Chapter 8

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I watch as someone takes Katniss' unconscious body to the hospital, praying she'll be okay. I feel someone grab my arm and haul me out into an empty corridor and look up to see Haymitch as he lets me go.

''Trouble,'' he states, raking a hand through his unruly hair. ''She's in so much trouble,''

I nod slowly and rest my back against the cool wall. ''Snow won't like it,'' I agree.

''She had guts, I'll give her that but to blatantly defy the Capitol? She's a goner,'' Haymitch sighs, frustrated.

''If she is, then we have to do the best we can as mentors to make sure she stays alive,'' I tell him. He doesn't respond just nods and walks off down the corridor. I follow Haymitch to Effie and we organize the banquet for the sponsors and finalize the questions for their last interview. After a while, Effie tells us we can go wait for Katniss, so off we go, now with Cinna, to a big chamber at the end of a hall.

I hear footsteps and then, ''Peeta!''.

Effie calls out Katniss' name and soon she comes into view, a little bewildered. But then she sets off at a run and launches herself at Haymitch and I, pulling us into a tight hug.

''Nice job, sweetheart,'' Haymitch whispers in her ear.

''You did great, Katniss,'' I smile as we pull away.

''Thank you, Anna,'' she grins back.

Effie is tearful, rambling on about how she told everyone that Katniss and Peeta were pearls. Cinna takes his turn hugging Katniss, not saying anything.

''Where's Portia? Is she with Peeta? He is all right, isn't he? I mean, he's alive?'' Katniss blurts out hurriedly. I smile slightly at her new found affection for her.

''He's fine,'' Haymitch answers.

''Only they want to do your reunion live on air at the ceremony,'' I add, rolling my eyes.

''Oh. That's all,'' Katniss says. ''I guess I'd want to see that myself.''

''Go with Cinna. He has to get you ready,'' Haymitch tells her.

''Vivianna, you should change too, go with them?'' Effie smiles brightly and I trail after Katniss and Cinna.

We get inside the elevator and ride up to the twelfth floor and as soon as we step out, Venia, Flavius and Octavia engulf Katniss, talking rapidly about how happy they are to see her. We go through into the dining room where she is given a proper meal, enjoying it thoroughly.
Halfway through, Katniss looks up at me.

''Aren't you eating?'' she asks me, knitting her brows together.

I shake my head. ''I ate earlier. I don't eat a lot anyway, really. You're the one who needs to eat more right now,'' I send her a playful wink and allow her to finish. Once she's done, she asks for seconds.

''No, no, no. They don't want it all coming back up on stage,'' Octavia refuses, but I notice her slip Katniss and extra roll underneath the table. Then we head on through to Katniss' room where the team are going to get us ready.

''Oh, they did a full body polish on you,'' Flavius says, the envy clear in his voice. I cringe. I remember those polishes. I hated the idea that all the imperfections on my body were removed. ''Not a flaw left on your skin,''

I look away as Katniss undressed and as Katniss showers, Cinna hands me my dress.

''Why do I even need to change? It's not as if I'm going on camera!'' I protest as I slide my shoes off.

Cinna rolls his eyes at me. ''You know how it goes. Effie wants you representing your District well. Besides, your the Capitol's 'gorgeous girl'. You gotta look good,'' he tells me. I pull a face at his words.

I change quickly, Katniss still in the shower, enjoying the cleanliness. Flavius, Octavia and Venia set to work on my nails, makeup and hair, and as soon as they're done, they set to work on a fresh Katniss, chatting excitedly about nothing, so I don't pay attention. I don't think Katniss is either.

Cinna re-enters, Katniss' yellow dress draped across his arms.

''Have you given up the whole 'girl on fire' thing?'' Katniss asks curiously.

''You tell me,'' Cinna responds, slipping the dress over her head. It's gorgeous, but slightly padded. Katniss notices, her hands flying to her chest, her mouth contorting into a frown.

''I know,'' Cinna says before Katniss objects. ''But the Game-makers wanted to alter you surgically. Haymitch had a huge fight with them over it. This was the compromise,''

Katniss goes to look in the mirror but before she can, Cinna stops her. ''Wait, don't forget the shoes,''

Venia helps Katniss slide on her tasteful flat leather sandals and then, finally, Katniss sees her new self.

''What do you think?'' Cinna asks.

''I think it's the best yet,'' Katniss smiles at her reflection.

''Agreed. You look beautiful. Good job as always, Cinna,'' I high five Cinna cheerfully.

Katniss bites her lip after a little while. ''I thought it'd be something more...sophisticated-looking,'' she says.

''I thought Peeta would like this better,'' Cinna replies but I know he's talking more about the Capitol than Peeta.

We take the elevator back down to the training level. As usual, the victor rises from underneath the stage with their support team. The prep team, then the escort, stylist, mentor and finally the tribute. Although this year, as their are two tributes, it's different, a metal plate newly installed to transport her up. I wait with Katniss until Haymitch appears behind her and touches her shoulder, causing her to jump away a little too violently.

''Easy, just me. Let's have a look at you,'' Haymitch says. Katniss opens her arms out wide and spins around once. ''Good enough,''

''But what?'' Katniss raises an eyebrow at him.

I eye Haymitch curiously as his eyes shift around, coming up with an answer. ''But nothing. How about a hug for luck?''

Weird. Haymitch never really asks for hugs. But when Katniss wraps her arms around his neck, he begins to whisper to her. I can't make out what they're saying but I'm guessing it's about how much she's in danger because of the Capitol's anger at her showing them up in the arena.
Katniss laughs in case anyone around her gets suspicious. Haymitch pulls back and straightens her hairband. ''Got it, sweetheart?''

''Got it. Did you tell Peeta this?'' Katniss replies.

''Don't have to,'' Haymitch half shrugs. ''He's already there.''

''But you think I'm not?'' Katniss asks, sorting out the bow tie Haymitch is wearing.

''Since when does it matter what I think?'' Haymitch says.

''Never stopped you before,'' I pipe up, smirking at him.

He shoots me a playful glare. ''Better take our places,'' he leads Katniss to a metal circle. ''This is your night, sweetheart. Enjoy it.'' he plants a kiss on her forehead and walks out into the dark.

''Good luck, Katniss. You'll be fine,'' I reassure her, pulling her into a hug before I disappear too.

The interview goes well, Katniss doing her best to seem loved-up with Peeta, and to be fair to them, they're quite the cute couple. Caesar tells jokes. They talk about their Games, hugging, holding hands. I smile at their cuteness, but my heart pangs slightly. I am a grown woman now. Effie keeps pressuring me to find someone, settle down - even make a family. But there's no one. It appears my heart is just an empty void. Maybe the Capitol removed it when I game out of my Games. I became the 'gorgeous girl' of the Capitol, even if I didn't know anybody but Effie, Cinna and the prep team from the Capitol. I don't know any other victors, besides Haymitch and now Katniss and Peeta. I well and truly isolated myself.

I divert my attention back to the ceremony as President Snow appears on stage, breaking the usual crown in two, placing half on Peeta's brow and the other on Katniss' head. I notice his eyes boring into hers for a little before he steps away. Then comes the Victory Banquet. I barely pay attention, not focusing on the events, just wanting to sleep after quite the tiring day. At long last, we travel back up to the Twelfth Floor. I bid goodnight to everyone before slinking to my room, quickly removing the pins holding my hair in place, taking off my makeup and changing into my night clothes, sliding into bed for yet another restless, nightmare-filled night.

The next day, we're boarding the train home, leaving the Capitol until the Victory Tour in a few months - which I haven't been on since my own. I hated it. Giving a speech in front of the families of those I outlasted - even killed? It made me sick. Haymitch was my rock, although he got drunk a fair few times. After we've had chance to change into comfier clothes, we settle in front of the television to watch the interviews but, as always, my thoughts are elsewhere. I don't notice it's over and that most people have dispersed until Haymitch nudges me. I don't say a word as I follow him, again, not paying attention until we reach Katniss and Peeta. Haymitch lays a hand on Katniss' back, startling her.

''Great job, you two. Just keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. We should be okay,'' he says in a low voice, despite the fact that we are outside the train in the middle of nowhere. Haymitch leaves, going back onto the train but I stay put.

Peeta turns to Katniss and I. ''What's he mean?''

''It's the Capitol. They didn't exactly love your stunt with the berries,'' I tell him.

''What? What are you talking about?''

''It seemed too rebellious. So, Haymitch and Vivianna have been coaching me through the last few days. So I didn't make it worse,'' Katniss tries to explain.

''Coaching you? But not me,'' Peeta says.

''Haymitch and I know you're smart enough to get it right,'' I add.

''I didn't know there was anything to get right. So, what you're saying is, these last few days and then I guess...back in the arena...that was just
some strategy you three worked out?'' Peeta asks. I can tell, hear in his voice that he's hurt by this.

''No. I mean, I couldn't even talk to them in the arena, could I?'' Katniss stammers awkwardly.

''But you knew what they wanted you to do, didn't you?'' Katniss bites her lip. ''Katniss?'' he lets go of her hand as she steps back.

''It was all for the Games,'' Peeta states. ''How you acted.''

''Not all of it,'' Katniss defends.

''I'll just go...'' I say awkwardly, edging slowly backwards but Peeta stops me.

''No. Stay,'' he says before turning back to Katniss. ''Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what's going to be left when we get home?''

''I don't know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get,'' Katniss says.

Peeta waits but Katniss doesn't say anything more. ''Well, let me know when you work it out,'' I can hear the pain in his voice as he leaves, walking back to the train.

Katniss sighs. ''I hurt him.'' she frowns.

''The way I see it - he likes you. A lot. You're just confused by your feelings...maybe affection is new to you, I'm not sure on the whole romance thing myself. I've never had 'that special someone'. I think the time you have until the Victory Tour will do you well. You'll make the right choice, Katniss. I know you will,'' I send her a smile before I walk back into the train and into my room for the night.


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