FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

The Last Tribute: Chapter Six

After the parade, the mood is pretty hopeful in the District Twelve quarters, though Haymitch is getting surly without much to drink.


Chapter Six
Effie has left instructions with the Avoxes to give me one small flask of the awful cranberry and gin she gave me on the train, to last me until she gives them new orders. I try to countermand it (technically, I'm the boss, though Effie's the first escort in the history of the Games to take this seriously, as far as I know), but she's told them that the order comes from me, along with the order to not let me countermand it. It's Lavinia who gives it to me, and she has an extremely irritating smirk when she does so.

I don't sleep particularly well that night, and I wake up as soon as I hear movement out in the sitting area. I fight to stay asleep a little longer, but it's no good. Usually, the tributes are too exhausted after the prep and parade to get up at the crack of dawn, but I guess Peeta's so used to it that he couldn't stop if he tried.

I grab my flask, put it in the pocket of my robe, and go out to join him.

He's watching television, a sketchbook balanced on his knees and a black pencil in his hand. The page is blank, other than a single, uncertain line.

It's too early for the Capitol to be up, so it's not Games coverage. It's a cartoon that seems to involve a little girl in pigtails, an octopus Peacekeeper, and a dog flying a hover craft. Peeta doesn't look terribly interested in it. He's already dressed in the black pants and burgundy tunic that Cinna sent over for training. Katniss will have one just like it waiting for her.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey." I sit down and watch the octopus fire several guns at a shifty looking guy in a tattered coat. "Exciting stuff."

"Where are the parents?" Peeta asks. "I've been watching for an hour."

"You have? Peeta, it's not even six."

He shrugs. "It's almost eight o'clock at home. My brain's been up even longer than I have. Did I wake you up? I didn't mean to."

"It's all right. I was half-awake, anyway."

He nods and looks back at the television. "So… where are the grown-ups?"

"I noticed that, too. Capitol parents -- I can't even start to explain. It doesn't make sense to me. They barely know each other."

"That's weird. I mean, my mom pretty much hates me, but at least she knows me." He shakes his head. "It must be hard work, getting people to live like that. They aren't very happy, are they?"

"No, I don't think they are." I let the silence hang for a minute, then say, "How are you feeling?"

"How am I supposed to feel?" He looks at me. "They haven't just been running cartoons. The chariot goes by every twenty minutes or so, along the bottom of the screen -- you know, saying that the day's coverage starts at ten. I think I'm in it." He frowns. "It's what I wanted."

I rub my head. "Come on downstairs. Let's get some fresh air."

I don't bother getting dressed first. I doubt there's any state of disarray that people haven't seen me in over the last twenty-three years.

Peeta gathers up the sketchbook and follows me quietly down to the garden. We sit by the fountain.

"Is this loud enough?" he asks.

I look up.

"Cinna took me out on the roof last night. He said the fans are loud."

"Oh. Right. Yeah, it's loud enough, as long as we're quiet. You can't be this far out of the apartment without me or the Games staff, though. Afraid you'll make a run for it." I take a good look at him. He looks distant and tired. "You don't have to play it this way, Peeta. You play it straight. I'll back you."

"No, you won't. Do you think I don't know that you think she can win?"

"If there were two mentors -- "

"But there aren't. There's you. And you can't pick both of us. And that's okay. I want her to go home, so if you back her, it's like backing me."

"Peeta --"

"I don't want to die," he says. "That's all this is. I'm going to die, and I don't want to. I don't think any of the others do, either."

"No, they don't."

"So, I'll just be one of the twenty-three who doesn't get to live. As long as she does, I'm okay."

"Is that what you were talking to Cinna about on the roof?"

"No. He wanted to tell me that they, the press and so on, were going to concentrate more on Katniss -- that it was normal for the girl to get the attention after the parade, that kind of thing. He said Portia's going to style me to get some attention in the interviews." He laughs. "I think he was apologizing."

"That's all he said?"

"That, and that you sent him one of Dad's cakes. I told him I did the decorating. He told me it was good. He gave me this sketchbook." He holds it up. "He just ripped his drawings out and gave it to me, and a couple of charcoal pencils. Only I can't draw. I just sat there with the pencil and kind of stared at the paper."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I have a sketchbook at home. I use every corner of both sides of every sheet to draw out the designs. It never had as many pages as this one, and it was really expensive. I keep it wrapped in plastic so nothing happens to it. But Cinna just gave me one of his."

I nod. "He's a decent guy. And paper's not quite as big a deal here." I watch him for a minute or so. He's just staring at the fountain. I sigh. "I'm going to try one more time. Peeta, you can play this to win. You don't have to make the sacrifice play. She might not even let you."

"It probably won't be anything big. I'll probably just go down at the Cornucopia."

"Not if you don't go anywhere near it, which you're not going to do."

He doesn't answer. Instead, he opens the sketchbook. "Can I draw you?" he asks. "I mean, I can't think of anything else."

"Like this? In my robe?"

"It would just be your face, mostly."

There are a hundred things I prefer to posing for pictures, but Peeta needs something to occupy his mind. I agree, and even let him put me in better sunlight. He draws for about forty-five minutes. This seems to free him up a little bit. He starts talking about the bakery, and what he'd be doing now at home. He tells me that he's been drawing on whatever scraps of paper he could find for as long as he can remember. He tells me about a lot of different people that he goes to school with, most of whom I wouldn't know if I fell over them. I ask if he knew Katniss before this.

"Not many people know her," he says. "But I always wished I did. I'm not the only one. People wonder about her." He smooths something on the drawing. "The only people I know she's friends with are Madge Undersee and Gale Hawthorne. He's the boy who carried Primrose away."

I have a vague recollection of him -- I remember thinking that he'd better get back to the other eighteen-year-olds before Effie called the boy -- but I can't place his face. I'm less interested in what Peeta's telling me in words than what I'm learning from him. He's observant and interested in people. The first will serve him well in the arena. The second? If he gets allies, it will work for him on screen.

He finishes the sketch. It's a good likeness, but I don't think his heart was in it. He seems a little apathetic toward it, at any rate. We go upstairs for breakfast.

Katniss is up when we get there, and has started breakfast from the sideboard. She seems to be trying to pack on weight before the arena. It's not a bad plan, though she may regret it the first few days, when she's gotten herself used to being full and suddenly isn't. We all say good morning to each other, and eat in relative silence. Neither of them is exactly skimping, and I don't, either, though my excuse isn't as good as theirs.

If they were in different years, I could bring them both home.

I force it out of my head. It's not on the table. But I'm going to keep them both alive for as long as I possibly can. I guess if it comes down to resources, I'll put them with Katniss -- Peeta wants me to, anyway -- but there's more to the Games than sponsorship.

When we slow down, I take a quick drink from the flask, then say, "So, let's get down to business. First off, if you like, I'll coach you separately. Decide now."

"Why would you coach us separately?" Katniss asks.

I shrug. I know they aren't really competing with each other. He never will be, and she isn't there yet (though I suspect she thinks she is). "Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about," I suggest.

"I don't have any secret skills," Peeta says. "And I already know what yours is, right? I mean, I've eaten enough of your squirrels."

This seems to flummox Katniss somehow, but she agrees to be trained together. I ask them what they can do, and end up as an eavesdropper at the strangest conversation I've ever heard at the Games. Peeta insists that he can only bake, then Katniss tells me that she's "all right" with a bow and arrow.

That's when it gets strange.

"She's excellent!" Peeta insists. "My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye. It's the same with the rabbits she sells the butcher. She can even bring down deer."

Katniss recoils. "What are you doing?"

"What are you doing?" Peeta looks at me "If he's going to help you, he has to know what you're capable of. Don't underrate yourself."

Her eyes widen, then she turns on him furiously. "What about you? I've seen you in the market. You can lift hundred pound bags of flour. Tell him that. That's not nothing."

I put my hands to my head. They are practically screaming at each other. Peeta's determined that strength isn't as helpful as being able to use a weapon. Katniss says -- though it's more like an accusation -- that he's a wrestler, and only his own brother has ever beaten him. He dismisses it. She says that he'll be able to win if he just gets a knife, and she'll die if someone jumps her.

"But you won't!" he yells. "You'll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say goodbye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn't mean me, she meant you!"

I know this, of course. I'd assumed, when Danny told me, that it was his interpretation, but if anything, Peeta seems to have taken it even more literally.

I hate Mirrem Mellark.

"Oh, she meant you," Katniss says, waving it off.

"She said, 'She's a survivor, that one.' She is."

Katniss's strange fury dies suddenly. She looks shocked, but not entirely surprised. When she speaks, her voice is small and far away. "But only because someone helped me."

Peeta looks at her hands and I realize that somewhere along the line, he's helped her before, in some way so important that the surly, ill-tempered girl disappears completely in the face of it.

Neither of them offers an explanation. Peeta just tells her that people will always help her.

"She has no idea," he tells me. "The effect she can have."

I'm not sure what to say to this. She certainly has an effect on Peeta, and she certainly caught the crowd's attention last night. And mine on the reaping stage.

And the Capitol's. And the districts'.

Did you know that Katniss Everdeen is being called 'the Girl on Fire'?

I think about Beetee asking about her, and not Peeta. I think about the way the crowd saluted her.

There's something there.

Amusingly, she seems to take Peeta's comment as a personal insult, and glowers at him across the table.

Well, I'm amused, anyway. I don't need to wait for Effie to arrive to know that she'd be horrified, and she'd probably be as right as she is when she corrects me. We're going to have to work on Katniss Everdeen's wounded pride before the end.

I think about the two of them. This strange dynamic is different from anything else I've worked with. The old rules apply, of course -- I tell them not to demonstrate their best skills in front of the other tributes, and save them for the private sessions -- but it seems to me that I may need some new rules for them, aside from just visually pairing them. I think I need to drive this as far as I can. It will bring sponsors for both of them, and make it even harder for the audience to deal with a choice.

"One last thing," I say. "In public, I want you by each other's side every minute."

"But we can learn more if we go to different stations -- "

"But we have to be against -- "

I interrupt their objections "Every minute! It's not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said. You will be together, you will appear amiable to each other. Now get out. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training."

They disappear to their rooms. I sit down on the couch to think. I feel like I've been sent up into the arena with a loaded machine gun, but I haven't the first idea how to fire it, and if I don't figure it out, they could both be cut down while I'm still standing there staring at it stupidly.

I'm still thinking when Effie arrives at nine-forty-five, wearing my old district token. She doesn't comment on it. I hand her my flask, and she seems pleased to find that there are still a few swallows left in it. She goes to the bar and refills it.

I go into my room to get cleaned up and dressed, and by the time I'm done, she's taken the kids downstairs. She comes back up while the Avoxes are clearing away breakfast.

"They're eager this year," she says. "Goodness, it's still not ten, and we were the last ones down."

"Their mentors probably told them to get there as early as possible to try and intimidate Katniss after the parade. Did it work?"

"That's certainly devious," she says. "Really, Haymitch."

"Was she intimidated?"

"They were both nervous." She grabs a melon from the sideboard before it's taken away and starts eating. "Why did Cinna dress them alike?"

"I'm keeping them together as a team," I tell her.

"Why?"

"Just a thought."

She takes a bite. "I like it."

"You do?"

"It feels nice. Like they're friends."

"They might be. I don't know. There's something odd there."

"Maybe they're secretly in love," Effie suggests lightly.

"I don't think they know each other all that well."

"Neither did you and your ally at first."

"We weren't secretly in love."

She grins. "Well, maybe you weren't."

"She wasn't, either," I say. This is true -- Maysilee's feelings weren't very secret at all. She told me that she thought my girl was the luckiest girl in the world. She was strange that way.

I shake my head. Maysilee seems to be everywhere this year. Ghosts.

And the pin, of course. The damned pin.

"Now, I've been taking calls at my place. That's why I was a few minutes late today. There were so many I could actually weed out the -- "

"Low pledges?"

"The ones that seemed off," she says. "There were a good few of them, too, but we don't need their sort, not this year. I took ten small sponsorships over the phone, and you have four meetings today with bigger sponsors." She hands me a schedule and the list of pledges she's already gotten. "I gave you some time for lunch -- I know you don't like meeting over meals -- but I don't know if you'll have a lot of time to watch them train."

"I've had worse problems. I'll just talk to them about it." I look over at Peeta's sketchbook, left casually on an end table. His picture of me looks back blandly. "We're on the same page about keeping them together, then?" I ask.

"Absolutely."

"I need you to get them as polished as possible for the public appearances. After the parade, they're being watched carefully. Peeta's not going to be a problem, but Katniss can get a little surly."

"I've noticed. She snapped at me on the train, you know."

I have no doubt that Effie said something tactless to precipitate this. Since she went back to Capitol Dreams to be "cured" of the grievous affliction of actually caring about people, she's had a very bad sense of timing and a tin ear. But she's not the only one in the Capitol with those problems, and Katniss can't snap at all of them. Before the Games begin, the sponsorships are still theoretical. Until the gong rings in the arena, they can back out. They usually don't, and my regulars never do, but new sponsors tend to be skittish, and the ones who were charmed by her in the parade aren't going to like her when she's not throwing kisses.

"Well, I'm not the best example for her," I say. "So, you make sure she knows how to smile and do all those annoying things you make me do for sponsors."

"I imagine I'll have about as easy a time of it with her."

"Most likely." I read the list of new sponsors. "Speaking of annoying things to do with sponsors, anything I need to know about these before I go?"

She doesn't have anything specific. All four are new to District Twelve, and two are new to Games sponsorship altogether. One of these, the owner of a major department store, may be envisioning a line of flaming clothes for next season.

I go to my morning meetings. The sponsors are enthusiastic, and mostly nice, though I think Effie's judgment is a little off on a banker who's showing far too much interest in Katniss's personal life. At least I can very honestly tell him that I have no idea whatsoever about it.

I meet Chaff and Seeder for lunch at a restaurant near Games headquarters. Chaff's tribute, Thresh, is distinctly uninterested in alliances.

"The boy's about as social as a rock," he says. "Strong as an ox, but he's going to be a challenge for the cameras."

"I know what you mean," I say.

"Your boy?" Seeder asks. "He seemed pleasant, from what I saw in training this morning."

"He means the girl," Chaff says.

"The one throwing kisses around?"

"No, the one in the gym this morning. Didn't you see her? She's keeping to herself, only talking to her district partner, and scowling a lot. Basically, she's Haymitch in a pigtail. No one wants to see that."

"Very funny," I say.

"Who's joking?"

Seeder dismisses this with a wave. "Rue wants to meet her. She liked her in the reaping."

"Probably wishes her sister had stepped up for her," I say. "Poor kid."

"No. It's not that. I mean, no one wants to be here. But Rue is an older sister. I think she sees Katniss as a kindred spirit. She said she'd have done that for any of her sisters."

"Does she want an alliance?" I ask. It occurs to me that, while Katniss wouldn't want an alliance for her own benefit, she might well take an alliance that she'd see as taking care of someone.

Maybe.

Seeder promises to ask Rue after training.

After lunch, I do my two afternoon meetings, then go back to my room and call Merle in Twelve to see if I can get some background on Katniss. He doesn't know much. He calls Madge to the phone. I know her a little bit from spending time with her parents, but I am surprised by her vehemence. She reminds me of Maysilee.

Again.

"Katniss is amazing," she says. "She keeps her family together. And she's smart. I work with her on a lot of school projects. She acts dumb sometimes, but don't let her fool you."

"Okay."

"A lot of people admire her. They don't say it, exactly, but they do. She…" Madge stops, and I guess she realizes that she's on a monitored line. "She knows a lot of adults, too. You remember Greasy Sae? And Ripper?"

I raise my eyebrows. Denizens of the Hob. Katniss must trade there, which takes a bit of savvy. "I know them."

"I think they're talking about raising money for her. They loved her dad, and they love her, too."

"Good to know."

Madge looks around a little, then says, "I gave her a district token. Just a pin… a pin I had lying around." She gives me a very significant looking frown.

"I saw it," I say.

"Will she be able to wear it in the arena?"

Maysilee wasn't able to, but then, when Maysilee had it, we didn't have a rebel Gamemaker in a decision-making position. "I think so," I say.

"Good. I hope it means something."

"It does," I say.

She nods, and lets her father back on the line.

I ask about the families. They're worried, of course, and the reporters have been hanging on them more than usual after the parade. That will probably last until they're called home at the end of the opening events, not to return until the final eight. Prim and Peeta's brother Edder are back at school, and everyone's fussing over them. People are checking on Ruth regularly. The bakery is open, and Danny and Mir are "the same as ever," though he mentions in a guarded way that Danny seems to be spending a lot of time with the oldest son, Jonadab, who got married and moved out. I'm guessing that as soon as the cameras are gone, Danny will be over there permanently.

I think about the sharp pain in Peeta's voice when he mentioned his mother. I think the best thing that woman could have done for her family would have been to stow away on a train and never set foot in Twelve again.

When I finish talking to them, I head out to the living room. There's not enough time left in the day to observe training, so I watch the coverage, which is mostly parade recaps. They do show silent footage from the gym, or, more accurately, from the cafeteria, taken during lunch. The Careers are in their usual rowdy pack, but I can see Katniss and Peeta sitting together. Peeta is showing Katniss the different breads on the table. She laughs.

They cut to coverage about Capitol gambling.

A few minutes later, the elevator comes up, and my tributes return from their first day of training. Katniss seems mentally exhausted. I guess I understand that. I am, too. Putting up with other people all day can be a chore.

Peeta's energized by it, though. While dinner is served, he talks about the other tributes they saw, and the things they did. He still has stains on his arm from the camouflage booth, where he apparently put his cake-decorating skills to work. Katniss manages to open her mouth enough to say that he's talented. I'm not sure how useful painting himself is going to be, but at least he doesn't dismiss it out of hand, so I try to be encouraging.

Effie and I start the performance drills that night. It's more than I usually do, but then, I've never had the cameras focused this heavily on my tributes in the pre-Games events. Peeta puts up with everything with good grace. Katniss does as she's told, but I can see her chafing at it. By the time we send them to bed, I think she's ready to kill me.

"She has to smile," Effie says. "We have to get her to remember that."

"I don't smile much. Didn't smile much in my Games, either."

"You also didn't have many sponsors." She sits down. "They want to like her, Haymitch. That'll be a big advantage. But it's not a guarantee."

"Well then," I say, "I guess we have our work cut out for us."
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