Disclaimer: Characters, setting, scenes and main story are the property of Suzanne Collins. Some dialogue has been lifted from Catching Fire for this piece.
Chapter 1: Secrets
When he pulls back, his fingers digging into my arms, his face smiling into mine, I dare to raise my eyebrows. They ask what my lips can't. Did I do it? Was it enough? Was giving everything over to you, keeping up the game, promising to marry Peeta enough?
In answer, he gives an almost imperceptible shrug.
It's not a yes – but it's not a no. I know what it means. It means we have to keep trying, acting, pretending. It means he's going to lead us on, and take everything we've got, and in the end it probably still won't be enough. But he won't give me the satisfaction of knowing that now, because he knows that would make it almost too easy. Ha. Easy. That's an interesting choice of word for the situation.
I don't know what I was expecting, really. Of course he's going to string us along. We might be victors, but we're still pieces in his game. We always will be.
My only consolation is that if I haven't failed – yet – I may have time to find a way to keep the people I care about safe. There are no guarantees, and Snow may already be plotting their punishment, but I will have to make sure that it won't be because of any bad acting on my part.
So I smile, and try to block out the smell of blood and roses.
The party at President Snow's mansion is flamboyant and utterly nauseating. Tables upon tables weighed down by so much food it's a miracle they're still standing. Peeta and I are joined in one way or another as we clasp hands, dance, mingle with people that constantly seek us out, and try as much of the weird food as we can. I feel as though my face will soon ache from smiling, and though Peeta looks genuinely happy, I know better. Because I've spotted something in those blue eyes of his since I first suggested the proposal; something barely perceptible, but which makes me want to hurt whoever is causing it, which is ironic because it's actually me.
But I have no secrets from him anymore. As we dance slowly after a particularly ghastly discovery of the ways of the Capitol, I whisper in his ear about Snow's reaction, making sure to keep my expression neutral. Peeta stiffens slightly, but otherwise gives no indication that he is bothered by this news. This is not the place.
Just then Portia appears with a large man who looks vaguely familiar.
"Katniss, Peeta, this is Plutarch Heavensbee. He's the new Head Gamemaker," she says pleasantly.
He holds his hand out to each of us. "It's nice to officially meet the starstruck lovers," he smiles. I suppose he thinks he's being funny, or ironic, or both. He turns to Peeta.
"May I borrow your lovely fiancée for a dance?" he asks him. Before I can protest, Peeta is letting go of my hand. He gives a tiny bow, and says, "Just don't get too attached," with a small laugh. How does he do it? How does he switch on and switch off his emotions like that? I wish I could. My face, I'm sure, looks rather uninviting, not least at the prospect of having a Gamemaker put his hands around my waist. I'm almost sure I'm going to squirm if he does, but he seems to understand. He holds me at arm's length, and that's when I realise why he looks so familiar.
He's the Gamemaker who fell into the punch bowl when I shot that arrow at their table last year. This will be unpleasant.
He doesn't seem too scarred by the incident, though, or particularly cold towards me. We make small talk for a while, and I congratulate him on the promotion.
"Between you and me, there weren't many takers for the job," he replies, nonchalant.
You don't say.
"Are you planning the Quarter Quell already?" I query, trying to keep the conversation going.
"Oh yes," he replies, "well, they've been in the works for years, really. I've got a strategy meeting tonight, if you can believe it." Saying this, he pulls out a gold watch, flips open the lid, frowns, and says, "I'll have to be going soon." Then he tilts the watch so that the light catches its face just for a second, and I stare.
"It starts at midnight," he says, snapping the lid on and tucking it away into his pocket. But I'm sure he must know from the expression on my face that I saw what was on the dial.
A mockingjay. Why does the Head Gamemaker have a mockingjay on his watch? Is he just trying to keep abreast of Capitol fashions, or is he trying to tell me something?
"That's very pretty," I say, looking at him carefully.
He merely tells me the meeting is supposed to be a secret, and to not tell anyone about it. With a small bow, he bids me farewell, saying, "See you next summer, Katniss. And congratulations on your engagement."
That night, I'm standing on the face of a giant clock in my dream, trying to outrun the relentless tick-tocking hands, but it's no good. I begin to scream as the hour hand swings close to me, razor sharp, threatening to slice me in two…and wake up in Peeta's arms.
"Katniss! Katniss. It's okay. You're fine, I'm here," he whispers, his face close to mine, his hand gently pushing back the hair from my face. "Shh. It's okay." Gradually, my heart and breathing slow down. He begins to withdraw, but I snatch his hand wildly.
"I'm just getting you some water," he says, but I still don't let go. He hugs me tightly then, asking, "What is it? What was the dream?"
I tell him.
"A giant clock…", he says thoughtfully. Then his arms begin to loosen again, and he moves away, his back to me. Huh.
"What?" I ask. He doesn't turn, but replies, "Is it…is it because you feel you're running out of time? With the engagement, and…" he stops. Then, "I'm sorry, Katniss."
Poor Peeta. He loves me so much and he still feels like he has to apologise for it. I can't see his face right now, but I'm pretty sure that awful look in his eyes is back.
"No, Peeta, that's not it," I say, even though it's not completely true. Of course I feel trapped. And I know he knows this, because I haven't ever hidden it from him, or even made an effort to. I'm that selfish. But now he's blaming himself for my nightmares.
"No?" he replies.
"Not really, I don't think. We're barely seventeen, Peeta. Even the Capitol can't marry us off at seventeen," I say, hoping against hope I'm right, even though I'd much rather not find out.
"Hmmm. Plus, your mother wouldn't be pleased," he says finally, and I can hear the smile in his voice. I laugh slightly, relieved, and get up for a drink of water. Peeta goes to the bathroom, and then climbs into bed with me again. I don't protest. That clock was scary.
I'm not sure why, but I don't tell him about Heavensbee's watch. I mean, it was just a mockingjay fashion thing. Big deal.
The cameras still follow us, though. We wave at the people of District 12 at the station, and then we're shunted around to get prepped for the victory dinner at the Mayor's house tonight. I feel a bit relaxed, because a dinner at the Mayor's house isn't half bad, and his daughter Madge and I have become friends. She won't take back her mockingjay pin, even though it's served its purpose. We grew close in the months after my return, when I was avoiding Peeta and Gale was in the mines.
And tomorrow, I will be with Prim again, at our house, and then I can finally begin to plan my next course of action.
I'm looking for Madge because I've got some time to kill before the dinner begins, trying not to trip up on my silver gown, when I see it. The television is on in one of the rooms I peep into, and the sight of my own face staring down from countless banners catches my attention. District 8. But this is live footage, not from when we were there a few weeks ago. I see a mob, and masks, and fire, and chaos, and Peacekeepers shooting, and people throwing anything they can get hold of.
This must be what President Snow calls an uprising.
I don't linger, but my thoughts have been sufficiently disturbed. If this is what it's like in District 8, what is happening in other districts? In District 11? And how on earth would me marrying Peeta stop something like this? It couldn't. It's too far gone. Surely Snow must know this.
So what is he playing with us for?
A little voice in my head tells me that he wants to control us because he blames us – me – for causing the rebellion in the first place, but that the worst is yet to come. And it won't be in the form of a wedding gift.
I head downstairs to the dining hall where guests are already picking at canapés and chatting. I don't want to be in the limelight – or followed by the camera's eye – until I absolutely have to, so I stand in the doorway and watch. Peeta is here already, and he's talking to my mother and Prim. My mother seems to be replying with what almost looks like affection. Even though she disapproves of our engagement because I'm too young, I can tell that she has a soft corner for Peeta. She's grateful to him for looking out for me in the arena, but this is about more than a sense of owing. She actually likes him. It's not hard to see why. Peeta has a talent for winning over the coldest of people.
And Prim – Prim looks at Peeta with what can only be adoration, laughing as he jokes around with her. It's a nice sight.
My eyes wander and fall upon Gale and Madge talking, slightly away from the rest of the crowd. Well, Madge seems to be doing most of the talking, anyway. So that's where she was.
"Come on, mockingjay, you got a camera to smile for," comes a raspy voice behind me, which I recognise as Haymitch's.
"In a minute," I retort, because I know he's trying to work me up. Haymitch doesn't care about punctuality or presentation, and Effie hasn't begun to hyperventilate yet.
"Ooh, what's got your knickers in a twist?" he taunts, adopting an affected Capitol accent. I ram my elbow into his rib unceremoniously – but stealthily – making him slop his drink all over his jacket. He snarls at me as I walk away, throwing him a sneer over my shoulder.
We've all got to run away. That's all I can think all through the party. What I saw on the television worries me on more levels than I can imagine, not least the fact that they were brandishing my face around. How did this happen? I didn't ask for this. I was only trying to get out alive, which is what tributes are supposed to do. What a mess. What a nightmare.
Gale won't run away with me.
I asked him first, sure he would say yes. How could he not, after his best friend had been reaped? It had been his idea to run away last year. This year, his name won't be in the reaping bowl, but his brother's will. Only once, it's true, but look how the odds were against Prim. And besides, I thought he would welcome the chance to not pretend to be my cousin anymore.
At first, he agreed. He was excited, delirious, almost. Then, he said he loved me. Boys are the most distracted creatures on this planet. I tried to tell him I didn't want to think about anything like that right now, and I was just relieved he'd agreed. But he started to get consistently grumpier as I mentioned details, and the fact that Haymitch and Peeta would have to come along. Or, at least, I had to give them the option to. He seems rather jealous of Peeta, like Peeta is of him, but that's not my problem.
Then I made the mistake of mentioning the uprising, and lost him entirely.
I should have known he'd want to fight. He always has been rebellious. Toward the Capitol, especially. So have I, in my own way, but I wouldn't do anything reckless. Um, apart from threatening to commit suicide with the boy I "love" to deprive the Games of a victor.
Maybe Gale's right. Maybe we should rebel. But how?
My resolve slightly weakened from the meeting with Gale, I decide to talk to Peeta next. To be honest, I'm a little afraid of confronting Haymitch. He'd probably laugh at me, or squash my plans like a bug under his merciless reasoning.
Peeta says yes. Of course he does. Because even if he thought I was wrong, or stupid, he wouldn't let me go out there alone. Just like I couldn't not give him the choice of coming along. We look out for each other.
I tell him everything, not even leaving out the face on the banners in District 8. He looks nearly as worried as I feel, and says, "The whole engagement thing just feels rather pointless, doesn't it? If it's this bad, there's nothing the starcrossed lovers could do to stop it."
I nod. "That's what I realised, too. Which is why I'm scared, Peeta. Don't you see? President Snow's plans for us are far from over, I feel sure of it. I'm scared. I don't know how he's going to punish me."
"So what do we do? We can't just…run. It's not that simple. Plus what about your mother and Prim? And Gale? His family? Haymitch?" I notice that he doesn't mention his own family, as though he puts the people I care about above those he cares about.
"Gale won't go. I asked him already," I say, hanging my head.
"What? I can go without him," I reply, but my voice wavers.
Peeta is silent. I can tell he doesn't believe me. To be honest, I'm not convinced myself.
Finally, I sigh in defeat. "President Snow knows he's not my cousin. And…and Posy, Vick, Rory…they're all just babies. If I – we – left, they'd be the first target."
"Yes, they would," says Peeta gently.
"So…we can't run."
"We have to! I'll convince Gale somehow."
"Katniss. I don't think you can. Gale seems like the type who'd want to stay and fight, not run away and leave his District to fend for itself. There will be consequences, you know."
"I don't care! I don't care! I've had enough, and it's going to get worse!" I start to become slightly hysterical, afraid that I'm going to cry, but Peeta wraps his arms around me and speaks soothingly.
"Look, let's give it some time, alright? Let's try to find out what's going on in the other districts. Then maybe we can come up with a plan that won't leave everyone so vulnerable, including us – Katniss, they're going to be back to take us to the Games as mentors in a few months. Let's just think this through a little, instead of being impulsive and making things worse."
Damn Peeta and his magical powers of persuasion.
"You know I'm not saying no, right?" he says, almost as though he read my thoughts. "I'm worried too, Katniss. We'll keep our eyes and ears open. And if we see a window, we'll run. I promise."
I decide to believe him.
For the next few weeks, things are eerily calm. I don't mean that nothing's changed, but none of it seems particularly directed at me or Peeta. Things are changing, though. District 12 has a new Head Peacekeeper, and the word 'brutal' doesn't even begin to describe him. The square has transformed, with a metal post and chains where people are now regularly whipped for the pettiest crimes. I didn't know about it because I spent most of my day in the forest, but then people began to show up at our house, supported by others or sometimes on makeshift stretchers, the skin on their back broken and bleeding. The Hob is emptier now, and more than one person has told me to keep away from the forest. Gale refused when I mentioned it to him (I think he just wants to refuse anything I tell him these days), but he only goes there on Sundays. I'm the one who would get into trouble.
So I stop going for a few weeks, and I don't know what to do with myself. Sometimes, I visit Madge, and try to sneak around her house to see if I can catch a glimpse of any other snippets meant for the Mayor's eyes. Sometimes, I turn on the television in our house, aimlessly switching channels, but they would never report unrest on there. All the media broadcast into the districts is heavily controlled by the Capitol. Once or twice, I've even gone to watch Peeta bake. He doesn't need to work anymore, but he still does it, just like I still hunt. Watching him as he whips and mixes and ices is oddly calming, and it has its perks, like free blueberry muffins straight from the oven. My evenings are for Prim.
One afternoon, Prim returns from school buzzing about a mandatory viewing that night. She has no idea what it's about, but it makes my stomach clench. Everything related to the Games is mandatory viewing, of course, but the Games aren't for months yet. What could it be? An announcement from President Snow…about what?
I'm restless the whole day, and at seven, we finally switch on the television and sit on the couch together. None of us has really talked about it, but then my mother says, almost to herself, "It must be the reading of the card." I have no idea what that means, but I suppose we'll soon find out as Caesar Flickerman's giant grin blinds the screen.
The programme is about the Quarter Quell.
Caesar rambles on in his flamboyant fashion, explaining the nature of the Quell and emphasising certain words like "rebel" and "lesson". It all sounds a bit silly coming from someone with purple hair, but then he waves forth President Snow, and my palms are clammy. I can almost smell blood and roses as though he were there with me in the same room.
Snow waits for the anthem to fade, and then narrates the circumstances of the previous two Quells that have happened so far. "And now, we honour our third Quarter Quell," he says, as a white-clad boy hands him an envelope with a '75' emblazoned on it. He makes a fuss about opening it, as though he were going to present someone with an award, but finally reads out the card.
"For the seventy-fifth Games, no one will be allowed to volunteer in place of the tributes that are reaped."
What an anti-climax. It's not great, but it's certainly not as bad as electing tributes or fighting against double the number of tributes. This doesn't make sense. No one except Careers ever volunteers anyway, so how…
And then it hits me. This is the sign I've been waiting for. A sign that indicates Snow's intentions, his position, where he thinks I stand in the entire scheme of events that have been unfolding in the last few months. His punishment.
Because it could not be clearer that his words were aimed at me. No one ever volunteers except those tributes who have been training their entire life to kill others, to whom victory is a matter of pride – except me. I volunteered, I went into the arena though I wasn't supposed to, I survived though I wasn't supposed to, I defied the Capitol with my love for a boy, and I unwittingly started an uprising. As I realise this, Snow's plan becomes clear to me, and I struggle to control the urge to cry out.
They're going to reap Prim again.