Peeta and I stand there, scared to death, staring at the ladder, as Plutarch gets up to say some last announcements.
"Katniss, you and Peeta will not leave until after we receive the signal from Cressida and Pollux because they want to film you leaving the hovercar and entering the arena. Your prep team and I will remain in here, although we will always be following you because you will need to return here for meals and sleep. Also, you will both need to wear these so I can keep in touch with you while you are in the arena," Plutarch hands us each a small black earpiece and we both fix it into our ears. "Good, good. Now we'll just wait for the signal…Ah!"
He grabs a small walkie-talkie that had just vibrated and murmured a few words into it. "Okay, that was the signal. Cressida and Pollux are ready. Down you go. Good luck, and see you tonight."
Peeta and I grip hands, locking us together. I am taking huge gulps of air, heart beating frantically. Finally, Plutarch sort of pushes us toward the ladder, and we both look at it, realizing that we both can't go down at the same time.
"Katniss, I'll go down first so you don't ever have to be alone," Peeta tries to unwind my hand from his, but this only makes me hold on tighter. "Don't worry, Katniss, we'll be together very soon."
As if to prove his point, he leans in and presses his lips against mine. I close my eyes, and when I open them he is gone.
"Okay, Katniss, go ahead," Plutarch says, and I shakily place my feet on the first rung. I slowly climb down, telling myself I have to, because Peeta's at the bottom and I have to be with him. Too soon, my feet hit solid ground, and I feel Peeta's arms go around me. I fall into them, pressing my eyes shut because I don't want to see the arena again, not ever.
But I have to, because Peeta whispers in my ear "Open your eyes. The camera is recording us."
I let out a strangled cry at the sight that meets my eyes. We have landed right by the Cornucopia, and it looks the exact same as it did that horrible day so many years ago. It gleams golden in the early morning sunlight, although it has been stripped of all its weapons. There is a huge pit at the mouth of it, and I realize that this must be where I blew up the whole pyramid of Career supplies. Suddenly, all of the feelings from those games come rushing back, and I let out a choked sob. Peeta's arms shake around me, and I look up to see him with tears streaming down his face.
I break away; unaware of my actions as I find myself walking toward one of the 24 pedestals ringing the Cornucopia. I stumble upon one, and trace my fingers along a small metal plate that says "Twelve- Female". This was my pedestal.
As I close my eyes, the sound of the gong pounds through my ears, mixed with the sound of running feet and strangled cries. When I open my eyes, the sounds are gone. I look to my left, and I see Peeta standing over his pedestal, probably remembering the same things I was.
I go over to him and place my hand on his forearm. He turns to me, hurt and sorrow in his eyes. I slowly tug him away from the pedestal, and we make our way into the forest on the far side of the arena. I hear some footsteps behind me, and I immediately think of Careers with weapons, out to kill me. I whirl around, and reach behind my back for a bow and arrow, only to find I don't have one. Peeta grabs my hand and spins me around so I am facing him, and pulls me close to whisper in my ear.
"It's okay. It's just Cressida and Pollux."
I gradually relax, and Peeta and I continue following a path deeper into the forest. Under the complete silence of the trees, Plutarch's sudden voice in my ear gives me a fright.
Looking over at Peeta, I realize he must have heard the same thing, because he looks the same way I feel.
"Seems like it was just yesterday, doesn't it?" Peeta says, not just to me, but to everyone watching. He looks at me expectantly, and I realize I have to answer.
"Yeah," My voice comes out all raspy, so I clear my throat and try again. "Yeah, it does. It never really leaves you…"
"No, it doesn't. Even if you win, you are always stuck in the Games, always revisiting it in your nightmares," Peeta says, looking off into the distance. "Of course, I got lucky. I don't have to go through this alone; I have someone who is going through the exact same thing, so we can help each other through it."
He smiles at me as he pulls me close. I giggle a little as I place a tentative kiss on his lips. Of course, Plutarch has to ruin the moment by hissing in our earpieces;
"That's it! That's perfect! Good Job!"
We break away, although we are still locking hands.
"Do you really want to bring them back?" Peeta shouts to the trees, and I know he is not talking to me. "Do you really want the Hunger Games to go on again? Because if you do, and they come back, what was the point in killing Snow? In fact, what was the point of the whole rebellion? So, please, take the time to think this over before you make all these rash decisions. Is this really what you want for your children?"
The whole forest is silent, so quiet you can hear the leaves rustle. Peeta is breathing heavily, and I throw a worried glance at him, afraid he's going to turn Capital again. But his eyes stay his light blue ones.
Finally, Plutarch's voice cuts through the silence of the trees.
"Cut! That was amazing! Ten minute break from the cameras. Your prep team is coming down with water and food."
I let out a sigh of relief I hadn't known I'd been holding as I fall into Peeta's arms. I press myself against him, wanting nothing more than to leave this place. We stand there, holding each other up until we hear hurried footsteps approaching us.
"That was so good!" Octavia squeals, rushing towards us. "You should see Plutarch right now, he is ecstatic!"
Venia hands us each two rolls and a canteen of water. I devour the rolls, not even realizing how hungry I had been. When I am done, I am pulled aside by Venia and Octavia and they dab some thick powder onto my face.
"You looked a little pale, dear," Venia explains as she swipes on some mascara and eyeliner. Soon, they finish my makeup and, after a few more praises and advice, hurry back through the forest to a ladder that would take them back to the hovercar. I'm thinking to myself how badly I want to join them when I hear footsteps behind me. I whirl around to see Peeta, open arms that I throw myself into.
"Peeta," I cry, not caring if the cameras are on or not. "I want to go home. I don't want to do this anymore, I can't, I just… can't, please take me home!"
His arms tighten around me, and I bury my head in his chest, letting the tears come, not caring if it will mess up my makeup.
"We promised we would do this, we can't just back out now. Katniss, you can do this, I'll be with you," Peeta tries to reassure me, but nothing can make me leave Peeta's arms. I shake my head forcefully against his chest.
"I don't care, I'm done, I can't do this, I don't care what Plutarch thinks, I hate him!" I'm screaming now, and I hear some birds take off into the sky. The world gets incredibly blurry and a massive headache fills my head. "If you loved me you wouldn't make me do this!"
Peeta is silent for a moment, but when he speaks again his voice is quiet and gentle. "Okay. If you say you're done, then I believe you. We're done. Come on, I'll carry you."
I'm glad, because I don't think I could walk if I wanted to. He lifts me up in his strong arms, and I bury my face in his neck. Listening to his steady footsteps brings me to relaxation. Soon, I hear the mechanical grind of a ladder being lowered, and Peeta steps onto it, freezing us to the spot. I experience the slight feeling of being lifted before a barrage of voices begins talking.
"What do you mean you're done? You agreed to this, we can't be done after just ten minutes of footage!" Plutarch shouts, and I feel Peeta flinch.
"Sorry, this is way too real for us. We didn't think it would be this real. We can't-" Peeta tries to explain in a calm manner, but is soon cut off by Plutarch.
"You knew what you were getting into! You weren't tricked; you knew exactly what was going to happen! How hard is it to walk around and say stuff?"
Peeta sets me down to approach Plutarch, but my knees are so weak I just collapse in a heap on the floor. Peeta abandons whatever he was going to say or do to Plutarch and instead places his arms under my arms and helps me to a standing position. However, all of this sudden movement and yelling and confusion make me get a sick feeling in my stomach. I clutch my stomach and promptly lose my breakfast, all over the hovercar floor, in front of everyone.
There is complete silence until Peeta puts his arm around leading me over to chair.
"Well, don't just stand there, do something! Can't you see she's sick? Get me some medicine, or something!" He shouts, and everyone goes into motion. Peeta places the water canteen to my lips and I manage to swallow a bit of it. Venia is placing a damp cloth on my forehead, but all I really want is to lie down and sleep.
"Peeta…" I whisper, and he places his ear by my lips, a worried look on his face. "I'm tired."
"Okay," Peeta says, understanding me completely. He places a light kiss on my burning forehead before turning to Plutarch. "Is there a bed anywhere?"
"Yes, there's a bedroom right down the hall," Plutarch says, motioning to a door on the other side of the hovercar.
Peeta places his hands under my knees and arms and again lifts me up, and in mere minutes we have reached the bedroom.
The door opens automatically before him, and he hurries inside, placing me gently on the bed. I close my eyes and shiver a bit, cold despite the blistering heat of the air.
"Do you want me to stay?" Peeta asks, hesitantly standing by the bed.
"Please," I say, and as soon as he lies down beside me, I fall asleep.