It's the one thing I feel when Haymitch tells me that Peeta has requested to train separately. And yet what else should I have expected? Just because Peeta and I have started to get along does not change the structure of the game. He is still my enemy, as I am his. He may have helped me in the past, but he cannot help me now.
I think bitterly how this has all happened because of that stupid number. Eleven. I score an eleven and now Peeta is too intimidated to train with me. I don't know what the game makers were thinking, giving me an eleven. It has definitely painted a target on the back of my head. As if the other tributes didn't already hate me. Sure, Haymitch and Effie are excited about it. And maybe it will help me get sponsors. But sponsors don't stop the Career Tributes from targeting and killing you in the Games.
I keep to myself at the shelter station. Peeta isn't here of course. I train in the morning, and he trains in the afternoon. It's better this way. If he doesn't want to work with me, I certainly don't want to work with him.
"Girl on fire," I hear a voice behind me. I'm surprised to see that it's the monstrous boy from District 2.
"What do you want?" I ask, narrowing my eyes. He's not allowed to hurt me, not here.
"That's a pretty impressive score you got," he says casually, folding his arms as he assesses me coolly.
Of course he's here about the eleven. It all goes back to the eleven. If it weren't for the eleven, I would be here training with Peeta, and this Career would not have his attention on me and leave me alone.
"Same to you," I reply just as nonchalantly. Of course, in his case it makes sense why he got a ten.
I don't want to give anything away about myself, and yet I don't want to anger this boy because I know he could rip me in half in a heartbeat. He has reason enough to target and kill me first, and I am not about to fuel that fire.
What he says next is completely unexpected.
"What do you say we work together?" he says. He stares at me intensely, waiting to hear my response.
It takes me aback at first. My mind is still registering what he said, when he sees my confusion and chuckles.
"I'm being serious," he says, misinterpreting my reaction.
In reality, I don't know why he would want to team up with me. Eleven or not, I wouldn't stand a chance against this guy. Even if I had my bow and arrow, I've seen him send a spear through a dummy's heart from fifteen yards. He doesn't need me.
"Who's in your group?" I ask, but I already know. It's Districts 1, 2 and 4. It always is.
"Clove, who's from my district, and Districts 1 and 4," he says, confirming my suspicions.
I've seen Clove and the girl from District 1, but more specifically the way they look at me. I may not have many girl friends, but I can see the jealousy and hatred in their eyes. Nor do I trust this boy; indeed, I am not entirely convinced that this is not a trap, but he doesn't emanate intense loathing the way those girls do.
"Um," I'm about to say 'no thanks,' though I'm sure Haymitch would kill me for turning down this opportunity.
"Think about it," he interrupts me, raising his fingers to my lips before I can reject him.
His close proximity throws me off, and I resist the urge to move his hand away. I don't like how he thinks he can control the situation, and I bet this gesture right here is meant to manipulate me in some way. Well it won't work.
He catches me glancing at Clove and the girl from District 1.
"Don't worry about them," he says, and I nearly laugh in response. As if he can't detect their hatred, as if he hasn't heard them talking about me.
"Right," I snort.
"They're cool with you joining us," he assures me. "They won't do anything."
Except kill me once the pool of tributes shrinks.
He senses my doubt, and I'm sure he realizes I do have reason to mistrust them.
"I'll make sure to keep them in line," he promises.
But what good are promises in the Games? They're all ruthless killers, this boy included, and when push comes to shove, they would choose to kill me first. District 12 is a joke compared to their districts.
"I'll think about it," I say because I want this boy to go away. And I will. I'll talk to Haymitch about it later, while Peeta is training, to see what he thinks. But I know what he's going to say.
"Sure, girl on fire," he winks before strolling away.
"You have to join them," Haymitch says, just as I predicted he would.
"But those girls are out to get me," I protest. "I don't even entirely trust this boy."
"And you shouldn't," Haymitch agrees. "But you don't understand what you would be doing by rejecting him. He already has his eyes set on you because he thinks you're a threat. If you won't be his ally, you will most certainly be his number one enemy."
"So you're saying I should join him because if I don't, he'll kill me?" I reply worriedly.
I don't bother adding that this won't stop him from killing me either. I didn't want to fuel the fire, but it seems I don't have a choice anymore. I really hate the number eleven.
"Besides, you're wrong you know," Haymitch says. "You would be incredibly useful to them with your bow and arrow. I bet you anything those kids can't hunt. And the girls will leave you alone once they see your skills."
Slim chance. I understand girls better than Haymitch does, and the minute they realize I am better at them at something and that I am indeed a threat, they will hate me more. If that's even possible.
"Join them," Haymitch insists. "But when they start to get antsy with each other, get out. You'll know when, and you'll know how. You have an advantage, Katniss. You're a hunter."
Once Peeta returns from training, I step out to go back to the Training Center, partly because I want to talk to the boy from District 2, but mostly because I don't want to face Peeta. I'm still infuriated that he's played with my emotions, when I tried so hard to block him out.
I tell myself that I'm doing the right thing, teaming up with the Career Tributes. Peeta would do the same in my place. But for some reason, I don't want him to know. He will eventually, of course. I just don't want to see the look on his face when he realizes that I've joined the Careers. Like he would think differently of me. It shouldn't matter, but it does.
I take the stairs instead of the elevator, and as I round the corner I run into a wall and nearly fall to the ground, but a pair of arms reach out and grab me. It's not a wall; it's the boy from District 2.
"Careful there, girl on fire," he smirks. "Wouldn't want to get injured before the Games."
I glare back at him, not caring if it makes him mad. Instead, his smirk widens.
"Going back to train some more?" he asks.
"No," I say.
"You have an answer for me?" he says, and he gives me that intense look again, as if he's trying to read my mind and see how I got that eleven. I bet anything that'll be one of the first questions he asks me.
"Yes," I say, and I don't know why this feels so terribly wrong, but it does. "My answer is yes."