I wake up, just like I have done the last three days, in the arms of Peeta Mellark. I can tell he is still asleep by the way he is breathing. I find his slowly breathing against my neck really soothing, but his hands, which are touching me in my stomach and just under my breasts, keep me now awake, wanting for him to touch me elsewhere.
Instead, I turn around and look at him from very near, trying to engrave all of his face features in my mind.
His hair, short and blond, barely stands out against the white sheets. I raise my hand through the space left between us and comb his hair, marveling at how soft it is. I look at his eyelashes, which I had not realized were so long before. I know that, behind his eyelids, lie his eyes, blue like the summer sky, a color that draws me in like nothing else can. I place my finger over his lips, which I have kissed so many times, and then on his cheeks and jaw. I then let my hands explore his chest, noting the lack of hair on it, and go down, down, down...
It is not until I have reached his boxers, and that I start fingering the elastic when Peeta's eyes slowly open up, and his lips move into a smile.
Good morning, Katniss, he says, sleepy, and he kisses me.
Morning to you, too, I reply, giving into the kiss and molding my body against his.
You torture me with your beauty, you know, he says a few moments later, when the kiss breaks. You're Evil.
Makes me want to block the door and touch you everywhere until you can breath no more.
Not a bad idea. Though, maybe we can save that for tonight.
Your wish is my command, my lady, he finishes, and gives me another kiss before pushing the covers away. Shall we shower, then?
Sure. I could use some company today, I reply, and he grins as he follows me into the bathroom.
After a short, but still fun, shower – I swear Peeta likes to make me whimper a bit too much – we get out and have breakfast before going down. We are still going with Haymitch's plan to stick together, and we do have to review, so now we have to decide, and fast. Also, we have to be doubly careful, because the Gamemakers are here to have an initial look at us.
Peeta suggests – in a normal voice - that we should practice climbing again, because there are going to be trees out there and this might be an useful skill to have. I decide to make it more interesting by grabbing a rope, tying my left wrist to his right and daring him to go as fast as I do. It is not a complete disaster, as Peeta barely manages to keep up with me, and I suspect it is because he uses some magic to propel himself higher or make himself lighter. When I point this out to him, he grins at me but does not deny the accusation. I do need to work on my magic, if I am to use it at the arena.
Next thing we do is getting back to the camouflage section. Here, Peeta helps me, showing me how to use mud, earth and other things to hide myself. I try my best, but, unfortunately, it becomes quite obvious that I have no ability with painting myself into a wall. I tell Peeta that, if I need to hide myself, I will probably have more luck by using bushes or climbing a tree, and if it is necessary, he can hide me.
We continue working on other skills. The last one before we have to leave for lunch is how to make hooks for fishing. There is bound to be at least one source of water, and it might probably have fishes within, so learning how to make use of this will be useful.
It is as we are practicing how to make one hook by striking stones together that we are told to go to the canteen to have lunch, and it will be after that when we are going to be called, one after one, to show our skills.
We eat in apparent silence. As we bite into the food we have chosen for today, we exchange ideas on what we will be doing later. While I am going to pick the bow and some knives, he is going to put his body strength and painting abilities up to task. Even if we know this, we are still nervous, knowing that the number the Gamemakers give us will show possible sponsors how likely is it for us to win.
We do manage to stay relatively calm, though. We do take a few minutes before they begin calling us inside to hide in a corner and kiss, and then we take our seats in the small room.
As the time passes, the other Tributes enter and come out of the training room, and we can tell who has done well and who has not by the face they have when they leave. The Careers have apparently done a good work, because they are really confident, particularly Cato, who looks at Peeta and me with an air of superiority that makes me feel a bit angry, especially with the particular shine his eyes have as they run over me. I just stick by Peeta and glare at him, to show him I am not scared. The faces in the others run from confident (especially District Five's girl) to angry to doubtful.
Finally, Rue leaves with a small smile on her lips, and waves at us. We wave back, and a voice is heard on the loudspeaker.
He looks at me, and caresses the back of my hand.
"Throw them off, Mellark," I tell him with a small smile.
I will, he replies, giving me a small kiss before standing up and walking into the room.
As I enter, I look around the room. A couple of the trainers are working on putting back a couple of the workshops on their place.
Looks like Rue had some fun with the workshops, I tell Katniss.
She probably jumped between them. She's tiny enough to do that.
I can imagine that.
"Peeta Mellark, you have ten minutes," one of the Gamemakers says. He is one of the few that does not look drunk. A few of the others are actually singing, badly.
I breathe deeply and move for the weights at one side. They are mostly used for lifting up and down – one of the things I saw Cato do during the training – but my plan for them is going to be different. I pick a 5-pound weight, move it on my hands, and throw it away. It lands quite far away. I keep throwing the weights, greater ones each time, until I finally reach the 50-pound weight and manage to make it land several feet from me. I look up and see that I have attracted a lot of attention from those Gamemakers that actually pay it. The others remain drunk and distracted.
I then go for the blunt weapons. I pick a mace, not too large, but heavy enough that it can cause some damage. I do not plan to kill anyone in the arena, not if I can help it, but this could help in fighting any wildlife I encounter. Still, given the current situation, I might as well make it look like I will use it.
I look at the group of dummies and swing, striking one of them with the mace from down up. The dummy flies a few meters away before falling to the ground. I hit my next objective on the midsection, the next falls to the ground when I sweep its legs, and I nearly rip the head off the last one before dropping the mace and moving for the camouflage section.
I check one of the walls used as background for training on that, and then pick the paints that I am sure will fit with it. Soon, I am mixing colors and putting them on the back of my hand: I can see from where I am that it works quite well, so I know that, with some more work and material, I might be able to actually make myself pretty much invisible to the eyes of the Gamemakers.
I actually have a way to make myself almost invisible, Katniss tells me. It's a bit like what you can do with paints, but using magic.
That would be nice to learn, I reply as I close my eyes and finish the job of disguising myself. Maybe you can teach me tonight or tomorrow.
Of course. We can do it upstairs, she replies. I do not have to wait much longer after that.
"Thank you for your consideration, Peeta Mellark," someone tells me. I open my eyes, and I see it is one of the Gamemakers that is speaking to me. "You may leave."
I step away from the wall, nod at the Gamemakers and leave. On my way out, Katniss smiles to me.
She stands up, and looks at me. "Wait for me at the penthouse?"
"Sure. I do need to get rid of this paint," I reply. "Now, go there and shoot straight."
"I will," she says, and gives me a short kiss before moving for the door I have come from just before her.
As soon as I enter, I see the dummies Peeta has hit being put back on their place. I hope that this has been enough for him to get a good number.
"Katniss Everdeen, you have ten minutes."
I look up to where I know the Gamemakers are, and I feel disgusted by the fact that most of them are completely ignoring me, being much more interested in the food and drinks they have on a table at a side of the room they are looking from. I do manage to keep from being too angry at them: that will not help my chances a lot. Hopefully, by the time I am done, they will actually do what they are supposed to.
I begin by picking the nearest knives and throw them at the dummies, making the throws progressively harder, hitting the dummies at different parts of their bodies, and with the last knife I prepare and throw it at the furthest dummy, hitting it right on the heart.
After this, I smile a bit, since I will finally be able to really shoot around with a bow. Sure, it is not my (my father's) bow, which I have been using daily for more than five years, and which I miss a lot, but it is a bow that I know how to use with efficiency.
I love your enthusiasm when you get a bow, Peeta tells me. You actually get all tingly on the inside.
I'm glad you like it, I reply, my smile getting bigger.
I grab the bow. My hands reacquaint themselves with it, the string and the limbs, and then, as I grab a quiver full of arrows, their shafts and heads. When I finally nock the first arrow on the bowstring, and let the arrow go, I feel a bit more at home as the arrow hits one of the bullseyes I shot at yesterday.
The next few moments are just me shooting arrows at anything, going for smaller things and things that are further away as I shoot. A fake tree trunk at camouflage, a post that holds one of the workshops standing, a photography in the fishing workshop, one of the handles on the climbing wall... anything and everything.
When I see that I have only one arrow left, I decide that this one will be the best one, so I check back to the Gamemakers, to see that, while a few of them are actually paying attention, the others remain distracted, particularly one group that seems to be worshiping a pig with an apple in its mouth.
I seethe. These men and women are pretty much holding my life in their hands. Whatever they say will be the one thing that might get me and Peeta a chance to survive.
I see red. And my mind supplies a way in which I can both make an excellent point of my ability with the bow and shock them.
Katniss, what are you doing? Peeta asks, worried.
Trying to catch the Gamemakers' attention.
I go to the fire-making workshop and grab two rocks, which I strike against each other to start a fire. I then grab some dried grass, tie it to the last arrow's tip and burn them with the fire.
And I point the arrow at the pig's apple.
The weight of the dried grass matters little when I have been able to shoot arrows with strong wind. The heat of the fire matters little when I have had to do this while struggling with hunger and weakness. The distance matters little when I have shot blackbirds that were flying higher than this. The Gamemakers matter little when I have shot squirrels moving between tree branches.
I let the arrow go and it flies across the room, towards the apple. Those Gamemakers that have been paying attention jump out of the way, trying to warn their partners. The others turn around when they hear the warning, but do not move, which is quite fortunate, since I do not want them to be hit.
The arrow reaches the apple and pierces it before finally hitting the wall, the apple on the shaft, the grass no longer burning. Still, the effect is pretty much what I expected. One of the Gamemakers actually jumps back and all but falls into a bowl full of something that looks like wine.
Silence falls, as the Gamemakers look alternatively at me, at the arrow, and at their fallen partner.
"Thank you for your consideration," I say, bowing at them, and I leave before they say anything.
Katniss, what did you do? Peeta asks, worried.
It is now that I realize that, maybe, this was not the best of ideas.
It takes me a little time to get Katniss to tell me what she has done during her private session with the Gamemakers. I am sure that if I had not been waiting for her in her room, I would have had to wait until she opened the door.
When she tells me, I laugh a little, because it sounds like she really called the Gamemakers' attention.
"Don't laugh," she tells me, angry. "What if they do something to me, or to my family?"
"Well, right now, the worst they can do is to give you a low mark. And they won't touch your family, they are going to have to be there when they do the interviews."
"Peeta, I could have killed the Gamemakers, there's no way they are going to let this go."
"Well, they should have been paying attention to what you were doing. It is their job to do it. Also, I'm sure that at least one of them finds it funny. Wish I could have seen the one that fell into that bowl." I poke her side and she lets out a small giggle.
"Don't do that," she says.
"Then don't worry about it. I'm sure nothing's going to happen to you." And if they try to do something, you can always become invisible and leave.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Now, come with me, I don't think you'll want Effie to come here and start raving about ruining her timetable."
Katniss smiles, and I get her to stand up. She gives me a kiss.
"What's that for?"
"For being the nicest guy ever."
Dinner is quite interesting. When Katniss explains what she did in her private session, Haymitch laughs really hard, so much that I think he might have cracked a rib, while Effie chides Katniss on what she did, although she concedes that she had a very good reason to be angry, and, since no one was hurt, save for, perhaps, one of the Gamemakers' dignity, then there should be no further problem with that.
See, even Effie agrees me, I tell her, squeezing her hand under the table. She squeezes back.
Then, it is time to see the results from the Gamemakers' judgment of our abilities. I hope we get good numbers, as those mean a lot for our chances to survive. Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith are on screen, commenting on the results, and suggesting ideas on how they might have earned those numbers.
District One: Marvel Espel – 8, Glimmer Carat – 9.
District Two: Cato Junius – 10, Clove Allium – 9.
District Three: Steven Efem – 7, Ada Sipew – 5.
District Four: Zeno Entail – 7, Andrea Scale – 6.
District Five: Barrett Eisee – 6, Julie Renard – 5.
District Six: Jack Porter – 4, Jennifer Drivers – 5.
District Seven: Gummarus Oaken – 6, and Olivia Madison – 6.
District Eight: Marcus Nyle – 7, Esther Silk – 6.
District Nine: Bernard Sienna – 4, Notburga Eben – 5.
District Ten: Hadrian Morris – 6, Fannie Oakley – 7.
District Eleven: Thresh Peach – 9, Rue Ala – 8.
District Twelve: Peeta Mellark – 9, Katniss Everdeen – 11.
Wait, what? I look at the screen again, to make sure I am not seeing weird things.
District Twelve: Peeta Mellark – 9, Katniss Everdeen – 11.
"AAAAH!" Effie screams, between surprise and joy, before rushing for us and hugging us, saying that we are very, very lucky and that we are going to get so many sponsors now, and that she is actually going to go back to her room to get prepared for the avalanche of calls she is going to be receiving. As Flickerman and Templesmith comment on the fact that this is probably the first time in many years since the highest number was earned by someone not in the Career Districts, we begin to hear a shrill sound coming out of her room, which she rushes for at top speed, leaving us behind and in a bit of shock.
"Hell, I thought I had heard her scream before, but this..." Haymitch says, touching his ear as if he has something stuck in them. "So, a nine and an eleven. That was quite impressive. And I guess they must have really liked what you did, sweetheart, otherwise you would not be getting that good of a number."
"Thanks," Katniss says, still stunned.
"Though, I am warning you. This can be very, very bad, right now. None of the other Tributes is likely to take this well. They will be regarding the two of you as threats, particularly you, sweetheart. It is very likely that, right now, they are going to be planning how to kill you as fast as possible. And that goes for you, too, boy. The only use they might find for you is as bait to get to Katniss, or to use you to find her."
"What do you suggest, then?" I ask him.
"Well, there's a couple of suggestions. Do not stay at the Cornucopia for more than the strictly necessary. If you are thirsty and I am not sending any water, it's because there is water near you. Don't make a fire unless you have a very good reason, and get away from it as soon as you have used it. Anything you can find can be a weapon, so try to think out of the box. And, finally... if you have to kill, don't hesitate."
I am not very sure about that last suggestion. I do not want to die, but killing someone... that is actually something I doubt I will be able to carry out. The whole thing about the Games is about turning you into a monster, something you hate. I have seen them in previous Games: some of them become brutal and attack nearly everything in sight, others break down and become a mess they can barely work from. If it is in my hand, I do not intend to kill anyone.
After those suggestions, I suggest to Peeta that we go to the roof, to see the night sky. He muses it over for a couple of seconds and accepts, so we are soon walking up the stairs, trying to enjoy this last peaceful night. We have the interviews tomorrow, and the Games the day after tomorrow, so I doubt we can enjoy too many things.
When we finally get out, I breathe into the air.
I wish we were back home, I tell Peeta.
It doesn't smell right. Would be nice to be in the forest, with the trees around us.
Yeah. Well, we have to play with what we have. I sigh aloud, leaning into his embrace. He kisses my neck lightly, just the way I like it.
What would you be doing right now if there were no Hunger Games? he asks.
I'd probably be getting ready for dinner, I tell him. We'd have a squirrel stew, or, if Gale and I were lucky, some deer meat. I'd have to make sure Prim got washed up, which she would have probably done before I told her to. We would have then gone to bed, because I would have to get up early tomorrow for hunting again. And you?
I'd be helping my dad prepare a few things for tomorrow at the bakery, perhaps decorate the cakes if anyone asks for one. Then, we'd probably be having a squirrel stew, he says, making me smile. Then, when I get to bed, I stay awake for a bit more time, drawing up a few things on my books, and then go to sleep.
What kind of things do you draw?
Beautiful things. Ideas for cakes. You.
I feel a bit of a blush at that, but I cannot deny that the idea of Peeta drawing me, which for some would be a bit creepy, for me it actually feels good. Even if I have never felt a beautiful person, it is nice to hear him state it.
Damn, he – this strange bond, actually – has changed me a lot. Things I would not even think about doing before, are things I am actually doing right now. Like caring about someone that is not my mother or Prim.
How do you like drawing me? I ask him, curious.
Normally, I'd draw you with the clothes you wear when you go hunting, or what you wore when I saw you at school that day. Now? Now I'd love to draw you naked.
I hit him on his shoulder, even as I blush so horribly I am sure it could be seen if all the lights were off.
Hey, no hurting me! I need to be healthy in two days!
That reminder kills most of my good mood as I lie on the floor, with Peeta next to me as we look up to the sky, where the stars are not due to the still turned on lights in the city.
What will we do, then?
We fight, Katniss. We fight for the right to live, and to not lose ourselves to the Games.
Good plan. We'll have to iron out the details, though.
Peeta does not answer. He just leans and kisses me. I let him push away my fears, even if for a few moments, before we have to go downstairs again and prepare ourselves for our last day of relative freedom.
"Up you go, you two! We've got a long morning in front of us!"
I open my eyes slowly, still half asleep, while Katniss decides to burrow herself into my side, muttering about letting her sleep for a few more minutes.
"Hey, if you want me to tell Effie to wake you two up, I am more than willing to let her. But I doubt you want that, so get out of there now or I'll call her."
"Yeah, yeah," I reply, getting Katniss to wake up with a mental call, which she groggily replies to before I help her out of bed.
"Good. Effie and I are going to train you on how to act tonight for the interviews. Go have a shower and we'll talk during breakfast."
Haymitch leaves, and Katniss and I rush into the shower. While we help each other get cleaned, we do not go further than a few touches, because we want to get done with this as soon as possible.
At breakfast, Haymitch says that Effie will train us on what postures and movements we have to do while he takes care of the image we will be presenting to the public, and then asks if we want to be trained separately or at the same time. We decide that it might be better to train separately, if only to reduce distractions on each others' part, so, after we finish, Effie asks Katniss to follow her to her room and Haymitch and I move to his.
It takes us a few minutes for Haymitch to see that I am a natural at this. He says that I have a lot of charm, so I just have to behave naturally to have them eat out of my hand. And if they ask me about Katniss, then I have to play up the anguish of having to either die or see her die – that's probably the easier part, though.
Through the link, Katniss talks to me, or rather rants, about all the things Effie is forcing her to do. I do have to keep Haymitch from noticing something weird is going on, because most things she is saying nearly make me laugh out loud. Katniss tells me that I will think otherwise when it is me that Effie puts through the same torture.
The four hours pass real fast, and after a fast lunch, Effie pushes me towards her room while Katniss stays with Haymitch.
It takes me half an hour to agree with Katniss that this is a bit of a torture. Effie teaches me how to walk, how to turn, how to speak, even how to smile. She makes wear some shoes that are a bit too tight and carry a book over my head to help with my posture. At least, I get to hear Katniss make a running commentary of her time with Haymitch, who, although initially believing that Katniss has the personality of a sea slug, manages to coax her real self – temper and all – through the shell with Cinna's help. Well, at least Haymitch seems happy about it.
Finally, it is time for us to get dressed. We are again left in the hands of our prep teams, who make sure to eliminate any imperfections they can find that might have appeared in the four days since they last worked on us – apparently, a few too many tend to do so, as Niobe informs me in her typically rapid chatter.
After that, Cinna and Portia are back here with us, and shoo out everyone else out of the central room – forcing them to stay in their rooms – and begin to dress us.
Apparently, Cinna and Portia are either able to read our minds or something like that, because Portia, after giving me a white shirt and undergarments, gives me a set of jacket and trousers that are green like a forest, just the color Katniss likes the most, and when Cinna pulls away the screen separating us... I see Katniss radiant, wearing a wonderful orange dress, like the sunset, with red tones that make her look like she is on fire again. I can't get even a thought out when I see her like that, so I just press forward and kiss her, my girl on fire.
Cinna and Portia laugh, and carefully pry us apart, so that we don't end up making all of their efforts and that of our prep teams for naught. We blush a bit, but there is not much time to think about it, as Effie enters and, after gushing over how great we look, pushes us towards the lift, so that we can be taken soon to the place where the interviews are going to take place.
I wait for the moment in which my interview begins, while I see the others speak with Caesar Flickerman about themselves. The Careers stand out for their self-confidence and their quite wide comments that they are sure they are going to win these games. Glimmer, in particular, seems to be trying to use her sexuality, and the way she has been dressed, to attract the attention of the people, and it looks like she has been successful, while Cato is very boastful about his abilities. Most of the others don't call my attention, save for the girl from Five, Julie, who tries to play herself off as a bit weak, but I can tell that she is hiding quite a lot behind her eyes; Thresh, who says little, but is very intimidating during his interview, and Rue, who really charms Caesar in her winged dress and her optimism.
Soon, Rue's interview is over, and I am being called to the scene. My heart beats faster, but Peeta squeezes my hand and smiles to me. I'll be here if you need my help, he tells me, and I know he really means it. I breathe deeply and stand up, carefully walking on my heels towards the couch that is being looked at by the cameras, towards the blue-haired smiling man that is waiting for me.
"And now, from District Twelve, Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire!" he says, and I have to control myself to not roll my eyes. Apparently, even if Peeta and I were put on fire by Cinna, only I get the nickname. At least, they are not trying to give one to Peeta: he is my boy with the bread, and if these people were to call him something similar, it would cheapen the one I give him.
I walk carefully on my heeled shoes, trying not to trip and fall, and Caesar offers me a hand to guide me to the couch where I have to sit. He soon begins the interview.
"So, Katniss, in the first place, I must say that you certainly made an impression in the people when you volunteered yourself to replace your sister Primrose. I can guess why you did it, but, if you wouldn't mind satisfying my curiosity?"
I try not to snap back at him. He probably wouldn't be this biasé about things if it had been his younger sister the one threatened to die. Fortunately, Peeta manages to stop me from doing it.
"Well," I begin answering, trying not to sound too angry, "she is young, and I just.. couldn't let her suffer, as she would have if she were here. The Games... if she didn't die in them, she would have been broken up."
Caesar commiserates with me, and continues making questions. A few are, fortunately, not as uncomfortable as the first one. I actually manage to make him laugh a bit when I mention I really liked this lamb stew I tried last night, before the numbers came up. And that leads to another question.
"I must say that, at least I, and probably many people in here, were very surprised with the fact that you earned an eleven from the Gamemakers, the highest number this year and actually the highest someone from District Twelve has ever gained. You must have truly impressed them for that to happen. How did that happen, exactly?"
I look up, discreetly, and I see one of the Gamemakers – the one that fell into that bowl, actually – shaking his head. I cannot tell anything.
Make it as if you would tell if you could. Play a bit dumb, if you have to, Peeta suggests.
"Oh, you know I can't do that, Caesar!" I force a laugh. "The Gamemakers wouldn't want me to do it, and besides, I can't give away my secrets for the Games!"
"Yes, you are right, and I am sorry, but, hey, I had to try!"
"This one may be a hard one, Katniss, so, if you don't want, you don't have to answer. How are you expecting to deal with the fact that you are going to have to fight Peeta?"
I freeze. I do not know what to answer to that question, mostly because I did not expect him to make that question. I should have, though.
"I... I don't know. I only know that I would be unable to kill him. If it goes down to both of us... I don't know what will happen."
"I'm sorry for that, Katniss. Now, our time is ending, so one last question. I was really amazed at the beautiful dress you were wearing during the parade. It was really impressive, as if you were actually on fire. And now... well, I can see why young men are falling for you!"
"The dresses are all Cinna's," I reply, pointing at the dark-skinned man that is sitting on the first row. Cinna smiles and rolls his eyes as the cameras turn to him.
"Oh, but it is not just the dress, Katniss. You have a natural elegance that I have seen in few people. Would you mind standing up?"
I do so, and I see Cinna moving his right hand on a circle. Turn around yourself.
I wonder why he wants me to do it, but I trust Cinna, and I know he would not ask me if it would be bad. I just hope I will not fall down. Caesar approaches me, and I twist.
The people scream.
"Wow, Katniss, that was definitely impressive. I must say, Cinna really knows what to do." He takes my hand gracefully. "Please, another turn, for me?"
It is not as if I can actually deny him this. He raises my hand and I turn around again, and the people scream again, a scream of amazement and surprise. I close my eyes...
And I see myself in the distance. I see myself turning around, one of my hands kept high by Caesar's. I see my red skirt reflecting the light, really making it look like I am on fire again.
The bell rings just then, signaling the end of my interview time. I open my eyes and I am back to my body. The people clap furiously, cheering for me and claiming I am beautiful. I blush a bit, and Caesar gently leads me away.
It is Peeta's turn to be interviewed, after all.
I have to fight very hard in my mind to remain attentive to Caesar. The image of Katniss twirling around in that dress, looking like she is on fire again, has been enough to put the fire back in my bloodstream. I am going to make sure she knows very well how much fire I have in me.
Of course, that does not mean I cannot answer Caesar's questions. Even if they are much harder to answer than I had hoped.
"One question I did not have the time to ask Katniss, but I feel you can answer. Peeta, when did you and Katniss meet?"
I try to choose my words carefully. "Well... first time I saw her, was when I was five, at school. The first time I heard her sing, I knew I was in love with her."
"Oh, you already knew when you were five? That's awfully young," Caesar replies.
"I know, but, well, what can I do?"
"Nothing, Peeta. It can happen at any moment. Now, you have said when you first saw her, but not how you met."
I am not going to tell him the truth of the moment I gave her the bread. That's too personal.
The dandelion, Katniss tells me. The day after that, when I found the dandelion and I blew on it.
Thank you, Katniss.
"I... actually was not sure if she actually knew who I was," I say, and the public sighs. "We had the same classes, but we never spoke with each other. But one day, when we were eleven, she found a dandelion on the ground, the first of spring, and when she blew it she was looking at me. That's how I knew she knew me. And a few days ago, I finally managed to find the courage to speak with her again, and ask her if she would like to be with me." The truth, said in a slightly misleading way. People gasp, and I think that one or two of the people in there actually sob.
Idiots. They think this is just a drama. Wish they were sent in our place so they could see how it is, Katniss tells me.
"A beautiful story, Peeta. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for you when she was first Reaped, and much more when it was your turn. How do you feel now that everything has changed, and that you will have to fight with her to survive?"
"That's an easy one. I love her. And I know that I will do nothing that will injure her, much less kill her."
"And if you have to?"
"I won't. I'm telling you I won't."
"That's going to be quite difficult."
"I'm sure I'll think of something. And... well, I can't harm Katniss in any way. The mere idea of having to do it is painful enough."
"My condolences, then," Caesar tells me, and I can feel he is actually sincere. "One last thing, then. I was wondering if... if you had planned something for the future, for what you would have done if neither of you had been Reaped."
OK, that's low, I think, and Katniss agrees.
I think they actually get off on this, on breaking our dreams.
Well, let's show them what actually happens. I sigh.
"I'm... not sure if you know this, but in Twelve, we have a ceremony, called the toasting. That's what Cinna and Portia based what we wore in the parade, actually. Basically, the people that are getting married light a fire together and then toast some bread. It might not be a legal marriage, but in Twelve, no one feels like that until they have a toasting."
"Then I have to say that your costumes must have made a wonderful substitute. Am I right?"
People clap and cheer, and I know Katniss is angry at this. I am, too, but I do not show it. Instead, I just make them see the actual truth.
"It's not good, Caesar. I had actually planned it all, you know. Well, not planned, exactly, just thought about it. The day after our last Reaping, I would have asked her to marry me. And, for our toasting, I would make the bread to make the toast. But..." I sight. "Now I won't be able to."
Just then, the bell rings. My interview is over, and as I walk away from the stand, for Katniss, the people in there crying out mine and Katniss' names, and I am sure I can actually hear several people sobbing while I take Katniss' hand into mine.
Think that this actually mad them see it? I ask her.
I doubt it, she answers. But maybe someone will.
"Well, you two have certainly rocked the boat," Haymitch says as we get on the elevator and it begins to move towards the penthouse. Effie had stayed behind for some reason. "Those two interviews... people are eating out of your hands. Especially yours, kid. Effie and I are going to have our hands full trying to take note on everyone that is going to want to sponsor you two."
I shrug. I am far more concentrated in Peeta, in his presence next to me as his arm goes around my waist. It is almost painful, having to hold on my need to be alone with him. After everything he has said, I just need him.
Fortunately, either Haymitch senses this, or just simply wants to get on with whatever he wants to do, because he waves us. "I'm sure Effie will actually come back later to take you to dinner. But now, do whatever you want. I'm off to my room."
As soon as he leaves, I take Peeta's hand and pull him into the room they have assigned to me. As soon as he closes the door behind him, I jump into his embrace and kiss him as passionately as I can.
I do not know what, exactly, is taking over me. I know that the girl I was before I was Reaped would have never done this. Maybe it is the dreams, or maybe it is the nearness of death, but whichever the reason, I know I have changed forever. And, to be honest, I do not care. I would have probably fallen in love with him, even without the dreams. Might have taken longer, and perhaps I would have tried to reject what should have been obvious. That Peeta and I belong to each other, and that we cannot be separated.
Well, save for when we need air. Which is what happens about a minute after we get into my room. I slowly break my lips away from his and open my eyes to look straight into his. They are still blue, so blue, but also purple from darkness and desire, and black, because his pupils are growing large as they try to take me in, as he feels my body pressed against his.
Did you mean it? I ask him silently. I would not put it past the people from the Capitol from having some way to listen to what happens in our rooms.
Did I mean what? he asks, even if both of us know that he knows what I am talking about.
That you had actually thought about asking me to marry you after our last Reaping.
Well, if I had actually ever got over my nerves over talking with you and asked you to spend time with me, and we actually became a couple, then, yes, I would have. I would have managed to sneak out with you to the forest, and then I would give you a ring. My father told me once that his parents' rings would be mine to do that. Between what you hunted and what I earned at the bakery, we would be able to live on our own.
I would probably have to go down to the mines, I tell him. That's the only job that is available to the people of the Seam that pays enough to live on.
Absolutely not. I would have made sure to officially find you a place in the bakery, but you would be able to go to the forest whenever you needed to. Or you wanted to.
I smile at him, even if he cannot tell, because we are so close together the only thing he can see is my eyes. What would you have said if that happened, to convince me to marry you?
I would have held you in my arms, like this, he says, and then he turns around and pushes me against the door. The sudden moves and touches and how his body is pressed against mine makes me moan. I would have told you that I had loved you since we were young. He kisses my neck, and my body jerks out of control. I would have said that you are the only woman I could think about to spend my whole life with. His hands begin to push the dress' lower edge, already at mid-thigh, up, baring my legs and everything else. That I love you so much that everything else is secondary to my need of being with you.
Meanwhile, my hands work on their own, undressing him without a care for the state it will leave his clothes in. Who cares about them, when what I want is just behind his clothes?
Portia won't like that, he says as I start to roughly pull from his shirt until the buttons pop, and he begins to undress me.
What's she is going to do? Punish me? I ask him, finally ripping the shirt out of him.
When I open my eyes, it is morning. It is surprising that, in spite of spending hours having sex, I am quite refreshed. Katniss is still asleep, her head on my chest, but I can tell that she is about to awake. I kiss the top of her head and I let my hand travel along her back.
Wake up, Katniss, I tell her. We leave soon.
She opens her eyes, and I smile at her.
Morning, Peeta, she replies, sleepily. I kiss her, slowly, trying to savor this last morning together, before we are sent into the bloodbath.
We have to go.
Katniss nods, and gets out of my bed, letting me enjoy the view of her naked body as she goes into the bathroom. I follow her, and we enjoy the shower together.
The rest of the morning is silent between us. We barely have the time for a nice breakfast before we are brought to the roof, where we are told to get into a hovercraft that will take us to the arena. While on the way there, both of us, as well as the others, are injected with a tracer, so that the Gamemakers know where we are during the entire Games.
When we arrive, we are separated. I have just the time to kiss her before she is taken away with Cinna, while Portia and I are led into another room. There is a small table with some fruit and water, and a platform that is right below a hole in the ceiling. That must be the way I am launched into the arena.
"Put this on, Peeta," Portia says, handing me some clothes. As I begin changing out, I notice it is a combination of trousers, shirt and jacket, all of them very comfortable and fitting. Portia explains everyone is getting the same, and that it will protect me from heat and cold, but not to put all my faith on it. The only thing that changes, apparently, is the number on our back. She also hands me my leather bracelet. "Your token passed the control easily. Katniss' barely did, though. That pointy end made them think it could be used as a weapon, but Cinna convinced them otherwise. Now, if you want something else before you go out, this is your last chance."
I accept a glass of water and drink slowly, trying to hide my nerves. In a few minutes, I will have to start running and fighting for my life, as well as help Katniss do the same. There is little else I can do or say before a warning signal is given, telling me it is time to get on the platform.
"Thank you for everything, Portia," I tell her as a countdown begins.
"It was my pleasure. And, well, let me tell you that, if I could, I would bet on you two as the winners."
Just then, the platform is surrounded by a tube, and the platform begins to raise. Portia then makes something that surprises me.
She kisses the three middle fingers of her left hand and then holds them to me.
That is the last thing I see before the lights go out as I ascend faster. But then I see some light, and soon I am awash in it.
I am in the arena.
As I look around, I see many things. There is a lake nearby, a possible source of drinkable water. A large forest is surrounding us, Katniss will probably be able to do a lot in there. Some mountains in the distance, will there be caves in there?
Then, I look at the center of the circle all the platforms form, the Cornucopia. There are so many things in there, things that would help Katniss and me. But I remember what Haymitch said. To grab just one thing and then run away from there. There would be time later to take things away from them. But when I see the silver bow and the arrows somewhere near the center, I know I am going to have to disobey Haymitch. Those have to be for Katniss.
Peeta? she asks me. I easily locate her between Bernard Sienna, from District 9, and Hadrian Morris, from 10.
How are you? I ask her.
Nervous, she replies, as the countdown begins. I've seen the bow, Peeta. I have to take it.
I'll take it. It is nearer to me than to you. You grab the first thing you find and go for the forest.
You should do the same.
I have a better chance at doing this. Just run, I'll follow you later.
There are only five seconds to the beginning.
I love you, she says, and clearly not wanting to drop down.
I love you, too.
3... 2... 1...
"LET THE SEVENTY-FOURTH HUNGER GAMES BEGIN!"
A/N: There it is! Next chapter will be the start of the Seventy-Forth Hunger Games!
Here is where most of the comedy ends, and where the gritty part begins, because there is little space for fun while in the Arena. One of the things you are going to notice is that few things are going to happen in the same way as in the books – seriously, there are so many stories where the characters go through the exact same hoops, no matter what's the actual background, it gets repetitive – so they will influence how things go later.
With the interviews, I nearly, nearly gave into the possibility of making them for each pair, instead of individually, because, since Caesar already knows Katniss and Peeta are together, it would be a bit strange if he were to ask the same questions twice, but I hope that I made a good point on them.
Still nothing on the Hunger Games / D&D crossover front? :( I thought some of you guys would be interested.
This chapter's recommendation is "Always a Blessing" (Story ID: 9598825) by Izzy Samson. Katniss is a factory worker at Mellark's, and Peeta, the youngest son, is one of the executives, bound to become the owner in the future. What happens when they start going out together and Katniss gets accidentally pregnant? This story tells you everything you want to know about that. Go there, review, and say you learned about my story through me!
Now, the reviews (diminished returns, sadly):
.7771: I am glad that you liked the story, and the part where Katniss told Cato off was in my mind for quite some time. It'll have some repercussions in the nearby future, though.
Daynethegamer: well, while I like reading stories where the chapters are on the 1,000-3,000 words, I myself am a fan of long chapters, to tell more things and be able to explain myself and the story further in the same document.
Brittnay: I understand your concern. I myself was worried that I might be making Katniss a bit OOC with this approach. However, even if she loves Peeta, she is still the badass girl from the books. There are two reasons why she is behaving this way: she knows that, as soon as the Games begin, either Peeta or her could die; and, also, the feelings from the shared visions they are having are bleeding down to their present selves. I hope this calms your worries.
Cassandraishere: your words made me happy. I am glad that my story made you smile, because this means I am doing a good job. I hope you will continue reading, and that you will keep liking it.