Brace Yourself

Chapter Two: The Capitol, Part I

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

Warning: Cursing.

Note: The "old language" is Latin.

Chapter Two: The Capitol, Part I

Scared of losin' all the time
He wrote it in a letter, he was a friend of mine
He heard you could see your future
Inside a glass of water with ripples and the lines
And he asked, "Will I see heaven in mine?"

-Glass Of Water, Coldplay

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Augusta has retrieved me from my room, as well as Haymitch, Rosalina, and Tyler from theirs. I note that all of us have changed into more comfortable clothing, Rosalina and I into flowing tunics and dark leggings, Tyler and Haymitch into tighter tops but looser denim pants. Quietly (and in Haymitch's case, sullenly), we follow our escort to a room where we will obviously dine in.

"This is Alder Blind," Augusta tells us, as we enter the compartment. A man sits at the gigantic mahogany table, staring at nothing in particular, his hand clutching a metal flask. He looks old and worn, as if life itself has beaten him down. I can tell by his unkempt gray hair and sunken eyes that he wants nothing to do with the life he lives.

Alder Blind is our mentor. He was winner of the nineteenth Hunger Games, which makes him forty-nine, but he looks so much older than that. It seems like all the years of mentoring tributes just to see them die brutally have gotten to him, because the first words out of his mouth are slurred (which makes me assume it is liquor in the flask) and harsh. "Let's face it, you're all going to die, so I can't help you. You'd best just keep your distance from me or else you'll face your ends before you're even in the arena."

These words shouldn't affect me the way they do, but as soon as the last syllable is uttered a bubble of anger rises up inside me and threatens to burst. This happens sometimes; my emotions get the better of me and I overreact. "Well," I snap, matching his severe tone. "Good thing I don't need your help."

I then proceed to turn on my heel and stomp out of the room.

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In the lounge, there is a window that goes from floor to ceiling, running down the length of the compartment. Scattered around the lounge are various armchairs made of soft velvet, and not too long ago I sat myself in one close to the centre of the room. For the past half an hour I have been staring at the scenery as it changes to fruit-bearing trees, then long expanses of plains (we're probably passing District Ten at the moment) while gathering my thoughts. I don't know how to use weapons. I am not strong. I am not exceptionally beautiful- I don't even think I am beautiful at all. There is such a little chance I'll get out of the arena alive it's almost ridiculous. I won't see Myra again, or my father again, or Fauna.

I don't hear Haymitch when he enters, but once he comes up behind me, I recognize his faint reflection in the glass, and turn around. "What made you say it, sweetheart?" He asks.

"Say what?"

"That you don't need his help." He sighs, fixing me with a rueful, twisted half-smile. "I'm asking because deep down you know that's not true. We all need a mentor to get through this." He sits in a chair next to me, and I stare at a group of strange animals that are devouring grass about thirty metres away from the train tracks, with brown speckled coats, thick manes and tails, oval-shaped heads, and alert ears. They're soon gone. The train is very fast.

"I just wish he wouldn't give up on us. We might look feeble, but I'm strong, you're strong, Tyler's strong (for thirteen years old, at least), and Rosalina... well..." I shake my head., considering the ocean of tears she's cried today. "I'm sure she'll try her best."

Haymitch looks at me with an intense gaze, and I hold it without blinking. "From what you just did," he smirks, "he won't give up on you. You're not the typical merchant girl, Maysilee Donner."

I smile a half-smile that greatly resembles his, and stand up, making my way over to him. Leaning over, I brush a lock of hair out of his face, move my lips over to his ear, and whisper, "And you're not the typical Seam boy, Haymitch Abernathy." When I step away from him, his eyes are glazed over with an expression I've never seen him wear before. And when I turn to leave, he grabs my wrist.

"Maysilee?"

"Yes?"

"Do you want to know why Lane... is my girl?"

It's unexpected, and I recoil slightly. Just the mention of her sparks my anger, but interest as well. He has to have a reason behind the fact that he flirts with me, seemingly forgetting he has Lane. Enchantingly appealing Lane compared to mundane Maysilee? I know who I would choose over the other.

"Of course," I reply, recovering quickly.

"She's the richest girl in the Seam," Haymitch explains, "And my mother is... poor. She sold me, you know. Lane had fallen for me a while ago, and her parents offered my mother money in exchange for me dating their daughter, and eventually, marrying her.

"I don't love her. And she couldn't know this, for if I broke off the relationship, her parents would sue my family and we would be without money for a very long time. If I win these Games, I can break off the relationship… but if I win these Games…" He shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."

I wish his words could give me hope. A hope for a future, a hope for us... not that there would ever be an us, since I don't know if he feels for me what I feel for him, and I don't even know what I feel for him! I wish his confession would cure all my sorrows, leave me without doubts. But we are going to be in the Hunger Games. There will be one winner. And if my hope grows, then the results will be frightening. I cannot let the hope grow, or else it will become a burning flame that rises and rises until the water, the snow, comes crashing down upon it, quenching the hope, quenching the... the... whatever it is I'm feeling.

So I ignore the hope, ignore the feelings, and don't reach out to hug him like a caring person would. But I do defy my limits slightly when I ask, "Why are you sorry?" Because he shouldn't be. The fault falls to Lane, as well as her conspirators of parents and his desperate mother. But not Haymitch- he was the victim. And it is preposterous that a victim should blame himself.

"Because she fell in love with the act," he says, eyes downcast. "She has never known the true me. And that's my fault."

I examine him closely- his olive skin, his knit eyebrows, his silvery gray eyes. "What am I seeing now, Haymitch?" I ask him.

He doesn't reply.

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"Mmm, this is really good!" Tyler's eyes light up as he takes a large bite of pasta doused in a creamy sauce.

"Isn't it?" Augusta looks pleased. "It is a very popular meal this year, and one of my favourites. Here, try the bruschetta, it is delicious!" She goes on, rambling about the traditional foods of the Capitol, while I take a small bite of roasted pig. Poor Rosalina can't seem to consume anything but bread rolls, and makes her way through only two before leaning back in her chair and letting silent tears streak down her cheeks. Alder takes a drink from his alcohol flask every once in a while, getting more and more distant as time goes by. Haymitch scowls, spearing his strawberries violently with his fork and devouring them one by one. Once there aren't any left, he goes for more.

Eventually, everyone is stuffed full of rich, fulfilling food (with an exception of Rosalina). Tyler has eaten so much that he's doubling over with the stomach cramps and looking queasy. "Are you okay?" I ask, and he just shrugs with a pained expression crossing his face. "Was the bruschetta too-"

"Don't talk about bruschetta!" Tyler exclaims quickly. "If you do I think I'm going to barf!"

"Okay, okay," I chuckle as we make our way to the lounge. There, we sit on multiple pieces of furniture set in front of an expansive flat screen television that is mounted on the lilac wall. Haymitch and Alder sit in reclining chairs and Rosalina and Tyler choose the upholstered loveseat, leaving Augusta and I to the couch. I inch away from her as much as possible, turning to look behind me out the floor to ceiling window. It's approaching dusk, but I can still make out a cluster of large trees. They seem to be emitting snow. No, that isn't snow. I've learned this before. The substance is… cotton? Yes, that's it, those are cottonwood trees, and we're in District Eight. Their industry is textiles.

Augusta clicks the television on and it is miraculously on the correct channel. Of course, our escort was probably watching it earlier, looking out for any fascinating information on what the arena might be like this year. Not that they ever give any hints.

Caesar Flickerman, host of many interviews in the Capitol as well as the official Games commentator, is involved in a playful banter with Jacen Iridescent, former victor of the 41st Hunger Games. Each victor has a special "talent" that they have to pursue, and as far as I know, Jacen's talent is going to the Capitol and doing talk shows. And he's good at it. He's arrogant, mischievous, witty, and Myra says he has the most dazzling smile in Panem. I don't like Jacen much, but that's only from watching the multiple interviews and talk shows he's participated in, so it's not my place to judge who he really is as a person.

"So, Jacen… do you think the tributes this year are interesting?" Caesar asks. They've seen the reapings live already, through the exclusive televisions the government provides them with. But most Capitolites don't have access to those televisions, having to wait until the recap to watch the reapings. Therefore, Jacen and Caesar have already taken notes on the tributes they'll comment on, which ones they should say are worth sponsoring, and so on.

"Of course, of course, Caesar!" Jacen exclaims. "They are every year. But with forty-eight tributes, this Games should be… exciting."

"And which tributes do you think have a chance?"

"The tributes from One, Two, and Four seem promising as always. District One, especially, has worthy tributes this year. I'm almost positive one will turn out a victor." And there he goes. Jacen is from District One, and, every year, he puts out a good word for his tributes. Surprisingly, in the past nine years he has been mentoring, only one tribute from his district has been crowned victor. And it wasn't even his tribute; it was his co-mentor's. Every district, excluding the Capitol and District One, thinks of this as some hilarious joke. Jacen Iridescent, the prettyboy who has more opportunities than anybody to get his tributes out alive, unable to save one after nine years of mentoring. The irony is considerable.

Caesar raises his deep green eyebrows good-naturedly. "Yes, I'm sure I speak for the Capitol when I say we are excited to see the more prospering districts' chosen! Anyone else?"

Jacen's shrug makes me glower at the television, for I'm sure there are plenty of worthy competitors in the mix this year. Tributes from the "Career districts," as they are called, normally fall under a certain stereotype: vicious, merciless, and good odds of winning. From the outlying districts, such as District Twelve, we are also put under the stereotype that we are weak and pathetic. And although (I hate to admit) the majourity are, some of us go against these stereotypes. Jacen, the idiot that he is, does not bother to find these stereotype-breakers from where they lie hidden in the assortment of tributes.

"Well!" Caesar does not seem bothered by his gesture, like I am. "The moment we've all been waiting for has arrived… the reapings of forty-eight boys and girls for the Fiftieth Annual Hunger Games! And, as usual, we shall start with District One!"

At the phrase "District One," Jacen gives a dazzling smile that is followed up by Caesar's. Then, the screen splits so Caesar and Jacen are shown on one side, and the square of District One appears in the other.

District One is the absolute opposite of District Twelve… always has been and always will be. While everything in Twelve is covered in a layer of coal dust, One seems to be covered in a layer of gleaming golden polish. The district, much larger than ours, consists of three cities, separated by a crystalline river that branches out in three directions. The meeting point of all three branches is at the centre of all the cities, in which a "magical" fountain was placed long ago. The buildings are extravagant, but in a simplistic way, not garishly clashing like the Capitol (which I have not seen in person, but through the television at home). In short, the entire place resembles a utopian shrine for faeries.

But the people there are not faeries. Faeries are beautiful; faeries are fragile; faeries are the product of myths and fables. The residents of District One, however, are very much real. Most of them are beautiful, but not in the elegant, modest way of the faeries. More like a sultry, ostentatious beauty that is shown in their flawless skin and golden streaked hair and their green or hazel eyes that bore into you with a playful spite. Their cheers echo around the square and Caesar comments gleefully on the enthusiasm.

Their mayor, a slim woman with gorgeous light brown hair and emerald eyes, steps to the microphone. The cheers of the District One residents quiet slightly as she does this, but it takes much time before the mayor can speak and be heard. And once she does, saying, "Welcome, my kin," the roar of the crowd escalates until I almost have to cover my ears, exasperated.

After a bit, the mayor can finally continue, reading out of the small book that sits on the podium she stands behind. The Treaty of Treason has always been dull, and the fact that they never add any variation to it is extremely boring. I'm fed up with hearing it once a year- and then I consider that I'll be hearing it thirteen times today. Wonderful.

"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks," the mayor recites, not in the monotone Mayor Undersee uses, but as if she is savouring the words. Then she goes on the read the list of the past District One victors. There are many: ten in total. They all grin viciously when their names are called. Thirty-eight year old Wonder Valentine, who won her Games by bashing in her counterpart's head with a tremendously stale loaf of bread; Idolia Agile, winner of the 36th Hunger Games, whose eyes have been altered by the Capitol so they are thoroughly white; Mafian Talent, who came out alive once his elder mentor, Jack Opal, sent bomb parachutes to the other remaining tributes. Jacen is the only one who is not present on the stage, for he was spending his time in the Capitol during the reapings. Once his name is called, he lets out a whoop from his seat next to Caesar, which makes the dark green-haired man chuckle slightly.

The mayor finally sits, and District One's escort, Fortuna Grinler, bounds up to the podium. Her hair looks as if it is made of spider webs, and her eyes resemble the spiders themselves, what with their coal black colour and lengthened lashes. She's going for a haunted theme, and it's obvious why… last year's Games were set in the midst of a never-ending haunted house.

"Happy, happy, happy, happy Hunger Games!" She screams into the microphone. This time I really do cover my ears. Fortuna's voice is so unnaturally high-pitched. "Aren't you all just really happy, happy, happy, happy? It is time for the reaping of four, four, four, four wonderful boys and girls!" As well as her annual theme, Fortuna, whom I've only ever seen through the television, has an unhealthy obsession with the number four. And with the announcement of four tributes this year, I'm sure she just about died of happiness, happiness, happiness, happiness!

"Now, now, now, now, let us begin with the reaping!" Fortuna exclaims, clapping her hands excitedly, and flouncing over to the girl's bowl. According to the rules, she is supposed to draw two names from that bowl. According to District One's tradition, she is supposed to knock over the bowl. She does the latter, and the glass bowl shatters when it hits the ground, emitting slips of white paper which flutter through the air like a million white butterflies. Instantly, a swarm of blonde- and brown-haired girls leap up to the stage. There is a lengthy scuffle in which the pulling of hair and jabbing of elbows occurs multiple times, and then two stand victoriously next to Fortuna, smirking.

Each has the microphone held under their painted lips, and they speak their names and ages. The first girl's name is Miracle- the names of District One citizens are always so ridiculous- and she is seventeen. She tosses her hair, smiling dazzlingly for the cameras, and I know that she is the typical shallow, brainless female Career from One.

But the other, whilst still beautiful, is also threatening. Platina is her name. She is eighteen, and glares at the camera with a mocking smile playing at her lips. She is one to watch out for, I know- and so do Caesar and Jacen. "Dangerous," Caesar comments. "I love it. Looks like you have a worthy tribute in your hands, Jacen."

"Oh, I know," Jacen laughs.

The same process happens for the boys' bowl, and about ten males go through a ruthless brawl until two conquer them all. They are twins, by the names of Intron and Exon. I don't get it… why would twins enter the Games, when only one can win, and there is a high possibility that both will die? I don't think I could stand it if I won and Myra died. There is only one conclusion I can make on this double volunteering: Intron and Exon are idiots.

Jacen and Caesar don't think so. "Brave," they remark in tandem.

Next, the screens switch to the many condensed villages that create District Two. The Treaty of Treason is read, the victors announced, and then the volunteers come forward. Venom, Lethae, Quarren, Lex. All dauntless, all ready to kill, all tributes to watch out for.

District Three is different. Only one boy looks like competition, and even then, he is tiny, with a shock of black hair and overlarge glasses. But the gaze he gives the cameras is calculating, and when led off the stage, he seems to drift away, blending with the crowd; like the smoke he was named for.

District Four appears next, as always. Each tribute mounts the stage with at least some level of confidence- and thry are: Siren, the beautiful; Naiada, the intelligent; Cleat, the muscular; and Frond, the amusing. Each has a quality that is admirable, but each probably lacks a quality that is admirable. Together, they will be strong, but split, they will shrivel and die. I do not think that District Four will have a victor this year.

Most of the other districts are unremarkable. Five and Six pass by without contributing anyone extraordinary. Seven holds some promise, but not much. Calico and Bolt from Eight are decently strong; tiny, fourteen-year-old Tess from Nine is very quiet. The boys from Ten seem to know each other, and Devon seems extremely protective of tiny Willie. From Eleven, the boys are all but invisible, the girls opposites, one tall and slightly confident, the other minuscule and shy, being only twelve. I feel bad for her, and Caesar and Jacen have nothing to say as she is reaped.

And finally, our district is displayed across half of the screen. It looks… desolate.

"And here we have District Twelve!" Caesar is saying. "Let's see if the tributes vary from what they have in the past." I am slightly offended by this, because I know that most of us die in the first day. Not that we are any more incapable than the other districts, but I think that we are more malnourished. But while Caesar does not cross the borderline, Jacen does.

"You mean, the typical weaklings that never stand a chance?"

It takes all my will not to fly at the television and punch it until it is broken all over the floor. Thank Panem I can contain myself, although my thoughts are not stifled. I will kill you, Jacen Iridescent, for denouncing my district like that!

I have to thank Caesar mentally for ignoring Jacen's words. Then, I focus on the screen, which displays the square in all its coal dust-covered glory. Mayor Undersee reads the Treaty of Treason yet again, Augusta mounts the stage yet again, and, yet again, she sticks her hand in the reaping bowl.

"Rosalina Dark!" Rosalina mounts the stage. "Tyler Dark!" Tyler mounts the stage, Rosalina sobs on the ground.

"Maysilee Donner!"

I locate my face in the midst of the sixteen-year-old girls. Fauna and Myra cling to me, but I shove them away, walking up to the stage. I mount the stage. It clearly shows that I am trying to hide my emotions, but I hide them well, because there is no grief shown on the face that is in the television. Good. I do not look pathetic.

"Well-fed, for Twelve," Jacen says.

"I agree. Look at the way she holds herself, too. Head held high, not slouching. I wouldn't count her out."

"Think she'll make it past the bloodbath?"

"Of course," Caesar says cooly. I smile. Thank you, Caesar. He always does his best to make any tribute shine, no matter how pathetic they are. He can twist tears of pain into tears of joy. He can turn a quiet young child into a mysterious one. He will spin anyone's appearance into one that is worthy of sponsors, putting in a good word for anyone, whether an eighteen-year-old man from District One or a twelve-year-old child from District Twelve. His way of helping people may seem a bit crazy- he is heavily involved with the Games- but his way of helping people does have its effect, although it may be small.

And then Haymitch is called, and he looks actually frightening through the cameras. Caesar says that Twelve could have a winner this year. Jacen, biased as he is, doesn't think so, but says at least one of us will make it to the final eight. Thanks for the vote of confidence, I think. I am hoping I have the chance to meet him one day and slap him upside the head.

The Capitol seal is flashing across the television, and the next thing I know, the screen turns black. Augusta is saying, "To bed, dearies, you have a big and fabulous day tomorrow." I don't think I'll sleep well tonight, but it may as well be worth a try. I stand, take one last glance at the snowing cottonwood trees, and exit the lounge in a sombre fashion.

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I've been sitting on Rosalina's bed for a while now, just talking to her. I tried to simply go to the bathroom, which we share, and then continue on to my own room, but then she began to cry and I couldn't just leave her alone. I tried to comfort her- that didn't work so well- and then I blatantly asked, "Why are you acting so feeble?"

Rosalina had looked at me with shock. Her gray Seam eyes were wide and bloodshot, not as silvery as Haymitch's, but still holding a depth that my eyes couldn't seem to ever reach. She was quiet for a minute, and then said, with a confused tone, "I don't know."

"You do know tears won't get you anywhere, don't you? You do know that we should all just try to enjoy life while we can?"

"Yes… but…"

"What is wrong?"

Rosalina all but collapsed at this, shaking, but not sobbing like she had been all day. "I just don't know what to do, Maysilee!" She said into my shoulder, her voice muffled. "Daddy is feeling so terrible, and I was so close to getting the money for his lungs to get fixed up. Oh, God, I hate being... what I am... but it's worth it for Daddy. And then now I'm going to die- don't say I might live, I have no skills whatsoever- and he won't get any money. Mother is having enough troubles just paying the rent for our home, and Tyler had a job helping Greasy Sae dish out soup for people at the Hob, which was where we got all the money for food. But now Mother's going to have to pay for food too- Tyler's not going to make it either- and there will be no money for Daddy's lungs. And then he's going to die, Maysilee! He'll die because I'm not there for him!"

I had known that this was affecting Rosalina to some degree, but not this much. And, as a product of extreme brainstorming, I came to the realisation that I could do something about it. "Shh, Rosalina," I whispered. "If you really don't believe that you or Tyler will come back, then do you not believe that neither Haymitch or I will? If one of us returns home, then we'll do anything to help your father; we'll have so much money to spend, anyway, that it won't matter." She laughed at this, and I continued. "And if none of us return, I'll write a letter to my father, asking him to raise money for your family. We can write to Greasy Sae, too, and any family friends of yours, and quite possibly the mayor. We can ask Augusta or Alder to take care of it, and then your father will be absolutely fine. Okay?"

She had looked at me in wonder, and then a tiny half-smile tugged at her lip. "Do you really mean it? Oh, Maysilee, I've never met anyone who has been this kind to me before." And with that, Rosalina changed from a frail, sobbing, and broken girl to a laughing woman who was enjoying the life she had in the present. We've been talking for ages now, about our life, about ourselves- talking like I used to do with Fauna and Myra. I've found myself a friend, and a good one, despite her being two years my elder, despite the fact that we'll be thrown into the games almost five days from now. It's nice to talk to someone who understands me, though. It's nice to have a girl talk in one of the most dire points of my life.

Eventually, I do have to get to bed, and we brush our teeth at the sink of our bathroom. Then, I leave the room, entering mine. I don't bother to change out of my clothes as I fall into bed, smiling for the first time today. The bed is very comfortable. I've already took a nap in it today, before we met our mentor, but I still cannot get over its luxurious feel against my skin. Will it feel even more nice if I change into a nightgown? To find out, I reluctantly remove myself from the bed, going over to the small wardrobe that has been shoved into the room. Inside one drawer is a collection of silky dresses that are obviously used to sleep in. I choose an almost transparent, cream-coloured number and slip it on, throwing my tunic and leggings on the floor.

Throwing them on the floor. I look at the floor. It is cold, made of a dull brown wood, which I already know… and I threw my reaping dress on it earlier. So why isn't the dress on the floor? Did an Avox, one of the servants whom cannot speak on account of their tongues being gruesomely cut out of their mouths, come and take it to be washed? Will I ever see the dress again? I particularly liked that dress. It really is too bad I cannot wear it again. I feel a pang of guilt for leaving it on the floor.

Instead of dwelling over my loss, I climb into bed. I was correct- it's even more comfortable sleeping in such a fine garment. Somehow, I manage to drift off to sleep quickly, despite my traumatic day.

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I wake up very early the next morning. I've always been somewhat of an early riser, and I can't help it. This will work to my advantage in the Games, I think.

At first, I wonder where I am. The ceiling above my head is very low, even lower than Myra's and my room at home. Myra… I am hit with a wave of nausea as I remember yesterday's events. The thought that the people of the Capitol can go about their ways every day, anticipating the reaping, sickens me.

Flinging the duvet aside (which is hard to do, for it provides much comfort), I step onto the hardwood floor. This room is much different from everyone else's. It's a long story, but there are only five compartments to sleep in: two tribute compartments, two mentor compartments, and one for our escort. We have only one mentor, though, so Haymitch took the empty mentor compartment. The tribute compartments were apparently "too small" to move an extra bed into, so I couldn't share with Rosalina, meaning I had to resort to sleeping in a storage room.

There's really nothing wrong with this room. It is very large, for only a cleaning supplies storage area. A twin-sized bed can fit easily inside, as well as the wardrobe of clothes, which somehow are able to adapt to fit my body. The only problem is that there isn't a bathroom, which is why I'm sharing with Rosalina.

I retrieve a black tank top, shorts, and undergarments from the small closet, and wrap a robe around myself in case anyone is wandering around (at this hour? It's doubtful, but possible). Don't want any male members of our party to see me in a semi-transparent nightgown! Then, I head to Rosalina's room. She's sleeping, so I don't make any sound as I tiptoe to our bathroom and lock the door, remove the clothing that I wear, and step into the shower.

It is complicated to work, but as I've never taken a shower, that's expected. After a long time of studying multiple buttons, pushing them, and either feeling pleased or exasperated with the results, I step out, clean at last. An odd machine that stands at either side of the shower entrance starts to make a humming noise, and I jump, but in seconds it has dried me off and my hair looks like spun gold instead of its usual dirty blonde colour.

I turn to the clothes I chose to wear and put them on, grab my bathrobe and nightdress, and exit the bathroom, just to come face-to-face with a fierce-eyed Rosalina. The look in her eyes is odd, because I only saw kindness in them last night. She must not be a morning person, and I must have woken her up. "Oh, I'm sorry, did I wake you up?" I ask.

She frowns, staring at me for a moment. Her black hair is tangled, but there aren't any dark circles under her eyes, so I have to assume she got a decent amount of sleep last night. "No," she says.

The finality in her tone shocks me a bit, and the way she glares at me is slightly disturbing. I edge away from her, but she grasps my arm. "They're going to kill us," she whispers to me, and her pupils widen in horror as our eyes meet. "They're going to kill you!" The volume increases as she says this.

"Who are?" I ask, confused. This is very odd. Why is Rosalina acting like this?

"They are!" She screeches. "If we don't kill you first they are going to kill you! They were never supposed to be here and they'll kill us both!" Rosalina screams nonsense louder and louder and I am in a state of shock and fear until all of the sudden, she stops.

"Rosalina?" I ask tentatively. I realize she's crying. "Rosalina?"

"I didn't mean it," she says tearfully, apologetically. "I'm sorry. We won't kill you."

"Who's we? And who's they?"

"They shouldn't be here." She looks up at me again, and I see her eyes are glazed and unfocused.

"Who, Rosalina?"

"The mutts."

"The mutts?" I ask in alarm.

"Yes. The mutts. Birds, birds, birds. Stay away from the birds, Maysilee Donner." And then she faints dead away.

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After Rosalina's episode, I sit on my bed in my room. Her screams woke everyone up, and since it was six o'clock, Augusta, Alder, and Haymitch were all pretty pissed. (Rosalina is Tyler's sister, so he was a bit more sympathetic.) But, since it was six o'clock, everyone decided to go back to bed and pretend none of it ever happened.

I turn my mockingjay pin around and around in my fingers. The rising sun shines through my window- (a window! In a storage room!)- and glints off the golden metal. I'm sure if the pin is solid gold, it would be worth quite a lot of money, but I have no intention to sell it. Not that I could if I wanted to. And if it's just gold plating, well, it's still from home.

I think of what Rosalina said. Stay away from the birds, Maysilee Donner. I stare at the pin. It's a mockingjay. A bird. I spin the pin around faster in my hand, looking at it in horrified fascination. How can I stay away from birds if I'm going to be wearing one in the arena? And why was she spouting all of that nonsense? Can she really tell the future? It's spinning and spinning, out of control, and then I give a yelp of surprise as the needle-like fastener pricks me. The pin drops to the ground and rolls away.

From afar, I glare at it. Why did Father have to give me that pin, I wonder, if it might as well be a good-for-nothing omen of death?

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Breakfast proves to be as awkward as I expected. Alder frowns the entire time, practically drowning himself in a clear liquor combined with cranberry juice. He gives me a few odd looks that I assume are the result of my outburst yesterday, but he says nothing. Augusta leaves halfway through, complaining of major headaches and saying she'll "just rest a bit before we reach the Capitol." I suppose she just wants another hour of sleep.

Haymitch doesn't seem to have an appetite, choosing to consume just a couple of wafer-thin biscuits. Rosalina, ironically, is helping herself to fourths on food. She's probably hungry, having eaten little to nothing at dinner last night. I don't speak to her, though, since my mind is still reeling about her warnings. Tyler seems to be the only one of us willing to talk, but the smile he wore proudly at breakfast has slowly dwindled over time.

Haymitch suddenly leans over me and whispers, "Sleep well, sweetheart?"

Actually, I have. As I mentioned before, it's quite surprising. I have nightmares often, but after speaking with Rosalina the night before, I fell into a deep, content sleep. "As well as you," I observe, as he does not have dark circles under his eyes.

He raises an eyebrow. I snort in response. "Oh, please, don't look at me like my answer is surprising. I sleep well at inappropriate times. That's just who I am. Better brace yourself."

After a slight pause, Rosalina says, "And care no more." I look up at her, and her gray eyes bore into me as if she's looking into my thoughts. At first I'm confused about her puzzling and off-subject comment, but then I understand the meaning behind it.

"Don your jacket, walk out the door," Tyler pipes up next, catching on.

"In the fields of strife," I sing out clearly.

"You'll take a life."

"And that life you'll take is yours."

Alder stands up to leave, grumbling something about pitiful district songs that have the most irritating tunes, which I do not agree with the least bit. Whilst he makes quick exit, all three of us sing out the lyrics of one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. A song I've only heard a couple times in our district, because it speaks of suicide, and the Peacekeepers forbade talk of such things long ago. It's a sad tune; eerie, haunting; and for some reason, it fits well with the situation now. Tyler, Rosalina, and I sing and sing until the song ends.

"There's nothing left to love
No one left to give
There's a below but no above
There's no point trying to live

Wipe the coal dust from my eyes
Write a note with my good-byes
Bet there's nobody who cries
When they tell them that I'm gone.

Brace yourself
And care no more
Don your jacket, walk out the door
In the fields of strife
You'll take a life
And that life you'll take is yours.

I get up each day for nothing
I try so hard to care
As for emotion, there should be something
But I search to find none there

I have lived here forever
But the ties need to be severed
And they'll know of my endeavor
When they tell them that I'm gone.

Brace yourself
And care no more
Don your jacket, walk out the door
In the fields of strife
You'll take a life
And that life you'll take is yours."

I notice Haymitch isn't singing, just staring into the distance as if thinking deeply about past experiences. I reach out and touch his arm softly, but at the moment of contact he jerks away. "Are you okay?" I murmur.

"Oh, sorry. Yeah… I'm… I'm fine, sweetheart. I've just got to go for a second," he says huskily, turning away from me.

"Haymitch… are you crying?" I'm concerned. He isn't the type of person who cries. Not that I know him enough to-

"NO!" He snaps at me. "Mind your own business, Mays."

There's something wrong about this. Not the aggressive, angry tone he uses, but something much different. My name, I realise. He's shortened my name. Doesn't he always call me Maysilee? Why is it Mays now? What have I done to him? I pull away from Haymitch, feeling like I've been slapped as he flees the scene. The hurt I feel is enormous. I was trying to be empathetic. I wanted him to know someone cared about him... but maybe he doesn't want someone to care about him.

"Brace yourself, and care no more, don your jacket, walk out the door…"

Well, maybe I won't care anymore. Maybe I should just shove the emotions I experience when he is in the room down so far I won't be able to tell they're there. I shouldn't have any feelings for him anyway. We are going to compete in the Hunger Games. And there will only be one winner.

"…in the fields of strife, you'll take a life, and the life you'll take is yours."

I can't help but feel the odds aren't, never will be, and were never supposed to be, in my favour.

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"We're approaching the Capitol!" Augusta shouts excitedly, her violet hair bobbing up and down, her bright orange teeth flashing. The coal hat from yesterday is absent from the picture. I have the feeling Augusta has discarded it and will never wear it again.

In the distance, I see what appears to be a small cluster of buildings materialize on the horizon. Then, it gradually grows larger and more exquisite as we rush to our destination. The buildings seem to touch the sky, and are all different colours ranging from the brightest whites to the blackest of blacks, at times so black they're almost green-tinged. The nearer we get, the more visible the traits of the Capitol are: one contrasting area consisting of a purple-leaved hedge and a ruby-red building, topped off with lemon-yellow balconies and awnings.

But what is more intriguing now is the people. Looking down at them all, it seems like I am above a sea of multi-coloured birds of paradise. In fact, one of the Capitol women is actually dressed up as a peacock (something I've only seen in a dictionary, and is easily distinguishable by its prominent feathers) and is screaming manically at the train we are on. Tyler, Rosalina, Haymitch and I are standing in the compartment with the full-length window, ogling at the ever-growing crowd. Augusta stands behind us, smiling and waving and looking very pleased with herself.

For a second, I wonder if these people were the birds Rosalina was talking about when she had her episode. But I instantly contradict myself because these Capitolites aren't mutts. They're people. Peculiar, naïve, and almost fluorescent-looking people, but people all the same. They won't kill me.

"What are you doing?" A voice barks from behind us, and we all swivel around to face Alder. "Are you all idiots?"

We're all clueless to what he's talking about, so we keep our mouths shut.

"Wave at them, you dumbasses! Smile! None of you are gonna get any sponsors if you sit around and stare at them all day. I expected better from you! You!" He glares at me, and I cower away. "For not needing my help, you sure aren't capable of helping yourself, young lady!" And with that, he turns on his heel and stalks out of the room. My mouth is open in shock. I've never heard the man speak more than a few words, and when he does, he gives us a lecture on smiling and waving.

I watch as Tyler and Rosalina smile and wave, as instructed. I feel paralyzed, unmovable, and scared to death as the Capitol citizen's faces blur together into one single mass of colourful light and grotesque outfits and wide-open mouths.

"Not going to follow his advice? Even if it's what you wanted in the first place?" Haymitch has snuck up behind me again, and his voice is sharp and taunting in my ear.

"Turns out that I'm not the actor, you are. And it also turns out I'm having the crappiest day of my life."

"Yesterday wasn't, sweetheart?"

"Some things are still sinking in from yesterday. Like the fact that you are an arrogant, frustrating jerk who doesn't want my empathy. So you can just go away now," I scowl.

Haymitch's eyes go wide, and a look of disbelief crosses his face. But once the hurt begins to envelop his features, he wipes all expression from his appearance. I can almost picture him lifting up a mask that covers his face, showing an emotionless boy who wants nothing to do with me. How much practice has he had at hiding underneath the surface? I wonder. How much does Haymitch Abernathy have to act? Why can't he just be himself?

As I walk away, I realize that maybe the true Haymitch is so terrifying that even Haymitch himself wants to hide from his real personality. Or maybe the old Haymitch was, and he has changed and doesn't even know it, so he continues to hide. ...Something along those lines.

And with this thought on my mind, I mentally forgive Haymitch Abernathy for any mean-spirited comments that emit from his mouth- based on whether or not he is acting while the said words are spoken.

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Loathing. That's what comes to me when I try to sort out my feelings for my stylist. Complete, unadulterated loathing.

I thought Augusta's hair looked unflattering, but Rosea's looks absolutely hideous. Yes, that's her name: Rosea. It means pink, in the old language. It fits her perfectly.

"Tut, tut," she squeaks. Her coral-painted fingernail jabs my arm as she pokes me. "You'll have to do." Shaking her head, she leans back and examines me some more.

My skin is burning, but from getting stripped of most of my hair or embarrassment, I'm not sure. Probably a mixture of both. After all, I'm not exactly comfortable having a stylist look at my body who is three and a half feet tall, has pink hair made of strips of rubber stapled to her scalp, no eyebrows, and pink skin covered in pink tattoos. It also doesn't help that she is wearing the most provocative dress I have ever seen (see through material! That is pink!), and has already told me more than once that she prefers girls. In that way.

I think that Rosea is new this year. Actually, I know Rosea is new this year. District Twelve's previous usual stylist, Genus Maske, was kicked out for making the last female go naked to her interviews. Yes, naked. I felt so sorry for Lela Hunter for I'm sure her entire life was scarred from her three minutes of fame (or, should I say, Capitol men gaping soundlessly at her perfect, yet very slightly emaciated, body). She placed twenty-first in the 49th Annual Hunger Games. No sponsors could have helped her.

I'm expecting that Rosea might pull a Genus Maske and send me away in as little clothing as possible. Which is why I'm dreading to see my opening ceremonies costume.

It's almost as if she can read my thoughts, because now she is chattering away. "Don't you want to see your costume? Well, of course you do! You will look cute as a button, but very sexy at the same time. Of course, the outfit's black, but that's okay. Has to reflect your district, you know!" She lets out a tinkling laugh that makes me want to regurgitate my lunchtime meal. "I did suggest pink, but the other stylists turned me down. They're all sugarplums, especially Opalescent, Tyler's stylist- she is just so sexy- and her nickname, Pales, so cute- but sometimes I really don't think they have much common sense. You'd look absolutely beautiful in pink, honey!"

I don't listen to a word she says after that- it's probably all nonsense, anyway. Soon there is a knock on the door, and my prep team enters, giggling excitedly to one another. One carries a bundle, which I suppose is my costume, that is covered in rough brown paper.

"Can we put it on her now, Rosea?" Squeals one. Her name is Prond, I think, and she looks almost normal. Straight auburn hair, pale skin- and then you spy the numerous lip rings she has. There must be at least two dozen. How the lady can even eat or talk is a mystery to me.

"Of course you can," Rosea sits back to watch. I close my eyes and they instruct me to step into a pair of baggy pants… at least, that's what I think they are. Then they pull a silky garment over my head and it can only be a breastband. Straps go over my shoulders and I think that the pants must be overalls, or else, I'm wearing suspenders. After that, something is smeared onto the bare parts of my body, and then they announce me as "done," "perfect," "gorgeous," and "looking absolutely splendid, hon, sure you don't want to date me?"

I open my eyes, and, looking at my reflection in a full-length mirror, I decide one thing. I loathe my stylist, but I loathe this outfit more.

The kohl lined around my eyes makes me look fierce and dangerous, and purple lipstick that I (somehow) like adds to the effect, but the compliments stop there. It is provocative, it is trashy, it is horrible. It is not a work of art. They have adorned me in a lacy black breastband and a baggy coal miner's jumpsuit that has the sleeves cut off. The neckline goes so low you can see half of the breastband, the sleeve holes showing even more of the lacy undergarment. The pants are ripped "artistically." They have teased my hair slightly ("you look like you've just come out of a fight!" Rosea says, clapping her hands) and covered my arms, chest, back, and face in black paint, with glitter sprinkled on top. Not to mention, the jumpsuit and breastband are decorated with enormous black cotton ball-like puffs, meant to represent lumps of coal. Rosea has obviously never even seen coal in her life.

I look trashy. I look like a prostitute. Like a whore.

"Thank you," I choke out, which is a very hard feat. But my prep team and stylist don't notice because they're celebrating their "splendid" work. They just squeak, "You're very welcome!" and dance around some more.

In my opinion, I shouldn't have thanked them.

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Tyler stares at me as I walk towards him. The stare is full of surprise and approval (at my breasts especially) and automatically I feel disgusted. This boy is three years younger than me and to him I'm attractive. Attractive only when I'm dressed in a disastrous and poor attempt of a replica of coal miner's getup. I scowl and look Tyler up and down to see he looks like a skinny little boy trying to look desirable (even though he's more well fed than some of the boys that come from the Seam).

"What?" I ask sharply, and Tyler ducks his head and blushes.

"S-s-sorry," he stutters, and I put my hands on my hips. We stand in silence for a minute, trying not to look at each other, and it must be the most awkward situation I've ever been in.

We're not quite saved when Rosalina enters, but it's not as uncomfortable. She fills out her costume better than I do (ours are identical) but she hates it equally as much as me. She probably has worn this sort of stuff before to appeal to Peacekeepers and wants to leave the past in the past. I feel sorry for her. Tyler doesn't stare at her because they're brother and sister, and they strike up a conversation about what they think the other tributes will wear. Both bet that District Four has the prettiest costumes.

Then Haymitch enters, and I let out an involuntary gasp which I cover with a slight cough. He wears the same thing as Tyler: a baggy coal miner's suit, with the sleeves cut off as well as the front and the back, so that only straps remain to hold up the pants part, decorated with small puffs of dark cotton set equal distances apart. There is black paint where his shirt should be, as well as every other bare inch of his body besides his face. And yes, he's skinny and underfed. But his abdominal muscles are well defined, his skin is smooth underneath all the paint, his hair shines, and his eyes stand out beautifully. From closer inspection, I see his stylist has outlined his eyes in silver eyeliner, which is a little odd, but brings out the silver in his gray irises.

He saunters over to us, seemingly uncaring about what he's wearing, and notices both Rosalina and I gaping at him. "See something you like?" He asks seductively.

"In your dreams," I fire at him, recovering first, but not really meaning my words. He is very... attractive, to be honest.

"You look ridiculous," Rosalina giggles.

"Look who's talking," Tyler points out, which sends us all into a bout of laughter. Because it's true. We all look ridiculous; like (not-quite-so)-miniature prostitutes. I'm sure we'll never get sponsors, but it's okay because we can laugh about it.

It's at this moment that despite our differences, and despite the fact Haymitch doesn't want me to care about him, and despite the fact that Rosalina scared me to death this morning, and despite the fact that Tyler thinks I am attractive in this ugly costume, I feel that we are family. A messed up family consisting of kids that will have to kill each other in less than a week, but still, a family. And that's all I can ask for. That this family will last as long as it possibly can.

We wait a while for someone to come and tell us what to do, but nothing is explained to us. Other districts stand in this hallway, but people that I assume to be their mentors whisk them into large, black vehicles and drive them towards the starting point of the opening ceremonies. "What do you reckon we do?" Tyler asks, looking around for Alder, who seems to have forgotten about us. All the other Districts have left, and there is only one car parked outside of the glass doors.

"I say we keep waiting," Rosalina announces, attracting a few stares from the brightly-dressed Capitol citizens that mill about inside the building, doing whatever they're supposed to be doing.

A few beats of silence, and then Haymitch says, "Come on, let's just get to the starting point ourselves."

"But we can't walk, I'm sure it's very far away!" Rosalina looks horrified. "Plus, we'd attract so many stares!"

"Who said we were walking?" Haymitch's eyes glint mischievously as he grabs both my arm and Rosalina's, steering us toward the doors. I take a glance over my shoulder and see Tyler following behind us, a confused and wary expression on his face. Haymitch tows us to the size of the large automobile, forcing the brother and sister pair into the back seats I into the shotgun seat. He himself jumps into the driver's seat and fumbles with an overhead compartment, removing a key, and inserting it into the correct slot.

"What are you doing?" Rosalina says in a panicked tone of voice.

"Driving you, sweetheart," he says cooly.

"Have you ever driven before?" I ask, eyes wide.

"No," he says to me, his eyes laughing like they almost always are. "But there's a first time for everything, is there not?" He puts his foot on the gas petal and pulls away from where we are parked, hands loosely gripping the wheel as he speeds up. His eyes are on the road until he looks at me, realising that I am fretting about the fact that we may die today. "Maysilee, just relax," Haymitch says soothingly, and I do, getting lost in those eyes, those gray and silver-flecked irises that-

"HAYMITCH, LOOK OUT!" The spell is broken as Rosalina screams and Haymitch swerves to avoid the collision with some sort of sign. Passing by it, I read the words, Underage driving is not permitted.

Ha. No kidding.

After the most wild, terrifying, and (I have to admit) thrilling ride of my life, Haymitch gets us all to the opening ceremonies starting point in one piece. "I hate you," I tell Haymitch as he helps me out of my seat, but smiling because he really is the most dauntless person I have ever gotten the chance to meet.

"Everyone does."

"Not me!" Tyler says. "That was awesome!"

Rosalina and I glare at him. No point in adding "awesome" driving to Haymitch's list of things that have added on to his ego over the years. Tyler lowers his head and flushes, though I'm sure it has less to do with he fact that he fact that we disapprove of his comment and more to do with the fact that two older girls, albeit one being his sister, are glaring at him.

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"Scared, sweetheart?" Haymitch asks, smirking.

"Just as scared as you," I say defiantly, although my hands are shaking. I try to cover this up by gripping the side of the chariot, but he notices. Haymitch always notices.

"Well then," he says, holding back a laugh. I don't see what's so funny, but I'm saved from his next words because Rosea is running up to us, letting out occasional squeals of delight at the sight of Haymitch and I. In her hands she carries two bright orange objects, covered in black puffs like our costumes are.

"Here!" She says breathlessly, shoving them at each of us. I take mine. I realize it's a hard hat with a headlamp attached to it. The neon orange matches the colour of the too-large boots Rosea made me wear. I scowl at the hat, and Haymitch says, "Let me guess, Rubber, we have to wear these."

His comment on Rosea's hair brightens my mood considerably and I snort in concealed laughter. For once, Rosea looks genuinely offended. "My name's Rosea," she sniffs. "And you should know that because I'm the only lesbian stylist in the history of Panem, and the shortest too!"

I put my head into my hands, exasperated, at her openly candid attitude. She should not have said that. Haymitch's eyebrows seem to shoot up so high they disappear off his face, and he starts cackling madly. "Oh, really, Rubber? Crushing on Maysilee?" He shoots me a wicked grin and I fix him with a death glare.

"Yes, yes, she's very… sexy." Rosea reaches up and runs a finger down my arm. I jump at the touch, and then screech profanities at her, causing her to run away in fright.

"You sure know how to scare off a girl," Haymitch jokes.

I scowl at him, ripping the orange hard hat from his hands. He doesn't protest as I toss it over the side of the chariot, along with mine. Won't be needing those. "Oh, shut up. Must I ask, where's your stylist?"

"Threatened that I'd kill her if she made me wear this. She said, "Then go naked," and left. I had no choice but to wear it, and I don't know if she's coming back," he laughs it off. "I may have also put up a good fight against wearing lipstick. Eyeliner is enough."

"You sure know how to scare off a girl," I muse, throwing his own words back at him.

"How funny that however many times I try to scare you off, you just seem to rebound off a wall and fly right back at me," he says. This time he looks serious, though. I'm about to ask, why are you trying to scare me off, then? But the huge oak doors slowly slide open, and I watch as District One's first chariot, which includes Miracle and Exon dressed in nothing but undergarments studded in gleaming diamonds, starts to roll forward. I hear loud cheers coming from outside the doors, but all I see is the flashing of cameras and a swirl of bright colours.

"Ready?" I ask. My hands are shaking very hard now and I clutch the bar that is right in front of me.

There is silence from his end as we start to roll forward, but then he sees my hands. "Here," he whispers, taking one of my hands in his, squeezing it tightly. "It'll be okay, Maysilee."

Platonic. This relationship has to be purely platonic, I tell myself. I squeeze his hand back, and we hide it between us so none of the audience can see that we have a relationship at all.

The chariot glides through the open wooden doors and we are met by deafening noise. It's much more toned down than the cheers the Capitolites gave District One, but that's okay… at least my eardrums won't burst from the noise. As we travel down the paved street, crowds of people dressed in the most outrageous outfits I've ever seen lean over the barriers that have been set up to keep them from swarming the chariots. Their hands reach out to touch us, grab us, wave at us; they shout "District Twelve!" and a couple times I hear Haymitch's and my names. I feel slightly bad for Rosalina and Tyler, whom are in the chariot ahead of us, because their names aren't called- and since they're actually wearing their hard hats.

I stare at all of the Capitol citizens, a little flustered, and then suddenly remember Alder yelling at us. Wave at them, you dumbasses! Smile! None of you are gonna get any sponsors if you sit around and stare at them all day. So, in attempt to look like I'm actually enjoying this, I put a half-smile and release Haymitch's hand, raising it to wave at a couple of young men.

They catch my eye, and in their expression I see desire, which disgusts me, but I ignore it. When I smile, one of them swoons, I think. I'll play this to my advantage. More sponsors is a good thing. A very good thing.

I smile and wave, the crowd eating it up, and I am very proud of myself. Then Haymitch has to ruin it when he grabs my arm, whispering furiously in my ear, "What are you doing? Keep in mind those are the people that will watch with glee as forty-seven children die in front of their very eyes."

I pause. I examine the shouting faces of the Capitolites, and the world seems to switch to slow motion. But now that I see these people from the Capitol, I don't see just their excited expressions. I look deeper and see that they are all, each and every one of them, lusting for viciousness. Waiting for the day the Games will finally start. They are literally cheering for my death.

I drop my hand and gasp in horror. What have I done? By waving at them they will like me more, and when I die they will watch with fascination because it was me and not some other nameless, faceless tribute. Why was I waving at them? Why, why, why?

We loop around the City Circle once, and then come to a stop below a huge balcony that President Snow resides on. As soon as everyone has calmed down slightly, he steps up to the podium and presents the same speech he recites every year. I tune it out, because I already have the words memorized. Instead, I keep thinking about the Games, and how the people of the Capitol will think of my death as entertainment and not tragedy, and the birds Rosalina screamed at me about and how they're supposed to kill me. I'm going to die- going to die- going to die.

We loop around the City Circle again and then all the chariots come to a full stop. I see Augusta, Rosea, and Rosalina and Tyler's stylists, and they congratulate us, beaming. Rosea seems to have forgotten the hurtful comment Haymitch said to her not too long ago and gives him a very large hug around his waist (being so tiny, her head is positioned at his abdomen, which must be very uncomfortable).

I am tired of all the commotion, and decide not to wait for the others. I enter a building that is right in front of me, which I assume is the Training Centre. The main floor is very small, consisting of a small desk which a Capitol woman sits behind and a lift. When I gesture to the lift she nods to me, and I take this as my cue to enter it. One side is made completely of glass, and the sun is low in the sky as I look toward the horizon. The Capitol stretches out for miles. It is so large.

On another wall, there are fourteen buttons. One of the buttons has a small star on it, and I know that is meant to signify the main floor. Above it are the numbers one through twelve: a floor for each district. Below it all is another button with a 'T' labeled clearly on it. I suppose that is where training occurs.

Making a fairly educated guess, I push the number twelve, and the lift shoots upward at record-breaking speed. In no time, there is a soft ding and the doors open up to a flat with plush carpet and a colour theme of lime green and cerulean blue. The first thing that catches my eye is a table already covered with food of all kinds, but I dismiss it. I'm not hungry. The Capitol's food is very rich and satisfying, and I'm still full from my brief luncheon.

Instead, I head directly to a hallway with doors on either side. One door has a plaque on it that reads "girl tribute," and I enter it cautiously. Inside, there are two twin beds, a wardrobe, a desk, and another door that I assume leads to the bathroom- this is all I need. I'll share this room with Rosalina, but for the moment, it's mine.

Stripping all my clothes off, I instantly hop into the shower. It's the same as on the train, and thankfully, I remember where the button for perfect-temperature water is located. I press it, as well as a few others that come to mind as not drastically unnecessary, and once I'm finished, I step out onto the air-dry mat. Next, I travel to the wardrobe and choose a nightdress from about ten different styles. There isn't much variation in size for Rosalina because we are about the same height, and I'm instantly reminded of Myra. At this thought, it feels like I have a weight on my heart. I choke back a small sob that sneaks up on me quickly. I will not cry.

Distant clinking comes from the dining room. I crawl under the soft covers of my bed and listen to the sound of silverware on china, as well as the murmuring of multiple voices. After a while, it lulls me to sleep.

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I wake up from my nightmare, shivering and doused in cold sweat. I dreamt that Haymitch, Myra and I were in the arena. Haymitch was going to kill me with a knife, but Myra stepped in front of me at the last second, taking the blow of the thrown blade. I ran to her side, screaming, but then he threw another knife at my forehead and the last thing I ever saw was his gorgeous, smirking face.

I lay back down and try to fall asleep again, but it's no use. I'm wide awake now. Silently, I let the duvet slip from my body and leap out of bed. A glowing clock on my bedside table reads that it is one in the morning, and Rosalina is sound asleep in the bed parallel to mine, so I tiptoe out of the room and down the hall to the dining room.

In the dining room, the table is cleared for once, but there is an Avox sitting on one of the chairs, ready at attention for whomever might want something to eat at this early hour. I wonder if they ever sleep, and then contradict myself. Of course they do. They're human beings. Avoxes probably just work in shifts.

I place a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, and he whirls around, wide-eyed. He calms slightly as he sees it's only me- not Augusta or Alder or anyone from the Capitol.

"Do you have tea?" I whisper.

He nods once and takes some sort of contraption out of his pocket. Once he presses a button, a small whirring sound starts up and I see, in the corner of the room, a small table rising up from the floor.

The Avox gestures me to go to it, and after thanking him, I do. On the table is a small pot of water that is steaming, as well as a bowl full of many different types of tea packets. There are mugs, as well, and sweeteners located in a corner.

I choose a mug and fill it with the hot water, then select a tea packet from the bowl. It's peppermint-flavoured. I've had it before, because Fauna has always been fond of peppermint and, since her parents have a wide selection of herbs in their shop, sometimes we buy a little of the plant. When we were little, Myra, Fauna and I would gather the mint leaves, pour boiling water into her teapot, and let the leaves stew in the pot for about five minutes. Then we'd have tea parties and act like snooty, prim and proper women, with our pinkies extended and our noses upturned at each other. I've never had tea in a packet before, though.

After adding a couple sugar cubes to the mix, I nod at the Avox and he presses the button again. The table sinks into the floor. It's miraculous, really, how the Capitol has luxuries (such as tea) coming out of nowhere. They want it, and it appears. Nothing like District Twelve, where we've had to work for everything we've ever gotten, except for the hair on our heads.

Having not explored yet, I head the opposite direction of where our rooms are located, deciding just to risk it. There are five doors leading to different places, so I take a wild guess and enter the one on the far right. I find myself in a lounging area, and am very pleased with myself at having such good sense of direction.

Leaning back on the sofa, I take a sip of the peppermint tea and smile. It tastes wonderful, and brings back good memories.

Movement from my left catches my eye, and automatically I set my mug down on the coffee table (as not to spill the tea) and move into a fighting stance, just to see Haymitch sitting in a swiveling arm chair, arms crossed and eyes laughing at me.

"How long have you been here?" I exclaim, then cover my mouth. I am too loud. I have already forgotten it's one in the morning.

"Long enough, sweetheart."

I sigh at his vague comment, rolling my eyes. "Sure know how to sneak up on me."

"So you better watch your back in the Games."

"Oh, no," I smirk, grasp my mug of tea, and stride over to the arm chair next to him. "If there's one person in the Games who won't stab me in the back, it's you." He raises an eyebrow, but doesn't respond. I decide to change the subject. "What did I miss earlier?"

This makes him laugh. "You missed nothing, really, just Alder throwing a tantrum." He proceeds in a realistic imitation of a raging Alder. "'You little idiots! You two, brother and sister, you looked like expressionless robots! Hayden, why couldn't you get that scowl off your face? And that Miranda, she was doing fine and then she looked like an unhinged little girl who'd just seen a ghost!' Really, he needs to start getting our names right."

I'm laughing by the time he finishes. "So pretty much, he hates us all."

"That's one way to put it."

"You know it was your fault, by the way. That I stopped waving, and smiling," I say lightly, taking a sip of my tea.

Haymitch stares at the floor with a queer expression drifting over his features. "Do you want to know why I said it?" He asks thoughtfully, but doesn't wait for me to answer. "You reminded me too much of myself. While you put on the cheery act, I put on the indifferent act. I couldn't stand it. It had to be one of us who showed their true colours."

I'm frozen in my seat. "And why did you choose me to… show my true colours?"

"Because it is too difficult for me now, to do that on purpose. I'm used to the acting, since there's normally someone around who prefers something different. Such as seductive," he says, leaning forward, his lips brushing my ear, "or apathetic," he pulls away, words cruel, "or sarcastic," he adds sardonically.

"So why is it that you're not like that when you're with me, then?"

There is such a long pause that, eventually, I move to leave. I set my half-full cup of tea on a nearby countertop for an Avox to retrieve later on. I turn my back on him, crossing the room. I start to step over of the threshold… but he calls for me. "Maysilee Donner."

His tone of voice is harsh, yes, and powerful; but I have never heard someone savour those two words as he does now. And, once I turn around, he gives me my response. "It's such a simple answer. I don't know how you couldn't figure it out," he says.

"It's because you like me for who I am."

~finis de capitulum duo~

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