knew that she was moving closer to Rayne, her heart pounding, energy making her fingers and toes twitch. The adrenaline rush seemed to have broken her out of the bad mood that had started to cloud up in her brain, and for a minute, Angie let herself forget the circumstances. "You're not a half-bad climber, Rayne Wyman from District 1." The idea popped into her head and she went with it before it could be fully processed, and she went with it anyway. Her skin still felt like it was humming from the fall when she leaned forward and pressed her lips against Rayne's.

 

Rayne was laughing, starting on a sentence - "And you aren't such a bad faller, An-" was all she got out, before oh hello, mouth, you are on my face. Why?

There was a moment of completely frozen shock; her mind sputtered slightly, doing a good job of attempting to process what was going on. Sal's advice came in handy a lot of the time, but unfortunately, not when someone you were pretty sure would kill you decided to kiss you instead.

Despite herself, Rayne relaxed slightly, pressing forward a little. Her hands, slack at her sides, moved to rest on Angie's hips, and for just a second there were no Games and no other tributes, no need to dissect anyone with her eyes. Silence, and Angie -

Fuck. Angie.

The shock poured itself back up her throat, and Rayne pulled herself away, resisting the urge to scrub at her mouth. I just kissed a girl I just kissed a girl I just kissed a girl who could potentially kill me later what what what. "What."

 

Angie couldn't help but make a sound of protest in the back of her throat when Rayne pulled away, but she didn't move to kiss her again. She looked at Rayne with a neutral face as she took in Rayne's expression, and reality came back to her. Twenty three trees that she had to cut down. Angie didn't say anything in answer to Rayne, at least not immediately. How stupid of her. Angie, like always, had made things worse for herself.

Would she be able to kill someone she had kissed? She tried to imagine that they were in the Arena, but there were too many things jumbled around in her head to make it possible. Angie tried sorting them out as quickly and quietly as she could, but felt her mind get tangled up in it. "I'm sorry," she blurted, before frowning. "No, I'm not. I shouldn't have - it was stupid of me," she finally concluded, before her lips pressed into a thin line and she determinedly stared at Rayne. "But I'm not sorry."

How could she be? That had been the one... normal thing since she had been reaped. For a moment, everything since then flashed through her mind, and Sarah's scream when Angie's name was called was the loudest and brightest thing in her head. She forced herself back to the present before that scream made her fall through the cracks, and she looked at Rayne again. "I'm not sorry," she lowly muttered to herself, as if saying it enough would make it true for everything else as well.

 

I fucked up.

Rayne wasn't positive why that was the first thought that came to her mind, or why her mouth twisted into "It's okay," when it wasn't. It really wasn't. Because she'd just been kissed by another tribute, another girl, and she'd have to kill her and she wasn't a boy and she'd liked it.

"I mean - Not - " It wasn't okay! Rayne floundered for a little, avoiding Angie's gaze, trying to think. "I can understand," she finally came up with, meeting Angie's eyes. Her chin came up a little, defiantly, proudly. "That doesn't make it right, but I can understand, and I guess you don't have to be sorry if you don't want to."

Did that strike the right note? She hoped so.

But she didn't really want to stick around to find out. One glance already told her most of the room had seen, and the climbing station trainer in specific looked Pretty Damn Shellshocked. Dammit. "Angie," she said quickly, looking back at her, "just forget about it, it doesn't matter."

But it should, she thought, and then You. Shut up.

 

 

Angie frowned, her head tilting curiously. Slowly, she looked around at the rest of the room, meeting everyone's eyes until they looked away. Oh. She cared about what they thought. That wasn't good. They all wanted to kill them. They all had to die. The last thing Rayne should be worried about was what they thought.

"No. None of them matter," she argued, before stopping short. There was no point in arguing this. Wasn't Rayne one of the people that had to die? She should have never even talked to her. Looking back at Rayne, Angie grinned that cracked, horrible grin that kept everyone but Rich and Sarah from talking to her back home. "But whatever the lady wishes," she continued, her tone biting and cold. She leaned forward again, using the few inches of height she had on Rayne, and lowered her voice when she spoke again. Let the rest of them think she was being crazy again, if Rayne was so worried about what they think. "I'm just curious. Is it wrong because you didn't like it, or is it wrong because they're watching?"

 

Rayne glared right back up at her. Unconsciously her shoulders tilted back, eyes narrowing, and she shifted onto the pads of her feet. "Because they are going to talk about it and whatever little sponsorship I was going to get before will go down the tubes because they don't like this!"

Rayne wasn't strong. She was fast and she was smart, but without weapons those could only get one so far. Advantages came from sponsors. Without sponsors or an ally, she was dead where she stood, and what if she'd just taken away a chance for either?

That smile scared her, Rayne decided, and pulled herself up to her full height, put on her polite and pretty smile-for-the-sponsors. "We'll call that your prize," she said, cool courtesy thick in every word, though it stung her tongue to be polite - or was it the ice? She's not a person. She's a machine, with faulty insides. Like everyone else. "But let's not have it happen again."

In public.

You. Shut up.

Angie shook her head, lowering her eyes as she frowned. "They get three minutes to talk to sponsors," she said in a low voice, answering like she hadn't even heard Rayne's last few sentences. "They aren't going to waste the time they have to make themselves look good by badmouthing another tribute, and the Gamemasters don't care who wins. They're just here to make sure that twenty three of us die."

Glancing around again told her that people weren't exactly staring anymore, but they were still looking. A few tributes started to move closer when they saw Angie look around, and her frown deepened. She met Rayne's gaze and stepped past her. She only paused long enough to mutter "You don't grab someone's hips if you don't like it," before continuing to head for the elevators that would lead back up to the contestants rooms

 

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February 2012

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