I have no real excuses except life and that I won't post a half-ass chapter. That being said, I am so unbelievably gratetful to anyone who reads and reviews!

Thank you.

-maddz131

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Well, lunch is both what I expect, and not. Sitting with them, I find, isn't as intimidating or horrifying an experience as I expected it to be. I don't feel much different than I would have expected to feel sitting next to any other group of people my age; uncomfortable and awkward. I'm not sure if this realization is more reassuring or disturbing. Glimmer glares, Marvel leers suggestively, Clove rolls her eyes at it all, and Cato is… Cato.

"Troian, Adamaris," he barks. The District 4 tributes are sitting a little farther down the table from us and we're halfway through the meal when he calls them. Everyone has been mostly silent. When they look up their eyes are wide.

"This is Katniss," he nods toward me. "She's part of the team." I almost smile at the word team –how ludicrous– and then do smile hesitantly as they turn to me.

They don't look like fighters, not like the careers around me. These two are slight in build, almost skinny. The boy, who has shaggy grey-brown hair and can't possibly be older than thirteen, just nods before turning back to his food. But the girl, Adamaris, she studies me for a moment longer, her brown eyes sharp and intelligent.

She appears around my age, and there is something in her look, a maturity in her expression, that make me ache with nostalgia, and guilt, and a deep sadness. I wonder fleetingly what her story is before mentally berating myself. Now is not the time for my latent desire for friends to show itself. I managed well enough after my father died and I don't need friends now. It doesn't matter that there is something in her eyes that looks a lot like understanding. A moment moment passes which seems to last longer, before she just inclines her head and turns back to her food as well.

I catch Cato's eye briefly as I return to eating my own food. They shine with a mild curiosity but he doesn't comment and I shake my head to get rid of the thoughts clouding it. There is no time to be anything but focused and it's necessary for me to work out this group's dynamic before scoring. The more I can ingratiate myself, the longer I will last and I am not so naïve as to think I'm not currently at the bottom of the totem pole.

"I can't believe they expect us to eat this," Glimmer complains, pushing around the food on her plate and pouting prettily. "Is it so hard to cook good food? Just because it'll suck in the arena doesn't mean we have to start now."

"This is the training center after all," Cato says sardonically. He smirks at her and she doesn't seem to know how to read it. Is he mocking her? After a second of hesitation she settles for an enticing curl of her lips.

"Some of us don't need it," she purrs leaning forward. It's nauseating.

"A lot of people would be happy to be getting food at all," I can't resist contributing, venom coating my tongue. Everyone turns to me, varying looks of surprise on their faces. Until now I had been relatively silent. But knowing people are ungrateful and seeing it first-hand are two very different things.

Glimmer raises one delicate eyebrow, before her lips stretch into a smile, perfect white teeth glinting in the harsh light.

"Of course," she demurres, her voice dripping sugar and eyes poison. "You'll forgive me if I offended you?" I don't miss how her eyes flick to Cato's before quickly returning to me. What are they to each other? "It's hard sometimes for the lion to sympathize with the rat. I'm sure you wouldn't understand."

"Really?" I say just as sweetly, my fingers tightening around my knife in anger. "What I do understand is how useless you high bred– "

"Enough." Cato's voice is quiet, but it's hard as he interrupts me.

I turn, glaring at him. His blue eyes are outwardly cool and calm, but there is a threat nestling in them and I can hear what he doesn't say. Instead of responding, I drop my gaze back to my plate and to work to regain control of my rapidly beating pulse.

I can't keep letting my temper get away from me! I had just been about to, in essence, insult all of them, and I can not afford to do things like that. Cato has always taken my scathing remarks fairly well –as well as he dishes them anyway– and even seems to almost enjoy them until I push to far, but I can't count on the others to be so forgiving. I certainly can't afford to find out, the hard way, if they are or not. Besides, I am supposed to be feeling out the dynamic of this group without interfering.

I resolve to keep my mouth shut for the remainder of lunch, but I can sense Glimmer's smug smirk from across the table and I want to hit something, preferably her perfect little face. I blow out a stiff breathe and force myself to relax.

"Well," Marvel says, disregarding the tension now hanging over the small table. I can hear a smile in his voice, "I'm not terribly picky when it comes to satisfying my hunger." I look up to find he is looking directly at me, a mischievous, slippery, darkly innocent look in his eyes. Glimmer releases a tinkling laugh at the same time Cato growls.

"You don't learn, do you Marvel?" Clove sighs, the first she's spoken the whole meal. She sounds bored, but there is an edge to her tone.

I'm not positive what I'm missing, but I can take a guess. A frisson of true fear runs through me as I am struck with the instinctual knowledge that I need to stay away from Marvel. Despite his boyish appearance and constant grinning, he is far more dangerous to me than any of the others.

There will be layers. Haymitch had said, when telling me how to best deal with today. You will have enemies and then you will have enemies, sweetheart. You can't see the distinction now, but you will, and your instincts will tell you which is which. You listen to them, you understand me? That's how you'll survive. Feel it out and listen.

Suddenly I feel overwhelmed. I realize, for the first time, how completely and utterly out of my depth I am. There are too many things that I don't understand about this group of people that I must understand before being thrown into the arena with them.

Cato and Glimmer's late night rendezvous. Does it mean there is something more? Deeper feelings between them that I need to be wary of? It seems so, with the way she constantly glares so fiercely at me, as if I'm a threat to her. But Cato seems decidedly indifferent towards her, even going so far as to reproach her for her biting response during my introduction to them. "The noble scum from District 12. What a pleasure." I certainly hope he feels no specific obligations to her wishes because if looks could kill….

Then Marvels creepy staring and innuendos and Cato's obvious dislike of him. I don't know how far Marvel will go beyond disturbing me with his smiles, but I won't be caught alone with him. Cato's revulsion I hope to understand before long because it can certainly play in my favor.

Then there's District 4's apparently low status despite still being a part of the careers. I wonder what Cato meant. 'Unfortunately, but you don't need to worry about them'. Why are they a part of the careers at all? The atmosphere certainly isn't welcoming. I decide to ask him later since he's the only one of these careers that I'm not completely averse to talking to. Who would've thought he was the approachable one?

I snort at the thought, remembering him almost decapitating 11, and immediately feel several pairs of eyes settle on me. Don't look up, I don't look up, and continue to eat as though nothing happened though my blush gives me away.

Finally, when I'm sure all their attention has gone back to their food, I raise my head. To find Cato's hard eyes regarding me appraisingly. My heart rate picks up but I hold his gaze. He raises and eyebrow in question and I take a moment to study him, wondering what makes him different than the others. He has anger management problems, is lethal, but besides that he seems almost normal. Or, maybe normal isn't the right word, but there's something about him that I can understand. I feel I know him, in a way I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable with. Normal, no. There is nothing about his incredibly attractive physique or his mood swings that is normal. But he isn't alien either. I can sense his energy.

Someone clears their throat and I break my eyes away to look towards the noise, distracted. Glimmer. She is glaring at me, again, but more fiercely than before, and I realize I was staring. At Cato. My eyes dart back his way in time to see him throw her a look that's part angry, part exasperated. She doesn't notice, of course, since she's still glaring at me, but for some reason his expression makes me relax slightly. That is, until I glance back at her again. Despite her beauty she truly is scary.

Clove, of all people, comes to the rescue and starts a meaningless game. She points out random tributes, telling Marvel and Glimmer to guess what score they will get during judging and why. It's ridiculous, but it causes Glimmer to reluctantly drag her glare away from me. She tries, a few times, to pull Cato into their fun, but he either responds non-committaly or ignores her all together. She looks upset, probably not used to being so easily disregarded, but she knows better than to push him, so she leaves him be.

I decide to remain silent for the remainder of lunch. I've made a fool of myself enough for one afternoon, in any case.

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Two Days Later...

"How the heck did you get an eleven?"

My mind is preoccupied with the expression Peeta made when he saw my score; his quiet, "Congratulations," before he locked himself in his room. I am torn between guilt and anger at his ongoing pity-party routine and am trying valiantly to channel the remaining guilt into my rage. So it is with very little effort that I disregard the voice behind me. My day has been poor enough as it is.

"I'm talking to you." His voice is the only further warning I get before I'm slammed against the wall. I barely avoid falling.

"What the heck?" I look up to see Cato's bright blue eyes burning down on me. "Just because I got a better score than you doesn't mean you can push me around." I glare fiercely at him, pissed at his constant mood swings and the fact that he has me trapped against the wall. I hate being trapped.

"Tell me how you got it," He growls, pushing his forearm into my ribs until I'm being squeezed uncomfortably tightly. The worst part of it all is that there is absolutely nothing I can do. We're the only two people in the center, since it's after hours, and trying to move him is like trying to move a mountain. I thought coming here would guarantee my solitude.

"It's none of your damn business how I got my score." I snap, trying for bravado and hoping he'll be impressed enough to let me go. My attempt just earns me greater pressure against my ribs and this time I can't help but wince.

"Not good enough," he says coldly, his eyes burning into me. "Tell. Me."

I can see that he isn't going to drop it and I'm sure that if he presses any harder he's going to break me."I got it shooting my bow. What did you think I did?" I glare at him and hope that my answer is enough for him to back off.

"Damn it, Katniss!" He growls. "I know that you can shoot and I also know that's not good enough to get an eleven! An eleven! You know that no tribute has ever gotten such a high score before?" His words seem to work in fueling his anger as his eyes spark dangerously.

"Fine, I'll tell you if you get off me!" I say quickly. I'm afraid that in his fury he'll press a little too hard and end up actually accidentally killing me. He studies my expression for a moment as if to gauge whether or not I'm being truthful.

I widen my eyes at him, trying to convey that I'm really not lying and I really just want to be released and, finally, he lets me go and takes a step back. I suck in a deep breath and try not to wince at the pain in my ribs. I'll have to check that out later.

"So?" he asks, impatient as ever.

I narrow my eyes at him. "Excuse me for taking a moment to make sure I can still breathe."

He looks down at my torso as if just now realizing that he might have harmed me. His eyes widen a bit as he looks back up and I notice again how incredibly handsome he is. "Sorry," he grumbles, averting his eyes before bringing them back up to mine with renewed vigor. "But if you had just answered my question in the-"

"Shut up, Cato. Just shut up." I snap, sick of him and his screwed up perception of how he can treat people. We aren't in the arena yet. His eyes widen in shock and indignation, but I speak before he has a chance to open his mouth. "The gamekeepers weren't paying any attention to me and it pissed me right the fuck off." I feel my anger rising again.

I remember their quiet chatter as I introduced myself, and then their feigned attention as I strung my bow, aimed at the target, and shot. It was, of course, a perfect shot. I thought my obvious skill would really capture their attention, but as soon as the pig was brought in that was the end of any half-hearted interest.

I snap out of the memory and look back up at Cato. His brow is slightly furrowed. He's no doubt wondering what on earth that tidbit of information has to do with my eleven."The imbeciles were too busy with their damn pig to pay attention to the girl they were sending to her possible death. So I shot at them." I can hear the grim satisfaction in my voice.

"You...," he pauses while he tries to wrap his mind around what I've told him. "You shot at them?" There is incredulity in his eyes and I know he doesn't believe me.

"Well, in their direction," I clarify, looking around, down, anywhere but right at him now. For some reason I suddenly feel self-conscious under the intensity of his stare. "I shot the apple out of their precious pig's mouth."

I look up, somewhat apprehensively, to find his blue eyes narrowed. There is a moment of silence before the corner of his mouth twitches. His lips press together, face tensing, and then he opens his mouth and laughs.

He... laughs. The boy who I haven't once seen crack a smile, a real smile, since we've been here is laughing. At me. And it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I stare at him in amazement while he attempts to reign in his mirth.

I open my mouth and though what comes out isn't exactly what I was planning it is still a completely valid question. "Are you bipolar?"

"Only around you, it seems." He says it quietly, his face, finally under control, breaking into a smile. I just stare at him, dumbfounded.

"I gotta go," I say, feeling a sudden need to distance myself from him. I try to walk around him only to be turned back by his hand on my wrist.

"Do you have personal space issues as well?" I ask, irritated. I find myself once again face to face with his chest. "Have you never heard of a personal bubble?" I arch my neck up to see that he's rolling his eyes.

"Once again a problem I really seem to only have with you," he says, bright eyes meeting mine. "Maybe you're the-"

"Oh no, don't forget Glimmer," I interrupt. The words are out of my mouth before I can control them. I don't even really know where they come from and I immediately want to hit myself. No, from the look on Cato's face he'll be doing that for me. His eyes have turned from lightly teasing to hard and cold so quickly it's as if someone flipped a switch.

"What Glimmer and I do is not your concern, Katniss." He bites out. I want to tell him that I agree wholeheartedly. I don't want to know anything about what he and Glimmer do in their free time, but he isn't finished. "What you saw the other night was a onetime thing and it's not going to happen again." I stay silent as his angry eyes bore into mine. "If you know what's best for you, you won't bring it up. Understand?" He gives me a scathing look before pushing brusquely past me, not giving me a chance to answer. I follow his well-built form with my eyes until he turns the corner and is out of sight.

Standing still, I try to sort out the jumble my mind has become. Unsurprisingly, I'm left feeling quite how I usually do after an encounter with Cato: confused, exasperated, somewhat shaken, and not quite sure what to do with him.

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Love and peace to you all.

-maddz131