The Hunger Games
Black Snow

Chapter 4
Nightmares and New Friends

I'm standing in a huge field. It's covered in beautiful red flowers. I recognize the flowers from somewhere. I try to take a step but my legs feel heavy so I just stay still. It smells amazing out here, like spring back home. I realize where I've seen the flowers before. They're the same type of flowers that grow in the spring back at home. I remember seeing Tam stitching them into cloth. It's so beautiful I almost want to cry.

I look down, expecting to see more flowers at my feet. I can feel the world shifting around me. Am I dreaming? That must be it.

The dream shifts and the ground isn't flowers any more, it's blood. It's the same rich red but it's not pretty flowers. I'm standing knee deep in an ocean of blood. I feel my heart rate pick up and I start to panic. Johanna, where is Johanna?

I look around, wading through the red liquid that is so thick I feel it start to drag me down. No, no I have to find her.

"Johanna!" I scream but my voice comes out as barely a whisper. I hear a voice and whip around.

It's not Johanna. It's a little blond girl, sitting on the top of a pile of something. I squint in the dim. "Rachael?" I ask, moving towards her.

As she comes into the clear I realize it's not Rachael, it's my Avox girl. She's as pretty as ever in my dreams and here she can talk.

"Hello Dath," she said with a small giggle.

I can't help but smile. "Hello," I reply back. "You can talk again."

She nods and tilts her head to the side. She stands and starts walking down the mound she's standing on. I still can't make out what it is.

"Do you know where we are?" she asks. She's surprisingly calm for someone who's now walking into a pool of blood which soaks her white dress.

I shake my head and stare as she walks towards me. She places two bloody hands on my shoulders and kisses my forehead. The place she kissed feels warm and wet. I reach up to touch it and I realize that what I assumed was lip stick is actually blood. Warm, fresh blood.

My eyes go wide and I back away from her, only to fall backwards into the blood. I feel it lap up into my mouth. It tastes like metal and salt and I gag. She laughs and the room gets brighter.

Her face shifts into the face of someone else. I watch as Johanna looks down at me and smiles in the most terrifying way. Behind her is a pile of bodies.

"Don't forget to hold your breath," Johanna sings as the blood drips out the side of her mouth and she goes pale as a ghost.

I wake with a start, screaming Johanna's name so loud that my throat is raw afterwards. I feel arms around me and fingers in my hair. I relax against the figure behind me, assuming that it's Johanna. When I look up at her I jump a little, realizing that it's the Avox girl. It takes me a moment to remember that she'd stayed with me last night. She starts to move out of bed when the sound of people rushing towards my room can be heard down the hall but I grab her arm and cling to her.

I look up at her with terrified eyes. She was so different in my dream. I wonder why I'd pictured her that way. She looks at me in confusion and slight panic as her eyes keep flicking towards the door. I pull her back close and wrap my arms around her.

"Don't run away," I whisper, my face against her stomach as I curl against her. She slides her fingers through my hair again as my door bursts open and Johanna, Tilly, Bosh, Cap and my mentors rush inside. They all halt in the doorway when they see me sitting on the bed hugging the shaking Avox. She's terrified for her life, I can see that, but I won't let them hurt her. It was my fault she was in this position anyways. Mila comes running after, delayed slightly by whatever she'd been doing.

"What is all the screaming all ab-" she runs into Bosh's back and blinks in surprise. She peeks around Bosh's back and lets out a loud yelp of surprise.

"What on earth are you doing girl!" she screams, completely aghast.

I move my face from her stomach and glare at Mila. "Don't yell a her!" I shout back, just as loudly.

I sit up slowly. Even with my strange urge to protect this girl, I'm still trembling from my nightmare. The Avox's fingers are still slightly around me as I shift and lean against her shoulder.

"She stayed with me last night because I asked her to. I had a nightmare and she was just trying to calm me."

Mila is muttering to herself about how it's just not done but Tilly glares at her.

"She wasn't breaking the rules," she scolds. "She was just doing what she was told; which, may I remind you, is her job. Now stop your huffing, don't you have a schedule to look over?"

That seems to snap Mila out of her fit. She lets out a little squeak and scampers off to finish scanning the schedule for probably the thousandth time. I wonder if all of the Districts reapers are this strange.

The others file out slowly except for Johanna. Bosh gives me one final look and a small sad smile before following Tilly out and closing the door behind him. Johanna stands there awkwardly, looking like she would much rather be where Avox is than standing there like she is.

I look up at my Avox and smile, moving away from her chest but keeping my hand on her wrist so she doesn't move from the bed. "Stay here," I say softly.
I slip off the bed and rush into Johanna's arms. She clings to me tightly and kisses my cheek. "What's wrong?" she whispers in my ear soothingly. "What did you dream about?"

I shake my head. I don't want to talk about it. Mainly because the two leading ladies who'd starred in the dream are in the room with me right now. "I don't remember really," I lie. "I just remember… you were dead. It scared me. Sorry I screamed."

She sighs softly and kisses the top of my head. "It's alright."

I look over my shoulder at the girl who is still sitting on my bed. I can tell by her face that she is very much regretting everything that she has been letting herself do while with me. Avox's aren't supposed to accept kindness from the people they're serving.

I look back at Johanna and smile. "I'm fine," I say softly. "Can you… leave me and her alone for a moment? I need to get dressed and I want to talk to her for a moment."

Johanna smiles sadly and nods, moving to the door and giving us both one final look before slipping out of the room. I rush back over to my bed and open the drawers of my bedside table until I find what I'm looking for. I pull out the pen and paper and hold them out to the Avox girl.

"Can you write?" I ask her. She stares at me in shock before nodding slowly.

"Write your name. I want to know what to call you."

She shakes her head violently.

"I won't call you it when anyone is around, I just want to know."

She hesitates for a moment longer before taking the pad and pen from me. She starts to write her name when I quickly ask her to add which district she's from. She pauses another second before continuing. When she hands me back the pad she's blushing a little.

I look down at the paper and read slowly so that the name can sink into my brain. I'll never forget it.

"Juliet," I read aloud, my breath coming out in a short wisp. She was from District 4. Suddenly she reminds me a lot more of Rachael. I wonder for a second if they're related. They look enough alike. They have the exact same hair and eyes.

"Do you have a little sister?" I ask, looking up at her. She blinks at me in surprise and shakes her head.

Well, that rules out that theory, I think.

"Thank you for staying with me last night. I didn't mean to get you into trouble."

She smiles softly and shakes her head again.

I look down at the pad in my hand and smile. It's small enough to fit into the pocket of her uniform. I hand the pad and pen back to her.

"Keep these. Use them so you can talk."

She looks down at them and her eyes glisten. I think it's a strange thing to cry over at first but then I think that she probably hasn't spoken to anyone in a very long time. I feel my heart swell. Maybe I could do this girl some good after all.

We spend the next hour just getting to know each other. I tell her all about District 7 and I watch over her shoulder as she writes about District 4. I would love to visit, I think to myself. Juliet is wonderful to be around, I realize. We have a lot in common.

She became an Avox because she tried to run away from her district with her older brother and father. Her father gotten shot in the head and her and her brother had been dragged away. She'd only been 10 at the time. I try to imagine getting my tongue cut out at 10 and being forced to be a slave but I can't. It's too horrible to even fabricate. She's 13 now, she tells me.

Probably the most amazing thing she's told me since I gave her the paper and pen is that the first tribute she served was Juniper. I think about Johanna's sister and feel tears well up in my eyes. I make a mental note to tell Johanna that later.

"She was Johanna's sister," I tell her. "I called her Aunt June because she helped raise me."

Juliet looks at me with wide, surprised eyes. She looks down at her paper for a moment before writing two words.

I'm sorry.

I smile sadly and kiss her cheek.

She starts a little and blushes dark red. Her mouth opens and closes. No sound comes out, obviously, but I had a feeling that even if she could speak, she wouldn't have been able to find words. I can't help but laugh at how cute it is.

"You kissed me first," I remind her but that just makes her blush darker.

Someone's knocking on my door and suddenly our time together is cut short. I feel like someone is gripping my heart when I realize that I'll only spend one more night here before I go into the arena. I want to make the most of that time, seeing as I'll never see her again after that. I make another mental note to see if Johanna can get a way to bring Juliet back to District 7 with her when she returns. Maybe she can request her as a personal Avox. Victors got privileges, right?

I shake my head to clear it and move away from the bed as Juliet slips the pad and pen into her pocket and stands as well. She stands with her head down at the back wall. Tam opens the door slowly and peeks her head in.

"You should probably come eat breakfast," she says, here eyes flicking over to Juliet every now and then. I smile and nod.

"Just let me get dressed," I say softly. Tam nods her head once and leaves, closing the door behind her. I look over at Juliet and smile sadly.

"You should probably go," I whisper. "I'll see you tonight?"

She hesitates for a moment before nodding. She slips out of the door as I make my way over to my massive closet. This one, unlike the one on the train, is packed full of only clothes that would fit me. I guess it's because they actually had time to stock this one after finding out how old the male tribute would be. I slip into some of those blue pants that I really like-Mila told me the material was called denim-and a purple button down shirt. I slip from my bedroom after combing my fingers through my hair to stop it from sticking up.

Everyone is already at the dinner table eating breakfast. Juliet stands beside the other Avox girl near the wall. I resist the urge to acknowledge her.

Sitting down beside Johanna, I reach over and grab a bun. I'm not very hungry this morning. My nightmare has still left my stomach turning in an uncomfortable way that lets me know that food probably wouldn't want to stay down.

I nibble at the corner of my bun as Cylee asks what Johanna and I are going to do for the Gamemakers.

I look at the table as Johanna speaks.

She's going to perform first aid on herself and chop one of the dummies to pieces with an axe. It was a good idea. She was good with an axe in her hand-well, good if she took the other person by surprise. She knew how to swing an axe properly, which was a skill not many had, but her lack of strength didn't play well in her favour. She had always been good at first aid. She'd patched up more people back at home than I could count.

Tam nods, obviously satisfied with this. She looks at me expectantly and the others turn to me as well.

"I was going to run and climb around a little. Throw some knives."

Tam smiles. She'd watched me train the day before and she'd been extremely impressed. Although I'd barely heard half of what she'd said while we were headed back to our floor since I was so exhausted.

I start a little when I remember that I hadn't talked to any of my mentors about making an alliance.

"I want District 4 on my team," I say suddenly, stopping the conversation that has just started up.

Johanna looks down at me and smile. "I do too. Rachael can make a net out of anything and Cod knows more about plants and animals than anyone else I've ever known. Not to mention, if there's water in the arena this year they'll come in handy."

The others seem to consider this for a moment before they nod in agreement.

"I'll talk to their mentors while you two are getting ranked," Cylee says. "See what we can sort out."

I smile and nod, staring back down at my plate. I place my bun down, not feeling well enough to eat even that.

"If they do agree to be on our team, can you tell their mentors to get them to run away with Johanna? I'll get as many supplies from the cornucopia as I can, but those two are so little. I wouldn't want them getting hurt in the brawl."

Ella nods, seeming to agree with me.

"I'm certain running was what their mentors told them to do anyways. I've known Krystal and Ruth for years and they know what they're doing. They wouldn't send those kids into that bloodbath unless they knew how to handle themselves. Which those two obviously don't." Ella sips at her wine gently and I wonder for a moment why she was having wine for breakfast but I don't dwell on it.

Johanna looks down at me like she wants to say something but she isn't sure if she should. I frown at her and tilt my head to the side.

She shakes her head and sighs. "It's just… I know that out of the four of us, you have the best chance of getting to the cornucopia and away without getting hurt. I know you can take care of yourself, but it still worries me."

I smile sadly at her and take her hand in mine. "I'll be fine," I promise her. She nods in understanding and goes back to her meal but she doesn't let go of my hand.

"Make sure to thank the Gamemakers before you leave," Tam said, picking up and apple and taking a bite out of it.

My mentors are faster than I thought.

As soon as I get down to the holding room behind the training room, Rachael and Cod come up to me and Johanna and sit beside us. Rachael has that light pink blush on her cheeks again and she reminds me painfully of Juliet. Two beautiful girls who would never grow up to be happy. Well, Juliet would if I had anything to say about it.

I'd talked to Johanna after breakfast about what Juliet had told me. She'd done her best to hold back her tears but I could tell she wasn't so sure what to do with the information. I asked her that if she got out she could try and bring Juliet back to District 7 with her. Johanna hadn't seemed to keen on the idea at first but after seeing my face she'd given in and said she would try to help her if she won. Although I could tell from her voice that she doubted she would win.

I look up at Rachael and smile kindly.

"Krystal and Ruth said that you two wanted to make an alliance," Cod says from beside Rachael. I nod and Johanna jumps into telling them our plan. She looks down at me when she mentions that I'll be grabbing things from the cornucopia. Cod frowns.

"All by yourself?" he asks quietly. We're all whispering because the other tributes are sitting close by but none of them are paying us any mind.

I nod slowly and stare at the ground. I can see Cod and Rachael looking at each other out of the corner of my eye.

"Look," I say, looking up at the two of them. "Neither of you stand a chance in that fight. It's an all out bloodbath every year. 24 tributes hacking at each other over a pile of stuff? You both would be dead in the first 5 minutes. I'm fast and strong and I know my way around a blade. I can get there and out and knock down a couple people on the way. I'm trusting you two to get Johanna away from there. We each have something that the others need. That's why I chose you two. Rachael, you're small and fast and your hands can make anything, from what I've seen. Cod, Johanna told me that you know about all kinds of herbs and animals. We're going to need that if we want to eat. Johanna can cook anything and make it delicious and she has healers hands. I, however, am the brawn. I'll hack down anything that gets in our way, simple as that. I'm stronger than I look."

The three of them stare at me as I talk before looking at each other.

"You look pretty strong, actually," Rachael says with a small laugh. I can't help but laugh too when the other's join in.

The laughter dies the second that the first tribute is called in. I look at Rachael and Cod and see the fear spreading over their faces. I reach over and take both of their hands in one of mine. Johanna takes my other and we sit there in silence as we wait our turn.

By the time that District 3 has gone in, Rachael has started to hyperventilate. I shush her quietly and she suddenly buries her face in my chest, shaking her head franticly.

"I don't want to go in there. What if they don't like me? I'm scared. If I get a low number then the careers will go after me first."

I stroke her hair as Johanna starts to sing a soft tune. Cod watches her with large eyes. I look at him and smile. Most people stop and stare when Johanna sings.
"They're going to love you," I say softly into her hair as I reach over and take Cod's hand again because he's still shaking. "And if by chance you do get a low score that might actually work to your advantage. They might leave you alone because they think you're not a treat. You'll be able to show them up when the time comes." That seems to calm her a little bit but she's still on edge.

"What are you going to show them?" Johanna asks softly.

Rachael doesn't say anything so Cod speaks up.

"I… I was going to pick out all of the edible herbs and berries from the survival station and then all the medicinal herbs. Separate those two from the poisonous ones. And… maybe do a couple flips."

I frown when he says flips. Rachael pops her head up and suddenly she's not shaking any more.

"Oh!" she says excitedly. "You didn't know? Cod knows physical combat training. He took it since he was little from Ruth. She's one of our mentors. She's really old but still really strong. Cod can do a flip in the air all the way around and land on his feet. He can jump really high too and kick people as tall as Jaz in the nose without pulling a muscle. It's really cool to watch."

I look down at Rachael with slight surprise before turning to Cod. He's blushing darkly and has his arms crossed over his chest. Being praised obviously embarrasses him. Or maybe it's just that Rachael was the one to say those things. I'm sure I would be blushing too if she gushed about me with that kind of look on her face.

"That's really cool," I say, smiling at Cod.

"You're full of surprises," Johanna adds.

We all snap our heads up to the door when we hear the loudspeaker call Cod's name. He's suddenly shaking again. I reach out and grab his hand again, giving it one last squeeze. "If you can really do all that stuff, they're going to love you," I say reassuringly. Rachael throws herself at him and hugs him tightly before we push him towards the door. He looks over his shoulder one last time before the metal doors slam behind him. That's the last time I'm going to see him before the arena.

I look down at Rachael, who has sat down on the bench beside me again. "You alright?" I ask softly.

She hesitates for a moment before nodding.

"What are you going to do?" Johanna asks again, wanting to make Rachael comfortable before she goes and faces the Gamemakers.

She fiddles with her hair for a moment before answering.

"I was going to make a net," she says softly, still combing nervously through her hair. "I'm not really good at anything else. I mean, there's isn't really a pool in there so I can't swim. I know I'm going to get a low rank. All I can do is weave."

I take the hand that's twisting her hair into knots and hold it tightly. "You're going to be amazing. You can make a net so fast that I can't even see your fingers move. It's pretty impressive, Rachael."

She smiles at me a little despite herself.

"Rachael Castle," the voice on the overhead speaker calls out.

She freezes up as soon as she hears her name and Johanna and I have to walk her to the doors because she can't seem to move by herself.

We both give her a kiss on the cheek for luck and practically push her out the doors. "Good luck," I call as the doors start to shut.

"Don't forget to smile," Johanna adds. The doors snap closed and we're suddenly engulfed by the silence. I turn slowly and see all the other tributes staring at us as if we're some kind of freaks. It must be strange to them to see tributes getting along. It's uncommon for tributes from the same district to even get along that well, let alone tributes from different ones. Alliances are just that, alliances. There's almost never any actual friendship there. And why would there be? We're all planning on killing each other eventually anyways.

I'm not going to kill Rachael and Cod myself. I don't think I could do that. But I know that they're going to have to die if it means that Johanna is going to be able to live. The thought sickens me and suddenly I feel the urge to empty the nonexistent contents of my stomach all over the floor. I sit down instead, waiting for the wave to pass.

"They're going to die," I whisper to Johanna when she sits next to me. "They're going to die and I'm not going to help them if they are dying. If they get stabbed or attacked by a career, I'm not even going to go back for them. Because my priority is you… I feel sick."

Johanna puts her arm around me and hugs me close. "I know, Dath," she whispers softly in my ear. "I know it's hard. You can't think about those things now. Just enjoy their company while you can. Contrary to what the other tributes might believe, having actual friends in there only makes your drive to win even stronger. I bet you anything that if one of those careers or any other tribute hurt either Cod or Rachael you wouldn't hesitate to tear that person apart. It's a drive for you. It's why you're so keen to get to the end. Because I'm here."

I think about that quietly for a moment and realize she's right. I was really starting to like Cod and Rachael to the point where I considered them friends. If someone hurt one of them then I would kill that person. Rachael and Cod deserve to live. I've resigned myself to the fact that they're going to die, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to let their killers take another step.

"You're right," I whisper softly.

We sit in silence, my head rested on Johanna's shoulder, as the names are slowly called closer and closer to ours. I'll go first before Johanna. The men always go first. The girl from 6 walks through the doors and I start to feel the dread that Rachael and Cod had been feeling.

"What if I go in there and throw a knife at one of them," I mutter softly. Johanna stiffens beside me.

"Don't do that. If you act out in any way they'll punish you. They won't just kill you, they'll kill someone you love. You have to suck up to them, Dath. Play the game by their rules."

I sigh and bury my face in her shoulder. "I know," I mutter angrily. "But I still wish I could take one of their stupid heads off."

My name is called and I stop breathing. I don't think I can do this. I start to panic internally but I don't let it show on my face. I slip myself from Johanna's arms, kiss her cheek quickly and head towards the doors.

The training room looks exactly like it did before, except exactly opposite me there is a hole in the wall that hadn't appeared to be there before. Inside the hole is rows of plush purple chairs and couches and sitting on them are the Gamemakers. They are the people who controls what goes on in the arena. They are the ones who decide our fates. I try not to glare at them as I walk over to the weapons area. I bow to them and introduce myself before looking at the display in front of me. I look up at the ceiling and over towards the dummies. Suddenly I have an idea. I take as many knives and throwing axes as I can and stuff them into my belt. Putting one knife between my teeth I move over to the climbing area. I take one look at the metal tree and jump straight up. I catch onto a low hanging branch and pull myself up, climbing up the tree quickly from years of practice. It's harder to climb this metal thing than the pine trees we have back home, but I manage to get to the top without having to stop. I have the Gamemaker's attention now. I take this chance to toss my first knife.

I take the knife from my mouth and whip it at one of the dummies on the other side of the room. It doesn't hit exactly where I was aiming. It strikes the chest instead of the head but it's still a killing blow. The dummy topples over. There are a couple gasps and 'ooh's from my audience.

I jump for the bars on the ceiling next, grabbing onto the closest one. I almost loose my grip at first but I cling on tight. I swing my way across the bars, getting closer to the dummies. Pulling myself up so I can hook my elbow over the bar, I let go with one hand and reach down for my belt. I can feel the bar cutting off the circulation in my arm and it hurts so much that I almost want to just drop down but I hold on. I'm going to have a nasty bruise in the morning. I pull two throwing knives from my belt and toss them at the same time from between my knuckles. They hit one of the dummies in the chest and the stomach and it goes down. I swing around some more, creating more bruises and switching to hanging from the other arm. Throwing with my left hand is much harder. I hit a dummy in the shoulder with an axe and it's arm falls off. A little unrealistic, I think, but it gets my point across. My arms are seriously starting to ache now.

I make a split second decision that I'm not sure is going to work, but I try it anyways. Swinging my legs up and hooking one of them over a bar, I twist myself around and catch another bar. I'm hanging upside down by my legs, halfway turned around. It takes a little bit of strained effort but I manage to turn my body around so that I'm upside down hanging by only my knees and facing the dummies. Throwing upside down is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.

I almost miss with my first knife, slicking one of the dummy's legs, but I make up for it with my next throw which stabs right into the dummy's throat.
I swing myself up and catch the bar with my hands again, unhooking my legs from the bar and hanging myself down by my hands. I drop to the padded floor, bracing myself for the landing as the Gamemakers clap loudly. It's a little bit of a farther drop than I'd prepared myself for and I feel a twinge of pain flare up in my ankle when I land on it strangely but I manage to keep my face blank. I stand shakily and bow again. "Thank you," I say to the people who are still clapping for me before turning and walking out of the training room.

As soon as the doors close behind me, my prep team is on me and I sink to the floor. My ankle is throbbing.

"What happened?" Neptune shrieks, kneeling down beside me and working my boots off.

"I twisted my ankle but I don't think they noticed."

Tilly tuts to herself softly when she sees the swelling in my ankle. It's sitting at a weird angle and it worries me. What if I really messed it up? It hurts so much now that I can barely see through the pain.

"Let's get you fixed up quickly."

Dire picks me up and carries me into a separate room where doctors swarm me. They put a mask over my face and before I can protest, I feel incredibly tired and I can't fight the sleep the put me under.

I wake up in my bed, the silk sheets wrapped around me. I feel like I've been smacked around a lot, but-after testing my ankle-I realize that I'm not in any real pain any more. I sit up and rub my sore arms. I can see the dark purple bruises there and I can feel them on the backs of my knees as well. I guess they hadn't formed yet while they were fixing my ankle and that's why they were still there.

I slip out of bed and wince.

My ankle might be healed, but I still feel like I've fallen 50 feet.

"Ow," I mutter softly under my breath, walking to my closet stiffly.

I change into a short sleeved blue shirt and black denim pants. The others are waiting for me when I get out into the main room.

"How are you feeling?" Tam asks when she notices me. The others turn towards me and Johanna runs to wrap me in her arms.

"I was so scared when I saw Bosh carrying you up to your room after they fixed you up. I thought something horrible had happened.

"I fell off the ceiling and sprained my ankle, Jo, it felt pretty horrible at the time," I mutter softly when Johanna lets me go. "I feel a lot better now, it doesn't hurt any more. I'm really sore though and covered in bruises," I say, answering Tam's question.

"Your ankle wasn't sprained, Dath," Tilly says as she comes over to me to examine my arms. "It was broken. I'm surprised you weren't screaming. The fact that you walked out of there without even limping is a miracle."

I let her fret over my bruises. "Yeah, well, I'm kind of used to pain," I say softly when she lets me go.

She doesn't respond to that, just says that Bosh will make me a pick-me-up and she'll let Dire know about the bruises so he can do something about them when they see me next.

Bosh disappears into another room which I can only guess is the kitchen. I wonder what she means by a pick-me-up. Back home, that almost always meant alcohol and I'd only drank a couple times in my life. Alcohol was gross and bitter and I didn't see the appeal of it at all.

I sit by the fire when Tilly drags me over and pushes me down onto the carpet. There's a huge television above the fire place. Mila looks at her watch and switches the screen on. "They should be announcing your scores any second now. It's a good thing you woke up when you did."

The Capitol symbol flashes up on the screen for a minute while the anthem plays.

Bosh comes back into the main room holding a tray. It has 10 mugs of steaming liquid on it. One for each of us. He hands them out to everyone and saves mine for last.

A pick-me-up, I learn, is coffee. Very strong, sweet coffee. It's delicious. Mine is a different colour than everyone else's, I notice. It's a nice dark green while everyone else's is light brown. Tilly explains that Bosh added some herbs to mine to help the bruises fade and relieve some of the pain. I'm extremely glad he did because as soon as the beverage is through my system I start to feel infinitely better.

Jehovah Merriman, the voice of the Hunger Games, and Cleo Flickerman, the most popular talk show host around today are sitting at a desk on the screen when the Capitol symbol fades at the end of the anthem.

"Well hello there, Jehovah," Cleo says, flashing her bright white teeth. "Are you as excited for this year's Games as I am?"

"Oh yes, Cleo, it looks like a great bunch of tributes this year. I'm especially interested in District 1 and 2's tributes. They look like a good bunch of strong kids. I can tell that they're in it to win."

Cleo nods enthusiastically, her bright pink hair bouncing at her shoulders. "Definitely. Did you see the arms on the boy from 2?" She whistles loudly and Jehovah laughs. I can't hold back a sneer.

"Oh, but you know who I can't take my eyes off of, Jehovah?"

"Who's that, Cleo?"

"Those two tributes from District 7. Dath Mason and Johanna Lest. What a twist. A boy and his sister in law in the arena together? And Dath is only 12 years old and he volunteered to save his best friend. Such a brave kid."

Jehovah shakes his head and sighs dramatically. "What a turn of events, eh? Never has a volunteer that young come out of any district but 1 or 2. It's amazing. I can't even imagine what his thought process was when he raised his hand and said those words. I almost fell out of my chair when I watched the reaping."

Cleo laughs loudly and nods in agreement. "Oh, I know what you mean. I wonder what the Gamemakers thought of him earlier today."

"Well, Cleo, let's find out."

My face is suspiciously blank through their entire conversation. They explain about the scores-1 is the lowest, 12 is the highest. The higher your score the more likely you were to get sponsors. And in the arena, sponsors can be the difference between life and death. When they begin to announce the scores for tributes from 1 and 2 I can't help but grimace. They got pretty high marks. Nell and Cotton both got 9s. Jaz got a 10 and Sheen got an 11. I knew that it was going to be hard to get past them. This really was going to be a tough year.

I hold my breath when they begin to announce District 4. My mouth drops open at Cod's score. 10. I guess that the flips he did really impressed them.

I hear Johanna whisper a soft, "Good boy," beside me and I smile softly. Rachael doesn't do as good, getting scored a 6. It's still better than some of the other kids their age who come after them. It doesn't matter much how low a score she gets because I know that with Cod, Johanna and I there to protect her, she's not going to be in much danger in the beginning. As long as she gets away from the cornucopia safely then she'll be fine.

Johanna reaches over and grips my hand when they get to District 7.

I hear the reaction to my score before my brain even processes what's on the screen.

I got a 12.

Johanna's hugging me and whispering that she knew I could do it. Cleo is whooping on the television, saying she knew that I was one to look out for. I shush Johanna and point to the screen when her number comes up.

8. That was the perfect number, I think. High enough that they won't see her as completely useless but not high enough for her to be a real threat.

She kisses my cheek, not caring about her own score. They're still celebrating for me.

Mint picks me up and spins me around when I stand. I get a little dizzy but I laugh with them anyways. I look over and see Juliet standing by the back wall beside the other Avox girl. She's smiling at me. I grin widely back at her. She lifts her pad of paper and I have to squint to see what it says.

I knew you could do it.

I blush darkly and look away before anyone catches me looking at her.

I can't wait to tell her that she's might be getting out of her when Johanna wins. If Johanna can pull enough strings and play it right, she might be able to save Juliet from this life.

We eat dinner and head to bed. There's a lot of talk during dinner about the interviews with Cleo Flickerman tomorrow but I don't speak. I'm still slightly shocked about my score. No one ever got a score that high. I'm not sure what the Gamemakers were trying to do when they gave me a score like that. I couldn't have been that impressive, could I? Maybe they want to get everyone against me because that way it will add more dynamics. A 12 year old boy fighting to save his brother's fiancée isn't heart breaking enough, apparently. They have to add the fact that everyone now wants to kill him more than anyone else. If I die then no one would be there to protect Johanna. I couldn't let her die.

Juliet follows me to bed silently. The others don't even notice her. I'm not sure what it is about Avoxs but they went unnoticed by almost everyone. It was like they weren't even there.

I had grabbed another bun from the table for her along with an apple. I watch her as she eats, sitting on the edge of the bed beside me.

I change my mind about telling her. If for some reason Johanna can't get her out then I wouldn't want her hope to be crushed.

"This is the last time I'm going to see you," I say softly once she's done eating.

She looks up at me slowly, the sadness plain in her eyes. She takes out her pad and pen and writes down a quick note.

But what if you win?

I shake my head and look down at my hands. "I'm not going to win, Juliet. Johanna is. I'm going to make sure of it."

Juliet sets her pad on her lap and stares down at it. I look over at her out of the corner of my eyes and feel my heart stop in my chest.

There are tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. Was she crying for me?

She starts writing again; this time slowly, calculating her words carefully.

You're the first person who's ever spoken to me like I'm human. You're the first person who's cared.

She puts the pad back on her lap before I can say anything and flips to a new page, starting to write something else.

I don't want to lose the only friend I have.

I let out a soft sigh and wrap my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. She's shaking with the effort not to cry. I try and imagine what it would be like to finally find someone who cares and then lose them in only a couple days. My heart throbs painfully in my chest as I wrap my other arm around her and hold her close.

I'm reminded strangely of Rachael shaking in my arms only a couple hours earlier. They did look freakishly alike. I still don't believe that they're not related. Maybe they're cousins or something. Or maybe blue eyes, blond hair and cute petite figures were just common in District 4.

"I'm sorry," I whisper into her golden hair. "I wish I could stay with you."

She just sobs quietly into my shirt. It's still strange to me to hear her making sound. Even though I know it was just her tongue she'd lost, not her vocal cords, I had expected Avoxs not to be able to make any noise at all.

We stay like that, Juliet curled up at my side with her head against my chest, until I feel her relax a little. Her sobs quiet down until they stop completely. It takes me a moment or two to realize she's fallen asleep. I slip off of the bed, laying her down on the blankets. She stirs a little but doesn't wake. I pull back the silk sheets and move around to pick her up. She's so light, it almost feels like she doesn't weigh anything at all. I lay her down on the bed and pull the sheets up over her.

After bathing myself quickly, I slip into a pair of cotton pants and shirt and climb gently into bed beside her. My hair is still slightly damp and it leaves a dark mark on my pillow. I watch Juliet's chest rise and fall as she breathes. She looks so content in sleep. I wonder if that's what I look like when I'm sleeping. I move close to her and put my arm over her, closing my eyes and letting out a small relaxed breath. I'm almost asleep when I feel her shift, moving closer to me until she's pressed against my chest. I tighten my arms around her and take comfort in her warmth. I've always been the one to be held when I slept. I'm so small, I disappeared in most people's arms. But Juliet was just as small as me. She was my height. She lacked all the physical strength I have, though. Her arms and waist are tiny. She fits perfectly in my arms. It's strange being the one to hold someone. It was oddly relaxing. I feel stronger than I ever have and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm protecting her-shielding her from all of the awful things in the world that want to hurt her.

I wish I could come back to her. I wish I could save her. I wish that I wasn't going to walk straight to my death willingly and leave her behind. Hopefully Johanna will look after her, but it still breaks my heart to have to abandon her. I wish we could stay like this forever, curled up together without a care in the world. I want this moment to last forever. After my interview tomorrow, I will never see her again. I wonder if she's going to watch the games. Do Avox get to watch them? Probably. The Capitol still wants to strike fear into the hearts of everyone they rule over, including their slaves.

Will she watch though? Will she sit there silently and see the horrors play out on the screen? Will she still watch when I die? Or will she turn away?

I squeeze my eyes shut and hold her tightly.

Please, I pray silently. Please let her be safe. Please protect her and let her live again. She's only 13. Please keep her safe.