The Magic behind Dandelions and Bows

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

We are together again.

But this time, it is somewhere else. We are in a bed, a wide bed with two small tables at the sides, and walls painted as if we were in the forest. His arms surround my waist, his breath and face hairs tickle my neck and light slowly trickles through the window.

"Morning, Katniss," Peeta whispers, kissing me in the base of my neck, right on the place he knows makes my knees buckle and my intimate parts wet with desire for him.

"Morning, Peeta," I reply, and I turn into his embrace, kissing him deeply and passing one of my legs over his. I moan at the feeling of his tongue touching mine, and our nakedness means he brushes against me in the most exciting way possible. "And it looks like someone else in here is awake, too," I say, impishly.

"What can I say, Mrs Mellark, you are certainly an inspiration to my eyes."

I laugh, and his hands begin to travel all over my back, softly touching me and making me feel relaxed and excited at the same time.

"I love you so much, Peeta. You are the best thing that has happened to me," I tell him, enjoying the feeling of his hand on my back. I actually moan when he touches me right above my ass and when his fingers trace the curve of my butt.

"I don't know what I would do without you," he whispers, kissing me again. Suddenly, the door to our room opens, and in comes our daughter Aileen, bouncing and shouting like any child her age would do in her birthday.

"Mama! Dada! I got lots of presents! Lots and lots!" she screams, jumping into our bed and hugging Peeta enthusiastically. He puts Aileen between us and the two of us hug her before starting to tickle her, making her laugh out loud and try to push our hands away.

"Honey, why don't you go get changed? I'll make you your favorite for breakfast," Peeta says after a few seconds.

"Cheese buns?" she asks, and I smile. She clearly has inherited my tastes, at least when it comes to bread.

"Of course," Peeta replies. Aileen jumps out of our bed and rushes back to hers with a happy scream.

"You are the best father," I tell him, approaching him again.

He does not reply, he just puts his hand behind my neck and begins to kiss me hungrily, as if he wants me for breakfast...

"Katniss! Wake up! Today is going to be a big, big, big day!"

I open my eyes and I realize that, for the second time in a day, I have been kissing Peeta Mellark while I had a dream with him. Such a vivid dream that I could almost swear it was real. And, for the second time, Effie Trinket has awakened us both at the same time from our fantasy.

I don't have the time to answer to Effie, because I can hear her rapid steps taking her away towards Peeta's room.

"I can definitely say that this is my favorite way to wake up," Peeta says, smiling at her in a way that makes butterflies sprout in her. I think about it, about how wonderful it feels to be next to him and how great I slept. And I know he catches that because his smile becomes bigger.

"Aileen?" I ask him. The name of our daughter in the dream or vision.

"Yeah."

The better the dreams are, the more painful they become, I think, knowing that he will be able to pick up on it. It is great, because no one can hear what we say, but I also know that it will become worse when either of us dies.

I know, he thinks back at me. I wish it was all real.

I wish we were still at Twelve, and that we could have had more time together.

"I wish I had been willing to speak up sooner, to tell you the truth," he says aloud.

"No need to cry over spoiled milk," I reply, giving him a kiss. "You should go have a shower before we go have breakfast."

"Mind joining me?" he says, his grin becoming a smirk.

I blush. Where is the shy boy with the bread that hardly spoke up?

"Don't think it'll be fast enough," I reply to him, and I realize a bit too late about the double meaning of that.

"OK. Just wanted to tell you, I want to experience as much with as possible. Before we go into the arena, you know?"

Before both of us are twenty-four/seven under a camera and begin to run the risk of death. He does not say it, but I know that is what he means.

"I do." I kiss him again, and sneak out of his embrace, missing it as soon as I am out of it. "I'm having a shower, and as tempting as your offer is, no, you are not invited."

"Well, another time, then," he replies, getting out of bed and kissing me when he reaches me, right next to the door. "Just think. I'll be thinking of you while I am showering."

Damn. The thunderbolt that his words provoke goes straight through me, and I feel the need to get naked and get some good relief, particularly as I imagine him doing exactly the same.

"See you at breakfast, then."

Peeta gets out of my room, and I rush into the bathroom, throwing my bedclothes aside to be able to calm this need to touch myself while I imagine him taking me while inside.

~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~

After a long shower – that is what I get for fantasizing about Katniss being with me – I get dressed and reach Katniss' door. I do not have to wait a lot, because she gets out right now, wearing a set of dark green shirt and pants and her hair in a tight ponytail that shows off her neck. Damn, I want to kiss her neck.

"Hey."

"Hey. Shall we?" she asks me, pointing for the room where supper was served yesterday.

"Sure," I reply, offering her my hand for her to take. She does, and we walk hand by hand into the dining room.

To my surprise, the only person sitting by the table is Haymitch, who looks remarkably well for a man that should be suffering a massive headache from hangover.

"Morning, kids," he tells us. "Effie's already had her breakfast. I convinced her to let you sleep a bit more, so now you'll only have me to speak with."

"Thank heavens," I hear Katniss whisper, and I snort. She clearly did not enjoy Effie's prattling from yesterday.

"Here," Haymitch says, putting two mugs in front of us as soon as we sit down. "Have a bit of this. You'll probably enjoy it a bit."

I smell, and smile a bit. Hot chocolate. It has been a while since the last time I had some. Nearly all the chocolate we get at the bakery, my mother makes us use it for the cakes and other things, and I suspect that a couple of times she has actually sneaked out an ounce. I think so, because there have been a few times where she accused me of taking a piece even though I did not have the key.

"What is it?" Katniss asks, and I feel bad. At least, I have had chocolate. She probably has never been able to taste it.

"Try it. It's hot chocolate," I tell her. To show her it is not bad, I take one of the mugs and take a gulp. It is much better than any I have tasted before. This must be the chocolate they have at the Capitol.

"Didn't know they made it like this," she tells me, before tipping the mug enough to taste it. I bet that, if I kiss her now, she will taste like the hot chocolate. And it will be sweeter.

This tastes delicious, I hear her think as she puts her mug down, and I smile as I see her lower lip has a bit of chocolate on it.

Katniss, you've got a bit of chocolate on your lip, I think to her, passing my finger over the similar position in my mouth, even though I would love to kiss it. She looks at me with a smile and takes her lip into her mouth, cleaning the chocolate off it. Damn.

"Alright, you two," Haymitch says, interrupting my thoughts. "So, I am supposed to be mentoring you two, right?"

"Yeah. So, any suggestions on what to do?"

"Sure. You should stay alive."

Haymitch starts laughing, as if he had just been told the funniest joke of the world. I do not find it funny, and neither does Katniss, considering her expression. I stand up and grab Haymitch by his shirt, angry, and then I punch him in the face. He stops laughing.

"You think it's funny? You know we could die if you don't help us, AND YOU LAUGH AT THE IDEA?" I shout at him, furious by his attitude. I abhor violence, but after this night of sleep, and knowing what I am going to lose, I just explode.

Showing quite a surprising force, given his age and drinking problem, Haymitch punches me back. The pain is not too much, but it is enough to stun me for a second. I feel my hands getting wet from blood, and I realize both that I brought them to my face and that my nose is bleeding, although I think it is not broken, fortunately.

DON'T YOU DARE...! I hear the furious shout in my mind.

Before I can react further beyond opening my eyes to see Haymitch angry, something flies right in front of his face and the sound of glass breaking fills the air. I turn my head towards my left, and I see that a portrait on the wall is now pierced by a knife, and shards of glass are now on the floor right in front of the portrait.

I look right, and I see Katniss is also standing, looking angrily at Haymitch. Given the position of the knife, it is quite obvious what has happened. Even through the pain, I can see her as a beautiful, avenging angel. And, dare I say it, she looks really good.

"Did you just throw a knife at me, sweetheart?" Haymitch says in a dangerous tone.

"Not at you, directly," she replies, in a tone that sounds just as dangerous as his. "Just a friendly warning. Touch him again, and it'll go a bit nearer to you, old man."

Haymitch looks really surprised at Katniss' answer, but then he does something I do not expect. He smiles.

"Well, look at this. A pair of fighters. And you are certainly not afraid to show it."

I wonder what is going on, although it looks like he actually likes what Katniss and I have done.

The hell? Katniss thinks, just as confused as I am. Haymitch looks at both of us, and seems to be thinking as Katniss brings me a napkin to stop my nosebleed.

"You OK?" she asks me, softly.

"Yeah, don't worry. It'll stop soon," I reply, smiling at her, or trying at least. I think it comes out more like a grimace than any other thing. She turns, and looks at Haymitch, still angry with the man.

"Sorry for the nose, kid, but I don't like being manhandled like that," he says. "Still, good show. And, sweetheart, I stand by what I said at the Reaping. You've certainly got spunk." He sits again on the table and continues with his breakfast. "What are you two waiting for? You need to have some food, today's going to be a long day."

Katniss looks at me, and I think that it is getting a bit weird. She nods and smiles a bit, before moving again for the table and sitting down. I do the same, and both of us keep eating while I check whether my nosebleed is stopping or not.

"So, you pack quite a punch, kid. And you are good with a knife, sweetheart. Any other abilities that I should learn about? Give me something to work with."

I instantly know what kind of thing he wants to know.

"Katniss is amazing with a bow," I tell Haymitch. "She can hit a squirrel in the eye at fifteen meters, and a bird in flight."

What are you doing? Katniss asks me.

Giving you a hand, I reply at her.

Two can play that game.

"Peeta can lift a lot of weight. I've seen him carrying two fifty-pound flour bags without sweating."

"Katniss can move very silently, no matter where she is."

"Peeta only came second behind his brother at the school's wrestling competition."

"Katniss can climb a tree in a few seconds."

How do you know that?

You bring bird eggs sometimes, and I doubt you wait for them to fall on their own.

"Peeta is great with decorating cakes."

"How does that help him, sweetheart?" Haymitch asks.

"Shows ability with patterns. He could use that for camouflage," Katniss replies. That is a good idea, actually.

"Good thinking. Now, something else. What's the deal between you two? Because you certainly don't behave like you are just friends. And I'm sure I would have heard if a Merchant kid and a Seam girl ever got together."

I look at Katniss. Should we tell him?

Don't know. Maybe... maybe we could say it happened a few days ago?

I would have asked you out yesterday, you know. If we hadn't been Reaped, that is. I take her hand under the table, and slowly caress the back of her hand. She smiles.

Really?

Yeah.

"Well, it started just a few days ago," Katniss says, switching out of our mental conversation.

"So, you are together?"

"Yeah," I say.

"Good. Now, you want advice. I'll give you advice. From this moment to the second you are sent into the Arena, whenever you are in public, stick together. Let people see you as a couple. Holding hands, speaking, maybe a few kisses here and there, but not too much. Anything you can do to make sure that people in there cannot think of the two of you as separate units."

"How's that going to help us?"

"I've been going to the Capitol for twenty-three years, sweetheart, and I know a lot of people. If there's something people there love more than the Games, it's a good romantic story. They'll be suckers for the two of you, particularly if we time it correctly. You do things right, you'll be showered with sponsor gifts."

"But... still..."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, and believe me, if it were up to me, none of you would be entering that place, or I'd try to save you both. It'd take a miracle for that to happen, though."

The rest of the breakfast is silent. Because both Katniss and me are still thinking about the fact that what we have, what we had never thought we would find is not going to be forever.

~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~

Effie warns us that we are reaching the Capitol train station, so we have to get ready. After brushing my teeth and cleaning up from breakfast, I remember there is something I should not forget. I look for the blue dress I was wearing yesterday (it is folded and kept in one drawer) and I pick the mockingjay pin Madge gave me, pinning it on my clothes. I hope that my mother will have the dress back soon... or not. I do not know how she will react when she gets it.

I push that thought away. It will do me little good to think about how Mom might crash again when I die. Best if I try to concentrate on enjoying the last few days of relative freedom I have, and then on surviving as much as possible in the arena.

I reach the door where we will be dropping off the train from, and Peeta is already there, waiting for me with that small smile that is so contagious and handsome. I smile back at him, and the bad sensations diminish.

"So, ready for this?" he asks me.

"More or less," I reply.

"I'll be here the entire time. You know, in the unlikely case you actually feel overwhelmed."

"Thanks. I actually feel better with you near." I reach up and kiss him softly, putting my arms around his neck. Doing this feels right. So right, that I wonder how I spent so much time without him, and wonder what could have been if we had been together for longer.

"You are great," he says when we break off. His eyes then become fixated on the pin in my clothes. "What's this?"

"A mockingjay," I tell him. "It's a present from Madge, and I hope it can be my token."

"Like the ones that listened to your father," he whispers, caressing the little bird with his thumb. "Makes sense to make him your symbol."

"Do you have a token?"

He pulls his sleeve back and I see a leather and thread bracelet. "I made this with Delly Cartwright when we were five. It didn't fit either of us then, but now it does, so she gave it to me."

I feel a bit jealous at this. I wish he could have something from me, but, well, I cannot deny him this. However, there is something I want to know.

"Were you and Delly..." I begin to ask, but I do not finish the question.

"No," he says, smirking. "Actually, if you ask her, she'd tell you that I'm like her brother. She has actually hounded me for years to tell you what I felt for you. If it weren't for all of this, I'm sure that she would be cheering a lot."

I nod, wondering what Gale would be saying about Peeta and me. I have always felt about him like I would a brother, but the last I saw of him, it seemed as if he actually wanted to say something else.

"There you are!" Effie exclaims, getting me out of my thoughts. "We are arriving in ten minutes, so make sure you are ready. Smile at everyone and they'll like you for sure!"

I grimace a bit, thinking about how those people that might like us will also gleefully see us sent into the butcher. Just then, the train suddenly enters a tunnel, and we are taken into darkness until a couple of lights turn on in the train. Effie gushes, knowing that we are about to reach the place, and then realizes she has left something at her cabin that she must have to make her grand return to the Capitol.

"Kids," Haymitch says, taking the place Effie has just left. "One last piece of advice. As soon as we reach the place, you are going to be put in the hands of a group of stylists. They are in charge of making sure that you are up to standards, at least according to the point of view of the Capitol." He scoffs at the idea. "Whatever they do, don't complain."

"What?" I ask.

"I know it sounds strange, but this is serious. Stylists can be really touchy and fussy when it comes to dealing with tributes. The less bad things you say to them, the faster things will go. Of course, if you later feel the need to curse and hit something, you can do that tomorrow at the training."

Peeta chuckles, and I smile a bit at the idea.

"And remember. You are together."

"We know that already," Peeta says, putting his arms around my waist.

"Good. When we arrive, I'll try to keep Effie back for a few seconds. The more attention you can call to yourselves, the best."

"Are you sure?" I ask. The idea of calling attention to myself is foreign to me. I have always dealt with sticking to the shadows, being invisible, ensuring no one pays attention to me more than what is strictly necessary.

"Yeah." He takes a swig of his flask as the train begins to slow down, signaling that we are approaching our destination. If it were not for Peeta's presence, I am sure I would be shaking with the nerves.

"You are going to be careful with the alcohol, right, Haymitch?" Peeta asks. "Because you won't be any good if you are drunk half the time."

"Don't worry, kid. I'll stay sober enough to help you. And, anyway, I work a lot better when I have a bit of alcohol in the system," Haymitch replies, and he then moves back from us a bit, trying to make good on his promise to hold Effie back and let us be the first out of the door.

It is only a couple of minutes later that the train finally stops. I look out of the window, and I am astonished at the huge train station, not to mention the many people that seem to be waiting for us. Even through the train window, I am getting blinded because of the large number of flashes from the photos that are being taken of us.

"Wave, Katniss," Peeta whispers to me, still embracing me from behind. "Any of those people could be rich, and they might sponsor us if they like us."

"They are probably going to sponsor you more. You are so good and nice, they'll love you."

"That's because you don't know the effect you have on people, Katniss. It doesn't matter that you have never been one of the most outgoing people in the world. You have this... fire in you, that burns brightly just with your presence."

I do not know what to answer, so I just do what he suggests, and wave as the doors open.

~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~

After we slowly get out of the train, making sure that everyone sees us smiling and waving and that we are still holding hands, we are escorted into a car by Effie – miffed at being held back from her grand entrance – Haymitch – quite amused by Effie's small tantrum – and a couple of Peacekeepers – who just seemed bored by the entire thing.

The car swiftly takes us through the streets, which are empty of cars but not of people, to the circle where the Tributes' Parade will take place later today. The car enters through a large door into a tall building, which I barely recognize as the place where the tributes come from every year.

"What's this place?" I ask Effie, curious.

"It's the Training Center," Haymitch says before Effie can reply. "You kids are staying here till you're sent to the arena. Your stylists are already there. Remember what I said before."

Effie turns to Haymitch and starts to angrily discuss with him the fact that he has just 'stolen her thunder', whatever that means. I look at Katniss, who is smiling at the two before looking back at me, her eyes shining when they do so.

Do you think they actually like this? The whole bantering part? she asks me while the car slowly stops.

Who knows? Maybe they actually like each other, and express their feelings this way.

Katniss nearly snorts, and the car fully stops. The door opens, and a man dressed in red is at the other side, holding it open. The four of us get into a car, and we are taken towards a couple of doors. I look at Katniss, not wanting to be separated from her, and then at Haymitch.

"This is where you get separated, kids. Each of you has a different prep team. Don't worry, you'll see each other before the parade. Just remember, don't complain," the man tells us.

Before she is taken away, though, I pull her to me and kiss her softly, engraving the feeling in my mind before letting her go.

"I love you," I tell her, both with my mind and my voice.

"I love you too," she replies in the same way, before we are taken through the doors.

Inside, I meet two men and a woman, all of them either tattooed or dyed, as it seems to be the norm with the people in the Capitol. One of the men has tinted his skin and his spiky short hair blood red, the other has his cheeks tattooed with silver symbols and his lips are green, and the woman has diamond studs in her cheekbones and forehead. She is the first to notice I have arrived, and she approaches me.

"Hello, you must be Peeta, right? I am Niobe, these are Lucius and Drusus, we are in charge of making sure you are perfect and ready for the parade and then for the interview with Caesar and if you win we'll be with you for the Victors' Parade and the entire Victory Tour and maybe we might even continue prepping the next District Twelve Tributes or be ascended to dress other Tributes, isn't that nice?" she says, giggling.

I blink, trying to make sense of everything I have just heard. She is speaking so fast, it takes a bit to actually manage to understand what she is saying. She reminds me a bit of Delly, actually, but her peppiness is somewhat less comfortable when taking into account the fact that I am pretty much slated for death. However, I cannot blame her for that. Lucius – the red man – and Drusus – the green-lipped man – also come to me and say hello.

"So, where do we begin with?" I ask them.

"Well, first thing, you are having a shower," Lucius tells me, handing me a towel. "I'll take care of the details, don't worry. Then, we are going to get rid of any excess of dead skin and hair and make sure you are presentable before you meet Portia. Her and Cinna are the ones that have designed your costumes."

"It's quite great that you are so handsome, we do have half our work cut out for us," Drusus continues.

"What do you mean by that?" I ask.

"Oh, honey, don't worry much about it, just, you know, you look nice with this color and skin combination, it is impressive they are actually natural, but I think that with the right touches you'd become just perfect," Niobe says.

"Niobe, remember Portia's orders. Just beauty base zero. They want him as natural as possible."

"Yes, yes, I know that. I just think that a few touches here and there would make him look a lot better to everyone..."

"Niobe," Lucius interrupts her with a warning tone, before pulling me away to a small door at the side. "Take off your clothes and shower. Just turn on the shower with the big button, and don't worry about anything that happens there, it's perfectly normal."

I do not have the time to tell him I already had a shower after I woke up this morning before he opens the door and gently pushes me through before closing behind me. Either way, I guess he would have not cared at all.

I shrug off my clothes and soon I stand naked in the shower, letting the water fall down on me. Instead of having soap fall on me, it is applied directly into the water. I do not even have to move, because I get scrubbed in by several sponges coming from the walls. By the time I get out of the shower, wearing only a towel around my waist, I feel my skin is raw, and perhaps a bit itchy. At least, I did not get showered with rose petals this time.

I open the door, and Niobe is there already, chattering like a jabberjay and as if her life depended on it, barely letting Drusus or Lucius have a word in. I still manage to answer some of her questions as she takes care of all of my nails, eliminating all the irregularities, while Lucius takes care of my hair and Drusus takes care of 'eliminating all the extra hair', which means a very painful waxing session that pulls out every hair from my legs and arms, as well as taking a pincer to my eyebrows and plucking several of my hairs there, which somehow rivals with the pain in the rest of my skin. I am so glad that he is leaving my groin alone: I guess I would be cursing out loud if he did not.

They then scrub most of my skin with some sort of grub that eliminates whatever dead skin remains and soothes the waxed places. The pain subsides, and it feels so great that I can fully relax on the chair/table hybrid I am lying on while Niobe continues with my nails and her chatter.

It is only a few minutes later that they finish, having brought me to 'beauty base zero', which, according to Niobe – after I managed to ask her in one pause she made to breathe – is supposed to be a flawless but natural style state that can be used to lead towards whatever they feel is going to be needed, and now they have left, so I am just waiting for Portia, my stylist, dressed with a soft robe of some material that feels like silk, but it is different in texture.

Finally, the door opens, and a woman enters. She is dark skinned and has long blond hair, which produces a very strange contrast. Surprisingly for a woman that is from the Capitol, she shows very little signs of being such, as she only wears little make up, only a few touches of gold around her eyes and red lipstick.

"Peeta? I'm Portia. Nice to meet you," she says, smiling and extending her hand. I take it, smiling at her and feeling at ease with her attitude.

"The same to you," I reply.

"I'm sure you would rather be anywhere but here, Peeta. In fact, I'd rather no one had to go through what you do. But, well, this is the best thing I can do."

"You know, you are the first person from the Capitol I've met that is not enthusiastic about the Games," I tell her.

"We are not many, unfortunately," Portia tells me. "I wish we were, though. Now, I'm supposed to be here to dress you up in some ridiculous costume or other, but Cinna and I have planned something different. It's quite unorthodox, but I think you'll like it."

"Cinna?" I ask her.

"Your partner's stylist. She's Katniss, right? Like the plant?"

"Yeah," I reply, a bit surprised that she knows where Katniss got her name from.

"Well, we are going to have lunch with them both and talk about your costumes. You don't mind, do you?"

"No, not at all," I reply, happy to spend a bit more time with Katniss.

"Then, come with me. We can have lunch with them while we speak."

~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~

I like Cinna. He is clearly Capitol, but he is quite obviously not enamored with the entire culture in there, because the only thing that shows him as a Capitolite is some gold lines at the sides of his eyes. He is the most natural-looking person I've seen from the Capitol, and I feel like I can relax next to him, that he can actually be a friend for me. He is sweet, nice and sincere. He understands what the Hunger Games actually represent for us in the Districts.

"Were you assigned District Twelve?" I ask him. Our district is the least successful of all in the entire history of the Games, so most stylists would never willingly want to be associated with the losers. Cinna amazes me when he shakes his head.

"No. I asked for District Twelve."

"Why?"

"That's an answer better reserved for when our guests come here," he replies with a smile. Before I can ask him about that, a knock is heard in one of the doors at the side, the one opposite to the shower room. "Ah, here they are."

The door opens, and first enters a dark-skinned woman with blond hair, but behind her is Peeta, smiling at me and wearing a robe that is identical to the one I am wearing. I blush when I realize I am almost naked under this robe, and that he must also be on the same state. That also brings some heat to my body, as well. If it were just the two of us, I might have been tempted to rush him and try to see what is under the robe, even though, before today, the idea of a naked male was a bit too much for her.

"Hello. You must be Peeta," Cinna says with a smile, standing up and shaking his hand.

"Cinna, right?" Peeta replies, smiling as well.

"Indeed. Now, why don't we sit and have some food?"

The four of us sit on a table. Peeta and I stick together, relishing the contact we can have, while Cinna brings out a few dishes from a hole in the wall. I look at that with distaste, knowing that that food has been made from the sweat of many people in the poorest districts without being compensated. He looks at me, knowing what I am thinking, and puts the dishes on the table.

"We must be like monsters to you. Us in the Capitol taking everything from the Districts and giving little back to them."

I shrug, trying not to say anything, but he smiles at me sadly.

"Don't worry. I feel the same way. Now, let's eat. The parade will be very tiring, and I am sure you'll want to save energy for the Games."

I look at Peeta out of the corner of my eye, and he does the same.

So, how much did it hurt? I ask him while I stab a piece of what I think is pork, bathed in some brown sauce.

Like hell, he replies while he eats some fish in green sauce.

"To answer your question, Katniss," Cinna says, "we – that is, Portia and I – picked your District to work with because we admire you. You are probably the ones that suffer the most from the situation you live in, and yet you keep going forward. No one from the Capitol would be able to get through the same thing. And I include myself in that."

I know he is being sincere, and it makes me respect the man even more than before.

"As for the part that is important right now... your costumes. Well, I am sure that none of you wants to be wearing those miner outfits from previous years, much less being covered in coal dust. Am I right?"

"Yeah," I say. I must say I am glad about that. Those outfits are horrible and way too skimpy, while going fully naked and covered in coal dust is definitely a big no-no: it was hard enough for me to get fully naked in front of my prep team. About the only person I might be willing to drop any clothes off for is Peeta.

"We had thought about doing something that symbolizes the coal, and the fact that it burns, but we did some research on your District customs, and we found something we thought would be beautiful," Portia continues. "Are you two a couple?"

The sudden question catches us by surprise, and somewhere, somehow, I know what this 'something' Portia speaks about is.

"Yes," Peeta replies. "But just since a few days ago."

"I'm sorry, then," she says, sorrowful. "I can't even imagine what you must have gone through when you were Reaped."

"Thanks," I say softly.

"Well, back to the costume, we read about the ceremony you call 'toasting', and we thought it could actually be a part of it."

"How, exactly?" I wonder how they can make what is a marriage ceremony part of something that celebrates the death of several teenagers. Instead of answering, Cinna brings out a piece of white cloth, but with a strange tone that makes it look just a bit darker.

"Looks a bit like the inside of a bread loaf," Peeta says.

"That's the idea. However, this is the interesting part. Cinna, if don't mind?"

Cinna pulls out something out of a small bag and clicks on a button. A flame wisp comes out of one small tube of what he has grabbed.

"This is part of what we are going to use in your costume. It is a synthetic fire we have developed. It burns at a low temperature, probably a bit higher than the human body. Now, look what happens." Cinna applies the fire to the white cloth, and it slowly becomes golden, some spots being darker and some others lighter.

"I get it," Peeta says. "You want to make us look like we are toasts."

"Not exactly. Your costume is going to be done with two cloths. One that is black, to represent the coal, and the other is this one. And, when we combine them with this fire, the result is going to be impressive."

~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~MDB~~~

I must say that I am not completely sold on Cinna and Portia's idea. Sure, they say they have tested this synthetic fire of theirs several times and that it cannot burn us nor our costumes – the cloths are fire-proof, they say – but accidents can happen. Burning alive is not one thing I want to go through, particularly after going through many burns myself.

Well, if something happens, I am sure I or Katniss can stop it fast. Here is to hoping it does not come to that.

In the meantime, I am getting dressed. Instead of bringing me back to the room assigned to me, Portia and Cinna just put a curtain in the middle of the room and work on us. Katniss and I manage to speak across the room, trying to calm each other for what is about to come, while Portia puts some special make up on my face and arms that, when it makes contact with some other liquid, it will slowly darken with my body heat, further driving home the whole comparison with the toasting ceremony. I feel that it is a bit ridiculous, but, well, Haymitch did say that we should not complain.

After some time, she hands me the first part of my costume: the undergarments. Coal black, of course, and it feels surprisingly good against my skin. Portia has the decency to turn around while I put them on, but as soon as I do that and shed the robe, that goes out of the window. At least, she only looks at me professionally: I do not think I could deal with her looking at me like a piece of meat.

I am given every other piece of clothing slowly, so that Portia can be sure that all of it fits well together. The black trousers and shoes are first, and then comes the bread-like shirt. All of it seems to be made of the same material as the undergarments, even though I know the shirt is, in theory, from a different cloth.

I think that is everything, but then Portia produces something else out of her bag: a long black cape.

"Are you sure this won't burn?" I ask her. Portia laughs.

"Don't worry about that, Peeta. If anything burns, it will be the people's passion when they see you two. You are going to look great."

I shrug and let her put the cape on me, as well as a tiara, which she says is a subtle way of telling others that I am a winner already. I push that thing out of my mind. It is not something I want to think about.

After setting the tiara on my head, and checking that everything is on its place, she declares me prepared for the parade. It is only a few minutes later that Cinna says the same, and then they pull the curtain away. And when I see Katniss, I smile, because she looks magnificent in the costume that is almost identical to mine. Black shoes with short heels, trousers that hug her legs all the way from her ankles to her hip, a not too tight short-sleeved top that hugs her upper curves in ways her normal clothes do not, a long black cape and a tiara over her long hair, tied down in her classical braid. I have to breath really deep and keep my mind blank to avoid getting hard, and it is real difficult not to.

"You look really beautiful, Katniss," I tell her aloud. I wish we were alone to show you how much I love you, I tell her with my mind. She blushes prettily, and smiles back.

"You look real handsome, Peeta," she replies with a wink. Show me tonight, then.

"You two look fantastic," Cinna says, smiling. "You will be catching the eye of every person out there when you show up, mark my words."

"Thank you for this, both of you," I tell our stylists.

"Anything that helps you. Now, let's go, the parade will begin soon."

I offer Katniss my hand, and she takes it, still smiling, as we walk out of the door. The people here have clearly been very busy, because the space where the cars dropped us of earlier is now occupied by twelve chariots, all of them pulled by a couple of enormous horses each. Horses are very rare at District Twelve, and the few that live there are quite small. The two in front of the chariot nearest to us – the one marked with the seal of our District – are coal black, while the others run the gamut from the white of District Four to the dark brow of District Seven.

"Close your eyes, both of you. I'm going to spray you." Cinna tells us. I close my eyes, and then I feel a liquid being thrown against my face and arms in little droplets. "Up you go, then."

Katniss easily hops on the chariot, and I follow her. Just the act of doing this makes me feel separated already from the rest of the world. Only Katniss exists in this world, she is the only one I can share anything with.

"I'll light the fire when it's your turn. A suggestion: keep a hold of each others' hands, no matter what. It'll show that you are together in this."

I turn to my side, to look at Katniss. She is still smiling, but I can notice that there is a difference in it. It is sad, almost longing, as she looks forward.

What's wrong, Katniss? I ask her while I caress the back of her hand with my thumb.

I guess... I was just trying to pay no attention to all of this. I could just push the Games to the back of my mind, but now, as soon as we go out there, it becomes real. And I hate it.

So do I, I tell her. It's not easy to do this, when I know that either of us could die. But we still have each other.

And if it falls down to the two of us?

Then, we find a way to convince the Gamemakers to let us both be Victors at the same time.

Wouldn't that be nice?

As we 'talk', the first chariots are starting to move. Even from where we are, we can hear the screams of enthusiasm from the people that have come to watch the parade.

"I'm going to start the fire now. Just remember, don't try to stamp it out, it's not going to harm you."

And if it does? Katniss asks me.

Make you a deal. If it burns, you pull my cape, I pull yours, I reply.

And the rest of the clothes?

We use the cape to drown the fire.

It's a deal, then.

I hear Cinna is trying to start a spark and I breath deeply, trying to calm myself and not freak out at the fact that I am about to be set on fire.

"There," Cinna says, happily. "The trick worked."

It does not feel like I am burning. More like the feeling you have when you have your legs covered with a warm blanket while you are sitting next to the fireplace. It starts near my feet, and it slowly spreads up my legs, covering them in heat before reaching my waist and back. I open my eyes and look down at the black trousers that are now brightly shining in tones that run the entire gamut from dark red to bright yellow, and the flames moving upwards towards my chest. The shirt is already changing, a few spots becoming now a bit brown.

While I am admiring the changes brought by the strange fire, our chariot begins to move. I stumble a bit, but Katniss, who still has her hand on mine, helps me avoid the fall.

"Careful, Peeta, don't want you to get hurt," she says, softly. I turn to her...

… and I lose my breath. She is beautiful. So beautiful. She has always been beautiful. How could she not be? She is the most beautiful girl in the world, and she proves it at every moment.

But now... now she does not look like a girl.

She looks like a woman.

A woman in fire. A woman surrounded, crowned with fire. A dangerous, fierce woman, ready to struck her enemies. A woman that is almost divine. A woman that can make me or break me with just a look or a word.

"Katniss..." I whisper, trying to breath in air to replace what I lost when I looked at her.

"Peeta..." she replies, in the same whispered tone, looking in the same way I think I am looking at her.

I love you.

I do not know if I thought that, or if she did, or if it was both of us at the same time. I raise the hand that is not holding hers and slowly caress her face, losing what little attention I still had for what is going on around us.

She is the only thing that exists in my universe now.

I drop my hand and place my arms around her waist. She puts hers around my neck.

We kiss. We close our eyes. We are hungry, and only our mouths can provide the sustenance we need.

We are on fire.

A/N: Well, that's another chapter, and we come nearer to the beginning of the Games!

First place, I'll try to explain why Katniss and Peeta seem so... enthusiastic, even when they know they could die. Basically, the feelings from their joint dreams bleed a bit through to them, so both of them are becoming a bit more like their dream selves, but without losing what makes them them. Any OOCness can also be blamed on this.

Other thing that I wanted to talk about is about suggesting this bunny for a THG fanfiction: something based on Dungeons & Dragons with the The Hunger Games characters as the warriors and mages that fight against evil sorcerer Snow. Katniss would be a Ranger, Peeta would be a Paladin, Gale could be a Fighter, Madge a Bard... It would be fun to see what people can come up with. In fact, I'd make it a challenge. For further ideas, check the webcomic The Order of the Stick.

If you want to imagine Niobe, think about her like Daisy Wick from Bones (Sweets' ex-girlfriend).

Now, the recommendation: "Aboard the Mockingjay" by undertheaegisof (Story ID: 8879804). Katniss Everdeen is the Captain of the Avian-class spaceship Mockingjay, which traverses the Twelve Districts smuggling from the Kapitol, several years after the Rebellion was defeated. However, when Doctor Peeta Mellark and brothers Thresh and Rue board the M-Jay as passengers, the crew will get involved in the games of politics, as well as problems with crooked contacts and, perhaps, even a bit of love. (Yes, it is Firefly with The Hunger Games characters!)

Now, the reviews (come on, seriously? Here I thought you guys were actually interested in the story. Only 2 reviews... at least someone took the time to review chapter 1):

Zoey303: glad you liked it. Some more substance in your reviews wouldn't be amiss, though.

fayriegirl: I'm happy you like the twist (not much of one, though). I'm surprised you don't mention the fact that Katniss and Peeta are pretty much acting as if they were boy/girlfriend already.

heggyy: yeah, it is a bit curious. I wanted to make it a bit of a crossover with Harry Potter, but I knew that such a crossover would not be interesting. I first believed that I could try to do it so that all the THG characters were magical, and the Games actually used magic as a weapon, but I figured it would be a lot more interesting if magic were as mysterious and rare as in Harry Potter, and that's when I wrote about how Katniss and Peeta were magical and had that special connection. So far, there's only one confirmed character (apart from K&P) that is going to be magical, and another that might be magical, but I am not sure if I should use that character in that way.

Dora the explora: *blink* seriously? That's your review? And wishing for my best friend to be ill is not exactly the best way to make me want to update. Anyway, here it is. Would you kindly leave a review with more substance for this chapter?

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