The Hunger Games
Wolf and Winter
This chapter was supposed to be much longer but it refused to be written so it's a lot shorter than the other chapters. At least now we're getting somewhere! Sorry it took so long to update, but I have gotten a lot of the rest of the story already pre-written so updates should (hopefully) come faster from now on.
I wake up to the sound of humming. I open my eyes slowly and look up at the figure above me. My hand reaches up and touches her cheek softly.
Juliet looks down at me and stops her humming, smiling a little and taking my hand in hers. He kisses my knuckles and I blush darkly. I have my head in her lap, the blankets curled tightly around my body. I look around the dark room and force myself to sit up. I don't want to do my interview today. I don't want to leave Juliet. I turn around and look at her, still holding her hand. I don't know what to say so I say nothing. I just look at her fingers, tracing lines over her knuckles.
There's a knock at my door and I want to ignore it but I know I can't. Juliet slips out of my bed and away from me, disappearing into the shadow of the corner. I sigh softly and turn towards the door just as it opens. Mint peeks her head inside and smiles when she sees me.
"It's time to get ready for your interview," she says softly, her voice both reassuring and sympathetic at the same time. I'm not sure how she does that.
"Okay," I whisper hoarsely. I wait for her to close the door before I stand from my bed and move towards Juliet. She's trying to make for the door but I stop her, grabbing her arm and pulling her against my chest. I hug her tightly, not wanting to let her go.
"I'm sorry I have to leave," I whisper softly into her hair. "I'll try and find time to come see you again before I have to go into the arena." She grips the back of my shirt and buries her face in my shoulder. I stand there, stroking her hair gently for almost a solid minute before I know that I have to go get ready.
I pull back from her and smile softly. "I'll see you later, okay?" She looks unsure but nods anyways.
I watch her leave the room and heave a sigh when the door clicks behind her. I walk into my huge closet and throw on a pair of pants and a shirt without really looking at them. I'm not going to be wearing them for long anyways, since my prep team and Tilly are going to strip my down soon.
I walk out of my room and am instantly surrounded. I probably didn't even need to change out of my pyjamas because Neptune grabs my arms and pulls me towards the elevator. He practically throw me inside, tutting about how I'm going to be so late. I watch him out of the corner of my eye, wondering if the others are already down in the prep room waiting for me. I suddenly feel like I'm burdening people a lot more than I should be.
"I'm sorry for sleeping in," I say, still gazing at him through my bangs.
He looks at me, a little surprised as if he didn't know that he was saying anything out loud.
"Oh, don't worry, Dath. It's no problem. You don't have to be onstage for another three hours." He sounded slightly sarcastic, but I wasn't sure if people from the Capitol even knew what sarcasm was or that it was rude so I brush it off.
Three hours and he was talking about being late. Three hours was enough time for me to visit Bailey, chop down a few trees, sit alone on my rock and still be home in time for dinner. What in all of Panam could take three hours?
As soon as I walk into the prep room, I realize why three hours isn't a lot of time. They're stripping me down to Beauty Base Zero again.
I let them rip me out of my clothes and dunk me in the odd concoctions that Bosh makes. These ones smell a lot nicer than the first batch.
"Why do you always have to do this?" I ask while Dire rubs me down with a fluffy white towel. He smirks at me and tosses the towel over his shoulder. He wraps me in a robe and sits me down in the make up chair.
"Because, Dath," he says as Bosh grabs my hand and Neptune attacks my hair. "if you're not at Beauty Base Zero then when we pack you over with make up you'll feel like you're wearing a house on your face. We need to scrub everything away so there's no extra anything on your skin below the make up."
I scowl a little and watch Bosh shine and shape my nails as Dire picks up his make up pallet.
"I still feel like I'm wearing a house on my face," I mutter under my breath. Dire laughs as he paints my face. "Yes, but it would be a lot worse if we didn't do that first."
I don't argue with him. I have a feeling he's right.
They pluck at me for almost thirty minutes before Tilly comes in with my outfit. She smiles when she sees me and claps her hands with delight. "Ooh, Dath, honey, you look amazing and you're not even finished yet."
I stand from the chair and walk towards her as she unzips the suit bag which she hung on a hook. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I can see all my scars this time. Dire almost made them look more prominent, since he'd packed me heavily with make up but avoided the scars. There's only a small amount of eye liner in the corners of my eyes to give them more depth as Dire put it. My hair is slicked back like it was in the chariot parade, but it's slightly to the side this time, making it look more like I'm trying to pick up a date than I'm some scary freak in a tree costume.
I move my eyes to the suit that Tilly pulls out of the bag. This costume, I like much better.
It's a simple dark brown suit with a matching vest and shirt. The tie is a beautiful pine green and the shoes are slick and black.
"I like it," I say and this time it sounds genuine to my own ears. Tilly smiles widely and helps me into it. There are so many layers, I'm sweating before she even puts the jacket on but she assures me it will be a lot cooler in the studio. I chew at my lip and take a deep breath. I still feel like someone else. I don't look like me; not really anyways. I look like an older, more mature, more privileged version of me.
"Ready to go?" I hear Tilly ask from the doorway. "Johanna is waiting for you."
Waiting is so nerve wracking I feel like I'll choke on the tension flowing through me. Johanna squeezes my arm and shushes me quietly. I can tell she's just as tense as me though.
Johanna will go first. I chew my lip. We have no idea what Cleo is going to ask us so there's no way to prepare. Cylee said that we should just be ourselves and smile and try and act like we're happy to be here and be confident. I felt like none of those things were even possible right now. I could barely be myself around strangers when I was at home, let alone in a foreign place in an outfit that made me feel like a different person.
I see Johanna shaking a little as the boy from 6 talks on the small screen they put backstage so the tributes can see where they are in the show. I reach out and take her hand comfortingly, stroking my thumb over her knuckles. "You're going to be amazing," I whisper to her as they call her name. She is still incredibly nervous but she smiles. Her hand slips from mine and she makes her way onstage, looking out over the vast sea of people in the audience.
I hear the sounds of approval from the crowd when they get a look at Johanna's dress. I've been so caught up in my own musing that I hadn't even really taken in Cap's work. It really is a beautiful gown. The stage lights make it even more stunning.
It looks like she's wearing the forest.
The base of the dress is a dark forest green with the faintest design of brown climbing branches all up the sides to the bust. It flares out at all angles, flowing as if it was made of a mixture of smoke and falling snow. The material looks so thin and light, like it would fall apart at a touch.
"So, Johanna," Cleo starts, smiling sympathetically at Johanna and leaning over in her seat when Johanna sits down beside her. "I have to ask. Coming here with your brother in law… that must be incredibly hard for you. And he volunteered too. Does that not scare you?"
Johanna looks at her hands for a moment or two, sliding her fingers over the embroidery on the dress.
"It scares me more than you will ever understand, Cleo," she says, looking back up at Cleo and smiling painfully. The crowd 'aw's in unison. I feel my heart constricting in my chest.
"Dath is like a son to me," Johanna continues, her voice quiet but strong. "I've known him since he was a baby."
I have to close my eyes for a moment. I didn't want to watch or listen to this. I was going to cry and ruin my make up and get scolded at by my prep team.
Cleo nods, her face showing a look of dramatic pity. "I understand that your sister was in the games a couple years ago as well. Juniper Lest. Do you all remember her?"
The crowd voices a resounding yes.
"She was a lovely girl. I'm sorry she didn't win. I would have liked to see that. She was my favourite."
I try to hold back a snarl and I can tell Johanna was doing the same because the smile on her face was so comically fake you could almost see the lightning bolts coming out of her eyes.
"Yes," Johanna says, still smiling. "Now Dath and I are here. Looks like the odds aren't really in my family's favour."
Cleo tuts and shakes her head. "Oh no, I'm certain one of you two will make it this year. I can tell you two are the type. You've got something planned. I look forwards to watching it."
Johanna nods her head in thanks. "I've got nothing planned, but I can't say the same for Dath. He's always had some grand scheme brewing around in his brain.
You don't know how right you are, I think, screwing up my face and looking at my feet.
Johanna's time was up. Cleo calls Johanna's name once more to the audience who clap and cheer. Johanna walks offstage and begins to shake furiously again. I rush to her and grab her hands. "You did amazingly," I whisper as I see tears forming in her eyes. She smiles weakly and lets Mila and Tam pull her away.
I stare up at the stairs and take a deep breath. This is it. I had to prove myself, get the attention of the crowd and make people love me. I feel my heart in my throat, knowing that my zero social skills aren't really going to help me at all. I walk out when my name is called, planting a smile on my face that I hope doesn't look too fake.
I sit down in my chair once I've took a second to wave at the crowd. Cleo jumps right into questioning me, wanting to get as much in as possible in the three minutes each tribute is allowed.
"Dath Mason," she says, so overly excited she can barely stay in her chair. "How does it feel to be the first ever volunteer your age? I did my research and you are the only tribute to ever volunteer at the age of 12. You're so young, why did you decide that this was something you were going to do?"
I look at my hands for a moment, the bright lights of the studio blinding me.
"My best friend was called. I wasn't going to let him go into the arena. He can barely fend for himself against schoolyard bullies. In the wilderness surrounded by 23 people all trying to kill him? He wouldn't last three seconds. I'm a lot stronger than he is. I'm faster as well and I know how to use most weapons. I figured I had a pretty good chance of winning, or at least getting far."
The words are coming out of my mouth with a strong confidence that I didn't know I had. I don't know how to control it so I let it control me. This is better than floundering for words, even if I sound like a different person. Make people like you, that was the rule.
"But…" I continue, pausing for dramatic effect and because I know I need to choose my words carefully. I can't give away too much of what I'm trying to do, not with the other tributes still watching. "Johanna is in here with me. Right now my main focus is to make sure she doesn't get killed. I have no clue what we're going to do when we get to the end. There's only one victor, right?" My face paints a clear picture that I know exactly what I'm going to do when we get to the end and it doesn't involve me going home to see my brother. The audience doesn't seem to know what to do with that. Some of them are actually crying.
Cleo nods solemnly. "Yes, only one victor," she agrees, looking out sadly to the audience. "You're a very brave kid, Dath. Johanna is lucky to have you."
I can't help but smile a little at that. It makes me feel both happy and sad. "Thank you," I say softly.
Cleo looks out at the audience cheekily before turning back to me. She makes a swift and clear change of subject.
"Dath, before you go, I must ask. You're just of that age where you're starting to notice girls. So tell me, is there a pretty little girl you have your eyes on?"
I blink at her in surprise and blush darkly. She can tell from my expression that there is. I can't tell her anything about the girl though, because technically my even speaking to her was highly illegal.
"I, uh… I guess you could say there is," I say softly. "She, um… saying goodbye was hard." That's all I say because my throat closes up and a clear picture of Juliet flashes in front of my face. I barely knew her at all but I was so drawn to her that it was almost painful to be away from her. I still want to see her again before I went into the arena.
Cleo nods sadly. "I can understand why." She doesn't push anything about how if I won then we would be together again because she had already seen that I didn't plan on going home at all.
My time is up and I wave again as I walk offstage. I'm engulfed in Cylee and Tam's arms as they pull me back into the room behind the waiting room where Johanna is sitting with her fingers curled around a cup of coffee. "That was amazing," Tam says, staring at me in awe. "You sounded like a completely different person, where on earth did that come from?"
I look at the coffee in Johanna's hands again and feel the sudden urge to ask for one of Bosh's pick-me-ups. A cup is thrust into my hands on cue, Bosh smiling at me and winking. I melt into a plush seat and inhale a whiff of the steaming beverage.
"I don't know," I say, answering Tam's question. "I just started talking. I don't much feel like myself either, honestly."
"You look very mature," Johanna pointed out from her seat beside mine. "It suites you, although it's very different from what I'm used to."
I smile at her and take a sip from my cup.
"Is there any time to go back to the apartment before we have to go prepare?" I ask, looking up as I remember Juliet.
Mila looks as if she wants to explode with the prospect of changing the schedule but Ella smiles and nods. "Of course, Dath. You go take as much time as you need. We'll work with Johanna until you get back. I doubt you'll need much coaching anyways."
I smile widely and drink the rest of my coffee quickly. "Thanks," I say, rushing towards the elevator and pressing the button for level 7.
I rush into the apartment when the elevator doors slide open. My lips part, posed to shout, before I stop myself and slap a hand over my mouth. I shouldn't be screaming in here, and definitely not screaming the name of an Avox. I blush a little at my lack of thinking and move towards the back room that I assume is the kitchens.
I was right that they were kitchens, but I wasn't expecting them to be as extensive as they were. I stare around the room, my mouth slightly agape. There's no one inside that I can see, but there is a back room which says 'Staff Only'. I move through the pristine white room towards the door, slowly so I can take in everything that is around me.
The walls are painted so bright a white that they look like snow. The room is about as big as the dining room, white marble counters at almost every wall. There are three stoves; huge grey metal machines which look a little like they want to eat me. I move past those quickly. The fridge is just as large, if not larger; two tall metal doors rising almost to the ceiling. I slide my fingers over the steel counter island in the middle of the room as I look up at the many many cupboards surrounding the room. Some are so high up that you'd need a ladder to even brush the bottom of it, let alone reach anything inside. I notice a tall ladder stuffed in the corner of the room which confirms my suspicions. I can't believe that this was here this whole time. There is probably enough food in this kitchen to feed an army. I gulp a little and stop in front of the door at the back. I wonder if I should knock, but forgo that plan and just turn the doorknob slowly.
I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't this. My eyes open wide when I see the tiny, dark room with two futon beds stuffed along one wall and a toilet and sink along the other. I feel my insides curling with anger. There's shuffling beside me as someone moves but I almost don't even notice. "They make you live like this?" I ask softly to no one in particular. This was worse than my cabin back home. There are no windows in here, no mirror, no blankets. It's freezing and the floor is horribly dirty. It looks like this room hasn't been cleaned since the first Hunger Games.
I turn finally to look at the two girls standing in the corner of the room beside the beds, staring at me with a mix of shock and horror. I open my mouth to say something but Juliet rushes towards me and slaps her hands over my mouth, pushing me out of the room and slamming the door behind her. She plasters her back to the door, arms spread out to block me from going back inside, not that I was planning on it. She messes with her clothes before pulling out the pad of paper and pen I'd given her. She scribbles down a couple words and shoves the pad in my face.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?
She'd written it in all capital letters. Her face exaggerated how horrified she was. I frown a little and take the pad from her, stuffing it back into her pocket along with the pen and grabbing her hand. I pull her away from the door, towards the island counter. I turn to face her when we're standing in the middle of the room.
"I came to see you," I say, not sure if I'm angry or frustrated or just overwhelmed. "I wanted to see you one more time before I went into the arena."
She just looks at me. She doesn't reach for her pad again, just stares. I take this time to take in her appearance. She's been crying. I can tell because of the streaks on her cheeks from where her tears have fallen. I reach out slowly and try and wipe away some of the marks. Her face is still wet, she's probably only just stopped crying. Was she crying for me? I take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, my hand moving back and dragging through her blond hair. "I didn't mean to upset you."
She shakes her head and slaps my hand away. I can't help the little sting that goes through my chest.
"I really didn't mean anything by it," I say, wincing when my hurt feelings come across in my voice. "I didn't know it was going to be like that. If I'd known..." I stop talking and close my mouth. I'm not sure what I would have done if I'd know it would be like that, actually. Would I have knocked and waited for her to come out? Would I have stormed in and demanded she tell me what other horrible things they were doing to her? Wasn't cutting out her tongue and forcing her to work as a slave bad enough?
I bite my lip to stop any of these questions from coming forth.
Juliet rolls her eyes and lets out a loud sigh.
I can't help but smile when she gives me a very sassy look; hand on her hip and one eyebrow raised.
"I know I shouldn't have come in without knocking," I say, wringing my hands together and staring at my feet. "I was just so excited that I got a chance to see you one more time that I wasn't thinking properly."
I look back up at her and catch her watching me closely. She blushes and looks away quickly, hands folded over her chest tightly.
We stand in slightly awkward silence for a moment or two before something dawns on me. I startle her a little when I grab her wrist and pull her out of the kitchen at a run. She lets out a small yelp of surprise when she almost trips over the carpet and ends up clutching the side of my shirt to keep herself upright. I laugh softly, steadying her before I lead her towards the couch; slower this time.
I pull her down beside me and reach into my shirt.
"I have something for you," I whisper softly, pulling the pinecone necklace that Rule gave me out of my shirt. I pull it over my head and hold it out to her.
"My brother made this for me. I want you to have it. To remember me."
She stares at the necklace, eyes shimmering, before shifting her gaze up to my face. Her mouth opens and closes a couple times and I have a feeling that even if she could talk, she wouldn't have been able to form words.
I slip it over her head while she's still floundering for something to do. I pull her hair out from under the rope and let it fall back down around her shoulders. "It suits you," I say softly, looking down at her with a small smile.
The tears finally break free of her eyelashes and slide down her cheeks. I wipe them away with my thumb, gazing at the small wood pinecone resting against her breast bone.
I tear my eyes away from it and look back up at her when she starts to shake her head violently. She tries to pull the necklace off her neck but I grab her wrists, stopping her. Her lip trembles a little and she meets my eyes.
"I want you to have it," I whisper again.
She looks like she still wants to protest but she nods instead. I smile a little and tuck a piece of her hair behind her ear.
"I have to go," I whisper, looking up at the huge clock on the wall behind the dining room table. "Someone is probably going to come looking for me soon."
Juliet sniffs softly and nods again. Her fingers wrap around the pinecone, holding it gently. Our eyes meet again and I feel my chest tightening.
My body moves before my brain has time to catch up with it. I lean in and press my lips gently against hers, eyes closing. The kiss feels like it lasts hours but in reality it's only a couple seconds before I pull away.
Her eyes are wide, her lips parted slightly in surprise. I smile and stand from the couch. My hands are shaking but I tighten them into fists so it doesn't show.
"Goodbye," I whisper softly, turning on my heels and rushing towards the elevator.
"I'm not good at whistling."
We're sitting around a small table in one of the back rooms of the training room where the mentors are supposed to give final lessons to their tributes. We're trying to figure out a call that Johanna and I can use to find each other when we're separated in the arena. I'm trying to be helpful and pay attention, I really am, but my mind keeps wandering up to the 7th floor where Juliet is. I kissed her. My heart still pounds when I think about it. I've never kissed a girl before that moment.
Tam's voice snaps me back to reality.
"Hm?" I hum absentmindedly. Tam looks at me hard, obviously extremely annoyed.
"Dath, you have 2 hours before you enter the arena and you're not paying attention. Now come on, think. We need a call. Johanna can't whistle so that option is out. I know you've got a wiz-kid mind in there somewhere Dath. Think."
I let out a soft groan and let my head fall onto the hard wood of the table with a loud thunk.
I think, because Tam told me to, but I'm not really sure what she wants in the way of a call. Something loud but subtle. Something that will carry over distance but not alert other people to our position.
I gasp suddenly, sitting up straight.
"Lunch time!" I practically shout. Tam groans and drops her head into her hands in exasperation but Johanna understands. Her face lights up into a bright smile and she cups her hands over her mouth and lets out a low, long wolf call. Tam uncovers her face instantly and gazes at the both of us with wide eyes.
"Dath, that's brilliant!" Tam yelps, throwing her arms into the air in triumph.
A wolf call. It carries far and doesn't alert suspicion, especially if the arena this year is somewhere that wolves could live. I can't believe I didn't think of it before, seeing as I hear it every day back in 7. Johanna made lunch for the workers every day and she would signal their break by howling like a wolf. It was such an amazing feeling, hearing one lone wolf howl which was always followed by dozens more coming from the workers, letting Johanna know they were coming. If I wasn't in the forest it was how I always knew when it was time to head over for lunch. You could hear the calls all around the district.
"Well, now that we've got that sorted, I think you two are ready to go to your prep teams."
I groan a little and pout. Tam just laughs and stands from the table. "They're not going to poke you too much today. No make up required."
I look up at her and nod, watching her walk out of the room before I look over at Johanna. She's smiling at me knowingly.
I smile back at her, the comfortable silence wrapping around us nicely.
"You're gonna be fine, you know that right?" I whisper, my head tilted slightly. She chuckles and nods.
"With you on my side, I doubt anyone will be able to get near enough to hurt me. You sure are a stubborn one."
I smile proudly and nod my head, causing her to laugh harder.
"Come on, Tilly's waiting for you," she says, standing from the table with a fond shake of the head.
Tilly was waiting for me, I find, as I walk into my launch room. She looks worried but she's smiling. I'd spent almost two hours in my prep room, my team getting me ready for my 'big day'. I had forgotten how terrified I was when I'd been talking with Johanna and Tam but now that I'm standing in the dimly lit sterile room I can feel my insides trying to tie themselves into knots.
"Are you ready?" Tilly asks, walking over to me and fussing over my clothes. She slips a heavy fur coat onto my arms and ties the clasps. I'm wearing thick white pants with brown and black highlights and a warm fur lined hat with flaps that come down and cover my ears. The coat is made out of what I'm guessing is wolf. The fur is grey and white and brown. It's a beautiful coat but it's extremely hot in the warm launch room. The clothes give me an idea of what the arena might be like. Cold, for one thing. I'm glad it will at least be something that will give me an advantage. I'm used to the cold, since the winters in District 7 last almost the whole year and can be deadly at their worst. My hands are shaking in my fur gloves but I plaster a smile on my face anyways.
"As I'll ever be," I whisper, shuffling my heavy boots on the white ground.
Tilly nods and stops fiddling with the clasps of my coat. "Good," she breathes. "Now you make sure you come back to me, you hear?"
My smile slips from my face and I stare down at the ground.
"I'm not coming back, Tilly," I say softly. She starts to say something in protest but I shake my head. "No, I can't come back. Johanna has to. I'm going in there so I can make sure she comes out. She's going to go home and marry my brother and they're going to live happily together. I'm not coming back."
Tilly looks as if she might cry but she takes a deep breath to steady herself. "I know," she whispers, brushing down the fur on my coat. "But I want you to say you'll come back, just for me. Even though I know you're not, I want to hear it. Okay?"
My chest hurts but I force another smile. "I'm coming back."
She smiles sadly and nods her head swiftly. "There. Good."
I open my mouth to say something else but close it, choosing my words carefully.
"Tilly, there's something I want you to do for me," I whisper softly, stepping closer to her so I can speak as quietly as possible. I have no idea who might be listening.
"My Avox," I say, catching Tilly's full attention. "I need you to make sure she goes home with Johanna when I get her out. She's only 13 and she deserves to live again. You helped Bosh get out, can't you help Juliet? Please... I care about her. This is my last request, just make sure she's safe."
Tilly's eyes dart around the room, as if looking for anyone who might be listening in.
"I'll do my best," she breathes back, her eyes landing on me.
I jerk my head in a single nod, knowing that is the best she can promise me.
30 seconds to launch
I swallow hard when I hear the sound of the woman over the PA system. Tilly hurriedly pushes me towards the launch tube. "Now remember everything that your mentors told you," she says quickly, giving my clothes another once over as soon as I'm standing on the platform. I can hear the woman counting down, my heart pounding louder with every second that ticks by. "Don't stray from the plan. You know what to do. Don't worry about where Johanna is, she's a smart girl and she'll be able to get herself, Rachael and Cod away without getting into danger. You do your part, she'll do hers."
She steps back as the tube starts to close. I press my hands against the glass and try not to hyperventilate. "Thank you," I say even though I know she can't hear me. She nods anyways and I know she understands.
25... 24... 23... 22... 21...
My platform starts to rise. I can feel my heart trying to strangle me but I push down the urge to throw up and force myself to relax. I close my eyes, only opening them when I feel a sharp, dagger-like wind whipping across my cheek. I suck in a gasp of the frozen air and stare around, horror-struck, at the white winter wonderland that surrounds me. I have no idea what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.
There was a forest about 5 yards away from where I stood in a full circle around the cornucopia. It was a thick, pine forest and I could never have wished for anything better. I'm completely in my element.
But then I look down. My heart is suddenly back in my throat.
No way. The cornucopia and all the tributes are in the middle of a frozen lake.