Brace Yourself

Chapter Three: The Capitol, Part II

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

Warnings: Very brief violence and possible cursing.

Note: You might compare a few of my characters to ones from the original Hunger Games. However, I've changed some majour aspects about Hemlock so she differs from Rue, and have mentally concluded that Venom is Clove's aunt, hence the similarities. I understand the consequences of plagiarizing, so please don't accuse me of partaking in it.

Chapter Three: The Capitol, Part II

So fall, go on and fall apart
And fall into these arms of mine, I'll catch you
Every time you fall, go on and lose it all
Every doubt, every fear, every worry, every tear

-Fall, Clay Walker

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When I wake up, the first thing I notice is a pair of eyes: dark pupils surrounded by a gray hue. The colour is calming but the wild ferocity that shows there unsettles me. I blink once and my focus zooms out on the face. A well-defined nose, olive skin, and raven black hair that's long and straight, dangling in my face and tickling my cheek. It is Rosalina.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

"No," she says, coldly, heartlessly. I am hit with a massive wave of déjà vu from the last time she said that to me in this way- yesterday morning. There's no other explanation for this... She's having another episode.

"His plans changed. He thinks I'm weak. He's going to try to kill both of us," she says confidently, as if she has not predicted both of our ultimate deaths.

"Who are you talking about, Rosalina? Is it Tyler? Haymitch?" Please don't be either of them.

"Isn't it obvious?" She frowns. "He's a monster, of course. He's not my friend. He's not my brother. He is a monster." With the amount of finality she says this with, I am not going to question the subject any longer.

"They'll miss us when we die," Rosalina says after a moment, changing the topic completely. There is a distant look in her eyes, and she sways from side to side, as if being pushed and shoved from both directions.

"Who?" I'm annoyed at the fact that she won't tell me the answers I want, but not prepared for what happens next. Automatically, her face contorts into a vicious expression and she screeches, "Our families, you idiot! Our friends! Our lovers!" She's screaming into my ear so loudly I flinch and cover my ears, closing my eyes, hoping Rosalina will just go away.

She doesn't, and goes on as if her outburst never happened. "I want to tell you a secret," she whispers. "The birds talk to me sometimes."

"What birds?"

"I think you're an idiot," she states, but without a large amount of venom backing her words. She says it almost ruefully. "I know you understand. But if you really insist… they're the birds that kill you, Maysilee Donner."

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Rosalina says she knows I understand, but I don't. I really don't. I don't understand why she's been spouting facts about the future that could very well be nothing but absurd predictions, I don't understand why she blacked out right after she said my name, I don't understand who will deceive us, or why Haymitch and I were both reaped, or why my life has turned out the way it has. All I could do was heave her limp body off me and take a quick shower to gather my thoughts.

When I reenter our sleeping quarters, Rosalina sits quietly on her bed, smiling as she meditates. "Are you okay?" I ask again, hoping she won't say the dreaded "no" back at me again. But instead, she says something worse. "Yes, I'm doing fine; just woke up. I'm sorry I ended up next to your bed. I sleepwalk sometimes. Did you sleep well?"

"I… I…" I stutter. How does she not remember?

"What's the matter, Maysilee?"

"You really don't remember it?" I ask, confused.

"Remember what?" Rosalina says, equally perplexed.

"You were telling me about how we're both going to die, and you talk to the birds that kill me, and someone was going to deceive us." She doesn't seem to have any recollection, and stares at me like I'm the insane one in this room. "How do you not remember?" I continue, puzzled. Does Rosalina have schizophrenia? Multiple personality disorder mixed with amnesia?

Rosalina just shakes her head. "I don't know what you're talking about. Are you sure you got enough sleep?"

"Yes." I decide to drop it. "Whatever. It might have been a bad dream." But it's not. I never have the same dream twice, even if the dreams are just slightly different... and never two days in a row. I'll just let Rosalina's episodes go on until it comes clear to me what she really means. Who knows? Maybe she predicts the future. Alas, it doesn't seem as if my future will be an ideal one- death by muttation birds. Sounds fun, right?

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"Come, come, dearies! Training starts in just a few minutes!" Augusta trills from the head of the table, standing up in her long red heels and ushering us from our seats. None of us move. Breakfast was, to tell the truth, dreadful- but the prospect of training alongside forty-four other tributes that are going to kill us? Absolutely awful.

I turn to Alder, who sits at the other end of the table drinking white liquor. "Any tips?" I ask wearily.

The man, who is apparently still angry at me from last night, purposefully ignores my question. Well, I think bitterly, at least he's not shouting at me for asking.

"Come on!" Augusta snaps, impatiently. "It creates a horrible impression when you're late."

"Just give us a moment of peace, Augusta," Rosalina says with a tone of voice that imitates mine.

"It's Gust to you." She runs a hand through her violet hair, tossing it to the side with an annoyed look in Rosalina's direction. Augusta is very touchy about her name, thinking it's too old for her. I think her name, her age, and her appearance fit her perfectly well. However, that didn't stop her from nicknaming herself Gust; and doesn't stop her from lifting up her silver spoon and staring vainly into it. "My pathetic tributes can't even get my fabulous name right!" She mutters to her reflection.

"Excuse me?" I say.

"Oh… I… uh… nothing." Augusta blushes, and then snaps her fingers twice. "Now stand up, and follow me. Or I'll have Alder take a knife to the four of you."

We do. Hesitantly, we do. Not because we are frightened by our mentor, and much less by our escort. But it is vital that we take every opportunity to utilize training to our personal benefit, so we stand and follow Augusta as if we're her abnormal-looking, mutilated shadow.

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Ding!

The lift's doors open smoothly and swiftly, opening up to the most gigantic room I have ever laid eyes on. It is almost too much to bear. Yes, I have stood on a stage in front of all of Panem. Yes, I have rode a chariot around the City Circle in a provocative coal miner's jumpsuit. And, yes, I've even met Haymitch Abernathy and Alder Blind. But I don't believe there is anything that has ever intimidated me so much as this room.

The colour scheme consists of dark pigments and a large array of silvers. The walls are painted a deep gray, whist large racks of gleaming silver weapons line the walls. Dummies, coloured an off-white with large rings around fatal points of the body, seem to be scattered everywhere. A few fake trees line the camouflage and shelter stations, as well as the climbing station, where a rock wall is also present. One area that seems to focus primarily on obstacle courses has hundreds of steel bars crisscrossing the ceiling. To the right, towards the top of the room, is a balcony where men wearing purple robes mill about, sampling foods from various trays set in front of them. These are the Gamemakers, who will watch us as we train. And, to top it all off, the setting is illuminated by bright fluorescent lights, suspended by sturdy-looking cables.

"Whoa," Tyler whispers, in awe.

"Isn't it fabulous?" Augusta giggles, using the only word I wouldn't use to describe this place. "Dearies, you're going to have so much fun!" And with that, she pushes Rosalina and Tyler off the lift, and then places a hand on both Haymitch's and my back. Her long, claw-like fingernails dig into the taut fabric of my training uniform as she shoves me forward. I stumble a bit, but regain my balance quickly.

Ding! I turn as the lift rises away from sight. The image of Augusta's relieved face, with her gem-encrusted lips turned up in a relaxed smile, stays fresh in my mind- a look that means she's glad she's rid of us, at least for a little while.

I turn and jog up to Rosalina, keeping pace with her as she walks to an open space in the semi-circle the tributes who arrived before us have created. The Career districts, or the members of One, Two, and Four, stand side by side, forming a menacing line of trained killers. I note that Districts Five, Eight, and Nine are here as well, some acting quite amiable, others looking on in silence. Lowering my head, I try to make myself invisible, but it doesn't work as well as I would hope.

A man dressed in a blinding white bodysuit walks over to us, holding a stack of black-coloured paper and a tin of fasteners. He attaches a paper with the number Twelve to Tyler's back, and does the same to Rosalina. As the man pins another to the back of my training suit, I feel eyes on me, and look up.

As I stare into their taunting eyes, a variety of colours with intensities that all but match Haymitch Abernathy's, it's almost as if my future plays out in my head. I see myself ducking and blushing at every discriminating comment they throw at me. I see myself showing my weak side in the interviews, hoping Capitol citizens will sponsor me out of pity. Then I see them targeting me first in the bloodbath, stabbing me rapidly with swords and spears and knives, slashing me repeatedly with their scythes and sickles and maces, leaving me in a bloody mess until my cannon fires.

So, instead of staring at the floor, I glare right back at the Careers. They will not think of me as a frail little girl. They will think of me as defiant competition. They will think of me as- "What do you think you're doing, sweetheart?" Haymitch hisses in my ear.

"Giving them a taste of their own medicine," I reply, out of the corner of my mouth, as I attempt to stare them down.

"They'll target you first if you keep glaring at them!"

"No, they target the weak ones first." I turn to look in his direction.

"Don't be an idiot, Mays," he warns.

"Don't be overprotective, Mitch!" I've crossed my arms and he's crossed his and both of us have bewildered expressions on our faces as we realize we've just nicknamed each other. The way he calls me Mays seems inaccurate when he says it, as if it's not my name, as if I've done something I shouldn't have done. I'm sure it's the same way for him. Neither of us are pleased with the supposedly endearing names.

Fauna once told me that a giving you nickname is one of the best ways a boy can show his affection for you. "The other day, Hearth called me Faunie!" She had giggled. But now, when Haymitch calls me Mays, one of the names my friends and acquaintances have addressed me with for years, I hate it. I hate it. It's as if he's addressing my façade, and not the true Maysilee… if you can understand what I mean by this.

I hear laughing from the other side of the semi-circle and look up again. The Careers are yelling something about a "petty lover's quarrel" which makes me blush furiously. I flip them off but this only seems to make them chortle more. "Ignore them," Haymitch says softly, and I frown and do as told.

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"What do you reckon we do first?" I turn to Haymitch as the Head Trainer dismisses us to go to our separate stations, but he is already on the other side of the room, heading to the location of the throwing knives. It pains me that he doesn't want us to train together, but I know it's all for the best. It's important we avoid each other, so I don't like him any more than I already do.

Ha! Who am I kidding? I've already fallen for the boy from the Seam- Haymitch and not Mitch. Should he die in the arena, would I grieve? Of course. Would I be devastated? Undoubtedly. Would I lose my sanity? Perhaps. However, it may be a good idea to avoid him for as long as possible.

Rosalina evidently thinks I'm speaking to her, and says, "Edible plants?"

I sigh dejectedly. I'm sure I'll be a failure. "Edible plants," I agree halfheartedly.

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"Twenty-five out of twenty-five," the trainer exclaims, a look of surprise on his face that most likely mirrors mine. His expression slowly changes into a look of pride, while mine remains incredulous. After about thirty minutes of studying numerous plants, I came to a conclusion that I might as well see if I could identify them all. Rosalina got an eighty percent.

"You're joking," I say, grabbing the answer sheet from him. I scan it. Elderberries. Poisonous if eaten raw, though you will recover quickly if treated properly. I know this because we've used them to make candies back home, but they always have to be cooked before eating. Mint leaves. By far the easiest to distinguish, and perfectly safe to consume. "Some Seam kids chew them to keep their mind off of hunger," Fauna told me once, after hearing it from Hearth. Cashew nuts. Edible and delicious, but the shells are toxic. Nightlock. The most poisonous berry there is. It will kill you in an instant. They look like blackberries, but the insides are blood red. Yew berries and leaves. The aril surrounding the seed of the berry is delicious and we use it in our candies, also, but the seeds are toxic. The foliage is even more poisonous than the seeds, and two fatalities that have occurred in the Games were from eating the leaves (the tributes really were going to great measures to relieve their hunger, I must say). There is more on the list, and I go over all of them in my mind, remembering what I wrote on my test.

Yes, I passed. My face breaks into a grin and Rosalina hugs me gently. "Nice job, Maysilee," she says.

"You too, Rosalina."

We thank the trainer for his time and head away from the station shortly after that. Then we come to a disagreement, as I want to work on throwing knives and she is headed over to knot-tying. We eventually split up and promise to meet up at (or possibly before) lunchtime.

The trainer at knives is busy, exasperatedly trying to show an elfin boy from Six how to get into proper stance, so I head over to a rack of many different sizes and shapes of blades. Choosing one that looks reasonably dull enough to not make a fatal wound if I accidentally hurl it at someone, I stand in front of a large, circular target that is a good twenty feet away. Suddenly, I'm nervous. But can it really be that hard? If the Careers can do it, I can too. I shift into the same stance the man was showing the little boy, pull my arm back, take a deep breath in, and…

"May I be of assistance?" Someone has my arm in their tight grip. It is the trainer. He leers at me, eyes traveling up and down my body in appreciation. Instantly, I glower at him. How old is this man? Thirty, probably. Does he know me? No, he does not. Does the man have a right to look at me like I'm his next meal? Hell no!

I yank my arm away from his hot and sweaty grip, still clutching the knife, my face contorting in disgust. "You have no right to touch me!" I fume.

The man raises his eyebrows. "Whoa, calm down, sweetheart. I was just going to suggest you get a smaller knife. So you don't hurt yourself, or damage your pretty features," he drawls. Not that this knife could easily injure me- it's so dull. But the only thing he says that completely registers in my mind is the word "sweetheart." Nobody can get away with calling me that, except a certain Haymitch Abernathy.

Haymitch… where is he, anyway?

I look around the room and can't find the boy. He seems to have hidden himself well. I am completely distracted with finding him until the trainer snaps in my face. "I said, get a smaller knife." I don't move. Where is Haymitch where is Haymitch where is Haymitch?

"Get a smaller knife!" He explodes suddenly, and I am scared beyond belief that this man is going to wrench the larger knife from my grip and use it to kill me himself, despite its bluntness. Nodding frantically, I turn to the rack of knives and reach for the smallest one I can find, a number that is (thankfully) not wickedly sharp like most of the blades.

"Better," the trainer says, nodding. "Now get into stance."

I do, widening my legs, bending my knees slightly. The entire time, the trainer stares at my breasts. I cross my arms over my chest and glare at the man, saying in a clipped tone, "What next?"

"Now," he says, eyes glinting maliciously. "Let me show you how to disperse your weight. You're leaning a little to much forwards- I'll help you out." All of the sudden the man is standing behind me and he puts his hands on my hips. I squeak in shock and instinctively jump away from his hands. His hot and sweaty and absolutely revolting hands.

"Get away from me!" I screech.

"Get back here so I can show you how it's done, or else I'll kill you with that pitiful knife you're holding!" I stumble back at the vicious tone, scared to stay, scared to go, scared of this evil man who I've loathed since the first word he spoke to me.

"Excuse me, Leonardo," someone interrupts us. "That boy over there looks like he is in need of assistance." Haymitch points to Willie from District Ten, whose best attempt had been a foot in length in which the knife pitifully fell to the ground. "I think I can take over from here."

The trainer, Leonardo I assume, glares ferociously at my district partner and then says to me, in an attempted seductive tone, "See you later, sweetheart. Maybe I can get you in bed sometime." I shudder slightly. Then, caught in the moment, I fling myself into Haymitch's arms out of relief. An odd expression crosses Haymitch's face as I pull away. Besides that, he remains emotionless.

"Thank you," I say simply.

"He had no right," he says, his voice low and unnerving. His gaze chips away at me like a pickaxe chips away coal, almost as if he is dissecting me with his very eyes, peeling away my skin to see what's beneath it.

"None at all," I agree.

"No, I don't think you understand." His voice is troubled. "He called you… that."

"What?" Haymitch doesn't reply, but it slowly dawns on me what he is talking about. Sweetheart. The man, Leonardo, called me sweetheart; twice. I suppose that would inspire a little anger if you called someone that and then a person you barely knew ruined it. But is it ruined? Will he still call me by the name he has nicknamed me with? Not Mays, but sweetheart. His sweetheart, no matter how much sarcasm leaks into the endearment.

"Oh," I say, my gaze to the floor. He shrugs half-heartedly and then stands behind me and places his hands on my hips, just like the trainer did. Except this time I don't jump away. If anything, I lean into his touch, which triggers an electric feeling that washes over my body. I close my eyes in pleasure, hoping he doesn't move his hands. He doesn't, but says, softly but with amusement, "Maysilee."

I turn to him, a questioning look in my eyes, and see he is smirking slightly. "Do I have to tell you to fix your posture? You want to learn to throw a knife, do you not?"

"Oh," I repeat, pathetically. "Sorry." I straighten up and widen my stance. Instantly, Haymitch mutters unintelligibly, guiding my hips backwards slightly. My breath catches as he does this, and his hands linger on my waist as I stay in the position he has put me in: my left side facing the targets. Then he lifts both to readjust the knife in my hand so I'm gripping it differently, wrapping my fingers around the hilt, placing my index finger on the beginning of the spine.

Then his fingers clamp unyieldingly on my elbow and forearm, guiding my arm back until the knife is positioned next to my ear, at a forty-five degree angle from the ground. He lets go and puts one hand back on my waist, the other placed firmly on my abdomen. I struggle to breathe. He is so close. "Focus on the target," he whispers in my ear, and I shiver, knowing I'll never be able to focus with him touching me in this way. "When you throw, shift your weight from your back foot to the front to get momentum. Suck your stomach in. Inhale, throw, and exhale. It is as simple as that." As I tighten my abdominal muscles, I feel his hand press even harder into my stomach. I feel the callouses on his hands through the thin, taut material of my uniform- and it's very hard to distract myself from his touch.

Doing as Haymitch says, I take a deep breath in, holding it as I lean back slightly and then move quickly forwards. My arm extends and the knife flies from it, sailing through the air and landing with a loud thump. I exhale and grin wildly until I realize where the blade has landed. On the floor, eight metres away from the target I was aiming for. I hear a loud snickering from behind me, and turn, shrugging off Haymitch, to see a group of Careers watching. One of them, with eerie amber eyes and short, choppy blonde hair- Platina- comments to another, "She's fallen for him so hard she couldn't throw straight if she tried." This prompts the group to guffaw much more loudly. I flush in anger.

"Ignore them," my district partner says calmly. "Your arm ended up much too far to the left. Try again." I retrieve another small knife and return to him. This time, he stands even closer. I feel slightly dazed as I throw the next time, with not near enough precision. The knife is propelled upward and drops down again a few feet away. It's no use. There is more laughter from the Careers.

Haymitch is starting to look a little irritated, but induces me to try a few more times. Finally, he puts his hands up, frowning. "Maybe knife throwing just isn't your thing, Maysilee," he says, disappointment and exasperation tinging his voice. "Try something else. I can't help you."

I glance sadly at him. And here I was thinking that, with knives being an easily acquirable weapon in the arena, I could learn to throw them and be at least decent. Now Haymitch is giving up on me, of all people. And the Careers are still watching.

I head over to the rack, choosing the last knife that is a suitable size. I head over to the targets and get into the position the trainer (who is oddly absent) and Haymitch explained, adjusting my grip, pulling the blade back. I try to block out the steady muttering coming from behind me, from the Careers, who still haven't moved on, but it is futile attempt. "Do you think she'll make it this time, Platina?" I hear one say.

"What do you think, you imbecile?" Says the distinctive voice of the girl from One with the amber eyes.

"No, she'll miss," says the singsong voice of Siren Faith. Grunts of agreement break out at this statement, and I feel my anger boil up inside of me, ready to burst out of the body it is contained in. I take a deep breath in while looking at the target, shift my weight, and-

"Undoubtedly. And something tells me pathetic runs in the family. The way her twin sister cried at the reaping- I'm assuming that was her twin sister, they look alike- if she were here, she would die before the gong even sounded."

Somehow, I manage to whirl around as I'm throwing the knife. That's it. How dare they insult my sister? They can fire as many comments directed toward me as they want- I'll just hold the rage in without showing it- but my sister is mine to speak about, not theirs to insult freely whenever they wish. Before I know it, the knife has buried itself in Platina's hip.

It takes her a second to react, pulling the knife out and staring at it with a curious expression on her face, which slowly transforms to understanding and then hot, utter fury. Blood drips down her right leg as she slowly advances toward me, her hands out as if ready to strangle me. I realise I am defenseless, and stare at her in horror. Those amber eyes slowly grow dark and her lip curls. "Think you'd try to kill me for that, Twelve?"

I stay silent.

"Well," Platina muses, looking almost pleased. "I thought you'd like a little something in return. No hard feelings." She advances one more step and then she sweeps her leg under my feet, tripping me. I crumple to the ground and she leans down, putting her knees on my shoulders. Then, with one swift, fluid movement, she pulls her fist back and punches me in the nose.

Pain engulfs me as I hear a sharp crack. My nose is broken, blood trickling down so it coats my upper lip, eventually filling my mouth with a rusty taste I dislike. Platina leans down and says, "Watch your back in the arena. I'll always be just around the corner, waiting for your weakest moment, waiting for you to let your guard down. Then," she gazes at me like a cat eyes a mouse, "I'll pounce."

She walks away. Her retreating form, with the blood running down her hip, is the last thing I see before I black out.

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I wake up, completely disoriented. My vision adjusts until a sterile room appears all around me, with bright, impeccable walls and modern sharp-cornered cabinets. Everything is doused in white. White painted walls, white countertops, white bedsheets on the bed I lay on.

Instantly, I remember. Platina. Knives. Nose. Watching and waiting and pouncing. I sit up and touch my nose gingerly, but surprisingly, there is no pain, and no blood. Putting slight pressure onto the bridge of my nose with my fingertips, there is a faint pulsating, but not the sharp throbbing that comes with a broken bone. They've fixed me up.

I slide off the bed and go over to a small mirror located on the wall. My reflection stares back at me. If I had not touched my face already, I would expect a large bruise blossoming, a distorted nose, and reddish-brown dried blood marring my unremarkable features. But it's surprising that none of these appear in front of me. I look like… myself. My hair is messy, my eyes are large, but that's okay. I never did know the extent of the Capitol's medicine, but this is truly wondrous.

I've not been staring at my reflection long when my ears pick up the muttering of two voices: one male, one female. I concentrate on the muddled noise, and realise it's coming from just outside the room. Rushing over to the ivory-coloured door, without making a sound, I press my ear up against the painted wood. "…Please," I hear the male say, almost desperately.

"No. The doctor said not to visit her until she was awake. Or else her nose might not fix itself properly," the woman says, regretfully. Her voice is very distinct and I can tell it is Rosalina almost instantly. "Just wait for her to wake up, Haymitch. Then you can apologize for leaving her alone or whatever it was you're sorry about."

Sorry? He shouldn't be sorry. I was the one who knifed Platina. I was the one who provoked her. But he lets out a dejected sigh anyway. And then, out of nowhere, Haymitch says harshly, "You don't know what it's like- to be unable to have what you desperately want."

There is a pause, and then Rosalina replies. "Yes. I do." It's so quiet I can barely hear the words, soft and gentle like a scrap of velvet against a baby's skin. I don't know what she's talking about but I know Haymitch doesn't know what to say.

"Who, then?"

"Jenthis. Jenthis Hawthorne." I hear her sob slightly at her next words. "But I'm a prostitute. No man would ever want a prostitute. No man would ever want me when they could have Hazelle. So I suppose it's good that I'll die before I'm forced to attend their wedding."

My mind is reeling. Rosalina, love Jenthis? Jenthis, who is Hearth's good friend? Hearth, who is in love with Fauna? Fauna, who is my best friend? Small world. It seems as if every person in District Twelve is connected in some way. And why did I have to find my connections to Rosalina now when I should be severing them? Why does our friendship grow stronger when I should break it away, like I need to bury these feelings for Haymitch?

"Oh." He seems unable to reply in any way other than that.

"I suppose you understand what I mean," she laughs.

He laughs, too, but it is a sad sort of chuckle that signifies that there isn't anything remotely funny about this entire topic. "No woman would ever want an actor," he agrees.

It's that comment that triggers all the anger and the confusion and the overwhelming, complicated depression. Because I want the actor and he wants the plain merchant girl and we'll never, ever, get each other. No matter how many times we voice it, no how many times we apologize, no matter how many times we'll pretend it doesn't exist, I'll still have feelings for him. And we'll still be in the 50th Hunger Games. So that's why I fling the door open and storm out, shoving past them, walking down the hallway. Because I want to get away from the truth- not that I can avoid the truth by running away.

However, even if running away did work, I don't know where to go. Ten metres away I meet an intersection and don't know which path to take. The halls are deserted of anyone except for Haymitch, Rosalina, and I, so I have no choice but to turn back around and put my hands on my hips. "Who's going to lead me out of the maze?" I ask.

They're both eying me with shocked expressions, but snap out of their stupor instantly. "Take the left with Haymitch," Rosalina walks up next to me. "I'll go inform the doctor that you're ready to train- he's tending to Platina. Your nose looks healed enough. I think lunch is almost ending, so we better hurry so we can all get something to eat." She disappears down the right hallway, swiping at her slightly teary eyes with her hands and then running them down her braided pigtails to make sure not one hair is out of place.

Haymitch walks wearily next to me down the left hallway. After an awkward one-minute silence, I steer him into an empty white-walled room and cross my arms. "Tell me, what did you want to apologize for?"

"How much of that conversation did you hear?" He asks, exasperatedly.

"Enough," I say with a small wave of my hand. "Enough that I learned that no man would ever love a prostitute and no woman would ever love an actor." A surge of panic crosses his gray eyes and I laugh lightly. "Forget it, Haymitch Abernathy. You haven't a clue what effect you can have."

"And what do you mean by that, sweetheart?" His eyebrows knit, and I'm curiously glad he is using the endearment once again, despite Leonardo the trainer's unpleasant comments. "A good effect? A bad one?"

I raise an eyebrow. "That's up to you to decide."

"I cannot decide that." He shakes his head. "I should have been there. I got frustrated. Knives aren't your thing, but I wanted them to be. They always have knives in the arena, so if you can throw a knife you'll always have a chance. But then I turned my back, and next thing I know you're unconscious with a broken, bloody nose and a bruised face and…" He fidgets with the end of his shirtsleeve for a second. "I messed that up. And with all the acting… oh, Maysilee, I mess everything up, don't I?"

I reach over and put a finger on his lips. "Shh. You really are clueless," I say, amused. I lean in and kiss his cheek, my lips lingering on his almost searing hot skin, and then slowly press my forehead to his, staring into those gray irises. Such a deep gray I could jump into them and drown in happiness, like the large puddles on the streets of District Twelve after a rain storm. Myra and I used to splash in them when we were very little. Before I knew him.

"Good effect?" He whispers. I can barely hear him, but it makes me grin when I agree, "Good effect."

"You have no idea," he says, closing his eyes briefly, while smiling back. There is a moment of silence as I examine his features. His eyelashes that frame his eyes so beautifully, that are so close they almost touch mine. A small freckle, barely visible, is on his upper eyelid. His lips that are so close- but I can't touch them with mine or else this may go too far. Much too far.

"No idea?" I prompt.

"… what effect you can have."

Smirking, I step away, even though it pains me to do so. "Come on. We better get back before Rosalina comes looking for us." He nods, but seems unable to shift from the position he stands in. "Haymitch," I roll my eyes, and grab him by the wrist, pulling him out of the room. He directs me down multiple hallways until we reach a small trap door.

"What is this?" I ask.

"Trapdoor," he says, snorting. I wait impatiently for him to continue, placing a hand on my hip. "We're in the hospital. Conveniently, it is located right next to the Training Centre. There's a tunnel that connects the two buildings, for when tributes are injured before the Games, or after them if the victor is injured."

I peer at the trapdoor, then at the empty rooms around us. "Then how come there aren't any nurses or doctors here? It looks deserted."

"They're all performing duties at the East wing. That's the main part of the building. The West wing, which we're in, is normally reserved for tributes or victors. Who knows why there's so many rooms, though. Maybe the Capitol thought they could do with plenty extra rooms in case an epidemic occurred that their medicines couldn't cure, or something."

I shrug in response, and pull open the trapdoor. Underneath is a ramp leading down into a well-lit tunnel, with steel-lined walls. It's a short distance to another ramp leading upward. We pull open the next trapdoor and enter what looks to be some sort of supply closet. Extra weapons line the walls; a huge boxed labeled "Antidotes" sits on a shelf. I suppose that's for if someone at the edible plants station devours something poisonous, but it would be more comforting for them to keep it closer to the edible plants station- after all, if you consume nightlock, you'll be dead before it even reaches your stomach. I walk over to a door that must lead into the training room itself, but Haymitch stops me.

"Before we go out there…" he breathes in, then mumbles, "Never mind. I'll never be able to put this into words." Then he leans in, forwards.

His lips are inches away, but this time, he's targeting mine with his. And I can't do this. Sure, we can flirt. But we shouldn't be doing this. We can't form a relationship days before we fight each other to the death. This is not right.

I want him, but we can't continue this. "No," I say sadly, covering his mouth with my palm. With my other hand, I grasp the handle of the door and twist it, opening it a couple inches. His eyes bore into me, so close. There is hurt in them, buried deep. I can tell what he's thinking. 'Why did she say no when she clearly wants this?' But this is wrong.

"We can't do this. We can't do this to each other, Haymitch." I stare at him sombrely, and then tear my gaze from his, flinging myself out the closet. I walk away.

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I close my eyes for a second. A second. But many things can happen in a second. In a second, you can find out your mother is dead. In a second, you can be chosen in the reaping. In a second, you can have a spear thrown directly at your heart. The last example is exactly what occurs at this moment.

"WATCH OUT!" Someone screams, and I feel a small force ram into me from the side, knocking me over in a jumble of limbs and other various body parts. I hear the faint whistle of some sort of weapon fly over our heads and a wave of dizziness crashes over me. Did I almost die just now?

"Are you okay?" A little girl says, her voice shrill. It comes from right next to my ear, since her head is positioned awkwardly in the crook of my neck.

"I… I… yes," I gasp, untangling myself from my saviour. "What just happened?"

"Oh my, I am so sorry!" Another girl exclaims in horror, rushing over. "I wasn't thinking and I threw the spear without realising you'd even walked onto the range! I'm so sorry."

"It's… fine," I reply, sitting in a crouched position and trying to regain my bearings. I rub my temples and observe my companions. The one that crashed into me is very petite, with dark bronze skin and hazel eyes- her flowing, deep brown hair adding to the angelic effect. The other, the spear-thrower, is a little taller, with almost black skin and golden eyes. Her hair and skin contrast drastically, for her hair is stiff and bleached a platinum blonde, ending at her shoulders in inherent spikes. I think they are from District Eleven."What are your names?" I ask.

"I'm Hestia," the blonde replies hurriedly, as if to make up for the mistake she made just a minute ago. "Age fifteen. I'm really sorry. I mean it. I'm really-"

"Hemlock," the other interrupts, offering me a sweet smile. "Age twelve. Don't mind Hestia. She has a flair for the dramatic, and goes off on long tangents at times. We're from District Eleven, and she's dating my older brother, so it's just natural that I have to team up with her and tolerate her throughout the Games."

I note that I was correct on the guessing of their district, and I laugh at her light tone… but then I feel a pang of sadness when I realise her age. So young. She is gentle: beautiful, some would say, but fragile. Hemlock, despite her dangerous name, will not stand a chance in these Games. "Thank you for saving me just now," I offer, trying to convince myself this girl won't face her death in a matter of days.

"Oh, it's no problem," she blushes. "Didn't want someone to die before the Games even started. Hey, is your nose okay? I saw what happened with Platina."

"Oh, yes," I reply, touching my nose gingerly. The pain has gone away completely. "It's perfect. Thank you for asking."

Meanwhile, Hestia prattles on. "…if there's anything- anything- I could do for you to make up for that, I'm happy to do it. Please accept the apology, I don't want to have enemies during the Games, well, besides the Careers, since they're everyone's enemy, and I want to congratulate you on knifing Platina, it was quite impressive. …Although it is not impressive that I almost speared you, so-"

"She really elaborates, doesn't she?" I smile knowingly at Hemlock. Then I realise I haven't even introduced myself yet. "Oh, I forgot. Forgive me. I'm Maysilee."

"Yeah. I know. Maysilee Donner, age sixteen, merchant, District Twelve. You have a twin sister, are amazing at edible plants, and didn't seem to be any good at knife-throwing until you threw one into Platina's hip. You are also terribly fascinated with and/or in love with a certain Haymitch Abernathy." She stares at me with a quizzical expression on her face. "Or are you? That part is sort of unclear, since I'm not that good with all the romance stuff yet."

"How did you know all that?" I gape.

"I love to learn things about people. I know I won't make it out of the arena, but I think my observations might give me a slight advantage. Most of this morning's efforts were on Platina, and a couple other tributes, including you. This afternoon I hope to get a basic preview to all of the Careers' strengths and weaknesses."

"Are you planning on memorizing all of this information?"

She giggles. "Well, yes. But I can't help it. Momma says I have a 'photographic memory,' so I can preserve the images of people in my brain. It works with traits and information about them, too. Do you want to know about Platina?" I nod.

"Okay. Platina Cleve, age eighteen, District One, merchant. Originally she was supposed to be named 'Platinum' but her mother thought of it as a name for 'rough-housing, young homeless boys,' so it was changed. Fantastic with an axe- presumably trained at the weapon all her life- but can't hit a target with a spear. Her greatest fear is fire. I know that much."

"That's impressive for one morning," I say in praise. "Who would think such a deadly person would have a simple fear? I think you will get far with your observations."

"You really think so?" Hemlock blushes again, behind her deep bronze skin. "That's why we're at spears, by the way. Because it might give us an advantage over Platina. Well, give Hestia an advantage. I'm terrible with spears- learnt that just now- and I don't want to kill anyone in the arena."

"I don't want to kill anyone either. I'm just trying out a few in case I need to use a weapon in self-defense."

"I understand."

"...I just want you to know that I'm truly sorry and, hey, are either of you listening?" Hestia finally finishes, putting her hands on her hips.

"Of course we were, Hestia," Hemlock replies smoothly. "You were apologizing to Maysilee about throwing your spear at her and told her countless times that you would do anything for her."

Hestia nods. "That's right." She turns to me. "Really, I would do anything. I don't blame you if you don't want to talk to me ever again, because that was simply terrible, but I didn't mean it, and-"

"Hestia," I interrupt.

"Yes?"

"I have an idea for your compensation." Anything to shut her up, really, and anything to work to my benefit. "One, do you know if the cafeteria is open? And two, how about you teach me to throw a spear?"

"Oh!" She grins thoughtfully. "The cafeteria closed a while ago. They said we couldn't reenter, so just in case, I snuck a few rolls with me. Want one?"

I nod, but am confused. Her training suit is so tight… how in Panem would she disguise any sort of nourishment? So it is natural that I am slightly put off when she reaches her hand down the front of her shirt and removes two bread rolls from where her breasts would be. She laughs when I stare at her in shock and says, "Despite being fifteen, I still have a flat chest. They made me wear a breastband, anyway, so the bread didn't actually touch my skin. You can have one if it doesn't disgust you."

I shrug. Although I barely know Hestia or Hemlock, I trust them. They seem very friendly. And we are going to be in the Hunger Games days from now, eating food that isn't much worse- so why not? "I'll take one," I say. "It's food all the same."

We divide the two rolls with Hemlock, and then Hestia says, "Now, to spears. You wanted me to teach you, right?"

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It turns out that I am excellent at spears. The first throw lands an unsatisfactory fifteen feet away from the target. The second time isn't much better. The third time is worse, and Hestia shakes her head, about to give up on me, when Hemlock says, "Try holding it differently."

She moves my hand into a more comfortable position, and continues, "Relax your grip. When you throw, it's not about power, it is precision." I do as told, aim, and throw. It glides seamlessly through the air and lands, quivering, in the centre of a dummy, right where the heart would be. Fake blood gushes from the "wound." Hemlock and Hestia both applaud, and the trainer, a woman with curly red hair, comes up to us.

"That was very good," she tells me. "Have you ever thrown a spear before today?" I answer her with a negation, saying it was a lucky shot. But quickly we learn that my luck is natural skill, for eight out of ten throws hit in fatal areas, the other two coming extremely close. Finally, after a short while, I decide to change stations, spotting Rosalina at climbing.

"Can we come with you?" Hemlock asks politely when I try to excuse myself from them. I agree to it immediately, and then we jog over to Rosalina, who is sitting on a low branch of an artificial oak tree.

"Hello, Maysilee!" She calls when she sees us. "Who's with you?" She jumps down from the branch, walking over to us. She's taken her raven hair out of the braided pigtails, and now it flows freely behind her back. I've always wanted my hair to be waist-length, but eventually it becomes so tangled that I just cut it off so it hits the middle of my back. I'm a bit envious of her persistence in growing it out.

"This is Hemlock and Hestia, from District Eleven." I gesture to each as I say their names. "I met them at spears. We're…" I trail off, wondering what to call them. Acquaintances? No. Hemlock saved my life- it's got to be more than just that. Allies? But we haven't even mentioned anything on those lines. So I'm thankful when Hemlock speaks for me. "Friends," she quietly offers, in that thick accent of hers.

"Friends," I agree, smiling, even though it may be dangerous to use (as we are entering the Games together). "And this is Rosalina, from my district." They exchange a few tentatives hellos. Hemlock, I observe, doesn't list off my district partner's characteristics like she did for me. Maybe it is because Rosalina doesn't trust her yet. A good move on Hemlock's part.

Here at the climbing station, there are multiple trees, a large rock wall, and, in one area, a large net with gaps you have to maneuver around. We begin with the trees. I note that Rosalina's probably snuck out to the meadow (or perhaps the forest) before, because climbing comes easily for her. I struggle a bit, but not too much, since there is a tree in front of the apothecary that Fauna has persuaded me to ascend a few times. Hestia is superior to all of us, making her way up a 20 metre high imitation of an aspen in about thirty seconds of time. Hemlock is the only one who cannot get the hang of it at all.

"Hestia works in the orchards back home. She weighs a little more than average, which means she can't stay up in the very tops of the trees for a long while, or else the branches will break under stress. That's why she picks fruits in the middle section, but she's still a very good climber," Hemlock explains. "I work in the fields, though. I'm one of the plant-tenders, so I help water them when it hasn't rained for a while, and add fertilizer when needed. Sometimes I even plant the seeds myself. If you've eaten a tomato, I probably contributed to its growth."

"What's a tomato?" I ask, feeling a bit misinformed. I probably learned about it in my first year of schooling, but I have forgotten. I paid more attention when they were talking about the maize.

"You've never had a tomato?" She asks, dumbfounded.

"Well, have you ever lit something with coal?" She shakes her head in confirmation. "Exactly. They certainly don't distribute district-made products to other districts unless they're absolutely necessary, like the tessera grain from District Nine."

"I get your point. Next lunchtime, I'll let you try a tomato. They're very good."

"I'll take your word for it."

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Hestia, Hemlock, Rosalina, and I decide to split up. The two from Eleven go to fire-building. Rosalina goes to camouflage. Like Hemlock, she's taking the no weapons route. I decide to learn a simple but effective snare to catch rabbits with. The afternoon slides by somewhat peacefully, Platina (having healed and returned) glaring at me frequently but not attempting anything, Haymitch seeming to have completely disappeared.

Finally, the Head Trainer dismisses us. I catch hold of Rosalina's wrist, who in turn catches hold of Tyler's, and tow them both into a relatively empty lift, vacant except for a chattering pair from District Seven. Soon enough, the lift's clear glass doors snap closed- Haymitch must have taken another lift- and we are shooting upwards at a quick pace. Us women from District Twelve are silent, but Tyler contributes to the joyful babbling of the other two tributes, whose names are Pine and Harpin, respectively.

In almost no time at all, the lift has stopped at floor seven. Pine and Harpin wave good-bye at us kindly. I wish I wasn't meeting all of these good-natured people that I might have to kill in a matter of days, although the thought of killing anyone at all is a bit sickening.

Augusta meets us when the lift opens on our floor, and begins to ask rhetorical questions about how much we learned today and if we liked the Training Centre gymnasium and what we ate for lunch. She is just beginning to tell us about the appetizer for dinnertime (blue crab cakes, which sound utterly disgusting) when we approach Alder at the dining table. He is gazing ruefully at his overturned liquor flask which lies in a puddle of alcohol on the floor- ha, about time you got so drunk you knocked it over, I think- when he stands and looks at me with a murderous gaze. "You, Miranda," he says, pointing to me. "Get over here. The rest of you, leave."

I don't want them to leave, but Rosalina and Tyler just about run away to their rooms (so much for moral support) and Augusta makes a quick exit, muttering to herself about fixing her lipstick (although how she could even wear lipstick with her rhinestone-encrusted lips is beyond me). I turn around to peer at the lift, but Haymitch still doesn't seem to have gotten back yet, so now I am all alone with my mentor. I approach Alder slowly. "Yes?" I ask, tentatively.

He scowls. "Weren't you the one who said you didn't need any help, girl?"

"Yes, sir." I throw in the "sir" part because maybe, just maybe, it will help me get on his good side- if Alder Blind even has a good side.

"You failed at the ceremonies, Miranda, but I don't think I have to tell you that," says my mentor. I nod, and he continues. "Therefore, you do need help if you're going to get anywhere in the Games, and I'm here to strike a deal with you."

"Firstly, my name is Maysilee. Secondly, I am open to hearing whatever deal you have thought up."

"Firstly, I don't care," he mocks me, using I high-pitched voice that sounds nothing like my own. "Secondly, the deal is: if you get a training score of eight or higher, then I'll help you. I'll sober up enough to coach you and the rest of them on interviews and send you all gifts during the Games. But," he's close enough to jab me in the chest with his index finger with every word he speaks, "if you fail, Miranda, don't think I'm going to help any of you."

This means, of course, I cannot fail at my private sessions. I gulp and nod, which is followed by him pushing me away and myself falling hard on my butt. I scramble to get up and make a quick exit while he calls to an Avox in the corner, "Hey, you! The kid with the tongue cut out of his mouth! Get me some more of that vodka, fill that flask on the floor." I exit as fast as I can when I see Alder collapse and begin to retch from all of the liquor he has consumed.

I open the door to Rosalina's and my room, intent on lying on my luxurious bed and flipping through channels on the television, laughing along with my district partner at the obnoxiously flamboyant styles of the Capitol. What I really am not expecting is the sight of Haymitch Abernathy sitting at the base of my bed, head in his hands- even though he's not even supposed to be in my room in the first place, and I never saw him get off the lift. There is no trace of Rosalina, so I'm positive she's in Haymitch's and Tyler's room (she's allowed to visit Tyler since they are related, Augusta explained, to our exasperation), doing who-knows-what with her brother.

I squeak out the words, "What are you doing in here?" Haymitch lifts his head from his hands and gazes at me with a blank expression, as if calculating something about me that he doesn't want me to discern.

"I am sitting," he says, and a flicker of indignation crosses his eyes.

"Of course you're sitting," I reply, a bit annoyed. "What I want to know is why you're breaking a rule clearly set by Augusta by simply sitting in Rosalina's and my room, and how you managed to get off the lift while Alder and I were talking."

"Well," he smirks, jumping up from his spot on the bed like it has just turned to hot coals. "It's really none of your business, is it, Mays? But if you insist, I left the training gymnasium hours ago after you decided I wasn't good enough for you." The indignation shows completely now, and I stand in the doorway, still shocked at the way he is behaving.

"I never said you weren't good enough for me," I say slowly, confusedly. Is he acting this way just because I refused to kiss him back? Doesn't he know why we cannot... feel... at a time like this?

"Really, sweetheart?" Haymitch crosses the distance between us in just a few steps, facing me like a rabid animal. "From your actions, it was clear that you want nothing to do with me. Or were you just playing hard to get? Do you want me like I want you? If that's the case, Mays, all you had to do was ask." Leering, he descends upon me, and all I can do is stare wide-eyed as he presses his mouth to mine.

Conflicting emotions act upon me as he shoves me out the door and across the hall, pressing my back to the cerulean blue wall, his lips constantly moving against mine. The sensation is amazing and I feel as if every part of my body is filled with electricity, and when his teeth graze my lips I shudder in pleasure. But this is not right. Haymitch is not acting like himself, and we shouldn't be doing this, and I don't know why he is angry with me or why he is taking this so far. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, even though I feel as if I will melt to the floor in joy. How I manage to shove him off me is something that will elude me forever, but when I do work up the courage to do it, he looks like a cowering little boy and I feel like a goddess: a goddess that is angry beyond belief.

"What was that?" I yell at him. "What do you want from me? Why are you acting like this, Haymitch? I didn't do anything to you and now you're trying to make out with me like I'm… like I'm..."

His chagrined and shattered expression changes into one of superiority, and he is smirking again. "Don't tell me you didn't like it," he says in a seductive tone of voice. I want to slap the voice away, slap the grin away. And so I do. I slap Haymitch Abernathy, my rage getting the better of me.

"You know what?" I hiss. "You know what? Earlier today, you said that no woman would ever love an actor. And, Mitch…" I slap him again, on the other cheek, "You were right. I didn't like you kissing me, and I will never love you, or like you for that matter." I shove him out of my way, towards his room, yelling, "Thank you for ruining my first kiss!" And that is when I notice Rosalina and Tyler, staring at us with gaping mouths in the middle of the hallway. It just makes my ire double in intensity, to the point that I want to inflict pain upon them as well, so to quench this ire I back away into my room and slam the door as hard as I can.

I'm sobbing by the time I've locked the door and have flung myself onto my bed. To distract myself, I pick up the remote on my bedside table and turn on the television, but after flipping through multiple channels, even the ostentatious Capitol styles don't manage to cheer me up. Sighing, I click the power button once again and the screen goes black.

Instead, I decide to take a nap. I'm not tired, but sleeping can't hurt, and it will be easy the fall asleep in the comfort of the goose-feather duvet. I kick off my shoes but don't bother to change as I slip under the duvet, snuggling under its warmth, and fall into slumber.

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I awake to a soft knocking on my door. It is not Augusta, who normally hits it with a sharp rap of the knuckles. Instead, it is Rosalina. "Maysilee?" She calls hesitantly, through the doorway. "It's time for dinner." I slip out of the covers and pad over to the doorway, unlocking it and twisting the knob to unveil her. She shuffles her feet and ducks her head and whispers, "I'm sorry to wake you. Augusta made me. She refuses to eat even the crab cakes without your presence."

I nod and contemplate whether or not to go to the dining table. I am hungry, having not eaten anything but part of a bread roll for lunch, but I don't think I can face Haymitch again. It's almost as if Rosalina can read my mind because she says, "Haymitch said he wouldn't be there. I don't know where he's off to now, but Augusta let him go."

I smile, and open the door wider and pull Rosalina into a hug. It surprises her a bit, but she returns the embrace after a moment. "I don't think he meant any of that," she mumbles to me, a few seconds later, and I know exactly what she's talking about, and I know she is correct.

"He didn't," I pull away, looking into her gray eyes. "It is the fact that he decided to hide behind that façade that is unforgivable. Haymitch could have told me that he was hurt from the events earlier today, but instead, he acted."

She thankfully does not question the events following up to his personality change. It would be very hard for me answer. Instead, she says, "Did you mean what you said?"

"No. That was spurred on by my anger. I did enjoy that kiss, and I do… like him." She doesn't mention the fact that I don't say love, because I don't know if I love him, not just yet- and I shouldn't love him anyway.

"Does he know that he can be himself, and that he does not have to act?" I shake my head, and she sighs, grabbing me by the wrist and towing me down the hallway. But before we enter the room where we shall dine, she stops, and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Mays, I think I know why you were reaped."

"Why?" What does she mean? Did they rig the reaping so my name was the only one that could have been drawn? Or does she mean…

"Fate. Someone, in a place far away, sent you here to help Haymitch Abernathy realise that he can be himself, and that he doesn't have to act around other people." She smiles at me. "That is why you have to forgive him, so you can help him. Now, come on, before Augusta yells at us for being late to dinner- which she will even if we enter the dining room at this current point of time."

As she pulls me along, I stare at her in pleasant surprise and admiration. Who knew Rosalina Dark was so wise?

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"I can't find him," I tell Rosalina later that night, three hours after a hearty dinner of nothing but crab cakes (for myself, at least- who knew they were so delicious?). "I've searched everywhere in the flat- even took the lift down to the training room. I have a feeling he's going to do something terrible."

She looks up at me from her position, sprawled out on the goose-feather duvet of her own bed. Rosalina thinks for a moment, before replying, "Have you been to the roof yet? It's quite possible that he is up there. How he could manage to stay up there for five hours straight eludes me, but it seems like something Haymitch would do."

"There's a roof?" I say, incredulously.

"Yes. You know, when you step off the lift, there is a door to the left? The one with the bronze doorknob? That's the entrance to the roof."

I nod and exit the room. "Thanks," I call over my shoulder, while running down the hallway and into the dining room, taking a sharp right in the direction of the lift. On my right is a cherrywood doorway, with a bronze doorknob, just as Rosalina said there would be. I open it, and behind the door is a staircase. I mount the steps to find another door, which I open as well.

As I step across the threshold, I am hit with a strong gust of cold wind, which shocks me a bit, for I haven't been outside for what seems like ages, and I never thought that summertime could bring cold winds. I suppose it's different here in the Capitol. Closing the door softly behind me, I examine what must be the roof. It is covered in a large assortment of flowers and plants, illuminated by the light of a gibbous moon and the more colourful, flashing lights of the Capitol. I am struck by the beauty of it and walk over to a bed of impatiens, plucking one and twirling it around my fingers, touching its soft, velvety petals.

For a moment, I forget what I've come here for. And then the thought of Haymitch and his acting floods back to me, and I peer around the roof, looking for said person. He is nowhere in sight- but of course, there are many areas of this roof that aren't in my sight. I just have to search for them.

I devise a simple plan in which I will work from the inside, out. I stride to my left a little ways, and then take an abrupt right, picking my way through the colocasias and canna indica plants. After making a full circle, back to the place I started out, I have not seen Haymitch. And, oh my, the roof is big! Which is predictable, as our flat, floor twelve, is very large; and the roof must have a surface area big enough to cover it; so no doubt it may take a while to find Haymitch in the garden's depths. Again, I circle around, but it takes double as long because the circumference is wider- and still, I have no such luck.

Now, I ditch my plan. It's actually pretty stupid, and the crimson and yellow cluster of pansies to my right are laughing at me. Throwing an annoyed glance at the flowers, I propose a search along the edge of the roof, and carry it out. I am granted with success! for after about five minutes of walking three life-saving feet away from the open air, I come across him, his back turned towards me as his feet dangle off the edge of the roof. Haymitch stares at something far below, head ducked, and he doesn't notice me until I'm wrapping my arms around him from behind and murmuring, "Actors don't always act."

He turns around and stares into my eyes. The desolation that shows in his gray irises changes in an instant, showing a spiteful laughter. "Oh, hey, Mays. Came back for more?"

I glare at him, but do not remove my arms. "Shut up, Mitch," I retaliate, snapping my fingers in front of his face, which is inches from mine. But quickly afterwards, my voice lowers to a whisper. "I said, actors don't always act."

The façade slips for a moment, but is rebuilt quickly, his smirk growing malicious. "What if they want to, sweetheart?" He leans forward. "What if I want to? Fuck you, I mean."

Well, might as well just play along, if only for a moment. I scoot so my feet are dangling off the edge of the roof as well, still in the one-sided embrace, and press my forehead to his. Smiling seductively at his falsely lustful expression, I say, "I'd love to."And then, after a long pause in which he looks shocked, I chuckle, pulling away, while unwrapping my arms. "Help you. I'd love to help you, Haymitch Abernathy. Actors don't always act, and you don't have to either."

His entire wall slips and I see him again, the lonely, depressed boy who wants something he can't have. And this time, the wall isn't rebuilt again. I have managed to get past the impossible. Letting myself sport a small smile, I swing my legs and look over the edge. It is very far down. Very far. Gulping, I turn away to face Haymitch, but he is currently staring intently down at the street below, as I was moments before.

"Did you know, if you dropped a stone a bit bigger than the size of your thumbnail from up here, and it hit someone in the head down below, they would die?" He tells me, minutes later, seemingly out of nowhere.

I screw up my face in a worried expression. "No, I didn't know that. Are you thinking of doing that or something?"

"Nah," he shakes his head. "It wouldn't work."

"And why ever not?"

"Well," he stands up, "let me show you."

Time seems to slow as Haymitch turns around and leans backward. A single word- "No!"- escapes my lips as he falls off the edge of the roof, into the nighttime air, towards the gleaming lights that seem so very far below. There is a placid look on his face as he falls, and I have to turn away, because Haymitch Abernathy has just committed suicide and what will I say to Rosalina? Tyler? Augusta? Alder? The Gamemakers? President Snow? His brother and his mother?

There is a faint zap from behind me, but I pay no notice to it, for my mind is reeling. I stare wide-eyed at a massive gunnera plant as I go over the suicide in my mind. It was so quick. I didn't get any time to say goodbye, or stop him. And now Haymitch is dead, the boy who was my first kiss, who was my first… (well, I am unsure, for crush is not the right word, being much too childish, but love is more strong than I would like to call it). Now he is gone, gone, gone.

The tears begin to race down my cheeks as my mind fully processes what has just occurred. I am about to seriously injure the gunnera plant out of frustrated sadness when someone says, from behind me, "Did you really think I would die that quickly?"

Jumping in surprise, I turn and see a sight I never thought I'd see again. Haymitch Abernathy. My mind only just perceives this before I'm throwing my arms around him and weeping into his shoulder. And then I'm slapping him, for the third time tonight. And hugging him again. "Why did you do that?" I sob. "Why did you scare me like that?"

"I never thought you would react this way," he says, genuinely shocked himself, as he unwraps himself from me and leads me back to the edge of the roof. "I thought you'd understand when I willingly fell like that. There's a force field a little ways down. It zaps you pretty good, hurts like hell, but won't kill you or anything- it just propels you right back up onto the roof. So if you threw a pebble down, it would just come right back at you."

I swipe at the tears on my face, glaring at him with a calculating eye. "So you're really not just a ghost who is playing a trick on me? So you really did not just commit suicide?"

Haymitch does not roll his eyes, like I expect him to. "Really. I am a real person. I just hugged you, for Panem's sake. How about you jump off and see that you survive yourself?"

Turning to survey the pavement far below, I glare at it harshly and I shake my head. I am not going to do that, because what if the force field breaks, or what if it doesn't work for me, or… I cannot risk it. I've always hated heights, and while not harbouring a phobia for them, I would like to just stay a safe distance away and ignore the presence that is "height." I'm already pushing my limit as I sit down and dangle my feet off the roof. I'm already pushing my limit believing that there is a force field down there. I cannot push my limits to their breaking point, because then I will break.

"I'm sorry."

His words come out of nowhere, and I fix him with an incredulous gaze, followed up by a wave of gratitude. Never did I expect him to give an outright apology for kissing me back in the hallway outside our bedrooms. Sure, I did expect an evasive, regretful statement, but nothing so blunt. It is clear that he does not mean falling off of the edge of the roof, though, for his words are rueful and meaningful. "You should be," I say, which is not untrue. "For I did nothing that should cause you to act as you did, and therefore, your actions will not be easy to forgive."

My partner's expression crumples for a moment, before I continue. "However, I am intent on forgiving you, because I do like you, Haymitch; very much so. Therefore, if you are to be forgiven, I request that you take my words to heart."

"And what are those words, sweetheart?"

"Actors do not have to act." He fixes me with a blank stare. "Oh, come on, Haymitch," I groan, "it is as if you want your life to be a television show. You spend your time acting when the cameras aren't rolling. Yes, it is true you have to act for the cameras, and there are many people in Panem who control those cameras. You have to act for the audience, and there are many more people in the audience than there are controlling the cameras. But behind the scenes, you can be yourself. You have to learn that."

"What are you?" He asks. "You are not behind the cameras, nor are you the audience. So what are you, then- my supervisor? The writer of my script?"

"No," I shake my head, smiling. "Your supervisor is yet to be determined. You are the writer of your own script. I am nothing but your friend."

He silently considers my musings for a time, raking his hands through his hair, looking up at the night sky that has no stars (as far as I am concerned). And then, when I am pondering the act of standing and returning to our flat, lest not to die of hypothermia from this dreadfully cold wind, he speaks. "I do not think of you as just my friend, Maysilee. Instead, I think of you as my force field. If I fall to far, you are there to propel me upwards again to reach my highest potential. Alas, it may just be my fatal flaw to fall further each time I am propelled higher, so you must always be there."

"What if the Games take me away?" I whisper.

Haymitch stares at the ground, hundreds of metres below us. And then he looks up at me, his eyes piercing, his stare intense.

"Then I will fall until I reach my death."

~finis de capitulum tres~

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