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There's no proper emotion to describe the kind of turmoil that convulses through her, and she barely feels being led back to her room, her legs barely perceive the journey.

Katniss had been completely prepared for the consequences of taking Peeta's stupid, stupid, stupid head off — shooting a deadly glare into his big, stupidly innocent eyes — in front of their crew backstage for humiliating her, degrading her public image on television. (And their mentor had the audacity to call it desirable, the drunken, no-good bastard—.)

Her long, dark hair uncoils to a bare shoulder when she stumbles and tears a hand through it, pulling her aching, pain-shrieking scalp. Her heart thudding audibly in her ears, her vision unfocusing from sharp clarity into darkening edges. No. A knot in her throat clogging up her airway. It's ruined. It's. Katniss doesn't realize how much her entire body is quivering, how loud or how fast she is gasping through her opening mouth until she recognizes someone else's hands gliding slowly over her face. The warm, steadying pressure.

"Take a deep breath in…"

The heels to Cinna's palms keep her grounded, his thumbs stroking along her earlobes. She obeys the murmuring, firm command, keeping her eyes level to his V-neck collar.

"Exhale slowly…"

Seconds pass, or maybe it's more like lifetimes, before Katniss gets that breath out, no longer lightheaded. Her vision clearing up. She nods, saying nothing and bowing her head as her stylist takes a step back, turning away to draw her window curtains shut from the Capital's rainbow-strobe, artificial city-glow. They must have volunteered Cinna to escort her back, the only person from the Capital she wouldn't possibly fight tooth and nail against. And they were right. She observes her already golden-lit surroundings, the sprawling, luxuriously decadent bedroom on the twelfth-floor apartment. Two families from the Seam could be sheltered in here alone. A guilty, uneasy twist inside her stomach.

"You should be proud of yourself. You were radiant tonight."

Even with the swell of affection building intensely in her chest at Cinna's genuinely spoken words, Katniss shook her head. "Haymitch is wrong," she began. "They're gonna—" Her gray eyes blink surprised when a masculine, brown finger taps the surface of her lips, silencing her. Cinna's own lips — semi-glossed, but unmarked with tattoos, or dye — quirk slightly.

"Let's get you out of these clothes," he says, his voice coming out in rumbling, mild notes. She hates the farce, the pomp, the show — and he knows she does. Katniss waits, stands perfectly still as the gleaming, flame-lustrous dress unzips from behind and walks out of it with just herself. The sensation of a cool, damp washcloth rubbing the orange and red gemstones, the varnish of apricot-scented body glitter from her shoulders when she lifts her perspiration-heavy hair from the nape of her neck, rewarded with a small, kind squeeze there. What did a person like Cinna see when it was only naked lines? Their imperfections, the dusting of sandy freckles along the bridge of her nose… what if he had seen her scars? The bumps and bruises and cuts from hunting past Distinct 12's boundary, the hardened patches of skin on her exhausted hands from fletching her own arrows?

It certainly wasn't anything as beautiful as his costumes, what he could dream up from his own mind. Cheeks flushing bright, Katniss accepts the washcloth from her companion, wiping the makeup from her face in vigorous aggression. Anything to hide the evidence of her self-musing. "Is something wrong, Katniss?" he asks.

"Must be nerves…"

"Someone as brave as you?" Cinna's green eyes narrow on her, gold eyeliner smudged. "I don't believe that for a moment. What's really on your mind?"

She pulled on the boy-cut underwear folded on her mattress, and slipped her arms through a thin, buttercream-yellow shirt. Flimsier, more breathable fabric than she was used to. A hint of doubt as Katniss spoke, pausing from pulling on the rest of her finely stitched pajama clothes, more questioning herself, "Do you really think I have a chance?"

He can't answer her. The Capital has eyes everywhere. But his growing smile, exposing his teeth and dimpling his cheeks, reassures her more than words could in her ears.

"You'll do your best, I'm sure. I shouldn't be keeping you up, but do you enjoy music?"

She shrugs, her hands knuckling the hem of her shirt. "I…I don't know. My dad used to sing to me and Prim when we were kids. Sometimes I sing… can you sing, Cinna?"

"I can play piano. From a very early age, I had been instructed by my mother." Katniss frowns when a rueful, dismissive look passes over his strong-boned features. He switches on a radio plugged in by a dress-stand. An invisible announcer proclaims his over-excitement for the tradition of the Games, and Cinna's fingers immediately rotate the dial until pleasant, instrumental melodies replace the announcer, filtering in a sense of calmness into the bedroom. "I don't play anymore," Cinna adds as a vacant afterthought. She gives him a silent glance of 'why not?' and her frown deepens. "The only music I know honors the Capital and the prestigious glory. I have forgotten long ago how to play with my heart."

Katniss insists, closing the distance between them and searching his eyes, "You should learn new songs if you still love playing. Songs that mean something to you."

Another onset of quivering through her body. A lock of her dark hair cradles between Cinna's index and middle finger as he pushes it gently over her ear, the rueful look gone in favor of an obvious fondness. "For you, Girl On Fire… I just might." (For you, anything is possible.) Her face brightens again. "You need your rest. This is where I say good night, Katniss."

Her world is on the verge of everything; a deep-seeded understanding, pushing towards the edge of adulthood and the possible reason that she'll never see it, and she needs to grasp something, anything that makes sense and makes her feel safe — tightening on his wrist. With careful maneuvering, he works free, Cinna's brown hands pushing flat against hers, interlocking their fingers. Her eyelids slip shut. A part of her half expects to be kissed, friends or not she wants, and his forehead inclines to hers, weighing heavily.

And there it is, fainter and warmer than the touch of a butterfly wing on her bare skin, and he's gone, her mechanical door whooshing closed, before she can open her eyes.

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