The interview takes place right down the hall in the sitting room. A space has been cleared and the love seat has been moved in and surrounded by vases of red and pink roses. There are only a handful of cameras to record the event. No live audience at least.
Caesar Flickerman gives me a warm hug when I. come in. "Congratulations, Katniss. How are you faring?"
"Fine. Nervous about the interview," I say.
"Don't be. We're going to have a fabulous time," he says, giving my cheek a reassuring pat.
"I'm not good at talking about myself," I say.
"Nothing you say will be wrong," he says.
And I think, Oh, Caesar, if only that were true. But actually, President Snow may be arranging some sort of "accident" for me as we speak.
Then Peeta's there looking handsome in red and white, pulling me off to the side. "I hardly get to see you. Haymitch seems bent on keeping us apart."
Haymitch is actually bent on keeping us alive, but there are too many ears listening, so I just say, "Yes, he's gotten very responsible lately."
"Well, there's just this and we go home. Then he can't watch us all the time," says Peeta.
I feel a sort of shiver run through me and there's no time to analyze why, because they're ready for us. We sit somewhat formally on the love seat, but Caesar says, "Oh, go ahead and curl up next to him if you want. It looked very sweet." So I tuck my feet up and Peeta pulls me in close to him.
Someone counts backward and just like that, we're being broadcast live to the entire country. Caesar Flickerman is wonderful, teasing, joking, getting choked up when the occasion presents itself. He and Peeta already have the rapport they established that night of the first interview, that easy banter, so I just smile a lot and try to speak as little as possible. I mean, I have to talk some, but as soon as I can I redirect the conversation back to Peeta.
Eventually though, Caesar begins to pose questions that insist on fuller answers. "Well, Peeta, we know, from our days in the cave, that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?" Caesar says.
"From the moment I laid eyes on her," says Peeta.
"But, Katniss, what a ride for you. I think the real excitement for the audience was watching you fall for him. When did you realize you were in love with him?" asks Caesar.
"Oh, that's a hard one. " I give a faint, breathy laugh and look down at my hands. Help.
"Well, I know when it hit me. The night when you shouted out his name from that tree," says Caesar.
Thank you, Caesar! I think, and then go with his idea. "Yes, I guess that was it. I mean, until that point, I just tried not to think about what my feelings might be, honestly, because it was so confusing and it only made things worse if I actually cared about him. But then, in the tree, everything changed," I say.
"Why do you think that was?" urges Caesar.
"Maybe. because for the first time. there was a chance I could keep him," I say.
Behind a cameraman, I see Haymitch give a sort of huff with relief and I know I've said the right thing. Caesar pulls out a handkerchief and has to take a moment because he's so moved. I can feel Peeta press his forehead into my temple and he asks, "So now that you've got me, what are you going to do with me?"
I turn in to him. "Put you somewhere you can't get hurt." And when he kisses me, people in the room actually sigh.
For Caesar, this is a natural place to segue into all the ways we did get hurt in the arena, from burns, to stings, to wounds. But it's not until we get around to the mutts that I forget I'm on camera. When Caesar asks Peeta how his "new leg" is working out.
"New leg?" I say, and I can't help reaching out and pulling up the bottom of Peeta's pants. "Oh, no," I whisper, taking in the metal-and-plastic device that has replaced his flesh.
"No one told you?" asks Caesar gently. I shake my head.
"I haven't had the chance," says Peeta with a slight shrug.
"It's my fault," I say. "Because I used that tourniquet."
"Yes, it's your fault I'm alive," says Peeta.
"He's right," says Caesar. "He'd have bled to death for sure without it."
I guess this is true, but I can't help feeling upset about it to the extent that I'm afraid I might cry and then I remember everyone in the country is watching me so I just bury my face in Peeta's shirt. It takes them a couple of minutes to coax me back out because it's better in the shirt, where no one can see me, and when I do come out, Caesar backs off questioning me so I can recover. In fact, he pretty much leaves me alone until the berries come up.
"Katniss, I know you've had a shock, but I've got to ask. The moment when you pulled out those berries. What was going on in your mind. hm?" he says.
I take a long pause before I answer, trying to collect my thoughts. This is the crucial moment where I either challenged the Capitol or went so crazy at the idea of losing Peeta that I can't be held responsible for my actions. It seems to call for a big, dramatic speech, but all I get out is one almost inaudible sentence. "I don't know, I just. couldn't bear the thought of. being without him."
"Peeta? Anything to add?" asks Caesar.
"No. I think that goes for both of us," he says.
Caesar signs off and it's over. Everyone's laughing and crying and hugging, but I'm still not sure until I reach Haymitch. "Okay?" I whisper.
"Perfect," he answers.
I go back to my room to collect a few things and find there's nothing to take but the mockingjay pin Madge gave me. Someone returned it to my room after the Games. They drive us through the streets in a car with blackened windows, and the train's waiting for us. We barely have time to say good-bye to Cinna and Portia, although we'll see them in a few months, when we tour the districts for a round of victory ceremonies. It's the Capitol's way of reminding people that the Hunger Games never really go away. We'll be given a lot of useless plaques, and everyone will have to pretend they love us.
The train begins moving and we're plunged into night until we clear the tunnel and I take my first free breath since the reaping. Effie is accompanying us back and Haymitch, too, of course. We eat an enormous dinner and settle into silence in front of the television to watch a replay of the interview. With the Capitol growing farther away every second, I begin to think of home. Of Prim and my mother. Of Gale. I excuse myself to change out of my dress and into a plain shirt and pants. As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in its braid, I begin transforming back into myself. Katniss Everdeen. A girl who lives in the Seam. Hunts in the woods. Trades in the Hob. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta's arm around my shoulders feels alien.