Chapter 3: Arrival in The Capitol

I did not know a lot about the other districts other than that which we are taught in school-not a whole lot. Mostly we learned the basics up until we were teenagers and able to work on the line and learn auto production skills. We were mechanics first, making cars, and when we turned eighteen, we could take a test that either authorized us to enter schooling to become more specialized in either auto mechanics, hovercraft mechanics, tram mechanics, or, if we were especially smart (or lucky) some of us got to become engineers. Engineering was safer than being a mechanic. Mechanics notoriously got injured on the line on a regular basis, and, depending on the assigned task, the accidents could have been bad. Lost limbs, fingers, death. It was all relative. The most dangerous tasks traditionally went to the lowest-testing individuals, and traditionally males seemed to be given the tasks that were most likely to have accidents resulting in death. Being crushed. The females lost more limbs. Statistically. That was why so many of us in District 6 became addicts. Our medical treatment delivered due to such accidents traditionally left much to be desired, so we were sent the morphling.

The Capitol did not seem to care so much that we ended up addicts as long as we kept it a secret. It was no secret to anyone in Panem that morphling addicts were abundant in District 6. They saw us every year in the Games. Our tributes were not yet morphlings, but our mentors were, always.

As long as we produced two tributes and all transportation for Panem, they did not seem to care too much or take note, even…until somebody died. Like my dad. Then you became a target for life, because events such as drug overdoses were not so easily overlooked, and The Capitol knows that if other districts found out how we went through the morphling when they suffered and could not even get basic painkillers, like in Districts 11 and 12...

Still, I did not see how other districts could not look at our mentors every year…their sunken eyes and skeletal frames…and not know about the drug problems. Everybody knew., which was why Lycus and I argued all the time about our father's death. He said The Capitol was not targeting our family and that I was paranoid. I knew that we were targeted. I just wondered why, and I thought it had to have something more to do with my father's overdose, like my parents had been involved in something else that caused the targeting. I even wondered if my Dad really overdosed, sometimes. Lycus insisted that he had.

I did know the basics of the other Districts, though. Districts 1, 2 and 4 were the Careers. They almost always won because they were The Capitol's lapdogs, got more food, and trained for the Games. They trained in combat, not survival, so it was typically in the years in which a tribute from another district managed to outsmart or destroy supplies that someone other than a Career won.

Once you got to the outlying districts, the pool of victors diminished sharply. In fact, District 12 had only one victor, Haymitch Abernathy. Although, I would not want to have to cross him. Even though he won almost 25 years ago and became a drunkard, he could easily have killed someone by brute force. He won by being smart, though. So that really said something.

I knew I could not think about any of that anymore. I had to move on with what I had to do to make it through training and all of the events leading up to The Games. Then, I would die. There was no doubt about that. I had absolutely no skills of which to speak. I had no training. I was not a Career. Reality was that I was a fourteen year old girl, small for my age, softhearted and physically weak. I cared for those weaker than me. I loved my mother more than anything. None of those things were going to help me survive in The Games. In fact, all pointed the odds against my favor, but they all made me who I was also. I was not sure how to feel about them. Or about anything at all.

All of those things I considered as Chi and I sat together on the train ride to The Capitol, waiting for dinner. That was the one good thing about being chosen as Tributes. The food and living in luxury for the few days until we were thrown into the Arena to our deaths. I intended to enjoy the amenities and food to the best of my abilities, but I could not help thinking about my mother and Lycus. They would never taste the luxury in which I was indulging. They would simply get my body-or what was left of it-shipped back to them and they would have to move on with their lives. About Lycus I did not worry so much. He was incredibly resilient and obviously had plenty coming up in his life to distract him from what had happened. He would be absolutely fine… it was my mother about whom I was so worried. She had no one else. Not since my father died and Lycus. I could not rely on him to take care of her. Diana had promised me but I did not even know her. I could not depend on her, especially not considering what was coming for her and my brother. I just hoped that my instincts had not betrayed me, that her devotion to her sister-whether I imagined it or not-would mean that she had that sensitive, empathetic and nurturing nature which she would share with my mother.

"Persephone?"

I glanced to my left. Chi was staring at me.

"Yes?" I started fiddling with my napkin ring. I was sure that it was in poor form to mess with the table settings, but my hands really needed to busy themselves.

"You got quiet. Are you okay?"

I smiled. "Yes, I am fine. I'm going to die, but other than that, I couldn't be better. How about you?"

He glanced down at his hands. "I was just asking."

"Oh. Chi, I'm sorry. I was just…"

"Thinking about your mother?"

I glanced at him. "How did you know?"

He shrugged, still looking down at his hands, which caused me to look down too. They were clasped together firmly and his knuckles were white. He was as terrified as I was, and seeing that vulnerability in him made me want to instinctively protect him, and that, I knew, would mean my death would come that much sooner.

"Really, Chi. How did you know I was thinking about my mother?"

"You got quiet and I don't know what else you could be thinking about. Except maybe The Games."

I nodded, knowing that he meant more than that but he did not have to state it. The imminent death that we both would face. "I miss my mother," I admitted. "I'm worried about her. Without me, she won't make it. Nobody's going to take care of her."

"Somebody will."

"No, Chi, you don't understand."

I wanted to tell him about everything: Diana and the baby, Lycus, my father…because he surely already knew about my mother. Because everybody knew about my mother and plenty of people in District 6 were in the same situation, but surely not Chi's family-and I actually did not want to talk about my family. I would never see them again. That was a given. My best method of defense-albeit laughable-would be to forget about home and focus on learning all I could in Training and enjoying the luxuries of The Capitol while I could. Perhaps those things would be enough to distract me from the self-defeating thoughts of home and my mother. She would be better off dead than without me, but knowing that only exacerbated the pain I was already experiencing.

"I know about your mother," he said gently. "She's a morphling."

I glared at him.

"She is, isn't she?"

I said nothing.

"I'm not judging."

I laughed. "Of course you aren't. Half of District 6 are morphlings."

"That's not an excuse."

"Oh-" I decided I was done talking to Chi. I did not need to think about my mother and I needed to not see him as weak and helpless…and if he kept shredding his napkin in distress, I was not going to be able to do that.

Luckily our escort Daphne returned. With her for dinner were Tatiana and Balthazar, whom we had not yet met. Tatiana was forcing a smile. She seemed to be giving me an even more empathetic smile than the one she directed toward Chi. She also chose to sit beside me.

"How are you doing?" she gently squeezed my shoulder as she asked the question.

I kept my eyes on my lap because I knew if I had to look at her empty morphling eyes that I would lose it. My resolve to not be weak and to not think about my family would be instantly absolved. "Fine," I said.

"I want you both to meet Balthazar, although he will be working primarily with Chi."

I glanced up, expecting a bulky intimidating man, maybe another Haymitch Abernathy. But no. Balthazar was simply the female version of Tatiana. My breath caught in my throat. I imagined he was what Chi would look like in twenty or so years-that is, if he were not about to die. Another morphling. Another much too potent reminder of home. I could have been staring across the table at my father.

I wondered if he had known my father… and oh, what I would have given to have Haymitch or any other male mentor for our District. Or even just not somebody so frail. How had he ever won? How had female mentor? How would we?

I knew the answer. We would not win.

"Hello," Balthazar said. "Please, come to me for anything you need. Especially you, Chi. I think we can really get some things accomplished in the next few days."

I could not help it. I almost smiled. It was a fairytale to think that Chi and I actually stood a chance…but then again, that was not what he had said. He said that we could get a lot accomplished. That could mean more than just success in The Arena. It could mean that we would learn to deal with our situations and maybe it would be less painful.

It reminded me of something we learned back in District 6 about bicycles. Hardly anyone actually used bicycles, as they were considered a primeval transportation device, relying solely on human effort to power the vehicle. Nobody in The Capitol could be bothered with them, but bicycles were one of the first transportation devices to which we were introduced in school. They were easy to make and even easier to ride, and most of us really enjoyed driving them around. But crashes were also common, and one of the first things we learned upon learning to ride was how to fall safely. Maybe Tatiana and Balthazar were going to actually be helpful and teach us the least painful way to die, which would be much more helpful than trying aimlessly to teach us how to win The Games.

"I have a question," I said.

"Yes? For me or for Tatiana?" Balthazar asked.

"Either."

He shrugged. "Sure. Ask away."

"How did you win The Games?"

Balthazar glanced at Tatiana. "Maybe now isn't the best time to discuss this."

"But you said if we had any questions-"

"We have a few days," Tatiana said gently. "We have time. For now, let's try to relax a little and enjoy our dinner. I'm sure the two of you are hungry."

"Of course they are," Daphne said. She seemed a little annoyed for some reason, but it was beyond my scope of care to try to figure out why. "So let's stop this dreadful chat and eat our dinners." She looked at Chi and me. "And the two of you still have to get washed up and out to meet your stylists."

Of course, for the Tribute Parade. Every year, the Tributes from each District are paraded in front of The Capitol-more importantly, the sponsors-and are dressed up and ride in on chariots. Our stylists are responsible for grooming the grunge from us, as most of us are quite a mess upon arrival, and they usually dress us in attire to represent our Districts.

The Capitol people go mad for the Tribute Parade. But again, they go mad for everything having to do with The Games. It's their lives, after all. They never have to participate.

As I dug into my delicious dinner, I wondered if I would be any different if I were a Capitol citizen. I wondered if I would be as gung-ho about The Games. I wondered if I would place bets on who I wanted to win…

Actually, I fantasized a lot about what my life would be if I lived in The Capitol. I felt guilty about it, but my mother had always told me that thoughts are just that, and that they are neither good or bad. She had read that in one of her books, and she loved sharing her books with Lycus and I. as Lycus got older he lost interest, but I never had. Up until the night before, my mother and I had performed our nightly book ritual.

My mother read to me when I was little. She read to me from her stash of books that she actually was not supposed to have. She had an underground library of sorts, containing everything from The Bible, which was a Holy book from before the Dark Ages, history books dating back far earlier than anyone wanted us to remember, and stories galore. Her favorite stories were from a people called the Greeks, which is where she found Lycus and my names.

She kept me from finding out the story of my namesake for as long as she could, but once I learned to read, I found out anyway. It had taken a few nights of her reading to me from storybooks about mermaids and enchanted lands before I could go to sleep alone in my own bedroom. After my father died, though, mother never read again. She refused to touch her stash of books, but she allowed me to bring them up, one at a time, and we still held our nightly reading rituals, except instead of her reading to me, I read to her.

"Persephone?"

I glanced up from my leg of lamb. Tatiana was looking at me.

I wiped my mouth and hands on my linen napkin. "Yes?"

"I was just asking if you're enjoying your dinner." She flashed me that gentle smile again, so much like the one my mother had given me before morphling had taken her over. It was either that warm expression or the blank morphling one. She held no malice or anger, ever.

I wondered how on earth she had ever managed to win her Games. But, as she said, the time would come when she would tell me, just like the time had come when I had to find out what it meant that my name was Persephone.

Once innocence is lost, it can never really be regained. Not without with the morphling. Not without giving up the ability to function normally.

After dinner it was time for us to meet our stylists to prepare us for the Tribute Parade later that evening. Daphne had looked Chi and me over and said that it would probably take all afternoon to prepare us for the Parade. Well, we were dirty, apparently, but we were not the dirtiest Tributes to arrive at The Capitol that day. Poor District 12 with Haymitch Abernathy were always coated in coal dust. The District 12 tributes for our year were a tiny 16 year-old girl who had volunteered for her 12 year-old sister, and a very muscular 16 year old blond boy. I tried not to think about how much the boy reminded me of my brother. I did not even know why. I guessed the blond hair. District 12 was a bit shorter than Lycus.

Daphne dropped us off in the launch room with our stylists, where Chi and I split so he could go off with his prep team and I could go with mine. We actually did not meet our stylists until our prep teams had the chance to get the grime off of us and make us look acceptable. They called it-what was it-beauty base zero. It was announced sometimes in the opening ceremonies when Caesar Flickerman would talk about the prep teams and stylists-which only happened when a particular team or stylist made a very good impression. It tended to happen every year, and usually Districts 1 or 2 were highlighted. Of course, since they were the Careers, after all.

Apparently Chi and I were not too bad. It did not seem to take hours and hours as Daphne had made it sound. Maybe though it was because I was actually enjoying it. Like I mentioned, I often dreamed of what it would be to live a life of luxury. I often wished I had been born in at least District 1, making luxury items for The Capitol. I really was not sure I could handle The Capitol's fashions. I found the fashions and beauty treatments attractive, but just to look at. I could not imagine sporting those fashions myself. My mother had always stressed the importance of natural beauty. She said that if a woman is comfortable enough with herself to go in public without makeup, then she truly has charisma. I would imagine though that natural beauty does help. Some women probably could never go into public bare-faced. I had those thoughts in reference to The Capitol, of course. In District 6, beauty was not the top concern. Making cars and other vehicles was.

"There you are, dear," one of my prep team said.

"Already?"

The woman with straight pink hair looked at me as though she thought I was insane-which would be likely, considering the circumstances. And that I was from District 6. The Capitol seemed to believe that District 6 was full of loonies-not drug addicts. The citizens carry that belief, that is. Those in charge definitely know better, which is why I ended up in The Games.

"You've been in prep for three hours. I would say that should be sufficient time," she responded.

"Was I that dirty?"

She seemed to feel guilty for implying as much. She gave me a sympathetic smile. "Not so bad, love."

My team escorted me back to the actual launch room, and I was left to await the arrival of my stylist. I sat in the nude, waiting. As we all had to appear nude before our stylists. My mother had also instilled in me the belief that the human body is nothing of which to be ashamed, as are basic human instincts nothing of which to be ashamed. I guessed perhaps that was why she named me Persephone.

The doors opened. I glanced with half-interest at the entrance to the room.

A woman. Tall, muscular. She looked as though she could have come from District 2. I halfway wondered if she was a misdirected Mentor. Maybe she could finish me off before the Tribute Parade. Would that not be lovely? Evade the suffering of knowing what is coming and having to go through with the Parade, training and interviews? Only if that happened I was sure that my family would suffer even more. I had to go through with the whole of The Games for the sake of my mother. Lycus. And probably Diana and her baby. Her and Lycus' baby. Wow.

The woman approached me. She was looking me over with an air of scrutiny. It should have made me uncomfortable. I wondered why it did not bother me at all.

"I'm Aurora," she mumbled, still examining me visually.

Aurora. I knew that name. It was from one of my mother's books.

"Persephone," I said, although naturally she knew my name already.

"I presume that you know why I'm here."

"To dress me like my District." I shrugged.

"Fair enough. Which provides a bit of a challenge for me," she said, as though it was such a burden for her. Like she was the one going into the Arena, who was destined to die.

It was almost-almost-amusing.

"Obviously Districts 1, 2, and 4 are easy. Even districts 10,11 and 12 are fairly easy."

Of course. Something luxurious for District 1, something to do with masonry for District 2, fishing for District 4, and District 10 was cowboys, 11 were farmers, and 12 were coal miners. If one is completely unimaginable, as the stylists often are. It is a regular topic of disdain for The Capitol citizens and a topic of irrelevancy for most of The Districts, except where making enough of an impression to entice sponsors is concerned.

I guessed that the problem was that Aurora had to be creative in figuring out how to dress me since I was from a slightly less than obvious District. Unless she decided to dress me as a car or something similar. It had been done before. I felt as though I needed to apologize for being from my District based on the look Aurora was giving me, like she blamed me for the Herculean task before her. I wondered if she knew the story of Hercules, briefly. Another of the stories my mother had shared with me.

Aurora seemed to cold though that I realized I did not care if she knew the story or not, and I was not about to apologize for my District. A week ago I thought life was all about my mother and making vehicles. I owed her nothing. I suddenly was very relieved, because I realized something amazing for once, something I had never been able to deem as true, although, like a life of luxury of which many dream, I had often wondered what it would be like. Having two parents addicted to morphling, I always felt indebted to somebody. The Capitol, obviously, for not killing us off immediately. To my District for not outing my family. Since I was dying, there was nothing left that could be taken. I was giving the ultimate sacrifice. I sufficed it to say that I was safe to stop worrying so much about pleasing everyone. If I made it to The Arena without violating any rules, my family would be safe. My death would have seen to that.

"You could dress us like cars," I suggested.

She raised her fluorescent eyebrows at me, as though any suggestion coming from me would be immediately deemed unworthy. Oh, that much was definitely obvious. Her disdain toward me was so strong that she did not have to say a word or even look at me. I could tell how above me she felt just through the vibe coming from her, from her stature to the essence she carried about her.

"Or you could think up something more original," I added, smirking inwardly, keeping stoic outwardly.

Is that not what was expected of me? Besides, I was clearly too unintelligent to have meant anything insulting by my comment. I was simply making a suggestion, innocently. No, I was not innocent. Nobody knowingly facing their death can really be innocent, can they? But naïve maybe. Innocence implies experience though…I was too tired to try figuring out those logistics. Etymology would have to become an interest of the past, as my love for literature. I needed to clear my head of my loves and my dreams so that my imminent death was less painful. Like I was losing less than I actually was, if I could convince myself that it was true. Just death. The Games, death, my family was safe because of my sacrifice…the end.

"Do you know what an astronaut is?" Aurora asked me.

Wow, she was actually acknowledging me. Of course I knew that to which she referred. "No. Is it an animal?" I asked. "Like…what were they called? Dinosaurs?"

She looked at me bemusedly. "No, dear. Astronauts were outer-space travelers from many years ago. They flew out of the atmosphere and landed on the moon or went into orbit around the planet."

"Why on earth would they do that?"

"I haven't a clue. I suppose that's part of the reason why it happened long ago and is no longer a concern," she said distractedly. "Anyway, they flew in spacecrafts. Since District 6 is transportation, I thought it would be interesting."

I waited for more of an explanation, which she did not offer. So, that was it. It was supposed to make sense that she was planning on dressing Chi and I as spacemen since we were from District 6. I supposed that sort of logic made sense only in The Capitol. Since we were District 6 and all.

Aurora was waiting, I realized. I supposed she was waiting for me to acknowledge her brilliance at having the idea of dressing us as astronauts.

"That's a terrific idea!" I said. "How original!" And really, it was. Nobody had ever thought to dress District 6-or any other District, for that matter-as astronauts. Because how did it make sense at all? I supposed it was creative if creativity meant doing something no one else had done even if it made no sense. I supposed everyone was entitled to their own ideas of what creativity entailed. Everyone in The Capitol, anyway…and the reaction from the crowd that night would be the measure of what worked and what did not work.

I looked again at my stylist. I really had no way of knowing whether the citizens of The Capitol would love her creative idea as much as she did apparently, but I did realize that her livelihood likely depended on what happened in that regard. So likely, her days as stylist for The Games were numbered, and that meant that I pitied her.

"It really is original," I said.

"I know."

Sure, her arrogance was off-putting, but she was a person. She had feelings. Perhaps she made me feel worse instead of better, as I had hoped-as Tatiana had done for me-but I supposed not everyone would be looking out for my feelings that way. Too much effort to expend on a person who mattered too little.

"At least you're cute," she said.

"Pardon?"

"Your angle. That will come later, though. For now, you aren't a complete disaster. We're going for the cutesy thing. You're a bit young to be seductive."

Yes, a bit underage. Just by four years, but in The Capitol, I was not sure that there was an age at which anything was deemed unacceptable or taboo-at least not when it came to the District citizens. Because, who was I kidding? If they will kill us, why not prey on us too?

"Okay," I said. "So, cute and innocent?"

"Sure," Aurora said, already moving on, distracted. "Listen, just hold still and be quiet, alright?"

I had not minded the bathing and waxing and hair pulling. The smells of chemicals they poured on my scalp, although a bit worrisome, did not even bother me. Before Aurora had come in, I had dared to touch my hair. Instead of the frizzy curls I usually sported, my hair fell into smooth waves, perfectly frizz free and manageable. I wanted to keep touching it, but somehow I knew that Aurora would have a conniption if she saw me messing with the handiwork of my prep team. I guess that was when I realized that it had already started. I was no longer my own. I was property of The Capitol. I was becoming The Capitol's creation.

It had really started at The Reaping, I supposed. Because as soon as we are reaped, we are 'delivered to the custody of The Capitol,' according to The Treaty of Treason. I was only coming to grips with the fact that was already in place. Now my body was The Capitol's custody as well to do with as they saw fit.

I supposed that Aurora could alter me surgically if she so desired. It was not unheard of. I remembered one year when I was very young when a girl reaped from District 8 had been involved in a factory accident and had 2nd degree burns over her body. She was surgically restored…and she ended up getting killed within the first few hours of her Games. It seemed senseless to put so much effort into making us attractive to the public when most of us were going to die. It seemed wasteful. I thought of how that girl who had received the surgery must have felt-perhaps she was happy to finally be cured of her scars. Or maybe she had worn them proudly, as a sign of her strength in overcoming the accident, and the pride of her District. Since she died, none of us would ever know. My mother and I had discussed the particular Tribute at length, and we had come to the conclusion that perhaps people in her District wondered how she had been affected by the operation, but surely nobody in The Capitol had cared at all. Once she was dead, it was over. It was a shame. She had received quite a bit of publicity that year in her Interview, regarding her accident and 'triumph' of being physically normal again. Surely she would have tugged on the meager heartstrings of The Capitol citizens and gotten herself a few sponsors. She could have done well if she had stood half a chance to begin with, but that was just the way it worked a lot of times. Lycus believed that perhaps they targeted especially weak Tributes-as District 8 had been that year-and attempted to make the playing field appear a little more equal by shining their lights on less likely Tributes. It ended up backfiring because the celebrated Tributes, unless they were Careers, typically ended up being targeted due to jealousy or the threat of losing sponsors.

Lycus's theory made sense, but I liked to believe in mine better. It seemed more like a fairytale, and that was how I preferred to look at life. Imagine The Games as a fairytale and you will be fine, I told myself. I could be the princess. No, no way. I could be Cinderella-that was a story my mother had read to me-and Tatiana could be my fairy godmother. Aurora could be…I had no idea. Perhaps she was the princess. She had the name right, anyway. And who would be prince charming? Who would be the hero?

I realized how lacking my fairytale really was. I could work it out in my head how ever I wanted to, and maybe that could be my escape, but the reality was that I was nobody. I was District 6 no one who would die in the initial bloodbath. The only people who would mourn my passing were Lycus and my mother-and my poor mother, she would probably start medicating herself so heavily that she would completely loose her ability to function. Who was I kidding, she had already. Lycus would miss me.

I would rather die than to lose my mother. When I was little I worried all the time about my mother dying. I thought that when I grew up I would lose that fear, but as Aurora worked on me, and I stood still, stark naked and more vulnerable, yet more removed from the situation, than I had thought possible, I realized that I was more scared of something happening to my mother then than ever. I had been property of The Capitol since long before I was reaped. I was not even reaped. I volunteered. I had turned myself over. I had belonged to The Capitol my whole life. I never stood a chance against that fate, and I was only finally accepting it, taking responsibility, and hopefully safeguarding my family. Maybe taking me would be enough for them. So that they could live.

"Raise your arms."

I lifted my arms and tried to recede back into my thoughts. It was easier to deal with the situation if I could pretend it was still my fairytale and I was writing it, but her speaking to me-giving me orders-made it more difficult.

About an hour later, I was deemed ready.

"Alright. You may look at yourself. The full length mirror is over on the wall."

I walked slowly to the wall. The shiny surface shone back at me, and for a moment I was not focused on the image. I wondered if there was a voice behind the mirror who would tell me my fortune: that I had days until my personal annihilation. Then I noticed my outfit. I had never actually seen a spaceman, but I imagine I probably looked like one. My suit covered me from my neck to my feet, taffeta fabric in a goldenrod color. I certainly looked other-worldly.

The outfit was complete with even an odd headdress that was in the same goldenrod color as my suit. I personally thought I looked ridiculous, but maybe it was high fashion, according to The Capitol. And that was my dream, was it not?

No. I wanted to be a Career from District 1, only I never would have volunteered. Then my family would have been safe and everything would be perfect, with no need even for a fairy godmother. No fairytale, and I probably would not even know what a fairytale was for that matter. My mother would not have been a baroness of illegal reading material, she would not have become a morphling, and I would be unwittingly living a fairytale every day of my luxurious, blessed life.

"What do you think?" Aurora asked.

It seemed like almost an afterthought that she even asked me my opinion on what she had done to me. It certainly mattered not what I thought, and if I told her I hated it, maybe I would even be punished. Surely the rules were not that extreme against hurting the feelings of the stylists. I did not want to push it though. I really did not hate it. The outfit was ugly, sure, but the fabric was glorious and I loved how soft and silky my prep team had made my hair.

"I love it," I said, and I found that there was truth in the statement. I continued staring at myself for a few seconds. It was growing on me.

"Excellent," she said. "Now we go to meet your partner and get you both on the chariots."

Of course. That was how it happened every year. The Tribute Parade consisted of the dressed-up pairs riding in together on chariots. It seemed cruel to put us together that closely and perhaps insinuate or instigate some sort of closeness when we would ultimately be pitted against each other in The Arena, but it was tradition and it was to be.

I followed Aurora to the door, where Daphne was waiting. She made a fuss over how wonderful I looked. "Such an improvement!" she said.

At first her comment stung a little. I thought back to what my mother had taught me about beauty and the eye of the beholder and having confidence in one's own natural beauty. Then I remembered that I was going to die and it did not matter anyway if I were naturally pretty or not. And that made it bearable.

We met up with Chi and his stylist. He was dressed in the same attire as me, and he looked like a clean and glowing version of the same 16-year-old boy that I had met earlier in the afternoon. I knew he was going against me in The Arena and that I should not say anything. The more cold I could be toward him the better it would be for us both.

I could not help it though. "You look nice," I said.

Tatiana was standing to the side, watching. I could almost feel her confliction with the situation and I liked her even more. It was like she knew exactly what was going on and she wanted to step in and do…what? What could she do? What could any of us do?

"Thank you. So do you," he responded.

"Splendid!" Daphne exclaimed. "I love it. Camaraderie between fellow Tributes!"

Well, she was of The Capitol, so of course she loved it. So would everyone else of The Capitol if they knew, and I could only hope that that angle would not be played in our Interviews. Tatiana would be coaching me for my interview and I highly doubted that she would want to put me through that. She would be completely opposed to anything that would cause either of us more pain than we already were experiencing.

Chi and I stood by our chariot, waiting for the signal for us to mount our chariots and proceed on with The Parade. Aurora wandered off with my prep team for last minute discussions. Probably deciding what they would do with their newfound recognition if in fact Chi and my costumes were a success. It was all a bit too pretentious, even for The Capitol. It was as though I had met one of the few people with whom I could find little-no-good. My stylist. She had presented herself as an arrogant, selfish person and I was scrimping to find some redeeming quality about her. I gave up trying. I was too worried about The Parade. Would anyone recognize me, now that they would know my name, my District, my story? Would they remember what had happened to my father? Would anyone put two and two together to determine why I had ended up in The Games? But I had volunteered. I had made the choice to die.

Of course no one would wonder. It was The Capitol and I was kidding no one.

Tatiana came up to us. She put her hand against my back. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly.

I nodded because I was afraid that I would be unable to talk without choking, and I really did not need to smear my new, prettier face and present myself as even weaker than I was already. Tears at the Tribute Parade would mean I had a sign on me welcoming all Careers-all Tributes, actually-to go ahead and kill me. Then again, maybe it was not such a bad plan. I knew I was going to die. Would the best thing I could do not to be to try to guarantee that I would die quickly and with as little suffering as possible? I would make sure to discuss the possibility of that idea with Tatiana. I knew she would be looking out for my best interest at least.

She had an earpiece giving her directions. She frowned, then gently gripped my upper arm. "Okay," she said.

"Is it time?" I whispered.

She gave my arm and even gentler squeeze. "Yes. You'll be okay, dear."

When she said dear, it sounded natural. She actually meant it. She cared. That, knowing she cared, gave me the strength to grip the side of our chariot and pull myself up. She kept her hand on my back and helped me up.

Chi was already in the chariot. He actually extended his hand to me and without thinking, I took it. I knew that he was just being nice, helping me up into the chariot, but as he touched and held my hand I knew it had been a mistake. I knew I was taking a gesture of kindness to heart, as I always had, because since I left my mother the only person who had touched me in a non-violating manner was Tatiana, and she was just too much like my mother for me to enjoy that human contact. When Chi touched my hand, it was a different form of physical contact than that to which I was accustomed. It was not like Lycus hugging me, or even my father…as soon as I was all the way in the chariot I dropped his hand before I allowed myself to dwell on it further.

I thought all of those thoughts had been solely internal, but I glanced up briefly to catch the look on Chi's face and I remembered how transparent I was. I could hide nothing I was feeling, ever. It clearly would be better if I could have just convinced myself to stop feeling.

He smiled, just a little. It was the first time since I had met him that he had expressed anything other than fear. "Are you still okay?" he asked.

I nodded, gripping the chariot side. "Are you?"

"Sure. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Are you ready for this, Chi?"

He looked at me then like I had gone insane, and perhaps I had. "Am I ready?"

I shrugged. "Just making conversation."

My hand slid from its grip on the chariot. Sweat. And I did not think it was because I was nervous about the Parade, although I was nervous.

"Yeah," he said doubtfully. He imperceptibly took a step closer to me. Probably just to be a gentleman, I told myself. He wanted to make sure that I did not fall off the chariot. But Tatiana was standing right underneath me. If I did pass out and fall off she could catch me. My fairy godmother would catch my fall.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he lowered his voice as he said it.

He had a really deep voice when he lowered it. I liked it, I realized. More than I wanted to admit. But it was just the moment I was getting caught up in, because I was looking for a distraction from The Games and The Parade and everything having to do with The Capitol…I was a girl, a teenage girl, and I was going to die, so maybe my hormones were messing with me. That was it. I was not losing it, and nothing out of the ordinary was going on with Chi, although he probably thought I was losing my mind. Perhaps he could attribute it to me getting caught up in the stress of the moment, as I was attempting to rationalize that way.

"Fine," I mumbled, not looking at him. I knew I could not look at him. My face was already on fire. Maybe all the white foundation Aurora had painted on my face would be enough to conceal my blush. If the heat from my face did not burn it all away, that is.

He put his hand on my back. "Don't fall off."

That did it. I instinctively looked up at him and I noticed he had hazel eyes. "I won't," I said.

It was completely ridiculous. We were dying. We had training and everything else to distract us, there was no way that he and I should have been getting close. I had to keep him at a distance or he would make me weaker than I already was, and that was quite the accomplishment.

Our eyes were still locked together. That was his method, I thought. That was how he intended to beat me. He was not at all interested in getting closer to me for any reason other than he wanted to make me weak. If he could make me think that we were friends, he knew I would never be able to kill him. Joke was on him then, because there was no way I was going to kill him anyway. Not only was I completely certain that there was no way I could kill anyone-due to my lack of physical strength and emotional weakness-but I had already vowed to myself that I would look out for Chi. He was too much of a victim already. He stood no chance against any of the Careers, unless he gained at least twenty pounds within the next few meals. Also, he just did not have the heart of a brutal savage. Maybe a desperate savage, like a rat eating out of the trash, but nothing like a rabid dog, as I had equated many a Career in past Games seeing the brutality with which they killed.

"I'm fine," I said quickly. "I'm not going to fall, Chi."

He kept his hand on my back, still smiling. "Well, I want to make sure. You look like you could use some support anyway."

"Oh."

It was perfect, really. He completely had me where he could end me, right then. He already had. I was so far from standing a chance…he could probably feel my heartbeat, he was so close. And he was holding onto me.

Thankfully The Parade started. The music started, apparently the first chariot-District 1-was cued and their horses trotted off out of the backstage area into the parade path. Since we were in the middle of the pack, we had to prepare ourselves. Brace ourselves against the jolt of the chariot as our horses took off, following District 5. I looked forward, focusing not on the screens depicting our departure or on Chi, still holding his hand against me, but on the redhead girl from District 5 right in front of us.

I supposed the whole thing was a fine spectacle if you were not a part of it. If I were a Capitol citizen, sitting in the audience, I would probably be as excited as everyone else, watching to see how the stylists chose to depict each District. When I was really little, before I completely had a grasp on what The Games were and what exactly was at stake, I had found the parade fascinating, watching the Tributes come in and learning about the Districts. I had not realized until I started school that the Districts were really not at all as The Capitol and stylists chose to depict them. Far from it. But it was like a dream, when it was a pageant and the Tributes were merely entertainers dressed in amazing (sometimes awful) outfits and that was my only awareness of other Districts and I did not yet understand that the children were going to die and that the Districts were separate realms of punishment for their citizens.

We were all Hungry for something. Be it freedom, drugs, wealth, love, or food…we all were wanting desperately for something we would never obtain.

"Persephone?"

I glanced over at Chi. He looked even better closer up. I cleared my throat. "Huh?"

"Get ready. You might want to hold on. I'm letting go of you now."

"Oh."

I glanced down, hoping he would not be able to tell that I was a bit embarrassed, hoping he would think I was just nervous. I braced myself and looked up.

"Wave," he reminded me.

Of course. Not like we thought we were making friends, but since I was so weak and pathetic and Chi was handsome, it was best to present ourselves as accessible. The fiercer Tributes had the option of being more standoffish, barely acknowledging the crowd, and most Tributes were so dazed by the whole event that more than blankly staring out toward the crowd and waving weakly. I could count myself as a part of that group. The experience was surreal, and if I did not feel Chi's body heat radiating off of me and the movement of the chariot beneath me then I would not have believed it was happening. It could have been a dream otherwise. A fairytale, a dream…soon I knew it would become a nightmare, but I wanted to prolong the moments that were not quite torture, like being next to Chi. I would have chastised myself for thinking about him if I were not trying to wave and not fall off the chariot. Focusing on anything else was beyond me at that point. Instead I could think about my fairy godmother waiting for me after The Parade. She would help me. Maybe I could even tell her how I had been feeling toward Chi and she could talk sense into me. I fully intended to have that conversation with her. That evening, after The Parade. No matter how late it was and what else we had to do that night.

Wave, hold on, do not fall…

Finally we reached the circle in front of President Snow, where he welcomed the Tributes year after year, thanking us for our sacrifices. I found it a bit inaccurate calling what we were doing sacrificing. More like we had no choice. I felt like a sacrifice was a conscious decision a person made, not a right taken away.

But I had made the choice, so I supposed he was speaking to me, and I supposed I should listen, which I would have done if I were not focused on seeing all of the other Tributes in their Parade attire. Lycus was the one who told me that President Snow was speaking only to the Careers when he thanked them for their sacrifices. I missed my brother.

District 1 had my attention first, of course. The girl was a large blond with flowing hair of which I was instantly envious. Then I remembered my own hair and the difference in it and my jealousy dissipated. She had on a flowing green dress with peacock feathers, complete with a feather semi-headdress. Netting wound its way up her legs, fully visible through the sheer material of her dress. She was a volunteer. She was a Career. Eighteen.

I knew that sometimes the stylists used the angle of a Tribute's sexuality, but it was only done for the Tributes who were of age, for fear of complete outrage. Surely from the Districts and families of The Tributes, not The Capitol. I was sure The Capitol cared nothing for preserving the chastity and innocence of the Tributes.

The boy was dressed similarly, only he was wearing pants and a suit jacket. He was tall and appeared to be immensely strong. I was sure he could easily break me in half with his bare hands. It had been done before in The Games, after all…

District 1 was almost forgettable compared with District 2, though, when it came to sheer size and fierceness of Tributes. The boy caught my eye first. His neck was as big around as my waist, it seemed. He was over six feet and probably outweighed me by 100 pounds, easily.

The girl also probably weighed that much more than me. Since District 2 is Masonry, both Tributes were dressed in hard hats and armor, bronze in color, and I was reminded of the Romans and gladiators, which, when I considered it, really was District 2.

I tore my eyes away from those two and focused on District 3, which is in charge of electronics. It was probably as difficult to be creative with electronics as coal miners or even transportation. They each had on fluorescent suits, catching and reflecting the light easily, which I supposed was reminiscent of electricity in some way. Not too bad. District 3 are not Careers. Neither the boy or girl were particularly outstanding, maybe just a little bigger than Chi and I, but barely. Not so threatening, I would say, except that it would take hardly anything for me to be beaten. I was almost ready to give up and resign myself to having been killed by Chi and all he had done was be kind to me. Kindness, I was finding, could be more of a personal threat than hostility. At least with hostility I was not questioning the motives of a fellow Tribute.

In that regard, perhaps the Careers were less of a threat to me than Chi was. For one thing, the Careers did not have the illusion of friendship over me as Chi had, but also, I was so small and weak that I doubted I would be a target for anyone-except for Chi, perhaps. I could be an easy kill for him. Maybe that was his intent. I would have to ask Tatiana about that too.

Next, District 4 were Careers. I had noticed that Finnick Odair was a mentor that year, as I had seen him speaking with the female Tribute from his District before The Parade. I wondered how much of a distraction his presence had been for her. Finnick was a bit of a god among Victors, and practically all women-and plenty of men-fawned all over him to the point that he was a complete celebrity in The Capitol and The Districts. He had been only 14 when he won his Games, using a trident to spear his opponents like fish, as he was born to do-District 4 is fishing. He had been my age when he won.

For a second or two that may have made a difference to me, but it was fleeting. I knew better than holding onto that glimmer of hope. Finnick Odair had never especially appealed to me. He was attractive enough. Just not my taste, I supposed. My mother would have told me that I was too young to have developed my personal taste in men, and if my reaction to Chi, to whom I was not attracted, was any indication, then I had no reason to doubt her judgment.

Actually, Haymitch Abernathy was 14 when he won his Games too, and for an unfathomable reason that gave me more hope than that from recalling the same fact regarding Finnick Odair.

District 5 was about as impressive as District 3 and my District in size and fierceness.-visible fierceness, that is. Sometimes weakness ended up being a strength, as in the years in which a Career had not won. Usually in those years, an outlying District found a way to outsmart or just outlast the Careers, typically by depleting the supplies or having better survival skills. One year, the District 4 female Tribute had won because The Arena had flooded and she was the only Tribute who was a good swimmer.

Weakness was an attribute sometimes too-or, at least, feigned weakness was, such as the year when the female Tribute from 7 had won by pretending to be weak, then, once she was not perceived as a threat, she started slaughtering other Tributes with an axe.

District 5 were dressed as power plant workers, in suits not so different from those worn by Chi and me. White instead of gold, but I could not help wondering which stylist copied which.

District 7 were bigger and stronger than 3, 5 and our District, though they were not quite considered to be Careers. They are the District in charge of lumber, so I attributed their visible strength to chopping down trees-which was what they were dressed as. Lumberjacks., in jeans, plaid flannel shirts and brown boots. Like Paul Bunyan. I doubted District 7 even knew the Tall Tale, although I knew it only illegally, thanks to my mother.

District 8 were dressed in flamboyant, brightly colored clothes. The textile production District, of course. It was a bit more original than a power plant worker or lumberjack, but it made more sense than an astronaut. There was something about District 8 which set them apart from the previous Districts, including mine, but not like Careers. The further from The Capitol a District lied, the worse the living conditions became, and I assumed it started rapidly declining at 8, based on the sense of desperation I gathered from the remaining outlying Districts. Some people maybe considered them more neandrathalic, but I thought it was more of a raw sense of strength necessary for their survival.

District 9 were dressed as scarecrows, in honor of being the District in charge of grain-better than the previous year in which they had been dressed as bakers. Grains equated to bakers of bread, I assumed. It was a fact that generally the further the District from The Capitol, the worst the stylist. I was pretty sure Aurora was the exception though, in a negative way.

Next was District 10, dressed as cowboys. The livestock District. Most animals were provided for food. I guessed the horses pulling our chariot were lucky, unless The Capitol was their final destination. Perhaps some of them were to be dinner for even us later in our time in The Capitol. The thought made my stomach turn. I loved horses. It seemed odd for me to be concerned about the fate of the horses, considering I was going to die. The horses could not help their fate any more than I could though, only that was the whole idea. I was taking my fate into my own hands through The Games. Suddenly I wondered if my volunteering made me more of a target. Maybe more of a threat. Perhaps The Careers would see me as a threat because I had volunteered. Maybe they would choose me to be a kill in the early stages of The Games for that reason.

I did know that unless I was very careful in Training and in my interview that I would be noticed and added to at least one Career's kill list. Probably the vicious-looking male from District 2. I decided then to move on in my initial assessment of the field of Tributes-I meant, their Parade outfits.

District 11 was the agriculture District. They are not Careers, but the male Tribute was truly a giant. He must have been 18, and he probably got so big building muscles working in the fields or wherever it was he did work. The little girl must have been 12, but she looked like she was about 9. I had to look away before I could really notice their costumes, but I thought they had on overalls or something.

District 12 always dressed as coal miners. I had not noticed the boy and girl on the way in. Their outfits made no sense to me-black skintight suits. Interesting. Aurora had mentioned something about the District 12 stylists being new. I supposed that was supposed to explain everything. I noticed the male Tribute was big. He did not look like he was from District 12, but the tiny girl certainly did. She was not much bigger than I was.

Then, just like that, faster than it had lasted, the Parade was over. The horses headed back to the backstage area. Once we were backstage again, Chi hopped down off the chariot once it was stationary. Tatiana and Balthazar were already waiting below for us. Chi held out his hand to help me down and I glanced at it, staring down at him. It should have been a simple gesture, and it would have been if not for my own reservations. Chi was only being a gentleman and it was my own reluctance which was causing the issue. He must have known something was going on. He had to have known.

"Persephone?"

That one word-well, my name-said it all. I quickly took his hand and dismounted. I misjudged the distance because I was focused on something behind him. I stumbled into him. Coming up behind Tatiana, Balthazar, Daphne and Aurora was Haymitch Abernathy.

I barely had time to question why Haymitch would be coming over to our District. As far as I knew he and Tatiana or Balthazar were not close. Obviously Victors form friendships with other Victors, especially seeing each other every year, but it was no secret that Haymitch Abernathy was a drunkard and was rowdy. I had no idea why he would want to be around District 6, except doubtlessly Tatiana and Balthazar were morphling of some degree…so maybe they had more in common than I had thought.

Tatiana had a concerned look on her face as she stared at me. It was far too reminiscent of how my mother looked at me, and I had to look away. I found myself looking back at Haymitch. He was an intimidating man. I unconsciously twisted my fingers through the loose material of Chi's costume, as he was still holding onto me. Tatiana then gave me a confused look, then she turned in the direction I was looking.

"Haymitch," she said, "hello."

He stopped a few feet from us. He took in Chi and I-a little too closely for my liking-and glanced at Tatiana. "They're cute," he said.

It seemed like an odd comment to me, to call Chi and I cute. I supposed perhaps he was looking for a more polite way to comment on how pathetic we were, but Haymitch did not seem like the type to try to mince words. I decided perhaps he was aiming to be insulting. Apparently it worked on Chi, because I felt him turn to stone beside me. He still had his arm around me and I was still clinging to him.

Balthazar spoke next. "Your two made quite an entrance."

Hmm. I supposed I had really missed something. Of course, I had been in The Parade, so it had been a bit difficult for me to notice everything. I had noticed plenty of other Tributes. It was just, well…everyone quite overlooked 12. After all, Haymitch Abernathy was the only surviving Victor from 12.

"Yes," Haymitch said, "I wanted to talk to your volunteer, actually."

Volunteer. He meant me. Then it hit me. Haymitch Abernathy wanted to speak with me. And who was I, anyway? I realized then exactly what I was-a very obvious target, apparently for any and everyone.

Chi either realized the same or he did not like how forward Haymitch was toward me, either. He almost imperceptibly stepped closer to me and gripped me a little tighter. I supposed when you are or have been a Tribute you notice things a little more, because Haymitch noticed. He smirked a little.

"Don't worry, I can't talk to her directly, anyway," he said to Chi.

I thought his comment seemed to embarrass Chi a little, because he let go of me and I was on my own, standing a few feet from Haymitch.

Haymitch turned to Tatiana. "Am I to understand that you're her communicator?"

She nodded.

"Basically I was just wondering the motive behind her volunteering. And about books," he added casually.

Books. Books, my mother.

Oh, not. He wanted information which he could use to target and destroy me, and he was of course looking out for his Tributes, too. That was what got me-not knowing the motives of others. Haymitch and Chi were really messing with my head, intentionally or not. Mostly likely it was intentional.

"Well, you know when and where to find me," Tatiana replied.

He nodded. "Indeed, I do."

Tatiana put her arm around me and started guiding me away. "I'll be seeing you then."

As we started to leave-our entourage-I turned again and looked at Haymitch, who was still staring after me. I stared back, uncharacteristically unflinchingly. It was like I was drawn to him and could not look away.

Tatiana was speaking to me.

"What?" I asked.

"I said, don't worry. Haymitch is probably crocked."

"I wasn't worried." Just enthralled, apparently.

"Good. Don't take him seriously."

"Does he really want to know why I volunteered?" I asked.

"I don't know."

"Why would he even care?"

"Well, you know his female Tribute volunteered."

I thought I recalled something about it. It was hard to keep up, being a Tribute and fearing for your life. Constantly.

"That was probably why," Tatiana continued.

"Oh." Then I remembered. "I wanted to ask you something. Actually several things." I glanced up ahead, at Chi's back, as he walked ahead with Balthazar. "Later, maybe? In private?"

"Absolutely, dear."

"Thank you."

I noticed that Daphne looked lost. As our escort, she was really supposed to be the one I was talking to, I supposed, so I turned to her.

"I wonder about the horses," I said.

She looked at me. "What now, dear?"

"The horses. What happens to them after The Parade?"

"They go to the stables," she said, sounding bored. Or maybe I was so insignificant that my questions barely deserved comment or consideration.

"For good?"

"What do you mean, dear?"

"I mean, do they ever end up being food?"

She looked at me. "What a question."

"Well, I know horses are primarily used for food. Unless people here still ride them or keep them as pets."

"Sure," she said, a bit more enthusiastically. "I have a friend who rides horses."

"So are the horses who pulled our chariots tonight only for pleasure?" I asked.

"Well…"

"Not necessarily?"

"Some of them will go on being pleasure animals. Some could end up being our dinners later on."

"Oh."

She patted my shoulder. "It's fine, Persephone. You won't know if it's your horses you end up eating."

I swallowed and kept waking.

Once we got to our rooms, Chi and I were sent away to "wash up," as Daphne suggested.

Our rooms were all in the same building-all of the Tributes from every District. We were assigned separate floors per District and the floor on which our rooms were located correlated with our respective Districts. District 1 got floor one, District 2 had the second floor, and so forth. District 12 ended up with the penthouse, amusingly enough-further proof that The Games change everything. For a short time, even the poorest lived in luxury.

We were right in the middle. Floor 6. Daphne showed Chi to his room, then led me a bit down the hallway and pushed open a vibrant lilac door.

"This, dear, is your room," Daphne said.

Wow.

Wow wow wow.

It was unbelievable. Floor to ceiling, unlike anything I had seen. The train had been nothing in comparison…we made the trains in District 6. I knew what they looked like on the inside.

My bed was massive. It could have easily fit me, my mother, and Lycus if we pushed our beds back at home together, but I quickly abandoned that thought. The walls, like the door, were lilac, with the exception of two of the walls-one of which was painted an eggshell color and the other was taken up by a massive screen to broadcast news and The Capitol's programming, including coverage of The Games, of course. Mercifully at that moment, the screen was turned off. I did not need to news coverage for The Games to be at the forefront of my mind though.

Besides the bed and screen, there was a door cut out of one of the lilac walls, which I assumed was the bathroom.

"Yes," Daphne said, following my gaze and answering my unasked question, "It is quite impressive, isn't it?"

To me, yes. To someone who had grown up and spent her whole life in The Capitol, probably not so much. Our escorts seemed to try to keep in mind that it was all foreign to us-the luxury and extravagance. They apparently had been trained to understand how easily impressed we all were with the wonders of The Capitol. It was expected. It was likely, of course, that tributes from Districts 1 and 2 were somewhat less impressed than those of us from outlying districts. Life in 1 and 2 was often not so far-removed from that in The Capitol. Also, the escorts understood better than the average Capitol citizen because they had also traveled outside of The Capitol, to our districts, and they understood why we were so impressed. How we had never seen anything like it, and knowing our living conditions in comparison.

"Now," Daphne said, "Why don't you shower and get dressed for dinner."

"What do I wear?" I glanced down at my outfit. Still the spacesuit and surely I was not expected to wear that to dinner.

"Your Avox will put a fresh outfit on your bed while you're in the shower," she said. "Something made special for you by your stylist."

Lovely. Another Aurora creation. I could still have been expected to arrive at dinner looking ridiculous.

Daphne left me to shower and dress, reminding me not to be late to dinner. Like I would miss dinner since I was half-starved-literally-anyway. We were not quite as emaciated in District 6 as District 12 was for example, but we were not exactly well-fed, and I was small for my age anyway.

No matter how slim my chances were of not getting killed quickly in The Games, I felt I stood a better chance if I put on as much weight as possible before I went into The Arena, which should have been easy enough with all the food available to us during training.

I walked through my room. The carpets were so thick and soft, padded…unlike anything I had felt before in my life. Underneath my spaceman feet the carpet almost felt like lush spring grass after a rain-a common occurrence back home. To test it, I knelt down and brushed my hand across it. Nothing like grass. It was like tiny, soft ropes linked together, tassel-ends pointed upward. That alone was astonishing.

I stood and went to the bathroom, which was where I really noticed how far I was from home. The first thing I noticed from the bathroom was the shower. The walls were clear and so clean that you could see through them into the shower. The back-wall was stone. Stone, in the shower. I guessed that District 2 was responsible for that. Masonry. We, in District 6, could be proud for the trains that brought us all in. District 10, we had to thank for the horses-whatever their fates may have been. And The Capitol, of course. Districts 1 and 2 were the districts from which the most influence was obvious.

I gladly stripped off my costume and left it in a heap in the floor. Upon second thought I pushed it out into my bedroom for somebody to take. I was sure it would be gone when I was done in the shower, and I wondered if it would be considered acceptable for me to leave my costume like that. I was not sure if I cared so much about hurting Aurora's feelings-I was not even sure that was possible-but I was so unsure of myself and my place in The Capitol and I did not want to get in trouble, although I was not sure what worse could happen to me since I was going to die anyway. My family could still be hurt though, and I had to protect my family. It was the whole reason for everything from that point forward. My growing family.

I closed my bathroom door and got in the shower. I was standing naked in there, my back to the glass door and the stone wall to my side. It took me at least five minutes to figure out how to work the shower. I was worried that Daphne would drag me out to dinner in the nude if I did not hurry and get ready in time. As it turned out, you programmed the shower electronically in a-I hoped-waterproof keypad. The choices were an array: simple shower, wash hair, deep wash…I was not even sure I wanted to know what a deep wash entailed. I chose a basic shower and wash hair, then for my scent a chose, from a ridiculous array of options, the first I saw: Cucumber Melon. Then I chose a little more selectively for my hair. Smooth and wavy. I loved how my hair had been once I saw my prep team and I wanted to keep it that way.

I only had to stand in the shower. The water started trickling down the stones, then the stream increased until it was running over my body. Then steam rose off the stones at the bottom, too. It really was peaceful, standing still and being pampered without being violated. The wonderful scent of Cucumber Melon was soothing, and with the steam rising, feeling so safe and warm and clean. The illusion of The Capitol. No. I was not safe there. I was not free to indulge in the luxuries of The Capitol because I was out of place. I did not really belong there, just to serve their purpose. No matter how much I wished I could.

Reluctantly I stepped out of the shower once it quit running. I was completely dry, even my hair. I smelled wonderful and I was ready to get dressed, awaiting whatever monstrosity of an outfit Aurora had designed for me. I stepped into my bedroom-my bare feet against the lush carpet, which was nice-and sure enough, the crumpled spacesuit was gone. I took a few steps toward my bed, because laid out across it was my dinner outfit.

At first I thought it was indeed ghastly, judging from the similar taffeta material-could Aurora work with anything else?-and the mustard-yellow color. I picked it up with the tip of my thumb and forefinger, nervously. Upon seeing it unfolded, I had to admit that it was not bad at all. I actually liked it. It was a simple dress with a square neckline and no sleeves. It had a full back and ended just below my knees. It was completely appropriate for a 14 year-old. I had been afraid of something skimpy, which would have been embarrassing, especially in front of Chi, with whom I was not enamored. It was just hormones, I told myself. Hormones and nerves. He was not interested in me anyway, either. I pulled on the dress and picked up the shoes that had been left for me. They were nice too, flats in a matching material and color. Simple. I was happy with my outfit at least. I could face everyone at dinner with dignity.

Just as I was about to open my door to go out to dinner, there was a knock. Without thinking, I pulled it open. It was Chi.

"Oh," I said. At a loss for words, clearly. Of making any statement of even minute intelligence. "Hi," I added quickly before he could think that I was too much of an idiot.

"Hi, Persephone. Nice dress."

Before I could get embarrassed I forced myself to speak. An intelligible response would have been more impressive. "Thank you. Better than the spacesuits, huh?" I asked, eying his also-improved attire. He had on a silk shirt and black pants. Silk seemed a bit odd, but not as odd as taffeta, I supposed.

"Yeah." He laughed a little.

"So, did you need something?" I asked, starting to grow uncomfortable again.

"Um, I just wanted to apologize for earlier." He met my eyes. "At the Parade, I mean."

"Apologize for what?" I asked, blinking in a poor attempt to mask my surprise.

"For how I acted."

"Chi…I have no idea what you're talking about." I felt like if anybody should have been apologizing it should have been me, for misinterpreting his congeniality for…who knew what?

"For whatever I did to make that District 12 man think you were my girlfriend or something."

"Haymitch Abernathy?"

He gave me an odd glance, like who was I to know who the District 12 man was? I was probably imagining that too.

"Sure," he said. "What do you think he wanted with you anyway, Persephone?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. You heard him."

"Yeah."

"I just hope he doesn't ask me about my family. I mean, ask Tatiana," I said.

"Yeah," he said gently.

I was suddenly aware that probably whatever we said could be heard by anyone. Broadcast over Panem, because we could not forget that we were in The Games.

"We should probably be getting to dinner," I said, starting out of my room.

"Right. I'll walk with you."

We headed down the hallway toward the dining room and almost ran into Daphne.

"I was looking for you," she said pointedly to Chi.

"Oh."

"I checked your bedroom and you weren't there."

There was something so accusatory about her tone that made me uncomfortable. Guilt, maybe? I knew why he had been in my bedroom.

"He was with me," I said quickly, before I could think the better of it, clearly.

Daphne looked at me. "Oh, really?"

It had not been the wisest idea to confess for Chi. Maybe he had not even wanted anyone to know that he had come to my room.

"I was making sure she was going to be on time for dinner," Chi said.

"Oh."

Daphne seemed a bit crestfallen by that. Perhaps she had been hoping for a scandal. District 6 could not have been the most exciting district for which to be an escort.

We made it to dinner without further comment from Daphne, but I could tell she wanted to say something about how Chi came to visit me, which was fine. I could not take it. I was far too worried about everything else with which we had to deal. I wished I would have known that dinner would possibly end up being as trying as Training. Close to it, anyway.

I walked in with Chi and first my eyes settled on Tatiana. I quickly assessed her reaction. At first she seemed a bit surprised to see us coming in together, but she masked it quickly and well, which was not hard to do with dead eyes like that. My mother had done it when my father died…Then some sort of understanding seemed to pass over her face. I was not sure how I felt about it or how I was supposed to feel. She knew I wanted to talk to her. Maybe she assumed it was something about Chi. Well, it had been. She had to have known it too.

"Hello," she greeted us both as we took our seats at the table.

"Hi," I said. Chi just nodded. I kind of guessed he was embarrassed.

Daphne seemed determined to make dinner a pleasurable experience for us both. She smiled at us. Chi and I, that is. "So," she said, "how are you two enjoying The Capitol?"

Of course she automatically assumed that Chi and I were enjoying it, and I guessed that was a fair enough assumption. I meant, surely I was. A life of luxury. My dream…was it not?

"It's very fancy," I said, racking my brain for something else to say in addition to so that she would know I really was paying attention.

Of course. She had expectations for us. Everyone had expectations for Chi and I. To fight to the death. To enjoy our stay in The Capitol. To not be interested in each other. I was not quite sure who I was kidding though in assuming Chi was interested in me anyway. It was my imagination. It was my own problem.

"The showers are amazing," I mumbled, glancing down. I knew it would be pleasing for Daphne to hear, but I was embarrassed to be making such a fuss about the showers. I felt like Daphne was beginning to feel a bit useless though, so I needed to say something complimentary.

She nodded her approval, then, "Chi?"

He glanced at her, apparently having not been paying attention. He had apparently been in deep conversation with Balthazar because he had no idea what Daphne had asked him. I saw it all and I knew what I had to do.

"Chi was just telling me on the way here to dinner how much he's enjoying The Capitol," I said.

Chi glanced at me, quickly realizing that I was covering for him, and relief and gratitude flooded across his face. "I do," he said, "and it's even nicer knowing where everything is and its significance," Chi said. "Thanks to your wonderful guidance the whole time we've been here, Daphne."

He was smooth for sure, and maybe that was what made me moronic in his presence, which I still needed to discuss with Tatiana.

Dinner was incredible. I knew I should eat as much as possible before The Arena because we would all starve there, more than likely, but I was not accustomed to the huge amount of rich, delicious food. After a few huge bites it was too much, thinking about my family starving back at home. I ended up poking at some meat, wondering if it was one of the horses who had pulled our carriage into the City Circle. I could not eat it, as hungry as I was.

After dinner we were released back to our rooms for the night. I was not surprised when Chi waited around to walk me back to my room. We started down the hallway.

"Thanks for that, at dinner," he said.

"No problem." We stopped outside my room and I turned to face him. I was determined to not get flustered again and smiled to cover my nerves. "After all," I said, "I kind of owed you anyway."

"How is that?"

"You kept me on the chariot, Chi." He nodded, and I stepped into my room. "Goodnight, Chi."

"Yeah, goodnight."

I closed my door, then allowed my face to get hot and to sweat. So, yes. He still had that effect on me no matter how hard I tried not to let it show. Hormones, I so hoped it was hormones.

I sat on my bed and took off my shoes. I thought about changing into my nightclothes, but I was still hoping that Tatiana would come to talk to me. I was pretty sure she would. I was not sure where we would talk-how-but I knew we would have to be secretive about that which would be discussed openly.

A few minutes later, somebody tapped on my door. I stood to answer and of course, it was Tatiana.

I smiled. "Hi, come in."

She smiled back briefly, but there was something underneath it that hinted that something was wrong. It was The Games and we were tributes. Not Careers…of course something was wrong.

"How are you doing?" she asked once we were behind closed doors.

"I'm fine, I guess." I sat on my bed and drew my knees to my chest.

"If you're really not okay, well, nobody expects you to be."

"I know." Although I sort of doubted that. It seemed from the Tribute Parade that everyone else was having an easier time dealing with the circumstances than I was, but maybe they just hid it better.

"You really don't have to be strong all the time," Tatiana said. "Actually, it would be much better for you to be honest-with us and with yourself-about how you're handling everything. You don't want to get to training or The Arena and then start falling apart, in front of everyone else."

"Yes, you're right."

She put her hand on my arm. "I know it's hard because you're worried about your family."

I looked at her, surprised that she would mention my family considering how everything that was said could be heard by anyone. There were no secrets in The Games. No privacy…no private conversations.

She must have noticed my shock because she was still holding my arm and she wrapped her bony fingers around it and gave a slight squeeze. Of course I realized that every Tribute was concerned about his or her family. It was no special attribute I possessed, because most Tributes realized that they would never be seeing their families again. Obviously they would worry about them, how they would fare in their absences.

I nodded. "My mother especially."

"From what I know of your mother, she will be okay."

We were speaking in code. Tatiana meant that she knew my mother's situation but knew of no immediate threat to her safety. Good, good. To anybody listening, our conversation meant little more than common thoughts or causal reassurances that could be explained between any Tribute and Mentor, though I doubted somebody such as Haymitch Abernathy being so sensitive toward his Tributes.

Haymitch Abernathy…which made me remember that he had apparently wanted information on me, which was still a mystery. Why me, I wondered? What was special about me that apparently warranted him taking an odd interest in me? Probably he knew about my mother, and my father. Maybe that had something to do with it, or something about me volunteering? Like his female Tribute had volunteered. Only she had a clear reason for volunteering: to take the place of her sister. It was probably a mystery to most people as to why I had volunteered, for those who cared enough to wonder. It was still somewhat of a mystery to myself also.

"I do worry about my mother," I confessed. "Without me there I'm afraid she'll feel neglected."

Granted, I was not as good at speaking in code. I hoped Tatiana, having been in The Games so long, would be good enough for us both, and that she could guess what I had been trying to say.

"She has your brother."

"My brother will be otherwise occupied in several months," I said. I immediately started worrying that my code had given away too much. Perhaps The Capitol already had suspicions for my reason for volunteering. Maybe Diana had been examined and everything had been exposed. Maybe it was already too late.

Tatiana did not look at me as she said, "Maybe you're right. A new career can demand a lot of attention, especially from someone as young as your brother."

It was amazing how good she was at it. We were currently safe. He was still okay. So was Diana and the baby, I presumed. Tatiana had even covered my tracks a little. I owed so much to her already.

"What do you think of the other Tributes?" she asked casually, offering no transition or foreseeable reason behind her sudden change in subject matter of our conversation.

I answered honestly, "They all terrify me."

"Even Chi?"

I nodded, hesitated, then said, "Chi, especially."

"He's not such a threat."

"Just personally," I whispered, hoping that "personal" would make sense because again, I was afraid I was giving too much away.

"You look like you need some air."

I glanced at her. She nodded. "The roof has a great view. Nobody's using it right now."

I knew I could trust Tatiana. Maybe I did not know that I could trust her, but I decided to anyway. I believed that I could trust her. She was the only one who stood any chance of saving me.

"Sure," I agreed.

She stood and headed out of my bedroom and I willingly followed, thankful that I was still dressed. We got to the end of the hallway and boarded the elevator. Tatiana put her hands on my shoulders and stood behind me as the doors closed, and her grip felt much stronger than that of which she looked capable. I knew morphling strength from my mother though. She could wake up and have a death grip on my throat before she realized what she was doing. I called it shell-shock. Lycus called her crazy, and I wondered how I was supposed to keep from worrying about her in my absence. And once The Games were over.

We reached the roof and Tatiana escorted me off of the elevator and onto the surface of the roof. It was a wide, flat surface with low walls around the sides. It was dark but The Capitol never sleeps, so the city lights obscured the natural darkness and stars so that the sky was tinged purple.

"We can talk up here," Tatiana said. "It's so windy nobody will be able to hear what we're saying."

I nodded, still glancing around at everything. It was a lot to take in immediately, in more ways than one.

"What else has been on your mind?" she asked, looking at me more closely. "Why are you afraid of Chi?"

I opened my mouth to explain, but no words came out. Instead I just started crying. It was beyond my control as I succumbed to the tears and started sobbing. I wanted to stop. I did not want to be so weak…but I could not stop crying.

Tatiana must have understood. She took me in her bony arms and started stroking my back. "It's okay to feel weak," she said gently. "It would be unreasonable not to."

"I can't win."

I felt her take a deep breath, then her chest bone pressed into my face as she breathed out the burden of delivering the certainty of my death-sentence. Trying to coach me was a fruitless endeavor for her.

"I know, dear," she said.

Maybe lots of mentors would never say something like that to their tributes. It was probably some sort of rule that mentors had to be supportive and encouraging to their Tributes no matter what, and in some districts surely the mentors believed in their tributes' ability to win. Or maybe so many years of coaching tributes to lose them in The Arena had the effect of instilling some hope that never faded until the canon fired for fallen tributes. Or insanity. Maybe the only way to get through it was to believe that your tribute would win. Except when you had two to coach, like Haymitch Abernathy had to…he seemed tough enough to handle it. I doubted he instilled false hope in his Tributes. He probably had a harsher way of doing it than Tatiana. It made me feel a little bad for the boy and girl from 12. That is, until I remembered that one of them might kill me, then my sympathy drained a bit. Somehow I still wondered what Haymitch wanted to do with me.

"You really aren't doing her any favors," a male voice said.

Before I turned to see who had spoken, I knew there was something familiar about the voice. Like I had heard it many times before. My initial reaction was fear that it was a Peacekeeper and that Tatiana and I were in trouble for some reason, but then, from the familiarity of the voice I considered that it could have been Balthazar. He had a pleasing, melodic voice. But the voice that had spoken was slightly slurred. Slurred…I peered into the darkness, wondering if it was him, not sure how it could be or why he would have been there on the roof, but also sure that it could be no one else.

Tatiana spoke. "Hello, Haymitch."

Haymitch, of course. But I still did not understand why. What was going on.

"Tatiana."

He stepped forward from the shadows and I got a good look at him. I determined that the tv broadcasts I had seen year after year had done him no justice. He was sturdy, not fat, far from it…but he seemed to have aged incredibly well for someone who drank so much and had lived so incredibly hard. Then again, he was only in his late-30s.

He seemed to have noticed me watching him because I realized he was staring back at me. "Who is this?" he asked, hardly glancing at me before turning his attention back to Tatiana.

I felt my mouth turn downward. Huh. So he did not even remember me, although he had approached Tatiana about speaking to me at The Parade. It was frustrating, and I decided I had enough with trying to decipher people in The Games. The Capitol. I immediately made my mind to trust only Tatiana. Everyone else was completely crazy.

Tatiana put her protective hand on my shoulder. "This is Persephone."

He looked at me, then smiled a little. Crazy, drunken. I was still upset he did not seem to remember me. I had not figured out the reason why and I guessed I did not intend to, deciding that it did not matter. I wondered why he was smiling.

"Of course," he said. "Excuse me. I guess I just didn't recognize you without your spacesuit."

He really was crazy.

Tatiana patted my back. "Don't tease her, Haymitch."

He immediately stopped smirking at me. He looked away, then back at me again, and his expression was serious. "Persephone."

"Yes?" I had no idea what he wanted with me and it was making me nervous. I was so glad Tatiana was there with me.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

What an absurd thing to ask. Not like he was not a complete celebrity and I was nobody. Nothing more than a fading Tribute.

"Yes," I said, barely finding my voice. I cleared my throat. "You're Haymitch Abernathy."

"I am."

Tatiana gave my shoulder a squeeze, making me feel a lot braver.

"What do you want with me?" I asked.

"Oh," he said. "So it's about you now, is it?"

The man was bizarre. He approached me and was trying to male me look like an attention-seeker. As I said, crazy man. Yet I still felt as though I heeded to meet his approval, as inexplicable as that desire may have been, and certainly was.

"Haymitch," Tatiana said, exasperated.

"Sorry."

It was interesting, the chemistry between the two of them. I had never pegged Haymitch Abernathy as the type to be easily reprimanded, but Tatiana could. I honestly could not imagine a person alive who could be intimidated by Tatiana.

"What do you want?" I asked him.

"Just information. Is that okay?"

I glanced at Tatiana behind me.

"I'm asking you, Persephone," Haymitch said.

"I-"

"She's right to ask me," Tatiana said. "You're supposed to go through me to communicate with my Tribute, Haymitch."

"You're here, aren't you?"

She frowned at him, then gently turned me to face her. She met my eyes and stroked my shoulders and down my arms. I clutched her hands tightly.

"It's okay, dear," she said. "You can talk to him. You can answer his questions."

I could not trust Haymitch Abernathy. I refused. But I trusted Tatiana completely, and if she said that it was okay to trust him, I would because she said that I could.

She turned me back around to face him. "I'll go. Take care of her." A note of warning in her voice as she said, "And be nice, Haymitch."

"Where are you going?" I asked, hearing the panic in my voice as I asked.

She squeezed my hand. "It's okay. I'll be back to walk you down to our floor."

"But I-"

"It's fine, Persephone. I promise."

I nodded, doubting.

She gave me a brief smile, then she seemed to disappear into the shadows, and I was left alone with Haymitch Abernathy.

"So," he said, "I'll start with the obvious. Why did you volunteer?"

What a question. I was wary, but I told Tatiana I trusted her, so I had to answer him. "Because it was destined to happen."

I watched for his reaction. He did not even seem surprised, then I reminded myself that he had seen a lot of 14 year olds facing certain death. He was jaded and I was nothing special. He started walking toward the edge of the roof. I followed, uncertain.

"Have a seat."

He sat on the ledge. I glanced at it, my uncertainty surely evident on my face.

"It's okay," he said. "And don't bother trying to jump. It won't work."

I sat, not too close. I looked over the edge. "I wouldn't jump."

"Why not? Go ahead and get it over with. I mean, you're going to die anyway, right?" he asked.

"Yes."

He smiled, a bit more sincerely than I had seen him smile before, so maybe I actually had pleased him, and the thought of that pleased me. I realized I wanted his approval.

"Of course I'm going to die. I have no chance of winning, sir, and I am completely aware of that," I said.

"At least you're realistic."

Then I was the one smirking. If only he knew. Of course, really I did not want him to know everything-about him, my thoughts, Chi. He had called me "his girl," had he not?

"It wouldn't work anyway," he said.

"What wouldn't work?'

"Jumping."

I glanced over the edge. "Why not?"

He pulled a cork out of his jacket. Of course he would have a cork. I was sure there was a corkscrew on him somewhere too. Essential items, after all.

"Watch." He tossed the little plug over the edge. I watched. We waited, and a few seconds later it returned to his hand as thought it had been thrown by somebody back to us.

I stared. "What, magic?" I was only half joking. We were in The Capitol and it seemed that anything was possible. Then again, this was Haymitch Abernathy. He surely had no patience for the glitz and glamour of The Capitol.

He rolled his eyes. "No. A force field."

I nodded.

"So you won't be finding Tributes offing themselves," he said.

"And that's the whole point?" I asked.

He glanced at me, then looked away, scowling. "Yes."

Something about the way he said it made me afraid to ask questions, although I was curious. "I would think…maybe killing myself would help me out. Keep me from suffering too much. But I would worry how it would be taken out on my family," I said slowly.

"What do you mean?"

"If I killed myself, I would be dead. They couldn't do anything to me. But my family isn't dead. Well, my dad is, but my mother and my brother aren't, and I'm scared of what would happen to them if I did kill myself."

"Oh, they would," he said.

"You think so?"

"I know it."

I looked at him closely. "What, Haymitch?"

"You know they're watching you closely."

"Yes." I swallowed. "You know why I volunteered, don't you?"

"No," he said. "That was actually my next question."

"I wanted to seal my own fate, so to speak."

"Why is that?"

"I know they're out to get me. Because of my father. I knew I would be reaped. I figured it would be when I was 18, the last possible year. I really knew once Lycus wasn't reaped. I'm destined to die, sir. I know it and I have known it…"

"What about your father?"

I met his eyes and did not look away. "He overdosed on morphling. District 6, you know?"

"So it's true."

"I'm sure you knew already."

"About District 6 or your father?" he asked.

"District 6."

"I knew about your father too."

"How?"

I saw no way that Haymitch could have possibly known about my father. It was unknown outside our inner-circle in District 6. I doubted that Tatiana even knew.

As though he could hear my thoughts, Haymitch said, "District 6 is known morphlings, Persephone. Look at Tatiana and Balthazar."

I nodded. "We have a lot of bad industrial accidents, and they-well, doctors-The Capitol, I guess, want to keep us quiet and working so they give us morphling and it just gets out of hand for some people."

He nodded once. "Yes, District 12 has a lot of bad mining accidents. Only we have no medical resources. Our healer is completely unequipped to deal with the volume and severity of injuries we have. We get no morphling in 12."

Having messed up with him again, all I knew to say was, "Sorry."

"It isn't your fault." He looked briefly at me. "And I'm sorry about your father."

"I really miss him. That's the whole problem. Morphling deaths are deemed unacceptable, which is why my family is a target."

"You're a wise kid then, because you're completely right about that."

Maybe I had hoped he would have told me I was being paranoid and that things were not as bad as I thought. Like Lycus telling me that I was crazy, only Haymitch knew what was actually going on, not being one to mince words or conceal the truth, I presumed. He would let me know how things were in reality.

"I just can't believe that you know about my father," I said. "I knew that The Capitol knows. I mean, the ones in charge. But I never thought…"

"How do you think I found out?"

"No idea."

"Your mentor, perhaps?"

So Tatiana had known. But of course she had, being from my District and knowing all of the secrets of which I did not want to imagine.

"I wasn't aware Tatiana knew," I said.

"Why do you think she's taken such an interest in you, Persephone?" he asked.

"I guess I hadn't realized that she has taken a special interest. I thought she was just being my mentor."

"She isn't just pretending to give a damn, Persephone. Nobody says she has to care what happens to you," Haymitch said. "We aren't heartless. We've just seen those like yourself, year after year, and we get sick of seeing kids die."

"I understand."

"I'm not sure that you do, sweetheart."

I stared at him for a second, swallowing. Sweetheart?

"See," he went on, "you don't even know how to defend yourself verbally. You honestly don't stand a chance."

I shrugged and looked down at my feet, still admiring my shoes. My feet did not even hurt, unlike when I wore my District 6 shoes.

"I like you," he said suddenly.

"Excuse me?"

He was kind of smiling. "Because you know how things are. You've accepted your fate."

"It's quite defeatist, but my main goal now is only to protect my family."

"The best way to do that is playing by their rules. The Capitol's rules."

"The Capitol."

"The Gamemakers, Peacekeepers, President Snow's," he went on.

"That's my plan."

"How much do you hate The Capitol, Persephone?"

I wished he had not asked me that question. I was not sure of my answer. I did not even know what to think. "I don't know."

"Tell me about your brother."

So that was his game, how he intended to wear me down. To what, I wondered? To pledge my allegiance to The Capitol, maybe? I only felt an allegiance to my mother and brother. The only thing left for me to do was to protect them.

"What about my brother?" I looked at him closely. "How do you even know I've got a brother?"

"Again," he said, "how do you think, sweetheart?"

"You and Tatiana seem to be quite close then."

He looked down. "That's not really your business, is it?"

"I guess not. But yes, I have an older brother. His name is Lycus and he's 19."

"So his name wasn't in the reaping this year, was it?"

"No." I shook my head.

"So you felt compelled to volunteer since you knew he wouldn't be reaped?"

"No. I mean, not really. I just felt like since he wasn't reaped that I would be. Penance, you know." I smiled. "But Lycus thought I was crazy."

"To volunteer?"

"No. I mean…that too, I suppose. But my theory about The Capitol having it out for my family."

"Why is that crazy?"

"He thought I was being paranoid," I said.

"You weren't. Your family did do something to challenge The Capitol. Actions like that don't go unpunished.

"I didn't think so."

"Why did you volunteer, Persephone?"

"Why are you so curious?" I asked.

"Did Tatiana not tell you to trust me and my questions?"

"Yes, but she didn't say that I couldn't ask you questions too."

He shook his head, smiling again. "You really are a challenge."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, sweetheart."

Tatiana had encouraged me to trust Haymitch, so I would. "I volunteered for a few reasons," I said. "One of which I didn't even realize until it was already done."

He looked pleased at that statement. "Really?"

I nodded, praying my confession was safe. "First was so I could take fate into my own hands, because I knew it would happen. I would end up here, in The Games."

He nodded.

"Also, the girl who's place I took was waiting with her sister at the reaping. I saw them together and I just couldn't let her go in."

"Was she a friend of yours?"

I shook my head. "I had never spoken to her before. I sort of recognized her from school, maybe, but she's a few years older than me. 17, I believe."

"I'm not sure I fully understand, Persephone."

I shrugged. "Neither do I, but she knows my brother."

"Were they friends, at least?"

"You could say that. She's carrying his child, after all."

He stared at me. Perfect. "She's pregnant?"

"As far as I know she still is."

"And you didn't know until after you volunteered?" he asked.

"I didn't even know that my brother had a girlfriend. Maybe she wasn't his girlfriend, knowing my brother." I rolled my eyes.

"Sounds like my kind of guy."

"I wouldn't doubt it."

"Come on, sweetheart. You don't really know me well enough to make that kind of an assumption, do you?"

"I don't know you at all, Haymitch. I certainly don't understand your curiosity about me," I said.

"You've got bigger things to worry about."

He was certainly right about that. I still had not finished my conversation with Tatiana, hoping to calm my nerves and doubts, at least minutely. "True." And add Haymitch Abernathy to that list and I was certain that things could not get much more complicated.

"Does Tatiana know about Lycus and his girlfriend…harlot, whatever?" Haymitch asked.

I ignored the "harlot" comment. "I don't think so. Apparently she knows more about me than I thought she knew."

"Are you going to tell her?"

"I hadn't planned on that, Haymitch." I only had a million other things on my mind right then. Haymitch was beginning to take priority.

"Tell her," he said.

"Why?" It seemed so unimportant. I just had no idea.

"Trust me. Just do it, Persephone."

He and Tatiana clearly had a relationship I simply could not understand. "Okay."

He stood. "Thanks for that, sweetheart. You've been incredibly helpful."

"I don't see how."

Something seemed somehow wrong about his statement. At the time I could not put my finger on it though. I stared off after him as he walked away and I wanted to stop him. I could not explain why I felt that way.

"Um, Haymitch?"

"What, sweetheart?" He barely turned to glance at me. What, indeed?

"Um…" I had nothing. I could not very well say what I was thinking. I was not even sure that I could tell Tatiana.

"Earlier tonight," I said finally.

"Yeah?"

"Just…he isn't."

He shook his head. "Persephone, you are a Tribute in The Hunger Games and you're concerned because I thought your fellow Tribute was your boyfriend?"

"He isn't," I said.

"Okay, Persephone. Fine." He stared at me for a few more seconds before turning and continuing to walk away. "I'm getting Tatiana." He paused, then turned back around. "By the way, I meant what I said."

"Which is?" He had said plenty. I would never forget, I just needed specifics.

"About Tatiana coddling you not doing you any favors. You don't see me coddling my Tributes and they're as pathetically unprepared as you are."

"Thanks."

"Although not as emotionally weak."

"Honestly, Haymitch, I find it difficult to imagine you coddling anybody," I said. Not for lack of trying. That would be quite a vision to have. I needed something, anyway.

"Well, good," he said. Then he left.

I sat and waited. I turned around and looked out across The Capitol. It was an incredible sight at night, with all of the lights. I remembered what Haymitch had asked me, on top of everything else we had discussed.

How much did I hate The Capitol?

I had to say, at that moment it was nearly impossible to hate it. My hair was so smooth, I was not hungry, my clothes were lovely…I had just met Haymitch Abernathy. More than met. We had an actual conversation.

"Are you okay?"

I turned. Tatiana was about to sit beside me.

"Hey."

She put her hand on my shoulder as she sat. "Hi, dear. How was it?"

"Fine."

"Yes?"

"I just…am not sure I understand why he wanted…what he wants with me," I said.

"Oh."

"Why, Tatiana?"

"I can't tell you, dear. Just-"

"Trust you, right?" I asked.

"Yes. You can, you know."

"I know."

Maybe Haymitch was right and her coddling me was doing me no favors, but it felt so good when she wrapped her arms around me, offering me that vital human connection that I would only be able to experience for a short time longer.

I could not be at much more of a disadvantage anyway. I did not see the harm.

"I have a few questions," I said.

"Right. You wanted to discuss something and I just threw Haymitch at you. I'm sorry, Persephone."

"It's okay." I pulled myself a little closer to her. It was so much like hugging my mother. "I didn't mind talking to Haymitch."

"Was he nice?"

I pulled back enough to look at her and had to smile…Haymitch, nice. It did not seem probable somehow.

"Right," she said, stroking my hair. "I guess I should have known better than to ask that question."

"He was fine."

"Was that weird?"

"Yes."

She looked at me, nodding. "I had a feeling it might be. It's really best not to ask questions, Persephone. Believe me."

"I do."

"What else did you want to ask me?"

Right then, the rest of what I needed to ask seemed insignificant. At least its significance had been blurred by the immediacy of other things demanding my attention. "Chi," I said. "What is he trying to do?"

She continued stroking my back. "What do you mean, dear?"

"I mean, like with the chariots. The Parade. Then coming to talk to me before dinner. Why is he doing it? Why is he trying to be my friend? Or whatever he wants to be," I said.

"Is there something wrong with wanting to be friends?"

"I don't see the point, is all. He's going to end up pitted against me to try to kill me."

"The odds of it coming down to the two of you are slim to none, Persephone," she said.

"Maybe he's trying to get me to trust him so that in The Arena it will be easy to kill me. Because I won't be expecting it." I paused. "I can't handle it. I can't deal with him coming to my bedroom and…you heard Haymitch. He thinks Chi's my boyfriend."

She stared at me. "Is that what's bothering you?"

"It is kind of irritating. More disconcerting, actually," I said.

"Don't worry about it. He's a very smart boy. He knows better than to allow himself to get distracted when his life is at stake."

"Sure. But maybe it isn't a distraction. Like I said, I think he's just out to kill me."

"No, dear-"

"Then what is he doing? Does he really want…?"

"To be your boyfriend?" she asked.

I breathed out, nodding.

"Well, dear, he is a teenage boy, and you're lovely." She brushed her hand over my soft, glossy hair. "And you're a sweet girl. Why wouldn't he be interested in you? Could you blame him? Don't worry."

"I can't deal with him, Tatiana. I know I'm going to be killed. I have no chance of winning. I don't need him to tease me, either."

"Tease you?"

It was like speaking to my mother. Maybe she had some sort of block against it, as my mother had, against me possibly having a boyfriend, or even the idea that a boy could be interested in me, or that I could be interested in a boy.

"It seems to me like he's interested," I said.

"Persephone, I really don't think it's true. I think you both need to focus on surviving and training, not on each other."

"Tell it to Chi. I wasn't even considering him until he instigated everything."

"Persephone-"

"He did." I shook my head. "Like I said, I can't deal with this."

"Okay. Don't deal with it." She pulled me against her again. "It will be okay."

She was too much like my mother. "I know it's hard, not even to mention The Games, but being around the others," she said.

"Yes." I closed my eyes and leaned into her caresses.

"You're a girl. A teenage girl, around teenage boys, and I know that things happen. I was one once, too," she said.

"Not so long ago."

She patted my back. "Thank you, dear." She kept stroking. "The temptation is there. Especially-"

"Knowing that this is my only chance?" I asked.

"It isn't worth it, Persephone. Trust me."

"I love you," I said.

"I love you too," she replied, so naturally, and I knew that it was true. She really did love me, and I really did love her.

Since I had already gone that far, I continued, "The Mentors, too."

"What?" She pulled my shoulders so she could look me in the eyes. "I know the effect Finnick Odair has had on female tributes, year after year. Years when we both were mentors," she said.

"Not Finnick."

"What?" she repeated.

Remembering that I truly had nothing to lose, I said, "Promise me you won't tell anyone about it."

"Of course."

I nodded, looking away. "I love Haymitch Abernathy."

Silence. Expected. Then, "Um…what?"

"I love Haymitch."

"Haymitch?" She apparently was having a difficult time grasping that. Not that I could blame her. It was a bit absurd. And from her response, I could not really tell how she felt. Surprised, but something else too, it seemed. Upset, maybe? Not so far-fetched either.

"Yes."

"Persephone, he's twenty-something years older than you."

"Yes, I know."

"Why Haymitch?"

I shrugged. "I honestly don't know why him, Tatiana. But it is him. I'm not interested in Chi. I'm interested in Haymitch."

"That can't happen."

"Oh, I know. I definitely know," I said. "I guess it's just a dream." I stood. "It was a bit of a dream come true to get to talk to him. So thank you for that."

She smiled-or attempted to smile. The smile faltered, not reaching her eyes.

"Don't worry," I said.

I held out my hand. She took it, and I pulled her to her feet. She held onto my hand for a few more seconds before letting it fall.

"I guess we should go back to our rooms. You need to get to bed," Tatiana said. When I just stared at her, she continued, "I know. But you need to at least try to sleep, for me?"

"Sure." I would have done anything for her. Like helping her to her feet and the hand-holding? I did that with my mother before.

She hugged me again, then she escorted me back down to our floor.

"Oh," I said on the way down. "I forgot to tell you something. Haymitch wanted me to tell you, once he found out. The girl I volunteered for?"

"Whisper," she said, leaning closer.

I leaned in too. "Diana. She's pregnant. I didn't know when I took her place, but my brother told me when he came…to say good-bye. It's his baby."

She gripped my shoulders. "Oh, my god."

Her surprise caught me a bit off-guard. I expected that such things happened more often than any of us knew in The Games. Pregnant Tributes and love triangles…there were a lot of secrets at that point in our own world, so I should have known. She knew more about me than I wanted to admit or than I could understand.

"That's unexpected," she said. I could tell that she was trying to sound more neutral, but I could still tell that she was disturbed. I guessed the thought of a pregnant girl in The Arena was terrible.

"Yes, for me too."

She backed away. "You can feel a bit better knowing that you're protecting your brother," she said.

"But am I?"

"Just know that you're trying, dear."

I was doing nothing noble. I was trying to save myself, to call the shots on my own fate, and I had not saved my family. Not Lycus and his baby, and not my mother. They all were still in danger, and there was nothing I could do to help them except to hope that my death would be penance enough for all of them, but I knew better.

Tatiana took me down to our floor, then she walked me to my room. As we reached my door, we nearly ran into Chi.

I stopped in my tracks. "What are you doing here?" I had no way of explaining to Tatiana why he would be there.

"I just came to check on you," he said quickly.

"I'm fine. We went on a walk around the floor. So I won't get lost tonight," I said. "I sometimes sleepwalk."

"Oh."

Tatiana put her hand on my shoulder. "She's fine. It's sweet of you to check on her, but I assure you that she's fine."

"Okay," he said.

"You should get to bed, too," Tatiana told him.

He nodded, then quickly turned and headed down the hallway to his own bedroom. Tatiana waited until he was gone, then she turned to me. I just looked back at her, because she knew. She let out her breath and leaned against the door.

"Do you want me to have Balthazar speak to him?"

"Please."

She nodded. "Try to get some sleep. I'll see you at breakfast. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," I said.

She assured me that I would be fine, then she left. I closed by bedroom door and wondered if it would do any good to lock it, but I doubted it mattered. A locked door would not keep me safe from my enemies. I took off my clothes and slipped on my nightclothes that had been left for me on my bed. I turned down my covers and climbed in, immediately knowing that I would be getting no sleep, when I needed sleep the most.

Back in District 6, whenever I could not sleep, my mother would suggest for me to get up out of bed and do something else, so that was what I always did. In The Capitol, I had no books and I was certain they would not be allowed even if I did have them. Condemned would be more appropriate. There was nothing to do except worry about training, and Chi, and Haymitch and Tatiana…

Then I knew. Haymitch was the answer. I could play that game when I pretend that everything was alright and that I was District 1 or maybe I was still from District 6 and I won The Games, and I became a Victor. Like Haymitch. Although I was sure that there were rules about it-it would never be allowed, most likely-I would end up married to Haymitch and we would live a life of hard-earned luxury together. Then my dreams would all have come true, and my mother would be okay. And Lycus, Diana, and their baby. Lycus could do whatever he wanted, and we would no longer have to have disagreements about The Capitol and the conspiracy against our family. It was a dream, but it was all I had.

Somehow it got me to sleep that night.