Chapter 10: In a whisper

The tribute interviews are a disaster, as expected. Den hardly says a word, and Emilia seemss completely helpless, even Caesar Flickerman can't make her relax. I'm not surprised, though - I don't know how much of it is real and how much is an act, but she certainly managed to come across as weak, whether or not it was intentional I can't say. The only good thing she can say about herself is that she "runs fast" (thank God she didn't mention the poetry), to which Caesar answers: "But that's great, it means you can run faster than the people who are trying to kill you!"

You'd think he was talking about running after a ball. They are all bastards, every single on of them, even Caesar, despite his seemingly cheery and caring exterior. How can he do this, year after year? Doing these interviews while knowing that 23 of them are going to die in just a few days? He comes across as a nice, caring person, even though he's from the Capitol. He does it best to make all the children shine. But how can he live with himself?

Peeta and I are being interviewed, too, after the tributes. This is very unusual, but Caesar wants to do a live interview with the star-crossed lovers of District 12, asking us about our marriage and wedding and whatnot. I'm doing these interviews on autopilot by now. Thank goodness I have Peeta.

Cinna has designed a spectacular dress for me, as usual. I think he's putting more work into my dresses than Emilia's - has he given up on her as well? It is another gray dress, the same color as my eyes.

The same color as a mockingjay.

Is it a coincidence?

I don't think so.

There are thin silver threads woven into the gray silk fabric, which makes the dress shimmer. It's like a gem, a precious stone, only as I move, the fabric shifts, and it seems like it's changing colors - from silvery to various shades of gray to nearly black. I twirl in front of the mirror, and I'm amazed to see that the dress gives almost gives the impression that I'm somehow not quite real, like I am something out of a fairytale or dream. The cut of the dress is somewhat more mature than most of the dresses he's designed for me so far - this is grown-up, married Katniss, not the skinny, starved 16-year-old girl who was reaped two years ago. The dress is hugging my curves in a way I'm not really sure if I feel comfortable with - but the look in Peeta's eyes as he sees me in it for the first time makes it worth it. "I just want to rip that dress off you," he whispers in my ear just before we go on stage.

And he's done it - again. He knows exactly how to ignite my fire, and I know that the Katniss they see on stage today is very different from the shy 16-year-old who was so nervous she didn't even hear what Caesar said to her two years ago. Tonight, I shimmer, I sparkle. My eyes are on fire. As we're just about to go on stage, Caesar shouts to the crowd, our cue to ener: "Peeta Mellark and Mrs Katniss Mellark!" I almost flinch when I hear his words, I have a hard time getting used to my new name still. I look up at Peeta, and he raises an eyebrow, then looks down at my dress. I blush. I know what he's thinking. Damn him for turning me on here, on stage.

I remember Finnick's words - Peeta knows how to play the game.

The crowd goes mad when they see us. The roar is deafening, and there are even a few women who are fainting. Suddenly, Peeta grabs hold of me, and to my surprise he's kissing me, right there on stage. His tongue is insistent, demanding access to my mouth, and I'm so taken aback that I allow it. His strong hands around my waist pull me in close, capturing me, as mine go up, instinctively pulling his head closer to mine, playing with his hair. Of course, this just heats up the crowd further, which I'm sure was Peeta's plan all along.

When he finally releases me, I have to hold on to him to keep myself from falling, I'm so dizzy. I blink against the light, my lips swollen from his kiss.

I realize then that I have to find a way to tell him about Haymitch's note. Peeta must sense that something is going on, that's evident from the way he's been acting lately, but I don't know how much information he has. But I do know one thing: By manipulating the crowd like this, he's making us very visible, both in Panem and in the districts. And the more visible we are, the more everyone loves us, the harder it is for Snow to just make us... Disappear in an unfortunate accident.

I definitely have to talk to Peeta.

As usual, Peeta does a great job at the interview. He's charming, handsome, funny, likeable.

What am I, then? In the past, I've either been panicking or just been a pretty little thing in beautiful dresses, really. I haven't had any... substance. But Peeta's words and lips have lit a fire in me, fueled my courage. I am the Mockingjay. In this silvery gray dress, shimmering. I am the girl with the berries. The one who defied Snow, for all of Panem to see. I know that I'm being controlled by Snow, that a silly girl in a pretty dress, madly in love, under his control, is the image he wants to project to the districts.

Everyone is watching now, these shows are always mandatory.

How can I show them that I'm not a puppet?

"What's it like to be back in the Capitol for the first time since the wedding?" Caesar asks us, and I think I surprise everyone when I answer the question instead of Peeta.

"You know, the Capitol is just amazing... But there is no place like home." I smile brilliantly at Caesar, and for just a split second, I can tell that I've caught him off-guard.

"We never got to go on a honeymoon, so we've been honeymooning in District 12 instead," Peeta says, his hand on my thigh, probably a bit further up than it should be to be proper. "We were looking forward to seeing another district, of course, but hopefully we'll go to District four some other time." His smile is a little bit too innocent.

"You two don't really seem to see quite eye to eye when it comes to this," Caesar remarks, "one of you wanting to travel, the other one preferring to stay at home?"

"Home is where the heart is, isn't it, Caesar?" I ask him. "My home will always be wherever Peeta is."

After some more chitchat about our wonderful love story, Caesar changes the subject to his favorite topic - the Hunger Games.

"Isn't it exciting!" He shouts, and the entire crowd cheers with him. "The 76th annual Hunger Games, starting the day after tomorrow! You two were in the games just two short years ago, so this must be so special for you, seeing the tributes that have been given the same great honor that you were given! Surely you can relate! So what do you think about this year's tributes?"

My pulse increases just by thinking about the "great honor" of being reaped. And yeah, I definitely can relate.

"It's certainly an interesting group of children this year," I say innocently. "The average age is quite low this year, did you notice, Caesar?"

He nods, but I don't think he expected me to say that.

"Can I tell you a secret?" I whisper to him conspiratorially. He nods eagerly. "I was pretty good in maths when I was in school." Now that's a lie, I hated maths with a vengeance. But Peeta was pretty good, and he's the one who did the maths a few days ago. He cried himself to sleep afterwards. "Last night, I found out that the average age of the tributes this year is only 14.2 years. Isn't that amazing? It's the lowest it's been in 28 years!" I raise my voice towards the end of the sentence, as if expecting the crowd to cheer, like they did when Caesar was driving them on earlier. But I only get a half-hearted response - some people start cheering, but most of them look uneasy, and the ones who were cheering quickly stop when they realize that the majority of the audience is silent. I beam at Caesar. "Of course, that's great news for me - my tribute, little Emilia who you had the pleasure of meeting just a little while ago, is only 13. And it's very demanding to mentor tributes that are this young, they usually don't last long when competing against career tributes who are 17 or 18, nearly adult. So this is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for her." I just couldn't resist imitating Effie.

Behind one camera, I see the director make a movement with his hand across his throat, and it doesn't take much imagination to understand that Caesar has been ordered to round off the interview, much sooner than he had expected. Caesar takes it in stride, of course, always the professional.

"Well, say goodbye to Katniss and Peeta, everyone! We look forward to seeing your tributes in the arena!"

"And may the odds be ever in their favor," I say, and in that very moment, knowing millions of people are watching me, I've never felt more powerful. I can be their Mockingjay. I can be the symbol of the rebellion I know next to nothing about - but the rebellion can't possibly be worse than the alternative.

In two days, 24 children are being sent into an arena that's designed to make them murder each other. Only one of them will get out alive, and when he or she does, the victor's body will be sold to sponsors. The victor will never be free, he or she will be a capitol puppet for the rest of his life, like I am. The nights will be filled with nightmares, the days filled with alcohol, morphling, boredom, prostition.

But I am something more. We are something more. We won't be broken.

I am the girl on fire.

There might be a price to pay one day for what I just did, but right now, I just don't care.

As we reach the backstage area, we are met by Haymitch. "Wow," Peeta whispers, but quickly shuts up when he sees Haymitch's look. Haymith doesn't look happy, but there is something else in his eyes as well.

Pride.

His eyes meet mine, and he gives me an almost imperceptible nod.

"Only one day to go," Haymitch says, as if nothing's happened. "What do we do tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow we give them a break," I say.

After the usual round of autographs and photographs, we go back to our room for the night. I've been thinking of how to talk to Peeta without anyone listening in on the conversation. Our room is surely tapped, and I'm guessing we're under surveillance wherever we go. There is only one place where I think we might be able to talk.

The shower.

I'm guessing the bathroom is bugged as well, but perhaps the falling water will muffle out my whisper, especially if I get him to moan loudly at the same time...

It's the best I can do. I have to take the chance.

Peeta's standing by the window, looking out at the millions of lights that are Panem by night. It would've been beautiful, if the lights hadn't reminded me of just how dark it is in the seam at night, and if I had been able to see the stars. I'm used to navigating by the stars - I feel lost when I'm not able to see them.

Behind his back, I find the zipper of my dress, open it and let the dress, it makes a soft, wooshing sound as the soft fabric lands on the floor. Peeta quickly turns around at the sound, and is rewarded by the sight of me, standing just in black lace underwear - something I wouldn't normally wear, and he's never seen me in anything like it before, but Cinna insisted.

When I see Peeta's reaction to me, I'm glad Cinna made me wear it.

"Want to take a shower?" I ask him, and I can see that he's getting erect already. Wordlessly, he nods. He's so eager to get out of his clothes that I almost have to laugh, he's almost tripping over several times, and his tongue is practically hanging out.

We've never had sex in the shower before. It's not as if we've been sleeping together for a very long time, just a few weeks - and we've been under a lot of stress most of the time. So I guess this is killing two birds with one stone.

I have him naked in no time, and he has me up against the bathroom door even faster, ravishing my mouth as his hands roam over my body. As I begin to remove my bra, he whispers: "Do you really have to take it off right away? Can't you... leave it on a bit longer?"

"Do you like it?"

"Yeah." He kisses my neck, he knows I love that, and that I'll usually bend to his will when he does. "To tell you the truth," he says, in between his kisses, "I used to... dream about you in underwear like that. You know, before."

This surprises me. Peeta Mellark, dreaming about me in black, sexy lingerie? Black lace is about as un-Katniss-like as it gets. "Where did you get that idea, Peeta? A good merchant boy like you?"

"The good merchant boy has two older brothers," he confesses. "Who have porn." He's blushing now. He looks apprehensive, as if he's not sure if I'll get angry or not. I'm steering him into the bathroom, though, so I guess he understands that I'm not too upset.

"Will you do something for me?" he whispers, swallowing thickly. He's clearly nervous. He's staring at my breasts, I can see that he's aching to touch them.

"Another fantasy?" I cock an eyebrow.

"Yes." He clears his throat. "Willyougivemehead?" he says very quickly, so quickly I can hardly hear what he's saying.

"You want me to... use my mouth?" I ask him, I'm not really used to his terminology. No one's talked to me about these things before.

He nods, relieved. "Yes. It was just... Amazing when you did it... Before. But this time, could you please... Kneel in front of me? While I'm standing." He looks so nervous, and I realize how much courage it must take to talk about this fantasy out loud. He's afraid I'll laugh or get angry. His cock is rock hard and burning against my stomach. It's not quite what I had in mind - for my plan to work, my lips have to be very close to his ear, not down by his hips.

But why not do this first? The fire still hasn't died down from the kiss onstage. I'm also honored that he dares to share his fantasies with me - and if I don't do this now, surely he won't share his other fantasies later.

"Sure," I whisper, and get down on my knees before him on the bathroom floor, still dressed in the ridiculously scanty lace lingerie. I'm now at the level of his cock, already fully erect, just centimeters from my mouth. I study him closely, admiring his length, memorizing every detail of this moment. I hear a strangled sound from him, and I look up. He's looking down at me, his eyes fixated on my face, my mouth in such close proximity to his cock. "Do you like it when I'm on my knees for you?" I ask him, my voice low and husky.

He seems to struggle to find words, his mouth just opens and closes a few times, then he finally answers: "Yes."

And perhaps this should bother me, that he wants me on my knees, at his mercy. But it is in fact the other way around - he is at my mercy. I control his pleasure. And if the visuals of me doing this for him turns him on, then all the better. Peeta is the only person I could ever kneel to and find it... hot. Rewarding. Right.

I smile wickedly up at him, and then I take him in my mouth, running my tongue over his head, the opening, the ridge underneath its head. A strangled moan escapes from his lips. I hope the bastards listening in on us get some value for their money, I suddenly think, and the flash of anger makes me take him deeper. There is nothing slow or loving about this, it's hot and wet and hard and fast. My hand strokes him, synchronized with the movements of my mouth, and my other hand touches his balls, marveling at the softness, the hardness, the feel of his skin against mine. Involuntarily, his hands close around my head, getting tangled in my dark hair, pushing me closer, deeper. He goes too deep, and I gag, and fortunately he's able to register what's happening and releases me a bit.

"Sorry," he groans.

"No worries," I answer, his cock still in my mouth, muffling my words.

"Of fuck, Katniss," he moans, and I'm surprised by how much what I'm doing to him turns me on as well. He hasn't even touched my body, apart from my hair, and I'm already soaking wet, it feels like I'm almost dripping through the black lace panties. I consider moving my hand from his balls to between my legs, but decide against it. After all, if this plan is to work, I need to make this last. I plan to stop before he comes, but if I don't pick up his signals in time, I have to make very sure that he's owing me one.

Peeta never allows me to owe him one.

Judging from his sounds and the way he's starting to be unable to avoid moving against me, he's close. "I'm gonna... ugh!" he says, and that's his warning, I know it's because he's not sure if I'll want to swallow his come this time.

I appreciate his honesty and how, even now, he considers my feelings, but I have no intention of making him come, not yet.

I release him, pulling away from his body, looking up at his face over his muscular stomach and chest. He's in a haze, groaning uncontentedly and trying to catch my hands to put them on his cock, to finish him off. I rise. "Not quite yet, Peeta," I whisper in my ear. "I want this to last, we have all night."

He surprises me by biting me on my neck. He bites so hard I think I'll have a bruise next morning.

I don't care. I don't care if the whole world sees it.

"You're vicious, Katniss," he groans.

I laugh, a low, dark laughter I didn't even knew I had. "Just breathe," I tell him with a twinkle in my eyes, echoing his words on our very first night together.

How different this night is from that one. We are the same people, in the same city. There is still an element of fear - but all our reservation is gone.

"In and out. In and out." His grip on my thigh tells me he gets my double entendre.

"You'll be the end of me," he moans, and I laugh again.

"Get it together, Mellark."

"Yes, ma'am." We stand there together, our bodies close but not touching, eyes locked, while he gets his body under control. He exhales, a long breath, and shudders. "I'm good. For now," he tells me, pressing his cock into the soft skin of my belly.

"Want to take a shower with me?" I ask him.

"Only if you let me take off that underwear," he answers with a cocky smile.

Of course I let him. He's not very good at unhooking a bra, it takes him several attempts to figure out how the clasps work, and he mutters something about silly Capitol inventions. He gets down on his knees in front of me, slipping my panties over my hips. "It's soaked," he murmurs. "You really liked... What you did, didn't you?" It seems pointless to answer when he has the proof of my arousal in his hands, so I just nod, breathlessly.

He tries to steer me towards the bedroom, but it's essential that I get him into the shower, so I take his hand and lead him after me. I leave it to him to find a setting which doesn't smell too much. Luckily, he chooses one which involves copious amounts of water running over our bodies, making quite a lot of background noise.

Perfect.

He's already found out that I'm ready for him, and he's so aroused he doesn't waste any more time. Within seconds he has me pressed up against the wall of the shower, my legs up high around his hips, plunging into me almost violently. He makes grunting noises that are almost animal-like, and I can tell that, again, he's close to climaxing. I really have to make him last longer.

"Hey, Peeta, slow down," I moan, his cock deep inside me is making it very hard to concentrate, because the last thing my body wants is for this to slow down.

"I don't want to slow down," he pants in my ear, but when I pinch the skin of his back between two fingers, hard enough to hurt him to get him out of his hormonal fog, he finally listens and stops.

"Sorry. Was I hurting you?" he says, kissing me deeply, but keeping his body still.

"No," I'm finally able to answer, as I tear my mouth away from his to allow a breath of air to enter my lungs. "I just want this to last... longer." He meets my eyes, and as he does, his body tenses, ever so slightly.

"Katniss, what..." he begins, but I shake my head warningly and capture his mouth with another kiss, just as violently passionate as the previous one. I make a sudden decision. I need another distraction, besides the sounds of falling water. When we again come up for air, I tell him, all the while looking into his eyes: "Moan for me, Peeta. I want to hear how much you love fucking me." Now I definitely have his attention. I very rarely use that word, Peeta is usually the one who likes to indulge in a bit of dirty talk.

He starts slamming into me again, the first two thrusts are a bit hesitant, but then he picks up speed. And he does what I said - panting and moaning like there's no tomorrow. But even if he knows that I like it when he's loud, that it turns me on so much, I also know that this isn't what he usually does. It's too much. His cock is so deep now inside me now, every thrust is impaling me against the wall, and I can feel an orgasm approaching. Furiously, I fight it back, try to keep it at bay just a little bit longer. It is now or never. I whisper in his ear, very quickly: "There's a rebellion, in the districts. Snow wants to keep it secret. Tell me you love me if you hear me okay."

"I love fucking you, baby," he grunts in return, still pumping. He never calls me baby. Using words that are otherwise not in our active vocabulary is our way of communicating that this is on some level not real. Yet it is.

"Some of the other victors know something, I'm not quite sure who or what. You can probably guess a few, but I think there others as well. I'm the symbol of the rebellion, the mockingjay. We're walking on glass, all the districts are looking at us, and Snow needs to control us. Keep your eyes open, be careful, never talk. We need to find out what's going on." I whisper all this very quickly, so low I almost breathe the words into his ear. I sincerely hope no one can hear our words through all the background noise, but still I don't dare to name Finnick and Johanna - but with what they told us after the wedding, I guess he can put two and two together just fine on his own.

"I want to hear you scream my name," he groans, and I know what he really wants. I do as he says, panting and screaming his name, and I'm almost shocked by how much this increases my arousal further, I'm on the brink of coming, but I can't allow myself to come, not yet. This time he's the one who whispers in my ear: "What do we do? They could kill us, all of us. Our families, too. How can we help the rebels when we don't even know what they do or who they are?"

"Come for me, Peeta!" I scream, and then, when he starts to dissolve into deep, throaty moans and I know he's so close to exploding inside me, I whisper: "We keep our eyes open - and stay alive." Then he comes loudly, and I follow him, convulsing against him.

As we come down from our climax, the water still falling over our bodies, all that keeps me up is his weight pressing me into the wall. He gently lets me down, my feet finally touching the floor. We stay in the shower for a while after. I'm washing off the physical evidence of our encounter and we both scrub all the make-up off from our faces, wash the styling products out of our hair. When we get out of the shower at last, Peeta touches my shoulder and remarks: "The tiles made an imprint on your back and ass."

I look over my shoulder to see my reflection in the mirror, and giggle. "Yeah. Thanks for watching my back."

"Any time, Katniss. Any time."

We dry off the worst of the water before going to bed, but my hair is still wet, soaking the pillow. I'm absolutely exhausted, yet I can only think about one thing: The Hunger Games start in a little more than 24 hours.

Still I fall asleep.


Thank you to timta for giving me the idea of introducing Katniss as Katniss Mellark! I couldn't really fit it into the reaping ceremony, so I had Caesar Flickerman do it instead.

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