"What the hell were you thinking when you announced to the world that District 12 is fighting with us? Oh sorry, I mean you," Clove rages.
Clove storms around the living room, throwing a fit. She's never this loud unless she's really pissed. I knew my interview would set her off.
"Come on, Clove," I fold my arms, unperturbed by her tantrum. "Just say her name: Katniss."
Smirking, I dodge the vase Clove sends my way with finesse. It's too easy to rile her. She's lucky that I'm in a good mood, though, and amused by her temper.
"Cool it," Enobaria says, raising a hand towards Clove. She turns to me with a suspicious glint in her eye. "Tell us though. What were you thinking?"
I was expecting this question, and I have a response prepared.
"I did what you said and got us our sponsors," I shrug. "Katniss may have agreed to join us, but she and that guy would have gotten all the sponsors because of their 'love story.' Now we get a slice."
What I'm saying is true, even if it's not why I announced my alliance with Katniss. This epiphany bothers me almost as much as it would bother Enobaria and Clove, but not as much as it should. Before all of this, not that I know what "this" is, I would have focused solely on the strategy of winning. I wished for nothing else. But now I find myself acting on other desires, desires that I know shouldn't exist. And yet I haven't lifted a finger to suppress them. Restraint isn't a strength of mine.
"Just say his name: Peeta," Clove mimics me. "And 'we'are not tied to Katniss. You are."
Enobaria bares her teeth at Clove to shut her up. At least Enobaria seems to consider my explanation. I hate that I have to convince her of anything, but it's the only way to get her off my case. Clove, on the other hand, is a different story.
"Good," Enobaria grins with her fangs. "I thought it was a smart move. I just had to be sure you were doing it for the right reasons."
Clove's jaw drops at Enobaria's agreeing with my actions, and she immediately begins voicing her protests. Realizing the implications of Enobaria's words, I clench my fists. That conniving woman. She was testing me. I'm furious that she would doubt my loyalty.
"Don't take it personally," Enobaria shrugs, though she eyes me warily. Her fangs couldn't stop me. If she were in the arena with me, I would rip out each and every one of them before I killed her. "This isn't about you, me, or any of us. It's about our district."
Before I have a chance to respond, break something, hurt someone, or do all of the above, I hear a knock at the door. Clove falls silent. I, too, am distracted, as well as annoyed by this interruption. Who is bothering us at this hour? Enobaria gives the door a knowing stare. She sighs, and then it dawns on me.
"It's her?" Clove beats me to the punch.
Enobaria rolls her eyes.
"Of course it's her. She wasn't anticipating Cato's actions, so she's probably here for an explanation. Now don't do anything stupid and get yourself disqualified," Enobaria warns Clove. "I don't need to remind you that we haven't had a disqualification in decades."
Clove scowls, but, unbelievably, she doesn't protest. Whipping around, Clove stomps towards her room. Whatever keeps her from hurting Katniss. I shake my head, not understanding why this is so difficult for Clove.
Meanwhile, Enobaria answers the door. I want to tell her that I should be the one talking to Katniss. But before I know it, she returns.
"It's her," she confirms. "You better convince her to stick with your story because she could unravel it all."
It's a fair point that I hadn't yet considered. I didn't think about Katniss's involvement in all of this, though it seems obvious now that I need her corroboration for my plan to work.
"And how do I do that?" I ask sarcastically. I agree with Enobaria, but I'm still irate.
"Play dumb at first, and see if that works," Enobaria says. I'm about to argue again when she cuts me off. "You convinced her to join you in the first place, so do it again."
"That's easier said than done," I retort. Before Enobaria has time to respond, I head to the door. I don't want to keep Katniss waiting.
I have no idea why, but the sight of Katniss has a calming effect on me. The remaining tension I have stems from Enobaria's proximity. Since she's listening, I have to play by her book. I hate following instructions or rules, which is another reason why the Games appeal to me. There aren't any in the arena.
"Hey Katniss," I greet her casually.
"Don't call me that," she says irritably, out of nowhere. "Can we talk somewhere private?"
A flash of anger surges through me, and I'm unable to maintain my calm façade. Why are all females intent on upsetting me today? I want to grab her by the shoulders and remind her that Katniss is her name. I didn't even think she liked being called the girl on fire. That shows how much I know about her.
"Sure," I manage to shrug, though my muscles are tense. I am at least eager to get away from Enobaria.
I follow Katniss up to her floor. I frown, wondering if we're going to have this conversation in her apartment around her people. I'm not afraid of them, but being outnumbered would be annoying. And I'll admit that I would be disappointed, too; it's a cowardly strategy.
I'm therefore pleasantly surprised when Katniss walks past the door leading to her apartment. She instead takes us to the roof, where we are alone. I did have her pegged as independent, unlikely to rely on others for help – like me. I'm relieved to have my perception validated.
I can't help the more sinister thoughts that also arise. Our isolation is convenient for me. I can dictate where our conversation goes, with no one around to stop me. I can test Katniss and act on my desires, with no one around to interfere. Yes, this is very convenient.
"What's this about?" I ask. I want to hear what she has to say.
"You know what this is about," she snaps. "What were you playing at, telling Caesar that we had been getting to know each other these past weeks? We never spoke to one another until yesterday."
That stings because what I said was true, at least for me. All this time I've been observing her, getting to know her, and she acts like she didn't even know of my existence. And yet I don't see how that's possible. I'm clearly the biggest threat to her. Surely, she must have been watching me, too.
But I don't give any signs that her words have affected me. Katniss hasn't expressed anything besides her usual stoic indifference, unlike the other girls I'm used to interacting with. I'm determined to get a reaction out of her.
"You think I was going to let you and lover boy get all the sponsors?" I say.
I'm glad that Clove isn't around because, as much as I hate to admit it, I do find it painful to say his name. At least I'm being myself. I tried playing dumb like Enobaria wanted me to. As I thought, it didn't work. Katniss is smart and sees through my act. I got her to join me through honesty, one of many characteristics that draws me to her.
"Share the love, Katniss," I say, reaching out and playing with a strand of her hair. It's a way of manipulating her, but I'm legitimately curious about how her brown curls feel. And they don't disappoint. Her hair is soft and silky, unlike her spiky personality.
"I said don't call me that," she spits, as if reading my thoughts.
My temper flares again, but this time I snap. My body moves without me thinking; I react with my emotions. In a split second, I have Katniss pinned against the wall, my hands squeezing her soft, yet toned arms. I resist the urge of crushing her bones, though I've probably already bruised her.
Before my temper further spirals out of control, I catch a flash of fear in her eyes. This is the first time I've gotten a reaction out of her, and I feel deeply satisfied. My triumph is enough to keep my fury at bay.
"What is this? An attempt to get out of the alliance?" I say, using my words to express my anger instead. My mind races to think of ways to keep her in the alliance. "Let me tell you something, Katniss. If you suddenly back out, people are going to start questioning this whole love story, your boy included. The way I see it, this love triangle benefits us all. You're mad about me making up stuff? What do you think he was doing?"
"He was trying to defend me," she retorts.
I'm caught off guard by her fiery response. I can't believe that Katniss continues to resist me, even though she's in physical danger. She's the only person I have been unable to intimidate into compliance. I don't know whether to be impressed or irritated.
"I can protect you," I say. The notion of that baker's boy "defending" Katniss makes me laugh out loud. "What's he going to do? Camouflage the others to death? You're safe with me. You can trust me. If I kill you, there won't be any sponsors coming my way."
It's true, though that's not the real reason why I won't kill Katniss until the end. I don't care about sponsors; I can succeed without them. What I do need is Katniss fighting by my side, at least until it's down to the two of us. I respect her. She's tough as nails and here to win. She volunteered. No other tribute has our level of determination.
Even now, she stares at me defiantly, infuriated that I'm overpowering her. I find it endearing, but I'm also a little concerned. I've used all the logic I can think of, and she may still turn me down. If that's the case, I'm not sure what I'll do.
"If I stay with you, you have to promise not to kill Peeta," she says to my incredulity.
That's what it takes to convince her? I laugh at the ridiculousness of her request, but she doesn't budge. So she's serious. Well, I'll let her know how unreasonable she's being.
"You do understand how this game is played, right?" I ask.
"You know what I mean," she says.
I understand what she's asking of me, but I don't like it one bit. Deals like this are uncommon, though not unheard of. When these deals are made, it's generally between tributes of the same district. Moreover, it's the family and friends that beg one tribute not to kill the other – not the tributes.
I know from first hand experience. Clove's parents, who are good friends with mine, approached me before I left for the Capitol. They asked me to take care of their daughter in the arena, knowing, of course, how much I can promise. I told them the truth: I will protect Clove for as long as I can, but I will win. And if I have to be the one to kill her, I'll make it as quick as possible.
Katniss is now asking me to avoid killing the baker's boy until it's necessary. I've never heard of one tribute asking another to have mercy, or whatever you want to call it, on someone. Tributes make alliances, but they are fickle and temporary. This request is much too personal. I didn't believe Clove when she said that the baker's boy and Katniss must not have known each other prior to the Reaping. In the videos, they acknowledged their acquaintance at the podium. However, I did not think there was a friendship between them, much less a romance.
"Okay, we'll save the fight over you for the finale," I agree because it's the only way to keep my alliance with Katniss.
Except my blood starts to boil when I think about my promise and how Katniss cares so much for the baker's boy that she would ask me to spare his life over her own.
Instead of acting on my anger through aggression, I find myself leaning into Katniss and grabbing her soft curls. It doesn't matter that I'm inexperienced. I've seen my older brothers kiss girls before, so I know what to do. I tell myself that I'm doing this to show Katniss that she had better fulfill her part of the bargain, our side of the "love triangle." But I'm enjoying this far too much.
To my disappointment, she doesn't reciprocate. I wonder if I'm doing this wrong. No, Katniss just isn't easily influenced. She doesn't yield. It both excites and frustrates me.
Then a disturbing thought pops into my head: would she show me affection, if I were the baker's boy? The idea of her preferring him to me is so upsetting that I could storm into her apartment and snap his neck right now. I have to somehow gain the upper hand in this deal. Once Katniss gets to know me, she'll see how superior I am.
It takes a lot of strength to let her go, but I don't want to push her into backing out.
"I'll leave him alone until the end, but I won't let him steal you from me," I say.