Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Hunger Games universe. All characters, names, and places belong to their respective owners. I am not affiliated with Suzzanne Collins or her publishers in any way, shape, or form.
By the time I wake up in the morning Peeta has left. His spot on the bed is fluffed and cool, almost like he was never even there. Not long after I wake a flurry of attendants care to my every need, making sure that I'm clean, prepped, and fitted into loose black breeches and a burgundy belted tunic.
"Breeches?" I ask the female attendant Enobaria as I slide into the loose pants.
She frowns and gives me a little shrug, "The King gave the instructions. I personally don't approve, but I do what I'm told. Is this something he often makes you do, some sort of new bedroom thing?" she questions me.
I blanch a little at the thought, "No, it's certainly not that."
"Ah," she says as a sly smile graces her lips, "Whatever you say, whatever you say."
After I'm done dressing the girls leave me to wait in a stuffy, dank library that sits in the center of the castle.
I manage to read a little during my waiting time. Most of the books are heavily religious as is to be expected, but I manage to find a few interesting manuals on weapons training.
When I first hear the singed creak of the door open I race to my feet, naturally assuming that it's Peeta who awaits behind the heavy wooden frame.
It's not Peeta, though, and I register this when the room is filled with the heavy, conflicting odor of blood and perfumed roses instead of Peeta's familiar and comforting scene.
No, I'm not greeted by the messy tangle of blonde hair that Peeta tends to bring with him, but rather the powdered and immaculately fixed crown of white hair of Duke Cornelious Snow.
"Madame Katna," Snow says with a mocking tip of his hat, "It's a pleasure to see you again. I thought we might need to speak, don't you agree?"
"It's lady actually, Lady Katna," I say without the slightest bit of hesitation.
"Ah, that's what our boy is calling you these days? I'll have to stick with madame, though, it's a little more appropriate for your 'arrangement', don't you think?"
"If Peeta knew that you were here-"
"Don't bother, our boy has no real commands here. He will do nothing."
"Peeta is King, perhaps you shouldn't forget that?" I tell him with a false air of confidence.
"Our system is a very fragile one, there are lines that both the boy and I may not cross, lines that you are far too inferior to understand. Our boy may be King, that much is true, but the fragility of this empire is dependant on many, myself included. The King is not foolish enough to endanger that system, not even for the pretty girl that he chooses to run amuck with."
"Why are you here?" I ask him, my hands rattling as I set my book on the table.
"I believe we can both gain from a mutual arrangement."
"A mutual arrangement?" I ask him.
"A time will come where you may feel the proclivity to provide me with the type of information that a person only gains when they are intimate with our great leader."
I snort, "I feel as though you severely underestimate my loyalty to our King."
Snow shrugs, "You may be loyal to the King, but I can make a good guess that you are slightly more inclined to that little blonde girl that sleeps next to your mother. I'm assuming no amount of fornication, or whatever goes on between you and the King, can trump the blood you share with your sister. Remember that when I feel the need to ask you for something."
My blood runs cold at the prospect of him having access to my sister. What had I gotten sweet innocent Prim into by accepting Peeta's proposition, "Is that a threat?" I ask him.
"It's whatever you want it to be, Miss Everdeen."
The Duke rises from his chair, giving me a sickeningly sweet smile as he collects his jacket, "Now, that was a productive conversation, wasn't it? I'm thinking we keep it to ourselves, don't you agree?"
I nod, unable to meet his eyes.
"Well then, since I see I'm understood I might as well make on with my day. Make yourself available, I am looking forward to speaking to you again."
It's not long after Snow leaves that Peeta arrives, flushed and out of breath.
"I'm sorry about keeping you waiting, I got here as fast as I could. There was an incident around the front, really odd, and it kept me busy."
He's wearing a loose black tunic over red trousers, an outfit not that unlike my own, except he has his sword swung across his his thigh.
"What's with the clothes?" I ask, motioning towards the male geared attire I'm wearing.
"I have a little surprise, figured you would be more comfortable in that," he says, his fingers brushing the side of my pant leg.
"A surprise?" I question him, adjusting the straps of the leather belt.
He nods, "I have reserved a courtyard for us. I figured we both could use some practice sword fighting," he gives a little grin, "I've really improved over the years, so don't expect to beat me."
The courtyard is situated on the farthest end of the castle. Barely touching the surrounding woods, the stone floored area has views of several fountains. But it isn't the handiwork of the arches and fountains that catch my gaze. Instead I find my eyes drawn to the weapons rack along the back wall. Longswords, daggers, broadswords, falchions, and even a few weapons I didn't recognize were coated in gold, silver, and gems.
These were weapons fit for a King.
"What's this?" I ask Peeta, picking up an oddly curved longsword.
Peeta takes it away from me, sliding away the leather sheath, "It's a katana, I bought it off a friend of mine. It's even got my name inscribed," Peeta runs his fingers over peculiar looking gold markings on the blade.
"It's beautiful," I say, "I've never seen anything like it. Do you know where your friend got it?"
Peeta shrugs, "Somewhere in the East. It's a real rarity, none of my men can properly recreate it," he slides the covering back on, clearly not interested in the weapon's origins, "Want to go at a few rounds?"
I nod and place the 'katana' to the side. "Sure," I say, selecting one of the dull longswords created for practice.
Peeta braces against my body, his arms blocking my shoulders. He gives me a small smirk as he pants against my neck, "See, told you I got better."
I give a shrug of absolute defeat, matching his eyes with mine as I carefully slip a single strand of his sweaty golden hair back into his headpiece, "You're right," I say, drawing one hand to the edge of his jawline.
He gulps, relaxing his stance against me. "Katniss," he murmurs, his hand moving from my shoulders to my waist.
"You did get better," I say, turning his chin upwards and slipping our bodies around, so that it's me that has him pressed up against the wall. His body relaxes against mine and I line my hips against his, guiding my hands to his waist.
"Just not better than me," I say, using his distracted state to sweep both of our weapons from his side. I jump back a few paces, bringing each sword outwards in my hand, "I win."
Peeta's face breaks out into a grin when he realises what I have done, "Hey, that's not fair," he says, trying to contain to his laughter.
"All's fair in love and war," I tell him, trying desperately to contain my scowl.
"Fine," he says, giving me a congratulatory slap on the back, "this was nice, don't you agree?"
I nod, "It was nice, I haven't had this much fun in a long time."
He smiles, "I'm glad you had fun, why don't we take a break for a short meal? I'm feeling a little famished."
I nod, wiping the sweat from my brow.
"Could you bring the food out," Peeta instructs the servants. One of the waiting girls leaves, bringing back with her a small group of kitchen women who line the benches with an assortment of light food and drink.
"Now," says Peeta, popping a grape in his mouth, "I have some developments I am in desperate need to inform you of, but it will have to wait until tonight. I do have a break in between counsels though, perhaps the two of us could go for a walk into town?"
I bite my lips anxiously, my mind bringing back the memories of my conversation with snow, "As somebody obliged to protect you, do you really think walking around in the streets is the best thing you could do right now? You should focus on your political relations, not dilly dallying with me."
Peeta frowns, "When did you get so interested in my 'political relations'? Why would it be such a crime if we spent a few hours having fun? You weren't opposed to this little outing?"
"Practicing your skills in weaponry is only beneficial to your safety. Taking a 'walk' into the town is not the sort of thing that is safe for somebody like you. Perhaps you should remember that more often. You are King, Peeta, not a child."
Peeta backs up at my confrontation, "What has gotten into you? Golly, it was just a suggestion. Back off for a minute. Relax, have one of these," he grabs a handful of sweet dates and takes a few bites.
"I'm not-" I start, flustered at my outbreak, "Nothing has gotten into me. I'm just scared, is all. With all of the changes and seeing you again, I can't help but feel a little out of place."
Peeta gives me a bright smile, "That's alright! It's forgotten, we can find something fun to do within the castle walls, although I highly doubt this place is any more safe than the town."
I give him a blank smile in an attempt to hide my fears, "Hey, I know I'm playing Royal mistress and all of that, but do you think you could arrange for me to have one of these courtyards to myself for a few hours of the day? Maybe you could loan me one of your guards as a sparring partner? I have to keep my skills sharp if I'm going to be of any use."
"I-I-," out of nowhere Peeta grasps his throat, making a strained panicked noise with his mouth before stumbling backwards and landing on the hard floor, the ripe plum in his hand rolling from his hand.
My chest tightens, "Peeta!" I exclaim, scooping down to the floor and pressing against his chest. "Guard!" I scream, motioning desperately towards one of the men in uniform, "The King needs help!"
Peeta turns slightly to his side, clutching his stomach as his eyes start to slip closed. It's not until I noticed the slight foam of his mouth that the signs align and I realize what the cause of his anguish is.
Poison. Peeta has been poisoned.
Author's Note: Wow, that was quite the ending! It's been a while since I updated, so don't kill me. I know this chapter is short but I felt anything longer wouldn't fit this story. I will be making upcoming chapters 3,000-4,000 words (like my other story, By Your Hand I Have Loved).
Thank you for reading! You can follow me on tumblr at starveinsafety. I post spoilers and inspiration pictures for my fanfiction on there!