Brace Yourself

Chapter Five: The Capitol, Part IV

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

Warnings: Slight cursing, brief violence.

Chapter Five: The Capitol, Part IV

Thoughts of what we were invade
The miles that stand between
Can't separate
You're all I hoped you'd become
Sister, I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister, I miss you

-Sister, The Nixons

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She won't leave me alone.

No matter how much I kick and scream and cry and cover my ears with my hands and bury my face into the goose-feather duvet and pillows, Rosalina is still there, and she is still asking me questions about my private session that go unanswered. It's been thirty minutes, at least, and she continues to ask what happened and stroke my hair (no matter how many times I grumble and swat her fingers away from my dirty blonde locks). I really don't know when she became so persistent. Maybe when she met Hestia?

"Please, just go away!" I yell. "I want to be alone! I need time to collect myself and you aren't giving me any. When did you become so determined to make me talk, anyway?"

"Just now," she says, after a slight pause. "I believe that if I stay here long enough, then you will tell me what happened and I can reassure you again. It may take hours, but you will tell me eventually."

My mumble of "you'll be eventually disappointed" makes her laugh. It may be slightly muffled in my mind, because my hands continue to cover my ears, but it is a nice laugh.

"Really," Rosalina continues, "only the most drastic of performances could have made you react this way. Even a one-worthy performance wouldn't make you kick and scream for half an hour. I continue to be quite curious about what you did during the… ah… eleven minutes you spent in there. What could possibly spur your anger?"

"I didn't do that bad," I mutter, and it is the truth. I really didn't do that terribly. I'll get a decent score. But a score that is not enough to please me.

"So what are you crying and screaming for?"

I let you all down. The answer is the same sentence that has run through my head ever since I was dismissed by the Gamemakers, after joking about tomatoes hating me as much as I hated them and bowing to signal my session complete. Surely missing that tomato was the action that will seal my fate and the rest of our fates in the arena. What, oh, what have I done?

"What do you mean, you let us all down?" Rosalina is confused.

Did I say that aloud? Damn. Well, can't hurt to tell her now, and she'll pester me for eternity about it if I don't reply. I remove my face from my pillow and look her in the eye. "I made a deal with Alder," I say. "Well, Alder made a deal with me. Told me he'd only help us all out if I managed an eight in training. And guess what? I blew it."

She looks shocked. "How did you… blow it?"

"Missed. I missed hitting the last… target." I do not tell her it was a tomato. No more questions, please! Let me stew in my misery!

Rosalina seems to be genuinely concerned, but tries to be reassuring at the same time. "Oh, Maysilee…" she leans forward to give me a hug, but I push her away. This doesn't faze her and she just stands up from her seat on the bed. "You haven't let us down, okay? No matter what. Without you, Alder wouldn't have even given us a chance, anyway. And who knows? You may still get an eight. I might still get a six. The Gamemakers are unpredictable."

I mull her words over. "Thanks," I breathe after a moment. "Now… can you please…"

"Leave?" She chuckles. "Certainly. I was just on my way. Keep in mind, the scores start in an hour, so you'd better be there." Rosalina turns and walks to the doorway, and then she stops in her tracks, turning around to face me. "One last thing," she calls. "Thank you for talking to my brother this morning."

"You knew about that?"

"Of course… you may not have noticed, but he's been pretty messed up lately. He'll be chattering on with Augusta and laughing about this and that, and then he goes back to his room and cries himself to sleep. I've tried to comfort him to no avail." She sighs. "Anyway, I saw him walk out of the lounge with a smile on his face, and then you followed behind him a few minutes later, so deep in thought you didn't even notice me."

"Yes- yes I was- deep in thought, that is. Probably thought you were an Avox." I force out a laugh. "You're welcome. It was no problem at all, by the way. For some reason, comforting people comes naturally to me. Almost as naturally as it does to you."

She smiles one last time and then looks away, stepping over of the threshold and closing the door softly behind her. I watch intently until the knob clicks in place, and then the tears flow freely again. Nothing she says will change this. I have let them down, I'm positive… and if my fellow tributes die in the arena, it will be all my fault. I can pretend to not believe this, but at the end of the day, the guilt will all come crashing back.

At the end of the day, I will realise that I'm no less of an actor than Haymitch Abernathy.

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"The training scores are scores that the tributes receive after conducting performances in front of our wonderful Gamemakers. These performances are called the tributes' 'private sessions' and are exactly that… private sessions. And wouldn't we all love to know what happens in these sessions? Alas, they are private, and so only the tributes and the Gamemakers know of what happened in the Training Room earlier today." Caesar's face dominates the screen as he laughs merrily at his own words. In his hand he holds a script in which our training scores are typed up neatly, and behind him is a projector that will display our faces when our name and score is announced. And I am a nervous wreck.

Rosalina's hand clutches my knee tightly, as if to remind me she is there. It is only slightly comforting. On my other side sits Haymitch, his eyes focused on nothing but the television, but his hand gripping my other knee as well. I am not sure what to do with my own hands, so I press them together in my lap and mutter prayers under my breath while Alder gazes at me, looking amused.

Amused? Why does he look amused, of all things? It's like he wants me to fail! Which I will… I will fail.

"As you all know, the scores range from one to twelve, one being terrible and twelve being absolutely amazing. There have been very few ones handed out in the past five decades, and no elevens or twelves," Caesar continues, looking jovial for reasons I cannot fathom. I suppose that's his job, though… to seem jovial, even if he is not. Then he leans into the camera, as if seeking to tell us a secret. "The Gamemakers have told me we have an interesting mix this year. Knife-throwers, axe-handlers, edible plant prodigies, and intent killers, they say!" He chuckles. "Well, let's see if our training scores turn out to be worthy of these titles. Let's begin… with Intron Thundrous!"

The said boy's picture appears on the projector behind Caesar. He is large and well-built, with sandy blonde hair. The expression on his face is murderous but a bit blank. Intron and his brother, Exon, aren't smart, and so they will not be large competition. "Intron, Intron… my, my, a score of… eight!"

Of course, he turns up with the score I need- and so does his brother.

The scores flash by in a blur. Platina- 10, Miracle- 8. All of the tributes from Two get nines, except for Venom, who receives a ten. Smoke- 6, Luther- 4, Intella- 5, Destiny- 2. Cleat and Frond get matching nines, Siren and Naiada matching eights. The Careers (Districts One, Two, and Four) always get scores ranging from eight to ten, and if they get anything less than that, they are most always kicked out or killed first out of all of the pack. Of course, since they're Careers, they've probably all been trained or have some experience with weapons. It is their experience with weapons that they show the Gamemakers that gets them such awesome scores.

One of the boys from Five gets a six. On the screen, his eyes take on a sullen, morose attitude. I think he should be one to look out for, if he survives the bloodbath, based on how massive his is. I'll bet he could snap someone's neck any day.

Then it's little, thirteen-year-old Anahita with her caramel brown hair and almond-shaped eyes that appears, and she is the only person to get a score of one. I feel sorry for her, but dismiss it quickly, since it is easier to forget their names and scores before you kill them. Not that I will kill her. I don't think I could. Grant- 8, Pine- 5, Harpin- 3. The girl with the red hair from Seven- I still cannot catch her name- gets the number that matches her district. Her picture on the screens is a rare shot of her smiling, but even in the grin there is something uncanny about her. Still, she doesn't strike me as anyone special. She'll die quickly, despite the score that shows her talent.

Bolt- 6, Calico- 5. I'm noticing there aren't many low scores this year. There's always a few people who gets ones, twos, threes, and fours, but this year there are plenty in the five through seven range. Swayla- 2, Tess- 5. I wonder whether Districts Ten, Eleven, and Twelve will meet the current standards, or possibly achieve higher. I am proved correct when Devon receives a nine and Lassona an eight, although twelve-year-old Willie is a bit disheartening with his low three.

Mendel and Till from eleven obtain fours, and then it is Hestia's face dominating the screen. She is caught in mid-laughter and her platinum blonde hair is sticking up in all directions, contrasting greatly with her deep brown skin. "Hestia Wolmack, from District Eleven… gaining herself a respectable eight!" Rosalina, Tyler and I cheer and we can hear loud whoops from the floor below. It's presumably Hestia, Hemlock, and the ever-rowdy Chaff, who won the Games five years ago and drinks his sorrows away. Really. I've never seen him without a flask of alcohol in his single hand, and I'm sure he would hold two if he had not permanently lost his hand in the Games. With the amount of drinking he does, he's probably great friends with Alder, although I think he should find a different alcohol-consuming buddy (after all, Alder is surly and forty-nine, while Chaff is rambunctious and twenty-two).

"… interesting. She has scored a six!" I am pulled out of my thoughts by Caesar, who is grinning with his dark green eyebrows raised good-naturedly. It takes me a moment to realise he is speaking of Hemlock, and then I am on my feet yet again, clapping my hands as I hear thumping from the flat below us. "Six! Six! Six!" I hear Hestia yell excitedly, and I can just imagine her twirling Hemlock around in a dance originating in District Eleven.

And now it is only us left. I sober quickly, sitting once more, although now it is on the edge of the sofa with ramrod posture. Rosalina and Haymitch clutch my knees tighter still, and I turn to Haymitch, about to tell him off for the pain he is inflicting upon me. But instead of my reprimanding him, I find he is staring at me, and I am caught in his moonlight-silver eyes. I cannot look away, and neither can he, until "Haymitch Abernathy- nine!" is called through the television set and Augusta is pulling him into a hug, screaming in delight.

"I haven't had a tribute get more than a five in years!" She smiles, tears of joy escaping her eyes. The black mascara and eyeliner she has applied run down her cheeks and leave long, black trails in their wake. "And… just… a nine…" she sobs into Haymitch's shoulder, and he looks slightly uncomfortable. Despite this, there is no emotion on his blank face, and he is not showing the joy he should be.

"Acting?" I whisper into his ear.

"Not exactly," he whispers back, "as I am not replacing the emotion with anything else."

I nod, because I suppose this is acceptable to some degree. Then, I become immersed in the television again as Tyler's innocent face appears on the projector behind Caesar. They have chosen a picture that is not of him smiling- instead, he is looking up to something, the expression on his face mirroring one of a puppy dog's. I'm sure every Capitol person outside of this Training Centre is oohing and ahhing at how adorable he looks.

Tyler's score, however, is anything but adorable. It makes Caesar literally jump up and down in his seat, squeaking excitedly. I have never seen him look so surprised or pleased. "Tyler Dark, with a…" he pauses for dramatic effect "Ten!"

Ten? Ten? Did I hear that correctly? Immediately, all of our heads snap towards the left, with looks of pure, utter shock. Haymitch's emotionless mask slips and his mouth gapes, Augusta's tears stop momentarily and then they are gushing from her eyes, Alder is looking quite dumbfounded, and Rosalina is stuttering. "T-T-Tyler? H-H-How d-d-did you d-d-do that? H-H-How did you g-g-get a t-t-ten?" She asks, her gaze full of wonder and fright. It's understandable. She's never had any reason to fear her little brother before. None of us have. But now that he has gotten a score better than Haymitch Abernathy, a score better than five-sixths of the Careers, a score better than a vast majority of the tributes… Tyler is dangerous, and Tyler has just painted a metaphorical target on his back.

We almost miss Rosalina's score. But we don't. And it is… two.

A two.

She gapes at the screen for a full minute. We all do. Eying that two with dislike, contemplating that ten with frightened fascination. We stare and stare in unsure silence until it's my picture, and I can't even prepare myself for my score. My score… that has to be an eight or I fail… I fail…

And I have failed. I have a seven.

I. Fail.

I have failed them. I have failed myself. I have failed District Twelve. We will die! I have killed them! These thoughts run through my mind once- twice- three times, before I can finally process it all. And I fully believe all of our brains have been wired in tandem, because there is a short pause before the bomb drops.

Augusta heaves a sigh, opening her mouth to tell us to get to bed, but it is cut off by Alder's gloating yell and Haymitch's quick exit to the roof. Tyler takes off, running out of the lounge and tripping over an ottoman, picking himself up again and disappearing out the door. But none of that compares to the sound Rosalina makes. Her shriek is loud and ear-splitting, a heartbroken note of the highest pitch imaginable, and it is the only warning we get before she's up and flying madly at the television, which Augusta has turned off.

It's all in fast forward, it's all in slow motion. Rosalina punching the television, Augusta trying to fend her off, Alder sitting back and taking a swig of white liquor. Rosalina's dark hair swinging around in mid-air and her fierce expression as she punches again, Augusta's sharp cries as the television screen shatters into a million pieces, coating the floor in glass, Alder's smirk and the flash of his metal alcohol flask as it is overturned. And Rosalina's screeching. The screeching that sounds as if she is some sort of rogue bird that will kill me, kill me, kill me, like I have killed her. I have killed them all.

And then there's another sound, drowning out the screeching. Is it a banshee? Rosalina? Is it all in my head? Or is it just me? What am I doing? What am I doing? It echoes in my head and I am screaming, screaming, screaming. My hands cover my eyes and then my ears and then my mouth and my ears again and I can't figure out where to put my hands. Should I cut them off? There's a knife in the dining room. Should I cut them off, and then should I cut my screams off? I'm already going to kill them all, why can't I kill myself?

My feet have a mind of their own. I can't go to the dining room to get that knife. I am going to Alder. I am shrieking incoherent things at my mentor and I am clawing him across the face. I'm not Maysilee any more. I am a monster. There are people tugging at my shirt, screaming at me to stop, covering my mouth, but I bite and claw them away and scratch Alder across the face. I'll kill him for making me kill them!

There are strong arms around my middle, and his firm chest is pressed against my back. He is whispering in my ear. "Maysilee, Maysilee, come back, come back. It's going to be okay. Breathe with me. Breathe with me." I'm turning my head and my eyes catch hold of silvery gray ones that bore into mine with such care. I almost drown in them. Almost. But I am a monster now. What am I doing? What am I doing?

I turn back to Alder. That is what I am doing. I am a monster now. I will kill… kill… kill…

But no. There's pain, now, starting at my face and flowing through my body. And then I am falling, even though there are arms around me, waiting to catch me when I'm done falling into the pit of blackness. As I am falling, I push away the monster and become myself again, just filled with a grief that I cannot understand. There are twelve phrases echoing in my mind again and again, eventually taken away by the blackness that swallows me, but still there in a place in my head that is too far away to reach.

I am Maysilee Donner.
I am from District Twelve.
I can become a monster.
I can forget to breathe.
I can live through pain.
I have gotten a seven.
I have failed them.
I have let them down.
I have killed them all.
I can kill them all.
I will kill them all.

Brace yourself.

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I awake to warmth. I am cocooned in my goose-feather duvet feeling comfortable, as if I am wrapped in rays of dark sunshine. I cannot see anything, but the smell of the forest back home meets my nose, and I momentarily wonder if I am back in District Twelve. No, that's not right. We don't have goose-feather duvets back home, and there is no pillow this soft, and nobody sleeps with me except for Myra, when she is particularly frightened about something. She used to have a strong phobia of thunderstorms and would always climb under the covers with me. But now, there is no Myra. I'm in the Capitol. And...

There is someone sleeping with me?

"What the hell?" I exclaim loudly, throwing the duvet off myself and sitting up, feeling as if I was violated without knowing. It seems my cursing has woken the other member of the bed, because they sit up too, and I come face to face with a half-naked Haymitch Abernathy.

"Morning, sweetheart," he says, his curly hair tousled and his bare chest fully exposed, illuminated the sunlight that is streaming through the half-open curtains of a window. It must be very late in the morning by the position of the sun through the window- maybe ten or eleven o'clock. But that is beside the point. The point is that I have been sleeping with Haymitch Abernathy, in a see-through nightgown no less.

"Morning?" I repeat shrilly. "Is that all you have to say after I wake up and you are… you are… in my bed?" I look around the room for Rosalina to back me up, but she seems to have left already, her bed empty and her nightgown thrown carelessly on the floor.

"What?" He looks confused, but it quickly melts away to understanding. "You don't remember? ...But of course you don't. You were half asleep at the time." Haymitch reaches over and brushes a lock of hair out of my eyes, and I recoil only a bit. "What do you remember about your… temper tantrum last night?"

Temper tantrum? I focus my attention fully on the blank void that was last night and then it all comes rushing back. Private sessions, burying my face in the pillows, watching the training score results, Rosalina destroying the television, shrieking, screaming, becoming a monster, killing Alder… killing Alder. "I didn't kill Alder, did I?" I am surprised at the amount of concern in my voice. "Did I, Haymitch?"

He chuckles. "You might have wanted to. But no, you didn't, Maysilee. Just succeeded in scratching his face up with your nails. Then he punched you in the face and you broke your nose again. You went unconscious, and we took you and Alder to the hospital. They treated both of you and you're good as new. Bruise balm works wonders." He shakes his head. "Wish they had that sort of thing back in the district. All those injuries the miners get… Fauna's parents can only do so much with their herbs and salves."

"Shh," I whisper frantically. This might count as forbidden talk in the Capitol… and who knows who's watching. "What if you get in trouble for saying that? That's… rebellion, almost."

"Who cares?" Haymitch replies, bitterly. "They're going to kill me anyway. What harm can it do?"

"You might make it out."

"No. I refuse to. Not without… you." The truth I hear in these words is immense and I'm almost unable to stand it. Instead, I ignore his words. It hurts so much less.

"So why are you in my bed? Decided to check if I was okay and accidentally fell asleep in the process? Or have you been sleeping with me every night and leave before I wake?" I ask bitterly, sarcastically.

Haymitch laughs, matching my bitter, sarcastic tone. "You wish, sweetheart. No, we carried you back here and Rosalina changed your clothes for you and tucked you into bed. Sometime in the night you slipped out of unconsciousness and into sleep, and you had a nightmare. You were screaming my name for five minutes straight until you woke, and then you asked Rosalina to get me. She did, and once I entered your room, you practically begged me to sleep with you. I did. End of story."

His words make me duck my head, feeling ashamed. "I'm sorry… I didn't mean to wake you or- or-" My apology ends as he places his searing hot palm over my lips, effectively cutting me off. He catches my gaze with his and our eyes hold.

"Don't worry, Maysilee," he murmurs. "It is fine. I would do anything for you."

"Take your own life?" I remove his hand from my mouth, clasping it with my own hand and squeezing it tightly.

"Even that, I promise you." His face is sombre.

"You know that sort of promise is the most dangerous promise to make a day before the Games," I remark as I release his hand, standing up and walking over to the wardrobe, choosing the most simple dress I can find, something made of layers of sheer purple fabric that ends just before my knees. It looks like something I'd wear to a party back home, but it's everyday wear in the Capitol. Besides, I am feeling spontaneous after waking up with Haymitch by my side.

"Only the most dangerous promises are spoken by Haymitch Abernathy, sweetheart, didn't you know?" He teases, but it is a rhetorical question that does not need to be replied to, so I don't.

"One question before I make you leave so I can change," I say. "Was my 'temper tantrum,' as you call it so idiotically, for it was much more than that- breaking point is a much better term- anyway, was it okay? Was it normal? Am I… an anomaly out of all of the tributes?"

Haymitch ponders this a moment, ultimately responding with a straight, solemn facial expression. "If you prefer I call it 'breaking point,' then so be it. But I firmly believe that all tributes have a 'breaking point' before they enter the arena. Some have multiple 'breaking points.' I, personally, have had two." This he says gravely, looking a bit remorseful. "Even the Careers probably do, but in the privacy of their own rooms. They are only human." Then, he smiles. "I doubt many have as much as a dramatic outburst as you, though. Although your 'breaking point' was understandable. Guilt can become such a pent-up emotion, no?"

How does he know this? "Has Rosalina told you about Alder's… deal?"

"Yes, of course. In the hospital, when your nose was being fixed. We were conveniently alone, because Tyler and Augusta were both up in the flat, refusing to accompany us. Who knows why that is?" Haymitch shrugs. "Anyway, sweetheart, don't get your panties in a bunch. Alder likes to toy with people. That's how he won his Games… don't you remember from reruns? He had a total of seven allies and he lied to all of them, saying he'd help them out, and then he stabbed them at night. It was disturbing. So, I think Alder was lying to you. I thought he might help you that first day on the train, but I eventually realised he was never going to aid any of us in winning the Hunger Games."

Why are his words so reassuring? Why are his words so much more reassuring than Rosalina's? Is it because my brain can fully make sense of these words because they are the truth unmasked by politeness, or is it because it is Haymitch who is comforting me? I don't know, but I am thankful. A portion of the guilt has been lifted off my shoulders. "Thank you," I breathe, and he nods. "Now get out, so I can take a much-needed shower and change into this dress!"

"But-" Haymitch whines in a mocking tone, laughing.

"Oh, I don't want to put up with false excuses. Go on with you. Shoo." I giggle as he complies, slinking away through the doorway.

I watch him as he recedes, taking in his olive-skinned back and his well-defined shoulder blades, fighting the impulse to run over and trace my finger down his spine. I shiver at the pleasuring thought but chide myself once the door closes, because I really should not be thinking of how beautiful Haymitch Abernathy is, especially the day before the Games.

However, do wish the temptation were not so great.

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"You mean I have to deal with that perverted, flamboyant hag again?"

Augusta recoils at my harsh words. Of course, I knew I would have to revisit Rosea again for the interviews before long, but I hate her so much and I didn't expect my prep team would begin work on me at two o'clock in the afternoon! Just the thought of more full-body polishes and injections and nail-painting and hair-shining gives me a migraine, and I hate my stylist so much I could just kill her.

"I… I…" Augusta gulps and runs her fingers through her lavender mane of hair, pulling some of it out. Then she becomes conscious of what she is doing, quickly moving her hands until she begins tugging at the hem of her sequin-coated blouse. "Miranda," she strengthens her voice, "It is true that you have to deal with that 'perverted, flamboyant hag again,' but I firmly believe you mustn't entitle Rosea that, lest her feelings get hurt."

"You mean her ego, Augusta, not her feelings," I correct her, putting my hands on my hips and glancing at Rosalina, Tyler, and Haymitch, who are rolling around on the floor, laughing insanely. "Really," I turn my attention back to my escort while heightening the pitch of my voice to match hers, "I firmly believe you mustn't put in a good word for Rosea as she really is a perverted, flamboyant hag."

"First!" Augusta squeals indignantly, "It's Gust to you! And second," she lets out an aggravated huff, "Rosie is a dignified lady with perfect etiquette and manners. Besides, she is much prettier than you will ever be!"

"Rosie?" By the way she flushes darkly and just about flees the room after saying this, I know she meant it in a context of love rather than friendship. I give her a bemused smile and ask innocently, "Are you quite sure you haven't fallen for Le Styliste De Rose? If so, you have chosen quite poorly, Augusta."

She throws her hands in the air in distress, muttering foul comments of the old language under her breath. "And now you know my secret, Miranda, disapproving of it as much as Rosea would if she knew. I accept that my preferences are inappropriate, so don't you tell me off! I know! I know!" Augusta's hands, having been flying everywhere at once, from her eyes to her mouth to her ears, rub her temples tiredly as she sinks into a plush loveseat. "Rosie would never… return… the feelings. To her, I am just a business partner, and she's as straight as a-"

"Gust," Rosalina appears next to me, interrupting our escort's confession. "Are you quite all right? Haven't you seen the way Rosea looks at women? Haven't you heard her declare herself the 'shortest, most lesbian stylist in the history of Panem?' You have a large chance of gaining the love of that woman if you attempt to seduce her. Flirt a bit, have fun."

Her face looks no more less dumbfounded than a tribute's a split second after they are reaped. I almost laugh, but I know it would be terrible to at a time like this, so I pretend to cough. Meanwhile, Augusta can do nothing but stutter until a serene smile alights her face, and then she faints dead away.

"Well," I look up at Rosalina after we adjust Augusta on the loveseat so it looks as if she is sleeping, "That worked well."

She giggles and replies, "Might as well get a bit more practice in before the prep teams take the lift up to our flat to retrieve us." I nod in agreement. Rosalina is referring to what we have been doing these past two hours, which is determining our angles and quizzing each other on interview questions, each exiting for a half hour with Augusta for etiquette lessons. We do the angles and quizzing together, because Alder is insistent on keeping the hell away from us, and we know each other better than Alder does, which made it easier to determine our angles. Rosalina's angle is mysterious and beautiful, Haymitch's is sarcastic and arrogant, mine is funny and confident with a touch of intelligence, and Tyler is… winging it, as far as I can tell, for he has taken up the job of interviewer instead of answering questions himself. He has asked us to temporarily call him "Caesar."

I sit back down on the floor with them, and we form a circle like before, myself next to Haymitch. He brushes his fingers against mine, and I don't pull away, as much as I feel it necessary. After all, tomorrow is the Games- tomorrow! Tomorrow!- and what if I have to kill him? But wait, I've already killed him. I got a seven in training.

"Maysilee, what is the thing you most love about the Capitol?" Tyler interrupts me from my thoughts, throwing the question at me in lightning speed. Thankfully, I have thought of this ahead of time, and so I reply smoothly.

"Well, Caesar… I have got to say, I really do love that smile of yours. Your teeth are so dazzling they just about knock me off the stage. What are your secrets?"

Tyler snorts and praises me on my comeback, turning to Haymitch, asking him a mediocre-hard question. Haymitch replies to his inquiry swiftly, and then turns to me before Tyler can address his older sister. "So, Maysilee… got someone special back home?" There is a twinkle in his eye.

Hitting him on the arm forcefully, but not hard enough to cause injury, I reply, "Haymitch, you know there is nobody back home."

His face adjusts itself into a shocked expression. "Excuse me, but did you just address me Haymitch? Sweetheart, you are mistaken. It's Caesar Flickerman."

"Only Haymitch Abernathy calls me 'sweetheart'," I retaliate, facing him fully and crossing my arms. "Except for Leonardo the trainer, but he is now far in the past."

"I suppose you're right. I am a terrible actor."

"No. I am simply far too good at seeing through façades," I say, turning back to Rosalina and Tyler. They are watching us with calculating eyes and tilted heads. Being brother and sister, their mirrored actions look very fitting and I stifle a laugh at the mutual look on their faces, as if they are experiencing something awing. "Yes, Tyler? Rosalina? What is it?"

Tyler is the first to respond. "How can you flirt just a day before the Games? Isn't that… a bit…"

Ding! We can hear the lift doors open from one of the hallways connected to the dining room, and the chattering of twelve ostentatious and cheery prep team members meets our ears, interrupting Tyler's comment. I turn to him, answering with, "I cannot, Tyler. Soon enough I'll reach my breaking point again. But it's worth it, if you would like to know," just before the first prep team member sashays through the doors of the lounge.

It is Prond, the twenty-something-year-old with auburn hair and numerous, uncountable lip rings. "What's worth it, hon? Getting prepped? Because yes, dearies- getting prepped is so worth it. You are so lucky." From behind her there are multiple shouts of agreement as all of the members file out of the doorway and grab the arms of their patients. I am surrounded by Prond and the other two, whose names I cannot remember, and their sharp nails dig into my skin.

"What happened to Gust?" Nameless Number One asks, leering at Augusta, who is still out like a light on the loveseat despite the ear-splitting blathering of the abundance of Capitol citizens.

"Don't worry about her," I reply, thinking up a quick lie while trying not to show my disgust at his leer. "We played a trick on her; hid under the couches and waited until she was literally ripping her hair out before we popped out and she fainted in shock. None of us expected that reaction and feel truly terrible about it. She'll come to soon enough and be be fine as a… as a…" I struggle to think of the term.

"A fiddle!" Prond squeals, elated at the thought of helping a tribute. "Now, honey, would you mind showing us to you and your fellow female tribute's room? She's going to be carted off to the Remake Centre, where we normally make over the tributes before the interviews. But there's simply no room left in the Remake Centre, as some of the cubicles are being remodeled, so we have to polish you up here." She looks severely disappointed, but tries to smile for my benefit. "However, we're getting the essentials that you don't have in your bathroom delivered by a few Avoxes, so we'll be good to go! You'll still look like you were all prettied up in the Remake Centre, don't you worry!"

I nod, trying to look enthusiastic, but failing miserably. Thankfully, they do not notice as they tow me out the door. I look back to see Haymitch scowling at a woman with porcupine-quill eyelashes when she tries to grip his wrist, and Tyler talking animatedly to a man whose skin is made of bright yellow fur; Rosalina is already gone from the picture, having been led off by her team a minute before. I proceed to direct them to Rosalina's and my bedroom, my prep team filling up the sudden silence with meaningless gossip.

"Excuse me," I say, interrupting Nameless Number Two from his spiel about the new tongue colouring serum (who in their right mind would want to pigment their tongue blue and green?), "But do you know who will be in the boy tribute's bedroom?" Not that it matters, but I'm still curious.

"Who else but Haymitch Abernathy?" Prond sighs dreamily. "He's a hottie, that one. Now that I think about it, he would be a great match for you." She scans me over and nods her head once. "I can just picture it- a photogenic couple if there ever was to be one! Such a shame that you're destined to be in the Games together, and such a shame if he died. Not that we're rooting for Haymitch- we're your prep team, we obviously want you to win, Maysilee!- but if you die, he is best candidate."

She goes on to tell me about the odds for each tribute, emphasizing on the popularity both Haymitch and I have gained, raving on about how perfect we'd be together. I tune it all out, disliking how she is unknowingly rubbing my feelings in my face. I sincerely hope I'm not blushing.

When they are fully set up in the bathroom, the Avoxes having delivered the supplies needed, they begin. Originally, I thought it wouldn't take so long to pretty me up again. However, although there aren't as many body scrubs, they are still as picky as usual. My eyebrows have grown out- pluck them yet again! My skin is a little rough- pile on the lotion! At one point, Nameless Number One asks me why my hair is so ratty, to which I reply, "Just wait until the arena."

"How long is this going to take?" I complain slightly, after nearly two hours of slow death via scrubbing brush.

"Not much longer, dear. It's almost four, and Rosea is supposed to get here about five. The interviews are scheduled for six, even though they are normally around seven-thirty. It's because it's the Quarter Quell this year, sweetums!" I can hear the smile in Prond's voice, even though she is standing out of my sight, tugging a brush through my dirty blonde hair for the thousandth time.

"In fact," Nameless Number Two says, "I think it's just about time for the injections. Varius, would you retrieve the syringe box from that drawer for me, please?"

Nameless Number One, or Varius as I now know him as, nods his head in compliance. He opens a drawer on the far right of the cabinets and comes up with a wooden box about the size of a chess board. Inside it are various syringes about the width and length of my pinky finger, filled with clear liquids, a sanitized needle at the end of each. "What are you injecting me with this time?" I ask warily. Last time, before the opening ceremonies, they injected me with a serum that prevented hair growth for a full month, proceeding to use the waxing method to get rid of every hair on my body except for half my eyebrows, eyelashes, and what grows from my head.

"Oh, it's nothing, Miss Maysilee," Varius said, removing one labeled 'For Women Only'. "I do need to know, have you begun menstruating and when is the approximate day it normally occurs?"

"That is private information," I say defensively.

"This serum will prevent it."

I have always hated menstruating and began when I was twelve. Twelve! Myra got it a few years later and was absolutely pleased with herself for entering into womanhood. But I've always despised that time of the month passionately and swore that if there was any way to prevent it, I would figure it out. I don't care if I can't have children. I'd rather not, lest they risk the reaping! And so, once Varius provides me a way out of the situation I will experience in a week, I snatch up the syringe and inject the liquid into a vein on my forearm.

There is no noticeable change, but I will find out if it works during the arena. What am I saying? This is Capitol medicine. Of course it works!

Prond, Varius, and Nameless Number Two stare at me in surprise. Nameless Number One recovers first. "Looks like someone's a little eager."

"You've never had to experience such dread as menstruating. Don't you talk!" I exclaim, tossing the empty syringe to the floor, ignoring the blood that is running towards my wrist from the needle puncture. "Any other injections I should know about?"

They hand me another, explaining that it is to prevent me from becoming pregnant if certain situations occur. This angers me. "Are you assuming I am going to have sex with… with… another tribute?" My prep team denies this many times and tells me "it's just protocol, you have to take it" and so I do. Their protests are calming enough so I can get out my original question: wouldn't the first serum cover what the second serum does?

"Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe extra precautions? They don't teach us this in beauty school! They do teach the scientists, which is totally discriminating, because beauty school graduates deserve to know about the serums too." Prond frets a bit until the syringes are handed to an Avox to take away, and then she seemingly forgets what we were talking about and amiably chats with Nameless Number Two about the tongue colouring yet again.

They use cotton balls to stop the bleeding from the injections and then rub a salve over that area of my skin. The holes heal over in no time at all and soon my prep team begins to work on my hair and cosmetics, making me sit on a stool in nothing but a robe, facing away from the mirror. As far as I can tell, they're applying the cosmetics in a heavy fashion- "because the cameras will be trained on you and you need to look your best"- and using a curling wand to make my hair fall in perfect ringlets. Eventually they lose me in the process of pinning up my curls, for I haven't the slightest idea what I am going to look like once this is all finished.

Rosea enters at the moment the clock strikes five, with an Avox trailing behind her, holding up a long, white bag so it doesn't touch the floor. He hangs it on a hook on the wall and leaves without making any noise, leaving Rosea in all her candy-pink glory. "Maysilee, I am just so thrilled to see you!" She screeches, running up to me and attempting to hug me without smearing any makeup or ruining my hair. "Looking as sexy as always, I see."

She stares up at me with a grin and I know exactly how to help out Augusta. "Well, have you seen Gust today? She's looking positively beautiful."

"Gust?" Rosea asks curiously. "Oh, oh, you mean your escort, Augusta? I suppose she looks nice. I don't like purple much, though." She shrugs, pushing a strip of rubber hair out of her eyes. I realise if I am to help out Augusta, this is going to take so much more work. Rosea might prefer girls over boys, but that doesn't mean she prefers Augusta over… Pales, Tyler's stylist.

"I think violet goes very well with pink," I encourage her. "Just spend some time with her. I think she'd like that. But for now, let us get to the dressing part of preparing for interviews!"

Rosea forgets Augusta instantly and squeals, "You will just love this dress! Love it. But no peeking until it's actually on you!"

I comply, crossing my fingers behind my back. There's the rustling of plastic and a few excited comments, and then someone's taking me out of the robe and slipping on my breastband, underwear, and finally, a scratchy material that I can tell will be the dress. I hate it already. They step me into high heels and spin me around, telling me to open my eyes.

I look… horrific.

The makeup is terribly done and the eyeliner has smeared to the side. The lipstick isn't even on my lips! The dress itself is pink and frilly, coated with a layer small silver stars- like something a little girl playing "princesses" would wear. My hair is beautifully done, looking golden and curled in a majestic way, but the crown perched atop it looks absolutely terrible, made of pink wire crudely wrapped around a pink headband.

This is so much worse than my opening ceremonies costume. So much worse. I look as if I am a three-year-old attempting to dress up in a fancy costume. But Prond, Varius, Nameless Number Two and Rosea look positively delighted, and are covering their mouths to suppress squeals. "What were you thinking?" I yell at them after a moment. "What the hell were you thinking?"

My words bring the whole house down. The four people in the room burst into fits of giggles, laughter, chuckling and chortling. Rosea's laughter is so loud she's practically screaming with mirth. "Oh… my… Snow… the… look… on… your… face!" She gasps out, and I am stunned.

"What were you thinking?" I ask. "Why have you ruined what could be my chance to gain sponsors?"

"We haven't ruined it!" Prond tries to control her giggling. "That's not really your outfit for the interviews."

"Then what is? Are you going to have enough time to undress and redress me?" I'm frantic now, because what if they can't do it in… say, fifteen or twenty minutes? It's already 5:08.

"Of course we will," Rosea says. "Oh, that was hilarious! A waste of time and makeup, but that look you gave us- well, no time for comments now. Varius, the cleaning wipes. Get those horrid cosmetics off her face. Prond, remove the crown. Earl, help me get her out of this dress. Don't worry, Maysilee, I'm not that bad of a stylist. I love pink so much, but this is just… too much pink!" Her exclamation about the colour of the dress makes me laugh, because nothing is too pink for Rosea.

I used to loathe my stylist, but I'm beginning to like her more, now that she's played this trick on me. Somehow, that makes her much more real, and Rosea doesn't seem very real to me, what with her pink skin, rubber hair, short stature and large, kohl-lined eyes. She is an anomaly of Panem, and anomaly of the Capitol, even, but still, Rosea is real. And I respect her for it.

In twelve minutes, they dub me perfect, and let me see myself again. It is an improvement of their trick, it is an improvement of the opening ceremonies costume, it is an improvement of casual Maysilee, and it is an improvement of dressed-up Maysilee. I look almost inhumanly beautiful. They've changed the crown on my head to a hair clip made of actual diamonds and rose quartz, not letting down the intricate bun they've done half my hair in and leaving the rest to fall down my back in flawless ringlets. The cosmetics are much more toned down so they look almost natural, my blue eyes accentuated by mauve-coloured eyeshadow, kohl, and mascara done with a light hand so it looks like I was born with eyelashes this long and thick. And the dress. It is a light pink, and it goes well with my fair skin tone. It is made of simple cotton fabric that isn't layered at all, forming a two-inch wide strap on one shoulder and angling down in such a way that it shows no cleavage, but there is no strap at all on my left shoulder. It is tied at the waist with a mauve belt, and the skirt is long and simple, ending at the middle of my shins. My nails are painted a plain coral and my one-inch heels, the highest type of heels I can walk in, are mauve as well.

I gape at myself in the mirror for a full minute before turning to Rosea, speechless. She looks pleased. "Do you like it? I tried to go for more modest than the Ceremonies, because I don't think you liked it much. But this looks really, really sexy on you."

"It exceeds my expectations," I beam, blowing off the "sexy" comment just this once. "Thank you so, so much. I don't think I can ever find the time to pay you back, since I'm… since I'm…"

She waves me off, not bothering to let me finish my sentence. "It's my job, don't worry about it! Now, one more thing. Do you have a token?"

"Y-yes. Why?"

"I need it so it can be approved by the Gamemakers."

"It's on my bedside table. The token is a golden mockingjay pin that is a family heirloom. It would mean so much to me if the Gamemakers let me wear it in the arena."

"Thank you so much," she squeals, heading to the bathroom door.

"No, Rosea," I call to her. "Thank you."

All she does when she looks back is smile pleasantly, and then she disappears through the doorway.

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I walk down the hallway, heading towards the dining room. I'm supposedly not allowed to eat anything except for bread, and I can only eat bread if I tear off little pieces and consume them without anything touching my lips, so I don't ruin the cosmetics. Fine by me- I could use a little sustenance as I cannot eat at any other time until ten o'clock.

The first thing I notice when I step into the dining room is that Haymitch is there as well, and they have left his hair untouched. It's still the same mess of dark curls as always. I suppose this will help him keep up the sarcastic angle, and maybe help him pull off good-looking as well (in a rugged sort of way). He's in a suit, also. It is plain, black-and-white, and fits him wonderfully.

Alas, this assessment is from behind… I can't imagine how handsome he'd look if I faced him.

As if he can sense my desires, he turns around in his seat to glance at the door and stops short, doing a double-take. By the time his eyes can fully focus on me, he looks too shocked for words, taking me in as I walk towards him and sit down in the chair next to his. Still, Haymitch cannot speak, and his eyes are trained on my face, as if hoping to capture what I look like in a photo taken with his mind, his mouth agape and his gray irises shining with amazement. "You… you…" he stutters.

"Are beautiful, for once?"

"You are always beautiful, sweetheart. But now you are beautiful, lovely, enchanting, stunning… oh, can I please kiss you?"

I laugh. He doesn't look too bad himself. I see his stylist made him wear that silver eyeliner again, and it turns his eyes into moonlight. "They are insistent I don't touch my lips to anything… and you know that is such a bad idea, Haymitch, what with the Games just-"

"Shh," he whispers, coming close. "On the cheek, then." He leans in and kisses my cheek, his lips lingering long afterward as he murmurs to my skin, "Just forget the future and live a little, Maysilee Donner. Don't you know how much I want you?" I let out an involuntary shudder when his breath touches my face, and when Haymitch pulls away, I'm sure my blue eyes are as clouded with lust as his.

But the moment is broken when he stands up from his seat, hearing the chatter of our prep teams as they exit their rooms, having picked up most of their supplies and left it for the Avoxes to take to the Training Centre. By the time they and our stylists enter the lounge, we are sitting a decent three feet away from each other, Haymitch sipping his bowl of chicken broth and myself shoving as much bread as I can into my mouth without ruining my lipstick. I cannot get enough food in my stomach to be satisfied, because three minutes later Augusta is running through the doors of the lift with Rosalina and Tyler in tow.

Rosalina is dressed in a navy blue dress that only just meets her thighs and shows much cleavage. In fact, it seems as if we are dressed as opposites, what with her straightened hair that flows down her back and impossibly high strapped heels- I am dressed modestly whilst she is dressed provocatively- I in light pink, she in dark blue- my cosmetics natural, hers artistic. I doubt Rosalina likes this, having worn this sort of thing before to appeal to men in the past; but I do have to complement both of our stylists.

While Rosalina and I are dressed as total opposites, though, Haymitch and Tyler are clothed in what seem to be identical outfits. Black-and-white suits with black ties. The only difference is that Tyler's curly locks have been tamed and his eyes are not outlined in silver eyeliner, as Haymitch's are. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Haymitch was part of the Dark family, and I was the outsider of the group (which I am currently, as well, with my blonde hair and blue eyes).

Meanwhile, Augusta is beside herself with anxiety. "It is nearly 5:40, and the interviews begin at six! Follow me now, my tributes, or you'll all be late, late, late! It is not fabulous to be late!" And so, as not to be late, late, late, Augusta yanks me from the dinner table so quickly that I drop my seventh roll. I protest, but she is too rushed to be gentle and practically drags us all to the lift, not sighing in relief until the doors close with a ding! and our gossiping prep teams are out of sight.

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"Let us welcome… the tributes of the 50th Annual Hunger Games!" Caesar's voice booms loudly, audible even from far backstage. The crowds, of course, are even more audible, cheering loudly so the entirety of the building can hear nothing but a never-ending roar. And I am walking towards it, between Rosalina and Tyler, following a line of forty-five people that will be killing each other at this time tomorrow.

But I have to take the doom that is hanging over my head and shove it unforgivingly aside until nine o'clock, which is when the interviews end. Until then, I have to welcome the screams of the Capitolites with open arms. Finally, I have less than thirty seconds to prepare myself for this because already half of the line is out the door and onto the stage and I. Can't. Think!

If I can't think, then I have to plaster a smile onto my face and act as if I am thoroughly excited to be here. And so I do, just in time to enter the stage and prance across it in Rosalina's wake. I attempt to shield my eyes from the bright lights without looking like I am shielding my eyes from the bright lights, a nearly impossible feat that I cannot master. I am so focused on doing this that I trip and stumble a bit, clutching onto Rosalina for support but (thankfully) not falling. And even throughout all this, my smile stays in place, because it is fake, and I am as much of an actor as Haymitch Abernathy.

We sit in chairs set up in a half-circle behind two plush, white butterfly chairs, one of which Caesar occupies. I must say, his dark green hair, lips, and eyebrows contrast quite well with his pallid, cosmetic-caked skin. It suits him better than last year's colour, a bright orange that would match quite Augusta's pigmented teeth quite well. At least Caesar doesn't dye his teeth like Augusta, or annually dye his skin like his father and retired interviewer, Julius Flickerman, did. I can't imagine how unnatural he'd look then.

Capitol origins set aside, I quite like Caesar, based upon every one of his television appearances that I've watched. He's helpful and tries to make the best out of everything, able to joke around and then switch to serious instantly. I'd actually be quite excited to be interviewed by him if I weren't so nervous, and I'm looking forward to watching his and Haymitch's banter. Two professional actors- should be interesting.

Platina is first to be called up. She is dressed in a skimpy, crimson dress with an almost entirely open back. I'm sure, if I tried, I could fit the garment in an empty coffee mug. The vicious girl from One is obviously going for sexy, dangerous, and highly conceited. The angle suits her well.

Caesar asks her what she did in her private sessions, commenting on her impressive score of ten. We aren't actually supposed to say what happened in our private sessions in public, but Caesar likes trying to get information out of tributes. To everyone's shock, Platina replies, "I'm sorry, Caesar, but a girl doesn't kiss and tell."

"Which Gamemaker did you kiss?" Caesar asks, dumbfounded.

"Oh, it wasn't a Gamemaker, silly! It's just that… my axes and I have a special bond." She smiles lethally. "To tell you the truth, they can't wait to kill tomorrow, and neither can I."

Miracle doesn't do much more than blow kisses to the crowd and bend over so her cleavage practically falls out of her dress. Intron and Exon both tell Caesar that they'll win the Games, no problem, and Exon even demonstrates his strength by picking up Caesar's butterfly chair with Caesar still in it. The interviewer himself just laughs, but I can tell that he's a bit exasperated. Not all actors are perfect at concealing their true feelings.

Lethae passes by, and then Venom steps up to the chair. "Hello, Caesar," she says outright, not even waiting to address her. "I am going to become the interviewer tonight. First question: Why the hell are you bothering to interview all these dimwit idiots, like the DNA twins and Miss Big Breasts, when I'm just going to kill them all sooner or later?"

Caesar looks a bit confused. "Aren't you forming an alliance, like usual, Venom?"

"Of course, Caesar," she laughs. "But all alliances end. You should know that there have been precisely seventy-nine alliances in past forty-nine arenas, and almost half of them have failed when one tribute stabbed the other in the back." Venom giggles sickeningly. "We're all predators in the alliance, but there's always going to be the dominant predator. I am the dominant predator. And I will show you why… tomorrow."

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. It's a word I hear repeated multiple times as the rest of District Two passes by, as well as the two girls from three. Destiny, an innocent young girl with frizzy hair and glasses, tells Caesar about her family back home. Intella is sweet, humble, and makes smart comments that only those of her district can probably understand. And then there's the first boy reaped in District Three. "What is your plan for tomorrow?" Caesar asks Smoke, who is mysterious and vague to the point where no one knows what exactly he is saying.

"Tomorrow," he says, "I will escape. Escape just as the smoke escapes from the cracks of our factories back home, where we produce all of the latest technology you have here in the Capitol. I work in those factories, so I have seen the smoke, and from the smoke I have learnt how to escape."

Luther, Naiada, Siren. Siren talks of her sister Delphin's beauty and the son she will have in the wintertime, and then proceeds to show off her own beauty by twirling a bit in her turquoise dress. "It makes me feel magical," she tells Caesar. "My friend Alice Cresta would love it. She's always finding the magic in things and has the most wonderful imagination." Cleat, Frond. Anahita from Five bursts into tears in the midst of her interview, but covers it up well by saying that the Capitol is so perfect that she doesn't want to leave it. The rest of Five passes, as does Six, and I'm beginning to become supremely bored.

I don't tune in to District Seven until Pine is in the white butterfly seat, chatting with Caesar as if they are old friends. He cracks a few bad jokes that make the Capitolites in the crowd laugh anyway, and then he chortles at his own terrible witticism. I'm sure Pine will get many sponsors. Grant, Thimble. Calico from Eight tells the world about her seven siblings back home that she has to get back to. Almost every Capitol citizen is crying in sympathy. Hemmer, Bolt.

Fourteen-year-old Tess is shy and quiet. When Caesar complements her on her angelic-looking dress, she just gives a small smile and burrows further into her seat. It's only when he asks her whether or not she has a boy back home that she opens up. "Yes, in fact, I do," Tess replies simply. "His name is Swathe and before the reaping, he was teaching me how to use a scythe to cut down wheat. I cannot use one well, but it gives me a chance to survive. I will survive for you, Swathe."

Stara from Ten attempts to be alluring, and although she is beautiful, she does a poor job of playing the part. When asked what she does for a living, she answers "cleaning up the patties" outright. When Caesar further inquires what 'patties' are, she says, "cow feces." The Capitolites are utterly shocked and boo her until the buzzer rings.

Lassona is quiet and Devon fiercely protective of Willie, who is the most naïve young boy I've ever seen. Caesar asks him how he is planning to outlive those who will try to kill him, and Willie says, "There is no reason for anyone to kill me." I think it is unfortunate that he will die eventually, because he will die eventually. Nobody so positive he will survive will become a victor- it's widely known.

Hestia is cheery and likable, but it is not overdone. Caesar asks about her bleached hair, and she just strokes it fondly. "It is one way I relate to the people of the Capitol. I have always been eccentric back in my district, because I think of my hair as a way to express myself, and as I am odd, my hair is odd. But no matter how 'odd' I am, I still have a family, I still have friends, I still have a boyfriend, I still have allies, I still have skills, and I still have a chance."

Hemlock, dressed in a gown of yellow silk, is next, and Caesar immediately asks her about Hestia. "Is she your ally?"

"Of course, Caesar," Hemlock says patiently, giving him a soft smile. "It is natural for Hestia and I to be allies, as she is my older brother's girlfriend." It is a sentence that sends every Capitol citizen in the house tittering empathetically for her brother, as he is either losing his girlfriend, his sister, or both. How tragic.

Caesar questions her further about Haze, her brother, and then dives into even deeper topics. "Hemlock, Hemlock… I must say, after speaking to many of the tributes of the 50th Hunger Games, you have some tough competition. How do you stand out? How do you defeat them?"

"Oh, Caesar," she giggles. "I might not know how to defeat them personally, but I know things about them that they might not want anyone to know, and my fellow allies will aid me in surviving. I mean, seriously… I never would have thought that Platina is afraid of fire, or that Cleat is in love with Siren!" Instantly, all forty-eight tributes' heads snap toward her, some in shock and some waiting to hear more. I train my eyes on Platina and see her cursing under her breath, the rage her eyes making me glad looks cannot kill. But still, I fear for Hemlock's life, because now she has become a threat, and threats become targets.

"What else do you know, Hemlock?"

"Much more! But," she leans in, as if telling Caesar a secret, "I wouldn't want to give my fellow tributes an advantage. It's best that just my allies and I know each tribute's personal information and secrets. But I want them to know," she looks over her shoulder, eyes scanning over the rest of us, "that I know. I know everything about them and, therefore, I can win. I can come back to Haze, to my mother and father, to my best friend, Xena, and all the rest of District Eleven. Thank you."

And it's as if she's timed it perfectly, because the buzzer sounds right afterwards. Then Mendel and Till blunder their way through their interviews, making way for Rosalina to shine.

She does shine. Despite the provocativeness of her navy dress, her body fills it out well. I can practically see the Capitol men drooling over her as she perches on the edge of the white chair, crosses her legs, and smiles knowingly at Caesar, who takes this as his cue. "Rosalina, you look absolutely stunning tonight."

"Why, Caesar, thank you… however, my looks won't give me the title of 'victor.'"

"And how do you intend to become victor?"

"I don't intend. I will. But nobody knows how, except myself… not even Hemlock." This gains her a laugh from the crowd.

"I assume you have a plan, then?"

I'm sure every person in Panem is leaning forward in their seats to hear her answer. But I know Rosalina is playing the mysterious card, and so her reply is as expected: "Don't assume anything, Caesar, it will get you nowhere in life."

They continue this type of dialogue until Rosalina's time is up, and then it is my name that is being called, and I am walking forward, making sure to keep up the smile that Augusta told me "lights up my features." I absolutely hate showing my teeth when I smile, but if I am to meet the requirements of my angle, I must come off as joyful as I can, which, unfortunately, means teeth. At least mine aren't bright orange, like Augusta's.

"Maysilee, I must say Rosalina is quite stunning, but you look absolutely beautiful this evening. How do you do it?" Caesar asks, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

"I honestly don't know, Caesar," I comment, giggling slightly. "I've never thought of myself beautiful before. My father owns a sweet shop, you see, and compared to the bright-coloured candies, I sort of… fade into the background."

He chuckles, as does a few members of the crowd. "Well, you certainly don't now!" Exclaims Caesar, and there are shouts of agreement. "Now, on to questions… I believe I've asked many people what their favourite part of the Capitol is, but I don't think I've inquired about their least favourite part of the Capitol. Care to indulge us?"

"My least favorite part of the Capitol?" It takes me only seconds to think of a reply. "Caesar, I have to say the Capitol is exquisite, but if there's one thing I genuinely hate, it's the tomatoes."

There's a roar of laughter at this, and Caesar chortles along with the Capitolites, looking amused. "The tomatoes, folks," he repeats to the audience, shaking his head playfully, "She hates the tomatoes." Then, after a moment where he waits for the crowd to become quiet once more, he addresses me again. "Now, what do you think about your private sessions? A score of seven is extremely impressive, for an outlying district."

"I didn't meet my own expectations, which is disappointing. The reason I got a seven is confidential information, but I can honestly admit that the reason for my seven instead of, say, a nine, was because the tomatoes hate me as well. Our feelings for each other are mutual." I manage to say this all with a serious expression on my face that makes the entire audience crack up.

"It's true!" I call, turning to the section of the audience which is roped off for everyone except for the Gamemakers. At least half of them are laughing and nodding in confirmation. "Really, Caesar. Tomatoes hate me. I could walk into a room full of tomatoes and I'm positive they'd all attack me at once."

Caesar is smiling widely. "Maysilee, you are extremely amusing. I daresay you are well liked back home. Do you have siblings? Friends? A boyfriend?"

"I have a twin named Myra," I say shortly. "I love her very much, and I hope to get back to her and our best friend, Fauna, very soon."

"Anything you'd like to say to them?"

"Yes, in fact; I would like to say something to Myra," I smile, turning to look directly into the cameras. "Stay strong, no matter what, sister. I miss you." My words leave some of the audience sighing in sympathy. "And to address your previous question yet again, Caesar, no, I do not have a boyfriend back home."

"Of course you do! Admit it; someone as beautiful as you must have at least an admirer or two."

All of a sudden, I am sombre. I am unable to smile or laugh, and I can feel the waves of hurt coming on, threatening to crash over my heart. "I might," I say. "I might have an admirer. And I might have someone special. But he is not my boyfriend."

"Then what is he, then? What is his name?" Everyone is leaning forward, and I can do nothing but gaze sadly at my feet.

"Caesar," I look him directly in the eye. "I cannot tell you his name. I cannot tell you why he isn't watching this on the screens now, and I cannot tell you whether or not he will be watching the reruns when this is all over. But if he does, I want him to know what exactly he is to me."

"And that is?" Caesar looks a bit confused, but that set aside, there is nothing but gleefulness showing on his face at the knowledge of another romance. However, I do not give him a single glance. Instead, I look into the depths of the camera that is trained on me, hoping that if Haymitch lives, he will see this, and he will remember what he is to me.

"He is... he is my everything."

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I cannot focus on the first bit of Tyler's interview, but from what I can tell, he does well. When I can finally lift myself out of my daze and understand what he is saying, they're about two and a half minutes in and Caesar is asking about his private sessions score. "It is miraculous. You're only, what, thirteen years old, and you tie for first place with two other girls that are five years older than you? I was extremely surprised, Tyler."

"There's nothing to be surprised about," he replies. "If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I can kill. I can kill anyone and everyone. I will kill anyone and everyone. Maysilee told me I could give up or I could fight, and I have chosen to fight."

The audience cheers, letting out whoops and hollers, some of the women screaming for the scrawny, thirteen-year-old boy. And then the buzzer is sounding and it is Haymitch who walks up to the stage, looking as arrogant as his angle calls for and then some. He is the last interview of the night and the crowd is probably tired, but they scream louder as he approaches. It might have something to do with how handsome he is, in a bedraggled way.

"Haymitch Abernathy!" Caesar calls jovially. "I must say, it is a pleasure to meet the boy everyone's been talking about."

"The pleasure is mine," Haymitch smirks, sitting on the edge of the white chair.

"So, Haymitch, what do you think of the Games having one hundred percent more competitors than usual?" The green-haired man asks, right off the bat.

The sixteen-year-old shrugs slightly. "I don't see that it makes much difference. They'll still be one hundred percent as stupid as usual, so I figure my odds will be roughly the same." It gets the audience laughing, and I giggle a bit as well, because he's mostly right. There are some pretty idiotic tributes. Intron, Exon, and Miracle, for instance. Admittedly, except for Platina, District One has some pretty pathetic tributes this year when it comes to the brains department. I honestly feel bad for Jacen Iridescent.

The indifferent half-smile continues to play on his lips as Caesar asks more questions, himself responding with phrases that will gain him oh so many sponsors. It hurts me to realise that Alder will not be using the sponsor donations to send Haymitch gifts in the arena, all because of my training score of seven. Just another thing to feel guilty about. I dwell in my shame until Haymitch's voice makes me snap back into focus.

"Of course I have a girl, Caesar. In fact," he leans in, "I have two."

Jaws are dropping and the audience lets out a collective gasp. I, myself, am surprised he has admitted this- because I'm sure the second girl he is talking about me, and not someone else (besides Lane)- and I am not exactly his girl, as it is terrifying to admit half a day before the Games. Actually, I am not simply surprised- I am outraged. Why has he said this, seemingly declaring himself a player in front of all of Panem? I just hope he doesn't declare who exactly these people are.

"That irresistible?" Caesar jokes.

"That irresistible," Haymitch smirks. "Wouldn't be surprised if people begin to worship me once I win the Games." And then the buzzer is ringing, Caesar is dismissing him, and we are walking quickly off the stage.

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"Nice interview," I tell Haymitch once we get back to the flat and Rosalina and Tyler are in their rooms. I leak the sarcasm into my voice as I continue. "Especially loved the part about two girls. What were you thinking?"

"I was focused on making them love me," he replies, with that trademark half-smile he dons when the cameras are trained on him. "What, Maysilee, you don't love me?"

I place a hand on his chest, making sure he is looking directly into my eyes. "Haymitch," I say. "I am not your audience, nor am I your girl- although I might be your girl under different circumstances. So don't trick yourself into thinking I am either one, or it might be the death of you." I smile. "And it may very well be the death of you; after all, the Games are tomorrow morning."

"You scared?" His smile is slowly fading.

"Of course I am. Terrified. Now, if you will excuse me, I desperately need to get something to eat." This is true. I am starving, having eaten nothing but a handful of bread rolls. I could do with some lamb stew, and then a slice or two of chocolate cake. I head to the dinner table and grab a plate, beginning to dish out a bit of fruit salad, when I sense him behind me.

Turning around, I let out a squeak at how close he is: just inches away. "Maysilee," Haymitch breathes. "Can you do me a favour?"

"Yes. Anything," I say, after collecting myself.

"Tomorrow…" he leans in, whispering in my ear. "… Stay alive."

Before I can respond, he has already exited the dining room. And as much as I'd like to see those piercing gray eyes again, he doesn't look back.

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"… And here is your token. It just barely passed. The Gamemakers thought it could be used as a weapon, but eventually, they decided it was too small to inflict any lasting damage." Rosea smiles, reaching up and pinning the golden mockingjay to my bright green uniform. Yes, bright green. At least, the shirt and jacket are. The pants are a deep chestnut, and the boots a sickening shade of lavender. I'm greatly anticipating what the arena will be like. In the back of my mind, I remember the book of poisons Hestia found. Does that have anything to do with these shockingly vivid colours?

I thank her for the pin, and then she starts to work on my hair. There's not much she does to secure it. She brushes my dirty blonde locks, and then takes a few pieces of hair and turns them into skinny braids that she ties with minuscule, clear hair ties. And then, Rosea is finished. "Aren't you going to put my hair up in, say, a ponytail?" I ask her, confused, because before long my hair will get extremely tangled.

"No, Maysilee. Leaving your hair down will get you tons of sponsors, I just know it." I refrain from telling her Alder won't send us any sponsored gifts.

"But…"

"No buts. I assure you that you look irresistable!" Rosea squeaks, just as a tinny female voice announces that it is time for launch.

All of the sudden, I am so terrified. I look for a way out of the Launch Room, but the door is locked, and we are underground. I stare fearfully at the circular metal plate that we are supposed to step onto, but I don't want to step on it. I don't want to go into the arena. I don't want to! "No, no, I can't, Rosea," I jabber. "I can't go into the arena, don't let them take me, oh please, Rosea!" But she is pushing me onto the circular plate and telling me good luck and that she's sure I'll win (but I am so positive I'll die today!).

And then the glass cylinder is lowering around me, and I press my hands to the glass, staring wide-eyed at my reassured-looking stylist. Will this be the last time I see her? I might have hated her the first few days, but I've come to respect her slightly. I've come to love who she is; I've come to realise what Augusta sees in her. And I don't want to let Rosea go.

But I have to, and so I take her in for the last time. Her three and a half feet of height, her hair made of pink rubber strips, her rose-coloured skin, her usual provocative, see-through dress, her nonexistent eyebrows, her pink skin, her pink tattoos, her puffy lips… everything that makes Rosea unique, scary-looking, and utterly herself.

"Goodbye," I mouth to her, and then I'm ascending into bright, white light.

~finis de capitulum quinque~

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