A/N- I'm sorry! I know it's been like five months. For some reason I thought being a SAHM would allow me to write more, but of course it doesn't. As I'm writing this, I have a psycho toddler hanging off my leg and screaming for god knows why… To top it all off I now have to get a job. Sigh…

Sorry, enough about my problems, here is the next chapter! And we finally made it to the hunger games! :D Get ready for some action! Most of this chapter will follow the same plot line as HG, but of course there will be some minor changes. Totally understand if this isn't quite as exciting as a true AU, but I felt it was necessary.

Also, Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

Enjoy! :D

Chapter 12: Let the Games Begin

Katniss was still a little dizzy from twirling onstage, but she thought she had heard correctly. She replayed the words in her head. She wasn't mistaken, Peeta just told all of Panem that he was in love with her. Her. She felt her cheeks burn as she focused heavily on the floor in front of her. It couldn't be true. There was no way Peeta had those sort of feelings for her.

Her eyes narrowed in concentration. Was this one of Haymitch's plans? She wouldn't willingly go along with the fake romance, so now he was forcing it. But how could that possibly help her? Would people think they would team up? Her mind raced with the possible implications. Could this be a plot for Peeta to gain sympathy and more sponsors?

Annoyance and betrayal crept up into her mind and soured her expression. She barely registered the closing song and Effie urging them into the elevators. While waiting for the doors to open, she chanced a glance at Peeta. His hopeful eyes searched her own and she looked away quickly. When they reached their floor in the training center, Katniss ran to her room as quickly as she could.

Fighting back angry tears, she removed her dress. The delicate fabric tore in some spots, but she didn't care. As soon as the Capitol finery was discarded on the floor, Katniss entered the bathroom and jabbed random buttons. Hot, fragrant water rained down from spout nestled in the ceiling. It reminded her of home, the forest during a thunderstorm. She stripped completely before stepping under the water, breathing deeply. She watched as gold glitter and black runs of eye makeup ran down the glass walls of the shower.

It wasn't until she tried to run an hand through her hair that she realized it was still done up in intricate braids. Sighing in frustration, Katniss began ripping the pins out of her hair and throwing them on the ground, not caring if they went down the drain. She silently hoped they would, and cause a little of damage too. What does it matter anyway? In a few days she would either be dead or a victor. Neither would be cause for retribution. Or celebration, she thought, dismayed.

Once her body was clean, she stepped out and dried herself off. While dressing, Katniss let her mind wander. She thought back to a few months ago, when she pretended to tutor Peeta. Her mind pointed out all the small, sweet gestures he had made- bringing her family food from the bakery, listening to her when she needed to talk, taking her mind off her stresses, her birthday present. She thought back to a few days ago when Gale had exploded about her friendship with Peeta. Anyone with eyes can see he's in love with you! He'd said.

Was it really true? She had shrugged it off that day, reminding herself that Peeta had had plenty of opportunities to confess his feelings. Then again, there had been a few small signs of his affection. She recalled the way he would occasionally rub her cheek with his fingers, or when he held her hand on her birthday. But she also remembered the way he casually mentioned they were just friends after she had panicked at the meadow. All these thoughts muddled her mind, she didn't know what to think anymore. It was getting harder to tell truth from imagination.

There was one thing she could do. She could confront Peeta and ask for the truth. What had he said before the interviews? Whatever happens, will you meet me up on the roof tonight?

Decision made, Katniss ordered an array of food from the mouthpiece and planned what she would say to Peeta when she finally mustered the courage to go up to the roof.

As Katniss closed the door to her room, she finally felt her heart slow its pounding. She had kissed Peeta! Not just a peck, but a real kiss. It wasn't what she was expecting when she met him up on the roof, but when he confessed that it was true- that he loved her- she couldn't help it. Her heart had burst with happiness while the back of her mind reminded her that one of them would be dead in a few days. And while she couldn't imagine ever getting married, she could imagine being in Peeta's arms. And now she had the memory of kissing him.

Under the covers, she thought about the next coming days. It took her awhile to stop thinking about Peeta and his lips. When she finally did, she went over the basic survival tips she knew. Find water, get a feel for the arena, keep hidden. She went over the list of knots she learned in the training center as well as the ones she learned from Gale. She went over how to make a bow from scratch in case there wasn't one in the Cornucopia.

After thinking of everything she needed to keep in mind, she thought about various scenarios. If she ran into the careers, Peeta, or Rue. She decided to run from the careers unless she had a bow, avoid Peeta as much as possible so that she wouldn't have to watch him die, and she decided to keep an open mind about Rue. She wasn't looking to join up with anyone, but if the girl from Eleven had some useful tricks, it might be a good move.

Katniss began slowing her thoughts and preparing for sleep. A quiet mind was always conducive to a good night's sleep. She hoped she wouldn't have any nightmares and finally allowed herself to drift to sleep.

The morning was slow. Katniss followed Cinna to the roof and did as she was told. The ladder to the impressive hovercraft locked her in place as it retracted inside. Her arm still hurt from where the tracker was placed. She ate as much food as she could without making herself sick, and she took sips of water every few minutes. When a small package arrived, Cinna helped her into the plain but practical clothes. He warned her to look out for cooler nights because the jacket was designed to hold in body heat.

Then he surprised her by bringing out the mockingjay pin Madge had given her. She had forgotten about it. They must have retrieved it from the clothes she was wearing before she arrived in the Capitol.

"For good luck," Cinna said as he pinned it to her jacket. "It's your token, right?"

Katniss nodded. "Yeah, my friend, Madge, gave it to me."

Cinna smiled warmly at her. "She's betting on you to come home. So would I, if I could bet."

This shocked Katniss. Could there really be people rooting for her? Of course her family would. Gale's family would too. But a Capitol stylist?

"Really?" She asked before she could stop herself.

"Of course," Cinna chuckled. "There's something about you. A fire in your eyes that's brighter than any synthetic fire I could make for you."

The sentiment warmed Katniss and she breathed deeper. She fidgeted nervously on the couch while they waited to be called to the launch pad. Her stylist handed her another glass of water and she drank it slowly, making sure not to over-do it. Finally, after what felt like hours, a pleasant female voice called her to the circular launch pad.

"Don't forget what Haymitch said." Cinna reminded her as she climbed onto the raised platform. He took her hand. "Run. Find water." Katniss nodded and stood on the small circle. "I'm counting on you, girl on fire." He said as a glass cylinder dropped around her, breaking her contact to Cinna.

The platform began to rise and Katniss could feel her heartbeat pick up. Her stomach churned and she fought to keep her food down as she continued to get higher and higher. She looked above her to see light shining. It became brighter as she approached it, until suddenly, she was outside.

Katniss surveyed the scene in front of her. The Cornucopia stood towering in the center of the circle of tributes. Flowing out of it's mouth were packs, weapons, and food. Anything and everything one would need to survive. Her eye caught the glinting silver of a bow and she thought she could make it there if she sprinted. She was pretty fast. But Haymitch's voice came back to her: run, find water. She glanced at the tributes beside her, breathing a sigh of relief when there were no careers in her immediate vicinity.

Then she spotted Peeta, a few tributes to her right. He was looking at her, concern written all over his face. I kissed you last night, she thought briefly before turning back and eyeing the bow again. It tempted her. With a bow, she could easily find food and defend herself. She chanced a look back at Peeta and swore she saw him shake his head. But before she could wonder what he was thinking, the gong rang out.

Katniss burst into action, losing a couple seconds as she debated going for her weapon. Her legs carried her towards her prize, but she had lost too much time. She settled for an orange pack a couple feet away. As soon as her hand wrapped around one of the straps, she felt it being pulled in the opposite direction. She looked up to find the boy from District 9 on the other end.

Katniss tugged back and was relieved when he suddenly let go. Then she saw him slump to the ground, a knife hilt protruding from his back. Fear struck her core as she scrambled back, backpack in tow. A dozen yards away stood the girl from District 2, a wicked smile on her face as she drew another knife from her belt. Katniss surged to her feet and ran as fast as she could towards the woods, her safety net.

She expected to hear a knife whistle by, and that fear made her throw her backpack over her shoulder to offer a little protection. When no knife came, she chanced a peek over her shoulder without slowing her pace. She saw that the girl from District 2 had been distracted by something. Or rather someone. Peeta stood of to the girl's right, a large knife in hand. They were speaking and Katniss felt her feet slow as she watched them interact.

She was too far away to hear what they were saying, but it seemed the Career had had enough of his talk because she turned away from him just as the boy from District 1 grabbed Peeta by the arms and forced him to drop his weapon. Stricken with fear, Katniss stopped in her tracks and turned towards Peeta. At that moment, a knife flew by, narrowly missing the back of her head. Without another thought, she began to run again and hiked her backpack up to cover her head.

Her instincts rewarded her with a knife in the pack. She continued running, making it past the line of trees and deeper into the woods. She didn't stop sprinting until her lungs protested. Even then, she alternated between walking and jogging, checking over her shoulder for any signs of pursuit. But she was virtually alone. Except for the small animals she occasionally frightened.

As she made her way through the trees, she kept an eye out for any source of water. Besides the lake by the Cornucopia, she saw none. Katniss kept walking, observing the forest and taking note of things that could help her out later. Like pine trees she could collect soft bark to curb hunger, and tracks of small game she could set traps for. It was hours before finally stopped and pulled the knife from where it was lodged in her pack. She then found a good spot to rest and removed her pack.

In the evening shade of an oak tree, Katniss sat and opened the florescent orange backpack. Inside was some wire, crackers and dried meat, an empty water bottle, a thin sleeping bag made of the same material as her jacket, and a few other things. While her stomach growled, she dared not open the crackers or meat. Instead, she used the wire to set traps and used her knife to harvest some soft pine. That should keep her until morning, even if it was hard to get down.

It was well into the night when Katniss heard the Capitol anthem ring out. She had jerked awake at the sound. From her position in her willow tree, she could just make out the images in the sky. Earlier in the evening, she had counted the cannons that signaled eleven tributes had died in the initial bloodbath. Katniss had hoped and prayed that Peeta was not one of them.

The image of Peeta being restrained by the tribute from District 1 brought a wave of fresh tears to her eyes. All afternoon, she had mentally kicked herself for running away like a coward. But at least you're still alive. A voice told her. She quickly shut it down and watched the sky for the tributes' faces. As face after face appeared in the sky, her heart pounded louder in anticipation. She counted the dead on her fingers: the boy from District 9 made ten and she held her breath as the last face appeared in the sky. A vaguely familiar feminine face flashed and the words District 10 appeared beneath her image. Katniss let out a relieved breath.

Peeta is alive! She thought as she buried herself back into her sleeping bag. The knowledge that Peeta had made it passed the first day made her breathe a littler easier, but she still worried about the days to come. Katniss hoped she wouldn't run into Peeta for the rest of the games. Although a smaller, romantic part of her wished she could see him one last time. She wanted to hold him, kiss him, love him the way she knew she could… Eventually.

The sound of a snapped twig brought her back to the present and Katniss froze. Fearing the worst, she dared not move. The slightest movement could give away her position faster than the orange backpack would. She listened carefully as more branches snapped, seemingly on purpose. She then heard rocks striking together and knew instantly that someone was building a fire. Idiot! She thought, panic rising through her.

Before long, she could hear the subtle sounds of a fire crackling and could even smell the smoke. Whoever built the fire was close. Too close for comfort. Gathering her courage, Katniss eased her head slowly out of the sleeping bag. Her eyes immediately settled on the soft glow of the fire, just any other tributes' eyes would. She could see a girl huddled close to the small flame. You will die tonight, Katniss thought grimly. There was nothing she could do, not if she wanted to survive and make it back to Prim. So she wrapped herself up in the thin sleeping bag and tried to get some sleep.

A high pitched scream jerked Katniss from her sleep. She cursed herself for the movement her surprise caused and stilled her limbs. As her mind woke completely from her groggy state, she realized someone must have come across the girl with the fire. There wasn't any light coming through the thin fabric above her head, so it was likely before dawn. Katniss debated whether or not to look. If she moved, it could give away her position, but if she was already found, not having a visual could put her in danger.

Taking a deep breath, Katniss inched her sleeping bag down to uncover her face. In the distance, she saw the fire, and figures scattered around it. Closest to the blaze, the girl from last night was being held down by a large boy with a sword in his hand. Careers, Katniss thought. It didn't surprise her. Building a fire was one of the worst things to do when the Careers were still on their killing high. She could count five more figures standing around the fire, but it was too dark to make out their faces.

She watched in apprehension as the Careers goaded the girl that was pinned to the ground. Katniss could hear the girl whimpering, begging for her life. Other voices followed- laughing, a few rough words. But they were too far away for her to make out their words. And then it happened- the boy holding her down drew back the blade and plunged it into the girl's stomach. Katniss turned her head at the last minute, willing her empty stomach to stay calm. A few seconds passed before the cannon fired and she heard footsteps approach her position. She turned her head without thinking, and watched as six Careers walked past.

Six Careers? She thought. Something was off, Katniss could feel it. She went over the list of dead tributes from last night. She furrowed her brows when she remembered that the boy from District 4 was on that list. That would mean there were five Careers left, not six. She counted them again, making out three feminine figures and… yep, three masculine. Someone must have convinced the Careers to let them join up.

They were close enough to Katniss's position to hear their word. Mostly laughing and sharp retorts. Katniss strained her ears to make out their words.

"Where to now, Cato?" One of the girls asked. The group stopped and Katniss could see them through a break in the branches.

"I guess we could circle back to the lake," he answered. "Although, I was hoping to find the guy from 11. He's our biggest threat- after that girl from 12."

Katniss's blood ran cold at his words. They were looking for her. Of course she knew it would be a possibility with her getting the highest score, but she had hoped they thought it was some sort of fluke. Apparently not.

"Any thoughts, Lover Boy?" The ring leader asked.

"I already told you, she's hiding," an achingly familiar voice replied. "We won't be able to find her unless she wants to be found. And if that happens, we're all done for."

Katniss clamped her hand over her mouth to keep any sounds from escaping. That voice belonged to Peeta. What was he doing with the Careers? Hunting you, her inner voice said. No. That wasn't possible. There's no way the boy from last night- the boy who confessed his love for her- threw in with the Careers. Anger and betrayal bubbled up inside Katniss. How could he? she thought, After last night…

"That good, is she?" The one called Cato teased.

"You saw her score," Peeta said evenly. Silence followed and Katniss could see light appearing on the horizon. Dawn.

"Cato, a word." The dark haired girl from District 2 said, gesturing towards Katniss's tree. Katniss held her breath, hoping that they won't get too close. She let it out when the stopped just outside the curtain of willow branches. "I don't think we should trust him." The girl told Cato, folding her arms over her chest.

"Why not?" Cato retorted. "He's our best shot at finding the girl from 12."

"I don't trust him," she reiterated, flinging her arms wide. "He told the whole country he was in love with her two days ago!"

"And he said she turned him down and practically spat in his face. He's out for revenge, Clove." Katniss furrowed her eyebrows. Why would Peeta tell them that? "Besides," Cato continued, "we can always use him as bait if it doesn't work out."

"Fine," Clove relented. Katniss stared after them as they made their way back to the rest of the group. She was too caught up in her thoughts to hear what they decided to do, but their footsteps snapped her out of her thoughts and she looked up. She saw Peeta trailing behind the rest of the Careers, keeping his eyes on the trees around him. He stood facing her tree, eyeing it for one long moment before turning and following the others.