Clove comes jumping into my room, disturbing me from the darkness of sleep and I groan, pulling the covers over my head. I wave her off as she continues to hop on my mattress, further moving me from my comfy spot. I'm tempted to smack her away but I withhold.
"Cato, you need to wake up!"
I let out another groan, louder than before. I hear the faintest humming noise emanating from my room. I peek from behind the blankets and see her fiddling with the control to open up my blinds.
"Clove, c'mon, it's too early."
"Like I said, it's early."
"Do you remember what today is at all?"
"Of course I remember—it's the day Clove stops being annoying and lets Cato sleep."
She whacks me upside the head and I respond by throwing my arm out, brushing past her skin. I'm on my feet and running out behind her, intent on making her pay for waking me up—fuck, I want to sleep.
She's light, fast, and she hops over one of the armchairs, immediately ducking behind it. I follow and jump over the same one, moving to punch her but my fist almost hits the ground instead. Clove had already bolted to the left, tumbling in a tight ball to come back onto dainty feet, dark hair spilling across her forehead. She attempts to hide the grin and I wonder what she's playing at.
I go after her, my fingertips touching the edge of her jacket then she's flying into the air, doing an impressive cartwheel in the process. But I had followed from below, throwing my weight across the floor, not touching it and I reach and her pull her to me, gripping her tight and close. She's not expecting it as I pull her down by her calves and she's falling over me; I pin her underneath, the supple body caught, my hands on her wrists, knees locked on either side of her hips and I smile, triumphant.
Clove is angry with me, clearly, since I had bested her this time. It's no different from how we would practice back home but she was always better than me when it came to evading. I usually just charge head on and hope for the best. No that's not exactly true. I hope for the best for my opponents, I tend to win.
She struggles, then huffs, smiling a little. "I guess I deserved that."
"Yeah, you do."
Rolling her eyes, she slowly looks backs at me, her eyes taking on this darker shade I never saw before. She's flushing a little, the faintest tint of pink and I recall that I went to sleep half naked, so my bare chest is exposed. I have a pretty nice chest so it's all good—for me—and I like the feel of the silk sheets.
But she and I have never been this close in proximity. She's seen my like this before, when we train, but it's different. And the position is very compromising so it's not exactly helping. I almost toy with her, because it'd be so simple to see her fluster, even just to smirk wickedly or something. But I don't because neither of us needs to feel confused.
So I get off her, stretching my muscles, "Good fight, Clove."
"Lyme wanted us to practice a little," she replies, back to business, back to being apart.
I'm almost a little disappointed, though I'm not entirely sure why. She and I, while both physically attractive—not even in my opinion, it's just true—had never really had… moments like the one we just shared. It's odd, in an invigorating way; however, I just put it to the fact that she and I had never really had sex with anybody before.
…Well, I'm sure she hasn't, not with the way she keeps herself locked from the world, and I haven't either though my purpose isn't as noble as hers. Oh yeah, we get urges, some of us have even gone and had sex but the Academy was very adamant about keeping us in tight bondage when it came to this.
Not to say that they were monitoring us at every turn—nobody could do that except the Capitol, even if we're the district where Peacekeepers are trained—but such desires were distracting: love could develop for one another in romantic ways and that would complicate the goals we need to accomplish. Maybe it's because the fact love and sex were, essentially, forbidden to us, and in this place where we can actually do things, it sometimes gets a little hard to think rationally.
I quietly clear my throat, "Oh, because we're being screened today."
"Yes, she wanted us to be on our toes today. They are going to see what our special skill is after all."
She's not looking at me, straightening her hair before pulling it back in a low ponytail. I stare at the wall in front of me, rubbing the back of my neck, a crick there that I hadn't noticed. I nod then head back to my room, telling her I'll be back for breakfast in a little bit. She calls back with a vague 'okay' and I shut the door, sighing to myself.
I set the shower to a quick, warm one, loosening my muscles and my neck feel better by the end of it. My clothes are set out from where I had pressed the buttons, a simple dark suede shirt with pants an even blacker shade, the material sturdy.
When I walk back out into the place we eat and discuss strategies, I glance at Clove who is chewing thoughtfully on an apple. She's gotten a liking to them but, then, she's always preferred them to most. They're versatile and hard to get where we live, with rock blocking us from the world.
Lyme comes in, grabbing one of the muffins that are placed in the center of the table. Tossing it to and fro in her hands before taking a bite, she takes a moment to scrutinize us. She stares at Clove a little longer and quirks a brow. I don't miss the way she narrows her eyes a little bit, with Clove continuing to stare past the room, out the window, and into a place where only she lives.
"I hope the two of you are ready. That little exercise helped?"
She's addressing the two of us with the first part; the latter is intended for me. I always get the feeling that she's putting more reliable trust on me to make it out alive. Clove is strong, she's fast and smart, yet a lot of people believe that I'll be the one to win, myself included. Anything to get me stronger is used.
"Yeah, it was good." I answer, snatching a blueberry muffin from the basket and some grapes. I'm not that hungry but I need to be alert and ready. We're going to meet the ones who will decide how worthy we are of sponsors and I don't want to be so full that I can't move around properly.
Clove nods at Lyme, "Yeah, it really helped us."
Lyme returns the reply with a curt nod of her own before leaving the room. She doesn't tend to dine with us, only at dinner when we need to discuss things but nothing has really come up that would require lengthy conversations. The gist of it is: kill everyone; win.
Clove is near the apple core on one side, getting out a knife to cut a piece off. She must be antsy.
"It's going to be fine,"
She stops and looks at me, "I know. It's you I'm worried about."
I turn to stare at her then notice the faintest upward dip of the corners of her mouth, teasing lightly. I smile back, relieved that she and I have been trained to forget things when we must.
"Oh, please, Midget."
She throws the slice at my head, which I catch and eat.
It's not long until we're both ushered to the Training Center, where we'll meet the Gamemakers who will judge us.
Neither of us is nervous. We're actually both ridiculously excited to show them what we can do. We've excelled at out skills for years, developing them through hard toil and it's finally going to pay off. We'll be getting sponsors in no time at all.
We come early, Marvel and Glimmer chattering animatedly together in one corner, with the other tributes slowly trickling in. It's not long before Marvel is called in and Glimmer makes her way toward us. I hear the softest sigh come from the girl next to me.
"Hey, Cato," chirps Glimmer, eyes shining.
Okay, well, this may be a while then. Not that I don't find this amusing but I really was hoping to gather my thoughts as to how to impress them best, not stand awkwardly placed between two women who, obviously, don't take to each other very well. Deciding that there's much I can do about it, I take a sit on one of the lined up benches, waiting to be called. Glimmer and Clove sit on either side of me, my arms folded across my chest to indicate I want to think. Clove clearly wants to, too, her face scrunching up to think.
Glimmer is a little too excited, I think. I wonder what her special skill even is. She's not exactly adept to any one medium of weaponry, seeming to flitter back and forth between one and another. She took to the bow but not well. It's a difficult tool to use; I'm not inclined to use it either, finding it to take too long and people need an incredible amount of patience to wield it, something that I'm not; but it would be useful if, somehow, she could gain a sense of it before we enter the Arena. Not enough where she can kill me, no, of course not. But enough to injure others—if she's intending to be my ally, she must bring usefulness.
Glimmer is soon called, waving at us—mainly me—before going past the doors. Clove pulls one leg up, knee up to her chin. "You ready?"
"Born ready; you know that."
"It doesn't hurt to ask now and again."
"You know that's not true, Clove." She knows what I mean—it hurts very much to ask things in concern, however faint.
She shrugs minutely, keeping quiet.
It feels like forever until I'm called up. I pause, glancing over my shoulder. She continues to stare off then her gaze, brilliantly black, flickers over to me and there's the softest change.
I grin, "We're gonna kick ass, woman,"
She then beams and waves me off.
The Gamemakers are watching me from above with interest, which is good. I ignore them, playing it cool and head over to the broad selection of weapons. I grab a sword, long and heavy and it complements my hand.
"Cato, District 2." I introduce myself, ensuring they remember me.
There are dummies in one corner of the room and I attack immediately, propelling myself forward and slicing a little messily into one of the necks, the sword unfamiliar to my body, an extension I have to get used to. It's not long until I'm cutting through the dummies, rendering them more helpless, imagining blood on the ground because I have to—I'll have to get used to the real thing soon.
There are claps and murmurs of approval from behind me and I push myself further, stabbing into the belly of a person and kicking behind me, dislodging the person who stood too close before pulling my weapon—stained with crimson I envision—and promptly digging it into the heart of the fallen on the ground. Tumbling forward, my shoulder taking the brunt of the impact, I rise swiftly, deftly taking out a javelin spear from where they hang and hurl it, sinking deeply into blue, prosthetic skin, real and sickeningly loud to me. I smile to myself, continuing my assault on people who aren't alive—none of them are, in the arena or not.
I look around me, each dummy decimated to nothing. Sweat pours a little down my brow as people—real people—come in and begin to replace the dummies for the next group who may use them. The judges dismiss me and I nod, placing the sword back before making my way out.
I find Lyme at the end of the hall, an escort beside her to lead me back to the building.
Now all we can do is wait.
The days go by quickly, sun up and down before I know it, time ticking slowly. During the three days of assessment, Clove and I hone our skills further. Glimmer and Marvel actually prove to know what they're doing—which is not surprising, they must've attended an academy as well. They just appeared to be completely useless much of the time. The other tributes are practicing and I watch the ones that will be easy targets—morons that will die before the first day is done.
I notice the little girl, with dark hair, skin and eyes, follow the girl from 12 around. I don't think she's noticed the frail, thin shadow; not until the other tribute from 12 points it out to her. The girl doesn't approach, though she had given the two of them a wan smile before heading to one of the other practice areas.
The boy tells her something that I can't make out and leaves her, supposedly momentarily, approaching the trainer who is in charge of setting snares. I've been over there and, admittedly, the things were useful to know.
She seems a little out of place, since people are supposed to rotate now and again. She should've known better that they will have to be separated eventually. It suddenly dawns on me that there might actually be a relationship between the two of them that not of us were totally aware of. I'm not sure if anyone else has caught it but I do. No one really questions something so trivial and quick to end—tributes are tributes, despite the connections they forge. Clove and I know better, Glimmer and Marvel as well. No one is close to anyone.
Except him and her.
The girl is stationing herself in the section of the Center where she will practice lifting weights of any size. That's where I'm supposed to go next…
Cocking my head to the left, I walk straight over, my stance upright. If she's caught my presence, she gives no indication of it.
She's small, though not as tiny as Clove. I'm rather tall myself, though, so most people tend to be shorter than me. She's a female anyway—they tended to be shorter than men, except Glimmer, whose head brushes the tip of my chin.
I pretend to ignore her, grabbing one of the heavier weights with ease. She is not as strong but she can hold her own. She continues to gaze in the other direction, taking her time to flex her biceps, thin with an olive hue. Most of the tributes are pretty skinny, especially when they originate from the outer districts.
She grits her teeth, I think, since her mouth is clenched tightly, a little bit of sweat going down her brow. Then she lets out a growl, head snapping in my direction, "Do you mind looking somewhere else?"
I blink, my arms pausing in their own exercise. I smirk at her, glad to have broken her façade. I don't know how she can manage being indifferent all the time. "You uncomfortable with me looking at you?"
"No, I just don't appreciate being gawked at—who the hell do you think you are?"
She blinks, expecting something wittier, probably. I'm not exactly the best at retorts—sarcasm is my main form of comeback; and she asked who I was.
She rises from her spot, eyeing me carefully. She places down the weights and begins to walk away.
"Hang on a second," I call out to her.
I expect her to keep walking, to stop and say something rude, but, to my surprise, she actually turns around, crossing her arms over her chest. "What?"
I don't know what to say—I just didn't want her to leave. A part of me wants to engage in some form of conflict with her, because she's the one who will get in my way; another part of me wants to learn about her, not just her strengths, but her weaknesses. There has to be a way to learn without her suspecting me of wrong.
There's no chance to do so. She continues to stand there but my eyes flicker over her shoulder and she pivots around, finding the boy from her district behind her.
He approaches us and suddenly I noticed that Clove and the others are watching us, that the other tributes are looking as well; even some of the Gamemakers that float in and the trainers.
Because, for an inexplicable moment, it was me and her: the two people that the world would bet anything on.
He reaches out tentatively, taking her hand, "Katniss, let's go,"
She keeps gazing at me, intently, quietly, and then she joins him and walks away from me. The world speeds up again and Clove is coming over to me.
"Hey, what was that all about?"
I shake my head, "Nothing, just talking to the competition."
She chuckles, "You'll just have to wait."
The waiting nearly kills me by the end of the evaluations.
We're told that the scores will be broadcasted all around, and by the time night falls, a heavy curtain shining with stars, all of us are sitting alongside each other: Clove, Lyme and me. No one else.
The other tributes go past my eyes, not even fully registering.
Glimmer and Marvel both got nines. This causes my eyebrows to rise a bit, pleased that, perhaps, we may have useful allies after all. Clove's image comes on screen, stoic and still, Caesar's voice clear, "Clove from District 2, receives a 10."
She lets out a breath I didn't know she had been holding, allowing herself to smile fully. Lyme even pats her back, and I gently punch her arm. Her eyes take me in for a short minute, satisfied. I hear my name and I'm confident my score is high. It's rare to get a 12 but…
"Cato, from District 2, receives a 10."
I grin, flashing my teeth and pump my fist into the air. Clove pulls me close, arm around my shoulders.
"Congratulations," Lyme states and there's the first hint of genuine approval that I've never heard. We both turn to her and everything feels right, the world falling into place, calm and serene because we have high score. The evaluations have passed and we're both at the top.
The Gamemakers have given us a gift: sponsors. The scores will help us significantly.
The tributes continue to come on, and even the fact the tribute from 11 scored a 10 alongside us doesn't dampen out spirits. I'm a little surprised and I stare at the televised broadcast, as though I heard a different language. I never heard of someone from the lower districts getting high scores. Although, it just further shows how strong of an opponent he truly is and even Clove thinks the prospect of challenging him will be interesting at this point.
Then we're on the final district and the boy comes on. He gets an 8. Hmm.
I stare until the girl comes into view, her image calm and collected. Caesar pulls out her score, "Katniss Everdeen receives… an 11."
The silence that hangs over us suddenly looms, Lyme remains composed, face indifferent to the news. Clove tenses beside me, clearly in disbelief and there's this noise in her throat, a quiet snarl. She begins to cuss at the screen, furious.
I'm beyond furious.
My face is rigid; inside, though, my body is hot, a furnace of blazing heat and I vaguely feel my hands clenching, tugging the clothing until they soak up my warmth. My entire frame can't seem to move, stuck in place, looking at the screen blankly, and her image evanish at the edges of my mind and there's just red as the focus.
It doesn't occur to me that I'm like this until there's prodding on my shoulder.
Lyme and Clove are staring at me in silence.
Without warning, my body lunges forward, arms extended, flipping over the damn table. Things spill and shatter and become nothings. They don't utter a word to me for a few moments, my mind consumed with anger I don't understand and only feel—it's just an 11, it shouldn't matter, but fuck it's an 11, and she did better than me—
"Cato, that's enough," barks Lyme, her authority lashing the air.
I ignore her, hurling a vase at the wall. Kick a nearby small table into the corner, clashing loud.
"Cato!" she orders, more sharply than before.
When I move to throw a nearby chair at the wall, wanting to hear the clatter, there's a hand on my back, grabbing me by the scruff of the collar and hauling me backwards. A guttural cry bursts from me but dies one my tongue. Clove is standing in front of me, though she wasn't the one who gripped me—she knows I get this way sometimes; Lyme, not necessarily.
"Cato, you need to calm down," Lyme tells me, coming to stand beside Clove.
I glare with open hostility, trying to find the composure that I've been attempting to hone; all it took was one little move and she got the better of me.
There's the sound of the door opening and a cleanup crew bustles into the area. They make a quick assessment of the whole thing, Lyme and Clove not explaining it and I felt no obligation or desire to apologize for my behavior. The girl bested me, somehow, in one of the areas that should've been my domain.
I turn away; suddenly aware of the way I lost it. I did more damage than a thought. The table is not only overturned but collided in the delicate furniture that was in front of it, the vase I'd thrown shattered into many pieces, colorful stones littering the ground. The once pristine room is broken from my rage. I thought I was alright; I thought that I could handle anything—except my flares of anger. They always seem to latch onto me and sink pleasant pain into my skin.
I can handle anything except myself.
The work is done quickly, though admittedly I didn't pay attention, with one of them telling Lyme that new furniture will be arriving very soon. Lyme returns her attention to me and seems to sigh deeply, mournfully. "Cato, you need to learn to control that anger."
"Hey, you're the mentor. Aren't you supposed to help us with composure?"
"If the student is willing to listen and understand, they can learn how to do anything. Clove doesn't like all the techniques done when I show them to her but she does whatever she can to aid us."
Hearing enough, I stalk out of the room, trudging slowly, staring at my hands.
"He's usually this way?" murmurs Lyme. I don't think she's trying to hide her question from me.
"Only when he's defeated." answers Clove.
I dream of crimson suns and cold fire and a girl that flies across the sky, truer than any arrow. It was a beautiful dream, one of the loveliest I've had in a long, long time.
It pissed me off.
A new dawn has come. Clove eats slowly, chewing methodically. I don't eat at all.
I stare out the window, looking past the sky, past the scenery. I hear her faintly swallow the fruit, toss it into the air, knife cutting through it and nailing the core to the wall. I let out a sigh.
"So, when do you think they'll start dressing us up?"
The interviews are today and I shrug.
She goes back to nibbling on the core, tiny and insignificant in her hands now.
"This day is dragging out so long…"
I agree with a throaty hmm.
When I finally turn around, Clove has her eyes closed, apparently about to take a nap. My stomach is moving a little too much for its own good and I have yet to discover the true essence of why. I'm not the slightest bit anxious about being in front of people—I never have had stage fright and it's odd that it would begin now.
I'm not too worried about sponsors either. Lyme says that with the way and Clove present ourselves, we should be automatic choices. Of course we still need to prove our worth, as most individuals do, but, again, don't worry, don't worry, don't worry.
Walking forward, I head down the empty hallway and once I reach my room, I flop down onto the bed, reveling in the silk. It's still nice to feel.
When I'm bolted from slumber, Lyme is one the other side of the door, crashing it open and it bangs against the adjacent wall. Clove is standing behind her, frowning slightly, but otherwise relaxed.
"Get up! Don't you know you have an interview to prepare for?"
When she hurries away, I snarl under my breath some choice curse words. Trying to ruin my damn nap…
Then I notice Clove is wearing a rather bright orange dress. For a color I hate, she actually manages to make it look rather presentable. She's still not done—coming out only in the dress so she could help Lyme get me moving. She notices my gaze and flushes, "What?"
I shrug. "Nothing. Just not used to seeing you in dresses, I guess."
She sticks her tongue out at me and I shake my head, smirking at her reaction. I get up quickly and walk out of the room, being literally hauled a few seconds later down the hallway and into the room where my prep team starts grooming me.
The touches are simple. Not much to do and that's fine. I hate sitting in places for extended periods of time. But, despite the simplicity, it works. The outfit is perfect and really shows off my features. Woman knows what she's doing.
I come back out, waiting for Clove. Being a girl, she's going to take a little, or a lot, more time to prepare than me. She has all that dark hair and her outfit, probably, will be more elaborate. Well, detail wise. Maybe. I'm not into that whole thing and I don't really know how they do it—all I know is I'm done.
And left to my thoughts.
That's becoming a dangerous pastime.
So I try not to think too much and relax. The whole ordeal isn't exactly perfect—I have 23 other people to contend with but that won't be a problem, I'm sure. Before I get to wondering about all the other Tributes, my mind recalls memories of home, where my father is probably in the darkness of the mountainside, my mother hoping and praying for my safety and, likely, mine throughout the day as she bustles around with chores, my grandmother solely being there for comfort, even if she can't do much. She's been having a harder time remembering things lately but she gets by all right. Normally, I'm there helping her if she needs anything but not this time.
Everything changed very quickly. Granted, this was all my choice—I am ready to take on anything that comes. We've prepared long enough and it's better to take things by surprise than to let fate do the shocking thing and make me fall. I've never been one to really wait for anything, especially not something like destiny. You have to seize things—not matter how dangerous and wild and unpredictable they be. You can't always play it safe.
Fire burns my mind's eye for the fraction of a moment, lost in hot color and a strong spirit that leads the flame.
She's wild too. I can't play it safe with her either. She'll have to be the first to go. But it's difficult to decide if I want it to happen quickly. Hmm… I want to have fun while in there, after all. Come what may, something will happen between us.
Clove dashes out into the room, bringing me out of the reprieve of my mind. I smirk at her and pat her shoulder. "Gonna knock 'em dead, right?"
She does a very elegant hair flip, which, honestly, I didn't expect from her. She cocks her head and smiles arrogantly, "Like we should."
I offer my arm, bowing a little, and she laughs before taking it. We stop doing so the moment we enter the public eye, because camaraderie is not a very wise thing and I internally curse myself for allowing myself to be genial with her. She and I may have a past, grown up together, but that can't happen here. People will think of us as something that doesn't exist. Clove knows this because she was the one to let go first.
There are roles that have to be filled while here and an aloof one is essential if we're going to make it far. An alliance with the Tributes from 1 was already risky but the, thing is, sponsors may like alliances, finding it intriguing, but it could backfire. With so many people now on the same side in that manmade world, it could be assumed by the people outside of the arena that we'll be fine with so many to rely on. And that's not true—we'll need as many gifts from sponsors as we possibly can, as much as the others.
Clove glances at me and smiles a little in chagrin. I shake my head, telling her not to fret about it. I was the one who forgot this time.
We are greeted by the many people backstage, wishing us the best of luck.
I grin inside—of course she and I will be fine.
Being from the second district of Panem, we won't be waiting forever to be talked to by Caesar Flickerman, the really eccentric host of the Games. He interviews everything, a national figure to anyone of this country. Iconic and he doesn't look a day over forty. One of the perks the Capitol can buy—youth, if you want it.
It starts, one by one, pair by pair.
Glimmer practically struts onto the stage, confident, alluring, and completely at home with being the center of attention. It's amusing but not surprising—you'd expect flamboyancy from someone like her. She's in this incredibly pink…thing. It looks good and shows off really slender legs, but it's just so pink. As though she's dressed in wads of swathe, thin bubblegum.
I snort out loud, in the middle of her brief interview where she's talking about her chances, causing Marvel to turn and Clove to eye me surreptitiously. She quirks a brow and gives me a confused smile. I wave her off and wait for the whole thing to pass.
She exits with boisterous pride, allowing Marvel to take her place. He rambles incessantly about what he can do and that's good—for getting sponsors to notice you. I'm not totally into his interview, since, eventually, the two of them won't have to matter to me anymore. At any time, they will have to be erased from my mind as human beings and only as someone to be eliminated.
It'll be a little harder with the girl before me, who is called forth and she steps out, small and seemingly innocent, but there's that sense of dauntless assurance of herself, the one that she's always had to make sure stays because she was born to do this, as I was.
She sits; face beaming with a secret smile. She's analyzing even as she speaks.
"From District 2 is the charming Clove. So, how are you enjoying the Capitol so far?"
"It's different from home but I feel very secure here."
"Ah and why is that, may I ask?"
"It's a place where champions are born, and I am a born champion."
He laughs, as well as the audience, from her answer. I can't help but smile softly. Playing it by ear but it's working. I know that she doesn't really enjoy it here. I catch her looking out the window at times, yearning for the earth that's lacking in this place. She really does feel secure, and her answer isn't a lie, but there are certain points where she gets aggravated by the noise, too used to tight spaces and where people know one another. She hasn't adapted to this whole place as well as I have yet.
"A confident young lady! I like that," he replies, smiling wide. "And, undoubtedly, so does the audience."
The crowd swells in admiration for her, clapping loudly. She nods at them, remaining cool but letting herself be gracious. Humility doesn't suit her; however, she can pull it off when needed.
"The whole thing must be exciting,"
"Oh yes," she answers, crossing her legs, comfortable, at ease, "Clearly you only get to be a tribute once in your life."
That sounded a little sarcastic on her end. I screen the crowd, wondering if anyone noticed her tone. They may not have liked that if they did catch it, but she seems safe.
"You have family, of course. Tell us a bit about them."
"I'm an only child."
"I see," he sees, with a sorrow seeping into his voice. The people seem to sympathize. She and I are both from homes where we're the only children so I never thought of it as something to be pitied. It makes sense though, when I think about it—there will be no other children for our parents to tend to. A grave loss; but only one loss.
It's better than watching many offspring die.
"Miss Clove, you're clearly an attractive young lady. That will help in the Games, is there anything else that will be beneficial to you?"
She laughs daintily. I didn't know she could do that. "I won't give away everything about me but I'm very sharp."
They continue to banter, with her dodging questions with snide remarks if they get a little too personal for her. She's rather spectacular up there, in my opinion. She has just enough of that amount of edge without coming across as too distant, which helps. Then he's sweeping her off the stage, her figure retreating and I'm called up.
The roar of the crowd shakes me to the core, the flow of adoration enveloping me—I've become an idol to them as well. I wave at them, smiling as dazzling as I know I can without looking false and I hear screams, high-pitched and agonizingly long. They're wrapped around my finger and this is great.
Caesar reaches out and takes my hand in a firm handshake. He gestures to the vacant seat.
I sit, continuing to wave.
"The audience adores you, I see,"
Angling my head, I turn to him, "You may have some competition for their affection then,"
Flickerman laughs heartily, patting my back, "Is that true?" He directs the question to them.
There are shouts of assent and dissent, with several yelling, "We love both of you!" This causes more stir and the cries become love declarations for the both of us. He allows it for a few moments before turning to me, signaling to calm down.
"It's apparent that District 2 is known for their strong tributes—and all of you are very determined people, every year on our show. Your lady friend was certainly bold. Are you as confident?"
"I daresay I'm even more so."
His eyebrows rise in approval; I laugh a little inside—Clove is going to get me when this is done.
"Ah, that sounds like a challenge on your end, Cato. Are you fighting with your fellow tribute before the Games even begin?"
"It's a lighthearted pastime."
The crowd laughs and Flickerman snickers.
"So, in concern of the Games themselves, do you have any particular strategy in mind?"
"Merely to fight and get rid of anyone who gets in my way," I say this with an airy tone but I'm serious, my blood flooding through my skin a rush, "I'm confident, I'm vicious, and I'm ready to go."
"Undoubtedly," replies Flickerman, giving me another pat on the back.
After a little while more, we get to our feet and he sends me off, the people shouting and I give them one last triumphant sweep.
When I get to the back, Clove is there and she immediately comes up and punches me in the shoulder. "If you're confident, I'm fucking brilliant,"
I laugh and I reach out to ruffle her hair, intent on completely messing up some of the strands because she's smiling slightly at me in exasperation anyway. But I don't. My hand falls to my side and her smile is so brief I almost wonder if I had seen it. We almost forgot that there are people watching us and I turn away. I've been having too many slipups lately and I wonder if this is due to my lack of sleep. It's not because of anxiety or even the excitement I usually feel when I'm facing a challenge. It's true insomnia that bothers me and it's becoming very, very aggravating.
Or something else but I'd rather focus on what's occurring in the moment.
Glimmer and Marvel find us next to each other, watching the other tributes on the flat screen on the wall. There's nothing better to do, except, maybe, sleep, but I'm not tired and neither is Clove. We both took this opportunity to survey the rest of the opponents that we may meet in the ring. Clearly, some of them are not all there in their mind and a few are younger than us; easy ones to remove efficiently.
"You two were great out there," Glimmer compliments lightly, but she means it differently for the two of us. It's obvious that she and Clove haven't exactly clicked, with the way she eyes me a little more than I would care to admit is very tempting. There's too much at stake to do anything about it and I didn't make it this far in life to throw it all away for a brief fling. Marvel and Glimmer begin to watch the rest of the interviews with us. They have the same idea in mind, which is good—this means we're on the same page. Before we know it, we're coming to District 11.
The little girl is willowy in appearance, dark and yet bright at the same time. She is definitely one of the youngest, perhaps even the absolute one of the 24 of us. I remember her in the Training Center. I think I saw her climb very skillfully once. It was impressive, of course, but she does have the small and more youthful body, compared to any of us anyway. And her district is bound to have trees, not like at my home. Then out comes the boy, the one called Thresh, who will prove to be one of the more fun people to go after. His stride is imposing, even a little menacing and he remains silent throughout the interview. Since it's apparent that he's not going to speak, they don't mind ending his a little early.
Then she's up—the girl who plagues my waking thoughts and slumber, the girl who defeated me with her 11.
My fists clench into the folds of my clothing, narrowing my eyes at her, hating her for surpassing me in what should've been my domain. My score was high and she went past it.
Her dress is beautiful, glittering jewels that reflect the stunning lights, walking in red and orange rays. A large ornate fire made up of heavy stones. It briefly occurs to me how long it would take to mine such an amount back home, and there's this flicker of resentment, though it's swallowed by the awe and desire to be able to get such things.
Yet it doesn't seem to compare to her. The darkness of her hair and skin glows, a healthy sheen. I notice her eyebrows are furrowed together, staring out into the audience and she's not the girl who had thrown kisses to them in the Ceremony, glinting, to be sure, but certainly not brimming with confidence. She's nervous and I wonder why. With all the power in her hand, she's the last person I'd expect to feel nervous. But everyone reacts to power differently…
She settles down into the chair, Flickerman addressing her. She turns to him, a little surprised, lips parted ever so slightly.
Clove and the two from District 1 chuckle; I remain stony in appearance for the most part, finding some relish in the fact she had not uttered anything of importance to the audience. We may come out on top, after all.
"She is so nervous." Marvel comments aloud.
Clove nods, actually giving approval to the comment. Well, she doesn't mind one of the Tributes, at least.
Glimmer snorts delicately, a sound that I find odd in its paradox, "Definitely. She's not all that great when there's not a cape of fire behind her, now is she?"
Then, almost as if on cue, the girl proves her wrong, having the audience and host plead with her to demonstrate the latest fashion design of Cinna, the radical. He's new but he's already made a name for himself as an innovator; and people who bring possible change can be viewed as a threat.
She actually stands to full height for the people, bringing herself out of her shell to face them.
Then she spins exquisitely.
The audience bursts into applause and more, more, more.
Damn it all….!
Fire erupts all around her, encasing her in solidified flames that seem liquid and breathy all at once. She's brighter than the hottest star and the crowd goes wild. She's too beautiful and dangerous—what's worse is she doesn't seem to know this.
Glimmer says tightly, "Bit of an airhead."
And they're pulling her into them, breathing the sulfur and fire as though it were precious oxygen. They ooh and ah, entranced.
She finally returns to the earth, fire diminishing, and she's human again.
Flickerman and she chat a bit more; then he brings up her sister—the blonde, delicate little thing back home.
"What did you tell her?" he inquires and the audience is hushed.
"I told her that I would try to win," the Girl on Fire replies, brokenly open, "I told her that I would try to win for her."
Everyone has fallen for her further.
"Oh please, I don't think she really loves the girl all that much," Glimmer states, Marvel nodding his head. They can't understand what it means to put someone above themselves—the Girl on Fire is competition and competition will always want the glory too—and to be frank, neither do I. But for a minute, I think I did. Not long though.
She walks off the stage and soon her partner is called up. I'm not all that interested in him but we must know the secrets that may be spilled out before the world. The boy is not impressive so much in the Training Center but he has the audience in his palm, spinning out words that entrap them—she has intensity and he has language.
Eh, still not that—
"Peeta, tell me, you have someone special back home?"
He laughs, "No, I don't." And he explains why, the audience sighing sadly.
Flickerman states the obvious—win and get the girl.
As though I'd let that happen.
"That's not going to be possible," he says. The boy has already accepted defeat.
"And why not?" Flickerman presses.
"Because she came here with me,"
My mind is quiet for a while as the audience dramatically dies, the three beside me laughing and teasing.
It's all over and we're heading back to our individual floors, Clove, Marvel and Glimmer talking about the successes of their interviews, Lyme greeting us, night already shielding the globe.
I fall into my room, enjoying the dark and the light that spills in.
So he's in love with her.
It's not a tactic I've heard of before. This is dangerous. The world is going to support them completely. Everyone will want the Girl on Fire to have a lover, wish for happiness on them, even if it's very, very brief. Tragedies sell more and sponsors will be willing to pay.
No, that's going to happen. Not if I have any say on their fates.