Ignite - Chapter 7 - carnationhes - Hunger Games Series (2024)

Chapter Text

I start to feel like I’m losing my mind at every stop. The crowd in Three is quiet, the tour of their industry short and boring. One and Two go out of their way to celebrate us, parading us through their respective city centers for most of the afternoon. In the travel period between our last few stops Effie almost never lets up, and Haymitch is withdrawn and secretive in a way I don’t remember him being before. Peeta has terrible nightmares all the time. I go to Effie on the night we leave District Four and take a handful of small white pills from her.

“They’ll put you right to sleep.” She promises, smiling sadly down at me.

I smile back, tuck the pills into my pocket, swallow my pride at accepting help from Effie, at the pity I feel radiating off her in the cramped hallway. They work like she said, though, knocking me out quickly and keeping me asleep through the night for the first time in a while. The next morning is awful and I arrive at breakfast still groggy with a pounding headache, hunching over my plate to ride it out. I wonder if this is how Haymitch feels in the mornings. I keep taking the pills anyway.

By the time the train rolls out of District One in the early morning hours, I’m exhausted despite the nights of uninterrupted sleep. The peace I had felt at avoiding rebellion in the outer districts has faded completely, and I feel on edge, uncertain like I have for days now. Two little white pills sit next to a glass of water on my side of Peeta’s bed and I swallow them without a second thought, then disappear into the bathroom to avoid the judgmental look I’m sure he’s sending my way. We argued the other night about it, the way he acts like I’m some sort of addict or something, as if I am weaker than him for taking something to help me sleep for a few days, just until we are back home again. As if Effie hasn’t been extraordinarily responsible about providing them to me, only ever a few at a time.

I scrub my face harshly and kick my dress off, getting ready for bed as fast as I can, before the drowsy feeling starts to kick in. I throw on a pair of too-big shorts and a shirt I stole from Peeta’s drawer and braid my hair messily down my back. I leave the bathroom light on for him to take his turn, but when I step back into the dim bedroom Peeta is sitting hunched over on the edge of the bed, dragging a makeup wipe over his eyes, revealing dark circles underneath.

“Tired?” I ask, settling into bed beside him. He laughs under his breath at the redundant question. Of course he’s tired. We all are. “Nightmares?”

He doesn’t answer, just scrubs across his face one more time and tosses the wipe across the room and tosses it across the room to the small waste basket. We haven’t talked about it but I’m sure the nightmares are only getting worse. He lays back sideways across the bed, head resting in my lap, and my fingers tangle in his hair automatically.

“One more stop.” He says and I hum in agreement. Twelve districts in twelve days, then the Capitol, then a day off. Then two days travel back home and we are meant to be free until next summer. Until next year’s games. The Quell. The drowsy, sleepy feeling from the pills has started to kick in now, though, and I can’t quite remember why I need to be stressed about the Quarter Quell quite yet.

I don’t realise Peeta is still speaking until we are both sitting in an awkward moment of silence as he waits for me to reply. He must decide that I’m too far gone because instead of repeating himself he sits up and tucks himself under the blankets, offering out an arm for me to pillow my head on, pulling the blankets tight around us both.

I wake up in the morning, brain foggy and limbs heavy, and the bathroom light is still on. On Peeta’s pillow is a note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper.

‘Couldn’t sleep. See you at breakfast.’

In the corner of the paper are a series of scribbled hearts in black ink, and then a tiny doodle of two stick figures at a table together, smiling. Across the room, the waste basket is full to the top with sheets of the same paper, crumpled, filled with similar scribbled pen drawings. I drag myself into the hallway, into the dining car. Almost everyone is already there, Peeta included, dark circles worse than ever. Still, he pulls out a chair for me, presses a kiss to my cheek when the others are distracted in conversation, lays a soft hand on my knee under the table. He gets involved in the talking, telling a story that I can’t seem to keep track of, head pounding. His hand doesn’t leave my knee until we are excused from the table, and then he only slips the same hand into mine.

“You feel okay?” He murmurs on our way to prep, and it’s so genuine, so sweet, that my teeth ache.

“Mhm. You?” I ask in response, although I already know what he’ll say.

“I’m great.” He answers, squeezes my hand once before taking off for prep.

I almost stop him. I almost want to take him by the shoulders, shake him, tell him that I know he’s not well. I wish so badly I had spent more time with Peeta on the tour last time, so I could know if he really is doing as poorly as I think he is. Instead, I walk away too, pasting a smile on my face before I open the door to face my prep team again.

Twelve districts in twelve days. Then the Capitol. Then two days travel back home.

I’m covered in a thick layer of makeup, dressed in shoes I can’t walk in and a gold glittering dress that catches everyone’s eye even before we are paraded out onto the streets of the Capitol. Peeta matches me, like always. Muscle memory has me playing up the romance for the cameras and he seems to understand, despite the rocky state of our relationship lately. Every time a camera flashes I panic, lean in for a kiss, worried that we are not being convincing enough. Only this time I’m not sure there is anyone to convince. I just know I have to cover my bases, make sure I’m doing the best I can to keep us safe.

By the time we reach the Tribute’s Center, I am feeling like a trained dog; displaying affection on command, just in case Snow is watching. Peeta must feel the same because he drops my hand the second we are on our floor, out of sight of the cameras for the first time in hours. Before either of us can think too much about it, we are dragged away to be made-up and re-dressed for our interviews and the Presidential banquet that follows.

“Not to pry, but I’m sure we are all wondering…” Caesar questions, flashing a porcelain smile to the crowd, who seems to understand before the question is even out. He takes my left hand in his, turning it over and over a few times, showing the camera, then turns to Peeta. “No ring!?”

I freeze. Peeta is a good sport about it.

“Not yet, Caesar!” He laughs, charismatic. All I can see is the president, ominous in the corner of my eye, grinning along with the crowd’s laughter. “Maybe you can help me get her mother’s blessing, though.”

“Let me tell you, as far as mother-in-laws go, Ms.Everdeen is not the worst you could do!” Flickerman exclaims, moving into a monologue about how terrible his ex wife’s mother was. I’m not sure I knew he was ever married. The audience laughs uproariously and I feel terrible for the woman’s mother.

The president seems to have lost interest, and once again I feel like I’m losing my mind. He’s not angry, at least, I tell myself in my head over and over. Disinterested does not equal pleased, though. Before I can spiral too much, Caesar asks him if he’d be willing to conspire to pull off a wedding behind my mother’s back, and Snow laughs, puffy lips pulling grotesquely against pale skin.

“Oh, of course. The people want it, don’t they?”

The crowd erupts, laughing, cheering, throwing handfuls of confetti and roses, and we all move to pose for a photo, Peeta and I on either side of President Snow. The camera flashes and I swallow back bile. The Capitol loves us, nobody is angry, there is no rebellion to worry about, Peeta and I aren’t getting married anytime soon. It doesn’t make sense to be upset. I am anyway. Even after we step out of the cloud of rose-perfume on the balcony I swear the smell lingers, stuck to my clothing, to my skin.

The party is just as grand as I knew it would be. It’s almost an assault to the senses, all the bright lights and colours, the mountains of food weighing down what seems like miles of banquet tables lined up against every wall. I cling to Peeta, watch him take it all in, and drag him to the first table. It’s full of tiny finger foods. Effie has a fancy word for them, for the first course of a grand meal in general, but I can never remember it. Peeta reaches out for one of the first dishes, bite-sized pieces of toast piled with diced red tomato, drizzled with a dark sauce and I stop him, grabbing him by the elbow. The neon lights dance in the distance and reflect in Peeta’s eyes, turning to me in question. In that second I decide to let go of the paranoia that has plagued me since District Four and try to believe we can be happy. For tonight, at least.

“We should taste one of everything in the room.” I say, and I can tell Peeta is taken just a bit off guard. I’ve been a paranoid zombie for days now, and he knows I was made uncomfortable by the talk of marriage in our interview, no matter how lighthearted. Still he smiles, pops one of the tiny toasts into his mouth.

“You’d better pace yourself, then” Peeta says, already reaching for the table again.

“No, we’ll take turns! One bite of everything between the two of us.” I scan the table, searching for what I’ll try first. Honestly, I’d really like to try those little tomato toasts, but I know from experience that we’d never make it through all the dishes if we both ate one of everything. Instead I choose a little pinwheel pastry filled with cheese and topped with a green sauce. “There. You have to choose something else now.”

Peeta grins, eyes sparkling in the lights, and we take turns until we are done with the first table, moving on to a full spread of soups and crackers. I can tell he’s choosing the dishes he thinks I won’t want to try. I can’t help but break the rules to make him try my favourites, particularly the pumpkin soup I remember enjoying so much last time.

Despite my determination to actually make it through every dish this time around, I am conscious of who Peeta and I have to meet, avoiding the Capitols I remember to be particularly unbearable to speak to, purposely lingering around those who were harmless enough. Even with my best efforts to avoid it we are flocked with attention everywhere we turn. Increasingly as the night wears on drinks are thrust in our hands and cameras in our faces.

“Oh, no thank you.” Peeta says politely after the third or fourth flute of bubbly wine is offered. We’d tried some of the alcohol in my resolve to try it all, but only a sip here or there. The Capitol man offering it– a sponsor I’m pretty sure– seems confused, purple eyebrows drawn over startlingly green eyes. “It’s just– we’re underage.”

The man bursts out laughing, holding a hand to his chest, and the server holds the drinks out again, until Peeta takes two glasses, passing one to me.

“Darling, no one cares about that here!”

Peeta accepts the drinks after that, then abandons them a table or two away as we make our way along the buffet. I’d feel bad about it but the flutes always get picked up behind us by people too impatient to wait for the servers to make their rounds again.

We make it much farther than I remember we did before, well into the main course, before my stomach begins to hurt, distended from the outrageous amount of food. I can’t believe Peeta isn’t done for the night too. I’ve been making him finish some of my dishes, abandoning the rule I made up so I won’t have to leave wasted food behind along with the trail of champagne and brightly-coloured co*cktails. It’s well into the early morning hours when my prep team tracks us down, in the odd minute we have to ourselves.

“Why aren’t you eating!?” Octavia asks, and I already know where this is going, spotting the tall-stemmed glasses held between each of their gloved fingers.

“We’re just going for a dance break.” I answer, scrambling to grab Peeta by the wrist.

“Oh, you can’t go like that darling!” Venia exclaims, thrusting two of the glasses toward us. Peeta takes one, eyes wide in confusion, lifting it to his mouth.

“Not here!” They all shout, dissolving into laughter, as if Peeta is silly for even considering to do such a thing.

Gently I take the glass out of his hand, set it beside our most recently abandoned set of wine glasses and drag him to the dance floor. I take his hand in mine, rest the other one on his shoulder like we were taught. His hand finds its way to the dip in my waist naturally, like it was always meant to be there.

“What was all that about?”

My prep team is still across the room laughing, drunk and happy. In a minute they will all file into the bathroom together, throw their glasses back to let it all out.

“Nothing.” I say, then drag my eyes back to Peeta’s, drawn tight in concern. I’m afraid if I don’t tell him myself he’ll go figure it out anyway, so I spill. “It makes you puke, so you can eat more.”

His brow only creases farther, and I feel the lighthearted energy of the night collapse. Things are complicated again. In the neon lighting down here I can see his dark circles, covered by a layer of pale makeup. His face is thin too, hollow cheeks covered and repainted, disguised by his prep team. He’s not looking at me anymore, though, staring out over the dance floor, turning us around in tiny circles.

“People are starving back home.” I dig my nails in hard, pray Peeta won’t elaborate on this here, now. I blink and I see myself, my sister, our neighbours in the Seam. “I always think maybe they’re not so bad, maybe it’s just the way they’re raised–”

He cuts himself off. I draw myself closer into his arms. He doesn’t even know how close we are to avoiding Panem-wide rebellion, that these words could just be the turning point. I’m not sure how he would react, anyway, if he knew.

“Peeta, they bring us here to fight to our death, for their entertainment.” I say, tucking my cheek over his shoulder, rising to my tiptoes.

Now is not the time. Now is not the time.

My name is Katniss Everdeen. I survived the Hunger Games. Peeta did too.

We Are safe now.

“I know, I just can’t stand it sometimes. I mean, don’t you ever–” He stops again, chewing on his lip, drawing me in even closer, “We could be doing something bigger, Katniss. Rue– and that woman– Molly’s mother, in Four–”

It’s the first time I’ve heard Peeta so lost for words, stuttering through the whispered sentence. I grit my teeth, draw away from him, back into the position Effie taught us, an arms length apart.

“Save it for home?”

Peeta stares, eyes flicking between my own for a second too long, finally nodding solemnly. We turn in a slow circle. The song has changed to something loud, insistent, electronic. Everyone else around us jumping, dancing energetically.

“How did you know?” he shouts over the pounding music.

“Know what?”

“About the drink. The one your prep team had.”

I’m surprised by the question. It’s not the first time Peeta has questioned how I already know things that haven’t actually happened yet, but it might be the first time I don’t have an answer ready to go.

“It’s at all these events.” I say. He’s unconvinced, I know. Why would he have not seen it himself, if it was already everywhere. “They’ve offered it to me before.”

Peeta’s concern for me seems to overtake his suspicion because he just accepts that, spinning me around sharply so that I laugh. Portia arrives just then, Plutarch Heavensbee in tow.

He takes me away from Peeta, hands keeping a respectable distance from my waist, turning slowly enough that I am forced to look him in the eye. I smile politely, look happy when the cameras flash. I can’t decide whether I trust this man, whether he is a rebel or just a gamemaker. Either way he allowed Peeta to be taken, and for that I’ll always hate him.

We are civil anyway, chatting about the games, the party, the entertainment. I can’t tell if I’m making up the tension between us.

“You’re a gamemaker, then?” I ask after minutes of pointless small talk.

Plutarch laughs. “Yes, I am. Head gamemaker, this year.”

“No pressure.”

“None at all.” Plutarch laughs again like it’s all a big joke. I wonder what happened to Seneca Crane. He made the mistake of allowing two victors, I guess, but surely they haven’t killed him for it this time. Our survival was spun as a miracle in the Capitol, hardly an act of rebellion.

“Not even with the Quarter Quell coming up?”

“Well, arenas aren’t built in a day. This one has been ready to go for half a decade, well before my time.” Plutarch sighs, letting go of my waist to dig in his pocket for something. “I’m just up to determining the flavour of the game, I’d say.”

I sway around, searching for Peeta in the corner of my eye.

“I mean, some years are thrown together at the last minute. Especially under our last Head Gamemaker, I’d say. You’re probably familiar with that already, though.” Plutarch fishes a pocket watch out of his pocket, swiping over the glass face. A Mockingjay appears, just for a second, and I want to disappear into the ground. “Would you look at that, I’m late already.”

I don’t ask what for, just shake his hand and wish him a goodnight. A stone sinks in my stomach. I am not the Mockingjay. I never have been.

I find Peeta at the desserts table, surrounded by pastry chefs. Effie comes to collect us just before 1a.m., just like she said she would. We are driven through crowded streets in a car with darkened windows, then pushed through a throng of people back onto the train, pulling slowly back out of the station.

Effie instructs us to sleep, reminds us of the harvest fest back home, which I guess must be a big deal this year. Her wig is tilted, makeup melting off.

I go to bed with Peeta, resting my temple against his shoulder, but I can’t seem to find sleep. I think of the pills on the bedside, but don’t take them. At some point in the night, he starts to shake, then jumps up, trembling from whatever nightmare he’s had. I pretend to be asleep.

When Peeta slips into a sweater and pads down the hall, I wait a few minutes, and then follow him into the next car. Here his canvases are stacked up against the walls, finished paintings leaning up against each other, colours almost smearing together.

Right in front, though, most prominent, are portraits of me. I am wild-eyed, sneering, attacking the painter in these images. Right in the corner of the room is a small sketchbook, open to a double-page spread, one with a terrible illustration of a mutt, the other with my name, scratched harshly in red ink as many times as Peeta could fit in the limited space.

Ignite - Chapter 7 - carnationhes - Hunger Games Series (2024)
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