I know I said on numerous occasions that I wouldn't write this but I did it anyway (well started to). Technically it's not AU as the story follows the actual book and all events that happen in the book happen in this but I guess that I have made so much of it up myself that I should say it is slightly AU anyway...
Set in the same universe as everything else I have ever written so it may make more sense if you have read my other story as I haven't done as much explaining in this one :)
I don't own The Hunger Games or any aspects of the characters that are recognisable as Suzanne Collins' original creation (in this, there probably aren't many :)), and I also 'borrowed' Clove's surname and her mentor's name from the fabulous laxgoal31 because 'Sharp as a Knife' was the first fanfiction I ever read and the names just stuck in my head so much that everything else sounds wrong to me.
This is for Gethsemane (because she passed all of her exams this week!) and be-nice-to-nerds and foxforever23 (thanks for the support - you're both great!)
When I open my eyes to see the pale light of dawn shining through the tiny window, I groan and pull the blanket up over my head, pretending for a second that I am somewhere else and that I don't have to get up for training. I am probably late already, though considering what day it is, I have no idea why I still have to go. The day before Reaping Day and they still make us train. And it's not even my reaping. It won't be me heading to the Capitol tomorrow.
That's the way it works in District 2. Young or old, when you or, in most cases, someone else, makes the decision that you are going to walk through the forbidding gates of the place that is known throughout the district as the 'Training Centre', there is no going back. There is no escaping the harsh training regime that was designed with a single purpose in mind: to produce the strongest and most formidable Hunger Games tributes in the whole of Panem. Everyone knows that it is forbidden by the government to train children for the Games, but everyone also knows that, after keeping the districts exactly where it wants them of course, the main objective of the Hunger Games is to provide the citizens of the Capitol with entertainment. So it is no surprise really that the authorities in the Capitol turn a blind eye to what is going on here, deciding that having tributes with weapons training who are taught to kill from an early age makes for far more exciting viewing than having a group that consists entirely of petrified children who are as terrified of the weapons as they are of each other. As long as we are no threat to them, as if we ever could be, then they leave us to get on with it. Especially us here in District 2. Here their presence is so strong that they would know we were a threat before we knew it ourselves.
A few minutes later I reach the conclusion that I can't put it off any longer, so I throw the blanket to the floor and push myself to my feet. It seems strange to wake up in this room, as I have spent very little time here for the past couple of years, but since Cato won the reaping trials, as I knew he would, they are always watching him, checking to make sure that District 2's newest tribute is not doing anything that will disgrace the district and/or reduce his chances of winning the Games. Not that there are many people that they could replace him with even if they wanted to, as most of his competition are either dead or recovering in the hospital room after their meeting with him in the Arena. That thought makes me smile, but although our relationship is common knowledge, there are very few people who approve, so it didn't seem like a good idea for me to be seen wandering out of his room at dawn on the day before he goes to the Capitol.
I walk over to the small mirror that is fixed to the wall above the washstand to complete my daily inspection of my left eye, which has become something of a ritual over the past week. As I look at my reflection I can see that the bruise has now faded to a pale grey colour that almost matches my eyes, a considerable improvement on the vivid purple that it was a couple of days ago. It's all Cato's fault, he's the one who hit me. Well actually it's all my mentor's fault, as he came up with the stupid idea of making Cato and I fight in the ring in the first place. If he hadn't suggested it then it would never have happened, because, although we have fought each other many times in the ring as ferociously as we would fight any other adversary, Cato has never laid a hand on me in violence or anger outside of the gymnasium walls since our childhood battle through the corridors of the Training Centre on the day we first met. However, that doesn't change the fact that Cato's lucky punch has left me walking around for the past week looking like I have been involved in a collision with a Capitol hovercraft.
Arriving once more at the conclusion that there is nothing I can do but wait for it to heal, I glare at my reflection for a second before looking away. I pull on a black tunic and pick up my knives as I leave the room, walking through the corridors that I have walked for the past five years, ever since I was accepted here as a twelve-year-old orphan, penniless and homeless following the untimely death of my father, a Hunger Games victor himself, but with an extraordinary talent for knife throwing, a complete lack of fear and a disregard for authority which hasn't been completely removed even after all the time that's passed.
My father hadn't wanted me to go to the main Training Centre. He had trained me himself from a very early age, always telling me that I would learn bad habits if I was taught with the other children who were destined for the Games and that he wasn't willing to let that happen. 'You are the daughter of a Hunger Games winner', he told me countless times, 'what is a high standard for others should merely be average for you'. And despite the constant lectures and nearly as constant beatings I received when whatever I did was never quite good enough, I suppose he did love me in his way, and I had grieved for him when he died in mysterious circumstances five years ago. Not in the locking myself in a room for days and crying myself to sleep sort of way of course, but I missed his guidance for a long time after he was gone. It was Cato who finally made me see that I didn't need Father, that I could look after myself perfectly well on my own, and that is only one of the many reasons why I am not alone now, and why I would never even dream of betraying him.
The attitude of the people that pass me as I make my way to the main gymnasium has changed over time though. Where they would once have ignored me totally or even deliberately walked into me, now they give me as much space as they possibly can, scurrying past with their eyes downcast, doing everything that they can to avoid attracting my attention. Some of the younger ones even turn around and move as quickly as they can back the way they came. There are few better feelings than the sense of pride and achievement that I feel when they do that. I have worked hard over the years to build up such a fearsome reputation and it is satisfying to see that my efforts in the training ring have not gone unnoticed.
I walk through the courtyard and past the arched entrance of what we call the 'Arena' after the place where the Capitol sends the tributes to fight. Of course the official word on it's use is that it's just part of the gymnasium, but in reality it is a vast amphitheatre where every year, a month before the official reaping, it is decided who will represent District 2 in the Games. This being District 2, it is not the usual random drawing of names but a battle, often to the death, between all of the eighteen-year-olds in the Training Centre, every person desperate to be the winner, to be one of the two that make it to the Capitol. The gates are open now, left that way until the two chosen ones leave the district for the real arena, part of a ritual that has remained unchanged for over sixty years.
As I approach the main doors of the gymnasium, my path is blocked by a large and all-too-familiar figure, one of only a handful of people who would dare to sneer down at me in the way he is doing now.
"What do you want, Lucius? Are you in such a rush to go the same way as Cassius that you can't wait a few more days?"
"You said you would fight me whenever I want. I choose now."
I stare up at him, hoping that I am managing to keep my face devoid of all emotion as I try to decide what to do next. I don't fear him, as I am completely confident that, despite his vastly greater size and strength, I am the better fighter, and to be honest, he really doesn't have the intelligence to get the better of me, but if I had to choose a time to be involved in an unsanctioned battle it most definitely wouldn't be now.
"Why now? Some warning would have been nice. The reaping is tomorrow, can't your pathetic little grudge wait until after then? In fact, it was Cato that killed Cassius. If you want revenge then go and find him if you dare."
"This isn't about Cato, it's all about you."
"Because your idiotic brother wanted me and I told him where to go? Grow up, Lucius, Cassius was always going to die when he stepped into the Arena with Cato, and if you had more than your single brain cell then you would know it as well as I do. Cassius couldn't have defeated Cato if he'd had a hundred years worth of training."
It had all started years ago, when Cassius, together with his brother Lucius, had first arrived at the Training Centre as an extremely arrogant fourteen-year-old who thought he had the ability to conquer the world, starting with this small part of District 2. His father had died in a quarry accident, apparently, and the Peacekeepers who had taken control of him very quickly decided exactly what to do with his excess of grief that had turned into anger. He hadn't taken my rejection of him well, and by refusing to take no for an answer, had very quickly made an enemy not only of me but of Cato too. Being the same age, they had trained together, constantly competing against each other, both inflicting as much pain as possible on the other and counting down the days until the time finally arrived when they were eighteen and in a position to fight to the death in the Arena at the reaping trials.
These arguments and confrontations came to the inevitable conclusion a month ago, when, following a night of drinking copious amounts of stolen wine, Cassius found me in the courtyard and had decided to, how did he put it, 'teach me a lesson that I would never forget'. I had fought him off despite being unarmed, knocking him out with a rock that had been lying on the floor, but when I had returned to my room to find Cato waiting for me, he had sensed that there was something wrong. When I told him what happened he lost it completely and it was all I could do to stop him from getting his sword and running Cassius through where he lay, still unconscious on the courtyard floor. Eventually, after a considerable amount of time and effort on my part, he had calmed down enough for me to convince him not to kill him until they got into the Arena at the reaping trials in the morning. Cato has always been the same. When he loses his temper he really loses it, and as much as he knows that I don't need protecting, sometimes he just can't help himself.
The next morning they were the first pair to fight, Cato and Cassius, and, well trained and strong as he was, Cassius lasted less than five minutes in the face of Cato's all consuming rage. Lucius, who was the one who found his brother in the courtyard and had presumably heard a very different story from him, has hated both of us even more than he already did since that day.
"Are you scared, Clove?" he taunts, "Do you want to wait to see if Cato comes back from the Capitol before you fight me so he is here to protect you?"
"He hasn't gone yet, Lucius. But if you think I need his protection then I am more than happy to prove you wrong," I retort, gesturing to the enormous double doors of the gymnasium and drawing my knives from my belt before starting to walk forwards. He backs away, stepping backwards through the doors as if he thinks I will stab him in the back if he turns away. Like I would be that cowardly. As if I would need to be.
The main gymnasium is, so I am told, almost as big as the one at the Training Centre in the Capitol, and as I approach it's centre point, the raised platform of the fighting ring, I am surprised to see quite a crowd of people gathered around the barriers that surround it. When I look more closely, I see that most of them are my age, the would-be-tributes that I have grown up with, who I have trained with for over five years, mixed in with a few of the braver youngsters, the ones who have the courage to risk being punished by our mentors for being involved with a fight that hasn't been agreed to. But what are they all doing here? Why are they not training? Why are they standing there as if they are waiting for something to happen? Lucius has planned this. The arrogant fool has probably been planning it for weeks, hoping to take revenge for the death of his brother in front of as big an audience as possible.
The crowd parts to let me walk over to the ring, and I climb quickly through the ropes to stand opposite Lucius. He is considerably taller than me and at least twice as heavy. Almost as tall as Cato, I think as I stare defiantly up at him, refusing to be the one who looks away first.
I drop into a fighting stance and Lucius copies. I have always been able to block out everything that is happening around me when I fight, thinking only of myself and my opponent, and it is the same this time despite the grudge being so personal. The last thing I hear before falling into the familiar comfort of my trance-like state is the roar of the gathered crowd as Lucius charges towards me and the metallic clash of our weapons meeting rings out around the gym.
I don't know how long we have been fighting for, it could have been hours or only minutes that we have been circling around each other, both refusing to give the other an inch. We are more evenly matched than I thought, the extra weight that he can put behind his strikes giving him more of an advantage than I had guessed, but I am fast and he is predictable, and eventually he presents me with enough of an opportunity to knock him off balance and send him crashing to the floor of the ring, accompanied by the loud gasp of the onlookers.
As I kneel down beside him, relishing in the look of utter humiliation, shame and defeat that I can see so clearly in his eyes, I wonder if this is what it will feel like when I get to fight in the real arena as one of the tributes in the seventy-fifth Hunger Games next year. If it is then I would almost consider volunteering a year early, if it wasn't for the fact that it would mean competing against Cato, which I am beginning to realise I could never do. We are pretty evenly matched, my lover and I, and, putting aside all emotions for a second, if we were to fight to the death I imagine it would be virtually impossible to predict the winner, but this is the one instance when putting my feelings to one side is not something I can do. From the first day I saw him, he has always been the one person in the world that I could never bring myself to kill.
Not liking the way that I am able to think about what I suppose could be called love in a situation like this, when I should really be thinking about hate and death, I block out all thoughts and raise my knife, drawing the blade down Lucius' arm before bringing it back up to his throat. I am about to reunite him with his brother when the sound of running footsteps begins to echo around the room.
"What is going on here? Break it up immediately! Anybody that is still here in ten seconds will get ten lashes whether you are involved or not! "
Such is the price to pay for fighting without permission. I recognise the voice as being that of my mentor, Vikus, a previous Hunger Games victor himself, the immensely powerful man who has absolute authority and control over everyone in the Training Centre and a considerable number of District 2 citizens outside it, but I still don't step away. I sense someone else's presence in the ring and I lash out behind me with my other arm, not knowing who it is but with the battle-rage still upon me too strongly for me to care. The handle of my knife meets with it's target, who jumps back enough to avoid the blade, and the pain that shoots through my arm brings me abruptly back to my senses. It feels like I have hit a brick wall.
"Do you want my last memory before I am sent to the Capitol to be of you tied to the whipping post in the courtyard?" growls Cato, in a low voice that only I can hear.
I turn around and look up to see him towering above me, a bruise already starting to appear on his chest from the handle of my knife. I stand up to meet his gaze, still having to look up to meet his dark blue eyes.
"I had to. You know why."
He shakes his head, but I can tell he isn't angry really. Now if mine and Lucius' positions had been the reverse of what they were, if the man I had been fighting had had his sword to my throat, then I know it would have been a very different story.
"I am sure it was just a training session that went a bit too far," says Cato to Vikus in a calm and reasonable tone of voice, using his recently acquired status as the next District 2 tribute to his, or should I say my, advantage and choosing not to draw attention to the fact that Lucius and I had been using real weapons rather than wooden practice ones. I am about to step forward but he tightens his hold on my upper arm into a vice-like grip so that I can't move. "I think it would be best if we all just walk away, especially given what day it is tomorrow."
Vikus looks furious, but it is Lucius that he turns to first. "Not only do you start an unsanctioned battle on the day before the reaping but you don't even have the intelligence to make it one that you can win. You are a disgrace to this district. Get out of my sight and be grateful that you can still move enough to do so!"
As Lucius drags himself to his feet with great difficulty and almost falls through the ropes to leave the ring, Vikus turns to face me, his fury diminished but only very slightly.
"You will get your chance soon enough. If you pull a stunt like that again then not even he will be able to help you," he says, nodding in Cato's direction.
"I didn't need or ask for his help."
"Don't push your luck, Jacia," is his response, and I would swear that he smiled slightly at my defiance. "Save your attitude for the arena next year."
Cato drags me out of the ring and doesn't let go of my arm until we have left the gymnasium and are standing alone at the edge of the courtyard. When he does, he turns to face me and laughs. His rare laughter is contagious and soon I join in, laughing until I am gasping for breath, as much at his reaction as at what happened. It would shock virtually everyone that he knows to see him like this, the humourless fighter who hates the whole world suddenly replaced by this seemingly carefree young man. Not that he would be acting like this in front of anyone else. There are some sides to him that only I see.
"Was Lucius really stupid enough to start that?" he asks eventually.
"Yes," I reply. "I don't see how he can considering Cassius died in the Arena, but he still blames me for his brother's death."
"It doesn't matter now. He will always blame you for his brother's death. Well until next year he will anyway. Then maybe his ghost will come back to haunt us," he adds, smiling wickedly before changing the subject to something a lot more contentious than Lucius' inevitable death. "I see that your eye looks better."
I scowl at him and lash out violently as if I am going to give him a black eye to match, but he instinctively dodges my hand, showing his years of training.
"You should have moved," he smirks, repeating what he must have said a thousand times this week, "I thought you were going to move."
"Well I didn't, did I?"
"Go and stop the twelve-year-olds from trying to kill each other when they should be training," he says, realising that this is one debate that he is never going to win and pushing me in the direction of one of the smaller training rooms.
With a final glare back at him, I set off in the direction that I was pushed, towards Training Room 3, where, like Cato implied, the newest would-be-tributes, to whom I have recently started teaching knife-throwing, are probably even now pretending that they are in the arena already and causing unimaginable chaos.
I enter the room as silently as I can, and I don't know whether to be happy that my own ability to creep around unnoticed is as sharp as ever or annoyed that even the most recent addition to the Training Centre has been here for at least six months and not a single one of them has noticed my presence. If this was the arena then I could have killed well over half of them by now. If they don't improve, and quickly, then in a few years time we will be the laughing stock of Panem, a Career District with tributes who cannot defend themselves never mind attack anyone else.
Having said that, they seem to be learning to attack a lot quicker than they are learning anything else, and I watch with amusement as a young girl by the name of Iris, who seems to have had some form of training already, just as I had had at her age, manages to pin a boy who is at least a head taller than she is to the wall of the room by holding her wooden knife to his throat.
I get a bit closer to the pair before I throw my own very real knife into the exact centre of the practice target in the middle of the room, hard enough to send the whole structure crashing to the floor, making a satisfyingly loud bang. There are about twenty of them in the room, and every single one spins around to face me, suddenly completely silent.
"Iris, leave him alone until you are skilled enough to mean it," I say, turning to face the small girl who reminds me so much of myself.
"Yes, Clove," she says meekly as she steps away from her relieved looking victim, and I smile slightly in response.
I had been so proud when Vikus had asked me to be involved in their training, a great honour for me, especially considering I am only seventeen and haven't been anywhere near the Capitol yet. It also helps that they are all terrified of me, and I hope that one day everyone in the Training Centre will speak to me with as much awe and respect in their voices as these children do. I'm sure that they will when I get to wear the Victor's Crown after the Seventy-fifth Hunger Games next year.
That's the plan, the plan that Cato and I have been creating for years, deciding how we are going to reinvent and improve the training regimes to make sure that every victor for the next hundred years comes from District 2, starting with ourselves, him this year and me the next. Him winning the reaping trials was just the first stage of our master plan to achieve more than it should be possible for two orphans to achieve. The Capitol created the Hunger Games to achieve it's own ends, but who says that we cannot use it to achieve ours? When we win we will have as much power as it's possible for two children of the districts to have, and we will have it together. There will be no twenty years with the Peacekeepers for us. We will be victorious, and it will be a victory that belongs to both of us.
A number of hours later I leave the training room, happy in the knowledge that at least some of my students have managed to get a knife somewhere in the general vicinity of the target. It took many hours, but I got there in the end.
Now though, I have no idea what to do next. There is nothing I can do but wait for tomorrow to arrive so I decide to go for a walk, to get away from all talk of training and tributes and the Hunger Games, just for a short time. I make it about as far as the open doors of the Arena before I see something that brings me to an abrupt halt.
Ducking quickly behind one of the pillars that supports the main building, I watch as Cato, Vikus and at least five of the other mentors, all past victors, stand in a tight circle, obviously deep in discussion about something. Cato makes a comment that I can't quite make out and it is then that I hear a familiar and decidedly irritating laugh. So that's where Rose disappeared to.
Rose, who is tall, strong and about as unsuited to her very feminine name as it is possible to be, is to be the female tribute this year. I don't know her all that well, but I do remember her winning a very long and boring set of reaping trials that I had given up watching after only a short time, giving it only long enough to decide that I could have beaten all of them with an arm tied behind my back before turning and walking away, pleased to see that she would be no competition for Cato.
Guessing that I really shouldn't be part of this conversation, which must be something to do with the Games, and deciding that one run in with Vikus is more than enough for one day, I slowly step back the way I came, watching the group huddled by the Arena doors the whole time. I almost reach the end of the corridor and am about to race off in the other direction, thinking that I have escaped unnoticed, when I take one last look at them and immediately meet Cato's eyes. I wonder how long he has known I was there?
He nods to me almost imperceptibly, and raises his arm to run his hand through his hair, pointing in the opposite direction to the way I was about to go as he does. What is he doing? Only yesterday we had decided that we would not see each other again until he comes back from the Capitol and now not only has he intervened when I was fighting Lucius but he is also telling me to wait for him to finish his discussion with our mentors so that he can see me. Honestly, if anyone else was being so infuriating then they would be well on their way to ending up in the same position as Lucius was in earlier by now.
I turn around and walk in the opposite direction, only stopping when I reach the door of his room, hovering around outside despite the fact that I have a key in my pocket. I have been here so many times and yet this evening it feels different. I don't know what it is, maybe it is knowing that the reaping is tomorrow and that all of our planning is about to get a bit closer to becoming reality, but something has changed. It is about half an hour before I hear familiar footsteps on the stone paving of the corridor. As he approaches, I can see the surprise in his eyes.
"What are you doing out here? Anyone could walk by. I thought we were disgracing the district by being seen together."
I mentally wince as I hear my own words from yesterday repeated back to me. "I don't care if we are," I reply, trying to tell him that I have changed my mind and that I don't want be apart from him before tomorrow without actually giving voice to the words that I am too proud to say. "Anyway, I thought that Rose might not like it if she came back to your room with you and found me there," I add, smiling slightly.
"That's not funny, Clove. Not even you could possibly imagine how much I am looking forward to breaking what I hope will be a very short Career Alliance. You know she hates you, don't you?"
"Of course I do. She hates me because she thinks she loves you."
"Like I said, she'll be in trouble this time next week then, won't she?" he says. "You should have fought her at the reaping trials, then she would soon have lost some of her unjustified arrogance."
My mood sobers suddenly at his comment, as does his when he realises what he has just said. Rose proved to be the strongest and most skilled of this year's entrants, but I am better. If I had fought Rose then I would have defeated her, and therefore all of the other eighteen-year-old female would-be-tributes who she had already bested, making me the winner of this year's reaping. Which would have sent me into the arena with Cato with both of us knowing that only one would be permitted to leave alive. It's not really arrogance on my part to believe it would be so, merely a fact.
"Probably as well you didn't," he says grimly, shaking his head slowly in as much of an apology as I am going to get.
We stand in the middle of the narrow corridor for several minutes, not speaking, just staring at each other. I try to think of something to say, but the sarcastic comments and jokes that we seem to use when other lovers would think words of affection more appropriate simply won't come, and it is he that breaks the silence first.
"Aren't you going to come in?" he asks, nodding in the direction of the battered wooden door.
"Do you want me to?"
"You know that I do."
"Which is why I must leave. I will see you in the square tomorrow."
Turning and walking away is one of the hardest things I have ever done but I know that it is necessary. I don't fear for him in the usual way that people fear for Hunger Games tributes. He is the most powerful and best trained tribute to leave District 2 for years and none of the others will get close to killing him. Provided that he can maintain his concentration and isn't distracted, and right now I don't trust myself not to be more of a hindrance to him than a help. He needs to be focussed on the task ahead of him, not on me, which is why I know that I have to leave.
I walk through the long corridors all the way back to my own room without meeting a single person. They must all be out celebrating the fact that it is the reaping tomorrow, the one day of the year when there is no training.
I open the door of my tiny bedroom and swiftly close the door on the world, switching on my bedside lamp and feeling as grateful as ever that I come from the district the Capitol chose to make it's new centre of defence after the Dark Days and the fall of District 13. In other districts, the electricity rarely stays on for longer than a couple of hours at a time, but if the supply runs out here then it runs out in the huge mountain fortress that towers over the main town as well, and that would never be allowed to happen. I have only ever told the truth to Cato, but I am not as fearless as I would like people to believe. The one thing that I genuinely fear is the dark.
I have slept with the light on ever since Vikus pulled me out of training about a year after my arrival at the Training Centre and threw me into a pitch black underground room that was so small that there wasn't even enough space for me to stand up. He had left me there for two whole weeks, supplying me with only enough food and water to keep me alive and refusing to answer my questions on the rare occasions that he came to check on me. I had thought that I was being punished for something, that I had unknowingly committed a crime so severe that he was really going to leave me in there to die. I had cried with relief when he had finally dragged my broken body out, only for him to slap me as a punishment for showing weakness through my tears. I came to understand his reasoning in time, that he did it not to chastise me but as a test, to prepare me for the arena, to see if I would be strong enough or if I would break under pressure, but at night when nobody can see my fear, I am still afraid of the dark.
I pull my tunic over my head and climb into bed, lying there staring at the wall trying to think about anything but tomorrow. I run through the plan over and over in my head, hearing the famous voice of the Hunger Games' commentator Claudius Templesmith announcing first Cato's victory in the seventy-fourth Games and then mine in the seventy-fifth. I fix in my head the image of myself returning to District 2 to a fanfare of trumpets with Cato moving through the crowd of onlookers to stand by my side, imaging how it will feel when we are successful and the years of waiting and planning are over. Anything to block out the negativity that keeps trying to return the second I let my guard down, telling me that the Gamemakers are unpredictable and that there is always a chance that he will not return. A small part of me wants to run back to him, to tell him not to go, even though by now he has no choice, but the rest of me fights that part like I would fight any other opponent, crushing it until it finally gives up enough to let me sleep.
I have always been a very light sleeper, and it must only be a short time later when I am woken by the turning of a key in the door. My first thought is that I will kill him myself. As there is only one key to my room and it is currently under my pillow, it can only be Cato, using his skeleton key that opens any lock, which he has had since before he came to the Training Centre just before his twelfth birthday, a remnant of his childhood spent living as a thief on the dangerous streets the poor side of District 2's main town.
It says a lot, both about the feebleness of the lock on the door and about my lover's lock-picking skills, which clearly haven't diminished over time, when seconds later the door clicks open and then shut again shortly after. He doesn't say a word, but I hear his footsteps, that are surprisingly light for a man of his size and stature, as he crosses the short distance to the bed and lies down beside me, pulling me against him like he has done so many times before. Despite my days of protesting and telling him to stay away and concentrate on the Games, any attempts that I make to pull away seem half-hearted even to me, for once my head losing it's constant battle with my heart. I reach out to turn the lamp off and he pulls me even closer, recognising the hidden meaning behind my action as he always does, allowing me to demonstrate through actions and symbolism what I will never be able to express in words.
I lie there in the darkness, listening to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat until the silence becomes unbearable and I simply have to speak.
"Were you discussing strategy already? You're not even in the Capitol yet."
"I thought you were asleep"
"I don't think I will be able to sleep until they put that crown on your head," I reply, speaking without thinking just like I feared I would, so I swiftly change the subject. "Do you even have a strategy?"
I can feel his lips curl up into a smile against the back of my neck as he laughs at my question before answering.
"Do I need a strategy? I just go into the arena and kill the other tributes, surely you understand the concept of the Games by now."
I sit up and hit him but he just pulls me back down, holding onto me as if I am liable to disappear into thin air if his grip slackens even slightly. Neither of us speak again and when I wake up in the morning he has gone, vanished without a trace.
I am beginning to think that I totally imagined his presence, that for once I had been granted a pleasant dream instead of a nightmare, when I sit up and notice the blood red tunic covering the bottom of the narrow bed. Now I know that I wasn't dreaming, because he always tells me to wear red.