Author's Note: I'll be the first to admit, I have shamefully ignored this story for too long. I will also fully admit that I still will not be able to give this my full attention, but I will try to remedy and get chapters out faster. I apologize for the wait. Enjoy!

Chapter 9

Katniss fidgeted with the shawl Cinna had used to complete her outfit. She was dying to see Prim. It wracked her nerves about how the prep team might be treating her. Cinna had seemed to know in that uncanny way of his what was on her mind as she was pinning her hair up, he said, "She's fine, Katniss. Thanks to you, they've learned a little more tact."

"Well, good. I'd hate for Prim to hear about all of their favorite deaths," she grumbled, unconsciously picking at her dress, until Cinna slapped her hand away.

"They were actually upset to see her picked again, especially since no one could volunteer for her." Cinna replied. "I had to make sure they wouldn't be sobbing wrecks. It would do Prim no good to be discouraged."

"I'm assuming you're going to work your magic?" Katniss asked. She attempted to sound confident, but her voice wavered. She cursed herself and worked to school her face more.

"My game plan hasn't changed: the Everdeen sisters will be on fire."

True to his word, Katnisss was wearing a dress of shimmering red and gold silk that was so light she felt naked in the crowd. "I don't think Cinna would appreciate you running his fabric," Peeta said next to her and gently put a hand on her twisting ones.

Katniss let go at once, but she started to bounce on her toes with nervous energy. "I know, Peeta. I'm trying."

"I know you are," he replied quietly.

The mentors were now in the stands, but they had a private box that was front and center with the best views of their District's Tributes. So far, the box was only half-filled and no one bothered to pay them much attention, which was how Katniss preferred it. Haymitch had, much to their surprise, walked over to where the other Victors had gathered and was actually making conversation.

It wasn't long though before a Victor noticed their absence and tried to rope them in for a conversation.

"Katniss Everedeen. You might be even prettier in person," a smooth voice said behind her.

She only deigned to turn long enough to give him a derisive snort. "Finnick," she acknowledged before turning back to the street.

"Peeta Mellark," Finnick turned to him this time and they politely shook hands, but Peeta looked uncomfortable in his presence. "The chariot ride isn't for another ten minutes. There's time to talk. Besides, I'm sure Cinna's costume will blow District 12 out of the water again."

She was surprised there was no bitterness in his voice, just the same easy smile. He's deceptive. Take everything with a grain of salt. She still didn't have anything to say to him, so she just hummed acknowledgment and kept her eyes on the far end.

After another moment of awkward silence, Finnick said, "I'm surprised at you, Katniss. I thought you'd be asking everyone here for advice, especially about getting sponsors."

"You would actually help me?" Katniss replied.

"I would offer you advice."

"At the expense of your own Tribute?" Katniss' eyebrows were practically in her hair.

"Of course not. But a little healthy competition keeps this interesting. Besides, us outlying districts need to stick together. The Capitol wants us at each other's throats."

True enough, she was willing to agree with the last sentence, but the actions of District 4, in most recent years, spoke otherwise. "I'll remember that until next year when your careers return."

"It's nothing personal," he said with a half-hearted shrug.

"Maybe not the first time," Katniss replied.

"It's not any other time. We're just trying to survive."

"So are we, but you don't' see us hunting your Tributes down like cattle to slaughter."

Finnick huffed and walked away. Katniss allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction In this visceral mood, she was willing to tear into anyone, even President Snow.

"I wouldn't be smirking if I were you, sweetheart." Her small amount of satisfaction vanished and she scowled at Haymitch. "I've already made your apologies for you, but you should make them yourself."

"What do I need to apologize for?"

"With your sister in the ring, you're going to need all the help you can get, sweetheart," Haymitch replied with a nasty smile.

"Why would they care about her? They have their own Tributes to worry about."

"When the chips are down, they throw their support for those that are remaining. That can make all the difference."

Assuming Prim will be one of the few standing at the end, Katniss wanted to say, but she bit the reply back. This hopeless thinking needed to stop.

At that moment, the horns blared and they all turned to see District 1's chariot gliding down the avenue. As always, 1 was resplendent in silver, gold, and a rainbow of precious stones. Next came District 2, dressed in gold gleaming armor. The girl had a much skimpier outfit with the armor ending partway up her breasts for all the world to see. District 4 were both practically naked, wearing just enough to over their privates, but dusted in silver with what looked like hand drawn fish scales. It looked surprisingly nice for the fish industry. The stylists for District 5 took a page out of Cinna's book and wrapped their Districts up in a black suit with blue lights. Katniss would give them that it looked neat, but fire was much flashier.

The rest of the costumes were either downright laughable or the same forgettable junk of the last ten years. Finally, District 12 rode out of the dark tunnel and the entire audience swelled into a roar of approval. Katniss had to wait for Prim to get a little closer, but then she gasped.

Peeta was also staring fixated on their Tributes and he shook his head in amazement, saying, "Cinna's done it again. Go Prim!" He clapped his hands enthusiastically and whooped.

Prim's hair was blowing behind her, lit up with strands of orange, yellow, and red hair, making her look like a fairy of fire. Kyndall did not have glowing hair, but Katniss was dismayed to see his presence practically engulfed Prim, even with her wearing heels. However, Prim was doing her best, waving enthusiastically to the crowd with both hands and then blowing kisses out like Katniss had her previous year. Katniss would have found it oddly endearing were it not for the reason she was doing it.

Soon the roar transformed into an audible chant, "Prim! Prim! Prim!" Katniss couldn't help but smile. Prim being the only person to have been chosen and then also being the little sister of a recent Victor was bound to be the story of the entire games. Katniss finally felt hope. "You can do this, Prim," she whispered, grinning excitedly at Peeta when he looked at her.

Katniss did not pay any attention to anything else that happened. As if she were wearing blinders, her eyes were only for Prim as she rushed over and hugged her sister.

"Prim, you were fantastic!"

"Thanks. That was actually kinda fun," Prim said with a large smile.

"I'd prefer to not linger here. Let's head up to our floor, shall we?" Haymitch said stiffly, waving a hand in the direction of the elevators. As they loaded up onto the lift, they were such a large crowd that the other Tributes and their teams let them have a lift to themselves. By an unspoken rule, no one said anything on the ride up, though Katniss noticed Prim staring out the glass of the elevator to gape at the city below.

"Prim, your room is that way," Katniss said, pointing down the hall.

She began to skip off, but Cinna called out, "Wait, Prim, I need to remove the glowing extensions."

"Aww…but I like them. Can I at least wear them to dinner?" Prim asked, with soulful eyes.

Katniss hid her grin as she watched Cinna cave right before her eyes. "Oh, I don't see why not. Just don't wash with them."

"Okay!" And then Prim was down the hall and through the door.

Once she was through the door, Cinna hung his head and turned to Katniss. "I don't know how you've managed to resist that all these years?"

"What makes you think I have?" Katniss replied, smiling fondly for the first time in days.

The penthouse was as Katniss remembered it. She noticed that even the Avoxes were the same. The redhead woman she was familiar with stood at the entrance to the dining room, which was currently void of food, but Katniss headed over there. She leveled her gaze with her and said, "Make sure my sister has everything she needs." Her stare lasted a couple seconds longer, before she turned away, hoping her message had gotten through. The Avox simply nodded and headed down the hall toward Prim's room.

Later that evening, everyone was sitting at the table, gushing praise to the two Tributes over the debut.

"You looked just absolutely marvelous," Effie announced, bouncing with glee. "We're sure to have wowed many of the sponsors tonight. Now just keep this up and you'll be stars!"

"The glow made you look perfect in the twilight. You both really stood out," Cinna added.

"Yes, as usual the stylists have opened doors for you, now it's on you to put your best foot forward to keep the momentum," Haymitch said, bringing everyone who was up on cloud nine back down to the ground.

"What does it matter?" Kyndall said, not bothering to swallow before he spoke, and making everyone at the table grimace. "It's not like anyone is going to see us for three days."

"The Gamemakers will. Plutarch frequently joins the bigwigs at the soirees and parties the Capitalists throw. Sponsors will undoubtedly be trying to get the scoop from him."

"So I'll show them everything I got," Kyndall said with a little smirk.

"Not yet. It's better if you conceal your strengths from your fellow champions, You don't want them knowing what you can do."

"And show them my weakness instead?"

"The point of training is to learn something you don't know. I highly recommend the classes on building shelter, identifying poisonous foods, and setting snares. Being self-sufficient is the most important thing you can do for yourself out there, even with sponsors," Haymitch replied. His tone had turned as hard as steel. Katniss remembered this from the few nasty fights she had with him during Interview prep.

Kyndall glared at him. "Most of the deaths are from other people. All I have to do is knock everyone off before scavenging should even matter."

"You think you can survive two weeks without scavenging?" Peeta asked with a clear expression of disbelief.

"I'm saying the games won't even get that far."

"Oh really? You must be really impressive. Where did you learn to fight?"

The Tribute's ears burned red as hot coals. "You think I can't beat up the cushy little pissants in District 1 and 2? They're not careers! They're not going to know anything."

"Everyone in the Games knows enough to be dangerous," Peeta advised. "The mighty have fallen to those they wrote off as weaklings."

"Thanks for the advice. I guess I'll squash all the weaklings first." Katniss noticed that he glanced over at Prim and it took all over her control not to slap him.

Prim seemed to have noticed too, because where once she was eating enthusiastically, now she only stirred her food in disinterest.

Haymitch merely laughed with dry sarcasm. "That's what all the tough guys say and then they're the first to cower once they're inside."

Kyndall slammed his silverware down and stormed off. Portia and Effie immediately got up to go after them, but the silence they left in their wake was stifling.

Kantiss was trying to get control of herself and finally when she thought she could speak without her voice shaking in anger, she said, "Prim, you should really eat up. Putting extra weight will do you good.

Prim looked like she wanted to argue, but she merely said "Okay," and took tiny bites with her fork, but it was better than nothing. To get her mind off the earlier conversation, Katniss said, "We should really talk about what you should do for your training."

"What did you do last time?" Prim asked.

"Well, Peeta and I stuck together and we tried to learn something new at every hour. You want to show what you can really do in your private sessions."

"But my strength is healing? Will the gamemakers actually be impressed by that."

Not in the slightest, Katniss thought, but she buried it and said, "Healing is a valuable skill, especially when the only people with healing supplies will be whoever controls the Cornucopia. You will be a valuable ally."

Prim sighed and said, "So the only other skills I can think are healing, cooking, and name all the Presidents we've had since the founding."

"If you really want a shot," Haymitch broke in, "focus on survival. Don't underestimate its use as a skill. Setting traps, identifying harmful food and animals, being able to cook your meat so it's healthy for you to eat, building shelter; that's half the battle. The other half is evading the other Tributes and that's what you'll have to do to stay alive. Do you climb trees?"

"Maybe once or twice."

"Well, you should learn to climb, because I have a feeling that's where you're going to be spending your time. Rue made a very good case for herself to be a Victor with that skill."

Both Peeta and Katniss winced at the name, but she nodded at Prim. "You're small and light enough, you could stay above the fight. Just watch out for any Gamemaker contraptions."

"Okay, so what do you want me to learn tomorrow?"

"What Haymitch said," Katniss replied. "Learn to tie rope, learn navigation, learn to start a fire – though use it sparingly, and…learn how to use a knife."

"A knife?" Prim asked with a raised eyebrow.

"You should learn some way to defend yourself. You already use knives while helping with mother."

"Yeah, but that's different."

"Not as different as you think," Katniss whispered.

Prim stared but nodded. They ate in silence until it was time to watch the debut once more and in that time, Portia and Effie had managed to bring Kyndall back into the fold. Anyone who looked at him could tell he was still smoldering, but he chose to sit away from everyone on the floor. Effie tried to cut the tension with more exclamations of how amazing they looked, but there was only murmured agreement.

Prim barely got to see herself glowing like coal when Katniss ushered her to bed, and she went with thoughts of burning like fire.