I nervously stroked the nose of the chariot horse, which nuzzled me appreciatively in return. This was insane, this was madness, this was so original and genius and I was absolutely terrified. Katniss jogged up to me, looking well-manicured and pampered. It was odd, to see him without mud-caked boots, or bits of dirt underneath his short blunt nails. And I could tell he thought it was weird too. He looked uncomfortable in his own skin. It wasn't the first time I've seen Katniss look nervous, but it was unusual to see with such a made up face. "Hey," he greeted shortly. I nodded nervously. He ran a hand through his moused hair, and made a face as his fingers met stiff styling product. I knew exactly how he felt. There was probably enough hairspray in my own hair to start a small bonfire, which just added to my fears.
"How do you feel about this synthetic fire?" he asked edgily, and I could tell he was against it himself. I shrugged a shoulder, looking away quickly. "I'll rip off your cape if you rip off mine." I joked weakly. That, fortunately, spawned a small but genuine smile from him. He shot a look behind him in the direction of Cinna, his stylist. I followed his line of sight to Portia who stood next to him, looking ecstatic as she held a small torch, flickering in jubilant flame. My palms felt sweaty at the prospect of being lit afire. "They're both mad." Katniss said with a cautious look on his face. Maybe I had imagined the anxiety only moments ago, because his features were stony and resolute. There was a sudden buzz, an excited din as the stylists and prep teams broke into a frenzy as the last few minutes before the opening ceremony began. I watched as other tributes were bustled about in there costumes, some more garish than others. The boy, Cato, from earlier winked at me as he passed, letting out a quiet wolf-whistle. I felt the back of my neck redden unattractively. Portia whirled past, her slight, slim fingers wrapping around my wrist and with a strength I would not expect from her, hoisting me into the chariot. She patted my hair, touched up my makeup, and adjusted my cape. But it was not appearances I was worried about. It was the flame the color of kermes gripped in her other hand. "Are you sure this is safe?" I asked, jostling Katniss as we shuffled back and forth next to each other in the small chariot. Portia waved away my worries with a dainty hands. "Absolutely. Cinna is an absolute genius. The crowd will love you!" she singsonged. She gave me a motherly look. "I wouldn't send you out, if it wasn't safe." she said.
I somehow felt there was more meaning behind her words.
Cinna stepped away from the black carrier, giving us a fleeting smile. "Are you ready?" he asked. "No." Katniss answered honestly, turning so that the black shining material of his cape caught the light of the flame. It shone like the shiny casing of a beetle. "But get on with it." he said firmly. I nodded, as brave as I could manage. I also turned around, granting better access to the material clasped around my neck. I sucked in a breath as I felt the torch hover near my back, expecting pain. I looked up in surprise, when all I felt was an odd flickering against the back of my neck. Katniss must have had the same look as well, because Cinna chuckled as Portia let out a delighted squeal. She quickly lit my headpiece, a crown of hammered bronze, dusted with coal. I glanced past the prep teams and general chaos to Effie and Haymitch. Effie gave me a large, lipstick stained smile and Haymitch gave a lopsided smirk and mouthed, 'knock 'em dead, princess.'
It gave me little confidence of what was to come. The chariots ahead were already pulling out into the clean streets of the capitol, met by bays and howls of capitol spectators. It was a well-dressed riot, in my own words. I was jostled and bumped into the side of the carriage as the horses took off, agonizingly slow as we were the last to pull out. For a moment, there was silence, as if all the air had been sucked out of the capitol and I thought I was going to faint from fear, but then a roar unlike the others buzzed in my ears and I fought the urge to clamp my hands down over them. The crowd loved us, and I could certainly see why, as I caught sight of myself in one of the large screens plastered around the streets for such an event. We were stunning, walking pillars of flame. Cinna had certainly done amazing on Katniss, that I was sure. Every eye was plastered to him and I didn't mind, as mine were as well. He looked like a god, a ruthless man of flame, his face slack of emotion. The shadows of the flames danced across his face and flickered in his eyes as if he was watching the burning of the city. It was mesmerizing, but very…cold. Very unlike fire. Very unlike the Katniss I know is in there.
Katniss watched with hidden anxiety at the rows of cheering people that seemed to go on for miles. Every one of them was painted a funny color or another, and were almost as hideous as some of the costumes Katniss had seen on the other tributes. A tree? Really, of all things. Katniss snorted under his breath, eyes roaming the crowd until he felt a small, callused hand worm it's way into his. His eyes instantly snapped to Peeta as he tried to withdraw, but she gripped his hand tighter. She had to stand on her tiptoes slightly, but still managed to whisper, "The crowd's will love it," into his ear. And apparently they did, as the cheers increased sharply. Peeta smiled and waved good-naturedly, blowing kisses here and there. People in the audience grappled as if they could actually catch such a thing. Katniss could only stare and wave every few minutes, an almost smile on his face. He was not as good as putting up a front as Peeta, that he was sure. But with an almost celebratory smile, he hoisted their joined hands into the air on a bout of inspiration. He looked right into the camera lens and held their hands even higher, high enough that Peeta had to stand on her tip toes to keep up appearances. But that didn't stop her from smiling and waving.
Someone tossed a rose and Katniss caught it, holding it in his other hand by it's delicate stem. After a spurt of insanity, he held it to his lips, then tossed it back into the crowd. A riot broke out as people fought and reached for the flower. As they rode into the center of the capitol, he dropped Peeta's hand as the chariot came to a halting stop, and the tributes fell into place in neat rows beside one another. Katniss could feel the heated, jealous stares of other tributes around them, no doubt furious and shocked that District 12 had stolen their spotlight this year. It made him very proud.
"Panem!" A voice boomed over a mic from the balcony the chariots were parked before. The capitol went insane as Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem, stepped into view. It was hard for Katniss to shelter his distaste for him as he began speaking. The President was a small thin man, with the complexion of paper and hair as ablicant as melting snow. His lips stretched across his lips, big and puffy, and unusually red. Of all the strange and silly facades Katniss had seen in his short time in the Capitol, this was the most unpleasing of all. "My dear tributes, welcome to the Capitol!" he said with a certain flourish. The crowd roared, but quieted quickly as Snow continued. "You honor me, with your presence and participation in the 74th Hunger Games. And, may the odds be ever in your favor," he quoted. There was a dull roar this time, but it was decidedly as quiet as it would get. Snow continued on, his gaze searching the tributes. Katniss was sure it had paused on him, longer than most. "Once again we are gathered in the city's square for the 74th time, in the history of the Hunger Games."
"It is an always the joy of the citizens of this wonderful metropolis to host Panem's tributes teams." A roar accompanied this statement. A dull throb began in Katniss's head as the screams grew louder. His flames had begun to flicker out, but Peeta's remained. She looked merry and bright, like the flickering of a warm candle flame on a cold night. The flames caught her hair and made is shine like spun gold, and the light flickered in her azure eyes which were alert and turned upwards towards snow. The flames tinted the flies a nice tilleul. She was absolutely glowing. "It is my great honor, and pleasure to share this special moment with the thousands of trainers, mentors, stylists, officials and more, who have gathered in city square tonight, for the opening of the largest annual Hunger Games in the history of Panem. Thank you Panem, for this great loyalty to the Hunger Games. As we all know, the first ancient civilization in this great country was decimated with disasters. Drought, storm, fire, rising seas, and worst of all; bloody brutal wars. Out of the ashes rose Panem and the shining savior that is the Capitol. For years the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity. Still, there are always those who seek the downfall of our great civilization through evil acts. A growing, war hungry rebellion pulled all of Panem into the dark days. Yet still, Justice prevailed despite these wrongdoings of these, evil, violent people."
Katniss tossed his head like an agitated horse. Evil, pah. They'd recognized slavery when they had seen it. They were not blinded by goodies and make up such as these painted Capitol clowns. What a joke. Not one of them could last a day in his life.
" Through the haze of betrayal and treason, new peace was found. An agreement was met. The people could enjoy peace and quiet like they were so privileged to do. And this agreement stated that one man, and one woman of the twelve districts must offer up their life in sport of peace. And they will enter the arena, an event celebrated as warriors of each district fought for glory and praise unlike any other. They would be remembered as heroes throughout history. This event of which would be called, the Hunger Games."
The crowd roared and whistled, some wiped tears from their eyes. They were blinded by pretty words, making the torturous blood bath sound saintly and fair. President Snow's puffy lips upturned into a smile that a snake would find sly. His slanted, tinged eyes found Katniss's own as he stared up, boring his gaze into the frail man. Even from where he stood Katniss could smell a disgustingly sweet stench of roses. It practically suffocated him. President Snow looked away quickly, and his eyes met the camera. He gave a sickening smile. "And once again I congratulate the tributes for being picked amongst many, for such an amazing honor. Thank you." With that, President Snow turned and walked away, disappearing into the darkness further back in the balcony. The horses nickered and continued on their journey. Katniss was unresponsive on the bustling journey back, eyes narrowed. People whistled and tossed flowers, hoping that maybe one would be christened with a kiss, but the most he did was dodge them. When they returned, Haymitch and Effie congratulated them, and Katniss and Peeta were quick to shed their clothes, flames long done flickering out. Cinna congratulated them on their success with the crowd, but it hardly lifted Katniss's spirits. He felt a certain sense of dread. Towards what, he did not know. But he usually followed his instincts, and his instincts were telling him nothing good was about to come. Perhaps, something even worse than the Hunger Games.
"You both preformed absolutely marvelous!" Effie told me for about the hundredth time. I cracked a shy smile as we stepped into an elevator, completely made of glass. "And the part with the hands, absolutely touching, warmed my heart!" she said, fanning her eyes as if she were about to cry. I nodded, not replying as I watched the floors disappear under my feet. It was odd, I'd never been in an elevator before, much less a transparent one. I was tempted to ask if we could ride again once we'd reached the top. I was on a high, it had been such a thrill, despite the sickening and serious situation we were about to go into. To think that there had been crowds, crowds filled with thousands upon thousands of people, cheering, fighting over meaningless kisses I'd blown was heart-stopping. I had never received such attention before, and it was brilliant. The elevator dinged to a stop and we stepped into the most elaborate room I had ever seen, topping the cars on the train here. Effie whirl-winded past me, giving me a rapid fire tour of the entire place. Katniss followed after Haymitch, who stumbled about, most likely searching for his latest carouse. Katniss glanced around in awe, eyes fixated upon the sparkling chandelier that took up most of the ceiling. I quickly sped up the steps which led to the risen platform which the dining table sat upon. The table was laden with food of kinds I had never seen before, and artfully formed glasses filled with wine and other spirits sat upon the finely woven tablecloth. I ran my fingers over it. It was like touching water.
"You gonna stand and gawk all day, your highness or are you gonna come eat?" Haymitch drawled, swishing what looked like one of many of glasses of wine he'd acquired. I growled at him, and he rose an eyebrow in return. "Stop calling me princess, please." I asked, though it's best to remain in his good graces. He was basically holding my life in his hands when I entered the arena. It wouldn't be good for me to anger him. Haymitch raised his hands in defense as I approached him. I simply flopped unladylike into the chair besides his. Katniss had already claimed the one next to Effie, and Portia and Cinna were seated at both ends of the table. "To Katniss and Peeta, for making a stunning impression." Cinna toasted, raising his glass. Katniss's eyes flickered to his quickly before they returned to glowering at his plate. He had been very quiet and moody after President Snow's speech. It was sad, he seemed to be enjoying himself for awhile. A plate was set in front of me by a man in a red uniform. I thanked him, but he said nothing in return, nodding his head and looking away, eyes downcast. He returned to his position in the corner. I figured he was simply not allowed to speak to tributes, and shrugged it off. And for once, obliviously dug into my food. There was a merry, but quiet conversation carrying on around the table. Effie and Portia cooed over the outfits they'd seen with Cinna giving his own input every once in awhile. Haymitch's two cents were riddled with heavy alcohol and even heavier sarcasm.
Katniss didn't say a word the entire evening.
After we'd eaten. Katniss retreated to his room, the door sliding shut with a near silent click. I thought about knocking, asking if he was alright, but it didn't seem like the right time. Instead I headed towards my own room. It was large and spacey, as big as the apartment I'd lived in above the bakery. And it was all for me. No bickering and bullying brothers, no strict mothers, and my father, bless him, none of his ridiculous collections laying around. That was one thing my mother absolutely despised about my father, his habits of picking up the thing that interested him even slightly and carrying it home. Briar would always joke that one day he'd come in toting a new daughter, one that was more interesting than me and could do more than bake.
Would he, after I was dead?
I shook my head furiously as I tried focusing on the complicated shower controls. It was not a time for such morbid thoughts. I jabbed a random button in frustration and found myself standing amongst a million bubbles. They all had a different unique scent. I played with the bubbles mindlessly as the showers warm water rained down on me. What would become of my family after I was dead? The bubble in my hand popped and with it came the answer.
Life would continue on, and so would my family. Grier would probably take my place behind the counter, being the youngest of my three brothers. Maybe my mother would lighten up, and smile a bit more. They wouldn't have to pay for me, they'd probably save money in fact. I hunched into the bubbles, seating myself on the heated marble tiles. My high had decreased rapidly as I sat there, neck deep in bubbles that's lovely fumes suddenly seemed harsh and dizzying. Water that scalded my skin ran over my shoulders and down my face. And suddenly, I began to scrub.
I scrubbed until my skin was red and raw, cranking up the heat of the shower until that bathroom was steamy and it felt as if I was boiling alive. I scrubbed until my nails softened and bent, and my shoulders peeled. I rubbed the soap in until the soothing lotions made me hiss in agony. I washed my hair until my scalp was tender and new. Yet I continued, as if I could wash away my very existence. But despite my efforts, I couldn't. I winced as the pajamas touched my baking skin and the bed sheets made me flinch.
Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.
A/N: Hello! I'm so sorry I took absolutely forever to update, you're all darlings, thank you for being so patient. And I apologize that this chapter is soo short! Please review, but dear god if anyone one of you leave a 'but katniss is a gurl!' or 'omG lameee!' comment I will track you down. I will be under your bed at night. I will breathe on your face, gently caress your cheek and whisper the darkest nightmares into your ears. Fucking try me.
But I love you all so don't force my hand.