Know Your Enemy - Chapter 1
Peeta paced the room when his father and mother left after their brief meeting. Delly's parting words of "You're strong Peeta. You can win this," echoed in his head as he rested it against the wall. Could he win? Or even come close? He was strong, he proved that in the bakery often enough when his father could barely lift the loads that Peeta managed with ease. But could he fight...could he fight to the death? Could he pick up a weapon and kill someone with it? He didn't know.
Maybe he should have been excited. Perhaps, under different circumstances, he would have been. After all, it was his first time away from home, away from his parents and away from his District. It was also his first time on a train. Sitting motionless in one of the plush, velvet armchairs, Peeta Mellark felt like the whole world was thundering ahead of him at a million miles an hour while he was left tagging along behind with absolutely no chance of catching up.
Of course, it's hard to feel excited when every minute and every mile brings you a step closer to your imminent death. He was trying not to think about that, though. Instead he focused on the window, the way the blues from the skies and the greens from the trees blurred and swirled together as they whipped past the window. It seemed almost incomprehensible to him that he could travel such a great distance without moving a muscle, yet there he was, sitting still as the ground beneath him flew by. He tried to ignore the fact he was leaving his home, his family and his old life far behind him. He'd probably never see any of them again.
On the other side of the carriage, Katniss sat glowering out of the other window in a frosty silence. Peeta knew her. Of course he did. Everyone from District 12 knew Katniss Everdeen: hunter, gatherer, provider, survivor. If anyone could win, it would be her. He bit his lip, wondering if he should say anything to break the tense atmosphere that hung so thick in the air he could almost choke on it. After a minute, he decided against it. After all, there was no point in getting attached to someone he'd have to kill.
He heard Effie coming before he saw her, fluorescent pink, frilly and glowing. The clack-clack-clack of her heels on the hard floor was the first giveaway, and then the trill of her shrill voice which followed. "Haymitch?" he heard her call from a little way away, followed by another clack-clack-clack. "Haymitch?" She cooed again, then paused, clacking her way closer to their compartment.
"Have you seen Haymitch?" she asked a faceless person from a few metres away. Not even a minute later, the door slid open and her ridiculous head popped around the corner. "Oh!" Effie exclaimed when she caught sight of the two tributes. Her neon eyebrows shot up towards her hairline and her heart-shaped lips curled around to form a pink 'O'. It was a perfect caricature of surprise. "There you two are! I thought you were supposed to be staying much further down the train!"
She paused for a moment, as if waiting for some response, so Peeta smiled at her thinly. Katniss didn't even bother to acknowledge her presence. Effie grimaced, as if the at girl's lack of oh-so-important manners physically pained her, before continuing. "Have either of you seen Haymitch?"
"No, he hasn't been here yet," Peeta told her, watching as her face contorted into an unhappy grimace. "I'll keep an eye out for him, though," he offered lamely, and this seemed to placate her slightly as she shot him a grateful smile as if he were doing her a favour. He wasn't, it just happened to be in his best interests to look for the guy. In fact, Peeta was keen to meet his mentor as soon as possible. The more he talked to him, the more time he trained and formed his strategies and the more chance he'd have of surviving. That's pretty much how the game worked, right?
"Where do they keep the alcohol in this place?" Katniss piped up from the corner, and Effie was quick to shoot her a disapproving glare. The younger girl rolled her eyes. "Not for me, I'm talking about Haymitch. Surely he's most likely to be where there are drinks available?"
Peeta was taken aback, wondering at which point she'd dropped her nonchalant façade and decided to participate in the conversation. Effie didn't seem to notice the girl's change in attitude, though, she just nodded enthusiastically, as if the idea had never even crossed her mind, then tottered out of the room with another series of clacks and calls of "Haymitch?"
"Good call there," he commented, shooting the girl opposite him a soft smile. She shrugged back, turning back to face the window and ignoring him again. It was going to be a long train journey.
Time, much like the world outside, flew by a thousand times faster than it should have from inside the train. Everything was a blur, from meeting Haymitch to the lonely night curled up in thick warm sheets. It seemed the only constants he had left were Katniss's ice-cold attitude, Haymitch's inebriation and Effie's shrill laugh. He'd look away from the window for a second and by the time he looked back, mountains would have changed to oceans and flat green fields to rocky deserts.
So far, he'd learned nothing. No game tactics, no strategies, no way to survive.
The next morning he awoke with a sense of determination. It was his life on the line here and, no matter how drunk Haymitch was, it was his duty to help them. He was their mentor, right? He got dressed into a simple white shirt and black pants. No point in dressing himself up, he was going to have to take them off soon enough anyway for his "makeover".
As he peered through the window to the breakfast carriage, he noticed Haymitch nursing his head whilst pouring himself a cup of coffee. Effie was there flapping as usual, sporting a new wig that was thankfully the more natural colour of blonde (nonetheless no compensation in the size department), but Katniss was nowhere to be seen. He sighed in relief before opening the door, knowing her icy cold manner wouldn't help him to persuade Haymitch.
"Morning," he strolled into the room in an attempt to look casual, "How are you?"
He directed the nervous question at Haymitch but, of course, Effie was all too happy to answer him: "Peeta! Good morning," in her affected Capitol accent she continued to tell him every little detail about her day so far while Haymitch attempted to make himself fade into the background, grunting at an Avox for something. The Avox returned to Haymitch a few minutes later with a bottle of whiskey. By this time, Effie had finished her rambling so he flashed a quick smile at her and muttered a "Good," before facing Haymitch.
"Don't bother kid," he started, "I'm not in the mood."
This annoyed Peeta. Maybe he wasn't in the mood either, what with being sentenced to probable death and all, but at least he was making an effort to be productive (unlike some people, who would rather sit around drinking expensive whiskey for breakfast than actually be helpful) but he didn't say anything. He knew had to play it nicely; getting angry wouldn't help him at all.
"Well, you're my mentor, right?" Peeta smiled innocently at Haymitch, who just stared back at him blankly. "So you can help me in the games. I mean, that's how it works, right? I come with the talent and you...show me how to use it?"
The man burst into laughter. "Now that is cute. Do you not realise that you have little to no chance of winning? That you have almost no hope at all?" he buttered his toast and shook his head, "You're too nice for this little boy. You'll be broken in less than a minute."
Peeta smirked slyly. He had an idea of how to play this.
"What about if I wasn't so nice?" he walked over to the plush armchair and picked it up as if it were as light as a feather. "What if I did have a chance of winning? Would you help me then?" he laughed and threw the armchair up in the air. "Because I sure as hell hope so." He caught the armchair easily and set it back down again. "I don't want my talent to go to waste." He slowly let a smug grin settle on his face, even though he felt nerves working their way into his stomach like butterflies.
"Peeta I can't believe you just did that! Do you realise how much those chairs cost? " Effie glared at him, absolutely scandalized. But Peeta didn't turn to her, focusing on Haymitch instead, who slowly began to smile.
"Impressive," the man commented, leaning forward in his chair to look at Peeta more intently. It was as if deciding whether or not the boy was worth his time and effort. Whether he was worth saving. There was a tense silence, even Effie holding her tongue as they waited for the mentor to continue.
"Okay, kid," he said after what seemed like an eternity. "You might just have convinced me. I'll help you." Haymitch's smile stretched a little wider at this, but his eyes remained cold and calculating. Peeta didn't say anything, just tried to beat down the sudden hope that flared up in his chest as he waited for the other man to continue. "It's not me you need to convince, though, it's the sponsors. You may not be a completely lost cause, but you know I can't save your life, kid. Don't expect me to save you."
Peeta nodded, a small sigh of relief slipping from his lips. At least now he wasn't completely alone in this. "I suppose I'll work with the girl too," his mentor said after a moment, pulling him back to the present. "I can't really help one of you and not the other. But, between you and me," his voice dropped down to a whisper, "I don't like her much at all."
Just then, as if on cue, the door swung open and Katniss strode in, her morning scowl even more prominent than the one she wore the night before. She looked like she needed a coffee. "Speak of the devil," Haymitch muttered under his breath, and Peeta snorted, drawing the girl's attention to him in the form of yet another frosty glare.
"Is something funny?" she snapped angrily and, if looks could kill, Peeta was sure he'd have died then and there without even setting foot in the arena. She was kind of terrifying, he decided. Effie sat in the corner filing her nails obliviously, but he noticed that even Haymitch looked apprehensive.
"He agreed to help us," Peeta said to break the silence, gesturing to their mentor with a weak smile in her direction. Katniss raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
"He agreed to help us, did he?" she repeated scornfully. "How exactly can he help us, Peeta? He can't even help himself." Haymitch rolled his eyes at her doubt, kicking his bare feet up on the table, exposed toes just inches away from her plate of food. She wrinkled her nose in obvious disgust, but didn't say anything.
"You're forgetting that I won this thing once, sweetheart. And now that I'm your mentor, I call the shots. You two are going to listen to me without question, or else the minute you get in that arena you'll die. You got that?" They both nodded, Katniss somewhat more reluctantly than Peeta, and Haymitch shot them a satisfied smirk.
"It's so lovely to see you all getting along!" Effie piped up from the corner, her newly manicured hands clapping together in an over exaggerated glee. "I hate to interrupt, but I thought I should let you know that we'll be arriving at the Capitol on schedule which is such a relief! We wouldn't want to have a bad first impression and punctuality is the key to politeness! I hope you're all ready! Isn't this exciting?"
All three of them ignored her as she continued to babble happily about how much they would love, love, love the splendour of their new surroundings. "Your training starts the minute you step foot off this train," Haymitch told them, his voice suddenly serious. "So, here are your rules for today. Go and get ready, make yourselves presentable, smile and wave to the crowd as we come in. Make them like you." He looked at Katniss doubtfully. "They're going to be the ones funding your survival, not me. When we get off the train, you're going to be handed over to your stylists. Do whatever they tell you, and trust them no matter what."
He tried to keep those words in mind as another one of the Capitol's wildly dressed bimbos ripped a strip of hair off his arm. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes when the pink-haired girl with orange skin – Paloma – sighed sympathetically. "There's only one more to go!" She piped in her too-high voice. "And then we only have to touch up your hair and make-up and that doesn't hurt at all!" With that she yanked the last strip.
"Ryden, we need you to grease him down!" The man with the gold lipstick who called himself Ryden moved over to him and spread a putrid green substance down his arms and face.
"You know, Portia is going to love you! You don't look horrible at all now that we've got rid of all your hair!" This came from the most eccentric of the trio, a woman called who nearly couldn't be classed as a woman as a result of her shocking alterations on her body. She had dalamation spots all over herself and even had her ears altered to mimic the canine: appropriately named as she was called Domino. Was her alteration a result of her name or did she choose the name to reflect her horrid body appendages?
"Thanks," Peeta coughed, his voice rough from not speaking, "I guess. When will she be here?"
"Just a few moments actually!" Paloma answered, clipping away at his hair. "In fact, rinse him down Domino and I will go and call Portia! I think we're just about done!" She exclaimed with verve and pranced out of the room wagging her tail behind her.
Peeta closed his eyes as his prep team left. They were so odd, he thought, how they were so hung up on issues that were honestly of no importance: what colour was the right colour to have your hair this season, the latest issues in fashion and what food is not the 'right food to eat' this year. His head buzzed with their trivial day to day problems.
He lay his head down on the bench and thought about the other tributes. He'd seen the recaps of the reapings yesterday and a few stuck out in his mind in particular. The little girl from 11 stood out – but then it is always shocking when a twelve year old gets reaped, and this little girl looked as frail as a leaf shaking in the wind. It was the monstrous boy from 2 called Cato however, who spiked a jealousy in Peeta unlike any he'd ever felt before and was the most memorable. How could this boy be so intimidating and ooze the silent confidence and killer instinct that Peeta just couldn't manage to convey? In a second he'd decided that no matter what he wanted Cato as his ally and he wanted to act just like him: it was the best way to ensure his own survival.
When he came to this conclusion, a woman who didn't meet many Capitol standards apart from her purple lipstick entered. "Hi, I'm Portia!" she smiled widely.
"I'm Peeta. Nice to meet you." Peeta smiled back, encouraged by the normality of her appearance.
"Well Peeta you sure scrub up well!" She winked and shook his hand. "Well, before we begin I must tell you that me and Cinna – that's Katniss' stylist – asked for District 12 – and for a reason."
Peeta stared at her. Who would pick District 12? It was the laughing stock of Panem. Everybody knew that, the Capitol especially.
"You see, we thought of the perfect idea to get people to remember you – I'm sure you know about the importance of sponsors?" She smiled at Peeta wider and he began to warm to her further though he felt nerves bounce around his stomach. "You're not afraid of fire, are you Peeta?"
A/N: Hello to anyone reading this! It's new and we're working pretty hard on it, so it would be awesome to hear what you think!