I clench the edges of the table in an attempt to not smash Venia's nose into her brain. Exhaling sharply after she rips another strip of fabric from my leg, I can feel my left temple throbbing with pain.
"Sorry!" She chirps, the Capitol accent contaminating her voice. I shove away the urge to cover my ears at the odd vowels, clipped words, and hissed s's. "You're just so hairy!"
I find myself caught between smiling at the nostalgia of her repeated words and scowling darkly at her. I end up scowling, though, when she yanks the last excruciating strip from me. Feeling, once more, like a plucked bird, I anticipate the arrival of Cinna anxiously. Will I act normally around him? Should I act like how I did in the past or should I not? Can I look at his face without seeing his body being beaten by the Peacekeepers?
"Let's call Cinna!" Flavius gushes, his orange hair and purple lips pulling me out of my reverie. Venia, Octavia, and Flavius all scurry off as one in search of my stylist and closest confidant.
The urge to cover up my naked body and to pace around the room are strong. Impulsively, I draw a hand up to my hair, wistfully sighing at the feel of my silky braids Mother made. A chink forms in my armor. But I quickly mend this fracture and return to my neutral expression when the doors open.
Cinna's healthy body and deep green eyes are the first things that I notice. A small smile forms on my face for a split second. Then I am back to my usual wary self, deciding to play it safe and stick with the old Katniss's role.
We are introduced and the swift survey of my body is done. The moment comes when Cinna says, "I asked for District Twelve," I frown infinitesimally. I never did find out why he asked for us. Maybe this time around I will be able to ask him. If he doesn't die by then, a voice whispers at the back of my mind. And this tiny thought is what ruins my whole time with Cinna. Every time he looks at me or speaks, I sink deeper into the dark abyss of doubt, questioning my capability of changing the past. A thought lashes out at me then, which completely shatters my confidence.
Can the past really be changed?
"You're not afraid of fire, are you, Katniss?" Cinna's tenor voice shocks me out of my gloomy thoughts.
The temptation to say, 'you have no idea' is mildly strong. Instead I reply back with a tight-lipped smile.
Finally, I am brought to the opening ceremony in my black unitard with the familiar desire to run curdling in the pit of my stomach. I fidget with my flame-colored cape before Peeta enters my field of vision. Time slows down as I drink in his stocky build and clear, sparkling eyes. My breath hitches in my throat and I feel both giddy, anxious, and fearful at the sight of him; he looks just as I remember him from three years ago. Peeta looks assured and at ease with himself. My hand beings to tremble faintly when he approaches me. Our eyes meet but I break off our connection in a rush. I avoid looking at him during our ride down to the bottom level of the Remake Center for fear of doing something reckless and un-Katniss-like.
The next few minutes find Peeta and me together on our chariots. The words escape my mouth naturally. "What do you think? About the fire?"
A look of surprise flits across his face. Before I can analyze his expression, Peeta opens his mouth and my taut muscles unravel at the sound of his warm baritone voice. Much to my surprise, I didn't even notice how tightly wound I was.
"I'll rip off your cape if you'll rip off mine." He proposes.
"Where is Haymitch, anyway? Isn't he supposed to protect us from this sort of thing?" Peeta asks. The familiarity of it all brings down my guard an inch.
"With all that alcohol in him, it's probably not advisable to have him around an open flame." I assert sarcastically.
Peeta is the one to snort and chuckle first before I join him. Our laughter escalates and pretty soon we are drawing odd looks from the people around us, only I catch the meaningful glance which passes between Haymitch and Portia. I brush it off before the opening music begins and the doors reveal the huge masses outside on the streets. The tributes from each district roll out to the crowd's cheers and hollers, and when the sky tinges with darkness, Cinna appears and lights us up without further ado. I am the first to receive the fire. Then Cinna moves over to Peeta, and I make the deadly mistake of looking.
I gasp instinctively at the sight of fire eating its way up Peeta's cape, reminding me of the day I lost Peeta. A scream is rising up my throat and my eyes burn as if they are the ones on fire. I curl my fingers around the edge of the chariot, maintaining enough sense to not rip the torch away from Cinna and drown Peeta in water. My heart is pounding to the beat of the Capitol's wild applause.
A warm hand touches the bottom of my chin. I flinch but am aware that it is Cinna, and not an enemy. He reminds me to keep my head up and smile before unleashing us on the Capitol citizens.
No one notices my breakdown.
Automatically, I shakily reach for Peeta's rough, callused hand. I relish in its warmth and clamminess, irrefutable evidence that Peeta is alive and with me now. He is not dead and he is not being burned alive. I regain my confidence and am transported back to my 16 year old self. I smile as widely as I can, reverting back to Katniss. The girl who is on fire. Soon-to-be symbol of the Resistance. I'm only vaguely aware of the crowd chanting my name or of the deepening sky; the feel of Peeta's hand on mine consumes me and I find myself leaning into his touch. I intertwine my fingers with his, causing Peeta to look down at me. The fire flickers off his blue eyes and creates deep shadows in his face, making his expression indecipherable.
A quick movement in the peripherals of my eyes, though, ruins the moment and I am tense again. I catch the object, the soldier in me thinking that it is an arrow or a dagger, but a rose greets my eyes.
I find myself wishing that it was an arrow or a dagger.
We finally arrive at the City Circle then, and I tighten my grip on Peeta when I see the grotesque figure of President Snow. Bile rises up my throat as crimson red flashes in my eyes. I can literally see the blood dripping from his wrinkled hands and, for a moment, I imagine his deceptively kind eyes probing into mine. My fingers twitch towards my back, where my arrows are usually kept, before Peeta squeezes my sweaty hand reassuringly.
The speech ends without any further incident and we are back in the Training Center taking off our capes. We both notice that our hands are still linked together but we don't make a move to pull them apart. I wait for Peeta to speak with bated breath.
But Cinna's voice speaks up from our left instead. "You both should wear flames more often. They suit you."
This causes me to pry my hand away from his warm grasp and turn to the stylist with wide eyes.
The past is already rewriting itself and I didn't do anything to instigate it.
We reach the 12th floor in no time and I rush to my room to dress into something more comfortable in preparation for my showdown with Haymitch.
Nothing about the mentor gives anything away, but I don't doubt the fact that he received my note. A few minutes before seven I begin my ascent to the roof a little and await for his arrival by the wind chime garden. It is fifteen minutes past seven by the time he shows up, drunk.
"So what is this about, Sweetheart?" His eyes are glassy, but I can see the sharp clarity in them that only a sober person can have.
I lick my dry lips, wondering how I should break this to him without Haymitch turning away. "So, I know this will sound preposterous to you, but I am from the future and everyone we know and love is dead. I would like your help, please."
I snort with derision. Yeah, that will bode well with him.
My left temple throbs painfully.
"Sweetheart, if you don't speak up now, I'm leaving." Haymitch slurs after my brooding silence.
I snap. "Stop with the stupid act, Haymitch. We both know you're not drunk. It'd take a hell of a lot more than that-" I gesture towards his half empty bottle. "-to make you drunk."
His eyes narrow at me, losing their glassy tint. He places his face dangerously close to mine and breathes, "who are you and what do you want?"
But I can't stop to answer his questions. The revelations are already tumbling from my lips before I realize how desperate I am to convince Haymitch that I am from the future and that he has to help me.
"I know you survived the Second Quarter Quell by using the force field. I know what happened to your sweetheart, mother, and younger brother. I know why you detest the Capitol so much. I know you sleep with a knife in hand and why you won't let anyone into your house. I know that in the back of your mind, you entertain the idea of you and Effie being together, but you won't go through with your emotions because you're as messed up as I am. I know that a resistance movement is brewing and District 13 is alive. And I know..." I choke for a beat. "I know that you are going to die two years from now. You died- going to die from withdrawals, because District 13 doesn't allow alcohol and you wanted- going to want to get sober for Peeta and me."
A second later, and I am pinned to the ground with a knife to my throat. Haymitch is furious.
"Who told you all of this? Who are you?" He pushes the knife and nicks my throat. "Answer me." He hisses dangerously.
I laugh hollowly. "Million dollar questions. Sometimes I don't know myself."
In a flash, we switch places. Haymitch stares up at me, finally calming down.
"My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am eighteen years old. My home is District 12. There is no District 12. I am the Mockingjay. I brought down the Capitol. President Snow hated me. He killed people I love so I killed him. The Resistance is successful. President Coin hates me. She killed my sister so I tried to kill her. I shouldn't be alive. Beetee sent me back to the 74th Hunger Games to save everyone." I sit back on my heels and bite my nails. "My name is Katniss Everdeen and I shouldn't be alive."
Haymitch lies on the ground in a stupor, realization finally sinking in.
The wine bottle is long forgotten.
A rustling sticks out from the wind chimes' song and we are both on high alert. I reflexively throw the dagger towards the source of the noise, which grants me with a sharp intake of breath. Then a stocky figure emerges from the bushes.
My gray eyes widen in surprise as I moisten my suddenly dry lips, hoping that Peeta didn't hear anything between Haymitch and I.
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