FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

The Last Tribute: Chapter Eight

Katniss has just come back from her assessment, and admitted that she shot at the Gamemakers.


Chapter Eight
"I shot an arrow at them," Katniss repeats. "Not exactly at them. In their direction. It's like Peeta said, I was shooting and they were ignoring me and I just… I lost my head, so I shot an apple out of their stupid roast pig's mouth!"

I press my lips together, trying very hard not to laugh at this image.

"And what did they say?" Cinna asks.

"Nothing." Katniss shrugs. "Or I don't know. I walked out after that."

Effie puts her hand to her heart. "Without being dismissed?"

"I dismissed myself."

"Well," I manage to say, "that's that." I pick up a roll and butter it. If I look at her, I'm going to start laughing.

"Do you think they'll arrest me?" she asks.

"Doubt it. Be a pain to replace you at this stage."

"What about my family? Will they punish them?"

I look up, the wild laughter inside me backing off a little. I think about my house, collapsed at the end of the Seam. If she wins and keeps up this attitude, she'll need to worry. But for now, it's more or less private, just between her and the Gamemakers. They might not even tell Snow. I try to explain this to her, and she looks at least a little bit heartened, though I do remind her that they'll most likely make things difficult in the arena.

"They've already promised to do that to us anyway," Peeta says.

"Very true." I pick up a pork chop with my fingers and dunk it in the wine Effie has allowed me to have with dinner. It's not the approved method, and I can see Effie cringing, but I want to make sure Katniss relaxes. "What were their faces like?"

"Shocked," she says. "Terrified. Uh, ridiculous, some of them. One man tripped backward into a bowl of punch."

All thoughts of my fallen house disappear, and I think of Plutarch, drenched in punch. He needs to be drenched in punch more often. I laugh. Cinna picks it up immediately, and Peeta and Portia join us. Eventually, so does Katniss. Effie's lips are twitching. I can see a little of her in there, the old Effie, the one who was more involved with her life as our escort than her life in the Capitol.

"Well, it serves them right!" she says. "It's their job to pay attention to you. And just because you come from District Twelve is no excuse to ignore you." She looks around nervously. "I'm sorry, but that's what I think."

I smile at her, and she finally gives in and laughs.

After that, we all relax and eat. The kids are worried about their scores, of course (Katniss is convinced they'll punish her with a bad one), but on the whole, they're cheering each other up. Well, Peeta is cheering Katniss up, at any rate, and he seems to be cheered by his success at it.

After years of practice, Effie and I don't need to think much to stretch out the meal until it's time for the scores to be announced. No reason for the tributes to sit in the living room biting their nails. I'm really not worried. Low scores wouldn't be a huge problem, and I really don't think it's one we'll need to deal with, anyway. The Gamemakers won't want to seem less than attuned to the public mood. Katniss and Peeta blew people away at the parade, and have been something of an item of interest during training. I doubt either of them will score under a six, no matter what the Gamemakers were paying attention to.

The Career kids, as usual, end up with eights and nines and tens. The boy from District Two is one of the tens. I wonder what he did. The girl from One also gets a ten. Even the scrawny boy from Four gets an eight; I guess Finnick's been working hard with him on something. Beetee and Wiress's tributes pull fours. Johanna's girl gets a three (I can almost hear Jo a few floors below us, saying, "Hey, that's my score!"). Cecelia's girl gets a six, and Woof's boy gets a four. There are no real surprises until little Rue is given a seven. I guess Seeder was right about her amazing way of moving.

We're last, of course. The scores are the only time the boy goes first. Peeta is given an eight, which is higher than even I'd anticipated. He looks shocked. He's in the Career range of scores.

Then they give Katniss an eleven.

Effie squeals. It's the highest score any tribute of ours has ever gotten. Katniss is flabbergasted.

"Guess they liked your temper," I tell her. "They've got a show to put on. They need some players with some heat."

She looks at me oddly, and I wonder if she's realized yet that an eleven will paint a big target on her back. If she hasn't, she will soon. But for now, it means people are going to be watching her again, looking forward to her interview, wanting to know who the girl who was on fire really is.

Cinna promises to deliver on a dress, but looks are going to be the least of Katniss Everdeen's interview problems.

I shake my head. I'll let her enjoy it for now. Hell, I'll let myself enjoy it for now. Even without the interview, she's going to have good sponsors, maybe enough to keep her fed.

I'll worry about the rest of it tomorrow.

The kids congratulate each other. When their eyes meet, I can see the knowledge that eventually dawns on each pair that comes here with me: That success for one is death for the other.

Katniss goes to her room.

"An eleven," Peeta muses. "I don't remember any elevens."

"There've been a few," I say. "Not very many."

"What did you get?"

"A ten."

"What did you do?"

"I stole their steak knife and put down all the trainers with it."

He raises his eyebrows. "So that's why you weren't worried about what Katniss did."

I nod. "If I can get close enough to steal weapons from their table, she can shoot at their pig."

"Really," Effie says. "Have you always found it necessary to tweak their noses?"

"Everyone needs a hobby," I tell her, and wink.

She blushes a little bit for some reason, then says, "Well, you should remind Katniss that it's your hobby. She can't tweak noses from the interview stage."

"You don't think they'll like her?" Peeta asks, surprised. "Won't they like the… I don't know, her spirit?"

"People want to like her because of everything they've seen," Effie says, "but really, she tends to be very abrasive in person. It's not ladylike."

"They're worried about that?" Peeta shakes his head. "That doesn't make sense. The Career girls always get attention, and they're --"

"In a pack that gets attention for being aggressive and deadly," I say. "I don't think she'll be able to do that. Which brings us to you -- what are you going to do? I don't think anyone will buy you as a killer, no matter what your score was."

"That's good."

"Not really."

"What, she's supposed to look like a glass figurine, and I'm supposed to be a thug?"

"No. But -- "

"I'm not doing that."

"Peeta, you -- "

"No. And you said I wouldn't pull it off, anyway."

I sigh. "Fine. Okay. But what are you going to do?"

He thinks, then stands up. "There's something I need to decide. Can I tell you tomorrow?"

"What do you need to decide?"

"Nothing much," he says. "Just who I'm going to be for the rest of my life." He smiles and goes to bed.

"An eleven," Effie says when he's gone. "Oh, Haymitch, everyone's going to be watching her."

"Yeah. And they'll want to like her, like you said."

"Right." Effie goes to the bar and measures out my drinks for tomorrow. I will her to give me a little extra to get through interview prep, but she doesn't. "You're fond of her, aren't you?"

"What?"

She comes back and hands me the flask. "I've seen you through a lot of Games, Haymitch. I know you're fond of Danny's son, but it's the girl you're worrying about."

"I'm worried about both of them," I say automatically, then look at her. "But yeah. She's something different. She can do this, Effie. I really believe it this year. And I don't want to be the one who gets her killed by not having her ready."

"You won't be."

We stay up a little while and watch the scores coverage. People are speculating about what Katniss might or might not have done to get her score. It ranges from the mundane assumption that she's good with weapons or stealth to the truly mythical. One old man -- who seems to be under the influence of something stronger than booze -- suggests that she can shoot fire from her fingertips and control the minds of the other tributes. As Effie expected, people are already speculating about what she's like, though at least there's nothing like Finnick's year, with all the wild storytelling that bore no relation whatsoever to reality.

There's also talk about little Rue, and how she outscored much older tributes. It's less mythic, though people seem inclined to ascribe vaguely magical powers to her, like disappearing into the woodlands like a fairy. There doesn't seem to be much mystery about the Careers, or, for that matter, Peeta. They've all been shown in training, looking strong.

Effie and I say goodnight around midnight. I hear the television in her room. I read for a while. It's a new detective series, as brainless as the rest of them. The detective this time is a fashion designer whose muse model is murdered, but the police don't believe him. They think it was an accident. He sets out to prove the murder. By the end of chapter three, I have it pretty well narrowed down to her brother and a wealthy fashion patron. The most interesting thing I've learned so far is the title, Croquis, which is a new word to me. It means a sketchy drawing. I'll have to see if it's a word that Cinna uses.

I toy with the idea that I could do it better. What if the detective himself is the murderer? Could I make that work? What if it's not a murder at all, and the police are right? What if she offended the president, or was secretly a rebel? What would the detective do if he found out? Would he become a rebel, too?

Well, not if it's published in the Capitol, I guess. Controls are too tight here to do anything interesting. That's why I collect the illegal stuff. It floats around on the black market, and over the years, I've collected about forty books. They live under the floorboards of my house. Any one of them is more alive and dangerous than what I'm technically allowed to read. Not one of them could be published in Panem today. I read them in secret in the dead of the night.

I don't sleep well. The lack of booze is starting to catch up to me, along with the change from my usual sleeping times. In the Capitol, I usually have chemical help. This year, I'm fidgeting and nervous, and I have a brutal headache by three. I finally fall into a fitful sleep, filled with vividly nonsensical dreams. In one, Danny's parents have a bakery in the Capitol, and it's my job to fetch water from the lake, but it's not supposed to have any salt in it, so my job includes sifting it before they can use it, and putting the salt into canvas bags for later. I'm not very good at it, but they're patient.

When I wake up, Peeta and Effie are watching a movie on television.

With an unpleasant shock, I realize that it's one of Mimi Meadowbrook's. I always change the channel when these are on. I can't get the image of her dead in her garden out of my head. I asked Effie to send me the fountain statue that she wrote "Reaped" on just before she died. I stared at it for a long time when it came. A child and a mother, dancing in the rain. Reaped. I remember feeling a scream in my throat, and forcing it back. I was very drunk. When I sobered up, I carried the horrible thing up to my attic, where it still sits beside the piles of dusty plaques that I got on my Victory Tour. I should throw it out. I don't know why I asked for it in the first place.

On screen, she is cheerfully going through the motions of one of her romantic comedies. She seems to be fighting an attraction to a man in a purple wig.

Effie sees me and turns it off quickly.

Peeta frowns, then says, "Hey."

"Morning," I say. "Coffee?"

"It's on the table," Effie says. "Sorry, I thought you were sleeping. Peeta wanted to watch movies."

"It's fine," I tell her. I look at Peeta. "Did the movies help you make your decision?"

He comes over to the table and starts getting some breakfast. "Yeah. I'll tell you about it later. We're doing interview training, right?"

"We are."

"I'll tell you then."

"Fine."

"But I was thinking… I don't know how Katniss will feel about it. I think maybe we should do the training separately."

Effie, who has been putting fruit on her plate, stops and looks up. "But, Peeta, it's been going so well this way! I thought you liked her."

"That's the problem," he says. "Anyway, I guess I'm making it a formal request."

"I don't know…"

"Look, I know you've been pairing us up. I think I might even know why. But I need to --" He stops and looks up.

Katniss has come in from her room, looking sleepy. She comes to the table and piles food onto her plate. She seems to notice that we've all stopped talking, but doesn't comment on it.

Finally, she takes a gulp of orange juice and, looking more awake, says, "So, what's going on? You're coaching us on interviews today, right?"

"That's right," I tell her.

She shrugs and gets back to eating. "You don't have to wait until I'm done. I can listen and eat at the same time."

I guess I could put a stop to it. I haven't agreed to anything with Peeta yet.

But he's the tribute. He's the boss.

"Well, there's been a change of plans," I say. "About our current approach."

"What's that?" Katniss asks.

I look at Peeta, then say, "Peeta has asked to be coached separately."

Katniss stops eating. Her back straightens, and her mouth tightens in fury. She glares at Peeta for a moment, then abruptly changes her posture, slouching uncomfortably and putting on an affected show of nonchalance.

"Good," she says. "So, what's the schedule?"

I tell her that she'll start with Effie, to get her movement and posture right. The afternoon, she'll spend with me. I figure that way, if it's not going well, I can just keep her into the evening without worrying about having to get to Peeta later.

We finish breakfast uncomfortably, and Katniss goes off with Effie.

I look at Peeta, then take him into the private sitting room where we do the interview practice. He sits down in the easy chair.

"All right," I tell him. "What's on your mind?"

"I want them to like her. I want them to see what I see."

"What you see." I sit down across from him, on a fussy red couch. "And what do you see?"

"I like her. I like her a lot. She's amazing. She's beautiful. She's strong. The way she takes care of her sister, and her mom… it's great." He looks away, a little embarrassed. "My dad told me that he and her mom used to have a thing. When I was little, I used to pretend that we were all friends. One big family, you know?"

I can imagine that growing up with Mirrem would inspire fantasies about living in a simpler family. I'm still not sure where he's going. "Go on."

"I want to tell everyone that I like her. That's where I want my interview to go."

"I see."

"You don't think it's a good idea?"

I think it's a great idea for Katniss. If someone like Peeta adores her, the audience will reason out that she must be wonderful.

For Peeta, it could go either way. In theory, it could make his quest interesting to them -- how will he handle loving someone when it's never going to be possible? In practice, there's a good chance that school girls will adore him, but the cynical intelligentsia will despise and ridicule him… and worse, not give him airtime.

"You'll have to play it exactly right," I say. "They're not going to care who you like if they don't like you first, so, if you don't mind, let's work on how we're going to get them to like you."

"I didn't think about that."

"That's why I'm the mentor around here."

He nods. "Okay. Will Caesar Flickerman let me talk about that?"

"Oh, Caesar will eat it up. Don't worry about Caesar. I'll meet with him while you're in prep, and he'll get you exactly where you need to go. He's a friend in the Capitol."

"Really?"

"He's definitely a good guy." I lean forward. "Now, how are we going to get you there?"

We get to work. I don't need anything like four hours to get Peeta ready for an interview. He's more or less camera ready when he rolls out of bed in the morning. He talks easily about anything I ask him, and we end up just having a long conversation. He talks to me about school, his friends, the bakery, his brothers. He asks me to keep Caesar from asking about his parents. He wants me to give his love to his father "after" (and, he says reluctantly, his mother as well, he supposes), but he has no interest in airing the oddities of his family life on national television. I tell him he can lie.

"I know I can. I don't want to. Not until it's time. I need to get some trust first."

He doesn't explain this, and we go back to our aimless chat. We finally start laughing about how strange the Capitol can be. I realize that this is an easy in for him. Caesar has used this for reluctant tributes before, to give them something to talk about for three minutes, but Peeta can use it beautifully, laughing at his own naiveté and making it sound like he'd love to fit in here. The Capitol will like it, and it's not a lie. Peeta actually does find a lot about the Capitol amusing and harmless, and he seems to genuinely like most of the people he's met here. He's particularly fond of Portia and Effie, but has also somehow found time to chat with his preps and most of the trainers down in the gym. He's interested in the differences between life here and life in the districts, and it comes through. If Caesar can work it down to a few questions, I think the audience will be eating out of his hands by the time he comes to his revelation about Katniss.

We do a few practice runs, trying different observations. Finally, we settle on a little bit of business about the showers as his introduction. Caesar will love it. He'll just need to ask a question, then let Peeta start to work the crowd. It's exactly his style.

Ultimately, he just seems to want to talk, and I let him ramble on about things until lunch. He's got a sharp eye, and a good sense of humor about himself and his situation, and he manages to get me laughing a little bit.

Katniss gets to the table before we do. She's in a long skirt, which is currently hiked up around her thighs. I can see Effie's frustration from across the room, but she's holding it together. We all sit down and manage a decent, if quiet, meal.

After it, Katniss gets up and clomps across the living room in her high heels. I really hope she's just doing it to annoy Effie, because she's going to need to be more graceful tomorrow. I show her into the interview practice room, sit her down in the chair, and sit down on the couch across from her. I look at her for a long time. There's nothing wrong with her looks, even if her skirt's tangled around her at the moment.

The problem is the glare.

"What?" she asks me defensively.

"I'm trying to figure out what to do with you," I say.

Her sullen expression doesn't change much while I explain the situation to her. It doesn't bring out my best, I'm afraid. I remember Albinus Drake, sitting me down in that chair, circling around me like a hawk, demanding my Games strategy, threatening to kill me if I mentioned poetry. I wonder if he felt like I feel now, like any misstep could cost a real opportunity for a potential victor.

Or maybe he just hated me. We became friends later, but he never did tell me whether or not his behavior in the apartment was an act.

Katniss is not acting. I'm pretty sure that Katniss quite genuinely detests me.

Which is fine. She can hate me if she wants to. But she can't let the Capitol audience see that she hates them.

I can't get a read on her personality, so I try to play at being Caesar. I ask her about her sister. She loves Prim, she tells me coolly, without elaboration. I ask her about her mother. She doesn't want to talk about her mother. I ask about her father. This is met with a glare. I ask about boyfriends. She doesn't have or want one. Friends. She supposes Madge is a friend. School. She attends. Favorite books. She can't remember any. Favorite songs. She doesn't sing; it's a waste of time. I ask what subjects she's good at. Nothing legal. I ask about her favorite foods. There's a tiny bit of warmth here, with hot chocolate and lamb stew -- I guess Caesar can try those. Katniss is nothing if not an eater, though that's about the most intimate portrait I've been able to get.

"All right, enough," I say. "We've got to find another angle. Not only are you hostile, I don't know anything about you. I've asked you fifty questions and still have no sense of your life, your family, what you care about. They want to know you, Katniss."

"But I don't want them to!" she says, and for the first time, I think I see the real Katniss. "They're already taking my future! They can't have the things that mattered to me in the past."

"Then lie," I tell her. "Make something up!"

She grimaces miserably. "I'm not good at lying."

"Well, you better learn fast. You've got about as much charm as a dead slug."

She sits back, looking stung, and I guess she has reason to. She is finally communicating, and has finally told me something true, and I responded with a slap.

I rub my head. "Here's an idea. Try acting humble."

She doesn't know how to act humble, though she's naturally not particularly arrogant. She doesn't have the physical presence to be ferocious. I reluctantly suggest that she try to be sexy, and am not sorry when she fails miserably at it. I'm not sure she's even seen anyone trying to be sexy in a movie. She doesn't have Peeta's sense of humor. She can't imply that she's mysterious, because I think she actually considers herself an open book.

The one thing people want -- the girl who volunteered for her sister -- is the one thing she utterly refuses to give them. I don't blame her. I wouldn't give them my mother, either.

By the end of the session, we still don't have a plan. Katniss openly hates me, and I don't blame her. She wouldn't listen to me now even if I gave her a perfect plan.

She goes to her room and eats there.

I'm pretty sure I won't see her before prep tomorrow. I sit around the apartment with Effie and Peeta for a few hours, but I have to do something. I call Cinna.

We meet downstairs in the restaurant. He orders wine, but sends it back with the waiter when he sees me looking at it. I guess I look like I want to dive in and not come out.

"Problem?" he asks.

"Katniss."

"What about her?"

"The attitude. It's not going to get her anywhere."

He starts cutting his steak. "I'm not sure why she's like that with you. I find her a lovely person."

"You do?"

"Of course, I find you a lovely person, too."

"You have a strange definition of that word."

He laughs. "No. I appreciate who she is. And who you are. That's all. And both of you are always quite charming with me."

"Unfortunately, you're not the audience."

"I'm part of it." Cinna shrugs. "I've got a good rapport with her. I'll just tell her to remember that she's talking to me."

"Okay." I nod. "I'll get Caesar to talk about the parade costume."

"Oh, she'll have another great one tomorrow. He can have fun with that, too. That should fill three minutes."

We manage to get through the rest of the meal without any fraught moments. I catch him at one point trying to get interview answers out of me. I'm actually answering him honestly. I guess this will work.

I wait my turn the next morning to talk to Caesar. As usual, I'm last, but these meetings don't take long. He seems to understand that Katniss is a little headstrong, but he likes her. He'll ask about food and the parade, and he'll make a fuss about her dress. He says he can use the same tactic with both of them -- asking about their reactions to the Capitol -- to start pairing them before the final revelation.

"The boy wants to make a love confession?" he asks, looking fascinated. "They'll love it. I've never had that happen on stage before."

"It's not exactly a romantic event."

"True. But if the boy is as good as you say he is -- "

"He is."

" -- then this year might be different. We'll see."

I meet Effie, Peeta, and Portia by the elevator. Peeta's cutting a good figure in a sharp black suit with flame accents. Cinna and Katniss come out. He has her in a jeweled dress that catches the light like the flicker of a campfire. Under the stage lights, she'll seem to be ablaze again.

I remind the kids that they're supposed to be friends here, which seems to surprise Katniss. I guess she thought a day of separate training was going to break the image.

Not that it matters a lot on stage, where there isn't much opportunity for interaction among the tributes.

Caesar does his usual patter. He begins the interviews. The Careers are as boring as ever, talking about how strong and tough they are. The girl from Five, Finch, is actually quite interesting and creative. Johanna's girl is a bit of a dud. Cecelia's girl, a pretty thing with a cloud of reddish brown curls, jokes about possibly having made the fabric in her dress. The stylist from Eleven has run with the magical fairy-princess theme for Rue, even giving her wings. She tells Caesar not to count her out. Chaff's tribute, the huge boy named Thresh, is as sullen as Katniss was yesterday, but at his size, he can pull it off.

They call Katniss. I hold my breath as Caesar leads her out. She's nervous.

He asks her what's impressed her the most. She looks over at the platform where Cinna is sitting.

"The lamb stew," she says.

This actually gets a laugh. Katniss seems astounded by it, and begins to warm up. By the time Caesar gets around to having her twirl around to show the way the dress flashes in the light, she's at ease. She's not the laughing girl from the chariot, but she does manage to charm the audience, and when Caesar leads her to the subject of Prim, she doesn't hesitate. She looks at Cinna, and answers the question.

The buzzer goes off. I relax.

Peeta comes out beside Caesar, standing in the light with him, smiling easily. He could be a co-host rather than a tribute. They banter back and forth about the showers, and I get the impression that Caesar is enjoying himself. He laughs at Peeta's jokes, and it's not his usual canned laugh. The audience is also laughing along fondly at their own foibles being pointed out.

As soon as they are eating out of Peeta's hands, Caesar asks him if he has a girlfriend back home.

Peeta sighs dramatically, and the audience encourages him with a brief burst of applause. "There is this one girl," he says. "I've had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I'm pretty sure she didn't know I was alive until the reaping."

The crowd whispers excitedly.

Caesar suggests that if Peeta wins the Games, the mystery girl will have to notice him.

Peeta shakes his head sadly. "I don't think it's going to work out. Winning won't help in my case."

"Why ever not?" Caesar asks, feigning puzzlement.

Peeta looks around, giving just the right amount of hesitation. "Because…" He takes a deep breath, glances at Katniss, then says, "Because she came here with me!"

There's an audible gasp in the audience, and I realize that it's worked like a charm. They understand everything already. They have the story in their minds. They want to see it play out.

It's just about perfect.

The camera switches over to Katniss, whose expression will be analyzed for days, by top experts on body language and psychology. None of them will know what to make of it. At home, I'd imagine that they take it for surprise.

I recognize it for what it is.

Katniss Everdeen is furious.
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