It's uncomfortably warm in our train compartment tonight. Whatever district we're passing through must be one that is far warmer than District 12 in winter, and all the air conditioning in here is doing is re-circulating the stuffy air around the carriages. It's airless in here; heavy and oppressive, a feeling that seems somewhat apt considering how awful and stifling this Victory Tour really is. My braid feels heavy on my back as it sticks to my skin, and loose tendrils of Peeta's blond curls, darkened with perspiration, are plastered against the sheen of sweat on his forehead.
Peeta has long since abandoned wearing his sleep shirt, and I've traded my more demure sleepwear for some cooler Capitol wear, which unfortunately reveals far more of me than I would ideally like. It would barely pass for underwear back home, but it's clear that the Capitol and District 12 couldn't be more different in their ideas. I'm sure the gossip circles in the Marketplace would explode if they saw us like this. Mrs Mellark would probably have a fit to see her son so familiar with a seam slut. But we're comfortable enough in each other's presence now for it not to matter, and we now face the nights as we did in the arena - together. I can't imagine facing the nightmares without him there anymore, and sleep comes far more easily when the beat of his heart and wafts of his comforting cinnamon smell lull me to sleep.
In the heat, I can feel the dampness of sweat accumulating between my cheek and the bare skin of Peeta's chest, yet it's still cosy lying here in his arms. Carefully not to move too much, I sneak a glance up at his face - in his sleep, his nose twitches slightly, but otherwise his face is entirely tranquil. He looks so young; far younger and more innocent than anyone who's seen the arena has a right to look. For now, at least – until the nightmares resurface and the nightly torment begins.
With a sigh, I snuggle further into his arms and let waves of sleep wash over me once more.
Instead of waking up gently to the sunlight filtering in through the open window or the sounds of Peeta lumbering around the compartment, I am startled awake by the sound of a high-pitched shriek from the doorway.
"Katniss! Peeta! I-I-I...you two! What is this?!"
Usually Peeta is gone by the time Effie comes to rouse me in the mornings, leaving as conspicuously as possible to ensure that the Capitol personnel are aware of the star-crossed lovers' 'secret rendezvous'. It's an unspoken rule that we don't let Effie see – although I'm sure she knows, nothing that happens on this train gets past her - as she would certainly overreact and dramatise everything needlessly.
Like she's doing now.
In a most un-Effie like fashion, she is currently spluttering incoherently as her narrowed eyes scan the room, flapping her arms with her wig askew. I'm sure her sharp eyes aren't missing our clothes scattered haphazardly across the floor – she probably thinks they were thrown there in a fit of passion – nor the way our bodies curl around each other with not an inch of space in between. Or the way we're both practically half naked.
I'm sure she's just dyingto give us a lecture on manners right now - I can almost hear her speech on the etiquette of unmarried teenagers sharing a bed whirring through her brain.
"You're late for breakfast!" she hisses at us after she finally stops fluttering around. I hear Peeta snigger slightly under his breath at this, although I'm fairly sure he's still pretending to be asleep so he doesn't have to look at Effie.
Of course. The schedule. Number one in Effie's priorities, closely followed by her love for proper decorum. I don't think she appreciates us going against both the schedule and suitable sleeping etiquette – it's practically an overload of unseemly behaviour.
With as much dignity as she can manage with her wig falling off, Effie turns on her heel and storms out of the room, muttering under her breath. I can almost hear her rolling her eyes as she does so.
Peeta shrugs and looks down at me. "Oops?" he says with an amused grin on his face. I laugh, and reluctantly tear myself from his arms in order to start getting ready for today.
Breakfast is as awkward as can be expected. Effie has recovered from her momentary lapse earlier, and has resumed her usual bubbly, effervescent and frankly irritating chatter, although I do catch her side-eyeing me and Peeta when she thinks we aren't looking.
Our escort has clearly relayed to Haymitch what she walked in on this morning, as he persists in shooting me smug looks whilst drinking his usual breakfast liquor. I catch him winking at Peeta a few times as well. He's loving this. I'm hating it.
As soon as breakfast is cleared from the table, I jump up from my seat, and see Peeta do the same. I don't know where we're going to go – anywhere where Haymitch and Effie aren't, I suppose, so we don't have to endure this continuous discomfiture.
We're nearly to the door when a call from Effie stops us.
Peeta and I exchange a look as we turn around.
Effie's intense smile is frankly terrifying, as is the mysterious box she's now clutching at with her excessively long nails. I'm not sure what she's got in her hands, but judging by the way Peeta has turned bright red and is gaping at the box in embarrassment, this can't be good.
I can see Haymitch in silent fits of laughter as he walks out the door, the old drunk.
Effie gestures at Peeta to leave the room. He does so quickly, avoiding my gaze as he follows Haymitch out of the room. Traitor.
"Now Katniss, we need to talk about your newfound sleeping arrangements!" she starts brightly.
I inwardly cringe. I think I need a drink.
"I do understand the...temptations that two young people in love may face, but it is frankly inappropriate for you and Peeta to spend the nights together. It's become an object of common gossip, not just here on the train, but throughout the rest of the country! Respectable victors cannot have a reputation like that!"
Effie sniffs slightly, as if showing her distaste for the gossip surrounding us. I know for a fact that she loves to spend her free time gossiping about anything and everything she can. I've heard her take delight in discussing Finnick Odair's current romantic interest, whoever it is this week.
"I am your guardian for this trip," she continues. "And I cannot allow you to make any mistakes here that could affect your future. "
I see she's waiting for a response from me here. "Oh, of course, Effie." I agree with mock solemnity, nodding my head. "Thank you for looking out for us. It's wonderful we have such a caring escort to make sure everything goes smoothly!"
Effie is clearly mollified by my words. She's never been adept at reading my sarcasm. "Why, thank you dear. I do my best." She smiles at me, and continues her speech. "I know what it's like to be young and in love-"
I really do not want to imagine Effie Trinket being young and in love.
"-and I know how close you and Peeta are, so I won't ask you to stay away from each other completely. I will, however, ask you to be careful and to make sure your arrangements are...proper."
I nod at Effie. I don't promise that we'll stop our arrangement, of course. I've become so accustomed to sleeping in the warmth and security of Peeta's arms that I refuse to even contemplate sleeping alone again. I don't care if Effie thinks that it is improper.
She leans in closer to me, beckoning me nearer with a curl of her finger. I shuffle in towards her warily.
"But make sure you're being safe, dear, if the situation arises." Effie says to me in a theatrical whisper, clutching at my hand in what I'm sure she thinks is an encouraging way. I think this is her attempt at subtlety. She thrusts the box in her hand at me, and I suddenly realise what it is she's giving me.
I never thought there would be a time in my life when I'd be presented with a box of condoms by Effie Trinket, but here we are.
"We'll be discreet, Effie. I promise." I gulp as I take the box from her hands. She beams at me. I'm sure she thinks she's being very supportive of us, whilst fulfilling her duties as an escort. I suppose her heart is in the right place, but I'm currently too flushed with embarrassment to really appreciate anything Effie does for us.
Well, at least I didn't get the talk from Haymitch.
With one last simpering smile at me, she turns away and swiftly leaves the compartment. As the click-clack of her heels echoes away down the corridor, I roll my eyes. That was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I hope Effie won't be too disappointed when Peeta and I continue to be as obvious as possible with our sleeping arrangements.
To be honest, what Effie thinks doesn't really matter, although I don't find her as irritating as I used to. She's almost endearing underneath the peculiar Capitol frontage – sometimes, at least. She may be our escort, but it is more important people in Panem's hierarchy than her that we need to worry about. Maybe the gossip about our nights spent together will get back to President Snow. Perhaps it'll convince him that we're in love. I hope it does. It may do.
But now what am I supposed to do with all these condoms?
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