CARE AND COMFORT

The Chariot Parade isn't as hard as I thought it would be. The hardest parts are when the camera is directly on us. My apparent injuries are there on the big screen. The only one that doesn't make me cringe is the only one that actually hurts. It still looks like I have been beaten. We enter the square in front of the remake center. I see now that the circle is the same as where we got out of the car. I am going to have to walk that illuminated glass path again. This time I will be next to Ruthie. We go around the circle 3 times, the bleachers have been extended to surround all but the entrances. The inside edge of the circle is lined with bleachers as well. I wonder if all of the Capitol is actually here. The lead Chariot is stopped next to the walkway. The front and top of Snow private booth retracts. He steps to the microphone and starts his welcoming address. I watch him speak, I never move, I can see the screen behind him go from chariot to chariot. The image stops on me and Ruthie. The contrast is harsh, she is staring around the bleachers at the Capitol in wide eyed amazement. I stand there at parade rest eyes on Snow, my face expressionless. His eyes meet mine and his voice falters for just a second. Ruthie and I will be the last to walk into the training center. While Snow drones on I whisper to Ruthie "take one step onto the walkway and stop. Don't move till I do." God Snow loves to hear himself speak. Finally, the Anthem.

The Tributes start to disembark from the chariots, 2 by 2 they walk down that walkway. Every time a pair reaches the halfway point the next starts. We're next, we step out of the Chariot, take the first step out onto the walkway, and stop. I am staring at Snow I wait for him to meet my stare. I still don't move, when Snow breaks the stare we walk. My hands move with my strides, my face remains impassive. Ruthie almost has to run. I am completely exhausted. We reach 12 and I stride directly to the remake center on our floor. I open the door and practically fall into Thorn's waiting arms. She gently leads me to a very comfortable table. She helps me strip. She lays me on my stomach. She goes to the screen and turns on soft music.

She begins her work. Instead of being harsh and uncomfortable, her hands gently work, I know exactly which mark she is touching. I remember how those marks felt to wear. Much of my upper body wears marks. Her lips run gently over the place the lash marks were. It is comforting, the warmth if her breath, the softness of her lips, her gently caresses. She continues to work over my body. Her lips graze many of the places I have marks. She presses her hand into my hip indicating she wants me to roll over. I am fully aroused so I resist but she pushes harder. I roll onto my back. My aroused state clearly evident. She works on each mark, first she runs her hands over my bare skin, then she covers the entire area with small kisses, licks and her breath. Finally, she rubs a number of oils and lotions into each mark. When she finishes she walks out of my sight but I hear the shower start.

She comes back and helps me get to the shower. There is a tall stool, the seat is a narrow board its more for resting against than sitting on. Again Thorn's fingers are moving over me. She massages several different soaps into my entire body. The last is a slippery foam. I stand there, leaning against the stool, being supported by Thorn's small body against my back, her hands come around my body, and relieve me. She leads my exhausted weak body over the dryer and then to bed. She allows me to curl around her, to hold her close, and breath in the scent of her hair while I sleep. I have no nightmares.

I wake naturally to the smell of hot coffee and fresh bread. I stretch, there is a mirror standing on the other side of the room. I need to see myself, see my body without marks. I stand and stretch again. My face is still a mess but I knew that would be the case, with brothers its not the first time. But my torso and arms are perfect. My skin has a golden glow, I look strong and healthy. I feel strong and healthy. Thorn has laid a pair fleece pants on the dresser for me. I pull on the pants. I lean in the doorway just looking at her. She is curled in the large comfortable chair. Her hands are wrapped gently around her cup, lost deep in thought. When she finally looks up all I can manage is a weak "thank you" and even that is caught in my throat choked by emotions. Her voice comes back soft and reassuring "You needed care and comfort I provided." She crosses the room to me. "I told you I am responsible for your body." She had more than provided care and comfort to my body, she had comforted my soul. I pull her into my arms and simply hold on. I want right now to last forever. I feel safe and warm, cared for.

The door opens and brakes the moment. Rose and Blossom burst into the room. Their mood is almost jubilant. "Your favored to win the Games. Every one is talking, you've made an impression." I knew I had made an impression. I am also quite certain I have made an enemy of the President, and that is not good. I realize I am still holding Thorn in my arms. As I start to let go I realize her arms are still tight around me so I give her a reassuring squeeze, although I am not sure which of us I am reassuring and continue to hold on. "So tell me about the Capitol? I have never been out of District 12." Technically that wasn't true, the woods was out of District 12. Thorn smiles up at me, "We aren't from the Capitol, none of your team actually is. We are the daughters of the most successful Perfumer in District 1, Ezera's the daughter of the Chief Financial Officer of District 11, and Angle's father is the Mayor of District 8. Me and my sisters have been here since the 46th games when we were just 16."

Once again the door opens this time it is Angle. She is followed by 3 Avoxs pushing carts. As soon as the Avoxs are gone, Angle gushes "You were perfect. Who told you to stop and stand. Everyone held their breath. Do you have any idea the effect you have? Angle continues "lets eat then I will show you your training gear."

I see that two of the carts are our breakfast. I grab a plate and fill it. The soft music still plays in the back ground. It is interesting. "What are we listening to?" I ask. All I know are folk and war songs, this has all kinds of instruments. "This piece is called ode to joy, the style is called classical." As we eat the girls chatter about who wore what and other such non sense. I eat.

3 more plates of food. As we are finishing Cossack comes in. As soon as he steps in, and the door closes. Angle runs to him leaping into his arms. He catches her and her legs wrap around him. They kiss for several minutes it is quite uncomfortable. But I say nothing and just wait. Finally, Cossack pats her hip indicating that she should get down.

Cossack sits on the couch across from me, Angle sits next to him. She is curled protectively under his arm, her arm across her chest, her hand holding his on her shoulder. Cossack starts to speak "Samme won't give you to me, I asked. She agreed to let me supervise your training and I think you need me." He paused "what do you think?" I am feeling a bit cocky and I want to see his reaction so I reply "I think you know a Victor when you see one, and I am this years Victor." With that Cossack laughed, it was deep and rich and full of amusement. "When you do your interview that is the boy Caesar Flickerman interviews. But, your perception is absolutely correct. I only hope it doesn't come down to you and Sage but fear it may."

With that last statement the room goes quiet. It takes a minute for all of us to recover. Then we get down to business. First Angle pulls out my training shirts, she has a stack of like 10. They are all different in shades of blue and grey. Then she explains that they are compression garments. They are used to support bruised and broken ribs. I am to wear a different shirt for each training session. I knew we were going to maintain the deception. I just didn't know how perfectly we would be doing so. I take a deep blue shirt from the stack and pull it on. It literally fits like a second skin. You cans see the definition of my muscles, my belly button, even my nipples, my chest might as well be bare. She hands me a pair of pants of a similar material yet it isn't clingy or tight. The pants are straight legged, and well fitted. I walk to the mirror, I look perfect. I just grin. The girls sit back down and start planning my interview look.

Cossack and I step out onto the small balcony. I am still feeling cocky "Cossack can I ask you anything I want to know?" Cossack's hearty laugh rings out again "You can ask anything, whether I answer or not is a different matter." I take a deep breath and ask "Why would you compete to be a tribute?" I really don't understand and I want to. I don't think it was even a question he considered I might ask. Cossack looks like I punched him. He meets my gaze, he takes a deep breath "There are things much worse than being dead or a Victor" I notice the order he put those in and wonder if he would have preferred to die. He takes another deep breath and continues. "You know the old joke Peacekeepers aren't born, they're manufactured in District 2. Its only half a joke." Cossack pushed a button on the wall and a panel opened, he pulled out two folded chairs and handed 1 to me.

I sat and waited till Cossack resumed speaking "District 2 is made up of 4 types of people. The brain trust who lives in the Mountain, the merchants who supply us all, the stone cutters and the Peacekeepers. All except the Peacekeepers are free to live their lives, marry who they want, have children, grow old. they have no fear of the Hunger Games."

"The Peacekeepers live a very different life. Our parents are simply assigned to each other. Peacekeepers are assigned their first mate with their first duty station. If you don't produce off spring in 2 years, each is assigned a new partner. We are expected to reproduce a minimum of 10 times. Peacekeepers are required to serve 20 years after we turn 18. We are raised in the pod from the time we are born. More like machines, than children, honed in the fires of hell. We don't even know our parents until we turn 18. We train and go to school becoming the best surviving killing machine we can.

At the age of 8 we are required to begin taking our turn being the punishment enforcer for the day. If you refuse to execute the punishment order, you face twice the order, and are still required to execute the order you refused. The only way out of being punishment enforcer is to be one of the 3 best over all in your grade and gender. Being one of the 3 best on reaping day when your 18, puts you in the race. I only took one rotation as punishment enforcer. I was forced to whip my best friend 5 times. I took 20 lashes first, I couldn't take more. I did what was required. I never missed a target, lost a foot race, or a fight again. I can not torture others it is not in my makeup. I can kill if I must, but to torture another, no. I could not be a Peacekeeper." Cossack was not the type of man to talk of such things lightly. He was strained but he continued "So the only choice for me was win the race, die or become Victor. Others enjoy torture and killing. I think the way Peacekeepers are made it can go either way." This was why he had walked me through the station and across the walkway himself. He asked no more of me than he was willing to give. Now the man had earned my trust.

Ezera's voice rings as she knocks on the door " 30 minutes, elevator to training be on time." I let myself laugh. I know what she really sounds like. The capitol voice is so not who Ezera really is. I am not sure anyone around me is really who they appear.

Cossack and I talk for the rest of the time. Its almost like talking to my father. We agree to see what the training schedule is but the general plan is to show proficiency at everything excellence at nothing. Not until my private session. I am at the elevator on time.