WOW! Hi guys! Long time, no see, huh? No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you; I really did update Just My Luck! I've always had the intentions of carrying on with this story, so even if it takes me years, I hope you're willing to stick with me until the very end.

And yes, I know this is a short chapter, but writing any more doesn't make sense to me right now; it's a very short kind of chapter. That and I'm still trying to rejuvenate my writing juices as far as JML goes. Thanks for coming back guys; I will try to update sooner next time!

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Seventeen: Peeta

The first thing I'm aware of is that the sun is hot on my face and I know without opening my eyes that the snow must be gone. I feel like I'm lying in a desert judging by the heat that envelopes me and it's not entirely unpleasant. After days of snow and ice, a parched climate sounds just peachy.

The second thing I notice is that I feel stiff to the point of pain. Slowly, I peel back my eyelids so that I can inspect the damage as memories flood my mind. The hallucinations, the tracker jackers, the Careers that cornered me, the moment I almost lost my life. I push them all away eagerly; I can't afford to think about things that terrify me.

I'm sitting up now, staring quizzically down at my arm where a wad of green leaves have been pressed to my skin. I shuck it away from me and feel a sense of relief when I see that the swollen points from the tracker jacker venom are no longer there. There are a few more clumps of leaves on me and I brush them off quickly. I don't know who did this—maybe it had something to do with sponsorship back in the Capitol—but if I'm coming to then that means anyone else who got stung is also regaining consciousness and could very well be hunting me now.

Pain cripples my limbs as I try to stand and I stagger a few feet before I fall to my knees. Dizziness washes over me and I suck in a large breath of air to steady myself.

"The venom is still in your system. You should probably wait a few more hours before you try to go anywhere."

My eyes widen and I glance up above me toward the sound of the whispered, childish voice. Rue stares down from a tree branch huddled in a space between boughs. Her expression is uncertain and I feel a rush of understanding when I see her looking at me this way; she was the one who helped me. Not my sponsors. This little girl who had the possibility to reclaim her life if I had died.

"You're the one that helped me, weren't you?" I say, brushing back a lock of hair from my face; it is damp with sweat and curling with the humidity.

She hesitates a moment before nodding. I stare at her and I can't believe the amount of compassion she has, for protecting me for however long I was unconscious. I don't know what I'm supposed to do about having her in the Games, but I do know that I will return the favor for as long as I can. Not because I feel obligated, but because it's what she deserves.

"Who's still alive, Rue?" I use her name purposefully and try to make myself sound as unimposing as possible.

She relaxes against the branch and pauses before speaking. "Just the boy Careers from One and Two, the girl from Two, us, my district boy Thresh, the girl from Five and your district girl. Everyone else died from either the tracker jackers or the tornado."

My heart skips a little bit; there are so few of us left. I decide to ignore the deep, ugly feeling in my gut when Vesna is mentioned. That is a can of worms I don't need to open right now. "Tornado?"

"Yeah. It ripped half the arena to shreds in a day, but the next morning after the last canon rang, it looked like nothing happened at all," she tells me with her sweet little voice.

I smile at her. "Thank you. For everything."

Even from here, I can see a pink little blush spread across her cheeks. "It's okay."

"I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."

She hesitates again before gingerly picking her way down the tree. Once at the trunk, she still maintains a distance, but her face is open. Trusting. "I know. That's why I helped you." I watch and remain as still as possible as she inches her way toward me. "Also. . .because of that."

I glance down at my chest where she's pointing to see the glimmer of gold against the black material of the tough jacket. My heart swells instantly because there will never not be a time when I see the mockingjay pin and think of Katniss. "The pin?" I say softly, remembering the desperation in Katniss' voice when she gave it to me.

Rue nods meekly and comes to sit with her legs crossed about six feet away from me. "Back home, those birds keep us company in the orchards. They're our friends."

I smile at her as gently as I can. "The bird who gave me this pin is my friend too."

She laughs a little and gives me a knowing look, which is far too ancient for her twelve years of age. "Katniss?"

I'm caught; my cheeks feel a little hot. "Lucky guess."

Rue shrugs but she looks much more relaxed than she did a few moments ago. "I know you don't feel hungry now, but you're going to want to eat before the venom is gone. It's been three days since you've eaten anything at all and it'll hurt. There," she says, as she points to an arrangements of nuts and berries on a leaf. A quick once over from where I'm sitting tells me that they aren't poisonous. "I got dinner ready."

I tell her that she's done far too much for me, but she only waves me away and urges me to eat.

I'm not used to being taken care of, especially by someone so frail and small, but I won't say that I don't enjoy it. We even share a few smiles as I eat in silence. My mind is wandering-probably a side effect of the tracker jacker venom-and I need to focus it. Somehow I need to narrow down the competition; more Careers survived the tracker jacker nest than I expected.

Once I'm finished with the assortment of food, I turn to Rue. "Tell me everything you know about the Careers."

To her credit, she only hesitates for a moment before plowing on. "They're definitely mad at you, so ever since they've been out of their venom rut, there has been at least two of them out looking for you. And back at their camp, they've got their food stored up inside the Cornucopia. I've watched the girl from 5 sneak in to steal some; but she did this weird dance I can't figure out."

I take all this in eagerly. The more I know about my threatening opponents the better. It's dangerous for me to team up with Rue because she is so much like Prim; and her willingness to help and protect me is so heartwarming and gentle that I feel sick to my stomach a girl like her is caught up in the Games of the Capitol. Still, perhaps working with her until I can eliminate the Careers might be beneficial.

I know it would make Katniss happy.

Katniss. Thinking about her now feels unreal. Have I imagined her? Is she a true part of my reality? It doesn't feel that way. I've been trapped in this damned hellhole for approximately two weeks now and I can't even begin to wonder how much I've changed in her eyes. Maybe she'll think I'm a monster by the time this is all over. But then again, maybe it won't matter what she thinks. I may be dead at that point.

"Well, do the Careers hunt for their food?" I ask Rue in dread, pulling myself away from Katniss. If I marry myself to thoughts of her now, I'll never win.

Rue thinks about it for a moment before shaking her head. "No. Definitely not. Everything they need comes out of the Cornucopia."

An idea hits me like spark to tinder and I can't help but smile. What a bunch of idiots; placing their food in one central location. I don't care what kind of protective measures they've taken. It was foolish of them to spend their training days at the sparring stations where they've been practicing all their lives instead of trying to learn a new trick in living off the land.

"You know, Rue, I've been thinking," I start off. She looks at me like I've grown two heads. Probably because my tone is so conversational and not at all geared toward our current situation. "We haven't been very polite neighbors. They keep trying to socialize with us, but all we do is hide and runaway."

She still looks confused, but she shrugs. "That's my only chance."

I grin at her. "Not anymore it's not."

A part of me isn't surprised that when I show up at the clearing, serrated knife drawn and at the ready, that Vesna is crouched down under a canopy of trees on the edge of the forest. I move silently within the ring of trees, frowning as I try to make out the other people there.

Vesna. It's just Vesna. The other shapes there are boxes of weapons and utensils that don't need to be guarded by the Cornucopia. This must mean that the others are out hunting me and while it's great that they aren't here, at least I know how to deal with the Careers. Dealing with Vesna is a whole other story.

I watch in the shadows as she perks up and looks out over the horizon. A glance in the same direction tells me that she sees the smoke from the fire Rue has started and I grin. Rue's speed and wits will keep her far away from the danger of the Careers and I'm proud that she has the guts to do this. But it feels good, for once, to be on the offensive. My whole life has been about defending, keeping away, living from day to day. This fighting back notion is new stuff and I'm finding that I love it.

"That idiot!" Vesna says out loud. "Mr. Hunter and Gatherer has spent his whole life outside and he doesn't realize that setting a fire will draw attention to his location?!"

I don't know what in the hell possesses me to do it because Vesna is bad news. Katniss told me as much and I trust her judgment, let alone my own instincts. But before I'm aware of what I'm doing, I've stepped out of the shade and into her direct line of sight, smirking slightly. "It's called a diversion," I say, feeling a tiny bit snarky.

Her face pales for a moment before she smiles widely at me. I'm uncomfortable with it, because no matter how confusing her actions are this smile looks genuine. That's even worse.

"Peeta?"

"Hi, Vesna."

"What are you doing here?"

"What, you aren't going to kill me?"

She frowns. "No, of course not. I don't want you dead. I told you that already. I love you."

I still don't buy it; she's far too manipulating from experience for me to grasp that she has sincere feelings for me. And even if she did, she never stands a chance against my dark-haired, stormy-eyed beauty waiting for me back in the Capitol. Thinking of her makes me wonder of the reaction she must be having to Vesna's words now.

"Yeah, okay," I reply for her benefit. "So when the Careers come back, you're just going to tell them that I ruined the food and got away with it?"

She stares at me for a moment before shouting. "Ruin the food?! You're insane!"

"No, I'm brilliant," I tell her, backing away. I shouldn't have revealed myself to her this way, but maybe a part of me wanted her to know that I was here and that I was going to ruin the Careers. Maybe I wanted her to be able to deliver the message that I'm not through fighting and I'm ready for them. She is the perfect messenger.

"But they'll kill me!"

I shrug and start digging through one of the weapon boxes. "Not my problem." My heart stops when I see a gun-of all things-nestled down at the bottom of a crate, looking shiny and unused. Flashes of memories run through my mind as I remember the power of guns in District 12; they hardly ever make it into the Games because they make the kill too easy. What in the hell is it doing here?

Vesna sees the apprehension on my face. "Found the gun, didn't you?"

I look up at her, nervous that she's come closer. I don't see a weapon in her hands, but that doesn't put me at ease. After all, no one trusts a snake. "Why hasn't it been used?"

"Well, for one thing, the Careers don't know how to use it; they were even bickering about being clueless on how to load it. For another, they think it's a trap and they'll die if they touch it, because it's so rare to see one in the arena."

Damn right, it's rare. Oh well; since there doesn't seem to be an extra bow anywhere in sight, I'm just going to have to make do with this. If Foxface from District 5 did a little dance to get in the Cornucopia, my guess is that the ground is unsafe. I only have to find out why.

"Vesna, how is the food supply being guarded?"

She glances up at me and frowns. "If I tell you, you have to take me with you."

I want to immediately and vehemently reject her but I don't have time to squabble. The third stack of smoke is rising into the air, which means that Rue has lit all the fire stations we've prepared and I'm running out of time to destroy the food source.

I nod reluctantly, though I make a mental note that I've made no promises. Katniss will definitely kill me, if I don't die here first.

"The mines from around the pedestals were removed and replanted in front of the Cornucopia by that district electrical wiz before he died," she tells me and then eyes the gun at the bottom of the barrel. "I bet that if you shoot the ground, it'll blow the Cornucopia sky-high."

I doubt that the Cornucopia is going anywhere because the Capitol has to build those things to withstand years of tourists, but at least we can eliminate the contents inside. I've never held a gun before, but I'm surprised by how easy it fits into my hands. This makes me nervous, I may be a hunter but right now, I feel like a killer. I shake the thoughts from my head and grab the ammunition laying at the bottom. It takes a few tries for me to get it, but finally I have the gun loaded and Vesna is staring at me with wide-eyes.

"You're really going to do it," she says with wide eyes. That injury she sustained the last time I saw her must be healed by the power of the Capitol because she looks fairly clean now. I find myself ashamed that I allowed myself to look into her eyes for just a moment-it feels too personal.

"Of course. If I were you, I'd start running. Once I do this, the Careers will come running like mad." I awkwardly shift the gun into a position I've seen the Peacekeepers use. It's a larger one and I fleetingly wonder if the Careers had somehow been right and this gun is a trap but I decide that even if it does blow me up, at least that will give Rue a fighting chance.

It appears that I don't have to tell Vesna twice. She turns on her heel and I thank my lucky stars for her inability to fully think things through because she doesn't realize that I will run in the opposite direction of her to meet up with Rue.

I fumble with the gun and press the butt of it harder against my shoulder. I'm not sure how this works; the Peacekeepers in District 12 have only fired them a handful of times and I never really saw it happen. My fingers feel clammy as I grip the cool metal and point the nuzzle in the direction of the Cornucopia. This is it; what will I do if it doesn't work?

No, it has to work. My life and Rue's life depends on cutting the Careers off from their only source of food. We do that and keep out of their bloody, vengeful hands and we may just watch them weaken and parish of starvation. It would be the ideal way for this to go.

I take a deep breath and steady the weapon in my hands, treating it like a bow. This has to work. I've never needed anything to work more perfectly in my entire life. My eye zeroes in on a particularly suspicious mound of dirt and with another breath, I squeeze the trigger.

Everything happens in slow motion then and it seems like my eyes cloud over as a loud boom-far worse than that of a cannon-rips across the clearing and bounces around the walls of my skull. The force of both the gun reacting and the explosion before me tosses me flat on my back as shrapnel and dirt rain from the sky. I lay there dazed for a moment before I'm covering my head, remembering that I have to protect it.

I'm not sure how long I'm there, still, unmoving. I can't hear anything. I can barely even see; a few trees have caught fire and the smoke coupled with the lingering dirt in the air makes for a dense cloud that scratches my throat when I breathe in. When I can finally manage myself into a sitting position, all my senses are jolted into hyper-awareness and I leap on my feet.

My eyes are meeting dark orbs, piercing into me as a large, dark figure races straight for me. It's Thresh, I know it immediately. Just like I know he's not coming to tell me a joke. His eyes glint with the promise of death; he may not hold anything against me, but I can feel my injuries start to show and I'm vulnerable.

I try to run, but when pain like I've never experienced shoots through me and I look down to see a large gash at the knee, flesh shredded down to the bone. Panic tries to well up in me as I look back at Thresh. I will never escape him if I take the flight path. I don't have time to contemplate what I'm doing because my life is at stake and I can't die because I told Katniss I wouldn't. I still have something important to tell her. And as much as I detest the thought of ending a life, I have something to live for and damn it, I'm going to live for it. For her.

I raise the gun, take aim, and fire.