Chapter 24. Eyes
"Katniss! Peeta! To what do we owe this pleasure?" Finnick asked, flashing them his signature grin.
Peeta tried to force the best smile he had, though it was hard. He was quickly realizing that he didn't particularly like Finnick Odair. Maybe he felt threatened by the older Victor's charisma, which was his specialty. Or maybe it was the way he looked at Katniss.
"At the chariot parade, you talked about alliances. We figured that might not be too bad of an idea."
Katniss kept her eyes on the floor while Finnick eyed them both. He scanned over his Tributes than theirs. "Well, Gale looks capable, but he seems to be preoccupied with the boy, who is not going to be useful in an alliance. And Madge looks rather..."
He trailed off and sighed, looking back at Peeta. "Who am I to judge? I'll talk to Amur and Willow and see how they feel."
It wasn't Peeta who spoke next.
Finnick paused and looked down at Annie, but she didn't even acknowledge him. Her sea-foam eyes were locked on Madge. When she did finally look up, it was at Katniss and Peeta, her eyes wide as saucers. But she stayed silent, like she never said a word.
Finnick curled an arm around the little mad girl but directed his words to the District 12 Victors. "Okay, then. We're in."
"That easily?" Peeta blinked.
"That easily. Annie wants it, so I do too."
Katniss smiled slowly at Finnick and Annie. Their love was so real. It was so genuine and showed in everything Finnick did for her. Would she ever have anything like that? She pressed the thought out of her mind. Now wasn't the time to think about such stupid, trivial things.
"That's good enough for us."
Peeta, on the other hand, looked more concerned. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you Tributes like? So we can talk to Gale and Madge about it."
"Talk to them," Annie said suddenly. And neither Victor elaborated. Finnick just turned back to watch the District 4 Tributes as well, placing his chin on the top of Annie's head as the girl stared at her feet.
At first, Peeta thought she was just repeating him But then it registered what she meant.
"I guess we're talking to Willow and Amur," Katniss deduced, passing a glance Peeta's way.
"Seems like it." Peeta stared back towards Amur. He didn't want to be the one to get to know him.
"Let's try her first," Katniss suggested as she turned to look at Willow.
The shorter girl was at the knife throwing station. Her long brown ponytail swung behind her with every movement and she seemed focused solely on the targets before her. Her throws were solid, hitting generally in the target of each one. But she didn't hit the center of every target. Not like Clove could.
Katniss pushed the thought from her mind as the two approached. Before they even were close though, the girl could sense their presence. Her green eyes found them with ease and she dropped her knife so it was held loosely at her side.
She's alert, Katniss noted. That's good.
Peeta's caution rose as he walked over with the friendliest of smiles. "You're Willow, right?"
Katniss stood back, eying her carefully as Peeta spoke. The Reapings had given her an idea that the girl might be friendly. But the way Willow stared at them, like she was scanning over every imperfection the two had, made her second-guess their first impression.
Willow nodded, her neck craning up towards them. Even for her age, she was so small. "And you're Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen. What can I do for you?"
"We were just talking to your mentor, Finnick, and he thought it would be a good idea for us to come and speak with you. As long as that's alright with you, of course."
She raised her eyebrows and tucked her knife into the holster swung loosely around her waist. "Sure. What are we talking about?"
"We were wondering what you thought about our tributes, Madge and Gale?" he started. It was clear that he seemed leery too. She seemed a little withdrawn and impersonal, which was good for survival and battle. Not so much for alliances and trust.
Willow glanced at Gale and. "To be honest, I'm not sure. Madge seems a bit sweet, which is not a good thing to be in the Arena. And Gale is hanging around with that little boy, although he looks more capable. I haven't seen what they can do yet."
Peeta smiled a little. She was smart too, but was any of this a good thing? "You're really observant. We were hoping that maybe you'd consider an alliance with our Tributes, but I understand what you mean. They're both keeping their talents a secret, so I guess to everyone it doesn't seem like they'd be good partners."
Willow paused to think. "Smart, I guess. Everyone's going to want to be in an alliance with them since they're being mentored by you two. I just want to be sure whoever I choose to ally with is worth my time and is useful. If Finnick feels Madge and Gale are reliable, I trust him."
But Peeta only heard half of the statement. His head tilted curiously. "Alliance because of us?"
She cocked an eyebrow at him, like it was obvious. "Of course. You tricked the Capitol. You're the most famous Victors in at least a several decades, but arguably ever. Surely your Tributes will be impressive."
Katniss's face fell and she didn't bother trying to force a grin and Peeta seemed to stumble too. He opened and closed his mouth before giving her another smile, trying to make it seem like she was flattering him. Really, all she did was stir his anxiety. Everyone was expecting Gale and Madge to be great because of him and Katniss? Was that really going to attract allies or would it just make them bigger targets in the arena? Peeta didn't want to dread though and he bowed his head to the girl slightly.
Willow gave Peeta a slight smile that didn't look natural on her face. She turned back to her training and, immediately, Peeta went closer to Katniss. His voice dropped to an urgent whisper. "I don't think we have a choice now. We need to have Gale and Madge build alliances."
Katniss nodded without hesitation. "The Careers are going to be after them for sure."
"Luckily, we have one of the Career Districts on our side."
She nodded slightly, speaking low. "She seems smart, especially for being only fifteen. Good with knives. How do you feel about her?"
"I'm actually a little worried about having her on the team," Peeta admitted as they started to walk. "She's too hard to read and kind of emotionless."
Katniss followed next to him and nodded. "I can see that. Maybe she's just focused on the Games."
"I'd still be careful about her. Now him..."
Peeta's gaze and walk stopped when Amur came into his line of vision. The 37-year-old man had climbed all the way to the ceiling, dangling from a rope. It was almost too easy for the man, who trained topless, showing off the muscles on his chest and abdomen. He had pulled himself solely on upper-body strength alone and dangled from the metal ring that held up the rope.
Katniss sighed, patting Peeta on the shoulder, smirking slightly. "I'll handle this one. I know you're scared. Poor Peeta."
"I'm not scared. He's just a little intimidating."
"He's not... that bad," she lied, starting toward Amur slowly.
Amur waited a few moments from the ceiling. His eyes danced around the training hall, trying to memorize every face in the room until his eyes met with Katniss. She was smiling hesitantly from the ground below.
He got the message. Turning away, he slid down the rope by his hands quickly. Katniss winced, certain the speed should have burned his palms. However, when he landed, he simply wiped them off on his pants. Amur gave the teacher at the station a thankful nod before walking towards Katniss.
He towered over her in height. His gaze was so strong, his neck craning downward at her. It only added to his frightening appearance.
Katniss, however, looked straight up at him fearlessly. "Hello, Amur? I was wondering if I could speak to you."
"Of course," he said. It was softer than expected and she gave him a winning smile.
"Well, Peeta and I were speaking to Annie and she thought an alliance with our Tributes would be a good idea. I was wondering how you felt about that."
"Out of any here, yours were the Tributes I wished to alliance myself with the most, Miss Everdeen," he nodded back at her. While he did not crack any smile back and his face never softened, his tone and words were nothing short of respectful towards her.
She nodded at him, all business. "I'm glad. You're sure to be a good asset. May I ask why you're interested in them? I'm curious as to how the other Tributes are viewing them."
Amur turned his head back towards Gale and Madge. "It's not them I have the opinion of. It's you."
The only sign of Katniss's nervousness were her fiddling hands. She thought back to her and Peeta's conversation with Willow. "Me?"
"You and Mr. Mellark's performance at the previous Hunger Games, your mother's deeds against President Snow, the interference at her execution... Whether it is through the two Victors from District 12's actions directly or those who surround them, you both radiate a strength that has proven to rival Panem's." His head turned back down towards Katniss. "I want to help you."
Katniss simply pressed her lips together, overcome with emotion. She forced a smile on her face and nodded. "Thank you, Amur. You're not nearly as intimidating as you appear."
He gave her a small smile back. "I did not plan to survive these Games so I'll focus on doing my best so they do."
After thanking him, she returned to Peeta, had been watching the two from a distance. She could tell by his furrowed eyebrows and scrunched nose that he was either confused or curious. He took a few steps towards her, to meet her halfway. "How did it go?"
She smiled at him slightly, relieved. "Definitely an ally. He's, surprisingly, probably the nicest guy in this center."
"Seriously. He's a big fan of ours."
Peeta let out the largest sigh he could, relief flushing over him. "Thank goodness, I was worried about him."
She smiled again, patting his shoulder. "I know. He's less intimidating than little Willow, so you don't have to worry anymore. He said he definitely wants to help."
"That's great! Do you think that's enough then? Or is there anybody else we want to try?"
It was almost on cue. No sooner had the words left Peeta's mouth did the Gamemakers shriek from their observing balcony. The two turned just in time to catch it.
District 3. The female tribute was standing on the ground floor, her arm still out and pigtailed braids still flapping into her face from the throw. She had hurled a metal discus towards the Gamemakers, but it hadn't made it to them. The discus froze in mid-air for a second before flying back towards the girl. Her mentor, a dark haired man with ill-fitting glasses, grabbed her by the arm and yanked her out of the way before it could strike hit.
There was a moment of dead silence in the room before the white haired tribute pulled herself from her mentor's grasp. She stepped over to the discus, like she was studying it. It glowed red with heat.
Katniss stared at the Tribute and her mentor. She didn't even hesitate before stating, strongly, "District 3."
Peeta looked back towards Katniss and didn't even fight the smile. "I figured."
Down the long hallways through their temporary living quarters, Effie walked. She was carrying her calendar book and pen in her hands as her shoulder held up a mobile phone to her ear. She was trying to write and talk at the same time, but had very little to pen down.
"What do you mean you need to cancel? We've had this interview scheduled for the past two months now! You're the fifth person I've had to change dates around with and I really see no other way to squeeze you in!"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Trinket, but a last minute change on our end came about and we need to do coverage elsewhere."
"And what, if you don't mind me asking, is more important than interviewing the famous star-crossed lovers of District 12 and their promising first Tributes?"
"We're not at liberty to say, Ms. Trinket. However, we need to board trains for District 8 immediately."
"Fine!" she shouted before hanging up the phone, angry.
She was so frustrated that she went to throw her pen across the hall. But as she turned, the eyes of a Peacekeeper from across the hall locked with hers. The man stared at Effie for a long, awkward moment before turning. It didn't even concern Effie though. If anything, it furthered her anger and she straightening up with a huff.
"Doesn't he know it's rude to stare? I would have thought Peacekeepers were taught better manners than..."
As she continued her rant to nobody, her nerves began to build. Glancing left and right, it seemed every time she passed a hallway, a different Peacekeeper watched her. Effie tried to pass it off as just hallway security, but it didn't feel right. And, soon, her speed began to increase from a casual stroll into a full out, paranoia sprint. She had no idea what she was running from or what the Peacekeepers would even want with her, but she wanted to get as far away from them as possible.
Unknown to her, Haymitch was lurking around the corridors, trying to find an Avox to get him a drink. He paused when he heard the familiar clacking of heels echoing off the walls and smirked. Creeping closer to the corner, he waited until Effie passed before jumping out behind her and grabbing her shoulder.
Effie's scream echoed throughout the hallway and possibly the rest of the building as she instantly fell to her knees when she felt the hand grab her.
"I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" she yelled. She didn't even look up before putting her hands over her head, like it would shield her.
He frowned, pulling his hand back quickly. He kneeled next to her, hesitantly. "Effie? Aw come on, sweetheart, it was just a joke. Are you okay?"
Her eyes immediately flung open and her hands lowered as she stared towards Haymitch. Her cheeks turned from pink with blush to red with embarrassment almost instantly. She tried to regain her composure.
"Oh, H-Haymitch! You shouldn't s-sneak up on a girl like that, it's very rude and ill-mannered and..."
She still couldn't shake the panic in her voice.
He ignored her and set one of his hands over hers. "Effie, what happened? You're so panicked and shaky."
She pulled her hand up from his and started to wave him off with it. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Really, I think the stress is just getting to me."
He didn't believe her. "That's not it."
"Of course that's it, Haymitch. You know, I haven't eaten properly today and my sleep schedule has been different the past few days, so that could cause me to be seeing things as well," she began to ramble as she stood up.
He slowly stood up as well. "You fell to the ground, yelling that you didn't do anything, and covered your head like I was going to bash it in."
"I over-reacted, it happens to the best of us." She started to cross her arms as she looked to Haymitch but something behind him stopped her. Her panic skyrocketed again, pushing out any logic. The escort jumped closer towards Haymitch, instantly grasped his arm for protection. But before he could ask, a voice spoke behind him.
"Ms. Trinket?" It was a man. When Haymitch turned his head back, he found a Peacekeeper. "Your tributes will be finished training soon."
Haymitch narrowed his eyes. Slowly, he was putting the pieces together. "Are you jokers following her?'
The Peacekeeper looked down at Haymitch, unfazed. Out of embarrassment, Effie let go of his arm and waved him off.
"O-oh, no no, it's fine Haymitch," she cleared her throat a little. "Is it that time already? My schedule must really be off."
"If you cannot keep to your Tributes' schedule, Ms. Trinket, we can find them a replacement for you. It would not be difficult."
Was it a threat? To Effie, it sure sounded like one. Even Haymitch sensed the malice.
"All she's doing is her job, champ. Maybe you should leave her alone," he growled, a fist clenched.
But the Peacekeeper hardly even acknowledged Haymitch's presence. He just smirked. It looked sinister and was aimed right for Effie. Then, not giving either of them an answer or time for questions, he walked off.
As she watched him vanish, Effie could feel water building up behind her eyes. This was ridiculous. She was being ridiculous. But she never felt so scared in her life.