We are on fire.
And not just Cinna's fire. It is the fire in us both that is flaring up.
Peeta said before we arrived to the Capitol that I had a fire in me that attracted everyone to me. I can see it now. I can see that I have a fire in me, a fire that is feeding and is fed by the fire in him. But our fires are different. My fire is intense, prone to flaring up at any moment and exploding if not carefully controlled. His fire is slow-burning, constantly warming anything he is near to, like the fire in the bakery's ovens.
That is why Gale and I would have never worked, despite what many people thought. We are too similar, in looks and temper. Even in the unlikely case that we were to give it a try, we would probably be at each others' throats daily, and it would go nowhere.
Peeta, however, complements me. Just one day in, and I already know it. His gentle nature is the perfect fit for my not-so-gentle spirit.
But now, all I can be concerned with is the kiss we are sharing, completely oblivious to what is going on out of our little world. Why should I care about them? Only Peeta is important. Only the feeling of his lips on mine, of his arms around my waist and mine around his neck, of the fire that engulfs us.
However, our physical needs overpower us, and we have to break it to be able to breathe. We do it slowly, reluctant to separate even an inch, and when I open my eyes, I see his blue eyes sparkle with life, his messy blond hair crowned with fire, his big smile shining so much in the current place.
Slowly, my hearing returns, and it is not until I actually pay attention to what's going on around us that I remember that we are in the middle of the Tributes Parade. We are dressed in Cinna and Portia's costumes and wearing the fire they made. We are riding the chariot pulled by the two coal black horses which are still walking towards its place. And...
"TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE!"
… there is a lot of people chanting our District's number.
When did that happen?
I look around, and I see the stands around the place are full of people looking and waving at us, trying to call our attention. I hear our names being chanted again and again, so much that they actually begin to get mixed. The effect it all has on me, on us, is shocking.
Cinna was right, Peeta tells me through our link. They love us.
I can't believe it, I reply. We might still have a chance, after all.
Of course we do.
I look at him, crowned with fire, and fight to not fall mesmerized again. As if his blue eyes were not good enough at doing that. And then I look down at his shirt, and I notice that it is actually beginning to resemble toasted bread.
The boy with the bread and the girl on fire. Together, we toast to life, I think, blushing slightly when I remember the toasting ceremony.
How about we show them that we are together in this?
Thought the kiss was enough.
This will be definite proof. We raise the hands we are holding each other with, they'll see we are one.
My right hand and his left. We smile at each other, and when we reach our place in the center of the circle, we raise our hands.
If possible, the screaming becomes higher, the acclaim for us becomes greater, and the many screens in the circle that I had not paid attention to before are now showing Peeta and me from every possible angle. It is actually a bit overwhelming, actually, and I am getting a bit nervous, but Peeta is still here, and the connection we share helps me stay calm, drawing on his own ability to restrain his nerves.
The people calm down, and when I look up I see why.
Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem, is about to give his post-parade speech.
After the speech we all expect from Snow – about the Hunger Games, and how they are a punishment for what our ancestors did, and that we should be glad our Districts are not destroyed like District Thirteen was – the parade finally ends, and the horses take us back to the Training Center. By then, Cinna's synthetic fire has dissipated, the dark spots in our tops are slowly turning white-ish again and the ones in our face are still dark. Still, we are the tributes the people pays most attention to as we all leave, and the cheers for the District Twelve Tributes do not end until well after we are out of view.
When the chariot finally stops in front of the exact same place where we hopped in, I jump down and grab Katniss in my arms before she can do the same. I can feel her annoyance that I am doing this, but as I slowly lower her while we turn around, the annoyance ebbs away, especially after she's low enough that I can kiss her in the lips.
Our short encounter is interrupted by Cinna, Portia, Effie and Haymitch.
"You were fantastic!" Effie says, clearly excited.
"Indeed. I've never seen the people out there so enthusiastic about a pair of tributes," Cinna replies.
"Thanks to you two," I tell the two stylists.
"I'd say that little stunt with the kiss fired them up well enough, kid," Haymitch says. "What the hell possessed you to do it, anyway?"
"It was a joint decision, you know?" Katniss interrupts before I can answer. "And why is it such a bad thing that we kissed?"
"The dangerous thing is the reaction from the people," Haymitch replies.
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, Haymitch!" Effie says. "Of course this is good, we will probably have our hands full trying to accept all the sponsors that will be coming to us! Now, let's go to your rooms. You are lucky, you have the best rooms in the entire building!"
Accompanied by two Peacekeepers, Effie leads us towards a strange metallic door with a glass in the center. When the door opens, it reveals not a room, but rather some kind of large cellar with mirrors in the walls save for some buttons.
"Come inside, you two," she says looking at Katniss and me. "This is an elevator, it's taking us to the top floor."
Well, what do you think? I ask Katniss as we get in the 'elevator'. No building in District Twelve is tall enough to have one of these. The most similar thing is the platform used to lower the coal miners to the mine corridors.
About what? The elevator? The parade? Haymitch's warning? she replies.
All of them, actually, I say, glad that the fire has dissipated, since this way I can keep Katniss a lot closer than I could in the chariot.
Well, the elevator is too tight. If it weren't for you, I would have hated the parade. And, well, maybe Haymitch's right. But we should ask him what he means.
Of course. But maybe later, when we can catch him alone. I doubt Effie would like to be in that conversation.
We remain silent, holding onto each other, while the elevator slowly takes us to the top floor – the twelfth, actually – and we wait until a small bell sounds and the door opens, letting us out. I look around, and I see that they have certainly spared no expense in the place we are going to be living now. As Katniss told me at the train, it is a complete waste of time and money. A main room with a table and several chairs, a couch in front of a large television, and a few other things around, as well as three corridors apart from the one that leads to the elevator.
"Katniss, your room is the first door in the left corridor," Effie says, pointing to one of the corridors. "Peeta, yours is the next door. Haymitch, you know your way. Cinna, Portia, you and your teams have your rooms in the right corridor. We are having dinner in an hour and a half, so, please, try to make sure to be ready by then!"
"See you later, then," Haymitch says before walking towards the corridor in front of ours, followed by Effie.
"The best way to take off all that make up is with a cotton wag and cold water. I know Venia has dropped some of it in both your bathrooms, so you should have no problem with it. You should probably also take a shower and change into something more practical," Cinna tells us before going to his room. Portia says she'll see us later and also moves to her room, leaving us both alone.
Katniss takes my hand. "Do you mind... staying with me? We can go to your room first, so you can pick what you want to wear."
"No problem. Just... are you sure?" The way she says it, it is as if she actually wants to see me change clothes. Or that she wants me to see her do it. Perhaps both.
"Peeta, I love you," she whispers. "And I want to spend as much time as possible with you. We already sleep together in the same bed. We kiss. We... touch," she adds with a slight blush. "I want to share everything I have with you, and I want you to share everything with me."
Peeta... it's those dreams. We are happy in them. I want to feel happy in here, in reality, and I want to give you the same happiness. I want to feel alive. If that makes sense.
Of course it does. And I'll do anything you want. Anything that makes you happy. Well, there are actually a couple of things I would be happy to try, if you are willing.
I trust you, Peeta. With my life.
I do not answer to that. I just kiss her softly, and then we go to our rooms. I pick up my clothes – I choose things randomly – and then we rush into Katniss' room, before Effie decides she has to check on us, locking the door behind us.
"Help me?" she asks, smiling and pointing to her cape. We are face to face when my hands slowly go towards her neck, to caress it before untying the knots that keep her cape attached to her, and in the meantime she is doing the same. We are barely breathing when both of our capes fall to the floor. We take off our shoes, thankfully without problems with the non-existent shoe laces. Then, I slowly caress her sides, while her hands go down my front, and her smile tells me she likes what she is touching.
Bit by bit, we undress each other, until I am just wearing the coal black undergarments and she is down to a simple white bra and coal black panties that make my blood boil with desire for her. Her hands spread over my chest and abdomen, mine at her sides, my thumbs right below her breasts.
"So... gorgeous..." she whispers, mesmerized at what she is touching, looking directly into my eyes.
"No more than you, Katniss," I whisper back. Damn, the storm brewing in the thing gray line of her irises is making me struggle just to not take her in my arms and push her into the bathroom and make her scream.
Do that, Mellark, Katniss says, growling aloud. I must have voiced that thought through our link. Take me now into that bathroom and make me scream.
I snap. I need her. I need to be with her, with no one that can interrupt us, naked, ready to show her how much she means to me by every means at my hand. I grab her face and I kiss her so hard that our lips are probably going to bruise but I do not care, I just grab her and when her arms go around my neck we move to the bathroom where my hands begin working on ridding her of everything that separates her from being entirely naked.
We are having dinner with Haymitch, Effie and our prep teams, and, of course, the biggest issue is the Parade. Effie is full of praise for Cinna and Portia for their impressive designs, for our prep teams for the work they have taken in making us look nice, and Peeta and me for doing so well and attract a lot of attention. Of course, her praises get a bit humorous at a point.
"It is just like getting pearls by putting enough pressure on coal!" she says, smiling as if she has just said something witty.
Peeta and I look at each other, and manage to laugh through use our mind link, not wanting to point out her research failure. Haymitch has no problem in laughing out loud, which we can tell puts Effie off, and it makes not doing the same all the much harder. Cinna and Portia are also smiling, while the prep teams do not seem to know what is the problem.
Meanwhile, Peeta and I are holding our own, private conversation.
What we did at the shower... I loved it, I tell Peeta. Surprisingly, I do not blush at remembering the exact sequence of events that took place after I dared Peeta to take me to the bathroom. If anything, it makes me feel powerful and proud. We did not go all the way, but we did almost everything, and I know now the many things Peeta likes. If anything, the link only helped.
I loved it, too. And I am quite glad about the fact that everybody else's rooms are well away from ours. I doubt they would have liked to hear you screaming my name.
I roll my eyes at him. Sure. Shall I remind you that large moan you dropped three minutes after that?
If anything, my answer makes his smirk even more smug. Of course. As long as you remember what, exactly, brought out that moan.
I try to glare at him, but what he says makes me squeeze my legs together at the memory. Damn him. It is hard to be angry with him when I want to repeat the experience soon.
At one point, I look at one of the people that are serving at the table, and I am surprised to see it is a woman I saw being captured by a Capitol Hovercraft several years ago, just outside District Twelve, while Gale and I were hunting. Peeta defuses the situation by claiming she looks a lot like Delly – an actual lie, since Delly is blonde and the woman is red-haired – and we learn she is an Avox, someone punished by having their tongue cut and forced to work at anything. I should not be surprised: the Capitol certainly likes to be cruel with anyone they dislike.
After dinner, Effie announces that the television is going to show the Parade, and that we should sit to watch it.
"They are showing it now?" I ask, a bit surprised. The Parade itself happened about three hours ago. Though, I do remember that it is normally quite late at night when it happens back at home.
"Oh, yes. They do have to make a full report on it, interview people, comment on all the Tributes' costumes... All of that requires time for the workers to put together. And I'm sure you are going to be featuring a lot in there, such was the impression you made, so, yes, you should watch it!"
Effie pushes us towards the television room, while Haymitch, Cinna and Portia follow us smirking, and the others decide to retire to their own rooms.
Where do you want to sit down? Peeta asks me, his hand in mine, as we walk.
How about a loveseat or an armchair? I don't want to be too far from you.
Sure enough, we can pick a loveseat. Cinna, Portia and Effie take the couch and Haymitch sits on an armchair. Peeta kicks off his shoes and leans back, and I sit on his lap, my back against his chest, enjoying the feeling from his close touch. Somehow, even a day and a half since we left our home, he still smells like a bakery.
The show begins with a view of the City Circle and the Victors' Avenue, where we were just a few hours ago. In spite of myself, I cannot avoid to be amazed at the work they make to decorate the place. Of course, I then remember that they are decorating this to celebrate the deaths of twenty-three teenagers and the almost complete destruction of the last survivor's psyche and life, and my amazement is dulled and mixed with anger.
Calm down, Peeta tells me, his hand over my stomach. Save it for when it actually matters.
Thank you, I reply back at him, just as Caesar Flickerman makes his appearance.
Caesar Flickerman is the master of ceremonies of the Hunger Games. According to Greasy Sae, has been so for more than three decades, and has remained pretty much the same every year. The only changes are his hair, lips, eyelids and clothes, which have a different color every year. Last year, he picked crimson, which made him look like he was constantly bleeding. This year, it seems that he has picked a dark blue as the theme. Well, at least he did not pick the color of Peeta's eyes.
"Good night, Panem!" he says in the bombastic tone he always uses. Ugh. I am going to have to go through it during the interview in three days. "In first place, I want to say that it is fantastic to be here another year, so that you may enjoy the entire spectacle of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games!"
If it were one of your kids in there, I'd bet you wouldn't be singing the same song, I think, a bit upset with him. Peeta says nothing, but he gives me a kiss on my neck, knowing how I feel about all of this.
"Yesterday, the Reaping took place, and, well, you already know what happened! Quite a few shocks, particularly from District Twelve, who had their first volunteer!" A short video appears, with all of us Tributes appearing for a few seconds, ending with my volunteering and Peeta being reaped, while several people I presume are in the same place as Flickerman applaud and gasp. "Today, the Tributes arrived from their Districts, and they certainly were a blast, being welcomed by the Capitol people with the splendor they deserve!" Another video, this of the Tributes getting off their trains, from the dark night of Districts One and Two to midday's District Twelve. "But, just a few hours ago, we had the first great event of the Games: the Tributes' Parade!" Another gasp from the public in there.
"And, yes, it was a great event, indeed. Because the Tributes' prep teams and stylists certainly did not pull any punches in showing off their work." It then cuts to District One's seal, and then Caesar makes a brief introduction to District One's Tributes before going to an interview with their stylists, which must have been done before we actually arrived to the Training Center. The screen then shows the Tributes during the Parade, and finally Caesar makes some comments on them. This pattern repeats itself for all the Districts.
"And now... District Twelve," he says solemnly as we see our District's seal, with the railroad leading to a mine, the pickaxes and the miner's hat. Photos of Peeta and me, from the day of the Reaping, replace the seal. "The female Tribute is Katniss Everdeen, sixteen. She lived with her mother Alyssum, a healer, and her sister, Primrose, until she volunteered when young Primrose was reaped. The male Tribute is Peeta Mellark, also sixteen. He lived with his father Jacob, a baker, his mother Catherine, and his brothers Marko and Rye, until being Reaped."
It cuts to Cinna and Portia in the room where they helped us with our costumes. After the obligatory salutations and platitudes, Caesar starts making questions.
"So, I am given to understand that you two actually asked to be the stylists for District Twelve this year. That is quite unusual. Why did you do it?"
Cinna gives that smile I know means he is going to speak about something he likes. "Well, we are new to this, so I am sure that we would have probably been given District Twelve anyway, but we did our research on them, on District Twelve, and we thought they were quite worthy of admiration. They are the smallest District, and probably the poorest along with Eleven, but yet they still go on, no matter the obstacles put before them."
"When we started to work on the costumes," Portia says, taking over, "we knew from the beginning that we didn't want to repeat the miner disguise, and the coal dusting was right out as too embarrassing. Instead, we decided to work on something based on coal. And... well, a little something based on one of District Twelve's ceremonies."
"Wow, I must say, now I am curious," Caesar replies, chuckling. "What is this ceremony you speak about? Must be a good one, if you are willing to use it as the basis of your costume."
"No, Caesar, we aren't going to tell you about it," Portia says, laughing, and the Portia in the same room as us laughs as well. Cinna just smiles ruefully, but he keeps the truth to himself. "If we tell you anything about it, we will ruin the surprise for you. You do want to be surprised, don't you?"
"Oh-ho! You certainly know how to appeal to my good nature, Miss Portia! I shall certainly look forward to this surprise you speak about! But, how will the lovely people of Panem know about the ceremony you speak of?"
"You can always ask Katniss and Peeta about it in the interviews," Cinna suggests, smiling.
"You can be certain that I will. So, one last question before we finish. What do you think of your Tributes, and what chances do you think they have?"
"I think they both have great chances. They do seem sensible and strong kids," Cinna says.
"I am of the same opinion. I am sure that Katniss and Peeta will surprise everyone," Portia finishes, before the image slides into our entrance in the Victors' Avenue. Surrounded by flames. And kissing.
Katniss grabs my hand, as I see ourselves in one of the best moments of my life. I kiss her neck, and she leans further against me. I guess she wants me to keep kissing her neck, so I do it.
"Can you see what I see every second I look at you?" I whisper. "I see a beautiful, powerful person. The woman I love with my whole soul. The one I'd do anything for."
She turns and kisses me right below my earlobe, and my hands hug her a bit tighter around her waist. "When I see you, I see the man I want to share everything with, and the one I will do anything to keep at my side."
"Sweetheart, kid, please, keep your displays of affection private. I feel like my teeth will rot just for hearing you," Haymitch interrupts us.
"Haymitch!" Effie exclaims. Cinna chuckles, just as the 'TWELVE!' shouts become higher on the screen, and then the screen is divided in two, with us on one side and Caesar on the other.
"Well, Portia was not lying, they certainly surprised us. In all my years here, I have never seen anything like this: two Tributes from the same District that are in love! What will happen when they are sent in the arena? Will their love be broken, or will it stand the pressure till the end? I will be sure to be asking about all of this in the interviews, in three days time!"
Effie grabs something and turns off the television. "Well, it went really good. You have certainly managed to call attention to yourselves. If the interview is well done, then you two are going to be well supported in there."
"Oh, they will, believe me," Cinna says, happily, before turning to us. "While you two were in your bedrooms, I checked at the terrace upstairs. You have to pick the stairs, which are a bit narrow, but it is worth it. The views are magnificent, although the wind blows a lot. Really hard to have a conversation up there." His tone hints at something more, and I realize what that could be.
Hard to have a conversation... or to hear a conversation? Katniss asks me, obviously having thought the same.
Probably both, I reply. I can imagine that they would have put listening devices to listen what we say.
Aw, hell. What if they heard us in the bathroom?
Well, then they'll know we really love each other. Though, yeah, it is embarrassing.
"Really?" I ask aloud. "You know, at District Twelve, we have no buildings this high. I didn't know there was a terrace. Do you want to come with me, Katniss?"
"Sure. Must be interesting," she replies. She stands up and I follow, and we walk hand in hand towards the stairs Cinna has pointed out.
When we arrive to the terrace, we find that Cinna did not lie to us. The view from here is magnificent.
Of course, compared to Katniss, it is nothing.
It does look great, Katniss tells me. The wind howling around us would really prevent us from having a conversation, so I am really glad about the fact that we can speak with our minds.
Yes, it does. Though, I wonder how much they had to take from the Districts to build all of this.
We stay silent for a few seconds, until Katniss asks me a question.
Do you prefer the Capitol, or Twelve?
Twelve. Sure, this place looks cool... but Twelve is home. About the only bad thing I can say Twelve has is that things are so unfair there. People at the Seam deserve better luck than what they have to go through. They deserve better food, better jobs, better salaries. And, well, of course, none of us deserves having to go through everything the Capitol makes up. Especially the Games.
Yeah, that would be great. Imagine it. She burrows between my arms. One day, no more Games. We can travel between the Districts without a problem. Coming out to the woods and hunting is not punished anymore. The mines are more secure, and people don't have to work so long. We could live together. Imagine how our toasting could be.
I would be making the cake. And then, we could toast with nuts and raisin bread. The bread I gave you five years ago.
Katniss sighs. You saved my life that day, you know. I was pretty much ready to die when you gave me those loaves. And then, when I saw the dandelion the next day, I remembered how my dad taught me how to hunt. If it hadn't been for you, I would have never realized how to keep my mother and Prim alive.
I bring her closer to me and I kiss her bare neck, breathe into her hair. I just wish I could have done something sooner, or that I could have done more.
You did enough. What I wish, is that we had been able to have more time together.
Katniss shivers a bit.
Are you cold? We can go back inside if you want.
No, I'm not cold, although it would be nice to go back inside. Could we have a cup of chocolate before going to sleep?
Of course. I'll make it myself.
We come back inside, still in each other's embrace, and I have Katniss sit on a stool while I look for everything we need. We are alone right now: I guess that the others have decided to stay in their rooms, and the Avoxes have retired to their rooms, as well. I am glad, because I do not want to make them do any work that I know I can do myself.
Everything is easy to do, and soon Katniss and I can enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate. It is a bit thicker than the cup we had on the train, but neither of us minds.
The training begins tomorrow. What do you think we should do? I ask Katniss.
We could use with learning things we don't know about, she replies. Maybe we can think about getting some allies. Haymitch will probably give us some more ideas. But, well, we probably can come up with more ideas tomorrow morning.
After a good night of sleep. Which we are really going to need, if we want to be up at an early hour tomorrow.
Not sure if you are up to it, but... maybe we can repeat what we did earlier at the shower?
I look at her, a bit surprised. She is only blushing a bit, and I can tell that she is being serious.
Must say, I am quite surprised at the change. A few days ago, you would have gone all red and stutter at the mere idea of thinking about sex.
A few days ago, I didn't know you, I hadn't realized I loved you, and we weren't the District Twelve Tributes.
True. I kiss her neck softly. Let's finish this chocolate and go to sleep.
We drink the chocolate and clean the cups, and leave for one of the rooms assigned to us. We change our clothes, caring not for the fact that we become naked for a few seconds: after what we have shared before, being naked for a few seconds is barely noticeable, although I can certainly enjoy to see her curves. I decide to put on just some long trousers, while Katniss, winking at me, grabs the t-shirt I have dropped and puts it on, dropping her bra and pants, to sleep only with the t-shirt and some white panties.
Do you really want me to sleep? Because what you are wearing is not going to help, I tell her as I open the bed and slip inside.
Maybe I don't want to sleep, either, she replies with a little smile that makes me want to trap her against the wall and make her come again. Instead, when she gets into the bed I take her between my arms and I spoon her, much like what we did last night when we were on the train. Yesterday, it was because of the nightmares.
Tonight, it is because we do not want to be separated from each other.
"Goodnight, Katniss," I whisper. I love you.
"Goodnight, Peeta," she whispers back. I love you, too.
When I wake up, I feel something hard against my backside, which is a bit strange.
When my mind wakes a bit more, I remember that I am with Peeta, and then I remember what I did yesterday to him at the shower. I do not feel ashamed of anything. In fact, it makes me feel powerful that I was able to give him this, to make him mine in such a direct way.
I had heard girls at school speak about these things, and I had always tried to turn them off, because it felt awkward to think of guys in that way – particularly when the only guy I was in contact with was Gale.
Now that I am with Peeta, I wonder if I could have used a bit of that information to have more fun with Peeta.
Well, what we have now works quite well.
I turn in his embrace and study his beautiful face before kissing him awake.
Morning, Peeta, I softly tell him through our link. He opens his eyes slowly, letting me once more into his summer sky blue eyes.
Morning, Katniss, he replies. Ready for the day?
As much as I can be.
We get out of the bed we are sharing and I go to my room to get changed and showered – we consciously decide not to try to share a shower, because we know how that will end – and soon we are in the kitchen, having breakfast. Effie is surprised to see that we have awakened before she can do it for us, but she is glad that we have done this. Cinna and Portia come next, wishing us a good day. Finally, Haymitch appears, and apparently he has taken the effort to not be drunk so soon, although I can see he is carrying his hip flask already.
As soon as we finish breakfast, Cinna and Portia take us to our rooms and hand us a black uniform they have designed. It is intended to be flexible and comfortable, so that we do exercise without feeling any discomfort. And it feels really nice.
Not to mention that Peeta looks delicious in it.
Effie and Haymitch lead us to the elevator, as the Training Center is below us, but before we take it, he gets Peeta and me apart from Effie, so that he can give us some advice.
"Remember what I said at the train, stick together every moment. The trainers down there are not allowed to speak about what you are good at, but could easily leak the word out on other things. Ignore everything combat related that you are good at, better not to give them any clues. Take time learning things that are related to survival instead of fighting, like plant gathering or putting up traps. Save the impressive things for your private meeting with the Gamemasters."
"I don't know what bows are going to be there, Haymitch," I say. "If I want to use one of them, I'll need to have a feeling of how they work."
"Can you do that and make it look like any success has been pure luck?" Haymitch asks.
"Save testing the bows for tomorrow. It'll look like you are trying them as a possible option, but when you drop it they'll think you don't feel good using them."
"OK," I reply, and we get on the elevator. A couple of minutes later, we are in the underground Training Center. We seem to be the last ones to arrive, and curiously enough, we are the only ones dressed the same way. A few of the other Tributes look at us as two people carefully sew two squares with a large 12 on our backs, the more intense being the District One and Two Tributes. The way Cato Junius is looking at me, in particular, makes me want to reach for a sponge and scratch my skin to make sure I am clean. Ugh.
District One's girl is looking at me as if she wanted to hunt me. In both senses of the meaning, Peeta says. I look at Glimmer, and I can actually understand what he is talking about. It is the same look I saw in so many girls back home, only a bit more hungry.
She wouldn't look out of place in a gaggle of Merchant girls ogling you, I tell him. He looks at me and smiles, although I can tell he actually wants to laugh.
Good one. Now, don't try to make me laugh, everyone will think I'm mad.
You would make a handsome madman, I tell him as I reach for his hand.
Please, do not test my resolve.
I love doing that. Particularly in the shower, like yesterday.
Katniss, please, he begs, and I squeeze his hand, telling him I will stop teasing him.
We move into our places in the center of the large room, which is full with small workshops. We are all surrounding a woman, who, when she realizes all of us are here, begins here speech. Basically, she tells us not to mess with each other's training, anything that requires a partner can be fulfilled by one of the instructors, lunch will be had the next three days in a canteen attached to this place, and that the afternoon of the third day we will have ten minutes to demonstrate our skills to the Gamemasters, so that they can then give us a number from 1 to 12, based on our performance, the higher the better you are.
Once she is finished, Peeta looks at me.
"Where do you suggest we begin?"
I look around, and I see that one of the workshops has 'Fishing' on the top. I know how to fish, but given that we are probably not going to be handed hooks, they might actually teach us how to make them.
"There? Could be another food source."
"Sure," Peeta says. We move to the workshop and tell the woman there we want to learn what she can teach, and she smiles. As she tells us while she shows us ways to catch fish with our hands, few people take the time to learn how to fish, although it is somewhat understandable, as there is always the possibility that the arena will not have fish to catch. We do learn how to do that and to make our own fishing apparel using rocks and all kinds of wires or ropes.
From there, we move to the climbing wall. I easily reach the top of the wall in just a few minutes. Peeta has it a bit harder, since he is not used to it, but after a few suggestions on the best way to climb, he is rushing right behind me. Then, we try our hands with swords, but I do know that fighting in close quarters with any of the other Tributes would be suicide for me, and, anyway, I feel better at long distance. Peeta does better with it, although he probably is not at the same level as the Careers, who have probably been taught how to work with those since they were eleven.
We continue checking the workshops, and we are in the middle of learning how to make snares when they call us to have lunch.
Lunch is an interesting affair.
Apart from the Careers, Katniss and I are the only ones that sit together. The others are sitting on their own, probably trying to not get attached to anyone else in the place. The Careers are in the same table, laughing and feasting and pointing at all of us, maybe planning on who to kill first.
We barely pay attention to them, though. Katniss and I spend our time speaking, enjoying being together and sharing a kiss or two as well. I also show Katniss the bread on the baskets, which come from the different districts. For example, District 4's bread is salty, fish-shaped and slightly green from the seaweed they add to the dough, while District 7's is brown and shaped like a leaf. Ours, of course, is biscuits made of tessera grain, and Katniss mentions that they somehow look better than the ones from home.
I have noticed the looks the Careers are giving us. I do not feel very comfortable. I think they might have tagged us for 'first-to-kill', although the looks from Cato and Glimmer are not exactly saying 'death', more like 'want'. Like babies, it is as if the fact that they cannot have us makes them want to have us.
However, we are able to ignore them further and we continue with our training. We have a good time with the snares, and then we move onto learning about camouflage. Katniss is not very good at it, but I am, and when I manage to hide my whole arm in front of a trunk just with some mud, I have a good time managing to hide her in a nature scene they keep there for the training. When she closes her eyes, the only way he can actually see her is by paying attention to the shadows she produces.
The rest of the afternoon continues quite well. We are always together, and learning everything we can. Time flies, though, and when they tell us we are to return upstairs, we leave, trying to keep together everything we have worked on in our minds.
"How did it go?" Haymitch asks, flask in hand, as we walk in.
"Quite well. Learned lots of things. And we also caught some weird attention from the Careers," I say. Haymitch has a gulp from his flask before looking back at us.
"It's normal, kid."
"Not the kind you are thinking, Haymitch. It's more like they are jealous of what we have."
Haymitch raises an eyebrow. "That's new. Never seen it happen here."
"It is the first time there is a couple in the Games, too," Katniss says.
"What do you suggest we do?"
"Ignore them and concentrate on what you are learning. If they offer you two anything, tell them you aren't interested. Particularly if it is an offer to ally. They would try to kill you two the moment you slip up." He drinks another sip from his flask. "In good news, people out there are crazy about the two of you. While, officially, sponsors can't contact us until you are in the arena, Effie and I have already received calls and contacts about some that want to support you. Looks like the little romantic thing you showed at the parade is working quite well."
I look at Katniss and smile at her, weakly. It certainly does help to hear that we might have an easier time in the arena, but who knows what else might happen?
"Katniss, Peeta, why don't you go wash up?" Effie says. "You must be tired, and I am sure you will want to go to bed early so that you can get through tomorrow as best as possible, right?"
"Right," I say. I pull Katniss towards our rooms.
What do you say to another shower together? I ask her.
I'd say that you want to see me naked again, Mellark, she replies playfully.
Well, you are quite beautiful, and I am willing to get naked myself to be able to look at you.
I grin, knowing that she likes seeing me naked as much as I like seeing her, so it is win-win for us.
An acceptable payment, indeed. She smiles back at me, and I let her get into her room to grab her things while I prepare my own.
Day two starts pretty much the same as yesterday. We wake up in each others' arms, we shower and have breakfast, and then we come down to the Training Center. We then practice a few of the skills we want to refresh or get more knowledge on – particularly the knots and snares – before starting with the new things.
I get acquainted with the knives, and I get the trainer to teach me how to fight with them at close. Even if I am quite small in comparison with the other tributes, I am fast enough that I can use that to my advantage. Peeta, who at my suggestion is learning how to throw a knife, agrees with me that showing off my real knife skills is not a good idea. It would not do us any good to let Clove see that I could give her a running in knife-throwing. We also practice making a fire, even if both of us know it is unlikely we will put it to use.
The looks towards us continue, unfortunately. And it becomes clearer that they are not of the nature we would have thought normal.
This crystallizes when we are having lunch. Peeta has gone to grab us some fruit while I polish off the pork steak I have picked, when I feel someone sitting next to me.
"So, how come you are with Blondie there?"
I look at my side, and I see it is Cato. I snort at his comment. Cato is blond as well, although his hair is a bit darker than Peeta's, so his nickname for Peeta is quite stupid.
"Well, I like him quite a lot." Mind coming back, please? I ask Peeta.
"You sure about that?"
"Yes, pretty sure."
"That boy can't be any good in the sack. You really need something better to get distracted before you get killed in the Arena."
Peeta? I ask.
Sorry, Katniss, I'm a little stuck here with Glimmer, he replies, and I can detect he feels harassed, so I look towards him, and I see Glimmer is all but throwing herself into him, while he is trying to get away from her.
Need some help? I ask, ignoring Cato's attempts to call my attention.
No, I think I can handle her. Take care, Cato's trying to reach for you.
I look back at Cato, who is about to put his hand on my face.
"You know, when you speak with someone, it is only polite to look back at them."
"Well, I was not interested in speaking with you, and yet you decided to sit down next to me."
"Oh, feisty. I like that," Cato says, grinning as if he has said the smartest thing in the world, and that is going to make me drop my clothes for him.
"You don't know even a tenth of what I am," I tell him, grinning as well. "Pity that that's everything you'll get to know about me. Now, shoo, and take Glimmer with you, so that she leaves Peeta alone."
Finally, I got rid of her, Peeta says, just after I say that. Cato, meanwhile, looks angry at my comment.
"You should have picked the best choice, Twelve," he says, quite furious.
"I think I did."
"I could have given you a last good night before you die out in the Arena."
"Peeta's got that covered, thank you very much."
"What's this about me?" Peeta asks. I cannot see him, because he is right behind me, but I know he is smiling.
"Cato here thinks I'm going to drop in front of him just with a few pretty words. He doesn't know those don't work anymore."
"True. I do need to abase myself a lot just to get you to kiss me for the day. Now, shoo, Cato."
Abase? Using fancy words, Peeta?
Hey, it makes my point through. See, I got him to leave.
The rest of our second evening is quite uneventful, although we do get a sort of follower in that time: little Rue, from District Eleven, has taken to work near both of us. For a few moments, at least, because Katniss and I discuss it and invite her to join us for the rest of the afternoon.
I can see what Katniss sees in Rue. I have hardly talked with Prim, but what little I have seen and what Katniss tells me of her sister seem to conform to Rue as well. The two girls might be physically like night and day, but they are so similar in personality that you could pretty much put them together and not know who's who.
She does not deserve to be here. Well, actually, none of us do. The Games should have never been existed at all, actually, but I will not get them to disappear just by wishing it. But Rue is so tiny, so innocent, that the fact that they are forcing her to fight is disgusting. That feeling increases as we learn about her, about how she is the oldest girl out of five siblings and had to help her mother take care of them because her dad had an accident a few years ago. If anything could have made Katniss feel more connected to Rue, it would be that.
Being from Eleven, Rue knows a lot about plants, and it shows. Even Katniss agrees that Rue knows more about plants than her, who has had to live for years on that knowledge. She teaches us a few things about eatable and toxic plants, and we share some of our skills with her.
Would it be a good idea to ally with her? I ask Katniss.
Maybe. I don't know. We can try to ask Haymitch later, she replies.
One of the last things we do today is to try the bows. When we approach the firing range, I can actually feel the Careers looking at us as the instructors tell us how to wield them. Katniss is trying to contain her patience at the condescending way the woman 'teaching' her how to shoot is treating her, as if she has never seen a bow in her life. Of course, officially she has never touched one, because if word gets out that she has been hunting for years, it could seriously put her, Gale and their families in danger.
My first shot goes real wide away from the place I am pointing at, and the next few arrows do not fare much better. One of them actually hits one of the other targets. The last three arrows actually hit the target I'm pointing at, but all over the place.
Meanwhile, Katniss is flawlessly making it look like she has no dexterity with her bow. Whenever she strikes the target, she punches the air as if she has just managed to do the impossible. Which, for her, must be.
Ugh, it is a lot of work trying to fail on purpose, she tells me.
Well, you are very good at doing it, I reply.
I think I've had enough. I know now which bow to use, and how to use it. No need to continue with the drama.
She drops the bow, saying that she is fed up that it is not working for her, and we move for the next stand. I really, really wish that I could see her presentation, because I am sure she is going to shock everyone.
Shortly after this, the training time ends, and we are told to get back to our rooms. While we wait for the elevator, we feel someone moving for us.
"Well, Twelve, looks like you don't have much of a chance. Could have given you one last night before you die out there, but, well, you made your choice."
He obviously does not know Katniss. He probably think that that's going to rattle us.
"Do you hear something, Peeta?" Katniss ask me. "Sounds like buzzing."
I snort, unable to hold it. Try not to anger him too much, please. It'll be hard enough when we have to fight him in the arena normally.
The elevator door opens, and we get inside together, followed by Rue, her District partner Thresh and a few other tributes. Cato decides to wait, and the last thing we see of him is his angry face. He obviously is not going to make it easy on us in the future.
The rest of the afternoon and evening is quite calm in comparison. Haymitch congratulates us on our stratagem to make the others think we are really bad at using the bow, but chides Katniss on her treatment of Cato.
"Sweetheart, the idea is to not anger them before the Games," he says while nursing a glass of wine after dinner. "Of course, it isn't as if I would trust the possibility of allying with a Career anyway. They only trust each other, because they know the other Careers won't turn on them till the end." He takes a sip. "Of course, if you are as good as you say, they are probably going to hate you as soon as the numbers get out. Just, try not to give them too many reasons to hate you, OK?"
"Well, I'm not sure if he was serious with the whole 'having sex with me' thing," Katniss says, a hot chocolate mug in her hands. "Glimmer from One was trying to do something similar with Peeta at the canteen. Maybe they were just trying to break us up?"
"It is possible," Haymitch concedes. "Breaking you two would weaken you. Though, the way Cato behaved, I'd say it is also a bit about him wanting you, like a child that doesn't get a toy they are seeing other kid playing with."
"Well, a bit too late to do anything else. So, what should we do tomorrow?"
"On the morning, you polish any skills you want to make sure you remember, and in the afternoon you dazzle the Gamemakers. Of course, given that they are probably going to be drunk off their asses when it is your time, I wouldn't put a lot on the chance that they are actually paying attention."
"Let's hope that doesn't happen," I reply.
A/N: There it is! Next chapter will go from the third day of training to the moment the timer hits 0!
Things are also developing quite well for Katniss and Peeta, who have become really close. Blessed be that link between them, which only becomes stronger as they continue to be together. :) Remember, they love each other, and their dreams only reinforce that.
You'll notice that the chapter's second scene (Peeta's POV right after the Parade) ends quite abruptly when Katniss and him get in the bathroom. That is because it would be getting into M-rated territory. But, no worries! I am going to have a parallel story where I will be putting the M-rated stories from The Magic behind Dandelions and Bows.
About the whole showing of the Parade, and the program... I pretty much made it up, because I do not remember if something similar happens in the books, and I liked this scene in When the Moon Fell in Love with the Sun where Cinna explained on TV about Peeta's costume, so I thought that maybe it could be interesting to put it in here.
It is a bit of a pity that no one spoke about my suggestion for a The Hunger Games / Dungeons and Dragons crossover, because it could be a fun idea. Remember, Katniss as a Ranger, Peeta a Paladin, Gale a Fighter, Madge a Bard, Rue could be a Rogue, and there are other possibilities. In fact, I'd put this as a Challenge. If any of you wants help with it, I'll provide ideas!
Now, the recommendation, which today is actually two stories: "Panem's Daughter" (Story ID: 8163278) and "The Heir to Panem" (Story ID: 7719051) by DustWriter, both of which have similar stories. "Panem's Daughter" shows how Peeta Mellark accidentally wins the 74th Hunger Games, but when he catches the attention of Katniss, daughter of President Snow, he gets involved in a situation just as dangerous as the Games themselves. "The Heir to Panem" is a similar story, but with Katniss and Peeta exchanging places. Both stories are really good, and I suggest you check them (and say who talked!
Now, the reviews (thank god for the ones that actually care about the story, the four people that took the time to review):
mudbloodpotter05: I hope it continues to be interesting in the next chapters. To answer your questions: they are not 100% competent, but they can use most things without a problem. And about being caught on camera... most things they do are things that do not tend to be visible. For example, their ability to control the temperature around them, or how to make things weigh less, those are things that would require a very keen eye to see. And, for most things that should not be seen, it is quite easy to hide it all away by using some cover.
DaynetheGamer: I admit that the idea is not entirely mine. I grabbed a bit from "When the Moon Fell in Love With the Sun", where Peeta goes bare-chested and has his entire torso, face and arms with make up to fake the whole bread thing. My idea was not too different, but I hope I was able to add some originality to it.
Baroness Kika: you wrote four reviews, so I'll answer them one by one:
Prologue: I'm glad you like it! I wrote it that way because I wanted to show that they are more alike than what they would seem at first glance. I picked the father for both of them because both Katniss and Peeta feel more akin to their fathers than their mothers. And no, Mrs Everdeen is not a sorceress.
Chapter 1: yeah, I know I probably could have done without adding details that are commonly known from canon, but, well, I wanted to make it more deep. I didn't add Gale and Peeta's conversation because I wanted to put Peeta's thoughts as he was taken to the train, and I felt that just the summary Peeta makes is more than enough to explain it. And, well, having Peeta take her finger with his, and then Katniss take his hand in hers is a genius stroke, because I wanted to show how Katniss has changed just because of Peeta's presence.
Chapter 2: glad you like it! Their relationship right now is a bit more advanced than what it was in Catching Fire, but adding the fact that it is actually real and that both of them know it. Also, their telepathic link (telekinetic refers to telekinesis, the ability to move objects from afar) helps Katniss a lot in realizing that Peeta really feels something strong for her, and she can use it as a reference to see that what she feels is the same. You are welcome about the All the President's Men reference, I love that story a lot.
Chapter 3: enthusiasm builds up as possible death approaches. And the dreams exist to tell them that there might yet be a future for the two of them. :D Of course, there is still some suffering to go through...
hgfanatic25: well, I am glad you like my story. I hope that this was soon enough for you...
palalalala: now I know how much you love the story. Thank you.
sasunaruhaven: well, I wrote this precisely because I wanted to make it different. There are too many stories that go exactly along the same pathways as the books. I intend to make sure that this one goes differently. I already have in mind a couple of things that will certainly happen in a different way...
Guest: well, here you are. And would it kill you to at least give a name?
laugh0ften2012: I am glad that you like this story so much! The plans had always been for them to get together before the Games began, and those dreams provide them with the reasons to fight back and not surrender. I hope you like this chapter as well!