FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

The Last Tribute: Chapter Twelve

Peeta has just committed a mercy killing, and he's trying not to scream. Meanwhile, the main broadcast is showing Katniss, and speculating on how she'll feel about Peeta's actions.

Chapter Twelve
While the commentators natter on about how Katniss might react -- presumably once she's free of the belt binding her to the tree and the wildly impossible position she's gotten herself into -- Peeta forces a kind of control over himself.

It begins with control of his body. He takes his hand from his mouth and gulps in several deep breaths, then holds his hands out, watching them until they stop trembling. Then he stands up slowly from the crouch he's been in, straightening his legs, stretching his chest, finally rolling his shoulders a few times and letting them drop not into a stereotypical heroic squaring, but a casual slouch.

He closes his eyes and breathes deeply, then opens them again. No one who wasn't watching him three minutes ago would know how close he came to cracking. It's all done quickly and expertly, and I wonder where he's gotten the practice.

Maybe that's a question it's better not to think about.

Slowly, he goes back to Kersey and bends down beside her to close her eyes. "I'm sorry," he says. His voice is soft, but steady. "I don't remember your name. Maybe you'll tell it to me when we see each other again."

Finnick, who's near enough to hear this, looks at me quizzically, but says nothing.

Cecelia goes to call Kersey's parents. She's weeping.

Peeta stands up again and affects a casual gait as he heads back toward where the others are waiting and arguing about whether or not they should kill him. Before they notice him, he looks up at the tree, where he knows at least that someone is hiding. This time, Katniss is in his full view, though she's looking the other way. Her telltale braid is hanging down in the darkness.

Peeta looks away and deliberately (I hope) stomps his way into the group.

"Was she dead?" Cato asks.

"No," Peeta tells him. "But she is now." Kersey's cannon fires.

Cato looks at him, suspicious but impressed. He knows as well as anyone that the Gamemakers don't sound that cannon for nothing, so it means that Peeta is telling the truth -- that he's capable of killing, and has done it.

Peeta looks toward the clearing like it means nothing, then glances briefly at Glimmer's bow. There's no way Katniss could handle taking it from them right now. She's essentially immobilized. If he gives the Careers any reason to notice her, they'll climb up and kill her. He seems to realize this and points off in a direction that will lead them away from her. "Ready to move on?"

They run off to continue the hunt. He actually leads the way. The camera doesn't follow them.

It stays on Katniss, who wisely remains still in her awkward position until their footsteps have faded away. She's starting to move when the hovercraft picks up Kersey, though she waits until it passes before she says, "Move," and begins to gather her things. She drops to the ground and looks off in the direction that the Careers went. She's as good as Peeta, in her own way. I know she's got to be confused. Nothing he did or said where she could hear it would give her the slightest idea of his game plan. But she paints a knowing smile on her face, like she knows all of it.

It's not a lot, but it's enough. The commentators will take it from there, spinning their own theories about what that smile means for the star-crossed lovers of District Twelve.

She heads off into the woods to gather a rabbit from her snares. Without that smile, I'd take it as a mistake -- going back to something that might be watched -- but I have a feeling I know what she's doing. She's being deliberately confident, and she's showing the sponsors that she can't be stopped by something as simple as hunger.

Thirst might do her in if she doesn't turn in a different direction, though. I check the prices on water, and it's not bad as such things go, but a trail of parachutes and bottles aren't going to be helpful to her. With the snares, she's shown self-sufficiency. Finding her own water will build that better than getting it from me. The woods are dotted with tiny ponds. If she can stop looping around, she's bound to stumble on one of them, and that will play much better.

Also, she's actually traveling almost parallel to the Careers, too, so sending her a bottle right now would be murder.

On the main screen, Claudius promises us that he'll have relationship experts on later to judge Katniss and Peeta's "synchronicity of affect," whatever that means.

"Yeah, it's a love story for the ages," Brutus says. "How long will she lead him around by the balls before he decides to betray his allies for her?" He pretends to do some calculations on his fingers. "Oh, wait. He's already betrayed them. Didn't even tell them she was there."

I roll my eyes. "Given that they were talking about when to kill him, I'm not taking your moral outrage seriously."

"Yeah, well, mine's not out there playing knight errant while he's doing it."

"What's your problem, Brutus?" Finnick says. "They're all playing the Games. You know that."

"No, he's not." Brutus wrinkles his nose. "He's playing some game, but not this one. Did you see him on Haymitch's screen, acting like it was just oh-so-painful to finish off that idiot girl from Eight? He probably thought the main broadcast was on him, with that performance."

"I don't think he was acting," Annie says.

"Oh, that's even better. Poor little sensitive special snowflake, so much better than anyone else because it pains him so --"

I stand up and grab the front of Brutus's shirt. His chair rolls back, and I shove him and it into the wall. "I told you to keep your opinions to yourself."

He stands up. He's six inches taller than I am and keeps himself in Career arena shape. "You don't want to lay your hands on me, Abernathy," he says. "Just because you could put down Drake -- a quarter of a century ago, and when he was almost as drunk as you usually are -- don't think you can actually hold your own with us."

I don't let go. "Tell it to Crispus Bidwell."

Brutus looks at me with great distaste. "Oh," he says. "Right. The one from your Games. I barely remember him, and I mentored him. But I bet you just keep track of all of them, don't you? I bet you have a shrine to poor, fallen Crispus, and you cry on it when you're drunk, and make maudlin apologies. Did you send money to Filigree's family, and start an eye replacement campaign? You probably keep pictures of all your losers, too, and make up stories about how they were all good and sweet and so smart that they would have saved the whole world, if only it hadn't been for the bad old Games."

I pull back my arm to punch him, but someone grabs it. Two someones, actually -- Finnick and Beetee.

"He's goading you," Beetee says. "And you're letting him."

I let go and turn away, then go back to my station.

Finnick follows, but Beetee is called back to his table, because Onnisey and Finch have managed to re-start the battery that powers the trigger mechanism on the landmine. It's glowing a soft blue.

Finch reaches in and pulls a wire.

"Hey," Onnisey says. "We just got that."

"And we'll get it again, but let's not blow ourselves up while we figure out where to bury it."

"I told you -- by their supplies. We'll do it one at a time. If they blow one up, we stop for a little while, follow them and bury one any place they camp."

"Right. I'm sure they'll leave the supplies long enough to let us dig a hole, bury a landmine, set it, and then wander off." She shakes her head. "Come on, if we're going to do this, it needs to be something a little less conspicuous. Maybe we could arm it and make a launcher -- just something mechanical -- and just blow up the supplies, so we're all on even footing."

"Like we'd ever be on even footing with those guys." Onnisey shakes his head. "They're tough. I wanted to be on their side, but they wouldn't have me. We can't just cut off their food and wait for them to die. We have to kill them. We have to set the mines."

"But if we made the mines mobile… maybe we could take out the explosive, and make some kind of grenade. Then we'd have a weapon we could use against them, if you want to do it. But going into their camp to set a trap is crazy!"

"It'll work," Onnisey says. "I swear." He smiles. "I'm head of my class in District Three. That means I have some brains, you know."

Finch makes a frustrated, hissing kind of sound. "You're smart, but you're not clever."

"And you are?"

"I am. And I'm telling you -- this is a terrible idea."

"Listen to her!" Beetee shouts at the screen, but of course, it's kind of a pointless gesture.

"We're both smarter than they are," Onnisey says. "They probably aren't even trying to guard it."

"I'm not doing this."

"Well, I am."

"Then you can do it yourself. I'm not going into the middle of their camp to bury something. They're not as dumb as you think they are."

She stalks off into the woods.

Onnisey rolls his eyes extravagantly and mutters something uncomplimentary about District Five's opinion of itself.

At the District Five table, Faraday Sykes makes an obscene gesture at Beetee, then grins and pulls her table away.

Onnisey starts to make his way to the lake.

By the time official coverage starts at ten -- though on the second day, there hasn't really been a break, so it's just marked by the blaring of the Games fanfare -- Peeta and the others are hunting at the edge of the woods, Katniss has managed to cook her rabbit on the coals of Kersey's fire (Cecelia is back, gathering her things, and says she thinks it would be all right with Kersey… then she starts crying again), Rue has found a little stream to wash up in, and Finch has made it down to the grassy area not far from Thresh, though she's smart enough to stay out of his sight. He may not be brutal and bloodthirsty like Cato, but he made it perfectly clear in his interviews that he means to go home, and will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

Of course, they begin with a recap of the night. In the edited version, Peeta and Marvel have their perfectly normal conversation, and Peeta's expression is absolutely no different when he comes back from killing Kersey. All in a day's work. Onnisey and Finch have a falling out, but the editors are trying to make their project a mystery, even though people will have been following it all day. Rue is shown leaping around in the trees, cross-cut with pictures of her in the fairy-winged dress she wore for interviews.

"And now… we return to the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games!" The recap shatters as if hit by a spear, and the image of the studio is revealed as the recap falls away. Claudius is sitting with a young man who works for a dating service, a woman whose university dissertation is on human attraction (she's been doing data collection among the young and popular, as far as I can tell), and a marriage contract lawyer who claims he can always tell when a couple will seek a contract renewal after the initial term is up.

"And what about our young star-crossed lovers?" Claudius asks jovially. "If they came to your office, what would you think?"

"Well, if you examine how well they're communicating without words in the arena, you can see how intuitively they understand each other. There was never a chance that Katniss Everdeen saw Peeta Mellark's plan, but the smile indicates that she understood his actions perfectly…"

I rub my eyes and ignore him.

"Well, they're certainly popular," Effie says, coming up to the table. She is as fresh and energetic as she usually is in the morning after coffee, but thankfully, does not seem to have taken her pills. She sits down beside me and hands me my flask. I open it. It's been filled with something sickeningly sweet today. She waits while I take a drink, then says, "We can send water."

I shake my head and show her the map. "They're too close. Besides, with the price of everything else, I don't want to waste money on water. We may need something more important later."

"Haymitch, have you been keeping track of what I've been signing up?"

I have, but I don't want to talk about it where Brutus can hear. I pick up the notebook she pushes at me and write, We'll talk about that later.

She doesn't need this explained. "I know it doesn’t look like much," she covers. "But I can get us meetings all day if you want them!"

I want them, but I don't want to leave Effie alone with the Careers. This alliance can't last much longer.

For the second day of the Games, it's quite slow. Katniss continues to walk. She seems to be getting concerned about her water situation, and is wisely going downhill. If she misses the ponds and pools, hopefully, she can make it to the wide creek, though her looping, difficult path is taking her wide of everything I can see.

The Careers try to hunt down Thresh, but he's set traps along the edge of his "territory," and Glimmer is caught in one. Peeta barely gets her cut down in time to avoid being seen. They head back to get her treated, and she stays to watch with Cato while the others go back on the hunt.

It's early afternoon when Onnisey decides to bury his landmines. Cato and Glimmer hear him coming and fade into the shadows. Glimmer picks up the bow, but Cato stops her to watch the process, right up until the mine is fully in the ground. Then he throws a spear.

It lands behind Onnisey, past the range of the mine.

Onnisey looks up, his eyes going wide.

"What do we have here?" Cato asks. "District Three trying to be clever?"

"I was…"

"Trying to kill us. Which is a way to play the Game. Maybe not your smartest move, though."

Glimmer laughs. "Put him against the pile. We have apples. I'll see if I can shoot one off his head."

Given the way she shoots, she'd probably put one in the landmine and kill all three of them, but Cato shakes his head anyway. "No," he says. "As long as we're taking non-traditional allies this year, I think I like the idea of someone who can keep our little collection safe. We'll just leave him behind, and between him and the explosives, no one else needs to stay. Oh, I think he's our new best friend."

"He'll just wander off."

"If he does, I'll find him, tie him to a tree with his own intestines, then make him march." He smiles. "And you wanted to be our ally, didn't you? You put in a request."

Onnisey blinks, then says the only thing he can: "Yes. That's all it was. I wanted to impress you."

"I knew it had to be something like that. And, hey. Job well done. When the others get back, you can teach them how to get the mines."

With a heavy sigh, Beetee rolls his table over to us.

The others come back to camp at around three, and after they've had what passes for a civilized meal, Cato directs them back to the Cornucopia to dig up mines (Marvel is left behind to guard the supplies). They don't have shovels -- there are rarely shovels available, for fear that a tribute would try to dig down to the complex beneath the arena, which would spoil the illusion -- but there are broadswords and spears to loosen the dirt, and shields to scoop it with. With six people working, they manage to liberate twelve of the landmines before dark, and they re-bury them in a rough circle around the pile of supplies by the light of a campfire.

Finch has been watching from the tree line through most of it, unnoticed in her perch by anyone except Onnisey. He doesn't mention it, and looks away quickly when he sees her… but carefully orients the group within her sight when he teaches them how to approach safely in a series of long steps and dodges.

"Or we could just reach in with a spear," Marvel suggests.

"If you're sure you won't drop anything. Any solid jolt on top of the mines is going to blow everything up. So walk softly, too."

Katniss, meanwhile, has wandered far enough off course that she's going to run into the edge of the arena before she hits the creek. She climbs a tree about a quarter mile from the edge of the arena and packs herself up to sleep for the night, sucking on the last bone of the rabbit she caught. I wonder if it helps keep some spit in her mouth.

Still, there is a tiny blue mark on the map about fifty yards from where the forcefield will be. A pond or a pool. I ask Effie to get me aerial shots from the day. It won't be easy to see. It's covered in lilies, and surrounded by greenery. But Katniss can make it. I think she's too dazed and confused from water loss to make it to the creek now that she's so far off course, but she can make the little pool.

Though if she hasn't gotten there by noon, I'm going to have to risk sending water, and hope that no one else has made it that far toward the edge, and that I won't need the money for anything else. Letting her die of thirst isn't a great option.

Brutus has gone off to sleep, so when Effie offers to let me get a few winks, I take her up on it. If Brutus comes back before I wake up, I tell her to come get me.

Apparently, he doesn't, because I sleep deeply until a runner comes to gather me at nine o'clock. I send Effie to sleep.

Katniss has also been deeply asleep, but she's waking much more slowly than I am. She's listless and clumsy, and nearly tumbles out of her tree. She fumbles her belongings into her backpack and lurches down the hill.

Something seems to galvanize her suddenly, and she croaks out, "Water."

Of course. It's finally occurred to her that I could send her some. And that's making her just mad enough to keep going. Good.

"Are you going to send her water?" Finnick asks.

"She's almost on top of it," I tell him. "Look."

"She's scared and alone. Maybe it would be good to tell her that you're thinking about her."

Katniss looks hopefully at the sky.

"She knows I'm thinking about her," I say. "She has to know. That's why she asked. And she'll figure it out. She'll know that… that I'll send her water if she's nowhere near it. If she can't get to it herself."

"Are you sure?"

I nod.

"How do you know?"

"It's what I'd think." I look at him. "I'll have it ready. But right now, she's on course to hit that pond. And if she can solve her own problem, that's going to help her."

"With the sponsors? You already have a lot of sponsors --"

"With herself."

I can't explain this entirely. There are good, logical reasons for not sending Katniss water. But I also know that if she just sits down and waits for parachutes when things get rough, she'll feel like she's not in control. Sooner or later, there will be things she can't control, but this isn't one of them. If she solves this without a parachute, she'll be in better shape to deal with the next thing that comes along.

And if it looks like she can't, then I'll hit the button and send her a bottle of water, and hope she has the sense to keep the detritus with her, rather than leaving it in the woods like a breadcrumb trail.

I think she probably does.

By ten, I'm getting worried. She's zigzagging her way down the slope, wandering in aimless loops, almost discarding the night vision goggles. Worse, I'm now a little worried about sending in a parachute -- the Careers aren't exactly near her, but Marvel has already come up with the idea to watch for them, and they've seen one land on the island in the lake. They decide to hunt there later, but everyone agrees that parachute watching ought to be a major part of their strategy.

"Of course," Peeta says, "now that you've said it out loud, the mentors will know better than to send any while we're out."

"In case you hadn't figured that out on your own?" Enobaria asks, her eyebrow cocked.

I shrug, but I doubt Peeta's comment was directed at me. He knows I won't jeopardize Katniss. But I imagine he also knows that District Twelve might not be entirely sure why I'm letting her get dehydrated when they know perfectly well that I have money this year.

It's just past noon when Katniss collapses to the ground. I tell Effie to get a parachute ready -- even though she is literally on the other side of some tall grass from the pond -- but she figures it out in time, finding mud on her hands and then crawling into the water. She's even still got her wits about her enough to purify it before she drinks.

As soon as it's safe, I'm going to send her something for having the brains to figure it out.

She slowly drinks herself back to life over the course of the afternoon. It's probably boring the Capitol audience, but I don't care. In the districts, they'll be impressed with her saving herself. She'll be impressed with it. I can see the confidence coming back into her.

"Oh, look. She learned how to fall in the mud." Brutus smirks. "You must be so proud."

"Brutus, really," Finnick says. "There are therapists out there. You should see someone about that death wish of yours. If you're that depressed, they can help. Or don't real men do that?"

Since the most exciting thing happening in the arena at the moment is Glimmer's inept attempt at rabbit-hunting, coverage goes back to the studio, where Claudius has managed to find someone to comment on the Career strategy (and of course, how it's working with the star-crossed lovers story, much to Brutus's vocal annoyance), then he actually takes the time to find commentary on other tributes. Spicer Daby has been exploring his island, which leads to a bit of conversation about the wide open spaces of District Ten. There's an extended safety reminder to parents -- apparently, little Capitol kids have been trying to go from tree to tree in the parks the way Rue is, and the Capitol trees are too well tended for it. The branches simply aren't close enough or strong enough, and there've been two broken arms since the Games began, and they wouldn't want children to get hurt while enjoying the Hunger Games.

Of course, they go back to the star-crossed lovers. They can't seem to stay away for long.

The camera crews are out on the streets of the Capitol, where people are wearing District Twelve tee shirts and wigs done up in long braids. Some of these wigs are purple and green, but most are a hastily dyed inky black. The tee shirts have glittering golden flames on them, and show Katniss and Peeta holding hands in the chariot. Some women are wearing short blond wigs and bright blue contacts. ("Well, that looks about right," Brutus sneers.) Not many men seem to be involved in this particular part of the spectacle, though they do interview a young artist who's been drawing pictures of them on the street corner. He's nowhere near as good as Peeta, but I don't say anything, as he claims that, as soon as he reaches the threshold of what he's spent on supplies, every bit of money he's making will go to sponsoring them.

Two of the fans have made up a dramatic "reunion" scene, where Katniss learns all that Peeta has done for her, and swears her eternal love and devotion, even from "beyond the bounds of death," as the would-be actress pants in front of the gathered street crowd. (In this particular version, Katniss is dying in Peeta's arms for the scene and he goes on a rampage against the remaining tributes.) They also gather up the coins tossed to them, and promise to send it to Effie and me.

"I just can't wait until they really meet up again!" a teenage girl says after the performance. "It'll be so romantic!"

"I hope she won't really be dying, though," her friend says. "They should have a chance to be together before…" She stops, looking confused. "Before… you know."

"I wish they could be together forever!" a little girl says. (This one is dressed up like Primrose.) "It would be like a happily ever after story!"

"Since they can't be," the reporter asks, "who would you like to see win?"

The little girl bursts into tears before the production team abruptly cuts away.

"Sadistic bastards," Finnick grumbles beside me.

I nod, though this was the plan. It's working perfectly.

Make it hurt them, Peeta said, and it's definitely hurting them. Starting with little girls whose biggest crime is being born in the Capitol.

I'm starting to feel like I'm the most sadistic bastard of all.

Not much happens on the third day of the Games. The audience members who aren't Katniss and Peeta's fans are starting to get restless, and I know I can't count on the Gamemakers keeping things calm for another day. Effie gets a solid six hours of sleep before the evening's mandatory viewing time. After the mandatory time is over, I wait for Brutus to go off to bed, then leave Effie in charge so I can get some sleep. If they haven't forced a confrontation, they won't do it until tomorrow, when people are watching again.

I head back to the mentors' lounge, where the curtains are drawn around a lot of beds. Some sound like it's not snoring going on behind them. Personally, I can't imagine a less private place for that -- short of the arena, I guess -- but apparently, it doesn’t bother some people. I finally find an unoccupied bed near the back and crash down onto it.

I dream about Maysilee Donner.
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