Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes comes out in three days! I'm going on Saturday with my mom and sister-in-law and I'm soooo excited!

Katniss's victory was short-lived. Peeta drew out his map of the arena, or what we knew of it, and just as he finished, Katniss tensed up beside me.

"Are you alright, Love?" I asked softly. She shushed me quickly.

"Do you hear that?" She asked.

I listened for a moment before I finally caught on. For the first time since we met up with Johanna, Beetee, and Wiress, it was silent. Until a cannon sounded. Katniss turned quickly, an arrow flying from the string and impaling through Gloss's left calf. He stared in shock, knowing as well as I did that Katniss chose not to kill him, even though our ally was dead on the ground beside him, a slit running through her jugular.

With a grunt, Johanna threw her axe over her head, landing it firmly in Brutus's skull. It was odd, attacking these people. There was no lost love between Brutus and me, but it still made me a bit nauseous, watching him fall to the ground, lifeless. A second cannon was heard.

The third came soon after. Clove and Cashmere, the two remaining Careers, bolted from the jungle to join the fight, despite being vastly outnumbered. Both the knife-thrower's aimed for Peeta and Beetee, who stood off to the side, staying out of the fight. I watched in horror as Clove's knife sailed toward Peeta's heart, when something moved in my peripheral. We hadn't seen her there, but the thin, sickly District 6 Morphling addict flung herself in front of her fellow Victors. One knife struck her stomach, the other embedded itself in her leg.

Katniss let out an audible relieved sigh. I glanced at her, feeling myself relax. The two men were either dead or immobile. The two women were outnumbered and had lost their element of surprise. Johanna and I started to approach them, when the ground moved out from under my feet, sending all of us crashing to the ground. I caught myself on the rocks. Katniss tumbled down beside me, and I grabbed at her arm desperately.

"Hold on," I grunted. My voice was lost in the noise of the rushing water and screaming tributes. My heart spiked as I felt her grip loosen. She slipped from my grasp just as Johanna snatched up her other arm, grunting from the strain.

"Hold on, brainless," she commanded, her axe firmly implanted in the rocks. Katniss's eyes grew wide as, once more, her grip slackened over the slippery cliff. Johanna and I screamed her name in unison as she slipped from Johanna's hands, down into the churning water, joining the bodies Brutus, Wiress, and the addict.

The spinning slowed to a stop not long after. The three dead tributes were missing, along with Katniss and Gloss. Cashmere and Clove were seen bobbing in the water, searching for Gloss who was incapacitated by his wounded leg.

I dove into the ocean as soon as the spinning ceased, my eyes open against the burning salt. Katniss was nowhere to be found. I swam up to the surface for air. "Katniss!" I cried out. "Katniss!"

"I'm right here, Finnick," I heard her say. She sounded far off, and as my surroundings came into focus, I realized I had drifted far away from shore. I dove under the waves and swam back. Katniss was in my arms before she had the chance to say anything.

"I'm alright, Finnick," She told me. "You're not the only one who knows how to swim."

My hand was shaking like a leaf as it stroked her soaked, knotted hair. I couldn't lose her. She still had at least sixty years ahead of her. And I intended to be there for all sixty.

The soft jingling of a parachute is what forced us apart.

"Bread," Johanna said happily as she opened it.

"Let me see," I demanded. She held up a grey loaf. I wrinkled my nose, not recognizing its origin. "How many are there?"

"Twenty-four," She told me. I raised an eyebrow, imploring her to count again. She did, and confirmed she was right. That meant midnight.

"Let me see," Beetee suggested. Johanna showed him the roll, both of us confused by its origin. "Ah. Just like home."

"So the package is yours?" Katniss asked.

"Yes, this is bread from District 3. But you are all welcome to partake." Day three. Midnight. That meant tonight.

We each selected a roll, and Katniss had just bit into hers when a shrill scream carried across the arena.

"Katniss!" A girl's voice cried out. Katniss was on her feet in a moment, chasing off in the direction of the voice. I shared a concerned look with Peeta. I hefted my trident and took off after her.

"Katniss?" I called as I reached a clearing in the jungle. Katniss turned around and saw me there, her body still shaking. "That was Prim, wasn't it?"

She shook her head wordlessly, and held up an unfamiliar bird impaled on an arrow.

"Jabberjays?" I identified. My chest felt tight as realization smacked me in the face. Topping off my panic, a new scream was heard. "Cas!"

"Finnick, wait!" Katniss grabbed my wrist as I turned to start running. I looked at her, my eyes wide. "It's just a jabberjay. It's not real."

"Where do you think it came from?" I demanded. "Jabberjays copy."

Her face went pale. "You don't think-"

"That's exactly what I think." I shook my hand from her grip and ran in the opposite direction of the scream, back to where Peeta, Johanna, and Beetee were setting up camp. Katniss's feet crashed through the foliage behind me.

I saw Johanna there, yelling at me, though I couldn't hear her over the screams behind me. Prim, my brothers, even Vann. Britt.

I registered at the last second that Johanna was telling me to stop, her hands held in front of her, her voice still soundless. I crashed face first into an invisible wall, Katniss next to me.

I turned and looked at her, blood gushing from my nose. Her hands were clasped firmly over her ears.

Tears streamed down her face. I offered the only comfort I could. I uncovered my ears, and placed my larger hands firmly over hers, adding an extra layer of protection between her and the screams of her sister. I let out a choked gasp as the first scream hit my unprotected ears. It was little Vann, a scream that must have been recorded years in advance. His little voice cried out for me. I remembered the origin of that scream, as he suffered the pain that ended his life, lying in a hospital bed.

Katniss tugged her hands out from under mine, and covered my own ears, which had just started ringing. Her warm hands offered more protection than my own did. I squeezed my eyes shut. Katniss leaned her head against my chest. I leaned my head against hers. We remained that way for an hour, tangled up in each other, faint screams echoing in our ears, tears falling relentlessly down our cheeks.

When the invisible wall collapsed, we did too. We were both leaning heavily against it, and we tumbled straight into the sand. I sat up first, relaxing my hands off Katniss's face. She did the same, but immediately grabbed my hand.

"Prim's safe, Katniss," Peeta began.

Katniss shook her head, but said nothing. I squeezed my eyes shut.

"Snow would never hurt your sister." Johanna said seriously "Forget the districts. If little Prim died, there would be riots in the Capitol." Katniss looked up in surprise at Johanna's statement.

"Consider this: what happens when it gets down to the final eight tributes?" Beetee asked, as if we were his students.

"They interview the families." I answered.

"Exactly. Both of your siblings would be included in that." He said simply.

"Could he have just replicated the voices? Electronically?" Peeta asked.

"Oh, very simply. We do it in District 3 all the time. It's a simple trick taught to all of our children."

I stood up and walked toward the lapping waves, repeating Beetee's words in my head, trying to get them to register.

"Caspian's fine, Finnick," Johanna called after me. "They can't hurt him."

I stared into the water, watching for something to spear with my trident. Solomon's screams echoed in my ears as my trident pierced a fish. And another. And another. Britt's voice joined the chorus.

"Finnick," Katniss's level tone shut them down. I dropped my trident next to the pile of seafood, and turned to face her. She tackled me in a large hug that I was in no way prepared for. I fell to the ground, where she tightened her grip around my waist.

"You're alright, Katniss," I assured her.

"We both are," She confirmed. I sat up and pressed a kiss to her dry, salty lips. There were tears on both our cheeks, and my hands still shook. "And they are too."

I swallowed, my hands resting on either side of her face as we sat facing each other.

"We need to leave soon," She whispered to me.

I nodded slowly, pretending to consider her request, as if it mattered.

"We're almost to the top eight. Once one or two more tributes die, we're going to have to turn on each other. I don't want to be around when things get messy. I can't kill any of them."

I nodded again. "You're right. We'll leave in the morning."

Katniss nodded in agreement, and we sat in silence for a few more moments, holding each other. "I can't believe there are so many people you care about," She said. I stared at her, shocked. It was an odd thing to say, and I wasn't sure if it was an insult, a compliment, or something in between. "I'm just thinking... The only voice that was meant for me was Prim. You on the other hand... You had three brothers, Britt... there were even some I didn't recognize."

I nodded slowly. "Vann was there. So was my father, even my mom and Thomas."

"The Capitol security guard?"

I grinned and nodded. "Why didn't you hear Peeta? Or any of the other Victors?"

Katniss shrugged. "Well you didn't hear me. Maybe they cut out the Victors in the arena. It was just our loved ones outside of the arena."

"Why would they do that?"

We smiled at each other as we realized. The Capitol loved Katniss and me. But it was rare for all the Tributes to feel attachments to each other like this group of Tributes did. Too much more of this affection we had for our companions, and the people might start demanding an early ending for the games.

"We need to talk about that." Katniss said finally.

"What?" I asked.

"You have so many people who care about you, and depend on you." Katniss told me. I swallowed, knowing where this was going. "They're home, waiting for you. I don't have anyone."

"That's not true," I said fiercely, angry that she would even suggest such a thing. "You have Prim. You have Peeta, Effie, Haymitch, Britt. You are getting out of this arena, if it's the last thing I do."

Katniss shook her head. "Finnick-"

"I mean it, Katniss. You're getting out of this arena if it's the last thing I do." I repeated.

"No one needs me like they need you." She interrupted. "Not like your family needs you."

I swallowed again, swallowing down bitter words. I finally settled on: "I need you."

Katniss laughed bitterly. "And what good will that do me if you-"

"Our baby needs you," I told her firmly. "And I need you."

Her eyes met mine. I could see the pain in them, as she considered the sacrifice I was asking her to make. We both viewed ourselves as selfless creatures. That's how we were pictured by the media, by our friends and family. But as we sat together on the beach, the waves lapping under us, we had the most selfish argument yet.

Victors were selfish by definition, and there we were, debating who would be spared the pain of watching the other die. We both hoped to die first to avoid the burden of knowing what it's like without the other to lean on.

And knowing I would never be able to win that argument with Katniss made my stomach churn. She didn't argue, but I knew very well she would never listen to me as she pressed her lips to mine. The sun had just begun to set, and I closed my eyes as the brilliant orange light shone into them. My shaking hands found the soft skin of her face once more.

"Hey lovebirds!" Johanna yelled down to us. "Family meeting!"

We broke away and faced her, matching annoyed expressions causing her to snort derisively. We joined Beetee, Peeta, and Johanna under the shade the jungle provided.

"I have a plan," He told us. We began digging into the seafood I had provided from my mental breakdown. We waited silently as he explained.

"So who's left in the arena?" He asked.

"Five of us, three careers." Johanna stated.

Peeta swallowed the oyster he was working on. "And Chaff."

"And where are they?" Beetee asked, once again treating us as schoolchildren.

"The jungle," Katniss supplied. "Because we're on the beach, the safest place."

"Exactly," Beetee smiled at her. "So if we left the beach, what are the chances they would come here?" None of us answered. "Pretty good, I'd say," He answered himself.

"Get to the point," Johanna said shortly, losing patience.

Beetee held up his copper wire. "At midnight, lightning strikes that tree." He gestured to the large tree in the twelve o'clock section of the arena. "If we lay this wire, leading from the tree into the water, anyone on the beach won't survive to see the morning."

I glanced at Katniss. "That sounds pretty solid."

"We'd lose the seafood," she pointed out. I glanced around at our feast, pretending that we would actually need food to last several days.

"Isn't this enough to last a while?" Johanna asked. "Worst case scenario, we hunt for more of those tree rats."

Katniss shrugged, but agreed.

Peeta raised his hand. "How do we know the wire won't burn up?"

"Because I designed it," Beetee said confidently, pushing his glasses further up his nose.

Everyone agreed to his plan, and then went silent as we ate what would be our last meal together. As far as Katniss and Peeta knew, the alliance would end tonight.