Chapter 2

They always went to the hob together after their hunt, but once there they went their separate ways. Galen went to haggle and Katniss to buy. It still felt alien to be handing over coins instead of meat or clothing or herbs. She examined the seasoning available and picked out a few. Her mother and Prim were both having a ball at cooking new things and trying out new flavors. Maybe they could make something tasty of the two rabbits. She bought most of her meat these days, but she still holds that there was still something fresher about eating her own kills. She purchased Ochre and Nutmeg and then headed to the merchant store fronts. The hob held sentimental value, but it lacked essential items such as fresh fruit and vegetables, especially in the winter time.

She spotted the storefront of the baker's, where the cakes were on display and she smiled inwardly at the memory of giving Prim her first real birthday cake, with real cream icing. No matter what her relationship with Peeta was, Prim deserved to have a real birthday cake. It had been deliciously rich and creamy chocolate with vanilla icing. It had actually compared to some of the food she remembered from the Capitol, which was the only thing she missed about that place.

Back to the task at hand, Katniss picked up onions, carrots, and potatoes; stew was a favorite in the family. Katniss then headed over and picked up another loaf of good white bread and finally honey. Honey had been a real treat that no one had before, but Katniss won't deny that honey on bread had become a favorite snack.

Finally she began the trudge back home. The new house was set a little ways outside the city, closer to the mayor's home, and though the walk wasn't longer, it was made longer by Katniss' reluctance. Finally, she couldn't put it off any longer and shoved her way through the door, stamping her boots to dislodge the pesky snow.

"Hi, Katniss," Prim chirped from the kitchen table where she was dipping her bread into a lamb stew.

"Mmm, that smells good," Katniss said, making her way to the kitchen with her haul.

"Well, hello, Katniss," Effie Trinket said, suddenly popping into view. Her appearance had changed from the last time she'd seen her. Now there was a turquoise wig set atop her head, more elegantly pinned than the one Katniss had seen during the Hunger Games. Looks like District 12's good fortune was smiling on her. This time she had blue eye shadow with a dash of turquoise and gold highlighting her features. It actually looked rather beautiful if Katniss cared at all about Capitol fashion. It did not offset Katniss' dour mood.

She stiffened at the sight of her and gave her a wan smile. "Effie, how are you? I was expecting Cinna."

"He's waiting in the Capitol to fix you up, dear."

"The Capitol? Aren't we going to all the outlying districts first?"

"Change of plans. The Capitol has decided it's awfully pointless to have a party in each district, so they're just making it one big party in the Capitol!" By Effie's fixed smile, it was something else entirely. Katniss may find her ditzy and her fashion bizarre, if not questionable at best, but there was no doubt Effie knew her politics. It must have something to do with her game winning stunt.

Katniss almost wishes she could take it back. Almost. But that little stunt saved both her's and Peeta's live and she wasn't certain the Capitol could do anything to make her regret it.

"Thank you so much for the tea. It was quite delicious for being made out here." Mother's smile turned positively stale at the backhanded compliment, but she thanked her nonetheless.

Katniss didn't bother to hide her glare.

"Now, come along! We've kept the boys waiting long enough," Effie said, using her hands to guide Katniss to the door.

"Can't I at least drop my pack off in my room?"

"Maybe you should have thought of that sooner before you made us late. Honestly!"

"I'll take your pack up," Prim said, skipping over to snatch the pack from Katniss before she was shoved out the door.

Once outside, Katniss rounded on Effie. "Couldn't you have at least let me say goodbye?"

Effie returned the hard glare with a sickly smile, "You're the one who make these things difficult, Katniss. I just preempted it. Besides, you'll see them again in four days!"

Katniss was surprised to find them headed in the direction of Haymitch's house.

"You haven't even gotten Haymitch yet?"

"I do most difficult to least."

"You think I'm more difficult?"

"Haymitch at least knows the routine."

Katniss still suspected they'd find Haymitch sleeping in his own vomit again, but much to her surprise when they knocked, she heard a gruff but rude, "I'm coming. I'm coming!" He was scruffy and his eyes were bloodshot like he only got two hours of sleep, but he was presentable. Katniss did notice his ever present flask was in his hand. "Finally stop dragging your heels, sweetheart?"

"You're one to talk."

"My life isn't the one at stake here."

"All the more reason to delay if you ask me."

"Delaying doesn't make you look good, it makes you look suspicious. You're not supposed to have an inkling of what's going on."

Katniss opened her mouth to retort, but Effie cut her off.

"While all this is fascinating, you're both just delaying. Now, come along both of you," she snapped and shot them both warning looks.

They proceeded down the street quietly, but when they passed Peeta's house, Katniss asked, "Aren't you forgetting someone?"

"Peeta is already at the train, overseeing the handling of his paintings. And speaking of paintings…"

"Effie, no!" Katniss gritted out between her teeth.

"Katniss, you're required to have a talent and perform by the time of the next Hunger Games. We're already halfway there. You need a talent!"

She scowled some more. They'd been through this several times already; at least once a month Effie would ask the same question and then she rambled off a list of talents.

"Why can't I do archery?"

"Because that's rather course. There's nothing beautiful or elegant about sending an arrow into a dummy's head."

"I find it elegant," Katniss said out of spite, but the thought of firing arrows at human-like targets made her stomach churn. She could barely hunt animals right now.

"Between the games, the Capitol likes pretty things. Paper mache, glass-blowing, pottery, music…you know, art!"

`"I'm not artistic."

"You can sing."

"I will not sing for them!" Katniss' mood could not get any darker. Everything was coming back to haunt her: Her father, Rue, Cato, that boy from District 1 she killed, and now Gale. She hadn't had a day this bad in a long time.

"Then find a new talent! You need to know by the end of this trip so that you can be prepared for your debut or there's going to be trouble."

"She's right, Katniss. You need to display something sufficiently romantic or public opinion of you will sour and we can't have that," Haymitch spoke up.

"What was your talent, Haymitch?" She still felt sullen, but she was genuinely curious.

"Poetry."

She stared. Of all the things he could have chosen, Katniss would have thought that the dead last. "Why?"

"Words are powerful," he replied.

"What was one of your poems? An Ode to Alcohol?"

"Laugh it up, sweetheart," Haymitch replied, with a nasty grin. "You need a talent and if you don't get one, it's on your head. Now, be nice and I might actually help you, talentless slug that you are."

Katniss' cheeks burned. "You're the last person I will consult on talents!"

"That's enough," Effie said, putting hands on the both of them to keep from tearing each other's throats out. "You know what you need to do, Katniss. I suggest you start doing it. Now, we're almost there."

Katniss noticed that Effie had developed a new habit of silencing talk before they reached anything officially Capitol, even if it was as harmless as arguing about talents.

Peeta was already at a table snacking on some cookies when they arrived. "Hi, Katniss," he said pleasantly enough, but his smile was weak.

"Hi," Katniss replied, but she was still angry from her argument with Haymitch and brushed past him to beeline for her room.

Just as she was closing the door, she heard Peeta say, "So what did you say to her now?" She smirked.

The train started moving almost immediately, but it was a little bit before she heard a knock on her door. "I'm not hungry right now, Effie!"

"Katniss, it's me," Peeta's soft voice drifted through the door and she opened it for him.

"Hey," she said, going back to her place where she had been brooding on the bed.

"Hey," Peeta said. He watched her for a moment and then with a great breath he said, "So Effie told me about your talent search."

"It's going as well as expected," Katniss grumbled.

Peeta sighed. "Do you have any idea about what you want to do?"

"Something with music, I think. It at least has some use compared to the other things Effie mentioned. What am I going to do with Paper Mache?"

"Decorate your house with it?" Peeta asked, grinning. "I would agree, I can't see you doing something like that. But music…were you thinking about learning an instrument then?"

"I won't sing for them," Katniss replied. There was a stubborn jut to her jaw as she said it.

"So what would you play?"

"I just don't know."

"You could always ask Dorner for fiddle lessons. Then there's the Forster twins and their tin whistles."

Katniss wrinkled her nose. "I just don't know. I want to see what's actually available."

"Well, no matter what you pick, Katniss, I know that you'll be great at it. When you put your mind to it, you can succeed at anything. Don't let Haymitch tell you otherwise."

"Thanks, Peeta," she said.

They fell into an awkward silence and then he said, "I better go and get ready for dinner. By the way, I don't think you'll be able to get away with not having dinner."

"I'll come out. I'm just afraid I'll throw something at Haymitch."

Peeta chuckled and said, "Just try not to look at him."

But then all I'll have to look at is you, Katniss thought, but she merely nodded. Peeta was too kind for his own good. He knew that she didn't love him, yet he came to cheer her up anyway. Why would he want to be with her? He was too good for her. But at the same time she felt a pang of longing in her heart for what she couldn't have.