I barely have time to register that I've vomited before I get dizzy. I try to take a step, but it ends up in the middle of the mess, and I go down.
It's not the first time I've fallen down drunk, but it's the first time I've done it in front of tributes. Instead of me helping them, suddenly, each of them has taken one of my arms to pull me up. A big part of me wants to just sit down and cry. I can't think when I've been so ashamed, and I've had plenty of opportunities to compare it to.
But I won't make it worse by crying.
I think I manage to come up with something about tripping. I don't know. It doesn't matter. They saw what they saw.
They lug me down the train to my compartment. Inside, they pause at the bed. I try to reach for it, but they don't let me. Instead, they pull me to the tub and dump me into it. Peeta reaches up and turns on the shower. Cool water washes over me. I see them through it, prisms catching into strange sunbursts around them. I lower my head.
"It's okay," Peeta says. "I'll take it from here."
I try to shake my head. I can wash myself, at least. But I can't seem to look up.
"All right. I can send one of the Capitol people to help you." Katniss's voice seems far away. It's the first time I've heard her speak since she said her name. Her voice is tight with anger.
"No," Peeta says. "I don't want them."
I hear the door close, then Peeta starts to unbutton my shirt. I shake my head.
"You have to get cleaned up," he says implacably.
"No, you can't." He pulls my shirt off and tosses it aside, then pours some kind of shampoo on my head. He starts to wash my hair.
Danny did this once. Only then, it wasn't my own filth he was cleaning off of me. It was something much more foul. I force myself not to think about it.
"Stop," I say.
"Do you need to vomit again?"
"I'll wash myself."
"No. You're going to sit there under the water wishing for a drink." Peeta starts rinsing the soap out of my hair. He carefully grabs a towel to keep it from going into my eyes. "My dad yelled at you, didn't he?"
I don't answer.
"I'm sorry if he did. It was bad enough already, wasn't it? And you used to be friends, right?"
He picks up a sponge and starts on my neck and shoulders. "He told you that I want Katniss to come home."
"He's right. I do. I'm going to get her home."
I don't say anything.
Peeta turns down the temperature on the water and just lets it run over me a little bit. He sits on the side of the tub with the sponge in his hands, staring at it like it might have some answer for him. He's not a copy of Danny, though there's a similarity to them. He has the blond hair and blue eyes that all of the merchants have, and, like his mother, a mess of wild curls on his head. (Danny has a few curls, but he has nothing on any of his sons in this department. Peeta's curls are almost as crazy as mine.) He wears his hair short, but lets a long shock of bangs come down over his forehead. There's something of Mir in his nose and mouth, but his eyes are Danny's, completely unchanged. He isn't exceptionally tall, but he's strong and sturdy.
"It's not because I want to die," he says. "I don't. But I can't let her die. People need her. I've watched her. She doesn't know that. She's…" He sighs heavily. "Dad's got two other sons. Once you get the heir and the spare, it's kind of superfluous, anyway."
I want to tell him that he's not superfluous to his father, but it's awkward to talk like this, with me half-naked in a bath tub and him thinking that he's supposed to play nursemaid.
"And Dad… he raised me to look at what other people need. Maybe that is what I need -- to feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. I don't know." He bites his lip. "I guess he wants you to talk me out of it."
"Tell him you did," he says. "Tell him you talked sense into me, and it was all just bad luck. I never should have told him, anyway. I just… I wanted him to know that it'll be on my terms. Guess that was dumb."
He gets up and wrings the sponge out in the sink.
The cold water is sobering me up a little bit. "Peeta," I say.
He looks over his shoulder.
"I did talk you into it."
"Water covers in here. But the train's bugged. You're playing by the rules for them."
His eyes widen, then he nods. "Right. Fighting for my life here."
"You need to do that. Even with your… game plan. You hold on as long as you can. It's no good if you sacrifice yourself for her at the Cornucopia, then she dies on the third day out because you weren't there for her, right?"
"I didn't think of that."
"Think." I rub my head. I'm not quite ready to deal with this. It doesn't really matter if he dies at the Cornucopia or on the last day -- dead will still be dead. But if I can just get the time to think…
"Okay." He frowns. "Can you really get yourself cleaned up? Because…"
"You don't want to wash up a naked drunk? I'm shocked."
He smiles wearily. "Dad drank himself into a fit once when he and Mom were fighting. I took care of him. It's no big deal. He didn't even remember the next day. You won't, either."
"I will," I say. "I don't black out much. So… I'm awake. I can get the hard to reach places, if you don't mind."
He gives me a skeptical look. "I guess if you can think about bugs, you can probably wash yourself." He doesn't seem all that convinced. "But I'll be right outside if you need me. Yell if you get dizzy."
Peeta stays a few seconds more, obviously torn on this, then goes out into the rest of the compartment.
I strip down and take a quick shower. I think shaving can wait for tomorrow.
When I finish, I find that Peeta has left a pair of pajamas, underwear, and a robe by the door. I put them on and go out. Peeta is sitting at my desk, looking at the sponsor books. The black lines through the canceled sponsorships accuse me mutely.
"Better?" I ask, running a towel over my hair as I sit down on the edge of the bed. I'm still sick to my stomach and off my game, but I feel more normal. Peeta has cleaned up the spilled bottle of gin, and cracked a window for some fresh air. It makes a not-unpleasant whistling sound.
"A couple of people annoyed?" Peeta asks, nodding at the book.
"I'll fix it. I'll grovel to whoever I need to grovel to."
He nods and closes the book, then turns the chair around toward me. He leans forward, elbows on his knees. "Are you going to be okay to help us?"
"Yeah. By hook or by crook."
"Is it… okay that I'm scared?"
"You'd be nuts otherwise. But don't show it. I don't think you can get away with pulling a Johanna Mason."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Think. Remember, the cameras are always on, from here on out."
"Okay. So, what do I do?"
I think about it. "Let me sleep it off. I'll meet you at breakfast."
"Okay. We start over at breakfast, then."
"What happens tomorrow?"
"Prep," I tell him. "They'll wash you. Shave you. And they won't let you tell them that you can do it yourself."
"There's a shot, too. To keep you from disturbing the lines of costumes."
"If you plan to entertain yourself, do it tonight."
He wrinkles his nose. "Thanks for the tip."
We look at each other, then, astoundingly, he starts to laugh, his face going completely red. I can't help it. I laugh back.
He opens the door. "I'll see you at breakfast."
The laughter doesn't last long, but it clears my mind better than the cool water did. I go back to the sponsor list. There's not much I can do from the train, and I can't think of anything that will get back the Collingsworth woman, but when Effie comes by, I go out into the corridor and ask her to set up a meeting for me with the president of the Daughters of the Founding, during prep if possible.
"I already did," she says. "You seemed upset. Before supper, I used the communications car. I took the liberty to set up the appointment. Are you feeling better? Will you be up to the meeting?"
"I will. Just… I'll need coffee tomorrow morning. And can you make sure I'm up for breakfast?"
"Effie… I'm sorry about today."
She smiles, and it's so close to her old smile that I almost think it's her. "That's why there's tomorrow. I'll see you then."
She goes into her compartment.
I go back to mine.
Sleep doesn't come easily, despite the chemicals still perking through my blood. I watch the reapings around the country. Chaff's tribute, a huge boy named Thresh, looks pretty formidable. Seeder's girl, a delicate twelve-year-old named Rue, looks like a breeze will blow her over, but, like Katniss, she stands calmly on the stage after the reaping. There's the usual crowd of Career volunteers for the most part, though, as in Finnick's year, there's no volunteer for the boy, leaving Finnick with a rather scrawny fifteen year old boy and the news with speculation that he'll be another Finnick. The District Six tributes act like they've been defeated already. The girl from District Eight, Kersey, exchanges a glance with Cecelia, so I suspect they know each other. A boy in the crowd tries to run forward, but of course, a boy can't volunteer for a girl. (I've often thought that, if they allowed that, all of my tributes would be boys, because they couldn't stand the shame otherwise.)
I think of Katniss, standing on the stage, her face straining to remain calm. I think of Peeta, sitting at the edge of the tub, staring at the sponge. Of Danny. Of Ruth. Of Maysilee's mockingjay.
I finally fall into a thin sleep, deep in the night. I dream of Maysilee. We are in her uncle's stationery shop. In reality, it's been closed since Herk Donner died ten years ago. No one could afford to take it on, and now the reaping cards are managed at the Justice Building. In my dream, it's open. Maysilee and I are young, but I know it's not the past. I'm always sixteen in my dreams, and she was never any older. She was supposed to inherit the shop, and now, she's doing the inventory. There are boxes of mockingjay pins behind the counter. I have the vague idea that she means to hand them out to people, or maybe air-drop them. She's carrying a box around, but she's not talking about them.
"Oh, look!" she says, and gets down a shiny book with a picture of me on the cover. I know it. It's called, One in a Million Shot: Our New Quell Victor, Haymitch Abernathy. There's a copy of it, still wrapped in plastic, somewhere in my house. I read it once in the Capitol when I was really drunk and desperately missed my family. There are pictures in the middle. One of them is of me with Maysilee, huddled together against the hedge. When she opens the book, it's not a picture, but a video. In it, she asks me to tell her a story.
"Hmm," she says. "We sure looked cozy, didn't we?"
"Oh, yeah. Except for people trying to kill us."
She laughs at this. "There's that." She turns the page, and there's another video, this one not of anything that was in the book. It didn't happen until the next year.
I am sitting in the mentor's quarters in the Training Center, speaking to my first sponsor, Laurentia Hoops, who says, I never sponsored anyone before last year, but you and Maysilee were so wonderful with each other. I wish I could have saved both of you.
Then she tells me that my accent is adorable.
"What are you trying to tell yourself?" Maysilee asks me.
"Nothing useful. Just wishful thinking." I shrug. "I sure wish you'd gotten your shop."
"Well, that was out of the cards as soon as I got reaped. Victors don't own shops."
"I know. Wouldn't want us doing anything useful."
"Yeah, can't allow that." She grins. I start to leave, but she says, "Haymitch?"
She reaches into the box and tosses me a mockingjay pin. "Don't forget."
I look at it, and suddenly, it melts through my hand, pulling me backward, into the rain in District Twelve, then down through the mud, and I'm drowning in it. I see the pin above me somehow and try to reach up for it, but it stays just out of reach.
I wake up, twisted up in my bed sheets, before Effie comes to get me. My head is pounding and my stomach still feels like there's a melee going on in there, but the last of the drunkenness has passed. I want another drink immediately, but I remember: I'm on my own, with two hostages to fortune.
I force myself out of bed, and by the time Effie comes for me, I'm dressed and ready for breakfast. She's still groggy and half-asleep, and starts pouring coffee for both of us the second we get to the dining car.
Peeta has beaten both of us here. I'd guess he's habitually up before dawn to work in the bakery. There's a pile of food beside him, but he's not eating yet.
I sit down and grab a roll. Bread will settle my stomach. "Not planning to eat?"
"It seemed rude to start alone."
Effie's eyes light up momentarily at the idea of a tribute who knows the word "rude," but then she gets confused, since, in the Capitol, manners have less to do with the rules of making other people comfortable and more to do with proving to them that you know all of the same secret codes. It didn't confuse her before. She knew how to use the district concept to convey the Capitol concept, so that the tributes would do both. Now, she's stuck on the idea that someone can be worried about being polite without knowing the proper order of a formal meal.
"I did have some of this," he says, pointing to a tureen. "It tastes like chocolate."
"It is. It's better chocolate than your dad can get in Twelve."
"What's it called? The drink, I mean."
I smile. "Hot chocolate. Not exactly creative, but it gets the point across."
"Yeah, but I better get on the coffee." I down part of the cup Effie gave me. It's pretty vile, and doesn't sit well, but it will keep me alert.
"Oh," Peeta says. "Right."
He seems to need some kind of reassurance that I'm not still drunk, so I joke with him a little bit about the upcoming prep session. I think he doesn't believe me about some of it. He picks up a roll and starts to eat.
"They're not going to wax you down quite as much as they'll get Katniss," I tell him. "But believe me, you're going to find out there's hair in places you never thought about." I laugh. He looks at me awkwardly, but maybe with a little bit of trust.
The door opens and Katniss Everdeen comes in, brushing past Effie. She's back in the green outfit, Maysilee's pin glowing against it. I'll have to tell her about it someday, but right now, it doesn't seem like the time. She slept in the elaborate up-do she had for the reaping. I think Cinna will like it.
I wave her over and signal to the waiters to bring her breakfast. "Sit down! Sit down!"
I start to tell her to fill up and get as many calories as she can without making herself sick, but she seems to already be on top of that. Peeta pours her a glass of hot chocolate, which she takes without paying attention. He tells her what it is. She seems to like it.
Effie brings me a small bottle of gin and a glass of cranberry juice, possibly the vilest drink I can imagine… perfect for keeping me on a short leash. She wrinkles her nose, then goes to get ready for the day. It's medicinal-tasting, which is exactly what it should be. I drink while the kids gorge themselves. I notice Katniss looking at me with flat disapproval. Peeta is also doing a slow burn.
"So, you're supposed to give us advice," Katniss says.
Just like that. That's another change. Usually, this early, they're still trying to convince themselves that it's not all a cosmic mistake, to be rectified as soon as possible. "Here's some advice," I say. "Stay alive." It's something Chaff has said to me on many occasions, and probably the only advice that means anything in the arena, but when I laugh, they don't join me.
"That's very funny," Peeta says, then there's a sharp pain as he knocks the glass out of my hand. It shatters on the floor. "Only not to us."
I look between them. They're not trying to convince themselves of anything. They're both here, both completely present, both aware of what's happening.
I don't really have a plan for this. The train ride and the time before prep is usually wasted time for anything other than Effie's manners lessons. And here they both are, both of them… possible.
I know Katniss speaks victor. I saw it on the stage yesterday. But Peeta is another question. I'd written him off because of Danny's stress on his good heart. A baker and an artist. Danny's kid.
But also Mir's. I wonder if he has just enough of her hardness to make it.
I take a swing at him.
It connects harder than I expect it to, sending him down to the floor. I reach for the bottle of gin, figuring he'll go for that -- it's a trigger for him, apparently.
Instead, Katniss jams her knife into the table between my hand and the bottle. Her shoulders go tense, but her face is cold. No anger. No fear.
"What's this?" I ask. "Did I actually get a pair of fighters this year?"
Peeta must realize what I did and why, because he stops fighting. He gets up and reaches for the ice.
"No," I tell him, thinking about my own year, about the way the other victors took to me because I put Albinus Drake on the floor. I wonder if that slipped out. There are viewers of the Games who probably would have liked that. "Let the bruise show. The audience will think you've mixed it up with another tribute before you've even made it to the arena."
Peeta raises an eyebrow. "That's against the rules," he tells the bugs.
"Only if they catch you. That bruise will say you fought, you weren't caught, even better." I look at Katniss, who still has her hand on the hilt of the knife in the table. "Can you hit anything with that knife besides a table?"
She pulls it out of the table and lets it fly at the wall. It jams up to the hilt in the seam between two panels. I don't know if it's luck or skill. Either one will be useful in the arena.
All year, I've been trying to concoct a crazy scheme to use the Games for the rebellion. I've talked to Chaff and Finnick about what kinds of tributes could make it work. Wishing for good ones.
Well, wishes are apparently sometimes granted. I should know better than making them.
"Stand over there," I tell them. "Both of you."
They give each other a long-suffering look, then stand in the spot on the floor that I'm pointing at.
Absolutely no one in District Twelve would think they fit together. Peeta is definitely from town -- blond and decently-fed. Despite having Ruth for a mother, Katniss is Glen's girl in terms of looks -- straight Seam, with long black hair and piercing gray eyes. Her olive skin is smooth, but dry, and this close, I can see the places where the coal dust has already started to settle. She's thin, but not as skinny as most Seam girls. I'm guessing she breaks a few rules to keep her family fed, since there's no way Ruth's skill with plants is bringing in regular money down there, especially since she takes care of a lot of people for free. There's a wiry strength in her that I know well.
In Twelve, people would see these two standing together and automatically assume they have nothing to do with each other. I remember times when I first started taking fancy classes that even my teacher would look up when I came in and ask if I was carrying a message for them. As to friendship? Even I didn't realize that Maysilee was my friend, at least until she saved my life in the arena.
But what Twelve sees doesn't matter. In the Capitol audience, they'll see two strong, attractive kids who come from the same district, who will be together all the time. They're likeable. They're polite (well, in Katniss's case, sort of polite, by Capitol standards). They're inseparable. Katniss and Peeta. Peeta and Katniss. By the time Cinna and I are done, it will be unthinkable to the audience to lose one of them.
Except they will.
That was supposed to be the point. To make the audience feel this impossible pressure.
I wasn't supposed to be the first to feel it.
My eyes fall on the broken glass on the floor. They're disgusted with my drinking, and I don't blame them, but unless they want me hallucinating in a hospital somewhere, they're going to have to put up with it a little better. I'll have Effie helping me to control it.
"Well," I say, "you're not entirely hopeless. Seem fit. And once the stylists get hold of you, you'll be attractive enough."
Peeta rolls his eyes. Katniss just glares.
"All right. I'll make a deal with you. You don't interfere with my drinking, and I'll stay sober enough to help you. But you have to do exactly what I say."
"Fine," Peeta says.
"So help us," Katniss says. " When we get to the arena, what's the best strategy at the Cornucopia for someone -- "
I put my hand on my head. Of course. She wants the Cornucopia. I'll figure out a way around that later. "One thing at a time. In a few minutes, we'll be pulling into the station. You'll be put in the hands of your stylists. You're not going to like what they do to you. But no matter what it is, don't resist."
"But -- " Katniss starts.
"No buts," I say. "Don't resist."
I look at them again. They're looking back, waiting for some stellar advice, but I can't give it to them yet. I don't know them well enough, and I don't know what the other tributes will be like. I do know that I'll have to keep them from the Cornucopia. Peeta's strong, but I don't think he'd do well in a melee. Katniss seems to rely on her aim, which will be useless when she's still unarmed.
I nod at them and go back to my compartment to get ready. As I go in, the train enters the tunnel that leads to the Capitol. The emergency lights come on. I change my shirt, to get rid of the cranberry juice on the sleeve.
The compartment fills with sunlight as we leave the tunnel. It's a beautiful day in the Capitol. I can see the lake in the distance as the train slows down, and the crowds gathering in the streets to get their first glimpse of the tributes. As the train comes to a stop, they go wild.
Apparently, my tributes are already playing to them.