His eyes follow Twelve as she pulls herself up, rapidly moving from branch to branch with a smooth grace that ensnares his gaze. After a moment he shakes himself and shifts his attention back to the Capitol idiot.
Cato frowns; somehow, he can't stand the fact that the boy is speaking of Twelve. He has no right to talk about her like he knows her. Of course, Cato doesn't have that right either. His frown deepens as he thinks of the way his allies specifically targeted her during the Games…how he had tried to kill her. No. He can't think this way – Enobaria would kill him if she even sensed a hesitation on his part. He reminds himself that sooner or later he will return to the Games; he can't afford to think otherwise. Without the Games, he is nothing. His life is worthless without fighting. Without winning.
"She's manly," a delicate voice sniffs haughtily. Cato almost laughs at that; Twelve is the farthest thing from masculine that he can think of. She's passionate, fierce, dedicated. He doubts she would be saying that if she had seen her at the interviews.
Wait. What's he thinking? Cato scowls, angry at his own lapse in judgment. He should not be thinking such things about an opponent…no matter how fierce she may be.
"Are you a rebel?"
Cato turns, meeting the boy's eyes coolly. He masks the unease that swirls in his stomach; from what he's learned about the post-revolution period, any people suspected of still being sympathetic to the rebellion were shot on the spot…or tortured publicly as a warning to the districts. He chokes down a bitter laugh; he's already accepted the impossible – that the explosion has somehow sent them back in time. Just hours ago he would have scoffed at the notion – no, he would have punched the person foolish enough to even consider it. But now? He can no longer deny it.
"I think you know that we are not," he answers calmly. He's perfected the art of masking his emotions. He's learned to swallow any facial expressions that can betray his weakness to Enobaria, to Brutus, to his district.
The boy smiles, acknowledging his words. "True. I must say…this situation truly fascinates me. Who are you if not enemy rebels?"
He pauses; can he risk revealing the truth to them? Even if he does trust them, will they believe him? He wouldn't in their place…he'd laugh and dismiss them.
He glances over at Clove. She frowns up at him, shrugging slightly when she sees the unspoken question in his eyes.
"District Two," he says finally. There. It's the truth…just not the whole truth. Cato's never been one to say more than needed; he'll wait before revealing any more.
The boy sighs wearily before saying, "I'd hope you'd be truthful with me." Clove bristles, bringing up her hand threateningly.
"Listen, Capitol boy. Cato and I are from Two. Do you not see the number on our uniforms?" She jabs her small hand at the admittedly tattered "2" emblazoned on the right side of the standard Games uniform. Snow blinks, leaning in to inspect the number.
"Interesting," is all he says. Clove scowls, obviously incensed by his cool demeanor. Cato lays a calming hand on her shoulder, and she looks incredulously up at him. He smiles a bit at that – it's usually him that needs calming down, not the other way around. But then again, he thinks ruefully, nothing seems to be the same anymore.
"And these uniforms – are they of a reflective polymer material?" he asks, his voice a bit too casual for Cato's liking. He nods, a jerky, short movement that sends prickles of pain to his injured shoulder. A calculating glint comes to the boy's eyes, and Cato scowls before shutting his mouth. He won't reveal any more about the Games. District 2 isn't necessarily the entertainment center, but he's heard enough of sci-fi movies to know not to reveal too much about the future.
God, the future. This whole thing is like some warped up nightmare. His gaze trails back to the tree Twelve is in. Until they can get back, he'll have to ally himself with her…which means protecting her from Clove's wrath. Clove has never shown any love towards the other districts, showing only scorn to everyone except for Cato himself.
"Why are we here?" Clove asks fiercely. He turns, a bit startled at the harsh sound. Right, she must not have figured it out yet. Although…Cato hasn't fully understood it yet either. Why are they here? Was this whole…time travel thing an expected result of the explosion? Or was it an accident-no. He cuts off his thought train abruptly; he refuses to even consider the possibility that it was an accident. If the explosion was an accident…well, that means even the instigators have no idea where they are. If it was on purpose, then there's still a chance they can do something to get back.
He shifts his gaze to the boy; what will his response be?
"I don't know. Anyone can wear a uniform with '2' on it, but you two do have the look of the eager Two…" his voice trails off as he glances at the unconscious girl beside him.
He looks up, his strange eyes probing deep into Cato's. He suppresses a shiver and glares defiantly back.
"How do you know about the Games?"
Cato blinks, struggling to remember all he can from his lessons. After the Dark Days there was a generation where nothing major occurred…just the usual organization a new government needs. The grandchildren of the rebels were the first to enter the Games, but he knows that the announcement of the Games came as a huge shock to everyone. They must be in a time right before the Games, a time where it is still one of the best kept secrets in Panem.
His mind whirls as he scrambles for an answer. Should he reveal the truth? No, he can't do that.
"Did you not hear me? We just came from the Games, Capitol boy!"
Shoot. He forgot about Clove. He resists the urge to slam his fist into a tree, frustration building up in his chest until the red haze begins to seep through his vision. No. No. NO.
He cannot lose control right now. He thinks longingly of the training area full of plastic dummies before gritting his teeth and screwing his eyes shut. For some reason, Twelve's gray eyes swim into his vision, followed by her calm voice whispering for him to relax.
His shoulders slump forward as he takes a deep, shuddering breath. He reopens his eyes, his face once again an emotionless mask.
He can adapt to this. The ability to adjust has been drilled in to him since he was five. It's a vital skill in a world where the Gamemakers have the power to alter the environment with a simple touch of a button.
He raises his chin in a movement that mirrors Twelve's signature move and says calmly, "We come from the 74th Hunger Games."
After she's calmed down enough to think coherently, Katniss moves to descend from her perch. She gains nothing by hiding. No matter how much she wishes for the world to just stop, life moves on whether she's an active participant or not.
Her bare feet land softly on the padded forest ground, slender sticks cracking under her weight. She ignores the curious looks of Cato and Clove and instead walks toward the Capitol puppet.
"We're not from here. Do you know how we can get back?"
The boy stares unblinkingly at her before tapping a slender finger across his cheek.
After a moment he sighs and says, "I'm not aware of any way. However, I am no expert in…time travel. How did you end up here?"
Cato cuts in and says, "You seem awfully calm for someone who has just learned of three people from decades in the future."
He shrugs, saying, "If I am to be a worthy politician, I need to be able to adjust to new situations." Katniss finds herself nodding along to that; she can relate. Back in Twelve, she'd had to constantly adjust her hunting routes to the new migrations of the animals while worrying about feeding both her family and Gale's.
"We don't know how we got here. There was some sort of explosion," Katniss says.
"An explosion?" his brows furrow as he thinks, his dark lashes lowering as his eyes narrow.
"The only power source strong enough to hypothetically propel three teenagers would have to be nu-" he stops speaking, casting a shrewd look at them. Katniss waits with bated breath – "nu" what? When it becomes clear that he's not going to continue talking, Katniss almost screams with frustration. He obviously knows something – something that will help her get back to Prim.
She barrels forward, slamming the boy against the boulder with a strength she didn't know she possessed.
"What do you know?" she hisses, her hands clenching the lapels of his jacket. He somehow manages to look down at her while being pinned to the rock.
"I wouldn't know anything. I am just the son of a politician," he says evenly. She almost spits with frustration, stepping back to let him drop to the ground. She's had enough with silver-tongued politicians. They spin lies, whispered promises that caress you even as they strangle your free will.
The girl stirs, moaning slightly as she shifts on the ground. Her cream-colored dress is soiled and stained with bits of moss and dirt.
"Isabella appears to be waking. Would you care to accompany us back home?" His voice is polite, the question perfectly courteous. His words are directed at her, his eyes never leaving hers. She nods stiffly, unused to the flowery formalities of the post-rebellion period. When did the cultural shift take place? At what point did flowery words become ridiculous fashion statements?
The boy smiles before bending down to help the girl up. She watches silently – are they related? Are they together?
"Come, cousin. We are to return together," he murmurs. Cousins, then. She moves to stand next to Cato – for now, he is the lesser of two evils. She may hate Cato for being a Capitol lapdog…but for the moment, he is one of the only ties she has to her home. Her fingers move to brush the empty space on her jacket where her mockingjay pin once lay. Peeta…Rue…so many lives lost. Because of him – no, because of the Capitol.
The girl – Isabella – groans but gets to her feet, leaning heavily on the boy. She shoots a venomous look at Katniss before looking pointedly away.
Katniss rolls her eyes before following them out of the clearing. She casts one last look back at the forest behind her. Somehow she can't imagine she'll ever be the same.
Thirty minutes later they arrive at a well-worn path. The trees are thinner and sparsely spread out, sunlight streaming in great buckets of liquid gold to flood the path. Katniss can make out parallel ruts in the brown pathway similar to those made by the carriages of the opening ceremony.
"We're almost there. Just stay close," Jasper murmurs. Katniss nods, stepping a bit closer to the dark-haired boy. Trees become buildings, dirt becomes dark pavement. A few people mill around the outskirts of the Capitol. Katniss notes that every woman is dressed in a dress similar to Isabella's save for being quite a bit simpler.
Heads turn as people gawk at their torn clothes, their eyes sliding from the regally dressed Jasper to the burnt and bloodied forms of the three tributes. Katniss turns her face forward and walks on, her teeth gritted as she struggles to resist limping. Her thigh burns and she can feel the slippery sensation of blood dripping down her bare skin. Cato doesn't look any better; his shoulder is bleeding, the scarlet liquid swirling together with the dirt and silvery blood of the serpent. Clove looks the best of the three of them, but even she is covered with grime and her dark hair is plastered to her forehead.
The stares are no stranger to Katniss; she's often drawn stares as she walks through the town with her latest kill as she heads towards the Hob.
So she juts her chin forward and walks on, following Jasper silently as he weaves through the cobbled streets and gleaming buildings.
After a while they arrive at a sprawling mass of a building. Katniss resists the urge to gawk, feeling uncomfortably out of place next to the pristine white of the marbled exterior. Isabella shoots her another disgusted look before gliding into the building, lifting her skirts delicately with her soft hands. Katniss scowls and stomps in after her, making sure to smear as much dirt as she can on the marble floor.
A soft chuckle sounds from behind her, and she whirls around to see Cato's smirking face. He leans in, his dark eyes uncomfortably obscure, and whispers, "I saw that, Twelve." A flush rises up her neck to stain her cheeks, and she scowls at him before turning away. Stupid Capitol lapdog.
Jasper leads them up more marbled stairs to a large set of French doors. The doors are gilded with intricate swirls of gold, light streaming through the glass patterns inlaid at regular intervals in the dark wood.
An elderly woman arrives and gawks at Katniss's clothes, her wrinkled hands rising to cover her mouth in silent horror. Katniss scowls at the woman; it's because of her Games that she's like this.
"Milla, please see to cleaning them up," Jasper says. Her scowl deepens as she glowers at the Capitol puppet. He grins at her before waving and stepping through the double doors, closing them firmly behind him. Milla stares at them before saying briskly, "Right, you go with Henry. You go with Sarah. And you – you come with me." Katniss casts a confused look at Cato and Clove, but they shrug before following their respective person. She sighs; obviously they're to cooperate with them. At least, cooperate until she can figure out a way to get back to Prim. She gazes at the closed doors, straining to see through the clouded glass. Jasper knows something – she's sure of it.
She starts, turning to face Milla again. The woman beckons her on, an impatient look creasing her kindly face.
Katniss sighs before following the woman through yet another series of twisting hallways. Milla leads her to a spacious room that resembles the one she stayed in at the Training Center. The woman briskly motions for her to remove her clothing and Katniss complies after a slight hesitation. She's become more accustomed to getting dressed from her experiences with the prep team, but she's still not comfortable with the notion of someone else dressing her. If the woman tries to stick her in a dress she'll scream.
She carefully places her knives, bow, and quiver on the wooden floor, ignoring Milla's appalled looks. Milla soon fusses over her, drawing a bath and scrubbing her skin until it's red and stinging.
"How did you get this?"
Katniss blinks, following Milla's arm to see that she is pointing at the wound on her thigh.
Milla frowns, tilting her head to the side. Should she tell her that she comes from the future? Katniss almost laughs – it sounds ridiculous even in her head. She stands from the tub, dirty water streaming down her body to pool in the porcelain tub below. The water is mottled, full of dirt and crusted blood. Milla silently hands her a neatly folded bundle of shining navy blue cloth. Katniss eyes it warily before kicking it open. The bundle unravels to reveal a exquisitely embroidered gown, silver swirls delicately trailing up the bodice and sleeves.
No way is she wearing this.
"Sorry, but do you have any pants?" Katniss asks, handing the dress back. Milla looks positively scandalized, and she says, "Dear…how do you expect to get a husband if you dress in trousers?"
Katniss freezes, her braid slapping against her cheek as she whirls to face the elder woman.
"Pardon?" she finally manages to splutter out. A husband? Surely she misheard that. Even the Capitol idiots can't believe in that sexist crap. But something's nagging at her mind – she remembers her instructor mentioning how during and after the Dark Days, the rebellion was blamed on the impudence of the female rebels, leading to the mindset that females were inferior. When did that eventually get overturned? If she remembers correctly, it would have been around the time the first Games ended. She wishes she'd paid more attention when her teacher had talked about the first Games…but she had been too tired, too hungry, too distracted.
"You're a very pretty girl, but men will want a woman who is demure and able to please," Milla explains. Katniss resists the urge to grab her bow and jump out the window and run somewhere far away. She longs for the quiet solitude and peace of the forest, she longs for the delicate laugh of her sister, heck, she even longs for the days when she was enemies with Cato. That was expected, normal. This?
This is something strange. Something different.
No amount of hunting could prepare her for this.
Katniss doesn't move, pointedly looking away from the offending material pooled on the smooth floor. Milla sighs and bends down to scoop the dress up in her arms. She moves to leave the room, saying, "All right, dear, I'll try and scrounge up some trousers."
Katniss nods before walking to the large window set in the opposite wall. She presses her hands against the cold glass, peering down at the tree-lined street below. Several couples stroll by, the woman holding up a decorated umbrella with gloved hands. The street is clean, fresh, brimming with golden light. She turns away, suddenly disgusted by the cleanliness and opulent display. It's so different from the Seam. From her calculations, she guesses that the rebellions must have ended about a half a century ago, maybe a little less. The Capitol looks untouched, but she knows from the brief lessons she's paid attention to that District 12 never fully recovered from the blasts. It wasn't until a full century later that 12 finally finished reconstructing the majority of its land – and even then the Seam still displayed signs of destruction.
The Capitol leaves a bitter taste in Katniss's mouth. It's an uncomfortable presence, gluing her tongue down with bribes of warm baths and deceptively sunny hallways. She can't forget why she's here – she needs to get back to Prim.
A soft knock breaks Katniss from her reverie, and she turns to see Milla's stooped form. Katniss approaches her, gratefully taking the soft clothing from her arms. She yanks the pants on, noting with satisfaction that they are a good, stiff material. If she needs to run, these will protect her from the barbed plants in the forest. The shirt is too delicate – it's thin white silk, the collar ruffled with annoying itchy folds running down into a row of golden buttons. Totally impractical – in a way, this shirt epitomizes the Capitol. Katniss pulls it on, wincing as her sore arms stretch a bit too far above her head. She bends down to retrieve her knives and unceremoniously slides them underneath her waistband. She ignores Milla's soft noises of shock as she straps the bow to her back and pulls on the sturdy boots Milla's provided.
She disregard's Milla's expression and says, "Where are Cato and Clove?"
Author Note: Thanks for reading! Please review!