The 76th Hunger Games

Ashby is the daughter of Katniss Everdeen. She has been told barely anything about the Hunger Games purely because of her mother's fear. This puts Ashby in a dangerous position. She and her family are being followed and it's up to Ashby to find out who they are and what they want. But what if ... they want her?

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4. Kidnap

I actually said something that cheesy. I laughed almost uncontrollably. Mum didn’t realise how stupid I sounded. He was the most dazzling person I’d ever seen? Really? Oh my god, I was such a dork!

“Sweetie, that’s okay. You’re not hurt. Carry on.” Mum replied, looking a bit too happy with the whole awful development in my life. What was with all the grinning? This was awful! It wasn’t like I liked him or anything anyway. I gave her a look as if to say “what the hell”?

“Yeah ... so then we had this miniature but seriously scary fight to the death kind of scenario. He cornered me ... again but I got my knife to his throat whilst he got his to my –uh- my waist ...” This was seriously the most awkward conversation I’d ever had with my Mum ever. “Then the school bell rang, I told him to back off and he did. Then he went all weird and grabbed my hand and told me he wasn’t trying to kill me. I pulled away, obviously, and before I left I threw the knife at him.” I saw the shocked look she was giving me and quickly added. “Well, not at him, I just wanted to pin his hoodie to the tree and I did.” She looked slightly more relieved than before. I didn’t want Mum to continue or say anything for that matter. This was so bad. So, so, so bad! Luckily, I think she picked that thought up because she left the room without another word.

“Oh, and Mum. Fir totally just got himself a girlfriend.” I called down the hallway. Fir opened his bedroom door at that precise moment.

“Okay ... time for me to go.” I muttered and tried to close the door but Fir wedged his foot in between. I was so totally dead. Librae looked slightly baffled but was clever enough to carry on walking down the stairs. Fir raised his eyebrows at me.

“So, why were you late?” He asked suspiciously. I backed away from the door and into my bedroom. I spun around quickly and glared at him.

“That’s none of your business.” I replied coolly. I hated being like this with Fir but I’d already told Mum. I didn’t want to risk embarrassment in front of him too. He stepped inside my room and shut the door slowly.

“Neither was what me and Librae were talking about, Ash.” He retorted angrily. Oh ... he knew about that. Whoops! I broke off my glare and gave out a large sigh. I hadn’t meant to overhear that part of the conversation. I’d just meant to check up on them. I wanted to see how Librae was treating my little brother.

“Just tell me why you were late so I don’t try and kill you, Ash!” he exclaimed, sounding very exasperated. I clenched my fists and felt my jaw tighten. I couldn’t tell him. He’d laugh at me.

“It doesn’t matter, Fir.” I hissed, looking away. I knew Fir would be totally baffled by my response. I hated myself, not him. So why was I taking it out on my little brother. I was being completely unfair.

“Ash ... I’m sorry. I can see this is a bad time-”

“Fir, I know you’re trying to help but could you please just leave me alone?” I asked, feeling the tears roll quickly down my cheeks. Fear and guilt consumed me completely and once Fir had closed the door, I collapsed against the wall. What was happening to me? What was this boy doing to me? I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure anything out for that matter.

I made my way downstairs five minutes later. I’d gone into the bathroom and covered up the fact I’d been crying with metres of toilet roll and Mum’s foundation. Could this day get any worse?

“Sorry, I’m late. I started reading this book and could barely get off the bed and stop reading.” I told them all and got a small scoff from Fir. I directed a quick glare his way then served myself some lamb stew.  It was Mum’s favourite.

The conversations were dull and awkward. I felt sorry for Librae. It was a bad time to come and have dinner with our family. Mum, Dad and I had been attacked today and the whole family had been the day before. So she must have really bad timing, I laughed to myself. I had pretty awful timing myself.

“So ... Ashby, I heard your class has just started learning about the Hunger Games! How cool is that?” Librae asked awkwardly. I knew she was trying to be nice. I shot a quick look at Mum and Dad then gave her an award winning smile.

“Yeah, it’s totally awesome. Blood, guts ... gore. Love it!” I replied in a sing song voice. Librae grinned back whilst Fir was looking back and forth between us as if he thought I’d invaded her mind and made her like me. Boys! I thought to myself.

“Yeah, I’m not that great with the whole blood thing either. It’s completely understandable.” Librae told me, her grin stretching from ear to ear. Okay, how on Earth had Fir got this girl again? This time, my smile was genuine. There was only one person I knew of that could make me smile. Fir.

“Am I ... am I dreaming or something? Oh my god, somebody pinch me!” Fir muttered. I leaned over and did, very; very hard ... Fir gave out a little squeal. The worst part was, at the end he tried to make it sound manly but only made himself sound deranged. This was so entertaining.

“Not literally!” He snapped at me. In return, I gave him a sarcastic grin.

After dinner, I retreated straight to my room before Fir could even try to get any information about me.  I wasn’t anywhere ready to tell him about the boy and the way I couldn’t explain how I felt about him. God, I just wanted to hate him! Was that so much to ask? It was a weird request but I really wanted to hate him. That would mean I could stop hating myself and stop thinking about him!

All night, I was trying to come up with reasons why I should hate him. The only one I could think of was that he was trying to kill me. Plus he was seriously annoying and arrogant! I barely got a wink of sleep. This whole thing was so frustrating and that boy had the nerve to lie to my face and tell me he wasn’t trying to kill me! I felt my jaw clench. I was so angry at everything right then.

Luckily, by the time I woke up, I’d managed to get at least an hour or two’s sleep. Unfortunately, I could barely keep my eyes open. At least I’d got time to think things through really well.

I don’t think I’ve ever dreaded going to school more than that day. I was like a zombie (whatever that was) walking along with Fir.

“Something happened yesterday, didn’t it? Something happened with you, Mum and Dad.” Fir asked but it was more like he was stating a fact. Trust him to notice everything. I didn’t reply. That meant he was right.

“What? Did those men come back?” His voice had a little hint of urgency in it but otherwise it was nothing but angry. I chose to be cold with him.

“Yes.” Well, they came back for Mum and Dad. Not for me. I got a whole lot worse coming my way. Fir’s forehead crumpled and he stopped in his tracks, gripping my arm.

“They came back for Mum and Dad. So who came back for you?” No reply. “It was that boy wasn’t it? He was the one who came back to deal with you. That’s why you were late.” He cried in victory. I narrowed my eyes, anger that had been suppressed building up inside of me like a volcano.

“Yes.” I cried. “Yes, that’s exactly it. Are you happy now?” Fir looked incredibly taken back. I tried to ignore it and ran off. I’d never been quite so cruel to Fir in my life. I didn’t seem to care a huge amount though. I’d faced death twice now. I was allowed to be in a foul mood. At least I thought I was.

Class was dull and boring. I couldn’t believe people made us go through the hell hole they called school. After having to go through all the horrors I’d been faced with, I still had to go through this pain and torture.

I’d been keeping an eye out for the boy and his gang all week but nothing. The saddest part was I wanted to see him. To take another look at those gorgeous brown eyes or see a flash of his golden hair. What was happening to me? I shouldn’t want to see him! I should be planning a vendetta or perhaps something more serious. What was wrong with me?

I decided to take a shower, thinking maybe-just maybe- it would wash my feelings away. I was sadly mistaken. I got changed quickly into my usual attire- leather jacket and jeans- just in time to hear my Mum shout:

“Hey Ash- do you think you could go and get me some milk? You’re dad’s feeling a little off.” I sighed. I didn’t really have anything better to do so I obliged, feeling happy I was doing something good for others.

I trudged into town, my feet unwillingly dragging behind me. Why did life like to make things hard for me? Hauling myself into town, I quickly ducked behind some barrels when I saw some girls from my class. Fortunately, they hadn’t seen me. Trying to look casual as I got up, I carried on.

I kept on having to stand up straight and think about my posture. I knew I slouched when I walked and I hated it so whenever I realised I would correct myself and walk tall and proud. Although, it never made me feel tall and proud. It made me feel snobby and self centred and I’d soon be slouching again anyway.

I was almost at the stall that sold the best milk when something caught my eye. Something I’d been watching out for for months. I felt my stomach do strange twisty flip things whilst I clenched my teeth and felt my fists ball. It was that boy. He was freely walking around town! Idiot, I thought. He stood out so badly in this crowd, but maybe it was only me who noticed that. I took that thought back when I saw the popular girls from school practically drooling over him. This had to get sorted out now.

I stormed angrily over to him and seized his arm.

“What is your problem?” I hissed. The boy smirked at me and pulled his arm away. He kept walking and, to my surprise, looked rather happy when I joined him.

“What? Am I not allowed to walk around town?” He teased. I felt like punching him but I knew he would beat me any day in fist to fist combat. I had enough experiences fighting him anyway. I glowered at him.

“Not until you tell me why you and your little gang are attacking my family.” I hissed, dropping my voice at the end. Unfortunately, I found I could not look away once he caught my eyes. My first mistake. My next mistake was to let him slip his strong, soft hand into mine and lead me into a deserted street.

“It’s not like I want to.” He replied, glancing around nervously as if being watched. I cocked my head and him and raised my eyebrows. I only realised his hand was still in mine when it went clammy with my nerves. The boy looked rather startled too that he hadn’t let go before. In fact, he looked confused about why he’d done it in the first place. I quickly pulled it away.

“What do you mean “It’s not like you want to”? You have rights!” I whispered fiercely, ignoring the angry looks on my fellow school friends faces as they tried to eavesdrop. I felt his chocolate eyes bore into me and instantly I was reminded of a puppy. Snap out of it, I cried in my head.

“It’s not like I want to go round attacking you and your family.” He looked around uncertainly as if he’d said something wrong. “You know what? Forget it. You wouldn’t under-”

I kicked him in the shin.

“Don’t you dare tell me I wouldn’t understand if you won’t even tell me!” I cried furiously. He looked a bit shocked, shook his leg as if shaking away the pain and met my eyes again. Why was I even talking to him? I wasn’t entirely sure anymore.

“I can’t tell you anyway. Plus you’re too stupid and shallow to understand. OUCH! Would you stop that?” He said this because I had just kicked him in the shin again.

“Shallow and stupid?! You don’t even know me. You probably don’t even know my na-”

“Ashby Rue Mellark.”

“-me” I finished, staring open mouthed at him. Abruptly, I shut my mouth to stop him from smirking. I glared furiously at him and pushed my hair behind my ear.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch your name.” I replied, trying to conceal the anger that was waiting to pour out. He raised an eyebrow playfully and moved a bit closer.

“What’s it mean to you?” He was so close that I could feel his breath on my cheeks. There was nothing I could do. I was totally paralysed. My body wouldn’t obey my orders. MOVE BACK, my head screamed at me. Finally, I got the message and took a step back, only for him to take another one forward.

“You know my name. It’s only fair that I know yours too.” I managed to struggle out. I didn’t dare meet his eyes so I was staring his black collar. He laughed a tiny bit as if he knew exactly why I wasn’t looking at him. He was probably used to having girls fall all over him which is what made it even more infuriating.

“I’d tell you if you actually looked at me.” I gulped. Bad idea. I wasn’t going to be doing that any time soon unless I wanted my brain scrambling in eight different directions at the same time. Instead, I raised my eyes to his neck.

“Higher.” His smooth voice replied and I almost laughed as his throat vibrated. Unwillingly, once again, I raised my eyes to his jaw which was strong and sturdy.

“Higher.” He repeated patiently. When I vigorously shook my head, I felt his hand being placed under my chin and he lifted my gaze to his eyes. I was hooked like a druggie on heroine. This was bad.

“So?” I managed to squeak. He grinned widely as if he were totally proud to be saying such a huge secret to me. He leaned in and for a split second I thought he was going to try and kiss me. But he didn’t. He leaned in and whispered in my ear.

“You’re totally falling for me.” He whispered quietly. I whacked him on the shoulder. Of course he wasn’t going to tell me his name. I fought back the urge to blush or fiddle with my hair. I even had to stop myself from batting my eyelids. Oh the shame.

“No, I’m not.” I protested, but was weakened by his eyes. “That’s ... that’s absolutely ridiculous.” He raised his eyebrows at me and I tried not to smile or giggle or whatever stupid things girls do in front of guys. I was not falling for someone assigned to assassinate me. No way.

“Really?” He asked annoyingly. “Is it?” No, it wasn’t but I wasn’t about to say that! As if to prove his point he ran a single finger down my arm and slid his hand into mine, watching for a reaction. Struggling to keep my face neutral, I tried to yank my hand from his.

“Will you let go already?” I muttered loudly. He smiled at me once more and I thought I might go insane. Leave me alone, my brain yelled but I couldn’t get out the words.

“Why? Is this bothering you?” And just to be annoying, he slid his other hand in my free one, smirking. Again, I tried to make him let go but ended bringing him closer. Now he had to bend his head down to look at me and if I wanted to see him, I’d have to crane my neck. I tried to take a step back but almost fell into a bush. Much to my annoyance, the boy caught me, giving him a reason to slide his hand around my waist and keep holding my free hand.

“Uh ... thanks.” I muttered, looking at the floor. Again, I heard his care-free laugh but it felt so much more heart racing, closer up. I wasn’t even sure if you could get much closer. My hand was cradled by his and I hadn’t noticed but my other hand was placed directly on his chest. I blushed scarlet. I’m pretty sure he saw which made things worse.

“No problem.” His sudden change of tone surprised me enough to look up. There was no sarcasm there, no teasing comments and no smirking. For a moment, I thought I saw a genuine person staring back at me but seconds later it was like he’s put his shields up.

“Umm ... well I should probably go. Mum’s expecting me home and-” I turned around to leave but just as I did, he tugged me back. I stared into his eyes, puzzled. What on Earth. He had a smirk back on his face. I suddenly became completely unaware of what he was doing and the next thing I knew, he had his hand firmly placed on the back of my neck, the other on my cheek. It was like I’d been winded. I couldn’t speak or move. It was like being a fly stuck in a spider’s web. One wrong move and he’d eat me. What shocked me the most was his face was getting closer and closer and my heart started racing. I placed my hand on his one resting on my cheek. Was I really going to let him kiss me? It looked that way. Was it such a great idea? Not really. Did I care? Nope.

Just at the moment our lips were about to touch, something interrupted me.

“Ashby?” I pulled back at the sound of my little brother’s voice. I stared in horror. What must this look like to him? I gulped, avoiding the boy’s eyes and grasped Fir’s hand, tugging him along behind me.

“Sorry, Ash. Was that a bad time?” Fir asked quietly. I shook my head quickly, furiously blinking back to tears. I squeezed Fir’s little hand gratefully.

“Perfect timing actually, Fir.” I replied miserably. I had almost let him kiss me. What was wrong with me? I would have hated myself even more than before if I’d let him kiss me. Thank God, Fir had come along in time.

“Wait ‘till mum finds out.” Fir snickered playfully behind me and I scooped him up into a hug. When I put him down, I brushed the blonde hair from his face.

“She already knows.” I lied and Fir cocked his head. I knew at once what that meant. He didn’t believe me. Trust Fir to suss me out. Mum could definitely not find out about it. There was only so such information I could give her.

“Really? About this already?” Fir teased. “I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to, Ash. Just ... just be careful okay?” Oh God, now I had to take advice from my little (emphasis on little) brother! What was the world coming to? I nodded and stood upright. I couldn’t help but feel I’d forgotten something but simply shrugged it off.

“Did you get the milk?” That’s what I’d forgotten. I froze at the front door, sliding off my boots, desperately thinking of an alibi. I was such an idiot.

“Urgh- No sorry, mum, I forgot.” My mum, Katniss Mellark, came into the hall trying not to laugh. I knew I’d said the wrong thing immediately. She was going to start bombarding me with questions. Fir, brilliant as always, saved my sorry butt.

“Umm ... mum, I need some help with my maths homework. Do have some spare time?” He winked at me, from the eye mum couldn’t see and I grinned. My little brother was the best. I sprinted up to my bedroom before mum could get anything out of me. What a disaster! Imagine the horror if I’d really kissed him. I’d kill myself! Not because I didn’t want to kiss him but the fact that he was the enemy now. Otherwise, I’d probably have let him and felt no guilt afterwards.  

The horror of those moments haunted me for days after. I couldn’t stop thinking about him any longer. If I saw one more image in my brain of me about to kiss him, I think I’d die. And those girls at school saw. You do not want to know the kinds of things they teased me about. Okay, so maybe you do.

It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was sitting on my own in the lesson. A crowd of girls suddenly swarmed around me, tugging at my hair and clothes.

“How could he like her? She’s not even pretty.” One said, playing harshly with my hair. I whacked her arm away angrily. So much for a peaceful afternoon of trying to forget that whole event ever happened.

“Yeah and look at this jacket. I mean, ew!” Another replied and they all spluttered with laughter. Oh hilarious, my brain muttered furiously.

“And she’s totally vicious.” The smallest of the girls squeaked boldly. I kind of felt sorry for her. I could tell she was trying to fit in with a group that wasn’t really her.

“We’ll totally get him to like you, Sav.” Muttered Winnow Dunbryll who was standing near Savera Flamsteed, the ultimate popular girl in our class. Everyone else muttered their agreement. So, it was settled.

“Yeah, if you want him to try and murder you and your families.” I muttered. Savera gave me a harsh look. I almost wanted to laugh. She actually thought I gave a dam about what she said or did. The poor girl was sadly mistaken.

“What did you say, Ashby?” She snarled. I raised an eyebrow. Is that the best you can do, my brain asked her. Of course she never heard that. I gave her look that said I was mock terrified.

“Oh nothing.” I told her sarcastically. It was what she wanted to hear after all. With one seriously exaggerated flick of her hair, she was storming away with her little posse of sad friends.

Luckily that was the most eventful thing that happened all day. I went to pick up Fir and was happy to see he hadn’t had any complications. His back was turned to me and he was happily chatting to Librae. Everything was going smoothly until he turned around to reveal a large black eye. I gasped. I didn’t need to ask who’d done it. Gunnar. Jealous cow, my head muttered.

I ran over to Fir, taking a closer look at his eye. It was all purple and green.

“Oh, Fir. Are you okay?” Fir actually looked close to tears but gave me a brave nod. I got up. “Where is he?” I muttered more to myself than to Fir. He pointed to the swings where he and his group were. They made a way for me to get through and Gunnar looked positively terrified.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Gunnar’s mouth opened. “You thought it would be funny to give my little brother a black eye?” I cried. Gunnar tried to choke out something but it didn’t work. Everyone around us was looking shifty.

“I told him not to get involved with her.” He managed out. I raised an eyebrow and laughed. The poor boy thought he was so tough. Librae wanted someone soft and cuddly like Fir, not brute strength and muscles like Gunnar.

“And you really think that’s your decision? Who she likes?” I asked slowly just to make sure I was getting it right. Gunnar dropped his head and shook it “no”.

“Then leave my brother alone or you will seriously regret it.” I told him in a whisper so no one else could hear but him. He gulped and I strode back to Fir. He looked slightly nervous but I told him everything that happened. Librae decided to come back with us to make sure Fir was okay which was totally sweet. My love life was more that the boy wanted me to be hurt and was only satisfied after that.

We were walking home and were a few blocks away when Fir tugged at my hand. He’d spotted something and pointed to it. My stomach tied in a knot. Golden hair and brown eyes. Not again. He’d not spotted us yet so I yanked my hood up and carried on walking. Fir looked nervous and poor Librae just looked confused.

“Ash, what’s he doing here?” Fir whispered angrily. I squeezed his hand to reassure him. His eyes were wide and he was scanning the area. Librae was eyeing us both suspiciously.

“Nothing, don’t worry, Fir.” I replied almost automatically although he spotted the look of alarm in my eyes. My heart was beating at an intense rate and adrenaline was pumping through my body. What was he doing here?

“Ash-” Fir started but by then I knew what he was warning me about. The boy had ripped the hood of my jacket down and had a tight grip on my wrists. Librae let out a gasp of alarm.

“Fir, take Librae and go home.” I told Fir without taking my eyes off the boy. I yanked my hands away angrily so I didn’t have to be too close. Fir looked really mad.

“Ash, no. I won’t leave-”

“Fir, just leave.” When I saw the look on his face, I knelt down beside him and placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll be okay. Now get Librae home safely.” Fir nodded but looked like he would rather die than leave me there. I loved that he was over protective and all but I couldn’t risk his life. Not that this was really much of a life threatening situation.

I got up and raised an eyebrow.

“So?” I asked impatiently. He laughed. I couldn’t help but notice he was watching Fir and Librae run down the street. It felt like he was planning something. Like he wanted me out of the way to do it.

“I kind of want my knife back.” He replied. Knife? What knife? Then I remembered the dagger in my bedroom draw that I’d taken. I took a step closer.

“Why? What’s it mean to you?” I asked him slyly, forcing back a smile. His grin got larger and he brushed a finger on my cheek whist pushing some hair behind my ear.

“Well, the fact that I’m here to get it back means it means quite a lot.” He leaned in to whisper something. “But the fact that you’re keeping it is cute.” He muttered in my ear. I felt my cheeks burn. He thought I was keeping it as a reminder of him? No! I was trying to find out who he was and what he wanted with me.

“Have it back if you really want!” I told him furiously stepping away. So maybe, I’d taken it out of the drawers and looked at it thinking it belonged to him which was really exciting but that didn’t mean anything. He laughed a tiny bit, grabbed my hand and twirled me into his arms.

“Nah, I think I’ll let you keep it.” He replied and I thought I might murder him. Did I even want to keep it? Probably. Abruptly, he let go of me and walked away. As I walked off, I looked back angrily. Why was he so annoying? It shocked me hugely that he turned back too but I noticed once again that he’d dropped his defences and actually reminded me of someone nice. I know, creepy.

When I got home, Fir wanted details. He hadn’t told mum, thank god, but said he would if I didn’t “spill the beans”. We sat down on my bed and I pulled the silver dagger out of my drawer.

“He wanted this back.” I replied, placing it delicately on the bed. Fir inspected it closely, frowning.

“Umm ... so why do you have it?” Fir asked with hints of confusion and suspicion in his voice. He must have figured out I couldn’t think straight when I was with this boy. I managed a laugh.

“Well, when he attacked me he left it and I wanted to figure out who he was so I at least knew that but I couldn’t figure anything out. It just has those letters and some pretty carvings.” I replied. Fir looked closely at it, obviously liking holding a dagger. Mum would never have allowed it if she knew.

“The weirdest thing was, Fir, he knew my name. It’s like he knows everything about me. I don’t get it.” I confessed to him. He was the only person I could talk to. Fir looked alarmed. He couldn’t figure this one out either.

“Maybe you should tell mum.” Fir told me. I raised my eyebrows immediately. Mum would freak. She’d lock me up in my room and never let out again.

“No, absolutely not.” I replied. Fir nodded, hugged me and left the room. I was surprised to find it was 6 o’clock already.

I spent the rest of the night trying to figure the knife out, but eventually put on my side table before dropping off.

My dreams were totally haunted. Dark, masked faces came scarily close and I felt as if fresh cuts were being made on my skin. I looked at my arms to find at least a dozen gashes on my arm, all bleeding a horrid amount. I thought I was going to faint. Then the boy approached me with a gun, holding it up to my head, while I stood there grinning like an idiot.

I woke up abruptly, hearing strange scraping noises coming from outside my window. Slowly, I reached for the silver dagger resting on my side table and brought it closer to me. I tip toed over to the window, opened it and stuck my head out to see what was going on. I certainly found it. Two brown eyes were right in front of me, staring surprised at me. Not again. My head couldn’t take much more scrambling. He looked like he was struggling to stay up and I realised he’d climbed his way up here.

“So, are you going to ask me in or stand there gawping?” He joked, but I could tell he was concentrating on not falling down the side of the building.

“Oh sorry, of course. Come in.” I whispered, laughing in an embarrassed way. He climbed into through the window and I was unexpectedly happy to see him in jeans and a beige, tight top. I realised I was grinning and quickly turned around. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think straight and I could tell he was close because I could feel the heat radiating off his body. Certain I was looking like too much of an idiot, I turned back.

“What are you doing here?” I hissed quietly. He placed a hand on my cheek, pushing the hair out of my face. I raised an eyebrow.

“What? Am I not allowed to come and visit you?” He asked slyly, not taking his eyes off me or moving the hand on my cheek. My face burned. I wanted to tell him to leave but my mouth wouldn’t work. I looked around urgently, listening to hear if anyone was awake.

“If my mum finds you in here-”

“Finds who?” I watched his eyes flicker to the doorway from where my mother’s voice came from. How did she creep on us like that? No wonder I hadn’t heard her. She was totally silent when she wanted to be. I turned around to see my mum’s suspicious glare directed at the boy.

“Hey mum. This is ... umm ... Jaymes. He’s a friend from school.” I told her, trying to look as innocent as possible even though my mum had just walked into my bedroom to find a boy in there. I was totally mortified. “Jaymes” gave a small, shy wave at my mum who did not look impressed.

“Hey, Mrs Mellark.” He replied quietly. My mum’s gaze hadn’t budged from his. This was so embarrassing. I turned to him and glared.

“Well, Jaymes was just leaving. Weren’t you, Jaymes?” I asked him, continuing to glare. He took the hint and nodded.

“My mum will be wondering where I am.” He replied. My mum looked slightly amused under the scowl on her face. Luckily dad wasn’t in here. He would go nuts if he found out some guy was in my room.

“Well, Jaymes,” Mum began. “This time, you can go through the front door. Don’t let me catch you in here again without my permission.” He looked slightly alarmed when my mum smiled and quickly walked out. When I heard the front door shut quietly, I knew mum was going to kill me.

“What was that?” She hissed angrily. “A boy in your room? Really, Ash?” Fir came trotting into the room. He saw we were having an argument and quickly shut the door so we couldn’t wake dad.

“What boy?” Fir asked urgently. I shook my head at him, willing him not to give anything away to mum. He caught the look and shut his gob. Mum was still glaring at me like I’d blown up a building.

“Ashby, I can’t believe this.” She muttered. Mum looked totally lost for words. “You can’t do things like that, Ash. They come with consequences.” I rolled my eyes. Who was she to tell me I couldn’t have a boy in my room. She’d had boys dropping all over her at my age.

“Oh come on, mum. It’s not like I invited him to climb through my window.” I replied angrily. I had invited him into my room but I was careful not to mention it. She gave me an exasperated look and flounced out. I didn’t like lying to my mum but it wasn’t like I could tell her. She’d never let me out of her sight.

Fir came and sat on my bed with me, looking rather concerned.

“He came back ... again?” Fir asked quietly and I nodded. “I don’t understand. He attacks you and then he’s all ... you know.” Fir obviously didn’t like that the boy had been flirting with me. I wasn’t sure I liked it either. I did seem weird.

“I don’t ... I don’t think he wants to hurt me. I think someone else does.” When I saw Fir’s confused face I continued. “I think someone’s making him do it for them.” Fir looked sceptical but nodded. So he was blinded by hatred and I was blinded with ... what was I blinded with?

The next weeks went past so fast I barely noticed what went on. A couple of the girls, including Savera still teased me but I didn’t care that much. “Jaymes” didn’t show up at all for three weeks and I couldn’t help but miss him.

Mum was still mad at me, even though it was totally in the past. She’d told dad who wasn’t that fazed and said as long as I didn’t do it again, he was okay with it. Mum was furious though and constantly snapping comments at me like “sit up straight” or “go and brush your hair, you look filthy”. I sort of understood where she was coming from but that didn’t mean I had to like it.

Fir and I had just got back from school when I heard mum and dad whispering in low voices. I shushed Fir immediately.

“Kids from all districts are going missing, Peeta. Two kids. All of them in between the ages of eighteen and twelve.” I had no idea what that meant but I knew it was bad. People were going missing? I slammed the door and walked in.

“Hey mum, hey dad.” Fir and I called at the same time and both rushed upstairs. Something bad was happening. People were kidnapping children. And mum was scared. That meant she thought someone she knew was in danger. It couldn’t ... it couldn’t be me, could it? The more I thought about it, the surer I got. I was thirteen and no one had been taken from our village. I wasn’t entirely sure what a district was. Trying not to think about it, I strapped the silver knife to my leg and drifted off to sleep.

I woke up startled. As I looked around, I felt like I was being watched but I couldn’t see in this light. When my eyes adjusted, I wished so badly I was still asleep. Someone in a mask walked over to me and, before I could scream, stuffed an odd smelling cloth over my mouth. Before I could figure out what was going on, I felt my head hit the pillow.

When I re-awoke, I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes. Someone’s arms were wrapped tightly around me and they were walking.

“But don’t get a soft spot for her just ‘cos she’s pretty.” One guy laughed and someone else joined in. I recognised it. “Dude, she’s awake!” Another guy hissed and a cloth was once again shoved over my mouth.

Sunlight splashed out on the walls and floor of the cabin I was in. I rubbed my eyes, yawning. What was going on? Where was I? I ran to the window only to find the cabin was moving. I was on a train! I’d been kidnapped?! I tugged as hard as I could on the windows to make them budge open but they wouldn’t. Looking down to where I’d strapped the dagger, I realised it had been taken away.

“Looking for this?” I heard a smooth, familiar voice ask. Stood at the doorway was none other than the boy who practically stalked me. I should have known. He held up a silver dagger, the one I’d strapped to my leg. I blushed at the thought that he’d unstrapped it. He walked into the small, cream coloured cabin and held it out to me. I didn’t take it. I was mad. He’d kidnapped me?! When he saw I wasn’t going to take it from him, he sheathed it.

“What’s your name?” I blurted out. He smiled, raising an eyebrow. Then he repeated what he’d done the last time I asked and stepped forward.

“What’s it to you?” I wished I could wipe the grin off his face, so I scowled. I still liked him after he’d kidnapped me! That wasn’t normal. I avoided looking into his eyes again and focused on the spot just above his eyes.

“Well, you have just kidnapped me.” I cried. “I kind of want to know who you are.” He raised his eyebrow again. What did he want me to say? You’re totally fit and I have to know your name? As if! He took the dagger out and pointed to the L.C.

“Take a guess.” He whispered as I thought of names. My brain was totally blocked. He was so close to me that I was practically buzzing. I shrugged and pushed the dagger back at him. He grinned at me like he was totally proud he was really going to tell me his name.

“My name’s Leonis Coin.” Coin ... where did I know that name from? My eyes widened with horror. I couldn’t comprehend it. I pushed Leonis away from me.

“You’re ... you’re President Coin’s son?” I spat out. This was too horrible for words. My mum killed his mum? No wonder he’d tried to kill us. He grinned.

“So, finally you worked it out. Or did you think I was hanging around you because I liked you.” His voice had suddenly changed into a vicious sneer. I scowled angrily at him. Who did he think he was? Just because his mum was President Coin, that didn’t mean he ruled anyone anymore. My mum had put a stop to that ... thank god!

“I knew there was something. First you attacked me, then you started to seem ... you know ... interested all of a sudden. Maybe I’m not as stupid as you think I am.” I hissed angrily. I should have seen through this jerk right from the beginning. He was still alarmingly close. Now I was glad that I could hate him.

“God forbid if anyone thought you had a brain in that pretty little head of yours.” He teased but it wasn’t in the way he used to. It was purely to hurt my feelings. I ignored the comment, trying to get my head straight.

“What do you want with me?” I asked furiously, walking past him to stand nearer the door. He anticipated the move and grabbed my wrist in a tight grip, pulling me in between him and the bed behind me. I’d take the bed any day, muttered my brain. I wanted Leonis to leave me alone.

“Well, you’ll find out soon.” Leonis replied in a cocky way. Unable to resist the urge, I kicked him in the shin. This time, it didn’t seem to hurt him and he smiled. “Nice try, but not good enough.” I scowled at him. I had to get out of here. But how? I was on a moving train, trapped by an idiot.

Before I could think anymore, the train lurched forwards, as if stopping and sent me and Leonis toppling onto the floor. Unfortunately, I landed on him.

“When my mum finds out about this, she will absolutely crush you.” He gave me a mock scared face and pushed me off. Once he got up, he offered me his hand. I gave him a look as if to say “no way” so he reached down and took it anyway. Leonis violently helped me to my feet and snarled at me, centre metres away from my face.

“Not before my dad gets to you.” He let me go but before he left he paused at the doorway. “Wear something nice tonight. My dad’s expecting you.” I had an urge to wear something horrible but I decided not to.

In the end, I chose out a plain pure white beach kind of dress that tied around my neck. The only down side was it showed off half my back. I’d found some curlers and curled my hair for the first time. It turned out I didn’t look that bad. The dressing table was covered with make-up but I’d never worn it in my life and never planned to. I picked out some matching white pumps, put little winged earrings in and was ready.

It felt like days, waiting for nightfall to come but really it was around an hour and a half. A sharp knock on the door shook me from my thoughts and I opened it. Two heavily armed guards were waiting outside the door. I hadn’t even noticed the train stop. They grabbed me by the arms and marched me off the train. My first thought when I got off the train was “wow”. My next one was “where the hell am I?” I didn’t bother asking. They’d never answer. That was the whole point of kidnapping someone. They didn’t know where they were or what they were doing there.

The guards led me through a back door of a huge building. I realised it was a dressing room where make-up artists and designers were bustling round. They all saw me and gave an excited squeal. The guards left, locking the door behind them. I was actually rather scared by these people. They all wore bright clothes that made them look like they’re in fancy dress and wore way too much colourful make-up.

“Wow, sweetie you did a good job on yourself.” Said one in the yellow and green outfit. The guy in the pink and purple outfit looked as if he were the boss here so I waited for them to tell me to put huge hoops in my ears or change my outfit for florescent orange. But he never did.

“Everything’s perfect but I think we can add a little shibam to this outfit.” The guy talked like he had a blocked nose and his voice was rather high pitched. “My name’s Frank, honey. This is Hostella, Glora and Mansy.” He indicated to the three girls in the room. With a clap of his hands they fixed their attention on Frank.

“Darlings, go and fetch my shiniest and sparkliest make-up. Make it as natural as possible thought.” He smiled sweetly at me and I instantly like my designers. They were all really sweet.

When the three girls, Hostella, Glora and Mansy, got back, they had armfuls of white and silvery make-up. Before they dropped everything, they spilled it out onto the dressing table. Frank gleamed with pride.

“Thanks, sweethearts. You can go and rest now. I’ll call you back for final opinions, all right?” They all nodded grateful and piled out of the room. Frank inspected the make-up and I immediately thought he’d chose the most vibrant and bright colour but he didn’t. He went for a small little box and covered my face lightly with it.

“You can go look, sugar.” He replied, pulling the fabric off the mirror. The make-up was incredible. It simply gave me a natural glow. My mouth hung open. I looked so different ... so girly. I hugged Frank, much to his surprise.

“Oh, thank you so much Frank.” He squeezed me back then let go and called the others in.

“No more hugging, sweetie. You’ll ruin your make up.” Glora smiled sweetly but I didn’t mind smudging it. These people were amazing. They all stared in amazement at me, complementing Frank on the delicate work.

“Oh, she looks perfect! Let’s send her off then.” They all hugged me happily, blowing their noses and attempting not to ruin their make-up. I’d only known them about half an hour and they were crying already? I waved politely and grinned widely as the door closed. The same two guards came over and escorted me rather viciously to a smaller room where I watched a T.V. screen. Everybody had a T.V. back home and there was even a huge one in the square but no one really used them anymore.

There was a tall, dark featured man on the stage, speaking politely to an audience of people who were cheering loudly.

“And so, we introduce the first contestants, who are our handpicked Capitol players.” He smiled broadly. “First, Angelyna de Briscoe, aged 15.” A beautiful and skinny blonde haired girl in a puffy, short pink dress came out onto the stage smiling a movie star smile. I was instantly jealous of how pretty and capable she was. She took her place in the first seat, but seemed to have trouble with her heals as she took them off when the camera went back to the large man who I assumed was the presenter of whatever this was.

“Next up is Braden Riddell, aged 15.” Braden was a gingery brown haired boy with large hazel eyes. He was in a white suit with his hair slicked back. The audience screamed in applause. Braden was clearly very confident as he strode across the stage and took his place next to Angelyna, giving her a triumphant smile.

“The next contestant is Rae Hylen, aged 14.” A gorgeous black haired girl came out onto the stage in a long, simple shoulder length black dress with a sweet flower stuck to it. The problem was I could tell just by looking at her that there was nothing gorgeous or simple about this girl. She was wearing spiky heels but walked swiftly and gracefully, taking a seat next to Braden.

“Last but not least is my own son, Leonis Coin, aged 14.” My blood boiled. I had to admit Leonis looked incredible in his smart black suit. They kept his hair the same apart from a little bit of gel, spiking it up. His eyes stood out the most though. You hate him, remember, my brain snapped angrily. They went through lots of contestants from different “districts” until he called out district twelve.

“The boy tribute from district twelve, Danyell Stillinski, aged 13.” I knew Danyell! He was in my class. He shuffled nervously onto the stage. I’d realised by now that the only people who didn’t know what was going on were from the districts. The Capitol tributes, the audience and the presenter knew. Danyell looked rather pale and was wearing a grey pinstriped suit. His floppy ginger hair was kept the same though much to my relief. There had been far too much gel in my opinion. The guards came back and took me to the side of the stage. Mr Coin took one look at me and grinned maliciously.

“The last contestant is a very special guest. Ashby, come join us.” The guards shoved me onto the stage. There were a few gasps and a lot of jealous looks as I walked uncertainly up to Leonis’s dad. He took my hand and spun me around.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Ashby Mellark.” The audience suddenly erupted with surprised gasps and a few shouts. Mr Coin turned me to the audience, unfortunately staying behind me, and lifted up my chin.

“The daughter of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, we’ve waited a long time for you.” He chuckled. I wanted to vomit. He’d been waiting for me? Why? It was obvious. He wanted revenge on his wife.

“Ashby Mellark, aged 13. Her mother did this to us! She killed my wife!” He looked very angry right now. The audience cheered him and shot evil glares at me. It wasn’t like I did it! That was my mum. What was he going to do with me?

“Yeah, only cos she was a crazy psychopath.” I muttered almost inaudibly. Unfortunately, he must have heard me as he turned me around and slapped me extremely hard. I felt the heat rising in my cheeks. My anger was seriously going to take some controlling.

“Ouch!” I whispered furiously to myself. “Well, Frank’s going to kill me for ruining my make-up if I don’t die now.” I muttered so no one could hear. Apparently, Mr Coin wasn’t finished with me as he practically picked me up and shoved him onto the ground. It felt like my back had just broken but no one seemed to care. They were all too busy watching what would happen next. The pain only intensified with every movement. Guards came out of nowhere and forced me onto my knees. Leonis’s dad leaned down right into my face and I noticed they had the same eyes. The only difference was his were cold. Dead, even.

“Insult my wife again, and it’ll be the last thing you do.” He hissed angrily. I rolled my eyes as if I were speaking to someone totally harmless.

“Whatever. Jesus Christ, man, keep your head screwed on.” He clearly didn’t like this comment but was far too out of breath to do anything bad. He shot the coldest of glares at me and then addressed the guards.

“Take her away. Get her out of my sight, now.” He whispered furiously. He was breathing heavily. I almost spluttered with laughter but managed to hold it in. The Guards took me by the arms and practically carried me down the stairs. I’d had enough of it. I didn’t really want them touching me at all so I yanked my arms out of the grasps and took my seat at the end. Clearly, Mr Coin totally hated me as he’d given my chair extra thought. My chair had chains attached to it like I was a wild animal.

Too tired to even bother with saying anything I sat down in my pathetic excuse for a chair. It looked as if he planned to torture me. I was startled to find Leonis looking rather concerned for me. Rae noticed the look too and quickly started talking to him. My hero, my head thought. If Leonis thought he could pull a stunt like he did before on me he was so wrong. My guard was fully up now and I wasn’t letting it down for anyone. 

When Mr Coin was finished with his boring speeches, he told us we would be allowed an hour to meet everyone in the ballroom. I wasn’t really looking forward to this at all. A chance to meet people who’d been kidnapped with me. Yay.

The ballroom was a large, elegant room lit by one humongous chandelier. It was all so beautifully decorated but that didn’t make me want to meet anyone anymore than before.

We all poured into the large room and I’m pretty sure there were at least 30 of us. Some girls came over to me and started chatting. Unfortunately, their stylists hadn’t been like mine and had gone for an OTT kind of look. One girl, Siena, had put on a sweet dark blue dress but her stylists had gone wild and put her in a yellow, lacy dress and done her make-up in the same colour. She looked a little like a giant lemon.

“Oh, Ashby, I wish we could have had your stylists cos then we’d look as pretty as you do.” Siena said miserably. I smiled kindly at her, feeling deep sympathy. Although, Frank was probably going to kill me when he next saw me for smudging my make-up.

“Trust me, its better not to look nice because then your showing them you don’t care about what they want you to do. I turned up looking like a right idiot in my fancy dress.” I replied and they all smiled even thought I could tell the disagreed.

“It’s not that fancy a dress though.” Muttered a small blonde girl named Bryanne who was in a fancy fairy type dress. I shrugged and smiled at them casually.

“I guess I’m not much of a dress person.” I replied cheerfully. Suddenly they all looked rather nervous. Some started playing with their hair and fiddling with their scary dresses.

“I noticed.” A deep voice behind me laughed. I felt my fists clenched. Spinning around, I found Leonis in his black suit standing there. This time he managed to maintain a distance though. I glared at him.

“You again?” I muttered furiously to myself. “Don’t you know when to leave someone alone?” Leonis didn’t seem fazed. He was in an arm’s length distance. I really, really wanted to move back but they’d all grouped around me. He raised an eyebrow.

“Well, usually people don’t want me to leave them alone.” He replied, sounding so sure of himself. I didn’t like this new side to Leonis. In fact, the guy I’d met wasn’t even the same person. He’d just been acting.

“Shock. Horror. Sorry to burst your little bubble but not everybody likes you.” I snarled angrily. If that comment got to Leonis he didn’t show it. He simply leaned to whisper something to me.

“We need to talk, okay?” I was alarmed to hear that same genuine tone of voice he’d used only twice before. I eyed him suspiciously but couldn’t see the harm in talking to him. Looking back at the group of girls swooning over him, I quickly told them “I’ll be back in a minute”. I almost let him take my hand but snapped back to my senses.

He led me into a small corridor just outside the ballroom and we stepped into the shadows. I raised an eyebrow at him, wondering what exactly he had planned. Possibly a murder.

“Okay, just tell me what you want.” I demanded, getting fed up with all this sneaking around. He gave me a pained look I’d never seen before and I immediately shut up. I barely even noticed that he moved closer.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t let my dad see us. You’re supposed to be ... you know ... the enemy. Or whatever he says.” He whispered. I didn’t know what to do or say. I’d never seen him like this. He was actually worried and he wasn’t joking around or being stupid or arrogant for once. “What?” He asked when he noticed my confused look.

“You’re supposed to be mean and annoying. Not ... worried and nice.” I replied in a puzzled way. He gave me a smirk but he face immediately went back to worried glances. What the hell was going on? One minute he’s an annoying, stalker guy, the next minute he’s a mean jerk and then the next minute he’s Mr. Nice-Guy? No way was he all three people.

“Thanks.” He muttered sarcastically. No problem, my brain retorted angrily. I was getting fed up with the multiple identities thing.

“So, what do you want?” I asked impatiently, trying to keep my face neutral. I couldn’t even begin to express what I was feeling right then. Confusion, anger, more confusion. Leonis raised an eyebrow, trying not to laugh at my moodiness.

“I wanted to apologise about my dad. What he did was wrong, okay?” I stared at him gobsmacked. “But you’ve got to realise, I can’t be nice to you. I can’t ... forget it.” He actually looked nervous. I sighed rolling my eyes.

“What? Am I too stupid to understand?” I asked in a mocking tone, even though I was quite angry. Leonis laughed quietly then covered his mouth, looking around nervously.

“No. I just ... no, you don’t really need to know and it wouldn’t help anyone at all.” Leonis looked around. “You might want to prepare yourself. The next speech my dad’s gonna give ... well, let’s just say you won’t like it.” I looked at him, puzzled. I still couldn’t get my head around the fact he was actually nice. I was about to step out of the shadows when he grabbed me by the arms and pulled me back.

“Don’t forget. We aren’t friends ... or anything more. I can’t be like this with you anymore because my dad will find out. Train hard, okay?” He looked expectantly at me and I nodded. I felt bad for him. He couldn’t be himself around his own dad. Bummer.

“Leo? Leo, where are you?” I heard Rae giggle as if they were playing a game. “Leo” let go of me instantly, gave me a cocky smile and left me standing alone in the dark. I watched as Leonis led Rae off into the middle of the dance floor. Could he be himself in front of Rae? I heavily doubted it. Rae was the kind of girl who went for a guy who was even cockier and up themselves than she was. Except, I wasn’t sure if Leonis was Mr. Nice-Guy or Mr. Cocky-Annoying-But-Fit-Arrogant-Guy.

 After around five minutes, I stepped out of the shadows and joined the group of girls I’d been talking to earlier. They all crowded round me saying “What did he say? What did he say?” I laughed at their eagerness.

“Oh, not much. He was just being his normal annoying self.” I replied and they all looked rather disappointed. “I think he and Rae are totally together though.” I added and they all perked up and started spying on Leonis and Rae very unsubtly. Rae glared angrily at us as if we were ruining her special moment. We went to larger extremes and sent Siena to go and ask Leonis to dance. He smiled and obliged but Rae looked ready to suck Siena’s blood out. She stormed over to our group.

“Okay, who put her up to that?” No one answered. She decided she didn’t really care. She decided she’d rather blame me instead.

“I bet it was you, Mellark. You hate his family and anyone involved with them so you want to break me but it’s not working.” She said triumphantly. I raised an eyebrow at her, trying not to laugh. Leonis had seen Rae talking to us and looked a bit worried.

“Umm ... good luck with that but I didn’t set him and Siena up.” I replied smoothly. Rae glared doubtfully at me and trampled over to the other Capitol tributes who were talking, leaning in very close.

When we were all taken out of the hall we were split into district partners. I smiled at Danyell and waved. He grinned a toothy smile and slouched over.

“Hey, Ash. Wasn’t expecting to see you here.” He laughed smoothly. I’d never really disliked Danyell; I just didn’t like the people he hung out with. They always bossed him around lots. Some more guards took us outside and shoved us into a small cabin-on-wheels looking thing and it shot over quickly, travelling to a house in the distance, which I assumed was where we were staying. For a kidnapping, this was kind of luxurious. There had to be a catch.

My room was opposite Danyell’s room and was big and spacious. It was white with floral covers and pillows. I loved it immediately but had to constantly remind myself that everything could be bugged or have itching powder in it or just generally something sinister. I could hear others down the corridor squealing with delight at their new bedrooms. Suddenly, I wondered if Leonis was in this building. I shuddered at the though. I couldn’t take him climbing through my window one more time. Then I remembered ... there was no mum here to tell me off.

 

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