FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

The Last Tribute: Chapter Eleven

Peeta has joined up with the Careers, forcing Haymitch to join up with the Career mentors.

Chapter Eleven
The day goes on.

Effie comes back with the biggest budget I've ever had. I take her to lunch, leaving Finnick at my station. With the prices this year, I'll still have to be careful, but luckily, Peeta's got a huge pile of supplies and Katniss can feed herself. I can save the money for emergencies -- the pricey first aid supplies, ways to compensate if the Gamemakers decide to trash the arena, things like that. Toward the back of the supply book, where the prices are higher than most yearly incomes in Twelve, I can even get the ointment that Portia used on Peeta's hands.

"And I took more sponsor calls," Effie says. "They want to meet."

"You take the meetings," I tell her. "Tell them I have two tributes to watch."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'll handle Brutus."

"I don't think he likes me."

"He doesn't like anyone. Don't take it personally. He barely puts up with Enobaria."

She nods and picks at her salad. "How are you doing, Haymitch?"

"I guess I can handle them. As long as Finnick doesn't leave."

"I mean with…" She points toward the bar.

"I'm trying not to think about it. So far, so good."

"Do you need to have one now, while I'm here with you?"

I nod. It's probably a good idea to do it before I get a tremor, or start getting paranoid.

Effie orders me a sweet, obnoxious drink. It's horrendous, but it actually packs a little kick. I want another. She refuses, and shows me Digger's token.

I nod, flex my fingers hard against the table, and spend the rest of the meal chugging water so I feel like I'm drinking. After we eat, Effie goes back to meetings, and I go back to the Career alliance, where Finnick tells me that absolutely nothing has happened with either of my tributes.

It's slow, with only the friendly camping trip among the Careers, Onnisey and Finch's archaeological expedition, and five lonely souls wandering the arena.

Down in the flatlands, Thresh Robinson has set up a little camp in a stand of rocks. He got a large backpack up near the Cornucopia, along with a scythe. He nicked Kersey Green on the way out, but didn't seriously hurt her. Now, he's setting skillful traps. Claudius Templesmith narrates that District Eleven farm workers often have to create barriers between the crops and the various ruminants that roam the open spaces. Chaff has told me about this. People do set the traps, but Peacekeepers don't allow them to keep their kills. They shoot dying animals with poisons instead, since wild meat is obviously unfit for human consumption, and they have such great concern for the poor, misguided souls of District Eleven, who might otherwise foolishly eat it.

Spicer Daby from Ten is working his way laboriously around the lake. He has a terrible limp from an accident in the fields, or so they claim. I can't help but think of Ginger McCullough, and wonder if Spicer's "accident" involved a bullet in the leg. No one has given him a brace, any more than they did for Ginger. He's playing the Games the way I wanted her to play them, too -- getting away from everyone. Hiding. He's good.

Just before the sun starts to set, he spies a small island close to the eastern shore of the lake. He swims for it. No one else is anywhere nearby. If he's smart and doesn't do anything to call attention to his presence, he could make it for a long time.

They start doing filler programming while the tributes settle in for the night. Person-on-the-street interviews tell me that interest in Katniss is still high, though most of her fans are hoping that she'll "do something" soon. She's doing as I told her, to the letter. She's staying alive. But she's going to have to step up her game if we're going to get her back to the enthusiasm levels she had after the parade.

She continues to wander until twilight, when she sets two snares. I'm leery of this, but she's smart enough to walk away from them for five minutes before finding a place to settle. She chooses a grove of willow trees, climbing a large one in the middle and positioning herself in a fork near the top of it. She's obviously spent a lot of time in trees. She actually straps herself and her sleeping bag onto a branch with her belt.

The camera gives this a sort of loving look, while someone natters on about her cleverness, but they can't do much with it.

They move to Rue, who finds Katniss's snares and starts looking up into the trees. Even the commentators don't bother pretending that it's an aggressive act. Instead, they interview Seeder -- I didn't even see her leave from over here -- and she tells them how Rue admires Katniss.

"Do you admire her?" an eager young reporter asks.

I brace myself for a stab in the back from an old friend, but Seeder just smiles and says, "I trust Rue's judgment. And I certainly admire Katniss's mentor. I hope she's a worthy pupil."

I look across the room. Chaff smiles and tips an invisible hat. I feel strangely teary. It's the lack of booze. It makes me sentimental.

"How much did you have to trade for that one?" Brutus sneers. "Miss high and mighty --"

"You don't get to talk about Seeder, either," I say. "As a matter of fact, keep your opinions of all of my friends to yourself."

"Except me," Finnick says. "Everyone knows all you'd ever say about me is how devilishly handsome and smart I am, so Haymitch wouldn't need to kill you."

I shrug. "It would depend on his tone."

Brutus apparently either decides that I'm kidding, or decides to pretend to think I'm kidding. He laughs, and goes back to a conversation with a waiter.

The production team goes in for another check around the arena. Spicer has found a little circle of sheltering rocks, and is contemplating a fire. He has a brain, though, and doesn't light one, opting instead for trying to create a blanket from large leaves.

Kersey Green is being smart so far, but she's obviously cold -- her jacket was ripped when Thresh nicked her, and it's not holding in heat -- and spooked by the environment. She is wandering the woods with increasing panic.

Katniss, meanwhile, has somehow gone to sleep sitting in her tree, trusting her belt to keep her secured.

Rue isn't far away, but went the wrong way from the snares. She's up in a pine tree, looking at the moon. She raises her hand and makes a little gesture toward the stars. ("A wish," Claudius tells us. "A very old custom indeed!")

Onnisey and Finch have managed to dislodge one of the landmines, and Onnisey has it popped open to a tangle of wires. They've left the Cornucopia, and are hiding in the woods.

"Is it electrical?" Finch asks.

"Yeah. If it were just pressure, they couldn't turn it off remotely."

"So, where did they break the circuit?"

Onnisey examines the mine and points to something. "I think they stop feeding it, too. Do you have a good idea for a power source?"

The main coverage cuts away, so I don't hear any more of this conversation. Either the Capitol audience finds technical conversations dull, or the Capitol government is not interested in teaching the population about explosives. I tend to favor the latter, and am half expecting them to blow Finch and Onnisey up with the mine they're holding.

Our camp, on the other hand, is having what they consider a perfectly acceptable conversation. It could be recorded from any year and just replayed. They've taken turns exploring the area, and Peeta's been recruited to make a rough map on the back of a food box. It's not too bad, given that he's drawn it with a twig he keeps charring in the fire. None of them have any idea how large the arena is, though.

"Where do we start the hunt?" Clove asks. "I think that big guy from Eleven went down into that grass. There's a ravine just before the woods start." She points to a spot on Peeta's map. "We could chase him into it and light a fire."

Peeta shakes his head. "He's pretty strong. He'd take a few of us down with him. Let him starve a few days."

"Go for the weak ones first?" Glimmer wrinkles her nose. "That could leave us with a smaller group when we have to take down the strong ones."

"Unless we go for the really weak ones," Cato says. "What about that twelve-year-old windfart? Even Twelve here could probably take her."

"Oh, good," Peeta says. "Chasing down twelve-year-old girls. That's why I wanted to join someone who got a ten in training."

Cato crouches in front of him. "So you don't want to take the strong ones because it's dangerous, and you don't want to take the weak ones because it's… what, not properly chivalrous? Tell me, loverboy, who would you chase down?"

Peeta smiles coldly. "I have a few ideas."

Char laughs. "Come on, Cato. We can wait for morning. There were eleven down at the Cornucopia. That means there are only seven people out there other than us. They probably all went in different directions. Night hunting for seven people in the whole arena is a waste of time."

Glimmer snorts. "District Four's sure come down in the world. You used to know how to play these Games. Now, what have you got? Excuses." She looks at Peeta. "And really bad judgment."

"Actually," Marvel says, "I think she's right. We can get some rest and wait for dawn." He looks around the group. "Maybe a little before dawn. Then everyone will be sleepy. They'll have a hard time sleeping tonight, and it'll be hard to get up in the morning."

Cato considers it, then nods. "All right. We get a few hours. Twelve and Marvel will take first watch. Then Char and Clove. Then Glimmer and me. At least one person in each pair can fight."

"I can watch with you," Clove offers.

"I need someone I trust to wake me up in time."

This is agreeable to everyone. Marvel and Peeta set up a watch by the fire. After a little while, Glimmer starts to snore. The others don't react. They've dropped off.

Marvel pokes at the flames. "So, what is your game, Twelve?"

"Just trying to do what my mentor told me," Peeta says.

"And what's that?"

"Stay alive."

Marvel laughs. "That's pretty good. But you know you're going to end up breaking that rule, right?"

"Pretty much everyone in here is."

"Yeah."

They're quiet for a little while, then Peeta says, "What about you? What's your game?"

"Stickball."

Peeta frowns. "What?"

"Stickball." Marvel looks up. "At home, there's a whole rivalry between the perfume makers and the furriers. Kind of stupid, I know -- "

"No. Trust me, I get local rivalries."

"Yeah. Well, anyway, we play stickball every year. We lost last year. But I have a bet with the captain of the other team that we'll win this year. I want to collect."

"Oh." Peeta processes this. "That's good."

"Do you do sports in Twelve?"

"Not all that much. Just in school in gym for most people. There's enough exercise just trying to make ends meet. I like sports, though. We don't have enough people to put teams against each other, but we have a wrestling team. We mostly wrestle for rankings against each other."

"What's your rank?"

"Second. One of these days, I'd really like to beat the guy in first."

"Who is he?"

"My brother." Peeta adds some fuel to the fire. Flames lick upward, casting strange shadows on his face. He smiles. "I owe my brothers a thank you," he says. "If they hadn't taught me to fight, I never would have made it at the Cornucopia. Do you have any brothers?"

"Sisters. I'm great at getting my hair pulled."

They talk for a while longer about this, and the camera stays with them. This may be because it's late and everyone else is trying to sleep, or because the Capitol is having a sibling fad. They're wildly in love with Primrose, and a cut to street reactions shows them talking about how strange and exotic it is that this year's tributes are so close to their siblings. Gloss and Cashmere roll their eyes at each other. There was a similar fad the year Cashmere was in the arena, and Gloss was shown working every contact he had to get her through.

My allies start taking their sleep shifts, spelling each other off. Their escorts stay at home. I guess they're not as active as Effie is (though I suppose she'll be sleeping at home as long as I'm here with Brutus). Annie suggests that she and Finnick are my district partners, since Char is Peeta's closest ally. They go take a nap (which may actually involve napping), and come back about twenty minutes after Peeta's watch has ended. They send me off to bed in the mentors' lounge. I tell a runner to wake me in three hours.

I toss and turn for forty minutes, wanting a drink. More than anything. Just a little something to send me off. Anything. Even a beer would be good. I think of the warm little explosion in my brain, the fumes coming up at me…

I can't.

I bury my head in a pillow and make myself think of other things. How to use the way they love Prim. How to get Katniss to move around more and engage without being at risk.

How to bring them both home.

I pound my fist into the mattress. I have to stop thinking about it.

I finally manage a thin and fitful sleep. I dream. I know that I'm dreaming because Maysilee is with me. She's writing on the floor with a charred stick. It's a confusing dream, and I've barely gotten to talk to her when I'm woken up by a spooked looking Capitol Dreams runner. I realize that somewhere in my tossing and turning, I picked up a knife.

It's a good thing my arms are twisted up in the blankets, otherwise I probably would have swung it. I apologize to the girl and get up. My head is fuzzy and my tongue feels strangely thick. This should be a familiar feeling, except that I have no idea how I can be hung over, given that I've had exactly one drink in the last twenty-four hours.

I get myself straightened up, grab some coffee from the buffet table, and go back out.

"You look like a tribute," Finnick says, nodding at the screen, where, in fact, Cato is starting to hustle the others up from sleep.

"Come on," Cato announces. "We're hunting."

Peeta blinks at him groggily. If it were me, I think I'd be grabbing my knife and killing Cato just so I could get some sleep, but Peeta isn't me. It's still dark in the arena, but he's used to getting up in the dark. He stretches, then gets up and starts moving around.

"Who's on guard?" Clove asks. "We can't leave the supplies."

"Char-broil can stay back and guard the camp," Cato decides.

"I'll stay with her," Peeta says. "Just in case anyone else has an alliance and we need to fight more than one."

"Oh, no," Cato says. "You're leading the way, loverboy."

Peeta shrugs elaborately. "Okay." He stands up and picks up two knives, tucking one in his belt and brandishing the other. "Where do you want to start?"

"Maybe we should find your girlfriend," Marvel says. "Being that she'd be such a good ally."

Peeta's performance breaks for a fraction of a second at the sarcasm -- a flash of real anger comes over his face -- but I don't think any of the kids catch it. (Brutus does, and gives me a dirty look.) He grabs Glimmer's bow and hands it to her. "Sounds like a plan," he says.

They gear up, and head for the woods.

This is far earlier than anyone in the Capitol is watching, but it's still within the first twenty-four hours of the Games, so there's at least some constant coverage. They break to the other tributes, breathlessly wondering who's in trouble. Other than the Careers, only Onnisey and Kersey are even awake.

And Kersey is freezing.

She's pacing back and forth in the dark, rubbing her arms and shivering. She's a tiny, skinny girl with a ruined jacket. It's not holding any heat in, and it looks like the arena is very cold. Her breath comes out in little puffs.

She's in a small clearing that looks very familiar. I look around. The long, waving fronds of a willow tree are swaying at the edge of the screen.

Katniss came through here last night. Kersey is somewhere between the snares and…

I look at the main map.

Kersey is about fifty yards from the tree where Katniss is sleeping.

I look over at the District Eight table, where Cecelia is frantically going through her list of sponsorships, probably trying to make it add up to a blanket.

Kersey hasn't slept and is cold and miserable. It doesn't do wonders for her thought processes.

She runs around the edge of the clearing, checking wildly in the underbrush for other sleeping tributes (I assume). She stays perfectly still and listens to the darkness around her.

She doesn't suspect Katniss's presence.

Worse, she has no idea that Cato's party has just entered the woods.

She gathers up dry kindling, piles it onto a flat rock, and looks for a stick to start a fire with.

I stand up and wave to get Cecelia's attention.

She shrugs helplessly.

I have a wild, hopeful moment when she doesn’t seem able to start the fire, but I should have known better. Kids in Eight often start fires in the alleys to keep warm.

The flame catches the kindling.

In her tree, Katniss wakes up. She looks down at her unsuspecting neighbor, first dumbfounded, then furious. She understands exactly what Kersey Green has done. She doesn't know that the Careers are out hunting, but she knows they could be, and she knows that Kersey has just sent up a signal flare.

Cecelia comes over to my table. "Haymitch, lend me money for water. Maybe it will tell her to put it out."

"You can't direct your tributes once they're in the arena," Cashmere says.

Cecelia ignores her. "Haymitch, please. It's your girl, too."

"Yeah," I say. "And you see where they're hunting from?" I point at the screen.

"What about it?"

"They'll see a parachute drop as clearly as they'll see the fire."

Cecelia buries her hands in her hair. "I used to babysit her before the Games! She was just a baby. Her mother was my teacher. I went to her… her twelfth birthday party. I gave her a book."

"Clearly, not one on tactics," Enobaria says with an unpleasant grin.

Cecelia raises her hand. She's only carrying a pen, but I have a feeling she could do damage with it just now.

I take her back to her table. "I'll transfer you the money. They might miss the parachute if they aren't looking when it comes down."

"Thank you, I --" Cecelia stops. Her eyes go wide.

I look up at the main screen.

Cato has spotted the smoke.

He pushes Peeta ahead of him into the woods. They don't even bother to conceal their approach, but Kersey, sleep-deprived and hungry, never hears them until they're on top of her. She might even have been starting to doze.

Marvel throws a spear, but it goes wide. Kersey jumps to her feet as Cato raises his spear. "Please!" she screams. "Please no!"

I run back to my station. Katniss is still in her tree. Her eyes are wide.

"PLEASE!"

Cato responds to her pleas by thrusting the spear through her stomach. As she falls backward, it tears upward, almost like she's being unzipped. I see the gray mass of her intestines as she tries to force them back inside. I wish I didn't know what that felt like.

Peeta has stopped at the edge of the clearing. For the first time since the reaping, he's not performing at all. He's standing there, his eyes wide, and I can see a scream coming up. If he lets it out, he'll be next. Brutus's tribute won't put up with a weakness like that.

The others ransack the small camp. Kersey didn't have anything worth taking, but they delight in kicking out her fire.

Peeta goes to her. "Finish," she whispers.

He lifts his knife, but backs away.

Cato, on a high from his kill, decides to get everyone away so that the hover craft can come for the body. They head into the willow grove, and stop near Katniss's tree. The commentators go wild with this, cutting back and forth between them. If they look up, they'll see her, and she's bound to a tree trunk.

"Shouldn't we have heard a cannon by now?" Glimmer asks.

"I'd say yes," Marvel tells her. "Nothing to prevent them from going in immediately."

"Unless she isn't dead."

"She's dead," Cato says irritably. "I stuck her myself."

"Then where's the cannon?"

They start arguing among themselves about whether or not they should go check. Peeta is hanging back, looking in the direction they came from. Then he looks up. There's a flash of fear in his eyes when he realizes that they're standing under another tribute. I can't tell whether or not he knows it's Katniss.

Either way, he steels himself, puts his Games face back on, and raises his voice above the fray. "I'll go finish her, and let's move on."

In her tree, Katniss is so shocked at the sound of Peeta's voice that she literally falls from her perch. The Careers luckily don't hear the rustle of it as she catches herself on the branch, holding on through her sleeping bag, her belt keeping her aloft. Claudius is going on at length about how surprised she seems to see her district partner's alliance. Will she see how strong he is, so he can win her before the Games end? Or will she be jealous of his new friends?

While he prattles, Cato waves Peeta off to do murder, and has another argument with Clove about the wisdom of keeping him around.

Meanwhile, Peeta has come back to the clearing. The main screen stays with Katniss and the Careers.

Kersey is on the ground, holding her guts and muttering nonsense to the sky. I hear, "Shh, ma. Rile. Nigh. Hey…" She sees Peeta. "Help… me…"

He kneels down beside her. "I'll help you hide. Tell them you got away before I got here."

"Not… going… anywhere… please… help me."

"I…"

"Please. You… love."

"Yes," Peeta says. "But…"

"Help me." She struggles for breath. "They'll… they'll kill you. Unless I…" She shudders violently. "Use me. Please. Quick. It hurts."

Peeta draws his knife. "I can… my aunt's a butcher. I know where to cut. But --"

"Please."

Peeta puts his knife on her neck. The main coverage goes to them.

She is back in her delirium. "Rock man," she whispers. "Rock man. Ma. Rile. Nigh. Hod."

Peeta presses the knife down on her carotid artery. She's lost a lot of blood already, but what's left still comes out like a geyser, drenching Peeta's arms.

She lets go of her stomach and flails her hand around. He catches it, and holds it until she's still.

The main coverage leaves him.

On my small screen, I see him let go of her bloody hand, bend over the bushes, and vomit. His eyes are huge and stormy, and the scream is trapped in his throat again. He pushes his hand into his mouth and bites down to keep it inside, while pounding the other hand on the ground.

While he struggles not to lose his mind, Claudius Templesmith has the main screen split between the Careers and Katniss.

He wonders if she'll be impressed.
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